SHORT FICTION IV

FYODOR SOLOGUB

translated by

JOHN COURNOS, STEPHEN GRAHAM, ROSA SAVORY GRAHAM AND P.SELVER

Foreword

This edition of Fyodor Sologub’s Short Fiction was produced from various translations. “The Old House,” “The Uniter of Souls,” “The White Dog,” “Light and Shadows,” “The Glimmer of Hunger,” “Hide and Seek,” “The Smile,” “The Hoop,” “The Search” and “The White Mother” were translated by John Cournos and originally published in 1915. “Wings,” “The Sweet-Scented Name,” “Turandina,” “Lohengrin,” “Who Art Thou?,” “The Dress of the Lily and of the Cabbage,” “She Who Wore a Crown,” “The Delicate Child,” “The Bit of Candy,” “The Lump of Sugar,” “The Bull,” “The Golden Post,” “So Arose a Misunderstanding,” “Frogs,” “The Lady in Fetters,” “The Kiss of the Unborn,” “The Little Stick,” “Equality,” “Adventures of a Cobblestone,” “The Future,” “The Road and the Light,” “The Keys,” “The Independent Leaves,” “The Crimson Ribbon,” “Slayers of Innocent Babes,” “The Herald of the Beast,” “On the Other Side of the River Mairure,” and “The Candles” were translated by Stephen Graham and Rosa Savory Graham and also published in 1915. “He Became Better,” “Three Gobs of Spit,” “Fairy Tales in the Garden, and Fairy Tales at Court,” “Captive Death,” “A Marriage,” “The Man Who Became Smaller,” “Dotard and Dotardess” and “Little Songs” were translated by John Cournos and originally published in 1916. “The Little Ray in the Little Cell,” “The Affectionate Boy” and “They” were translated by John Cournos and originally published in 1917. “The Tiny Man” was translated by P. Selver and originally published in 1919.

Short Fiction

The Old House1

I

It was an old, large, one-storied house, with a mezzanine. It stood in a village, eleven versts from a railway station, and about fifty versts from the district town. The garden which surrounded the house seemed lost in drowsiness, while beyond it stretched vistas and vistas of inexpressibly dull, infinitely depressing fields.

Once this house had been painted lavender, but now it was faded. Its roof, once red, had turned dark brown. But the pillars of the terrace were still quite strong, the little arbours in the garden were intact, and there was an Aphrodite in the shrubbery.

It seemed as if the old house were full of memories. It stood, as it were, dreaming, recalling, lapsing finally into a mood of sorrow at the overwhelming flood of doleful memories.

Everything in this house was as before, as in those days when the whole family lived there together in the summer, when Borya was yet alive.

Now, in the old manor, lived only women: Borya’s grandmother, Elena Kirillovna Vodolenskaya; Borya’s mother, Sofia Alexandrovna Ozoreva; and Borya’s sister, Natalya Vasilyevna. The old grandmother, and the mother, and the young girl appeared tranquil, and at times even cheerful. It was the second year of their awaiting in the old house the youngest of the family, Boris. Boris who was no longer among the living.

They hardly spoke of him to one another; yet their thoughts, their memories, and their musings of him filled their days. At times dark threads of grief stole in among the even woof of these thoughts and reveries; and tears fell bitterly and ceaselessly.

When the midday sun rested overhead, when the sad moon beckoned, when the rosy dawn blew its cool breezes, when the evening sun blazed its red laughter⁠—these were the four points between which their spirits fluctuated from evening joy to high midday sorrow. Swayed involuntarily, all three of them felt the sympathy and antipathy of the hours, each mood in turn.

The happiness of dawn, the bright, midday sadness, the joy of dusk, the pale pining of night. The four emotions lifted them infinitely higher than the rope upon which Borya had swung, upon which Borya had died.

II

At pale-rose dawn, when the merrily green, harmoniously white birches bend their wet branches before the windows, just beyond the little patch of sand by the round flowerbed; at pale-rose dawn⁠—when a fresh breeze comes blowing from the bathing pond⁠—then wakes Natasha, the first of the three.

What a joy it is to wake at dawn! To throw aside the cool cover of muslin, to rest upon the elbow, upon one’s side, and to look out of the window with large, dark, sad eyes.

Out of the window the sky is visible, seeming quite low over the white distant birches. A pale vermilion sunrise brightly suffuses its soft fire through the thin mist which stretches over the earth. There is in its quiet, gently joyous flame a great tension of young fears and of half-conscious desires; what tension, what happiness, and what sadness! It smiles through the dew of sweet morning tears, over white lilies-of-the-valley, over the blue violets of the broad fields.

Wherefore tears! To what end the grief of night!

There, close to the window, hangs a sprig of sweet-flag, banishing all evil. It was put there by the grandmother, and the old nurse insists on its staying there. It trembles in the air, the sprig of sweet-flag, and smiles its dry green smile.

Natasha’s face lapses into a quiet, rosy serenity.

The earth awakes in its fresh morning vigour. The voices of newly-roused life reach Natasha. Here the restless twitter of birds comes from among the swaying damp branches. There in the distance can be heard the prolonged trill of a horn. Elsewhere, quite near, on the path by the window, there are sounds of something walking with a heavy, stamping tread. The cheerful neighing of a foal is heard, and from another quarter the protracted lowing of sullen cows.

III

Natasha rises, smiles at something, and goes quickly to the window. Her window looks down upon the earth from a height. It is in three sections, in the mezzanine. Natasha does not draw the curtains across it at night, so as not to hide from her drowsing eyes the comforting glimmer of the stars and the witching face of the moon.

What happiness it is to open the window, to fling it wide open with a vigorous thrust of the hand! From the direction of the river the gentlest of morning breezes comes blowing into Natasha’s face, still somewhat rapt in sleep. Beyond the garden and the hedges she can see the broad fields beloved from childhood. Spread over them are sloping hillocks, rows of ploughed soil, green groves, and clusters of shrubbery.

The river winds its way among the green, full of capricious turnings. White tufts of mist, dispersing gradually, hang over it like fragments of a torn veil. The stream, visible in places, is more often hidden by some projection of its low bank, but in the far distance its path is marked by dense masses of willow-herb, which stand out dark green against the bright grass.


Natasha washed herself quickly; it was pleasant to feel the cold water upon her shoulders and upon her neck. Then, childlike, she prayed diligently before the ikon in the dark corner, her knees not upon the rug but upon the bare floor, in the hope that it might please God.

She repeated her daily prayer:

“Perform a miracle, O Lord!”

And she bent her face to the floor.

She rose. Then quickly she put on her gay, light dress with broad shoulder-straps, cut square on the breast, and a leather belt, drawn in at the back with a large buckle. Quickly she plaited her dark braids, and deftly wound them round her head. With a flourish she stuck into them horn combs and hairpins, the first that came to her hand. She threw over her shoulders a grey, knitted kerchief, pleasantly soft in texture, and made haste to go out onto the terrace of the old house.

The narrow inner staircase creaked gently under Natasha’s light step. It was pleasant to feel the contact of the cold hard floor of planks under her warm feet.

When Natasha descended and passed down the corridor and through the dining-room, she walked on tiptoe so as to awaken neither her mother nor her grandmother. Upon her face was a sweet expression of cheerful preoccupation, and between her brows a slight contraction. This contraction had remained as it was formed in those other days.

The curtains in the dining-room were still drawn. The room seemed dark and oppressive. She wanted to run through quickly, past the large drawn-out table. She had no wish to stop at the sideboard to snatch something to eat.

Quicker, quicker! Toward freedom, toward the open, toward the smiles of the careless dawn which does not think of wearisome yesterdays.

IV

It was bright and refreshing on the terrace. Natasha’s light-coloured dress suddenly kindled with the pale-rose smiles of the early sun. A soft breeze blew from the garden. It caressed and kissed Natasha’s feet.

Natasha seated herself in a wicker chair, and leant her slender rosy elbows upon the broad parapet of the terrace. She directed her gaze toward the gate between the hedges beyond which the grey silent road was visible, gently serene in the pale rose light.

Natasha looked long, intently, with a steady pensive gaze in her dark eyes. A small vein quivered at the left corner of her mouth. The left brow trembled almost imperceptibly. The vertical contraction between her eyes defined itself rather sharply. Equal to the fixity of the tremulous, ruby-like flame of the rising sun, was the fixed vision of her very intent, motionless eyes.

If an observer were to give a long and searching look at Natasha as she sat there in the sunrise, it would seem to him that she was not observing what was before her, but that her intent gaze was fixed on something very far away, at something that was not in sight.

It was as though she wished to see someone who was not there, someone she was waiting for, someone who will come⁠—who will come today. Only let the miracle happen. Yes, the miracle!

V

Natasha’s grey daily routine was before her. It was always the same, always in the same place. And as yesterday, as tomorrow, as always, the same people. Eternal unchanging people.

A muzhik walked along with a monotonous swing, the iron heels of his boots striking the hard clay of the road with a resounding clang. A peasant woman walked unsteadily by, softly rustling her way through the dewy grass, showing her sunburnt legs. Regarding the old house with a kind of awe, a number of sweet, sunburnt, dirty, white-haired urchins ran by.

Past the house, always past it. No one thought of stopping at the gate. And no one saw the young girl behind that pillar of the terrace.

Sweetbriar bloomed near the gate. It let fall its first pale-rose petals on the yellow sandy path, petals of heavenly innocence even in their actual fall. The roses in the garden exhaled their sweet, passionate perfume. At the terrace itself, reflecting the light of the sky, they flaunted their bright rosy smiles, their aromatic shameless dreams and desires, innocent as all was innocent in the primordial paradise, innocent as only the perfumes of roses are innocent upon this earth. White tobacco plants and red poppies bloomed in one part of the garden. And just beyond a marble Aphrodite gleamed white, like some eternal emblem of beauty, in the green, refreshing, aromatic, joyous life of this passing day.

Natasha said quietly to herself: “He must have changed a great deal. Perhaps I shan’t know him when he comes.”

And quietly she answered herself: “But I would know him at once by his voice and his eyes.”

And listening intently she seemed to hear his deep, sonorous voice. Then she seemed to see his dark eyes, and their flaming, dauntless, youthfully-bold glance. And again she listened intently and gave a searching look into the great distance. She bent down lightly, and inclined her sensitive ear toward something while her glance, pensive and motionless, seemed no less fixed. It was as though she had stopped suddenly in an attitude, tense and not a little wild.

The rosy smile of the now blazing sunrise timidly played on Natasha’s pale face.

VI

A voice in the distance gave a cry, and there was an answering echo.

Natasha shivered. She started, sighed, and then rose. Down the low, broad steps she descended into the garden, and found herself on the sandy path. The fine grey sand grated under her small and narrow feet, which left behind their delicate traces.

Natasha approached the white marble statue.

For a long time she gazed upon the tranquil beauty of the goddess’s face, so remote from her own tedious, dried-up life, and then upon the ever-youthful form, nude and unashamed, radiating freedom. Roses bloomed at the foot of the plain pedestal. They added the enchantment of their brief aromatic existence to the enchantment of eternal beauty.

Very quietly Natasha addressed the Aphrodite.

“If he should come today, I will put into the buttonhole of his jacket the most scarlet, the most lovely of these roses. He is swarthy, and his eyes are dark⁠—yes, I shall take the most scarlet of your roses!”

The goddess smiled. Gathering up with her beautiful hands the serene draperies which fell about her knees, silently but unmistakably she answered, “Yes.”

And Natasha said again: “I will plait a wreath of scarlet roses, and I will let down my hair, my long, dark hair; and I will put on the wreath, and I will dance and laugh and sing, to comfort him, to make him joyous.”

And again the goddess said to her, “Yes.”

Natasha spoke again: “You will remember him. You will recognize him. You gods remember everything. Only we people forget. In order to destroy and to create⁠—ourselves and you.”

And in the silence of the white marble was clear the eternal “Yes,” the comforting answer, “Yes.”

Natasha sighed and took her eyes from the statue. The sunrise blazed into a flame; the joyous garden smiled with the radiations of dawn’s ever-youthful, triumphant laughter.

VII

Then Natasha went quietly toward the gate. There again she looked a long time down the road. She had her hand on the gate in an attitude of expectation, ready, as it were, to swing it wide open before him who was coming, before him whom she awaited.

Stirring the grey dust of the road the refreshing early wind blew softly into Natasha’s face, and whispered in her ears persistent, evil and ominous things, as though it envied her expectation, her tense calm.

O wind, you who blow everywhere, you know all, you come and you go at will, and you pursue your way into the endless beyond.

O wind, you who blow everywhere, perchance you have flown into the regions where he is? Perchance you have brought tidings of him?

If you would but bring hither a single sigh from him, or bear one hence to him; if but the light, pale shadow of a word.

When the early wind blows a flush comes to Natasha’s face, and a flame to her eyes; her red lips quiver, a few tears appear, her slender form sways slightly⁠—all this when the wind blows, the cool, the desolate, the unmindful, the infinitely wise wind. It blows, and in its blowing there is the sense of fleeting, irrevocable time.

It blows, and it stings, and it brings sadness, and pitilessly it goes on.

It goes on, and the frail dust falls back in the road, grey-rose yet dim in the dawn. It has wiped out all its traces, it has forgotten all who have walked upon it, and it lies faintly rose in the dawn.

There is a gnawing at the heart from the sweet sadness of expectation. Someone seems to stand near Natasha, whispering in her ear: “He will come. He is on the way. Go and meet him.”

VIII

Natasha opens the gate and goes quickly down the road in the direction of the distant railway station. Having walked as far as the hillock by the river, one and a half versts away, Natasha pauses and looks into the distance.

A clear view of the road is to be had from this hillock. Somewhere below, among the meadows, a curlew gives a sharp cry. The pleasant smell of the damp grass fills the air.

The sun is rising. Suddenly everything becomes white, bright, and clear. Joyousness fills the great open expanse. On the top of the hillock the morning wind blows more strongly and more sweetly. It seems to have forgotten its desolation and its grief.

The grass is quite wet with dew. How gently it clings to her ankles. It is resplendent in its multicoloured, gem-like, tear-like glitter.

The red sun rises slowly but triumphantly above the blue mist of the horizon. In its bright red flame there is a hidden foreboding of quiet melancholy.

Natasha lowers her glance upon the wet grass. Sweet little flowers! She recognizes the flower of faithfulness, the blue periwinkle.

Here also, quite near, reminiscent of death, is the black madwort. But what of that? Is it not everywhere? Soothe us, soothe us, little blue flowers!

“I will not pluck a single one of you; not one of you will I plait into my wreath.”

She stands, waiting, watching.

Were he to show himself in the road she would recognize him even in the distance. But no⁠—there is no one. The road is deserted, and the misty distances are dumb.

IX

Natasha remains standing a little while, then turns back. Her feet sink in the wet grass. The tall stalks half wind themselves round her ankles and rustle against the hem of her light-coloured dress. Natasha’s graceful arms, half hidden by the grey knitted kerchief, hang subdued at her sides. Her eyes have already lost their fixed expression, and have begun to jump from object to object.

How often have they walked this road, all together, her little sisters, and Borya! They were noisy with merriment. What did they not talk about! Their quarrels! What proud songs they sang! Now she was alone, and there was no sign of Borya.

Why were they waiting for him? In what manner would he come? She did not know. Perhaps she would not recognize him.

There awakens in Natasha’s heart a presentiment of bitter thoughts. With a heavy rustle an evil serpent begins to stir in the darkness of her wearied memory.

Slowly and sorrowfully Natasha turns her steps homeward. Her eyes are drowsy and seem to look aimlessly, with fallen and fatigued glances. The grass now seems disagreeably damp, the wind malicious; her feet feel the wet, and the hem of her thin dress has grown heavy with moisture. The new light of a new day, resplendent, glimmering with the play of the laughing dew, resounding with the hum of birds and the voices of human folk, becomes again for Natasha tiresomely blatant.

What does a new day matter? Why invoke the unattainable?

The murmur of pitiless memory, at first faint, grows more audible. The heavy burden of insurmountable sorrow falls on the heart like an aspen-grey weight. The heart feels proudly the pressure of the inexpressibly painful foreboding of tears.

As she nears the house Natasha increases her pace. Faster and yet faster, in response to the growing beat of her sorrowful heart, she is running over the dry clay of the road, over the wet grass of the bypath, trodden by pedestrians, over the moist, crunching, sandy footpaths of the garden, which still treasure the gentle traces left by her at dawn. Natasha runs across the warm planks, as yet unswept of dust and litter. And she no longer tries to step lightly and inaudibly. She stumbles across the astonished, open-mouthed Glasha. She runs impetuously and noisily up the stairway to her room, and throws herself on the bed. She pulls the coverlet over her head, and falls asleep.

X

Borya’s grandmother, Elena Kirillovna, sleeps below. She is old, and she cannot sleep in the morning; but never in all her life has she risen early; so even now she is awake only a little later than Natasha. Elena Kirillovna, straight, thin, motionless, the back of her head resting on the pillow, lies for a long time waiting for the maid to bring her a cup of coffee⁠—she has long ago accustomed herself to have her coffee in bed.

Elena Kirillovna has a dry, yellow face, marked with many wrinkles; but her eyes are still sparkling, and her hair is black, especially by day, when she uses a cosmetic.

The maid Glasha is habitually late. She sleeps well in the morning, for in the evening she loves to stroll over to the bridge in the village. The harmonica makes merry there, and on holidays all sorts of jolly folk and maidens dance and sing.

Elena Kirillovna rings a number of times. In the end the unanswering stillness behind the door begins to irritate her. Sadly she turns on her side, grumbling. She stretches her dry, yellow hand forward and with a kind of concentrated intentness presses her bent, bony finger a long time on the white bell-button lying on the little round table at her head.

At last Glasha hears the prolonged, jarring ring above her head. She jumps quickly from her bed, and anxiously gropes about for something or other in her narrow quarters under the stairway of the mezzanine; then she throws a skirt over her head, and hurries to her old mistress. While running she arranges somehow her heavy, tangled braids.

Glasha’s face is angry and sleepy. She reels in her drowsiness. On the way to her mistress’s bedroom the morning air refreshes her a little. She faces her mistress looking more or less normal.

Glasha has on a pink skirt and a white blouse. In the semidarkness of the curtained windows her sunburnt arms and strong legs seem almost white. Young, strong, rustic and impetuous, she suddenly appears before her old mistress’s bed, her vigorous tread causing the heavy metal bed with its nickelled posts and surmounting knobs to rattle slightly, and the tumbler on the small round table to tinkle against the flagon.

XI

Elena Kirillovna greets Glasha with her customary observation:

“Glasha, when am I to have my coffee? I ring and ring, and no one comes. You, girl, seem to sleep like the dead.”

Glasha’s face assumes a look of astonishment and fear. Restraining a yawn, she bends down to put a disarranged rug in order, and puts a pair of soft, worn slippers closer to the bed. Then assuming an excessively tender, deferential tone which old gentlewomen like in their servants, she remarks:

“Forgive me, barinya,2 it shan’t take a minute. But how early you are awake today, barinya! Did you have a bad night?”

Elena Kirillovna replies:

“What sort of sleep can one except at my age! Get me my coffee a little more quickly, and I will try to get up.”

She now speaks more calmly, despite the capricious note in her voice.

Glasha replies heartily:

“This very minute, barinya. You shall have it at once.”

And she turns about to go out.

Elena Kirillovna stops her with an angry exclamation:

“Glasha, where are you going? You seem to forget, no matter how often I tell you! Draw the curtains aside.”

Glasha, with some agility, thrusts back the curtains of the two windows and flies out of the room. She is rather low of stature and slender, and one can tell from her face that she is intelligent, but the sound of her rapid footsteps is measured and heavy, giving the impression that the runner is large, powerful, heavy, and capable of doing everything but what requires lightness. The mistress grumbles, looking after her:

“Lord, how she stamps with her feet! She spares neither the floor nor her own heels!”

XII

At last the sound of Glasha’s feet dies away in the echoing silence of the long corridor. The old lady lies, waiting, thinking. She is once more straight and motionless under her bedcover, and very yellow and very still. Her whole life seems to be concentrated in the living sparkle of her keen eyes.

The sun, still low, throws a subdued rosy light on the wall facing her. The bedroom is lit-up and quiet. Swift atoms of dust are dancing about in the air. There is a glitter on the glass of the photographic portraits which hang on the wall, as well as on the narrow gilt rims of their black frames.

Elena Kirillovna looks at the portraits. Her keen, youthfully sparkling eyes carefully scrutinize the beloved faces. Many of these are no longer upon the earth.

Borya’s portrait is a large one, in a broad dark frame. It is a young face, the face of a seventeen-year-old lad, quite smooth and with dark eyes. The upper lip shows a small but vigorous growth of hair. The lips are tightly compressed and the entire face gives the impression of an indomitable will.

Elena Kirillovna looks long at the portrait, and recalls Borya. Of all her grandsons she loved him best. And now she is recalling him. She sees him as he had once looked. Where is he now? Before long Borya will return. She will be overjoyed, her eyes will have their fill of him. But how soon?

It comforts the old woman to think, “It can’t be very long.”

Someone has just run past her window, giving a shrill cry.

Elena Kirillovna, turning in her bed, looks out of the window.

The white acacia trees before the window, gaily rustling their leaves, smile innocently, naively and cheerily. Behind them, looming densely, are the tops of the birches and of the limes. Some of the branches lean toward the window. Their harsh rustle evokes a memory in Elena Kirillovna.

If Borya were but to cry out like that! He had loved this garden. He had loved the white bloom of the acacia trees, and he had loved to gather the little field flowers. He used to bring her some. He liked cornflowers specially.

XIII

At last Glasha has come with the coffee. She has placed a silver tray on the little round table near the bed. Above the broad blue-and-gold porcelain cup rises a thin bluish cloud of steam.

Elena Kirillovna draws her scant body higher upon the pillows, and sits upright in her bed; she seems straight, dry, and thin in her white night-jacket. With trembling hands she very fastidiously rearranges the ribbons of her white ruffled nightcap.

Glasha, with great solicitude and skill, has placed a number of pillows at her back, and these piled up high make a soft wall of comfort.

The little silver spoon held by the old dry fingers rings with fragile laughter as it stirs the sugar in the cup. Afterwards out of a small milk-jug comes a generous helping of boiled milk. And Glasha, having shifted somewhat to the side in order to catch a stealthy look of herself in the mirror, goes out.

Elena Kirillovna sips her coffee slowly. She breaks a sugared biscuit, throws half of it in the cup, and leaves it there for a time. Then, when it is completely softened, she carefully takes it out with the little spoon.

Elena Kirillovna’s teeth are still quite strong. She is very proud of this; nevertheless she has preferred of late to eat softer things. She munches away at the wet biscuit. Her face expresses gratification. Her small, keen eyes sparkle merrily.

When the coffee is finished Elena Kirillovna lies down again. She dozes for half an hour on her back, under the bedcover. Then she rings again and waits.

XIV

Glasha comes in. She has had time to comb her hair and to put on a pink blouse, and this makes her seem even thinner. As she is in no haste her footfalls sound even heavier than before.

Glasha approaches her mistress’s bed and silently throws the bedcover aside. She helps Elena Kirillovna to sit on the bed, holding her up under the arm. Then, getting down on her knees, she helps her mistress to put on her long black stockings and her soft grey slippers.

Elena Kirillovna holds on to Glasha’s shoulder with her trembling, nervous hands. She envies Glasha’s youth, strength, and naive simplicity. Grumbling under her breath at her unfortunate lot, Elena Kirillovna imagines in her dejection that she would be willing to sacrifice all her comfort to become like Glasha, a common servant-maid with coarse hands and feet red from rough usage and the wet⁠—if she could but possess the youth, the cheerfulness, the sangfroid, and the happiness attainable upon this earth only by the stupid.

The old woman grumbles often at her fate, but is quite unwilling to give up a single one of her gentlewoman’s habits.

Glasha says, “All ready, barinya.

“Now my capote, Glasha,” Elena Kirillovna says as she gets up.

But Glasha herself knows what is wanted. She deftly puts on Elena Kirillovna’s shoulders a white flannel robe.

“Now you may go, Glashenka. I will ring if I want you again.”

XV

Glasha goes. She hurries to the veranda staircase.

Here she washes herself a second time in a clay turnover basin, which is attached by a rope to one of the posts of the veranda; she quickly plunges her face and hands in the water that had been left there overnight. She splashes the water a long way off on the green grass, on the lilac-grey planks of the staircase and on her feet, which are red from the early morning freshness and from the tender contact with the dewy grass in the vegetable garden. She laughs happily at herself⁠—because she is a young, healthy girl, because the early morning freshness caresses the length of her strong, swift body with brisk cool strokes; and finally, because not far away, in the village, there is a lively and handsome young fellow, not unlike herself, who pays attention to her and whom she is rather fond of. It is true that her mother scolds her on his account, because the young man is poor. But what’s that to Glasha? Not for nothing is there an adage:

“Without bread ’tis very sad,
Still sadder ’tis without a lad.”

Glasha laughs loudly and merrily.

Stepanida cries at her from the kitchen window: “Glash, Glash, why do you neigh like a horse?”

Glasha laughs, makes no reply, and goes off.

Stepanida puts her simple, red face out of the window and asks: “I wonder what’s the matter with her.”

She receives no answer, for there is no one to reply. Out of doors all is deserted. Only somewhere from behind the barn the languid voices of workingmen can be heard.

XVI

In the meantime Elena Kirillovna kneels down with a sigh before the ikon in her bedroom. She prays a long time. Conscientiously she repeats all the prayers she knows. Her dry, raspberry-coloured lips stir slightly. Her face has a severe, concentrated expression. All her wrinkles seem also austere, weary, callous.

There are many words in her prayers⁠—holy, lofty, touching words. But because of their frequent repetition their meaning has become, as it were, hardened, stereotyped and ordinary; the tears which appear in her eyes are habitual tears wrung out by her antique emotion, and have no relation to the secret trepidation of impossible hopes which have stolen into the old woman’s heart of late.

Diligently her lips murmur prayers each day for the forgiveness of sins, voluntary and involuntary, committed in deed, in word, or in thought; prayers for the purification of our souls of all defilement; and again words concerning our impieties, our evil actions, our disregard of commandments, our general unworthiness, our worldly frailty, and the temptations of Satan; and again concerning the accursed soul and the accursed body and the sensual life; and her words embrace only universal evil and all-pervading depravity. Surely these prayers were composed for Titans, created to reconstruct the universe, but who, out of shamefaced indolence, are attending to this business with their arms hanging at their sides.

And not a word does she utter of her own, her personal affliction, of what is in her soul.

The old, dried-up lips mumble of mercy, of generosity, of brotherly love, of the holy life⁠—of all those lofty regions pouring out their bounty upon all creation. And not a word of the miracle, awaited eagerly and with trepidation.

But here are words for those who are in prison and in exile; it is a prayer for their liberation, for their redemption.

Here is something at last about Borya.

Freedom and redemption.⁠ ⁠…

But the prayer runs on and on, and it is again for strangers, for distant people, for the universal; only for an instant, and then lightly, does she pause to put in something for herself, for her desire, for what is in her heart.

Then for the dead⁠—for those others, the long since departed, the almost forgotten, the resurrected only in word in the hour of these strangers, prayed for in this easy, gliding way all the world over where piety reigns.

The prayers are ended. Elena Kirillovna lingers for a moment. She has an air of having forgotten to say something indispensable.

What else? Or has she said all?

“All”⁠—someone seems to say simply, softly and inexorably.

Elena Kirillovna rises from her knees. She goes to the window. Her soul is calm and self-contained. The prayer has not left her in a mood of piety, but has relieved her weary soul for a brief time of its material, matter-of-fact existence.

XVII

Elena Kirillovna looks out of the window. She is returning, as it were, once more from some dark, abstract world to the bright, profusely-coloured, resonant impressions of a rough, cheery, not altogether disagreeable life.

Small white clouds tinged with red float slowly in the heights and merge imperceptibly in the vivid blue. Ablaze like a piece of coal at red heat their soul seems to fuse with their cold white bodies, to consume them as well as itself with fire, and to sink exhausted in the cold blue heights. The sun, as yet invisible behind the left wing of the house, has already begun to pour upon the garden its warm and glowing waves of laughter, joy and light, animating the flowers and birds.

“Well, it’s time to dress,” Elena Kirillovna says to herself.

She rings.

Soon Glasha appears and helps Elena Kirillovna to dress.

At last she is ready. She casts a final look in the mirror to see that everything is in order.

Elena Kirillovna’s hair is very neatly combed, and lightly brushed down with a cosmetic. This makes it shine and appear as though it were glued together. At her every movement in the light there is visible, from right to left, a slender silver thread, due to the reflection of light at the parting of the smoothed coiffure. Her face shows slight traces of powder.

Elena Kirillovna’s dress is always of a light colour, when not actually white, and of the simplest cut. The small soft ruffle of the broad collar hides her neck and chin. She has already substituted for her dressing slippers a pair of light summer shoes.

XVIII

Elena Kirillovna enters the dining-room. She looks on as the table is being laid for breakfast. She always notes the slightest disorder. She grumbles quietly as she picks up something from one place on the table and puts it in another.

Then she goes into the large, unused front room, with its closed door on to the staircase of the front façade. She walks along the corridor to the vestibule and to the back staircase. She stops on the high landing, wrinkles up her face from the sun, and looks down to see what is going on in the yard. Small, quite erect, like a young schoolgirl with a yellow, wrinkled face which expresses at the moment a severe domestic concern, she stands, looks on, and is silent; she is, it seems, unnecessary here. No one pays her the slightest attention.

“Good morning, Stepanida,” she calls out. Stepanida, a buxom, red-cheeked maid in a bright red dress, under which is visible a strip of her white chemise and her stout sunburnt legs, is attending to the samovar at the bottom of the stairs, and is vigorously blowing to set the fire going. Upon her head is a neatly-arranged green kerchief, which hides her folded braids of hair like a headdress.

The bulging sides of the samovar glow radiantly in the sun. Its bent chimney sends out a curl of blue smoke, which smells sharply, pungently, and not altogether disagreeably, of juniper and tar.

In answer to the old mistress’s greeting Stepanida raises her broad, cheerfully-preoccupied face, with its small, dark brown eyes, and says in prolonged caressing tones, singsong fashion:

“Good morning to you, matushka barinya.3 It’s a fine morning, to be sure. How warm it is, by the grace of God! And you’re up early, matushka barinya!”

Her words are indeed honeyed, and above in the sweet air an early, shaggy bee hovers, with a thick buzzing, tremulously golden in the clear, fluid haze of the early, gentle sun. Silent again, Stepanida is once more busy with the samovar; the disenchanted bee flies away, its buzzing growing less and less audible behind the fence.

The pungent smell of tar causes Elena Kirillovna to frown. She says:

“What makes the thing smell so strongly? You had better leave it for a while, or you will get giddy.”

Stepanida, without moving, answers languidly and indifferently:

“It’s nothing, barinya. We are used to it. It’s but a slight smell, and it is the juniper.”

Through the blue, curling smoke of juniper her sweet voice seems dull and bitter. There is a tickling at Elena Kirillovna’s throat. There is a slight giddiness in her head. Elena Kirillovna makes haste to go. She descends the staircase, and proceeds upon her customary morning stroll.

XIX

Glasha soon overtakes her. With an exaggerated loudness she runs stamping down the stairs, showing a winglike glimmer of her strong legs from under the pink skirt, set aflutter by her vigorous movement. She calls out in a clear, solicitously joyous voice:

Barinya, you have come out! The sun will scorch you. I’ve fetched your hat.”

The yellow straw hat, with its lavender ribbon, glimmers in Glasha’s hands like some strange, low-fluttering bird.

Elena Kirillovna, as she puts the hat on, says: “Why do you run about in such disorder! You ought to tidy yourself⁠—you know whom we are expecting.”

Glasha is silent, and her face assumes a compassionate expression. For a long time she looks after her strolling mistress, then she smiles and walks back.

Stepanida asks her in a loud whisper: “Well, is she still expecting her grandson?”

“Rather!” Glasha replies compassionately. “And it’s simply pitiful to look at them. They never stop thinking about him.”

In the meanwhile Elena Kirillovna makes her way across the vegetable garden, past the labourers and the servants in the stockyard, and then across the field. Near the garden fence she enters the road.

There, not far from the garden, in the shade of an old, spreading lime, stands a bench⁠—a board upon two supports, which still shows traces of having been once painted green. From this place a view is to be had of the road, of the garden, and of the house.

Elena Kirillovna seats herself upon the bench. She looks out on the road. She sits quietly, seeming so small, so slender, and so erect. She waits a long time. She falls into a doze.

Through the thin haze of slumber she can see a beloved, smooth face smiling, and she can hear a quiet, dear voice calling:

“Grandma!”

She gives a start and opens her eyes. There is no one there. But she waits. She believes and waits.

XX

There is a lightness in the air. The road is radiant and tranquil. A gentle, refreshing breeze softly passes and repasses her. The sun is warming her old bones, it is caressing her lean back through her dress. Everything round her rejoices in the green, the golden, and the blue. The foliage of the birches, of the willows, and of the limes in full bloom is rustling quietly. From the fields comes the honeyed smell of clover.

Oh, how light and lovely the air is upon the earth!

How beautiful thou art, my earth, my golden, my emerald, my sapphire earth! Who, born to thy heritage would care to die, would care to close his eyes upon thy serene beauties and upon thy magnificent spaces? Who, resting in thee, damp Mother Earth, would not wish to rise, would not wish to return to thy enchantments and to thy delights? And what stern fate shall drive one who is aflame with life-thirst to seek the shelter of death?

Upon the road where once he walked he shall walk again. Upon the earth, which still preserves his footprints, he shall walk again. Borya, the grandmother’s beloved Borya, shall return.

A golden bee flies by. It seems to say, the golden bee, that Borya will return to the quiet of the old house and will taste the fragrant honey⁠—the sweet gift of the wise bees, buzzing under the sun upon the beloved earth. The old grandmother, in her joy, will place before the ikon of the Virgin a candle of the purest bees’-wax⁠—a gift of the wise bees, buzzing away among the gold of the sun’s rays⁠—a gift to man and a gift to God.

Women and girls of the village pass by with their sunburnt, windswept faces. They greet the barinya and look at her with compassion. Elena Kirillovna smiles at them, and addresses them in her usual gentle manner:

“Good morning, my dears!”

They pass by. Their loud voices die away in the distance, and Elena Kirillovna soon forgets them. They will pass by once more that day, when the time comes. They will pass by. They will return. Upon the road, where their dusty footprints remain, they will pass by once more.

XXI

Elena Kirillovna suddenly awoke from her drowse and looked at the things before her with a perplexed gaze. Everything seemed to be clear, bright, free from care⁠—and relentless.

Inevitably the triumphant sun rose higher in the heavens’ dome. Grown powerful, wise and resplendent, it seemed indifferent now to oppressive earthly melancholy and to sweet earthly delights. And its laughter was high, joyless, and sorrowless.

Everything as before was green, blue and gold, many-toned and vividly tinted; truly all the objects of nature showed the real colour of their souls in honour of this feast of light. But the fine dust upon the silent road had already lost its rose tinge, and stirred before the wind like a grey, depressing veil. And when the wind calmed down, the dust slowly fell back upon the road, like a grey, blind serpent which, trailing its fat, fantastic belly, falls back exhausted, gasping its last breath.

All monotony had become wearisome. This inevitable recurrence of lucid moments began to torment Elena Kirillovna with the grey foreboding of sadness, of bitter tears, of unanswered prayers, and of a profound hopelessness.

XXII

Glasha appeared at the garden gate. She glanced cheerfully along both sides of the road. Walking more slowly she approached Elena Kirillovna deferentially.

Glasha looked quite ordinary now, stiff-mannered and stupid. There was nothing to envy in her. Her dress too was quite commonplace. Her braids were arranged upon her head quite like a young lady’s, and held fast by three combs of transparent bone. Her blouse was light-coloured⁠—pink stripes and lavender flowers on a ground of white⁠—its short sleeves reached the elbows. She wore a neat blue skirt and a white apron.

Elena Kirillovna asked:

“Well, what is it, Glashenka? Is Sonyushka up yet?”

Glasha replied in a respectful voice:

“Sofia Alexandrovna is getting up. She wants me to ask you if we shall lay the table on the terrace?”

“Yes, yes, let it be on the terrace. And how is Natashenka?” asked Elena Kirillovna, looking anxiously at Glasha.

“The young lady is asleep,” answered Glasha. “Today again, quite early, she went out for a walk straight from bed, without so much as a bite of something. Her skirt’s wet with dew. She might have caught a cold. And now she sleeps. If you’d but talk to her.”

Elena Kirillovna said irresolutely:

“Very well. I had better be going. All right, Glasha.”

Glasha goes. Elena Kirillovna rises slowly from the bench, as though she regretted moving from the spot where she saw Borya in a half-dream. Slowly she walks toward the house.

Having reached the gate she pauses, and again looks for some moments down the road, in the direction of the station.

A cart rumbles by noisily over the travelled road. The muzhik barely holds the reins and rocks from side to side sleepily. The harnessed horse swings its tail and its head. A white-haired urchin, in broad blue breeches, lets his brown feet hang over the edge of the cart and stares with his bright hazel eyes at a gaunt, evil-looking dog which runs after, barking hoarsely.

Elena Kirillovna gives a sigh⁠—there is as yet no Borya⁠—and enters the garden.

Glasha’s light-coloured blouse glimmers on the terrace. There is a rattle of dishes. The grumbling chatter of Borya’s old nurse is also audible.

XXIII

The last to awake, with the sun quite high and scorching, is Borya’s mother, Sofia Alexandrovna. Through the thin bright curtains, drawn for the night across the windows, the light fills her bedroom.

Sofia Alexandrovna awakes with a start, as though someone had touched her suddenly or had called to her. With her right hand she impetuously throws aside her light white bedcover. Quickly she sits up in bed, holding her hands over her bent knees. For a moment she looks before her at a bare place in the simple pattern of the bright green hangings.

Sofia Alexandrovna’s eyes are dark, wide open, with black, fiery pupils which seem lost in the abysmal, depths of their own sorrowful gaze. Her face is long, its skin smooth and colourless, though quite fresh and almost free of wrinkles. The lips are a vivid red.

Sofia Alexandrovna’s expression is like that of one faced suddenly with a tragic apparition. She rocks herself back and forward.

Then, abruptly, she jumps out of bed with a single spring. She runs to the washing-basin of marble mounted on a red stand. She washes herself quickly, as though in haste to go somewhere. Now she is at the window. The curtains are flung violently aside. She peers anxiously to see what the outlook is⁠—whether there are any clouds in the sky that might bring rain and make the road muddy, the road upon which Borya would return home.

The heavens are tremulously joyous. The birches are rustling quietly. The sparrows are twittering. Everything is green, bright, quivering; everything palpitates under the tension of hopes and anticipations. Voices are audible; cries of good cheer and sounds of laughter. One of the laughers runs by, as though making haste to live.

A torrent of tears floods Sofia Alexandrovna’s eyes. Her breast heaves visibly under the white linen chemise.

XXIV

Sofia Alexandrovna goes to the image. She thrusts aside with her foot the small velvet rug which Glasha had purposely laid there the day before. She throws herself down on her knees before the image. You hear her knees strike the floor softly. Sofia Alexandrovna quietly crosses herself, bends her face to the floor, and mutters passionately:

“O Lord, Thou knowest, Thou knowest all, Thou canst do all. Do this, O Lord, return him to us, to his mother, return him today.”

Her prayer is warm and passionate, quite unlike a prayer. Its words are disconnected, and they fall confusedly, like small, broken tears. Her naked feet come in contact with the cold, painted floor. And the entire, warm, prostrate body of the weeping woman is throbbing and trembling on the boards. Her head repeatedly strikes the boards, loosening her dark braids of hair.

She does not pray long. The torrents of tears have cleansed her soul, as it were; and she becomes at once cheerful and tranquil.

She rises quite, as suddenly, and rings. She seats herself on the edge of the bed, and dries her tears with a soft handkerchief. Then she laughs silently. She swings one of her feet impatiently, striking the rug in front of the bed with the toes. Her eyes wander about the room, but seem to observe nothing.

Glasha had only just begun to dress, and she had only tied the strings of her apron round her slender waist. The sharp impatient ring causes her to start. She runs to the barinya, seizing quickly at the same time a pair of blackened boots and some clothes from the laundry.

Sofia Alexandrovna cries in an urgent voice:

“Now be quick, Glasha. Help me on with my things.”

She looks on impatiently as Glasha puts down her burden.

The daily ceremony is gone through quickly. Sofia Alexandrovna dresses herself. Glasha only draws on her boots, and hooks up her dress behind.

Soon Sofia Alexandrovna is quite ready. She gives a brief, vacant look in the mirror.

Her pale face still seems to be young and handsome. She is slender, like her mother, and small in stature. She has on a closely fitting white dress with short, wide sleeves. Her coiffure is arranged in a Greek knot, held fast with a red ribbon. Her slender, shapely feet are clad in coloured silk stockings and white shoes with silver buckles.

XXV

Sofia Alexandrovna goes quickly into the dining-room. She pours herself a glass of fresh milk out of a jug on the table. She drinks it standing, and munches a piece of black bread with it.

She orders the things for dinner at the same time. She chooses dishes loved by Borya. She stops to recollect whether Borya likes this, or does not like that.

Stepanida listens to her sadly, and replies in a tearful voice:

“Yes, I know! Why shouldn’t I know? It’s not the first time.”

Glasha asks something. The old, tottering nurse rattles on rather volubly. Sofia Alexandrovna answers them mechanically and rapidly. She seems all the while to be listening intently, either for the sound of a distant little bell, or for the rumble of wheels on the road. She makes her way out in haste. And she no longer listens to what is being said to her. She goes out.

She enters Borya’s study. Everything there is as in the old days, and in order. When Borya comes back he will find everything in its place.

Sofia Alexandrovna, with great concern, takes a rapid look round the room. She wishes to see whether everything is in its place, whether the dust has been swept, whether the rug has been laid before the bed, and whether the inkstand has been filled with ink. She herself changes the water in the vase which holds the cornflowers. If anything is out of place she gives way to tears, then rings for Glasha, and heaps reproaches upon her.

Glasha’s face assumes a frightened, compassionate look. In a most humble manner she begs forgiveness.

Sofia Alexandrovna remonstrates with her:

“How can you be so careless, Glasha? You know that we are expecting him every minute. Suppose he should suddenly come in and find this disorder.”

Glasha replies humbly:

“Forgive me, barinya. Don’t think any more about it. I’ll quickly put everything to rights.”

As she goes out she wipes away two or three tears with her white apron.

XXVI

With the same undue haste Sofia Alexandrovna goes into the garden. She sees nothing, neither the white Aphrodite nor her roses, on her way to the little arbour from which, overlooking a corner of the garden, the road is visible. Vividly green in the sun, a four-sloped roof covers the arbour, while hangings of coarse cloth, with a red border, serve as a protection against inquisitive eyes.

Sofia Alexandrovna looks down the road with dark, hungry eyes. She waits impatiently, listening to the rapid, uneven beat of her heart; she waits: Borya will surely come in sight.

The wind blows into her face, and partly conceals it with the hangings; her face is pale, and her eyes are dry. The sun warmly kisses her slender arms, which lie motionless on the broad, lavender-grey parapet of the arbour. Everything is bright, green and gay in the fields, but her eyes are fixed on the grey serpent of dust trailing among the freedom of the fields.

If they await him like this surely Borya will come.

But there is no sign of him. In vain her hungry glances penetrate the open waste. There is no Borya. More fixed and piercing grows her glance of infinite longing upon the road⁠—but there is no Borya.

Everything is as before, as yesterday, as always. Tranquil, serene and pitiless.

XXVII

The hour of the early luncheon came. All three sat at the table on the terrace. There was a fourth place laid, and a fourth chair, for who could tell whether Borya might not arrive at luncheon time!

The sun was already high. The day was turning sultry. The fragrance of the red roses at the foot of the goddess’s pedestal became ever more passionate. And the smile of the marble-white Aphrodite was even more clear and serene, as she let fall her draperies with a marvellous grace born of eternal movement. In the bright sunshine the sand on the footpaths seemed yellow-white. The trees cast austere dark shadows. They seemed to exhale an odour of the soil, of sap, and of warmth.

The women sat so that each one of them, looking beyond the drawn hangings of the terrace and over the bushes, could see the short narrow path ending at the garden gate, where a part of the road was also visible; they could not fail to observe every passerby and every vehicle.

But during this hour of the day hardly anyone ever walked or drove by the old house.

Glasha waited on them. She had on a newly-laundered cap with starched ribbons and plaited frills fitting tightly over her hair. The snow-white cap shone pleasantly above Glasha’s fresh, sunburnt face.

In the garden, on a form just under the terrace, sat Borya’s old nurse, dressed in a dark lavender blouse, black skirt, with a dark blue kerchief over her head. She was warming her old bones in the sun, and listening to the conversation on the terrace; now she grumbled, now she dozed.

Broad-boned and stout, she had a round, amiable face, and even through the compact network of wrinkles there were palpable suggestions of former beauty. Her eyes were clear. The grey hair was flatly combed down. Her figure and her face wore a settled expression of languid good nature.

XXVIII

As always, they eat and drink, and they keep up a cheerful and friendly chatter. Sometimes two of them speak together. A stranger in the garden might conclude that a large company is gathered on the terrace.

Frequently Borya’s name is mentioned.

“To be sure, Borya likes.⁠ ⁠…”

“Perhaps Borya will bring.⁠ ⁠…”

“It is strange Borya is not yet here.⁠ ⁠…”

“Perhaps Borya will come in the evening.⁠ ⁠…”

“We must ask Borya whether he has read.⁠ ⁠…”

“It is possible this is not new to Borya.⁠ ⁠…”

While below, under the terrace, the old nurse, each time she hears Borya’s name, crosses herself and mumbles:

“O Lord, rest the soul of thy servant, Boris.”

At first her voice is low, but it gradually grows louder and louder. Finally the three women at the table can hear her words. They tremble slightly and exchange anxious glances, into which steals an expression of perplexed fear. So they begin to speak even louder, and to laugh even more merrily. They permit no intervals of silence, and the hum of their talk and laughter prevents for the time their hearing the nurse’s mumbling in the garden.

But their voices inevitably fall after a mention of the beloved name, and now again they hear the tranquil, terrible words:

“O Lord, rest the soul.⁠ ⁠…”

They sit at luncheon long, but they talk more industriously than they eat. They glance nervously toward the gate. It seems a terrible thing to have to leave the table and to go somewhere while Borya is not yet with them.

XXIX

Toward the end of luncheon the post arrives. Grisha, a fourteen-year-old youngster, goes for it daily to the station on horseback. Raising clouds of dust he jumps off briskly at the gate. Leaving his horse he enters the garden carrying a black leather bag, and smiles broadly at something or other. Ascending the long steps of the terrace he announces loudly and joyously:

“I’ve fetched the post!”

He is cheery, sunburnt, perspiring. He smells of the sun, of the soil, of dust and tar. His hands and feet are as large as a man’s. His lips are soft and pouting, like those of a sweet-tempered foal. At the opening of his shirt, cut on the slant, buttons are missing, exposing a strip of his sunburnt chest and a piece of grey string.

Sofia Alexandrovna rises abruptly from her place. She takes the bag from Grisha, and throws it quickly on the table. A pile of stamped wrappers comes pouring upon the white cloth. The three women bend over the table and rummage for letters. But letters come only rarely.

Knitting her brows Natasha looks at the smiling youngster and asks:

“No letters, Grisha?”

Grisha, shuffling his feet, brick-red from the sun, smiles and answers, as always, in the same words:

“The letters are being written, barishnya.”

Sofia Alexandrovna says impatiently:

“You may go, Grisha.”

Grisha goes. The women open their newspapers.

Sofia Alexandrovna takes up the Rech and scans it rapidly, occasionally mentioning something that has attracted her notice.

Natasha is looking over Slovo. She reads silently, slowly, and attentively.

Elena Kirillovna has the Russkiya Vedomosti. She tears the wrapper open slowly and spreads the entire sheet on the table. She reads on, quickly running her eyes over the lines.

XXX

Groaning, the old nurse slowly ascends the steps. Sofia Alexandrovna pauses from her reading a moment and looks with fear at the old woman. Natasha gives a nervous start and turns away. Elena Kirillovna reads on calmly, without looking at the nurse.

The nurse sighs, sits down on the bench at the entrance, and asks in a monotone the one and the same question that she asks each day:

“And how many folk are there in this morning’s paper that’s been ordered to die? And how many are there that’s been hanged?”

Sofia Alexandrovna drops the paper, and suddenly rising, very pale, looks upon the old woman. She is quivering from head to foot. Elena Kirillovna, folding the paper, pushes it aside and looks straight before her with arrested eyes. Natasha rises; she turns her face, which has suddenly grown pale, toward the old woman, and utters in a kind of wooden voice that does not seem like her own:

“In Ekaterinoslav⁠—seven; in Moscow⁠—one.”

Or other towns, and other figures⁠—such as fresh newspaper lists bring each day.

The nurse rises and crosses herself piously. She mutters:

“O Lord, rest the souls of Thy servants! And give them eternal life!”

Then Sofia Alexandrovna cries out in despair:

“Oh Borya, Borya, my Borya!”

Her face is as pale as though there were not a single drop of blood left under her dull, elastic skin.

Wringing her hands with a convulsive movement, she looks with terror at Elena Kirillovna and at her daughter. Elena Kirillovna turns aside, and, looking at the old nurse, shakes her head reproachfully, while in her eyes, like drops of early evening dew, appear a few scant tears.

Natasha, looking determinedly at her mother, says with pale, quivering lips:

“Mamma, calm yourself.”

Suddenly her voice becomes cold and wooden again as though some evil stranger compelled her each day to utter her words slowly and deliberately.

“You yourself know, mamma, that Borya was hanged a full year ago!”

She looks at her mother with the motionless, pathetic gaze of her very dark eyes, and repeats:

“You yourself know this, mamma!”

Sofia Alexandrovna’s eyes are widely dilated; dull, there is terror in them, and the deep pupils burn with an impercipient lustre in their dark depths. She repeats almost soundlessly, looking straight into Natasha’s eyes:

“Hanged!”

She resumes her place, looks out of her sad eyes at the white Aphrodite and the red roses at the goddess’s feet, and is silent. Her face is white and rigid, her lips are red and tightly set; there is a suggestion of latent madness in the still lustre of her eyes.

Before the image of eternal beauty, before the fragrance of the short-lived, exultant roses, she is hardening as it were into an image of the eternal grief of a disconsolate mother.

XXXI

Elena Kirillovna quietly descends the narrow side staircase into the garden. She sits down on a bench somewhat away from the house, looks upon the green bedecked pond and weeps.

Natasha goes into her room in the mezzanine. She opens a book and tries to read. But she finds it impossible. She puts the book aside and looks out of the window, and her eyes are dimmed.

Higher and higher above the old house rises the pitiless, bright Dragon. His joyous laughter rings in the merry heights, encloses, as in a flaming circle, the depressing silence of the house. The well-directed rays shoot out like sharp-plumed arrows, and the air is tremulous with eternal, inexhaustible anger. No one is being awaited. No one will come. Borya has died. The relentless wheel of time knows no turning back.

So the day is passing⁠—clearly and brightly. The dazzling white light says there is nothing to hope for.

XXXII

Natasha sits in her room before an open window. A book is lying on the windowsill. She has no desire to read.

Every line in the book reminds her of him, of unfinished conversations, of heated discussions, of what had been, of what is no more.

The memories become brighter and brighter, and reach at last a clearness and fullness of vision, overwhelming her soul.

The fiery Dragon, obscured by a leaden grey cloud, becomes a little dim. Dimness also creeps into the memory of him. It seems as though the heavens are being traversed by the cold, clear, tranquil moon. Her face is pale, but not from sadness. Her rays have cast a spell upon the sleeping earth and upon the unattainably high heavens.

The moon has bewitched the fields and also the valleys, which are full of mist. There is a dull glimmer in the drops of cool, tranquil dew upon the slumbering grass.

There is in this fantastic glimmer the resurrection of that which has died⁠—of that past tenderness and love which inspired deeds requiring superhuman strength. There come again to the lips proud, long-unsung hymns, and vows of action and loyalty.

And what of that evil, vigilant, and instigating eye; and what of the traitor whose words mingled with the passionate words of the young people! Not even the waters of all the cold oceans can quench the fire of daring love, and all the cunning poisons of the earth cannot poison it.

Bewitched with the lunar mystery, the wood stands expectant, nebulous, silent. Incomprehensible and inaccessible to men is its slow, sure experience, and the secret of its forged desires.

Into its lunar silence men have brought the revolt, the speech and laughter of youth; but, overcome by the lunar mystery, they are suddenly grown silent and meditative.

The open glade in the woods, enchanted by the green, cold light of the moon, seems very white. Along the edge of the glade lie the shadows of the trees; they seem unreal and nebulous and mysteriously still.

The moon, very slowly, almost stealthily, is rising higher in the pale blue dome. Round, cold, half lost in the milk-white mist as behind a thin veil, she disperses by her dispassionate gaze the nebulous, silent tops of the slumbering trees, and looks down upon the glade with the motionless, inquisitive glance of her white eyes.

The thin particles of dew scattered over the cold grasses vanish⁠—the white nocturnal haze drinks them greedily. The air is oppressively sweet. On the edge of the glade a number of slender, erect, white-limbed birches emerge out of the mist; they are still asleep, and as innocent as their girl companions who rest beneath them in their green-white dresses.

XXXIII

Reposing under the slender birches in the glade is a party of girls, young men and grownup people. One sits on the stump of a felled tree, another on the trunk of an old birch struck down in a storm, a third lies upon an overcoat spread on the grass, a fourth rests his back against a young birch. There is a single, slight glow of a cigarette, but this, too, goes out.

In the luminous, haunting mist everything seems white, translucent, fabulously impressive. And it seems as though the birches in the glade and the moon in the sky are waiting for something.

Here is Natasha. Here is also Natasha’s friend, a college girl from Moscow, white-skinned, sharp-featured, looking like a healthy little wild beast. Then there are Borya and his friend, both in linen jackets, both lean, with pale faces and dark, flaming eyes.

And there is yet another⁠—a tall, stout figure in a dark blouse. He has an air of self-confidence and seems to be the most knowing, the most experienced, the most able of those present.

He is surrounded by the grownup people and the girls, and he is being questioned. Cheery, good-natured, impatient voices appeal to him.

“Do sing for us the ‘International’.”

Borya, a lad with pale, frowning forehead, and blue-black circles under his eyes, looks into the other’s face and implores more heartily than the rest.

The tall, broad-chested Mikhail Lvovich looks askance and stubbornly refuses to sing.

“I can’t,” he says gruffly. “My throat is not in condition.”

Borya and Natasha insist.

Mikhail Lvovich then makes a gesture with his hand and accedes not less gruffly.

“Very well, I’ll sing.”

Everyone is overjoyed.

Mikhail Lvovich poses himself on his knees. Above the mist-white glade, above the white-faced lads, above the white mist itself, there rises toward the witching moon, floating tranquilly in the skies, the words of that proud, passionate hymn:

“Arise, ye branded with a curse!”

Mikhail Lvovich sings. His eyes are fixed on the ground, upon the cold grass, white in the glamorous light of the full, clear moon. It is hard to tell whether he does not wish to or cannot look straight into the eyes of these girls and boys⁠—into these trusting, clean eyes.

And they have gathered round him, how closely they have nestled round him, these pure-spirited young girls; and the young lads, their knees in the grass, follow every movement of his lips, and join in quietly. The bold melody grows, gains in volume. Like an exultant prophecy ring the eloquent words:

In the International
As brothers all men shall meet.

XXXIV

Mikhail has finished the song. For a time no one speaks. Then the agitated voices all ring out together, stirring the heavy silence of the woods.

Clear, girlish eyes are looking earnestly upon Mikhail Lvovich’s morose set face. A clear, girlish voice implores insistently and gently:

“Sing again, please. Be a dear. Sing it once more. I will make a note of the words. I want to know them by heart.”

Natasha approaches nearer and says quietly:

“We will all of us learn the words and sing them each day, like a prayer. We shall do it with a full heart.”

Mikhail Lvovich at last lifts his eyes. They are small, sparkling, shrewd. This time they have fixed themselves severely and inquisitively on Natasha’s face, which suddenly has become confused at this snakelike glance.

Mikhail Lvovich addresses her gruffly.

“It doesn’t require much bravery to sing on the quiet, in the woods. Anyone can do that.”

Natasha’s face becomes pale. Dark flames of unchildish determination kindle in her eyes. Excitedly she cries:

“We will learn the words, and we will sing them where they are wanted. My God, are we to depend upon words, and upon words alone? We are ready for deeds.”

Borya repeats after her: “We are ready. We shall do all that is necessary. Yes, even die if need be.”

Mikhail Lvovich says with a calm assurance:

“Yes, I know.”

In his eyes, fixed intently upon the ground, a dim, small flame is visible.

XXXV

There is a short silence. Then a thin voice is heard. It is the girl, slender as a young birch, with the sharp, cheerful little face, who is speaking.

“My God! What strength! What eloquence!”

Mikhail Lvovich slowly turns his face toward her. He smiles severely and says nothing.

The girl has her hands clasped across her knees. It is an extremely pretty pose. Her face has suddenly assumed a very grave air, breathing passionate entreaty and fiery determination. She exclaims fervently:

“Let’s all sing the chorus! Mikhail Lvovich will teach us. You will teach us, Mikhail Lvovich, won’t you?”

“Very well,” Mikhail Lvovich replies with his usual severe dignity.

He casts his dull, heavy gaze round the crowded circle of delighted young faces. He alone sits with his back to the open glade and to the witching moon. His face, now in the shade, has become even more significant. And his whole bearing is one of imposing solemnity.

The faces of the younger people are white in the moonlight. Their garments are luminously bright. Their voices are brilliantly clear. In their simple trust there is the sense of an avowal.

“Well, let us begin!” exclaims the slender girl, somewhat agitated.

Mikhail Lvovich raises his hand with a solemn gesture and begins:

“Arise, ye branded with a curse!”

The children sing with a will, mingling their high, clear voices with Mikhail Lvovich’s deep, low voice. Their young voices are blazing with the passionate flame of freedom and revolt. Higher and still higher, above the white mists, above the black forest, toward the silver clouds and the quiet glimmering stars, toward the aspectful moon, rise the sounds of the invocation.

And the white-trunked birches, the milk-white moon, motionless in the sky, the white, silvery grass, pressed down by children’s knees⁠—all is still, all is silent, all is harkening with a sensitive ear. Everything around listens with poignant and solemn intentness to the song of these luminous children who, bathed in the translucent silver of the cool, lunar glimmer, their knees on the grass, their eyes burning in their uplifted faces, are repeating faithfully the words sung by the tall, self-contained young man whose dark face with fixed glance gazes morosely on the ground. They repeat after him:

In the International
As brothers all men shall meet.

The strange foreign word, un-Russian in its ring, suggests to them the lofty, holy designation of a promised land, a new land under new skies, a land in which they have faith.

After the hymn there is silence, a holy silence, solemn and palpable, reaching from the earth to the heavens. They might have been in the temple of a new, as yet unknown religion, in a mystic moment of sacrificial rites.

XXXVI

Mikhail Lvovich is the first to break the silence. He speaks slowly, looking at no one and directing his heavy gaze above the children’s pale faces, beyond the flaming ring of their glances:

“My friends, you know the sort of time this is. Each one of us can be of use. If any one of us is sent I hope that none will tremble for his precious life, and that none will be deterred by the thought of a mother’s sorrow.”

The children exclaim:

“None! None! If they would but send us!”

“What is the sorrow of a single mother compared to the suffering of an entire nation!” thinks Natasha proudly.

There rises up for an instant a mental image of the ashen-pale face of her mother, her intensely dark, eloquent eyes. A sharp pain, lasting a moment, pierces her heart. What of that? It is, after all, but a single instant of weakness. A proud will shall conquer this slight suffering of a single relative by conferring great love upon the many, the strangers, the grievous sufferers.

What is the woe of one mother! Let Niobe weep eternally for her children, killed by the burning, poisoned arrows of the high Dragon; let Rachel remain unconsoled forever⁠—what is the woe of a poor mother? Serene is Apollo’s face, radiant is Apollo’s dream.

Yet how painful, how painful! A dimness comes over the transcendent idea, as though the dark countenance of the ominous figure who sang the proud hymn has dimmed the moon and has cast an austere shadow upon the heart itself.

And now there is no moon, and no night, and no white glade in the mist in the forest. The bright day stares again at Natasha, she is at the window, the book lies before her, the old house is depressingly silent. The cloud has disappeared, the heavens are clear again, the evil Dragon is once more aiming his flaming arrows, he reiterates his conquest anew.

This cruel melancholy must be faced. Sting, accursed Dragon, burn, torment. Rejoice, conqueror! But even he must soon go to his setting, and, dying, pour out his blood upon half the heavens.

XXXVII

Natasha, a yellow straw hat upon her head, is now walking in the field. The ground is hot, the sky is blue, the air is sultry and the wind asleep; the corn is yellow, the grass is green. Bathed again in the bright heat, Natasha prods her sweetly fatiguing memories, which cast into oblivion this dismal day.

She goes on⁠—and there stretches before her, even as on a day long ago, the hot golden field, with its tall stalks inclining their heads in the heat. It is the revival of a former stifling, sultry midday.

That was in the days when Natasha still loved the good, human sun, the source of life and joy, the eternal, the untiring herald of labours and deeds, of deeds beyond the powers of man.

Oh, the treacherous speech of the Serpent Tempter! He turns our heads and he entices, and he makes our poor earth seem like some fabulous kingdom.

Again there is a slight wavering stir in the sea of the heat-exhausted ears of rye, studded over with little blue flowers which lower timidly their sweetly-dazed heads from sultriness.

Natasha and her brother Boris are walking together, on an inviting narrow path among the golden waves of rye.

How high the rye is! One can barely see the green roof of the old house on the right for the tall stalks, and the semicircular window in the mezzanine: and on the left the little grey, rough huts of the village.

Natasha and Boris follow one another. All around them the dry ears of rye waver and rustle, and among them are the blue-eyed little cornflowers. The two fragilely slender human silhouettes answered to the same wavering motion.

Natasha goes ahead. She turns to see why Boris has lagged behind. The boy, brown and slender, with large burning eyes, attired in his linen jacket, is gathering the little blue flowers. He has already gathered almost as many as his hands can hold.

XXXVIII

Natasha, laughing, says to her brother: “Enough, my dear, enough. I shan’t be able to carry them all.”

“You’ll do it easily enough, never fear!” Boris answers cheerfully.

Natasha stretches out her sunburnt hand to take the flowers. The sheaf of blue cornflowers, spreading across her breast, almost hides her, she is so slender.

Again Boris addresses her cheerfully: “Well, is it heavy?”

Natasha laughs. Her face lights up with the joy of gratitude, and with a cheerful, childlike determination. “I will carry these, but no more!” she says.

“I want to gather as many as possible for you.” Boris’s voice is serious; “because you know we may not see each other for some time.” There is a quaver in his voice as he says this.

“Perhaps, never,” Natasha, growing pensive, replies.

Both faces become sad and careworn.

Boris, frowning, glances sideways, and asks: “Natasha, are you going with him?”

Natasha knows that Boris is inquiring about Mikhail Lvovich, who is now sending her on a dangerous business, and who has also promised to send Boris on some foolhardy errand. The brave are so often foolhardy.

“No, I am going alone,” Natasha replies, “he will only lead me later to the spot.”

Boris looks at Natasha with gloomy, envious eyes, and asks rather cautiously: “Are you frightened, Natasha?”

Natasha smiles. And what pride there is in her smile! She speaks, and her voice is tranquil: “No, Boris, I feel happy.”

Boris observes that her face is really happy, and that her dark, flaming eyes are cheerful enough. Looking at her thus, her tranquillity communicates itself to him, and inspires him with a calm confidence in himself and in the business in hand.

The children go farther. Boris again gathers the cornflowers. Natasha is musing about something. She has broken off an ear of rye, and is absently nibbling at the grain.

XXXIX

It is a long, hot, sultry day. The inexorable Dragon looks down indifferently upon the children. Unwearying, he aims his bright, vivid shafts at the sunburnt, fiery-eyed lad and at the slender, erect, black-eyed girl. His blazing shafts are evil, and they are well aimed; and his strong clear light is pitiless⁠—but she walks on, and in her eyes there is hope, and in her eyes there is resolution, and in her dark eyes there is a flame which sets the soul afire to achieve deeds beyond the powers of man.

Natasha suddenly pauses at the end of the path by the dusty road. Her eyes look at Boris full of tender admiration. It is evident that she desires to stamp upon her memory all the beloved features of the familiar tanned face⁠—the curve of the dense brows, the rigid set of the red lips, the firm outlines of the chin, the stern profile.

Natasha sighs lightly and addresses Boris gently and cheerfully:

“Enough, dearest. They may not let me into the train with a heap like this. They will say: ‘This should be put in the luggage van.’ ”

Both laugh carelessly. And still Boris is loath to leave the cornflowers. He says:

“Only a few more. I want you to have a gigantic bouquet.”

“You would have everything gigantic!” Natasha returns good-humouredly.

But her face is serious. She knows how deep this quality is in him, and how significant. Boris looks at her, and in answer repeats his favourite, his most intimate thought:

“Yes, it is true. I love all bigness, all immoderation. In everything! In everything! If we only acted like this always! And gave ourselves wholly to a thing! Oh, how different life would be!”

Natasha, lost in thought, repeats: “Yes, big things, things beyond the powers of man. To make life lavish. Only no stinginess, no trembling for one’s skin. Far better to die⁠—to gather all life into one little knot, and to throw it away!”

“Yes, yes,” says Boris, and his eyes, dark as night, glow with the fury of a yet distant storm. “We must have no care for lives, but be lavish with them, lavish to the end⁠—only then may we reach our goal!”

They cross the road and again walk calmly along a narrow path. Her dress is white among the golden waves. Natasha stretches out her slender hand, the ears of rye rustle dryly and solid seeds of ripe rye fall into it. They are struck from above by the vivid shafts of the pitiless Dragon.

The children are walking on, conscious of their vow. They go trustingly, and they do not know that he who sends them is a traitor, and that their sacrifice is vain.

XL

What is this dry rustling all around? It is the rye. But where are the little cornflowers, where is Boris? The little blue-eyed flowers are in the rye, and Boris has been hanged.

“And I?” Natasha asks herself in a strange, oppressive perplexity. She looks round her like one just awakened.

“Why am I here?”

She answers herself: “I escaped. A lucky chance saved me.”

Natasha is oppressed by the thought. How had she survived it? “Far better if I had perished!”

It all happened very simply. Natasha, being Number Three, was placed at the railway station itself, her duty being contingent on the failure of Number One and Number Two. But the first was successful, though he himself perished in the explosion.

The second, upon hearing the explosion not far away, lost his presence of mind. He ran to save himself. He caught a cab, and got off near the river. Here he hired a rowboat. When near the middle of the river, he threw the bomb into the water. The man who rowed had guessed that something was wrong. Besides, he had been seen from the Government steamer and from the banks. Number Two was taken, tried and hanged.

Natasha did not betray herself in any way. She walked calmly, without haste, bearing her dangerous burden, observed by no one. She mixed freely with the passing crowd. She delivered the bomb at the appointed place.

A few days later she left for home. She had not been followed. Natasha was awaiting a second commission, and quite suddenly she abandoned the business, because her trust in it had died.

It happened even before Borya was hanged. But her decision came finally in those nightmare days when, quickly and unexpectedly, his life came to an end.

Those were terrible days.

But, no, it is better not to think of them, it is better not to remember them. To remember them is to suffer. Far better to remember other things, things cloudless and long past.

XLI

Oh magic mirror of memory, so much is reflected in thee! Beloved images pass by with a kind of glimmer.

There were the flowers, which they themselves looked after. There was one flowerbed which they cared for with especial tenderness. There was the fresh, intoxicating evening aroma of gilliflower. There was the cluster of jasmine, dewy at dawn, so sweetly and so gently fragrant, that one wished to weep in its presence, as the grass weeps its tears of dew at golden dawn.

Then there was the open space in the garden, and the giant-stride in the centre. What gigantic steps they took! How fast and how high she flew round with Boris!

How glorious were the feast-days to the childish hearts. There was Christmas Eve, with its tree, and candles upon the green branches, with all the many-coloured glitter of golden nuts, red, green and blue trimmings, snow-white foils of cotton-wool, offerings which gladdened with their unexpectedness. Then in the daytime there is real snow, glittering like salt, and crunching under one’s feet; the frost pinches the cheeks, the sun is shining, their mittens are of the softest down, their hats are white and soft, the sleds are flying down hillocks⁠—oh, what joy!

And now Easter is here. What a solemn night! Then the joyous chanting of matins. The candle flames are everywhere, there seems to be no end to them. There is a smell of Easter cakes. There are Easter eggs painted in all colours. Everyone is kissing each other. Everyone is happy.

Christoss Voskress!

Voistinu Voskress!

But the dear dead do not stir.

No. The beloved memories do not break the continuity of the circle, the resurrection of the others⁠—the fearsome, tragic memories. Inevitably the vision leads on to the last terrible moments.

XLII

They lived in the capital that winter. Boris was studying his final term in the gymnasia. For Christmas he went to another city: to relatives, he said.

Natasha was suspicious. But he did not tell her the truth.

“Really, nothing,” he answered to all her questions. “No one is sending me. I am going of my own accord. To see Aunt Liuba.”

And Natasha did not insist.

For several days she did not get any letters from him. But she did not worry. Boris disliked writing letters. They thought he was enjoying himself.

It was an evening in early January. Her mother and grandmother had gone out visiting. Natasha, pleading a headache, remained at home.

“I’ll lie down on the sofa. It will pass away.”

The truth was she thought the home of her affected, worldly relatives a dull place, and she had no desire to go there.

The maid had leave to go out. Natasha remained in the house alone. She lay down in her room on the sofa with an interesting new book.

After the cheer and ease of the holidays, Natasha felt in good spirits. She was comfortable, tranquil and cheerful. The hangings on the windows were impenetrably opaque. The lamp, burning brightly and evenly, concealed its garish white blaze from her eyes under its trimmed, beaded shade. The whole small room was lost in a luminous twilight.

At last, however, page after page of running lines of print tired Natasha. She dropped into a doze, and was shortly sound asleep. The open book fell softly on the rug.

XLIII

Suddenly a bell rings. Natasha gives a start.

Ours? No. The bell rang so timidly, so hesitatingly. It was as though she heard it ring in a dream, and not in reality; again, it might have been the ring of some mischievous urchin.

Perhaps she had only imagined it. It is so comfortable to doze. She feels too lazy to get up. Let them ring.

But here is a second ring, more insistent and louder.

Natasha jumps up and runs into the vestibule, rearranging her hair on the way. Remembering that she is alone in the house she does not open the door, but asks: “Who’s there?”

From behind the door she can hear the low, somewhat hoarse voice of the telegraph boy: “A telegram.”

Her heart begins to beat with fright. It is always terrible to receive telegrams. For only good news travels slowly. Bad news makes haste.

Natasha puts one end of the door-chain to a little hook in the door. Then she opens the door partly and looks out. There stands the messenger in his uniform, with a metal plate in his cap. He hands her the telegram.

“Sign here, miss.”

The grey-white, dry paper trembles in Natasha’s hands. Natasha feels a sudden tug at her heart. She speaks incoherently:

“What is it? Oh my God! Sign, did you say?”

She runs to the table. Her hands tremble. She has managed somehow to scrawl her family name “Ozoreva,” the pen hesitating and scratching upon the grey paper.

“Here is the signature.”

Across the little door-chain she thrusts the signed paper and a tip into the hand of the messenger. Then she bangs the door to after him. Now she is in front of the lamp. What can it be?

Tearing the seal open she reads. Terrible words. Such simple, yet such incomprehensible words. Because they are about Boris.

“Boris has shot ⸻. Arrested with comrades. Military trial tomorrow. Death sentence threatened.”

XLIV

Natasha rereads the telegram. A sudden terror, strangely akin to shame, for a moment strikes at her heart. She can hear the heavy beat of blood in her temples. She is, as it were, being strangled from all sides; she can hardly breathe; the walls seem to have come together, oppressing her on all sides; and the rapid, pale, pencilled strokes seem also to have run together into one jumble on the grey paper.

Certain thoughts, one after the other, slowly make way into Natasha’s dimmed consciousness⁠—oppressive, evil, pitiless thoughts.

Stupefied, she wonders how she shall tell her mother. She observes that her hands tremble. She recalls the telephone number of the Lareyevs, where her mother undoubtedly is.

Then terror seizes her anew; she shivers violently from head to foot as with ague. Her mind is a whirl of confusion.

“No, it is a mistake! It cannot be. It is a cruel, senseless mistake! It is someone’s stupid, cruel joke.”

Boris, our beloved boy, with his fine honest eyes⁠—think of him hanging! There will be a rattle in his throat, as strangling, he will swing in the noose. With sharp, clutching pain, the gentle, childish neck will tighten; the sunburnt face will grow purple; the swollen tongue will creep out all in froth, and the widely dilated eyes will reflect the terror of cruel death.

No, no, it cannot be! It is a mistake! But who can be malicious enough to make such a mistake?

And then where is Boris?

Her cold reasoning says that it is so, that no mistake has been made. The words are clear, the address is correct⁠—yes, yes! It was really to be expected. Here it is, this lavishness of life which he dreamt of, which they both dreamt of. “I love all immoderation. To be lavish⁠—only then we may reach our goal!”

Her legs tremble. She feels herself terribly weak. She sits down on the sofa.

Oh God, what’s to be done? How is she to tell her mother this terrible thing?

Or should she conceal it? And do everything that could be done by herself? But no, she could do ridiculously little herself!

It is necessary to tell. It must be done quickly. She must not lose an instant. Perhaps it is still possible to save Boris, by going, by petitioning.

Why is she sitting still then? It is necessary to act at once.

Natasha seizes the telephone. What a long time the operator takes to answer.

At last she is connected. She can hear sounds of music and the hum of voices.

A cheerful, familiar voice asks:

“Who’s there?”

“It is Natasha Ozoreva.”

“Good evening, Natasha,” says Marusya Lareyeva loudly. “What a pity you did not come. We are having a fine time.”

“Good evening, dear Marusya. Is mamma with you?”

“Yes, she is here. Shall I call her?”

“No, no, for God’s sake. Let someone break it to her.⁠ ⁠…”

“Has anything happened?”

“Marusya, a terrible misfortune. Our Boris has been arrested.”

“My God! For what?”

“I don’t know. He’ll have a military trial. I feel desperate. It’s so terrible. For God’s sake, don’t frighten mother too much. Tell her to come home at once, please.”

“Oh, my God, how awful!”

“Oh, Marusya, dearest, for God’s sake, be quick.”

“I’ll tell my mother at once. Wait at the telephone, Natasha.”

Natasha holds the receiver to her ear and waits. She hears the noise of footsteps. Someone has begun to sing.

Then again the same voice, extremely agitated:

“Natasha, do you hear? Your mother wants to speak to you herself.”

Natasha trembles with fright. Good God, what shall she tell her mother! She inquires:

“What? Is she coming herself to the telephone?” she asks.

“Yes, yes. Your mother is here now.”

XLV

The voice of Sofia Alexandrovna, terribly agitated, is heard:

“Natasha, is that you? For God’s sake, what has happened?”

Natasha replies:

“Yes, mamma, it is I. A telegram has come. Mamma, don’t be frightened, it must be a mistake.”

This time the voice is more controlled.

“Read me the telegram at once.”

“Just a moment. I’ll get it,” says Natasha.

The telegram is read.

“What, a military trial?”

“Yes, military.”

“Tomorrow?”

“Yes, yes, tomorrow.”

“Death sentence threatened?”

“Mamma, please be yourself, for God’s sake. Perhaps something can be done.”

“We must go there. Get the things ready, Natasha. Mother and I are returning at once, and we will take the first train out.”

The conversation is at an end.

Natasha is alone. She runs about the deserted house, letting things fall in the poignant silence. She is busy with travelling bags and with pillows.

She stops to look at the timetable. There is a train at half-past twelve. Yes, there is still time to catch it.

Then the bell rings, frightening her even more than the earlier ring. The mother and the grandmother have arrived, pale and distraught.

XLVI

A sleepless, wearisome journey in the train. The wheels roll on with a measured, jarring sound. Stops are made. How slow it all is! How agonizing! If only it would be quicker, quicker!

Or were it better to wish that time should be arrested? That its huge, shaggy wings outspread and flapping above the world should suddenly become motionless? That its owlish glance should be stilled forever in the instant just before the terrible word is said?

They reach their destination in the morning. At the station, a dirty, dejected place, they are met by a cousin of Natasha’s, an attorney by profession. From his pale, worried face, they guess that everything is over.

He talks quickly and incoherently. He comforts them with hopes in which he himself does not believe. The trial had been held early that morning. Boris and both his comrades⁠—all of the same green youth⁠—had been sentenced to die by hanging. The court would entertain no appeal. The only hope lay in the district general. He was really not a bad man at heart. Perhaps, by imploring, he might be induced to lighten the sentence to that of hard labour for an indefinite period.

Poor mothers! What is it they implore?

XLVII

Sofia Alexandrovna and Natasha arrived at the general’s. They waited long in the quiet, cold-looking reception-room; the glossy parquet floor shone, portraits in heavy gilt frames hung on the walls, and the careful steps of uniformed officials, coming through a large white door, resounded from time to time.

At last they were received. The general listened most amiably, but declined emphatically to do anything. He rose, clinked his spurs, and stretched himself to his full height; He stood there tall, erect, his breast decorated with orders, his head grey, his face ruddy, with black eyebrows and broad nose.

In vain the humiliating entreaties.

Pale, the proud mother knelt before the general and, weeping bitterly, she kissed his hands and at last threw herself at his feet⁠—all in vain. She received the cold answer:

“I am sorry, madam, it is impossible. I understand your affliction, I sympathize fully; with your sorrow, but what can I do? Whose fault is it? Upon me lies a great responsibility toward my Emperor and my country. I have my duty⁠—I can’t help you. It is against yourself that you ought to bring your reproaches⁠—you’ve brought him up.”

Of what avail the tears of a poor mother? Strike thy head upon the parquet floor, bend thy face to the black glitter of his boots; or else depart, proud and silent. It is all the same, he can do nothing. Thy tears and thy entreaties do not touch him, thy curses do not offend him. He is a kind man, he is the loving father of a family, but his upright martial soul does not tremble before the word death. More than once he had risked his life boldly in battle⁠—what is the life of a conspirator to him?

“But he is a mere boy!”

“No, madam, this is not a childish prank. I am sorry.”

He walks away. She hears the measured clinking of his spurs. The parquet floor reflects dimly his tall, erect figure.

“General, have pity!”

The cold, white door has swung to after him. She hears the quiet, pleasant voice of a young official. He raises her from the floor and helps her to find her way out.

XLVIII

They granted a last meeting. A few minutes passed in questions, answers, embraces, and tears.

Boris said very little.

“Don’t cry, mamma. I am not afraid. There is nothing else they can do. They don’t feed you at all badly here. Remember me to all. And you, Natasha, take care of mother. One sacrifice is enough from our family. Well, goodbye.”

He seemed somehow callous and distant. He seemed to be thinking of something else, of something he could tell no one. And his words had an external ring, as though merely to make conversation.

That night, before daybreak, Boris was hanged. The scaffold was set up in the gaol courtyard. The spot where he was buried was kept secret.

The mother implored the next day: “Show me his grave at least!”

What was there to show! He was laid in a coffin, he was put into a hole in the earth and the soil that covered him was smoothed down to its original level⁠—we all know how such culprits are buried.

“Tell me at least how he died.”

“Well, he was a brave one. He was calm, a bit serious. And he refused a priest, and would not kiss the cross.”

They returned home. A fog of melancholy hung over them, and within them there lit up a spark of mad hope⁠—no, Borya is not dead, Borya will return.

XLIX

The thought that Boris had been hanged could not enter into their habitual, everyday thoughts. Only in the hour when the sun was at its zenith, and in the hour of the midnight moon, it would penetrate their awakened consciousness like a sharp poniard. Again it would pierce the soul with a sharp, tormenting pain, and again it would vanish in the dim mist of dawn with a kind of dull agony. And again, the same unreasonable conviction would awake in their hearts.

No, Borya will return. The bell will suddenly ring, and the door will be opened to him.

“Oh, Borya! Where have you been wandering?”

How we shall kiss him! And how much there will be to tell!

“What does it matter where you have been wandering. You have been wandering, and, you have been found, like the prodigal son.”

How happy all will be!

The old nurse will not be consoled. She wails:

“Boryushka, Boryushka, my incomparable one! I say to him: ‘Boryushka, I’m going to the poorhouse!’ And he says to me: ‘No,’ says he, ‘nyanechka,4 I’ll not let you go to the poorhouse. I,’ he says, ‘will let you stop with me, nyanechka; only wait till I grow up,’ says he, ‘and you can live with me.’ Oh, Boryushka, what’s this you’ve done!”

In the morning the old nurse enters the vestibule. Whose grey overcoat is it that she sees hanging on the rack? It is Borya’s, his gymnasia uniform. Has he then not gone to the gymnasia today?

She wanders into the dining-room, making a muffled noise with her soft slippers.

“Natashenka, is Boryushka home today? His overcoat’s there on the rack. Or is he sick?”

Nyanechka!” exclaims Natasha.

And, frightened, she looks at her mother.

The old nurse has suddenly remembered. She is crying. The grey head shivers in its black wrap. The old woman wails:

“I go there and I look, what’s that I see? Borya’s overcoat. I say to myself, Borya’s gone to the gymnasia, why’s his overcoat here? It’s no holiday. Oh, my Boryushka is gone!”

She wails louder and louder. Then the old woman falls to the floor and begins to beat the boards with her head.

“Borechka, my own Borechka! If the Lord had only taken me, an old woman, instead of him. What’s the use of life to me? I drag along, of no cheer to myself or to anyone else.”

Natasha, helpless, tries to quiet her.

Nyanechka, dearest, rest a little.”

“May Thou rest me, O Lord! My heart told me something was wrong. I’ve been dreaming all sorts of bad dreams. These black dreams have come true! Oh, Borechka, my own!”

The old woman continues to beat her head and to wail. Natasha implores her mother:

“For God’s sake, mamma, have Borya’s overcoat taken from the rack.”

Sofia Alexandrovna looks at her with her dark, smouldering eyes and says morosely:

“Why? It had better hang there. He might suddenly need it.”

Oh, hateful memories! As long as the evil Dragon reigns in the heavens it is impossible to escape them.

Natasha roams restlessly, she can find no place for herself. She is off to the woods; she recalls Boris there, and that he has been hanged. She is off to the river; she recalls Boris there, and that he is no more. She is back at home, and the walls of the old house recall Boris to her, and that he will not return.

Like a pale shadow the mother wanders along the walks of the garden, choosing to pause there where the shade is densest. The old grandmother sits upon a bench and finishes the reading of the newspapers. It is the same every day.

L

And now the evening is approaching. The sun is low and red. It looks straight into people’s eyes as though, while expiring, it were begging for mercy. A breeze blows from the river, and it brings the laughter of white water nymphs.

A number of noisy urchins are running in the road; their shirttails flap merrily in the wind, while their sleeves are filled with wind like balloons. The sound of a harmonica comes from the distance, and its song runs on very merrily. The corncrake screeches in the field, and its call resembles a general’s loud snore.

The old house once more casts and arranges its long dark shadows disturbed by the intrusive day. Its windows blaze forth with the red fire of the evening sun.

The gilliflower exhales its seductive aroma in some of the distant paths. The roses seem even redder in the sunset, and more sweet. The eternal Aphrodite⁠—the naked marble of her proud body taking on a rose tint⁠—smiles again, and lets fall her draperies as fascinatingly as ever.

And everything is directed as before toward cherished, unreasonable hopes. Enfeebled by the day’s heat, and by the sadness of the bright day, the harassed soul has exhausted its measure of suffering, and it falls from the iron embrace of sorrow to the beloved dark earth of the past, once more besprinkled with dreamily refreshing dew.

And again, as at dawn, the three women in the old house await Boris, or a short time happy in their madness.

They await him, and they chat of him, until, from behind the trees of the dark wood, the cold moon shows her ever sad face. The dead moon is under a white shroud of mist.

Then again they remember that Borya has been hanged, and they meet at the green-covered pond to weep for him.

LI

Natasha is the first to leave the house. She has on a white dress and a black cloak. Her black hair is covered with a thin black kerchief. Her very deep dark eyes shine with flame-like brightness. She stands, her pale face uplifted toward the moon. She awaits the other two.

Elena Kirillovna and Sofia Alexandrovna arrive together.

Elena Kirillovna leaves the house slightly earlier, but Sofia Alexandrovna runs after her and overtakes her almost at the pond. They wear black cloaks, black kerchiefs on their heads, and black shoes.

Natasha begins:

“On the night before the execution he did not sleep. The moon, just as clear as tonight’s, looked into the narrow window of his cell. On the floor the moon sadly outlined a green rhomb, intersected lengthwise and crosswise by narrow dark strokes. Boris walked up and down his cell, and looked now at the moon, now at the green rhomb, and thought⁠—I wish I knew his thoughts that night.”

Her remark has a quite tranquil sound. It might have been about a stranger.

Sofia Alexandrovna now and again wrings her hands, and as she begins to speak her voice is agitated and heavy with grief:

“What can one think at such moments! The moon, long dead, looks in. There are five steps from the door to the window, four steps across. The mind springs feverishly from object to object. That the execution is to take place on the morrow is the one thing you try not to think of. Stubbornly you repel the thought. But it remains, it refuses to depart, it throttles the soul with an oppressive, horrible nightmare. The anguish is intense and enfeebling. But I do not wish my gaolers and all these officials who are come to me to see my anguish. I will be calm. And yet what anguish⁠—if only, lifting up my pale face, I could cry aloud to the pale moon!”

Elena Kirillovna whispers faintly:

“Terrible, Sonyushka.”

There are tears in her voice⁠—simple, old-womanish, grandmotherly tears.

LII

Sofia Alexandrovna, ignoring the interruption, continues:

“Why should I really go to my death boldly and resolutely? Is it not all the same? I shall die in the courtyard, in the dark of night. Whether I die boldly, or weep like a coward, or beg for mercy, or resist the executioner⁠—is it not all the same? No one will know how I died. I shall face death alone. Why should I really suffer this wild anguish? I will raise up my voice to wail and to weep, and I will shake the whole gaol with my despairing cries, and I will awake the town, the so-called free town, which is only a larger gaol⁠—so that I shall not suffer alone, but that others shall share in my last agony, in my last dread. But no, I won’t do that. It is my fate to die alone.”

Natasha rises, trembles, presses her mother’s cold hand in hers, and says:

“Mamma, mamma, it is terrible, if alone. No, don’t say that he felt alone. We shall be with him.”

Elena Kirillovna whispers:

“Yes, Sonyushka, it would be terrible alone. In such moments!”

“We are with him,” insists Natasha vehemently. “We are with him now.”

A smile is on Sofia Alexandrovna’s lips, a smile such as a dying person smiles to greet his last consolation. Sofia Alexandrovna speaks:

“My last consolation is the thought that I am not alone. He is with me. These walls are unrealities, this gaol built by men is a lie. What is real and true is my suffering and I am one with them in my grief. A poor consolation! And yet I, just think, this extraordinary I, Boris, I am dying.”

“I am dying,” repeats Natasha.

Her voice is clouded, and it is fraught with despair. And all three remain silent for a brief while, overcome by the spell of these tragic words.

LIII

Sofia Alexandrovna speaks again. Her voice sounds tranquil, deliberate, measured:

“There is no consolation for the dying. His grief is boundless. The cold moon continues to torment him. A moan struggles to break from his throat, a moan like the wild baying of a caged beast.”

Natasha speaks sadly:

“But he is not alone, not alone. We are with him in his grief.”

Her eyes, darker than a dark night, look up toward the lifeless moon, and the green enchantress, reflected in them, torments her with a dull pain.

Sofia Alexandrovna smiles⁠—and her smile is dead⁠—and with the voice of inconsolable sorrow she speaks again slowly and calmly:

“We are with him only in his despair, in his pitiful inconsolability, in his dark solitude. But he was alone, alone, when he was strangled by the hand of a hired hangman; strangled in that dark enclosure which it is not for us to demolish. And the dead moon tormented him, as it torments us. She tempted him with the mad desire to moan wildly, like a wild beast before dying. And now we, in this hour, under this moon⁠—are we not also tormented by the same mad desire to run, to run far from people, and to moan and to wail, and to flee from a grief too great to be borne!”

She rises abruptly and walks away, wringing her beautiful white hands. She walks fast, almost runs, driven as it were by some strange, furious will not her own. Natasha follows her with the measured yet rapid, deliberate, mechanical gait of an automaton. And behind them trips along Elena Kirillovna, who lets fall a few scant tears on her black cloak.

The moon follows them callously in their hurried journey across the garden, across the field, into that wood, into that still glade, where once the children sang their proud hymn, and where they let their mad desires be known to one who was to betray them for a price⁠—young blood for gold.

The grass in the fields is wet with dew. The river is white with mist. The high moon is clear and cold. Everywhere it is quiet, as though all the earthly rustlings and noises had lost themselves in the moon’s dead light.

LIV

And here is the glade. “Natasha, do you remember? How warmly they all sang ‘Arise, ye branded with a curse!’ Natasha, will you sing it again? Do. Is it a torture?”

“I’ll sing,” replies Natasha quietly.

She sings in a low voice, almost to herself. The mother listens, and the grandmother listens⁠—but what have the birches and the grass and the clear moon to do with human songs!

In the International
As brothers all men shall meet!

Her song is at an end. The wood is silent. The moon waits. The mist is pensive. The birches seem to listen. The sky is clear.

Ah, for whom is all this life? Who calls? Who responds? Or is it all the play of the dead?

Loudly wailing, the mother calls: “Borya, Borya!”

Overflowing with tears Elena Kirillovna replies: “Borya won’t come. There is no Borya.”

Natasha stretches out her arms toward the lifeless moon, and cries out: “Borya has been hanged!”

All three now stand side by side, looking at the moon, and weeping. Louder grows their sobbing, fiercer the note of despair. Their moans merge finally into a prolonged, wild wailing, which can be heard for some distance.

The dog at the forester’s hut is restless. Trembling with all his lean body, his short hair bristling, he has pricked up his ears. Rising, he stretches his slender limbs. His sharp muzzle, showing its teeth, is uplifted to the tormenting moon. His eyes burn with a yearning flame. The dog bays in answer to the distant wail of the women in the wood.

People are asleep.

The Uniter of Souls

Garmonov was extremely young, and had not yet learnt to time his visits; he usually came at the wrong hour and did not know when to leave. He realized at last that he was boring Sonpolyev almost to madness. It dawned upon him that he was taking Sonpolyev from his work. He recalled that Sonpolyev had borne himself with a constrained politeness toward him, and that at times a caustic phrase escaped his lips.

Garmonov grew painfully red, a sudden flame spread itself under the smooth skin of his drawn cheeks. He rose irresolutely. Then he sat down again, for he saw that Sonpolyev was about to say something. Sonpolyev took up the thread of the conversation in a depressed voice:

“So you’ve put a mask on! What do you want me to understand by that?”

Garmonov muttered in a confused way:

“It’s necessary to dissemble sometimes.”

Sonpolyev would not listen further, but gave way to his irritation:

“What do you understand about it? What do you know of masks? There is no mask without a responding soul. It is impossible to put on a mask without harmonizing your soul with its soul. Otherwise the mask is uncovered.”

Sonpolyev grew silent, and looked miserably before him. He did not look at Garmonov. He felt again a strange, instinctive hate for him, such as he felt at their first meeting. He had always tried to hide this hate under a mask of great heartiness; he had urged Garmonov most earnestly to visit him, and praised Garmonov’s verses to everyone. But from time to time he spoke coarse, malicious words to the timid young man, who then flushed violently and shrank back within himself. Sonpolyev was quick to pity him, but soon again he detested his cautious, sluggish ways; he thought him secretive and cunning.

Garmonov rose, said goodbye, and went out. Sonpolyev was left alone. He felt miserable because his work had been interrupted. He no longer felt in the same working mood. A secret malice tormented him. Why should this seemingly insignificant youth, Garmonov, evoke such bitterness in him? He had a large mouth, a long, very smooth face; his movements were slow, his voice had a drawl; there was something ambiguous about him, and enigmatical.

Sonpolyev began sadly to pace the room. He stopped before the wall, and began to speak. There are many people nowadays who have long conversations with the wall⁠—the wall, indeed, makes an interested interlocutor, and a faithful one.

“It is possible,” he said, “to hate so strongly and so poignantly only that which is near to one. But in what does this devilish nearness consist? By what impure magic has some demon bound our souls together? Souls so unlike one another! Mine, that of a man of action with a bent for repose; and his, the soul of a large-mouthed fledgling, who is as cunning as a conspirator, and as cautious as a coward. And what is there in his character that conflicts so strangely with his appearance? Who has stolen the best and most needful part from this moly-coddle’s soul?”

He spoke quietly, almost in a murmur. Then he exclaimed as though in a rage:

“Who has done this? Man, or the enemy of man?”

And he heard the strange answer:

“I!”

Someone spoke this word in a clear, shrill voice. It was like the sharp yet subdued ring of rusty steel. Sonpolyev trembled nervously. He looked round him. There was no one in the room.

He sat down in the armchair and looked, scowling, on the table, buried under books and papers; and he waited. He awaited something. The waiting grew painful. He said loudly:

“Well, why do you hide? You’ve begun to speak, you might as well appear. What do you wish to say? What is it?”

He began to listen intently. His nerves were strained. It seemed as though the slightest noise would have sounded like an archangel’s trumpet.

Then there was sudden laughter. It was sharp, and it was like the sound of rusty metal. The spring of some elaborate toy seemed to unwind itself, and trembled and tinkled in the subdued quiet of the evening. Sonpolyev put the palms of his hands over his temples, and rested upon his elbows. He listened intently. The laugh died away with mechanical evenness. It was evident that it came from somewhere quite near, perhaps from the table itself.

Sonpolyev waited. He gazed with intent eyes at the bronze inkstand. He asked derisively: “Ink sprite, was it not you that laughed?”

The sharp voice, quite unlike the muffled voice of phantoms, answered with the same derision: “No, you are mistaken; and you are not very brilliant. I am not an ink sprite. Don’t you know the rustling voices of ink sprites? You are a poor observer.”

And again there was laughter, again the rusty spring tinkled as it unwound itself.

Sonpolyev said: “I don’t know who you are⁠—and how should I know! I cannot see you. Only I think that you are like the rest of your fraternity: you are always near us, you poke your noses into everything, and you bring sadness and evil spells upon us; yet you dare not show yourselves before our eyes.”

The metallic voice replied: “The fact is, I came to have a talk with you. I love to talk with such as yourself⁠—with half-folk.”

The voice grew silent, and Sonpolyev waited for it to laugh. He thought: “He must punctuate his every phrase with that hideous laughter.”

Indeed, he was not mistaken. The strange visitor really talked in this way: first he would speak a few words, then he would burst out into his sharp, rusty laughter. It seemed as though he used his words to wind up the spring, and that later the spring relaxed itself with his laughter.

And while his laughter was still dying away with mechanical evenness the guest showed himself from behind the inkstand.

He was small, and was no taller from head to foot than the fourth finger. He was grey-steel in colour. Owing to his small stature and to his rapid movements it was hard to tell whether the dim glow came from the body, or from a garment that stretched lightly over it. In any case it was something smooth, something expressly simple. The body seemed like a slender keg, broader at the belt, narrower at the shoulders and below. The arms and legs were of equal length and thickness, and of like nimbleness and flexibility; it seemed as though the arms were very long and thick, and the legs disproportionately short and thin. The neck was short. The face was hardy. The legs were widely astride. At the end of the back something was visible in the nature of a tail or a thick cone; like growths were upon the sides, under the elbows. The strange figure moved quickly, nimbly, and surely.

The monster sat down on the bronze ridge of the inkstand, pushing aside the wooden pen-holder with his foot in order to be more comfortable. He grew quiet.

Sonpolyev examined his face. It was lean, grey, and smooth. His eyes were small and glowed brightly. His mouth was large. His ears stuck out and were pointed at the top.

He sat there, grasping the ridge with his hands, like a monkey. Sonpolyev asked: “Gracious guest, what do you want to say to me?”

And in answer a slight voice⁠—mechanically even, unpleasantly sharp and rather rusty in tone⁠—made itself heard: “Man with a single head and a single soul, recall your past, your primitive experience of those ancient days when you and he lived in the same body.”

And again there was laughter, shrill and sharp, piercing the ear.

While he was still laughing, the guest, with mechanical agility, turned a somersault; he stood on his hands, and Sonpolyev saw for the first time what he had taken for a tail was really a second head. This head did not differ in any way, as far as he could see, from the other head. Whether the heads were too small for him to observe, or whether the heads did not actually differ, it was quite certain that Sonpolyev did not see the slightest distinction between them. The arms reversed themselves as on hinges, and became quite like the legs; the first head, then losing its colour, hid itself between these arm-legs; while the former legs reversed themselves mechanically and became the arms.

Sonpolyev looked at his strange guest with astonishment. The guest made wry faces and danced. And when at last he grew still and his laughter gradually died away, the second head began to speak: “How many souls have you, and how many consciousnesses? Can you tell me that? You pride yourself on the amazing differentiation of your organs, you have an idea that each member of your body fulfils its own well-defined functions. But tell me, stupid man, have you anything whereby to preserve the memory of your previous existences? The other head contains the rest of you, your early memories and your earlier experience. You argue subtly and craftily across the threshold of your pitiful consciousness, but your misfortune is that you have only one head.”

The guest burst out again into rusty, metallic laughter, and he laughed this time rather long. He laughed and he danced at the same time. He turned somersaults, or he rested upon one arm and upon one leg, thereby causing one of his sides to turn upward⁠—until it was impossible to distinguish any of his four extremities. Afterwards his limbs again turned mechanically, and it became obvious that the growths on his sides were also heads. Each head spoke and laughed in its turn. Each head grimaced, mocked at him.

Sonpolyev exclaimed in great fury: “Be silent!”

The guest danced, shouted, and laughed.

Sonpolyev thought: “I must catch him and crush him. Or I must smash the monster with a blow of the heavy press.”

But the guest continued to laugh and to make wry faces.

“I dare not take him with my hands,” thought Sonpolyev. “He might burn or scorch me. A knife would be better.”

He opened his penknife. Then he quickly directed its sharp point toward the middle of his guest’s body. The four-headed monster gathered himself into a ball, flapped his four paws, and burst into piercing laughter. Sonpolyev threw his knife on the table, and exclaimed: “Hateful monster! What do you want of me?”

The guest jumped upon the sharply pointed lid of the inkstand, perched himself upon one foot, stretched his arms upward, and exclaimed in an ugly, shrill voice: “Man with one head, recall your remote past when you and he were in the same body. The time you shared together in a dangerous adventure. Recall the dance of that terrible hour.”

Suddenly it grew dark. The laughter resounded, hoarse and hideous. The head was going round.⁠ ⁠…

Light columns moved forward out of the darkness. The ceiling was low. The torches glowed dimly. The red tongues of flame wavered in the scented air. The flute poured out its notes. Handsome young limbs moved in measure to its music.

And it seemed to Sonpolyev that he was young and powerful, and that he was dancing round a banqueting table. A shrivelled, insolent, drunken face was looking at him; the banqueter was laughing uproariously, he was happy, and the dance of the half-naked youths pleased him. Sonpolyev felt that a furious rage was strangling him, and was hindering him from carrying out his project. He danced past the carousing man and his hands trembled. A reddish mist of hate dimmed his sight.

His second soul wakened at the same time; it was the cunning, the sidling, the feline soul. This time the youth smiled at the happy man; he floated gracefully past him, a sweet, gentle boy. The banqueter laughed loudly. The youth’s naked limbs and bared torso cheered the lord of the feast.

And again there was hate, which dimmed his eyes with a red haze, and caused his hands to tremble with fury.

Someone whispered angrily: “Are we going to twirl so long fruitlessly? It is time. It is time. Put an end to it!”

The friendly spirits prevailed. The two souls flowed together. Hate and cunning became one. There was a light, floating movement, then a powerful stroke; nimble feet swept the youth into the swift, beautiful dance. There was a hoarse outcry. Then an uproar. Everything became confused.⁠ ⁠…

And again there was darkness.

Sonpolyev awoke: the same small monster was dancing on the table, grimacing and laughing uproariously.

Sonpolyev asked: “What’s the meaning of this?”

His guest replied: “Two souls once dwelt in this youth, and one of them is now yours; it is a soul of exultant emotions and of passionate desires, it is an ever insatiable, trembling soul.”

Then there was laughter, jarring on the ear. The monster danced on.

Sonpolyev shouted: “Stop, you dance devil! It seems to me you wish to say that the second soul of this primitive youth lives in the feeble body of this despicable, smooth-faced youngster?”

The guest stopped laughing and exclaimed:

“Man, you have at last understood what I wished to tell you. Now perhaps you will guess who I am, and why I have come.”

Sonpolyev waited until the trembling, shrill laughter ceased, and he answered his guest:

“You are the uniter of souls. But why did you not join us at our birth?”

The monster hissed, curled up, then stopped and threw upward one of his side heads and exclaimed:

“We can repair this if you like. Do you wish it?”

“I wish it,” Sonpolyev replied quickly.

“Call him to you on New Year’s Eve, and call me. This hair will enable you to summon me.”

The monster ran quickly to the lamp, and placing upon its stand a short, thin black hair continued speaking: “When you light it I’ll come. But you ought to know that neither you nor he will preserve afterward a separate existence. And the man who will depart from here shall contain both souls, but it will be neither you nor he.”

Then he disappeared. His shrill, rusty laughter still resounded and tormented the ear, but Sonpolyev no longer saw anyone before him. Only a black hair on the flat stand of the lamp reminded him of his guest.

Sonpolyev took the hair and put it into his purse.


The last day of the year was approaching midnight.

Garmonov was sitting once more at Sonpolyev’s. They spoke quietly, in subdued voices. It was painful. Sonpolyev asked: “You do not regret coming to my lonely party?”

The smooth-faced young man smiled, and this made his teeth seem very white. He drawled out his words very slowly, and what he said was so tedious and so empty that Sonpolyev had no desire to listen to him. Sonpolyev, without continuing the conversation, asked quite bluntly: “You remember your earlier existence?”

“Not very well,” answered Garmonov.

It was clear that he did not understand the question, and that he thought Sonpolyev had asked him about his childhood.

Sonpolyev frowned in his vexation. He began to explain what he wished to say. He felt that his speech was involved and long. And this vexed him still more.

But Garmonov had understood. He grew cheerful. He flushed slightly. His words had a more animated sound than usual: “Yes, yes, I sometimes feel that I have lived before. It is such a strange feeling. It’s as though that life was fuller, bolder and freer; and that I dared to do things that I dare not do now.

“And isn’t it true,” asked Sonpolyev in some agitation, “that you feel as though you had lost something, as though you now lack the most significant part of your being?”

“Yes,” answered Garmonov with emphasis. “That’s precisely my feeling.”

“Would you like to restore this missing part?” Sonpolyev continued to question. “To be once more as before, whole and bold; to contain in one body⁠—which shall feel itself light and young and free⁠—the fullness of life and the union of the antagonistic identities of our human breed. To be, indeed, more than whole; to feel as it were, in one’s breast, the beating of a doubled heart; to be this and that; to join two clashing souls within oneself, and to wrest the necessary manhood and hardihood for great deeds from the fiery struggle of intense contradictions.”

“Yes, yes,” said Garmonov, “I, too, sometimes dream about this.”

Sonpolyev was afraid to look at the irresolute, confused, smooth face of his young visitor. He vaguely feared that Garmonov’s face would disconcert him. He made haste.

Besides, midnight was approaching. Sonpolyev said quietly: “I have the means in my hands to realize this dream. Do you wish to have it realized?”

“I should like to,” said Garmonov irresolutely.

Sonpolyev raised his eyes. He looked at Garmonov with firmness and decision, as though he demanded something urgent and indispensable from him. He looked with a fixed intentness into the dark youthful eyes, which should have flamed fire, but instead they were the cold, crafty eyes of a little man with half a soul.

But it seemed to Sonpolyev that under his fixed fiery gaze Garmonov’s eyes were becoming inflamed with enthusiasm and burning wrath. The young man’s smooth face had suddenly become significant and stern.

“Do you wish it?” Sonpolyev asked him once more.

Garmonov replied quickly, with decision:

“I wish it.”

And then a strange, sharp, shrill voice pronounced: “Oh, small and cunning man; you who once during your ancient existence did a deed of great hardihood⁠—that was when you joined your crafty soul to the flaming soul of an indignant man⁠—tell us in this great, rare hour, have you firmly decided to merge your soul with the other, the different soul?”

And Garmonov answered even more quickly and more decisively: “I wish to!”

Sonpolyev listened to the shrill voice of the questioner. He recognized him. He was not mistaken: the “I wish to!” of Garmonov had already lost itself in the rusty, metallic laughter of that extraordinary visitor.

Sonpolyev waited until the laughter ceased; then he said: “But you should know that you will have to reject all dissembling. And all the joys of separate existence. Once I achieve my magic we shall both perish, and we shall set free our souls, or rather we shall fuse them together, and there shall be neither I nor you⁠—there will be one in our place, and he shall be fiery in his conception, and cold in his execution. Both of us will have to go, in order to give a place to him, in whom both of us will be united. My friend, have you resolved upon this terrible thing? It is a great and terrible thing.”

Garmonov smiled a strange, faltering smile. But the fiery glance of Sonpolyev extinguished the smile; and the young man, as if submitting to some inevitable and fated command, pronounced in a dim, lifeless voice: “I have decided. I wish it. I am not afraid.”

Sonpolyev took the hair out of his wallet with trembling fingers. He lit a candle. Behind it hid the four-headed visitor. His grey body seemed to quake; and it vacillated in the wavering flame that fondled in its flickering embraces the white body of the submissive candle.

Garmonov opened his eyes wide, and they steadfastly followed Sonpolyev’s movements. Sonpolyev put one end of the hair to the flame. The hair curled slightly, grew red, gave a flare. It burned very slowly, with a quiet rhythmic crackle, which resembled the laugh of the nocturnal guest.

The words of the strange guest were simple but terrible. At first Sonpolyev was barely conscious of them; he was so agitated and so absorbed by the burning of the magic hair that he could see no connection with the simple, familiar words of the monster. Suddenly terror came upon him. He had understood. There was derision in those simple, terribly simple words.

“Little soul, failing little soul, timid little soul.”

Sonpolyev, frightened, looked at Garmonov. The smooth-faced young man sat there strangely shrunken. His face was pale. Beads of perspiration showed on his forehead. A pitiful, forced smile twisted his lips. When he saw that Sonpolyev was looking at him he shrank even more, and whispered in a broken, hollow voice, as though against his will: “It is terrible. It is painful. It is unnecessary.”

Suddenly he hunched like a cat⁠—a cunning, timid, evil cat⁠—and sprang forward; thus deformed, he pushed out his over-red lips and blew upon the almost consumed hair. The flame flickered upward, trembled and died. A tiny cloud of blue smoke spread itself in the still air. The shrill laughter of the nocturnal guest pierced the ears.

The hideous words resounded: “Miscarried! Miscarried!”

Garmonov sat down. He smiled guiltily and cunningly. Sonpolyev looked at him with unseeing eyes.

The clock began to strike in the next room. And to each stroke the uniter of souls responded with the hoarse outcry: “Miscarried!”

And he laughed again his metallic laughter like a wound-up spring. He whirled round and grimaced; he seemed to lose himself in the lifeless yellow electric light.

At the twelfth stroke, the last voice of the passing year, the hideous voice grew silent.

“Miscarried!”

And the horrible laughter of the vanishing monster died away. Garmonov, truly rejoicing over his deliverance from an unhappy fate, rose, and said: “A happy New Year!”

The White Dog

Everything grew irksome for Alexandra Ivanovna in the workshop of this out-of-the-way town⁠—the patterns, the clatter of machines, the complaints of the customers; it was the shop in which she had served as apprentice and now for several years as cutter. Everything irritated Alexandra Ivanovna; she quarrelled with everyone and abused the innocent apprentices. Among others to suffer from her outbursts of temper was Tanechka, the youngest of the seamstresses, who only lately had been an apprentice. In the beginning Tanechka submitted to her abuse in silence. In the end she revolted, and, addressing herself to her assailant, said, quite calmly and affably, so that everyone laughed:

“Alexandra Ivanovna, you are a downright dog!”

Alexandra Ivanovna felt humiliated.

“You are a dog yourself!” she exclaimed.

Tanechka sat there sewing. She paused now and then from her work and said in a calm, deliberate manner:

“You always whine.⁠ ⁠… Certainly, you are a dog.⁠ ⁠… You have a dog’s snout.⁠ ⁠… And a dog’s ears.⁠ ⁠… And a wagging tail.⁠ ⁠… The mistress will soon drive you out of doors, because you are the most detestable of dogs, a poodle.”

Tanechka was a young, plump, rosy-cheeked girl with an innocent, good-natured face, which revealed, however, a trace of cunning. She sat there so demure, barefooted, still dressed in her apprentice clothes; her eyes were clear, and her brows were highly arched on her fine curved white forehead, framed by straight, dark chestnut hair, which in the distance looked black. Tanechka’s voice was clear, even, sweet, insinuating, and if one could have heard its sound only, and not given heed to the words, it would have given the impression that she was paying Alexandra Ivanovna compliments.

The other seamstresses laughed, the apprentices chuckled, they covered their faces with their black aprons and cast side glances at Alexandra Ivanovna. As for Alexandra Ivanovna, she was livid with rage.

“Wretch!” she exclaimed. “I will pull your ears for you! I won’t leave a hair on your head.”

Tanechka replied in a gentle voice:

“The paws are a trifle short.⁠ ⁠… The poodle bites as well as barks.⁠ ⁠… It may be necessary to buy a muzzle.”

Alexandra Ivanovna made a movement toward Tanechka. But before Tanechka had time to lay aside her work and get up, the mistress of the establishment, a large, serious-looking woman, entered, rustling her dress.

She said sternly: “Alexandra Ivanovna, what do you mean by making such a fuss?”

Alexandra Ivanovna, much agitated, replied: “Irina Petrovna, I wish you would forbid her to call me a dog!”

Tanechka in her turn complained: “She is always snarling at something or other. Always quibbling at the smallest trifles.”

But the mistress looked at her sternly and said: “Tanechka, I can see through you. Are you sure you didn’t begin? You needn’t think that because you are a seamstress now you are an important person. If it weren’t for your mother’s sake⁠—”

Tanechka grew red, but preserved her innocent and affable manner. She addressed her mistress in a subdued voice: “Forgive me, Irina Petrovna, I will not do it again. But it wasn’t altogether my fault.⁠ ⁠…”


Alexandra Ivanovna returned home almost ill with rage. Tanechka had guessed her weakness.

“A dog! Well, then I am a dog,” thought Alexandra Ivanovna, “but it is none of her affair! Have I looked to see whether she is a serpent or a fox? It is easy to find one out, but why make a fuss about it? Is a dog worse than any other animal?”

The clear summer night languished and sighed, a soft breeze from the adjacent fields occasionally blew down the peaceful streets. The moon rose clear and full, that very same moon which rose long ago at another place, over the broad desolate steppe, the home of the wild, of those who ran free, and whined in their ancient earthly travail. The very same, as then and in that region.

And now, as then, glowed eyes sick with longing; and her heart, still wild, not forgetting in town the great spaciousness of the steppe, felt oppressed; her throat was troubled with a tormenting desire to howl like a wild thing.

She was about to undress, but what was the use? She could not sleep, anyway.

She went into the passage. The warm planks of the floor bent and creaked under her, and small shavings and sand which covered them tickled her feet not unpleasantly.

She went out on the doorstep. There sat the babushka Stepanida, a black figure in her black shawl, gaunt and shrivelled. She sat with her head bent, and it seemed as though she were warming herself in the rays of the cold moon.

Alexandra Ivanovna sat down beside her. She kept looking at the old woman sideways. The large curved nose of her companion seemed to her like the beak of an old bird.

“A crow?” Alexandra Ivanovna asked herself.

She smiled, forgetting for the moment her longing and her fears. Shrewd as the eyes of a dog her own lighted up with the joy of her discovery. In the pale green light of the moon the wrinkles of her faded face became altogether invisible, and she seemed once more young and merry and lighthearted, just as she was ten years ago, when the moon had not yet called upon her to bark and bay of nights before the windows of the dark bathhouse.

She moved closer to the old woman, and said affably: “Babushka Stepanida, there is something I have been wanting to ask you.”

The old woman turned to her, her dark face furrowed with wrinkles, and asked in a sharp, oldish voice that sounded like a caw:

“Well, my dear? Go ahead and ask.”

Alexandra Ivanovna gave a repressed laugh; her thin shoulders suddenly trembled from a chill that ran down her spine.

She spoke very quietly: “Babushka Stepanida, it seems to me⁠—tell me is it true?⁠—I don’t know exactly how to put it⁠—but you, babushka, please don’t take offence⁠—it is not from malice that I⁠—”

“Go on, my dear, never fear, say it,” said the old woman.

She looked at Alexandra Ivanovna with glowing, penetrating eyes.

“It seems to me, babushka⁠—please, now, don’t take offence⁠—as though you, babushka were a crow.”

The old woman turned away. She was silent and merely nodded her head. She had the appearance of one who had recalled something. Her head, with its sharply outlined nose, bowed and nodded, and at last it seemed to Alexandra Ivanovna that the old woman was dozing. Dozing, and mumbling something under her nose. Nodding her head and mumbling some old forgotten words⁠—old magic words.

An intense quiet reigned out of doors. It was neither light nor dark, and everything seemed bewitched with the inarticulate mumbling of old forgotten words. Everything languished and seemed lost in apathy. Again a longing oppressed her heart. And it was neither a dream nor an illusion. A thousand perfumes, imperceptible by day, became subtly distinguishable, and they recalled something ancient and primitive, something forgotten in the long ages.

In a barely audible voice the old woman mumbled: “Yes, I am a crow. Only I have no wings. But there are times when I caw, and I caw, and tell of woe. And I am given to forebodings, my dear; each time I have one I simply must caw. People are not particularly anxious to hear me. And when I see a doomed person I have such a strong desire to caw.”

The old woman suddenly made a sweeping movement with her arms, and in a shrill voice cried out twice: “Kar-r, Kar-r!”

Alexandra Ivanovna shuddered, and asked: “Babushka, at whom are you cawing?”

The old woman answered: “At you, my dear⁠—at you.”

It had become too painful to sit with the old woman any longer. Alexandra Ivanovna went to her own room. She sat down before the open window and listened to two voices at the gate.

“It simply won’t stop whining!” said a low and harsh voice.

“And uncle, did you see⁠—?” asked an agreeable young tenor.

Alexandra Ivanovna recognized in this last the voice of the curly-headed, somewhat red, freckled-faced lad who lived in the same court.

A brief and depressing silence followed. Then she heard a hoarse and harsh voice say suddenly: “Yes, I saw. It’s very large⁠—and white. Lies near the bathhouse, and bays at the moon.”

The voice gave her an image of the man, of his shovel-shaped beard, his low, furrowed forehead, his small, piggish eyes, and his spread-out fat legs.

“And why does it bay, uncle?” asked the agreeable voice.

And again the hoarse voice did not reply at once.

“Certainly to no good purpose⁠—and where it came from is more than I can say.”

“Do you think, uncle, it may be a werewolf?” asked the agreeable voice.

“I should not advise you to investigate,” replied the hoarse voice.

She could not quite understand what these words implied, nor did she wish to think of them. She did not feel inclined to listen further. What was the sound and significance of human words to her?

The moon looked straight into her face, and persistently called her and tormented her. Her heart was restless with a dark longing, and she could not sit still.

Alexandra Ivanovna quickly undressed herself. Naked, all white, she silently stole through the passage; she then opened the outer door⁠—there was no one on the step or outside⁠—and ran quickly across the court and the vegetable garden, and reached the bathhouse. The sharp contact of her body with the cold air and her feet with the cold ground gave her pleasure. But soon her body was warm.

She lay down in the grass, on her stomach. Then, raising herself on her elbows, she lifted her face toward the pale, brooding moon, and gave a long-drawn-out whine.

“Listen, uncle, it is whining,” said the curly-haired lad at the gate.

The agreeable tenor voice trembled perceptibly.

“Whining again, the accursed one,” said the hoarse, harsh voice slowly.

They rose from the bench. The gate latch clicked.

They went silently across the courtyard and the vegetable garden, the two of them. The older man, black-bearded and powerful, walked in front, a gun in his hand. The curly-headed lad followed tremblingly, and looked constantly behind.

Near the bathhouse, in the grass, lay a huge white dog, whining piteously. Its head, black on the crown, was raised to the moon, which pursued its way in the cold sky; its hind legs were strangely thrown backward, while the front ones, firm and straight, pressed hard against the ground.

In the pale green and unreal light of the moon it seemed enormous, so huge a dog was surely never seen on earth. It was thick and fat. The black spot, which began at the head and stretched in uneven strands down the entire spine, seemed like a woman’s loosened hair. No tail was visible, presumably it was turned under. The fur on the body was so short that in the distance the dog seemed wholly naked, and its hide shone dimly in the moonlight, so that altogether it resembled the body of a nude woman, who lay in the grass and bayed at the moon.

The man with the black beard took aim. The curly-haired lad crossed himself and mumbled something.

The discharge of a rifle sounded in the night air. The dog gave a groan, jumped up on its hind legs, became a naked woman, who, her body covered with blood, started to run, all the while groaning, weeping and raising cries of distress.

The black-bearded one and the curly-haired one threw themselves in the grass, and began to moan in wild terror.

Light and Shadows

I

Volodya Lovlev, a pale meagre lad of twelve, had returned home from school and was waiting for his dinner. He was standing in the drawing-room at the piano, and was turning over the pages of the latest number of the Niva which had come only that morning.

A leaflet of thin grey paper fell out; it was an announcement issued by an illustrated journal. It enumerated the future contributors⁠—the list contained about fifty well-known literary names; it praised at some length the journal as a whole and in detail its many-sidedness, and it presented several specimen illustrations.

Volodya began to turn the pages of the leaflet in an absent way and to look at the miniature pictures. His large eyes, looked wearily out of his pale face.

One page suddenly caught his attention, and his wide eyes opened slightly wider. Running from top to bottom were six drawings of hands throwing shadows in dark silhouette upon a white wall⁠—the shadows representing the head of a girl with an amusing three-cornered hat, the head of a donkey, of a bull, the sitting figure of a squirrel, and other similar things.

Volodya smiled and looked very intently at them. He was quite familiar with this amusement. He could hold the fingers of one hand so as to cast a silhouette of a hare’s head on the wall. But this was quite another matter, something that Volodya had not seen before; its interest for him was that here were quite complex figures cast by using both hands.

Volodya suddenly wished to reproduce these shadows. Of course there was no use trying now, in the uncertain light of a late autumn afternoon.

He had better try it later in his own room. In any case, it was of no use to anyone.

Just then he heard the approaching footsteps and voice of his mother. He flushed for some reason or other and quickly put the leaflet into his pocket, and left the piano to meet her. She looked at him with a caressing smile as she came toward him; her pale, handsome face greatly resembled his, and she had the same large eyes.

She asked him, as she always did: “Well, what’s the news today?”

“There’s nothing new,” said Volodya dejectedly.

But it occurred to him at once that he was being ungracious, and he felt ashamed. He smiled genially and began to recall what had happened at school; but this only made him feel sadder.

“Pruzhinin has again distinguished himself,” and he began to tell about the teacher who was disliked by his pupils for his rudeness. “Lentyev was reciting his lesson and made a mess of it, and so Pruzhinin said to him: ‘Well, that’s enough; sit down, blockhead!’ ”

“Nothing escapes you,” said his mother, smiling.

“He’s always rude.”

After a brief silence Volodya sighed, then complained: “They are always in a hurry.”

“Who?” asked his mother.

“I mean the masters. Every one is anxious to finish his course quickly and to make a good show at the examination. And if you ask a question you are immediately suspected of trying to take up the time until the bell rings, and to avoid having questions put to you.”

“Do you talk much after the lessons?”

“Well, yes⁠—but there’s the same hurry after the lessons to get home, or to study the lessons in the girls’ classrooms. And everything is done in a hurry⁠—you are no sooner done with the geometry than you must study your Greek.”

“That’s to keep you from yawning.”

“Yawning! I’m more like a squirrel going round on its cage-wheel. It’s exasperating.”

His mother smiled lightly.

II

After dinner Volodya went to his room to prepare his lessons. His mother saw that the room was comfortable, that nothing was lacking in it. No one ever disturbed Volodya here; even his mother refrained from coming in at this time. She would come in later, to help Volodya if he needed help.

Volodya was an industrious and even a clever pupil. But he found it difficult today to apply himself. No matter what lesson he tried he could not help remembering something unpleasant; he would recall the teacher of each particular subject, his sarcastic or rude remark, which propped in passings had entered in the impressionable boy’s mind.

Several of his recent lessons happened to turn out poorly; the teachers appeared dissatisfied, and they grumbled incessantly. Their mood communicated itself to Volodya, and his books and copybooks inspired him at this moment with a deep confusion and unrest.

He passed hastily from the first lesson to the second and to the third; this bother with trifles for the sake of not appearing “a blockhead” the next day seemed to him both silly and unnecessary. The thought perturbed him. He began to yawn from tedium and from sadness, and to dangle his feet impatiently; he simply could not sit still.

But he knew too well that the lessons must be learnt, that this was very important, that his future depended upon it; and so he went on conscientiously with the tedious business.

Volodya made a blot on the copybook, and he put his pen aside. He looked at the blot, and decided that it could be erased with a penknife. He was glad of the distraction.

Not finding the penknife on the table he put his hand into his pocket and rummaged there. Among all such rubbish as is to be found in a boy’s pocket he felt his penknife and pulled it out, together with some sort of leaflet.

He did not see at first what the paper was he held in his hands, but on looking at it he suddenly remembered that this was the little book with the shadows, and quite as suddenly he grew cheerful and animated.

And there it was⁠—that same little leaflet which he had forgotten when he began his lessons.

He jumped briskly off his chair, moved the lamp nearer the wall, looked cautiously at the closed door⁠—as though afraid of someone entering⁠—and, turning the leaflet to the familiar page, began to study the first drawing with great intentness, and to arrange his fingers according to directions. The first shadow came out as a confused shape, not at all what it should have been. Volodya moved the lamp, now here, now there; he bent and he stretched his fingers; and he was at last rewarded by seeing a woman’s head with a three-cornered hat.

Volodya grew cheerful. He inclined his hand somewhat and moved his fingers very slightly⁠—the head bowed, smiled, and grimaced amusingly.

Volodya proceeded with the second figure, then with the others. All were hard at the beginning, but he managed them somehow in the end.

He spent a half-hour in this occupation, and forgot all about his lessons, the school, and the whole world.

Suddenly he heard familiar footsteps behind the door. Volodya flushed; he stuffed the leaflet into his pocket and quickly moved the lamp to its place, almost overturning it; then he sat down and bent over his copybook. His mother entered.

“Let’s go and have tea, Volodenka,” she said to him.

Volodya pretended that he was looking at the blot and that he was about to open his penknife. His mother gently put her hands on his head. Volodya threw the knife aside and pressed his flushing face against his mother. Evidently she noticed nothing, and this made Volodya glad. Still, he felt ashamed, as though he had actually been caught at some stupid prank.

III

The samovar stood upon the round table in the dining-room and quietly hummed its garrulous song. The hanging-lamp diffused its light upon the white tablecloth and upon the dark walls, filling the room with dream and mystery.

Volodya’s mother seemed wistful as she leant her handsome, pale face forward over the table. Volodya was leaning on his arm, and was stirring the small spoon in his glass. It was good to watch the tea’s sweet eddies and to see the little bubbles rise to the surface. The little silver spoon quietly tinkled.

The boiling water, sputtering, ran from the tap into his mother’s cup.

A light shadow was cast by the little spoon upon the saucer and the tablecloth, and it lost itself in the glass of tea. Volodya watched it intently: the shadows thrown by the tiny little eddies and bubbles recalled something to him⁠—precisely what, Volodya could not say. He held up and he turned the little spoon, and he ran his fingers over it⁠—but nothing came of it.

“All the same,” he stubbornly insisted to himself, “it’s not with fingers alone that shadows can be made. They are possible with anything. But the thing is to adjust oneself to one’s material.”

And Volodya began to examine the shadows of the samovar, of the chairs, of his mother’s head, as well as the shadows cast on the table by the dishes; and he tried to catch a resemblance in all these shadows to something. His mother was speaking⁠—Volodya was not listening properly.

“How is Lesha Sitnikov getting on at school?” asked his mother.

Volodya was studying then the shadow of the milk-jug. He gave a start, and answered hastily: “It’s a tomcat.”

“Volodya, you must be asleep,” said his astonished mother. “What tomcat?”

Volodya grew red.

“I don’t know what’s got into my head,” he said. “I’m sorry, mother, I wasn’t listening.”

IV

The next evening, before tea, Volodya again thought of his shadows, and gave himself up to them. One shadow insisted on turning out badly, no matter how hard he stretched and bent his fingers.

Volodya was so absorbed in this that he did not hear his mother coming. At the creaking of the door he quickly put the leaflet into his pocket and turned away, confused, from the wall. But his mother was already looking at his hands, and a tremor of fear lit up her eyes.

“What are you doing, Volodya? What have you hidden?”

“Nothing, really,” muttered Volodya, flushing and changing colour rapidly.

It flashed upon her that Volodya wished to smoke, and that he had hidden a cigarette.

“Volodya, show me at once what you are hiding,” she said in a frightened voice.

“Really, mamma.⁠ ⁠…”

She caught Volodya by the elbow.

“Must I feel in your pocket myself?”

Volodya grew even redder, and pulled the little book out of his pocket.

“Here it is,” he said, giving it to his mother.

“Well, what is it?”

“Well, here,” he explained, “on this side are the drawings, and here, as you see, are the shadows. I was trying to throw them on the wall, and I haven’t succeeded very well.”

“What is there to hide here!” said his mother, becoming more tranquil. “Now show me what they look like.”

Volodya, taken aback, began obediently to show his mother the shadows.

“Now this is the profile of a bald-headed man. And this is the head of a hare.”

“And so this is how you are studying your lessons!”

“Only for a little, mother.”

“For a little! Why are you blushing then, my dear? Well, I shan’t say anything more. I think I can depend on you to do what is right.”

His mother moved her hand over his short, bristling hair, whereupon Volodya laughed and hid his flushing face under his mother’s elbow.

Then his mother left him, and for a long time Volodya felt awkward and ashamed. His mother had caught him doing something that he himself would have ridiculed had he caught any of his companions doing it.

Volodya knew that he was a clever lad, and he deemed himself serious; and this was, after all, a game fit only for little girls when they got together.

He pushed the little book with the shadows deeper into the table-drawer, and did not take it out again for more than a week; indeed, he thought little about the shadows that week. Only in the evening sometimes, in changing from one lesson to another, he would smile at the recollection of the girl in the hat⁠—there were, indeed, moments when he put his hand in the drawer to get the little book, but he always quickly remembered the shame he experienced when his mother first found him out, and this made him resume his work at once.

V

Volodya and his mother lived in their own house on the outskirts of the district town. Eugenia Stepanovna had been a widow for nine years. She was now thirty-five years old; she seemed young and handsome, and Volodya loved her tenderly. She lived entirely for her son, studied ancient languages for his sake, and shared all his school cares. A quiet and gentle woman, she looked somewhat apprehensively upon the world out of her large, benign eyes.

They had one domestic. Praskovya was a widow; she was gruff, sturdy, and strong; she was forty-five years old, but in her stern taciturnity she was more like a woman a hundred years old.

Whenever Volodya looked at her morose, stony face he wondered what she was thinking of in her kitchen during the long winter evenings, as the cold knitting-needles, clinking, shifted in her bony fingers with a regular movement, and her dry lips stirred yet uttered no sound. Was she recalling her drunken husband, or her children who had died earlier? or was she musing upon her lonely and homeless old age?

Her stony face seemed hopelessly gloomy and austere.

VI

It was a long autumn evening. On the other side of the wall were the wind and the rain.

How wearily, how indifferently the lamp flared! Volodya, propping himself up on his elbow, leant his whole body over to the left and looked at the white wall and at the white window-blinds.

The pale flowers were almost invisible on the wallpaper⁠ ⁠… the wall was a melancholy white.⁠ ⁠…

The shaded lamp subdued the bright glare of light. The entire upper portion of the room was twilit.

Volodya lifted his right arm. A long, faintly outlined, confused shadow crept across the shaded wall.

It was the shadow of an angel, flying heavenward from a depraved and afflicted world; it was a translucent shadow, spreading its broad wings and reposing its bowed head sadly upon its breast.

Would not the angel, with his gentle hands, carry away with him something significant yet despised of this world?

Volodya sighed. He let his arm fall languidly. He let his depressed eyes rest on his books.

It was a long autumn evening.⁠ ⁠… The wall was a melancholy white.⁠ ⁠… On the other side of the wall something wept and rustled.

VII

Volodya’s mother found him a second time with the shadows.

This time the bull’s head was a success, and he was delighted. He made the bull stretch out his neck, and the bull lowed.

His mother was less pleased.

“So this is how you are taking up your time,” she said reproachfully.

“For a little, mamma,” whispered Volodya, embarrassed.

“You might at least save this for a more suitable time,” his mother went on. “And you are no longer a little boy. Aren’t you ashamed to waste your time on such nonsense!”

“Mamma, dear, I shan’t do it again.”

But Volodya found it difficult to keep his promise. He enjoyed making shadows, and the desire to make them came to him often, especially during an uninteresting lesson.

This amusement occupied much of his time on some evenings and interfered with his lessons. He had to make up for it afterwards and to lose some sleep. How could he give up his amusement?

Volodya succeeded in evolving several new figures, and not by means of the fingers alone. These figures lived on the wall, and it even seemed to Volodya at times that they talked to him and entertained him.

But Volodya was a dreamer even before then.

VIII

It was night. Volodya’s room was dark. He had gone to bed but he could not sleep. He was lying on his back and was looking at the ceiling.

Someone was walking in the street with a lantern. His shadow traversed the ceiling, among the red spots of light thrown by the lantern. It was evident that the lantern swung in the hands of the passerby⁠—the shadow wavered and seemed agitated.

Volodya felt a sadness and a fear. He quickly pulled the bedcover over his head, and, trembling in his haste, he turned on his right side and began to encourage himself.

He then felt soothed and warm. His mind began to weave sweet, naive fancies, the fancies which visited him usually before sleep.

Often when he went to bed he felt suddenly afraid; he felt as though he were becoming smaller and weaker. He would then hide among the pillows, and gradually became soothed and loving, and wished his mother were there that he might put his arms round her neck and kiss her.

IX

The grey twilight was growing denser. The shadows merged. Volodya felt depressed. But here was the lamp. The light poured itself on the green tablecloth, the vague, beloved shadows appeared on the wall.

Volodya suddenly felt glad and animated, and made haste to get the little grey book. The bull began to low⁠ ⁠… the young lady to laugh uproariously.⁠ ⁠… What evil, round eyes the bald-headed gentleman was making!

Then he tried his own. It was the steppe. Here was a wayfarer with his knapsack. Volodya seemed to hear the endless, monotonous song of the road.⁠ ⁠…

Volodya felt both joy and sadness.

X

“Volodya, it’s the third time I’ve seen you with the little book. Do you spend whole evenings admiring your fingers?”

Volodya stood uneasily at the table, like a truant caught, and he turned the pages of the leaflet with hot fingers.

“Give it to me,” said his mother.

Volodya, confused, put out his hand with the leaflet. His mother took it, said nothing, and went out; while Volodya sat down over his copybooks.

He felt ashamed that, by his stubbornness, he had offended his mother, and he felt vexed that she had taken the booklet from him; he was even more vexed at himself for letting the matter go so far. He felt his awkward position, and his vexation with his mother troubled him: he had scruples in being angry with her, yet he couldn’t help it. And because he had scruples he felt even more angry.

“Well, let her take it,” he said to himself at last, “I can get along without it.”

And, in truth, Volodya had the figures in his memory, and used the little book merely for verification.

XI

In the meantime his mother opened the little book with the shadows⁠—and became lost in thought.

“I wonder what’s fascinating about them?” she mused. “It is strange that such a good, clever boy should suddenly, become wrapped up in such nonsense! No, that means it’s not mere nonsense. What, then, is it?” she pursued her questioning of herself.

A strange fear took possession of her; she felt malignant toward these black pictures, yet quailed before them.

She rose and lighted a candle. She approached the wall, the little grey book still in her hand, and paused in her wavering agitation.

“Yes, it is important to get to the bottom of this,” she resolved, and began to reproduce the shadows from the first to the last.

She persisted most patiently with her hands and her fingers, until she succeeded in reproducing the figure she desired. A confused, apprehensive feelings stirred within her. She tried to conquer it. But her fear fascinated her as it grew stronger. Her hands trembled, while her thought, cowed by life’s twilight, ran on to meet the approaching sorrows.

She suddenly heard her son’s footsteps. She trembled, hid the little book, and blew out the candle.

Volodya entered and stopped in the doorway, confused by the stern look of his mother as she stood by the wall in a strange, uneasy attitude.

“What do you want?” asked his mother in a harsh, uneven voice.

A vague conjecture ran across Volodya’s mind, but he quickly repelled it and began to talk to his mother.

XII

Then Volodya left her.

She paced up and down the room a number of times. She noticed that her shadow followed her on the floor, and, strange to say, it was the first time in her life that her own shadow had made her uneasy. The thought that there was a shadow assailed her mind unceasingly⁠—and Eugenia Stepanovna, for some reason, was afraid of this thought, and even tried not to look at her shadow.

But the shadow crept after her and taunted her. Eugenia Stepanovna tried to think of something else⁠—but in vain.

She suddenly paused, pale and agitated.

“Well, it’s a shadow, a shadow!” she exclaimed aloud, stamping her foot with a strange irritation, “what of it?”

Then all at once she reflected that it was stupid to make a fuss and to stamp her feet, and she became quiet.

She approached the mirror. Her face was paler than usual, and her lips quivered with a kind of strange hate.

“It’s nerves,” she thought; “I must take myself in hand.”

XIII

Twilight was falling. Volodya grew pensive.

“Let’s go for a stroll, Volodya,” said his mother.

But in the street there were also shadows everywhere, mysterious, elusive evening shadows; and they whispered in Volodya’s ear something that was familiar and infinitely sad.

In the clouded sky two or three stars looked out, and they seemed equally distant and equally strange to Volodya and to the shadows that surrounded him.

“Mamma,” he said, oblivious of the fact that he had interrupted her as she was telling him something, “what a pity that it is impossible to reach those stars.”

His mother looked up at the sky and answered: “I don’t see that it’s necessary. Our place is on earth. It is better for us here. It’s quite another thing there.”

“How faintly they glimmer! They ought to be glad of it.”

“Why?”

“If they shone more strongly they would cast shadows.”

“Oh, Volodya, why do you think only of shadows?”

“I didn’t mean to, mamma,” said Volodya in a penitent voice.

XIV

Volodya worked harder than ever at his lessons; he was afraid to hurt his mother by being lazy. But he employed all his invention in grouping the objects on his table in a way that would produce new and ever more fantastic shadows. He put this here and that there⁠—anything that came to his hands⁠—and he rejoiced when outlines appeared on the white wall that his mind could grasp. There was an intimacy between him and these shadowy outlines, and they were very dear to him. They were not dumb, they spoke to him, and Volodya understood their inarticulate speech.

He understood why the dejected wayfarer murmured as he wandered upon the long road, the autumn wetness under his feet, a stick in his trembling hand, a knapsack on his bowed back.

He understood why the snow-covered forest, its boughs crackling with frost, complained, as it stood sadly dreaming in the winter stillness; and he understood why the lonely crow cawed on the old oak, and why the bustling squirrel looked sadly out of its tree-hollow.

He understood why the decrepit and homeless old beggar-women sobbed in the dismal autumn wind, as they shivered in their rags in the crowded graveyard, among the crumbling crosses and the hopelessly black tombs.

There was self-forgetfulness in this, and also tormenting woe!

XV

Volodya’s mother observed that he continued to play.

She said to him after dinner: “At least, you might get interested in something else.”

“In what?”

“You might read.”

“No sooner do I begin to read than I want to cast shadows.”

“If you’d only try something else⁠—say soap-bubbles.”

Volodya smiled sadly.

“No sooner do the bubbles fly up than the shadows follow them on the wall.”

“Volodya, unless you take care your nerves will be shattered. Already you have grown thinner because of this.”

“Mamma, you exaggerate.”

“No, Volodya.⁠ ⁠… Don’t I know that you’ve begun to sleep badly and to talk nonsense in your sleep. Now, just think, suppose you die!”

“What are you saying!”

“God forbid, but if you go mad, or die, I shall suffer horribly.”

Volodya laughed and threw himself on his mother’s neck.

“Mamma dear, I shan’t die. I won’t do it again.”

She saw that he was crying now.

“That will do,” she said. “God is merciful. Now you see how nervous you are. You’re laughing and crying at the same time.”

XVI

Volodya’s mother began to look at him with careful and anxious eyes. Every trifle now agitated her.

She noticed that Volodya’s head was somewhat asymmetrical: his one ear was higher than the other, his chin slightly turned to one side. She looked in the mirror, and further remarked that Volodya had inherited this too from her.

“It may be,” she thought, “one of the characteristics of unfortunate heredity⁠—degeneration; in which case where is the root of the evil? Is it my fault or his father’s?”

Eugenia Stepanovna recalled her dead husband. He was a most kindhearted and most lovable man, somewhat weak-willed, with rash impulses. He was by nature a zealot and a mystic, and he dreamt of a social Utopia, and went among the people. He had been rather given to tippling the last years of his life.

He died young; he was but thirty-five years old.

Volodya’s mother even took her boy to the doctor and described his symptoms. The doctor, a cheerful young man, listened to her, then laughed and gave counsel concerning diet and way of life, throwing in a few witty remarks; he wrote out a prescription in a happy, offhand way, and he added playfully, with a slap on Volodya’s shoulder: “But the very best medicine would be⁠—a birch.”

Volodya’s mother felt the affront deeply, but she followed all the rest of the instructions faithfully.

XVII

Volodya was sitting in his class. He felt depressed. He listened inattentively.

He raised his eyes. A shadow was moving along the ceiling near the front wall. Volodya observed that it came in through the first window. To begin with it fell from the window toward the centre of the classroom, but later it started forward rather quickly away from Volodya⁠—evidently someone was walking in the street, just by the window. While this shadow was still moving another shadow came through the second window, falling, as did the first one, toward the back wall, but later it began to turn quickly toward the front wall. The same thing happened at the third and the fourth windows; the shadows fell in the classroom on the ceiling, and in the degree that the passerby moved forward they retreated backward.

“This,” thought Volodya, “is not at all the same as in an open place, where the shadow follows the man; when the man goes forward, the shadow glides behind, and other shadows again meet him in the front.”

Volodya turned his eyes on the gaunt figure of the tutor. His callous, yellow face annoyed Volodya. He looked for his shadow and found it on the wall, just behind the tutor’s chair. The monstrous shape bent over and rocked from side to side, but it had neither a yellow face nor a malignant smile, and Volodya looked at it with joy. His thoughts scampered off somewhere far away, and he heard not a single thing of what was being said.

“Lovlev!” His tutor called his name.

Volodya rose, as was the custom, and stood looking stupidly at the tutor. He had such an absent look that his companions tittered, while the tutor’s face assumed a critical expression.

Volodya heard the tutor attack him with sarcasm and abuse. He trembled from shame and from weakness. The tutor announced that he would give Volodya “one” for his ignorance and his inattention, and he asked him to sit down.

Volodya smiled in a dull way, and tried to think what had happened to him.

XVIII

The “one” was the first in Volodya’s life! It made him feel rather strange.

“Lovlev!” his comrades taunted him, laughing and nudging him, “you caught it that time! Congratulations!”

Volodya felt awkward. He did not yet know how to behave in these circumstances.

“What if I have,” he answered peevishly, “what business is it of yours?”

“Lovlev!” the lazy Snegirev shouted, “our regiment has been reinforced!”

His first “one”! And he had yet to tell his mother.

He felt ashamed and humiliated. He felt as though he bore in the knapsack on his back a strangely heavy and awkward burden⁠—the “one” stuck clumsily in his consciousness and seemed to fit in with nothing else in his mind.

“One”!

He could not get used to the thought about the “one,” and yet could not think of anything else. When the policeman, who stood near the school, looked at him with his habitual severity Volodya could not help thinking: “What if you knew that I’ve received ‘one’!”

It was all so awkward and so unusual. Volodya did not know how to hold his head and where to put his hands; there was uneasiness in his whole bearing.

Besides, he had to assume a carefree look before his comrades and to talk of something else!

His comrades! Volodya was convinced that they were all very glad because of his “one.”

XIX

Volodya’s mother looked at the “one” and turned her uncomprehending eyes on her son. Then again she glanced at the report and exclaimed quietly:

“Volodya!”

Volodya stood before her, and he felt intensely small. He looked at the folds of his mother’s dress and at his mother’s pale hands; his trembling eyelids were conscious of her frightened glances fixed upon them.

“What’s this?” she asked.

“Don’t you worry, mamma,” burst out Volodya suddenly; “after all, it’s my first!”

“Your first!”

“It may happen to anyone. And really it was all an accident.”

“Oh, Volodya, Volodya!”

Volodya began to cry and to rub his tears, childlike, over his face with the palm of his hand.

“Mamma darling, don’t be angry,” he whispered.

“That’s what comes of your shadows,” said his mother.

Volodya felt the tears in her voice. His heart was touched. He glanced at his mother. She was crying. He turned quickly toward her.

“Mamma, mamma,” he kept on repeating, while kissing her hands, “I’ll drop the shadows, really I will.”

XX

Volodya made a strong effort of the will and refrained from the shadows, despite strong temptation. He tried to make amends for his neglected lessons.

But the shadows beckoned to him persistently. In vain he ceased to invite them with his fingers, in vain he ceased to arrange objects that would cast a new shadow on the wall; the shadows themselves surrounded him⁠—they were unavoidable, importunate shadows.

Objects themselves no longer interested Volodya, he almost ceased to see them; all his attention was centred on their shadows.

When he was walking home and the sun happened to peep through the autumn clouds, as through smoky vestments, he was overjoyed because there was everywhere an awakening of the shadows.

The shadows from the lamplight hovered near him in the evening at home.

The shadows were everywhere. There were the sharp shadows from the flames, there were the fainter shadows from diffused daylight. All of them crowded toward Volodya, recrossed each other, and enveloped him in an unbreakable network.

Some of the shadows were incomprehensible, mysterious; others reminded him of something, suggested something. But there were also the beloved, the intimate, the familiar shadows; these Volodya himself, however casually, sought out and caught everywhere from among the confused wavering of the others, the more remote shadows. But they were sad, these beloved, familiar shadows.

Whenever Volodya found himself seeking these shadows his conscience tormented him, and he went to his mother to make a clean breast of it.

Once it happened that Volodya could not conquer his temptation. He stood up close to the wall and made a shadow of the bull. His mother found him.

“Again!” she exclaimed angrily. “I really shall have to ask the director to put you into the small room.”

Volodya flushed violently and answered morosely: “There is a wall there also. The walls are everywhere.”

“Volodya,” exclaimed his mother sorrowfully, “what are you saying!”

But Volodya already repented of his rudeness, and he was crying.

“Mamma, I don’t know myself what’s happening to me!”

XXI

Volodya’s mother had not yet conquered her superstitious dread of shadows. She began very often to think that she, like Volodya, was losing herself in the contemplation of shadows. Then she tried to comfort herself.

“What stupid thoughts!” she said. “Thank God, all will pass happily; he will be like this a little while, then he will stop.”

But her heart trembled with a secret fear, and her thought, frightened of life persistently ran to meet approaching sorrows.

She began in the melancholy moments of waking to examine her soul, and all her life would pass before her; she saw its emptiness, its futility, and its aimlessness. It seemed but a senseless glimmer of shadows, which merged in the denser twilight.

“Why have I lived?” she asked herself. “Was it for my son? But why? That he too shall become a prey to shadows, a maniac with a narrow horizon, chained to his illusions, to restless appearances upon a lifeless wall? And he too will enter upon life, and he will make of life a chain of impressions, phantasmic and futile, like a dream.”

She sat down in the armchair by the window, and she thought and thought. Her thoughts were bitter, oppressive. She began, in her despair, to wring her beautiful white hands.

Then her thoughts wandered. She looked at her outstretched hands, and began to imagine what sort of shapes they would cast on the wall in their present attitude. She suddenly paused and jumped up from her chair in fright.

“My God!” she exclaimed. “This is madness.”

XXII

She watched Volodya at dinner.

“How pale and thin he has grown,” she said to herself, “since the unfortunate little book fell into his hands. He’s changed entirely⁠—in character and in everything else. It is said that character changes before death. What if he dies? But no, no. God forbid!”

The spoon trembled in her hand. She looked up at the ikon with timid eyes.

“Volodya, why don’t you finish your soup?” she asked, looking frightened.

“I don’t feel like it, mamma.”

“Volodya, darling, do as I tell you; it is bad for you not to eat your soup.”

Volodya gave a tired smile and slowly finished his soup. His mother had filled his plate fuller than usual. He leant back in his chair and was on the point of saying that the soup was not good. But his mother’s worried look restrained him, and he merely smiled weakly.

“And now I’ve had enough,” he said.

“Oh no, Volodya, I have all your favourite dishes today.”

Volodya sighed sadly. He knew that when his mother spoke of his favourite dishes it meant that she would coax him to eat. He guessed that even after tea his mother would prevail upon him, as she did the day before, to eat meat.

XXIII

In the evening Volodya’s mother said to him: “Volodya dear, you’ll waste your time again; perhaps you’d better keep the door open!”

Volodya began his lessons. But he felt vexed because the door had been left open at his back, and because his mother went past it now and then.

“I cannot go on like this,” he shouted, moving his chair noisily. “I cannot do anything when the door is wide open.”

“Volodya, is there any need to shout so?” his mother reproached him softly.

Volodya already felt repentant, and he began to cry.

“Don’t you see, Volodenka, that I’m worried about you, and that I want to save you from your thoughts.”

“Mamma, sit here with me,” said Volodya.

His mother took a book and sat down at Volodya’s table. For a few minutes Volodya worked calmly. But gradually the presence of his mother began to annoy him.

“I’m being watched just like a sick man,” he thought spitefully.

His thoughts were constantly interrupted, and he was biting his lips. His mother remarked this at last, and she left the room.

But Volodya felt no relief. He was tormented with regret at showing his impatience. He tried to go on with his work but he could not. Then he went to his mother.

“Mamma, why did you leave me?” he asked timidly.

XXIV

It was the eve of a holiday. The little image-lamps burned before the ikons.

It was late and it was quiet. Volodya’s mother was not asleep. In the mysterious dark of her bedroom she fell on her knees, she prayed and she wept, sobbing out now and then like a child.

Her braids of hair trailed upon her white dress; her shoulders trembled. She raised her hands to her breast in a praying posture, and she looked with tearful eyes at the ikon. The image-lamp moved almost imperceptibly on its chains with her passionate breathing. The shadows rocked, they crowded in the corners, they stirred behind the reliquary, and they murmured mysteriously. There was a hopeless yearning in their murmurings and an incomprehensible sadness in their wavering movements.

At last she rose, looking pale, with strange, widely dilated eyes, and she reeled slightly on her benumbed legs.

She went quietly to Volodya. The shadows surrounded her, they rustled softly behind her back, they crept at her feet, and some of them, as fine as the threads of a spider’s web, fell upon her shoulders and, looking into her large eyes, murmured incomprehensibly.

She approached her son’s bed cautiously. His face was pale in the light of the image-lamp. Strange, sharp shadows lay upon him. His breathing was inaudible; he slept so tranquilly that his mother was frightened.

She stood there in the midst of the vague shadows, and she felt upon her the breath of vague fears.

XXV

The high vaults of the church were dark and mysterious. The evening chants rose toward these vaults and resounded there with an exultant sadness. The dark images, lit up by the yellow flickers of wax candles, looked stern and mysterious. The warm breathing of the wax and of the incense filled the air with lofty sorrow.

Eugenia Stepanovna placed a candle before the ikon of the Mother of God. Then she knelt down. But her prayer was distraught.

She looked at her candle. Its flame wavered. The shadows from the candles fell on Eugenia Stepanovna’s black dress and on the floor, and rocked unsteadily. The shadows hovered on the walls of the church and lost themselves in the heights between the dark vaults, where the exultant, sad songs resounded.

XXVI

It was another night.

Volodya awoke suddenly. The darkness enveloped him, and it stirred without sound. He freed his hands, then raised them, and followed their movements with his eyes. He did not see his hands in the darkness, but he imagined that he saw them wanly stirring before him. They were dark and mysterious, and they held in them the affliction and the murmur of lonely yearning.

His mother also did not sleep; her grief tormented her. She lit a candle and went quietly toward her son’s room to see how he slept. She opened the door noiselessly and looked timidly at Volodya’s bed.

A streak of yellow light trembled on the wall and intersected Volodya’s red bedcover. The lad stretched his arms toward the light and, with a beating heart, followed the shadows. He did not even ask himself where the light came from. He was wholly obsessed by the shadows. His eyes were fixed on the wall, and there was a gleam of madness in them.

The streak of light broadened, the shadows moved in a startled way; they were morose and hunchbacked, like homeless, roaming women who were hurrying to reach somewhere with old burdens that dragged them down.

Volodya’s mother, trembling with fright, approached the bed and quietly aroused her son.

“Volodya!”

Volodya came to himself. For some seconds he glanced at his mother with large eyes, then he shivered from head to foot and, springing out of bed, fell at his mother’s feet, embraced her knees, and wept.

“What dreams you do dream, Volodya!” exclaimed his mother sorrowfully.

XXVII

“Volodya,” said his mother to him at breakfast, “you must stop it, darling; you will become a wreck if you spend your nights also with the shadows.”

The pale lad lowered his head in dejection. His lips quivered nervously.

“I’ll tell you what we’ll do,” continued his mother. “Perhaps we had better play a little while together with the shadows each evening, and then we will study your lessons. What do you say?”

Volodya grew somewhat animated.

“Mamma, you’re a darling!” he said shyly.

XXVIII

In the street Volodya felt drowsy and timid. The fog was spreading; it was cold and dismal. The outlines of the houses looked strange in the mist. The morose, human silhouettes moved through the filmy atmosphere like ominous, unkindly shadows. Everything seemed so intensely unreal. The cab-horse, which stood drowsily at the street-crossing, appeared like a huge fabulous beast.

The policeman gave Volodya a hostile look. The crow on the low roof foreboded sorrow in Volodya’s ear. But sorrow was already in his heart; it made him sad to note how everything was hostile to him.

A small dog with an unhealthy coat barked at him from behind a gate and Volodya felt a strange depression. And the urchins of the street seemed ready to laugh at him and to humiliate him.

In the past he would have settled scores with them as they deserved, but now fear lived in his breast; it robbed his arms of their strength and caused them to hang by his sides.

When Volodya returned home Praskovya opened the door to him, and she looked at him with moroseness and hostility. Volodya felt uneasy. He quickly went into the house, and refrained from looking at Praskovya’s depressing face again.

XXIX

His mother was sitting alone. It was twilight, and she felt sad.

A light suddenly glimmered somewhere.

Volodya ran in, animated, cheerful, and with large, somewhat wild eyes.

“Mamma, the lamp has been lit; let’s play a little.”

She smiled and followed Volodya.

“Mamma, I’ve thought of a new figure,” said Volodya excitedly, as he placed the lamp in the desired position. “Look.⁠ ⁠… Do you see? This is the steppe, covered with snow, and the snow falls⁠—a regular storm.”

Volodya raised his hands and arranged them.

“Now look, here is an old man, a wayfarer. He is up to his knees in snow. It is difficult to walk. He is alone. It is an open field. The village is far away. He is tired, he is cold; it is terrible. He is all bent⁠—he’s such an old man.”

Volodya’s mother helped him with his fingers.

“Oh!” exclaimed Volodya in great joy. “The wind is tearing his cap off, it is blowing his hair loose, it has thrown him in the snow. The drifts are getting higher. Mamma, mamma, do you hear?”

“It’s a blinding storm.”

“And he?”

“The old man?”

“Do you hear, he is moaning?”

“Help!”

Both of them, pale, were looking at the wall. Volodya’s hands shook, the old man fell.

His mother was the first to arouse herself.

“And now it’s time to work,” she said.

XXX

It was morning. Volodya’s mother was alone. Rapt in her confused, dismal thoughts, she was walking from one room to another. Her shadow outlined itself vaguely on the white door in the light of the mist-dimmed sun. She stopped at the door and lifted her arm with a large, curious movement. The shadow on the door wavered and began to murmur something familiar and sad. A strange feeling of comfort came over Eugenia Stepanovna as she stood, a wild smile on her face, before the door and moved both her hands, watching the trembling shadows.

Then she heard Praskovya coming, and she realized that she was doing an absurd thing. Once more she felt afraid and sad.

“We ought to make a change,” she thought, “and go elsewhere, somewhere farther away, to a new atmosphere. We must run away from here, simply run away!”

And suddenly she remembered Volodya’s words: “There is a wall there also. The walls are everywhere.”

“There is nowhere to run!”

In her despair she wrung her pale, beautiful hands.

XXXI

It was evening.

A lighted lamp stood on the floor in Volodya’s room. Just behind it, near the wall, sat Volodya and his mother. They were looking at the wall and were making strange movements with their hands.

Shadows stirred and trembled upon the wall.

Volodya and his mother understood them. Both were smiling sadly and were saying weird and impossible things to each other. Their faces were peaceful and their eyes looked clear; their joyousness was hopelessly sorrowful and their sorrow was wildly joyous.

In their eyes was a glimmer of madness, blessed madness.

The night was descending upon them.

The Glimmer of Hunger

Sergei Matveyevich Moshkin had dined very well that day⁠—that is comparatively well⁠—when you stop to consider that he was only a village schoolmaster who had lost his place, and had been knocking about already a year or so on strange stairways, in search of work. Nevertheless, the glimmer of hunger persisted in his dark, sad eyes, and it gave his lean, smooth face a kind of unlooked-for significance.

Moshkin spent his last three-rouble note on this dinner, and now a few coppers jingled in his pocket, while his purse contained a smooth fifteen-copeck piece. He banqueted out of sheer joy. He knew quite well that it was stupid to rejoice prematurely and without sufficient cause. But he had been seeking work so long, and had been having such a time of it, that even the shadow of a hope gave him joy.

Moshkin had put an advertisement in the Novo Vremya. He announced himself a pedagogue who had command of the pen; he based his claim on the fact that he corresponded for a provincial newspaper. This, indeed, was why he had lost his place; it was discovered that he had written articles reflecting unfavourably on the authorities; the chief official of the district called the attention of the inspector of public schools to this, and the inspector, of course, would not brook such doings by any of his staff.

“We don’t want that kind,” the inspector said to him in a personal interview.

Moshkin asked: “What kind do you want?”

The inspector, without replying to this irrelevant question, remarked dryly: “Goodbye. I hope to meet you in the next world.”

Moshkin stated further in his advertisement that he wished to be a secretary, a permanent collaborator on a newspaper, a private tutor; also that he was willing to accompany his employer to the Caucasus or the Crimea, and to make himself useful in the house, etc. He gave an assurance of his reasonableness, and that he had no objections to travelling.

He waited. One postcard came. It inspired him with hope; he hardly knew why.

It came in the morning while Moshkin was drinking his tea. The landlady brought it in herself. There was a glitter in her dark, snakelike eyes as she remarked tauntingly:

“Here’s some correspondence for Mr. Sergei Matveyevich Moshkin.”

And while he was reading she smoothed her black hair down her triangular yellow forehead, and hissed: “What’s the good of getting letters? Much better if you paid for your board and lodging. A letter won’t feed your hunger; you ought to go among people, look for a job and not expect things to come to you.”

He read:

“Be so good as to come in for a talk, between 6 and 7 in the evening, at Row 6, House 78, Apartment 57.”

There was no signature.

Moshkin glanced angrily at his landlady. She was broad and erect, and as she stood there at the door quite calm, with lowered arms, she was like a doll; she seemed deliberately malicious, and she looked at him with her motionless, anger-provoking eyes.

Moshkin exclaimed: “Basta!”

He hit the table with his fist. Then he rose, and paced up and down the room. He kept on repeating: “Basta!”

The landlady asked quietly and spitefully: “Are you going to pay or not, you Kazan and Astrakhan correspondent, you impudent face?”

Moshkin stopped in front of her, put out his empty palm, and said: “That’s all I have.”

He said nothing about his last three-rouble note. The landlady hissed: “I’m not hard on you, but I need money. Wood’s seven roubles a load now, how am I to pay it? You can’t live on nothing. Can’t you find someone to look after you? You’re a young man of ability, and you have quite a charming appearance. You can always get hold of some goose or other. But how am I to pay? Whichever way you turn you’ve got to put down money.”

Moshkin replied: “Don’t worry, Praskovya Petrovna, I am getting a job tonight, and I’ll pay what I owe you.”

He began to pace the room again, making a flapping noise with his slippers.

The landlady paused at the door, and kept on with her grumbling. When she went at last, she cried out: “Another in my place would have shown you the door long ago.”

For some time after she had left there still remained in his memory her strange, erect figure, with relaxed arms; her broad, yellow forehead, shaped like a triangle under her smoothly-oiled hair; her worn yellow dress, cut away like a narrow triangle, and her red, sniffling nose shaped like a small triangle. Three triangles in all.

All day long Moshkin was hungry, cheerful, and indignant. He walked aimlessly in the streets. He looked at the girls, and they all seemed to him to be lovable, happy, and accessible⁠—to the rich. He stopped before the shop windows, where expensive goods were displayed. The glimmer of hunger in his eyes grew keener and keener.

He bought a newspaper. He read as he sat on a form in the square, where the children laughed and ran, where the nurses tried to look fashionable, where there was a smell of dust and of consumptive trees⁠—and where the smells of the street and of the garden mingled unpleasantly, reminding him of the smell of gutta-percha. Moshkin was very much struck by an account in the newspaper of a hungry fanatic who had slashed a picture by a celebrated artist in the museum.

“Now that’s something I can understand!”

Moshkin walked briskly along the path. He repeated: “Now that’s something I can understand!”

And afterwards, as he walked in the streets and looked at the huge and stately houses, at the exposed wealth of the shops, at the elegant dress of the people of fashion, at the swiftly moving carriages, at all these beauties and comforts of life, accessible to all who have money, and inaccessible to him⁠—as he looked and observed and envied, he felt more and more keenly the mood of destructive rage.

“Now that’s something I can understand!”

He walked up to a stout and pompous house-porter, and shouted: “Now that’s something I can understand!”

The porter looked at him with silent scorn. Moshkin laughed joyously, and said: “Clever chaps those anarchists!”

“Be off with you!” exclaimed the porter angrily. “And see that you don’t overeat yourself.”

Moshkin was about to leave him but stopped short in fright. There was a policeman quite near, and his white gloves stood out with startling sharpness. Moshkin thought in his sadness:

“A bomb might come in handy here.”

The porter spat angrily after him, and turned away.

Moshkin walked on. At six o’clock he entered a restaurant of the middle rank. He chose a table by the window. He had some vodka, and followed it with anchovies. He ordered a seventy-five copeck dinner. He had a bottle of chablis on ice; after dinner a liqueur. He got slightly intoxicated. His head went round at the sound of music. He did not take his change. He left, reeling slightly, accompanied respectfully by a porter, into whose hand he stuck a twenty-copeck piece.

He looked at his nickelled watch. It was just past seven. It was time to go. He had to make haste. They might hire another. He strode impetuously toward his destination.

He was hindered by: dug up pavements; superannuated, eternally somnolent cabbies, at street crossings; passersby, especially muzhiks and women; those who came toward him, without stepping aside at all, or who stepped aside more often to the left than to the right⁠—while those whom he had to overtake joggled along indifferently on the narrow way, and it was hard to tell at once on which side to pass them; beggars⁠—these clung to him; and the mechanical process of walking itself.

How difficult to conquer space and time when one is in a hurry! Truly the earth drew him to itself and he purchased every step with violence and exhaustion. He felt pains in his legs. This increased his spite, and intensified the glimmer of hunger in his eyes.

Moshkin thought:

“I’d like to chuck it all to the devil! To all the devils!”

At last he got there.

Here was the Row, and here was House No. 78. It was a four-storey house, in a state of neglect; the two approaches had a gloomy look, the gates in the middle stood wide agape. He looked at the plates at the approaches; the first numbers were here, and there was no No. 57. No one was in sight. There was a white button at the gates; and on the brass plate, below, buried under dirt, was the word “porter.”

He pressed the button and entered the gate to look for the directory of the tenants. Before he had got that far he was met by the porter, a man of insinuating appearance, with a black beard.

“Where is apartment No. 57?”

Moshkin asked the question in a careless manner, borrowed from the district official who had caused him to lose his place. He also knew from experience that one must address porters just like this, and not like that. Wandering in strange gates and on strange staircases gives one a certain polish.

The porter asked somewhat suspiciously: “Who do you want?”

Moshkin drawled out his words with artless carelessness: “I don’t exactly know. I’ve come in answer to an announcement. I’ve received a letter, but the name is not signed. Only the address is given. Who lives at No. 57?”

“Madame Engelhardova,” said the porter.

“Engelhardt?” asked Moshkin.

The porter repeated: “Engelhardova.”

Moshkin smiled. “And what’s her Russian name?”

“Elena Petrovna,” the porter answered.

“Is she a bad-tempered hag?” asked Moshkin for some reason or other.

“No-o, she’s a young lady. Quite stylish. Turn to the right of the gate.”

“Only the first numbers are given there,” said Moshkin.

The porter said: “No, you’ll also find 57 there. At the very bottom.”

Moshkin asked: “What does she do? Does she run a business of some sort? A school? Or a journal?”

No. Madame Engelhardova had neither a school, nor a journal.

“She lives on her capital,” explained the porter.

Madame Engelhardova’s maid, who looked like a village girl, led him into the drawing-room, to the right of the dark anteroom, and asked him to wait.

He waited. It was tedious and annoying. He began to examine the contents of the elaborately furnished room. There were armchairs, tables, stools, folding screens, fire-screens, bookshelves, and small columns upon which rested busts, lamps, and artistic gewgaws; there were mirrors, lithographs, and clocks on the walls; while the windows were decorated with hangings and flowers. All these made the room crowded, oppressive and dark. Moshkin paced through this depression over the rugs. He looked at the pictures and the statues with hate.

“I’d like to chuck all this to the devil! To all the devils!”

But when the mistress of the house walked in suddenly he lowered his eyes, and hid his glimmer of hunger.

She was young, pink, and tall and quite good-looking. She walked quickly and with decision, like the mistress of a village house, and swung, not altogether gracefully, her strong, handsome white arms bared from above the elbows.

She came to him and held out her hand, a little high⁠—to be pressed, or to be kissed, as he chose. He kissed it. There was spite in his kiss. He did it with a quick, resounding smack, and one of his teeth scratched her skin slightly, so that she winced. But she said nothing. She walked toward the divan, got behind the table and sat down. She showed him an armchair.

When he had seated himself, she asked him: “Was that your announcement in yesterday’s paper?”

He said: “Mine.”

He reconsidered, and said more politely: “Yes, mine.”

He felt vexed, and he thought to himself: “I’d like to send her to the devil!”

She went on talking. She asked him what he could do, where he had studied, where he had worked. She approached the subject very cautiously, as though afraid to say too much before the proper time.

He gathered that she wished to publish a journal⁠—she had not yet decided what sort. Some sort. A small one. She was negotiating for the purchase of a property. Of the nature of the journal she said nothing.

She needed someone for the office. As he had said in his announcement that he was a pedagogue she thought that he had taught in one of the higher schools.

In any case, she wanted someone to keep the books in the office, to receive subscriptions, to carry on the editorial and the office correspondence, to receive money by post, to put the journals in wrappers, to send them to the post, to read proofs, and something else⁠ ⁠… and still something else.⁠ ⁠…

The young woman spoke for half an hour. She recounted the various duties in an unintelligent way.

“You need several people for all these tasks,” said Moshkin sharply.

The young woman grew red with vexation. She made a wry face as she remarked eagerly: “The journal will be a small one, of a special nature. If I hired several people for such a small undertaking they would have nothing to do.”

He smiled, and observed: “Well, anyhow there’ll be no chance for boredom. How many hours a day will you want me to work?”

“Well, let us say from nine in the morning until seven in the evening. Sometimes, when the work is in a hurry you might remain a little longer, or you might come in on a holiday⁠—I believe you are free?”

“How much do you think of paying?”

“Would eighteen roubles a month be enough for you?”

He reflected a while, then he laughed.

“Too little.”

“I can’t afford more than twenty-two.”

“Very well.”

He rose suddenly in his rage, thrust his hand into his pocket, drew out the latchkey to his house, and said quietly but resolutely: “Hands up!”

“Oh!” exclaimed the young woman, and she quickly raised her arms.

She was sitting on the divan. She was pale and trembling.

They formed a contrast⁠—she large and strong; and he small and meagre.

The sleeves of her dress fell to her shoulders, and the two bare white arms, stretching upward, seemed like the plump legs of a woman acrobat practising at home. She was evidently strong enough to hold up her arms for a long time. But her frightened face betrayed the deep terror of her ordeal.

Moshkin, enjoying her plight, uttered slowly and sternly: “Move, if you dare! Or give a single whisper!”

He approached a picture.

“How much does this cost?”

“Two hundred and twenty, without the frame,” said the young woman in a trembling voice.

He searched in his pocket and found a penknife. He cut the picture from top to bottom, and from right to left.

“Oh!” the young woman cried out.

He approached a small marble head.

“What does this cost?”

“Three hundred.”

He used his latchkey, and struck off the ear and the nose, and he mutilated the cheeks. The young woman sighed quietly; and it was pleasant to hear her quiet sighing.

He cut up a few more pictures, and the armchair coverings, and broke a few of the gewgaws.

He then approached the young woman, and exclaimed: “Get under the divan!”

She obeyed.

“Lie there quietly, until someone comes. Or else I’ll throw a bomb.”

He left. He met no one, either in the anteroom, or on the stairs.

The same house-porter stood at the gates. Moshkin went up to him and said: “What a strange young lady you have in your house.”

“Why?”

“She doesn’t know how to behave. She loves a brawl. You had better go to her.”

“No use my going as long as I’m not called.”

“Just as you please.”

He left. The glimmer of hunger grew fainter in his eyes.

Moshkin continued to walk the streets. His mind realized in a slow, dull way the drawing-room scene, the mutilated pictures, and the young woman under the divan.

The dull waters of the canal lured him. The receding light of the setting sun made their surface beautiful and sad, like the music of a mad composer. How rough the stone slabs were on the canal’s banks, and how dusty the stones of the pavements, and what stupid and dirty children ran to meet him! Everything seemed shut against him and everything seemed hostile to him.

The green, golden waters of the canal lured him, and the glimmer of hunger in his eyes went out forever.

What a noise the swift splash of water made, as, ring after ring, the dead black rings spread out and out, and cut the green golden waters of the canal.

Hide and Seek

I

Everything in Lelechka’s nursery was bright, pretty, and cheerful. Lelechka’s sweet voice charmed her mother. Lelechka was a delightful child. There was no other such child, there never had been, and there never would be. Lelechka’s mother, Serafima Alexandrovna, was sure of that. Lelechka’s eyes were dark and large, her cheeks were rosy, her lips were made for kisses and for laughter. But it was not these charms in Lelechka that gave her mother the keenest joy. Lelechka was her mother’s only child. That was why every movement of Lelechka’s bewitched her mother. It was great bliss to hold Lelechka on her knees and to fondle her; to feel the little girl in her arms⁠—a thing as lively and as bright as a little bird.

To tell the truth, Serafima Alexandrovna felt happy only in the nursery. She felt cold with her husband.

Perhaps it was because he himself loved the cold⁠—he loved to drink cold water, and to breathe cold air. He was always fresh and cool, with a frigid smile, and wherever he passed cold currents seemed to move in the air.

The Nesletyevs, Sergei Modestovich and Serafima Alexandrovna, had married without love or calculation, because it was the accepted thing. He was a young man of thirty-five, she a young woman of twenty-five; both were of the same circle and well brought up; he was expected to take a wife, and the time had come for her to take a husband.

It even seemed to Serafima Alexandrovna that she was in love with her future husband, and this made her happy. He looked handsome and well-bred; his intelligent grey eyes always preserved a dignified expression; and he fulfilled his obligations of a fiancé with irreproachable gentleness.

The bride was also good-looking; she was a tall, dark-eyed, dark-haired girl, somewhat timid but very tactful. He was not after her dowry, though it pleased him to know that she had something. He had connections, and his wife came of good, influential people. This might, at the proper opportunity, prove useful. Always irreproachable and tactful, Nesletyev got on in his position not so fast that anyone should envy him, nor yet so slow that he should envy anyone else⁠—everything came in the proper measure and at the proper time.

After their marriage there was nothing in the manner of Sergei Modestovich to suggest anything wrong to his wife. Later, however, when his wife was about to have a child, Sergei Modestovich established connections elsewhere of a light and temporary nature. Serafima Alexandrovna found this out, and, to her own astonishment, was not particularly hurt; she awaited her infant with a restless anticipation that swallowed every other feeling.

A little girl was born; Serafima Alexandrovna gave herself up to her. At the beginning she used to tell her husband, with rapture, of all the joyous details of Lelechka’s existence. But she soon found that he listened to her without the slightest interest, and only from the habit of politeness. Serafima Alexandrovna drifted farther and farther away from him. She loved her little girl with the ungratified passion that other women, deceived in their husbands, show their chance young lovers.

Mamochka, let’s play priatki,” (hide and seek), cried Lelechka, pronouncing the r like the l, so that the word sounded “pliatki.”

This charming inability to speak always made Serafima Alexandrovna smile with tender rapture. Lelechka then ran away, stamping with her plump little legs over the carpets, and hid herself behind the curtains near her bed.

Tiu-tiu, mamochka!” she cried out in her sweet, laughing voice, as she looked out with a single roguish eye.

“Where is my baby girl?” the mother asked, as she looked for Lelechka and made believe that she did not see her.

And Lelechka poured out her rippling laughter in her hiding place. Then she came out a little farther, and her mother, as though she had only just caught sight of her, seized her by her little shoulders and exclaimed joyously: “Here she is, my Lelechka!”

Lelechka laughed long and merrily, her head close to her mother’s knees, and all of her cuddled up between her mother’s white hands. Her mother’s eyes glowed with passionate emotion.

“Now, mamochka, you hide,” said Lelechka, as she ceased laughing.

Her mother went to hide. Lelechka turned away as though not to see, but watched her mamochka stealthily all the time. Mamma hid behind the cupboard, and exclaimed: “Tiu-tiu, baby girl!”

Lelechka ran round the room and looked into all the corners, making believe, as her mother had done before, that she was seeking⁠—though she really knew all the time where her mamochka was standing.

“Where’s my mamochka?” asked Lelechka. “She’s not here, and she’s not here,” she kept on repeating, as she ran from corner to corner.

Her mother stood, with suppressed breathing, her head pressed against the wall, her hair somewhat disarranged. A smile of absolute bliss played on her red lips.

The nurse, Fedosya, a good-natured and fine-looking, if somewhat stupid woman, smiled as she looked at her mistress with her characteristic expression, which seemed to say that it was not for her to object to gentlewomen’s caprices. She thought to herself: “The mother is like a little child herself⁠—look how excited she is.”

Lelechka was getting nearer her mother’s corner. Her mother was growing more absorbed every moment by her interest in the game; her heart beat with short quick strokes, and she pressed even closer to the wall, disarranging her hair still more. Lelechka suddenly glanced toward her mother’s corner and screamed with joy.

“I’ve found ’oo,” she cried out loudly and joyously, mispronouncing her words in a way that again made her mother happy.

She pulled her mother by her hands to the middle of the room, they were merry and they laughed; and Lelechka again hid her head against her mother’s knees, and went on lisping and lisping, without end, her sweet little words, so fascinating yet so awkward.

Sergei Modestovich was coming at this moment toward the nursery. Through the half-closed doors he heard the laughter, the joyous outcries, the sound of romping. He entered the nursery, smiling his genial cold smile; he was irreproachably dressed, and he looked fresh and erect, and he spread round him an atmosphere of cleanliness, freshness and coldness. He entered in the midst of the lively game, and he confused them all by his radiant coldness. Even Fedosya felt abashed, now for her mistress, now for herself. Serafima Alexandrovna at once became calm and apparently cold⁠—and this mood communicated itself to the little girl, who ceased to laugh, but looked instead, silently and intently, at her father.

Sergei Modestovich gave a swift glance round the room. He liked coming here, where everything was beautifully arranged; this was done by Serafima Alexandrovna, who wished to surround her little girl, from her very infancy, only with the loveliest things. Serafima Alexandrovna dressed herself tastefully; this, too, she did for Lelechka, with the same end in view. One thing Sergei Modestovich had not become reconciled to, and this was his wife’s almost continuous presence in the nursery.

“It’s just as I thought.⁠ ⁠… I knew that I’d find you here,” he said with a derisive and condescending smile.

They left the nursery together. As he followed his wife through the door Sergei Modestovich said rather indifferently, in an incidental way, laying no stress on his words: “Don’t you think that it would be well for the little girl if she were sometimes without your company? Merely, you see, that the child should feel its own individuality,” he explained in answer to Serafima Alexandrovna’s puzzled glance.

“She’s still so little,” said Serafima Alexandrovna.

“In any case, this is but my humble opinion. I don’t insist. It’s your kingdom there.”

“I’ll think it over,” his wife answered, smiling, as he did, coldly but genially.

Then they began to talk of something else.

II

Nurse Fedosya, sitting in the kitchen that evening, was telling the silent housemaid Darya and the talkative old cook Agathya about the young lady of the house, and how the child loved to play priatki with her mother⁠—“She hides her little face, and cries ‘tiu-tiu’!”

“And the barinya5 herself is like a little one,” added Fedosya, smiling.

Agathya listened and shook her head ominously; while her face became grave and reproachful.

“That the barinya does it, well, that’s one thing; but that the young lady does it, that’s bad.”

“Why?” asked Fedosya with curiosity.

This expression of curiosity gave her face the look of a wooden, roughly-painted doll.

“Yes, that’s bad,” repeated Agathya with conviction. “Terribly bad!”

“Well?” said Fedosya, the ludicrous expression of curiosity on her face becoming more emphatic.

“She’ll hide, and hide, and hide away,” said Agathya, in a mysterious whisper, as she looked cautiously toward the door.

“What are you saying?” exclaimed Fedosya, frightened.

“It’s the truth I’m saying, remember my words,” Agathya went on with the same assurance and secrecy. “It’s the surest sign.”

The old woman had invented this sign, quite suddenly, herself; and she was evidently very proud of it.

III

Lelechka was asleep, and Serafima Alexandrovna was sitting in her own room, thinking with joy and tenderness of Lelechka. Lelechka was in her thoughts, first a sweet, tiny girl, then a sweet, big girl, then again a delightful little girl; and so until the end she remained mamma’s little Lelechka.

Serafima Alexandrovna did not even notice that Fedosya came up to her and paused before her. Fedosya had a worried, frightened look.

Barinya, barinya” she said quietly, in a trembling voice.

Serafima Alexandrovna gave a start. Fedosya’s face made her anxious.

“What is it, Fedosya?” she asked with great concern. “Is there anything wrong with Lelechka?”

“No, barinya,” said Fedosya, as she gesticulated with her hands to reassure her mistress and to make her sit down. “Lelechka is asleep, may God be with her! Only I’d like to say something⁠—you see⁠—Lelechka is always hiding herself⁠—that’s not good.”

Fedosya looked at her mistress with fixed eyes, which had grown round from fright.

“Why not good?” asked Serafima Alexandrovna, with vexation, succumbing involuntarily to vague fears.

“I can’t tell you how bad it is,” said Fedosya, and her face expressed the most decided confidence.

“Please speak in a sensible way,” observed Serafima Alexandrovna dryly. “I understand nothing of what you are saying.”

“You see, barinya, it’s a kind of omen,” explained Fedosya abruptly, in a shamefaced way.

“Nonsense!” said Serafima Alexandrovna.

She did not wish to hear any further as to the sort of omen it was, and what it foreboded. But, somehow, a sense of fear and of sadness crept into her mood, and it was humiliating to feel that an absurd tale should disturb her beloved fancies, and should agitate her so deeply.

“Of course I know that gentlefolk don’t believe in omens, but it’s a bad omen, barinya,” Fedosya went on in a doleful voice, “the young lady will hide, and hide.⁠ ⁠…”

Suddenly she burst into tears, sobbing out loudly: “She’ll hide, and hide, and hide away, angelic little soul, in a damp grave,” she continued, as she wiped her tears with her apron and blew her nose.

“Who told you all this?” asked Serafima Alexandrovna in an austere low voice.

“Agathya says so, barinya” answered Fedosya; “it’s she that knows.”

“Knows!” exclaimed Serafima Alexandrovna in irritation, as though she wished to protect herself somehow from this sudden anxiety. “What nonsense! Please don’t come to me with any such notions in the future. Now you may go.”

Fedosya, dejected, her feelings hurt, left her mistress.

“What nonsense! As though Lelechka could die!” thought Serafima Alexandrovna to herself, trying to conquer the feeling of coldness and fear which took possession of her at the thought of the possible death of Lelechka. Serafima Alexandrovna, upon reflection, attributed these women’s beliefs in omens to ignorance. She saw clearly that there could be no possible connection between a child’s quite ordinary diversion and the continuation of the child’s life. She made a special effort that evening to occupy her mind with other matters, but her thoughts returned involuntarily to the fact that Lelechka loved to hide herself.

When Lelechka, was still quite small, and had learned to distinguish between her mother and her nurse, she sometimes, sitting in her nurse’s arms, made a sudden roguish grimace, and hid her laughing face in the nurse’s shoulder. Then she would look out with a sly glance.

Of late, in those rare moments of the barinya’s absence from the nursery, Fedosya had again taught Lelechka to hide; and when Lelechka’s mother, on coming in, saw how lovely the child looked when she was hiding, she herself began to play hide and seek with her tiny daughter.

IV

The next day Serafima Alexandrovna, absorbed in her joyous cares for Lelechka, had forgotten Fedosya’s words of the day before.

But when she returned to the nursery, after having ordered the dinner, and she heard Lelechka suddenly cry “Tiu-tiu!” from under the table, a feeling of fear suddenly took hold of her. Though she reproached herself at once for this unfounded, superstitious dread, nevertheless she could not enter wholeheartedly into the spirit of Lelechka’s favourite game, and she tried to divert Lelechka’s attention to something else.

Lelechka was a lovely and obedient child. She eagerly complied with her mother’s new wishes. But as she had got into the habit of hiding from her mother in some corner, and of crying out “Tiu-tiu!” so even that day she returned more than once to the game.

Serafima Alexandrovna tried desperately to amuse Lelechka. This was not so easy because restless, threatening thoughts obtruded themselves constantly.

“Why does Lelechka keep on recalling the tiu-tiu? Why does she not get tired of the same thing⁠—of eternally closing her eyes, and of hiding her face? Perhaps,” thought Serafima Alexandrovna, “she is not as strongly drawn to the world as other children, who are attracted by many things. If this is so, is it not a sign of organic weakness? Is it not a germ of the unconscious non-desire to live?”

Serafima Alexandrovna was tormented by presentiments. She felt ashamed of herself for ceasing to play hide and seek with Lelechka before Fedosya. But this game had become agonizing to her, all the more agonizing because she had a real desire to play it, and because something drew her very strongly to hide herself from Lelechka and to seek out the hiding child. Serafima Alexandrovna herself began the game once or twice, though she played it with a heavy heart. She suffered as though committing an evil deed with full consciousness.

It was a sad day for Serafima Alexandrovna.

V

Lelechka was about to fall asleep. No sooner had she climbed into her little bed, protected by a network on all sides, than her eyes began to close from fatigue. Her mother covered her with a blue blanket. Lelechka drew her sweet little hands from under the blanket and stretched them out to embrace her mother. Her mother bent down. Lelechka, with a tender expression on her sleepy face, kissed her mother and let her head fall on the pillow. As her hands hid themselves under the blanket Lelechka whispered: “The hands tiu-tiu!”

The mother’s heart seemed to stop⁠—Lelechka lay there so small, so frail, so quiet. Lelechka smiled gently, closed her eyes and said quietly: “The eyes tiu-tiu!”

Then even more quietly: “Lelechka tiu-tiu!

With these words she fell asleep, her face pressing the pillow. She seemed so small and so frail under the blanket that covered her. Her mother looked at her with sad eyes.

Serafima Alexandrovna remained standing over Lelechka’s bed a long while, and she kept looking at Lelechka with tenderness and fear.

“I’m a mother: is it possible that I shouldn’t be able to protect her?” she thought, as she imagined the various ills that might befall Lelechka.

She prayed long that night, but the prayer did not relieve her sadness.

VI

Several days passed. Lelechka caught cold. The fever came upon her at night. When Serafima Alexandrovna, awakened by Fedosya, came to Lelechka and saw her looking so hot, so restless, and so tormented, she instantly recalled the evil omen, and a hopeless despair took possession of her from the first moments.

A doctor was called, and everything was done that is usual on such occasions⁠—but the inevitable happened. Serafima Alexandrovna tried to console herself with the hope that Lelechka would get well, and would again laugh and play⁠—yet this seemed to her an unthinkable happiness! And Lelechka grew feebler from hour to hour.

All simulated tranquillity, so as not to frighten Serafima Alexandrovna, but their masked faces only made her sad.

Nothing made her so unhappy as the reiterations of Fedosya, uttered between sobs: “She hid herself and hid herself, our Lelechka!”

But the thoughts of Serafima Alexandrovna were confused, and she could not quite grasp what was happening.

Fever was consuming Lelechka, and there were times when she lost consciousness and spoke in delirium. But when she returned to herself she bore her pain and her fatigue with gentle good nature; she smiled feebly at her mamochka, so that her mamochka should not see how much she suffered. Three days passed, torturing like a nightmare. Lelechka grew quite feeble She did not know that she was dying.

She glanced at her mother with her dimmed eyes, and lisped in a scarcely audible, hoarse voice: “Tiu-tiu, mamochka! Make tiu-tiu, mamochka!”

Serafima Alexandrovna hid her face behind the curtains near Lelechka’s bed. How tragic!

Mamochka!” called Lelechka in an almost inaudible voice.

Lelechka’s mother bent over her, and Lelechka, her vision grown still more dim, saw her mother’s pale, despairing face for the last time.

“A white mamochka!” whispered Lelechka. Mamochka’s white face became blurred, and everything grew dark before Lelechka. She caught the edge of the bedcover feebly with her hands and whispered: “Tiu-tiu!

Something rattled in her throat; Lelechka opened and again closed her rapidly paling lips, and died.

Serafima Alexandrovna was in dumb despair as she left Lelechka, and went out of the room. She met her husband.

“Lelechka is dead,” she said in a quiet, dull voice.

Sergei Modestovich looked anxiously at her pale face. He was struck by the strange stupor in her formerly animated handsome features.

VII

Lelechka was dressed, placed in a little coffin, and carried into the parlour. Serafima Alexandrovna was standing by the coffin and looking dully at her dead child. Sergei Modestovich went to his wife and, consoling her with cold, empty words, tried to draw her away from the coffin. Serafima Alexandrovna smiled.

“Go away,” she said quietly. “Lelechka is playing. She’ll be up in a minute.”

“Sima, my dear, don’t agitate yourself,” said Sergei Modestovich in a whisper. “You must resign yourself to your fate.”

“She’ll be up in a minute,” persisted Serafima Alexandrovna, her eyes fixed on the dead little girl.

Sergei Modestovich looked round him cautiously: he was afraid of the unseemly and of the ridiculous.

“Sima, don’t agitate yourself,” he repeated. “This would be a miracle, and miracles do not happen in the nineteenth century.”

No sooner had he said these words than Sergei Modestovich felt their irrelevance to what had happened. He was confused and annoyed.

He took his wife by the arm, and cautiously led her away from the coffin. She did not oppose him.

Her face seemed tranquil and her eyes were dry. She went into the nursery and began to walk round the room, looking into those places where Lelechka used to hide herself. She walked all about the room, and bent now and then to look under the table or under the bed, and kept on repeating cheerfully: “Where is my little one? Where is my Lelechka?”

After she had walked round the room once she began to make her quest anew. Fedosya, motionless, with dejected face, sat in a corner, and looked frightened at her mistress; then she suddenly burst out sobbing, and she wailed loudly:

“She hid herself, and hid herself, our Lelechka, our angelic little soul!”

Serafima Alexandrovna trembled, paused, cast a perplexed look at Fedosya, began to weep, and left the nursery quietly.

VIII

Sergei Modestovich hurried the funeral. He saw that Serafima Alexandrovna was terribly shocked by her sudden misfortune, and as he feared for her reason he thought she would more readily be diverted and consoled when Lelechka was buried.

Next morning Serafima Alexandrovna dressed with particular care⁠—for Lelechka. When she entered the parlour there were several people between her and Lelechka. The priest and deacon paced up and down the room; clouds of blue smoke drifted in the air, and there was a smell of incense. There was an oppressive feeling of heaviness in Serafima Alexandrovna’s head as she approached Lelechka. Lelechka lay there still and pale, and smiled pathetically. Serafima Alexandrovna laid her cheek upon the edge of Lelechka’s coffin, and whispered: “Tiu-tiu, little one!”

The little one did not reply. Then there was some kind of stir and confusion around Serafima Alexandrovna; strange, unnecessary faces bent over her, someone held her⁠—and Lelechka was carried away somewhere.

Serafima Alexandrovna stood up erect, sighed in a lost way, smiled, and called loudly: “Lelechka!”

Lelechka was being carried out. The mother threw herself after the coffin with despairing sobs, but she was held back. She sprang behind the door, through which Lelechka had passed, sat down there on the floor, and as she looked through the crevice, she cried out: “Lelechka, tiu-tiu!”

Then she put her head out from behind the door, and began to laugh.

Lelechka was quickly carried away from her mother, and those who carried her seemed to run rather than to walk.

The Smile

I

Some fifteen boys and girls and several young men and women had gathered in the garden belonging to the Semiboyarinov cottage to celebrate the birthday of one of the sons of the house, Lesha by name, a student of the second class. Lesha’s birthday was made indeed an occasion for bringing eligible young men to the house for his grown sisters’ sake.

All were merry and smiling⁠—the older members of the party as well as the young boys and girls, who ran up and down the yellow sand of the well-kept footpaths; a pale, unimpressive boy, who was sitting alone on a bench under a lilac bush and looking silently at the other boys, was also smiling. His loneliness, his silence, and his well-worn though clean clothes, all pointed to his poverty and to his embarrassment in the company of these lively, well-dressed children. His face was timid and thin, his chest sunken, and his lean hands lay so meekly that it aroused one’s pity to look at him. Still, he smiled; but even his smile seemed pitiful; it was as though it depressed him to watch the games and the happiness of other children, or as though he were afraid to annoy others by his sad looks and his poor dress.

He was called Grisha Igumnov. His father had died not long ago; Grisha’s mother occasionally sent her son to her rich relatives with whom he always felt depressed and uneasy.

“Why do you sit alone? Get up and run about!” said the blue-eyed Lydochka Semiboyarinov as she passed him.

Grisha did not dare to disobey; his heart beat violently, his face became covered with small beads of perspiration. He approached the happy, red-cheeked boys timidly. They looked at him unfriendlily as at a stranger, and Grisha himself felt at once that he was not like them: he could not speak so boldly and so loudly; and he had neither such yellow boots, nor such a round little cap with a woolly red visor turned jauntily upwards as the boy nearest to him had.

The boys continued to talk among themselves as though there were no Grisha. Grisha stood near them in an uneasy pose; his thin shoulders stooped somewhat, his slender fingers held fast to his narrow girdle, and he smiled timidly. He did not know what to do, and in his confusion did not hear what the lively boys were saying. They finished their conversation and scattered suddenly. Grisha, his timid, guilty smile still on his face, walked back uneasily on the sandy path and sat down once more on the bench. He was ashamed because he had walked up to the boys, yet had not spoken to anyone, and because nothing had come of it. As he sat down he looked timidly round him⁠—no one paid him the slightest attention, and no one laughed at him. Grisha grew calm.

Just then two little girls, their arms round each other, passed him. Under their fixed stare Grisha shrank, grew red, and smiled guiltily.

When the little girls had passed by the youngest of them, with fair hair, asked loudly: “Who’s this ugly duckling?”

The elder girl, who was red-cheeked and black-browed, laughed and answered: “I don’t know. We had better ask Lydochka. It’s most likely a poor relation.”

“What an absurd boy,” said the little blonde. “He spreads his ears out, and sits there and smiles.”

They disappeared behind the bushes at the turn of the path, and Grisha no longer heard their voices. He felt hurt, and when he thought that he might have to sit there a long time, until his mother should come for him, he was sick at heart.

A big-eyed, slender student with a stubborn crest of hair sticking up from his high forehead noticed that Grisha was sitting alone there like an orphan, and he wished to be kind to him, and to make him feel more at his ease; so he sat down near him.

“What’s your name?” he asked.

Grisha told him quietly.

“And my name is Mitya,” said the student. “Are you here alone, or with anyone?”

“With mother,” whispered Grisha.

“Why do you sit here all by yourself?” asked Mitya.

Grisha stirred nervously, and did not know what to say.

“Why don’t you play?”

“I don’t want to.”

Mitya did not hear him so he asked: “What did you say?”

“I don’t feel like it,” said Grisha somewhat more loudly.

The student, astonished, continued: “Why don’t you feel like it?”

Grisha again did not know what to say; he smiled in a lost way. Mitya was looking at him attentively. Glances of strangers always embarrassed Grisha; it was as though he feared that they might find something absurd in his appearance.

Mitya was silent for a while, as he thought of something else that he might ask.

“What do you collect?” he asked. “You’ve got a collection of something, haven’t you? We all collect: I⁠—stamps, Katya Pokrivalova⁠—shells, Lesha⁠—butterflies. What do you collect?”

“Nothing,” said Grisha, flushing.

“Well, well,” said Mitya with artless astonishment. “So you collect nothing! That’s very curious.”

Grisha felt ashamed that he was not collecting anything, and that he had disclosed the fact.

“I, too, must collect something!” he thought to himself, but he could not decide to say this aloud.

Mitya sat a little longer, then left him. Grisha felt a relief. But a new ordeal was in store for him.

The nurse engaged by the Semiboyarinovs for their youngest son was strolling along the garden paths with the one-year-old child in her arms. She wished to rest, and chose the same bench upon which Grisha was sitting. He again felt uneasy. He looked straight before him, and could not even decide to move away from the nurse to the other end of the bench.

The infant’s attention soon became drawn to Grisha’s protruding ears, and he leant forward towards one of them. The nurse, a robust, red-cheeked woman, concluded that Grisha would not mind. She brought her charge nearer to Grisha, and the pink infant caught Grisha’s ear with his fat little hand. Grisha was paralysed with confusion, but could not decide to protest. The child, laughing loudly and merrily, now let go Grisha’s ear, now caught hold of it again. The red-cheeked nurse, who enjoyed the game not less than the infant, kept on repeating: “Let’s go for him! Let’s give it to him!”

One of the boys saw the scene, and told the other boys that little Georgik was obstreperous with the quiet boy who was sitting so long on the bench. The children gathered round Georgik and Grisha, and laughed noisily. Grisha tried to show that he didn’t mind, that he felt no pain, and that he also enjoyed the fun. But it grew harder and harder for him to smile, and he had a very strong desire to cry. He knew that he ought not to cry, that it was a disgrace, and he restrained himself with an effort.

Happily he was soon delivered. The blue-eyed Lydochka, upon hearing the children’s boisterous laughter, went to see what had happened. She reproached the nurse: “Aren’t you ashamed to go on like this?”

She herself had difficulty to keep from laughing at Grisha’s pitiful, confused face. But she restrained herself, and upheld her dignity as a grown young woman before the nurse and the children.

The nurse rose and said, laughing: “Georginka did it quite gently. The boy himself didn’t say that it hurt him.”

“You mustn’t do such things,” said Lydochka sternly.

Georgik, unhappy because they had taken him away from Grisha, raised a cry. Lydochka took him in her arms and carried him away to quiet him. The nurse followed her. But the boys and the girls remained. They thronged round Grisha and eyed him unceremoniously.

“Perhaps he’s got stuck-on ears,” suggested one of the boys, “that’s why he doesn’t feel any pain.”

“I rather think you like to be held by your ears,” said another.

“Tell us,” said the little girl with the large blue eyes, “which ear does your mother catch hold of most?”

“His ears have been stretched out to order in a workshop,” cried a merry youngster, and laughed loudly at his own joke.

“No,” another corrected him, “he was born like that. When he was very small he was led not by his hand but by his ear.”

Grisha looked at his tormentors like a small beast at bay, with a fixed smile on his face, when, suddenly, wholly unexpectedly to the cheerful company, he burst into tears. Many small drops fell on his jacket. The children grew quiet at once. They became uneasy. They exchanged embarrassed glances, and looked silently at Grisha as he wiped the tears from his face with his thin hands; he appeared to be ashamed of his tears.

“Why should he be offended?” said the beautiful, flaxen-haired Katya angrily. “Who’s done him any harm? The ugly duckling!”

“He’s not an ugly duckling. You’re an ugly duckling yourself,” intervened Mitya.

“I can’t stand rude people,” said Katya, growing red with vexation.

A little, brown-faced girl in a red dress looked long at Grisha, and knitted her brows as in reflection. Then she scanned the other children with her perplexed eyes, and asked quietly:

“Why then did he smile?”

II

It was not often that Grisha’s wardrobe received important additions. His mother could not afford it; hence, every item gave Grisha great joy. The autumn cold came, and Grisha’s mother bought an overcoat, a hat and mittens. The mittens pleased Grisha more than anything else.

On the holiday, after Mass, he put on his new things and went out to play. He loved to walk about in the streets, and he used to go out alone; his mother had no time to go out with him. She looked proudly out of the window as Grisha walked gravely by. She recalled at that moment her well-to-do relatives who had promised her so much, and had done so little, and she thought: “Well, I’ve managed it without them, thank God!”

It was a cold, clear day; the sun did not shine with its full brightness; the waters of the canals in the city were covered with their first thin ice. Grisha walked the streets, rejoicing in this brisk cold, in his new clothes, and with his naive fancies; he always loved to dream when he was alone, and he dreamt always of great deeds, of fame, of a bright, happy life in a rich house, indeed of everything that was unlike the sad reality.

As Grisha stood on the bank of the canal and looked through the iron railings at the thin ice that floated on the surface, he was approached by a street urchin in threadbare attire, and with hands red from the cold. He entered into conversation with Grisha. Grisha was not afraid of him, and even pitied him because of his benumbed hands. His new acquaintance informed him that he was called Mishka, but that his family name was Babushkin, because he and his mother lived with his babushka.6

“But then what is your mother’s family name?”

“My mother’s name?” repeated Mishka, smiling. “She’s called Matushkin, because my babushka is no babushka to her, but is her matushka.7

“That’s strange,” said Grisha with astonishment. “My mother and I have one family name; we are called the Igumnovs.”

“That’s because,” explained Mishka with animation, “your grandfather was an igumen.”8

“No,” said Grisha, “my grandfather was a colonel.”

“All the same it’s likely that his father, or someone else was an igumen, and so you have all become the Igumnovs.”

Grisha did not know who his great-grandfather was, so he said nothing, Mishka kept on eyeing his mittens.

“You have handsome mittens,” he said.

“New ones,” Grisha explained, with a joyous smile. “It’s the first time I’ve put them on; d’you see, here is a little string drawn through!”

“Well, you’re a lucky one! And are they quite warm?”

“Rather!”

“I have also mittens at home, but I haven’t put them on because I don’t like them. They are yellow, and I don’t like yellow ones. Let me put yours on, and I’ll run along and show them to my babushka, and ask her to get me a pair like them.”

Mishka looked at Grisha pleadingly, and his eyes sparkled enviously.

“You won’t keep me waiting long?” asked Grisha.

“No, I live quite near here, just round the corner. Don’t be afraid! Upon my word, in a minute!”

Grisha trustfully took off his mittens and gave them to Mishka.

“I’ll be back in a minute, wait here, don’t go away,” exclaimed Mishka, as he ran off with Grisha’s mittens. He disappeared round the corner, and Grisha was left waiting. He did not imagine that Mishka would fool him; he thought that he would simply run home, show his mittens, and return with them. He stood there long and waited, and Mishka did not even dream of returning.

The short autumn day was already darkening; Grisha’s mother, restless because of her boy’s long absence, went out to look for him. Grisha at last understood that Mishka would not return. The poor boy turned sadly toward home and he met his mother.

“Grisha, what have you done with yourself” she asked, angry and glad at finding her son.

Grisha did not reply. He seemed embarrassed as he rubbed his hands, red with cold. His mother then noticed that he did not wear his mittens.

“Where are your mittens?” she asked angrily, as she searched his overcoat pockets.

Grisha smiled and said: “I lent them to a boy for a short time, and he didn’t bring them back.”

III

Years passed after years. The bold and pushing children who once had gathered on Lesha Semiboyarinov’s birthday became bold and pushing men and women, and the urchin who had fooled Grisha, it goes without saying, found his way in life⁠—while Grisha, of course, became a failure. As in his childhood, he went on dreaming, and in his dreams he conquered his kingdom; but in real life he could not protect himself from any enterprising person who pushed him unceremoniously out of his way. His relations with women were equally unsuccessful, and his fainthearted attentions were not once rewarded by a responsive feeling. He had no friends. His mother alone loved him.

Igumnov rejoiced when he found a position at a small salary, because his mother could live calmly now without worrying about a crust of bread. But his happiness was of short duration; soon his mother died. Grisha fell into depression, lost his spirits. Life seemed to him to be aimless. Apathy took hold of him; he had no interest in his work. He lost his place, and was soon in great need.

Igumnov finally pawned his last possession, his mother’s ring; as he walked out of the place he smiled⁠—and his smile kept him from bursting into tears of self-pity.

He had to see various people and to ask them for work. But Igumnov was not good at this. He was backward and quiet, and he experienced a helpless confusion that prevented him from persisting in his dealings with men. While yet on the stairway of a man’s house a fear would seize him, his heart would beat painfully, his legs would grow heavy, and his hand would stretch toward the bell irresolutely.

During one of his most depressing and hungry days Igumnov sat in the sumptuous private office of Aleksei Stepanovich Semiboyarinov, the father of the same Lesha whose birthday party remained memorable to him. Igumnov had already sent a letter to Aleksei Stepanovich: after all it was much easier to ask on paper than by word of mouth. And now he came for his answer.

From the restless, solicitous manner of Semiboyarinov, a small, dry, old man, with closely-cut, silver-grey hair, he guessed that he would have a refusal. This made him feel wretched, but he could not help smiling an artless pleasant smile, as though he wished to show that it did not matter in the least, that he really did not count on anything. The smile evidently irritated Semiboyarinov.

“I’ve got your letter, my dear fellow,” said he at last in his dry, deliberate voice. “But there’s nothing that I can see just now.”

“Nothing?” mumbled Igumnov, growing red.

“Absolutely nothing, my dear fellow. Every place is taken. And I don’t see anything in prospect for the near future. Perhaps something might be done for you at New Year.”

“I’ll be glad of a chance even then,” said Igumnov, smiling in such a way as to suggest that a mere eight months was of no account to him.

“Yes, I’ll be very glad to do something then. If it depended upon me you’d get your place today. I’d like very much to be of use to you, my good man.”

“Thank you,” said Igumnov.

“But tell me,” asked Semiboyarinov sympathetically, “why did you leave your old place?”

“They found no use for me,” answered Igumnov, confused.

“No use for you? Well, I hope we’ll find some use for you. Let me have your address, my good fellow.”

Semiboyarinov began to rummage on his table for a piece of paper. Igumnov just then caught sight of his own letter under a marble paperweight.

“My address is in the letter,” he said.

“So it is!” said his host briskly. “I’ll make a note of it.”

“I have the habit,” observed Igumnov, rising from his place, “always to write my address at the beginning of a letter.”

“A European habit,” commended his host.

Igumnov took his leave and went out smiling, proud of his European habits, which, however, did not prevent him from feeling hungry. He was almost glad that the unpleasant conversation was at an end. He recalled all the polite words, and especially those that contained the promise; foolish hopes awakened in him. But a few minutes later, as he was walking in the street, he realized that the promise would come to nothing. Besides, it was made for the future, and he had need of food now, and he must go to his lodgings with a heavy heart⁠—what would his landlady say? What could he say to her?

Igumnov began to walk more slowly, then he turned in the opposite direction. Lost in gloom, he walked on, pale and hungry, through the noisy streets of the capital, past busy satiated people. His smile vanished. The look of dark despair gave a certain significance to his usually little expressive features.

He was now close to the Niva. The huge dome of the Isakiyevski Cathedral glowed golden in the wide expanse of blue sky. The large open squares and streets were enveloped in the gentle, scarcely perceptible, dust-like haze of the rays of the setting sun. The din of carriages was softened in these magnificent open spaces. Everything seemed strange and hostile to the hungry, helpless man. The beautiful, rich-coloured fruits behind the shop windows could not have been more inaccessible if they were under the watch of a strong guard.

Children were playing merrily in the green square. Igumnov looked at them and smiled. Unpleasant memories of his own childhood tormented him with an intense pity for himself. He reflected that it was only left to him to die. The thought frightened him. And again he reflected: “Why shouldn’t I die? Wasn’t there a time when I did not exist? I shall have rest, eternal oblivion.”

Fragments of wise strange thoughts came to him and soothed him.

Igumnov was now on the embankment. He leant against the granite parapet and watched the restless waters of the river. A single move, he thought, and everything would be ended. But it was terrible to think of drowning, of struggling with one’s mouth full of water, of being strangled by these heavy, cold sweeps of water, of battling helplessly, and of at last sinking from sheer exhaustion to the bottom, there to be carried by the undercurrents, and at last to be cast out, a shapeless corpse, upon some coast of the sea.

Igumnov shivered and moved away from the river. He suddenly espied not far away his former colleague Kurkov. Smartly dressed, cheerful and self-satisfied, Kurkov was walking slowly and swinging a thin cane with a fancy handle.

“Ah, Grigory Petrovich!” he exclaimed, as though he were glad of the meeting. “Are you strolling, or are you on business?”

“Yes, I’m strolling, that is on business,” said Igumnov.

“I think we are going the same way?”

They walked on together. Kurkov’s cheerful chatter only intensified Igumnov’s mood. Moving his shoulders nervously he addressed Kurkov with sudden resolution: “Nikolai Sergeyevich, do you happen to have a rouble on you?”

“A rouble?” said Kurkov in astonishment. “Why do you want it?”

Igumnov flushed, and began to explain in stammers. “You see, I⁠ ⁠… just one rouble is lacking.⁠ ⁠… I have to get something⁠ ⁠… something, you see.⁠ ⁠…”

He breathed heavily in his agitation. He grew silent, and smiled a pitiful, fixed smile.

“That means I shan’t get it back,” thought Kurkov.

And now he spoke no longer in the same careless tone as before.

“I’d like to, but I haven’t any spare cash, not a copeck. I had to borrow some yesterday myself.”

“Well, if you haven’t it, you can’t help it,” mumbled Igumnov, and continued to smile. “I’ll simply have to get along without it.”

His smile irritated Kurkov, perhaps because it was such a pitiful, helpless affair.

“Why does he smile?” thought Kurkov in vexation. “Doesn’t he believe me? Well, I don’t care if he doesn’t⁠—I don’t own the Government exchequer.”

“Why don’t you come in sometimes and see us?” he asked Igumnov in a careless, dry manner, as he looked elsewhere.

“I am always meaning to. Of course I’ll come in,” answered Igumnov in a trembling voice. “What about today?”

There rose before him a picture of the cosy dining-room of the Kurkovs, the hospitable hostess, the samovar on the table and the various tasty titbits.

“Today?” asked Kurkov in the same careless, dry voice. “No, we shan’t be home today. But do step in some day before long. Well, I must turn up this lane. Goodbye!”

And he made haste to cross the wooden walk of the embankment. Igumnov looked after him, and smiled. Slow, incoherent thoughts crept through his brain.

As Kurkov disappeared up the lane Igumnov again approached the granite parapet, and, trembling in cold terror, began slowly and awkwardly to climb over it.

There was no one near.

The Hoop

I

A woman was taking her morning stroll in a lonely suburban street; a boy of four was with her. She was young and smart and she was smiling brightly; she was casting affectionate glances at her son, whose red cheeks beamed with happiness. The boy was bowling a hoop; a large, new, bright yellow hoop. He ran after his hoop awkwardly, laughed uproariously with joy, thrust forward his plump little legs, bare at the knee, and flourished his stick. He needn’t have raised his stick so high above his head⁠—but what of that?

What happiness! He had never had a hoop before; how briskly it made him run!

And nothing of this had existed for him before; everything was new to him⁠—the streets in early morning, the merry sun, and the distant din of the city. Everything was new to the boy⁠—and joyous and pure.

II

A shabbily dressed old man, with coarse hands stood at the street crossing. He pressed close to the wall to let the woman and the boy pass. The old man looked at the boy with dull eyes and smiled stupidly. Confused, sluggish thoughts struggled within his almost bald head.

“A little gentleman!” said he to himself. “Quite a small fellow. And simply bursting with joy. Just look at him cutting his paces!”

He could not quite understand it. Somehow it seemed strange to him.

Here was a child⁠—a thing to be pulled about by the hair! Play is mischief. Children, as everyone knows, are mischief-makers.

And there was the mother⁠—she uttered no reproach, she made no fuss, she did not scold. She was smart and bright. It was quite easy to see that they were used to warmth and comfort.

On the other hand, when he, the old man, was a boy he lived a dog’s life! There was nothing particularly rosy in his life even now; though, to be sure, he was no longer thrashed and he had plenty to eat. He recalled his younger days⁠—their hunger, their cold, their drubbings. He had never had fun with a hoop, or other playthings of well-to-do folks. Thus passed all his life⁠—in poverty, in care, in misery. And he could recall nothing⁠—not a single joy.

He smiled with his toothless mouth at the boy, and he envied him. He reflected:

“What a silly sport!”

But envy tormented him.

He went to work⁠—to the factory where he had worked from childhood, where he had grown old. And all day he thought of the boy.

It was a fixed, deep-rooted thought. He simply could not get the boy out of his mind. He saw him running, laughing, stamping his feet, bowling the hoop. What plump little legs he had, bared at the knee!⁠ ⁠…

All day long, amid the din of the factory wheels, the boy with the hoop appeared to him. And at night he saw the boy in a dream.

III

Next morning his reveries again pursued the old man.

The machines were clattering, the labour was monotonous, automatic. The hands were busy at their accustomed tasks; the toothless mouth was smiling at a diverting fancy. The air was thick with dust, and under the high ceiling strap after strap, with hissing sound, glided quickly from wheel to wheel, endless in number. The far corners were invisible for the dense escaping vapours. Men emerged here and there like phantoms, and the human voice was not heard for the incessant din of the machines.

The old man’s fancy was at work⁠—he had become a little boy for the moment, his mother was a gentlewoman, and he had his hoop and his little stick; he was playing, driving the hoop with the little stick. He wore a white costume, his little legs were plump, bare at the knee.⁠ ⁠…

The days passed; the work went on, the fancy persisted.

IV

The old man was returning from work one evening when he saw the hoop of an old barrel lying in the street. It was a rough, dirty object. The old man trembled with happiness, and tears appeared in his dull eyes. A sudden, almost irresistible desire took possession of him.

He glanced cautiously around him; then he bent down, picked up the hoop with trembling hands, and smiling shamefacedly, carried it home with him.

No one noticed him, no one questioned him. Whose concern was it? A ragged old man was carrying an old, battered, useless hoop⁠—who cared?

He carried it stealthily, afraid of ridicule. Why he picked it up and why he carried it, he himself could not tell. Still, it was like the boy’s hoop, and this was enough. There was no harm in it lying about.

He could look at it; he could touch it. It would stimulate his reveries; the whistle and turmoil of the factory would grow fainter, the escaping vapours less dense.⁠ ⁠…

For several days the hoop lay under the bed in the old man’s poor, cramped quarters. Sometimes he would take it from its place and look at it; the dirty, grey hoop soothed the old man, and the sight of it quickened his persistent thoughts about the happy little boy.

V

It was a clear, warm morning, and the birds were chirping away in the consumptive urban trees somewhat more cheerfully than usual. The old man rose early, took his hoop, and walked a little distance out of town.

He coughed as he made his way among the old trees and the thorny bushes in the woods. The trees, covered with their dry, blackish, bursting bark, seemed to him incomprehensibly and sternly silent. The odours were strange, the insects astonishing, the ferns of gigantic growth. There was neither dust nor din here, and the gentle, exquisite morning mist lay behind the trees. The old feet glided over the dry leaves and stumbled across the old gnarled roots.

The old man broke off a dry limb and hung his hoop upon it.

He came upon an opening, full of daylight and of calm. The dewdrops, countless and opalescent, gleamed upon the green blades of newly mown grass.

Suddenly the old man let the hoop slide off the stick. He struck with the stick, and sent the hoop rolling across the green lawn. The old man laughed, brightened at once, and pursued the hoop like that little boy. He kicked up his feet and drove the hoop with his stick, which he flourished high over his head, just as that little boy did.

It seemed to him that he was small, beloved, and happy. It seemed to him that he was being looked after by his mother, who was following close behind and smiling. Like a child on his first outing, he felt refreshed on the bright grass, and on the still mosses.

His goat-like, dust-grey beard, that harmonized with his sallow face, trembled, while his cough mingled with his laughter, and raucous sounds came from his toothless mouth.

VI

And the old man grew to love his morning hour in the woods with the hoop.

He sometimes thought he might be discovered, and ridiculed⁠—and this aroused him to a keen sense of shame. This shame resembled fear; he would grow numb, and his knees would give way under him. He would look round him with fright and timidity.

But no⁠—there was no one to be seen, or to be heard.⁠ ⁠…

And having diverted himself to his heart’s content he would return to the city, smiling gently and joyously.

VII

No one had ever found him out. And nothing unusual ever happened. The old man played peacefully for several days, and one very dewy morning he caught cold. He went to bed, and soon died. Dying in the factory hospital, among strangers, indifferent people, he smiled serenely.

His memories soothed him. He, too, had been a child; he, too, had laughed and scampered across the green grass, among the dark trees⁠—his beloved mother had followed him with her eyes.

The White Mother

I

Easter was near. Esper Constantinovich Saksaoolov was in a painful and undecided state of mind. It seemed to have begun when he was asked at the Gorodischevs: “Where are you greeting the holiday?”

Saksaoolov, for some reason, did not reply at once. The housewife, who was stout, shortsighted and fussy, went on: “Come to us.”

Saksaoolov felt vexed⁠—most likely at the young girl, who at the words of her mother gave him a quick glance, then averted it, and continued her conversation with a professor’s young assistant.

Mothers of grown daughters saw a possible husband in Saksaoolov, which annoyed him. He considered himself an old bachelor at thirty-seven.

He answered sharply: “Thank you. But I always pass that night at home.”

The girl glanced at him with a smile and asked: “With whom?”

“Alone,” answered Saksaoolov with a shade of astonishment in his voice.

“You’re a misanthrope,” said Madame Gorodischeva, with a sour smile.

Saksaoolov valued his freedom. It seemed strange to him, whenever he thought of it, that he had been so near marriage once. He had lived long in his small but tastefully furnished apartment, had got used to his man attendant, the elderly and steady Fedota, and to Fedota’s not less reliable spouse, who cooked his dinner; and he persuaded himself that he ought to remain single out of memory to his first love. In truth, his heart was growing cold from indifference born of a lonely, incomplete life.

He had his own fortune, his father and mother had died long ago, and he had no near relatives. He lived methodically and quietly; had something to do with a government department; was intimately acquainted with contemporary literature and art; and was something of an epicurean⁠—but life itself seemed to him to be empty and aimless. Were it not that one pure, radiant fancy visited him at times he would have become entirely cold, like many others.

II

His first and only love, which ended before it had time to blossom, wrapt him closely in sad and sweet reveries, usually in the evenings. Five years earlier he had met a young girl who left an indelible impression upon him. She was pale, gentle, slender, with blue eyes, and fair wavy hair. She almost seemed to him not to belong to this earth, but was like a creature of air and mist, blown for a brief moment by fate into the city turmoil. Her movements were slow; her gentle, clear voice was soft, like the murmur of a brook purling over stones.

Saksaoolov, whether by chance or not, saw her always in a white dress. The impression of white had become inseparable from his thought of her. Her very name, Tamar, suggested to him something as white as the snow on the mountain tops.

He began to visit her at the house of her parents. More than once he had resolved to say to her those words which bind human fates together. But she never let him go on; she would always grow frightened and shy, and she would rise and leave him. What frightened her? Saksaoolov read signs of virgin love in her face; her eyes grew brighter when he entered, and a light flush suffused her cheeks.

But one never-to-be-forgotten day she listened to him. It was in the early spring. The ice on the river was gone, and the trees were covered with a soft green veil. Tamar and Saksaoolov were sitting before the window in the city house, and looking out on the Niva. He spoke, scarcely knowing what he said, but his words were both gentle and terrible to her. She grew pale, smiled vaguely, and rose. Her slender hand trembled on the carved top of the chair.

“Tomorrow,” Tamar said quietly, and went out.

Saksaoolov gazed with intense feeling toward the door behind which Tamar had disappeared. His head was in a whirl. His eye fell upon a sprig of white lilac; he picked it up almost absently, and left without bidding his hosts goodbye.

He could not sleep that night. He stood at the window and looked out into the far-stretching streets, at first dark, then lighter at dawn; he smiled and pressed the sprig of lilac between his fingers. When it grew light he noticed that the floor of the room was strewn with white petals of lilac. This seemed both curious and of happy omen to Saksaoolov. He felt the cool of the breeze on his heated face. He took a bath and he felt refreshed. Then he went to Tamar.

They told him that she was ill, that she had caught a cold somewhere. And Saksaoolov never saw her again; she died within two weeks. He did not go to her funeral. Her death left him quite calm, and he no longer knew whether he had loved her or whether it was a short, passing fascination.

He mused about her sometimes in the evening; but he gradually learned to forget her; and Saksaoolov had no portrait of her. But after a few years⁠—more precisely, only a year ago⁠—in the spring, upon seeing a sprig of lilac sadly out of place among rich eatables in a restaurant window, he remembered Tamar. And from that time on he loved to think of Tamar again during the evenings.

Sometimes, as he fell into a light sleep, he dreamt that Tamar came to him, sat opposite him, and looked at him with unaverted, fond eyes; and that she had something to tell him. And it was painful to feel Tamar’s expectant glance upon him, and not know what she wanted of him.

Now, leaving the Gorodischevs, he thought timidly: “She will come to give me the kiss of Easter.”

A feeling of fear and loneliness took hold of him with such intensity that the idea came to him: “Perhaps it would be well to marry so as not to be alone on holy, mysterious nights.”

He thought of Valeria Mikhailovna, the Gorodischev girl. She was by no means a beauty, but she was always dressed becomingly to set off her looks. She apparently liked him, and was not likely to reject him if he asked her.

The throng and din in the street distracted him and his usual somewhat ironic mood swayed his thoughts of the Gorodischev girl. Could he prove false to Tamar’s memory for anyone else? Everything in the world seemed so paltry to him that he wished no one but Tamar to give him the kiss of Easter.

“But,” thought he, “she will again look at me with expectancy. White, gentle Tamar, what does she want? Will her gentle lips kiss me?”

III

Saksaoolov thought sadly of Tamar as he wandered in the streets, and looking into the faces of the passersby he thought many of the older people unpleasantly coarse. He recalled that there was no one with whom he would exchange the kiss of Easter with real desire and joy. There would be many coarse lips and prickly beards, smelling of wine, to kiss the first day.

It was much pleasanter to kiss the children. Children’s faces grew lovely in Saksaoolov’s eyes.

He walked a long time, and when he was tired he entered a church enclosure just off the noisy street. A pale lad sat on a form and looked up frightened at Saksaoolov; then he once more began to gaze absently before him. His blue eyes were gentle and sad, like Tamar’s. He was so small that his feet projected from the seat.

Saksaoolov, who sat near him, began to eye him, half with pity, half with curiosity. There was something in this youngster that stirred his memory with joy, and at the same time excited him. In appearance he was a most ordinary urchin; he had on ragged clothes, a white fur cap on his bright hair, and a pair of dirty boots, worse for wear.

He sat long on the form, then he rose suddenly and gave a cry. He ran out of the gate into the street, then stopped, turned quickly in another direction, and again stopped. It was clear that he did not know which way to turn. He began to weep quietly, making no ado, and large tears ran down his cheeks. A crowd gathered. A policeman came. They began to ask him where he lived.

“At the Gliukhov house,” he lisped in a childlike but indistinct tone.

“In what street,” the policeman asked.

The boy did not know, and only kept on repeating: “At the Gliukhov house.”

The young and good-natured policeman thought awhile, and decided that there was no such house near.

“With whom do you live?” asked a gruff workman. “With your father?”

“I have no father,” answered the boy, as he scanned the faces round him with his tearful eyes.

“So you’ve got no father, that’s how it is,” said the workman gravely, and shook his head. “Then where’s your mother?”

“I have a mother,” the boy replied.

“What’s her name?”

“Mamma,” said the boy; then, upon reflection, he added, “black mamma.”

Someone laughed in the crowd.

“Black? I wonder whether that’s the name of the family?” suggested the gruff workman.

“First it was a white mamma, and now it’s a black mamma,” said the boy.

“There’s no making head or tail of this,” decided the policeman. “I’ll take him to the station. They’ll telephone about it.”

He went to the gate and rang. But the house-porter had already seen the policeman and, besom in hand, he was coming to the gate. The policeman ordered him to take the boy to the station. But the boy suddenly bethought himself, and cried out: “Never mind, let me go, I’ll find the way myself.”

Perhaps he was frightened of the house-porter’s besom, or perhaps he had really recalled something; at any rate he ran off so hard that Saksaoolov almost lost sight of him. But soon the boy walked more quietly. He turned street corners and ran from one side to the other searching for, but not finding, his home. Saksaoolov followed him in silence. He was not an adept at talking to children.

At last the boy grew tired. He stopped before a lamppost and leant against it. Tears gleamed in his eyes.

“My dear boy,” said Saksaoolov, “haven’t you found it yet?”

The lad looked at him with his sad, soft eyes, and Saksaoolov suddenly understood what had impelled him to follow the boy with such resolution. There was something in the face and glance of the little wanderer that gave him an unusual likeness to Tamar.

“My dear boy, what’s your name?” asked Saksaoolov in a tender and agitated voice.

“Lesha,” said the boy.

“Tell me, dear Lesha, do you live with your mother?”

“Yes, with mamma. Only now it’s a black mamma⁠—and before it was a white mamma.”

Saksaoolov thought that by black mamma he meant a nun.

“How did you get lost?” he asked.

“I walked with mamma, and we walked and walked. She told me to sit down and wait, and then she went away. And I got frightened.”

“Who is your mother?”

“My mamma? She’s so black and so angry.”

“What does she do?”

The boy thought awhile.

“She drinks coffee,” he said.

“What else does she do?”

“She quarrels with the lodgers,” answered Lesha after a pause.

“And where is your white mamma?”

“She was carried away. She was put into a coffin and carried away. And papa was carried away.”

The boy pointed into the distance somewhere and burst into tears.

“What’s to be done with him?” thought Saksaoolov.

Then suddenly the boy began to run again. After he had turned a few corners he went more quietly. Saksaoolov overtook him a second time. The lad’s face expressed a strange mixture of joy and fear.

“Here’s the Gliukhov house,” he said to Saksaoolov, as he pointed to a huge, five-storeyed monstrosity.

At this moment there appeared at the gates of the Gliukhov house a black-haired, black-eyed woman in a black dress, a black kerchief with white dots on her head. The boy shrank back in fear.

“Mamma,” he whispered.

His stepmother looked at him with astonishment.

“How did you get here, you young whelp!” she shrieked out. “I told you to sit on the bench, didn’t I?”

She seemed to be on the point of whipping him when she noticed that some sort of gentleman, serious and dignified in appearance, was watching them, and she spoke more softly.

“Can’t I leave you for a half-hour anywhere without you taking to your heels? I’ve walked my feet off looking for you, you young whelp!”

She caught the child’s very small hand in her own huge one and dragged him within the gate. Saksaoolov made a note of the house number and the name of the street, and went home.

IV

Saksaoolov liked to listen to the opinions of Fedota. When he returned home he told him about the boy Lesha.

“She did it on purpose,” decided Fedota. “Just think what a witch she is to take the boy such a way from home!”

“Why should she?” Saksaoolov asked.

“It’s simple enough. What can you expect of a stupid woman! She thought the boy would get lost somewhere, and someone would pick him up. After all, she’s a stepmother. What’s a homeless child to her?”

Saksaoolov was incredulous. He observed: “But the police would have found her out.”

“Of course they would; but you can’t tell, she may have meant to leave town; then find her if you can.”

Saksaoolov smiled.

“Really,” he thought, “my Fedota should be a district attorney.”

He fell into a doze that evening as he sat reading before a lamp. Tamar appeared to him⁠—the gentle, white Tamar⁠—and sat down beside him. Her face was strangely like Lesha’s face. She looked steadily and persistently, and awaited something. It tormented Saksaoolov to see her bright, pleading eyes, and not to know what she wanted. He rose quickly and went to the armchair where he thought he saw Tamar sitting. He stopped before her and asked loudly and with emotion:

“What do you wish? Tell me.”

But she was no longer there.

“It was only a dream,” thought Saksaoolov sadly.

V

The next day, as he was leaving the academy exhibition, Saksaoolov met the Gorodischevs. He told the girl about Lesha.

“Poor boy,” said Valeria Mikhailovna quietly. “His stepmother is trying to get rid of him.”

“That’s yet to be proved,” said Saksaoolov.

He felt annoyed that everyone, including Fedota and Valeria, should look so tragically upon a simple incident.

“That’s quite evident,” said Valeria Mikhailovna warmly. “There’s no father, and only a stepmother to whom he is simply a burden. No good will come of it⁠—the boy will have a sad end.”

“You take too gloomy a view of the matter,” observed Saksaoolov, with a smile.

“You ought to take him to yourself,” Valeria Mikhailovna advised him.

“I?” asked Saksaoolov with astonishment.

“You are living alone,” Valeria Mikhailovna persisted. “You have no one. Here’s a chance for you to do a good deed at Eastertime! At least, you’ll have someone with whom to exchange the kiss of Easter.”

“I beg you to tell me, Valeria Mikhailovna, what am I to do with a child?”

“You might engage a governess. Fate itself is sending the boy to you.”

Saksaoolov looked with amazement and involuntary tenderness at the girl’s flushed, animated face.

When Tamar again appeared to him that evening he seemed already to know her wish. It was as though, in the silence of the room, he heard her tranquilly spoken words: “Do as she advised you.”

Saksaoolov rose joyously and rubbed his drowsy eyes with his hand. He saw a sprig of white lilac on the table, and was astonished. How did it come there? Did Tamar leave it there as a sign of her wish?

And he suddenly thought that if he married the Gorodischeva girl and took Lesha into his house he would be carrying out the will of Tamar. He breathed in the lilac’s aroma happily. He suddenly remembered that he himself had bought the sprig of lilac that same day.

Then he argued with himself: “It really doesn’t matter that I had bought it myself; its real significance is that I had an impulse to buy it; and that later I forgot that I had bought it.”

VI

Next morning he went to fetch Lesha. The boy met him at the gate and showed him where he lived. Lesha’s black mamma was drinking coffee, and was quarrelling with her red-nosed lodger. Saksaoolov learnt something about Lesha from her.

The lad lost his mother when he was three. His father married this black woman, and himself died within a year. The black woman, Irina Ivanovna, had her own son, now a year old. She was about to marry again. The wedding would take place in a few days and after the ceremony she would go with her husband to the provinces. Lesha was a stranger to her and she would rather do without him.

“Give him to me,” suggested Saksaoolov.

“With great pleasure,” said Irina Ivanovna with unconcealed and malignant joy.

She added after a short silence: “Only you will pay for his clothes.”

And so Lesha was presently installed at Saksaoolov’s. The Gorodischeva girl helped in the finding of a governess and in other details of Lesha’s comfort. This required her to visit Saksaoolov’s apartments. She assumed a different appearance in Saksaoolov’s eyes as she busied herself in these various cares. It was as though the door to her soul opened itself to him. Her eyes had become beaming and gentle, and she was permeated with almost the same tranquillity that breathed from Tamar.

VII

Lesha’s stories about the white mamma won over Fedota and his wife. As they put him to bed on Easter eve, they hung a white candied egg above his head.

“It’s from the white mamma,” said Christina, “only you darling mustn’t touch it; at least not until the resurrection, when you’ll hear the bell ring.”

Lesha lay down obediently. He looked long at the egg of joy and at last fell asleep.

Saksaoolov was sitting alone in another room. Just before midnight an unconquerable drowsiness again closed his eyes, and he was glad that he would soon see Tamar.

At last she came, all in white, joyous, bringing with her glad tidings from afar. She smiled gently, then bent over him, and⁠—unspeakable happiness!⁠—Saksaoolov’s lips felt a tender contact.

A sweet voice said softly: “Christoss Voskress!” (Christ has risen).

Saksaoolov, without opening his eyes stretched out his arms and embraced a slender, gentle body. It was Lesha who climbed on his knees and gave him the kiss of Easter.

The church bell had awakened the boy. He seized the white egg and ran to Saksaoolov.

Saksaoolov opened his eyes. Lesha laughed as he showed him the egg.

“White mamma has sent it,” he lisped, “and I’ll give it to you, and you can give it to Aunt Valeria.”

“Very well, my dear boy, I’ll do as you say,” said Saksaoolov.

He put Lesha to bed, then went to Valeria Mikhailovna with Lesha’s white egg, a gift from the white mamma, but which really seemed to him at that moment to be a gift from Tamar herself.

Wings

A peasant girl was feeding geese, and she wept. The farmer’s daughter came by and asked, “What are you blubbering about?”

“I haven’t got any wings,” cried the peasant girl. “Oh, I wish I could grow some wings.”

“You stupid!” said the farmer’s daughter. “Of course you haven’t got wings. What do you want wings for?”

“I want to fly up into the sky and sing my little songs there,” answered the little peasant girl.

Then the farmer’s daughter was angry, and said again, “You stupid! How can you ever expect to grow wings? Your father’s only a farm-labourer. They might grow on me, but not on you.”

When the farmer’s daughter had said that, she went away to the well, sprinkled some water on her shoulders, and stood out among the vegetables in the garden, waiting for her wings to sprout. She really believed the sun would bring them out quite soon.

But in a little while a merchant’s daughter came along the road and called out to the girl who was trying to grow wings in the garden, “What are you doing standing out there, red face?”

“I am growing wings,” said the farmer’s daughter. “I want to fly.”

Then the merchant’s daughter laughed loudly, and cried out, “You stupid farm-girl; if you had wings they would only be a weight on your back.”

The merchant’s daughter thought she knew who was most likely to grow wings. And when she went back to the town where she lived she bought some olive-oil and rubbed it on her shoulders, and went out into the garden and waited for her wings to grow.

By and by a young lady of the Court came along and said to her, “What are you doing out there, my child?”

When the tradesman’s daughter said that she was growing wings, the young lady’s face flushed and she looked quite vexed. “That’s not for you to do,” she said. “It is only real ladies who can grow wings.”

And she went on home, and when she got indoors she filled a tub with milk and bathed herself in it, and then went into her garden and stood in the sun and waited for her wings to come out.

Presently a princess passed by the garden, and when she saw the young lady standing there she sent a servant to inquire what she was doing. The servant came back and told her that as the young lady had wanted to be able to fly she had bathed herself in milk and was waiting for her wings to grow.

The princess laughed scornfully and exclaimed, “What a foolish girl! She’s giving herself trouble for nothing. No one who is not a princess can ever grow wings.”

The princess turned the matter over in her mind, and when she arrived at her father’s palace she went into her chamber, anointed herself with sweet-smelling perfumes, and then went down into the palace garden to wait for her wings to come.

Very soon all the young girls in the country round about went out into their gardens and stood among the vegetables so that they might get wings.

The Fairy of the Wings heard about this strange happening and she flew down to earth, and, looking at the waiting girls, she said, “If I give you all wings and let you all go flying in the sky, who will want to stay at home to cook the porridge and look after the children? I had better only give wings to one of you, namely to her who wanted them first of all.”

So wings grew from the little peasant girl’s shoulders, and she was able to fly up into the sky and sing.

The Sweet-Scented Name

A little peasant girl lay ill in her bed. And in heaven God called an angel to His side and bade her go down to earth and dance before the little girl and amuse her. But the angel thought it unbecoming to her dignity to dance before the people of the earth.

And God knew the proud thoughts of the angel and ordained a punishment for her. She was born into the world of men and became a little child there⁠—a princess in a royal house⁠—and she forgot all that she had known of heaven and her former life, forgot even her own name.

Now the angel had been called by a name of purity and fragrance, and the people of the earth know no such names as these. So when she became an earthly princess she had only a human name, and was called the Princess Margaret.

When the little princess grew up she often felt as if she wanted to remember something she had once known, but she could not think what it might be, and she became unhappy because she could not remember.

One day she asked her father:

“How is it we cannot hear the sunshine?”

The king smiled at the question, but he could not answer it, and the little princess looked very grieved.

Another day she said to her mother:

“The roses smell very sweet; how is it I cannot see their scent?”

And when her mother laughed at the strange question the princess felt sadder than ever.

Some time afterwards she came to her nurse and said:

“How is it that names are not sweet-scented?”

The old nurse laughed at her, and again the princess was grieved that no one could answer any of her questions. Then a rumour went about the land that the king’s daughter was different from other people, and that her mind was weak. And everybody tried to think of some means to cure her and make her well.

She was a quiet and melancholy child, and was always asking strange and unusual questions. She was thin and pale, and no one thought her beautiful. But she grew older, and at last the time came for her to marry. Many young princes came to her father’s court to woo her, but when she began to talk to them no one wanted to have her as a wife. At last a prince named Maximilian arrived, and when the princess saw him she said to him:

“With us human beings everything seems quite separate from other things⁠—I can only hear words, I cannot smell them; and though I can see flowers and smell their scent, yet I cannot hear them. It makes life dull and uninteresting, don’t you think?”

“What would make life more beautiful for you?” said Maximilian.

The princess was silent for some time, but at last she said, “I should so much like to have a sweet-smelling name.”

“Yes, fair princess,” said he, “the name Margaret is not nearly good enough for you. You ought to have a name of sweet fragrance, but there are no such names known upon the earth.” Then the poor little princess wept sad tears, and Maximilian felt very sorry for her, and he loved her more than anyone else in the whole world. He tried to comfort her by saying, “Do not weep, dear princess. I will try and find out if there are such names, and come and tell you of them.”

The princess smiled through her tears and said, “If you can find for me a name which gives forth a sweet odour when it is spoken, then I will kiss your stirrup-leather.” And she blushed as she said this, for she was a princess and very proud.

Hearing this, Maximilian grew bolder and said, “And will you then be my wife?” And the princess answered that she would.

So Maximilian departed to search throughout all the world until he found a name which would give forth a sweet fragrance and perfume the air when it was spoken. He travelled into far lands and made inquiries of rich and poor, learned and ignorant; but everybody laughed at his quest, and told him he had set out upon a foolish errand. At last, after long journeying, he came again to the town where the princess dwelt. Just outside the town was a peasant’s cottage, and at the door stood an old white-haired man. As soon as Maximilian saw him he thought in his heart “the old man will know,” and he went up to him and told him of his quest, and how he was in search of a sweet-smelling name.

The old man looked up gladly and answered at once, “Yes, yes; there is such a name⁠—a holy and spiritual name it is. I myself do not know this name, but my little grandchild has heard it.”

So Maximilian went with the old man into the poor cottage, and there he saw a little peasant girl lying ill in her bed. The old man went up to her and said, “Doonia, here is a gentleman who wants to know the holy name you told me of; can you remember it and tell him?”

The little girl looked joyfully at Maximilian and smiled sweetly at him, but she could not remember the wonderful name. She told the prince that in a dream an angel had come to her and danced before her, and as she watched the angel she saw that his garment was of many colours, like a soft rainbow. Then the angel had talked to her, and had told her that soon another angel would come and visit her and would dance before her in still more beautiful colours than those she had seen. He told her the angel’s name, and as she heard the name she smelt a delicious fragrance, and all the air was filled with a sweet scent. “But now,” said the child, “I cannot remember that wonderful name, though it still makes me happy to think about it. If only I could remember it and say it myself I think I should be quite well again. But the beautiful angel will soon come, and then I shall remember the name.”

Maximilian went away to the palace and told the princess all that had befallen him, and she came with him to the cottage to visit the sick girl. As soon as she saw the child she was filled with pity for her, and sat down by her side and petted her, and tried to think of something that would amuse her and make her forget her pain.

By and by she got up and began to dance before the sick child, clapping her hands together, and singing. And as the little girl watched the princess she saw all kinds of lovely colours and heard many beautiful sounds. She felt very happy, and she laughed aloud in her happiness. And suddenly she remembered the name of the angel and spoke it aloud. And all the cottage was filled with a sweet scent as of flowers.

Then the princess remembered all she had been trying to recall, and she knew that the sweet-scented name that she had been seeking was her own heavenly name, and she remembered why she had been sent upon the earth.

The little peasant girl soon became quite well, and the princess married Maximilian and lived with him happily on the earth until the time came for her to return to her heavenly home and God’s eternal kingdom.

Turandina

I

Peter Antònovitch Bulanin was spending the summer in the country with the family of his cousin, a teacher of philology. Bulanin himself was a young advocate of thirty years of age, having finished his course at the University only two years before.

The past year had been a comparatively fortunate one. He had successfully defended two criminal cases on the nomination of the Court, as well as a civil case undertaken at the instigation of his own heart. All three cases had been won by his brilliant pleading. The jury had acquitted the young man who had killed his father out of pity because the old man fasted too assiduously and suffered in consequence; they had acquitted the poor seamstress who had thrown vitriol at the girl her lover wished to marry; and in the civil court the judge had awarded the plaintiff a hundred and fifty roubles, saying that his rights were indisputable, though the defendant asserted that the sum had previously been paid. For all this good work Peter Antònovitch himself had received only fifteen roubles, this money having been paid to him by the man who had received the hundred and fifty.

But, as will be understood, one cannot live a whole year on fifteen roubles, and Peter Antònovitch had to fall back on his own resources, that is, on the money his father sent him from home. As far as the law was concerned there was as yet nothing for him but fame.

But his fame was not at present great, and as his receipts from his father were but moderate Peter Antònovitch often fell into a despondent and elegiac mood. He looked on life rather pessimistically, and captivated young ladies by the eloquent pallor of his face and by the sarcastic utterances which he gave forth on every possible occasion.

One evening, after a sharp thunderstorm had cleared and refreshed the air, Peter Antònovitch went out for a walk alone. He wandered along the narrow field-paths until he found himself far from home.

A picture of entrancing beauty stretched itself out before him, canopied by the bright-blue dome of heaven besprinkled with scattered cloudlets and illumined by the soft and tender rays of the departing sun. The narrow path by which he had come led along the high bank of a stream rippling along in the winding curves of its narrow bed⁠—the shallow water of the stream was transparent and gave a pleasant sense of cool freshness. It looked as if one need only step into it to be at once filled with the joy of simple happiness, to feel as full of life and easy grace of movement as the rosy-bodied boys bathing there.

Not far away were the shades of the quiet forest; beyond the river lay an immense semicircular plain, dotted here and there with woods and villages, a dusty ribbon of a road curving snakelike across it. On the distant horizon gleamed golden stars, the crosses of faraway churches and belfries shining in the sunlight.

Everything looked fresh and sweet and simple, yet Peter Antònovitch was sad. And it seemed to him that his sadness was but intensified by the beauty around; as if some evil tempter were seeking to allure him to evil by some entrancing vision.

For to Peter Antònovitch all this earthly beauty, all this enchantment of the eyes, all this delicate sweetness pouring itself into his young and vigorous body, was only as a veil of golden tissue spread out by the devil to hide from the simple gaze of man the impurity, the imperfection, and the evil of Nature.

This life, adorning itself in beauty and breathing forth perfumes, was in reality, thought Peter Antònovitch, only the dull prosaic iron chain of cause and effect⁠—the burdensome slavery from which mankind could never get free.

Tortured by such thoughts Peter Antònovitch had often felt himself as unhappy as if in him there had awakened the soul of some ancient monster who had howled piteously outside the village at night. And now he thought:

“If only a fairytale could come into one’s life and for a time upset the ordered arrangement of predetermined Fate! Oh, fairytale, fashioned by the wayward desires of men who are in captivity to life and who cannot be reconciled to their captivity⁠—sweet fairytale, where art thou?”

He remembered an article he had read the day before in a magazine, written by the Minister of Education; some words in it had specially haunted his memory. The article spoke of the old fairytale tradition of the forest enchantress, Turandina. She had loved a shepherd and had left for him her enchanted home, and with him had lived some happy years on earth until she had been recalled by the mysterious voices of the forest. She had gone away, but the happy years had remained as a grateful memory to mankind.

Peter Antònovitch gave himself up to the fancy⁠—oh for the fairytale, for a few enchanted years, a few days⁠ ⁠… ! And he cried aloud and said:

“Turandina, where art thou?”

II

The sun was low down in the sky. The calm of even had fallen on the spreading fields. The neighbouring forest was hushed. No sound was heard, the air was still, and the grass still sparkling with raindrops was motionless.

It was a moment when the desires of a man fulfil themselves, the one moment which perhaps comes once in his life to every man. It seemed that all around was waiting in a tension of expectation.

Looking before him into the shining misty vapour, Peter Antònovitch cried again:

“Turandina, where art thou?”

And under the spell of the silence that encompassed him, his own separate individual will became one with the great universal Will, and with great power and authority he spoke as only once in his life a man has power to speak:

“Turandina, come!”

And in a sweet and gentle voice he heard the answer:

“I am here.”

Peter Antònovitch trembled and looked about. Everything seemed again quite ordinary and his soul was as usual the soul of a poor human being, separate from the universal Soul⁠—he was again an ordinary man, just like you and me, who dwell in days and hours of time. Yet before him stood she whom he had called.

She was a beautiful maiden, wearing a narrow circlet of gold upon her head, and dressed in a short white garment. Her long plaits of hair came below her waist and seemed to have taken to themselves the golden rays of the sunlight. Her eyes, as she gazed intently at the young man, were as blue as if in them a heaven revealed itself, more clear and pure than the skies of earth. Her features were so regular and her hands and feet so well-formed, so perfect were the lines of the figure revealed by the folds of her dress that she seemed an embodiment of perfect maiden loveliness. She would have seemed like an angel from heaven had not her heavy black eyebrows met and so disclosed her witchery; if her skin had not been dark as if tanned by the rays of a burning sun.

Peter Antònovitch could not speak for wonder at her, and she spoke first:

“Thou didst call me and so I came to thee. Thou calledst to me just when I was in need of an earthly shelter in the world of men. Thou wilt take me to thy home. I have nothing of my own except this crown upon my brow, this dress, and this wallet in my hand.”

She spoke quietly, so quietly that the tones of her voice could not have been heard above earthly sounds. But so clear was her speech and so tender its tone that even the most indifferent man would have been touched by the least sound of her voice.

When she spoke about going home with him and of her three possessions, Peter Antònovitch saw that she held in her hand a little bag of red leather drawn together by a golden cord⁠—a very simple and beautiful little bag; something like those in which ladies carry their opera-glasses to the theatre.

Then he asked:

“And who art thou?”

“I am Turandina, the daughter of King Turandon. My father loved me greatly, but I did that which was not for me to do⁠—out of simple curiosity I disclosed the future of mankind. For this my father was displeased with me and drove me from his kingdom. Some day I shall be forgiven and recalled to my father’s home. But now for a time I must dwell among men, and to me have been given these three things: a golden crown, the sign of my birth; a white garment, my poor covering; and this wallet, which contains all that I shall need. It is good that I have met with thee. Thou art a man who defendeth the unhappy, and who devoteth his life to the triumph of Truth among men. Take me with thee to thy home; thou wilt never regret thy deed.”

Peter Antònovitch did not know what to do or what to think. One thing was clear: this maiden, dressed so lightly, speaking so strangely, must be sheltered by him; he could not leave her alone in the forest, far from any human dwelling.

He thought she might be a runaway, hiding her real name and inventing some unlikely story. Perhaps she had escaped from an asylum, or from her own home.

There was nothing in her face or in her appearance, however, except her scanty clothing and her words, to indicate anything strange in her mind. She was perfectly quiet and calm. If she called herself Turandina it was doubtless because she had heard someone mention the name, or she might even have read the fairy-story of Turandina.

III

With such thoughts in his mind Peter Antònovitch said to the beautiful unknown:

“Very well, dear young lady, I will take you home with me. But I ought to warn you that I do not live alone, and therefore I advise you to tell me your real name. I’m afraid that my relatives will not believe that you are the daughter of King Turandon. As far as I know there is no such king at the present time.”

Turandina smiled as she said:

“I have told thee the truth, whether thy people believe it or not. It is sufficient for me that thou shouldst believe. And if thou believest me, thou wilt defend me from all evil and from all unhappiness, for thou art a man who hast chosen for thyself the calling in which thou canst uphold the truth and defend the weak.”

Peter Antònovitch shrugged his shoulders.

“If you persist in this story,” answered he, “I must wash my hands of the matter, and I cannot be answerable for any possible consequences. Of course I will take you home with me until you can find a more suitable place, and I will do all I can to help you. But as a lawyer I very strongly advise you not to hide your real name.”

Turandina listened to him with a smile, and when he stopped speaking she said:

“Do not be at all anxious; everything will be well. Thou wilt see that I shall bring happiness to thee if thou canst show me kindness and love. And do not speak to me so much about my real name. I have spoken the truth to thee, and more I may not say, it is forbidden me to tell thee all. Take me home with thee. Night is coming on; I have journeyed far and am in need of rest.”

Peter Antònovitch was quick to apologise.

“Ah, pardon me, please. I am sorry that this is such an out-of-the-way place; it’s quite impossible to get a carriage.”

He began to walk in the direction of his home, and Turandina went with him. She did not walk as though she were tired; her feet seemed hardly to touch the ground, though they had to walk over stiff clay and sharp stones, and the moist grass and rain-soaked pathway did not seem to soil her little feet.

When they reached the high bank of the river and could see the first houses of the village, Peter Antònovitch glanced uneasily at his companion and said somewhat awkwardly:

“Pardon me, dear young lady⁠ ⁠…”

Turandina looked at him, and with a little frown interrupted him, saying reproachfully:

“Hast thou forgotten who I am and what is my name? I am Turandina, and not ‘dear young lady.’ I am the daughter of King Turandon.”

“Your pardon, please, Mademoiselle Turandina⁠—it is a very beautiful name, though it is never used now⁠—I wanted to ask you a question.”

“Why dost thou speak so to me?” asked Turandina, interrupting him once more. “Speak not as to one of the young ladies of thy acquaintance. Say ‘thou’ to me, and address me as a true knight would speak to his fair lady.”

She spoke with such insistence and authority that Peter Antònovitch felt compelled to obey. And when he turned to Turandina and for the first time spoke to her intimately and called her by her name, he at once felt more at ease.

“Turandina, hast thou not a dress to wear? My people would expect thee to wear an ordinary dress.”

Turandina smiled once more and said:

“I don’t know. Isn’t my one garment enough? I was told that in this wallet I should find everything that I should need in the world of men. Take it and look within; perhaps thou wilt find there what thou desirest.”

With these words she held out to him her little bag. And as he pulled apart the cord and opened it, Peter Antònovitch thought to himself, “It will be good if someone has put in some kind of frock for her.”

He put his hand into the wallet and feeling something soft he drew out a small parcel, so small that Turandina could have closed her hand over it. And when he unwrapped the parcel, there was just what he wanted, a dress such as most young girls were wearing at that time.

He helped Turandina to put it on, and he fastened it for her, for, of course, it buttoned at the back.

“Is that all right now?” asked Turandina.

Peter Antònovitch looked regretfully at the little bag. It looked much too small to hold a pair of shoes. But he put in his hand again and thought, “A pair of sandals would do nicely.”

His fingers touched a little strap, and he drew forth a tiny pair of golden sandals. And then he dried her feet and put on the sandals and fastened the straps for her.

“Now is everything all right?” asked Turandina again.

There was such a humility in her voice and gesture as she spoke that Peter Antònovitch felt quite happy. It would be quite easy to manage her now, he thought. So he said, “Oh yes; we can get a hat later on.”

IV

And so there came a fairy-story into the life of a man. Of course, it seemed sometimes as if the young lawyer’s life were quite unsuited for such a thing. His relatives were utterly unable to believe the account their young guest gave of herself, and even Peter Antònovitch himself lacked faith. Many times he begged Turandina to tell him her real name, and he played various tricks on her to trap her into confessing that her story was not really true. But Turandina was never angry at his persistence. She smiled sweetly and simply, and with great patience said over and over again:

“I have told you the truth.”

“But where is the land over which King Turandon reigns?” Peter Antònovitch would ask.

“It is far away,” Turandina would answer, “and yet if you wish it, it is near also. But none of you can go thither. Only we who have been born in the enchanted kingdom of King Turandon can ever get to that wonderful country.”

“But can you not show me how to go there?” asked Peter Antònovitch.

“No, I cannot,” answered Turandina.

“And can you return yourself?” said he.

“Now, I cannot,” said she, “but when my father calls me, I shall return.”

There was no sadness in her voice and expression, nor any joy, as she spoke of her expulsion from the enchanted land and of her return. Her voice was always calm and gentle. She looked on all she saw with inquiring eyes, as if seeing everything for the first time, but with a quiet calmness, as if knowing that she would soon become accustomed to all new and strange things, and would easily recognise them again. When she once knew a thing she never made a mistake nor confused it with anything else. All ordinary rules of conduct that people told her or that she herself noticed, were lightly and easily followed, as if she had been accustomed to them from her childhood. She remembered names and faces of people after having once seen them.

Turandina never quarrelled with anyone, and she never said anything untrue. When she was advised to use the ordinary Society evasions she shook her head and said:

“One must never say what is untrue. The earth hears everything.”

At home and in the company of others Turandina behaved with such dignity and graciousness that all who could believe in a fairytale were obliged to believe that they were in the presence of a beautiful princess, the daughter of a great and wise king.

But the fairytale was somewhat difficult to reconcile with the ordinary life of the young lawyer and his people. There was a perpetual struggle between the two, and many difficulties arose in consequence.

V

When Turandina had been living with the family for a few days, an official came to the house and said to the servant:

“They say there’s a young lady visitor here. She must send in her passport and have it signed.”

The servant told her mistress, who spoke to her husband about the matter. He asked Peter Antònovitch about the passport, and the latter went to find Turandina and ask her. Turandina was sitting on the verandah reading a book with much enjoyment.

“Turandina,” said Peter Antònovitch, going out to her. “The police have sent to ask for your passport. It must be sent to be signed.”

Turandina listened very attentively to what Peter Antònovitch had to say. And then she asked:

“What is a passport?”

“Oh, a passport,” said he, “don’t you know, is⁠—a passport. A paper on which is written your name and your father’s name, your age, your rank. You can’t possibly live anywhere without a passport.”

“If it’s necessary,” said Turandina calmly, “then, of course, it ought to be in my little bag. Look, there’s the bag, take it and see if the passport is inside.”

And in the wonderful little bag there was found a passport⁠—a small book in a brown cover, which had been obtained in the province of Astrakhan, in which was inscribed the name of the Princess Tamara Timofeevna Turandon, seventeen years of age, and unmarried. Everything was in order: the seal, the official signature, the signature of the princess herself, and so on, just as in all passport books.

Peter Antònovitch looked at Turandina and smiled:

“So that’s who you are,” said he, “you are a princess, and your name is Tamara.”

But Turandina shook her head.

“No,” said she, “I’ve never been called Tamara. That passport doesn’t tell the truth; it’s only for the police and for those people who do not know and cannot know the truth. I am Turandina, the daughter of King Turandon. Since I have lived in this world I have learnt that people here don’t want to know the truth. I don’t know anything about the passport. Whoever put it in my little bag must have known that I should need it. But for thee, my word should be enough.”

After the passport had been signed Turandina was known as the princess, or Tamara Timofeevna, but her own people continued to call her Turandina.

VI

Her own people⁠—for they came to be her own people. The fairytale came into a man’s life, and as often happens in a fairytale, so it now occurred in life. Peter Antònovitch fell in love with Turandina and Turandina loved him also. He made up his mind to marry her, and this led to slight difficulties in the family.

The teacher-cousin and his wife said: “In spite of her mysterious origin and her obstinate silence about her family, your Turandina is a very dear girl, beautiful, intelligent, very good and capable, and well brought up. In short, she is everything that one could wish. But you ought to remember that you have no money, and neither has she.

“It will be difficult for two people to live in Petersburg on the money your father allows you.

“Especially with a princess.

“You must remember that in spite of her sweet ways she’s probably accustomed to live in good style.

“She has very small soft hands. True, she has been very modest here, and you say she was barefoot when you met her first and had very little clothing. But we don’t know what kind of garments she will want to wear in a town.”

Peter Antònovitch himself was rather pessimistic at first. But by and by he remembered how he had found a dress for Turandina in the little bag. A bold thought came into his mind, and he smiled and said:

“I found a house-frock for Turandina in her little bag. Perhaps if I were to rummage in it again I might find a ball-dress for her.”

But the teacher’s wife, a kind young woman with a genius for housekeeping, said:

“Much better if you could find some money. If only she had five hundred roubles we could manage to get her a good trousseau.”

“We ought to find five hundred thousand⁠—for a princess’s dowry,” said Peter Antònovitch, laughing.

“Oh, a hundred thousand would be quite enough for you,” laughed his cousin in reply.

Just then Turandina came quietly up the steps leading from the garden, and Peter Antònovitch called to her and said:

“Turandina, show me your little bag, dear. Perhaps you have a hundred thousand roubles there.”

Turandina held out her little bag to him and said:

“If it’s necessary, you will find it in the bag.”

And Peter Antònovitch again put his hand into the little bag and drew forth a large packet of notes. He began to count them, but without counting he could see they represented a large quantity of money.

VII

So this great fairytale came into the young man’s life. And though it didn’t seem well suited to the taking-in of a fairytale, yet room was found for it somewhere. The fairytale bought a place in his life⁠—with its own charm and the treasures of the enchanted bag.

Turandina and the young lawyer were married. And Turandina had first a little son and then a daughter. The boy was like his mother, and grew up to be a gentle dreamy child. The girl was like her father, gay and intelligent.

And so the years went by. Every summer, when the days were at their longest, a strange melancholy overshadowed Turandina. She used to go out in the mornings to the edge of the forest and stand there listening to the forest voices. And after some time she would walk home again slowly and sadly.

And once, standing there at midday, she heard a loud voice calling to her:

“Turandina, come. Your father has forgiven you.”

And so she went away and never returned. Her little son was then seven years old and her daughter three.

Thus the fairytale departed from this life and never came back. But Turandina’s little son never forgot his mother.

Sometimes he would wander away by himself so as to be quite alone. And when he came home again there was such an expression upon his face that the teacher’s wife said to her husband in a whisper:

“He has been with Turandina.”

Lohengrin

I

Mashenka Pestryàkova was a young and pretty girl, dreamy in temperament, and by no means intellectual. Her nose was a little upturned, her eyes grey and vivacious, and in the Spring she had freckles on her cheeks, under her eyes, and on her nose. She lived with her mother and brother in Pea Street, in the same house in which Oblomof once lived. She taught in a sort of private school, and received her meagre salary at irregular intervals. She was very fond of going to the opera, and liked best of all to hear Wagner.

Mashenka’s mother had a small pension, which she augmented by selling some books on commission and by letting apartments. They gave up three rooms of their house in this way and used the rest themselves. The little brother went to school every day, and Mashenka helped him with his lessons in the evening and gave part of her salary to her mother.

Mashenka often let her thoughts wander into vague and pleasant reveries. Sometimes these reveries would take a more definite form, and the sweet image of her dream would be identified with one or other of her youthful acquaintances. Then for a while meetings with the new friend would be very agreeable to her. But the friendship never lasted very long.

The reality was always disappointing. The actual happening was so different from her own beautiful vision of life. Instead of listening to passionate glowing words like those which sound so attractive in the pages of a novel and are so charming when sung by Sobinof on the stage of the Marinsky Theatre⁠—so different from the usual sounds of life in Pea Street⁠—her companion would speak in a dull and prosaic way about their own doings or those of their neighbours, would utter words about money, words of blame, envious sneers, spiteful gossip, sometimes even compliment her in an embarrassing way. Then the dear figure of her dream would grow dim and become no longer attractive, and there would be days when Mashenka didn’t want to dream about anything or anybody; she would only feel apathetic and bored. Then she would look forward to the next meeting. And next time she would be disappointed again.

And yet in spite of this someone did come and take possession of Mashenka’s soul⁠—a rather ugly young man, short and awkward, and delicate in health, with weak eyes that seemed to blink continuously, thin reddish hair, meagre reddish whiskers, and scanty beard. He dressed himself neatly and carefully, wore a cornelian stone ring on his finger and a pearl pin in his mauve or green necktie, but his dress showed neither special taste nor abundance of means.

For a long time Mashenka did not know his real name nor his occupation. She called him by a strange nickname⁠—taken from the opera⁠—Lohengrin.

“My Lohengrin is coming today,” she used to say to her mother.

“That’s your Lohengrin’s ring,” her mother would say when they heard a timid, uncertain little sound from the doorbell.

“Your Lohengrin’s a silly,” said her little brother Serezha frankly. He liked to tease Mashenka sometimes. Only occasionally, of course. He was only twelve years old, and just a little afraid of his sister.

At first Mashenka called her friend Lohengrin because she met him first in the gallery of the Marinsky Theatre one evening when Lohengrin was being performed. And afterwards there were other reasons why he still kept so strange a nickname.

II

Mashenka had gone to the theatre that evening with a girl friend and two student acquaintances. “Lohengrin” sat behind her, just a little to one side, and before the beginning of the second act Mashenka noticed that he was looking at her very intently. She began to feel awkward, and looked round angrily at the young man.

She did not much like the look of him. His persistent gaze seemed rude and tiresome. And she disliked him still more when, after turning on him for the second time a more severe glance and a more decided frown, the young man averted his gaze with such guilty haste that it seemed to her he must be accustomed to stare rudely at people and then suddenly turn away.

She wanted to point him out to her companions and ask whether they knew the young man, but just then the orchestra began to play, and everyone was silent. Mashenka, under the spell of the incomparable music, quickly forgot all about the tiresome person behind her.

In the next entr’acte Mashenka walked up and down the corridor with her friends, and did not think of the young man until she became conscious that he was walking behind and staring at her. For a long time afterwards she felt his gaze upon her neck, just on the line where the bare neck shows between the top of the white collar and the hair above it. It was so annoying and embarrassing that she didn’t know what to do.

The entr’acte was at an end, and they were all crowding back through the narrow doors when Mashenka took advantage of the general noise and confusion to say to the student beside her:

“Do you know the young man next to us? His seat is just behind ours.”

She spoke in a low voice so that the young man behind should not hear. But the student looked round and said aloud:

“No, I don’t know him. Why do you ask?”

It was a little difficult to reply.

“He stares at me all the time,” she whispered.

“You’ve made a conquest of him,” said the student calmly, still speaking loudly.

When they were in their places again and preparing to listen, Mashenka for some reason or other felt vexed that the student had treated the matter so lightly. As if to spite him she looked attentively at the young man behind, and thought to herself with a condescending pity:

“Poor thing! Perhaps he thinks himself handsome and irresistible.”

A faint smile played about her lips, and she noticed with some satisfaction that the young man blushed a little, and that in his eyes there was a gleam of pleasure. But she quickly recollected herself and frowned again, looked angrily at him, and turned away, thinking:

“He’s no business to think anything of himself. He’s quite ugly.”

In the third entr’acte he walked behind her again, not at all disconcerted, though somewhat timid and confused, looking like an amusing reddish-coloured shadow stealing along the wall.

After the opera was over Mashenka saw him again while she was putting on her cloak. He was evidently hurrying to get out before she did, and was already dressed in a long coat with an astrakhan collar and a fur hat. He stood and looked across at her, searching through the crowd as if boring through it with his pointed beetle-like whiskers⁠—looked at her with a sadly strange and furtive glance, as if he wished to notice particularly and remember every little fold of her dress and her cloak.

Once more Mashenka felt vexed and awkward, and she made up her mind not to tell anyone about this young man.

“Nuisance!” said she angrily to herself.

III

Mashenka went home with a whole crowd of young people, all talking and laughing gaily. She tried hard not to look behind her, but she was certain that the young man was following them. She didn’t want to hear it, and yet she found herself listening involuntarily to the light footfall⁠—a cautious, stealthy tread.

When she said goodbye to her friends at the gate, Mashenka saw the stranger once more. He went quietly past the house, crossed over to the other side of the road, and turned back in the direction from which they had come.

The clumsy dvornik, wearing an immense shaggy overcoat and his cap pulled low down over his forehead and ears, flung open the creaking little door in the heavy gate. Mashenka’s companions, still talking noisily all together, went away up the street. Mashenka went into the yard, and the little door was slammed behind her. She waited by the gate and listened.

Someone came along with stealthy little steps, stopped outside, and began to speak in a whisper to the dvornik. The latter muttered something indistinctly, as if unwilling to answer, but presently Mashenka heard him thanking the other for something, and then he went on talking. She tried hard to hear what was said, but could not catch a word, partly at first because they spoke so softly, but afterwards she was too much overwhelmed with confusion to listen; her heart beat rapidly, the blood coursed through her veins and drummed in her ears.

There was not much sleep for Mashenka that night. In her dreams she saw the beautiful knight, the bright-haired Lohengrin in shining armour, and heard his voice:

“I am Lohengrin, thy champion knight from heaven.”

Then the features and the whole figure of Lohengrin became strangely altered. An unhealthy-looking little man with reddish beetle-like whiskers, his fur hat pushed to the back of his head, his little red ears almost hidden by the fur collar of his overcoat, waving his hands awkwardly in his grey fur gloves, slipping in his shiny galoshes on the icy pavement of Pea Street, sang these same words. His voice was as sweet and melodious as that of the stage Lohengrin, and yet it sounded a little ridiculous and repulsive.

IV

After that evening Mashenka met the young man every day as she was going home from school. He walked behind her like a tiresome and amusing shadow from which she could not escape, and accompanied her to the very door of her home. Sometimes he even entered the gate of the courtyard and came up the outside staircase, and when Mashenka went indoors and slammed the door behind her she felt that he was still waiting outside. Her heart beat quickly, her cheeks crimsoned, her eyes glistened as she smiled to herself and thought:

“Who can he be, this red-haired Lohengrin?”

But at length she began to get tired of it. One day when Lohengrin was walking close behind her in the street Mashenka turned sharply round, went up to him, and said:

“What is it you want? Why do you follow me every day?”

Her cheeks were crimson and her voice trembled a little as she spoke; her hands, gloved and hidden away inside her muff, were hot and shaking. It seemed to her that even her shoulders under her thick winter dress must be shaking and crimson too, and that a fever of trembling ran through her whole body.

The eyes of the young man looked guiltily away from her. He raised his hat, then put it on again, and bowing awkwardly, began to speak in a pleasant though slightly hoarse voice, as if he had a cold.

“I beg your pardon, please forgive me, Marya Constantìnovna.”

“However do you know my name?” cried Mashenka angrily.

She was astonished to find that the young man’s voice, which she heard now for the first time, had in it a slight reminiscence of the voice of the singer who had taken the part of Lohengrin in the theatre⁠—the same Russian tone and the same gentle sweetness. It would even have sounded more like it if it had not been so unpleasantly hoarse.

“I learnt your name from the dvornik of your house, Marya Constantìnovna,” answered the young man. “I had no means of getting to know it otherwise, as I have no friends who are acquainted with you.”

“That means, I suppose, that you asked the dvornik all about me,” said Mashenka in a tone of annoyance. “It was a nice occupation for you, I must say.”

But the young man was not at all abashed.

“Yes, I asked him about you and about your honoured mother and your nice little brother. I got all the information on the evening when I first met you.”

“But why did you want to know about us?” asked Mashenka.

Not noticing what she was doing the girl turned and walked again in the direction of her home, and the red-haired young man walked by her side. He answered her with a strange circumstantiality.

“Of course you yourself understand, Marya Constantìnovna, that in the present day one needs to be very particular in making new acquaintances,” said he. “One can’t make friends with everybody one meets; one ought to know beforehand something of the person one is dealing with.”

“Yes, indeed,” said Mashenka with a laugh. “Please be particular and don’t try to get acquainted with me.”

“Pardon me, Marya Constantìnovna,” replied the young man seriously, “but that would be quite impossible.”

“What would be impossible?” asked the young girl in astonishment.

“It is impossible for me not to get to know you,” answered the young man quietly, “because at our first meeting at the opera when Lohengrin was being played⁠—if you will allow me to remind you of that night⁠—you made such an indelible impression on me that I felt at once that I loved you with a great and wonderful love. And so I couldn’t help following you and getting to know all I could about you from the dvornik at your door.”

Mashenka smiled and said:

“But it’s no use your taking the trouble to find out about me. I have quite enough friends as it is, and I don’t need any more. It’s not very nice for me to have you continually following me, and as you seem to be a respectable young man, I ask you now not to do so any more. I shouldn’t like any of my friends to notice it and think badly of me.”

The young man walking beside her listened attentively to what she said, and did not try to interrupt her. When she had finished it seemed as if he thought he had given her an answer, and Mashenka suddenly thought to herself:

“Now he will raise his hat and go away and never try to see me any more.”

And this thought, which should have soothed and calmed her, somehow made her feel suddenly annoyed and sad about something⁠—as if she had become quite accustomed to her silent, ugly, awkward companion and didn’t want him to leave her. However he acted quite differently from what she had thought. He did raise his hat, but only to say:

“Allow me, Marya Constantìnovna, to have the honour of introducing myself to you⁠—Nikolai Stepanovitch Sklonyaef.”

Mashenka shrugged her shoulders.

“It’s no use your introducing yourself,” said she. “What makes you think I want to know you? Haven’t I just told you that I am not on the lookout for any new acquaintances?”

The young man looked timidly into her eyes as he answered:

“Marya Constantìnovna, don’t send me away from you. I won’t ask you anything just now, but because I love you so that I cannot imagine how I could have lived before without knowing you, please let me have at least the hope that when you understand how great is my love you also may begin to love me in return.”

“What foolishness!” cried Mashenka. “A perfectly unknown young man comes up to me in the street and talks like this! And what am I to do? Why should I listen to you? Please go away at once.”

V

Mashenka walked on quickly, but her companion did not go away. He spoke to her in words which vexed and confused her. Still looking into her eyes with a timid and cautious gaze he said:

“Marya Constantìnovna, please allow me to remind you that it may often happen that people who were previously unacquainted with one another suddenly become very good friends.”

“Yes, but not in the street,” said Mashenka, and now she laughed outright.

There was nothing to laugh at, of course, and Mashenka quickly recollected herself and bit her pretty full red underlip with her strong little white teeth. It seemed to her that her laugh only encouraged this importunate young man.

But he said in a beseeching tone:

“For mercy’s sake, Marya Constantìnovna, and why not in the street? Isn’t it all the same? If a man is truly in love, believe me, Marya Constantìnovna, all outward circumstances and worldly conventions cease to exist for him; he cannot think of anything else except the object of his passionate affection.”

Saying this, he pressed both his hands on his heart and then waved his left hand in the air exactly as the singer in the opera had done when he sang the declaration of Lohengrin.

Mashenka could not possibly take him seriously. She even felt a little disappointed that the adventure had nothing in it to frighten her⁠—it was simply amusing. She was a little sorry for the young man, so persistent, so incoherent in his speech. She smiled as she listened and thought to herself:

“What a redheaded Lohengrin he is, talking of love in this way!”

But he went on:

“And because my intentions are entirely honourable and exalted, I myself do not wish to meet you in the streets or in any public place, or in a private room in a restaurant. And I should be very greatly obliged, Marya Constantìnovna, if you would do me the great honour to present me to your respected mother.”

“What more will you want?” exclaimed Mashenka. “How could I present you to my mother? She would be sure to ask me where I met you first. Please go away now or I shall really be angry.”

She laughed again, however, and the young man went on:

“Do not be angry with me, Marya Constantìnovna. I shall do nothing to offend you, and if after some time you cannot feel any inclination towards me, then I will not venture to disturb you any more, but will go away into the shadow of my own poor life and only watch from afar your happiness with another, more worthy than I of your love.”

His little nose got red, his small, restless blinking eyes reddened also, and he twisted his small body so that he seemed smaller than ever and looked as if he were just going to weep.

Mashenka considered the situation and tried hard to keep a good opinion of herself as she thought:

“Now, how can I send him away! It’s impossible not to feel sorry for such a man. I can’t complain to a passerby or call a policeman.”

It was pleasant to think someone had fallen in love with her. All the young men who had paid her attentions before had either not been serious or they themselves had been odious to her. But this man was so humble and spoke with such an engaging eloquence; he simply would not leave her side, and his words reminded her of the love speeches of viscounts and marquises in a novel.

She tried to look sternly at him as she asked sharply:

“Well, and who are you?”

“I am a man who is in love with you,” answered Lohengrin.

“Yes, you’ve told me that before,” said Mashenka, “but I want to know who you are and what is your occupation.”

The thought suddenly came to her that by so speaking she was giving the young man some hope of getting to know her. She felt vexed with herself. But her companion answered:

“Pardon me, Marya Constantìnovna, why is it necessary for you to know that?”

“Ah, that’s quite true,” said Mashenka, “it’s nothing at all to do with me. I hope you’ll go away now.”

But his answer had really made her angry, and this added to her former vexation. She suddenly wished to make him see that she had a right to question him, and not being able to master this imprudent desire, she continued:

“Well, you say that you want me to introduce you to my mother; how can I do that without knowing? Shall I say to her, ‘Mother, this is a man who has fallen in love with me!’ ”

“Yes, just that,” said he.

“What foolishness!” said Mashenka. “How is that possible?”

“Why is it not possible if it’s the truth,” said Lohengrin.

VI

When the time came for them to cross the street, Lohengrin took Mashenka by the arm. She looked at him with some surprise, but did not draw herself away. Looking cautiously round so as to avoid the traffic, he silently led her across the road, now covered with a thin layer of dirty brownish snow, and striped with the marks of carriage wheels. When they reached the pavement he dropped her arm and walked alone.

She went on with the conversation.

“No, it’s impossible. That’s not the way such things are done, and after all, what need is there to introduce you to my mother?”

“Believe me, Marya Constantìnovna,” answered the young man, “I quite understand that you would like to know my occupation and my social position, and if I do not tell you all about it just now it is for very serious reasons. I have vowed not to disclose these matters for certain worldly considerations, and I cannot tell you for fear of unpleasant consequences.”

“What foolishness!” said Mashenka again.

“No, Marya Constantìnovna,” said he. “Do not say that. You remember the opera where I had the honour of seeing you for the first time. Lohengrin should remind you that it is sometimes necessary to conceal the truth until the right moment. You saw how imprudent the beautiful but inquisitive Elsa was, beseeching her husband to tell her his secret and disclose his name and calling, and you saw how cruelly she was punished. Certainly she repented of it afterwards, but, as they say, if your head is off it’s no use weeping for the loss of your hair.”

“Oh yes, indeed,” put in Mashenka, “you and I are certainly very much like Lohengrin and Elsa.”

Her sarcastic tone did not disconcert her companion. He answered:

“You, Marya Constantìnovna, are incomparably more beautiful and good than was the lady Elsa, and so if I do not dare to liken myself to Lohengrin, yet all the same, taken together, we can be compared with them. It is true that knights in armour have gone out of fashion in our day, but the knightly feelings remain; love burns in the hearts of emotional people no less clear than in former times. Our lives may appear dull and barren, but in reality they are no less wonderful and mysterious than was the life of Lohengrin and Elsa when he came down the stream to her, borne by the silver-winged swan.”

“Ah, Lohengrin!” exclaimed Mashenka, mockingly, yet perhaps a little touched.

The young man looked at her and waited for her to say more. But Mashenka was silent and said no more until she reached her home. Then she stood still for a moment and looked in the young man’s eyes.

“What am I to do with you, Mr. Lohengrin? You must go home or about your mysterious business. It’s not convenient for you to come in just now.”

His answering gaze was one of happiness and confusion, and so much hope that Mashenka felt obliged to say:

“Well, come tomorrow evening at eight o’clock. I will tell mother. I don’t know what she’ll say to me, but I daresay she will receive you.”

VII

So Mashenka went indoors to tell her mother what had happened and to prepare her for the young man’s visit on the morrow. The mother grumbled a little.

“What’s all this, Mashenka,” said she. “You surely don’t think it’s possible to have a man in from the street. Who knows what he may have in mind; it’s quite likely he’s a rogue of some kind.”

But after a little while she came to the conclusion:

“Well, I suppose we’d better see him and know what he’s after.”

So Lohengrin came at the appointed time, brought a box of sweetmeats, stayed an hour and a half, drank tea, behaved very respectfully to the mother, joked with schoolboy Serezha, amused Mashenka with his rhetorical phrases, and took his departure before any of them had time to get bored.

After he had gone the mother asked Mashenka:

“Well, who is he really?”

“Indeed, mother, I’ve told you everything I know about him. I don’t know anything more. I only know him as Lohengrin. His name is Nikolai Stepanovitch Sklonyaef, but what he does I don’t know. He’s just Lohengrin.”

“You’d better look in the Directory tomorrow when you go to school,” said her mother, “and find his name. By his talk and his manners he’s quite all right, but you never can tell. No one knows anything about him and there may be something under the surface. You must find out all about him.”

So on the next day Mashenka looked through the Directory, but she couldn’t find anybody of the name of Sklonyaef. She began to think that there could be no such name and that Lohengrin had made it up himself.

However, he continued to visit them, bringing sometimes a bunch of flowers, sometimes a box of chocolates. He no longer tried to meet Mashenka in the street; when they met it was quite accidentally.

When he came the second time Mashenka asked him why his name was not in the Directory.

He was not in the least confused⁠—Mashenka was surprised to find that in spite of his timid ways, his blinking eyes, and his ingratiating manner, this strange young man was generally self-possessed and very rarely put out of countenance⁠—

“I’ve only lately come to Petersburg,” said he, “and my name is not in the Directory yet. I expect it will be in next year.”

He laughed as he spoke, and Mashenka felt sure that he was not speaking the truth.

“But where do you live?” asked she. “What do you do for a living? Where do you work?”

But Lohengrin made reply:

“Pardon me, Marya Constantìnovna, I cannot tell you anything about my address or my occupation.”

“And why not?” asked Mashenka in wonder.

“Because, as I have already had the honour of telling you, Marya Constantìnovna, I have important reasons for keeping these matters a profound secret.”

Mashenka thought for a moment or two and then said:

“But listen a moment. This is all very strange. At first I thought you were simply joking; but if you are in earnest, then it’s all stranger than ever.”

“I am not joking at all,” said he; “but more than that I also trust that when you love me it will be for myself alone, not considering who I may be nor what is my occupation.”

“And if I don’t love you?” asked Mashenka with a smile.

“Then I shall vanish from the field of your vision,” said he, “as Lohengrin did, when he floated away in that wonderful boat drawn down the many-watered Rhine by the silver-winged swan.”

“Oh, Lohengrin,” laughed Mashenka once more.

VIII

Mashenka laughed. She was getting used to speak of him as Lohengrin. Everybody called him that now.

Mashenka laughed, and yet sometimes she fell into a reverie and dreamed. And in her dreams the beautiful form of the stage Lohengrin, clad in shining armour, singing so sweetly and making his theatrically beautiful stage gestures, blended itself with the form of an unattractive young man wearing a fur cap instead of a helmet, and a starched shirt in place of armour; speaking eloquently in his hoarse but pleasant-sounding Yaroslavsky tone of voice, and making these same amusingly-triumphant gestures.

“He loves me, poor boy,” thought Mashenka, and the thought became more and more pleasant to her.

To believe firmly that you are beloved by another, is it not as if you yourself loved? And is not love infectious? Sweet, ingratiating, enchanting, love spreads a brightly gleaming veil of enchantment over all the objects of its desire.

And so, becoming accustomed little by little to the pleasant thought of being beloved, accustomed to this amusing mixture of the two Lohengrins⁠—one of the opera of the wise magician Wagner, the other of the everyday life in Pea Street⁠—Mashenka felt at length that she was in love. The amusing mystery enveloping his actual life became less of a hindrance to her.

After some time Lohengrin guessed that Mashenka had begun to care for him, and one day he said to her:

“Marya Constantìnovna, you can make me the happiest of men⁠—I beg you to consent to be my wife.”

Then, as if she were not yet ready to be asked such a question, Mashenka was seized with a profound alarm. The dark and dreadful suspicions sleeping in her soul were roused and they were too strong for her. She looked at Lohengrin in terror and thought:

“Why does he hide his occupation from me⁠—it must be something shameful and contemptible. Perhaps he is a spy or a hangman!”

Not long before, Mashenka had read in a newspaper an account of a young workman who had hired himself out as a hangman. He was described as a weak and ugly person, and as she read the description of him, she had thought that he must have looked something like her Lohengrin.

“You must tell me first,” Mashenka said timidly, “who you are. It’s dreadful not to know.”

She felt her cheeks grow pale and her lips tremble. She was seated in a deep soft armchair in the corner of the drawing-room, her mother’s favourite chair; it had been in the family longer than any of them could remember, and many remembrances of pleasure and agitation were connected with it. Enveloped in the depths of the large chair, where she could smell the odour of its old material, Mashenka felt herself very small and pitiful; her hands clasped together on her knees were pale and trembling as if with cold.

Lohengrin reddened a little and was more confused than Mashenka had ever seen him. He stood with his back to the windows, but in the twilight Mashenka watched strange shadows flitting across his face. His eyes blinked continuously, his little red ears twitched, he made strange unsuitable gestures with his hands as he replied:

“Marya Constantìnovna, if the lady Elsa was inquisitive and indiscreet, and if the noble Lohengrin could not withstand her importunity, why need we repeat their fatal mistake? You were pleased to say, Marya Constantìnovna, that all this is dreadful for you, but why? I have an extraordinary love for you, a love devouring all my life, a love very rarely met with and only described in old romances, not at all in the works of present-day writers. Loving you with such an unusual love, so ardent that I cannot live without you⁠—if you refuse me I shall quickly put an end to myself⁠—I desire, dear Mashenka, that your own love should overcome the terrors you are feeling, and triumph over all that which is at present unknown to you. True and passionate love ought to be stronger even than death itself. So, dear Mashenka, conquer your fears and tell me⁠—do you love me, and will you continue to love me whatever you may afterwards learn about me?”

Mashenka began to weep. What else could she do! Tears are so helpful in the various difficulties of life. She fumbled for her handkerchief, but, of course, it was not to be found, and she was obliged to wipe away her tears with the palm of her right hand⁠—the tears which trickled mercilessly down both cheeks and along her little upturned nose. She wept and said:

“Why, oh why do you wish not to say who you are? Why do you torture me like this? Perhaps you do something very bad.”

Lohengrin shrugged his shoulders as he answered:

“That depends on how you look at it. To some people my occupation may seem mean and base, and some people may despise me for it. But I do what I know how to do, and you yourself have been able to see what sort of a man I am apart from my work. If you love me you must believe in me, and even if it turned out that I was a loathsome vampire you should follow me to my tomb, for, if I see in you the most beautiful maiden upon earth, the enchanting Lady Elsa, then you, loving me in return, ought to see in me the noble knight Lohengrin, whose father Parsifal is the guardian of the Holy Grail. And though we may live in the prosaic town of Petersburg in one of the most ordinary streets, and not in one of the castles of the knights of old; though we have to live the ordinary life of every day, and cannot perform the knightly exploits of old time⁠—our destiny has been portioned out to us by Fate⁠—none of this can alter the passionate feelings of our hearts.”

Mashenka still wept, and yet she was able to laugh, too. The eloquence of Lohengrin’s plea was full of sweet and tender soothing.

“I am the Princess Elsa,” she thought, “and not simply Mashenka. It means that I am indeed what I feel in myself and not what I appear to others. And he, my Lohengrin! How is it possible for him to be a spy or a conspirator or a hangman? How dreadful to think of such things! But whatever he may do I love him all the same⁠—for me he is Lohengrin, and if it is terrible and difficult to live with him, to die with my beloved will be sweet to me.”

She got up from her chair, put her arms tenderly round the young man’s neck, and still weeping bitterly, exclaimed:

“Lohengrin, my Lohengrin, whoever thou mayest be I love thee. Whithersoever thou wilt lead me I will follow thee. In whatsoever thou doest I will be thy aid⁠—in life and in death. I love thee as thou dost wish, dear Lohengrin. I love thee as maidens loved their knights in the stories of old.”

IX

Confident and happy, Lohengrin, the accepted lover of Mashenka, departed. Mashenka still mingled her tears and laughter. Her mother was astonished at the news.

“How can you think of marrying him, Mashenka?” said she. “You don’t mean to say you have promised without knowing anything about him? You’ll find out suddenly one day that he’s an escaped convict or something of that sort.”

But Mashenka only blushed, and repeated obstinately:

“It doesn’t matter if he’s a convict or a spy or even a hangman. I shall be one too, for I love him.”

And Serezha whispered in her ear:

“If he is the leader of a robber band ask him to let me be one of his men. I’m small enough to climb through the little windows.”

And Mashenka laughed.

But when Lohengrin reached home he resolved that his secret was no longer worth keeping. He put his visiting card into an envelope and posted it to Mashenka.

Next day when she got home from school, Serezha met her and said with an air of mystery:

“There’s a letter for you. I expect it’s from Lohengrin, arranging to meet you somewhere.”

Mashenka ran off to her own room with the letter, tore open the envelope, and found a scrap of cardboard with something printed on it and a few lines of writing in violet ink. Her hands trembled, her eyes grew dim; it was with difficulty she managed to read the simple words:

Nikolai Stepanovitch Balkashin

Skilled bookbinder

48 Matthew Street.

And below was written:

I hid my real occupation from you, dear Mashenka, fearing that you might despise an artisan, but now I am no longer afraid, being convinced that your love for me cannot change.

Both Mashenka and her mother rejoiced that the secret held nothing terrible. The mother felt inclined to grumble a little at having a workman for her son-in-law, but allowed herself to be pacified when Mashenka assured her that his bookbinding would be done in an artistic manner, and that this branch of the work could be extended. But Serezha was really disappointed; he had dreamed of night expeditions, but there was now no opportunity for him to climb through the windows of houses.

Perhaps Mashenka was a little disappointed also that everything had turned out so simple and ordinary. But in spite of everything Lohengrin would always remain her Lohengrin, and the image of her dream would never fade away; for love is not only stronger than death, but it is able to triumph over the terrible dullness of ordinary everyday life.

Who Art Thou?

I

One year follows after another, the centuries pass away, and still to man is never revealed the mystery of the world and the greater mystery of his own soul.

Man seeks and questions, but does not find an answer. Wise men are as children; they do not know. And there are some people who have not even got so far as to ask the question:

“Who am I?”

It was the end of May and already hot weather in the large town. In the side-street it was hot and stifling, and still worse in the courtyard. The brownish-red iron roofs of the five-storey stone buildings on each of the four sides of the yard were burning hot, as were also the large cobblestones of its dirty pavement. A new house was being built at the side, just such another ugly heap of pretension, a modern building with an ugly front. From this building came a pungent smell of lime and dry brick-dust.

Several children were running about in the yard, shrieking and quarrelling. They belonged to the doorkeeper, the servants, and the humbler inhabitants of the building. Little twelve-year-old Grishka, the son of Anushka, the cook at No. 17, looked out on them all from the fourth-floor kitchen window. He lay on his stomach in the window-seat, his thin little legs in their short dark-blue knickers, and his bare feet stretched out behind him.

Grishka’s mother wouldn’t let him go out into the yard this morning; she was in a bad temper. She remembered that Grishka had broken a cup yesterday; and though he had been beaten then as a punishment, she had reminded him of it again this morning.

“You’re just spoilt,” said she. “There’s no need for you to run about in the yard. You’ll stay indoors today, and you can learn your lessons.”

“I haven’t got any examination,” Grishka reminded her with some pride. And as usual, when he remembered his school triumphs he laughed joyfully. But his mother looked sternly at him and said:

“Well, all the same, you’ll stay indoors unless you want a whipping. What are you grinning at? If I were you I shouldn’t find anything to laugh about.”

Anushka was fond of repeating this phrase⁠—quite enigmatical to Grishka. Ever since her husband’s death, which obliged her to go out as a servant, she had looked upon Grishka and herself as unhappy creatures, and when she thought about the child’s future she always painted it in dark colours. Grishka ceased to smile and began to feel uncomfortable.

However, he didn’t much want to go into the yard. He wasn’t dull indoors. He had a picture-book which he hadn’t yet read, and he betook himself to that enjoyment. But he didn’t read for very long. He climbed up on the window-seat and looked out upon the children in the yard. Presently, trying to forget a slight headache, he let himself dream a little.

To dream⁠—that was Grishka’s favourite occupation. He imagined all sorts of things in all sorts of ways, but he himself was always in the centre⁠—he dreamed about himself and the world. When he went to bed Grishka always tried to think of something tender, joyful, a little painful and shameful perhaps, and sometimes dreadful. Then a pleasant feeling stole over him, though the day might have been an unpleasant one. Many unpleasant things often fell to his lot in the daytime, this poor little boy, brought up in the kitchen with his poor, irritable, capricious, discontented mother. But the more unpleasantnesses there were, the pleasanter it was to console himself by his fancies. It was with a mixture of feelings that he snuggled his head into the pillow and imagined terrible things.

When he woke in the morning Grishka never hurried to get up. It was dark and stuffy in the corridor where he slept; the box on which his bed was made up was not so soft as the spring mattress on the mistress’s bed where he had sometimes thrown himself when his mother wasn’t looking and the people of the house were away. But all the same it was comfortable and quiet there as long as he didn’t remember that it was time to go to school, or on a holiday, until his mother called to him to get up. And this only happened when it was necessary to send him to a shop to buy something, or for him to help in some way. At other times his mother didn’t trouble about him, and she was even glad to think he was asleep and not bothering her, not getting in her way or staring at what she was doing.

“It’s tiring enough without you,” she often said to him.

And so Grishka often lay in bed quite a long time, nestling under the torn wadded quilt covering him both winter and summer, though in summer, and when there was a big fire in the kitchen, it was very hot for him. And again he would dream of something pleasant, joyful, gay, but not at all dreadful.

The most insignificant reasons gave rise to Grishka’s varied dreams. Sometimes he had enjoyed reading a story or a fairy tale from some old and torn book, one of those given out by the teacher at school once a week from the school library; sometimes he remembered a curious episode from a book he had been reading aloud to his mother. Everything that happened, everything heard by him from somebody or other that excited his imagination, set him dreaming and imagining in his own way.

He went every day to a school in the town and learnt easily but moderately, only⁠—he had no time. There was so much to dream about. Also, whenever his mother was free to sit down with some sewing or knitting, Grishka had to read aloud to her some novel or other. She was very fond of novels, though she had never learnt to read herself, and she liked to listen to stories of adventure, and was greatly attracted by the adventures of Sherlock Holmes and The Key of Happiness. But she also listened greedily to old novels of Dickens and Thackeray and Eliot. Anushka got some books to read from her mistress, some from the girl student who lived in No. 14.

Anushka had a good memory for the stories she had heard, and she loved to tell them in detail to her friends⁠—to the seamstress Dusha, and to the housemaid of the general’s wife at No. 3.

And so very often in the evenings, planting his elbows affectedly on the white wooden kitchen table, pressing his thin little chest in his blue cotton shirt up against it, crossing under the table his spindly legs that were too short to reach the floor, Grishka used to read aloud, quickly and clearly, not understanding all he read, but often very much agitated by the love passages. He was much interested in situations of difficulty and danger, but still more in the scenes of love or jealousy or tenderness, in caressing words, in words expressing the passion, the torture, and the languor of lovers whose happiness was frustrated by the evil of others.

And most of all in his dreams Grishka pictured to himself beautiful ladies who smiled and were tender and gentle, though occasionally cruel, and graceful, fair-haired, blue-eyed pages. The beautiful ladies had ruby lips, and they kissed so sweetly and smiled so tenderly and spoke so gently, and yet their words were sometimes without mercy; they had soft white hands with long thin fingers⁠—soft hands, though they were sometimes strong and cruel, and they could promise all the joy and pain that one human being can give to another. The sweet young pages all had long golden curls reaching to their shoulders; their blue eyes sparkled; they wore pointed slippers and white silk stockings on their shapely legs. Grishka heard their careless laughter, their rosy lips bloomed tranquilly, the crimson of their cheeks glowed brightly; if there were any tears shed sometimes, they came only from the eyes of the sweet little pages. The ladies themselves, beautiful and merciless as they were, never wept, they could only laugh and caress and torture.

For some days past Grishka had been occupied in dreaming about some far-off beautiful and happy land in which wise people dwelt⁠—people, of course, quite unlike all those he saw about him in this dull house that seemed to him like a prison, in these stifling roads and side-streets, everywhere in this dull northern metropolis. What sort of people lived in it? Here were no beautiful and affectionate ladies like those of his dreams, but self-important and rude mistresses and peasant servants, women and girls, noisy, quarrelsome, bad. There were no knights or pages either. No one wore his lady’s scarf, and he had never heard of anyone fighting giants in order to protect the weak. The gentlemen here were unpleasant and remote, and either rude or contemptuously familiar; the peasants were also rude, and they were also remote from Grishka, and their simplicity was as dreadful to him and as artful as the incomprehensible complexity of the gentlefolk.

Nothing that Grishka saw in real life pleased him; it all afflicted his tender soul. He even hated his own name. Even when his mother in a rare interval of unexpected tenderness would suddenly begin to call him Grishenka, even this pet name did not please him. But this stupid diminutive Grishka, the name everybody called him by⁠—his mother, her mistress, the young ladies, and everyone in the yard⁠—seemed altogether foreign, altogether unsuitable to what he thought himself. It seemed to him sometimes that it would drop from him, as a badly stuck-on label comes off a wine-bottle.

II

Anushka wanted to put a dish on the window-seat. She seized Grishka’s thin ankles in her large rough hand and dragged him down, saying in a needlessly rough way:

“You sprawl about everywhere. And even without you there’s not enough room, no place to stand anything.”

Grishka sprang away. He looked with frightened eyes at the stern, lean face of his mother, red from the heat of the kitchen stove, and at her red arms, bare to the elbow. It was stifling in the kitchen; something was smoking and spluttering on the stove; there was a bitter smell and a smell of burning. The door on to the outer stairway was open. Grishka stood at the door, then, seeing his mother busy at the stove and taking no notice of him, he went out on to the staircase. It was only then, when he felt the hard dirty pavement of the landing under his feet, that he noticed that his head was aching and giddy; he felt faint, his body was overcome by a feverish lassitude.

“How stuffy it was in the kitchen,” he thought.

He looked about him in a kind of perplexity, at the grey stone steps of the staircase, worn and dirty, running upwards and downwards from the narrow landing on which he stood. Opposite their door on the other side of the landing was another door, and from behind it came the sounds of two women’s shrill voices; someone was scolding another. The words rained out like drops of lead from a carelessly unscrewn hanging lamp, and it seemed to Grishka that they must be running about on the dry kitchen floor and making a noise, knocking themselves against the iron and the stove. There were many words, but they all ran into one another in a shrieking hubbub of scolding words. Grishka laughed mirthlessly. He knew the people in that flat were always quarrelling, and that they often beat their naughty, dirty little children.

There was a window on the landing like the one in the kitchen, and from it one could look out on to the same crowded, uninteresting world⁠—the red roofs, the yellow walls, the dusty yard. Everything was strange, foreign, unnecessary⁠—quite unlike the sweet intimate figures of his dreams.

Grishka climbed up on to the worn slab of the window-seat, and leaned his back up against one of the wide-open frames, but he did not look out into the yard. A brightly decorated palace showed itself to his gaze; he saw in front of him a door leading to the apartment of the auburn-haired Princess Turandina. The door was opened wide, and the princess herself, seated before a high narrow window, weaving fine linen, looked round at the sound of the opening door, and stopping with her shapely white hand the noisily humming spinning-wheel, looked at him with a tender smile, saying:

“Come nearer to me, dear boy. I have waited a long time for you. Don’t be afraid, come along.”

Grishka went up to her and knelt at her feet, and she asked him:

“Do you know who I am?”

Grishka was charmed by the golden tones of her voice, and he answered:

“Yes, I know who you are. You are the most beautiful Princess Turandina, daughter of the mighty king of this land, Turandon.”

The princess smiled gaily and said to him:

“Yes, you know that, but you don’t know all. I learnt from my father, the wise King Turandon, how to weave spells and enchantments, and I am able to do with you as I will. I wanted to have a little game with you, and so I cast a spell over you and you went away from your princely home and from your father, and now, you see, you have forgotten your real name, and you have become the child of a cook, and you are called by the name of Grishka. You have forgotten who you are, and you can’t remember until I choose that you should.”

“Who am I?” asked Grishka.

Turandina laughed. An evil light gleamed in her cornflower-blue eyes like the light in the eyes of a young witch not yet accustomed to the art of sorcery. Her long fingers pressed hard against the boy’s thin shoulder. She teased him, speaking like a little street-girl:

“Shan’t tell you. Shan’t tell you for anything. Guess yourself. Shan’t tell you, shan’t. If you don’t guess yourself you’ll always be called Grishka. Listen, there’s your mother the cook calling you. Go along and be obedient to her. Go quickly or she’ll beat you.”

III

Grishka listened; he heard his mother’s harsh voice calling from the kitchen:

“Grishka, Grishka, where are you? you bad boy, where have you hidden yourself?”

Grishka jumped quickly down from the window-seat and ran into the kitchen. He knew when his mother called like that he mustn’t dawdle, he must go at once. And all the more just now when his mother was busy preparing dinner. She was always angry then, and especially when the kitchen was hot and stuffy. The bright apartment of the Princess Turandina faded from his sight. The blue smoke of something burning on the kitchen stove floated out to him. He was again conscious that his head ached and swam; he at once felt tired and languid.

His mother called out to him:

“Now look lively; run along quickly to Milligan’s and buy half a pound of lemon biscuits and a shillingsworth of cakes. Hurry up, I’ve just got to take in tea; the mistress has some visitors⁠—some devil has brought them here at this outlandish hour.”

Grishka ran off into the corridor to find his shoes and stockings, but Anushka cried after him angrily:

“What are you doing there? There’s no time to get your shoes⁠—go as you are. You must run there and back in no time.”

Grishka took the money, a silver rouble, and held it tight in his burning palm. Then he put on his hat and ran off down the staircase. And as he ran he thought:

“Who am I? How can I have forgotten my real name?”

He had a long way to go, several streets away, because the cakes his mother wanted couldn’t be got in the shop opposite but only in this distant one. The mistress thought that the cakes in the shop near by were always flyblown and not well made, but those in the other shop, where she herself made purchases, were good and clean and specially nice.

“Who am I?” thought Grishka persistently.

All his dreams about the beautiful Princess Turandina were interrupted by this tiresome question. He ran along quickly in his bare feet on the hard pavements of the noisy streets, meeting many strangers, getting in front of strangers, among this multitude of rough, unpleasant people, all hurrying somewhere, pushing their way along and looking contemptuously at little Grishka in his blue print shirt and short little dark-blue knickers. Grishka was again conscious of the strangeness and incongruity of the fact that he, who knew so many delightful stories, and who loved to dream about fair ladies, should be living in this dull and cruel town, should have grown up in just this place, in a wretched stuffy kitchen, where everything was so strange and foreign to him. He remembered how, a few days ago, the captain’s son, Volodya, who lived in No. 24 flat, had called across from the second-floor window of the opposite block and asked him to come and have a talk. Volodya was the same age as Grishka, a lively, affectionate boy, and the two children sat down on the window-seat and chatted gaily together. Suddenly the door opened, and Volodya’s mother, a sour-faced woman, appeared on the threshold. Screwing up her eyes, she scrutinised Grishka from head to foot, making him feel suddenly frightened, and then she drawled, in a contemptuous tone of voice:

“What’s this, Volodya? Why have you got this wretched little barefooted boy here? Go off indoors, and in future don’t dare to try and make his acquaintance.”

Volodya got red and muttered something or other, but Grishka had already run off home to the kitchen.

Now, in the street, he thought to himself:

“It’s impossible that it’s all like that. I can’t be really only Grishka, the cook’s little boy, whom nice children like Volodya and the general’s son aren’t allowed to know.”

And in the baker’s shop, when he was buying the cakes he had been sent for⁠—none of which would fall to his own share⁠—and all along his homeward way, Grishka was thinking sometimes about the beautiful Turandina, the proud and wise princess, sometimes of the strange actuality of the life around him, and he thought again:

“Who am I? And what is my own real name?”

He imagined that he was the son of an emperor, and that the proud palace of his forefathers stood in a beautiful far-off land. He had long been suffering from a grievous complaint, and lay in his quiet sleeping-chamber. He was lying on a soft down bed under a golden canopy, covered by a light satin counterpane, and in his delirium he imagined himself to be Grishka, the cook’s little son. Through the wide open window was wafted in to the sick child the sweet scent of flowering roses, the voices of his beloved nightingales, and the splash of a pearly fountain. His mother, the Empress, sat at the head of his bed, and wept as she caressed her child. Her eyes were gentle and full of sorrow, her hands were soft, for she never washed the clothes or prepared the dinner or did sewing. When this dear mother of his worked with her fingers she only embroidered in coloured silks on golden canvas for satin cushions, and from under her delicate fingers there grew crimson roses, white lilies, and peacocks with long eye-laden tails. She was weeping now because her son lay ill, and because when at times he opened his fever-dimmed eyes he spoke strange words in an unintelligible language.

But the day would come when the little prince would recover his health and would rise from his royal bed and would remember who he was and what was his real name, and then he would laugh at his delirious fancies.

IV

Grishka felt more joyful when this thought came into his mind. He ran along more quickly, noticing nothing around him. But suddenly an unexpected shock brought him to his senses. He felt frightened, even before he understood what had taken place.

The bag containing the cakes and biscuits fell from his hand, the thin paper burst, and the yellow lemon biscuits were scattered over the worn and dirty grey pavement.

“You horrid little boy, how dare you knock into me!” cried the shrill voice of a tall stout lady against whom Grishka had run.

She smelt unpleasantly of scent, and she held up to her small angry eyes a horrible tortoiseshell lorgnette. Her whole face looked rude and angry and repulsive, and Grishka was filled with terror and distress. He looked up at her in fright, and did not know what to do. He thought that perhaps dvorniks and policemen, dreadful fantastic beings, would come from all directions and seize him and drag him away somewhere.

By the side of the lady stood a young man, very much overdressed, wearing a top hat and horrible yellow gloves. He looked down upon Grishka with his fierce protruding reddish eyes, and everything about him looked red and angry.

“Good-for-nothing little hooligan,” he hissed through his teeth.

With a careless movement he knocked off the child’s cap from his head, gave him a box on the ear, and turning again to the lady, said:

“Come along, mamma. It’s not worth having anything more to do with such a creature.”

“But what a rude and daring boy he is,” said the lady, turning away. “Dirty little ragamuffin, where were you pushing yourself? You’ve quite upset me. Fancy not being able to walk quietly along the streets. What can the policemen be doing?”

The lady and her companion, talking angrily to one another, walked away. Grishka picked up his cap and collected as many as he could of the scattered cakes and biscuits, putting them into the torn paper bag, and ran off home. He felt ashamed and he wanted to weep, but no tears came. He could no longer dream about Turandina, and he thought:

“She’s just as bad as everybody here. She cast me into a terrible dream, and I shall never wake out of that dream, and forever I shall be unable to remember my real name. And I shall never be able to answer truly the question, ‘Who am I?’ ”

Who am I, sent into this world by an unknown will for an unknown end? If I am a slave, then whence have I the power to judge and to condemn, and whence come my lofty desires? If I am more than a slave, then why does all the world around me lie in wickedness, ugliness, and falsehood?

Who am I?

The cruel but still beautiful Turandina laughs at poor Grishka, at his dreams and his vain questionings.

The Dress of the Lily and of the Cabbage

In a flowerbed in a garden grew a lily. She was all white and red⁠—proud and beautiful.

She spoke gently to the wind passing over her. “Be more careful,” said she. “I am a royal lily, and even Solomon, the wisest of men, was not clothed so luxuriously and so beautifully as I.”

Not far away, in the kitchen garden, a cabbage was growing.

She heard the lily’s words, and she laughed and said:

“That old Solomon, in my opinion, was just a sans-culotte. How did they clothe themselves, these ancients? They cut out somehow or other a garment to cover their nakedness, and they imagined that they were arrayed in the very best fashion. But I taught people how to dress themselves, and the credit ought to be given to me.

“You take a bare cabbage-stalk and you put on it the first covering, an under-vest; over that something to fasten it; then an underskirt and fastenings for it; over this you put a skirt and its fastenings, and then a buckle. After the buckle you put on another vest and skirt and fastenings and bodice and buckle. Then you cover it all up from the sides, over the top and up from the bottom, so that the cabbage-stalk is quite hidden. And then it’s quite warm and decent.”

She Who Wore a Crown

It was a very ordinary, poorly furnished room in St. Petersburg. Elèna Nikolàevna stood at the window and looked out into the street.

There was nothing interesting to look at in the noisy and somewhat dirty town street, but Elèna Nikolàevna did not look out because she wanted to look at anything interesting. True, it would soon be time for her little son to come round the corner on his way home from school, but Elèna Nikolàevna would not have gone to the window just for that. She had such confident pride in him and in herself. He would come at the right time, as he always did⁠—as everything in life would come at its own appointed time.

Standing there, erect and proudly confident, there was an expression on her beautiful pale face as if she wore a crown.

She was remembering something which had happened ten years ago, in that year when her husband had died, leaving her so soon after their wedded life had begun.

How terrible his death had been! One fine spring morning he had gone out of the house quite well and happy, and before evening he had been brought home dead⁠—run over on the highway. It had seemed then to Elèna Nikolàevna that life could never more bring her happiness. She might have died from grief, but the fingers of her little child drew her back to life, and in the old dreams of her childhood she was able to find consolation. Yet how difficult it had been to live; how poor she had been!

The summer after her husband’s death she had spent in the country with her younger sister and her own little child. And today she remembered with a marvellous distinctness one bright day on which had happened something delightful and strange⁠—something apparently insignificant in itself, yet shedding upon her soul a wonderful light, illuminating all the rest of her life. On that wonderful day, long past, had happened that which ever afterwards made Elèna Nikolàevna as proudly calm as if she had been crowned queen of a great and glorious land.

But this well-remembered day had dawned in the darkness of grief, and like every day of that summer it had been watered by her tears.

She had quickly accomplished the little household duties that were necessary and had gone into the forest so as to be far away from everybody. She loved to wander in the depths of the forest and dream there. Often she wept there, remembering the happiness that had been hers.

There was one glade which she especially loved. The soft moist grass, the clear faraway sky, the northern moistness, the tender mossy slopes, the soft clouds⁠—all were in sympathy with her grief.

She stood by a grey boulder in this favourite spot; her clear blue eyes gazed at the scene; in her dreams she was far away. She thought she heard herself called, that a voice said:

“Elèna, what are you dreaming about?”

She trembled, and in a moment her sweet dream lost itself in a maze of fancies⁠—she could not have told her dream.

And why should she tell anyone what her thoughts had been, where they had wandered? No one else could understand⁠ ⁠… those dreamland princesses clothed in shining garments, clear-eyed, celestial⁠ ⁠… who came and comforted her⁠ ⁠… what meaning had they for others?

She stood alone in the quiet glade, her hands crossed upon her breast. Her blue eyes were shadowed by grief. The sun, shining high above her, caressed her back and shoulders, his rays gleaming on her long red plaits of hair encircled her with a golden halo. She dreamed.⁠ ⁠… Suddenly she heard voices and laughter.

Before her stood three shining maidens, three woodland princesses. Their dresses were white, as Elèna’s own, their eyes were blue like hers. On their heads were fragrant flower-crowns. Their arms were bare as were Elèna’s, their shoulders were kissed by the sun like hers. Their little slightly sunbrowned feet, like hers, were bathed in the dew of the grass.

They came towards her and smiled, and said:

“How beautiful she is!”

“She stands there and the sunlight makes her hair look golden.”

“She holds herself like a queen.”

Joy and grief were strangely mingled in Elèna’s heart. Holding out her hands in welcome she spoke joyously in her ringing voice:

“Greeting, dear sisters, dear woodland princesses!”

Clearly, clearly, like a little golden bell, sounded the voice of Elèna, and clear as the ringing of golden bells came in answer the gentle laughter of the three as they said:

“We are princesses⁠—who art thou?”

“Thou should’st be the queen of this place.”

Sadness tinged Elèna’s voice as she answered:

“How could I be a queen? No crown of gold is mine; my heart is full of sadness for the loss of my beloved. No one can crown me more.”

The sisters smiled no longer. Elèna heard the quiet voice of the eldest sister:

“Why this earthly grief? Thy beloved is dead, but is he not ever with thee? Thy heart is sad, but in the remembrance of him canst thou not rejoice? Canst thou not raise thy desires to flow in union with the Heavenly Will? Dost thou not desire to be crowned here as our queen?”

“Ah, I do desire it,” cried Elèna, and she trembled with joy and shining tears sparkled in her blue eyes.

Once more a question came:

“And wilt thou then be worthy of thy crown?”

Awe and wonder held the soul of Elèna, and she said:

“I will be worthy of my crown.”

Then the princess spoke again:

“Stand always in the presence of fate as pure and brave as now thou standest here before us. Look straight into the eyes of men. Triumph over grief; fear neither life nor the approach of death. Drive far from thee all mean desires and slavish thoughts. In poverty and in bondage and in misery let thy soul be proud and free.”

Tremblingly she answered:

“Though in slavery, I will be free.”

“Then you shall wear a crown,” said the princesses.

“Yes, you shall wear a crown,” said they.

They plucked the white and yellow blossoms; with their white hands they wove a chaplet of flowers⁠—the fragrant flower-crown of the woodland nymphs.

Thus Elèna was crowned, and the nymphs joining hands danced about her in a gentle dance⁠—with joyful motion they encircled her.

Fast and faster⁠—the white dresses floated in the air, the light dancing feet moved over the dew-laden grass.

Encircling, enclosing, they drew her into their swift circle of ecstasy⁠—away from grief, from the sadness and anxiety of life, they drew her away with them.

Time fulfilled itself, and the day waned, and grief was as a flame of joy; the soul of Elèna lost itself in rapture.

Then they kissed her and departed.

“Farewell, dear queen of ours!”

“Farewell, dear sisters!”

Among the trees they disappeared; Elèna was alone.

Proudly she walked upon her homeward way; she wore her crown of flowers.

She told no one of her adventure in the forest, but so radiant was her face that her little sister smiled at her and said:

“Elèna looks a shining one today; one might think it was the day of her angel.”

In the evening Elèna went to visit little Paul, a sick child, who had not long to live. She loved the boy because he was peaceful and serene and nothing disturbed the calmness of his mind. Sometimes at night she would wake and remember little Paul and weep because he must die so soon⁠—and the grief in her heart was strangely mingled: for her husband who was dead, for herself so early left forlorn, for the child who so soon must die.

Paul was sitting by himself in a summerhouse on the cliff watching the peaceful flaming of the setting sun. He smiled at Elèna’s approach; her coming was always a joy to him. He loved her because she always told him the truth and never sought to comfort him with false hopes as did others. He knew that he must die soon and that there were only two who would long remember him⁠—his mother and his friend Elèna.

Elèna told him what had happened in the forest, and little Paul closed his eyes and sat in thought. But by and by he spoke and said, smiling happily:

“I am glad for you, my dear forest queen. I have always known that you were pure and free. Everyone who can speak of himself and say, ‘I,’ ought to be as a conqueror upon the earth. For man can overcome the world.”

Then he saw three young ladies walking below the cliff, and said to Elèna:

“Look! your three woodland princesses are coming by.”

Elèna looked also, and she recognised them with a momentary feeling of pain. Three ordinary girls! They wore the same white dresses as in the morning; their eyes were as blue, their hair as golden, their figures as beautiful⁠—but now they wore no flower crowns, but instead white summer hats. They were just ordinary young girls⁠—summer visitors.

They were hidden for a moment behind the bushes, but soon they appeared again, climbing up the cliff and coming along the narrow path which passed the summerhouse. Paul bowed to them and smiled, and they recognised Elèna.

“Greeting to you, dear queen.”

“Dear sisters,” said Elèna happily.


And ever since that time Elèna had known joy. Under the guise of the ordinary she had known the joy of her crowned life. All poverty and wretchedness had been transformed by her queenly pride, her exalted dignity.

And now after many years, as she stood by the window waiting for her little son, though her dress was poor and shabby, she was whispering to herself as she remembered the crowning day of her life:

“Man can overcome the world.”

The Delicate Child

There once lived a delicate child.

When he was born they put him in a glass bell-jar, so that flies should not torment him.

So he lived in the bell-jar.

The boy looked out through the glass and saw the birch tree shaking in the wind. But he did not know that it was from the wind, the delicate boy did not know.

And he cried out to the birch tree:

“Don’t shake, stupid birch, you’ll break yourself.”

The wind ceased to blow and the birch became still. And the delicate boy was very pleased, and so cried out:

“That’s a sensible tree, I’m glad you listened to me.”

The Bit of Candy

A little girl had some candy in a piece of paper.

At first there was much candy, but she ate it till there was only one lump left.

And she asked herself should she eat this lump also or should she give it to the poor.

“I’ll give it to a poor girl,” said she.

But after a while she thought: “Perhaps it would be better to divide the candy in half and share it.” So she ate up half the lump.

Then she thought about the bit that was left, and she said to herself: “I’ll break that in two again and give half of it to the little girl.”

At last so little remained of the lump of candy that it wasn’t worth while giving it to the poor girl⁠—so she ate up what was left.

The Lump of Sugar

There was once a landlady. She had a little key to unlock a little cupboard. In the little cupboard was a little box, and in the little box was a wee wee lump of sugar.

And the landlady had a little doggie, and the doggie was very capricious and liked to catch hold of the end of the landlady’s skirt and tug at it.

The landlady took her little key and opened the little cupboard, found the little box and took out the wee wee lump of sugar. The little doggie looked up at her and wagged his tail.

But the landlady said:

“You tugged at my skirt, Capriza Petrovna, so see this little lump of sugar, well, you shan’t have it.”

And she put the sugar back where it was before. The little doggie repented, yes, but it was too late.

The Bull

A little boy had a mama who wore light blue spectacles and a papa who wore dark blue ones.

They weighed in a pair of scales all that the little boy ate, meat, bread, milk, weighed it all.

At last, one day, papa said to mama: “Our boy has today finished his first bull, tomorrow he starts on his second.”

When the little boy heard this he began to cry, and he said:

“I don’t want to eat a bull⁠—a bull has got horns.”

The Golden Post

Bobby was angry with his papa and said to his nurse:

“As soon as I grow up I’ll get to be a general, and I’ll come to papa’s house with a cannon and take him prisoner and tie him up to a post.”

Papa, overhearing, cried out:

“Ah, you bad boy! Tie papa to a post, would you? That would hurt papa badly.”

Bobby took fright, and said hesitatingly:

“But, papa, you know it would be a golden post, with a bit of writing on it⁠—‘For Bravery.’ ”

So Arose a Misunderstanding

A boy once asked:

“What is coming?”

“I don’t know,” said his mother.

“But I know,” said the boy.

“What?” asked the mother.

The boy laughed and answered:

“I shan’t say.”

Mother got angry, complained to papa. Papa cried out:

“What are you laughing about?”

“What?” said the little boy.

“Insulting your mother! What do you know?”

The boy went pale and answered:

“I don’t know anything. I was joking.”

Papa got more and more angry. He thought the boy knew something, so he bellowed at him in a dreadful voice:

“Say out what you know! Say what is coming!”

The boy began to cry and could not say what was coming.

In that way arose a misunderstanding.

Frogs

Two frogs met, one a little older, the other a little younger. Said the older: “Can you croak in other ways?”

“Rather,” said the younger, “I should think I could.”

“Then go ahead,” said the elder.

The younger frog then began to croak in this way:

Kva⁠ ⁠… kva-kva⁠ ⁠…” and tried various tones, but the elder cried out:

“Oh, ho, you’re only croaking Russian just the same.”

“How else should I croak?” asked the younger.

“Well in French for instance,” replied the elder.

“No one croaks in French,” said the younger.

“Yes they do,” said the elder.

“Then you do it,” said the younger.

Kvew, kvew, kvew,” said the elder.

“I can do that,” said the younger.

“Go ahead, then,” said the elder.

Kvee, kvee, kvee,” said the younger one, trying.

But the elder one laughed and cried out: “That sounds more like German than French, you with your kvee.”

The younger one tried hard but couldn’t make kvew. Cried a little and then said:

“Russian frogs croak better than French ones⁠—more clearly.”

The Lady in Fetters

In the house of a certain Moscow physician there is a magnificent picture gallery, which after the death of its owner will become the property of the town, though now it is little known and difficult to get at. In this gallery hangs a picture, strange in its conception but marvellously painted, not at all well known, though it is the work of a highly-gifted Russian artist. In the catalogue this picture is designated by the title, A Legend of the White Night.

The picture is of a young lady dressed in an exquisitely simple black gown, and wearing a broad-brimmed black hat with a white feather. She is seated on a bench in a garden just budding into Spring. Her face is very beautiful, but it holds an enigmatical expression. In the unreal and enchanting light of the white night which the artist has so marvellously represented it seems at times that the lady is smiling in joy, and at times the same smile seems to possess a haggard expression of terror and despair.

Her hands are not seen⁠—they are folded behind her back, and from the pose of her shoulders one feels that her arms are bound. Her feet are bare and very beautiful. They are encircled with gold bracelets and fastened together by a short gold chain. The contrast of the black dress and white naked feet is beautiful yet strange.

The picture was painted some years ago by the young artist Andrew Pavlovitch Kragaef, after a strange white night spent by him with the lady of the picture⁠—Irene Vladimirovna Omejina⁠—in her country villa outside Petersburg.

It was at the end of May. The day had been warm and enchantingly clear. In the morning, or rather about the time when the working-folk are going to their dinner, Kragaef was called up on the telephone. A well-known woman’s voice said:

“It’s I⁠—Madame Omejina. Are you disengaged tonight, Andrew Pavlovitch? I shall expect you here punctually at two o’clock.”

“Thank you, Irene Vladimirovna⁠—” began Kragaef.

But the lady interrupted him.

“That’s right. I shall expect you. Exactly at two.”

And she hung up the receiver. Her voice sounded unusually cold and unmoved⁠—the voice of someone preparing for some significant action. This and the brief conversation made Kragaef wonder not a little. He was accustomed to have long talks on the telephone, and with a lady the conversation often went on quite a while. Irene Vladimirovna had been no exception to this, and her brevity was something new and unexpected⁠—the young man’s curiosity was aroused.

He resolved to be most punctual and to get there at two o’clock precisely. He ordered a motor in good time to take him there⁠—he hadn’t one of his own.

Kragaef was fairly well acquainted with Madame Omejina, though not intimate with her. She was the widow of a rich landowner who had died some years before. She had her own estates, and the villa to which she had invited Kragaef that evening belonged to her.

There had been strange rumours about her married life. It had been said that her husband often beat her cruelly. And people often wondered that she, an independent woman, should endure this and not leave him. There were no children, and people thought it strange that they went on living together.

It was exactly two o’clock by Kragaef’s watch, and already quite light when the automobile slowed up at the entrance to the familiar villa. Kragaef had been there several times during the previous summer. On this occasion, however, he felt a curious perturbation.

“I wonder if there will be anyone else, or if I’m the only visitor,” thought he. “It would be more pleasant to be alone with her on such a beautiful night.”

No other carriage was to be seen at the gates. Everything was quiet in the dark garden, and there were no lights to be seen in the windows.

“Shall I wait?” asked the chauffeur.

“No, it’s not necessary,” said Kragaef, as he paid and dismissed him.

The side gate was open a little way. Kragaef went in and shut it after him. He glanced at the gate and saw the key in it, and impelled by some undefined presentiment, he turned the key in the lock.

He walked quietly up the gravel-path to the house. There was a cool air from the river; somewhere in the bushes the first birds of the morning twittered faintly and uncertainly.

Suddenly a familiar voice called out to him⁠—the voice he had heard on the telephone⁠—that strangely cold and indifferent voice.

“I’m here, Andrew Pavlovitch,” said Mme. Omejina.

Kragaef turned in the direction of the voice and saw his hostess seated on a bench near a flowerbed.

She sat there and looked up at him smiling. She was dressed exactly as he afterwards painted her in the picture; in the same black gown of an exquisitely simple cut, entirely without any ornament or trimming⁠—in the same black broad-brimmed hat with a white feather⁠—her hands were clasped behind her back and seemed to be fastened there⁠—there, calmly resting on the gravel-path were her bare white feet encircled by golden bracelets⁠—the thin gold chain which fastened them just glittering in the half-light.

She was smiling just that same uncertain smile which Kragaef afterwards showed in her portrait, and she said to him:

“Good evening, Andrew Pavlovitch. I felt sure somehow that you would not fail to come at the appointed time. Pardon me for not giving you my hand⁠—my arms are fastened behind me.”

Then, seeing his movement towards her, she laughed constrainedly and said:

“No, no, don’t be alarmed! You needn’t unfasten me. It’s all necessary⁠—it’s what he wishes. His night has come once more. Sit down here beside me.”

“Whom do you mean?” asked Kragaef, sitting down beside her and speaking cautiously and in wonder.

“My husband,” answered she quietly. “Today is the anniversary of his death. He died just at this hour, and every year on this night and at this moment I give myself up to his power. Every year he chooses someone into whom he sends his spirit, and he comes to me and tortures me for hours. He cannot be restrained. He goes away, and I am free till the following year. This time he has chosen you. But I can see that you are astounded⁠—you are ready to think that I am mad.”

“Pardon me, Irene Vladimirovna,” Kragaef was beginning to say.

The lady stopped him with a slight movement of her head, and said:

“No, I’m not out of my mind. Listen! I’ll tell you all about it, and you will understand me. It’s not possible that such a sensitive and responsive person as yourself⁠—such a wonderful and delicate artist⁠—should not understand.”

Now, when a man is appealed to as a sensitive and delicate person, of course he is prepared to understand all that is wanted. And Kragaef began to feel himself in sympathy with the spiritual condition of the lady. He wanted to kiss her hand in token of his sympathy, and he thought with pleasure of raising her small delicate hand to his lips. But this he could not do⁠—he contented himself with gently squeezing her elbow in his hand.

The lady responded by an inclination of her head. Smiling uncertainly and strangely, so that it was impossible to know whether it were for happiness or a desire to weep, she said:

“My husband was a weak and a wicked man. I cannot understand even now why I loved him and couldn’t leave him.

“He tortured me⁠—at first timidly, but every year more openly and cruelly. He inflicted all kinds of torture on me, and he soon discovered a very simple and ordinary way. I can’t think why I put up with it. Perhaps I expected something from it⁠—but, however it may be, I became weak and wicked before him, as a humble slave.”

And then she calmly began to tell in detail how her husband had treated her. She spoke as if it were of someone other than herself who had endured all his cruelty and mockery.

Kragaef listened with pity and indignation, but her voice sounded so unmoved, and there was so much evil contagion in her words, that he suddenly began to feel within himself a wild desire to throw her on to the ground and beat her as her husband had done. The longer she talked and the more she described in detail how her husband had treated her, the stronger became his feeling and the greater his desire. At first it seemed to him that his anger at the shameless frankness with which she told of her sufferings, with her quiet, almost innocent cynicism, aroused this wild desire in him. But soon he understood that there was a much deeper reason for this wicked feeling.

Was it not, in truth, the soul of the dead husband becoming incarnate in himself, the monstrous spirit of an evil, weak torturer? He was terrified at first, but soon this momentary pang of terror died away in his soul, and more powerfully there arose in him the lust for torture⁠—the evil and mean infection.

“I endured all this,” continued the lady, “and never once did I complain. Even my spirit was unmurmuring. But one day in Springtime I became just as weak as he. A strong desire arose in me that he should die. Perhaps his cruelty was greater just then, or it may be that the beautiful white nights of Spring acted upon me in this way. I don’t know how the desire arose within me. So strange it was! I had never before been weak or wicked. Some days I struggled with the shameful wish. I sat at the window at night, and looked out at the quiet twilight of the night of our northern city, and in grief and anger I pressed my hands together and thought with insistent evil force, ‘Die, cursed one, die!’ And it happened that he did die suddenly, on this very day, exactly at two o’clock. But I didn’t kill him⁠—oh, don’t think it was I who killed him.”

“Mercy on us, I don’t think it!” said Kragaef, though his voice sounded almost angry.

“He died of his own accord,” continued she. “Or perhaps it was the force of my will that sent him to his grave. Perhaps the will of man is sometimes as strong as that, eh? I don’t know. But I did not feel repentant. My conscience was clear. And I lived calmly on until the next Spring. But then my mind grew disturbed, and the clearer became the nights the worse it was with me. My distress increased more and more. At last, on the anniversary of his death, he suddenly came to me and spent many hours torturing me as he had done in life.”

“Ah-ha, he came!” said Kragaef, with sudden malice.

“Of course you understand,” said Mme. Omejina, “that it was not the deceased come from his grave. He was too well brought up and too much of a townsman for such a fraud as that. He knew how to arrange it differently. He took possession of the will and spirit of a man who, like yourself, came to me that night and tortured me long and cruelly. And when he went away and left me powerless from suffering, I wept as if I had been a ruined girl. But my soul was calm, and I did not think of him again until the following year. But every year when the white nights come on I am tormented with distress, and on the night of his death my torturer comes to me.”

“Every year?” asked Kragaef, his voice hoarse with malice or agitation.

“Every year,” said she, “somebody comes to me at this time, and every year it is as if the actual soul of my husband rejoiced in my accidental tormentor. Then, after my dreadful night, my anguish leaves me and I can live again in the world. It happens so every year. This year he wanted you to come to me. He desired me to wait for you here in this garden, dressed as I am, barefoot and with my hands bound. And I have obeyed his will, and I sit here and wait.”

She looked at Kragaef, and on her face was that blending of expression which he afterwards represented with such art in the picture.

He got up with a somewhat unnecessary haste; his face had become very pale. He felt in himself an evil passion, and seizing the lady by the shoulder he cried out to her in a hoarse voice which he could not recognise as his own:

“It’s been like this every year, and this year will be no different from the others. Come!”

She stood up and began to weep. Kragaef, still grasping her by the shoulder, drew her towards the house, and she followed him, trembling with cold and the dampness of the gravel path under her bare feet, hastening and stumbling, feeling at each step the painful restraint of her golden chain, and making her golden anklets jangle⁠—so they passed into the house.

The Kiss of the Unborn

I

A pert little boy in buttons put his close-cropped head in at the door of a room where five lady-typists were clattering on their machines, and said:

“Nadezhda Alexevna, Mrs. Kolimstcheva is asking for you on the telephone.”

A tall well-built girl of twenty-seven got up and went downstairs to the telephone. She walked with quiet self-possession, and had that deep steadfastness of gaze only given to those who have outlived heavy sorrows and patiently endured them to the end. She was thinking to herself:

“What has happened now?”

She knew already that if her sister wanted to speak to her it was because something unpleasant had occurred⁠—the children were ill, the husband worried over business, they were in need of money⁠—something of that sort. She would have to go there and see what could be done⁠—to help, to sympathise, to put matters right. Her sister was ten years older than herself, and as she lived in a remote suburb they rarely met.

She went into the tiny telephone-box, smelling of tobacco, beer, and mice, took up the speaking-tube, and said:

“Yes. Is it you, Tanichka?”

The voice of her sister, tearful, agitated, exactly as she had expected to hear it, answered her:

“Nadia, for God’s sake come here quickly! Something dreadful has happened. Serezha is dead. He’s shot himself.”

Nadezhda Alexevna could hardly realise the news. Her little nephew was dead⁠—dear little Serezha, only fifteen years old. She spoke hurriedly and incoherently:

What is it, Tanya? How terrible! Why did he do it? When did it happen?”

And neither hearing nor waiting for answer, she added quickly:

“I’ll come at once, at once.”

She put down the speaking-tube, forgetting even to hang it up in its place again, and hurried away to ask the manager for leave of absence.

It was given her, though unwillingly. “You know we have a specially busy time just now, before the holidays,” grumbled the manager. “You always seem to want leave at the most awkward moment. You can go if it’s really necessary, but don’t forget that your work must be made up.”

II

A few minutes later Nadezhda Alexevna got into a tramcar and began her twenty minutes’ journey. She felt depressed and uncertain. Spasms of keen pity for her sister and regret for the dead boy caught at her heart.

It was terrible to think that this fifteen-year-old child, but lately a lighthearted schoolboy, should have suddenly shot himself⁠—painful to imagine the mother’s grief. How she would weep⁠—her life seemed always to have been unhappy and unsuccessful.

Yet Nadezhda Alexevna could not give herself up entirely to such thoughts. Her mind was dwelling on something else. It was always so with her when she came to one of those times common enough in this life of unexpected happenings⁠—the interruption of the ordinary daily routine by some unpleasant occurrence. There was an event in the background of her own life which weighed her down with a continuous and gnawing sorrow. For her there could be no relief in tears, they seemed to have been stopped at their source; rare indeed was it for a few miserable drops to force themselves to her eyes. She generally looked out upon the world with an expression of dull indifference.

So now, once again, memory revolved before her that passionate flaming circle of her past life. She recalled once more that short time of love and self-forgetfulness, of passion and of self-abandonment.

Those bright summer days had been a festival. The blue heaven had outspread itself joyously for her delight, the summer rain had pattered down for her amusement. For her the pine odours had been more intoxicatingly sweet than roses. Roses would not grow in such a climate. Yet it was a place that the heart loved. The greeny-grey moss in the dark forest was a soft and tender couch; the forest rivulets flowing over the tumbled boulders lisped clear and sweet as streams of Arcady; their coolness gladdened and refreshed.

How quickly had the days passed in the glad rapture of love! The last day dawned, which she knew not then to be the last. The sky was cloudless, the heavens clear. Simple happiness was all around. The broad shadowy glades of the scented pine-forest were cool and dreamy, the tender moss underfoot was soft and warm. All was as it had been on other days. Only the birds had ceased to sing⁠—they had nested and flown away with their little ones.

But there had been a shadow on the countenance of her beloved⁠—he had received an unpleasant letter that morning.

As he himself said:

“A dreadfully unpleasant letter. I am desperate. So many days before I see you again!”

“How is that?” she had said. Sadness had not yet touched her.

“My father writes to say that my mother is ill and that I ought to go home.”

His father had written something quite different⁠—but Nadezhda Alexevna did not know that. She had not yet learnt that it is possible to be deceived in love, that the lips that kiss may speak lies instead of truth.

With his arms around her and his lips kissing hers he had said:

“I must go, there’s nothing else to do. How lonely I shall be! I can’t think anything serious is the matter, but I shall be obliged to go.”

“Why, of course,” said she. “If your mother is ill, how could you stay! Write to me every day; it will be so dull when you are gone.”

She went with him as usual as far as the high road, and then home again along the forest path, sad at his departure, yet certain of his return. And he had never come back.

She had received two or three letters from him, strange letters, confused, full of half-expressed feelings, hints of something she could not understand. Then no more. Nadezhda Alexevna began to realise that he had ceased to love her. And when the summer had come to an end she heard a chance conversation which told her of his marriage.

“Why, haven’t you heard? Last week. They went off to Nice for the honeymoon.”

“Yes, he’s fortunate. He’s married a rich and beautiful girl.”

“She has a large dowry, I suppose.”

“Yes, indeed. Her father⁠ ⁠…”

Nadezhda Alexevna did not stay to hear about the father. She moved away.

She often remembered all that had happened afterwards. Not that she wished to remember⁠—she had striven to stifle recollection and to forget the past. It had all been so grievous and humiliating, and there had seemed no way of escape. It was then, in those first dreadful days after she knew he was married to another, in those sweet places made dear to her by the memory of his kisses, that she had first felt the movements of her child⁠—and linked with the first thoughts of a new life had come the forebodings of death. No child must ever be born to her!

No one at home had ever known⁠—she had thought out some pretext for getting away. Somehow or other, with great difficulty, she had got enough money together and had managed everything⁠—she never wished to remember how⁠—and had returned to her home, weak and ill, with pallid face and tired body, yet with heroic strength of spirit to conceal her pain and terror.

Memory often tried to remind her of all that had taken place, but Nadezhda Alexevna refused to acknowledge its power. When sometimes in a flash she recalled everything, she would shudder with horror and repulsion and resolutely turn her mind away at once from the picture.

But in her heart there was one memory which she treasured; she had a child, though it had never come to birth, and she often saw before her a sweet yet terrible image of the little one.

Whenever she was alone and sitting quietly by herself, if she closed her eyes, the child came to her. She felt that she watched him grow. So vividly did she see him that at times it seemed to her that day after day and year after year she had lived with him as an actual mother with her living child. Her breasts were full of milk for him. At a sudden noise she trembled⁠—perhaps the child had fallen and would be hurt.

Sometimes she put out her hand to stroke his soft, bright, golden curls, to touch his hand, to draw him nearer. But he always escaped her touch, her hand met empty air, and yet she heard his little laughing voice as if he were still near and hiding just behind her chair.

She knew his face⁠—the face of her child who had never been born. It was quite clear to her⁠—that dear yet terrible blending of the features of him who had taken her love and discarded it, who had taken her soul and drained it and forgotten, the blending of the features of him who, in spite of all, was still so dear with her own features.

His grey eyes and wavy golden hair and the soft outline of his lips and chin were all his father’s. The little pinky shell-like ears, the rounded limbs, the rosy dimpled cheeks were her own.

She knew all his little body⁠—all. And his little baby ways⁠—how he would hold his tiny hands, how he would cross one foot over the other⁠—learning from the father he had never seen. His smile was like her own⁠—he had just that same trick of dropping his head on one side in blushing confusion.

Painfully sweet memories. The tender, rosy fingers of her child touched her deep wounds, and were cruel though dear. So painful! But she never wished to drive him away.

“I cannot, cannot do without thee, dear little unborn son of mine. If only thou wert really living! If only I could give thee life!”

For it was only a dream-life! It was for her alone. The unborn can never rejoice or weep for himself. He lives, but not for himself. In the world of the living, in the midst of people and earthly things, he doesn’t exist at all. So full of life, so dear, so bright, and yet he is not.

Nadezhda Alexevna used to say to herself, “And this is my doing. Now he is small and he doesn’t understand. But when he grows up he will know⁠—he will compare himself with living children, he will want to live a real life, and then he will reproach me and I shall want to die.”

She never thought how foolish were such thoughts in the light of reality. She could not imagine that the unborn child renounced by her had never been the habitation of a human soul. No⁠—for Nadezhda Alexevna her unborn child lived, and tortured her heart with an endless grief.

To her he was as a shining one, clad in bright garments, with little white hands and feet, clear innocent eyes and pure smile. When he laughed his laugh was happy and musical. True, when she wanted to caress him he evaded her, but he never went far away, he was always hiding somewhere near. He ran away from her embraces, but all the same he often seemed to put his soft, warm little arms about her neck and press his tender lips to her cheek⁠—at those times when she sat quietly alone and closed her eyes. But never once had he kissed her on the lips.

“When he grows up he will understand,” she thought. “He will be sorry, and he will go away and never come back any more. And then I shall die.”

And now as she sat in the noisy, crowded tramcar, in the company of strangers, pushing and jostling one another, Nadezhda Alexevna closed her eyes and remembered her own little child. Once more she looked into his clear eyes, once more she heard the tender lispings of his unuttered words⁠ ⁠… all the way to the end of her journey, when the time came for her to get out of the car.

III

When the tram stopped Nadezhda Alexevna made her way along the snow-covered streets, past the low wooden and stone houses, past the gardens and enclosed spaces of the remote suburb. She was alone. Many of the other passengers had been met, but for her there was no companion. And she thought to herself as she walked along:

“My sin will always remain with me; I can never get away from it. How is it that I go on living? Even little Serezha is dead.”

A dull pain gnawed at her heart; she could not answer her own question:

“Why do I go on living? Yet why should I die?”

And again she thought:

“He is always with me, my dear little one. But he is growing up now; he is eight years old, and he must be beginning to understand. Why isn’t he angry with me? Doesn’t he want to be able to go and play with the other children; to ride on the frozen snow in his little sledge? Doesn’t all this winter beauty attract him? I feel it all so delightful; even in spite of its illusions the world is so beautiful and so enchanting. Is it possible for him not to want to live here in reality?”

Then, as she went on and on, all alone, through the monotonous streets, she began to think of those to whom she had come: her hard-worked brother-in-law, her tired sister, the crowd of fretful children always asking for something or other, the poverty-stricken home, the lack of money. She remembered her favourite nephews and nieces⁠—and little Serezha who had shot himself.

Who could have expected him to die? He had been so gay, so lively.

And then she remembered her talk with the boy last week. Serezha had been sad and upset then. He had been reading some incident recorded in the newspapers and had said:

“Things are bad at home, and if you take up a newspaper you only read about horrors and shameful happenings.”

She had said something which she herself did not believe, in order to divert the boy’s attention. Serezha had smiled grimly and then continued:

“But, Auntie Nadia, how bad it all is! Just think what is going on all around us. Don’t you think it dreadful that one of the best of people, an old, old man, went away from his home to find a place in which to die? It must have been because he saw more plainly than we do the horrors around us, and he couldn’t endure to live any longer. So he went away and died. Terrible!”

And after a little silence he went on:

“Auntie Nadia, I tell you just what I think, because you’re always kind to me and you understand⁠—I don’t want to live at all in a world where such things happen. I know I’m just as weak as everybody else, and what is there for me to do? Only by degrees to begin to get used to it all. Auntie, Nekrasof was right when he said, ‘It is good to die young.’ ”

Nadezhda Alexevna remembered that she had felt anxious about the child and had had a long talk with him. It seemed as if he were convinced at last. He had smiled again in his old way, and had said in his usual careless tone:

“Ah, well, we shall live, and we shall see. Progress is still going forward, and we do not yet understand its aim.”

And now Serezha no longer lived⁠—he had killed himself. So he hadn’t wanted to live and look on at the majestic march of Progress. And what was his mother doing just now? Perhaps kissing his little waxen hand, or perhaps getting supper for the hungry little ones who were doubtless frightened and crying, looking pitiful in their worn-out and untidy clothes. Perhaps she had thrown herself down upon her bed and was weeping⁠—weeping endlessly. Happy woman, happy, if she could weep. What in this world is sweeter than the comfort of tears!

IV

At length Nadezhda Alexevna reached her sister’s home, and went up the staircase to the fourth floor. It was a narrow stone staircase with very steep flights of stairs, and she went up so quickly, almost running, that she lost her breath, and stopped outside the door to rest before going in. She breathed heavily, holding on to the balustrade with her woollen-gloved hand.

The door was covered with felt, over which oilcloth had been stretched, and on this oilcloth was a cross of narrow black strips, partly, perhaps, for ornament, partly for strength. One of the strips was half torn off and hanging down, and behind it, through a hole in the oilcloth, protruded the grey felt. For some reason or other this suddenly seemed pitiful and painful to Nadezhda Alexevna. Her shoulders heaved quickly. Covering her face with her hands she burst into loud sobbing. She felt suddenly weak, and sitting down hastily on the top step she wept. For a long time she sat there hiding her face in her hands. A warm rain of tears flowed over her woollen gloves.

It was nearly dark, and very cold and silent on the staircase⁠—the doors on the landing stood dumb and rigid. Long, long she wept.⁠ ⁠… Then suddenly she heard a light, familiar step, and as she waited in expectation she felt her child come nearer and put his arms about her neck. His cheek pressed close to hers, and his warm little fingers tried to push away the hands which were screening and hiding her face. He put his lips to her cheek and whispered gently:

“Why do you weep? How can you have done wrong?”

Silently she sat and listened; she dare not move or open her eyes lest the child should disappear. She let her right hand drop on to her knee, but still kept her eyes covered with the left. Gradually her weeping became less; she must not frighten the child with her woman’s tears, the tears of a sinful woman.

And the child went on, kissing her cheek as he spoke, “You haven’t done wrong at all.”

Then he spoke again, and now his words were those of Serezha:

“I don’t want to live in this world. I’m very thankful to you, mother dear.”

And again:

“Indeed, dear mother, I don’t want to be alive.”

These words had sounded terrible in her ears when Serezha had spoken them⁠—terrible because spoken by one who, having received from unseen Powers the living form of mankind, ought to have held as a precious treasure the life committed to his care, and not have wished to destroy it. But these same words, spoken by the child who had never been born into this world, rejoiced his mother’s heart. Gently and timidly, as if afraid of frightening him by the sound of an earthly voice, she asked:

“And my dear one forgives me?”

And heard the answer:

“You haven’t done wrong at all; yet if you want to hear me say so, ‘I forgive you.’ ”

And suddenly her heart overflowed with a foretaste of an unlooked-for happiness. Hardly daring to hope, hardly knowing what to expect, she slowly and fearfully stretched out her hands⁠—and felt her child on her knees, with his little hands on her shoulders, his lips pressed close to hers in a long, long kiss.

Her eyes were fast closed still, for she feared to look on that which it is not given to mankind to see, yet it seemed to her that the child’s eyes looked into hers⁠—and that he breathed a blessing upon her⁠—and shone upon her like a Sun.

Then she felt the arms unclose, and on the staircase she heard the light patter of feet, and knew that the child was gone.

She got up, dried her tears, and rang the bell. When she went in to her sister she was full of calm and happiness, she had power to strengthen and console.

The Little Stick

There is upon the earth a very wonderful little stick which will cause all things to disappear and turn your life into a dream if you touch your head with it.

If you don’t like your life just take the little stick and put it to one of your temples⁠—and suddenly all you didn’t like will become a dream and you will start something quite new.

Of that sort is the wonderful little stick.

Equality

A big fish overtook a little one and wanted to swallow him.

The little fish squeaked out:

“It is unjust. I also want to live. All fishes are equal before the law.”

The big fish answered:

“What’s the matter? I won’t discuss whether we are equal, but if you don’t want me to eat you, then do you please swallow me if you can⁠—swallow me, don’t be afraid, I shan’t set on you.”

The little fish opened his mouth and poked about trying to get the big fish in, sighed at last and said:

“You have it. Swallow me.”

Adventures of a Cobblestone

There was in the town a cobbled roadway. A wheel of a passing cart loosened one of the stones. The stone said to himself, “Why should I lie here close packed with others of my kind? I will live separately.”

A boy came along and picked up the cobblestone.

Thought the stone to himself: “I wanted to travel and I travel. I only had to wish sufficiently strongly.”

The boy threw the stone at a house. Thought the stone: “I wish to fly and I fly. It’s quite simple⁠—I just willed it.”

Bang went the stone against the window-glass. The glass broke and in doing so cried out:

“Oh, you scoundrel! What are you doing?”

But the stone replied:

“You’d have done better to get out of the way. I don’t like people getting in my way. Everything arranged for my benefit⁠—that’s my motto.”

The stone fell on a soft bed and thought: “I’ve flown a bit, and now I’ll lie down for a while and rest.”

A servant came and took the stone off the bed and threw it out at the window again so that it fell back on the cobbled roadway.

Then the stone cried out to his fellow-cobbles: “Brothers, good health, I’ve just been paying a call at one of the mansions, but I did not at all care for the aristocracy, my heart yearned for the common people, so I returned.”

The Future

No one knows what the future will bring. But there is a place where the future gleams through an azure veil of desire. This is the place where those who are as yet unborn rest in peace. There everything is joyful, peaceful, freshly cool. No grief is there, and instead of air there is diffused an atmosphere of pure joy, in which the unborn have their being.

And no one ever leaves that land unless he desires to leave it.

Once there were four souls who all wished at the same moment to be born into this world. And in the azure mist of desire our four elements were revealed to them.

And one said:

“I love the earth⁠—it is soft and warm and firm.”

And another said:

“I love water⁠—eternally falling, cool, and translucent.”

The third said:

“I love fire⁠—gay and bright it is, and purifying.”

And the fourth said:

“I love the air⁠—stretching out so broad and high⁠—the light breath of life.”

And this is what life brought to them.

The first became a miner, and while he was at work a shaft fell and buried him in the earth.

And the second shed tears like water, and at length was drowned.

And the third perished by fire in a burning house.

And the fourth was hanged.

Poor innocent elements! Foolish desiring ones!

Oh, why did Will lead them forth from the happy place of nonexistence!

The Road and the Light

On a long country road came people with horses and wagons, and only the stars gave them light.

The night was a long one, but their eyes were accustomed to the darkness, and they were able to distinguish all the unevennesses and windings of the road.

But the way being long it became dull for one of the men, and he said:

“Hadn’t we better light lanterns so as to see the way? Then the horses will move more quickly and we shall get to our destination sooner.”

The others believed him and lighted lanterns, and not content with that, broke off branches from the trees and made torches⁠—they even lighted bonfires, taking much trouble over the lighting of the way.

The horses stood still. “Never mind,” said the men, “we shall get on quicker afterwards.”

And all around them was a bright light, and the light of the stars was darkened. Then the wayfarers saw that there was not one road only, but many sidetracks and bypaths. And each road seemed to someone the shortest road to take.

They quarrelled among themselves as to which road to take, and they separated. The morning light found them all on different ways and far from the place whither they were bound.

The Keys

A skeleton-key said to her neighbour:

“I go about everywhere, but you lie still. Where have I not been, but you’ve always remained at home. What are you thinking about?”

The old key did not want to answer, but she said:

“There is a strong oaken door. I lock it, and when the time comes I unlock it again.”

“Well,” said the skeleton-key, “but aren’t there a great many doors in the world?”

“I don’t need to know about any other doors,” said the key. “I can’t open them.”

“Can’t you? But I can open every door!”

And the skeleton-key thought to herself:

“This key is really stupid if it can only open one door.” But the key said to her:

“You’re a thieves’ skeleton-key, but I am a true and honest door-key.”

This the skeleton-key did not understand. She did not know what truth and honesty were, and she thought that the door-key was so old that she had gone out of her mind.

The Independent Leaves

Some leaves with very strong stalks were hanging from a branch, and they found life very dull. It was very unpleasant⁠—they could see the birds flying and the kittens running about; even the clouds were being carried along⁠—and they were still on the branch. They swung themselves about, trying to break off from their stalks and be free.

They said to one another:

“We can live independent lives. We are quite grown up. But here we are under guardianship, stuck fast to this old stupid branch.”

They swung themselves about and at last got free. They fell to the ground and withered. Presently the gardener came and swept them away with the refuse.

The Crimson Ribbon

I

The old professor, Edward Henriovitch Roggenfeldt, and his aged wife, Agnes Rudolfovna, had been accustomed for many years to live from May to September in the same watering-place, in Esthonia on the southern shore of the Gulf of Finland. Every year they occupied the same beautiful country villa standing in its own grounds. From the balcony of this villa they had a broad and delightful outlook over the waters of the gulf, the meadows near the sea, and the beach.

Although this watering-place was inhabited for the most part by families of Germans, professors and physicians, and bore the stupid ridiculous name of Très-joli, it was a very pleasant and convenient place in which to live. All the people who owned villas there were firmly convinced that Esthonia was the healthiest place in the world and that Très-joli was the most beautiful spot in Northwest Russia. They declared that this was printed in the Encyclopaedia in which other reliable information could be found of this sort, for example, that Edgar Poe lived a degraded life, and was a lying and evil-living man.

The peasants of the place⁠—Esthonians⁠—were peaceful and honest and well-behaved; no one ever heard of fights or robberies there. There was a post and telegraph office quite near, only four versts away. The postman came twice a day, and not only brought the post but collected the letters.

There were two cafés in the neighbourhood, one on the seashore, the other inland, near the baron’s estate, with very fine gardens. Once a week there was music in the café on the shore. Not far away, also at a distance of four versts, was an Assembly Room where there was a public dance once a week, and where one could get wine and beer or have dinners or suppers. But all this was not too near⁠—the people who lived at Très-joli could enjoy a peaceful quietude and yet not be deprived of the conveniences of civilisation. The tradesmen brought their goods to the very doors of the villas⁠—a great convenience, which fully compensated for not living near the town markets.

The houses in Très-joli stood on a high cliff. The bank sloped down to the sea, with here and there steep ravines in which were trees and bushes and wild narcissus, but in places the cliff was bare and laminated, rejoicing the hearts of professors and students, who found there ancient Silurian remains, green and brown and yellow layers of limestone and sandstone. Along the edge of the sea stretched a broad strip of fine friable pale yellow sand, dotted here and there with large stones and some small pebbles. The rugged boulders were ornamental, the pebbles were rather a hindrance to walking, but the sand was delightful and the bathing excellent, and on the shore in front of the villas was a row of clean-looking dressing-rooms.

The water of the gulf was of many varying tints and colours, from the palest and most delicate blue in the sunshine to the gloomiest purple in dull weather. Sometimes it was perfectly calm. Then the broad waters of the gulf lay like an enormous expanse of steel along which stripes of fleeting colour streamed.

Sometimes the waves lashed noisily along the sandy shore. The long wearisome sound like the roar of a tired and hungry animal kept nervous visitors from sleeping, flurried the hysterical, and delighted the serious fifteen-year-old schoolboys. On such days they would come down to the shore and meditate upon the “accursed” questions of life and being⁠—those questions familiar to every progressive schoolboy of that age.

The sunsets were wonderful, each evening different. Every evening the sky arrayed itself in a new way, sometimes covering itself with clouds, sometimes appearing clear and cloudless.

If there were few clouds, or none at all, the sky showed itself in an exquisite austerity of beauty as its adornment. Then the sun, solitary, weary, purple in colour, hiding itself behind pale purple veils, sank majestically down towards the hardly distinguishable line of the horizon, sinking slowly, dying away in sadness and beauty, till at length, with a last faint gleam shining for a moment in the misty bed of the far and melancholy distance, it went out like the last sigh of an expiring universe. And then came on an undisturbed serenity both in the heavens and upon the earth, and a spell of deepening shadows was cast upon the warm sand and the cold pebbles, on the dreaming trees and on the humble roofs of the villagers, gradually chilling all.

When the sunset sky was massed with dark heavy lowering clouds, and bright foam-like cloudlets were scattered like a whimsical pattern on the blue enamel of the heavens, the departing sun was attended by a magnificence of flame and colour and radiance and delicate gold-edged beams of light. The enraptured gaze did not then behold the setting sun in the majesty of its departure, for the sun appeared as only one of the heavenly marvels, and not the most beautiful of all⁠—only a monotonously glowing disk of a uniform crimson incandescence. All the broad and beauteous West was filled with slow streams of wavering and glimmering molten many-toned liquid gold, blazing with all the yellows of amber and half-transparent topaz, flaming through the innocent blue of heaven with all the passions and crimsons of blood, trembling and unconsumed in the flames of jasper, onyx and emerald and the glowing carmine of rubies. It seemed then as if a gigantic rainbow, glowing in the heat of the heavenly furnace, suddenly tore apart its thin half-transparent veil, poured itself through and spread out along the heavens its many-coloured stream, which broke out into innumerable fires.

Sometimes in dull weather opal clouds would appear in the sky, and the pale angel of death would look down upon the earth with his unswerving gaze, right into the eyes of people who cannot perceive him.

But it is impossible to describe all the sunsets, because the diversity of them is endless, endless as the diversity of human life itself.

The most pleasant feature of Très-joli was its delightful combination of sea and forest, the trees in some places coming down nearly to the water’s edge. Firs and leafy trees were about equal in number, the stern and stately pines and firs mingling with white-trunked birches, trembling aspens, dull alders, bitter rowans, and proud maples. One rich merchant from Vishgorod had even planted chestnuts and oaks on his estate. The whole place was delightful, and all the visitors rejoiced in its beauty.

The villagers industriously ploughed their barren, stone-bestrewn fields, they prophesied the weather according to the appearance of the sky and the direction of the wind, they caught sprats in the sea, but didn’t bathe themselves in it, and they let their cows wander in the forest and all along the seashore. In short, they behaved as the villagers in such places always do.

“Aborigines,” they were called contemptuously by Professor Roggenfeldt’s grandson, the schoolboy Eddy, who was an unwearied seeker after fossils.

But Madame Roggenfeldt, a grey-haired old lady, with a sweet attractive face of great former beauty, said:

“The Esthonians here are so cultured. They play Molière in their public hall, they have a choir and a band, and many of them have pianos. Their children sing and play very nicely, and on holidays they look quite like young ladies.”

II

In this idyllic place one beautiful summer’s day Madame Roggenfeldt was celebrating her birthday. Everything was very gay. The families of her son and daughter had all come, and the grandchildren had presented her with flowers and congratulated her prettily. Guests had come in from town, and they expected to have music and singing in the evening.

After luncheon, about three o’clock in the afternoon, there was dancing in the meadow that lay between the cliff of Très-joli and the wood on the seashore. The local band had been invited to play.

Only one old friend of the family was absent⁠—Professor Bernard Horn⁠—and Professor Roggenfeldt could not imagine why he had not come. He had intended to send a message to his house, but there had been no time, all the servants and everybody in the house had been very busy.

But Madame Roggenfeldt had been in a nervous and disturbed state all the morning. While the young folks were dancing she sat with her husband on a seat in the garden on the cliff and looked down at the scene below.

The sun was not too bright, the sound of the music was softened by distance, the laughter and chatter of the young people was not heard too loudly, the movements of the dancers were slow and melancholy.

Three Esthonian peasant-musicians in grey felt hats were seated one behind the other with their backs to the sea on stools placed at the edge of a square even space. Their sunburnt faces expressed the zeal of close attention and nothing else. Their sunburnt hands moved exactly and mechanically And from afar they looked like dolls placed there, parts of a very complicated musical machine.

In front of the players was a music-stand, and behind it stood a short elderly man waving his conductor’s stick calmly, confidently, and as mechanically as the players moved their hands. He too had a sunburnt neck and hands. When he moved a few steps from the stand he was seen to be very lame. And it seemed as if his lameness had been planned by an ignorant but artistic workman, fashioning this fine toy so as to be more suitable for the music of the dance.

The sounds of the music seemed extraordinarily regular and monotonous. One could have wished for some slight inaccuracy or capricious interruption of the rhythm; but afterwards one remembered that it could not be otherwise, that such was the law of this methodically gay and yet melancholy measure.

The young men and girls sat on benches on the other two sides of the square. The fourth side had a light fence beyond which the ground sloped upward, and here upon the grass lay some onlookers who did not dance but had come to watch others dance and to listen to the music.

All the people present seemed to be under the spell of the devilishly-monotonous and inhumanly precise rhythm of this wonderfully executed music. All the young folks danced together and stepped apart with the earnestness and exactitude demanded of them by the power of the mechanical example given them by the sunburnt hand of the lame conductor beating out the time. And the spectators who looked on respectfully and the little peasant children who stood around never moved; they looked as if they all had been carved out of the same unbending material and coloured with the same colours of amber and red-lead.

III

“Don’t you think the musicians play very well, Agnes?” asked Professor Roggenfeldt of his wife.

Agnes Rudolfovna sighed, as if she had been brought back from some sweet vision of the past:

“Yes, they play very well,” said she, “especially if one remembers that they are only simple peasants.”

“The peasants here have culture and so are very different from the Russian peasants,” said her husband.

“Yes, indeed,” said Agnes Rudolfovna.

“But I can’t think why our friend, Doctor Horn, hasn’t come. I feel quite anxious about him. I’m afraid he must have been taken ill suddenly. If he doesn’t come soon, I think we must send and enquire about him.”

Agnes Rudolfovna did not reply. She looked intently at the dancers. Her thin but still beautiful fingers trembled as she smoothed down the folds of her white dress.

It was strange and somewhat painful to look down upon this slow dance and to listen to the melancholy sounds of the waltz, played so precisely by the stiff brown hands of the musicians.

Yes, it was painful but yet sweet to the old lady to recall that far-off time when Edward and Agnes were still young, when he was a fine young man with sparkling eyes, and she a beautiful girl, beautiful as only a beloved and loving woman can be. In sweetness and in pain there revived in her soul memories of that far-off night in the happy month of May and of that old sweet wrongdoing, now long past with her departed youth.

Many years had passed away and she had kept her secret. But today Agnes Rudolfovna felt that the time had come when she must speak out the dreadful words of a delayed confession.

She had wept much during the past night, and early this morning she had risen and written a letter and sent it off to Doctor Horn.

During the morning her old friend had sent her a bouquet of flowers and an answer to her letter⁠—a few words written in the firm even hand of a strong-souled man, and a scrap of crimson ribbon.

And now the old lady sat by the side of her aged husband on the seat overlooking the steep cliff, looking out on to the bright greenness, on the blue of the heavens and the sea, listening to the beating of her fainting heart and preparing herself to speak. But she couldn’t make up her mind to begin.

IV

A tall thin elderly gentleman in a shabby grey coat and faded grey felt hat came along, crunching the gravel of the path under his feet, and stood near the professor. He looked at the musicians and the dancers, screwing up his grey eyes to see them better. There was an expression of astonishment on his dry, nervous face.

“Pardon me,” he said at last, raising his hat, “but what is this? What band is it?”

Professor Roggenfeldt turned his calm blue eyes on the unexpected visitor and answered with a bow of acknowledgment:

“Oh, that is the local peasant band. The villagers form their own band and they play if one invites them. Once every summer they give a concert in that field and take a collection from the audience, and with the money they buy music and pay their expenses. But the visitors here don’t often hire the band and they don’t get much money at their annual concert. And yet they keep up their band from year to year, and it’s a wonderfully good one for a country place.”

“The villagers are very musical and have some education,” said Madame Roggenfeldt. “They’ve even got their own theatre where the young people produce classical pieces quite passably.”

“Thanks very much,” replied the stranger. “But don’t you think they play very strangely?”

Agnes Rudolfovna blushed slightly, smiled a little, and said quietly:

“No, I don’t find it strange.”

“Nor I either,” said her husband.

“But,” insisted the stranger, “don’t you think that these people are just like wooden dolls and that they play without understanding the music just as in all probability they don’t understand anything of their beautiful surroundings?”

Agnes Rudolfovna shook her head as she answered:

“If they didn’t understand the music they couldn’t play so well.”

“No,” said the old professor, “their lack of understanding would be bound to show itself in their playing. And I think, or rather I am convinced, that they don’t make any mistakes. At least my ear doesn’t distinguish any false notes, and though I can’t call myself a musician I understand something about music and I play a little myself.”

Agnes Rudolfovna looked tenderly at her husband.

“Edward plays excellently,” said she. “He has a good touch and an irreproachable ear.”

Professor Roggenfeldt kissed his wife’s hand and said:

“Well, well, we won’t exaggerate. But they certainly play very accurately.”

“Accurately!” exclaimed the stranger. “It would be better if they made mistakes and confused the time, if only they didn’t play so soullessly. Don’t you think it would be better if these people didn’t play at all? Just look at them⁠—isn’t it dreadful to watch their wooden movements? The dancers are obliged to move stiffly and the children are as immovable as in a trance. Look, isn’t it as if some cruel devil had changed human beings into marionettes!”

Professor Roggenfeldt looked at the stranger in some perplexity, and then looking again at the musicians he said:

“I think you exaggerate a little. Of course it’s not a first-class band, and Nikish is not there to conduct, but I don’t think they deserve such a cruel attack.”

The stranger seemed a little confused.

“No, that’s true,” said he. “I was exaggerating. Please forgive me. You are quite right. But it’s dreadful to look upon these good devils. I must go away from such a sight.”

He raised his hat again, and, walking off quickly in the direction from which he had come, was soon out of sight.

V

The old couple looked at one another and both smiled.

“What a strange person!” said the professor.

“Yes, very strange,” agreed his wife. “He expects far too much from these simple peasants. They can only do what is in their power and give what they are able to give.”

“No, they can’t give more,” said the professor.

They were silent and looked once more at the dancers. At length Professor Roggenfeldt said:

“It’s true they play without any vivacity. And the young people dance very languidly to their music. If you remember, Agnes, we used not to dance like that. The poet is right indeed when he says that the world is growing wiser, but colder.”

Agnes smiled but did not reply. Her delicate youthful-looking face was again suffused with a slight blush.

Presently there came an interval between two dances. The lame conductor talked to the dancers, and a ringing voice was heard:

“A mazurka, a mazurka, please.”

Agnes turned to her husband, and in a strangely agitated way began to speak.

“Edward,” said she, “I used to think, or rather I used to feel, in the same way as this strange gentleman. Yes, in just the same way, and I even more than he. The measured beat of life bored me and I did what he advocates. I made a daring, but a false, note.”

The old professor shook his fine grey head and smiled as he said gently:

“No, Agnes, you have played your part well. Your partner has never been put out of tune through your mistakes.”

But the old lady showed still greater agitation. She nearly wept as she said:

“No, no, Edward, you don’t know. I have been silent for a long time, but today I have resolved to tell you all. And that’s the reason why Doctor Horn hasn’t come.”

And still trembling, and with difficulty keeping back her tears, the old lady began hurriedly to tell the story of what had happened to her so many years before, on one clear and perfumed night of May, when she had deceived her husband and allowed his friend Bernard Horn to make love to her.

VI

“It was in the third year of our married life,” said Agnes. “We lived here during the first summer, and there were few other visitors, so it was sometimes difficult to get provisions. But because our young friend Bernard Horn⁠—he wasn’t a doctor then⁠—often went into the town, he used to get things for us as well as for himself. You were indoors a good deal, for you were very busy then, finishing your thesis for your doctor’s degree. In the evenings, when it didn’t rain, we used to go for walks, and our young friend Bernard often accompanied us. One evening at the end of May you didn’t want to go as usual. You were so much interested in an article in a magazine which had come that day from Brussels that we couldn’t tear you away from it, and we went off by ourselves, laughing and chattering together.”

“Yes, yes,” said Edward Roggenfeldt quietly. “The author had so mixed his true judgments with paradoxes that even now I haven’t forgotten the article. I sat over it a long time, looked up some points in several other books, and then in consequence wrote three superfluous pages of my thesis. Superfluous, that is, in comparison with my original idea, but as I think not entirely superfluous in essence.”

He was silent for a few moments and then went on:

“However, half an hour after your departure I came after you. I remember it was a lovely evening. I wanted to think over some matter, and I walked along the shore where the sea made scarcely a splash on the sand. But afterwards I returned and sat down to my books again.”

“Bernard and I walked to the West Cape,” continued Agnes. “The sunset that night was wonderful. I don’t think ever before or since have I seen such a magnificent sky, such a sea, and such clouds. Everything in front of us was flaming, all the shore was suffused with crimson as if blushing with happiness, the air was so clear, so calm, so full of rosy colour that one wanted to weep and to laugh at the same time. It was as if a pure golden light had dissolved in tears and blood, and the soul was full of rapture and sorrow. Oh, I cannot say how I felt then. I think I didn’t know then what was happening to me. Some unknown force overpowered me, and I felt unable to withstand it. It was as if a curtain had been lifted from my life, as if the triumphant light of this heavenly glow had suddenly illumined in a clear light before me something which I had never noticed before⁠—and I suddenly understood that Bernard Horn was in love with me.”

Edward Roggenfeldt stroked his wife’s hand tenderly as he said in a caressing tone:

“He fell in love with you the first time he saw you.”

Agnes was beginning to conquer her agitation, and her voice rang out clearly and young as she continued:

“I looked at him. I knew that I was doing wrong, but I knew that in that moment I was happy. Never for one moment, dear Edward, did I love you less. But someone powerful and insidious seemed to whisper to me that the soul of man is broad and high, that the soul of man is greater than the world, and that love knows neither bounds nor measure.

“I don’t remember what we talked about, but I remember where we went. It was already beginning to get dark, for we had gone into the forest, and the midnight glow came faintly through the trees. I listened to the voice of love. I kissed Bernard Horn. I lay submissively in his arms and responded to his caresses with passionate embraces, and I laughed and wept. I laughed as I haven’t known how to laugh for a long time; I wept as I weep now.”

The tears trickled gently down her cheeks. Edward Roggenfeldt put his arms about her and soothed her, saying:

“Don’t weep. Don’t weep, my dear Agnes. You have been a faithful wife to me.”

And she, weeping bitterly, restraining her tears no longer, continued:

“I was false to you, my dear one, on that passionate, that beautiful night. I lost my senses, and what I did then seemed neither dreadful nor shameful. I leant on Bernard’s arm as we walked home from the forest, and I listened to him and talked to him and was not ashamed nor fearful. When we parted near our house I gave him the crimson ribbon I wore for a memory. And he has kept it all these years.”

VII

Agnes was silent for a moment. Her eyes held a rapturous expression, and dilated as she gazed before her. Her face showed the remembrance of past happiness. Presently she went on:

“The next day I came to myself. I was overcome by shame and terror. I was utterly unlike myself all day. Bernard came as usual in the evening. He was thoughtful and confused. He looked me straight in the eyes and understood what I was feeling, and it grieved him. I seized a moment when we were alone together to say, ‘Dear Bernard, we have done very wrong. I forgot my duty; I broke faith with my husband whom I love truly and devotedly. I don’t know what happened to me,’ I said to him, ‘but when we were together yesterday I felt as if I loved you.’ ”

“You have always loved him, Agnes, since the first time you saw him,” said her husband in a very quiet gentle tone.

Agnes trembled a little. She wanted to look up at her husband, but could not, and she went on hurriedly:

“ ‘I am very sinful,’ I said to Bernard Horn, ‘because I love you both, my dear husband and you. This is a great sin in the sight of God and of men,’ I said, ‘a sin, because a wife ought to be faithful to her husband, and he to her. Dear Bernard,’ said I to him, ‘I shall always cherish the sweet memory of last night, but what happened then must never be repeated, and I must never again walk alone with you on this beautiful shore. And you, dear Bernard, must give me your word that you will never ask me what I cannot give you, and you won’t expect kisses from me.’ I wept as I spoke to him, like a little girl, and my heart was torn with grief and with a strange joy. I knew my sin, and my contrite heart trembled in my bosom. I repented, and in that moment I knew that He who had given me a heart to love and to be happy had forgiven me. Bernard looked lovingly at me, and I saw that he was touched to the depths of his soul. He kissed my hand and said, ‘Don’t take away the crimson ribbon from me, dear Agnes,’ and I whispered back, ‘Keep it,’ and ran away to my own room. For a long time I wept there, and I wanted to weep endlessly. But I remembered that I must see after the supper, and I came downstairs, after carefully bathing my swollen eyelids in cold water.”

Agnes was silent, and with a timid imploring gaze looked up at her husband. The eyes of the old man glowed as radiantly as in his youth. He put his arm around his wife tenderly and said:

“I remember that day, dear Agnes. I remember it, because I knew all. I saw you and I understood everything.”

“You knew!” exclaimed Agnes quietly. “You knew, and said nothing to me!”

“I knew,” said Professor Roggenfeldt, “that you said nothing to me about the matter for fear of hurting me. I trusted you; I knew you were loyal to me; and if you did sin against me then I forgave you before you realised that it was a sin. Like this old gentleman who was here just now, I was ready to forgive deviation from rhythm, and even a mistake in the playing, if only the playing were not without soul. But you have always warmed and enlightened my life. You have not been like these mechanical musicians who have learned by heart their parts, which never express their souls. I have been happy with you, because you have given me the rapture of love.”

“My dear one, my beloved,” said she, touched by his words, “I knew that you had a great and a beautiful soul. It’s true, I didn’t want to grieve you. But now that so many years have passed, and we have not much longer to live in this beautiful world, I resolved at last to tell you all. This morning I wrote to Doctor Horn, and at my request he sent me back the crimson ribbon. I put it on your writing-table after lunch, before we came out here. It is yours.”

“No, no,” answered Edward with animation. “Our dear friend, Doctor Bernard Horn, must keep it. He has done us much service, and he was with you in that fateful moment when your heart was surcharged with an unreasonable, immeasurable love. He held a cup of sweet wine to your thirsty lips, and may God bless him for this as I bless him for it. But now, Agnes, dry your tears and send at once to Bernard. He must come today and bring his violin, and we again⁠ ⁠…”

VIII

By this time the music below had come to an end. The young folks, laughing and talking noisily together, were climbing upwards along the sloping road that wound along the steep cliff.

Edward and Agnes walked slowly homeward. There was a sweet delicate fragrance of eglantine in the air, pale peonies fluttered their rosy double petals, the first poppies crimsoned and flamed on the long beds under the windows. Over the straggling dark green of the wild vine on the terrace was borne the fragrance of stocks. Wonderful tuberoses dreamed unceasingly, exhaling an infinite fragrance of happiness immeasurable and of love without end.

On the threshold of their home Edward Roggenfeldt paused for a moment and said:

“Yes, he is right. These wooden musicians are terrible. I’m glad we can’t hear them playing any longer. But you and I, Agnes, have not played our part in life without inspiration!”

Slayers of Innocent Babes

Having with great success quelled the rebellion of those who had refused to offer sacrifice and bow before the effigy of the godlike emperor, the detachment of Roman horse returned to camp. Much blood had been shed, many of those disrespectful unto Caesar had been slain, and the tired soldiers looked forward impatiently to the joyful hour when they could get to their tents, where they could without disturbance take delight in the company of the wives and daughters that they had borne off from the villages of the rebellious.

These women and maids, seized at the very moment of the slaying of their husbands and fathers, at the moment of the burning of their farms, lay bound on straw at the bottom of the heavy carts drawn by stout horses, and they had been sent on in advance by the direct road to the camp.

The horsemen themselves had chosen a roundabout road home, for, according to the Centurion, several of the insurgent villagers had taken to flight and hidden themselves in out-of-the-way parts, and he thought to come up with some of them and despatch them. For though their swords had been made into long-toothed saws by the fighting and were covered with blood, though their spears were blunted with hard work, their Roman appetite still craved the fresh hot blood of further victims.

It was a sultry day, and the hottest hour of the day, just afternoon. The sky was cloudlessly and mercilessly bright. The fiery Dragon of the sky quivering with fury poured streams of fierce rage into the vast and tired emptiness. The withered grass held to the thirsting and parched earth, and grieved with her, and lay stifling under the hot dust.

Smoke of dust rose from the horses’ feet and remained a cloud in the still air. The dust settled on the armour of the tired horsemen and gave a dull glimmer of velvet to their accoutrements. Through the clouds of their own dust the country through which they passed seemed portentous, gloomy, melancholy.

Earth herself, burned up by the fierce Dragon, lay submissive under the horses’ hoofs. The empty road trembled and jingled under the blows of the iron horseshoes.

At rare intervals they came upon poor villages and collections of wretched huts, but the Centurion, overcome by the heat, relented in his purpose of searching out those who might be in hiding. As he sat in his saddle, jogging rhythmically with his horse’s movement, he thought merely of the end of the journey, the escape from the heat, the cool tent, the night tide, the new bride.

A young soldier, however, interrupted his thoughts, saying:

“Over there by the roadside I see a crowd of people. Order us, Marcellus, and we will whirl down upon them and scatter them. The wind which our horses will make will disperse the stupor into which the heat has cast us, and will fan away the dust and tiredness from both you and us.”

The Centurion cast his sharp gaze in the direction indicated by the soldier, and looked attentively.

“No, Lucillus,” said he, smiling, “that crowd is a crowd of children playing by the roadside. It’s not worth chasing them. Let them look at our fine horses, at our gallant troop, and so gain in early years a strong impression of the grandeur of the Roman arms and the fame of our unconquerable and godlike Caesar.”

Young Lucillus did not dare to object to the Centurion’s words. But his face grew dark. He dropped back into his accustomed position in the troop and said in a whisper to his neighbour, also a young man:

“These children are perhaps the offspring of that same rebellious gang. I’d cut them up with joy. Our Centurion has become too sensitive and is losing the true valour of a soldier.”

But his friend replied in displeasure: “Why should we fight with children? What glory would there be in that? It is enough for us to fight with those who can defend themselves.”

Lucillus thereupon turned red and was silent.

The soldiers approached the children. The children ceased their game and stood at the side of the road and gazed at the soldiers, wondering at their fine horses, at their shining armour, their sunburnt faces. They wondered, lisped, stared⁠—stared with widely-opened eyes.

Suddenly one of the children, the beautiful boy Lin, cried out an unexpected word, and his black eyes glowed with sacred rage:

“Murderers!”

And he pointed his little hand at the Centurion, who for his part went past gloomily, not hearing what the child said.

The children, frightened at the words of little Lin, crowded round him and implored him not to say anything more. And they whispered:

“Let’s run, else they’ll kill us all.”

And the girls began to cry. But beautiful Lin got free of the little crowd and fearlessly shook his fist in the faces of the soldiers, and once more cried out:

“Executioners! Torturers of innocent people!”

His black eyes glowed with rage and he repeated his cries:

“Executioners! Executioners!”

The children wailed aloud in order to smother the sound of the boy’s words, and several of them took him by the arms and drew him away, but he broke away from them and turned to the horsemen of the emperor and cursed them once more.

The horsemen stopped, and the youngest of them exclaimed:

“Spawn of unbelievers. They’ve got the taint in their hearts. They ought to be destroyed. There’s no room in the world for those who insult the Roman warrior.”

And even the older soldiers went to the Centurion and said:

“The impudence of these rascals deserves condign punishment. Command us to go after them and slaughter them. We should destroy the unbelievers whilst they are young and weak, for when they grow up they will be capable of combining and doing much damage.”

And the Centurion yielded and said:

“You go after them, kill those who shouted at us and punish the rest, so that they may remember to the end of their days what it means to insult the Roman soldier.”

And the Centurion and the troop of horse turned back and galloped through the dust after the children.

Lin saw the soldiers coming after them and cried to the others:

“Leave me. You cannot save me, but if we all flee together then we shall all be killed by this dishonourable and pitiless troop. I will go and meet them. They will kill me only, and I have no wish to go on living in a world where such ugly things are done.”

Lin stopped, and his tired and frightened companions could not drag him further. They all came to a standstill and the horsemen quickly came up and surrounded them.

The drawn swords gleamed in the sunlight. The children trembled, burst into sobs, and clung close together in a bunch.

The fiery Dragon of the sky urged the soldiers to murder, inflamed their blood, and was ready even to kiss the innocent blood of the children and to breathe his sultry heat upon their dismembered bodies. But the boy Lin came bravely forth from the crowd and thus addressed the Centurion:

“Old man, it was I who called your men murderers and executioners, I who cursed you and called down vengeance from the true lord upon you. These others are only children trembling and weeping. They are afraid that your wicked men will kill them and that they will follow and kill our fathers and mothers. They are submissive unto you. Therefore, if you are not yet sated with murder, kill me only. I am not afraid of you; I hate you. I despise your sword and your unjust sway over our country. I do not wish to live on the earth which is trampled by the horses of your false troops. My hands are weak, and I am not yet tall enough to fight you or I would. So kill me whilst you have the chance.”

The Centurion listened in astonishment, but answered:

“No, cockatrice, not as you will but as I will. You shall die, but not you only.”

And to the troops he said:

“Kill them all. Don’t leave one of the serpent brood alive. The words of this bold boy will have fallen as seed in their hearts. Kill them all without mercy, big and little, babes also.”

The soldiers fell upon them and cut them to bits with their merciless swords. The gloomy valley and the dusty road became tremblingly vocal with children’s shrieks. The misty horizon echoed painfully, and echoed again and was silent. The horses deflated their nostrils and smelt the smoking blood, and with their iron-shod hoofs they trod on the poor bodies.

Then the warriors returned to the road laughing joyfully and cruelly. They hastened homeward to their camp conversing and rejoicing.

But the road went on, still went on dusty as ever, ravaged by the fiery eyes of the Dragon. Afternoon turned to evening and the Dragon effaced himself in shadow, but there came no evening coolness. The wind, as if enchanted by silence and fear, lay asleep. The sultry Dragon sinking into darkness looked in the eyes of the Centurion and seemed to smile a calm and dreadful smile. The twilight was calm and sultry and shadowy; the beat of the horses’ feet was even and rhythmical and drowsy, and the Centurion felt sad at heart.

So measured was the beat of the sounding hoofs, and so grey, so hopeless and unlifting was the column of dust in which they moved, that it seemed as if they were on an endless journey. The greyer became the night the more lonely and remote they seemed, and the empty clangour of their beating hoofs resounded in the far distance of the wilderness. A sense of dread came over him, a dread to which as to his tiredness he saw no term.

He seemed to hear the sounds of wailing somewhere afar.

The earth trembled and murmured under the beat of the horses’ hoofs.

Someone was running towards them.

A dim voice, a voice like that of the boy began to cry.

The Centurion looked round on his soldiers. The shadow of night lay on their bowed faces, distorted with dust, sunken with tiredness, and a look of confused terror hung on their countenances.

The parched lips of Lucillus whispered nervously, “Oh that the camp were in sight.”

“What is it, Lucillus?” asked the Centurion looking fixedly into the tired face of the young soldier.

And Lucillus whispered in reply:

“I am in dread.”

And then, blushing to have confessed to fear, he added in a louder voice:

“It’s terribly hot.”

And then relapsing into a whisper, he shuddered and went on.

“That accursed boy is on my conscience, his face pursues me. He was in league with sorcerers, and though we cut him down we could not lay him, he was enchanted⁠ ⁠…”

The Centurion scanned the dark landscape. There was not a soul to be seen, near or far.

“Have you lost the amulet you received from the old priest at Carthage? I remember it was said that he who wore that amulet was immune from the spells of night enchantments,” said the Centurion.

“I am wearing it now,” said the young man. “But it is burning into my chest. There are earth-fiends after us; I hear the murmur of the earth disgorging the hurrying fiends.”

“Oh, you make a mistake,” said the Centurion, seeking to reassure him by reasonable words. “The earth fiends are mightily beholden unto us for giving them a rich feast today. In any case, fear should find no place in the heart of a valiant soldier, not even the fear engendered by the moaning of sprites in the night in the wilderness.”

“Oh, I fear, I fear,” cried Lucillus. “I hear the voice of that strange child following us.”

Then suddenly in the sultry silence of the night a moaning and maledictory voice broke forth:

“Curses⁠ ⁠… curses upon the heads of the murderers.”

The soldiers shuddered, spurred their horses and clattered along more quickly. But the voice of an unseen spirit pursued them and cried out all about them, now in front of them, now behind, now at one side, now another, sharply, distinctly:

“Murderers! Slayers of innocent babes! Merciless soldiers; ye yourselves shall not receive mercy!”

The soldiers took fright and spurred their steeds and hastened. But the old Centurion was angry and scolded them, crying:

“For shame! Of whom are you afraid. Are soldiers of the mighty and godlike Emperor afraid of shadows. From whom do you flee? From a boy whom you killed, from a dead body raised to life by unclean charms! Pull yourselves together, men, and remember that the Roman arms triumph not only over our enemies, but over the enchantments of the enemy also.”

The soldiers took shame. At the bidding of the Centurion they came to a halt. They were still and listened to the noises of the night. Someone was distinctly on their tracks following after them, waiting and denouncing. No shape was seen in the darkness or upon the vague shadowiness of the landscape, but a small intense voice of a child cried out incessantly.

“Let us find out who it is,” said one soldier, and the troop spurred their horses across the waste in the direction of the sound. And when they had lost sight of the road they came suddenly upon a strange child running on the heath, his garments torn, his dark hair dabbled in blood. And the child streaming blood as he ran, moaned and shouted and threatened with a maledictory hand.

With wild rage the soldiers drew their swords and dashed at the boy and slew him again, hacking him into a hundred bits and trampling the flesh under their horses’ feet. And before they resumed their journey they scattered the remains of the dead child’s body and flung portions north, south, east, and west.

Then they wiped their swords in the grass, got into their saddles, and hastened once more onward on the long roundabout homeward road. But hardly had they resumed their journey than the moody silence that was between them and around them was broken by a sharp exclamation: “Murderers!” and once more they were assailed by a running accompaniment of curses and denunciation from an unseen child.

They turned their horses in terror and rage, and sought the spirit out again, and away in the darkness once more they saw the strange boy running with torn garments and black hair dabbled in blood, with blood streaming from his hands. And once more they set upon him and cut him down, and stamped upon the body and scattered the severed limbs and galloped away.

But again and again the wailing child came after them. And in the rage of murder that had no end and of wails and denunciations that never ceased the troop missed the way to the Camp and went round and round the wild district where the children had been slain by them. The grandeur of night spread over the valley and the stars glimmered, sinless, innocent, remote.

The soldiers followed on their own tracks, and the cries of the boy on the heath were heavy on their souls. Round and round they wandered and killed in fury and yet could not kill.

At last, just before sunrise, with madness at their heels the troop galloped on to the shore of the sea. And the waves boiled under the frenzied onrush of the horses.

So perished all the horsemen and with them the Centurion Marcellus.

And to the far silent spot where by the roadway lay the bodies of the boy Lin and the other children, bloodstained, unburied, wolves came creeping stealthily, fearfully, and they sated themselves with the innocent and sweet bodies of the children.

The Herald of the Beast

I

It was quiet and peaceful, neither gladness nor sadness was in the room. The electric light was on. The walls seemed solid, firm as adamant, indestructible. The window was hidden behind heavy dark green curtains, and the big door opposite the window was locked and bolted, as was also the little one in the wall at the side. But on the other side of the doors all was dark and empty, in the wide corridor and in the melancholy hall where beautiful palms yearned for their southern homes.

Gurof was lying on the green divan. In his hands was a book. He read it, but often stopped short in his reading. He thought, mused, dreamed⁠—and always about the same thing, always about them.

They were near him. He had long since noticed that. They had hid themselves. They were inescapably near. They rustled round about, almost inaudibly, but for a long time did not show themselves to his eyes. Gurof saw the first one a few days ago; he wakened tired, miserable, pallid, and as he lazily turned on the electric light so as to expel the wild gloom of the winter morning he suddenly saw one of them.

A wee grey one, agile and furtive pattered over his pillow, lisped something, and hid himself.

And afterwards, morning and evening, they ran about Gurof, grey, agile, furtive.

And today he had expected them.

Now and then his head ached slightly. Now and then he was seized by cold fits and by waves of heat. Then from a corner ran out Fever long and slender, with ugly yellow face and dry bony hands, lay down beside him, embraced him, kissed his face and smiled. And the rapid kisses of the caressing and subtle Fever and the soft aching movements in his head were pleasant to him.

Weakness poured itself into all his limbs. And tiredness spread over them. But it was pleasant. The people he knew in the world became remote, uninteresting, entirely superfluous. He felt he would like to remain here with them.

Gurof had been indoors for several days. He had locked himself up in the house. He permitted no one to see him. Sat by himself. Thought of them. Waited them.

II

Strangely and unexpectedly the languor of sweet waiting was broken. There was a loud knocking at an outer door and then the sound of even unhurrying footsteps in the hall.

As Gurof turned his face to the door a blast of cold air swept in, and he saw, as he shivered, a boy of a wild and strange appearance. He was in a linen cloak, but showed half his body naked, and his arms were bare. His body was brown, all sunburnt. His curly hair was black and bright; black also were his eyes and sparkling. A wonderfully correct and beautiful face. But of a beauty terrible to look upon. Not a kind face, not an evil one.

Gurof was not astonished at the boy’s coming. Some dominant idea had possession of his mind. And he heard how they crept out of sight and hid themselves.

And the boy said:

“Aristomakh! Have you forgotten your promise? Do noble people act thus? You fled from me when I was in mortal danger. You promised me something, which it seems you did not wish to fulfil. Such a long time I’ve been looking for you! And behold I find you living in festivity, drowning in luxury.”

Gurof looked distrustfully at the half-naked beautiful boy and a confused remembrance awakened in his soul. Something long since gratefully buried in oblivion rose up with indistinct feature and asking for remembrance tired his memory. The enigma could not be guessed though it seemed near and familiar.

And where were the unwavering walls? Something was happening round about him, some change was taking place, but Gurof was so obsessed by the struggle with his ancient memory that he failed to take stock of those changes. He said to the wonderful boy:

“Dear boy, tell me clearly and simply without unnecessary reproaches what it was I promised you and when it was I left you in mortal danger. I swear to you by all that is holy my honour would never have allowed me to commit the ignoble act with which for some reason you charge me.”

The boy nodded, and then in a loud melodious voice gave answer:

“Aristomakh! You always were clever at verbal exercises, and indeed as clever in actions demanding daring and caution. If I said that you left me in a moment of mortal danger it is not a reproach. And I don’t understand why you speak of your honour. The thing purposed by us was difficult and dangerous, but why do you quibble about it. Who is here that you think you can deceive by pretending ignorance of what happened this morning before sunrise and of the promise you had given me?”

The electric light became dim. The ceiling seemed dark and high. There was the scent of a herb in the room⁠—but what herb? Its forgotten name had one time sounded sweetly on his ear. On the wings of the scent a cool air seemed wafted into the room. Gurof stood up and cried out:

“What thing did we purpose? I deny nothing, dear boy, but I simply don’t know of what you are speaking. I don’t remember.”

It seemed to Gurof that the child was at one and the same time both looking at him and not looking at him. Though the boy’s eyes were directed towards him they seemed to be staring at some other unearthly person whose body coincided with his but who was not he.

It grew dark around him and the air became fresher and cooler. A gladness leapt in his soul and a lightness as of elementary existence. The room disappeared from his remembrance. Above he saw the stars glittering in the black sky. Once more the boy addressed him:

“We ought to have killed the Beast. I shall remind you of that when under the myriad eyes of the all-seeing sky you are again confused with fear. And how not have fear! The thing that we purposed was great and dreadful, and it would have given a glory to our names in far posterity.”

In the night quietude he heard the murmuring and gentle tinkling of a brook. He could not see the brook, but he felt that it was deliciously and tantalisingly near. They were standing in the shadow of spreading trees, and the conversation went on. Gurof asked:

“Why do you say that I left you in a moment of mortal danger? Am I the sort of man to take fright and run away?”

The boy laughed, and like music was his laughter. Then in sweet melodious accents he replied:

“Aristomakh, how cleverly you pretend to have forgotten all! But I don’t understand why you take the trouble to exercise such cunning, or why you contrive reproaches against yourself which I for my part should not have thought of alone. You left me in the moment of mortal danger because it was clearly necessary, and you couldn’t help me otherwise than by abandoning me there. Surely you won’t remain obstinate in your denial after I remind you of the words of the oracle.”

Gurof suddenly remembered. It was as if a bright light had flooded into the dark abyss of the forgotten. And he cried out loudly and excitedly:

“He alone will kill the Beast!”

The boy laughed. Aristomakh turned to him with the question:

“Have vou killed the Beast, Timaride?”

“With what? Even were my hands strong enough I am not he who has the power to kill the Beast with a blow of the fist. We were incautious, Aristomakh, and without weapons. We were playing on the sands and the Beast fell upon us suddenly and struck me with his heavy paw. My fate was to give my life as a sweet sacrifice to glory and in high exploit, but to you it remained to finish the work. And whilst the Beast tore my helpless body you might have run, swift-footed Aristomakh, might have gained your spear, and you might have struck the Beast whilst he was drunk with my blood. But the Beast did not accept my sacrifice; I lay before him motionless and looked up at his blood-weltering eyes, and he kept me pinned to the ground by the heavy paw on my shoulder. He breathed hotly and unevenly and he growled softly, but he did not kill me. He simply licked over my face with his broad warm tongue and went away.”

“Where is he now?” asked Aristomakh.

The night air felt moist and calm, and through it came the musical answer of Timaride:

“I rose when he had left me but he was attracted by the scent of my blood and followed after me. I don’t know why he has set upon me again. Still I am glad that he follows, for so I bring him to you. Get the weapon that you so cleverly hid, and kill the Beast, and I in my turn will run away and leave you in the moment of mortal danger, face to face with the enraged Beast. Good luck, Aristomakh!”

And saying that Timaride ran away, his white cloak gleaming but a minute in the darkness. And just as he disappeared there broke out the horrible roaring of the Beast and the thud of his heavy paws on the ground. Thrusting to right and left the foliage of the bushes there appeared in the darkness the immense monstrous head of the Beast, and his large eyes gleamed like luminous velvet. The Beast ceased to roar, and with his eyes fixed on Aristomakh approached him stealthily and silently.

Terror filled the heart of Aristomakh.

“Where is the spear?” he whispered, and immediately he turned to flee. But with a heavy bound the Beast started after him, roaring and bellowing, and pulled him down. And when the Beast held him a great yell broke through the stillness of the night. Then Aristomakh moaned out the ancient and horrible words of the curse of the walls.

And up rose the walls about him.⁠ ⁠…

III

The walls of the room stood firm, unwavering, and the barely reflected electric light seemed to die upon them. All the rest of the room was customary and usual.

Once more Fever came and kissed him with dry yellow lips and caressed him with wizened bony hands. The same tedious little book with little white pages lay on the table, and in the green divan lay Gurof, and Fever embraced him, scattering rapid kisses with hurrying lips. And once more the grey ones rustled and chattered.

Gurof raised his head a little as if with great effort and said hollowly:

“The curse of the walls.”

What was he talking about? What curse? What was the curse? What were the words of it? Were there any?

The little ones, grey and agile, danced about the book and turned with their tails the pallid pages, and with little squeaks and whimpers answered him:

“Our walls are strong. We live in the walls. No fear troubles us inside the walls.”

Among them was a singular looking one, not at all like the rest. He was quite black and wore dress of mingled smoke and flame. From his eyes came little lightnings. Suddenly he detached himself from the others and stood before Gurof who cried out:

“Who are you? What do you want?”

The black guest replied:

“I⁠ ⁠… am the Herald of the Beast. On the shore of the forest stream you left long since the mangled body of Timaride. The Beast has sated himself with the fine blood of your friend⁠—he has devoured the flesh which should have tasted earthly happiness; the wonderful human form has been destroyed, and that in it which was more than human has perished, all to give a moment’s satisfaction to the ever insatiable Beast. The blood, the marvellous blood, godly wine of joy, the wine of more than human blessing⁠—where is it now? Alas! the eternally thirsting Beast has been made drunk for a moment by it. You have left the mangled body of Timaride by the side of the forest stream, have forgotten the promise given to your splendid friend, and the word of the ancient oracle has not driven fear from your heart. Think you then, that saving yourself you can escape the Beast and that he will not find you?”

The voice and the words were stern. The grey ones had stopped in their dancing to listen. Gurof said:

“What is the Beast to me. I have fixed my walls about me forever, and the Beast will not find a way to me in my fortress.”

At that the grey ones rejoiced and scampered round the room anew, but the Herald of the Beast cried out once more, and sharp and stern were his accents:

“Do you not see that I am here. I am here because I have found you. I am here because the curse of the walls has lost power. I am here because Timaride is waiting and tirelessly questioning. Do you not hear the gentle laughter of the brave and trusting child? Do you not hear the roaring of the Beast?”

From beyond the wall broke out the terrible roaring of the Beast.

“But the walls are firm forever by the spell I cast, my fortress cannot be destroyed,” cried Gurof.

And the Black One answered, imperiously:

“I tell thee, man, the curse of the walls is dead. But if you don’t believe, but still think you can save yourself, pronounce the curse again.”

Gurof shuddered. He indeed believed that the curse was dead, and all that was around him whispered to him the terrible news. The Herald of the Beast had pronounced the fearful truth. Gurof’s head ached, and he felt weary of the hot kisses that clinging, caressing Fever still gave him. The words of the sentence seemed to strain his consciousness, and the Herald of the Beast as he stood before him was magnified until he obscured the light and stood like a great shadow over him, and his eyes glowed like fires.

Suddenly the black cloak fell from the shoulders of the visitor and Gurof recognised him⁠—it was the child Timaride.

“Are you going to kill the Beast?” asked Timaride in a high-sounding voice. “I have brought him to you. The malicious gift of godhead will avail you no longer, for the curse is dead. It availed you once, making as nothing my sacrifice and hiding from your eyes the glory of your exploit. But today the tune is changed, dead is the curse, get your sword quickly and kill the Beast. I was only a child; now I have become the Herald of the Beast. I have fed the Beast with my blood but he thirsts anew. To you I have brought him, and do you fulfil your promise and kill him. Or die.”

He vanished.

The walls shuddered at the dreadful roaring. The room filled with airs that were cold and damp.

The wall directly opposite the place where Gurof lay collapsed, and there entered the ferocious, immense, and monstrous Beast. With fearful bellowing he crept up to Gurof and struck him on the chest with his paw. The merciless claws went right into his heart. An awful pain shattered his body. And looking at him with gleaming bloody-eyes the Beast crouched over Gurof, grinding his bones in his teeth and devouring his yet-beating heart.

On the Other Side of the River Mairure

I

The two weeks spent by my brother Sin and myself in the magnificent capital, a vicious if splendid city, passed by as quickly and confusedly as the story of a dream. It was astonishing and bewildering to us, this proud imperial city full of human ingenuity and enticement, and we felt far from it, not only because our native villages were far away, but because our morals and customs were further still removed. Alack, too late I learned that the town was not simply wonderful, glorious, noisy, populous, but also fearsone and terrible to the young untried heart fresh with the innocence of the country. It was my fate to endure incomparable temptation and mortification. But my young brother! Ah, that I had never brought him with me to this place!

Our friend Sarroo, with whom we stayed, wished to show us some return for the hospitality which he enjoyed when he had been staying some time back up in our own country. He gave himself up to us entirely, and we were, you may say, inseparable; he put himself to infinite trouble that we might miss nothing in this great and wonderful town. Other men await the departure of their guests with scarcely feigned impatience, but our good friend was even mortified because we could not stay the whole year round with him and witness the cycle of pageants, festivities, and offerings of sacrifice.

Sarroo showed us everything: the temples of gracious and ingracious gods, the woods sacred to mysterious spirits, the dark towers of tranquillity, the sweet-smelling gardens of voluptuous delight, the taverns where caresses may be bought for money, bazaars full of beautiful cloth and carpets, weapons, precious stones, perfumes, chattering birds, monkeys, slaves of all skins and colours, from delicate rose to darkest black, coffeehouses, shows⁠—strange sights without number. But the calamity that befell us lay not in the many things that we saw. I have not yet mentioned the singular temptation that involved ourselves and our villages in the greatest unhappiness.

O that I had never visited that town! Or that I had not brought with me a child so weak to withstand temptation!

One morning our friend Sarroo said to us: “Today I will show you the imperial menagerie”⁠—at that time the menagerie might be seen not only by ourselves but by foreigners.

My brother Sin agreed with shouts of pleasure. I, for my part, hesitated, for I had had, the night before, a dream in which I saw a beast of immeasurable power and fierceness, whose roaring was like that of him who dwells in the woods on the other side of the river Mairure. And I did not wish to visit the accursed beast-garden, but I did not like to offend our kind host.

II

First of all we wandered through a park which seemed almost limitless in extent, and we saw a marvellous diversity of birds all shut in cages. We saw gigantic birds with great wings able to carry in their talons fat sheep, and we saw birds almost devoid of wings, but of wonderfully beautiful plumage which reminded us of the luminous stones which we find in the sand of the river Mairure, birds whose melodious singing charmed our ears, even birds who could speak the language of that land, but not very well, though quite loudly and distinctly.

In immense tanks we saw the wonders of the seas and the rivers. In cages and glasshouses we saw poisonous adders and immense cobras⁠—they distended their jaws with such rage, and thrusting out their dreadful stings we trembled involuntarily. Before their eyes we quailed, and at moments seemed rooted to the ground before their gaze. They say that their teeth and poison-bags have been removed, otherwise visitors might yet be drawn to their death by the power of the serpents’ eyes.

And we saw innumerable beasts both fierce and gentle, camels with two humps, rhinoceroses, hippopotamuses, unheard-of beasts with terrible claws, monsters with noses like serpents.

My young brother Sin was elated by the sights. I for my part, under the influence of such a variety of impressions and emotions, revolting odours and appalling sounds, grew more and more confused.

“In a minute I will show you a beast that is truly royal,” said our friend Sarroo at length; but before he had time to tell us its name I was overcome by an inexplicable emotion, and I heard a sound which forced me to fling myself on my face on the ground. Out of all the mingled cries and voices of the menagerie there suddenly rose up a threatening roar⁠—the voice of the dweller in the woods on the other side of the Mairure.

That roar, in the quiet of our village nights, had often broken on our hearts telling us that the dwellers of the woods thirsted anew for a victim, and behold we heard it in the menagerie of the Great Emperor. Lying prostrate on the ground I waited that he should make his choice, and my heart was full of terror. I said goodbye to life⁠—never had I heard that roaring so near to me before.

Then whilst my brother and I lay there in the dust and waited, we heard a noise louder than the roaring of the beast⁠—the laughter of the people in the garden, and our friend Sarroo, laughing like the rest, tried to raise us from the earth.

“Don’t fear,” said he, “the beast is only dangerous when it is free. It is now imprisoned in a cage, and couldn’t get out of it even were it five times as strong as it is. The man who made the cage knew his work. And think, friends, how could there be any danger from the beasts in the king’s pleasure-ground?”

Then, not raising my head, I answered my friend Sarroo: “My heart knows not fear, and does not tremble even in moments of mortal danger, but I heard the roar of the dweller in the woods on the other side of the river Mairure, and at that sound it becomes a man to lie in the dust and wait till the choice of a victim has been made.”

Then, laughing as before, Sarroo replied: “That is only a beast in a cage roaring, and it is quite harmless. Look! Even little children go right up to the cage and are not afraid; the wire cannot be broken. The beast is fed by the keepers, and the meat they give him he has, and no more.”

As I lay in the dust the roaring continued. I remembered the many nights in the village when, awakening in my tent, I heard the same awful demands for a victim, and I dared not get up. But at last I heard my brother Sin say to me, “I have dared to look up; it seems the roaring proceeds from a beast shut in a cage.”

Hearing that, I did not know what to think or what to do. Had any demon such power as to dare to imitate his threatening roar? Could demons dare so much, were they so strong? Did the dweller on the other side of the river Mairure conceal himself in the hide of an imprisoned and harmless beast? did he mock the pitiful blind people who looked at him and from them make choice of a victim? But could the great and stern one descend to such a degree as to hide himself in the skin of a caught beast? Or could it be thought that the contemptible demon of this dishonourable town had wrought a spell?

Did it not augur innumerable misfortunes for myself and my brother Sin that we dared to take part in the false triumph of the people of this debauched and cursed city, even though we lay humbly in the dust before the horrible cage? And what meant this fearful, overwhelming thing? It was incomprehensible to us, perhaps altogether beyond the understanding of the weak mind of man. At least it was insulting to the covenants of our blessed country.

Then whilst I lay in the dust, and the dishonourable made mock of us, my brother Sin said to me:

“Let us go hence.”

But was it possible to go whilst he roared over us? And what if I saw him whom none of us had ever looked in the face? If it were indeed he, how could we go away and how could we leave him there in shame and insult? But staying, did we not share in the most disgusting of human sins? I resolved to go; there was no way else, though such a thought had been so far from me when first the roaring broke upon our ears.

But first, before I rose, I carefully covered up the face of my brother Sin with my cloak, for I thought if one of us must perish meeting the enraged gaze let it be the elder of us, for he, my brother, had yet to taste the sweetest moments of life. And I also thought he might perhaps do something rash, and having seen once, by accident and without retribution might on his own account dare to look a second time, and I know by experience that it is madness to tempt Fate.

So we slunk out of the gardens followed by the coarse and laughing crowd. Truly that people, their accursed city, and its walls crowned by towers, are worthy of a great punishment!

III

That very day we laded our camels, and before sunset had left the horrible town.

We had much time on the way to think on what had happened to us at the menagerie of the Great Emperor. But the phenomenon entirely baffled us.

It was not necessary to think that it portented evil and frightful misfortune, nor could we take it as a sign of blessing. Do we ever hear of the most powerful one appearing with the single object of being a sign to man? No, when even in the most ancient traditions, true, it has been handed down that the dweller on the other side of the river Mairure showed himself as a sign of impending calamity or blessing, or that he came to prophesy at all⁠—he always came roaring threateningly, and took the one of us on whom his choice fell.

For a long time we wandered through the desert saying not a word to one another. I knew by my brother’s gloomy silence that he also thought on what had happened. At last, when we were but three days’ journey from home, he broke silence, saying, “Whilst we lay on the ground and the people laughed at us, and I lifted my head, I saw the open jaws of the beast. There could be no mistake, the roaring proceeded from one of the caught beasts that were shut in the cages.”

And I said to my brother Sin:

“Of such bodeful appearances it is better to be silent. So our forefathers enjoined. There is much in the world that is inexplicable, and even if it is possible to consider it familiarly and without fear, we ought always to hold ourselves humbly and reverently toward it.”

Sin was a long time without words, but towards sunset he broke silence, saying: “It was the same roaring which we heard outside our village when he came for a victim. He to whom we prostrate ourselves with such humility and who has devoured countless delicate girls and pretty children is a wild beast with green cat’s eyes, with yellow hide sown all over with black spots. And it is possible to catch him and put him in a cage.”

I was horrified, and forbade my brother Sin to speak such dishonouring words. But Sin was possessed of the spirit that eternally strives against the dweller on the other side of the river Mairure, and he turned upon me in rage and cried out:

“I saw that it was a wild beast. Why should we make any more sacrifices to him? Can we not also build a cage for him⁠—a worthy chamber⁠—and make him live peacefully there, so saving ourselves and our families from terror and death? I am not so mad as to think that we can live without him, but why not feed him on the flesh of sheep or bulls? Why should we weep for our children when he can make such an excellent repast on cattle?”

In vain I forbade my brother, in vain did I mercilessly beat him, his tongue continued to utter the same lying and dishonourable words.

And we returned home.

IV

Soon the young people of our village began to hold secret meetings, my brother Sin gathering them together and delighting them with his foolish thoughts and deliberations. Alas! I was myself actually called upon to confirm the story of what we had heard in the imperial gardens. I was asked to say that the threatening roar came from a wild beast caught by cunning and powerful hunters and placed by them in a great barred chamber, where he was harmless.

Certainly I did not tire of explaining to the hesitant that the dweller on the other side of the river Mairure could not possibly be in a cage, and that the roaring proceeding from the cage was simply one of those inexplicable phenomena which again and again prove too much for weak human reason, and about which it is better to preserve silence. But they did not listen to me, and were more ready to believe the evil suggestion of my brother Sin.

At length there grew up a decided opposition of opinion⁠—one half the people believing one way, one half the other. The one half held to the tradition of our fathers and preserved the belief that he who dwells in the impenetrable thickets of the other side of the stream is incomprehensible to the human kind, and that he comes out of the Jungle by night, announcing to the villages by his roaring that he requires another sacrifice. They held also that his presence near a village brought good fortune, saving us from many calamities and giving us success in the hunt and at our labours. The other half, with absurd vehemence and obstinacy, repeated the foolish story of the beast in the cage and turned a deaf ear to the wisdom of their elders.

There was much confusion and exasperation, fights, murders even, and brother rose against brother, son against father. Throughout all the countryside sweet peace was broken and quarrels began.

V

At last the wise Bellessis became possessed of a wily but deceptive thought, and many who liked to find middle paths were brought to a peaceful state of mind. Thus spake the wise Bellessis:

“Our fathers taught us to reverence the dweller in the woods who takes of us human sacrifice, and the teaching of our forefathers should in no wise be forgotten or laid aside. The whole system on which our life is framed would fall to pieces if we learned to have no fear before the eyes of green fire that shine on us out of the darkness of our nights. And if we elders and teachers should encourage a frivolous and neglectful attitude towards the mysterious one, it is certain that our boisterous and self-willed youths, dismissing the serious thought, losing the trembling in the night, will fall into the most excessive debauch and rascality.”

The old men and the teachers welcomed these wise words with loud commendations, but having thus ingratiated himself in the heart of the elders the wise Bellessis went on and tried to make himself pleasing to the foolish. Thus he spake:

“On the other hand, we cannot doubt the probity of our common friend Melech, and the truth of the story his son tells. They say that they saw a finely ornamented place they call a cage, but which was no doubt a magnificent apartment worthy to be the palace of the dweller on the other side of the river Mairure. They heard a voice proceeding from this wonderful palace. It seemed to be the roaring which we know, and both Melech and Sin fell down in reverence to him who was in the cage. Then our rash Sin actually dared to look up and see what it was that roared thus at that time; Melech and Sin were bowed to the ground, but the rabble in the garden laughed at them and gave a witness of their impoliteness. And Sin saw that that which roared was like a beast. Such is the story they brought home from the great city, and how can we disbelieve it? And why cannot the dweller on the other side of the river Mairure have the appearance of a beast? What does the devourer of our young ones demand of us? Do we not know that he wants living flesh and blood? We know he does not roast his meat or smoke it or salt it, but just devours it live. But how do we know that he needs flesh that is human? If we build him as fine a place as that which was given the beast in the Emperor’s menagerie, will he not bless our work? Perhaps when we have built a palace for him he will change his desires and prefer to be fed with living calf or lamb.”

The young men and the girls welcomed this speech with wild shouts and exclamations.

“Let us build a palace,” said they.

The more foolish even dared to say, “Build him rather a cage and drive him into it. He has lived on our loveliest long enough.” These were very stupid young ones truly, for they thought that life was the greatest blessing.

But in vain did the wise and aged strive to restrain the people in the faith of their forefathers; in vain did they try and save them from the fearful act. Alack! Even the aged, many of them, were won over to the young, for they loved their children more than they should.

VI

While they were building what they called a palace, but which was after all only a cage, several of the more impatient made a party and went to the other side of the river Mairure to hunt with arrows and spears. Of course they met their doom.

And another thing happened which greatly confused the honourable people of our countryside and emboldened the youth.

Young Zakkir, one of the bravest and cleverest of our hunters, went by himself and abode in the jungle a long time. We gave him up for dead; and since he did not return the girls sang him sweet funeral chants.

But a week later Zakkir returned, weak from loss of blood, covered with horrible wounds, but all the same radiant with joy and daring. Very unwillingly and evasively did he answer the questions of the oldest of us, but we often saw him talking to his comrades and the young fellows in lonely places. Very soon a rumour was spread through the village that Zakkir had met the dweller on the other side of the river Mairure and had battle with him.

We could not tolerate the blasphemous stories and the enmity which was being worked up against the oldest and wisest of the village. So Zakkir was taken and put to the torture in order that we might know what had in truth befallen him.

But Zakkir did not endure much torment, he confessed, and we listened to him in dread. These were his words:

“The night was calm, and there was no moon when I approached the thicket that stretches a three days’ journey beyond the river Mairure. My dagger was sharp and ready, my arrows poisoned, for I had firmly resolved to follow up and kill the monster. Suddenly, as near from me as a maiden stands looking at the youth she loves, as near as a little child throws a stone at the first attempt, I heard the roaring break forth. Moved by the power of the habit I fell down on my face on the earth and waited. I heard the heavy approach and the crackling of dry branches under feet. I waited. But a cold lizard slid along my leg as I lay and reminded me of the Emperor’s menagerie and the story of the beast in the palace. I already felt his hot and fiery breath upon me when I jumped to my feet and pulled out my dagger. I don’t know whether he whom I saw was of the stock of demons or of wild beasts, but he was immense fierce, green-eyed. His jaws were open to devour me, and the great white teeth made me tremble. In truth, whether demon, god, or beast, he is mighty and terrible. I don’t know how I kept my feet and did not fall down again before him. It was some power stronger than I that kept me face to face with him and made me slave of fate. I resolved to fight the monster whatever he was. The beast crouched to spring like a cat, and once more gave out the terrible roaring which filled me with quaking. But I followed his movements, and when he sprang I turned craftily and hid behind a tree. The beast prepared to spring again. His failure seemed to give him a grieved and shamed appearance; he slunk away and hid himself⁠—cunning, cautious, evil. I hurriedly prepared an arrow, and its poisoned copper thrummed in the air and struck the beast as he sprang a second time. This time I did not succeed in dodging, and the cruel claws rent my body. But I plucked forth my dagger and fought with that till I fell to the ground unconscious from loss of blood. What happened I know not, but the beast went away without touching my body again. When I regained consciousness night was already over. As I lay, weak and smeared with blood, I saw the trace of the beast’s footsteps away from me. Then I understood that I had wounded him grievously, and that he had gone away to die perhaps, perhaps to heal his wounds with forest leaves.”

The old men deliberated a long while over the crime of Zakkir⁠—could not make up their minds what to do, but at last the crafty Bellessis made a suggestion that won much praise.

“Let us wait till we hear the roaring again,” said he. “If we hear the voice again that will show the victory of the dweller on the other side of the river Mairure over death, and we will then deliver to him Zakkir, naked and bound. So shall we be requited for the insult, and his anger not fall upon us.”

The boys and girls of the village rejoiced, assuming that the beast was dead. “He is dead,” they cried; “he will not come and roar any more outside our houses.”

They crowned the rash and beautiful hunter with flowers, danced round him, and sang, and the sounds of flute and cymbal rose higher than the clouds.

But their joy did not last. Not a week passed before we heard the threatening voice once more.

And Zakkir was taken, made naked, bound, and placed in the jungle beyond the river. Next day, not far from the place where we left him, we found his bones. The boys and girls wept inconsolably, and the memory of Zakkir was ineffaceably printed on their hearts. But the elders cursed the daring one.

VII

But behold, the painted palace was ready. We placed it on the shore of the river Mairure, just at the place where he walks when awaiting his victim. In the cage we put for him as a last and dainty human victim the young and beautiful Hannai, taking away her dress so as not to put him to any unnecessary trouble.

We did not wait long. He came for his prey. We went to meet him with music and chanting. There was a strange excitement among all those who expected for the first time to see him face to face. And many felt a sweet pleasure at the thought that they would henceforth meet him openly with songs rather than as before in secret and with sorrow.

We were all attired as for a festival, our skins annointed with sweet oils, our heads crowned with flowers and sweet-smelling herbs. Not one of us carried a weapon⁠—we obeyed the advice of the oldest, who warned us not to anger him with the sight of arms as one of us had already so foolishly done. Calmly and joyfully we went forth to meet him, singing the sacred hymns. Nearer and nearer sounded his voice, and behold at last the velvet light of our torches fell upon his face.

We stood around the cage, leaving him a wide and open road to the door of it. But he did not enter and take his victim, but bounded into a crowd of our children and struck to earth my daughter Lotta.

He tore the dear body of my daughter Lotta, growling with greediness, mewing with pleasure, and I looked up suddenly and I saw that he to whom we had forever bowed ourselves, and for whom we had sacrificed an infinite number of our tribe, was indeed a ferocious bloodthirsty beast, strong only because we were weak, dreadful only because we trembled before him.

We also saw how the beast’s body was yellow with ugly blotches of black upon it, and we cried out through our wailing, “Truly it is a wild and evil beast. Now we have seen with our eyes who it is that dwells in the thickets beyond the river Mairure, and we know the miserable fate of our children who have been victims, and of Zakkir, devoured by the ferocious, senseless beast.”

But the beast set upon us again and took another victim. We fled, and he followed after us, tearing many with his claws, and choosing for his prey the youngest and sweetest.

On that day the beast was glutted with our blood. We shut ourselves in our huts and mourned. And we prepared to take vengeance.

VIII

The days went on. The crafty beast hid himself. There were diverse opinions held about him, but not many adhered to the ancient faith. Many rash youths perished in the jungle through incautious hunting.

The aged for the most part reproved the youths, saying, “Foolish ones, what do you strive for? What do you want? Think what will happen if you kill him? How can we live without him? You will overthrow all the traditions of our ancestors⁠—but upon what will you rebuild our life?”

Alack! We did not know about that, nor did we care to think. All we wished was to be rid of the cruel beast!

And, behold, one morning there were joyful shouts ringing through the village streets, and all the children ran about crying, “The beast is wounded! The beast is dying!”

The girls of the village clapped their hands and danced and sang, saying, “The beast is dead, is dead!”

On the banks of the river Mairure the beast lay dying, wounded by a poisoned arrow. His green eyes burned with powerless rage, and his fearful claws tore the earth and the herbage, all defiled by his foul blood.

Those who still feared the beast hid themselves in their huts and wept.

But we rejoiced that day.

We didn’t think how we were going to live.

We did not consider who might come to the shore of the river Mairure and enslave us by another and more evil tyranny.

The Candles

There were two candles burning, and many lamps along the walls. A man was reading from an exercise-book, and others were silent and listened.

The flames trembled. The candles also listened⁠—they liked listening; but there was a draught from somewhere, and they trembled.

The man finished. The candles were blown out and the people went away.

And it was just as before.

There was one grey candle burning. A woman sat and sewed. A child slept, and coughed in his sleep. There was a draught from the walls. The candles wept white, heavy tears. The tears trickled away and froze. It began to dawn. The woman with red eyes still sewed on. She blew out the candle. She sewed on.

And it was just as before.

Three yellow candles were burning. A man lay in a coffin⁠—yellow and cold. Someone was reading from a book. A woman wept. The candles were dying from fear and sorrow. A crowd arrived. They sang; they flung incense. They lifted up the coffin. The candles were blown out. They went away.

And it was just as before.

He Became Better

There are all sorts of boys in this world, good ones and bad ones.

Once there were two boys, a good boy and a truant. A magician came to them⁠—it was Uncle Better.

He asked them:

“Would you like to be better?”

“I’d like to be better, uncle dear,” replied the good boy. “A good man is well off everywhere.”

“There’s no need for me to be better,” said the truant. “I am good enough as I am. Too much goodness might tear my mouth apart with yawning.”

“Well, remain a truant,” Uncle Better said to him. “As for you, my good boy, you will become so sweet that everyone will marvel at you.”

Then he went away.

The good boy became so sweet that he began to ooze with treacle. Hardly anyone was glad to see him. Wherever he went he made the place sticky with treacle. His mother was angry with him.

“On account of your sweetness,” she said, “it’s impossible to keep you supplied with clothes. I’d much rather see you a hooligan.”

The good boy enjoyed gathering in the outpour of treacle. So he remained. He grew up, and gave pleasure to others: he rolled pound horns out of paper, and poured treacle into them, and gave them to the poor.

Three Gobs of Spit

A man went by, and spat three gobs of spit.

He walked away, the gobs remained.

Said one of the gobs:

“We are here, but the man is not here.”

Said the second:

“He has gone.”

Said the third:

“He came precisely for the purpose of planting us here. We are the goal of man’s life. He has gone, but we have remained.”

Fairy Tales in the Garden, and Fairy Tales at Court

There was a garden in which fairy tales grew in the beds along the paths.

All sorts of fairy tales grew there⁠—white ones, red ones, blue ones, purple ones, and yellow ones. Some of the tales had an agreeable perfume, while others made up in beauty what they lacked in perfume.

The gardener’s little son went every morning into the garden to delight in the fairy tales.

He learnt them all, and often told them to his companions in the street; no common children were permitted into the garden, for it was the garden of a great queen.

The children told about these fairy tales to their mammas and papas, and these told them to their acquaintances, until their fame spread far and wide. The queen also heard at last that fairy tales grew in her garden. She asked to see them.

And so one early morning the gardener cut down many of the fairy tales, gathered them into a beautiful sumptuous bouquet, and sent them to Court.

The gardener’s young son cried because they were cutting down the fairy tales, but no one would listen to him.

As if there were not enough things that one might choose to cry about!

The queen looked at the fairy tales, and asked in astonishment:

“What’s interesting about them? Why do you call them fairy tales? They are the most common flowers.”

They threw the poor fairy tales into the backyard, and gave the gardener’s little son a birching so that he should not speak such nonsense again.

A Marriage

A drop of rain fell through the air, a speck of dust lay on the ground.

The drop wished to unite with a hard substance; it was tired of its free, active existence.

It joined itself to the speck of dust⁠—and lay on the ground a blob of mud.

Captive Death

A long time ago there lived a brave and invincible Knight.

One day he happened to capture Death herself.

He brought her to his strong castle, and put her in a cell.

Death sat there⁠—and people ceased to die.

The Knight was overjoyed, and thought:

“Now it is well, but it is rather a worry to keep a watch on her. Perhaps it would be better to destroy her altogether.”

But the Knight was a very just man⁠—he could not kill her without judgment.

He went to the cell, and, pausing before the small window, he said:

“Death, I want to cut your head off⁠—you’ve done a lot of harm upon the earth.”

But Death was silent.

The Knight continued:

“I’ll give you a chance⁠—defend yourself if you can. What have you to say for yourself?”

And Death answered:

“I’ll say nothing just yet; let Life put in a word for me.”

And the Knight suddenly saw Life standing beside him; she was a robust and red-checked but expressionless woman.

And she began to say such brazen and ungodly things that the brave, invincible Knight trembled, and made haste to open the cell.

Death went out⁠—and men began to die once more. The Knight himself died when his time came⁠—and he told no one upon the earth what that expressionless, brazen woman, Life, had said to him.

The Man Who Became Smaller

There was a man who bought some land and a house. The land was so small that if you took one step, then another you ran into the fence. The house was so small that you had to bend down to enter it.

It made the man feel unhappy.

An old sparrow said to him:

“It would be a good thing if you became smaller.”

The man replied in a very reasonable way:

“I should be indeed glad to do so, but unfortunately I was born such a giant.”

“You had better go to the German apothecary,” said the old sparrow, “whisper to him on the quiet, and stick a nice bit of money into his hand⁠—he will give you some reducing drops from under his microscope, and you will become a very tiny fellow.”

The man was overjoyed, he did everything as the old sparrow told him to do, and became as small as a tin soldier.

He arrived at his house, and on his land⁠—and everything fitted him splendidly.

The house became large, ever so large⁠—in every room you might dance a quadrille in seven thousand pairs. He divided up the house into sections, and let them out to other little men in order to gain a large profit out of his small fortune.

The land too became so large that when the little man went for a stroll and attempted to walk round his property he got into a terrible perspiration from fatigue. The little man then divided up the land, and built on it little kennel-cottages, let them out and made good money out of them. He made money and took it to the bank. The little man began to get fat and rich.

But a huge crow happened to fly by, caught the little man by his collar, and took him off to its nest, to feed its tots with. The little man repented for having obeyed the old sparrow, but it was too late.

Perhaps the old sparrow had purposely prearranged the whole thing.

Dotard and Dotardess

There once lived an old dotard and old dotardess.

The dotard had lived five hundred years, the dotardess four hundred.

The dotard received a big pension, and gave it to the dotardess for expenses.

The dotard wore an under-waistcoat close to his body, the dotardess used to dye her hair.

The dotard took snuff, and went to take steam baths⁠—the dotardess ate sweets, and went to the Russian opera.

Once the dotard went to the bath, steamed himself, steamed himself, and oversteamed himself, and died on the bench.

The dotardess went to the opera, called encore to the singer, shouted and shouted, and overshouted herself, and died in the gallery.

The old dotard and dotardess were buried.

There is nothing to grieve about: there will always be dotards and dotardesses.

Little Songs

He was quite a rake in appearance⁠—he loafed about in the streets and in the roads, sat for hours in the taverns and looked on at the jolly wenches; nothing was sacred to him, and because of that he received very little respect.

Only sometimes he walked out to the crossroads, and began to sing; he knew such words that everything answered him at that moment⁠—the birds in the woods, and the wind in the fields, and the waves in the sea.

The little dog, Sillybark, said:

“It’s bad, bad! It’s all nonsense.”

And the cunning fox said:

“Bad, bad! He sings only earthly songs, he has forgotten God.”

What did it matter? Everything living answered him: the birds of the woods, the waves of the sea, and the roving winds.

The Little Ray in the Little Cell

The rays came to the Sun, and began to choose their ways for the day. One ray said:

“I will now go into the court yard.”

Said another:

“I will take a stroll on Nevsky Prospect.”

Said a third:

“I will take a walk in the fields.”

Said a fourth:

“I will take a swim in the river.”

All of them had chosen good places, and were about to run off, when the Sun called them back with a shout:

“Wait a minute, children, there is still a little place left⁠—a dark little prison cell, where sits a poor prisoner.”

All the rays said plaintively:

“It is damp in the dark little cell, it is dirty in the dark little cell, it smells badly in the dark little cell⁠—we do not want to go into the dark little cell.”

The Sun caught hold of one little ray by the hair, and said:

“You were up to all sorts of mischief yesterday, you looked into all sorts of forbidden places, now you must stay in the dark little cell if only for five minutes.”

The poor little ray began to cry, but there was nothing left to do but to follow the Sun’s command. All sour, bad-tempered, shrunken, he remained for five minutes with the poor prisoner in the dark little prison cell. But to the poor prisoner even this was a great holiday.

The Affectionate Boy

Sasha loved sweets.

But his mother did not give him many sweets in order not to spoil his teeth.

He thought of a way of begging some from her⁠—he knew that she had some bonbons, and so he would begin to kiss her and coax her:

“You are my sweet little bonbon, my handsome little bonbon.”

His mother would laugh and give Sasha a bonbon.

Once his pockmarked uncle came and brought some honey-cakes. Sasha got up on his knees, and said coaxingly:

“You are my lovely little honey-cake, my handsome little honey-cake!”

But the pockmarked uncle replied:

“I don’t like little beggars.”

And he put the honey-cakes back into his pocket.

They

We could see them if we liked to, though they are not at all as we are, and almost do not notice us. How indeed can we interest them?

Once I caught sight of one.

It was evening, and I was together with my sadness in the silent embrace of my walls.

The minutes burned, because I did not yet know how to extinguish their consuming flame.

And my reverie struggled helplessly on the yellow, shining boards of my floor.

The objects importuned me, and I believed them.

Then there was one brief moment⁠ ⁠…

Oh, if I could only find words to describe him!

Everything visionary, everything habitual was lit up by his light, and departed from my attention⁠—and there fell on me his unspeakable glance.

And answering my dread, he merely said to me:

“Don’t be afraid.”

Then again the time came on, and the objects once more bewitched me.

The Tiny Man

I

Yakov Alexeyevitch Saranin scarcely reached medium size; his wife, Aglaya Nikiforovna, who came of trades-folk, was tall and capacious. Even now, in the first year after their marriage, the twenty-year-old woman was so corpulent that beside her tiny and lean husband, she seemed a very giantess.

“What if she gets still bigger?” thought Yakov Alexeyevitch. He thought this, although he had married for love⁠—of her and of the dowry.

The difference in the size of husband and wife not seldom evoked derisive remarks from their acquaintances. These frivolous jests poisoned Saranin’s peace of mind and embarrassed Aglaya Nikiforovna.

Once, after an evening spent with his colleagues, when he had to hear no small amount of banter, Saranin returned home thoroughly out of temper.

Lying in bed beside Aglaya, he growled and began wrangling with his wife. Aglaya lazily and unwillingly replied in a drowsy voice: “What am I to do? It’s not my fault.”

She was of a very placid and peaceful temper.

Saranin growled: “Don’t gorge yourself with meat, and don’t gobble up so much floury food; the whole day you’re stuffing yourself with sweets.”

“Then I can’t eat anything, if I’ve got a good appetite,” said Aglaya. “When I was single, I had a better appetite still!”

“So I should think! Why, you ate up an ox at one go, didn’t you?”

“It’s impossible to eat up an ox at one go,” replied Aglaya, placidly.

She quickly fell asleep, but Saranin could not get to sleep in this strange autumn night.

For a long time he tossed about from side to side.

When a Russian cannot sleep, he thinks about things. Saranin, too, devoted himself to that activity, which was so little peculiar to him at any other time. For he was an official⁠—and so had little reason to think about this and that.

“There must be some means or other,” pondered Saranin. “Science makes marvellous discoveries every day; in America they make people noses of any shape they like, and put a new skin on their faces. That’s the kind of operations they perform⁠—they bore holes in the skull, they cut into the bowels and the heart, and sew them up again. Can’t there be a way of making me grow, or else of reducing Aglaya’s size? Some secret way or other? But how to find it? How? You won’t find it by lying here. Even water won’t flow under a stone at rest. But to look for this secret remedy.⁠ ⁠… It may be that the inventor is actually walking the streets and looking for a purchaser. Yes, of course. He can’t advertise in the papers.⁠ ⁠… But in the streets hawking things round, selling what he likes from under his coat⁠—that’s quite possible. He goes round and offers it on the quiet. If anyone wants a secret remedy, he doesn’t stay tossing about in bed.”

Having arrived at this conclusion, Saranin began to dress quickly, mumbling to himself:

“Twelve o’clock at night⁠ ⁠…”

He was not afraid that he would wake his wife. He knew that Aglaya slept soundly.

“Just like a huxter,” he said aloud.⁠—“Just like a clodhopper,” he thought to himself.

He finished dressing and went into the street. He had not the slightest wish for slumber. His spirits were light, and he was in the mood peculiar to a seeker of adventure when he has some new and interesting experience before him.

The law-abiding official, who had lived quietly and colourlessly for the third of a century, suddenly felt within him the spirit of a venturesome and untrammelled hunter in wild deserts⁠—a hero of Cooper or Mayne-Reid.

But when he had gone a few steps along his accustomed road⁠—towards his office, he stopped and reflected. Wherever was he to go? All was still and peaceful, so peaceful that the street seemed to be the corridor of a huge building, ordinary, free from danger, shut off from all that was external and abrupt. The house-porters were dozing by the doors. At the crossroads, a constable made his appearance. The street lamps glimmered. The paving-stones and the cobbles in the road shone faintly with the dampness of rain that had recently fallen.

Saranin considered, and in his unruffled hesitance he turned to the right and walked straight ahead.

II

At a point where two streets crossed, in the lamplight, he saw a man walking towards him, and his heart throbbed with a joyful foreboding.

It was an odd figure. A gown of bright colours, with a broad girdle. A large speckled cap, with a pointed tip. A saffron-coloured tuft of beard, long and narrow. White, glittering teeth. Dark, piercing eyes. Slippered feet.

“An Armenian!” thought Saranin at once.

The Armenian came up to him and said:

“My dear man, what are you looking for at this hour of the night? You should go and sleep, or else visit the fair ladies. If you like, I will guide you there.”

“No, my own fair lady is ample enough for me,” said Saranin.

And confidingly he acquainted the Armenian with his trouble.

The Armenian showed his teeth and made a neighing sound.

“Big wife, tiny husband⁠—to kiss, put up a ladder. Phew, not good!”

“What would be good for it, then?”

“Come with me. I will help a good man.”

For a long time they went through the quiet, corridor-like streets, the Armenian in front, Saranin behind.

From lamp to lamp the Armenian underwent an odd change. In the darkness he grew, and the farther he went from the lamp, the higher did he become. Sometimes it seemed as if the sharp tip of his cap rose up higher than the houses into the cloudy sky. Then, as he approached the light, he became smaller, and by the lamp he assumed his former dimensions, and seemed a simple and ordinary hawker of gowns. And, strange to say, Saranin felt no astonishment at this phenomenon. He was in such a trustful mood that the gaudy wonders of the Arabian Nights themselves would have seemed ordinary to him, even as the tedious passage of workaday drabness.

At the door of a house, quite an ordinary five-storied yellow building, they stopped. The lamp at the door clearly outlined its unpretentious sign. Saranin noticed:

No. 41.”

They entered the courtyard. To the staircase of the back wing. The staircase was in semidarkness. But on the door before which the Armenian stopped, fell the light of a small dim lamp, and Saranin distinguished the figures:

No. 43.”

The Armenian thrust his hand into his pocket, drew from thence a tiny bell, of the kind that is used in country-houses to summon the servants, and rang it. Clear and silvery was the sound of the little bell.

The door opened immediately. Behind the door stood a barefooted lad, well-favoured, brown-skinned, with very full-coloured lips. His white teeth glistened because he kept smiling, now joyfully, now mockingly. And it seemed that he was smiling the whole time. The comely lad’s eyes gleamed with a greeny lustre. He was all lithe as a cat and blurred as the phantom of a peaceful nightmare. He looked at Saranin and smiled. Saranin felt uneasy.

They entered. The lad closed the door, bending forward lithely and adroitly, and went before them into the passage, bearing a lamp in his hand. He opened a door, and again that blurred movement and mirth.

An uncanny, dark narrow room, along the walls of which were arranged cupboards with certain alembics and phials. There was a strangely irritating and perplexing odour.

The Armenian lit the lamp, opened a cupboard, fumbled about there and fetched down an alembic with a greenish liquid.

“Good droplets,” he said; “you give one drop in a glass of water, go to sleep quietly, and not wake up.”

“No, I don’t want that,” said Saranin, vexedly. “You don’t think I’ve come for that!”

“My dear man,” said the Armenian in a wheedling voice, “you will take another wife, after your own size, very simple matter.”

“I don’t want to,” cried Saranin.

“Well, don’t shout,” the Armenian cut him short. “Why are you getting angry, dear man? You are spoiling your temper for nothing. You don’t want it, then don’t take it. I’ll give you other things. But they are dear, ah, ah, dear.”

The Armenian, squatting down on his haunches, which gave his long figure a comical appearance, fetched out a square-shaped bottle. In it glittered a transparent liquid. The Armenian said softly, with a mysterious look:

“You drink one drop, you lose a pound; you drink forty drops, you lose forty pounds’ weight. A drop, a pound. A drop, a rouble. Count the drops, give the roubles.”

Saranin was inflamed with joy.

“How much shall I want, now?” pondered Saranin. “She must be about two hundred pounds, for certain. If she loses a hundred and twenty pounds, she’ll be quite a tiny little woman. That will be fine!”

“Give me a hundred and twenty drops.”

The Armenian shook his head.

“You want a lot, that will be bad!”

Saranin flared up.

“Well, that’s my business.”

The Armenian looked at him searchingly.

“Count out the money.”

Saranin took out his pocketbook.

“All today’s winnings, and you’ve got to add some of your own as well,” he reflected.

The Armenian in the meantime took out a cutglass phial, and began to count out the drops.

A sudden doubt was enkindled in Saranin’s mind.

A hundred and twenty roubles, a tidy sum of money. And supposing he cheats.

“They really will work?” he asked, undecidedly.

“We don’t sell a pig in a poke,” said the master of the house. “I’ll show you now how it works. Gaspar⁠—” he shouted.

The same barefooted lad entered. He had on a red jacket and short blue trousers. His brown legs were bare to above the knees. They were shapely, handsome, and moved adroitly and swiftly.

The Armenian beckoned with his hand. Gaspar speedily threw aside his garments. He went up to the table.

The lights dimly shone upon his yellow body, shapely, powerful, beautiful. His smile was subservient, depraved. His eyes were dark, with blue marks under them.

The Armenian said:

“Drink the pure drops, and it will work at once. Mix with water or wine, and then slowly, you will not notice it with your eyes. Mix it badly, and it will act in jerks, not nicely.”

He took a narrow glass with indentations, poured out some of the liquid and gave it to Gaspar. Gaspar, with the gesture of a spoilt child who is being given sweets, drank the liquid to the dregs, threw his head backwards, licked out the last sweet drops with his long, pointed tongue which was like a serpent’s fangs, and immediately, before Saranin’s eyes, he began to get smaller. He stood erect, looked at Saranin, laughed, and changed in size like a puppet bought at a fair, which shrivels up when they remove the wind from it.

The Armenian took him by the elbow and placed him on the table. The lad was about the size of a candle. He danced and performed antics.

“What will happen to him now?” asked Saranin.

“My dear man, we will make him grow again,” replied the Armenian.

He opened a cupboard and from the top shelf he took another vessel likewise of strange shape. The liquid in it was green. Into a tiny goblet, the size of a thimble, the Armenian poured a little of the liquid. He gave it to Gaspar.

Again Gaspar drank it, just as the first time.

With the unwavering slowness of water filling a bath, the naked lad became bigger and bigger. Finally, he reached his previous dimensions.

The Armenian said:

“Drink with wine, with water, with milk, drink it with whatever you please, only do not drink it with Russian kvass, or you will begin to moult badly.”

III

A few days elapsed.

Saranin beamed with joy. He smiled mysteriously.

He was waiting for an opportunity.

He was biding his time.

Aglaya complained of a headache.

“I have a remedy,” said Saranin. “It acts wonderfully.”

“No remedies are any good,” said Aglaya, with a sour grimace.

“No, but this one will be. I got it from an Armenian.”

He spoke so confidently that Aglaya had faith in the efficacy of the Armenian’s medicine.

“Oh, all right then; give it me.”

He produced the phial.

“Is it nasty?” asked Aglaya.

“It’s delightful stuff to taste, and it acts wonderfully. Only it will cause you a little inconvenience.”

Aglaya made a wry face.

“Drink, drink.”

“Can it be taken in Madeira?”

“Yes.”

“Then you drink the Madeira with me,” said Aglaya, prompted by caprice.

Saranin poured out two glasses of Madeira, and into his wife’s glass he poured the admixture.

“I feel a bit cold,” said Aglaya softly and sluggishly. “I should like my wrap.”

Saranin ran to fetch the wrap. When he returned, the glasses stood as before. Aglaya sat down and smiled.

He laid the wrap round her.

“I feel as if I were better,” said she. “Am I to drink?”

“Drink, drink,” cried Saranin. “Your health!”

He seized his glass. They drank.

She burst out laughing.

“What is it?” asked Saranin.

“I changed the glasses. You’ll have the inconvenience, not me.”

He shuddered. He grew pale.

“What have you done?” he shouted in desperation.

Aglaya laughed. To Saranin her laughter seemed loathsome and cruel.

Suddenly he remembered that the Armenian had an antidote.

He ran to find the Armenian.

“He’ll make me pay dearly for it,” he thought, gingerly. “But what of the money! Let him take all, if only he saves me from the horrible effects of this nostrum.”

IV

But obviously an evil destiny was flinging itself upon Saranin.

On the door of the lodging where the Armenian lived, there hung a lock. In desperation Saranin seized the bell. A wild hope inspirited him. He rang desperately.

Behind the door the bell tinkled loudly, distinctly, clearly, with that inexorable clearness peculiar to the ringing of bells in empty lodgings.

Saranin ran to the house-porter. He was pallid. Small drops of sweat, exceedingly small, like dew on a cold stone, broke out on his face and specially on his nose.

He dashed hastily into the porter’s lodge and cried:

“Where is Khalatyantz?”

The porter in charge, a listless, black-bearded bumpkin, was drinking tea from a saucer. He eyed Saranin askance. He asked with unruffled calm:

“And what do you want of him?”

Saranin looked blankly at the porter and did not know what to say.

“If you’ve got any business with him,” said the porter, looking at Saranin suspiciously, “then, sir, you had better go away. For as he’s an Armenian, keep out of the way of the police.”

“Yes, but where is the cursed Armenian?” cried Saranin, in desperation. “From number 43?”

“There is no Armenian,” replied the porter. “There was, it’s true, I won’t deny it, but there isn’t now.”

“Where is he, then?”

“He’s gone away.”

“Where to?” shouted Saranin.

“Who can say?” replied the porter, placidly. “He got a foreign passport and went abroad.”

Saranin turned pale.

“Understand,” he said in a trembling voice, “I must get hold of him, come what may.”

He burst out crying.

The porter looked at him sympathetically. He said:

“Why, don’t upset yourself, sir. If you do want the cursed Armenian so badly, why then, take a trip abroad yourself, go to the registration office there, and you’ll find him by the address.”

Saranin did not consider the absurdity of what the porter said. He became cheerful.

He at once rushed home, flew like a hurricane into the local office, and requested the man in charge to make him out a foreign passport without delay. But suddenly he remembered:

“But where am I to go?”

V

The cursed nostrum did its evil work with fateful slowness, but inexorably. Saranin became smaller and smaller every day. His clothes dangled round him like a sack.

His acquaintances marvelled. They said:

“How is it that you seem a bit smaller. Have you stopped wearing heels?”

“Yes, and a bit thinner.”

“You’re working too hard.”

“Fancy taking it out of yourself like that!”

Finally, on meeting him, they would sigh: “Whatever is the matter with you?”

Behind his back, Saranin’s acquaintances began to make fun of him.

“He’s growing downwards.”

“He’s trying to break the record for smallness.”

His wife noticed it somewhat later. Being always in her sight, he grew smaller too gradually for her to see anything. She noticed it by the baggy look of his clothes.

At first she laughed at the queer diminution in size of her husband. Then she began to lose her temper.

“This is going from bad to worse,” she said. “And to think that I actually married such a midget.”

Soon all his clothes had to be remade⁠—all the old ones were dropping off him; his trousers reached his ears, and his hat fell on to his shoulder.

The head porter happened to go into the kitchen.

“What’s up here?” he asked the cook, sternly.

“Is that any business of mine?” the plump and comely Matrena was on the point of shouting irascibly, but she remembered just in time and said:

“There’s nothing up here at all. Everything’s as usual.”

“Why, your master’s beginning to carry on like anything. By rights he ought to report himself to the police,” said the porter very sternly.

The watch-chain on his paunch heaved indignantly.

Matrena suddenly sat down on a box and burst out crying.

“Don’t talk about it, Sidor Pavlovitch,” she began. “We’ve really been wondering what’s the matter with him⁠—we can’t make it out.”

“What’s the reason? What’s the cause?” exclaimed the porter, indignantly. “Can such things be?”

“The only comfort about it,” said the cook, sobbing, “is, that he eats less.”

The longer he lived, the smaller he got.

And the servants, and the tailors, and all with whom Saranin had to come in contact, treated him with unconcealed contempt. He would race along to business, tiny, hardly managing to lug his huge portfolio with both hands, and behind him he heard the malicious laughter of the hall-porter, the doorkeeper, cabmen, urchins.

“Little shrimp,” the head porter would remark.

Saranin had to swallow many a bitter draught. He lost his wedding ring. His wife made a fuss about it. She wrote to her parents in Moscow.

“Curse that Armenian!” thought Saranin.

Often he called to mind the Armenian counting the drops, pouring them out.

“Whew!” exclaimed Saranin.

“Never mind, my dear, it was my mistake, I won’t do anything for it.”

Saranin also went to the doctor, who examined him with jocular remarks. He found nothing wrong.

Saranin would go to visit somebody or other⁠—the porter did not let him in at once.

“Who may you be?”

Saranin told him.

“I don’t know,” said the porter. “Mr. So-and-so don’t receive such people.”

VI

At business, in his department, they began by eyeing him askance and jeering. Especially the younger men.

Then they started murmuring, expressing disapproval.

The hall-porter began to remove Saranin’s overcoat with open repugnance.

“There’s a weedy little official for you,” he muttered. “What sort of Christmas box are you likely to get from him?”

And to keep up his prestige, Saranin was compelled to give bigger and more frequent tips than before. But that availed little. The porters took the money, but they looked at Saranin suspiciously.

Saranin explained to someone among his colleagues that an Armenian had landed him in this mess. The rumour of the Armenian affair rapidly spread throughout the department. It found its way into other departments as well⁠ ⁠…

On one occasion the manager of the department ran up against the tiny official in the passage. He looked at him in amazement. He said nothing. He went into his room.

Then they considered that they had better inform him. The manager asked:

“Has this been going on long?”

The assistant manager wavered.

“It’s a pity you didn’t draw attention to it at the time,” said the manager, sourly, without waiting for an answer. “Strange that I knew nothing about it. I’m greatly put out.”

He sent for Saranin.

When Saranin reached the manager’s room, all the officials looked at him in severe condemnation.

With a beating heart Saranin entered the superintendent’s room. He still clung to a faint hope, the hope that His Excellence intended to give him a particularly flattering order, availing himself of his small size. He might detail him for the Universal Exhibition, or some secret duty or other. But at the very first sound of the departmental manager’s voice, this hope dispersed like smoke.

“Sit down here,” said His Excellency, pointing to a chair.

Saranin clambered up as best he could. The manager irately gazed at the official’s legs dangling in the air. He asked:

Mr. Saranin, are you acquainted with the Civil Service regulations as defined by the Government?”

“Your Excellency,” stammered Saranin, laying, as in prayer, his little hands upon his breast.

“Why have you done this?” asked the manager.

“Believe me, Your Excellency⁠ ⁠…”

“Why have you done this?” repeated the Manager.

But Saranin could not say another word. He burst into tears. He had become very lachrymose latterly.

The manager looked at him. He shook his head. He began very sternly:

Mr. Saranin, I have summoned you in order to inform you that your inexplicable conduct is to be regarded as thoroughly insufferable.”

“But, Your Excellency, I think I’ve always properly⁠ ⁠…” stammered Saranin, “and as for my stature⁠ ⁠…”

“Yes, that’s just it.”

“But I am not responsible for this misfortune.”

“I cannot judge to what extent this strange and unseemly occurrence has come upon you through misfortune, and to what extent you are not responsible for it, but I am bound to tell you, that as far as the department in my charge is concerned, your extraordinary diminution in size has become positively scandalous. The most equivocal rumours are already circulating in the town. I cannot judge of their accuracy, but I know that these rumours explain your conduct by associating it with agitations for Armenian independence. You will admit that the department cannot be turned into a headquarters for developing Armenian intrigues, directed towards the diminution of the Russian Empire. We cannot keep officials who conduct themselves so strangely.”

Saranin leaped up from his chair, and tremblingly whimpered:

“A freak of nature, Your Excellency.”

“It is peculiar, but the interests of the service⁠ ⁠…”

And again he repeated the same question:

“Why have you done this?”

“Your Excellency, I myself do not know how it has come to pass.”

“What instincts! You are flaunting the smallness of your stature, when you could easily hide it under any lady’s skirt, if I may be allowed to say so. This cannot be tolerated.”

“I never did this,” wailed Saranin.

But the manager did not hear. He went on:

“I even heard that you are doing this out of sympathy for the Japanese. But a limit must be recognised in all things.”

“How could I ever do that, Your Excellency?”

“I do not know. But I beg of you to desist. You can be retained in the service, but only in the provinces, and this will be immediately cancelled, if you do not resume your customary dimensions. For the purpose of recruiting your health, you are granted four months’ leave. I must request you not to make your appearance in the department any more. Any papers that are indispensable to you will be sent to your house. Good morning.”

“Your Excellency, I am capable of working. Why this leave?”

“You will take it because of illness.”

“But, Your Excellency, I am quite well.”

“No more, if you please.”

They gave Saranin leave for four months.

VII

Before long, Aglaya’s parents arrived. It was after lunch. During lunch, Aglaya had waxed very merry at her husband’s expense. Then she went off to her room.

He went timidly into his study⁠—it seemed huge to him now⁠—scrambled up on to the ottoman, curled himself up in a corner and began crying. Burdensome perplexities tormented him.

Why should just he be overwhelmed by such a misfortune? It was dreadful, unheard of.

What utter folly.

He sobbed and whispered despairingly:

“Why, oh, why did I do it?”

Suddenly he heard familiar voices in the front room. He shook with horror. On tiptoe he crept to the washing-stand⁠—they should not see his tear-stained eyes. Even to wash himself was difficult⁠—he had to stand on a chair.

The guests had already entered the drawing-room. Saranin received them. He bowed, and in a piping voice made some unintelligible remark. Aglaya’s father looked at him blankly with wide-open eyes. He was big, stout, bull-necked and red-faced. Aglaya was at his heels.

He stood still before his son-in-law, and with legs wide apart, he eyed him attentively; he took Saranin’s hand cautiously, bent forward and said, lowering his voice:

“We have come to see you.”

It was obvious that his intention was to behave himself tactfully. He fidgeted with his feet on the floor.

From behind his back, Aglaya’s mother, a lean and malicious person, pushed forward. She exclaimed shrilly:

“Where is he, where? Show him to me, Aglaya, show me this Pygmalion.”

She looked over Saranin’s head. She purposely did not notice him. The flowers on her hat waggled strangely. She went straight up to Saranin. He squeaked and hopped on one side.

Aglaya began to cry and said:

“There he is, mama.”

“I’m here, mama,” squeaked Saranin, and shuffled his feet.

“You villain, what have you done to yourself? Why have you shrivelled up so?”

The servant-girl giggled.

“Don’t you giggle at your master, my good girl.”

Aglaya reddened.

“Mama, let’s go into the drawing-room.”

“No; tell me, you villain, for what purpose you’ve got so small?”

“Now then, mother, wait a bit,” the father interrupted her.

She turned on her husband as well.

“Didn’t I tell you not to let her marry a man without a beard. See, it’s turned out just as I said.”

The father looked cautiously at Saranin and did his utmost to change the conversation to politics.

“The Japanese,” he said, “are of no great size to speak of, but to all appearance they are a brainy race, and even, you might almost say, enterprising.”

VIII

And Saranin grew tinier and tinier. He could now walk freely under the table. And each day he became smaller still. He had not yet taken complete advantage of his leave, but he did not go to the office. They had not yet made preparations to travel anywhere.

Aglaya sometimes made fun of him, sometimes she cried and said:

“Where shall I take you in that state? The shame and disgrace of it!”

To pass from the study to the dining-room had become a journey of quite respectable proportions. And to climb up on a chair in the bargain⁠ ⁠…

Still, weariness was in itself agreeable. It resulted in a good appetite and the hope of growing. Saranin now pinned all his faith upon food. The amount he consumed was out of all proportion to his diminutive dimensions. But he did not grow. On the contrary⁠—he decreased and decreased in size. The worst of it was that this decrease in size sometimes proceeded in jerks and at the most inopportune times. As if he were performing tricks.

Aglaya thought of passing him off as a boy, and entering him at a school. She made her way to the nearest one. But the conversation she had with the Headmaster discouraged her.

They demanded documents. It turned out that the plan was impracticable.

With an expression of extreme perplexity the Headmaster said to Aglaya:

“We cannot take a court councillor as pupil. What could we do with him? Suppose the teacher told him to stand in the corner, and he said: I am a Knight of St. Anne. It would be very awkward.”

Aglaya assumed a pleading expression and began to implore.

The Headmaster remained inexorable.

“No,” he said stubbornly, “we cannot take an official into the school. There is nowhere a single clause in which such a case is provided for. And it would be extremely awkward to approach the authorities with such a proposition. They wouldn’t hear of it. It might lead to considerable unpleasantness. No, it can’t be done at all. Apply to the controller, if you so desire.”

But Aglaya could not make up her mind to go to the authorities.

IX

One day Aglaya received a visit from a young man, whose hair was combed back with very shiny smoothness. He made an extremely gallant curtsey. He introduced himself thus:

“I represent the firm of Strigal and Co. A first-class store at the very smartest centre of aristocratic shopping in the West End. We have a huge quantity of clients in the best and highest society.”

With a view to all emergencies, Aglaya made eyes at the representative of the illustrious firm. With a languid gesture of her plump arm she invited him to take a chair. She sat with her back to the light. Leaning her head on one side, she made ready to listen.

The young man with the shinily combed hair continued:

“We have been informed that your husband has vouchsafed to display originality in his choice of a diminutive size for himself. For this reason, the firm, anticipating the very latest movements in ladies’ and gentlemen’s fashions, has the honour, madam, of proposing, as an advertisement, to provide the gentleman free of charge with suits cut according to the very finest Parisian model.”

“For nothing?” asked Aglaya, listlessly.

“Not only for nothing, madam, but even with payment to your own advantage, only under one trifling condition which can easily be fulfilled.”

In the meantime, Saranin, hearing that he was the subject of the discussion, betook himself into the drawing-room. He strolled round the young man with the shinily arranged hair. He coughed and clattered with his heels. He was very annoyed that the representative of the firm of Strigal and Co. paid not the slightest attention to him.

At last he darted up to the young man and squeaked loudly:

“I suppose they didn’t tell you I was at home?”

The representative of the illustrious firm stood up. He gave a gallant curtsey. He sat down again, and, turning to Aglaya, said:

“Only one trifling condition.”

Saranin snorted contemptuously. Aglaya burst out laughing. Her eyes sparkled inquisitively, and she said:

“Well, tell me, what is the condition?”

“Our condition is that the gentleman would consent to sit in the window of our store in the capacity of a living advertisement.”

Aglaya gave a malicious laugh.

“Splendid! At any rate, he’ll be out of my sight.”

“I won’t consent,” squeaked Saranin, in a piercing voice. “I cannot agree to such a thing. I⁠—a court councillor and a knight, sitting in a shopwindow as an advertisement⁠—why, I think it’s absolutely ridiculous.”

“Be quiet,” shouted Aglaya, “it’s not you they’re asking.”

“What, not asking me?” wailed Saranin. “How much longer am I to put up with strangers?”

“Oh no, sir, you’re making a mistake!” chimed in the young man amiably. “Our firm has no connection with aliens. Our employees are all either orthodox or Lutherans from Riga. And we have no Jews.”

“I don’t want to sit in the window” screamed Saranin.

He stamped his feet. Aglaya seized him by the arm. She pulled him towards the bedroom.

“Where are you dragging me?” screamed Saranin. “I don’t want to, leave go.”

“I’ll quieten you,” shouted Aglaya.

She locked the door.

“I’ll give you a sound beating,” she said through her teeth.

She started striking him. He wriggled powerlessly in her mighty arms.

“I’ve got you in my power, you pigmy. What I want I’ll do. I can shove you into my pocket⁠—how dare you oppose me! I don’t care for your rank, I’ll thrash you within an inch of your life.”

“I’ll complain about it,” squeaked Saranin.

But he soon realised the uselessness of resistance. He was so very small, and Aglaya had clearly resolved to put her whole strength into it.

“All right then, all right,” he wailed, “I’ll go into Strigal’s window⁠—I’ll sit there⁠—and bring disgrace on you. I’ll put on all my decorations.”

Aglaya laughed.

“You’ll put on what Strigal gives you,” she shouted.

She lugged her husband into the drawing-room. She threw him before the young man and shouted:

“Take him! Carry him off this very moment. And the money in advance. Every month!”

Her words were hysterical outcries.

The young man produced a pocketbook. He counted out two hundred roubles.

“Not enough!” shouted Aglaya.

The young man smiled. He took out a hundred rouble note in addition.

“More than this I am not authorised to give,” he remarked, amiably. “At the end of a month, pray receive the next instalment.”

Saranin ran about the room.

“In the window! In the window!” he kept screaming. “Cursed Armenian, what did you do to me?”

And suddenly at that very moment he shrank by about three inches.

X

Useless were Saranin’s tears and his lamentations?⁠—what did Strigal and his associates care about them?

They paid. They effectuated their rights. The ruthless rights of capital.

The power of capital provides even the court councillor and knight with a position completely in accordance with his precise dimensions, but not in the least harmonising with his pride. Dressed up in the latest fashion, the pigmy runs to and fro in the window of the fashion emporium⁠—now feasting his gaze on the fair ladies of such colossal size!⁠—now spitefully threatening the gleeful children with his fists.

There was a mob round the windows of Strigal and Co.

The assistants in Strigal and Co.’s store trod on each other’s toes.

Strigal and Co.’s workshop was flooded with orders.

Strigal and Co. attain renown.

Strigal and Co. extend their workshops.

Strigal and Co. are rich.

Strigal and Co. buy up houses.

Strigal and Co. are magnanimous; they feed Saranin right royally, they do not stint his wife for money.

Aglaya is already receiving a thousand a month.

More income still has fallen to Aglaya’s share.

And acquaintances.

And lovers.

And brilliants.

And carriages.

And a mansion.

Aglaya is merry and contented. She has grown still larger. She wears high-heeled shoes. She selects hats of gigantic proportions.

When she visits her husband, she fondles him and feeds him from her hand like a bird. Saranin in a stumpy-tailed dress-suit trots about with tiny steps on the table in front of her and squeaks something. His voice is as penetrating as the squeak of a gnat. But the words are not audible.

Tiny little folk can speak, but their squeaking is not audible to people of large proportions⁠—neither to Aglaya, nor to Strigal, nor to any of the company. Aglaya, surrounded by shop-assistants, hears the mannikin’s whining and squeaking. She laughs and goes away.

They carry Saranin into the window, where, in a nest of soft materials, a whole lodging is arranged for him, with the open side turned towards the public.

The street urchins see the mannikin sitting down at the table and preparing to write his petitions. His tiny little petitions for his rights, which have been violated by Aglaya, Strigal and Co.

He writes. He knocks against the envelope. The urchins laugh.

In the meanwhile, Aglaya is sitting in her splendid carriage. She is going for a jaunt before lunch.

XI

Neither Aglaya, nor Strigal and Co. thought how it would all end. They were satisfied with the present. It seemed as if there would be no end to the golden shower which flowed down upon them. But the end came. Of the most ordinary kind. Such as might have been expected.

Saranin diminished continually. Every day they dressed him in new suits⁠—always smaller.

And suddenly, in the eyes of the marvelling shop-assistants, just as he was putting on some new trousers, he became excessively minute. He tumbled out of the trousers. And he had already become like a pin’s head.

A slight draught was blowing. Saranin, minute as a grain of dust, was lifted up in the air. He was twirled round. He mingled with the cloudlets of dust gamboling in the sunbeams. He disappeared.

All search was in vain. Saranin could nowhere be found.

Aglaya, Strigal and Co., the police, the clergy, the authorities⁠—all were in the greatest perplexity.

How was the disappearance of Saranin to be formulated?

At last, after communication with the Academy of Sciences, they decided to reckon him as dispatched on a special mission for scientific purposes.

Then they forgot about him.

Saranin was finished with.

Endnotes

  1. In collaboration with Anastasya Chebotarevskaya. J. C.

  2. Means “gentlewoman,” and is a common form of salutation from servant to mistress. J. C.

  3. Literally: “Little mother⁠—gentlewoman.” J. C.

  4. Little nurse. J. C.

  5. Gentlewoman. J. C.

  6. Grandmother. J. C.

  7. Mother. J. C.

  8. An abbot. J. C.

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Short Fiction
was compiled from short stories published between 1904 and 1911 by
Fyodor Sologub.
They were translated from Russian between 1915 and 1919 by
John Cournos, Stephen Graham, Rosa Savory Graham and P. Selver.