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This edition of Leonid Andreyev’s Short Fiction was produced from various translations. “The Red Laugh” was translated by Alexandra Linden and originally published in 1905. “The Seven Who Were Hanged” was translated by Herman Bernstein and originally published in 1909. “A Dilemma” was translated by John Cournos and originally published in 1910. “The Wall” was translated by W. H. Lowe and also originally published in 1910. “The Crushed Flower,” “A Story Which Will Never Be Finished,” “On the Day of the Crucifixion,” “Love, Faith and Hope,” “The Ocean,” and “The Man Who Found the Truth” were also translated by Herman Bernstein and originally published in 1916. “The Little Angel,” “At the Roadside Station,” “Snapper,” “The Lie,” “An Original,” “Petka at the Bungalow,” “Silence,” “Laughter,” “The Friend,” “In the Basement,” “The City,” “The Tocsin,” “Bargamot and Garaska,” “Men May Rise on Stepping-Stones of Their Dead Selves to Higher Things,” and “The Spy” were also translated by W. H. Lowe and also originally published in 1916. “A Present,” “The Giant,” and “The Story of the Snake” were translated by The Russian Review and also originally published in 1916. “The Confessions of a Little Man During Great Days” was translated by R. S. Townsend and originally published in 1917. “When the King Loses His Head,” “Judas Iscariot,” “Lazarus,” “Life of Father Vassily,” “The Marseillaise,” and “Dies Irae” were translated by Archibald J. Wolfe and originally published in 1919. “His Excellency the Governor” was translated by Maurice Magnus and originally published in 1921. “The Dark the Governor” was translated by L. A. Magnus and K. Walter, and originally published in 1922.

Short Fiction

Bargamot and Garaska

It would be unjust to say that Nature had injured Ivan Akindinich Bargamotov, who in his official capacity was called “Constable No. 20,” and unofficially simply Bargamotov. The inhabitants of one of the outskirts of the provincial towns of Orel, who in their turn were nicknamed “gunners,” from the name of their abode (Gunner Street) and, from the moral side were characterized as “broken-headed gunners,” when they dubbed Ivan Akindinovich “Bargamot,” were without doubt not thinking of the qualities which belong to such a delicate and delicious fruit as the bergamot. By his exterior Bargamot reminded one rather of the mastodon, or of any of those engaging, but extinct creatures, which for want of room have long ago deserted a world already filling up with flaccid little humans. Tall, stout, strong, loud-voiced Bargamot loomed big on the police horizon, and certainly would long ago have attained notable rank, if only his soul, compressed within those stout walls, had not been sunk in an heroic sleep.

Outward impressions in passing to Bargamot’s soul by means of his little fat-encased eyes, lost all their sharpness and force, and arrived at their destination only in the form of feeble echoes and reflections. A person of sublime requirements would have called him a lump of flesh; his superior officers called him a “stock,” but a useful one⁠—while to the “gunners,” the persons most interested in this question, he was a staid, serious matter-of-fact man, one worthy of every respect and consideration. What Bargamot knew he knew well, were it only a policeman’s instructions, which he had assimilated some time or other with all the energy of his mighty frame, and which had sunk so deep into his sluggish brain, that it would have been impossible to rout them out again, even with vitriol. Nevertheless certain truths occupied a permanent position in his soul, truths acquired by way of life’s experience, and unconditionally dominating the situation.

Of that which Bargamot did not know he kept such an imperturbably stolid silence, that people who did know it became somehow or other somewhat ashamed of their knowledge. But the chief point was this that Bargamot was enormously powerful; and might was right in Gunner Street, a slum inhabited by shoemakers, tailors who worked at home, and the representatives of other “liberal” professions. Owning two public houses, uproarious on Sundays and Mondays, Gunner Street devoted all its leisure hours to Homeric fights, in which the women, bareheaded and dishevelled, took immediate part (as they separated their husbands), and also the little children, who gazed with delight on the daring of their papas.

All this rough wave of drunken “gunners” beat against the immovable Bargamot as against a stone breakwater, while he would deliberately seize with his mighty hands a pair of the most desperate rowdies and personally conduct them to the “lockup,” and the rowdies would obediently submit their fate to the hands of Bargamot, protesting merely for the sake of appearances.

Such was Bargamot in the domain of international relations. In the sphere of home politics he held himself with no less dignity. The small tumble-down cottage, in which Bargamot lived with his wife and two young children, and which with difficulty afforded room for his mighty body, and trembled with craziness and with fear for its own existence whenever Bargamot turned round, might be at ease, if not with regard to its own wooden structure, at all events in respect of the family unity.

Domestic, careful, and fond of digging in his garden on free days, Bargamot was severe. He instructed his wife and children through the same medium of physical influence, not conforming so much to the actual requirement of science as to certain indefinite prescriptions on that score which existed in the ramifications of his big head. This did not prevent his wife Marya, who was still a young and handsome woman, on the one hand from respecting her husband as a steady, sober man, and on the other, in spite of all his massiveness, from twisting him round her finger with that ease and force of which only weak women are capable.

At about ten o’clock on a warm spring evening Bargamot stood at his usual post at the corner of Gunner Street and the 3rd Garden Street. He was in a bad humour. Tomorrow was Easter Day, and soon people would be going to church, while he would have to stand on duty till 3 o’clock in the morning, and would only get home in time for the conclusion of the fast. Bargamot did not feel any need of prayer, but the bright holiday air which permeated the unusually peaceful and quiet street affected even him.

He did not like the spot on which he had stood still every day for a matter of ten years. He felt a desire to do something of a holiday character such as others were doing. And in view of these uneasy feelings there arose within him a certain discontent and impatience. Moreover he was hungry. His wife had given him no dinner at all that day, and so he had had to put up with a few sups of kvass and bread. His great stomach was insistently demanding food; and how long it was still to the conclusion of the fast!

Ptu!⁠—spat Bargamot, as he made a cigarette and began reluctantly to suck at it. At home he had some good cigarettes, presented to him by a local shopkeeper, but he was reserving them till the conclusion of the fast.

Soon the “gunners” drew along towards the church, clean and respectable in jackets and waistcoats over red and blue flannel shirts, and in long boots with innumerable creases, and high pointed heels. Tomorrow all this splendour was destined to disappear behind the counter of the “pub,” or to be torn in pieces in a friendly struggle for harmony.

But for today the “gunners” were resplendent. Each one carefully carried a parcel of paschal cakes. None took any notice of Bargamot, neither did he look with especial love on his “godchildren,” and uneasily prognosticated how many times he would have to make a journey tomorrow to the police station.

In fact, he was jealous that they were free and could go where it was bright, noisy and cheerful, while he was stuck there like a penitent.

“Here I have to stand because of you, drunkards,” muttered he, summing up his thoughts, and spat once more⁠—he felt a hollow in the pit of his stomach.

The street was becoming empty. The Eucharistic bell had ceased. Then the joyful changes of the treble peal, so cheerful after the melancholy tolling of the Lenten bells, spread over the world the joyful news of Christ’s resurrection. Bargamot took off his hat and crossed himself. Soon he would be going home. He became more cheerful as he imagined to himself the table laid with a clean cloth, the paschal cakes and the eggs. He would without hurry give to all the Easter salutation. They would wake up Jack and bring him in, and he would at once demand the coloured egg, about which he had held circumstantial conversations the whole week through with his more experienced little sister. Oh, how he’ll open wide his mouth when his father brings him, not the bright dyed egg, but the real marble one, which the same obliging shopkeeper had presented to Bargamot!

“Dear little chap!” said Bargamot with a smile, feeling a sort of paternal tenderness welling up from the depths of his soul.

But Bargamot’s placidity was broken in on in the most abject manner. Round the corner were heard uneven footsteps and low mutterings.

“Who the devil is coming here?” thought Bargamot, looking round the corner and feeling injured in his very soul.

“Garaska! Yes, drunk as usual! Well, that’s a finisher!”

It was a mystery to Bargamot how Garaska could have managed to get drunk before daylight, but of the fact of his drunkenness there was no doubt. His behaviour, mysterious as it would have been to an outsider, was perfectly clear to Bargamot, who was well acquainted with the “Gunner” soul in general, and with the low nature of Garaska in particular. Attracted by an irresistible force from the middle of the street, in which he had the habit of walking, he was pressed close to the hoarding. Supporting himself with both hands, and contemplating the wall with a concentrated air of inquiry, Garaska staggered, while he gathered up his strength for a fresh struggle with any unexpected impediments he might meet with.

After a short but intense meditation he pushed himself energetically from the wall, and staggered backwards into the middle of the street, made a deliberate turn, and set out with long strides into space, which turned out to be not quite so endless as it has been said to be, but was in fact bounded by a mass of lamps.

With the first of these, Garaska came into the closest relations, and clasped it in the firm embrace of friendship.

“A lamp! Stop!” said he curtly, as he established the accomplished fact. Quite unusually, of course, Garaska was in an excessively good humour. Instead of heaping well-deserved objurgations upon the lamppost he turned to it with mild reproaches, which contained some touches of familiarity.

“Stand still, you silly ass, where are you going to?” he muttered as he staggered away from the lamppost, and again fell with his whole chest upon it, almost flattening his nose against its cold damp surface.

“That’s right! eh?” and by clinging with half his length along the post he managed to hold on, and sank into a reverie.

Bargamot contemptuously compressed his lips, as he looked down on Garaska from his superior height. Nobody annoyed him so much in the whole of Gunner Street as this wretched toper. To look at him⁠—one would not have thought there was any strength in him, and yet he was the greatest scandal in the whole neighbourhood.

He’s not a man, but an ulcer! A “gunner” gets drunk, makes a disturbance, spends the night in the lockup, and he gets over all this like a gentleman⁠—but Garaska always does it stealthily, and of malice prepense. He may be beaten half to death or nearly starved at the police station, still they can never break him of bad language, of his most offensively foul tongue.

He will stand under the windows of any of the most respectable people in Gunner Street, and begin to swear without rhyme or reason. The shopmen seize Garaska and beat him⁠—the crowd laughs and advises them to give it him hot. Garaska would revile even Bargamot himself in such fantastically realistic language, that without understanding all the subtleties of his wit, he felt himself more insulted, than if he had been whipped.

How Garaska got his living, remained to the “gunners” one of those mysteries which enveloped his whole existence. Certainly no one had ever seen him sober. He lived, or rather camped about in the orchards, or the riverbank, or under shrubs. In winter he disappeared to somewhere or other, and with the first breath of spring he reappeared. What attracted him to Gunner Street, where it was everyone’s business to beat him, was again a profound mystery of Garaska’s soul, but get rid of him they could not. They strongly suspected, and that not without reason, that he was a thief, but they could not take him in the act, so he was beaten on merely circumstantial evidence.

On this occasion Garaska had evidently a difficult path to negotiate. The rags, which made a pretence of seriously covering his emaciated body, were all over still undried mud.

His face, with its big, bulbous red nose, which was incontestably one of the causes of his unstable equilibrium, was covered with an irregularly distributed watery growth, and gave substantial evidence of its close relations with alcohol and a neighbour’s fist. On his cheek near the eye was a scratch of evidently recent origin.

He succeeded at last in parting company with the lamppost, and when he observed the dignified silent figure of Bargamot he was overjoyed.

“Our best respects to you, Bargamot Bargamotich⁠—we hope we see you well!” said he with a polite wave of his hand, but he staggered, and was fain to prop himself up with his back against the lamppost.

“Where are you going to?” growled Bargamot saturninely.

“We’re orl righ’!”

“On the old lay, eh? Or do you want a doss in the cells. You wretch, I’ll run you in at once.”

“No, you don’t!”

Garaska was just going to make a gesture of defiance, when he wisely restrained himself, spat and rubbed his foot about on the ground, as though to rub out the spittle.

“You can talk when you get to the police station! March!”

Bargamot’s mighty hand stretched out to Garaska’s collar, so greasy in fact that it was evident that Bargamot was not his first guide on the thorny path of well-doing. Giving the drunken man a slight shake, and propelling his body in the required direction, and at the same time giving it a certain stability, Bargamot dragged him towards the above-mentioned gaol, just as a strong hawser might tow after it a very light schooner, which had met with an accident outside the harbour. He considered himself deeply injured, instead of enjoying his well-earned rest, to have to drag himself with this drunkard to the station.

Ugh! Bargamot’s hands itched⁠—but the consciousness that on such a high festival it would be unseemly to let them have their way, restrained him. Garaska strode on bravely, mingling in a remarkable manner self-confidence, and even insolence, with meekness. He evidently harboured some thought of his own, which he began to approach by the Socratic method.

“Tell me, Mr. Policeman, what is today?”

“Won’t you shut up!” Bargamot replied in contempt. “Drunk before daylight!”

“Has the bell at Michael the Archangel’s rung yet?”

“Yes, what’s that to you?”

“Then Christ is risen!”

“Well, He is risen.”

“Then allow me⁠—” Garaska was carrying on this conversation half twisted towards Bargamot, and with his face resolutely turned to him. Bargamot, interested by the strange questions, mechanically let go the greasy collar. Garaska, losing his support, staggered and fell before he could show to Bargamot an object which he had just taken out of his pocket. Raising his great shoulders, as he supported himself on his hands, Garaska looked on the ground, then fell face downwards, and began to wail, as a peasant woman wails for the dead.

Garaska howling! Bargamot was surprised, but deciding that it must be some new joke of his, he still felt interested as to developments. The development was that Garaska continued howling without words, just like a dog.

“What’s up now? Off your nut, eh?” said Bargamot as he gave him a shove with his foot. He went on howling. Bargamot was in a dilemma.

“What’s got yer, eh?”

“The eg⁠—g.”


Garaska went on howling, but less noisily, he sat down and lifted up his hand. The hand was covered with something sticky, to which adhered pieces of coloured eggshell. Bargamot, still in doubt, began to have an inkling that something untoward had taken place.

“I⁠—like a gentleman⁠—to present⁠—Easter egg⁠—but you⁠—” blubbered Garaska disconnectedly; but Bargamot understood.

It was evident what had been Garaska’s intention. He wished to present him with an Easter egg according to Christian usage, and Bargamot was for taking him to gaol. Perhaps he had brought the egg a long way, and now it was broken⁠—and he was crying. Bargamot imagined to himself that the marble egg he was keeping for Jack was broken, and how sorry it made him.

“ ’Ere’s a go!” said Bargamot shaking his head, as he looked at the wallowing drunkard, and pitied him as intensely as he would have pitied a man cruelly wronged by his own brother.

“He was going to present⁠—” “He is also a living soul,” muttered the policeman, striving albeit clumsily to render the state of affairs clear to himself, and feeling a mixture of shame and pity, which became more and more oppressive.

“And you would have run him in! Shame on you!”

Sighing heavily as he bent down he knocked his short sword against a stone, and sat down on his heels near to Garaska.

“Well,” he muttered in confusion, “perhaps it is not broken.”

“Not broken! Why yer was ready to break my snout for me. Brute!”

“But what did you shove for!”

“What for⁠—” mimicked Garaska. “I was going⁠—like a gentleman to⁠—and him to⁠—the lock up. Think that’s my last egg? Yer lump!”

Bargamot sniffed. He did not feel in the least hurt by Garaska’s abuse; through his whole ill-organized interior he felt a sort of half pity, half shame, while in the remotest depths of his stout body something kept tiresomely wimbling and torturing.

“Can one help giving you a thrashing?” said Bargamot, more to himself than to Garaska.

“Not you, you garden scarecrow! Now look ’ere.”

Garaska was evidently falling into his usual groove. In his somewhat clearing brain he was picturing to himself a whole perspective of the most compromising terms of abuse, and most insulting epithets, when Bargamot cleared his throat with a sound which left not the slightest doubt as to the firmness of his determination and declared:

“We’ll go to my house, and break the fast.”

“What! go to your house, you tubby devil!”

“Let’s go, I say.”

Garaska’s surprise was boundless. Quite passively he allowed himself to be lifted up and led by the hand, and he went⁠—but whither? Not to the lockup, but to the house of Bargamot himself⁠—actually to eat his Easter breakfast there! A seductive thought came into his head⁠—to give Bargamot the slip, but though his head had become cleared by the very unusualness of the situation his feet still remained in such evil case, that they seemed sworn to perpetually cling to one another, and to prevent each other from walking.

Then, too, Bargamot was such a wonder that Garaska, truth to tell, did not want to get away.

Bargamot, twisting his tongue, and searching for words and stuttering, now propounded to him the instructions for a policeman, and now reverting to the special question of thrashing, and the lockup, deciding in his own mind in the positive, and at the same time in the negative.

“You say truly, Ivan Akindinich, we must be beaten,” acknowledged Garaska, feeling even a sort of awkwardness. Bargamot was a sore wonder!

“No, I don’t mean to do that,” mumbled Bargamot, evidently understanding, even less than Garaska, what his woolly tongue was babbling.

They arrived at last at Bargamot’s house⁠—and Garaska had already ceased to wonder.

Marya at first opened her eyes wide at the sight of the unwonted couple, but she guessed from her husband’s perturbed look, that there was no room for objections, and in her womanly kindheartedness quickly understood what she was expected to do.

Quieted and confused, Garaska sat down at the decorated table. He felt ashamed enough to sink into the ground. Ashamed of his rags, of his dirty hands, ashamed of his whole self, torn, drunken, disgusting as he was. Scalding himself with the deuced hot soup, swimming with fat, he spilt it on the tablecloth, and although the hostess with delicacy pretended not to have noticed it, he grew confused and spilt still more; so unbearably did those shrivelled fingers tremble with those great dirty nails, which Garaska now noticed for the first time.

“Ivan Akindinich, what surprise have you for Jacky?” asked Marya.

“Never mind⁠—later on,” hurriedly replied Bargamot. He was scalding himself with the soup, blew on his spoon, and stolidly wiped his moustache⁠—but through all this solidity the same amazement was apparent, as in the case of Garaska.

Marya hospitably pressed her guest to eat.

“Garasim,” she said, “how are you called after your father’s name?”


“Welcome, Garasim Andreich.”

Garaska, in endeavouring to swallow, choked, and throwing down his spoon, dropped his head on the table, right on the greasy spot which he had just made. From his breast there escaped again that rough, piteous howl, which had before so disturbed Bargamot.

The children, who had almost left off taking any notice of the guest, dropped their spoons and joined their treble to his tenor. Bargamot looked at his wife with a troubled and woeful expression.

“Now, what’s the matter with you, Garasim Andreich. Leave off,” said she, trying to quiet the perturbed guest.

“By my father’s name! Since I was born no one ever called me so!”

The Little Angel


At times Sashka wished to give up what is called living: to cease to wash every morning in cold water, on which thin sheets of ice floated about; to go no more to the grammar school, and there to have to listen to everyone scolding him; no more to experience the pain in the small of his back and indeed over his whole body when his mother made him kneel in the corner all the evening. But, since he was only thirteen years of age, and did not know all the means by which people abandon life at will, he continued to go to the grammar school and to kneel in the corner, and it seemed to him as if life would never end. A year would go by, and another, and yet another, and still he would be going to school, and be made to kneel in the corner. And since Sashka possessed an indomitable and bold spirit, he could not supinely tolerate evil, and so found means to avenge himself on life. With this object in view he would thrash his companions, be rude to the Head, impertinent to the masters, and tell lies all day long to his teachers and to his mother⁠—but to his father only he never lied. If in a fight he got his nose broken, he would purposely make the damage worse, and howl, without shedding a single tear, but so loudly that all who heard him were fain to stop their ears to keep out the disagreeable sound. When he had howled as long as thought advisable, he would suddenly cease, and, putting out his tongue, draw in his copybook a caricature of himself howling at an usher who pressed his fingers to his ears, while the victor stood trembling with fear. The whole copybook was filled with caricatures, the one which most frequently occurred being that of a short stout woman beating a boy as thin as a lucifer-match with a rolling pin. Below in a large scrawling hand would be written the legend: “Beg my pardon, puppy!” and the reply, “Won’t! blow’d if I do!”

Before Christmas Sashka was expelled from school, and when his mother attempted to thrash him, he bit her finger. This action gave him his liberty. He left off washing in the morning, ran about all day bullying the other boys, and had but one fear, and that was hunger, for his mother entirely left off providing for him, so that he came to depend upon the pieces of bread and potatoes which his father secreted for him. On these conditions Sashka found existence tolerable.

One Friday (it was Christmas Eve) he had been playing with the other boys, until they had dispersed to their homes, followed by the squeak of the rusty frozen wicket gate as it closed behind the last of them. It was already growing dark, and a grey snowy mist was travelling up from the country, along a dark alley; in a low black building, which stood fronting the end of the alley, a lamp was burning with a reddish, unblinking light. The frost had become more intense, and when Sashka reached the circle of light cast by the lamp, he saw that fine dry flakes of snow were floating slowly on the air. It was high time to be getting home.

“Where have you been knocking about all night, puppy?” exclaimed his mother doubling her fist, without, however, striking. Her sleeves were turned up, exposing her fat white arms, and on her forehead, almost devoid of eyebrows, stood beads of perspiration. As Sashka passed by her he recognized the familiar smell of vodka. His mother scratched her head with the short dirty nail of her thick forefinger, and since it was no good scolding, she merely spat, and cried: “Statisticians! that’s what they are!”

Sashka shuffled contemptuously, and went behind the partition, from whence might be heard the heavy breathing of his father, Ivan Savvich, who was in a chronic state of shivering, and was now trying to warm himself by sitting on the heated bench of the stove with his hands under him, palms downwards.

“Sashka! the Svetchnikovs have invited you to the Christmas tree. The housemaid came,” he whispered.

“Get along with you!” said Sashka with incredulity.

“Fact! The old woman there has purposely not told you, but she has mended your jacket all the same.”

“Non⁠—sense,” Sashka replied, still more surprised.

The Svetchnikovs were rich people, who had put him to the grammar school, and after his expulsion had forbidden him their house.

His father once more took his oath to the truth of his statement, and Sashka became meditative.

“Well then, move, shift a bit,” he said to his father, as he leapt upon the short bench, adding:

“I won’t go to those devils. I should prove jolly well too much for them, if I were to turn up. Depraved boy,” drawled Sashka in imitation of his patrons. “They are none too good themselves, the smug-faced prigs!”

“Oh! Sashka, Sashka,” his father complained, sitting hunched up with cold, “you’ll come to a bad end.”

“What about yourself, then?” was Sashka’s rude rejoinder. “Better shut up. Afraid of the old woman. Ba! old muff!”

His father sat on in silence and shivered. A faint light found its way through a broad clink at the top, where the partition failed to meet the ceiling by a quarter of an inch, and lay in bright patches upon his high forehead, beneath which the deep cavities of his eyes showed black.

In times gone by Ivan Savvich had been used to drink heavily, and then his wife had feared and hated him. But when he had begun to develop unmistakable signs of consumption, and could drink no longer, she took to drink in her turn, and gradually accustomed herself to vodka. Then she avenged herself for all she had suffered at the hands of that tall narrow-chested man, who used incomprehensible words, had lost his place through disobedience and drunkenness, and who brought home with him just such long-haired, debauched and conceited fellows as himself.

In contradistinction to her husband, the more Feoktista Petrovna drank the healthier she became, and the heavier became her fists. Now she said what she pleased, brought men and women to the house just as she chose, and sang with them noisy songs, while he lay silent behind the partition huddled together with perpetual cold, and meditating on the injustice and sorrow of human life. To everyone, with whom she talked, she complained that she had no such enemies in the world as her husband and son, they were stuck-up statisticians!

For the space of an hour his mother kept drumming into Sashka’s ears:

“But I say you shall go,” punctuating each word with a heavy blow on the table, which made the tumblers, placed on it after washing, jump and rattle again.

“But I say I won’t!” Sashka coolly replied, dragging down the corners of his mouth with the will to show his teeth⁠—a habit which had earned for him at school the nickname of Wolfkin.

“I’ll thrash you, won’t I just!” cried his mother.

“All right! thrash away!”

But Feoktista Petrovna knew that she could no longer strike her son now that he had begun to retaliate by biting, and that if she drove him into the street he would go off larking, and sooner get frostbitten than go to the Svetchnikovs, therefore she appealed to her husband’s authority.

“Calls himself a father, and can’t protect the mother from insult!”

“Really, Sashka, go. Why are you so obstinate?” he jerked out from the bench. “They will perhaps take you up again. They are kind people.” Sashka only laughed in an insulting manner.

His father, long ago, before Sashka was born, had been tutor at the Svetchnikovs’, and had ever since looked on them as the best people in the world. At that time he had held also an appointment in the statistical office of the Zemstvo, and had not yet taken to drink. Eventually he was compelled through his own fault to marry his landlady’s daughter. From that time he severed his connection with the Svetchnikovs, and took to drink. Indeed, he let himself go to such an extent, that he was several times picked up drunk in the streets and taken to the police station. But the Svetchnikovs did not cease to assist him with money, and Feoktista Petrovna, although she hated them, together with books and everything connected with her husband’s past, still valued their acquaintance, and was in the habit of boasting of it.

“Perhaps you might bring something for me too from the Christmas tree,” continued his father. He was using craft to induce his son to go, and Sashka knew it, and despised his father for his weakness and want of straightforwardness; though he really did wish to bring back something for the poor sickly old man, who had for a long time been without even good tobacco.

“All right!” he blurted out; “give me my jacket. Have you put the buttons on? No fear! I know you too well!”


The children had not yet been admitted to the drawing-room, where the Christmas tree stood, but remained chattering in the nursery. Sashka, with lofty superciliousness, stood listening to their naive talk, and fingering in his breeches pocket the broken cigarettes which he had managed to abstract from his host’s study. At this moment there came up to him the youngest of the Svetchnikovs, Kolya, and stood motionless before him, a look of surprise on his face, his toes turned in, and a finger stuck in the corner of his pouting mouth. Six months ago, at the instance of his relatives, he had given up this bad habit of putting his finger in his mouth, but he could not quite break himself of it. He had blonde locks cut in a fringe on his forehead and falling in ringlets on his shoulders, and blue, wondering eyes; in fact, he was just such a boy in appearance as Sashka particularly loved to bully.

“Are ’oo weally a naughty boy?” he inquired of Sashka. “Miss said ’oo was. I’m a dood boy.”

“That you are!” replied Sashka, considering the other’s short velvet trousers and great turndown collars.

“Would ’oo like to have a dun? There!” and he pointed at him a little popgun with a cork tied to it. The Wolfkin took the gun, pressed down the spring, and, aiming at the nose of the unsuspecting Kolya, pulled the trigger. The cork struck his nose, and rebounding, hung by the string. Kolya’s blue eyes opened wider than ever, and filled with tears. Transferring his finger from his mouth to his reddening nose he blinked his long eyelashes and whispered:

“Bad⁠—bad boy!”

A young lady of striking appearance, with her hair dressed in the simplest and the most becoming fashion, now entered the nursery. She was sister to the lady of the house, the very one indeed to whom Sashka’s father had formerly given lessons.

“Here’s the boy,” said she, pointing out Sashka to the bald-headed man who accompanied her. “Bow, Sashka, you should not be so rude!”

But Sashka would bow neither to her, nor to her companion of the bald head. She little suspected how much he knew. But, as a fact, Sashka did know that his miserable father had loved her, and that she had married another; and, though this had taken place subsequent to his father’s marriage, Sashka could not bring himself to forgive what seemed to him like treachery.

“Takes after his father!” sighed Sofia Dmitrievna. “Could not you, Plutov Michailovich, do something for him? My husband says that a commercial school would suit him better than the grammar school. Sashka, would you like to go to a technical school?”

“No!” curtly replied Sashka, who had caught the offensive word “husband.”

“Do you want to be a shepherd, then?” asked the gentleman.

“Not likely!” said Sashka, in an offended tone.

“What then?”

Now Sashka did not know what he would like to be, but upon reflection replied: “Well, it’s all the same to me, even a shepherd, if you like.”

The bald-headed gentleman regarded the strange boy with a look of perplexity. When his eyes had travelled up from his patched boots to his face, Sashka put out his tongue and quickly drew it back again, so that Sofia Dmitrievna did not notice anything, but the old gentleman showed an amount of irascibility that she could not understand.

“I should not mind going to a commercial school,” bashfully suggested Sashka.

The lady was overjoyed at Sashka’s decision, and meditated with a sigh on the beneficial influence exercised by an old love.

“I don’t know whether there will be a vacancy,” dryly remarked the old man avoiding looking at Sashka, and smoothing down the ridge of hair which stuck up on the back of his head. “However, we shall see.”

Meanwhile the children were becoming noisy, and in a great state of excitement were waiting impatiently for the Christmas tree.

The excellent practice with the popgun made in the hands of a boy, who commanded respect both for his stature and for his reputation for naughtiness, found imitators, and many a little button of a nose was made red. The tiny maids, holding their sides, bent almost double with laughter, as their little cavaliers with manly contempt of fear and pain, but all the same wrinkling up their faces in suspense, received the impact of the cork.

At length the doors were opened, and a voice said: “Come in, children; gently, not so fast!” Opening their little eyes wide, and holding their breath in anticipation, the children filed into the brightly illumined drawing-room in orderly pairs, and quietly walked round the glittering tree. It cast a strong, shadowless light on their eager faces, with rounded eyes and mouths. For a minute there reigned the silence of profound enchantment, which all at once broke out into a chorus of delighted exclamation. One of the little girls, unable to restrain her delight, kept dancing up and down in the same place, her little tress braided with blue ribbon beating meanwhile rhythmically against her shoulders. Sashka remained morose and gloomy⁠—something evil was working in his little wounded breast. The tree blinded him with its red, shriekingly insolent glitter of countless candles. It was foreign, hostile to him, even as the crowd of smart, pretty children which surrounded it. He would have liked to give it a shove, and topple it over on their shining heads. It seemed as though some iron hand were gripping his heart, and wringing out of it every drop of blood. He crept behind the piano, and sat down there in a corner unconsciously crumpling to pieces in his pocket the last of the cigarettes, and thinking that though he had a father and mother and a home, it came to the same thing as if he had none, and nowhere to go to. He tried to recall to his imagination his little penknife, which he had acquired by a swap not long ago, and was very fond of; but his knife all at once seemed to him a very poor affair with its ground-down blade and only half of a yellow haft. Tomorrow he would smash it up, and then he would have nothing left at all!

But suddenly Sashka’s narrow eyes gleamed with astonishment, and his face in a moment resumed its ordinary expression of audacity and self-confidence. On the side of the tree turned towards him⁠—which was the back of it, and less brightly illumined than the other side⁠—he discovered something such as had never come within the circle of his existence, and without which all his surroundings appeared as empty as though peopled by persons without life. It was a little angel in wax carelessly hung in the thickest of the dark boughs, and looking as if it were floating in the air. His transparent dragonfly wings trembled in the light, and he seemed altogether alive and ready to fly away. The rosy fingers of his exquisitely formed hands were stretched upwards, and from his head there floated just such locks as Kolya’s. But there was something here that was wanting in Kolya’s face, and in all other faces and things. The face of the little angel did not shine with joy, nor was it clouded by grief; but there lay on it the impress of another feeling, not to be explained in words, nor defined by thought, but to be attained only by the sympathy of a kindred feeling. Sashka was not conscious of the force of the mysterious influence which attracted him towards the little angel, but he felt that he had known him all his life, and had always loved him, loved him more than his penknife, more than his father, more than anything else. Filled with doubt, alarm, and a delight which he could not comprehend, Sashka clasped his hands to his bosom and whispered:

“Dear⁠—dear little angel!”

The more intently he looked the more fraught with significance the expression of the little angel’s face became. He was so infinitely far off, so unlike everything which surrounded him there. The other toys seemed to take a pride in hanging there pretty, and decked out, upon the glittering tree, but he was pensive, and fearing the intrusive light purposely hid himself in the dark greenery, so that none might see him. It would be a mad cruelty to touch his dainty little wings.

“Dear⁠—dear!” whispered Sashka.

His head became feverish. He clasped his hands behind his back, and in full readiness to fight to the death to win the little angel, he walked to and fro with cautious, stealthy steps. He avoided looking at the little angel, lest he should direct the attention of others towards him, but he felt that he was still there, and had not flown away.

Now the hostess appeared in the doorway, a tall, stately lady with a bright aureole of grey hair dressed high upon her head. The children trooped round her with expressions of delight, and the little girl⁠—the same that had danced about in her place⁠—hung wearily on her hand, blinking heavily with sleepy eyes.

As Sashka approached her he seemed almost choking with emotion.

“Auntie⁠—auntie!”4 said he, trying to speak caressingly, but his voice sounded harsher than ever. “Auntie, dear!”

She did not hear him, so he tugged impatiently at her dress.

“What’s the matter with you? Why are you pulling my dress?” said the grey-haired lady in surprise. “It’s rude.”

“Auntie⁠—auntie, do give me one thing from the tree; give me the little angel.”

“Impossible,” replied the lady in a tone of indifference. “We are going to keep the tree decorated till the New Year. But you are no longer a child; you should call me by name⁠—Maria Dmitrievna.”

Sashka, feeling as if he were falling down a precipice, grasped the last means of saving himself.

“I am sorry I have been naughty. I’ll be more industrious for the future,” he blurted out. But this formula, which had always paid with his masters, made no impression upon the lady of the grey hair.

“A good thing, too, my friend,” she said, as unconcernedly as before.

“Give me the little angel,” demanded Sashka, gruffly.

“But it’s impossible. Can’t you understand that?”

But Sashka did not understand, and when the lady turned to go out of the room he followed her, his gaze fixed without conscious thought upon her black silk dress. In his surging brain there glimmered a recollection of how one of the boys in his class had asked the master to mark him 3,5 and when the master refused he had knelt down before him, and putting his hands together as in prayer, had begun to cry. The master was angry, but gave him 3 all the same. At the time Sashka had immortalised this episode in a caricature, but now his only means left was to follow the boy’s example. Accordingly he plucked at the lady’s dress again, and when she turned round, dropped with a bang on to his knees, and folded his hands as described above. But he could not squeeze out a single tear!

“Are you out of your mind?” exclaimed the grey-haired lady, casting a searching look round the room; but luckily no one was present.

“What is the matter with you?”

Kneeling there with clasped hands, Sashka looked at her with dislike, and rudely repeated:

“Give me the little angel.”

His eyes, fixed intently on the lady to catch the first word she should utter, were anything but good to look at, and the hostess answered hurriedly:

“Well, then, I’ll give it to you. Ah! what a stupid you are! I will give you what you want, but why could you not wait till the New Year?”

“Stand up! And never,” she added in a didactic tone, “never kneel to anyone: it is humiliating. Kneel before God alone.”

“Talk away!” thought Sashka, trying to get in front of her, and merely succeeding in treading on her dress.

When she had taken the toy from the tree, Sashka devoured her with his eyes, but stretched out his hands for it with a painful pucker of the nose. It seemed to him that the tall lady would break the little angel.

“Beautiful thing!” said the lady, who was sorry to part with such a dainty and presumably expensive toy. “Who can have hung it there? Well, what do you want with such a thing? Are you not too big to know what to do with it? Look, there are some picture-books. But this I promised to give to Kolya; he begged so earnestly for it.” But this was not the truth.

Sashka’s agony became unbearable. He clenched his teeth convulsively, and seemed almost to grind them. The lady of the grey hair feared nothing so much as a scene, so she slowly held out the little angel to Sashka.

“There now, take it!” she said in a displeased tone; “what a persistent boy you are!”

Sashka’s hands as they seized the little angel seemed like tentacles, and were tense as steel springs, but withal so soft and careful that the little angel might have imagined himself to be flying in the air.

“A-h-h!” escaped in a long diminuendo sigh from Sashka’s breast, while in his eyes glistened two little teardrops, which stood still there as though unused to the light. Slowly drawing the little angel to his bosom, he kept his shining eyes on the hostess, with a quiet, tender smile which died away in a feeling of unearthly bliss. It seemed, when the dainty wings of the little angel touched Sashka’s sunken breast, as if he experienced something so blissful, so bright, the like of which had never before been experienced in this sorrowful, sinful, suffering world.

“A-h-h!” sighed he once more as the little angel’s wings touched him. And at the shining of his face the absurdly decorated and insolently growing tree seemed to be extinguished, and the grey-haired, portly dame smiled with gladness, and the parchment-like face of the bald-headed gentleman twitched, and the children fell into a vivid silence as though touched by a breath of human happiness.

For one short moment all observed a mysterious likeness between the awkward boy who had outgrown his clothes, and the lineaments of the little angel, which had been spiritualised by the hand of an unknown artist.

But the next moment the picture was entirely changed. Crouching like a panther preparing to spring, Sashka surveyed the surrounding company, on the lookout for someone who should dare wrest his little angel from him.

“I’m going home,” he said in a dull voice, having in view a way of escape through the crowd, “home to Father.”


His mother was asleep worn out with a whole day’s work and vodka-drinking. In the little room behind the partition there stood a small cooking-lamp burning on the table. Its feeble yellow light, with difficulty penetrating the sooty glass, threw a strange shadow over the faces of Sashka and his father.

“Is it not pretty?” asked Sashka in a whisper, holding the little angel at a distance from his father, so as not to allow him to touch it.

“Yes, there’s something most remarkable about him,” whispered the father, gazing thoughtfully at the toy. And his face expressed the same concentrated attention and delight, as did Sashka’s.

“Look, he is going to fly.”

“I see it too,” replied Sashka in an ecstasy. “Think I’m blind? But look at his little wings! Ah! don’t touch!”

The father withdrew his hand, and with troubled eyes studied the details of the little angel, while Sashka whispered with the air of a pedagogue:

“Father, what a bad habit you have of touching everything! You might break it.”

There fell upon the wall the shadows of two grotesque, motionless heads bending towards one another, one big and shaggy, the other small and round.

Within the big head strange torturing thoughts, though at the same time full of delight, were seething. His eyes unblinkingly regarded the little angel, and under his steadfast gaze it seemed to grow larger and brighter, and its wings to tremble with a noiseless trepidation, and all the surroundings⁠—the timber-built, soot-stained wall, the dirty table, Sashka⁠—everything became fused into one level grey mass without light or shade. It seemed to the broken man that he heard a pitying voice from the world of wonders, wherein once he had dwelt, and whence he had been cast out forever. There they knew nothing of dirt, of weary quarrelling, of the blindly-cruel strife of egotism, there they knew nothing of the tortures of a man arrested in the streets with callous laughter, and beaten by the rough hand of the night-watchman. There everything is pure, joyful, bright. And all this purity found an asylum in the soul of her whom he loved more than life, and had lost⁠—when he had kept his hold upon his own useless life. With the smell of wax, which emanated from the toy, was mingled a subtle aroma, and it seemed to the broken man that her dear fingers touched the angel, those fingers which he would fain have caressed in one long kiss, till death should close his lips forever. This was why the little toy was so beautiful, this was why there was in it something specially attractive, which defied description. The little angel had descended from that heaven which her soul was to him, and had brought a ray of light into the damp room, steeped in sulphurous fumes, and to the dark soul of the man from whom had been taken all: love, and happiness, and life.

On a level with the eyes of the man, who had lived his life, sparkled the eyes of the boy, who was beginning his life, and embraced the little angel in their caress. For them present and future had disappeared: the ever-sorrowful, piteous father, the rough, unendurable mother, the black darkness of insults, of cruelty, of humiliations, and of spiteful grief. The thoughts of Sashka were formless, nebulous, but all the more deeply for that did they move his agitated soul. Everything that is good and bright in the world, all profound grief, and the hope of a soul that sighs for God⁠—the little angel absorbed them all into himself, and that was why he glowed with such a soft divine radiance, that was why his little dragonfly wings trembled with a noiseless trepidation.

The father and son did not look at one another: their sick hearts grieved, wept, and rejoiced apart. But there was a something in their thoughts which fused their hearts in one, and annihilated that bottomless abyss which separates man from man and makes him so lonely, unhappy, and weak. The father with an unconscious motion put his arm around the neck of his son, and the son’s head rested equally without conscious volition upon his father’s consumptive chest.

She it was who gave it to thee, was it not?” whispered the father, without taking his eyes off the little angel.

At another time Sashka would have replied with a rude negation, but now the only reply possible resounded of itself within his soul, and he calmly pronounced the pious fraud: “Who else? of course she did.”

The father made no reply, and Sashka relapsed into silence.

Something grated in the adjoining room, then clicked, and then was silent for a moment, and then noisily and hurriedly the clock struck “One, two, three.”

“Sashka, do you ever dream?” asked the father in a meditative tone.

“No! Oh, yes,” he admitted, “once I had one, in which I fell down from the roof. We were climbing after the pigeons, and I fell down.”

“But I dream always. Strange things are dreams. One sees the whole past, one loves and suffers as though it were reality.”

Again he was silent, and Sashka felt his arm tremble as it lay upon his neck. The trembling and pressure of his father’s arm became stronger and stronger, and the sensitive silence of the night was all at once broken by the pitiful sobbing sound of suppressed weeping. Sashka sternly puckered his brow, and cautiously⁠—so as not to disturb the heavy trembling arm⁠—wiped away a tear from his eyes. So strange was it to see a big old man crying.

“Ah! Sashka, Sashka,” sobbed the father, “what is the meaning of everything?”

“Why, what’s the matter?” sternly whispered Sashka. “You’re crying just like a little boy.”

“Well, I won’t, then,” said the father with, a piteous smile of excuse. “What’s the good?”

Feoktista Petrovna turned on her bed. She sighed, cleared her throat, and mumbled incoherent sounds in a loud and strangely persistent manner.

It was time to go to bed. But before doing so the little angel must be disposed of for the night. He could not be left on the floor, so he was hung up by his string, which was fastened to the flue of the stove. There it stood out accurately delineated against the white Dutch-tiles. And so they could both see him, Sashka and his father.

Hurriedly throwing into a corner the various rags on which he was in the habit of sleeping, Sashka lay down on his back, in order as quickly as possible to look again at the little angel.

“Why don’t you undress?” asked his father as he shivered and wrapped himself up in his tattered blanket, and arranged his clothes, which he had thrown over his feet.

“What’s the good? I shall soon be up again.”

Sashka wished to add that he did not care to go to sleep at all, but he had no time to do so, since he fell to sleep as suddenly as though he had sunk to the bottom of a deep swift river.

His father presently fell asleep also. And gentle sleep and restfulness lay upon the weary face of the man who had lived his life, and upon the brave face of the little man who was just beginning his life.

But the little angel hanging by the hot stove began to melt. The lamp, which had been left burning at the entreaty of Sashka, filled the room with the smell of kerosene, and through its smoked glass threw a melancholy light upon a scene of gradual dissolution. The little angel seemed to stir. Over his rosy fingers there rolled thick drops which fell upon the bench. To the smell of kerosene was added the stifling scent of melting wax. The little angel gave a tremble as though on the point of flight, and⁠—fell with a soft thud upon the hot flags.

An inquisitive cockroach singed its wings as it ran round the formless lump of melted wax, climbed up the dragonfly wings, and twitching its feelers went on its way.

Through the curtained window the grey-blue light of coming day crept in, and the frozen water-carrier was already making a noise in the courtyard with his iron scoop.

Petka at the Bungalow

Osip Abramovich, the barber, arranged a dirty sheeting on his customer’s chest, and tucking it into his collar, shouted abruptly in a sharp tone, “Boy! water!”

The customer, examining his face in the glass with that sharpened intentness and interest which is exhibited only at the barber’s, observed that another pimple had appeared on his chin, and turning his eyes away in dissatisfaction they fell straight on a thin little hand, which stretched out from somewhere at the side, and put a tin of hot water down on the ledge below the looking-glass. When he raised his eyes still higher, they caught the strange and distorted looking reflection of the barber, and he noticed the sharp threatening glance which he was casting down on the head of someone, and the silent movements of his lips, caused by an inaudible but expressive whisper. If the master himself was not doing the shaving but one of the assistants, Prokopy or Mikhailo, then the whisper would become loud, and take the form of a vague threat:

“Just you wait!”

This meant that the boy was not quick enough with the water, and that punishment awaited him.

“Serve ’m right too,” thought the customer, bending his head down sideways, and contemplating the great moist hand by the side of his nose, three fingers of which were spread out, while the forefinger and thumb, all sticky and smelly, gently touched cheek and chin as the blunt razor, with a disagreeable grating noise, took off the lather, and with it the stiff bristles of his beard.

At this barber’s shop, permeated with the oppressive smell of cheap scents, full of tiresome flies and dirt, the customers were not very exacting. They consisted of hall-porters, overseers, and sometimes minor officials, or workmen, and often coarsely handsome but suspicious-looking fellows with ruddy cheeks, slender moustaches, and insolent oleaginous eyes.

Close by was a quarter full of houses of cheap debauchery. They lorded it over the whole neighbourhood, and gave to it a special character of something dirty, disorderly and disquieting.

The boy, who was called out to most frequently, was named Petka, and was the smallest of all who served in the establishment. The other boy Nikolka was his elder by three years, and would soon develop into an assistant. Already when a more than ordinarily humble customer looked in, and the assistants in the absence of the master were too lazy to work, they would set Nikolka to cut his hair, and laugh when he had to raise himself on tiptoe to see the back hair of some fat dvornik. Sometimes the customer would be offended that his hair was badly cut and utter a loud complaint, and then the assistants would scold Nikolka, not seriously, but only to satisfy the cropped lout. But such cases were not of frequent occurrence, and Nikolka gave himself the airs of a man; he smoked cigarettes, spat through his teeth, used bad language, and even boasted to Petka that he drank vodka; but there he probably lied. In company with the assistants he would run to the neighbouring street to look on at a coarse fight, and when he came back laughing with delight, Osip Abramovich would give him a couple of smacks, one on each cheek.

Petka was only ten years old. He did not smoke, or drink vodka, or swear, though he knew plenty of bad words, and in all these respects he envied his companion. When there were no customers, and Prokopy, who usually had spent a sleepless night somewhere or other, and in the daytime would drowsily stumble about and throw himself into the dark corner behind the partition, and Mikhailo was reading the Police News, and amongst the accounts of thefts and robberies was looking out for the name of some regular customer, Petka and Nikolka would chat together. The latter was kinder when the two were alone together, and used to explain to the younger the meaning of the terms used to describe the various styles of hair-cutting.

Sometimes they sat at the window, by the side of a half-length figure of a female in wax with pink cheeks, staring glass eyes, and straight sparse eyelashes, and looked out on the boulevard, where life had been stirring since the early morning. The trees of the boulevard, powdered with dust, drooped motionless under the merciless burning rays of the sun, and afforded an equally grey, unrefreshing shade. On all the benches were seated men and women in dirty, uncouth attire, without kerchiefs or hats, just as though they lived there and had no other home. Whether the faces were indifferent, malignant, or dissolute, on all alike was impressed the stamp of utter weariness and contempt of their surroundings. Ofttimes a frowsy head would nod helplessly on a shoulder, and the body would try to stretch itself out to sleep like a third-class passenger after an unbroken journey of one thousand versts, but there was nowhere to lie down. The park-keeper, in a bright blue uniform with a cane in his hand, walked up and down the pathways, looking out that no one lay down on the benches, or threw himself upon the grass, which, though parched by the sun, was still so soft, so cool. The women, for the most part more neatly dressed, and even with a hint at fashion, were seemingly all of one type of countenance and of one age; although here and there might be found some old, and others quite young, almost children. All of these talked with hoarse, harsh voices; and scolded, embracing the men as simply as though they were alone on the boulevard. Sometimes they would take a snack and a drop of vodka. It might happen that a drunken man would beat an equally drunken woman. She would fall down, and get up again, and fall down again, but no one would take her part. Only the faces of the crowd as they gathered round the couple would light up with some intelligence and animation, and wear a broader grin. But when the blue-coated keeper drew near, they would listlessly disperse to their former places. Only the ill-used woman would keep on weeping, uttering meaningless oaths, with her rumpled hair covered with sand, and her semi-made bust looking dirty and yellow in the morning light, cynically and piteously exposed. They would put her on the bottom of a cab and drive her off with her head hanging down, and swaying, as if she were dead.

Nikolka knew several of the men and women by name, and told Petka nasty stories about them, and laughed showing his sharp teeth. And Petka admired his knowledge and daring, and thought that some day he would be like him. But meanwhile he wanted to be somewhere else. Wanted badly!

Petka’s days dragged on wonderfully monotonously, as like to one another as two brothers. Summer and winter alike he saw the same mirrors, one of which was cracked, and another was contorted and amusing. On the stained wall hung one and the same picture, representing two half-dressed women on the seashore, the only difference being that their pink bodies became more spotted with fly dirt, and that the black patch of soot became larger above the place where the common kerosene lamp gleamed all the whole winter’s day. And morning, evening, and the whole livelong day, there hung over Petka the one and the same abrupt cry, “Boy, water!” and he was always bringing it⁠—always. There were no holidays. On Sundays, when the windows of the stores and shops ceased to illuminate the street, those of the hairdresser’s till late at night cast a bright sheaf of light upon the pavement, and the passerby might observe a little thin figure huddled upon his seat in the corner, and immersed in something between thought and a heavy slumber. Petka slept a great deal, but still for some reason or other he was always wanting to sleep, and it often seemed to him that all around him was not real, but a very unpleasant dream. Ofttimes he would spill the water, or fail to hear the sharp call, “Boy, water!” He grew thinner and thinner, and unsightly scabs came out on his closely-cropped head. Even the not too fastidious customers looked with aversion on this thin, freckled boy, whose eyes were always sleepy, his mouth half-open, and his hands and neck ingrained with dirt. Round his eyes and under his nose faint lines were forming as though traced by a sharp needle, and they made him look like an aged dwarf.

Petka did not know whether he was happy or unhappy, but he did want to go to some other place; but where, or what, that place was he could not have told you. When his mother, the cook, Nadejda, paid him a visit, he would eat listlessly the sweets she brought him. He never, never complained, but only asked to be taken away from the place. But he soon forgot his request, and would coolly take leave of his mother, without asking when she was coming again. And Nadejda thought with sorrow that she had only one son⁠—and that one an imbecile.

How long he had lived in this fashion, Petka did not know, when suddenly one day his mother came to dinner, had a talk with Osip Abramovich, and told Petka that he was to be allowed to go to the bungalow at Tzaritzyno, where her master and mistress were living. At first, Petka could not realize the good news, but after a time his face broke out into faint wrinkles of soft laughter, and he began to hasten his mother’s departure. But for decency’s sake she had to talk to Osip Abramovich about his wife’s health, while Petka was gently dragging her by the hand and shoving her towards the door. He had no idea what a bungalow was like, but he supposed that it must be the very place which he had so longed to go to. With simple egotism he quite forgot Nikolka, who was standing there with his hands in his pockets endeavouring to regard Nadejda with his usual insolence. But instead of insolence there shone in his eyes a profound grief. He had no mother, and at that moment he would not have objected to having just such a stout one as Nadejda. The fact was that he too had never been at a bungalow.

The railway station with its many voices, with its bustle and the rumble of incoming trains, and the whistles of the engines, some thick and irate like the voice of Osip Abramovich, others thin and shrill like the voice of his sickly wife, with its hurrying passengers who kept coming and going in a continuous stream, as if there were no end to them⁠—all this presented itself for the first time to the puzzled gaze of Petka, and filled him with a feeling of excitement and impatience. Like his mother, he was afraid of being late, though it wanted a good half-hour to the time of the departure of the suburban train. But when they were once seated in the carriage, and the train had started, he stuck to the window, and only his cropped head kept turning about on his thin neck, as though on a metal spindle.

Petka had been born and bred in the city, and was now in the country for the first time in his life, and everything there was to him strikingly new and strange; that you could see so far; that the world looked like a lawn; and that the sky of this new world was so wonderfully bright and far-stretching⁠—just as if you were looking at it from the roof of a house! Petka looked at it from his own side, and when he turned to his mother, there was the same sky shining blue through the opposite window, and on its surface were flocking⁠—like little angels⁠—small, merry white flecks of clouds. Now Petka would turn back to his own window, now run over to the other side of the carriage, with confidence laying his ill-washed little hands on the shoulders and knees of strangers, who answered him back with a smile. But one gentleman who was reading a newspaper, and yawning all the time, either from excessive fatigue or from ennui, looked askance at the boy once or twice in not too friendly a manner, and Nadejda hastened to apologise:

“It is his first journey by rail⁠—and he is interested.”

“Humph,” growled the gentleman, and buried himself in his newspaper.

Nadejda would very much have liked to tell him, how that Petka had lived three years with a barber, who had promised to set him upon his feet; and that this would be a very good thing, since she was a lone weak woman, with no other means of support in case of sickness or when she became old. But the expression of his face was so uninviting, that she kept all this to herself.

To the right of the railway there was a broad stretch of undulating plain, dark green with the continual moisture, and on its edge there stood grey little houses, just like toys, and upon a high green hill, at the foot of which flowed a silvery river, was perched a similarly toy-like white church. When the train, with a noisy metallic clanking, which suddenly became intensified, rushed on to a bridge, and seemed to hang suspended in the air over the mirror-like surface of a river, Petka gave a little shiver of fright and surprise, and started back from the window; but immediately turned to it again, for fear of losing a single detail of the journey. His eyes had long ceased to look sleepy, and the lines had disappeared from his face. It was as though someone had passed a hot flatiron over his face, smoothing out the wrinkles, and leaving the surface white and shining.

For the first two days of his sojourn at the bungalow the wealth and force of the new impressions which inundated him from above and from below confused his timid little soul. In contradistinction to the savages of a former age, who felt lost on coming into a city from the wilderness, this modern savage, who had been snatched away from the stony embrace of the massive city, felt weak and impotent in the face of nature. Here everything was to him living, sentient, and possessed of conscious will. He was afraid of the forest, which gently rustled over his head, and was so dark, so passive, so terrible in its immensity. But the bright green joyful meadows, which seemed to be singing with all their bright flowers, he loved, and wished to fondle them as a sister; and the dark blue sky called him to itself, and laughed like a mother. Petka would become agitated, shudder, and grow pale, would smile at something, and slowly, like an old man, walk along the outskirts of the forest, and on the wooded shore of the pond. There, weary and out of breath, he would fling himself down on the thick damp grass, and sink into it, only his little freckled nose appearing above the green surface. For the first two days he was always going back to his mother, and nestling up to her: and when the master of the house asked him whether he liked being at the bungalow, he would smile in confusion and answer:

“Very much!”

And then he would go off again to the threatening forest, and the still water, and it was as though he were questioning them.

But after two days Petka had arrived at a complete understanding with Nature. This was brought about by the cooperation of a schoolboy named Mitya from old Tzaritzyno. The schoolboy had a swarthy countenance, the colour of a second-class carriage. His hair stood erect on the crown of his head, and was quite white, so bleached was it by the sun. He was fishing in the pond, when Petka caught sight of him and unceremoniously entered into conversation with him. They came to terms with wonderful promptitude; he allowed Petka to hold one of the rods, and afterwards took him some distance off to bathe. Petka was very much afraid of going into the water, but when once in, he did not wish to come out again, but pretended to swim, putting his forehead and nose above the water. Then he got a great gulp of water in his mouth, and beat the water with his hands and made a great splashing. At this moment he was very like a puppy, that had for the first time fallen into the water. When Petka dressed himself he was as blue as a corpse with the cold, and as he talked his teeth chattered. At the proposal of Mitya, who was of inexhaustible resource, they next explored the ruins of a mansion. They clambered upon the roof overgrown with shoots, and wandered between the broken-down walls of the great building. They did enjoy themselves there! All about heaps of stones were piled up, on which they climbed with difficulty, and between which grew young rowan and birch trees. It was still as death, and it seemed as though someone suddenly jumped out from a corner, or that some horrible, terrible face appeared through the aperture left by a broken window. By degrees Petka began to feel quite at home at the bungalow, and he forgot that there was any Osip Abramovich or barber’s shop in the world.

“Just look how he is putting on flesh! He’s a regular merchant!” Nadejda at this time would exclaim with delight.

She was stout enough herself and her face shone with the heat of the kitchen like a copper samovar. She attributed his improvement to the fact that she gave him plenty to eat. But in reality Petka ate very little indeed, not because he did not care for his food, but because he could scarcely find time for it. If only it had been possible to bolt his food without mastication!⁠—but one must masticate, and during the intervals swing one’s feet, since Nadejda ate deuced slowly, polishing the bones and wiping her fingers on her apron, while she kept up a perpetual chatter. But he was up to the neck in business: he had to bathe four times, to cut a fishing-rod in the hazel coppice, to dig for worms⁠—all this required time. Now Petka ran about barefoot, and that was a thousand times pleasanter than wearing boots with thick soles: the rustling ground now warmed, now cooled his feet so deliciously. He had even discarded his secondhand school-jacket, in which he looked like a full-grown master-barber, and thereby became amazingly rejuvenated. He put it on only in the evening, when he went and stood on the dam to watch the Master and Mistress boating. Well-dressed and cheerful they would laughingly take their seats in the rocking boat, which leisurely ploughed the mirror-like surface of the water on which the reflection of the trees swayed as though agitated by a breeze.

At the end of the week the Master brought from the city a letter addressed “to Cook Nadejda.” When he had read it over to her she began to cry, and smeared her face all over with the soot which was on her apron. From the fragmentary remarks which accompanied this operation, it might be deduced that the contents of the letter affected Petka. This took place in the evening. Petka was playing athletic sports by himself in the back court, and puffing out his cheeks, because that made it considerably easier to jump. The schoolboy Mitya had taught him this stupid but interesting occupation, and now Petka, like a true “sportsman,” was practising alone. The master came out, and laying his hand on his shoulder, said:

“Well, my friend, you have to go!”

Petka smiled in confusion and said nothing. “What a strange lad,” thought the master.

“Yes, have to go.”

Petka smiled. Nadejda coming up with tears in her eyes repeated:

“You have to go, sonny.”

“Where?” said Petka in surprise. He had forgotten the city; and the other place, to which he had always so wanted to go away⁠—was found.

“To your master, Osip Abramovich.”

Still Petka failed to understand, though the matter was as clear as daylight. But his mouth felt suddenly dry, and his tongue moved with difficulty as he asked:

“How then can I go fishing tomorrow? Look, here is the rod.”

“But what can one do? He wants you. Prokopy, he says, is ill, and has been taken to the hospital. He says he has not enough hands. Don’t cry! See, he’ll be sure to let you come again. He is kind is Osip Abramovich.”

But Petka was not thinking of crying, and still did not understand. On one side there was the fact, the fishing-rod⁠—on the other the phantom, Osip Abramovich. But gradually Petka’s thoughts began to clear and a strange metamorphosis took place: Osip Abramovich became the fact, and the fishing-rod, which had not yet had time to dry, was changed into the phantom. And then Petka surprised his mother, and distressed the master and his wife, and would have been surprised himself if he had been capable of self-analysis. He did not begin to cry, as town children, thin and half-starved, cry; he simply bawled louder than the strongest-voiced man; and began to roll on the ground, as the drunken women rolled on the boulevard. He clenched his skinny fists, and struck his mother’s hands and the ground, in fact everything he came across, feeling, indeed, the pain caused by the pebbles and sharp stones, but striving, as it were, to increase it.

In course of time Petka became calm again, and the master said to his wife, who was standing before the glass arranging a white rose in her hair:

“You see he has left off. Children’s grief is not long-lived.”

“All the same I am very sorry for the poor little boy.”

“Yes, indeed! they live under terrible conditions, but there are people who are still worse off. Are you ready?”

And they went off to Bigman’s Gardens, where dances had been arranged for the evening, and a military band was already playing.

The next day Petka started for Moscow by the 7 a.m. train. Again he saw the green fields, grey with the night’s dew, only they did not now run in the same direction as before, but in the opposite. The secondhand school jacket enveloped his thin body, and from the opening at the neck stuck out the corner of a white paper collar. Petka did not turn to the window, indeed, he hardly looked at it, but sat so still and modest, with his little hands primly folded upon his knees. His eyes were sleepy and apathetic, and fine wrinkles, as in the case of an old man, gathered about his eyes and under his nose. Suddenly the pillars and the planks of the platform flashed before the window, and the train stopped.

They pressed through the hurrying crowd, and came out into the noisy street; and the great, greedy city callously swallowed up its little victim.

“Put away the fishing tackle for me,” said Petka, when his mother deposited him at the door of the barber’s shop.

“Trust me for that, sonny! Maybe you will come again.”

And once more in the dirty, stuffy shop was heard the sharp call, “Boy, water!” and the customer saw a small, dirty hand thrust out to the ledge below the mirror, and heard the vague, threatening whisper. “Just you wait a bit!” This meant that the sleepy boy had either spilled the water, or had bungled the orders. But at nights from the place where Nikolka and Petka lay side by side, a little low and agitated voice might be heard telling about the bungalow, and speaking of what is not, and what no one has ever seen or heard. And when silence supervened, and only the irregular breathing of the children was audible, another voice, unusually deep and strong for a child, would exclaim:

“The devils! May they bu’st!”

“Who are devils?”

“Why, the whole blooming lot, of course!”

A string of cars passed by, and drowned the boys’ voices with its noisy rumbling; and then that distant cry of complaint was heard, which had for long been borne in from the boulevard, where a drunken man was beating an equally drunken woman.

The Friend

When late at night he rang at his own door, the first sound after that of the bell was a resonant dog’s bark, in which might be distinguished both fear that it might have been a stranger, and joy that it was his own master, who had arrived.

Then there followed the squish-squash of goloshes, and the squeak of the key taken out of the lock.

He came in, and taking off his wrappers in the dark, was conscious of a silent female figure close by, while the nails of a dog caressingly scratched at his knees, and a hot tongue licked his chilled hand.

“Well, what is it?” a sleepy voice asked in a tone of perfunctory interest.

“Nothing! I’m tired,” curtly replied Vladimir Mikhailovich, and went to his own room. The dog followed him, his nails striking sharply on the waxed floor, and jumped on to the bed. When the light of the lamp which he lit filled the room, his glance met the steady gaze of the dog’s black eyes. They seemed to say: “Come now, pet me.” And to make the request better understood the dog stretched out his forepaws, and laid his head sideways upon them, while his hinder quarters wriggled comically, and his tail kept twirling round like the handle of a barrel-organ.

“My only friend!” said Vladimir Mikhailovich, as he stroked the black, glossy coat. As though from excess of feeling the dog turned on his back, showed his white teeth, and growled gently, joyful and excited. But Vladimir Mikhailovich sighed, petted the dog, and thought to himself, how that there was no one else in the world that would ever love him.

If he happened to return home early, and not tired out with work, he would sit down to write, and the dog curled himself into a ball on a chair somewhere near to him, opened one black eye now and again, and sleepily wagged his tail. And when excited by the process of authorship, tortured by the sufferings of his own heroes, and choking with a plethora of thoughts and mental pictures, he walked about in his room, and smoked cigarette after cigarette, the dog would follow him with an anxious look, and wag his tail more vigorously than ever.

“Shall we become famous, you and I, Vasyuk?” he would inquire of the dog, who would wag his tail in affirmation. “We’ll eat liver then, is that right?”

“Right!” the dog would reply, stretching himself luxuriously. He was very fond of liver.

Vladimir Mikhailovich often had visitors. Then his aunt, with whom he lived, would borrow china from her neighbour, and give them tea, setting on samovar after samovar. She would go and buy vodka and sausages, and sigh heavily as she drew out from the bottom of her pocket a greasy rouble-note. In the room with its smoke-laden atmosphere loud voices resounded. They quarrelled and laughed, said droll and sharp things, complained of their fate and envied one another. They advised Vladimir Mikhailovich to give up literature and take to some more lucrative occupation. Some said that he ought to consult a doctor, others clinked glasses with him, while they bewailed the injury that vodka was doing to his health. He was so sickly, so continually nervous. This was why he had such fits of depression, and why he demanded of life the impossible. All addressed him as “thou,” and their voices expressed their interest in him, and in the friendliest manner, they would invite him to drive beyond the city with them, and prolong the conviviality. And when he drove off merry, making more noise than the others, and laughing at nothing, there followed him two pairs of eyes: the grey eyes of his aunt, angry and reproachful, and the anxiously caressing black eyes of the dog.

He did not remember what he did, when he had been drinking, and returned home in the morning bespattered with mud and marl, and without his hat.

They would tell him afterwards how in his cups he had insulted his friend; at home had reviled his Aunt, who had wept and said she could not bear such a life any longer, but must do away with herself; and how he had tortured his dog, when he refused to come to him and be petted; and that when, terrified and trembling, he showed his teeth, he had beaten him with a strap.

And the following day all would have finished their day’s work before he woke up sick and miserable. His heart would beat unevenly and feel faint, filling him with dread of an early death, while his hands trembled. On the other side of the wall, in the kitchen, his Aunt would stump about, the sound of her steps reechoing through the cold, empty flat. She would not speak to Vladimir Mikhailovich, but austere and unforgiving, gave him water in silence. And he too would keep silence, looking at the ceiling, at a particular stain long known to him, and thinking how he was wasting his life, and that he would never gain fame and happiness. He confessed to himself that he was weak, worthless and terribly lonesome. The boundless world seethed with moving human beings, and yet there was not one single soul who would come to him and share his pains⁠—madly arrogant thoughts of fame, coupled with a deadly consciousness of worthlessness. With trembling, bungling hand he would grip his forehead, and press his eyelids, but however firmly he pressed, still the tears would ooze through, and creep down over his cheeks, which still retained the scent of purchased kisses. And when he dropped his hand, it would fall upon another forehead, hairy and smooth, and his gaze, confused with tears, would meet the caressing black eyes of the dog, and his ears would catch his soft sighs. And touched and comforted he would whisper:

“My friend, my only friend!”

When he recovered, his friends used to come to him, and softly reprove him, giving advice and speaking of the evils of drink. But some of his friends, whom he had insulted when drunk, ceased to notice him in the streets. They understood that he did not wish them any harm, but they preferred not to run the risk of further unpleasantnesses. Thus he spent the oppressive fume-laden nights and the sternly avenging sunlit days at war with himself, his obscurity and loneliness. And ofttimes the steps of his Aunt resounded through the deserted flat, while from the bed was heard a whisper, which resembled a sigh:

“My friend, my only friend!”

Eventually his illusive fame came, came unguessed at, and unexpected, and filled the empty apartments with light and life. His Aunt’s steps were drowned in the tramp of friendly footsteps, and the spectre of loneliness vanished, and the soft whisper ceased. Vodka, too, disappeared, that ominous companion of the solitary, and Vladimir Mikhailovich ceased to insult his Aunt and his friends.

The dog too was glad. Still louder became his bark on the occasion of their belated meetings, when his master, his only friend, came home kind, happy, and laughing. The dog himself learnt to smile; his upper lip would be drawn up exposing his white teeth, and his nose would pucker up into funny little wrinkles. Happy and frolicsome he began to play; he would seize hold of things and make as though he would carry them away, and when his master stretched out his hands to catch him, he would let him approach to within a stride of him, and then run away again, while his black eyes sparkled with artfulness.

Sometimes Vladimir Mikhailovich would point to his Aunt and say, “Bite her!” and the dog would fly at her in feigned anger, shake her petticoat, and then, out of breath, glance sideways at his friend with his roguish black eyes. The Aunt’s thin lips would be contorted into an austere smile, and stroking the dog, now tired out with play, on his glossy head, would say:

“Sensible dog!⁠—only he does not like soup.”

And at night, when Vladimir Mikhailovich was at work, and only the jarring of the windowpanes, caused by the street traffic, broke the stillness, the dog would doze near to him on the alert, and wake at his slightest movement.

“What, laddie, would you like some liver?” he would ask.

“Yes,” would Vasyuk reply, wagging his tail in the affirmative.

“Well, wait a bit, I’ll buy you some. What do you want? To be petted? I have no time now, I am busy; go to sleep, laddie!”

Every night he asked the dog about liver, but he continually forgot to buy it, because his head was full of plans for a new work, and of thoughts of a woman he was in love with. Only once did he remember the liver. It was in the evening; he was passing a butcher’s shop, arm in arm with a pretty woman who pressed her shoulder close against his. He jokingly told her about his dog, and praised his sense and intelligence. Showing off somewhat, he went on to tell her that there were terrible, distressing moments, when he regarded his dog as his only friend, and laughingly related his promise to buy liver for his friend, when he should have attained happiness⁠—and he pressed the girl’s hand closer to him.

“You clever fellow,” cried she, laughing; “you would make even stones speak. But I don’t like dogs at all: they are so apt to carry infection.”

Vladimir Mikhailovich agreed that that was the case, and held his tongue with regard to his habit of sometimes kissing that black shiny muzzle.

One day, Vasyuk played more than usual during the daytime, but in the evening, when Vladimir Mikhailovich came home, he did not turn up to meet him, and his Aunt said that the dog was ill. Vladimir Mikhailovich was alarmed, and went into the kitchen, where the dog lay on a bed of soft litter. His nose was dry and hot, and his eyes were troubled. He made a slight movement of his tail, and looked piteously at his friend.

“What is it, boy; ill? My poor fellow!”

The tail made a feeble motion, and the black eyes became moist.

“Lie still, then; lie still!”

“He will have to be taken to the veterinary: but tomorrow, I have no time. But it will pass off⁠—” thought Vladimir Mikhailovich, and he forgot the dog in thinking of the happiness the pretty girl might give him. All the next day he was away from home. When he returned his hand fumbled long in searching for the bell-handle, and when it was found hesitated long as to what to do with the wooden thing.

“Ah, yes! I must ring,” he laughed, and then began singing, “Open⁠—ye!”

The bell gave a solitary ring, goloshes squish-squashed, and the key squeaked as it was taken out of the lock.

Vladimir Mikhailovich, still humming, passed through into his room, and walked about a long time before it occurred to him that he ought to light the lamp. Then he undressed, but for a long time he kept in his hands the boots he had taken off, and looked at them as though they were the pretty girl, who had only that day said so simply and sincerely, “Yes! I love you!” And when he had got into bed, he still saw her speaking face, until side by side with it there appeared the black shiny muzzle of his dog, and with a sharp pain there crept into his heart the question:

“But where is Vasyuk?”

He became ashamed of having forgotten the sick dog⁠—but not particularly so: for had not Vasyuk been ill several times before, and nothing had come of it. But tomorrow the veterinary must be sent for. At all events he need not think of the dog, and of his own ingratitude⁠—that would do no good, and would only diminish his own happiness.

When morning came the dog became worse. He was troubled with nausea, and being a well-mannered dog, he rose with difficulty from his litter, and went to the courtyard, staggering like a drunken man. His little black body was sleek as ever, but his head hung feebly, and his eyes, which now looked grey, gazed in mournful surprise.

At first Vladimir Mikhailovich himself, with the help of his Aunt, opened wide the dog’s mouth, with its yellowing gums, and poured in medicine: but the dog was in such pain and suffered so, that it became too distressing to him to look at him, and he left him to the care of his Aunt. And when the dog’s feeble, helpless moan penetrated through the wall, he stuffed his fingers into his ears, and was surprised at the extent of his love for this poor dog.

In the evening he went out. Before doing so he gave a look in at the kitchen. His Aunt was on her knees stroking the hot, trembling head with her dry hand.

With his legs stretched out like sticks, the dog lay heavy and motionless, and only by putting one’s ear down close to his muzzle could one catch the low, frequent moans.

His eyes, now quite grey, fixed themselves on his master as he came in, and when he carefully passed his hand over the dog’s forehead, his groans became clearer and more piteous.

“What, laddie, are you so bad? But wait a bit, when you are well I will buy you some liver.”

“I’ll make him eat soup!” jokingly threatened the Aunt.

The dog closed his eyes, and Vladimir Mikhailovich with a forced joke went out in haste; and when he got into the street he hired a cab, since he was afraid of being late at the rendezvous with Natalya Lavrentyevna.

That autumn’s evening the air was so fresh and pure, and so many stars twinkled in the dark sky! They kept falling, leaving behind them a fiery track, and burst kindling with a bluish light a pretty girl’s face, and were reflected in her dark eyes⁠—as though a glowworm had appeared at the bottom of a deep dark well. And greedy lips noiselessly kissed those eyes, those lips fresh as the night air, and those cool cheeks. Voices exultant, and trembling with love, whispered, prattling of joy and life.

When Vladimir Mikhailovich drove up to his house, he remembered the dog, and his breast ached with a dark foreboding.

When his Aunt opened the door, he asked:

“Well, how’s Vasyuk?”

“Dead. He died about an hour after you left.”

The dead dog had been already removed to some outhouse, and the litter bed cleared away. But Vladimir Mikhailovich did not even wish to see the body; it would be too distressing a sight. When he lay down in bed, and all noises were stilled in the empty flat, he began to weep restrainedly. His lips puckered up silently, and tears forced their way through his closed eyelids, and rolled quickly down on to his bosom. He was ashamed that he was kissing a woman at the very moment when he, who had been his friend, lay a-dying on the floor alone. And he dreaded what his Aunt would think of him, a serious man, if she heard that he had been crying about a dog.

Much time had elapsed since these events. Mysterious, outrageous fame had left Vladimir Mikhailovich just as it had come to him. He had disappointed the hopes that had been built on him, and all were angry at this disappointment, and avenged themselves on him by exasperating remarks and cold jeers. And then they had shut down on him dead, heavy oblivion, like the lid of a coffin.

The young woman had dropped him. She too considered herself taken in.

The oppressive fume-laden nights, and the pitilessly vengeful sunlit days, went by: and frequently, more frequently than formerly, the Aunt’s steps resounded through the empty flat, while he lay on his bed looking at the well-known stain on the ceiling, and whispered:

“My friend, my friend, my only friend!”

And his trembling hand fell feebly on an empty place.

The Lie


“You lie! I know you lie!”

“What are you shouting for? Is it necessary that everyone should hear us?”

And here again she lied, for I had not shouted, but spoken in the quietest voice, holding her hand and speaking quite gently while that venomous word “lie” hissed like a little serpent.

“I love you,” she continued, “and you ought to believe me. Does not this convince you?”

And she kissed me. But when I was about to take hold of her hand and press it⁠—she was already gone. She left the semi-dark corridor, and I followed her once more to the place where a gay party was just coming to an end. How did I know where it was? She had told me that I might go there, and I went there and watched the dancing all the night through. No one came near me, or spoke to me, I was a stranger to all, and sat in the corner near the band. Pointed straight at me was the mouth of a great brass instrument, through which someone hidden in the depths of it kept bellowing, and every minute or so would give a rude staccato laugh: “Ho! ho! ho!”

From time to time a scented white cloud would come close to me. It was she, I knew not how she managed to caress me without being observed, but for one short little second her shoulder would press mine, and for one short little second I would lower my eyes and see a white neck in the opening of a white dress. And when I raised my eyes I saw a profile as white, severe, and truthful as that of a pensive angel on the tomb of the long-forgotten dead. And I saw her eyes. They were large, greedy of the light, beautiful and calm. From their blue-white setting the pupils shone black, and the more I looked at them the blacker they seemed, and the more unfathomable their depths. Maybe I looked at them for so short a time that my heart failed to make the slightest impression, but certainly never did I understand so profoundly and terribly the meaning of Infinity, nor ever realised it with such force. I felt in fear and pain that my very life was passing out in a slender ray into her eyes, until I became a stranger to myself⁠—desolated, speechless, almost dead. Then she would leave me, taking my life with her, and dance again with a certain tall, haughty, but handsome partner of hers. I studied his every characteristic⁠—the shape of his shoes, the width of his rather high shoulders, the rhythmic sway of one of his locks, which separated itself from the rest, while with his indifferent, unseeing glance he, as it were, crushed me against the wall, and I felt myself as flat and lifeless to look at as the wall itself.

When they began to extinguish the lights, I went up to her and said:

“It is time to go. I will accompany you.”

But she expressed surprise.

“But certainly I am going with him,” and she pointed to the tall, handsome man, who was not looking at us. She led me out into an empty room and kissed me.

“You lie,” I said very softly.

“We shall meet again tomorrow. You must come,” was her answer.

When I drove home, the green frosty dawn was looking out from behind the high roofs. In the whole street there were only we two, the sledge-driver and I. He sat with bent head and wrapped-up face, and I sat behind him wrapped up to the very eyes. The sledge-driver had his thoughts, and I had mine, and there behind the thick walls thousands of people were sleeping, and they had their own dreams and thoughts. I thought of her, and of how she lied. I thought of death, and it seemed to me that those dimly-lightened walls had already looked upon my death, and that was why they were so cold and upright. I know not what the thoughts of the sledge-driver may have been, neither do I know of what those hidden by the walls were dreaming. But then, neither did they know my thoughts and reveries.

And so we drove on through the long and straight streets, and the dawn rose from behind the roofs, and all around was motionless and white. A cold scented cloud came close to me, and straight into my ear someone unseen laughed:

“Ho! ho! ho!”


She had lied. She did not come, and I waited for her in vain. The grey, uniform, frozen semidarkness descended from the lightless sky, and I was not conscious of when the twilight passed into evening, and when the evening passed into night⁠—to me it was all one long night. I kept walking backwards and forwards with the same even, measured steps of hope deferred. I did not come close up to the tall house, where my beloved dwelt, nor to its glazed door which shone yellow at the end of the iron covered way, but I walked on the opposite side of the street with the same measured strides⁠—backwards and forwards, backwards and forwards. In going forward I did not take my eye off the glazed door, and when I turned back I stopped frequently and turned my head round, and then the snow pricked my face with its sharp needles. And so long were those sharp cold needles that they penetrated to my very heart, and pierced it with grief and anger at my useless waiting. The cold wind blew uninterruptedly from the bright north to the dark south, and whistled playfully on the icy roofs, and rebounding cut my face with sharp little snowflakes, and softly tapped the glasses of the empty lanterns, in which the lonely yellow flame, shivering with cold, bent to the draught. And I felt sorry for the lonely flame which lived only by night, and I thought to myself, when I go away all life will end in this street, and only the snowflakes will fly through the empty space; but still the yellow flame will continue to shiver and bend in loneliness and cold.

I waited for her, but she came not. And it seemed to me that the lonely flame and I were like one another, only that my lamp was not empty, for in that void, which I kept measuring with my strides, there did sometimes appear people. They grew up unheard behind my back, big and dark; they passed me, and like ghosts suddenly disappeared round the corner of the white building. Then again they would come out from round the corner, come up alongside of me and then gradually melt away in the great distance, obscured by the silently falling snow. Muffled up, formless, silent, they were so like to one another and to myself that it seemed as if scores of people were walking backwards and forwards and waiting, as I was, shivering and silent, and were thinking their own enigmatic sad thoughts.

I waited for her, but she came not. I know not why I did not cry out and weep for pain. I know not why I laughed and was glad, and crooked my fingers like claws, as though I held in them that little venomous thing which kept hissing like a snake: a lie! It wriggled in my hands, and bit my heart, and my head reeled with its poison. Everything was a lie! The boundary line between the future and the present, the present and the past, vanished. The boundary line between the time when I did not yet exist, and the time when I began to be, vanished, and I thought that I must have always been alive, or else never have lived at all. And always, before I lived and when I began to live, she had ruled over me, and I felt it strange that she should have a name and a body, and that her existence should have a beginning and an end. She had no name, she was always the one that lies, that makes eternally to wait, and never comes. And I knew not why, but I laughed, and the sharp needles pierced my heart, and right into my ear someone unseen laughed:

“Ho! ho! ho!”

Opening my eyes I looked at the lighted windows of the lofty house, and they quietly said to me in their blue and red language:

“Thou art deceived by her. At this very moment whilst thou art wandering, waiting, and suffering, she, all bright, lovely, and treacherous, is there, listening to the whispers of that tall, handsome man, who despises thee. If thou wert to break in there and kill her, thou wouldst be doing a good deed, for thou wouldst slay a lie.”

I gripped the knife I held in my hand tighter, and answered laughingly: “Yes, I will kill her.”

But the windows gazed at me mournfully, and added sadly: “Thou wilt never kill her. Never! because the weapon thou holdest in thy hand is as much a lie as are her kisses.”

The silent shadows of my fellow-watchers had disappeared long ago, and I was left alone in the cold void, I⁠—and the lonely tongues of fire shivering with cold and despair. The clock in the neighbouring church-tower began to strike, and its dismal metallic sound trembled and wept, flying away into the void, and being lost in the maze of silently whirling snowflakes. I began to count the strokes, and went into a fit of laughter. The clock struck 15! The belfry was old, and so, too, was the clock, and although it indicated the right time, it struck spasmodically, sometimes so often that the grey, ancient bell-ringer had to clamber up and stop the convulsive strokes of the hammer with his hand. For whom did those senilely tremulous, melancholy sounds, which were embraced and throttled by the frosty darkness, tell a lie? So pitiable and inept was that useless lie.

With the last lying sounds of the clock the glazed door slammed, and a tall man made his way down the steps.

I saw only his back, but I recognized it as I had seen it only last evening, proud and contemptuous. I recognized his walk, and it was lighter and more confident than in the evening: thus had I often left that door. He walked, as those do, whom the lying lips of a woman have just kissed.


I threatened and entreated, grinding my teeth:

“Tell me the truth!”

But with a face cold as snow, while from beneath her brows, lifted in surprise, her dark, inscrutable eyes shone passionless and mysterious as ever, she assured me:

“But I am not lying to you.”

She knew that I could not prove her lie, and that all my heavy massive structure of torturing thought would crumble at one word from her, even one lying word. I waited for it⁠—and it came forth from her lips, sparkling on the surface with the colours of truth, but dark in its innermost depths:

“I love thee! Am not I all thine?”

We were far from the town, and the snow-clad plain looked in at the dark windows. Upon it was darkness, and around it was darkness, gross, motionless, silent, but the plain shone with its own latent coruscation, like the face of a corpse in the dark. In the overheated room only one candle was burning, and on its reddening flame there appeared the white reflection of the deathlike plain.

“However sad the truth may be, I want to know it. Maybe I shall die when I know it, but death rather than ignorance of the truth. In your kisses and embraces I feel a lie. In your eyes I see it. Tell me the truth and I will leave you forever,” said I.

But she was silent. Her coldly searching look penetrated my inmost depths, and drawing out my soul, regarded it with strange curiosity.

And I cried: “Answer, or I will kill you!”

“Yes, do!” she quietly replied; “sometimes life is so wearisome. But the truth is not to be extracted by threat.”

And then I knelt to her. Clasping her hand I wept, and prayed for pity and the truth.

“Poor fellow!” said she, putting her hand on my head, “poor fellow!”

“Pity me,” I prayed, “I want so much to know the truth.”

And as I looked at her pure forehead, I thought that truth must be there behind that slender barrier. And I madly wished to smash the skull to get at the truth. There, too, behind a white bosom beat a heart, and I madly wished to tear her bosom with my nails, to see but for once an unveiled human heart. And the pointed, motionless flames of the expiring candle burnt yellow⁠—and the walls grew dark and seemed farther apart⁠—and it felt so sad, so lonely, so eery.

“Poor fellow!” she said. “Poor fellow!”

And the yellow flame of the candle shivered spasmodically, burnt low, and became blue. Then it went out⁠—and darkness enveloped us. I could not see her face, nor her eyes, for her arms embraced my head⁠—and I no longer felt the lie. Closing my eyes, I neither thought nor lived, but only absorbed the touch of her hands, and it seemed to me true. And in the darkness she whispered in a strangely fearsome voice:

“Put your arms round me⁠—I’m afraid.”

Again there was silence, and again the gentle whisper fraught with fear!

“You desire the truth⁠—but do I know it myself? And oh! don’t I wish I did? Take care of me; oh! I’m so frightened!”

I opened my eyes. The paling darkness of the room fled in fear from the lofty windows, and gathering near the walls hid itself in the corners. But through the windows there silently looked in a something huge, deadly-white. It seemed as though someone’s dead eyes were searching for us, and enveloping us in their icy gaze. Presently we pressed close together, while she whispered:

“Oh! I am so frightened!”


I killed her. I killed her, and when she lay a flat, lifeless heap by the window, beyond which shone the dead-white plain, I put my foot on her corpse, and burst into a fit of laughter. It was not the laugh of a madman; oh, no! I laughed because my bosom heaved lightly and evenly, and within it all was cheerful, peaceful, and void, and because from my heart had fallen the worm which had been gnawing it. And bending down I looked into her dead eyes. Great, greedy of the light, they remained open, and were like the eyes of a wax doll⁠—so round and dull were they, as though covered with mica. I was able to touch them with my fingers, open and shut them, and I was not afraid, because in those black, inscrutable pupils there lived no longer that demon of lying and doubt, which so long, so greedily, had sucked my blood.

When they arrested me I laughed. And this seemed terrible and wild to those who seized me. Some of them turned away from me in disgust, and went aside; others advanced threateningly straight towards me, with condemnation on their lips, but when my bright, cheerful glance met their eyes, their faces blanched, and their feet became rooted to the ground.

“Mad!” they said, and it seemed to me that they found comfort in the word, because it helped to solve the enigma of how I could love and yet kill the beloved⁠—and laugh. One of them only, a man of full habit and sanguine temperament, called me by another name, which I felt as a blow, and which extinguished the light in my eyes.

“Poor man!” said he in compassion, although devoid of anger⁠—for he was stout and cheerful. “Poor fellow!”

“Don’t!” cried I. “Don’t call me that!”

I know not why I threw myself upon him. Indeed, I had no desire to kill him, or even to touch him; but all these cowed people who looked on me as a madman and a villain, were all the more frightened, and cried out so that it seemed to me again quite ludicrous.

When they were leading me out of the room where the corpse lay, I repeated loudly and persistently, looking at the stout, cheerful man:

“I am happy, happy!”

And that was the truth.


Once, when I was a child, I saw in a menagerie a panther, which struck my imagination and for long held my thoughts captive. It was not like the other wild beasts, which dozed without thought or angrily gazed at the visitors. It walked from corner to corner, in one and the same line, with mathematical precision, each time turning on exactly the same spot, each time grazing with its tawny side one and the same metal bar of the cage. Its sharp, ravenous head was bent down, and its eyes looked straight before it, never once turning aside. For whole days a noisily chattering crowd trooped before its cage, but it kept up its tramp, and never once turned an eye on the spectators. A few of the crowd laughed, but the majority looked seriously, even sadly, at that living picture of heavy, hopeless brooding, and went away with a sigh. And as they retired, they cast once more round at her a doubting, inquiring glance and sighed⁠—as though there was something in common between their own lot, free as they were, and that of the unhappy, eager wild beast. And when later on I was grown up, and people, or books, spoke to me of eternity, I called to mind the panther, and it seemed to me that I knew eternity and its pains.

Such a panther did I become in my stone cage. I walked and thought. I walked in one line right across my cage from corner to corner, and along one short line travelled my thoughts, so heavy that it seemed that my shoulders carried not a head, but a whole world. But it consisted of but one word, but what an immense, what a torturing, what an ominous word it was.

“Lie!” that was the word.

Once more it crept forth hissing from all the corners, and twined itself about my soul; but it had ceased to be a little snake, it had developed into a great, glittering, fierce serpent. It bit me, and stifled me in its iron coils, and when I began to cry out with pain, as though my whole bosom were swarming with reptiles, I could only utter that abominable, hissing, serpent-like sound: “Lie!”

And as I walked, and thought, the grey level asphalt of the floor changed before my eyes into a grey, transparent abyss. My feet ceased to feel the touch of the floor, and I seemed to be soaring at a limitless height above the fog and mist. And when my bosom gave forth its hissing groan, thence⁠—from below⁠—from under that rarifying, but still impenetrable shroud, there slowly issued a terrible echo. So slow and dull was it, as though it were passing through a thousand years. And every now and then, as the fog lifted, the sound became less loud, and I understood that there⁠—below⁠—it was still whistling like a wind, that tears down the trees, while it reached my ears in a short, ominous whisper:


This mean whisper worked me up into a rage, and I stamped on the floor and cried:

“There is no lie! I killed the lie.”

Then I purposely turned aside, for I knew what it would reply. And it did reply slowly from the depths of the bottomless abyss:


The fact is, as you perceive, that I had made a grievous mistake. I had killed the woman, but made the lie immortal. Kill not a woman till you have, by prayer, by fire, and torture, torn from her soul the truth!

So thought I, and continued my endless tramp from corner to corner of the cell.


Dark and terrible is the place to which she carried the truth, and the lie⁠—and I am going thither. At the very throne of Satan I shall overtake her, and falling on my knees will weep; and cry:

“Tell me the truth!”

But God! This is also a lie. There, there is darkness, there is the void of ages and of infinity, and there she is not⁠—she is nowhere. But the lie remains, it is immortal. I feel it in every atom of the air, and when I breathe, it enters my bosom with a hissing, and then rends it⁠—yes, rends!

Oh! what madness it is⁠—to be man and to seek the truth! What pain!

Help! Help!



On a moonlight night in May, when the nightingales were singing, his wife came to Father Ignaty who was sitting in his study. Her face was expressive of suffering, and the small lamp trembled in her hand. She came up to her husband, touched him on the shoulder, and said sobbing:

“Father, let us go to Verochka!”

Without turning his head, Father Ignaty frowned at his wife over his spectacles, and looked long and fixedly, until she made a motion of discomfort with her free hand, and sat down on a low divan.

“How pitiless you both are,” said she slowly and with strong emphasis on the word “both,” and her kindly puffed face was contorted with a look of pain and hardness, as though she wished to express by her looks how hard people were⁠—her husband and her daughter.

Father Ignaty gave a laugh and stood up. Closing his book, he took off his spectacles, put them into their case, and fell into a brown study. His big black beard, shot with silver threads, lay in a graceful curve upon his chest, and rose and fell slowly under his deep breathing.

“Well, then, we will go!” said he.

Olga Stepanovna rose quickly, and asked in a timid, ingratiating voice:

“Only don’t scold her, father! You know what she is.”

Vera’s room was in a belvedere at the top of the house, and the narrow wooden stairs bent and groaned under the heavy steps of Father Ignaty. Tall and ponderous, he was obliged to stoop so as not to hit his head against the ceiling above, and he frowned fastidiously when his wife’s white jacket touched his face. He knew that nothing would come of their conversation with Vera.

“What, is that you?” asked Vera, lifting one bare arm to her eyes. The other arm lay on the top of the white summer counterpane, from which it was scarcely distinguishable, so white, transparent and cold was it.

“Verochka!” the mother began, but gave a sob and was silent.

“Vera!” said the father, endeavouring to soften his dry, hard voice. “Vera, tell us what is the matter with you?”

Vera was silent.

“Vera, are your mother and I undeserving of your confidence? Do we not love you? Have you anyone nearer to you than ourselves? Speak to us of your grief, and believe me, an old and experienced man, you will feel the better for it. And so shall we. Look at your old mother, how she is suffering.”


“And to me⁠—” his voice trembled, as though something in it had broken in two, “and to me, is it easy, think you? As though I did not see that you were devoured by some grief, but what is it? And I, your father, am kept in ignorance. Is it right?”

Vera still kept silence. Father Ignaty stroked his beard with special precaution, as though he feared that his fingers would involuntarily begin to tear it, and continued:

“Against my wishes you went to St. Petersburg⁠—did I curse you for your disobedience? Or did I refuse you money? Or do you say I was not kind? Well, why don’t you speak? See, the good your St. Petersburg has done you!”

Father Ignaty ceased speaking, and there rose before his mind’s eye something big, granite-built, terrible, full of unknown dangers, and of strange callous people. And there alone and weak was his Vera, and there she had been ruined. An angry hatred of that terrible incomprehensible city arose in Father Ignaty’s soul, together with anger towards his daughter, who kept silent, so obstinately silent.

St. Petersburg has nothing to do with it,” said Vera crossly, and closed her eyes. “But there is nothing the matter with me. You had better go to bed, it’s late.”

“Verochka!” groaned her mother. “My little daughter, confide in me!”

“Oh! mamma!” said Vera, impatiently interrupting her.

Father Ignaty sat down on a chair and began to laugh.

“Well then, nothing is the matter after all?” he asked ironically.

“Father,” said Vera, in a sharp voice, raising herself up on her bed, “you know that I love you and mamma. But⁠—I do feel so dull. All this will pass away. Really, you had better go to bed. I want to sleep, too. Tomorrow, or sometime, we will have a talk.”

Father Ignaty rose abruptly, so that his chair bumped against the wall, and took his wife’s arm.

“Let’s go!”


“Let’s go⁠—I tell you,” cried Father Ignaty. “If she has forgotten God, shall we too! Why should we!”

He drew Olga Stepanovna away, almost by main force, and as they were descending the stairs, she, dragging her steps more slowly, said in an angry whisper:

“Ugh! pope, it’s you who have made her so. It’s from you she has got this manner. And you’ll have to answer for it. Ah! how wretched I am⁠—”

And she began to cry, and kept blinking her eyes, so that she could not see the steps, and letting her feet go down as it were into an abyss below into which she wished to precipitate herself.

From that day forward Father Ignaty ceased to talk to his daughter, and she seemed not to notice the change. As before, she would now lie in her room, now go about, frequently wiping her eyes with the palms of her hands, as though they were obstructed. And oppressed by the silence of these two people, the pope’s wife, who was fond of jokes and laughter, became lost and timid, hardly knowing what to say or do.

Sometimes Vera went out for a walk. About a week after the conversation related above, she went out in the evening as usual. They never saw her again alive, for that evening she threw herself under a train, which cut her in two.

Father Ignaty buried her himself. His wife was not present at the church, because at the news of Vera’s death she had had a stroke. She had lost the use of her feet and hands and tongue, and lay motionless in a semi-darkened room, while close by her the bells tolled in the belfry. She heard them all coming out of church, heard the choristers singing before their house, and tried to raise her hand to cross herself, but the hand would not obey her will. She wished to say: “Goodbye, Vera,” but her tongue lay inert in her mouth, swollen and heavy. She lay so still that anyone who saw her would have thought that she was resting, or asleep. Only⁠—her eyes were open.

There were many people in the church at the funeral, both acquaintances of Father Ignaty’s and strangers. All present compassionated Vera, who had died such a terrible death, and they tried in Father Ignaty’s movements and voice to find signs of profound grief. They were not fond of Father Ignaty, because he was rough and haughty in his manners, harsh and unforgiving with his penitents, while, himself jealous and greedy, he availed himself of every chance to take more than his dues from a parishioner. They all wished to see him suffering, broken-down; they wished to see him acknowledge that he was doubly guilty of his daughter’s death⁠—as a harsh father, and as a bad priest, who could not protect his own flesh and blood from sin. So they all watched him with curiosity, but he, feeling their eyes directed on his broad powerful back, endeavoured to straighten it, and thought not so much of his dead daughter as of not compromising his dignity.

“A well-seasoned pope,” Karzenov the carpenter, to whom he still owed money for some frames, said with a nod in his direction.

And so, firm and upright, Father Ignaty went to the cemetery, and came back the same. And not till he reached the door of his wife’s room did his back bend a little; but that might have been because the door was not high enough for his stature. Coming in from the light he could only with difficulty distinguish his wife’s face, and when he succeeded in so doing, he perceived that it was perfectly still and that there were no tears in her eyes. In them was there neither anger nor grief; they were dumb, and painfully, obstinately silent, as was also her whole obese feeble body that was pressed against the bed-rail.

“Well, what? How are you feeling?” Father Ignaty inquired.

But her lips were dumb, and her eyes were silent. Father Ignaty laid his hand on her forehead; it was cold and damp, and Olga Stepanovna gave no sign whatever that she had felt his touch. And when he removed his hands from her forehead, two deep, grey eyes looked at him without blinking; they seemed almost black on account of the dilation of the pupils, and in them was neither grief nor anger.

“Well, I will go to my own room,” said Father Ignaty, who had turned cold and frightened.

He went through the guest-chamber, where everything was clean and orderly as ever, and the high-backed chairs stood swathed in white covers, like corpses in their shrouds. At one of the windows hung a wire cage, but it was empty and the door was open.

“Nastasya!” Father Ignaty called, and his voice seemed to him rough, and he felt awkward, that he had called so loud in those quiet rooms, so soon after the funeral of their daughter. “Nastasya,” he called more gently, “where’s the canary?”

The cook, who had cried so much that her nose was swollen and become as red as a beet, answered rudely:

“Don’t know. It flew away.”

“Why did you let it go?” said Father Ignaty, angrily knitting his brows.

Nastasya burst out crying, and wiping her eyes with the ends of a print handkerchief she wore over her head, said through her tears:

“The dear little soul of the young mistress. How could I keep it?”

And it seemed even to Father Ignaty that the happy little yellow canary, which used to sing always with its head thrown back, was really the soul of Vera, and that if it had not flown away it would have been impossible to say that Vera was dead. And he became still more angry with the cook, and shouted:

“Get along!” and when Nastasya did not at once make for the door, added “Fool!”


From the day of the funeral silence reigned in the little house. It was not stillness, for that is the mere absence of noise, but it was silence which means that those who kept silence could, apparently, have spoken if they had pleased. So thought Father Ignaty when, entering his wife’s chamber, he would meet an obstinate glance, so heavy that it was as though the whole air were turned to lead, and was pressing on his head and back. So he thought when he examined his daughter’s music, on which her very voice was impressed; her books, and her portrait, a large one painted in colours which she had brought with her from St. Petersburg. In examining her portrait a certain order was evolved.

First he would look at her neck, on which the light was thrown in the portrait, and would imagine to himself a scratch on it, such as was on the neck of the dead Vera, and the origin of which he could not understand. And every time he meditated on the cause. If it had been the train which struck it, it would have shattered her whole head, and the head of the dead Vera was quite uninjured.

Could it be that someone had touched it with his foot when carrying home the corpse; or was it done unintentionally with the nail?

But to think long about the details of her death was horrible to Father Ignaty, so he would pass on to the eyes of the portrait. They were black and beautiful, with long eyelashes, the thick shadow of which lay below, so that the whites seemed peculiarly bright, and the two eyes were as though enclosed in black mourning frames. The unknown artist, a man of talent, had given to them a strange expression. It was as though between the eyes, and that on which they rested, there was a thin, transparent film. It reminded one of the black top of a grand piano, on which the summer dust lay in a thin layer, almost imperceptible, but still dimming the brightness of the polished wood. And wherever Father Ignaty placed the portrait, the eyes continually followed him, not speaking, but silent; and the silence was so clear that it seemed possible to hear it. And by degrees Father Ignaty came to think that he did hear the silence.

Every morning after the Eucharist Father Ignaty would go to the sitting-room, would take in at a glance the empty cage, and all the well-known arrangement of the room, sit down in an armchair, close his eyes and listen to the silence of the house. It was something strange. The cage was gently and tenderly silent; and grief and tears, and faraway dead laughter were felt in that silence. The silence of his wife, softened by the intervening walls, was obstinate, heavy as lead; and terrible, so terrible that Father Ignaty turned cold on the hottest day. Endless, cold as the grave, mysterious as death, was the silence of his daughter. It was as though the silence were a torture to itself, and as though it longed passionately to pass into speech, but that something strong and dull as a machine, held it motionless, and stretched it like a wire. And then somewhere in the far distance, the wire began to vibrate and emit a soft, timid, pitiful sound. Father Ignaty, with a mixture of joy and fear, would catch this incipient sound, and pressing his hands on the arms of the chair, would stretch his head forward and wait for the sound to reach him. But it would break off, and lapse into silence.

“Nonsense!” Father Ignaty would angrily exclaim, and rise from the chair, tall and upright as ever. From the window was to be seen the marketplace, bathed in sunlight, paved with round, even stones, and on the other side the stone wall of a long, windowless storehouse. At the corner stood a cab like a statue in clay, and it was incomprehensible why it continued to stand there, when for whole hours together not a single passerby was to be seen.


Out of the house Father Ignaty had much talking to do: with his ecclesiastical subordinates, and with his parishioners when he was performing his duties; and sometimes with acquaintances when he played with them at “Preference.” But when he returned home he thought that he had been all the day silent. This came of the fact that with none of these people could he speak of the question which was the chief and most important of all to him, which racked his thoughts every night: Why had Vera died?

Father Ignaty was unwilling to admit to himself that it was impossible now to solve this difficulty, and kept on thinking that it was still possible.

Every night⁠—and they were all now for him sleepless⁠—he would recall the moment when he and his wife had stood by Vera’s bed at darkest midnight, and he had entreated her “Speak!” And when in his recollections he arrived at that word, even the rest of the scene presented itself to him as different to what it had really been. His closed eyes preserved in their darkness a vivid, unblurred picture of that night; they saw distinctly Vera lifting herself upon her bed and saying with a smile⁠—But what did she say? And that unuttered word of hers, which would solve the whole question, seemed so near, that if he were to stretch his ear and still the beating of his heart, then, then he would hear it⁠—and at the same time it was so infinitely, so desperately far.

Father Ignaty would rise from his bed, and stretching forth his clasped hands in a gesture of supplication, entreat:


And silence was the answer he received.

One evening Father Ignaty went to Olga Stepanovna’s room, where he had not been for about a week, and sitting down near the head of her bed, he turned away from her doleful, obstinate gaze, and said:

“Mother! I want to talk to you about Vera. Do you hear?”

Her eyes were silent, and Father Ignaty raising his voice began to speak in the loud and severe tones with which he addressed his penitents:

“I know you think that I was the cause of Vera’s death. But consider, did I love her less than you? You judge strangely⁠—I was strict, but did that prevent her from doing as she pleased? I made little of the respect due to a father; I meekly bowed my neck, when she, with no fear of my curse, went away⁠—thither. And you⁠—mother⁠—did not you with tears entreat her to remain, until I ordered you to be silent. Am I responsible for her being born hardhearted? Did I not teach her of God, of humility, and of love?”

Father Ignaty gave a swift glance into his wife’s eyes, and turned away.

“What could I do with her, if she would not open her grief to me. Command? I commanded her. Intreat? I intreated. What? Do you think I ought to have gone down on my knees before the little chit of a girl, and wept, like an old woman! What she had got in her head, and where she got it, I know not. Cruel, heartless daughter!”

Father Ignaty smote his knees with his fists.

“She was devoid of love⁠—that’s what it was! I know well enough what she called me⁠—a tyrant. You she did love, didn’t she? You who wept, and⁠—humbled yourself?”

Father Ignaty laughed noiselessly.

“Lo⁠—o⁠—ved! That’s it, to comfort you she chose such a death⁠—a cruel, disgraceful death! She died on the ballast, in the dirt⁠—like a d⁠—d⁠—og, to which someone gives a kick on the muzzle.”

Father Ignaty’s voice sounded low and hoarse:

“I’m ashamed! I’m ashamed to go out into the street! I’m ashamed to come out of the chancel! I’m ashamed before God. Cruel, unworthy daughter! One could curse you in your grave⁠—”

When Father Ignaty glanced again at his wife, she had fainted, and did not come to herself for some hours. And when she did come to herself her eyes were silent, and it was impossible to know whether she understood what Father Ignaty had said to her, or no.

That same night⁠—it was a moonlight night in July, still, warm, soundless⁠—Father Ignaty crept on tiptoe, so that his wife and her nurse should not hear him, up the stairs to Vera’s room. The window of the belvedere had not been opened since the death of Vera, and the atmosphere was dry and hot, with a slight smell of scorching from the iron roof, which had become heated during the day. There was an uninhabited and deserted feeling about the apartment from which man had been absent so long, and in which the wood of the walls, the furniture and other objects gave out a faint smell of growing decay.

The moonlight fell in a bright stripe across the window and floor, and reflected by the carefully washed white boards it illumined the corners with a dim semi-light, and the clean white bed with its two pillows, a big one and a little one, looked unearthly and ghostly. Father Ignaty opened the window, and the fresh air poured into the room in a broad stream, smelling of dust, of the neighbouring river, and the flowering lime, and bore on it a scarcely audible chorus, apparently, of people rowing a boat, and singing as they rowed.

Stepping silently on his naked feet, like a white ghost, Father Ignaty approached the empty bed, and bending his knees fell face-down on the pillows, and embraced them⁠—the place where Vera’s face ought to have been.

He lay long so. The song became louder, and then gradually became inaudible; but he still lay there, with his long black hair dishevelled over his shoulders and on the bed.

The moon had moved on, and the room had become darker, when Father Ignaty raised his head, and throwing into his voice all the force of a long suppressed and long unacknowledged love, and listening to his words, as though not he, but Vera, were listening to them, exclaimed:

“Vera, my daughter! Do you understand what it means, daughter! Little daughter! My heart! my blood, my life! Your father, your poor old father, already grey and feeble.”

His shoulders shook, and all his heavy frame was convulsed. With a shudder Father Ignaty whispered tenderly, as to a little child:

“Your poor old father asks you. Yes, Verochka, he entreats. He weeps. He who never was so wont. Your grief, my little daughter, your suffering, are my own. More than mine.”

Father Ignaty shook his head.

“More, Verochka. What is death to me, an old man? But you⁠—. If only you had realized, how tender, weak and timid you were! Do you remember how when you pricked your finger and the blood came, you began to cry. My little daughter! And you do indeed love me, love me dearly, I know. Every morning you kiss my hand. Speak, speak of what is grieving you⁠—and I with these two hands will strangle your grief. They are still strong, Vera, these hands.”

His locks shook.


He fixed his eyes on the wall, and stretching out his hands, cried:


But the chamber was silent, and from the far distance was borne in the sound of the long and short whistles of a locomotive.

Father Ignaty, rolling his distended eyes, as though there stood before him the frightful ghost of a mutilated corpse, slowly raised himself from his knees, and with uncertain movement lifted his hand, with the fingers separated and nervously stretched out, to his head. Going out by the door, Father Ignaty sharply whispered the word:


And silence was the answer he received.


The next day, after an early and solitary dinner, Father Ignaty went to the cemetery⁠—for the first time since the death of his daughter. It was close, deserted, and still, as though the hot day were but an illumined night; but Father Ignaty as his habit was, with an effort straightened his back, looked sternly from side to side, and thought that he was the same as heretofore. He did not regard the new, but terrible, weakness of his legs, nor that his long beard had grown completely white, as though bitten by a hard frost. The way to the cemetery led through the long, straight street, which sloped gently upwards, and at the end of which gleamed white the roof of the lychgate, which was like a black, ever-open mouth edged with gleaming teeth.

Vera’s grave lay in the very depth of the cemetery, where the gravelled pathways ended; and Father Ignaty had to wander for long on the narrow tracks, along a broken line of little mounds which protruded from the grass, forgotten of all, deserted of all. Here and there he came upon monuments sloping and green with age, broken-down railings, and great heavy stones cast upon the ground, and pressing it with a sort of grim senile malignity.

Vera’s grave was next to one of these stones. It was covered with new sods, already turning yellow, while all around it was green. A rowan tree was intertwined with a maple, and a widely spreading clump of hazel stretched its pliant branches with rough furred leaves over the grave. Sitting down on the neighbouring tomb, and sighing repeatedly, Father Ignaty looked round, cast a glance at the cloudless desert sky, in which the red-hot disc of the sun hung suspended in perfect immobility⁠—and then only did he become conscious of that profound stillness, like nothing else in the world, which holds sway over a cemetery, when there is not a breath of wind to rustle the dead leaves. And once more the thought came to Father Ignaty, that this was not stillness, but silence. It overflowed to the very brick walls of the cemetery, climbed heavily over them, and submerged the city. And its end was only there⁠—in those grey, stubbornly, obstinately silent eyes.

Father Ignaty shrugged his shoulders, which were becoming cold, and let his eyes fall on Vera’s grave. He gazed long at the short little seared stalks of grass, which had been torn from the ground somewhere in the wide windswept fields, and had failed to take root in the new soil; and he could not realize that there, under that grass, at a few feet from him, lay Vera. And this nearness seemed incomprehensible, and imbued his soul with a confusion and strange alarm. She, of whom he was accustomed to think as having forever disappeared in the dark depth of infinity, was here, close⁠—and it was difficult to understand that nevertheless she was not, and never would be again. And it seemed to Father Ignaty that if he spoke some word, which he almost felt upon his lips, or if he made some movement, Vera would come forth from the tomb, and stand up as tall and beautiful as ever. And that not only would she arise; but that all the dead, who could be felt, so awesome in their solemn cold silence, would rise too.

Father Ignaty took off his black wide-brimmed hat, smoothed his wavy locks, and said in a whisper:


He became uneasy lest he should be heard by some stranger, and stood upon the tomb and looked over the crosses. But there was no one near, and he repeated aloud:


It was Father Ignaty’s old voice, dry and exacting, and it was strange that a demand made with such force remained without answer.


Loud and persistently the voice called, and when it was silent for a moment it seemed as though somewhere below a vague answer resounded. And Father Ignaty looked once more around, removed his hair from his ears, and laid them on the rough prickly sod.

“Vera! Speak!”

And Father Ignaty felt with horror that something cold as the tomb penetrated his ear, and froze the brain, and that Vera spoke⁠—but what she said was ever the same long silence. It became ever more and more alarming and terrible, and when Father Ignaty dragged his head with an effort from the ground, pale as that of a corpse, it seemed to him that the whole air trembled and vibrated with a resonant silence, as though a wild storm had arisen on that terrible sea. The silence choked him: it kept rolling backwards and forwards through his head in icy waves, and stirred his hair; it broke against his bosom, which groaned beneath the shocks. Trembling all over, casting from side to side quick, nervous glances, he slowly raised himself, and strove with torturing efforts to straighten his back and to restore the proud carriage to his trembling body. And in this he succeeded. With slow deliberation he shook the dust from his knees, put on his hat, made the sign of the cross three times over the grave, and went with even, firm gait, and yet did not recognize the well-known cemetery, and lost his way.

“Lost my way!” he laughed, and stood still at the branching paths.

He stood still for a moment, and then without thinking turned to the left, because it was impossible to stand still and wait. The silence pursued him. It rose from the green graves; the grim grey crosses breathed it; it came forth in thin suffocating streams from every pore of the ground, which was sated with corpses. Father Ignaty’s steps became quicker and quicker. Dazed, he went round the same paths again and again, he leapt the graves, stumbled against the railings, grasped the prickly tin wreaths, and the soft stuff tore to pieces in his hands. Only one thought, that of getting out, was left in his head. He rushed from side to side, and at last ran noiselessly, a tall figure, almost unrecognizable in his streaming cassock, with his hair floating on the air. More frightened than at the sight of a corpse risen from the grave, would have been anyone who had met this wild figure of a man running, leaping, waving his arms⁠—if he had recognized his mad, distorted face, and heard the dull rattle that escaped from his open mouth.

At full run Father Ignaty jumped out upon the little square at the end of which stood the low white mortuary chapel. In the porch on a little bench there dozed an old man who looked like a pilgrim from afar, and near him two old beggar-women were flying at one another, quarrelling and scolding.

When Father Ignaty reached home, it was already getting dark, and the lamp was lit in Olga Stepanovna’s room. Without change of clothes or removing his hat, torn and dusty, he came hurriedly to his wife and fell on his knees.

“Mother⁠—Olga⁠—pity me!” he sobbed; “I am going out of my mind.”

He beat his head against the edge of the table, and sobbed tumultuously, painfully, as a man does who never weeps. He lifted his head, confident that in a moment a miracle would be performed, and that his wife would speak, and pity him.


With his whole big body he stretched out towards his wife, and met the look of the grey eyes. In them there was neither compassion nor anger. Maybe his wife forgave and pitied him, but in those eyes there was neither pity nor forgiveness. They were dumb and silent.

And the whole desolate house was silent.

“Men May Rise on Stepping-Stones of Their Dead Selves to Higher Things”

Have you ever happened to walk in a burial-ground?

Those little walled-in, quiet corners, overgrown with luscious grass, so small, and yet so ravenous, possess a peculiar dolorous poetry all their own.

Day after day thither are borne new corpses, a whole, immense, living, noisy city has been already borne thither one by one, and lo! the new city which has grown in its place is awaiting its turn⁠—and the little corners remain ever the same, small, still, ravenous.

The peculiar air in them, the peculiar silence, and the lisping of the trees different there to anywhere else, are all mournful, pensive, tender. It is as though those white birches could not forget all those weeping eyes, which have sought the sky betwixt their green branches, and as though it were no wind, but deep sighs which keep swaying the air and the fresh leaves.

You, too, wander about the graveyard silent and pensive. Your ear is conscious of the gentle echoes of deep groans and tears, while your eyes rest on rich monuments, and modest wooden crosses; and the unmarked tombs of strangers, covering their dead, who were strangers when living, unmarked, unobserved. And you read the inscriptions on the monuments, and all these people who have disappeared from the world rise up in your imagination. You see them young, laughing, loving; you see them hale, loquacious, insolently confident in the endlessness of life.

And they are dead.

But is it necessary to go out of one’s house to visit a burial ground? Is it not sufficient for this purpose, that the darkness of night should envelop you, and have swallowed up all the sounds of day?

How many rich and sumptuous monuments! How many unmarked graves of strangers!

But is night needful in order to visit a graveyard? Is not daytime enough⁠—restless, noisy day, sufficient unto which is the evil thereof?

Look into your own soul, and then, be it day or night, you will find there a burial ground. Small greedy, having devoured so much! And a gentle, sorrowful, whisper will ye hear, an echo of bygone heavy groans when the dead was dear, whom ye left in the tomb, and could not forget nor cease to love. And monuments ye will see, and inscriptions half blotted out with tears; and still, obscure, little tombs; small and ominous mounds, under which is hidden something which once was living, although ye knew not its life, nor remarked its death. But, maybe, it was the very best in your soul⁠—

But why talk about it? Look for yourselves. And have you not indeed thus looked into your burial-ground every day, every single day of the long, weary year? Maybe as late as yesterday you recalled the dear departed, and wept over them. Maybe only yesterday you buried someone who had long been seriously ill, and had been forgotten even in life.

Lo! under the heavy marble surrounded by iron rails rests Love of mankind, and her sister Faith in them. How beautiful were they, and wondrous kind⁠—these sisters. What bright light burned in their eyes, what strange power was wielded by their tender, white hands!

With what a caress did those white hands bring the cold drink to lips burning with thirst, and did feed the hungry. With what gentle care did they touch the sores of the sick, and healed them!

And they are dead, these sisters. They died of cold, as is said on the monument. They could not bear the icy wind in which life enveloped them.

And there, further on, a slanting cross marks the place where a Talent is buried in the earth. How bold it was, how noisy, how happy! It undertook anything, wished to do everything, and was confident that it could conquer the world.

And it is dead⁠—died but lately, quietly, and unnoticed. One day it went among men, for long it was lost there, and it came back defeated, sad. Long it wept, long it strove to say something, and then without having said it⁠—died.

And here is a long row of little sunken mounds. Who lies here?

Ah! yes. These are children. Little, keen, sportive Hopes. There were so many of them, they were so merry, and the soul was peopled with them. But one by one they died. They were so many, and they made such merriment in the soul.

It is quiet in the resting-place, and the leaves of the white birches rustle sadly.

But let the dead arise! Ye grim tombs ope wide, crumble to dust ye heavy monuments, ye iron bars give place!

Be it but for one day, for one moment, give freedom to those whom ye are smothering with your weight, and darkness!

Ye think they are dead! Oh, no! they live! They are silent, but they live.

They live!

Let them see the shining of the blue, cloudless sky, let them breathe the pure air of spring, let them be intoxicated with warmth and love.

Come to me my Talent that fell asleep. Why dost so drolly rub thine eyes. Does the sun blind thee? Does it not shine bright indeed? Thou laughest? Oh laugh, laugh on⁠—there is so little of laughter among mankind. I too will laugh with thee. Look! there flies a swallow⁠—let us fly after it! Has the tomb made thee too heavy? And what is that strange horror I see in thine eyes⁠—like a reflection of the darkness of the tomb? No, no, don’t! Don’t cry. Don’t cry, I say!

So glorious, indeed, is life for the risen!

And ye my dear little Hopes! What charming laughing faces are yours! Who art thou, stout, funny little cherub? I know thee not. And wherefore laughest thou? Has the tomb itself been unable to affright thee? Gently, my children, gently! Why dost insult it⁠—see’st not how little, pale and weak it is become? Live ye in the world⁠—and do not worry me. Do ye not see that I, too, have been in the tomb, and now my head is giddy with the sun, and the air, and gladness.

Ah! how glorious is life for the risen!

Come to me, ye lovely, majestic Sisters. Let me kiss your gentle white hands. What do I see? Is it bread ye are carrying? Did not the darkness of the tomb terrify you⁠—so tender, womanly and weak; under the whelming mass did ye still think of bread for the hungry? Let me kiss your feet. I know where they will soon be going, your light, swift little feet. And I know that wherever they pass by flowers will spring up⁠—wondrous, sweet-smelling flowers. Ye call. We will come, then.

Hither! my risen Talent⁠—why stand gazing at the fleeting clouds. Hither! my little sportive Hopes.


I hear music. Don’t shout so, cherub. Whence these wondrous sounds? Gentle, melodious, madly joyful, and sad, they speak of life eternal⁠—

Nay, be ye not afraid. This will soon pass away. I weep, indeed, for joy!

Ah! how glorious is life for the risen!

The Wall


I and another leper cautiously drew near to the very wall, and looked up. From where we stood its top was not visible, but it rose straight and smooth, and as it were bisected the sky. Our half of the sky was dark grey, toned gradually into dark blue on the horizon, so that it was impossible to say where the black earth began, and where the sky ended. The dark night sighed and groaned dull and sad, crushed between the earth and the sky, and with each sigh there spluttered out from her bosom sharp hot grains of sand, which intensified the torture of our burning sores.

“Let us try and climb over,” said my companion, and his breath, as he spoke, was loathsome and fœtid, even as my own. He bent his back and I stood on it, but the wall towered as high above us as ever. As it bisected the sky, so it divided the earth, lying on it like a sated boa-constrictor, going down into the abysses and up into the mountains, while its head and its tail stretched beyond the horizon.

“Then, let us pull it down,” the leper proposed.

“Let us pull it down,” I agreed.

So we threw ourselves with our breasts against the wall, and it became red with the blood of our wounds, but remained dull and immovable as before. We fell into despair.

“Kill us! kill us!” we groaned as we crawled along, and people turned their faces from us in disgust, so that we saw only their backs convulsed with profound loathing.

So we dragged ourselves along, until we met with a man dying of starvation. He was sitting leaning against a stone, and it seemed as though the very granite was sore with the sharpness of his pointed shoulder-blades. There was not an ounce of flesh upon him, and as he moved, his bones rattled and his dry skin crackled. His under jaw was dropped, and from the dark aperture of his mouth there issued a dry, rasping voice:

“I am star⁠—ving.”

But we only laughed, and slouched on the faster, till we came upon a quartette who were dancing. They advanced and retired, they took one another by the waist and wheeled round, but their faces were pale, and tortured, and smileless. One of them began to weep, because he was tired of their endless dance, and begged to be allowed to stop; but one of the others, without speaking, gripped him by the waist and whirled him round, and once again he began to advance and retire, and at each step a great troubled tear dropped from his eye.

“I should like to dance,” said my companion with a snuffle. But I dragged him away. And once more the wall rose before us, and by it two persons were squatting on their heels. One of them at regular intervals kept striking his forehead against the wall, and then would fall down insensible. Then the other would regard him seriously, feel with his hand first the man’s head and then the wall, and as soon as the other recovered consciousness would say:

“Try again; there’s not much of it left.”

And the leper laughed.

“They’re fools,” said he cheerfully, puffing out his cheeks. “They think that there is light beyond. But it is dark there also, and there too are lepers dragging themselves along, and entreating ‘Kill us!’ ”

“But what about the old man, eh?” I asked.

“Well! what of him?” retorted the leper. “He was indeed a stupid blind and deaf old man. Who could discover the hole he picked through the wall? Could you? Could I?”

I was enraged at this answer, and beat my companion cruelly on his blistered skull, exclaiming:

“Why, then, do you try to climb over it?”

And he began to weep, and we wept together, and continued on our way, entreating:

“Kill us! kill us!”

But faces were shudderingly turned from us, and none was willing to kill us. And yet, they slay the handsome and the strong; us they are afraid to touch! The bastards!


For us time was not; there was neither yesterday, nor today, nor tomorrow. Night never left us, never reposed behind the mountains, so as to return strong, coal-black, and still. Therefore was she always so tired, out of breath, and morose. She was malign. It would come to pass, that she could no longer endure to listen to our sobs and groans, to look upon our sores, our grief and evil case, and then her dark, dully working breast would boil over with a stormy rage. She would roar at us like a mad imprisoned beast, and angrily wink her fearful flaming eyes, which shed a red light on the bottomless pits, on the sombre proudly quiescent wall, and on the miserable group of trembling humanity. They pressed against the wall, as though it were a friend, and entreated it to protect them, but it was ever our enemy⁠—ever. The Night was disgusted at our pusillanimity and cowardice, and burst into angry laughter, which shook her speckled grey paunch, and the bald, ancient mountains caught up that satanic laughter. The wall with grim mirth sonorously reechoed it, playfully showering stones upon us, breaking our heads and flattening out our bodies. So those great ones made merry, and shouted one to the other, while the wind whistled a wild accompaniment, and we lay prone, and listened in horror, as within the bosom of the earth a tremendous something kept growling⁠—and will dully keep on so doing⁠—tapping and demanding freedom. Then we all prayed: “Kill us!”

But, though we were dying every second, we were immortal, like the gods.

And there passed by a gust of anger mingled with delight, and the Night, weeping tears of rue, sadly sighed, and like a consumptive spat out upon us damp sand. We with joy forgave her, laughed at her in her exhaustion and weakness, and became jocund as children. The sob of the starving man seemed to us a sweet song, and with cheerful envy we watched the quartette which kept on advancing, and retiring, and floating round in the endless dance.

And pair by pair we ourselves began to whirl round, and I, the leper, found a temporary partner. Oh, it was so cheery, so charming! I put my arm round her, and she laughed, and her little teeth were so milky white, her little cheeks so rosy pink. It was so charming!

One could not understand how it came about, but suddenly her teeth, which were displayed in joyful laughter, began to chatter, our kisses turned to bites, and with a shriek, from which all joy had not yet departed, we fell to gnawing and killing one another. And she of the milk white teeth beat me even on my sick weak head, and stuck her sharp nails into my breast, piercing to the very heart⁠—she smote me, me the leper, the miserable, so miserable. And this was more terrible than the anger of the Night, or the soulless laughter of the Wall. And I, the leper, wept and trembled with fear, and quietly, unobserved of any, I kissed the hideous feet of the Wall, and besought it to let me, me alone, pass through into that world where there are no madmen, and where people do not slay one another. But the Wall would not let me through, and then I spat on it, beat it with my fists, and called out:

“Look at this murderess! She is laughing at you.”

But my voice was hideous, and my breath fœtid, and no one cared to listen to me⁠—the leper.


And again we crept on, I and the other leper; and again a noise arose around us, and again the quartette circled noiselessly, shaking the dust from their dresses, and licking our bleeding wounds. But we were weary, we were sick, our life was a burden to us. My fellow-traveller sat down, and rhythmically beating the ground with his swollen hands, he jerked out the horrid words:

“Kill us! kill us!”

We then jumped with a sudden movement to our feet, and hurled into the crowd; but they gave way before us, and we saw only their backs. We cursed their backs, and entreated:

“Kill us!”

But immovable and deaf were the backs, like a second wall. It was so terrible never to see the faces of people, but only their backs⁠—immovable, silent. Now my companion deserted me. He had seen a face⁠—the first face⁠—and it was, even as his own, full of sores and horrible. But it was the face of a woman. And he began to smile and walk round her, stretching out his neck, and diffusing a fœtid odour; but she too smiled at him with her mouth all fallen-in, and casting down her eyes which had lost the lashes.

And they married one another. And for a moment all faces were turned towards them, and appealing round of laughter shook people’s sturdy bodies. And I, the leper, laughed too: surely it is a stupid thing to get married when one is ugly and sick.

“Fool,” said I in derision. “What wilt thou do with her?”

The leper answered with a pompous smile:

“We will deal in stones, which fall from the wall.”

“And the children?”

“We will kill them.”

How stupid to beget children only to kill them! But then she will soon deceive him; she has such shifty eyes.


They had finished their work⁠—the one who was occupied in knocking his head against the wall, and the other who was helping him. When I arrived there, one of them was hanging by a hook driven into the wall. He was still warm, and the other was quietly singing a cheerful song.

“Go and tell the starving man,” said I, and he obeyed, singing as he went. And I saw the starving man struggle up from his stone. Trembling and stumbling, hitting against everything with his sharp elbows, sometimes on all fours, sometimes staggering, he managed to reach the wall, where the man was swinging. His teeth chattered; he laughed gleefully like a child:

“Only a little piece of a foot!” But he was too late; already others, being the stronger, had forestalled him. Pressing one against the other, clawing and biting, they clung round the corpse; they gnawed and munched his feet with relish, and crunched the bones they had worried. But they would not let him have any. He squatted down on his heels, and watched the others as they ate, swallowing with furred tongue, and emitted a prolonged howl from his great empty mouth:

“I am st⁠—ar⁠—ving.”

Was it not laughable! He had died for the famished one, and the latter did not get even a piece of his foot! And I laughed, and the other leper laughed, and his wife too winked her crafty eyes in derision.

But he howled only the more loudly and furiously:

“I am st⁠—ar⁠—ving.”

And the hoarseness went out from his voice, which rose in a pure metallic sound, piercing and clear; and striking against the wall, then reverberating, it flew over the dark abysses and the hoary tops of the mountains.

And presently those, who were near the wall, began to howl; and they were numerous, and as greedy and hungry, as locusts, and it seemed as though the burnt-up earth howled in unbearable tortures, opening wide her stony jaws. It was as though a forest of dried-up trees, bent in one direction by a violent wind, stretched forth their trembling hands to the wall, gaunt, piteous, prayerful; and so great was their despair that the very rocks trembled, and the purple white-capped thunder clouds fled in terror. But the wall remained high and immovable, and unconcernedly reechoed the moan in multiplied reverberations into the dense fetor-laden atmosphere.

All eyes were turned to the wall, and darted on it fiery rays. They hoped and believed, that it would soon be falling and open out a new world, and in their blind belief began already to see the stones rock, the stone serpent, which had battened on the blood and brains of men, tremble from top to bottom. Maybe it was the tremble of the tears in our eyes, which we mistook for the trembling of the wall⁠—and still more piercing was our cry. Anger and exultation at the near approach of victory resounded in it.


But this is what happened then. High upon a rock there stood a gaunt old woman, her parched cheeks fallen in, her long locks uncombed like the grey mane of a starving old wolf. Her clothing was in rags, and exposed her yellow, bony shoulders, and her emaciated breasts, which had supported the life of many and been exhausted with maternity. She stretched forth her hands to the wall, and all eyes followed them. She began to speak, and in her voice was so much suffering, that the despairing moans of the starving man were silenced for very shame.

“Give me back my child!” cried the woman.

And we all kept silence, with a smile of fury upon our lips, and waited for the answer of the wall. The brains of him the woman called “her child” stood out upon the wall in grey patches, streaked with red, and we awaited impatiently and austerely the answer of the dastardly murderess. So still was it that we could hear the rustling of the thunderclouds passing over our heads, and dark night locked up her groans within her breast, only spitting out with a slight sibilant sound the fine burning sand, which ate into our wounds. Then once more resounded the stern, bitter demand:

“Cruel one! give me back my child.” Ever more stern and furious grew our smile, but the dastardly wall was silent.

And then from the speechless crowd there came forth an old man handsome and austere, and took his stand by the woman.

“Give me back my son,” said he.

How terrible it was, and withal how joyous! A cold shivering went down my spine, and my muscles contracted with the influx of an unknown threatening strength; but my companion nudged me in the side with chattering teeth, and a fœtid breath in a broad spurning wave issued from his decomposing mouth.

Then there came out from the crowd another person, who said “Give me back my brother!” And yet another who cried “Give me back my daughter!”

And then men and women, old and young, began to come forth, and stretching out their hands, shouted their implacable, bitter demand:

“Give me back my child!”

And then I too, the leper, feeling within me strength and hardihood, stepped forward in my turn, and cried loud and threateningly:

“Murderess! Give me back my Self!”

But she⁠—was silent. So false and dastardly was she, that she made as though she heard not, and my seamed cheeks contracted with malignant laughter, and a mad rage filled our sickened hearts. But she, stupidly unconcerned, remained silent!

Then the woman angrily stretched out her lean yellow hands, and yelled implacably:

“Then, be thou damned! Thou slayer of my child.”

And the austere handsome old man repeated:

“Be thou damned!”

And the whole earth repeated with resonant thousand-throated groan:

“Be thou damned! damned! damned!”


And the black night sighed deeply: and, like a sea upheaved by a hurricane, dashed in all its heavy roaring mass upon the cliffs: the whole visible world rocked and swayed, and with a thousand tense and furious breasts beat against the wall. High to the heavily rolling thunderclouds was splashed the bloodstained foam, and stained them with red so that they became fiery and terrible, and cast a blood-red reflection down below to where there thundered and roared a low, but wondrously multitudinous, black, and savage Something. With an expiring groan, full of unspoken pain, it rolled back⁠—but the wall stood immovable and silent. But there was no timidity or shame in her silence. Lowering and threateningly calm was the glance of her baleful eyes, and proudly, like a queen, she let fall from her shoulders her purple mantle all adrip with blood, and trailed it amid mutilated corpses.

But dying as we were every second, we were immortal, like the gods.

And once more a mighty stream of human bodies broke out into a roar, and with all their strength hurled themselves against the wall. And again, and over and over again it was rolled back, until fatigue supervened, and a deathlike sleep, and stillness. But I, the leper, was close to the wall, and saw that it began to quake⁠—the proud queen⁠—and that the fear of falling ran in a shudder through its stones.

“It is falling. Brothers! it is falling,” I cried.

“Thou art mistaken, leper,” replied my brothers.

And then I began to question them:

“Supposing it does stand, what then? Is not every corpse a step towards the top? We are many, and our lives a burden. Let us strew the ground with corpses; upon them let us heap yet other corpses; and so mount to the top. And if there be left but one⁠—he will see a new world.”

And I gave a cheerful glance of hope around⁠—and there met it only backs, indifferent, fat and weary. The quartette circled round in endless dance, advancing and retiring, and black night, like an invalid, spat out its moist sand, and the wall stood firm in its indestructible massiveness.

“Brothers!” I entreated; “Brothers!”

But my voice was hideous, and my breath fœtid, and no one would listen to me, the leper.

Woe! woe! woe!



He belonged to no one, he had no name of his own, and none could say where he spent the long, frosty winter, or how he was fed. The house dogs hungry as himself, but proud and strong from the consciousness of belonging to a house, would chase him away from the warm cottages. When driven by hunger or an instinctive need of company, he showed himself in the street, the boys pelted him with stones and sticks, while the grownups gave a merry whoop, or a terribly piercing whistle. Distraught with fear he would dart about from side to side, and stumbling against the fences and people’s legs, would run as fast as he could to the end of the village, and hide himself in the depths of a large garden in a place known only to himself. There he would lick his bruises and wounds, and in solitude heap up terror and malice.

Once only had he been pitied and petted. This was by a peasant, a drunkard, who was returning from the public house. Just then he loved all things, and pitied all, and said something in his beard about kind people, and the trust he himself put in kind people. He pitied even the dirty, unlovely dog, on which by chance his drunken, aimless glance had fallen.

“Doggie,” said he, calling it by a name common to all dogs; “Doggie, come here, don’t be afraid.”

Doggie wanted very much to come. He wagged his tail, but could not make up his mind. The peasant patted his knee with his hand, and repeated reassuringly:

“Come along, then, silly. I swear I won’t hurt you.”

But while the dog was hesitating, wagging its tail more and more energetically, and advancing with short steps, the humour of the drunkard changed. He recalled all the insults that had been heaped on him by kind people, and felt angry and dully malicious, so that when Doggie lay on his back before him, he gave him a vicious kick in the side with the toe of his heavy boot.

“Garn! Dirty! Where are you coming to!”

The dog began to whimper, more from surprise and the insult, than from pain, and the peasant staggered home, where he gave his wife a savage beating, and tore to pieces a new kerchief which he had bought for her as a present the week before.

From this time forth the dog ceased to trust people who wished to pet it, and either put his tail between his legs and ran away, or sometimes would fly at them angrily and try to bite them, until they succeeded in driving him away with stones or a stick. For one winter he had taken up his abode under the verandah of an unoccupied bungalow which was without a caretaker, and took care of it for nothing. By night he ran about the streets and barked till he was hoarse, and long after he had lain himself down in his place, he would keep up an angry growl, but beneath the anger there was apparent a certain amount of content, and even pride, in himself.

The winter nights dragged themselves out slowly, and the black windows of the empty bungalow gazed grimly on the motionless, icy garden. Sometimes blue lights seemed to kindle in them, at others a falling star would be reflected in the panes, or again the sharp-horned moon would throw on them its timid ray.


Spring came on, and the quiet bungalow was all a-voice with loud talk, the creaking of wheels, and the stamping of people moving heavy things. The owners had arrived from the city, a whole merry troop of grownup people, of half-grown ups and children, all intoxicated with the air, the warmth and the light. Some shouted, some sang, and some laughed with shrill female voices.

The first with whom the dog made acquaintance was a pretty girl, who ran out into the garden in a formal, cinnamon-coloured dress.6 Greedily and impatiently desiring to seize and hug in her embrace everything visible, she looked at the clear sky, at the reddish cherry twigs, and lay quickly down on the grass with her face towards the burning sun. Then she got up again as suddenly, and hugging herself, and kissing the Spring air with her fresh lips, said expressively and seriously:

“Well, this is jolly!”

She spoke, and then suddenly turned round. At this very moment the dog noiselessly approached, and furiously seized the extended skirt of her dress in its teeth and tore it, and then as noiselessly disappeared into the thick gooseberry and currant bushes.

“Oh! bad dog!” cried the girl, running away, and for long might be heard her agitated voice: “Mamma! children! don’t go into the garden. There is a dog there, such a great, big, fierce one!”

At night the dog crept up to the sleeping bungalow, and noiselessly lay down in its place under the verandah. It smelt of people, and through the open windows was borne the soft sound of gentle breathing. The people were asleep, they were powerless and no longer terrible, and the dog jealously guarded them. He slept with one eye open, and at every rustle stretched out his head with its two motionless phosphorescent eyes. But the alarming noises were so many in the sensitive Spring night: in the grass something small and unseen rustled, and came quite close to the shiny nose of the dog; last year’s twigs crackled under the feet of sleeping birds, and on the neighbouring road a cart rumbled, and heavily-laden wains creaked. And afar off round about in the motionless air was diffused the sweet, fresh scent of resin, and lured one into the lightening distance.

The owners who had arrived at the bungalow were very kind people, and all the more so now that they were far from the city, breathing pure air, seeing around them everything green, and blue and harmless. The sunlight went into them in warmth, and came out again in laughter and goodwill towards all things living. At first they wished to drive away the dog, of which they were afraid, and even shot at it with a revolver, when it would not take itself off; but later they became accustomed to its barking at night, and even sometimes remembered it in the morning:

“But where’s our Snapper?”

And this new name “Snapper” stuck to it. Sometimes even by day they would notice among the bushes its dark body, which would fall flat on the ground at the first motion of a hand throwing bread⁠—as though it were a stone, not bread⁠—and soon all became accustomed to Snapper, and called him “our dog,” and joked about the cause of his shyness and unreasonable fear. Each day Snapper diminished by one step the distance which separated him from the people; he grew accustomed to their faces, and adopted their habits. Half an hour before dinner he would be already standing in the shrubs, blinking with a conciliatory air. And that same little schoolgirl it was, who, forgetting the former outrage, brought the dog definitely into the happy circle of cheerful, restful people.

“Snapper, come here,” said she, calling him. “Good dog, come here. Do you like sugar? I’ll give you a lump. Come along, then.”

But Snapper would not come; he was afraid. Then cautiously patting her knee, and speaking with all the caressing kindness of a beautiful voice and a pretty face, Lelya approached the dog, but was in her turn afraid; suddenly he snapped.

“I am so fond of you, Snapper, dear; you have such a nice little nose, and such expressive eyes. Won’t you trust me, Snapperkin?”

Lelya raised her eyebrows, and her own little nose was so pretty and her eyes so expressive, that the sun acted wisely in covering all her little youthful, naively charming face with hot kisses, till her cheeks were red.

Snapper for the second time in his life turned on his back and closed his eyes, not knowing for a certainty whether he was to be kicked or petted. But he was petted. Small warm hands touched irresolutely his woolly head, and as though this were a sign of undeniable authority, began freely and boldly to run over the whole of his hairy body, rumpling, petting, and tickling.

“Mamma! children! look here, I’m petting Snapper,” cried Lelya.

When the children ran up, noisy, loud-voiced, quick and bright as drops of uncontrollable mercury, Snapper cowed down in fear and helpless expectancy: he knew that if anyone struck him now, he would no longer be in a position to fix his sharp teeth in the body of the offender: his unappeasable malice had been taken from him. And when they all began to vie in caressing him, he for a long time could not help trembling at each touch of the caressing hand, and the unwonted fondling hurt him as though it had been a blow.


All Snapper’s doggy nature expanded. He had now a name, at the sound of which he rushed headlong from the green depths of the garden; he belonged to people, and could serve them. What more did a dog need to make him happy!

Being accustomed to the moderation induced by years of a vagrant, hungry life, he ate but little, but that little changed him out of recognition. His long coat, which formerly had hung in foxy dry tufts on his back and on his belly, which had been covered eternally with dried mud, now became clean, and grew black, and became as glossy as velvet. And when he, having nothing better to do, would run to the gates and stand on the threshold, looking up and down the street with a dignified air, no one ever took it into his head to tease him or throw stones at him.

But such pride and independence he could enjoy only to himself. Fear had not as yet been wholly evaporated from his heart by the fire of caresses, and so every time people appeared, or approached him, he hid himself expecting a beating. And still for a long time every caress came to him as a surprise, and a wonder, which he could neither understand, nor respond to. He did not know how to receive caresses. Other dogs could stand and walk about on their hind legs and even smile, and thus express their feelings, but he did not know how.

The one only thing that Snapper was able to do was to roll on his back, shut his eyes, and whimper gently. But this was insufficient, it could not express his delight, his thankfulness and love. By a sudden inspiration, however, Snapper began to do something, which maybe he had seen done by other dogs, but had long since forgotten. He turned absurd somersaults, leapt awkwardly, and ran after his tail; and his body, which had been always so supple and active, became stiff, ridiculous, and pitiful.

“Mamma! children! look, Snapper is performing,” cried Lelya, and choking with laughter, said: “Once more, Snapper, once more. That’s right!”

And they gathered together and laughed, and Snapper kept on twisting round, and turning somersaults and falling, and no one saw the strange entreating look in his eyes. And as formerly they used to howl and shout at the dog to see his despairing fear, so now they caressed him on purpose to excite in him an ebullition of love, so infinitely laughable in its awkward, absurd manifestations. Hardly an hour passed but some one of the half-grownups or the children would cry:

“Now then, Snapper dear, perform!”

And Snapper would twist about, turn somersaults, and fall, amid merry, irrepressible laughter. They praised him to his face and behind his back, and lamented only one thing, viz., that he would not show off his tricks before strangers, who came to visit, but would run away into the garden, or hide himself under the verandah.

Gradually Snapper became accustomed to not being obliged to trouble himself about his food, since at the appointed hour the cook would give him scraps and bones, while he confidently and quietly lay in his place under the verandah, and even sought and asked for caresses. And he grew heavy: he seldom ran away from the bungalow, and when the little children called him to go with them to the forest, he would wag an evasive tail, and disappear unseen. But all the same at night his bark would be loud and wakeful as ever.


Autumn began to glow with yellow fires, and the sky to weep with heavy rain, and the bungalows became quickly empty, and silent, as though the incessant rain and wind had extinguished them one by one, like candles.

“What are we to do with Snapper?” asked Lelya, with hesitation. She was sitting embracing her knees and looking sorrowfully out of the window, down which were rolling glistening drops of rain.

“What a position you’re in, Lelya; that’s not the way to sit!” said her mother, and added: “Snapper must be left behind, poor fellow.”

“That’s⁠—a⁠—pity,” said Lelya lingeringly.

“But what can one do? We have no courtyard at home, and we can’t keep him in the house, that you must very well understand.”

“It’s⁠—a⁠—pity,” repeated Lelya, ready to cry. Her dark brows were raised, like a swallow’s wings, and her pretty little nose puckered piteously, when her mother said:

“The Dogayevs offered me a puppy some time ago. They say that it is very well bred, and ready trained. Do you see? But this is only a yard-dog.”

“A⁠—pity,” repeated Lelya, but she did not cry.

Once, more strangers arrived, and wagons creaked, and the floors groaned beneath heavy footsteps, but there was less talk, and no laughter was heard at all. Terrified by the strange people, and dimly prescient of calamity, Snapper fled to the extreme end of the garden, and thence through the thinning bushes gazed unceasingly at that corner of the verandah which was open to his view, and at the figures in red shirts which were moving about on it.

“You there! my poor Snapper,” said Lelya as she came out. She was already dressed for the journey in the same cinnamon skirt, out of which Snapper had torn a piece, and a black jacket. “Come along!”

And they went out into the road. The rain kept coming and going, and the whole expanse between the blackened earth and the sky was full of clubbed, swiftly-moving clouds. From below it could be seen how heavy they were, impenetrable to the light on account of the water which saturated them, and how weary the sun must be behind that solid wall.

To the left of the road stretched the darkened stubble field, and only on the near hummocky horizon short uneven trees and shrubs appeared in lonesome patches. In front, not far off, was the barrier, and near it a wine-shop with red iron roof, and by it was a group of people teasing the village idiot Ilyusha.

“Give us a ha’penny,” snuffled the idiot in a drawling voice, and evil, jeering voices replied all together:

“Will you chop up some wood?”

Ilyusha reviled foully and cynically, and the others laughed without mirth. A sunray broke through, yellow and anaemic, as though the sun were hopelessly sick; and the foggy Autumn distance became wider, and more melancholy.

“I’m sorry, Snapper!” Lelya gently let fall the words, and went back without looking round. It was not till she reached the station that she remembered that she had not said goodbye to Snapper.

Snapper long followed the track of the people as they went away, he ran as far as the station, and wet through and muddy, returned to the bungalow. There he performed one more new trick, which no one, however, was there to see. For the first time he went on to the verandah, stood on his hind legs, looked in at the glass door, and even scratched at it. But the rooms were all empty, and no one answered him.

A violent rain poured down, and on all sides the darkness of the long Autumn night began to close in. Quickly and dully it filled the empty bungalow: noiselessly it crept out from the shrubs and in company with the rain, poured down from the uninviting sky. On the verandah, from which the awning had been taken away, and which for that reason looked like a broad and unknown waste, the light had long been in conflict with the darkness, and mournfully illumined the marks of dirty feet; but soon it gave in.

Night had come on.

When there was no longer any doubt that the night was upon him, the dog began to howl in loud complaint. With a note resonant, and sharp as despair, that howl broke into the monotonous, sullenly persistent sound of the rain, rending the darkness, and then dying down was carried over the dark naked fields.

The dog howled⁠—regularly, persistently, desperately, soberly⁠—and to anyone who heard that howling it seemed as though the impenetrable dark night itself were groaning and longing for the light, and he would wish himself with his wife by his warm fireside.

The dog howled.



At 6:30 I was certain that she would come, and I was desperately happy. My coat was fastened only by the top button, and fluttered in the cold wind; but I felt no cold. My head was proudly thrown back, and my student’s cap was cocked on the back of my head; my eyes with respect to the men they met were expressive of patronage and boldness, with respect to the women of a seductive tenderness. Although she had been my only love for four whole days, I was so young, and my heart was so rich in love, that I could not remain perfectly indifferent to other women. My steps were quick, bold and free.

At 6:45 my coat was fastened by two buttons, and I looked only at the women, but no longer with a seductive tenderness, but rather with disgust. I only wanted one woman⁠—the others might go to the devil; they only confused me, and with their seeming resemblance to Her gave to my movements an uncertain and jerky indecision.

At 6:55 I felt warm.

At 6:58 I felt cold.

As it struck seven I was convinced that she would not come.

By 8:30 I presented the appearance of the most pitiful creature in the world. My coat was fastened with all its buttons, collar turned up, cap tilted over my nose, which was blue with cold; my hair was over my forehead, my moustache and eyelashes were whitening with rime, and my teeth gently chattered. From my shambling gait, and bowed back, I might have been taken for a fairly hale old man returning from a party at the almshouse.

And She was the cause of all this⁠—She! “Oh, the Dev⁠⸺! No, I won’t. Perhaps she could not get away, or she is ill, or dead. She’s dead!”⁠—and I swore.


“Eugenia Nikolaevna will be there tonight,” one of my companions, a student, remarked to me, without the slightest arrière pensée. He could not know how that I had waited for her in the frost from seven to half-past eight.

“Indeed,” I replied, as in deep thought, but within my soul there leapt out: “Oh, the Dev⁠⸺!” “There” meant at the Polozovs’ evening party. Now the Polozovs were people with whom I was not upon visiting terms. But this evening I would be there.

“You fellows!” I shouted cheerfully, “today is Christmas Day, when everybody enjoys himself. Let us do so too.”

“But how?” one of them mournfully replied.

“And where?” continued another.

“We will dress up, and go round to all the evening parties,” I decided.

And these insensate individuals actually became cheerful. They shouted, leapt, and sang. They thanked me for my suggestion, and counted up the amount of “the ready” available. In the course of half an hour we had collected all the lonely, disconsolate students in town; and when we had recruited a cheerful dozen or so of leaping devils, we repaired to a hairdresser’s⁠—he was also a costumier⁠—and let in there the cold, and youth, and laughter.

I wanted something sombre and handsome, with a shade of elegant sadness; so I requested:

“Give me the dress of a Spanish grandee.”

Apparently this grandee had been very tall, for I was altogether swallowed up in his dress, and felt there as absolutely alone as though I had been in a wide, empty hall. Getting out of this costume, I asked for something else.

“Would you like to be a clown? Motley with bells.”

“A clown, indeed!” I exclaimed with contempt.

“Well, then, a bandit. Such a hat and dagger!”

Oh! dagger! Yes, that would suit my purpose. But unfortunately the bandit whose clothes they gave me had scarcely grown to full stature. Most probably he had been a corrupt youth of eight years. His little hat would not cover the back of my head, and I had to be dragged out of his velvet breeks as out of a trap. A page’s dress was no go: it was all spotted like the pard. The monk’s cowl was all in holes.

“Look sharp; it’s late,” said my companions, who were already dressed, trying to hurry me up.

There was but one costume left⁠—that of a distinguished Chinaman. “Give me the Chinaman’s,” said I with a wave of my hand. And they gave it me. It was the devil knows what! I am not speaking of the costume itself. I pass over in silence those idiotic flowered boots, which were too short for me, and reached only halfway to my knees; but in the remaining, by far the most essential part, stuck out like two incomprehensible adjuncts on either side of my feet. I say nothing of the pink rag which covered my head like a wig, and was tied by threads to my ears, so that they protruded and stood up like a bat’s. But the mask!

It was, if one may use the expression, a face in the abstract. It had nose, eyes, and mouth all right enough, and all in the proper places; but there was nothing human about it. A human being could not look so placid⁠—even in his coffin. It was expressive neither of sorrow, nor cheerfulness, nor surprise⁠—it expressed absolutely nothing! It looked at you squarely, and placidly⁠—and an uncontrollable laughter overwhelmed you. My companions rolled about on the sofas, sank impotently down on the chairs, and gesticulated.

“It will be the most original mask of the evening,” they declared.

I was ready to weep; but no sooner did I glance in the mirror than I too was convulsed with laughter. Yes, it will be a most original mask!

“In no circumstances are we to take off our masks,” said my companions on the way. “We will give our word.”

“Honour bright!”


Positively it was the most original mask. People followed me in crowds, turned me about, jostled me, pinched me. But when, harried, I turned on my persecutors in anger⁠—uncontrollable laughter seized them. Wherever I went, a roaring cloud of laughter encompassed and pressed on me; it moved together with me, and I could not escape from this circle of mad mirth. Sometimes it seized even myself, and I shouted, sang, and danced till everything seemed to go round before me, as if I was drunk. But how remote everything was from me! And how solitary was I under that mask! At last they left me in peace. With anger and fear, with malice and tenderness intermingling, I looked at her.

“ ’Tis I.”

Her long eyelashes were lifted slowly in surprise, and a whole sheaf of black rays flashed upon me, and a laugh, resonant, joyous, bright as the spring sunshine⁠—a laugh answered me.

“Yes, it is I; I, I say,” I insisted with a smile. “Why did you not come this evening?”

But she only laughed, laughed joyously.

“I suffered so much; I felt so hurt,” said I, imploring an answer.

But she only laughed. The black sheen of her eyes was extinguished, and still more brightly her smile lit up. It was the sun indeed, but burning, pitiless, cruel.

“What’s the matter with you?”

“Is it really you?” said she, restraining herself. “How comical you are!”

My shoulders were bowed, and my head hung down⁠—such despair was there in my pose. And while she, with the expiring afterglow of the smile upon her face, looked at the happy young couples that hurried by us, I said: “It’s not nice to laugh. Do you not feel that there is a living, suffering face behind my ridiculous mask⁠—and can’t you see that it was only for the opportunity it gave me of seeing you that I put it on? You gave me reason to hope for your love, and then so quickly, so cruelly deprived me of it. Why did you not come?”

With a protest on her tender, smiling lips, she turned sharply to me, and a cruel laugh utterly overwhelmed her. Choking, almost weeping, covering her face with a fragrant lace handkerchief, she brought out with difficulty: “Look at yourself in the mirror behind. Oh, how droll you are!”

Contracting my brows, clenching my teeth with pain, with a face grown cold, from which all the blood had fled, I looked at the mirror. There gazed out at me an idiotically placid, stolidly complacent, inhumanly immovable face. And I burst into an uncontrollable fit of laughter. And with the laughter not yet subsided, but already with the trembling of rising anger, with the madness of despair, I said⁠—nay, almost shouted:

“You ought not to laugh!”

And when she was quiet again I went on speaking in a whisper of my love. I had never spoken so well, for I had never loved so strongly. I spoke of the tortures of expectation, of the venomous tears of mad jealousy and grief, of my own soul which was all love. And I saw how her drooping eyelashes cast thick dark shadow over her blanched cheeks. I saw how across their dull pallor the fire, bursting into flame, threw a red reflection, and how her whole pliant body involuntarily bent towards me.

She was dressed as the Goddess of Night, and was all mysterious, clad in a black, mist-like face, which twinkled with stars of brilliants. She was beautiful as a forgotten dream of far-off childhood. As I spoke my eyes filled with tears, and my heart beat with gladness. And I perceived, I perceived at last, how a tender, piteous smile parted her lips, and her eyelashes were lifted all a-tremble. Slowly, timorously, but with infinite confidence, she turned her head towards me, and⁠—

And such a shriek of laughter I never heard!

“No, no, I can’t,” she almost groaned, and throwing back her head, she burst into a resonant cascade of laughter.

Oh, if but for a moment I could have had a human face! I bit my lips, tears rolled over my heated face; but it⁠—that idiotic mask, on which everything was in its right place, nose, eyes, and lips⁠—looked with a complacency staidly horrible in its absurdity. And when I went out, swaying on my flowered feet, it was long before I got out of reach of that ringing laugh. It was as though a silvery stream of water were falling from an immense height, and breaking in cheerful song upon the hard rock.


Scattered over the whole sleeping street and rousing the stillness of the night with our lusty, excited voices, we walked home. A companion said to me:

“You have had a colossal success. I never saw people laugh so⁠—Halloa! what are you up to? Why are you tearing your mask? I say, you fellows, he’s gone mad! Look, he’s tearing his costume to pieces! By Jove! he’s actually crying.”

In the Basement


He drank hard, lost his work and his acquaintances, and took up his abode in a cellar in the company of thieves and unfortunates, living on the last things he had.

His was a sickly, anaemic body, worn out with work, eaten up by sufferings and vodka. Death was already on the watch for him, like a grey bird-of-prey blind in the sunshine, sharp-eyed in the black night. By day death hid itself in the dark corners, but at night it took its seat noiselessly by his bedside, and sat long, till the very dawn, and was quiet, patient, and persistent. When at the first streak of light he put out his pale head from under the blankets, his eyes gleaming like those of a hunted wild animal, the room was already empty. But he did not trust this deceptive emptiness, which others believe in. He suspiciously looked round into all the corners; with crafty suddenness he cast a glance behind his back, and then leaning upon his elbows he gazed intently before him into the melting darkness of the departing night. And then he saw something, such as ordinary people do not see: the rocking of a monster grey body, shapeless, terrible. It was transparent, embraced all things, and objects were seen in it as behind a glass wall. But now he feared it not; and it departed until the next night, leaving behind it a cold impression.

For a short time he was wrapped in oblivion, and terrible, extraordinary dreams came to him. He saw a white room, with white floor and walls, illumined by a bright, white light, and a black serpent which was creeping away under the door with a gentle rustling-like laughter. Pressing its sharp flat head to the floor, it wriggled and quickly glided away, and was lost somewhere or other, and then again its black flattened nose appeared through a crevice under the door, and its body drew itself out in a black ribbon⁠—and so again and again. Once in his sleep he dreamed of something pleasant, and laughed, but the sound seemed strange, and more like a suppressed sob⁠—it was terrible to hear it⁠—his soul somewhere in the unknown depths laughing, or perhaps weeping, while the body lay motionless as the dead.

By degrees the sounds of nascent day began to invade his consciousness: the indistinct talk of passersby, the distant squeaking of a door, the swish of the dvornik’s broom as he brushed away the snow from the windowsill⁠—all the undefined bustle of a great city awakening. And then there came upon him the most horrible, mercilessly clear consciousness that a new day had arrived, and that he would soon have to get up, in order to struggle for life without any hope of victory.

One must live.

He turned his back to the light, threw the blanket over his head, so that not the minutest ray might penetrate to his eyes, squeezed himself together into a small ball, drawing his legs up to his very chin, and so lay motionless, dreading to stir and to stretch out his legs. A whole mountain of clothes lay upon him as a protection against the cold of the basement, but he did not feel their weight, and his body remained cold. And at every sound speaking of life he seemed to himself to be monstrous and unveiled, and he hugged himself together all the tighter, and silently groaned⁠—neither with voice nor in thought⁠—since he feared now his own voice and his own thoughts. He prayed to someone that the day might not come, so that he might always lie under the heap of rags, without movement or thought, and he concentrated his whole will to keep back the coming day, and to persuade himself that it was still night. And more than anything in the world he wished that someone from behind would put a revolver to the back of his head, just at the place where there is a cavity, and blow his brains out.

But daylight unfolded, broad, irresistible, calling forcibly to life, and all the world began to move, to talk, to work, to think. The first in the basement to wake was the landlady, old Matryona. She got up from the side of her twenty-five-year-old lover, and began to stamp about the kitchen, clatter with the buckets, and busy herself about something close to Khinyakov’s very door. He felt her approach, and lay quiet, determined not to answer if she called him. But she kept silence, and went away somewhere. In the course of an hour or two the two other lodgers woke up, an unfortunate named Dunyasha, and the old woman’s lover Abram Petrovich. He was so called in spite of his youth out of respect, because he was a daring and skilful thief, and something else besides, which was guessed at, but not spoken about.

The waking up of these terrified Khinyakov more than anything, since they had a hold on him, and the right to come in and sit on his bed, to touch him, and recall him to thought and speech. He had become intimate with Dunyasha one day when he was drunk, and had promised her marriage, and although she had laughed and slapped him on the back, she sincerely considered him as her lover, and patronized him, although she was herself a stupid, dirty, unwashed slut, who had spent many a night at the police-station. With Abram Petrovich he had only the day before yesterday been drinking, and they had kissed one another and sworn eternal friendship.

When the fresh loud voice of Abram Petrovich and his quick steps resounded near the door, Khinyakov’s heart’s blood curdled with fear and suspense, and he could not help groaning aloud, and then was all the more frightened. In one distinct picture that drinking-bout passed before him: how they had sat in some dark tavern or other, illumined by a single lamp, amid dark people who kept whispering together about something, while they themselves also whispered together. Abram Petrovich was pale and excited, and complained of the hardships of a thief’s life; for some reason or other he had bared his arms and allowed him to feel the badly-mended bones of his once broken arm, and Khinyakov had kissed him and said:

“I love thieves, they are so bold,” and proposed to him that they should drink to “brotherhood,” although they had for long been on quite intimate terms.

“And I love you, because you are educated, and understand us so well,” replied Abram Petrovich.

“Look again at my arm; here it is, eh?”

And again the white arm had passed before his eyes, seeming to be sorry for its own whiteness, and suddenly realizing something (which he did not now remember or understand), he had kissed that arm, and Abram Petrovich had proudly cried:

“Indeed, brother, death before surrender!”

And then something dirty whirling round and round, howls, whistles, and jumping lights. Then he had felt cheerful, but now when death was hiding in the corners, and when day was rushing in upon him from every direction with the inexorable necessity to live and do something, to struggle after something and ask for something⁠—he felt tortured and inexpressibly frightened.

“Are you asleep, sir?” Abram Petrovich inquired sarcastically through the door, and receiving no answer, added:

“Well, then, sleep away; devil take you!”

Many acquaintances visited Abram Petrovich, and throughout the day the door squeaked on its hinges, and bass voices were to be heard. And it seemed to Khinyakov at every sound that they were coming for him, and he buried himself the deeper in his bedclothes, and listened long to catch to whom the voice belonged. He waited and waited in agony, trembling all over his body, although there was no one in the whole world who would come to fetch him.

He had once had a wife⁠—long ago⁠—but she was dead. Still further back in the past he had had brothers and sisters, and still earlier⁠—something indistinct and beautiful, which he called Mother. All these were dead, or possibly some one of them might be still alive, only so lost in the wide, wide world, that he was as though dead. And he himself would soon be dead too⁠—he knew it. When he should get up today his legs would tremble and give way under him, and his hands would make uncertain strange motions⁠—and this was death. But meanwhile he must need live, and that is such a serious task for a man who has neither money, health, nor will, that Khinyakov was seized with despair. He threw off his blanket, clasped his hands, and breathed out into the void such prolonged groans, that they seemed to proceed from a thousand suffering breasts, therefore was it that they were so full, brimming over with insupportable torture.

“Open, you devil!” cried Dunyasha from the other side of the door, pounding it with her fists. “Or I’ll break the door down!”

Trembling with tottering steps, Khinyakov reached the door, opened it, and quickly lay down again, nay almost fell, on his bed. Dunyasha, already befrizzled and bepowdered, sat down at his side, shoving him against the wall, and, crossing her legs, said with an air of importance:

“I have brought you news. Katya expired yesterday?”

“What Katya?” asked Khinyakov, using his tongue clumsily and uncertainly, as though it did not belong to him.

“Come, now, you can’t have forgotten!” laughed Dunyasha. “The Katya who used to live here. How can you have forgotten her, when she has been gone only a week?”


“Why, of course died, as all die.” Dunyasha moistened the tip of her little finger and wiped the powder from her thin eyelashes.

“What of?”

“What all die of. Who knows what? They told me yesterday at the café, Katya was dead.”

“Did you love her?”

“Certainly I loved her! What are you talking about!”

Dunyasha’s stupid eyes looked at Khinyakov in dull indifference as she swung her fat leg. She did not know what more to say, and tried to look at him, as he lay there, in such a manner as to show to him her love, and with that intent she gently winked her eye, and dropped the corners of her full lips.

The day had begun.


That day, a Saturday, the frost was so severe that the boys did not go to school, and the horse-races were postponed for fear of the horses catching cold. When Natalya Vladimirovna came out from the lying-in hospital, she was for the first moment glad that it was evening, that there was no one on the embankment, that none met her⁠—an unmarried girl, with a six-day-old child in her arms. It had seemed to her that, as soon as she should cross the threshold, she would be met by a shouting, hissing crowd, among whom would be her senile, paralytic, and almost blind father, her acquaintances, students, officers and their young ladies; and that all these would point the finger at her and cry:

“There goes a girl who has passed through six classes at the high-school, had acquaintances among the students both intellectual and of good birth, who used to blush at a word spoken unadvisedly, and who six days ago gave birth to a child, in the lying-in hospital, side by side with other fallen women.”

But the embankment was deserted. Along it the icy wind traveled unrestrained, lifted a grey cloud of snow, ground by the frost into a biting dust, and covered with it everything living and dead which met it in its path. With a gentle whistle it wove itself round the metal pillars of the railings, so that they shone again, and looked so cold and lonely that it was a pain to look at them. And the girl felt herself to be just such a cold thing, an outcast from mankind and life. She had on a little short jacket, the one which she usually wore skating, and which she had hurriedly thrown on when she left her home suffering the premonitory pains of childbirth. And when the wind seized her, and wrapped her thin skirt about her ankles, and chilled her head, she began to fear that she might be frozen to death; and her fear of a crowd disappeared, and the world expanded into a boundless icy wilderness, in which was neither man, nor light, nor warmth. Two burning teardrops gathered in her eyes, and froze there. Bending her head down, she wiped them away with the formless bundle she was carrying, and went on faster. Now she no longer loved herself nor the child, and both lives seemed to her worthless; only certain words, which had, as it were, sunk into her brain, persistently repeated themselves, and went before her calling:

“Nyemchinovskaya Street, the second house from the corner. Nyemchinovskaya Street, the second house from the corner.”

These words she had repeated for six days as she lay on the bed and fed her infant. They meant, that she must go to Nyemchinovskaya Street, where her foster-sister, an unfortunate, lived, because only with her could she find an asylum for herself and her child. A year ago, when all was still well and she was continually laughing and singing, she had visited Katya, who was ill, and had helped her with money, and now she was the only human being remaining before whom she was not ashamed.

“Nyemchinovskaya Street, the second house from the corner. Nyemchinovskaya Street, the second house from the corner.”

She walked on, and the wind whirled angrily round her; and when she came upon the bridge it greedily dashed at her bosom, and dug its iron nails into her cold face. Vanquished, it dropped noisily from the bridge, and circled along the snow-covered surface of the river, and again swept upwards, overshadowing the road with cold, trembling wings. Natalya Vladimirovna stood still, and in utter weakness leaned against the rail. From the depth below there looked up at her a dull black eye⁠—a spot of unfrozen water⁠—and its gaze was mysterious and terrible. But before her resounded and called persistently the words:

“Nyemchinovskaya Street, the second house from the corner. Nyemchinovskaya Street, the second house from the corner.”

Khinyakov dressed, and lay down again on his bed rolled to the very eyes in a warm overcoat, his sole remaining possession. The room was cold, there was ice in the corners, but he breathed into the astrakhan collar, and so became warm and comfortable. The whole long day he kept deceiving himself, that tomorrow he would go and seek work, and ask for something; but meanwhile he was content not to think at all, but merely to tremble at the sound of a raised voice the other side of the wall, or at the sound of a sharply slammed door. He had lain long in this way, perfectly still, when at the entrance door he heard an uneven rapping, timid, and yet hurried and sharp, as if someone was knocking with the back of the hand. His room was the one next to the entrance door, and by craning his head and pricking up his ears he could distinguish everything which took place near it. Matryona went to the door and opened it, let someone in and closed it again. Then followed an expectant silence.

“Whom do you want?” asked Matryona in a hoarse, unfriendly tone. A stranger’s voice, gentle and broken, bashfully replied:

“I want Katya Nyechayeva. She lives here?”

“She did. But what do you want with her?”

“I want her very badly. Is she not at home?” and in her voice there was a note of fear.

“Katya is dead. She died, I say⁠—in the hospital.”

Again there was a long silence, so long indeed that Khinyakov felt a pain at his back; but he did not dare to move it, while the people there kept silence.

Then the stranger’s voice pronounced gently and without expression, the one word:


But evidently she did not go away, since in the course of a minute Matryona asked: “What have you there? Have you brought something for Katya?”

Someone knelt down, striking her knees on the floor, and the stranger’s voice, convulsed with suppressed sobs, uttered quickly the words:

“Take it, take it! For the love of God, take it! And then I⁠—I’ll go away.”

“But what is it?”

Again there was a long silence, and then a gentle weeping, broken, and hopeless. There was in it a deadly weariness, and a black despair, without a single gleam of hope. It was as though a hand had impotently drawn the bow across the over-tightened, the last remaining, string of an expensive instrument, and when the string snapped the soft wailing note had been silenced forever.

“Why, you have nearly smothered it!” exclaimed Matryona in a rough, angry tone. “You see what sort of people undertake to bear children. How could you do it? Whoever would wrap up babies like that? Come now, come along; do, I say. How could you do such a thing?”

Once more all was silent near the door.

Khinyakov listened a little longer and then lay down, delighted that no one had come to fetch him, and not taking the trouble to guess the truth about what he had not understood in that which had just taken place. He began already to feel the approach of night, and wished that someone would turn the lamp up higher. He became restless, and, clenching his teeth, he endeavoured to restrain his thoughts. In the past there was nothing but mire, falls, and horror, and⁠—there was the same horror in the future. He was just beginning by degrees to snuggle himself together, and draw up his hands and feet, when Dunyasha came in, dressed to go out in a red blouse, and already slightly intoxicated. She plopped down on the bed, and said with a gesture of surprise:

“Oh Lord!” She shook her head and smiled. “They have brought a little baby here. Such a tiny one, my friend, but he shouts just like a police-inspector. Just like a police-inspector!”

She swore whimsically, and coquettishly flipped Khinyakov’s nose.

“Let’s go and see. Why not, indeed! Yes, we’ll just take a look at him. Matryona is going to bathe it; she is boiling the samovar. Abram Petrovich is blowing up the charcoal with his boot. How funny it all is. And the baby is crying: ‘Wa, wa, wa!’ ”

Dunyasha made a face which she meant to represent the baby, and again went on puling: “ ‘Wa, wa, wa!’ Just like a police-inspector! Let’s go. Don’t you want to?⁠—well, then devil take you! Turn up your toes where you are, rotten egg, you!”

And she danced out of the room. But half an hour after Khinyakov, tottering on his weak legs and hanging on to the doorposts, hesitatingly opened the door of the kitchen.

“Shut it! You’ve made a draught,” cried Abram Petrovich.

Khinyakov hastily slammed the door behind him, and looked round apologetically; but no one took any notice of him, so he calmed down. The combined heat of the stove, the urn, and the company made the kitchen pretty warm, and the vapour rose, and then rolled down the colder walls in thick drops. Matryona with a severe and irritated mien was washing the child in a trough, and with pockmarked hands was splashing the water over him, while she crooned:

“Little lambkin, then, it s’all be clean. It s’all be white.”

Whether it was because the kitchen was light and cheerful, or because the water was warm and caressing, at all events the child was quiet, and wrinkled up its little red face as though about to sneeze. Dunyasha looked at the tub over Matryona’s shoulder, and seizing her opportunity, splashed the little one with three fingers.

“Get away!” the old woman cried in a threatening tone, “where are you coming to? I know what to do without your help. I have had children of my own.”

“Don’t meddle. She’s quite right, children are such tender things,” said Abram Petrovich, in support of her; “they want some handling.”

He sat down on the table, and with condescending satisfaction contemplated the little rosy body. The baby wriggled its fingers, and Dunyasha with wild delight wagged her head and laughed.

“Just like a police-inspector!”

“But have you seen a police-inspector in a trough?” asked Abram Petrovich.

All laughed, and even Khinyakov smiled; but almost immediately the smile left his face affright, and he looked round at the mother. She was sitting wearily on the bench, with her head thrown back, and her black eyes, abnormally large from sickness and suffering, lighted up with a peaceful gleam, and on her pale lips hovered the proud smile of a mother. And when he saw this Khinyakov burst into a solitary, belated laugh:

“He! he! he!”

He even looked proudly round on all sides. Matryona took the baby out of the tub, and wrapped it in a bath-sheet. The child burst into loud crying, but was soon quieted again, and Matryona, unrolling the sheet, smiled in confusion, and said:

“What a dear little body, just like velvet.”

“Let me feel,” entreated Dunyasha.

“What next!”

Dunyasha began suddenly to tremble all over, and stamped her feet; choking with longing, and mad with the desire, which overwhelmed her, she cried in such a shrill voice as none had ever heard from her:

“Let me! let me!”

“Yes, let her,” entreated Natalya Vladimirovna in a fright. And Dunyasha just as suddenly became quiet again. She cautiously touched the child’s little shoulder with two fingers, and following her example, Abram Petrovich, with a condescending wink, also reached out to that little red shoulder.

“Yes, indeed, children are tender things,” said he in self-justification.

Last of all Khinyakov tried it. His fingers felt for a moment the touch of something living, downy like velvet, and withal so tender and feeble that his fingers seemed no longer to belong to him, and became as tender as the something he touched. And thus, craning their necks, and unconsciously lighting up into a smile of strange happiness, stood the three, the thief, the prostitute, and the lonely broken man, and that little life, feeble as a distant light on the steppe, was vaguely calling them somewhither, and promising them something beautiful, bright, immortal. And the happy mother looked proudly on, while above the low ceiling the house rose in a heavy mass of stone, and in the upper flats the rich sauntered about, and yawned with ennui.

Night had come on, black, malign, as all nights are, and had pitched her tent in darkness over the distant snowy fields; and the lonely branches of trees became chilled with fear, just those branches which first welcomed the morning sun. With feeble artificial light man fought against her, but strong and malign she girded the isolated lights in a hopeless circle, and filled the hearts of men with darkness. And in many a heart she extinguished the feeble flickering sparks.

Khinyakov did not sleep. Huddled up together into a little ball, he hid himself under a soft heap of rags from the cold and from the night, and wept, without effort, without pain or convulsion, as those weep whose heart is pure and without sin, as the heart of a little child. He pitied himself huddled up into a heap, and it seemed to him that he pitied all mankind and the whole of human life, and in this feeling there was a secret, profound gladness. He saw the child, just born, and it seemed to him that he himself was reborn to a new life, and would live long, and that his life would be beautiful. He loved and yet pitied this new life, and he felt so happy, that he laughed so that he shook the heap of rags, and then asked himself:

“Why am I weeping?”

But he could not discover the answer to his own question, and so replied:


And such a profound thought was conveyed by this short word, that this wreck of a man, whose life was so pitiable and lonely, was convulsed with a fresh burst of scalding tears.

But at his bedside rapacious death was noiselessly taking its seat, and waiting⁠—quietly, patiently, persistently.

The Tocsin


During that hot and ill-omened summer everything was burning. Whole towns, villages and hamlets were consumed; forests and fields were no longer a protection to them, but even the forests themselves submissively burst into flame, and the fire spread like a red tablecloth over the parched meadows. During the day the dim red sun was hidden in acrid smoke, but at nighttime in all quarters of the sky a quiet red-glow burst forth, which rocked in silent, fantastic dance; and strange confused shadows of men and trees crept over the ground like some unknown species of reptile. The dogs ceased their welcoming bark, which from afar calls to the traveller and promises him a roof and hospitality, and either uttered a prolonged melancholy howl, or crept into the cellar in sullen silence. And men, like dogs, looked at one another with evil, frightened eyes, and spoke aloud of arson, and secret incendiaries. Indeed, in one remote village they had killed an old man who could not give a satisfactory account of his movements, and then the women had wept over the murdered man, and pitied his grey beard all matted with dark blood.

During this hot and ill-omened summer I lived at the house of a country squire, where were many women, young and old. By day we worked and talked, and thought little of conflagrations, but when night came on we were seized with fear. The owner of the property was often absent in the town. Then for whole nights we slept not a wink, but in fear and trembling made our rounds of the homestead in search of an incendiary. We huddled close together and spoke in whispers; but the night was still, and the buildings stood out in dark, unfamiliar masses. They seemed to us as strange, as if we had never seen them before, and terribly unstable, as though they were expecting the fire and were already ripe for it. Once, through a crack in the wall, there gleamed before us something bright. It was the sky, but we thought it was a fire, and with screams the womenkind rushed to me, who was still almost a boy, and entreated my protection.

But I⁠—held my breath for fear, and could not move a step.

Sometimes in the depth of night I would rise from my hot, tumbled bed and creep through the window into the garden. It was an ancient, formal and stately garden, so protected that it answered the very fiercest storm with nothing more than a suppressed drone. Below it was dark and deadly still as at the bottom of an abyss; but above there was a continual indistinct rustling and sound, like the far-off speech of the steppe. Concealing myself from someone, who seemed to be following at my heels, and looking over my shoulder, I would make my way to the end of the garden, where upon a high bank stood a wattle-fence, and beyond the fence far below extended fields and forests and hamlets hidden in the darkness. Lofty, gloomy, silent lime-trees opened out before me, and between their thick black stems, through the interstices of the fence, and through the space between the leaves I could see something terrible, extraordinary, which would fill my heart with an uneasy dread feeling, and make my legs twitch with a slight tremor. I could see the sky, not the dark, still sky of night, but rosy-red, such as is neither by day nor night. The mighty limes stood grave and silent, like men expecting something, but the sky was unnaturally rosy, and the ominous reflection of the burning earth beneath darted in fiery red spasms about the sky. And curling columns would go slowly up and disappear in the height; and it was a puzzle, as strangely unnatural as the pink colouring of the sky, how they could be so silent, when below all was gnashing of teeth; how they could be so unhurried and stately there above, when everything was tossing in restless confusion here below.

As though coming to themselves the lofty limes would all at once begin to talk together with their tops, and then suddenly relapse into silence, congealed, as it were, for a long time in sullen expectation. It would become still as at the bottom an abyss, while far behind me I felt conscious of the house on the alert, full of frightened people; the limes crowded watchfully around me, and in front silently rocked a rose-red sky, such as is not nor by night nor day.

And because I saw it not as a whole, but only through the interstices between the trees, it was all the more terrible and incomprehensible.


It was night and I was dosing restlessly, when there reached my ear a dull staccato sound, rising as it seemed from below the ground; it penetrated my brain, and settled there like a round stone. After it another forced its way in, equally short and dolorous, and my head became heavy and sick, as though molten lead were falling upon it in thick drops. The drops kept boring and burning into my brain; they became ever more and more, and soon they were filling my head with a dripping rain of impetuous staccato sounds.

“Boom! boom! boom!” Someone tall, strong and impatient kept jerking out from afar.

I opened my eyes, and at once understood that it was the alarm-bell, and that Slobodishtchy, the next village, was on fire. It was dark in the room and the window was closed, and yet at the terrible call the whole room, with its furniture, pictures and flowers, went out, as it were, into the street, and no longer was one conscious of wall or ceiling.

I do not remember how I got dressed, and know not why I ran alone and not with the others; whether it was that they forgot me, or I did not remember their existence. The tocsin called persistently and dully, as though its sounds were falling, not from the transparent air, but were cast forth from the immeasurable thickness of the earth. I ran on.

Amid the rosy sheen of the sky the stars twinkled above my head, and in the garden it was strangely light, such as is neither by day, nor by majestic, moonlit night, but when I reached the hedge something bright-red, seething, tossing desperately, looked up at me through the fissures. The lofty limes, as though sprinkled with blood, trembled in their rounded leaves, and turned them back in fear, but their sound was inaudible on account of the short, loud strokes of the swinging bell. Now the sounds became clear and distinct, and flew with mad speed like a swarm of red-hot stones. They did not circle in the air like the doves of the peaceful angelus, neither did they expand in the caressing waves of the solemn call to prayer; they flew straight like grim harbingers of woe, who have no time to glance backward and whose eyes are wide with terror.

“Boom! boom! boom!” they flew with unrestrainable impetuosity, the strong overtaking the weak, and all of them together delving into the earth and piercing the sky.

And, as straight as they, I ran over the immense tilled plain, which faintly scintillated with blood-red gleams like the scales of a great black wild-beast. Above my head, at a wonderful height, bright isolated sparks floated by, and in front was one of those terrible village conflagrations, in which in one holocaust perish houses, cattle and human beings. There behind the irregular line of dark trees now round, now sharp as pikes, the dazzling flame soared aloft, arched its neck proudly, like a maddened horse, leaped, threw burning flocks from its midst into the black sky, and then greedily stooped for fresh prey. The blood surged in my ears with the swiftness of my running, and my heart beat loud and rapidly; but the irregular strokes of the tocsin overtook my heartbeats and struck me full on head and breast. And so full of despair was it that it seemed not the clanging of a metal bell, but as though the very heart of the much-suffering earth were beating wildly in the agony of death.

“Boom! boom! boom!” the red-hot conflagration ejaculated. And it was difficult to realize that the church belfry, so small and slight, so peaceful and still, like a maiden in a pink dress, could be giving forth those loud, despairing cries.

I kept falling down on my hands against clods of dry earth, which scattered beneath them, and again I would rise and run on, and the fire and the summoning sound of the bell ran to meet me. One could already hear the wood crackling as it caught fire, and the many-voiced cry of human beings with the dominating notes of despair and terror. And when the serpent-like hissing of the fire ceased for a moment, a prolonged groaning became clearly differentiated: it was the wailing of women, and the bellowing of cattle in a panic of terror.

A swamp intercepted my path. A wide, weed-grown swamp, which ran far to right and left. I went into the water up to my knees, then to the breast, but the swamp began to suck me down, and I returned to the bank. Opposite, quite close, raged the fire, throwing up into the sky golden sparks like the burning leaves of a gigantic tree: while the water of the swamp stood out like a mirror sparkling with fire in a black frame of reed and sedge. The tocsin called, despairingly in deadly agony:

“Come! do come!”


I flung along the strand, and my dark shadow flung after me, and when I stooped down to the water to find a bottom, the spectre of a fire-red form gazed at me from the black abyss, and in the distorted lineaments of its face, and in its dishevelled hair, which seemed as though it were lifted up upon the head by some terrific force, I failed to recognize myself.

“Ah! what is it? O Lord!” I prayed with outstretched hands.

But the tocsin kept calling. The bell no longer entreated, it shouted like a human being, and groaned and choked. The strokes had lost their regularity, and piled themselves one on the top of the other, rapidly and without echo; they died down, were reproduced and again died down. Once more I bent down to the water, and alongside of my own reflection I perceived another fiery spectre, tall and erect, and to my horror just like a human being.

“What’s that?” I screamed, looking round. Close to my shoulder stood a man looking at the conflagration in silence. His face was pale, his cheeks were covered with still moist blood, which gleamed as it reflected the fire. He was dressed simply, like a peasant. Possibly he had been already here when I ran up, and had been stopped like myself by the swamp, or possibly he may have arrived after me; but at all events I had not heard his approach, nor did I know who he was.

“It burns,” said he, without removing his eyes from the fire. The reflected fire leapt in them, and they seemed large and glassy.

“Who are you? Where do you come from?” I asked; “you are all bloody.” With long, thin fingers he touched my cheeks, looked at them, and again fixed his gaze upon the fire.

“It burns,” he repeated, without paying any attention to me. “Everything is burning.”

“Do you know how to get there?” I asked, drawing back. I guessed that this was one of the many maniacs, which this ill-omened summer had produced.

“It burns!” he replied; “ho! ho! don’t it burn!” he cried, laughing, and looked at me kindly, wagging his head. The hurried strokes of the tocsin suddenly stopped, and the flame crackled louder. It moved like a living thing, and with long arms, as though weary, dragged itself to the silent belfry, which now seemed near and tall, and clothed no longer in pink but in red. Above the dark loophole, where the bells were hung, there appeared a timid quiet tongue of fire, like the flame of a candle, and was reflected in pale rays on their metal surface. Once more the bell began to tremble, sending forth its last madly-despairing cries, and once more I flung myself along the shore, and my black shadow flung after me.

“I’m coming, I’m coming!” I cried, as though in reply to someone calling me. But the tall man was quietly seated behind me, embracing his knees, and kept singing a loud secondo to the bell: “Boom! boom! boom!”

“Are you mad?” I shouted to him. But he only sang the louder and the merrier, “Boom! boom! boom!”

“Be quiet!” I entreated. But he smiled and sang on, wagging his head, and the fire flared up in his glassy eyes. He was more terrible than the fire, this maniac, and I turned round and took to flight along the shore. But I had scarcely gone a few steps, when his lanky figure appeared silently alongside of me, his shirt fluttering in the wind. He ran in silence, even as I did, with long untiring strides, and in silence our black shadows ran along the upturned field.

The bell was suffocating in its last death-struggle and cried out like a human being who, despairing of assistance, has lost all hope. And we ran on in silence aimlessly into the darkness, and close to us our black shadows leapt mockingly.

A Present


“So you’ll come, won’t you?” Senista repeated this for the third time, and for the third time Sazonka answered hastily:

“Sure I’ll come, sure I’ll come. Why shouldn’t I? Sure I’ll come.”

And again they were silent. Senista was lying on his back, covered up to the chin with a gray hospital blanket, and was looking steadily at Sazonka. He did not want Sazonka to go away, wanted him to say again that he would come to see him, and not leave him a prey to loneliness, disease, and fear. Sazonka, on the other hand, was anxious to get away, but he did not know how to do it without giving offense to the boy. He would blow his nose every little while, slide off the chair, and then sit straight and firmly again, as though resolved to remain there for all time. He would have stayed longer if there were anything to talk about. But there was no subject he could converse upon and the thoughts that came to his head were so foolish, that he felt ashamed of himself. He wanted all the time to call Senista by his full name, Semyon Erofeyevich, which, of course, would have been preposterous. Senista was only a boy, a mere apprentice, while he was a full master in his trade and a drunkard into the bargain. Everybody called him Sazonka merely through force of habit. Only two weeks ago, he had given Senista his last box on the ear, which, of course, was very bad of him; but he could not talk about that in the hospital.

Sazonka began to slide off his chair determinedly, but before getting off halfway he suddenly slid back again, and said half-reproachfully, half-sympathetically:

“So that’s the way it goes. Hurts, don’t it?”

Senista nodded and answered quietly:

“Well, I guess it’s time for you to go. You’ll get it, if you don’t.”

“That’s so, too,” answered Sazonka cheerfully, glad to have found a good excuse. “As it is, he told me to get back as soon as I could. ‘Take it over,’ said he, ‘and get back the same moment. And see that you don’t touch whiskey on the way.’ The devil!”

But, together with the realization that he could leave any moment, Sazonka began to feel a great pity for the large-headed Senista. The whole environment predisposed him to pity. The room was filled with beds placed close to each other, on which lay pale, gloomy men. The air was spoiled to the last ounce with the nauseating odors of medicines and human perspiration. Everything reminded him of his own health and strength. No longer trying to avoid Senista’s questioning glance, Sazonka bent over him and said:

“Don’t be afraid Semyon⁠ ⁠… Senia, I mean. I’ll come, all right. Soon as I have time, I’ll come right over. Ain’t I human? My Lord, I can understand something, too. D’you believe me?”

And Senista answered with a smile on his black, parched lips:

“Yes, I believe you.”

“Now you see!” Now Sazonka felt light and comfortable. He could even talk of the box on the ear he had given Senista two weeks ago. He mentioned it casually, touching Senista’s head.

“And if people hit you on the head, it wasn’t because they meant you harm. Lord, no! Only because your head is so handy. It’s so big, and the hair is all cut so low.”

Senista smiled again and Sazonka got up from his chair. He was very tall, and his curly hair, combed with a fine comb, rose like a soft cap. His shining eyes with their swollen eyelids, smiled at the boy.

“Well, good-a-bye,” said he, without moving away from his place, however. He purposely said “good-a-bye,” instead of “goodbye,” because he thought it would sound more sincere and heartfelt. But it did not seem enough. He felt that he ought to do something even more sincere, something good and big, after which Senista would not mind remaining at the hospital, and he, himself, could go away with a light heart. And he stood there in childish embarrassment, when Senista again helped him out:

“Goodbye,” said he in a thin childish voice, for which he was nicknamed “flute,” and freed his hand from under the blanket and quite simply, as though he were Sazonka’s equal, extended it to the man. And Sazonka, feeling that this was precisely what he was looking for, gently clasped the thin fingers with his large hand, held them for a while, and then let them go. There was something sad and mysterious in the slight pressure of those fingers, as though Senista were not only an equal of all men on earth, but above them all, freer than all. And it seemed so because he now belonged to an unknown, though terrible and powerful master. Sazonka felt that he could call him Semyon Erofeyevich.

“So you’ll come, won’t you?” For the fourth time Senista begged of him, and this plaintive appeal drove away that something awful and magnificent, which but a moment ago had enveloped the boy in its noiseless wings. Senista again became for Sazonka a poor, sick boy, and he was again full of pity for him.

When Sazonka walked away from the hospital, he thought that he was followed for some time by the odor of medicines and the piteous appeal:

“So you’ll come, won’t you?”

And Sazonka answered his absent implorer,

“Sure, I’ll come. Ain’t I human?”


Easter was coming on, and there was so much work in the tailor’s shop that Sazonka got a chance to get drunk only once, on a Sunday. He had to sit all day long near his window. He had a sort of platform, on which he sat Turkish fashion. The spring days were very light and very long, and Sazonka sat there sewing, gloomily whistling a melancholy tune. In the morning there was no sun in Sazonka’s window, and streams of cool air forced their way through the loose woodwork. But towards midday a sharp yellow band appeared in the window, and in it particles of dust were dancing merrily. And half an hour later, the whole windowsill, with the scissors and the scraps of cloth scattered over it, was already burning with a blinding light, and it became so hot that the window had to be opened. And together with a stream of fresh air, mixed with the odors of manure, drying mud, and opening buds, a weak, early fly flew into the room, followed by the confused noises of the street. Chickens were pecking the ground near the house wall, or cackling contentedly, lying in the round holes they had made for themselves in the soft ground. On the opposite side of the street, children were playing “knuckle-bones,” and their loud, joyous voices, mixed with the sounds of small iron boards hitting the bones, rang with vigor and freshness. There was very little traffic in this street, situated on the outskirts of the city of Orel, and only occasionally a peasant cart would rattle by slowly, jumping from one deep rut still filled with mud, to another. The parts of the cart, loosely made, constantly struck against each other, producing dull sounds that reminded one of the coming summer and the vast expanses of fields.

When Sazonka’s back bones would begin to ache, and his tired fingers would be able to hold the needle no longer, he would jump out into the street, barefooted as he was, make a couple of gigantic leaps over the pools of water, and join the playing children.

“Come on, let me try it,” he would say, and a dozen dirty hands would extend the boards towards him, and a dozen eager voices would beg him:

“Do it for me, Sazonka! For me!”

Sazonka would choose a heavy board, roll up his sleeve and, assuming the posture of the athlete hurling the disk, he would begin measuring the distance with his eyes. Then the heavy board would leave his hand with a soft “swish,” and, bounding up and down on the ground, would cut its way into the very center of the long cone, scattering the bones all around. The feat would be applauded by the enthusiastic shouts of the children. After a couple of throws, Sazonka would sit down to rest and say to the children:

“And Senista is still in the hospital, boys.”

But the children, busy with their own affairs, would take this piece of news coolly and indifferently.

“I ought to take him some present. Well, just wait, I’ll do it.”

The word “present” aroused the interest of several of the boys. Little Mishka, nicknamed the Suckling Pig, holding his breeches with one hand, and with the other his upturned shirt in which lay the sheep-bones, advised him:

“You give ’im a dime.”

A dime was the sum that Mishka’s grandfather had promised him for Easter, and the boy’s conception of human happiness did not go beyond this. But there was no time for discussing the question of the present. A couple of gigantic leaps brought Sazonka back to the other side of the street, and to his work.

His eyelids were still swollen, but his face became pale-yellow and the freckles on his nose and around the eyes became even more numerous and darker than before. Only his carefully combed hair still had the appearance of a fine cap, and whenever his employer, Gabriel Ivanovich, loked at Sazonka’s head, he was, for some reason or other, reminded of a small saloon and of whiskey⁠—which recollection would cause him to spit, and curse furiously.

Sazonka’s head was heavy. Sometimes the same thought would roll over in his mind for hours; and it would be either about his new boots, or his new harmonica. But he often thought of Senista and the present he was going to take over to him. The sewing machine was running monotonously, the proprietor cursed everybody, but Sazonka’s tired brain could only conceive of the picture of how he would come to the hospital and give Senista a present, wrapped up in a red handkerchief. Sometimes a heavy drowsiness would come over him and then he would not be able to recall even Senista’s face. He only saw clearly the red handkerchief, and it seemed to him all the time that the knots were not well tied. He told everybody that he would go to see Senista on the first day of Easter.

“Got to do it,” he would repeat. “I’ll comb my hair and run straight over. ‘Here you are, kid, that’s for you!’ ” But as he would be saying this, another scene would come before him. He would see the open doors of the saloon, with the counter wet with spilled whiskey, inside. A bitter realization of his own weakness, against which he could not struggle, would overwhelm him, and an irresistible desire would come over him to shout out:

“I’ll go to Senista! To Senista!”

And his brain would again become heavy and irresponsive to everything, except the red handkerchief. But there was no joy in this one thought that persisted in his brain; rather a stern lesson, a terrible warning.


On the first day of Easter, Sazonka was drunk. On the second day, he was still more drunk, got into a fight, and had to spend the night in jail. It was only on the fourth day that he finally decided to visit Senista.

The sunlit street was bright with red shirts and the brilliant glitter of white teeth shelling the sunflower seeds. Harmonicas were heard here and there; iron boards struck piles of knuckle-bones, scattering them in all directions; a rooster was crowing bravely, challenging another rooster to combat. But Sazonka paid attention to none of these things. His face, with one eye blackened, and the lip cut, was gloomy and serious, and his hair was dishevelled, no longer having the appearance of a fine cap. He was ashamed of his debauch, ashamed because he had broken his word, because he could not go to see Senista in the holiday array he had planned⁠—wearing a red woolen shirt and a vest⁠—ashamed because he was going, dirty, unkempt, his breath reeking with liquor. But the nearer he came to the hospital, the calmer he grew. More and more his eyes sought the bundle containing the present which he was carrying carefully in his left hand. And Senista’s face, with its appealing look and parched lips seemed to be constantly before him, as clear and as lifelike as though the boy himself were there.

“Ain’t we human, kid? Oh, Lord!” Sazonka kept on saying to himself, as he hurried along. Now he is in front of the large yellow hospital-building, with its black-framed windows, which look like gloomy eyes. Now he is in the long corridor, in the midst of the medicine odors and an atmosphere of indistinct fear and unpleasantness. Now he is in the ward, right by Senista’s bed⁠ ⁠…

But where is Senista?

“Whom are you looking for,” asked the nurse, following him into the ward.

“There was a boy here, Semyon. Semyon Erofeyev. Right in this place.” And Sazonka pointed to the empty bed.

“You ought to ask first, and not break in like this,” said the nurse rudely. “It wasn’t Semyon Erofeyev, either, but Semyon Pustoshkin.”

“Erofeyev, that’s according to his father. His father’s name was Erofey, so he is Erofeyich,” explained Sazonka, slowly turning paler and paler.

“Oh, he’s dead, your Erofeyich. And we don’t care for his father’s name. For us, he’s Semyon Pustoshkin. He’s dead, I say.”

“Is that so?” There was reverent astonishment in Sazonka’s voice, as he stood there, so pale that the freckles on his face appeared almost like ink stains. “When did he die?”

“Last night.”

“And may I⁠ ⁠…” Sazonka did not finish his stammered request.

“Why not?” answered the nurse indifferently. “Just ask where the morgue is, they’ll show you. If I were you, I wouldn’t be so upset about it. He was sickly anyhow; couldn’t live long.”

Sazonka’s tongue inquired about his way, very politely. His legs bore him in the direction indicated, but his eyes saw nothing. Only when the face of the dead Senista was directly in front of him did his eyes begin to see. Then, too, he began to feel the coldness of the morgue. The walls of the dreary room were bespotted with moisture, the single window was covered with a thick layer of spiders’ webs. No matter how brightly the sun shone outside, its rays never penetrated through this window, and the sky always appeared gray and gloomy, as in autumn. A fly was buzzing somewhere. Drops of water were falling from the ceiling. After each drop, the air would reverberate with a pitiful, ringing noise.

Sazonka stepped back and said aloud:

“Goodbye, Semyon Erofeyich.”

Then he knelt down, touched the wet floor with his forehead, and rose up again.

“Forgive me, Semyon Erofeyich,” said he, just as loudly and distinctly, and then knelt down again, and pressed his head against the floor.

The fly stopped buzzing, and everything was still, with that peculiar stillness which sets in when a dead man is in the room. At regular intervals drops of water fell into a metal basin, striking the bottom gently and softly.


The hospital stood on the outskirts of the city, and immediately beyond it began a large field. Sazonka went there. The level field, uninterrupted by a single tree or building, stretched in all directions, and the light breeze seemed to be its warm, even breath. Sazonka followed a dry road at first, but after a while he turned to the left and began to walk across the field itself, towards the river. In some places the ground was still wet and his boots left deep marks in it.

Reaching the river, Sazonka lay down on its bank in a spot where the air was warm and perfectly still, as in a greenhouse. He closed his eyes. The rays of the sun passed through his lowered eyelids in red waves. A lark was pouring forth its song in the blue sky, and it was so pleasant to lie there without a single thought in his head. The spring waters had already subsided, leaving the marks of their recent activity in the form of large pieces of ice, stranded on the opposite shore. The white triangular pieces of ice were steadily disappearing under the merciless, hot rays of the sun. Sazonka lay there half asleep, and, accidentally, threw out one arm. His hand came in contact with a hard object, covered with cloth.

The present!

Jumping up to a sitting position, Sazonka exclaimed:

“God! What is this?”

He had forgotten his bundle entirely and now looked at it with frightened eyes. It seemed to him that the bundle had come there by its own will, and he was afraid to touch it. Sazonka gazed at it, without lifting his eyes, and a stormy, rumbling pity, a furious wrath was rising in him. He looked at the bundle, and he seemed to see how on the first day, and the second, and the third, Senista was waiting for him, turning his head towards the door, expecting him in vain. And he died lonely, forsaken, like a puppy thrown out into the backyard. Only one day sooner, and the boy’s closing eyes might have seen the present, and his childish heart might have been filled with joy, and his soul might have soared to Heaven without suffering the torment of loneliness.

Sazonka began to sob, tearing his fine hair, and rolling on the ground. He cried aloud, lifting his hands to Heaven in pitiful justification:

“O God! Ain’t we human?”

And then he fell on the ground, his cut lip touching the earth. And there he remained, overwhelmed with dumb grief. The new grass tickled his face gently; a sweet, quieting odor came from the ground, and the earth seemed to exhale a feeling of mighty power, of a passionate appeal for life. The eternal mother earth was enfolding a sinning son in her embrace, and was filling his suffering heart with warmth, love, and hope.

And far away, in the city, the joyful holiday bells were ringing their discordant melody.

A Dilemma

A Story of Mental Perplexity

On the 11th of December of the year 1900 Anton Ignatyeff Kerzhentseff, a physician by profession, perpetrated a murder. The evidence presented in connection with the act itself, as well as certain circumstances which preceded the crime, gave cause to suspect the abnormality of Kerzhentseff’s mental faculties.

Placed for purposes of investigation in the Elizavetinsk Psychiatric Hospital, Kerzhentseff was subjected to a severe and attentive surveillance of several capable alienists, the recently deceased Prof. Derzhembitzky being among the number. Here are the documents furnished in connection with the case by no less a personage than Dr. Kerzhentseff himself a month after the test had begun; together with other data they formed the groundwork of expert judgment.


Till the present moment, gentlemen experts, I have concealed the truth; but now circumstances compel me to reveal it. Realizing this, you will comprehend that this business is not at all so simple a matter as it would seem to the ignorant; not at all a matter of the straitjacket or the handcuffs. The thing involved here is neither the one nor the other, but is more terrible than the two combined.

My victim, Alexis Konstantinovich Saveloff, was my companion in the gymnasia and in the university, though in our professions our ways were apart. I, as you know, am a physician; while he completed a course of jurisprudence. I cannot say that I did not love the man; he was always sympathetic toward me, and I never had a more intimate friend than he. Notwithstanding the possession of these sympathetic traits, he did not belong to the class of men capable of commanding my respect. The astonishing softness and yieldingness of his nature, his strange uncertainty in the domain of thought and feeling, the capricious extremes of his views, and the unsoundness of his constantly changing judgments impelled me to regard him as a child or a woman. Those near to him, suffering now and then from his caprices, and at the same time, owing to an illogical human nature, loving him, found a justification for his shortcomings and their own attitude, by calling him an “artist.” Indeed this worthless word seemed to justify him completely; and that which to the normal mind would appear as silly was made to seem indifferent or even good. Such is the power of words that even I at one time succumbed to the popular misconception and eagerly overlooked the petty shortcomings of Alexis. Of grand faults, as indeed of all big things, he was incapable. His literary productions amply attest this fact; they are full of things petty and empty, notwithstanding those shortsighted critics who delight to assail newly-revealed talents. Handsome and shallow were his productions, even as their author was handsome and shallow.

When Alexis died he was thirty-one years old, about a year younger than myself.

Alexis was married. Gazing upon his wife now, in mourning for her husband, you can have but a faint idea of her former beauty. She has grown ugly. Her cheeks are colorless and the skin of her face is flabby, aged⁠—aged like a worn glove. And she has wrinkles. They are wrinkles now, but another year will pass and these will become deep furrows and trenches. How she did love him! And her eyes have ceased to sparkle, and they laugh no longer; formerly they were wont to laugh always, even when they ought to have wept. I have had the opportunity to see her for about a minute, having met her by accident at the district attorney’s office, and was astounded at the change. She was powerless even to cast an angry look upon me. What a pitiful figure!

Only three persons⁠—Alexis, I and Tatiana Nikolayevna⁠—knew that five years ago, two years before the marriage of Alexis, I had proposed to Tatiana Nikolayevna and had been rejected. Of course, it is a mere conjecture about the three; more likely Tatiana Nikolayevna has another half-score of friends who had been apprised in detail of Dr. Kerzhentseff’s onetime desire to marry, and of his humiliating rejection. I do not know whether she remembers that she laughed then; probably she does not remember⁠—she laughed so often. Remind her, if you will: on the fifth of September she laughed. If she should deny it⁠—and she will deny it⁠—recall to her the circumstances. I, that strong man who never had shed a tear, stood before her and trembled. I trembled and saw how she bit her lips, and I already had stretched out my arms to embrace her, when she lifted her eyes, and there was laughter in them. My arms remained suspended in the air. She began to laugh and she laughed for a long time⁠—as long as it pleased her. Later, however, she apologized.

“Please forgive me,” she said, but her eyes laughed.

I also smiled, and though I could forgive her laughter, I never could condone my own smile. This was on the fifth of September, six o’clock in the evening, according to St. Petersburg time. I have added the last remark because we were at that moment in a railroad station; and I see now before me clearly the big white time schedule and the rows of figures running up and down.

Alexis Konstantinovich also had been killed precisely at six o’clock⁠—a curious coincidence which might reveal much to the perspicacious person.

One of the reasons for placing me here has been the absence of motive responsible for the crime. Do you perceive now that a motive existed? Of course, it was not jealousy. The latter presupposes an ardent temperament and a weakness of mental faculties⁠—that is something directly antagonistic to a cool, reasoning nature like mine. Revenge? Yes, sooner that⁠—if it is necessary to employ an old word for defining a new and unfamiliar emotion. The case is this: Tatiana Nikolayevna once more had caused me to blunder, and it irritated me. Knowing Alexis well, I was convinced that Tatiana Nikolayevna, married to him, would be unhappy and would long for me; therefore I insisted that Alexis, who was in love with her, should marry her. Only a month preceding his tragic death he remarked to me:

“It is to you that I owe my present happiness. Isn’t that so, Tanya?”

She glanced at me and said: “That’s true,” while her eyes smiled. I also smiled. Presently we all laughed, as, embracing Tatiana Nikolayevna⁠—they never felt abashed before me⁠—he added:

“Yes, brother, you missed your stroke.”

This misplaced and tactless joke shortened his life a whole week, as originally I had intended to kill him on the eighteenth of December.

Their marriage turned out to be a happy one, and especially happy was she. His love toward Tatiana Nikolayevna was not intense; and in general he was not capable of deep love. He had his favorite occupation⁠—literature⁠—which carried his interests beyond the bounds of the bedchamber. She, however, loved only him, and lived only in him. He was a victim to physical indispositions, such as frequent headaches and insomnia, and these, of course, caused him much suffering. And she considered it a happiness to look after the sick man and to gratify his capricious desires. When a woman loves she becomes altogether incomprehensible.

Day after day I saw her smiling face, her happy face, young, beautiful, without care. I thought: this is my doing. I wished to give her a dissolute husband and deprive her of my company, but instead I have given her a husband whom she loves, and at the same time she manages to keep me near her. Here is an explanation of this singularity: she was more clever than her husband, and loved to chat with me, and, having had her chat, she would go to sleep with him and be happy.

I cannot recall when the thought to kill Alexis first came to me. It appeared somehow imperceptibly; but from the first minute it became old, as if I had been born with it. I know that I wished to make Tatiana Nikolayevna unhappy, and that at first I had thought of various schemes less fatal to Alexis. I have been always an enemy of unnecessary violence. Taking advantage of my influence over Alexis, I had thought of causing him to fall in love with another woman or of making a drunkard of him (he had an inclination toward this last), but none of these plans was practical. The obstacle consisted in the fact that Tatiana Nikolayevna would have contrived to remain happy, even in the event of her husband’s taking to another woman, or in spite of having to listen to his drunken chatter and being compelled to accept his drunken caresses. It was essential to her that this man should live, and in one way or another she would have served him. Such slavish natures exist. Slave-like, they cannot understand or value the strength of others than their master. The world has seen clever women, good women and talented women, but it has yet to see a just woman.

I candidly admit that this is not for the purpose of securing your unnecessary condescension, but rather to demonstrate the straightforward and normal manner in which was born my resolution, and that it was a no slight struggle with my compassion towards the man whom I had sentenced to death. I had pity for the terror he experienced just before he died, and for those moments of suffering he endured when his head was being crushed. I had pity⁠—I don’t know whether you’ll comprehend⁠—for the head itself. There is extraordinary beauty in a harmoniously working living organism, and death, like disease, like age, is first of all deformity. I remember how, many years ago, upon graduating from the university, I had gotten hold of a young and beautiful dog having extraordinarily strong limbs. It cost me much mental effort to take its skin, as my experiment demanded. For a long time afterward I recalled the animal with regret.

If Alexis had not been so sickly and weak⁠—who knows, perhaps I should not have killed him. To this day, however, I am sorry for his beautiful head. Tell this to Tatiana Nikolayevna, if you please. Beautiful, beautiful was that head. Its eyes were its only weakness. They were pale, without fire and energy.

I should not have killed Alexis had the critics really been justified in attributing to him the supreme literary gift. The roads of life are dark, and great is the need of masterly men as beacon-bearers. Each of them should be guarded as a rare jewel. It is these few who justify the existence of a thousand good-for-nothings and the commonplace. Alexis, however, was not a genius.

This is not the place for a critical article, but if you will read the more well-known productions of the deceased you cannot but agree with me that they are unnecessary to life. They are necessary to a lot of satiated people in want of diversion, but not to life, nor to us, engaged upon solving life’s problems. At a time when the author, employing the power of his thought and genius, should have created new life, Saveloff clung in his books to the old, not making an effort to solve life’s hidden significance. His solitary story which appealed to me, encroaching as it did upon the domain of the unexplored, was a story called “A Secret”⁠—that was the sole exception. Worse still, Alexis was beginning to show evidence of having “written himself out,” his happy existence having deprived him of his last teeth, which are so essential to the “biting into” life and to the gnawing of it. He frequently spoke to me of his doubts, and I saw that they were fundamental. I sounded him on his plans of his future labors exactly and minutely. His lamenting admirers may rest assured there was nothing new or grand in them. From among those near to Alexis only his wife failed to see the decline of his talent; nor would she ever have seen it. Do you know why? She did not always read her husband’s productions. When I once made an attempt to open her eyes even slightly, she simply considered me a wretch. Seeing that we were alone, she said:

“You cannot forgive him something else.”

“What is that?”

“That he is my husband and that I love him. If Alexis were not so attached to you⁠ ⁠…”

She faltered, and I anticipatingly finished her thought.

“You’d drive me out?”

Her eyes flashed laughter. And, smiling innocently, she pronounced slowly:

“No. I would let you remain.”

And I, understand, never, even by a single word or gesture, let her know that I continued to love her. I thought to myself: so much the better that she has guessed.

The thought of taking a man’s life did not leave me. I knew that this was a crime severely punishable by the law; but then nearly all we do is considered as criminal; only the blind do not perceive this. Those believing in God consider a crime as committed before God; others consider a crime as before the people; such as I consider a crime as before myself. It would have been a great crime if, having decided it necessary to kill Alexis, I had failed to carry out this resolution. That people classify crimes as grand and petty, and call murder a grand crime, is nothing more than a conventional and pitiful lie before oneself⁠—an attempt to conceal oneself from the answer behind one’s own spine.

I did not fear myself⁠—that was more important than all else. The most terrible thing to the murderer, the criminal, is not the police, nor the court, but he himself, his nerves, the potent protest of his entire body trained in the familiar traditions. You will recall Raskolnikoff, that pitifully and absurdly lost man, and the benightedness of his like. I had given much time and much thought to this question, imagining myself as I should be after the murder. I will not say that I became convinced fully of my tranquillity. Such a conviction could not find existence in a thinking man capable of considering all possibilities. However, having gathered carefully all facts of my past, taking into account the strength of my will, the vigor of my unexhausted nervous system, my deep and sincere contempt of the existing morals, I could maintain a relative confidence in the successful issue of the undertaking. It would not be amiss to relate here one interesting fact out of my life.

Upon one occasion, when I was yet a student of the fifth semester, having stolen fifteen roubles of students’ money confided to my care, I asserted that the cashier had made a mistake in his accounts, and all believed me. It was more than a simple theft. It was not a case where the needy one stole from the rich man. Here was not solely a violated confidence; it was the deprivation of a hungry one, a comrade at that, and a student, and by a man with means⁠—that is why they believed me. This action, no doubt, seems more contemptible to you than the murder of my chum. Isn’t that so? I, on the contrary, recall that I felt jolly because I could do it so well and adroitly, and I looked into the eyes, directly into the eyes of those to whom I so boldly and freely lied. My eyes are dark, beautiful, frank⁠—and they were believed. Above all, I was proud because I had felt no remorse. To this day I recall with particular gratification the menu of the unnecessarily festive dinner which I had ordered with the stolen money and had eaten with appetite.

Do I experience remorse even now⁠—repentance of the act? Not a bit.

I feel sad. I feel intensely sad, as no other person in this world feels; and my hairs are turning grey; but that is something else. Something else. Something terrible, unanticipated, incredible in its fearful simplicity.


Here was my problem. It was necessary not only that I should kill Alexis, but that Tatiana Nikolavevna should know that I had slain her husband and that I should evade the punishment provided by the law. Aside from the fact that it might give Tatiana Nikolayevna another occasion for mirth, the idea of penal servitude did not at all appeal to me. I love life exceedingly.

I love to see the golden wine play in the thin glass; I love, when weary, to drag myself towards the clean bed; I love to breathe in the pure air of the springtime, to see the beautiful sunset, to read interesting and clever books. I love myself, the strength of my muscles, the strength of my thought, clear and exact. I am happy that I am alone, and that not a single curious look has penetrated the depth of my soul with its dark caves and abysses, at the edge of which the head grows dizzy. Never have I understood or known that which people call the weariness of life. Life is interesting, and I love it for the grand mystery imprisoned within it; I love it even for its rigors, for its ferocious vindictiveness and its satanically-gay play with people and events.

I was the sole person whom I respected. How then could I risk to send this person off to prison, where he would be deprived of all possibility to lead the so-essential to him, variegated, complete and deep existence? Even from your viewpoint I was right in desiring to escape prison. I am good at doctoring. Having means, I cured many poor people. I am useful⁠—surely more useful than the murdered Saveloff.

It would not have been difficult to have escaped punishment. A thousand devices exist whereby to kill a man unnoticed, and I, in my physician’s role, could have resorted easily to one of these. Among my thought out and discarded plans, which consumed a great deal of time, was this one: to inoculate Alexis with an incurable and loathsome disease. The objections to the plan are evident: the lingering sufferings of the victim himself, the something ugly about it all, its coarseness, and its somewhat too⁠—well, it’s not exactly clever; and finally, not even the illness of her husband would have deprived Tatiana of joy. One imperative demand of my problem was that Tatiana should know whose hand smote her husband. Only cowards shrink before obstacles; such as I they only draw on.

An accident, that great ally of able men, came to my help. And I wish to call your especial attention, gentlemen experts, to this detail: Precisely an accident, i.е., something external, not depending upon me, served as the basis and motive for what followed. In a newspaper I stumbled upon an item concerning a cashier, or some clerk or other, (the clipping is probably at my home or in the district attorney’s office), who simulated a fit of epilepsy and made a pretense of having lost money during the attack⁠—actually, of course, having stolen it. The clerk proved a coward, and confessed, revealing even the place of the stolen money; but the idea itself was not stupid but could be realized. To simulate insanity and kill Alexis in a moment of aberration, and then “to become cured”⁠—this was the plan which, conceived in a moment, needed much time and labor to assume a more definite and concrete form. At that time I was acquainted with psychiatry only superficially, like any physician not a specialist, and I spent about a year in consulting authorities and in reflection. In the end I became convinced that my plan was altogether feasible. First of all, the attention of the experts should be directed to hereditary influences⁠—and my heritage, to my great joy, seemed altogether consistent. My father was a drunkard; one uncle, his brother, ended his life in the hospital for the insane, and finally, my only sister, Anna, now dead, suffered from epilepsy. It is true, that on my mother’s side all were healthy; still a single drop of the poison of madness is sufficient to affect several generations. In physical health I resembled my mother, but I was possessed of some harmless eccentricities which could be depended upon to do me service. My relative unsociableness; which is simply an indication of a healthy mind, preferring to spend its time in solitude, with self and books, rather than upon idle and empty chatter; could be misinterpreted as an unhealthy misanthropy; my soberness of temperament⁠—non-seeking coarse, sensual pleasures⁠—as a manifestation of degeneracy. My stubbornness itself in reaching a once resolved upon goal⁠—plenty examples could be drawn upon in my rich life⁠—would have received, in the language of the experts, the terrible name of monomania, the domination of fixed ideas.

The ground for simulation was, therefore, unusually favorable⁠—the statics of madness were upon the face of things, it remained for dynamics to do the work. To the unintentional touches of nature it would be necessary to add two or three successful brush strokes to make the picture of madness complete. And I delineated very clearly to myself how it should all be, not with programmic thoughts, but with live images: even though I do not write stupid stories, I am far from deficient in artistic sense and imagination.

I saw that I was in a position to enact my role. A tendency to dissemble has been always in my character and was one of the forms whereby I strove to inner freedom. Yet in the gymnasia I simulated friendship: walked the corridor embracing someone, as do real friends, artfully making a frank, friendly utterance, and at the same time sounding the fellow. When the softened comrade revealed himself entirely, I cast aside from me his little soul and walked away with the proud consciousness of my own strength and inner freedom. This same duality maintained at home among kin; as a home of the Starover sect has special dishes for strangers, so I also had everything special for various people⁠—a special smile, special conversations and candor. I observed that people commit against themselves much that is stupid, injurious and unnecessary, and it seemed to me that if I should begin to tell the truth about myself, I would become, as they, and all this stupidity and superficiality would dominate me.

It has pleased me always to be deferential towards those whom I despised and to kiss those whom I abhorred, which made me free and a lord over others. Hence, I never was conscious of a lie before myself⁠—that more general and lowest form of human subjection. The more I lied to people the more unsparingly just I became before myself⁠—a dignity at which few have arrived.

Generally speaking, I think that within me was concealed an uncommon actor, capable of enacting the naturalness of the play⁠—reaching at times a complete merging with the character personified⁠—with an indefatigable, cold control of mind. Even when reading a book I would enter entirely into the psychology of the represented character, and⁠—would you believe it?⁠—grown man that I am, I have wept bitter tears over Uncle Tom’s Cabin. How wonderful this faculty of the supple, sharpened, cultured mind⁠—that of reincarnation! You live through a thousand lives; now you descend into the darkness of Hades; now you ascend the clear mountain heights; with one glance you observe the infinite universe. If man is destined to become a God, his throne shall be a book⁠ ⁠…

Yes. That is how it is. Incidentally, I wish to make a complaint about the rules here. They put me to bed when I wish to write, when I must write. The doors are permitted to remain open, and I am compelled to listen how some madman bawls. He bawls and he bawls: it is simply unendurable. Here you really can make a man go out of his mind, and then say that he was insane previously. And have they no extra candle that I must injure my eyes with electric light?

Well then. I once even thought of going on the stage, but cast aside the stupid idea: simulation, which everyone knows to be simulation, has little value. Likewise, the cheap laurels of the official actor on government pay attracted me but little. As to the quality of my art you can judge from the fact that many donkeys consider me even now the most sincere and veracious of men. And what is strange: I have been always successful in deceiving not so much the donkeys⁠—I said that in haste⁠—as especially clever people; on the other hand, there exist two classes of beings of a lower order, whose confidence I never could succeed in obtaining. I refer to women and dogs.

Do you know that the respectable Tatiana Nikolayevna never believed in my love, and does not yet believe in it, I think, even after I had killed her husband. According to her logic I did not love her, but killed Alexis because she loved him. And this nonsense, doubtless, seems to her sound and convincing. Yet she is a clever woman!

The role of a madman did not strike me as being very difficult of enactment. Some of the necessary directions I got from books; others I had to obtain⁠—like any actor worthy of the name⁠—through my own creative faculty; the rest had to be left to be recreated by the public itself, whose emotions had been developed through constant contact with books and the theatre, where, by means of two or three vague contours, it had been taught to recreate live types. There still remained certain gaps to be filled; there was the prospect of a stern and erudite investigation by experts to which I should be subjected, but I looked for no serious danger even here. The extensive realm of psychopathology has been so little explored; there is yet so much that is dark and accidental, so much freedom for the imagination and subjectivity, that I boldly committed my fate into your hands, gentlemen experts. I trust I have not offended you. I do not wish to reflect upon your scholarly authority, and am confident that you will coincide with me, as men accustomed to conscientious scientific thought.

… At last that fellow has ceased bawling. It is simply unendurable.

During the period that my plan still remained a project, a thought struck me, which hardly could have penetrated an insane mind. This thought was concerning the danger of my experiment. Do you comprehend? Madness is a fire dangerous for jesting. Having thrown a match into a powder magazine, one may feel greater safety than if but the slightest thought of madness should steal into one’s head. And I knew this, I knew⁠—yet did danger ever daunt a brave man?

Moreover, was I not conscious of my thought, firm and clear, as of hammered steel, and absolutely obedient to me? As a rapier of keen edge, it bent, pricked, bit, pierced through the web of facts; truly, as a serpent it glided noiselessly in unexplored and dark depths, concealed for ages from the light of day; I held its hilt in my hand; it was the iron hand of a deft and experienced fencer. How obedient, expeditious and rapid was my thought, and how I loved it, my slave, my terrible power, my sole treasure!

… He howls again, and I am unable to continue. How awful to hear a man howl. I have heard many terrible sounds, but none so terrible as this, none so awful. There is nothing it resembles⁠—it is the voice of a wild animal, passing through a human throat. It is something ferocious and frightened; free and yet piteous to abjectness. The mouth twists to one side, the muscles of the face become rigid, like ropes, the teeth show, doglike, and from the dark opening of the mouth issues forth this disgusting, bellowing, whistling, laughing, wailing sound⁠ ⁠…

Yes. Yes. Such was my idea. Incidentally you will direct your attention, doubtless, to my handwriting, and I request you not to attach significance to the fact that at times it trembles and seems to change. It is a long time since I have written; certain recent occurrences and insomnia have weakened me⁠—whence the hand trembles occasionally. It is something which used to occur even before.


Now you understand the significance of the terrible fit into which I had fallen one evening at the house of the Kurganoffs. That was my first experiment and successful beyond all expectation. It is as if they really knew beforehand what was going to happen⁠—as if the sudden madness of a person in full health were altogether natural, and to be expected at any time. No one was astonished, and each tried to outdo the other in coloring my play with the play of his own fantasy. It is a rare gastriloquist who has such a fine troupe of naive, stupid, credulous people. Did they tell you how pale I was and how terrible? How cold⁠—yes, precisely cold⁠—sweat covered my entire body? How my eyes gleamed with an insane flame? When they told me later their impressions, I seemed morose and depressed, but in truth I trembled from head to foot with pride, happiness and derision.

Tatiana Nikolayevna and her husband were not there that evening⁠—I do not know whether you made note of that. It was not an accident; I feared to frighten her; or, still worse, to arouse her suspicion. If there existed a person who could see through my play, it was she and none other.

Nothing that occurred that evening was accidental. On the contrary, every detail, the most petty, was planned with care. I timed my fit to occur after supper; I chose that moment because there was sure to be a gathering, and those present would be affected somewhat by wine. I sat at the edge of the table, a little distance from the candelabra with the lighted candles, as I did not want to cause a fire or to burn my nose. At my side sat Pavel Petrovich Pospeloff, that fat pig whom for a long time I desired to play a trick. He is especially disgusting when eating. When I first saw him at this occupation, the thought came into my head that eating is an immoral business. Everything occurred opportunely. Apparently no one noticed that the plate flying in fragments from the blow of my fist was covered with a napkin, so that I should not cut my hands.

The whole trick was astoundingly clumsy, even stupid, but I counted on that. They could not have comprehended a more subtle prank. I began by swinging my arms and talked “excitingly” with Pavel Petrovich, until that individual opened wide his eyes in amazement; I followed this by falling into “concentrated thought,” which called forth the question from the solicitous Irene Pavlovna:

“What is the matter with you, Anton Ignatyevich? Why are you so sad?”

When they all turned their faces upon me I smiled tragically.

“Are you ill?”

“Yes. Just a trifle. My head feels dizzy. But do not concern yourself, please. It will pass away shortly.”

That reassured the hostess, but the suspicious Pavel Petrovich looked disapprovingly askance. And when, a moment later, smiling with gratification, he lifted a glass of wine to his lips, I quickly struck the glass from under his nose⁠—then my fist descended on the plate with a crash. The fragments flew, Pavel Petrovich sprawled and grunted, the women shrieked, and I, showing my teeth, pulled the table cover containing all⁠—it was an exceedingly humorous picture.

Then I was surrounded and held; someone brought water, another led me to an armchair; and I roared like a lion confined in a “Zoo,” and glared with my eyes. It was all so absurd, and they all were so stupid that, believe me, the desire was born in me to smash a few of those jaws in earnest, taking advantage of the privileges of my condition. Naturally I restrained myself.

Gradually I grew calmer, while my breast heaved convulsively; and I rolled my eyes and gnashed my teeth and asked weakly such questions as:

“Where am I? What is the matter with me?”

Even that absurd French phrase “Where am I?” succeeded with this folk, and not less than three imbeciles made haste to say:

“At the Kurganoffs.” Then in a sweetened voice: “Do you know, dear doctor, who is Irene Pavlovna Kurganoff?”

Seriously, they were too petty for big play!

After a day⁠—having given sufficient time for reports to reach the Saveloffs⁠—I talked with Tatiana Nikolayevna and Alexis. The latter dismissed the matter with a single question:

“What was that rumpus you raised at the Kurganoffs?”

Saying this, he turned on his heels and entered his working chamber⁠—from which I gathered that if I had become actually mad he wouldn’t have choked himself on account of it. To make up for it, his spouse proved especially loquacious, fervid and, of course, insincere, in the expression of her sympathy. And then⁠ ⁠… not that I regretted what I had begun, the question simply occurred to me: Is it worth while?

“Do you love your husband intensely?” I said to Tatiana Nikolayevna, whose gaze followed Alexis. She turned quickly.

“Yes. What of it?”

“Oh, nothing, only⁠—” and after momentary silence, cautious and full of unuttered thoughts, I added: “Why have you no confidence in me?”

She quickly and directly looked into my eyes, without replying. During this minute I forgot that some time in the past she laughed, and my mind was free from malice against her, and that which I was doing seemed to me unnecessary and strange. It was my weariness, natural after a severe ordeal of the nerves, and it lingered but a single moment.

“And may one trust you?” asked Tatiana Nikolayevna after a prolonged silence.

“Of course not!” I replied in jesting tone, while within me flared up an extinguished flame. A force, a courage, a determination stopping before no obstacle⁠—these I felt in me. Proud of the success thus far achieved, I resolved to go boldly to the end. In combat is the joy of life.

The second fit occurred a month after the first. There was less premeditation upon this occasion, and this was really unnecessary in view of the general plan. Indeed, I had no especial intention to arrange the matter for this evening, but when circumstances are favorable it is foolish not to make use of them. And I remember clearly how it all happened. We sat in the drawing-room, when I became very sad. With great mental vividness I realized⁠—this was a rare occurrence⁠—that I was a stranger to all these people and that I was alone in the world⁠—I, forever confined within this head, within this prison. They all became disgusting to me. And in my rage I shot out my fist and shouted something coarse and saw with joy the fright in the paled countenances.

“Good-for-nothings!” cried I. “Miserable, contented good-for-nothings! Liars, hypocrites, vipers! I hate you!”

It is true that I wrestled with them, then with the lackeys and coachmen. I was conscious, however, that I wrestled, and knew that it was for a purpose. I felt pleasant in punishing them, telling them straight to their faces the truth about themselves, what sort they were. Is everyone who dares tell the truth mad? I assure you, gentlemen experts, that I was altogether conscious that, when striking, I felt the contact of my hand with a live body experiencing pain. Later at home, where I was alone, I laughed and thought what a wonderful, excellent actor I was. Then I went to bed and spent the night reading a book; I even can recall the author⁠—it was Guy de Maupassant. I enjoyed him, as always, and afterward slept like an infant. Do madmen read books and enjoy them? Do they sleep like infants?

Madmen do not sleep. They suffer, and in their head everything revolves. Yes, revolves and falls⁠ ⁠… And they desire to howl, to scratch themselves with their nails. They desire to go down on all fours and crawl softly, softly, and then to spring up all at once and to shriek out:


And to laugh. And to howl. To raise up one’s head and to howl long⁠—long, protractedly⁠—protractedly, piteously⁠—piteously.

Yes. Yes.

And I slept like an infant. Do madmen sleep like infants?


Nurse Masha asked me last evening:

“Anton Ignatyevich! Do you never pray to God?”

She spoke seriously and she believed that I would answer sincerely and seriously. And I replied, without a smile, as she wished:

“No, Masha, never. But if it will afford you pleasure, you may make the sign of the cross over me.”

Maintaining the same grave demeanor, she made the sign of the cross over me thrice, and I was very glad that I afforded a minute of joy to this excellent woman. Like all highly-bred and free people, you, gentlemen experts, do not direct your attention to the servant; but to us prisoners and “madmen” it is given to observe her closely and to make astonishing discoveries occasionally. I may take it for granted that it never has occurred to you that the nurse Masha, hired by you to look after the insane, is herself insane? But such is the fact.

Observe her walk, noiseless, gliding, somewhat timid and astonishingly guarded and graceful⁠—it is as if she were walking between invisible, drawn swords. Examine her face well, when she is not observing and is unaware of your presence. When Masha sees one of you approach her face assumes a serious, grave aspect, and smiles indulgently⁠—the very same expression which dominates your face at the moment. The explanation is that Masha possesses the strange and significant faculty of reflecting involuntarily in her face the expression of other faces. Occasionally she will look at me and smile. It is a pale, reflected smile⁠—not her own. And I surmise that I must have smiled when she looked at me. At times Masha’s countenance will express suffering, will seem morose, her brows will contract at the nose, the comers of the mouth will descend; the entire face will age ten years and grow sombre⁠—evidently my own face is thus at times. Now and then I frighten her with my gaze. You know how strange and somewhat awesome is the gaze of every deeply thoughtful man. Seeing me thus the eyes of Masha will open wide, the pupils will grow darker, and, approaching me noiselessly, with uplifted hand, she will do something friendy and unexpected⁠—smooth my hair or arrange my dress.

“Your belt will become undone,” she will say, while her face will maintain its frightened expression.

However, there are moments when I see her alone. And when she is alone her face strangely seems to lack all expression. It is pale, handsome and enigmatic, like the face of a corpse. Cry out: “Masha!” and she will turn, smiling with her own gentle and timorous smile, and ask:

“Is there anything I can bring you?⁠ ⁠…”

She is always bringing or taking away something, and if there is nothing to bring, take away or arrange, she will show signs of worriment. Her noiselessness is remarkable. Not once have I noticed her drop anything, or make a noise. I have attempted to talk with her about life, and she is strangely indifferent to everything, even to murders, conflagrations and other horrors which affect uncultured people.

“Do you realize they are being killed, wounded, and they leave behind them at home little hungry children?” said I to her concerning war.

“Yes, I understand,” she replied, and then, as if lost in thought, asked: “Had I not better bring you some milk; you have eaten so little today?”

When I laugh she responds with a somewhat frightened laugh. Never has she been in a theatre, she does not know that Russia is an empire and that there are other empires; she cannot read, and her acquaintance with the New Testament is limited to the quotations she has heard read in the church. Every evening she goes down on her knees and prays at length.

For a long time I considered her simply a limited, blunt being, born for bondage, but a single incident compelled me to change my view. You probably know, you must have been informed, that I have lived through one nasty minute here, which, of course, doesn’t demonstrate anything except weariness and a temporary collapse of one’s strength. I refer to the towel incident. Being stronger than Masha I could have killed her, as there was no one present but us two, and if she had cried out or caught my hand⁠ ⁠… but she did nothing of the kind. She merely said:

“No need of that, golubchik.”2

I have thought often about this phrase and till now cannot grasp the astonishing power concentrated in it and felt by me. It is not in the words, which in themselves are meaningless and empty; rather is it somewhere in the unknown to me and unfathomable depths of Masha’s soul. She knows something. Yes, she knows, but cannot or will not say. I have tried often to secure from Masha an explanation of her words, but she cannot explain.

“Do you think suicide a sin? That it is forbidden by God?” I asked.


“Then why no need of that?”

“Just so. Simply no need for it,” she said smilingly, and inquired: “May I bring you something?”

Without a doubt she is insane, but quiet and useful, like many insane people. Please do not molest her.

I have permitted myself to depart from my narrative, as something Masha did yesterday has recalled to me memories of childhood. I do not remember my mother, but I had an aunt named Anphisa, who made the sign of the cross over me every night. She was a taciturn old maid, with pimples on her face, and she felt ashamed when my father joked with her about a husband. I was still a youngster aged eleven when she strangled herself in the tiny barn where we kept our coals. Later she continued to appear to father, and that jolly atheist ordered prayers and masses.

My father was very clever and talented, and his speeches in court made not only nervous women, but also serious and balanced people weep. Only I did not weep, listening to him, because I knew him and knew that he himself understood little of what he was saying. He possessed considerable knowledge, many ideas and even more words; and his words and ideas and knowledge frequently combined themselves successfully and beautifully; but of this he had no comprehension. I often even doubted as to whether he existed⁠—to such an extent did he exist in sounds and gestures that it some times occurred to me that this was not a human being, but an image flashed by a cinematograph, combined with a gramaphone. He did not comprehend that he was a human being, that today he lived and that tomorrow he might die, and he sought nothing. And when he went to bed he ceased to move and fell into a slumber; to all appearances he had no dreams and ceased to exist. With his tongue⁠—he was an attorney⁠—he earned his thirty thousand a year, and not once was he astonished or thoughtful over this circumstance. I recall having visited with him a newly-purchased estate, and pointing at the trees in the grounds I remarked:


He smiled indulgently and replied:

“Yes, my boy, talent is a big thing.”

He drank much, and his intoxication found expression in more rapid movements, which finally would cease altogether, and he would end invariably by falling into a deep slumber. Everyone considered him extraordinarily endowed, and he often asserted that had he not become a famous attorney he would have been equally distinguished as an artist or as an author. Unfortunately, this is true.

Least of all he understood me. Once we were threatened with the loss of all our property. The thought gave me anguish. Nowadays, when only wealth gives freedom, I do not know what I should have become if fate had placed me in the ranks of the proletariat. I cannot picture to myself without anger anyone daring to place his hand upon me, compelling me to do that which I do not wish, purchasing for money my labor, my blood, my nerves, my life. This horror, however, I experienced only for one minute, as it immediately dawned upon me that such as I never remain poor. But father did not understand that. He sincerely considered me a dull youth and viewed with apprehension my supposed helplessness.

“Oh, Anton, Anton, what will become of you?” he would say. He himself seemed weary; his long, unkempt hair descended over the forehead; his face was yellow. I replied:

“Don’t worry about me, papa. As I am not talented, I will kill Rothschild or rob a bank.”

My father became angry, as he accepted my answer as an untimely and flat jest. He saw my face, he heard my voice and nevertheless accepted it as a jest. Wretched pasteboard clown, through misapprehension thou art called a man!

He did not know my soul, although the outward order of my life perturbed him, as he did not enter into its understanding. I was an apt pupil at the gymnasia, and this distressed him. Once when we had visitors⁠—lawyers, litterateurs and artists⁠—he directed his finger at me and said:

“I have a son; he is the first in his class. What have I done that God should punish me so?”

And they all laughed at me, and I laughed at them all. Even more than by my successes he was distressed by my conduct and attire. He would enter my room purposely to rearrange, unnoticed by me, the books on the table, and to create even a little bit of disorder. My neat way of combing my hair robbed him of his appetite.

“The superintendent has ordered a close hair cut,” I would say seriously and respectfully.

He scolded vehemently, but my entire inner being throbbed with contemptuous laughter.

Nothing, however, aroused my father’s ire so much as my copybooks. Once, when drunk, he looked through them, seeming very hopeless and comical in his despondency.

“Haven’t you ever made a blot?” he asked.

“Yes, papa, it happened once. It was when I was doing my trigonometry.”

“Did you lick it up?”

“What do you mean by ‘lick it up?’ ”

“Just what I said⁠—did you lick up the blot of ink?”

“No, papa, I applied blotting paper.”

My father waved his hand with a drunken gesture and growled as he arose:

“No, you are no son of mine.⁠ ⁠… No! No!”

Among my despised copybooks, however, was one which afforded him gratification⁠—notwithstanding the fact that it contained not a single crooked line, not a blot or erasure. It contained, however, approximately the following: My father is a drunkard, a thief and a coward.

This was followed by some details, which, out of respect to my father’s memory and to the law, I consider unnecessary to state.

I now recall one forgotten fact, which I think should prove of interest to you, gentlemen experts. I am very happy to have recalled it, very happy. How could it have slipped my memory?

We had in our house a maidservant named Katia, who was the mistress of my father, and simultaneously my mistress. She loved father because he gave her money, and me because I was young, had beautiful dark eyes and did not give her money. The night that my father’s corpse lay in the parlor I entered Katia’s room. It was not far from the parlor, whence could be heard clearly the voice of the chanter.

I think that the immortal spirit of my father must have experienced complete gratification!

This is really an interesting fact, and I don’t understand how I could have forgotten it. To you, gentlemen experts, it may seem a small matter, a childish prank, having no serious significance, but that isn’t so. It was a hard struggle, gentlemen experts, and the victory was not bought cheaply. My life was at stake. Had I trembled, turned back, proved thyself a fainthearted lover, I should have killed myself. I recall, that was decided.

What I did was not an easy matter for a youth of my years. Now I know that I fought with a windmill, but at that time it appeared to me in a different light. It is difficult for me to relate now all that I had lived through, but I can recall the feeling⁠—it seemed as if with one act I had demolished all laws, divine and human. And I trembled terribly, to the point of the ridiculous; nevertheless I nerved myself, and when I entered Katia’s room I was prepared for her kisses like a Romeo.

At that time I was yet a romanticist. Happy time, how distant it is! I remember, gentlemen experts, that returning from Katia I stepped before the corpse, crossed my arms on my chest like Napoleon, and with laughable pride gazed upon the corpse. Then I shuddered, frightened at seeing the shroud stir. Happy, distant time!

I fear to think upon it, but it is possible that I never have ceased to be a romanticist. And I came near being an idealist. I believed in human thought and its boundless force. The entire history of man seemed to me as one triumphant thought, and that was not so long ago. It is terrible for me to reflect that my entire life has been an illusion, that all life long I have been a fool like that crazy actor once confined in the next ward. He had gathered from everywhere strips of blue and red paper, and he had designated each strip a million roubles; he had begged them from visitors; had stolen and carried them from the closet, to the amusement of the keepers, whom it gave an opportunity to indulge in vulgar jests. He sincerely and deeply detested them, but me he liked, and upon parting handed me a million.

“It’s a trifle,” said he, “only a million, but you will forgive me, I have such expenses, such expenses.”

Taking me aside, he explained in a whisper:

“I am about to start to Italy. I want to banish the Pope and to introduce new moneys into the country⁠—these. Then, on Sunday, I will declare myself a Saint. The Italians will rejoice; they are always happy when given a new Saint.”

Have I not lived upon this million?

It is strange for me to reflect upon the fact that my books⁠—my companions and friends⁠—have remained in their cases and silently guard that which I considered the wisdom of the earth, its hope and happiness. I am aware, gentlemen experts, that whether or not I am insane, from your viewpoint I am a good-for-nothing and a scamp⁠—you should see this good-for-nothing when he enters his library!

Go, gentlemen experts, examine my house⁠—you will find it interesting. In the left-hand upper drawer of my writing-table you will discover a detailed catalogue of my books, pictures and trifles; there also you will find the keys to the cases. You are men of culture, and I am confident that you will conduct yourself toward my property with due respect and care. I also request you to see that the lamp doesn’t smoke. There is nothing worse than this smoke; it gathers everywhere, and it then takes the hardest kind of labor to get rid of its effects.


The assistant doctor Petroff has refused me chloralamide in the dose which I demand. I am a physician and know what I am doing, and if it is refused me I will take decisive measures. I have not slept two nights, and do not in the least desire to become insane. I demand that chloralamide be given me. I demand it. It is infamous to make one insane.


After my second attack they were afraid of me. In many houses the doors were quickly closed at my approach. At accidental meetings acquaintances shrank from me, smiled meanly and inquired significantly:

“Well, golubchik, how is your health?”

The situation developed to such a degree that I could have committed the most unlawful act and would not have lost the respect of those present. I looked at people and thought: If I so wish it, I may kill this one and that one, and nothing will happen to me. That which I experienced at this thought was something new, pleasant and a bit terrifying. Man ceased to be something strongly defended, a something which we fear to touch; in a word, some sort of shell fell from him; he seemed naked, and to kill him seemed easy and even tempting.

Fear, like a dense wall, protected me from inquisitive eyes, so that the necessity for a third preliminary attack was avoided. Only in this instance did I depart from the formulated plan; for the strength of genius does not build itself a frame for its confinement, and, to conform with changing conditions, does not even hesitate to alter the entire course of battle. It yet remained for me to obtain official absolution from past sins and sanction for those of the future⁠—I refer to the necessity of securing scientifico-medical testimony of my illness.

At this time a happy concurrence of circumstances made it possible for me to turn to a psychiatrist, without it seeming more than by merest chance, or by obligation. This, perhaps, was an unnecessary but artistic touch in the interpretation of my role. It was Tatiana Nikolayevna and her husband who sent me to the psychiatrist.

“Do, please, go to the doctor, dear Anton Ignatyevich,” said Tatiana Nikolayevna. Never before did she call me “dear.” Apparently it was necessary to pass for mad to receive this meaningless caress.

“Very good, dear Tatiana Nikolayevna, I’ll go,” I replied submissively. We three⁠—Alexis also being present⁠—sat in the drawing-room, subsequently the scene of the murder.

“Yes, Anton, you must go without fail,” reiterated Alexis in a tone of authority, “or else you might do some mischief.”

“What sort of mischief could I do?” I timidly protested before my stern friend.

“Who knows? You may break someone’s head.”

I fondled in my hand a heavy, cast-iron paperweight. Looking now at that object, now at Alexis, I asked:

“Head? You say⁠—head?”

“Yes, head. Catch a thing like that on your head and you’re done for.”

It was becoming interesting. It was precisely the head, and precisely with that thing that I had planned to crush it, and now that same head was telling how it would all end. It was telling and smiling, as without care. And yet there: are people who believe in presentiments, and that death sends before it invisible heralds. What nonsense!

“One can’t do much with this thing,” said I. “It is altogether too light.”

“So you think it’s too light!” returned Alexis hotly, as he snatched the paperweight from my hand and flourished it by its thin handle several times in the air. “Just try it!”

“Yes, I know⁠ ⁠…”

“No, take hold and see.”

I smiled, as unwillingly I took the heavy object. Just then Tatiana Nikolayevna interfered. Pale, her teeth chattering, she said, or rather shrieked:

“Stop that, Alexis, stop that!”

“Why, Tanya? What is the matter with you?” said he in an astonished tone.

“Stop that! You know I don’t like such jokes.”

We laughed, and the paperweight was replaced on the table.

On my visit to Professor T⁠⸺ everything happened as I had anticipated. He was cautious, controlled in his utterances and grave; he inquired whether I had any relatives in whose care I could trust myself; he counselled me to go home, take a rest and live quietly. Assuming the privilege due me as a member of the medical profession, I made a slight attempt at remonstrance. My boldness removed whatever doubts may have remained in the physician’s mind, and he definitely placed me in the ranks of the demented. I trust, gentlemen experts, you will not attribute undue significance to this harmless jest aimed against one of our colleagues. As a scholar, Professor T⁠⸺ undoubtedly deserves respect and honor.

The few days which followed were among the happiest of my life. Sympathy was extended me in my role of invalid, visits were paid me, and everyone addressed me in a broken, clumsy tongue. Only I knew that I was perfectly healthy, and I enjoyed to the full the well-planned, mighty labor of my mind. In a consideration of all that is wonderful and incomprehensible of life’s riches, nothing can be found to equal the human mind. There is divinity in it, a pledge of immorality and an indomitable force acknowledging no obstacles. People are overcome with ecstacy and wonderment when they behold the snowy summits of huge mountains. If they only would understand themselves, neither mountains, nor all the wonders and beauties of the earth, could transport them to such a degree as the consciousness of the power of thought. The simple mental process of the laborer as he expediently lays one brick upon the other⁠—that is the supreme marvel and the deepest mystery.

I enjoyed my thought. Innocent in her beauty, she gave herself up to me with passion as a mistress; served me like a slave; and upheld me like a friend. Don’t take it for granted that all these days spent at home between the four walls were employed only in thinking about my project. No, that was all clear and prepared. I meditated upon many things. I and my thought played with life and death and soared high, high above them. Among other things I solved during those days two very interesting chess problems over which I had labored for a long time without success. Probably you are aware of the fact that three years ago I participated in the international chess tourney and was second only to Lasker. Had I not been an avowed enemy of publicity and continued to contend, Lasker would have been compelled to surrender his kingdom.

From the moment that the life of Alexis was delivered in my hands I was strangely disposed towards him. It was pleasant for me to think that he lived, drank, ate and rejoiced, simply because I permitted it. It was a feeling akin to that of a father toward a son. What alarmed me was his health. Notwithstanding his ill health, he was unpardonably careless, refusing to wear a waist-jacket and venturing outdoors without galoshes in the most threatening, raw weather. Tatiana Nikolayevna reassured me. She paid me a visit and told me that Alexis was in sound health and even slept well, which was unusual for him. Overjoyed, I requested Tatiana Nikolayevna to take with her a gift I had intended to make Alexis⁠—a rare volume which accidentally fell into my hands and had struck for some time the literary man’s fancy. Possibly the gift was a mistake from the standpoint of my plan. My action could be suspected as a premeditated manoeuvre; but I wished so much to afford Alexis pleasure that I decided to run a small risk. I even ignored the circumstance that the gift sacrificed something of the artistic effect of my play.

Upon this occasion I was very amiable and frank, and made a favorable impression on Tatiana Nikolayevna. Neither she nor Alexis had witnessed a single one of my attacks, and hence it was difficult, even impossible, for them to imagine me as mad.

“Come and see us,” said Tatiana Nikolayevna at parting.

“Musn’t do it,” said I smilingly. “Doctor forbade.”

“Oh, fiddlesticks! That doesn’t mean us. In our house you are at home. And Alexis misses you.”

I promised, and never did I make a promise with such assurance of fulfillment as this one. When reflecting upon these happy coincidences, does it not strike you, gentlemen experts, that Alexis had been condemned not by me alone, but also by someone else? In truth, however, there was no one else. Nothing could be more simple or logical.

The cast-iron paperweight lay in its place, when on the eleventh of December, five o’clock in the afternoon, I entered the drawing-room of the Saveloffs. Both Alexis and Tatiana had been accustomed to rest the hour preceding dinner, which usually occurred at seven o’clock. They greeted me effusively.

“Thanks for the book, brother,” said Alexis, grasping my hand. “I was about to visit you, when Tanya told me that you were quite well again. We are going to the theatre this evening. Will you join us?”

A conversation began. I decided not to dissemble at all that evening⁠—it was an occasion when the absence of dissembling was the subtlest kind of dissembling⁠—and giving myself up to the mental exhilaration of the moment, I spoke at length and well. If the admirers of Saveloff’s glories only knew how many of “his” best ideas had their inception and development in the brain of one unknown Doctor Kerzhentseff!

I spoke clearly, precisely, emphasizing each phrase, at the same time keeping my eye on the hand of the clock, thinking that when it should point at six I would become a murderer. I said something funny and they laughed, and I made an effort to retain an impression of the sensation of one who was about to become a murderer. I understood the life process in Alexis not in the abstract, but rather in the physical sense⁠—the beating of his heart, the coursing of the blood through the veins, the suppressed vibrations of the brain, and then⁠—the interruption of this process, the cessation of the heart and the blood flow, and the death of the brain.

What would be its last thought?

Never did the clearness of my consciousness reach such height and power. Never was the sensation of the many-sided, harmoniously-working I so complete. Truly a god: not looking, I saw; not listening, I heard; not thinking, I understood.

Seven minutes remained, when Alexis lazily arose from the divan, stretched himself and went out.

“I’ll be right back,” he called after him.

I did not want to look upon Tatiana Nikolayevna, so I made my way to the window, threw aside the draperies and stood still. Without looking, I was conscious that Tatiana Nikolayevna had glided quickly through the room and was standing beside me. I heard her breathing, and knew that she was not looking through the window, but upon me, and I was silent.

“How beautifully the snow sparkles!” said Tatiana Nikolayevna, but I remained unresponsive. Her breath came quicker, then seemed to cease.

“Anton Ignatyevich!” said she, and stopped short.

I remained silent.

“Anton Ignatyevich!” she repeated in the same irresolute tone, and now I looked at her. Suddenly she tottered back, almost fell, as if she had been thrust back by the terrible force that was in my glance. She tottered and threw herself towards her husband, who had entered the room.

“Alexis!” she mumbled. “Alexis⁠ ⁠… He⁠ ⁠…”

“Well, what about him?”

Without smiling, but in a jesting tone, I said:

“She thinks that I want to kill you with that thing.”

Then, in an unperturbed manner, without attempt at concealment, I picked up the paperweight, and, raising it in my hand, calmly approached Alexis. He, without blinking, gazed upon me with his pale eyes and repeated:

“She thinks⁠ ⁠…”

“Yes, she thinks.”

Slowly, easily, I began to raise my hand, and Alexis also slowly began to raise his, without removing his eyes from me.

“Hold a moment!” said I sternly.

The hand of Alexis remained where it was, while he, pale, still keeping his eyes upon me, smiled incredulously with his lips alone. Tatiana Nikolayevna uttered a strange cry, but it was too late. I struck him with the sharp edge nearer the temple than the eye. And when he fell I bent over and struck him two times more. The district attorney declared that I had struck him several times, because his head was badly crushed. But that is untrue. I struck him only three times: once when he was standing, and twice on the floor.

It is true that the blows were very hard, but there were only three. That I remember for certain⁠—three blows.


Please do not attempt to make clear what is crossed out at the end of the fourth part, and in general do not attach undue significance to my markings or accept them as evidences of deranged thought. In the strange position in which I find myself, I admit I am forced to exercise the greatest care, as you may well understand.

The dusk of night always acts strongly upon an exhausted nervous system, and that is why we are visited so frequently at night by horrible thoughts. On that night, following the murder, my nerves were, of course, in a particularly tense state. Despite my self-control, it is no jest to kill a man. After tea, having made my toilet, manicured my nails and changed my dress, I called in Maria Vasilyevna to keep me company. She was my housekeeper and a substitute for a wife. I think she had a lover on the side, but she is a pretty woman, gentle and not greedy, and I easily reconciled myself with this slight fault, which is almost unavoidable when a man obtains love for money. This stupid woman was the first to strike me a blow.

“Kiss me!” said I.

She smiled stupidly and remained unmoved.

“Come, now!”

All of a sudden she trembled, blushed and with frightened eyes drew herself appealingly toward me from across the table and said:

“Anton Ignatyevich, little soul, go to the doctor!”

“What next?” I exclaimed angrily.

“Oh, please, don’t shout so, I’m afraid! I’m so afraid of you, little soul mine, little angel!”

Yet she knew nothing of my fits, nor of the murder, and I had been always kind with her and reasonable. It was to be inferred that there was something in my person that other people did not have⁠—something that frightened. The thought flashed through my mind and was gone quickly, leaving a strange sensation of cold in the legs and spine. It dawned upon me that Maria Vasilyevna must have learned something from the servant-maid or had stumbled across some spoiled apparel discarded by me, and this altogether naturally explained her fright.

“Leave me!” I commanded.

Then I retired to the divan in my library. I had no desire to read; my entire body felt weary, and my condition in general was such as experienced by an actor after a brilliantly played role. It was pleasant to gaze upon the books and pleasant to think that some time later I would read them. I was pleased with my entire apartment, with the divan and with Maria Vasilyevna. There flashed through my mind fragments of phrases from my role. Mentally I reenacted certain motions which I had made, and occasionally critical thoughts glided languidly: In such and such a situation it could have been better said or done. However, I was much gratified with my improvised “Hold a moment!” This will seem flimsy to him who himself has not experienced such an incredible instance of the power of inspiration.

“Hold a moment!” I repeated, closing my eyes, and smiled. My eyelids began to grow heavy, and I wanted to sleep, when languidly, very simply, like the other thoughts, there entered into my head a new thought, dominating with all the qualities of my thought: clearness, preciseness and simplicity. Languidly it entered and remained. Here it is, speaking, as it were, in the third person:

It is very possible that Dr. Kerzhentseff is really insane. He thought that he simulated, but he is really insane⁠—insane at this very instant.

Three or four times this thought reappeared, but I still smiled, uncomprehending:

He thought that he simulated, but he is really insane⁠—insane at this very instant.

When I realized⁠ ⁠… at first I thought that Maria Vasilyevna had uttered this phrase, because it seemed as if there were a voice, and this voice appeared to be hers. Then I thought it was the voice of Alexis. Yes, Alexis, who was dead. Then I understood that it was my thought, and this was terrifying. Clutching my hair, I found myself somehow standing in the middle of the room. I mumbled:

“So that’s how it is. All is ended. That which I feared has happened. I approached too closely to the border line, and now there is only one thing before me⁠—madness.”

When they came to arrest me, I appeared, according to their words, in an awful state⁠—disheveled, in torn apparel, pale and terrible. But, oh. Lord! To live through such a night and not to go out of one’s mind⁠—does it not indicate the possession of an invincible brain? And, really, I only tore my attire and broke a mirror. Apropos, permit me to make a suggestion. If it ever falls to the lot of any of you to live through that which I had lived through this night, hang a mirror in the room where you will toss about. Hang it the same as you do when there is a corpse in the house. Hang a mirror!

It is terrible for me to write about it. I fear that which I must recall and tell. But I dare not delay it longer, and perhaps with half-words I may only heighten the terror.

That evening!

Imagine to yourselves a drunken snake, yes, yes, precisely a drunken snake: it has saved its venom; it has increased its agility and swiftness, and its teeth are sharp and poisonous. It is drunk, and it is in a closed room, where are many trembling people. With its cold body it savagely glides among them, coils around their legs, buries its fangs in the very face, in the lips, and coils itself into a ball and stings into its own body. And it seems that it is not alone, but a thousand snakes toss about and sting and devour themselves. Such was my thought, the same in which I believed, and in the sharpness and poison of whose teeth I saw my salvation and safeguard.

The single thought scattered in a thousand thoughts, each of which was strong and hostile. They circled in a wild dance, and their music was a monstrous voice, sounding as from a horn, and issuing from some invisible depth. This was an evasive thought, the most terrible of all snakes, as it concealed itself in the darkness. From within my head, where I held it strongly, it entered into the secret recesses of the body, into its dark and invisible depths. And from thence it cried out, like a stranger, like an escaping slave, insolent and bold, in the consciousness of his security:

You thought that you simulated, but you were insane. You are small, you are bad, you are stupid, you, Dr. Kerzhentseff. Some sort of a Dr. Kerzhentseff, insane Dr. Kerzhentseff!⁠ ⁠…

Thus it cried out and I did not know whence came that monstrous voice. I do not even know who uttered it; I call it a thought, but perhaps it was not a thought. The other thoughts, like birds hovering over flames, circled in the head, while this one cried from somewhere below, above, the sides, where I could not see it or catch it.

And the most terrible thing which I experienced was the consciousness that I did not know myself and never did. As long as my I found itself within my brilliantly lighted head, where all moved and lived in law-conforming order, I had understood and known myself, had reflected upon my character and plans, and was, as I had thought, a lord. Now, however, I saw that I was not a lord, but a slave, wretched and helpless. Imagine to yourself that you are living in a house containing many rooms, that you occupy one room and think that you dominate the entire house. And suddenly you discover that the other rooms are occupied. Yes, occupied. Occupied by some mysterious beings, perhaps people, perhaps something else, and the house belongs to them. You wish to learn who they are, but the door is locked, and no sound issues therefrom, no voice. At the same time you are conscious that precisely there, behind the silent door, your fate is being decided.

I approach the mirror⁠ ⁠… Hang a mirror. Hang one!

I do not remember what happened afterward, until the arrival of the court authorities and the police. I asked what hour it was, and was told it was nine o’clock. For a long time I found it difficult to realize that only two hours had elapsed since my return home, and only three since the murder of Alexis.

I ask your forgiveness, gentlemen experts, for treating of a moment so important from your standpoint, of the terrible state following the murder, in such general and indefinite terms. That, however, is all I remember and all that I can express by means of the human tongue. It is impossible for me to express in human language the terror I experienced in that brief space of time. Aside from this, I cannot vouch for the actuality of that which so vaguely impressed itself upon my mind. Perhaps it was not that which happened, but something else. Only one thing I remember distinctly⁠—it was a thought, or a voice, or perhaps something else:

Dr. Kerzhentseff thought that he simulated madness, but he is actually insane.

I have just felt my pulse: 180! And that at the mere recollection of it!


In the preceding pages I have written much that was unnecessary and absurd, and unfortunately you have received and read them. I fear that it will give you a false conception of my person, as well as of the actual condition of my mental faculties. However, I have faith in your knowledge and in your clear intellect, gentlemen experts.

You understand, of course, that only grave reasons could have induced me, Dr. Kerzhentseff, to reveal the entire truth concerning the murder of Saveloff. And you will easily understand and appreciate them when I tell you that I do not know even now whether I feigned madness to kill and go unpunished, or killed because I was actually mad; that, probably, I shall never know. The nightmare of that evening is gone, but it has left in its wake sparks of fire. I have no absurd fears but I feel the terror of a man who has lost all. I have the cold consciousness of the fall of perdition, deceit and insolubility.

You learned men will argue about me. Some of you will say that I am mad, others will demonstrate that I am normal, and will admit only certain limitations in the name of degeneracy. With all your learning, however, you cannot demonstrate my madness or my normality as clearly as I can. My mind has returned to me, as you shall be convinced. It lacks neither in power nor in keenness. Excellent, energetic thought, giving even its enemies their due!

I am mad. Shall I give you reasons?

First of all, I will be judged by hereditary influences, those same influences the discovery of which rejoiced me so exceedingly when I first conceived my plan. The fits I had in my childhood⁠ ⁠… Guilty, gentlemen. I wished to conceal from you this detail about the fits, and have written that from childhood on I have enjoyed perfect health. Not that these trifling, short-lived attacks alarmed me to any extent. Candidly, I did not wish to encumber my account with unimportant details. Now this detail becomes necessary to a strictly logical structure, and, as you see, I give it unhesitatingly.

Therefore, hereditary influences and the attacks testify to my susceptibility to psychic illness. It began, unknown to myself, considerably prior to my plan. Dominating, however, as all madmen, with an unconscious cunning and a faculty to conform insane acts to norms of sober reflection, I began to deceive, not others, as I had thought, but myself. Borne along by a strange power, I made it appear that I went of my own accord. One can finish the model from the remaining evidence as from wax. You will agree with me.

It is not worth while to show that I did not love Tatiana Nikolayevna⁠—that a true motive for the crime did not exist, but was invented. Whether in the strangeness of my plan, in the cold-bloodedness of its execution, or in the attention to the innumerable details, one may detect easily the same unreasoning will. The very cunning and development of my thought preceding the crime demonstrate my abnormality.

“Wounded, death awaiting, in the arena I played,
The dying gladiator enacting⁠ ⁠…”

Not a single detail out of my life did I leave unrevealed. I searched through my entire life. I gave the aspect of madness to all my steps, to all my words; and in each case I made the mood fit the word and the thought. It seems, and this is the most astonishing thing of all, that even until tonight I have entertained the thought: perhaps I am actually mad. Yet somehow or other I have avoided the thought and ignored it.

While demonstrating my madness do you know what I have perceived? That I am not mad⁠—that is what I have perceived. I will explain.

The leading fact behind my hereditary impulses and my fits is degeneracy. I am of the degenerate, whose like can be found in large numbers if only sought for more diligently, even amongst you, gentlemen experts. This gives a substantial key to the rest. My moral views you may attribute not to conscious reflection but to degeneracy. Truly, moral instincts are lodged so deeply that only in some deviation from the normal type is complete freedom from them possible. As to science, it maintains a too bold attitude in its generalizations, relegating all such deviations to the domain of degeneracy, even where physically the man may boast of the perfections of an Apollo, or the health of the lowest idiot. So be it. I have nothing against degeneracy⁠—it brings me among excellent company.

Nor will I defend my motive for the crime. I tell you altogether candidly that Tatiana Nikolayevna really had wounded me by her laughter, and the offence lodged very deeply, as it happens with hidden, solitary natures such as mine. Suppose this is untrue. Suppose even that I did not love her. Is it not possible to admit that by killing Alexis I simply had attempted to test my powers? Do you not freely admit the existence of men who, risking their lives, clamber inaccessible summits simply because they are inaccessible; and yet you do not call them mad? You dare not pronounce as mad Nansen, that mighty man of the expiring century! Moral life also has its poles, and one of these I tried to reach.

You are confused by the absence of jealousy, vengeance, cupidity and similar really stupid motives, which you have become accustomed to consider as the only ones that are real and normal. Hence, you men of science judge Nansen together with those fools and ignoramuses who even consider his enterprise as madness.

My plan⁠ ⁠… It was unusual, it was original, it was bold to audacity; but then was it not intelligent from the viewpoint set by my purpose? It was precisely my inclination to dissimulation, already explained reasonably and fully, that inspired the plan. Madness? Is then genius really insanity? Cold-bloodedness? But is it absolutely necessary that a murderer should tremble, grow pale and be agitated? Cowards always tremble, even when embracing their servant-maids. Is then bravery madness?

How simply my own doubts of my health explain themselves! Like a true artist I threw myself too deeply into my role, identified myself temporarily with the represented character and for a moment lost my aptitude for self-account. Will you say that even in the courts, there is none who, pleading among the lawyer-actors, struggling daily Othello, has felt the actual need to slay?

Sufficiently convincing, isn’t it, most learned gentlemen? Do you not experience a strange consciousness of my seeming sanity when I try to prove my madness and the converse feeling of seeming madness⁠—when I try to prove my normality?

Yes. That is because you do not believe me⁠ ⁠… I, too, do not believe myself, as I do not know whom in me to believe. Shall it be in thought, dastardly and worthless⁠—that unfaithful servant who waits upon all? It is good only with which to clean one’s boots, and I made it my friend, my god. Off with you from the throne, wretched, impotent thought!

What am I then, gentlemen experts⁠—insane or not?

Masha, charming woman, you know something that I do not know. Tell me, of whom shall I seek help?

I know your answer, Masha. No, I don’t mean that. You are a good and gracious woman, Masha, but you know neither physics nor chemistry. Not once have you been to the theatre, and, busily bent upon your daily tasks, you do not so much as suspect that the object upon which you live twirls. It twirls, Masha, it twirls, and we twirl with it. You are a child, Masha, a dull-witted creature, almost a plant, and I envy you exceedingly, nearly as much as I contemn you.

No, Masha, not you shall answer me. It is untrue; you do not know anything. Within one of the dark chambers of your ingenuous domicile lives something very useful to you, but in my house this chamber is empty. That something which had lived there died long ago, and on its grave I have erected a magnificent monument. It died, Masha, died, without hope of resurrection.

What am I then, gentlemen experts, insane or not? Pardon me if I, with such rude persistence, dog you with this question; but then you are “men of science,” as my father called you when he wished to flatter you; you possess books and you dominate, with clear, precise and infallible human thought. It is likely that half of you will maintain one opinion, the other half of you will maintain another; but I will believe you, learned gentlemen, believe the one and the other. Tell me, then⁠ ⁠… and to assist your enlightened minds I will reveal an interesting little fact.

During one calm and peaceful evening passed between these white walls I observed that Masha’s countenance, each time it met my eyes, expressed fear, confusion and a subjection to something irresistible and terrible. Presently she departed, and I sat on the made bed and continued to think about one thing and another. And I yearned to do strange things. I, Dr. Kerzhentseff wished to howl. Not shout, but howl, like that fellow. I wished to tear my clothes and to scratch myself with my nails. I wished to seize my shirt at the collar, and at the start go slowly, slowly, and then tear it asunder, with one quick jerk, to the very bottom. And I, Dr. Kerzhentseff, wished to go down on all fours and crawl. All around was calm, and the snow beat against the window, and somewhere not far off silently prayed Masha. And I reflected long upon what to do. If I should howl I would be heard, and trouble would ensue. If I should tear my shirt it would be noticed on the morrow. So very shrewdly I chose the third: I would crawl. No one could hear me, and if caught I would say that a button came off and I was looking for it.

As long as I tried to hit upon a choice the feeling was that of contentment; it was not at all terrible, it was even pleasant; so that I recall I dangled my foot. Presently I reflected:

“But why crawl? Am I really insane?”

All at once a terrible feeling came upon me, and simultaneously I wished to do all: crawl, howl, scratch. And I became angry.

“Do you wish to crawl?” asked I. But it was silent. The desire was gone.

“No, you do wish to crawl,” insisted I. And it was silent.

“Well, crawl then!”

So, tucking up my sleeves, I went down on my fours and crawled. And when I had traversed about half of the room in this manner, the absurdity of it aroused my risibility, so I sat me down on the floor and laughed, laughed, laughed.

With my habitual and unextinguished faith in the possibilities of knowledge, I thought that I had discovered the source of my insane desires. Evidently the desire to crawl, as well as other desires, were the result of autosuggestion. The persistent thought that I was a madman had called forth the insane desires, and as soon as I had gratified them it seemed that such desires were absent and I was not insane. The argument, as you see, is very simple and logical. But⁠ ⁠…

But then I did crawl? I did crawl? What am I⁠—a madman justifying himself, or a normal man leading himself out of his mind?

So help me, oh, erudite men! Let your authoritative word incline the scales to one side or the other and solve this terrible, ferocious dilemma. And so I wait!⁠ ⁠…

Vainly I wait. Oh, my dear dull-heads⁠—are you not I? Does not the same dastardly human thought, ever lying, treacherous, illusory, labor within your bald heads as within mine? And wherein is mine inferior to yours? If you should venture to prove me insane, I shall prove to you that I am normal; if you should try to prove me normal, I shall prove to you that I am insane. You will say that it is forbidden to steal, kill and deceive because it is immoral and criminal, and I will demonstrate that one may kill and plunder and that it is very moral. And you will think and speak, and I will think and speak, and we all shall be right, and none of us shall be right. Where is the judge who can decide between us and find the truth?

You have one formidable advantage which confers upon you the possession of truth: you did not commit a crime, you are not under judgment, and you have been invited, with substantial fees, to investigate my psychic condition. Ergo, I am insane. On the other hand, if you had been placed in confinement here, Professor Derzhembitzky, and I had been invited to observe you, then you would have been the madman and I the privileged bird⁠—an expert, a liar, who differs from other liars only in that he lies not otherwise than under oath.

It is true, you have killed no one, have not stolen for the sake of stealing; and when you hire a cabby you consider it obligatory to haggle him out of a small coin, which demonstrates your spiritual health. You are not insane. However, something might happen, altogether unexpectedly⁠ ⁠…

Suddenly on the morrow, now, this moment, after you had read these lines, there comes into your head a stupid, but unwary thought: Perhaps I am insane? What will be your position then, professor? What a stupid, absurd thought⁠—what reason is there to go out of one’s mind? But try if you will to banish it. You have drank milk and thought it pure until someone said that it was mixed with water. Then an end⁠—no more pure milk.

You are insane. Have you no desire to crawl on all-fours? Of course, you have none. What normal man wants to crawl? Well, for all that?⁠ ⁠… are you not disturbed by the appearance of just a slight desire, altogether slight, altogether trifling, mirth-provoking, to glide off the chair, and to crawl a little, just a little? Of course, no such desire appears. Whence could it appear within a normal man, who only a moment ago drank tea and chatted with his wife? Yet, do you not experience a something unusual in your legs, though previously you had not experienced it, and a strange feeling in your knees: a heavy numbness wrestling with the desire to bend the knees, and then⁠ ⁠… And actually, Professor Derzhembitzky, is there anyone to restrain you if you wish to crawl a bit?

No one.

But don’t crawl yet for a little while, I need you still. My battle is not yet ended.


One of the manifestations of the paradoxicalness of my nature is that I exceedingly love children, altogether small children, just when they are beginning to lisp and resemble all tiny animals: pups, kittens and diminutive snakes. Even snakes can be attractive when young. One serene, sunny day in autumn, I witnessed the following little scene: A very small girl, in a wadded overcoat and a broad-brimmed bonnet, from under which were visible only her rosy cheeks and her little nose, wished to approach a very little, thin-limbed, slender-headed dog, standing tremblingly with its tail between its legs. And suddenly the tot became scared, turned on her heels, and, looking like a little white ball, scampered over to her nurse, in whose lap she hid her face, making no outcry and shedding no tears. As to the pup, it blinked affectionately and bent its tail as if frightened, while the face of the nurse seemed so good and simple.

“Do not fear,” said the nurse, as she looked smilingly at me, and her face seemed so good and simple.

I do not know why, but I have recalled often the little maiden, while yet free, while planning the murder, and here. Gazing upon that lovely group, under the bright autumn sun, I experienced the strange feeling of one who possessed the solution to something, and my projected murder seemed to me like a cold lie from out of another, altogether different world. That both of them, the little girl and the little dog, were so small and lovely, and that they laughably feared each other, and that the sun shone so brightly⁠—all was so simple and full of benign and deep wisdom, as if namely here, in this group, was located the key to existence. Such was the feeling I experienced. And I said to myself: “I shall have to think about this”⁠—but I thought about it no more.

I do not remember now the meaning of the incident; painfully I try to grasp it, but cannot. Nor do I know why I have related this amusing and unnecessary tale, when I have so much that is more serious and important to tell. It is urgent that I should finish.

The dead we will permit to rest in peace. Alexis is dead; it is a long time since he began to decompose; he is no more⁠—the devil with him! There is something pleasant in being dead.

Nor will we speak of Tatiana Nikolayevna. She is unhappy, and I eagerly join in the general sympathy; but what is her unhappiness and all the unhappiness of the earth compared with that which I, Dr. Kerzhentseff, am living through now! Not a few wives in the world lose their beloved husbands, and more husbands remain to be lost! We will leave them⁠—let them weep!

But here, within this head⁠ ⁠…

You comprehend, gentlemen experts, the terrible happening. I loved no one on earth except myself, and if was not the vile body, loved by the vulgar, that I loved in myself⁠—I loved my human thought, my freedom. I never have known anything surpassing my thought; I worshipped it⁠—and did it not deserve it? Did it not, like a giant, wrestle with the entire world and its delusions? It lifted me upon the summit of a high mountain, and I saw how far below me swarmed little people with their animal passions, with their eternal dread of life and death, with their churches, liturgies and prayers.

How mighty I felt, how free, how happy! Like a medieval baron secluded in his impregnable castle, truly an eagle in his nest, proudly and imperiously surveying the valleys below⁠—so I was, invincible and proud in my castle, behind these bones of the cranium. A lord over myself, I also was a lord over the world.

I have been betrayed⁠—basely, insidiously; thus women betray, and slaves⁠—and thought. My castle became my prison. My enemies fell upon me in my castle⁠—where’s salvation? In the impregnability of the castle, in the thickness of its walls is my perdition. My voice cannot penetrate outside, and who is so strong as to save me? No one. For none is stronger than I⁠—and I am the sole enemy of my “I.”

Base thought has betrayed me who so intensely believed in thought and loved it. It has not lost in beauty; it is not a whit less bright, keen or elastic⁠—it is still like a rapier, but its hilt is no longer in my hand. And it is slaying me, its creator, its lord, with the same stolid indifference with which I once employed it to slay others.

Night comes on and I am seized with unspeakable terror. I was strong and my feet stood firmly upon the earth, and now I am thrown into the emptiness of boundless space. Exceeding great and terrible is my solitude⁠—behind me, before me and around me a yawning emptiness. It is the fearful loneliness of one who lives, feels and thinks, and is incomprehensibly alone; how small I seem, absurdly null, and so weak that I expect to be extinguished any moment. It is an ill-boding solitude; in myself I constitute but an infinitesimal part; within myself I am surrounded and suffocated by enemies, morosely silent and mysterious. Whither I go they go with me; I am solitary midst a vast emptiness, and cannot confide in myself. It is the solitude of madness, and I have no means of knowing who I am, because my lips, my mind, my voice, are all given to utter the thoughts of the unknown they.

One cannot live thus. Meanwhile the world slumbers and husbands kiss their wives and learned men read their lectures, and the beggar rejoices in the penny thrown his way. Oh, stupid world, happy in thy stupidity, terrible will be thy awakening!

Who amongst the strong shall come to my aid? None! None! Where shall I seek that eternal something to which I may cling with my piteous, powerless, awesomely solitary “I?” Nowhere! Nowhere! Oh, dear, dear little girl, why is it that towards thee I stretch my bloodstained hands? Art thou not human like myself, and equally insignificant and lonely and subject to death? Is it that I pity thee or that I invite thy pity; but I would, as behind a shield, hide me behind thy helpless little body, from the hopeless void of ages and space. But no, no, it is all a lie!

I will ask you, gentlemen experts, to confer upon me a great and important service, and if you are possessed even of a little humanity you cannot refuse me. I trust we understand each other sufficiently not to believe each other. And if I should request you to say in court that I am in a normal state least of all shall I believe you. You may decide for yourselves, but no one can decide for me the question:

Did I simulate madness in order to slay, or did I slay because I was mad?

But the judges will believe you and sentence me to that which I wish: hard labor.3 Please do not place a false construction upon my intentions. I do not repent of slaying Saveloff; I do not seek in punishment an expiation of sin; and if it is essential that in order to demonstrate my well-being I should kill someone, presumably for plunder, I shall kill and plunder with pleasure. But in penal servitude I seek something else, I myself do not know what.

I am being drawn toward these people by a vague hope, that in their midst, among violators of your laws⁠—murderers and thieves⁠—I shall find unknown sources of life and once again be on terms of friendliness with myself.

Supposing that I am doomed to disappointment, that hope should deceive me⁠—I still desire to be with them. Oh, I know you well! You are cowards and hypocrites; your peace of mind is your first concern, and you would gladly confine in the insane asylum every thief who has stolen a loaf of bread⁠—in your overzealousness you would acknowledge yourself as madmen rather than disturb your pet theories. I know you well. The criminal and the crime⁠—that is your perpetual anxiety; that is the terrible voice coming from an unknown abyss; that is the inexorable condemnation of your wise and moral life, and howsoever you wad your ears with cotton that voice penetrates⁠—it penetrates! And I wish to go to them. I, Dr. Kerzhentseff wish to take a place in the ranks of this much-dreaded army⁠—as an eternal reproach, as one who asks and awaits an answer.

I do not cringe before you, but I demand that you report me as in normal health. Lie, if you do not believe it. However, if you pusillanimously wash your learned hands and sentence me to the insane asylum, or open the doors to freedom, I forewarn you in a friendly way that I’ll commit some considerable unpleasantries.

I acknowledge no judge, no law, no forbidden thing. All is permissible. Can you imagine a world, having no laws of gravitation, having no above nor below, in which everything is a matter of whim and chance?

I, Dr. Kerzhentseff, am that new world. All is permissible. And I, Dr. Kerzhentseff, shall prove that. I will simulate normality. I will attain freedom. I will spend the remainder of my life in learning. I will surround me with your books, I will take from you all the might of your knowledge, of which you are so proud, and will seek the one thing of which the world has stood in need for so long a time. That will be the explosive essence. The equal of its force has not been seen: it is more powerful than dynamite, than nitroglycerine, more powerful than the very thought of it. I possess talent, I am persistent, I will find it. And when I do find it, I shall scatter in the air your accursed earth, which has so many gods and not one eternal God.

Upon his appearance in the court room. Dr. Kerzhentseff maintained a very calm demeanor, and remained during the entire proceedings in one and the same non-expressive attitude. He replied to questions indifferently and impassively, occasionally calling for their repetition. Once he aroused the mirth of the select public that crowded that court room in large numbers. It was when the presiding judge turned with some order to the usher, and the accused, evidently not having heard or because of abstraction, arose and asked loudly:

“What? You tell me to go?”

“Go where?” asked the astonished presiding official.

“I don’t know. I thought you said something.”

The crowd laughed, and the presiding judge explained to Kerzhentseff what was the matter.

Four expert psychiatrists were called to the stand, and their opinions were equally divided. After the speech of the district attorney, the presiding judge turned to the accused, who had refused to accept the services of an attorney.

“Accused, what have you to say in your justification?”

Dr. Kerzhentseff arose. He slowly surveyed the judges with his dull, unseeing-like eyes and glanced at the public. And those upon whom fell that heavy, unseeing gaze experienced a strange and painful sensation: it was as if out of the hollow orbs of a skull there had glanced upon them nothing less than death itself, mute and impassive.

“Nothing!” replied the accused.

Having cast another look upon the people gathered in judgment upon him, he repeated:


An Original

A moment of silence had fallen on the company and amid the clatter of knives on plates, and the confused talk at distant tables, the froufrou of a dress, and the creaking of the floor under the brisk steps of the waiters, someone’s quiet, meek voice was heard:

“But I do love negresses.”

Anton Ivanovich coughed over himself the vodka he was in the act of swallowing, and a waiter, who was collecting the plates, cast a glance of indiscriminate curiosity from under his brows. All turned with surprise to the speaker, and then for the first time took notice of the irregular little face with its red moustache, the ends of which were wet with vodka and soup, of the two dull, colourless little eyes, and of the carefully brushed head of Semyon Vasilyevich Kotel’nikov. For five years they had been in the same service as Kotel’nikov, every day they had said “How do you do?” and “Goodbye” to him, and talked to him about something or other; on the 20th of every month, after receiving their stipends, they had dined at the same restaurant as Kotel’nikov, as they were doing today; and now for the first time they were really conscious of his presence. They perceived him, and were astonished. It seemed that Semyon Vasilyevich was not so bad looking after all, if you did not count the moustache, and the freckles which were like splashes of mud from a rubber tyre, that he was decently well dressed, and his tall white collar, though a paper one, was at all events clean.

Anton Ivanovich, head of the office, coughing and still red with the exertion, looked at the confused Semyon Vasilyevich attentively, with curiosity in his prominent eyes, and still choking, asked with emphasis:

“So you, Semyon, ah!⁠—I beg your pardon, I forget.”

“Semyon Vasilyevich,” Kotel’nikov reminded him, pronouncing it, not “Vasilich,” but fully “Vasilyevich”; and this pronunciation was pleasing to all as expressive of a feeling of worth and self-respect.

“So you, Semyon Vasilyevich⁠—love negresses?”

“Yes, I do, indeed.”

And his voice, although rather weak, and, so to speak, somewhat wrinkled like a shrivelled turnip, was nevertheless pleasant. Anton Ivanovich pursed up his lower lip so that his grey moustache pressed against the tip of his red pitted nose, took in all the officials with his rounded eyes, and after an unavoidable pause emitted a fat unctuous laugh.

“Ha, ha, ha! He loves negresses! Ha, ha, ha!”

And all laughed in a friendly manner, even the stout dour Polzikov, who as a rule knew not how to laugh, gave a sickly neigh: “Hee, hee! hee!”

Semyon Vasilyevich laughed also, with a low staccato laugh, like a parched pea; he blushed with pleasure, but at the same time was rather afraid that some unpleasantness might arise.

“Are you really serious?” asked Anton Ivanovich, when he had done laughing.

“Perfectly serious, sir. In them, those black women, there is something so ardent, or⁠—so to speak⁠—exotic.”


And once more all spluttered with laughter. But, though they laughed, they considered Semyon Vasilyevich quite a clever and educated man, since he knew such a rare word as “exotic.” Then they began to argue with warmth that it was impossible for anyone to love a negress: they were black and greasy, they had such impossible thick lips, and smelt too strong of musk.

“But I love them,” modestly persisted Semyon Vasilyevich.

“Everyone to his choice,” said Anton Ivanovich with decision; “but I would rather fall in love with a nanny-goat than with one of those blacks.”

But all were pleased that among them in the person of one of their own comrades there was to be found such an original person, that he loved negresses, and to honour the occasion they ordered another half-dozen of beer, and began to look with a certain contempt on the neighbouring tables, at which there sat no original people. They began to talk louder and with more freedom, and Semyon Vasilyevich left off striking matches for his cigarette, but waited till the attendant offered him a light. When the beer was all drunk up, and they had ordered more, the stout Polzikov looked sternly at Semyon Vasilyevich, and said reproachfully:

“How is it, Mr. Kotel’nikov, that we have never got beyond the ‘you’ stage? Do not we serve in the same office? We must drink to Comradeship, since you are such an excellent fellow.”

“Certainly, I shall be delighted,” Semyon Vasilyevich consented. He beamed now with delight that at last they recognized and appreciated him, and then again feared somehow that they would thrash him; at all events he kept his arm across his breast, to be ready, in case of need, to protect his face and well-brushed hair. After Polzikov he drank to Comradeship with Troitzky and Novosyolov and the rest, and kissed them so heartily that his lips became swollen. Anton Ivanovich did not offer to drink to Comradeship, but politely remarked:

“When you are passing our way, please call. Although you love negresses, still I have daughters, and it will interest them to see you. So you are really in earnest?”

Semyon Vasilyevich bowed, and although he was a bit unsteady from the amount of beer he had drunk, still all remarked that his manners were good. When Anton Ivanovich went away they were still drinking, and afterwards went noisily, the whole company, on to the Nevsky, where they gave way to none, but made all give way to them. Semyon Vasilyevich walked in the middle, arm in arm with Troitzky and the sombre Polzikov, and explained to them:

“Nay, friend Kostya, you don’t understand the matter. In negresses there is something peculiar, something, so to speak, exotic.”

“And I don’t want to understand! They are black⁠—black⁠—nothing else.”

“Nay, friend Kostya, this is a matter requiring taste. Negresses are⁠—”

Until that day Semyon Vasilyevich had never even thought of negresses, and could not more exactly define what there was so desirable about them, so he repeated:

“My friend, they are ardent.”

“Now, then, Kostya, what are you quarrelling about?” angrily asked Troitzky, as he tripped up, and sploshed in a big swapped galoche. “You are a wonderful fellow for arguing; you never agree with anyone. Of course, he knows why he loves negresses. Drive on, Senya!7 love away! don’t listen to fools! You’re a brave fellow; we’ll get up a scandal before long. Lord! what a devil he is!”

“Black⁠—black⁠—nothing more,” Polzikov morosely insisted.

“Nay, Kostya, you don’t understand the matter,” Semyon Vasilyevich mildly declared; and so they went on, rolling and racketting, quarrelling, and jostling one another, but thoroughly contented.

At the end of a week the whole Department knew that the civil servant, Kotel’nikov, was very fond of negresses. By the end of a month the porters of the neighbouring houses, the petitioners, and the policeman on duty at the corner, knew it too. The ladies who worked the typewriters took to looking at Semyon Vasilyevich from the adjoining rooms; but he sat quiet and modest, and still was not sure whether he would be praised or thrashed. Already he had been at an evening party at Anton Ivanovich’s, had drunk tea with cherry jam upon a new damask tablecloth, and had explained that about negresses there was something exotic. The ladies looked confused, but the hostess’s daughter Nastenka, who had read novels, blinked her shortsighted eyes, and, adjusting her curls, asked:

“But, why?”

And all were very much pleased; but when the interesting guest had departed they spoke of him with the greatest compassion, and Nastenka him the victim of a pernicious passion.

Semyon Vasilyevich had been taken with Nastenka; but since he loved only negresses, he determined not to show his liking, and was cold and standoffish, though strictly polite. And all the way home he thought of negresses, how black and greasy and objectionable they were, and at the thought of kissing one of them, he felt a sort of heartburn, and was inclined to weep quietly and to write to his mother in the country to come to him. But in the night he overcame this attack of pusillanimity, and when he appeared at the office in the morning, by his whole appearance, by his red tie, and by the mysterious expression of his face, it was abundantly clear that this man was very fond indeed of negresses.

Soon after this, Anton Ivanovich, who took an interest in his fate, introduced him to a theatrical reporter; the reporter took him and treated him at a café-chantant, where he presented him to the Manager, Monsieur Jacques Ducquelau.

“Here is a gentleman,” said the reporter, as he brought forward the modestly bowing Semyon Vasilyevich, “here is a gentleman who is much enamoured of negresses; no one but negresses. He is an extraordinary original. Give him encouragement, Jacques Ivanovich, for of such people be not encouraged, who should be? This, Jacques Ivanovich, is a public matter.”

The reporter slapped Semyon Vasilyevich patronizingly on his narrow back, in its creaseless, tightly-fitting coat, and the Manager, a Frenchman, with a fierce black moustache, cast his eyes up to the sky, as though looking for something there, made a gesture of decision, and transfixing the still bowing civil servant with his black eyes, said:

“Negresses! Excellent! I have here at present three beautiful negresses.”

Semyon Vasilyevich blanched slightly, but M. Jacques was very fond of his own establishment, and took no notice. The reporter requested: “Give him a free ticket, Jacques Ivanovich; a season.”

From that evening Semyon Vasilyevich began to pay court to a negress, Miss Korraito, the whites of whose eyes were like saucers, with pupils no larger than sloes. And when she turned on all this battery and made eyes at him, his feet turned cold, and, as he bowed hastily, his well-pomatumed head glistened under the electric light, and he thought with grief of his poor mother who lived in the country.

Of Russian Miss Korraito understood not a word, but happily they found plenty of willing interpreters, who took to heart the interests of the young couple, and accurately transmitted to Semyon Vasilyevich the gushing exclamations of the dusky fair.

“She says: ‘She has never seen such a kind, handsome gentleman.’ Is not that right, Miss?”

Miss Korraito would incline her head again and again, show her teeth, which were as wide as the keys of a piano, and roll her saucers round on every side. And Semyon Vasilyevich would unconsciously incline his head too, and mutter:

“Tell her, please, that there is something exotic about negresses.”

And all were satisfied. When Semyon Vasilyevich for the first time kissed the hand of the negress, there assembled to see it, not only all the artistes, but many of the spectators, and one in particular, an old merchant, Bogdan Kornyeich Seliverstov, burst into tears from tenderness and patriotic feelings. Then they drank champagne. For two days Semyon Vasilyevich suffered from a painful palpitation of the heart, and did not go to the office. Several times he began a letter, “Dear Mamma,” but he was too weak to finish it. When he went back to the office they invited him to the private room of his Excellency. Semyon Vasilyevich smoothed with a comb his hair, which had begun to stick up during his illness, arranged the dark ends of his moustache, so as to speak more clearly, and collapsing with dread, went in.

“Look here, is it true, what they tell me, that you⁠—” His Excellency hesitated, “is it true that you love negresses?”

“Quite true, your Excellency.”

The general concentrated his gaze on his poll, on the smooth centre of which two thin locks obstinately stuck up and trembled, and with some surprise, but at the same time with approval, asked:

“But why do you love them?”

“I cannot say, your Excellency,” replied Semyon Vasilyevich, whose courage had evaporated.

“What do you mean by? ‘I can’t say’? Who, then, can say? But don’t be embarrassed, my dear sir. I like my subordinates to show self-reliance and initiative in general, provided, of course, they do not exceed certain legal bounds. Tell me candidly, as though you were talking to your father, why do you love negresses?”

“There is in them, your Excellency, something exotic.”

That same evening at the general’s whist table at the English Club, his Excellency, when he had dealt the cards with his puffy white hands, remarked with assumed carelessness:

“There’s in my office an official who is terribly enamoured of negresses. An ordinary clerk, if you please.”

The other three generals were jealous: each of them had at his office many officials, but they were the most ordinary, colourless, unoriginal people imaginable, of whom nothing could be said.

The choleric Anaton Petrovich considered long, scored only one out of a certain four, and after the next deal said:

“I too⁠—I have a subordinate, whose beard is half black and half red.”

But all understood that the victory was on the side of his Excellency; the subordinate mentioned was in no respect responsible for the fact that his beard was half black and half red, and probably was not even pleased to have it so; while the official in point, independently and of his own free will, loved negresses; and such a predilection undoubtedly testified to his originality of taste. But his Excellency, as though he remarked nothing, continued:

“He affirms that in negresses there is something exotic.”

The existence in the Second Department of an extraordinary original obtained for it the most flattering popularity among official circles in the Capital, and begat, as is always the case, many unsuccessful and pitiful imitators. A certain grey-haired clerk in the Sixth Department, with a large family, who had sat unremarked at his table for twenty-eight years, proclaimed publicly that he could bark like a dog; and when they only laughed at him, and in all the rooms began to bark, and grunt, and neigh, he was put out of countenance, and took to a fortnight’s drink, forgetting even to send in a report of sickness, as he had always done for the past twenty-eight years. Another official, a youngish man, pretended to fall in love with the wife of the Chinese Ambassador, and for some time attracted universal observation, and even sympathy. But experienced eyes soon distinguished the pitiful, dishonest pretence from the true originality, and the failure was contemptuously consigned to the abyss of his former obscurity. There were other attempts of the same kind, and among the officials in general there was remarked this year a peculiar elation of spirit, and a long-hidden desire for originality seized the youths of the service with particular severity, and in some cases even led to tragic consequences. Thus one clerk, of good birth, being unable to invent anything original, had the impudence to insult his superior, and was promptly cashiered. Even against Semyon Vasilyevich there rose up enemies, who openly affirmed that he knew nothing whatever about negresses. But as an answer to them there appeared in one of the dailies an interview in which Semyon Vasilyevich publicly declared, with the permission of his chief, that he loved negresses because there was something exotic in them. And the star of Semyon Vasilyevich shone out with a new, undimming light.

At Anton Ivanovich’s evenings he was now the most desirable guest, and Nastenka more than once wept bitterly, so sorry was she for his ruined youth; but he would sit proudly at the very middle of the table, and feeling himself the cynosure of all eyes, put on a somewhat melancholy, but at the same time exotic face. And to all, to Anton Ivanovich himself, to his guests, and even to the deaf old woman who washed up the dirty things in the kitchen, it was a pleasure to know that such an original man visited their house quite without ceremony. But Semyon Vasilyevich went home and wept upon his pillow, because he loved Nastenka exceedingly, and hated the damned Miss Korraito with all his soul.

Before Easter there was a report that Semyon Vasilyevich was going to marry Miss Korraito the negress, who for that reason would adopt Orthodoxy and leave the service of M. Jacques Ducquelau, and that his Excellency himself would give away the bride. Fellow civil-servants, petitioners, and porters congratulated Semyon Vasilyevich; and he bowed, only not so low as before, but still more politely, and his bald, polished head glistened in the rays of the spring sunshine.

At the last evening party given by Anton Ivanovich before the wedding, he was a positive hero; but Nastenka every half-hour or so ran off to her own rooms to cry, and then so powdered herself, that the powder was scattered from her face like flour from a millstone, and both her neighbours became correspondingly whitened. At supper all congratulated the bridegroom and drank his health; but Anton Ivanovich, as he took his leave of his guests, said:

“There is one interesting question, my friend, what colour will your children be?”

“Striped,” glumly said Polzikov.

“How striped?” asked the guests in surprise. “Why, in this way: one stripe white, and one black, then another white, and so on,” Polzikov explained quite despondently, for he was sorry with all his heart for his old friend.

“That’s impossible!” excitedly exclaimed Semyon Vasilyevich, who had grown pale at the thought. But Nastenka, no longer able to contain herself, burst out sobbing and ran out of the room, whereby she caused universal confusion.

For two years Semyon Vasilyevich was the happiest of men, and all rejoiced when they looked at him, and recalled his unusual fate. Once he was invited, together with his spouse, to his Excellency’s; and on the birth of a boy he received considerable assistance from the reserve fund, and soon after that he was promoted, out of his turn, to be assistant secretary of the fourth office of the department. And the child was born not striped, but only slightly grey, or rather olive-coloured. Everywhere Semyon Vasilyevich talked of his warm love for his wife and son; but he was never in a hurry to return home, and when he did get there he was in no hurry to pull the bell-handle. But when there met him on the threshold those teeth broad as piano-keys, and the white saucers rolled, and when his smoothly brushed head was pressed against something black, greasy, and smelling like musk, he felt quite faint with grief, and thought of those happy people who had white wives and white children.

“Dear!” said he submissively, and on the insistence of the happy mother went to look at the baby. He hated that thick-lipped baby of a greyish colour like asphalt, but he obediently nursed it, meditating in the depths of his soul on the possibility of dropping it suddenly on the floor.

After long vacillation and hidden sighs he wrote to his mother in the country about his marriage, and to his surprise received from her a most joyful answer. She also was pleased at having such an original for her son, and that his Excellency himself had given away the bride. But with regard to the colour, and other disabilities of the bride, she expressed herself thus:

“Let her face be that of a sheep, if only her soul be human.”

At the end of two years Semyon Vasilyevich died of typhus fever. Before the end he sent for the parish priest, who looked with curiosity on the quondam Miss Korraito, stroked his full beard, and said meaningly, “N⁠ ⁠… y⁠ ⁠… es!” But it was evident that he respected Semyon Vasilyevich for his originality, although he looked on it as sinful.

When his reverence stooped down to the dying man, the latter gathered together the remnants of his strength, and opened his mouth wide to cry:

“I hate that black devil!”

But he recalled his Excellency, and the help from the reserve fund, he recalled the kindly Anton Ivanovich, and Nastenka, and looking at the black weeping countenance, said softly:

“Father, I love negresses very much. In them there is something exotic.”

With his last efforts he gave to his emaciated face the semblance of a happy smile, and expired with it on his lips.

And the earth received him without emotion, not asking whether he loved negresses or no, brought his body to corruption, mingled his bones with those of other dead people, and annihilated every trace of the white paper-collar.

But the Second Department long cherished the memory of Semyon Vasilyevich, and when the waiting petitioners began to grow weary, the porter would take them to his room to smoke, and would tell them tales of the wonderful civil-servant who was so awfully fond of negresses. And all, narrator and listeners, were pleased.

The City

It was an immense city in which they lived: Petrov, clerk in a commercial bank, and he, the other⁠—name unknown.

They used to meet once a year, at Easter, when they both went to pay a visit at one and the same house, that of the Vasilyevskys. Petrov used to pay a visit also at Christmas, but probably the other, whom he used to meet, came at Christmas at a different hour, and so they did not see one another. The first two or three times Petrov did not notice him among so many visitors, but the fourth year his face seemed known to him and they greeted one another with a smile⁠—and the fifth year Petrov proposed to clink glasses with him.

“Your health!” he said politely, and held out his glass.

“Here’s to yours!” the other replied with a smile, and he too held out his glass.

Petrov did not think of asking his name, and when he went out into the street he quite forgot his existence, and the whole year never thought of him again. Every day he went to the bank, where he had been employed for nine years; in the winter he occasionally went to the theatre; in the summer he visited at the bungalow of an acquaintance; and twice he was ill with the influenza⁠—the second time immediately before Easter.

And just as he was mounting the stairs at the Vasilyevskys’, in evening dress and with his opera-hat under his arm, he remembered that he would see him there, the other, and felt very much surprised that he could not in the least recall his face and figure. Petrov himself was below the average height and somewhat round-shouldered, so that many took him for a hunchback; he had large black eyes with yellowish whites. In other respects he did not differ from the rest, who paid a visit to the Vasilyevskys twice a year, and when they forgot his surname they used to speak of him as the “little hunchback.”

He, the other, was already there, and on the point of going away; but when he recognized Petrov, he smiled politely, and remained. He was also in evening dress and had an opera-hat, and Petrov failed to examine him further since he was occupied with talking, and eating, and drinking tea.

They went out together, and helped one another on with their coats, like friends: they politely made way the one for the other, and each gave the porter a half-rouble. They stood still a short time in the street, and then he, the other, said:

“Well, tipping’s become a regular tax. But it can’t be helped.”

Petrov replied:

“Yes, quite true.”

And since there was nothing more to be said, they smiled in a friendly manner, and Petrov said:

“Which way are you going?”

“I turn to the left. And you?”

“I to the right.”

In the cab Petrov remembered that he had again failed either to ask his name, or to observe him particularly. He turned round: carriages were passing in both directions, the pavements were black with pedestrians, and in that closely moving mass it was as impossible to distinguish him, the other, as to find a particular grain of sand amongst other grains. And again Petrov forgot him, and did not think of him again for a whole year.

Petrov had lived for many years in the same furnished apartments, and he was not much liked there, because he was grumpy and irritable; and they also called him behind his back “Humpty.” He used often to sit in his apartment alone, and none knew what work he did, since Fedot, the upstairs servant, did not look on books and letters as “work.” At night Petrov sometimes went for a walk, and Ivan the porter could not understand these walks, since Petrov always returned sober, and⁠—alone.

But Petrov used to walk about at night, because he was very much afraid of the city in which he lived, and he feared it more than ever in the daytime, when the streets were full of people.

The city was immense and populous, and there was in its populousness and immensity something stubborn, unconquerable, and callously cruel. With the colossal weight of its bloated stone houses, it crushed the earth on which it stood; and the streets between the houses were narrow, crooked, and deep like fissures in a rock. It seemed as though they were all seized with a panic of fear, and were endeavouring to run away from the centre to the open country, and that they could not find the road, and losing their way had rolled themselves in a ball like a serpent, and were intersecting one another, and looking back in hopeless despair.

One might walk for hours about these streets, which seemed broken-down, choked, and faint with a terrible convulsion, and never emerge from the line of fat stone houses. Some high, others low, some flushed with the cold thin blood of new bricks, others painted with a dark or light colour, they stood in unswaying solidity on both sides, callously met, and personally conducted one, and pressing together in a dense crowd, in this direction and in that, lost their individuality and become like one another⁠—and the walker grew frightened: it was as though he had become rooted to the spot, and the houses kept going past him in an endless truculent file.

Once Petrov was walking quietly about the street, when suddenly he felt what a thickness of stone houses separated him from the wide, open country, where the free earth breathed softly in the sunshine, and man’s eyes might look round to the distant horizon.

It seemed to him that he was suffocating and being blinded, and he felt a desire to run and get quickly out from the stony embrace⁠—and it became a horror to him to think, however fast he might run, still houses, ever houses, would go with him on both sides, and he would be suffocated before he could run beyond the city. Petrov ensconced himself in the first restaurant he came across, but even there he seemed for a long time to be suffocating; so he drank cold water, and wiped his eyes with his handkerchief.

But the most terrible thing of all was, that in all the houses there lived human beings, and about all the streets were moving human beings. There were a multitude of them, and all of them were unknown to him⁠—strangers; and all of them lived their own separate life, hidden from the eyes of others; they were without interruption being born, and dying, and there was no beginning nor end to this stream. Whenever Petrov went to the bank, or out for a walk, he saw the same familiar, well-known houses, and everything appeared to him simply an old acquaintance; if, however, he stood still, but for a moment, to fix his attention on some face, then all was quickly and terribly changed. With a feeling of terror and impotence Petrov would look at all the faces, and understand that he saw them for the first time, that yesterday he had seen other people, and tomorrow would see yet others; and so always, every day, and every minute, he would see new, unknown faces. There was a stout gentleman, at whom Petrov glanced, disappearing round the corner⁠—and never would Petrov see him again. Even if he wished to find him, he might search for him all his life, and never succeed.

And Petrov feared the immense, callous city.

This year again Petrov had the influenza, very severely with a complication, and he was frequently afflicted with cold in the head.

Moreover, the doctor found that he had catarrh of the stomach, and the next Easter, as he was going to the Vasilyevskys’, he thought on the way of what he should eat there. When he recognized him, the other, he was pleased and informed him:

“My dear sir, I have a catarrh.”

He, the other, shook his head sympathetically, and replied:

“You don’t say so!”

And once more Petrov did not inquire his name, but he began to look upon him as quite an old acquaintance, and thought of him with pleasurable feelings. “Him,” he named him, but when he wanted to recall his face, he could only conjure up an evening coat, white waistcoat, and a smile; and since he could not in the least recollect the face, it inevitably appeared as though the coat and waistcoat smiled. That summer Petrov went out very frequently to a certain bungalow, wore a red necktie, dyed his moustache, and said to Fedot that in the autumn he should change his quarters; but afterwards he gave up going to the bungalow, and took to drink for a whole month. He managed his drinking clumsily⁠—with tears and scenes. Once he broke the mirror in his room; another time he frightened a certain lady. He invaded her apartment in the evening, fell on his knees and proposed to her. This fair unknown was a courtesan, and at first listened to him attentively and even laughed, but when he began to weep and complain of his loneliness, she took him for a madman, and began to scream with terror. As they led him away, supporting himself against Fedot, he pulled his hair and cried:

“We are all men, all brethren!”

They had decided to get rid of him; but he gave up drinking, and once more the porter swore at having to open and shut the door for him. At New Year Petrov received an increase of 100 roubles per annum, and he changed into a neighbouring apartment, which was five roubles dearer, and had windows looking into the courtyard, Petrov thought that there he would not hear the rumbling of the street traffic, and might even forget what a multitude of unknown strangers surrounded him, and lived their own particular lives in proximity to him.

In the winter it was quiet in his rooms, but when spring came, and the snow was removed from the streets, the rumble of the traffic began again, and the double walls were no protection from it.

In the daytime, while he was occupied with something, and himself moved about and made a noise, he did not notice the rumbling, though it never ceased for a moment; but when night came on and all became quiet in the house, then the noisy street forced its way into the dark chamber, and deprived it of all quiet and privacy. The jarring and disjointed sounds of individual vehicles were heard; an indistinct, slight sound would come to life somewhere in the distance, grow louder and clearer, and by degrees lie down again, and in its place would be heard a new one, and so on and on without intermission. Sometimes only the hoofs of the horses struck the ground evenly and rhythmically, and there was no sound of wheels⁠—this was when a calèche went by on rubber tyres; but often the noise of individual vehicles would blend into a terrible loud rumble, which made the stone walls tremble slightly, and set the bottles vibrating in the cupboard. And all this was caused by human beings! They sat in hired and private carriages, they drove no one knew whence or whither, they disappeared into the unknown depths of the immense city, and in their place appeared fresh people, other human beings, and there was no end to this incessant movement, so terrible in its incessancy. And every passerby was a separate microcosm, with his own rules and aims of life, with his own affinity, whom he loved, with his own separate joys and sorrows, and each was like a ghost, which appeared for a moment and then disappeared inexplicably and unrecognized. And the more people there were, who were unknown to one another, the more terrible became the solitude of each. And during those black, rumbling nights Petrov often felt inclined to cry out in fear, and to betake himself to the deep cellar, in order to be there perfectly alone. There one might think only of those one knew, and not feel oneself so infinitely alone among a multitude of strange people.

At Easter, he, the other, did not turn up at the Vasilyevskys’, and Petrov did not observe his absence until the end of his call, when he had begun to make his adieux, and failed to meet the well-known smile. And he felt a disquiet at heart, and suddenly was conscious of a painful longing to see him, the other, and to say something to him about his loneliness and his nights. But he had only a very slight recollection of the man whom he sought; only that he was of middle age, fair apparently, and always in evening dress; but by this description the Vasilyevskys could not guess of whom he was speaking.

“So many people pay us a visit on Festivals, that we do not know the surnames of all,” said Madame. “However⁠—was it Syomenov?”

And she counted one by one on her fingers several surnames: “Smirnov, Antonov, Nikiphorov;” and then without the surname: “The bald man, in the civil service, the post office I think; the one with the light brown hair; the one quite grey.” And none of them were the one after whom Petrov was inquiring⁠—though they might have been. And so he was not discovered.

This year nothing particular happened in the life of Petrov, except that his eyesight deteriorated and he had to take to glasses. At night, when the weather was fine, he went walking, and chose the quiet, deserted bye-streets for his peregrinations. But even there people were to be met, whom he had never seen before, and never would see again; and the houses towered on either side in a dull wall, and inside they were full of persons utterly unknown to him, who slept, and talked and quarrelled: someone was dying behind those walls, and close to him a fresh human being was coming into the world, to be lost for a time in its ever-moving infinity, and then to die forever. In order to console himself, Petrov would count over all his acquaintances; and their neighbourly familiar faces were like a wall which separated him from infinity. He endeavoured to remember all; the porters, shopkeeper, cabmen that he knew, also passersby whom he casually remembered; and at first he seemed to know very many people, but when he began to count them up, the number became terribly small: all his life long he had only known 250 people, including him, the other. And these were all who were known and neighbourly to him in the world. Possibly there were people whom he had known, and forgotten; but that was just as though they did not exist.

He, the other, was very glad, when he recognized Petrov the next Easter. He had a new dress suit on, and new boots which creaked, and he said as he pressed Petrov’s hand:

“But, you know, I almost died. I was seized with inflammation of the lungs, and even now there is there”⁠—and he tapped himself on the side⁠—“something the matter with the upper part, I believe.”

“I’m sorry for you,” said Petrov with sincere sympathy.

They talked about various ailments, and each spoke of his own, and when they separated they did so with a prolonged pressure of the hand, but they quite forgot to ask each other’s name. The following Easter it was Petrov who did not put in an appearance at the Vasilyevskys’, and he, the other, was much disquieted, and inquired of Madame Vasilyevsky who the little hunchback was who visited them.

“I know what his surname is,” said she, “it is Petrov.”

“But what are his Christian name and his father’s?”

Madame Vasilyevsky would willingly have told his name, but it seems she did not know it, and was very much surprised at the fact. Neither did she know in what office Petrov was, perhaps the post office or some bank.

The next time he, the other, did not appear.

The time after both came, but at different hours, so they did not meet. And then they altogether left off putting in an appearance, and the Vasilyevskys never saw them again, and did not even give them a thought; for so many people visited them, and they could not possibly remember them all.

The immense city grew still bigger, and there, where the broad fields had stretched, irrepressible new streets lengthened out, and on both sides of them stout, multicoloured stone houses crushed heavily the ground on which they stood. And to the seven cemeteries which had before existed in the city was added a new one, the eighth. In it there was no greenery at all, and meanwhile they buried in it only paupers.

And when the long autumn night drew on, it became still in the cemetery, and there reached it only in distant echoes the rumbling of the street traffic, which ceased not day nor night.

On the Day of the Crucifixion

On that terrible day, when the universal injustice was committed and Jesus Christ was crucified in Golgotha among robbers⁠—on that day, from early morning, Ben-Tovit, a tradesman of Jerusalem, suffered from an unendurable toothache. His toothache had commenced on the day before, toward evening; at first his right jaw started to pain him, and one tooth, the one right next the wisdom tooth, seemed to have risen somewhat, and when his tongue touched the tooth, he felt a slightly painful sensation. After supper, however, his toothache had passed, and Ben-Tovit had forgotten all about it⁠—he had made a profitable deal on that day, had bartered an old donkey for a young, strong one, so he was very cheerful and paid no heed to any ominous signs.

And he slept very soundly. But just before daybreak something began to disturb him, as if someone were calling him on a very important matter, and when Ben-Tovit awoke angrily, his teeth were aching, aching openly and maliciously, causing him an acute, drilling pain. And he could no longer understand whether it was only the same tooth that had ached on the previous day, or whether others had joined that tooth; Ben-Tovit’s entire mouth and his head were filled with terrible sensations of pain, as though he had been forced to chew thousands of sharp, red-hot nails, he took some water into his mouth from an earthen jug⁠—for a minute the acuteness of the pain subsided, his teeth twitched and swayed like a wave, and this sensation was even pleasant as compared with the other.

Ben-Tovit lay down again, recalled his new donkey, and thought how happy he would have been if not for his toothache, and he wanted to fall asleep. But the water was warm, and five minutes later his toothache began to rage more severely than ever; Ben-Tovit sat up in his bed and swayed back and forth like a pendulum. His face became wrinkled and seemed to have shrunk, and a drop of cold perspiration was hanging on his nose, which had turned pale from his sufferings. Thus, swaying back and forth and groaning for pain, he met the first rays of the sun, which was destined to see Golgotha and the three crosses, and grow dim from horror and sorrow.

Ben-Tovit was a good and kind man, who hated any injustice, but when his wife awoke he said many unpleasant things to her, opening his mouth with difficulty, and he complained that he was left alone, like a jackal, to groan and writhe for pain. His wife met the undeserved reproaches patiently, for she knew that they came not from an angry heart⁠—and she brought him numerous good remedies: rats’ litter to be applied to his cheek, some strong liquid in which a scorpion was preserved, and a real chip of the tablets that Moses had broken. He began to feel a little better from the rats’ litter, but not for long, also from the liquid and the stone, but the pain returned each time with renewed intensity.

During the moments of rest Ben-Tovit consoled himself with the thought of the little donkey, and he dreamed of him, and when he felt worse he moaned, scolded his wife, and threatened to dash his head against a rock if the pain should not subside. He kept pacing back and forth on the flat roof of his house from one corner to the other, feeling ashamed to come close to the side facing the street, for his head was tied around with a kerchief like that of a woman. Several times children came running to him and told him hastily about Jesus of Nazareth. Ben-Tovit paused, listened to them for a while, his face wrinkled, but then he stamped his foot angrily and chased them away. He was a kind man and he loved children, but now he was angry at them for bothering him with trifles.

It was disagreeable to him that a large crowd had gathered in the street and on the neighbouring roofs, doing nothing and looking curiously at Ben-Tovit, who had his head tied around with a kerchief like a woman. He was about to go down, when his wife said to him:

“Look, they are leading robbers there. Perhaps that will divert you.”

“Let me alone. Don’t you see how I am suffering?” Ben-Tovit answered angrily.

But there was a vague promise in his wife’s words that there might be a relief for his toothache, so he walked over to the parapet unwillingly. Bending his head on one side, closing one eye, and supporting his cheek with his hand, his face assumed a squeamish, weeping expression, and he looked down to the street.

On the narrow street, going uphill, an enormous crowd was moving forward in disorder, covered with dust and shouting uninterruptedly. In the middle of the crowd walked the criminals, bending down under the weight of their crosses, and over them the scourges of the Roman soldiers were wriggling about like black snakes. One of the men, he of the long light hair, in a torn bloodstained cloak, stumbled over a stone which was thrown under his feet, and he fell. The shouting grew louder, and the crowd, like coloured sea water, closed in about the man on the ground. Ben-Tovit suddenly shuddered for pain; he felt as though someone had pierced a red-hot needle into his tooth and turned it there; he groaned and walked away from the parapet, angry and squeamishly indifferent.

“How they are shouting!” he said enviously, picturing to himself their wide-open mouths with strong, healthy teeth, and how he himself would have shouted if he had been well. This intensified his toothache, and he shook his muffled head frequently, and roared: “Moo-Moo.⁠ ⁠…”

“They say that He restored sight to the blind,” said his wife, who remained standing at the parapet, and she threw down a little cobblestone near the place where Jesus, lifted by the whips, was moving slowly.

“Of course, of course! He should have cured my toothache,” replied Ben-Tovit ironically, and he added bitterly with irritation: “What dust they have kicked up! Like a herd of cattle! They should all be driven away with a stick! Take me down, Sarah!”

The wife proved to be right. The spectacle had diverted Ben-Tovit slightly⁠—perhaps it was the rats’ litter that had helped after all⁠—he succeeded in falling asleep. When he awoke, his toothache had passed almost entirely, and only a little inflammation had formed over his right jaw. His wife told him that it was not noticeable at all, but Ben-Tovit smiled cunningly⁠—he knew how kindhearted his wife was and how fond she was of telling him pleasant things.

Samuel, the tanner, a neighbour of Ben-Tovit’s, came in, and Ben-Tovit led him to see the new little donkey and listened proudly to the warm praises for himself and his animal.

Then, at the request of the curious Sarah, the three went to Golgotha to see the people who had been crucified. On the way Ben-Tovit told Samuel in detail how he had felt a pain in his right jaw on the day before, and how he awoke at night with a terrible toothache. To illustrate it he made a martyr’s face, closing his eyes, shook his head, and groaned while the grey-bearded Samuel nodded his head compassionately and said:

“Oh, how painful it must have been!”

Ben-Tovit was pleased with Samuel’s attitude, and he repeated the story to him, then went back to the past, when his first tooth was spoiled on the left side. Thus, absorbed in a lively conversation, they reached Golgotha. The sun, which was destined to shine upon the world on that terrible day, had already set beyond the distant hills, and in the west a narrow, purple-red strip was burning, like a stain of blood. The crosses stood out darkly but vaguely against this background, and at the foot of the middle cross white kneeling figures were seen indistinctly.

The crowd had long dispersed; it was growing chilly, and after a glance at the crucified men, Ben-Tovit took Samuel by the arm and carefully turned him in the direction toward his house. He felt that he was particularly eloquent just then, and he was eager to finish the story of his toothache. Thus they walked, and Ben-Tovit made a martyr’s face, shook his head and groaned skilfully, while Samuel nodded compassionately and uttered exclamations from time to time, and from the deep, narrow defiles, out of the distant, burning plains, rose the black night. It seemed as though it wished to hide from the view of heaven the great crime of the earth.

At the Roadside Station

It was early spring when I went to the bungalow. On the road still lay last year’s darkened leaves. I was unaccompanied; and alone I wandered through the still empty bungalow, the windows of which reflected the April sun. I mounted the broad bright terraces, and wondered who would live here under the green canopy of birch and oak. And when I closed my eyes I seemed to hear quick, cheerful footsteps, youthful song, and the ringing sound of women’s laughter.

I used often to go to the station to meet the passenger trains. I was not expecting anyone, for there was no one to come and see me; but I am fond of those iron giants, when they rush past, rolling their shoulders, tearing along the rails with colossal momentum, and carrying somewhither persons unknown to me, but still my fellow-creatures. They seem to me alive and uncanny. In their speed I recognize the immensity of the world and the might of man, and when they whistle with such abandon and in so imperious a manner, I think how they are whistling in the same way in America, and Asia, maybe in torrid Africa.

The station was a small one, with two short sidings, and when the passenger train had left it became still and deserted. The forest and the streaming sunshine dominated the little low platform and the desolate track, and blended the rails in silence and light. On one of the sidings under an empty sleeping-car fowls wandered about, swarming round the iron wheels, and one could hardly believe, as one watched their peaceful, fussy activity, that it would be much the same in America, in Asia, or in torrid Africa.⁠ ⁠… In a week I became acquainted with all the inhabitants of this little corner, and saluted as acquaintances the watchmen in their blue blouses, and the silent pointsmen with their dull countenances and their brass horns, which glittered in the sun.

Every day I saw at the station a gendarme. He was a healthy, strong fellow, as are they all, with broad back, in a tightly stretched blue uniform, with enormous arms and a youthful countenance, upon which, from behind a severe official dignity, there still looked out the blue-eyed naivete of the country. At first he used to scan me all over with a gloomy suspicion, and put on a look of unapproachable severity without a touch of indulgence, and when he passed me would clank his spurs in a peculiarly sharp and eloquent manner. But he soon became used to me, just as he had become used to the pillars which supported the roof of the platform, to the desolate track, and to the discarded sleeping-car under which the fowls kept running about. In such quiet corners a habit is soon formed. And when he left off observing me, I perceived that this man was bored⁠—bored as no one else in the world. He was bored with the wearisome station, bored by the absence of thoughts, bored by his strength-devouring inactivity, bored by the exclusiveness of his position, somewhere in the void between the stationmaster, who was unapproachable to him, and the lower employees to whom he was himself unapproachable. His soul lived on breaches of the peace, but at this tiny station no one ever committed a breach of the peace, and every time the passenger train departed without any adventure there passed over the face of the gendarme the expression of annoyance and vexation of a person who has been deprived of his due. For some minutes he would stand still in indecision, and then with listless gait walk to the other end of the platform without any aim or object. On his way he might stop for a second in front of some peasant woman who had been waiting for the train⁠—but she was only a peasant woman like any other⁠—and so knitting his brows the gendarme would pass on his way.

Then he would sit down stout and listless, as though he had been boiled soft, and felt how soft and flabby were his useless arms under the cloth of his uniform, and how his powerful body, created for work, grew weary with the torturing fatigue of doing nothing. We are bored only in the head, but he was bored in every part of him, from head to foot: his cap, cocked on one side with youthful lack of purpose, was bored, his spurs were bored and tinkled inharmoniously and irregularly as though muffled. Then he began to yawn. How he yawned! his mouth became contorted, expanded from ear to ear, grew broader and broader, till it swallowed up his whole face, it seemed that in another second, through the ever enlarging aperture, you would be able to see down his throat, choke-full of greasy soup. How he yawned! He went away in a hurry, but for long that awful yawn seemed to put my jawbone out of joint, and the trees were broken and bobbing about to my tear-filled eyes.

Once from the mail train they took a passenger travelling without a ticket, and this was a very festival for the bored gendarme. He drew himself up, his spurs jingled with precision and austerity, his face became concentrated and angry; but his happiness was but short-lived. The passenger paid his fare, and with a hasty oath got back into the car, and in the rear the metal rowels of the gendarme’s spurs gave a disconcerted and piteous rattle, as his enervated body swayed feebly over them.

And at times when he yawned he became to me something terrible.

For some days workmen had been busy about the station clearing the site, and when I returned from town after a stay of a couple of days, the masons were laying the third row of bricks; a brand-new building was arising. These masons were numerous, and worked quickly and skilfully; and it was a strange pleasure to watch the straight, even wall springing up out of the ground. When they had covered one row with mortar they laid on a second row, adjusting the bricks according to their dimensions, laying them now on the broad side, now on the narrow, and cutting off the corners to make them fit. They worked meditatively, and though the course of their meditation was evident enough, and their problem clear, still it gave an additional charm and interest to the work. I was looking at them with enjoyment when an authoritative voice at my elbow shouted:

“Look here, you. What’s your name! Why don’t you put this right?”

It was the voice of the gendarme, squeezing himself through the iron railings, which separated the asphalt platform from the workmen; he was pointing to a certain brick and insisting: “You with the beard! lay that brick properly. Don’t you see, it’s a half-brick?”

The mason with the beard, which was in places whitened with lime, turned round in silence⁠—the gendarme’s face was severe and imposing⁠—in silence he followed the direction of the gendarme’s finger, took up the brick, trimmed it, and in silence put it back in its place. The gendarme gave me a severe look and went away; but the seductive interest in the work was stronger than his sense of dignity. When he had made a couple of turns on the platform, he again came to a standstill in front of the workmen, adopting a somewhat careless and contemptuous pose. But his face no longer showed signs of boredom.

I went to the wood, and when I was returning through the station it was one o’clock, the workmen were resting, and the place was empty as usual. But someone was busying himself about the unfinished wall; it was the gendarme. He was taking up bricks, and finishing the fifth row. I could only catch a sight of his broad, tightly stretched back, but it was expressive of intent thought, and indecision. Evidently the work was more complicated than he had imagined. His unaccustomed eye was playing him false; he stepped back, shook his head, stooped for a fresh brick, striking the ground with his sabre as he bent down. Once he raised his finger, in the classic gesture of one who has discovered the solution of a problem, such as might have been used by Archimedes himself, and his back once more assumed the erect attitude of greater self-confidence and certainty. But immediately it became once more doubled up in the consciousness of the undignified nature of the work undertaken. There was in his whole, full-grown figure something secretive as with children, when they are afraid they will be found out.

I carelessly struck a match to light a cigarette, and the gendarme turned round startled. For a moment he looked at me in confusion, and suddenly his youthful countenance was illumined by a slightly solicitous, confiding, and kindly smile. But the very next moment he resumed his austere, unapproachable look, and his hand went up to his little thin moustache⁠—but in it, in that very hand, there still lay that unlucky brick! And I saw how painfully ashamed he was of that brick, and of his involuntary, compromising smile. Apparently he did not know how to blush, otherwise he would have become as red as the brick which he still held helplessly in his hand.

They had carried the wall up half way, and it was no longer possible to see what the skilful masons were doing on their scaffolding. Once more the gendarme oscillated from end to end of the platform, yawning, and when he turned round and passed me I could feel that he was ashamed⁠—and that he hated me. And as I looked at his powerful arms listlessly swinging in their sleeves, at his inharmoniously jingling spurs and trailing sabre, it seemed to me that it was all unreal⁠—that in the scabbard there was no sabre at all with which he might cut a man down, in the case no revolver, with which he might shoot a man dead. And his very uniform, that too was unreal, and seemed as though it was all just some strange masquerade taking place in full daylight, in the face of the honest April sun, and amidst ordinary working people, and busy fowls picking up grains under the sleeping-car.

But at times⁠—at times I began to fear for someone. He was so terribly bored.⁠ ⁠…

Life of Father Vassily


A strange and mysterious fate pursued Vassily Feeveysky all through his life. As though damned by some unfathomable curse, from his youth on he staggered under a heavy burden of sadness, sickness and sorrow, and the bleeding wounds of his heart refused to heal. Among men he stood aloof, like a planet among planets, and a peculiar atmosphere, baneful and blighting, seemed to enshroud him like an invisible, diaphanous cloud.

The son of a meek and patient parish priest, he was meek and patient himself, and for a long time failed to observe the ominous and mysterious deliberation with which misfortunes persistently broke over his unattractive shaggy head.

Swiftly he fell, and slowly rose to his feet; fell again, and slowly rose once more, and laboriously, speck by speck, grain by grain, set to work restoring his frail anthill by the side of the great highway of life.

But when he was ordained priest and married a good woman, begetting by her a son and a daughter, he commenced to feel that all was now well and safe with him, just as with other people, and would so remain forever. And he blessed God, for he believed in Him solemnly and simply, as a priest and as a man in whose soul there was no guile.

And it happened in the seventh year of his happiness, in the noon hour of a sultry day in July, that the village children went to the river to swim, and with them went Father Vassily’s son, like his father Vassily by name, and like him swarthy of face and meek in manner. And little Vassily was drowned. His young mother, the Popadya,9 came running to the river bank with the crowd, and the plain and appalling picture of human death engraved itself indelibly on her memory: the dull and ponderous thumping of her own heart, as though each heart beat threatened to be her last; and the odd transparence of the atmosphere in which moved hither and thither the humdrum familiar figures of people, though now they seemed so strangely aloof, as if severed from the earth; and the disconnected, confused hubbub of voices, with each word rounding in the air and slowly melting away as new sounds come into being.

And she conceived a lifelong fear of bright and sunny days. For at such times she saw again the barricade of muscular backs gleaming white in the light of the sun, and the bare feet planted firmly among the trampled cabbage heads, and the rhythmic swing of something bright and white in the trough of which freely rolled a light little body, so gruesomely near, so gruesomely far, and forever estranged. And long after little Vassya10 had been buried, and the grass had grown over his grave, the Popadya kept repeating that prayer of all bereaved mothers: “Lord, take my life, but give me back my child.”

Soon Father Vassily’s whole household learned to dread the bright days of summer time, when the sun shines too glaringly and sets ablaze the treacherous river until the eyes cannot bear the sight of it. On such days, when the people, the beasts and the fields all around were radiant with gladness, the members of Father Vassily’s household were wont to watch his wife with awestricken eyes, engaging purposely in loud conversation and laughter, while she, sluggish and indolent, rose to her feet, eyeing the others so fixedly and queerly that they were forced to avert their gaze, and languidly lolled through the house, as though hunting for some needless article, a key, or a spoon or a glass. Whatever she needed was carefully placed in her path, but she continued to seek, and her search increased in intentness and agitation in the measure that the bright and merry orb of the sun rose higher in the firmament. And she approached her husband, placing her lifeless hand on his shoulder and kept repeating in a pleading voice.

“Vassya! Vassya! I say!”

“What is it, dear?” meekly and hopelessly responded Father Vassily, trying to smooth her disheveled hair with trembling fingers that were sunburnt and black with the soil and were badly in want of trimming. She was still young and pretty, and her arm rested upon the shabby cassock of her husband as though carved of marble, white and heavy.

“What is it, dear? Will you have some tea now? You have not had any yet.”

“Vassya! Vassya, I say!” she repeated pleadingly, removing her arm from his shoulder like some needless, superfluous object, and returned to her searching, only still more restlessly and excitedly. Walking all through the house, not a room of which had been tidied, she passed into the garden, from the garden into the court yard, and again into the house, while the sun rose higher and higher, and through the trees could be seen a flash of the warm sluggish river. And step after step, clinging tightly to her mother’s skirt, Nastya,11 the Popadya’s daughter, shambled after her, morose and sullen, as though the black shadow of impending doom had lodged itself even over her little six-year-old heart. She anxiously hurried her little steps to keep pace with the distracted big stride of her mother, casting furtively yearning glances upon the familiar, but ever mysterious and enticing garden, and she longingly stretched out her disengaged hand towards a bush of sour gooseberries, and stealthily plucked a few, though the sharp thorns cruelly scratched her. And the prick of these thorns that were sharp as needles, and the acid taste of the berries, intensified the scowl on her face, and she longed to whimper like an abandoned pup.

When the sun reached the zenith, the Popadya closed tightly the shutters in the windows of her room, and in the darkness gave herself up to liquor until she was drunken, drawing from each drained glassful fresh pangs of agony and searching memories of her perished child. She shed bitter tears, and in the awkward drone of an ignorant person trying to read aloud out of a book, she kept telling over and over again the story of a meek and swarthy little boy who had lived, laughed and died; and with this bookish singsong she resurrected his eyes and his smile and his oldfashioned manner of speech.

“ ‘Vassya’, I say to him, ‘why do you tease kitty? Don’t tease her, dear. God told us to be merciful to all⁠—to the little horsies, and to the kittens and to the little chicks’. And he lifts up his sweet eyes to me, the darling, and says: ‘And why isn’t kittie merciful to little birdies? See the pigeons have raised their little ones, and kittie eats up the pigeons, and the little birdies are calling, calling for their mamma.’ ”

And Father Vassily listened meekly and hopelessly, while outside, under the closed shutters, amid burdocks, nettles and thistles, little Nastya sat sprawling on the ground, and played sulkily with her doll. And always her play was this: dollie refused to mind and was punished and she twisted dollie’s arms till she thought they hurt and whipped her with a twig of nettles.

When Father Vassily had first found his wife in a state of inebriety, and from her rebelliously agitated, bitterly exulting face had realized that this thing had come to stay, he shriveled up and the next moment burst cut in a fit of subdued, senseless laughter, rubbing his hot dry hands. And a long time he laughed, a long time he kept rubbing his hands; he strove to restrain this desire to laugh, which was so obviously out of place, and turning aside from his sobbing wife, he snickered softly into his fist like a naughty school boy. Then just as abruptly he turned serious, his jaws snapped like metal; but not a word of comfort could he utter to the hysterical woman, not a caressing word could he find for her. But when she had fallen asleep, the priest bent down, making three times the sign of the cross over her. Then he went cut and found little Nastya in the garden, coldly patted her on the head and stalked out into the fields.

For a long time he followed a little path through the rye which was standing fairly high in the field and looked down into the soft white dust which here and there retained the impress of heels and the outline of someone’s bare feet. The sheaves nearest to the path were crushed to the ground, some lying across the path, and the grain was crushed, blackened and flattened.

Where the path turned, Father Vassily stopped. Ahead of him and all around him swayed the full grain on slender stalks, overhead was the shoreless blazing sky of July grown white with the heat, and nothing more: not a tree, not a hut, not a man. Alone he stood, lost in the dense field of grain, alone before the face of Heaven⁠—set high above him and blazing.

Father Vassily lifted up his eyes⁠—they were little eyes, sunken and black as coal; they were aglow with the bright reflection of the heavenly flame, and he pressed his hands to his breast and tried to say something. The iron jaws quivered, but did not yield. Gnashing his teeth the priest forced them apart, and with this movement of his lips that resembled a convulsive yawn, loud and distinct came the words:


Unechoed in the wilderness of sky and of fields was lost this wailing orison that so madly resembled a challenge. And as though contradicting someone, as though passionately pleading with someone and warning him, he repeated once more:


And returning home, once more, speck by speck, grain by grain, he fell to the work of restoring his wrecked anthill: he watched the milking of cows, with his own hands he combed Nastya’s long and coarse hair, and despite the late hour he drove ten versts into the country for the district physician in order to seek his advice with regard to his wife’s ailment. And the doctor prescribed her some drops.


No one liked Father Vassily, neither his parishioners, nor the vestry of the church. He intoned the service awkwardly, without decorum: his voice was dry and indistinct, and he either hurried so that the deacon had a hard time to keep up with him, or he fell behind without rime or reason. He was not covetous, but he accepted money and donations so clumsily that all believed him to be greedy and scoffed at him behind his back. And everybody knew that he was unlucky in his private life and avoided him, considering it a poor omen to meet him or to talk with him. His Saint’s Day12 was celebrated on November the twenty-eighth. He had invited many to dinner, and in compliance with his ceremonious invitation everyone promised to come, but only the vestrymen made their appearance, and of the better parishioners not a soul attended. And he was humiliated before the vestrymen, but the Popadya felt the insult most keenly, for the delicacies and wines which she had ordered from the city had to go to waste.

“No one even cares to come and see us,” she said, sober and downcast, when the last of their few guests had departed, noisy and drunken, after a senseless gorging, having paid no regard to the rare vintage of wines or to the quality of the food.

But it was the head of the vestry, Ivan Porfyritch Koprov, who treated the priest worse than the rest of the parishioners. He openly exhibited his contempt for the luckless man, and when the Popadya’s periodical lapses into appalling inebriety had become a public scandal, he refused to kiss the priest’s hand. And the good-natured deacon tried vainly to reason with him.

“Shame on thee. It is not the man, but his holy office that must be respected.”

But Ivan Porfyritch stubbornly refused to dissociate the office from the man, and replied:

“He is a worthless man. He can neither keep himself in order, nor his wife. Is it right for a spiritual adviser’s wife to persist in drunkenness, without shame or conscience? Let my wife try and go on a spree, I’d stop her quickly.”

The deacon shook his head reproachfully and mentioned the long-suffering of Job, how God had loved him, but turned him over to Satan to be tried, but later rewarded him an hundredfold for all his sufferings. But Ivan Porfyritch smiled scornfully into his beard and without the slightest compunction cut short the disagreeable admonition.

“Don’t tell me, I know. Job, so to speak, was a righteous man, a holy man, but what is this one? Where is his righteousness? Rather remember, deacon, the old proverb: God marks a rogue. There is sound sense in that proverb.”

“Wait, the priest will get even with thee, for refusing to kiss his hand. He’ll drive thee out of the church.”

“We’ll see about that.”

“All right, we’ll see.”

And they bet a gallon of cherry brandy whether the priest would expel him or not. The vestry man won; next Sunday he turned his back on the priest with an insolent air, and the hand which the priest had extended to be kissed, burnt brown it was from the sun⁠—remained desolately suspended in midair, and Father Vassily flushed a deep purple, but did not say a word.

And after this incident which was much talked about in the village, Ivan Porfyritch became still more firmly convinced that the priest was a bad and an unworthy man and began to incite the villagers to complain to the bishop and to ask for another parish priest.

Ivan Porfyritch himself was a man of wealth, very fortunate in all things, and enjoyed general esteem. He had an impressive face, with firm round cheeks and an immense black beard, and his whole body was covered with a growth of dense black hair, particularly his legs and his chest, and he believed that hairiness was a sign of great good luck. He believed in his luck as firmly as he believed in God, and considered himself an elect among the people; he was proud, self-reliant and invariably in good spirits. In a terrible railroad wreck in which a multitude of people had perished, he merely lost a cap which had been trampled into the mire.

“And it was an old one at that!” he was wont to add with much self-satisfaction, evidently considering this incident an eloquent proof of his merits.

He regarded all men as rogues and fools, and knew no mercy towards either variety. It was his habit with his own hands to strangle the pups, of whom his black setter Gipsy presented him yearly a generous litter; only the strongest one among them he suffered to live for breeding purposes, though he willingly distributed some of the others to those who wanted a dog, for he considered dogs to be useful animals. In forming opinions Ivan Porfyritch was rash and unreasonable, but he easily departed from them, without noticing his inconsistencies; yet his actions were uniformly firm and resolute and only rarely erroneous.

And all this made the head of the vestry a terrible and an extraordinary personage in the eyes of the hunted priest. When they met, he was the first to raise his broad-rimmed hat, which he did with indecorous haste, and as he walked away, he felt that his gait grew faster and more shuffling, revealing itself as the gait of a man who was scared and ashamed, and his scrawny legs were tangled in the folds of his cassock. It seemed as though his very fate, cruel and enigmatic, was personified in that immense black beard, in those hairy hands, and in that resolute, straight stride, and if he did not crumple up and slink away and hide behind his four walls, this menacing monster would crush him like an ant.

And whatever pertained to Ivan Porfyritch or belonged to him, aroused the eager interest of the priest, so that some times for days at a stretch he could think of nothing else but of the churchwarden, his wife, his children, his wealth. Working with the peasants in the fields, (in his coarse, tarred boots and in his cheap working blouse he greatly resembled an humble peasant) Father Vassily would often turn his face to the village, and the first sight that greeted his eyes alongside of the church, was the red iron roof of the churchwarden’s two-story house. Then behind the greying green of wind-wrecked willows he traced with difficulty the outline of the weather-beaten shingle roof of his own little home; and the sight of these two so contrasting roofs filled the heart of the priest with the anguish of hopelessness.

One feast day the Popadya returned from the church in tears and told her husband that Ivan Porfyritch had grossly insulted her. As she was making her way to her place, he remarked from behind the lectern, loudly enough for the whole congregation to hear:

“This drunken wench ought not to be allowed in the church at all. She’s a disgrace!”

As the Popadya sobbingly related this incident to her husband, Father Vassily observed with horrible and merciless clearness how she had aged and come down in the four years which had passed since Vassya’s death. She was still young, but silver threads were running through her hair, the teeth once so white had turned black, and her eyes were baggy.

She was now a confirmed smoker, and it was painful to watch her puffing a cigarette which she held in a clumsy, feminine fashion between two rigidly extended fingers. She smoked and wept and the cigarette trembled between her lips that were swollen with sobbing.

“Why, oh why, oh Lord?” she kept repeating in anguish, and with the intentness of stupor she gazed through the window against which pattered the chill drops of a September rainstorm. The panes were dim with water, and the birch outside, heavy with rain drops, seemed to sway back and forth with the shadowy deliquescence of a specter. In their efforts to save fuel, they had not yet started heating the house, and the air in the room was damp and chilly and almost as uncomfortable as outdoors.

“What can you do with him, Nastenka?”13 retorted the priest rubbing his dry warm hands. “We must bear it.”

“Lord, Lord, is there not a soul to take my part?” wailed the Popadya, and in the corner gazed dry and immobile the wolfish eyes of skulking little Nastya through a hedge of coarse and unkempt hair.

The Popadya was drunk before bedtime, and then ensued that appalling, abominable, piteous scene which Father Vassily could never thereafter recall without a sense of chaste horror and of consuming, unbearable shame. In the morbid gloom of tightly closed shutters, amid the monstrous visions born of alcohol, in the wake of obstinate wails for her lost firstborn, his wife had conceived the insane notion of bringing a new son into the world. To resurrect his sweet smile, to resurrect those eyes that once had sparkled with benign radiance, to bring back his calm and sensible speech: to resurrect the lad himself, as he had lived in the glory of his sinless childhood, as he had appeared on that horrible day in July when the sun blazed so brightly and the treacherous river glistened so blindingly. And consumed with a frenzy of hope, all beauteous and hideous with the flames that had enwrapped her, the Popadya stormily demanded her husband’s caresses, pleaded for them with piteous humility. She coyly primped herself, she coquetted with him, but the expression of horror never passed from his face. She strove with the energy of passionate anguish to become again as tender and desirable as she had been ten years back, and she tried to assume a shy, maidenly look, whispering coy, girlish words, but her liquor-lamed tongue refused to obey her, and through her shyly lowered eyelashes ever more luridly and obviously flashed the flame of passionate desire, while the swarthy face of her husband remained transfixed with horror. He had covered his burning head with his hands, weakly whispering:

“Don’t! Don’t!”

And she sank to her knees and hoarsely pleaded:

“Have pity on me! Give me back my Vassya! Give him back to me, priest! I say, give him back to me, curse you!”

And the autumnal rain gusts beat fiercely against the tightly closed shutters, and the stormy night heaved deep and painful sighs.

Cut off from world and life by the walls and the curtain of night, they seemed to be whirling in the throes of a frenzied labyrinthic nightmare, and around them swirled wails and curses that would not die. Madness stood guard at the door; the searing air was its breath; and its eyes the lurid glare of the oil lamp stifling in the maw of a soot-grimed globe.

“You will not? You will not?” cried the Popadya, and with maniacal yearning for motherhood she tore off her raiment, shamelessly baring her body, ardent and terrible like a Bacchante, piteous and pathetic like a mother mourning for her child. “You will not? Then before God I tell you I’ll go out into the street. I will throw myself on the neck of the first man I meet. Give me back my Vassya, curse you!”

And her passion vanquished the chaste-hearted priest. To the weird moaning of the autumnal storm, to the sound of her frenzied babble, life itself, the eternal liar, seemed to bare her dark and mysterious loins, and through his darkening consciousness flashed like a gleam of distant lightning a monstrous conception: of a miraculous resurrection, of some far-off miraculously hazardous chance. And to the demoniac passion of the Popadya, heart-chaste and shamefaced, he responded with a passion as frenzied, wherein all things blended: the glory of hope, and the fervor of prayer, and the boundless despair of a great malefactor.

In the dead of night, when the Popadya had fallen into a heavy sleep, Father Vassily took his hat and his stick, and without stopping to dress, in a shabby nainsook cassock went out into the fields. The storm had subsided. The vapory drizzle had spread a moist and chilly film over the rainsoaked earth. The sky was as black as the earth, and the night of autumn breathed utter desolation. Within its gloomy maw the man had vanished, leaving no trace. Once his stick knocked against a boulder that chanced to lie in its path, then all was still, and a lasting silence ensued. A lifeless vapory mist stifled each timid sound in its icy embrace. The moribund foliage did not stir, not a voice, not a cry, not a groan was heard. Long lasted the silence⁠—and it was the silence of death.

And far beyond the village, away from any human habitation, an invisible voice pierced the gloom. It was a voice that was broken, choking and hoarse, like the moaning of infinite loneliness. But the words it spoke were as clear as celestial fire:

“I⁠—believe!” said the invisible voice. And in it were mingled menace and prayer, warning and hope.


In the spring the Popadya knew that she would be a mother; all through the summer she abstained from liquor, and a peace, serene and joyous, was enthroned in Father Vassily’s household. But the invisible foe still dealt his blows: now the twelve-pood14 hog which they had fattened for the market took sick and died; now little Nastya broke out all over her body in a malignant rash and refused to respond to treatment. But all these blows were borne lightly, and in the innermost recesses of her heart the Popadya even secretly rejoiced thereat: she was still doubtful of her great good fortune, and all these calamities seemed to be a premium which she was glad to pay for its assurance. She felt that if the prize hog fattened at such expense had died on her hands, if Nastya ailed so persistently, if anything else went wrong and caused repining, then no one would dare to lay a finger on her coming son or to harm him. But as for him, why, she would give up not only the whole household and her little daughter Nastya, but even her own body and soul would she gladly yield to that relentless unseen one who clamored for continual sacrifices.

She had improved in looks and ceased even to fear Ivan Porfyritch himself, and as she walked to her accustomed place in church she proudly paraded her rounded form and looked about with daring and self-reliant glances. And lest she should harm the babe in her womb, she had stopped all housework and was passing daily long hours in the neighboring fiscal forest, amusing herself by picking mushrooms. She was in mortal terror of the ordeal of birth, and resorted to fortune telling with mushrooms, trying to forecast whether the birth would pass off favorably or not; and mostly the answer was favorable. Sometimes under the impenetrable green dome of lofty branches, in some dark and fragrant bed of last season’s leaves, she gathered a small family of little white mushrooms, all huddled together, darkheaded and naive, and resembling a brood of little children, and their appearance evoked in her keen pangs of tenderness and affection. With that saintly smile peculiar to people who in solitude yield themselves up to truly pure and noble meditation, she cautiously dug the fibrous ashen-gray soil around the roots, and seating herself on the ground beside her mushrooms, gazed at them for a long time caressingly, a little pale from the greenish shadows of the forest, but fair to look upon, gentle and serene. And then she rose and walked on with the cautious waddling gait of a woman on the eve of childbirth, and the ancient forest, the hiding place of numberless little mushrooms, seemed to her a thing of life, wisdom and goodness. Once she took Nastya along for company, but the child capered, frolicked and raced through the bushes like a boisterous wolf-pup and interfered with her mother’s thoughts; and she never took her again.

And the winter was passing quietly and happily. She spent her evenings busily sewing a multitude of tiny shirts and swaddling cloths, or pensively stroking the linen with her white fingers upon which the oil lamp threw its bright glow.

She smoothed the soft fabric and stroked it with her hand, as though caressing it, thinking the while intimate thoughts of her own, the wonderful thoughts of motherhood, and in the blue reflection of the lampshade her beautiful face seemed to the priest as though illumined by some sweet and gentle radiance that came from within. Fearing by some incautious movement to disturb her beautiful and happy dreams, Father Vassily softly paced about the room, and his feet, clad in felt slippers, touched the floor gently and noiselessly. He let his gaze dwell now on the living room, cozy and agreeable like the face of a cherished friend, now on the figure of his wife, and all seemed well, just like in other people’s homes, and everything about him breathed peace, profound and serene. And his soul was peaceful and smiling, for he neither saw, nor felt that from somewhere there had fallen the diaphanous shadow of great grief and was now silently resting on his forehead, somewhere between his eyebrows. For even in these days of rest and peace a stern and mysterious fate was hovering over his life.

On the eve of Epiphany, the Popadya gave birth to a boy and he was named Vassily. His head was large and his legs were thin and little, and there was something strangely vacant and insensate in the immobile stare of his globe-shaped eyes. For the space of three years after the child’s birth the priest and his wife lived ’twixt fears, doubts and hopes, but when three years had passed it became evident that little Vassya had been born an idiot.

Conceived in madness, he had come into the world a madman.


Another year passed in the benumbed stupefaction of grief, but when they emerged from this comatose state and began to look about, they discovered that above their thoughts and their lives sat enthroned the monstrous image of the idiot. The household routine went on as in olden days; they built their fires, they discussed their daily affairs, but something new and dreadful had come into their lives: no one had any real interest in life, and all things were going to pieces. The farm hands loafed, refused to obey orders, and frequently gave notice without any apparent cause, and those who were hired in their place soon fell into the same queer state of indifference and restlessness and commenced to be insolent. Dinner was served either too late or too early, and someone was always missing from the table: either the Popadya, or little Nastya, or Father Vassily himself. From some unfathomable sources there appeared an abundance of tattered garments: the Popadya kept saying that she must darn her husband’s socks, and she even fussed with them, but the socks remained unmended and Father Vassily was footsore. And at night everyone in the house tossed about restlessly, tormented by vermin which came crawling from all crevices, and shamelessly paraded upon the walls, and try as they might, nothing seemed able to stop their loathsome invasion.

And wherever they went, whatever they undertook, they could not for a moment forget, that there in the darkened room sat one, unexpected and monstrous, the child of madness. When they left the house to go outdoors, they tried hard to keep from turning around or from glancing back, but something compelled them to glance back, and then it seemed to them that the framehouse itself in which they dwelt was conscious of some terrible change within: it stood there squat and huddled, as though in an attitude of listening, listening to that misshapen and dreadful thing that was contained within its depths, and all its bulging windows, its tightly shut doors seemed barely able to suppress an outcry of mortal anguish.

The Popadya went frequently visiting and spent hours at a stretch in the house of the deacon’s wife, but even there she failed to find rest, as though from the idiot’s side came forth threads of cobweb thinness⁠—and stretched out towards her, binding her to him indissolubly and for all eternity. And though she were to flee to the ends of the earth, though she were to hide behind the high walls of a nunnery, even though she were to seek escape in death, then into the very gloom of her grave those weblike threads would pursue her and enmesh her with fears and anguish.

And even their nights lacked peace: the faces of the sleepers seemed stolid, but within their skulls, in their dreams and waking nightmares the monstrous world of madness returned to life, and its lord was this same mysterious and dreadful image, half-child and half-brute.

He was four years old but had not yet learned to walk and could utter but one word: “give”; he was spiteful and obstinate, and if anything was denied him he screamed with piercing, ferocious animal cries and stretched out his hands with fingers that were rapaciously curved. And in his habits he was as filthy as an animal, performing his bodily functions wherever he chanced to be, and it was agonizing to attend to him: with the cunning of malice he awaited the moment when his mother’s or sister’s hair came within his reach, and then he tenaciously clutched at it, tearing it out by the roots in handfuls. Once he bit Nastya, but she flung him back on the bed and beat him long and mercilessly, as though he were not human, not a child, but a mere piece of spiteful flesh, and after this beating he developed a fondness for biting and snapped menacingly, showing his teeth like a dog.

It was also a difficult task to feed him: greedy and impatient, he could not gauge his movements, and would upset the dish, choking as he tried to swallow and wrathfully stretching his curving fingers towards the feeder’s hair. And his appearance was repulsive and horrible: on a pair of narrow, almost baby-like shoulders rested a small skull with an immense, immobile, broad face, the size of an adult’s. There was something disquieting and terrifying in this monstrous incongruity between face and body, and it seemed as though a child had for some reason put on an immense and repulsive mask.

And the tortured Popadya commenced to drink as in the days of old. She drank heavily, to unconsciousness and delirium, but even mighty alcohol could not release her from the iron circle in the centre of which reigned the horrible and monstrous image of the semichild, semi-beast. And as of yore she sought to find in liquor burning sorrowful memories of the perished firstborn, but the memories refused to come, and the lifeless insensate void yielded neither image nor sound. With every fibre of her inflamed brain she strove to resurrect the sweet face of the little gentle lad; she sang his favorite ditties; she imitated his smile; she pictured to herself his agony as he was choking and strangling in the turbid waters; and she felt his nearness, felt the flames of the great and passionately desired grief blaze up within her heart, but with abrupt swiftness⁠—unperceived by eye or ear⁠—the conjured vision, the longed for grief, vanished into nothingness, and out of the chilling lifeless void the monstrous, motionless mask of the idiot was staring into her eyes. And she felt as though she had just buried her little Vassya, buried him anew, interring him deeply in the bowels of the earth, and she longed to shatter her faithless head in the inmost depths of which so insolently reigned an alien and abominable image.

Terror-stricken she tossed about the room, calling her husband:

“Vassily! Vassily! Come⁠—quick!”

Father Vassily came and without opening his mouth sat down in a far corner of the room; and he was unconcerned and still, as though there had been no outcry, no madness, no terror. And his eyes were invisible; but under the heavy arch of his eyebrows yawned the immobile black of two sunken spots, and his haggard face resembled a skeleton’s skull. Leaning his chin on his scrawny arm, he seemed congealed in torpid silence and immobility, and remained in this attitude until the Popadya quieted down by degrees. Then with the intense care of a maniac she painstakingly barricaded the door which led into the idiot’s room. She dragged in front of it every table and chair she could find, piling cushions and clothing upon them, and still the barricade seemed too frail to suit her. And with the strength of drunkenness she wrenched a ponderous antique chest of drawers from its accustomed place, and scratching the floor in so doing she dragged it towards the door.

“Move the chair aside,” she called to her husband all out of breath, and he rose in silence, cleared the place for her and once more resumed his seat in the corner.

For a moment the Popadya appeared to regain her composure and sank into a chair, breathing heavily and holding her hand to her breast, but in the next instant she sprang to her feet again, and flinging back her disheveled hair to release her ears she listened in terror to the sounds which her morbid imagination seemed to conjure up beyond the wall:

“Hear it, Vassily? Hear it?”

The two black spots gazed upon her unmoved and a stolid distant voice answered:

“There’s nothing there. He is sleeping. Calm yourself, Nastya.”

The Popadya smiled the glad and radiant smile of a comforted child, and irresolutely sat down on the edge cf the chair.

“Do you mean it? Is he sleeping? Did you see it yourself? Don’t lie, it’s a sin to tell lies.”

“I saw him. He is asleep.”

“But who is talking back there?”

“There is no one there. You only imagine it.”

And the Popadya was so pleased that she laughed out loud, shaking her head in amusement and warding off something with an uncertain movement of her hand: as though some ill-disposed joker out of deviltry had tried to frighten her and she had seen through the joke and was now laughing at him. But like a stone that falls into a fathomless abyss her laughter fell into space without evoking an echo and died right there in loneliness, and her lips were still curved in a smile while the chill of new terror appeared in her eyes. And such stillness reigned in the room that it seemed as though no one had ever uttered a laugh there; from the scattered pillows, from the overturned chairs, so queer to look upon in their upset state, from the ponderous chest of drawers so clumsily skulking in its unwonted position, from all sides there stared upon her the greedy expectancy of some dire misfortune, of some unknown horrors which no human had ever gone through before. She turned to her husband⁠—in the dark corner she saw a dimly grey figure, lanky, erect and shadowy like a spectre; she leaned over: and a face peered at her, but it was not with its eyes that it peered; these were hidden by the dark shadow of the eyebrows; it seemed to peer at her with the white spots of its haggard cheekbones and of the forehead. She was breathing fast⁠—with loud, terrified gasps, and softly she moaned:

“Vassya, I am afraid of you! You’re so strange⁠ ⁠… Come here, come to the light!”

Father Vassily obediently moved to the table, and the warm glow of the lamp fell upon his face, but failed to evoke a responsive warmth. Yet his face was calm and was free from fear, and this sufficed her. Bringing her lips close to his ear, she whispered:

“Priest, do you hear me, priest? Do you remember Vassya⁠—that other Vassya?”


“Ah!” joyously exclaimed the Popadya. “You don’t? I don’t either. Are you scared, priest? Are you? Scared?”


“Then why do you groan when you sleep? Why do you groan?”

“Just so. I suppose I am sick.”

The Popadya laughed angrily.

“You? Sick? You⁠—sick?” with her finger she prodded his bony, but broad and solid chest. “Why do you lie?”

Father Vassily was silent. The Popadya looked wrathfully into his cold face, with a beard that had long known no contact with the trimming shear and protruded from his sunken cheeks in transparent clumps, and she shrugged her shoulders with loathing.

“Ugh! What a fright you have become! Hateful, mean, clammy like a frog. Ugh! Am I to blame that he was born like that? Tell me. What are you thinking about? Why are you forever thinking, thinking, thinking?”

Father Vassily maintained silence, and with an attentive, irritating gaze studied the bloodless and distorted features of his wife. And when the last sounds of her incoherent speech died away, gruesome, unbroken stillness gripped her head and breast as though with iron clamps and seemed to squeeze from her occasional hurried and unexpected gasps:

“And I know⁠ ⁠… I know⁠ ⁠… I know, priest.⁠ ⁠…”

“What do you know?”

“I know what are you thinking about.” The Popadya paused and shrunk from her husband in terror. “You⁠—don’t believe⁠ ⁠… in God. That’s what!”

And having uttered this she realized how dreadful was what she had said, and a pitiful pleading smile parted her lips that were swollen and scarred with biting, burnt with liquor and red as blood. And she looked up gladly, when the priest, with blanching cheeks, sharply and didactically replied:

“That is not true. I believe in God. Think before you speak.”

And silence once more, stillness once more, but now there was in this silence something soothing, something that seemed to envelop her like a wave of warm water. And lowering her eyes, she shyly pleaded:

“May I have a little drink, Vassya? It will help me to go to sleep, it’s getting late,” and she poured out a quarter of a glassful of liquor, adding irresolutely more and more to it, and draining the glass to the bottom with little, continuous gulps, with which women drink liquor. And the glow of warmth returned to her breast, she now longed for gaiety, noise, lights and for the sound of loud, human voices.

“Do you know what we’ll do, Vassya? Let’s play cards, let’s play ‘Fools’.15 Call Nastya. That will be nice. I love to play ‘Fools’. Call her, Vassya, dear. I’ll give you a kiss for it.”

“It is late. She is sleeping.”

The Popadya stamped the floor with her foot. “Wake her. Go!”

Nastya came in, slender and tall like her father, with large clumsy hands, that had grown coarse with toil. Shivering with the cold, she had wrapped a short shawl about her shoulders and was counting the greasy deck of cards without emitting a sound.

Then silently they sat down to a boisterously funny card game⁠—amid the chaos of overturned furniture, in the dead of night, when all the world had long sought the oblivion of sleep⁠—men, and beasts and fields. The Popadya joked and laughed and pilfered trumps out of the deck, and it seemed to her that the whole world was laughing and jesting, but the moment the last sound of her words died in the air, the same threatening and unbroken stillness closed over her, stifling her. And it was terrible to look upon the two pairs of mute and scrawny arms that moved slowly and silently over the table, as though these arms alone were alive and the people who owned them did not exist. Then shivering, as though with a crazedly drunken expectation of something supernatural, she looked up above the table⁠—two cold⁠—pallid⁠—sullen faces loomed desolately in the darkness and swayed back and forth in a queer and wordless whirl⁠—two cold, two sullen faces. Mumbling something, the Popadya gulped down another glassful of liquor, and once more the scrawny hands moved noiselessly, and the stillness began to hum, and someone else, a fourth one made his appearance behind the table. Someone’s rapaciously curved fingers were shuffling the cards, then they shifted to her body, running over her knees like spiders, crawling up towards her throat.

“Who’s here?” she cried out leaping to her feet and surprised to find the others standing up and watching her with terrified glances. Yes there were only two of them: her husband and Nastya.

“Calm yourself, Nastya. We’re here. There’s no one else here.”

“And he?”

“He is sleeping.”

The Popadya sat down and for a moment everything stopped rocking and slipped back into place. And Father Vassily’s face looked kind.

“Vassya! And what will happen to us when he starts to walk?”

It was little Nastya who replied:

“I was giving him his supper tonight and he was moving his legs.”

“It’s not so,” said the priest, but his words sounded dead and distant, and all at once everything started to circle in a frenzied whirl, lights and gloom began to dance, and eyeless spectres nodded to her from every side. They rocked to and fro, blindly they crept upon her, tapping her with curved fingers, tearing her garments, strangling her by the throat, plucking her hair and dragging her somewhere away. But she clutched the floor with broken finger nails and screamed out loud.

The Popadya was beating her head against the floor, striving impetuously to flee somewhere and tearing her clothes. And so powerful was she in the raging frenzy which seized her that Father Vassily and Nastya could not handle her unaided, and they were forced to summon the cook and a laborer. It required the combined efforts of all four to overpower her; then they tied her arms and legs with towels and laid her on the bed, and Father Vassily remained with her alone. He stood motionless by the bedside and watched the convulsive writhings and twitchings of her body and the tears that were flowing from beneath the tightly shut eyelids. In a voice that was hoarse with screaming she pleaded:

“Help! Help!”

Wildly piteous and terrible was this desolate cry for help, and there was no response. Darkness, dull and dispassionate, enveloped it like a shroud, and in this garment of the dead the cry was dead. The overturned stools were kicking up their legs absurdly, and their bottoms blushed with shame. The ancient chest of drawers stood awry and distracted, and the night was silent. And ever fainter, ever more pitiful sounded this lonely cry for help:

“Help! I suffer! Help! Vassya, my darling Vassya.⁠ ⁠…”

Father Vassily never stirred from the spot, but with a cool and oddly calm gesture, he raised up his hands and clasped his head even as his wife had done a half hour before, and as calmly and deliberately he brought them down again, and between his fingers trembled threads of black and greying hair.


Among people, mid their affairs and conversations, Father Vassily was so evidently a man apart, so unfathomably alien to all, that he did not seem human at all, but a moving cerement. He did whatever others did, he talked, he worked, he ate and drank, but it seemed at times as though he merely imitated others, while he personally lived in a different world that was inaccessible to any. And all who saw him asked themselves: what is this man thinking about? so manifest on his every movement was the impress of deep thought. It was seen in his ponderous gait, in the deliberateness of his halting speech, when between two spoken words yawned black chasms of hidden and distant thought; it hung like a heavy film over his eyes, and nebulous was his distant gaze that faintly glowed beneath his shaggy overhanging eyebrows. Sometimes it was necessary to speak to him twice before he heard and responded. And sometimes he neglected to greet others, and because of this some accounted him haughty. Thus once he failed to greet Ivan Porfyritch. The churchwarden was astounded for a moment, then hurried back and overtook the priest who was walking slowly.

“You’ve grown proud, Father! Won’t even greet a man!” he said mockingly. Father Vassily looked up at him in surprise, blushed a little and apologized:

“Pardon me, Ivan Porfyritch, I did not notice you.” The churchwarden attempted to look down upon him, measuring him with a look of censure, but for the first time he realized that the priest was the taller of the two, although the churchwarden was reputed to be the tallest man in the parish. And the churchwarden found something agreeable in this discovery, for unexpectedly to himself he invited the priest to call on him:

“Come and see me some day, Father.”

And several times he glanced back, in order to size up the receding figure of the priest. Even Father Vassily was pleased, but only for a moment. He had hardly taken two steps, when the burden of persistent thought, heavy and hard like a millstone, succeeded in stifling the memory of the churchwarden’s kindly words and crushed the quiet and bashful smile that was on its way to his lips. And he lapsed again into thought⁠—thinking of God and of people and of the mysterious fate of human life.

And it happened during confession; fettered by his immovable thoughts Father Vassily was coldly putting the customary queries to some old woman, when he was suddenly struck by an odd thing which he had never noticed before: there he stood calmly prying into the innermost secret thoughts and feelings of another, and that other looked up to him with awe and told him the truth⁠—that truth which it is not given to anyone else to know. And the wrinkled countenance of the old woman assumed a peculiar expression, it became brightly radiant, as though the darkness of night reigned all around, but the light of day was falling on that face alone. And suddenly he interrupted her and asked:

“Art thou telling the truth, woman?”

But what the old woman answered he heard not. The mist had departed from before his face, with flushing eyes⁠—as though a bandage had fallen from them⁠—he was gazing in amazement upon the face of the woman, and it seemed to him to bear a peculiar expression: clearly outlined upon it was some mysterious truth of God and of life. On the old woman’s head, beneath an openwork kerchief, Father Vassily noticed a parting line, a narrow grey strip of skin running through hair that was carefully combed on either side of it. And this parting line, this absurd care for an ugly, aged head that nobody else had any use for, was likewise a truth: the sorrowful truth of the ever lonely, ever sorrowful human existence. And it was then, for the first time in his life of forty years, that Father Vassily became aware with his eyes and with his hearing and with every one of his senses that beside him there were other creatures on earth⁠—creatures that were like him, having their own lives, their own sorrows, their own fates.

“And hast thou children?” hurriedly he inquired, interrupting the old woman again.

“They’re all dead, Father!”

“All dead?” inquired the priest in surprise.

“All dead,” she repeated and her eyes became bloodshot.

“And how dost thou live?” inquired Father Vassily in amazement.

“How should I live?” cried the woman. “I live by alms.”

Stretching out his neck, Father Vassily from the height of his immense stature riveted his gaze upon the old woman but did not utter a sound. And his long, scraggy face, fringed by his disheveled hair, seemed so strange and terrible to the woman that she was chilled to the tips of the fingers which she was holding clasped before her breast.

“Go now,” sounded a stern voice above her.

Strange days commenced now for Father Vassily, and something unwonted was going on in his mind; hitherto only this had been; there had existed a tiny earth whereon lived only the enormous figure of Father Vassily. Other people did not seem to exist. But now the earth had grown, had become unfathomably big, peopled all over with creatures like Father Vassily. There was a multitude of them, each living an individual existence, suffering individual sufferings, hoping and doubting individually, and among them Father Vassily felt like a lonely tree in a field about which suddenly an immense and trackless forest had grown. Gone was the solitude; and with it the sun and the bright desert distances, and the gloom of the night had grown in intensity.

All the people gave him truth. When he did not hear their truthful utterances, he saw their homes and their faces: and upon homes and faces was engraved the inexorable truth of life. He sensed this truth, but he was unable to grasp and name it and he eagerly sought new faces and new words. Few came to confession during the fast days of Advent, but he kept them in the confessional for hours at a time, examining each one searchingly, insistently, stealing himself into the most intimate nooks of the soul where man himself looks in but rarely and with awe. He did not know what he was searching for and he mercilessly plowed up everything⁠—that the soul rests on and lives by. In his questions he was pitiless and shameless, and each thought which he conceived was a stranger to fear. But it did not take him long to realize that all these people who were telling him the whole truth, as though he were God, were themselves ignorant of the truth of life. Back of their myriads of trifling, severed, hostile truths he dimly saw the shadowy outlines of the one great and all-solving truth. Everyone was conscious of it, everyone longed for it, yet none could define it with a human word⁠—that overwhelming truth of God and of people, and of the mysterious fates cf human life.

And Father Vassily himself began to sense it, and he sensed it now a despair and frenzied fear, now as pity, wrath and hope. And as heretofore, he was stern and cold to look upon, while his, mind and his heart were already melting in the fire of unknown truth and a new life was entering his old body.

On the Tuesday of the week preceding Christmas, Father Vassily had returned from the church rather late. In the dark cold vestibule someone’s hand arrested him and a hoarse voice whispered:

“Vassily, don’t go inside.”

By the note of terror in her voice he recognized his wife and stopped.

“I’ve been waiting an hour for you, I’m all frozen,” and her teeth chattered with the cold.

“What has happened? Come.”

“No. No. Listen, Nastya! I came in and found her standing before the mirror, making faces just like him, waving her hands like him.”


By main force he dragged the resisting Popadya into the living room, and there, looking around in fear, she told him more. While on her way into the living room to water the plants she had found Nastya, standing still before the mirror, and in the mirror she had seen the reflection of her face, not as it always looked, but oddly idiotic, with a savagely contorted mouth and squinting eyes. Then, still in silence, Nastya raised up her hands, and curving her fingers convulsively like the idiot, she stretched them out towards her own reflection in the mirror⁠—and everything was so still, and all this was so terrible and unreal that the Popadya screamed and dropped her water pot. And Nastya ran away. And row she did not know whether it had really happened or her own imagination had been playing a trick on her.

“Call Nastya and step out!” ordered the priest.

Nastya came and stopped on the threshold. Her face was long and scraggy like her father’s, and when she was talking she copied his posture: her neck extended, inclined a little to one side, looking sullenly askance from beneath her eyebrows. And she held her hands behind her back just as he was in the habit of doing.

“Nastya, why do you do these things?” firmly, but calmly inquired Father Vassily.

“What things?”

“Mother saw you near the mirror. Why did you do that? He is sick.”

“No, he is not sick, he pulls my hair.”

“Why do you imitate him? Do you like a face like his?”

Nastya stood sullenly with downcast eyes.

“I don’t know,” she answered. And then with a queer look of candor she looked into her father’s eyes and resolutely added: “Yes, I like it.”

Father Vassily looked at her searchingly but did not say a word.

“Don’t you like it?” semi-affirmatively inquired Nastya.


“Then why do you keep thinking about him? I would kill him if I were you.”

And it seemed to Father Vassily that even then she was making a face like the idiot: something dull and brutish flitted over her cheeks and drew her eyes together.

“Go!” he sternly commanded. But Nastya did not move and with the same queerly candid expression she kept on gazing straight into her father’s eyes. And her face no longer resembled the repulsive mask of the idiot.

“But you never think of me,” she observed simply, as though expressing an abstract truth.

And then, in the gathering gloom of the wintry dusk, there occurred between these two⁠—who were so like, yet so unlike one another⁠—a brief and curious dialog:

“You are my daughter. Why did I know nothing about it? Do you know?”


“Come and kiss me.”

“I don’t want to.”

“Don’t you love me?”

“No, I love nobody.”

“Even as I,” and the priest’s nostrils extended with repressed laughter.

“Don’t you love anybody either? And how about mama? She drinks so much. I’d kill her too.”

“And me?”

“No, not you. You talk to me at least. I feel sorry for you sometimes. It must be very hard, don’t you know, when your son is a silly. He is terribly mean.”

“You don’t begin to know how mean he is. He eats cockroaches alive. I gave him a dozen and he ate them all up.”

Without moving away from the door she sat down on the corner of a chair, cautiously, like a scullery maid, folded her hands on her knees and waited.

“It’s a weary life, Nastya,” pensively said the priest.

Unhurriedly and importantly she agreed with him:

“It certainly is.”

“And do you pray to God?”

“Of course I do. Only at night, in the morning there is too much work, I have no time. I must sweep, make up beds, put things in order, wash the dishes, get tea for Vasska,16 serve it to him, you know yourself how much work that is.”

“Just like a servant maid,” said Father Vassily indefinitely.

“What did you say?” said Nastya uncomprehendingly.

Father Vassily bowed low his head and maintained silence. Immense and black he loomed against the dull white background of the window, and his words seemed to Nastya round and shiny like glass beads. She waited long, but her father was silent and she called out timidly:


Without raising his head Father Vassily commandingly waived his hand, once, then the second time. Nastya sighed and rose, but hardly had she turned in the doorway when something rustled behind her and two powerful, sinewy arms raised her up in the air and a mocking voice whispered in her very ear:

“Put your arms around my neck. I’ll carry you.”

“Why? I am big.”

“No matter. Hold fast.”

It was hard work breathing in the embrace of two arms that were holding her like hoops of iron, and she had to duck her head in the doorway in order not to knock against the transom; she did not know whether she was pleased or merely surprised. And she did not know whether she merely imagined it or her father had really whispered into her ear:

“You must be sorry for mama.”

But after she had said her prayers and was getting ready for bed, Nastya sat for a long while on her bed, lost in musing. Her slim little back with the pointed shoulder blades and the distinctly marked vertebrae was almost humped; the soiled nightshirt had slipped from the angular shoulder; folding her hands about her knees and rocking back and forth, she resembled a ruffled bird that was overtaken in the field by the frost. She was staring straight ahead with unblinking eyes that were plain and enigmatic like the eyes of a beast. And with pensive obstinacy she whispered:

“And still I’d kill her.”

Late at night, when everyone was asleep, Father Vassily silently stole into the room, and his face was cold and austere. Without casting a glance at Nastya, he set the lamp down on the table and bent over the calmly sleeping idiot. He was lying on his back, his misshapen chest stretched out, his arms spread out; his little shriveled head had fallen back, and its receding chin gleamed white. As he lay sleeping, under the pale reflected light which was falling upon him from the ceiling, his face, with the closed eyelids hiding his witless eyes, did not seem as horrible as in the daytime. It seemed wearied, like the face of an actor exhausted after playing a difficult part, and around his tightly shut enormous mouth lay the shadow of stern grief. It was as though there were in him two souls, and while one was sleeping, the other was wakeful⁠—all-knowing and sorrowful.

Father Vassily straightened up slowly, and maintaining an austere and stolid expression, walked out and proceeded to his room without casting a glance at Nastya. He was walking slowly and calmly, with the ponderous and lifeless stride of profound meditation, and the darkness scattered before him, hiding behind him in deep shadows and cunningly pursuing him at his heels. His face was shining brightly in the light of the lamp and his eyes were gazing fixedly into the distance, far ahead, into the very depths of fathomless space, while his feet slowly and clumsily pursued their automatic march.

It was late at night and the second cocks had crowed.


Lent had arrived. The muffled church-bell commenced its monotonous tinkle, but its wan, melancholy, modest sounds of summons could not dispel the wintry stillness which was lying over snow-covered fields. Timidly they leaped from the belfry into the misty air below, and sank and died, and for a long time nobody came to the little church in response to its appeal⁠—faint at first, but persistent and growing more imperious every day.

Towards the end of the first week of Lent two old women came to church⁠—hoary they were, hazy and deaf like the very air of the dying winter, and for a long time they mumbled with toothless mouths, repeating, forever over and over repeating their dull, uncouth plaints which had no beginning and knew no end. Their very words and tears seemed to have grown aged in service and ready for rest. They had received absolution, but they failed to realize it, and were still praying for something, deaf and hazy like fragments of a vapid dream. But in their wake came a throng of people, and many youthful, fervid tears, many youthful words, pointed and gleaming, cut their way into Father Vassily’s heart.

When Semen Mossyagin, a peasant, had thrice bowed to the ground, and cautiously advanced towards the priest, the latter gazed upon him sharply and fixedly, but the pose which he maintained did not seem to befit the occasion.

With his neck extended, his hands folded across his chest, he was tugging at the end of his beard with the fingers of one hand. Mossyagin walked up to the priest and was astounded: the priest was watching him and smiling softly with nostrils distended like a horse.

“I have been waiting for thee for a long time,” said the priest with a snicker. “Why hast thou come, Mossyagin?”

“For confession,” quickly and eagerly replied Mossyagin and with a friendly grin exposed his white teeth⁠—they were white and even like a string of pearls.

“Wilt thou feel better after confession?” continued the priest, smiling, as it seemed to the peasant, in a merry and friendly fashion.

“Of course I will.”

“And is it true that thou hast sold thy horse and the last sheep and mortgaged thy wagon?”

Mossyagin looked at the priest seriously and with a show of annoyance: the priest’s face was stolid, his eyes were downcast. Neither broke the silence. Father Vassily turned slowly towards the lectern and commanded:

“Tell thy sins.”

Mossyagin coughed, assumed a devotional expression, and cautiously inclining his head and his chest towards the priest began to speak in a loud whisper. And while he spoke, the priest’s face became more and more forbidding and solemn, as though it had turned to stone under the hail of the peasant’s painful and constraining words. His breath came fast and heavy as though choking in that senseless, dull and savage something which was called the life of Semen Mossyagin and which seemed to grip him as though in the black coils of some mysterious serpent. It was as though the stern law of causality had no dominion over this humble but fantastic existence: so unexpectedly, with such clownish absurdity there were linked in it trivial transgressions and unmeasured suffering, a mighty, an elemental will to a mighty elemental creativeness and a monstrously vegetating existence somewhere in No-man’s land between life and death. Endowed with a fine mind that slightly inclined to sarcasm, strong in body like a ferocious beast, enduring as though fully three hearts beat in his breast, so that when one of the three died, the ethers gave life to a new one⁠—he seemed capable of overturning the very earth upon which firmly, though clumsily were planted his feet. But in reality what happened? He was forever on the verge of starvation, as were his wife, his children, his cattle; and his bedimmed mind reeled drunkenly as though unable to find the door of its own abode. Desperately straining every effort in an endeavor to build up something, to create something, he merely fell sprawling into the dust, and his work collapsed and disintegrated, rewarding him with a mock and a sneer. He was a man of compassion, and had adopted an orphan, and everybody scolded him; and the orphan lived awhile and died of constant malnutrition and illness, and then he began to scold himself and ceased to understand whether it was the right thing to be compassionate or not. It seemed as though the tears should never dry in the eyes of so unfortunate a man, or that the outcries of wrath and resentment should never die upon his lips, but strange to say he was always goodnatured and cheerful, and even his beard seemed somehow absurdly gay; blazing red it was, with each hair seemingly awhirl and agog in an interminable whimsical dance. And he even took part in the village choral dances with the young lads and lassies, singing the melancholy folksongs with a high tremolo voice that brought tears to the eyes of the hearers, while on his own lips played a smile of gentle sarcasm.

And his sins were so trivial and formal: a surveyor whom he had driven to the nearest village⁠—Petrovki⁠—had offered him a meatpie on a fast day, and he had eaten of it; and in confessing he dwelt as long upon this transgression as though he had committed a murder; and the year before, just before communion, he had smoked a cigarette and this too he described at great length and with agonized anguish.

“That’s all!” finally said Mossyagin, in a cheery voice, and wiped the perspiration from his brow.

Father Vassily slowly turned his haggard face to him:

“And who helpeth thee?”

“Who helps me?” repeated Mossyagin. “Nobody. It’s a scant fare for us villagers, you know that yourself. Still Ivan Porfyritch helped me out once,” the peasant winked slyly at the priest: “he gave me three poods of flour, and promised four more towards fall.”

“And God?”

Semen sighed and his face grew sad.

“God? I daresay I’m undeserving.”

The priest’s superfluous questions were beginning to annoy Mossyagin. He glanced back over his shoulder at the empty church, carefully counted the hairs in the priest’s sparse beard, surveyed his half-rotted teeth and it occurred to him that the priest might have spoilt them by eating too much sugar. And he heaved a sigh.

“What art thou waiting for?”

“What I am waiting for? What should I be waiting for?”

And silence again. It was dark and cold in the church, and the chilly air was stealing under the peasant’s blouse.

“And must it go on like this always?” asked the priest, and his words sounded listless and distant like the thud of the earth thrown into the grave upon the lowered coffin.

“And must it go on like this always?” repeated Mossyagin listening to the sound of his own words. And all that had passed in his life rose before him again: the hungry faces of the children, the reproaches, the killing toil, the dull heartache that makes one long to drink and fight; and so it must go on, for a long time, all through life⁠—until death steps in. Blinking his white eyelashes, Mossyagin cast a teardimmed misty glance upon the priest and met his sharp and blazing gaze⁠—and in this exchange of glances they recognized an intimate sorrowful kinship. An instinctive movement drew them together, and Father Vassily laid his hand on the peasant’s shoulder: lightly and gently it rested upon it like a cobweb in autumn time. Mossyagin’s shoulder quivered affectionately, he lifted up his eyes trustingly, and pitifully smiling with a corner of his mouth he said:

“But like as not it may ease up!”

The priest removed his hand imperceptibly and was silent. The peasant’s white eyelashes blinked faster and faster, the little hairs in the blazing red beard danced ever more merrily, while his tongue babbled something unintelligible and incoherent:

“No. I dare say it won’t ease up. You’re right.”

But the priest did not suffer him to finish. He stamped his foot with repressed emotion, scared the peasant with a wrathful, hostile glance, and hissed at him like an angry adder:

“Don’t weep! Don’t dare to weep. Oh, why do they blubber like senseless calves? What can I do?” he prodded his chest with his finger. “What can I do? Am I God, am I? Ask Him! Ask Him! Ask Him! I tell thee.”

He pushed the peasant’s shoulder.

“Down on thy knees.”

Mossyagin knelt.


Behind him loomed the walls of the deserted and gloomy church, above him rang the angered voice of the priest: “Pray! Pray!”, and without rendering account to himself of his actions, Mossyagin commenced to cross himself swiftly, touching the ground with his forehead. And the swift and monotonous movements of his head, the extraordinary nature of the penance, the consciousness of being at that very instant subject to some powerful and mysterious will⁠—filled the mind of the peasant with awe and at the same time with a peculiar sense of relief.

For in this very awe before something mighty and austere was born the hope of intercession and mercy. And ever more frantically he was pressing his brow to the cold floor, when the priest abruptly commanded:


Mossyagin arose, made his obeisance to the nearest images, and the fiery-red hairs of his beard whirled and danced willingly and cheerfully when he again approached the priest. Now he was sure that he would find relief and he calmly awaited further commands.

But Father Vassily merely measured him with a sternly curious glance and pronounced the absolution. On his way out of the church Mossyagin looked back: still in the same spot stood the nebulous figure of the priest, the faint glimmer of a wax taper could not fully outline it, and it loomed black and immense as though it had no definite contours and limits but was merely a particle of the gloom which was filling the church.

Communicants were now flocking daily in increasing numbers to the confessional and numberless faces, both wrinkled and youthful, alternated before Father Vassily in wearisome procession. He quizzed them all insistently and severely, and timid, incoherent speeches were poured into his ears by the hour, and the purport of each speech was suffering, terror and a great expectation. All united in condemning life, but none seemed anxious to die, and everybody appeared to be waiting for something, and this expectation seemed to have been handed down as an inheritance from the father of the race. It had passed through minds and hearts long since vanished from the world, and for this reason it was so imperious and potent. And it had become bitter, for on its way it had absorbed all the grief of hope unrealized, all the bitterness of faith deceived, all the consuming anguish of infinite desolation. The blood of all hearts, living and dead, had nourished its roots, and it had branched out over the whole of life like a great and mighty tree. And losing himself among these souls like a wanderer in the forest primeval, he was also forgetting his own pent-up sufferings which had crowned his head with a stern sorrow, and he too began to wait for something with a stern impatience.

He did not wish now for human tears, but they were flowing irrepressibly, overruling his will, and every tear was a demand, and they all penetrated his heart like poisoned arrows. And with the dim sense of approaching horror he began to comprehend that he was not the master of men, not even their neighbor, but their servant, their slave, that the eyes of a great expectation were seeking him, were commanding him, were summoning him. And ever oftener he admonished, them with repressed wrath:

“Ask Him! Ask Him!”

And he turned his back upon them.

But at night the living people took on the guise of diaphanous shadows and walked by his side in a silent throng, invading his very thoughts, and they made a transparency of the walls of his house and a mock of the locks and the bars on its doors. And agonized, weirdly fantastic were the dreams that unrolled like a flaming band beneath his skull.

It was in the fifth week of Lent, when the breath of spring wafted its fragrance over the fields and the dusk was blue and diaphanous, that the Popadya had started on another drunken debauch. She had been drinking heavily for four days at a stretch, screaming with terror and struggling, and on the fifth day⁠—it was Saturday⁠—towards evening, she put out the little oil lamp before the saint’s image in her room, twisted a towel into a noose and tried to strangle herself. But the moment the noose had begun to stifle her she became frightened and cried out, and Father Vassily came running with little Nastya and released her. It all ended in mere fright. Nor, indeed, had there been any danger, for the noose was clumsily tied and it was impossible to be strangled in it. But more frightened than all was the Popadya herself. She wept and pleaded to be forgiven; her arms and legs were trembling, her head shook as with palsy; the whole evening she kept her husband by her side and clung closely to him. The extinguished oil lamp in her room was lighted again at her own request, and other oil lamps before each holy image, and it looked like the eve of some great church festival. After the first moment of excitement Father Vassily had regained his composure and was now coldly amiable, even jocular. He related a very amusing incident of his seminary days, and then his memory strolled back into the dim past of his early boyhood and he told about his escapades in stealing apples in company with other youngsters. And it was so difficult to imagine a watchman leading him away by the ear, that Nastya refused to believe or laugh, although Father Vassily himself was laughing with a gentle, childlike laughter and his face looked truthful and good.

Little by little the Popadya also regained her composure and ceased to look askance into obscure nooks, and when Nastya had been sent to bed, she smiled gently at her husband and inquired:

“Were you scared?”

Father Vassily’s face lost its truthful and kindly expression, and only his lips were smiling as he replied:

“Of course. What had come into your head anyway?”

The Popadya trembled as though chilled by a sudden draught, and picking with shaking fingers at the fringe of her warm shawl she said irresolutely:

“I don’t know, Vassya. My heart is so heavy. And I’m so afraid of everything. Afraid of everything. Things go on and I can’t make out how and why. There we have spring, and summer will follow. Then again the fall and the winter. And we shall still sit as we are sitting now, you in your corner and I in mine. Don’t be angry with me, Vassya. I realize that it can’t be different. And yet.⁠ ⁠…”

She sighed and continued without taking her eyes off the shawl.

“There was a time when I did not fear death, I thought when things went very badly with me, I should die. And now I even fear death. What’s to become of me, Vassya, dear? Must it be⁠—drink again.”

Perplexed she raised her sorrowful eyes to his face, and in them he read the pangs of mortal anguish and of boundless despair, and a dull and humble plea for mercy. In the town where Feeveysky spent his student days, he had seen on one occasion a greasy Tartar leading a horse to the flaying yeard: it had broken its hoof which was hanging by a shred and the horse was stepping up on the pavement with the mutilated stump of the crippled foot; it was a cold day and a cloud of white steam enveloped the horse, but it walked on staring ahead with an immobile gaze, and its eyes were horrible in their meekness. Even such were the eyes of the Popadya. And he thought that if someone were to dig a grave, and fling this woman into its depths burying her alive, he would be committing a kindly deed.

The Popadya with trembling lips tried to puff into life the cigarette which had long since gone out and continued:

“And then again he. You know whom I mean. Of course he’s a child, and I feel sorry for him. But soon he’ll commence to walk and he will be the death for me. And not a soul to help. Now I’ve complained to you, but what good is it? I don’t know what to do?”

She heaved a sigh and threw up her hands in despair. And in unison with her the low squat room itself seemed to sigh, and the shades of night whose silent throng surrounded Father Vassily whirled about him in agony. They were sobbing in frenzied anguish, they were extending their nerveless hands, they were pleading for mercy, for pardon, for truth.

“Ah!” responded a hoarse groan from the depths of the priest’s bony chest. He jumped to his feet, upsetting the chair with an abrupt movement, and began to pace the floor with a swift stride, shaking his folded hands, mumbling something, stumbling like a blind or an insane man against chairs and against walls. And when colliding with a wall, he hastily touched it with his scrawny fingers and turned back in his flight, and so he circled in the narrow cage of the room’s mute walls like a fantastic shade that had assumed a gruesome and weird materialization. But in an odd contrast to the frantic mobility of his body, immobile like the eyes of a blind man were his eyes, and in them glistened tears, the first tears which he had shed since Vassya’s death.

Forgetting her own self, the Popadya’s awestricken eyes followed the priest and she cried:

“Vassya, what’s the matter with you? What is the matter?”

Father Vassily turned around abruptly, hastily gained his wife’s side, as though rushing over to trample upon her, and he laid his heavy and shaking hand on her head. And for a long, long time he silently held his hand above her head, as though in benediction, as though warding off the powers of evil. And he spoke and each resonant sound that composed his words was a ringing metallic tear:

“Poor little woman; poor little woman.”

And once more he resumed his pacing, towering and awe-inspiring in his despair, like a tigress who had been robbed of her young one. His face was frantically convulsed, and his shaking lips jerked out half-formed, fragmentary, infinitely sorrowing words:

“Poor woman. Poor woman.⁠ ⁠… Poor people all. All weeping.⁠ ⁠… No help⁠ ⁠… Oh-oh-oh!”

He stopped and raising aloft his immobile eyes, with his gaze transfixing the ceiling and the misty gloom of the vernal night beyond it, he cried out in a piercing, frenzied voice:

“And thou sufferest it! thou sufferest it! Then take.⁠ ⁠…” and he clenched his fist and shook it aloft, but at his feet, with her hands wrapt about her knees, the Popadya lay writhing in hysterics, and mumbled, choking mid tears and laughter:

“Don’t! Don’t! Darling, precious! I’ll never do it again!”

The idiot woke up and was howling; Nastya came running into the room in wild affright and the jaws of the priest set with a metallic snap.

Silently, and with seeming indifference, he tended his wife, laying her down on her bed, and when she had fallen asleep he was still holding her hand between his two palms, and thus he sat until morning by her bedside⁠ ⁠… And all through the night, until morning, oil lamps were burning before each image, as though on the eve of a great and glorious festival.

The next day Father Vassily was the same as usual⁠—cool and calm, nor did he by a word recall the incidents of the day before. But in his voice, whenever he exchanged words with his wife, in the glance with which he regarded her was a gentle tenderness which only her own tormented heart could appreciate. And so mighty was this manly, silent tenderness that the tormented heart smiled a timid smile in return and retained the memory of this smile in its depths like a cherished treasure. They conversed but little, and their sparing speech was simple and commonplace; they were rarely together⁠—torn asunder by life’s vicissitudes⁠—but with hearts full of suffering they were constantly seeking one another; nor could any human being, nor cruel fate itself divine with what hopeless anguish and tenderness they loved one another. Long ago, since the birth of the idiot, they had ceased living as man and wife, and they resembled a pair of devoted unhappy lovers deprived even of a hope of happiness, dreaming dreams that dared not assume a definite shape. And shame, once abandoned, returned again into the heart of the wife, and with it a desire to appear attractive; she blushed when her husband saw her bare arms and she did something to her face and her hair that made both look fresh and youthful and strangely beautiful in spite of the sadness of her expression. But when the periodic spells of drunkenness came on again, the Popadya disappeared in the seclusion of her darkened room, even as dogs are wont to hide when they feel the approach of madness, and in silence and solitude she fought out her battle with madness and with the monstrous visions born of it.

But every night, when all were asleep, the Popadya stole to the bedside of her husband and made a sign of the cross over his head as though to dispel from his brow all grief and evil thoughts. And she longed to kiss his hand, but dared not, and silently retired to her room, vanishing in the darkness like a dim white vision similar to the nebulous and melancholy apparitions which hover at night over swamps and over the graves of deceased and forgotten people.


The Lenten bell continued to send abroad its monotonous and somber summons, and it seemed as though with each muffled knell it gathered fresh power over the consciences of the village folk. In ever increasing numbers silent figures, somber as the sound of the tolling church bell, wended their way to the little church from every direction. Night still reigned over the denuded fields and a thin crust of ice still spanned the murmuring brook, when from every road and side path human figures appeared marching one by one, but united by some common bond into one solemnly chastened procession moving to the same invisible goal.

And every day, from early morn until late in the evening, Father Vassily was confronted with a succession of human faces, some with every wrinkle brightly outlined by the yellow glow of wax tapers, others dimly emerging out of obscure nooks as though the very atmosphere of the church had taken on the shape of a human being thirsting for mercy and truth. The people crowded and pushed, clumsily elbowing one another; they shuffled their feet heavily as they dropped to their knees with discordant and asymmetric movements; and heaving deep sighs, with relentless insistence they laid their sins and their sorrows before the priest.

Each one had enough suffering and grief for a dozen human existences, and it seemed to the overwhelmed and distracted priest, as though the entire living world had brought its tears and its pangs before him seeking his aid, meekly pleading for it, imperiously clamoring for it. Once he had been searching for truth, but now he was drowning in it, in this merciless truth of suffering; in the agonized consciousness of impotence he longed to die⁠—merely in order to escape seeing, hearing and knowing. He had summoned the woe of humanity and lo! it came to him. His soul was afire like the sacrificial altar, and he longed to put his arms about every one of them with a fraternal embrace, saying: “poor friend, let us struggle on side by side, let us together weep and seek. For there is no help for man from anywhere.”

But this was not what the people, worn out with the struggle of life, were expecting from him, and with anguish, with wrath, with despair he kept repeating:

“Ask of Him! Ask of Him!”

Sorrowing they believed him and departed, and in their place came others in fresh and serried ranks, and again he frantically repeated the terrible and relentless words:

“Ask of Him! Ask of Him!”

And the hours in the course of which he listened to truth seemed to him as years, and that which had passed in the morning before the confession, appeared dim and faint like all images of a distant past. When finally he came out of the church, being the last to leave, darkness had already set in, the stars sparkled sweetly, and the silent air of the vernal night seemed like a tender caress. But he had no faith in the peace of the stars; he fancied that even from these distant worlds, groans and cries and broken pleas for mercy descended upon him. And he felt crushed with a sense of personal shame as though he himself had perpetrated all the wickedness that reigned in the world, as though he himself had caused all these tears to flow, had mangled and torn into shreds all these human hearts. He was overwhelmed with shame because of these downtrodden homes which he passed on his way, he was ashamed to enter his own house where by virtue of sin and of madness the dreadful image of the semi-idiot, semi-beast, held its autocratic insolent sway.

And in the mornings he walked to the church as men walk to the scaffold to meet a shameful and agonizing death, with the whole world as executioners: the dispassionate sky, the hurrying, thoughtlessly laughing mob and his own relentless inner thoughts. Every suffering person was his executioner, a helpless tool of an all-powerful God, and there were as many hangmen as there were people, and as many lashes as there were trusting and expectant hearts. They were all inexorably insistent. No man thought of ridiculing the priest, but at any moment he tremblingly expected the outburst of some horrible satanic laughter and he feared to turn his back upon the people. All that is brutal and evil is born behind a man’s back, but while he is looking, no one dare attack him face to face. And that is why he looked at them, worrying them with his glance, and frequently turned his eyes to the place behind the lectern occupied by Ivan Porfyritch Koprov, the churchwarden.

The latter alone talked loudly in the church as he calmly sold his tapers; and twice during the service he sent up the verger and some boys to take up collections. Then noisily rattling his copper coins, he piled them up in little heaps, and frequently clicked the lock of his cash box; when others knelt, he merely inclined his head and crossed himself. And it was obvious that he regarded himself as a man needful to God, knowing that without him God would be at no small difficulty to arrange things as well as they were going and to keep them in proper order.

Since the beginning of Lent he had been very angry with Father Vassily because of the interminable time he took up in the confessional. He could not understand what great and interesting sins these people could have that could make it worth while to devote so much time to them. It was all due, he claimed, to the fact that Father Vassily knew neither how to live himself nor how to handle people.

“Dost thou think they appreciate it?” he said to the good-natured deacon who like the rest of the church officials was worn out with the heavy burden of Lenten duties. “Not a bit of it. They will only laugh at him.”

Father Vassily’s stern demeanor, on the contrary, pleased him, just as he had been pleasantly impressed when he had first observed his towering height. A genuine priest and a servant of God seemed to him akin to an honest and efficient steward who requires an exact and accurate accounting from those with whom he deals. Ivan Porfyritch himself went to confession the last week in Lent, and he made long preparations for it, trying to remember and to classify all his small transgressions. And he was inordinately proud to know that he kept his sins in the same good order as his business affairs.

On Wednesday of Holy week, when Father Vassily was fast losing his physical strength, an unusually numerous throng had gathered to confess. The last man in the confessional was a worthless scamp named Trifon, a cripple, who hobbled on crutches from village to village in the vicinity. Instead of legs which he had lost in some factory accident and which had been trimmed down to his loins, he had a pair of short little stumps around which a bag of skin had formed. His shoulders, raised up through the constant use of crutches supported a filthy head that seemed to be covered with a growth of coarse hemp, and he had an equally filthy and neglected beard; his eyes were the insolent eyes of a mendicant, drunkard and thief. He was repulsive and dirty, groveling in filth and dust like a reptile, and his soul was as dark and mysterious as the soul of a savage beast. It was difficult to understand how he managed to live and yet he lived and even had women, as fantastic and unreal and as unlike a human being as himself.

Father Vassily was forced to bend down low in order to hear the cripple’s confession. The impudently serene stench of his body, the parasites crawling about his head and neck⁠—even as he himself crawled over the face of the earth⁠—revealed to the priest in a flash the utter destitution of his crippled soul⁠—horrible, shameful, unfathomable to conscience. And with a terrible clearness he realized how dreadfully, how irrevocably this man had been deprived of all the human characteristics, of all the things to which he was as fully entitled as the kings in their palaces, as the saints in their cloistered cells, and he shuddered.

“Go. God absolveth thee of thy sins,” he said.

“Wait. I have more to confess,” hoarsely croaked the beggar, raising up his purpling face. And he related how ten years back he had in a forest violated a little girl, giving her three copper coins when she cried, and how later begrudging her this money, he strangled her to death and buried her in the woods. And there no one ever found her. A dozen times, to a dozen different priests he had related the same story, and because of this repetition it appeared to him simple and ordinary and unrelated to himself, as though it were a mere fairy tale which he had learned by heart. Sometimes he varied this story: instead of summer time he pictured the event as having occurred late in the fall; now the little girl was a blonde, now darkhaired; but the three copper coins never varied. Some priests refused to believe him and laughed at him, pointing out that for ten years past not one little girl had been killed or missed in the entire region; he was caught in numberless and crude contradictions, and it was demonstrated to him that the whole story was an obvious fabrication, born of his diseased brain while he drunkenly roamed through the woods. And this aroused him to frenzy: he shouted, he swore by the name of God, calling as frequently upon the devil as upon God to bear him witness, and began to recite such repulsive and obscene details that the oldest priests were made to blush with indignation. Now he was waiting to see if this priest of the Snamenskoye village would believe him or not, and he was content to note that the priest believed him: for the priest had shrunk back, with bloodless cheeks and raised his hand as though to strike him:

“Is this true?” hoarsely asked Father Vassily.

The beggar began to cross himself energetically.

“I swear by God it is true. Let me sink into the ground if it ain’t.⁠ ⁠…”

“But that means hell!” cried the priest. “Dost thou grasp it: hell?”

“God is merciful,” mumbled the beggar, with a sullen and injured tone. But from his wicked and frightened eyes it was plainly seen that he expected to go to hell and had become accustomed to that thought even as to his queer tale of the strangled little girl.

“Hell on earth, hell beyond. Where is thy paradise? Wert thou a worm, I would crush thee with my foot, but thou art a man. A man? Or art thou truly a worm? What art thou, speak?” cried the priest and his hair shook as though fanned by a breeze. “And where is thy God? Why has He left thee?”

“I made him believe it,” gleefully thought the beggar, feeling the words of the priest strike his head like a hail of molten metal.

Father Vassily sat down on his haunches and drawing from the degradingly unusual pose a strange and an agonizing store of pride, he passionately whispered:

“Listen. Don’t be afraid. There will be no hell. I am telling thee truly. I too have killed a human being. A little girl. Her name is Nastya. And there will be no hell. Thou wilt be in paradise. Understand? With the saints, with the righteous! Higher than all.⁠ ⁠… Higher than all, I tell thee.”

That evening Father Vassily returned home very late, after his family had finished supper. He was very tired and haggard, wet to his knees and covered with dirt, as though he had tramped for a long time over pathless and rainsodden fields. In the household preparations were being made for the Easter festival. Though very busy, the Popadya from time to time ran in for a moment out of the kitchen, anxiously scanning her husband’s features. And she tried to appear gay and to conceal her anxiety.

But at night, when according to her custom she came into his bedroom on tiptoe and having made a threefold sign of the cross over his head, was about to depart, she was stopped by a gentle and timid voice⁠—so unlike the voice of the austere Father Vassily:

“Nastya, I cannot go to church.”

There was terror in that voice, and also something pleading and childlike. As though unhappiness was so immense that it was no longer any use to put on the mask of pride and of slippery, lying words behind which people are wont to conceal their feelings. The Popadya fell to her knees by the bedside of her husband and peered into his face: in the faint bluish light of the oil lamp it seemed as pale as the face of a corpse and as immobile, and only his black eyes were open and squinted in her direction. He lay still and flat on his back like a man stricken with a painful disease, or like a child frightened by an evil dream and afraid to move.

“Pray, Vassya!” whispered the Popadya, stroking his clammy hands which were crossed upon his breast like the hands of a corpse.

“I cannot. I am afraid. Light the lamp, Nastya.”

While she was lighting the lamp, Father Vassily began to dress, slowly and awkwardly, like an invalid who had been long chained to his bed. He could not unaided fasten the hooks of his cassock, and he asked his wife:

“Hook the cassock.”

“Where are you going?” inquired the Popadya in surprise.

“Nowhere. Just so.”

And he began to pace the floor slowly and diffidently with faint and shaking limbs. His head was trembling with a measured and hardly perceptible palpitation, and his lower jaw had dropped impotently. With an effort he attempted to draw it up into its proper place, licking his dry and flabby lips, but in the next moment it dropped back again; exposing the dark gap of his mouth. Something vast, something inexpressibly horrible seemed to be impending⁠—like boundless waste and boundless silence. And there was neither earth nor people nor any world beyond the walls of the house, there was only the yawning bottomless abyss and eternal silence.

“Vassya, is it really true?” asked the Popadya, her heart sinking with the fear within her.

Father Vassily looked at her with dim, lacklustre eyes, and with a momentary access of energy waved his hand:

“Don’t. Don’t. Be silent.”

And once more he fell to pacing the floor, and once more dropped the strengthless jaw. And thus he paced the room, with the slow deliberateness of Time itself, while the pale-cheeked woman sat terror-stricken on the bed, only with the slow deliberateness of Time itself her eyes moved and followed him in his walk. And something vast was impending. There it came and stood still and gripped them with a vacant and all-embracing stare⁠—vast as the boundless waste, terrible as the eternal silence.

Father Vassily stopped in front of his wife, regarding her with unseeing eyes and said:

“It is dark. Light another light.”

“He is dying,” thought the Popadya and with shaking hands, scattering matches on the floor, she lighted a candle. And once more he begged:

“Light still another.”

And she kept lighting and lighting them. Many candles and lamps were now ablaze. Like a tiny faintly bluish star the little oil lamp before the holy image lost itself in the vivid and daring glare of the many lights, and it seemed as though the great and glorious festival had already set in. Meanwhile, with the deliberateness of Time itself he softly paced through the brilliant waste. Now, when the waste was ablaze with lights, the Popadya saw, and for one brief, terrible instant realized how lone he was, for he neither belonged to her nor to anyone else; she realized that she could never alter the fact. If all the good and strong people had gathered from the ends of the world, putting their arms about him, with words of caress and comfort, still he would stand in solitude.

And once more, with sinking heart, she thought: “He is dying.”

Thus passed the night. And as it neared its end, the stride of Father Vassily grew firm, he straightened himself, looked at the Popadya several times and said:

“Why so many lights? Put them out.”

The Popadya put out the candles and the lamps and diffidently commenced:


“We’ll talk tomorrow. Go to your room. Time for you to go to sleep.”

But the Popadya did not go, and her eyes seemed to be pleading for something. And once again strong and stalwart he walked over to her and patted her head as though she were a child.

“So, Popadya!” he said with a smile. His face was pallid with the diaphanous pallor of death, and black circles had gathered about his eyes: as though night itself had lodged there and refused to depart.

In the morning Father Vassily announced to his wife that he would resign from the priesthood, that he meant to get together some money in the fall and then to go away with her, somewhere afar off, he knew not yet where. But the idiot they would leave behind, they would give him to someone to bring up. And the Popadya wept and laughed and for the first time after the birth of the idiot she kissed her husband full upon his lips, blushing in confusion.

And at that time Vassily Feeveysky was forty years old, and his wife was thirty four.


For the three months that followed their souls were resting; gladness and hope, long strangers to their hearts, returned to their home once again. Strong through suffering endured was the Popadya’s faith in the new life to come⁠—in an altogether novel and different life elsewhere, unlike the life that anybody else had lived or could live. She sensed but vaguely what was going on in her husband’s heart, though she saw that he bore himself with a peculiar cheeriness, serene even like the flame of the candle. She saw the strange glow in his eyes such as he had lacked before, and she had an abiding faith in his power. Father Vassily attempted to talk to her at times with regard to his plans for the future, whither they would go and how they would live, but she refused to listen: words, exact and positive, seemed to frighten away her vague and formless vision and to drag the future with a strangely horrible perverseness into the power of a cruel past. Only one thing she craved: that it might be far away, far beyond the bounds of that familiar world which was still so terrible to her. As heretofore, periodically she succumbed to attacks of drunkenness, but these passed quickly and she no longer feared them: she believed that she would soon cease to drink altogether. “It will be different there, I shall have no need of liquor,” she thought all transfigured with the radiance of an indefinite and glorious vision.

With the coming of summer she once more began to stroll for days at a time through the fields and the woods; coming back at dusk she waited at the gate for Father Vassily’s return from haying. Softly and slowly gathered the shadows of the brief summer night; and it seemed as though night would never come to blot out the light of day; only when she glanced upon the dim outlines of her hands which she held folded upon her lap she felt that there was something between those hands and herself and that it was night with the diaphanous and mysterious dusk. And before vague fears had time to fill her heart, Father Vassily was back⁠—stalwart, vigorous, cheery, bringing with him the acrid and pleasant fragrance of grassy fields. His face was dark with the dusk of night, but his eyes were shining brightly, and in his suppressed voice seemed to lurk the vast expanse of the fields and the fragrance of grass and the joy of persistent toil.

“It is beautiful out in the fields,” he said with laughter that sounded subdued, enigmatic and somber, as though he derided someone, perhaps himself.

“Of course, Vassya, of course. Of course, it’s beautiful,” retorted the Popadya with conviction and they went in to supper. After the vastness of the fields Father Vassily felt crowded in the tiny living room; with embarrassment he became conscious of the length of his arms and of his legs and moved them about so clumsily and ridiculously that the Popadya teased him:

“You ought to be made to write a sermon right now, why you could hardly hold a pen in your hands,” she said.

And they laughed.

But left alone, Father Vassily’s face assumed a serious and solemn expression. Alone with his thoughts he dared not laugh or jest. And his eyes gazed forward sternly and with a haughty expectancy⁠—for he felt that even in these days of hope and peace the same inexorably cruel and impenetrable fate was hovering over his head.

On the twenty seventh day of July⁠—it was in the evening⁠—Father Vassily and a laborer were carting sheaves from the field.

From the nearby forest a lengthy shadow had fallen obliquely across the field; other lengthy and oblique shadows were falling all over the field from every side. Suddenly from the direction of the village there came the faint, barely audible sound of a tolling bell, uncanny in its untimeliness. Father Vassily turned around sharply: there where through the willows he had been wont to see the dim outlines of his shingled roof, an immobile column of smoke⁠—black and resinous⁠—had reared itself up in the air, and beneath it writhed, at though crushed down by a gigantic weight, darkly lurid flames. By the time they had cleared the cart of sheaves and had reached the village at a gallop, darkness had set in and the fire had died down: only the black, charred corner posts were glowing their last like dying candles, and faintly gleamed the tiles of the stripped fireplace, while a pall of whitish smoke that resembled a cloud of steam was hanging low over the ruins, wrapping itself about the legs of the peasants who were stamping out the fire, and against the background of the fading glow of sunset it seemed suspended in the air in the shape of flat, dark shadows.

The whole street was thronged with people; the villagers trampled through the liquid mud formed by water that had been spilled in fighting the blaze, they were conversing loudly and in agitation, peering intently into one another’s faces, as though failing to recognize immediately their neighbors’ familiar faces and voices. The village herd had been meanwhile driven in from the fields, and the animals were straying about forlorn and excited. The cows were lowing, the sheep stared ahead with immobile, glassy, bulging eyes, and distractedly rubbed against the legs of people, or startled into an unreasoning panic madly rushed from place to place pattering with their hoofs over the ground. The village women tried to chase them home, and all over the village was heard their monotonous summons “kit-kit-kit.” And these dark figures, with their dark bronze-like faces, this queer and monotonous calling of sheep, the sight of these human beings and helpless animals fused into one mass by a common, primal sense of fear created the impression of something chaotic and primordial.

It had been a windless day, and the priest’s house was the only one consumed by the blaze. It was said that the fire had started in a room where the drunken Popadya had lain down to rest, and that it had been caused by a burning cigarette or a carelessly thrown match. All the villagers were in the fields at the time, and the rescuers succeeded in saving the idiot who was badly frightened but unhurt, while the Popadya herself was discovered in a horribly burnt condition and was dragged out unconscious, though still alive. When Father Vassily who had come galloping with his cart received the report of the disaster, the villagers were prepared to witness an outburst of grief and tears, but they were astounded: he had stretched out his neck in the attitude of listening with concentrated attention, his lips were tightly compressed, and to judge from his appearance it seemed as though he had been fully apprized of the happenings and was now merely trying to check up the report; as though in that brief mad hour, while with his locks fluttering in the breeze, with his gaze riveted to the column of smoke and fire, he stood on his cart and urged on his horse to a frenzied gallop, he had divined everything: that it had been ordained that a fire should occur and that his wife and all he owned should perish, while the idiot and the little girl Nastya should be saved and remain alive.

For a moment he stood still with downcast eyes, then he threw back his head and resolutely made his way through the crowd, straight to the deacon’s house where the dying Popadya had found shelter.

“Where is she?” he loudly asked of the silent people within. And silently they showed him. He came close to her bedside, bent low over the shapeless feebly groaning mass and seeing one great white blister which had taken the place of the face once cherished and beloved, he shrank back in horror and covered his face with his hands.

The Popadya was in a flutter; doubtless she had regained consciousness and was trying to say something, but instead of words she emitted a hoarse and inarticulate bark. Father Vassily withdrew his hands from his face; not the faintest trace of a tear was to be seen thereon; it was inspired and austere like the countenance of a prophet. And when he spoke, with the loud articulation of one addressing a deaf person, his voice rang with an unshakeable and terrible faith. There was in it nothing human, vacillating or based on self-strength; thus could speak only he who had felt the unfathomable and awful nearness of God.

“In the name of God⁠—hearest thou me?” he exclaimed. “I am here, Nastya, I am near thee. And the children are here. Here is Vassily. Here is Nastya.”

From the immobile and terrible face of the Popadya it could not be gathered whether she had heard or not. And raising his voice to a higher pitch Father Vassily once more addressed himself to the shapeless mass of charred flesh:

“Forgive me, Nastya. For I have destroyed thee, and thou wast not to blame. Forgive me⁠—my one⁠—and⁠—only love. And bless the children in thy heart. Here they are: here is Nastya, here is Vassily. Bless them and depart in peace. Have no fear of death. God hath pardoned thee. God loveth thee. He will give thee rest. Depart in peace. There wilt thou see Vassya. Depart thou in peace.”

Everyone had now withdrawn with tearful eyes, and the idiot who had fallen asleep, was taken away. Father Vassily remained alone with the dying woman, to spend with her that last fleeting summer night the coming of which she had so dreaded. He knelt down, pillowed his head near the dying woman, and with the faint and dreadful odor of burnt human flesh in his nostrils, he shed profuse soft tears of infinite compassion. He wept for her in her youth and beauty, trustingly longing for joy and caresses; he wept for her in the loss of her son; frenzied and pitiful, a plaything of fears, haunted by visions; he wept for her in those latter clays, awaiting his coming in the dusk of the summer eve, humble and radiant. It was her body⁠—that tender body so thirsting for caresses that the flames had devoured, and now it reeked with the odor of burning. Had she been crying? struggling? calling for her husband?

With tear dimmed eyes Father Vassily looked about wildly and rose to his feet. All was still with a stillness such as reigns only in the presence of death. He looked at his wife. She was motionless with that peculiar immobility of a corpse, when every fold of garment and bedding seems to be carved of lifeless stone, when the glowing tints of life have faded from raiment, yielding to shades that seem drab and unnatural. The Popadya was dead.

Through the opened window poured the warm breath of the summer night and from somewhere in the distance, accentuating the stillness in the room, came the harmonious chirping of crickets. About the lamp noiselessly circled the moths of the night which had come flying through the window; striking the light some fell, others with sickly spiral movements strove anew towards the light, and either lost themselves in the darkness or gleamed white about the flame like little flakes of whirling snow. The Popadya was dead.

“No! No!” shouted the priest in a loud and frightened voice. “No! No! I believe! Thou art right! I believe.”

He fell to his knees, and pressed his face to the drenched floor, amid fragments of soiled cotton and dripping bandages, as though thirsting to be changed into dust and to mingle with dust; and with the rapture of boundless humility he eliminated from his outcry the very pronoun “I” and added brokenly: “… believe!”

Once more he prayed, without words, without thoughts, but straining taut every fibre of his mortal body that in fire and death had realized the inexplicable nearness of God. He had ceased to sense his own life as such⁠—as though the intimate bond between body and spirit has been cut, and freed from all that is earthy, freed from itself, the spirit had soared to unfathomed and mysterious heights. The terrors of doubt and of tempting thoughts, the passionate wrath and the bold outcries of resentful human pride⁠—all had crumbled into dust with the abasement of the body; only the spirit alone, having torn the hampering fetters of its “I” was living the mysterious life of contemplation.

When Father Vassily had risen to his feet it was already light, and a ray of sunshine, long and ruddy, clung like a bright colored blotch to the petrified raiment of the deceased. And this surprised him, for the last thing that he remembered was the darkened window and the moths that circled about the light. A number of these frail creatures were scattered in charred clusters about the base of the lamp, which was still burning with an invisible yellowish flame; one grey and shaggy moth, with a big misshapen head, was still alive, but had no strength to fly away and was helplessly crawling about the table. The moth was doubtless in great pain, and was groping for the shelter of night and of darkness, but the merciless light of day streamed upon it from everywhere burning its tiny ugly body that was created for darkness. Despairingly it attempted to shake into activity its pair of short and singed wings, but it failed to rise up in the air, and once more, with oblique and angular movements, it fell over on its side and continued to crawl and grope.

Father Vassily put out the lamp and threw the palpitating moth out of the window; then vigorously fresh, as though after a long and refreshing sleep, filled with the sense of strength of restoration and of a supernatural peace, he made his way into the deacon’s garden. There for a long time he paced up and down the straight foot path, with his hands behind his back, his head brushing against the lower branches of apple and cherry trees; and he walked and he thought. Finding a path between the branches the sun had commenced to warm his head, and as he turned back it beat down upon him like a current of fire and blinded his eyes; here and there a worm eaten apple fell to the ground with a dull thud, and under a cherry tree, in the loose, dry earth a hen was fussing around, cackling and tending her brood of a dozen downy yellow chicks; but he was oblivious to the light of the sun and to the falling apples and kept on thinking. And wondrous were his thoughts⁠—clear and pure they were as the air of the early morn, and strangely new; such thoughts had never before flashed through his head where sad and painful thoughts were wont to dwell. He was thinking that where he had seen chaos and the absurdity of malice, there a mighty hand had traced out a true and straight path. Through the furnace of calamity, violently snatching him from home and family and from the vain cares of life, a mighty hand was leading him to a mighty martyrdom, a great sacrifice. God had transformed his life into a desert, but only so that he might cease to stray over old and beaten paths, over winding and deceitful roads where people err, but might seek a new and daring way in the trackless waste. The column of smoke which he had seen the night before, was it not that pillar of fire which had marked for the Hebrews a path through the pathless desert? He thought: “Lord, will my feeble strength be equal to the task?” but the answer came in the flames that illumined his soul like a new sun.

He had been chosen.

For an unknown martyrdom, for an unknown sacrifice he had been chosen by God, he, Vassily Feeveysky, who so blasphemously and madly had cried out in bitter complaint against his fate. He had been chosen. Let the earth open at his feet, let hell itself look at him with its red and cunning eyes, he will disbelieve hell itself. He had been chosen. And was he not standing on solid ground?

Father Vassily stopped and stamped his foot. The frightened hen emitted an anxious cackle and calling her brood together stood on guard. One of the little chicks had strayed afar and hurried to answer his maternal call, but halfway to his goal two hands, hot, strong and bony seized him and raised him up in the air. Smiling, Father Vassily breathed upon the tiny yellowish chick with his hot and moist breath, then gently folding his hands into the semblance of a nest he tenderly pressed him to his breast and continued to pace up and down the long and straight walk.

“What martyrdom? I don’t know. But dare I want to know? Didn’t I once know my fate? And I called it cruel, and my knowledge was a lie. Did I not think of bringing a son into the world? And a monster, without form or mind, entered into my home. And again I thought to multiply my goods and to leave my house, but it had left me first, consumed by a fire from heaven. That was what my knowledge amounted to. And she⁠—an infinitely unfortunate woman, wronged in her very womb, who had exhausted all tears, who had lived through all horrors. She was waiting for a new life on earth, and this life would have been sorrowful, but now she is reclining in death, and her soul is laughing and is branding the old knowledge a lie. He knows. He has given me much. He has granted to me to see life and to experience sufferings and with the sharpness of my sorrow to penetrate into the sufferings of other people. He has granted to me to apprehend their great expectation and has given me love towards them. And are they not expecting? And do I not love? Dear brethren! God has shown mercy to us, the hour of the mercy of God has come.”

He kissed the downy head of the chick and continued:

“My path? Docs the arrow think of its path when sent forth by a mighty hand? It flies and plunges through to its goal subservient to the will of him who sent it on its way. It is given to me to see, it is given to me to love, but what will come of this vision, of this love, that will be His holy will⁠—my martyrdom, my sacrifice.”

Coddled in the hollow of his warm hand the little chick closed his eyes and fell asleep. And the priest smiled.

“There⁠—I need only close my hand and he will die. Yet he is lying in the hollow of my hand, upon my bosom, and sleeping trustingly. And am I not in His hand? And dare I disbelieve the mercy of God when this chick believes in my human kindness, in my human heart?”

He smiled softly, opening his black, half-rotted teeth and over his austere, forbidding face the smile scattered into a thousand radiant wrinkles as though a ray of sunlight suddenly set a-sparkle a pool of deep and dark waters. And the great, grave thoughts fled away scared off by human gladness, and for a long time only gladness, only laughter remained, and the light of the sun and the gently slumbering downy little chick.

But now the wrinkles smoothed, the face became once more austere and grave, and the eyes sparkled with inspiration. The greatest, the most significant arose before him⁠—and its name was Miracle. Thither his still human, all too human thought had not yet dared to stray. There was the boundary line of thought. There in the fathomless solar depths were the dim contours of a new world⁠—and it was no longer the earth. A world of love, a world of divine justice, a world of radiant and fearless countenances, undisgraced by lines of suffering, famine and pain. Like a gigantic, monstrous diamond sparkled this world in the fathomless solar depths, and the human eye could not dwell upon it without blinding pain and awe. And humbly bowing his head Father Vassily exclaimed:

“Thy holy will be done!”

People made their appearance in the garden: the deacon and his wife and many others. They had seen the priest from afar and with cordial nods hastened towards him, but as they approached him they paused and stopped as though transfixed, as people pause before a conflagration, before a turbulent flood, before the calmly enigmatic gaze of a madman.

“Why do you look at me in this manner?” inquired Father Vassily in surprise.

But they never stirred from the spot and continued to look. Before them stood a tall man, entirely unknown to them, an utter stranger, whose very calm made him all the more distant from them. Dark he was and terrible to look upon like a shade from another world, but a sparkling smile played on his face in a myriad radiant wrinkles, as though the sun was sparkling in a deep black pool of stagnant water. And in his large gnarled hands he was holding a downy yellow little chick.

“Why are you looking at me in this manner?” he repeated smiling. “Am I a miracle?”


It was obvious to all that Father Vassily was hastening to sever the last ties that still bound him to the past and to the vain cares of this life. He had written his sister in the city and made hurried arrangements with her concerning Nastya, leaving the girl in her charge, nor did he delay a day in despatching her to her aunt, as though fearing that fatherly love might rise up within him and prevent this arrangement to the detriment of his ministry. Nastya departed without exhibiting either pleasure or disappointment: she was content that her mother had died and merely regretted that the idiot had not also burnt to death. Seated in the wagon, in an oldfashioned dress which had been remade from an old gown of her mother’s, with a child’s hat sitting awry on her head, she resembled a queerly attired and homely old maid rather than a girl in her early teens. With her wolfish eyes she coldly watched the fussy deacon and protested in a dry voice that was much like the voice of her father:

“Don’t bother, Father Deacon. I am comfortable. Goodbye, papa.”

“Goodbye, Nastya dear. Mind your studies, don’t be lazy.”

The wagon started off, shaking up the girl with its jolting, but in the next moment she sat up erect like a stick, swaying no longer from side to side, but merely bobbing up and down. The deacon pulled out a handkerchief in order to wave the little traveler goodbye, but Nastya never turned around; and shaking his head reprovingly the deacon heaved a deep sigh, blew his nose and put the handkerchief back into his pocket. Thus she departed never to return to the village of Snamenskoye.

“Why don’t you, Father Vassily, send the little boy away as well? It will be hard on you to take care of him with only the cook to help you. She’s a stupid wench and deaf into the bargain,” said the deacon when the wagon was out of sight and the dust which it had raised had settled.

Father Vassily eyed him pensively:

“Shirk the consequences of my own sin, and burden others with them? No, deacon, my sin is with me and must remain with me. We’ll manage somehow, the old and the young one, what do you think, Father Deacon?”

He smiled a pleasant and cordial smile, as though in stingless raillery at something known to himself alone, and patted the deacon’s portly shoulder.

Father Vassily transferred the rights to his land to the vestry, providing a small sum for his support, which he called his “dowry.”

“And perhaps I might not take even that,” he said enigmatically, smiling pleasantly, with the same stingless raillery that was a riddle to all but himself.

And he made it his business to look after another matter: he induced Ivan Porfyritch to give employment to Mossyagin who had been turning black in the face from slow starvation. When Mossyagin had first called on Ivan Porfyritch asking him for work, the churchwarden drove him away, but after a talk with the priest, he not only gave him employment, but even sent over a load of shingles for Father Vassily’s new house. And he said to his wife, a woman who never opened her mouth and was always in the family way:

“Mark my word, this priest will raise ructions.”

“What ructions?” coldly inquired the wife.

“Just plain ructions. Only as how in a manner of speaking it is none of my business.⁠ ⁠… So I keep my mouth shut. Otherwise.⁠ ⁠…” and he looked vaguely through the window in the direction of the capital city of the province.

And no one knew whence, whether as the result of the churchwarden’s mysterious words or from other sources, vague and disquieting rumors gained currency in the village and in the vicinity with regard to the priest of Snamenskoye. Like the odor of smoke from a distant forest fire these rumors moved slowly and scattered widely, no one knowing whence and how they had originated, and only as the people exchanged glances and saw the sun grow pallid behind a hazy film they began to realize that something new, unusual and disquieting had come to dwell among them.

Towards the middle of October the new house was ready for occupancy, save that only one wing was all finished and covered with a roof; the other wing still lacked roof beams and rafters, and gaping with empty and frameless window openings, clung to the finished portion like a skeleton strapped to a living person, and at night looked grimly desolate and forbidding. Father Vassily had not troubled to buy new furniture: within the four bare walls of crude logs on which the amber sap had not yet hardened, the sole furniture in the four rooms consisted of two wooden stools, a table and two beds. The deaf and stupid cook was a poor hand at building fires and the rooms were always full of smoke which gave headaches to the inmates and hung like a low grey cloud over the dirty floor with its imprint of muddy boots. And the house was cold. During the severe cold spell of early winter the widow panes had gathered a layer of downy frost on the inside and a bleak chilling twilight reigned within. The window sills had been encrusted since the early frost with a thick coating of ice which constantly dribbling, formed rivulets on the floor. Even the unpretentious peasants who came to the priest for ministrations looked askance, in guilty embarrassment, upon the penurious furnishings of the priestly abode, and the deacon referred to it wrathfully as the “abomination of desolation.”

When Father Vassily first entered his new house, he paced for a long time in joyful agitation through rooms that were as cold and barren as a barn and merrily called to the idiot:

“We’ll live like lords here, Vassily, hey?”

The idiot licked his lips with his long brutish tongue and loudly barked with jerky, monotonous bellows:


He was pleased and he laughed. But soon he began to feel the cold and the loneliness and the gloom of the abandoned abode, and this made him angry; he screamed, slapped his own cheeks and tried to slide down on the floor, but he fell from the chair painfully hurting himself. Sometimes he lapsed into a state of heavy stupor not unlike a grotesque pensive day dream. Supporting his head with his thin long fingers he stared into space from beneath his narrow, beastlike eyelids and never stirred. And it seemed at times that he was not an idiot, but some strange creature lost in meditation, thinking peculiar thoughts of his own that were totally unlike the thoughts of other people: as though he knew something that was peculiar, simple and mysterious, something that no one else could know of. And to look at his flattened nose with the widely distended nostrils, at the slanting back of his head which in a brutish slope merged straight into his back⁠—it seemed that if one were only to lend him a pair of swift and sturdy legs he would scurry away into the woods there to live out his mysterious forest life filled with savage play and obscure forest lore.

And side by side with him, always the two together, always alone, now deafened by his impudent and malignant screaming, now haunted by his stony enigmatic stare, Father Vassily lived the equally mysterious life of the spirit, that had renounced the flesh. He longed to purge himself for the great martyrdom and the great sacrifice yet unrevealed, and his days and his nights became one ceaseless prayer, one wordless effusion. Since the death of the Popadya he had imposed upon himself an ascetic regime: he drank no tea, he tasted neither meat nor fish, and on days of abstinence, Wednesday and Friday, his food consisted merely of bread soaked in water. And with a puzzling cruelty that seemed to be akin to vindictiveness he had imposed the same strict abstinence upon the idiot, and the latter suffered like a starving beast. He screamed and scratched and even shed floods of greedy, doglike tears, but he could not procure an additional bite of food. The priest saw but few people, and these only when absolutely compelled to receive them, and he assiduously shortened all interviews, devoting every hour, with brief intervals for rest and sleep, to prayer on bended knee. And when he grew tired he sat down and read the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles and the Lives of the Saints. It had been the village custom to hold services only on Sundays and holidays, but now he celebrated the early liturgy every morning. The aged deacon had refused to officiate with him, and he was assisted by the lay-reader, a filthy and lonely old man who had been once deposed from the diaconate for drunkenness, and was now acting as verger.

Long before daybreak, shivering with the cold of the early winter morning, Father Vassily wended his way to the church. He did not have far to go, but the walk consumed much time. Frequently a snow drift covered the road at night and his feet sank and stuck fast in the dry grainy snow and each step required the effort of ten ordinary steps. The church was not properly heated and it was bitterly cold inside, with that peculiar penetrating cold which in winter time clings to public places left vacant for days at a time. Human breath turned into dense clouds of vapor, the touch of metal felt like a burn. The lay-reader, who was also the verger, built a small fire in a tiny stove, back of the altar, just for the priest’s comfort, and by its opened gate, Father Vassily, squatting on his haunches, warmed his hands before the modest blaze, for otherwise he could not have clasped the cross with his numb and unbending fingers. And during the ten minutes thus spent he joked with the old lay-reader about the cold and the gipsy sweat, and the lay-reader listened to him with sullen condescension; constant drink and cold had colored the lay-reader’s nose a deep purple, and his bristling chin (after his deposition he had shaved off his beard) moved rhythmically as though chewing a cud.

Then Father Vassily donned his tattered vestments, once embroidered with gold, of which a few ragged thread ends were the sole remaining trace. A pinch of incense was dropped into the censer and they began to officiate in semidarkness, barely able to distinguish one another’s outlines, like a couple of blind men moving by instinct in a familiar spot. Two stumps of wax tapers, one near the lay-reader, the other on the altar near the image of the Saviour, merely served to intensify the gloom; and their sharp flames slowly swayed from side to side responding to the movements of these unhurrying men.

The service was long, and it was slow and solemn. Every word trembled and deliquesced in its outlines, being caught up by the echo of the deserted church. And there was nothing within but the echo, the darkness and the two men serving God; and little by little something began to glow and blaze in the lay-reader’s heart. Pricking up his ears, he cautiously strove to catch every word of the priest and moved his chin in quick succession. And his lonely, filthy decrepit old age seemed to vanish somewhere into distance, and with it the whole of his luckless and weary existence, and that which came in the place thereof was strange and joyous to the verge of tears. Frequently to the lay-reader’s allocution there came no response; silence, protracted and solemn, ensued, and the sharp tongues of wax tapers blazed straight up without stirring. Then from the distance came a voice that was sated with tears and with gladness. And once more through the semidarkness moved sure-footedly the two unhurrying celebrants, and the flames swayed to one side and to the other in response to their deliberate measured movements.

The daylight was commencing to break when the service was finished, and Father Vassily said:

“Look, Nicon, how warm it is getting.”

A spiral of steam was issuing from his mouth. The wrinkles on Nicon’s cheeks had grown pink, he scanned the priest’s face with a severely searching expression and diffidently inquired:

“And tomorrow⁠—again? Or perhaps not?”

“Of course, Nicon, again, of course.”

Reverently he conducted the priest to the door and then returned to his watchman’s booth. There, yelping and barking, a dozen dogs came running towards him⁠—grown up dogs they were and pups. Surrounded by them as though by a family of children, he fed them and caressed them, with his thoughts dwelling constantly on the priest. And as he thought of the priest he wondered. He thought of the priest⁠—and smiled, without opening his lips, and averting his face from his dogs so that they might not see his smile. And he thought, and he thought until nightfall. But in the morning he waited to see if the priest would not fool him, if the priest would not back down in the face of the darkness and the frost. But the priest came despite the cold and the darkness, shivering, yet cheerful, and once more from the gaping mouth of the little stove into the very depths of the vacant church stretched a ribbon of a ruddy glow and along it the black and melting shadow.

At first hearing of the eccentricities of the priest many people came to the early liturgy just to see him officiate and they marveled. Some of those who came to watch him pronounced him a madman; others were edified and wept, but there were others, too, and these were many, in whose hearts was born a keen and unconquerable disquietude. For in the steady, in the fearlessly frank and luminous glance of the priest they had caught a glimmer of mystery, of the most profound and hidden mystery, full of ineffable threats, full of ominous promises. But soon the merely curious began to drop off, and for a long time the church remained vacant in these early morning hours, none disturbing the peace of the two praying men. But after a lapse of time in response to the words of the priest there had begun to come from the darkness timid, subdued sighs, someone’s knees struck the flags of the stone floor with a dull thud; someone’s lips were whispering, someone’s hands were holding a tiny fresh taper, and between the two stumps it looked like a stately young birch in a forest clearing.

And rumor, dull, disquieting, impersonal, grew apace. It crept everywhere where people assembled, leaving behind some sediment of fear, hope and expectancy. Little was said, and what was said was vague; for the most part it was the wagging of heads, followed by sighs, but in the neighboring province, a hundred miles away, someone, grey and taciturn, began to whisper of a “new faith” and was lost again in silence. And rumor kept spreading, like the wind, like the clouds, like the smoky odor of a distant forest fire.

Last of all the rumors reached the provincial capital, as though they found it hard and painful to make their way through stone walls, through the noisy and populous city streets. And like naked, ragged thieves they finally showed themselves, claiming that someone had burned himself alive, that a new fanatical sect had sprung up in Snamenskoye. And people in uniform made their appearance in the village, but they found nothing, for neither the village houses nor the stolid faces of the villagers revealed anything to them, and they drove back to town tinkling with their sleigh bells.

But after this visit the rumors became still more persistent and malicious, while Father Vassily continued to serve mass every morning as heretofore.


The long evenings of winter time Father Vassily passed in solitude with the idiot, imprisoned together with him in the white cage of pine log walls and ceiling, as though locked in a shell.

From the past he had retained a love for bright lights⁠—and on the table, warming the room, blazed a large oil lamp with a big-bellied globe. The window panes frozen outside and frosted within reflected the light of the lamp and sparkled, but were impenetrably opaque like the walls and cut off the people from the greying night outside. Like a boundless sphere the night enveloped the house, crushing it from above, seeking some crevice through which to plunge its greyish claws, but finding none. It raged about the doors, tapped the walls with its lifeless hands, exhaling a murderous cold, wrathfully raised a myriad of dry and spiteful snowflakes, flinging them frenziedly against the windowpanes, and frantically ran back into the fields, cavorting, singing and leaping headlong into snowbanks, clutching the stiffened earth in its crosslike embrace. Then it rose and squatted on its haunches and silently gazed into the illuminated windows gnashing its teeth. And once more shrilly shrieking it flung itself against the house, bellowing into the chimney with a greedy howl of insatiable hatred and longing, and it lied: it had no children, it had devoured them all and buried them out in the field⁠—in the field⁠—in the field.

“A snowstorm,” said Father Vassily stopping to listen for a moment and turning his eyes back to his reading.

But it found them. The flame of the big lamp melted a circle in the frosty armor, and the damp window pane glistened and it glued its grey wan eye to the exposed spot. “Two of them⁠—two⁠—two⁠—just two.” Rough, bare walls with the shining drops of amber sap, the radiant emptiness of air and the humans⁠—two of them.

With the narrow little skull bending over his work the idiot sat at the table pasting little boxes out of cardboard: he was spreading on the paste, holding the tip of the brush in his long narrow hand, or else he was cutting up the cardboard and the click of the scissors resounded noisily through the barren house. The boxes came out all askew and dirty, with overlapping bands that refused to stick, but the idiot was unconscious of these defects and continued to work. Now and then he raised his head and with a motionless glance from beneath his narrow brutish eyelids he gazed into the radiant emptiness of the room, wherein a riot of sounds was fighting, whirling and circling. Rustling, rattling, crackling, booming, explosive sounds they were, mingling with someone’s laughter and long drawn out, protracted sighing. They were hovering over him, running over his face like invisible cobwebs, and penetrating into his head⁠—those rustling, crackling, sighing sounds. And the man on the other side of the table was motionless and silent.

“Bang!” crackled the drying wood, and Father Vassily shivered and tore his eyes from the white page before him. And then he saw the bare rough walls, and the desolate windows and the grey eye of the night, and the idiot frozen in a listening attitude with a pair of shears in his hands. All this flitted past him like a vision, and once more before his lowered eyes spread the unfathomable world of the marvelous, the world of love, the world of gentle compassion and of beautiful sacrifices.

“Pa-pa,” the idiot mumbled the word which he had recently learned, and looked at his father askance, angrily, worriedly. But the man heard not and was silent, and his luminous face seemed inspired. He was dreaming the wondrous dreams of a madness that was brilliant as the sun. He believed with the faith of those martyrs who enter upon the stake as upon a couch of joy and die with a doxology on their lips. And he loved with the mighty and unrestrained love of the master who rules life and death and knows not the torture of the tragic impotence of human love. “Glory⁠—glory⁠—glory!”

“Pa-pa, Pa-pa!” once more mumbled the idiot, and receiving no reply took up his shears again. But he soon dropped them again, staring with motionless eyes and pricking up his outstanding ears to catch the sounds as they flitted past him. Hissing and rustling, laughter and whistling. And laughter. The night was in a playful mood. It squatted on the beams of the unfinished framework, rocking on the rafters and tumbling into the snow; it quietly stole into nooks and crannies, and there dug graves for those strangers, those strangers. And joyously it whirled up aloft, spreading its grey, wide wings, peering; then it tumbled again like a rock, or circling whizzed through the darkened window openings of the frosty framework, hissing and screaming. It was chasing the snowflakes⁠—pallid with fear they silently sped onward in headlong flight.

“Pa-pa,” the idiot shouted loudly. “Pa-pa!”

The man heard and raised his head with the long, black, greying locks that encircled his face like the night and the snow. For a moment before him rose again the bare, rough walls and the spiteful and frightened face of the idiot and the screaming of the rioting snowstorm, filling his heart with agonized elation. It is done⁠—it is done.

“What is it, Vassily? Paste your boxes.”


“Be calm. The snowstorm? Yes, yes, the snowstorm!”

Father Vassily clung to the window⁠—eye to eye with the greying night. He peered. And he whispered in terrified wonderment:

“Why doesn’t he ring the bell?17 What if someone is lost in the fields?”

The night is sobbing. In the field⁠—in the field⁠—in the field.

“Wait, Vassily. I’ll walk over to Nicon’s. I’ll return at once.”


The door rattles, letting in a flood of new sounds. They first timidly edge their way near the door⁠—no one is there. It is bright and empty. One by one they steal towards the idiot, groping along the ceiling, along the floor, along the walls. They peer into his brutish eyes, they whisper, they laugh, they commence to play with growing glee, with growing abandon. They chase one another, leaping and stumbling. They are doing something in the adjoining room, fighting and screaming. No one there. Light and emptiness. No one there.

“Boom!” somewhere overhead falls the first heavy note of the church bell scattering the myriad of frightened sounds into flight. “Boom!” goes the bell once more, with a second, muffled, viscid, scattered sound, as though an onrush of wind had caught the broad maw of the bell, and it choked and groaned. And the tiny sounds flee precipitously.

“And here am I again,” says Father Vassily. He is all white and shivering. The stiff, red fingers cannot turn the page. He blows on them, rubs them together, and once more the pages rustle and all disappears, the bare rough walls, the repulsive mask of the idiot and the measured knell of the church bell. Once more his face is ablaze with joyous madness. “Glory, glory!”


The night is playing with the bell. Catching its thickly reverberating notes, weaving about them a network of whizzing and whistling sounds, tearing them to pieces, scattering them abroad, rolling them ponderously over the fields, burying them in the snow, and listening with the head askew. And once more it rushes to meet the new clangor, tireless, spiteful and cunning like Satan.

“Pa-pa!” cried the idiot throwing to the ground the shears with a bang.

“What is it? Be quiet!”


Silence in the room, the whizzing and wrathful hissing of the snowstorm outside, and the dull, viscid sounds of the bell. The idiot is slowly turning his head, and his thin, lifeless legs, with the curving toes and the tender soles that have never known contact with firm ground stir feebly and impotently strive to flee. And he calls again:


“All right. Stop. Listen, I will read you something.”

Father Vassily turned back the page and began with a grave and severe voice, as though reading in church:

“And as He passed by He saw a man who was blind from birth. He raised his hand and with blanched cheeks looked up at Vassya.

“Understand: blind from birth. Had never seen the light of the sun, the face of his near ones and dear ones. He had come into the world and darkness had enveloped him. Poor man! Blind man!”

The voice of the priest resounds with the firmness of faith and with the transport of sated compassion. He is silent, he is staring ahead with a softly smiling gaze as though he cannot part with this poor man who was blind from birth and had never seen the face of a friend and had never thought that the grace of God was so nigh. Grace⁠—and mercy⁠—and mercy.


“But listen, son. ‘His disciples asked Him: Master who did sin, this man or his parents that he was born blind? Jesus answered: neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents, but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.’ ”

The voice of the priest gathers strength and fills the barren room with its reverberations. And its sonorous sounds pierce the soft purring and hissing and whistling and the lingering cracked tolling of the choking church bell. The idiot is filled with glee over the flaming voice and the brilliant eyes and the noise and the whistling and the booming. He slaps his outstanding ears, he hums, and two streams of viscid saliva flow in two dirty currents to his receding chin.

“Pa-pa! Pa-pa!”

“Listen, listen: ‘I must work the work of Him that sent me while it is day; the night cometh when no man can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.’ Forever and ever forever and ever!” into the teeth of the night and of the snowstorm he flings a passionately ringing challenge. “Forever and ever!” The church-bell is calling to the wanderers, and impotently weeps its aged broken voice. And the night is swinging on its black, blind notes: “Two of them, two of them, two-two-two!”

Dimly Father Vassily hears it and with a stern reproof he turns to the idiot:

“Stop that mumbling!”

But the idiot is silent, and once more eyeing him dubiously Father Vassily continues:

“I am the light of the world. When he had thus spoken, he spat on the ground, and made clay of the spittle, and he anointed the eyes of the blind man with the clay. And said unto him, Go wash in the pool of Siloam. He went his way therefore⁠—and washed, and came seeing.”

Seeing! Vassya, seeing!” menacingly cried the priest and leaping from his seat he began to pace the floor swiftly. Then he stopped in the center of the room and loudly cried:

“I believe, O Lord, I believe.”

And all was still. But a loud galloping peal of laughter broke the silence, striking the priest’s back. And he turned about terrified.

“What sayest thou?” he asked in fear, stepping back. The idiot was laughing. The senseless, ominous laughter had torn his immense immobile mask from ear to ear and out of the wide chasm of his mouth rushed unrestrained, galloping peals of oddly vacant laughter.



On the eve of Whitsunday, the bright and happy festival of spring time, the peasants were digging sand to strew over the village roadways. The peasants of Snamenskoye had for several years past carted huge supplies of rich red sand from pits located a distance of two versts from their village, in a clearing which they had made in a dense wood of low birch, pine and young oak trees. It was in the beginning of June, but the grass was already waist high, hiding halfway the luxuriant and mighty verdure of the riotous bushes and their humid, green, broad foliage. And there were many flowers that year, with a multitude of bees flitting from blossom to blossom. The bees poured their rhythmical, ardent humming, the flowers shed their sweetly plain fragrance down the crumbling, sliding slopes of the excavation. For several days the air had been heavy with the threat of a storm. It was felt in the heated, windless atmosphere, in the dewless, stifling nights; the anguished cattle called for it, pleadingly lowed for it with stretched-out heads. And the people were gasping for breath, but abnormally elated. The motionless air crushed and depressed them, but something restless was urging them on to movement, to loud, abrupt conversation, to causeless laughter.

Two men were at work in the pits, Nicon, the verger, who was taking sand for the church, and the village elder’s laborer, Semen Mossyagin. Ivan Porfyritch loved an abundance of sand both in the street in front of his house and all over his cobblestone yard, and Semen had taken away one cartload in the morning and was now loading another wagon, briskly throwing up shovelfuls of golden, ruddy sand. He rejoiced in the heat and in the humming, in the fragrance and in the pleasure of toil: he looked up with a challenge into the face of the morose verger who was lazily scratching up the surface of the sand with a toothless scraper, and he mocked him:

“Well, old friend, Nicon Ivanytch, we’re doomed to blush unseen.”

“Say that again,” replied the verger with a lazy and indefinite menace, and as he spoke the pipe which he was smoking dropped from his mouth into the grey undergrowth of his beard and threatened to fall.

“Look out, you’ll lose your pipe,” Semen warned him.

Nicon did not reply, and Semen, unabashed, continued to dig. During the six months which he had spent in the service of Ivan Porfyritch he had grown smooth and round like a cucumber, and his simple tasks came nowhere near exhausting his overabundance of vigor and energy. He alertly attacked the sand, digging in and throwing it up with the agility and swiftness of a hen scratching for grain; he gathered the golden gleaming sand, shaking up the spade like a wide and garrulous tongue. But the pit from which many cartloads had been taken the day before seemed exhausted and Semen resolutely spat out.

“Can’t dig much here. Shall I try yonder?” he glanced up at a low little cave which had been dug in the crumbling sloping side of the pit and in which he saw a motley series of red and greenish grey layers, and he determinedly walked towards it.

The verger looked at the little cave and thought: “It might slide,” yet he did not say a word. But Semen sensed the peril in the instinctive onrush of a vague anxiety which overcame him like a sudden attack of passing nausea and he stopped:

“Do you think it will slide on me?” he asked as he turned around.

“How should I know?” replied the verger.

In the deep recesses of the cave⁠—which resembled a yawning mouth, there was something treacherous, something traplike, and Semen wavered. But from above, where the leaves of a young oak tree were sharply outlined against the azure sky, he caught the stimulating whiff of fresh foliage and blossoms, and this stimulating fragrance incited to gay and daring deeds. Semen spat out into his palm, seized his shovel, but after the second thrust a faint crunch was heard, and the whole slope of the excavation slid down without a sound and buried him. And only the young tree which barely hung on by its roots feebly moved its leaves, while a round lump of dried sand looking so bland and innocent rolled over to the feet of the verger from whose cheeks all color had fled. Two hours later Semen was taken out dead. His broad open mouth, with the clean and pearly teeth, was stuffed tight with the golden gleaming sand. And all over his face, amid the white eyelashes of his hollow eyes, mingled with his sunny hair and the flaming red beard glistened the gold of the beautiful sand. And still the tangled mass of his auburn hair was whirling and dancing, and the gay absurdity, the daredevil merriment of that dance around the pallid face that had settled into the rigor of death created the impression of a fiendish mockery.

With the curious throng attracted by the news of the accident, Senka, the little son of the perished man, had come on the run. No one thought of giving him a lift, and he had run the whole way in the rear of the village wagons; while his father’s body was being released from the slide, he was standing aside on a mound of clay, motionless, breathing heavily, and as immobile were his eyes with which he devoured the melting avalanche of sand.

The dead man was laid on a wagon, atop of the golden load of sand which he himself had thrown upon it; they covered the body with a mat, and drove away at a slow pace over the rutty forest road. In the rear of the funeral wagon stolidly strode the villagers scattering in groups among trees, and their blouses struck by the rays of the sun flashed crimson through the wood. When the cortege passed the two-story house of Ivan Porfyritch the verger suggested that the corpse be taken to his house:

“He was his farmhand, let him bury him.”

But not a soul was to be seen either in the windows or about the house and the shop was locked with a ponderous iron padlock. For a long time they knocked against the massive gates decorated with black flatheaded nails, then they rang the sonorous doorbell, and its reverberating echoes resounded sharply and loudly somewhere around the corner, but though the court dogs yelled themselves hoarse, for a long time no one came. Finally an old scullery woman came out and announced that her master ordered the body to be taken to the dead man’s home, and promised to donate the sum of ten roubles towards funeral expenses, without deducting the gift from the earnings of the deceased. While she was arguing with the throng outside, Ivan Porfyritch himself, frightened to death and wrathful, was standing behind the curtains, gazing with a shudder upon the mat that covered the corpse and he whispered to his wife:

“Remember, if that priest offers me a million roubles I shall not shake hands with him, I’d sooner see it wither away. He is a terrible man.”

And no one knew why, whether because of the churchwarden’s mysterious words or from some other source, confused and ominous rumors swiftly appeared in the village and crept back and forth like hissing snakes. The villagers talked of Semen, of his sudden and terrible death, and they thought of the priest, not knowing what they were expecting of him. When Father Vassily started on his way to the requiem mass, pale and burdened by vague musings, but cheery and smiling, the people in his path stepped aside giving him a wide berth, and for a long time wavered before they dared to step upon a spot where his heavy footsteps had burned an invisible trace. They remembered the fire in his house and talked of it at great length. They recalled the Popadya who had burned to death and her son, the crippled idiot, and back of plain, clear words scurried the sharp thorns of fear. Some woman sobbed out aloud with a vague, overwhelming compassion, and went away. Those who stayed back for a long time watched her departing sobshaken back, then in silence, avoiding to look at one another, they dispersed. The youngsters, reflecting the agitation of their elders, gathered at dusk on the threshing floor and were exchanging fanciful tales of the dead man, while their bulging eyes sparkled darkly. Cozily familiar irritated parental voices had been calling them to their homes for a long time, but their bare feet were loth to make a homeward dash through the gruesome diaphanous dusk of evening. And during the two days which preceded the funeral there was a ceaseless stream of villagers wending their way to view the corpse that was puffed-up and rapidly turning blue.

The two nights before the funeral the earth had been exhaling a breath of the most intense torridity, and the dry meadows consumed beneath the merciless heat of the sun were bare of vegetation. The sky was clear and dark, few stars were out and these shone dimly. And above all reigned on all sides the ceaseless chatter of the crickets. When after the memorial vesper service Father Vassily emerged from the hut, it was dark already, and the sleepy street was unlighted. Stifled with the close atmosphere, the priest had taken off his broad-rimmed hat and was walking with a noiseless stride as though over a soft and downy carpet. And it was rather from a vague sense of instinctive anxiety than from the sense of hearing that he realized that someone was following him, evidently suiting his stride to his own deliberate gait. The priest stopped, the pursuer who had not expected this, advanced a few steps and also stopped rather abruptly.

“Who is this?” asked Father Vassily.

The man was silent. Then he suddenly veered around, and swiftly retired without decreasing his pace, and a moment later he was lost in the trackless gloom of the night.

The same thing happened the following night; a tall, dark man followed the priest to the very gate of his house, and something in the bearing and in the stride of the heavily built stranger reminded the priest of Ivan Porfyritch, the churchwarden.

“Ivan Porfyritch, is it you?” he called. But the stranger did not reply and departed. And as Father Vassily was retiring for the night someone tapped softly at his window. The priest looked out, but not a soul was to be seen. “Why is he roaming about like an evil spirit?” thought the priest in annoyance, making ready to kneel down for his protracted devotions. And lost in prayer he forgot the churchwarden and the night that was restlessly spreading over the earth, and himself; he was praying for the deceased, for his wife and children, for the bestowal of the great mercy of God upon the earth and its inhabitants. And in fathomless sunny depths a new world was assuming vague outlines, and this world was earth no more.

While he was praying the idiot had slipped from his bed, noisily shuffling his reviving but still feeble legs. He had learned to crawl in the beginning of the spring, and frequently on returning home Father Vassily found him on the threshold, sitting motionless like a dog before the locked door. Now he had started towards the open window, moving slowly, with much effort, and shaking his head intently. He had reached it, and hooking his powerful prehensile hands in the window sill he raised himself up and peered sullenly, greedily into the darkness. He was listening to something.

Mossyagin was to be buried on Whitmonday, and the day dawned ominous and uncertain, as though the confusion of people had found its counterpart in the formless confusion of nature. It had been oppressively hot since morning, the very grass seemed to curl up and wither before one’s eyes as though seared by a merciless fire. And the dense opaque sky impended threateningly ever the earth, and its filmy blue seemed to be zigzagged with thin veins of bloody red, so ruddy it was, so sonorous with metallic nuances and shades. The enormous sun was blazing with heat, and it was so strange to see it shine so brightly, while nowhere the sharply defined and restful shadows of a sunny day were to be found, as though between sun and earth hung some invisible but none the less solid curtain intercepting its rays. And over all reigned a stillness that was mute and ponderous, as though an invalid had lost himself in a labyrinth of musing, and with drooping eyelids had lapsed into silence. Grey rows of young birches with withered leaves, cut down with the roots, stretched through the village in serried ranks, and this aimless procession of young grey trees, perishing from thirst and fire and spectrelike refusing to cast shadows, filled the mind with sadness and vague forebodings. The golden grains of sand that had been scattered over the roadways had long since turned into yellow dust, and the refuse of festive sunflower pips of the day before surprised the eye: it babbled of something peaceful, simple and pleasant, while all that had remained in paralyzed nature seemed so stern, so morbid, so pensive, so menacing.

While Father Vassily was donning his raiments Ivan Porfyritch entered into the altar enclosure. Through the sweat and the purpling flush of heat that covered his face timidly peered a grey earthy pallor. His eyes were swollen, and burning feverishly. His hurriedly combed hair, matted with cider, had dried in spots and stuck out in confused thickets, as though the man had not slept for several nights, wallowing in the throes of superhuman terror. He seemed somehow unkempt and distracted; he had forgotten the niceties of human intercourse, failing to ask the priest’s blessing or even to salute him.

“What is the matter with you, Ivan Porfyritch? Are you ill?” Father Vassily inquired sympathetically, adjusting his flowing hair that had caught in the stiff neckpiece of his chasuble; in spite of the heat his face was pale and concentrated.

The churchwarden made an attempt at a smile.

“Just so. Nothing important. I wanted to have a talk with you, Father.”

“Was it you⁠—last night?”

“Yes, and the night before, too. Pardon me, I had no intention.⁠ ⁠…”

He heaved a deep sigh and once more oblivious of niceties, he openly blurted out trembling with fear:

“I am scared. I have never been scared before in my life. And now I am scared. I am scared.”

“Of what?” asked the priest in amazement.

Ivan Porfyritch looked over the priest’s shoulder as though someone, silent and dreadful, were hiding behind him, and continued:


They were regarding one another in silence.

“Death. It’s got to my household. Without rime or reason it will carry off all of us. All of us! Why in my home not a hen dare die without cause: if I order chicken soup, a hen dies, not otherwise. And what is this now? Is that proper order? Pardon me, but at first I had not even guessed it. Pardon me.”

“You mean Semen?”

“Whom else? Sidor or Yevstigney?18 Say, you listen to me, lad,” coarsely continued the churchwarden, out of his mind with terror and wrath. “Leave these tricks be. We’re no fools here. Get out of here while the going is good. Away with you.”

He swung his head with an energetic nod in the direction of the door and added:

“And be lively about it.”

“What’s the matter with you? Have you lost your mind?”

“We’ll see who’s lost his mind, you or I. What devil’s tricks is this you carry on here every morning? ‘I’m praying! I’m praying!’ ”⁠—he nasally mimicked the liturgical intonation. “This is no way to pray. Bide your time, bear up patiently, don’t come with your ‘I’m praying.’ You’re a pagan, a self-willed rebel, bending things to suit yourself. And now you’re bent in return: what’s become of Semen? Where is Semen? I ask. Why have you destroyed him? Where is Semen, tell me.”

He roughly rushed towards the priest and heard a curt, stern warning:

“Away from the altar, blasphemer!”

Purple with wrath Ivan Porfyritch looked down upon the priest from his towering height and froze rigid with his mouth wide-open. Upon him gazed abysmally a pair of deep eyes, black and dreadful like the ooze of a sucking swamp, and some strange and abundant life was throbbing behind them, someone’s menacing will issued forth from behind them like a sharpened sword. Eyes alone. Neither face nor body saw Ivan Porfyritch, but only eyes, immense like a house wall, high as the altar; gaping, mysterious, commanding eyes were gazing upon him, and as though seared by a consuming flame he unconsciously wrung his hands and fled knocking his massive shoulder against the partition. And in his fear-chilled spine, through the thick masonry of the church walls, he still felt the piercing sting of those black and dreadful eyes.


They were entering the church with cautious steps and took up their stations wherever they chanced to be, not where they usually stood at service, where they liked or where they were accustomed to stand, as though finding it improper or wicked on a day of such awe and anguish to stick to trifling habits or to take thought of trivial comforts. And they took up their stations, hesitating a long time ere daring to turn their heads in order to look around. The church was crowded to suffocation, yet ever fresh rows of silent newcomers pressed from the rear. And all were silent, all were gloomily, anxiously expectant, and the crowded nearness of fellow-creatures gave no sense of security. Elbow was touching upon elbow and yet it seemed to each one that he was standing alone in a boundless waste. Drawn by strange rumors men from distant villages, from strange parishes had come to the little church; these were bolder and spoke at first in loud tones, but they too soon lapsed into silence, with resentful amazement, but impotent like the rest to break through the invisible chains of leaden stillness. Every one of the lofty stained windows was opened to admit air, and through them gazed the threatening coppery sky. It seemed to be sulkily peering from window to window, casting over all a dry, metallic reflection. And in this scattered and depressing, but none the less glaring light the old gilt of the image stand shone with a dull and irresolute lustre, irritating the eye with the chaotic haziness of the saints’ features. Back of one of the windows a young maple tree greened motionless and dry, and many eyes were riveted upon its broad leaves that were slightly curled with the heat. They seemed like friends, old, restful friends in this oppressive silence, in this repressed hubbub of feelings, amid these yellow mocking images.

And above all the familiar, restful odors of church, above the sweet fragrance of incense and wax reigned the pronounced, repulsive and terrible smell of corruption. The corpse had been rapidly decomposing, and it was nauseatingly terrible to approach the black coffin which contained the decaying mass of rotting and stinking flesh. It was terrible merely to approach it, but around it four persons stood motionless like the coffin itself: the widow and the three now fatherless children. Perhaps they too smelt the stench, but they refused to believe in it. Or perhaps they smelt nothing and fancied that they were burying their dear one alive, even as most folks think when death swiftly and unexpectedly snatches away one who is near and dear and is so inseparable from their very life. But they were silent, and all was still, and the threatening coppery sky peered from window to window over the heads of the crowd scattering about its dry and distracted glances.

When the requiem mass had begun, with its wonted solemn simplicity, and the portly and kindhearted deacon had swung his censer into the throng⁠—all breathed freely with the relief of elation. Some exchanged whispers; others more resolute heavily shuffled their benumbed feet; still others, who were nearest to the doors slipped out to the church steps for a rest and a smoke. But smoking and calmly exchanging small talk about harvests, the threatening drouth and money matters, they suddenly bethought themselves and fearing lest something momentous and unexpected might occur within while they were away, they flung aside the stubs of their cigarettes and rushed back into the church, using their shoulders as a wedge to break through the crowd. And then they stopped. The service was proceeding with a solemn simplicity; the aged deacon was coughing and clearing his throat before each sentence and warningly shaking a stubby fat forefinger whenever his gaze discovered a whispering pair in the throng. Those who had stepped outside before the close of the requiem mass had observed that over the forest, towards the sun, a hazily blue cloud had risen up in the sky, gradually growing dark under the rays of the sun, and they crossed themselves joyfully. Among them was also Ivan Porfyritch; pale and ailing he looked, but he also made the sign of the cross when he saw the cloud, but immediately lowered his eyes with a sullen air.

In the brief interval between the mass and the allocution to the corpse, while Father Vassily was donning his black velvet cassock, the deacon smacked his lips and said:

“A little ice would come in handy, for he smells rather strong. But where can you get ice? In my opinion it is well to keep a supply in the church for such cases. You might tell the churchwarden.”

“He smells?” dully said the priest.

“Don’t you notice it? You must have a fine nose! I’m simply done for. It will take a week in this hot spell to get the stench out of the church. Just take notice. I’ve got the smell in my beard, I swear.”

He held the tip of his grey beard to his nose, smelt it and said reproachfully:

“Such people!”

Then commenced the chanting. And once more the leaden silence oppressed the crowd and chained each one to his place, cutting him off from among his fellow-men, surrendering him a prey to agonizing expectancy. The old verger was chanting. He had seen the coming of death to him who was now reposing in the black coffin and frightening the attending throng. He clearly recalled the innocent lump of dried earth and the young oak tree that trembled with its finely carved leaves, and the old, familiar, lugubrious words came to life in his mumbling mouth and hit the mark surely and painfully. And he was thinking of the priest with anxiety and sorrow, for in these impending hours of horror he alone of all other people loved Father Vassily with a shy and tender affection and he was close to his great rebellious soul.

“Verily all is vanity, and life is shadow and dreams; for whoso is born of earth striveth for all things, but the Scripture sayeth that when we gain the world we gain the grave, where together dwelleth the king and the beggar. O Lord Christ, give peace to thy servant, for Thou art a lover of mankind.⁠ ⁠…”

Darkness was falling upon the church, the purpling blue ominous darkness of an eclipse, and all had sensed it long before any eye had discovered it. And only those whose eyes were riveted upon the friendly foliage of the maple tree outside had noticed that something cast-iron grey and shaggy had crept up behind it, peered into the church with lifeless eyes and resumed it climb to the cross of the steeple.

“… where there are worldly passions, where there are the dreams of timeservers, where there is gold and silver, where there is a multitude of slaves and fame, all is dust and ashes and shadows,” quivered the bitter words on senile trembling lips.

Everyone had now noticed the gathering gloom and turned to the window. Back of the maple tree the sky was black and the broad leaves looked no longer green. They had grown pale, and in their frightened rigid appearance there was nothing left that was friendly and reassuring. Seeking comfort the people looked into their neighbors’ faces, and all faces were ashen-grey, all faces were pale and unfamiliar. And it seemed that the whole of that darkness⁠—pouring through the opened windows in broad and silent streams, had concentrated itself in the blackness of that coffin and in the black-garbed priest: so black was the silent coffin, so black was that man⁠—tall, frigid and stern. Surely and calmly he moved about, and the blackness of his garb seemed like the source of light amid the lacklustre gilt, the ashen-grey faces and the lofty windows that disseminated gloom. But moment by moment a puzzling hesitancy and irresoluteness seemed to take hold of him; he slowed down his steps and extending his neck regarded the throng in surprise, as though he was startled to find this transfixed multitude in the church where he was wont to worship in solitude; then forgetting the multitude, forgetting that he was the celebrant he made his way distractedly into the altar enclosure; he seemed to be inwardly torn in two; he seemed to be waiting a word, a command or a mighty, all-solving sensation⁠—and neither would come.

“I weep and I sob as I contemplate death and see reclining in coffins our beauty that was created in the image of God and is now become formless, inglorious and unsightly. O marvel! What is this mystery that surroundeth us? How are we surrendered unto corruption? How are we subjugated unto death? Verily by the word of God.⁠ ⁠…”

Brightly gleamed the tapers in the gathering gloom as though in the dusk of eve, casting ruddy reflections upon the faces of the people, and many had noticed this sudden transition from day to night while it was high noon. Father Vassily too had sensed the darkness without comprehending it; the queer notion had entered his head that it was the dark of the early winter morning when he remained alone with God, and one great and mighty feeling had given wings to his soul⁠—like a bird, like an arrow flying unerringly towards its goal. And he trembled, unseeing like a blind man, but on the point of receiving sight. Myriads of fugitive and tangled thoughts, myriads of undefined sensations slowed up their frenzied flight⁠—stopped⁠—died away⁠—a moment of terrible nothingness, precipitous falling, death, and something rose up within his breast, something immense, something undreamt of in its joyous glory, in its wondrous beauty. The heart that had stood still was thumping forth its first beats, painfully, laboriously, but he already knew. It had come! It, the mighty, all-solving sensation, master over life and death, able to command to the mountains: “Move from your place!” and the hoary and cranky mountains must move. Glory, ineffable glory! He is gazing upon the coffin, into the church, upon the faces of people and he comprehends⁠—he comprehends everything with that wonderful penetration into the depth of things which is possible only in dreams and which disappears without a trace at the approach of light. So that was it! That was the great solution! Glory! Glory! Glory!

He laughs out loudly and hoarsely, he sees the frightened expression of the deacon who had warningly raised his finger, he sees the crouching backs of the people who having heard his laughter burrow gangways through the crowd like worms, and he claps his hand over his mouth like a guilty schoolboy.

“I won’t any more,” he whispers into the deacon’s ear, while insane rejoicing is fairly splashing fire from every pore of his face. And he weeps, covering his face with his hands.

“Take some drops, some drops, Father Vassily,” the distracted deacon whispers into his ear and desperately exclaims: “Lord, Lord, how out of place! Listen, Father Vassily!”

The priest moves his folded hands an inch or two from his face, and looks from behind their shelter askance at the deacon. The deacon with a shiver, edges away on tiptoe, feels his way to the gate with his belly, and groping for the door emerges out of the altar enclosure.

“Come, let us give our last kiss, brethren, to the departed one, giving thanks unto God.⁠ ⁠…”

A commotion ensues in the church; some depart stealthily without exchanging any words with those who remain, and the darkened church is now only comfortably filled. Only about the black coffin is the surge of a silent throng, people are making the sign of the cross, bending their heads over something dreadful and repulsive and moving away with wry countenances. The widow is parting from her husband. She now believes in his death and she is conscious of the nauseating odor, but her eyes are locked to tears and there is no voice in her throat. And the children are watching her with three pairs of silent eyes.

And while the people watched the deacon plunging worriedly through the congregation, Father Vassily had come out into the chancel and stood eyeing the crowd. And those who saw him in that moment had indelibly engraved in their memory his striking appearance. He was holding on with his hands to the railing so convulsively that the tips of his fingers turned livid; with I neck outstretched, the whole of his body bent over the railing, and pouring himself into one immense glance he riveted it upon the spot where the widow stood beside her children. And it was queer to see him, for it seemed as though he delighted in her boundless anguish, so cheerful, so radiant, so daringly happy was his impetuous glance.

“What partings, O brethren, what weepings, what sobbing in this present hour; come hither, imprint a kiss upon the brow of him who from his early youth hath dwelt among you, for he is now to be consigned to his grave, surmounted by a stone, to take up his dwelling in the darkness, being buried with the dead, parting from his kin and his friends.⁠ ⁠…”

“Stop, thou madman!” an agonized voice came from the chancel. “Canst thou not see there is none dead among us?”

And here occurred that mad and great event for which all had been waiting with such dread and such mystery. Father Vassily flung open the clanging gate, and strode through the crowd cutting its motley array of colors with the solemn black of his attire and made his way to the black, silently waiting coffin. He stopped, raised his right hand commandingly and hurriedly said to the decomposing corpse:

“I say unto thee: Arise.”

In the wake of these words came confusion, noise, screams, cries of mortal terror. In a panic of fear the people rushed to the doors, transformed into a herd of frightened beasts. They clutched at one another, threatened one another with gnashing teeth, choking and roaring. And they poured out of the door with the slowness of water trickling out of an overturned bottle. There remained only the verger who had dropped his book, the widow with her children, and Ivan Porfyritch. The latter glanced a moment at the priest and leaping from his place cut his way into the rear of the departing throng, bellowing with wrath and fear.

With the radiant and benign smile of compassion towards their unbelief and fear⁠—all aglow with the might of limitless faith, Father Vassily repeated for the second time with solemn and regal simplicity:

“I say unto thee, Arise!”

But still is the corpse and its tightly locked lips are dispassionately guarding the secret of Eternity. And silence. Not a sound is heard in the deserted church. But now the resonant clatter of scattered frightened footsteps over the flagstones of the church: the widow and the orphans are going. In their wake flees the verger, stopping for an instant in the doorway he wrings his hands, and silence once more.

“It is better so. How can he rise in this state before his wife and children?” swiftly flits through Father Vassily’s mind, and for the third and last time he commands, softly and sternly:

“Simeon, I say unto thee: Arise!”

Slowly sinks his hand, he is waiting. Someone’s footsteps rustle in the sand just outside of the window and the sound seems so near as though it came from the coffin. He is waiting. The footsteps come nearer and nearer, pass the window and die away. And stillness, and a protracted agonized sigh. Who is sighing? He is bending over the coffin, seeking a movement of life in the puffed up and formless face; he commands to the eyes: “But open ye, I say,” bends still lower, closer and closer, clutches the edges of the coffin with his hands, almost touching the livid lips and trying to breathe the breath of life into them, and the shaken corpse replies with the coldly ferocious fetid exhalation of death.

He reels back in silence and for an instant sees and comprehends all. He smells the terrible odor; he realizes that the people had fled in terror, that in the church there are only he and the corpse; he sees the darkness beyond the window, but does not comprehend its nature. A memory of something horribly distant flashes through his mind, of some vernal laughter that had been ringing in a dim past and then died away. He remembers the snowstorm. The church bell and the snowstorm. And the immobile mask of the idiot. Two of them.⁠ ⁠… Two of them.⁠ ⁠… Two of them.⁠ ⁠…

And once more all is gone. The lacklustre eyes are once again ablaze with cold and leaping fires, the sinewy body is bursting once more with a sense of power and of iron firmness. Hiding his eyes beneath the stony arch of his brows, he says calmly, calmly, softly, softly as though fearing to wake a sleeper:

“Wouldst thou cheat me?”

And he lapses into silence, with downcast eyes, as though waiting for an answer. And once more he speaks softly, softly, with that ominous distinctness of a storm when all nature has bowed to its power and it is dillydallying, tenderly, regally rocking a tiny flake in the air.

“Then why did I believe?”

“Then why didst Thou give me love towards people and compassion? To mock me?”

“Then why hast Thou kept me all my life in captivity, in servitude, in fetters? Not a free thought! Not a feeling! Not a sigh! Thou alone, all for Thee! Thou only. Come then, I am waiting for Thee!”

And in the posture of haughty humility he waits an answer⁠—alone before the black and malignantly triumphant coffin, alone before the menacing face of fathomless and majestic stillness. Alone. The lights of the tapers pierce the darkness like immobile spears, and somewhere in the distance the fleeing storm mockingly chants: “Two of them⁠ ⁠… Two of them⁠ ⁠…” Stillness.

“Thou wilt not?” he asks still softly and humbly, but suddenly cries out with a frenzied scream, rolling his eyes, imparting to his face that candor of expression which is characteristic of insanity or of profound slumber. He cries out, drowning with his cry the menacing stillness and the ultimate horror of the dying human soul:

“Thou must! Give him back his life! Take it from others, but give it back to him! I beg of Thee!” Then he turns to the silent corruption of the corpse and commands it wrathfully, scornfully:

Thou! Thou ask Him! Ask Him!”

And he cries out blasphemously, madly:

“He needs no paradise. His children are here below. They will call for him: ‘Father!’ And he will say to Thee: ‘Take from my head my heavenly crown, for there below the heads of my children are covered with dust and dirt.’ Thus he will speak!”

Wrathfully he shakes the heavy black coffin and cries:

“But speak thou, speak, accursed flesh!”

He looks with amazement, intently. And in mute horror he reels backward throwing up his swelling arms in self-defence. Semen is not in the coffin. There is no corpse in the coffin. The idiot is lying there. Clutching with his rapacious fingers at its edges, he has slightly raised his monstrous head, looking askance at the priest with eyes screwed up, and all about the distended nostrils, all about the enormous tightly compressed mouth plays the silent dawn of coming laughter. Not a sound he utters, but keeps gazing and slowly creeping out of the coffin⁠—inexpressibly terrible in the incomprehensible fusion of eternal life with eternal death.

“Back!” cries Father Vassily and his head swells to enormous proportions as he feels his hair stand on end. “Back!”

And once more the motionless corpse. And again the idiot. And the rotting mass madly alternates this monstrous play and breathes out horrors. And in maniacal anger he shrieks:

“Wouldst scare me? Then take.⁠ ⁠…”

But his words are unheard. Suddenly, all aglow with blinding light, the immobile mask is rent from ear to ear and peals of laughter mighty as the peals of thunder fill the whole silent church. With a loud roar the mad laughter splits the arching masonry, flinging the stones about like chips and engulfing in its reverberations the lone man within.

Father Vassily opens his blinded eyes, raises his head and sees all about him crumble. Slowly and ponderously reel the walls and close together, the vaults slide, the lofty cupola noiselessly collapses, the stone floor sways and bends, the whole world is being wrecked in its foundations and disintegrates.

And then with a shrill scream he rushes to the doors, but failing to find them he whirls and stumbles against walls and sharp corners and shrieks and shrieks. The door suddenly opens, precipitating him on the flags outside, but he leaps to his feet with the joy of relief, only to be caught and held in someone’s trembling, prehensile embrace. He struggles and whines, freeing his hand with maniacal strength; he rains savage blows upon the head of the verger who is attempting to hold him, and casting his body aside he rushes into the roadway.

The sky is ablaze with fire. Shaggy clouds are whirling and circling in the firmament and their combined masses fall down upon the shaken earth, the universe is crumbling in its foundations. And then from the fiery whirlpool of chaos the thunderous peals of laughter, the cackle and cries of savage merriment. In the west a tiny ribbon or azure is still to be seen, and towards that rift of blue he is rushing in headlong flight. His legs are caught in the long hairy cassock, he falls and writhes on the ground, bleeding and terrible to look upon, and rises and flees once more. The street is desolate as though at night, not a man, not a creature, neither beast, nor fowl to be seen near house or window.

“They’re all dead,” flashes through his mind⁠—his last conscious thought. He runs out of the village limits into the broad highway. Over his head the black whirling cloud throws out three lengthy tentacles, like rapaciously curved fingers; behind him something is roaring with a dull and threatening bellow. The universe is collapsing in its foundations.

Ahead in the distance, a peasant and two women who had been to the village church are wending their homeward way on their wagon. They notice the figure of a black-garbed man in precipitous flight; they stop for a moment, but recognizing the priest they whip up their horse and gallop away. The wagon leaps high on its springs, with two wheels up in the air, but the three silently crouching terror-stricken people desperately whip up the horse and gallop and gallop.

Father Vassily fell about three versts away from the village in the center of the broad highway. He fell prone, his haggard face buried in the grey dust which had been ground fine by the wheels of traffic, trampled by the feet of men and beasts. And in his pose he had retained the impetuousness of his flight: the white dead hands outstretched, one leg curled up under the body, the other⁠—clad in an old tattered boot with the sole worn through⁠—long, straight and sinewy, thrown back tense and taut, as though even in death he still continued his flight.

The Marseillaise

He was a nonentity: the spirit of a rabbit and the shameless patience of a beast of burden. When fate, with malicious mockery, had cast him into our somber ranks, we laughed with insane merriment. What ridiculous, absurd mistakes will happen! But he⁠—he, of course, wept. Never in my life have I seen a man who could shed so many tears, and these tears seemed to flow so readily⁠—from the eyes, from the nose, from the mouth, every bit like a water-soaked sponge compressed by a fist. And even in our ranks have I seen weeping men, but their tears were like a consuming flame from which savage beasts flee in terror. These manly tears aged the countenance and rejuvenated the eyes: like lava disgorged from the inflamed bowels of the earth they burned ineradicable traces and buried beneath their flow world upon world of trivial cravings and of petty cares. But he, when he wept, showed only a flushed nose, and a damp handkerchief. He doubtless later dried this handkerchief on a line, for otherwise where could he have procured so many?

And all through the days of his exile he made pilgrimages to the officials, to all the officials that counted, and even to such as he endowed with fancied authority. He bowed, he wept, he swore that he was innocent, he implored them to pity his youth, he promised on his oath never to open his mouth again excepting in prayer and praise. And they laughed at him even as we, and they called him “poor luckless little piggy” and yelled at him:

“Hey there, piggy!”

And he obediently responded to their call; he thought every time that he would hear a summons to return to his home, but they were only mocking him. They knew, even as we that he was innocent, but with his sufferings they meant to intimidate other “piggies,” as though they were not sufficiently cowardly.

He used to come among us impelled by the animal terror of solitude, but stem and shut were our lips and in vain he sought the key. In confusion he called us dear comrades and friends, but we shook our heads and said:

“Look out! Someone might hear you!”

And he would permit himself to throw a glance at the door⁠—the little pig that he was. Was it possible to remain serious? And we laughed, with voices that had long been strangers to laughter, while he, encouraged and comforted, sat down near us and spoke, weeping about his dear little books that were left on his table, about his mamma and his brothers, of whom he could not tell whether they were still living or had died with terror and anguish.

In the end we would drive him away.

When the hunger strike had started he was seized with terror, an inexpressibly comical terror. He was very fond of food, poor little piggy, and he was very much afraid of his dear comrades, and he was very much afraid of the authorities. Distractedly he wandered in our midst, and frequently wiped his brow with his handkerchief, and it was hard to tell whether the moisture was perspiration or tears.

And irresolutely he asked me:

“Will you starve a long time?”

“Yes, a long time,” I answered sternly.

“And on the sly, will you not eat something?”

“Our mammas will send us cookies,” I assented seriously. He looked at me suspiciously, shook his head and departed with a sigh.

The next day he declared, green with fear like a parrot:

“Dear comrades, I, too, will starve with you.”

And we replied in unison:

“Starve alone.”

And he starved. We did not believe it, even as you would not; we all thought that he was eating something on the sly, and even so thought the jailers. And when towards the end of the hunger strike he fell ill with starvation typhus, we only shrugged our shoulders: “Poor little piggy!” But one of us, he who never laughed, sullenly said:

“He is our comrade! Let us go to him.”

He was delirious. And pitiful even as all of his life was this disconnected delirium. He spoke of his beloved books, of his mamma and of his brothers; he asked for cookies, icy cold, tasty cookies, and he swore that he was innocent and pleaded for pardon. And he called for his country, he called for dear France. Cursed be the weak heart of man, he tore our hearts into shreds by this call: dear France.

We were all in the ward as he was breathing his last. Consciousness returned to him before the moment of death. He was lying still, frail and feeble as he was; and still were we too, his comrades, standing by his side. And we, every one of us, heard him say:

“When I die, sing over me the Marseillaise!”

“What are you saying?” we exclaimed shuddering with joy and with gathering frenzy.

“When I die, sing over me the Marseillaise!”

And for the first time it happened that his eyes were dry and we wept; we wept, every one of us, and our tears glowed like the consuming fire before which savage beasts flee in terror.

He died, and we sang over him the Marseillaise. With voices young and mighty we sang the great hymn of freedom, and the ocean chanted a stem accompaniment, upon the crest of his mighty waves bearing back to dear France the pallor of dread and the bloody crimson of hope. And forever he became our guerdon⁠—that nonentity with the body of a rabbit and of a beast of burden and with the great spirit of Man. On your knees before a hero, comrades and friends!

We were singing. Down upon us gazed the barrels of rifles; ominously clicked their triggers; menacingly stretched the points of bayonets towards our hearts⁠—and ever more loudly, ever more joyously rang out the stern hymn, while in the tender hands of fighters gently rocked the black coffin.

We were singing the Marseillaise.

The Red Laugh

Part I

Fragment I

… Horror and madness.

I felt it for the first time as we were marching along the road⁠—marching incessantly for ten hours without stopping, never diminishing our step, never waiting to pick up those that had fallen, but leaving them to the enemy, that was moving behind us in a compact mass only three or four hours later effacing the marks of our feet by their own.

It was very sultry. I do not know how many degrees there were⁠—120°, 140°, or more⁠—I only know that the heat was incessant, hopelessly even and profound. The sun was so enormous, so fiery and terrible, that it seemed as if the earth had drawn nearer to it and would soon be burnt up altogether in its merciless rays. Our eyes had ceased to look. The small shrunk pupil, as small as a poppyseed, sought in vain for darkness under the closed eyelid; the sun pierced the thin covering and penetrated into the tortured brain in a blood-red glow. But, nevertheless, it was better so: with closed eyelids, and for a long time, perhaps for several hours, I walked along with my eyes shut, hearing the multitude moving around me: the heavy, uneven tread of many feet, men’s and horses, the grinding of iron wheels, crushing the small stones, somebody’s deep strained breathing and the dry smacking of parched lips. But I heard no word. All were silent, as if an army of dumb people was moving, and when anyone fell down, he fell in silence; others stumbled against his body, fell down and rose mutely, and, without turning their heads, marched on, as though these dumb men were also blind and deaf. I stumbled and fell several times and then involuntarily opened my eyes, and all that I saw seemed a wild fiction, the terrible raving of a mad world. The air vibrated at a white-hot temperature, the stones seemed to be trembling silently, ready to flow, and in the distance, at a curve of the road, the files of men, guns and horses seemed detached from the earth, and trembled like a mass of jelly in their onward progress, and it seemed to me that they were not living people that I saw before me, but an army of incorporate shadows.

The enormous, near, terrible sun lit up thousands of tiny blinding suns on every gun-barrel and metal plate, and these suns, as fiery-white and sharp as the white-hot points of the bayonets, crept into your eyes from every side. And the consuming, burning heat penetrated into your body⁠—into your very bones and brain⁠—and at times it seemed to me that it was not a head that swayed upon my shoulders, but a strange and extraordinary globe, heavy and light, belonging to somebody else, and horrible.

And then⁠—then I suddenly remembered my home: a corner of my room, a scrap of light-blue wallpaper, and a dusty untouched water-bottle on my table⁠—on my table, which has one leg shorter than the others, and had a small piece of paper folded under it. While in the next room⁠—and I cannot see them⁠—are my wife and little son. If I had had the power to cry out, I would have done so⁠—so wonderful was this simple and peaceful picture⁠—the scrap of light-blue wallpaper and dusty untouched water-bottle. I know that I stood still and lifted up my arms, but somebody gave me a push from behind, and I quickly moved on, thrusting the crowd aside, and hastening whither I knew not, but feeling now neither heat nor fatigue. And I marched on thus for a long time through the endless mute files, past red sunburnt necks, almost touching the helplessly lowered hot bayonets, when suddenly the thought of what I was doing, whither I was hastening, stopped me. I turned aside in the same hasty way, forced my way to the open, clambered across a gulley and sat down on a stone in a preoccupied manner, as if that rough hot stone was the aim of all my strivings.

And then I felt it for the first time. I clearly perceived that all these people, marching silently on in the glaring sun, torpid from fatigue and heat, swaying and falling⁠—that they were all mad. They did not know whither they were going, they did not know what that sun was for, they did not know anything. It was not heads that they had on their shoulders, but strange and terrible globes. There⁠—I saw a man in the same plight as I, pushing his way hurriedly through the rows and falling down; there⁠—another, and a third. Suddenly a horse’s head appeared above the throng with bloodshot and senseless eyes and a wide-open grinning mouth, that only hinted at a terrible unearthly cry; this head appeared, fell down, and for an instant the crowd stopped, growing denser in that spot; I could hear hoarse, hollow voices, then a shot, and again the silent endless march continued.

An hour passed as I sat on that stone, but the multitude still moved on past me, and the air and earth and the distant phantom-like ranks trembled as before. And again the burning heat pierced my body and I forgot what for an instant I had pictured to myself; and the multitudes moved on past me, but I did not know who they were. An hour ago I was alone on the stone, but now I was surrounded by a group of grey people: some lying motionless, perhaps dead; others were sitting up and staring vacantly at those passing by. Some had guns and resembled soldiers; others were stripped almost naked, and the skin on their bodies was so livid, that one did not care to look at it. Not far from me someone was lying with his bared back upturned.

One could see by the unconcerned manner in which he had buried his face in the sharp burning sand, by the whiteness of the palm of his upturned hand, that he was dead, but his back was as red as if he were alive, and only a slight yellowish tinge, like one sees on smoked meat, spoke of death. I wanted to move away from him, but I had not the strength, and, tottering from weakness, I continued looking at the endless phantom-like swaying files of men. By the condition of my head I knew that I should soon have a sunstroke too, but I awaited it calmly, as in a dream, where death seems only a stage on the path of wonderful and confused visions.

And I saw a soldier part from the crowd and direct his steps in a decided manner towards us. For an instant I lost sight of him in a ditch, but when he reappeared and moved on towards us, his gait was unsteady, and in his endeavours to control his restlessly tossing body, one felt he was using his last strength. He was coming so straight upon me that I grew frightened and, breaking through the heavy torpor that enveloped my brain, I asked: “What do you want?”

He stopped short, as if it was only a word that he was waiting for, and stood before me, enormous, bearded, in a torn shirt. He had no gun, his trousers hung only by one button, and through a slit in them one could see his white body. He flung his arms and legs about and he was visibly trying to control them, but could not: the instant he brought his arms together, they fell apart again.

“What is the matter? You had better sit down,” I said.

But he continued standing, vainly trying to gather himself together, and stared at me in silence. Involuntarily I got up from the stone and, tottering, looked into his eyes⁠—and saw an abyss of horror and insanity in them. Everybody’s pupils were shrunk⁠—but his had dilated and covered his whole eye: what a sea of fire he must have seen through those enormous black windows! Maybe I had only imagined it, maybe in his look there was only death⁠—but no, I was not mistaken: in those black, bottomless pupils, surrounded by a narrow orange-coloured rim, like a bird’s eye, there was more than death, more than the horror of death. “Go away!” I cried, falling back. “Go away!” And as if he was only waiting for a word, enormous, disorderly and mute as before, he suddenly fell down upon me, knocking me over. With a shudder I freed my legs from under him, jumped up and longed to run⁠—somewhere away from men into the sunlit, unpeopled and quivering distance, when suddenly, on the left-hand side, a cannon boomed forth from a hilltop, and directly after it two others, like an echo. And somewhere above our heads a shell flew past with a gladsome, many-voiced scr-e-e-ch and howl.

We were outflanked.

The murderous heat, fear and fatigue disappeared instantly. My thoughts cleared, my mind grew clear and sharp, and, when I ran up, out of breath, to the files of men drawing up, I saw serene, almost joyous faces, heard hoarse, but loud voices, orders, jokes. The sun seemed to have drawn itself up higher so as not to be in the way, and had grown dim and still⁠—and again a shell, like a witch, cut the air with a gladsome scr-e-e-ch.

I came up.⁠ ⁠…

Fragment II

… Nearly all the horses and men. The same in the eighth battery. In our twelfth battery, towards the end of the third day, there remained only three guns⁠—all the others being disabled⁠—six men and one officer, myself. We had neither slept nor eaten for twenty hours; for three days and nights a Satanic roar and howl enveloped us in a cloud of insanity, isolated us from the earth, the sky and ourselves⁠—and we, the living, wandered about like lunatics. The dead⁠—they lay still, while we moved about doing our duty, talking and laughing, and we were⁠—like lunatics. All our movements were quick and certain, our orders clear, the execution of them precise, but if you had suddenly asked any one of us who we were, undoubtedly we should not have been able to find an answer in our troubled brain. As in a dream all faces seemed familiar, and all that was going on seemed quite familiar and natural⁠—as if it had happened before; but when I looked closely at any face or gun, or began listening to the din, I was struck by the novelty and endless mystery of everything. Night approached imperceptibly, and before we had time to notice it and wonder where it had come from, the sun was again burning above our heads. And only from those who came to our battery we learnt that it was the third day of the battle that was dawning, and instantly forgot it again: to us it appeared as one endless day without any beginning, sometimes dark, sometimes bright, but always incomprehensible and blind. And nobody was afraid of death, for nobody understood what death was.

On the third or fourth night⁠—I do not remember which⁠—I lay down for a minute behind the breastwork, and, as soon as I shut my eyes, the same familiar and extraordinary picture stood before them: the scrap of light-blue wallpaper and the dusty untouched water-bottle on my table. While in the next room⁠—and I could not see them⁠—were my wife and little son. But this time a lamp with a green shade was burning on the table, so it must have been evening or night. The picture stood motionless, and I contemplated it very calmly and attentively for a long time, letting my eyes rest on the light reflected in the crystal of the water-bottle, and on the wallpaper, and wondered why my son was not asleep: for it was night and time for him to go to bed. Then I again began examining the wallpaper: every spiral, silvery flower, square and line⁠—and never imagined that I knew my room so well. Now and then I opened my eyes and saw the black sky with beautiful fiery stripes upon it, then shut them again and saw once more the wallpaper, the bright water-bottle, and wondered why my son was not asleep, for it was night and time for him to go to bed. Once a shell burst not far from me, making my legs give a jerk, and somebody cried out loudly, louder than the bursting of the shell, and I said to myself: “Somebody is killed,” but I did not get up and did not tear my eyes away from the light-blue wallpaper and the water-bottle.

Afterwards I got up, moved about, gave orders, looked at the men’s faces, trained the guns, and kept on wondering why my son was not asleep. Once I asked the sergeant, and he explained it to me at length with great detail, and we kept nodding our heads. And he laughed, and his left eyebrow kept twitching, while his eye winked cunningly at somebody behind us. Behind us were somebody’s feet⁠—and nothing more.

By this time it was quite light, when suddenly there fell a drop of rain. Rain⁠—just the same as at home, the most ordinary little drops of rain. But it was so sudden and out of place, and we were so afraid of getting wet, that we left our guns, stopped firing, and tried to find shelter anywhere we could.

The sergeant with whom I had only just been speaking got under the gun-carriage and dozed off, although he might have been crushed any minute; the stout artilleryman, for some reason or other, began undressing a corpse, while I began running about the battery in search of something⁠—a cloak or an umbrella. And the same instant over the whole enormous area, where the rain-cloud had burst, a wonderful stillness fell. A belated shrapnel-shot shrieked and burst, and everything grew still⁠—so still that one could hear the stout artilleryman panting and the drops of rain splashing upon the stones and guns. And this soft and continuous sound, that reminded one of autumn⁠—the smell of the moist earth and the stillness⁠—seemed to tear the bloody, savage nightmare asunder for an instant; and when I glanced at the wet, glistening gun it unexpectedly reminded me of something dear and peaceful⁠—my childhood, or perhaps my first love. But in the distance a gun boomed forth particularly loud, and the spell of the momentary lull disappeared; the men began coming out of their hiding-places as suddenly as they had hid themselves; a gun roared, then another, and once again the weary brain was enveloped by bloody, indissoluble gloom. And nobody noticed when the rain stopped. I only remember seeing the water rolling off the fat, sunken yellow face of the killed artilleryman; so I supposed it rained for rather a long time.⁠ ⁠…

… Before me stood a young volunteer, holding his hand to his cap and reporting to me that the general wanted us to retain our position for only two hours more, when we should be relieved. I was wondering why my son was not in bed, and answered that I could hold on as much as he wished. But suddenly I became interested in the young man’s face, probably because of its unusual and striking pallor. I never saw anything whiter than that face: even the dead have more colour than that young, beardless face had. I suppose he became terrified on his way to us, and could not recover himself; and in holding his hand to his cap he was only making an effort to drive away his mad fear by a simple and habitual gesture.

“Are you afraid?” I asked, touching his elbow. But his elbow seemed as if made of wood, and he only smiled and remained silent. Better to say, his lips alone were twitching into a smile, while his eyes were full of youth and terror only⁠—nothing more.

“Are you afraid?” I repeated kindly. His lips twitched, trying to frame a word, and the same instant there happened something incomprehensible, monstrous and supernatural. I felt a draught of warm air upon my right cheek that made me sway⁠—that is all⁠—while before my eyes, in place of the white face, there was something short, blunt and red, and out of it the blood was gushing as out of an uncorked bottle, such as is drawn on badly executed signboards. And that short, red and flowing “something” still seemed to be smiling a sort of smile, a toothless laugh⁠—a red laugh.

I recognised it⁠—that red laugh. I had been searching for it, and I had found it⁠—that red laugh. Now I understood what there was in all those mutilated, torn, strange bodies. It was a red laugh. It was in the sky, it was in the sun, and soon it was going to overspread the whole earth⁠—that red laugh!

While they, with precision and calmness, like lunatics.⁠ ⁠…

Fragment III

They say there are a great number of madmen in our army as well as in the enemy’s. Four lunatic wards have been opened. When I was on the staff our adjutant showed me.⁠ ⁠…

Fragment IV

… Coiled round like snakes. He saw the wire, chopped through at one end, cut the air and coil itself round three soldiers. The barbs tore their uniforms and stuck into their bodies, and, shrieking, the soldiers spun round in frenzy, two of them dragging the third, who was already dead, after them. Then only one remained alive, and he tried to push the two that were dead away from him; but they trailed after him, whirling and rolling over each other and over him; and suddenly all three became motionless.

He told me that no less than two thousand men were lost at that one wire entanglement. While they were hacking at the wire and getting entangled in its serpentine coils, they were pelted by an incessant rain of balls and grapeshot. He assured me it was very terrifying, and if only they had known in which direction to run, that attack would have ended in a panic flight. But ten or twelve continuous lines of wire, and the struggle with it, a whole labyrinth of pitfalls with stakes driven in at the bottom, had muddled them so, that they were quite incapable of defining the direction of escape.

Some, like men blind, fell into the funnel-shaped pits, and hung upon the sharp stakes, pierced through the stomach, twitching convulsively and dancing like toy clowns; they were crushed down by fresh bodies, and soon the whole pit filled to the edges, and presented a writhing mass of bleeding bodies, dead and living. Hands thrust themselves out of it in all directions, the fingers working convulsively, catching at everything; and those who once got caught in that trap could not get back again: hundreds of fingers, strong and blind, like the claws of a lobster, gripped them firmly by the legs, caught at their clothes, threw them down upon themselves, gouged out their eyes and throttled them. Many seemed as if they were intoxicated, and ran straight at the wire, got caught in it, and remained shrieking, until a bullet finished them.

Generally speaking, they all seemed like people intoxicated: some swore dreadfully, others laughed when the wire caught them by the arm or leg and died there and then. He himself, although he had had nothing to eat or drink since the morning, felt very queer. His head swam, and there were moments when the feeling of terror in him changed to wild rapture, and from rapture again to terror. When somebody struck up a song at his side, he caught up the tune, and soon a whole unanimous chorus broke forth. He did not remember what they sang, only that it was lively in a dancing strain. Yes, they sang, while all around them was red with blood. The very sky seemed to be red, and one could have thought that a catastrophe had overwhelmed the universe⁠—a strange disappearance of colours: the light-blue and green and other habitual peaceful colours had disappeared, while the sun blazed forth in a red flare-light.

“The red laugh,” said I.

But he did not understand.

“Yes, and they laughed, as I told you before, like people intoxicated. Perhaps they even danced. There was something of the sort. At least the movements of those three resembled dancing.”

He remembers distinctly, when he was shot through the chest and fell, his legs twitched for some time until he lost consciousness, as if he were dancing to music. And at the present moment, when he thinks of that attack, a strange feeling comes over him: partly fear and partly the desire to experience it all over again.

“And get another ball in your chest?” asked I.

“There now, why should I get a ball each time. But it would not be half bad, old boy, to get a medal for bravery.”

He was lying on his back with a waxen face, sharp nose, prominent cheekbones and sunken eyes. He was lying looking like a corpse and dreaming of a medal! Mortification had already set in; he had a high temperature, and in three days’ time he was to be thrown into the grave to join the dead; nevertheless he lay smiling dreamily and talking about a medal.

“Have you telegraphed to your mother?” I asked.

He glanced at me with terror, animosity and anger, and did not answer. I was silent, and then the groans and ravings of the wounded became audible. But when I rose to go, he caught my hand in his hot, but still strong one, and fixed his sunken burning eyes upon me in a lost and distressed way.

“What does it all mean, ay? What does it all mean?” asked he in a frightened and persistent manner, pulling at my hand.


“Everything⁠ ⁠… in general. Now, she is waiting for me. But I cannot. My country⁠—is it possible to make her understand, what my country means.”

“The red laugh,” answered I.

“Ah! you are always joking, but I am serious. It is indispensable to explain it; but is it possible to make her understand? If you only knew what she says in her letters!⁠—what she writes! And you know her words⁠—are grey-haired. And you⁠—” he looked curiously at my head, pointed his finger and suddenly breaking into a laugh said: “Why, you have grown bald. Have you noticed it?”

“There are no looking-glasses here.”

“Many have grown bald and grey. Look here, give me a looking-glass. Give me one! I feel white hair growing out of my head. Give me a looking-glass!” He became delirious, crying and shouting out, and I left the hospital.

That same evening we got up an entertainment⁠—a sad and strange entertainment, at which, amongst the guests, the shadows of the dead assisted. We decided to gather in the evening and have tea, as if we were at home, at a picnic. We got a samovar, we even got a lemon and glasses, and established ourselves under a tree, as if we were at home, at a picnic. Our companions arrived noisily in twos and threes, talking, joking and full of gleeful expectation⁠—but soon grew silent, avoiding to look at each other, for there was something fearful in this meeting of spared men. In tatters, dirty, itching as if we were covered by a dreadful ringworm, with hair neglected, thin and worn, having lost all familiar and habitual aspect, we seemed to see each other for the first time as we gathered round the samovar, and seeing each other, we grew terrified. In vain I looked for a familiar face in this group of disconcerted men⁠—I could not find one. These men, restless, hasty and jerky in their movements, starting at every sound, constantly looking for something behind their backs, trying to fill up that mysterious void into which they were too terrified to look, by superfluous gesticulations⁠—were new, strange men, whom I did not know. And their voices sounded different, articulating the words with difficulty in jerks, easily passing into angry shouts or senseless, irrepressible laughter at the slightest provocation. And everything around us was strange to us. The tree was strange, and the sunset strange, and the water strange, with a peculiar taste and smell, as if we had left the earth and entered into a new world together with the dead⁠—a world of mysterious phenomena and ominous sombre shadows. The sunset was yellow and cold; black, unillumined, motionless clouds hung heavily over it, while the earth under it was black, and our faces in that ill-omened light seemed yellow, like the faces of the dead. We all sat watching the samovar, but it went out, its sides reflecting the yellowishness and menace of the sunset, and it seemed also an unfamiliar, dead and incomprehensible object.

“Where are we!” asked somebody, and uneasiness and fear sounded in his voice. Somebody sighed; somebody convulsively cracked his fingers; somebody laughed; somebody jumped up and began walking quickly round the table. These last days one could often meet with such men, that were always walking hastily, almost running, at times strangely silent, at times mumbling something in an uncanny way.

“At the war,” answered he who had laughed, and again burst into a hollow, lingering laugh, as if something was choking him.

“What is he laughing at?” asked somebody, indignantly. “Look here, stop it!”

The other choked once more, gave a titter and stopped obediently.

It was growing dark, the cloud seemed to be settling down on the earth, and we could with difficulty distinguish each other’s yellow phantom-like faces. Somebody asked⁠—

“And where is Fatty-legs?”

“Fatty-legs” we called a fellow-officer, who, being short, wore enormous watertight boots.

“He was here just now. Fatty-legs, where are you?”

“Fatty-legs, don’t hide. We can smell your boots.”

Everybody laughed, but their laugh was interrupted by a rough, indignant voice that sounded out of the darkness⁠—

“Stop that! Are you not ashamed? Fatty-legs was killed this morning reconnoitring.”

“He was here just now. It must be a mistake.”

“You imagined it. Heigh-ho! you there, behind the samovar, cut me a slice of lemon.”

“And me!”

“And me!”

“The lemon is finished.”

“How is that, boys?” sounded a gentle, hurt voice, full of distress and almost crying; “why, I only came for the sake of the lemon.”

The other again burst into a hollow and lingering laugh, and nobody checked him. But he soon stopped. He gave a snigger, and was silent. Somebody said⁠—

“Tomorrow we begin the advance on the enemy.”

But several voices cried out angrily⁠—

“Nonsense, advance on the enemy indeed!”

“But you know yourself⁠—”

“Shut up. As if we cannot talk of something else.”

The sunset faded. The cloud lifted, and it seemed to grow lighter; the faces became more familiar, and he, who kept circling round us, grew calmer and sat down.

“I wonder what it’s like at home now?” asked he, vaguely, and in his voice there sounded a guilty smile.

And once again all became terrible, incomprehensible and strange⁠—so intensely so, that we were filled with horror, almost to the verge of losing consciousness. And we all began talking and shouting at the same time, bustling about, moving our glasses, touching each other’s shoulders, hands, knees⁠—and all at once became silent, giving way before the incomprehensible.

“At home?” cried somebody out of the darkness. His voice was hoarse and quivering with emotion, fear and hatred. And some of the words would not come out, as if he had forgotten how to say them.

“A home? What home? Why, is there home anywhere? Don’t interrupt me or else I shall fire. At home I used to take a bath every day⁠—can you understand?⁠—a bath with water⁠—water up to the very edges. While now⁠—I do not even wash my face every day. My head is covered with scurf, and my whole body itches and over it crawl, crawl.⁠ ⁠… I am going mad from dirt, while you talk of⁠—home! I am like an animal, I despise myself, I cannot recognise myself, and death is not at all terrifying. You tear my brain with your shrapnel-shots. Aim at what you will, all hit my brain⁠—and you can speak of⁠—home. What home? Streets, windows, people, but I would not go into the street now for anything. I should be ashamed to. You brought a samovar here, but I was ashamed to look at it.”

The other laughed again. Somebody called out⁠—

“D⁠—n it all! I shall go home.”


“You don’t understand what duty is!”

“Home? Listen! he wants to go home!”

There was a burst of laughter and of painful shouts⁠—and again all became silent⁠—giving way before the incomprehensible. And then not only I, but every one of us felt that. It was coming towards us out of those dark, mysterious and strange fields; it was rising from out of those obscure dark ravines, where, maybe, the forgotten and lost among the stones were still dying; it was flowing from the strange, unfamiliar sky. We stood around the dying-out samovar in silence, losing consciousness from horror, while an enormous, shapeless shadow that had risen above the world, looked down upon us from the sky with a steady and silent gaze. Suddenly, quite close to us, probably at the Commander’s house, music burst forth, and the frenzied, joyous, loud sounds seemed to flash out into the night and stillness. The band played with frenzied mirth and defiance, hurriedly, discordantly, too loudly, and too joyously, and one could feel that those who were playing, and those who were listening, saw as we did, that same enormous, shapeless shadow, risen above the world. And it was clear the player on the trumpet carried in himself, in his very brain and ears, that same enormous dumb shadow. The abrupt and broken sound tossed about, jumping and running away from the others, quivering with horror and insanity in its lonesomeness. And the other sounds seemed to be looking round at it, so clumsily they ran, stumbling, falling, and again rising in a disorderly crowd⁠—too loud, too joyous, too close to the black ravines, where most probably the forgotten and lost among the boulders were still dying.

And we stood for a long time around the cold samovar and were silent.

Fragment V

… I was already asleep when the doctor roused me by pushing me cautiously. I woke, and jumping up, cried out, as we all did when anybody wakened us, and rushed to the entrance of our tent. But the doctor held me firmly by the arm, excusing himself⁠—

“I frightened you, forgive me. I know you want to sleep⁠ ⁠…”

“Five days and nights⁠ ⁠…” I muttered, dozing off. I fell asleep and slept, as it seemed to me for a long time, when the doctor again began speaking, poking me cautiously in the ribs and legs.

“But it is very urgent. Dear fellow, please⁠—it is so pressing. I keep thinking⁠ ⁠… I cannot⁠ ⁠… I keep thinking, that some of the wounded were left⁠ ⁠…”

“What wounded? Why, you were bringing them in the whole day long. Leave me in peace. It is not fair⁠—I have not slept for five days!”

“Dear boy, don’t be angry,” muttered the doctor, awkwardly putting my cap on my head; “everybody is asleep, it’s impossible to rouse anybody. I’ve got hold of an engine and seven carriages, but we’re in want of men. I understand.⁠ ⁠… Dear fellow, I implore you. Everybody is asleep and everybody refuses. I’m afraid of falling asleep myself. I don’t remember when I slept last. I believe I’m beginning to have hallucinations. There’s a dear fellow, put down your feet, just one⁠—there⁠—there.⁠ ⁠…”

The doctor was pale and tottering, and one could see that if he were only to lie down for an instant he would fall asleep and remain so without waking for several days running. My legs sank under me, and I am certain I fell asleep as I walked⁠—so suddenly and unexpectedly appeared before us a row of black outlines⁠—the engine and carriages. Near them, scarcely distinguishable in the darkness, some men were wandering about slowly and silently. There was not a single light either on the engine or carriages, and only the shut ash-box threw a dim reddish light on to the rails.

“What is this?” asked I, stepping back.

“Why, we are going in the train. Have you forgotten? We are going in the train,” muttered the doctor.

The night was chilly and he was trembling from cold, and as I looked at him I felt the same rapid tickling shiver all over my body.

“D⁠—n you!” I cried loudly. “Just as if you couldn’t have taken somebody else.”

“Hush! please, hush!” and the doctor caught me by the arm.

Somebody out of the darkness said⁠—

“If you were to fire a volley from all the guns, nobody would stir. They are all asleep. One could go up and bind them all. Just now I passed quite close to the sentry. He looked at me and did not say a word, never stirred. I suppose he was asleep too. It’s a wonder he does not fall down.”

He who spoke yawned and his clothes rustled, evidently he was stretching himself. I leant against the side of the carriage, intending to climb up⁠—and was instantly overcome by sleep. Somebody lifted me up from behind and laid me down, while I began pushing him away with my feet, without knowing why, and again I fell asleep, hearing as in a dream fragments of a conversation:

“At the seventh verst.”

“Have you forgotten the lanterns?”

“No, he won’t go.”

“Give them here. Back a little. That’s it.”

The carriages were jerking backwards and forwards, something was rattling. And gradually, because of all these sounds and because I was lying comfortably and quietly, sleep deserted me. But the doctor was sound asleep, and when I took him by the hand, it was like the hand of a corpse, heavy and limp. The train was now moving slowly and cautiously, shaking slightly, as if groping its way. The student acting as hospital orderly lighted the candle in the lantern, lighting up the walls and the black aperture of the entrance, and said angrily⁠—

“D⁠—n it! Much they need us by this time. But you had better wake him, before he falls into a sound sleep, for then you won’t be able to do anything with him. I know by myself.”

We roused the doctor and he sat up, rolling his eyes vacantly. He tried to lie down again, but we did not let him.

“It would be good to have a drop of vodki now,” said the student.

We drank a mouthful of brandy, and all sleepiness disappeared entirely. The big black square of the door began to grow pink, then red⁠—somewhere from behind the hills appeared an enormous mute flare of a conflagration: as if the sun was rising in the middle of the night.

“It’s far away. About twenty versts.”

“I feel cold,” said the doctor, snapping his teeth.

The student looked out of the door and beckoned me to come up to him. I looked out: at different points of the horizon motionless flares of similar conflagration stood out in a mute row: as if dozens of suns were rising simultaneously. And now the darkness was not so great. The distant hills were growing more densely black, sharply outlined against the sky in a broken and wavy contour, while in the foreground all was flooded with a red soft glow, silent and motionless. I glanced at the student; his face was tinged by the same red fantastic colour of blood, that had changed itself into air and light.

“Are there many wounded?” asked I.

He waved his hand.

“A great many madmen. More so than wounded.”

“Real madmen?”

“What others can there be?”

He was looking at me, and his eyes wore the same fixed, wild expression, full of cold horror, that the soldier’s had, who died of sunstroke.

“Stop that,” said I, turning away.

“The doctor is mad also. Just look at him.”

The doctor had not heard. He was sitting cross-legged, like a Turk, swaying to and fro, soundlessly moving his lips and fingertips. And in his gaze there was the same fixed, stupefied, blunt, stricken expression.

“I feel cold,” said he, and smiled.

“Hang you all!” cried I, moving away into a corner of the carriage. “What did you call me up for?”

Nobody answered. The student stood gazing out at the mute spreading glow, and the back of his head with its curly hair was youthful; and when I looked at him, I do not know why, but I kept picturing to myself a delicate woman’s hand passing through that hair. And this image was so unpleasant, that a feeling of hatred sprang up in my breast, and I could not look at him without a feeling of loathing.

“How old are you?” I asked, but he did not turn his head and did not answer.

The doctor kept on rocking himself.

“I feel cold.”

“When I think,” said the student, without turning round, “when I think that there are streets, houses, a University⁠ ⁠…”

He broke off, as if he had said all and was silent. Suddenly the train stopped almost instantaneously, making me knock myself against the wall, and voices were to be heard. We jumped out. In front of the very engine upon the rails lay something, a not very large lump, out of which a leg was projecting.


“No, dead. The head is torn off. Say what you will, but I will light the headlight. Otherwise we shall be crushing somebody.”

The lump with the protruding leg was thrown aside; for an instant the leg lifted itself up, as if it wanted to run through the air, and all disappeared in a black ditch. The headlight was lit and the engine instantly grew black.

“Listen!” whispered somebody, full of silent terror.

How was it that we had not heard it before! From everywhere⁠—the exact place could not be defined⁠—a groan, unbroken and scraping, wonderfully calm in its breadth, and even indifferent, as it seemed, was borne upon us. We had heard many cries and groans, but this resembled none of those heard before. On the dim reddish surface our eyes could perceive nothing, and therefore the very earth and sky, lit up by a never-rising sun, seemed to be groaning.

“The fifth verst,” said the engine-driver.

“That is where it comes from,” and the doctor pointed forwards. The student shuddered, and slowly turned towards us.

“What is it? It’s terrible to listen to!”

“Let’s move on.”

We walked along in front of the engine, throwing a dense shadow upon the rails, but it was not black but of a dim red colour, lit up by the soft motionless flares, that stood out mutely at the different points of the black sky. And with each step we made, that wild unearthly groan, that had no visible source, grew ominously, as if it was the red air, the very earth and sky, that were groaning. In its ceaselessness and strange indifference it recalled at times the noise of grasshoppers in a meadow⁠—the ceaseless noise of grasshoppers in a meadow on a warm summer day. And we came upon dead bodies oftener and oftener. We examined them rapidly and threw them off the rails⁠—those indifferent, calm, limp bodies, that left dark oily stains where the blood had soaked into the earth where they had lain. At first we counted them, but soon got muddled, and ceased. They were many⁠—too many for that ominous night, that breathed cold and groans from each fibre of its being.

“What does it mean?” cried the doctor, and threatened somebody with his fist. “Just listen⁠ ⁠…”

We were nearing the sixth verst, and the groans were growing distinct and sharp, and we could almost feel the distorted mouths, from which those terrible sounds were issuing.

We looked anxiously into the rosy gloom, so deceitful in its fantastic light, when suddenly, almost at our feet, beside the rails, somebody gave a loud, calling, crying, groan. We found him instantly, that wounded man, whose face seemed to consist only of two eyes, so big they appeared, when the light of the lantern fell on his face. He stopped groaning, and rested his eyes on each of us and our lanterns in turn, and in his glance there was a mad joy at seeing men and lights⁠—and a mad fear that all would disappear like a vision. Perhaps he had seen men with lanterns bending over him many times, but they had always disappeared in a bloody confused nightmare.

We moved on, and almost instantly stumbled against two more wounded, one lying on the rails, the other groaning in a ditch. As we were picking them up, the doctor, trembling with anger, said to me: “Well?” and turned away. Several steps farther on we met a man wounded slightly, who was walking alone, supporting one arm with the other. He was walking with his head thrown back, straight towards us, but seemed not to notice us, when we drew aside to let him pass. I believe he did not see us. He stopped for an instant near the engine, turned aside, and went past the train.

“You had better get in!” cried the doctor, but he did not answer.

These were the first that we found, and they horrified us. But later on we came upon them oftener and oftener along the rails or near them, and the whole field, lit up by the motionless red flare of the conflagrations, began stirring as if it were alive, breaking out into loud cries, wails, curses and groans. All those dark mounds stirred and crawled about like half-dead lobsters let out of a basket, with outspread legs, scarcely resembling men in their broken, unconscious movements and ponderous immobility. Some were mute and obedient, others groaned, wailed, swore and showed such a passionate hate towards us that were saving them, as if we had brought about that bloodly, indifferent night, and been the cause of all those terrible wounds and their loneliness amidst the night and dead bodies.

The train was full, and our clothes were saturated with blood, as if we had stood for a long time under a rain of blood, while the wounded were still being brought in, and the field, come to life, was stirring wildly as before.

Some of the wounded crawled up themselves, some walked up tottering and falling. One soldier almost ran up to us. His face was smashed, and only one eye remained, burning wildly and terribly, and he was almost naked, as if he had come from the bathroom. Pushing me aside, he caught sight of the doctor, and rapidly seized him by the chest with his left hand.

“I’ll smash your snout!” he cried, shaking the doctor, and added slowly and mordantly a coarse oath. “I’ll smash your snouts! you rabble!”

The doctor broke away from the soldier, and advancing towards him, cried chokingly⁠—

“I will have you court-martialled, you scoundrel! To prison with you! You’re hindering my work! Scoundrel! Brute!”

We pulled them apart, but the soldier kept on crying out for a long time: “Rabble! I’ll smash your snout!”

I was beginning to get exhausted, and went a little way off to have a smoke and rest a bit. The blood, dried to my hands, covered them like a pair of black gloves, making it difficult for me to bend my fingers, so that I kept dropping my cigarettes and matches. And when I succeeded in lighting my cigarette, the tobacco smoke struck me as novel and strange, with quite a peculiar taste, the like of which I never experienced before or after. Just then the ambulance student with whom I had travelled came up to me, and it seemed to me as if I had met with him several years back, but where I could not remember. His tread was firm as if he were marching, and he was staring through me at something farther on and higher up.

“And they are sleeping,” said he, as it seemed, quite calmly.

I flew into a rage, as if the reproach was addressed to me.

“You forget, that they fought like lions for ten days.”

“And they are sleeping,” he repeated, looking through me and higher up. Then he stooped down to me and shaking his finger, continued in the same dry and calm way: “I will tell you⁠—I will tell you⁠ ⁠…”


He stooped still lower towards me, shaking his finger meaningly, and kept repeating the words as if they expressed a completed idea⁠—

“I will tell you⁠—I will tell you. Tell them⁠ ⁠…” And still looking at me in the same severe way, he shook his finger once more, then took out his revolver and shot himself in the temple. And this did not surprise or terrify me in the least. Putting my cigarette into the left hand, I felt his wound with my fingers, and went back to the train.

“The student has shot himself. I believe he is still alive,” said I to the doctor. The latter caught hold of his head and groaned.

“D⁠—n him!⁠ ⁠… There is no room. There, that one will go and shoot himself too, soon. And I give you my word of honour,” cried he, angrily and menacingly, “I will do the same! Yes! And let me beg you⁠—just walk back. There is no room. You can lodge a complaint against me if you like.”

And he turned away, still shouting, while I went up to the other who was about to commit suicide. He was an ambulance man, and also, I believe, a student. He stood, pressing his forehead against the wall of the carriage, and his shoulders shook with sobs.

“Stop!” said I, touching his quivering shoulder. But he did not turn round or answer, and continued crying. And the back of his head was youthful, like the other student’s, and as terrifying, and he stood in an absurd manner with his legs spread out like a person drunk, who is sick; and his neck was covered with blood; probably he had clutched it with his own hands.

“Well?” said I, impatiently.

He pushed himself away from the carriage and, stooping like an old man, with his head bent down, he went away into the darkness, away from all of us. I do not know why, but I followed him, and we walked along for a long time away from the carriages. I believe he was crying, and a feeling of distress stole over me, and I wanted to cry too.

“Stop!” I cried, standing still.

But he walked on, moving his feet ponderously, bent down, looking like an old man with his narrow shoulders and shuffling gait. And soon he disappeared in the reddish haze, that resembled light and yet lit nothing. And I remained alone. To the left of me a row of dim lights floated past⁠—it was the train. I was alone⁠—amidst the dead and dying. How many more remained? Near me all was still and dead, but farther on the field was stirring, as if it were alive⁠—or so it seemed to me in my loneliness. But the moan did not grow less. It spread along the earth⁠—high-pitched, hopeless, like the cry of a child or the yelping of thousands of castaway puppies, starving and cold. Like a sharp, endless, icy needle it pierced your brain and slowly moved backwards and forwards⁠—backwards and forwards.⁠ ⁠…

Fragment VI

… They were our own men. During the strange confusion of all movements that reigned in both armies, our own and the enemy’s, during the last month, frustrating all orders and plans, we were sure it was the enemy that was approaching us, namely, the 4th corps. And everything was ready for an attack, when somebody clearly discerned our uniforms, and ten minutes later our guess had become a calm and happy certainty: they were our own men. They apparently had recognised us too: they advanced quite calmly, and that calm motion seemed to express the same happy smile of an unexpected meeting.

And when they began firing, we did not understand for some time what it meant, and still continued smiling⁠—under a hail of shrapnel and bullets, that poured down upon us, snatching away at one stroke hundreds of men. Somebody cried out by mistake and⁠—I clearly remember⁠—we all saw that it was the enemy, that it was his uniform and not ours, and instantly answered the fire. About fifteen minutes after the beginning of that strange engagement both my legs were torn off, and I recovered consciousness in the hospital after the amputation.

I asked how the battle had ended, and received an evasive, reassuring answer, by which I could understand that we had been beaten; and afterwards, legless as I was, I was overcome by joy at the thought that now I would be sent home, that I was alive⁠—alive for a long time to come, alive forever. And only a week later I learnt some particulars, that once more filled me with doubts and a new, unexperienced feeling of terror. Yes, I believe they were our own men after all⁠—and it was with one of our shells, fired out of one of our guns by one of our men, that my legs had been torn off. And nobody could explain how it had happened. Something occurred, something darkened our vision, and two regiments, belonging to the same army, facing each other at a distance of one verst, had been destroying each other for a whole hour in the full conviction that it was the enemy they had before them. Later on the incident was remembered and spoken of reluctantly in halfwords and⁠—what is most surprising of all⁠—one could feel that many of the speakers did not admit the mistake even then. That is to say, they admitted it, but thought that it had occurred later on, that in the beginning they really had the enemy before them, but that he disappeared somewhere during the general fray, leaving us in the range of our own shells. Some spoke of it openly, giving precise explanations, which seemed to them plausible and clear. Up to this very minute I cannot say for certain how the strange blunder began, as I saw with equal clearness first our red uniforms and then their orange-coloured ones. And somehow very soon everybody forgot about the incident, forgot about it to such an extent that it was spoken of as a real battle, and in that sense many accounts were written and sent to the papers in all good faith; I read them when I was back home. At first the public’s attitude towards us, the wounded in that engagement, was rather strange⁠—we seemed to be less pitied than those wounded in other battles, but soon even that disappeared too. And only new facts, similar to the one just described, and a case in the enemy’s army, when two detachments actually destroyed each other almost entirely, having come to a hand-to-hand fight during the night⁠—gives me the right to think that a mistake did occur.

Our doctor, the one that did the amputation, a lean, bony old man, tainted with tobacco smoke and carbolic acid, everlastingly smiling at something through his yellowish-grey thin moustache, said to me, winking his eye⁠—

“You’re in luck to be going home. There’s something wrong here.”

“What is it?”

“Something’s going wrong. In our time it was simpler.”

He had taken part in the last European war almost a quarter of a century back and often referred to it with pleasure. But this war he did not understand, and, as I noticed, feared it.

“Yes, there’s something wrong,” sighed he, and frowned, disappearing in a cloud of tobacco smoke. “I would leave too, if I could.”

And bending over me he whispered through his yellow smoked moustache⁠—

“A time will come when nobody will be able to go away from here. Yes, neither I nor anybody,” and in his old eyes, so close to me, I saw the same fixed, dull, stricken expression. And something terrible, unbearable, resembling the fall of thousands of buildings, darted through my head, and growing cold from terror, I whispered⁠—

“The red laugh.”

And he was the first to understand me. He hastily nodded his head and repeated⁠—

“Yes. The red laugh.”

He sat down quite close to me and looking round began whispering rapidly, in a senile way, wagging his sharp, grey little beard.

“You are leaving soon, and I will tell you. Did you ever see a fight in an asylum? No? Well, I saw one. And they fought like sane people. You understand⁠—like sane people.” He significantly repeated the last phrase several times.

“Well, and what of that?” asked I, also in a whisper, full of terror.

“Nothing. Like sane people.”

“The red laugh,” said I.

“They were separated by water being poured over them.”

I remembered the rain that had frightened us so, and got angry.

“You are mad, doctor!”

“Not more than you. Not more than you in any case.”

He hugged his sharp old knees and chuckled; and, looking at me over his shoulder and still with the echo of that unexpected painful laugh on his parched lips, he winked at me slyly several times, as if we two knew something very funny, that nobody else knew. Then with the solemnity of a professor of black magic, giving a conjuring performance, he lifted his arm and, lowering it slowly, carefully touched with two fingers that part of the blanket, under which my legs would have been, if they had not been cut off.

“And do you understand this?” he asked mysteriously.

Then, in the same solemn and significant manner, he waved his hand towards the row of beds on which the wounded were lying, and repeated⁠—

“And can you explain this?”

“The wounded?” said I. “The wounded?”

“The wounded,” repeated he, like an echo. “The wounded. Legless and armless, with pierced sides, smashed-in chests and torn-out eyes. You understand it? I am very glad. So I suppose you will understand this also?”

With an agility, quite unexpected for his age, he flung himself down and stood on his hands, balancing his legs in the air. His white working clothes turned down, his face grew purple and, looking at me fixedly with a strange upturned gaze, he threw at me with difficulty a few broken words⁠—

“And this⁠ ⁠… do you⁠ ⁠… also⁠ ⁠… understand?”

“Stop!” whispered I in terror, “or else I will cry out.”

He turned over into a natural position, sat down again near my bed, and taking breath, remarked instinctively⁠—

“And nobody can understand it.”

“Yesterday they were firing again.”

“Yes, they were firing yesterday and the day before,” said he, nodding his head affirmatively.

“I want to go home!” said I in distress. “Doctor, dear fellow, I want to go home. I cannot remain here any longer. At times I cannot bring myself to believe that I have a home, where it is so good.”

He was thinking of something and did not answer, and I began to cry.

“My God, I have no legs. I used to love my bicycle so, to walk and run, and now I have no legs. I used to dance my boy on the right foot and he laughed, and now.⁠ ⁠… Curse you all! What shall I go home for? I am only thirty.⁠ ⁠… Curse you all!”

And I sobbed and sobbed, as I thought of my dear legs, my fleet, strong legs. Who took them away from me, who dared to take them away!

“Listen,” said the doctor, looking aside. “Yesterday I saw a mad soldier that came to us. An enemy’s soldier. He was stripped almost naked, beaten and scratched and hungry as an animal, his hair was unkempt, as ours is, and he resembled a savage, primitive man or monkey. He waved his arms about, made grimaces, sang and shouted and wanted to fight. He was fed and driven out again⁠—into the open country. Where could we have kept him? Days and nights they wander about the hills, backwards and forwards in all directions, keeping to no path, having no aim or resting-place, all in tatters like ominous phantoms. They wave their arms, laugh, shout and sing, and when they come across anybody they begin to fight, or, maybe, without noticing each other, pass by. What do they eat? Probably nothing, or, maybe, they feed on the dead bodies together with the beasts, together with those fat wild dogs, that fight in the hills and yelp the whole night long. At night they gather about the fires like monstrous moths or birds awakened by a storm, and you need only light a fire to have in less than half-an-hour a dozen noisy, tattered wild shapes, resembling chilled monkeys, gathering around it. Sometimes they are fired at by mistake, sometimes on purpose, for they make you lose all patience with their unintelligible, terrifying cries.⁠ ⁠…”

“I want to go home!” cried I, shutting my ears.

But new terrible words, sounding hollow and phantom-like, as if they were passing through a layer of wadding, kept hammering at my brain.

“They are many. They die by hundreds in the precipices and pitfalls, that are made for sound and clever men, in the remnants of the barbed wire and on the stakes; they take part in the regular battles and fight like heroes⁠—always in the foremost ranks, always undaunted, but often turn against their own men. I like them. At present I am only beginning to go mad, and that is why I am sitting and talking to you, but when my senses leave me entirely, I will go out into the open country⁠—I will go out into the open country, and I will give a call⁠—I will give a call, I will gather those brave ones, those knights-errant, around me, and declare war to the whole world. We will enter the towns and villages in a joyous crowd, with music and songs, leaving in our wake a trail of red, in which everything will whirl and dance like fire. Those that remain alive will join us, and our brave army will grow like an avalanche, and will cleanse the whole world. Who said that one must not kill, burn or rob?⁠ ⁠…”

He was shouting now, that mad doctor, and seemed to have awakened by his cries the slumbering pain of all those around him with their ripped-open chests and sides, torn-out eyes and cutoff legs. The ward filled with a broad, rasping, crying groan, and from all sides pale, yellow, exhausted faces, some eyeless, some so monstrously mutilated that it seemed as if they had returned from hell, turned towards us. And they groaned and listened, and a black shapeless shadow, risen up from the earth, peeped in cautiously through the open door, while the mad doctor went on shouting, stretching out his arms.

“Who said one must not kill, burn, or rob? We will kill and burn and rob. We, a joyous careless band of braves, we will destroy all; their buildings, universities and museums, and merry as children, full of fiery laughter, we will dance on the ruins. I will proclaim the madhouse our fatherland; all those that have not gone mad⁠—our enemies and madmen; and when I, great, unconquerable and joyous, will begin to reign over the whole world, its sole lord and master, what a glad laugh will ring over the whole universe.”

“The red laugh!” cried I, interrupting him. “Help. Again I hear the red laugh!”

“Friends!” continued the doctor, addressing himself to the groaning mutilated shadows. “Friends! we shall have a red moon and a red sun, and the animals will have a merry red coat, and we will skin all those that are too white⁠—that are too white.⁠ ⁠… You have not tasted blood? It is slightly sticky and slightly warm, but it is red and has such a merry red laugh!⁠ ⁠…”

Fragment VII

… It was godless and unlawful. The red cross is respected by the whole world, as a thing sacred, and they saw that it was a train full of harmless wounded and not soldiers, and they ought to have warned us of the mine. The poor fellows, they were dreaming of home.⁠ ⁠…

Fragment VIII

… Around a samovar, around a real samovar, out of which the steam was rising as out of an engine⁠—the glass on the lamp had even grown dim, there was so much steam. And the cups were the same, blue outside and white inside, very pretty little cups, a wedding present. My wife’s sister gave them⁠—she is a very kind and good woman.

“Is it possible they are all whole?” asked I, incredulously, mixing the sugar in my glass with a clean silver spoon.

“One was broken,” said my wife, absently; she was holding the tap open just then and the water was running out easily and prettily.

I laughed.

“What’s it about?” asked my brother.

“Oh, nothing. Wheel me into the study just once more. You may as well trouble yourself for the sake of a hero. You idled away your time while I was away, but now that is over. I’ll bring you to order,” and I began singing, as a joke of course⁠—“My friends, we’re bravely hurrying towards the foe.⁠ ⁠…”

They understood the joke and smiled, only my wife did not lift up her face, she was wiping the cups with a clean embroidered cloth. And in the study I saw once again the light-blue wallpaper, a lamp with a green shade and a table with a water-bottle upon it. And it was a little dusty.

“Pour me some water out of this,” ordered I, merrily.

“But you’ve just had tea.”

“That doesn’t matter, pour me out some. And you,” said I to my wife, “take our son and go into the next room for a minute. Please.”

And I drank the water with delight in small sips, while my wife and son were in the next room, and I could not see them.

“That’s all right. Now come here. But why is he not in bed by this time?”

“He is so glad you have come home. Darling, go to your father.”

But the child began to cry and hid himself at his mother’s feet.

“Why is he crying?” asked I, in perplexity, and looked around, “why are you all so pale and silent, following me like shadows?”

My brother burst into a loud laugh and said, “We are not silent.”

And my sister said, “We are talking the whole time.”

“I will go and see about the supper,” said my mother, and hurriedly left the room.

“Yes, you are silent,” I repeated, with sudden conviction. “Since morning I have not heard a word from you; I am the only one who chats, laughs, and makes merry. Are you not glad to see me then? And why do you all avoid looking at me? Have I changed so? Yes, I am changed. But I do not see any looking-glasses about. Have you put them all away? Give me a looking-glass.”

“I will bring you one directly,” answered my wife, and did not come back for a long time, and the looking-glass was brought by the maid. I looked into it, and⁠—I had seen myself before in the train, at the station⁠—it was the same face, grown older a little, but the most ordinary face. While they, I believe, expected me to cry out and faint⁠—so glad were they when I asked calmly⁠—

“What is there so unusual in me?”

Laughing louder and louder, my sister left the room hurriedly, and my brother said with calm assurance: “Yes, you have not changed much, only grown slightly bald.”

“You can be thankful that my head is not broken,” answered I, unconcernedly. “But where do they all disappear?⁠—first one, then another. Wheel me about the rooms, please. What a comfortable armchair, it does not make the slightest sound. How much did it cost? You bet I won’t spare the money: I will buy myself such a pair of legs, better⁠ ⁠… My bicycle!”

It was hanging on the wall, quite new, only the tyres were limp for want of pumping. A tiny bit of mud had dried to the tyre of the back wheel⁠—the last time I had ridden it. My brother was silent and did not move my chair, and I understood his silence and irresoluteness.

“Only four officers remained alive in our regiment,” said I, surlily. “I am very lucky.⁠ ⁠… You can take it for yourself⁠—take it away tomorrow.”

“All right, I will take it,” agreed my brother submissively. “Yes, you are lucky. Half of the town is in mourning. While legs⁠—that is really.⁠ ⁠…”

“Of course I am not a postman.”

My brother stopped suddenly and asked⁠—

“But why does your head shake?”

“That’s nothing. The doctor said it will pass.”

“And your hands too?”

“Yes, yes. And my hands too. It will all pass. Wheel me on, please, I am tired of remaining still.”

They upset me, those discontented people, but my gladness returned to me when they began making my bed; a real bed, a handsome bed, that I had bought just before our wedding four years ago. They spread a clean sheet, then they shook the pillows and turned down the blanket, while I watched the solemn proceedings, my eyes full of tears with laughing.

“And now undress me and put me to bed,” said I to my wife. “How good it is!”

“This minute, dear.”


“This minute, dear.”

“Why; what are you doing?”

“This minute, dear.”

She was standing behind my back, near the toilette table, and I vainly tried to turn my head so as to see her. And suddenly she gave a cry, such a cry as one hears only at the war⁠—

“What does it all mean?”

She rushed towards me, put her arms round me, and fell down, hiding her head near the stumps of my cutoff legs, from which she turned away with horror, and again pressed herself against them, kissing them, and crying⁠—

“What have you become? Why, you are only thirty years old. You were young and handsome. What does it all mean? How cruel men are. What is it for? For whom is it necessary? You, my gentle, poor darling, darling.⁠ ⁠…”

At her cry they all ran up⁠—my mother, sister, nurse⁠—and they all began crying and saying something or other, and fell at my feet wailing. While on the threshold stood my brother, pale, terribly pale, with a trembling jaw, and cried out in a high-pitched voice⁠—

“I shall go mad with you all. I shall go mad!”

While my mother grovelled at my chair and had not the strength to cry, but only gasped, beating her head against the wheels. And there stood the clean bed with the well-shaken pillows and turned-down blanket, the same bed that I bought just before our wedding four years ago.⁠ ⁠…

Fragment IX

… I was sitting in a warm bath, while my brother was pacing up and down the small room in a troubled manner, sitting down, getting up again, catching hold of the soap and towel, bringing them close up to his shortsighted eyes and again putting them back in their places. At, last he stood up with his face to the wall and picking at the plaster with his finger, continued hotly.

“Judge for yourself: one cannot teach people mercy, sense, logic⁠—teach them to act consciously for tens and hundreds of years running with impunity. And, in particular, to act consciously. One can become merciless, lose all sensitiveness, get accustomed to blood and tears and pain⁠—for instance butchers, and some doctors and officers do, but how can one renounce truth, after one has learnt to know it? In my opinion it is impossible. I was taught from infancy not to torture animals and be compassionate; all the books that I read told me the same, and I am painfully sorry for all those that suffer at your cursed war. But time passes, and I am beginning to get accustomed to all those deaths, sufferings and all this blood; I feel that I am getting less sensitive, less responsive in my everyday life and respond only to great stimulants, but I cannot get accustomed to war; my brain refuses to understand and explain a thing that is senseless in its basis. Millions of people gather at one place and, giving their actions order and regularity, kill each other, and it hurts everybody equally, and all are unhappy⁠—what is it if not madness?” My brother turned round and looked at me inquiringly with his shortsighted, artless eyes.

“The red laugh,” said I merrily, splashing about.

“I will tell you the truth,” and my brother put his cold hand trustingly on my shoulder, but quickly pulled it back, as if he was frightened at its being naked and wet. “I will tell you the truth; I am very much afraid of going mad. I cannot understand what is happening. I cannot understand it, and it is dreadful. If only anybody could explain it to me, but nobody can. You were at the front, you saw it all⁠—explain it to me.”

“Deuce take you,” answered I jokingly, splashing about.

“There, and you too,” said my brother, sadly. “Nobody is capable of helping me. It’s dreadful. And I am beginning to lose all understanding of what is permissible and what is not, what has sense and what is senseless. If I were to seize you suddenly by the throat, at first gently, as if caressing you, and then firmly, and strangle you, what would that be?”

“You are talking nonsense. Nobody does such things.”

My brother rubbed his cold hands, smiled softly, and continued⁠—

“When you were away there were nights when I did not sleep, could not sleep, and strange ideas entered my head⁠—to take a hatchet, for instance, and go and kill everybody⁠—mother, sister, the servants, our dog. Of course they were only fancies, and I would never do so.”

“I should hope not,” smiled I, splashing about.

“Then, again, I am afraid of knives, of all that is sharp and shining; it seems to me that if I were to take up a knife I should certainly kill somebody with it. Now, is it not true⁠—why should I not plunge it into somebody, if it were sharp enough?”

“The argument is sufficient. What a queer fellow you are, brother! Just open the hot-water tap.”

My brother opened the tap, let in some hot water, and continued⁠—

“Then, again, I am afraid of crowds⁠—of men, when many of them gather together. When of an evening I hear a noise in the street⁠—a loud shout, for instance⁠—I start and believe that⁠ ⁠… a massacre has begun. When several men stand together, and I cannot hear what they are talking about, it seems to me that they will suddenly cry out, fall upon each other, and blood will flow. And you know”⁠—he bent mysteriously towards my ear⁠—“the papers are full of murders⁠—strange murders. It is all nonsense that there are as many brains as there are men; mankind has only one intellect, and it is beginning to get muddled. Just feel my head, how hot it is. It is on fire. And sometimes it gets cold, and everything freezes in it, grows benumbed, and changes into a terrible dead-like piece of ice. I must go mad; don’t laugh, brother, I must go mad. A quarter of an hour has passed, it’s time for you to get out of your bath.”

“A little bit more. Just a minute.”

It was so good to be sitting again in that bath and listening to the well-known voice, without reflecting upon the words, and to see all the familiar, simple and ordinary things around me: the brass, slightly-green tap, the walls, with the familiar pattern, and all the photographic outfit laid out in order upon the shelves. I would take up photography again, take simple, peaceful landscapes and portraits of my son walking, laughing and playing. One could do that without legs. And I would take up my writing again⁠—about clever books, the progress of human thought, beauty, and peace.

“Ho, ho, ho!” roared I, splashing about.

“What is the matter with you?” asked my brother, growing pale and full of fear.

“Nothing. I am glad to be home.”

He smiled at me as one smiles at a child or on one younger than oneself, although I was three years older than he, and grew thoughtful, like a grownup person or an old man who has great, burdensome old thoughts.

“Where can one fly to?” he asked, shrugging his shoulders. “Every day, at about the same hour, the papers close the circuit, and all mankind gets a shock. This simultaneousness of feelings, tears, thoughts, sufferings and horror deprives me of all stay, and I am like a chip of wood tossing about on the waves, or a bit of dust in a whirlwind. I am forcibly torn away from all that is habitual, and there is one terrible moment every morning, when I seem to hang in the air over the black abyss of insanity. And I shall fall into it, I must fall into it. You don’t know all, brother. You don’t read the papers, and much is held back from you⁠—you don’t know all, brother.”

I took all his words for rather a gloomy joke⁠—the usual attitude towards all those who, being touched by insanity, have an inkling of the insanity of war, and gave us a warning. I considered it as a joke, as if I had forgotten for the moment, while I was splashing about in the hot water, all that I had seen over there. “Well, let them hold things back from me, but I must get out of the bath, anyway,” said I lightly, and my brother smiled and called my man, and together they lifted me out of my bath and dressed me. Afterwards I had some fragrant tea, which I drank out of my cut-glass tumbler, and said to myself that life was worth living even without a pair of legs; and then they wheeled me into the study up to my table and I prepared for work.

Before the war I was on the staff of a journal, reviewing foreign literature, and now, disposed within my reach, lay a heap of those dear, sweet books in yellow, blue and brown covers. My joy was so great, my delight so profound, that I could not make up my mind to begin reading them, and I merely fingered the books, passing my hand caressingly over them. I felt a smile spread over my face, most probably a very silly smile, but I could not keep it back, as I contemplated admiringly the type, the vignettes, the severe beautiful simplicity of the drawings. How much thought and sense of beauty there was in them all! How many people had to work and search, how much talent and taste were needed to bring forth that letter, for instance, so simple and elegant, so clever, harmonious and eloquent in its interlaced lines.

“And now I must set to work,” said I, seriously, full of respect for work.

And I took up my pen to write the heading and, like a frog tied to a string, my hand began plunging about the paper. The pen stuck into the paper, scratched it, jerked about, slipped irresistibly aside, and brought forth hideous lines, broken, crooked, devoid of all sense. And I did not cry out or move, I grew cold and still as the approaching terrible truth dawned upon me; while my hand danced over the brightly illuminated paper, and each finger shook in such hopeless, living, insane horror, as if they, those fingers, were still at the front and saw the conflagrations and blood, and heard the groans and cries of undescribable pain. They had detached themselves from me, those madly quivering fingers, they were alive, they had become ears and eyes; and, growing cold from horror, without the strength to move or cry out, I watched their wild dance over the clean, bright white page.

And all was quiet. They thought I was working, and had shut all the doors, so as not to interrupt me by any sound⁠—and I was alone in the room, deprived of the power of moving, obediently watching my shaking hands.

“It is nothing,” said I aloud, and in the stillness and loneliness of the study my voice sounded hollow and nasty like the voice of a madman. “It is nothing. I will dictate. Why, Milton was blind when he wrote his Paradise Regained. I can think, and that is the chief thing, in fact it is all.”

And I began inventing a long clever phrase about the blind Milton, but the words got confused, fell away as out of a rotten printing frame, and when I came to the end of the phrase I had forgotten the beginning. Then I tried to remember what made me begin, and why I was inventing that strange senseless phrase about Milton, and could not.

Paradise Regained, Paradise Regained,” I repeated, and could not understand what it meant.

And then I saw that I often forgot very many things, that I had become strangely absentminded, and confused familiar faces; that I forgot words even in a simple conversation, and sometimes, remembering a word, I could not understand its meaning. And I clearly pictured to myself my daily existence. A strange short day, cut off like my legs, with empty mysterious spaces, long hours of unconsciousness or apathy, about which I could remember nothing.

I wanted to call my wife, but could not remember her name⁠—and this did not surprise or frighten me. Softly I whispered⁠—


The incoherent, unusual word sounded softly and died away without bringing any response. And all was quiet. They were afraid of disturbing me at my work by any careless sound, and all was quiet⁠—a perfect study for a savant⁠—cosy, quiet, disposing one to meditation and creative energy. “Dear ones, how solicitous they are of me!” I thought tenderly.

… And inspiration, sacred inspiration, came to me. The sun burst forth in my head, and its burning creative rays darted over the whole world, dropping flowers and songs⁠—flowers and songs. And I wrote on through the whole night, feeling no exhaustion, but soaring freely on the wings of mighty, sacred inspiration. I was writing something great⁠—something immortal⁠—flowers and songs⁠—flowers and songs.⁠ ⁠…

Part II

Fragment X

… Happily he died last week on Friday. I say “happily,” and repeat that my brother’s death was a great blessing to him. A cripple with no legs, palsied, with a smitten soul, he was terrible and piteous in his senseless creative ecstasy. Ever since that night he wrote for two months, without leaving his chair, refusing all food, weeping and scolding whenever we wheeled him away from his table even for a short time. He moved his dry pen over the paper with wonderful rapidity, throwing aside page after page, and kept on writing and writing. Sleep deserted him, and only twice did we succeed in putting him to bed for a few hours, thanks to a strong narcotic, but, later, even a narcotic was powerless to conquer his senseless creative ecstasy. At his order the curtains were kept drawn over all the windows the whole day long and the lamp was allowed to burn, giving the illusion of night, while he wrote on, smoking one cigarette after another. Apparently he was happy, and I never happened to meet any healthy person with such an inspired face⁠—the face of a prophet or of a great poet. He became extremely emaciated, with the waxen transparency of a corpse or of an ascetic, and his hair grew quite grey; he began his senseless work a comparatively young man, but finished it an old one. Sometimes he hurried on his work, writing more than usual, and his pen would stick into the pages and break, but he never noticed it; at such times one durst not touch him, for at the slightest contact he was overtaken by fits of tears and laughter; but sometimes, very rarely, he rested blissfully from his work and talked to me affably, each time asking the same questions: Who was I, what was my name, and since when had I taken up literature.

And then he would condescendingly tell, always using the same words, what an absurd fright he had had at the thought that he had lost his memory and was incapable of work, and how splendidly he had refuted the insane supposition there and then by beginning his great immortal work about the flowers and songs.

“Of course I do not count upon being recognised by my contemporaries,” he would say proudly and unassumingly at the same time, putting his trembling hand on the heap of empty sheets, “but the future⁠—the future⁠—will understand my idea.”

He never once remembered the war or his wife and son; the mirage of his endless work engrossed his attention so undividedly that it is doubtful whether he was conscious of anything else. One could walk and talk in his presence⁠—he noticed nothing, and not for an instant did his face lose its expression of terrible tension and inspiration. In the stillness of the night, when everybody was asleep and he alone wove untiringly the endless thread of insanity, he seemed terrible, and only his mother and I ventured to approach him. Once I tried to give him a pencil instead of his dry pen, thinking that perhaps he really wrote something, but on the paper there remained only hideous lines, broken, crooked, devoid of any sense. And he died in the night at his work. I knew my brother well, and his insanity did not come as a surprise to me: the passionate dream of work that filled all his letters from the war and was the stay of his life after his return, had to come into inevitable collision with the impotence of his exhausted, tortured brain, and bring about the catastrophe. And I believe that I have succeeded in reconstructing with sufficient accuracy the successive feelings that brought him to the end during that fatal night. Generally speaking, all that I have written down concerning the war is founded upon the words of my dead brother, often very confused and incoherent; only a few separate episodes were burnt into his brain so deeply and indelibly that I could cite the very words that he used in telling me them. I loved him, and his death weighs upon me like a stone, oppressing my brain by its senselessness. It has added one more loop to the incomprehensible that envelops my head like a web, and has drawn it tight. The whole family has left for the country on a visit to some relatives, and I am alone in the house⁠—the house that my brother loved so. The servants have been paid off, and only the porter from the next door comes every morning to light the fires, while the rest of the time I am alone, and resemble a fly caught between two window-frames,1 plunging about and knocking myself against a transparent but insurmountable obstacle. And I feel, I know, that I shall never leave the house. Now, when I am alone, the war possesses me wholly and stands before me like an inscrutable mystery, like a terrible spirit, to which I can give no form. I give it all sorts of shapes: of a headless skeleton on horseback, of a shapeless shadow, born in a black thundercloud, mutely enveloping the earth, but not one of them can give me an answer and extinguish the cold, constant, blunt horror that possesses me.

I do not understand war, and I must go mad, like my brother, like the hundreds of men that are sent back from there. And this does not terrify me. The loss of reason seems to me honourable, like the death of a sentry at his post. But the expectancy, the slow and infallible approach of madness, the instantaneous feeling of something enormous falling into an abyss, the unbearable pain of tortured thought.⁠ ⁠… My heart has grown benumbed, it is dead, and there is no new life for it, but thought⁠—is still alive, still struggling, once mighty as Samson, but now helpless and weak as a child, and⁠—I am sorry for my poor thought. There are moments when I cannot endure the torture of those iron clasps that are compressing my brain; I feel an irrepressible longing to run out into the street, into the marketplace, where there are people and cry out⁠—“Stop the war this instant⁠—or else⁠ ⁠…”

But what “else” is there? Are there any words that can make them come to their senses? Words, in answer to which one cannot find just such other loud and lying words? Or must I fall upon my knees before them and burst into tears? But then, hundreds of thousands are making the earth resound with their weeping, but does that change anything? Or, perhaps, kill myself before them all? Kill myself. Thousands are dying every day, but does that change anything?

And when I feel my impotence, I am seized with rage⁠—the rage of war, which I hate. Like the doctor, I long to burn down their houses with all their treasures, their wives and children; to poison the water which they drink; to raise all the killed from their graves and throw the corpses into their unclean houses on to their beds. Let them sleep with them as with their wives or mistresses!

Oh, if only I were the Devil! I would transplant all the horrors that hell exhales on to their earth. I would become the lord of all their dreams, and, when they cross their children with a smile before falling asleep, I would rise up before them a black vision.⁠ ⁠… Yes, I must go mad⁠—only let it come quicker⁠—let it come quicker.⁠ ⁠…

Fragment XI

… Prisoners, a group of trembling, terrified men. When they were led out of the train the crowd gave a roar⁠—the roar of an enormous savage dog, whose chain is too short and not strong enough. The crowd gave a roar and was silent, breathing deeply, while they advanced in a compact group with their hands in their pockets, smiling with their white lips as if currying favour, and stepping out in such a manner as if somebody was just going to strike them with a long stick under their knees from behind. But one of them walked at a short distance from the others, calm, serious, without a smile, and when my eyes met his black ones I saw bare open hatred in them. I saw clearly that he despised me and thought me capable of anything; if I were to begin killing him, unarmed as he was, he would not have cried out or tried to defend or right himself⁠—he considered me capable of anything.

I ran along together with the crowd, to meet his gaze once more, and only succeeded as they were entering a house. He went in the last, letting his companions pass before him, and glanced at me once more. And then I saw such pain, such an abyss of horror and insanity in his big black eyes, as if I had looked into the most wretched soul on earth.

“Who is that with the eyes?” I asked of a soldier of the escort.

“An officer⁠—a madman. There are many such.”

“What is his name?”

“He does not say. And his countrymen don’t know him. A stranger they picked up. He has been saved from hanging himself once already, but what is there to be done!”⁠ ⁠… and the soldier made a vague gesture and disappeared in the door.

And now, this evening I am thinking of him. He is alone amidst the enemy, who, in his opinion, are capable of doing anything with him, and his own people do not know him. He keeps silence and waits patiently for the moment when he will be able to go out of this world altogether. I do not believe that he is mad, and he is no coward; he was the only one who held himself with dignity in that group of trembling, terrified men, whom apparently he does not regard as his own people. What is he thinking about? What a depth of despair must be in the soul of that man, who, dying, does not wish to name himself. Why give his name? He has done with life and men, he has grasped their real value and notices none around him, either his own people or strangers, shout, rage and threaten as they will. I made inquiries about him. He was taken in the last terrible battle, during which several tens of thousands of men lost their lives, and he showed no resistance when he was being taken prisoner; he was unarmed for some reason or other, and, when the soldier, not having noticed it, struck him with his sword, he did not get up or try to act in self-defence. But the wound, unhappily for him, was a slight one.

But, maybe, he is really mad? The soldier said there were many such.⁠ ⁠…

Fragment XII

… It is beginning. When I entered my brother’s study yesterday evening he was sitting in his armchair at his table heaped with books. The hallucination disappeared the moment I lighted a candle, but for a long time I could not bring myself to sit down in the armchair that he had occupied. At first it was terrifying⁠—the empty rooms in which one was constantly hearing rustlings and crackings were the cause of this dread, but afterwards I even liked it⁠—better he than somebody else. Nevertheless, I did not leave the armchair the whole evening; it seemed to me that if I were to get up he would instantly sit down in my place. And I left the room very quickly without looking round. The lamps ought to have been lit in all the rooms, but was it worth while? It would have been perhaps worse if I had seen anything by lamplight⁠—as it was, there was still room for doubt. Today I entered with a candle and there was nobody in the armchair. Evidently it must have been only a shadow. Again I went to the station⁠—I go there every morning now⁠—and saw a whole carriage full of our mad soldiers. It was not opened, but shunted on to another line, and I had time to see several faces through the windows. They were terrible, especially one. Fearfully drawn, the colour of a lemon, with an open black mouth and fixed eyes, it was so like a mask of horror that I could not tear my eyes away from it. And it stared at me, the whole of it, and was motionless, and glided past together with the moving carriage, just as motionless, without the slightest change, never transferring its gaze for an instant. If it were to appear before me this minute in that dark door, I do not believe I should be able to hold out. I made inquiries: there were twenty-two men. The infection is spreading. The papers are hushing up something and, I believe, there is something wrong in our town too. Black, closely-shut carriages have made their appearance⁠—I counted six during one day in different parts of the town. I suppose I shall also go off in one of them one of these days.

And the papers clamour for fresh troops and more blood every day, and I am beginning to understand less and less what it all means. Yesterday I read an article full of suspicion, stating that there were many spies and traitors amongst the people, warning us to be cautious and mindful, and that the wrath of the people would not fail to find out the guilty. What guilty, and guilty of what? As I was returning from the station in the tram, I heard a strange conversation, I suppose in reference to the same article.

“They ought to be all hung without any trial,” said one, looking scrutinisingly at me and all the passengers. “Traitors ought to be hung, yes.”

“Without any mercy,” confirmed the other. “They’ve been shown mercy enough!”

I jumped out of the tram. The war was making everybody shed tears, and they were crying too⁠—why, what did it mean? A bloody mist seemed to have enveloped the earth, hiding it from our gaze, and I was beginning to think that the moment of the universal catastrophe was approaching. The red laugh that my brother saw. The madness was coming from over there, from those bloody burnt-out fields, and I felt its cold breath in the air. I am a strong man and have none of those illnesses that corrupt the body, bringing in their train the corruption of the brain also, but I see the infection catching me, and half of my thoughts belong to me no longer. It is worse than the plague and its horrors. One can hide from the plague, take measures, but how can one hide from all-penetrating thought, that knows neither distances nor obstacles?

In the daytime I can still fight against it, but during the night I become, as everybody else does, the slave of my dreams⁠—and my dreams are terrible and full of madness.⁠ ⁠…

Fragment XIII

… Universal mob-fights, senseless and sanguinary. The slightest provocation gives rise to the most savage club-law, knives, stones, logs of wood coming into action, and it is all the same who is being killed⁠—red blood asks to be let loose, and flows willingly and plentifully.

There were six of them, all peasants, and they were being led by three soldiers with loaded guns. In their quaint peasant’s dress, simple and primitive like a savage’s, with their quaint countenances, that seemed as if made of clay and adorned with felted wool instead of hair, in the streets of a rich town, under the escort of disciplined soldiers⁠—they resembled slaves of the antique world. They were being led off to the war, and they moved along in obedience to the bayonets as innocent and dull as cattle led to the slaughterhouse. In front walked a youth, tall, beardless, with a long goose neck, at the end of which was a motionless little head. His whole body was bent forward like a switch, and he stared at the ground under his feet so fixedly as if his gaze penetrated into the very depths of the earth. The last in the group was a man of small stature, bearded and middle-aged; he had no desire of resistance, and there was no thought in his eyes, but the earth attracted his feet, gripped them tightly, not letting them loose, and he advanced with his body thrown back, as if struggling against a strong wind. And at each step the soldier gave him a push with the butt-end of his rifle, and one leg, tearing itself from the earth, convulsively thrust itself forward, while the other still stuck tightly. The faces of the soldiers were weary and angry, and evidently they had been marching so for a long time; one felt they were tired and indifferent as to how they carried their guns and how they marched, keeping no step, with their feet turned in like countrymen. The senseless, lingering and silent resistance of the peasants seemed to have dimmed their disciplined brains, and they had ceased to understand where they were going and what their goal was.

“Where are you leading them to?” I asked of one of the soldiers. He started, glanced at me, and in the keen flash of his eyes I felt the bayonet as distinctly as if it were already at my breast.

“Go away!” said the soldier; “go away, or else.⁠ ⁠…”

The middle-aged man took advantage of the moment and ran away; he ran with a light trot up to the iron railings of the boulevard and sat down on his heels, as if he were hiding. No animal would have acted so stupidly, so senselessly. Bat the soldier became savage. I saw him go close up to him, stoop down and, thrusting his gun into the left hand, strike something soft and flat with the right one. And then again. A crowd was gathering. Laughter and shouts were heard.⁠ ⁠…

Fragment XIV

… In the eleventh row of stalls. Somebody’s arms were pressing closely against me on my right- and left-hand side, while far around me in the semidarkness stuck out motionless heads, tinged with red from the lights upon the stage. And gradually the mass of people, confined in that narrow space, filled me with horror. Everybody was silent, listening to what was being said on the stage or, perhaps, thinking out his own thoughts, but as they were many, they were more audible, for all their silence, than the loud voices of the actors. They were coughing, blowing their noses, making a noise with their feet and clothes, and I could distinctly hear their deep, uneven breathing, that was heating the air. They were terrible, for each of them could become a corpse, and they all had senseless brains. In the calmness of those well-brushed heads, resting upon white, stiff collars, I felt a hurricane of madness ready to burst every second.

My hands grew cold as I thought how many and how terrible they were, and how far away I was from the entrance. They were calm, but what if I were to cry out “Fire!”⁠ ⁠… And full of terror, I experienced a painfully passionate desire, of which I cannot think without my hands growing cold and moist. Who could hinder me from crying out⁠—yes, standing up, turning round and crying out: “Fire! Save yourselves⁠—fire!”

A convulsive wave of madness would overwhelm their still limbs. They would jump up, yelling and howling like animals; they would forget that they had wives, sisters, mothers, and would begin casting themselves about like men stricken with sudden blindness, in their madness throttling each other with their white fingers fragrant with scent. The lights would be turned on, and somebody with an ashen face would appear upon the stage, shouting that all was in order and that there was no fire, and the music, trembling and halting, would begin playing something wildly merry⁠—but they would be deaf to everything⁠—they would be throttling, trampling, and beating the heads of the women, demolishing their ingenious, cunning headdresses. They would tear at each other’s ears, bite off each other’s noses, and tear the very clothes off each other’s bodies, feeling no shame, for they would be mad. Their sensitive, delicate, beautiful, adorable women would scream and writhe helplessly at their feet, clasping their knees, still believing in their generosity⁠—while they would beat them viciously upon their beautiful upturned faces, trying to force their way towards the entrance. For men are always murderers, and their calmness and generosity is the calmness of a well-fed animal, that knows itself out of danger.

And when, having made corpses of half their number, they would gather at the entrance in a trembling, tattered group of shamefaced animals, with a false smile upon their lips, I would go on to the stage and say with a laugh⁠—

“It has all happened because you killed my brother.” Yes, I would say with a laugh: “It has all happened because you killed my brother.”

I must have whispered something aloud, for my neighbour on the right-hand side moved angrily in his chair and said⁠—

“Hush! You are interrupting.”

I felt merry and wanted to play a joke. Assuming a warning severe expression, I stooped towards him.

“What is it?” he asked suspiciously. “Why do you look at me so?”

“Hush, I implore you,” whispered I with my lips. “Do you not perceive a smell of burning? There is a fire in the theatre.”

He had enough power of will and good sense not to cry out. His face grew pale, his eyes starting out of their sockets and almost protruding over his cheeks, enormous as bladders, but he did not cry out. He rose quietly and, without even thanking me, walked totteringly towards the entrance, convulsively keeping back his steps. He was afraid of the others guessing about the fire and preventing him getting away⁠—him, the only one worthy of being saved.

I felt disgusted and left the theatre also; besides I did not want to make known my incognito too soon. In the street I looked towards that part of the sky where the war was raging; everything was calm, and the night clouds, yellow from the lights of the town, were slowly and calmly drifting past.

“Perhaps it is only a dream, and there is no war?” thought I, deceived by the stillness of the sky and town.

But a boy sprang out from behind a corner, crying joyously⁠—

“A terrible battle. Enormous losses. Buy a list of telegrams⁠—night telegrams!”

I read it by the light of the street lamp. Four thousand dead. In the theatre, I should say, there were not more than one thousand. And the whole way home I kept repeating⁠—“Four thousand dead.”

Now I am afraid of returning to my empty house. When I put my key into the lock and look at the dumb, flat door, I can feel all its dark empty rooms behind it, which, however, the next minute, a man in a hat would pass through, looking furtively around him. I know the way well, but on the stairs I begin lighting match after match, until I find a candle. I never enter my brother’s study, and it is locked with all that it contains. And I sleep in the dining-room, whither I have shifted altogether: there I feel calmer, for the air seems to have still retained the traces of talking and laughter and the merry clang of dishes. Sometimes I distinctly hear the scraping of a dry pen⁠—and when I lay down on my bed.⁠ ⁠…

Fragment XV

… That absurd and terrible dream. It seemed as if the skull had been taken off my brain and, bared and unprotected, it submissively and greedily imbibed all the horrors of those bloody and senseless days. I was lying curled up, occupying only five feet of space, while my thought embraced the whole world. I saw with the eyes of all mankind, and listened with its ears; I died with the killed, sorrowed and wept with all that were wounded and left behind, and, when blood flowed out of anybody’s body, I felt the pain of the wound and suffered. Even all that had not happened and was far away, I saw as clearly as if it had happened and was close by, and there was no end to the sufferings of my bared brain.

Those children, those innocent little children. I saw them in the street playing at war and chasing each other, and one of them was already crying in a high-pitched, childish voice⁠—and something shrank within me from horror and disgust. And I went home; night came on⁠—and in fiery dreams, resembling midnight conflagrations, those innocent little children changed into a band of child-murderers.

Something was ominously burning in a broad red glare, and in the smoke there swarmed monstrous, misshapen children, with heads of grownup murderers. They were jumping lightly and nimbly, like young goats at play, and were breathing with difficulty, like sick people. Their mouths, resembling the jaws of toads or frogs, opened widely and convulsively; behind the transparent skin of their naked bodies the red blood was coursing angrily⁠—and they were killing each other at play. They were the most terrible of all that I had seen, for they were little and could penetrate everywhere.

I was looking out of the window and one of the little ones noticed me, smiled, and with his eyes asked me to let him in.

“I want to go to you,” he said.

“You will kill me.”

“I want to go to you,” he said, growing suddenly pale, and began scrambling up the white wall like a rat⁠—just like a hungry rat. He kept losing his footing, and squealed and darted about the wall with such rapidity, that I could not follow his impetuous, sudden movements.

“He can crawl in under the door,” said I to myself with horror, and as if he had guessed my thought, he grew thin and long and, waving the end of his tail rapidly, he crawled into the dark crack under the front door. But I had time to hide myself under the blanket, and heard him searching for me in the dark rooms, cautiously stepping along with his tiny bare feet. He approached my room very slowly, stopping now and then, and at last entered it; but I did not hear any sound, either rustle or movement for a long time, as if there was nobody near my bed. And then somebody’s little hand began lifting up the edge of the coverlet, and I could feel the cold air of the room upon my face and chest. I held the blanket tightly, but it persisted in lifting itself up on all sides; and all of a sudden my feet became so cold, as if I had dipped them into water. Now they were lying unprotected in the chill darkness of the room, and he was looking at them.

In the yard, behind the house, a dog barked and was silent, and I heard the trail of its chain as it went into its kennel. But he still watched my naked feet and kept silence; I knew he was there by the unendurable horror that was binding me like death with a stony, sepulchral immobility. If I could have cried out, I would have awakened the whole town, the whole world, but my voice was dead within me, and I lay submissive and motionless, feeling the little cold hands moving over my body and nearing my throat.

“I cannot!” I groaned, gasping and, waking up for an instant, I saw the vigilant darkness of the night, mysterious and living, and again I believe I fell asleep.⁠ ⁠…

“Don’t fear,” said my brother, sitting down upon my bed, and the bed creaked, so heavy he was dead. “Never fear, you see it is a dream. You only imagine that you were being strangled, while in reality you are asleep in the dark rooms, where there is not a soul, and I am in my study writing. Nobody understood what I wrote about, and you derided me as one insane, but now I will tell you the truth. I am writing about the red laugh. Do you see it?”

Something enormous, red and bloody, was standing before me, laughing a toothless laugh.

“That is the red laugh. When the earth goes mad, it begins to laugh like that. You know, the earth has gone mad. There are no more flowers or songs on it; it has become round, smooth and red like a scalped head. Do you see it?”

“Yes, I see it. It is laughing.”

“Look what its brain is like. It is red, like bloody porridge, and is muddled.”

“It is crying out.”

“It is in pain. It has no flowers or songs. And now⁠—let me lie down upon you.”

“You are heavy and I am afraid.”

“We, the dead, lie down on the living. Do you feel warm?”


“Are you comfortable?”

“I am dying.”

“Awake and cry out. Awake and cry out. I am going away.⁠ ⁠…”

Fragment XVI

… Today is the eighth day of the battle.

It began last Friday, and Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday have passed⁠—and Friday has come again and is gone⁠—and it is still going on. Both armies, hundreds of thousands of men, are standing in front of each other, never flinching, sending explosive, crashing projectiles without stopping, and every instant living men are turned into corpses. The roar and incessant vibration of the air has made the very sky shudder and gather black thunderclouds above their heads⁠—while they continue to stand in front of each other, never flinching and still killing each other. If a man does not sleep for three nights, he becomes ill and loses his memory, but they have not slept for a whole week and are all mad. That is why they feel no pain, do not retreat, and go on fighting until they have killed all to the last man. They say that some of the detachments came to the end of their ammunition, but still they fought on, using their fists and stones, and biting at each other like dogs. If the remnants of those regiments return home, they will have canine teeth like wolves⁠—but they will not return, they have gone mad and die, every man of them. They have gone mad. Everything is muddled in their heads, and they cease to understand anything! If they were to be turned round suddenly and sharply, they would begin firing at their own men, thinking that they were firing at the enemy.

Strange rumours⁠—strange rumours that are told in a whisper, those repeating them turning white from horror and dreadful forebodings. Brother, brother, listen what is being told of the red laugh! They say phantom regiments have appeared, large bands of shadows, the exact copy of living men. At night, when the men forget themselves for an instant in sleep, or in the thick of the day’s fight, when the bright day itself seems a phantom, they suddenly appear, firing out of phantom guns, filling the air with phantom noises; and men, living but insane men, astounded by the suddenness of the attack, fight to the death against the phantom enemy, go mad from horror, become grey in an instant and die. The phantoms disappear as suddenly as they appear, and all becomes still, while the earth is strewn with fresh mutilated bodies. Who killed them? You know, brother, who killed them. When there is a lull between two battles and the enemy is far off, suddenly in the darkness of the night there resounds a solitary, frightened shot. And all jump up and begin firing into the darkness, into the silent dumb darkness, for a long time, for whole hours. Whom do they see there? Whose terrible, silent shape, full of horror and madness appears before them? You know, brother, and I know, but men do not know yet, but they have a foreboding, and ask, turning pale: “Why are there so many madmen? Before there never used to be so many.”

“Before there never used to be so many madmen,” they say, turning pale, trying to believe that now it is as before, and that the universal violence done to the brains of humanity would have no effect upon their weak little intellects.

“Why, men fought before and always have fought, and nothing of the sort happened. Strife is a law of nature,” they say with conviction and calmness, growing pale, nevertheless, seeking for the doctor with their eyes, and calling out hurriedly: “Water, quick, a glass of water!”

They would willingly become idiots, those people, only not to feel their intellect reeling and their reason succumbing in the hopeless combat with insanity.

In those days, when men over there were constantly being turned into corpses, I could find no peace, and sought the society of my fellow-men; and I heard many conversations and saw many false smiling faces, that asserted that the war was far off and in no way concerned them. But much oftener I met naked, frank horror, hopeless, bitter tears and frenzied cries of despair, when the great Mind itself cried out of man its last prayer, its last curse, with all the intensity of its power⁠—

“Whenever will the senseless carnage end?”

At some friends’, whom I had not seen for a long time, perhaps several years, I unexpectedly met a mad officer, invalided from the war. He was a schoolfellow of mine, but I did not recognise him: if he had lain for a year in his grave, he would have returned more like himself than he was then. His hair was grey and his face quite white, his features were but little changed⁠—but he was always silent, and seemed to be listening to something, and this stamped upon his face a look of such formidable remoteness, such indifference to all around him, that it was fearful to talk to him. His relatives were told he went mad in the following circumstances: they were in the reserve, while the neighbouring regiment was ordered to make a bayonet charge. The men rushed shouting “Hurrah” so loudly as almost to drown the noise of the cannon⁠—and suddenly the guns ceased firing, the “Hurrah” ceased also, and a sepulchral stillness ensued: they had run up to the enemy and were charging him with their bayonets. And his reason succumbed to that stillness.

Now he is calm when people make a noise around him, talk and shout, he listens and waits, but if only there is a moment’s silence, he catches hold of his head, rushes up to the wall or against the furniture, and falls down in a fit resembling epilepsy. He has many relations, and they take turns and surround him with sound, but there remain the nights, long solitary nights⁠—but here his father, a grey-haired old man, slightly wandering in his mind too, helped. He hung the walls of his son’s room with loudly ticking clocks, that constantly struck the hour at different times, and at present he is arranging a wheel, resembling an incessantly-going rattle. None of them lose hope that he will recover, as he is only twenty-seven, and their house is even gay. He is dressed very cleanly⁠—not in his uniform⁠—great care is taken of his appearance and he is even handsome with his white hair, young, thoughtful face and well-bred, slow, tired movements.

When I was told all, I went up and kissed his hand, his white languid hand, which will never more be lifted for a blow⁠—and this did not seem to surprise anybody very much. Only his young sister smiled at me with her eyes, and afterwards showed me such attention that it seemed as if I were her betrothed and she loved me more than anybody in the world. She showed me such attention that I very nearly told her about my dark empty rooms, in which I am worse than alone⁠—miserable heart, that never loses hope.⁠ ⁠… And she managed that we remained alone.

“How pale you are and what dark rings you have under your eyes,” she said kindly. “Are you ill? Are you grieving for your brother?”

“I am grieving for everybody. And I do not feel well.”

“I know why you kissed my brother’s hand. They did not understand. Because he is mad, yes.”

“Yes, because he is mad.”

She grew thoughtful and looked very much like her brother, only younger.

“And will you,” she stopped and blushed, but did not lower her eyes, “will you let me kiss your hand?”

I kneeled before her and said: “Bless me.”

She paled slightly, drew back and whispered with her lips⁠—

“I do not believe.”

“And I also.”

For an instant her hand touched my head, and the instant was gone.

“Do you know,” she said, “I am leaving for the war.”

“Go? But you will not be able to bear it.”

“I do not know. But they need help, the same as you or my brother. It is not their fault. Will you remember me?”

“Yes, And you?”

“And I will remember you too. Goodbye!”

“Goodbye forever!”

And I grew calm and felt happier, as if I had passed through the most terrible that there is in death and madness. And yesterday, for the first time, I entered my house calmly without any fear, and opened my brother’s study and sat for a long time at his table. And when in the night I suddenly awoke as if from a push, and heard the scraping of the dry pen upon the paper, I was not frightened, but thought to myself almost with a smile⁠—

“Work on, brother, work on! Your pen is not dry, it is steeped in living human blood. Let your paper seem empty⁠—in its ominous emptiness it is more eloquent of war and reason than all that is written by the most clever men. Work on, brother, work on!”

… And this morning I read that the battle is still raging, and again I was possessed with a dread fear and a feeling of something falling upon my brain. It is coming, it is near; it is already standing upon the threshold of these empty, light rooms. Remember, remember me, dear girl; I am going mad. Thirty thousand dead, thirty thousand dead!⁠ ⁠…

Fragment XVII

… A fight is going on in the town. There are dark and fearful rumours.⁠ ⁠…

Fragment XVIII

This morning, looking through the endless list of killed in the newspaper, I saw a familiar name; my sister’s affianced husband, an officer called for military service at the same time as my dead brother, was killed. And, an hour later, the postman handed me a letter addressed to my brother, and I recognised the handwriting of the deceased on the envelope: the dead was writing to the dead. But still it was better so than the dead writing to the living. A mother was pointed out to me who kept receiving letters from her son for a whole month after she had read of his terrible death in the papers: he had been torn to pieces by a shell. He was a fond son, and each letter was full of endearing and encouraging words and youthful, naive hopes of happiness. He was dead, but wrote of life with a fearful accuracy every day, and the mother ceased to believe in his death; and when a day passed without any letter, then a second and a third, and the endless silence of death ensued, she took a large old-fashioned revolver belonging to her son in both hands, and shot herself in the breast. I believe she survived, but I am not sure; I never heard.

I looked at the envelope for a long time, and thought: He held it in his hands, he bought it somewhere, he gave the money to pay for it, and his servant went to fetch it from some shop; he sealed and perhaps posted it himself. Then the wheel of the complex machine called “post” came into action, and the letter glided past forest, fields and towns, passing from hand to hand, but rushing infallibly towards its destination. He put on his boots that last morning, while it went gliding on; he was killed, but it glided on; he was thrown into a pit and covered up with dead bodies and earth, while it still glided on past forests, fields and towns, a living phantom in a grey, stamped envelope. And now I was holding it in my hands.

Here are the contents of the letter. It was written with a pencil on scraps of paper, and was not finished: something interfered.

“… Only now do I understand the great joy of war, the ancient, primitive delight of killing man⁠—clever, scheming, artful man, immeasurably more interesting than the most ravenous animal. To be ever taking life is as good as playing at lawn-tennis with planets and stars. Poor friend, what a pity you are not with us, but are constrained to weary away your time amidst an unleavened daily existence! In the atmosphere of death you would have found all that your restless, noble heart yearned for. A bloody feast⁠—what truth there is in this somewhat hackneyed comparison! We go about up to our knees in blood, and this red wine, as my jolly men call it in jest, makes our heads swim. To drink the blood of one’s enemy is not at all such a stupid custom as we think: they knew what they were doing.⁠ ⁠…

“… The crows are cawing. Do you hear, the crows are cawing. From whence have they all gathered? The sky is black with them; they settle down beside us, having lost all fear, and follow us everywhere; and we are always underneath them, like under a black lace sunshade or a moving tree with black leaves. One of them approached quite close to my face and wanted to peck at it: he thought, most probably, that I was dead. The crows are cawing, and this troubles me a little. From whence have they all gathered?⁠ ⁠…

“… Yesterday we stabbed them all sleeping. We approached stealthily, scarcely touching the ground with our feet, as if we were stalking wild ducks. We stole up to them so skilfully and cautiously that we did not touch a corpse and did not scare one single crow. We stole up like shadows, and the night hid us. I killed the sentry myself⁠—knocked him down and strangled him with my hands, so as not to let him cry out. You understand: the slightest sound, and all would have been lost. But he did not cry out; he had no time, I believe, even to guess that he was being killed.

“They were all sleeping around the smouldering fires⁠—sleeping peacefully, as if they were at home in their beds. We hacked about us for more than an hour, and only a few had time to awake before they received their deathblow. They howled, and of course begged for mercy. They used their teeth. One bit off a finger on my left hand, with which I was incautiously holding his head. He bit off my finger, but I twisted his head clean off: how do you think⁠—are we quits? How they did not all wake up I cannot imagine. One could hear their bones crackling and their bodies being hacked. Afterwards we stripped all naked and divided their clothes amongst ourselves. My friend, don’t get angry over a joke. With your susceptibility you will say this savours of marauding, but then we are almost naked ourselves; our clothes are quite worn-out. I have been wearing a woman’s jacket for a long time, and resemble more a⁠ ⁠… than an officer of a victorious army. By the bye, you are, I believe, married, and it is not quite right for you to read such things. But⁠ ⁠… you understand? Women. D⁠—n it, I am young, and thirst for love! Stop a minute: I believe it was you who was engaged to be married? It was you, was it not, who showed me the portrait of a young girl and told me she was your promised bride?⁠—and there was something sad, something very sad and mournful underneath it. And you cried. That was a long time ago, and I remember it but confusedly; there is no time for softness at war. And you cried. What did you cry about? What was there written that was as sad and mournful as a drooping flower? And you kept crying and crying.⁠ ⁠… Were you not ashamed, an officer, to cry?

“… The crows are cawing. Do you hear, friend, the crows are cawing. What do they want?”

Further on the pencil-written lines were effaced and it was impossible to decipher the signature. And strange to say the dead man called forth no compassion in me. I distinctly pictured to myself his face, in which all was soft and delicate as a woman’s: the colour of his cheeks, the clearness and morning freshness of the eyes, the beard so bushy and soft, that a woman could almost have adorned herself with it. He liked books, flowers and music, feared all that was coarse, and wrote poetry⁠—my brother, as a critic, declared that he wrote very good poetry. And I could not connect all that I knew and remembered of him with the cawing crows, bloody carnage and death.

… The crows are cawing.⁠ ⁠…

And suddenly for one mad, unutterably happy instant, I clearly saw that all was a lie and that there was no war. There were no killed, no corpses, there was no anguish of reeling, helpless thought. I was sleeping on my back and seeing a dream, as I used to in my childhood: the silent dread rooms, devastated by death and terror, and myself with a wild letter in my hand. My brother was living, and they were all sitting at the tea-table, and I could hear the noise of the crockery.

… The crows are cawing.⁠ ⁠…

No, it is but true. Unhappy earth, it is true. The crows are cawing. It is not the invention of an idle scribbler, aiming at cheap effects, or of a madman, who has lost his senses. The crows are cawing. Where is my brother? He was noble-hearted and gentle and wished no one evil. Where is he? I am asking you, you cursed murderers. I am asking you, you cursed murderers, crows sitting on carrion, wretched, imbecile animals, before the whole world. For you are animals. What did you kill my brother for? If you had a face, I would give you a blow upon it, but you have no face, you have only the snout of a wild beast. You pretend that you are men, but I see claws under your gloves and the flat skull of an animal under your hat; hidden beneath your clever conversation I hear insanity rattling its rusty chains. And with all the power of my grief, my anguish and dishonoured thought⁠—I curse you, you wretched, imbecile animals!

Fragment the Last

“… We look to you for the regeneration of human life!”

So shouted a speaker, holding on with difficulty to a small pillar, balancing himself with his arm, and waving a flag with a large inscription half-hidden in its folds: “Down with the war!”

“You, who are young, you, whose lives are only just beginning, save yourselves and the future generations from this horror, from this madness. It is unbearable, our eyes are drowned with blood. The sky is falling upon us, the earth is giving way under our feet. Kind people⁠ ⁠…”

The crowd was buzzing enigmatically and the voice of the speaker was drowned at times in the living threatening noise.

“… Suppose I am mad, but I am speaking the truth. My father and brother are rotting over there like carrion. Make bonfires, dig pits and destroy, bury all your arms. Demolish all the barracks, and strip all the men of their bright clothes of madness, tear them off. One cannot bear it.⁠ ⁠… Men are dying⁠ ⁠…”

Somebody very tall gave him a blow and knocked him off the pillar; the flag rose once again and fell. I had no time to see the face of the man who struck him, as instantly everything turned into a nightmare. Everything became commotion, became agitated and howled; stones and logs of wood went flying through the air, fists, that were beating somebody, appeared above the heads. The crowd, like a living, roaring wave, lifted me up, carried me along several steps and threw me violently against a fence, then carried me back and away somewhere, and at last pressed me against a high pile of wood, that inclined forwards, threatening to fall down upon somebody’s head. Something crackled and rattled against the beams in rapid dry succession; an instant’s stillness⁠—and again a roar burst forth, enormous, open-mouthed, terrible in its overwhelming power. And then the dry rapid crackling was heard again and somebody fell down near me with the blood flowing out of a red hole where his eye had been. And a heavy log of wood came whirling through the air and struck me in the face, and I fell down and began crawling, whither I knew not, amidst the trampling feet, and came to an open space. Then I climbed over some fences, breaking all my nails, clambered up piles of wood; one pile fell to pieces under me and I fell amidst a cataract of thumping logs; at last I succeeded with difficulty in getting out of a closed-in space⁠—while behind me all crashed, roared, howled and crackled, trying to overtake me. A bell was ringing somewhere; something fell with a thundering crash, as if it were a five-storey house. The twilight seemed to have stopped still, keeping back the night, and the roar and shots, as if steeped in red, had driven away the darkness. Jumping over the last fence I found myself in a narrow, crooked lane resembling a corridor, between two obscure walls, and began running. I ran for a long time, but the lane seemed to have no outlet: it was terminated by a wall, behind which piles of wood and scaffolding rose up black against the sky. And again I climbed over the mobile, shifting piles, falling into pits, where all was still and smelt of damp wood, getting out of them again into the open, not daring to look back, for I knew quite well what was happening by the dull reddish colour that tinged the black beams and made them look like murdered giants. My smashed face had stopped bleeding and felt numbed and strange, like a mask of plaster; and the pain had almost quite disappeared. I believe I fainted and lost consciousness in one of the black holes into which I had fallen, but I am not certain whether I only imagined it or was it really so, as I can only remember myself running.

I rushed about the unfamiliar streets, that had no lamps, past the black deathlike houses for a long time, unable to find my way out of the dumb labyrinth. I ought to have stopped and looked around me to define the necessary direction, but it was impossible to do so: the still distant din and howl was following at my heels and gradually overtaking me; sometimes, at a sudden turning, it struck me in the face, red and enveloped in clouds of livid, curling smoke, and then I turned back and rushed on until it was at my back once more. At one corner I saw a strip of light, that disappeared at my approach: it was a shop that was being hastily closed. I caught a glimpse of the counter and a barrel through a wide chink, but suddenly all became enveloped in a silent, crouching gloom. Not far from the shop I met a man, who was running towards me, and we almost collided in the darkness, stopping short at the distance of two steps from each other. I do not know who he was: I only saw the dark alert outline.

“Are you coming from over there?” he asked.


“And where are you running to?”


“Ah! Home?”

He was silent for an instant and suddenly flung himself upon me, trying to bring me to the ground, and his cold fingers searched hungrily for my throat, but got entangled in my clothes. I bit his hand, loosened myself from his grip and set off running through the deserted streets with him after me, stamping loudly with his boots, for a long time. Then he stopped⁠—I suppose the bite hurt him.

I do not know how I hit upon my street. It had no lamps either and the houses had not a single light, as if they were dead, and I would have run past without recognising it, if I had not by chance lifted my eyes and seen my house. But I hesitated for some time: the house in which I had lived for so many years seemed to me unfamiliar in that strange dead street, in which my loud breathing awakened an extraordinary and mournful echo. Then I was seized by a sudden wild terror at the thought that I had lost my key when I fell, and I found it with difficulty, although it was there all the time in the pocket of my coat. And when I turned the lock the echo repeated the sound so loudly and extraordinarily, as if all the doors of those dead houses in the whole street had opened simultaneously.

… At first I hid myself in the cellar, but it was terrible and dull down there, and something began darting before my eyes, so I quietly stole into the rooms. Groping my way in the dark I locked all the doors and after a short meditation decided to barricade them with the furniture, but the sound of the furniture being moved was terribly loud in the empty rooms and terrified me. “I shall await death thus. It’s all the same,” I decided. There was some water, very warm water in the water-jug, and I washed my face in the dark and wiped it with a sheet. The parts that were smashed galled and smarted much, and I felt a desire to look at myself in the looking-glass. I lit a match⁠—and in its uneven, faint light there glanced at me from out of the darkness something so hideous and terrible, that I hastily threw the match upon the floor. I believe my nose was broken. “It makes no difference now,” said I to myself. “Nobody will mind.”

And I felt gay. With strange grimaces and contortions of the body, as if I were personating a thief on the stage, I went into the larder and began searching for food. I clearly saw the unsuitableness of all my grimaces, but it pleased me so. And I ate with the same contortions, pretending that I was very hungry.

But the darkness and quiet frightened me. I opened the window into the yard and began listening. At first, probably as the traffic had ceased, all seemed to me to be quite still. And I heard no shots. But soon I clearly distinguished a distant din of voices: shouts, the crash of something falling, a laugh. The sounds grew louder perceptibly. I looked at the sky; it was livid and sweeping past rapidly. And the coach-house opposite me, and the paving of the streets, and the dog’s kennel, all were tinged with the same reddish glare. I called the dog softly⁠—


But nothing stirred in the kennel, and near it I distinguished in the livid light a shining piece of broken chain. The distant cries and noise of something falling kept on growing, and I shut the window.

“They are coming here!” I said to myself, and began looking for some place to hide myself. I opened the stoves, fumbled at the grate, opened the cupboards, but they would not do. I made the round of all the rooms, excepting the study, into which I did not want to look. I knew he was sitting in his armchair at his table, heaped with books, and this was unpleasant to me at that moment.

Gradually it began to appear that I was not alone: around me people were silently moving about in the darkness. They almost touched me, and once somebody’s breath sent a cold thrill through the back of my head.

“Who is there?” I asked in a whisper, but nobody answered.

And when I moved on they followed me, silent and terrible. I knew that it was only a hallucination because I was ill and apparently feverish, but I could not conquer my fear, from which I was trembling all over as if I had the ague. I felt my head: it was hot as if on fire.

“I had better go there,” said I to myself. “He is one of my own people after all.”

He was sitting in his armchair at his table, heaped with books, and did not disappear as he did the last time, but remained seated. The reddish light was making its way through the red drawn curtains into the room, but did not light up anything, and he was scarcely visible. I sat down at a distance from him on the couch and waited. All was still in the room, while from outside the even buzzing noise, the crash of something falling and disjointed cries were borne in upon us. And they were nearing us. The livid light became brighter and brighter, and I could distinguish him in his armchair⁠—his black, ironlike profile, outlined by a narrow stripe of red.

“Brother!” I said.

But he kept silence, immobile and black, like a monument. A board cracked in the next room and suddenly all became so extraordinarily still, as it is where there are many dead. All the sounds died away and the livid light itself assumed a scarcely perceptible shade of deathliness and stillness and became motionless and a little dim. I thought the stillness was coming from my brother and told him so.

“No, it is not from me,” he answered. “Look out of the window.”

I pulled the curtains aside and staggered back.

“So that’s what it is!” said I.

“Call my wife; she has not seen that yet,” ordered my brother.

She was sitting in the dining-room sewing something and, seeing my face, rose obediently, stuck her needle into her work and followed me. I pulled back the curtains from all the windows and the livid light flowed in through the broad openings unhindered, but somehow did not make the room any lighter: it was just as dark and only the big red squares of the windows burned brightly.

We went up to the window. Before the house there stretched an even, fiery red sky, without a single cloud, star or sun, and ended at the horizon, while below it lay just such an even dark red field, and it was covered with dead bodies. All the corpses were naked and lay with their legs towards us, so that we could only see their feet and triangular heads. And all was still; apparently they were all dead, and there were no wounded left behind in that endless field.

“Their number is growing,” said my brother.

He was standing at the window also, and all were there: my mother, sister and everybody that lived in the house. I could not distinguish their faces, and could recognise them only by their voices.

“It only seems so,” said my sister.

“No, it’s true. Just look.”

And, truly, there seemed to be more bodies. We looked attentively for the reason and found it: at the side of a corpse, where there was a free space, a fresh corpse suddenly appeared: apparently the earth was throwing them up. And all the unoccupied spaces filled rapidly, and the earth grew lighter from the light pink bodies, that were lying side by side with their feet towards us. And the room grew lighter filled with a light pink dead light.

“Look, there is not enough room for them,” said my brother.

And my mother answered⁠—

“There is one here already.”

We looked round: behind us on the floor lay a naked, light pink body with its head thrown back. And instantly at its side there appeared a second, and a third. And the earth threw them up one after the other, and soon the orderly rows of light pink dead bodies filled all the rooms.

“They are in the nursery too,” said the nurse. “I saw them.”

“We must go away,” said my sister.

“But we cannot pass,” said my brother.


And sure enough, they were lying close together, arm to arm, and their naked feet were touching us. And suddenly they stirred and swayed and rose up in the same orderly rows: the earth was throwing up new bodies, and they were lifting the first ones upwards.

“They will smother us!” said I. “Let us save ourselves through the window.”

“We cannot!” cried my brother. “We cannot! Look what is there!”

… Behind the window, in a livid, motionless light, stood the Red Laugh.

The Spy

A young little student girl⁠—almost a child. Her nose was thin, beautiful, with a slight upward tilt; and from her full lips there seemed to come the scent of chocolates and red caramels. And her fine hair, which covered her head like a heavy and caressing wave, was so generously rich that a glance at it gave rise to thoughts of all that is best and brightest on earth: of a golden morning upon a blue sea, of Autumn larks, of lilies of the valley and of fragrant and full-grown lilacs⁠—a cloudless sky and lilacs, large, endless lilac bushes, and larks soaring over them.

And her eyes were young, bright, naively indifferent. But when you looked closely at her you could see upon her face the fine shades of fatigue, of lack of food, of sleepless nights spent in conversation in smoke-filled little rooms, by the exhausting lamplight. Perhaps there had also been tears upon those eyes⁠—big, not childish, venomous tears; all her bearing was full of restrained alarm; her face was cheerful, her lips smiled slightly, and her foot, in a little, mud-bespattered rubber shoe, stamped on the floor impatiently, as though to hurry the slow car and to drive it ahead faster, faster.

All this was noticed by the observing Mitrofan Krilov while the car slowly passed a small station. He stood on the platform, opposite the girl, and to while his time away he scrutinized her, somewhat fastidiously and inimically, as a very simple and familiar algebraic formula written in chalk upon the blackboard, which stared at him persistently. At first he felt cheerful, like everyone else who looked at the girl, but this feeling did not last long⁠—there were causes which killed all cheerfulness in him.

“She must have come recently from some provincial town,” he remarked to himself sternly. “And why the deuce do they come here? I would gladly have run away from here to the most deserted spot, to the end of the world. I suppose she is occupied with all sorts of serious discussions and convictions, and, of course, cannot sew a ribbon around her skirt. She doesn’t bother with such things. What hurts me most is that such a good looking girl should be like that.”

The girl noticed his cross look and became confused, more confused than is usual under such circumstances; the smile vanished from her eyes, an expression of childish fear and perplexity appeared on her face, and her left hand quickly moved up to her chest and stopped there, clutching something.

“See!” Mitrofan wondered, looking aside, and his face assumed an apathetic expression. “She was frightened by my blue eyeglasses. She thinks that I am a detective; she is carrying some papers under her waist. There was a time when they used to carry love letters on their breasts⁠—now they carry bulletins. And what an absurd name⁠—bulletins.”

He cast another furtive glance at her in order to verify his expression, then he turned aside. The student girl gazed at him continuously, as though bewitched, and she pressed her hand firmly against her left side. Krilov grew angry.

“What a fool! Since I wear blue eyeglasses I must be, according to her ideas, a spy. But she does not understand that a man’s eyes may be sore from hard work. How naive she is. Just think of it! And these people undertake to do work to save the fatherland. What she needs is a milk bottle and not a fatherland. No, we are not ripe yet. Lasalle, for instance⁠—his was a great mind! But here every beetle is trying to do things! She can’t solve a simple mathematical problem, and yet she is bothering about finance, politics, documents. You deserve to be scared properly⁠—then you will know what you are about!”

Mitrofan Krilov drew his head into his shoulders with a sharp gesture, his face assumed a cunning and mean expression which, in his opinion, was peculiar to real spies, and he cast a sinister look at the girl which almost turned his eyes out. And he was satisfied with his work: the girl shuddered and quivered with fear, and her eyes began to wander alarmedly.

“There is no escape!” Mitrofan Krilov interpreted her restlessness. “You may jump, you may jump, my dove, and I’ll make it still stronger.”

And growing ever more and more inspired, forgetting his hunger, and the nasty weather, elated with his creative power, he began to simulate a spy as cleverly as if he were a real actor or as if he actually served in the secret police department. His body wriggled in fine serpentine twists and turns, his eyes beamed with treachery, and his right hand, lowered in his pocket, clutched the torn car ticket energetically, as if it were not a piece of paper, but a revolver loaded with six bullets, or a spy’s notebook. And now he attracted the attention of other people as well as that of the girl. A stout, red-haired merchant, who occupied one-third of the platform, suddenly contracted his body imperceptibly, as though he had grown thin at once, and turned aside. A tall fellow, with a cape over his top coat, blinked his rabbit-like eyes as he stared at Krilov, and suddenly, pushing the girl aside, jumped off the car and disappeared among the carriages.

“Excellent!” Mitrofan Krilov praised himself, overjoyed with the hidden and spiteful delight of a choleric man. In renouncing his individuality, in the fact that he pretended he was such an odious creature as a spy, and that people feared and despised him⁠—in all this there was something keen, something pleasantly alarming, something intensely interesting. In the grey shroud of everyday life some dark, dreadful vistas opened, full of noiselessly moving shadows.

“Indeed, the occupation of a spy must be very interesting. A spy risks a great deal, and how he risks! One spy was even killed! He was slaughtered like a hog!”

For a moment he was frightened, and wanted to cease being a spy, but the teacher’s skin into which he was to return was so meagre, dull, and repulsive that he inwardly renounced it, and his face assumed as forbidding an expression as it could. The student girl no longer looked at him, but her whole youthful figure, the tip of her pink ear which peeped from under her heavy hair, her body bent slightly forward, and her chest working slowly and deeply, betrayed her terrible agitation and her one thought of escape. She must have been dreaming of wings, of wings. Twice she made an irresolute step, and slightly turned her head toward Mitrofan, but her flushed cheek felt his penetrating gaze, and she became as petrified. Her hand remained on the platform rail, and her black glove, torn at the middle finger, quivered slightly. She felt ashamed that everybody saw her tom glove and the protruding finger, her tiny, orphan-like, and timid finger⁠—and yet she was powerless to take off her hand.

“Ah!” thought Mitrofan Krilov. “There you are! There is no escape for you. That’s a good lesson for you; you’ll know how to do such things. At first you acted as though you were going to a ball; that wouldn’t do, you mustn’t think of pleasures only. Now jump a bit, jump a bit!”

He pictured to himself the life of the girl he pursued, and it appeared to him to be just as interesting, just as full and as varied as the life of a spy. There was also something in it that the life of a spy lacked⁠—a certain offended pride, a certain harmony of strife, mystery, quick terror, and quick, courageous joy. People were pursuing her.

Mitrofan Krilov looked askance, with aversion, at his outworn coat, rubbed out at the sleeves; he recalled the button below, which was torn out together with a piece of cloth, pictured to himself his own yellow, sour face, which he hid; his blue spectacles; and with venomous joy he discovered that he really resembled a spy. Particularly that button. Spies have nobody that would sew on their buttons for them.

Now he looked at everything with the same eyes that the girl did, and all was new to him. He had never before in all his life given any thought as to what evening and night meant⁠—mysterious, voiceless night, which brings forth darkness, which hides people. Now he saw its silent advent, wondered at the lanterns that were lit, saw something in the struggle between light and darkness, and was amazed at the calm of the crowd walking on the sidewalks. Was it possible that they did not see the light? The girl looked greedily at the passing black spaces of the still dark side streets and he looked at them with the same eyes as she did, and the corridors, luring into the darkness, were eloquent. She looked mournfully at the dull houses which were fenced off from the streets by rocks, and at the shelterless people⁠—and these massive, angry fortresses seemed new to her.

Availing herself of the teacher’s distractedness, the student girl lifted her hand in the torn glove from the platform rail⁠—this made her braver⁠—and she jumped off at the corner of a large street. At this point people got off and many others boarded the car, and a thin woman with a huge bundle obstructed the way, so that Mitrofan Krilov could not leave the car. He said “Please,” and tried to force himself out, but he got stuck in the doorway and ran to the other side of the car. But there the way was obstructed by the conductor and the red merchant.

“Let me pass,” Mitrofan Krilov shouted. “Conductor, what disgraceful business is this? I’ll make a complaint against you!”

“They didn’t hear you,” the conductor defended himself timidly. “Please, let him pass.”

Out of breath, he finally freed himself, jumped off so awkwardly that he almost fell down and he threatened the departing red light of the car with his fist.

Mitrofan overtook the girl in a small deserted street, into which he turned by intuition. She walked briskly and kept looking around, and when she noticed her pursuer she started to run, thus naively betraying her helplessness. Mitrofan also started to run after her, and now in the dark, unfamiliar, side street, where there were no other people but they, he and the girl, running, he was seized with a strange feeling; he felt that he was too much of a spy, and he even became frightened.

“I must end this matter at once,” he thought, running quickly, out of breath, but, for some reason, not daring to run at full speed.

At the entrance of a many storied house the student girl stopped, and while she was tugging at the knob of the heavy door Mitrofan Krilov overtook her and looked at her face with a generous smile in order to show her that the joke was ended, and that all was well. But breathing with difficulty, she passed into the half opened door, hurling at his smiling face:


And she disappeared. Through the glass her silhouette flashed⁠—and then she disappeared completely. Still smiling generously, Mitrofan touched the cold knob of the door, made an attempt to open it, but in the hallway, under the staircase, he saw the porter’s galoons, and he walked away slowly. He stopped a few steps away and for about two minutes stood shrugging his shoulders. He adjusted his spectacles with dignity, threw his head back and thought:

“How stupid. She did not allow me to say a word, but scolded me at once. The nasty girl could not understand that it was all a joke. I was doing it all for her own sake, while she⁠—As if I needed her with her papers. Break your neck as much as you please. I suppose she is sitting now and telling all sorts of students, all sorts of long-haired students, how a spy was pursuing her. And they are sighing. The idiots! I am a university graduate myself, and am no worse than you are.”

He felt warm after his brisk walk, and he unbuttoned his coat, but he recalled that he might catch a cold, so he buttoned his coat again, tugging with aversion at the loose, dangling button.

He stood in the same spot for a time, cast a helpless glance at the rows of lighted and dark windows and went on thinking:

“And the shaggy students are no doubt happy, and they believe her. Fools! I myself was a shaggy student⁠—my hair was so long! I would not have cut my hair even now if it weren’t falling out. It is falling out rapidly. I’ll soon be bald. And I can’t wear a wig like⁠—a spy.”

He lit a cigarette and felt that it was too much for him⁠—the smoke was so bitter and unpleasant.

“Shall I go up and say to them: ‘Ladies and gentlemen, it was all a joke, just a joke’? But they will not believe me. They may even give me a thrashing.”

Mitrofan walked away about twenty steps and paused. It was growing cold.

He felt his light coat and the newspaper in his side pocket⁠—and he was seized with a sense of bitterness. He felt so offended that he was on the point of crying. He could have gone home, had his dinner, drunk his tea and read his newspaper⁠—and his soul would have been calm, cloudless; the copy books had already been corrected, and tomorrow, Saturday, there would be a whist party at the inspector’s house. And there, in her little room, his deaf grandmother was sitting and knitting socks⁠—the dear, kind, devoted grandmother had already finished two pairs of socks for him. And the little oil lamp must be burning in her room⁠—and he recalled that he had been scolding her for using too much oil. Where was he now? In some kind of a side street. In front of some house⁠—in which there were shaggy students.

Two students came out of the lighted entrance of the house, slamming the door loudly, and turned in the direction of Mitrofan.

He came to himself somewhere on the boulevard and for a long time was unable to recognise the neighbourhood. It was quiet and deserted. A rain was falling. The students were not there. He smoked two cigarettes, one after another, and his hands were trembling when he lit the cigarettes.⁠ ⁠…

“I must compose myself and look at the affair soberly,” he thought. “It isn’t so bad, after all. The deuce take that girl. She thinks that I am a spy; well, let her think what she pleases. But she does not know me. And the students didn’t see me either. I am no fool⁠—I raised the collar of my coat!”

He laughed for joy, and even opened his mouth⁠—but suddenly he stood still as though petrified by a terrible thought.

“My God! But she saw me! I demonstrated my face to her for a whole hour. She may meet me somewhere⁠—”

And a long series of possibilities occurred to Mitrofan Krilov; he was an intelligent man, fond of science and art; he frequented theatres, attended various meetings and lectures, and he might meet that girl at any of those places. She never goes alone to such places, he thought; such girls never go alone, but with a whole crowd of student girls and audacious students⁠—and he was terrified at the thought of what might happen when she pointed her finger at him and said: “Here’s a spy!”

“I must take off my spectacles, shave off my beard,” thought Mitrofan. “Never mind the eyes⁠—it may be that the doctor was lying about them. But will my face be changed any if I remove my beard? Is this a beard?”

He touched his thin little beard with his fingers and felt his face.

“Even my beard does not grow properly!” He thought with sorrow and aversion.

“But it is all nonsense. Even if she recognised me it wouldn’t matter. Such a thing must be proven. It must be proven calmly and logically, even as a theorem must be proven.”

He pictured to himself a meeting of the shaggy students, before whom he was defending himself firmly and calmly.

Mitrofan Krilov adjusted his spectacles sternly, with dignity, and smiled contemptuously. Then he began to prove to them⁠—but he convinced himself, to his horror, that all logic and theorem are one thing, while his life was quite another thing, and there were no logic, no proofs in his life to show that Mitrofan Krilov was not a spy. If someone, even that girl, accused him of being a spy, would he find anything definite, clear, convincing in his life by which he could offset this base accusation? Now it seemed to him she looked at him naively, with fearless eyes and called him “spy”⁠—and from that straightforward look, and from that cruel word, all the false phantoms of convictions and decency melted away as from fire. Emptiness everywhere. Mitrofan was silent, but his soul was filled with a cry of despair and horror. What did all this mean? Where had it all disappeared? What would he lean upon in order to save himself from falling into that dark and terrible abyss?

“My convictions,” he muttered. “My convictions. Everybody knows them, my convictions. For instance⁠—”

He searched his mind. He was grasping in his memory at fragments of conversations, he was looking for something clear, strong, convincing; he found nothing. He recalled absurd phrases such as this: “Ivanov, I am convinced that you have copied the problem from Sirotkin.” But is this a conviction? Fragments of newspaper articles passed before him, other people’s speeches, quite convincing⁠—but where was that which he had said himself, which he himself had thought? He spoke as everyone else spoke, and thought as everybody else did, and it was just as impossible to find an unmarked grain in a heap of grain. Some people are religious, some are not religious, while he⁠—

“Wait,” he said to himself. “Is there a God, or is there not? I don’t know. I don’t know anything. And who am I⁠—a teacher? Do I exist, I wonder?”

Mitrofan Krilov’s hands and feet grew cold.

“Nonsense! Nonsense!” he consoled himself. “My nerves are simply upset. What are convictions after all? Words. A man reads words in a book, and there are his convictions. Acts, these are things that count chiefly. A fine spy who⁠—”

But there were no acts of which he could think. There were school affairs, family affairs, other affairs, but there were no acts to speak of. Someone was persistently demanding of him: “Tell me, what have you done?” and he was searching his mind, desperately, sorrowfully⁠—he was passing over the years he had lived as over the keyboard of a piano, and each year struck the same empty, wooden sound⁠—“bya,” without meaning, without significance.

“Ivanov, I am convinced that you copied the problem from Sirotkin.” No, no, that is not the proper thing.

“Listen, madam, listen to me,” he muttered, lowering his head, gesticulating calmly and properly. “How absurd it is to think that I am a spy. I⁠—a spy? What nonsense! Please, let me convince you. Now, you see⁠—”

Emptiness. Where had everything disappeared? He knew that he had done something, but what? All his kin and his acquaintances regarded him as a sensible, kind and just man⁠—and they must have reasons for their opinion. Yes, he had bought goods for a dress for grandmother, and his wife even said to him: “You are too kind, Mitrofan!” But, then, spies may also love their grandmothers, and they may also buy goods for their grandmothers⁠—perhaps even the same black goods with little dots. What else? But, no, no. That is all nonsense!

Unconsciously Mitrofan came back from the boulevard to the house where the student girl disappeared, but he did not notice it. He felt that it was late, that he was tired, and that he was on the point of crying.

Mitrofan stopped in front of the many storied house and looked at it with a sense of unpleasant perplexity.

“What a repulsive house! Oh, yes, it is the same house.”

He walked away from the house quickly as though from a bomb, then he paused and reflected.

“The best thing for me to do is to write to her⁠—to consider the matter calmly and write to her. Of course, I will not mention my name. Simply: that ‘the man whom you mistook for a spy’⁠—Point by point I will analyse it. She’ll be a fool if she will not believe me.”

After a time, Mitrofan touched the cold knob several times, opened the heavy door, and entered with a stern look. The porter appeared in the doorway of the little room under the staircase, and his face bespoke his willingness to be of service.

“Listen, friend, a student girl passed here a little while ago⁠—what is the number of her room?”

“What do you want to know it for?”

Mitrofan Krilov stared at him abruptly through his spectacles, in silence, and the porter understood: he shook his head strangely and extended his hand to him.

“Come in to my room,” called the porter.

“What for? I simply⁠—” But the porter had already turned into his little room, and Mitrofan, gnashing his teeth, followed him meekly.

“He believed me⁠—he believed me at once! The scoundrel!” he thought.

The little room was narrow; there was but one chair, and the porter occupied it calmly.

“Are you single?” asked Mitrofan good naturedly.

But the porter did not think it necessary to reply. Surveying the teacher from head to foot with an audacious glance, he maintained silence, and after a time, asked:

“One of you was here the day before yesterday. A light-haired fellow, with moustaches. Do you know him?”

“Of course I do. He is light-haired⁠—”

“I suppose there are lots of you people roaming about nowadays,” the porter remarked indifferently.

“Look here,” Mitrofan said, growing indignant, “I haven’t come here⁠—I simply want to⁠—”

But the porter paid no attention to his words, and continued:

“Do you get a large salary? The light-haired fellow said he was getting fifty. Too little.”

“Two hundred,” lied Mitrofan Krilov, and noticed an expression of delight on the porter’s face.

“Really? Two hundred! I can understand that. Won’t you have a cigarette?”

Mitrofan took a cigarette from the porter’s fingers with thanks, and recalled sadly his own Japanese cigarette case, his study, his dear blue copy books. It was nauseating. The tobacco was strong, foul odoured⁠—tobacco for spies. It was nauseating.

“Do you often get a drubbing?”

“Look here⁠—”

“The light-haired fellow told me that he had never been thrashed yet. I suppose he lied. How is it possible that you people shouldn’t get any thrashing,” the porter smiled good-naturedly.

“I must find out⁠—”

“One must have ability and a suitable face. I have seen a spy whose face was crooked and one eye was missing. What is a man like that good for? His face was crooked, and in place of an eye there was a hole. You, for instance⁠—”

“Look here!” Mitrofan exclaimed softly. “I have no time. I have other things to attend to.” Unwillingly dropping this interesting theme, the porter questioned Mitrofan about the girl, what she looked like, and said:

“I know her. She comes here often. No. 7, Ivanova. Why do you throw the cigarette on the floor? There is a stove. All I have to do is to sweep here after you.”

“Blockhead!” Mitrofan replied quietly, and walked out into the side street, looking for an izvozchik.

“Home, I must go home at once! My God. Why didn’t I think of it before. I was so absentminded.” He recalled that he had a diary, in which he had written long ago, when he was still a student, during his first term, something liberal, very strong, free and even beautiful. He recalled clearly that evening, and his room, and the tobacco that lay scattered on the table, and the feeling of pride, enthusiasm, and delight with which he wrote down those energetic, firm lines. He would tear out those pages and send them to her⁠—and that would settle it. She would see, she would understand⁠—she was a sensible and noble girl. How fine! and how hungry he was!

In the hallway Mitrofan was met by his alarmed wife.

“Where were you? What happened to you? Why do you look so upset?”

And throwing off his coat quickly, he shouted:

“With you I might be still more upset! The house is full of people and yet there is nobody to sew a button on my coat. The devil knows what you are doing here. I have told you a hundred times. Sew on this button. It’s disgraceful, disgraceful!”

And he walked away to his study.

“And how about dinner?”

“Later. Don’t bother me! Don’t follow me!”

There were many books there, many copy books, but the diary was not there. Sitting on the floor, he threw out of the lower drawer of the closet various papers, books, copybooks, sighing and despairing, angry at his cold, stiff fingers⁠—until at last! There was the blue, slightly grease-stained cover, his careful handwriting, dried flowers, the stale, sourish odour of perfume⁠—how young he had been at that time!

Mitrofan seated himself at the table and for a long time turned the leaves of the diary, but the desired place was not to be found. And he recalled that five years ago, when the police had searched Anton’s house, he became so frightened that he tore out of his diary all the pages that might compromise him, and he burned them. It was useless to look for them⁠—they were no more⁠—they had been burned.

With lowered head, his face covered with his hands, he sat for a long time, motionless, before the desolate diary. But one candle was burning⁠—it was unusually dark in the room, and from the black, formless chairs came the breath of cold, desolate loneliness. Far away in those rooms children were playing, shouting, laughing; in the dining-room tea was being served; people were walking, talking⁠—while here all was silent as in a graveyard. If an artist had peeped into the room, felt this cold, gloomy darkness and noticed the heap of scattered papers and books, the dark figure of the man with his covered face, bent over the table in helpless grief⁠—he would have painted a picture and would have called it “The Suicide.”

“But I can recall that passage,” thought Mitrofan. “I can recall it. Even if the paper was burned, the sentiments remained somewhere; they existed. I must recall them.”

But he recalled only that which was unimportant⁠—the size of the paper, the handwriting, even the commas and the periods, but the essential part, the dear, beloved, bright part that could clear him⁠—that was dead forever. It had lived and died, even as human beings die, as everything dies. If he knelt, cried, prayed that it come to life again⁠—if he threatened, gnashed his teeth⁠—the enormous emptiness would have remained silent, for it will never give up that which has fallen into its hands. Did ever tears or sobs bring a dead man back to life? There is no forgiveness, no mercy, no return⁠—such is the law of cruel death.

It was dead. It had been killed. Base murderer! He himself had burned with his own hands the best flowers that had perhaps once in his life blossomed in his fruitless, beggarly soul! Poor perished flowers! Perhaps they were not bright, perhaps they had no power or beauty of creative thought, but they were the best that his soul had brought forth, and now they were no more and they will never blossom again. There is no forgiveness, no mercy, no return⁠—such is the law of cruel death.

“What’s this? Wait,” he muttered to himself. “I have convinced myself that you, Ivanov, copied the problem⁠—nonsense! I must speak to my wife. Masha! Masha!”

Maria entered. Her face was round, kind natured; her hair was thin and colourless. In her hands she held some work⁠—a child’s dress.

“Well, Mitrosha, will you have dinner now?”

“No. Wait. I want to speak to you.”

Maria put her work aside with alarm and gazed into her husband’s face. Mitrofan turned away and said:

“Sit down.”

Maria sat down, adjusted her dress, folded her arms, and prepared to listen to him.

“I am listening,” she said, adjusting her dress once more.

“Do you know, Masha⁠—I am a spy!” he said in a whisper, his voice quivering.


“A spy, do you understand?”

Maria wrung her hands quietly and exclaimed:

“I knew it, unfortunate woman that I am⁠—my God! my God!”

Jumping over to his wife, Mitrofan waved his fist at her very face, restrained himself with difficulty from striking her, and shouted so loudly that all became quiet in the house.

“Fool! Blockhead! You knew it. My God! How could you know it? My wife⁠—my friend, all my thoughts⁠—my money, everything⁠—”

He stationed himself at the stove and began to cry.

Mitrofan turned furiously to her and asked:

“Am I a spy? Well! Speak! Am I a spy, or am I not?”

“How do I know? Perhaps you are a spy.”

Avoiding certain details, Mitrofan confusedly told his wife the story of the student girl and of that meeting.

“Nonsense!” exclaimed Maria carelessly. “I thought there was really something seriously wrong. Is it worth bothering about this? Just shave yourself, take off your spectacles, and there’s the end of it. And at school, during the lesson, you may even wear your spectacles.”

“Do you think so? Is this what you call a beard?”

“Never mind it. Say what you like, you leave the beard alone. I have always said that your beard was all right, and I will say so now, too.”

Mitrofan recalled that the students called him “goat,” and he was very glad now. If his beard were not a good one they would never have nicknamed him “goat.” And in this joy he kissed his wife and, jestingly, even tickled her ear with his beard.

At about twelve o’clock at night, when all grew quiet in the house, and his wife had gone to sleep, Mitrofan brought a mirror, warm water, and soap into his study and sat down to shave himself. In addition to the lamp, he had to light two candles, and he felt somewhat ashamed and restless because of the bright light, and he looked only at the side of the face he was shaving.

He shaved his cheek; then he thought awhile, lathered his moustaches, and shaved them off. He looked at his face again. Tomorrow people would laugh at that face.

Pressing his razor resolutely, Mitrofan threw his head back and carefully passed the dull side of the knife across his neck.

“It would be good to kill myself,” he thought, “but how could I?”

“Coward! Scoundrel!” he said aloud, indifferently.

Tomorrow people would laugh at him⁠—his comrades, his pupils. And his wife would also laugh at him.

He longed to be sunk in despair, to cry, to strike the mirror, to do something, but his soul was empty and dead, and he was sleepy.

“Perhaps that is due to the fact that I was out long in the fresh air,” he thought, yawning.

He removed his shaving cup, put out the light of the lamp and candles, and scraping with his slippers he went to his bedroom. He soon fell asleep, having pushed into the pillow his shaven face, at which everybody would laugh tomorrow: his friends, his wife⁠—and he himself.

When the King Loses His Head


There stood once in a public place a black tower with massive fortress-like walls and a few grim bastioned windows. It had been built by robber barons, but time swept them into the beyond, and the tower became partly a prison for dangerous criminals and grave offenders, and partly a residence. In the course of centuries new structures were added to it, and were buttressed against the massive walls of the tower and against one another; little by little it assumed the dimensions of a fair sized town set on a rock, with a broken skyline of chimneys, turrets and pointed roofs. When the sky gleamed green in the west there appeared, here and there, lights in the various parts of the tower. The gloomy pile assumed quaint and fanciful contours, and it somehow seemed that at its foot there stretched not an ordinary pavement, but the waves of the sea, the salty and shoreless ocean. And the picture brought to one’s mind the shapes of the past, long since dead and forgotten.

An immense ancient clock, which could be seen from afar, was set in the tower. Its complicated mechanism occupied an entire story of the structure, and it was under the care of a one-eyed man who could use a magnifying glass with expert skill. This was the reason why he had become a clockmaker and had tinkered for years with small timepieces before he was given charge of the large clock. Here he felt at home and happy. Often, at odd hours, without apparent need he would enter the room where the wheels, the gears and the levers moved deliberately, and where the immense pendulum cleft the air with wide and even sweep. Having reached the limit of its travel the pendulum said:

“ ’Twas ever thus.”

Then it sank and rose again to a new elevation and added:

“ ’Twill ever be, ’twas ever thus, ’twill ever be, ’twas ever thus, ’twill ever be.”

These were the words with which the one-eyed clockmaker was wont to interpret the monotonous and mysterious language of the pendulum: the close contact with the large clock had made him a philosopher, as they used to say in those days.

Over the ancient city where the tower stood, and over the entire land there ruled one man, the mystic lord of the city and of the land, and his mysterious sway, the rule of one man over the millions was as ancient as the city itself. He was called the King and dubbed the “Twentieth,” according to the number of his predecessors of the same name, but this fact explained nothing. Just as no one knew of the early beginnings of the city, no one knew the origin of this strange dominion, and no matter how far back human memory reached the records of the hoary past presented the same mysterious picture of one man who lorded over millions. There was a silent antiquity over which the memory of man had no power, but it, too, at rare intervals, opened its lips; it dropped from its jaws a stone, a little slab marked with some characters, the fragment of a column, a brick from a wall that had crumbled into ruin⁠—and again the mysterious characters revealed the same tale of one who had been lord over millions. Titles, names and soubriquets changed, but the image remained unchanged, as if it were immortal. The King was born and died like all men, and judging from appearance, which was that common to all men, he was a man; but when one took into account the unlimited extent of his power and might, it was easier to imagine that he was God. Especially as God had been always imagined to be like a man, and yet suffered no loss of his peculiar and incomprehensible essence. The Twentieth was the King. This meant that he had power to make a man happy or unhappy; that he could take away his fortune, his health, his liberty and his very life; at his command tens of thousands of men went forth to war, to kill and to die; in his name were wrought acts just and unjust, cruel and merciful. And his laws were no less stringent than those of God; this too enhanced his greatness in that God’s laws are immutable, but he could change his at will. Distant or near, he always was higher than life; at his birth man found along with nature, cities and books⁠—his King; dying⁠—he left with nature, cities and books⁠—the King.

The history of the land, oral and written, showed examples of magnanimous, just and good Kings, and though there lived people better than they, still one could understand why they might have ruled. But more frequently it happened that the King was the worst man on earth, bare of all virtues, cruel, unjust, even a madman⁠—yet even then he remained the mysterious one who ruled over millions, and his power increased with his misdeeds. All the world hated and cursed him, but he, the one, ruled over those who hated and cursed, and this savage dominion became an enigma, and the dread of man before man was increased by the mystic terror of the unfathomable. And because of this wisdom, virtue and kindness served to weaken Kingcraft and made it a subject of strife, while tyranny, madness and malice strengthened it. And because of this the practice of beneficence and goodness was beyond the ability of even the most powerful of these mysterious lords though even the weakest of them in destructiveness and evil deeds could surpass the devil and the fiends of hell. He could not give life, but he imposed death, that mysterious Anointed one of madness, death and evil; and his throne rose to greater heights, the more bones had been laid down for its foundations.

In other neighboring lands there sat also lords upon their thrones, and the origin of their dominion was lost in hoary antiquity. There were years and centuries when the mysterious lord disappeared from one of the Kingdoms, though there never was a time when the whole earth was wholly without them. Centuries passed and again, no one knows whence, there appeared in that land a throne, and again there sat thereon some mysterious one, incomprehensibly combining in himself frailty and undying power. And this mystery fascinated the people; at all times there had been among them such as loved him more than themselves, more than their wives and children, and humbly, as if from the hand of God, without murmur or pity, they received from him and in his name, death in most cruel and shameful form.

The Twentieth and his predecessors rarely showed themselves to the people, and only a few ever saw them; but they loved to scatter abroad their image, leaving it on coins, hewing it out of stone, impressing it on myriads of canvases, and adorning and perfecting it through the skill of artists. One could not take a step without seeing the face, the same simple and mysterious face, forcing itself on the mind by sheer ubiquity, conquering the imagination, and acquiring a seeming omnipresence, just as it had attained immortality. And therefore people who but faintly remembered the face of their grandfathers and could not have recognized the features of their great grandfathers, knew well the faces of their lords of a hundred, two hundred or a thousand years back. And therefore, too, no matter how plain the face of the one man who was master of millions may have been, it bore always the imprint of enigmatic and awe-inspiring mystery. So the face of the dead always seems mysterious and significant, for through the familiar and well known features one gazes upon death, the mysterious and powerful.

Thus high above life stood the King. People died, and whole generations passed from the face of the earth, but he only changed his soubriquet like a serpent shedding his skin: The Eleventh was followed by the twelfth, the fifteenth, then again came the first, the fifth, the second, and in these cold figures sounded an inevitableness like that of a swinging pendulum which marks the passing of time:

“ ’Twas ever thus, ’twill ever be.”


And it happened that in that great country, the lord of which was the Twentieth, there occurred a revolution, a rising of the millions, as mysterious as had been the rule of the one. Something strange happened to the strong ties which had bound together the King and the people, and they began to decay noiselessly, unnoticeably, mysteriously, like a body out of which the life had departed, and in which new forces that had been in hiding somewhere commenced their work. There was the same throne, the same palace, and the same Twentieth⁠—but his power had unaccountably passed away; and no one had noticed the hour of its passage, and all thought that it merely was ailing. The people simply lost the habit of obeying and that was all, and all at once, from out the multitude of separate trifling, unnoticed resistances, there grew up a stupendous, unconquerable movement. And as soon as the people ceased to obey, all their ancient sores were opened, and wrathfully they became conscious of hunger, injustice and oppression. And they made an uproar. And they demanded justice. And they reared a gigantic beast bristling with wrath, taking vengeance on its tamer for years of humiliation and tortures. Just as they had not held counsels to agree to obedience, they did not confer about rebelling; and straightway, from all sides there gathered a rising and made its way to the palace.

Wondering at themselves and their deeds, oblivious of the path behind them, they advanced closer and closer to the throne, fingering already its gilt carving, peeping into the royal bedchamber and attempting to sit upon royal chairs. The King bowed and the Queen smiled, and many of the people wept with joy as they beheld the Twentieth at close range; the women stroked with cautious finger the velvet of the royal coat and the silk of the royal gown, while the men with good-natured severity amused the royal infant.

The King bowed and the pale Queen smiled, and from under the door of a neighboring apartment there crept in the black current of the blood of a nobleman, who had stabbed himself to death; he could not survive the spectacle of somebody’s dirty fingers touching the royal coat, and committed suicide. And as they dispersed they shouted:

“Long live the Twentieth.”

Here and there were some who frowned; but it was all so humorous that they too forgot their annoyance and gaily laughing as if at a carnival when some motley clown is crowned, they also shouted, “Long live the Twentieth.” And they laughed. But towards evening there was gloom in their faces and suspicion in their glances; how could they have faith in him who for a thousand years with diabolical cunning had been deceiving his good and confiding people! The palace is dark; its immense windows gleam insincerely and peer sulkily into the darkness: some scheme is being concocted there. They are conjuring the powers of darkness and calling on them for vengeance upon the people. There they loathingly cleanse the lips from traitorous kisses and bathe the royal infant who has been defiled by the touch of the people. Perhaps there is no one there. Perhaps in the immense darkened salons there is only the suicide nobleman and space⁠—they may have disappeared. One must shout, one must call for him, if a living being still be there. “Long live the Twentieth.”

A pale-grey, perplexing sky looks down upon pallid, upturned faces; the frightened clouds are scurrying over the heavens, and the immense windows gleam with a mysterious lifeless light. “Long live the Twentieth!”

The overwhelmed sentinel seems to sway in the surging crowd. He has lost his gun and is smiling; the lock upon the iron portals clatters spasmodically and feverishly; clinging to the lofty iron rods of the gate, like black and misshapen fruit are crouching bodies and outstretched hands, that look pale on top and dark below. A shaggy mass of clouds sweeps the sky and gazes down upon the scenes. Shouts. Someone has lighted a torch, and the palace windows blushed as if crimson with blood and drew nearer to the crowd. Something seemed to be creeping upon the walls and disappeared upon the roof. The lock rattled no longer. The glare of the torch revealed the railing crowded with people, and now it became again invisible. The people were moving onward.

“Long live the Twentieth!” A number of dim lights now seem to be flittering past the windows. Somebody’s ugly features press closely to the pane and disappear. It is growing lighter. The torches increase in number, multiply and move up and down, like some curious dance or procession. Now the torches crowd together and incline as if saluting; the king and queen appear on the balcony. There is a blaze of light behind them, but their faces are dark, and the crowd is not sure it is really they, in person.

“Give us Light! Twentieth! Give us Light! We can not see thee!” Suddenly several torches flash to the right and to the left of them, and from a smoky cavern two flushed and trembling countenances come into view. The people in the back are yelling: “It is not they! The king has fled!” But those nearest now shout with the joy of relieved anxiety: “Long live the Twentieth!” The crimson faces are now seen moving slowly up and down, now bright in the lurid glare, now vanishing in the shadow; they are bowing to the people. It is the Nineteenth, the Fourth, the Second who are bowing; bowing in the crimson mist are those mysterious creatures who had held so much enigmatic, almost divine power, and behind them are vanishing in the crimson mist of the past, murders, executions, majesty and dread. Now he must speak; the human voice is needed; when he is silent and bows with his flaming face he is terrible to look upon, like a devil conjured up from hell.

“Speak, Twentieth, speak!” A curious motion of the hand, calling for silence, a strange commanding gesture, as ancient as kingcraft itself, and a gentle unknown voice is heard dropping those ancient and curious words: “I am glad to see my good people.” Is that all? And is it not enough? He is glad! The Twentieth is glad! Be not angry with us Twentieth. We love thee, Twentieth, love us, too. If you will not love us we shall come again to see you in your study where you work, in your dining-room where you eat, in your bed chamber where you sleep, and we shall compel you to love us.

“Long live the Twentieth! Long live the king! Long live our master!”


Who said slaves? The torches are expiring. They are departing. The dim lights are moving back into the palace, the windows are dark again, but they flush with a crimson reflection. Someone is being sought in the crowd. The crowds are hurrying, casting frightened glances behind. Had he been here or had it been a mere fancy? They ought to have touched him, fingered his garments or his face; he ought to have been made to cry out with terror or pain. They disperse in silence; the shouts of individuals are drowned in the discordant tramp of many feet; they are filled with obscure memories, presentiments and terrors. And horrible visions hover all night long over the city.


He had already attempted to flee. He had bewitched some and lulled others to sleep and had almost gained his diabolical liberty, when a faithful son of the fatherland recognized him in the disguise of a shabby domestic. Not trusting to his memory he looked on a coin which bore his image⁠—and the bells rang out in alarm, the houses belched forth masses of pale and frightened people; it was he! Now he is in the tower, in the immense black tower with the massive walls and the small bastioned windows; and faithful sons of the people are watching him, impervious to bribery, enchantment and flattery. To drive away fear the guards drink and laugh and blow clouds of smoke right into his face, when he essays to take a walk in the prison with his devilish progeny. To prevent him from enchanting the passersby they had boarded up the lower portions of the windows and the tower gallery where he was wont to promenade, and only the wandering clouds in passing look into his face. But he is strong. He transforms the laughter of a freeman into servile tears; he sows seeds of disloyalty and treason from behind the massive walls and they penetrate into the hearts of the people like black flowers, staining the golden raiment of liberty into the likeness of a wild beast’s skin. Traitors and enemies abound on all hands. Descended from their thrones other powerful and mysterious lords gather at the frontier with hordes of savage and bewitched people, matricides ready to put to death freedom, their mother. In the houses, on the streets, in the mysterious wilderness of forests and distant villages, in the proud mansions of the popular assembly, there hisses the sound of treason and glides the shadow of treachery. Woe unto the people! They are betrayed by those who had been the first to raise the banner of revolt and the traitors’ wretched remains are already cast out of the dishonored sepulchres and their black blood drenches the earth. Woe unto the people! They are betrayed by those to whom they had given their hearts; betrayed by their own elect; whose faces are honest, whose tongues are uncompromisingly stern and whose pockets are full of somebody’s gold.

Now the city is to be searched. It was ordered that all should be in their dwellings at midday; and when at the appointed hour the bells were rung, their ominous sound rolled echoing over the deserted and silent streets. Since the city’s birth there had never reigned such stillness; not a soul near the fountains; the stores are closed; on the streets, from one end to the other, not a pedestrian, not a carriage to be seen. The alarmed and astonished cats wander in the shadow of the silent walls; they can not tell whether it be day or night; and so profound is the silence that it seems as if their velvety footfall were plainly audible. The measured tones of the bells pass over the streets like invisible brooms sweeping the city clean. Now the cats, too, frightened at something, have disappeared. Silence and desolation.

Suddenly on every street there appear simultaneously little bands of armed people. They converse loudly and freely and stamp their feet, and although they are not many they seem to cause more noisy commotion than the whole city when it is crowded with a hundred thousand pedestrians and vehicles. Each house seems to swallow them up in succession and to belch them forth again. And as they emerge another or two more are belched forth with them, pale with malice or red with wrath. And they walked with their hands in their pockets, for in those curious days no one feared death, not even the traitors; and they entered into the dark jaws of the prison houses. Ten thousand traitors were found that day by the faithful servants of the people; they found ten thousand traitors and cast them into prison. Now the prisons were pleasant and awful to look upon; so full they were from top to bottom with disloyalty and shameful treachery. One wondered that the walls could bear the load without crumbling into dust.

That night there was a general rejoicing in the city. The houses were emptied once more and the streets were filled; endless black throngs engaged in a stupefying dance, a combination of quick and unexpected gyrations. Dancing was in progress from one end of the city to the other. Around the lampposts like the foaming surf that beats against the rocks, knots of merrymakers had gathered, clasping hands, their faces aglow with laughter, and wide-eyed, whirling around, now vanishing from view and ever changing in expression. From the lamppost dangled the corpse of some executed traitor who had not succeeded in reaching the shelter of his prison. His extended legs seeking the ground, almost touched the heads of the dancers, and the corpse itself seemed to dance, yes, it seemed to be the very master of ceremonies and the ringleader of the merriment, directing the dance.

Then they walked over to the black tower and craning their necks, shouted: “Death to the Twentieth! Death!” Cheerful lights gleamed now in the tower windows; the faithful sons of the people were watching the tyrant. Calmed and assured that he could not escape, they shouted more in a jest than seriously: “Death to the Twentieth!” And they departed, making room for other shouters. But at night horrible dreams again hovered over the city, and like poison which one has swallowed and failed to spit out, the black towers and prisons reeking with traitors and treachery, gnawed at the city’s vitals.

Now they were putting the traitors to death. They had sharpened their sabres, axes and scythes; they had gathered blocks of wood and heavy stones and for forty-eight hours they worked in the prisons until they collapsed from fatigue. They slept anywhere near their bloody work, they ate and drank there. The earth refused to absorb the streams of sluggish blood; they had to cover it with heaps of straw, but that covering too was drenched and transformed into brownish refuse. Seven thousand traitors were put to death that day. Seven thousand traitors had bitten the dust in order to cleanse the city and furnish life to the newborn freedom. They marched again to see the Twentieth and held up to his view the chopped off heads and the torn out hearts of the traitors. And he saw them. Then confusion and consternation reigned in the popular assembly. They sought him who had given the order to slay and could not detect him. But someone must have given the order to slay. Was it you? Or you? Or you? But who had dared to give orders where the popular assembly alone had the right to command? Some are smiling⁠—they seem to know something.


“No! But we have compassion with our native land, while you express pity with traitors!”

Still peace is afar off, and treachery is growing apace and multiplying; insidiously it finds its way into the very hearts of the people. Oh! the sufferings, and Oh! the bloodshed⁠—and all in vain! Through the massive walls that mysterious sovereign still sows the seeds of treachery and enchantment. Alas for freedom! From the West comes the news of terrible dissensions, of battles, of a crazed portion of the people who had seceded and risen in arms against their mother, the Freedom. Threats are heard from the south, and from the east and the north other mysterious lords who had descended from their thrones are closing in upon the land with their savage hordes. No matter whence they come the clouds are imbued with the breath of foes and of traitors. No matter whence they blow from the north and the south, from the west and the east, the winds waft mutterings of threats and of wrath, and strike joyfully on the ear of him who is imprisoned in the tower, while they sound a funeral knell in the ears of citizens. Alas for the people! Alas for liberty! At night the moon is bright and radiant as if shining above ruins, but the sun even is lost in the mist and the black concourse of clouds, deformed, monstrous and ugly, which seem to strangle it. They attack it and strangle it and a mingled shagginess of crimson, they crash into the abyss of the west. Once for an instant the sun broke through the clouds⁠—and how sad, awesome and frightened was that ray of light. Hurriedly tender it seemed to caress the tops of the trees, the roofs of the houses, the spires of the churches.

But in the tower the one-eyed clockmaker, who could so conveniently use the magnifying glass, walking amid his wheels and gears, his levers and ropes, and bending his head to one side watches the swinging of the mighty pendulum. “ ’Twas ever thus⁠—’twill ever be. ’Twas ever thus⁠—’twill ever be!”

Once when he was very young the clock got out of order and stopped for the space of two days. And it was such a terrifying experience, as if all time had slipped into an abyss. But after the clock had been repaired, all was well again, and now time seems to flow between one’s fingers, to ooze drop by drop, to split into little pieces, falling an inch at a time. The immense brazen disc of the pendulum lights up faintly as it moves and seems to swing like a ball of gold if one looks at it with half-closed eyes. A pigeon is heard cooing softly among the rafters. “ ’Twas ever thus⁠—’twill ever be!” “ ’Twas ever thus⁠—’twill ever be!”


The thousand-year-old monarchy was at last overthrown. There was no need of the plebiscite; every man in the popular assembly had risen to his feet, and from top to bottom it became filled with standing men. Even that sick deputy who had been brought in an armchair rose to his feet; supported by his friends he straightened his limbs, crushed with paralysis, and stood erect like a tall withered stump supported by two young and slender trees.

“The republic is accepted unanimously,” someone announced with a sonorous voice, vainly attempting to conceal its triumphant tone.

But they all remained standing. A minute passed, then another; already upon the public square, which was thronged with expectant people, there had burst forth a thunderous manifestation of joy, but in the hall there reigned a solemn stillness as in a cathedral, and stern, majestically serious people, grown rigid in the attitude of proud homage. Before whom are they standing? They no longer own a King, even God, that tyrant and king of heaven, had long since been overthrown from His celestial seat. They are paying homage to Liberty. The aged deputy whose head had been shaking for years with senile palsy now holds it up erect and proud. There, with an easy gesture of his hand, he has pushed aside his friends; he is standing alone; liberty has accomplished a miracle. These men who had long since forgotten the art of weeping, living amid tempests, riots and bloodshed, are weeping now. The cruel eyes of eagles which gazed calm and unmoved on the blood-reeking sun of the Revolution can not withstand the gentle radiance of Liberty, and they shed tears.

Silence reigns in the hall; but a tumultuous uproar is heard outside; growing in volume and intensity it loses its sharpness; it is uniform and mighty and brings to mind the roar of the limitless ocean. They are all freemen now. Free are the dying, free are those coming into the world, free are the living. The mysterious dominion of One which had held the millions in its clutches is overthrown, the black vaults of prisons have crumbled into dust⁠—and overhead shines the cloudless and radiant sky.

“Liberty”⁠—someone whispers softly and tenderly like the name of a sweetheart. “Liberty!” exclaims another, breathless with unutterable joy, his face aglow with intense eagerness and lofty inspiration. “Liberty!” is heard in the clanging of the iron. “Liberty!” sing the stringed instruments. “Liberty!” roars the many-voiced ocean. He is dead, the old deputy. His heart could not contain the infinite joy and it stopped, its last beat being⁠—Liberty! The most blessed of mortals; into the mysterious shadow of the grave he will carry away an endless vision of Newborn Freedom.

They had been awaiting frenzied excesses in the city, but none took place. The breath of liberty ennobled the people, and they grew gentle and tender and chaste in their demonstrations of joy. They only gazed at one another, they caressed one another with a cautious touch of the hand; it is so sweet to caress a free creature and to look into his eyes. And no one was hanged. There was found a madman who shouted in the crowd: “Long live the Twentieth!” twirled his mustache and prepared himself for the brief struggle and the lengthy agony in the clutches of a maddened throng. And some frowned, while others, the large majority, merely wonderingly and curiously regarding the hair-brained fellow, as a crowd of sightseers might gape at some curious simian from Brazil. And they let him go.

It was late at night when they remembered the Twentieth. A crowd of citizens who refused to part with the great day decided to roam around until daybreak. By chance they bethought themselves of the Twentieth and wended their way to the tower. That black structure merged into the darkness of the sky and at the moment when the citizens approached seemed to be in the act of swallowing a little star. Some stray bright little star came close to it, flashed for a moment and disappeared in the darkness. Very close to the ground, in a lower tier of the tower, two lighted windows shone out into the darkness. There the faithful custodians kept their unceasing vigil. The clock struck the hour of two.

“Does he or does he not know?” inquired one of the visitors vainly attempting to make out with his glance the contours of the pile, as if endeavoring to solve its secrets. A dark silhouette now detached itself from the wall, and a dull, weary voice responded:

“He is asleep, citizen.”

“Who are you, citizen? You startled me. You walk as softly as a cat!”

Other dark silhouettes now approached from various quarters and mutely confronted the newcomers.

“Why don’t you answer? If you are a specter, please vanish without delay; the assembly has abolished specters.”

But the stranger wearily replied: “We watch the tyrant.”

“Did the commune appoint you?”

“No. We appointed ourselves. There are thirty-six of us. There had been thirty-seven, but one died; we watch the tyrant. We have lived near this wall for two months or longer. We are very weary.”

“The nation thanks you. Do you know what happened today?”

“Yes, we heard something. We watch the tyrant.”

“Have you heard that we are a republic now? That we have liberty?”

“Yes, but we watch the tyrant and we are weary.”

“Let us embrace, brothers!”

Cold lips wearily touch the burning lips of the visitors.

“We are weary. He is so cunning and dangerous. Day and night we watch the doors and the windows. I watch that window; you could hardly distinguish it. So you say we have liberty? Very good. But we must go back to our posts. Be calm, citizens. He is asleep. We receive reports every half hour. He is sleeping now.”

The silhouettes moved, separated themselves and vanished as if they had gone right through the walls. The gloomy old tower seemed to have grown taller, and from one of the battlements there stretched over the city a dark and shapeless cloud. It seemed as if the tower had grown out of all proportion and was stretching its hand over the city. A light flashed from the dense blackness of the wall and suddenly vanished, like a signal. The cloud now covered the whole city and reflected with a yellowish gleam the lurid glare of many fires. A drizzling rain suddenly commenced to descend. All was silent and all was restless.

Was he really sleeping?


A few more days passed in the new and delicious sensations of freedom, and again new threads of distrust and fear appeared like dark veins running through white marble. The tyrant received the news of his overthrow with suspicious calmness. How can a man be calm when deprived of a kingdom, unless he be planning something terrible? And how can the people be calm, when in their midst there lives a mysterious one having the gift of pernicious enchantment? Overthrown, he continues to be terrible; imprisoned he demonstrates at will his diabolical power which grows with distance. Thus the earth, black at close range, appears like a shining star when seen from the depths of azure space. And in his immediate surroundings his sufferings move to tears. A woman was seen to kiss the hand of the queen. A guard was observed drying his tears. An orator was heard appealing for mercy. As if even now he were not happier than thousands of people who had never seen the light? Who could warrant that on the morrow the land would not return to its ancient madness, crawling in the dust before him, begging his pardon and rearing anew his throne which it cost so much labor and pain to overthrow!

Bristling with frenzy and terror the millions are listening to the speeches in the popular assembly. Curious speeches. Terrifying words. They speak of his inviolability; they say he is sacrosanct, that he may not be judged like others are judged, that he may not be punished like others are punished, that he may not be put to death, for he is the King. Consequently Kings still exist! And these words are spoken by those who have sworn to love the people and liberty; the words are uttered by men of tried honesty, by sworn foes of tyranny, by the sons of the people who came forth from the loins of those that were scarred by the merciless and sacrilegious rule of the Kings. Ominous blindness!

Already the majority is inclining in favor of the overthrown one; as if a dense yellow fog issuing forth from that tower had forced its way into the holy mansions of the people’s mind, blinding their bright eyes strangling their newly gained freedom; thus a bride adorned with white blossoms might meet death in the hour of her bridal triumph. Dull despair creeps into the heart, and many hands convulsively stroke the trusted blade; it is better to die with Brutus than to live with Octavianus.

Final remonstrances full of deadly indignation.

“Do you wish to have one man in the land and thirty-five million animals?”

Yes, they wish it. They stand silent with downcast eyes. They are weary of fighting, weary of exercising their will, and in their lassitude, in their yawning and stretching, in their colorless cold words which, however, have a magic effect, one almost fancies the contour of a throne. Scattered exclamations, dull speeches, and the blind silence of unanimous treachery. Liberty is perishing, the luckless bride adorned with white blossoms, who has met her doom in the hour of her bridal triumph.

But hark! The sound of marching. They are coming; like the sound of dozens of gigantic drums beating a wild tattoo. Tramp! Tramp! Tramp! They come from the suburbs. Tramp! Tramp! Tramp! They march in defense of liberty. Tramp! Tramp! Tramp! Woe unto traitors! Tramp! Tramp! Tramp! Traitors, beware!

“The People ask permission to march past the assembly.”

But who could stop an avalanche? Who would dare tell an earthquake, “So far and no further shalt thou go!”

The doors are thrown open. There they come from the suburbs. Their faces are the color of the earth. Their breasts are bared. An endless kaleidoscope of motley rags that serve for raiment. A triumph of impulsive, uncontrolled movements. An ominous harmony of disorder. A marching chaos. Tramp! Tramp! Tramp! Eyes flashing fire! Prongs, scythes, tridents, fenceposts. Men, women and children. Tramp! Tramp! Tramp!

“Long live the representatives of the people! Long live liberty! Death to traitors!”

The deputies smile, frown, bow amiably. They grow dizzy watching the motley procession that seems to have no end. It looks like a torrential stream rushing through a cavern. All faces begin to look alike. All shouts merge into one uniform and solid roar. The tramp of the feet resembles the patter of raindrops upon the roof, a sporific, will-subduing sound which dominates consciousness. A gigantic roof, gigantic raindrops.

Tramp! Tramp! Tramp! One hour passes, then two, then three, and still they are filing past. The torches burn with a crimson glare and emit smoke. Both openings, the one through which the people enter and the one through which they file out are like yawning jaws; and it is as if some black ribbon, gleaming with copper and iron, stretched from one door and through the other. Fanciful pictures now present themselves to the weary eye. Now it is an endless belt, now a titanic, swollen and hairy worm. Those sitting above the doors imagine themselves standing on a bridge and feel like floating away. Now and then the clear and unusually vivid realization comes to one’s mind: it is the people. And pride, and consciousness of the power and the thirst for great freedom such as has never been known before. A free people, what happiness!

Tramp! Tramp! Tramp! They have been marching for eight hours and still the end is not yet. From both sides, where the people enter and where they file out, rode the thunderous notes of the song of the revolution. The words can be hardly heard. Only the time, the cadences and the notes are plainly distinguished. Momentary stillness and threating shouts. “To arms, citizens! Gather into battalions! Let us go! Let us go!”

They go.

No need of a vote. Liberty is safe once more.


Then came the fateful day of the royal judgment. The mysterious power, ancient as the world, was called upon to answer for its misdeeds to the very people it had so long held in bondage. It was called upon to answer to the world which it dishonored by the triumph of its absurdity. Stripped of its cap and bells, deprived of its gaudy throne, of its high-sounding titles and of all those queer symbols of dominion, naked it will stand before the people and will tell by whose right and authority it had exercised its rule over millions, vesting in the person of one being the power to do wrong with impunity, to rob men of their freedom, to inflict punishment and death. But the Twentieth has been judged already by the conscience of the people. No mercy will be shown him. Yet, ere he goes to his doom, let him unbosom himself, let him acquaint the people, not with his deeds, they are sufficiently well known to them, but with the thoughts, the motives and the feelings of a king. That mythical dragon who devours children and virgins, who has held the world in thrall, is now securely fettered and bound with heavy chains. He will be taken to the public square and soon the people will see his scaly trunk, his venomous fangs and the cruel jaws that exhale fierce flames.

Some plot was feared. All night long troops had marched through the tranquil streets, filling the squares and passages, fencing in the route of the royal procession with rows of gleaming bayonets, surrounding it with a wall of somber and sternly solemn faces. Above the black silhouettes of buildings and churches, that loomed sharp, square-shaped and strangely indistinct in the twilight of the early dawn, there appeared the first faint gleam of the yellow and cloudy sky, the cold sky of the city, looking as aged as the houses and, like them, covered with soot and rust. It resembled some painting hanging in a dark hall of an ancient baronial castle.

The city slept in anxious anticipation of the great and portentous day, while on the streets the citizen-soldiers moved quietly in well-formed ranks, striving to muffle the sounds of their heavy footsteps. The low-browed cannon, almost grazing the ground with their chins, rattled insolently over the roadways with the ruddy glare of a fuse on each piece of ordnance.

Orders were given in a subdued tone, almost in a whisper, as if the commanders feared to waken some light and suspicious sleeper. Whether they feared for the king and his safety, or whether they feared the king himself, no one knew. But everybody knew that there was need of preparation, need of summoning the entire strength of the people.

The morning would dawn, but slowly; massive yellow clouds, bushy and grimy as if they had been rubbed with a filthy cloth, hung over the church spires, and only as the king emerged from the tower the sun burst into radiance through a rift in the clouds. Happy augury for the people, ominous warning for the tyrant!

And thus was he taken from prison; through a narrow lane formed by two solid lines of troops there moved companies of armed soldiers⁠—one, two, ten, you could not have counted their number. Then came the guns, rattling, rattling, rattling. Then gripped in the vice-like embrace of rifles, sabers and bayonets came the carriage, scarcely able to proceed. And again fresh guns and companies of soldiers. And all through that journey of many miles silence preceded the carriage, and was behind it and all around it. At one point in the public square there were heard a few tentative shouts, “Death to the Twentieth!” But finding no support in the crowd, the shouts subsided. Thus in the chase of a wild boar only the inexperienced dogs are heard barking, but those who will maim and be maimed are silent, gathering wrath and strength.

In the assembly there reigns an excitedly subdued hubbub of conversation. They have been expecting for some hours the coming of the tyrant, who approaches with snail-like pace; the deputies walk about the corridors in agitation, every moment changing their positions, laughing without apparent cause and animatedly gossiping about any trivial thing. But many are sitting motionless, like statues of stone, and their expression is also stone-like. Their faces are young, but the furrows thereon are deep and old, as if hewn by an ax, and their hair is rough; their eyes either ominously hidden in the cavernous depths of the skull or intently drawn forward, wide and comprehensive, as if not shaded by eyebrows, like torches burning in the gloomy recesses of a prison. There is no terror on earth which these eyes could not gaze on without a tremor. There is no cruelty, no sorrow, no spectral horror before which this glance would flinch, hardened as they had been in the furnace of the revolution. Those who were the first to launch the great movement have long since died and their ashes have been scattered abroad; they are forgotten, forgotten are their ideas, aspirations and yearnings. The onetime thunder of their speeches is like the rattle in the hands of a babe; the great freedom of which they dreamt now seems like the crib of a child with a canopy to protect it from flies and the glare of daylight. But these have grown up amid the storms and live in the tempest; they are the darling children of tumultuous days, of blood-reeking heads borne aloft on lances like pumpkins, of massive and mighty hearts made to give forth blood; of titanic orations, where a word is sharper than the dagger and an idea more pitiless than gunpowder. Obedient only to the will of the people they have summoned the specter of imperious power, and now, cold and passionless, like surgeons dissecting a corpse, like judges, like executioners, they will analyze its ghostly bluish effulgence which so awes the ignorant and the superstitious, they will dissect its spectral members, they will discover the black venom of tyranny, and they will let it pass to its doom.

Now the hubbub outside grows faint, and stillness profound and black as the heavens at night ensues; now the rattle of approaching cannon. This, too, subsides. A slight commotion near the entrance. Everybody is seated; they must be sitting when the tyrant enters. They strive to look unconcerned. Heavy tramping of troops placed in various stations about the building and a subdued clanging of arms. The last of the cannon outside conclude their noisy peregrination. Like a ring of steel they surround the buildings, their jaws pointing outward, facing the whole world⁠—the west and the east, the north and the south. Something looking quite insignificant entered the hall. Seen from the more distant benches higher up it appeared to be a fat, undersized manikin with swift uncertain movements. Observed at close range it was seen to be a stout man of medium height, with a prominent nose that was crimson with the cold, baggy cheeks and dull little eyes, an expressive mixture of good nature, insignificance and stupidity. He turns his head, not knowing whether to bow or not, and then nods lightly; he stands in indecision, with feet spread apart, not knowing whether he may sit down or not. Not a word is heard, but there is a chair behind him, evidently intended for him, and he sits down, first unobtrusively, then more firmly, and finally assumes a majestic posture. He has evidently a severe cold, for he draws from his pocket a handkerchief and uses it with apparent enjoyment, emitting a loud and trumpet-like sound. Then he pulls himself together, pockets his handkerchief and grows majestically rigid. He is ready. Such is the Twentieth.


They had been expecting a King, but there appeared before them a clown. They had been expecting a dragon, but there came a big-nosed bourgeois with a handkerchief and a bad cold. It was funny, and curious and a little uncanny. Had not someone substituted a pretender in his place? “It is I, the King,” says the Twentieth.

Yes, it is he, indeed. How funny he is! Think of him for a King! The people smiled, shrugged their shoulders and could hardly refrain from laughter. They exchanged mocking smiles and salutes and seemed to inquire in the language of signs: “Well, what do you think of Him?” The deputies were very serious and pale. Undoubtedly the feeling of responsibility oppressed them. But the people were merry in a quiet way. How had they managed to make their way into the assembly hall? How does water trickle through a hole? They had penetrated through some broken windows, they had almost slipped through the keyholes. Hundreds of ragged and fantastically attired but extremely courteous and affable strangers. Crowding a deputy they solicitously inquired: “Hope I am not in your way, citizen?” They were very polite. Like quaint birds, they clung in dark rows to the window sills, obstructing the light and seemed to be signalling something to the people in the square outside. It was apparently something funny.

But the deputies are serious, very serious and even pale. They fix their eager eyes like magnifying lenses upon the Twentieth, gazing upon him long and intently, and turn away frowning. Some have closed their eyes altogether. They loathe the sight of the tyrant. “Citizen deputy,” exclaims with delighted awe one of the courteous strangers; “see how the tyrant’s eyes are glowing.” Without raising his drooping eyelids the deputy replies, “Yes!”

“How well nourished he looks.”


“But you are not very talkative, citizen!”

Silence again. There below the Twentieth is already mumbling his speech. He can not understand of what he could be accused. He had always loved the people and the people loved him; and he still loved the people in spite of all insults. If the people think a Republic would suit them better, let them have a republic. He has nothing against it.

“But why then did you summon other tyrants?”

“I did not summon them; they came of their own accord.”

This answer is false. Documents had been found in a secret drawer establishing the fact of the negotiations. But he insists, clumsily and stupidly, like any ordinary rascal caught cheating. He even looks offended. As a matter of fact he has always had the best interests of the people at heart. No, he has not been cruel; he always pardoned whomever he could pardon. No, he has not ruined the land by his extravagance, he only used for himself as much as an ordinary plain citizen might. He had never been a profligate or a wastrel. He is a lover of Greek and Latin classical literature and of cabinet making. All the furniture in his study is the work of his hands. So much is correct. To look at him, he certainly had the appearance of a plain citizen; there are multitudes of stout fellows like him with noses that emit trumpet-like sounds; they may be met a-plenty on the riverside of a holiday, fishing. Insignificant funny men with big noses. But he had been a King! What could it mean? Then anybody could be a King!

A gorilla might become an absolute ruler over men! And a golden throne might be reared for it to sit on! And divine honor might be paid to it, and it might lay dawn the laws of life for the people. A hoary gorilla, a pitiful survival of the forest!

The brief autumn day is drawing to a close, and the people begin to express impatience. Why bother so long with the tyrant? What, is there some new treachery being hatched? In the twilight of an antechamber two deputies meet. They scrutinize one another and exchange a glance of mutual recognition. Then they walk together, for some reason avoiding contact with their bodies.

“But where is the tyrant?” suddenly exclaims one of them and grasps the shoulder of his companion, “Tell me, where is the tyrant?”

“I don’t know. I feel too ashamed to enter the hall.”

“Horrible thought! Is insignificance the secret of tyranny? Are nonentities our real tyrants?”

“I don’t know, but I am ashamed.”

The little antechamber was quiet, but from all sides, from the assembly hall and from the public square outside, there was heard a dull roaring. Each individual perhaps spoke in low tones, but altogether the result was an elemental turmoil like the roaring of the distant ocean. A ruddy glare seemed to be flitting over the walls, evidently men outside were lighting their torches. Then not afar off was heard the measured tramping of feet and the subdued rattle of arms. They were relieving the watches. Whom are they watching? What is the use?

“Drive him out of the country!” “No. The people will not permit it. He must be killed.” “But that would be another wrong.”

The ruddy spots seem now climbing up and down along the walls, and spectral shadows make their appearance, now creeping, now leaping; as if the bloody days of the past and of the present were passing in review in an endless procession through the visions of a dreamer. The turmoil outside grows more boisterous; one can almost discern individual shouts. “For the first time in my life, today a feeling of dread has seized my heart.”

“Likewise of despair, and of shame.”

“Yes, and of despair! Let me have your hand, brother. How cold it is. Here in the face of unknown perils and in the hour of a great humiliation, let us swear that we will not betray freedom. We shall perish. I felt it today. But perishing let us shout, ‘Liberty, liberty, brothers!’ Let us shout it so loud that a world of slaves shall quake with fear. Clasp my hand tighter, brother.”

It was still now; here and there crimson spots flared up along the walls, while the misty shadows moved with swiftness, but the abyss below roared and thundered with increasing fury, as if a dreadful and mighty hurricane had come sweeping onward from the north and the south, from the west and the east, and had stirred the multitude with its terror. Fragments of songs and howls and one word as if sketched in stupendous jagged black outlines in the chaos of sounds:

“Death! Death to the Tyrant!”

The two deputies were standing lost in a reverie. Time passed on, but still they stood there, unmoved in the maddened chase of shadow shapes and smoke, and it seemed as if they had been standing there for ages. Thousands of spectral years surrounded them with the mighty and majestic silence of eternity, while the shadows whirled on frenziedly, and the shouts rose and fell beating against the window like windswept breakers. At times the weird and mysterious rhythm of the surf could be discerned in the turmoil and the thunderous roar of the breaking waves. “Death! Death to the tyrant!” At last they stirred from the spot.

“Well let us go in there!” “Let us go in! Fool that I was! I had thought that this day would end the fight with tyranny.” “The fight is just commencing. Let us go in!”

They passed through dark corridors and dawn marble stairways, through chilly and silent halls that are as damp as cellars. Suddenly a gleam of light, a wave of heated air like the breath of a furnace, a hubbub of voices like a hundred caged parrots talking against time. Then another doorway and at their feet there opens an immense chasm, littered with heads, semi-dark and filled with smoke. Reddish tongues of candles stifling for want of fresh air. Someone is speaking somewhere. Thunderous applause. The speech is apparently ended. At the very bottom of the abyss, between two flickering lights is the small figure of the Twentieth. He is wiping the perspiration from his forehead with a handkerchief, bends low over the table and reads something with an indistinct mumbling voice. He is reading his speech of defense. How hot he feels! Ho, Twentieth! Remember that you are king. Raise your voice ennoble the ax and the executioner! No! He mumbles on, tragically serious in his stupidity.


Many watched the execution of the king from the roofs, but even the roofs were not sufficient to accommodate the sightseers and many did not succeed after all in seeing how kings are executed. But the high and narrow houses, with the queer coiffure of mobile creatures instead of roofs seemed to have become endowed with life, and their opened windows resembled black, winking eyes. Behind the houses rose church spires and towers, some pointed and others blunt, and at first glance they looked the same as usual, but on closer observation they appeared to be dotted with dark transverse lines which seemed to be swaying to and fro; they, too, were crowded with people. Nothing could be seen from so great a height, but they looked on just the same. Seen from the roofs of houses the scaffold seemed as small as a child’s plaything, something like a toy barrow with broken handles. The few persons who stood apart from the sightseers and in the immediate neighborhood of the scaffold, the only few persons who stood by themselves (the rest of the people having been merged into a dense mass of black), those few persons standing by themselves oddly resembled tiny black ants walking erect. Everything seemed to be on a level, and yet they laboriously and slowly ascended invisible steps. And it seemed strange that right beside one, upon the neighboring roofs, there stood people with large heads, mouths and noses. The drums beat loudly. A little black coach drove up to the scaffold. For quite a little while nothing could be discerned. Then a little group separated itself from the mass and very slowly ascended some invisible steps. Then the group dispersed, leaving in the center a tiny looking individual. The drums beat again and one’s heart stood still. Suddenly the tattoo came to an end hoarsely and brokenly. All was still. The tiny lone figure raised its hand, dropped it and raised it again. It is evidently speaking, but not a word is heard. What is it saying? What is it saying? Suddenly the drums broke into a tattoo, scattering abroad their martial beats, and rending the air into myriads of particles which hindered one from seeing. Commotion on the scaffold. The little figure has vanished. He is being executed. The drums beat again and all of a sudden, hoarsely and brokenly, cease from their tumult. On the spot where the Twentieth had stood just a moment before there is a new little figure with extended hand. And in that hand there is seen something tiny, that is light on one side and dark on the other, like a pin head dyed in two colors. It is the head of the King. At last! The coffin, with the body and the head of the King, was rushed off somewhere, and the conveyance that bore it away drove off at a breakneck speed, crushing the people in its path. It was feared that the frenzied populace would not spare even the remains of the tyrant. But the people were terrible indeed. Imbued with the ancient slavish fear they could not bring themselves to believe that it had really taken place, that the inviolable sacrosanct and potent sovereign had placed his head under the ax of the executioner: desperately and blindly they besieged the scaffold; eyes very often play tricks on one and the ears deceive. They must touch the scaffold with their hands, they must breathe in the odor of royal blood, steep their arms in it up to the elbows. They fought, scrambled, fell and screamed. There something soft, like a bundle of rags, rolls under the feet of the crowd. It is the body of one crushed to death. Then another and another. Having fought their way to the heap of ruins which remained of the scaffold, with feverish hands they broke off fragments of it, scraping them off with their nails; they demolished the scaffold greedily, blindly grabbing heavy beams, and after a step or two fell under the burden. And the crowd closed in over the heads of the fallen while the beams rose to the surface, floated along as if borne on some current, and diving again it showed for a moment its jagged edge and then disappeared. Some found a little pool of blood that the thirsting ground had not yet drained and that had not yet been trampled under foot, and they dipped into it their handkerchiefs and their raiment. Many smeared the blood on their lips and imprinted some mysterious signs on their foreheads, anointing themselves with the blood of the King to the new reign of freedom. They were intoxicated with savage delight. Unaccompanied by song or speech they whirled in a breathless dance; ran about raising aloft their bloodstained rags, and scattered over the city, shouting, roaring and laughing incontinently and strangely. Some attempted to sing, but songs were too slow, too harmonious and rhythmical, and they again resumed their wild laughing and shouting. They started toward the national assembly intending to thank the deputies for ridding the land of the tyrant, but on the way they were deflected from their goal by the pursuit of a traitor who shouted: “The King is dead, long live the King! Long live the Twenty-first!” And then they dispersed⁠—after having hanged someone.

Many of those who secretly continued to be loyal to the King could not bear the thought of his execution and lost their minds; many others, though they were cowards, committed suicide. Until the very last moment they waited for something, hoped for something, and had faith in the efficacy of their prayers. But when the execution had taken place they were seized with despair. Some grimly and sullenly, others in sacrilegious frenzy pierced their hearts with daggers. And there were some who ran out into the street with a savage thirst for martyrdom, and facing the avalanche of the people shouted madly, “Long live the Twenty-first!” and they perished.

The day was drawing to a close and the night was breaking upon the city, the stern and truthful night which has no eyes for that which is visible. The city was yet bright with the glare of street lights, but the river under the bridge was as black as liquid soot, and only in the distance, where it curved, and where the last pale cold gleams of sunset were dying away, it shone dimly like the cold reflection of polished metal. Two men stood on the bridge, leaning against its masonry, and peered into the dark and mysterious depth of the river.

“Do you believe that freedom really came today?” asked one of the twain in a low tone of voice, for the city was yet bright with many lights, while the river below stretched away, wrapped in blackness.

“Look, a corpse is floating there,” exclaimed the other, and he spoke in a low tone of voice, for the corpse was very near and its broad blue face was turned upward.

“There are many of them floating in the river these days. They are floating down to the sea.”

“I have not much faith in their liberty. They are too happy over the death of the Insignificant One.”

From the city where the lights were yet burning the breeze wafted sounds of voices, of laughter and of songs. Merrymaking was still in progress.

“Dominion must be destroyed yet,” said the first.

“The slaves must be destroyed. There is no such thing as dominion; slavery alone exists. There goes another corpse. And still another. How many there are of them. Where do they come from? They appear so suddenly from under the bridge!”

“But the people love liberty.”

“No. They merely fear the whip. When they shall learn to love liberty they will become free.”

“Let us go hence. The sight of these corpses nauseates me.”

And as they turned to depart, while the lights were yet shining in the city and the river was as black as liquid soot, they beheld something massive and somber, that seemed begotten of darkness and light. From the east, where the river lost itself in the maze of gloom-enveloped meadows, and where the darkness was a stir like a thing of life, there rose something immense, shapeless and blind. It rose and stopped motionless, and though it had no eyes it looked, and though it had no hands, it extended them over the city, and though it was a dead thing, it lived and breathed. The sight was awe inspiring.

“That is the fog rising over the river,” said the first.

“No, that is a cloud,” said the second.

It was both a fog and a cloud.

“It seems to be looking.” It was.

“It seems to be listening.” It was.

“It is coming toward us.” No, it remained motionless. It remained motionless, immense, shapeless and blind; upon its weird excrescences shone with a ruddy glow the reflected gleaming of the city’s lights, and below, at its foot, the black river lost itself in the embrace of gloom enveloped meadows, and the darkness was a stir like a thing of life. Swaying sullenly upon the waves corpses floated into the darkness and lost themselves in the gloom, and new corpses took their places, swaying dumbly and sullenly and disappeared⁠—countless corpses, silent, thinking their own thoughts, black and cold as the water that was carrying them hence. And in that lofty tower from where early that morning the King had been taken to his doom, the one-eyed clockmaker was fast asleep right under the great pendulum. That day he had been very pleased with the stillness that reigned in his tower. He even had burst into song, that one-eyed clockmaker. Yes, he had been singing; and he walked about affectionately among his wheels and levers until dark. He felt the guy ropes, sat on the rungs of his ladders, swinging his feet and purring, and would not look at the pendulum, pretending that he was cross. But then he looked at it sideways and laughed out loudly, and the pendulum answered him with joyous peals. It kept on swinging, smiling all over its brazen face and roaring; “ ’Twas ever thus! ’Twill ever be! ’Twas ever thus! ’Twill ever be!”

“Come now! Come now!” urged the one-eyed clockmaker, splitting his sides with laughter. “ ’Twas ever thus! ’Twill ever be!” And when it had grown quite dark the one-eyed hermit sought rest beneath the swinging pendulum and was soon asleep. But the pendulum did not sleep, and kept on swinging all night long above his head, wafting strange dreams to the sleeper.

His Excellency the Governor


Fifteen days had passed since that memorable occurrence, and yet it filled his mind⁠—as though Time itself had lost its ascendancy over thought and things, or else had stopped like a broken clock. Wherever he might turn his fancy, in whatever strange and distant channels, still his hunted thoughts returned to that same incident, and ran, helpless, against it; as upon a great silent prison wall in a blind alley. And what strange paths these fancies took. He thought, for instance, of an Italian trip of long ago⁠—a journey full of sunshine, youth and song. He pictured one of those Italian beggars, and directly rose before his vision the mob of workmen, the volley of musketry, the smell of powder, and the blood! Or perhaps a perfume rose to his brain, and at once he remembered his handkerchief⁠—that had been perfumed too⁠—and with that he had signalled for the filing!

At first the sequence of his thought had been logical⁠—quite comprehensible; and though burdensome had caused him no uneasiness. But soon everything reminded him of that occasion, abruptly and with most painful untimeliness: like a blow from around the corner. He laughs, and suddenly he seems to hear general laughter on all sides, and sees with hideous clearness the face of one of the dead⁠—although at the time he had not really thought of laughing: nor had the others laughed!⁠ ⁠… Or else he hears the swallows twittering in the twilight; or sees a chair⁠—just a common oak chair; or reaches for the⁠—everything calls to his mind one and the same indelible scene⁠—the white waving handkerchief, the shots, the blood! As though he lived in a room with a thousand doors, and whichever one he tried to open, the same fixed picture met his gaze: the signal⁠—the smoke⁠—the blood!

The affair was simple enough of itself⁠—though sad, of course. The workmen in a suburban factory, after a three weeks’ strike, had gathered⁠—some thousand strong⁠—together with their women and children, their old and disabled, and had appeared before him with demands which he as Governor could not grant. And they had carried themselves impudently and defiantly; had screamed; insulted the officials⁠—and one woman, who seemed quite beside herself, had plucked at his sleeve till the seam gave way. Then when his staff had led him back on to the balcony (he still only wanted to speak with them and pacify them) the workmen had begun to throw stones, had broken a number of windows, and wounded the Chief of Police. Then his rage got the better of him and he gave the signal with his handkerchief!

The people were so turbulent that they had to be shot at a second time; and so there were many dead⁠—forty-seven, according to the count;⁠—among them nine women and three children, singularly enough all girls!⁠ ⁠… The number of the wounded was even greater.

Drawn by a strange, unconquerable passion of curiosity, and against the advice of his people, he had gone to see the dead where they were laid out in the engine-house shed of the Police Station No. 3. Naturally there was no urgent reason for his going, but he felt that in some unaccountable way they would be the better for it if he saw to them himself; as someone who has shot carelessly and at random feels moved to find where the bullet had lodged, and to handle it.

It was dark and cool in the long engine-house, and the bodies lay under a strip of grey canvas, in two precise rows, like a strange display of curious wares. They had probably been arranged for the Governor’s visit, and were laid in careful order, shoulder to shoulder, with faces up. The canvas covered only their heads and the upper part of their bodies; the legs were exposed as though to facilitate their counting⁠—these stiff, immovable legs, some in old worn boots, some with tattered little shoes, and others bare and dirty, the sunburned skin showing strangely enough through the grime. The women and children were laid by themselves; and here, too, one felt there had been an attempt to simplify the count.

And it was still, far too still for such a throng of people; and the living who entered were unable to dispel the silence. From behind a wooden partition came the sound of a groom at work. He evidently thought himself alone⁠—but for the dead⁠—and talked to his horses with careless joviality: “Whoa there, you devil! Stand still while I curry you!”

The Governor glanced at the rows of legs that lost themselves in the gloom, and said, in his smothered bass, almost a whisper: “How many are there?”

The Assistant Police Commissioner, a young, beardless fellow with a pimply face, stepped up from behind and, saluting, announced, in a loud voice: “Thirty-five men, nine women and three children, your Excellency!”

The Governor frowned involuntarily, and the Assistant Police Commissioner bowed himself into the background. He would gladly have called the Governor’s attention to the neat lane between the corpses that had been carefully strewn with sand, but the Governor had no eyes for this, though he was staring fixedly at the floor.

“Three children?”

“Three, your Excellency. Would your Excellency wish the canvas removed?”

The Governor was silent.

“There are all sorts of persons here, your Excellency,” continued the Commissioner, deferentially but briskly, while he took the Governor’s silence for consent, and commanded, in hasty whispers: “Ivanoff! quick, Isidorshuck, take the other end⁠—here, pull away now!”

With a soft, sliding rustle the dingy canvas came away and one after the other the white spots of faces dawned into view⁠—bearded and old, young and smooth⁠—all different, but united in the common likeness of death. One hardly saw the wounds and the blood, they were mostly hidden under their clothes; only in one face the eye appeared unnaturally dark and sunken, shedding strange black tears that looked in the dusk like tar. The majority had the same pale, blank stare; some had kept their identical twinkle, and one covered his face with his hand as though to shield it from the glare. But the Assistant Commissioner gazed with a pained expression at these corpses that so disturbed his sense of order.

The Governor felt that these pale faces had been among the mob that morning⁠—in the foremost ranks, he knew; and many of them he had seen personally as he parleyed with them. But now they were all beyond his recognition. This new community with death had lent them a most singular expression! They lay there lifeless and motionless on the floor; like plaster casts made flat on the back that they might rest more firmly. Yet this immovability seemed counterfeited⁠—one could hardly believe it real. They were dumb, and the silence seemed as artificial as their rigid pose; but something about them of anxious expectancy made it painfully impossible for the observers to speak. If a busy city had suddenly been turned to stone, and all its inhabitants petrified at one blow; if the sun had stood still, and the leaves had hushed their rustling, and all that walked or moved had stiffened⁠—they might have shown this same strange look of interrupted effort, of breathless expectancy and mysterious alertness for what was yet to come.

“May I ask if your Excellency wishes to order coffins or whether they shall be buried in a common trench?” asked the Assistant Commissioner, with loud naivete: the exigencies of the emergency impressed him with a certain deferential self-confidence⁠—and furthermore he was very young.

“What sort of a trench?” asked the Governor perfunctorily.

“You just dig a large ditch, your Excellency⁠—” The Governor turned abruptly and left the place. As he entered the carriage he heard behind him the heavy grating of the rusty hinges⁠—they were shutting in the dead.

Next morning he visited the wounded in the city hospital, still driven by that same tormenting curiosity: the longing to undo the inevitable, and to blot out the past. The dead at least stared at him, but these would not deign him a glance! And in the stubbornness with which they averted their eyes, he read the immutability of his accomplished act. It was finished! Something monstrous had been done, and it was idle and useless to strive to alter the fact.

And from that very moment, Time for him had stood still, and this certain something inexplicable and unspeakable had come over him. It was not remorse, for he felt himself in the right; nor was it pity, that gentle feeling that softly veils the heart and calls forth tears. He could think of these dead quite calmly; even of the little children. Their pain and their sorrows hardly moved him. But he could not rid his thoughts of them⁠—they were constantly before his mind in sharpest outline⁠—these puppets, these broken dolls! And therein lay the horrid mystery⁠—a something, like the tales of magic of one’s nursery days. According to others, four⁠—five⁠—seven⁠—days had elapsed since the catastrophe⁠—but for him in the meantime not one single hour had gone by. His thoughts played yet about that time⁠—those shots⁠—that signalling handkerchief!⁠—the realisation that something irrevocable was about to happen⁠—had happened!

He was convinced that he could far more easily be calm, and forget the things which no vain regrets could alter, if the people about him would be less pointed in their attentions. By their actions, looks and gestures; their respectful, sympathetic manner, and their voices as though soothing a fretful invalid, they firmly fastened in his brain the thought of that ineradicable occurrence.

The Chief of Police announced the next day, in soothing tones, that two or three more of the wounded had been dismissed, cured, from the hospital; each morning his wife, Maria Petrovna, pressed her lips to his forehead to see whether he had a fever⁠—as though he were a child! and those dead bodies⁠—unripe fruit, of which he had eaten too freely! What nonsense!

And eight days after the event the Right Reverend Bishop Micael himself called upon him, and at his first words clearly showed that he had the same notion as all the others, and had come to lighten the Governor’s conscience. He spoke of the workmen as sinners, and called him a peacemaker⁠—and all this without introducing a single one of his well-worn Bible texts⁠—for he knew the Governor was not particularly fond of clerical prating. The old man appeared to distressing disadvantage as he lied so aimlessly in the face of his God.

During the interview the Bishop turned his deaf ear toward his companion, and, purple with rage (he could feel himself how the blood mounted to his brow) the Governor pouted his lips and trumpeted into that great bloodless ear that was turned toward him from that soft, grey bush of hair: “Sinners they may be, your Eminence; nevertheless if I were in your place I should certainly say a Mass for their departed souls.”

The Bishop turned away his ear, smoothed down his waistcoat with a bony hand, and nodded his head as he answered, in his softest voice: “Each station has its own cross. Had I been in your Excellency’s place I should never have ordered them shot, nor burdened the Holy Office with Masses for their souls. But that is neither here nor there⁠—they were undoubtedly sinners!” With a parting benediction he swept to the door⁠—his gown rustling and swaying⁠—bowing to each object that he passed as though blessing it. In the vestibule he fussed a long time with his barge-like goloshes, turning first one ear and then the other to the impatient Governor, who was helping him, with unwilling politeness: “Don’t trouble, your Excellency! Oh, please don’t trouble yourself!” And these words of his sounded to the Governor as if he were a helpless invalid to whom the least exertion might be fatal.

That same day the Governor’s son, an officer in a St. Petersburg regiment, came home for his Sunday furlough, and though he was in gay good humour, and gave no special reason for his unusual visit, it was evident that the same incomprehensible anxiety for the Governor had induced him to come. He made light of the whole affair, and assured them that in St. Petersburg they were delighted with the pluck and energy of Peter Iljitch; and yet he strongly urged that they should ask for another Cossack regiment and double then precautionary measures. “What sort of precautionary measures?” asked the Governor, stern and amazed⁠—but there was no answer. These apprehensions seemed all the more absurd as perfect calm had reigned in the city from that day on. The workmen had resumed their labours: even the interment had passed off undisturbed, though the Chief of Police had felt some anxiety, and ordered out all the reserves. Yet nothing indicated the possibility of a repetition of the incident of August seventeenth.

Finally he received from St. Petersburg a flattering acknowledgment of his detailed report of the occurrence. One would have thought that this would lighten the load and sink his burden in the sea of the past! But the fact will not sink! As though deriving its power from Time and Death, it stands rigid in his remembrance⁠—the unburied corpse of a vanished event. Stubbornly, night after night, he seeks to bury it; the darkness passes, day breaks, and there again⁠—the beginning and end of all things, between him and the world stands that indelible picture: the signal with the white handkerchief, the crack of rifles, the blood!


The Governor’s audience has long been ended, and he is about to drive out to his villa, waiting on for his aide-de-camp Kosloff, who is shopping for her Excellency. He sits in his study, his papers before him, and yet he can not work⁠—he broods. Then, rising, he thrusts his hands deeper into the pockets of his red-striped trousers, throws back his great grey head, and paces the room with heavy, soldierly tread. He pauses at the window, spreads the strong, thick fingers of his hand, and says, in strident tones: “But what is it all about?” And he fancies that as long as he sat and thought he was an ordinary man like any other; simply Peter Iljitch⁠—but with the first sound of his own voice, that gesture⁠—he has suddenly become the Governor, the Major-General! An uneasy feeling creeps over him, his thoughts whirl and tangle; and with a curt official shrug of his left shoulder-strap he turns from the window and paces the floor again.

This is the way the Gov-er-nors walk!” The rhythm jerks through his brain, keeping time with his heavy footfall until he seats himself again, carefully avoiding all movement that shall recall his official capacity.

The sound of a bell.

“Has he come yet?”

“If you please, no, your Excellency.”

And while the lackey speaks the title softly and respectfully, he suddenly recollects: “Ah yes! They broke the windows there that day, and I have not seen them yet.”⁠ ⁠…

“Call me when he comes. I shall be in the drawing-room.”

The high old-fashioned windows had eight small panes, which gave the room the gloomy look of an office: the appearance of a Court of Chancery, or of a jail. The three windows nearest the balcony had new panes, which still showed the marks of putty-daubed fingers; apparently it had never entered into the idle brains of any of the countless servants that all traces of that disturbance must be wiped away. It was the same old story⁠—if you ordered them they would do it; if not they’d never lift a finger of their own accord.⁠ ⁠…

“Let this be cleaned directly! I can’t stand this disorder!”

“Yes, your Excellency!”

He would have liked to step out onto the balcony, yet it seemed unwise to draw the attention of the passersby, so he stared through the glass at the Square, where the mob had surged that day, where the rifles had crashed⁠—and forty-seven restless people had been turned to dumb, still corpses!⁠—row on row⁠—shoulder to shoulder⁠—feet to feet⁠—like a parade seen from below.

Now all was still out there. Close by the window stands a poplar with ragged bark, already in autumn colouring, and behind it lies the Square, peaceful and sleepy in the sun. Hardly a stone stirring, and the cobblestones lying in even rows like beads, with here and there a bit of grass between, greener in the hollows and along the gutters. Empty and deserted the Square was⁠—but rather smiling; yet, perhaps because he saw it through the dingy panes, it appeared dismal and squalid, brooding in sullen apathy over its hopeless grey misery. And although it was broad daylight, yet all these things⁠—the poplar with its ragged bark, the vacant, even rows of cobblestones⁠—seemed craving for the night to come and wrap their useless being in its darkness.

“Has he not come yet?”

“No, your Excellency.”

“When he comes bring him here.”

The drawing-room had been furnished in the time of the previous Governor, or possibly earlier still, judging from the soiled and faded condition of its costly hangings. About the brassbound chimney hole were traced dark yellow stains, like lines about the drooling mouth of age. These were masked by hangings, and in winter when the rooms were lighted, one hardly noticed these defects; but now they crowded into view in all their shabby elegance, making a most painful impression. For instance, that landscape⁠—a moonlight scene in Italy: it hangs crooked, yet no one gives it a straightening touch, and it seems to have hung so throughout the rule of successive Governors. The furniture, too, is costly, but worn and moth-eaten: like an apartment in a luxurious villa whose owner has suddenly died of a stroke, and whose estate has long lain in litigation, cared for by quarrelling heirs.

And nothing in the room was the property of its occupants; not even the photographs. Either they were official belongings or had been forgotten by some predecessor. Instead of portraits of friends and relatives, there was an album with views of the city: the seminary, the district court; then four unknown officials, two seated and two standing behind them; a weather-beaten bishop, and finally a round hole that ended at the cover.

“Hideous!” said the Governor aloud, and threw the album aside, with a gesture of loathing. He had been standing to look at the pictures, and now he turned again with a shrug and started his customary pacing. “This-is-the-way-the-Gov-er-nors-walk, -the-Gov-ev-nors-walk! the-Gov-er-nors-walk!”

—So trod the former Governor, and his predecessor, and his, and all the other unknown Governors. They rose from somewhere, paced these halls with firm, square steps; while over them hung the crooked Italian landscape⁠—held receptions, even gave balls⁠—and then vanished again somewhere. Perhaps they too had ordered the people shot⁠—at least something similar had occurred under his third predecessor.

A workman was crossing the deserted square, splashed with paint, and carrying his paint and brushes⁠—then all was empty again. Down from the ragged poplar fell a shrivelled leaf, floating aimlessly to the ground⁠—and instantly the thought whirled through his head: that signal with the white handkerchief⁠—the shots⁠—the blood!

Trivial detail occurred to him now; how he had prepared to give the signal. He had pulled his handkerchief from his pocket beforehand and held it tightly clutched in a ball in his right hand; then he unfolded it carefully and waved it hastily, not up and down, but forward and out, as though he were tossing something⁠—as though he were flinging bullets! Then it came to him that he had taken a stride⁠—had crossed an invisible threshold⁠—the iron door had clanged behind him with a loud grating of its iron hinges, and there was no return.

“Ah, you at last, Leo Andrejevitch. I’ve waited⁠—the Lord knows how long!”

“I’m sorry, Peter Iljitch, but you never can find anything in this beastly hole.”

“Now, let’s be off! Come! Yes, but listen!” The Governor stood still and continued, pursing his lips: “Why are all our public offices so dirty? Take, for instance, our government office; or⁠—I was in the police department the other day⁠—I tell you it’s a pothouse, a stable⁠—and decent men sit there in good, fresh uniform, with the dirt about in heaps!”

“But there’s no money!”

“Nonsense! Quibbles! And here”⁠—the Governor waved his hand to indicate the walls⁠—“look at that now⁠—disgusting!”

“Yes, but, Peter Iljitch, what’s to hinder your doing it over to suit yourself? How often have I said that very thing to Maria Petrovna, and her Excellency agrees with me thoroughly.”

The Governor strode to the door, muttering: “It’s not worth while!”

His aide cast a pitying glance at the broad back, at his stringy, muscular neck like a double column supporting the head, and, striving to keep anxiety out of his voice, he remarked: “By the way, I’ve just seen ‘the Pike’; he tells me that the last of the wounded was dismissed from the hospital yesterday. He was the worst of the lot, and seemed to have very little chance. But these peasants have the most astonishing vitality!” In private the Chief of Police was known as “the Pike” because of his pale, bulgy eyes, and his long, lank body, with its narrow, fin-like back.

The Governor made no answer. He was enjoying the autumn sunshine and the keen autumn air⁠—a mixture of languor and crispness, as though each could be enjoyed by itself; here freshness, and there a wave of heat:⁠—and the heavens were so lovely⁠—tender, distant, and such a wonderful, startling blue. How perfect it must be in the country now!

He had already seated himself in the carriage, and moved over to make room for the aide, when a man passed by with a peculiar stoop. As he pulled off his cap he shielded his face with his elbow, so that the Governor had only a glimpse of a shock of curly fair hair and a tanned young throat⁠—he noticed that he trod carefully and noiselessly, as though he had been barefooted, and that he bent over as if looking backward. “What a singularly unpleasant person!” thought he. Evidently the two men following the Governor thought so too. They were stepping into a carriage close at hand. With the rapid glance of professional keenness, they turned simultaneously to note the fellow, but finding nothing questionable about him, hurried on to precede the Governor.

They were in a smart rubber-tired trap⁠—the wheels leaped, the body swayed, and they sat leaning forward on account of the rapid motion, and had soon left the Governor far behind in order not to annoy him with their dust.

“Who are those two?” he asked his aide, looking at him suspiciously from the corner of his eye⁠—and the other answered carelessly: “Secret Police.”

“What’s that for?” asked the Governor abruptly.

“I don’t know,” said Leo Andrejevitch evasively; “that’s the Pike’s affair.”

At the corner stood the beardless young Police Commissioner, strutting and admiring his shiny lacquered boots⁠—the same one who had accompanied the Governor on his inspection of the bodies; and as they passed the police headquarters two mounted guards rode out from under the arch, their horses’ hoofs pounding behind in the dust. Their faces beamed with officious zeal, and they both gazed steadily at the Governor’s back. The aide pretended not to notice, but the Governor threw a lowering glance at the men, and then, with his white-gloved hands tightly clenched on his knees, he lost himself in gloomy thought.

The road to the villa circled the outskirts of the town, through a lane called Kanatnaja alley, where factory hands and their families lived, crowded by all sorts of miserable beings from the city⁠—some in wretched tumble-down huts, and some in two-story brick tenements of barrack-like uniformity. The Governor would gladly have bowed if he had seen anyone; but the street was empty, as though it were late at night⁠—not even the children about. Only one little lad appeared for a moment behind a fence, among the red leaves of a rowan-tree, but even he slid hastily from the trunk and hid in the gateway. Through the summer the alley had been crowded with chickens and lean, dirty pigs, but there were none left now⁠—apparently they had all been eaten in the three weeks’ famine.

Nothing even indirectly recalled the catastrophe, but in the empty silence of the street, so indifferent to the Governor’s passing, lay something heavy, sullen, brooding⁠—and a light cloud of incense seemed to hang in the transparent air.

“Listen!” cried the Governor suddenly, grasping his companion’s knee. “That man there⁠—”

“What man?”

The Governor did not answer. Firmly clutching his knee, he gazed at the aide with a face like a barred and shuttered house whose doors and windows have suddenly been thrown open. Then he knit his heavy grey brows, deliberately turned his ponderous back, and gazed intently out of the carriage. The horses of the guard pounded down the road, and the dismal, lonely lane, dark on one side, bright sunlight on the other, was also sunk in dreary brooding.⁠ ⁠…

Like a stampeded herd the cottages huddled together; with their riddled roofs, their broken benches, and their overhanging windows⁠—like greybeards’ chins thrust out. Then came a vacant lot, with a broken fence and an old well, sunk about the rim and boarded over; then a row of great lime-trees behind a high broken wall, and a stately old house that had drifted somehow to these wastes, but was now long since abandoned. Its shutters were closed, and on a sign could be read: “This House for Sale.” Then beyond came cottages again, and a row of brick houses⁠—large, bleak and hideous, with deep-set narrow windows. They were quite new⁠—you could still see the caked plaster lying about, and the holes where the scaffolding had been; but they were already squalid and neglected. They looked like prisons, and life in such a place must be fully as sad, as hopeless, and as narrow as a life in jail!

There is the gateway to the open fields, and the last little house⁠—no trace of vegetation about it, no fence. It stands there leaning forward, walls and roof both, as though someone had shoved it violently from behind⁠—and neither in the windows nor anywhere about a single person visible.

“After the fall rains you’ll have trouble, Peter Iljitch, getting the carriage through here. I should think you’d literally sink in the mud!”


Laughter and song and merry games⁠—for tomorrow Peter Iljitch’s son, the officer, returned to St. Petersburg, and friends had gathered to say goodbye. Uniforms and gay frocks were scattered about in the open glades and meadows, under the purple and gold of the autumn foliage, and in the sapphire clearness of the woodland ways. As the red wintry sunset faded and the stars moved by in the heavens, they set off fireworks⁠—rockets that burst with a loud report, star-mines and pinwheels. A stifling smoke crept under the great old trees that stood there, so earnestly watching; and when they started the Bengal lights, hurrying figures were changed to ghosts⁠—to fluttering, flitting shadows!

Commissioner “Pike,” who had pretty freely quenched his thirst at dinner, gazed indulgently at the gay throng, strutted comically about among the ladies, and enjoyed himself. And when presently he heard the Governor’s voice close beside him in the smoky darkness, he was taken with a wild desire to kiss him on the shoulder, to hug him carefully⁠—or any little thing of that kind⁠—as an expression of his devotion. Instead of this, however, he laid his hand on the left breast of his uniform, threw away a cigarette he had just lighted, and said: “Ah! your Excellency, what a charming fête!”⁠ ⁠…

“Listen, Illawion Wassiljevitch,” interrupted the Governor, with a suppressed growl. “Why do you always set these spies here? What does it mean?”

“Some rascal might plan an attack on your Excellency’s sacred person,” said the Pike, with deep emotion, and laying both hands on his heart. “And then, besides,⁠ ⁠… it is my duty!”

Popping of firecrackers, shrieks of terror, and loud laughter drowned his words. Then a sudden rain fell, extinguishing the red and green fires which had illuminated the smoky darkness, and made the Governor’s buttons and epaulets shine out.

“I know the reason, Illawion Wassiljevitch⁠—that is, I think I can guess it. But I think it can hardly be serious.”

“It is most exceedingly serious, your Excellency! The whole town is talking of it. Astonishing how busily they talk about it! I have already arrested three men⁠—but they were the wrong ones.”

A fresh outburst of firing and gay shouts interrupted him, and when the noise had subsided the Governor had gone.

After supper they all drove off, marshalled by the young Assistant Commissioner. Everything: the fireworks which he had seen from behind the trees, the carriages and the people, seemed to him extraordinarily lovely, and his own fresh voice astonished him with its beauty and its power. The Pike was horribly drunk, cracked jokes, laughed, and even sang the first few bars of the Marseillaise:

Allons, enfants de la patrie,
Le jour de gloire est arrivé!”⁠ ⁠…

At last they had all gone. “What are you worrying about so, father?” said the lieutenant, laying his hand on Peter Iljitch’s shoulder with patronising kindliness. The Governor was very much loved by his family, and the Governor’s lady even feared him a trifle; but they all felt that he had aged sadly in these last few weeks, and their fondness was not without a tinge of contempt.

“Nonsense! Nothing but nonsense!” answered Peter Iljitch hesitatingly. For some reasons he would gladly have unburdened himself to his son, but then again their views differed so radically that he had feared this explanation. Yet now this very difference of opinion might be of use. “The thing is this, you see,” he continued, with some embarrassment, “this trouble with the workmen makes me somewhat uneasy.”

Their eyes met square⁠—but the son’s face was blank with astonishment as he dropped his hand from his father’s shoulder, saying: “But I thought you had your ‘Honourable Mention’ from St. Petersburg!”

“Certainly⁠—and it pleased me very much. And yet⁠ ⁠… Aljosha!” He gazed into his son’s fine eyes with the clumsy tenderness of a stern old man. “They aren’t Turks after all, are they? They’re as much Russians as we⁠—their names are Ivan and Peter, like ours.⁠—And yet I treated them like Turks! ’Hm? How does the thing strike you now?”

“It strikes me that you are a Revolutionist!”

“But they wear the cross upon their breasts, Aljosha! And I”⁠—he raised his finger⁠—“I ordered them to fire at those crosses!”

“As far as I’ve seen you, father, you’ve never shown any particular religious scruples before. What have the crosses to do with it? That might be a telling point if you were addressing your regiment in the Square, or for some such occasion, but⁠—”

“To be sure! Of course!” agreed the Governor hastily; “the crosses are aside from the argument. The point I want to make is this⁠—that they are fellow-beings. Do you understand, Aljosha; fellow-countrymen! Yes, if I were some German now, called August Karlovitch Schlippe-Detmold!⁠ ⁠… but my name is Peter⁠—and Iljitch besides!”

The lieutenant’s voice was rather dry. “You have such distorted notions, father! What have the Germans to do with this affair? And then, for that matter, haven’t Germans shot down Germans, and Frenchmen the French⁠—and so on? Why shouldn’t Russians fire on Russians? As a representative of the Government, you certainly know that law and order must be supported at all costs; and whoever it may be who disturbs them⁠—the same rule applies. If I were the guilty one, it would be your duty to have me shot down like a Turk!”

“That’s true,” said the Governor, nodding thoughtfully, and beginning to pace the floor. “That’s quite true!” And then he stopped. “But they were driven by hunger, Aljosha. If you could have seen them!”

“There were the peasants in Sensivjejvo⁠—they rose because they were famished too⁠—but that didn’t keep you from giving them a good dose of the knout!”

“Flogging is a very different thing from⁠—That fool laid them all out in a row! Like game at the end of a hunt! And I looked at their poor thin legs, and thought: ‘These legs will never walk again!’ You cannot understand, Alexey! Of course, as a matter of State, an executioner is a necessity⁠—but to be the executioner!”

“What are you talking about, father?”

“I know⁠—I feel it⁠—they will kill me yet!⁠—It’s not that I fear death”⁠—the Governor raised his grey head and looked steadily at his son⁠—“but I know⁠ ⁠… they will surely kill me! I never understood before. I only thought: ‘What is it all about?’ ”⁠—he stretched his powerful fingers and then doubled them into a fist. “But now I understand: they mean to kill me! Don’t laugh; you are young yet. But I have felt death today⁠—here, in my head. Yes, in my head!”

“Father, I beg of you, send for the Cossacks! Demand a bodyguard! They’ll grant you anything! I beg of you, as your son, and I ask it in the name of Russia, to whom your life is precious!”

“And who is to kill me but this same Russia? And why should I have the Cossacks?⁠ ⁠… To defend me from Russia⁠—in the name of Russia! And after all, could Cossacks, spies or guards, save a man with death branded on his forehead? You’ve been drinking a good deal this evening, Alexey, but you are sober enough to understand this: I feel the hand of death! Even there in the storehouse, where they laid the bodies, I felt it; yet then I did not realise what it was. This I’ve just been telling you, about crosses and Russians, is nonsense, of course⁠—has nothing to do with the thing. But do you see this handkerchief?” Eagerly he drew a handkerchief from his pocket, unfolded it, and held it up for inspection like a conjurer: “Alexey Petrovitch, now look here!” He waved it hastily and a subtle perfume was wafted to the lieutenant, who sat there looking anxious. “There, you doubting scientist! you fin de siècle thinker! You believe in nothing⁠—but I believe in the old law: Blood for blood! You will see!”

“Father, send in your resignation, and travel.”

He seemed to have expected this advice, and was not at all surprised. “No⁠—not for the world,” he answered firmly; “you can see for yourself that would be tantamount to flight. Nonsense! Not for the world!”

“Forgive me, father, but you seem so unreasonable!” The lieutenant cocked his head and shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t know really what to think. Mother groans and you talk of death⁠—and what is it all about? I’m ashamed of you, father! I’ve always considered you a man of discernment and force, and now you’re like a child or a hysterical woman. Forgive me! But I cannot understand it at all!”

He himself was not in the least hysterical, nor in the slightest degree womanish⁠—this handsome young fellow, with his fresh, smooth-shaven face and the calm, finished manner of a man who not only respects himself but reveres himself! He always seemed to be the sole individual in a crowd; and you must be a most distinguished person (a general at the very least) to have him aware of you and to make him overcome that slight constraint and reserve that the average public inspired in him. He was a good swimmer and loved the sport, and when he went to the baths on the Neva in the summertime he noted his own perfect symmetry as coolly and complacently as though he were quite alone.⁠ ⁠… One day a Chinaman appeared at the baths, and everyone stared at him⁠—some with a sneaking curiosity and some quite openly and unabashed. He alone did not vouchsafe him a glance⁠—considering himself far more interesting and more important than any Chinaman.⁠ ⁠…

Everything in the world was clear and simple to him; everything could be reduced to a formula⁠—and he knew that with the Cossacks things would certainly go better than without the Cossacks.

His reproaches had a ring of righteous indignation, only tempered by politeness and the fear of wounding the old man’s vanity. All this that his father had told him was not entirely unexpected. He had always known him to be a dreamer. But it struck him as something coarse, barbarous, atavistic. “Crosses! Blood for blood! Ivan and Peter!” How absurd it all was!

“You’re a poor stick of a Governor, even if they have given you an ‘Honourable Mention,’ ” thought he slowly, as he followed his father’s retreating figure with his handsome eyes.⁠ ⁠…

“Well, what is it, father⁠—are you vexed with me?”

“No,” answered the Governor simply. “I am grateful for your sympathy, and you’ll do well to quiet your mother. As to myself I am perfectly convinced! I’ve explained my impressions to you now. This is my view of it, and yours is different. We shall see which is correct!⁠—But now, be off to bed. It’s time you went to sleep.”

“I’m not tired yet. Shan’t we take a turn in the garden?”

“That suits me.”

They went out into the darkness and disappeared from each other’s view⁠—only their voices and an occasional hasty touch disturbing their sense of a strange, all-embracing loneliness. The stars, on the other hand, were numberless, and sparkled in bright companionship, and when they reached the open, out from under the close-set trees, Alexey Petrovitch could distinguish at his side the tall, heavy silhouette of his father. The night, the air and the stars had called up a tenderer feeling for this dark shadowy presence, and he repeated his reassuring explanations.

“Yes, yes,” answered Peter Iljitch from time to time⁠—though it was not quite clear whether he agreed or not.

“But how dark it is!” said Alexey Petrovitch, and stood still. They had come to a shady walk where the darkness was complete. “You should have lanterns put here, father!”

“What for? Tell me.”

They both stood still, and now that the sound of their steps was hushed, the loneliness reigned unbroken⁠—unbounded!

“Well, what is it?” asked Alexey Petrovitch impatiently.

“Does this darkness mean anything to you?”

“Dreaming again!” thought the lieutenant, and observed, with jaunty gaiety: “It means that you are not to wander about here alone! Anywhere in these woods they might have laid an ambush.”

“An ambush! Yes, that’s what the darkness tells me too. Imagine! Behind each one of these trees sits a man⁠—an invisible man⁠—watching! So many men⁠—forty-seven⁠—as many as we killed that day! And they sit there and hear what I say⁠—and spy!”

The lieutenant had grown nervous. He searched the darkness round about and took a step forward. “How unnecessary to excite yourself so!” he exclaimed involuntarily.

“No⁠—but wait a moment!” The son started as he felt a light touch of the hand. “Picture to yourself that everywhere⁠—there in the town even, and wherever I go⁠—they are lying in wait. If I walk⁠—he walks too; and watches me! Or I get into the carriage, and a man passes and pulls off his cap⁠—he is spying on me!”

The darkness grew sinister, and the invisible speaker’s voice sounded strange and distant.

“That will do, father, let’s go!” said the lieutenant, striding hastily off without waiting for his father.

“You see now, my dear boy!” came in Peter Iljitch’s deep voice, with a startling ring of mockery. “You wouldn’t believe me when I told you! There he sits in your own head!”

The lights in the house seem so far and dim that the lieutenant feels a mad impulse to run. If he might only reach them!⁠ ⁠… He almost doubts his own courage, and at the same time develops a feeling of respect for his father, who strides so calmly along through the darkness.

But fear and respect both vanish as soon as he enters the well-lighted rooms; and nothing remains but the impression of rage against his father, who will not listen to the voice of Reason, and refuses the Cossack guard with the stubbornness of senility!


Summer and winter, the Governor rose at seven, had his cold tub, drank his milk, and took his two-hour walk⁠—no matter what the weather. He had given up smoking early in life, hardly drank at all, and at fifty-six years, for all his white hair, he was as sound and fresh as a stripling. His teeth were even, powerful, and slightly yellowed with tartar, like those of an old horse. The eyes were a bit puffy, but full of fire still; and his great fleshy old nose bore the marks of his glasses. He never wore a pince-nez, but for reading or writing used a pair of gold-rimmed spectacles with powerful lenses.

In the country he busied himself very much with his garden. He cared very little for flowers, or the purely aesthetic side of horticulture, but had built fine conservatories and a forcing house, where he cultivated peaches. Since the day of the catastrophe he had only glanced into the hothouse one single time, and then had come hastily away⁠—there was something so pleasant, so peaceful, and consequently so grievous! in the warm, damp air.

The greater part of his days, when he was not busy in town, he spent in the vast park, pacing with firm, direct steps down the long avenues that traversed its fifteen dessiatines. He was not much given to reflection. Now and again lively and interesting thoughts came to him, never with any particular sequence, and wandered through his brain like an unshepherded flock. And sometimes for hours he strode along, lost in thought and oblivious to his surroundings; yet could not have told what matters he had been pondering. Occasionally he was made aware of a deep and mighty working of his soul; at times tormenting, at times exalting⁠—but to what it all tended he never understood. And only his changing moods, from grave to gay, from tender to severe, gave index in his character of this mysterious, secret expansion in the depths of his being. Since the catastrophe his moods (no matter what his clearer thoughts might be) were gloomy, wild, hopeless; and whenever he woke from his deep brooding he felt that he passed this interval through a long and horrible night.

In his youth he had once been caught by the fierce current of a river, and almost drowned; and for years he carried the impress on his soul of that strangling darkness, his faintness, the eager, greedy sucking depths. And what he now endured was that same feeling!

One sunny, windless morning, two days after his son’s departure, he was out again on the avenue, pacing in silent thought. The yellow leaves that had fallen in the night had already been swept away, and across the marks of the broom, the tracks of his large feet, with their high heels, and broad, square soles, showed clear⁠—deep pressed into the soil; as though to the weight of the man himself had been added the burden of his ponderous thought, pressing him to the earth! Now and again he paused, and over his head in the tangle of sunlit branches was heard the rhythmic hammer of a woodpecker. Once while he stood still a little squirrel ran across the path. He darted from tree to tree like a fluffy ball of red fur.

“They will certainly kill me with a revolver⁠—you can buy such good revolvers now,” he thought. “They don’t understand much about bombs here yet⁠—and then bombs are only for the man who runs; Aljosha, for instance!⁠—when he is made Governor they’ll kill him with a bomb!” thought Peter Iljitch, and his bearded lip curled with a slight ironical smile, though his eyes were fixed and gloomy. “I wouldn’t run⁠—no, bad as it is, I wouldn’t run!”

He halted and brushed a cobweb from his fatigue jacket. “A pity, though, that no one will ever know of my notion of honour and my pluck. They know all the rest, but that they can never know. They’ll shoot me down like any old scoundrel. Too bad! But there’s nothing for it⁠—I shan’t speak of it! Why try to rouse the Judge’s pity? It’s not honourable to work on his feelings⁠—his position is hard enough at best⁠—and now they come and whine for mercy! I am a man of honour, I tell you⁠—honourable!”⁠ ⁠…

It was the first time he had thought of a judge; and he wondered how he had happened to think of it. It came to him as if the question had long ago been settled. As though he had slept, and in his dreams someone had explained most convincingly all the necessary details about the judge, and when he awoke he had forgotten the particulars, but only remembered that there was a judge⁠—a law-abiding justice, panoplied with authority, and encompassed with threatening might! And now, after the first moment of astonishment, he met the thought of this unknown judge as though he were an old and valued friend.⁠ ⁠… “Aljosha could never understand that! According to him everything must be ‘for reasons of State.’ But what sort of statesmanship was that: shooting a hungry mob? Interests of State demand that the starving be fed⁠—and not shot at! He is young and inexperienced yet, and easily influenced.”.⁠ ⁠… But before he had quite finished this complacent thought, he suddenly realised that he himself, and not Aljosha, had ordered the firing!⁠ ⁠… The air suddenly grew close, and he heard (absurdly enough) a single mighty, awful thunder: “Too late!”⁠ ⁠… He was not sure whether it were simply a thought or a feeling, or if he had pronounced it. It rang on every side, and menaced him like lightning overhead. Then came a long time of bewilderment; hasty disbanding of thoughts, and painful shattering of ideas⁠—finally, a calm⁠—so complete that it seemed indifference!⁠ ⁠…

The windows of the forcing house twinkled in the sunshine among the trees, and the wild grapevine’s red leaves glowed like bloodstains against the white angles of its walls. Following his custom, the Governor turned down the narrow path between the empty hotbeds and stepped into the forcing-house. Only one workman was pottering about, old Jegor.

“Is the gardener not here?”

“No, your Excellency. He has gone to town for cuttings today; this is Friday.”

“Aha!⁠ ⁠… And is everything doing well?”

“Thanks be!”

The sunshine streamed through the open windows, driving out the close, heavy dampness. You felt how hot and strong the sun was, and yet how gentle⁠—how beneficent! The Governor sat down, the light sparkling on the metal of his uniform. He undid his jacket and, watching the old man attentively, said: “Well, how goes it, Brother Jegor?”

The old fellow answered this friendly but somewhat indefinite question with a polite smile. He stood up and rubbed his dirty hands together.

“Tell me, Jegor⁠—I hear they’re going to kill me⁠—on account of the workmen that time, you know!” Jegor kept on smiling politely, but no longer rubbed his hands⁠—he hid them behind his back and was speechless! “What do you think about it, my man⁠—will they kill me, or not? Can you read and write?⁠ ⁠… Then tell me what you think.⁠ ⁠… We two old fellows can talk it over frankly, can’t we?”

Jegor shook his head until a lock of soft grey fell over his eyes, stared at the Governor, and answered: “Who can tell? It may be so, Peter Iljitch!”

“And who is to kill me?”

“Why, the people, to be sure! ‘The Community,’ as they say in the village.”

“And what does the gardener think about it?”

“I don’t know, Peter Iljitch.⁠ ⁠… I haven’t heard.”

Both sighed deeply.

“It looks rather bad for us, doesn’t it, old fellow?⁠ ⁠… But sit down!”

Jagor did not accept the invitation, and was silent.

“And I thought I was doing the right thing!⁠ ⁠… the shooting, I mean. They were throwing stones, insulting me. They almost hit me!”

“They only do that when they’re in trouble. The other day again, on the marketplace, a drunken man⁠—an apprentice or some such thing⁠—who knows!⁠—began to cry and cry; and then he picked up a stone, and bang! he let it fly!⁠ ⁠… and only just because he was in trouble!”

“They will kill me, and then they’ll be sorry themselves,” said the Governor thoughtfully, trying to call to his mind the face of his son Alexey Petrovitch.

“Sorry they’ll surely be⁠—that’s certain.⁠ ⁠… Oh, how sorry they’ll be! Bitter tears they’ll shed!”

A ray of hope dawned.

“Then why do they want to kill me?⁠ ⁠… That’s nonsense, old man!”

The workman gazed wide-eyed into space, with veiled pupils and a rigid attitude. For an instant he seemed petrified; the soft folds of his worn cotton shirt, the fuzzy hair, the grimy hands, all seemed like an enchantment brought about by a skilful artist who had wrapped the hard stone in soft, downy raiment.

“Who can tell!” answered Jegor, without looking at him. “The people seem to wish it!⁠ ⁠… But don’t trouble about it any more, your Excellency. You know we have to have our foolish gossip.⁠ ⁠… And they’ll take a long time⁠—and talk; and then forget it themselves!”

The ray of hope vanished.

What Jegor had said was nothing new, nor especially clever; but his words had a singular ring of conviction, like those dreams that came to the Governor as he paced his long lonely avenues. The one phrase, “The people wish it,” was a clear expression of what Peter Iljitch had felt⁠—it was convincing, irrefutable! But perhaps this strange conviction lay not so much in the words of Jegor as in his set look⁠—his fuzzy hair, and his broad, earth-stained hands!⁠ ⁠… And the sun still shone!

“Well, goodbye, Jegor.⁠ ⁠… Have you any children?”

“Good health to you, Peter Iljitch!”

The Governor shrugged his shoulders, buttoned his coat, and pulled a rouble from his pocket. “Here, take that, old man! Buy yourself something with it.”

With a nod of thanks, Jegor held out his old flat hand, where the silver balanced as on a roof.

“What singular beings they are!” mused the Governor, as he strode down the walk in the flickering shade; his own figure checkered by sun and shadow as he went. “Very strange creatures!⁠ ⁠… They wear no wedding rings, and you can never tell whether they are married or not.⁠ ⁠… However⁠—No! They do wear rings, but they are silver⁠ ⁠… or tin maybe! How odd! Tin rings!⁠ ⁠… These fellows get married and cannot even afford gold wedding rings for three roubles⁠—What misery!⁠ ⁠… I didn’t notice! Those bodies in the storeroom probably had tin rings on too. Yes, now I recollect: tin rings with a very thin band!”

Lower and lower, in ever-narrowing circles, swung his fancy; like a hawk hovering over a field, and swooping down to pick up one small grain!⁠ ⁠… A woodpecker hammered, a shrivelled leaf fell and floated away, and he himself floated off in a painful, troubled daydream.⁠ ⁠… A workman⁠—his face is young and handsome, but in all the wrinkles black grime of toil has settled⁠—iron filings that have eaten into the skin, and worn the hair prematurely. His broad mouth is hideously wide open⁠ ⁠… he screams! He is calling something. His shirt is torn over his chest, and he tears it yet more open⁠—easily, noiselessly, like soft paper; baring his breast. His chest, and half his throat, are white; but above that line he is dark⁠—as though his figure were like all other men’s, but they had put another sort of head upon it.

“Why do you tear your shirt? It is horrible to see your naked body!” But the bare, white breast is thrust wildly toward him. “Here, take it! Here it is!⁠ ⁠… But give us justice!⁠ ⁠… We want justice!⁠ ⁠…”

“But where shall I find justice? How singular you are!”

A woman speaks.

“The children are all dead! The children are all dead! The children⁠ ⁠… the children⁠ ⁠… the children have all died!”

“That is why it is so lonely down your lane!”

“The children! The children! The children are all dead! The children!”

“But it is impossible that a child should die of hunger! A child⁠ ⁠… a little creature who cannot even reach the cupboard door itself! You do not love your children! If my child were hungry I should give it food!⁠ ⁠… But you even wear tin rings!”

“Ah! We wear iron rings! Our bodies are bound. Our souls are bound. We wear iron rings!”

On the back steps in the shed a maid was brushing Maria Petrovna’s skirt. The kitchen windows stood open: one could see the cook in his spotless jacket. It smelled of refuse⁠ ⁠… it was dirty. “What have I come to!” said the Governor, in amazement.⁠ ⁠… “Why, it’s the kitchen. What was I thinking of? Ah yes! I wanted to see the time! How soon will luncheon be ready? It’s early yet⁠ ⁠… ten o’clock.⁠ ⁠… But it seems to disturb them to have me here.⁠ ⁠… I must go!” And he turned into his accustomed path, and wandered up and down, thinking steadily.

And the manner of his thought was of one who fords a great and unknown river. Now the water reaches to his knees⁠ ⁠… he presses on! But finally sinks from sight; only to struggle up later, breathless and pale!⁠ ⁠… He thought of his son Alexey Petrovitch⁠—tried to think of his office and his affairs; but wherever he led his fancies they always harked back unexpectedly to the catastrophe, and burrowed there as in an inexhaustible mine. It seemed strange that nothing happening before that event had the power to hold his attention⁠ ⁠… the past all seemed so trivial, so superfluous!

It was in the second year of his governorship, some five years ago, that he had ordered the knout for the peasants of Sensiwjejewo. On that occasion also he had received an Honourable Mention from the Minister; and from that event dated the rapid and glittering career of Alexey Petrovitch, who was regarded with some attention as the son of an energetic and farsighted man. He dimly remembered (it was so long ago) that the peasants had taken some grain from the proprietors by force, and he had come, with a detachment of soldiers and police, to restore it to the owners of the estates. The affair was nothing terrible, nothing threatening in itself, but rather farcical!

The soldiers dragged away the sacks of grain, and the peasants lay down on them and were dragged too, amid the laughter and jeers of the force, to whom the whole thing was a huge lark! But the fellows began to shriek and fight; striking out and running amuck against the fences⁠—the walls⁠—the soldiers!⁠ ⁠… One of them, torn from his sack of grain, fumbled silently in the grass with his trembling hands, looking for a stone to throw. Not a stone could he find, but he kept on hunting till a policeman, at a signal from his chief, kicked him in the rear, so that he fell on all fours, and crawled away.

But they all, these peasants, seemed to be made of wood. They were so clumsy, almost creaking in their movements! To turn one of them forward where he belonged took two men. Then, faced about, he still was uncertain where to look; and when he was finally settled, he could not tear himself away again, so that it took two men to force him back.

“Here, uncle, off with your clothes! You’re going swimming!”

“What!” asked the peasant, dumbfounded. “How?”⁠—although the thing was so perfectly clear and simple. A rough hand loosened the single button, the clothes fell, and the lean, bare peasant back stood out, unabashed. They laid the lash on lightly, more as a threat than as a punishment, and the mood of the whole affair was simply comical. On the homeward march the soldiers raised a jolly chorus, and those about the carts where the peasants were bound winked at them genially.

It was autumn. Windswept clouds hung over the bare stubble fields, and they all marched off to the city⁠ ⁠… to the light! But the village behind them still lay as before; under its depressing sky, in the midst of its dark, sodden, loamy fields, with their short, spare stubble⁠ ⁠…

“The children are all dead! The children are all dead!⁠ ⁠… The children! The children!⁠ ⁠…”

The gong sounded for luncheon. Its clear, penetrating tones rang cheerily through the park. Abruptly the Governor faced about and glanced sharply at his watch. “Ten minutes to twelve!” He put the watch back and stood still. “Disgraceful!” he cried, in a rage, his mouth trembling with emotion. “Disgraceful! I’m almost afraid I’m a coward!”

After luncheon he went to his study to look through the mail from town. Grumbling, and woolgathering and blinking through his glasses, he sorted the envelopes, laying some aside and cutting others carefully, to skim through their contents. Presently he came upon a note in a narrow envelope of cheap, thin paper, pasted over with yellow stamps of one copek. He opened it as carefully as he had the others. When he laid the envelope to one side he unfolded the thin, ink-splotched sheet, and read:

“Butcher of our Children!”

Whiter and whiter grew his face, till it was almost as white as his hair. And his dilated pupils stared through the thick convex glasses at the words:

“Butcher of our Children!”

The letters were large, crooked and pointed, and terribly black⁠—they staggered uncertainly across the rough, coarse paper and cried:

“Butcher of our Children!”


Already the city knew that the Governor was to be killed. They had heard it at dawn of the day after the shooting. None spoke of it openly, but all felt it; as though while the living lay in their uneasy sleep, the dead were stretched out quietly in careful order⁠ ⁠… shoulder to shoulder, in the engine-room, a dark shape had floated over the city, shadowing it with its wings. And the people spoke of the assassination of the Governor as a foregone conclusion⁠—an irrevocable fact. Some accepted it at once; others, more conservative, not till later. Some took it carelessly for granted as a thing that concerned them but slightly; like an eclipse, only visible in another hemisphere, and hardly interesting the inhabitants of this one. Others, a small minority, rose and agitated the question whether the Governor deserved this fearful sentence⁠—whether the death of one single individual, no matter how dangerous, could have any effect while the general conditions of the living were unchanged. Opinions differed, but even the most heated arguments were impersonal, as though the question were not a possibility of the future, but already an accomplished fact which no discussion might alter.

Among the better educated the arguments took a broader theoretical stand, and the Governor’s personality was forgotten, as though he were already dead. The debate proved that the Governor had more friends than enemies, and many even of those who believed ethically in political assassination found excuses for him. Had a vote been taken in the city, probably an overwhelming majority, on various practical or theoretical grounds, would have cast then ballot against the death⁠—or as some called it, the “execution”!

But the women, generally so merciful and timid at the sight of blood, showed in this case a surprising grimness⁠—a pitiless spite. Nearly all demanded his death⁠—the most hideous death! Reasoning had no power over them; they held their opinions stubbornly, with a certain brute force. A woman might be convinced by evening that the assassination was unnecessary, but next morning she would awake firm in her original conviction; as though she had slept off the effects of the argument overnight!

Bewilderment and confusion reigned supreme. A disinterested listener, hearing their talk, could not have gathered whether the Governor should be killed or not, and might have asked, in amazement: “But where did you get the idea that he must die?⁠ ⁠… And who is to kill him?”⁠ ⁠… But there would be no answer. Soon, however, he would see, as all the others did, that the Governor must be killed⁠—that his death was imperative!⁠ ⁠… yet he would have known as little as all the rest from what source this knowledge came. Everyone⁠—friend or foe of the Governor⁠—partisan or prosecutor⁠—all gave themselves up to the one unswerving thought of his death. Ideas differed, and words differed, but the feeling was the same: a mighty, all-pervading conviction, strong and immutable as death itself!

Born in the dark, itself a part of the unfathomable darkness, it reigned triumphant and menacing⁠ ⁠… and all in vain men sought to illuminate it with the feeble light of then intelligence. As though the hoary withered law, “A death for a death,” had waked from its torpid sleep, opened its glazed eyes, gazed on the slaughtered children, the men and the women, and had stretched its remorseless arm over the head of their slayer. And the people, thinking and unthinking, inclined themselves to this law, and avoided the sinner. He was at the mercy of any death that might come. And from all sides⁠—from dark corners, from fields, woods and hollows⁠—they pressed about him: reeling, limping, dull and abject⁠—not even interested!

So it might have been in those far-distant times while still there were prophets among men; when thoughts and words were scarcer, and this same hoary Law, that punished death with death, was young. When the beasts made friends with man, and the lightning was his brother! In those strange days of old, the guilty must pay for death in kind. The bee stung him, the ox gored him, the overhanging stone awaited his coming to fall and crush his defenceless head; disease gnawed him, as the jackal gnaws the carrion; arrows turned in their flight, only to strike his black heart or his downcast eyes; and rivers changed their course only to wash the sands from beneath his feet⁠—even the majestic ocean dashed its tattered waves on high and threatened him with its roar⁠—till he fled to the desert. A thousand deaths⁠—thousand graves! The desert buried him under her soft sands; she wept and smiled, and over him her winds blew, whistling. And the sun itself⁠—that life-giver⁠—seared his dead brain with careless laugh, and softly beamed on the creatures that swarmed in the hollows of his miserable eyes. The heavy masses of the hills lay upon his breast, and in their eternal silences they buried the secret of his expiation!⁠ ⁠… But that was long ago, when this great Law was young⁠—a stripling that punished death with death⁠—and seldom in those days did his cold, keen eyes swerve in the performance of his duty!⁠ ⁠…

Within the town discussion soon died out, poisoned by its own unripeness. One must either accept the assassination as a sacred fact and meet all argument as the women did with the one incontrovertible phrase: “What right had he to murder children?” or else be reduced to helpless contradictions, to vacillation, to shifting grounds⁠—as a drunken group might gravely exchange their hats, yet get no farther on their homeward way!

Speculation wearied them finally, so they stopped talking; and nothing on the surface reminded one of that fatal day. But amid the silence and the calm grew a great cloud of grim suspense. All waited⁠—those who were indifferent to the catastrophe and its consequences, those who looked eagerly forward to the execution, and those who were uneasy about it⁠—all!⁠ ⁠… all waited for the inevitable, with the same vast, breathless suspense! Had the Governor died of a fever in these days, or from an accident, none would have taken it for mere chance, but behind the given reason would have found a primary cause⁠—invisible, unacknowledged.

Among the masses, as the foreboding grew, their thoughts turned often to the Kawatnaja lane. The lane itself was still and calm, as was the city; and the swarming spies peered vainly for any signs of new uprising or criminal attempts. Here, as elsewhere, they heard rumours of the assassination of the Governor, but could never discover their source. All spoke of it, but in such an uncertain, even foolish way, that one could find no key to their talk. .

“Some mighty man⁠—oh, a very mighty man, who could never possibly fail!⁠—would undoubtedly kill the Governor one of these days!” That was all one could make of it.

The secret agent, Grigorjeff, overheard some such gossip one day as he sat in a low gin-shop pretending to be drunk. Two workmen, who had already been drinking rather freely, sat at the next table, their heads together. Clumsily clinking their glasses, they talked in suppressed murmurs. “They’ll kill him with a bomb!” said the first, evidently well informed. “What! with a bomb!” said the other, amazed.

“Certainly, with a bomb⁠—what else?” reiterated the other. He puffed at his cigarette, blew the smoke in his companion’s face, and added sternly: “It will blow him to a thousand little bits!”

“They said it would be on the ninth day.”

“No,” said the other, with a frown which expressed the highest degree of scornful negation. “Why the ninth day? That’s superstition⁠—that idea of the ninth day! They’ll simply kill him early in the morning⁠—that’s all!”


Shielding his face with his outspread hand, he lurched suddenly forward and hissed into his companion’s ear: “Next Sunday week!”

Silently they stared into each other’s grim, bleary eyes, both swaying to and fro. Then the first lifted a threatening finger and said, with impressive secrecy:

“Do you understand?”

“They’ll never miss him⁠ ⁠… no! They’re not that kind.”

“No,” said the other, with lowering brows. “How could we miss? The pack is stacked.⁠ ⁠… We hold four aces.”

“A whole handful of trumps⁠—” added the other.⁠—“You understand, don’t you?”

“Yes, of course I understand!”

“Then, if you understand, we’ll drink to it. Aren’t you afraid of me now, Wanja?”

They whispered for some time, blinking and nodding, and upsetting the empty bottles in their eagerness.⁠ ⁠… That same night they were arrested, yet nothing suspicious was found upon them, and the preliminary examination showed that they did not know the slightest thing, and had only repeated vague rumours.

“But how did you happen to know the very day⁠ ⁠… that Sunday!” asked the angry officer who was conducting the examination.

“Can’t say,” said the man, somewhat cowed⁠—he had been three days without drinking or smoking⁠—“I was drunk!”

“I’d like to send you all to⁠—” fumed the lieutenant⁠—but he did not finish his remark.

Even the ones who were sober were no better. They spoke freely of the Governor in the workshops and on the streets, raged at him, and exulted at his approaching death⁠—yet never anything definite⁠—and soon they stopped talking and waited patiently. Now and again passing labourers exchanged comments.⁠—“He drove by again yesterday without any guard.”

“He’s walking into the trap himself!” And they went about their work. Bat next day a whisper ran through the shops:

“Yesterday he drove down the lane!”

“Let him drive!”

They counted each day of his life⁠ ⁠… their number seemed too great!⁠ ⁠… Twice the rumour of his death was started. It spread suddenly in the Kawatnaja lane, and immediately grew to certainty in the factories. It was impossible to say how it arose but, scattered in little groups, they told each other the details of the murder: the street, the hour, the number of the murderers⁠—the weapon! Some could have sworn they heard the explosion. And all stood there, pale, determined; outwardly neither glad nor sorry: till at last word came that it was a false alarm. Then they separated, just as calmly, and without disappointment⁠—as though it were not worth while to be excited over an affair that was postponed but for a few days at most⁠ ⁠… or perhaps a few hours⁠—or even minutes!

Both in the city and in the Kawatnaja lane the women were the harshest, most unrelenting judges. They produced no evidence, they gave no verdict⁠—they simply bided their time! And on then waiting, they laid the coals of their unshakable belief; the whole burden of their unhappy lives; and the hideousness of their depraved, hungry, smothered thoughts. They had in their daily lives one special adversary that the men did not know⁠ ⁠… the oven!⁠—the ever-hungry, open-mouthed oven; more awful than the glowing fires of hell! From morning till night, throughout their days, and every day, it held them in its sway; eating their soul, casting out from their brains all thought, save that which concerned itself.

The men knew nothing of this. When a woman waked at dawn and saw the stove⁠—the oven door half open⁠—it worked on her fancy like a ghost; gave her a sickening sense of disgust and fear, and dull, brutish terror!

Robbed of her thoughts, she hardly knew what had robbed her; and in her confusion humbly offered up her soul again each day before this altar; black, deadly misery wrapping her as in a veil. And thus the women in the Kawatnaja lane became so fierce and hard! They beat their children⁠—beat them nearly to death!⁠—quarrelled amongst themselves, and with their husbands, and their mouths streamed with abuse, complaints and wantonness.

In those three terrible weeks of famine, when for days no fires were made⁠—then at last, the women rested⁠ ⁠… that strange, calm rest of the dying whose pains have ceased some moments before the end! Their thoughts, freed for an instant from those iron bands, fastened with all their passion and power to the vision of a new life⁠ ⁠… as though this strike were not about the monthly wages of the men, but about a full and glad release of their eternal bonds. And in those heavy days when they buried their little children⁠ ⁠… dead from exhaustion!⁠ ⁠… and numb with pain, weariness and hunger⁠—bewailed them with bloody tears⁠—the women grew kind and gentle as never before! They were convinced that such horrors could not have been sent without a purpose⁠—that some vast reward must follow their sufferings.

So when on the 17th of August the Governor stepped out before them, into the Square shimmering in the sunlight, they took him for the dear Lord Himself⁠—with his grey beard.⁠ ⁠… And he said:

“You must go back to your work! I cannot talk to you till you have gone back to your work.”

Then: “I will see what I can do for you. Get to work and I shall write to Petersburg!”

Then: “Your employers are not robbers, but honourable men, and I forbid you to speak so of them. And if you are not back at your work by tomorrow, I shall lock up the shops and send you all to the workhouse!”

Then: “It is your own fault that the children died! Take up your work again!”

Then: “If you act like this, and do not disperse, I’ll have you driven off!”⁠ ⁠…

Then followed a chaos of howls; babies crying; the whine of bullets; pushing; and a wild flight! They do not know themselves where they are fleeing to⁠—they fall! Up again and on⁠—children and home are lost!⁠ ⁠… Then suddenly again, in the twinkling of an eye, there sits the cursed oven!⁠—stupid, insatiable, with its everlasting open mouth!⁠ ⁠… And the same old round begins again from which they thought to have torn themselves forever; and to which they have returned⁠ ⁠… forever!

Perhaps the idea of the Governor’s assassination emanated from the women’s brains. The well-worn words in which man had been wont to clothe his hatred for man no longer sufficed them. Loathing! Contempt! Rage!⁠—it transcended all these⁠ ⁠… it was a feeling of calm, unqualified condemnation⁠ ⁠… If the axe in the headsman’s hands could feel, it might have this emotion⁠—that cool, sharp, shining, steady blade! The women waited quietly; without wavering and without doubts.

And while they wait they take their fill of the good, fresh air⁠—the same air that the Governor breathes!⁠ ⁠… They are like children. If a door chances to slam, or someone runs clattering down the lane, they rush out⁠—bareheaded and excited.⁠ ⁠… “Is he dead yet?”

“No⁠—it was only Ssenjka running to the shop for vodka.”

And so it goes till another knock comes, or a sudden rush of feet, to break the deadly silence of the street.

When the Governor drives by they peer at him eagerly from behind the curtains; and when he has passed, go back to their ovens again. It did not surprise them that the Governor, who had always been followed by guards, suddenly appeared without an escort⁠ ⁠… the headsman’s axe, if it could feel, would not be astonished at the sight of a bare throat! It was quite in the order of things that the throat should be bare.

They sat and spun their gruesome threads⁠—these grey, dismal women with their grey, dismal lives⁠—and it was they who awakened that hoary old Law that punished death with death.

Their sorrow for their dead was suppressed and torpid; it was only a part of their great general pain, and they gulped it down as the great, briny ocean would swallow one small briny tear. But on Friday of the third week after the deluge of blood, Nastassja Saasnova, whose little girl (Tanja, only seven) had been killed, went suddenly mad! For three weeks she had worked over her oven like all the rest; had quarrelled with her neighbours, had beaten her other children⁠—and all at once, without any warning, she went insane.

It began in the morning. Her hand trembled, and she broke a cup; then it all came over her with a sickening shock, and she forgot what she was about, ran from one thing to another, and repeated foolishly. “О God, what am I doing?”⁠ ⁠… Then finally she was quite silent! And dumb, with stealthy tread, she slid from corner to corner, taking things up and putting them down⁠—moving them from place to place⁠—and even, in the beginning of her madness, hardly able to tear herself away from the stove. The children were in the garden flying their kites, and when little Petjka ran in for a piece of bread he found his mother stealthily hiding all sorts of things in the oven⁠—a pair of shoes, an old coat, and his cap! At first the boy laughed, but when he caught sight of his mother’s face he ran shrieking into the street. “A⁠—a⁠—ai!” he screamed as he ran, and set the lane in wild alarm.

The women gathered and began to whimper over her like frightened dogs. But she only widened her circles, breaking through their detaining arms; gasped for air and mumbled to herself. Piece by piece she jerked off her rags till, stripped to the waist, her lean and haggard body, with its withered, dangling breasts, showed yellow against the wall. Then with a long and hideous wail she repeated, over and over: “I can’t! Oh, my dear, I can’t⁠—I can’t⁠—I can’t⁠—I can’t!” and ran out into the street, the others following.

Then the whole lane was transformed for one instant into a single shrill howl; it was impossible to tell who was crazy and who was not. The panic subsided when the men ran out from the shops, bound the maniac hand and foot, and poured a bucket of water over her. She lay there in a puddle by the roadside, her naked bosom pressed to the earth, her fists and the blue, mottled arms stretched stiffly forward.

She had turned her face to the side, and her eyes were wild and glaring; her wet grey hair was pressed close to her head, making it seem pitifully small; her whole body was shaken with convulsive jerks. Out from the factory ran her husband, in a fright. He had not washed his sooty face, his shirt was shiny with oil and grime, and a burned finger on his left hand was tied up with a greasy rag.

“Nastja!” he called, bending over her, stern and harsh. “What do you mean? What is the matter with you?” She turned her dumb glassy stare at him and shuddered. He saw the purple bloodshot arms they had so pitilessly bound; loosened the ropes and smoothed her naked yellow shoulder.⁠ ⁠… Then came the police!⁠ ⁠…

When the crowd dispersed two men among them neither went back to the factory nor stayed in the lane: but they went their way slowly to the city. They walked along keeping step; silent and pondering. At the outlet of the Kawatnaja lane they parted.

“What a scene!” said one. “Are you going my way?”

“No!” said the other curtly, and strode along. He had a young tanned throat, and under his cap a shock of curly yellow hair.


Sooner or later the news of the Governor’s assassination had crept into the palace, but here they took it with an extraordinary indifference. As the close presence of the strong man in his full powers hindered their knowledge of the fact that this death meant his death!⁠ ⁠… they regarded it only as a temporary hallucination. Toward the middle of September, the household returned to town, at the urgent request of The Pike who had convinced Maria Petrovna that the country was not safe. And there life took on its accustomed aspect⁠ ⁠… the routine of many years.

Kosloff, the aide, who loathed the dirt and the banal decorations of the Governor’s mansion, had personally supervised its refurnishing. He bought fresh hangings for the walls and reception-rooms, had the ceilings retinted, and ordered new furniture⁠ ⁠… green oak in the style of the Decadence! He quite took upon himself the supervision of the house, to the delight of all; from the servants who were infused with his energy, to Maria Petrovna, who hated all domestic cares, in spite of its roominess the palace was most inconveniently arranged. The bathrooms were next to the reception-rooms, and the lackeys had to carry their dishes down a long cold corridor past the windows of the dining-hall, where one could see them quarrelling and nudging each other as they went. All this Kosloff wished to change, but he had to postpone his plans till summer.

“He will be pleased,” he said to himself, meaning the Governor⁠—but strangely enough this image did not call forth in his mind Peter Iljitch, but some other! Yet in his eager bustle of reform he was not at all conscious of this thought.

As usual Peter Iljitch was the centre of his family, and the expressions, “His Excellency ordered it,” “His Excellency wishes⁠ ⁠…” “His Excellency would be angry⁠ ⁠…” were now as ever the household words; and yet, had they set up a puppet in his place, dressed in the Governor’s uniform, and let it speak a few words, it would have made no difference⁠—so much of the office was but empty form!

If he fell into a rage and shouted at a man, and that man trembled, it looked as though the rage and the trembling both were simulated, and that nothing of the sort had really taken place. Even had he committed a murder in these days, that very death would have seemed counterfeited. As far as concerned himself, he still lived; but to the others he had already died, and they handled the dead carelessly, and felt the cold and the gloom that emanated from him without quite understanding what it meant.

Thought can kill in time! Drawing its strength from the Eternal Sources, it is mightier than engines, weapons, or powder! It robs men of their will, and makes even the instinct of self-preservation blind. It clears a free space for its deadly stroke; as the forest underbrush is cleared about the tree that must be felled! So this thought was killing the Governor!⁠ ⁠… As the child, when the time of its fruition is complete, struggles from its mother’s womb, this imperious death-dealing thought⁠—till now giving evidence of its being only by the muffled beating of its heart⁠—strove irresistibly toward the light, and began to lead an individual life. Imperiously it called up those from the dark who should do the deed, and hailed them as saviour!

Unconsciously the people held themselves aloof from the one dedicated to death, and robbed him of that invisible but mighty shield that the life of the mass forms for the life of the individual.

After the first anonymous letter calling the Governor “Butcher⁠ ⁠…” a few days passed without any such missives. Then, as if with silent accord, they began literally to shower upon him, as though they had poured from a slit in the postbag; and each morning the stack of envelopes on his desk grew higher. In different quarters of the town, out of different postboxes, these letters were segregated from the other mail by different people; gathered into a heap, and brought to their common destination⁠—this one man! Formerly the Governor had received anonymous letters, sometimes with abuse and veiled threats, mostly denunciations and complaints, but he had never read them. Now, however, he felt himself impelled to read them; as he was forced, too, to think constantly of his own death.⁠ ⁠… And reading and reflection both required solitude!⁠ ⁠…

Seldom through the day, but oftener towards evening, he sat at his disordered desk with a glass of tea untasted by his side, shrugged his broad shoulders, put on his strong, gold-rimmed spectacles, examining the envelopes of the letters as he opened them. He had learned to know them at a glance. For, in spite of differences in writing, paper, and postmarks, they had something in common⁠—like the dead in the engine-house!⁠ ⁠… and not only he, but the lodge-keeper, who took in Peter Iljitch’s private correspondence, recognised them unerringly.

The Governor read each letter attentively⁠—earnestly⁠—from beginning to end; and if any words were illegible, he puzzled over them long, as to their meaning. Uninteresting ones, or those that contained only filthy abuse, he destroyed; also those which gave him friendly warning of his coming assassination. All others he numbered and filed, for some reason unknown to himself. In general their contents were wearisomely monotonous. Friends warned, foes threatened⁠—and the matter dwindled into a series of inconclusive “Ayes” and “Noes.”

From constant repetition he was quite used to the words “Murderer” on the one hand⁠ ⁠… and “Steadfast Defender of Order” on the other, and to a certain extent had accustomed himself to that other thought⁠ ⁠… that friend and foe alike believed in the inevitable approach of his death!⁠ ⁠… A cold shudder ran over him. He would gladly have warmed himself, but there was nothing to warm him.⁠ ⁠… The tea was cold!⁠ ⁠… they always brought him cold tea lately, for some reason!⁠ ⁠… and even the high tiled stove was cold!⁠ ⁠… Long ago⁠—soon after he had come here⁠—he had intended to build a fireplace, but he had put it off, and the old Dutch oven gave very little heat, no matter how much coal you burned!⁠ ⁠… In vain he hugged the lukewarm tiles, then paced the floor up and down, saying, in his deepest regimental tones: “I’ve grown to be a perfect hothouse plant!”⁠ ⁠… Then he sat down to his letters again, looking for something important or decisive.

Your Excellency!⁠—You are a General, but Generals are mortal too. Some Generals die a natural death, and some by violence. You, your Excellency, will die a violent death!

“I have the honour to subscribe myself, your Excellency’s most obedient servant.⁠ ⁠…”

The Governor smiled⁠—at that time he could still smile⁠—and was about to tear the carefully written page when he bethought himself, made a marginal note: “No. 43, Sept. 22, 190-,” and filed it.

My Lord Governor! (or to be more correct, My Lord Turkish Pasha!)⁠—You are a thief and a hired assassin!⁠ ⁠…

“I’d swear to God you turned a pretty penny on that transaction when you murdered the working men.⁠ ⁠…”

The Governor turned purple, crumpled the note in his fist, pulled off his spectacles and roared, with the roll of a big bass drum:


Then he dug his hands into his pockets, stuck out his elbows and began to pace the floor in a feverish rage⁠ ⁠… keeping time with the rhythm of: “This-is-the-way-the-Gov-ern-ors walk!”

When he had quieted himself he smoothed out the letter, read it to the end, numbered it with an unsteady hand, and filed it carefully. “He must certainly see that,” he said, thinking of his son.

That same evening Fate sent him another letter. It was signed “A Labourer.” Apart from the signature, however, nothing in the letter denoted the brawny craftsman⁠—miserable and uneducated⁠—which was the Governor’s conception of “labourer.”

“Here in the works, and in town, they say that you are to be killed soon. I don’t know precisely who will do it, but I think it will not be the agents of any organisation; but rather a volunteer from among the citizens, who are roused by your brutal proceedings against the workmen on August 17th. I frankly say that I and some of my party are against this resolution, not because we pity you⁠—had you yourself any pity on the women and the children that day?⁠—and I think that no one in the place has any pity for you!⁠ ⁠… but simply because I am opposed in principle to any violent death. I am against War, Capital Punishment, Political Execution⁠ ⁠… and against murder in general!

“In the battle for our ideals⁠—Liberty, Fraternity and Equality⁠—we should make use only of such weapons as do not contradict these ideals. Death is a weapon of that evil, old-world order whose device is Slavery, Privilege and Enmity. Good can never come from evil, and in the battle where force is the weapon, the victor can never be ‘the Right,’ but ‘Might’; that is, the one is more pitiless, more inhuman⁠ ⁠… no respecter of persons, and not above using any weapons⁠—in one word, a Jesuit!

“If a scrupulous man were forced to shoot, he would certainly either shoot in the air, or else commit some folly that would get him into trouble; because his soul would revolt at the work of his own hands. I hold that many of the well-known unsuccessful political assassinations have been wrecked on this point, because the victims have been rogues capable of taking every advantage, while the instruments have been men of honour, who have perished for the cause. You may be sure, my Lord Governor, that if all the people who attempt the lives of your kind were rascals, they would surely find such loopholes and methods as would not enter into an honest man’s head, and you would all long since have been dispatched.

“From my point of view the Revolution can merely be a propaganda of ideas⁠—in the sense in which the Christian Martyrs were revolutionists. For even if the labourers did win a battle, the Rascals would only pretend to be beaten to gain time for new trickery, and to get back at their foe. We must conquer with our heads, not with our fists; for as regards the head, the Rascals are rather weak! For this reason they even hide books from the poor man, condemning him to darkness of ignorance because they fear for their existence. Do you know why they won’t allow the workmen the eight-hour labouring day? Do you think the gentlemen did not know themselves that in eight hours of intelligent work the production would be no less than in eleven now? But the thing is this⁠—that with the eight-hour law, the men would have time to learn as much as their masters, and would take the work out of their hands. These people only think they are wise, because they have made all the others stupid⁠—against a really clever man they would not be worth a sou!

“I have gone so deeply into the discussion of these questions, in order that you should not misunderstand my first words against your assassination, and consider me a traitor to the common cause of all other honourable men. I must furthermore add that I and my mates who share my convictions were not in the Square on the 17th, because we knew very well what the end would be, and did not care to stand there like the fools who believed that Justice was to be had from one of your kind!

“Now, naturally the others agree with us and say: ‘If we go there again we won’t ask, we’ll strike!’ According to my mind that’s equally foolish⁠ ⁠… because, as I say: why go there at all? You yourself will come to us soon enough with friendly words and bows⁠—and then we’ll show you!⁠ ⁠…

“Honoured Sir, Forgive my boldness, that I should have come to you with my workingman’s talk⁠—for I have learned by myself all I know out of books⁠—but it seems strange to me that an educated man who is not such a rascal as all the rest, could act so to the miserable working men who trusted him⁠ ⁠… that he could order them shot!⁠ ⁠… Maybe you will have a guard of Cossacks, a detachment of the Secret Service, or take a trip somewhere⁠—and so save your life; and then my words may be of some use, and point out to you the right way to serve the true interests of the nation.

“They say here in the works that you were bought by Capital!⁠ ⁠… but I don’t believe that, for our employers aren’t so stupid as to throw away their money⁠ ⁠… and besides that, I know you can’t be bribed⁠ ⁠… and are no thief either, like the others in the service who need the money for their chorus-girls and champagne and truffles. I might even say that in the main you are a man of honour.⁠ ⁠…”

The Governor laid the letter carefully upon the table, triumphantly took his moist spectacles from off his nose, polished them ceremoniously with the corner of his handkerchief, and said, with stately deference:

“I thank you, young man.”

Slowly he walked down the room and turned to the cold tile stove, saying impressively: “You may take my life, it belongs to you.⁠ ⁠… But my honour⁠—”

He did not end the phrase, but held his head high, and stalked back to the writing-table, a trifle absurd in his ponderous dignity.⁠ ⁠…

“I might even say that in the main you are a man of honour⁠ ⁠… in the main a man of honour⁠ ⁠… in the main a man of honour⁠—who wouldn’t hurt a chicken without cause, but how could you, an honourable man, be responsible for such an order? That is the question, honoured sir! The people are not chickens! The people are sacred! And if you could understand the masses and their sufferings, you would go out into that same Square, bow yourself humbly to the earth and beg for forgiveness.

“Think, from generation to generation⁠—from kindred to kindred, since that time of the first slaves, who, at the bidding of their tyrannical princes built the Pyramids, we have led this existence! As there are among you hereditary nobles⁠—that is, oppressors⁠—so among us there are hereditary labourers, hereditary slaves. And consider further, that in all these ages we have been only beaten and oppressed, and as far back into the past as I can trace my ancestry I see nothing but tears, despair, ill-treatment. And all this is stamped upon the soul⁠—and all this has been kept as the sole heritage, from father to son, from mother to daughter. Attempt to look into the soul of a simple peasant or labourer⁠—a shuddering horror! While we are yet unborn we have suffered a thousand wrongs. When we finally crawl forth into life we stumble into a sort of cavern, where we are nourished on wrongs and clothe ourselves in our wrongs!

“They tell me that somewhere, five years ago, you ordered the knout for the peasants⁠—do you realise what you did then? You thought you had only flayed their backs. No, you stripped their souls, enslaved for ages. You flogged the dead, and the yet unborn! And though you may be a General and an Excellency⁠—yet I make bold to say you are not fit to lay your lips in adoration on one of those sacred peasant backs, much less to lay the lash!

“And when the workmen came to you, who was it, do you think, who came?⁠ ⁠… Those were the slaves who built the Pyramids⁠—they rose and came with their thousands of years of chafings and groans, to ask for kindness, for help, for counsel! Came to you, as to an enlightened and humane man of the twentieth century. And how did you treat them? Ah! You!⁠ ⁠… Your forefather perhaps was an overseer over these same slaves and beat them with stripes, and then handed down to you this foolish hatred for the working classes!

“Honoured Sir! The masses are awakening. At present they are only turning in their sleep, and already the pillars in your house are tottering; but wait till they are quite awake. These words of mine are new to you⁠—think them over!⁠ ⁠… Furthermore, I ask your pardon that I have troubled you so long, and in the name of the ‘Brotherhood,’ I hope they may not kill you.”⁠—

“They will kill me, though,” thought the Governor, as he folded up the letter. For an instant the picture of old Jegor, with his steel-grey hair, rose in his mind, only to vanish in the boundless darkness of its void.

No vestige of thought was left in him, nothing either of contradiction or of assent. He stood by the burnt-out stove⁠—on the table the lamp glowed under its green silk shade⁠—in another room his daughter was playing the piano; someone seemed to be teasing her Excellency’s pug, for he began to bark viciously⁠—and still the lamp burned.⁠ ⁠…

The lamp burned!


In the next few days no letters came. The sendings stopped abruptly, as by preconcerted action, and the silence that followed held something sinister and unusual. The sudden cessation gave the feeling that the end was not yet come, that somewhere in the void something was taking its course; that a new phase had entered into the Thought, and was shaping things in secret. And time sped by, with a swoop of its mighty pinions⁠—each upward swing a day, each downward sweep a night!

Twice the Pike had interviewed her Excellency at a most unusual hour. He scolded the man in the anteroom who helped him off with his coat, rowing him in energetic whispers as though he were one of his own policemen, or a cabby. And when the coat was off and he was drawing on his fresh white gloves, he bent his sleek head condescendingly to the fellow’s side-whiskers, gnashed his musty-tobacco-stained teeth, and held his half-gloved hand, with fingers dangling limp, close over his nose. (He always did this at the slightest contact with a lackey.)⁠ ⁠… Then, assuming the manner of a man of the world, he mounted the stairs.

Formerly he would never have dared to scold the Governor’s servants, but now things were come to such a pass that he not only did, but must. Last night a highly suspicious character had been arrested by one of the secret agents, close to the entrance of the palace! At a distance he had followed the Governor on his accustomed morning stroll; then had hung about the palace all day, peering in at the basement windows, hiding behind the trees, and conducting himself in a most suspicious manner. On his arrest they found neither weapons, papers, nor any other treasonable articles about him; and they recognised him as the suburbanite Ipatikoff⁠—furrier by trade. His statements were vague and shifty. He asserted that he had only passed the house once, and seemed to be hiding something. On searching his quarters they found but a few rotten skins, a boy’s fur coat unfinished, and other appurtenances of his trade. Household goods there were none⁠—no weapons, no papers. The case seemed in the highest degree mysterious. None of the Governor’s household⁠—the lodge-keeper nor anyone else⁠—had observed him, though he had passed the main entrance at least a dozen times.

In the night a spy tried the door to test the matter and, finding it unlocked, walked into the porter’s lodge, scratched his name on the wall as a proof of his presence, and then walked out again unnoticed. The gatekeeper pleaded forgetfulness as his excuse for not locking up.⁠ ⁠… “But at such a time, when such an attempt was to be expected, that sort of carelessness was unpardonable!”

“I’m in an awful fix, your Excellency,” complained the Pike to the Governor’s lady, laying his white-gloved hand on his scented breast. “His Excellency won’t listen to the idea of a bodyguard! The Secret Service men are dog-tired (excuse the expression) with their everlasting trotting after him⁠ ⁠… and to tell you the truth, it’s all nonsense anyway, because the first scoundrel that comes along could catch him around the corner, or hit his Excellency with a stone over the wall.⁠ ⁠… If anything should happen⁠—which God forbid!⁠—people will say: ‘The Chief of Police is to blame! The Chief of Police did not watch out!’ What can I do against his Excellency’s damned stubbornness? Excuse the expression, your Excellency, but fancy the position I’m in! It really is too⁠—I’ll bid you good day, your Excellency!”

It developed that the Pike had prepared a programme. The Governor was to get a few months’ furlough and travel for his health⁠—any one of the foreign baths would do. Things were quiet in the city now, and he was in high favour at St. Petersburg⁠—there would be no trouble on that score!

“Otherwise I can guarantee nothing, your Excellency!” continued the Chief, with feeling.⁠ ⁠… “Human powers have their limits, your Excellency, and I tell you frankly I cannot answer for anything!⁠ ⁠… After two or three months it will all happily be forgotten, and then⁠—Welcome home, your Excellency. It will be just the season of the Italian Opera. We’ll give a gala performance⁠—and then his Excellency can take his walks abroad to his heart’s content.”

“What nonsense about the opera!” said the Governor’s lady, yet she approved of the proposition, as she herself was most uneasy.

On his way out the Chief of Police stopped at the lodge to bully the porter again.

“I’ll teach you! I’ll make your chin-whiskers stand up, you fat-faced fool! He grows chin-whiskers like a Lord Chancellor⁠—the son of a gun!⁠ ⁠… and thinks he doesn’t have to lock the door! I’ll make you dance. You⁠—”

That evening Maria Petrovna begged her husband to take her abroad with the children.

“Oh, please, Pievna, won’t you?” she said in her tired voice, her eyes drooping under their long dark lashes. Her face was thickly powdered, and her yellow, flabby cheeks dangled like a pointer’s as she shook her head. “You know I’ve not been at all well lately, and really I must go to Carlsbad.”

“Can’t you and the children go without me?”

“Ah, but no, Pievna! What makes you talk like that? I’d be so worried if you were not there. Please.”

She did not say what would worry her⁠—her object was clear without that. To her great surprise, Peter Iljitch readily agreed to the plan⁠—though under ordinary circumstances her mere mention of a wish called forth his opposition.⁠ ⁠… At least that used to be their way!

“They certainly can’t lay that to cowardice,” thought the Governor. “It isn’t any plan of mine⁠—and maybe she really does need a cure. She looks as yellow as a lemon.⁠ ⁠… Besides, there’s always plenty of time for them to kill me⁠ ⁠… and if they don’t attempt anything it will prove that I am right, and they are wrong!⁠ ⁠… Then I’ll resign⁠—and then I shall build the finest kind of a conservatory.⁠ ⁠…”

Even while these thoughts were passing he was convinced that he would neither have the trip nor the conservatory! That was why he had given such prompt assent. And after he had consented, he forgot the circumstances immediately as though they did not concern him in the least. He hesitated for a long time about the arrangements for his furlough, set the date, changed it, and then forgot the thing completely till two days after the time he had appointed. Then again he named a day⁠ ⁠… but again he forgot it deliberately. Moreover, his wife, whose mind was completely set at rest at the mere idea of their departure, did not urge him to hurry⁠—she had her fall wardrobe to finish, and tailors and dressmakers took all her time⁠ ⁠… besides, Cissy was not nearly ready.

In the lonely silence surrounding the Governor since the sudden stopping of the letters, he felt something incomplete⁠—like the echo of a soft voice in the distance⁠—as if he sat in an empty room, with someone speaking behind the wall, the vibrations of whose voice could be felt but not heard. And when another letter came⁠—a final belated letter⁠—he went forward to take it as though he had long been expecting it, and was much surprised to see that it was in a slender, delicately tinted envelope with a forget-me-not stamped on the back. But it did not come in the morning like all the other letters which had been posted the night before, but with the evening mail⁠—showing that it had been written the same day. The notepaper was of the same pale shade, and was also stamped with the blue forget-me-not. The writing was painstaking and distinct; the lines slanted heavily, as though the writer were not quite sure of her syllables and, rather than divide the words, ran them down the page in a small, cramped hand. At times she began to write downhill long before the end of the line, in tiny little letters, in the evident fear that she would not have room for the rest of the sentence. And the words all seemed to be coasting down the snowy page⁠—the smallest one in front, on their little sleds.

The letter was signed “A School Girl.”

“Last night I dreamed about your funeral, and I am going to write you about it⁠—even if it isn’t right, and if it does harm the poor workmen, and the little girls that you killed! But you’re a poor old man yourself, and so I’m writing you this letter.

“I dreamed that you were not buried in a black coffin, as all older people are, but in a white one, like the ones for little girls⁠—and it was policemen that went down Moscow Street carrying your coffin⁠—and they didn’t carry it with their hands, but on their heads. And a great crowd of policemen walked behind. But none of your friends were there; and none of the people in the city. And all the doors and windows were barred when you were carried by⁠—as they are at night!

“I was so frightened that I waked up, and began to think about it⁠—and that is what I am going to write you about.⁠ ⁠… I thought maybe there is no one at all who will cry for you when you are dead. The people in your house are all hard and selfish, and only care about themselves; and perhaps when you die they’ll be glad, because they think then they can be Governor! I do not know your wife, but I don’t believe there can be very many gentle and kind ladies in those circles of pleasure and pride.

“No respectable people would ever go to your funeral, of course, for they are all angry at the way you treated the workmen⁠ ⁠… and one man even said they wanted to put you out of the club, but they were afraid of the Government!⁠ ⁠… Masses won’t do any good, because you know yourself our Bishop would just as soon say a Mass for a dead dog if he got money enough for it.⁠ ⁠… And when I think that you probably know all this without my telling you, then I feel very sorry for you⁠—as if you were really a friend of mine. I’ve only seen you twice: once on Moscowa Street⁠—but that was long ago⁠—and the second time at our school exhibition, when you drove up with the Bishop⁠ ⁠… but, of course, you wouldn’t remember me then⁠ ⁠… and I promise you faithfully that I’ll pray for you, and that I’ll cry over you as though I really had been your daughter, because I am very, very sorry for you.

P.S.⁠—Please burn this letter! But I am so awfully sorry for you.”

He loved that little schoolgirl.

Late that night, just before going to bed, he stepped out on to the balcony⁠—that same balcony from which he had given the signal with his white handkerchief!⁠ ⁠… The cold fall rains had already set in, and the night was black and dismal. In this heavy autumnal darkness one felt how far away the sun was, how long it had been gone, and how late the dawn would be. Far to the left in the driveway burned two bright lanterns with reflectors, and their white light penetrated the darkness, yet did not banish it.⁠ ⁠… There it still lay⁠—quiet, close, ponderous.

The city doubtless slept already, for not a lighted window was to be seen, and no wheels sounded in the dim-lit streets. Under one of the lanterns something gleams vaguely⁠—probably a puddle.⁠ ⁠…

School had closed for the day, and she no doubt has long since done her lessons, and now sleeps quietly somewhere in this black, silent space⁠—from whence they send their letters with their threats⁠—from whence his death is about to come.⁠ ⁠… But there, too, lives this little child, who sleeps just now, but who will weep for him when his time comes.

How quiet it is, how dark⁠—how silent.


Two weeks before the Governor’s death, a linen-covered package was handed in to the Government House⁠—its value declared at three roubles. It proved to be an infernal machine⁠—a bomb intended to explode on being opened. But it was badly made by the unskilled hands of one who had only read of such things⁠—so it missed fire. Yet in the very homemade simplicity of the outfit there was something sinister and terrifying, as if blind Death had stretched forth his hand and was fumbling clumsily about in the dark.

The police sounded the alarm, and Maria Petrovna insisted upon her husband’s wiring to St. Petersburg that very day, to ask for sick leave. She herself drove first to the tailor’s, and then wrote her son a long letter full of horrors⁠—all in French.⁠ ⁠…

A strange and radical change had come over the Governor. In place of the man they used to know appeared an entirely new figure. No one knew precisely when the change came about, and in the main he seemed the same; but upon his face had dawned such an expression of righteousness it seemed a new countenance. He smiled where formerly he would have been grave, and frowned where he had been wont to smile; he was bored and indifferent where he used to be attentive and animated. He was horribly candid in the expression of his feelings. When he chose, he was silent; left the room when he felt inclined, and turned his back when people bored him.

Those who had counted for years on his liking and friendship, who knew all his thoughts and moods, felt themselves suddenly neglected⁠—quite shoved aside⁠—and could no longer understand his feelings and fancies. All the bows and smiles and cordial greetings had suddenly disappeared⁠—the little ceremonious form of politeness: “If you will be so good, my dear fellow!”⁠—“I am vastly obliged to you, my dear sir!”⁠—which had seemed like second nature to him, he dropped completely; and people were taken aback at the remarkable, even alarming originality of his new manner. So animals, accustomed to looking on a man’s apparel as the person himself, might be taken aback at the sight of a naked figure.

He had simply ceased to be polite⁠—and directly the bond was broken which had held him throughout many years to his wife, his children, his associates⁠—as though it had only been made of smiles and compliments, and had vanished together with the ceremonious kissing of the hand. He did not judge them, he did not hate them; found nothing new or repulsive in them⁠—they simply fell out of his soul; as decayed teeth crumble in the mouth⁠ ⁠… as the hair falls out⁠ ⁠… as a dead skin is sloughed off⁠—painlessly, quietly, without an effort. When the veil of custom and politeness fell from him, he stood there forsaken and aloof; yet he did not even feel it⁠—as though loneliness had been his natural state throughout his long, eventful life.

He forgot his morning greetings, he forgot to say good night; and when his wife held out her hand, or his daughter Cissy lifted her smooth forehead to his lips, he was not quite sure what to do with the hand or the forehead. When guests came to luncheon⁠—the Vice-Governor and his wife, or Kosloff⁠—he did not rise, or bow, or smile, but went hastily on with his meal⁠—and when he had finished he did not ask to be excused, but simply rose and left the room.

“Where are you going, Pievna? Please stay with us, we are so lonely. They’ll bring the coffee soon.” He answered calmly: “No! I’d rather go to my study. I don’t want any coffee,” and the rudeness of the answer was lost in its candour and simplicity.

He cared nothing about Cissy’s new clothes, did not greet the guests of the house, let her Excellency invent excuses for his absence, had nothing to do with society, and refused to accept statements without an explanation of motives. Twice a week he received petitioners, and listened to each attentively, with an interest that seemed even a trifle rude, as he inspected the petitioner from head to foot. “Are you convinced that it will be better so?” he asked, after he had listened patiently; and when the astonished man had given an affirmative answer he promised immediately to grant his request. In these days he never considered the possibility of overstepping the limits of his powers, or else he had an exaggerated impression of them; at all events, he often decided matters which were quite out of his province. The new Governor, in consequence, had many difficulties with the entanglements that resulted⁠—all the more so as some of the questions were of the most complex and illegal character.

In order to dispel her husband’s gloom, Maria Petrovna often came to his study, felt of his forehead to see if he were feverish, and began to talk about their trip. But he held her off with blunt directness. “Yes, very well, run along now! I would rather be alone. You have your own room, and I don’t bother you there.”

“Ah, how you have changed, Pievna!”

“Nonsense! Nonsense!” he said, in his gruffest tones, leaning his back up against the cold stove. “Do go and make that pug of yours shut up. You can’t hear a thing in the whole house for his barking!”

Of all his former habits, card-playing was the only one which he still enjoyed. Twice a week he had his whist, and he played for small stakes with keen and evident pleasure. He was a thoughtful, clever player, and if his partner revoked he called him down in proper shape. “What are you thinking of, my dear sir! I led diamonds!” flashed out his cool, clear voice⁠—hard and cutting as the diamond itself⁠ ⁠… and Maria Petrovna, in the next room, hearing her husband’s voice, would smile her tired smile and shake her head sadly. Her yellow cheeks hung flabby as a pointer’s; the powder stood out on her face, and her heavy, bulging, brownish lids rose and fell like iron shutters in a shop window. At this moment it seemed to her, as it did to all the others, utterly impossible that a person who could play cards like that could be assassinated.

Through the two long weeks before his death, he simply waited. Doubtless he had other feelings beside⁠—thoughts of the daily routine, his surroundings, his past; the stale, old thoughts of a man whose body and mind are long since fossilised. Probably he thought of the workmen and that sad, awful day⁠—but all these reflections were vague and superficial, and vanished as they came⁠—like the light wind’s ripple on the river⁠—and again as before, the still, dark waters of his fathomless soul stood calm in silent waiting. It was as though politeness and habit only had united him to his mental processes, and when ceremony and custom vanished his ideas fled too. He was as isolated in his brain as he was in his family.

As usual he rose at seven, had his cold shower, drank his milk, and at eight o’clock took his accustomed stroll. Each time he crossed the threshold of his palace he felt that he should never return⁠—that the two hours’ walk would prolong itself into an eternal wandering through the unknown.⁠ ⁠… With his red-lined General’s cloak; tall, broad-shouldered, his grey head high with soldierly bearing; he marched through the city for two long hours like a stately ghost⁠—past wooden houses dark with mould, past countless gates and empty squares, past shops whose clerks, shivering in the brisk morning air, bowed slavishly. Whether the pale October sun shone out, or the fine cold rain trickled down, unfailingly he rose and followed his orbit⁠—a sad, majestic wanderer of the town, seeking death at the head of his column. Forward he marched through mire and puddle, the scarlet lining of his overcoat reflected in the mud; forward through the streets, not noticing policemen’s salutes nor horses⁠—and a bird’s-eye view of his daily Road of Suspense would have shown an extraordinary tracery of short, straight lines, crossing and recrossing in a hopeless tangle. He seldom glanced to right or left, and never looked behind; yet scarcely even saw what was before him, so sunk was he in the depths of his dark forebodings. He rarely acknowledged greetings, and many a startled eye encountered his passing glance⁠—direct, unseeing, and yet so penetrating.

Long after he was dead and buried, and the new Governor, a smiling young man surrounded by Cossack guards, drove rapidly through the city in his equipage of state, many recalled these last two long weeks of his pilgrimage⁠—the grey-haired ghost in the General’s uniform marching through the mire with upright carriage, the scarlet lining of his cloak glancing in the puddles; and followed by the hoary old law: “A life for a life!”

The crush and the jostling curiosity of the main streets wearied him, and he preferred to lose himself in the silent, squalid alleys, with their tiny three-room cottages, their broken fences, and slippery wooden sidewalks. Throughout these days he had but one desire⁠—to go the length and breadth of Kawatnaja lane. But he could not bring himself to gratify this wish: it seemed too horrible, too painful, more painful than death itself. And a thrill of wonder came over him as he thought of that earlier September he had driven down the lane quite fearlessly, and had even wished that he might meet some one of the people, to speak to them in passing.

But one spot he never neglected. This was the street that led to the seminary, where each morning, just at nine, it swarmed with little schoolgirls. Forgetting his usual haste, he strode along here like some good-natured, whimsical old General, out for his morning walk. He nodded to them as they came: the big girls first, stately, tall and dignified; then the little ones, with their short brown skirts and their huge knapsacks; and they shyly answered his greeting. His nearsighted eyes could not distinguish their faces. Large and small, in groups they came, and they seemed to him like a cluster of rosy petals. As the last one passed he smiled his quiet, ironical smile, a sly twinkle in his eye meanwhile, and then at the next corner he was transformed again into the silent, stately ghost, seeking death at the head of his column.

At first two spies, at their chief’s secret command, trailed him at a distance; but he did not observe them, as he never looked back. For some days they conscientiously followed his devious paths, but soon tired of it⁠—it seemed so foolish to run after a man who was hanging about the most dangerous spots in such an idiotic way. So they stopped now and again at some friendly shop to gossip with a policeman, dropped in at an alehouse, and often lost sight of their charge for hours at a time.

“It’s all the same⁠—there’s nothing to do anyway!” said one of them apologetically. He had the smug, shaven face of a priest, and seemed a prosy old fool. He was gulping down a hot pâté, and although he had not quite swallowed the first he was already reaching for the second. “When a man’s in his dotage and runs into the trap himself, what are you going to do with him⁠ ⁠… will you kindly tell me?”

“Oh, it’s only for form’s sake,” said the barkeeper.

“And how about the Pike?” asked the second spy, a gloomy man who had seen better days, but was given to drink, and had been caught cheating at cards. Growling like a dog over his bone, he devoured everything in sight, drinking vodka steadily meanwhile; and though he was never drunk, yet he never stopped drinking.

“What about the Pike? He knows well enough that we aren’t angels from heaven!”

“He acts like a horse in a fire⁠ ⁠… take him out of his stall and he rears and plunges. He’d sooner burn up than leave the stable,” said the barkeeper.

“No, he knows we aren’t angels,” repeated the first, with a sigh. And in fact they had very little in common with angels⁠—these two poor devils⁠—and it was quite beyond their feeble power to arrest the course of events!

… Home again over the familiar threshold, even then the Governor felt no thrill of relief, nor any surety of one more day of life. He took things as they came, and forgot the sense of his past wanderings in the awakening dread of what the day would yet bring forth. And the empty, idle days passed by with frightful haste⁠—yet time stood still; as if the mechanism that turned up each new day had been jarred and, instead of the following one, the same old day came round again. Even the calendar on his desk that he used to turn⁠—usually at night, as though he were calling up the advancing day⁠—even this stood pointing to that long-past date, and when occasionally he looked at that back number, his breast heaved, he knew not why, and a feeling of sickness came to him as he turned his eyes away.

“Nonsense!” he exclaimed angrily. Nowadays when he was alone he often broke into short ejaculations, indefinite and disconnected. He was especially apt to say “Nonsense!” or “Disgusting!”

He did not fear death in the least, and viewed it quite impersonally. They would shoot at him; he would fall.⁠ ⁠… And then would come the funeral with the bands, and his Orders carried behind the coffin, etc. He’d go bravely forward to meet it. He did not even think of a life beyond the grave; for him it all ended here. And he ate with his usual appetite and slept soundlessly and dreamlessly.

Yet once in the night⁠—and it was three days before his end⁠—he must have had a heavy dream; for he awoke with the sound of his own hoarse, muffled groans. And as he recognised this strange, dull voice of his, and his eyes encountered the darkness, he felt the shudder and weakness of death. He huddled the clothes up over his head, drew up his bony knees, knotted himself into a bundle in the bed and, reviewing his whole past life, from infancy to age, he began to sob bitterly and softly; and whispered to the damp, white, silent pillow: “Have pity on me! Help me someone, whoever it is! Have mercy! О⁠—о⁠—о!”

But no one was there to pity him; and soon he was conscious through his tears of his great shaken frame in its strange, cramped attitude, and his rough, hoarse voice, and he mastered himself and lay still. And long he lay there silent, in the same tense pose, staring up wide-eyed into the dark.⁠ ⁠… And in the morning he started out again in his military cloak. For two days more its scarlet lining was reflected in the puddles by the wayside, and the tall, stately ghost stalked through the streets, seeking his grave at the head of his column.

The affair came about very simply and quickly⁠—like a picture in a biograph.

At the crossing of two streets was a dingy hay-market, open on Fridays; and here a hesitating voice arrested the Governor.

“Your Excellency!”


He stood still and faced about.

From behind a lonely hedge across the street two men came hastily striding through the mud: one in high boots, the other in gaiters without overshoes, his trousers rolled up. These wet feet must make him very cold, for his face is greenish pale, and his thick blond hair stands out very stiffly from his head.⁠ ⁠… In his left hand he holds a folded paper, and the right is thrust deep into his pocket.

And directly all is clear; the victim knew that death had come, and they knew that he had seen it.

“If you please,” said the man, and a convulsive tremor passed over his face.

“A petition?⁠ ⁠… What is it about?” the Governor asked superfluously too, but strangely impelled to play the scene out. Yet he did not reach for the petition. The fellow still held out his left hand with the bit of paper that would have deceived no one, and without handing it to the Governor he fumbled with his right hand for the revolver; knitting his brows in his endeavour to free it from the lining of his pocket.

The Governor cast one quick glance about. The squalid marketplace, the mud littered with straw, the lonely hedge⁠—Ah! But it was too late. He gave one short, deep, gasping sigh, and straightened up⁠ ⁠… without terror, and quite without defiance. Yet still there lay somewhere⁠—perhaps in the deep-set wrinkles about his heavy nose⁠—a quiet, almost imperceptible pleading for mercy⁠—just a trace of remorse. But he himself was unconscious of this, and neither of the men observed it.

His death came in three quick shots, sounding together in rapid succession like a single loud report. Three minutes later a policeman hurried up, followed by the Secret Service men, and then the people, as though they had all been hanging about the neighbourhood, behind the corner, awaiting the end.

… And the corpse was covered over.⁠ ⁠…

Some ten minutes later the ambulance drove slowly through the streets with its red cross⁠—and throughout the city questions and answers flew like stones:

“Is he dead?” “On the spot!” “Who was it⁠—did they arrest him?” “No; they got away. No one knows who it was. There were three men.”

And all day long they spoke only of the assassination, some with censure, some with joyful approbation. But through all their talk, whatever its character, one felt the shiver of a mighty terror. Something powerful and annihilating swept like a cyclone over their daily lives; and from behind their dreary counters, their samovars, their beds and wheaten cakes, peered forth through the dimness of the commonplace the threatening figures of that hoary old Law of Revenge.

… And the little schoolgirl wept!⁠ ⁠…



When Lazarus emerged from the grave wherein for the space of three days and three nights he had dwelt under the mysterious dominion of death, and returned living to his abode, the ominous peculiarities which later made his very name a thing of dread remained for a long time unnoticed.

Rejoicing in his return to life, his friends and neighbors overwhelmed him with caresses and they satisfied their eager interest by ministering to him and caring for his food, his drink and his raiment. They clothed him in rich attire, bright with the hues of hope and merriment, and when he sat among them once more, arrayed like the bridegroom in his wedding garments, and ate and drank once more, they wept for joy and summoned the neighbors to view him, who had so miraculously risen from the dead. The neighbors came and rejoiced; strangers too came from distant cities and villages and in accents of tumultuous praise voiced their homage to the miracle⁠—the house of Mary and Martha hummed like a beehive.

All that seemed novel in the features of Lazarus and in his demeanor they explained as natural traces of his serious illness and the shock through which he had passed. It was manifest that the destructive effect of Death upon the corpse had been merely arrested by the miraculous power, but not altogether undone. And what the hand of Death had already accomplished upon the face and the body of Lazarus was like an artist’s unfinished sketch covered by a thin film. A deep earthy bluish pallor rested on the temples of Lazarus, below his eyes and on his hollow cheeks; his lanky fingers were of the same earthy blue and his nails, which had grown long during his sojourn in the grave had turned livid. Here and there, on the lips and elsewhere, his skin, swollen in the grave, had cracked open and was covered by a fine reddish film that glistened like transparent slime. And he had grown very fat. His body, inflated in the grave, retained that ominous obesity beneath which one scents the putrid sap of dissolution. But the cadaverous and fetid odor which had permeated the burial robes of Lazarus, and seemingly his very body, soon disappeared completely; in the course of weeks even the bluish tint of his hands and of his countenance faded, and time also smoothed out the reddish blisters though they never vanished altogether. Such was the appearance of Lazarus as he faced the world in this his second life. To those who had seen him buried it seemed perfectly natural.

The manner of Lazarus also had undergone a change, but this circumstance surprised no one and failed to attract due attention. Until his death Lazarus had always been care free and merry. He had loved laughter and harmless jests. It was this agreeable and merry disposition, free from malice and gloom, that had made him so well beloved by the Teacher. But now he was grave and silent. He neither jested himself nor responded with an approving smile to the jests of others: and the words which he uttered on rare occasions were the simplest, most commonplace and indispensable words, as bare of a profounder meaning as the sounds with which animals express pain or pleasure, thirst and hunger. Such words a man may speak all his life and none would ever learn what grieved or pleased him in the depths of his soul.

Thus he sat with the face of a corpse over which for the space of three days the hand of death had held sway in the gloom of the grave⁠—arrayed in solemn wedding garments that glistened with ruddy gold and blood-red crimson; dull and silent, ominously transformed and uncanny, but still undiscovered in his new character, he sat at the festive board among his banqueting friends and neighbors. Now tenderly, now tempestuously the waves of rejoicing surged around him; fervently affectionate glances feasted upon his face that was still numb, with the chill of the grave; the warm hand of a friend caressed his blue tipped leaden fingers. The music played. They had summoned musicians to play merry tunes: the cymbal, the pipe, the lute and the timbrel. And it sounded like the humming of bees, like the chirping of crickets, like the singing of birds, this rejoicing in the house of Mary and Martha.


A reckless one lifted the veil. A reckless one, with one breath of a fleeting word, destroyed the sweet dreams and revealed the truth in its hideous nakedness. The thought was not yet clear in the questioner’s head when his lips, parting in a smile inquired:

“Why don’t you tell us, Lazarus, what was There?”

And they all paused, amazed at the query, as though they had just realized that Lazarus had been dead three days, and they glanced up curiously awaiting the answer. But Lazarus was silent.

“Will you not tell us?” questioned the curious one “Was is so dreadful There?”

And again the thought failed to keep pace with the words: if it had kept abreast with them the question would not have been put, for it gripped in the next instant the questioner’s own heart with fear unutterable. And they were all perturbed, they waited eagerly for the reply of Lazarus; but he was dumb, looking cold and stern and downcast. And then they noted anew, as though for the first time, the dreadful bluish pallor of his countenance and his hideous obesity; his livid hand still reposed on the table as though forgotten there. All eyes were fixed on that hand in a strange fascination as though expecting that it might give the craved reply. The musicians had still been playing, but lo! now the silence reached them too, like a rivulet which reaches and quenches the scattered coals, and smothered were the sounds of merriment. The pipes were mute; the high-sounding cymbal and the melodious timbrel were silent; with the sound of a breaking chord, as though song itself were dying, tremulously, brokenly groaned the lute; and all was still.

“Thou wilt not?” repeated the questioner unable to repress his prating tongue. Silence reigned and the bluish hand reposed on the table and did not stir. Then it moved a little, and all heaved a sigh of relief and lifted their eyes: Lazarus, the risen, was gazing straight into their faces with a glance that took in all⁠—stolid and gruesome.

This was on the third day after he had emerged from his grave. Since then many had tested the pernicious power of his gaze, but neither those whom it wrecked forever, nor those who in the primal sources of life that are as mysterious as death itself found force to resist, could ever explain the nature of that dreadful, that invisible something which reposed in the depths of his black pupils. Lazarus looked into the world calmly and frankly without seeking to hide anything, without any thought of revealing anything; his gaze was as cold as the glance of one infinitely indifferent to all things living. Many thoughtless people jostled him in the street failing to recognize him, and only later learned the identity of that quiet corpulent man the edge of whose gaudy and festive apparel had brushed against them. The sun shone as brightly as ever, the fountains murmured their song, and the native sky remained as cloudless and azure as before, but those who had fallen under the sway of that mysterious glance neither felt the glow of the sun, nor heard the fountain nor recognized the sky. Some of these wept bitterly, others tore their hair in despair and madly called to their friends for help, but mostly it happened that they began to die, languidly, without a struggle, drooping for many weary years, pining away under the eyes of their friends, fading, withering, listless like a tree drying up silently on rocky ground. And the first, who cried and stormed, came sometimes back to life, but the others⁠—never.

“Then thou wilt not tell us, Lazarus, what thou hast seen There?” for the third time repeated the insistent inquirer. But now his voice was dull and weary, and deathly grey languor looked from his eyes. And the same deathly dull languor hid the faces of the others like a veil of dust: they exchanged glances of dreary wonderment as though at a loss to grasp why they had met around the richly laden table. The conversation lagged. The guests began to feel vaguely that it was time to go home, but they were too weak to overcome the viscous and paralyzing listlessness that had robbed their muscles of strength, and they kept their seats, each for himself, isolated like dimly flickering lights scattered about the field in the darkness of night.

But the musicians were paid to play, and once more they took up their instruments and the air was filled with the sounds of music: but the notes, both merry and mournful, sounded mechanical and forced. The same familiar melody was unrolled before the ears of the guests, but the latter listened in wonderment: they could not understand why people found it necessary or amusing to have others pull at tightly drawn strings or whistle with inflated cheeks through thin reeds to produce the oddly discordant noises.

“How badly they play!” someone said.

The musicians felt hurt and departed. One after another the guests left too, for the night had already fallen. And when the calm of night surrounded them, and they had begun to breathe at ease there rose before each one of them the image of Lazarus: the blue cadaverous face, the wedding garments, gaudy and sumptuous, and the frigid stare in the depths of which had congealed the Horrible. As though, turned to stone they stood in different corners, and darkness enveloped them; and in that darkness more and more vividly burned the dreadful vision of him who for three days and for three nights had been under the mysterious spell of Death. Three days he had been dead; three times the sun rose and set, and he was dead; the children played, the brooks coursed babbling over the stones, the biting dust swept over the highway⁠—but he was dead. And now he was again among the living⁠—touching them, looking at them⁠—looking at them! and from the black orbs of his pupils, as through a dark glass, there gazed upon the people the inscrutable Beyond.


No one took care of Lazarus; he had retained no neighbors or friends, and the great desert which enchained the Holy City had encroached to the very threshold of his dwelling. And it entered his house, made itself broad on his couch, like a spouse, and quenched the fire in his hearth. One after the other his sisters, Mary and Martha, forsook him; for a long time Martha had loathed to leave him, not knowing who would feed him and comfort him; she wept and prayed.

But one night when the wind swept over the desert and whistled through the tops of the cypress trees bending them over the roof of his hut, she quietly dressed and quietly went out into the darkness. Lazarus might have heard the slamming door, he might have heard it banging against the doorposts as it failed to shut tightly. But he did not rise, he did not step out, he did not investigate. And all through the night until the morn the cypress trees rustled overhead, and the door piteously knocked against the posts letting in the cold, the greedy, the insistent desert.

He was shunned as a leper, and as a leper they almost forced him to wear a bell around his neck in order to warn the people of his approach, but someone, with blanching cheek, suggested how dreadful it would be to hear the bell of Lazarus in the dead of night outside the windows⁠—and with blanching cheeks the people agreed with him.

And as he did nothing for himself, he would probably have starved had not his neighbors, impelled by a strange fear, saved some food for him. Children carried it to him. They did not fear him, neither did they mock him, as, with innocent cruelty, they often laugh at unfortunate beings. They were indifferent to him, and Lazarus evinced the same indifference toward them. Given over to the ravages of time and the encroachments of the desert, his house was falling to wreck and ruin, and his flock of goats, bleating and hungry, had a long time since scattered among his neighbors. His wedding garments too had grown old. Just as he had donned them on that happy day when the musicians played he had worn them ever since, without change, as though unable to see the difference between the new and the old, the torn and the whole. The bright colors had faded and paled; the wicked dogs of the city and the sharp thorns of the desert had rent the delicate fabric into shreds.

In the day time when the merciless sun consumed all that was living, and the very scorpions sought refuge under the stones writhing with a frenzied desire to sting he sat unmoved beneath the burning rays, holding aloft his blue streaked face and shaggy wild beard.

While yet the people stopped to talk to him, someone once inquired:

“Poor Lazarus, it evidently pleases thee to sit and look upon the sun?” and he replied:

“Yes. It pleases me.”

So severe must have been the cold of those three days in the grave, so dense its gloom, that there was not any heat nor any light upon earth strong enough to warm Lazarus, bright enough to illumine the darkness of his eyes⁠—thus thought the curious as they departed sighing.

And when the sun’s luridly crimson disc descended to earth Lazarus retired into the desert and walked straight towards the sun as though striving to catch up with it. Always he walked straight towards the sun, and those who tried to follow him in order to learn what he did at night in the desert had indelibly impressed on their memory the black silhouette of a tall and corpulent man against the crimson background of the mighty orb. The night with its terrors drove them back, and they never learned what Lazarus was doing in the desert, but the image of the black shadow on a crimson background burned itself on their brain and refused to leave them. Like an animal frenziedly rubbing its eyes to remove a cinder they stupidly rubbed their eyes, but the impression left by Lazarus was not to be blotted out, and death alone granted oblivion.

But there were people afar off who had never seen Lazarus, having merely heard rumors of him. These with a daring curiosity that is stronger than fear and feeds on fear, with a secret sneer in their hearts, ventured to approach him as he basked in the sun, and engaged in conversation with him. By this time the appearance of Lazarus had somewhat changed for the better, and he no longer looked so terrifying. And in the first moment they snapped their fingers and thought disapprovingly of the folly of the inhabitants of the Holy City. And when their short conversation was over, they wended their way home, but their appearance was such that the inhabitants of the Holy City at once recognized them saying:

“There goes another madman upon whom Lazarus has cast his glance,” and they paused raising their hands with compassion.

Brave warriors came rattling their arms, men who knew no fear; with laughter and songs came happy hearted youths; careworn traders, jingling their coins, ran in for a moment; and the haughty temple attendants left their staffs at the door of Lazarus⁠—but none returned the same as he had come. The same horrible pall sank upon their souls and imparted a novel appearance to the old familiar world.

Those who still felt like talking thus described their impressions.

“All objects visible to the eye and sensible to the touch became empty, light and diaphanous like unto luminous shadows flitting through the gloom.”

“A great darkness enveloped the universe; and was not dispelled by the sun, the moon or the stars, but enshrouded the earth with a boundless black pall, embracing it like a mother.”

“It penetrated all objects, even iron and stone, and the particles thereof lost their union and became lonely; it penetrated even into the hearts of the particles unto the severing of the very atoms.”

“For the great void that surrounds the universe was not filled by things visible, by sun, moon or stars, but shoreless it stretched penetrating all things, severing all things, body from body, particle from particle.”

“In emptiness the trees spread out their roots and the very trees seemed empty.”

“In emptiness tottering to a phantom ruin, and empty themselves, rose ghostly temples, palaces and houses.”

“And in that waste Man moved restlessly, and he too was empty and light like unto a shadow.”

“For there was no more time, and the beginning of all things and the end thereof met face to face.”

“The sound of the builders’ hammers was still heard as they reared the edifice, but its downfall could be seen already, and behold, emptiness soon yawned over the ruins.”

“Hardly a man was born, before funeral tapers gleamed at his bier; these barely flickered an instant, and emptiness reigned in the place of the Man, the funeral tapers and the bier.”

“In the embrace of Gloom and Waste; Man trembled hopelessly with the dread of the Infinite.”

Thus spoke those who had still a desire to speak. But those who would not speak and died in silence could have probably told much more.


At that time there lived in Rome a celebrated sculptor. Out of clay, marble and bronze he fashioned the forms of gods and of men, and such was the beauty of his work that men proclaimed it immortal. But the sculptor himself was dissatisfied with it and claimed that there was something else to strive for, a beauty that was truly supreme, such as he had never yet been able to fix in marble or bronze. “I have not yet garnered the splendor of the moon,” he was wont to say. “I have not yet caught the radiance of the sun. My marble lacks soul, my beautiful bronze lacks life.” At night, beneath the moonlit sky, he roamed about the highways, crossing the black shadows of cypress trees, his white tunic gleaming in the light of the moon, and friends who chanced to meet him hailed him in jest:

“Art thou gathering moonlight, Aurelius? And where be thy baskets?”

And joining in their laughter he made reply, pointing to his eyes:

“Behold the baskets wherein I gathered the light of the moon and the radiance of the sun.”

And he spoke the truth, for the light of the moon gleamed in his eyes, the radiance of the sun glowed in them. But he could not convert them into marble, and this was the radiant sorrow of his life.

He came from an ancient patrician family, had a loving wife and dutiful children, and lacked nothing.

When a dim rumor concerning Lazarus reached his ear, he consulted his wife and friends and undertook the long journey to Judea in order to see him who had so miraculously risen from the dead. The monotony of life weighed heavily upon him in those days and he hoped that the journey would awaken his interest in the world. What he had heard concerning the risen one did not deter him, for he had pondered much upon death, though he had no longing for it. Neither had he patience with those who would confuse death with life. “On this side life and its beauty,” he reasoned, “and on the other, death with its mystery. Nothing better could one imagine than to live and enjoy life and the glory of living.” And he even entertained a somewhat vain and glorious notion of convincing Lazarus that this was the true view and of bringing him back to life, even as his body had been brought back to life.

This seemed an easy task for him, for the rumors concerning the risen one, fearsome and strange as they were, failed to convey the whole truth and only vaguely hinted at something dreadful.

Lazarus was rising from his rock for his journey into the desert in the path of the setting sun, when the rich Roman, accompanied by an armed slave, approached him, and in a sonorous voice called to him:


Lazarus beheld a haughty and handsome man, resplendent with fame, clad in white apparel bearing precious gems that sparkled in the sunshine. The radiance of the sun lent to the head and the features a semblance of dull bronze. After his scrutiny Lazarus obediently resumed his seat, and listlessly looked to the ground.

“Truly thou art not fair to look upon, poor Lazarus,” calmly observed the Roman, toying with his golden chain. “Thou art even terrifying in appearance, poor fellow; and Death was no sluggard the day thou so carelessly didst fall into its clutches. But thou art as fat as a wine barrel, and the great Caesar says that fat people are harmless. I cannot see why people are so afraid of thee. Thou wilt permit me to stay overnight? It is already late and I have no abode.”

Nobody had ever sought permission to pass a night with Lazarus.

“I have no couch to offer thee,” said he.

“I am somewhat of a soldier and can sleep sitting,” replied the Roman. “We shall light a fire.”

“I have no fire.”

“In the darkness then like two comrades shall we hold our converse. I suppose thou hast some wine here?”

“I have no wine.”

The Roman laughed. “Now I comprehend why thou art so morose and why thou takest no delight in thy second life. Thou hast no wine. Very well. We shall do without. Thou knowest there are words that turn one’s head even as Falernian wine.”

With a motion of his hand he dismissed the slave and they were left alone. And again the sculptor spoke, but it seemed that with the sinking sun the glow of life had departed from his words, for they lost color and substance. They reeled and slipped and stumbled, as though unsteady of foot of drunken with the wine of anguish and dismay. Yawning chasms appeared between them like distant hints of a vast void and utter darkness.

“I am thy guest now and thou wilt not offend me, Lazarus,” he said. “Hospitality is a duty even for those who have been dead three days. For they say that thou didst pass three days in the grave. It must have been very chilly there, and it is thence comes thy bad habit of doing without wine and fire. But I love the fire. It grows dark here so early. The line of thy brow and forehead is quite noteworthy, even as the skyline of palaces ruined by an earthquake and buried beneath ashes. But why is thy apparel so odd and unattractive? I have seen the bridegrooms in thy country arrayed like this, such absurd attire, such repulsive garments! But art thou then a bridegroom?”

The sun had already vanished and gigantic black shadows came hurrying from the east, as though the bare feet of giants came rustling over the sands, and the chill breath of swiftly fleeing wind blew up behind them.

“In the darkness thou seemest even bigger oh Lazarus, as though thou hast grown stouter in these last few minutes. Dost thou perchance feed on darkness? But I should like some fire, just a little blaze the tiniest flame would do.⁠ ⁠… And I am a trifle cold.⁠ ⁠… You have here such barbarously chilly nights If it were not pitch dark I should say that thou art looking at me, Lazarus. Yes, methinks thou art looking at me. I feel it. Now thou art smiling!”

The night had set in and a dense blackness filled the air.

“How good will it be when the sun rises again on the morrow.⁠ ⁠… Thou knowest I am a great sculptor. My friends call me so. I create, yes I create things, but daylight is needed for that. I impart life unto the cold lifeless marble. In the fire I melt the ringing bronze, in a vivid and glowing fire.⁠ ⁠… Why touchest thou me with thy hand?”

“Come,” said Lazarus, “thou art my guest.” And they entered the house. And the shadows of a long night descended upon the earth.

The slave who had grown tired waiting for his master called for him when the sun had already risen high overhead. And he saw under its rays Lazarus and his master huddled closely together. They were gazing upward in silence.

The slave wept aloud and called to his master: “Master, what troubleth thee? Master!”

The same day Aurelius left for Rome. The whole way he was pensive and silent, scrutinizing everything, the people, the ship and the sea, as though struggling to commit something to memory. A fierce tempest overtook them, and all the while Aurelius remained on the deck gazing eagerly on the rising and sinking waves.

At home the change that had taken place in him caused consternation, but he calmed the apprehensions of his household and observed significantly: “I have found it.”

In the same raiment that he had worn during the journey without change he went to work, and the marble obediently responded to the resounding blows of his hammer. He worked long and eagerly, refusing to admit anyone; at last one morning he announced that his work was ready, and summoned all his friends, the severe critics and experts in art. He attired himself into sumptuous and festive garments that sparkled with gold and shone with the purple of Bysson.

“Behold what I have created,” he said musingly.

His friends gazed on the work and the shadow of a deep sorrow clouded their faces. The group was simply hideous to look upon: it possessed none of the forms familiar to the eye, though it was not devoid of a dim suggestion of some novel and fanciful image. Upon a twisted thin little twig, or rather upon the misshapen likeness of one, crouched an unsightly, distorted mass of crude fragments that seemed to be weakly striving to flee in all directions. And casually, under a crude ridge they observed a wondrously wrought butterfly, with diaphanous wings that was all aquiver with the futile longing to soar skyward.

“Why this wondrously wrought butterfly, Aurelius?” someone dubiously inquired.

“I don’t know,” replied the sculptor.

But the truth has to be told, and one of his friends (the one who loved him best) interposed: “My poor friend, this is a monstrosity. It must be destroyed. Give me the hammer.”

And with two blows of the hammer he destroyed the hideous heap, sparing only the wondrous butterfly.

From that time on Aurelius created nothing. He gazed with profound indifference upon marble and bronze and upon his former godlike creations wherein beauty immortal dwelt. In the hope of inspiring him once more with his old zeal for work and of reviving his moribund soul, his friends led him to view the beautiful work of others, but he maintained the same lack of interest, and no warming smile ever parted again his tightly drawn lips. Only when they ventured to hold lengthy speeches on love and beauty he wearily and listlessly replied:

“But all this is a lie.”

And in the daytime when the sun was shining he strolled into his luxurious garden, and seeking out some spot undimmed by the shade he yielded up his uncovered head and lacklustre eyes to radiance and warmth. Red and white butterflies flitted about the garden, from the contorted lips of a blissfully drunken Satyr the water splashed coursing down into the marble cistern, but he sat unmoved like a faint shadow of him who in a distant land sat as immobile at the very gates of the desert beneath the arid rays of the midday sun.


And now Augustus himself, the great, the divine, summoned Lazarus to appear before him.

They attired him in sumptuous wedding garment, for time and usage seemed to have prescribed these as befitting him as though he had remained until his death the betrothed of some unknown bride. It was as though an old, decaying and decrepit coffin were regilded and adorned with fresh gaudy tinsel. And he was conducted by a sumptuously garbed and gay cortege, as though in truth it were a bridal procession, and the heralds loudly sounded their trumpets clearing the way for the messengers of the emperor. But the path of Lazarus was deserted. His native land had learned to execrate the odious name of the miraculously risen one, and the mere news of his dread approach was sufficient to scatter the people. The blasts of the brass horns fell on the solitude and only the desert air responded with a melancholy echo.

Then they took him across the sea. And it was the most gorgeous and the saddest ship that was ever mirrored against the azure waves of the Mediterranean. There were many people aboard, but the vessel was as mute and silent as the grave and the very waves seemed to sob hopelessly as they laved the beautifully curved and lofty prow. Lazarus sat alone, holding his bared head to the sun, listening in silence to the murmur of the waters, and afar off the sailors and the messengers lounged around feebly and listlessly huddled together like a cluster of despondent shadows. If a clap of thunder had rent the air, if a sudden gale had torn the gaudy sails, the ship would have doubtlessly perished for there was none on board with strength or zeal enough to struggle for life. With a last weak effort some stepped to the rail and eagerly gazed into the blue and transparent abyss waiting perhaps for a mermaid’s pink shoulder to flash from the deep or for some drunken and joy maddened centaur to gallop by splashing the foam of the sea with his hoofs.

With stolid indifference Lazarus set foot on the streets of the Eternal City, as though all its wealth, the majesty of its structures that seemed to have been reared by giants, the splendor, the beauty, the music of its elegance were simply the echo of the desert wind, the reflex of Palestine’s arid sands. Chariots sped by, crowds of handsome, sturdy, haughty men passed on, the builders of the Eternal City, the proud participants of her bustling life; the air filled with the notes of songs, the murmur of fountains, the pearly cadences of women’s laughter! drunkards held pompous speeches and the sober listened smilingly; and the horseshoes clattered and clatterer upon the pavements. Caught all around by the whirlpool of noisy merriment there moved through the city like a blot of icy silence one fat and clumsy creature sowing in his path annoyance, wrath and a vaguely cankering grief. Who dare be sad in Rome? The citizens were indignant and frowned, and two days later the whole ready tongued Rome knew of the miraculously resurrected one and timidly avoided him.

But there were in Rome many brave people eager to test their prowess, and to their thoughtless challenge Lazarus readily responded. Busy with the affairs of state the Emperor delayed receiving him and the miraculously risen one for seven days in succession paid visits to those who would see him.

A merry winebibber met Lazarus and hailed him with carefree laughter on his ruddy lips.

“Drink, Lazarus, drink!” he shouted. “How Augustus would laugh to see thee drunk!”

And drunken women laughed at the sally, while they showered rose leaves on the blue-streaked hands of Lazarus. But the winebibber looked into his eyes⁠—and his joy was forever ended. He remained drunken for life: he drank no more, yet he remained drunken but in the place of joyous reveries which the wine yields, horrible dreams haunted his ill-fated soul. Horrible dreams became the sole nourishment of his stricken spirit. Horrible dreams held him day and night in the spell of their hideous fancies, and death itself was less terrible than appeared his ferocious precursors.

Lazarus called on a youth and a maiden, lovers and fair to look on in their love. Proudly and firmly grasping the woman he loved the youth remarked with gentle compassion:

“Look on us, Lazarus, and rejoice with us. Is there aught stronger than love?”

And Lazarus looked. And they ceased not from loving all their life long, but their love became gloomy and somber, like the cypress trees that grow above tombs, feeding their roots on the dissolution within the grave and seeking vainly in the evening hour to reach heaven with their dusky and pointed tops. Thrown by the unfathomable force of life into each other’s arms they mingled their kisses with tears, their joy with pain, and realized their twofold bondage: the humble slaves of inexorable life and the helpless bondsmen of ominous and mute Nothingness. Ever united, ever parted, they flashed upwards like sparks and like sparks faded in shoreless gloom.

Then came Lazarus to a haughty sage and the sage told him:

“I know all the terrors that thou canst relate to me, Lazarus. Wherewith wilt thou terrify me?”

But it was not long before the sage realized that the knowledge of the horrible is not the horrible, and that the vision of death is not death itself. And he realized that wisdom and folly are the equals in the sight of the Infinite, for the Infinite knows them not. And the boundaries between knowledge and ignorance, between truth and falsehood, between height and depth vanished, and his formless thoughts were suspended in emptiness. Then he seized his grey head in his hands and cried out in agony:

“I cannot think! I cannot think!”

Thus succumbed to the stolid gaze of the miraculously risen one all things that served to affirm life, its meaning and its joys. And it was said that it would be dangerous to allow him to face the Emperor, that it would be safer to put him to death and burying him secretly to spread the rumor that he had disappeared without leaving a trace. Swords were already sharpened and some youths devoted to the welfare of the nation volunteered to be his slayers, when suddenly Augustus demanded to have Lazarus brought before him on the morrow and upset their cruel plans.

Though it was impossible to remove Lazarus, it was thought best to soften somewhat the dreary impression produced by his appearance. For this reason skilled artists were summoned, also hair arrangers and masters of makeup and they labored all night over the head of Lazarus. They trimmed his beard, curled it and made it appear neat and attractive. The livid coloring of his face and hands was removed by means of paint: his hands were bleached and his cheeks touched up with red. The repulsive wrinkles of suffering that furrowed his senile features were patched up, painted and smoothed over, and lines of goodnatured laughter and pleasant cheerful good humor were skillfully drawn in their place.

Lazarus submitted stolidly to all they did with him and soon was transformed into a naturally corpulent handsome old man, who looked like a harmless grandfather with numerous descendants. One could almost see the trace of a smile on his lips with which he might have related to them laughable stories, one almost detected in the corner of his eyes the calm tenderness of old age⁠—such was his quiet and reas