THE FALL IN THE WOODS

Grave misgivings flooded into Nancy’s mind. She had known of Rosalind’s
peculiarities, had often heard her mother express keen regret that she,
Uncle Frederic’s own sister, could not have done something to supply
the mother-need for Rosalind when Katherine Fernell was taken from her
daughter.

And it seemed more unfortunate than otherwise, that Uncle Fred’s
position guaranteed so much hired care for Rosalind, because it was
this fact that had separated her from Mrs. Brandon, Nancy’s mother
herself having been separated from her brother through a circumstance
not unlike this very issue.

Not that Nancy bothered now to recall all this, but just because the
“why” of her own circumstances compared oddly with the “why not” of
Rosalind’s. It appeared that Rosalind did not know why she should not
“sneak off to ride with Gar” when she was supposed to be following all
the rules of Fernlode, which must have forbidden this.

“I suppose it is not that I’m any better than Rosa,” the puzzled Nancy
was thinking, “but just because mother made me think differently.”

“Nance, I suppose you are tired from that long, dirty train ride,”
suggested Rosalind, who was getting out a wrap for herself and another
for Nancy. “Suppose we just scout around a little?”

“Scout around?”

“Yeppy. First let’s make sure you’re acquainted with your room, because
you might want to come in before I do,” said Rosalind. “Here’s all the
night stuff, but I don’t suppose you try to bathe and scour off fat
as I do. At any rate, do just as you please. Lock your door and yell
through the keyhole at Margot, and if she asks for me–”

“Won’t you be–in?”

“Oh, yes, of course,” Rosalind hurried to assure the puzzled girl.
“I’m just preparing for emergencies. You see, I always expect them, but
they somehow seldom come.” A little sigh took years from Rosalind’s
heavy shoulders. She was acting now like such a very little girl, just
sighing for romance and adventure.

On the big front porch, they tried the swing. As ever Rosalind cuddled
up to Nancy in that eager, impulsive way that made Nancy feel sort of
old. She, not being demonstrative herself, leaving that prerogative
for the small brother Ted, could not at once get used to Rosalind’s
effusions.

“You see, Nance,” bubbled Rosalind, “I’m going to do something
won-der-ful!” This last word was dragged out like a tape line
measuring thrills. “I waited until you came–you see, Orilla is really
won-der-ful. She’s the very smartest thing. And you see, Nancy, _you_
can’t realize the curse of being fat.”

A peal of laughter from the amused Nancy checked this.

“You can’t really mean it, Rosa,” she said. “Being fat isn’t anything.
You’re just growing, and you won’t always be so–so stout,” the visitor
assured her cousin, kindly.

“No, you just bet I won’t, not if I know it,” declared Rosa, who even
then chewed a chocolate drop. “I’m going to get thin while the folks
are in Europe. Wait until you see Betty, then you’ll understand. She’s
just eel-ly, and she loves slippery clothes, the shimmery-shimmery
kind. How could she ever own me as a step-daughter?” Again the catchy
little sigh betrayed Rosa’s state of mind. Nancy was beginning to
wonder if she might not be a little bit jealous of the famously
beautiful Betty.

“But don’t you know,” cautioned Nancy, feeling more and more like a
grandmother giving advice, “it’s awfully dangerous to–to take off fat
too suddenly.”

“Don’t believe a word of it,” declared Rosa. “I’d take a chance on
reducing pounds per day if I knew how. You see,” shifting the cushion
and kicking the swing into action, “I inherit it from Grandmother
Cashion, mother’s mother. She was fat. I have her picture. And she had
curly hair like mine, so of course I just had to be like her,” argued
the surprising girl.

“But you also got the curls,” suggested Nancy, in genuine admiration.

“Which I don’t want. Orilla says they make me look fatter, more
babyish, you know.”

“I suppose Orilla has thin hair,” Nancy could not resist saying, for
she was already convinced of Orilla’s methods.

“’Tis straightish, rather straggily,” conceded Rosa. “But, you see,
Orilla doesn’t have to be pretty, she’s so smart.”

“What is she so smart about?” pressed Nancy.

“Oh, well, ’most everything,” floundered Rosa. “She intends to be a
nurse, no, a beauty doctor,” she corrected herself. “That’s why she’s
helping me.”

“How’s she doing it?” demanded Nancy, frankly.

“Oh, it’s sort of a secret, but, of course, I’ll tell you later on,”
agreed Rosa.

“Does your–does Betty know?”

“Mercy me, no! She’s the very last person on earth to know,” said Rosa
tragically. “I’m going to surprise her, and dad. It’s all beautifully
planned and I’m just waiting for them to sail, then I’ll sail in.”

“You’re an awful lot like our Ted,” Nancy told Rosa, a compliment
unqualified.

“Is he fat?”

“A little. But I don’t mean that way. I mean in making plans. He always
has the most wonderful ideas–”

“I’d love Ted. What a shame you didn’t bring him along.”

“He would have been jolly,” agreed the sister wistfully. “But you see,
Ted needs to be trained. Being a boy without a father–”

“Just like me being a girl without a mother,” spoke up Rosa. “I’d
_love_ to go to camp. In fact, father almost agreed, but Betty! You see
Betty believes in white hands and slim ankles.”

“Oh,” said Nancy.

“Want to go around to the other side of the house? We can watch the
boats from there. We have a motorboat but that’s one thing dad is
strict about. He just won’t let me go on the water at night without
him–imagine his having to be along always. And he won’t let me go in
a canoe even in broad daylight, unless I almost swear I’ll stay in the
cove, or just hug the edge. Dad is such a darling, I never would think
of breaking my word to him,” declared Rosa, her hand bruising Nancy’s
arm in making the declaration.

“We do feel that way when we love folks, don’t we?” supplied Nancy.
“Mother hardly asks me to promise anything, except where something
might be dangerous, but it’s fun to keep a promise as well as to break
it, if you just think that way. I’ve a chum who spends most of her
time planning to fool folks. Maybe I’m old fashioned, but I’ve tried
it and it didn’t turn out so funny. Once when I tried to fool Ted by
locking him out, he just climbed in a window I couldn’t reach, and I
came pretty near having to stay out in the rain all night. You see,
Miss Manners, we call her Manny–is to us about like Margot is to you.
Except, of course, she isn’t a servant, she’s a dear friend we found
last year out at Long Leigh. We had a great time last summer,” Nancy
continued. “I’ll have to tell you about it some time.”

“I’d love to hear. You had a shop or something, didn’t you?”

“Yes, a funny little store we turned into almost everything but a
church,” laughed Nancy. They were moving around the winding porch and
Nancy felt relieved that Rosa seemed to be more contented than she had
been at dinner time. Surely she wasn’t thinking of stealing off any
place?

“Doesn’t the lake look lovely with all the boats lighted up?” Rosa
exclaimed. “With the big black mountains at the back and the little
firefly boats in front–I guess this is one of the most beautiful lakes
in America,” she finished.

“It is glorious,” agreed Nancy. “But it makes me feel sort of
awe-stricken,” she admitted.

“Not homesick? That isn’t just a nice way of saying you’re homesick,
Nance?” asked Rosa solicitously.

“Oh, no indeed, Rosa,” denied Nancy. “But I was just thinking how dark
it can be under all these trees.”

“And this house hasn’t a bright spot in it,” added Rosa. “I wonder why
folks build with black beams in forests? And they always seem to. If I
were planning a mountain camp I’d have white pine wood and turn yellow
paint on with a hose, inside and out,” she declared. A car was coming
up the winding drive, its headlights threading their way through the
trees in glaring billows.

“There’s Gar!” exclaimed Rosa, joy juggling the words. “I’m so glad he
came over! Now, you won’t be homesick.”

“I wasn’t,” defended Nancy. But the car was at the steps now and Rosa
was racing off in that direction. The prospect of meeting a strange
boy fluttered Nancy, naturally, but Perhaps she would have been more
self-conscious had the caller been a girl. Girls are supposed to be
critical, and Nancy’s wardrobe was not elaborate, but boys–well boys
ought to be jolly. She knew that Ted and his little friends would still
be when they grew up.

“My cousin, you know, Gar,” Rosa was exclaiming, as the youth in white
knickers, with his prep school sweater of violent yellow, came along
the porch.

The introductions over, Nancy knew she was going to like Garfield
Durand. His manner toward Rosa was that of a big brother, and he did
not hesitate to argue against many of her suggestions.

“Can’t take you out, Rosa, unless you’re sure your dad won’t mind,” he
said frankly. Then turning to Nancy, “Don’t _you_ think it’s silly to
be meeting that Orilla girl–”

“Gar!” came Rosa’s warning. “Please don’t tell _all_ my secrets at
once. I’m sorry if I bother you–”

“Oh, now Rose, you know well enough I don’t mean that,” interrupted
Gar. “It’s just that you’re so–so easy with Orilla, and she’s a fox,
only you won’t believe it,” declared the boy, flushing.

An awkward silence followed that remark. It was very plain that Rosa
objected to discussing Orilla and her ways before Nancy. It was also
quite plain that the boy was trying to avoid something, perhaps a
clandestined ride which Rosa seemed bent upon. He didn’t settle himself
down as one does who might expect to stay awhile; in fact, he first sat
upon the porch rail, next straddled a bench, then flung himself into a
rocker and seemed to find it impossible to obtain any position suitable
to his turbulent mood.

“It’s certainly early enough _now_ to take a drive,” Suggested Rosa,
pointedly.

“Oh, surely,” agreed Gar. “Can’t I take you and your cousin over to the
Point, or some place?”

“Like a dear,” replied Rosa. “I’ll run and break the news to Margot.
She still believes in you, Gar,” and then Nancy found herself chatting
to the boy, free from the unpleasant little discussion and at ease,
because he seemed so frankly boyish and so eager to take her for the
proposed drive.

“Don’t mind my scrapping with Rose,” he remarked. “She’s such a kid and
so easily influenced. And you see, Mr. Fernell trusts our folks to sort
of keep track of her.”

“Of course. That’s splendid,” agreed Nancy. “You see I’m sort of a
stranger myself, and I guess Rosalind has been a lot alone–”

“You’re the very thing for her, and maybe just in time,” he said under
his breath, with an intention by no means clear to Nancy.

“Just in time!” she thought. “Whatever can that mean?”

“We’ll probably pick up Dell,” suggested Garfield, referring to his
sister who was found on the “next pile of rocks,” as Rosa had described
the Durand estate. She was older than her brother, much older than
Rosa, and somehow this fact brought relief to Nancy, who was fearing
things she couldn’t quite define. It seemed safer, however, to have an
older girl along, and when Dell Durand jumped into the car and added
her part to the fun of driving through the woods, up and down hills, in
and out of sly curves that often brought Nancy’s breath up sharply, she
talked to Nancy in the sensible, intelligent way that she, Nancy, was
most accustomed to.

“We couldn’t live up here if it were not for the fun at the Point,”
Dell declared. “It’s all well enough in the daytime–plenty of sport
then for anyone who likes the water, mountains or–pet dogs,” she
said this sarcastically, “but if we didn’t have the pavilion for
dancing and the movies and such things, I’m afraid we would find the
evenings–long!”

“Shall we go over to Bent’s?” called Gar from the wheel.

“Just as Rosa says,” replied his sister politely.

“I’m afraid Nancy may be tired,” replied Rosa considerately. “I haven’t
given her a minute since she landed, and you know what that Boston and
Maine train does to you. No–guess we’ll just peek in at the pavilion.
I’m afraid I couldn’t sleep a wink if I didn’t get a little something
to pep me up,” sighed Rosa. “That house with Margot and Thomas can get
on–one’s–nerves–”

“Nerves!” mocked Gar. “Say, Rosie, when you get nerves I’ll get–”

“Sense,” supplied Rosa, imitating the boy’s voice. “Anyhow I have a
little of that–”

“Quit your squabbling, babes,” ordered Dell. “Can’t you behave before
company?”

Just then the pavilion loomed up, with the paper covered lights and
jazzing music, not the usual, ordinary summer place, but rather a
little spot in the wilderness where, evidently, the young folks of
Craggy Bluff found such evening entertainment as Dell had so briefly
described.

It was all a little strange to Nancy, who had never before been thrown
in with such grown up young folks. Even Rosa, although in reality only
a few months older than Nancy, seemed very grown up and superficial,
now that she was mingling with numbers of friends who promptly greeted
their arrival at the dance hall.

Gar took himself and his car off, excusing himself to join other boys
who claimed him, while Rosa insisted upon Nancy dancing.

“Let’s wait a while,” Nancy coaxed, not wishing to lose herself at once
in the gliding dancers.

“Can’t,” objected Rosa. “I’ve got to dance. It’s good for me,” she
whispered; and when the two girls did glide off, Nancy was agreeably
surprised at the ease displayed by her cousin.

“Just like floating,” Rosa explained. “I Can float all day. And dancing
is such a silly walk, isn’t it? Don’t even have to bend.”

It was not much more than a rhythmic walk, and as for bending–surely
that was quite out of question, for that season’s dance was markedly a
glide.

Dell was dancing with some young man, and Gar was not to be seen about,
when Rosa led Nancy over to a corner of the platform.

“I just thought I saw–someone I knew over here,” she said, “Orilla,
you know. But I don’t imagine she would be out here–she’s so busy,
always.”

Rosa was peering into the dark corners where some few persons stood
watching the dancers. Somehow Nancy was secretly hoping that Rosa was
mistaken, for while she had a certain curiosity to see this much talked
of Orilla, she would rather have delayed the experience until some
other time.

“I guess it wasn’t she,” Rosa said finally, still jerking her head
from side to side attempting to find the face she was seeking for.
“Yes,” she exclaimed again, “I do believe I see her. Glide over this
way–”

“Isn’t it too dark along the edge?” Nancy asked. She did not like the
idea of getting so far away from Dell. Besides that, it really was dark
and deserted at that end of the platform.

But Rosa was bent upon following the figure she either saw or imagined
she saw. In fact, so intent was she, that Nancy’s remark went by
unnoticed.

“Wait here just a minute,” Rosa said suddenly, dropping Nancy’s arm and
dashing off along the uncertain edge of the circular platform.

Fear seized Nancy! What if Rosa was as foolish as Garfield had hinted,
and what if she should run off even for a short time on some silly
pretext with the undesirable Orilla? Gar had said that Nancy had
arrived “just in time.” What could he have meant?

She was watching Rosa’s light dress and felt she would surely have to
follow her. No matter what Rosa had said about Nancy waiting, she was
going to keep as close–

The flash of Rosa’s dress had gone out like a candle flame in the
wind. Turning her own steps in the direction Rosa must have taken,
she hurried along the platform’s edge and just caught a glimmer of
something light–Rosa’s dress it must have been–darting through the
trees, away from the pavilion.

“Rosalind!” she called anxiously. “Rosa!”

A queer little twittering whistle, that could not have been an answer
from Rosalind, pierced the darkness. The music had ceased, that dance
was over and now the young folks were all flocking in the other
direction. Nancy saw this, too, as she stepped off the platform and
attempted to follow the hidden trail of Rosalind.

“How absurd!” she could not help sighing, “if this is the way I’m going
to spend my summer chasing after a foolish girl–”

The next moment she was sure she heard whispering. That certainly was
Rosa, but why should she be hiding?

“Rosa!” again called Nancy, this time feeling very much like turning
back to Dell and leaving Rosa to report for herself.

Indignant and offended, Nancy was almost about to follow out that
thought when a sudden sharp cry–it was from Rosa–certainly–a cry of
pain came from a spot close by.

“Oh, Orilla! quick!” Nancy heard. “My foot is caught and–”

“Rosa, where are you?” sharply demanded Nancy. “_I’m_ here! I can help
you!”

“She’s all right–” came a voice not Rosa’s. Then the flash of a small
light betrayed the spot where Rosa had fallen.

“It’s my foot, it got caught in briars, and oh, mercy!” Rosa exclaimed,
“I’m afraid I’ve sprained my ankle!”

By this time Nancy could see Rosa’s companion. So that was Orilla! A
tall girl with fiery red hair that even in the glimmering light of the
hand flash which she, Orilla, was holding, looked too red to be pretty.
It was as if the head that held it all was in a real blaze, rather
than being covered with hair.

“Oh, you’re all right, Rose. Get up,” the girl ordered so unkindly that
Nancy bent over and put her arm about the struggling figure.

“Did you ever see anything–so–so–beastly!” poor Rose was muttering.
“Just to jump into a hole and get strangled with briars–”

“Hold on to me, dear.” Nancy could not help offering the endearing
term, for the red-haired girl surely was scoffing. And Rosa’s every
attempt to seem grown up, her foolish little expressions, and her
disregard of that sort of conduct which Nancy very well knew was Rosa’s
natural manner just being held back, made the cousin all the more an
object of affection to Nancy. She was now Rosa’s champion against this
girl, Orilla.

“Showing off,” was what it all was, of course, but there was something
more important to think of just now. Rosa was hurt, the Durands were
not in sight and Nancy was simply frightened to death at the whole
situation.

“Can’t you really get up?” asked Orilla, showing some concern herself
now. She was holding the flash light over Rosa, and in the darkness its
rays shone clear and remarkably bright for a thing so small. It picked
out a mass of wicked briars and treacherous undergrowth into which Rosa
had fallen.

“I can’t–stir–” she moaned. “There’s a regular rope of something
around–my–leg. Oh-h-h!”

It was not hard to realize that a rope of something had indeed
imprisoned the girl, for even the efforts of Orilla joining those of
Nancy, failed to extricate the injured one.

“What–shall–we do!” breathed Nancy, more deeply concerned than she
wished to admit even to herself. “However will we get her out of this?”

“Silly thing for her to get into,” grumbled the red-haired girl. “But I
guess I can chop her out.”

“Chop her out!” exclaimed Nancy, incredulously.

“Yes. I’ve got tools. You stay here with her, and for goodness’ sake
keep her quiet. My car is over on the road. I’ll be back as quickly as
I can get here.”

Presently the two girls found themselves alone, in the dark, in that
lonesome wood. Nancy was too frightened to do more than keep whispering
courage to Rosa, and Rosa was too miserable to do more than groan.

“Why–” started Nancy once more, but checked the query before it was
formed. Of what use to question Rosa now? The thing to do was to hope
for Orilla’s return. But even that worried Nancy.

“Oh, Nance,” groaned Rosa, “if my poor leg is broken–”

“It isn’t, dear, I’m sure,” consoled Nancy. “You know a strain feels
dreadfully at first. Are you sure she’ll come back?”

“Oh, yes. She sounds mean, but that’s her way,” Rosa explained. “Can’t
you see her light? Isn’t she coming yet?”

“No,” replied Nancy. “And Rosa, I feel I’ll just have to go back to the
pavilion for Dell. What will they think?”

“Think we’re lost, maybe.” Rosa was tugging at the briars and uttering
groans at every attempt to free herself. Nancy had torn the skin from
her right hand in her attempts to help, but was still working carefully.

“How far is the road?” Nancy asked presently.

“Just there, behind that little hill. You can’t see it, of course–”

“Will you stay while I look for Dell?”

“I’ll have to. But oh, Nance,” as her cousin prepared to go, “you
know I don’t want them to see me meeting Orilla. They just wouldn’t
understand. Every one hates her so and she’s so bitter about it. Look
again. Isn’t she coming?”

Mystified, Nancy obeyed.

“Yes, I believe she is. There’s a spark–yes, it’s her light,” she
added relievedly. “But how will she chop you out?”

“She carries tools; she’ll have a little chopper–a small ax, you
know,” faltered Rosa, relief showing also in her voice.

“You mean a hatchet. Why would she carry a hatchet?”

“Oh, I’ll tell you, sometime; if I ever get out of this,” groaned Rosa,
digging her fingers deep into the flesh of Nancy’s arm to which she was
clinging.

The faithful little flash-light dispelled what darkness it could reach,
as the girl with the small hatchet hurried back to them.

“Now don’t move while I chop,” she ordered sharply. “I’m hours late
now, and I’ve got to hurry.”

“Being late–” began Nancy indignantly. But holding back the briars
and bushes while Orilla chopped at that which so securely bound Rosa,
precluded anything like objections to the apparent heartlessness of
Orilla.

“There; I guess you can get up now. Hope to goodness I’m not all stung
with poison-ivy,” Orilla snarled, while Nancy gave her entire attention
to the unfortunate cousin.

“Put your arm under her other arm,” she ordered Orilla. “Her ankle is
hurt, you know,” she finished sarcastically.

“Oh yes, I know,” sneered the red-haired one. But nevertheless she did
as Nancy Brandon ordered her to do.

Continue Reading

AN INCIDENTAL EXPLOSION

Even the most difficult tasks are finally accomplished, and now Nancy
was actually riding towards Boston. The details of closing up their
little home had been rather confusing, especially as each member of the
small family was starting out in a different direction, but it was all
done at last, and soon Nancy would cross Boston and take the Maine line
out toward New Hampshire.

It seemed so unnecessary for any one to meet her at the South Station
and taxi with her over to the North Station, but there was Miss
Newton, a friend who had visited the Brandons and who lived almost in
Boston. With her, Nancy’s mother had arranged, both for crossing the
big city and having lunch, so that there could be no possible danger
in her daughter’s journey. Also, after lunch in the upstairs station
restaurant, Miss Newton, a lively young woman who seemed just like a
girl to Nancy, insisted upon making up a little box of fruit for the
train journey.

“Never can tell about these long afternoon rides,” said Miss Newton,
when she bought five more blue plums. “They may side-track you and
you’ll be glad to have a fruity supper along with you.”

Nancy expressed her gratitude, of course, and as the Boston and Maine
afternoon train steamed out, she didn’t feel quite so lonely without
her mother, because of Miss Newton’s jolly waving and pleasant little
send-off.

The train was crowded. Many mothers and children seemed to have been on
shopping tours. Naturally Nancy was concerned with the prospect before
her, for since Rosalind’s letters were so effusively pre-welcoming and
so hysterically anxious about what she termed, “the troubles and trials
at Fernlode,” Nancy could form no opinion of the strange household. She
knew she was going to be shy of that important new, stylish, beautiful
Aunt Betty, for the reputation she had obtained was enough to strike
awe into the heart of any girl visitor. Of Uncle Frederic she knew
positively that she just loved him, for he had visited her own home
late last fall, and he was “a king” as Ted expressed it. Rosalind had
been away at boarding school all the time, it seemed to Nancy, so
the young cousins had never met, for even Rosalind’s vacations had
been usually spent abroad. This year, however, she had insisted upon
remaining at home, although her father and step-mother were to sail
shortly.

But now Nancy’s train sped on, and the flying landscape, though novel
after the big factories and the bridges were passed, held small
interest for the young summer tourist. She noticed that a woman with
two small boys had bought those silly little boxes of ice-cream with
the foolish tin spoons, and their delight in lapping up the stuff was
rather amusing. It was funny, too, to see the people spill water cups
along the aisle, and when a very stout man dozed off, and let his bald
head tap a lady on her bead-bedecked shoulder, Nancy indulged in an
audible titter while the ice-cream boys shouted loud enough to wake up
the indecorous gentleman.

Such trifling incidents helped to while away the time, and after the
big mill dam was passed, which according to the timetable indicated the
state line of Massachusetts and New Hampshire, with somehow touching on
a corner of Maine, then Nancy knew the journey was almost over.

The afternoon was cool and pleasant, for early June was still behaving
beautifully, and Nancy was not sorry that she had taken her mother’s
advice and worn her school suit of blue serge.

“I suppose,” she ruminated, “Rosalind’s clothes will be gor-gee-ous.”
This visioned her own limited outfit. “But being so fat it must be hard
getting clothes. They all have to be made to order, of course.”

It was at this juncture that the little old-fashioned woman, in the
seat opposite Nancy, spread her ginghamed self out in the aisle, in
order to cope more freely with the over-crowded bag she was struggling
to close. Her efforts were so violent, and her groans so audible,
that everybody around took frank notice of her. First, she would get
between the two seats, backing to that in front, and trudge away at the
helpless, hopeless carry-all. Then, she would put the bag on the floor
and work from the aisle. Finally, she literally threw up her hands and
looked comically at Nancy.

“Ain’t it the mischief, sissy?” she said suddenly. “I got to get off
with that bag bulged wide open.”

Nancy laughed outright. “Sissy” was such an old-fashioned name to be
called. Then she looked critically at the recalcitrant bag.

“Maybe I could do it,” she suggested, although she instinctively felt
like calling the car man to help. Yet the funny little country woman,
with her checked gingham dress, her bronzed skin and her perfectly
useless hat, that merely rested on the top of her frowsy head, was
smiling so friendly, that Nancy felt impelled to offer personal aid.

So she stepped over and tackled the bag. It was too full, much too
full, of course, and the articles in it were the non-crushable kind,
hard and firm. Surely the biggest opponent to the catch and its clasp
meeting was a bottle, for it bulged out in one place as fast as Nancy
tried to push it in at another.

“I’m afraid I can’t close it,” Nancy admitted reluctantly. “Couldn’t
you take anything out?”

The woman pulled her face into such funny crinkles, it looked as if
she was winking all over it. Then she made queer noises, but they
could not be called words, and at last a man who had been watching the
performance, over his reading glasses, dropped his paper and silently
offered his services.

He was a very dignified gentleman, and he readily acknowledged Nancy’s
presence, although he did not directly address her. The little woman
was being regarded as very much out of order, and truth to tell she was
very generally disturbing the peace in that end of the car.

But now the man, with his strong hands and white shirt-cuffs, undertook
to conquer the rebel bag. He would plainly have no nonsense, would
make short work of it, for his face was set with a look of active
determination.

Once, twice, he tried to snap it shut. Then–there was something like
an explosion!

Splash! A perfect fountain of red liquid shot straight up in the air!

“Oh, mercy!” yelled the owner of the bag. “There goes Martha’s grape
juice!”

And go it did, apparently as far and farther than even good home-made
grape juice is supposed to travel, for it covered the face and shirt
front of the determined man, it all but shampooed the blonde head in
the next seat front, it managed, somehow, to include Nancy in its area,
for across the aisle shot a thin but virulent little stream, and while
one party was trying to dodge it another would fall into its furious
path.

“A bomb! A bomb!” yelled one of the ice cream boys joyfully.

“Maybe it’s a bandit’s hold-up,” yelped the other boy, hopefully.

“It’s my lovely grape juice and it’s working–” moaned the woman in
the gingham dress. But what she meant by “working” was not what the
spectators were thinking of. She meant effervescing, while they simply
saw liquid fireworks shooting around the car.

It was all over in a few moments, but the well intentioned man could
not erase the stains from his expansive shirt front–it was hard enough
to get the grape juice out of his eyes.

The blonde woman, whose bobbed head had been caught in the shower,
seemed the one most injured, and she took no trouble to restrain her
indignation!

“The idea! Carrying that stuff around!” she argued. “Just imagine!
Black and blue grape juice,” and she swabbed her head frantically with
all the handkerchiefs she could resurrect from pockets and hand bags.
Blonde hair dyed wine color did look odd.

“I’m awfully sorry,” the gingham woman admitted. “It was just a present
from my cousin Martha–”

“Then, why didn’t you hire a truck instead of buying a railway ticket,”
fired back the crimson-spotted blonde. “Seems to me–” But her further
arguments were lost in the sudden stopping of the train and the hurried
getting off of the unfortunate grape juice owner.

She made opportunity for a smile to Nancy, however, as she edged her
way out, and as she left the train it was the boy who had shouted
“bomb” at the accident who pegged her the cork of that bottle. Strange
to say, the woman caught the stopper, and bravely took the almost empty
bottle from the rebellious bag, banged the cork in firmly, and was then
on her way–with the bottle in one hand and the famous bag in the other.

Everyone’s face seemed to betray amusement, for during the entire
episode the little woman had shown real good nature. First, she
was patient, as well as determined, in attempting to close the
obstreperous bag; next, when the mighty all-knowing man went to her
assistance and caused the grape juice explosion, she only smiled and
herself took the blame for his mistake.

All of this wavered in Nancy’s mind, and with it came one of those
unaccountable little flickering thoughts, unbidden and unreasonable. It
suggested a future meeting of Nancy and the gingham woman.

“But wherever would I and why ever should I meet her again?” Nancy
deliberated. “She’s probably just some farmer lady, and this station is
miles from Craggy Bluff.”

The incident served admirably to brighten the last hour of her journey,
and even the wonderful capers of a late afternoon sun, gyrating over
the New England hills, failed to hold interest now, as a long train
trip wound up the miles, like a boy’s fish line after a long waiting
and a poor catch.

Nancy’s bag and hat box were made hold of even before the trainman
called out the station, and now that she had actually arrived at
Rosalind’s summer place, Nancy caught her breath, apprehensively.

“With mother in Europe and Manny far off, I’ll have to like it,” she
reflected, “but then, why shouldn’t I?” Her question poised itself
boldly before her, for somehow even the lure of luxury was not
altogether reassuring.

It was now almost seven o’clock, and the young tourist noticed no one
preparing to leave the train at the approaching station. True, there
were so few passengers left, there might be individual stations for
each one of them; but Craggy Bluff was sure to be exclusive.

The very word as she thought of it, rather terrified Nancy, for, after
all, she enjoyed folks, loved companionship and appreciated girlhood’s
privileges.

“But Rosalind and–Orilla,” she was forced to reflect, “they will be
good company–I hope.” It was Orilla’s personality that puzzled her,
for the accounts of that queer girl had been anything but flattering.

“Craggy Bluff!” called out the trainman, who promptly approached Nancy
and took up her bag. This had been arranged for by the thoughtful Miss
Newton, when the train was leaving Boston, so that there was no danger
of Nancy mistaking her destination, or being inconvenienced by her
baggage.

She stepped from the train, thanked the trainman and took her bag, just
as a smiling girl ran up to her.

It was Rosalind! Fat and rosy, jolly and rollicking.

“Nancy!” she cried happily.

“Rosalind!” responded the traveller.

“Oh, how ducky! I just couldn’t wait. Over here. Chet!” called Rosalind
to the chauffeur, who promptly hurried along for the bags. Rosalind
continued to puff and putter. “Nancy! Isn’t it too darling to have you
come?” Her arm was wound around Nancy’s waist. “Do you like the woods?
And the water? And the hills? We even have wild beasts out here, but I
never have hunted alone. Here’s our car. Jump right in. Chet, I must
call at the post office.” Thus rattled on the exuberant Rosalind, as
Nancy formed her first pleasant opinion of the important cousin.

Following these preliminaries, Nancy did manage to say a few words.
But they didn’t mean anything, much, other than being pleasant words
happily spoken.

The cousins were at last becoming acquainted, and while Nancy knew she
was sure to love the impulsive Rosalind, Rosalind felt she was simply
“dead in love” with Nancy, all of which favored the hopeful summertime
ahead.

Winding in and out of wooded drives and tree tunneled roads, as they
went from the station, Nancy sensed something of the luxury she had so
wondered about.

Yes, it was wonderful to cover distance that way, and the distance
itself was wonderful, because Craggy Bluff was one of those works of
Nature varied in detail from the finest ferns to the shaggiest giant
oaks, and the very craggiest gray granite rocks to the daintiest pearl
pebbles that studded the silvery beach.

“Oh, such glorious trees!” Nancy would exclaim as the car tore holes in
the sunset’s shadows.

“Trees! If you like trees, Nance, just wait until daylight, and I
show you huge black forests,” declared Rosalind, kindling merrily to
Nancy’s enthusiasm.

“And when Uncle Frederic and Aunt–his wife,” Nancy corrected herself,
“go away, will you be here all alone?”

“All alone! I wish I could be,” replied Rosalind, “then we could have
sport; just you and I and, of course, a few servants. But, Nance, I
never can get away from Margot, my old nurse, you know. Darling mother,
my own mother, trusted her always, because she herself had been ill
so long, so, of course, Margot’s sort of bossy yet. She’s as good as
gold, but one doesn’t want gold bands around one’s neck all the time,”
laughed Rosalind, as the car drew up to the broad veranda.

Even in the dusk, for it was now quite dark under the heavy foliage,
Nancy could easily discern the massive outline of the big country
house. She knew its story; how her Uncle Frederic had bought it from
some old New England family just because it offered a seeming refuge
for the first Mrs. Fernell, Rosalind’s mother, whose early invalidism
had ended in leaving the girl so much alone among servants and wealth.
Aunt Katherine had loved the big house which she had called Fernlode,
because the ferns grew in paths and veins almost unbroken in their
lines, and also because Fern was a part of their old family name.

“Here we are, Margot!” called out Rosalind, as a big woman came up
smiling to that call.

She greeted Nancy happily, and at once the visitor understood why she
was considered bossy, for she directed the man to take the bags and to
do several other things all at the same time.

“Rosalind dear, you should have worn a sweater. See how cool it is–”

“A blessing, Margot dear. Haven’t we been roasting for days? Sweater!
I just want to feel comfortable for a little while. Come on, Nance, I
always run upstairs. Helps me reduce–”

And the puffing Rosalind executed a series of jumps, in lieu of
running, which seemed too much to expect of her, and this bore out the
fat girl’s good intentions.

“I do every earthly thing I can, you know,” confessed Rosalind, as they
stood before an open door, “but I can’t see that it does one bit of
good. I’m–hoping–you may have–a secret–recipe–” Breath giving out,
Rosalind gave in, and sank down on a big chintz covered chair.

“I don’t see why you worry about being fat, Rosa,” said Nancy with real
sincerity. “Here I’m too thin and mother keeps worrying about that all
the time–”

“Oh, what an idea!” chuckled Rosalind. “We can be the Before and
After sign–fat and thin, you know. Wouldn’t that be great?” and as
she laughed Nancy remembered another familiar sign. It was to do with
laughing and growing fat!

“Shall I change for dinner?” Nancy asked when the gale of mirth
subsided and Rosalind stood before a mirror patting her turbulent hair.

“No-o-o!” drawled Rosa. “Just put a ribbon around your head and that’ll
be all you need to do. Dad won’t be home tonight–he’s in Boston, and
Betty” (she whispered this) “is never home when Dad’s away. So a ribbon
will fool Margot, and after dinner–” A queerly pulled face, that made
a pincushion out of Rosa’s features, finished the sentence. Evidently
she had some important plans for after dinner.

As they “fussed up” Nancy noticed how really pretty Rosalind was. Her
eyes were always laughing and they were blue, her mouth was always
smiling and it was scalloped, and her hair was “gorgeous,” being a
perfect mop of brown curls rather short but not bobbed. It was this
head of hair that from baby hood had distinguished Rosalind, for her
“lovely curls” were a matter of family pride to all but herself.

Her weight, however, could not be denied, even by one so favorably
prejudiced as Nancy, for Rosalind Fernell was decidedly fat, as
has been said before. She wore just now a one-piece dress of very
brightly colored summer goods, with the figures so mixed up that Nancy
remembered her brother Ted’s calling this style “circus clothes.”

Nancy, disregarding Rosalind’s suggestion for a ribbon around her
head to make up a dinner costume, had managed to slip into the simple
white voile that her mother was so solicitous about having exactly on
top of her bag, so that she could slip into it quickly, and this with
the yellow ribbon band around her dark hair completed, rather than
composed, the costume.

“You look perfectly duckie,” declared Rosalind, giving her cousin a
frankly admiring glance. “And I’m glad you did dress up, for maybe Gar
will be over.”

“Who’s Gar?” asked Nancy.

“He’s my–lifeguard; I’d perish without Garfield Durand. He lives on
the next pile of rocks and he’s more fun than a troop. You’ll love Gar,
I’m sure. There’s Baldy calling dinner. Baldy is the butler, you know,
and he’s the most perfect baldy you ever gazed at. Has a head like the
crystal ball in the back yard.”

For a camp, which was really what this summer home was supposed to be,
Nancy thought everything about her most elaborate. The house was as
heavily built as any city house might be, and the big beamed ceiling
in the long dining room, made her think of an old English picture. The
butler, Thomas, called Baldy, by the irrepressible Rosalind, rather
awed Nancy at first, but, unlike the butlers in fiction, he could
smile, and he could bend and he was human, so that after her chair
had been adjusted and her water poured, Nancy presently felt quite at
ease and enjoyed, rather than feared, her surroundings. Margot sat at
Rosalind’s side and Nancy was placed opposite. After all, she thought,
one’s simple meals at home were no different from that being served,
except that at home things came more promptly and–yes–perhaps they
did taste a little better mother’s way. However, the soup was good and
the chicken easy to eat, while the dessert was piled high with cream
and Nancy ate it–to make her fat.

“Rosalind, you had better have–” Margot was objecting.

“Nop-ee, I’m going to have _this_,” interrupted Rosalind, who took the
overly rich dessert in defiance of ounces more of the much detested
fat, which were bound to follow.

“Mrs. Fred phoned that she was detained in the city and so could not be
here to greet you, Nancy,” Margot said, as Thomas pulled out her chair,
“but I’m sure Rosalind wants you all to herself, so Mrs. Fred need not
be anxious.” This little pleasantry was followed up by an effusive
reply from Rosalind, who couldn’t really seem to get close enough to
Nancy for her own affectionate satisfaction.

“Oh, we’ll be all right, Margot,” she assured the tall woman with the
unavoidable horn-rimmed glasses. “We’ve got oodles of things to talk
about, and piles of things to do. You won’t mind if I let up on the
exercise to-night, will you?”

“But you know, Rosie–”

“’Course I do, Margy,” and Rosalind coaxed prettily. “But I want to
entertain Cousin Nancy–”

The smiling assent from Margot seemed unnecessary, for Rosalind was
trooping off, with her arm around Nancy’s waist, and her laughter
bubbling like the soap-suds Ted loved to blow out of his old corn-cob
pipe.

Nancy couldn’t help thinking of her brother Ted, the boy now far away
at camp, for, somehow, she was missing him in spite of all this strange
adventure. He was always such a jolly little fellow. What a lark he
would have had in this big place and how he would contrive to turn
every little incident into a laugh or a chuckle? While Rosalind was
speaking to the butler, and while she gave some message to Margot,
Nancy had just a little time for ruminating. She wondered what her
mother was doing. And how the long summer ahead would turn out for each
of her small, intimate family.

“Come into my room,” said Rosalind at her elbow, as they once again
had mounted the broad stairs. “It’s right next to yours–I thought you
might be scary if I put you over in the guest room,” said the cousin,
considerately.

“I should much rather be near you, thanks Rosa,” replied Nancy, meaning
exactly what she said, for with real night settling down upon the
mountains, a queer loneliness amounting almost to foreboding seemed to
seize upon her.

“And you are never lonely out here?” she could not resist remarking,
for it seemed to her Rosalind’s spirits were mounting higher each
moment. She laughed at the slightest excuse, and appeared to Nancy
somewhat over excited.

“Well, of course, sometimes I have been. But not since Gar came. He was
abroad last summer, but now–why, he drives me every place when Margot
and Chet think I’m–doing something else.”

This last piece of information was almost whispered to Nancy, and it
was not difficult for her to guess that Rosalind indulged in pranks as
well as in bubbling laughter.

“But you don’t really go out without your daddy’s knowing?” Nancy
timidly asked.

“Bless the infant!” cooed Rosalind, “I do believe she’s a regular
little darling, country coz,” and another demonstration accompanied
that. “But I won’t shock you to death. I’m really quite harmless,
and you see,” her face sobered for a moment, “all that I do concerns
myself. I think I should have the privilege of enjoying myself, don’t
you?”

“Why, yes, of course. That is–” Already Nancy found herself perplexed.
What if Rosalind was as risky as she pretended to be; and if she,
Nancy, would find it difficult to keep free from responsibility?

“You know Orilla, she’s the girl who used to live here, is too smart
for words,” imparted Rosalind, as the two girls delayed in Rosalind’s
beautiful golden room. “She believes she can help me to–to get thin”
(there was wistfulness in this remark), “but Betty just can’t bear her.
So, of course, I have to do lots of things on the sly.”

Instantly there flashed before Nancy’s mind the suggestion her mother
had made concerning this girl, Orilla. And a suspicious, jealous girl
is not less dangerous just because she happens to be young. In fact,
thought Nancy, that would only make her less wise and more foolish.

Continue Reading

JUST A LITTLE LOVE

They both were carefully folding garments–Nancy sort of caressed the
few dainty little silk things while her mother placed tissue paper
between the folds of her tan tailored skirt, and then laid it gently in
the steamer trunk.

“I can’t help feeling a little guilty, Nancy dear,” she murmured.
“To go all the way over there without my darling daughter.” The next
garment was laid down, and two loving eyes encompassed the girlish
figure before her.

“You know I wouldn’t go, anyway,” Nancy bravely answered. “I’m going to
save my trip to Europe, until–until–later,” she faltered.

“You shall have it,” declared her mother firmly, “and only the
importance of this trip to my business–”

“Of course I know that, Mums,” and Nancy forgot the packing long enough
to fold two prompt arms about her mother’s neck. “You’ll come back so
wise with all your foreign cataloging, that you’ll be made chief of the
reference department. Then I’ll go to college–maybe; although I would
so much rather go to art school.”

The young mother smiled indulgently. “College will not interfere with
your art ambitions, dear,” she explained. “But there’s time enough to
decide all that. What’s worrying me now, is leaving you for this long,
unknown summer.”

“That’s just it,” Nancy hurried to add. “It is unknown. It seems to
me everything happens in summer. Winter is just one school-day after
another, but summer! What can’t happen in summer?”

Dancing around with a wild pretense of gaiety, Nancy was dropping
this article and picking up that, in her efforts to assist with the
European packing; but even the most uninformed stranger would easily
have guessed that the impending separation was disquieting, if not
actually alarming to her, as well as to her mother.

Mrs. Brandon, Nancy’s mother, was being sent abroad in the interest of
an educational quest, being carried on by the library which employed
her; and besides Nancy there was Ted. Ted the small brother, so
important and so loving a member of the little group. But summer for a
boy like Ted merely meant the selection of the best camp, with the most
trustworthy counsellor and the best established reputation. That, with
his little trunk, his brown suits and his endless wood’s-tools, made
up Ted’s schedule and outfit, without a possible flaw in the simple
arrangements.

Not that he didn’t sniffle, as Nancy whispered to Miss Manners, because
he did, every single time he looked at the last picture he, Nancy, and
his mother stood against the old tree for, while Manny snapped it.
More than that, Nancy had seen him take Nero, his dog, down to the pond
twice in one day, the day before he left for camp, although Nero could
not have needed two baths, with soap and a rub down, in one day.

But Ted was gone now, and there remained but one more night and two
hours of the next day before Mrs. Brandon also should be gone.

The thought was appalling. Gone for two whole months while Nancy would
be visiting her rich but unknown cousin Rosalind.

The day before any important event is usually a time of anxiety or of
joyous expectation, for the joy, or even the fear of anticipation, is
a well known preliminary condition. So it was this which Nancy and her
mother were experiencing.

The daughter was by no means an unusual girl, for all girls are
remarkable in their own peculiar way. Nancy was dark, her eyes having
the same tint as her hair–when one regarded their mere color, but
looking into them or having Nancy throw out their full powers upon
another, gave the quiet little pools such glints and flashes, that
their color scheme became quite secondary in actual valuation. Laughter
seemed to wait in one corner while concern was hidden just opposite,
for Nancy Brandon was a girl of many moods, original to the point of
recklessness, defiant of detail where that might interfere with some
new and novel idea, but always sincere.

It was this last saving quality that endeared Nancy to her many
friends, for who can resist a perfectly honest girl, unselfish, and
unspoiled? Her prettiness was a matter of peculiar complement, for
being tall she was correspondingly thin and supple, being dark she
had a lovely olive skin with little patches of rose color, and her
hair–well, her hair had been long, curly, and her mother’s pride, but
Nancy was now determined to have it bobbed–some day soon!

“It is not only old fashioned,” she had argued with her mother, “but
barbaric. American girls are not going to be ape-ish any longer. You’ll
see.”

To which the mother had listened reasonably and had given Nancy
permission to get her hair cut if she chose–after she reached the
summer home of her cousin Rosalind. This qualification of the much
argued plan was so fixed because Rosalind had wonderful hair and, said
Mrs. Brandon, Nancy might not like to be without any, or much, in
contrast.

“I suppose it will be queer in the big house,” Nancy interposed without
need of elucidation. “Big houses always are queer and–spooky.”

Mrs. Brandon laughed lightly at that. “I’m glad you’re not timid,
Nance,” she said, “for the old place must seem rather uncanny by this
time. But it was beautiful, very beautiful when your Aunt Katherine
lived. Of course, Aunt Betty is so much younger–”

“And a step-wife to Uncle Fred,” jerked Nancy. “I always think that
step-wives are up-ish and put on a lot of airs. I’m sure Rosalind
thinks so too.”

“You mean second wife to Uncle Fred and stepmother to Rosalind,”
corrected Mrs. Brandon. “Rosa is just about the age to be rebellious–”

“And she’s so–awfully fat.”

All this was merely the going over of well known details, concerning
the big house and its occupants, forming the background of Nancy’s
prospective summer. For she was to visit Rosalind Fernell at Fernlode,
in the New Hampshire mountains, and Rosalind was best known as being
“awfully fat.” True, she was also step-daughter to Mrs. Frederic
Fernell, the lovely little and very young wife of Mr. Fernell of the
famous woolen mill company. But to Nancy, Rosalind seemed unfortunate
because of both these conditions; being fat and being a step-daughter
were inescapable hardships, thought she.

Letter after letter had poured out Rosalind’s miseries, in fact it
was because her troubles were presented by the cousin as being really
acute, that Mrs. Brandon hesitated long before deciding to let Nancy
visit her. But the big hearted Uncle Frederic, in his letters pointed
out what appeared to be the real truth of the situation, namely: that
Rosalind was rather spoiled from being alone so much, and, of course,
Betty, his young wife, couldn’t possibly make a companion of a little
spoiled child, so–

“I’m sure to love Rosalind,” Nancy again reflected, “because she seems
so frank and honest. Being fat isn’t a crime. She can’t help that.”
This decision, merely a repetition of her usual conclusion, was being
reached as a sequel to Uncle Frederic’s last letter.

“Mother,” Nancy began, bravely attempting to banish the loneliness
that even now seemed to foreshadow herself and her charming young
mother, “do tell me once more, just _once_ more, about Orilla. Is she
Rosalind’s cousin?”

“No. Orilla is really the daughter of a nurse who was with Uncle Fred’s
first wife, your Aunt Katherine, during her long illness. Orilla lived
at Fernlode, and naturally felt it should always be her home. In fact,
she even felt that she should have been the proverbial Cinderella, but
there was no such idea in the minds of Uncle Fred or Aunt Katherine.
Mrs. Rigney, Orilla’s mother, had been very generously paid for her
services, and Orilla’s education was also provided for; but the girl
seems to hold a bitter grudge against your new Aunt Betty–quite as if
uncle Fred’s marriage to her had cut off Orilla’s hopes, you know.”

“Oh, yes,” murmured Nancy. “I can understand that. But I don’t see why
Rosa bothers with her.”

“She is, I believe, a rather persistent young lady and it is she who
bothers Rosa. However, dear, don’t you worry about that angle of Uncle
Fred’s affairs. Just make up your mind to have a wonderful time and so
soothe my conscience for leaving you.”

Followed moments, minutes, little hours of tender endearments. The
mother cautioning, telling, advising, reminding Nancy of so many and
such various possibilities; the daughter questioning–just that, and
only with the loving look from the soft, dark eyes, the appeal from
her trembling lips, the protection begged by her eager young arms; for
Nancy was now quite conscious of the fact that her mother, the great,
the wonderful fortress against every possible and every impossible
evil, was about to be withdrawn from her life for a time. But time
didn’t seem to matter. Two months or two years; it was just the fact,
the unavoidable disaster that confronted her.

“Your hat box holds as much as a suitcase,” said Nancy, laying very
tenderly into the round, black box, one more pair of nice, white silk
stockings, Nancy’s extra gift. “Be sure to wear your black and white
felt on the steamer, Mums. You look stunning in that hat.”

“All right, sweet-heart, I’ll remember,” promised the mother, who
herself was busy with Nancy’s things. “I’m glad your trunk goes today.
Somehow it is easier to attend to mine–”

“Oh, yes. Hum-m-m-hum. You want _me_ out of the way first. But, really,
I think it cheating not to let me see you off,” grumbled Nancy in
pretty pretense.

“Now, you know, dear–”

“’Course I do. I’m just teasing you, Mumsey. I wouldn’t really want
to get mixed up with your party. They might sweep me away and put
goggles on me, to match me up with the library high-brow folks. When a
girl’s mother is made a librarian delegate, I suppose,” sighed Nancy
affectedly, “she ought to wear goggles anyway.”

“Don’t go making fun of my–peers,” cautioned Mrs. Brandon in the same
bantering manner. “I tell you, my dear, if it were not for the library
we wouldn’t any of us be taking a vacation. There’s the postman now.
And I can see Ted’s postcard coming!”

“Four of them!” shouted Nancy, who had already made hold the bright
pictured messages. “Why four, all at once?”

“Laid over,” laconically answered the postman. “Those camps let their
mail pile up, I’ll tell you.”

But Nancy was deciphering the boy’s scrawl which, when classed as
handwriting, was never model, but now, classed as his first message
home from his first week at camp, amounted to perfectly ideal
“broad-casting.”

They read and re-read, Nancy finding little secret words sticking on
the canoe sails and peeping out of, what might have been a cloudburst,
if the postcard had not carried with it the other explanation. This
read “Beautiful Lake Tuketo by Moonlight” and it was the moonlight
effect that was so apt to be misleading.

“He’s all right, at any rate,” remarked the mother, thus betraying
her anxieties. “And he seems to be having a good time,” she sighed
relievedly.

“Trust Ted for that,” Nancy reminded her. “But what an awful looking
lot of boys! Just see my card! They look like a comedy parade.”

“Why Nancy! They’re fine looking little chaps, I’m sure,” defended Mrs.
Brandon. “But I suppose that picture was taken to show the raising of
Old Glory, not as a beauty contest illustration.”

“’S’cuse me,” murmured Nancy. “Of course, they’re–darlings, every one
of them, but I wouldn’t swap our Ted for–the whole bunch!”

“Nancy–Brandon!!”

“Yes-sum!” confessed Nancy, glorifying in her pretended ungrammatic
freedom.

Continue Reading

A CONSCRIPT’S CHRISTMAS

On a Sunday afternoon in December, 1863, two horsemen were making their
way across Big Corn Valley in the direction of Sugar Mountain. They had
started from the little town of Jasper early in the morning, and it was
apparent at a glance that they had not enjoyed the journey. They sat
listlessly in their saddles, with their carbines across their laps, and
whatever conversation they carried on was desultory.

To tell the truth, the journey from Jasper to the top of Sugar Mountain
was not a pleasant one even in the best of weather, and now, with the
wind pushing before it a bitterly cold mist, its disagreeableness was
irritating. And it was not by any means a short journey. Big Corn Valley
was fifteen miles across as the crow flies, and the meanderings of the
road added five more. Then there was the barrier of the foothills, and
finally Sugar Mountain itself, which when the weather was clear lifted
itself above all the other mountains of that region.

Nor was this all. Occasionally, when the wind blew aside the oilskin
overcoats of the riders, the gray uniform of the Confederacy showed
beneath, and they wore cavalry boots, and there were tell-tale trimmings
on their felt hats. With these accoutrements to advertise them, they
were not in a friendly region. There were bushwhackers in the mountains,
and, for aught the horsemen knew, the fodder stacks in the valley, that
rose like huge and ominous ghosts out of the mist on every side, might
conceal dozens of guerrillas. They had that day ridden past the house of
the only member of the Georgia State convention who had refused to affix
his signature to the ordinance of secession, and the woods, to use the
provincial phrase, were full of Union men.

Suddenly, and with a fierce and ripping oath, one of the horsemen drew
rein. “I wish I may die,” he exclaimed, his voice trembling with long
pent up irritation, “if I ain’t a great mind to turn around in my tracks
an’ go back. Where does this cussed road lead to anyhow?”

“To the mountain—straight to the mountain,” grimly remarked the other,
who had stopped to see what was the matter with his companion.

“Great Jerusalem! straight? Do you see that fodder stack yonder with the
hawk on the top of the pole? Well, we’ve passed it four times, and we
ain’t no further away from it now than we was at fust.”

“Well, we’ve no time to stand here. In an hour we’ll be at the foot of
the mountain, and a quarter of a mile further we’ll find shelter. We must
attend to business and talk it over afterwards.”

“An’ it’s a mighty nice business, too,” said the man who had first
spoken. He was slender in build, and his thin and straggling mustache
failed to relieve his effeminate appearance. He had evidently never seen
hard service. “I never have believed in this conscriptin’ business,” he
went on in a complaining tone. “It won’t pan out. It has turned more men
agin the Confederacy than it has turned fer it, or else my daddy’s name
ain’t Bill Chadwick, nor mine neither.”

“Well,” said the other curtly, “it’s the law, Bill Chadwick, and it must
be carried out. We’ve got our orders.”

“Oh, yes! You are the commander, Cap’n Moseley, an’ I’m the army. Ain’t
I the gayest army you ever had under you? I’ll tell you what, Cap’n
Moseley (I’d call you Dick, like I useter, if we wasn’t in the ranks),
when I j’ined the army I thought I was goin’ to fight the Yankees, but
they slapped me in the camp of instruction over there at Adairsville, an’
now here we are fightin’ our own folks. If we ain’t fightin’ ’em, we are
pursuin’ after ’em, an’ runnin’ ’em into the woods an’ up the mountains.
Now what kind of a soldier will one of these conscripts make? You needn’t
tell me, Cap’n! The law won’t pan out.”

“But it’s the law,” said Captain Moseley. The captain had been wounded in
Virginia, and was entitled to a discharge, but he accepted the position
of conscript officer. He had the grit and discipline of a veteran, and
a persistence in carrying out his purposes that gave him the name of
“Hardhead” in the army. He was tall and muscular, but his drooping left
shoulder showed where a Federal bullet had found lodgment. His closely
cropped beard was slightly streaked with gray, and his face would have
been handsome had not determination left its rude handwriting there.

The two rode on together in silence a little space, the cold mists,
driven by the wind, tingling in their faces. Presently Private Chadwick,
who had evidently been ruminating over the matter, resumed the thread of
his complaints.

“They tell me,” he said, “that it’s a heap easier to make a bad law than
it is to make a good one. It takes a lot of smart men a long time to make
a good one, but a passel of blunderbusses can patch a bad one up in a
little or no time. That’s the way I look at it.

“What’s the name of this chap we are after? Israel Spurlock? I’d like
to know, by George, what’s the matter with him! What makes him so
plague-taked important that two men have to be sent on a wild-goose chase
after him? They yerked him into army, an’ he yerked himself out, an’ now
the word is that the war can’t go on unless Israel Spurlock is on hand to
fling down his gun an’ run when he hears a bung-shell playin’ a tune in
the air.”

Captain Moseley coughed to hide a smile.

“It’s jest like I tell you, Cap’n. The news is that we had a terrible
victory at Chattanooga, but I notice in the Atlanta papers that the
Yankees ain’t no further north than they was before the fight; an’ what
makes it wuss, they are warmin’ themselves in Chattanooga, whilst we are
shiverin’ outside. I reckon if Israel Spurlock had been on hand at the
right time an’ in the right place, we’d a drove the Yanks plumb back to
Nashville. Lord! I hope we’ll have him on the skirmish line the next time
we surround the enemy an’ drive him into a town as big as Chattanooga.”

Private Chadwick kept up his complaints for some time, but they failed
to disturb the serenity of the captain, who urged his horse forward
through the mist, closely followed by his companion. They finally left
the valley, passed over the foothills, and began the ascent of Sugar
Mountain. Here their journey became less disagreeable. The road, winding
and twisting around the mountain, had been cut through a dense growth
of trees, and these proved to be something of a shelter. Moreover, the
road sometimes brought the mountain between the travelers and the wind,
and these were such comfortable intervals that Mr. Chadwick ceased his
complaints and rode along good-humoredly.

The two horsemen had gone about a mile, measuring the mountain road,
though they were not more than a quarter of a mile from the foot, when
they came suddenly on an old man sitting in a sheltered place by the
side of the road. They came on the stranger so suddenly that their
horses betrayed alarm, and it was all they could do to keep the animals
from slipping and rolling into the gorge at their left. The old man was
dressed in a suit of gray jeans, and wore a wool hat, which, although
it showed the signs of constant use, had somehow managed to retain
its original shape. His head was large and covered with a profusion
of iron-gray hair, which was neatly combed. His face was round, but
the lines of character obliterated all suggestions of chubbiness.
The full beard that he wore failed to hide evidences of firmness and
determination; but around his mouth a serene smile lingered, and humor
sparkled in his small brown eyes.

“Howdy, boys, howdy!” he exclaimed. “Tired as they look to be, you er
straddlin’ right peart creeturs. A flirt or two more an’ they’d ’a’
flung you down the hill, an’ ’a’ follered along atter you, headstall an’
stirrup. They done like they weren’t expectin’ company in an’ around
here.”

The sonorous voice and deliberate utterance of the old man bespoke his
calling. He was evidently a minister of the gospel. This gave a clew to
Captain Moseley’s memory.

“This must be Uncle Billy Powers,” said the captain. “I have heard you
preach many a time when I was a boy.”

“That’s my name,” said Uncle Billy; “an’ in my feeble way I’ve been
a-preachin’ the Word as it was given to me forty year, lackin’ one. Ef I
ever saw you, the circumstance has slipped from me.”

“My name is Moseley,” said the captain.

“I useter know Jeremiah Moseley in my younger days,” said Uncle Billy,
gazing reflectively at the piece of pine bark he was whittling. “Yes,
yes! I knowed Brother Moseley well. He was a God-fearin’ man.”

“He was my father,” said the captain.

“Well, well, well!” exclaimed Uncle Billy, in a tone that seemed to
combine reflection with astonishment. “Jerry Moseley’s son; I disremember
the day when Brother Moseley came into my mind, an’ yit, now that I hear
his name bandied about up here on the hill, it carries me back to ole
times. He weren’t much of a preacher on his own hook, but let ’im foller
along for to clench the sermon, an’ his match couldn’t be foun’ in them
days. Yit, Jerry was a man of peace, an’ here’s his son a-gwine about
with guns an’ pistols, an’ what not, a-tryin’ to give peaceable folks a
smell of war.”

“Oh, no!” said Captain Moseley, laughing; “we are just hunting up some
old acquaintances,—some friends of ours that we’d like to see.”

“Well,” said Uncle Billy, sinking his knife deep into the soft pine
bark, “it’s bad weather for a frolic, an’ it ain’t much better for a
straight-out, eve’y-day call. Speshually up here on the hill, where the
ground is so wet and slipperyfied. It looks like you’ve come a mighty
long ways for to pay a friendly call. An’ yit,” the old man continued,
looking up at the captain with a smile that well became his patriarchal
face, “thar ain’t a cabin on the hill whar you won’t be more than
welcome. Yes, sir; wheresomever you find a h’a’thstone, thar you’ll find
a place to rest.”

“So I have heard,” said the captain. “But maybe you can cut our journey
short. We have a message for Israel Spurlock.”

Immediately Captain Moseley knew that the placid and kindly face of
Uncle Billy Powers had led him into making a mistake. He knew that he
had mentioned Israel Spurlock’s name to the wrong man at the wrong time.
There was a scarcely perceptible frown on Uncle Billy’s face as he raised
it from his piece of pine bark, which was now assuming the shape of a
horseman’s pistol, and he looked at the captain through half-closed
eyelids.

“Come, now,” he exclaimed, “ain’t Israel Spurlock in the war? Didn’t a
posse ketch ’im down yander in Jasper an’ take an’ cornscrip’ ’im into
the army? Run it over in your mind now! Ain’t Israel Spurlock crippled
some’r’s, an’ ain’t your message for his poor ole mammy?”

“No, no,” said the captain, laughing, and trying to hide his inward
irritation.

“Not so?” exclaimed Uncle Billy. “Well, sir, you must be shore an’ set
me right when I go wrong; but I’ll tell you right pine blank, I’ve had
Israel Spurlock in my min’ off an’ on’ ev’ry since they run him down
an’ kotch him an’ drug ’im off to war. He was weakly like from the time
he was a boy, an’ when I heard you call forth his name, I allowed to
myself, says I, ‘Israel Spurlock is sick, an’ they’ve come atter his ole
mammy to go an’ nuss him.’ That’s the idee that riz up in my min’.”

A man more shrewd than Captain Moseley would have been deceived by the
bland simplicity of Uncle Billy’s tone.

“No,” said he; “Spurlock is not sick. He is a sounder man than I am. He
was conscripted in Jasper and carried to Adairsville, and after he got
used to the camp he concluded that he would come home and tell his folks
good-by.”

“Now that’s jes like Israel,” said Uncle Billy, closing his eyes and
compressing his lips—“jes like him for the world. He knowed that he was
drug off right spang at the time he wanted to be getherin’ in his craps,
an’ savin’ his ruffage, an’ one thing an’ another bekaze his ole mammy
didn’t have a soul to help her but ’im. I reckon he’s been a-housin’
his corn an’ sich like. The ole ’oman tuck on might’ly when Israel was
snatched into the army.”

“How far is it to shelter?” inquired Captain Moseley.

“Not so mighty fur,” responded Uncle Billy, whittling the pine bark more
cautiously. “Jes keep in the middle of the road an’ you’ll soon come to
it. Ef I ain’t thar before you, jes holler for Aunt Crissy an’ tell her
that you saw Uncle Billy some’r’s in the woods an’ he told you to wait
for ’im.”

With that, Captain Moseley and Private Chadwick spurred their horses up
the mountain road, leaving Uncle Billy whittling.

“Well, dang my buttons!” exclaimed Chadwick, when they were out of
hearing.

“What now?” asked the captain, turning in his saddle. Private Chadwick
had stopped his horse and was looking back down the mountain as if he
expected to be pursued.

“I wish I may die,” he went on, giving his horse the rein, “if we ain’t
walked right square into it with our eyes wide open.”

“Into what?” asked the captain, curtly.

“Into trouble,” said Chadwick. “Oh,” he exclaimed, looking at his
companion seriously, “you may grin behind your beard, but you just wait
till the fun begins—all the grins you can muster will be mighty dry
grins. Why, Cap., I could read that old chap as if he was a newspaper.
Whilst he was a-watchin’ you I was a-watchin’ him, an’ if he ain’t got a
war map printed on his face I ain’t never saw none in the ‘Charleston
Mercury.’”

“The old man is a preacher,” said Captain Moseley in a tone that seemed
to dispose of the matter.

“Well, the Lord help us!” exclaimed Chadwick. “In about the wuss whippin’
I ever got was from a young feller that was preachin’ an’ courtin’ in my
neighborhood. I sorter sassed him about a gal he was flyin’ around, an’
he upped an’ frailed me out, an’ got the gal to boot. Don’t tell me about
no preachers. Why, that chap flew at me like a Stonefence rooster, an’ he
fluttered twice to my once.”

“And have you been running from preachers ever since?” dryly inquired the
captain.

“Not as you may say, constantly a-runnin’,” replied Chadwick; “yit I
ain’t been a-flingin’ no sass at ’em; an’ my reason tells me for to give
’em the whole wedth of the big road when I meet ’em.”

“Well,” said the captain, “what will you do about this preacher?”

“A man in a corner,” responded Chadwick, “is obleeged to do the best he
kin. I’ll jest keep my eye on him, an’ the fust motion he makes, I’ll”—

“Run?” suggested the captain.

“Well, now,” said Chadwick, “a man in a corner can’t most ingener’lly
run. Git me hemmed in, an’ I’ll scratch an’ bite an’ scuffle the best way
I know how. It’s human natur’, an’ I’m mighty glad it is; for if that old
man’s eyes didn’t tell no lies we’ll have to scratch an’ scuffle before
we git away from this mountain.”

Captain Moseley bit his mustache and smiled grimly as the tired horses
toiled up the road. A vague idea of possible danger had crossed his mind
while talking to Uncle Billy Powers, but he dismissed it at once as a
matter of little importance to a soldier bent on carrying out his orders
at all hazards.

It was not long before the two travelers found themselves on a plateau
formed by a shoulder of the mountain. On this plateau were abundant
signs of life. Cattle were grazing about among the trees, chickens were
crowing, and in the distance could be heard the sound of a woman’s
voice singing. As they pressed forward along the level road they came
in sight of a cabin, and the blue smoke curling from its short chimney
was suggestive of hospitality. It was a comfortable-looking cabin, too,
flanked by several outhouses. The buildings, in contrast with the
majestic bulk of the mountain, that still rose precipitously skyward,
were curiously small, but there was an air of more than ordinary neatness
and coziness about them. And there were touches of feminine hands here
and there that made an impression—rows of well-kept boxwood winding like
a green serpent through the yard, and a privet hedge that gave promise of
rare sweetness in the spring.

As the soldiers approached, a dog barked, and then the singing ceased,
and the figure of a young girl appeared in the doorway, only to disappear
like a flash. This vision, vanishing with incredible swiftness, was
succeeded by a more substantial one in the shape of a motherly looking
woman, who stood gazing over her spectacles at the horsemen, apparently
undecided whether to frown or to smile. The smile would have undoubtedly
forced its way to the pleasant face in any event, for the years had
fashioned many a pathway for it, but just then Uncle Billy Powers himself
pushed the woman aside and made his appearance, laughing.

“’Light, boys, ’light!” he exclaimed, walking nimbly to the gate. “’Light
whilst I off wi’ your creeturs’ gear. Ah!” he went on, as he busied
himself unsaddling the horses, “you thought that while your Uncle Billy
was a-moonin’ aroun’ down the hill yander you’d steal a march on your
Aunt Crissy, an’ maybe come a-conscriptin’ of her into the army. But
not—not so! Your Uncle Billy has been here long enough to get his hands
an’ his face rested.”

“You must have been in a tremendous hurry,” said Captain Moseley,
remembering the weary length of mountain road he had climbed.

“Why, I could ’a’ tuck a nap an’ ’a’ beat you,” said the old man.

“Two miles of tough road, I should say,” responded Moseley.

“Go straight through my hoss lot and let yourself down by a saplin’
or two,” answered Uncle Billy, “an’ it ain’t more ’n a good quarter.”
Whereupon the old man laughed heartily.

“Jes leave the creeturs here,” he went on. “John Jeems an’ Fillmore will
ten’ to ’em whilst we go in an’ see what your Aunt Crissy is gwine to
give us for supper. You won’t find the grub so mighty various, but there
is plenty enough of what they is.”

There was just enough of deference in Aunt Crissy’s greeting to be
pleasing, and her unfeigned manifestations of hospitality soon caused
the guests to forget that they might possibly be regarded as intruders
in that peaceful region. Then there were the two boys, John Jeems and
Fillmore, both large enough, and old enough, as Captain Moseley quietly
observed to himself, to do military service, and both shy and awkward to
a degree. And then there was Polly, a young woman grown, whose smiles all
ran to blushes and dimples. Though she was grown, she had the ways of a
girl—the vivacity of health and good humor, and the innocent shyness of a
child of nature. Impulsive and demure by turns, her moods were whimsical
and elusive and altogether delightful. Her beauty, which illumined the
old cabin, was heightened by a certain quality that may be described as
individuality. Her face and hands were browned by the sun, but in her
cheeks the roses of youth and health played constantly. There is nothing
more charming to the eye of man than the effects produced when modesty
parts company with mere formality and conventionality. Polly, who was as
shy as a ground squirrel and as graceful, never pestered herself about
formalities. Innocence is not infrequently a very delightful form of
boldness. It was so in the case of Polly Powers, at any rate.

The two rough soldiers, unused to the society of women, were far more
awkward and constrained than the young woman, but they enjoyed the big
fire and the comfortable supper none the less on that account. When, to
employ Mrs. Powers’s vernacular, “the things were put away,” they brought
forth their pipes; and they felt so contented that Captain Moseley
reproved himself by suggesting that it might be well for them to proceed
on their journey up the mountain. But their hosts refused to listen to
such a proposal.

“Not so,” exclaimed Uncle Billy; “by no means. Why, if you knowed this
hill like we all, you’d hoot at the bar’ idee of gwine further after
nightfall. Besides,” the old man went on, looking keenly at his daughter,
“ten to one you won’t find Spurlock.”

Polly had been playing with her hair, which was caught in a single
plait and tied with a bit of scarlet ribbon. When Spurlock’s name was
mentioned she used the plait as a whip, and struck herself impatiently in
the hand with the glossy black thong, and then threw it behind her, where
it hung dangling nearly to the floor.

“Now I tell you what, boys,” said Uncle Billy, after a little pause; “I’d
jes like to know who is at the bottom of this Spurlock business. You all
may have took a notion that he’s a no-’count sorter chap—an’ he is kinder
puny; but what does the army want with a puny man?”

“It’s the law,” said Captain Moseley, simply, perceiving that his mission
was clearly understood. “He is old enough and strong enough to serve in
the army. The law calls for him, and he’ll have to go. The law wants him
now worse than ever.”

“Yes,” said private Chadwick, gazing into the glowing embers—“lots
worse’n ever.”

“What’s the matter along of him now?” inquired Mrs. Powers, knocking the
ashes from her pipe against the chimney jamb.

“He’s a deserter,” said Chadwick.

“Tooby shore!” exclaimed Mrs. Powers. “An’ what do they do wi’ ’em, then?”

For answer Private Chadwick passed his right hand rapidly around his
neck, caught hold of an imaginary rope, and looked upwards at the
rafters, rolling his eyes and distorting his features as though he were
strangling. It was a very effective pantomime. Uncle Billy shook his head
and groaned, Aunt Crissy lifted her hands in horror, and then both looked
at Polly. That young lady had risen from her chair and made a step toward
Chadwick. Her eyes were blazing.

“You’ll be hung long before Israel Spurlock!” she cried, her voice thick
with anger. Before another word had been said she swept from the room,
leaving Chadwick sitting there with his mouth wide open.

“Don’t let Polly pester you,” said Uncle Billy, smiling a little at
Chadwick’s discomfiture. “She thinks the world an’ all of Sister
Spurlock, an’ she’s been a-knowin’ Israel a mighty long time.”

“Yes,” said Aunt Crissy, with a sigh; “the poor child is hot-headed an’
high-tempered. I reckon we’ve sp’ilt ’er. ’T ain’t hard to spile a gal
when you hain’t got but one.”

Before Chadwick could make reply a shrill, querulous voice was heard
coming from the room into which Polly had gone. The girl had evidently
aroused some one who was more than anxious to engage in a war of words.

“Lord A’mighty massy! whar’s any peace?” the shrill voice exclaimed.
“What chance on the top side of the yeth is a poor sick creetur got? Oh,
what makes you come a-tromplin’ on the floor like a drove of wild hosses,
an’ a-shakin’ the clabberds on the roof? I know! I know!”—the voice here
almost rose to a shriek,—“it’s ’cause I’m sick an’ weak, an’ can’t he’p
myself. Lord! ef I but had strength!”

At this point Polly’s voice broke in, but what she said could only be
guessed by the noise in the next room.

“Well, what ef the house an’ yard was full of ’em? Who’s afeard? After
Spurlock? Who keers? Hain’t Spurlock got no friends on Sugar Mountain?
Ef they are after Spurlock, ain’t Spurlock got as good a right for to be
after them? Oh, go ’way! Gals hain’t got no sense. Go ’way! Go tell your
pappy to come here an’ he’p me in my cheer. Oh, go on!”

Polly had no need to go, however. Uncle Billy rose promptly and went into
the next room.

“Hit’s daddy,” said Aunt Crissy, by way of explanation. “Lord! daddy used
to be a mighty man in his young days, but he’s that wasted wi’ the palsy
that he hain’t more ’n a shadder of what he was. He’s jes like a baby,
an’ he’s mighty quar’lsome when the win’ sets in from the east.”

According to all symptoms the wind was at that moment setting terribly
from the east. There was a sound of shuffling in the next room, and
then Uncle Billy Powers came into the room, bearing in his stalwart
arms a big rocking-chair containing a little old man whose body and
limbs were shriveled and shrunken. Only his head, which seemed to be
abnormally large, had escaped the ravages of whatever disease had seized
him. His eyes were bright as a bird’s and his forehead was noble in its
proportions.

“Gentlemen,” said Uncle Billy, “this here is Colonel Dick Watson. He used
to be a big politicianer in his day an’ time. He’s my father-in-law.”

Uncle Billy seemed to be wonderfully proud of his connection with Colonel
Watson. As for the Colonel, he eyed the strangers closely, apparently
forgetting to respond to their salutation.

“I reckon you think it’s mighty fine, thish ’ere business er gwine ter
war whar they hain’t nobody but peaceable folks,” exclaimed the colonel,
his shrill, metallic voice being in curious contrast to his emaciated
figure.

“Daddy!” said Mrs. Powers in a warning tone.

“Lord A’mighty! don’t pester me, Crissy Jane. Hain’t I done seed war
before? When I was in the legislatur’ didn’t the boys rig up an’ march
away to Mexico? But you know yourself,” the colonel went on, turning to
Uncle Billy’s guests, “that this hain’t Mexico, an’ that they hain’t no
war gwine on on this ’ere hill. You know that mighty well.”

“But there’s a tolerable big one going on over yonder,” said Captain
Moseley, with a sweep of his hand to the westward.

“Now, you don’t say!” exclaimed Colonel Watson, sarcastically. “A big war
going on an’ you all quiled up here before the fire, out ’n sight an’ out
’n hearin’! Well, well, well!”

“We are here on business,” said Captain Moseley, gently.

“Tooby shore!” said the Colonel, with a sinister screech that was
intended to simulate laughter. “You took the words out ’n my mouth. I was
in-about ready to say it when you upped an’ said it yourself. War gwine
on over yander an’ you all up here on business. Crissy Jane,” remarked
the colonel in a different tone, “come here an’ wipe my face an’ see
ef I’m a-sweatin’. Ef I’m a-sweatin’, hit’s the fust time since Sadday
before last.”

Mrs. Powers mopped her father’s face, and assured him that she felt
symptoms of perspiration.

“Oh, yes!” continued the colonel. “Business here an’ war yander. I hear
tell that you er after Israel Spurlock. Lord A’mighty above us! What er
you after Israel for? He hain’t got no niggers for to fight for. All the
fightin’ he can do is to fight for his ole mammy.”

Captain Moseley endeavored to explain to Colonel Watson why his duty made
it imperatively necessary to carry Spurlock back to the conscript camp,
but in the midst of it all the old man cried out:—

“Oh, I know who sent you!”

“Who?” the captain said.

“Nobody but Wesley Lovejoy!”

Captain Moseley made no response, but gazed into the fire. Chadwick, on
the other hand, when Lovejoy’s name was mentioned, slapped himself on the
leg, and straightened himself up with the air of a man who has made an
interesting discovery.

“Come, now,” Colonel Watson insisted, “hain’t it so? Didn’t Wesley
Lovejoy send you?”

“Well,” said Moseley, “a man named Lovejoy is on Colonel Waring’s staff,
and he gave me my orders.”

At this the old man fairly shrieked with laughter, and so sinister was
its emphasis that the two soldiers felt the cold chills creeping up their
backs.

“What is the matter with Lovejoy?” It was Chadwick who spoke.

“Oh, wait!” cried Colonel Watson; “thes wait. You mayn’t want to wait,
but you’ll have to. I may look like I’m mighty puny, an’ I ’spec’ I am,
but I hain’t dead yit. Lord A’mighty, no! Not by a long shot!”

There was a pause here, during which Aunt Crissy remarked, in a helpless
sort of way:—

“I wonder wher’ Polly is, an’ what she’s a-doin’?”

“Don’t pester ’long of Polly,” snapped the paralytic. “She knows what
she’s a-doin’.”

“About this Wesley Lovejoy,” said Captain Moseley, turning to the old
man: “you seem to know him very well.”

“You hear that, William!” exclaimed Colonel Watson. “He asts me ef I know
Wes. Lovejoy! Do I know him? Why, the triflin’ houn’! I’ve knowed him
ev’ry sence he was big enough to rob a hen-roos’.”

Uncle Billy Powers, in his genial way, tried to change the current of
conversation, and he finally succeeded, but it was evident that Adjutant
Lovejoy had one enemy, if not several, in that humble household. Such was
the feeling for Spurlock and contempt for Wesley Lovejoy that Captain
Moseley and Private Chadwick felt themselves to be interlopers, and
they once more suggested the necessity of pursuing their journey. This
suggestion seemed to amuse the paralytic, who laughed loudly.

“Lord A’mighty!” he exclaimed, “I know how you feel, an’ I don’t blame
you for feelin’ so; but don’t you go up the mountain this night. Thes
stay right whar you is, beca’se ef you don’t you’ll make all your
friends feel bad for you. Don’t ast me how, don’t ast me why. Thes you
stay. Come an’ put me to bed, William, an’ don’t let these folks go out
’n the house this night.”

Uncle Billy carried the old man into the next room, tucked him away in
his bed, and then came back. Conversation lagged to such an extent that
Aunt Crissy once more felt moved to inquire about Polly. Uncle Billy
responded with a sweeping gesture of his right hand, which might mean
much or little. To the two Confederates it meant nothing, but to Aunt
Crissy it said that Polly had gone up the mountain in the rain and cold.
Involuntarily the woman shuddered and drew nearer the fire.

It was in fact a venturesome journey that Polly had undertaken. Hardened
as she was to the weather, familiar as she was with the footpaths that
led up and down and around the face of the mountain, her heart rose in
her mouth when she found herself fairly on the way to Israel Spurlock’s
house. The darkness was almost overwhelming in its intensity. As Uncle
Billy Powers remarked while showing the two Confederates to their beds
in the “shed-room,” there “was a solid chunk of it from one eend of
creation to t’ other.” The rain, falling steadily but not heavily, was
bitterly cold, and it was made more uncomfortable by the wind, which rose
and fell with a muffled roar, like the sigh of some Titanic spirit flying
hither and yonder in the wild recesses of the sky. Bold as she was, the
girl was appalled by the invisible contention that seemed to be going on
in the elements above her, and more than once she paused, ready to flee,
as best she could, back to the light and warmth she had left behind; but
the gesture of Chadwick, with its cruel significance, would recur to
her, and then, clenching her teeth, she would press blindly on. She was
carrying a message of life and freedom to Israel Spurlock.

With the rain dripping from her hair and her skirts, her face and hands
benumbed with cold, but with every nerve strung to the highest tension
and every faculty alert to meet whatever danger might present itself,
Polly struggled up the mountain path, feeling her way as best she could,
and pulling herself along by the aid of the friendly saplings and the
overhanging trees.

After a while—and it seemed a long while to Polly, contending with the
fierce forces of the night and beset by a thousand doubts and fears—she
could hear Spurlock’s dogs barking. What if the two soldiers, suspecting
her mission, had mounted their horses and outstripped her? She had no
time to remember the difficulties of the mountain road, nor did she know
that she had been on her journey not more than half an hour. She was
too excited either to reason or to calculate. Gathering her skirts in
her hands as she rose to the level of the clearing, Polly rushed across
it towards the little cabin, tore open the frail little gate, and flung
herself against the door with a force that shook the house.

Old Mrs. Spurlock was spinning, while Israel carded the rolls for her.
The noise that Polly made against the door startled them both. The thread
broke in Mrs. Spurlock’s hand, and one part of it curled itself on the
end of the broach with a buzz that whirled it into a fantastically
tangled mass. The cards dropped from Israel’s hands with a clatter that
added to his mother’s excitement.

“Did anybody ever hear the beat of that?” she exclaimed. “Run, Iserl, an’
see what it is that’s a-tryin’ to tear the roof off ’n the house.”

Israel did not need to be told, nor did Mrs. Spurlock wait for him to go.
They reached the door together, and when Israel threw it open they saw
Polly Powers standing there, pale, trembling, and dripping.

“Polly!” cried Israel, taking her by the arm. He could say no more.

“In the name er the Lord!” exclaimed Mrs. Spurlock, “wher’ ’d you drop
from? You look more like a drownded ghost than you does like folks. Come
right in here an’ dry yourse’f. What in the name of mercy brung you out
in sech weather? Who’s dead or a-dyin’? Why, look at the gal!” Mrs.
Spurlock went on in a louder tone, seeing that Polly stood staring at
them with wide-open eyes, her face as pale as death.

“Have they come?” gasped Polly.

“Listen at ’er, Iserl! I b’lieve in my soul she’s done gone an’ run
ravin’ deestracted. Shake ’er, Iserl; shake ’er.”

For answer Polly dropped forward into Mrs. Spurlock’s arms, all wet as
she was, and there fell to crying in a way that was quite alarming to
Israel, who was not familiar with feminine peculiarities. Mrs. Spurlock
soothed Polly as she would have soothed a baby, and half carried, half
led her to the fireplace. Israel, who was standing around embarrassed
and perplexed, was driven out of the room, and soon Polly was decked
out in dry clothes. These “duds,” as Mrs. Spurlock called them, were
ill-fitting and ungraceful, but in Israel’s eyes the girl was just as
beautiful as ever. She was even more beautiful when, fully recovered from
her excitement, she told with sparkling eyes and heightened color the
story she had to tell.

Mrs. Spurlock listened with the keenest interest, and with many an
exclamation of indignation, while Israel heard it with undisguised
admiration for the girl. He seemed to enjoy the whole proceeding, and
when Polly in the ardor and excitement of her narration betrayed an
almost passionate interest in his probable fate, he rubbed his hands
slowly together and laughed softly to himself.

“An’ jest to think,” exclaimed Polly, when she had finished her story,
“that that there good-for-nothin’ Wesley Lovejoy had the imperdence to
ast me to have him no longer ’n last year, an’ he’s been a-flyin’ round
me constant.”

“I seed him a-droppin’ his wing,” said Israel, laughing. “I reckon
that’s the reason he’s after me so hot. But never you mind, mammy; you
thes look after the gal that’s gwine to be your daughter-in-law, an’ I’ll
look after your son.”

“Go off, you goose!” cried Polly, blushing and smiling. “Ef they hang
you, whose daughter-in-law will I be then?”

“The Lord knows!” exclaimed Israel, with mock seriousness. “They tell me
that Lovejoy is an orphan!”

“You must be crazy,” cried Polly, indignantly. “I hope you don’t think
I’d marry that creetur. I wouldn’t look at him if he was the last man.
You better be thinkin’ about your goozle.”

“It’s ketchin’ befo’ hangin’,” said Israel.

“They’ve mighty nigh got you now,” said Polly. Just then a hickory nut
dropped on the roof of the house, and the noise caused the girl to start
up with an exclamation of terror.

“You thought they had me then,” said Israel, as he rose and stood before
the fire, rubbing his hands together, and seeming to enjoy most keenly
the warm interest the girl manifested in his welfare.

“Oh, I wisht you’d cut an’ run,” pleaded Polly, covering her face with
her hands; “they’ll be here therreckly.”

Israel was not a bad-looking fellow as he stood before the fire laughing.
He was a very agreeable variation of the mountain type. He was angular,
but neither stoop-shouldered nor cadaverous. He was awkward in his
manners, but very gracefully fashioned. In point of fact, as Mrs. Powers
often remarked, Israel was “not to be sneezed at.”

After a while he became thoughtful. “I jest tell you what,” he said,
kicking the chunks vigorously, and sending little sparks of fire skipping
and cracking about the room. “This business puzzles me—I jest tell you
it does. That Wes. Lovejoy done like he was the best friend I had. He
was constantly huntin’ me up in camp, an’ when I told him I would like
to come home an’ git mammy’s crap in, he jest laughed an’ said he didn’t
reckon I’d be missed much, an’ now he’s a-houndin’ me down. What has the
man got agin me?”

Polly knew, but she didn’t say. Mrs. Spurlock suspected, but she made no
effort to enlighten Israel. Polly knew that Lovejoy was animated by blind
jealousy, and her instinct taught her that a jealous man is usually a
dangerous one. Taking advantage of one of the privileges of her sex,
she had at one time carried on a tremendous flirtation with Lovejoy.
She had intended to amuse herself simply, but she had kindled fires she
was powerless to quench. Lovejoy had taken her seriously, and she knew
well enough that he regarded Israel Spurlock as a rival. She had reason
to suspect, too, that Lovejoy had pointed out Israel to the conscript
officers, and that the same influence was controlling and directing the
pursuit now going on.

Under the circumstances, her concern—her alarm, indeed—was natural. She
and Israel had been sweethearts for years,—real sure-enough sweethearts,
as she expressed it to her grandfather,—and they were to be married in
a short while; just as soon, in fact, as the necessary preliminaries
of clothes-making and cake-baking could be disposed of. She thought
nothing of her feat of climbing the mountain in the bitter cold and the
overwhelming rain. She would have taken much larger risks than that;
she would have faced any danger her mind could conceive of. And Israel
appreciated it all; nay, he fairly gloated over it. He stood before
the fire fairly hugging the fact to his bosom. His face glowed, and his
whole attitude was one of exultation; and with it, shaping every gesture
and movement, was a manifestation of fearlessness which was all the more
impressive because it was unconscious.

This had a tendency to fret Polly, whose alarm for Israel’s safety was
genuine.

“Oh, I do wisht you’d go on,” she cried; “them men’ll shorely ketch you
ef you keep on a-stayin’ here a-winkin’ an’ a-gwine on makin’ monkey
motions.”

“Shoo!” exclaimed Israel. “Ef the house was surrounded by forty thousan’
of ’em, I’d git by ’em, an’, ef need be, take you wi’ me.”

While they were talking the dogs began to bark. At the first sound Polly
rose from her chair with her arms outstretched, but fell back pale and
trembling. Israel had disappeared as if by magic, and Mrs. Spurlock was
calmly lighting her pipe by filling it with hot embers. It was evidently
a false alarm, for, after a while, Israel backed through the doorway and
closed the door again with comical alacrity.

“Sh-sh-sh!” he whispered, with a warning gesture, seeing that Polly was
about to protest. “Don’t make no fuss. The dogs has been a-barkin’ at
sperits an’ things. Jest keep right still.”

He went noiselessly about the room, picking up first one thing and
then another. Over one shoulder he flung a canteen, and over the
other a hunting-horn. Into his coat-pocket he thrust an old-fashioned
powder-flask. Meanwhile his mother was busy gathering together such
articles as Israel might need. His rifle she placed by the door, and
then she filled a large homespun satchel with a supply of victuals—a
baked fowl, a piece of smoked beef, and a big piece of light bread. These
preparations were swiftly and silently made. When everything seemed to be
ready for his departure Israel presented the appearance of a peddler.

“I’m goin’ up to the Rock,” he said, by way of explanation, “an’ light
the fire. Maybe the boys’ll see it, an’ maybe they won’t. Leastways
they’re mighty apt to smell the smoke.”

Then, without further farewell, he closed the door and stepped out into
the darkness, leaving the two women sitting by the hearth. They sat
there for hours, gazing into the fire and scarcely speaking to each
other. The curious reticence that seems to be developed and assiduously
cultivated by the dwellers on the mountains took possession of them. The
confidences and sympathies they had in common were those of observation
and experience, rather than the result of an interchange of views and
opinions.

Towards morning the drizzling rain ceased, and the wind, changing its
direction, sent the clouds flying to the east, whence they had come.
About dawn, Private Chadwick, who had slept most soundly, was aroused
by the barking of the dogs, and got up to look after the horses. As he
slipped quietly out of the house he saw a muffled figure crossing the
yard.

“Halt!” he cried, giving the challenge of a sentinel. “Who goes there?”

“Nobody ner nothin’ that’ll bite you, I reckon,” was the somewhat
snappish response. It was the voice of Polly. She was looking up and
across the mountains to where a bright red glare was reflected on the
scurrying clouds. The density of the atmosphere was such that the
movements of the flames were photographed on the clouds, rising and
falling, flaring and fading, as though the dread spirits of the storm
were waving their terrible red banners from the mountain.

“What can that be?” asked Chadwick, after he had watched the singular
spectacle a moment.

Polly laughed aloud, almost joyously. She knew it was Israel’s beacon.
She knew that these red reflections, waving over the farther spur of the
mountain and over the valley that nestled so peacefully below, would
summon half a hundred men and boys—the entire congregation of Antioch
Church, where her father was in the habit of holding forth on the first
Sunday of each month. She knew that Israel was safe, and the knowledge
restored her good humor.

“What did you say it was?” Chadwick inquired again, his curiosity
insisting on an explanation.

“It’s jest a fire, I reckon,” Polly calmly replied. “Ef it’s a house
burnin’ down, it can’t be holp. Water couldn’t save it now.”

Whereupon she pulled the shawl from over her head, tripped into the
house, and went about preparing breakfast, singing merrily. Chadwick
watched her as she passed and repassed from the rickety kitchen to the
house, and when the light grew clearer he thought he saw on her face a
look that he did not understand. It was indeed an inscrutable expression,
and it would have puzzled a wiser man than Chadwick. He chopped some
wood, brought some water, and made himself generally useful; but he
received no thanks from Polly. She ignored him as completely as if he had
never existed.

All this set the private to thinking. Now a man who reflects much usually
thinks out a theory to fit everything that he fails to understand.
Chadwick thought out his theory while the girl was getting breakfast
ready.

It was not long before the two soldiers were on their way up the
mountain, nor was it long before Chadwick began to unfold his theory,
and in doing so he managed to straighten it by putting together various
little facts that occurred to him as he talked.

“I tell you what, Captain,” he said, as soon as they were out of hearing;
“that gal’s a slick ’un. It’s my belief that we are gwine on a fool’s
errand. ’Stead of gwine towards Spurlock, we’re gwine straight away
from ’im. When that gal made her disappearance last night she went an’
found Spurlock, an’ ef he ain’t a natchul born fool he tuck to the woods.
Why, the shawl the gal had on her head this mornin’ was soakin’ wet.
It weren’t rainin’, an’ hadn’t been for a right smart while. How come
the shawl wet? They weren’t but one way. It got wet by rubbin’ agin the
bushes an’ the limbs er the trees.”

This theory was plausible enough to impress itself on Captain Moseley.
“What is to be done, then?” he asked.

“Well, the Lord knows what ought to be done,” said Chadwick; “but I
reckon the best plan is to sorter scatter out an’ skirmish aroun’ a
little bit. We’d better divide our army. You go up the mountain an’ git
Spurlock, if he’s up thar, an’ let me take my stan’ on the ridge yander
an’ keep my eye on Uncle Billy’s back yard an’ hoss lot. If Spurlock is
r’ally tuck to the woods, he’ll be mighty apt to be slinkin’ ’roun’ whar
the gal is.”

Captain Moseley assented to this plan, and proceeded to put it in
execution as soon as he and Chadwick were a safe distance from Uncle
Billy Powers’s house. Chadwick, dismounting, led his horse along a
cow-path that ran at right angles to the main road, and was soon lost to
sight, while the captain rode forward on his mission.

Of the two, as it turned out, the captain had much the more comfortable
experience. He reached the Spurlock house in the course of three-quarters
of an hour.

In response to his halloo Mrs. Spurlock came to the door.

“I was a-spinnin’ away for dear life,” she remarked, brushing her gray
hair from her face, “when all of a sudden I hearn a fuss, an’ I ’lows ter
myself, says I, ‘I’ll be boun’ that’s some one a-hailin’,’ says I; an’
then I dropped ever’thin’ an’ run ter the door an’ shore enough it was.
Won’t you ’light an’ come in?” she inquired with ready hospitality. Her
tone was polite, almost obsequious.

“Is Mr. Israel Spurlock at home?” the captain asked.

“Not, as you might say, adzackly at home, but I reckon in reason it won’t
be long before he draps in. He hain’t had his breakfas’ yit, though hit’s
been a-waitin’ for him tell hit’s stone col’. The cows broke out last
night, an’ he went off a-huntin’ of ’em time it was light good. Iserl is
thes ez rank after his milk ez some folks is after the’r dram. I says,
says I, ‘Shorely you kin do ’thout your milk one mornin’ in the year;’
but he wouldn’t nigh hear ter that. He thes up an’ bolted off.”

“I’ll ride on,” said the captain. “Maybe I’ll meet him coming back.
Good-by.”

It was an uneventful ride, but Captain Moseley noted one curious fact. He
had not proceeded far when he met two men riding down the mountain. Each
carried a rifle flung across his saddle in front of him. They responded
gravely to the captain’s salutation.

“Have you seen Israel Spurlock this morning?” he asked.

“No, sir, I hain’t saw him,” answered one. The other shook his head. Then
they rode on down the mountain.

A little farther on Captain Moseley met four men. These were walking,
but each was armed—three with rifles, and one with a shot-gun. They had
not seen Spurlock. At intervals he met more than a dozen—some riding and
some walking, but all armed. At last he met two that presented something
of a contrast to the others. They were armed, it is true; but they were
laughing and singing as they went along the road, and while they had not
seen Spurlock with their own eyes, as they said, they knew he must be
farther up the mountain, for they had heard of him as they came along.

Riding and winding around upward, Captain Moseley presently saw a
queer-looking little chap coming towards him. The little man had a gray
beard, and as he walked he had a movement like a camel. Like a camel,
too, he had a great hump on his back. His legs were as long as any man’s,
but his whole body seemed to be contracted in his hump. He was very spry,
too, moving along as active as a boy, and there was an elfish expression
on his face such as one sees in old picture-books—a cunning, leering
expression, which yet had for its basis the element of humor. The little
man carried a rifle longer than himself, which he flourished about with
surprising ease and dexterity—practicing apparently some new and peculiar
manual.

“Have you seen Israel Spurlock?” inquired Captain Moseley, reining in his
horse.

“Yes! Oh, yes! Goodness gracious, yes!” replied the little man, grinning
good-naturedly.

“Where is he now?” asked the captain.

“All about. Yes! All around! Gracious, yes!” responded the little man,
with a sweeping gesture that took in the whole mountain. Then he seemed
to be searching eagerly in the road for something. Suddenly pausing,
he exclaimed: “Here’s his track right now! Oh, yes! Right fresh, too!
Goodness, yes!”

“Where are you going?” Moseley asked, smiling at the antics of the little
man, their nimbleness being out of all proportion to his deformity.

For answer the little man whirled his rifle over his hump and under his
arm, and caught it as it went flying into the air. Then he held it at a
“ready,” imitating the noise of the lock with his mouth, took aim and
made believe to fire, all with indescribable swiftness and precision.
Captain Moseley rode on his way laughing; but, laugh as he would, he
could not put out of his mind the queer impression the little man had
made on him, nor could he rid himself of a feeling of uneasiness. Taking
little notice of the landmarks that ordinarily attract the notice of
the traveler in a strange country, he suddenly found himself riding
along a level stretch of tableland. The transformation was complete. The
country roads seemed to cross and recross here, coming and going in every
direction. He rode by a little house that stood alone in the level wood,
and he rightly judged it to be a church. He drew rein and looked around
him. Everything was unfamiliar. In the direction from which he supposed
he had come, a precipice rose sheer from the tableland more than three
hundred feet. At that moment he heard a shout, and looking up he beheld
the hunchback flourishing his long rifle and cutting his queer capers.

The situation was so puzzling that Captain Moseley passed his hand
over his eyes, as if to brush away a scene that confused his mind and
obstructed his vision. He turned his horse and rode back the way he had
come, but it seemed to be so unfamiliar that he chose another road, and
in the course of a quarter of an hour he was compelled to acknowledge
that he was lost. Everything appeared to be turned around, even the
little church.

Meanwhile Private Chadwick was having an experience of his own. In
parting from Captain Moseley he led his horse through the bushes,
following for some distance a cow-path. This semblance of a trail
terminated in a “blind path,” and this Chadwick followed as best he
could, picking his way cautiously and choosing ground over which his
horse could follow. He had to be very careful. There were no leaves on
the trees, and the undergrowth was hardly thick enough to conceal him
from the keen eyes of the mountaineers. Finally he tied his horse in a
thicket of black-jacks, where he had the whole of Uncle Billy Powers’s
little farm under his eye. His position was not an uncomfortable one.
Sheltered from the wind, he had nothing to do but sit on a huge chestnut
log and ruminate, and make a note of the comings and goings on Uncle
Billy’s premises.

Sitting thus, Chadwick fell to thinking; thinking, he fell into a doze.
He caught himself nodding more than once, and upbraided himself bitterly.
Still he nodded—he, a soldier on duty at his post. How long he slept he
could not tell, but he suddenly awoke to find himself dragged backward
from the log by strong hands. He would have made some resistance, for he
was a fearless man at heart and a tough one to handle in a knock-down
and drag-out tussle; but resistance was useless. He had been taken at
a disadvantage, and before he could make a serious effort in his own
behalf, he was lying flat on his back, with his hands tied, and as
helpless as an infant. He looked up and discovered that his captor was
Israel Spurlock.

“Well, blame my scaly hide!” exclaimed Chadwick, making an involuntary
effort to free his hands. “You’re the identical man I’m a-huntin’.”

“An’ now you’re sorry you went an’ foun’ me, I reckon,” said Israel.

“Well, I ain’t as glad as I ’lowed I’d be,” said Chadwick. “Yit nuther am
I so mighty sorry. One way or ’nother I knowed in reason I’d run up on
you.”

“You’re mighty right,” responded Israel, smiling not ill-naturedly. “You
fell in my arms same as a gal in a honeymoon. Lemme lift you up, as the
mule said when he kicked the nigger over the fence. Maybe you’ll look
purtier when you swap een’s.” Thereupon Israel helped Chadwick to his
feet.

“You ketched me that time, certain and shore,” said the latter, looking
at Spurlock and laughing; “they ain’t no two ways about that. I was
a-settin’ on the log thar, a-noddin’ an’ a-dreamin’ ’bout Christmas. ’T
ain’t many days off, I reckon.”

“Oh, yes!” exclaimed Spurlock, sarcastically; “a mighty purty dream, I
bet a hoss. You was fixin’ up for to cram me in Lovejoy’s stockin’. A
mighty nice present I’d ’a’ been, tooby shore. Stidder hangin’ up his
stockin’, Lovejoy was a-aimin’ for to hang me up. Oh, yes! Christmas
dreams is so mighty nice an’ fine, I’m a great min’ to set right down
here an’ have one er my own—one of them kin’ er dreams what’s got forked
tail an’ fireworks mixed up on it.”

“Well,” said Chadwick, with some seriousness, “whose stockin’ is you
a-gwine to cram me in?”

“In whose else’s but Danny Lemmons’s? An’ won’t he holler an’ take on?
Why, I wouldn’t miss seein’ Danny Lemmons take on for a hat full er
shinplasters. Dang my buttons ef I would!”

Chadwick looked at his captor with some curiosity. There was not a trace
of ill-feeling or bad humor in Spurlock’s tone, nor in his attitude.
The situation was so queer that it was comical, and Chadwick laughed
aloud as he thought about it. In this Spurlock heartily joined him, and
the situation would have seemed doubly queer to a passer-by chancing
along and observing captor and prisoner laughing and chatting so amiably
together.

“Who, in the name of goodness, is Danny Lemmons?”

“Lord!” exclaimed Spurlock, lifting both hands, “don’t ast me about
Danny Lemmons. He’s—he’s—well, I tell you what, he’s the bull er the
woods, Danny Lemmons is; nuther more ner less. He hain’t bigger ’n my
two fists, an’ he’s ’flicted, an’ he’s all crippled up in his back, whar
he had it broke when he was a baby, an’ yit he’s in-about the peartest
man on the mountain, an’ he’s the toughest an’ the sooplest. An’ more ’n
that, he’s got them things up here,” Spurlock went on, tapping his head
significantly. Chadwick understood this to mean that Lemmons, whatever
might be his afflictions, had brains enough and to spare.

There was a pause in the conversation, and then Chadwick, looking at his
bound wrists, which were beginning to chafe and swell, spoke up.

“What’s your will wi’ me?” he asked.

“Well,” said Spurlock, rising to his feet, “I’m a-gwine to empty your
gun, an’ tote your pistol for you, an’ invite you down to Uncle Billy’s.
Oh, you needn’t worry,” he went on, observing Chadwick’s disturbed
expression, “they’re expectin’ of you. Polly’s tol’ ’em you’d likely come
back.”

“How did Polly know?” Chadwick inquired.

“Danny Lemmons tol’ ’er.”

“By George!” exclaimed Chadwick, “the woods is full of Danny Lemmons.”

“Why, bless your heart,” said Spurlock, “he thes swarms roun’ here.”

After Spurlock had taken the precaution to possess himself of Chadwick’s
arms and ammunition, he cut the cords that bound his prisoner’s hands,
and the two went down the mountain, chatting as pleasantly and as
sociably as two boon companions. Chadwick found no lack of hospitality at
Uncle Billy Powers’s house. His return was taken as a matter of course,
and he was made welcome. Nevertheless, his entertainers betrayed a spirit
of levity that might have irritated a person less self-contained.

“I see he’s ketched you, Iserl,” remarked Uncle Billy, with a twinkle in
his eye. “He ’lowed las’ night as how he’d fetch you back wi’ him.”

“Yes,” said Israel, “he thes crope up on me. It’s mighty hard for to fool
these army fellers.”

Then and afterward the whole family pretended to regard Spurlock as
Chadwick’s prisoner. This was not a joke for the latter to relish, but it
was evidently not intended to be offensive, and he could do no less than
humor it. He accepted the situation philosophically. He even prepared
himself to relish Captain Moseley’s astonishment when he returned and
discovered the true state of affairs. As the day wore away it occurred
to Chadwick that the captain was in no hurry to return. Even Uncle Billy
Powers grew uneasy.

“Now, I do hope an’ trust he ain’t gone an’ lost his temper up thar in
the woods,” remarked Uncle Billy. “I hope it from the bottom of my heart.
These here wars an’ rumors of wars makes the folks mighty restless.
They’ll take resks now what they wouldn’t dassent to of tuck before
this here rippit begun, an’ it’s done got so now human life ain’t wuth
shucks. The boys up here ain’t no better ’n the rest. They fly to pieces
quicker ’n they ever did.”

No trouble, however, had come to Captain Moseley. Though he was confused
in his bearings, he was as serene and as unruffled as when training
a company of raw conscripts in the art of war. After an unsuccessful
attempt to find the road he gave his horse the rein, and that sensible
animal, his instinct sharpened by remembrance of Uncle Billy Powers’s
corn-crib and fodder, moved about at random until he found that he was
really at liberty to go where he pleased, and then he turned short about,
struck a little canter, and was soon going down the road by which he had
come. The captain was as proud of this feat as if it were due to his own
intelligence, and he patted the horse’s neck in an approving way.

As Captain Moseley rode down the mountain, reflecting, it occurred to him
that his expedition was taking a comical shape. He had gone marching up
the hill, and now he came marching down again, and Israel Spurlock, so
far as the captain knew, was as far from being a captive as ever—perhaps
farther. Thinking it all over in a somewhat irritated frame of mind,
Moseley remembered Lovejoy’s eagerness to recapture Spurlock. He
remembered, also, what he had heard the night before, and it was in no
pleasant mood that he thought it all over. It was such an insignificant,
such a despicable affair, two men carrying out the jealous whim of a
little militia politician.

“It is enough, by George!” exclaimed Captain Moseley aloud, “to make a
sensible man sick.”

“Lord, yes!” cried out a voice behind him. Looking around, he saw the
hunchback following him. “That’s what I tell ’em; goodness, yes!”

“Now, look here!” said Captain Moseley, reining in his horse, and
speaking somewhat sharply. “Are you following me, or am I following you?
I don’t want to be dogged after in the bushes, much less in the big road.”

“Ner me nurther,” said the hunchback, in the cheerfulest manner. “An’
then thar’s Spurlock—Lord, yes; I hain’t axt him about it, but I bet a
hoss he don’t like to be dogged atter nuther.”

“My friend,” said Captain Moseley, “you seem to have a quick tongue.
What is your name?”

“Danny Lemmons,” said the other. “Now don’t say I look like I ought to be
squoze. Ever’body inginer’lly says that,” he went on with a grimace, “but
I’ve squoze lots more than what’s ever squoze me. Lord, yes! Yes, siree!
Men an’ gals tergether. You ax ’em, an’ they’ll tell you.”

“Lemmons,” said the captain, repeating the name slowly. “Well, you look
it!”

“Boo!” cried Danny Lemmons, making a horrible grimace; “you don’t know
what you’re a-talkin’ about. The gals all ’low I’m mighty sweet. You
ought to see me when I’m rigged out in my Sunday-go-to-meetin’ duds.
Polly Powers she ’lows I look snatchin’. Lord, yes! Yes, siree! I’m gwine
down to Polly’s house now.”

Whereat he broke out singing, paraphrasing an old negro ditty, and
capering about in the woods like mad.

“Oh, I went down to Polly’s house,
An’ she was not at home;
I set myself in the big arm-cheer
An’ beat on the ol’ jaw bone.
Oh, rise up, Polly! Slap ’im on the jaw,
An hit ’im in the eyeball—bim!”

The song finished, Danny Lemmons walked on down the road ahead of the
horse in the most unconcerned manner. It was part of Captain Moseley’s
plan to stop at Mrs. Spurlock’s and inquire for Israel. This seemed to
be a part of Danny’s plan also, for he turned out of the main road and
went ahead, followed by the captain. There were quite a number of men at
Mrs. Spurlock’s when Moseley rode up, and he noticed that all were armed.
Some were standing listlessly about, leaning against the trees, some were
sitting in various postures, and others were squatting around whittling:
but all had their guns within easy reach. Mrs. Spurlock was walking
about among them smoking her pipe. By the strained and awkward manner
of the men as they returned his salutation, or by some subtle instinct
he could not explain, Captain Moseley knew that these men were waiting
for him, and that he was their prisoner. The very atmosphere seemed to
proclaim the fact. Under his very eyes Danny Lemmons changed from a
grinning buffoon into a quiet, self-contained man trained to the habit of
command. Recognizing the situation, the old soldier made the most of it
by retaining his good humor.

“Well, boys,” he said, flinging a leg over the pommel of his saddle, “I
hope you are not tired waiting for me.” The men exchanged glances in a
curious, shame-faced sort of way.

“No,” said one; “we was thes a-settin’ here talkin’ ’bout ol’ times. We
’lowed maybe you’d sorter git tangled up on the hill thar, and so Danny
Lemmons, he harked back for to keep a’ eye on you.”

There was no disposition on the part of this quiet group of men to be
clamorous or boastful. There was a certain shyness in their attitude,
as of men willing to apologize for what might seem to be unnecessary
rudeness.

“I’ll tell you what,” said Danny Lemmons, “they ain’t a man on the
mounting that’s got a blessed thing agin you, ner agin the tother feller,
an’ they hain’t a man anywheres aroun’ here that’s a-gwine to pester you.
We never brung you whar you is; but now that you’re here we’re a-gwine
to whirl in an’ ast you to stay over an’ take Christmas wi’ us, sech ez
we’ll have. Lord, yes! a nice time we’ll have, ef I ain’t forgot how to
finger the fiddle-strings. We’re sorter in a quandary,” Danny Lemmons
continued, observing Captain Moseley toying nervously with the handle of
his pistol. “We don’t know whether you’re a-gwine to be worried enough to
start a row, or whether you’re a-gwine to work up trouble.”

Meanwhile Danny had brought his long rifle into a position where it could
be used promptly and effectually. For answer Moseley dismounted from his
horse, unbuckled his belt and flung it across his saddle, and prepared to
light his pipe.

“Now, then,” said Danny Lemmons, “thes make yourself at home.”

Nothing could have been friendlier than the attitude of the mountain men,
nor freer than their talk. Captain Moseley learned that Danny Lemmons was
acting under the orders of Colonel Dick Watson, the virile paralytic;
that he and Chadwick were to be held prisoners in the hope that Adjutant
Lovejoy would come in search of them—in which event there would be
developments of a most interesting character.

So Danny Lemmons said, and so it turned out; for one day while Moseley
and Chadwick were sitting on the sunny side of Uncle Billy’s house,
listening to the shrill, snarling tones of Colonel Watson, they heard
a shout from the roadside, and behold, there was Danny Lemmons with
his little band escorting Lovejoy and a small squad of forlorn-looking
militia. Lovejoy was securely bound to his horse, and it may well be
supposed that he did not cut an imposing figure. Yet he was undaunted. He
was captured, but not conquered. His eyes never lost their boldness, nor
his tongue its bitterness. He was almost a match for Colonel Watson, who
raved at all things through the tremulous and vindictive lips of disease.
The colonel’s temper was fitful, but Lovejoy’s seemed to burn steadily.
Moved by contempt rather than caution, he was economical of his words,
listening to the shrill invective of the colonel patiently, but with a
curious flicker of his thin lips that caused Danny Lemmons to study him
intently. It was Danny who discovered that Lovejoy’s eyes never wandered
in Polly’s direction, nor settled on her, nor seemed to perceive that she
was in existence, though she was flitting about constantly on the aimless
little errands that keep a conscientious housekeeper busy.

Lovejoy was captured one morning and Christmas fell the next, and it
was a memorable Christmas to all concerned. After breakfast Uncle Billy
Powers produced his Bible and preached a little sermon—a sermon that was
not the less meaty and sincere, not the less wise and powerful, because
the English was ungrammatical and the rhetoric uncouth. After it was over
the old man cleared his throat and remarked:—

“Brethern, we’re gethered here for to praise the Lord an’ do his will.
The quare times that’s come on us has brung us face to face with much
that is unseemly in life, an’ likely to fret the sperit an’ vex the
understandin’. Yit the Almighty is with us, an’ of us, an’ among us; an’,
in accordance wi’ the commands delivered in this Book, we’re here to
fortify two souls in the’r choice, an’ to b’ar testimony to the Word that
makes lawful marriage a sacrament.”

With that, Uncle Billy, fumbling in his coat pockets, produced a marriage
license, called Israel Spurlock and his daughter before him, and in
simple fashion pronounced the words that made them man and wife.

The dinner that followed hard on the wedding was to the soldiers, who
had been subsisting on the tough rations furnished by the Confederate
commissaries, by all odds the chief event of the day. To them the
resources of the Powers household were wonderful indeed. The shed-room,
running the whole length of the house and kitchen, was utilized, and
the dinner table, which was much too small to accommodate the guests,
invited and uninvited, was supplemented by the inventive genius of
Private William Chadwick, who, in the most unassuming manner, had taken
control of the whole affair. He proved himself to be an invaluable aid,
and his good humor gave a lightness and a zest to the occasion that would
otherwise have been sadly lacking.

Under his direction the tables were arranged and the dinner set, and when
the politely impatient company were summoned they found awaiting them
a meal substantial enough to remind them of the old days of peace and
prosperity. It was a genuine Christmas dinner. In the centre of the table
there was a large bowl of egg-nog, and this was flanked and surrounded by
a huge dish full of apple dumplings, a tremendous chicken pie, barbecued
shote, barbecued mutton, a fat turkey, and all the various accompaniments
of a country feast.

When Uncle Billy Powers had said an earnest and simple grace he gave his
place at the head of the table to Colonel Watson, who had been brought in
on his chair. Aunt Crissy gave Chadwick the seat of honor at the foot,
and then the two old people announced that they were ready to wait on the
company, with Mr. Chadwick to do the carving. If the private betrayed any
embarrassment at all, he soon recovered from it.

“It ain’t any use,” he said, glancing down the table, “to call the roll.
We’re all here an’ accounted for. The only man or woman that can’t answer
to their name is Danny Lemmons’s little brown fiddle, an’ I’ll bet a
sev’m-punce it’d skreak a little ef he tuck it out’n the bag. But before
we whirl in an’ make a charge three deep, le’ ’s begin right. This is
Christmas, and that bowl yander, with the egg-nog in it, looks tired.
Good as the dinner is, it’s got to have a file leader. We’ll start in
with what looks the nighest like Christmas.”

“Well,” said Aunt Crissy, “I’ve been in sech a swivet all day I don’t
reelly reckon the nog is wuth your while, but you’ll ha’ ter take it thes
like you fin’ it. Hit’s sweetened wi’ long sweet’nin’, an’ it’ll ha’ ter
be dipped up wi’ a gourd an’ drunk out’n cups.”

“Lord bless you, ma’am,” exclaimed Chadwick, “they won’t be no questions
axed ef it’s got Christmas enough in it, an’ I reckon it is, kaze I
poured it in myself, an’ I can hol’ up a jug as long as the nex’ man.”

Though it was sweetened with syrup, the egg-nog was a success, for its
strength could not be denied.

“Ef I hadn’t ’a’ been a prisoner of war, as you may say,” remarked
Chadwick, when the guests had fairly begun to discuss the dinner, “I’d
’a’ got me a hunk of barbecue an’ a dumplin’ or two, an’ a slice of
that chicken pie there—I’d ’a’ grabbed ’em up an’ ’a’ made off down the
mountain. Why, I’ll tell you what’s the truth—I got a whiff of that
barbecue by daylight, an’ gentulmen, it fairly made me dribble at the
mouth. Nex’ to Uncle Billy there, I was the fust man at the pit.”

“Yes, yes,” said Uncle Billy, laughing, “that’s so. An’ you holp me a
right smart. I’ll say that.”

“An’ Spurlock, he got a whiff of it. Didn’t you all notice, about the
time he was gittin’ married, how his mouth puckered up? Along towards
the fust I thought he was fixin’ to dip down an’ give the bride a smack.
But, bless you, he had barbecue on his min’, an’ the bride missed the
buss.”

“He didn’t dare to buss me,” exclaimed Polly, who was ministering to her
grandfather. “Leastways not right out there before you all.”

“Please, ma’am, don’t you be skeered of Iserl,” said Chadwick. “I kin
take a quarter of that shote an’ tole him plumb back to camp.”

“Now I don’t like the looks er this,” exclaimed Uncle Billy Powers,
who had suddenly discovered that Lovejoy, sitting by the side of Danny
Lemmons, was bound so that it was impossible for him to eat in any
comfort. “Come, boys, this won’t do. I don’t want to remember the time
when any livin’ human bein’ sot at my table on Christmas day with his
han’s tied. Come, now!”

“Why, tooby shore!” exclaimed Aunt Crissy. “Turn the poor creetur loose.”

“Try it!” cried Colonel Watson, in his shrill voice. “Jest try it!”

“Lord, no,” said Danny Lemmons. “Look at his eyes! Look at ’em.”

Lovejoy sat pale and unabashed, his eyes glittering like those of a
snake. He had refused all offers of food, and seemed to be giving all his
attention to Israel Spurlock.

“What does Moseley say?” asked Colonel Watson.

“Ah, he is your prisoner,” said Moseley. “He never struck me as a
dangerous man.”

“Well,” said Chadwick, “ef there’s any doubt, jest take ’im out in the
yard an’ give ’im han’-roomance. Don’t let ’im turn this table over,
’cause it’ll be a long time before some of this company’ll see the likes
of it ag’in.”

It was clear that Lovejoy had no friends, even among his comrades. It was
clear, too, that this fact gave him no concern. He undoubtedly had more
courage than his position seemed to demand. He sat glaring at Spurlock,
and said never a word. Uncle Billy Powers looked at him, and gave a sigh
that ended in a groan.

“Well, boys,” said the old man, “this is my house, an’ he’s at my table.
I reckon we better ontie ’im, an’ let ’im git a mou’ful ter eat. ’T ain’t
nothin’ but Christian-like.”

“Don’t you reckon he’d better eat at the second table?” inquired
Chadwick. This naïve suggestion provoked laughter and restored good
humor, and Colonel Watson consented that Lovejoy should be released.
Danny Lemmons undertook this gracious task. He had released Lovejoy’s
right arm, and was releasing the left, having to use his teeth on one of
the knots, when the prisoner seized a fork—a large horn-handle affair,
with prongs an inch and a half long—and as quick as a flash of lightning
brought it down on Danny Lemmons’s back. To those who happened to be
looking it seemed that the fork had been plunged into the very vitals of
the hunchback.

The latter went down, dragging Lovejoy after him. There was a short,
sharp struggle, a heavy thump or two, and then, before the company
realized what had happened, Danny Lemmons rose to his feet laughing,
leaving Lovejoy lying on the floor, more securely bound than ever.

“I reckon this fork’ll have to be washed,” said Danny, lifting the
formidable-looking weapon from the floor.

There was more excitement after the struggle was over than there had been
or could have been while it was going on. Chadwick insisted on examining
Danny Lemmons’s back.

“I’ve saw folks cut an’ slashed an’ stobbed before now,” he explained,
“an’ they didn’t know they was hurt tell they had done cooled off. They
ain’t no holes here an’ they ain’t no blood, but I could ’most take a
right pine-blank oath that I seed ’im job that fork in your back.”

“Tut, tut!” said Colonel Watson. “Do you s’pose I raised Danny Lemmons
for the like of that?”

“Well,” said Chadwick, resuming his seat and his dinner with unruffled
nerves, temper, and appetite, “it beats the known worl’. It’s the fust
time I ever seed a man git down on the floor for to give the in-turn an’
the under-cut, an’ cut the pigeon-wing an’ the double-shuffle, all before
a cat could bat her eye. It looks to me that as peart a man as Lemmons
there ought to be in the war.”

“Ain’t he in the war?” cried Colonel Watson, excitedly. “Ain’t he forever
and eternally in the war? Ain’t he my bully bushwhacker?”

“On what side?” inquired Chadwick.

“The Union, the Union!” exclaimed the colonel, his voice rising into a
scream.

“Well,” said Chadwick, “ef you think you kin take the taste out’n this
barbecue with talk like that, you are mighty much mistaken.”

After the wedding feast was over, Danny Lemmons seized on his fiddle and
made music fine enough and lively enough to set the nimble feet of the
mountaineers to dancing. So that, take it all in all, the Christmas of
the conscript was as jolly as he could have expected it to be.

When the festivities were concluded there was a consultation between
Colonel Watson and Danny Lemmons, and then Captain Moseley and his men
were told that they were free to go.

“What about Lovejoy?” asked Moseley.

“Oh, bless you! he goes over the mountain,” exclaimed Danny, with a grin.
“Lord, yes! Right over the mountain.”

“Now, I say no,” said Polly, blushing. “Turn the man loose an’ let him
go.”

There were protests from some of the mountaineers, but Polly finally had
her way. Lovejoy was unbound and permitted to go with the others, who
were escorted a piece of the way down the mountain by Spurlock and some
of the others. When the mountaineers started back, and before they had
got out of sight, Lovejoy seized a musket from one of his men and turned
and ran a little way back. What he would have done will never be known,
for before he could raise his gun a streak of fire shot forth into his
face, and he fell and rolled to the side of the road. An instant later
Danny Lemmons leaped from the bushes, flourishing his smoking rifle.

“You see ’im now!” he cried. “You see what he was atter! He’d better have
gone over the mountain. Lord, yes! Lots better.”

Moseley looked at Chadwick.

“Damn him!” said the latter; “he’s got what he’s been a-huntin’ for.”

By this time the little squad of militia-men, demoralized by the
incident, had fled down the mountain, and Moseley and his companion
hurried after them.

ANANIAS.

I.

Middle Georgia, after Sherman passed through on his famous march to the
sea, was full of the direst confusion and despair, and there were many
sad sights to be seen. A wide strip of country with desolate plantations,
and here and there a lonely chimney standing sentinel over a pile of
blackened and smouldering ruins, bore melancholy testimony to the fact
that war is a very serious matter. All this is changed now, of course.
The section through which the grim commander pushed his way to the
sea smiles under the application of new and fresher energies. We have
discovered that war, horrible as it is, sometimes drags at its bloody
tumbril wheel certain fructifying and fertilizing forces. If this were
not so, the contest in which the South suffered the humiliation of
defeat, and more, would have been a very desperate affair indeed. The
troubles of that unhappy time—its doubts, its difficulties, and its swift
calamities—will never be known to posterity, for they have never been
adequately described.

It was during this awful period—that is to say, in January, 1866—that
Lawyer Terrell, of Macon, made the acquaintance of his friend Ananias.
In the midst of the desolation to be seen on every hand, this negro was
the forlornest spectacle of all. Lawyer Terrell overtook him on the
public highway between Macon and Rockville. The negro wore a ragged
blue army overcoat, a pair of patched and muddy blue breeches, and had
on the remnants of what was once a military cap. He was leading a lame
and broken-down horse through the mud, and was making his way toward
Rockville, at what appeared to be a slow and painful gait. Curiosity
impelled Lawyer Terrell to draw rein as he came up with the negro.

“Howdy, boss?” said the negro, taking off his tattered cap. Responding to
his salutation, the lawyer inquired his name. “I’m name’ Ananias, suh,”
he replied.

The name seemed to fit him exactly. A meaner-looking negro Lawyer
Terrell had never seen. There was not the shadow of a smile on his
face, and seriousness ill became him. He had what is called a hang-dog
look. A professional overseer in the old days would have regarded him
as a negro to be watched, and a speculator would have put him in chains
the moment he bought him. With a good deal of experience with negroes,
Lawyer Terrell had never seen one whose countenance and manner were more
repulsive.

“Well,” said the lawyer, still keeping along with him in the muddy road,
“Ananias is a good name.”

“Yasser,” he replied; “dat w’at mammy say. Mammy done dead now, but she
say dat dey wuz two Ananiases. Dey wuz ole Ananias en young Ananias. One
un um wuz de Liar, en de udder wuz de Poffit. Dat w’at mammy say. I’m
name’ atter de Poffit.”

Lawyer Terrell laughed, and continued his cross-examination.

“Where are you going?”

“Who? Me? I’m gwine back ter Marster, suh.”

“What is your master’s name?”

“Cunnel Benjamime Flewellen, suh.”

“Colonel Benjamin Flewellen; yes; I know the colonel well. What are you
going back there for?”

“Who? Me? Dat my home, suh. I bin brung up right dar, suh—right ’longside
er Marster en my young mistiss, suh.”

“Miss Ellen Flewellen,” said Lawyer Terrell, reflectively. At this remark
the negro showed a slight interest in the conversation; but his interest
did not improve his appearance.

“Yasser, dat her name, sho; but we-all call her Miss Nelly.”

“A very pretty name, Ananias,” remarked Lawyer Terrell.

“Lord! yasser.”

The negro looked up at this, but Lawyer Terrell had his eyes fixed on the
muddy road ahead of him. The lawyer was somewhat youngish himself, but
his face had a hard, firm expression common to those who are in the habit
of having their own way in the court-house and elsewhere.

“Where have you been, Ananias?” said the lawyer presently.

“Who? Me? I bin ’long wid Sherman army, suh.”

“Then you are quite a soldier by this time.”

“Lord! yasser! I bin wid um fum de time dey come in dese parts plum tell
dey got ter Sander’ville. You ain’t never is bin ter Sander’ville, is
you, boss?”

“Not to say right in the town, Ananias, but I’ve been by there a great
many times.” Lawyer Terrell humored the conversation, as was his habit.

“Well, suh,” said Ananias, “don’t you never go dar; special don’t you go
dar wid no army, kase hit’s de longes’ en de nasties’ road fum dar ter
yer w’en you er comin’ back, dat I ever is lay my two eyes on.”

“Why did you come back, Ananias?”

“Who? Me? Well, suh, w’en de army come ’long by home dar, look like
eve’ybody got der eye sot on me. Go whar I would, look alike all de folks
wuz a-watchin’ me. ’Bout time de army wuz a-pilin’ in on us, Marse Wash
Jones, w’ich I never is done ’im no harm dat I knows un, he went ter
Marster, he did, en he ’low dat ef dey don’t keep mighty close watch on
Ananias dey’d all be massycreed in deir beds. I know Marse Wash tol’
Marster dat, kaze Ma’y Ann, w’ich she wait on de table, she come right
outer de house en tol’ me so. Right den, suh, I ’gun ter feel sorter
skittish. Marster had done got me ter hide all de stock out in de swamp,
en I ’low ter myse’f, I did, dat I’d des go over dar en stay wid um.
I ain’t bin dar so mighty long, suh, w’en yer come de Yankees, en wid
um wuz George, de carriage driver, de nigger w’at Marster think mo’ uv
dan he do all de balance er his niggers. En now, den, dar wuz George
a-fetchin’ de Yankees right whar he know de stock wuz hid at.”

“George was a very handy negro to have around,” said Lawyer Terrell.

“Yasser. Marster thunk de worl’ en all er dat nigger, en dar he wuz
showin’ de Yankees whar de mules en hosses wuz hid at. Well, suh, soon
ez he see me, George he put out, en I staid dar wid de hosses. I try
ter git dem folks not ter kyar um off, I beg um en I plead wid um, but
dey des laugh at me, suh. I follered ’long atter um’, en dey driv dem
hosses en mules right by de house. Marster wuz standin’ out in de front
porch, en w’en he see de Yankees got de stock, en me ’long wid um, suh,
he des raise up his han’s—so—en drap um down by his side, en den he tuck
’n tu’n roun’ en go in de house. I run ter de do’, I did, but Marster
done fasten it, en den I run roun’ de back way, but de back do’ wuz done
fassen too. I know’d dey didn’t like me,” Ananias went on, picking his
way carefully through the mud, “en I wuz mos’ out ’n my head, kaze I
ain’t know w’at ter do. ’T ain’t wid niggers like it is wid white folks,
suh. White folks know w’at ter do, kaze dey in de habits er doin’ like
dey wanter, but niggers, suh—niggers, dey er diffunt. Dey dunner w’at ter
do.”

“Well, what did you do?” asked Lawyer Terrell.

“Who? Me? Well, suh, I des crope off ter my cabin, en I draw’d up a cheer
front er de fier, en stirred up de embers, en sot dar. I ain’ sot dar
long ’fo’ Marster come ter de do’. He open it, he did, en he come in. He
’low, ‘You in dar, Ananias?’ I say, ‘Yasser.’ Den he come in. He stood
dar, he did, en look at me. I ain’t raise my eyes, suh; I des look in
de embers. Bime-by he say, ‘Ain’t I allers treat you well, Ananias?’ I
’low, ‘Yasser.’ Den he say, ‘Ain’t I raise you up fum a little baby, w’en
you got no daddy?’ I ’low, ‘Yasser.’ He say, ‘How come you treat me dis
a-way, Ananias? W’at make you show dem Yankees whar my hosses en mules
is?’”

Ananias paused as he picked his way through the mud, leading his
broken-down horse.

“What did you tell him?” said Lawyer Terrell, somewhat curtly.

“Well, suh, I dunner w’at de name er God come ’cross me. I wuz dat full
up dat I can’t talk. I tried ter tell Marster des ’zactly how it wuz, but
look like I wuz all choke up. White folks kin talk right straight ’long,
but niggers is diffunt. Marster stood dar, he did, en look at me right
hard, en I know by de way he look dat his feelin’s wuz hurted, en dis
make me wuss. Eve’y time I try ter talk, suh, sumpin’ ne’r kotch me in de
neck, en ’fo’ I kin come ter myse’f, suh, Marster wuz done gone. I got up
en tried ter holler at ’im, but dat ketch wuz dar in my neck, suh, en mo’
special wuz it dar, suh, w’en I see dat he wuz gwine ’long wid his head
down; en dey mighty few folks, suh, dat ever is see my marster dat a-way.
He kyar his head high, suh, ef I do say it myse’f.”

“Why didn’t you follow after him and tell him about it?” inquired Lawyer
Terrell, drawing his lap-robe closer about his knee.

“Dat des zactly w’at I oughter done, suh; but right den en dar I ain’t
know w’at ter do. I know’d dat nigger like me ain’t got no business
foolin’ ’roun’ much, en dat wuz all I did know. I sot down, I did, en I
make up my min’ dat ef Marster got de idee dat I had his stock run’d off,
I better git out fum dar; en den I went ter work, suh, en I pack up w’at
little duds I got, en I put out wid de army. I march wid um, suh, plum
tell dey got ter Sander’ville, en dar I ax um w’at dey gwine pay me fer
gwine wid um. Well, suh, you mayn’t b’lieve me, but dem w’ite mens dey
des laugh at me. All dis time I bin runnin’ over in my min’ ’bout Marster
en Miss Nelly, en w’en I fin’ out dat dey wa’n’t no pay fer niggers gwine
wid de army I des up en say ter myse’f dat dat kind er business ain’t
gwine do fer me.”

“If they had paid you anything,” said Lawyer Terrell, “I suppose you
would have gone on with the army?”

“Who? Me? Dat I wouldn’t,” replied Ananias, emphatically—“dat I
wouldn’t. I’d ’a’ got my money, en I’d ’a’ come back home, kaze I boun’
you I wa’n’t a-gwine ter let Marster drap off and die widout knowin’ who
run’d dem stock off. No, suh. I wuz des ’bleege ter come back.”

“Ananias,” said Lawyer Terrell, “you are a good man.”

“Thanky, suh!—thanky, marster!” exclaimed Ananias, taking off his
weather-beaten cap. “You er de fus w’ite man dat ever tol’ me dat sence I
bin born’d inter de worl’. Thanky, suh!”

“Good-by,” said Lawyer Terrell, touching his horse lightly with the whip.

“Good-by, marster!” said Ananias, with unction. “Good-by, marster! en
thanky!”

Lawyer Terrell passed out of sight in the direction of Rockville. Ananias
went in the same direction, but he made his way over the road with a
lighter heart.

II.

It is to be presumed that Ananias’s explanation was satisfactory to
Colonel Benjamin Flewellen, for he settled down on his former master’s
place, and proceeded to make his presence felt on the farm as it never
had been felt before. Himself and his army-worn horse were decided
accessions, for the horse turned out to be an excellent animal. Ananias
made no contract with his former master, and asked for no wages. He
simply took possession of his old quarters, and began anew the life he
had led in slavery times—with this difference: in the old days he had
been compelled to work, but now he was working of his own free-will and
to please himself. The result was that he worked much harder.

It may be said that though Colonel Benjamin Flewellen was a noted
planter, he was not much of a farmer. Before and during the war he had
intrusted his plantation and his planting in the care of an overseer.
For three hundred dollars a year—which was not much of a sum in slavery
times—he could be relieved of all the cares and anxieties incident to the
management of a large plantation. His father before him had conducted the
plantation by proxy, and Colonel Flewellen was not slow to avail himself
of a long-established custom that had been justified by experience.
Moreover, Colonel Flewellen had a taste for literature. His father had
gathered together a large collection of books, and Colonel Flewellen had
added to this until he was owner of one of the largest private libraries
in a State where large private libraries were by no means rare. He wrote
verse on occasion, and essays in defense of slavery. There are yet living
men who believed that his “Reply” to Charles Sumner’s attack on the
South was so crushing in its argument and its invective—particularly its
invective—that it would go far toward putting an end to the abolition
movement. Colonel Flewellen’s “Reply” filled a page of the New York
“Day-Book,” and there is no doubt that he made the most of the limited
space placed at his disposal.

With his taste and training it is not surprising that Colonel Benjamin
Flewellen should leave his plantation interests to the care of Mr.
Washington Jones, his overseer, and devote himself to the liberal arts.
He not only wrote and published the deservedly famous “Reply” to Charles
Sumner, which was afterward reprinted in pamphlet form for the benefit
of his friends and admirers, but he collected his fugitive verses in a
volume, which was published by an enterprising New York firm “for the
author;” and in addition to this he became the proprietor and editor
of the Rockville “Vade-Mecum,” a weekly paper devoted to “literature,
science, politics, and the news.”

When, therefore, the collapse came, the colonel found himself practically
stranded. He was not only land-poor, but he had no experience in the
management of his plantation. Ananias, when he returned from his jaunt
with the army, was of some help, but not much. He knew how the plantation
ought to be managed, but he stood in awe of the colonel, and he was
somewhat backward in giving his advice. In fact, he had nothing to
say unless his opinion was asked, and this was not often, for Colonel
Flewellen had come to entertain the general opinion about Ananias, which
was, in effect, that he was a sneaking, hypocritical rascal who was not
to be depended on; a good-enough worker, to be sure, but not a negro in
whom one could repose confidence.

The truth is, Ananias’s appearance was against him. He was ugly and
mean-looking, and he had a habit of slipping around and keeping out
of the way of white people—a habit which, in that day and time, gave
everybody reason enough to distrust him. As a result of this, Ananias got
the credit of every mean act that could not be traced to any responsible
source. If a smoke-house was broken open in the night, Ananias was the
thief. The finger of suspicion was pointed at him on every possible
occasion. He was thought to be the head and front of the Union League,
a political organization set in motion by the shifty carpet-baggers for
the purpose of consolidating the negro vote against the whites. In this
way prejudice deepened against him all the while, until he finally became
something of an Ishmaelite, holding no intercourse with any white people
but Colonel Flewellen and Miss Nelly.

Meanwhile, as may be supposed, Colonel Flewellen was not making much of
a success in managing his plantation. Beginning without money, he had as
much as he could do to make “buckle and tongue meet,” as the phrase goes.
In fact he did not make them meet. He farmed on the old lavish plan.
He borrowed money, and he bought provisions, mules, and fertilizers on
credit, paying as much as two hundred per cent interest on his debts.

Strange to say, his chief creditor was Mr. Washington Jones, his former
overseer. Somehow or other Mr. Jones had thrived. He had saved money as
an overseer, being a man of simple tastes and habits, and when the crash
came he was comparatively a rich man. When affairs settled down somewhat,
Mr. Jones blossomed out as a commission merchant, and he soon established
a large and profitable business. He sold provisions and commercial
fertilizers, he bought cotton, and he was not above any transaction,
however small, that promised to bring him a dime where he had invested
a thrip. He was a very thrifty man indeed. In addition to his other
business he shaved notes and bought mortgages, and in this way the fact
came to be recognized, as early as 1868, that he was what is known as “a
leading citizen.” He did not hesitate to grind a man when he had him in
his clutches, and on this account he made enemies; but as his worldly
possessions grew and assumed tangible proportions, it is not to be denied
that he had more friends than enemies.

For a while Mr. Washington Jones’s most prominent patron was Colonel
Benjamin Flewellen. The colonel, it should be said, was not only a patron
of Jones, but he patronized him. He made his purchases, chiefly on
credit, in a lordly, superior way, as became a gentleman whose hireling
Jones had been. When the colonel had money he was glad to pay cash for
his supplies, but it happened somehow that he rarely had money. Jones,
it must be confessed, was very accommodating. He was anxious to sell to
the colonel on the easiest terms, so far as payment was concerned, and he
often, in a sly way, flattered the colonel into making larger bills than
he otherwise would have made.

There could be but one result, and though that result was inevitable,
everybody about Rockville seemed to be surprised. The colonel had
disposed of his newspaper long before, and one day there appeared, in the
columns which he had once edited with such care, a legal notice to the
effect that he had applied to the ordinary of the county, in proper form,
to set aside a homestead and personalty. This meant that the colonel,
with his old-fashioned ways and methods, had succumbed to the inevitable.
He had a house and lot in town, and this was set apart as his homestead
by the judge of ordinary. Mr. Washington Jones, you may be sure, lost no
time in foreclosing his mortgages, and the fact soon came to be known
that he was now the proprietor of the Flewellen place.

Just at this point the colonel first began to face the real problems of
life, and he found them to be very knotty ones. He must live—but how?
He knew no law, and was acquainted with no business. He was a gentleman
and a scholar; but these accomplishments would not serve him; indeed,
they stood in his way. He had been brought up to no business, and it
was a little late in life—the colonel was fifty or more—to begin to
learn. He might have entered upon a political career, and this would
have been greatly to his taste, but all the local offices were filled
by competent men, and just at that time a Southerner to the manner
born had little chance to gain admission to Congress. The Republican
“reconstructionists,” headed by Thaddeus Stevens, barred the way. The
outlook was gloomy indeed.

Nelly Flewellen, who had grown to be a beautiful woman, and who was as
accomplished as she was beautiful, gave music lessons; but in Rockville
at that time there was not much to be made by teaching music. It is due
to the colonel to say that he was bitterly opposed to this project,
and he was glad when his daughter gave it up in despair. Then she took
in sewing surreptitiously, and did other things that a girl of tact and
common sense would be likely to do when put to the test.

The colonel and his daughter managed to get along somehow, but it was a
miserable existence compared to their former estate of luxury. Just how
they managed, only one person in the wide world knew, and that person
was Ananias. Everybody around Rockville said it was very queer how the
colonel, with no money and little credit, could afford to keep a servant,
and a man-servant at that. But there was nothing queer about it. Ananias
received no wages of any sort; he asked for none; he expected none. A
child of misfortune himself, he was glad to share the misfortunes of
his former master. He washed, he ironed, he cooked, he milked, and he
did more. He found time to do little odd jobs around town, and with the
money thus earned he was able to supply things that would otherwise
have been missing from Colonel Flewellen’s table. He was as ugly and as
mean-looking as ever, and as unpopular. Even the colonel distrusted him,
but he managed to tolerate him. The daughter often had words of praise
for the shabby and forlorn-looking negro, and these, if anything, served
to lighten his tasks.

But in spite of everything that his daughter or Ananias could do, the
colonel continued to grow poorer. To all appearances—and he managed to
keep up appearances to the last—he was richer than many of his neighbors,
for he had a comfortable house, and he still had credit in the town.
Among the shopkeepers there were few that did not respect and admire the
colonel for what he had been. But the colonel, since his experience with
Mr. Washington Jones, looked with suspicion on the credit business. The
result was that he and his daughter and Ananias lived in the midst of the
ghastliest poverty.

As for Ananias, he could stand it well enough; so, perhaps, could the
colonel, he being a man, and a pretty stout one; but how about the
young lady? This was the question that Ananias was continually asking
himself, and circumstances finally drove him to answering it in his own
way. There was this much to be said about Ananias; when he made up his
mind, nothing could turn him, humble as he was; and then came a period
in the career of the family to which he had attached himself when he was
compelled to make up his mind or see them starve.

III.

At this late day there is no particular reason for concealing the facts.
Ananias took the responsibility on his shoulders, and thereafter the
colonel’s larder was always comparatively full. At night Ananias would
sit and nod before a fire in the kitchen, and after everybody else
had gone to bed he would sneak out into the darkness, and be gone for
many hours; but whether the hours of his absence were many or few, he
never returned empty-handed. Sometimes he would bring a “turn” of wood,
sometimes a bag of meal or potatoes, sometimes a side of meat or a ham,
and sometimes he would be compelled to stop, while yet some distance
from the house, to choke a chicken that betrayed a tendency to squall
in the small still hours between midnight and morning. The colonel and
his daughter never knew whence their supplies came. They only knew that
Ananias suddenly developed into a wonderfully good cook, for it is a very
good cook indeed that can go on month after month providing excellent
meals without calling for new supplies.

But Ananias had always been peculiar, and if he grew a trifle more
uncommunicative than usual, neither the colonel nor the colonel’s
daughter was expected to take notice of the fact. Ananias was a sullen
negro at best, but his sullenness was not at all important, and nobody
cared whether his demeanor was grave or gay, lively or severe. Indeed,
except that he was an object of distrust and suspicion, nobody cared
anything at all about Ananias. For his part, Ananias seemed to care
nothing for people’s opinions, good, bad, or indifferent. If the citizens
of Rockville thought ill of him, that was their affair altogether.
Ananias went sneaking around, attending to what he conceived to be his
own business, and there is no doubt that, in some way, he managed to keep
Colonel Flewellen’s larder well supplied with provisions.

About this time Mr. Washington Jones, who had hired a clerk for his
store, and who was mainly devoting his time to managing, as proprietor,
the Flewellen place, which he had formerly managed as overseer, began to
discover that he was the victim of a series of mysterious robberies and
burglaries. Nobody suffered but Mr. Jones, and everybody said that it was
not only very unjust, but very provoking also, that this enterprising
citizen should be systematically robbed, while all his neighbors should
escape. These mysterious robberies soon became the talk of the whole
county. Some people sympathized with Jones, while others laughed at him.
Certainly the mystery was a very funny mystery, for when Jones watched
his potato hill, his smoke-house was sure to be entered. If he watched
his smoke-house, his potato hill would suffer. If he divided his time
watching both of these, his storehouse would be robbed. There was no
regularity about this; but it was generally conceded that the more Jones
watched, the more he was robbed, and it finally came to be believed in
the county that Jones, to express it in the vernacular, “hollered too
loud to be hurt much.”

At last one day it was announced that Jones had discovered the thief who
had been robbing him. He had not caught him, but he had seen him plainly
enough to identify him. The next thing that Rockville knew, a warrant had
been issued for Ananias, and he was arrested. He had no commitment trial.
He was lodged in the jail to await trial in the Superior Court. Colonel
Flewellen was sorry for the negro, as well he might be, but he was afraid
to go on his bond. Faithful as Ananias had been, he was a negro, after
all, the colonel argued, and if he was released on bond he would not
hesitate to run away, if such an idea should occur to him.

Fortunately for Ananias, he was not permitted to languish in jail. The
Superior Court met the week after he was arrested, and his case was among
the first called. It seemed to be a case, indeed, that needed very little
trying. But a very curious incident happened in the court-room.

Among the lawyers present was Mr. Terrell, of Macon. Mr. Terrell was by
all odds the greatest lawyer practising in that circuit. He was so great,
indeed, that he was not called “major,” or “colonel,” or “judge.” He
ranked with Stephens and Hill, and like these distinguished men his title
was plain “Mr.” Mr. Terrell practised in all the judicial circuits of
the State, and had important cases in all of them. He was in Rockville
for the purpose of arguing a case to be tried at term, and which he
knew would be carried to the Supreme Court of the State, no matter what
the verdict of the lower court might be. He was arranging and verifying
his authorities anew, and he was very busy when the sheriff came into
the court-house bringing Ananias. The judge on the bench thought he had
never seen a more rascally-looking prisoner; but even rascally-looking
prisoners have their rights, and so, when Ananias’s case was called, the
judge asked him in a friendly way if he had counsel—if he had engaged a
lawyer to defend him.

Ananias did not understand at first, but when the matter was made plain
to him he said he could get a lawyer. Whereupon he walked over to where
Mr. Terrell sat immersed in his big books, and touched him on the
shoulder. The lawyer looked up.

“I’m name’ Ananias, suh,” said the negro.

“I remember you,” said Mr. Terrell. “What are you doing here?”

“Dey got me up fer my trial, suh, en I ’ain’t got nobody fer ter speak
de word fer me, suh, en I ’low’d maybe—”

Ananias paused. He knew not what else to say. He had no sort of claim
on this man. He saw everybody around him laughing. The great lawyer
himself smiled as he twirled his eye-glasses on his fingers. Ananias was
embarrassed.

“You want me to speak the word?” said Mr. Terrell.

“Yes, suh, if you please, suh.”

“You need not trouble yourself, Mr. Terrell,” said the judge, affably. “I
was about to appoint counsel.”

“May it please your honor,” said Mr. Terrell, rising. “I will defend this
boy. I know nothing whatever of the case, but I happen to know something
of the negro.”

There was quite a little stir in the court-room at this announcement.
The loafers outside the railings of the bar, who had seen Ananias every
day for a good many years, leaned forward to take another look at him.
The lawyers inside the bar also seemed to be interested in the matter.
Some thought that the great lawyer had taken the negro’s case by way of a
joke, and they promised themselves a good deal of enjoyment, for it is
not every day that a prominent man is seen at play. Others knew not what
to think; so that between those who regarded it as a practical joke and
those who thought that Mr. Terrell might be in a serious mood, the affair
caused quite a sensation.

“May it please the court,” said Mr. Terrell, his firm voice penetrating
to every part of the large room, “I know nothing of this case; therefore
I will ask half an hour’s delay to look over the papers and to consult
with my client.”

“Certainly,” said the judge, pleasantly. “Mr. Sheriff, take the prisoner
to the Grand Jury room, so that he may consult with his counsel.”

The sheriff locked the prisoner and the lawyer in the Grand Jury room,
and left his deputy there to open the door when Mr. Terrell announced
that the conference was over. In the mean time the court proceeded with
other business. Cases were settled, dismissed, or postponed. A couple of
young lawyers fell into a tumultuous wrangle over an immaterial point,
which the judge disposed of with a wave of his hand.

In the Grand Jury room Ananias was telling his volunteer counsel a
strange tale.

IV.

“And do you mean to tell me that you really stole these things from
Jones?” said Mr. Terrell, after he had talked a little with his client.

“Well, suh,” replied Ananias, unabashed, “I didn’t zackly steal um, suh,
but I tuck um; I des tuck um, suh.”

“What call had you to steal from Jones? Weren’t you working for Colonel
Flewellen? Didn’t he feed you?” inquired the lawyer. Ananias shifted
about from one foot to the other, and whipped his legs with his shabby
hat, which he held in his hand. Lawyer Terrell, seated in a comfortable
chair, and thoroughly at his ease, regarded the negro curiously. There
appeared to be a pathetic element even in Ananias’s manner.

“Well, suh,” he said, after a while, seeing that he could not escape from
the confession, “ef I hadn’t a-tuck dem things fum Marse Wash Jones,
my Marster en my young mistiss would ’a’ sot dar en bodaciously starve
deyse’f ter deff. I done seed dat, suh. Dey wuz too proud ter tell folks
dey wuz dat bad off, suh, en dey’d ’a sot dar, en des bodaciously starve
deyse’f ter deff, suh. All dey lifetime, suh, dey bin use ter havin’ deir
vittles put right on de table whar dey kin git it, en w’en de farmin’
days done gone, suh, dey wa’n’t nobody but Ananias fer put de vittles
dar; en I des hatter scuffle ’roun’ en git it de bes’ way I kin. I
’spec’, suh,” Ananias went on, his countenance brightening up a little,
“dat ef de wuss had a-come ter de wuss, I’d ’a’ stole de vittles; but I
’ain’t had ter steal it, suh; I des went en tuck it fum Marse Wash Jones,
kaze it come off’n Marster’s lan’, suh.”

“Why, the land belongs to Jones,” said Lawyer Terrell.

“Dat w’at dey say, suh; but eve’y foot er dat lan’ b’longded ter de
Flewellen fambly long ’fo’ Marse Wash Jones’ daddy sot up a hat-shop
in de neighborhoods. I dunner how Marse Wash git dat lan’, suh; I know
it b’longded in de Flewellen fambly sence ’way back, en dey got deir
graveyard dar yit.”

Lawyer Terrell’s unusually stern face softened a little. He saw that
Ananias was in earnest, and his sympathies were aroused. He had some
further conversation with the negro, questioning him in regard to a
great many things that assumed importance in the trial.

When Lawyer Terrell and his client returned to the court-room they
found it filled with spectators. Somehow, it became generally known
that the great advocate was to defend Ananias, and a large crowd of
people had assembled to watch developments. In some way the progress of
Ananias and the deputy-sheriff through the crowd that filled all the
aisles and doorways had been delayed; but when the negro, forlorn and
wretched-looking, made his appearance in the bar for the purpose of
taking a seat by his counsel, there was a general laugh. Instantly Lawyer
Terrell was upon his feet.

“May it please your honor, what _is_ the duty of the sheriff of this
county, if it is not to keep order in this court-room?”

The ponderous staff of the sheriff came down on the floor with a thump;
but it was unnecessary. Silence had fallen on the spectators with the
first words of the lawyer. The crowd knew that he was a game man, and
they admired him for it. His whole attitude, as he gazed at the people
around him, showed that he was full of fight. His heavy blond hair,
swept back from his high forehead, looked like the mane of a lion, and
his steel-gray eyes glittered under his shaggy and frowning brows.

The case of the State _versus_ Ananias Flewellen, _alias_ Ananias
Harper—a name he had taken since freedom—was called in due form. It was
observed that Lawyer Terrell was very particular to strike certain names
from the jury list, but this gave no clue to the line of his defense. The
first witness was Mr. Washington Jones, who detailed, as well as he knew
how, the circumstances of the various robberies of which he had been the
victim. He had suspected Ananias, but had not made his suspicions known
until he was sure,—until he had caught him stealing sweet-potatoes.

The cross-examination of the witness by Ananias’s counsel was severe. The
fact was gradually developed that Mr. Jones caught the negro stealing
potatoes at night; that the night was dark and cloudy; that he did not
actually catch the negro, but saw him; that he did not really see the
negro clearly, but knew “in reason” that it must be Ananias.

The fact was also developed that Mr. Jones was not alone when he saw
Ananias, but was accompanied by Mr. Miles Cottingham, a small farmer in
the neighborhood, who was well known all over the county as a man of
undoubted veracity and of the strictest integrity.

At this point Lawyer Terrell, who had been facing Mr. Jones with severity
painted on his countenance, seemed suddenly to recover his temper. He
turned to the listening crowd, and said, in his blandest tones, “Is Mr.
Miles Cottingham in the room?”

There was a pause, and then a small boy perched in one of the windows,
through which the sun was streaming, cried out, “He’s a-standin’ out
yander by the horse-rack.”

Whereupon a subpœna was promptly made out by the clerk of the court, and
the deputy sheriff, putting his head out of a window, cried:

“Miles G. Cottingham! Miles G. Cottingham! Miles G. Cottingham! Come into
court.”

Mr. Cottingham was fat, rosy, and cheerful. He came into court with such
a dubious smile on his face that his friends in the room were disposed to
laugh, but they remembered that Lawyer Terrell was somewhat intolerant
of these manifestations of good-humor. As for Mr. Cottingham himself, he
was greatly puzzled. When the voice of the court crier reached his ears
he was in the act of taking a dram, and, as he said afterward, he “come
mighty nigh drappin’ the tumbeler.” But he was not subjected to any such
mortification. He tossed off his dram in fine style, and went to the
court-house, where, as soon as he had pushed his way to the front, he was
met by Lawyer Terrell, who shook him heartily by the hand, and told him
his testimony was needed in order that justice might be done.

Then Mr. Cottingham was put on the stand as a witness for the defense.

“How old are you, Mr. Cottingham?” said Lawyer Terrell.

“Ef I make no mistakes, I’m a-gwine on sixty-nine,” replied the witness.

“Are your eyes good?”

“Well, sir, they er about ez good ez the common run; not so good ez they
mought be, en yit good enough fer me.”

“Did you ever see that negro before?” The lawyer pointed to Ananias.

“Which nigger? That un over there? Why, that’s thish yer God-forsakin’
Ananias. Ef it had a-bin any yuther nigger but Ananias I wouldn’t ’a’ bin
so certain and shore; bekaze sence the war they er all so mighty nigh
alike I can’t tell one from t’other sca’cely. All eckceppin’ of Ananias;
I’d know Ananias ef I met ’im in kingdom come wi’ his hair all swinjed
off.”

The jury betrayed symptoms of enjoying this testimony; seeing which, the
State’s attorney rose to his feet to protest.

“May it please the court”—

“One moment, your honor!” exclaimed Lawyer Terrell. Then, turning to the
witness: “Mr. Cottingham, were you with Mr. Jones when he was watching to
catch a thief who had been stealing from him?”

“Well, sir,” replied Mr. Cottingham, “I sot up wi’ him one night, but I
disremember in pertickler what night it wuz.”

“Did you see the thief?”

“Well, sir,” said Mr. Cottingham, in his deliberate way, looking around
over the court-room with a more judicial air than the judge on the bench,
“ef you push me close I’ll tell you. Ther wuz a consid’able flutterment
in the neighborhoods er whar we sot, an’ me an’ Wash done some mighty sly
slippin’ up en surrounderin’; but ez ter seein’ anybody, we didn’t see
’im. We heerd ’m a-scufflin’ an’ a-runnin’, but we didn’t ketch a glimpse
un ’im, nuther har ner hide.”

“Did Mr. Jones see him?”

“No more’n I did. I wuz right at Wash’s elbow. We heerd the villyun
a-runnin’, but we never seed ’im. Atterwards, when we got back ter the
house, Wash he ’lowed it must’a bin that nigger Ananias thar, an’ I
’lowed it jess mought ez well be Ananias ez any yuther nigger, bekaze you
know yourself—”

“That will do, Mr. Cottingham,” said Mr. Lawyer Terrell, blandly. The
State’s attorney undertook to cross-examine Mr. Cottingham; but he was
a blundering man, and the result of his cross-examination was simply a
stronger and more impressive repetition of Mr. Cottingham’s testimony.

After this, the solicitor was willing to submit the case to the jury
without argument, but Mr. Terrell said that if it pleased the court
he had a few words to say to the jury in behalf of his client. The
speech made by the State’s attorney was flat and stale, for he was not
interested in the case; but Lawyer Terrell’s appeal to the jury is still
remembered in Rockville. It was not only powerful, but inimitable; it
was humorous, pathetic, and eloquent. When he concluded, the jury, which
was composed mostly of middle-aged men, was in tears. The feelings of
the spectators were also wrought up to a very high pitch, and when the
jury found a verdict of “not guilty,” without retiring, the people in the
court-room made the old house ring again with applause.

And then something else occurred. Pressing forward through the crowd
came Colonel Benjamin Flewellen. His clothes were a trifle shabby, but
he had the air of a prince of the blood. His long white hair fell on his
shoulders, and his movements were as precise as those of a grenadier. The
spectators made way for him. Those nearest noticed that his eyes were
moist, and that his nether lip was a-tremble, but no one made any remark.
Colonel Flewellen pressed forward until he reached Ananias, who, scarcely
comprehending the situation, was sitting with his hands folded and his
head bent down. The colonel placed his hand on the negro’s shoulder.

“Come, boy,” he said, “let’s go home.”

“Me, Marster?” said the negro, looking up with a dazed expression. It
was the tone, and not the words, that Ananias heard.

“Yes, old fellow, your Miss Nelly will be waiting for us.”

“Name er God!” exclaimed Ananias, and then he arose and followed his old
master out of the court-room. Those who watched him as he went saw that
the tears were streaming down his face, but there was no rude laughter
when he made a futile attempt to wipe them off with his coat-tail. This
display of feeling on the part of the negro was somewhat surprising to
those who witnessed it, but nobody was surprised when Ananias appeared on
the streets a few days after with head erect and happiness in his face.

WHERE’S DUNCAN?

Now, do you know you young people are mighty queer? Somebody has told
you that he heard old man Isaiah Winchell a-gabbling about old times,
and here you come fishing for what you call a story. Why, bless your
soul, man, it is no story at all, just a happening, as my wife used to
say. If you want me to tell what there is of it, there must be some
understanding about it. You know what ought to be put in print and what
ought to be left out. I would know myself, I reckon, if I stopped to
think it all over; but there’s the trouble. When I get started, I just
rattle along like a runaway horse. I’m all motion and no sense, and
there’s no stopping me until I run over a stump or up against a fence.
And if I tried to write it out, it would be pretty much the same. When I
take a pen in my hand my mind takes all sorts of uncertain flights, like
a pigeon with a hawk after it.

As to the affair you were speaking of, there’s not much to tell, but it
has pestered me at times when I ought to have been in my bed and sound
asleep. I have told it a thousand times, and the rest of the Winchells
have told it, thinking it was a very good thing to have in the family. It
has been exaggerated, too; but if I can carry the facts to your ear just
as they are in my mind, I shall be glad, for I want to get everything
straight from the beginning.

Well, it was in 1826. That seems a long time ago to you, but it is no
longer than yesterday to me. I was eighteen years old, and a right smart
chunk of a boy for my age. While we were ginning and packing cotton our
overseer left us, and my father turned the whole business over to me.
Now, you may think that was a small thing, because this railroad business
has turned your head, but, as a matter of fact, it was a very big
thing. It fell to me to superintend the ginning and the packing of the
cotton, and then I was to go to Augusta in charge of two wagons. I never
worked harder before nor since. You see we had no packing-screws nor
cotton-presses in those days. The planter that was able to afford it had
his gin, and the cotton was packed in round bales by a nigger who used
something like a crowbar to do the packing. He trampled the lint cotton
with his feet, and beat it down with his iron bar until the bagging was
full, and then the bale weighed about three hundred pounds. Naturally you
laugh at this sort of thing, but it was no laughing matter; it was hard
work.

Well, when we got the cotton all prepared, we loaded the wagons and
started for Augusta. We hadn’t got more than two miles from home, before
I found that Crooked-leg Jake, my best driver, was drunk. He was beastly
drunk. Where he got his dram, I couldn’t tell you to save my life, for
it was against the law in those days to sell whiskey to a nigger. But
Crooked-leg Jake had it and he was full of it, and he had to be pulled
off of the mule and sent to roost on top of the cotton-bags. It was not
a very warm roost either, but it was warm enough for a nigger full of
whiskey.

This was not a good thing for me at all, but I had to make the best of
it. Moreover, I had to do what I had never done before—I had to drive
six mules, and there was only one rein to drive them with. This was
the fashion, but it was a very difficult matter for a youngster to get
the hang of it. You jerk, jerk, jerked, if you wanted the lead mule to
turn to the right, and you pull, pull, pulled if you wanted her to go
the left. While we were going on in this way, with a stubborn mule at
the wheel and a drunken nigger on the wagon, suddenly there came out of
the woods a thick-set, dark-featured, black-bearded man with a bag slung
across his shoulder.

“Hello!” says he; “you must be a new hand.”

“It would take a very old hand,” said I, “to train a team of mules to
meet you in the road.”

“Now, there you have me,” said he; and he laughed as if he were enjoying
a very good joke.

“Who hitched up your team?” he asked.

“That drunken nigger,” said I.

“To be sure,” said he; “I might have known it. The lead-mule is on the
off side.”

“Why, how do you know that?” I asked.

“My two eyes tell me,” he replied; “they are pulling crossways.” And with
that, without asking anybody’s permission, he unhitched the traces,
unbuckled the reins and changed the places of the two front mules. It was
all done in a jiffy, and in such a light-hearted manner that no protest
could be made; and, indeed, no protest was necessary, for the moment
the team started I could see that the stranger was right. There was no
more jerking and whipping to be done. We went on in this way for a mile
or more, when suddenly I thought to ask the stranger, who was trudging
along good-humoredly by the side of the wagon, if he would like to ride.
He laughed and said he wouldn’t mind it if I would let him straddle the
saddle-mule; and for my part I had no objections.

So I crawled up on the cotton and lay there with Crooked-leg Jake. I had
been there only a short time when the nigger awoke and saw me. He looked
scared.

“Who dat drivin’ dem mules, Marse Isaiah?” he asked.

“I couldn’t tell you even if you were sober,” said I. “The lead-mule was
hitched on the off-side, and the man that is driving rushed out of the
woods, fixed her right, and since then we have been making good time.”

“Is he a sho’ ’nuff w’ite man, Marse Isaiah?” asked Jake.

“Well, he looks like he is,” said I; “but I’m not certain about that.”

With that Jake crawled to the front of the wagon, and looked over at the
driver. After a while he came crawling back.

“Tell me what you saw,” said I.

“Well, sir,” said he, “I dunner whe’er dat man’s a w’ite man or not, but
he’s a-settin’ sideways on dat saddle-mule, en every time he chirps, dat
lead-mule know what he talkin’ about. Yasser. She do dat. Did you say he
come outen de woods?”

“I don’t know where he came from,” said I. “He’s there, and he’s driving
the mules.”

“Yasser. Dat’s so. He’s dar sho’, kaze I seed ’im wid my own eyes. He
look like he made outen flesh en blood, en yit he mought be a ha’nt; dey
ain’t no tellin’. Dem dar mules is gwine on mos’ too slick fer ter suit
me.”

Well, the upshot of it was that the stranger continued to drive. He made
himself useful during the day, and when night came, he made himself
musical; for in the pack slung across his back was a fiddle, and in the
manipulation of this instrument he showed a power and a mastery which
are given to few men to possess. I doubt whether he would have made much
of a show on the stage, but I have heard some of your modern players, and
none of them could approach him, according to my taste. I’ll tell you
why. They all seem to play the music for the music itself, but this man
played it for the sake of what it reminded him of. I remember that when
he took out his fiddle at night, as he invariably did if nobody asked him
to, I used to shut my eyes and dream dreams that I have never dreamed
since, and see visions that are given to few men to see. If I were
younger I could describe it to you, but an old man like me is not apt at
such descriptions.

We journeyed on, and, as we journeyed, we were joined by other wagons
hauling cotton, until, at last, there was quite a caravan of them—twenty,
at least, and possibly more. This made matters very lively, as you may
suppose, especially at night, when we went into camp. Then there were
scenes such as have never been described in any of the books that profess
to tell about life in the South before the war. After the teams had been
fed and supper cooked, the niggers would sing, dance and wrestle, and
the white men would gather to egg them on, or sit by their fires and tell
stories or play cards. Sometimes there would be a fight, and that was
exciting; for in those days, the shotgun was mighty handy and the dirk
was usually within reach. In fact, there was every amusement that such a
crowd of people could manage to squeeze out of such an occasion. In our
caravan there were more than a dozen fiddlers, white and black, but not
one of them that attracted as much attention as the stranger who drove
my team. When he was in the humor he could entrance the whole camp; but
it was not often that he would play, and it frequently happened that he
and I would go to bed under our wagon while the rest of the teamsters
were frolicking. I had discovered that he was a good man to have along.
He knew just how to handle the mules, he knew all the roads, he knew just
where to camp, and he knew how to keep Crooked-leg Jake sober. One night
after we had gone to bed he raised himself on his elbow and said:

“To-morrow night, if I make no mistake, we will camp within a few miles
of the Sandhills. There my journey ends, and yet you have never asked me
my name.”

“Well,” said I, “you are a much older man than I am, and I had a notion
that if you wanted me to know your name you would tell me. I had no more
reason for asking it than you have for hiding it.”

He lay over on his back and laughed.

“You’ll find out better than that when you are older,” he said, and
then he continued laughing—though whether it was what I said or his own
thoughts that tickled him, I had no means of knowing.

“Well,” he went on, after a while, “you are as clever a youngster as ever
I met, and I’ve nothing to hide from you. My name is Willis Featherstone,
and I am simply a vagabond, else you would never have seen me trudging
along the public road with only a fiddle at my back; but I have a rich
daddy hereabouts, and I’m on my way to see how he is getting along. Now,”
he continued, “I’ll give you a riddle. If you can’t unriddle it, it will
unriddle itself. A father had a son. He sent him to school in Augusta,
until he was fifteen. By that time, the father grew to hate the son, and
one day, in a fit of anger, sold him to a nigger speculator.”

“How could that be?” I asked.

“That is a part of the riddle,” said he.

“Are you the son?”

“That is another part of the same riddle.”

“Where was the son’s mother?” I asked.

“In the riddle—in the riddle,” he replied.

I could not unriddle the riddle, but it seemed to hint at some such
villainy as I had read about in the books in my father’s library. Here
was a man who had sold his son; that was enough for me. It gave me matter
to dream on, and as I was a pretty heavy feeder in those days, my dreams
followed hard on each other. But it isn’t worth while to relate them
here, for the things that actually happened were infinitely worse than
any dream could be.

As Featherstone had foretold, we camped the next night not far from the
Sandhills, where the rich people of Augusta went every summer to escape
the heat and malaria of the city. We might have gone on and reached
Augusta during the night, but both men and mules were tired, and of the
entire caravan only one wagon went forward. I shall remember the place
as long as I live. In a little hollow, surrounded by live-oaks—we
call them water-oaks up here—was a very bold spring, and around and
about was plenty of grass for the mules. It was somewhat dry, the time
being November, but it made excellent forage. On a little hill beyond
the spring was a dwelling-house. I came to have a pretty good view of
it afterward, but in the twilight it seemed to be a very substantial
building. It was painted white and had green blinds, and it sat in the
midst of a beautiful grove of magnolias and cedars. I remember, too,—it
is all impressed on my mind so vividly—that the avenue leading to the
house was lined on each side with Lombardy poplars, and their spindling
trunks stood clearly out against the sky.

While I was helping Featherstone unhitch and unharness the mules, he
suddenly remarked:—

“That’s the place.”

“What place?” I asked.

“The place the riddle tells about—where the son was sold by his father.”

“Well,” said I, by way of saying something, “what can’t be cured must be
endured.”

“You are a very clever chap,” he said, after a while. “In fact you are
the best chap I have seen for many a long day, and I like you. I’ve
watched you like a hawk, and I know you have a mother at home.”

“Yes,” said I, “and she’s the dearest old mother you ever saw. I wish you
knew her.”

He came up to me, laid his hand on my shoulder, and looked into my face
with an air I can never forget.

“That is the trouble,” said he; “I don’t know her. If I did I would be a
better man. I never had much of a mother.”

With that he turned away, and soon I heard him singing softly to himself
as he mended a piece of the harness. All this time Crooked-leg Jake was
cooking our supper beneath the live-oak trees. Other teamsters were doing
the same, so that there were two dozen camp-fires burning brightly within
an area of not more than a quarter of a mile. The weather was pleasant,
too, and the whole scene struck me as particularly lively.

Crooked-leg Jake was always free-handed with his cooking. He went at
it with a zest born of his own insatiate appetite, and it was not long
before we were through with it; and while the other campers were fuming
and stewing over their cooking, Jake was sitting by the fire nodding,
and Featherstone was playing his fiddle. He never played it better than
he did that night, and he played it a long time, while I sat listening.
Meanwhile quite a number of the teamsters gathered around, some reclining
in the leaves smoking their pipes, and others standing around in various
positions. Suddenly I discovered that Featherstone had a new and an
unexpected auditor. Just how I discovered this I do not know; it must
have been proned in upon me, as the niggers say. I observed that he
gripped the neck of his fiddle a little tighter, and suddenly he swung
off from “Money-musk” into one of those queer serenades which you have
heard now and again on the plantation. Where the niggers ever picked up
such tunes the Lord only knows, but they are heart-breaking ones.

Following the glance of Featherstone’s eyes, I looked around, and I
saw, standing within the circle of teamsters, a tall mulatto woman. She
was a striking figure as she stood there gazing with all her eyes, and
listening with all her ears. Her hair was black and straight as that of
an Indian, her cheeks were sunken, and there was that in her countenance
that gave her a wolfish aspect. As she stood there rubbing her skinny
hands together and moistening her thin lips with her tongue, she looked
like one distraught. When Featherstone stopped playing, pretending to
be tuning his fiddle, the mulatto woman drew a long breath, and made an
effort to smile. Her thin lips fell apart and her white teeth gleamed
in the firelight like so many fangs. Finally she spoke, and it was an
ungracious speech:—

“Ole Giles Featherstone, up yonder—he’s my marster—he sont me down here
an’ tole me to tell you-all dat, bein’s he got some vittles lef’ over fum
dinner, he’ll be glad ef some un you would come take supper ’long wid
’im. But, gentermens”—here she lowered her voice, giving it a most tragic
tone—“you better not go, kaze he ain’t got nothin’ up dar dat’s fittin’
ter eat—some cole scraps an’ de frame uv a turkey. He scrimps hisse’f,
an’ he scrimps me, an’ he scrimps eve’ybody on de place, an’ he’ll scrimp
you-all ef you go dar. No, gentermens, ef you des got corn-bread an’
bacon you better stay ’way.”

Whatever response the teamsters might have made was drowned by
Featherstone’s fiddle, which plunged suddenly into the wild and plaintive
strains of a plantation melody. The mulatto woman stood like one
entranced; she caught her breath, drew back a few steps, stretched forth
her ebony arms, and cried out:—

“Who de name er God is dat man?”

With that Featherstone stopped his playing, fixed his eyes on the woman,
and exclaimed:—

“_Where’s Duncan?_”

For a moment the woman stood like one paralyzed. She gasped for breath,
her arms jerked convulsively, and there was a twitching of the muscles of
her face pitiful to behold; then she rushed forward and fell on her knees
at the fiddler’s feet, hugging his legs with her arms.

“Honey, who is you?” she cried in a loud voice. “In de name er de Lord,
who is you! Does you know me? Say, honey, does you?”

Featherstone looked at the writhing woman serenely.

“Come, now,” he said, “I ask you once more, _Where’s Duncan?_”

His tone was most peculiar: it was thrilling, indeed, and it had a
tremendous effect on the woman. She rose to her feet, flung her bony arms
above her head, and ran off into the darkness, screaming:—

“He sold ’im!—he sold Duncan! He sold my onliest boy!”

This she kept on repeating as she ran, and her voice died away like an
echo in the direction of the house on the hill. There was not much joking
among the teamsters over this episode, and somehow there was very little
talk of any kind. None of us accepted the invitation. Featherstone put
his fiddle in his bag, and walked off toward the wagons, and it was not
long before everybody had turned in for the night.

I suppose I had been asleep an hour when I felt some one shaking me by
the shoulder. It was Crooked-leg Jake.

“Marse Isaiah,” said he, “dey er cuttin’ up a mighty rippit up dar at dat
house on de hill. I ’spec’ somebody better go up dar.”

“What are they doing?” I asked him drowsily.

“Dey er cussin’ an’ gwine on scan’lous. Dat ar nigger ’oman, she’s
a-cussin’ out de white man, an’ de white man, he’s a-cussin’ back at
her.”

“Where’s Featherstone?” I inquired, still not more than half awake.

“Dat what make me come atter you, suh. Dat white man what bin ’long wid
us, he’s up dar, an’ it look like ter me dat he’s a-aggin’ de fuss on.
Dey gwine ter be trouble up dar, sho ez you er born.”

“Bosh!” said I, “the woman’s master will call her up, give her a
strapping, and that will be the end of it.”

“No, suh! no, suh!” exclaimed Jake; “dat ar nigger ’oman done got dat
white man hacked. Hit’s des like I tell you, mon!”

I drove Jake off to bed, turned over on my pallet, and was about to go to
sleep again, when I heard quite a stir in the camp. The mules and horses
were snorting and tugging at their halters, the chickens on the hill were
cackling, and somewhere near, a flock of geese was screaming. Just then
Crooked-leg Jake came and shook me by the shoulder again. I spoke to him
somewhat sharply, but he didn’t seem to mind it.

“What I tell you, Marse Isaiah?” he cried. “Look up yonder! Ef dat house
ain’t afire on top, den Jake’s a liar!”

I turned on my elbow, and, sure enough, the house on the hill was
outlined in flame. The hungry, yellow tongues of fire reached up the
corners and ran along the roof, lapping the shingles, here and there,
as if blindly searching for food. They found it, too, for by the time
I reached the spot, and you may be sure I was not long getting there,
the whole roof was in a blaze. I had never seen a house on fire before,
and the sight of it made me quake; but in a moment I had forgotten all
about the fire, for there, right before my eyes, was a spectacle that
will haunt me to my dying day. In the dining-room—I suppose it must have
been the dining-room, for there was a sideboard with a row of candles
on it—I saw the mulatto woman (the same that had acted so queerly when
Featherstone had asked her about Duncan) engaged in an encounter with
a gray-haired white man. The candles on the sideboard and the flaring
flames without lit up the affair until it looked like some of the
spectacles I have since seen in theatres, only it was more terrible.

It was plain that the old man was no match for the woman, but he fought
manfully for his life. Whatever noise they made must have been drowned by
the crackling and roaring of the flames outside; but they seemed to be
making none except a snarling sound when they caught their breath, like
two bull-dogs fighting. The woman had a carving-knife in her right hand,
and she was endeavoring to push the white man against the wall. He, on
his side, was trying to catch and hold the hand in which the woman held
the knife, and was also making a frantic effort to keep away from the
wall. But the woman had the advantage; she was younger and stronger, and
desperate as he was, she was more desperate still.

Of course, it is a very easy matter to ask why some of my companions or
myself didn’t rush to the rescue. I think such an attempt was made; but
the roof of the house was ablaze and crackling from one end to the other,
and the heat and smoke were stifling. The smoke and flames, instead of
springing upward, ranged downward, so that before anything could be done,
the building appeared to be a solid sheet of fire; but through it all
could be seen the writhing and wrestling of the nigger woman and the
white man. Once, and only once, did I catch the sound of a voice; it was
the voice of the nigger woman; she had her carving-knife raised in the
air in one hand, and with the other she had the white man by the throat.

“_Where’s Duncan?_” she shrieked.

If the man had been disposed to reply, he had no opportunity, for the
woman had no sooner asked the question than she plunged the carving-knife
into his body, not only once, but twice. It was a sickening sight,
indeed, and I closed my eyes to avoid seeing any more of it; but there
was no need of that, for the writhing and struggling bodies of the two
fell to the floor and so disappeared from sight.

Immediately afterward there was a tremendous crash. The roof had fallen
in, and this was followed by an eruption of sparks and smoke and flame,
accompanied by a violent roaring noise that sounded like the culmination
of a storm. It was so loud that it aroused the pigeons on the place,
and a great flock of them began circling around the burning building.
Occasionally one more frightened than the rest would dart headlong into
the flames, and it was curious to see the way it disappeared. There would
be a fizz and a sputter, and the poor bird would be burnt harder than a
crackling. I observed this and other commonplace things with unusual
interest—an interest sharpened, perhaps, by the fact that there could be
no hope for the two human beings on whom the roof had fallen.

Naturally, you will want to ask me a great many questions. I have asked
them myself a thousand times, and I’ve tried to dream the answers to them
while I sat dozing here in the sun, but when I dream about the affair at
all, the fumes of burning flesh seem to fill my nostrils. Crooked-leg
Jake insisted to the day of his death that the man who had driven our
team sat in a chair in the corner of the dining-room, while the woman and
the man were fighting, and seemed to be enjoying the spectacle. It may be
so. At any rate none of us ever saw him again. As for the rest, you know
just as much about it as I do.

MOM BI:

HER FRIENDS AND HER ENEMIES.

The little town of Fairleigh, in South Carolina, was a noted place
before the war, whatever it may be now. It had its atmosphere, as Judge
Waynecroft used to say, and that atmosphere was one of distinction. It
was a very quiet town, but there was something aristocratic, something
exclusive, even in its repose. It was a rough wind that could disturb the
stateliness of the live oaks with which the streets were lined, and it
was indeed an inhospitable winter that could suppress the tendency of the
roses to bloom.

Fairleigh made no public boast that it was not a commercial town, but
there can be no doubt that it prided itself on the fact. Even the
piney-woods crackers found a slow market there for the little “truck”
they had to sell, for it was the custom of the people to get their
supplies of all kinds from “the city.” It was to “the city,” indeed,
that Fairleigh owed its prominence, and its inhabitants were duly mindful
of that fact.

As late as 1854 there was no more insignificant village in South Carolina
than Fairleigh; but in the summer of that year the fever plague flapped
its yellow wings above Charleston, and the wealthier families sought
safety in flight. Some went North and some went West; some went one way
and some another; but the choice few, following the example of Judge
Waynecroft, went no further than Fairleigh, which was far enough in the
interior to be out of reach of the contagion.

They found the situation of the little village so convenient, and its
climate so perfect, that they proceeded—still following the example of
Judge Waynecroft—to build summer homes there; and in time Fairleigh
became noted as a resort for the wealthiest and most refined people of
Charleston.

Of this movement, as has been intimated, Judge Waynecroft was the
pioneer; and for this and other reasons he was highly esteemed by
the natives of Fairleigh. To their minds the Judge was an able and a
public-spirited citizen, whom it was their pleasure to admire. In
addition to this, he had a most charming household, in which simplicity
lent grace to dignity.

There was one feature of Judge Waynecroft’s household, however, which
the natives of Fairleigh did not admire, and that was “Mom Bi.” Perhaps
they were justified in this. Mom Bi was a negro woman, who appeared to be
somewhat past middle age, just how far past no one could guess. She was
tall and gaunt, and her skin was black as jet. She walked rapidly, but
with a sidewise motion, as if she had been overtaken with rheumatism or
partial paralysis. Her left arm was bent and withered, and she carried
it in front of her and across her body, as one would hold an infant. Her
head-handkerchief was queerly tied. The folds of it stood straight up in
the air, giving her the appearance of a black Amazon. This impression was
heightened by the peculiar brightness of her eyes. They were not large
eyes, but they shone like those of a wild animal that is not afraid of
the hunter. Her nose was not flat, nor were her lips thick like those of
the typical negro. Her whole appearance was aggressive. Moreover, her
manner was abrupt, and her tongue sharp, especially when it was leveled
at any of the natives of Fairleigh.

To do Mom Bi justice, her manner was abrupt and her tongue sharp even
in her master’s family, but there these matters were understood.
Practically, she ruled the household, and though she quarreled from
morning till night, and sometimes far into the night, everything she said
was taken in a Pickwickian sense. She was an old family servant who not
only had large privileges, but was defiantly anxious to take advantage of
all of them.

Whatever effect slavery may have had on other negroes, or on negroes in
general, it is certain that Mom Bi’s spirit remained unbroken. Whoever
crossed her in the least, white or black, old or young, got “a piece
of her mind,” and it was usually a very large piece. Naturally enough,
under the circumstances, Mom Bi soon became as well known in Fairleigh
and in all the region round about as any of the “quality people.” To
some, her characteristics were intensely irritating; while to others they
were simply amusing; but to all she was a unique figure, superior in her
methods and ideas to the common run of negroes.

Once, after having a quarrel with her mistress—a quarrel which was a
one-sided affair, however—Mom Bi heard one of the house girls making
an effort to follow her example. The girl was making some impertinent
remarks to her mistress, when Mom Bi seized a dog-whip that was hanging
in the hall, and used it with such effect that the pert young wench
remembered it for many a long day.

This was Mom Bi’s way. She was ready enough to quarrel with each and
every member of her master’s family, but she was ready to defend the
entire household against any and all comers. Altogether she was a queer
combination of tyrant and servant, of virago and “mammy.” Yet her master
and mistress appreciated and respected her, and the children loved her.
Her strong individuality was not misunderstood by those who knew her best.

No one knew just how old she was, and no one knew her real name. Probably
no one cared: but there was a tradition in the Waynecroft family that
her name was Viola, and that it had been corrupted by the children into
Bi—Mom Bi. As to her age, it is sufficient to say that she was the
self-constituted repository of the oral history of three generations of
the family. She was a young woman when her master’s grandfather died in
1799. Good, bad or indifferent, Mom Bi knew all about the family; and
there were passages in the careers of some of its members that she was
fond of retailing to her master and mistress, especially when in a bad
humor.

Insignificant as she was, Mom Bi made her influence felt in Fairleigh.
She was respected in her master’s family for her honesty and
faithfulness, but outsiders shrank from her frank and fearless criticism.
The “sandhillers”—the tackies—that marketed their poor little crops in
and around the village, were the special objects of her aversion, and
she lost no opportunity of harassing them. Whether these queer people
regarded Mom Bi as a humorist of the grimmer sort, or whether they were
indifferent to her opinions, it would be difficult to say, but it is
certain that her remarks, no matter how personal or bitter, made little
impression on them. The men would rub their thin beards, nudge each other
and laugh silently, while the women would push their sunbonnets back and
stare at her as if she were some rare curiosity on exhibition. At such
times Mom Bi would laugh loudly and maliciously, and cry out in a shrill
and an irritating tone:—

“De Lord know, I glad I nigger. Ef I ain’t bin born black, dee ain’t no
tellin, what I mought bin born. I mought bin born lak some deze white
folks what eat dirt un set in de chimerly-corner tell dee look lak dee
bin smoke-dried. De Lord know what make Jesse Waynecroft fetch he famerly
’mongst folk lak deze.”

This was mildness itself compared with some of Mom Bi’s harangues later
on, when the “sandhillers,” urged by some of the energetic citizens
of the village, were forming a military company to be offered to the
Governor of Virginia for the defense of that State. This was in the
summer of 1861. There was a great stir in the South. The martial spirit
of the people had been aroused by the fiery eloquence of the political
leaders, and the volunteers were mustering in every town and village.
The “sandhillers” were not particularly enthusiastic—they had but vague
ideas of the issues at stake—but the military business was something
new to them, and therefore alluring. They volunteered readily if not
cheerfully, and it was not long before there was a company of them
mustering under the name of the Rifle Rangers—an attractive title to the
ear if not to the understanding.

Mom Bi was very much interested in the maneuvers of the Rifle Rangers.
She watched them with a scornful and a critical eye. Even in their
uniforms, which were of the holiday pattern, their appearance was the
reverse of soldierly. They were hollow-chested and round-shouldered,
and exceedingly awkward in all their movements. Their maneuvers on the
outskirts of the village, accompanied by the music of fife and drum,
always drew a crowd of idlers, and among these interested spectators Mom
Bi was usually to be found.

“Dee gwine fight,” she would say to the Waynecroft children, in her loud
and rasping voice. “Dee gwine kill folks right un left. Look at um! I
done git skeer’d myse’f, dee look so ’vigrous. Ki! dee gwine eat dem
Yankee up fer true. I sorry fer dem Yankee, un I skeer’d fer myse’f! When
dee smell dem vittle what dem Yankee got, ’tis good-by, Yankee! Look at
um, honey! dee gwine fight fer rich folks’ nigger.”

The drilling and mustering went on, however, and Mom Bi was permitted
to say what she pleased. Some laughed at her, others regarded her with
something like superstitious awe, while a great many thought she was
merely a harmless simpleton. Above all, she was Judge Waynecroft’s family
servant, and this fact was an ample apology in Fairleigh and its environs
for anything that she might say.

The mustering of the “sandhillers” irritated Mom Bi; but when the family
returned to Charleston in the winter, the preparations for war that she
saw going on made a definite and profound impression on her. At night she
would go into her mistress’s room, sit on the hearth in a corner of the
fire-place, and watch the fire in the grate. Nursing her withered arm,
she would sit silent for an hour at a time, and when she did speak it
seemed as if her tongue had lost something of its characteristic asperity.

“I think,” said Mrs. Waynecroft, on one occasion, “that Mom Bi is getting
religion.”

“Well, she’ll never get it any younger,” the Judge replied.

Mom Bi, sitting in her corner, pretended not to hear, but after a while
she said: “Ef de Lord call me in de chu’ch, I gwine; ef he no call I no
gwine—enty? I no yerry him call dis long time.”

“Well,” remarked the Judge, “something has cooled you off and toned you
down, and I was in hopes you were in the mourners’ seat.”

“Huh!” exclaimed Mom Bi. “How come I gwine go in mourner seat? What I
gwine do in dey?” Then pointing to a portrait of Gabriel Waynecroft
hanging over the mantel, she cried out: “Wey he bin gone at?”

Gabriel was the eldest son, the hope and pride of the family. The Judge
and his wife looked at each other.

“I think you know where he has gone,” said Mrs. Waynecroft, gently. “He
has gone to fight for his country.”

“Huh!” the old woman grunted. Then, after a pause, “Wey dem san’hillers
bin gone at? Wey de country what dee fight fer?”

“Why, what are you talking about?” said Judge Waynecroft, who had been
listening behind his newspaper. “This is their country too, and they have
gone to fight for it.”

“’Longside dat boy?” Mom Bi asked. Her voice rose as she pointed at
Gabriel’s picture.

“Why, certainly,” said the Judge.

“_Pishou!_” exclaimed Mom Bi, with a hiss that was the very essence of
scorn, contempt and unbelief. “Oona nee’n’ tell me dat ting. I nuttin’
but nigger fer true, but I know better dun dat. I bin nuss dat boy, un
I know um troo un troo. Dat boy, ’e cut ’e t’roat fus’ fo’ ’e fight
’longside dem trash. When ’e be en tell-a you ’e gwine fight ’longside
dem whut de Lord done fersooken dis long time?”

The Judge smiled, but Mrs. Waynecroft looked serious; Mom Bi rocked
backward and forward, as if nursing her withered arm.

“Whut dem po’ white trash gwine fight fer? Nuttin’ ’tall ain’t bin tell
me dat. Dee ain’t bin had no nigger; dee ain’t bin had no money; dee
ain’t bin had no lan’; dee ain’t bin had nuttin’ ’tall. Un den ’pun top
er dat, yer come folks fer tell me dat dat boy gwine fight ’longside dem
creeturs.”

Mom Bi laughed loudly, and shook her long finger at the portrait of young
Gabriel Waynecroft. As a work of art the portrait was a failure, having
been painted by an ambitious amateur; but, crude as it was, it showed a
face of wonderful refinement. The features were as delicate as those of
a woman, with the exception of the chin, which was full and firm. The
eyes, large and lustrous, gazed from the canvas with a suggestion of both
tenderness and fearlessness.

During the long and dreary days that followed—days of waiting, days
of suffering and of sorrow—there were many changes in the Waynecroft
household, but Mom Bi held her place. She remained as virile and as
active as ever. If any change was noticeable it was that her temper
was more uncertain and her voice shriller. All her talk was about the
war; and as the contest wore on, with no perceptible advantage to the
Confederates, she assumed the character and functions of a prophetess.
Among the negroes, especially those who had never come in familiar
contact with the whites, she was looked upon as a person to be feared and
respected. Naturally, they argued that any black who talked to the white
people as Mom Bi did must possess at least sufficient occult power to
escape punishment.

Sometimes, in the pleasant weather, while walking with her mistress and
the children on the battery at Charleston she would reach forth her hand
and exclaim:

“Oona see dem wharfs? Dee gwine be fill wid Yankee ships! Dee gwine sail
right stret up, un nuttin’ ’t all gwine stop um.”

Then, turning to the town, she would say:

“Oona see dem street? Dee gwine fair swarm wid Yankee! Dee gwine march
troo ’um, un nuttin’ ’t all gwine stop um. Oona see dem gang er nigger
down dey? Dee gwine be free, un nuttin’ ’t all gwine stop um. Dee’l be
free, un ole Bi gwine be free. Ah, Lord! when de drum start fer beat, un
de trumpet start fer blow, de white folks gwine los de nigger. Ki! I mos’
yeddy dem now.”

This was repeated, not once, but hundreds of times—in the house and on
the streets, wherever Mom Bi went. At the market, while the venders were
weighing out supplies for the Waynecroft household, Mom Bi would take
advantage of the occasion to preach a sermon about the war and to utter
prophecies about the freedom of the negroes. Her fearlessness was her
best protection. Those who heard her had no doubt that she was a lunatic,
and so she was allowed to come and go in peace, at a time when the
great mass of the negroes were under the strictest surveillance. It made
no difference to Mom Bi, however, whether one or a thousand eyes were
watching her, or whether the whole world thought she was crazy. She was
in earnest, and thus presented a spectacle that is rarer than a great
many people are willing to admit.

The old woman went her way, affording amusement to some and to others
food for thought; and the rest of the world went its way, especially
that part of it that was watching events from rifle-pits and trenches.
To those at home the years seemed to drag, though they went fast enough,
no doubt, for those at the front. They went fast enough to mark some
marvelous changes and developments. Hundreds of thousands of times, it
happened that a gun fired in Virginia sorely wounded the hearts of a
household far away.

On the Shenandoah, one night, a sharpshooter in blue heard the clatter
of a horse’s hoofs on the turnpike, and the jangling of sword, spurs and
bit. As the horseman came into view in the moonlight, the sharpshooter
leveled his rifle. There was a flash, a puff of smoke, and a report that
broke into a hundred crackling echoes on the still night air. The horse
that had been held so well in hand galloped wildly away with an empty
saddle. The comrades of the cavalryman, who had been following him at a
little distance, rushed forward at the report of the gun, and found their
handsome young officer lying in the road, dead. They scoured the country
for some distance around, but they saw nothing and heard nothing, and
finally they lifted the dead soldier to a horse, and carried him back to
their camp.

The sharpshooter had aimed only at the dashing young cavalryman, but his
shot struck a father and a mother in Charleston, and an old negro woman
who was supposed to be crazy; and the wounds that it made were grievous.
The cavalryman was young Gabriel Waynecroft, and with the ending of his
life the hope and expectations of the family seemed to be blotted out.
He had been the darling of the household, the pride of his father, the
joy of his mother, and the idol of Mom Bi. When the news of his death
came, the grief of the household took the shape of consternation. It was
terrible to behold. The mother was prostrated and the father crushed.
Their sorrow was voiceless. Mom Bi went about wringing her hands and
moaning and talking to herself day after day.

Once, Judge Waynecroft, passing through the hall in slippered feet,
thought he heard voices in the sitting-room. In an aimless way, he
glanced in the room, and the sight made him pause. Mom Bi was sitting in
the middle of the room in a low chair, gazing at the portrait of Gabriel
Waynecroft, and talking to it. She spoke in a soft and tender tone, in
strange contrast to the usual rasping and irritating quality of her voice.

“Look at me, honey,” she was saying; “look at you’ ole nigger mammy! Whut
make dee lef’ you fer go way down, dey wey one folks kill turrer folks?
Tell de ole nigger mammy dat, honey. Whaffer dee no lef’ dem no ’count
san’hillers fer do all de fightin’? Who gwine fer cry wun dee git kilt?
Fightin’ fer nigger! Whaffer you’ daddy no sen’ he niggers fer fight? De
Lord know dee plenty un um. Nummine, honey! ’T ain’t gwine fer be long,
’fo’ dee’ll all know whut de Lord know, un whut ole Bi know. Gi’ um time,
honey! des gi’ um time!”

Judge Waynecroft turned away with a groan. To behold the bewildered grief
of this old negro woman was to add a new pang to his own sorrow. Mom Bi
paused, but did not turn her head. She heard her master pass down the
hall with uncertain step, and then she heard the library door shut.

“’Tis de gospel troot ’e bin yeddy me preachin’,” she exclaimed. Then she
turned again to the portrait and gazed at it steadily and in silence for
a long while, rocking herself and nursing her withered arm.

When the body of Gabriel Waynecroft was brought home, Mom Bi kneeled on
the floor at the foot of the coffin and stayed there, giving utterance to
the wildest lamentations. Some friend or acquaintance of the family made
an attempt to remove her.

“This will never do,” he said kindly, but firmly. “You must get up and go
away. The noise you are making distresses and disturbs the family.”

Trembling with mingled grief and rage, Mom Bi turned upon the officious
person.

“I ain’t, I ain’t, I ain’t!” she almost shrieked. “I gwine fer stay right
wey I is. Take you’ han’ fum off me, man! I bin cry on count dat chile
mos’ ’fo’ he own mammy is. I bin nuss um, I bin worry wid um, I bin stay
’wake wid um wun ev’body wuz sleep, un I bin hol’ um in my lap day un
night, wun ’e sick un wun ’e well. I ain’t gwine out! I ain’t! I ain’t!”

In fine, Mom Bi made a terrible scene, and the officious person who
wanted to drive her out was glad to get out himself, which he was
compelled to do in order to escape the clamor that he had unwittingly
raised.

The death and burial of Gabriel Waynecroft was a gloomy episode in Mom
Bi’s experience, and it left its marks upon her. She lost none of her
old-time vigor, but her temper became almost unbearable. She was surly,
irritable and sometimes violent, especially toward the negroes on the
place, who regarded her with a superstitious fear that would be difficult
to explain or describe. Left to herself she did well enough. She loved to
sit in the sun and talk to herself. The other negroes had a theory that
she saw spirits and conversed with them; but they were welcome to their
theories, so far as Mom Bi was concerned, provided they didn’t pester her.

Meanwhile, Sherman’s army was marching through Georgia to Savannah,
and in Virginia Grant was arranging the plans of his last campaign.
Savannah fell, and then came the information that Sherman’s army was
moving on Charleston. The city could be defended in only one direction:
all its bristles pointed seaward; and the Confederate troops prepared to
evacuate. All these movements were well known to the negroes, especially
to Mom Bi, and she made use of her information to renew her prophecies.
She stood in the porch of her master’s house and watched the Confederates
file by, greeting them occasionally with irritating comment.

“Hi! Wey you gwine? Whaffer you no stop fer tell folks good-by? Nummine!
Dem Yankee buckra, dee gwine shaky you by de han’. Dee mek you hot fer
true. Wey you no stop fer see de nigger come free?”

Most of Mom Bi’s prophecies came true. Sherman marched northward, and
then came Appomattox. One day, shortly after the surrender, Mom Bi
appeared before Judge Waynecroft and his wife rigged out in her best
clothes. She was rather more subdued than usual. She entered the room,
and then stood still, looking first at one and then at the other.

“Well, Bi,” said the Judge, kindly, “what can we do for you?”

“Nuttin’ ’t all. I gwine down dey at Sawanny, wey my daughter is bin
live.”

“Do you mean Maria?”

“My daughter ’Ria, w’at you bin sell to John Waynecroft. I gwine down dey
wey she live at.”

“Why, you are too old to be gadding about,” said the Judge. “Why not stay
here where you have a comfortable home?”

“I think you are very foolish to even dream of such a thing, Mom Bi.
Maria is not able to take care of you.”

“I gwine down dey wey my daughter bin live at,” persisted Mom Bi. Then
she looked at the portrait of Gabriel Waynecroft. The beautiful boyish
face seemed to arouse her. Turning suddenly, she exclaimed:

“De Lord know I done bin fergive you-all fer sellin’ ’Ria ’way fum me.
De Lord know I is! Wun I bin see you set down un let dat chile go off
fer git kill’”—Mom Bi pointed her long and quivering finger at Gabriel’s
portrait—“wun I see dis, I say ‘hush up, nigger! don’t bodder ’bout
’Ria.’ De Lord know I done bin fergive you!”

With this Mom Bi turned to the door and passed out.

“Won’t you tell us good-by?” the Judge asked.

“I done bin fergive you,” said Mom Bi.

“I think you might tell us good-by,” said Mrs. Waynecroft, with tears in
her eyes and voice.

“I done bin fergive you,” was the answer.

This was in June. One morning months afterward Judge Waynecroft was
informed by a policeman that a crazy old negro woman had been arrested in
the cemetery.

“She is continually talking about Gabriel Waynecroft,” said the officer,
“and the Captain thought you might know something about her. She’s got
the temper of Old Harry,” he continued, “and old and crippled as she is,
she’s as strong as a bull yearling.”

It was Mom Bi, and she was carried to her old master’s home. Little
by little she told the story of her visit to Savannah. She found her
daughter and her family in a most deplorable condition. The children had
the small-pox, and finally Maria was seized with the disease. For lack of
food and proper attention they all died, and Mom Bi found herself alone
and friendless in a strange city. How she managed to make her way back
home it is impossible to say, but she returned.

The Mom Bi who returned, however, was not the same Mom Bi that went away.
Old age had overtaken her in Savannah. Her eyes were hollow, her face was
pinched and shrunken, the flesh on her bones had shriveled, and her limbs
shook as with the palsy. When she was helped into the house that had so
long been her home she looked around at the furniture and the walls.
Finally her eyes rested on the portrait of Gabriel Waynecroft. She smiled
a little and then said feebly:

“I done bin come back. I bin come back fer stay; but I free, dough!”

In a little while she was freer still. She had passed beyond the reach of
mortal care or pain; and, as in the old days, she went without bidding
her friends good-by.

THE OLD BASCOM PLACE.

I.

One Saturday afternoon in the spring of 1876, as Farmer Joe-Bob Grissom
was on his way to Hillsborough for the purpose of hearing the news
and having an evening’s chat with his town acquaintances,—as was his
invariable custom at the close of the week,—he saw, as he passed the old
Bascom Place, an old gentleman and a young lady walking slowly along the
road. The old gentleman was tall and thin, and had silvery white hair.
He wore a high-crowned, wide-brimmed felt hat, and his clothes, though
neat, were too glossy to be new. The young lady was just developing into
womanhood. She had a striking face and figure. Her eyes were large and
brilliantly black; her hair, escaping from under her straw hat with its
scarlet ribbons, fell in dusky masses to her waist.

The two walked slowly, and occasionally they paused while the old
gentleman pointed in various directions with his cane, as though
impressing on the mind of his companion the whereabouts of certain
interesting landmarks. They were followed at a little distance by a
negro, who carried across his arm a light wrap which seemed to be a part
of the outfit of the young lady.

As Farmer Joe-Bob Grissom passed the two, he bowed and tipped his hat by
way of salutation. The old gentleman raised his hat and bowed with great
courtliness, and the young lady nodded her head and smiled pleasantly at
him. Farmer Joe-Bob was old enough to be grizzly, but the smile stirred
him. It seemed to be a direct challenge to his memory. Where had he
seen the young lady before? Where had he met the old gentleman? He was
puzzled to such an extent that he paid no attention to the negro man, who
touched his hat and bowed politely as the farmer passed—a fact that made
the negro wonder a little; for day in and out he had known Mr. Joe-Bob
Grissom nearly forty years, and never before had that worthy citizen
failed to respond with a cordial “Howdy” when the negro took off his hat.

Farmer Joe-Bob Grissom walked on towards town, which was not far, and
the old gentleman and the young lady walked slowly along the hedge of
Cherokee roses that ran around the old Bascom Place, while the negro
followed at a respectful distance. Once they paused, and the old
gentleman rubbed his eyes with a hand that trembled a little.

“Why, darling!” he exclaimed in a tone of mingled grief and astonishment,
“they have cut it down.”

“Cut what down, father?”

“Why, the weeping-willow. Don’t you remember it, daughter? It stood in
the middle of the field yonder. It was a noble tree. Well, well, well!
What next, I wonder?”

“I do not remember it, father; I have so much to”—

“Yes, yes,” the old gentleman interrupted. “Of course you couldn’t
remember. The place has been so changed that I seem to have forgotten it
myself. It has been turned topsy-turvy; it has been ruined—ruined!”

He leaned on his cane, and with quivering lips and moist eyes looked
through the green perspective of the park, and over the fertile fields
and meadows.

“Ruined!” exclaimed the young lady. “How can you say so, father? I never
saw a more beautiful place. It would make a lovely picture.”

“And they have ruined the house, too. The whole roof has been changed.”
The old man pulled his hat down over his eyes, his hand trembling more
than ever. “Let us turn back, Mildred,” he said after a while. “The sight
of all this frets and worries me more than I thought it would.”

“They say,” said the daughter, “that the gentleman who owns the place has
made a good deal of money.”

“Yes,” replied the father, “I suppose so—I suppose so. Yes, so I have
heard. A great many people are making money now who never made it
before—a great many.”

“I wish they would tell us the secret,” said the young lady, laughing a
little.

“There is no secret about it,” said the old gentleman; “none whatever.
To make money you must be mean and niggardly yourself, and then employ
others to be mean and niggardly for you.”

“Oh, it is not always so, father,” the young girl exclaimed.

“It _was_ not always so, my daughter. There _was_ a time when one could
make money and remain a gentleman; but that was many years ago.”

The young lady was apparently not anxious to continue the argument, for
she lightly turned the conversation into a more agreeable channel; and so
the two, still followed by the negro, made their way through the shaded
streets of the town.

That evening, when Mr. Joe-Bob Grissom, after making some little
purchases about town, went to the hotel, which he persisted in calling a
tavern, he found Major Jimmy Bass engaged in a hot political discussion
with a crowd which included a number of the townspeople, as well as a
sprinkling of commercial travelers. Major Jimmy was one of the ancient
and venerable landmarks of that region. He had once been an active
politician, and had been engaged in political discussion for forty years
or more. Old and fat as he was, he knew how to talk, and nothing pleased
him more than to get hold of a stranger when a crowd of sympathetic
fellow-citizens, young and old, was present to applaud the points he made.

Whenever Mr. Joe-Bob Grissom appeared in the veranda of the hotel he
made it a point to shake hands with every person present, friend and
stranger alike. His politeness was a trifle elaborate, but it was genuine.

“Why, howdy, Joe-Bob, howdy!” exclaimed Major Bass with effusion. “You
seem to turn up at the right time, like the spangled man in the circus.
I’m glad you’ve come, an’ ef I’d ’a’ had my way you’d ’a’ come sooner,
bekaze you’re jest a little too late fer to see me slap the argyments
onto some of these here travelin’ drummers. They are gone now,” the major
continued, with a sweeping gesture of his right arm. “They are gone, but
I wisht mightily you’d ’a’ been here. New things is mortal nice, I know;
but when these new-issue chaps set up to out-talk men that’s old enough
to be their grand-daddy, it does me a sight of good fer to see ’em took
down a peg er two.”

As soon as he could get in a word edgewise, farmer Joe-Bob Grissom
attempted to turn the conversation in a direction calculated to satisfy
his curiosity.

“Major,” he said in his deliberate way, “what’s this I see out yonder at
the old Bascom Place?”

“The Lord only knows, Joe-Bob. What might be the complexion, er yet the
character, of it?”

“Well,” said Mr. Grissom, “as I was makin’ to’rds town a little while
ago, I seen some folks that don’t look like they b’long ’roun’ here. One
of ’em was a old man, an’ t’ other one was a young gal, an’ a nigger man
was a-follerin’ of ’em up—an’, ef I make no mistakes, the nigger man was
your old Jess. I didn’t look close at the nigger, but arter I’d passed
him it come to me that it wa’n’t nobody on the topside of the roun’ worl’
but Jess.”

“Why, bless your life an’ soul!” exclaimed Major Bass, giving farmer
Joe-Bob a neighborly nudge, “don’t you know who them folks was? Well,
well! Where’s your mind? Why, that was old Briscoe Bascom an’ his
daughter.”

“I say it!” exclaimed farmer Joe-Bob, hitching his chair closer to the
major.

“Yes, sir,” said the major, “that’s who it was. Why, where on earth have
you been? The old Judge drapped in on the town some weeks ago, an’ he’s
been here ever sence. He’s been here long enough for the gal to make up a
school. Lord, Lord! What a big swing the world’s in! High on one side,
high on t’ other, an’ the old cat a-dyin, in the middle! Why, bless your
heart, Joe-Bob! I’ve seed the time when ef old Judge Briscoe Bascom jest
so much as bowed to me I’d feel proud fer a week. An’ now look at ’im! Ef
I knowed I’d be took off wi’ the dropsy the nex’ minute, I wouldn’t swap
places wi’ the poor old creetur.”

“But what is old Jess a-doin’ doggin’ ’long arter ’em that a-way?”
inquired Mr. Grissom, knitting his shaggy eyebrows.

“That’s what pesters me,” exclaimed the major. “Ef niggers was
ree-sponsible fer what they done, it would be wuss than what it is. Now
you take Jesse: you needn’t tell me that nigger ain’t got sense; yit what
does he do? You seen ’im wi’ your own eyes. Why, sir,” continued the
major, growing more emphatic, “I bought that nigger from Judge Bascom’s
cousin when he wa’n’t nothin’ but a youngster, an’ I took him home an’
raised him up right in the house,—yes, sir, right in the house,—an’ he’s
been a-hangin’ ’roun’ me off an’ on, gittin’ his vittles, his clozes, an’
his lodgin’. Yit, look at him now! I wisht I may die dead ef that nigger
didn’t hitch onto old Judge Bascom the minute he landed in town. Yes,
sir! I’m a-tellin’ you no lie. It’s a clean, naked fact. That nigger quit
me an’ went an’ took up wi’ the old judge.”

“Well,” said Mr. Grissom, stroking his unshorn face, “you know what the
sayin’ is: Niggers ’ll be niggers even ef you whitewash ’em twice a week.”

“Yes,” remarked the major thoughtfully; “I hope to goodness they’ve got
souls, but I misdoubt it. Lord, yes, I misdoubt it mightily.”

II.

As Major Jimmy Bass used to say, the years cut many queer capers as they
go by. The major in his own proper person had not only witnessed, but had
been the victim, of these queer capers. Hillsborough was a very small
place indeed, and, for that very reason perhaps, it was more sensitive
to changes in the way of progress and decay than many larger and more
ambitious towns.

However this may have been, it is certain that the town, assisted
by the major, had noted the queer capers the years had cut in the
neighborhood of the old Bascom Place. This attitude on the part of
Hillsborough—including, of course, Major Jimmy Bass—may be accounted for
partly by the fact that the old place had once been the pride and delight
of the town, and partly by the fact that the provincial eye and mind are
nervously alert to whatever happens within range of their observation.

Before and during the war the Bascom Place was part and parcel of a
magnificent estate. The domain was so extensive and so well managed that
it was noted far and wide. Its boundary lines inclosed more than four
thousand acres of forests and cultivated fields. This immense body of
land was known as the old Bascom Place.

Bolling Bascom, its first owner, went to Georgia not long after the close
of the Revolution, with a large number of Virginians who proposed to
establish a colony in what was then the far South. The colony settled in
Wilkes County; but Bolling Bascom, more adventurous than the rest, pushed
on into middle Georgia, crossed the Oconee, and built him a home, and
such was his taste, his energy, and his thrift, that the results thereof
may be seen and admired in Hillsborough to this day.

But the man, like so many of his fellow-citizens then and thereafter,
was land-hungry. He bought and bought until he had acquired the immense
domain, which, by some special interposition of fate or circumstance,
is still intact. Meantime he had built him a house which was in keeping
with the extent and richness of his landed possessions. It was planned in
the old colonial style, but its massive proportions were relieved by the
tall red chimneys and the long and gracefully fashioned colonnade that
gave both strength and beauty to the spacious piazza which ran, and still
runs, the whole length of the house.

When Bolling Bascom died, in 1830, aged seventy years, as the faded
inscription on the storm-beaten tablet in the churchyard shows, he left
his son, Briscoe Bascom, to own and manage the vast estate. This son was
thirty years old, and it was said of him that he inherited the gentle
qualities of his mother rather than the fiery energy and ambition of his
father.

Bolling Bascom was neither vicious nor reckless, but he was a thorough
man of the world. He was, in short, a typical Virginian gentleman, who
for his own purposes had settled in Georgia.

Whatever the cause of his emigration, it is certain that Georgia gained
a good citizen. It was said of him that he was a little too fond of a
fiddle, but with all his faults—with all his love for horse-racing and
fox-hunting—he found time to be kind to his neighbors, generous to his
friends, and the active leader of every movement calculated to benefit
the State or the people; and it may be remarked in passing, that he also
found time to look after his own affairs.

Naturally, he was prominent in politics. He represented his county in the
legislature, was at one time a candidate for governor, and was altogether
a man who had the love and the confidence of his neighbors. He gave his
son the benefit of the best education the country afforded, and made the
tour of Europe with him, going over the ground that he himself had gone
over in his young days.

But his European trip, undertaken when he was an old man, was too much
for him. He was seized with an illness on his return voyage, and,
although he lived long enough to reach home, he never recovered. In
a few years his wife died; and his son, with little or no experience
in such matters,—since his time had been taken up by the schools and
colleges,—was left to manage the estate as best he could.

It was the desire of Bolling Bascom that his son should study law and
make that profession a stepping-stone to a political career. He had been
ambitious himself, and he hoped his son would also be ambitious. Besides,
was not politics the most respectable of all the professions? This was
certainly the view in Bolling Bascom’s day and time, and much might be
said to support it. Of all the professions, politics opened up the one
career best calculated to tickle the fancy of the rich young men.

To govern, to control, to make laws, to look after the welfare of the
people, to make great speeches, to become statesmen—these were the ideas
that filled the minds of ambitious men in Bolling Bascom’s time, and for
years thereafter. And why not? There were the examples of Jefferson,
Madison, Monroe, Randolph, Hamilton, Webster, Calhoun, and the Adamses
of Massachusetts. What better could a young man do than to follow in the
footsteps of these illustrious citizens?

It may be supposed, therefore, that Bolling Bascom had mapped out a
tremendous career for his son and heir. No doubt, as he sat dozing on
his piazza in the long summer afternoons near the close of his life, he
fancied he could hear the voice of his boy in the halls of legislation,
or hear the wild shouts of the multitudes that greeted his efforts on
the stump in the heat and fury of a campaign. But it was not to be. The
stormy politics of that period had no charms for Briscoe Bascom. He was a
student, and he preferred his book to the companionship of the crowd.

He possessed both courage and sociability in the highest degree, but he
was naturally indolent, and he was proud—too indolent to find pleasure
in the whirling confusion of active politics, and too proud to go about
his county or his State in the attitude of soliciting the suffrages of
his fellow-citizens. That he would have made his mark in politics is
certain, for he made it at the bar, where success is much more dearly
bought. He finally became judge of the superior court, at a time when the
judges of the circuit courts met annually and formed a court of appeals.
His decisions in this appellate court attracted attention all over the
country, and are still referred to in the legal literature of to-day as
models of their kind.

And yet all that Briscoe Bascom accomplished at the bar and on the bench
was the result of intuition rather than of industry. Indolence sat
enthroned in his nature, patient but vigilant. When he retired from the
bench, he gave up the law altogether. He might have reclaimed his large
practice, but he preferred the ease and quiet of his home.

He was an old man before he married—old enough, that is to say, to marry
a woman many years his junior. His wife had been reared in an atmosphere
of extravagance; and although she was a young woman of gentle breeding
and of the best intentions, it is certain that she did not go to the
Bascom Place as its mistress for the purpose of stinting or economizing.
She simply gave no thought to the future. But she was so bright and
beautiful, so gentle and unaffected in speech and manner, so gracious and
so winsome in all directions, that it seemed nothing more than natural
and right that her every whim and wish should be gratified.

Judge Bascom was indulgent and more than indulgent. He applauded his
wife’s extravagance and followed her example. Before many years he began
to reap some of the fruits thereof, and they were exceeding bitter to the
taste. The longest purse that ever was made has a bottom to it, unless,
indeed, it be lined with Franklin’s maxims.

The Judge was forty-eight years old when he married, and even before the
beginning of the war he found his financial affairs in an uncomfortable
condition. The Bascom Place was intact, but the pocket-book of its master
was in a state bordering on collapse.

The slow but sure approach to the inevitable need not be described here.
It is familiar to all people in all lands and times. In the case of Judge
Bascom, however, the war was in the nature of a breathing-spell. It
brought with it an era of extravagance that overshadowed everything that
had been dreamed of theretofore. During the first two years there was
money enough for everybody and to spare. It was manufactured in Richmond
in great stacks. General Robert Toombs, who was an interested observer,
has aptly described the facility with which the Confederacy supplied
itself with money. “A dozen negroes,” said he, “printed money on the
hand-presses all day to supply the government, and then they worked until
nine o’clock at night printing money enough to pay themselves off.”

Under these circumstances, Judge Bascom and his charming wife could be
as extravagant or as economical as they pleased without attracting the
attention of their neighbors or their creditors. Nobody had time to think
or care about such small matters. The war-fever was at its height, and
nothing else occupied the attention of the people. The situation was
so favorable, indeed, that Judge Bascom began to redeem his fortune—in
Confederate money. He had land enough and negroes a plenty, and so he
saved his money by storing it away; and he was so successful in this
business that it is said that when the war closed he had a wagon-load of
Confederate notes and shin-plaster packed in trunks and chests.

The crash came when General Sherman went marching through Hillsborough.
The Bascom Place, being the largest and the richest plantation in that
neighborhood, suffered the worst. Every horse, every mule, every living
thing with hide and hoof, was driven off by the Federals; and a majority
of the negroes went along with the army. It was often said of Judge
Bascom that “he had so many negroes he didn’t know them when he met them
in the big road;” and this was probably true. His negroes knew him, and
knew that he was a kind master in many respects, but they had no personal
affection for him. They were such strangers to the Judge that they never
felt justified in complaining to him even when the overseers ill-treated
them. Consequently, when Sherman went marching along, the great majority
of them bundled up their little effects and followed after the army. They
had nothing to bind them to the old place. The house-servants, and a few
negroes in whom the Judge took a personal interest, remained, but all the
rest went away.

Then, in a few months, came the news of the surrender, bringing with it
a species of paralysis or stupefaction from which the people were long
in recovering—so long, indeed, that some of them died in despair, while
others lingered on the stage, watching, with dim eyes and trembling
limbs, half-hopefully and half-fretfully, the representatives of a new
generation trying to build up the waste places. There was nothing left
for Judge Bascom to do but to take his place among the spectators. He
would have returned to his law-practice, but the people had well-nigh
forgotten that he had ever been a lawyer; moreover, the sheriffs were
busier in those days than the lawyers. He had the incentive,—for the
poverty of those days was pinching,—but he lacked the energy and the
strength necessary to begin life anew. He and hundreds like him were
practically helpless. Ordinarily experience is easily learned when
necessity is the teacher, but it was too late for necessity to teach
Judge Bascom anything. During all his life he had never known what want
was. He had never had occasion to acquire tact, business judgment, or
economy. Inheriting a vast estate, he had no need to practice thrift or
become familiar with the shifty methods whereby business men fight their
way through the world. Of all such matters he was entirely ignorant.

To add to his anxiety, a girl had been born to him late in life, his
first and only child. In his confusion and perplexity he was prepared to
regard the little stranger as merely a new and dreadful responsibility,
but it was not long before his daughter was a source of great comfort to
him. Yet, as the negroes said, she was not a “luck-child;” and bad as the
Judge’s financial condition was, it grew steadily worse.

Briefly, the world had drifted past him and his contemporaries and left
them stranded. Under the circumstances, what was he to do? It is true
he had a magnificent plantation, but this merely added to his poverty.
Negro labor was demoralized, and the overseer class had practically
disappeared. He would have sold a part of his landed estate; indeed, so
pressing were his needs that he would have sold everything except the
house which his father had built, and where he himself was born,—that he
would not have parted with for all the riches in the world,—but there was
nobody to buy. The Judge’s neighbors and his friends, with the exception
of those who had accustomed themselves to seizing all contingencies
by the throat and wresting tribute from them, were in as severe a
strait as he was; and to make matters worse, the political affairs of
the State were in the most appalling condition. It was the period of
reconstruction—a scheme that paralyzed all whom it failed to corrupt.

Finally the Judge’s wife took matters into her own hand. She had
relatives in Atlanta, and she prevailed on him to go to that lively
and picturesque town. He closed his house, being unable to rent it,
and became a citizen of the thrifty city. He found himself in a new
atmosphere. The north Georgia crackers, the east Tennesseeans,—having
dropped their “you-uns” and “we-uns,”—and the Yankees had joined hands in
building up and pushing Atlanta forward. Business was more important than
politics; and the rush and whirl of men and things were enough to make
a mere spectator dizzy. Judge Bascom found himself more helpless than
ever; but through the influence of his wife’s brother he was appointed to
a small clerkship in one of the State departments, and—“Humiliation of
humiliations!” his friends exclaimed—he promptly accepted it, and became
a part of what was known as the “carpet-bag” government. The appointment
was in the nature of a godsend, but the Judge found himself ostracized.
His friends and acquaintances refused to return his salutation as he met
them on the street. To a proud and sensitive man this was the bitterness
of death, but Judge Bascom stuck to his desk and made no complaint.

By some means or other, no doubt through the influence of Mrs. Bascom,
the Judge’s brother-in-law, a thrifty and not over-scrupulous man,
obtained a power of attorney, and sold the Bascom Place, house and all,
to a gentleman from western New York who was anxious to settle in middle
Georgia. Just how much of the purchase-money went into the Judge’s hands
it is impossible to say, but it is known that he fell into a terrible
rage when he was told that the house had been sold along with the place.
He denounced the sale as a swindle, and declared that as he had been born
in the house he would die there, and not all the powers of earth could
prevent him.

But the money that he received was a substantial thing as far as it went.
Gradually he found himself surrounded by various comforts that he had
sadly missed, and in time he became somewhat reconciled to the sale,
though he never gave up the idea that he would buy the old place back and
live there again. The idea haunted him day and night.

After the downfall of the carpet-bag administration a better feeling
took possession of the people and politicians, and it was not long before
Judge Bascom found congenial work in codifying the laws of the State,
which had been in a somewhat confused and tangled condition since the
war. Meanwhile his daughter Mildred was growing up, developing remarkable
beauty as well as strength of mind. At a very early age she began to
“take the responsibility,” as the Judge put it, of managing the household
affairs, and she continued to manage them even while going to school.
At school she won the hearts of teachers and pupils, not less by her
aptitude in her books than by her beauty and engaging manners.

But in spite of the young girl’s management—in spite of the example
she set by her economy—the Judge and his wife continued to grow poorer
and poorer. Neither of them knew the value of a dollar, and the
money that had been received from the sale of the Bascom Place was
finally exhausted. About this time Mrs. Bascom died, and the Judge
was so prostrated by his bereavement that it was months before he
recovered. When he did recover he had lost all interest in his work of
codification, but it was so nearly completed and was so admirably done
that the legislature voted him extra pay. This modest sum the daughter
took charge of, and when her father was well enough she proposed that
they return to Hillsborough, where they could take a small house, and
where she could give music lessons and teach a primary school. It need
not be said that the Judge gave an eager assent to the proposition.

III.

As Mr. Joe-Bob Grissom passed the Bascom Place on his way home, after
gathering from Major Jimmy Bass all the news and gossip of the town, he
heard Mr. Francis Underwood, the owner of the Place, walking up and down
the piazza, singing. Mr. Underwood appeared to be in a cheerful mood,
and he had a right to be. He was young,—not more than thirty,—full of
life, and the world was going on very well with him. Mr. Grissom paused
a moment and listened; then he made up his mind to go in and have a chat
with the young man. He opened the gate and went up the avenue under the
cedars and Lombardy poplars. A little distance from the house he was
stopped by a large mastiff. The great dog made no attempt to attack him,
but majestically barred the way.

“Squire,” yelled Joe-Bob, “ef you’ll call off your dog, I’ll turn right
’roun’ an’ go home an’ never bother you no more.”

“Is that you, Joe-Bob?” exclaimed Mr. Underwood. “Well, come right on.
The dog won’t trouble you.”

The dog thereupon turned around and went up the avenue to the house and
into the porch, where he stretched himself out at full length, Joe-Bob
following along at a discreet distance.

“Come in,” said Underwood heartily; “I’m glad to see you. Take this large
rocking-chair; you will find it more comfortable than the smaller one.”

Mr. Grissom sat down and looked cautiously around to see where the dog
was.

“I did come, Squire,” he said, “to see you on some kinder business, but
that dratted dog has done skeered it clean out ’n me.”

“Prince is a faithful watcher,” said Underwood, “but he never troubles
any one who is coming straight to the house. Do you, old fellow?” The dog
rapped an answer on the floor with his tail.

“Well,” said Joe-Bob, “I’d as lief be tore up into giblets, mighty nigh,
as to have my sev’m senses skeered out’n me. What I’m afeared of now,” he
went on, “is that that dog will jump over the fence some day an’ ketch
old Judge Bascome whilst he’s a-pirootin’ ’roun’ here a-lookin’ at the
old Place. An’ ef he don’t ketch the Judge, it’s more’n likely he’ll
ketch the Judge’s gal. I seen both of ’em this very evenin’ whilst I was
a-goin’ down town.”

“Was that the Judge?” exclaimed young Mr. Underwood, with some show of
interest; “and was the lady his daughter? I heard they had returned.”

“That was jest percisely who it was,” said Joe-Bob with emphasis. “It
wa’n’t nobody else under the shinin’ sun.”

“Well,” said Mr. Underwood, “I have seen them walking by several times.
It is natural they should be interested in the Place. The old gentleman
was born here?”

“Yes,” said Joe-Bob, “an’ the gal too. They tell me,” he went on, “that
the old Judge an’ his gal have seed a many ups an’ downs. I reckon they
er boun’ fer to feel lonesome when they come by an’ look at the prop’ty
that use’ to be theirn. I hear tell that the old Judge is gwine to try
an’ see ef he can’t git it back.”

Francis Underwood said nothing, but sat gazing out into the moonlight as
if in deep thought.

“I thinks, says I,” continued Joe-Bob, “that the old Judge’ll have to be
lots pearter ’n he looks to be ef he gits ahead of Squire Underwood.”

The “Squire” continued to gaze reflectively down the dim perspective of
cedars and Lombardy poplars. Finally he said:—

“Have a cigar, old man. These are good ones.”

Joe-Bob took the cigar and lighted it, handling it very gingerly.

“I ain’t a denyin’ but what they are good, Squire, but somehow er nuther
me an’ these here fine seegyars don’t gee,” said Joe-Bob, as he puffed
away. “They’re purty toler’ble nice, but jest about the time I git in
the notion of smokin’ they’re done burnted up, an’ then ef you ain’t got
sev’m or eight more, it makes you feel mighty lonesome. Now I’ll smoke
this’n’, an’ it’ll sorter put my teeth on edge fer my pipe, an’ when I
git home I’ll set up an’ have a right nice time.”

“And so you think,” said Underwood, speaking as if he had not heard
Joe-Bob’s remarks about the cigar—“and so you think Judge Bascom has come
to buy the old Place.”

“No, no!” said Joe-Bob, with a quick deprecatory gesture. “Oh, no,
Squire! not by no means! No, no! I never said them words. What I did say
was that it’s been talked up an’ down that the old Judge is a-gwine to
try to git his prop’ty back. That’s what old Major Jimmy Bass said he
heard, an’ I thinks, says I, he’ll have to be monst’us peart ef he gits
ahead of Squire Underwood. That’s what I said to myself, an’ then I ast
old Major Jimmy, says I, what the Judge would do wi’ the prop’ty arter
he got it, an’ Major Jimmy, he ups an’ says, says he, that the old Judge
would sell it back to Frank Underwood, says he.”

The young man threw back his head and laughed heartily, not less at the
comical earnestness of Joe-Bob Grissom than at the gossip of Major Jimmy
Bass.

“It seems, then, that we are going to have lively times around here,”
said Underwood, by way of comment.

“Yes, siree,” exclaimed Joe-Bob; “that’s what Major Jimmy Bass allowed.
Do you reckon, Squire,” he continued, lowering his voice as though the
matter was one to be approached cautiously, “do you reckon, Squire, they
could slip in on you an’ trip you up wi’ one of ’em writs of arousement
or one of ’em bills of injectment?”

“Not unless they catch me asleep,” replied Underwood, still laughing. “We
get up very early in the morning on this Place.”

“Well,” said Joe-Bob Grissom, “I ain’t much of a lawyer myself, an’ so I
thought I’d jest drap in an’ tell you the kind of talk what they’ve been
a-rumorin’ ’roun’. But I’ll tell you what you kin do, Squire. Ef the wust
comes to the wust, you kin make the old Judge an’ the gal take you along
wi’ the Place. Now them would be my politics.”

With that Joe-Bob gave young Underwood a nudge in the short ribs, and
chuckled to such an extent that he nearly strangled himself with cigar
smoke.

“I think I would have the best of the bargain,” said the young man.

“Now you would! you reely would!” exclaimed Joe-Bob in all seriousness.
“I can’t tell you the time when I ever seed a likelier gal than that one
wi’ the Judge this evenin’. As we say down here in Georgia, she’s the top
of the pot an’ the pot a-b’ilin’. I tell you that right pine-blank.”

After a little, Mr. Grissom rose to go. When Mr. Underwood urged him to
sit longer, he pointed to the sword and belt of Orion hanging low in the
southwest.

“The ell an’ yard are a-makin’ the’r disappearance,” he said; “an’ ef I
stay out much longer, my old ’oman’ll think I’ve been a-settin’ up by a
jug somewheres. Now ef you’ll jest hold your dog, Squire, I’ll go out as
peaceful as a lamb.”

“Why, I was just going to propose to send him down to the big gate with
you,” said young Underwood. “He’ll see you safely out.”

“No, no, Squire!” exclaimed Joe-Bob, holding up both hands. “Now don’t do
the like of that. I don’t like too much perliteness in folks, an’ I know
right well I couldn’t abide it in a dog. No, Squire; jest hold on to the
creetur’ wi’ both hands, an’ I’ll find my way out. Jest ketch him by the
forefoot. I’ve heard tell before now that ef you’ll hold a dog by his
forefoot he can’t git loose, an’ nuther kin he bite you.”

Long after Mr. Joe-Bob Grissom had gone home young Francis Underwood
sat in his piazza smoking and thinking. He had a good deal to think
about, too, for he was perhaps the busiest and the thriftiest person
that Hillsborough had ever seen. He had a dairy farm stocked with the
choicest strains of Jersey cattle, and he shipped hundreds of pounds
of golden butter all over the country every week in the year; he bred
Percheron horses for farm-work and trotting-horses for the road; he had a
flourishing farm on which he raised, in addition to his own supplies, a
hundred or more bales of cotton every year; he had a steam saw-mill and
cotton-gin; he was a contractor and builder; and he was also an active
partner in the largest store in Hillsborough. Moreover he took a lively
interest in the affairs of the town. His energy and his progressive ideas
seemed to be contagious, for in a few years the sleepy old town had made
tremendous strides, and everything appeared to move forward with an air
of business—such is the force of a genial and robust example.

There is no doubt that young Underwood was somewhat coolly received when
he first made his appearance in Hillsborough. He was a New Yorker and
therefore a Yankee; and some of the older people, who were still grieving
over the dire results of the war, as old people have a right to do, made
no concealment of their prejudices. Their grief was too bitter to be
lightly disposed of. Perhaps the young man appreciated this fact, for
his sympathies were wonderfully quick and true. At any rate, he carried
himself as buoyantly and as genially in the face of prejudice as he did
afterwards in the face of friendship.

The truth is, prejudice could not stand before him. He had that magnetic
personality which is a more precious possession than fame or fortune.
There was something attractive even in his restless energy; he had
that heartiness of manner and graciousness of disposition that are so
rare among men; and, withal, a spirit of independence that charmed the
sturdy-minded people with whom he cast his lot. It was not long before
the younger generation began to seek Mr. Underwood out, and after this
the social ice, so to speak, thawed quickly.

In short, young Underwood, by reason of a strong and an attractive
individuality, became a very prominent citizen of Hillsborough. He
found time, in the midst of his own business enterprises, to look after
the interests of the town and the county. One of his first movements
was to organize an agricultural society which held its meeting four
times a year in different parts of the county. It was purely a local
and native suggestion, however, that made it incumbent on the people
of the neighborhood where the Society met to grace the occasion with a
feast in the shape of a barbecue. The first result of the agricultural
society—which still exists, and which has had a wonderful influence on
the farmers of middle Georgia—was a county fair, of which Mr. Underwood
was the leading spirit. It may be said, indeed, that his energy and his
money made the fair possible. And it was a success. Young Underwood
had not only canvassed the county, but he had “worked it up in the
newspapers,” as the phrase goes, and it tickled the older citizens
immensely to see the dailies in the big cities of Atlanta, Macon, and
Savannah going into rhetorical raptures over their fair.

As a matter of fact, Francis Underwood, charged with the fiery energy of
a modern American, found it a much easier matter to establish himself
in the good graces of the people of Hillsborough and the surrounding
country than did Judge Bascom when he returned to his old home with his
lovely daughter. Politically speaking, he had committed the unpardonable
sin when he accepted office under what was known as the carpet-bag
government. It was an easy matter—thus the argument ran—to forgive and
respect an enemy, but it was hardly possible to forgive a man who had
proved false to his people and all their traditions—who had, in fact,
“sold his birthright for a mess of pottage,” to quote the luminous
language employed by Colonel Bolivar Blasingame in discussing the return
of Judge Bascom. It is due to Colonel Blasingame to say that he did not
allude to the sale of the Bascom Place, but to the fact that Judge Bascom
had drawn a salary from the State treasury while the Republicans were in
power in Georgia.

This was pretty much the temper of the older people of Hillsborough even
in 1876. They had no bitter prejudices against the old Judge; they were
even tolerant and kindly; but they made it plain to him that he was
regarded in a new light, and from a new standpoint. He was made to feel
that his old place among them must remain vacant; that the old intimacies
were not to be renewed. But this was the price that Judge Bascom was
willing to pay for the privilege of spending his last days within sight
of the old homestead. He made no complaints, nor did he signify by word
or sign, even to his daughter, that everything was not as it used to be.

As for the daughter, she was in blissful ignorance of the situation. She
was a stranger among strangers, and so was not affected by the lack of
sociability on the part of the townspeople—if, indeed, there was any lack
so far as she was concerned. The privations she endured in common with
her father were not only sufficient to correct all notions of vanity or
self-conceit, but they had given her a large experience of life; they
had broadened her views and enlarged her sympathies, so that with no
sacrifice of the qualities of womanly modesty and gentleness she had
grown to be self-reliant. She attracted all who came within range of her
sweet influence, and it was not long before she had broken down all the
barriers that prejudice against her father might have placed in her way.
She established a primary school, and what with her duties there and with
her music-class she soon had as much as she could do, and her income
from these sources was sufficient to support herself and her father in a
modest way; but it was not sufficient to carry out her father’s plans,
and this fact distressed her no little.

Sometimes Judge Bascom, sitting in the narrow veranda of the little house
they occupied, would suddenly arouse himself, as if from a doze, and
exclaim:—

“We must save money, daughter; we must save money and buy the old Place
back. It is ours. We must have it; we must save money.” And sometimes, in
the middle of the night, he would go to his daughter’s bedside, stroke
her hair, and say in a whisper:—

“We are not saving enough money, daughter; we must save more. We must buy
the old Place back. We must save it from ruin.”

IV.

There was one individual in Hillsborough who did not give the cold
shoulder to Judge Bascom on his return, and that was the negro Jesse,
who had been bought by Major Jimmy Bass some years before the war
from Merriwether Bascom, a cousin of the Judge. Jesse made no outward
demonstration of welcome; he was more practical than that. He merely went
to his old master with whom he had been living since he became free, and
told him that he was going to find employment elsewhere.

“Why, what in the nation!” exclaimed Major Bass. “Why, what’s the matter,
Jess?”

The very idea was preposterous. In the Bass household the negro was
almost indispensable. He was in the nature of a piece of furniture that
holds its own against all fashions and fills a place that nothing else
can fill.

“Dey ain’t nothin’ ’t all de matter, Marse Maje. I des took it in my
min’, like, dat I’d go off some’r’s roun’ town en set up fer myse’f,”
said Jesse, scratching his head in a dubious way. He felt very
uncomfortable.

“Has anybody hurt your feelin’s, Jess?”

“No, suh! Lord, no, suh, dat dey ain’t!” exclaimed Jesse, with the
emphasis of astonishment. “Nobody ain’t pester me.”

“Ain’t your Miss Sarah been rushin’ you roun’ too lively fer to suit your
notions?”

“No, suh.”

“Ain’t she been a-quarrelin’ after you about your work?”

“No, Marse Maje; she ain’t say a word.”

“Well, then, Jess, what in the name of common sense are you gwine off
fer?” The major wanted to argue the matter.

“I got it in my min’, Marse Maje, but I dunno ez I kin git it out
straight.” Jesse leaned his cane against the house, and placed his hat on
the steps, as if preparing for a lengthy and elaborate explanation. “Now
den, hit look dis way ter me, des like I’m gwine ter tell you. I ain’t
nothin’ but a nigger, I know dat mighty well, en nobody don’t hafter
tell me. I’m a nigger, en you a white man. You’re a-settin’ up dar in de
peazzer, en I’m a-stan’in’ down yer on de groun’. I been wid you a long
time; you treat me well, you gimme plenty vittles, en you pay me up when
you got de money, en I hustle roun’ en do de bes’ I kin in de house en
in de gyarden. Dat de way it been gwine on; bofe un us feel like it all
sati’factual. Bimeby it come over me dat maybe I kin do mo’ work dan what
I been a-doin’ en git mo’ money. Hit work roun’ in my min’ dat I better
be layin’ up somepin’ n’er fer de ole ’oman en de chillun.”

“Well!” exclaimed Major Bass with a snort. It was all he could say.

“En den ag’in,” Jesse went on, “one er de ole fambly done come back
’long wid his daughter. Marse Briscoe Bascom en Miss Mildred dey done
come back, en dey ain’t got nobody fer ter he’p um out no way; en my ole
’oman she say dat ef I got any fambly feelin’ I better go dar whar Marse
Briscoe is.”

For some time Major Jimmy Bass sat silent. He was shocked and stunned.
Finally Jesse picked up his hat and cane and started to go. As he brushed
his hat with his coat-sleeve his old master saw that he was rigged out in
his Sunday clothes. As he moved away the major called him:—

“Oh, Jess!”

“Suh?”

“I allers knowed you was a durned fool, Jess, but I never did know before
that you was the durndest fool in the universal world.”

Jesse made no reply, and the major went into the house. When he told his
wife about Jesse’s departure, that active-minded and sharp-tongued lady
was very angry.

“Indeed, and I’m glad of it,” she exclaimed as she poured out the major’s
coffee; “I’m truly glad of it. For twenty-five years that nigger has been
laying around here doing nothing, and we a-paying him. But for pity’s
sake I’d ’a’ drove him off the lot long ago. You mayn’t believe it, but
that nigger is ready and willing to eat his own weight in vittles every
week the Lord sends. I ain’t sorry he’s gone, but I’m sorry I didn’t have
a chance to give him a piece of my mind. Now, don’t you go to blabbing it
around, like you do everything else, that Jesse has gone and left us to
go with old Briscoe Bascom.”

Major Bass said he wouldn’t, and he didn’t, and that is the reason he
expressed surprise when Joe-Bob Grissom informed him that Jesse was
waiting on the old Judge and his daughter. Major Jimmy was talkative and
fond of gossip, but he had too much respect for his wife’s judgment and
discretion to refuse to toe the mark, even when it was an imaginary one.

The Bascom family had no claim whatever on Jesse, but he had often heard
his mother and other negroes boasting over that they had once belonged
to the Bascoms, and fondness for the family was the result of both
tradition and instinct. He had that undefined and undefinable respect
for people of quality that is one of the virtues, or possibly one of the
failings, of human nature. The nearest approach to people of quality, so
far as his experience went, was to be found in the Bascom family, and he
had never forgotten that he had belonged to an important branch of it.
He held it as a sort of distinction. Feeling thus, it is no wonder that
he was ready to leave a comfortable home at Major Jimmy Bass’s for the
privilege of attaching himself and his fortunes to those of the Judge and
his daughter. Jesse made up his mind to take this step as soon as the
Bascoms returned to Hillsborough, and he made no delay in carrying out
his intentions.

Early one morning, not long after Judge Bascom and his daughter had
settled themselves in the modest little house which they had selected
because the rent was low, Mildred heard some one cutting wood in the
yard. Opening her window blinds a little, she saw that the axe was
wielded by a stalwart negro a little past middle age. Her father was
walking up and down the sidewalk on the outside with his hands behind
him, and seemed to be talking to himself.

A little while afterwards Mildred went into the kitchen. She found a fire
burning in the stove, and everything in noticeably good order, but the
girl she had employed to help her about the house was nowhere to be seen.
Whereupon the young lady called her—

“Elvira!”

At this the negro dropped his axe and went into the kitchen.

“Howdy, Mistiss?”

“Have you seen Elvira?” Mildred asked.

“Yes’m, she wuz hangin’ roun’ yer when I come roun’ dis mornin’. I went
in dar, ma’m, en I see how de kitchen wuz all messed up, en den I sont
her off. She de mos’ no ’countest nigger gal what I ever laid my two eyes
on. I’m name’ Jesse, ma’m, en I use’ ter b’long ter de Bascom fambly when
I wuz a boy. Is you ready fer breakfus, Mistiss?”

“Has my father—has Judge Bascom employed you?” Mildred asked. Jesse
laughed as though enjoying a good joke.

“No ’m, dat he ain’t! I des come my own se’f, kaze I know’d in reason you
wuz gwine ter be in needance er somebody. Lord, no ’m, none er de Bascoms
don’t hafter hire me, ma’m.”

“And who told you to send Elvira away?” Mildred inquired, half vexed and
half amused.

“Nobody ain’t tell me, ma’m,” Jesse replied. “When I come she wuz des
settin’ in dar by de stove noddin’, en de whole kitchen look like it been
tored up by a harrycane. I des shuck her up, I did, en tell her dat if
dat de way she gwine do, she better go ’long back en stay wid her mammy.”

“Well, you are very meddlesome,” said Mildred. “I don’t understand you at
all. Who is going to cook breakfast?”

“Mistiss, I done tell you dat breakfus is all ready en a-waitin’,”
exclaimed Jesse in an injured tone. “I made dat gal set de table, en dey
ain’t nothin’ ter do but put de vittles on it.”

It turned out to be a very good breakfast, too, such as it was. Jesse
thought while he was preparing it that it was a very small allowance for
two hearty persons. But the secret of its scantiness cropped out while
the Judge and his daughter were eating.

“These biscuits are very well cooked. But there are too many of them. My
daughter, we must pinch and save; it will only be for a little while. We
must have the old Place back; we must rake and scrape, and save money
and buy it back. And this coffee is very good, too,” he went on; “it has
quite the old flavor. I thought the girl was too young, but she’s a good
cook—a very good cook indeed.”

Jesse, who had taken his stand behind the Judge’s chair, arrayed in a
snow-white apron, moved his body uneasily from one foot to the other.
Mildred, glad to change the conversation, told her father about Jesse.

“Ah, yes,” said Judge Bascom, in his kindly, patronizing way; “I saw
him in the yard. And he used to belong to the Bascoms? Well, well,
it must have been a long time ago. This is Jesse behind me? Stand
out there, Jesse, and let me look at you. Ah, yes, a likely negro; a
very likely negro indeed. And what Bascom did you belong to, Jesse?
Merriwether Bascom! Why, to be sure; why, certainly!” the Judge
continued with as much animation as his feebleness would admit of. “Why,
of course, Merriwether Bascom. Well, well, I remember him distinctly. A
rough-and-tumble sort of man he was, fighting, gambling, horse-racing,
always on the wing. A good man at bottom, but wild. And so you belonged
to Merriwether Bascom? Well, boy, once a Bascom always a Bascom. We’ll
have the old Place back, Jesse, we’ll have it back: but we must pinch
ourselves; we must save.”

Thus the old Judge rambled on in his talk. But no matter what the
subject, no matter how far his memory and his experiences carried him
away from the present, he was sure to return to the old Place at last. He
must have it back. Every thought, every idea, was subordinate to this. He
brooded over it and talked of it waking, and he dreamed of it sleeping.
It was the one thought that dominated every other. Money must be saved,
the old Place must be bought, and to that end everything must tend. The
more his daughter economized the more he urged her to economize. His
earnestness and enthusiasm impressed and influenced the young girl in
a larger measure than she would have been willing to acknowledge, and
unconsciously she found herself looking forward to the day when her
father and herself would be able to call the Bascom Place their own. In
the Judge the thought was the delusion of old age, in the maiden it was
the dream of youth; and pardonable, perhaps, in both.

Their hopes and desires running thus in one channel, they loved to
wander of an evening in the neighborhood of the old Place—it was just
in the outskirts of the town—and long for the time when they should
take possession of their home. On these occasions Mildred, by way of
interesting her father, would suggest changes to be made.

“The barn is painted red,” she would say. “I think olive green would be
prettier.”

“No,” the Judge would reply; “we will have the barn removed. It was not
there in my time. It is an innovation. We will have it removed a mile
away from the house. We will make many changes. There are hundreds of
acres in the meadow yonder that ought to be in cotton. In my time we
tried to kill grass, but this man is doing his best to propagate it. Look
at that field of Bermuda there. Two years of hard work will be required
to get the grass out.”

Once while the Judge and his daughter were passing by the old Place they
met Prince, the mastiff, in the road. The great dog looked at the young
lady with kindly eyes, and expressed his approval by wagging his tail.
Then he approached and allowed her to fondle his lionlike head, and
walked by her side, responding to her talk in a dumb but eloquent way.
Prince evidently thought that the young lady and her father were going in
the avenue gate and to the house, for when they got nearly opposite, the
dog trotted on ahead, looking back occasionally, as if by that means to
extend them an invitation and to assure them that they were welcome. At
the gate he stopped and turned around, and seeing that the fair lady and
the old gentleman were going by, he dropped his bulky body on the ground
in a disconsolate way and watched them as they passed down the street.

The next afternoon Prince made it a point to watch for the young lady;
and when she and her father appeared in sight he ran to meet them and cut
up such unusual capers, barking and running around, that his master went
down the avenue to see what the trouble was. Mr. Underwood took off his
hat as Judge Bascom and his daughter drew near.

“This is Judge Bascom, I presume,” he said. “My name is Underwood. I am
glad to meet you.”

“This is my daughter, Mr. Underwood,” said the Judge, bowing with great
dignity.

“My dog has paid you a great compliment, Miss Bascom,” said Francis
Underwood. “He makes few friends, and I have never before seen him
sacrifice his dignity to his enthusiasm.”

“I feel highly flattered by his attentions,” said Mildred, laughing. “I
have read somewhere, or heard it said, that the instincts of a little
child and a dog are unerring.”

“I imagine,” said the Judge, in his dignified way, “that instinct has
little to do with the matter. I prefer to believe”—He paused a moment,
looked at Underwood, and laid his hand on the young man’s stalwart
shoulder. “Did you know, sir,” he went on, “that this place, all these
lands, once belonged to me?” His dignity had vanished, his whole attitude
changed. The pathos in his voice, which was suggested rather than
expressed, swept away whatever astonishment Francis Underwood might have
felt. The young man looked at the Judge’s daughter and their eyes met.
In that one glance, transitory though it was, he found his cue; in her
lustrous eyes, proud yet appealing, he read a history of trouble and
sacrifice.

“Yes,” Underwood replied, in a matter-of-fact way. “I knew the place once
belonged to you, and I have been somewhat proud of the fact. We still
call it the Bascom Place, you know.”

“I should think so!” exclaimed the Judge, bridling up a little; “I should
think so! Pray what else could it be called?”

“Well, it might have been called Grasslands, you know, or The Poplars,
but somehow the old name seemed to suit it best. I like to think of it as
the Bascom Place.”

“You are right, sir,” said the Judge with emphasis; “you are right, sir.
It is the Bascom Place. All the powers of earth cannot strip us of our
name.”

Again Underwood looked at the young girl, and again he read in her
shining but apprehensive eyes the answer he should make.

“I have been compelled to add some conveniences—I will not call them
improvements—and I have made some repairs, but I have tried to preserve
the main and familiar features of the Place.”

“But the barn there; that is not where it should be. It should be a mile
away—on the creek.”

“That would improve appearances, no doubt; but if you were to get out at
four or five o’clock in the morning and see to the milking of twelve or
fifteen cows, I dare say you would wish the barn even nearer than it is.”

“Yes, yes, I suppose so,” responded the Judge; “yes, no doubt. But it was
not there in my time—not in my time.”

“I have some very fine cows,” Underwood went on. “Won’t you go in and
look at them? I think they would interest Miss Bascom, and my sister
would be glad to meet her. Won’t you go in, sir, and look at the old
house?”

The Judge turned his pale and wrinkled face towards his old home.

“No,” he said, “not now. I thank you very much. I—somehow—no, sir, I
cannot go now.”

His hand shook as he raised it to his face, and his lips trembled as he
spoke.

“Let us go home, daughter,” he said after a while. “We have walked far
enough.” He bowed to young Underwood, and Mildred bade him good-bye with
a troubled smile.

Prince went with them a little way down the street. He walked by the side
of the lady, and her pretty hand rested lightly on the dog’s massive
head. It was a beautiful picture, Underwood thought, as he stood watching
them pass out of sight.

“You are a lucky dog,” he said to Prince when the latter came back, “but
you don’t appreciate your privileges. If you did you would have gone home
with that lovely woman.” Prince wagged his tail, but it is doubtful if he
fully understood the remark.

V.

One Sunday morning, as Major Jimmy Bass was shaving himself, he heard
a knock at the back door. The major had his coat and waistcoat off and
his suspenders were hanging around his hips. He was applying the lather
for the last time, and the knocking was so sudden and unexpected that
he rubbed the shaving-brush in one of his eyes. He began to make some
remarks which, however appropriate they may have been to the occasion,
could not be reported here with propriety. But in the midst of his
indignant monologue he remembered that the knocking might have proceeded
from some of Mrs. Bass’s lady friends, who frequently made a descent on
the premises in that direction for the purpose of borrowing a cupful of
sugar or coffee in a social way. These considerations acted as powerful
brakes on the conversation that Major Bass was carrying on with some
imaginary foe. Holding a towel to his smarting eye, he peeped from his
room door and looked down the hall. The back door was open, but he could
see no one.

“Who was that knocking?” he cried. “I’ll go one eye on you anyways.”

“’T ain’t nobody but me, Marse Maje,” came the response from the door.

“Is that you, Jess?” exclaimed the major. “Well, pleg-take your hide to
the pleg-taked nation! A little more an’ you’d ’a’ made me cut my th’oat
from year to year; an’ as it is, I’ve jest about got enough soap in my
eye fer to do a day’s washin’.”

“Is you shavin’ yourse’f, Marse Maje?” asked Jesse, diplomatically.

“That I am,” replied the major with emphasis. “I allers was independent
of white folks, an’ sence you pulled up your stakes an’ took up wi’ the
quality I’m about independent of the niggers. An’ it’s mighty quare to
me,” the major went on, “that you’d leave your high an’ mighty people
long enough fer to come a-bangin’ an’ makin’ me put out my eyes. Why, ef
I’d ’a’ had my razor out, I’ll be boun’ you’d made me cut my th’oat, an’
much good may it ’a’ done you.”

“Name er goodness, Marse Maje,” protested Jesse, “what make you go on dat
a-way? Ef I’d ’a’ knowed you wuz busy in dar I’d ’a’ set out in de sun en
waited twel you got thoo.”

“Yes,” said the major in a sarcastic but somewhat mollified tone, “you’d
’a’ sot out there an’ got to noddin’, an’ then bimeby your Miss Sarah
would ’a’ come along an’ ketched you there, an’ I’ll be boun’ she’d ’a’
lammed you wi’ a chunk of wood; bekaze she don’t ’low no loafin’ in the
back yard sence you been gone. I don’t know what you come fer,” the major
continued, still wiping the lather out of his eye, “an’ nuther do I
keer; but sence you are here you kin come in an’ finish shavin’ me, fer
to pay fer the damage you’ve done.”

Jesse was apparently overjoyed to find that he could be of some service.
He bustled around in the liveliest manner, and was soon mowing the
major’s fat face with the light but firm touch for which he was noted. As
he shaved he talked.

“Marse Maje,” he said, “does you know what I come fer dis mornin’?”

“I’ve been tryin’ to think,” replied the major; “but I couldn’t tell you
ef I was a-gwine to be hung fer it. You are up to some devilment, I know
mighty well, but I wish’t I may die ef I’ve got any idee what it is.”

“Now, Marse Maje, what make you talk dat’a’way?”

“Oh, I know you, Jess, an’ I’ve been a-knowin’ you a mighty long time.
Your Miss Sarah mayn’t know you, Jess, but I know you from the groun’ all
the way up.”

Jesse laughed. He was well aware that the major’s wife was the knowing
one of that family. He had waited until that excellent lady had issued
from the house on her way to church, and it was not until she was out
of sight that he thought it safe to call on the major. Even now, after
he had found the major alone, the negro was somewhat doubtful as to the
propriety of explaining the nature of his business; but the old man was
inquisitive.

“Oh, yes, Jess!” the major went on, after pausing long enough to have the
corner of his mouth shaved—“oh, yes! I know you, an’ I know you’ve got
somethin’ on your min’ right now. Spit it out.”

“Well, I’ll tell you de trufe, Marse Maje,” said Jesse, after hesitating
for some time; “I tell you de Lord’s trufe, I come yer atter somepin’ ter
eat.”

Major Bass caught the negro by the arm, pushed the razor carefully out of
the way, and sat bolt upright in the chair.

“Do you mean to stan’ up there, you triflin’ rascal,” the major
exclaimed, “an’ tell me, right before my face an’ eyes, that you’ve come
a-sneaking back here atter vittles? Whyn’t you stay where the vittles
was?” Major Bass was really indignant.

“Wait, Marse Maje; des gimme time,” said Jesse, nervously strapping the
razor on the palm of his hand. “Des gimme time, Marse Maje. You fly up
so, suh, dat you git me all mixed up wid myse’f. I come atter vittles,
dat’s de Lord’s trufe; but I ain’t come atter ’em fer myse’f. Nigger like
me don’t stay hongry long roun’ whar folks know um like dey does me.”

“Well, who in the name of reason sent you, then?” asked the major.

“Nobody ain’t sont me, suh,” said Jesse.

“Well, who do you want em’ fer?” insisted the major.

“Marse Judge Bascom en Miss Mildred,” replied Jesse solemnly.

Major Jimmy Bass fell back in his chair in a state of collapse, overcome
by his astonishment.

“_Well!_” he exclaimed, as soon as he could catch his breath. “Ef this
don’t beat the Jews an’ the Gentiles, the Scribes an’ the Pharisees,
then I ain’t a-settin’ here. Did they tell you to come to this house fer
vittles?”

“No, suh; _dat_ dey ain’t—_dat_ dey ain’t! Ef Miss Mildred wuz ter know I
went anywhar on dis kin’ er errun’ she’d mighty nigh have a fit.”

“Well, _well_, WELL!” snorted the major.

“I des come my own se’f,” Jesse went on. He would have begun shaving
again, but the major waved him away. “Look like I ’bleege’ ter come.
You’d ’a’ come yo’se’f, Marse Maje, druther dan see dem folks pe’sh
deyse’f ter deff. Dey got money, but Marse Judge Bascom got de idee dat
dey hafter save it all fer ter buy back de ole Place. Dey pinch deyse’f
day in en day out, en yistiddy when Miss Mildred say she gwine buy
somepin’ fer Sunday, Marse Judge Bascom he say no; he ’low dat dey mus’
save en pinch en buy back de ole home. I done year him say dat twel it
make me plum sick. An’ dar dey is naturally starvin’ deyse’f.

“Miss Mildred,” continued Jesse, “got idee dat her pa know what he
talkin’ ’bout; but twix’ you en me, Marse Maje, dat ole man done about
lose his min’. He ain’t so mighty much older dan what you is, but he
mighty feeble in his limbs, en he mighty flighty in his head. He talk
funny, now, en he don’t talk ’bout nothin’ skacely but buyin’ back the
ole Place.”

“Jess,” said Major Bass in the smooth, insinuating tone that the negro
knew so well, and that he had learned to fear, “ain’t I allers treated
you right? Ain’t I allers done the clean thing by you?”

“Yes, Marse Maje, you is,” said the negro with emphasis.

“Well, then, Jess, what in the name of Moses do you want to come roun’ me
wi’ such a tale as this? Don’t you know I know you clean through? Whyn’t
you come right out an’ say you want the vittles fer yourself? What is the
use whippin’ the devil ’roun’ the stump?”

“Marse Maje,” said Jesse, solemnly, “I’m a-tellin’ you de Lord’s trufe.”
By this time he had begun to shave the major again.

“Well,” said Major Bass, after a pause, during which he seemed to be
thinking, “suppos’n’ I was to let myself be took in by your tale, an’
suppos’n’ I was to give you some vittles, what have you got to put ’em
in?”

“I got a basket out dar, Marse Maje,” said Jesse, cheerfully. “I brung it
a purpose.”

“Why, tooby shore, tooby shore!” exclaimed the major, sarcastically. “Ef
you was as forehanded as you is fore-thoughted you wouldn’t be a-runnin’
roun’ beggin’ vittles from han’ to mouth. But sence you are here you’d
better make haste; bekaze ef your Miss Sarah comes back from church and
ketches you here, she’ll kick up a purty rippit.”

The major was correct. As he and Jesse went into the pantry Mrs. Bass
entered the front door. Flinging her bonnet and mantilla on a bed, she
went to the back porch for a drink of water. The major heard her coming
through the hallway, and, by a swift gesture of his hand, cautioned Jesse
to be quiet.

“I’ll vow if the place ain’t left to take care of itself,” Mrs. Bass was
saying. “Doors all open, chickens in the dining-room, cat licking the
churn-dasher, and I’ll bet my existence that not a drop of fresh water
has been put in the house-bucket since I left this morning. Everything
gone to rack and ruin. I can’t say my prayers in peace at home, and if
I go to church one Sunday in a month there ain’t no satisfaction in the
sermon, because I know everything’s at loose ends on this whole blessed
place. And if you’d go up the street right now, you’d find Mr. Bass
a-setting up there at the tavern with the other loafers, a-giggling and
a-snickering and a-dribbling at the mouth like one possessed.”

The major, in the pantry, winced visibly at this picture drawn true to
life, and as he attempted to change his position he knocked a tin vessel
from one of the shelves. He caught at it, and it fell to the floor with a
loud crash.

“The Lord have mercy!” exclaimed Mrs. Bass. “Is Satan and all his imps
in the pantry, a-tearing down and a-smashing up things?” Not being a
timid woman, she hastened to investigate. The sight she saw in the
pantry struck her speechless. In one corner stood the major, holding up
one foot, as if he was afraid of breaking something, and vainly trying
to smile. In another corner stood Jesse, so badly frightened that very
little could be seen of his face except the whites of his eyes. The
tableau was a comical one. Mrs. Bass did not long remain speechless.

“Mr. Bass!” she exclaimed, “what under the shining sun are you doing
colloguing with niggers in my pantry? If you want to collogue with
niggers, why, in the name of common sense, don’t you take ’em out to the
barn? What are you doing in there, anyhow? For mercy’s sake! have you
gone stark-natural crazy? And if you ain’t, what brand-new caper are you
trying to cut up?”

“Don’t talk so loud, Sarah,” said the major, wiping the cold perspiration
from his face. “All the neighbors’ll hear you.”

“And why shouldn’t they hear me?” exclaimed Mrs. Bass. “What could be
worse than for me to come home from church in broad daylight and find you
penned up in my pantry, arm-in-arm with a nigger? What business have you
got with niggers that you have to take ’em into my pantry to collogue
with ’em? I’d a heap rather you’d ’a’ taken ’em in the parlor—a heap
rather.”

Then Mrs. Bass’s eyes fell on the basket Jesse had in his hand, and this
added to her indignation.

“I believe in my soul,” she went on, “that you are stealing the meat and
bread out of your own mouth to feed that nigger. If you ain’t, what is
the basket for?”

“Tut, tut, Sarah, don’t you go on so; you’ll make yourself the
laughin’-stock of the town,” said the major in a conciliatory tone.

“And what’ll you be?” continued Mrs. Bass, relentlessly; “what’ll you
be—a honeyin’ up with buck niggers in my pantry in the broad open
daytime? Maybe you’ll have the manners to introduce me to your pardner.
Who is he, anyhow?” Then Mrs. Bass turned her attention to the negro.

“Come out of my pantry, you nasty, trifling rascal! Who are you?”

“’T ain’t nobody but me, Miss Sa’ah,” said Jesse as he issued forth.

“You!” she exclaimed. “You are the nigger that was too biggity to stay
with ’em that raised you up and took care of you, and now you come back
and try to steal their bread and meat! Well! I know the end of the world
ain’t so mighty far off.”

Mrs. Bass sank into a chair, exhausted by her indignation. Then the major
took the floor, so to say, and showed that if he could be frightened by
his wife, he could also, at the proper time, show that he had a will of
his own. He explained the situation at some length, and with an emphasis
that carried conviction with it. He made no mention of Jesse in his
highly colored narrative, but left his wife to infer that while she was
at church praying for peace of mind and not having her prayers answered
to any great extent, he was at home engaged in works of practical
charity. Nothing could have been finer than the major’s air of injured
innocence, unless it was Jesse’s attitude of helpless and abandoned
humiliation. The result of it was that Mrs. Bass filled the basket with
the best she had in the house, and Jesse went home happy.

VI.

As for the Bascoms, they seemed to be getting along comfortably in spite
of the harrowing story that Jesse had told to Major Jimmy Bass and to
others. As a matter of fact, the shrewd negro had purposely exaggerated
the condition of affairs in the Bascom household. He had an idea that the
fare they lived on was too common and cheap for the representatives of
such a grand family, forgetting, or not knowing, the privations they had
passed through. The Judge insisted on the most rigid economy, and Mildred
was at one with him in this. She was familiar with the necessity for it,
but she could see that her father was anxious to push it to unmeasurable
lengths. It never occurred to her, however, that her father’s morbid
anxiety to repossess the Bascom Place was rapidly taking the shape
of mania. This desire on the part of Judge Bascom was a part of his
daughter’s life. She had heard it expressed in various ways ever since
she could remember, and it was a part, not merely of her experience, but
of her growth and development. She had heard the matter discussed so many
times that it seemed to her nothing but natural that her father should
one day realize the dream of his later years and reoccupy the old Place
as proprietor.

Judge Bascom had no other thought than this. As he grew older and
feebler, the desire became more ardent and overpowering. While his
daughter was teaching her school, with which she had made quite a
success, the Judge would be planning improvements to be added to his
old home when he should own it again. Not a day passed—unless, indeed,
the weather was stormy—that he did not walk in the neighborhood of the
old Place. Sometimes he would go with his daughter, sometimes he would
go alone, but it was observed by those who came to be interested in his
comings and goings that he invariably refused to accept the invitation
of Mr. Underwood to enter the house or to inspect the improvements that
had been made. He persisted in remaining on the outside of the domain,
content to wait for the day when he could enter as proprietor. He was
willing to accept the position of spectator, but he was not willing to be
a guest.

The culmination came one fine day in the fall, and it was so sudden
and so peculiar that it took Hillsborough completely by surprise, and
gave the people food for gossip for a long time afterwards. The season
was hesitating as to whether summer should return or winter should be
introduced. There was a hint of winter in the crisp morning breezes, but
the world seemed to float summerwards in the glimmering haze that wrapped
the hills in the afternoons. On one of these fine mornings Judge Bascom
rose and dressed himself. His daughter heard him humming a tune as he
walked about the room, and she observed also, with inward satisfaction,
that his movements were brisker than usual. Listening a little
attentively, she heard him talking to himself, and presently she heard
him laugh. This was such an unusual occurrence that she was moved to
knock at his door. He responded with a cheery “Come in!” Mildred found
him shaved and dressed, and she saw that there was a great change in his
appearance. His cheeks, usually so wan and white, were flushed a little
and his eyes were bright. He smiled as Mildred entered, and exclaimed in
a tone that she had not heard for years:—

“Good-morning, my daughter! And how do you find yourself this morning?”

It was the old manner she used to admire so when she was a slip of a
girl—a manner that was a charming combination of dignity and affection.

“Why, father!” she exclaimed, “you must be feeling better. You have
positively grown younger in a night.”

The Judge laughed until his eyes sparkled. “Yes, my dear, I am feeling
very well indeed. I never felt better. I am happy, quite happy.
Everything has been made clear to me. I am going to-day to transact some
business that has been troubling me a long time. I shall arrange it all
to-day—yes, to-day.”

The change that had come over her father was such a relief to Mildred
that she asked him no questions. Now, as always, she trusted to his
judgment and his experience. Jesse, however, was more critical. He
watched the Judge furtively and shook his head.

“Mistiss,” he said to Mildred when he found an opportunity, “did you
shave master?”

“Why, what a ridiculous question!” she exclaimed. “How could I shave him?
It makes me shiver merely to touch the razors.”

“Well, Mistiss,” Jesse insisted, “ef I ain’t shave him, en you ain’t
shave him, den who de name er goodness is done gone en done it?”

“He shaved himself, of course,” Mildred said. “He is very much better
this morning. I noticed it the moment I saw him. I should think you could
see it yourself.”

“I seed somepin’ nuther wuz de matter,” said Jesse. “Somepin’ ’bleege’
ter be de matter when I put him ter bed las’ night des like he wuz a
baby, ma’m, en now yer he is gwine roun’ des ez spry ez de nex’ one.
Yessum, somepin’ ’bleege’ ter be de matter. Yistiddy his han’s wuz
shakin’ same like he got de polzy, ma’m, en now yer he is shavin’
hisse’f; dat what rack my min’.”

“Well, I hope you are glad he is so well, Jesse,” said Mildred in an
injured tone.

“Oh, yessum,” said Jesse, scratching his head. “Lor’, yessum. Dey ain’t
nobody no gladder dan what I is; but it come on me so sudden, ma’m, dat
it sorter skeer me.”

“Well, it doesn’t frighten me,” said Mildred. “It makes me very happy.”

“Yessum,” replied Jesse deferentially. He made no further comment; but
after Mildred had gone to attend to her school duties he made it his
business to keep an eye on the Judge, and the closer the negro watched,
the more forcibly was he struck by the great change that a night had made
in the old man.

“I hear talk ’bout folks bein’ conjured inter sickness,” Jesse said to
himself, “but I ain’t never hear talk ’bout dey bein’ conjured so dey git
well.”

Certainly a great change had come over Judge Bascom. He stood firmly on
his feet once more. He held his head erect, as in the old days, and when
he talked to Jesse his tone was patronizing and commanding, instead of
querulous and complaining. He seemed to be very fastidious about his
appearance. After Mildred had gone to her school, Jesse was called in to
brush the Judge’s hat and coat and to polish his shoes. The Judge watched
this process with great interest, and talked to the negro in his blandest
manner. This was not so surprising to Jesse as the fact that the Judge
persisted in calling him Wesley; Wesley was the Judge’s old body-servant
who had been dead for twenty years. It was Wesley this and Wesley that so
long as Jesse was in the room, and once the Judge asked how long before
the carriage would be ready. The negro parried this question, but he
remembered it. He was sorely puzzled an hour afterwards, however, when
Judge Bascom called him and said:—

“Wesley, tell Jordan he need not bring the carriage around for me. I will
walk. Jordan can bring your mistress when she is ready.”

“Well,” exclaimed Jesse, when the Judge disappeared in the house, “dis
bangs me! What de name er goodness put de ole man Jerd’n in his min’,
which he died endurance er de war? It’s all away beyant me. Miss Mildred
oughter be yer wid her pa right now, yit, ef I go atter her, dey ain’t no
tellin’ what he gwine do.”

Jess cut an armful of wood, and then made a pretense of washing dishes,
going from the kitchen to the dining-room several times. More than once
he stopped to listen, but he could hear nothing. After a while he made
bold to peep into the sitting-room. There was nobody there. He went into
the Judge’s bedroom; it was empty. Then he called—“Marster! oh, Marster!”
but there was no reply. Jess was in a quandary. He was not alarmed, but
he was uneasy.

“Ef I run en tell Miss Mildred dat Marster done gone som’ers,” he said
to himself, “she’ll des laugh en say I ain’t got no sense; en I don’t
speck I is, but it make my flesh crawl fer ter hear folks callin’ on dead
niggers ter do dis en do dat.”

Meanwhile the Judge had sallied forth from the house, and was proceeding
in the direction of the Bascom Place. His step was firm and elastic, his
bearing dignified. The acquaintances whom he met on his way stopped and
looked after him when they had returned his Chesterfieldian salutation.
He walked rapidly, and there was an air of decision in his movements that
had long been lacking. At the great gate opening into the avenue of the
Bascom Place the Judge was met by Prince the mastiff, who gave him a
hospitable welcome, and gravely preceded him to the house. Miss Sophie,
Mr. Underwood’s maiden sister, who was sitting in the piazza, engaged on
some kind of feminine embroidery, saw the Judge coming, too late to beat
a retreat, so she merely whipped behind one of the large pillars, gave
her dress a little shake at the sides and behind, ran her hands over her
hair, and appeared before the caller cool, calm, and collected.

“Good-morning, madam,” said the Judge in his grand way, taking off his
hat.

“Good-morning, sir,” said Miss Sophie. “Have this chair?”

“No, no,” said the Judge, smiling blandly, and waving his hand. “I prefer
my own chair—the large rocker with the cushion, you know. It is more
comfortable.”

Somewhat puzzled, Miss Sophie fetched a rocker. It had no cushion, but
the Judge seemed not to miss it.

“Why, where are the servants?” he asked, his brows contracting a little.
“I could have brought the chair.”

“Mercy!” exclaimed Miss Sophie, “if I were to sit down and expect the
negroes to wait on me, I’d have a good many disappointments during the
day.”

“Yes,” said the Judge, “that is very true; very true. Where is Wesley?”

“I’m sure I don’t know,” Miss Sophie replied. “Is he a white man or a
negro?”

“Wesley?” exclaimed the Judge. “Why, he’s a nigger; he’s my body-servant.”

“Isn’t this Judge Bascom?” Miss Sophie inquired, regarding him curiously.

“Yes, certainly, madam,” responded the Judge.

“Well, I’ve seen a negro named Jesse following you and your daughter
about,” said Miss Sophie. “Perhaps you are speaking of Jesse.”

“No, no,” said the Judge. “I mean Wesley—or maybe you are only a visitor
here. Your face is familiar, but I have forgotten your name.”

“I am Francis Underwood’s sister,” said Miss Sophie, with some degree of
pride.

“Ah, yes!” the Judge sighed—“Francis Underwood. He is the gentleman who
has had charge of the place these several years. A very clever man, I
have no doubt. He has done very well, very well indeed; better than most
men would have done. Do you know where he will go next year?”

“Now, I couldn’t tell you, really,” Miss Sophie replied, looking at the
Judge through her gold-rimmed eye-glasses. “He did intend to go North
this fall, but he’s always too busy to carry out his intentions.”

“Yes,” said Judge Bascom; “I have no doubt he is a very busy man. He has
managed everything very cleverly here, and I wish him well wherever he
goes.”

Miss Sophie was very glad when she heard her brother’s step in the hall;
not that she was nervous or easily frightened, but there was something
in Judge Bascom’s actions, something in the tone of his voice, some
suggestion in his words, that gave her uneasiness, and she breathed a
sigh of relief when her stalwart brother made his appearance.

Francis Underwood greeted his guest cordially—more cordially, Miss Sophie
thought, than circumstances warranted; but the beautiful face of Mildred
Bascom was not stamped on Miss Sophie’s mind as it was on her brother’s.

“I am sorry to put you to any inconvenience,” said the Judge, after
they had talked for some time on commonplace topics—“very sorry. I have
put the matter off until at last I felt it to be a solemn duty I owed
my family to come here. Believe me, sir,” he continued, turning to the
young man with some emotion—“believe me, sir, it grieves me to trouble
you in the matter, but I could no longer postpone coming here. I think I
understand and appreciate your attachment”—

“Why, my dear sir,” cried Francis Underwood in his heartiest manner, “it
is no trouble at all. No one could be more welcome here. I have often
wondered why you have never called before. Don’t talk about trouble and
inconvenience.”

“I think I understand and appreciate your attachment for the Place,” the
Judge went on as though he had not been interrupted, “and it embarrasses
me, I assure you, to be compelled to trouble you now.”

“Well,” said Francis Underwood, with a hospitable laugh, “if it is no
trouble to you, it certainly is none to me. As my neighbors around here
say, when I call on them, ‘just make yourself at home.’”

Judge Bascom rose from his chair trembling. He seemed suddenly to be
laboring under the most intense excitement.

“My home?” he almost shrieked—“make myself at home! In God’s name,
man, what can you mean? It _is_ my home! It has always been my home!
Everything here is mine—every foot of land, every tree, every brick and
stone and piece of timber in this house. It is _all_ mine, and I will
have it! I have come here to assert my rights!”

He panted with passion and excitement as he looked from Francis Underwood
to Miss Sophie. He paused, as if daring them to dispute his claims.
Miss Sophie, who had a temper of her own, would have given the Judge a
piece of her mind, but she saw her brother regarding the old man with a
puzzled, pitying expression. Then the truth flashed on her, and for an
instant she felt like crying. Francis Underwood approached the Judge and
led him gently back to his chair.

“Now that you are at home, Judge Bascom,” he said, “you need not worry
yourself.”

“I tell you it is _mine_!” the Judge went on, beating the arm of his
chair with his clenched fist; “it is mine. It has always been mine, and
it will always be mine.”

Francis Underwood stood before the old man, active, alert, smiling.
His sister said afterwards that she was surprised at the prompt
gentleness with which her brother disposed of what promised to be a very
disagreeable scene.

“Judge Bascom,” said the young man, swinging himself around on his
boot-heels, “as your guest here, allow me to suggest that you ought to
show me over the place. I have been told you have some very fine cows
here.”

Immediately Judge Bascom was himself again. His old air of dignity
returned, and he became in a moment the affable host.

“As my guests here,” he said, smiling with pleasure, “you and the lady
are very welcome. We keep open house at the Bascom Place, and we are glad
to have our friends with us. What we have is yours. I suppose,” he went
on, still smiling, “some of our neighbors have been joking about our
cows. We have a good many of them, but they don’t amount to much. They
have been driven to the pasture by this time, and that is on the creek
a mile and a half from here. I wonder where Wesley is! I think he is
growing more worthless every year. He ought to be here with my daughter.
The carriage was sent for her some time ago.”

“I will see if he is in the yard,” said Underwood, and his sister
followed him through the hall.

“Mercy!” Miss Sophie exclaimed when they were out of hearing; “does the
old Judge purpose to swarm and settle down on us?” She had an economical
turn of mind. “What in the world is the matter with him?”

“I pity him from the bottom of my heart,” said Francis Underwood, “but I
am sorrier for his daughter. Everything seems to be blotted out of his
mind except the notion that he is the owner of this Place. We must humor
him, sister, and we must be tender with the daughter. You know how to do
that much better than I do.”

Miss Sophie frowned a little. The situation was a new and trying one,
but she had been confronted with emergencies before, and her experience
and her strong common sense stood her in good stead now. With a woman’s
promptness she decided on a line of action at once sympathetic and
effectual. The buggy was ordered out and young Underwood went for a
physician.

Then, when he had returned, Miss Sophie said he must go for the daughter,
and she cautioned him, with some severity of manner, as to what he
should say and how he should deport himself. But at this Francis
Underwood rebelled. Ordinarily he was a very agreeable and accommodating
young fellow, but when his sister informed him that he must fetch Mildred
Bascom to her father, he pulled off his hat and scratched his blond head
in perplexity.

“What could I say, sister?” he protested. “How could I explain the
situation? No; it is a woman’s work, and you must go. It would be a
pretty come-off for me to go after this poor girl and in a fit of
awkwardness frighten her to death. It is bad enough as it is. There is no
hurry. You shall have the carriage. It would never do for me to go; no
one but a woman knows how to be sympathetic in a matter of this kind.”

“I never knew before that you were so bashful,” said Miss Sophie,
regarding him keenly. “It is a recent development.”

“It is not bashfulness, sister,” said Underwood, coloring a little. “It
is consideration. How could I explain matters to this poor girl? How
could I prevail on her to come here without giving her an inkling of the
situation, and thus frighten her, perhaps unnecessarily?”

“Perhaps you are right,” said Miss Sophie, who, as an experienced
spinster, was not always ready to make concessions of this kind. “At
any rate I’ll go for Miss Bascom, and I think I can manage it without
alarming her; but the matter troubles me. I hope the poor old Judge will
not be a dangerous guest.”

“There is not the slightest fear of that,” said Francis Underwood. “He is
too feeble for that. When I placed my hand on his shoulder just now he
was all of a tremble. He is no stronger than a little child, and no more
dangerous. Besides, the doctor is with him.”

“Well,” said Miss Sophie with a sigh, “I’ll go. Women are compelled to
do most of the odd jobs that men are afraid to take up; but I shiver to
think of it. I shall surely break down when I see that poor child.”

“No,” said her brother, “you will not. I know you too well for that. We
must humor this old man, and that will be for me to do; his daughter must
be left to you.”

VII.

All this was no less the result of Francis Underwood’s desire than of
the doctor’s commands. The old practitioner was noted for his skill
throughout the region, and after he had talked with Judge Bascom he gave
it as his opinion that the only physic necessary in the case was perfect
rest and quiet, and that these could be secured only by allowing the old
man to remain undisturbed in the belief that he was once more the owner
of the Bascom Place.

“He’ll not trouble you for long,” said Dr. Bynum, wiping his spectacles,
“and I’ve no doubt that whatever expense may be incurred will be settled
by his old friends. Oh, Bascom still has friends here,” exclaimed the
doctor, misunderstanding Underwood’s gesture of protest. “He went wrong,
badly wrong; but he is a Southerner, sir, to the very core, and in the
South we are in the habit of looking after our own. We may differ, sir,
but when the pinch comes you’ll find us together.”

The doctor’s lofty air was wholly lost on his companion.

“My dear sir,” said Underwood, laying his hand somewhat heavily on the
doctor’s shoulder, “what do you take me for? Do you suppose that I intend
to set up a hospital here?”

“Oh, by no means, by no means,” said Dr. Bynum, soothingly. “Not at all;
in fact, quite the contrary. As I say, you shall be reimbursed for all”—

“Dr. Bynum,” said Underwood, with some degree of emphasis, “permit me to
remind you that Judge Bascom is my guest. There is no question of money
except so far as your bill is concerned, and that”—

“Now, now, my _dear_ boy,” exclaimed the old doctor, holding up both
hands in a gesture of expostulation, “don’t, _don’t_ fly up! What is the
use? I was only explaining matters; I was only trying to let you know how
we Southerners feel. You must have noticed that the poor old Judge hasn’t
been treated very well since his return here. His best friends have
avoided him. I was only trying to tell you that they hold him in high
esteem, and that they are willing to do all they can for him.”

“As a Southerner?” inquired Underwood, “or as a man?”

“Tut, tut!” exclaimed Dr. Bynum. “Don’t come running at me with your head
down and your horns up. We’ve no time to fall into a dispute. You look
after the Judge as a Northerner, and I’ll look after him as a Southerner.
His daughter must come here. He is very feeble. He has but one irrational
idea, and that is that he owns the old Place. In every other particular
his mind is sound, and he will give you no trouble. His idea must be
humored, and even then the collapse will come too soon for that poor
girl, his daughter—as lovely a creature, sir, as you ever saw.”

This statement was neither information nor news so far as Underwood
was concerned. “If I see her,” the old doctor went on, with a somewhat
patronizing air, “I’ll try to explain matters; but it is a very delicate
undertaking, sir—very delicate.”

“No,” said Underwood; “there will be no need for explanations. My sister
will go for Miss Bascom, and whatever explanations may be necessary she
will make at the proper time.”

“An admirable arrangement,” said Dr. Bynum with a grunt of
satisfaction—“an admirable arrangement indeed. Well, my boy, you must
do the best you can, and I know that will be all that is necessary. I am
sorry for Bascom, very sorry, and I’m sorrier for his daughter. I’ll call
again tonight.”

As Dr. Bynum drove down the avenue, Underwood was much gratified to see
Jesse coming through the gate. The negro appeared to be much perplexed.
He took off his hat as he approached Underwood, and made a display of
politeness somewhat unusual, although he was always polite.

“Is you seed Marse Judge Bascom?” he inquired.

“Yes,” said Underwood. “He is in the house yonder, resting himself. You
seem frightened; what is the trouble?”

“Well, suh, I ain’t had no such worriment sence de Sherman army come
’long. I dunner what got inter Marse Judge Bascom. He been gwine on des
like yuther folks, settin’ ’roun’ en talkin’ ’long wid hisse’f, en den
all of er sudden he break out en shave en dress hisse’f, en go visitin’
whar he ain’t never been visitin’ befo’. I done year ’im say p’intedly
dat he ain’t never gwine come yer les’n de Place b’long ter ’im. Do he
look downhearted, suh?”

“No,” said Underwood, “I can’t say that he does. He seems to be very
well satisfied. He has called several times for Wesley. I have heard
you called Jesse, but perhaps the Judge knows you as Wesley. There are
several negroes around here who answer to different names.”

“No, suh,” said Jesse, scratching his head. “I ain’t never been call
Wesley sence I been bornded inter de worl’. Dey was er nigger name Wesley
what use ter go ’long wid Marse Judge Bascom en wait on ’im when I wuz
er little boy, but Wesley done been dead too long ago ter talk about.
I dunner what make folks’s min’ drop back dat ’a’way. Look like dey er
sorter fumblin’ ’roun’ tryin’ fer ter ketch holt er sump’n ne’r what done
been pulled up out’n reach.”

“Well,” said Underwood, “the Judge is in the house. See if he wants
anything; and if he asks about his daughter, tell him she will be here
directly.”

When Jesse went into the house he found the Judge lying on a lounge in
the hall. His eyes were closed, and he seemed to be dozing; but Jesse’s
movements aroused him.

“Ah! is that you, Wesley? Where is your Miss Mildred?”

“She comin’, suh; she comin’ right now.”

“Very well, very well. You must make yourself at home here,” he said to
Francis Underwood, who had followed Jesse. “I am somewhat dilapidated
myself, but my daughter will entertain you. Wesley, I believe I will go
to my room. Lend me your arm.”

“Allow me to assist you,” said Underwood; and so between the two the old
man was carried to the room that had been his own when the house was
his. It happened to be Underwood’s room, but that made no difference. It
belonged once more to the Judge in his disordered fancy, and thither he
went.

After a while Miss Sophie came, bringing Mildred. Just how she had
explained matters to the poor girl no one ever knew, but it must have
been in some specially sympathetic way, for when Francis Underwood
assisted the ladies from the carriage Miss Bascom appeared to be the less
agitated of the two.

“The Judge is as comfortable as possible,” Underwood said cheerily.
“Jesse is with him, and I think he is asleep. His nervousness has passed
away.”

“Oh, do you think he is seriously ill?” exclaimed Mildred, clasping her
hands together.

“Certainly not, just now,” said Francis Underwood. “The doctor has been
here, and he has gone away apparently satisfied. Sister, do you take
charge of Miss Bascom, and show her how to be at home here.”

And so Judge Bascom and his beautiful daughter were installed at the
old Place. Mildred, under the circumstances, would rather have been
elsewhere, but she was practically under orders. It was necessary to the
well-being of her father, so the doctor said, that he should remain where
he was; it was necessary that he should be humored in the belief that he
was the owner of the old Place. It is only fair to say that Miss Sophie
Underwood and her brother were more willing and anxious to enter into
this scheme than Mildred appeared to be. She failed to comprehend the
situation until after she had talked with her father, and then she was in
despair. Judge Bascom was the representative of everything substantial
and enduring in his daughter’s experience, and when she realized that his
mind had been seized by a vagary she received a tremendous shock. But
the rough edges of the situation, so to speak, were smoothed and turned
by Miss Sophie, who assumed motherly charge of the young girl. Miss
Sophie’s methods were so sympathetic and so womanly, and she gave to the
situation such a matter-of-fact interpretation, that the grief and dismay
of the young girl were not as overwhelming as they otherwise would have
been.

VIII.

Naturally all the facts that have just been set down here were soon known
to the inhabitants of Hillsborough. Naturally, too, something more than
the facts was also known and talked about. There was the good old doctor
ready to shake his head and look mysterious, and there were the negroes
ready to give out an exaggerated version of the occurrences that followed
Judge Bascom’s visit to his old home.

“Well,” said Major Jimmy Bass to his wife, with something like a snort,
“ef the old Judge is gone there an’ took holt of things, like they say,
it’s bekaze he’s out’n his mind. I wonder what in the round world could
’a’ possessed him?”

“I ’spec’ he’s done drapt back into his doltage,” said Farmer Joe-Bob
Grissom, who had gone to the major’s for the purpose of discussing the
matter. “An’ yit, they do say that he’s got a clean title to every bit
of the prop’ty, ef you take into account all that talk about his wife’s
brother, an’ sech like.”

“Well,” remarked the major grimly, “Sarah there ain’t got no brother, an’
I reckon I’m sorter pretected from them kind of gwines-on.”

“Why, tooby shore you are,” said his wife, who was the Sarah referred to;
“but I ain’t so mighty certain that I wouldn’t be better off if I had
a brother to follow you around where the wimmen folks can’t go. You’ve
flung away many a bright dollar that he might have picked up.”

“Who, Sarah?” inquired the major, wincing a little.

“My brother,” returned Mrs. Bass.

“Why, you haven’t got a brother, Sarah,” said Major Bass.

“More’s the pity,” exclaimed the major’s wife. “I ought to have had one,
a great big double-j’inted chap. But you needn’t tell me about the old
Judge,” she went on. “He tried to out-Yankee the Yankees up yonder in
Atlanty, an’ now he’s a-trying to out-Yankee them down here. Lord! You
needn’t tell me a thing about old Judge Bascom. Show me a man that’s been
wrapped up with the Radicals, and I’ll show you a man that ain’t got
no better sense than to try to chousel somebody. I’d just as lief see
Underwood have the Bascom Place as the old Judge, every bit and grain.”

“Well, I hadn’t,” said the major emphatically.

“No, ner me nuther,” said Mr. Joe-Bob Grissom. “Hit may be right, but hit
don’t look right. Pap used to say he’d never be happy ontel the Bascoms
come back inter the’r prop’ty.”

“Well, he’s dead, ain’t he?” inquired Mrs. Bass in a tone that showed she
had the best of the argument.

“Yessum,” said Mr. Grissom, shifting about in his chair and crossing his
legs, as if anxious to dispose of an unpleasant subject, “yessum, pap’s
done dead.” To this statement, after a somewhat embarrassing silence, he
added: “Pap took an’ died a long time ago.”

“Yes,” said Mrs. Bass in a gentler tone, “and I’ll warrant you that when
he died he wasn’t pestered ’bout whether the Bascoms owned the Place or
not. Did he make any complaints?”

“No’m,” replied Mr. Grissom in a reminiscent way, “I can’t say that he
did. He jest didn’t bother about ’em. Hit looked like they jest natchally
slipped outer his mind.”

“Why, certainly,” said Mrs. Bass, with a little shake of her head; “they
slipped outer your pa’s mind, and now they say the old Judge has slipped
out of his own mind.”

“Well, we needn’t boast of it, Sarah,” remarked the major, with a feeble
attempt at severity. “Nobody knows the day when some of us may be twisted
around. We’ve no room to brag.”

“No, we ain’t,” said his wife, bridling up. “I’ve trembled for you a many
a day when you thought I was thinking about something else,—a many a day.”

“Now you know mighty well, Sarah, that no good-natured man like me
ain’t a-gwine to up an’ lose their mind, jest dry so,” said the major
earnestly. “They’ve got to have some mighty big trouble.”

“Yes,” said Mrs. Bass, grimly, “and they have to have mind too, I reckon.
Nobody that never had a horse ever lost one.”

The major nodded his head at Joe-Bob Grissom, as much as to say that it
was only a very able man who could afford to have such a sprightly wife.
The mute suggestion, however, was lost on Grissom, who was accustomed to
taking life seriously.

“I hear a mighty heap of talk,” he said, “but I ain’t never been so
mighty certain an’ shore that the old Judge is lost his mind. There’d be
lots of fun ef it should happen to be that he had the papers all made out
in his pocket, an’ I’ve hearn some hints that-a-way.”

“Well,” said the more practical Mrs. Bass, “he ain’t got no papers.
The minute I laid eyes on him after he came back here, I says to Mr.
Bass there, ‘Mr. Bass,’ says I, ‘the old Judge has gone wrong in his
upper story.’ Ah, you can’t fool me. I know a thing when I see it, more
especially if I look at it close. I’ve seen folks that had to rub the
silver off a thrip to tell whether it was passable or not. I might be
fooled about the silver in a thrip, but you can’t fool me about a grown
man.”

“Nobody ain’t tryin’ to fool you, Sarah,” said the major, with some show
of spirit.

“Well, I reckon not,” exclaimed Mrs. Bass, somewhat contemptuously. “I’d
like to see anybody try to fool me right here in my own house and right
before my face.”

“There ain’t no tellin’,” said Mr. Joe-Bob Grissom, in his matter-of-fact
way, ignoring everything that had been said,—“there ain’t no tellin’
whether the old Judge is got the papers or not. ’T would be hard on Frank
Underwood an’ his sister, an’ they ain’t no better folks than them. They
don’t make no fuss about it, an’ they don’t hang out no signs, but when
you come to a narrer place in the road where you can’t go forrerd nor
back’ards, an’ nuther can you turn ’roun’, you may jest count on them
Underwoods. They’ll git you out ef you can be got out, an’ before you
can say thanky-do, they’ll be away off yonder helpin’ some yuther poor
creetur.”

“Well,” said Major Bass, with an air of independence, “I’m at the fust of
it. It may be jest as you say, Joe-Bob; but ef so, I’ve never knowed it.”

“Hit’s jest like I tell you,” said Joe-Bob, emphatically.

“Well, the Lord love us!” exclaimed Mrs. Bass, “I hope it’s so, I do from
the bottom of my heart. It would be a mighty queer world if it didn’t
have some tender spots in it, but you needn’t be afraid that they’ll ever
get as thick as the measles. I reckon you must be renting land on the old
Bascom Place,” she went on, eyeing Mr. Grissom somewhat sharply.

“Yessum,” said Joe-Bob, moving about uneasily in his chair. “Yessum, I
do.”

Whereupon Mrs. Bass smiled, and her smile was more significant than
anything she could have said. It was disconcerting indeed, and it was
not long before Mr. Joe-Bob Grissom made some excuse for depriving Major
Jimmy and Mrs. Sarah Bass of his company.

As he was passing the Bascom Place on his way home he saw lights in the
house and heard voices on the piazza.

“Ef it warn’t for that blamed dog,” he thought, “I’d go up there an’ see
what they er talkin’ about so mighty peart.”

IX.

But Mr. Grissom’s curiosity would not have been satisfied. Judge Bascom
was sitting in a large rocking-chair, enjoying the pleasant evening air,
and the others were sitting near, talking on the most ordinary topics.
This situation was one of the doctor’s prescriptions, as Miss Sophie
said. Those around were to wear a cheerful air, and the Judge was to be
humored in the belief that he was once more the proprietor of the Bascom
Place. He seemed to respond to this treatment in the most natural way.
The old instinct of hospitality rose in him and had its way. He grew
garrulous indeed, and sat on the piazza, or walked up and down and talked
by the hour. He was full of plans and projects, and some of them were
so suggestive that Francis Underwood made a note of them for further
consideration. The Judge was the genial host, and while his daughter was
full of grief and humiliation at the position in which she was placed, he
appeared to draw new life and inspiration from his surroundings. He took
a great fancy to Miss Sophie: her observations, which were practical in
the extreme, and often unflattering, were highly relished by him. The
Judge himself was a good talker, and he gave Miss Sophie an opportunity
to vent some of her pet opinions, the most of which were very pronounced.

As for Mildred, in spite of her grief and anxiety, she found her
surroundings vastly more pleasant than she had at first imagined they
could be. Some instinct or prepossession made her feel at home in the old
house, and as she grew more cheerful and more contented she grew more
beautiful and more engaging. At least, this was the opinion of Francis
Underwood.

“Brother,” said Miss Sophie one day when they were together, “you are in
love.”

“I don’t know whether to say yes or no,” he replied. “What is it to be in
love?”

“How should I know?” exclaimed Miss Sophie, reddening a little. “I see
you mooning around, and moping. Something has come over you, and if it
isn’t love, what is it?”

He held up his hands, white and muscular, and looked at them. Then he
took off his hat and tousled his hair in an effort to smooth it with his
fingers.

“It is something,” he said after a while “but I don’t know what. Is love
such an everyday affair that it can be called by name as soon as it
arrives?”

“Don’t be absurd, brother,” said Miss Sophie, with a gesture of protest.
“You talk as if you were trying to take a census of the affair.”

“No,” said he; “I am trying to get a special report. I saw Dr. Bynum
looking at you over his spectacles yesterday.”

Miss Sophie tried to show that this suggestion was an irritating one, but
she failed, and then fell to laughing.

“I never knew I was so full of humor before,” said Francis Underwood, by
way of comment.

“And I never knew you could be so foolish—to me,” said Miss Sophie, still
laughing. “What is Dr. Bynum to me?”

“Not having his spectacles to look over, how do I know?”

“But,” persisted Miss Sophie, “you need no spectacles to look at Mildred.
I have seen you looking at her through your fingers.”

“And what was she doing?” inquired Underwood, coloring in the most
surprising way.

“Oh,” said Miss Sophie, “she was pretending not to notice it; but I can
sit with my back to you both and tell by the tone of her voice when this
and that thing is going on.”

“This, then, is courtship,” said Underwood.

“Why, brother, how provoking you are!” exclaimed Miss Sophie. “It is
nothing of the sort. It is child’s play; it is the way the youngsters
do at school. I feel as if I never knew you before; you are full of
surprises.”

“I surprise myself,” he said, with something like a sigh, “and that is
the trouble; I don’t want to be too surprising.”

“But in war,” said his sister, “the successful general cannot be too full
of surprises.”

“In war!” he cried. “Why, I was in hopes the war was over.”

“I was thinking about the old saying,” she explained—“the old saying that
all is fair in love and war.”

“Well,” said Francis Underwood, “it would be hard to say whether you
and Dr. Bynum are engaged in war or not. You are both very sly, but I
have seen a good deal of skirmishing going on. Will it end in a serious
engagement, with casualties on both sides? The doctor is something of a
surgeon, and he can attend to his own wounds, but who is going to look
after yours?”

“How can you go on so!” cried Miss Sophie, laughing. “Are we to have an
epidemic of delusions?”

“Yes, and illusions too,” said her brother. “The atmosphere seems to be
full of them. Everything is in a tangle.”

And yet it was not long after this conversation that Miss Sophie observed
her brother and Mildred Bascom sauntering together under the great
cedars, and she concluded that he was trying to untangle the tangle.

There were many such walks, and the old Judge, sitting on the piazza
in bright weather, would watch the handsome pair, apparently with a
contented air. There was something about this busy and practical young
man that filled Mildred’s imagination. His individuality was prominent
enough to be tantalizing. It was of the dominant variety. In him the
instinct of control and command, so pleasing to the feminine mind, was
thoroughly developed, and he disposed of his affairs with a promptness
and decisiveness that left nothing to be desired. Everything seemed to
be arranged in his mind beforehand.

Everything, that is to say, except his relations with Mildred Bascom.
There was not the slightest detail of his various enterprises, from
the simplest to the most complicated, with which he was not thoroughly
familiar, but this young girl, simple and unaffected as she was, puzzled
him sorely. She presented to Francis Underwood’s mind the old problem
that is always new, and that has as many phases as there are stars in
the sky. Here, before his eyes, was a combination for which there was no
warrant in his experience—the wit and tenderness of Rosalind, blended
with the self-sacrificing devotion of Cordelia. Here was a combination—a
complication—of a nature to attract the young man’s attention. Problem,
puzzle, what you will, it was a very attractive one for him, and he lost
no favorable opportunity of studying it.

So the pleasant days came and went. If there were any love-passages
between the young people, only the stately cedars or the restless poplars
were in the secret, and these told it only to the vagrant west winds that
crept over the hills when the silence of night fell over all things.

X.

Those were pleasant days and nights at the old Bascom Place, in spite of
the malady with which the Judge was afflicted. They were particularly
pleasant when he seemed to be brighter and stronger. But one day, when he
seemed to be at his best, the beginning of the end came. He was sitting
on the piazza, talking with his daughter and with Francis Underwood. Some
reference was made to the Place, when the old Judge suddenly rose from
his chair, and, shaking his thin white hand at the young man, cried out:

“I tell you it is mine! The Place always has been mine and it always will
be mine.”

He tottered forward and would have fallen, but Underwood caught him and
placed him in his chair. The old man’s nerves had lost their tension,
his eyes their brightness. He could only murmur indistinctly, “Mine,
mine, mine.” He seemed suddenly to have shrunk and shriveled away. His
head fell to one side, his face was deadly pale, his lips were blue, and
his thin hands clutched convulsively at his clothes and at the chair.
Mildred was at his side instantly, but he seemed to be beyond the reach
of her voice and beyond the limits of her grief, which was distressful to
behold. He tried indeed to stroke the beautiful hair that fell loosely
over him as his daughter seized him in her despairing arms, but it was in
a vague and wandering way.

Judge Bascom’s condition was so alarming that Francis Underwood lifted
him in his arms and placed him on the nearest bed, where he lay gazing at
the ceiling, sometimes smiling and at other times frowning and crying,
“Mine, mine, mine!”

He sank slowly but surely. At the last he smiled and whispered “Home,”
and so passed away.

He was indeed at home. He had come to the end of his long and tiresome
journey. He smiled as he lay sleeping, and his rest was pleasant; for
there was that in his dead face, white and pinched as it was, that bore
witness to the infinite gentleness and mercy of Christ, who is the Lord.

It was an event that touched the hearts of his old neighbors and their
children, and they spoke to one another freely and feelingly about
the virtues of the old Judge, the beautiful life he had lived, the
distinction he had won, and the mark he had made on his generation.
Some, who were old enough to remember, told of his charities in the days
when prosperity sat at his board; and in discussing these things the
people gradually came to realize the fact that Judge Bascom, in spite of
his misfortunes, had shed lustre on his State and on the village in which
he was born, and that his renown was based on a character so perfect, and
on results so just and beneficent, that all could share in it.

His old neighbors, watching by him as he lay smiling in his dreamless
sleep, shortened the long hours of the night with pleasant reminiscences
of the dead. Those who sat near the door could see, in an adjoining room,
Mildred Bascom sitting at Miss Sophie Underwood’s feet, her arms around
the older woman’s waist. It was a brief and fleeting panorama, as indeed
life itself is, but the two, brought together by grief and sympathy,
often sat thus in the years that followed. For Mildred Bascom became the
mistress of the Bascom Place; and although she has changed her name, the
old name still clings to Underwood’s domain.

Continue Reading

BALAAM AND HIS MASTER

What fantastic tricks are played by fate or circumstance! Here is a
horrible war that shall redeem a nation, that shall restore civilization,
that shall establish Christianity. Here is a university of slavery that
shall lead the savage to citizenship. Here is a conflagration that
shall rebuild a city. Here is the stroke of a pen that shall change the
destinies of many peoples. Here is the bundle of fagots that shall light
the fires of liberty. As in great things, so in small. Tragedy drags
comedy across the stage, and hard upon the heels of the hero tread the
heavy villain and the painted clown.

What a preface to write before the name of Billville!

Years ago, when one of the ex-Virginian pioneers who had settled in
Wilkes County, in the State of Georgia, concluded to try his fortune
farther west, he found himself, after a tedious journey of a dozen days,
in the midst of a little settlement in middle Georgia. His wagons
and his negroes were at once surrounded by a crowd of curious but
good-humored men and a swarm of tow-headed children.

“What is your name?” he asked one of the group.

“Bill Jones.”

“And yours?” turning to another.

“Bill Satterlee.”

The group was not a large one, but in addition to Jones and Satterlee,
as the newcomer was informed, Bill Ware, Bill Cosby, Bill Pinkerton,
Bill Pearson, Bill Johnson, Bill Thurman, Bill Jessup, and Bill Prior
were there present, and ready to answer to their names. In short, fate
or circumstance had played one of its fantastic pranks in this isolated
community, and every male member of the settlement, with the exception of
Laban Davis, who was small and puny-looking, bore the name of Bill.

“Well,” said the pioneer, who was not without humor, “I’ll pitch my tent
in Billville. My name is Bill Cozart.”

This is how Billville got its name—a name that has clung to it through
thick and thin. A justifiable but futile attempt was made during the
war to change the name of the town to Panola, but it is still called
Billville, much to the disappointment of those citizens who have drawn
both pride and prosperity in the lottery of life.

It was a fortunate day for Billville when Mr. William Cozart, almost by
accident, planted his family tree in the soil of the settlement. He was a
man of affairs, and at once became the leading citizen of the place. His
energy and public spirit, which had room for development here, appeared
to be contagious. He bought hundreds of acres of land, in the old
Virginia fashion, and made for himself a home as comfortable as it was
costly. His busy and unselfish life was an example for his neighbors to
follow, and when he died the memory of it was a precious heritage to his
children.

Meanwhile Billville, stirred into action by his influence, grew into a
thrifty village, and then into a flourishing town; but through all the
changes the Cozarts remained the leading family, socially, politically,
and financially. But one day in the thirties Berrien Cozart was born, and
the wind that blew aside the rich lace of his cradle must have been an
ill one, for the child grew up to be a thorn in the side of those who
loved him best. His one redeeming quality was his extraordinary beauty.
This has, no doubt, been exaggerated; but there are still living in
Billville many men and women who knew him, and they will tell you to-day
that Berrien Cozart was the handsomest man they have ever seen—and some
of them have visited every court in Europe. So far as they are concerned,
the old saying, “Handsome is that handsome does,” has lost its force.
They will tell you that Berrien Cozart was the handsomest man in the
world and—probably the worst.

He was willful and wrongheaded from the first. He never, even as a child,
acknowledged any authority but his own sweet will. He could simulate
obedience whenever it suited his purpose, but only one person in the
world had any real influence over him—a negro named Balaam. The day
Berrien Cozart was born, his proud and happy father called to a likely
negro lad who was playing about in the yard—the day was Sunday—and said:—

“How old are you?”

“I dunno ’zackly, marster, but ole Aunt Emmeline she know.”

“Do you do any work?”

“Yes, suh; I totes water, an’ I drives de cows ter de pastur’, an’ I
keeps off de calfs, an’ I runs de chickens out ’n de gyardin.”

The sprightly and intelligent appearance of the lad evidently made a
favorable impression on the master, for he beckoned to him and said:—

“Come in here; I want to show you something.”

The negro dropped his hat on the ground and followed Mr. Cozart, who led
the way to the darkened room where Berrien, the baby, was having his
first experience with existence. He lay on the nurse’s lap, with blinking
eyes and red and wrinkled face, trying to find his mouth with his fists.
The nurse, black as she was, was officious, and when she saw the negro
boy she exclaimed:—

“Balaam, w’at you doin’ in yere? Take yo’se’f right out! Dis ain’t no
place fer you.”

“Marster says so,” said Balaam, sententiously.

“Balaam,” said Mr. Cozart, “this baby will be your master. I want you to
look after him and take care of him.”

“Yes, suh,” said Balaam, regarding his new master with both interest
and curiosity. “He look like he older dan w’at he is.” With that Balaam
retreated to the negro quarters, where he had a strange tale to tell the
other children about the new white baby.

Berrien grew and thrived, and when he was a year old Balaam took charge
of him, and the two soon became devoted to each other. The negro would
take the child on his back and carry him from one end of the plantation
to the other, and Berrien was never happy unless Balaam was somewhere
in sight. Once, when it was found necessary to correct Balaam with a
switch for some boyish offense, his young master fell on the floor in a
convulsion of rage and grief. This manifestation made such an impression
on the family that no further attempt was ever made to punish Balaam; and
so the two grew up together—the young master with a temper of extreme
violence and an obstinacy that had no bounds, and the negro with an
independence and a fearlessness extremely rare among slaves.

It was observed by all, and was a cause of special wonder among the
negroes, that, in spite of Berrien Cozart’s violent temper, he never
turned his hand against Balaam, not even when he was too young to reason
about the matter. Sometimes, when he was seen throwing stones in a
peculiarly vicious way at a tree, or at the chickens, or at some of the
other children, the older negroes would laughingly shake their heads at
one another and say that the child was mad with Balaam.

These queer relations between master and slave grew stronger as the two
grew older. When Berrien was ten and Balaam twenty they were even more
inseparable than they had been when the negro was trudging about the
plantation with his young master on his back. At that time Balaam was not
allowed to sleep in the big house; but when Berrien was ten he had a room
to himself, and the negro slept on a pallet by the side of the bed.

About this time it was thought necessary to get a private tutor for
Berrien. He had a great knack for books in a fitful sort of way,
but somehow the tutor, who was an estimable young gentleman from
Philadelphia, was not very much to Berrien’s taste. For a day or two
matters went along smoothly enough, but it was not long before Balaam,
lying on the floor outside the door, heard a tremendous racket and
clatter in the room. Looking in, he saw his young master pelting the
tutor with books and using language that was far from polite. Balaam went
in, closing the door carefully behind him, and almost immediately the
tumult ceased. Then the negro appeared leading his young master by the
arm. They went downstairs and out on the lawn. The tutor, perplexed and
astonished by the fierce temper of his pupil, saw the two from the window
and watched them curiously. Berrien finally stopped and leaned against
a tree. The negro, with his hand on the boy’s shoulder, was saying
something unpleasant, for the tutor observed one or two fierce gestures
of protest. But these soon ceased, and presently Berrien walked rapidly
back to the house, followed by Balaam. The tutor heard them coming up the
stairway; then the door opened, and his pupil entered and apologized for
his rudeness.

For some time there was such marked improvement in Berrien’s behavior
that his tutor often wondered what influence the negro had brought to
bear on his young master; but he never found out. In fact, he soon
forgot all about the matter, for the improvement was only temporary. The
youngster became so disagreeable and so unmanageable that the tutor was
glad to give up his position at the end of the year. After that Berrien
was sent to the Academy, and there he made considerable progress, for
he was spurred on in his studies by the example of the other boys. But
he was a wild youth, and there was no mischief, no matter how malicious
it might be, in which he was not the leader. As his character unfolded
itself the fact became more and more manifest that he had an unsavory
career before him. Some of the older heads predicted that he would come
to the gallows, and there was certainly some ground for these gloomy
suggestions, for never before had the quiet community of Billville given
development to such reckless wickedness as that which marked the daily
life of Berrien Cozart as he grew older. Sensual, cruel, impetuous, and
implacable, he was the wonder of the mild-mannered people of the county,
and a terror to the God-fearing. Nevertheless, he was attractive even to
those who regarded him as the imp of the Evil One, and many a love-lorn
maiden was haunted by his beautiful face in her dreams.

When Berrien was eighteen he was sent to Franklin College at Athens,
which was supposed to divide the responsibility of guardianship with a
student’s parents. The atmosphere the young man found there in those days
suited him admirably. He became the leader of the wildest set at that
venerable institution, and proceeded to make a name for himself as the
promoter and organizer of the most disreputable escapades the college had
ever known. He was an aggressor in innumerable broils, he fought a duel
in the suburbs of Athens, and he ended his college career by insulting
the chancellor in the lecture-room. He was expelled, and the students and
the people of Athens breathed freer when it was known that he had gone
home never to return.

There was a curious scene with his father when the wayward youth returned
to Billville in disgrace. The people of that town had received some
inkling of the sort of education the young man was getting at college,
though Mr. Cozart was inclined to look somewhat leniently on the pranks
of his son, ascribing them to the hot blood of youth. But when Berrien’s
creditors began to send in their accounts, amounting to several
thousands of dollars, he realized for the first time that the hope and
pride of his later years had been vain delusions. Upon the heels of the
accounts came Berrien himself, handsomer and more attractive than ever.
Dissipation was not one of his vices, and he returned with the bloom of
youth on his cheek and the glowing fires of health in his sparkling eyes.
He told the story of his expulsion with an air as gay as any cavalier
ever assumed. The story was told at the table, and there was company
present. But this fact was ignored by Berrien’s father. His hand shook as
he laid down his knife and fork.

“You have damaged my credit,” he said to his son across the table;
“you have disgraced your mother’s name and mine; and now you have the
impudence to make a joke of it at my table, sir. Let me not see your face
in this house again until you have returned to college and wiped out the
blot you have placed on your name.”

“As you please, sir,” said Berrien. His eyes were still full of laughter,
but some of those who were at the table said his nether lip trembled a
little. He rose, bowed, and passed out.

Balaam was in his young master’s room when the latter went in. He had
unpacked the trunk and the valise and was placing the things in a
clothes-press, meanwhile talking with himself, as most negroes will when
left to themselves. Berrien entered, humming the tune of a college glee.

“I ’lowed you was at dinner, Marse Berry,” said Balaam.

“I have finished,” said young Cozart. “Have you had yours?”

“Lord! no, suh. Hit’ll be ’way yander todes night ’fo’ I kin git dese
clo’es straightened out.”

“Well,” said the young man, “you go and get your dinner as soon as you
can. This valise must be repacked. Before the sun goes down we must be
away from here.”

“Good Lord, Marse Berry! I ain’t said howdy wid none er de folks yit. How
come we got ter go right off?”

“You can stay, if you choose,” said Berrien. “I reckon you’d be a better
negro if you had stayed at home all the time. Right now you ought to be
picking your five hundred pounds of cotton every day.”

“Now, you know, Marse Berry, dat of you er gwine, I’m gwine too—you know
dat p’intedly; but you come in on me so sudden-like dat you sorter git me
flustrated.”

“Well,” said Berrien, seating himself on the side of the bed and running
his fingers through his curling hair, “if you go with me this time you
will be taking a big jump in the dark. There’s no telling where you’ll
land. Pap has taken the studs, and I have made up my mind to leave here
for good and all. You belong to me, but I’ll give you your choice; you
can go with me, or you can stay. If you go, I’ll probably get into a
tight place and sell you; if you stay, Pap will make a pet of you for my
sake.”

Regarding this as a very good offhand joke, the young man laughed so
loud that the sound of it penetrated to the dining-room, and, mellow and
hearty as it was, it struck strangely on the ears of those still sitting
at the table.

“I knowed in reason dat dey was gwine to be a rippit,” said Balaam; “kaze
you know how you been gwine on up yander, Marse Berry. I tole an’ tole
you ’bout it, an’ I dunno whar in de name er goodness you’d been ef I
hadn’t been right dar fer ter look atter you.”

“Yes,” remarked Berrien, sarcastically, “you were just about drunk enough
half the time to look after me like a Dutch uncle.”

Balaam held his head down and chuckled. “Yes, suh,” he said, “I tuck my
dram, dey ain’t no ’sputin’ er dat; yit I never has tuck so much dat I
ain’t keep my eye on you. But ’t ain’t do no good: you des went right
’long; an’ dar was ole Mistiss, which she done sick in bed, an’ Miss
Sally Carter, which she’s yo’ born cousin—dar dey all was a-specktin’ you
ter head de whole school gang. An’ you did head ’em, mon, but not in de
books.”

“My fair Cousin Sarah!” exclaimed Berrien in a reminiscent way.

“Yes, suh,” said Balaam; “an’ dey tells me down in de kitchen dat she
comin’ yere dis ve’y day.”

“Then,” said the young man, “it is time for me to be going. Get your
dinner. If I am to have your company, you must be ready in an hour; if
you want to stay, go to the overseer and tell him to put you to work.”

Laughing good-naturedly, Balaam slipped out. After a little while Berrien
Cozart went down the stairway and into the room of his mother, who
was an invalid. He sat at her bedside and talked a few moments. Then
he straightened and smoothed her pillows, stroked her gray hair, gazed
into her gentle eyes, and kissed her twice. These things the poor lady
remembered long afterwards. Straying into the spacious parlor, the young
man looked around on the familiar furniture and the walls covered with
portraits. Prominent among these was the beautiful face of Sally Carter.
The red curtains in the windows, swaying to and fro in the wind, so
swiftly changed the light and shadow that the fair face in the heavy
gilt frame seemed to be charged with life. The lustrous eyes seemed to
dance and the saucy lips to smile. Berrien remembered his fair cousin
with pleasure. She had been his playmate when he was younger, and the
impression she made on him had been a lasting one. Beautiful as she was,
there was no nonsense about her. She was high-spirited and jolly, and
the young man smiled as he recalled some of their escapades together.
He raised his hand to salute the portrait, and at that moment a peal of
merry laughter greeted his ears. Turning, he saw framed in the doorway
the rosy original of the portrait. Before he could recover from his
astonishment the young lady had seized and kissed him. Then she held him
off at arm’s length and looked at him.

“Why, how handsome you have grown;” she cried. “Just think of it! I
expected to meet a regular border ruffian. My dear boy, you have no
idea what a tremendous reputation your friends have given you. Ann
Burney—you remember that funny little creature, don’t you? as fat as a
butterball—Ann told me the other day that you were positively the terror
of everybody around Athens. And now I find you here kissing your fingers
at my portrait on the wall. I declare, it is too romantic for anything!
After this I know you will never call me Sarah Jane.”

“You have taken me by surprise,” said Berrien, as soon as he could get in
a word. “I was admiring the skill of the artist. The lace there, falling
against the velvet bodice, is neatly done.”

“Ah, but you are blushing; you are confused!” exclaimed Miss Carter. “You
haven’t even told me you are glad to see me.”

“There is no need to tell you that,” said Berrien. “I was just thinking,
when you rushed in on me, how good and kind you always were. You are
maturer than the portrait there, but you are more beautiful.”

Miss Carter bent low with a mock courtesy, but the color in her face was
warmer as she exclaimed:—

“Oh, how nice you are! The portrait there is only sixteen, and I am
twenty-five. Just think of that! And just think of me at that age—what a
tomboy I was! But I must run and tell the rest of the folks howdy.”

Berrien Cozart walked out on the veranda, and presently he was joined
by his father. “My son,” said the old gentleman, “you will need money
for your traveling expenses. Here is a check on our Augusta factor; you
can have it cashed in Madison. I want you to return to college, make all
proper apologies, and redeem yourself.”

“Thank you, sir,” said Berrien, taking the check and stuffing it into his
pocket. His father turned to go indoors, hesitated a moment, and looked
at Berrien, who was drumming idly on one of the pillars. Then the old
gentleman sighed and went in.

Shortly thereafter Berrien Cozart and Balaam were journeying away from
Billville in the conveyance that had brought them there.

On the high hill beyond the “town branch” Balaam leaned out of the hack
and looked back at Billville. The town appeared insignificant enough;
but the setting sun imparted a rosy glow to the roof of the yellow
court-house and to the spire of the old church. Observing the purpose of
the negro, Mr. Cozart smiled cynically and flipped the hot ashes of his
cigar into Balaam’s ear.

“As you are telling the town good-by,” said the young man, “I’ll help you
to bow.”

“Yasser!” said Balaam, shaking the ashes from his ear; “I was des
a-lookin’ back at de place. Dat sun shine red, mon, an’ de jail look like
she de bigges’ house dar. She stan’ out mo’ bigger dan w’at de chu’ch do.”

It may be that this statement made no impression on Berrien, but he
leaned back in his seat and for miles chewed the end of his cigar in
silence.

It is not the purpose of this chronicle to follow him through all his
adventures and escapades. As he rode away from Billville on that
memorable day he seemed to realize that his career had just begun. It
was a career to which he had served a long and faithful apprenticeship,
and he pursued it to the end. From Madison he went to Atlanta, where for
months he was a familiar, albeit a striking figure. There were few games
of chance in which he was not an adept. No conjurer was so adroit with
the cards or the dice; he handled these emblems of fate and disaster
as an artist handles his tools. And luck chose him as her favorite; he
prospered to such a degree that he grew reckless and careless. Whereupon
one fine day luck turned her back on him, and he paraded on fine
afternoons in front of Lloyd’s Hotel a penniless man. He had borrowed and
lost until he could borrow no longer.

Balaam, who was familiar with the situation, was not surprised to learn
that his master had made up his mind to sell him.

“Well, suh,” said Balaam, brushing his master’s coat carefully,“you kin
sell me, but de man dat buys Balaam will git a mighty bad bargain.”

“What do you mean?” exclaimed Berrien.

“You kin sell me, suh, but I ain’t gwine stay wid um.”

“You can’t help yourself,” said the master.

“I got legs, Marse Berry. You know dat yo’se’f.”

“Your legs will do you no good. You’ll be caught if you go back home.”

“I ain’t gwine dar, suh. I’m gwine wid you. I hear you say yistiddy night
p’intedly dat you gwine ’way f’om dis place, an’ I’m gwine wid you. I
been ’long wid you all de time, an’ ole marster done tole me w’en you was
baby dat I got ter stay wid you.”

Something in this view seemed to strike Mr. Cozart. He walked up and down
the floor a few minutes, and then fell to laughing.

“By George, Balaam, you are a trump,—a royal flush in spades. It will be
a famous joke.”

Thereupon Berrien Cozart arranged his cards, so to speak, for a more
hazardous game than any he had ever yet played. He went with Balaam to
a trader who was an expert in the slave market, and who knew its ups
and downs, its weak points and its strong points. At first Berrien was
disposed to put Balaam on the block and have him auctioned off to the
highest bidder; but the trader knew the negro, and had already made a
study of his strong points. To be perfectly sure, however, he thumped
Balaam on the chest, listened to the beating of his heart, and felt of
his muscles in quite a professional way.

“I reckon he ain’t noways vicious,” said the trader, looking at Balaam’s
smiling face.

“I have never seen him angry or sullen,” said Mr. Cozart. Other questions
were asked, and finally the trader jotted down this memorandum in his
note-book:—

“Buck nigger, Balaam; age 32; 6 feet 1 inch; sound as a dollar; see
Colonel Strother.”

Then the trader made an appointment with Berrien for the next day, and
said he thought the negro could be disposed off at private sale. Such was
the fact, for when Berrien went back the next day the trader met him with
an offer of fifteen hundred dollars in cash for Balaam.

“Make it eighteen,” said Mr. Cozart.

“Well, I’ll tell you what I’ll do,” said the trader, closing his eyes and
pursing his mouth in a business-like way. “I’ll give you sixteen fifty—no
more, no less. Come, now, that’s fair. Split the difference.”

Thereupon Mr. Cozart said it was a bargain, and the trader paid him the
money down after the necessary papers were drawn up. Balaam seemed to be
perfectly satisfied. All he wanted, he said, was to have a master who
would treat him well. He went with Berrien to the hotel to fetch his
little belongings, and if the trader had searched him when he returned he
would have found strapped around his body a belt containing fifty dollars
in specie.

Having thus, in a manner, replenished his empty purse, Mr. Berrien
Cozart made haste to change his field of operations. To his competitors
in his own special department of industry he let drop the hint that he
was going to Columbus, and thence to Mobile and New Orleans, where he
would hang on the outskirts of the racing season, picking up such crumbs
and contributions as might naturally fall in the way of a professional
gentleman who kept his eyes open and his fingers nimble enough to deal
himself a winning hand.

As a matter of fact Mr. Cozart went to Nashville, and he had not been
gone many days before Balaam disappeared. He had been missing two days
before Colonel Strother, his new master, took any decided action, but on
the morning of the fourth day the following advertisement appeared among
others of a like character in the columns of the Atlanta “Intelligencer”:—

[Illustration]

$100 reward will be paid for the apprehension of my negro boy
_Balaam_. Thirty-odd years old, but appeared younger; tall,
pleasant-looking, quick-spoken, and polite. Was formerly the
property of the Hon. William Cozart. He is supposed to be
making his way to his old home. Was well dressed when last
seen. Milledgeville “Recorder” and “Federal Union” please copy.

BOZEMAN STROTHER,
Atlanta, Georgia.

(d. & w. 1 mo.)

This advertisement duly appeared in the Milledgeville papers, which were
published not far from Billville, but no response was ever made; the
reward was never claimed. Considering the strength and completeness of
the patrol system of that day, Balaam’s adventure was a risky one; but,
fortunately for him, a wiser head than his had planned his flight and
instructed him thoroughly in the part he was to play. The shrewdness of
Berrien Cozart had provided against all difficulties. Balaam left Atlanta
at night, but he did not go as a fugitive. He was armed with a “pass”
which formally set forth to all to whom it might concern that the boy
David had express permission to join his master in Nashville, and this
“pass” bore the signature of Elmore Avery, a gentleman who existed only
in the imagination of Mr. Berrien Cozart. Attached thereto, also, was the
signature seal of the judge of ordinary. With this little document Balaam
would have found no difficulty whatever in traveling. The people he met
would have reasoned that the negro whose master trusted him to make so
long a journey alone must be an uncommonly faithful one, but Balaam met
with an adventure that helped him along much more comfortably than the
pass could have helped him. It is best, perhaps, to tell the story in his
own language, as he told it long afterwards.

“I won’t say I weren’t skeered,” said Balaam, “kaze I was; yit I weren’t
skeered ’nough fer ter go slippin’ ’longside er de fences an’ ’mongst
de pine thickets. I des kep’ right in de big road. Atter I got out er
town a little piece, I tuck off my shoes an’ tied de strings tergedder
an’ slung ’em ’cross my shoulder, on top my satchel, an’ den I sorter
mended my gait. I struck up a kind er dog-trot, an’ by de time day come
a many a mile lay ’twix’ me an’ Atlanta. Little atter sun-up I hear some
horses trottin’ on de road de way I come, an’ bimeby a man driv up in a
double buggy. He say, ‘Hello, boy! Whar you gwine?’ I pulled off my hat,
an’ say, ‘I gwine whar my marster is, suh.’ Den de white man ’low, ‘W’at
he name?’ Well, suh, when de man ax me dat, hit come over me like a big
streak er de chill an’ fever dat I done clean fergit de name what Marse
Berry choosen ter be call by. So I des runned my han’ und’ de lindin’ er
my hat an’ pulled out de pass, an’ say, ‘Boss, dis piece er paper kin
talk lots better dan I kin.’

“De man look at me right hard, an’ den he tuck de pass an’ read it out
loud. Well, suh, w’en he come ter de name I des grabbed holt un it wid
my min’, an’ I ain’t never turned it loose tell yit. De man was drivin’
long slow, an’ I was walkin’ by de buggy. He helt de pass in his han’s
some little time, den he look at me an’ scratch his head. Atter a while
he ’low: ‘You got a mighty long journey befo’ you. Kin you drive? Ef you
kin, put on yo’ shoes an’ mount up here an’ take dese lines.’

“Well, suh, I wuz sorter glad, an’ yit I wuz sorter skittish, but I tol’
de white man thankydo, an’ le’pt up in dat buggy like I was de gladdes’
nigger in de worl’. De man he keep on lookin’ at me, an’ bimeby he say,
‘I tuck a notion when I fust see you dat you was de boy w’at Cozart had
in Atlanta.’ Mon! you could er knocked me over wid a feather, I was dat
weak; but I bu’st out laughin’ an’ ’low, ‘Lord, boss! ef I wa’n’t no
better lookin’ dan dat ar Cozart nigger I’d quit bein’ a nigger an’ take
up wid de monkey tribe.’ De man say, ‘I had de idee dat de Cozart nigger
was a mighty likely boy. What was his name? Balaam?’ I was so skeered it
fair make me sick at de stomach, yit I talk right out. I ’low, ‘Dey call
’im Balaam, an’ dey have ter whale ’im.’ De man he laugh, ‘He got a great
big scyar on de side er his neck now whar somebody hit ’im a diff, an’ he
lay roun’ dem hotels an’ drink dram all night long.’ De man look sideways
at my neck. ‘Dat nigger got so bad dat his marster had ter sell ’im, an’
dey tells me, suh, dat de man w’at buy ’im ain’ no mo’ dan paid de money
fer ’im dan he have ter take ’im down and strop ’im.’

“Well, suh, de man look at me an laugh so funny dat it make my ve’y limbs
ache. Yes, suh. My heart hit up ’g’inst my ribs des like a flutter-mill;
an’ I wuz so skeered it make my tongue run slicker dan sin. He ax me mo’
questions dan I could answer now, but I made answer den des like snappin’
my fingers. W’at make me de mo’ skeered was de way dat ar white man done.
He’d look at me an’ laugh, an’ de plumper I gin ’im de answer de mo’ he’d
laugh. I say ter myse’f, I did: ‘Balaam, you’r’ a goner, dat w’at you
is. De man know you, an’ de fust calaboose he come ter he gwine slap you
in dar.’ I had a mighty good notion ter jump out er dat buggy an’ make a
break fer de woods, but stidder dat I sot right whar I wuz, kaze I knowed
in reason dat ef de man want me right bad an’ I wuz ter break an’ run
he’d fetch me down wid a pistol.

“Well, suh, dat man joke an’ laugh de whole blessed mornin,’ an’ den
bimeby we drove in a town not much bigger dan Bivvle” (which was Balaam’s
pet name for Billville), “an’ dar de white man say we’d stop fer dinner.
He ain’t say de word too soon fer me, mon, kaze I was so hongry an’ tired
it make my head swim. We driv up ter tavern, we did, an’ de folks dar dey
holler, ‘Howdy, Judge,’ an’ de white man he holler ‘Howdy’ back, an’ den
he tol’ me ter take de horses an’ buggy down ter de liberty stable an’
have ’em fed, an’ den come back an’ git my dinner. Dat wuz mighty good
news; but whilst I wuz eatin’ my dinner I hear dat white man laughin’,
an’ it come over me dat he know who I wuz an’ dat he wuz gwine ter gi’ me
up; yit dat ain’t hender my appetite, an’ I des sot dar an’ stuff myse’f
tell I des make de yuther niggers open der eyes. An’ den, when I git my
belly full, I sot in de sun an’ went right fast ter sleep. I ’spec’ I
tuck a right smart nap, kaze when some un hollered at me an’ woke me up
de sun wuz gwine down de hill right smartly. I jumped up on my feet, I
did, an’ I say, ‘Who dat callin’ me?’ Somebody ’low, ‘Yo’ marster want
you.’ Den I bawl out, ‘Is Marse Berry come?’ De niggers all laugh, an’
one un ’em say, ‘Dat nigger man dreamin’, mon. He ain’t woke good yit.’

“By dat time I done come ter my senses, an’ den I ax dem wharbouts
marster is. Bimeby, when I done foun’ de white man w’at bring me in his
buggy, he look at me sorter funny an’ say, ‘You know whar you lef’ my
buggy: well, you go down an’ raise up de seat an’ fetch me de little box
you’ll fin’ in dar. Wrop it up in de buggy rug an’ fetch it an’ put it on
de table dar.’ Well, suh, I went an’ got dat box, an’ time I put my han’
on it I knowed des ’zactly w’at wuz on de inside er it. I done seed too
many er ’em. It wuz under lock an’ key, but I knowed it wuz a farrar box
like dem w’at Marse Berry done his gamblin’ wid. By de time I got back
ter de room in de tavern de white man done had de table kivered wid a
piece er cloff w’at he got out ’n his satchel. He tuck de box, onlocked
it, rattled de chips in his han’, an’ shuffled de kyards. Den he look at
me an’ laugh. He was de quarest white man dat ever I laid eyes on.

“Atter while I ax ’im ef I hadn’t better be gitten’ ’long todes de eend
er my journey. He ’low: ‘Lord, no! I want you ter set round yere atter
supper an’ gi’ me luck. You ain’t losin’ no time, kaze I’m a-gwine plumb
to Chattanoogy, an’ ef you’ll be ez spry ez you kin be I’ll take you
’long wid me.’ De ups an’ odds er it was dat I stayed wid de man. De
folks named ’im Judge, an’ he was a judge, mon. ’Long ’bout nine dat
night he come ter his room, whar I was waitin’ fer ’im, an’ soon atter
dat de young gentlemens ’bout town ’gun ter drap in, an’ ’t wa’n’t long
’fo’ de game got started. Look like de man ain’t wanter play, but de
yuthers dey kep’ on coaxin’, an’ presently he fotch out de box an’ opened
up. Well, sah, I done seed lots er gamblin’ fust an’ last, but dat white
man beat my time. Dey played poker, stidder farrar, an’ it look like ter
me dat de man done got de kyards trained. He dealt ’em ’boveboard, an’
dey des come in his han’ ’zackly like he want ’em ter come. Ef he had any
tricks like w’at Marse Berry played on folks, dey was too slick fer my
eye, yit he des beated dem yuther mens scand’lous. It was des like one er
dese yere great big river cats ketchin’ minners.

“Atter dey been playin’ some little time, de white man what brung me
dar ’low: ‘Boy, you better go git some sleep. We’ll start soon in de
mornin’.’ But I say, ‘No, suh; I’ll des set in de cornder here an’ nod,
an’ I’ll be close by ef so be you want me.’ I sot dar, I did, an’ I had
a good chance ter sleep, kaze, bless yo’ heart! dem mens ain’t make much
fuss. Dey des grip der kyards an’ sorter hol’ der bref. Sometimes one un
’em would break out an’ cuss a word er two, but inginer’lly dey ’d plank
up der scads an’ lose ’em des like dey wuz usen ter it. De white man w’at
dey call Judge he des wiped ’em up, an’ at de een’ he wuz des ez fresh ez
he wuz at de start. It wuz so nigh day when de game broke up dat Marse
Judge ’lowed dat it was too late fer supper an’ not quite soon ’nough fer
breakfas’, an’ den he say he wuz gwine ter take a walk an’ git some a’r.

“Well, suh, it wuz dat away all de time I wuz wid dat white man—laughin’
an’ jokin’ all day, an’ gamblin’ all night long. How an’ when he got
sleep I’ll never tell you, kaze he wuz wide awake eve’y time I seed ’im.
It went on dis away plumb till we got ter de Tennessy River, dar whar
Chattynoogy is. Atter we sorter rested, de white man tuck me ’cross de
river, an’ we druv on ter whar de stage changes hosses. Dar we stopped,
an’ whilst I wuz waitin’ fer de stage de white man ’low, ‘Balaam!’ He
kotch me so quick, dat I jump des like I’d been shot, an’ hollered out,
‘Suh!’ Den he laugh sorter funny, an’ say: ‘Don’t look skeered, Balaam;
I knowed you fum de offstart. You’r’ a mighty good boy, but yo’ marster
is a borned rascal. I’m gwine send you whar you say he is, an’ I want you
ter tell ’im dis fum me—dat dough he tried ter rob me, yit fer de sake er
his Cousin Sally, I he’ped you ter go whar he is.’

“Den de man got in his buggy an’ driv back, an’ dat de las’ time I ever
laid eyes on ’im. When de stage come ’long I got up wid de driver, an’
’t wa’n’t long ’fo’ I wuz wid Marse Berry, an’ I ain’t no sooner seed
’im dan I knowed he was gwine wrong wuss and wuss: not but w’at he was
glad kaze I come, but it look like his face done got mo’ harder. Well,
suh, it was des dat away. I ain’t gwine ter tell you all w’at he done an’
how he done it, kaze he was my own marster, an’ he never hit me a lick
amiss, ’ceppin’ it was when he was a little boy. I ain’t gwine ter tell
you whar we went an’ how we got dar, kaze dey done been too much talk
now. But we drapped down inter Alabam’, an’ den inter Massasip’, an’ den
inter Arkansaw, an’ back ag’in inter Massasip’; an’ one night whilst we
wuz on one er dem big river boats, Marse Berry he got inter a mighty big
row. Dey wuz playin’ kyards fer de bigges’ kind er stakes, an’ fust news
I know de lie was passed, an’ den de whole gang made fer Marse Berry. Dey
whipped out der knives an’ der pistols, an’ it look like it wuz gwine ter
be all night wid Marse Berry. Well, suh, I got so skeered dat I picked
up a cheer an’ smashed de nighest man, and by dat time Marse Berry had
shot one; an’, suh, we des cleaned ’em out. Den Marse Berry made a dash
fer de low’-mos’ deck, an’ I dashed atter ’im. Den I hear sumpin’ go
ker-slosh in de water, an’ I ’lowed it was Marse Berry, an’ in I splunged
head-foremos’. An’ den—but, Lord, suh, you know de balance des good ez I
does, kaze I hear tell dat dey wuz sumpin’ n’er ’bout it in de papers.”

This was as far as Balaam ever would go with the story of his adventure.
He had made a hero of Berrien Cozart from his youth, and he refused to
dwell on any episode in the young man’s career that, to his mind, was
not worthy of a Cozart. When Berrien leaped to the lower deck of the
steamboat his foot touched a stick of wood. This he flung into the river,
and then hid himself among the cotton bales that were piled on the
forward part of the boat. It will never be known whether he threw the
piece of wood into the water knowing that Balaam would follow, or whether
his sole intention was to elude pursuit. A shot or two was fired, but the
bullets fell wide of their mark, and the boat swept on, leaving the negro
swimming around, searching for his master.

At the next landing-place Berrien slipped ashore unseen. But fortune no
longer favored him; for the next day a gentleman who had been a passenger
on the boat recognized him, and an attempt was made to arrest him. He
shot the high sheriff of the county through the head, and became a
fugitive indeed. He was pursued through Alabama into Georgia, and being
finally captured not a mile away from Billville, was thrown into jail
in the town where he was born. His arrest, owing to the standing of his
family, created a tremendous sensation in the quiet village. Before he
was carried to jail he asked that his father be sent for. The messenger
tarried some little time, but he returned alone.

“What did my father say?” Berrien asked with some eagerness.

“He said,” replied the messenger, “that he didn’t want to see you.”

“Did he write that message?” the young man inquired.

“Oh, no!” the messenger declared. “He just waved his arm—so—and said he
didn’t want to see you.”

At once the troubled expression on Berrien Cozart’s face disappeared. He
looked around on the crowd and smiled.

“You see what it is,” he said with a light laugh, “to be the pride of a
family! Gentlemen, I am ready. Don’t let me keep you waiting.” And so,
followed by half the population of his native village, he was escorted to
jail.

This building was a two-story brick structure, as solid as good material
and good work could make it, and there was no fear that any prisoner
could escape, especially from the dungeon where Berrien’s captors
insisted on confining him. Nevertheless the jailer was warned to take
unusual precautions. This official, however, who occupied with his family
the first story of the jail, merely smiled. He had grown old in the
business of keeping this jail, and certainly he knew a great deal more
about it than those Mississippi officials who were strutting around and
putting on such airs.

To his other duties the jailer added those of tyler of the little lodge
of freemasons that had its headquarters in a hall on the public square,
and it so happened that the lodge was to meet on the very night that
Berrien was put into jail. After supper the jailer, as had been his habit
for years, smoked his pipe, and then went down to the village and lighted
the lamps in the masonic hall. His wife and daughter, full of the subject
of Berrien Cozart’s imprisonment, went to a neighbor’s not far away for
the purpose of discussing the matter. As they passed out of the gate they
heard the jailer blowing the tin trumpet which was the signal for the
masons to assemble.

It was nearly eleven o’clock when the jailer returned, but he found his
wife and daughter waiting for him. Both had a troubled air, and they lost
no time in declaring that they had heard weeping and sobbing upstairs
in the dungeon. The jailer himself was very sympathetic, having known
Berrien for many years, and he took another turn at his pipe by way of
consolation. Then, as was his custom, he took his lantern and went
around the jail on a tour of inspection to see that everything was safe.

He did not go far. First he stumbled over a pile of bricks, and then his
shoulder struck a ladder. He uttered a little cry and looked upward, and
there, dim as his lantern was, he could see a black and gaping hole in
the wall of the dungeon. He ran into the house as fast as his rheumatic
legs could carry him, and he screamed to his wife and daughter:—

“Raise the alarm! Cozart has escaped! We are ruined!”

Then he ran to the dungeon door, flung it open, and then fell back with
a cry of terror. What did he see, and what did the others who joined him
there see? On the floor lay Berrien Cozart dead, and crouching beside
him was Balaam. How the negro had managed to make his way through the
masonry of the dungeon without discovery is still one of the mysteries
of Billville. But, prompt as he was, he was too late. His master had
escaped through a wider door. He had made his way to a higher court.
Death, coming to him in that dark dungeon, must have visited him in
the similitude of a happy dream, for there under the light of the
lanterns he lay smiling sweetly as a little child that nestles on its
mother’s breast; and on the floor near him, where it had dropped from his
nerveless hand, was a golden locket, from which smiled the lovely face of
Sally Carter.

Continue Reading

A FRAGMENT FROM THE DIARY OF A DEAD ARTIST

“It is enough,” I said to myself, while my feet, treading unwillingly
the steep slope of the mountain, bore me downward toward the quiet
river; “it is enough,” I repeated, as I inhaled the resinous scent of
the pine grove, to which the chill of approaching evening had imparted a
peculiar potency and pungency; “it is enough,” I said once more, as I
seated myself on a mossy hillock directly on the brink of the river and
gazed at its dark, unhurried waves, above which a thick growth of reeds
lifted their pale-green stalks…. “It is enough!–Have done with
dreaming, with striving: ’tis high time to pull thyself together; ’tis
high time to clutch thy head with both hands and bid thy heart be still.
Give over pampering thyself with the sweet indulgence of indefinite but
captivating sensations; give over running after every new form of
beauty; give over seizing every tremor of its delicate and powerful
pinions.–Everything is known, everything has been felt over and over
again many times already…. I am weary.–What care I that at this very
moment the dawn is suffusing the sky ever more and more broadly, like
some inflamed, all-conquering passion! What care I that two paces from
me, amid the tranquillity and the tenderness and the gleam of evening,
in the dewy depths of a motionless bush, a nightingale has suddenly
burst forth in such magical notes as though there had never been any
nightingales in the world before it, and as though it were the first to
chant the first song of the first love! All that has been, has been, I
repeat; it has been recapitulated a thousand times–and when one
remembers that all this will so continue for a whole eternity–as though
to order, by law–one even grows vexed! Yes … vexed!”

IV

Eh, how I have suffered! Formerly such thoughts never entered my
head–formerly, in those happy days when I myself was wont to flame
like the glow of dawn, and to sing like the nightingale.–I must confess
that everything has grown obscure round about me, all life has withered.
The light which gives to its colours both significance and power–that
light which emanates from the heart of man–has become extinct within
me…. No, it has not yet become extinct–but it is barely smouldering,
without radiance and without warmth. I remember how one day, late at
night, in Moscow, I stepped up to the grated window of an ancient church
and leaned against the uneven glass. It was dark under the low arches; a
forgotten shrine-lamp flickered with a red flame in front of an ancient
holy picture, and only the lips of the holy face were visible, stern and
suffering: mournful gloom closed in around and seemed to be preparing to
crush with its dull weight the faint ray of unnecessary light…. And in
my heart reign now the same sort of light and the same sort of gloom.

V

And this I write to thee–to thee, my only and unforgettable friend; to
thee, my dear companion,[31] whom I have left forever, but whom I shall
never cease to love until my life ends…. Alas! thou knowest what it
was that separated us. But I will not refer to that now. I have left
thee … but even here, in this remote nook, at this distance, in this
exile, I am all permeated with thee, I am in thy power as of yore, as of
yore I feel the sweet pressure of thy hands upon my bowed head!–Rising
up for the last time, from the mute grave in which I now am lying, I run
a mild, much-moved glance over all my past, over all our past…. There
is no hope and no return, but neither is there any bitterness in me, or
regret; and clearer than the heavenly azure, purer than the first snows
on the mountain heights, are my beautiful memories…. They do not press
upon me in throngs: they pass by in procession, like those muffled
figures of the Athenian god-born ones, which–dost thou remember?–we
admired so greatly on the ancient bas-reliefs of the Vatican….

VI

I have just alluded to the light which emanates from the human heart and
illumines everything which surrounds it…. I want to talk with thee
about that time when that gracious light burned in my heart.–Listen …
but I imagine that thou art sitting in front of me, and gazing at me
with thine affectionate but almost severely-attentive eyes. O eyes never
to be forgotten! On whom, on what are they now fixed? Who is receiving
into his soul thy glance–that glance which seems to flow from
unfathomable depths, like those mysterious springs–like you both bright
and dark–which well up at the very bottom of narrow valleys, beneath
overhanging cliffs?… Listen.

VII

It was at the end of March, just before the Feast of the Annunciation,
shortly after I saw thee for the first time–and before I as yet
suspected what thou wert destined to become to me, although I already
bore thee, silently and secretly in my heart.–I was obliged to cross
one of the largest rivers in Russia. The ice had not yet begun to move
in it, but it seemed to have swollen up and turned dark; three days
previously a thaw had set in. The snow was melting round about
diligently but quietly; everywhere water was oozing out; in the light
air a soundless breeze was roving. The same even, milky hue enveloped
earth and sky: it was not a mist, but it was not light; not a single
object stood out from the general opacity; everything seemed both near
and indistinct. Leaving my kibítka far behind, I walked briskly over the
river-ice, and with the exception of the beat of my own footsteps, I
could hear nothing. I walked on, enveloped on all sides by the first
stupor and breath of early spring … and little by little augmenting
with every step, with every movement in advance, there gradually rose
up and grew within me a certain joyous incomprehensible agitation…. It
drew me on, it hastened my pace–and so powerful were its transports,
that I came to a standstill at last and looked about me in surprise and
questioningly, as though desirous of detecting the outward cause of my
ecstatic condition…. All was still, white, sunny; but I raised my
eyes: high above flocks of migratory birds were flying past…. “Spring!
Hail, Spring!”–I shouted in a loud voice. “Hail, life and love and
happiness!”–And at that same instant, with sweetly-shattering force,
similar to the flower of a cactus, there suddenly flared up within me
thy image–flared up and stood there, enchantingly clear and
beautiful–and I understood that I loved thee, thee alone, that I was
all filled with thee….

VIII

I think of thee … and many other memories, other pictures rise up
before me,–and thou art everywhere, on all the paths of my life I
encounter thee.–Now there presents itself to me an old Russian garden
on the slope of a hill, illuminated by the last rays of the summer sun.
From behind silvery poplars peeps forth the wooden roof of the
manor-house, with a slender wreath of crimson smoke hanging above the
white chimney, and in the fence a wicket-gate stands open a crack, as
though some one had pulled it to with undecided hand. And I stand and
wait, and gaze at that gate and at the sand on the garden paths; I
wonder and I am moved: everything I see seems to me remarkable and new,
everything is enveloped with an atmosphere of a sort of bright,
caressing mystery, and already I think I hear the swift rustle of
footsteps; and I stand, all alert and light, like a bird which has just
folded its wings and is poised ready to soar aloft again–and my heart
flames and quivers in joyous dread before the imminent happiness which
is flitting on in front….

IX

Then I behold an ancient cathedral in a distant, beautiful land. The
kneeling people are crowded close in rows; a prayerful chill, something
solemn and sad breathes forth from the lofty, bare vault, from the huge
pillars which branch upward.–Thou art standing by my side, speechless
and unsympathetic, exactly as though thou wert a stranger to me; every
fold of thy dark gown hangs motionless, as though sculptured; motionless
lie the mottled reflections of the coloured windows at thy feet on the
well-worn flagstones.–And now, vigorously agitating the air dim with
incense, inwardly agitating us, in a heavy surge the tones of the organ
roll out; and thou hast turned pale and drawn thyself up; thy gaze has
touched me, has slipped on higher and is raised heavenward;–but it
seems to me that only a deathless soul can look like that and with such
eyes….

X

Now another picture presents itself to me.–’Tis not an ancient temple
which crushes us with its stern magnificence: the low walls of a cosey
little room separate us from the whole world.–What am I saying? We are
alone–alone in all the world; except us two there is no living thing;
beyond those friendly walls lie darkness and death and emptiness. That
is not the wind howling, that is not the rain streaming in floods; it is
Chaos wailing and groaning; it is its blind eyes weeping. But with us
all is quiet and bright, and warm and gracious; something diverting,
something childishly innocent is fluttering about like a butterfly, is
it not? We nestle up to each other, we lean our heads together and both
read a good book; I feel the slender vein in thy delicate temple
beating; I hear how thou art living, thou hearest how I am living, thy
smile is born upon my face before it comes on thine; thou silently
repliest to my silent question; thy thoughts, my thoughts, are like the
two wings of one and the same bird drowned in the azure…. The last
partitions have fallen–and our love has become so calm, so profound,
every breach has vanished so completely, leaving no trace behind it,
that we do not even wish to exchange a word, a glance…. We only wish
to breathe, to breathe together, to live together, to be together, …
and not even to be conscious of the fact that we are together….

XI

Or, in conclusion, there presents itself to me a clear September morning
when thou and I were walking together through the deserted garden, as
yet not wholly out of bloom, of an abandoned palace, on the bank of a
great non-Russian river, beneath the soft radiance of a cloudless sky.
Oh, how shall I describe those sensations?–that endlessly-flowing
river, that absence of people, and tranquillity, and joy, and a certain
intoxicating sadness, and the vibration of happiness, the unfamiliar,
monotonous town, the autumnal croaking of the daws in the tall, bright
trees–and those affectionate speeches and smiles and glances long and
soft, which pierce to the very bottom, and beauty,–the beauty in
ourselves, round about, everywhere;–it is beyond words. Oh, bench on
which we sat in silence, with heads drooping low with happiness–I shall
never forget thee to my dying hour!–How charming were those rare
passers-by with their gentle greeting and kind faces, and the large,
quiet boats which floated past (on one of them–dost thou
remember?–stood a horse gazing pensively at the water gliding by under
its feet), the childish babble of the little waves inshore and the very
barking of distant dogs over the expanse of the river, the very shouts
of the corpulent under-officer at the red-cheeked recruits drilling
there on one side, with their projecting elbows and their legs thrust
forward like the legs of cranes!… We both felt that there never had
been and never would be anything better in the world for us than those
moments–than all the rest…. But what comparisons are these! Enough
… enough…. Alas! yes: it is enough.

XII

For the last time I have surrendered myself to these memories, and I am
parting from them irrevocably–as a miser, after gloating for the last
time upon his hoard, his gold, his bright treasure, buries it in the
damp earth; as the wick of an exhausted lamp, after flashing up in one
last brilliant flame, becomes covered with grey ashes. The little wild
animal has peered forth for the last time from his lair at the velvety
grass, at the fair little sun, at the blue, gracious waters,–and has
retreated to the deepest level, and curled himself up in a ball, and
fallen asleep. Will he have visions, if only in his sleep, of the fair
little sun, and the grass, and the blue, gracious waters?

* * * * *

* * * * *

* * * * *

XIII

Sternly and ruthlessly does Fate lead each one of us–and only in the
early days do we, occupied with all sorts of accidents, nonsense,
ourselves, fail to feel her harsh hand.–So long as we are able to
deceive ourselves and are not ashamed to lie, it is possible to live and
to hope without shame. The truth–not the full truth (there can be no
question of that), but even that tiny fraction which is accessible to
us–immediately closes our mouths, binds our hands, and reduces “to
negation.”–The only thing that is then left for a man, in order to keep
erect on his feet and not crumble to dust, not to become bemired in the
ooze of self-forgetfulness, is self-scorn; is to turn calmly away from
everything and say: “It is enough!”–and folding his useless arms on his
empty breast to preserve the last, the sole merit which is accessible to
him, the merit of recognising his own insignificance; the merit to which
Pascal alludes, when, calling man a thinking reed, he says that if the
entire universe were to crush him, he, that reed, would still be higher
than the universe because he would know that it is crushing him–while
it would not know that. A feeble merit! Sad consolation! Try as thou
mayest to permeate thyself with it, to believe in it,–oh, thou my poor
brother, whosoever thou mayest be!–thou canst not refute those ominous
words of the poet:

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing….[32]

I have cited the verses from “Macbeth,” and those witches, phantoms,
visions have recurred to my mind…. Alas! it is not visions, not
fantastic, subterranean powers that are terrible; the creations of
Hoffmann are not dreadful, under whatsoever form they may present
themselves…. The terrible thing is that there is nothing terrible,
that the very substance of life itself is petty, uninteresting–and
insipid to beggary. Having once become permeated with _this_
consciousness, having once tasted of _this_ wormwood, no honey will ever
seem sweet–and even that loftiest, sweetest happiness, the happiness of
love, of complete friendship, of irrevocable devotion–even it loses
all its charm; all its worth is annihilated by its own pettiness, its
brevity. Well, yes: a man has loved, he has burned, he has faltered
words about eternal bliss, about immortal enjoyments–and behold: it is
long, long since the last trace vanished of that worm which has eaten
out the last remnants of his withered tongue. Thus late in autumn, on a
frosty day, when everything is lifeless and dumb in the last blades of
grass, on the verge of the denuded forest, the sun has but to emerge for
an instant from the fog, to gaze intently at the chilled earth, and
immediately, from all sides, gnats rise up; they frolic in the warmth of
his rays, they bustle and jostle upward, downward, they circle round one
another…. The sun hides himself, and the gnats fall to the earth in a
soft rain–and there is an end to their momentary life.

XIV

“But are there no great conceptions, no great words of consolation?
Nationality, right, liberty, humanity, art?” Yes; those words do exist,
and many people live by them and for them. But nevertheless, I have an
idea that if Shakspeare were to be born again he would find no occasion
to disclaim his “Hamlet,” his “Lear.” His penetrating glance would not
descry anything new in human existence: the same motley and, in
reality, incoherent picture would still unfold itself before him in its
disquieting monotony. The same frivolity, the same cruelty, the same
pressing demand for blood, gold, filth, the same stale pleasures, the
same senseless sufferings in the name of … well, in the name of the
same nonsense which was ridiculed by Aristophanes three thousand years
ago, the same coarse lures to which the many-headed beast still yields
as readily as ever–in a word, the same anxious skipping of the squirrel
in the same old wheel, which has not even been renewed…. Shakspeare
would again make Lear repeat his harsh: “There are no guilty
ones”–which, in other words, signifies: “There are no just”–and he
also would say: “It is enough!” and he also would turn away.–One thing
only: perhaps, in contrast to the gloomy, tragic tyrant Richard, the
ironical genius of the great poet would like to draw another, more
up-to-date tyrant, who is almost ready to believe in his own virtue and
rests calmly at night or complains of the over-dainty dinner at the same
time that his half-stifled victims are endeavouring to comfort
themselves by at least imagining him as Richard III. surrounded by the
ghosts of the people he has murdered….

But to what purpose?

Why demonstrate–and that by picking and weighing one’s words, by
rounding and polishing one’s speech–why demonstrate to gnats that they
really are gnats?

XV

But art?… Beauty?… Yes, those are mighty words; they are, probably,
mightier than those which I have mentioned above. The Venus of Melos,
for example, is more indubitable than the Roman law, or than the
principles of 1789. Men may retort–and how many times have I heard
these retorts!–that beauty itself is also a matter of convention, that
to the Chinese it presents itself in a totally different manner from
what it does to the European…. But it is not the conventionality of
art which disconcerts me; its perishableness, and again its
perishableness,–its decay and dust–that is what deprives me of courage
and of faith. Art, at any given moment, is, I grant, more powerful than
Nature itself, because in it there is neither symphony of Beethoven nor
picture of Ruysdael nor poem of Goethe–and only dull-witted pedants or
conscienceless babblers can still talk of art as a copy of Nature. But
in the long run Nature is irresistible; she cannot be hurried, and
sooner or later she will assert her rights. Unconsciously and infallibly
obedient to law, she does not know art, as she does not know liberty, as
she does not know good; moving onward from eternity, transmitted from
eternity, she tolerates nothing immortal, nothing unchangeable…. Man
is her child; but the human, the artificial is inimical to her,
precisely because she strives to be unchangeable and immortal. Man is
the child of Nature; but she is the universal mother, and she has no
preferences: everything which exists in her bosom has arisen only for
the benefit of another and must, in due time, make way for that
other–she creates by destroying, and it is a matter of perfect
indifference to her what she creates, what she destroys, if only life be
not extirpated, if only death do not lose its rights…. And therefore
she as calmly covers with mould the divine visage of Phidias’s Jupiter
as she does a plain pebble, and delivers over to be devoured by the
contemned moth the most precious lines of Sophocles. Men, it is true,
zealously aid her in her work of extermination; but is not the same
elementary force,–is not the force of Nature shown in the finger of the
barbarian who senselessly shattered the radiant brow of Apollo, in the
beast-like howls with which he hurled the picture of Apelles into the
fire? How are we poor men, poor artists, to come to an agreement with
this deaf and dumb force, blind from its birth, which does not even
triumph in its victories, but marches, ever marches on ahead, devouring
all things? How are we to stand up against those heavy, coarse,
interminably and incessantly onrolling waves, how believe, in short, in
the significance and worth of those perishable images which we, in the
darkness, on the verge of the abyss, mould from the dust and for a mere
instant?

XVI

All this is so … but only the transitory is beautiful, Shakspeare has
said; and Nature herself, in the unceasing play of her rising and
vanishing forms, does not shun beauty. Is it not she who sedulously
adorns the most momentary of her offspring–the petals of the flowers,
the wings of the butterfly–with such charming colours? Is it not she
who imparts to them such exquisite outlines? It is not necessary for
beauty to live forever in order to be immortal–one moment is sufficient
for it. That is so; that is just, I grant you–but only in cases where
there is no personality, where man is not, liberty is not: the faded
wing of the butterfly comes back again, and a thousand years later, with
the selfsame wing of the selfsame butterfly, necessity sternly and
regularly and impartially fulfils its round … but man does not repeat
himself like the butterfly, and the work of his hands, his art, his free
creation once destroyed, is annihilated forever…. To him alone is it
given to “create” … but it is strange and terrible to articulate: “We
are creators … for an hour,”–as there once was, they say, a caliph
for an hour.–Therein lies our supremacy–and our curse: each one of
these “creators” in himself–precisely he, not any one else, precisely
that ego–seems to have been created with deliberate intent, on a plan
previously designed; each one more or less dimly understands his
significance, feels that he is akin to something higher, something
eternal–and he lives, he is bound to live in the moment and for the
moment.[33] Sit in the mud, my dear fellow, and strive toward
heaven!–The greatest among us are precisely those who are the most
profoundly conscious of all of that fundamental contradiction; but in
that case the question arises,–are the words “greatest, great”
appropriate?

XVII

But what shall be said of those to whom, despite a thorough desire to do
so, one cannot apply those appellations even in the sense which is
attributed to them by the feeble human tongue?–What shall be said of
the ordinary, commonplace, second-rate, third-rate toilers–whoever they
may be–statesmen, learned men, artists–especially artists? How force
them to shake off their dumb indolence, their dejected perplexity, how
draw them once more to the field of battle, if once the thought as to
the vanity of everything human, of every activity which sets for itself
a higher aim than the winning of daily bread, has once crept into their
heads? By what wreaths are they lured on–they, for whom laurels and
thorns have become equally insignificant? Why should they again subject
themselves to the laughter of “the cold throng” or to “the condemnation
of the dunce,”–of the old dunce who cannot forgive them for having
turned away from the former idols; of the young dunce who demands that
they shall immediately go down on their knees in his company, that they
should lie prone before new, just-discovered idols? Why shall they
betake themselves again to that rag-fair of phantoms, to that
market-place where both the seller and the buyer cheat each other
equally, where everything is so noisy, so loud–and yet so poor and
worthless? Why “with exhaustion in their bones” shall they interweave
themselves again with that world where the nations, like peasant urchins
on a festival day, flounder about in the mud for the sake of a handful
of empty nuts, or admire with gaping mouths the wretched woodcuts,
decorated with tinsel gold,–with that world where they had no right to
life while they lived in it, and, deafening themselves with their own
shouts, each one hastens with convulsive speed to a goal which he
neither knows nor understands? No … no…. It is enough … enough …
enough!

XVIII

… The rest is silence.[34] …

THE DOG

(1866)

“But if we can admit the possibility of the supernatural, the
possibility of its intervention in real life,–then allow me to inquire,
what rôle is sound judgment bound to play after this?”–shouted Antón
Stepánitch, crossing his arms on his stomach.

Antón Stepánitch had held the rank of State Councillor,[35] had served
in some wonderful department, and, as his speech was interlarded with
pauses and was slow and uttered in a bass voice, he enjoyed universal
respect. Not long before the date of our story, “the good-for-nothing
little Order of St. Stanislas had been stuck on him,” as those who
envied him expressed it.

“That is perfectly just,”–remarked Skvorévitch.

“No one will dispute that,”–added Kinarévitch.

“I assent also,”–chimed in, in falsetto, from a corner the master of
the house, Mr. Finopléntoff.

“But I, I must confess, cannot assent, because something supernatural
has happened to me,”–said a man of medium stature and middle age, with
a protruding abdomen and a bald spot, who had been sitting silent before
the stove up to that moment. The glances of all present in the room were
turned upon him with curiosity and surprise–and silence reigned.

This man was a landed proprietor of Kalúga, not wealthy, who had
recently come to Petersburg. He had once served in the hussars, had
gambled away his property, resigned from the service and settled down in
the country. The recent agricultural changes had cut off his revenues,
and he had betaken himself to the capital in search of a snug little
position. He possessed no abilities, and had no influential connections;
but he placed great reliance on the friendship of an old comrade in the
service, who had suddenly, without rhyme or reason, become a person of
importance, and whom he had once aided to administer a sound thrashing
to a card-sharper. Over and above that he counted upon his own luck–and
it had not betrayed him; several days later he obtained the post of
inspector of government storehouses, a profitable, even honourable
position which did not require extraordinary talents: the storehouses
themselves existed only in contemplation, and no one even knew with
certainty what they were to contain,–but they had been devised as a
measure of governmental economy.

Antón Stepánitch was the first to break the general silence.

“What, my dear sir?”–he began. “Do you seriously assert that something
supernatural–I mean to say, incompatible with the laws of nature–has
happened to you?”

“I do,”–returned “my dear sir,” whose real name was Porfíry
Kapítonitch.

“Incompatible with the laws of nature?”–energetically repeated Antón
Stepánitch, who evidently liked that phrase.

“Precisely … yes; precisely the sort of thing you allude to.”

“This is astonishing! What think you, gentlemen?”–Antón Stepánitch
endeavoured to impart to his features an ironical expression, but
without result–or, to speak more accurately, the only result was to
produce the effect that Mr. State Councillor smelt a bad odour.–“Will
not you be so kind, my dear sir,”–he went on, addressing the landed
proprietor from Kalúga,–“as to communicate to us the particulars of
such a curious event?”

“Why not? Certainly!”–replied the landed proprietor, and moving forward
to the middle of the room in an easy manner he spoke as follows:

I have, gentlemen, as you are probably aware,–or as you may not be
aware,–a small estate in Kozyól County. I formerly derived some profit
from it–but now, of course, nothing but unpleasantness is to be
anticipated. However, let us put politics aside! Well, sir, on that same
estate I have a “wee little” manor: a vegetable garden, as is proper, a
tiny pond with little carp, and some sort of buildings–well, and a
small wing for my own sinful body…. I am a bachelor. So, sir, one
day–about six years ago–I had returned home rather late; I had been
playing cards at a neighbour’s house–but I beg you to observe, I was
not tipsy, as the expression goes. I undressed, got into bed, and blew
out the light. And just imagine, gentlemen; no sooner had I blown out
the light, than something began to rummage under my bed! Is it a rat? I
thought. No, it was not a rat: it clawed and fidgeted and scratched
itself…. At last it began to flap its ears!

It was a dog–that was clear. But where had the dog come from? I keep
none myself. “Can some stray animal have run in?” I thought. I called to
my servant; his name is Fílka. The man entered with a candle.

“What’s this,”–says I,–“my good Fílka? How lax thou art! A dog has
intruded himself under my bed.”

“What dog?”–says he.

“How should I know?”–says I;–“that’s thy affair–not to allow thy
master to be disturbed.”

My Fílka bent down, and began to pass the candle about under the bed.

“Why,”–says he,–“there’s no dog here.”

I bent down also; in fact there was no dog…. Here was a marvel! I
turned my eyes on Fílka: he was smiling.

“Fool,”–said I to him,–“what art thou grinning about? When thou didst
open the door the dog probably took and sneaked out into the anteroom.
But thou, gaper, didst notice nothing, because thou art eternally
asleep. Can it be that thou thinkest I am drunk?”

He attempted to reply, but I drove him out, curled myself up in a ring,
and heard nothing more that night.

But on the following night–just imagine!–the same thing was repeated.
No sooner had I blown out the light than it began to claw and flap its
ears. Again I summoned Fílka, again he looked under the bed–again
nothing! I sent him away, blew out the light–phew, damn it! there was
the dog still. And a dog it certainly was: I could hear it breathing and
rummaging in its hair with its teeth in search of fleas so plainly!

“Fílka!”–says I,–“come hither without a light!”… He entered….
“Well, now,”–says I, “dost thou hear?…”

“I do,”–said he. I could not see him, but I felt that the fellow was
quailing.

“What dost thou make of it?”–said I.

“What dost thou command me to make of it, Porfíry Kapítonitch?… ’Tis
an instigation of the Evil One!”

“Thou art a lewd fellow; hold thy tongue with thy instigation of the
Evil One.”… But the voices of both of us were like those of birds,
and we were shaking as though in a fever–in the darkness. I lighted a
candle: there was no dog, and no noise whatever–only Fílka and I as
white as clay. And I must inform you, gentlemen–you can believe me or
not–but from that night forth for the space of six weeks the same thing
went on. At last I even got accustomed to it and took to extinguishing
my light because I cannot sleep with a light. “Let him fidget!” I
thought. “It doesn’t harm me.”

“But–I see–that you do not belong to the cowardly squad,”–interrupted
Antón Stepánitch, with a half-scornful, half-condescending laugh. “The
hussar is immediately perceptible!”

“I should not be frightened at you, in any case,”–said Porfíry
Kapítonitch, and for a moment he really did look like a hussar.–“But
listen further.”

A neighbour came to me, the same one with whom I was in the habit of
playing cards. He dined with me on what God had sent, and lost fifty
rubles to me for his visit; night was drawing on–it was time for him to
go. But I had calculations of my own:–“Stop and spend the night with
me, Vasíly Vasílitch; to-morrow thou wilt win it back, God willing.”

My Vasíly Vasílitch pondered and pondered–and stayed. I ordered a bed
to be placed for him in my own chamber…. Well, sir, we went to bed,
smoked, chattered,–chiefly about the feminine sex, as is fitting in
bachelor society,–and laughed, as a matter of course. I look; Vasíly
Vasílitch has put out his candle and has turned his back on me; that
signifies: “_Schlafen Sie wohl._” I waited a little and extinguished my
candle also. And imagine: before I had time to think to myself, “What
sort of performance will there be now?” my dear little animal began to
make a row. And that was not all; he crawled out from under the bed,
walked across the room, clattering his claws on the floor, waggling his
ears, and suddenly collided with a chair which stood by the side of
Vasíly Vasílitch’s bed!

“Porfíry Kapítonitch,”–says Vasíly Vasílitch, and in such an
indifferent voice, you know,–“I didn’t know that thou hadst taken to
keeping a dog. What sort of an animal is it–a setter?”

“I have no dog,”–said I,–“and I never have had one.”

“Thou hast not indeed! But what’s this?”

“What is this?”–said I.–“See here now; light the candle and thou wilt
find out for thyself.”

“It isn’t a dog?”

“No.”

Vasíly Vasílitch turned over in bed.–“But thou art jesting, damn it?”

“No, I’m not jesting.”–I hear him go scratch, scratch with a match, and
that thing does not stop, but scratches its side. The flame flashed up
… and basta! There was not a trace of a dog! Vasíly Vasílitch stared
at me–and I stared at him.

“What sort of a trick is this?”–said he.

“Why,”–said I,–“this is such a trick that if thou wert to set Socrates
himself on one side and Frederick the Great on the other even they
couldn’t make head or tail of it.”–And thereupon I told him all in
detail. Up jumped my Vasíly Vasílitch as though he had been singed! He
couldn’t get into his boots.

“Horses!”–he yelled–“horses!”

I began to argue with him, but in vain. He simply groaned.

“I won’t stay,”–he shouted,–“not a minute!–Of course, after this,
thou art a doomed man!–Horses!…”

But I prevailed upon him. Only his bed was dragged out into another
room–and night-lights were lighted everywhere. In the morning, at tea,
he recovered his dignity; he began to give me advice.

“Thou shouldst try absenting thyself from the house for several days,
Porfíry Kapítonitch,” he said: “perhaps that vile thing would leave
thee.”

But I must tell you that he–that neighbour of mine–had a capacious
mind! he worked his mother-in-law so famously among other things: he
palmed off a note of hand on her; which signifies that he chose the most
vulnerable moment! She became like silk: she gave him a power of
attorney over all her property–what more would you have? But that was a
great affair–to twist his mother-in-law round his finger–wasn’t it,
hey? Judge for yourselves. But he went away from me somewhat
discontented; I had punished him to the extent of another hundred
rubles. He even swore at me: “Thou art ungrateful,”–he said, “thou hast
no feeling;” but how was I to blame for that? Well, this is in
parenthesis–but I took his suggestion under consideration. That same
day I drove off to town and established myself in an inn, with an
acquaintance, an old man of the Old Ritualist sect.[36]

He was a worthy old man, although a trifle harsh, because of
loneliness: his whole family were dead. Only he did not favour tobacco
at all,[37] and felt a great loathing for dogs; I believe, for example,
that rather than admit a dog into the room he would have rent himself in
twain! “For how is it possible?”–he said. “There in my room, on the
wall, the Sovereign Lady herself deigns to dwell;[38] and shall a filthy
dog thrust his accursed snout in there?”–That was ignorance, of course!
However, this is my opinion: if any man has been vouchsafed wisdom, let
him hold to it!

“But you are a great philosopher, I see,”–interrupted Antón Stepánitch
again, with the same laugh as before.

This time Porfíry Kapítonitch even scowled.

“What sort of a philosopher I am no one knows,”–he said as his
moustache twitched in a surly manner:–“but I would gladly take you as a
pupil.”

We all fairly bored our eyes into Antón Stepánitch; each one of us
expected an arrogant retort or at least a lightning glance…. But Mr.
State Councillor altered his smile from scorn to indifference, then
yawned, dangled his foot–and that was all!

So then, I settled down at that old man’s house–[went on Porfíry
Kapítonitch].–He assigned me a room “for acquaintance’s” sake,–not of
the best; he himself lodged there also, behind a partition–and that was
all I required. But what tortures I did undergo! The chamber was small,
it was hot, stifling, and there were flies, and such sticky ones; in the
corner was a remarkably large case for images, with ancient holy
pictures; their garments were dim and puffed out; the air was fairly
infected with olive-oil, and some sort of a spice in addition; on the
bedstead were two down beds; if you moved a pillow, out ran a cockroach
from beneath it…. I drank an incredible amount of tea, out of sheer
tedium–it was simply horrible! I got into bed; it was impossible to
sleep.–And on the other side of the partition my host was sighing and
grunting and reciting his prayers. I heard him begin to snore–and very
lightly and courteously, in old-fashioned style. I had long since
extinguished my candle–only the shrine-lamp was twinkling in front of
the holy pictures…. A hindrance, of course! So I took and rose up
softly, in my bare feet: I reached up to the lamp and blew it out….
Nothing happened.–“Aha!” I thought: “this means that he won’t make a
fuss in the house of strangers.”… But no sooner had I lain down on
the bed than the row began again! The thing clawed, and scratched
himself and flapped his ears … well, just as I wanted him to. Good! I
lay there and waited to see what would happen. I heard the old man wake
up.

“Master,”–said he,–“hey there, master?”

“What’s wanted?”–said I.

“Was it thou who didst put out the shrine-lamp?”–And without awaiting
my reply, he suddenly began to mumble:

“What’s that? What’s that? A dog? A dog? Akh, thou damned Nikonian!”[39]

“Wait a bit, old man,”–said I,–“before thou cursest; but it would be
better for thee to come hither thyself. Things deserving of wonder are
going on here,”–said I.

The old man fussed about behind the partition and entered my room with a
candle, a slender one, of yellow wax; and I was amazed as I looked at
him! He was all bristling, with shaggy ears and vicious eyes like those
of a polecat; on his head was a small skull-cap of white felt; his beard
reached to his girdle and was white also; and he had on a waistcoat with
brass buttons over his shirt, and fur boots on his feet, and he
disseminated an odour of juniper. In that condition he went up to the
holy pictures, crossed himself thrice with two fingers[40] lighted the
shrine-lamp, crossed himself again, and turning to me, merely grunted:

“Explain thyself!”

Thereupon, without the least delay, I communicated to him all the
circumstances. The old man listened to all my explanations without
uttering the smallest word; he simply kept shaking his head. Then he sat
down on my bed, still maintaining silence. He scratched his breast, the
back of his head, and other places, and still remained silent.

“Well, Feodúl Ivánitch,”–said I, “what is thy opinion: is this some
sort of visitation of the Evil One, thinkest thou?”

The old man stared at me.–“A pretty thing thou hast invented! A
visitation of the Evil One, forsooth! ’Twould be all right at thy house,
thou tobacco-user,–but ’tis quite another thing here! Only consider how
many holy things there are here! And thou must needs have a visitation
of the devil!–And if it isn’t that, what is it?”

The old man relapsed into silence, scratched himself again, and at last
he said, but in a dull sort of way, because his moustache kept crawling
into his mouth:

“Go thou to the town of Byéleff. There is only one man who can help
thee. And that man dwells in Byéleff;[41] he is one of our people. If
he takes a fancy to help thee, that’s thy good luck; if he doesn’t take
a fancy,–so it must remain.”

“But how am I to find him?”–said I.

“We can give thee directions,”–said he;–“only why dost thou call this
a visitation of the devil? ’Tis a vision, or a sign; but thou wilt not
be able to comprehend it; ’tis not within thy flight. And now lie down
and sleep under Christ’s protection, dear little father; I will fumigate
with incense; and in the morning we will take counsel together. The
morning is wiser than the evening, thou knowest.”

Well, sir, and we did take counsel together in the morning–only I came
near choking to death with that same incense. And the old man instructed
me after this wise: that when I had reached Byéleff I was to go to the
public square, and in the second shop on the right inquire for a certain
Prokhóritch; and having found Prokhóritch, I was to hand him a document.
And the whole document consisted of a scrap of paper, on which was
written the following: “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and
of the Holy Spirit, Amen. To Sergyéi Prokhóritch Pervúshin. Trust this
man. Feodúly Ivánovitch.” And below: “Send some cabbages, for God’s
sake.”

I thanked the old man, and without further ado ordered my tarantás to be
harnessed, and set off for Byéleff. For I argued in this way: admitting
that my nocturnal visitor did not cause me much grief, still,
nevertheless, it was not quite decorous for a nobleman and an
officer–what do you think about it?

“And did you really go to Byéleff?”–whispered Mr. Finopléntoff.

I did, straight to Byéleff. I went to the square, and inquired in the
second shop on the right for Prokhóritch. “Is there such a man?”–I
asked.

“There is,”–I was told.

“And where does he live?”

“On the Oká, beyond the vegetable-gardens.”

“In whose house?”[42]

“His own.”

I wended my way to the Oká, searched out his house, that is to say, not
actually a house, but a downright hovel. I beheld a man in a patched
blue overcoat and a tattered cap,–of the petty burgher class, judging
by his appearance,–standing with his back to me, and digging in his
cabbage-garden.–I went up to him.

“Are you such and such a one?”–said I.

He turned round,–and to tell you the truth, such piercing eyes I have
never seen in all my life. But his whole face was no bigger than one’s
fist; his beard was wedge-shaped, and his lips were sunken: he was an
aged man.

“I am he,”–he said.–“What do you wanta?”

“Why, here,”–said I;–“this is what I wanta,”–and I placed the
document in his hand. He gazed at me very intently, and said:

“Please come into the house; I cannot read without my spectacles.”

Well, sir, he and I went into his kennel–actually, a regular kennel;
poor, bare, crooked; it barely held together. On the wall was a holy
picture of ancient work,[43] as black as a coal; only the whites of the
eyes were fairly burning in the faces of the holy people. He took some
round iron spectacles from a small table, placed them on his nose,
perused the writing, and through his spectacles again scrutinised me.

“You have need of me?”

“I have,”–said I,–“that’s the fact.”

“Well,”–said he, “if you have, then make your statement, and I will
listen.”

And just imagine; he sat down, and pulling a checked handkerchief from
his pocket, he spread it out on his knees–and the handkerchief was full
of holes–and gazed at me as solemnly as though he had been a
senator,[44] or some minister or other; and did not ask me to sit down.
And what was still more astonishing, I suddenly felt myself growing
timid, so timid … simply, my soul sank into my heels. He pierced me
through and through with his eyes, and that’s all there is to be said!
But I recovered my self-possession, and narrated to him my whole story.
He remained silent for a while, shrank together, mowed with his lips,
and then began to interrogate me, still as though he were a senator, so
majestically and without haste. “What is your name?”–he asked. “How old
are you? Who were your parents? Are you a bachelor or married?”–Then he
began to mow with his lips again, frowned, thrust out his finger and
said:

“Do reverence to the holy image of the honourable saints of
Solovétzk,[45] Zósim and Saváty.”

I made a reverence to the earth, and did not rise to my feet; such awe
and submission did I feel for that man that I believe I would have
instantly done anything whatsoever he might have ordered me!… I see
that you are smiling, gentlemen; but I was in no mood for laughing then,
by Heaven I was not.

“Rise, sir,”–he said at last.–“It is possible to help you. This has
not been sent to you by way of punishment, but as a warning; it
signifies that you are being looked after; some one is praying earnestly
for you. Go now to the bazaar and buy yourself a bitch, which you must
keep by you day and night, without ceasing. Your visions will cease, and
your dog will prove necessary to you into the bargain.”

A flash of light seemed suddenly to illuminate me; how those words did
please me! I made obeisance to Prokhóritch, and was on the point of
departing, but remembered that it was impossible for me not to show him
my gratitude; I drew a three-ruble note from my pocket. But he put aside
my hand and said to me:

“Give it to our chapel, or to the poor, for this service is gratis.”

Again I made him an obeisance, nearly to the girdle, and immediately
marched off to the bazaar. And fancy, no sooner had I begun to approach
the shops when behold, a man in a frieze cloak advanced to meet me, and
under his arm he carried a setter bitch, two months old, with
light-brown hair, a white muzzle, and white fore paws.

“Halt!” said I to the man in the frieze cloak; “what will you take for
her?”

“Two rubles in silver.”

“Take three!”

The man was astonished, and thought the gentleman had lost his mind–but
I threw a banknote in his teeth, seized the bitch in my arms, and
rushed to my tarantás. The coachman harnessed up the horses briskly, and
that same evening I was at home. The dog sat on my lap during the whole
journey–and never uttered a sound; but I kept saying to her:
“Tresórushko! Tresórushko!” I immediately gave her food and water,
ordered straw to be brought, put her to bed, and dashed into bed myself.
I blew out the light; darkness reigned.

“Come now, begin!”–said I.–Silence.–“Do begin, thou thus and
so!”–Not a sound. It was laughable. I began to take courage.–“Come
now, begin, thou thus and so, and ’tother thing!” But nothing
happened–there was a complete lull! The only thing to be heard was the
bitch breathing hard.

“Fílka!”–I shouted;–“Fílka! Come hither, stupid man!”–He
entered.–“Dost thou hear the dog?”

“No, master,”–said he,–“I don’t hear anything,”–and began to laugh.

“And thou wilt not hear it again forever! Here’s half a ruble for thee
for vodka!”

“Please let me kiss your hand,”–said the fool, and crawled to me in the
dark…. My joy was great, I can tell you!

“And was that the end of it all?”–asked Antón Stepánitch, no longer
ironically.

The visions did cease, it is true–and there were no disturbances of any
sort–but wait, that was not the end of the whole matter. My
Tresórushko began to grow, and turned out a cunning rogue. Thick-tailed,
heavy, flop-eared, with drooping dewlaps, she was a regular
“take-advance,”–a thoroughgoing good setter. And moreover, she became
greatly attached to me. Hunting is bad in our parts,–well, but as I had
set up a dog I had to supply myself with a gun also. I began to roam
about the surrounding country with my Tresór; sometimes I would knock
over a hare (my heavens, how she did course those hares!), and sometimes
a quail or a duck. But the chief point was that Tresór never, never
strayed a step away from me. Wherever I went, there she went also; I
even took her to the bath with me–truly! One of our young gentlewomen
undertook to eject me from her drawing-room on account of Tresór; but I
raised such a row that I smashed some of her window-panes!

Well, sir, one day–it happened in summer…. And I must tell you that
there was such a drought that no one could recall its like; the air was
full of something which was neither smoke nor fog; there was an odour of
burning, and mist, and the sun was like a red-hot cannon-ball; and the
dust was such that one could not leave off sneezing! People went about
with their mouths gaping open, just like crows.

It bored me to sit at home constantly in complete undress, behind closed
shutters; and by the way, the heat was beginning to moderate…. And
so, gentlemen, I set off afoot to the house of one of my neighbours.
This neighbour of mine lived about a verst from me,–and was really a
benevolent lady. She was still young and blooming, and of the most
attractive exterior; only she had a fickle disposition. But that is no
detriment in the feminine sex; it even affords pleasure…. So, then, I
trudged to her porch–and that trip seemed very salt to me! Well, I
thought, Nimfodóra Semyónovna will regale me with bilberry-water, and
other refreshments–and I had already grasped the door-handle when,
suddenly, around the corner of the servants’ cottage there arose a
trampling of feet, a squealing and shouting of small boys…. I looked
round. O Lord, my God! Straight toward me was dashing a huge, reddish
beast, which at first sight I did not recognise as a dog; its jaws were
gaping, its eyes were blood-shot, its hair stood on end…. Before I
could take breath the monster leaped upon the porch, elevated itself on
its hind legs, and fell straight on my breast. What do you think of that
situation? I was swooning with fright, and could not lift my arms; I was
completely stupefied; … all I could see were the white tusks right at
the end of my nose, the red tongue all swathed in foam. But at that
moment another dark body soared through the air in front of me, like a
ball–it was my darling Tresór coming to my rescue; and she went at
that beast’s throat like a leech! The beast rattled hoarsely in the
throat, gnashed its teeth, staggered back…. With one jerk I tore open
the door, and found myself in the anteroom. I stood there, beside myself
with terror, threw my whole body against the lock, and listened to a
desperate battle which was in progress on the porch. I began to shout,
to call for help; every one in the house took alarm. Nimfodóra
Semyónovna ran up with hair unbraided; voices clamoured in the
courtyard–and suddenly there came a cry: “Hold him, hold him, lock the
gate!”

I opened the door,–just a crack,–and looked. The monster was no longer
on the porch. People were rushing in disorder about the courtyard,
flourishing their arms, picking up billets of wood from the ground–just
as though they had gone mad. “To the village! It has run to the
village!” shrieked shrilly a peasant-woman in a pointed coronet
head-dress of unusual dimensions, thrusting her head through a
garret-window. I emerged from the house.

“Where is Tresór?”–said I.–And at that moment I caught sight of my
saviour. She was walking away from the gate, limping, all bitten, and
covered with blood….

“But what was it, after all?”–I asked the people, as they went circling
round the courtyard like crazy folk.

“A mad dog!”–they answered me, “belonging to the Count; it has been
roving about here since yesterday.”

We had a neighbour, a Count; he had introduced some very dreadful dogs
from over-sea. My knees gave way beneath me; I hastened to the mirror
and looked to see whether I had been bitten. No; God be thanked, nothing
was visible; only, naturally, my face was all green; but Nimfodóra
Semyónovna was lying on the couch, and clucking like a hen. And that was
easily to be understood: in the first place, nerves; in the second
place, sensibility. But she came to herself, and asked me in a very
languid way: was I alive? I told her that I was, and that Tresór was my
saviour.

“Akh,”–said she,–“what nobility! And I suppose the mad dog smothered
her?”

“No,”–said I,–“it did not smother her, but it wounded her seriously.”

“Akh,”–said she,–“in that case, she must be shot this very moment!”

“Nothing of the sort,”–said I;–“I won’t agree to that; I shall try to
cure her.” …

In the meanwhile, Tresór began to scratch at the door; I started to open
it for her.

“Akh,”–cried she,–“what are you doing? Why, she will bite us all
dreadfully!”

“Pardon me,”–said I,–“the poison does not take effect so soon.”

“Akh,”–said she,–“how is that possible? Why, you have gone out of your
mind!”

“Nimfótchka,”–said I,–“calm thyself; listen to reason….”

But all at once she began to scream: “Go away; go away this instant with
your disgusting dog!”

“I will go,”–said I.

“Instantly,”–said she,–“this very second! Take thyself off,
brigand,”–said she,–“and don’t dare ever to show yourself in my sight
again. Thou mightest go mad thyself!”

“Very good, ma’am,”–said I; “only give me an equipage, for I am afraid
to go home on foot now.”

She riveted her eyes on me. “Give, give him a calash, a carriage, a
drozhky, whatever he wants,–anything, for the sake of getting rid of
him as quickly as possible. Akh, what eyes! akh, what eyes he has!”–And
with these words she flew out of the room, dealing a maid who was
entering a box on the ear,–and I heard her go off into another fit of
hysterics.–And you may believe me or not, gentlemen, but from that day
forth I broke off all acquaintance with Nimfodóra Semyónovna; and,
taking all things into mature consideration, I cannot but add that for
that circumstance also I owe my friend Tresór a debt of gratitude until
I lie down in my coffin.

Well, sir, I ordered a calash to be harnessed, placed Tresór in it, and
drove off home with her. At home I looked her over, washed her wounds,
and thought to myself: “I’ll take her to-morrow, as soon as it is light,
to the wizard in Efrém County. Now this wizard was an old peasant, a
wonderful man; he would whisper over water–but others say that he
emitted serpents’ venom on it–and give it to you to drink, and your
malady would instantly disappear. By the way, I thought, I’ll get myself
bled in Efrémovo; ’tis a good remedy for terror; only, of course, not
from the arm, but from the bleeding-vein.”

“But where is that place–the bleeding-vein?”–inquired Finopléntoff,
with bashful curiosity.

Don’t you know? That spot on the fist close to the thumb, on which one
shakes snuff from the horn.–Just here, see! ’Tis the very best place
for blood-letting; therefore, judge for yourselves; from the arm it will
be venal blood, while from this spot it is sparkling. The doctors don’t
know that, and don’t understand it; how should they, the sluggards, the
dumb idiots? Blacksmiths chiefly make use of it. And what skilful
fellows they are! They’ll place their chisel on the spot, give it a
whack with their hammer–and the deed is done!… Well, sir, while I was
meditating in this wise, it had grown entirely dark out of doors, and it
was time to go to sleep. I lay down on my bed, and Tresór, of course,
was there also. But whether it was because of my fright or of the
stifling heat, or because the fleas or my thoughts were bothersome, at
any rate, I could not get to sleep. Such distress fell upon me as it is
impossible to describe; and I kept drinking water, and opening the
window, and thrumming the “Kamárynskaya”[46] on the guitar, with Italian
variations…. In vain! I felt impelled to leave the room,–and that’s
all there was to it. At last I made up my mind. I took a pillow, a
coverlet, and a sheet, and wended my way across the garden to the
hay-barn; well, and there I settled myself. And there things were
agreeable to me, gentlemen; the night was still, extremely still, only
now and then a breeze as soft as a woman’s hand would blow across my
cheek, and it was very cool; the hay was fragrant as tea, the katydids
were rasping in the apple-trees; then suddenly a quail would emit its
call–and you would feel that he was taking his ease, the scamp, sitting
in the dew with his mate…. And the sky was so magnificent; the stars
were twinkling, and sometimes a little cloud, as white as wadding, would
float past, and even it would hardly stir….

At this point in the narrative, Skvorévitch sneezed; Kinarévitch, who
never lagged behind his comrade in anything, sneezed also. Antón
Stepánitch cast a glance of approbation at both.

Well, sir–[went on Porfíry Kapítonitch],–so I lay there, and still I
could not get to sleep. A fit of meditation had seized upon me; and I
pondered chiefly over the great marvel, how that Prokhóritch had rightly
explained to me about the warning–and why such wonders should happen to
me in particular…. I was astonished, in fact, because I could not
understand it at all–while Tresórushko whimpered as she curled herself
up on the hay; her wounds were paining her. And I’ll tell you another
thing that kept me from sleeping–you will hardly believe it; the moon!
It stood right in front of me, so round and big and yellow and flat; and
it seemed to me as though it were staring at me–by Heaven it did; and
so arrogantly, importunately…. At last I stuck my tongue out at it, I
really did. Come, I thought, what art thou so curious about? I turned
away from it; but it crawled into my ear, it illuminated the back of my
head, and flooded me as though with rain; I opened my eyes, and what did
I see? It made every blade of grass, every wretched little blade in the
hay, the most insignificant spider’s web, stand out distinctly! “Well,
look, then!” said I. There was no help for it. I propped my head on my
hand and began to stare at it. But I could not keep it up; if you will
believe it, my eyes began to stick out like a hare’s and to open very
wide indeed, just as though they did not know what sleep was like. I
think I could have eaten up everything with those same eyes. The gate
of the hay-barn stood wide open; I could see for a distance of five
versts out on the plain; and distinctly, not in the usual way on a
moonlight night. So I gazed and gazed, and did not even wink…. And
suddenly it seemed to me as though something were waving about far, far
away … exactly as though things were glimmering indistinctly before my
eyes. Some time elapsed; again a shadow leaped across my vision,–a
little nearer now; then again, still nearer. What is it? I thought. Can
it be a hare? No, I thought, it is larger than a hare, and its gait is
unlike that of a hare. I continued to look, and again the shadow showed
itself, and it was moving now across the pasture-land (and the
pasture-land was whitish from the moonlight) like a very large spot; it
was plain that it was some sort of a wild beast–a fox or a wolf. My
heart contracted within me … but what was I afraid of, after all?
Aren’t there plenty of wild animals running about the fields by night?
But my curiosity was stronger than my fears; I rose up, opened my eyes
very wide, and suddenly turned cold all over. I fairly froze rigid on
the spot, as though I had been buried in ice up to my ears; and why? The
Lord only knows! And I saw the shadow growing bigger and bigger, which
meant that it was making straight for the hay-barn…. And then it
became apparent to me that it really was a large, big-headed wild
beast…. It dashed onward like a whirlwind, like a bullet…. Good
heavens! What was it? Suddenly it stopped short, as though it scented
something…. Why, it was the mad dog I had encountered that day! ’Twas
he, ’twas he! O Lord! And I could not stir a finger, I could not
shout…. It ran to the gate, glared about with its eyes, emitted a
howl, and dashed straight for me on the hay!

But out of the hay, like a lion, sprang my Tresór; and then the struggle
began. The two clinched jaw to jaw, and rolled over the ground in a
ball! What took place further I do not remember; all I do remember is
that I flew head over heels across them, just as I was, into the garden,
into the house, and into my own bedroom!… I almost dived under the
bed–there’s no use in concealing the fact. And what leaps, what bounds
I made in the garden! You would have taken me for the leading ballerina
who dances before the Emperor Napoleon on the day of his Angel–and even
she couldn’t have overtaken me. But when I had recovered myself a
little, I immediately routed out the entire household; I ordered them
all to arm themselves, and I myself took a sword and a revolver. (I must
confess that I had purchased that revolver after the Emancipation, in
case of need, you know–only I had hit upon such a beast of a pedlar
that out of three charges two inevitably missed fire.) Well, sir, I
took all this, and in this guise we sallied forth, in a regular horde,
with staves and lanterns, and directed our footsteps toward the
hay-barn. We reached it and called–nothing was to be heard; we entered
the barn at last…. and what did we see? My poor Tresórushko lay dead,
with her throat slit, and that accursed beast had vanished without
leaving a trace!

Then, gentlemen, I began to bleat like a calf, and I will say it without
shame; I fell down on the body of my twofold rescuer, so to speak, and
kissed her head for a long time. And there I remained in that attitude
until my old housekeeper, Praskóvya, brought me to my senses (she also
had run out at the uproar).

“Why do you grieve so over the dog, Porfíry Stepánitch?”–said she. “You
will surely catch cold, which God forbid!” (I was very lightly clad.)
“And if that dog lost her life in saving you, she ought to reckon it as
a great favour!”

Although I did not agree with Praskóvya, I went back to the house. And
the mad dog was shot on the following day by a soldier from the
garrison. And it must have been that that was the end appointed by Fate
to the dog, for the soldier fired a gun for the first time in his life,
although he had a medal for service in the year ’12. So that is the
supernatural occurrence which happened to me.


THE narrator ceased speaking and began to fill his pipe. But we all
exchanged glances of surprise.

“But perhaps you lead a very upright life,”–began Mr.
Finopléntoff,–“and so by way of reward….” But at that word he
faltered, for he saw that Porfíry Kapítonitch’s cheeks were beginning to
swell out and turn red, and his eyes too were beginning to pucker
up–evidently the man was on the point of breaking out….

“But admitting the possibility of the supernatural, the possibility of
its interference in everyday life, so to speak,”–began Antón
Stepánitch:–“then what rôle, after this, must sound sense play?”

None of us found any answer, and, as before, we remained perplexed.

Continue Reading

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.

Continue Reading

A CORRESPONDENCE

Several years ago I was in Dresden. I stopped in the hotel. As I was
running about the town from early morning until late at night, I did not
consider it necessary to make acquaintance with my neighbours; at last,
accidentally, it came to my knowledge that there was a sick Russian in
the house. I went to him, and found a man in the last stage of
consumption. Dresden was beginning to pall upon me; I settled down with
my new acquaintance. It is wearisome to sit with an invalid, but even
boredom is agreeable sometimes; moreover, my invalid was not dejected,
and liked to chat. We endeavoured, in every way, to kill time: we played
“fool” together, we jeered at the doctor. My compatriot narrated to that
very bald German divers fictions about his own condition, which the
doctor always “had long foreseen”; he mimicked him when he was surprised
at any unprecedented attack, flung his medicine out of the window and so
forth.

Nevertheless I repeatedly remarked to my friend that it would not be a
bad idea to send for a good physician before it was too late, that his
malady was not to be jested with, and so forth. But Alexyéi (my
acquaintance’s name was Alexyéi Petróvitch S***) put me off every time
with jests about all doctors in general, and his own in particular, and
at last, one stormy autumn evening, to my importunate entreaties, he
replied with such a dejected glance, he shook his head so sadly, and
smiled so strangely, that I felt a certain surprise. That same night
Alexyéi grew worse, and on the following day he died. Just before his
death his customary cheerfulness deserted him: he tossed uneasily in the
bed, sighed, gazed anxiously about … grasped my hand, whispered with
an effort: “‘Tis difficult to die, you know,” … dropped his head on
the pillow, and burst into tears. I did not know what to say to him, and
sat silently beside his bed. But Alexyéi speedily conquered this last,
belated compassion…. “Listen,” he said to me:–“our doctor will come
to-day, and will find me dead…. I can imagine his phiz” … and the
dying man tried to mimic him…. He requested me to send all his things
to Russia, to his relatives, with the exception of a small packet, which
he presented to me as a souvenir.

This packet contained letters–the letters of a young girl to Alexyéi
and his letters to her. There were fifteen of them in all. Alexyéi
Petróvitch S*** had known Márya Alexándrovna B*** for a long time–from
childhood, apparently. Alexyéi Petróvitch had a cousin, and Márya
Alexándrovna had a sister. In earlier years they had all lived together,
then they had dispersed, and had not met again for a long time; then
they had accidentally all assembled again in the country, in summer, and
had fallen in love–Alexyéi’s cousin with Márya Alexándrovna, and
Alexyéi himself with the latter’s sister. Summer passed and autumn came;
they parted. Alexyéi being a sensible man, speedily became convinced
that he was not in the least beloved, and parted from his beauty very
happily; his cousin corresponded with Márya Alexándrovna for a couple of
years longer … but even he divined, at last, that he was deceiving
both her and himself in the most unconscionable manner, and he also fell
silent.

I should like to tell you a little about Márya Alexándrovna, dear
reader, but you will learn to know her for yourself from her letters.
Alexyéi wrote his first letter to her soon after her definitive breach
with his cousin. He was in Petersburg at the time, suddenly went abroad,
fell ill in Dresden and died. I have decided to publish his
correspondence with Márya Alexándrovna, and I hope for some indulgence
on the part of the reader, because these are not love-letters–God
forbid! Love-letters are generally read by two persons only (but, on the
other hand, a thousand times in succession), and are intolerable, if not
ridiculous, to a third person.

I

_From Alexyéi Petróvitch to Márya Alexándrovna_

ST. PETERSBURG, March 7, 1840.

MY DEAR MÁRYA ALEXÁNDROVNA!

I have never yet written to you a single time, I think, and here I am
writing now…. I have chosen a strange time, have I not? This is what
has prompted me to it: _Mon cousin Théodore_ has been to see me to-day,
and–how shall I say it?… and has informed me, in the strictest
privacy (he never imparts anything in any other way), that he is in love
with the daughter of some gentleman here, and this time is bent on
marrying without fail, and that he has already taken the first step–he
has explained his intentions! As a matter of course, I hastened to
congratulate him on an event so pleasant for him; he has long stood in
need of an explanation … but inwardly I was, I confess, somewhat
amazed. Although I knew that everything was over between you, yet it
seemed to me…. In a word, I was amazed. I was preparing to go out
visiting to-day, but I have remained at home, and intend to have a
little chat with you. If you do not care to listen to me, throw this
letter into the fire immediately. I declare to you that I wish to be
frank, although I feel that you have a perfect right to take me for a
decidedly-intrusive man. Observe, however, that I would not have taken
pen in hand if I had not known that your sister is not with you:
Théodore told me that she will be away all summer visiting your aunt,
Madame B***. May God grant her all good things!

So, then, this is the way it has all turned out…. But I shall not
offer you my friendship, and so forth; in general, I avoid solemn
speeches, and “intimate” effusions. In beginning to write this letter, I
have simply obeyed some momentary impulse: if any other feeling is
hiding within me, let it remain hidden from sight for the present.

Neither shall I attempt to console you. In consoling others, people
generally desire to rid themselves, as speedily as possible, of the
unpleasant feeling of involuntary, self-conceited compassion…. I
understand sincere, warm sympathy … but such sympathy is not to be got
from every one…. Please be angry with me…. If you are angry, you
will probably read my epistle to the end.

But what right have I to write to you, to talk about my friendship, my
feelings, about consolation? None whatever–positively, none whatever;
and I am bound to admit that, and I rely solely upon your kindness.

Do you know what the beginning of my letter resembles? This: a certain
Mr. N. N. entered the drawing-room of a lady who was not in the least
expecting him,–who, perhaps, was expecting another man…. He divined
that he had come at the wrong time, but there was nothing to be done….
He sat down, and began to talk…. God knows what about: poetry, the
beauties of nature, the advantages of a good education … in a word, he
talked the most frightful nonsense…. But in the meanwhile the first
five minutes had elapsed; he sat on; the lady resigned herself to her
fate, and lo! Mr. N. N. recovered himself, sighed, and began to
converse–to the best of his ability.

But, despite all this idle chatter, I feel somewhat awkward,
nevertheless. I seem to see before me your perplexed, even somewhat
angry face: I feel conscious that it is almost impossible for you not to
assume that I have some secret intentions or other, and therefore,
having perpetrated a piece of folly, like a Roman I wrap myself in my
toga and await in silence your ultimate condemnation….

But, in particular: Will you permit me to continue to write to you?

I remain sincerely and cordially your devoted servant–

ALEXYÉI S***.

II

_From Márya Alexándrovna to Alexyéi Petróvitch_

VILLAGE OF … NO, March 22, 1840.

DEAR SIR!

Alexyéi Petróvitch!

I have received your letter, and really, I do not know what to say to
you. I would even not have answered you at all had it not seemed to me
that beneath your jests was concealed a decidedly-friendly sentiment.
Your letter has produced an unpleasant impression on me. In reply to
your “idle chatter,” as you put it, permit me also to propound to you
one question: To what end? What have you to do with me, what have I to
do with you? I do not assume any evil intentions on your part, … on
the contrary, I am grateful to you for your sympathy, … but we are
strangers to each other, and I now, at all events, feel not the
slightest desire to become intimate with any one whomsoever.

With sincere respects I remain, and so forth,

MÁRYA B***.

III

_From Alexyéi Petróvitch to Márya Alexándrovna_

ST. PETERSBURG, March 30.

I thank you, Márya Alexándrovna, I thank you for your note, curt as it
is. All this time I have been in a state of great agitation; twenty
times a day I have thought of you and of my letter. You can imagine how
caustically I have laughed at myself; but now I am in a capital frame of
mind, and am patting myself on the head. Márya Alexándrovna, I am
entering into correspondence with you! Confess that you could not
possibly have expected that after your reply; I am amazed at my own
audacity … never mind! But calm yourself: I want to talk to you not
about myself, but about you. Here, do you see: I find it imperatively
necessary–to speak in antiquated style–to express myself to some one.
I have no right to select you for my confidante–I admit that; but
hearken: I demand from you no reply to my epistles; I do not even wish
to know whether you will peruse my “idle chatter,” but do not send me
back my letters, in the name of all that is holy!

Listen–I am utterly alone on earth. In my youth I led a solitary life,
although, I remember, I never pretended to be a Byron; but, in the
first place, circumstances, in the second place, the ability to dream
and a love for reverie, rather cold blood, pride, indolence–in a word,
a multitude of varied causes alienated me from the society of men. The
transition from a dreamy to an active life was effected in me late …
perhaps too late, perhaps to this day not completely. So long as my own
thoughts and feelings diverted me, so long as I was capable of
surrendering myself to causeless silent raptures, and so forth, I did
not complain of my isolation. I had no comrades–I did have so-called
friends. Sometimes I needed their presence as an electrical machine
needs a discharger–that was all. Love … we will be silent on that
subject for the present. But now, I confess, now loneliness weighs upon
me, and yet I see no escape from my situation. I do not blame Fate; I
alone am to blame, and I am justly chastised. In my youth one thing
alone interested me: my charming ego; I took my good-natured self-love
for shyness; I shunned society, and lo! now I am frightfully bored with
myself. What is to become of me? I love no one; all my friendships with
other people are, somehow, strained and false; and I have no memories,
because in all my past life, I find nothing except my own self. Save me!
I have not made you enthusiastic vows of love; I have not deafened you
with a torrent of chattering speeches; I have passed you by with
considerable coldness, and precisely for that reason I have made up my
mind now to have recourse to you. (I had thought of this even earlier,
but you were not free then….) Out of all my self-made joys and
sufferings, the sole genuine feeling was the small, but involuntary
attraction to you, which withered then, like a solitary ear of grain
amid worthless weeds…. Allow me, at least, to look into another face,
another soul,–my own face has grown repugnant to me; I am like a man
who has been condemned to live out his entire life in a room with walls
made of mirrors…. I do not demand any confessions from you–oh,
heavens, no! Grant me the speechless sympathy of a sister, or at least
the simple curiosity of a reader–I will interest you, really, I will.

At any rate, I have the honour to be your sincere friend,

A. S.

IV

_From Alexyéi Petróvitch to Márya Alexándrovna_

PETERSBURG, April 7th.

I write again to you, although I foresee that, without your approval, I
shall speedily hold my peace. I must admit that you cannot fail to feel
a certain distrust of me. What of that? Perhaps you are right. Formerly
I would have declared to you (and, probably, would have believed my own
words) that, since we parted, I had “developed,” had advanced; with
condescending, almost affectionate scorn I would have referred to my
past; with touching boastfulness I would have initiated you into the
secrets of my present, active life … but now, I assure you, Márya
Alexándrovna, I consider it shameful and disgusting to allude to the way
in which my vile self-love once on a time fermented and amused itself.
Fear not: I shall not force upon you any great truths, any profound
views; I have none–none of those truths and views. I have become a nice
fellow,–truly I have. I’m bored, Márya Alexándrovna–so bored that I
can endure it no longer. That is why I am writing to you…. Really, it
seems to me that we can come to an agreement….

However, I positively am in no condition to talk to you until you
stretch out your hand to me, until I receive from you a note with the
one word “Yes.”–Márya Alexándrovna, will you hear me out?–that is the
question.

Yours truly,
A. S.

V

_From Márya Alexándrovna to Alexyéi Petróvitch_

VILLAGE OF … NO, April 14.

What a strange man you are! Well, then–“yes.”

MÁRYA B***.

VI

_From Alexyéi Petróvitch to Márya Alexándrovna_

PETERSBURG, May 2, 1840.

Hurrah! Thanks, Márya Alexándrovna, thanks! You are a very kind and
indulgent being.

I begin, according to my promise, to speak of myself, and I shall speak
with pleasure, verging on appetite…. Precisely that. One may talk of
everything in the world with fervour, with rapture, with enthusiasm, but
only of one’s self can one talk with appetite.

Listen: an extremely strange incident happened to me the other day: I
took a glance at my past for the first time. You will understand me:
every one of us frequently recalls the past–with compunction or with
vexation, or simply for the lack of something to do; but only at a
certain age can one cast a cold, clear glance at his whole past life–as
a traveller, turning round, gazes from a lofty mountain upon the plain
which he has traversed … and a secret chill grips the heart of a man
when this happens to him for the first time. At any rate, my heart
contracted with pain. So long as we are young, that sort of looking
backward is impossible. But my youth is over–and, like the traveller on
the mountain, everything has become clearly visible to me….

Yes, my youth is gone, gone irrevocably!… Here it lies before me, all
of it, as though in the palm of my hand….

’Tis not a cheerful spectacle! I confess to you, Márya Alexándrovna,
that I am very sorry for myself. My God! My God! Is it possible that I
myself have ruined my own life to such a degree, have so ruthlessly
entangled and tortured myself?… Now I have come to my senses, but it
is too late. Have you ever rescued a fly from a spider? You have? Do you
remember, you placed it in the sunshine; its wings, its legs were stuck
together, glued fast…. How awkwardly it moved, how clumsily it tried
to clean itself!… After long-continued efforts, it got itself to
rights, after a fashion; it crawled, it tried to put its wings in order
… but it could not walk as it formerly did; it could not buzz,
care-free, in the sunshine, now flying through an open window into a
cool room, again fluttering freely out into the hot air…. It, at all
events, did not fall into the dreadful net of its own free will … but
I!

I was my own spider.

And, nevertheless, I cannot blame myself so very much. Yes, and
who–tell me, for mercy’s sake–who ever was to blame for
anything–alone? Or, to put it more accurately, we are all to blame, yet
it is impossible to blame us. Circumstances settle our fate: they thrust
us into this road or that, and then they punish us. Every man has his
fate…. Wait, wait! There occurs to my mind on this score an
artfully-constructed but just comparison. As clouds are first formed by
the exhalations from the earth, rise up from its bosom, then separate
themselves from it, withdraw from it, and bear over it either blessings
or ruin, just so around each one of us and from us ourselves is
formed–how shall I express it?–is formed a sort of atmosphere which
afterward acts destructively or salutarily upon us ourselves. This I
call Fate…. In other words, and to put it simply: each person makes
his own fate, and it makes each person….

Each person makes his own fate–yes!… but our brethren make it far too
much–which constitutes our calamity! Consciousness is aroused in us too
early; too early do we begin to observe ourselves…. We Russians have
no other life-problem than the cultivation of our personality, and here
we, barely adult children, already undertake to cultivate it, this our
unhappy personality! Without having received from within any definite
direction, in reality respecting nothing, believing firmly in nothing,
we are free to make of ourselves whatsoever we will…. But it is
impossible to demand of every man that he shall immediately comprehend
the sterility of a mind, “seething in empty activity” … and so, there
is one more monster in the world, one more of those insignificant beings
in which the habits of self-love distort the very striving after truth,
and ridiculous ingenuousness lives side by side with pitiful guile …
one of those beings to whose impotent, uneasy thought there remains
forever unknown either the satisfaction of natural activity, or the
genuine suffering, or the genuine triumph of conviction…. Combining in
itself the defects of all ages, we deprive each defect of its good, its
redeeming side…. We are as stupid as children, but we are not sincere
like them; we are as cold as old men, but the common sense of old age is
not in us…. On the other hand, we are psychologists. Oh, yes, we are
great psychologists! But our psychology strays off into pathology; our
psychology is an artful study of the laws of a diseased condition and a
diseased development, with which healthy people have no concern…. But
the chief thing is, we are not young,–in youth itself we are not young!

And yet–why calumniate one’s self? Have we really never been young?
Have the vital forces never sparkled, never seethed, never quivered in
us? Yet we have been in Arcadia, and we have roved its bright meads!…
Have you ever happened, while strolling among bushes, to hit upon those
dark-hued harvest-flies, which, springing out from under your very feet,
suddenly expand their bright red wings with a clatter, flutter on a few
paces, and then tumble into the grass again? Just so did our dark youth
sometimes expand its gaily-coloured little wings for a few moments, and
a brief flight…. Do you remember our silent evening rambles, the four
of us together, along the fence of your park, after some long, warm,
animated conversation? Do you remember those gracious moments? Nature
received us affectionately and majestically into her lap. We entered,
with sinking heart, into some sort of blissful waves. Round about the
glow of sunset kindled with sudden and tender crimson; from the
crimsoning sky, from the illuminated earth, from everywhere, it seemed
as though the fresh and fiery breath of youth were wafted abroad, and
the joyous triumph of some immortal happiness; the sunset glow blazed;
like it, softly and passionately blazed our enraptured hearts, and the
tiny leaves of the young trees quivered sensitively and confusedly above
us, as though replying to the inward tremulousness of the indistinct
feelings and anticipations within us. Do you remember that purity, that
kindness and trustfulness of ideas, that emotion of noble hopes, that
silence of plenitude? Can it be that we were not then worthy of
something better than that to which life has conducted us? Why have we
been fated only at rare intervals to catch sight of the longed-for
shore, and never to stand thereon with firm foothold, never to touch
it–

Not to weep sweetly, like the first of the Jews
On the borders of the Promised Land?

These two lines of Fet[10] have reminded me of others,–also by him….
Do you remember how one day, as we were standing in the road, we beheld
in the distance a cloud of rosy dust, raised by a light breeze, against
the setting sun? “In a billowy cloud” you began, and we all fell silent
on the instant, and set to listening:

In a billowy cloud
The dust rises in the distance….
Whether horseman or pedestrian–
Cannot be descried for the dust.
I see some one galloping
On a spirited steed….
My friend, my distant friend–
Remember me!

You ceased…. All of us fairly shuddered, as though the breath of love
had flitted over our hearts, and each one of us–I am convinced of
that–longed inexpressibly to flee away in the distance, that unknown
distance, where the apparition of bliss rises up and beckons athwart the
mist. And yet, observe this odd thing: why should we reach out into the
distance?–we thought. Were not we in love with each other? Was not
happiness “so near, so possible”? And I immediately asked you: “Why have
not we gained the shore we long for?” Because falsehood was walking hand
in hand with us; because it was poisoning our best sentiments; because
everything in us was artificial and strained; because we did not love
each other at all, and only tried to love, imagined that we did love….

But enough, enough! Why irritate one’s wounds? Moreover, all that is
past irrevocably. That which was good in our past has touched me, and on
this good I bid you farewell for the time being. And it is time to end
this long letter. I will go and inhale the May air here, in which,
through the winter’s stern fortress, the spring is forcing its way with
a sort of moist and keen warmth. Farewell.

A. S.

VII

_From Márya Alexándrovna to Alexyéi Petróvitch_

VILLAGE OF … NO, May 20, 1840.

I have received your letter, Alexyéi Petróvitch, and do you know what
feeling it aroused in me?–Indignation … yes, indignation … and I
will immediately explain to you why it aroused precisely that feeling in
me. One thing is a pity: I am not a mistress of the pen–I rarely write.
I do not know how to express my thoughts accurately and in a few words;
but you will, I hope, come to my aid. You yourself will try to
understand me: if only for the sake of knowing why I am angry with you.

Tell me–you are a clever man–have you ever asked yourself what sort of
a creature a Russian woman is? What is her fate, her position in the
world–in short, what her life is like? I do not know whether you have
ever had time to put that question to yourself; I cannot imagine how you
would answer it…. I might, in conversation be able to communicate to
you my ideas on that subject, but I shall hardly manage it on paper.
However, it makes no difference. This is the point: you surely will
agree with me that we women–at all events, those of us who are not
satisfied with the ordinary cares of domestic life–receive our final
education, all the same, from you–from the men: you have a great and
powerful influence on us. Look, now, at what you do with us. I shall
speak of the young girls, especially of those who, like myself, dwell in
the dull places, and there are many such in Russia. Moreover, I do not
know others, and cannot judge with regard to them. Figure to yourself
such a young girl. Here, now, her education is finished; she is
beginning to live, to amuse herself. But amusement alone is not enough
for her. She demands a great deal from life; she reads, dreams … of
love:–“Always of love alone!” you will say…. Let us assume that that
word means a great deal to her. I will say again that I am not talking
of the sort of girl who finds it burdensome and tiresome to think….
She looks about her, waits for the coming of him for whom her soul
pines…. At last he makes his appearance: she is carried away; she is
like soft wax in his hands. Everything–happiness, and love, and
thought–everything has invaded her together with him, all at once; all
her tremors are soothed, all her doubts are solved by him; truth itself
seems to speak by his mouth; she worships him, she is ashamed of her
happiness, she learns, she loves. Great is his power over her at this
period!… If he were a hero, he would kindle her to flame, he would
teach her to sacrifice herself, and all sacrifices would be easy to
her! But there are no heroes in our day…. Nevertheless, he guides her
whithersoever he will; she devotes herself to that which interests him,
his every word sinks into her soul: at that time, she does not know, as
yet, how insignificant and empty and false that word may be, how little
it costs him who utters it, and how little faith it merits! These first
moments of bliss and hope are followed, generally–according to
circumstances–(circumstances are always to blame)–are followed by
parting. It is said that there have been cases where two kindred souls,
on recognising each other, have immediately united indissolubly; I have
heard, also, that they are not always comfortable as a result…. But I
will not speak of that which I have not myself beheld–but that the very
pettiest sort of calculation, the most woful prudence, may dwell in a
young heart side by side with the most passionate rapture,–that is a
fact which, unhappily, I know by my own experience. So, then, parting
comes…. Happy is that young girl who instantly recognises that the end
of all has come, who does not comfort herself with expectation! But you
brave, just men, in the majority of cases, have neither the courage nor
the desire to tell us the truth … you find it more easy to deceive
us…. I am ready to believe, however, that you deceive yourselves along
with us…. Parting! It is both difficult and easy to endure parting.
If only faith in him whom one loves were intact and unassailed, the soul
would conquer the pain of parting…. I will say more: only when she is
left alone does she learn the sweetness of solitude, not sterile but
filled with memories and thoughts. Only then will she learn to know
herself–will she come to herself, will she grow strong…. In the
letters of the distant friend she will find a support for herself; in
her own she will, perhaps, for the first time, express her mind
fully…. But as two persons who have started from the source of a river
along its different banks can, at first, clasp hands, then hold
communication only with the voice, but ultimately lose sight of each
other: so also two beings are ultimately disjoined by separation. “What
of that?” you will say: “evidently they were not fated to go
together….” But here comes in the difference between a man and a
woman. It signifies nothing to a man to begin a new life, to shake far
from him the past; a woman cannot do that. No, she cannot cast aside her
past, she cannot tear herself away from her roots–no, a thousand times
no! And so, a pitiful and ridiculous spectacle presents itself….
Gradually losing hope and faith in herself,–you can form no idea of how
painful that is,–she will pine away and fade alone, obstinately
clinging to her memories, and turning away from everything which life
around her offers…. And he?… Seek him! Where is he? And is it worth
while for him to pause? What time has he for looking back? All this is a
thing of the past for him, you see.

Or here is another thing which happens: it sometimes happens that he
will suddenly conceive a desire to meet the former object of his
affections, he will even deliberately go to her…. But, my God! from
what a motive of petty vain-glory he does it! In his polite compassion,
in his counsels which are intended to be friendly, in his condescending
explanations of the past, there is audible such a consciousness of his
own superiority! It is so agreeable and cheerful a thing for him to let
himself feel every minute how sensible and kind he is! And how little he
understands what he is doing! How well he manages not even to guess at
what is going on in the woman’s heart, and how insultingly he pities
her, if he does guess it!…

Tell me, please, whence are we to get the strength to endure all this?
Remember this, too: in the majority of cases, a girl who, to her
misfortune, has an idea beginning to stir in her head, when she begins
to love, and falls under the influence of a man, involuntarily separates
herself from her family, from her acquaintances. Even previously she has
not been satisfied with their life, yet she has walked on by their side,
preserving in her soul all her intimate secrets…. But the breach
speedily makes itself visible…. They cease to understand her, they are
ready to suspect every movement of hers…. At first she pays no heed
to this, but afterward, afterward … when she is left alone, when that
toward which she has been striving and for which she has sacrificed
everything escapes her grasp, when she has not attained to heaven, but
when every near thing, every possible thing, has retreated far from
her–what shall uphold her? Sneers, hints, the vulgar triumph of coarse
common sense she can still bear, after a fashion … but what is she to
do, to what is she to have recourse, when the inward voice begins to
whisper to her that all those people were right, and that she has been
mistaken; that life, of whatever sort it may be, is better than dreams,
as health is better than disease … when her favourite occupations, her
favourite books, disgust her, the books from which one cannot extract
happiness,–what, say you,–what shall uphold her? How is she to help
succumbing in such a struggle? How is she to live and to go on living in
such a wilderness? Confess herself vanquished, and extend her hand like
a beggar to indifferent people? Will not they give her at least some of
that happiness with which the proud heart once imagined that it could
dispense–all that is nothing as yet! But to feel one’s self ridiculous
at the very moment when one is shedding bitter, bitter tears … akh!
God forbid that you should go through that experience!…

My hands are trembling, and I am in a fever all over…. My face is
burning hot. It is time for me to stop…. I shall send off this letter
as speedily as possible, while I am not ashamed of my weakness. But, for
God’s sake, not a word in your reply–do you hear me?–not a word of
pity, or I will never write to you again. Understand me: I should not
like to have you take this letter as the outpouring of a misunderstood
soul which is making complaint…. Akh! it is all a matter of
indifference to me! Farewell.

M.

VIII

_From Alexyéi Petróvitch to Márya Alexándrovna_

ST. PETERSBURG, May 28, 1840.

Márya Alexándrovna, you are a fine creature … indeed you are … your
letter has disclosed to me the truth at last! O Lord my God! what
torture! A man is constantly thinking that now he has attained
simplicity, no longer shows off, puts on airs, or lies … but when you
come to look at him more attentively, he has become almost worse than he
was before. And this must be noted: the man himself, alone that is to
say, will never attain to that consciousness, bestir himself as he may!
his eye will not discern his own defects, just as the blunted eye of
the printer will not detect errors: another, a fresher eye is required.
I thank you, Márya Alexándrovna…. You see, I am speaking to you of
myself; I dare not speak of you…. Akh, how ridiculous my last letter
seems to me now,–so eloquent and sentimental! Go on, I beg of you, with
your confession; I have a premonition that you will be relieved thereby,
and it will be of great benefit to me. Not without cause does the
proverb say: “A woman’s wit is better than many thoughts”; and a woman’s
heart is far more so–God is my witness that it is so! If women only
knew how much better, and more magnanimous, and clever–precisely
that–clever they are than the men, they would grow puffed up with
pride, and get spoiled: but, fortunately, they do not know that; they do
not know it because their thoughts have not become accustomed to
returning incessantly to themselves, as have the thoughts of us men.
They think little about themselves–that is their weakness and their
strength; therein lies the whole secret–I will not say of our
superiority, but of our power. They squander their souls, as a lavish
heir squanders his father’s gold, but we collect interest from every
look…. How can they enter into rivalry with us?… All this is not
compliments, but the simple truth, demonstrated by experience. Again I
entreat you, Márya Alexándrovna, to continue writing to me…. If you
only knew all that comes into my mind!… But now I do not want to talk,
I want to listen to you…. My speech will come later on. Write, write.

Yours truly,
A. S.

IX

_From Márya Alexándrovna to Alexyéi Petróvitch_

VILLAGE OF … NO, June 12, 1840.

No sooner had I despatched my last letter to you, Alexyéi Petróvitch,
than I repented of it; but there was no help for it. One thing somewhat
soothed me: I am convinced that you have understood under the influence
of what long-suppressed feelings it was written, and have forgiven me. I
did not even read over at the time what I had written to you; I remember
that my heart was beating so violently that my pen trembled in my hand.
However, although I probably should have expressed myself differently if
I had given myself time to think it over, still I have no intention of
disclaiming either my words or the feelings which I have imparted to you
to the best of my ability. To-day I am much more cool-headed, and have
far better control over myself….

I remember that I spoke toward the end of my letter about the painful
situation of the young girl who recognises the fact that she is isolated
even among her own people…. I will not enlarge further on that point,
but rather will I communicate to you a few details; it seems to me that
I shall bore you less in that way.

In the first place, you must know that throughout the whole country-side
I am not called anything but “the female philosopher”; the ladies, in
particular, allude to me by that name. Some assert that I sleep with a
Latin book in my hands and in spectacles; others, that I know how to
extract some cubic roots or other: not one of them cherishes any doubt
that I wear masculine attire on the sly, and that instead of “good
morning,” I say abruptly: “Georges Sand!”–and indignation against “the
female philosopher” is on the increase. We have a neighbour, a man of
five-and-forty, a great wit, … at least, he has the reputation of
being a great wit, … and for him my poor person is an inexhaustible
subject for jeers. He has related, concerning me, that as soon as the
moon rises in the sky, I cannot take my eyes from it, and he shows how I
look; that I even drink coffee not with cream but with the moon, that is
to say, I set my cup in its rays. He swears that I use phrases in the
nature of the following: “That is easy because it is difficult;
although, on the other hand, it is difficult because it is easy.”…
He declares that I am always seeking some word or other, always yearning
“thither,” and he inquires, with comic indignation: “Whither is thither?
Whither?” He has also set in circulation about me a rumour to the effect
that I ride by night on horseback back and forth through the ford of the
river, singing the while Schubert’s “Serenade,” or simply moaning:
“Beethoven, Beethoven!” as much as to say–“She’s such a fiery old
woman!” and so forth, and so forth. Of course, all this immediately
reaches my ears. Perhaps this may surprise you; but do not forget that
four years have elapsed since you have sojourned in these parts.
Remember how every one gazed askance at us then…. Now their turn has
come. And all this is nothing. I sometimes happen to hear words which
pierce my heart much more painfully. I will not mention the fact that my
poor, good mother cannot possibly pardon me for your cousin’s
indifference; but all my life runs through the fire, as my old nurse
expresses it. “Of course,”–I hear constantly,–“how are we to keep up
with thee? We are plain folks, we are guided only by common sense; but,
after all, when one comes to think of it, to what have all these
philosophisings and books and acquaintances with learned people brought
thee?” Perhaps you remember my sister–not the one to whom you were
formerly not indifferent, but the other, the elder, who is married. Her
husband, you will remember, is a decidedly-ridiculous man; you often
used to make fun of him in those days. Yet she is happy: the mother of a
family, she loves her husband, and her husband adores her…. “I am like
all the rest,”–she says to me sometimes;–“but how about thee?” And she
is right: I envy her….

And nevertheless I feel that I should not like to change places with
her. Let them call me “a female philosopher,” “an eccentric,” whatever
they choose–I shall remain faithful to the end … to what?–to an
ideal, pray? Yes, to an ideal. Yes, I shall remain faithful to the end
to that which first made my heart beat,–to that which I have
acknowledged and do acknowledge to be the true, the good. If only my
strength does not fail me, if only my idol does not prove a soulless
block….

If you really do feel friendship for me, if you really have not
forgotten me, you must help me; you must disperse my doubts, strengthen
my beliefs….

But what aid can you render me? “All this is nonsense, like the useless
running of a squirrel on a wheel,” said my uncle to me yesterday–I
think you do not know him–a retired naval officer, and a far from
stupid man. “A husband, children, a pot of buckwheat groats: to tend
husband and children, and look after the pot of groats–that’s what a
woman needs.”… Tell me, he is right, is he not?

If he really is right, I can still repair the past, I can still get into
the common rut. What else is there for me to wait for? What is there to
hope for? In one of your letters, you spoke of the wings of youth. How
often, how long they remain fettered! And then comes a time, when they
fall off; and it is no longer possible to raise one’s self above the
earth, to soar heavenward. Write to me.

Yours, M.

X

_From Alexyéi Petróvitch to Márya Alexándrovna_

ST. PETERSBURG, June 16, 1840.

I hasten to answer your letter, my dear Márya Alexándrovna. I will
confess to you that if it were not for…. I will not say business–I
have none–if it were not for my being so stupidly habituated to this
place, I would go again to you and would talk my fill, but on paper all
this comes out so coldly, in such a dead manner….

I repeat to you, Márya Alexándrovna: women are better than men, and you
ought to demonstrate that in deed. Let us men fling aside our
convictions, like a worn-out garment, or barter them for a morsel of
bread, or, in conclusion, let them fall into the sleep which knows no
waking, and place over them, as over one formerly beloved, a tombstone,
to which one goes only now and then to pray–let us men do all that; but
do not you women be false to yourselves, do not betray your ideal….
That word has become ridiculous…. To be afraid of the ridiculous is
not to love the truth. It does happen, it is true, that a stupid laugh
will make the stupid man, even good people, renounce a great deal …
take for example the defence of an absent friend…. I am guilty in that
respect myself. But, I repeat it, you women are better than we are….
In trifles you are inclined to yield to us; but you understand better
than we do how to look the devil straight in the eye. I shall give you
neither aid nor advice–how can I? and you do not need it; but I do
stretch forth my hand to you, and I do say to you: “Have patience; fight
until the end; and know that, as a feeling, the consciousness of a
battle honourably waged almost transcends the triumph of victory.”…
The victory does not depend upon us.

Of course, from a certain point of view, your uncle is right: family
life is everything for a woman; there is no other life for her.

But what does that prove? Only the Jesuits assert that every means is
good, if only one attains his end. It is not true! not true! It is an
indignity to enter a clean temple with feet soiled with the mire of the
road. At the end of your letter there is a phrase which I do not like:
you want to get into the common rut. Look out–do not make a misstep! Do
not forget, moreover, that it is impossible to efface the past; and
strive as you may, force yourself as you will, you cannot make yourself
your sister. You have ascended above her. But your soul is broken, hers
is intact. You can lower yourself, bend down to her, but nature will not
resign her rights, and the broken place will not grow together again….

You are afraid–let us speak without circumlocution–you are afraid of
remaining an old maid. I know that you are already twenty-six years old.
As a matter of fact, the position of old maids is not enviable: every
one so gladly laughs at them; every one notes their oddities and their
weaknesses with such unmagnanimous delight. But if you scan more closely
any elderly bachelor,–he deserves to have the finger of scorn pointed
at him also,–you will find in him cause to laugh your fill. What is to
be done? Happiness is not to be captured by battle. But we must not
forget that not happiness but human dignity is the chief goal of life.

You describe your position with great humour. I well understand all its
bitterness; your position may, I am sure, be called tragic. But you
must know that you are not the only one who finds herself in it: there
is hardly any man of the present day who does not find himself in it
also. You will say that that does not make it any the easier for you;
but what I think is that to suffer in company with thousands is quite a
different thing from suffering alone. It is not a question of egotism
here, but of a feeling of universal necessity.

“All this is very fine, let us assume,” you will say, … “but, in point
of fact, it is not applicable to the case.” Why is it not applicable? Up
to the present day I think, and I hope that I shall never cease to
think, that in God’s world everything honest, good, and true is
applicable, and sooner or later will be fulfilled; and not only will be
fulfilled, but is already being fulfilled, if each one will only hold
himself firmly in his place, will not lose patience, will not desire the
impossible, but will act, so far as his strength permits. But I think I
have given myself up too much to abstractions. I will defer the
continuation of my arguments until another letter; but I do not wish to
lay down my pen without having pressed your hand warmly, very warmly,
and wished you, with all my soul, everything that is good on earth.

Yours, A. S.

P.S. By the way, you say that you have nothing to look forward to,
nothing to hope for; how do you know that, allow me to ask?

XI

_From Márya Alexándrovna to Alexyéi Petróvitch_

VILLAGE OF … NO, June 30, 1840.

How grateful I am to you for your letter, Alexyéi Petróvitch! How much
good it has done me! I see that you really are a good and trustworthy
man, and therefore I shall not dissimulate before you. I trust you. I
know that you will not make a bad use of my frankness and that you will
give me friendly advice. That is the point.

You noticed at the end of my letter a phrase which did not entirely
please you. This is what it referred to. There is a neighbour here …
he was not here in your day, and you have not seen him. He … I might
marry him, if I wished; he is a man who is still young, cultured,
wealthy. There are no obstacles on the side of my relatives; on the
contrary, they–I know this for certain–desire this marriage; he is a
fine man, and I think he loves me…. But he is so languid and petty,
all his desires are so narrow, that I cannot help recognising my
superiority over him; he feels this, and seems to take delight in it,
and precisely that repels me from him; I cannot respect him, although he
has an excellent heart. What am I to do, tell me? Think for me and
write me your opinion sincerely.

But how grateful I am to you for your letter!… Do you know, I have
sometimes been visited by such bitter thoughts…. Do you know, I have
gone so far as almost to feel ashamed of every–I will not say
exalted–but of every trustful feeling. I have shut my book in vexation
when it spoke of hope and happiness; I have turned away from the
cloudless sky, from the fresh verdure of the trees, from everything that
smiled and was glad. What a painful condition this was! I say “was” …
as though it had passed!

I do not know whether it has passed; I know that if it does not return I
shall be indebted to you for it. You see, Alexyéi Petróvitch, how much
good you have done, perhaps without yourself suspecting it! Now, in the
very heart of summer, the days are magnificent, the sky is blue,
bright…. It cannot be more beautiful in Italy. But you are sitting in
a stifling and dusty town, you are walking on the scorching pavements.
What possesses you to do it? You ought, at least, to remove to a villa
somewhere. They say that beyond Peterhoff, on the seashore, there are
charming places.

I should like to write more to you, but it is impossible: such a sweet
perfume has been wafted up to me from the garden that I cannot remain
in the house. I shall put on my hat and go for a stroll…. Farewell
until another time, kind Alexyéi Petróvitch.

Yours truly,
M. B.

P.S. I have forgotten to tell you … just imagine: that wit, of whom I
recently wrote you,–just imagine: he has made me a declaration of love,
and in the most fiery terms! At first I thought that he was making fun
of me; but he wound up with a formal proposal. What do you think of
that, after all his calumnies? But he is positively too old. Last night,
to pique him, I sat down at the piano in front of the open window in the
moonlight, and played Beethoven. It was so delightful to me to feel its
cold light on my face, so consolatory to send forth upon the perfumed
night air the noble sounds of music, athwart which, at times, the song
of the nightingale was audible! It is a long time since I have been so
happy, but do you write to me concerning the thing I asked you about in
the beginning of my letter: it is very important.

XII

_From Alexyéi Petróvich to Márya Alexándrovna_

ST. PETERSBURG, July 8, 1840.

My dear Márya Alexándrovna, here is my opinion in two words: throw both
the old bachelor and the young suitor overboard! There’s no use in
deliberating over this. Neither of them is worthy of you–that is as
clear as that twice two are four. The young neighbour may be a good man,
but I throw him over! I am convinced that you and he have nothing in
common, and you can imagine how cheerful it would be to live together!
And why be in a hurry? Is it possible that a woman like you–I have no
intention of paying compliments, and therefore will not enlarge
further–that such a woman as you should not meet some one who will know
how to appreciate her? No, Márya Alexándrovna; heed me if you really
think that my advice is beneficial.

But confess that you found it pleasant to behold that old calumniator at
your feet!… If I had been in your place, I would have made him sing
Beethoven’s “Adelaïda” the whole night through, staring at the moon the
while.

But God be with them, with your admirers! It is not of them that I wish
to talk with you to-day. I am in a sort of half-irritated,
half-agitated condition to-day, as the result of a letter which I
received yesterday. I send you a copy of it. This letter was written by
one of my very old friends and comrades in the service, a kind-hearted
but rather narrow-minded man. A couple of years ago he went abroad, and
up to the present he has not written to me a single time. Here is his
letter. N.B. He is very far from bad-looking.

“_Cher Alexis_:

“I am in Naples. I am sitting in my chamber on the Chiaja at the window.
The weather is wonderful. At first I gazed a long time at the sea, then
impatience seized upon me, and the brilliant idea of writing a letter to
thee occurred to me. I have always felt an affection for thee, my dear
friend,–Heaven is my witness that I have! And now I should like to pour
myself into thy bosom…. I believe that is the way it is expressed in
our elevated language. And the reason I have been seized with impatience
is that I am expecting a woman; together we shall go to Baiæ to eat
oysters and oranges, to watch the dark-brown shepherds in red nightcaps
dance the tarantella, to broil ourselves in the sunshine, to watch the
lizards–in a word, to enjoy life to the full. My dear friend, I am so
happy that I am unable to express it to you. If I possessed thy power
with the pen, oh, what a picture I would draw before thine eyes! But,
unfortunately, as thou knowest, I am an illiterate man. The woman for
whom I am waiting, and who has already made me constantly start and
glance at the door, loves me–and as for the way I love her, it seems to
me that even thou with thy eloquent pen couldst not describe that.

“I must tell thee that I have known her for the last three months, and
ever since the very first day of our acquaintance, my love has gone on
_crescendo_, in the shape of a chromatic scale, ever higher and higher,
and at the present moment it has already attained to the seventh heaven.
I am jesting, but, as a matter of fact, my attachment to that woman is
something extraordinary, supernatural. Just imagine: I hardly ever talk
with her, but I stare at her incessantly and laugh. I sit at her feet, I
feel that I am frightfully stupid and happy, simply unlawfully happy. It
sometimes happens that she lays her hand on my head…. And then, I must
tell thee, … but thou canst not understand it; for thou art a
philosopher, and have been a philosopher all thy life. Her name is Nina,
Ninetta–as thou wilt; she is the daughter of a wealthy merchant here.
Beautiful as all thy Raphaels; lively as powder, blithe, so clever that
it is positively amazing that she should have fallen in love with such a
fool as myself; she sings like a bird, and her eyes–

“Forgive me, pray, for this involuntary tirade…. I thought the door
creaked…. No, the rogue has not come yet! Thou wilt ask me how all
this is going to end, and what I mean to do with myself, and whether I
shall remain here long. I know nothing, and wish to know nothing, about
that, my dear fellow. What is to be will be…. For if one is to pause
and reason constantly….

“‘Tis she!… She is running up the stairs and singing…. She has
come…. Well, good-by, my dear fellow…. I’m in no mood for thee.
Pardon me–it is she who has spattered this letter all over: she struck
the paper with her damp nosegay. At first she thought I was writing to a
woman; but as soon as she found out that it was to a man-friend, she
bade me give you her compliments, and inquire whether there are any
flowers in your country, and whether they are fragrant. Well,
good-by…. If you could only hear how she laughs!… Silver rings just
like that: and what goodness in every sound!–One fairly wants to kiss
her feet. Let us go, let us go! Be not angry at this untidy scrawl, and
envy thy–

M…”

The letter actually was bespattered, and exhaled an odour of
orange-flowers … two white petals had adhered to the paper. This
letter has excited me…. I have called to mind my sojourn in
Naples…. The weather was magnificent then also; May was only just
beginning; I had recently completed my twenty-second year; but I did not
know any Ninetta. I roamed about alone, consumed with a thirst for
bliss, which was both painful and sweet,–sweet to the point where it
itself bore a sort of resemblance to bliss…. What a thing it is to be
young!… I remember I once went out for a row on the bay at night.
There were two of us: the boatman and I … but what was it you thought?
What a night it was, and what a sky, what stars–how they trembled and
crumbled in the waves! With what a liquid flame did the water flow over
and flash up under the oars, what perfume was wafted all over the
sea–it is not for me to describe, however “eloquent” my pen may be. A
French ship of the line lay at anchor in the roadstead. It glowed
obscurely red all over with lights; long streaks of red light, the
reflection of the illuminated windows, stretched across the dark sea.
Merry music reached me in occasional bursts; I recall, in particular,
the trill of a small flute amid the dull blaring of the horns; it seemed
to flutter like a butterfly around my boat. I ordered the man to row to
the ship; twice did we make the circuit of it. Women’s forms flitted
past the windows, borne smartly past on the whirlwind of the waltz…. I
ordered the boatman to put off, far away, straight out into the
darkness…. I remember that the sounds pursued me long and
importunately…. At last they died away. I stood up in the boat and
stretched out my arms over the sea in the dumb pain of longing…. Oh,
how my heart ached then! How oppressive was my loneliness! With what joy
would I have given myself at that moment wholly, wholly … wholly, if
only there had been any one to whom to give myself! With what a bitter
feeling in my soul did I fling myself, face down, in the bottom of the
boat and, like Repetíloff, request him to take me somewhere or other!

But my friend here experienced nothing of that sort. And why should he?
He has managed matters much more cleverly than I did. He is living …
while I … not without cause has he called me a philosopher…. ’Tis
strange! You, also, are called a philosopher…. Why should such a
calamity overtake us?…

I am not living…. But who is to blame for that? Why do I sit here in
Petersburg? What am I doing here? Why do I kill day after day? Why don’t
I go to the country? Are not our steppes beautiful? Or cannot one
breathe freely in them? Or is it stifling in them? What possesses me to
pursue dreams, when, perchance, happiness is within my reach? It is
settled: I am going away, I am going away to-morrow, if possible; I am
going home, that is, to you–it is all the same: for we live only
twenty versts apart. What’s the use, after all, in languishing here? And
why is it that this idea did not occur to me earlier? My dear Márya
Alexándrovna, we shall soon meet. But it is remarkable that this thought
did not enter my head until this moment! I ought to have gone away long,
long ago. Farewell until we meet, Márya Alexándrovna.

July 9th.

I have deliberately given myself twenty-four hours to think it over, and
now I am definitively convinced that there is no reason why I should
remain here. The dust in the streets is so biting that it makes one’s
eyes ache. To-day I shall begin to pack; on the day after to-morrow,
probably, I shall leave here; and ten days hence I shall have the
pleasure of seeing you. I hope you will receive me as of old. By the
way–your sister is still visiting your aunt, is she not?

Permit me, Márya Alexándrovna, to press your hand warmly, and to say to
you from my soul: farewell until a speedy meeting. I was preparing to
leave in any case, but this letter has precipitated my intention. Let us
assume that this letter proves nothing; let us even assume that Ninetta
would not please any one else–me, for example. Yet I am going, all the
same; there is no doubt about that. Farewell for the present.

Yours, A. S.

XIII

_From Márya Alexándrovna to Alexyéi Petróvitch_

VILLAGE OF … NO, July 16, 1840.

You are coming hither, you will soon be with us, will you not, Alexyéi
Petróvitch? I will not conceal from you that this news both delights and
agitates me…. How shall we meet? Will that spiritual bond be preserved
which, so it seems to me, has already begun to unite us? Will it not
break when we meet? I do not know; I am apprehensive, for some reason or
other. I will not answer your last letter, although I might say a good
deal; I will defer all this until we meet. My mother is greatly
delighted at your coming…. She has been aware that I was corresponding
with you. The weather is enchanting. We will walk a great deal; I will
show you the new places which I have discovered … one long, narrow
valley is particularly nice: it lies between hillocks, covered with
forest…. It seems to be hiding in their curves. A tiny brook blows
along it and can barely force its way through the grass and flowers….
You shall see. Come: perhaps you will not find it tedious.

M. B.

P.S. You will not see my sister, I think: she is still visiting my aunt.
I believe (this is between ourselves) that she is going to marry a very
amiable young man–an officer. Why did you send me that letter from
Naples? The life here perforce seems dim and pale in comparison with
that luxury and that brilliancy. But Mademoiselle Ninetta is wrong:
flowers grow and are fragrant–even with us.

XIV

_From Márya Alexándrovna to Alexyéi Petróvitch_

VILLAGE OF … NO, January, 1841.

I have written to you several times, Alexyéi Petróvitch…. You have not
answered me. Are you alive? Or perhaps our correspondence has begun to
bore you; perhaps you have found for yourself a more agreeable diversion
than the letters of a rustic young lady can afford you? Evidently you
called me to mind for the lack of something to do. If that is the case,
I wish you happiness. If you do not answer me this time, I shall not
trouble you again; there will be nothing left for me to do but to regret
my imprudence, that I have unnecessarily permitted myself to be roused
up, have offered my hand and emerged, if only for a moment, from my
isolated nook. I ought to remain in it forever, lock myself in–that is
my portion, the portion of all old maids. I ought to accustom myself to
that thought. There is no necessity for coming out into God’s sunlight,
no necessity for craving fresh air, when the lungs will not bear it. By
the way, we are now blocked up with dead drifts of snow. I shall be more
sensible henceforth…. People do not die of boredom, but it is possible
to perish with melancholy, I suppose. If I am mistaken, prove it to me.
But I think I am not mistaken. In any case, farewell. I wish you
happiness.

M. B.

XV

_From Alexyéi Petróvitch to Márya Alexándrovna_

DRESDEN, September, 1842.

I write to you, my dear Márya Alexándrovna, and I write only because I
do not wish to die without having taken leave of you, and without having
recalled myself to your mind. I am condemned by the doctors … and I
myself feel that my life is drawing to a close. On my table stands a
rose; before it fades I shall be no more. But that comparison is not
quite just. The rose is far more interesting than I am.

As you see, I am abroad. I have been in Dresden six months. I received
your last letters–I am ashamed to confess: I lost several of them more
than a year ago, and did not answer you…. I will tell you presently
why. But, evidently, you have always been dear to me: with the exception
of yourself, there is no one of whom I wish to take leave, and perhaps I
have no one to whom I could bid farewell.

Soon after my last letter to you (I was quite ready to set out for your
parts, and was making various plans in advance), there happened to me an
episode which had, I may say, a strong influence on my fate,–so strong
that here I am, dying, thanks to that event. To wit: I set out for the
theatre, to see the ballet. I have never liked the ballet, and have
always felt a secret disgust for all sorts of actresses, singers, and
dancers…. But, obviously, one cannot change his fate, neither does any
one know himself, and it is also impossible to foresee the future. In
point of fact, nothing happens in life except the unexpected, and we do
nothing all our life long but adjust ourselves to events…. But I
believe I am dropping into philosophy again. Old habit!… In a word, I
fell in love with a dancer.

This was all the more strange because she could not be called a beauty.
She had, it is true, wonderful golden hair, with an ash tinge, and
large, bright eyes, with a pensive and, at the same time, a bold
glance…. Haven’t I cause to know the expression of that glance? I
pined and languished for a whole year in its rays! She had a splendid
figure, and when she danced her folkdance, the spectators used to stamp
and shout with rapture…. But I do not think any one besides myself
fell in love with her–at all events, no one fell in love with her as I
did. From the very minute that I beheld her for the first time–(will
you believe it? all I have to do even now is to shut my eyes, and
immediately here stands before me the theatre, the almost empty stage,
representing the interior of a forest, and she runs out from behind the
side-scenes on the right, with a wreath of vine-leaves on her head and a
tiger-skin over her shoulders)–from that fatal minute I belonged to her
wholly,–just as a dog belongs to his master; and if now, when I am
dying, I do not belong to her, it is merely because she has cast me off.

To tell the truth, she never troubled herself especially about me. She
barely noticed me, although she good-naturedly made use of my money. I
was for her, as she expressed it in her broken French jargon, “_oun
Rousso buon enfan_,”–and nothing more. But I … I could no longer live
anywhere where she was not; I tore myself at one wrench from all that
was dear to me, from my native land itself, and set out in pursuit of
that woman.

Perhaps you think that she was clever?–Not in the least! It sufficed to
cast a glance at her low brow, it sufficed to note, if only once, her
lazy, heedless smile, in order instantly to convince one’s self as to
the paucity of her mental abilities. And I never imagined her to be a
remarkable woman. On the whole, I did not deceive myself for a single
minute on her score. But that did not help matters in the least.
Whatever I thought of her in her absence, in her presence I felt nothing
but servile adoration…. In the German fairytales the knights often
fall into that sort of stupor. I could not tear my eyes from her
features; I could not hear enough of her remarks, or sufficiently watch
every movement of hers; to tell the truth, I actually breathed to her
breathing. However, she was good-natured, unconstrained–too
unconstrained even; she did not put on airs, as the majority of artists
do. She had a great deal of life, that is, a great deal of blood, of
that splendid Southern blood, into which the sun of their land must have
dropped a portion of his rays. She slept nine hours a day, was fond of
good eating, never read a single line of print, unless, perhaps, the
articles in the newspapers in which she was mentioned, and almost the
sole tender sentiment in her life was her attachment to il signore
Carlino, a small and greedy Italian who served as her secretary and whom
she afterward married. And with such a woman as this I, who have tasted
so many varied intellectual subtleties, I, already an old man, could
fall in love! Who could have expected it? I never expected it, at all
events. I did not anticipate the part which I should be compelled to
play. I did not expect that I should haunt rehearsals, freeze and get
bored behind the scenes, inhale the reek of the theatre, make
acquaintance with various unseemly individuals … what am I
saying?–make acquaintance–bow to them. I had not expected that I
should carry a dancer’s shawl, buy new gloves for her, clean her old
ones with white bread (but I did it, I take my oath!), cart home her
bouquets, run about to the anterooms of journalists and directors, wear
myself out, give serenades, catch cold, lose my strength…. I had not
expected that I should acquire at last in a certain little German town
the ingenious nickname of “_der Kunst-barbar_.”… And all this in
vain–in the fullest sense of the word, in vain! There, that is
precisely the state of the case….

Do you remember how you and I, orally and by letter, argued about love,
into what subtleties we entered? And when it is put to the proof, it
turns out that real love is a feeling not at all resembling that which
we imagined it to be. Love is not even a feeling at all; it is a malady,
a well-known condition of the soul and body. It does not develop
gradually; there is no possibility of doubting it; one cannot dodge it,
although it does not always manifest itself in identically the same
fashion. It generally takes possession of a man without being invited,
suddenly, against his will–precisely like the cholera or a fever…. It
lays hold upon him, the dear creature, as a hawk does upon a chicken;
and it will bear him off whithersoever it wishes, struggle and resist as
he may…. In love there is no equality, no so-called free union of
souls and other ideal things, invented at their leisure by German
professors…. No; in love one person is the slave, the other is the
sovereign, and not without cause do the poets prate of the chains
imposed by love. Yes, love is a chain, and the heaviest of chains at
that. At all events, I have arrived at that conviction, and have reached
it by the path of experience. I have purchased that conviction at the
price of my life, because I am dying a slave.

Alack, what a fate is mine! one thinks. In my youth I was resolutely
determined to conquer heaven for myself…. Later on, I fell to dreaming
about the welfare of all mankind, the prosperity of my fatherland. Then
that passed off: I thought only of how I might arrange my domestic, my
family life … and I tripped over an ant-hill–and flop! I went
headlong on the ground, and into the grave…. What master hands we
Russians are at winding up in that fashion!

However, it is high time for me to turn away from all this,–it was time
long ago! May this burden fall from my soul along with my life! I wish
for the last time, if only for a moment, to enjoy that good, gentle
feeling which is diffused within me like a tranquil light as soon as I
call you to mind. Your image is now doubly dear to me…. Along with it
there surges up before me the image of my native land, and I waft to it
and to you my last greeting. Live on, live long and happily, and
remember one thing: whether you remain in that remote nook of the
steppes, where you sometimes find things so painful, but where I should
so like to spend my last day, or whether you shall enter upon another
career, remember: life fails to disappoint him alone who does not
meditate upon it, and, demanding nothing from it, calmly accepts its
sparse gifts, and calmly makes use of them. Go forward, while you can:
but when your feet fail you,–sit down near the road, and gaze at the
passers-by without vexation and without envy: for they will not go far!
I have said this to you before, but death will teach any man whomsoever;
moreover, who shall say what is life, what is truth? Remember _who_ it
was that gave no answer to this question…. Farewell, Márya
Alexándrovna; farewell for the last time, and bear no ill will to poor–

ALEXYÉI.

Continue Reading

FIRST LOVE

The guests had long since departed. The clock struck half-past twelve.
There remained in the room only the host, Sergyéi Nikoláevitch, and
Vladímir Petróvitch.

The host rang and ordered the remains of the supper to be removed.–“So
then, the matter is settled,”–he said, ensconcing himself more deeply
in his arm-chair, and lighting a cigar:–“each of us is to narrate the
history of his first love. ’Tis your turn, Sergyéi Nikoláevitch.”

Sergyéi Nikoláevitch, a rather corpulent man, with a plump, fair-skinned
face, first looked at the host, then raised his eyes to the ceiling.–“I
had no first love,”–he began at last:–“I began straight off with the
second.”

“How was that?”

“Very simply. I was eighteen years of age when, for the first time, I
dangled after a very charming young lady; but I courted her as though it
were no new thing to me: exactly as I courted others afterward. To tell
the truth, I fell in love, for the first and last time, at the age of
six, with my nurse;–but that is a very long time ago. The details of
our relations have been erased from my memory; but even if I remembered
them, who would be interested in them?”

“Then what are we to do?”–began the host.–“There was nothing very
startling about my first love either; I never fell in love with any one
before Anna Ivánovna, now my wife; and everything ran as though on oil
with us; our fathers made up the match, we very promptly fell in love
with each other, and entered the bonds of matrimony without delay. My
story can be told in two words. I must confess, gentlemen, that in
raising the question of first love, I set my hopes on you, I will not
say old, but yet no longer young bachelors. Will not you divert us with
something, Vladímir Petróvitch?”

“My first love belongs, as a matter of fact, not altogether to the
ordinary category,”–replied, with a slight hesitation, Vladímir
Petróvitch, a man of forty, whose black hair was sprinkled with grey.

“Ah!”–said the host and Sergyéi Nikoláevitch in one breath.–“So much
the better…. Tell us.”

“As you like … or no: I will not narrate; I am no great hand at
telling a story; it turns out dry and short, or long-drawn-out and
artificial. But if you will permit me, I will write down all that I
remember in a note-book, and will read it aloud to you.”

At first the friends would not consent, but Vladímir Petróvitch
insisted on having his own way. A fortnight later they came together
again, and Vladímir Sergyéitch kept his promise.

This is what his note-book contained.

I

I was sixteen years old at the time. The affair took place in the summer
of 1833.

I was living in Moscow, in my parents’ house. They had hired a villa
near the Kalúga barrier, opposite the Neskútchny Park.[2]–I was
preparing for the university, but was working very little and was not in
a hurry.

No one restricted my freedom. I had done whatever I pleased ever since I
had parted with my last French governor, who was utterly unable to
reconcile himself to the thought that he had fallen “like a bomb”
(_comme une bombe_) into Russia, and with a stubborn expression on his
face, wallowed in bed for whole days at a time. My father treated me in
an indifferently-affectionate way; my mother paid hardly any attention
to me, although she had no children except me: other cares engrossed
her. My father, still a young man and very handsome, had married her
from calculation; she was ten years older than he. My mother led a
melancholy life: she was incessantly in a state of agitation, jealousy,
and wrath–but not in the presence of my father; she was very much
afraid of him, and he maintained a stern, cold, and distant manner…. I
have never seen a man more exquisitely calm, self-confident, and
self-controlled.

I shall never forget the first weeks I spent at the villa. The weather
was magnificent; we had left town the ninth of May, on St. Nicholas’s
day. I rambled,–sometimes in the garden of our villa, sometimes in
Neskútchny Park, sometimes beyond the city barriers; I took with me some
book or other,–a course of Kaidánoff,–but rarely opened it, and
chiefly recited aloud poems, of which I knew a great many by heart. The
blood was fermenting in me, and my heart was aching–so sweetly and
absurdly; I was always waiting for something, shrinking at something,
and wondering at everything, and was all ready for anything at a
moment’s notice. My fancy was beginning to play, and hovered swiftly
ever around the selfsame image, as martins hover round a belfry at
sunset. But even athwart my tears and athwart the melancholy, inspired
now by a melodious verse, now by the beauty of the evening, there peered
forth, like grass in springtime, the joyous sensation of young, bubbling
life.

I had a saddle-horse; I was in the habit of saddling it myself, and
when I rode off alone as far as possible, in some direction, launching
out at a gallop and fancying myself a knight at a tourney–how blithely
the wind whistled in my ears!–Or, turning my face skyward, I welcomed
its beaming light and azure into my open soul.

I remember, at that time, the image of woman, the phantom of woman’s
love, almost never entered my mind in clearly-defined outlines; but in
everything I thought, in everything I felt, there lay hidden the
half-conscious, shamefaced presentiment of something new, inexpressibly
sweet, feminine….

This presentiment, this expectation permeated my whole being; I breathed
it, it coursed through my veins in every drop of blood … it was fated
to be speedily realised.

Our villa consisted of a wooden manor-house with columns, and two tiny
outlying wings; in the wing to the left a tiny factory of cheap
wall-papers was installed…. More than once I went thither to watch how
half a score of gaunt, dishevelled young fellows in dirty smocks and
with tipsy faces were incessantly galloping about at the wooden levers
which jammed down the square blocks of the press, and in that manner, by
the weight of their puny bodies, printed the motley-hued patterns of the
wall-papers. The wing on the right stood empty and was for rent. One
day–three weeks after the ninth of May–the shutters on the windows of
this wing were opened, and women’s faces made their appearance in them;
some family or other had moved into it. I remember how, that same day at
dinner, my mother inquired of the butler who our new neighbours were,
and on hearing the name of Princess Zasyékin, said at first, not without
some respect:–“Ah! a Princess” … and then she added:–“She must be
some poor person!”

“They came in three hired carriages, ma’am,”–remarked the butler, as he
respectfully presented a dish. “They have no carriage of their own,
ma’am, and their furniture is of the very plainest sort.”

“Yes,”–returned my mother,–“and nevertheless, it is better so.”

My father shot a cold glance at her; she subsided into silence.

As a matter of fact, Princess Zasyékin could not be a wealthy woman: the
wing she had hired was so old and tiny and low-roofed that people in the
least well-to-do would not have been willing to inhabit it.–However, I
let this go in at one ear and out at the other. The princely title had
little effect on me: I had recently been reading Schiller’s “The
Brigands.”

II

I had a habit of prowling about our garden every evening, gun in hand,
and standing guard against the crows.–I had long cherished a hatred for
those wary, rapacious and crafty birds. On the day of which I have been
speaking, I went into the garden as usual, and, after having fruitlessly
made the round of all the alleys (the crows recognised me from afar, and
merely cawed spasmodically at a distance), I accidentally approached the
low fence which separated _our_ territory from the narrow strip of
garden extending behind the right-hand wing and appertaining to it. I
was walking along with drooping head. Suddenly I heard voices: I glanced
over the fence–and was petrified…. A strange spectacle presented
itself to me.

A few paces distant from me, on a grass-plot between green
raspberry-bushes, stood a tall, graceful young girl, in a striped, pink
frock and with a white kerchief on her head; around her pressed four
young men, and she was tapping them in turn on the brow with those small
grey flowers, the name of which I do not know, but which are familiar to
children; these little flowers form tiny sacs, and burst with a pop when
they are struck against anything hard. The young men offered their
foreheads to her so willingly, and in the girl’s movements (I saw her
form in profile) there was something so bewitching, caressing, mocking,
and charming, that I almost cried aloud in wonder and pleasure; and I
believe I would have given everything in the world if those lovely
little fingers had only consented to tap me on the brow. My gun slid
down on the grass, I forgot everything, I devoured with my eyes that
slender waist, and the neck and the beautiful arms, and the slightly
ruffled fair hair, the intelligent eyes and those lashes, and the
delicate cheek beneath them….

“Young man, hey there, young man!”–suddenly spoke up a voice near
me:–“Is it permissible to stare like that at strange young ladies?”

I trembled all over, I was stupefied…. Beside me, on the other side of
the fence, stood a man with closely-clipped black hair, gazing
ironically at me. At that same moment, the young girl turned toward
me…. I beheld huge grey eyes in a mobile, animated face–and this
whole face suddenly began to quiver, and to laugh, and the white teeth
gleamed from it, the brows elevated themselves in an amusing way…. I
flushed, picked up my gun from the ground, and, pursued by ringing but
not malicious laughter, I ran to my own room, flung myself on the bed,
and covered my face with my hands. My heart was fairly leaping within
me; I felt very much ashamed and very merry: I experienced an
unprecedented emotion.

After I had rested awhile, I brushed my hair, made myself neat and went
down-stairs to tea. The image of the young girl floated in front of me;
my heart had ceased to leap, but ached in an agreeable sort of way.

“What ails thee?”–my father suddenly asked me:–“hast thou killed a
crow?”

I was on the point of telling him all, but refrained and only smiled to
myself. As I was preparing for bed, I whirled round thrice on one foot,
I know not why, pomaded my hair, got into bed and slept all night like a
dead man. Toward morning I awoke for a moment, raised my head, cast a
glance of rapture around me–and fell asleep again.

III

“How am I to get acquainted with them?” was my first thought, as soon as
I awoke in the morning. I went out into the garden before tea, but did
not approach too close to the fence, and saw no one. After tea I walked
several times up and down the street in front of the villa, and cast a
distant glance at the windows…. I thought I descried _her_ face behind
the curtains, and retreated with all possible despatch. “But I must get
acquainted,”–I thought, as I walked with irregular strides up and down
the sandy stretch which extends in front of the Neskútchny Park … “but
how? that is the question.” I recalled the most trifling incidents of
the meeting on the previous evening; for some reason, her manner of
laughing at me presented itself to me with particular clearness…. But
while I was fretting thus and constructing various plans, Fate was
already providing for me.

During my absence, my mother had received a letter from her new
neighbour on grey paper sealed with brown wax, such as is used only on
postal notices, and on the corks of cheap wine. In this letter, written
in illiterate language, and with a slovenly chirography, the Princess
requested my mother to grant her her protection: my mother, according to
the Princess’s words, was well acquainted with the prominent people on
whom the fortune of herself and her children depended, as she had some
extremely important law-suits: “I apeal tyou,”–she wrote,–“as a knoble
woman to a knoble woman, and moarover, it is agriable to me to makeus of
this oportunity.” In conclusion, she asked permission of my mother to
call upon her. I found my mother in an unpleasant frame of mind: my
father was not at home, and she had no one with whom to take counsel. It
was impossible not to reply to a “knoble woman,” and to a Princess into
the bargain; but how to reply perplexed my mother. It seemed to her
ill-judged to write a note in French, and my mother was not strong in
Russian orthography herself–and was aware of the fact–and did not wish
to compromise herself. She was delighted at my arrival, and immediately
ordered me to go to the Princess and explain to her verbally that my
mother was always ready, to the extent of her ability, to be of service
to Her Radiance,[3] and begged that she would call upon her about one
o’clock.

This unexpectedly swift fulfilment of my secret wishes both delighted
and frightened me; but I did not betray the emotion which held
possession of me, and preliminarily betook myself to my room for the
purpose of donning a new neckcloth and coat; at home I went about in a
round-jacket and turn-over collars, although I detested them greatly.

IV

In the cramped and dirty anteroom of the wing, which I entered with an
involuntary trembling of my whole body, I was received by a grey-haired
old serving-man with a face the hue of dark copper, pig-like, surly
little eyes, and such deep wrinkles on his forehead as I had never seen
before in my life. He was carrying on a platter the gnawed spinal bone
of a herring, and, pushing to with his foot the door which led into the
adjoining room, he said abruptly:–“What do you want?”

“Is Princess Zasyékin at home?”–I inquired.

“Vonifáty!”–screamed a quavering female voice on the other side of the
door.

The servant silently turned his back on me, thereby displaying the
badly-worn rear of his livery with its solitary, rusted, armouried
button, and went away, leaving the platter on the floor.

“Hast thou been to the police-station?”–went on that same feminine
voice. The servant muttered something in reply.–“Hey?… Some one has
come?”–was the next thing audible…. “The young gentleman from next
door?–Well, ask him in.”

“Please come into the drawing-room, sir,”–said the servant, making his
appearance again before me, and picking up the platter from the floor. I
adjusted my attire and entered the “drawing-room.”

I found myself in a tiny and not altogether clean room, with shabby
furniture which seemed to have been hastily set in place. At the window,
in an easy-chair with a broken arm, sat a woman of fifty, with uncovered
hair[4] and plain-featured, clad in an old green gown, and with a
variegated worsted kerchief round her neck. Her small black eyes fairly
bored into me.

I went up to her and made my bow.

“I have the honour of speaking to Princess Zasyékin?”

“I am Princess Zasyékin: and you are the son of Mr. B–?”

“Yes, madam. I have come to you with a message from my mother.”

“Pray be seated. Vonifáty! where are my keys? Hast thou seen them?”

I communicated to Madame Zasyékin my mother’s answer to her note. She
listened to me, tapping the window-pane with her thick, red fingers, and
when I had finished she riveted her eyes on me once more.

“Very good; I shall certainly go,”–said she at last.–“But how young
you are still! How old are you, allow me to ask?”

“Sixteen,”–I replied with involuntary hesitation.

The Princess pulled out of her pocket some dirty, written documents,
raised them up to her very nose and began to sort them over.

“‘Tis a good age,”–she suddenly articulated, turning and fidgeting in
her chair.–“And please do not stand on ceremony. We are plain folks.”

“Too plain,”–I thought, with involuntary disgust taking in with a
glance the whole of her homely figure.

At that moment, the other door of the drawing-room was swiftly thrown
wide open, and on the threshold appeared the young girl whom I had seen
in the garden the evening before. She raised her hand and a smile
flitted across her face.

“And here is my daughter,”–said the Princess, pointing at her with her
elbow.–“Zínotchka, the son of our neighbour, Mr. B–. What is your
name, permit me to inquire?”

“Vladímir,”–I replied, rising and lisping with agitation.

“And your patronymic?”

“Petróvitch.”

“Yes! I once had an acquaintance, a chief of police, whose name was
Vladímir Petróvitch also. Vonifáty! don’t hunt for the keys; the keys
are in my pocket.”

The young girl continued to gaze at me with the same smile as before,
slightly puckering up her eyes and bending her head a little on one
side.

“I have already seen M’sieu Voldemar,”–she began. (The silvery tone of
her voice coursed through me like a sweet chill.)–“Will you permit me
to call you so?”

“Pray do, madam,”–I lisped.

“Where was that?”–asked the Princess.

The young Princess did not answer her mother.

“Are you busy now?”–she said, without taking her eyes off me.

“Not in the least, madam.”

“Then will you help me to wind some wool? Come hither, to me.”

She nodded her head at me and left the drawing-room. I followed her.

In the room which we entered the furniture was a little better and was
arranged with great taste.–But at that moment I was almost unable to
notice anything; I moved as though in a dream and felt a sort of intense
sensation of well-being verging on stupidity throughout my frame.

The young Princess sat down, produced a knot of red wool, and pointing
me to a chair opposite her, she carefully unbound the skein and placed
it on my hands. She did all this in silence, with a sort of diverting
deliberation, and with the same brilliant and crafty smile on her
slightly parted lips. She began to wind the wool upon a card doubled
together, and suddenly illumined me with such a clear, swift glance,
that I involuntarily dropped my eyes. When her eyes, which were
generally half closed, opened to their full extent her face underwent a
complete change; it was as though light had inundated it.

“What did you think of me yesterday, M’sieu Voldemar?”–she asked, after
a brief pause.–“You certainly must have condemned me?”

“I … Princess … I thought nothing … how can I….” I replied, in
confusion.

“Listen,”–she returned.–“You do not know me yet; I want people always
to speak the truth to me. You are sixteen, I heard, and I am twenty-one;
you see that I am a great deal older than you, and therefore you must
always speak the truth to me … and obey me,”–she added.–“Look at me;
why don’t you look at me?”

I became still more confused; but I raised my eyes to hers,
nevertheless. She smiled, only not in her former manner, but with a
different, an approving smile.–“Look at me,”–she said, caressingly
lowering her voice:–“I don’t like that…. Your face pleases me; I
foresee that we shall be friends. And do you like me?”–she added slyly.

“Princess….” I was beginning….

“In the first place, call me Zinaída Alexándrovna; and in the second
place,–what sort of a habit is it for children”–(she corrected
herself)–“for young men–not to say straight out what they feel? You do
like me, don’t you?”

Although it was very pleasant to me to have her talk so frankly to me,
still I was somewhat nettled. I wanted to show her that she was not
dealing with a small boy, and, assuming as easy and serious a mien as I
could, I said:–“Of course I like you very much, Zinaída Alexándrovna; I
have no desire to conceal the fact.”

She shook her head, pausing at intervals.–“Have you a governor?”–she
suddenly inquired.

“No, I have not had a governor this long time past.”

I lied: a month had not yet elapsed since I had parted with my
Frenchman.

“Oh, yes, I see: you are quite grown up.”

She slapped me lightly on the fingers.–“Hold your hands straight!”–And
she busied herself diligently with winding her ball.

I took advantage of the fact that she did not raise her eyes, and set to
scrutinising her, first by stealth, then more and more boldly. Her face
seemed to me even more charming than on the day before: everything about
it was so delicate, intelligent and lovely. She was sitting with her
back to the window, which was hung with a white shade; a ray of sunlight
making its way through that shade inundated with a flood of light her
fluffy golden hair, her innocent neck, sloping shoulders, and calm,
tender bosom.–I gazed at her–and how near and dear she became to me!
It seemed to me both that I had known her for a long time and that I had
known nothing and had not lived before she came…. She wore a rather
dark, already shabby gown, with an apron; I believe I would willingly
have caressed every fold of that gown and of that apron. The tips of her
shoes peeped out from under her gown; I would have bowed down to those
little boots…. “And here I sit, in front of her,”–I thought.–“I
have become acquainted with her … what happiness, my God!” I came
near bouncing out of my chair with rapture, but I merely dangled my feet
to and fro a little, like a child who is enjoying dainties.

I felt as much at my ease as a fish does in water, and I would have
liked never to leave that room again as long as I lived.

Her eyelids slowly rose, and again her brilliant eyes beamed caressingly
before me, and again she laughed.

“How you stare at me!”–she said slowly, shaking her finger at me.

I flushed scarlet…. “She understands all, she sees all,”–flashed
through my head. “And how could she fail to see and understand all?”

Suddenly there was a clattering in the next room, and a sword clanked.

“Zína!”–screamed the old Princess from the drawing-room.–“Byelovzóroff
has brought thee a kitten.”

“A kitten!”–cried Zinaída, and springing headlong from her chair, she
flung the ball on my knees and ran out.

I also rose, and, laying the skein of wool on the window-sill, went into
the drawing-room, and stopped short in amazement. In the centre of the
room lay a kitten with outstretched paws; Zinaída was kneeling in front
of it, and carefully raising its snout. By the side of the young
Princess, taking up nearly the entire wall-space between the windows,
was visible a fair-complexioned, curly-haired young man, a hussar, with
a rosy face and protruding eyes.

“How ridiculous!”–Zinaída kept repeating:–“and its eyes are not grey,
but green, and what big ears it has! Thank you, Viktór Egóritch! you are
very kind.”

The hussar, in whom I recognised one of the young men whom I had seen on
the preceding evening, smiled and bowed, clicking his spurs and clanking
the links of his sword as he did so.

“You were pleased to say yesterday that you wished to possess a striped
kitten with large ears … so I have got it, madam. Your word is my
law.”–And again he bowed.

The kitten mewed faintly, and began to sniff at the floor.

“He is hungry!”–cried Zinaída.–“Vonifáty! Sónya! bring some milk.”

The chambermaid, in an old yellow gown and with a faded kerchief on her
head, entered with a saucer of milk in her hand, and placed it in front
of the kitten. The kitten quivered, blinked, and began to lap.

“What a rosy tongue it has,”–remarked Zinaída, bending her head down
almost to the floor, and looking sideways at it, under its very nose.

The kitten drank its fill, and began to purr, affectedly contracting and
relaxing its paws. Zinaída rose to her feet, and turning to the maid,
said indifferently:–“Take it away.”

“Your hand–in return for the kitten,”–said the hussar, displaying his
teeth, and bending over the whole of his huge body, tightly confined in
a new uniform.

“Both hands,”–replied Zinaída, offering him her hands. While he was
kissing them, she gazed at me over his shoulder.

I stood motionless on one spot, and did not know whether to laugh or to
say something, or to hold my peace. Suddenly, through the open door of
the anteroom, the figure of our footman, Feódor, caught my eye. He was
making signs to me. I mechanically went out to him.

“What dost thou want?”–I asked.

“Your mamma has sent for you,”–he said in a whisper.–“She is angry
because you do not return with an answer.”

“Why, have I been here long?”

“More than an hour.”

“More than an hour!”–I repeated involuntarily, and returning to the
drawing-room, I began to bow and scrape my foot.

“Where are you going?”–the young Princess asked me, with a glance at
the hussar.

“I must go home, madam. So I am to say,”–I added, addressing the old
woman,–“that you will call upon us at two o’clock.”

“Say that, my dear fellow.”

The old Princess hurriedly drew out her snuffbox, and took a pinch so
noisily that I fairly jumped.–“Say that,”–she repeated, tearfully
blinking and grunting.

I bowed once more, turned and left the room with the same sensation of
awkwardness in my back which a very young man experiences when he knows
that people are staring after him.

“Look here, M’sieu Voldemar, you must drop in to see us,”–called
Zinaída, and again burst out laughing.

“What makes her laugh all the time?” I thought, as I wended my way home
accompanied by Feódor, who said nothing to me, but moved along
disapprovingly behind me. My mother reproved me, and inquired, with
surprise, “What could I have been doing so long at the Princess’s?” I
made her no answer, and went off to my own room. I had suddenly grown
very melancholy…. I tried not to weep…. I was jealous of the hussar.

V

The Princess, according to her promise, called on my mother, and did not
please her. I was not present at their meeting, but at table my mother
narrated to my father that that Princess Zasyékin seemed to her a _femme
très vulgaire_; that she had bored her immensely with her requests that
she would intervene on her behalf with Prince Sergyéi; that she was
always having such law-suits and affairs,–_de vilaines affaires
d’argent_,–and that she must be a great rogue. But my mother added that
she had invited her with her daughter to dine on the following day (on
hearing the words “with her daughter,” I dropped my nose into my
plate),–because, notwithstanding, she was a neighbour, and with a name.
Thereupon my father informed my mother that he now recalled who the lady
was: that in his youth he had known the late Prince Zasyékin, a
capitally-educated but flighty and captious man; that in society he was
called “_le Parisien_,” because of his long residence in Paris; that he
had been very wealthy, but had gambled away all his property–and, no
one knew why, though probably it had been for the sake of the
money,–“although he might have made a better choice,”–added my father,
with a cold smile,–he had married the daughter of some clerk in a
chancellery, and after his marriage had gone into speculation, and
ruined himself definitively.

“‘Tis a wonder she did not try to borrow money,”–remarked my mother.

“She is very likely to do it,”–said my father, calmly.–“Does she speak
French?”

“Very badly.”

“M-m-m. However, that makes no difference. I think thou saidst that
thou hadst invited her daughter; some one assured me that she is a very
charming and well-educated girl.”

“Ah! Then she does not take after her mother.”

“Nor after her father,”–returned my father.–“He was also well
educated, but stupid.”

My mother sighed, and became thoughtful. My father relapsed into
silence. I felt very awkward during the course of that conversation.

After dinner I betook myself to the garden, but without my gun. I had
pledged my word to myself that I would not go near the “Zasyékin
garden”; but an irresistible force drew me thither, and not in vain. I
had no sooner approached the fence than I caught sight of Zinaída. This
time she was alone. She was holding a small book in her hands and
strolling slowly along the path. She did not notice me. I came near
letting her slip past; but suddenly caught myself up and coughed.

She turned round but did not pause, put aside with one hand the broad
blue ribbon of her round straw hat, looked at me, smiled quietly, and
again riveted her eyes on her book.

I pulled off my cap, and after fidgeting about a while on one spot, I
went away with a heavy heart. “_Que suis-je pour elle?_”–I thought (God
knows why) in French.

Familiar footsteps resounded behind me; I glanced round and beheld my
father advancing toward me with swift, rapid strides.

“Is that the young Princess?”–he asked me.

“Yes.”

“Dost thou know her?”

“I saw her this morning at the Princess her mother’s.”

My father halted and, wheeling abruptly round on his heels, retraced his
steps. As he came on a level with Zinaída he bowed courteously to her.
She bowed to him in return, not without some surprise on her face, and
lowered her book. I saw that she followed him with her eyes. My father
always dressed very elegantly, originally and simply; but his figure had
never seemed to me more graceful, never had his grey hat sat more
handsomely on his curls, which were barely beginning to grow thin.

I was on the point of directing my course toward Zinaída, but she did
not even look at me, but raised her book once more and walked away.

VI

I spent the whole of that evening and the following day in a sort of
gloomy stupor. I remember that I made an effort to work, and took up
Kaidánoff; but in vain did the large-printed lines and pages of the
famous text-book flit before my eyes. Ten times in succession I read the
words: “Julius Cæsar was distinguished for military daring,” without
understanding a word, and I flung aside my book. Before dinner I pomaded
my hair again, and again donned my frock-coat and neckerchief.

“What’s that for?”–inquired my mother.–“Thou art not a student yet,
and God knows whether thou wilt pass thy examination. And thy
round-jacket was made not very long ago. Thou must not discard it!”

“There are to be guests,”–I whispered, almost in despair.

“What nonsense! What sort of guests are they?”

I was compelled to submit. I exchanged my coat for my round-jacket, but
did not remove my neckerchief. The Princess and her daughter made their
appearance half an hour before dinner; the old woman had thrown a yellow
shawl over her green gown, with which I was familiar, and had donned an
old-fashioned mob-cap with ribbons of a fiery hue. She immediately began
to talk about her notes of hand, to sigh and to bewail her poverty, and
to “importune,” but did not stand in the least upon ceremony; and she
took snuff noisily and fidgeted and wriggled in her chair as before. It
never seemed to enter her head that she was a Princess. On the other
hand, Zinaída bore herself very stiffly, almost haughtily, like a real
young Princess. Cold impassivity and dignity had made their appearance
on her countenance, and I did not recognise her,–did not recognise her
looks or her smile, although in this new aspect she seemed to me very
beautiful. She wore a thin barège gown with pale-blue figures; her hair
fell in long curls along her cheeks, in the English fashion: this
coiffure suited the cold expression of her face.

My father sat beside her during dinner, and with the exquisite and
imperturbable courtesy which was characteristic of him, showed attention
to his neighbour. He glanced at her from time to time, and she glanced
at him now and then, but in such a strange, almost hostile, manner.
Their conversation proceeded in French;–I remember that I was surprised
at the purity of Zinaída’s accent. The old Princess, as before, did not
restrain herself in the slightest degree during dinner, but ate a great
deal and praised the food. My mother evidently found her wearisome, and
answered her with a sort of sad indifference; my father contracted his
brows in a slight frown from time to time. My mother did not like
Zinaída either.

“She’s a haughty young sprig,”–she said the next day.–“And when one
comes to think of it, what is there for her to be proud of?–_avec sa
mine de grisette_!”

“Evidently, thou hast not seen any grisettes,”–my father remarked to
her.

“Of course I haven’t, God be thanked!… Only, how art thou capable of
judging of them?”

Zinaída paid absolutely no attention whatever to me. Soon after dinner
the old Princess began to take her leave.

“I shall rely upon your protection, Márya Nikoláevna and Piótr
Vasílitch,”–she said, in a sing-song tone, to my father and
mother.–“What is to be done! I have seen prosperous days, but they are
gone. Here am I a Radiance,”–she added, with an unpleasant laugh,–“but
what’s the good of an honour when you’ve nothing to eat?”–My father
bowed respectfully to her and escorted her to the door of the anteroom.
I was standing there in my round-jacket, and staring at the floor, as
though condemned to death. Zinaída’s behaviour toward me had
definitively annihilated me. What, then, was my amazement when, as she
passed me, she whispered to me hastily, and with her former affectionate
expression in her eyes:–“Come to us at eight o’clock, do you hear?
without fail….” I merely threw my hands apart in amazement;–but she
was already retreating, having thrown a white scarf over her head.

VII

Precisely at eight o’clock I entered the tiny wing inhabited by the
Princess, clad in my coat, and with my hair brushed up into a crest on
top of my head. The old servant glared surlily at me, and rose
reluctantly from his bench. Merry voices resounded in the drawing-room.
I opened the door and retreated a pace in astonishment. In the middle of
the room, on a chair, stood the young Princess, holding a man’s hat in
front of her; around the chair thronged five men. They were trying to
dip their hands into the hat, but she kept raising it on high and
shaking it violently. On catching sight of me she exclaimed:–

“Stay, stay! Here’s a new guest; he must be given a ticket,”–and
springing lightly from the chair, she seized me by the lapel of my
coat.–“Come along,”–said she;–“why do you stand there? Messieurs,
allow me to make you acquainted: this is Monsieur Voldemar, the son of
our neighbour. And this,”–she added, turning to me, and pointing to the
visitors in turn,–“is Count Malévsky, Doctor Lúshin, the poet
Maidánoff, retired Captain Nirmátzky, and Byelovzóroff the hussar, whom
you have already seen. I beg that you will love and favour each other.”

I was so confused that I did not even bow to any one; in Doctor Lúshin I
recognised that same swarthy gentleman who had so ruthlessly put me to
shame in the garden; the others were strangers to me.

“Count!”–pursued Zinaída,–“write a ticket for M’sieu Voldemar.”

“That is unjust,”–returned the Count, with a slight accent,–a very
handsome and foppishly-attired man, with a dark complexion, expressive
brown eyes, a thin, white little nose, and a slender moustache over his
tiny mouth.–“He has not been playing at forfeits with us.”

“‘Tis unjust,”–repeated Byelovzóroff and the gentleman who had been
alluded to as the retired Captain,–a man of forty, horribly pockmarked,
curly-haired as a negro, round-shouldered, bow-legged, and dressed in a
military coat without epaulets, worn open on the breast.

“Write a ticket, I tell you,”–repeated the Princess.–“What sort of a
rebellion is this? M’sieu Voldemar is with us for the first time, and
to-day no law applies to him. No grumbling–write; I will have it so.”

The Count shrugged his shoulders, but submissively bowing his head, he
took a pen in his white, ring-decked hand, tore off a scrap of paper and
began to write on it.

“Permit me at least to explain to M’sieu Voldemar what it is all
about,”–began Lúshin, in a bantering tone;–“otherwise he will be
utterly at a loss. You see, young man, we are playing at forfeits; the
Princess must pay a fine, and the one who draws out the lucky ticket
must kiss her hand. Do you understand what I have told you?”

I merely glanced at him and continued to stand as though in a fog, while
the Princess again sprang upon the chair and again began to shake the
hat. All reached up to her–I among the rest.

“Maidánoff,”–said the Princess to the tall young man with a gaunt face,
tiny mole-like eyes and extremely long, black hair,–“you, as a poet,
ought to be magnanimous and surrender your ticket to M’sieu Voldemar, so
that he may have two chances instead of one.”

But Maidánoff shook his head in refusal and tossed his hair. I put in my
hand into the hat after all the rest, drew out and unfolded a ticket….
O Lord! what were my sensations when I beheld on it, “Kiss!”

“Kiss!”–I cried involuntarily.

“Bravo! He has won,”–chimed in the Princess.–“How delighted I
am!”–She descended from the chair, and gazed into my eyes so clearly
and sweetly that my heart fairly laughed with joy.–“And are you
glad?”–she asked me.

“I?” … I stammered.

“Sell me your ticket,”–suddenly blurted out Byelovzóroff, right in my
ear.–“I’ll give you one hundred rubles for it.”

I replied to the hussar by such a wrathful look that Zinaída clapped
her hands, and Lúshin cried:–“That’s a gallant fellow!”

“But,”–he went on,–“in my capacity of master of ceremonies, I am bound
to see that all the regulations are carried out. M’sieu Voldemar, get
down on one knee. That is our rule.”

Zinaída stood before me with her head bent a little to one side, as
though the better to scrutinise me, and offered me her hand with
dignity. Things grew dim before my eyes; I tried to get down on one
knee, plumped down on both knees, and applied my lips to Zinaída’s
fingers in so awkward a manner that I scratched the tip of my nose
slightly on her nails.

“Good!”–shouted Lúshin, and helped me to rise.

The game of forfeits continued. Zinaída placed me beside her. What
penalties they did invent! Among other things, she had to impersonate a
“statue”–and she selected as a pedestal the monstrously homely
Nirmátzky, ordering him to lie flat on the floor, and to tuck his face
into his breast. The laughter did not cease for a single moment. All
this noise and uproar, this unceremonious, almost tumultuous merriment,
these unprecedented relations with strangers, fairly flew to my head;
for I was a boy who had been reared soberly, and in solitude, and had
grown up in a stately home of gentry. I became simply intoxicated, as
though with wine. I began to shout with laughter and chatter more
loudly than the rest, so that even the old Princess, who was sitting in
the adjoining room with some sort of pettifogger from the Íversky
Gate[5] who had been summoned for a conference, came out to take a look
at me. But I felt so happy that, as the saying is, I didn’t care a
farthing for anybody’s ridicule, or anybody’s oblique glances.

Zinaída continued to display a preference for me and never let me leave
her side. In one forfeit I was made to sit by her, covered up with one
and the same silk kerchief: I was bound to tell her _my secret_. I
remember how our two heads found themselves suddenly in choking,
semi-transparent, fragrant gloom; how near and softly her eyes sparkled
in that gloom, and how hotly her parted lips breathed; and her teeth
were visible, and the tips of her hair tickled and burned me. I
maintained silence. She smiled mysteriously and slyly, and at last
whispered to me: “Well, what is it?” But I merely flushed and laughed,
and turned away, and could hardly draw my breath. We got tired of
forfeits, and began to play “string.” Good heavens! what rapture I felt
when, forgetting myself with gaping, I received from her a strong, sharp
rap on my fingers; and how afterward I tried to pretend that I was
yawning with inattention, but she mocked at me and did not touch my
hands, which were awaiting the blow!

But what a lot of other pranks we played that same evening! We played on
the piano, and sang, and danced, and represented a gipsy camp. We
dressed Nirmátzky up like a bear, and fed him with water and salt. Count
Malévsky showed us several card tricks, and ended by stacking the cards
and dealing himself all the trumps at whist; upon which Lúshin “had the
honour of congratulating him.” Maidánoff declaimed to us fragments from
his poem, “The Murderer” (this occurred in the very thick of
romanticism), which he intended to publish in a black binding, with the
title in letters of the colour of blood. We stole his hat from the knees
of the pettifogger from the Íversky Gate, and made him dance the kazák
dance by way of redeeming it. We dressed old Vonifáty up in a mob-cap,
and the young Princess put on a man’s hat…. It is impossible to
recount all we did. Byelovzóroff alone remained most of the time in a
corner, angry and frowning…. Sometimes his eyes became suffused with
blood, he grew scarlet all over and seemed to be on the very point of
swooping down upon all of us and scattering us on all sides, like chips;
but the Princess glanced at him, menaced him with her finger, and again
he retired into his corner.

We were completely exhausted at last. The old Princess was equal to
anything, as she put it,–no shouts disconcerted her,–but she felt
tired and wished to rest. At midnight supper was served, consisting of a
bit of old, dry cheese and a few cold patties filled with minced ham,
which seemed to us more savoury than any pasty; there was only one
bottle of wine, and that was rather queer:–dark, with a swollen neck,
and the wine in it left an after-taste of pinkish dye; however, no one
drank it. Weary and happy to exhaustion, I emerged from the wing; a
thunder-storm seemed to be brewing; the black storm-clouds grew larger
and crept across the sky, visibly altering their smoky outlines. A light
breeze was uneasily quivering in the dark trees, and somewhere beyond
the horizon the thunder was growling angrily and dully, as though to
itself.

I made my way through the back door to my room. My nurse-valet was
sleeping on the floor and I was obliged to step over him; he woke up,
saw me, and reported that my mother was angry with me, and had wanted to
send after me again, but that my father had restrained her. I never went
to bed without having bidden my mother good night and begged her
blessing. There was no help for it! I told my valet that I would undress
myself and go to bed unaided,–and extinguished the candle. But I did
not undress and I did not go to bed.

I seated myself on a chair and sat there for a long time, as though
enchanted. That which I felt was so new and so sweet…. I sat there,
hardly looking around me and without moving, breathing slowly, and only
laughing silently now, as I recalled, now inwardly turning cold at the
thought that I was in love, that here it was, that love. Zinaída’s face
floated softly before me in the darkness–floated, but did not float
away; her lips still smiled as mysteriously as ever, her eyes gazed
somewhat askance at me, interrogatively, thoughtfully and tenderly …
as at the moment when I had parted from her. At last I rose on tiptoe,
stepped to my bed and cautiously, without undressing, laid my head on
the pillow, as though endeavouring by the sharp movement to frighten off
that wherewith I was filled to overflowing….

I lay down, but did not even close an eye. I speedily perceived that
certain faint reflections kept constantly falling into my room…. I
raised myself and looked out of the window. Its frame was distinctly
defined from the mysteriously and confusedly whitened panes. “‘Tis the
thunder-storm,”–I thought,–and so, in fact, there was a thunder-storm;
but it had passed very far away, so that even the claps of thunder were
not audible; only in the sky long, indistinct, branching flashes of
lightning, as it were, were uninterruptedly flashing up. They were not
flashing up so much as they were quivering and twitching, like the wing
of a dying bird. I rose, went to the window, and stood there until
morning…. The lightning-flashes never ceased for a moment; it was what
is called a pitch-black night. I gazed at the dumb, sandy plain, at the
dark mass of the Neskútchny Park, at the yellowish façades of the
distant buildings, which also seemed to be trembling at every faint
flash…. I gazed, and could not tear myself away; those dumb
lightning-flashes, those restrained gleams, seemed to be responding to
the dumb and secret outbursts which were flaring up within me also.
Morning began to break; the dawn started forth in scarlet patches. With
the approach of the sun the lightning-flashes grew paler and paler; they
quivered more and more infrequently, and vanished at last, drowned in
the sobering and unequivocal light of the breaking day.

And my lightning-flashes vanished within me also. I felt great fatigue
and tranquillity … but Zinaída’s image continued to hover triumphantly
over my soul. Only it, that image, seemed calm; like a flying swan from
the marshy sedges, it separated itself from the other ignoble figures
which surrounded it, and as I fell asleep, I bowed down before it for
the last time in farewell and confiding adoration….

Oh, gentle emotions, soft sounds, kindness and calming of the
deeply-moved soul, melting joy of the first feelings of love,–where are
ye, where are ye?

VIII

On the following morning, when I went down-stairs to tea, my mother
scolded me,–although less than I had anticipated,–and made me narrate
how I had spent the preceding evening. I answered her in few words,
omitting many particulars and endeavouring to impart to my narrative the
most innocent of aspects.

“Nevertheless, they are not people _comme il faut_,”–remarked my
mother;–“and I do not wish thee to run after them, instead of preparing
thyself for the examination, and occupying thyself.”

As I knew that my mother’s anxiety was confined to these few words, I
did not consider it necessary to make her any reply; but after tea my
father linked his arm in mine, and betaking himself to the garden with
me, made me tell him everything I had done and seen at the Zasyékins’.

My father possessed a strange influence over me, and our relations were
strange. He paid hardly any attention to my education, but he never
wounded me; he respected my liberty–he was even, if I may so express
it, courteous to me … only, he did not allow me to get close to him.
I loved him, I admired him; he seemed to me a model man; and great
heavens! how passionately attached to him I should have been, had I not
constantly felt his hand warding me off! On the other hand, when he
wished, he understood how to evoke in me, instantaneously, with one
word, one movement, unbounded confidence in him. My soul opened, I
chatted with him as with an intelligent friend, as with an indulgent
preceptor … then, with equal suddenness, he abandoned me, and again
his hand repulsed me, caressingly and softly, but repulsed nevertheless.

Sometimes a fit of mirth came over him, and then he was ready to frolic
and play with me like a boy (he was fond of every sort of energetic
bodily exercise); once–only once–did he caress me with so much
tenderness that I came near bursting into tears…. But his mirth and
tenderness also vanished without leaving a trace, and what had taken
place between us gave me no hopes for the future; it was just as though
I had seen it all in a dream. I used to stand and scrutinise his clever,
handsome, brilliant face … and my heart would begin to quiver, and my
whole being would yearn toward him, … and he would seem to feel what
was going on within me, and would pat me on the cheek in passing–and
either go away, or begin to occupy himself with something, or suddenly
freeze all over,–as he alone knew how to freeze,–and I would
immediately shrivel up and grow frigid also. His rare fits of affection
for me were never called forth by my speechless but intelligible
entreaties; they always came upon him without warning. When meditating,
in after years, upon my father’s character, I came to the conclusion
that he did not care for me or for family life; he loved something
different, and enjoyed that other thing to the full. “Seize what thou
canst thyself, and do not give thyself into any one’s power; the whole
art of life consists in belonging to one’s self,”–he said to me once.
On another occasion I, in my capacity of a young democrat, launched out
in his presence into arguments about liberty (he was what I called
“kind” that day; at such times one could say whatever one liked to
him).–“Liberty,”–he repeated,–“but dost thou know what can give a man
liberty?”

“What?”

“Will, his own will, and the power which it gives is better than
liberty. Learn to will, and thou wilt be free, and wilt command.”

My father wished, first of all and most of all, to enjoy life–and he
did enjoy life…. Perhaps he had a presentiment that he was not fated
long to take advantage of the “art” of living: he died at the age of
forty-two.

I described to my father in detail my visit to the Zasyékins. He
listened to me half-attentively, half-abstractedly, as he sat on the
bench and drew figures on the sand with the tip of his riding-whip. Now
and then he laughed, glanced at me in a brilliant, amused sort of way,
and spurred me on by brief questions and exclamations. At first I could
not bring myself even to utter Zinaída’s name, but I could not hold out,
and began to laud her. My father still continued to laugh. Then he
became thoughtful, dropped his eyes and rose to his feet.

I recalled the fact that, as he came out of the house, he had given
orders that his horse should be saddled. He was a capital rider, and
knew much better how to tame the wildest horses than did Mr. Rarey.

“Shall I ride with thee, papa?”–I asked him.

“No,”–he replied, and his face assumed its habitual
indifferently-caressing expression.–“Go alone, if thou wishest; but
tell the coachman that I shall not go.”

He turned his back on me and walked swiftly away. I followed him with my
eyes, until he disappeared beyond the gate. I saw his hat moving along
the fence; he went into the Zasyékins’ house.

He remained with them no more than an hour, but immediately thereafter
went off to town and did not return home until evening.

After dinner I went to the Zasyékins’ myself. I found no one in the
drawing-room but the old Princess. When she saw me, she scratched her
head under her cap with the end of her knitting-needle, and suddenly
asked me: would I copy a petition for her?

“With pleasure,”–I replied, and sat down on the edge of a chair.

“Only look out, and see that you make the letters as large as
possible,”–said the Princess, handing me a sheet of paper scrawled over
in a slovenly manner:–“and couldn’t you do it to-day, my dear fellow?”

“I will copy it this very day, madam.”

The door of the adjoining room opened a mere crack and Zinaída’s face
showed itself in the aperture,–pale, thoughtful, with hair thrown
carelessly back. She stared at me with her large, cold eyes, and softly
shut the door.

“Zína,–hey there, Zína!”–said the old woman. Zinaída did not answer. I
carried away the old woman’s petition, and sat over it the whole
evening.

IX

My “passion” began with that day. I remember that I then felt something
of that which a man must feel when he enters the service: I had already
ceased to be a young lad; I was in love. I have said that my passion
dated from that day; I might have added that my sufferings also dated
from that day. I languished when absent from Zinaída; my mind would not
work, everything fell from my hands; I thought intently of her for days
together…. I languished … but in her presence I was no more at ease.
I was jealous, I recognised my insignificance, I stupidly sulked and
stupidly fawned; and, nevertheless, an irresistible force drew me to
her, and every time I stepped across the threshold of her room, it was
with an involuntary thrill of happiness. Zinaída immediately divined
that I had fallen in love with her, and I never thought of concealing
the fact; she mocked at my passion, played tricks on me, petted and
tormented me. It is sweet to be the sole source, the autocratic and
irresponsible cause of the greatest joys and the profoundest woe to
another person, and I was like soft wax in Zinaída’s hands. However, I
was not the only one who was in love with her; all the men who were in
the habit of visiting her house were crazy over her, and she kept them
all in a leash at her feet. It amused her to arouse in them now hopes,
now fears, to twist them about at her caprice (she called it, “knocking
people against one another”),–and they never thought of resisting, and
willingly submitted to her. In all her vivacious and beautiful being
there was a certain peculiarly bewitching mixture of guilefulness and
heedlessness, of artificiality and simplicity, of tranquillity and
playfulness; over everything she did or said, over her every movement,
hovered a light, delicate charm, and an original, sparkling force made
itself felt in everything. And her face was incessantly changing and
sparkling also; it expressed almost simultaneously derision,
pensiveness, and passion. The most varied emotions, light, fleeting as
the shadows of the clouds on a sunny, windy day, kept flitting over her
eyes and lips.

Every one of her adorers was necessary to her. Byelovzóroff, whom she
sometimes called “my wild beast,” and sometimes simply “my own,” would
gladly have flung himself into the fire for her; without trusting to his
mental capacities and other merits, he kept proposing that he should
marry her, and hinting that the others were merely talking idly.
Maidánoff responded to the poetical chords of her soul: a rather cold
man, as nearly all writers are, he assured her with intense force–and
perhaps himself also–that he adored her. He sang her praises in
interminable verses and read them to her with an unnatural and a genuine
sort of enthusiasm. And she was interested in him and jeered lightly at
him; she did not believe in him greatly, and after listening to his
effusions she made him read Púshkin, in order, as she said, to purify
the air. Lúshin, the sneering doctor, who was cynical in speech, knew
her best of all and loved her best of all, although he abused her to her
face and behind her back. She respected him, but would not let him go,
and sometimes, with a peculiar, malicious pleasure, made him feel that
he was in her hands. “I am a coquette, I am heartless, I have the nature
of an actress,” she said to him one day in my presence; “and ’tis well!
So give me your hand and I will stick a pin into it, and you will feel
ashamed before this young man, and it will hurt you; but nevertheless,
Mr. Upright Man, you will be so good as to laugh.” Lúshin flushed
crimson, turned away and bit his lips, but ended by putting out his
hand. She pricked it, and he actually did break out laughing … and she
laughed also, thrusting the pin in pretty deeply and gazing into his
eyes while he vainly endeavoured to glance aside….

I understood least of all the relations existing between Zinaída and
Count Malévsky. That he was handsome, adroit, and clever even I felt,
but the presence in him of some false, dubious element, was palpable
even to me, a lad of sixteen, and I was amazed that Zinaída did not
notice it. But perhaps she did detect that false element and it did not
repel her. An irregular education, strange acquaintances, the constant
presence of her mother, the poverty and disorder in the house–all this,
beginning with the very freedom which the young girl enjoyed, together
with the consciousness of her own superiority to the people who
surrounded her, had developed in her a certain half-scornful
carelessness and lack of exaction. No matter what happened–whether
Vonifáty came to report that there was no sugar, or some wretched bit
of gossip came to light, or the visitors got into a quarrel among
themselves, she merely shook her curls, and said: “Nonsense!”–and
grieved very little over it.

On the contrary, all my blood would begin to seethe when Malévsky would
approach her, swaying his body cunningly like a fox, lean elegantly over
the back of her chair and begin to whisper in her ear with a conceited
and challenging smile, while she would fold her arms on her breast, gaze
attentively at him and smile also, shaking her head the while.

“What possesses you to receive Malévsky?”–I asked her one day.

“Why, he has such handsome eyes,”–she replied.–“But that is no
business of yours.”

“You are not to think that I am in love with him,”–she said to me on
another occasion.–“No; I cannot love people upon whom I am forced to
look down. I must have some one who can subdue me…. And I shall not
hit upon such an one, for God is merciful! I shall not spare any one who
falls into my paws–no, no!”

“Do you mean to say that you will never fall in love?”

“And how about you? Don’t I love you?”–she said, tapping me on the nose
with the tip of her glove.

Yes, Zinaída made great fun of me. For the space of three weeks I saw
her every day; and what was there that she did not do to me! She came to
us rarely, but I did not regret that; in our house she was converted
into a young lady, a Princess,–and I avoided her. I was afraid of
betraying myself to my mother; she was not at all well disposed toward
Zinaída, and kept a disagreeable watch on us. I was not so much afraid
of my father; he did not appear to notice me, and talked little with
her, but that little in a peculiarly clever and significant manner. I
ceased to work, to read; I even ceased to stroll about the environs and
to ride on horseback. Like a beetle tied by the leg, I hovered
incessantly around the beloved wing; I believe I would have liked to
remain there forever … but that was impossible. My mother grumbled at
me, and sometimes Zinaída herself drove me out. On such occasions I shut
myself up in my own room, or walked off to the very end of the garden,
climbed upon the sound remnant of a tall stone hothouse, and dangling my
legs over the wall, I sat there for hours and stared,–stared without
seeing anything. White butterflies lazily flitted among the nettles
beside me; an audacious sparrow perched not far off on the
half-demolished red bricks and twittered in an irritating manner,
incessantly twisting his whole body about and spreading out his tail;
the still distrustful crows now and then emitted a caw, as they sat
high, high above me on the naked crest of a birch-tree; the sun and the
wind played softly through its sparse branches; the chiming of the
bells, calm and melancholy, at the Don Monastery was wafted to me now
and then,–and I sat on, gazing and listening, and became filled with a
certain nameless sensation which embraced everything: sadness and joy,
and a presentiment of the future, and the desire and the fear of life.
But I understood nothing at the time of all that which was fermenting
within me, or I would have called it all by one name, the name of
Zinaída.

But Zinaída continued to play with me as a cat plays with a mouse. Now
she coquetted with me, and I grew agitated and melted with emotion; now
she repulsed me, and I dared not approach her, dared not look at her.

I remember that she was very cold toward me for several days in
succession and I thoroughly quailed, and when I timidly ran to the wing
to see them, I tried to keep near the old Princess, despite the fact
that she was scolding and screaming a great deal just at that time: her
affairs connected with her notes of hand were going badly, and she had
also had two scenes with the police-captain of the precinct.

One day I was walking through the garden, past the familiar fence, when
I caught sight of Zinaída. Propped up on both arms, she was sitting
motionless on the grass. I tried to withdraw cautiously, but she
suddenly raised her head and made an imperious sign to me. I became
petrified on the spot; I did not understand her the first time. She
repeated her sign. I immediately sprang over the fence and ran joyfully
to her; but she stopped me with a look and pointed to the path a couple
of paces from her. In my confusion, not knowing what to do, I knelt down
on the edge of the path. She was so pale, such bitter grief, such
profound weariness were revealed in her every feature, that my heart
contracted within me, and I involuntarily murmured: “What is the matter
with you?”

Zinaída put out her hand, plucked a blade of grass, bit it, and tossed
it away as far as she could.

“Do you love me very much?”–she inquired suddenly.–“Yes?”

I made no answer,–and what answer was there for me to make?

“Yes,”–she repeated, gazing at me as before.–“It is so. They are the
same eyes,”–she added, becoming pensive, and covering her face with her
hands.–“Everything has become repulsive to me,”–she whispered;–“I
would like to go to the end of the world; I cannot endure this, I cannot
reconcile myself…. And what is in store for me?… Akh, I am heavy at
heart … my God, how heavy at heart!”

“Why?”–I timidly inquired.

Zinaída did not answer me and merely shrugged her shoulders. I continued
to kneel and to gaze at her with profound melancholy. Every word of
hers fairly cut me to the heart. At that moment, I think I would
willingly have given my life to keep her from grieving. I gazed at her,
and nevertheless, not understanding why she was heavy at heart, I
vividly pictured to myself how, in a fit of uncontrollable sorrow, she
had suddenly gone into the garden, and had fallen on the earth, as
though she had been mowed down. All around was bright and green; the
breeze was rustling in the foliage of the trees, now and then rocking a
branch of raspberry over Zinaída’s head. Doves were cooing somewhere and
the bees were humming as they flew low over the scanty grass. Overhead
the sky shone blue,–but I was so sad….

“Recite some poetry to me,”–said Zinaída in a low voice, leaning on her
elbow.–“I like to hear you recite verses. You make them go in a
sing-song, but that does not matter, it is youthful. Recite to me: ‘On
the Hills of Georgia.’–Only, sit down first.”

I sat down and recited, “On the Hills of Georgia.”

“‘That it is impossible not to love,’”–repeated Zinaída.–“That is why
poetry is so nice; it says to us that which does not exist, and which is
not only better than what does exist, but even more like the truth….
‘That it is impossible not to love’?–I would like to, but
cannot!”–Again she fell silent for a space, then suddenly started and
rose to her feet.–“Come along. Maidánoff is sitting with mamma; he
brought his poem to me, but I left him. He also is embittered now …
how can it be helped? Some day you will find out … but you must not be
angry with me!”

Zinaída hastily squeezed my hand, and ran on ahead. We returned to the
wing. Maidánoff set to reading us his poem of “The Murderer,” which had
only just been printed, but I did not listen. He shrieked out his
four-footed iambics in a sing-song voice; the rhymes alternated and
jingled like sleigh-bells, hollow and loud; but I kept staring all the
while at Zinaída, and striving to understand the meaning of her strange
words.

“Or, perchance, a secret rival
Has unexpectedly subjugated thee?”

suddenly exclaimed Maidánoff through his nose–and my eyes and Zinaída’s
met. She dropped hers and blushed faintly. I saw that she was blushing,
and turned cold with fright. I had been jealous before, but only at that
moment did the thought that she had fallen in love flash through my
mind. “My God! She is in love!”

X

My real tortures began from that moment. I cudgelled my brains, I
pondered and pondered again, and watched Zinaída importunately, but
secretly, as far as possible. A change had taken place in her, that was
evident. She took to going off alone to walk, and walked a long while.
Sometimes she did not show herself to her visitors; she sat for hours
together in her chamber. This had not been her habit hitherto. Suddenly
I became–or it seemed to me that I became–extremely penetrating. “Is
it he? Or is it not he?”–I asked myself, as in trepidation I mentally
ran from one of her admirers to another. Count Malévsky (although I felt
ashamed to admit it for Zinaída’s sake) privately seemed to me more
dangerous than the others.

My powers of observation extended no further than the end of my own
nose, and my dissimulation probably failed to deceive any one; at all
events, Doctor Lúshin speedily saw through me. Moreover, he also had
undergone a change of late; he had grown thin, he laughed as frequently
as ever, but somehow it was in a duller, more spiteful, a briefer
way;–an involuntary, nervous irritability had replaced his former light
irony and feigned cynicism.

“Why are you forever tagging on here, young man?”–he said to me one
day, when he was left alone with me in the Zasyékins’ drawing-room. (The
young Princess had not yet returned from her stroll and the shrill voice
of the old Princess was resounding in the upper story; she was wrangling
with her maid.)–“You ought to be studying your lessons, working while
you are young;–but instead of that, what are you doing?”

“You cannot tell whether I work at home,”–I retorted not without
arrogance, but also not without confusion.

“Much work you do! That’s not what you have in your head. Well, I will
not dispute … at your age, that is in the natural order of things. But
your choice is far from a happy one. Can’t you see what sort of a house
this is?”

“I do not understand you,”–I remarked.

“You don’t understand me? So much the worse for you. I regard it as my
duty to warn you. Fellows like me, old bachelors, may sit here: what
harm will it do us? We are a hardened lot. You can’t pierce our hide,
but your skin is still tender; the air here is injurious for
you,–believe me, you may become infected.”

“How so?”

“Because you may. Are you healthy now? Are you in a normal condition? Is
what you are feeling useful to you, good for you?”

“But what am I feeling?”–said I;–and in my secret soul I admitted that
the doctor was right.

“Eh, young man, young man,”–pursued the doctor, with an expression as
though something extremely insulting to me were contained in those two
words;–“there’s no use in your dissimulating, for what you have in
your soul you still show in your face, thank God! But what’s the use of
arguing? I would not come hither myself, if …” (the doctor set his
teeth) … “if I were not such an eccentric fellow. Only this is what
amazes me–how you, with your intelligence, can fail to see what is
going on around you.”

“But what is going on?”–I interposed, pricking up my ears.

The doctor looked at me with a sort of sneering compassion.

“A nice person I am,”–said he, as though speaking to himself.–“What
possessed me to say that to him. In a word,”–he added, raising his
voice,–“I repeat to you: the atmosphere here is not good for you. You
find it pleasant here, and no wonder! And the scent of a hothouse is
pleasant also–but one cannot live in it! Hey! hearken to me,–set to
work again on Kaidánoff.”

The old Princess entered and began to complain to the doctor of
toothache. Then Zinaída made her appearance.

“Here,”–added the old Princess,–“scold her, doctor, do. She drinks
iced water all day long; is that healthy for her, with her weak chest?”

“Why do you do that?”–inquired Lúshin.

“But what result can it have?”

“What result? You may take cold and die.”

“Really? Is it possible? Well, all right–that just suits me!”

“You don’t say so!”–growled the doctor. The old Princess went away.

“I do say so,”–retorted Zinaída.–“Is living such a cheerful thing?
Look about you…. Well–is it nice? Or do you think that I do not
understand it, do not feel it? It affords me pleasure to drink iced
water, and you can seriously assure me that such a life is worth too
much for me to imperil it for a moment’s pleasure–I do not speak of
happiness.”

“Well, yes,”–remarked Lúshin:–“caprice and independence…. Those two
words sum you up completely; your whole nature lies in those two words.”

Zinaída burst into a nervous laugh.

“You’re too late by one mail, my dear doctor. You observe badly; you are
falling behind.–Put on your spectacles.–I am in no mood for caprices
now; how jolly to play pranks on you or on myself!–and as for
independence…. M’sieu Voldemar,”–added Zinaída, suddenly stamping her
foot,–“don’t wear a melancholy face. I cannot endure to have people
commiserating me.”–She hastily withdrew.

“This atmosphere is injurious, injurious to you, young man,”–said
Lúshin to me once more.

XI

On the evening of that same day the customary visitors assembled at the
Zasyékins’; I was among the number.

The conversation turned on Maidánoff’s poem; Zinaída candidly praised
it.–“But do you know what?”–she said:–“If I were a poet, I would
select other subjects. Perhaps this is all nonsense, but strange
thoughts sometimes come into my head, especially when I am wakeful
toward morning, when the sky is beginning to turn pink and grey.–I
would, for example…. You will not laugh at me?”

“No! No!”–we all exclaimed with one voice.

“I would depict,”–she went on, crossing her arms on her breast, and
turning her eyes aside,–“a whole company of young girls, by night, in a
big boat, on a tranquil river. The moon is shining, and they are all in
white and wear garlands of white flowers, and they are singing, you
know, something in the nature of a hymn.”

“I understand, I understand, go on,”–said Maidánoff significantly and
dreamily.

“Suddenly there is a noise–laughter, torches, tambourines on the
shore…. It is a throng of bacchantes running with songs and outcries.
It is your business to draw the picture, Mr. Poet … only I would like
to have the torches red and very smoky, and that the eyes of the
bacchantes should gleam beneath their wreaths, and that the wreaths
should be dark. Don’t forget also tiger-skins and cups–and gold, a
great deal of gold.”

“But where is the gold to be?” inquired Maidánoff, tossing back his lank
hair and inflating his nostrils.

“Where? On the shoulders, the hands, the feet, everywhere. They say that
in ancient times women wore golden rings on their ankles.–The
bacchantes call the young girls in the boat to come to them. The girls
have ceased to chant their hymn,–they cannot go on with it,–but they
do not stir; the river drifts them to the shore. And now suddenly one of
them rises quietly…. This must be well described: how she rises
quietly in the moonlight, and how startled her companions are…. She
has stepped over the edge of the boat, the bacchantes have surrounded
her, they have dashed off into the night, into the gloom…. Present at
this point smoke in clouds; and everything has become thoroughly
confused. Nothing is to be heard but their whimpering, and her wreath
has been left lying on the shore.”

Zinaída ceased speaking. “Oh, she is in love!”–I thought again.

“Is that all?”–asked Maidánoff.

“That is all,”–she replied.

“That cannot be made the subject of an entire poem,”–he remarked
pompously,–“but I will utilise your idea for some lyrical verses.”

“In the romantic vein?”–asked Malévsky.

“Of course, in the romantic vein–in Byron’s style.”

“But in my opinion, Hugo is better than Byron,”–remarked the young
Count, carelessly:–“he is more interesting.”

“Hugo is a writer of the first class,”–rejoined Maidánoff, “and my
friend Tonkoshéeff, in his Spanish romance, ‘El Trovador’….”

“Ah, that’s the book with the question-marks turned upside
down?”–interrupted Zinaída.

“Yes. That is the accepted custom among the Spaniards. I was about to
say that Tonkoshéeff….”

“Come now! You will begin to wrangle again about classicism and
romanticism,”–Zinaída interrupted him again.–“Let us rather play….”

“At forfeits?”–put in Lúshin.

“No, forfeits is tiresome; but at comparisons.” (This game had been
invented by Zinaída herself; some object was named, and each person
tried to compare it with something or other, and the one who matched the
thing with the best comparison received a prize.) She went to the
window. The sun had just set; long, crimson clouds hung high aloft in
the sky.

“What are those clouds like?”–inquired Zinaída and, without waiting for
our answers, she said:–“I think that they resemble those crimson sails
which were on Cleopatra’s golden ship, when she went to meet Antony. You
were telling me about that not long ago, do you remember, Maidánoff?”

All of us, like Polonius in “Hamlet,” decided that the clouds reminded
us precisely of those sails, and that none of us could find a better
comparison.

“And how old was Antony at that time?”–asked Zinaída.

“He was assuredly still a young man,”–remarked Malévsky.

“Yes, he was young,”–assented Maidánoff confidently.

“Excuse me,”–exclaimed Lúshin,–“he was over forty years of age.”

“Over forty years of age,”–repeated Zinaída, darting a swift glance at
him….

I soon went home.–“She is in love,” my lips whispered involuntarily….
“But with whom?”

XII

The days passed by. Zinaída grew more and more strange, more and more
incomprehensible. One day I entered her house and found her sitting on a
straw-bottomed chair, with her head pressed against the sharp edge of a
table. She straightened up … her face was again all bathed in tears.

“Ah! It’s you!”–she said, with a harsh grimace.–“Come hither.”

I went up to her: she laid her hand on my head and, suddenly seizing me
by the hair, began to pull it.

“It hurts” … I said at last.

“Ah! It hurts! And doesn’t it hurt me? Doesn’t it hurt me?”–she
repeated.

“Aï!”–she suddenly cried, perceiving that she had pulled out a small
tuft of my hair.–“What have I done? Poor M’sieu Voldemar!” She
carefully straightened out the hairs she had plucked out, wound them
round her finger, and twisted them into a ring.

“I will put your hair in my locket and wear it,”–she said, and tears
glistened in her eyes.–“Perhaps that will comfort you a little … but
now, good-bye.”

I returned home and found an unpleasant state of things there. A scene
was in progress between my father and my mother; she was upbraiding him
for something or other, while he, according to his wont, was maintaining
a cold, polite silence–and speedily went away. I could not hear what my
mother was talking about, neither did I care to know: I remember only,
that, at the conclusion of the scene, she ordered me to be called to her
boudoir, and expressed herself with great dissatisfaction about my
frequent visits at the house of the old Princess, who was, according to
her assertions, _une femme capable de tout_. I kissed her hand (I always
did that when I wanted to put an end to the conversation), and went off
to my own room. Zinaída’s tears had completely discomfited me; I
positively did not know what to think, and was ready to cry myself: I
was still a child, in spite of my sixteen years. I thought no more of
Malévsky, although Byelovzóroff became more and more menacing every day,
and glared at the shifty Count like a wolf at a sheep; but I was not
thinking of anything or of anybody. I lost myself in conjectures and
kept seeking isolated spots. I took a special fancy to the ruins of the
hothouse. I could clamber up on the high wall, seat myself, and sit
there such an unhappy, lonely, and sad youth that I felt sorry for
myself–and how delightful those mournful sensations were, how I gloated
over them!…

One day, I was sitting thus on the wall, gazing off into the distance
and listening to the chiming of the bells … when suddenly something
ran over me–not a breeze exactly, not a shiver, but something
resembling a breath, the consciousness of some one’s proximity…. I
dropped my eyes. Below me, in a light grey gown, with a pink parasol on
her shoulder, Zinaída was walking hastily along the road. She saw me,
halted, and, pushing up the brim of her straw hat, raised her velvety
eyes to mine.

“What are you doing there, on such a height?”–she asked me, with a
strange sort of smile.–“There now,”–she went on,–“you are always
declaring that you love me–jump down to me here on the road if you
really do love me.”

Before the words were well out of Zinaída’s mouth I had flown down,
exactly as though some one had given me a push from behind. The wall was
about two fathoms high. I landed on the ground with my feet, but the
shock was so violent that I could not retain my balance; I fell, and
lost consciousness for a moment. When I came to myself I felt, without
opening my eyes, that Zinaída was by my side.–“My dear boy,”–she was
saying, as she bent over me–and tender anxiety was audible in her
voice–“how couldst thou do that, how couldst thou obey?… I love thee
… rise.”

Her breast was heaving beside me, her hands were touching my head, and
suddenly–what were my sensations then!–her soft, fresh lips began to
cover my whole face with kisses … they touched my lips…. But at this
point Zinaída probably divined from the expression of my face that I had
already recovered consciousness, although I still did not open my
eyes–and swiftly rising to her feet, she said:–“Come, get up, you
rogue, you foolish fellow! Why do you lie there in the dust?”–I got up.

“Give me my parasol,”–said Zinaída.–“I have thrown it somewhere; and
don’t look at me like that what nonsense is this? You are hurt? You have
burned yourself with the nettles, I suppose. Don’t look at me like that,
I tell you…. Why, he understands nothing, he doesn’t answer me,”–she
added, as though speaking to herself…. “Go home, M’sieu Voldemar,
brush yourself off, and don’t dare to follow me–if you do I shall be
very angry, and I shall never again….”

She did not finish her speech and walked briskly away, while I sat down
by the roadside … my legs would not support me. The nettles had stung
my hands, my back ached, and my head was reeling; but the sensation of
beatitude which I then experienced has never since been repeated in my
life. It hung like a sweet pain in all my limbs and broke out at last in
rapturous leaps and exclamations. As a matter of fact, I was still a
child.

XIII

I was so happy and proud all that day; I preserved so vividly on my
visage the feeling of Zinaída’s kisses; I recalled her every word with
such ecstasy; I so cherished my unexpected happiness that I even became
frightened; I did not even wish to see her who was the cause of those
new sensations. It seemed to me that I could ask nothing more of Fate,
that now I must “take and draw a deep breath for the last time, and
die.” On the other hand, when I set off for the wing next day, I felt a
great agitation, which I vainly endeavoured to conceal beneath the
discreet facial ease suitable for a man who wishes to let it be
understood that he knows how to keep a secret. Zinaída received me very
simply, without any emotion, merely shaking her finger at me and asking:
Had I any bruises? All my discreet ease of manner and mysteriousness
instantly disappeared, and along with them my agitation. Of course I had
not expected anything in particular, but Zinaída’s composure acted on me
like a dash of cold water. I understood that I was a child in her
eyes–and my heart waxed very heavy! Zinaída paced to and fro in the
room, smiling swiftly every time she glanced at me; but her thoughts
were far away, I saw that clearly…. “Shall I allude to what happened
yesterday myself,”–I thought;–“shall I ask her where she was going in
such haste, in order to find out, definitively?” … but I merely waved
my hand in despair and sat down in a corner.

Byelovzóroff entered; I was delighted to see him.

“I have not found you a gentle saddle-horse,”–he began in a surly
tone;–“Freitag vouches to me for one–but I am not convinced. I am
afraid.”

“Of what are you afraid, allow me to inquire?” asked Zinaída.

“Of what? Why, you don’t know how to ride. God forbid that any accident
should happen! And what has put that freak into your head?”

“Come, that’s my affair, M’sieu my wild beast. In that case, I will ask
Piótr Vasílievitch”…. (My father was called Piótr Vasílievitch…. I
was amazed that she should mention his name so lightly and freely,
exactly as though she were convinced of his readiness to serve her.)

“You don’t say so!”–retorted Byelovzóroff.–“Is it with him that you
wish to ride?”

“With him or some one else,–that makes no difference to you. Only not
with you.”

“Not with me,”–said Byelovzóroff.–“As you like. What does it matter? I
will get you the horse.”

“But see to it that it is not a cow-like beast. I warn you in advance
that I mean to gallop.”

“Gallop, if you wish…. But is it with Malévsky that you are going to
ride?”

“And why shouldn’t I ride with him, warrior? Come, quiet down. I’ll take
you too. You know that for me Malévsky is now–fie!”–She shook her
head.

“You say that just to console me,”–growled Byelovzóroff.

Zinaída narrowed her eyes.–“Does that console you? oh … oh oh …
warrior!”–she said at last, as though unable to find any other
word.–“And would you like to ride with us, M’sieu Voldemar?”

“I’m not fond of riding … in a large party,” … I muttered, without
raising my eyes.

“You prefer a _tête-à-tête_?… Well, every one to his taste,”–she
said, with a sigh.–“But go, Byelovzóroff, make an effort. I want the
horse for to-morrow.”

“Yes; but where am I to get the money?”–interposed the old Princess.

Zinaída frowned.

“I am not asking any from you; Byelovzóroff will trust me.”

“He will, he will,” grumbled the old Princess–and suddenly screamed at
the top of her voice:–“Dunyáshka!”

“_Maman_, I made you a present of a bell,”–remarked the young Princess.

“Dunyáshka!”–repeated the old woman.

Byelovzóroff bowed himself out; I went out with him. Zinaída did not
detain me.

XIV

I rose early the next morning, cut myself a staff, and went off beyond
the city barrier. “I’ll have a walk and banish my grief,”–I said to
myself. It was a beautiful day, brilliant but not too hot; a cheerful,
fresh breeze was blowing over the earth and rustling and playing
moderately, keeping in constant motion and agitating nothing. For a long
time I roamed about on the hills and in the forests. I did not feel
happy; I had left home with the intention of surrendering myself to
melancholy;–but youth, the fine weather, the fresh air, the diversion
of brisk pedestrian exercise, the delight of lying in solitude on the
thick grass, produced their effect; the memory of those unforgettable
words, of those kisses, again thrust themselves into my soul. It was
pleasant to me to think that Zinaída could not, nevertheless, fail to do
justice to my decision, to my heroism…. “Others are better for her
than I,”–I thought:–“so be it! On the other hand, the others only say
what they will do, but I have done it! And what else am I capable of
doing for her?”–My imagination began to ferment. I began to picture to
myself how I would save her from the hands of enemies; how, all bathed
in blood, I would wrest her out of prison; how I would die at her feet.
I recalled a picture which hung in our drawing-room of Malek-Adel
carrying off Matilda–and thereupon became engrossed in the appearance
of a big, speckled woodpecker which was busily ascending the slender
trunk of a birch-tree, and uneasily peering out from behind it, now on
the right, now on the left, like a musician from behind the neck of his
bass-viol.

Then I began to sing: “Not the white snows,”–and ran off into the
romance which was well known at that period, “I will await thee when the
playful breeze”; then I began to recite aloud Ermák’s invocation to the
stars in Khomyakóff’s tragedy; I tried to compose something in a
sentimental vein; I even thought out the line wherewith the whole poem
was to conclude: “Oh, Zinaída! Zinaída!”–But it came to nothing.
Meanwhile, dinner-time was approaching. I descended into the valley; a
narrow, sandy path wound through it and led toward the town. I strolled
along that path…. The dull trampling of horses’ hoofs resounded behind
me. I glanced round, involuntarily came to a standstill and pulled off
my cap. I beheld my father and Zinaída. They were riding side by side.
My father was saying something to her, bending his whole body toward
her, and resting his hand on the neck of her horse; he was smiling.
Zinaída was listening to him in silence, with her eyes severely downcast
and lips compressed. At first I saw only them; it was not until several
moments later that Byelovzóroff made his appearance from round a turn in
the valley, dressed in hussar uniform with pelisse, and mounted on a
foam-flecked black horse. The good steed was tossing his head, snorting
and curvetting; the rider was both reining him in and spurring him on.
I stepped aside. My father gathered up his reins and moved away from
Zinaída; she slowly raised her eyes to his–and both set off at a
gallop…. Byelovzóroff dashed headlong after them with clanking sword.
“He is as red as a crab,”–I thought,–“and she…. Why is she so pale?
She has been riding the whole morning–and yet she is pale?”

I redoubled my pace and managed to reach home just before dinner. My
father was already sitting, re-dressed, well-washed and fresh, beside my
mother’s arm-chair, and reading aloud to her in his even, sonorous
voice, the feuilleton of the _Journal des Débats_; but my mother was
listening to him inattentively and, on catching sight of me, inquired
where I had been all day, adding, that she did not like to have me
prowling about God only knew where and God only knew with whom. “But I
have been walking alone,”–I was on the point of replying; but I glanced
at my father and for some reason or other held my peace.

XV

During the course of the next five or six days I hardly saw Zinaída; she
gave it out that she was ill, which did not, however, prevent the
habitual visitors from presenting themselves at the wing–“to take their
turn in attendance,”–as they expressed it;–all except Maidánoff, who
immediately became dispirited as soon as he had no opportunity to go
into raptures. Byelovzóroff sat morosely in a corner, all tightly
buttoned up and red in the face; on Count Malévsky’s delicate visage
hovered constantly a sort of evil smile; he really had fallen into
disfavour with Zinaída and listened with particular pains to the old
Princess, and drove with her to the Governor-General’s in a hired
carriage. But this trip proved unsuccessful and even resulted in an
unpleasantness for Malévsky: he was reminded of some row with certain
Putéisk officers, and was compelled, in self-justification, to say that
he was inexperienced at the time. Lúshin came twice a day, but did not
remain long. I was somewhat afraid of him after our last explanation
and, at the same time, I felt a sincere attachment for him. One day he
went for a stroll with me in the Neskútchny Park, was very good-natured
and amiable, imparted to me the names and properties of various plants
and flowers, and suddenly exclaimed–without rhyme or reason, as the
saying is–as he smote himself on the brow: “And I, like a fool, thought
she was a coquette! Evidently, it is sweet to sacrifice one’s self–for
some people!”

“What do you mean to say by that?”–I asked.

“I don’t mean to say anything to you,”–returned Lúshin, abruptly.

Zinaída avoided me; my appearance–I could not but perceive the
fact–produced an unpleasant impression on her. She involuntarily turned
away from me … involuntarily; that was what was bitter, that was what
broke my heart! But there was no help for it and I tried to keep out of
her sight and only stand guard over her from a distance, in which I was
not always successful. As before, something incomprehensible was taking
place with her; her face had become different–she was altogether a
different person. I was particularly struck by the change which had
taken place in her on a certain warm, tranquil evening. I was sitting on
a low bench under a wide-spreading elder-bush; I loved that little nook;
the window of Zinaída’s chamber was visible thence. I was sitting there;
over my head, in the darkened foliage, a tiny bird was rummaging fussily
about; a great cat with outstretched back had stolen into the garden,
and the first beetles were booming heavily in the air, which was still
transparent although no longer light. I sat there and stared at the
window, and waited to see whether some one would not open it: and, in
fact, it did open, and Zinaída made her appearance in it. She wore a
white gown, and she herself–her face, her shoulders and her hands–was
pale to whiteness. She remained for a long time motionless, and for a
long time stared, without moving, straight in front of her from beneath
her contracted brows. I did not recognise that look in her. Then she
clasped her hands very, very tightly, raised them to her lips, to her
forehead–and suddenly, unlocking her fingers, pushed her hair away from
her ears, shook it back and, throwing her head downward from above with
a certain decisiveness, she shut the window with a bang.

Two days later she met me in the park. I tried to step aside, but she
stopped me.

“Give me your hand”–she said to me, with her former affection.–“It is
a long time since you and I have had a chat.”

I looked at her; her eyes were beaming softly and her face was smiling,
as though athwart a mist.

“Are you still ailing?”–I asked her.

“No, everything has passed off now,”–she replied, breaking off a small,
red rose.–“I am a little tired, but that will pass off also.”

“And will you be once more the same as you used to be?”–I queried.

Zinaída raised the rose to her face, and it seemed to me as though the
reflection of the brilliant petals fell upon her cheeks.–“Have I
changed?”–she asked me.

“Yes, you have changed,”–I replied in a low voice.

“I was cold toward you,–I know that,”–began Zinaída;–“but you must
not pay any heed to that…. I could not do otherwise…. Come, what’s
the use of talking about that?”

“You do not want me to love you–that’s what!” I exclaimed gloomily,
with involuntary impetuosity.

“Yes, love me, but not as before.”

“How then?”

“Let us be friends,–that is how!”–Zinaída allowed me to smell of the
rose.–“Listen; I am much older than you, you know–I might be your
aunt, really; well, if not your aunt, then your elder sister. While
you….”

“I am a child to you,”–I interrupted her.

“Well, yes, you are a child, but a dear, good, clever child, of whom I
am very fond. Do you know what? I will appoint you to the post of my
page from this day forth; and you are not to forget that pages must not
be separated from their mistress. Here is a token of your new dignity
for you,”–she added, sticking the rose into the button-hole of my
round-jacket; “a token of our favour toward you.”

“I have received many favours from you in the past,”–I murmured.

“Ah!”–said Zinaída, and darting a sidelong glance at me.–“What a
memory you have! Well? And I am ready now also….”

And bending toward me, she imprinted on my brow a pure, calm kiss.

I only stared at her–but she turned away and, saying,–“Follow me, my
page,”–walked to the wing. I followed her–and was in a constant state
of bewilderment.–“Is it possible,”–I thought,–“that this gentle,
sensible young girl is that same Zinaída whom I used to know?”–And her
very walk seemed to me more quiet, her whole figure more majestic, more
graceful….

And, my God! with what fresh violence did love flame up within me!

XVI

After dinner the visitors were assembled again in the wing, and the
young Princess came out to them. The whole company was present, in full
force, as on that first evening, never to be forgotten by me: even
Nirmátzky had dragged himself thither. Maidánoff had arrived earlier
than all the rest; he had brought some new verses. The game of forfeits
began again, but this time without the strange sallies, without pranks
and uproar; the gipsy element had vanished. Zinaída gave a new mood to
our gathering. I sat beside her, as a page should. Among other things,
she proposed that the one whose forfeit was drawn should narrate his
dream; but this was not a success. The dreams turned out to be either
uninteresting (Byelovzóroff had dreamed that he had fed his horse on
carp, and that it had a wooden head), or unnatural, fictitious.
Maidánoff regaled us with a complete novel; there were sepulchres and
angels with harps, and burning lights and sounds wafted from afar.
Zinaída did not allow him to finish. “If it is a question of
invention,”–said she,–“then let each one relate something which is
positively made up.”–Byelovzóroff had to speak first.

The young hussar became confused.–“I cannot invent anything!”–he
exclaimed.

“What nonsense!”–interposed Zinaída.–“Come, imagine, for instance,
that you are married, and tell us how you would pass the time with your
wife. Would you lock her up?”

“I would.”

“And would you sit with her yourself?”

“I certainly would sit with her myself.”

“Very good. Well, and what if that bored her, and she betrayed you?”

“I would kill her.”

“Just so. Well, now supposing that I were your wife, what would you do
then?”

Byelovzóroff made no answer for a while.–“I would kill myself….”

Zinaída burst out laughing.–“I see that there’s not much to be got out
of you.”

The second forfeit fell to Zinaída’s share. She raised her eyes to the
ceiling and meditated.–“See here,”–she began at last,–“this is what I
have devised…. Imagine to yourselves a magnificent palace, a summer
night, and a marvellous ball. This ball is given by the young Queen.
Everywhere there are gold, marble, silk, lights, diamonds, flowers, the
smoke of incense–all the whims of luxury.”

“Do you love luxury?”–interrupted Lúshin.

“Luxury is beautiful,”–she returned;–“I love everything that is
beautiful.”

“More than what is fine?”–he asked.

“That is difficult; somehow I don’t understand. Don’t bother me. So
then, there is a magnificent ball. There are many guests, they are all
young, very handsome, brave; all are desperately in love with the
Queen.”

“Are there no women among the guests?”–inquired Malévsky.

“No–or stay–yes, there are.”

“Also very handsome?”

“Charming. But the men are all in love with the Queen. She is tall and
slender; she wears a small gold diadem on her black hair.”

I looked at Zinaída–and at that moment she seemed so far above us, her
white forehead and her impassive eyebrows exhaled so much clear
intelligence and such sovereignty, that I said to myself: “Thou thyself
art that Queen!”

“All throng around her,”–pursued Zinaída;–“all lavish the most
flattering speeches on her.”

“And is she fond of flattery?”–asked Lúshin.

“How intolerable! He is continually interrupting…. Who does not like
flattery?”

“One more final question,”–remarked Malévsky:–“Has the Queen a
husband?”

“I have not thought about that. No, why should she have a husband?”

“Of course,”–assented Malévsky;–“why should she have a husband?”

“Silence!”–exclaimed, in English, Maidánoff, who spoke French badly.

“_Merci_,”–said Zinaída to him.–“So then, the Queen listens to those
speeches, listens to the music, but does not look at a single one of the
guests. Six windows are open from top to bottom, from ceiling to floor,
and behind them are the dark sky with great stars and the dark garden
with huge trees. The Queen gazes into the garden. There, near the trees
is a fountain: it gleams white athwart the gloom–long, as long as a
spectre. The Queen hears the quiet plashing of its waters in the midst
of the conversation and the music. She gazes and thinks: ‘All of you
gentlemen are noble, clever, wealthy; you are all ready to die at my
feet, I rule over you; … but yonder, by the side of the fountain, by
the side of that plashing water, there is standing and waiting for me
the man whom I love, who rules over me. He wears no rich garments, nor
precious jewels; no one knows him; but he is waiting for me, and is
convinced that I shall come–and I shall come, and there is no power in
existence which can stop me when I wish to go to him and remain with
him and lose myself with him yonder, in the gloom of the park, beneath
the rustling of the trees, beneath the plashing of the fountain….’”

Zinaída ceased speaking.

“Is that an invention?”–asked Malévsky slyly.

Zinaída did not even glance at him.

“But what should we do, gentlemen,”–suddenly spoke up Lúshin,–“if we
were among the guests and knew about that lucky man by the fountain?”

“Stay, stay,”–interposed Zinaída:–“I myself will tell you what each
one of you would do. You, Byelovzóroff, would challenge him to a duel;
you, Maidánoff, would write an epigram on him…. But no–you do not
know how to write epigrams; you would compose a long iambic poem on him,
after the style of Barbier, and would insert your production in the
_Telegraph_. You, Nirmátzky, would borrow from him … no, you would
lend him money on interest; you, doctor….” She paused…. “I really do
not know about you,–what you would do.”

“In my capacity of Court-physician,” replied Lúshin, “I would advise the
Queen not to give balls when she did not feel in the mood for
guests….”

“Perhaps you would be in the right. And you, Count?”

“And I?”–repeated Malévsky, with an evil smile.

“And you would offer him some poisoned sugar-plums.”

Malévsky’s face writhed a little and assumed for a moment a Jewish
expression; but he immediately burst into a guffaw.

“As for you, M’sieu Voldemar….” went on Zinaída,–“but enough of this;
let us play at some other game.”

“M’sieu Voldemar, in his capacity of page to the Queen, would hold up
her train when she ran off into the park,”–remarked Malévsky viciously.

I flared up, but Zinaída swiftly laid her hand on my shoulder and
rising, said in a slightly tremulous voice:–“I have never given Your
Radiance the right to be insolent, and therefore I beg that you will
withdraw.”–She pointed him to the door.

“Have mercy, Princess,”–mumbled Malévsky, turning pale all over.

“The Princess is right,”–exclaimed Byelovzóroff, rising to his feet
also.

“By God! I never in the least expected this,”–went on Malévsky:–“I
think there was nothing in my words which…. I had no intention of
offending you…. Forgive me.”

Zinaída surveyed him with a cold glance, and smiled coldly.–“Remain, if
you like,”–she said, with a careless wave of her hand.–“M’sieu
Voldemar and I have taken offence without cause. You find it merry to
jest…. I wish you well.”

“Forgive me,”–repeated Malévsky once more; and I, recalling Zinaída’s
movement, thought again that a real queen could not have ordered an
insolent man out of the room with more majesty.

The game of forfeits did not continue long after this little scene; all
felt somewhat awkward, not so much in consequence of the scene itself as
from another, not entirely defined, but oppressive sensation. No one
alluded to it, but each one was conscious of its existence within
himself and in his neighbour. Maidánoff recited to us all his poems–and
Malévsky lauded them with exaggerated warmth.

“How hard he is trying to appear amiable now,”–Lúshin whispered to me.

We soon dispersed. Zinaída had suddenly grown pensive; the old Princess
sent word that she had a headache; Nirmátzky began to complain of his
rheumatism….

For a long time I could not get to sleep; Zinaída’s narrative had
impressed me.–“Is it possible that it contains a hint?”–I asked
myself:–“and at whom was she hinting? And if there really is some one
to hint about … what must I decide to do? No, no, it cannot be,”–I
whispered, turning over from one burning cheek to the other…. But I
called to mind the expression of Zinaída’s face during her narration….
I called to mind the exclamation which had broken from Lúshin in the
Neskútchny Park, the sudden changes in her treatment of me–and lost
myself in conjectures. “Who is he?” Those three words seemed to stand in
front of my eyes, outlined in the darkness; a low-lying, ominous cloud
seemed to be hanging over me–and I felt its pressure–and waited every
moment for it to burst. I had grown used to many things of late; I had
seen many things at the Zasyékins’; their disorderliness, tallow
candle-ends, broken knives and forks, gloomy Vonifáty, the shabby maids,
the manners of the old Princess herself,–all that strange life no
longer surprised me…. But to that which I now dimly felt in Zinaída I
could not get used…. “An adventuress,”–my mother had one day said
concerning her. An adventuress–she, my idol, my divinity! That
appellation seared me; I tried to escape from it by burrowing into my
pillow; I raged–and at the same time, to what would not I have agreed,
what would not I have given, if only I might be that happy mortal by the
fountain!…

My blood grew hot and seethed within me. “A garden … a fountain,” …
I thought…. “I will go into the garden.” I dressed myself quickly and
slipped out of the house. The night was dark, the trees were barely
whispering; a quiet chill was descending from the sky, an odour of
fennel was wafted from the vegetable-garden. I made the round of all the
alleys; the light sound of my footsteps both disconcerted me and gave me
courage; I halted, waiting and listening to hear how my heart was
beating quickly and violently. At last I approached the fence and leaned
against a slender post. All at once–or was it only my imagination?–a
woman’s figure flitted past a few paces distant from me…. I strained
my eyes intently on the darkness; I held my breath. What was this? Was
it footsteps that I heard or was it the thumping of my heart
again?–“Who is here?”–I stammered in barely audible tones. What was
that again? A suppressed laugh?… or a rustling in the leaves?… or a
sigh close to my very ear? I was terrified…. “Who is here?”–I
repeated, in a still lower voice.

The breeze began to flutter for a moment; a fiery band flashed across
the sky; a star shot down.–“Is it Zinaída?”–I tried to ask, but the
sound died on my lips. And suddenly everything became profoundly silent
all around, as often happens in the middle of the night…. Even the
katydids ceased to shrill in the trees; only a window rattled somewhere.
I stood and stood, then returned to my chamber, to my cold bed. I felt a
strange agitation–exactly as though I had gone to a tryst, and had
remained alone, and had passed by some one else’s happiness.

XVII

The next day I caught only a glimpse of Zinaída; she drove away
somewhere with the old Princess in a hired carriage. On the other hand,
I saw Lúshin–who, however, barely deigned to bestow a greeting on
me–and Malévsky. The young Count grinned and entered into conversation
with me in friendly wise. Among all the visitors to the wing he alone
had managed to effect an entrance to our house, and my mother had taken
a fancy to him. My father did not favour him and treated him politely to
the point of insult.

“Ah, _monsieur le page_,”–began Malévsky,–“I am very glad to meet you.
What is your beauteous queen doing?”

His fresh, handsome face was so repulsive to me at that moment, and he
looked at me with such a scornfully-playful stare, that I made him no
answer whatsoever.

“Are you still in a bad humour?”–he went on.–“There is no occasion for
it. It was not I, you know, who called you a page; and pages are chiefly
with queens. But permit me to observe to you that you are fulfilling
your duties badly.”

“How so?”

“Pages ought to be inseparable from their sovereigns; pages ought to
know everything that they do; they ought even to watch over them,”–he
added, lowering his voice,–“day and night.”

“What do you mean by that?”

“What do I mean? I think I have expressed myself plainly. Day–and
night. It does not matter so much about the day; by day it is light and
there are people about; but by night–that’s exactly the time to expect
a catastrophe. I advise you not to sleep o’nights and to watch, watch
with all your might. Remember–in a garden, by night, near the
fountain–that’s where you must keep guard. You will thank me for this.”

Malévsky laughed and turned his back on me. He did not, in all
probability, attribute any special importance to what he had said to me;
he bore the reputation of being a capital hand at mystification, and was
renowned for his cleverness in fooling people at the masquerades, in
which that almost unconscious disposition to lie, wherewith his whole
being was permeated, greatly aided him…. He had merely wished to tease
me; but every word of his trickled like poison through all my
veins.–The blood flew to my head.

“Ah! so that’s it!”–I said to myself:–“good! So it was not for nothing
that I felt drawn to the garden! That shall not be!” I exclaimed,
smiting myself on the breast with my fist; although I really did not
know what it was that I was determined not to permit.–“Whether Malévsky
himself comes into the garden,”–I thought (perhaps he had blurted out a
secret; he was insolent enough for that),–“or some one else,”–(the
fence of our vegetable-garden was very low and it cost no effort to
climb over it)–“at any rate, it will be all the worse for the person
whom I catch! I would not advise any one to encounter me! I’ll show the
whole world and her, the traitress,”–(I actually called her a
traitress)–“that I know how to avenge myself!”

I returned to my own room, took out of my writing-table a recently
purchased English knife, felt of the sharp blade, and, knitting my
brows, thrust it into my pocket with a cold and concentrated decision,
exactly as though it was nothing remarkable for me to do such deeds, and
this was not the first occasion. My heart swelled angrily within me and
grew stony; I did not unbend my brows until nightfall and did not relax
my lips, and kept striding back and forth, clutching the knife which had
grown warm in my pocket, and preparing myself in advance for something
terrible. These new, unprecedented emotions so engrossed and even
cheered me, that I thought very little about Zinaída herself. There kept
constantly flitting through my head Aleko, the young gipsy:[6]–“Where
art thou going, handsome youth?–Lie down….” and then: “Thou’rt all
with blood bespattered!… Oh, what is’t that thou hast done?…
Nothing!” With what a harsh smile I repeated that: that “Nothing!”

My father was not at home; but my mother, who for some time past had
been in a state of almost constant, dull irritation, noticed my baleful
aspect at supper, and said to me:–“What art thou sulking at, like a
mouse at groats?”–I merely smiled patronisingly at her by way of reply
and thought to myself: “If they only knew!”–The clock struck eleven; I
went to my own room but did not undress; I was waiting for midnight; at
last it struck.–“’Tis time!”–I hissed between my teeth, and buttoning
my coat to the throat and even turning up my sleeves I betook myself to
the garden.

I had selected a place beforehand where I meant to stand on guard. At
the end of the garden, at the spot where the fence, which separated our
property from the Zasyékins’, abutted on the party-wall, grew a solitary
spruce-tree. Standing beneath its low, thick branches, I could see well,
as far as the nocturnal gloom permitted, all that went on around; there
also meandered a path which always seemed to me mysterious; like a
serpent it wound under the fence, which at that point bore traces of
clambering feet, and led to an arbour of dense acacias. I reached the
spruce-tree, leaned against its trunk and began my watch.

The night was as tranquil as the preceding one had been; but there were
fewer storm-clouds in the sky, and the outlines of the bushes, even of
the tall flowers, were more plainly discernible. The first moments of
waiting were wearisome, almost terrible. I had made up my mind to
everything; I was merely considering how I ought to act. Ought I to
thunder out: “Who goes there? Halt! Confess–or die!”–or simply
smite…. Every sound, every noise and rustling seemed to me
significant, unusual…. I made ready…. I bent forward…. But half an
hour, an hour, elapsed; my blood quieted down and turned cold; the
consciousness that I was doing all this in vain, that I was even
somewhat ridiculous, that Malévsky had been making fun of me, began to
steal into my soul. I abandoned my ambush and made the round of the
entire garden. As though expressly, not the slightest sound was to be
heard anywhere; everything was at rest; even our dog was asleep, curled
up in a ball at the gate. I climbed up on the ruin of the hothouse,
beheld before me the distant plain, recalled my meeting with Zinaída,
and became immersed in meditation….

I started…. I thought I heard the creak of an opening door, then the
light crackling of a broken twig. In two bounds I had descended from
the ruin–and stood petrified on the spot. Swift, light but cautious
footsteps were plainly audible in the garden. They were coming toward
me. “Here he is…. Here he is, at last!”–darted through my heart. I
convulsively jerked the knife out of my pocket, convulsively opened
it–red sparks whirled before my eyes, the hair stood up on my head with
fright and wrath…. The steps were coming straight toward me–I bent
over, and went to meet them…. A man made his appearance…. My God! It
was my father!

I recognised him instantly, although he was all enveloped in a dark
cloak,–and had pulled his hat down over his face. He went past me on
tiptoe. He did not notice me although nothing concealed me; but I had so
contracted myself and shrunk together that I think I must have been on a
level with the ground. The jealous Othello, prepared to murder, had
suddenly been converted into the school-boy…. I was so frightened by
the unexpected apparition of my father that I did not even take note, at
first, in what direction he was going and where he had disappeared. I
merely straightened up at the moment and thought: “Why is my father
walking in the garden by night?”–when everything around had relapsed
into silence. In my alarm I had dropped my knife in the grass, but I did
not even try to find it; I felt very much ashamed. I became sobered on
the instant. But as I wended my way home, I stepped up to my little
bench under the elder-bush and cast a glance at the little window of
Zinaída’s chamber. The small, somewhat curved panes of the little window
gleamed dully blue in the faint light which fell from the night sky.
Suddenly their colour began to undergo a change…. Behind them–I saw
it, saw it clearly,–a whitish shade was lowered, descended to the
sill,–and there remained motionless.

“What is the meaning of that?”–I said aloud, almost involuntarily, when
I again found myself in my own room.–“Was it a dream, an accident,
or….” The surmises which suddenly came into my head were so new and
strange that I dared not even yield to them.

XVIII

I rose in the morning with a headache. My agitation of the night before
had vanished. It had been replaced by an oppressive perplexity and a
certain, hitherto unknown sadness,–exactly as though something had died
in me.

“What makes you look like a rabbit which has had half of its brain
removed?”–said Lúshin, who happened to meet me. At breakfast I kept
casting covert glances now at my father, now at my mother; he was calm,
as usual; she, as usual, was secretly irritated. I waited to see
whether my father would address me in a friendly way, as he sometimes
did…. But he did not even caress me with his cold, everyday
affection.–“Shall I tell Zinaída all?”–I thought…. “For it makes no
difference now–everything is over between us.” I went to her, but I not
only did not tell her anything,–I did not even get a chance to talk to
her as I would have liked. The old Princess’s son, a cadet aged twelve,
had come from Petersburg to spend his vacation with her; Zinaída
immediately confided her brother to me.–“Here, my dear Volódya,”–said
she (she called me so for the first time), “is a comrade for you. His
name is Volódya also. Pray, like him; he’s a wild little fellow still,
but he has a good heart. Show him Neskútchny Park, walk with him, take
him under your protection. You will do that, will you not? You, too, are
such a good fellow!”–She laid both hands affectionately on my
shoulder–and I was reduced to utter confusion. The arrival of that boy
turned me into a boy. I stared in silence at the cadet, who riveted his
eyes in corresponding silence on me. Zinaída burst out laughing and
pushed us toward each other.–“Come, embrace, children!”–We
embraced.–“I’ll take you into the garden if you wish,–shall I?”–I
asked the cadet.

“Certainly, sir,”–he replied, in a hoarse, genuine cadet voice. Again
Zinaída indulged in a burst of laughter…. I managed to notice that
never before had she had such charming colour in her face. The cadet and
I went off together. In our garden stood an old swing. I seated him on
the thin little board and began to swing him. He sat motionless in his
new little uniform of thick cloth with broad gold galloon, and clung
tightly to the ropes.

“You had better unhook your collar,”–I said to him.

“Never mind, sir,[7] we are used to it, sir,”–he said, and cleared his
throat.

He resembled his sister; his eyes were particularly suggestive of her.
It was pleasant to me to be of service to him; and, at the same time,
that aching pain kept quietly gnawing at my heart. “Now I really am a
child,” I thought; “but last night….” I remembered where I had dropped
my knife and found it. The cadet asked me to lend it to him, plucked a
thick stalk of lovage, cut a whistle from it, and began to pipe. Othello
piped also.

But in the evening, on the other hand, how he did weep, that same
Othello, over Zinaída’s hands when, having sought him out in a corner of
the garden, she asked him what made him so melancholy. My tears streamed
with such violence that she was frightened.–“What is the matter with
you? What is the matter with you, Volódya?”–she kept repeating, and
seeing that I made her no reply, she took it into her head to kiss my
wet cheek. But I turned away from her and whispered through my sobs:–“I
know everything: why have you trifled with me?… Why did you want my
love?”

“I am to blame toward you, Volódya” … said Zinaída.–“Akh, I am very
much to blame” … she said, and clenched her hands.–“How much evil,
dark, sinful, there is in me!… But I am not trifling with you now, I
love you–you do not suspect why and how…. But what is it you know?”

What could I say to her? She stood before me and gazed at me–and I
belonged to her wholly, from head to foot, as soon as she looked at
me…. A quarter of an hour later I was running a race with the cadet
and Zinaída; I was not weeping; I was laughing, although my swollen
eyelids dropped tears from laughing; on my neck, in place of a tie, was
bound a ribbon of Zinaída’s, and I shouted with joy when I succeeded in
seizing her round the waist. She did with me whatsoever she would.

XIX

I should be hard put to it, if I were made to narrate in detail all that
went on within me in the course of the week which followed my
unsuccessful nocturnal expedition. It was a strange, feverish time, a
sort of chaos in which the most opposite emotions, thoughts, suspicions,
hopes, joys, and sufferings revolved in a whirlwind; I was afraid to
look into myself, if a sixteen-year-old can look into himself; I was
afraid to account to myself for anything whatsoever; I simply made haste
to live through the day until the evening; on the other hand, at night I
slept … childish giddiness helped me. I did not want to know whether I
was beloved, and would not admit to myself that I was not beloved; I
shunned my father–but could not shun Zinaída…. I burned as with fire
in her presence, … but what was the use of my knowing what sort of
fire it was wherewith I burned and melted–seeing that it was sweet to
me to burn and melt! I surrendered myself entirely to my impressions,
and dealt artfully with myself, turned away from my memories and shut my
eyes to that of which I had a presentiment in the future…. This
anguish probably would not have continued long … a thunder-clap put an
instantaneous end to everything and hurled me into a new course.

On returning home one day to dinner from a rather long walk, I learned
with surprise that I was to dine alone; that my father had gone away,
while my mother was ill, did not wish to dine and had shut herself up in
her bedroom. From the footmen’s faces I divined that something unusual
had taken place…. I dared not interrogate them, but I had a friend,
the young butler Philípp, who was passionately fond of poetry and an
artist on the guitar; I applied to him. From him I learned that a
frightful scene had taken place between my father and mother (for in the
maids’ room everything was audible, to the last word; a great deal had
been said in French, but the maid Másha had lived for five years with a
dressmaker from Paris and understood it all); that my mother had accused
my father of infidelity, of being intimate with the young lady our
neighbour; that my father had first defended himself, then had flared up
and in his turn had made some harsh remark “seemingly about her age,”
which had set my mother to crying; that my mother had also referred to a
note of hand, which appeared to have been given to the old Princess, and
expressed herself very vilely about her, and about the young lady as
well; and that then my father had threatened her.–“And the whole
trouble arose,”–pursued Philípp, “out of an anonymous letter; but who
wrote it no one knows; otherwise there was no reason why this affair
should have come out.”

“But has there been anything?”–I enunciated with difficulty, while my
hands and feet turned cold, and something began to quiver in the very
depths of my breast.

Philípp winked significantly.–“There has. You can’t conceal such
doings, cautious as your papa has been in this case;–still, what
possessed him, for example, to hire a carriage, or to … for you can’t
get along without people there also.”

I dismissed Philípp, and flung myself down on my bed. I did not sob, I
did not give myself up to despair; I did not ask myself when and how all
this had taken place; I was not surprised that I had not guessed it
sooner, long before–I did not even murmur against my father…. That
which I had learned was beyond my strength; this sudden discovery had
crushed me…. All was over. All my flowers had been plucked up at one
blow and lay strewn around me, scattered and trampled under foot.

XX

On the following day my mother announced that she was going to remove to
town. My father went into her bedroom in the morning and sat there a
long time alone with her. No one heard what he said to her, but my
mother did not weep any more; she calmed down and asked for something to
eat, but did not show herself and did not alter her intention. I
remember that I wandered about all day long, but did not go into the
garden and did not glance even once at the wing–and in the evening I
was the witness of an amazing occurrence; my father took Count Malévsky
by the arm and led him out of the hall into the anteroom and, in the
presence of a lackey, said coldly to him: “Several days ago Your
Radiance was shown the door in a certain house. I shall not enter into
explanations with you now, but I have the honour to inform you that if
you come to my house again I shall fling you through the window. I don’t
like your handwriting.” The Count bowed, set his teeth, shrank together,
and disappeared.

Preparations began for removing to town, on the Arbát,[8] where our
house was situated. Probably my father himself no longer cared to remain
in the villa; but it was evident that he had succeeded in persuading my
mother not to make a row. Everything was done quietly, without haste; my
mother even sent her compliments to the old Princess and expressed her
regret that, owing to ill-health, she would be unable to see her before
her departure. I prowled about like a crazy person, and desired but one
thing,–that everything might come to an end as speedily as possible.
One thought never quitted my head: how could she, a young girl,–well,
and a princess into the bargain,–bring herself to such a step, knowing
that my father was not a free man while she had the possibility of
marrying Byelovzóroff at least, for example? What had she hoped for?
How was it that she had not been afraid to ruin her whole
future?–“Yes,”–I thought,–“that’s what love is,–that is
passion,–that is devotion,” … and I recalled Lúshin’s words to me:
“Self-sacrifice is sweet–for some people.” Once I happened to catch
sight of a white spot in one of the windows of the wing…. “Can that be
Zinaída’s face?”–I thought; … and it really was her face. I could not
hold out. I could not part from her without bidding her a last farewell.
I seized a convenient moment and betook myself to the wing.

In the drawing-room the old Princess received me with her customary,
slovenly-careless greeting.

“What has made your folks uneasy so early, my dear fellow?”–she said,
stuffing snuff up both her nostrils. I looked at her, and a weight was
removed from my heart. The word “note of hand” uttered by Philípp
tormented me. She suspected nothing … so it seemed to me then, at
least. Zinaída made her appearance from the adjoining room in a black
gown, pale, with hair out of curl; she silently took me by the hand and
led me away to her room.

“I heard your voice,”–she began,–“and came out at once. And did you
find it so easy to desert us, naughty boy?”

“I have come to take leave of you, Princess,”–I replied,–“probably
forever. You may have heard we are going away.”

Zinaída gazed intently at me.

“Yes, I have heard. Thank you for coming. I was beginning to think that
I should not see you.–Think kindly of me. I have sometimes tormented
you; but nevertheless I am not the sort of person you think I am.”

She turned away and leaned against the window-casing.

“Really, I am not that sort of person. I know that you have a bad
opinion of me.”

“I?”

“Yes, you … you.”

“I?”–I repeated sorrowfully, and my heart began to quiver as of old,
beneath the influence of the irresistible, inexpressible witchery.–“I?
Believe me, Zinaída Alexándrovna, whatever you may have done, however
you may have tormented me, I shall love and adore you until the end of
my life.”

She turned swiftly toward me and opening her arms widely, she clasped my
head, and kissed me heartily and warmly. God knows whom that long,
farewell kiss was seeking, but I eagerly tasted its sweetness. I knew
that it would never more be repeated.–“Farewell, farewell!” I kept
saying….

She wrenched herself away and left the room. And I withdrew also. I am
unable to describe the feeling with which I retired. I should not wish
ever to have it repeated; but I should consider myself unhappy if I had
never experienced it.

We removed to town. I did not speedily detach myself from the past, I
did not speedily take up my work. My wound healed slowly; but I really
had no evil feeling toward my father. On the contrary, he seemed to have
gained in stature in my eyes … let the psychologists explain this
contradiction as best they may. One day I was walking along the
boulevard when, to my indescribable joy, I encountered Lúshin. I liked
him for his straightforward, sincere character; and, moreover, he was
dear to me in virtue of the memories which he awakened in me. I rushed
at him.

“Aha!”–he said, with a scowl.–“Is it you, young man? Come, let me have
a look at you. You are still all sallow, and yet there is not the olden
trash in your eyes. You look like a man, not like a lap-dog. That’s
good. Well, and how are you? Are you working?”

I heaved a sigh. I did not wish to lie, and I was ashamed to tell the
truth.

“Well, never mind,”–went on Lúshin,–“don’t be afraid. The principal
thing is to live in normal fashion and not to yield to impulses.
Otherwise, where’s the good? No matter whither the wave bears one–’tis
bad; let a man stand on a stone if need be, but on his own feet. Here I
am croaking … but Byelovzóroff–have you heard about him?”

“What about him? No.”

“He has disappeared without leaving a trace; they say he has gone to the
Caucasus. A lesson to you, young man. And the whole thing arises from
not knowing how to say good-bye,–to break bonds in time. You, now, seem
to have jumped out successfully. Look out, don’t fall in again.
Farewell.”

“I shall not fall in,”–I thought…. “I shall see her no more.” But I
was fated to see Zinaída once more.

XXI

My father was in the habit of riding on horseback every day; he had a
splendid red-roan English horse, with a long, slender neck and long
legs, indefatigable and vicious. Its name was Electric. No one could
ride it except my father. One day he came to me in a kindly frame of
mind, which had not happened with him for a long time: he was preparing
to ride, and had donned his spurs. I began to entreat him to take me
with him.

“Let us, rather, play at leap-frog,”–replied my father,–“for thou wilt
not be able to keep up with me on thy cob.”

“Yes, I shall; I will put on spurs also.”

“Well, come along.”

We set out. I had a shaggy, black little horse, strong on its feet and
fairly spirited; it had to gallop with all its might, it is true, when
Electric was going at a full trot; but nevertheless I did not fall
behind. I have never seen such a horseman as my father. His seat was so
fine and so carelessly-adroit that the horse under him seemed to be
conscious of it and to take pride in it. We rode the whole length of all
the boulevards, reached the Maidens’ Field,[9] leaped over several
enclosures (at first I was afraid to leap, but my father despised timid
people, and I ceased to be afraid), crossed the Moscow river twice;–and
I was beginning to think that we were on our way homeward, the more so
as my father remarked that my horse was tired, when suddenly he turned
away from me in the direction of the Crimean Ford, and galloped along
the shore.–I dashed after him. When he came on a level with a lofty
pile of old beams which lay heaped together, he sprang nimbly from
Electric, ordered me to alight and, handing me the bridle of his horse,
told me to wait for him on that spot, near the beams; then he turned
into a narrow alley and disappeared. I began to pace back and forth
along the shore, leading the horses after me and scolding Electric, who
as he walked kept incessantly twitching his head, shaking himself,
snorting and neighing; when I stood still, he alternately pawed the
earth with his hoof, and squealed and bit my cob on the neck; in a word,
behaved like a spoiled darling, _pur sang_. My father did not return. A
disagreeable humidity was wafted from the river; a fine rain set in and
mottled the stupid, grey beams, around which I was hovering and of which
I was so heartily tired, with tiny, dark spots. Anxiety took possession
of me, but still my father did not come. A Finnish sentry, also all
grey, with a huge, old-fashioned shako, in the form of a pot, on his
head, and armed with a halberd (why should there be a sentry, I thought,
on the shores of the Moscow river?), approached me, and turning his
elderly, wrinkled face to me, he said:

“What are you doing here with those horses, my little gentleman? Hand
them over to me; I’ll hold them.”

I did not answer him; he asked me for some tobacco. In order to rid
myself of him (moreover, I was tortured by impatience), I advanced a few
paces in the direction in which my father had retreated; then I walked
through the alley to the very end, turned a corner, and came to a
standstill. On the street, forty paces distant from me, in front of the
open window of a small wooden house, with his back to me, stood my
father; he was leaning his breast on the window-sill, while in the
house, half concealed by the curtain, sat a woman in a dark gown talking
with my father: the woman was Zinaída.

I stood rooted to the spot in amazement. I must confess that I had in
nowise expected this. My first impulse was to flee. “My father will
glance round,” I thought,–“and then I am lost.”… But a strange
feeling–a feeling more powerful than curiosity, more powerful even than
jealousy, more powerful than fear,–stopped me. I began to stare, I
tried to hear. My father appeared to be insisting upon something.
Zinaída would not consent. I seem to see her face now–sad, serious,
beautiful, and with an indescribable imprint of adoration, grief, love,
and a sort of despair. She uttered monosyllabic words, did not raise her
eyes, and only smiled–submissively and obstinately. From that smile
alone I recognised my former Zinaída. My father shrugged his shoulders,
and set his hat straight on his head–which was always a sign of
impatience with him…. Then the words became audible: “_Vous devez vous
séparer de cette._”… Zinaída drew herself up and stretched out her
hand…. Suddenly, before my very eyes, an incredible thing came to
pass:–all at once, my father raised the riding-whip, with which he had
been lashing the dust from his coat-tails,–and the sound of a sharp
blow on that arm, which was bare to the elbow, rang out. I could hardly
keep from shrieking, but Zinaída started, gazed in silence at my father,
and slowly raising her arm to her lips, kissed the mark which glowed
scarlet upon it.

My father hurled his riding-whip from him, and running hastily up the
steps of the porch, burst into the house…. Zinaída turned round, and
stretching out her arms, and throwing back her head, she also quitted
the window.

My heart swooning with terror, and with a sort of alarmed perplexity, I
darted backward; and dashing through the alley, and almost letting go of
Electric, I returned to the bank of the river…. I could understand
nothing. I knew that my cold and self-contained father was sometimes
seized by fits of wild fury; and yet I could not in the least comprehend
what I had seen…. But I immediately felt that no matter how long I
might live, it would be impossible for me ever to forget that movement,
Zinaída’s glance and smile; that her image, that new image which had
suddenly been presented to me, had forever imprinted itself on my
memory. I stared stupidly at the river and did not notice that my tears
were flowing. “She is being beaten,”–I thought…. “She is being beaten
… beaten….”

“Come, what ails thee?–Give me my horse!”–rang out my father’s voice
behind me.

I mechanically gave him the bridle. He sprang upon Electric … the
half-frozen horse reared on his hind legs and leaped forward half a
fathom … but my father speedily got him under control; he dug his
spurs into his flanks and beat him on the neck with his fist…. “Ekh, I
have no whip,”–he muttered.

I remembered the recent swish through the air and the blow of that same
whip, and shuddered.

“What hast thou done with it?”–I asked my father, after waiting a
little.

My father did not answer me and galloped on. I dashed after him. I was
determined to get a look at his face.

“Didst thou get bored in my absence?”–he said through his teeth.

“A little. But where didst thou drop thy whip?”–I asked him again.

My father shot a swift glance at me.–“I did not drop it,”–he said,–“I
threw it away.”–He reflected for a space and dropped his head … and
then, for the first and probably for the last time, I saw how much
tenderness and compunction his stern features were capable of
expressing.

He set off again at a gallop, and this time I could not keep up with
him; I reached home a quarter of an hour after him.

“That’s what love is,”–I said to myself again, as I sat at night before
my writing-table, on which copy-books and text-books had already begun
to make their appearance,–“that is what passion is!… How is it
possible not to revolt, how is it possible to endure a blow from any one
whomsoever … even from the hand that is most dear? But evidently it
can be done if one is in love…. And I … I imagined….”

The last month had aged me greatly, and my love, with all its agitations
and sufferings, seemed to me like something very petty and childish and
wretched in comparison with that other unknown something at which I
could hardly even guess, and which frightened me like a strange,
beautiful but menacing face that one strives, in vain, to get a good
look at in the semi-darkness….

That night I had a strange and dreadful dream. I thought I was entering
a low, dark room…. My father was standing there, riding-whip in hand,
and stamping his feet; Zinaída was crouching in one corner and had a red
mark, not on her arm, but on her forehead … and behind the two rose up
Byelovzóroff, all bathed in blood, with his pale lips open, and
wrathfully menacing my father.

Two months later I entered the university, and six months afterward my
father died (of an apoplectic stroke) in Petersburg, whither he had just
removed with my mother and myself. A few days before his death my father
had received a letter from Moscow which had agitated him extremely….
He went to beg something of my mother and, I was told, even wept,–he,
my father! On the very morning of the day on which he had the stroke, he
had begun a letter to me in the French language: “My son,”–he wrote to
me,–“fear the love of women, fear that happiness, that poison….”
After his death my mother sent a very considerable sum of money to
Moscow.

XXII

Four years passed. I had but just left the university, and did not yet
quite know what to do with myself, at what door to knock; in the
meanwhile, I was lounging about without occupation. One fine evening I
encountered Maidánoff in the theatre. He had contrived to marry and
enter the government service; but I found him unchanged. He went into
unnecessary raptures, just as of old, and became low-spirited as
suddenly as ever.

“You know,”–he said to me,–“by the way, that Madame Dólsky is here.”

“What Madame Dólsky?”

“Is it possible that you have forgotten? The former Princess Zasyékin,
with whom we were all in love, you included. At the villa, near
Neskútchny Park, you remember?”

“Did she marry Dólsky?”

“Yes.”

“And is she here in the theatre?”

“No, in Petersburg; she arrived here a few days ago; she is preparing to
go abroad.”

“What sort of a man is her husband?”–I asked.

“A very fine young fellow and wealthy. He’s my comrade in the service, a
Moscow man. You understand–after that scandal … you must be well
acquainted with all that …” (Maidánoff smiled significantly), “it was
not easy for her to find a husband; there were consequences … but with
her brains everything is possible. Go to her; she will be delighted to
see you. She is handsomer than ever.”

Maidánoff gave me Zinaída’s address. She was stopping in the Hotel
Demuth. Old memories began to stir in me…. I promised myself that I
would call upon my former “passion” the next day. But certain affairs
turned up: a week elapsed, and when, at last, I betook myself to the
Hotel Demuth and inquired for Madame Dólsky I learned that she had died
four days previously, almost suddenly, in childbirth.

Something seemed to deal me a blow in the heart. The thought that I
might have seen her but had not, and that I should never see her,–that
bitter thought seized upon me with all the force of irresistible
reproach. “Dead!” I repeated, staring dully at the door-porter, then
quietly made my way to the street and walked away, without knowing
whither. The whole past surged up at one blow and stood before me. And
now this was the way it had ended, this was the goal of that young,
fiery, brilliant life? I thought that–I pictured to myself those dear
features, those eyes, those curls in the narrow box, in the damp,
underground gloom,–right there, not far from me, who was still alive,
and, perchance, only a few paces from my father…. I thought all that,
I strained my imagination, and yet–

From a mouth indifferent I heard the news of death,
And with indifference did I receive it–

resounded through my soul. O youth, youth! Thou carest for nothing: thou
possessest, as it were, all the treasures of the universe; even sorrow
comforts thee, even melancholy becomes thee; thou are self-confident and
audacious; thou sayest: “I alone live–behold!”–But the days speed on
and vanish without a trace and without reckoning, and everything
vanishes in thee, like wax in the sun, like snow…. And perchance the
whole secret of thy charm consists not in the power to do everything,
but in the possibility of thinking that thou wilt do
everything–consists precisely in the fact that thou scatterest to the
winds thy powers which thou hast not understood how to employ in any
other way,–in the fact that each one of us seriously regards himself as
a prodigal, seriously assumes that he has a right to say: “Oh, what
could I not have done, had I not wasted my time!”

And I myself … what did I hope for, what did I expect, what rich
future did I foresee, when I barely accompanied with a single sigh, with
a single mournful emotion, the spectre of my first love which had arisen
for a brief moment?

And what has come to pass of all for which I hoped? Even now, when the
shades of evening are beginning to close in upon my life, what is there
that has remained for me fresher, more precious than the memory of that
morning spring thunder-storm which sped so swiftly past?

But I calumniate myself without cause. Even then, at that frivolous,
youthful epoch, I did not remain deaf to the sorrowful voice which
responded within me to the triumphant sound which was wafted to me from
beyond the grave. I remember that a few days after I learned of
Zinaída’s death I was present, by my own irresistible longing, at the
death-bed of a poor old woman who lived in the same house with us.
Covered with rags, with a sack under her head, she died heavily and with
difficulty. Her whole life had been passed in a bitter struggle with
daily want; she had seen no joy, she had not tasted the honey of
happiness–it seemed as though she could not have failed to rejoice at
death, at her release, her repose. But nevertheless, as long as her
decrepit body held out, as long as her breast heaved under the icy hand
which was laid upon it, until her last strength deserted her, the old
woman kept crossing herself and whispering:–“O Lord, forgive my
sins,”–and only with the last spark of consciousness did there vanish
from her eyes the expression of fear and horror at her approaching end.
And I remember that there, by the bedside of that poor old woman, I felt
terrified for Zinaída, and felt like praying for her, for my father–and
for myself.

Continue Reading

The Black Bag of Magic Tools

Ozma swept the velvet drape from the Magic Picture. There was the
familiar scene that appeared when the Picture was not in use–a
peaceful Oz countryside with rolling fields and hills and a large tree
growing in the foreground.

“Show us the Wizard’s Black Bag of Magic Tools,” Ozma said.

There was no change in the picture.

“What can be wrong?” whispered Dorothy soberly.

“Perhaps the Magic Picture can only show _people_ and not _things_,”
suggested the Shaggy Man. “I don’t recall our ever having asked it to
show an _object_ before.”

Ozma’s face was puzzled. She was staring intently at the familiar
picture. “No,” she said quietly. “I think the Magic Picture is doing
its best to show us the Black Bag right now.”

Everyone looked at Ozma in astonishment. There was nothing in the Magic
Picture that looked anything like the Black Bag. It was merely the old
familiar scene that the magic picture showed when it was not in use.

“Conjo was very clever in a way,” said Ozma. “He hid the Black Bag by
means of his wizard powers in a place where few people would think to
look. But he forgot that the Magic Picture is my own fairy creation,
and I understand its magic better than anyone else.”

The Little Ruler paused, saying to those around her: “Watch this
closely now.” She murmured a fairy charm so softly that none of the
group could distinguish the words.

Something was moving in the Magic Picture. From behind the trunk of the
tree that arose in the foreground of the picture, slipped a small black
object. It grew larger and larger until it filled a quarter of the
picture. Then it fell out of the picture-frame to the floor.

It was the Wizard’s Black Bag of Magic Tools!

The Little Wizard leaped forward and gratefully seized his precious
Black Bag.

“So Conjo hid it behind the tree in the Magic Picture!” he exclaimed.

“It is growing quite late,” Ozma said, turning to Twink and Tom. “And
I am sure you children must be tired after the strenuous adventures of
the day.” The Little Ruler paused and then added, “I know, too, that
you are anxious to return home to your parents.”

Twink nodded. “Yes, your Highness,” she said. “We have had a wonderful
time in Oz, and we love you all very dearly, but we must go home as
soon as we can.”

“Twink’s right,” agreed Tom. “We have had a great time, and I wouldn’t
have missed it for anything, but we belong at home in Buffalo.”

Ozma smiled her most charming smile. “Very well,” she said. “We will
say goodbye now. Then Dorothy and the Shaggy Man will show you to your
room where beds are prepared for you. While you sleep, I will use the
Magic Belt to transport you to your beds in your own home.”

Twink and Tom bade goodnight and goodbye to Ozma and the King of the
Fairy Beavers. The little animal had accepted Ozma’s invitation to be
her guest as long as he felt he could absent himself from his Kingdom.

Then Dorothy and the Shaggy Man led Twink and Tom to one of the most
beautiful sleeping rooms the children had ever seen. The four talked
together for a short time, after which Dorothy and Shaggy said farewell
and slipped quietly from the room.

It had been a long, exciting day, and Twink and Tom had no difficulty
falling asleep, although they knew that sometime during the night they
would travel magically from the Land of Oz to their own beds in their
home in far-away Buffalo.

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