SHORT FICTION I

VLADIMIR KOROLENKO

translated by

ALINE DELANO, SERGIUS STEPNIAK, WILLIAM WESTALL, THOMAS SELTZER, MARIAN FELL, CLARENCE MANNING, AND THE RUSSIAN REVIEW

Foreword

This edition of Vladimir Korolenko’s Short Fiction was produced from various translations. “Easter Night,” “A Saghálinian” and “Sketches of a Siberian Tourist” were translated by Aline Delano and originally published in 1887. “The Blind Musician” was also translated by Aline Delano and originally published in 1890. “In Two Moods” was translated by Sergius Stepniak and William Westall and originally published in 1891. “The Shades, a Fantasy” was translated by Thomas Seltzer and originally published in 1907. “Lights,” “The Last Ray” and “The Old Bell-Ringer” was translated for The Russian Review and originally published in 1916. “Makar’s Dream,” “The Murmuring Forest,” “In Bad Company” and “The Day of Atonement” were translated by Marian Fell and originally published in 1916. “Birds of Heaven,” “Isn’t It Terrible?,” “ ‘Necessity’,” “On the Volga” and “The Village of God” were translated by Clarence Manning and originally published in 1919.

Short Fiction

Easter Night

It was Holy Saturday in 188-⁠ ⁠…

Evening had long since enfolded the silent earth. The ground, warmed during the day by the rays of the sun, was now cooling beneath the invigorating influence of the night-frost. It seemed like one sighing, while its breath, forming a silvery mist, rose glistening in the rays of the starlit sky, like clouds of incense, to greet the approaching holiday.

All was still. In the cool night-breeze the small provincial town of N⁠⸺ stood silent, waiting to hear the first stroke of the bell from the high cathedral-tower. But the town was not sleeping; a spirit of expectancy brooded beneath the veil of darkness, breathing through the shadows of the silent and deserted streets. Now and then a belated workman, who had but just escaped from his servile task ere the holiday began, passed, hurrying on his way; once in a while a drosky rattled by, leaving silence behind it. Life had fled indoors and hidden itself, in palace and hovel, from whose windows the lights shone far out upon the street, while over the city and the fields hovered the spirit of Resurrection.

Although the moon stood high above the horizon, the town still rested in the broad, deep shadow of a hill, crowned by a gloomy and massive edifice, whose peculiarly straight and severe outlines were sharply defined in the golden ether. The sombre gates were hardly to be distinguished amid the gloom of its deeply shadowed walls, while the towers on the four corners stood out boldly against the azure sky, and gradually over all the moon poured its flood of liquid gold.

Suddenly on the sensitive air of the expectant night came the first stroke from the high cathedral-belfry; then another, and still another. A minute later and the whole air throbbed and swelled, as the countless bells rang out, uniting in one harmonious peal. From the gloomy building overshadowing the town there came a faint, broken harmony, that seemed to flutter helplessly in the air, and thence to rise into the ethereal light, and join the mighty chord. The singing ceased, the sounds dissolved in air, and the silence of the night gradually resumed its sway; a faint echo seemed to hover for a while, like the vibration of an invisible harp-string. Now the fires were gradually extinguished, the church-windows shone forth brightly, and the earth seemed ready to proclaim once more the old tidings of peace, love, and goodwill.

The bolts of the dark gates in the gloomy building creaked, and a band of soldiers, with clanking arms, sallied forth to relieve the night-sentinels; on approaching the corners, they would halt, and a dark form, with measured steps, would detach itself from the rest, while the former sentinel took his place in the ranks, and the soldiers went on their way, skirting the high prison-wall, that glistened in the moonbeams.

As they reached its western side, a young recruit stepped forward from the ranks to relieve the sentry who was posted there; a rustic awkwardness still showed itself in his movements, and his young face betrayed the absorbed attention of a novice who was to occupy for the first time a responsible post. He faced the wall, presented arms, made two steps forward, and, shouldering his musket, stood beside the sentry he was to replace. The latter, turning slightly towards him, repeated the usual formula, in the singsong tone of discipline.

“From corner to corner.⁠ ⁠… Look out!⁠ ⁠… Do not sleep or doze!” He spoke rapidly, while the recruit listened with close attention, and a peculiar expression of anxiety and sadness in his gray eyes.

“You understand?” asked his superior.

“Yes, sir!”

“Then, look out!” he added, sharply; but, suddenly changing his tone, he said, goodnaturedly:⁠—

“Don’t be afraid, Faddéyef; you are not a woman! I hope you are not afraid of the Lyéshy!”1

“Why should I be afraid of him?” replied Faddéyef. Then he added, “But I tell you, my good fellows, I have a misgiving.” This simple and almost childish confession made the soldiers laugh.

“There’s simplicity for you!” exclaimed the leader, in tones of contempt. Then giving the order, “Shoulder arms! march!” the sentries, with measured tread, disappeared around the corner, and the sound of their footsteps was soon lost in the distance. The sentinel shouldered his musket, and began to pace along the wall.

Inside the prison, at the first stroke of the bell, all was in motion. It was long since the sad and gloomy prison-night had witnessed so much life. It seemed as if the church-bells had really brought tidings of liberty; for the grimy doors of the cells opened in turn, and their occupants, clad in long gray garments, the fatal patches on their backs, filed in rows along the corridors, oh their way to the brilliantly lighted prison-church. They came from all directions⁠—from right and left, descending and ascending the stairway⁠—and amid the echoing footsteps rang the sound of arms and the clanking of chains. On entering the church, this gray mass of humanity poured into the space allotted to them, behind the railing, and stood there in silence. The windows of the church were protected by strong iron bars.⁠ ⁠…

The prison was empty, except in the four towers, where, in small, strongly bolted cells, four men, in solitary confinement, were restlessly pacing to and fro, stopping once in a while to listen at the keyhole to the snatches of church-singing that reached their ears.⁠ ⁠…

And, beside these, in one of the ordinary cells, in a bunk, lay a sick man. The overseer, to whom this sudden illness had been reported, went into his cell as they were escorting the prisoners to church, and, leaning over him, looked into his eyes, that were gazing fixedly before him, and in which shone a peculiar light.

“Ivánof! Ivánof!” he called out to the invalid.

The convict never turned his head, but continued muttering something unintelligible, moving his parched lips with difficulty.

“Carry him to the hospital tomorrow!” said the overseer, as he left the cell, appointing a sentry to guard the door. The latter, after a close examination of the delirious patient, shook his head, saying as he did so, “A vagrant! Poor fellow! you are not likely to tramp any more!” The overseer continued his way along the corridor, and entered the church, taking up his post by the door, where, with frequent genuflections, he listened devotedly to the service. Meanwhile the mutterings of the unconscious man filled the empty cell.

He did not seem old; on the contrary, he looked strong and muscular. He was delirious, apparently reliving his recent past, while a look of distress disfigured his face. Fate had played him a sorry trick. He had tramped thousands of versts through the Siberian forests and mountains, had suffered countless dangers and privations, always urged onward by a consuming homesickness, and sustained by one hope⁠—that he might live to see his native place, and be once more with his own people, if it were but for a month, or even a week. Then he would be resigned, even if he had to go back again. But it chanced that when only a few hundred versts from his native village he had been recaptured, and confined in this prison. Suddenly his mutterings ceased. His eyes dilated, and his breathing became more even.⁠ ⁠… Brighter dreams flitted across his fevered brain.⁠ ⁠… The forest soughs.⁠ ⁠… He knows it well, that soughing; monotonous, musical, and powerful.⁠ ⁠… He can distinguish its various tones; the language of each tree⁠—the majestic pine, dusky green, rustling high overhead,⁠ ⁠… the whispering cedars,⁠ ⁠… the bright, merry birch, tossing its flexible branches,⁠ ⁠… the trembling aspen, fluttering its timid, sensitive leaves.⁠ ⁠… The free birds sing; the stream rushes across the stony chasm; and a swarm of gibbering magpies, detectives of the forest, are soaring in the air over the path followed by the vagrant through this almost impenetrable thicket.

It seemed as if a breeze from the free forest were wafted through the prison-cell. The invalid sat up and drew a long breath, gazing intently before him, while a sudden gleam of consciousness flashed into his eyes.⁠ ⁠… The vagrant, the habitual fugitive, beheld before him an unaccustomed sight,⁠ ⁠… an open door!⁠ ⁠…

In his frame, enfeebled by disease, a powerful instinct sprang to life. His delirium either disappeared, or centred itself on one idea, which, like a ray of sunlight, illumined the chaos of his thoughts. Alone! and with an open door! In a moment he was on his feet. It seemed as if the fever had left his brain, and was only perceptible in his eyes, which had a fixed and menacing expression.

Someone had just come out from the church, leaving the door ajar.

The strains of the harmonious singing, subdued by the distance, reached the ear of the vagrant, and then died away. His face softened, his eyes grew dim, and his imagination reproduced a long cherished scene: A mild night, the whisper of the pines, their branches swaying above the old church of his native village;⁠ ⁠… a throng of countrymen; the lights reflected in the river, and this same chant.⁠ ⁠… He must make haste with his journey, that he may hear this at home, with his family!⁠ ⁠…

All this time, in the corridor, near the church-door, the overseer prayed devoutly, kneeling, and touching his forehead to the ground.⁠ ⁠…

Meanwhile, the young recruit paced to and fro on his beat along the prison wall, which glowed with a phosphorescent light. A broad, level field, recently freed from snow, lay before him.

A light wind rustled through the tall grass, inclining him to a sad and pensive mood.

The moon hung high above the horizon; the expression of anxiety had vanished from Fadéyef’s face. He stopped by the wall, and, setting his musket on the ground, rested his hand on the muzzle, on which he leaned his head, falling into a deep reverie. He could not yet wholly grasp the idea of his presence in this place, on this solemn Easter night, beside the wall, with a musket in his hand, and opposite the vacant field. He had by no means ceased to be a peasant; many things clear to a soldier were to him incomprehensible; and he was often teased by being called “a rustic.” But a short time ago he was a free man, had the care of a household, owned a field, and was at liberty to labor when and where he pleased. Now, an indefinite, inexplicable fear beset his every step and movement, forcing the awkward young rustic into the groove of strict discipline. At this moment he was alone⁠ ⁠… the bleak landscape before him, and the wind whistling through the dry grass, made him dreamy; and memories of familiar scenes passed through his mind. He seemed to see his native village! The same moon shone above it, the same breeze blew over it; he saw the lighted church, and the dark pines tossing their green heads.⁠ ⁠…

Suddenly he became conscious of his present surroundings, and surprise kindled his blue eyes, as though he were questioning: “What are these? this field, this wall and musket?” For an instant he realized where he was, but in another moment the whistling breeze wafted him back to familiar scenes; and again the soldier dreamt, leaning on his musket.⁠ ⁠…

All at once, close beside him, appeared a head over the top of the wall⁠ ⁠… the eyes glimmering like two coals.⁠ ⁠… The vagrant peered into the open field, and beyond it to the shadowy line of the distant forest⁠ ⁠… his chest expanded as he greedily inhaled the refreshing breath of “mother night.” He let himself down by his hands, gently gliding along the wall.

The joyful ringing had awakened the slumbering night. The door of the prison-church was opened, and the procession moved into the yard.2 In waves of melody the singing poured forth from the church. The soldier started, lifted his cap, and was about to make the sign of the cross⁠ ⁠… when he suddenly stopped, with his hand raised in the act of prayer, while the vagrant, having reached the ground, swiftly started on a run towards the tall grass.

“Stop, pray, stop, my dearest fellow!” exclaimed the soldier, in a terrified voice, as he raised his musket. At the sight of this gray figure fleeing from pursuit, all his shapeless and terrible fears took a definite form. “Duty⁠—responsibility!” flashed across his mind, and, raising his musket, he aimed at the fugitive. But before pulling the trigger he pitifully shut his eyes.⁠ ⁠…

Meanwhile, above the town there rose, hovering in the ether, a harmonious and prolonged chime, marred only by the prison-bell, that trembled and fluttered like a wounded bird; and from beyond the wall the sounds of the joyous chant, “Christ is arisen,” reached far into the field. Suddenly, above all other sounds, came the report of a musket, followed by a faint, helpless groan, like a plaintive and dying protest. Then for a moment all was still; and only the distant echoes of the vacant field repeated with a sad murmur the last reverberation of the shot amid the silence of the terror-stricken night.

A Saghálinian

The Tale of a Vagrant

I

My comrade had gone, and I was to spend the night alone in our yourt.3

Not feeling in the mood for working, I did not light the fire, and, as I reclined on my bed, I fell by degrees under the dismal spell of the gathering gloom and silence, while the waning daylight merged itself into the cold night-mist. Little by little, the last rays of light disappeared from the ice windows, and profound darkness crept out from the corners, veiling the sloping walls of the yourt, which seemed gradually contracting more and more over my head. For a while, the outlines of the fireplace remained dimly visible, like some ugly Penate of a Yakút dwelling, who, with outstretched arms, meets the invading darkness, as if invoking it in silent prayer. But at last even these faint outlines were lost in the utter darkness. Only in three spots shone a soft phosphorescent light like a gleam from the dark eyes of the Yakút Frost peering in at the windows. Minutes and hours passed in silence, and I was not aware how imperceptibly had crept upon me that fatal hour when a longing for home fully takes possession of one’s soul⁠—the hour when, conjured up by a fevered imagination, all those hills, forests, and interminable steppes that lie between one’s self and all that life holds dear rise threateningly in their measureless and unconquered distance. All so far away and so utterly lost, now beckoning, now seeming to fade from sight, and flickering in the dim distance like the glimmer of a dying hope. The suppressed yet ever present grief, buried deeply in the recesses of one’s heart, now boldly raises its ill-omened head, and, amid the universal stillness and darkness, plainly whispers the terrible words: “Forever in this grave,⁠ ⁠… forever!”

A gentle whining, coming from the flat roof, through the chimney, reached my ears, and roused me from my stupor.

It was my intelligent friend, my faithful dog, who, chilled at his post, was asking what troubled me, and why, when the cold was so severe, I did not light the fire. I rose, conscious that I was playing a losing game in this struggle with silence and darkness, and decided to have recourse to the means at hand⁠—the Spirit of the yourt⁠—Fire.

In winter the Yakút never allows his fire to go out, and has, therefore, no way of closing the chimney. We had contrived some rude appliances so that our chimney could be closed from the outside; but, in order to do so, it was necessary to climb up on the flat roof of the yourt.

I went up on to the roof by means of steps which had been cut in the snow that protected the yourt. Our dwelling stood on the outer edge of the settlement.

Generally, from the roof we could see the narrow valley and the hills that enclosed it, as well as the fires of the yourts of exiled Tartars and of those occupied by the descendants of Russian settlers, who in the course of years had become Yakút. Now, all was enveloped in a cold, gray, impenetrable mist, which hung immovable, condensed by a cold of forty degrees, and pressing the silent earth with increasing weight.

Everywhere, a dull gray expanse of fog met the eye, save where, high overhead, twinkled a solitary star, piercing the cold shroud with its sharp rays.

Around all was still.⁠ ⁠… The high bank of the river, the miserable yourts of the settlement, the small church, the smooth and snowy valley, the dark strip of forest⁠—all became merged in this shoreless sea of fog. The roof of the yourt, with its rude clay chimney, where I was standing, with the dog crouching at my feet, seemed like an island in an illimitable gray ocean.

All was cold, bleak, and still. The night was the embodiment of terror⁠—constrained and watchful⁠—like one who strives to hide himself. The dog whined gently and pitifully, evidently in terror of the benumbing frost. Crouching at my feet, and plaintively stretching out his sharp nose and pricking up his ears, he gazed intently into the thick, gathering dusk.

Suddenly he growled. I listened. At first, I could distinguish nothing; then, in that strained silence, a sound was heard, another and still another⁠—as of a horse galloping far away on the meadows. Thinking of the lonely rider, who, judging by the sound, was as yet some two or three miles away from the hamlet, I hastily ran down from the roof and entered the yourt. An unprotected face, exposed to the air, might result in a frostbitten nose or cheek. The dog, giving one loud and hasty bark in the direction of the galloping, followed me.

Soon in the wide, open mouth of the fireplace, in the middle of the yourt, a bright fire of chips was lighted. I added to it some dry logs of pitchy birch, and in a few moments my dwelling was totally changed. Now the silent yourt was filled with noise and talking. The fire, with a hundred tongues, played among the logs, enveloping them, jumping, snarling, hissing, and snapping. Something bright and living, wide-awake and talkative, filled the yourt, peeping into all its nooks and corners. When, at times, the crackling of the flames ceased, I could hear the hot sparks fly up the short, straight chimney, snapping in the frosty air. But soon the fire renewed its play with redoubled energy, while frequent and loud reports, like pistol-shots, echoed through the yourt.

Now that all around me was moving, talking, bustling, and dancing, I did not feel as lonely as before. The ice windows, through which, but one moment before, the frosty night had peered, now sparkled like gems, reflecting the flames. I comforted myself by thinking that my yourt alone, like a small volcano in the midst of this cold, dreary night, was pouring out a torrent of fiery sparks, flickering spasmodically in the air, amidst volumes of white smoke.

Motionless as a statue, the dog sat gazing at the fire. From time to time he turned his head, and in his intelligent eyes I could read the expression of love and gratitude. A heavy tramp was heard outside; yet he did not stir, contenting himself with a complacent whine. He knew that these were only our horses, that had been standing somewhere under a fence, and now had come to the yourt, and were watching the sparks fly merrily upward, and the broad ribbon of warm smoke. Suddenly the dog reluctantly turned from the fire, and growled, and the next moment bounded to the door. I let him out, and, from his accustomed post on the roof, he began barking furiously. I looked out of the doorway; apparently, the lonely traveller whose approach I had previously heard through the sensitive silence of the frosty night had been attracted by my cheerful fire. He had taken down the bars of the gate, so as to make a passageway for his heavily laden horse.

I was not expecting anyone of my acquaintances. A native would hardly have come so late; and if he had, he would have known where his friends lived, and would not have turned in at the first fire. “Therefore,” I said to myself, “this can only be some settler.” Generally, we were not anxious to see such company; but now any man was welcome. I knew that shortly the bright light of the fire would grow dim, the flames indolently and slowly enveloping the charred logs; that still later only a heap of coals would remain, with the whispering fiery snakes gliding amongst them, more and more slowly, and finally silence and darkness would reign supreme in the yourt, and again would my heart be filled with sorrow. The faint spark in the ashes would glimmer like a half-closed eye, peering out once or twice, and then dropping to sleep. And once more I should remain alone;⁠ ⁠… alone in the long, endless, and dreary night.

The thought of spending the night under the same roof with a man whose past might possibly be stained with blood did not enter my head. Siberia teaches one to find the man in the murderer; and although a more intimate acquaintance saves one from idealizing “the unfortunate” who has broken locks, stolen horses, or crushed his neighbor’s skull on a dark night, still, such an acquaintance gives one a chance to study the complicated springs of human motives.

One learns what to expect of a man. A murderer is not always employed in murdering. He lives and feels like other men, and like them he is grateful to those who shelter him from frost and storm. But whenever I chanced to make a new acquaintance among these folk, particularly if he happened to be the owner of a saddle-horse, with well filled saddlebags hanging on either side, then the question concerning the ownership of the horse, as well as that of the contents of the bags, called forth certain suspicions, and aroused speculation as to the means and ways of their acquirement.

The heavy horsehair-covered door of the yourt opened towards the inclined wall, a wave of steam followed, and a stranger entered, and approached the fireplace. He was a tall man, broad-shouldered and well built. One could perceive, at the first glance, that he was not a Yakút, although he was dressed like one.

He wore soft boots, made of pure white horsehide; the wide sleeves of his Yakút fur coat rose in folds over his ears; his head and neck were protected by a large shawl, the ends of which were tied around his waist. This, as well as his Yakút hat, the top of which alone was visible, was thickly covered with frozen snowflakes.

The stranger went up to the fire, and with his benumbed fingers untied the shawl and the leather straps of his hat. When he had thrown them back, I saw the fresh, young face of a man of thirty. His large features were stamped with that peculiar expression that I have often noticed on the faces of the stárostas4 of convict artels, as well as on those of all men whose authority is recognized in their sphere, but who still feel obliged to be on their guard with strangers. His expressive, glancing, black eyes and his protruding jaw betrayed a passionate nature. The vagrant5 (for I judged, from a certain slight, but unmistakable sign, that my guest belonged to this class) was well used to controlling his passions. Only a slight nervous tremor of the lower lip, and the twitching of the muscles of the face at times, betrayed the intensity of some inward struggle.

Fatigue, the frosty night, and perhaps an indefinable sadness which the traveller felt as he rode through this impenetrable fog, had somewhat softened the sharp outlines of his face and stamped their impress on his brow and in his dark eyes so full of pathos. His aspect was in harmony with my present feelings, and awakened in me an unaccountable sympathy. Without further divesting himself of his wraps, he leaned against the chimney and took a pipe out of his pocket.

“How do you do, sir!” he said, knocking his pipe on the corner of the hearth, and at the same time scanning me with a swift yet searching glance.

“How do you do!” I replied, also looking at him with curiosity.

“I beg your pardon, sir, for intruding thus. I only want to warm myself a little and to smoke my pipe; then I will go, for I have friends here who are glad to see me at any time. They live two miles away.”

His tones were reserved, like those of a man who was evidently unwilling to appear intrusive. Again he gave me a quick and scrutinizing glance, as though awaiting my reply in order to form a plan of action in accordance therewith. “I will treat you as you treat me,” his cool and steady glances seemed to say. At all events, the manners of my guest formed a pleasing contrast to the ordinary importunity of the Yakút settlers; though, evidently, had he not calculated on spending the night with me, he would not have led his horse into the yard, but would have fastened him to the fence outside.

“Who are you? What is your name?” I asked.

“My name? I am called Bagyláï. In Russian my name is Vasíli. Perhaps you may have heard about me? I live in the Bayangatáï District.”

“A native of the Urál? A vagrant?”

An imperceptible smile of satisfaction flitted across the lips of the stranger.

“So you have heard about me?”

N. has spoken to me of you. You were neighbors.”

“Precisely! Mr. N. knows me well.”

“I am happy to welcome you! You will spend the night with me, will you not? I am all alone, and we will start the samovar.”

The vagrant eagerly accepted my invitation.

“Thank you, sir! Since you ask me, I will stay. But I must take off my bags from the saddle, and bring them in;⁠—my horse is fastened in the yard; still, it would be safer. The people in your settlement are sharpers, especially the Tartars.”

He went out, and a moment after returned, bringing in the two saddlebags. Unfastening the straps, he took out the provisions which he carried with him; pats of frozen milk and butter, several dozens of eggs, etc. The eggs he put on my shelves; and the rest he carried out into the entry, so that they would not melt. Then he took off his shawl, his fur coat, and his caftán, keeping on only his Turkey-red shirt and velveteen trousers, and seated himself before the fireplace.

“Well, sir,” he said, looking up and smiling, “I may as well tell you the truth; as I was nearing your gate, I thought to myself, ‘I wonder if the owner will allow me to spend the night with him?’ Of course, I understand very well that there are all sorts of characters among us, some of whom it would be impossible to ask to stay over night; but I am not of that class, I tell you frankly. Did you say that you had heard about me?”

“I have.”

“Well, I am glad of it. I can say without boasting that I make an honest living. I own a cow, a three-year-old ox, and a horse.⁠ ⁠… I cultivate my land, and have a vegetable-garden besides.”

The vagrant said all this in a constrained voice, his eyes fixed on one spot, gesticulating as he spoke, as though he were wondering at himself. His manner seemed to asseverate, “All that I tell you is true.”

“Yes,” he went on, in the same tone of voice, “I work, as God wishes us to do. I consider it better than stealing or highway robbery.⁠ ⁠… As I ride along the road, I see a fire, and I stop at your house.⁠ ⁠… You start the samovar and entertain me. I cannot fail to appreciate all this. Do I not speak the truth?”

“Certainly,” I replied.

While making these statements, the vagrant appeared to be soliloquizing, as if trying to convince himself of the advantages of his present life.

I had heard about Vasíli from my friends. Formerly a vagrant, he had later become a settler, and now for two years had been living in his own house, in the midst of a forest, near a lake, in one of the great Yakút districts. Among the reckless and Godforsaken crowd of settlers, who live from hand to mouth, often stealing and plundering, he was one of the few who preferred to labor, a mode of life which here offered an easy chance to improve one’s condition. Generally speaking, the Yakút are a very good-natured people, and in many districts it is customary to offer the newly arrived settlers substantial help.

Were it not for such help, a man whom circumstances have placed in the rigorous and to him unknown conditions of this country would either soon perish of cold and hunger or take to highway robbery. In a general way such help was more willingly given in the form of “travelling expenses,” by means of which the Yakút commune often endeavors to rid itself of a settler, sending him away to the mines, whence the majority of these uncomfortable citizens never return; yet in most cases where a man shows a willingness to work in good earnest, help is freely proffered. The commune gave Vasíli a hut and an ox, and the first year planted for him six poods6 of wheat.

The harvest was good; and, in addition to this, he hired himself out advantageously to the Yakút as a mower, and also traded in tobacco⁠—so that in two years his affairs were flourishing. The Yakút treated him with deference, the settlers called him “Vasíli Ivánitch” to his face, modifying it to “Vaska” only behind his back. The priests, on their way to visit their parishioners, liked to stop at his house, and, whenever he chanced to call upon them, invited him to take a seat at their table. He was also acquainted with some of the educated class whose lot had been cast in this distant country. It did seem now as though he could live well. Marriage alone remained to be accomplished. Of course, this might be a more difficult task, as vagrants are usually forbidden to marry; but even this could be arranged for a small sum of money, a calf, or a good colt.

Still, as I examined the young vagrant’s energetic face, I could guess that he was somewhat eccentric. After a while, this face attracted me less than at first, though still it was a pleasant one. The expression of his dark eyes was thoughtful and intelligent; his features were strong, his manners easy, and in his voice one could distinguish the satisfied ambition of a proud nature. Only, at times, the lower part of his face twitched nervously, and his eyes grew dim. It seemed to require an effort to preserve this calm tone, beneath which a certain sadness, controlled by his will alone, made itself manifest in spite of him.

At first I could not account for it; but later I understood all. The habitual vagrant was deceived when he declared himself contented with his life, his house, his cow, his three-year-old ox, and the respect that was shown him. In his inmost soul, he was perfectly sure, although he tried to suppress the conviction, that this commonplace life, in a strange and unloved land, was not to his taste. From the depths of his heart arose a longing for the forest life⁠—that unknown, fascinating, and delusive vista already beckoning him. It was thus that I afterwards understood him.

At the moment, I only saw that, in spite of his outward calmness, something was tormenting and troubling him, and a longing was penned up in his soul that demanded an outlet. While I was busy with the samovar, Vasíli remained before the fireplace, thoughtfully gazing at the flames. When all was ready, I called him.

“Thank you, sir,” he said, rising. “I am much obliged for your kind hospitality. Ah!” he exclaimed, passionately, turning abruptly toward me, “would you believe me that when I saw your fire, my heart leaped, I assure you. I knew it was the fire of a Russian.

“It was cold and dark while I was riding through the fields; and whenever my horse saw the smoke of a yourt, he was inclined to turn in;⁠—of course, he is a Yakút beast, and does not know any better. But, for my part, I did not care to enter at haphazard, even though it were a comfortable yourt. To be sure, I could have warmed myself, and even have found some brandy⁠—but I did not care to do it. When I saw your fire, I thought to myself, This is the place where I should like to rest, if the master will but grant me leave. Thank you for allowing me to remain; and if you ever happen to come our way, do me the favor to call on me. I shall have the wherewithal to entertain you, and you will be most welcome.”

II

Having finished his tea, Vasíli seated himself before the fire. He could not go to bed as yet, for he had to wait for his horse to cool before he could feed it. The Yakút horse is not particularly heavy, but it has great powers of endurance. The natives use these horses to carry butter and other products to the remote mines, to the woods where the Tungus live, and to the distant Oochur,7 riding hundreds of versts through places where to obtain hay is out of the question. When they wish to camp, they shovel away the snow, make a fire, and drive the horses into the woods, where the intelligent creatures provide for themselves, nibbling last year’s grass from under the snow, and in the morning are again ready for another long expedition. The animal has, however, one peculiarity. It cannot be fed immediately on arriving from a journey or just before starting, and frequently a well fed horse goes without food for twenty hours or more before starting on a journey.

Vasíli had to wait three hours, and, as I did not feel inclined to go to bed myself, we sat chatting at intervals. Vasíli⁠—or Bagyláï, as he was in the habit of calling himself⁠—now and then added wood to the fire. This was a habit of his, which he had acquired during the long evenings of the Yakút Winter.

“Far away,” he suddenly exclaimed, after a prolonged silence, as if in answer to his own thoughts.

“What is far?” I asked.

“Our country, Russia.⁠ ⁠… Everything is so different here, whichever way you turn. Take, for instance, the cattle, or a horse. Our horses, after a long journey, are fed without delay; but if this one were to be fed now, it would die. Look at the people!⁠—They live in the woods, feed on horseflesh and raw meat; even carrion is not despised! It is shocking! They have no delicacy.⁠—If you open a tobacco-pouch in a yourt, immediately all stretch out their hands, like beggars, and you are obliged to share with them.”

“Well, that is their custom,” I replied. “They also give in their turn. They have helped to set you up.⁠ ⁠…”

“Yes. That is true.”

“Do you really feel satisfied with your life?” I asked, watching him closely.

He smiled enigmatically.

“With life⁠ ⁠…” he echoed, tossing another log into the fire. The flames lighted his face; his eyes looked dim.

“Well, sir, if I should begin to tell you!⁠ ⁠… I have seen very little good in my life, and little do I see now. Until my eighteenth year it was fairly pleasant, and I lived happily as long as I obeyed my parents. When I ceased obeying them, my life ended. Since that time, I cannot call it a life⁠—only a vain struggle.”

Shadows flitted across his face, and his lower lip trembled convulsively, like that of a child; he seemed to be living in imagination in the time when he “obeyed his parents.” He had become a child again, and, childlike, was ready to weep over his own ruined life.

Noticing that I was looking at him intently, he shook his head.

“It is of no use talking about it! Wouldn’t you like to hear how we escaped from the island of Saghálin?”

Of course, I eagerly assented; and all night, until the break of day, I listened to the vagrant’s tale.

III

On a summer night of 187-, the steamer Nízhni-Nóvgorod was crossing the waters of the Sea of Japan, trailing behind it, against the blue sky, a long ribbon of black smoke. The steep shore of the Marine Province was visible on the left, through the hazy light of the silvery fog. On the right, the ripples of the Straits of La Pérouse were lost in the distance. The steamer was shaping its course for Saghálin, but the rocky shores of that island were not yet in sight. All on board was quiet and peaceful. On the top of the house might be seen the moonlit figures of the boatswain and the officers on duty, while the flickering lights of the cabins were reflected from the dark surface of the ocean.

The Nízhni-Nóvgorod was “freighted with convicts” for Saghálin. Naval laws are always strict, and on board a ship with such a freight they are still more stringent. During the daytime the convicts, closely guarded, exercised in turn. The rest of the time they remained in their cabin, under deck. There were more convicts than sentries; but, to make amends for this inequality, every step and movement of the gray crowd was controlled by a firm hand, a well disciplined crew strictly guarding against the possibility of a mutiny. Indeed, every chance here was taken into consideration, even the improbable: supposing a wild beast were to make its appearance in the midst of this crowd, and, in its despair, defy all danger; if shots fired through the grating had no effect, and the raging animal threatened to break down its iron cage, even in such a case the captain would still have a powerful remedy at his command.

He would only have to call out to the engineer’s department these words:⁠—

“Have lever so and so⁠ ⁠… opened!”

“Aye, aye, sir!” and, instantly, scalding steam would be poured into the convict’s quarter, as if it were but a hole filled with cockroaches. This unique and powerful remedy prevented every possibility of a general outbreak such as might have been feared from the gray population of the hold. They occupied a large cabin with a low ceiling. In the daytime the light came through small deadlights, standing out in the dark background like two rows of buttons⁠—decreasing, and finally disappearing, on the rounded sides of the steamer’s hull. Along the middle of the hold ran a narrow passage, shaped like a corridor. Iron gratings separated this passageway from the bunks of the convicts. Here, leaning on muskets, the sentries were posted. Lanterns, in a funereal line, shed a dim light through this passage in the evening.

Not a movement of the gray passengers behind these bars escaped the eye. Whether a burning tropical sun stood overhead; or the wind whistled through the bending and creaking rigging; or high waves washed the decks in a raging gale, and the steamer groaned under the lashing of the storm⁠—it was all the same to them⁠—to these hundreds of men, who had no concern with what was going on overhead, or whither their floating prison was steering.

Meanwhile, under the pressure of this strict regime, the gray population behind the iron bars lived its usual life, and on a certain night⁠—when the steamer was leisurely flapping its wheels, and the glow of its fires was reflected from the undulating surface of the deep; when the sentries, leaning on their muskets, dozed in the corridors of the hold, and the lanterns, slightly jarred by the sleepless engine, shed their dim and mournful light along the iron-bound passageway⁠—behind the bars, where the sleeping forms of the convicts rested in motionless rows, there, behind these very bars, a silent tragedy was enacted. The gray society in shackles executed its own culprits.⁠ ⁠…

The following morning, at the time of the roll-call, three convicts remained in their bunks, unheeding the stern calls of the guards. When the latter went behind the bars and lifted their coverings, it was plainly to be seen that these three would never again answer to the roll-call.

In every convict artel all the most important affairs are controlled by an influential and united group, while to the mass⁠—the gray, impersonal crowd⁠—such events are often quite unexpected. Terrified by the ghastly tragedy of the night, the population of the hold was at first hushed. An awkward silence prevailed. Outside, one could hear nothing but the splashing of the sea, the noise of the murmuring waves cleft by the steamer’s hull and hurrying along in her wake, the panting breath of the engine, and the monotonous strokes of the piston.

Soon, however, the consequences of the event began to be discussed among the convicts. The officers did not intend to overlook this unpleasant episode, or to ascribe these deaths to an accident or illness. The proofs of the murder were evident. An investigation was instituted, but the convicts unanimously denied all knowledge of the affair. Perhaps at some other time it would not have been difficult to find several persons among them who, through fear or bribes, could be induced to disclose all they knew; now, however, apart from the feeling of comradeship, all tongues, were held by fear. No matter how dreaded might be the officials, or how stern their commands, the artel was more dreaded still. Undoubtedly, some must have been awake that night. Certain ears must have heard the stifled sounds of the struggle “under the cover,”8 the death-rattle, and the panting breath so unlike that of sleeping men; yet no one, by even a syllable, denounced the perpetrators of this terrible crime. The officials were obliged to lay the responsibility upon the acknowledged superintendents of the artel, the stárosta and his assistant. On the same day, they were handcuffed and put in irons. Vasíli, who at that time was known by another name, was the assistant.

Two more days passed, and the affair had been fully discussed by the convicts. It was supposed at first that all traces were concealed; that it would be impossible to discover the culprits; and that the lawful representatives of the artel would only be subjected to a slight disciplinary punishment. To all questions put to them, the convicts had but one straightforward, and plausible answer: “We were asleep.” But on closer investigation the suspicion fell on Vasíli. It is true that in such cases as this the artel always acts in such a way as to prove, conclusively, the innocence of the accused parties, and by adopting such a course Vasíli could easily have shown that he took no part whatever in the tragedy. Nevertheless, while discussing the affairs of the stárosta’s assistant, the experienced convicts, who had been through fire and water, shook their heads dubiously.

“I say, my boy,” said an old, weather-beaten vagrant, one day, to Vasíli, “as soon as we arrive on Saghálin, you had better have your legs in readiness. It is a bad business, that affair of yours!⁠—very bad!”

“Why so?”

“Because⁠ ⁠… is it the first, or the second time that you have been convicted?”

“The second.”

“That’s the trouble. And do you remember whom the dead Féydka reported? Was it not you? He was the cause of your being handcuffed for a week, was he not?”

“You are right.”

“And what did you say to him at the time? The soldiers heard it! Was it not something like a threat?”

Vasíli and the others understood the full significance of this remark.

“Now, my advice to you is to think the matter over, and make up your mind to be shot.”

A general murmur followed this speech.

“Don’t talk like an idiot, Burán!” said the convicts, angrily.

“The old man does not know what he is saying.”

“He is losing his mind from old age. It is a poor joke to talk like that.”

“I am not losing my mind!” exclaimed the old man, indignantly. “Much you greenhorns know! You act as though you were in Russia!⁠—I know the local laws! I tell you, Vasíli, when the report is sent to the governor-general of the Amúr province, you may expect to be shot. Even if, as a great mercy, they whip you with knouts, instead of putting you to death, that will be still worse. You will not survive. You must remember, my dear fellow, that you are on board ship, and that naval laws are twice as strict as land laws. However,” he added, feebly, evidently fatigued with such a long discourse, “I don’t care what becomes of you all.”

The dim eyes of the old man, with whom life had dealt so unkindly, had long been used to look at things through a medium of mingled gloom and indifference. He waved his hand despairingly, and walked away.

Often among such bands of convicts are to be found men fully conversant with the law; and when, after a careful consideration of an affair like the present one, a definite opinion is formed, it is generally confirmed by coming events. In the present case, all the authorities agreeing with Burán, it was decided that Vasíli must escape; and as it seemed likely that he was to be held responsible for the artel, the latter considered itself in duty bound to help him. All remnants of biscuits and rusks were made over to Vasíli, and he began to “form a party” of such as wished to participate in the attempt to escape.

As Burán had already twice escaped from Saghálin, he was naturally among the first who were asked to join. The old man decided without hesitating a moment.

“I am doomed to die in the forest,” he said, “and I don’t know but that such a death is more becoming for a vagrant. Only, my age is against me; for I am getting worn out.”

The old man blinked a moment, then⁠—

“Go ahead and collect your party,” he added. “It would be useless for two or three to make such an attempt; the road is too rough. When ten of us are ready, we can start. You may depend on me; I will walk till my feet refuse to carry me. If it were only my lot to die anywhere but on this cursed island!”

Burán winked rapidly, and tears ran down his weather-beaten face.

“The old man must be getting feeble,” thought Vasíli, as he started off to make up the party.

IV

Rounding the precipitous cape, the steamer entered the bay. The convicts gathered about the hatchways, and with feverish curiosity watched the high shores of the island, looming up before them through the evening twilight.

At nightfall they entered the port. The outlines of the island had the effect of drawing nearer as they approached, and stood out more clearly defined in their black grandeur. The boat stopped. The sailors formed in line, and the convicts were led out.

On shore, in the darkness, a few lights were visible; the water splashed against the beach, the sky was overcast, and a sympathetic cloud of sadness weighed on all hearts. “This is Fort Doué,” said Burán, in an undertone. “Here we shall have to live in barracks at first.”

After roll-call the party was conducted on shore, in the presence of the local officials. Having lived several months continuously on board ship, now the convicts once more walked on solid ground. The steamer on which they had spent so long a time rocked gently in the dusk, softly sighing amid clouds of white steam.

Lights were moving ahead, and voices were heard.

“Is this the party?”

“It is.”

“Show them the way to barrack No. 7.”

The convicts followed the light. They were walking in a disorderly line, and were surprised to have no one beside them, urging them on with musket-butts.

“Say, fellows, there is no escort with us!” several exclaimed in astonishment.

“Keep still!” angrily growled Burán. “What need is there for an escort! There is no danger that you will run away, even if you are not guarded. The island is large, and surrounded by water. You might die of hunger anywhere. Don’t you hear the moaning of the sea?”

A heavy wind was rising. The lanternlights flickered unsteadily under its gusts, and the roar of the sea as it beat on the shore sounded like the raging of an awakened wild beast.

“Don’t you hear it roar?” said Burán, addressing Vasíli. “Look at it,” he continued, “ ‘Water all around us, and trouble ahead.’9 You will have to cross the water; and think of the distance before you come to the crossing!⁠ ⁠… a desert!⁠ ⁠… woods and military outposts!⁠ ⁠… I have a foreboding that this at tempt will not end well;⁠—the sea gives us warning. I fear that I shall not escape from Saghálin; indeed, I do! Twice already have I escaped. The first time, I was caught in Blagovéstchinsk, and the second time in Russia⁠ ⁠… and I was brought here again. It must be my fate to die on this island.”

“All may turn out well,” replied Vasíli, encouragingly.

“You are a young man, and I am worn out. How angrily and mournfully the sea roars!”

The convicts who had occupied barrack No. 7 were removed, and the newly arrived party, temporarily guarded, was installed in their place.

Accustomed to strong bolts and to the confinement of prison-life, they would have rambled over the island like sheep let loose from their enclosures, had they not been thus guarded at first. The old convicts, who had already been living there for some time, were not locked up; for, becoming gradually familiar with the conditions of their exile, they had reached the conclusion that an attempt to escape is a dangerous undertaking, and usually means certain death to those who attempt it; for only the most resolute and determined characters, after long and careful preparations, try this experiment⁠—and such as they might be shut in by ten locks and yet would try to escape either from prison or from out-of-door labor.

“Now, Burán, you must advise us,” said Vasíli to him, on the third day after their arrival. “You are our leader, and you will have to go ahead; so give us our orders. I suppose we ought to be getting ready.”

“What can I advise!” replied the old man, reluctantly. “It is not an easy undertaking, and I am growing old. Well,” after a pause, “about three days hence, the sentries will be withdrawn, and we shall be sent out to work. Besides, we are free to come and go at any time; only, one is not allowed to carry any bag. That is all there is to it.”

“Do advise us, Burán, my good fellow; you know what is best.”

Burán looked gloomy and careworn. He rarely spoke to anyone, but muttered incessantly to himself. It seemed as if this old vagrant, who for the third time had been brought back to the same place, was now losing his energy.

However, Vasíli had in the meantime succeeded in securing ten more able-bodied men, and was teasing Burán, in the hope of rousing him and of awakening his ardor. In this he sometimes succeeded, but eventually the old man always reverted to the difficulties of the road and bad omens. “I shall never escape from this island,” he said, repeatedly, a sentence which expressed the depression of the unsuccessful vagrant. Nevertheless, in his brighter moods, the recollection of former attempts cheered him, and in the evening, when lying in his bunk beside Vasíli, he would talk to him about the island and the roads that they intended to follow.

Fort Doué lies on the western side of the island, facing the Asiatic shore. The Tartar Straits at this place are about three hundred versts in width; to attempt to cross in an open boat would be out of the question, and the vagrants naturally follow either this or the opposite shore of the island.

“If you are anxious to die, you can go anywhere you like,” Burán was in the habit of saying; “the island is large, a wilderness and a forest. Even the native Ghiláks, who are well used to it, find few places where they can settle. If you go east, you run the risk of losing your way among the rocks, or of being pecked to death by hungry birds, or, if you live, you will probably go back of your own accord, when winter comes. If you go south, you will reach the end of the island and come to the ocean, which can only be crossed in a ship. There is but one road for us to follow, and that is to the north, skirting the shore for the entire distance. The sea will be our guide. After travelling some three hundred versts, we shall come to narrow straits, and it is there that we must cross in boats to the Amúr shore. Only, let me tell you, my boy,” here Burán fell into his usual doleful strain, “we shall have trouble in passing the military outposts. The first one is called Várki, the second Pánghi, and the last one Póghib,10 called so because it is usually here that we perish. And dear me! how cunningly these outposts are placed! Wherever a hillock rises, behind it you find an outpost. You are marching along, and stumble upon it without warning. The Lord have mercy on us!”

“But you have already been twice over the ground!”

“That is true.” And the dull eyes of the old man kindled. “Listen to what I say, and do as I bid you. Shortly they will call on those who wish to volunteer as workmen in the mill. Have your names put down on the list; and when they are sending the provisions thither, put your rusks and biscuits in the cart. Peter, a former convict, has charge of the mill. Then will be the time for you to escape⁠—I mean, when you get to the mill. You will not be missed for three days. That is the way things are managed here. You can miss the roll-call for three days before any notice is taken of it. The doctor objects to corporal punishment, because the hospital is in such a wretched condition. If anyone gets tired out and becomes ill from working, he goes into the woods instead of going to the hospital, and often recovers in the open air. But if he does not put in an appearance on the third day, he is considered missing; and were he to come back of his own accord, it would make no difference⁠—he might as well make up his mind, at once, to be flogged.”

“At any rate, I hope we shall escape the flogging,” replied Vasíli; “if we succeed in getting away, we will not return of our own accord.”

“And if you don’t,” growled Burán, “it will be all the same; it will end in the crows devouring your carcass, as it lies not far from one of the outposts. The soldiers have no time to fool away for your sake; they won’t escort you back hundreds of versts. Wherever they see you, they will shoot you down, and there is the end of it.”

“Stop croaking, you old raven! Remember, we start tomorrow. Tell Bobróf what we need, and the artel will supply us.”

The old man mumbled some reply, and left him with downcast head, while Vasíli went to his comrades and bade them get ready. He had given up the duties of stárosta’s assistant some time before, and another man had been chosen in his place. The fugitives packed their bags, exchanged their clothes for the strongest that could be found, and the next day volunteered to work on the mill. That very day they all left work, and lud themselves in the woods. Burán alone was not among them.

It was a well selected party. Among Vasíli’s comrades were a personal friend of his, called Volóydka Makárof, a strong and agile man, who had already escaped twice from Kára; two Circassians, determined fellows, and invaluable as faithful comrades; and a Tartar, a great rogue, but skilful and ingenious. The rest were also vagrants, who had more than once wandered through Siberia.

Already the fugitives had been one day in the woods;⁠ ⁠… the night had passed, and the greater part of the following day; still no Burán. The Tartar was sent to the barracks to look him up. On arriving, he secretly called out an old convict, Bobróf, a friend of Vasíli’s, a man who had great influence among his comrades. The next morning, Bobróf came to the spot where the fugitives were concealed.

“Well, comrades, how can I help you?”

“Send Burán to us at once. We cannot start without him; and if he is waiting because he needs something, help him to get it. We are all waiting for him.”

When Bobróf returned to the barracks, he saw that Burán had made no preparations whatever for starting. He found him walking restlessly about the barracks, talking to himself, and gesticulating wildly.

“What are you about, Burán?” he called out to him.

“Why, what is that to you?”

“How, what is that to me? Why are you not getting ready?”

“I am getting ready for my grave; that is what I am getting ready for.”

This answer provoked Bobróf.

“What do you mean? Don’t you know that the boys have already been three days in the bushes? Do you want to get them whipped? And you call yourself an old vagrant!”

These reproaches touched the old man to the quick.

“My time has gone by. I shall never escape from this island.⁠ ⁠… I am worn out!”

“Whether you are worn out or not, that is your own affair. Supposing you do not reach the end of your journey in safety, supposing you die on the way, you will not be blamed for that; but what if through any fault of yours eleven men were to be whipped? You see, the responsibility resting on you obliges you to go. If I should report this to the artel, what do you think they would do to you?”

“I know it all,” replied Burán; “they would ‘cover’ me, and I should deserve it. It is not becoming for an old vagrant to die such a death. It seems as though it were my fate to go. Only, I have made no preparations.”

“We will get you ready at once. What do you want?”

“Well, in the first place, I want twelve good new coats.”

“But every man has a coat of his own!”

“You mind what I say!” replied Burán, with a show of temper. “I know that they have one apiece; but they need two. Each one will have to give the Ghiláks a coat for ferrying him across. Besides, I want twelve good knives, about three-quarters of an arshin11 long, two hatchets, and three kettles.”

Bobróf called a meeting of the artel, and stated the case. Whoever had a good coat gave it to the vagrants. Every convict has an instinctive sympathy with each daring attempt to escape from their four prison-walls. Knives and kettles were furnished, some being bought, and some given by the convict settlers. In two days everything was ready. Thirteen days had already passed since the arrival of the party on the island, and the following morning Bobróf accompanied Burán to the hiding-place of the convicts, assisting him to carry the provisions.

In accordance with an old convict regulation, the men “stood up for prayers,” something like a Te Deum was read for the occasion, and, bidding goodbye to Bobróf, they started on their journey.

V

“How you must have enjoyed starting!” I exclaimed, observing the animated expression and the cheerful voice of the narrator.

“Indeed, we did! As we left the bushes and entered the woods, it seemed as though we had been born anew. We were very happy. Burán, alone, with downcast head, was marching in advance, muttering something to himself. He did not start in a cheerful mood; he may have felt that he had not far to go. We soon perceived that our leader was not to be relied on, although he was an experienced vagrant, having twice escaped from Saghálin, and was familiar with the road, walking along without hesitation like a dog following a trail, still my friend Volóydka and myself mistrusted him.

“ ‘Look out,’ he said to me, ‘lest we get into trouble with Burán. Can’t you see that he does not act like himself!’

“ ‘What makes you think so?’ I said.

“ ‘Something must be the matter with him. He talks to himself, shaking his head now and then, and has given us no orders. We ought to have halted long before this; but on he walks, regardless of us. I tell you he is not as he should be.’

“Feeling sure that something was wrong, we made haste to overtake him, exclaiming as we came up:⁠—

“ ‘Uncle!⁠—I say, uncle! Why don’t we halt? Isn’t it time to rest awhile?’

“He turned, looked at us, then went on again.

“ ‘Don’t be in such a hurry to rest; the bullets will give you time for that at Várki or at Póghib, and it will be a thorough rest too.’

“ ‘The deuce take you!’ we thought to ourselves; but we did not venture to oppose him, for he was an old vagrant, and it was very possible that we were in the wrong. It would perhaps be wiser to travel as far as we could the first day.

“After walking for some time, Volóydka nudged me again.

“ ‘I say, Vasíli, we had better be on the lookout!’

“ ‘Why, what’s the matter now?’

“ ‘When we started, we were twenty versts from Várki; we have surely travelled eighteen, and we must take care not to stumble on an outpost.’

“ ‘Burán!⁠—I say, Burán! uncle!’ he called out.

“ ‘What do you want?’

“ ‘Várki can’t be far off.’

“ ‘We are nowhere near it,’ replied Burán, and off he started again.

“A catastrophe was close at hand, but, luckily for us, we spied a small boat moored in the river, close to the shore. As soon as we saw it, we all stopped. Makárof had to hold Burán by main force. If a boat were there, surely there must be a dwelling not far away. ‘Halt, boys, and hide in the bushes!’

“Following the course of the stream, we entered the woods. Hills covered with birches rose on either side.

“From early spring the island is veiled in fog, and on this day, as usual, a thick mist enveloped it. As we climbed the hill, a breeze sprang up and drove the fog into the sea.

“Suddenly, at the foot of the hill, we discovered the outpost, almost directly at our feet. Dogs were sleeping in the yard, and soldiers walking about. We were indeed dismayed, for we had barely escaped the very jaws of the wolf.

“ ‘How is this, uncle Burán!’ we said; ‘see the outpost down there?’

“ ‘Sure enough, it is! this is Várki,’ he replied.

“ ‘See here, uncle!’ we said, ‘you mustn’t be vexed, but we have come to the conclusion that, even though you are our senior, we must look out for ourselves; we fear we may get into trouble if we follow your directions.’

“The old man wept.

“ ‘Forgive me, comrades, for Christ’s sake!⁠—I am old,’ he said. ‘Forty years I have been on the tramp, and am worn out; my memory fails me. I remember some things, and I forget others. Don’t be too hard on me! We must make haste and leave this place as soon as possible, for if somebody from the outpost happened to go berrying, or the dogs were to get on our scent, all would be lost!’

“We started forward, discussing this matter as we went along, and decided to watch Burán. I was chosen leader, to determine the time and place for halting and to make all necessary arrangements. Burán was still to walk ahead, for he alone knew the way. His feet were tough; faint as he often grew with fatigue, they never failed him, as he went waddling along. And thus he walked till he drew his last breath.

“We followed the highlands, a safer although more difficult course. On the hills the woods rustled and the streams ran playfully over their rocky beds. The Ghilák aborigines live in the valleys, by the riverbanks, or by the seaside, because they feed on fish, of which there is so great a quantity that one who has not seen for himself could hardly believe the accounts⁠—we used to catch them with our hands.

“Thus we cautiously advanced, sniffing the air as we walked along. Wherever we deemed it safe, we came down to the seashore or to the bank of some river; but if there was the slightest suspicion of danger, we ascended to the highlands at once, carefully avoiding the outposts, which are stationed at irregular intervals. In some places they are posted fifteen and in others perhaps fifty versts apart. So irregular were the intervals, it was impossible to divine their location. But the Lord was merciful to us; and we escaped all of them, until we came to the very last one.”

VI

Here the narrator frowned, and relapsed into silence. After a while he rose.

“But how did it end?” I inquired.

“It seems to me that my horse must be dry by this time.⁠ ⁠… I must unfasten him.”

We went out into the yard. The frost had diminished, and the fog was lifted. The vagrant looked at the sky.

“It must be after midnight,” he said, gazing at the stars. Divested of the veil of fog, the yourts of the neighboring settlement had now become plainly visible. The village was sleeping. White columns of smoke rose leisurely and indolently into the air; only now and then from some chimney a shower of sparks suddenly flew up, madly leaping in the frosty air. The Yakúts keep their fires going all night, for the heat escapes quickly from their short, open chimneys, and it is the habit of each person who chances to wake, made restless perhaps by the cold, to throw on fresh logs.

The vagrant remained silent for some time, gazing at the village.

“This reminds me of our villages,” he said, with a sigh. “It is a long time since I have seen one. The Yakúts in their districts live apart, like wild beasts.⁠ ⁠… I wish I could move to this part of the country. I might perhaps endure life here.”

“Can’t you endure it in your own district? You have a farm there, I think. You said, just now, that you were satisfied with your life.”

For some time he made no reply.

“I cannot bear it! I wish I might never see this country again!”

He went up to his horse, felt of his neck, and patted him. The intelligent animal turned his head and neighed.

“All right, all right!” said Vasíli, caressingly; “you may go now.⁠ ⁠… I intend racing with the Tartars,” he continued; “he is a good horse. I have trained him so that he can compete with any of them. He goes like the wind.”

He took off the bridle, and the horse trotted off to the hay. We returned to the yourt.

Vasíli’s face was still gloomy. He seemed to have forgotten or perhaps was unwilling to continue his story; but I reminded him of it, saying that I was anxious to hear the end.

“There is not much to tell,” he replied, reluctantly, “and what is the use? It is a sad story; but, as I began it, I suppose I may as well finish it.⁠ ⁠… We travelled in this way twelve days longer, and still we had not reached the end of Saghálin, whereas we ought to have crossed to the Amúr by the eighth day, and all this was due to lack of confidence in our leader. Instead of going by the easier way wherever it were possible, we travelled across the highlands, sometimes through ravines, sometimes plunging into the depths of forests, now crossing barren spots, now forcing our way through thickets.⁠ ⁠… It was slow work. Our provisions were nearly exhausted, for we had only taken food enough to last twelve days.⁠ ⁠… We had to cut down our rations. The supply of biscuits grew short, and everyone had in a measure to provide for himself. Berries, however, were plenty, and finally we reached an estuary of the sea. The water was naturally salt; but when, at times, the flow of the Amúr rushed in greater volume than usual, it became fresh. Well, now we had to think of providing boats to cross to the Amúr side. We were anxiously talking over our plans, and wanted Burán to advise us. The old man had weakened perceptibly;⁠ ⁠… his eyes had grown dim, day by day he lost flesh, and we could get no advice from him, ‘Get the boats from the Ghiláks,’ he said; but where to find the Ghiláks, or how to obtain the boats, he seemed unable to tell. So Volóydka and I said to the boys: ‘You had better remain here, and we will follow the shore, and may possibly chance to fall in with some of the natives and to obtain one or two boats. In the meantime, be on your guard, for there must be an outpost somewhere near by.’

“Most of the boys remained behind, while three of us, following the shore, went on. After a while we came out upon a cliff that overhung the river, on the banks of which we saw a Ghilák mending his sails. God must have sent Orkún to us.”

“What does ‘Orkún’ mean? Was that his name?” I inquired.

“I am sure, I don’t know,” replied Vasíli. “It may have been his name, but I think that in the Ghilák language it means ‘stárosta’⁠—I am not positive. I only know that, as we approached him cautiously lest he might run away, he pointed to himself, repeating: ‘Orkún, Orkún’; but what ‘Orkún’ meant, we did not understand. However, we spoke to him. Volóydka took a stick and drew a boat on the sand, as much as to say, ‘This is what we need.’ The Ghilák understood him at once; he nodded, and raised his fingers⁠—two at first, then five, then the whole ten. For a long time we could not understand what he meant; but at last Makárof guessed.

“ ‘He wants to know how many there are of us, and what kind of boat we need?’

“ ‘Oh, yes! of course, that is what he means!’ and we made signs to the Ghilák that there were twelve of us. He nodded again, so as to let us know that he understood that also. Then he asked us to take him to the rest of our party. We hesitated;⁠—and yet what was there to be done? We could not cross the sea on foot, so we carried him back with us.

“Our comrades blamed us. ‘Why did you bring this Ghilák here? Do you want to betray us?’ But what could we have done? ‘Keep still!’ we replied; ‘we are managing this business!’ Meanwhile, the Ghilák was walking calmly about, examining our coats. We gave him all the extra ones, which he strapped up, and, shouldering them, started on his way, and we, as a matter of course, followed him. A few Ghilák yourts stood below, forming a sort of settlement.

“ ‘What are we to do now, boys? He has gone to the village to call out the inhabitants.’

‘ “What of that!’ we said. ‘There are but four yourts in all; how many people can there be, do you suppose! There are twelve of us, and our knives are three-quarters of an arshin long⁠ ⁠… besides, the Ghiláks are not equal to Russians in strength. They live on fish, and we live on bread. How much strength can anyone gain living on such food! They are not to be compared with us!’ But, to tell the truth, I too was somewhat alarmed lest misfortune should befall us. I thought to myself, ‘We have reached the end of Saghálin; will it ever be our luck to cross to the Amúr side, looming up with its blue mountains in the distance? If only it were possible to become a bird and fly across! But “though the elbow is near, one cannot bite it.” ’12

“After we had waited for some time, we saw a party of Ghiláks coming toward us, with Orkún at the head; all were armed with spears. ‘You see,’ said the boys, ‘the Ghiláks are coming to fight.’⁠—‘Well, let them come. Get your knives ready, boys, and don’t let yourselves be taken without a struggle. Stand on your guard! Not a man must be taken alive! If one is to be killed, it cannot be helped⁠—that’s his fate; but stand up and defend yourselves as long as you have breath in your body! Let us escape or perish together! Make a bold stand, boys!’

“We suspected the Ghiláks without any cause. When Orkún saw that we were preparing to defend ourselves against an attack, he disarmed his people, giving all the spears to one man, and thus approached us. When we became convinced that the Ghiláks were dealing honorably with us, we went with them to the spot where their boats were hauled up, ready for us. There were two of them, of different sizes. The larger boat would hold eight, and the rest of the party were to go in a small one.

“The boats were ours; but we could not cross at present, for the wind had sprung up from the direction of the Amúr, and large waves were dashing on our shore. In rough weather it would be impossible to cross in such boats, and we therefore were obliged to remain on shore two days longer.

“Meanwhile, the provisions gave out, and, beside the fish that Orkún had kindly given us, we had nothing but berries to keep us alive. This lasted us four days. A worthy and honest Ghilák was Orkún; I often think of him now, God bless him!

“Another day passed, and still the wind prevented us from starting. It was a great disappointment. The night wore away, and yet the wind had not abated; it was hard to bear! During these four windy days the Amúr shore stood out clearer than ever, for the fog had entirely disappeared. All this time, Burán remained seated on a rock, his eyes fixed on the opposite shore. He neither spoke nor did he, like the others, go in search of berries. Whenever one of us, taking pity on him, brought him berries, he ate them, but would not take the trouble to get them for himself. It may have been that the heart of the old man was sick with longing, or perhaps he was conscious of the approach of death.

“Finally, our patience was exhausted, and we made up our minds that when night came on we would start. Not daring to run the risk in the daytime, lest the soldiers from the outpost should perceive us, we thought we might venture by night with less risk of detection, hoping, by God’s help, to cross in safety.

“In the straits, the wind blew as hard as ever; whitecaps danced here and there, and the seagulls shrieked like evil spirits. The rocky shore groaned as the sea dashed madly against it.

“ ‘Let us lie down and sleep, boys,’ I said; ‘the moon rises at midnight, and then, by God’s help, we will start; that will be no time to rest, and we shall need all our strength for the journey.’

“They heeded my advice, and all threw themselves on the ground. We had selected a place on the shore, near the cliffs, where we could not be seen from below⁠—trees concealing us. Burán alone did not fall asleep⁠—he sat watching the west. When we lay down the sun was still high above the horizon, and it was quite early in the evening.

“I made the sign of the cross, listened for a while to the wind whistling through the forest, then dropped asleep. We were off our guard, unconscious that misfortune was about to befall us.

“How long we slept, I cannot say. All at once I heard Burán calling me. I awoke and saw that the sun was about to set, and that the sea had grown calm. Burán, with widely dilated eyes, was standing beside me.

“ ‘Get up; they have come after our souls already⁠ ⁠…’ he exclaimed, pointing to the bushes.

“I started, and in the direction towards which he was pointing I saw the soldiers, the nearest one aiming at us, another following him; while three more were running down the hill, pointing their guns at us. I was wide-awake in a moment, and called to the boys. They too woke, and sprang instantly to their feet. The nearest soldier was the only one who had time to fire before we were upon them.”

A suppressed emotion choked Vasíli’s voice; he hung his head. A partial darkness enveloped the yourt, for he had forgotten to throw in fresh logs.

“I ought not to have told this story,” he said.

“Why not? But you must finish it, now that you have begun!”

“Well, there is not much to tell; you can easily guess the rest. There were but five of them, and we were twelve. Besides, they expected to catch us asleep, and shoot us down like woodcocks; instead of that, we hardly gave them time to combine their forces or to decide what they ought to do.⁠ ⁠… You know, we had long knives.⁠ ⁠… They fired one hasty volley, and missed.⁠ ⁠… Then, as they had started down the hill, they were unable to stop. Would you believe it!” he continued, in a mournful voice, lifting his sad eyes, “they did not even know how to defend themselves⁠—beating the air with their bayonets, as if defending themselves from a pack of hounds, while we beset them like a pack of wolves!⁠ ⁠… One soldier grazed my leg with his bayonet; I stumbled and fell, and he over me, Makárof falling on us both. We got up⁠—Makárof and I⁠—but the soldier remained where he fell.

“As I rose, I saw that the last two men had run up the hill. Their officer, Saltánof, was a brave and fearless fellow, whose fame had spread far and wide. Even the Ghiláks feared him as they did the Evil Spirit, and many convicts had been killed by his hand.

“There were two Circassians among us⁠—daring fellows, and as agile as cats. One of them threw himself on Saltánof. They had met halfway up the hill. Saltánof fired his revolver at him; the Circassian ducked, and both fell to the ground. The other Circassian, thinking that his friend had been killed, threw himself on Saltánof, and we had not time to breathe before, in the twinkling of an eye, he had severed Saltánof’s head with his knife.

“He jumped on his feet,⁠ ⁠… grinned,⁠ ⁠… and held the head in the air.⁠ ⁠… We were struck dumb.⁠ ⁠… Shrieking something in his own language, he swung the head around, and tossed it up.⁠ ⁠… It flew high above the trees, and disappeared behind the cliff.⁠ ⁠… We were awestricken.⁠ ⁠… We heard the splash as it fell into the sea.

“The last soldier had paused on the hill; we saw him throwing away his musket, and covering his face with his hands as he ran away. We did not pursue him, thinking, ‘Escape, poor soul, if you can.’ He was the only surviving man on the outpost. There had been twenty of them, but thirteen had gone over to the Amúr side, where the high wind had detained them; and the remaining six were killed.

“All was over, and yet we were frightened. Glancing at each other, we could not at once realize whether it had been a dream or a reality. Just then we heard someone groaning behind us, and under the trees, on the very spot where we had been sleeping, sat Burán, moaning. He had been shot by the first soldier, but did not die till the sun had set behind the hill. We were inexpressibly grieved.

“We went to him and found him sitting under a cedar-tree; his eyes were filled with tears, and, pressing his hands to his chest, he beckoned to me.

“ ‘Let the boys dig a grave for me,’ he said. ‘You cannot start before night, at any rate, on account of the danger of meeting the rest of the soldiers in the straits. Bury me here, for Christ’s sake!’

“ ‘Hush, hush, uncle Burán! God bless you!’ I said. ‘How can we dig a grave for a living man? We will take you across to the Amúr, and then carry you in our arms.’

“ ‘No, my boy; it is useless to contend with fate, and I am sure it is my fate to remain on this island. So you had better do as I say, for I have long felt that this was going to happen. All my life 1 have tried to escape from Siberia into Russia; I wish I could, at least, die on Siberian soil, and not on this cursed island.’

“I confess that Burán took me entirely by surprise; for now he spoke sensibly, quite like a different being, and seemed fully conscious. His eyes looked bright; his voice only sounded weak. He gathered us about him and gave us the following instructions:⁠—

“ ‘Listen to me, boys, and remember what I tell you; you will not have me with you when you travel through Siberia, since it is my fate to remain here. It will be dangerous business for you, the more so for having killed Saltánof. The report of this deed will travel far. It will be known not only in Irkútsk but throughout Russia; and in Nikoláevsk they will be on the watch for you. Be on your guard, boys; travel cautiously; rather suffer cold and hunger than run the risk of capture; avoid cities and villages as much as possible. Do not fear the Ghiláks; they will not harm you. And remember what I am going to tell you about the road on the Amúr side; a little beyond the town of Nikoláevsk lives our benefactor, the clerk of Merchant Tarkhánof. He traded formerly with the Ghiláks on the island of Saghálin, and once while travelling with his merchandise he lost his way in the mountains. He was not then on good terms with the Ghiláks. Overtaking him in an unfrequented spot in the ravine, they nearly killed him.

“ ‘We happened to be tramping about the same time.⁠ ⁠… I was escaping for the first time.⁠ ⁠… Hearing the cries of a Russian in the woods, we hurried to his rescue, and, by delivering him from the hands of the Ghiláks, won his lasting gratitude.

“ ‘ “I must take care of the Saghálinian boys to my dying day,” he said, and, indeed, he has helped us a great deal. Find him, and he will be sure to assist you in every way he can.’ Then he told us of the different roads, giving us all the necessary directions, and finally said:⁠—

“ ‘Now, boys, you had better lose no time. This spot suits me; dig my grave here, Vasíli, that the wind from the Amúr shore may blow over my grave, and that my spirit may hear the sound of the sea dashing against the rocks. Don’t tarry, boys, but make haste and go to work.’

“We obeyed him.

“There, under the cedar-tree, sat the old man while we were digging his grave with our knives; after we had finished, a prayer was read. In the meantime, Burán had become silent, only nodding his head, while tears ran down his cheeks. He died at sunset, and shortly after dark we buried him.

“The moon had risen as we reached the middle of the straits, and it was quite light. We looked back and took off our caps.⁠ ⁠… Behind us rose the island of Saghálin, with its hills, and we saw the cedar-tree by Burán’s grave.

VII

“When we reached the Amúr shore, the Ghiláks said to us: ‘Saltánof⁠ ⁠… head⁠ ⁠… water.⁠ ⁠…’ The natives are shrewd; the magpies so to speak, carry news on their tails. No matter what happens, they are sure to hear of it at once. We met several of them by the shore, fishing, who nodded laughingly at us. Evidently, they too were pleased; but we thought to ourselves. It is very well for you to laugh, you imps, while we have to suffer for it. That head may cost us our own! They gave us fish, and, after inquiring about the way, we started on, walking as though we were treading on eggs, every sound startling us. All the time we were on the lookout, avoiding dwellings and the Russian huts, and concealing our tracks as we went on.

“We travelled by night, resting all day in the woods. At dawn we reached Tarkhánof’s place. A new house stood in the field; it was fenced in, and the gates were closed. Judging from the description that it was the one Burán had told us about, we approached and knocked softly. Someone was starting a fire inside. ‘Who is there, and whence do you come?’ a man’s voice called out.

“ ‘We are vagrants,’ we replied. ‘Burán sends his regards to Stakhéy Mítritch.’

“Stakhéy Mítritch, Tarkhánof’s head clerk, happened to be away at this time, and in his absence had left his assistant in charge, telling him, in case any vagrants should arrive from Saghálin, to provide them with boots and sheepskin coats, and to give them five rubles apiece. Furthermore, to furnish them with as much linen and provisions as they required. ‘No matter how many there may be, provide enough for all. Get your workmen together as witnesses, so that your accounts will be in proper shape.’

“The news of Saltánof’s fate had reached here also, and the clerk was frightened when he saw us.

“ ‘Are you the men who killed Saltánof?’ he said. ‘You will have to look out for yourselves.’

“ ‘Whether we did or not, that is not the subject we wish to discuss. What we would like to know is whether we can expect any assistance from you. We are requested to convey Burán’s regards to Stakhéy Mítritch.’

“ ‘And where is Burán himself? Did he return to the island?’

“ ‘Yes, he returned to the island, and he wishes you a long life.’13

“ ‘May he inherit the kingdom of heaven!⁠ ⁠… He was a worthy vagrant, although perhaps not very shrewd. Stakhéy Mítritch often spoke of him. I dare say, he will have his name put down for prayers. What was his Christian name? Do you know, boys?’

“ ‘No, we do not. He was always called Burán. Most likely, he had forgotten it himself; of what use is a name to a vagrant?’

“ ‘Now you see the result of such a life as yours! Is it not sad that when the priest wishes to pray for you he cannot utter your name.⁠ ⁠… The old man may have had relations in his native land,⁠ ⁠… brothers and sisters, or perhaps even children.⁠ ⁠…’

“ ‘Very likely. Though a vagrant discards his name, he is born into the world like the rest of humanity.⁠ ⁠…’

“ ‘A hard life, indeed!’

“ ‘None worse. We beg the food that we eat and wear clothes discarded like our own names. Nor is every vagrant fortunate enough to be buried. If he should happen to die in the wilderness, his body would become a prey for birds or beasts.⁠ ⁠… Even his bones are liable to be scattered by the wolves. What could be harder!’

“Such talk made us sad,⁠ ⁠… and, though we had said all these things chiefly to touch the sympathy of the clerk⁠—since the more pitiful the story, the more the Siberian is likely to give you⁠—we knew very well that we had given a true and unvarnished account of ourselves. We could not help thinking how this man, after hearing our sad story, would make the sign of the cross and go to bed⁠ ⁠… in warmth and comfort, he had no one to fear!⁠ ⁠… Whereas we should have to wander in the woods at dead of night, and, like swamp-imps, hide from all Christians at the first crowing of the cock.

“ ‘Well, boys,’ the clerk said at last, ‘it is time for me to go to bed. I will give you twenty kopeks extra; take it and go your way. I shall not wake all the workmen, but I will call three of my most reliable ones as witnesses. I suspect I shall get myself into trouble on your account.

“ ‘Now, look out. I advise you to avoid Nikoláevsk. I was there not long ago; the isprávnik14 is an energetic man, and has issued orders to detain all travellers, no matter where they happen to be found. He is reported to have said: “I will not let a magpie fly by nor a rabbit pass nor a beast escape me! much less will I suffer those Saghálinian fellows to slip through my fingers.” You will be lucky if you manage to elude him; and be sure on no account to enter the town.’

“He gave us the usual quantity of provision, including fish, also the twenty kopeks which he had promised. Then he made the sign of the cross, went into the house, and locked the door. The fire went out, and the men went to bed. It was but a short time before dawn when, with heavy hearts, we started once more on our journey.

“How often have we felt thus! On dark nights, in deep forests, drenched by the rain, buffeted by the wind, with no spot on earth where we could seek refuge or shelter!⁠ ⁠… Still, one longs to see one’s mother-country. And yet, if ever a man reaches it⁠—where every dog knows him to be a vagrant, and where officials are vigilant and numerous⁠—how long do you suppose he would remain at large in his own native place?⁠ ⁠… The prison awaits him!⁠ ⁠… At times even the thought of a prison was a comfort, and that’s a fact! So it was on that night as we walked along.

“ ‘I wonder what our folks are doing now, boys!’ suddenly exclaimed Volóydka.

“ ‘Whom do you mean?’ I asked.

“ ‘I mean the Saghálinians, our comrades of barrack No. 7. I suppose they are sleeping just now, free from care! And here are we poor wretches.⁠ ⁠… We ought not to have started.⁠ ⁠…’

“ ‘Don’t be like an old woman,’ I replied, pretending to be angry. ‘It would have been better if you had remained there, since you are so short-breathed, for you only distress us with your whining.’

“Yet I felt very much the same myself. We were weary, and dozed as we trudged along. A vagrant acquires the habit of taking naps when on his feet, and whenever I dozed I invariably dreamt of the barracks.⁠ ⁠… It seemed to me as if the moon were shining, and I saw the walls glittering in its light; I dreamed, too, that I saw the barred windows, and, behind them, the convicts sleeping in their rows of bunks. Then, again, I dreamed that I also was lying there, and stretching myself⁠ ⁠… but when I made the motion, the dream vanished.

“What is more painful for the vagrant than to dream of his father and mother? In my dream, it was as if nothing had ever happened to me, as though neither prison nor Saghálin had ever existed; it seemed as if I were lying in my parents’ house, and my mother, softly humming, were combing and smoothing my hair. A candle stood on the table, and my father, with spectacles on his nose, was reading an ancient book⁠ ⁠… he was a bookkeeper.⁠ ⁠…

“Arousing from my doze, I felt as if I could have stabbed myself then and there. Instead of home, I saw a narrow forest-path; Makárof was walking ahead, and we were following him in single file.

“Fitful gusts of wind rose every now and then, swaying the branches, and, again subsiding, left everything silent as before. Through the trees, in the distance, we caught glimpses of the sea, and above it a bit of the sky, showing the first faint vestige of dawn, a warning for us to hide in some ravine. The sea is never, never silent; you may have noticed that yourself. It always seems to be talking, or singing, or murmuring something.⁠ ⁠… It was this that made me dream ever of songs. The sea always made us feel homesick⁠ ⁠… because we were not used to it, I suppose. As we approached Nikoláevsk, the country grew more thickly settled, and our danger increased; but we still pushed slowly along. We travelled by night, and by day hid in thickets, so dense that beast or bird could hardly have penetrated, far less a human being. We ought to have avoided the city of Nikoláevsk; but we were exhausted, wandering in the wilderness, and our provisions were nearly out. One evening, toward night, we reached the river, and perceived some people on the banks. As we drew near, we recognized them to be the ‘Free Company.’15 They were seining. We approached in an easy, self-composed manner.

“ ‘How do you do, gentlemen of the Free Company!’

“ ‘How do you do!’ they replied. ‘Where do you hail from?’

“By degrees we entered into conversation with them. Their stárosta, after looking at us attentively, called me aside and said:⁠—

“ ‘Are you not the men from Saghálin? Is it you who have “covered” Saltánof?’

“I must confess I was in doubt whether it would be wise to tell him the truth; for, though he was a fellow-convict, yet, in a matter such as this, I hesitated to confide in anyone. If one stops to consider, a Free Company is a very different matter from an ordinary convict artel; for, should any of them wish to curry favor with the officials, he could secretly report us⁠—for was he not a ‘free man’? Inside the prison-walls, we were acquainted with all the spies; whenever we were betrayed, we knew at once whom to suspect. Here we were at the mercy of all.

“Noticing my hesitation, he added: ‘Have no fear; I would not betray a comrade! Moreover, it is none of my business; I take your word for it. Only, as I had heard that a crime had been committed on Saghálin, and as there are eleven of you, I suspected it. This is a dangerous business, boys; it was a bold deed, and our isprávnik is a shrewd one, I assure you. But, then, that’s your own lookout. You will be lucky if you succeed in getting away. Now, let me offer you some provisions belonging to the artel, which were left over; you are welcome to them, as we are to return tonight. You can also have what bread there is left, and some fish. Don’t you need a kettle?’

“ ‘An extra one might come handy.’

“ ‘Take the one that belongs to our artel. I will bring you more things in the night, for I always feel it my duty to help a comrade.’

“We were much relieved. I took off my hat and bowed to this kindhearted man. My comrades also thanked him.⁠ ⁠… We were glad to receive the provisions, but still better pleased to hear a kind word. Until now we had held aloof from all, being well aware that death was the only thing we could expect from any man; and these men pitied us. In our joy, we nearly got ourselves into trouble.

“After they had left us, our boys grew more cheerful, and Volóydka even began to dance. We forgot our anxiety, and, on entering a deep valley, near the riverbank, called Dickman’s Valley, after a German steamship-owner by the name of Dickman, who built his steamers there, we made a fire, and hung the two kettles over it. In one we made tea, and in the other fish-chowder. By that time it was nearly night, and soon after it grew quite dark, and rain began to fall; but as we were sitting by the fire, drinking tea, it did not trouble us much.

“There we sat chatting, as snug and comfortable as one could wish, not dreaming that, since we could distinguish the city lights, our fire also might be visible to the inhabitants. That shows how careless we sometimes become. When we travelled in the woods and mountains, we feared every noise, and here, in sight of the city itself, we had built a fire, and sat around it, chatting as unconcernedly as possible.

“Luckily for us, an old officer, who for many years had been superintendent of one of the Siberian prisons, was then living in the city. The prison was a large one, and many men had been confined there at different times, everyone of whom spoke well of this old gentleman. Everybody in Siberia knew Samárof; and when I heard, not long ago, that he was dead, I took pains to go to the priest, and paid him fifty kopeks to have his name mentioned in the prayers for the dead. He was a good old man! May he inherit the kingdom of heaven!⁠ ⁠… Only, he would use the most abusive language. Such a spitfire as he was! He would storm and rage, stamping, and shaking his fists; but nobody feared him. All tried to please him, for he was a just man. It cannot be said that he ever abused or imposed on anyone, or that he ever took a kopek of the artel’s money, except what was freely given him for his kindness. For, as he had a large family, the convicts always remembered him,⁠ ⁠… and from them he derived a good income. At the time of which I am speaking, he was already on the retired list, and lived quietly in Nikoláevsk, in a house of his own. Still, for old memory’s sake, he took an interest in us, and that evening, while sitting on the porch of his house, smoking a pipe, he saw a fire in Dickman’s Valley.

“ ‘I wonder who started that fire?’ he thought to himself.

“Just then three men belonging to the Free Company happened to be passing by. Hailing them, he said:⁠—

“ ‘Where did your company fish today? Can it be that they are in Dickman’s Valley?’

“ ‘No, your honor,’ they replied. ‘They must be farther up. Besides, they are expected to return tonight.’

“ ‘So I thought.⁠ ⁠… Do you see that fire beyond the river?’

“ ‘Yes.’

“ ‘Who do you suppose it can be?’

“ ‘We couldn’t tell, Stepán Savélyitch. Vagrants perhaps.’

“ ‘Vagrants,⁠ ⁠… do you say!⁠ ⁠… and you have not the sense to take thought for your comrades.⁠ ⁠… It is I who must think for all.⁠ ⁠… Haven’t you heard what the isprávnik said the other day about the Saghálinians⁠—that they had been seen not very far off.⁠ ⁠… I wonder if the fools could have built that fire?’

“ ‘Very likely, Stepán Savélyitch. It would not surprise us if it were they.’

“ ‘If that is so, they had better look out. The idea of doing such a thing as that, the rascals! I wonder if the isprávnik is in town. If he has not returned, he will be here shortly. When he sees their fire, he will send out a company at once. What is to be done? I pity those rascals; their heads will surely pay the price for Saltánof’s. Get the boat ready, boys!’

“Meanwhile we sat by the fire, waiting for the chowder to be ready, for it was a long time since we had tasted any hot food. It was a dark night. Clouds rose seaward. It rained, and the forest moaned; but we were happy.⁠ ⁠… The dark night is a kind mother to the like of us vagrants. The cloudier the sky, the easier we feel.

“Suddenly one of the Tartars pricked up his ears. Those Tartars are ever on the alert, like cats. I listened also, and distinguished the sound of oars. Going up to the shore, I saw a boat stealthily creeping along under the steep bank. I could see the men who were rowing it, and the faint glimmer of a cockade on the hat of the one at the rudder.

“ ‘Boys, we are lost,’ I said; ‘it’s the isprávnik!’

“The men sprang to their feet, upsetting the kettles, and ran for the woods.⁠ ⁠… I bade the boys keep together, and wait for the result. Perhaps we might have a chance to get the upper hand if there were but few of them. We hid behind the trees, and waited to see what would come next. The boat landed, and five men stepped on shore. One of them exclaimed, laughing:⁠—

“ ‘Why did you run away, you fools? I know a word that will bring you all out; I must say you are brave fellows, to run like rabbits.’

“Dáryin, who was sitting beside me, under a cedar-tree, whispered:⁠—

“ ‘I say, Vasíli, this is strange! The isprávnik’s voice seems very familiar to me.’

“ ‘Keep still,’ I said; ‘let us see what they will do next. There are only a few of them.’

“One of the oarsmen, stepping out, asked:⁠—

“ ‘Here, don’t be afraid of us! Do you know anyone in this prison?’

“We held our breath and made no reply. ‘What the deuce is the matter with you?’ the same voice called out again. ‘Answer, do you know anyone in this prison? Perhaps you may recognize some of us.’

“I replied: ‘Whether we know each other or not is of no consequence. Perhaps it would be better had we never met, for we are not to be taken alive.’

“I meant this for a signal to my comrades to be ready.

“As to numbers we had the advantage, since there were but five of them; but we feared that as soon as they began to fire, the shots would be heard in town. However, it made no difference; we were determined not to be taken without a struggle.

“Again the old man spoke: ‘Boys,’ he said, ‘is it possible that none of you know Samárof?’

“Dáryin nudged me. ‘Sure enough, it is the superintendent of the N⁠⸺ prison! Your honor,’ he said, ‘do you remember Dáryin?’

“ ‘To be sure, I do; he used to be my stárosta in N⁠⸺. I think his name was Fedót.’

“ ‘That’s me, your honor. Come out, boys; this is our father.’

“Whereupon we all came forth.

“ ‘Can it be possible that your honor has come to arrest us? We can’t believe it.’

“ ‘I pitied you, for being such fools. How very clever, to build a fire directly opposite the town!’

“ ‘We were wet, your honor; it rained.’

“ ‘R-a-i-n-e-d! And yet you pretend to call yourselves vagrants. You’ll not melt. You may thank your stars that I came out on the porch to smoke my pipe before the isprávnik returned. If he had seen your fire, he would have found a dry place for you! you are not very shrewd, boys, even if you did get the better of Saltánof, rascals that you are! Now, make haste, put out the fire and get away from here, into the valley; you may build ten fires there if you like, you scoundrels!’

“So the old gentleman scolded, while we stood around him, listening smilingly. Finally he stopped, and said:⁠—

“ ‘Now, listen to what I have to tell you. I have brought you some bread and three bricks of tea, and all I ask of you is to remember old Samárof kindly; and if you are lucky enough to escape, one of you may chance to go to Tobólsk⁠—if so, put a candle before my patron saint in the cathedral. I shall probably die here⁠—it is my home, and, besides, I am getting old; but still I often think of my own country. Well, goodbye; and take another piece of advice⁠—divide yourselves into small parties. How many are there of you?’

“ ‘Eleven,’ we replied.

“ ‘Who could help calling you fools! Probably by this time they have heard all about you at Irkútsk, and yet you still travel in a body!’

“After the old gentleman got into the boat and left us, we moved farther away into the valley, boiled our tea, made the chowder, and, taking the old man’s advice, we divided the provisions and separated.

“Dáryin and I kept together, Makárof went with the Circassians, the Tartar joined the two vagrants, and the remaining three formed another party. From this time forth we never met again. I do not know whether my former comrades are dead or alive. I have heard that the Tartar was sent here, but I don’t know whether it is true.

“That same night, just before dawn, Dáryin and I crept past Nikoláevsk. Only one dog barked, from a house in the outskirts.

“By sunrise, having travelled ten versts through the woods, we drew near the road, and, hearing the jingling of a bell, crouched behind the bushes, and saw the isprávnik driven by in a post-cart. He was wrapped in a greatcoat, and was dozing. Dáryin and I made the sign of the cross. What a mercy that he was out of town the previous night! He may have gone out in pursuit of us.”

VIII

The fire on the hearth had died out; but the yourt was still as warm as an oven. The ice on the windows was melting, and we came to the conclusion that it must be growing warmer outside, for in severe frosts the ice does not melt even from the inside, no matter how warm the yourt may be. Hence we did not replenish the fire, and I went out to close the chimney.

I found that the fog had disappeared and the air had grown softer. In the north, over the brow of the dark, heavily wooded hills, rose faint, fleecy clouds, hurrying swiftly across the sky. One might imagine an invisible giant gently sighing in the dark, cold night; his broad chest pouring forth its steaming breath, to be wafted across the sky and vanish at last in the blue ether. There was a faint playing of the Northern Lights.

Yielding to its melancholy witchery, I stood pensively upon the roof, watching the ever changing rays. The night showed forth in all its cold and dreary beauty. Overhead, the stars were glimmering, while the snowy shroud below gradually faded away in the dim distance. The forest looked like a long black comb, and the distant hills took on a pale blue tinge. This cold and silent picture filled my soul with a gentle sadness, and through the air, in soft vibrations, the words, “Far! so far!” seemed echoing in a minor chord.

When I returned into the hut, I could tell by the steady, regular breathing of the vagrant that he was asleep. I also tried to sleep, but could not, owing to the effect his exciting tale had produced upon me. At times, when sleep nearly overtook me, it would seem as if he purposely tossed and rolled, softly muttering in his sleep. His deep chest-tones dispelled my drowsiness, and in my fevered imagination arose the panorama of his Odyssey. Then, again, forgetting where I was, it seemed as though the boughs of the larch and the cedar waved overhead. I fancied myself gazing from a high cliff, and saw, in the ravine below, the white houses of the outposts, over which a mountain-eagle soared majestically. In fancy I wandered farther and farther from the hopeless gloom of my small yourt. A fresh breeze seemed to fan my brow, and in my ears echoed the faint murmur of the ocean. The sun was setting, and in the gathering darkness my boat rocked gently on the rippling straits. I was deeply excited by the story of the young vagrant.

What an impression this vagrant epic must make when told in the stifling atmosphere that fills the four walls of convict prison barracks. And what was there in this story, I asked myself, that made such an impression upon my whole being? It was not the difficulties overcome on the way, nor the sufferings endured, nor that “vagrant homesickness”; but it was the incomparable poetry of liberty. And why was it that I heard only the voice of freedom as expressed in the measureless expanse, in the woods, in the steppes, and in the ocean? If this so strongly appealed to me, how much more so to the vagrant, who had already tasted the poisoned cup of unsatisfied desire. He was still sleeping, while my excited imagination allowed me no rest. I cared nothing for the cause of his banishment, for his past life, or for his deeds since he ceased “to obey his parents.” In him I saw only a young life, full of strength, of energy, and of a passionate longing for freedom.⁠ ⁠… Whither, yes, whither?

In his scarce audible mutterings, I fancied I heard sighs. I forgot myself under the pressure of the unsolved question, and gloomy dreams hovered around me.⁠ ⁠… The evening sun had set, and all the sad, infinite world seemed plunged in gloomy thought. Heavy clouds hung overhead.⁠ ⁠… The horizon alone was illuminated by the last vestiges of the dying day, and somewhere, far, far away, under the shadow of the purple hills, flickered a light. What was it?⁠—the familiar flame on the hearth of the long-forsaken home, or a will-o’-the-wisp dancing over the darkness of a grave?

It was very late when at last I fell asleep.

IX

When I awoke it must have been about eleven o’clock. The rays of the sun streamed through the windows of the yourt, playing on the floor. The vagrant had departed. Having to go to the village on business, I harnessed my horse, and started in my little sleigh along the village street. It was a bright and comparatively warm day. The mercury may have stood at twenty degrees.16 But⁠ ⁠… everything in this world is relative; such weather as is usual in midwinter in other lands is regarded here as the first sign of spring. The clouds of smoke rising simultaneously from the chimneys did not remain stationary in immovable columns, as they do in severe frosts, but inclined to the west, and an east wind was blowing, bringing with it a warmer breeze from the Pacific Ocean.

The village was settled principally by banished Tartars, and, as it was a holiday, the streets presented an animated appearance. Gates creaked, sleighs issued forth, and tipsy riders were a common sight. The worshippers of Mahomet are not rigid observers of the laws of the Koran, and both riders and pedestrians at times described the most fantastic curves. Occasionally a startled horse would make a sudden leap, upsetting the sleigh, and tearing along the village street, while the owner, clinging obstinately to the reins, was dragged behind, raising a perfect cloud of snow. It might happen to anyone to lose control over a horse, or to fall out of the sleigh, but even in such critical circumstances it was considered a disgrace for a “true Tartar” to loose his hold of the reins.

A moment later, the straight, arrow-like street assumed an unusually bustling appearance. The riders kept close to the fences, the pedestrians fell back, and the gayly dressed women in their bright chadrys17 hurried their children into the houses. Interested spectators crowded the streets, and all eyes were turned in one direction. At the further end of the narrow street a group of riders appeared, and for the first time I saw the races, of which both Tartars and Yakúts are so fond. There were about five riders, galloping like the wind; and, as the group approached, I saw Bagyláï’s gray horse. With every stroke of his hoofs he increased the distance that separated him from the rest. A moment later, they had all passed me like a whirlwind.

The eyes of the Tartars glistened with fiendish excitement. As they rode by, they shouted, waving their hands and leaning backwards, sitting well back on their horses. Vasíli alone rode Russian fashion, bending closely to his horse’s neck, and occasionally giving a short, shrill whistle, that sounded like the lash of a whip. His gray horse was straining every nerve, cutting the air like a flying bird.

The sympathy of the crowd was, as usual, with the victor.

“Well done!” cried the delighted spectators; and the old horse-thieves, passionate lovers of such sport, bobbed up and down, clapping their hands on their knees, as they beat time to the galloping of the horses.

As Vasíli returned on his foam-flecked horse, he overtook me halfway up the street. His outstripped rivals were far behind.

The vagrant’s face looked pale, but his eyes glowed with excitement; it was evident that he had been drinking.

“I’m on a spree,” he shouted, waving his hat as he bowed.

“That’s no affair of mine.”

“Well, don’t get angry. I can drink and yet keep my wits about me. By the way, do not give up my saddlebags under any pretext whatsoever⁠—not even to me, if I should ask for them.⁠—You understand?”

“I understand,” I coolly replied. “Only, please don’t visit me when you are drunk.”

“You need have no fear; I shall not come,” he said, as he gave his horse a cut with the end of the rein. The horse snorted, reared, and sprang forward a few yards. Vasíli curbed him, exclaiming:⁠—

“Look at my horse! He is worth his weight in gold. I bet on him! Did you see him go? Now the Tartars will give me whatever I ask for him, without doubt, because they passionately adore a good horse.”

“Why do you sell him? What will you have to work with?”

“I can’t help it; it’s fate!”

Again he lashed the horse and curbed him in.

“To tell the truth, ’tis because I have met a comrade here; I will give up everything. Look, my dear fellow, do you see that Tartar on the roan horse, coming this way? Here!” he called out to the Tartar, “Akhmétka, come here!”

The roan horse, arching his neck and prancing, trotted up to my sleigh; the rider took off his hat and bowed, smiling. I looked at him with curiosity.

Akhmétka’s mischievous face was wreathed in a broad smile; his small eyes sparkled merrily, as he gazed on Vasíli with roguish familiarity, a glance that seemed to say to everyone, “We understand each other. I’m a rogue, to be sure, but a sharp one.” His interlocutor, looking at his face with its high cheekbones, its merry wrinkles about the eyes, the large, thin ears that stood out so comically, involuntarily smiled also. Then Akhmétka, concluding that matters were amicable, nodded his head with a satisfied look, as much as to say, “Now we understand each other.”

“A comrade,” he said, nodding towards Vasíli; “we tramped together.”

“Where do you live?” I inquired. “I never saw you before in the village.”

“I’ve come for my papers. I’ve been carrying wine to the goldmines.”18

I looked at Vasíli; he dropped his eyes and gathered up the reins. Then, raising his head, he gazed at me defiantly. His lips were tightly compressed, but the lower one trembled perceptibly.

“I will go with him into the forest! Why do you look at me so strangely? I’m a vagrant! a vagrant!”

He was already on the gallop even as he uttered the last words. For one moment a cloud of frosty dust was visible in the street, then nothing was to be seen or heard but the clatter of the horse’s hoofs.

A year later Akhmétka again returned to the settlement for the “papers,” but Vasíli was seen no more.

Sketches of a Siberian Tourist

I

The Cormorants

As I reached the ferry in my post-horse troika,19 it was already growing dark. A brisk and piercing wind rippled the surface of the broad and turbid river, splashing its waves against the steep banks. As the distant sound of the tinkling post-bells reached the ears of the ferrymen, they stopped the ferryboat and waited for us. Brakes were put on the wheels, the telyéga20 was driven downhill, and the cable unfastened. The waves dashed against the boarded sides of the ferryboat, the pilot sharply turned the wheel, and the shore gradually receded from us, as though yielding to the pressure of the waves.

There were two telyégas on the ferryboat, beside ours. In one of them sat an elderly, quiet-looking man, apparently belonging to the merchant class; the other was occupied by three fellows, unmistakably bourgeois. The merchant sat motionless, protecting himself by his collar from the piercing autumnal wind, and heedless of his travelling companions. The bourgeois, on the contrary, were jolly and talkative. One of them, a cross-eyed fellow, with a torn nostril, played the balaláïka21 incessantly, singing wild melodies in a harsh voice. But the wind soon dispersed these sharp tones, carrying them hither and thither along the swift and turbid stream. Another, with a brandy-flask and tumbler in his hand, was treating my driver; while the third, a man possibly thirty years of age, a healthy, handsome, and powerfully built fellow, was stretched out in the telyéga, with his hand under his head, pensively watching the gray clouds as they flitted across the sky. In the course of my two days’ journey from the city of N⁠⸺, I had frequently encountered the same familiar faces. I was travelling on urgent business, speeding with the utmost haste; but both the merchant, who drove a plump mare, harnessed into a two-wheeled kibítka,22 and the bourgeois, with their lean hacks, constantly kept up with me, and after each stopping-place I met them, either on the way or at some ferry.

“Who are these men?” I inquired of my driver, as he approached my telyéga.

“Kostiúshka23 and his friends,” he replied, with an air of reserve.

“And who are they?” I asked once more, for the name sounded unfamiliar to me.

The driver evidently felt unwilling to give me further particulars, lest our conversation might be overheard by the men. Glancing at them, he hastily pointed with his whip toward the river.

Looking in that direction, I saw that its broad expanse was here and there darkened by the tossing of the turbid waters, and overhead large white birds like gulls soared in widening circles, now and then plunging below the waves, and rising again with a shrill and plaintive cry.

“Cormorants!” the driver remarked, by way of explanation, as soon as the ferry had landed us on the shore, and we had reached the top of the hill.

“Those men are like cormorants,” he continued. “They have neither home nor property, for I have heard that they have sold even the land they owned, and now they are scouring the country like wolves. They give us no peace.”

“What do you mean? Are they robbers?”

“They are up to all sorts of mischief; cutting off a traveller’s valise, or stealing chests of tea from a transport, is their favorite amusement.⁠ ⁠… And if they are hard up, they will not hesitate to steal a horse from us drivers, when we are on our return trip. It often happens that one of us may fall asleep⁠—everyone is liable to that, you know⁠—and they are always on the lookout. It was a driver who tore this very Kostiúshka’s nostril with his whip, and that’s a fact! Mark my words, this same Kóyska is the biggest scoundrel!⁠ ⁠… He has no mate now⁠ ⁠… since the transport-drivers killed him.⁠ ⁠…”

“They caught him, then?”

“Yes, they did, in the very act, and they made him pay for his fun. The transport-drivers had their turn, and he gave them plenty of sport.”

The speaker chuckled to himself.

“In the first place, they chopped off his fingers, then they singed him, and finally they disembowelled him with a stick.⁠ ⁠… He died, the dog!⁠ ⁠…”

“How comes it that you are acquainted with them? Why did you let them treat you with brandy?”

“I cannot help being acquainted,” he replied, gloomily. “I have often had to treat them myself, because I stand in fear of them all the time.⁠ ⁠… Mark my words! Kostiúshka has not come out without a purpose. He would not have driven the horses so far without some object.⁠ ⁠… I can tell you that he scents prey from afar, the devil! I am sure of it! And that merchant, I was just thinking about him,” he added thoughtfully, after a short pause; “I wonder if he can be their object?⁠ ⁠… I can hardly believe it; however, they have a new man with them, whom I never saw before.”

“The one who lay stretched out in the telyéga?”

“The very one.⁠ ⁠… He must be an expert⁠ ⁠… a healthy-looking devil!⁠ ⁠…

“Take my advice, sir,” he said, suddenly turning toward me; “be on your guard⁠ ⁠… do not travel by night. They may be following you, for all you know, those wretches!⁠ ⁠…”

“Do you know me?” I asked.

He turned away, and affected to play with the reins.

“We are supposed to know nothing,” he replied, evasively. “It was rumored that Koodín’s clerk, from the city, was soon to pass this way.⁠ ⁠… But this is no business of ours.”

Evidently, I was known here. I had been retained in a lawsuit brought by the firm of Koodín against the government, and had just won it. My patrons were very popular in these places, and in all Western Siberia, and the suit had made a great sensation. Having recently received a very large sum of money, I was hastening to the city of N⁠⸺, where I had to meet some payments which were clue. I had very little time to spare, the postal communications were irregular, and therefore I carried the money on my own person. I travelled night and day⁠—sometimes leaving the highway, when I could gain time by taking a shortcut. In view of the rumors that had spread concerning me, which were calculated to excite myriads of hungry cormorants, I was beginning to feel somewhat anxious.

As I glanced behind me, in spite of the gathering darkness, I could easily distinguish the swiftly galloping troika, followed at some distance by the merchant’s wagonette.

II

“The Hollow Below the Devil’s Finger”

At the N⁠⸺ post-station, where I arrived in the evening, there were no horses to be found.

“Do take my advice, Iván Seménovitch!” the stout and good-natured stationmaster entreated me, “and do not travel by night. Never mind your business. One’s life is more precious than other people’s money. For miles around the only subjects talked about are your lawsuit and this large sum of money. No doubt, the cormorants will be on the alert.⁠ ⁠… Do spend the night here!⁠ ⁠…”

Of course, I realized all the wisdom of this advice; but, still, I felt that I could not follow it.

“I must go on!⁠ ⁠… Please send for private horses.⁠ ⁠…”

“You are an obstinate man, I must confess; but I will give you a trusty ‘friend.’24 He will carry you to B⁠⸺, to the Molokán.25 But you really must spend the night there. You will have to pass the Devil’s Hollow. It is a lonely place, and the people are audacious.⁠ ⁠… Better wait till daylight!⁠ ⁠…”

Half an hour later I sat on my telyéga, listening to the advice and good-wishes of my friend. The willing horses started at once; and the driver, encouraged by the promise of a fee, urged them to their utmost speed. We reached B⁠⸺ in a very short time.

“Where will you take me now?” I asked him.

“To my friend the Molokán. He is a trustworthy man.”

Passing several huts in the woods, we stopped at the gate of a respectable house, where we were met by a venerable-looking man, with a long gray beard, holding a lantern in his hand; raising it above his head, he scrutinized me for a moment, and then remarked, in a quiet way:

“Ah, Iván Semenovitch!⁠ ⁠… Some fellows who passed, just now, bade me look out for Koodín’s clerk, from the city,⁠ ⁠… and get the horses ready for him.⁠ ⁠… And I asked them what business it was of theirs.⁠ ⁠… ‘Very likely, he may wish to spend the night,’ I said.⁠ ⁠… It is getting late, you know.”

“What fellows were they?” interrupted my driver.

“The Lord only knows! Cormorants, most likely! They looked like rascals.⁠ ⁠… I suppose they came from the city; but who they are, I cannot say. Who does know anything about them?⁠ ⁠… But will you spend the night, sir?”

“No, I cannot; and please get horses for me as quickly as possible!” I said, somewhat uneasy at the rumors that seemed to have preceded me.

“Walk into the hut; it will be more comfortable than to stand here.⁠ ⁠… Really, I have no horses. Yesterday I sent the boy into the city with some goods. What will you do now? You had better sleep here.”

My distress at this fresh disappointment was deepened by the darkness and gloom of the stormy autumn night peculiar to Siberia. The sky was so overcast that one could hardly trace the outlines of the heavy clouds, and on the ground a man could not see objects two steps before him. A drizzling rain had begun to fall, and from the woods came a mysterious rustling.

Still, I felt obliged to continue my journey, in spite of all obstacles. Entering the hut, I asked the proprietor to send at once to one of the neighbors to obtain horses.

“I fear you may regret this hurry, my dear sir,” said the old man, shaking his gray head. “And such a night as this is!⁠—Egyptian darkness, and nothing less!”

When my driver came in, he and the old man held a prolonged consultation. At last they both addressed themselves to me, entreating me to remain over night. Still I insisted, and then the two began to whisper together, and I could overhear certain names as they discussed the matter. “Very well, then,” said the driver, as though reluctantly yielding to the master of the house, “your horses will be ready for you; I am going now to the clearing.”

“Will not that require a long time?⁠—I wish you could find them nearer home.⁠ ⁠…”

“It will not take long,” replied the driver, and the master added, in an impatient tone of voice:⁠—

“What’s the hurry? You know the saying, ‘Haste makes waste.’⁠ ⁠… Plenty of time yet.⁠ ⁠…”

While the driver was making his preparations behind the partition, the master continued his instructions, in the quavering voice of an old man, and I took the chance to doze awhile beside the oven.

“Well, my lad,” I heard the master say to him, outside the door, “tell the ‘Slayer’ to make haste.⁠ ⁠… You see, he is in a hurry.”

Presently the sound of galloping was heard. The last words of the old man had dispelled my sleepiness. I seated myself before the fire, and gave myself up to anxious thoughts. The dark night, the unfamiliar surroundings, the strange faces, the unintelligible conversation, and finally the fatal word.⁠ ⁠… My nerves were evidently unstrung.

An hour later, the rapid tinkling of a bell was heard, and the troika stopped before the door. I put on my wraps and went out.

The sky had grown clearer. The clouds swept hurriedly along, as though in haste to reach their goal. It had ceased raining, but now and then a large drop fell from the clouds that scurried along in the rising wind.

The master came out with a lantern to see us off, and by its light I scrutinized my new driver. He was a tall, broad-shouldered, and powerful man⁠—quite a giant, in fact. The expression of his face was calm and stern⁠—impressed, so to speak, with the stamp of some past sorrow never to be forgotten, and his eyes had a steadfast and obstinate gaze.

I must admit that for a moment I was overcome by a strong temptation to dismiss this giant driver, and spend the night in the warm and cheerful chamber of the Molokán. It lasted, however, but for a moment. Clasping my revolver, I seated myself in the cart, while the driver fastened the apron and slowly and deliberately took his seat on the box.

“Look out, ‘Slayer!’ ” was the old man’s parting injunction. “Look sharp! You know how it is likely to be!⁠ ⁠…”

“Yes, I know,” replied the driver, and we vanished into the gloom of the stormy night.

As we drove past the huts which were scattered at intervals along the road, an occasional light flashed forth, and here and there against the dark background of the woods a grayish smoke, mingled with sparks, curled up into the air, and melted in the darkness. Finally we left the last dwelling behind, and the solitude of the black forest and the gloom of the night deepened around us.

The horses, trotting evenly and swiftly, carried me on toward the fatal hollow; it was now about five versts away, and there was time enough to brood at leisure over my situation. As often happens in moments of unusual excitement, I had the keenest realization of it; and when I recalled the marauder-like figures of the cormorants, the mysterious merchant who accompanied them, and the unusual pertinacity with which they followed me, I came to the conclusion that some sort of an adventure awaited me in the hollow. But the part that my gloomy driver was to play remained for me like the riddle of Oedipus.

However, the solution was near at hand. Presently, the mountain-chain came in sight, outlined against the background of the clearing sky. Its summit was covered with a forest growth, and at its base one discerned, through the darkness, a flowing stream, over which hung a projecting rock, known as the “Devil’s Finger.”

The road skirted the river at the foot of the hills. Beneath the Devil’s Finger it receded from the mountain-chain, and at this point it was entered by a crossroad, leading from the valley. This was the most dangerous spot, famous as the scene of many daring exploits on the part of the knights of the road in Siberia. The narrow, rocky road prevented rapid driving, and the bushes might serve to hide an ambush. We were nearing the hollow. The Devil’s Finger began to loom up before us, the darkness adding to its actual size, until the clouds, as they passed over it, seemed to graze its summit.

The horses slackened their pace, and the middle horse, as he trotted carefully along, watched the road intently, while the side horses, snorting loudly, pressed more closely against the shafts. The musical sounds of the tinkling bell echoed beyond the river and died away in the sensitive air.

Suddenly the horses stopped; with one abrupt jerk the bell sent forth a tinkling peal and was silent. I rose in my seat. Beside the road, the dark bushes were shaken by the movements of some dusky object.

The driver had reined in his horses just in time to avoid the attack. Still, the situation was critical, for it was impossible either to turn aside or to retreat. I was just about to fire a random shot, when the tall form of the driver, rising from the box, shut from me the road and the bushes. The “Slayer,” as he stepped to the ground, quietly handed the reins to me, saying, as he did so: “Do not fire, but hold the reins.”

His tones were so calm, yet so impressive, that it never occurred to me to do otherwise than as I was bidden; my suspicions in his regard were dispelled. I took the reins while the solemn giant advanced towards the bushes. The horses slowly and intelligently followed their master, without any further order.

The rattling of the wheels on the stony road prevented me from hearing what was going on in the bushes. When we came to the place where we had seen the moving object, the “Slayer” stopped.

Nothing was to be heard except the sound of the rustling and cracking branches at a short distance from the road, in the direction of the mountain. Somebody was evidently pushing his way through, and the man in advance seemed in a hurry.

“It is that rascal Kostiúshka, running ahead,” said the “Slayer,” listening to the sound. “Bah! See! there is one of them left behind, it seems!”

Just then, at a short distance from us, a tall figure darted out of a bush and in again, and now we could hear distinctly the sound of footsteps retreating from the road in four different places. The “Slayer” went up to his horses as quietly as before, arranged the harness, making the bell tinkle as he touched the duga,26 and mounted to his seat.

Suddenly, from the rock below the “Finger,” there came a flash, followed by a report, startling the silence of the night. We heard something strike against the carriage and then against the bushes.

The “Slayer,” dashing towards the bushes like an infuriated wild beast, exclaimed, in an agitated voice:⁠—

“Mind what you do, Kóyska! You had better not fool any more, I warn you! If you had hurt my harmless beasts⁠ ⁠… I should have got even with you, were you to travel a hundred versts!⁠ ⁠… Don’t fire, sir!” he added sternly, addressing me.

“You had better look out for yourself, ‘Slayer,’ ” answered a voice, that was evidently held in control, and one that did not sound like Kostiúshka’s. “Why do you put your nose in other people’s business, when you are not wanted?”

The speaker seemed to be afraid of being overheard by others beside the one whom he was addressing.

“I wouldn’t threaten if I were you, Your Honor,” replied the driver, contemptuously. “I am not afraid of you, though you have made common cause with the cormorants!”

A few minutes later, the hollow beneath the Devil’s Finger was left behind, and we were once more following the broad thoroughfare.

III

“The Slayer”

We drove four versts in utter silence; I was meditating on what had just happened, while the driver sat playing with the reins, alternately urging and holding in his horses. I was the first to speak.

“I am greatly obliged to you, my friend! It would have gone ill with me, had it not been for you.”

“You owe me no thanks,” he replied.

“What do you mean!⁠ ⁠… That was evidently a desperate crowd!⁠ ⁠…”

“That’s true.⁠ ⁠…”

“Do you know those men?”

“I know Kostiúshka.⁠ ⁠… But, then, I suppose every dog knows that rascal!⁠ ⁠… The merchant, too, I have seen before⁠ ⁠… but the one who was left behind I don’t think I ever saw.⁠ ⁠… Yes, I suppose he relied on Kostiúshka to do the business.⁠ ⁠… No, sir, Kostiúshka is not to be trusted! He is the first one to run!⁠ ⁠… But the man I speak of is no coward.⁠ ⁠…”

He paused.

“This has never happened before⁠ ⁠… not this kind of business,”⁠ ⁠… he began again, slightly shaking his head.⁠ ⁠… “I wonder how Kostiúshka got hold of him.⁠ ⁠… He is gathering the cormorants together against me, the cursed rascal!⁠ ⁠…”

“And why are they afraid of you?”

The driver smiled.

“Yes, there is no doubt they are afraid of me. I gave one of them his quietus, not far from here.⁠ ⁠…”

He reined in the horses, and, turning towards me, he said: “Look back; do you see the hollow yonder!⁠ ⁠… I killed a man there, on that very spot!”

It seemed to me that his voice trembled as he uttered these words, and, by the light of the dawn, that was beginning to brighten the eastern sky, I fancied I could detect an expression of deep sadness in his eyes.

We had reached the top of the hill, where we paused. The road ran towards the west. Behind us, outlined against the brightening sky, stood the bold wooded hill whose rocky summit looked like a giant finger uplifted to the clouds.

The morning breeze blew fresh on the hilltop, and the chilled horses, snorting impatiently, pawed the ground. The middle horse was about to start when the driver, checking him, bent over on his box and peered in the direction of the hollow.

Then, suddenly turning, he gathered up the reins, rose on the box, and shouted aloud.

Starting on a gallop, we fairly flew from the top of the hill to the bottom. It was a wild ride. With flattened ears, the horses dashed onward, as if beside themselves with fear, while the driver continued to rise from his seat and to wave his right arm. The troika seemed to feel, although it could not see, his motions.⁠ ⁠… The ground vanished beneath the wheels; the trees and shrubs ran to meet us, and seemed to fall as we passed, as though beaten down by a furious gale.⁠ ⁠…

When we were again on level ground, the horses were steaming. The middle horse panted heavily, and the side horses trembled, snorted, and moved their ears restlessly to and fro. Little by little, however, their terror left them. The driver slackened the reins, and spoke in soothing tones: “Gently, dearies, gently!⁠ ⁠… Don’t be frightened!⁠ ⁠… Isn’t it wonderful that a horse, a dumb beast,” he said to me, “should understand so well⁠ ⁠… for, every time we reach the top of this hill, it is impossible to hold them.⁠ ⁠… They scent a crime.⁠ ⁠…”

“That may be so,” I said, “but you urged them yourself just now.”

“Did I, really? Well, maybe I did! Ah, sir, if you knew what a weight there is on my mind!⁠ ⁠…”

“Well, if you tell me, I shall know!⁠ ⁠…”

The “Slayer” looked down.

“Very well,” he replied, after a pause, “I will tell you.⁠ ⁠… Go on, my darlings, don’t be frightened!⁠ ⁠…” And the horses started at an easy trot along the soft road.


“It all took place long ago,⁠ ⁠… and yet not so long ago, either; but much has happened since, and the great change in my life makes the past seem far away! I have been deeply wronged by those who were my superiors. And God, also, sent me sorrow; I lost my young wife and my child at one stroke, and, having no parents, I was left quite alone in the world, with neither relatives nor friends; and the priest himself took what little remained to me, to pay for the funeral. Living quite alone, I had more chance for meditation; and the more I pondered, the less I believed, until my former faith was shaken, if not lost, and I found no new one to take its place. It is true I am an ignorant man⁠—I hardly know how to read⁠—and I dared not trust too much to my own reason,⁠ ⁠… and I felt so heartsick, so sad, I would gladly have gone out of this world.⁠ ⁠… I gave up my hut and what little land was left me, all that I possessed, took an extra sheepskin coat, a pair of trousers, and a pair of boots, broke off a branch in the forest for a staff, and started.⁠ ⁠…”

“Where were you going?”

“Nowhere in particular. Sometimes I stayed in one place, and worked regularly day after day; then, again, I would wander from place to place, ploughing a field here and there, or lending a hand at harvest-time. In some places I stayed but for a day, or perhaps for a week, in others, for a month; and all this time I was watching to see how people lived, how they prayed and what they believed.⁠ ⁠… In a word, I was looking for upright people.”

“And did you find them?”

“How can I tell?⁠ ⁠… There are all kinds of people; and each one has his own troubles, of course. Still, it must be admitted that people in our neighborhood devote but little thought to God.⁠ ⁠… Each one thinks only about himself, how to satisfy his own desires; and can that be called living according to God’s laws! And who can say that the robber who wears the chains is the actual robber, after all!⁠ ⁠… Do you not agree with me?”

“What you say has some truth, no doubt.⁠ ⁠… Well, and what next?”

“And so I grew more and more gloomy, for I saw there was no chance of improvement. Of course, I know a little better now; but even now.⁠ ⁠… But at that time I was beside myself, and it suddenly occurred to me that I might become a convict.”

“How could you do that?”

“Very simply. I called myself a vagrant, and was shut up in consequence. It was a sort of penance that I had imposed upon myself.⁠ ⁠…”

“And did you feel better after that?”

“Not a bit of it! It was simple folly. Perhaps you never were in prison, and, if so, you cannot know. But I have found out all I care to know about that kind of cloister. People who live an idle life, perfectly useless to the world, are pretty sure to fall into wicked ways, and seldom, if ever, do they think of God or of their own salvation; for, if they do, they are treated to the gibes and mockery of their companions. I soon found that my stupidity had brought me into the wrong place; so I told them who I was, and begged to be set free. But this was not a simple matter. Information had to be obtained, one thing and another investigated.⁠ ⁠… And, moreover, they said to me, ‘How did you dare to call yourself what you were not?’ I don’t know how the business would have ended had it not been for something that came to pass just then,⁠ ⁠… which, although it was not a good thing for me, perhaps saved me from something worse.⁠ ⁠…

“One day the report spread throughout the prison that the penitent Bezrúky was to be brought in. I heard the rumor much discussed, some believing it to be true, while others distrusted it. But for me it was a matter of indifference just then. What did I care whether they brought him or not!⁠—it was all one to me!⁠—Prisoners were arriving every day. But the convicts who had just come from town confirmed the story that they were bringing Bezrúky under a strong escort, and that he would be there at night. Prompted by curiosity, our gray population had gathered in the yard. I went with them, not from curiosity, however.⁠ ⁠… When I was uneasy, I often walked up and down in the yard. I was pacing to and fro, and had almost forgotten about Bezrúky, when suddenly the gates were opened, and an old man was led in. He was short and thin, and he wore a long white beard; one arm hung powerless by his side, and he tottered as he walked, like one whose feet refuse to support him. And yet, at this one man, five bayonets were levelled by the guards who escorted him. The sight overcame me. ‘Heavens!’ I thought, ‘what does it mean? Can a man be treated like a wild beast! And no stalwart, brawny fellow, but a feeble, insignificant old man, who looks as if he might not live the week out!⁠ ⁠…’

“And I pitied him from the bottom of my heart; and the more I looked, the more I pitied him. He was led into the office, and a smith was called to shackle his hands and feet. The old man took the fetters, made the sign of the cross over them (after the manner of the Old Faith), and put them on his feet. ‘Fasten it,’ he said to the smith. Then he made a second sign of the cross over the handcuffs, and, passing his hands through them, said: ‘Suffer me to wear them, O Lord, as a penance!’ ”

The driver bent his head and relapsed into silence, as though reliving, in his memory, the scene he had been describing. Then, suddenly lifting his head, he resumed:⁠—

“From that moment he took possession of my heart! I must confess that he bewitched me, and, even though I afterwards discovered him to be a tempter and a fiend, an incarnate devil⁠—may the Lord forgive me for saying so! when I recall that prayer of his, I can hardly believe it⁠—so well could he play the saint that he seemed altogether different from the man he really was.

“And I was not the only one who felt his influence. Even our gray convicts became subdued; they gazed at him in silence. The scoffers grew quiet, and many crossed themselves. That was the way he affected them, sir!

“As for me, I yielded myself completely to his influence. For at that time my faith was unsettled, and this man seemed to me like the righteous men of old. I had made no friends in the prison; indeed, I had hardly spoken to anyone, and of the conversation around me I took no more heed than of the buzzing of flies.⁠ ⁠… Whatever my thoughts were, whether good or bad, I kept them to myself, and shared them with no one. I made up my mind that I would, if possible, make my way into the cell where the old man was kept in solitary confinement, and, watching my chance, I gave five kopeks to the guards, who allowed me to pass; and afterwards they used to let me in without any bribe. 1 looked in at his window, and saw an old man walking to and fro, muttering to himself, his shackles dragging behind him as he went. When he saw me, he turned, and came up to the door. ‘What do you want?’ he asked.⁠—‘Nothing in particular,’ I said; ‘I have come to make you a call. I thought you might be lonely.’⁠—‘I am not alone here,’ he said; ‘I am with God, and one is never lonely who dwells with God. Still, I am glad to see a good man.’⁠—And thus I stood facing him, looking so like a fool that he could not help noticing my expression; but he said nothing, only gazed at me and shook his head. One day he said to me, ‘Draw back a little from the window, my lad; I want to get a better look at you.’ I stepped back, and he put his eye to the opening, and, after gazing long at me, he said: ‘Tell me something about yourself!’

“ ‘What is there to tell!’ I said; ‘I am a ruined man!’⁠—‘Can I trust you?’ he asked, ‘You will not deceive me?’⁠—‘I have never deceived anyone, and surely I would not deceive you. I will do anything for you.’ He thought awhile, and then he said: ‘I want to send someone outside tonight. Will you go?’⁠—‘How can I get out?’ I asked.⁠—‘I will teach you,’ he said. And his instructions were so successful that I left the prison that night, as easily as if it had been my own hut. I found the man to whom I was sent, and gave him the message, but, when on my way back the next morning, I must admit that, as I was approaching the prison, just before daybreak, a sense of excitement came over me. Why should I remain a prisoner of my own accord? Since I was free, the best thing I could do would be to leave those parts. The prison was in the country, and a broad highway lay before me. The dew glistened on the grass; it was close upon harvest-time. Beyond the river, I could hear the gentle soughing of the forest.⁠ ⁠… A lovely picture! And behind me stood the prison, frowning and blinking like an owl.⁠ ⁠… At night, when all is still, one does not care; but by daylight!⁠ ⁠… When I thought of the busy day spinning like a wheel, it seemed as though I could not bear it. My heart leaped within me, and the temptation to follow the road, to regain my lost liberty, and to roam hither and yonder at my own will, was almost too strong for me.⁠ ⁠… But when I remembered the old man, I felt that I could not deceive him. Stretching myself out on the grass, with my face downward, I rested awhile; then rose, and, without once looking back, took the direction of the prison. Looking up as I approached, I saw my old man in the tower, where our secret cells were, sitting by the window, watching me from behind the bars.

“During the day, I found a chance to glide into his cell and tell him how I had carried out his orders. He looked more cheerful, as he said to me: ‘Thank you, my child! You have done me a great favor; I shall never forget it.’ And after a pause he added, smiling, ‘I suppose you are anxious to be free?’⁠—‘Yes, I am anxious, more than words can say.’⁠—‘I thought so. And what brought you here!’⁠—‘My own folly; I have committed no crime.’ He shook his head and said: ‘It makes me sad to see you. God has given you so much strength; you are no longer a boy, and yet you know very little about life. Here you are locked up.⁠ ⁠… And what is the good of it? The world, it is true, is full of sin, and yet it is in the world that you work out your salvation.⁠ ⁠…’⁠—‘Yes, I know there is sin in the world,’ I replied, ‘but there is just as much of it here, where there is nothing to be gained by sinning.’⁠—‘Have you repented of your own sins?’ he inquired.

“ ‘I am disgusted with myself!’

“ ‘Disgusted, and yet you know not why. This is not true repentance. True repentance is sweet. Listen, and remember what I tell you: God alone is without sin; man is a sinner by his very nature, and is saved by repentance alone. He must repent of his sins. How is he to repent who has committed no sin? And yet unless he does repent, we are told, he cannot be saved. Do you understand?’

“At the time, I must admit, I understood his words imperfectly; yet they sounded like good words. I had thought much about my own life: other people seemed to live their lives for some purpose, but not I; I was like the field-grass or a fox in the woods⁠—no good to myself or to others. To be sure, if I were living in the world, I should probably be sinning, and here I was only restless. It is true, I did not know how to live; but why talk of living, when I was still shut up in prison! ‘I can manage that affair,’ said the old man. ‘I have prayed about you: it has been given to me to lead your soul out of prison.⁠ ⁠… If you will promise to obey me, I will show you the road to repentance.’⁠—‘I will promise,’ I replied.⁠—‘And will you take your oath?’⁠—‘I will,’ I said. And so I pledged myself, for at that time he had so won my confidence that I was utterly in his power. I would have gone through fire and water for him.⁠ ⁠… I trusted that man. One of the convicts tried to warn me: ‘Why are you so intimate with Bezrúky? Don’t be taken in by his piety! You know about his hand: a traveller on the highway, whom he was planning to rob, sent a bullet through it.’ But I paid no heed to what he said, since he was tipsy at the time, and I cannot abide a drunken man. When I turned away from him he took offence. ‘Go to the deuce, fool that you are!’ I must allow that he was correct, although he was a drunkard.

“About this time, Bezrúky was less strictly guarded. He was brought from his cell into the general prison, but, like myself, he remained almost as solitary as before. Whenever the convicts teased him, or attempted to joke with him, he made no reply in words; but his glance was enough to make the boldest of them quail. He had an evil eye.⁠ ⁠… After a while came the time for his release. One summer day, as I was walking in the yard, I saw the superintendent go into the office, immediately followed by Bezrúky, under escort, and in less than an hour they both came out on the porch, Bezrúky dressed in his own suit of clothes, ready to leave, and looking quite happy, and the superintendent also smiling. I could not help thinking how strictly he was guarded when they brought him in⁠—an innocent man, as he called himself. I felt sad and lonely at the thought of being left behind. Bezrúky glanced around, and, seeing me, made a sign, and I went up to him, pulling off my cap and saluting the chief, while Bezrúky said:⁠—

“ ‘I say, Your Excellency, could you look out for this lad? He has not done anything.’

“ ‘What is your name?’ asked the superintendent.

“ ‘Feódor Seelín,’ I replied.

“ ‘Ah, I remember! We will see about you. No man is to be condemned for his own stupidity. This fellow ought to be kicked out, to teach him better than to come where he does not belong. That’s all there is about it, for I believe the necessary information was received some time ago. He will certainly be released in the course of a week.’

“ ‘That’s good,’ said Bezrúky, ‘and you, my lad,’ he continued, calling me aside, ‘when you are released, go to Kildéyef’s and ask for the master, Iván Zakhárof. I have spoken to him about you, my boy⁠—and remember your oath.’

“And then they went away. In a week I too was released, and went at once, according to Bezrúky’s directions, to the appointed place, where I found Iván Zakhárof, and when I explained to him that Bezrúky had sent me, ‘I know!’ he said; ‘the old man has spoken to me about you. Well, you may work for me for a while, and we will see later what is to be done.’

“ ‘And where is Bezrúky now?’ I inquired.

“ ‘He is away on business,’ he answered; ‘but we expect him shortly.’

“And so I remained there; but not really as a workman, for no duties were assigned to me. The family was a small one⁠—the master, a grown-up son, who was a workman⁠ ⁠… and myself, beside the women-folks, and Bezrúky, who was there from time to time. They were Staroviéry27 and very pious people, strict followers of the law; they never used tobacco or liquor. And as to their workman, Kuzmá, he was a ragged, half-witted fellow, as black as an Ethiopian; as soon as he heard the tinkle of a bell, he used to rush out and hide in the bushes, and, above all, he stood in mortal terror of Bezrúky. If he caught sight of him in the distance, he would run for the woods, to hide himself, and always in the very same place. The family might call him again and again⁠—he never would answer a syllable. But let Bezrúky go after him and speak one word, he would follow like a lamb, and do everything he bade him.

“Bezrúky did not come often, and, when he did come, he hardly ever talked with me. I used to notice that, when talking with the master, he would, at the same time, often look at me, to see how I worked; but if I approached him, he always told me that he was busy. ‘Have patience, my lad! I am coming to live here before long; then we shall have more time to talk.’ I had fallen into a restless state of mind, though I had nothing to complain of⁠—I was not overworked, and never had a cross word spoken to me; the food was good, and, though I was a driver, I was but seldom sent out with any traveller. It was generally the master himself who went, or the son with the workman, particularly if it happened to be in the nighttime. Yet, when I was idle, I felt more dejected than ever, as might naturally be expected. My thoughts kept my mind uneasy and restless.⁠ ⁠…

“Returning home from the mill, one evening, some weeks after I was released, I found our hut full of men. I unharnessed the horse, and was just on the point of entering the porch when the master came out and said: ‘Don’t go in yet; wait till I call you! Mind what I say; don’t go in yet!’⁠—‘What’s all this about!’ I thought to myself; but I turned and went up to the hayloft, where I stretched myself out on the hay. Finding it impossible to sleep, and remembering that I had left my axe by the brook, I decided to go after it, for I thought to myself that those men might discover it on their way home, and carry it off with them. As I passed by the windows, I looked in and saw that the room was full of men; the inspector himself was seated at a table, on which were spread food and brandy, together with paper and pens⁠ ⁠… in short, it was plainly to be seen that an investigation was going on; and seated on a bench near the wall I beheld Bezrúky himself. Good heavens! I was completely paralyzed! His hair was disarranged, his hands bound behind him, his eyes shining like two fiery coals.⁠ ⁠… I can hardly tell you how dreadful he seemed to me.⁠ ⁠…

“I drew back, and stood at a short distance from the window.⁠ ⁠… It was autumn; the night was dark and starry; I shall never forget it. I heard the splash of the river and the murmur of the forests as if in a dream. Trembling, I dropped on the grass by the riverbank. How long I had stayed there I cannot say when I heard someone coming along the forest-path, swinging a cane. He wore a white coat and hat, and I recognized the clerk, who lived four versts from there. He crossed the bridge and went straight to the hut, and I could not resist going up to the window to see what would happen next.⁠ ⁠… He entered, took off his cap, and looked around. Evidently, he did not know why he had been summoned. As he went up to the table, he said, in passing Bezrúky, ‘How do you do, Iván Alekséyitch!’ Such a glance as Bezrúky gave him! The proprietor pulled him by the sleeve and whispered something in his ear that seemed to surprise him. He went up to the inspector, who had already been imbibing rather freely, and who, rousing himself, looked up at him with his blurred eyes, and, after exchanging the usual greeting, asked, pointing at Bezrúky, ‘Do you know this man?’⁠—‘No,’ he replied, ‘I don’t remember ever seeing him before.’

“What could it all mean? The inspector certainly knew him well. He went on with his examination.

“ ‘Is this Iván Alekséyef, who belongs in this neighborhood, and is known under the name of Bezrúky?’

“ ‘No,’ replied the clerk; ‘that is not he.’

“The inspector picked up his pen, and, after writing something down, he proceeded to read it aloud. And I stood outside, by the window, wondering what it all meant; for he read from the paper that this old man, Iván Alekséyef, was not Iván Alekséyef; that neither the clerk nor the neighbors recognized him as such; and that he called himself Iván Ivánof, and showed his passport in proof of it. Wonderful thing! Of all these people who set their hands to the document, not one of them seemed to know him. It was certain that the witnesses had been carefully chosen for the occasion, for they were all debtors of Iván Zakhárof⁠—his slaves, in fact.

“After this business was transacted, the witnesses were allowed to depart.⁠ ⁠… The inspector had previously ordered that Bezrúky should be set at liberty, and Iván Zakhárof brought the money and handed it to the inspector, who, after counting it, put it in his pocket.

“ ‘Now, old man, you will have to leave these parts for the next three months! But if you choose to stay, remember that you are not to blame me.⁠ ⁠… Well, now get my horses ready.’

“I left the window and went up into the hayloft, expecting that someone would presently come to fetch the horses, and I did not want to be found lurking under the windows. As I lay on the hay, unable to go to sleep, I felt as if I were in a dream.⁠ ⁠… Somehow, I could not collect my thoughts. I heard the tinkling of the bell as the inspector drove away, saw that the lights were put out, and all became still in the house. I was just falling asleep when again I heard a bell, for it was a very still night, and one could hear sounds a long way off⁠ ⁠… it drew nearer and nearer.⁠ ⁠… Someone was coming towards the hut from the direction of the river. By and by the folks in the hut heard it, and a fire had been kindled by the time the troika drove up into the yard. A driver whom we knew had brought the travellers here, as a friendly return for the customers we had brought him.

“I thought that they would very likely spend the night here, and, if not, I knew that they seldom sent me out at night, for it was generally the master who drove⁠—or maybe his son, with the workman; so I was just falling asleep again, when I was roused by the voices of the master and Bezrúky, who were conversing in an undertone under the roof of the hay-shed.

“ ‘Well, what shall we do now?’ said the old man; ‘where is Kuzmá?’

“ ‘That’s the trouble; Iván has gone with the inspector, and as soon as Kuzmá saw the crowd he ran to the bushes, and he is not to be found.’

“ ‘Such a fool! I believe he is half-witted! And how about Feódor?’ the old man said⁠—meaning me, you understand.

“ ‘When Feódor came home from the mill tonight, he wanted to go into the hut, but I would not let him.’

“ ‘That’s well. He must have gone to sleep. You don’t think that he saw anything?’

“ ‘I suppose not, for he went directly to the hayloft.’

“ ‘That is good. We will try him tonight.’

“ ‘You had better look out! Do you dare to trust him?’ said Zakhárof.

“ ‘Yes; although he is a simple-minded lad, he has great strength, and, moreover, he obeys me; I can twist him round my little finger. Besides, you must remember that I am now about to go away for six months, and we must break him in before I go.’

“ ‘Yes, but I cannot help distrusting him,’ said Zaldiarof; ‘I have no faith in him whatever, although he looks so simple.’

“ ‘Well, well, I know him; he is not a clever lad, to be sure, but that’s the kind that best suits us. And we must certainly get rid of Kuzmá; I am afraid he will get us into some scrape.’

“Then I heard them call, ‘Feódor!’⁠—‘Feódor!’ and I really had not the courage to answer.

“ ‘Get up, my good Feódor,’ said the old man, in his sweetest tones. ‘Were you asleep?’ he asked.

“ ‘Yes,’ I replied.⁠ ⁠…

“ ‘Get up, my boy, and harness the horses; you will have to drive the travellers. Do you remember your oath?’

“ ‘I do’; and my teeth chattered as I spoke, and cold chills were running all over me.

“ ‘I think the time for keeping your promise to obey all my commands is at hand. And, meanwhile, be lively about harnessing, for the travellers are in haste.’

“I pulled out the telyéga from the shed, put the collar on the middle horse, and began to harness. Meanwhile, my heart was throbbing violently, and I felt all the time as if this must be a dream.

“Bezrúky also saddled his own horse, which was docile as a dog; he could saddle him with one hand. Then he mounted, and, having whispered something into the horse’s ear, he rode off. After harnessing the middle horse, I looked out of the gate, and watched him as he started on a trot towards the woods. Although the moon had not yet risen, it was tolerably light; and after I saw him disappear in the woods, I felt easier. I drove up to the door, and was asked to come in. The traveller was a young woman with three small children, the oldest of whom looked about four, and the youngest girl might have been two years old. ‘I wonder where you are going, you poor creature!’ I thought to myself; ‘and without a husband, too! Such a kind and friendly lady!’ She made me sit down, and gave me some tea, and asked me what sort of a neighborhood it was, and whether there had been any reports of robberies. ‘I have not heard of any,’ I replied; and couldn’t help thinking: ‘Ah, my blessed heart, you are afraid!’ and how could she help it, to be sure! She had a good deal of luggage, and all the signs of wealth, and, above all, there were her children. A mother’s heart is an anxious one, and I don’t suppose she was travelling for pleasure.

“Well, we started. It was about two hours before daylight. We had reached the highway, and driven on for a verst or so, when suddenly one of the side horses shied. ‘What now!’ I thought. I stopped the team, and saw Kuzmá creeping out of the bushes. There he stood, by the roadside, shaking his locks and grinning at me. ‘Deuce take you!’ said I to myself. I was somewhat startled, and the lady sat there more dead than alive.⁠ ⁠… The children were asleep, but she was wide-awake, watching. I knew that she was crying.⁠ ⁠… ‘I am afraid,’ she said. ‘I am afraid of you all.⁠ ⁠…’⁠—‘God bless you, my dear lady,’ I cried, ‘I am not a villain. Why didn’t you stay at the hut, where you were?⁠ ⁠…’⁠—‘I was more frightened there than I am here. My last driver told me that we should come to a village at night; and, instead of that, he brought me to this place in the woods. And the old man had such a wicked look!⁠ ⁠…’ she continued.⁠ ⁠… What was I to do with her! I could see that she felt very wretched. ‘What had we better do now?’ I asked. ‘Will you turn back, or shall we go on?’ And I walked round the carriage, trying to think of some way to comfort her, for I felt very sorry for her. We were not far from the Hollow, which could only be reached from the byroad; and we had to pass the ‘Stone.’ Seeing the quandary I was in, she cheered up, and said: ‘Well, get up on the box, and let us go on. I am not going back, for I am afraid of those men.⁠ ⁠… I would rather go on with you; you look like a kind man.’ At that time, sir, I was like a child; I had not the stamp of Cain on my face. Now men are afraid of me; they call me ‘Slayer.’ Then I too cheered up, and mounted the box. ‘Let us talk,’ said the lady. And she began first to ask questions about me, and then she told me about herself: that she was going to join her husband, who was an exile belonging to the wealthy class. ‘How long have you been with these people?’ she asked, ‘and are you living with them as a workman, or in what capacity?’⁠—‘I came to them very recently, as a workman,’ I replied.⁠—‘What kind of folk are they?’⁠—‘They seem to be fair sort of men; but who can tell?’ I said; ‘they are strict in their mode of life; they never use either wine or tobacco.’⁠—‘That is not an essential,’ she said.⁠—‘And how ought one to live?’ I asked; for I saw that she was a sensible woman, and thought that she might tell me something worth knowing.⁠—‘Can you read?’ she asked.⁠—‘Yes,’ I answered, ‘a little.’⁠—‘What is the chief commandment in the Bible?’⁠—‘Love,’ I replied.⁠—‘You are right. And it says, moreover, there can be no greater love than when a man lays down his life for his brother. That is the substance of the law. Of course, one must use one’s reason, too,’ she added, ‘and discriminate. But such forms as moving the fingers in a certain manner, in order to make the sign of the cross, and abstaining from the use of tobacco, are not essential⁠ ⁠…’⁠—‘You are right,’ I replied; ‘still, some forms are needed, to remind a man of his duties.’

“Thus we talked as we drove leisurely along. We came to a small stream in the woods, which we had to cross. It was a shallow stream, and, during the dry season, all one had to do was to give the ferryboat a push and it would touch the opposite shore; there was no need of a ferryman. The children, waking, opened their eyes, and saw that it was nighttime. The soughing of the forest, the starlit sky overhead, the moon rising before daybreak,⁠ ⁠… all this was a novel sight for them,⁠ ⁠… of course, they didn’t know much about such things!

“When we drove into the woods, I was fairly startled, and my heart almost stopped beating, for what did I see but a figure on horseback ahead of us! I could not see distinctly, but I thought I recognized Bezrúky’s gray horse, and I could hear the clatter of his hoofs. My heart sank within me. ‘What is going to happen now?’ I thought. ‘Why did the old man come out here?’ Now, it had seemed to me like a foreboding of evil when he reminded me of my oath, just before we started.⁠ ⁠… Until that evening I had thought a good deal of the old man, although I must confess I always stood in awe of him; but now I began to be really afraid of him⁠—the very thought of his face made me shiver.

“As I sat there, without moving, my mind seemed paralyzed and I could scarcely hear a sound. The lady spoke now and then, but I was unable to answer her; at last she gave up trying to talk, and there she sat, the poor creature!⁠ ⁠…

“We had now entered an impenetrable forest. My spirits were gloomier than the night itself. I was half-unconscious, but the horses, familiar with the road, carried us along without my guidance, toward that selfsame stone. We reached it,⁠ ⁠… and there, just as I anticipated, stood the gray horse across the road, and the eyes of the old man bestriding him gleamed like two coals of fire, so help me God!⁠ ⁠… The reins fell from my hands, and my horses, coming up to the gray horse, stopped of their own accord.

“ ‘Feódor!’ said the old man, ‘get down!’ I jumped down from the box, and he himself dismounted, having placed his horse directly in front of the troika, which stood perfectly still, as if bewitched; I too seemed to be under a spell. He came up to me, and said something; then, taking me by the hand, he led me to the carriage, and I discovered that I was holding an axe!⁠ ⁠… I yielded to him,⁠ ⁠… for I had not the courage to resist, villain that he was. ‘Sin, and you will repent afterwards.⁠ ⁠…’ What else he said I know not. We went up to the carriage. He stood beside me. ‘First strike the woman on the head!’ I looked into the carriage. There sat the lady, like a wounded dove, shielding her children, and gazing at me with all her eyes. My heart quivered.⁠ ⁠… The children were awake; they looked like birdlings. I cannot tell whether they understood what was going on, or not.⁠ ⁠…

“Her gaze seemed to rouse me as from a dream. Lifting the axe, I turned my eyes away.⁠ ⁠… But my heart was swelling with rage.⁠ ⁠… I looked at Bezrúky, who quailed beneath my glance.⁠ ⁠… Then my wrath grew more furious. I knew that I was about to do a horrible deed; but I had no pity. Once more I looked at the old man, whose green eyes flashed restlessly.⁠ ⁠… He was frightened, and that made him wriggle like a snake. I raised my arm and struck out,⁠ ⁠… and, before he could groan, I stretched him prostrate at my feet, and then I stamped upon him as he lay there dead,⁠ ⁠… for I was like nothing but an infuriated beast, the Lord have mercy on me!”

The driver breathed heavily.

“And what happened then?” I inquired, seeing him thoughtful and silent.

“What did you say?” he replied; “you want to know what happened next? Well, as I said, I was stamping on him as he lay there dead, when, behold! I saw Iván Zakhárof galloping towards us, with a rifle in his hand. I turned just as he reached us,⁠ ⁠… and I should have certainly finished him, as I did Bezrúky, only, I am thankful to say, he had the sense to turn back. Just as soon as his eye lighted on me, he turned his horse, dealing him heavy blows with the rifle. The horse actually howled like a human being, and flew like a bird.

“When, at last, I came to my senses, it seemed to me that I could not look anyone in the eye.⁠ ⁠… I mounted the box and gave the horses the lash,⁠ ⁠… but they refused to start,⁠ ⁠… and then I saw that the gray horse was still barring the way. I had forgotten that he had been trained to do that. I made the sign of the cross, as it came to my mind that I might have to kill that cursed horse also. I went up to him, but he remained motionless except for the movement of his ears. I pulled him by the rein, but he would not stir. ‘You had better get out of the carriage, madam,’ I said, ‘for the horses might become frightened and run, because of this horse, which persists in standing right in front of them.’ Obedient as a child, the lady got out, and the children followed, clinging to their mother. The place itself was dark and gloomy; that alone frightened them, and then to see me in trouble with these devils.

“I backed my troika, took up the axe once more, and went close to the gray horse. ‘Get out of the way,’ I cried, ‘else I will kill you!’ He pricked up his ears, as much as to say, ‘I will not budge.⁠ ⁠… The deuce take you!’⁠ ⁠… Everything grew blurred before my eyes. My hair seemed to stand on end.⁠ ⁠… Swinging the axe, I struck him on the head with all my might.⁠ ⁠… He uttered a scream, and fell down dead.⁠ ⁠… I took him by the legs, dragged him towards his master, and then I put them side by side, near the edge of the road. ‘Stay there, will you!’

“ ‘Get in,’ I said to the lady. She helped the younger children first, but had not strength enough left to get the oldest one in.⁠ ⁠… ‘Will you help me?’ she said. As I went up to them, the boy put out his arms to me, and I was about to lift him up, when I remembered.⁠ ⁠… ‘Take the child away,’ I cried; ‘I am stained with blood, and am not fit to touch him!⁠ ⁠…’

“Finally they managed in some way to get into the telyéga, and I took the reins; but the horses snorted, and refused to stir. What was I to do? ‘Put the baby on the box,⁠ ⁠…’ I said. She placed the child beside me, holding him from behind. I gave the horses a blow with the reins, and they started on the run⁠ ⁠… just as you saw them a short time ago. They ran to escape the scent of blood.

“In the morning I brought the lady to the local police-quarters in the village, and there I told my story. ‘Arrest me, for I have killed a man.’ The lady told them just how it all happened. ‘This man saved my life,’ she said. They bound me with ropes, and she cried at the sight, poor dear! ‘Why do you bind him? He did a good deed; he saved my children from murderers!⁠ ⁠…’ She was a determined one! Seeing that no one heeded her words, she tried to untie the ropes with her own hands, but I stopped her. ‘Don’t do that,’ I said. ‘Don’t be anxious about this matter; it is no longer in the hands of man, but in the care of the Lord. Whether I am guilty or innocent, God and the world will judge.⁠ ⁠…’⁠—‘How can you be guilty?’ she said.⁠—‘It was my pride,’ I replied; ‘my guilt sprang from my pride. I thought I was better and wiser than most men, and I became intimate with those wretches because I was too proud to take advice, and through my own self-conceit I have become a murderer.⁠ ⁠…’ She yielded at last to my remonstrances, and desisted. When she came to bid me goodbye, in her compassion, she embraced me.⁠ ⁠… ‘My poor fellow!’ she said, and bade the children kiss me. ‘No, no!’ I exclaimed; ‘don’t stain the children; I am a murderer!⁠ ⁠…’ I feared lest the children might shrink from me. But she lifted the two younger ones in her arms, and the oldest one came of his own accord, and when he put his arms around my neck I broke down, and burst out sobbing. I could not control myself. Oh, what a kindhearted lady she was!⁠ ⁠… Maybe the Lord will forgive me, for her sake.⁠ ⁠…

“ ‘If there be any justice in this world,’ she said to me, ‘we will obtain it for you. I shall not forget you as long as I live!’ And she was as good as her word. You know what our courts are,⁠ ⁠… continual delays. I should have been in prison up to this day, had it not been for the efforts that she and her husband made to gain my release.”

“Then, you were imprisoned for some time?”

“Yes, for quite a while. And the want of money was the cause of it. After a time she sent me half a thousand rubles, and she and her husband wrote me a letter. As soon as it was known that money had come, my case began to move at once. The inspector appeared, and I was called to the office. Your case is before me,’ he said; ‘now, how much will you give me if I make it all right?’

“ ‘A fine official you are!’ I thought to myself; ‘and what is it that he wants to be paid for? Instead of judging me fairly, according to the law, for which I should be truly thankful, he asks for a bribe.⁠ ⁠…’

“ ‘I will give you nothing,’ I said; ‘judge me according to the law.⁠ ⁠…’

“He laughed. ‘I see that you are a fool! The law admits of two interpretations; but that has been shelved, and, meanwhile, I have the authority in my hands. It is in my power to put you wherever I please.’

“ ‘How so?’

“ ‘It is a simple matter. You appear to be a stupid fellow. Listen! You will say, in your defence, that you saved the lives of this lady and her children.’

“ ‘Yes,’ I said. ‘What then?’

“ ‘Very well; and this might be attributed to you as an act of virtue, for it is a good deed. That is one view of the case.’

“ ‘And what is the other one?’ I asked.

“ ‘The other one? Simply this. Consider your strength, see what a giant you are! The old man was like a child in your hands. When he suggested what you say, you should have politely tied his hands and brought him before the authorities; but, instead of doing this, you dealt him a blow which felled him to the ground. That was a lawless act, and one that you had no right to commit. You understand?’

“ ‘I do,’ I said. ‘I see that I can find no justice! But I will give you nothing! You are not the judge, and this is not impartial judgment!’

He was angry.

“ ‘Very well, then!’ said he. ‘You may rot in jail while your suit is going on!’

“ ‘All right,’ I said; ‘but you need not threaten.’

“And so he had me locked up in jail. But the lady persisted; she went so far as to intercede for me with the higher authorities, and it was not long before a document was received that made it hot for the inspector. One day I was summoned to the office, and, after a great deal of loud talking, was at last released. So, after all, I had no trial⁠ ⁠… and I hardly know⁠ ⁠… I have been told that, nowadays, justice is to be found in our courts, and I sometimes wish I could be tried by a jury and abide by their verdict.”

“And what became of Iván Zakhárof?”

“Iván Zakhárof has never been heard from since. It was said that he and Bezrúky planned that the former was to follow me at a short distance, and, if I should refuse to commit the murder, Zakhárof was to shoot me. But you see it was not the will of the Lord,⁠ ⁠… for, when Zakhárof arrived upon the scene, everything was all over, and he took fright. I heard that, when he returned, he went directly to work to dig up his money; and, having done this, he made for the woods, without saying a word to anyone.⁠ ⁠… Towards morning the house caught fire. Whether he set it on fire accidentally, or whether it was done by Kuzmá, was never known; but one thing is certain⁠—that, by nightfall, nothing was left of it but a bed of coals, and thus the rogues’ nest was destroyed. The women are beggars to this day, and the son is a convict, for he had no money to buy himself off.

“Ho!⁠ ⁠… my dearies, we have arrived, thanks be to God! See, the sun is just rising!⁠ ⁠…”

IV

A Voltairian of Siberia

A month passed. I had transacted my business, and was returning to the city of N⁠⸺ by post relays.

About noon we reached, the station, where the stout postmaster stood on the porch, smoking a cigar.

“I suppose you want fresh horses?” he asked, before I had time to utter a greeting.

“Yes,” I replied.

“All gone!”

“Please, don’t say that, Vasíli Ivánovitch! Cannot I see that⁠ ⁠…”

For I distinctly saw a partly harnessed troika standing under the shed.

He laughed.

“Truly, I know you are not in haste just now, and I will ask you to wait awhile.”

“For what reason? Are you expecting the governor?”

“Not quite so high a personage as the governor, I should hope; no, only a privy councillor, but I should like to accommodate this fellow.⁠ ⁠… Don’t get vexed, for I am quite as anxious to accommodate you; but your need is not urgent, and this is in the interests of justice and humanity in general, so to speak.”

“What have you to do with justice? What business is it?”

“If you will wait I will tell you all about it. But why stand here? Come into my ‘cabin,’ will you?”

I agreed, and followed Vasíli Ivánovitch into his “cabin,” where his wife, a stout, good-natured person, was waiting for us at the tea-table.

“You were speaking about justice,” began Vasíli Ivánovitch; “have you heard the name of Proskuróf?”

“No, I have not.”

“How should he?” interposed Matróna Ivánovna. “He is just such another lawless fellow as my husband; he even writes for the papers.”

“You are very much mistaken, Matróna Ivánovna,” said Vasíli Ivánovitch, warmly; “Proskuróf is a highly respectable man, and in favor with his superiors. You ought to burn a wax taper to my patron saint as a thanks-offering for your husband’s respectable acquaintances. If that’s your opinion in regard to Proskuróf, I should like to ask if you suppose that they would send a good-for-nothing man as examining magistrate on such important business as this?”

“What are you talking about?” I inquired. “What about an examining magistrate on important business?”

“That’s what I say!” said Matróna Ivánovna, encouraged. “I think you are talking nonsense. Do you take me for a fool, pray? Do important magistrates look like that?”

“You have made Matróna Ivánovna doubt me,” said the stationmaster, shaking his head reproachfully, “and without any sufficient knowledge on your part. True, no office like that exists; but if a man is appointed owing to the special confidence that is reposed in him, it is still better.⁠ ⁠…”

“I am at a loss to understand you,” I remarked.

“That is just what I complain of; you admit that you don’t understand, and yet you don’t hesitate to excite doubts in the mind of an inexperienced woman! Yes, and are you not aware that a stock-company, so to speak, has been organized, that manages all this highway and dark night business? Is it possible that you know nothing about it!”

“I have heard such rumors, of course.”

“I thought you must have heard of it. It is a company that embraces every class of society. The business is conducted on a large scale, having for its motto: ‘One hand washes the other.’ They have no objection to a certain notoriety; and it is a fact that everyone knows of the existence of such a company, and even the names of the individuals who are interested in it. I say everyone⁠—His Excellency, of course, excepted. Not very long ago, a notorious affair occurred, after which His Excellency conceived a brilliant idea. He had come to the determination that, if it was possible, this evil should be suppressed. Of course, such attempts have been made before. The members of the company, for instance, have suppressed themselves, and all ended well. But this time the idea was particularly brilliant. His Excellency was very much enraged, and empowered his private clerk, Proskuróf, with ample authority to act on every occasion⁠—not only in regard to affairs that have already taken place, but also in all future ones or in such as might have any connection with those that had previously occurred.”

“What is there so remarkable in that?”

“Well, sometimes the Lord sees fit to enlighten even babes. But the wonder is that an honest and energetic man has been found: he has been engaged in this business of suppression for the past three months, and such a commotion as he has raised, the Lord help us! About a dozen horses have been ruined.”

“Well, what good does that do you?”

“It was not Proskuróf who ruined the horses.⁠ ⁠… He would not do such a thing. It is the rural police, the men who follow him about on private horses⁠—competition, you know⁠—trying to get ahead of him and to be the first on the spot where a crime has been committed, for the sake of duty, of course. However, they seldom succeed. Proskuróf is our Lecocq. Once, to be sure, they succeeded in stealing some evidence from under his very nose.⁠ ⁠… He felt much aggrieved at it, poor fellow, so much so that he actually forgot himself in the official report, and stated ‘that, owing to the endeavor of the rural police, all measures had been taken to conceal the evidences of crime!’ Ha-ha-ha!”

“Yes, that’s the reason why I say that he is a case⁠—like yourself!”

“No, he is all right,” rejoined Vasíli Ivánovitch. “And, supposing he did make a blunder, that is what might happen to the most careful person. He acknowledged his own mistake, when they pressed him, and, to justify himself, he declared that it was a clerical error. ‘Guard against such errors in the future,’ was the reply, ‘lest you be discharged on account of poor health.’ He is a funny fellow, I must say! Ha-ha-ha!”

“And what have you to do with all this?” I asked.

“I lend my cooperation. Ask my wife; we have a regular compact⁠—a secret treaty. He does the suppressing, and I always keep horses in readiness for him. For instance, today a murder was committed somewhere along the highway, and his man was despatched to inform him of it, which means that the ‘Eradicator’ himself will be here shortly; so my horses are partly ready, and, moreover, I have sent word to my colleagues to have others in readiness at their stations. So, you see, even though one occupies the humble post of stationmaster, one may do some good to humanity⁠—yes, sir.⁠ ⁠…”

At the end of this tirade, the jolly stationmaster dropped his serious tone and began to laugh.

“Stop laughing,” I said to him, “and tell me seriously, do you believe in this policy of eradication yourself, or are you only an observer?”

Vasíli Ivánovitch took a long pull at his cigar, and remained silent for a time.

At last he replied, in an earnest tone, “Well, I don’t know that I have asked myself this question. Let me consider. No, I cannot say that I do! All this mission is devilish nonsense! He will soon be discharged; there is no doubt about that! But he is a most interesting subject. It is true that, at the bottom of my heart, I have very little faith in his success. Sometimes he appears ridiculous to me; still, I go on helping him, and I dare say my wife is right⁠—very likely I shall irritate my superiors against me. And that will do me small good. But am I the only one? There are many others who sympathize with him. That is what makes him strong, of course. But, strange to say, no one really believes in his success. You have just heard Matróna Ivánovna say that genuine magistrates are not like him, and that is only the echo of public opinion. Meanwhile, however, while this infant pushes ahead, ‘holding high his banner,’ as the papers express it, every man with a particle of feeling, every disinterested man, takes the trouble to kick stones out of the said infant’s path, lest he stumble and fall. Still, this is no remedy.⁠ ⁠…”

“Why not? With the sympathy of a population, naturally interested in all this?”

“Ah, but that is just the point! It is not pure sympathy! You will probably see for yourself what kind of an infant this is! He pushes ahead without discretion, with no definite plan, quite indifferent to the fact that he will probably be gobbled up in the end. Meanwhile, outsiders look on, and shake their heads, as much as to say, ‘That infant will be eaten up sooner or later!’ Of course, one feels sorry for him. One says, ‘Your path shall be smoothed here for a space, but, after all is done, you will certainly be devoured further on.’ But he reeks nothing of danger. What does sympathy amount to, when faith in the success of one’s enterprise is lacking? A genuine magistrate is needed; a man with the wisdom of a serpent, one who knows the ins and outs, who could overawe men at times, and not disdain to receive a bribe occasionally⁠—for, after all, who can be a true magistrate who refuses that! In such a man the community would have faith. He is the one to eradicate! But, then, the deuce take it! there would be no sympathy, and the matter would be attributed to the clashing of official interests.⁠ ⁠… So there you have it!⁠ ⁠… Such is our country!⁠ ⁠… We had better drink our tea!” Vasíli Ivánovitch finished abruptly, and shifted uneasily in his chair.

“Pour the tea, Matréyntchik,” he said, in caressing tones, turning to his wife, who was listening with an air of profound interest to her husband’s words. “And don’t you think we had better take a glass of something before tea?”


Vasíli Ivánovitch himself was a very interesting character, such as is to be found only in Siberia, for in no other country is one likely to encounter a philosopher occupying the position of stationmaster. Had Vasíli Ivánovitch been an exile, this would have been nothing unusual. Fortune’s wheel, in its rotation, has hurled many a man from high position into some remote corner of the world, who, while seeking to rise again, introduces into these lower spheres new methods of education and culture. But with Vasíli Ivánovitch it was just the reverse; in his radicalism he was descending slowly but surely from the upper to the lower stages. He looked upon this state of things with the serenity of a true philosopher. Under some educational influence, not uncommon in this country of exiles, he had in his youth acquired the tastes and inclinations of an intelligent man, and had always prized them above all other advantages of life. Besides, he was something of an artist. When he was in a mood for talking, one could listen to him until one forgot all about one’s own business. While he was relating anecdotes and stories, and giving descriptions, a panorama of the characteristic and local types of the times previous to the reform seemed to pass before the eyes of the listener: all those rapacious and eager inspectors; and well fed bailiffs, who were beginning to realize the comforts of life; bailiffs at the top of the ladder, who had reached the height of felicity; counsellors, senior-counsellors, commission employees of all kinds⁠ ⁠… and enthroned above all this world, so familiar to Vasíli Ivánovitch in its minutest details, sat the local Jupiters in their good-nature and grandeur, with their demonstrative Pompadour storms, their childlike ignorance of the country, their horizon imported from the St. Petersburg departments, and the sense of power of the mighty satrap. All these elements in the stories of Vasíli Ivánovitch were vivified by the sympathetic touches of the true artist who loves his subject. And for Vasíli Ivánovitch, his country, although he often painted it in such unattractive colors, was a subject of deepest interest. As an intelligent man, he might truly apply to himself the poet’s verse:⁠—

“I love my country, but with a strange love!”

And his love was sincere, although it brought him to a gradual “degradation,” as he expressed it. When, after one of those reverses brought upon him by his insatiable craving for exposing the truth, he was offered a fair position in Russia, he, after some hesitation, replied, “No, sir; I am much obliged to you, but it goes against me.⁠ ⁠… I could not do it! What should I do there? Everything would be strange to me. Bless you! I should have no one to abuse!”

Whenever I read or hear a comparison between Siberia and Russia as it was before the reform, a subject very much in vogue at one time, it always brings to my mind one very decided difference, which was personified in the stout figure of my humorous friend. The fact is that Russia before the reform had not the advantage that Siberia possesses, of living in the neighborhood of a Russia reformed. For instance, one often meets in Siberia persons, not particularly intelligent either, who speak of their own country in terms of ironical criticism. Our Russian Skvozník-Dmukhanóvsky, in the simplicity of his intellectual directness, supposed that “God had thus ordained it, and the disciples of Voltaire vainly rebelled against it.” The Siberian Skvozník witnessed the disappearance of his Russian prototype, saw the triumph of the disciples of Voltaire, and his directness has long since vanished. He is always agitating, but has very little faith himself in his providential mission. When favorable influences prevail, he is cheerful; but let the wind blow from the wrong quarter, he gnashes his teeth and grows morbid. True, there is always a slender ray of hope shining through his despair⁠—“Perhaps the next time it may succeed”; but, on the other hand, every hope is embittered by the poignant doubt, “Will it endure?” For, as the proverb says, “Chips fly in Siberia when trees are felled beyond the Ural.” And beside him, smiling, stands the native “Voltairian,” in his woollen coat, and by his smile he seems to say, “Still alive, my friend? Is it possible?” while he clandestinely scribbles his correspondence for unlicensed Russian papers.


“By the way,” said Vasíli Ivánovitch, after tea, when, having lighted our cigars, we still continued our chat, “you have never told me what happened to you that time in the Hollow?”

And then I told him what the reader already knows.

Vasíli Ivánovitch remained pensive, scrutinizing the ashes on the end of his cigar.

“Yes, they are peculiar people, no doubt.”

“Do you know them?”

“How shall I say? Yes; I have met and talked with them, and have taken tea with them, as I did with you just now. But, as to knowing them⁠—no, I can’t say I do. I can see through inspectors, or isprávniks,28 probably because we are kindred spirits; but those people, I must confess, I do not understand. But of one thing I am confident, and that is that this Seelín will come to an unfortunate end. He will be made way with, sooner or later.”

“Why do you think so?”

“How can it be otherwise! Your case was not the first. On all such dangerous expeditions, when almost every driver refuses, they have recourse to this fellow, and he is always ready. And you must remember that he never takes any weapons. It is true, he overawes them all. Since he killed Bezrúky, a wonderful prestige has attached itself to him, and he seems to believe in it himself. But this is only an illusion. Already they begin to say that a charmed bullet will kill the ‘Slayer.’ I suspect that the persistence with which this Constantine fires at him is explained by the fact that he has a supply of just such charmed bullets.”

V

The Exterminator

While this conversation was going on, Vasíli Ivánovitch suddenly pricked up his ears.

“Wait a moment; I think I heard the bell⁠ ⁠… It must be Proskuróf.”

And the sound of the name seemed to restore Vasíli Ivánovitch to his habitual hilarity. He ran to the window. “Just as I expected! There comes our Exterminator! Look at him, will you! If that isn’t a picture! Ha-ha-ha! That is the way he always drives. A truly conscientious man!” I went to the window. The bell sounded nearer and nearer. At first I could see only a cloud of dust issuing from the forest and blowing in our direction. But the road that skirted the hill made here a sudden turn towards the station, and, in this place, we could see the team, directly below and very near us.

The post-horse troika, harnessed to a light taratáïka,29 was making rapid progress. The fine dust and pebbles already flew from under the hoofs of the galloping horses; but the driver, leaning forward, urged them with an occasional shout to still greater speed. Behind him appeared a figure clad in a civilian’s overcoat and a uniform cap. Although the uneven road pitched the taratáïka from side to side, and jolted the gentleman in the hat with the cockade, he did not seem to notice it in the least. He too was standing, bending forward over the box, and appeared to be superintending the horses, in order to make sure that each one was doing his share of the work. At times, he pointed out to the driver the one he thought ought to be urged, occasionally taking the whip from his hands, and using it himself, in a conscientious but awkward way. From this occupation, which seemed to absorb his entire attention, he would now and then tear himself away, to look at his watch.

During all this time, while the troika was ascending the hill, Vasíli Ivánovitch laughed immoderately; but when, with one final jerk of the bell, it stopped in front of the porch, the stationmaster sat there on the lounge, smoking his cigar, in apparent oblivion of what was passing.

At first, we heard nothing but the heavy breathing of the tired horses; then suddenly the door was thrown open, and the newcomer burst into the room. He was a man possibly thirty-five years of age, rather small in stature, but with an uncommonly large head. His broad face, with its prominent cheekbones, level brows, slightly turned-up nose, and thin lips, was almost square, and produced an effect of energy peculiar to itself. His large gray eyes looked straight ahead. In a general way, Proskuróf’s face struck one at once by its seriousness⁠—an impression that somehow vanished after a few seconds. The trim, official-looking side-whiskers, which framed his smoothly shaven face, the parting on his chin, and certain abrupt motions peculiar to him, added at once a tinge of comicality to the first impression of this original person. Upon entering the room, Proskuróf paused and glanced about him, and as soon as he discovered Vasíli Ivánovitch he approached him. “Mr. Stationmaster⁠ ⁠… Vasíli Ivánovitch, my dear fellow, let me have horses! For Heaven’s sake, my dear sir, let me have horses, as quickly as possible!”

Vasíli Ivánovitch, who was stretched out on the lounge, assumed a cold, diplomatic expression of countenance.

“Impossible,” said he; “besides, I believe you are not entitled to post-horses, and the horses belonging to the zemstvo30 will presently be required for the inspector, who may arrive at any moment.”

Too much surprised for utterance at the first moment, Proskuróf suddenly flared up.

“What do you mean?⁠ ⁠… Am I not here first?⁠ ⁠… A fine state of things!⁠ ⁠… In the first place, you are mistaken as to my rights about the post-horses; I have my travelling documents with me, and I can produce them if it is necessary,⁠ ⁠… and, besides, on legal principles.⁠ ⁠…”

But Vasíli Ivánovitch had already begun to laugh.

“The deuce take you, you are eternally joking. You know I am in a hurry!” exclaimed Proskuróf, in a tone of vexation, for he had evidently been caught in the same trap more than once. “Hurry, for goodness sake! I have business on hand.”

“I know it⁠—a murder case.”

“How do you know?” inquired the alarmed Proskuróf.

“How do you know?” repeated the postmaster, mimicking, him. “The inspector knows it already. He told me.”

“Stuff and nonsense!” replied the beaming Proskuróf. “They have not the least idea of it⁠—and my people have already arrested the criminal,⁠ ⁠… or I ought rather to say⁠ ⁠… the suspected party is in their hands. I tell you this promises to be a famous case!⁠ ⁠… You just wait, and see me make them tumble!”

“Indeed! You had better take care lest you tumble yourself.”

Just then the sound of a bell in the yard startled Proskuróf.

“Vasíli Ivánovitch,” he said, in a coaxing tone, “I hear them harnessing! Is that for me?”

And, seizing the postmaster’s hand, he threw an anxious glance in my direction.

“Yes, yes; it is for you! Be calm! But what business have you on hand, really?”

“A murder, my good fellow, another murder,⁠ ⁠… and such a murder!⁠—with unmistakable evidence against the famous band! I hold all the threads. Unless I am on the wrong scent, we shall have a chance to make some important personages squirm. Hurry, for mercy’s sake!⁠ ⁠…”

“Yes, yes, in a minute. Where did it happen?”

“In that same cursed Hollow, as usual. It ought to be blown up. A driver was killed.⁠ ⁠…”

“What’s that? A mail robbed?”

“No, no!⁠—he wasn’t a government driver.”

“The ‘Slayer’?” I exclaimed, as a sudden conviction flashed into my mind.

Proskuróf turned to me, and devoured me with his eyes.

“Precisely!⁠—that was the name the deceased was known by. May I ask what interest you have in this matter?”

“Hm!⁠ ⁠…” muttered Vasíli Ivánovitch, and a roguish look danced in his eyes. “Examine him⁠—you had better; examine him carefully.”

“I met him once,” I said.

“Just so,⁠ ⁠…” drawled out Vasíli Ivánovitch, “you met him.⁠ ⁠… Might one ask if there was any enmity or rivalry between you, or were you, perhaps, expecting some legacy after his death?”

“I wish you would stop joking. What an insufferable man you are!” rejoined Proskuróf, pettishly, and then, addressing himself to me, he continued:⁠—

“Pardon me, my dear sir! I had no intention of dragging you into this business, but you understand,⁠ ⁠… the interests of justice⁠ ⁠…”

“Of humanity and the safety of mankind,” interposed the incorrigible postmaster.

“In short,” continued Proskuróf, giving Vasíli Ivánovitch a savage glance, “I was only about to say that, since it is the duty of every citizen to promote the interests of justice, if you can communicate to me any information in regard to this matter, you must perceive that you are under the obligation to do so.”

“I don’t know,” I replied, “how much the information I possess would help the case. I should be very glad if my testimony should prove useful.”

“Good! Such promptness does you credit, my dear sir. May I ask with whom I have the honor⁠ ⁠…”

I told him my name.

“Afanásy Ivánovitch Proskuróf,” he said in his turn. “You have just spoken of your desire to promote justice. Now, I propose that, in order not to do the thing halfway, you would consent, my dear sir,⁠ ⁠… in a word,⁠ ⁠… would you be willing to go with me now?”

Vasíli Ivánovitch laughed.

“Well, if ever!⁠ ⁠… This beats all! Do you propose to arrest him?”

I made haste to reassure him, telling him that I never for a moment suspected such a thing.

“And Vasíli Ivánovitch is only joking,” I added.

“I am glad that you understand me; my time is precious. We shall make but few changes after this, and you will tell me, on the way, all that you know of the matter; and it so happens that I have no clerk with me.”

There was no reason why I should refuse.

“I was just on the point myself of asking you to take me along, as I am very much interested in this affair.”

The image of the “Slayer” rose before me: his sombre countenance, the lines of agony on his brow, and the brooding anxiety expressed in his eyes.⁠—“He is bringing the cormorants down upon me, the cursed rascal!” My heart sank within me as I recalled his gloomy forebodings. Now these cormorants circle around him, as with closed eyes he lies in the dark Hollow, that once before cast its ominous shadow over his unsullied life.

“Halloo!” suddenly exclaimed Vasíli Ivánovitch, peering through the window. “Can you tell me, Afanásy Ivánovitch, who that is driving out of the forest?”

Proskuróf threw one hasty glance, and started instantly for the door.

“Come, let us hurry, for goodness’ sake!” he called out to me, seizing his hat from the table; and, as soon as I could get ready, I followed him, and found our spirited troika just driving up to the entrance.

Glancing in the direction of the forest, I saw a cart rapidly approaching, whose passenger from time to time sprang to his feet, and the alternate rise and fall of his arms indicated some kind of performance from behind the back of the driver. The slanting rays of the setting sun scintillated here and there on his buttons and shoulder-straps. When Proskuróf paid the driver who had brought him, the latter grinned by way of expressing his gratification.

“Many thanks, Your Excellency!⁠ ⁠…”

“Have you told your comrade?⁠—that fellow, I mean,” said Proskuróf, pointing towards the new driver.

“Yes, I have been told,” replied the man.

“Then, look out!” said the examining magistrate, as he took his seat in the cart. “If you get us there in an hour and a half, you shall have a ruble; but if you are a minute too late, only one minute too late, you understand!⁠ ⁠…”

The last sentence was not completed; for at this moment the horses started abruptly, and the words were stifled in Proskuróf’s throat.

VI

Yevséyitch

The city of B⁠⸺ was some twenty versts distant. At first Proskuróf looked at his watch every instant, reckoning the distance already traversed, and once in a while he glanced over his shoulder; but at last, seemingly satisfied with the pace at which the troika was carrying us along, and convinced that no one was following us, he turned to me.

“Well, sir, what do you know about this affair?”

Then I told him about my adventure in the Hollow, and the driver’s apprehensions regarding a threat uttered by one of the robbers, whom I suspected to have been the merchant. Proskuróf drank it all in.

“Yes,” he said, when I paused, “all this will have its weight. But do you remember the faces of those men?”

“Yes, excepting the merchant’s.”

Proskuróf gave me one reproachful glance.

“Goodness!” he exclaimed, and his bitter disappointment revealed itself in his voice. “He of all others! Of course, you are not to blame; but he was just the one you ought to have remembered. Too bad! Too bad! However, he will not escape the clutches of the law.”

In less than an hour and a half we reached the station. Having given orders to have fresh horses harnessed as soon as possible, Proskuróf sent for the sótsky.31

A small peasant, with a thin beard and roguish eyes, made his appearance. The expression of his face betokened a mixture of good-nature and rascality, but the general impression was favorable and attractive. In his well worn smock-frock and shabby clothes there were no signs of affluence. On entering the hut, he bowed, then looked behind the door, as though to assure himself that there were no eavesdroppers present, and finally approached us. He seemed ill-at-ease, as though he felt himself to be in danger in Proskuróf’s presence.

“How goes it, Yevséyitch?” was the cordial greeting of the official. “What news? Your bird hasn’t flown?”

“How could he fly?” replied Yevséyitch, shuffling his feet: “he is well guarded.”

“Have you tried to talk with him?”

“I have; indeed I have.⁠ ⁠… But he does not seem inclined to talk. I tried politeness, at first; but I must confess I couldn’t help threatening him, after a while. ‘Why do you behave like a statue, you good-for-nothing fellow? Do you realize who I am?’⁠—‘And who are you, I should like to know?’⁠—‘An authority, that’s who!⁠—a sótsky!’⁠—‘Such authorities as you we have slapped in the face.’ What can you do with such a desperate fellow?⁠ ⁠… a villain!”

“Yes, yes,” interrupted Proskuróf, impatiently; “be sure and keep a sharp watch over him. I shall return in a short time.”

“He won’t run away. And I must say, Your Excellency, that he is not troublesome. Most of the time he lies down and looks at the ceiling⁠—whether asleep, or only resting, who can tell?⁠ ⁠… Once he got up and said he was hungry, and I gave him something to eat; then he asked for some tobacco to make a cigarette with, and stretched himself out again.”

“So much the better, my dear fellow. I rely on you, and when the surgeon arrives send him along.”

“I shall not fail to do so. But I was going to ask Your Excellency⁠ ⁠…”

And once more Yevséyitch went to the door, and looked cautiously around the vestibule.

“Well, what is it?” asked Proskuróf, who was on the point of leaving.

“I suppose we understand the matter,” began Yevséyitch, diplomatically, shuffling his feet, and casting side-glances at me; “if the peasants were to bring some pressure to bear now, it would be all right, would it?⁠ ⁠… the whole mir,32 I mean⁠—all our society?⁠ ⁠…”

“Well?” said Proskuróf, inclining his head in order better to grasp the sense of this disconnected explanation of the peasant.

“Just consider. Your Excellency, and think how it must be! We cannot stand this sort of thing much longer. Such trouble! Think of the power they have in their hands, and how successful they are!⁠ ⁠… Now, for instance, take that very same rascal!⁠ ⁠… What is he? There is no doubt but that he was bribed; it must have been done for money.⁠ ⁠… And if he had refused, they would have found another man.”

“That’s so,” said Proskuróf, by way of encouragement, and evidently very much interested. “Go on, my dear fellow; I see you have a head on your shoulders. Well, what then?”

“Nothing; only if we peasants felt that we had some power behind us,⁠ ⁠… perhaps, then, we might dare to testify against them.⁠ ⁠… Think of their evil doings!⁠ ⁠… and the mir is influential.”

“Well, you must know, if you help justice, justice will help you,” remarked Proskuróf, with dignity.

“To be sure,” ejaculated Yevséyitch, thoughtfully; “but, then, on the other hand, we cannot help thinking that, if Your Excellency should not be able to hold your own with the powers that be, we and our children would be ruined; for the power is in their hands.⁠ ⁠…”

Proskuróf shuddered, as though touched by an electric current, and, hurriedly seizing his hat, he rushed out of the room. I followed him, leaving Yevséyitch in the same perplexed attitude. He continued to gesticulate, muttering to himself, while Proskuróf, indignant, took his seat in the cart.

“That’s the way it always is!” he said; “nothing but compromises, whichever way one turns!⁠ ⁠… If success is assured to them, then they will consent to uphold justice.⁠ ⁠… What do you say to that state of things! It is immoral⁠—simply immoral!⁠ ⁠… It indicates that the sense of duty is deficient.⁠ ⁠…”

“If you ask my opinion, I must beg leave to differ from you. It seems to me that they have the right to demand from the authorities a guaranty of protection in all attempts to obtain justice. If this be denied, then what is the essence of authority?⁠—what meaning does it convey?⁠ ⁠… Do you not think that, if mob-law is forbidden, that very fact implies the assumption of certain responsibilities? And if they are not discharged, then⁠ ⁠…”

Proskuróf turned suddenly toward me, and seemed about to make some remark; but he did not speak, remaining silent, and absorbed in his own thoughts.

We had travelled nearly six miles, and were now about three miles from the Hollow, when we heard the sound of a bell. “Aha!” said Proskuróf, “he has not changed his horses. So much the better; he has had no time to interview the prisoner. I thought as much.”

VII

The Inspector

When we reached the Hollow, the roseate disk of the sun was just sinking below the horizon line; but, although the deep evening shadows were already overspreading the place, it was yet daylight. All was cool and still. The “Stone” loomed vaguely through the fog, and above it rose the full, pale moon. The dark forest lay wrapped in the profound sleep of enchantment; not a leaf stirred. The silence was broken only by the sound of the bell, which tinkled clearly in the air, repeated by the reverberating echo of the Hollow, and also behind us the sound of ringing could be faintly heard.

A light smoke rose from the direction of the bushes. The peasant watchers were sitting silently round a fire, and as soon as they saw us they rose, taking off their caps. At a short distance from them, under a linen cover, lay the body.

“Good evening, boys!” said the examiner, in an undertone.

“Good evening, Your Excellency!” replied the peasants.

“Nothing has been disturbed?”

“Nothing, we believe.⁠ ⁠… We were obliged to do something to him.⁠ ⁠… But we have not touched the animal.”

“What animal?”

“Why, didn’t you know the brutes shot the sorrel horse?⁠ ⁠… The deceased was returning on one of the side horses.” We saw the slain animal lying some thirty sazhén33 from the road.

Proskuróf, accompanied by the watchers, went to inspect the locality; he approached the deceased, and raised the covering from his face.

The pallor of death overspread his calm features. His dim eyes, turned upwards toward the evening sky, wore that peculiar expression of bewilderment and inquiry which is sometimes stamped upon the face of the dead by the last emotion of departing life.⁠ ⁠… The face was unsullied by blood.

A quarter of an hour later, Proskuróf passed me; he was walking toward the crossing, accompanied by the peasants. The team that we had heard behind us had just arrived.

A middle-aged man, in police uniform, jumped out, followed by a young person in citizen’s dress, who proved to be the surgeon. The inspector seemed much fatigued. His broad chest heaved like a pair of bellows; his portly person, enveloped in a stylish military cloak, swayed to and fro as he moved, and his long, waxed moustache alternately rose and fell, keeping time to his puffing and panting. His long, curling hair, slightly gray, was covered with dust.

“Ouf!” he exclaimed, gasping. “It’s hard work to follow you, Afanásy Ivánovitch. How do you do?”

“My respects to you,” answered Proskuróf. “I am sorry to have hurried you. I could have waited.”

“Oh, no!⁠ ⁠… Ouf!⁠ ⁠… Duty above all things. I never want to keep anyone waiting. That is against my principles.”

The inspector spoke in a hoarse army bass, the sound of which involuntarily brought to mind the idea of rum and Zhukof34 tobacco. His small eyes, colorless yet keen, with restless scrutiny, peered in all directions, and at last rested on me.

“This is Mr. N., a friend of mine, who is temporarily performing the duties of clerk,” said Proskuróf, as he introduced me.

“I have the pleasure to have heard of you, and am very happy to make your acquaintance. Bezrýlof, a retired captain.”

Lifting his hand to his vizor, he clanked his spurs with a good deal of style.

“Very well! We will begin the investigation, then, while the daylight lasts, and make short work of it, in military fashion. Hey, there!⁠ ⁠…”

The watchers came toward us, and, together, we drew near the dead body. Bezrýlof was the first to reach it, and, with an air of indifference, instantly pulled off the covering.

We involuntarily recoiled at the spectacle before us. The entire chest of the deceased displayed gaping wounds, cut and pierced in different places. An unspeakable horror took possession of the soul at the sight of such traces of beastly rage. Any one of these wounds would have been mortal, but it was evident that the majority of them were dealt after death.

Even Bezrýlof lost his customary self-possession, and stood motionless, holding in his hand the end of the covering. His cheeks grew purple, and the ends of his moustache stood out like two spears.

“The rascals!” he said at last, and heaved a deep sigh, which may have been an expression of remorse, knowing, as he did, that for him there was no possible retreat from the path of concealment and deception upon which he had entered. Gently replacing the covering, he turned to Proskuróf, who had not once averted his eyes from him.

“If you are willing, I wish to postpone the description until the inquest tomorrow,” pleaded the inspector, with a dispirited look.⁠ ⁠… “And now let us examine the locality, and have the body carried to B⁠⸺.”

“And there the prisoner shall be questioned,” replied Proskuróf, harshly.

A startled expression came into Bezrýlofs eyes, such as is seen in those of a hunted animal.

“The prisoner?” he exclaimed. “Have you a prisoner, then?⁠ ⁠… How happens it that I have not been⁠ ⁠… how is it that I knew nothing of it?”

He was almost ludicrous, but he quickly made an effort to recover himself. Casting a reproachful glance at his driver and the peasants, he turned again to Proskuróf.

“Well done! Matters begin to look alive⁠ ⁠… remarkably so!⁠ ⁠…”

VIII

“Iván, Aged Thirty-Eight Years”

About midnight, the officials, having rested and taken tea, began the inquest.

In a large room, at a table covered with writing materials, sat Proskuróf. His somewhat comical vivacity had given place to a serious and dignified demeanor. Bezrýlof, who had now regained his former ease of the barracks, had had time during his brief rest to get a bath, to wax his moustache, and to give an extra touch to his gray hair. On the whole, he was still a hale and rather an elegant man. Sipping strong tea from a tumbler that stood beside him, he glanced at the examiner in a condescending sort of way. I was seated at the opposite end of the table.

“Will you have the prisoner brought in?” said Proskuróf, looking up from the sheet of paper on which he was rapidly writing the form of the interrogatories.

Bezrýlof nodded, and Yevséyitch at once rushed out of the hut.

A moment later, the door opened, and a man of tall stature⁠—the same whom I had seen with Kostiúshka at the ferry, gazing at the clouds⁠—made his appearance.

In entering, he slightly stumbled over the sill, and, after a glance at the place, he walked into the middle of the room, and stood still. His step was measured and composed. A broad face, with rather coarse but regular features, denoted the utmost indifference. The blue eyes were somewhat dull, and gazed vaguely into space, as though not noticing the objects before them. His hair was cut in a circle, and spots of blood were visible on his colored cotton shirt. Proskuróf passed the paper with the written interrogatories to me, and, having pushed the pen and ink in the same direction, began to put the usual questions.

“What is your name?”

“Iván, aged thirty-eight.”

“Where do you live?”

“I have no home.⁠ ⁠… I am a vagrant.⁠ ⁠…”

“Tell me, ‘Iván, aged thirty-eight,’ did you murder the driver Iván Mikháïlof?”

“I did.⁠ ⁠… That’s my doing. Your Excellency.⁠ ⁠… There’s no use trying to hide the fact⁠ ⁠… that’s evident.⁠ ⁠…”

“Well said!⁠ ⁠…” exclaimed Bezrýlof, approvingly.

“What is the use?⁠—Your Excellency is making unnecessary delays!⁠ ⁠… There’s no denying the truth.”

After the first answers had been written down, the examiner continued:⁠—

“At whose instigation or suggestion did you do this deed, and where did you get the fifty-two rubles and two kopeks which were found on your person?”

The vagrant raised his dreamy eyes.

“What’s the use in asking these questions, Your Excellency? You know your business, and I know mine. I did it out of my own head; that’s all there is to it.⁠ ⁠… Myself, the dark night, and the forest⁠ ⁠… three of us!⁠ ⁠…”

Bezrýlof gave a grunt of satisfaction and drank half a tumbler of tea at one gulp, bestowing, meanwhile, sarcastic glances on Proskuróf. Then he gazed at the vagrant, admiring the result of his model prison-training, as a discipline-loving officer admires that of a well trained soldier.

Proskuróf remained impassive. Evidently, he had expected no disclosures from the vagrant.

“Will you not tell us,” he went on with his interrogatory, “why you hacked Feódor Mikháïlof in such a barbarous manner? Did you have a personal grudge or hatred against the deceased?”

The man looked up at the examiner with astonishment.

“I don’t think I stabbed him more than once or twice⁠ ⁠… I believe.⁠ ⁠… Then he fell.⁠ ⁠…”

Desyátnik,”35 said Proskuróf to the peasant, “hold a candle so that the prisoner can see, and let him take a look in the next room.”

The vagrant, with the same quiet step, moved towards the door, and paused, while the peasant, taking a candle from the table, entered the next room.

The rascal at first shuddered and drew back, but, instantly making an effort at self-control, he glanced once more in the same direction, and crossed over to the opposite side of the room.

As we followed the movements of this powerful man, now crushed and broken, his own excitement communicated itself to us.

He was pale, and for some time stood leaning against the wall, with his eyes cast down. Presently he lifted his head and looked at us with vague and uncertain gaze.

“Your Excellency!⁠ ⁠… Orthodox Christians!⁠ ⁠…” he began, in a pleading voice, “this is no work of mine.⁠ ⁠… Upon my conscience, I did not do this!⁠ ⁠… Can it be that in my terror I forgot.⁠ ⁠… No, it’s impossible!⁠ ⁠…”

Suddenly, his face brightened, and for the first time his eyes sparkled.

He came towards the table, and, in a resolute voice, exclaimed:⁠—

“Set this down, Your Excellency. Kostiúshka did it.⁠ ⁠… Kostínkin with the torn nostril! It must have been he!⁠ ⁠… No one else would have so mangled a human being. That’s his work.⁠ ⁠… Mate or no mate, it’s all one to me⁠ ⁠… write it down, Your Excellency!”

At this sudden outburst of candor, Proskuróf instantly seized paper and pen, in order to write it himself; while the vagrant, slowly and with visible effort, related to us the details of this gloomy drama.

He had escaped from the prison of N⁠⸺, where he had been confined for vagrancy⁠ ⁠… and for some time remained without “business,” until he accidentally met Kostiúshka and his friends in a certain “establishment.” It was there that for the first time he heard them talking of the deceased Mikháïlitch.

“ ‘The Slayer,’ they said, ‘is a man who cannot be killed; knife and bullet are powerless against him, because he bears a charmed life.’⁠—‘Nonsense, fellows!’ I exclaimed; ‘that is impossible! A blade will finish any man!’

“ ‘And who are you, may we ask, and where do you belong?’

“ ‘That’s my affair,’ I replied; ‘the prison is my father, and the forest my mother; they are my kith and kin.’

“Gradually, we grew more sociable, and at last I joined the company. They called for half a measure of wine, and Kostínkin said: ‘If you are the kind of man we can trust, wouldn’t you like to join us and go shares?’⁠—‘I would,’ I replied.⁠—‘All right!’ was the answer. ‘We want a man like you. This business must be done in the Hollow; it matters not whether it be by day or by night. We have heard that a man is to carry a large sum of money with him from town. But consider! are you sure you are not boasting? If the gentleman goes with another driver we will share the spoils⁠ ⁠… but if the “Slayer” should be with him, look out that you don’t run away.’⁠—‘No danger,’ I said; ‘that will not happen.’⁠—‘All right! if you feel so confident, you may be in luck; a large reward has been offered for the “Slayer,” and you will stand a chance of getting it.’ ”

“A reward?” repeated Proskuróf; “by whom, may I ask?”

“Look here, sir,” replied the vagrant, “you listen to me at present, and keep your questions till by and by.⁠ ⁠… Well, I must acknowledge that, the first time we tried it, I did get frightened, and ran away; the mate was mostly to blame for that. Mikháïlitch had nothing but a whip in his hand when he came towards us; and Kostínkin, with his rifle, was the first to run⁠ ⁠… of course, I felt frightened too.⁠ ⁠… But that rascal was the first one to make fun of me. He is very sarcastic⁠—that Kostínkin! ‘Very well,’ I said, ‘let us try it again. But let me tell you one thing: if you run away this time, I shall kill you too.’ For three days we stayed in the Hollow, on the lookout for him. Toward the evening of the third day he passed us⁠—so we felt sure he would have to return that night. We were all ready, lying in wait, when we heard him coming; he was riding one of the side horses. Kostínkin fired and hit the sorrel horse. Mikháïlitch rushed toward the bushes, just at the very spot where I stood.⁠ ⁠… My heart beat fast, I must confess; for I knew that one of us, either he or I, must fall.⁠ ⁠… So I made a plunge forward and struck at him with the knife, but missed him. Then he, seizing my arm, struck the knife out of my hand and threw me to the ground⁠—almost crushing me, in his great strength. But just as he was about to take off his belt, preparing to bind me, I drew from my boot another knife, which I had made ready for just such a crisis as this; and, bending, I stabbed him under the ribs.⁠ ⁠… He gave one groan, and, turning me face upwards, looked me in the eyes.⁠ ⁠… ‘Ah, my instinct warned me!⁠ ⁠… Well, go thy way, but don’t torture me. Thou hast killed me.’ I got up⁠ ⁠… and saw that he was in agony.⁠ ⁠… He tried to lift himself, but could not. ‘Forgive me,’ I cried.⁠—‘Go thy way, go thy way! May God forgive thee⁠ ⁠… as I do!’ Then I left him, and I tell you the truth when I say that I did not go near him again.⁠ ⁠… This is Kostínkin’s work; probably, after I went away, he fell upon him.⁠ ⁠…”

The vagrant was silent, and threw himself on the bench, while Proskuróf hastened to finish his writing. All was still.

“Now,” continued the examiner, “complete your frank confession. What merchant was with you on the occasion of the first attack, and in whose name did Kostiúshka promise you a reward for the murder of Feódor Mikháïlof?”

Bezrýlof sat gazing with disappointment at the softened vagrant. But suddenly the latter rose from the bench and resumed his former air of indifference.

“That will do!” he said, firmly; “I shall tell nothing more!⁠ ⁠… Enough!⁠ ⁠… You have put down all that about Kostiúshka, haven’t you? It serves him right, and perhaps it will teach him better than to be such a brute in the future! You may as well order them to take me away, Your Excellency, for I shall say nothing more.”

“Listen, ‘Iván, aged thirty-eight,’ ” said the examiner, “I deem it my duty to inform you that the fuller your confession, the more leniency you may expect from the hands of justice. You cannot save your mates.”

The vagrant shrugged his shoulders.

“That is not my lookout. It is all the same to me.”

Evidently, there was no hope of obtaining any further information from him, and he was removed from the room.

IX

The Investigation Continued

It still remained to examine the witnesses.

The priest was expected, to administer the oath, and meanwhile they huddled together at the inner wall. The gray crowd, with sombre faces, stood shuffling their feet, in dead silence. Yevséyitch stood in front. His face was red, his lips drawn tightly together, his forehead wrinkled, and, as he gazed gloomily from under his brows, his eyes rested alternately on Bezrýlof and the examiner. It was evident enough that between this crowd and Yevséyitch a decision had been reached.

Bezrýlof sat on the bench, with his legs spread apart, snapping his fingers. While the peasants were entering and taking their places, he gazed at them attentively and thoughtfully; then, after giving them one cold, disdainful glance, he turned to Proskuróf, nodded, and, with an almost imperceptible smile, exclaimed:

“By the way, Afanásy Ivánovitch, I almost forgot to congratulate you!⁠ ⁠… I have a pleasing bit of news.⁠ ⁠… Excuse me!⁠ ⁠… With all this business⁠ ⁠… it actually slipped my mind.⁠ ⁠…”

“On what subject?” inquired Proskuróf, still reading over the deposition.

Bezrýlof was beaming. “Can it be possible that you have not heard, and am I to be the first to impart this agreeable intelligence!⁠ ⁠… I am very, very glad!⁠ ⁠…”

The examiner raised his eyes and gazed at the inspector, who thereupon came up to him, clanking his spurs, and smiling in a way meant to be irresistible. “You are temporarily appointed to the place of Treasurer of the City of N⁠⸺⁠ ⁠… Of course, this is merely a form, and there can be no doubt but that your appointment will be confirmed. I congratulate you, my dear fellow,” continued Bezrýlof, in his most cordial and flattering voice, seizing Proskurófs hand; “I congratulate you with all my heart.”

But Proskuróf failed to appreciate these friendly congratulations. Quickly withdrawing his hand, he sprang from his seat.

“Wait, my dear sir, wait!” he hastily exclaimed, almost stuttering as he spoke. “This is no place for joking!⁠ ⁠… no place whatever!⁠ ⁠… , Perhaps you think that I do not see through your policy?⁠ ⁠… You are mistaken, my dear sir! I am no calf!⁠ ⁠… no, sir!⁠ ⁠… no calf!⁠ ⁠…”⁠—“God bless you, Afanásy Ivánovitch! what is the matter?” exclaimed Bezrýlof, in surprise, and, with a deprecatory wave of his hand, he glanced round the room, as if summoning those present to contemplate Proskuróf’s ingratitude. “Do you think I should dare to joke on such a subject⁠ ⁠… an official appointment!⁠ ⁠… I read it myself⁠ ⁠… I assure you!⁠ ⁠… And, I must say, a very desirable position it is,” he continued, changing his tone, and again assuming one of easy familiarity. “You will have no more trouble with unpleasant cases of this kind, while we, luckless mortals that we are, must finish this one without your assistance. I am sorry, of course!⁠ ⁠… Still, I am delighted for your sake! It’s an easy, comfortable office⁠ ⁠… ha-ha-ha!⁠ ⁠… One that exactly⁠ ⁠… ha-ha-ha!⁠ ⁠… suits your temperament.⁠ ⁠… And, moreover, you are likely to receive⁠ ⁠… from the merchants⁠ ⁠… ha-ha-ha!⁠ ⁠… substantial tokens of gratitude.⁠ ⁠…”

Bezrýlof seemed to have abandoned all reserve, and his stout person was convulsed by excessive laughter. Proskuróf stood before him motionless, grasping the table with both hands. His face, which wore an expression of mingled grief and astonishment, lengthened visibly, and grew fairly livid.

Alas, for him! At that moment, he really made one think⁠ ⁠… of a calf.

I glanced at the peasants. They were craning their necks; only Yevséyitch bent his head, as he had the habit of doing, and listened attentively, without losing a syllable. As I felt no further interest in the examination, I went out into the entry, where, on a bench in the corner, sat the prisoner. At a short distance from him stood several of the peasant watchers. As I drew near, and seated myself beside him, he looked up and made room for me.

“Tell me,” I said, “is it true that you really felt no enmity against the deceased Mikháïlof?”

He raised his calm blue eyes.

“What did you say!” he asked. “How could I have felt enmity, when I never saw him before!”

“Why did you kill him, then? Surely, it could not have been for the fifty rubles that were found on your person?”⁠—“No, of course not,”⁠ ⁠… he replied thoughtfully. “As we live, even ten times that sum hardly lasts a week. I simply wanted to know⁠ ⁠… if it was a possible thing that a knife-blade could have no effect.”

“You don’t mean to say that you have killed a man and made a wreck of your own life out of mere curiosity!”

He looked at me with surprise.

“Life, did you say?⁠ ⁠… My own life, you mean?⁠ ⁠… What is that? Today it happens that I have killed Mikháïlitch, but, if things had turned out differently, he might have put an end to me.⁠ ⁠…”

“Oh, no, he would never have killed you!”

“Yes, I think you are right; had he killed me, he would have been alive today.”

The vagrant gave me a look in which animosity was plainly to be seen.

“Go away! What do you want?” he said; and then added, letting fall his head, “Such is my lot!⁠ ⁠…”

“What is your lot?”

“Such as it is⁠ ⁠… prison life ever since I was a boy.”

“Have you no fear of God?”

“God?”⁠ ⁠… he repeated, smiling, and tossed his head. “I squared up my accounts with the Lord a long time ago, and well I might!⁠ ⁠… Considering all my prayers, I shouldn’t wonder if He were still my debtor. Look here, sir!” he said, changing his tone, “those things are not for the like of us. Why do you hound me? Haven’t I told you that such is my lot! I can talk pleasantly to you here, but if we happened to meet in the forest, or as we did that time in the Hollow⁠—then, it would be a very different matter.⁠ ⁠… It is all fate.⁠ ⁠… Heigh-ho!”

He shook his brown locks, exclaiming:⁠—

“Won’t you give me some tobacco, sir? I want it badly!” But the light tone in which he spoke seemed to me forced and artificial.

I gave him a cigarette, and, leaving him, went out into the vestibule. Away beyond the forest the sun was just rising; and the night-mist, drifting eastward, rested on the tops of the pines and the cedars.⁠ ⁠… The dew sparkled on the grass, and through the window I could see the yellow flame of the tapers that stood near the head of the corpse.

The Blind Musician

I

The Blind Infant⁠—The Family

I

At the hour of midnight, in a wealthy family living in the southwestern part of Russia, a child was born. As the first faint, pitiful cry of the baby echoed through the room, the young mother, who had been lying with closed eyes, unconscious to all appearances, stirred uneasily in the bed. She murmured a word or two in a low whispering tone, while her pallid face, with its sweet and almost childlike features, was disfigured by an expression of impatience⁠—like that of a spoiled child, who resents the unwonted suffering as something new to her experience. The nurse bent low to catch the inarticulate sounds that fell from her whispering lips.

“Why, why does he⁠—?” murmured the invalid in the same impatient whisper.

The nurse did not understand the question. Again the child cried out, and again the same shadow of sharp pain darkened the face of the mother, while large tears rolled down from her closed eyes.

“Why, why,” she repeated in a whisper.

At last the meaning of her question seemed to occur to the nurse, who answered quite calmly⁠—

“Oh, you mean why does the child cry? Babies always do. You must not agitate yourself.”

But the mother was not to be pacified. She started every time the little one cried, and kept repeating in tones of angry impatience, “Why⁠—why⁠—so dreadfully?”

To the nurse there seemed nothing unusual in the cries of the infant; and supposing the mother to be either unconscious or simply delirious, she left her, and busied herself with the child.

The young mother said no more, but from time to time an anguish too deep for expression brought the tears to her eyes. They forced their way through the thick black eyelashes, and slowly rolled down her pale marble-like cheeks. Perchance her mother’s heart was torn by a presentiment of some dark, abiding misery hanging like a heavy cloud over the infant’s crib, and destined to accompany him through life even unto the grave. These signs of emotion, on the other hand, were very likely nothing more than the wanderings of delirium. But however this may have been, the child was indeed born blind.

II

At first no one perceived it. The boy had that vague way of looking at objects common to all very young infants. As the days went by, the life of the newborn man could soon be reckoned by weeks. His eyes grew clearer; the thin film that had overspread them disappeared, and the pupil became defined. But the child was never seen to turn his head, to follow the bright sunbeams that found their way into the room; nor did the merry chirping of the birds, nor the rustling of the branches of the green beech-trees in the shaded garden beneath the windows, attract his notice.

The mother, who had now recovered, was the first one to mark with anxiety the strange immobility of the child’s expression, so invariably calm and serious. With pitiful eyes, like a frightened dove, she would question those about her: “Tell me what makes him look so unnatural?”

“What do you mean?” strangers would reply in tones of indifference; “he looks like all other children of his age.”

“But watch him! See how oddly he fumbles with his hands!”

“The child cannot yet regulate the movements of his hands by the impressions which his eyes receive,” replied the doctor.

“Why does he look constantly in one direction? He is⁠—blind!”

As the dread suspicion found utterance in words, not one of them could calm the mother’s agitation. The doctor took the child in his arms, and turning him suddenly toward the light, looked into his eyes. An expression of alarm passed over his countenance, and after a few vague remarks he took his leave, promising to return in two days. The mother moaned and fluttered like a wounded bird, pressing the child to her bosom, while the boy’s eyes kept ever the same steadfast and rigid stare.

The doctor did return in two days, bringing with him an ophthalmoscope. After lighting a candle, he proceeded to test the eyes of the infant by flashing it suddenly before them and as suddenly withdrawing it; finally, with an expression of distress, he said⁠—

“It grieves me deeply, Madam, but I am forced to admit that you have divined the truth. The boy indeed is blind⁠—irremediably blind.”

Sadly, but without agitation, the mother listened to this announcement. “I knew it long ago,” she softly murmured.

III

The family into which this blind child was born was a small one. Its other two members were the father and “Uncle Maxim,” so called not only by his own people, but also by friends and acquaintances. The father was a fair example of the landowners in the southwestern district. He was good-natured, even kindly, probably an excellent overseer of the workmen, fond of building and making alterations in his mills. These occupations consumed all his time; hence his voice was seldom heard in the house except at the regular hours for dinner, lunch, or other events of a similar character. At such times he never failed to ask his customary question of his wife, “Are you feeling well, my dove?” After which he would seat himself at the table, and make no further remarks save perhaps an occasional observation on the subject of cylinders or pinions. It might be expected that his quiet and simple existence would find a pale reflection in the nature of his son.

Uncle Maxim was of quite a different temperament. Ten years previous to the events we are about to describe, he had been famed for his quarrelsome temper, not only in the vicinity of his own estate, but even in Kiev and at the Contracts.36 No one could understand the existence of such a brother in a family so respectable as that of Pani37 Popèlska, née Yatzènko. Amicable relations with such a man were out of the question, for it was impossible to please him. He insolently repelled the advances of the Pans,38 and overlooked an amount of wilfulness and impertinence on the part of the peasants, which would have been punished with blows by even the mildest among the nobility. Finally, to the great joy of all respectable persons, Uncle Maxim for reasons best known to himself became very much displeased with the Austrians, and departed for Italy. There he joined Garibaldi, a heathen soldier, who like himself delighted in fighting⁠—and who, as it was rumored among the Pan-landlords, was in league with the devil, and showed no reverence for the Pope. By such actions Maxim of course imperilled forever his restless, heretical soul; but on the occasion of the Contracts fewer scandals took place, and many an excellent mother felt more at ease concerning the welfare of her sons.

The Austrians, on their part, were doubtless angry with Uncle Maxim. Now and then his name appeared in the Courier⁠—a favorite old paper of the Pan-landlords⁠—united with those of Garibaldi’s most daring comrades; and one day the Pans read in the same Courier that Uncle Maxim had fallen with his horse on the battlefield. The enraged Austrians, who had long been waiting for a chance to attack this desperate Volynian,39 who in the opinion of his countrymen was Garibaldi’s mainstay and support, chopped him in pieces like cabbage. “Maxim’s was a sad end,” said the Pans, and ascribed it to the immediate interposition of Saint Peter in behalf of his representative on earth. Maxim was reckoned among the dead. Subsequently, however, it became known that the Austrian sabres had no power to expel Maxim’s obstinate spirit, and that it still dwelt in his considerably damaged body. The Garibaldians, rescuing their worthy comrade from the fray, had carried him to some hospital, and, lo! after a few years Maxim unexpectedly appeared in his sister’s house, where he ever after remained.

But Maxim could fight no more duels. He had lost his right foot, and was obliged to use a crutch, while his left leg was so injured as to require him to use also a cane. On the whole he had lost much of his former excitability, and it was only occasionally that his sharp tongue did duty for his sword. He ceased to visit the Contracts, seldom appeared in society, and spent most of his time in the library reading; but in regard to the contents of the books, save for the a priori supposition that they must be atheistic, no one had the faintest idea. He also wrote from time to time; but as his compositions never appeared in the Courier, they were supposed to be quite insignificant.

About the time when the little new being entered upon its career in the country house, one might have noticed streaks of silver gray in Uncle Maxim’s closely cropped hair. From the constant use of crutch and cane he had grown high shouldered, which gave to his figure a certain square effect. His peculiar aspect, his knitted brows, the clatter of his crutch and cane, and the clouds of tobacco smoke in which he was constantly enveloped, since he never took the pipe from his mouth⁠—all these things intimidated strangers, and only those who lived with him knew that his crippled body held a warm and kind heart, and that his large square head covered with thick bristling hair was the seat of constant mental activity.

But those who were nearer to him had but a vague notion of the problems that perplexed and absorbed Uncle Maxim’s mind at this time. They only knew that he would sit motionless for hours at a time, enveloped in a cloud of blue smoke, with knitted eyebrows and a faraway look in his eyes. Meanwhile this crippled warrior was pondering upon the battle of life, and feeling that there was no room in it for invalids. He pictured himself as having left the ranks forever, and he felt like a man encumbering the hospital ambulance. He was like a knight, unseated and overthrown in the conflict of life. Did it not show a lack of courage to crawl in the dust like a crushed worm? Would it not be a coward’s part to grasp the stirrup of the conqueror, and beg for the sorry remnant of his own life?

While Uncle Maxim was calmly considering this vital question with all its pros and cons, a new being appeared before his eyes, whose fate it was to enter life an invalid from his very birth. At first Maxim paid but little heed to the blind child, but as time went on, the singular likeness between the boy’s fate and his own interested him. “Hm! Hm!” he thoughtfully muttered to himself as he looked at the child from the corner of his eyes, “this chap is also an invalid. If we two could be put together, one useful man might be made of us.” And after that he gazed at the child more and more frequently.

IV

The child was born blind. Who was to blame for this misfortune? No one. There was no slightest shade of the “evil eye;” the very cause of the misfortune itself was hidden somewhere in the depths of the mysterious and complex processes of life. Anguish pierced the mother’s heart as she gazed on her blind boy. She suffered not alone as a mother, in her sympathy with her son’s affliction, together with a sad prescience of the painful future awaiting her child; but added to these feelings there dwelt within the depths of the young mother’s heart a consciousness that the cause of this misfortune may have been latent, as a dreaded possibility, in those who gave him life. This in itself sufficed to make the little creature, with his beautiful sightless eyes, the central figure of the family and its unconscious despot. Every member of the household strove to gratify his lightest fancy.

What would in time have become of this boy, unconsciously predisposed as he was to resent his misfortune, and whose egotism was fostered by all those who surrounded him, had not a strange fatality combined with the Austrian sabres to compel Uncle Maxim to settle down in the country in his sister’s family⁠—no one can tell. By the presence of the blind boy in the house, the active mind of the crippled soldier was gradually and imperceptibly directed into a new channel. He would still smoke his pipe hour after hour, but the old expression of pain and dejection had given place to one of interest. Yet the more Uncle Maxim pondered, the more he wrinkled his thick brows, and more and more heavy grew the volumes of smoke. Finally one day he made up his mind to interfere.

“That youngster,” he said, puffing out ring after ring of smoke, “will be much more unhappy than I am. Far better had he never been born.”

An expression of acute suffering saddened the mother’s face as she gave her brother a reproachful glance. “It is cruel to remind me of this, Max,” she said gently, “and to do it wantonly!”

“I am simply telling you the truth,” replied Maxim. “I have lost a hand and a foot, but I have eyes. This youngster has no eyes, and in time will have neither hands nor feet nor will.”

“What do you mean?”

“Pray understand me, Anna,” said Maxim in a gentler tone, “I would not reiterate these cruel truths had I no object. This boy’s nervous organization is extremely sensitive; hence it is possible so to develop his other faculties that their acuteness will compensate him, at least to a certain degree, for his blindness. But to attain this he must use his faculties; and the use of one’s faculties must be compelled by necessity. An unwise solicitude, that prevents him from making any effort, will ruin his chances for living a full life.”

The mother was sensible, and therefore knew how to control that instinctive impulse which urged her, at every pitiful cry of the child, to rush to him.

A few months after this conversation the boy could creep about the rooms with ease and rapidity; he listened intently to every sound, and by his sense of touch eagerly examined every object that happened to come within his reach. He soon learned to know his mother by her footstep, by the rustling of her dress, and by certain other signs perceptible to him alone; it made no difference to him whether there were many persons in the room or not, or if they changed their positions⁠—he never failed to turn with unerring accuracy toward the spot where she sat. When she lifted him in her arms he knew at once that he was sitting in his mother’s lap. When others took him up, he would pass his little hands rapidly over the face of the person, thus recognizing almost at once the nurse, Uncle Maxim, or his father. But if it happened to be a stranger, then the movements of the tiny hands were more deliberate; the boy passed them carefully and attentively over the unfamiliar face, his features betraying his intense interest. He seemed to be looking at the strange face with his fingertips.

By nature the blind boy was a very lively and active child; but as month succeeded month, blindness set its impress on the boy’s temperament, which began to manifest its true character. He gradually lost his rapidity of motion. He would sit perfectly still for hours in some remote corner, with unchanging expression, as if listening. When at times the various sounds that usually distracted his attention ceased, and the room became quiet, the child would sit absorbed in thought, and upon his beautiful face, serious beyond his years, an expression of bewilderment and surprise would appear.

Uncle Maxim was right. The exquisite organization of the child manifested itself in an extraordinary susceptibility of the senses of hearing and touch, by means of which he verified to a certain extent the correctness of his impressions. All who saw him were amazed at the wonderful delicacy of his touch. Occasionally it even seemed as if he were able to distinguish colors; for when, as sometimes happened, bits of bright-colored cloth fell into his hands, his slender fingers would linger over them, while a look half of perplexity, half of interest, would flash across his face. As time went on, however, it grew more and more evident that his susceptibility was principally developed in the sense of hearing. He quickly learned to distinguish the different rooms in the house by sound; he recognized the steps of the members of the household, the creaking of his invalid uncle’s chair, the dry and measured whiz of the thread in his mother’s hands, or the regular ticking of the clock. Sometimes, as he felt his way along the side of the room, he would hear a slight rustle inaudible to others, and put out his hand to catch a fly crawling on the wall. When the startled insect rose and flew away, an expression of painful surprise would come over the face of the blind boy. He could not account for the mysterious disappearance of the fly. But the next moment, in spite of his perplexity, his face assumed an expression of intelligent interest; he turned his head in the direction taken by the fly⁠—his acute sense of hearing having caught in the air the scarcely perceptible sound of the insect’s wings.

Of all the glittering, murmuring, bustling world without, the blind child could form no conception save by its sounds. That peculiar expression characteristic of an intense concentration of the sense of hearing had become habitual to his face: the lower jaw was a little depressed, the brows contracted, and the head inclined slightly forward on its slender neck. But the beautiful eyes, with their unchanging gaze, imparted to the face of the blind child a stern and at the same time a touching aspect.

V

The second winter of the boy’s life was drawing to a close. The snow outside had begun to thaw, and the streamlets to sing their spring songs. At the same time the boy’s health changed for the better. He had been rather delicate during the winter, and had in consequence been kept in the house, and never permitted to breathe the outdoor air. The double windows were now removed, and spring with all the vigor of new life burst into the rooms. The cheerful sun shone in at the glittering windows; the leafless branches of the beech-trees swayed to and fro; the distant fields were black, save for the white patches of melting snow still lying here and there, and the spots where the young grass had begun to look green. On every side the stimulating influence of the spring imparted new vigor and life. One seemed to breathe more freely.

To the blind boy within the room spring manifested its presence only by the swiftness of its sounds. He could hear the rushing of the floods running a race, as it were, leaping over the stones, and sinking deep into the moistened soil; the faint resonance of the whispering birch-trees as their tossing branches beat against the windows, and the rapid dripping of the icicles that hung from the roof, which since the sun had set them free from the chill embrace of the night frost were hurrying away, their ringing footsteps followed by a thousand echoes. All these sounds made their way into the room like a storm of pebble-stones beating a hurried tattoo upon the ground. Above all these harmonies of Nature could be heard from time to time the calls of the storks echoing softly from the distant heights, and dying gradually away as if melting in air.

This new birth of Nature was reflected upon the boy’s face in the form of distress and perplexity. He would knit his brows, listen for a while, then suddenly, as though alarmed by the mysterious hurrying of the sounds, he would stretch forth his arms, seeking his mother, and rushing to her would nestle in her bosom.

“What can be the matter with him?” the mother cried, questioning herself and others.

Uncle Maxim carefully scanning the boy’s face, could in no way explain his strange alarm.

“I suppose he cannot understand,” suggested the mother, thus construing the expression of mute surprise and distressed inquiry upon her son’s face.

The child indeed was frightened and uneasy. At first he had seemed to catch eagerly at the unaccustomed sounds, but soon he showed his surprise that the noises already familiar to his ear were all at once hushed and gone.

VI

Soon the chaotic sounds of springtime died away. Encouraged by the burning rays of the sun, Nature fell into her ancient grooves, and gradually settled down to work. The newly springing life did its utmost; its rate of speed increased like a swiftly rushing steam-train. The tender grass was springing in the fields, and the odor of the birch-buds filled the air.

It was proposed to take the boy out into the meadows to the bank of the nearest river. The mother led him by the hand, Uncle Maxim, leaning on his crutch and cane, walked by her side, and thus the three started for the little hill near the river, where the sun and the wind had already dried the ground. It was thickly carpeted with green grass, and its summit commanded quite a broad view. The brilliant daylight dazzled the eyes of Maxim and the mother; and when the sunbeams burned their faces, the spring breeze came with its invisible wings, dispelling the warmth by a refreshing coolness. There was a sense of enchantment, of intoxication, in the air.

The mother felt the child’s tiny hand clinging fast to her own, but so transported was she by the exhilarating influence of the springtime that she was less keenly observant than usual of this sign of childish alarm. She breathed in long and full respirations, and walked along without once turning her head. Had she looked down at her boy, she would have discovered a strange expression on his face. He turned his wide-open eyes toward the sun with a sense of surprise. His lips were parted; inhaling the air, he gasped like a fish that has just been taken out of the water; an expression of mingled pain and delight was depicted on his bewildered face, which passing over it like a nerve-wave illumined the face for a moment, yielding directly however to the former expression of surprise, that might almost be called alarm. The eyes alone constantly preserved their steady, unchanging, and sightless gaze.

Having reached the hill, all three seated themselves. As the mother was lifting the boy to place him in a more comfortable position, he caught nervously at her dress like one who is on the point of falling, almost as if he no longer felt the ground beneath his feet. Again the mother took no heed of his alarm, because both her own eyes and attention were absorbed in the charming spring landscape.

It was noonday. Slowly the sun sailed across the blue sky. From the elevation where they sat could be seen the wide-spreading river. Its ice had already floated down the current, save a few occasional fragments dotting the surface here and there, which were fast melting away. On the low meadows the water was still standing in broad lagoons, which reflected the blue dome of the heavens and the snowy clouds that slowly passed and vanished like the melting ice. A gentle breeze rippled the glistening surface of the river. Looking across to the opposite shore one could see the dark grainfields, whose steaming vapor rising wave after wave veiled the thatched huts far away in the distance, and obscured the vague blue outline of the forest. It was as if the earth sent up its clouds of incense to the sky.

All this, however, was visible only to those who had eyes. The boy saw nothing of this picture; he could not look upon that festival of Nature, nor on her marvellous temple; his sensations were vague and broken; his childish heart was troubled. When he had first started, with the sun’s rays falling full upon his face, warming his delicate skin, he instinctively turned his sightless eyes in its direction, as if he realized the central force in the invisible picture before him. The transparent distance, the blue dome overhead, the wide horizon, had no existence so far as he was concerned. The sole effect produced on him was a sense of some material substance, warming his face with its soft caress. Then something both cool and light, although less tangible than the warmth of the sun, lifted from his face this sensation of tender caressing languor, and left behind a delicious coolness. Within the house the boy had become accustomed to move freely, conscious of the space surrounding him. Here he was encompassed by pursuing waves, which now caressed and now excited and intoxicated him. The sun’s warm touch was suddenly brushed away; a gust of wind began to ring in his ears and to blow about his face and temples⁠—indeed all over his head, down to the very nape of his neck, whirling around him as though it were trying to bear him away, or to entice him somewhere into the invisible space, benumbing his consciousness, and lulling him into a languor of forgetfulness. Then the boy’s hand would cling more closely to his mother’s, and it seemed to him as though his heart must cease to beat. However, after he was seated he appeared to grow calmer. Already, notwithstanding the strange sensation that pervaded his whole being, he had begun to distinguish the separate sounds. The atmospheric waves were still dashing tumultuously about him; and as the throbbings of his quickened pulse beat time to the music of these waves, it seemed to him that they were entering his very body. From time to time they brought to him the lark’s sharp trill, the soft whisper of the budding birch, or the gentle splash of the flowing river. The lark, whizzing by on its light wings, paused just overhead to describe its capricious circles; the gnats buzzed; and over all, sad and prolonged, rose the occasional cry of the ploughman, urging his horses over a half-ploughed strip of land.

The boy failed to grasp these sounds in their entirety; he could neither unite them nor group them in any satisfactory sequence. One by one they seemed to project themselves into his dark little head, now soft and vague; now loud, sharp, and deafening. At times they came crowding confusedly on each other, jumbled in meaningless discord. Faster and faster ran the waves; now it seemed to the boy as if above all this tumult of sounds he could hear muffled echoes, like memories of the past, coming to him from another world. When the sounds grew fainter, a sense of dreamy languor came over him; a convulsive twitching betrayed the successive waves of feeling that swept across his face; he closed his eyes, then opened them, and every feature seemed to ask a question, striving to grasp the situation. His childish sense of appreciation, as yet but feeble⁠—overwhelmed as it was with new impressions, although it still struggled against the tide, making an effort to hold its own, to combine them into something like unity, and thus to gain the victory over them⁠—showed signs of giving away. The task was too great for the brain of a blind child, destitute of the necessary images by means of which he might have achieved it.

All these sounds rose into the air, flying to and fro, and falling one by one, all too varied, too resonant. The waves that had taken possession of the boy rose with greater force from the darkness that encompassed him with its reverberating echoes, and were again resolved into the same darkness, only to be replaced by other waves and other sounds more and more hurried, soaring above him, filling his soul with anguish; again they seemed to lift him up, as if lulling him to repose with gentle rocking motion. Suddenly above this vague confusion arose the long-drawn note of a human call; then all at once everything became still. With a faint moan the boy rolled over backward on the grass. The mother turned instantly, and she in her turn uttered a cry: he was lying on the grass in a deep swoon.

VII

Uncle Maxim was very much disturbed by this occurrence. He had of late ordered a number of physiological, psychological, and educational works, and with his habitual energy had devoted himself to the study of all that science has revealed concerning the mysterious growth and development of a child’s soul. The delight of these studies had so charmed him that all brooding fancies concerning his own uselessness in the battle of life, “the worm grovelling in the dust,” and “the hospital ambulance,” had long since vanished from the invalid’s square head, and in their stead appeared a deep and thoughtful absorption; rose-colored hopes even came from time to time to warm the veteran’s heart. Uncle Maxim grew more and more convinced that Nature, although she had deprived the boy of his sight, had not in other respects dealt unjustly with him. He was a creature who responded with remarkable activity and completeness to the exterior impressions accessible to him. Uncle Maxim conceived it to be his duty to develop the latent capabilities of the boy, so that the injustice of his doom might be counterbalanced by the efforts of his own mind and influence, and that he might be enabled to send as a substitute into the battle of life another and a younger combatant, who without his influence would be lost to the service.

“Who knows,” thought the old Garibaldian, “but there may be a fight in which neither lance nor sword are needed? Perchance he with whom fate has dealt so hardly may sometime employ the weapons that he is capable of wielding in the defence of others, victims of fate like himself; and then my life will not have been spent in vain, old crippled soldier that I am!”

Even the freethinkers during the forties and fifties of the present century were not free from superstitious ideas regarding the “mysterious designs of Nature.” Therefore it was not surprising that with the gradual development of the child, who showed unusual gifts, Uncle Maxim should have arrived at the firm conviction that his very blindness was only one of the manifestations of those mysterious designs. “One unfortunate for another,”⁠—this was the motto which Uncle Maxim had already inscribed on his pupil’s standard.

VIII

After that first excursion in the spring, the boy was delirious for several days. He either lay quiet and motionless upon his bed, or kept up a constant muttering, as if he were listening to something. Meanwhile the peculiar expression of wonder never left his face.

“He really looks as if he were trying in vain to understand something,” said the young mother.

Maxim had grown thoughtful; he merely nodded. He had suspected that the boy’s strange alarm, as well as his swoon, might be attributed to the numerous impressions which the boy’s perceptive faculties had been unable to grasp; and he decided to allow these impressions to find their way into the mind of the convalescent child by degrees, disintegrated, so to speak, into their component parts. The windows of the invalid’s room had been closed, but when he began to recover, they were occasionally opened. Some member of the family used to lead him about the rooms, and into the vestibule, the yard, and the garden. Every time his mother observed a look of alarm upon his face, she would explain to him the nature of the sounds that perplexed him. “That is the shepherd’s horn you hear beyond the wood,” she explained; “and that sound which you hear above the twittering of the sparrows is the note of the redwing. Listen to the stork gurgling on his wheel.40 He has just arrived from distant lands, and is now building his nest on the old spot.”

As the mother spoke thus, the boy turned toward her, his face beaming with gratitude, and seized her hand and nodded, as with a thoughtful and intelligent expression he continued to listen.

IX

Now, when anything attracted his attention he always asked what it meant; and his mother, or more frequently Uncle Maxim, would explain to him the nature of the objects or of the creatures that caused these various sounds. His mother’s explanations, more lively and graphic, impressed the boy with greater force; but sometimes this impression would be too painful. Upon the features of the young woman, herself suffering, could be read the expression of her inmost feelings, and in her eyes a silent protest or a look of pain, as she strove to convey to the child an idea of form and color. With contracted brow and wrinkled forehead the boy concentrated his whole attention. Evidently his brain was at work struggling with difficult problems; his unpractised imagination strove to shape from the descriptions given him a new image⁠—a feat which it was unable to perform. At such times Uncle Maxim always frowned with displeasure; and when the tears appeared in the mother’s eyes, and the child’s face grew pale from the effect of his intense effort, Maxim would interfere, and taking his sister’s place would tell his nephew stories, in the invention of which he would try to use only such ideas as related to sound and space. Then the face of the blind boy would grow calmer.

“And is he big?” the child asked about the stork, who seemed to be beating in his nest a slow tattoo. Saying this he began to spread out his arms; for this was his custom whenever he asked such questions, and Uncle Maxim would always tell him when he had extended them far enough. But this time he had stretched out his little arms to their utmost limit, and Uncle Maxim said⁠—

“No, he is still larger. If he were brought into this room and put upon the floor, his head would reach above the back of the chair.”

“He is large,” said the boy thoughtfully; “and the redwing is like this,” slightly parting his folded palms.

“Yes, the redwing is like this. But the large birds never sing so well as little ones. The redwing tries to make everybody pleased to hear him, but the stork is a serious bird; he stands on one leg in his nest, and looks about like an angry master watching his workmen, and mutters aloud, heeding not that his voice is hoarse, and that he can be overheard by outsiders.”

The boy laughed merrily while he listened to these descriptions, and for a time forgot his painful efforts to understand his mother’s words. Yet her stories possessed a greater charm for him, and he preferred to question her rather than Uncle Maxim.

II

The Sources of Musical Feeling⁠—The Blind Boy and the Melody

I

Thus the dark mind of the child was gradually enriched by new images. By means of his abnormally keen sense of hearing he was enabled to penetrate deeper and deeper into the secrets of Nature. The dense, impenetrable gloom that veiled his brain like a heavy cloud still enfolded him, and although he had felt this from his birth, and one might suppose that he would have become accustomed to his misfortune, yet such was the temperament of the child that he instinctively strove to free himself from this dark curtain. His perpetual though unconscious efforts to gain that light of which he knew not, had left upon his face the impress of his vague and painful struggle.

Yet the blind boy enjoyed moments of quiet satisfaction, even of childish delight, which came to him whenever he received a keen sensation from certain outward impressions, revealing unfamiliar manifestations of the unseen world. Nature in all her grandeur and power was not wholly inaccessible to him. Once, for instance, when he was led to a high cliff above the river, he listened with a peculiar expression to the faraway splashing of the water below, and when he heard the stones slipping from beneath his feet he seized his mother’s dress and held his breath in fear. From that time depth was represented to him by the gentle murmuring of water at the foot of a cliff, or by the startling sound of stones falling.

A remote and indistinct song conveyed to the mind of the boy the idea of distance; but when during a storm in the springtime the pealing thunder rang out, filling all the air with its reverberations and angry mutterings, gradually dying away amid the clouds, he listened with awe, his heart swelling with emotion, and in his mind arose a grand conception of the magnitude of the firmament. Thus sound embodied for the child the immediate expression of the outside world; all other impressions were merely supplementary to that of hearing, by whose aid his ideas took form as if poured into a mould.

Sometimes during the heat of noonday, when all around was quiet, when human life seemed at a standstill, and Nature had lapsed into that peculiar repose beneath which the noiseless current of life is felt rather than seen, the face of the blind boy likewise assumed an expression peculiar to himself. He seemed like one absorbed in listening to sounds inaudible to all the world beside⁠—sounds issuing from the depths of his own soul, impelled to utterance by the universal calm. One who observed him at such moments might fancy that his vague thoughts had found an echo in his heart, like the uncertain melody of a song.

II

The blind boy was already five years old. Slender and frail he was, it is true, but still he could walk and even run with ease and freedom around the house. No stranger on seeing him walk with such entire confidence from room to room, always turning at the right place and finding what he sought, would for one moment have suspected that the boy was blind; he would simply have been taken for a child intensely in earnest, ever with a faraway look in his eyes. But in the yard he moved with less confidence, feeling his way by the aid of his cane. If it so chanced that he had no cane in his hand, he chose rather to creep upon the ground, passing his hands rapidly over every object that came in his way.

III

It was a calm summer evening. Uncle Maxim was sitting in the garden. The father as usual was occupied in some distant field. Everything was quiet in the yard and around the house; the hamlet was to all appearances going to sleep, and the hum of the servants’ and workmen’s voices had likewise ceased.

The boy had already been in bed for half an hour. He lay between sleeping and waking. For a certain length of time this peaceful hour had seemed to arouse strange memories within him. Of course he could see neither the dusky blue sky, nor the dark waving treetops, outlined sharp and clear against the starry heavens, nor the frowning peaks of the courtyard buildings, nor the blue haze overspreading the ground, mingling with the pale golden light of the moon and the stars. For several days he had fallen asleep under the charm of a spell of which he could render no account the following day. When drowsiness had benumbed his senses, when he could no longer hear the rustle of the beech-trees, or the distant barking of the village dogs, or the voice of the nightingale beyond the river, or the melancholy tinkling of the bells attached to the colt browsing in the neighboring field⁠—when all these varied sounds grew faint and indistinct, it seemed to the blind boy that they were all merged in one harmonious melody, which made its way quietly into the room, and hovering over his bed brought in its train vague but enticing dreams. The next morning when he woke he still felt their influence, and asked his mother: “What was that⁠—yesterday? What was it?”

The mother did not know what her child meant; she thought he was probably excited by some dream. That night she put him to bed herself, and when she saw that he was on the point of falling asleep, she left him without observing anything unusual. But on the following day the boy again spoke to her of something he had heard the previous evening which had made him feel so happy. “It was lovely, mamma⁠—so lovely! What was it?”

That night the mother decided to remain longer by her child’s bedside, to discover if possible the solution to this strange riddle. She sat in a chair beside the crib, knitting mechanically, listening meanwhile to the even breathing of her Petrùsya.41 She thought he was asleep, when suddenly his gentle voice was heard in the darkness:

“Mamma, are you there?”

“Yes, yes, my boy!”

“Please go away; it must be afraid of you; it has not come. I had almost dropped to sleep, and still it has not come.”

The astonished mother heard the child’s drowsy and plaintive whisper with a strange sensation. He spoke of his dreams in the most perfect good faith, as though they were reality. Nevertheless the mother rose, bent down to kiss him, and then quietly left the room; but she determined to creep cautiously round to the open window that looked out into the garden. Before she succeeded in carrying her plan into execution, the riddle was solved. Suddenly from the stable came the soft musical tones of a shepherd’s pipe, blending with the gentle rustling sounds of the southern evening. She had no difficulty in divining the pleasing influence which these simple modulations of an artless melody, harmonizing with the witching hour of dreams, would naturally possess over the imagination of her boy. She herself paused, and stood for a moment listening to the tender strains of a song of Little Russia, and with a sense of relief entered the dusky garden in search of Uncle Maxim.

“Joachim plays well,” the mother thought. “It is strange that this fellow who seems so rough should possess such an amount of feeling.”

IV

Joachim really did play well. He could even handle the more intricate violin, and there had been a time when on a Sunday at the inn no one had played the Cossack dance or the merry Polish Cracovienne better than himself. When seated on a cask with the violin braced against his shaven chin, and his tall sheepskin hat on the back of his head, he would draw the bow across the quivering strings, hardly a man in the inn could keep his seat. Even the old one-eyed Jew who accompanied Joachim on a bass-viol would wax enthusiastic, his awkward instrument with its heavy bass straining every nerve, as it were, to keep time with the light notes of Joachim’s violin, which seemed to dance as well as sing; while old Yankel himself, with his skullcap on his head, would lift his shoulders and turn his bald head, keeping time with his body to the gay capricious tune. It would hardly be worth while to describe the effect upon others whose feet are so made that at the very first note of a dancing tune they involuntarily begin to shuffle and stamp.

Ever since Joachim had fallen in love with Màrya, a courtyard servant-maid of the neighboring Pan, he had neglected his merry violin. In truth it had not helped him to win the heart of the saucy Màrya, who preferred the smooth German face of her master’s valet to the bearded visage of the musician. Since that time his violin had not been heard either in the inn or at the evening gatherings. He had hung it on a nail in the stable, nor did he seem aware that from dampness and neglect the strings of the instrument, once so dear to his heart, were constantly snapping with a sound so sharp, plaintive, and dismal that the very horses neighed in sympathy, and turned their heads to gaze in wonder at their indifferent master. In order to supply its place, Joachim had purchased from a travelling Carpathian mountaineer a wooden pipe. He probably expected to find it a more suitable medium wherewith to express the sorrow of a rejected heart, and that its sympathetic modulations would harmonize with his hard lot. But the mountain pipe disappointed Joachim’s expectations. He tried nearly a dozen of them in turn, in every possible way; he cut them, soaked them in water, dried them in the sun, hung them up under the roof to dry in the wind⁠—but all to no avail. The mountain pipe did not commend itself to the Hohòl’s42 heart. It whistled where it should have sung, wailed when he wanted a sentimental tremolo, and never in fact responded to his mood.

At last Joachim grew disgusted with all the wandering mountaineers, having made up his mind that not one of them understood the art of producing a good pipe, and decided to manufacture one with his own hands. For several days he roamed with frowning brow through swamp and field; went up to every willow bush, examined its branches, occasionally cut off one of them; but he failed to find just what he needed. With sternly frowning brow he still pursued his search, and came at last to a spot above the slowly running river, where the placid waters barely stirred the lilies’ snow-white heads. This nook was sheltered from the wind by a dense growth of spreading willows that hung their pensive heads over the dusky and peaceful depths below. Parting the bushes, Joachim made his way down to the river, where he paused for a moment; and the idea suddenly came to him that this was the very spot where he was to find the object of his search. The wrinkles vanished from his brow. From his bootleg he drew out a knife with a string attached to it, and after carefully examining a faintly whispering young willow, he unhesitatingly selected a straight and slender stalk that bent over the steep, crumbling shore. Tapping it with his finger for some purpose of his own, a look of self-satisfaction came upon his face, as he watched it sway to and fro in the air, and listened to the gentle murmur of its leaves.

“That is the very thing,” he muttered, nodding with delight, as he threw into the river the twigs he had previously cut.

It proved to be a glorious pipe. Having dried the willow, Joachim burned out the pith with a red-hot wire; and boring six round holes, he cut the seventh crosswise and tightly closed one end with a wooden plug, across which he cut a narrow slit. Then for a week he hung the pipe up by a slender string, that it might be warmed by the sun and dried by the wind; after which he carefully cleaned it with his knife, scraped it with glass, and rubbed it hard with a piece of cloth. The upper part of the pipe was round; on its smoothly polished surface he burned with a twisted bit of iron all sorts of curious designs. When he at last tested his instrument by playing upon it several tones of the scale, he nodded his head excitedly, emitted a grunt of satisfaction, and hastily hid it in a safe place near his bed. He did not like to make the first musical trial amid the turmoil of the day; but that very evening, trills delicately modulated, tender, pensive, and vibrating, might have been heard from the direction of the stable. Joachim was perfectly satisfied with his pipe. It seemed a part of himself; its utterances came, as it were, from his own enthusiastic and sentimental bosom; and every change of feeling, every shade of sorrow, was forthwith transmitted to his wonderful pipe, which in its turn repeated it in gentle echoes to the listening evening.

V

Now, Joachim in love with his pipe was celebrating his honeymoon. In the daytime he conscientiously fulfilled his duties as a stable-boy⁠—watered the horses, harnessed them, and drove with the Pani or with Maxim. Sometimes, when he looked over toward the neighboring village where the cruel Màrya lived, his heart was conscious of a pang. But as evening drew on, all his woes were forgotten; even the image of the dark-browed maiden lost distinctness, as it stood before him enveloped in mist, faintly outlined against a pale background, serving but to lend a certain pensive melancholy to his melodious pipe.

As he lay in the stable that evening, Joachim’s musical ecstasy found vent in tremulous melodies. The musician had not only forgotten the cruel beauty, but had even lost all consciousness of his own existence, when suddenly he started and sprang up in bed, leaning on his elbow. Just when his notes were growing most pathetic, he felt a tiny hand pass swiftly and lightly over his face and hands, and then with equal swiftness over the pipe. At the same time he heard by his side the rapid panting of one whose breathing is quickened by agitation. “Begone, away with you!” he uttered the usual exhortation, and immediately added the question: “Are you the good or the evil spirit?” that he might know if it were the Evil with whom he had to deal. But a moonbeam that had just crept into the stable showed him his mistake. Beside him stood the small Pan, wistfully stretching forth his little hands.

An hour later, the mother on going to take a look at her sleeping Petrùsya did not find him in bed. For a moment she was startled, but the maternal instinct directly told her where to look for the lost boy. Joachim, pausing for a moment, was quite abashed at the unexpected sight of the “gracious Pani” standing in the doorway of the stable. It appeared that she had been there for several moments before he ceased playing, watching her boy, who sat on the cot wrapped in Joachim’s sheepskin coat, listening intently for the interrupted melody.

VI

From that evening the boy came to Joachim in the stable every night. It never occurred to him to ask Joachim to play for him during the daytime; he seemed to fancy that the stir and bustle of the day precluded all possibility of these sweet melodies. But as soon as the shades of evening began to fall, Petrùsya was seized with a feverish impatience. The evening tea and supper served but as signs of the approach of the longed-for moment; and the mother, although she felt an instinctive aversion for those musical séances, still could not forbid her darling to seek the company of the piper and spend two hours with him in the stable before bedtime. Those hours became for the boy the happiest of his life; and the mother saw with painful jealousy that the impressions of the previous evening held entire possession of the child; that during the day he no longer responded to her caresses with his former ardor; that while sitting in her lap with his arms about her, his thoughts would revert to Joachim’s song of the previous evening.

It suddenly occurred to the mother that while she was in the pension of Pani Radètzka, several years ago, she had among other “delightful accomplishments” pursued the study of music. This reminiscence was not in itself a source of delight, because it was connected with the memory of her teacher⁠—one Klapps; a lean, prosy, and irritable old German Fräulein. This bilious maiden, who in order to impart to the fingers of her pupils the required flexibility, had trained them most skilfully, succeeded at the same time in destroying every vestige of poetical and musical feeling. The very presence of Pani Klapps, not to mention her pedantic method, was well calculated to abash so sensitive an emotion. Therefore after leaving school, and even since her marriage, Anna Michàilovna had felt no inclination to renew her musical studies. But now, as she listened to the piper, she was conscious that in addition to the emotion of jealousy a sense of appreciation and feeling for the living melody had sprung up in her soul, and the image of the German Fräulein was almost forgotten. The result of this was that Pani Popèlska requested her husband to send to town for an upright piano.

“If you wish it, my dove,” replied the exemplary husband. “I thought you did not care much about music.”

That same day a letter was sent to town; but several weeks must elapse before the instrument could arrive in the country.

Meanwhile the same harmonious strains proceeded from the stable evening after evening; and the boy, who had ceased to ask his mother’s permission, hurried eagerly thither at the proper time. With the customary odor of the stable was mingled the fragrance of the hay and the pungent smell of the leather harnesses; and whenever the piper paused for a moment one could hear the faint rustling of the wisps of hay which the horses, quietly munching, pulled through the bars, and also the whispering of the green beeches in the garden. In the midst of all this Pètrik43 sat listening like one enchanted. He never interrupted the musician; but once when the latter had been resting, and several minutes had passed in absolute silence, the charmèd influence that possessed the boy gave way to a passionate yearning. He reached to grasp the pipe, took it in his trembling hands, and carried it to his lips. Gasping for breath, his first notes were faint and tremulous, but by slow degrees he gained a certain mastery over the simple instrument. Joachim placed the boy’s fingers on the holes, and although the tiny hand could hardly grasp them, he had very soon mastered the notes of the scale. Every note possessed to him an individuality of its own; he knew in which opening he should find each of these tones, whence to bring it forth; and at times when Joachim was quietly and slowly playing some simple melody, the blind boy’s fingers would imitate his movements. As tone followed tone, he seemed to know exactly from which hole each one came.

VII

At last, after three weeks had gone by, the piano was brought from town. Pétya44 stood in the yard and listened attentively, in order to discover how the workmen hurrying to and fro would carry “the music” into the rooms. Surely it must be very heavy, for when they lifted it down from the cart there was a creaking noise, and also much groaning and puffing among the men. And now he could hear their heavy, measured tread; and at every step there was a jarring, a rumbling, and a ringing above their heads. When this strange music was placed on the drawing-room floor, it again sent forth a dull rumbling sound like the threatening tones of an angry voice.

All this alarmed the boy and by no means attracted him toward this new guest, at once inanimate and wrathful. He went into the garden, and thus he missed hearing them set up the instrument; neither did he know when the tuner, who had arrived from town, tuned it with his tuning-hammer, tried the keyboard, and tightened the wires. It was not until all was in readiness that the mother ordered Pétya to be brought into the room.

With the best Vienna instrument as an auxiliary, Anna Michàilovna felt confident of victory over the simple rustic pipe. Now her Pétya is to forget the stable and the piper, and she will once more become the source of all his joys. She glanced merrily at her boy as he timidly entered the room, accompanied by Uncle Maxim and Joachim; the latter, having asked leave to listen to the foreign music, with downcast eyes and overhanging forelock now stood bashfully in the doorway. Just as Uncle Maxim and Pétya seated themselves on the lounge Anna suddenly struck the keys of the piano. She played the piece that she had learned to perfection at the pension of Pani Radètzka, under the instruction of Fräulein Klapps. It was not a particularly brilliant piece, but quite complicated, and one that required a certain amount of dextrous fingering; at the public examination Anna Michàilovna gained much praise, both for herself and her teacher, by the playing of this piece. No one positively knew, but many surmised, that the silent Pan Popèlski was first charmed with Pani Yatzènko during the identical quarter of an hour required for the performance of her difficult music. Now the young woman played it with the view of winning a second victory: she wished to bind still more closely to herself her son’s young heart, enticed away from her by the pipe of the Hohòl.

But the fond mother’s hope was doomed to disappointment; the Vienna instrument proved no match for the willow twig of Ukraine. True, the piano from Vienna was rich in resources⁠—expensive wood, fine strings, the skilled workmanship of a Vienna artisan, and all the wealth of its wide musical range; but the pipe of the Ukraine had allies of its own⁠—it was in its native haunts, surrounded by its own Ukraine nature. Before Joachim had cut it with his knife and burned out its heart with red-hot iron, it had swung to and fro above the river, so dear to the boy’s heart; it had been caressed by the sun of the Ukraine, and fanned by its breezes until the keen eye of the piper had caught sight of it overhanging the precipice. The foreign visitor had but a slender chance against the simple native pipe, whose tones had first been heard by the boy at the peaceful hour of bedtime, through the mysterious rustling of the night and the murmuring of the green beech-trees, with all the well-known voices of Nature in the Ukraine that found an echo within his soul.

There could, moreover, be no fair comparison between Pani Popèlska and Joachim. Her fingers, it is true, were more dextrous and flexible; the melody she played was richer and more complex; and Fräulein Klapps had labored diligently to make her pupil mistress of this difficult instrument. But Joachim had the true musical instinct. He had loved also, and sorrowed; and animated by these emotions, he sought his themes in the surrounding Nature, and there he found his simple melodies⁠—the soughing of the forest, the gentle whisper of the grass upon the steppes, the sad, old, national melodies that he had heard sung over his crib when he was an infant.

The instrument from Vienna had truly but a slender chance against the magic of the Hohòl’s pipe. Not more than a minute had passed before Uncle Maxim with sudden energy rapped on the floor with his crutch. When Anna Michàilovna turned toward him, she saw on Pètrik’s pale face the same expression it had worn as he lay upon the grass on the memorable day of their first spring walk. Joachim in his turn looked sympathetically at the boy, then with one disdainful glance at the German music he left the room, his heavy boots resounding across the drawing-room floor.

VIII

Many a tear and no slight mortification did this failure cost the poor mother. She, “the gracious Pani Popèlska,” who had been applauded by a “select audience,” to find herself so utterly defeated⁠—and by whom? By a common stable-boy, Joachim, with his absurd pipe! As she remembered the disdainful glance of the Hohòl when her unsuccessful concert came to an end, an angry blush overspread her face, and she felt an actual hatred for the “detestable fellow.” But every evening when her boy hastened to the stable, she would open the window, rest her elbows on the sill, and listen intently. At first it was with a feeling of angry disdain that she sought to catch that “stupid squeaking;” but gradually⁠—she knew not how it came to pass⁠—the “stupid squeaking” had taken possession of her soul, and she found herself eagerly devouring those mournful and pathetic strains. When she woke to a realizing sense of this, she began to wonder whence came their fascination, their enchanting mystery; and by degrees, the bluish dusk of evening, the vague shadows of the night, and the harmony existing between those melodies and Nature revealed the secret. No longer resisting the attraction, she confessed to herself⁠—

“Yes, I must admit that this humble music does possess a rare and genuine feeling⁠—a bewitching poetry not to be acquired by notes.”

This was indeed true. The secret of this poetry might be found in the intimate relation between Nature and those memories of the past of which it was ever whispering to the human heart. Joachim, the rude peasant, with his greasy boots and calloused hands, possessed that harmonious, that keen feeling for Nature.

Then the mother became aware that her haughty spirit had succumbed before the stable-boy. She no longer remembered his coarse garments, redolent of tar; but the pleasing modulations of the songs recalled to mind his kind face, the mild expression of his gray eyes, and the bashful, humorous smile that lurked under the long mustache. Yet again the angry color rose, overspreading the face and temples of the young woman: she was conscious that in this struggle for her child’s admiration she had placed herself on a level with this “varlet,” and that he, “the varlet,” had conquered. The whispering trees in the garden high above her head, the light of the stars in the dark-blue sky, the violet mist that shrouded the earth, together with Joachim’s melodies, all contributed to fill the mother’s soul with gentle melancholy. Her spirit yielded itself in meek submission, and entered more and more deeply into the mystery of that pure, direct, and simple poetry of Nature.

Yes, the peasant Joachim had the true, living feeling! And how was it with the mother herself? Was she entirely devoid of that feeling? Why then did her heart beat so wildly, and why did the tears rise to her eyes? Did not her emotion spring from her devoted love for her unfortunate blind child, who left her for Joachim because she failed to give him as keen a pleasure as the latter? She remembered the expression of distress on the boy’s face caused by her playing, and hot tears gushed from her eyes; it was with difficulty that she controlled her suffocating sobs.

The poor mother! It seemed as if an incurable malady had settled upon her, revealing its presence by an exaggerated tenderness at every manifestation of suffering on the part of the child, and a mysterious sympathy which by a thousand invisible chords bound her aching heart to his. For this reason, the strange rivalry between herself and the Hohòl piper, which in a woman of different nature would merely have stirred a feeling of annoyance, became for her a source of bitter, exaggerated suffering.

Thus time went on, without bringing the fond mother any apparent relief; and yet she was gradually gaining a certain advantage. She began to feel within her own breast an influx of melody and poetry, not unlike that which had attracted her in the playing of the Hohòl. Hope, too, sprang up in her heart. Under the influence of this sudden access of confidence she approached the piano several times, and opened it, intending to overpower the low-voiced pipe by harmonious chords. But every time a sense of irresolution and timidity restrained her. She remembered her boy’s distressed face, and the disdainful glance of the Hohòl; and dark as it was, her cheeks flushed with shame, while with timid wistfulness she let her hands flutter over the keys.

Still, day by day an inner consciousness of her own power grew within the woman’s heart; and choosing the time when her boy was playing in the evening in some remote garden-path, or perhaps out for a walk, she would seat herself at the piano. At first her attempts were unsatisfactory; her hands seemed powerless to evoke a response to her conception, and the tones of the instrument failed to interpret her emotions. But soon she perceived that the ease and freedom with which she could express her feelings through the medium of those tones were gradually increasing. The Hohòl’s lessons had not been without avail; while the mother’s love, and an intuitive perception of the potent charm that swayed the heart of her boy helped her to profit by them. Her difficult and brilliant themes had given place to pensive songs; the sad Ukraine “meditation” echoed in plaintive tones through the dimly lighted rooms, adding a tenderness to the mother’s heart.

At last she gained confidence to enter into an open contest; and one evening a strange combat went on between the manor and the stable. From the shaded barn with its overhanging thatch, gently quivering, came the trills of the pipe, while advancing to the encounter from the open windows of the mansion, glittering in the moonlight through the leaves of the beech-trees, echoed the full ringing chords of the piano. At first neither the boy nor Joachim, prejudiced as they were, deigned to pay any attention to the “learned” music of the mansion. The boy even frowned when Joachim paused, and impatiently urged him on, saying⁠—

“Come, play! Go on playing!”

Three days had not gone by when these pauses grew more and more frequent. Joachim often laid his pipe aside to listen, and the boy, forgetting to urge his friend, listened also. Finally Joachim said in a dreamy sort of way, “That is fine! Listen! that is a fine thing!” And then in his dreamy, absentminded way he took the boy in his arms and carried him through the garden to the open window of the drawing-room.

Joachim supposed that the “gracious Pani” was playing for her own amusement, and would take no notice of them. But Anna Michàilovna had become aware that her rival, the pipe, had been silenced; she realized her victory, and her heart beat with pride and joy. Moreover, her displeasure with Joachim had entirely vanished. She knew that she owed her present happiness to him⁠—he had shown her how to regain the devotion of her child; and if her boy were now to receive from her new and valuable impressions, they would both owe a debt of gratitude to their teacher, the peasant piper.

IX

The ice was broken. On the following day the boy with timid curiosity came into the drawing-room, where he had not been since the new city guest⁠—that angry, loud-voiced creature⁠—had taken possession of the room. But yesterday he heard the guest sing a song that pleased his ear, and gave him cause to change his opinion of the instrument. With the last lingering traces of his former timidity he drew near the spot where the piano stood, and stopping at a short distance from it, he listened. There was no one in the drawing-room. His mother sat on a sofa in the adjoining room, sewing; she held her breath as she watched him, admiring every movement, every change of expression on his sensitive face.

Putting out his hand, the blind boy touched the polished surface of the piano; then overcome by bashfulness, he immediately withdrew it. Having twice repeated this experiment he drew nearer, and began a careful examination of the instrument, stooping to the floor to pass his hand over the legs, and feeling his way as far around its sides as he could go. At last his hand touched the smooth keyboard: the soft reverberation of the string vibrated uncertainly on the air. The boy listened to this vibration long after it had ceased to be audible to his mother; then with a look of intense interest he touched another key. Presently, as he drew his hand along the keyboard, he happened to touch a note of the upper register; then he touched every note, one after the other, and paused to listen as they vibrated in trembling cadence and were lost in the air. The face of the blind boy wore an expression of mingled attention and delight; he evidently enjoyed every separate tone, and by this sensitive observation of each elementary sound as component parts of melodies yet unborn, the future artist might be divined.

But it seemed as if each note possessed for the blind boy an attribute peculiar to itself. When beneath the pressure of his finger a brilliant note of the upper register rang out, a glow would come upon his face, uplifted as if to follow the ringing note in its upward flight; but when he touched a deep bass-note, he stooped to listen⁠—seeming to feel sure that the heavy note must be rolling along the ground, scattering itself all over the floor, to be finally lost in the corners.

X

Uncle Maxim simply tolerated all these musical experiments. Strange though it may seem, the inclinations which had so unmistakably manifested themselves in the boy excited mingled emotions in the breast of the old soldier. On the one hand, this intense passion for music indicated the boy’s inherent musical talent, and foreshadowed a possible career; but in spite of this, a vague sense of disappointment filled Uncle Maxim’s heart.

“It cannot be denied,” thus ran Maxim’s thoughts, “that music is a power by which a man may sway the hearts of the multitude. He, the blind man, will attract dandies and fashionable women by the hundreds, will play a valse or a nocturne,”⁠—here Uncle Maxim’s musical vocabulary came suddenly to an end⁠—“and they will wipe away their tears with their delicate handkerchiefs. Ah, the deuce take it! that is not what I could have wished for him. But what’s to be done about it? The fellow is blind; he must do what he can with his life. But if it had only been singing! A song speaks not alone to the fastidious ear⁠—it excites fancies, arouses thoughts in the mind, and kindles courage in the heart.”

“Look here, Joachim,” Uncle Maxim said one evening, as he followed the blind boy into the stable, “do for once stop that whistling! It might do well enough for a street urchin, or for the shepherd boy in the field; but you are a grown-up peasant, although that silly Màrya has made a calf of you. Fie! I am really ashamed of you! The lass proved hardhearted, and that has made you so soft that you whistle like a quail caught in a net.”

As he listened in the darkness to this sharp tirade from the Pan, Joachim smiled at his unnecessary indignation. But he did feel somewhat wounded by his allusion to the street urchin and the shepherd boy, and replied⁠—

“Don’t say that, Pan! Not a shepherd in the Ukraine has a pipe like that, let alone the shepherd boy. Theirs are nothing but whistles; but mine⁠—just listen!” He closed all the openings with his fingers, and struck the two notes of the octave, drinking in as he did so the fullness of the tones.

Maxim spat. “The Lord have mercy on us, the lad has lost his wits! What do I care for your pipe? They are all alike, both pipes and women, with your Màrya into the bargain! You had better sing us a song, if you know how⁠—a good song of our fathers’ or grandfathers’.”

Maxim Yatzènko, a Little Russian himself, was simple and unassuming in his manners toward peasants and servants. Although he often scolded and shouted at them, he never hurt any man’s feelings; and while his inferiors were on familiar terms with him, they never failed to treat him with respect. Hence to the Pan’s request, Joachim replied⁠—

“Why not? I used to sing as well as the next man. But, Pan, do you think our peasant songs are likely to please you?” he asked, slightly sarcastic.

“Eh, what nonsense, fellow!” replied Maxim. “A pipe cannot be compared with a good song, if only a man can sing well. Let us listen to Joachim’s song, Petrùsya. But only you may not understand it, my boy.”

“Is it to be a peasant’s song?” inquired the boy. “I understand their language.”

Maxim heaved a sigh. “Ah, my dear boy, these are not slave songs; they are the songs of a strong and free people. Your mother’s ancestors sang them on the steppes of the Dnièper, the Danube, and the Black Sea. Well, you will understand them sooner or later, but just now I am anxious about something else.”

In point of fact, what Maxim really feared was that the picturesque language of the folk-songs would not appeal to the vaguely obscure mind of the child; he felt that the animated music of epic song must be interpreted to the heart by familiar images. He forgot that the old bards, the singers and bandura-players of the Ukraine, were for the most part blind men, who had been driven by misfortune or physical incapacity to the lyre, or bandura, to gain their daily bread. It is true that these men were but beggars and artisans with harsh voices, some of whom had not become blind until they were old men. Blindness wraps the outer world about with a dark veil, which likewise envelops the brain, entangling and impeding its processes; and yet by the aid of inherited conceptions and impressions gained from other sources, the brain creates in this darkness a world of its own, sad, gloomy, and sombre, but not devoid of a vague poetry peculiar to itself.

Maxim and the blind boy seated themselves on the hay, while Joachim reclined on his bench⁠—a position which seemed especially conducive to his artistic efforts⁠—and after musing for a moment he began to sing. Whether by chance or by instinct, his choice was a happy one. He selected a historical picture⁠—

“Over yonder on the hill the reapers are reaping.”

No one who has heard this beautiful song well rendered can ever forget its strange melody⁠—high-pitched and plaintive, as though oppressed by the sadness of historical reminiscence. It contains no stirring incidents, no bloody battles or exploits; neither is it the farewell of a Cossack to his beloved, nor a daring invasion, nor a naval expedition on the blue sea or the Danube. It is but a fleeting picture that comes uppermost in the memory of a Little Russian, like a vague revery, like the fragment of a dream from an historic past. In the midst of his monotonous, everyday life that picture rises before his imagination, its outlines dim and indistinct, steeped in the strange melancholy that breathes from bygone days⁠—days that have left their impress on the memory of man. The lofty burial-mounds beneath which lie the bones of the Cossacks, where fires are seen burning at midnight, where groans are sometimes heard, still remind us of the past. The popular legends as well as the folk-songs, now fast dying out, also tell us of the past.

“Over yonder on the hill the reapers are reaping,
And beneath the hill, the green hill,
Cossacks are passing,
Cossacks are passing!
They are reaping on the hill, while below the troops are marching.”

Maxim Yatzènko was lost in admiration of the sad song. That charming melody, so well suited to the words, called up before his fancy a scene illumined by the melancholy rays of sunset. Along the peaceful slopes of the hillsides he seemed to see the bowed and silent figures of the reapers, and below moving noiselessly, one after the other, the ranks of the army, blending with the shades of evening in the valley.

“Doroshenko45 at the head,
Leading his army, his Zaporòg army
Gallantly.”

And the prolonged note of the epic song resounds, vibrates, and dies away upon the air, only to start forth anew, evoking fresh images from the dim twilight. These were the pictures which at the bidding of the song took form in Uncle Maxim’s mind; and the blind boy, who had listened with a sad and clouded face, was also impressed by it after his own fashion.

When the singer sang of the hill where the reapers were reaping, Petrùsya was straightway transported in his imagination to the summit of the familiar cliff. He recognizes it by the faint plashing of the river against the stones below. He knows very well what reapers are⁠—he has heard the ringing sound of the sickles and the rustle of the falling ears. But when the song went on to describe the action under the hill, the imagination of the blind listener at once transported him into the valley below. Though he no longer hears the sound of the sickles, the boy knows that the reapers are still up there on the hill, and he knows that the sound has died away, because they are so high above him⁠—as high as the pine-trees, whose rustling he hears when he stands on the cliff; and below, over the river, echoes the rapid monotonous tramp of the horses’ hoofs. There are many of them, and an indistinct murmur rises through the darkness from under the hill. Those are the Cossacks “on the march.”

Petrùsya also knows what “Cossacks” means. The Cossack Hvèydka,46 who sometimes stops at the house, is called by everybody “the old Cossack.” Many a time has he lifted Petrùsya to his lap and smoothed his hair with his trembling hand. When the boy according to his custom felt of his face, he found deep wrinkles under his sensitive fingers, a long, drooping mustache and sunken cheeks, and on those cheeks the tears of old age. It was such Cossacks as he that the boy pictured to himself marching below the hill. They are on horseback, and like Hvèydka they wear long mustaches, and are old and wrinkled too. These vague forms advance slowly amid the darkness, and like Hvèydka are weeping for grief. It may be that the echo of Joachim’s song suggests the lament of the unfortunate Cossack who exchanged his young wife for a camp-bed and the hardships of a campaign, as it rings over hill and valley.

One glance was enough for Maxim to discover that despite the boy’s blindness the poetic images of the song appealed to his sensitive nature.

III

The First Friendship

I

In pursuance of the system which by Maxim’s influence had been established, the blind boy had as far as possible been left to his own resources; and from this system the best results had ensued. In the house he showed no signs of helplessness, but moved from place to place without faltering; took care of his own room, and kept his belongings and his toys in order. Neither did Maxim by any means neglect physical exercises; the boy had his regular gymnastics, and in his sixth year Maxim presented his nephew with a gentle little horse. At first the mother could not believe it possible that her blind child could ride on horseback, and she called her brother’s scheme “perfect madness.” But the old soldier exerted his utmost influence and in two or three months the boy was galloping merrily side by side with Joachim, who directed him only at turnings.

Thus blindness proved no drawback to systematic physical development, while its influence over the moral nature of the child was reduced to its minimum. He was tall for his age and well built; his face was somewhat pale, his features fine and expressive. His dark hair enhanced the pallid hue of his complexion, while his eyes⁠—large, dark, and almost motionless⁠—gave him a peculiar aspect that at once attracted attention. A slight wrinkle between his eyebrows, a habit of inclining his head slightly forward, and the expression of sadness that sometimes overcast his handsome face⁠—these were the outward tokens of his blindness. When surrounded by familiar objects he moved readily and without restraint; but still it was evident that his instinctive vivacity was repressed, and it was only by certain fitful outbursts of nervous excitement that it was ever manifested.

II

The impressions received through the channels of sound outweighed all others in their influence over the life of the blind boy; his ideas shaped themselves according to sounds, his sense of hearing became the centre of his mental activity. The enchanting melodies of the songs he heard conveyed to him a true sense of the words, coloring them with sadness or joy according to the lights and shades of the melody. With still closer attention he listened to the voices of Nature; and by uniting these confused impressions with the familiar melodies, he sometimes produced a free improvisation, in which it was difficult to distinguish just where the national and familiar air ended and the work of the composer began. He himself was unable to distinguish these two elements in his songs, so inseparably were the two united within him. He quickly learned all his mother taught him on the piano, and yet he still loved Joachim’s pipe. The tones of the piano were richer, deeper, and more brilliant; but the instrument was stationary, whereas the pipe he could carry with him into the fields; and its modulations were so indistinguishably blended with the gentle sighs of the steppe, that at times Petrùsya could not tell whether those vague fancies were wafted on the wind, or whether it was he himself who drew them from his pipe.

Petrùsya’s enthusiasm for music became the centre of his mental growth; it absorbed his mind, and lent variety to his quiet life. Maxim availed himself of it to make the boy acquainted with the history of his native land; and like a vast network of sounds, the procession filed before the imagination of the blind boy. Touched by the song, he learned to know the heroes of whom it sung, and to feel a concern for their fate and for the destiny of his country. This was the beginning of his interest in literature; and when he was nine years old, Maxim began his first lessons. He had been studying the methods used in the instruction of the blind, and the boy showed great delight in the lessons. They introduced into his nature the new elements of precision and clearness, which served to counterbalance the undefined sensations excited by music.

Thus the boy’s day was filled; he could not complain of the lack of new impressions. He seemed to be living as full a life as any child could possibly live; in fact he really seemed unconscious of his blindness. Nevertheless, a certain premature sadness was still perceptible in his character, which Maxim ascribed to the fact that he had never mingled with other children, and endeavored to atone for this omission.

The village boys who were invited to the mansion were timid and constrained. Not only the unusual surroundings, but the blindness of the little Pan intimidated them. They would glance timidly at him, and then crowding together would whisper to one another. When the children were left alone, either in the garden or in the field, they grew bolder and began to play games; but somehow it always ended in the blind boy being left out, listening sadly to the merry shouts of his playmates. Now and then Joachim would gather the children about him and repeat comical old proverbs and tell them fairy tales. The village children, perfectly familiar with the somewhat stupid Hohòl devil and the roguish witches, supplemented Joachim’s tales from the stores of their own knowledge; and the conversations ensuing were generally quite lively. The blind boy listened to them with great interest and attention, but rarely laughed. He seemed incapable of comprehending the humor in the speeches and stories he heard; and this was not surprising, since he could neither see the merry twinkle in the eyes of the speakers, nor the comical wrinkles, nor the twitching of the long mustaches.

III

Not long before the period to which our story relates, the “possessor”47 of the neighboring estate had been changed. The former neighbor, who had managed to engage in a lawsuit even with the taciturn Pan Popèlski, in consequence of some damage caused to the fields, had been replaced by the old man Yaskùlski and his wife. Although the united ages of this couple amounted to one hundred years, their marriage had been celebrated but recently, because Yakùb was for a long time unable to procure the sum required for hiring an estate, and thus was forced to act as overseer of one estate after another, while Pani Agnyèshka spent her period of waiting as a sort of companion in the family of the Countess N. When at last the happy moment arrived, and the bride and bridegroom stood hand in hand in the church, the hair of the handsome bridegroom was fairly gray, and the timid, blushing face of the bride was likewise framed in silvery locks.

This circumstance, however, by no means marred the married happiness of the somewhat late-wedded pair, and the fruit of their love was an only daughter about the age of the blind boy. Having won for themselves a domestic shelter, where under certain conditions they had a right to full control, this elderly couple began a peaceful and quiet existence, which seemed like a compensation for the hard years of toil and anxiety which they had passed in other folks’ houses. Their first lease was a failure, and they had started anew on a somewhat smaller scale. But in this new abode they had at once arranged things to suit themselves. In the corner occupied by the images, decorated with ivy, sacred palm, and a wax taper,48 the old lady kept bags filled with herbs and roots, by whose aid she doctored her husband as well as the peasants who came to consult her. These herbs would fill the hut with a peculiarly characteristic fragrance, associated in the minds of the villagers with their memory of that neat and quiet little house, with the two old persons who dwelt therein, and whose placid existence offered so unusual a spectacle in times like these.

Meanwhile the only daughter of this elderly pair was growing up in their companionship⁠—a girl with long brown tresses and blue eyes, who straightway impressed everyone that saw her with the uncommon maturity of her face. It seemed as if the calm love of the parents, finding fruition so late in life, had been reflected in their daughter’s nature by a mature judgment, a quiet deliberation in all her movements, and a certain pensive expression in the depths of her blue eyes. She was never shy with strangers, willingly made the acquaintance of children and took part in their games⁠—which was done however with an air of condescension, as if she herself really felt no interest in the matter. She was in fact quite happy in her own society, walking, gathering flowers, talking to her doll⁠—and all so demurely that one felt as if in the presence of a grown-up woman rather than in that of a child.

IV

One evening Petrùsya was sitting alone on the hillock above the river. The sun was setting, the air was still, and only the tranquil, faraway sound of the lowing herds returning to the village reached his ear. The boy had but just ceased playing and had thrown himself on the grass, yielding to the half dreamy languor of a summer evening. He had been dozing for a minute, when he was roused by a light footstep. With a look of annoyance he rose on his elbow, and listened. At the foot of the hill the unfamiliar steps paused. He did not recognize them.

“Boy!” he heard a child’s voice exclaim, “do you know who it was that was playing here just now?”

The blind boy disliked to have his solitude disturbed. Therefore his answer to the question was given in no amiable tone⁠—“It was I.”

A slight exclamation of surprise greeted this statement; and directly the girl’s voice added with the utmost simplicity and in tones of approval⁠—“How well you play!”

The blind boy made no reply. “Why don’t you go away?” he asked presently, when he perceived that his unwelcome visitor had not left the spot.

“Why do you drive me away?” asked the girl, and her clear tones expressed genuine surprise.

The tranquil sound of the child’s voice was grateful to the blind boy’s ear; nevertheless he answered in his former tone⁠—“I don’t like to have people come here.”

The girl burst into a peal of laughter. “Really? What a strange idea! Is this all your land, and have you the right to forbid other people to walk upon it?”

“Mamma has given orders that no one shall come here.”

“Your mamma?” asked the girl, thoughtfully; “but my mamma allowed me to walk over the river.”

The boy, somewhat spoiled by the universal submission to his wishes, was not used to such persistency. An angry flush swept like a wave over his face, and half rising he exclaimed rapidly and excitedly⁠—“Go away! go away! go away!”

It is impossible to tell how this scene would have ended, for just then Joachim’s voice sounded from the direction of the mansion, calling the boy to tea, and he ran quickly down the hill.

“Ah, what a hateful boy!” was the indignant exclamation he heard follow him.

The next day while he was sitting on the very same spot, yesterday’s adventure came to his mind. Now, this memory excited no vexation; on the contrary, he wished that the girl with the quiet, tranquil voice, such as he had never heard before, would come back again. All the children that he knew shouted, laughed, fought, and cried noisily; not one had such a pleasant voice. He felt sorry to have offended the stranger, who probably would never return.

The girl indeed did not return for three whole days. But on the fourth day Petrùsya heard her steps below on the river’s bank. She was walking slowly, humming something to herself in a low voice, and apparently paying no attention to him.

“Wait a moment!” he called out, when he perceived that she was going past; “is that you again?”

The girl at first made no reply, for her feelings had been hurt by her former reception; but suddenly it seemed to occur to her that there was something strange in the boy’s question, and she paused. “Can’t you see that it is I?” she asked with much dignity, as she went on arranging a nosegay of wild flowers which she held in her hand.

This simple question sent a thrill of pain through the heart of the blind boy. He threw himself back on the grass and made no reply.

But the conversation had been started, and the girl still standing on the same spot and busying herself with her flowers, asked again: “Who taught you to play so well on the pipe?”

“Joachim taught me,” replied Petrùsya.

“You do play very well. Only why are you so cross?”

“I⁠—am not cross with you,” replied the boy gently.

“Well, then, neither am I. Let us play together.”

“I don’t know how to play with you,” he replied, hanging his head.

“Don’t know how to play? Why not?”

“Because.”

“Tell me why.”

“Because,” he replied scarce audibly, and dropped his head still lower. Never before had he been obliged to speak of his blindness, and the innocent tone of the voice of the girl, who asked this question with such artless persistency, produced a painful impression upon him.

“How odd you are!” she said with compassionate condescension, seating herself beside him on the grass. “It must be because you are not acquainted with me. When you know me better, you will no longer be afraid of me. Now, I am not afraid of anybody.”

She said this with careless simplicity, as she played with her cornflowers and violets. Meanwhile the blind boy had accepted her challenge to more intimate acquaintance, and as he knew but one way of learning to know a person’s face, he naturally had recourse to his usual method. Grasping the girl’s shoulder with one hand he began with the other to feel of her hair and her eyelashes; he passed his fingers swiftly over her face, pausing occasionally to study the unfamiliar features with deep attention. All this was so unexpected, and done with such rapidity, that the girl in her utter amazement never opened her lips; she only looked at him with wide-open eyes in which could be seen a feeling akin to horror. Not until now had she noticed anything unusual in the face of her new acquaintance. The pale and delicately cut features of the boy were rigid with a look of constrained attention, which seemed in some way incongruous with his fixed gaze. His eyes looked straight ahead, without any apparent relation to what he was doing, and in them shone a strange reflection from the setting sun. For a moment the girl felt as if it were some dreadful nightmare.

Releasing her shoulder from the boy’s hand, she suddenly sprang to her feet and burst into a flood of tears. “What are you doing to me, you naughty boy?” she exclaimed angrily through her tears. “Why do you touch me? What have I done to you? Why?”

Confused as he was, he remained sitting on the same spot with drooping head, while a strange feeling of mingled anger and vexation filled his heart with burning pain. Now for the first time he felt the degradation of a cripple; for the first time he learned that his physical defect might inspire alarm as well as pity. Although he had no power to formulate the sense of heaviness that oppressed him, he suffered none the less because this feeling was dim and confused. A sense of burning pain and bitter resentment swelled the boy’s throat; he threw himself down on the grass and wept. As the weeping increased, convulsive sobs shook his little frame⁠—the more violently, because his innate pride made him struggle to repress this outburst.

The girl, who had scarcely reached the foot of the hill, hearing those stifled sobs turned in amazement. When she saw that odd new acquaintance of hers lying face downward on the ground, crying so bitterly, she felt a sympathy for him, and climbing the hill again she stood over the weeping boy.

“What is it?” she said. “Why are you crying? Perhaps you think that I shall complain? Don’t cry! I shall not say a word to anyone.”

These words of sympathy and the caressing voice excited a still more violent fit of sobbing. Then the girl sitting down beside the boy, devoted herself to the task of comforting him.

Passing her hand gently over his hair, with an instinct purely feminine, and a gentle persistency, she raised his head and wiped the tears from his eyes, like a mother who tries to comfort her grieving child.

“There, there, I am no longer vexed,” she said in the soothing tone of a grown-up woman. “I see you are sorry to have frightened me.”

“I did not mean to frighten you,” he replied, drawing a long breath in his efforts to repress his nervous sobs.

“Well, it is all right now. I am no longer angry. You will never do it again,” she added, raising him from the ground and trying to make him sit down beside her.

Petrùsya yielded. Again he sat facing the sunset, and when the girl saw his face lighted by the crimson rays, she was impressed by its unusual expression. The tears were still standing in the boy’s eyes, which were as before immovable, while his features were twitching convulsively with childlike sobs⁠—all the signs of a deep sorrow, such as a mature nature might feel, were evident.

“How queer you are⁠—really!” she said with thoughtful sympathy.

“I am not queer,” replied the boy with a pitiful look. “No, I am not queer! I am⁠—blind!”

“Bli⁠—nd?” she repeated, prolonging the word in her surprise, while her voice trembled, as though that sad word, softly uttered by the boy, had given a heavy blow to her womanly little heart. “Blind?” she repeated again; her voice trembled still more, and then as though seeking a refuge from the uncontrollable sense of misery that had come over her, she suddenly threw her arms around the boy’s neck and hid her face on his breast.

This sad discovery taking her entirely by surprise, had instantly changed the self-composed little woman to a grieved and helpless child, who in her turn wept bitterly and inconsolably.

V

Meanwhile the sun, revolving as it were in the glowing atmosphere, vanished below the dark line of the horizon. For a moment the golden rim of the fiery ball had lingered on the edge, leaving two or three burning sparks behind, and then the dark outlines of the distant forest became at once defined by an uninterrupted blue line. The wind blew fresh from the river.

The girl had ceased crying; only now and then a sob would break forth in spite of her. Petrùsya sat with bowed head as if hardly able to comprehend so lively an expression of sympathy.

“I am⁠—sorry,” she said at last, by way of explaining her weakness, but her voice was still broken by sobs. Then after a short silence, having partially regained her self-control, she made an attempt to change the conversation to some topic of which they could both speak with composure. “The sun has set,” she said thoughtfully.

“I don’t know how it looks,” was the mournful reply. “I only⁠—feel it.”

“You don’t know the sun?”

“No.”

“And you don’t know your mamma, either?”

“Yes, I know mamma. I can tell her step from a distance.”

“Yes, of course you can. I can tell my mother when my eyes are shut.”

The conversation had assumed a less agitating tone.

“I can feel the sun,” said the blind boy, growing more animated, “and I can tell when it has set.”

“How can you tell?”

“Because⁠—don’t you see?⁠—I can’t tell why myself.”

“Yes,” said the girl, and she seemed quite satisfied with this reply, and both were silent.

“I can read,” Petrùsya was the first to break the silence, “and I shall soon begin to learn to write with a pen.”

“How do you manage?” she inquired, and suddenly paused abashed, reluctant to pursue the delicate subject.

But he understood her. “I read from my own book, with my fingers,” he explained.

“With your fingers? I could never learn to read with my fingers. I read poorly enough with my eyes. My father says that it is difficult for women to learn.”

“And I can even read French.”

“How clever you are!” she exclaimed admiringly. “But I am afraid that you will take cold,” she added; “see how the fog is rising over the river.”

“And you yourself?”

“I am not afraid. What harm can it do me?”

“Neither am I afraid. Could a man possibly take cold more easily than a woman? Uncle Maxim says a man must never fear anything, neither cold nor hunger, nor the thunderbolt, nor the hurricane.”

“Maxim⁠—the one on crutches? I have seen him. He is terrible.”

“No, indeed. He is very kind.”

“No, he is terrible,” she persisted. “You cannot know, because you never saw him.”

“I do know him. He teaches me everything.”

“Does he beat you?”

“Never. He never beats me or screams at me⁠—never.”

“Well, I am glad of that. How could anybody strike a blind boy? It would be a sin.”

“He never strikes anyone,” said Petrùsya, in an abstracted tone of voice, for his sensitive ear had caught the sound of Joachim’s steps.

In fact the tall figure of the Hohòl appeared a moment later on the summit of the rising ground that separated the estate from the shore, and his voice resounded through the tranquil evening air⁠—“Panitch!

“They are calling you,” said the girl, rising.

“I know it; but I don’t want to go.”

“Oh, yes, do go. I will come to see you tomorrow. They are waiting for you now, and for me too.”

The girl was faithful to her promise, and appeared even earlier than Petrùsya could have expected her. The next day as he was sitting in his room at his daily lesson with Maxim, he suddenly raised his head, listened, and exclaimed eagerly, “May I go for a minute? The girl has come.”

“What girl do you mean?” inquired Maxim, as he followed the boy out of the door.

Petrùsya’s acquaintance of yesterday had in fact entered the yard of the mansion at that very moment, and on seeing Anna Michàilovna who was in the act of crossing it, deliberately went up to her.

“What do you wish, dear child?” asked the former, supposing that she had been sent on some errand.

The little woman offered her hand, as she demurely inquired, “Are you the mother of the blind boy? Yes?”

“Yes, my dear,” replied Pani Popèlska, admiring the girl’s clear eyes and the ease of her manners.

“Well, Mamma gave me permission to come to see him. May I see him?”

At that moment Petrùsya himself ran up to her, and behind him in the vestibule appeared Maxim.

“That’s yesterday’s girl, Mamma⁠—the one I told you of,” exclaimed the boy, as he greeted the child. “But I am taking my lesson now.”

“Well, Uncle Maxim will excuse you this time,” said Anna Michàilovna. “I will ask him.”

Meanwhile the little woman, perfectly at home, approached Maxim, who was advancing toward her with his crutch and cane, and extending her hand, remarked with the most gracious condescension, “It is very good of you not to strike a blind boy. He has told me of it.”

“Indeed, my young lady!” exclaimed Maxim, with a comical affectation of gravity, clasping between his own broad palms the girl’s tiny hand. “How grateful I ought to be to my pupil that he won your goodwill in my behalf!” And Maxim laughed, as he patted the hand he retained in his own. Meanwhile the girl stood looking at him with her clear, open gaze, which completely subjugated his woman-hating heart.

“Well, Annùsya,” said Maxim to his sister with a quizzical smile, “it seems that our Peter is beginning to choose his own friends. And you cannot deny, Annya, that he has made a good choice, even though he is blind. Has he not?”

“What do you mean, Max?” asked the young woman, gravely, as the color mounted to her cheeks.

“I was only joking,” replied the brother, briefly, perceiving that his sally had touched a sensitive chord, which responding revealed a hidden thought in the maternal heart.

Anna Michàilovna blushed still more deeply; she stooped hastily, and with a sudden passionate tenderness embraced the girl, who received this unexpected and impulsive caress with her usual serene though slightly surprised expression.

VI

From that day the closest intimacy was established between the Popèlski mansion and the home of the Possessor. The girl, whose name was Evelyn, came every day to the mansion, and in a short time she too became Uncle Maxim’s pupil.

At first this plan of companionship in study did not meet with Pan Yaskùlski’s approval. In the first place he thought that a woman needed no more education than would enable her to keep a memorandum of the soiled linen, and an account of her own expenses; in the second place he was a good Catholic, and believed that Maxim had committed a sin in fighting the Austrians in defiance of the clearly expressed admonition of the “father-pope.” Finally he firmly believed that there was a God in heaven, and that Voltaire and his followers were plunged in fiery pitch⁠—a fate which also, as many believed, was in waiting for Pan Maxim. However, as he grew to know him more intimately, he was obliged to admit that this heretic and fighter was a very good-natured and clever man, and so the Possessor compromised the matter.

“Let me tell you this, Vèlya,” he said, addressing his daughter, as he was on the point of leaving her to take her first lesson from Maxim, “never forget that there is a God in heaven and a Holy Father in Rome. I, Valentine Yaskùlski, say this to you; and you must believe me, because I am your father. That for primo. Secundo, I am a Polish nobleman, and on my coat-of-arms, together with the hayrick and the crow, is a cross on an azure field. The Yaskùlskis were ever good knights, and at the same time they were not ignorant concerning religious matters; and for that reason also you must believe me. But in regard to all subjects relating to orbis terrarum you are to respect what Pan Maxim Yatzènko tells you, and study faithfully.”

“Do not fear, Pan Valentine,” retorted Maxim, smiling, “we do not draft little Panis into Garibaldi’s regiment.”

VII

Both children profited by this companionship in study. Although Petrùsya was farther advanced, there was still an opportunity for competition. Moreover, he could often help his new friend about her lessons, and she was very successful in devising methods of explanation in regard to subjects which were naturally difficult for a blind boy to comprehend. Her society had introduced a new element into his studies, contributing a pleasing excitement to his mental labors.

Taking it all in all, fate had certainly proved propitious in this gift of friendship. The boy no longer sought solitude; he had found that congenial companionship which the love of older people had not afforded, and in moments when his little soul was most peaceful he was glad to have his friend near him. They always went together to the cliff or to the riverbank. When he played, she listened with genuine delight; and after he had laid his pipe aside, she would describe in her vivid childlike way the various objects in Nature that surrounded them. She could not of course picture them with absolute fidelity, but from her simple description the boy gained a very clear idea of the characteristic coloring of every phenomenon which she described. Thus, for instance, when she spoke of the darkness with which the black and misty night shrouded the earth, he formed a conception of this same darkness from the low tones of her timid voice. Then again, as she raised her serious face and said to him, “Ah, what a cloud is coming toward us!⁠—a very dark cloud!” he seemed directly to feel its cold blast, and in her voice he fancied the rustling sound of the creeping monster advancing threateningly upon him far above his head.

IV

Blindness⁠—Vague Questions

I

There are natures that seem predestined for the gentle task of love, as well as for the anxieties of sorrow⁠—natures in whom a sympathy for the cares or griefs of others is a necessity as imperative as the air they breathe. They have been endowed with that calmness so essential for the fulfilment of everyday duties; all the natural longings for personal happiness seem to have been restrained and held in subserviency to the ruling characteristic of their temperaments. Such beings often appear too placid, too reasonable, and devoid of sentiment. They are insensible to the passionate longings of a life of pleasure, and follow the stern path of duty with as much contentment as if it were yielding them the most glowing joys. They seem as frigid and majestic as the mountain-tops. Commonplace human life abases itself at their feet; even gossip and calumny glide from their snowy white garments like spatters of mud from the wings of a swan.

Peter’s little friend presented all the traits of this type, which as the product of education or experience is but rarely seen. Like genius, it falls to the lot of the chosen few, and generally manifests itself early in life. The mother of the blind boy realized what good fortune had befallen her son in winning the friendship of this child. Old Maxim likewise appreciated this, and felt confident that since his pupil now enjoyed the benefit of an influence heretofore wanting, his moral development would make tranquil and continuous progress. But this proved a sad mistake.

II

During the first few years of the child’s life Maxim had believed the boy’s mental growth to be under his entire control, and its processes, if not directly guided by his influence, at least so far affected by it that no new intellectual manifestation or acquisition could evade his vigilance. But when the boy reached that period of his life which forms the boundary between childhood and youth, Maxim realized how vain had been his audacious dreams of education. Nearly every week revealed something new, oftentimes something he had never anticipated; and in his efforts to discover the sources of the new idea, or representation thereof, Maxim was invariably baffled. A certain unknown influence, either organic growth or hereditary development, was evidently participating in Maxim’s educational plans; and he often paused reverently to contemplate the mysterious operations of Nature. In these outbreaks by which Nature effects her gratuitous revelations, disturbing, so to speak, the equilibrium between the supply of acquired knowledge on the one hand and that of personal experience on the other, Maxim had no trouble in following the connecting links of the phenomena of universal life, which diverging into thousands of channels enter into separate and “individual” lives.

This discovery was at first startling to Maxim, inasmuch as it revealed the fact that the mental growth of the child was subject to other influences beside his own. He became anxious for the fate of his ward, alarmed at the possibility of influences which could bring the blind man nothing but irremediable suffering. Then he tried to trace to their sources those mysterious springs which had leaped to the surface, hoping to obstruct their passage and check their influence over the blind child.

Nor had the mother failed to observe these things. One morning Pètrik ran up to her in an unusual state of excitement.

“Mamma, Mamma,” he exclaimed, “I saw a dream!”

“What did you see, my boy?” she asked; and in her voice there was a pathetic intonation as of doubt.

“I dreamed that I saw you and Uncle Maxim; and⁠—”

“What else?”

“I don’t remember.”

“And do you remember me?”

“No,” replied the boy, thoughtfully, “I have forgotten everything.”

This was repeated several times; and each time the boy grew sadder and more restless.

III

Once, as he was crossing the yard, Maxim heard from the drawing-room, where the music-lessons usually took place, some very queer exercises. They consisted of two notes. First, the highest key of the upper register was struck incessantly, in swift repetition; then the low reverberation of a bass note jarred upon the ear. Curious to discover what might be the meaning of these strange musical exercises, Maxim hobbled across the yard, and a minute later entered the drawing-room. He paused, and stood motionless in the doorway, contemplating the scene before him.

The boy, who was now ten years old, sat on a low stool at his mother’s feet. Beside him, craning his neck and turning his long beak from side to side, stood a tame stork which Joachim had presented to the “Panitch.” The boy fed him every morning from his own hands, and the bird followed his new friend and master from morning till night. At this moment Petrùsya was holding him by one hand, and slowly stroking his neck and back with the other, while an expression of deep thought and absorption rested on his face. The mother meanwhile, evidently excited and at the same time with a look of sadness, was striking with her finger the key that sent forth that sharp resonant note. At the same time, slightly bending forward from her seat, she watched the boy’s face with a painful scrutiny. When his hand, gliding along the brilliant white plumage, reached the tips of the wings, where the white plumes were suddenly replaced by black ones, Anna Michàilovna instantly moved her hand to the other key, and the low bass note, with its deep reverberations, echoed through the room.

Both mother and son were so much engrossed in their occupation that they had not observed Maxim’s entrance, until, recovering from his astonishment, he interrupted this performance: “Annùsya, what does this mean?”

Meeting Maxim’s searching glance, the young woman was as much confused as if a severe tutor had detected her in the commission of some fault. “You see,” she said in confusion, “he tells me that he can distinguish a certain difference between the colors of the stork, but he cannot understand wherein this difference consists. Truly he was the first one to mention it, and I believe he is right.”

“Well, what of it?”

“Well, I was trying, after a fashion, to explain this difference to him by sounds. Don’t be vexed, Max, but I really think that there is a correspondence.”

This unexpected idea took Maxim so entirely by surprise that at first he was at a loss for an answer. He asked her to repeat her experiments, and as he watched the rigid concentration of the boy’s expression he shook his head. “Believe me, Anna,” he said when he was alone with her, “it is better not to arouse thoughts in the boy’s mind, to which you can give no satisfactory solution. He must resign himself to his blindness⁠—there is no help for it; and it is our duty to keep him from trying to comprehend the light. For my part, I make every effort to avert each question, and if it were but possible to keep him removed from all objects likely to suggest them, he would no more realize that a sense is missing than we who possess five deplore the want of a sixth.”

The sister yielded as usual to her brother’s persuasive arguments; but this time both were mistaken. While overrating the influence of outside impressions, Maxim forgot the powerful stimulus which Nature communicates to a child’s soul.

IV

They had before them a blind child, a future man, the possible father of a family. “Malevolent fate,” or perhaps “accident” hidden within the mysterious realm of phenomena, had closed forever those eyes⁠—the windows through which the soul receives impressions from the glowing, many-colored, changing world. Doomed never to behold the light of the sun, although not himself the offspring of the blind, he was still a link in the illimitable chain of bygone lives, and contained within himself the possibilities of future lives. All those living links now lost in the remote past, corresponding in proportion to their capacity to the impressions of light, had transmitted to him the inner faculty, and through him, blind though he was, to an endless succession of future generations who would possess the power of vision.49

Thus it was that in the depths of this child’s soul these hereditary forces lay dormant⁠—vague “possibilities,” hitherto unaffected by outside influences. The whole fabric of his mind, fashioned after the ancestral model, had reserved within itself a substratum of the impressions of light, the product of the countless experiences of his ancestors. Thus in his inner organization the blind man is like another possessing eyesight, but with eyes forever closed, Hence a dim yet ever present consciousness of desire that craves contentment; an undefined yearning to exercise the dormant powers of his soul which have never been called into action. Hence also certain vague forebodings and endeavors⁠—like the longing for flight, which children feel, and the joys of which they taste in witching dreams.

Now, at last, the instinctive inclination of little Peter’s childish fancies was reflected on his features in that look of troubled perplexity. Those hereditary, and yet as far as he himself was concerned undeveloped and therefore unshaped, “possibilities” of the ideas of light rose like obscure phantoms in the child’s mind, exciting him to aimless and distressing efforts. All his nature, in an unconscious protest against the individual “accident,” rose to claim the restoration of the universal law.

V

Consequently, however much Maxim might try to exclude all outward impressions from his nephew, he had no control over the urgent cravings that came from within. With all his precautions he could but avert a premature awakening of these unsatisfied yearnings, and thereby diminish the boy’s chances of suffering. In every other respect the child’s unhappy fate, with all its cruel consequences, must take its course.

And like a dark shadow this fate advanced to meet him. From year to year the boy’s natural vivacity subsided, like a receding wave, while the melancholy that was echoing within his soul grew persistently, and left its impress on his temperament. His laughter, which in childhood resounded at every new and especially vivid impression, was now rarely heard. He was naturally less accessible to all that was bright and cheerful, and more or less humorous, than to that vague obscurity and gloom peculiar to the Southern nature, which finds reflection in the folk-songs. These made a deep impression on the boy’s imagination. The tears stood in his eyes whenever he heard how “the grave whispers to the wind in the field,” and he loved to wander through the fields himself, listening to this murmur. He longed more and more for solitude; and when in his hours of recreation he started off on his lonely walk, the family would avoid that direction, lest they might disturb his solitude.

Seated upon some mound out on the steppe, or on the hillock above the river, or on the familiar cliff, Petrùsya would listen to the rustling leaves, the whispering grass, the vague soughing of the wind across the steppe. All this harmonized perfectly with the deep seriousness of his mood. There, so far as in him lay, he was in absolute sympathy with Nature; he understood her; she disturbed him by no perplexing and unanswerable questions. There the wind fanned his very soul, and the grass seemed to whisper soft words of pity; and as the spirit of the youth in harmony with the gentle influences that surrounded him melted at the tender caress of Nature, he felt his bosom swell with an emotion that communicated itself to his whole being. In moments like these he would throw himself on the cool, moist grass and weep; but in these tears there was no bitterness. Again, he would seize his pipe, and enraptured by his own emotions would improvise pensive melodies suited to his mood and to the peaceful harmony of the steppe. One could easily understand that any human sound coming unexpectedly to interrupt this mood would affect him like a distressing discord. At such times the only fellowship possible to him was with a soul akin to his own; and in the fair-haired girl from the estate of the Possessor the boy enjoyed just such a companion.

This friendship was the more firmly knitted by mutual sympathy. If Evelyn contributed to their partnership her calmness, her gentle animation, or imparted to the blind boy some new detail of the surrounding life, he in turn gave her his sorrow. The little woman’s knowledge of him seemed to have dealt a serious blow to her tender heart: pluck a dagger from a wound, and the bleeding will increase. On the day when she first learned to know the blind boy on the hillock in the steppe, her sympathy for his affliction had really caused her acute pain, and his presence had grown by degrees quite indispensable to her. Separation seemed to renew and increase the poignant pain of her wound, and she longed to be with her little friend that she might appease her own suffering by ministering constantly to his comfort.

VI

One warm autumn night both families were sitting on the terrace in front of the house, admiring the starry sky, with its blue distances and glimmering lights. The blind boy with his friend sat as usual by his mother’s side. All was still around the mansion, and for the moment they sat silent; only the leaves stirred from time to time, like startled things, with unintelligible murmurings, and then lapsed into silence.

Suddenly a meteor, leaping forth from the darkness, flashed across the sky in one brilliant streak; and as it gradually disappeared, it left behind a trail of phosphorescent light. Petrùsya seated beside his mother had linked his arm in hers, and she became suddenly conscious that he started and began to tremble.

“What⁠—was that?” he asked, with a look of trouble on his face.

“It was a falling star, my child.”

“Ah yes, a star,” he said thoughtfully. “I felt sure that it was a star.”

“How could you know, my boy?” inquired the mother, with a pitiful accent of doubt in her voice.

“He is telling the truth,” exclaimed Evelyn; “he knows many things like that.”

This increasing sensitiveness indicated that the boy was evidently drawing near the critical period that lay between childhood and youth. Meanwhile his development pursued its quiet course. He seemed to have grown accustomed to his lot, and the exceptional and uniform character of his sadness⁠—a sadness cheered as it were by no single ray of light, but at the same time free from all eager cravings, and grown to be the habitual background of his life⁠—was in some measure mitigated.

But this proved to have been simply a period of temporary repose. Nature has appointed these resting-places that the young organism may gain strength to meet other attacks. During these calms, new questions imperceptibly rise to the surface and mature; and it needs but a touch to disturb this outward peace, and stir the soul to its very depths, even as the sea is lashed by a sudden squall.

V

Love

I

And thus a few more years went by. There were no changes in the peaceful mansion. The beech-trees in the garden rustled as of old, only their foliage seemed to have grown darker and thicker; the white walls, although they had warped and settled more or less, shone precisely as they used; the thatched roofs frowned the same as ever; and even the well-known sound of Joachim’s pipe might be heard at the usual hour from the direction of the stable. But Joachim himself, still a bachelor, and grown gray in the service as groom, chose rather to listen to the Panitch when he played either the piano or the pipe, it mattered not which. Maxim too, had grown still more gray. The Popèlski had no other children, and therefore their firstborn, the blind boy, remained as ever the central object of interest, around which clustered the life of the whole mansion. It was for his sake that the family had thus isolated itself within its own narrow circle, contented with its tranquil existence, whose current had now united with the equally placid life of the Possessor’s “cabin.”

Thus Peter, who had now become a youth, had grown up like a hothouse plant, guarded from the rude winds of the outer world. He was still as of old in the centre of a vast, dark world. Darkness enveloped him in every direction⁠—above, around, on all sides; illimitable, eternal. His delicate and sensitive organism vibrated in response to every impression, like a finely strung instrument. This sensitive expectancy was perceptible in the blind youth’s disposition; he seemed to feel that the darkness was about to stretch forth its invisible arms and arouse by its touch that which now lay dormant in his breast, waiting only for the summons. But the dreary darkness around him, familiar from his childhood, replied only by the caressing murmur that rose from the old garden, inspiring him with vague, tranquillizing, and dreamy thoughts. The turbulent current of the far-off world, known to the blind boy only through the medium of song and story, had no entrance here. Amid the dreary whispers of the garden and the peaceful everyday life of the country house, he heard of the tumults and tribulations of the world from the lips of others; and his imagination pictured it all veiled in clouds of mystery⁠—like a song, an heroic poem, or a fairy tale.

Everything seemed favorable. The mother felt that the soul of her son, protected as by a wall was living in an enchanted dream, which was tranquil even if it were unreal. Evelyn, who had imperceptibly grown to womanhood, watched this enchanted tranquillity with her calm gaze, sometimes showing a slight surprise, or an expression of wonder as to future events, but never a shadow of impatience. Popèlski the father had brought his estate into a prosperous condition, but the good man troubled himself very little about his son’s future life. A man of Maxim’s temperament could only be ill at ease in this quiet life; he simply endured it, looking upon it as a temporary arrangement, which had interwoven itself into his plans in spite of himself. He deemed it necessary for the youth’s interior nature to gain strength and maturity, that he might be better able to cope with the rude assaults of life.

Meanwhile, outside the limit of this enchanted circle, life went on, seething, bubbling, and raging; and at last the time came when the old veteran decided to break into this circle⁠—to open the door of the hothouse, and admit a current of outside air.

II

By way of breaking the ice, he invited an old friend, who lived about seventy versts from the Popèlski estate, to pay him a visit. In former times Maxim used to be the visitor; but he knew that some young people were staying at Stavruchènko’s house at that time, and so he wrote him a letter inviting the whole party. This invitation was accepted with pleasure. The two old men were bound by ties of friendship, and the young people were all familiar with the once famous name of Maxim Yatzènko, connected as it was with many a romantic tale. One of the sons of Stavruchènko was a student in the University of Kiev, in the School of Philology, very popular at that time. Another son was studying music in the St. Petersburg conservatory. Another member of the party was a young cadet, the son of a neighboring landlord. Stavruchènko was a vigorous old man, gray-haired, wearing a long mustache after the Cossack fashion, and the loose Cossack trousers tucked into the boots. His tobacco-pouch and pipe were suspended from his belt, and he spoke nothing but Little Russian; and beside his two sons, dressed in white sleeveless coats and embroidered Little Russian shirts, he vividly recalled Gògol’s Taras Bulbà with his followers. But Stavruchènko lacked the romantic characteristics of Gògol’s hero. He was on the contrary an excellent and practical landlord, who had always got on well with the serfs; and now that serfdom was abolished he was clever enough to adapt himself to the new conditions. He knew the people after the landlord fashion; that is, he knew every peasant in his village, and every peasant’s cow, and almost every extra coin in each peasant’s purse.

But if Stavruchènko did not have hand-to-hand encounters with his sons, like Bulbà, they were forever at odds, regardless of time or place. Everywhere, whether at home or abroad, endless disputes arose between the old man and the young people; it usually began on the part of the old man, who was always jeering at the “ideal Panitchis.” The Panitchis would grow excited, the old man likewise; whereupon an indescribable uproar would ensue, during which both sides would give and take some pretty severe thrusts. It was a reproduction of the differences between “Fathers” and “Sons;” only in the southwest, where a certain courtesy of manner prevails, such scenes in the family circle are more gracefully managed.

The young people who had been away at school from early childhood, had only seen the country during their vacation, and therefore had not the practical knowledge possessed by the father-landlords. When that tidal wave known as the “love of the people” came rushing in upon society, it found the young men in the higher classes of the Gymnasium. They turned their attention to the study of the lower classes, seeking their information at first in books. They soon proceeded, however, to the immediate study of the manifestations of the “national spirit” in its causes. In the southwestern districts the young Panitchis, in their white svìtkas50 and embroidered shirts, devoted themselves to the fashionable amusement of “visiting the people.” They paid but slight attention to their economical condition, but made notes of the words and music of the dùmkas51 and songs, studied the traditions, compared historical events with the traces they had left upon the popular mind, and looked upon the peasant in general through the poetical prism of an intellectually popular idealism. Thus the constant clashing of opinions diametrically opposed to one another entered into the disputes between the old man and the young people, and they were always at variance. And yet the old man himself listened with delight to the eloquent tirades of the young fellows.

“Just hear him,” Stavruchènko would say to Maxim, with a sly nudge of his elbow, while the student with flushed face and sparkling eyes was delivering his oration. “Hear him, he talks like a book! One might really imagine him a clever man. You had better tell us, you wise-head, how my Nechipòr deceived you.” The old man’s mustaches twitched, and he laughed heartily as he related with a purely Hohòl humor the tale of their discomfiture.

The young men blushed, but they paid him back in his own coin, saying: “If they were not familiar with the Nechipòrs and Hvèydkas in certain villages, they had studied the class as a whole; and from that point of view they deduced their generalizations. For the aged and experienced, whose habits of thought are fettered by routine, the forest is hidden by the trees that stand nearest, but young men can embrace the most remote perspective at a glance.”

The old man was not displeased to hear the learned discourses of his sons. “They did not go to school for nothing,” he often remarked, “but I can tell you that my Hvèydka will lead you like calves by a rope. That’s the way it is! But he cannot deceive me, for I can stuff him into my tobacco-pouch and put him in my pocket. You are nothing but youngsters and fools!”

III

A discussion of this sort had but just ended. The older people returned to the house, and through the open windows one could from time to time hear snatches of Stavruchènko’s funny stories, together with the merry laughter of his audience.

The young people remained in the garden. The student spreading his svìtka on the ground, with his sheepskin hat pushed on one side, had stretched himself out on the grass with affected carelessness. His older brother sat beside Evelyn on a bench near the wall. The cadet, in his carefully buttoned uniform, was seated next to them; while at a short distance, with drooping head, sat the blind youth leaning back against the windowsill. He was turning over in his mind the discussions he had just heard, which had stirred him deeply, even to agitation.

“What did you think of all that was said just now, Pani Evelyn?” said the student turning to her; “you have not spoken a single word.”

“What you told your father is all very fine; but⁠—”

“Well⁠—but what?”

The young girl did not reply at once. She let her work fall upon her lap, smoothed it out, and slightly bending forward began to examine it as if it absorbed her entire attention. It would have been difficult to say whether she was considering the advisability of using coarser canvas for her embroidery, or whether she was meditating over her reply.

Meanwhile the young men waited impatiently. The student, his face kindling with interest, rose on his elbow and turned toward the young girl. Her neighbor sat gazing at her with his calm and questioning eyes. The blind young man abandoned his easy attitude, sat up erect, and turned his face away from the others.

“But,” she said softly, still smoothing out her embroidery, “every man must choose his own career, gentlemen.”

“Lord bless us; what wisdom!” rudely exclaimed the student. “Really, how old are you, Pani?”

“Seventeen,” replied Evelyn, simply⁠—straightway adding, with an air of mingled triumph and curiosity, “I suppose you thought that I was a great deal older, didn’t you?”

The young men laughed.

“Had I been asked for an opinion concerning your age,” said her neighbor, “I should have been quite at a loss to decide between thirteen and twenty-three. At times you seem a mere child, and the next moment I hear you reasoning with the wisdom of an aged dame.”

“You must treat serious matters seriously, Gavrìlo Petròvitch,” said the young girl in tones of admonition, and once more returned to her work.

For a moment all were still. Evelyn resumed her needlework with her former deliberation, while the young men looked with curiosity at the miniature form of this wise young person. Although she had grown and developed considerably since the time of her first meeting with Peter, the student’s comments upon her age were quite just. At the first glance this tiny, slender maiden seemed but a girl, although her tranquil, self-possessed movements revealed the dignity of a woman. Her face produced the same impression. That type of face seems peculiar to the Slav women. Handsome, regular features, outlined in calm severity; blue eyes, with a direct and tranquil gaze; pale cheeks, rarely tinged with color⁠—not however the pallor that is ever ready to flush with the burning flame of passion, but rather akin to the cold purity of the snow. Evelyn’s fair hair, glossy and abundant, showing darker reflections about her marble-like temples, was drawn back and gathered into one massive braid, which seemed to weigh her head back as she walked.

The blind youth, too, had grown taller and more mature. Anyone seeing him at that moment, as he sat apart from the group just described, pale, agitated, and handsome, would have been instantly attracted by that peculiar face, upon whose surface every emotion of the soul was so plainly reflected. His black hair waved over a high forehead faintly lined by premature wrinkles; his cheeks alternately flushed and grew pale; the lower lip, slightly drooping at the corners, twitched nervously from time to time, and the large handsome eyes with their unwavering gaze added to this eminently South Russian type of face a somewhat unusual and sombre character.

“So Pani Evelyn supposes,” said the student in a sarcastic tone, after a short pause, “that the matters we have been discussing here are inaccessible to the feminine mind; that her sphere is to be limited by the nursery and the kitchen.”

The young girl replied with her usual seriousness: “No, you are mistaken. I understood all that was said⁠—therefore it is accessible to a woman’s mind. I spoke only for myself, individually.”

She became silent again, and bending over her work seemed so absorbed in it that the young man had not the courage to pursue his questions.

“Strange,” he muttered; “one might suppose that you had deliberately planned the entire course of your life.”

“Why should that seem strange, Gavrìlo Petròvitch?” replied the young girl gently. “Probably even Illyà Ivànovitch [that was the cadet’s name] has plans for the future, and he is younger than I.”

“You are right,” remarked the cadet, flattered by this supposition. “Not long ago I read the biography of N⁠⸺. He too had definite plans for his life. He married at twenty, and was a commander at twenty-five.”

The student laughed sarcastically, and the young girl blushed.

“You see,” she said a moment later, in the same quiet tone, “everyone plans his own career.”

No one replied, and a thoughtful silence fell upon the young people⁠—a silence beneath which a certain awkwardness was evident. They were all aware that the conversation had become personal; and the rustle of the darkening and seemingly displeased old garden was all the sound they heard.

IV

These conversations and discussions, this buoyant current of youthful life charged with its questions, hopes, expectations, and opinions, came rushing like a passionate storm upon the blind youth. At first he listened to them with a look of surprise, but it was not long before he found that the stream rushed along paying no heed to him. No questions were asked him, neither was he invited to give his opinion; and it soon became evident to him that he stood apart in a solitude, the sadder since brought into contrast with the present wide-awake life of the mansion. Nevertheless he listened to all this that was so new to him, and his contracted brow and pallid face bore witness to his intense interest. Yet this feeling was tinged with gloom; his brain was swarming with bitter thoughts.

The mother looked sorrowfully at her son. Evelyn’s eyes expressed sympathy and alarm. Maxim alone did not seem to notice the impression that this noisy company made upon his nephew, and hospitably invited the guests to come often, assuring the young men that he would furnish them with abundant ethnographical material on their next visit.

The guests departed, promising to come again. The young men shook hands cordially with Peter when they said goodbye. He nervously returned their pressure, and for a long time listened to the sound of the brìtchka as it rolled along the road. Then he turned suddenly and went into the garden.

After the departure of the guests everything at the manor lapsed into its former tranquillity; but to the blind youth this silence seemed strange, unusual, and peculiar. It implied an acknowledgment that an important event had taken place on the estate. The silent garden-paths where he was wont to hear only the whisper of the beech-trees and the lilacs, now resounded in his fancy with the echoes of recent conversations. From the open window of the drawing-room he heard the voices of his mother and Evelyn arguing with Maxim. He was struck by the pathetic tone of entreaty in his mother’s voice, while that of Evelyn rang out with indignation; Maxim meanwhile eagerly but firmly resisted the entreaties of the two women. Upon Peter’s approach, these discussions instantly ceased.

Consciously, and with pitiless hand, Maxim had made the first breach in the wall which till now encompassed his nephew’s world. The first noisy and tumultuous wave had already made its way through this breach, and the equilibrium of the young man’s soul was shaken by its onslaught. Now he realized the limitations of his magic circle; the quiet of the estate seemed oppressive to him, the indolent whisper and rustle of the old garden hung like a weight upon the peaceful dream of his young soul. Something wavered to and fro in the darkness, pressing toward him with wistful and enticing eagerness. It called and beckoned, awakening the questions that had been slumbering within him. The pallor of his face and a dull indefinite sense of misery in his soul were the visible signs that the summons was heard. Maxim meanwhile was preparing for a second breach.

V

When in the course of two weeks the young men accompanied by their father came to repeat their visit, Evelyn received them with a certain coolness. But she found it hard to resist the charming animation of youth. All day long the young men roamed about the village, hunting and taking notes of the songs of the reapers; and in the evening they assembled as before around the bench, near the mansion.

On one of these evenings, before Evelyn realized the fact, the conversation had turned to subjects of a somewhat personal character. Neither could the others have told how this had come about; it had been as imperceptible as the fading of the evening twilight, or the falling of the shadows in the garden⁠—as imperceptible as the first notes of the nightingale’s song among the bushes. The young student spoke passionately, with a proud air of triumph, and with all that ardor peculiar to youth, which regardless of selfish calculations rushes to meet the unknown future. There was a strange fascination in this ardent faith, and something also akin to the indomitable power of a challenge.

The young girl blushed, for she felt that this challenge was perhaps unconsciously directed at her. She bent low over her work as she listened. Her eyes sparkled, her face flushed, her heart throbbed. The light faded from her eyes, her face grew pale, she compressed her lips; while her heart continued to beat still more violently, and a look of alarm came over her features. She was frightened, for under the influence of this student’s words, the dark garden wall seemed to part before her eyes, and through the opening she saw the faraway vista of a vast world full of life and activity. She was startled. It seemed to her that someone was about to pluck the knife from out her former wound.

This however was of short duration. Evelyn could control her own life; of that she was well aware. She had arrived at a decision in regard to her future life, and this decision was to be final; she had deliberated long concerning her first step in life, and proposed to act in accordance with her plan. This being accomplished, she would try to make the most of life. She turned her deep blue eyes from the student and looked toward the spot where Peter had been sitting. But he was no longer there.

Then quietly folding her work Evelyn rose also. “Excuse me, gentlemen,” she said, addressing the guests, “if I leave you to yourselves for a while.” And she started along the garden-path.

Evelyn was not the only person who had felt disturbed this evening. At the turn of the path, where the settle had been placed, the young girl heard the agitated voices of Maxim and his sister.

“Yes, I thought of her in this connection no less than I did of him,” the old man was saying; and his tone was harsh. “I cannot believe that you wish to take advantage of the ignorance of a mere child.”

Tears were in the voice of Anna Michàilovna as she replied, “But Max, what if⁠—if she⁠—What will become of my boy?”

Maxim had no time to reply. The young girl who had paused instinctively at the turning, now quickly advanced, and with proudly erect head walked past the speakers. Maxim involuntarily drew up his crutch that it might not be in her way, and Anna Michàilovna looked at her with an expression of love, mingled with adoration almost amounting to awe. The mother seemed conscious that this fair proud girl, who had just passed by with a look so angry and defiant, held in her hands the happiness or unhappiness of her son.

VI

A ruined and abandoned mill stood in the garden. The wheels had ceased to turn, the cylinders were overgrown with moss, and the water trickled through the old locks in slender, never-ceasing streams. This was the blind youth’s favorite resort. Here he would spend hours on the parapet of the dam, listening to the sound of the trickling water, which he later reproduced to perfection on the piano. But now he was thinking of other things. Rapidly he trod the path, his heart filled with bitterness, and his face distorted by suffering. He paused when he heard the young girl’s light step; accustomed as he was to confide all his feelings to her, he felt no embarrassment in her presence.

Evelyn rested her hand on his shoulder as she asked⁠—“What is it? Why are you so sad?”

He did not reply at first, but turning, began once more to pace up and down the path. The young girl walked beside him.

Thus a few minutes went by in silence. It seemed as if the presence of Evelyn had a tranquillizing influence upon Peter’s mood; the keen pain diminished, his face grew more peaceful; the flood of sadness that had overwhelmed his soul began to subside, and a new sense of mingled pleasure and expectancy had taken possession of him. This feeling, to whose healing influence he had often yielded, he had never yet made an attempt to analyze. And now again his mood grew tender, although a shade of sadness still remained.

“Of course it made me feel sad,” he said, after a moment’s silence; “because I understood their words, although they were not directed toward me. I am useless, quite useless in the world. And why was I born into it?”

The girl glanced up at him with a look of alarm, and then as if with settled purpose she bent her head and resumed her walk by his side.

The blind youth stopped short. “Why, I ask, was I born into the world? And another thing⁠—It may perhaps be true, as old people say, that affairs have changed for the worse; yet in old times the blind fared better than they do now. There was work for them, and they had a place in life. Why was I not born in times when blind minstrels used to wander from place to place? I would then take my lyre, or bandura,52 and go from city to city and through the villages and distant steppes, and wherever I appeared the people would gather around me, while I sang to them of the deeds of their fathers, glorious and heroic, stirring their holiest feelings, and inspiring them with energy and courage. Thus I too could play a part in life. But now, even that cadet with his shrill voice⁠—you heard what he said about marrying and being a commander. They laughed at him; but for me even that is unattainable.”

Tears came into the young girl’s eyes, widening with alarm. “You are excited by the student’s talk.” She tried to speak lightly, but her agitation betrayed itself in her voice.

“Yes,” replied Peter, thoughtfully; “and what an agreeable fellow he is! He has a very pleasing voice.”

“Yes, he is agreeable,” said Evelyn, abstractedly; and her tone evinced a certain tenderness. Then as if vexed with herself she suddenly exclaimed in a passionate voice: “No, I don’t like him at all! He has too much self-assurance; and I think his voice is harsh and disagreeable.”

Peter listened in surprise to this angry sally. The girl stamped her foot as she went on:

“And it is all the most perfect folly! I know it has been a plan of Maxim’s contriving. Oh, how it makes me hate him!”

“Why, Vèlya,” expostulated the blind youth, “how can you blame Uncle Maxim for what has happened?”

“Oh, he thinks himself extremely clever; and he has destroyed every vestige of humanity within his breast by all these plans and schemes. Don’t speak to me of those people! I should like to know how they gained the right to arrange other people’s lives?” She stopped abruptly, clenched her slender hands and burst into a flood of childlike tears.

Peter took her hand and pressed it sympathetically. He was taken by surprise. This outburst from the usually calm and self-controlled girl was both unexpected and mysterious. As he listened to her weeping he was conscious of a new and peculiar emotion stirring within his breast.

Suddenly she gave him a fresh surprise by withdrawing her hand and bursting into a fit of laughter. “How silly I am! What in the world am I crying about?” She wiped her eyes and went on good-naturedly: “One must be just. They are both good, honest men, and what he said was all very well! But it does not apply to everyone.”

“To everyone who has the power,” replied the blind youth, scarce audibly.

“What nonsense!” she answered brightly; but in spite of her cheerfulness the traces of recent tears could still be detected in her voice. “Take Maxim for instance; he fought as long as he was able, and now he lives as best he may. And we also⁠—”

“You say we? Why do you say that?” interrupted Peter.

“Because⁠—well⁠—because sometime you will marry me, and our lives will be one.”

Strangely confused and yet rejoicing, the blind young man drew back a step. “I⁠—marry you? You mean⁠—that you will⁠—marry me?”

“Why, of course, of course!” she replied with mingled haste and agitation. “How dull you must be! Can it be possible that you have never thought of it? It seems so natural! Whom could you marry if not me?”

“To be sure,” he assented in his inconsiderate egotism. But instantly reflecting⁠—“Have you forgotten, Vèlya,” he said, taking her by the hand, “what these young men have just been telling us about the education that girls receive in the great cities? Consider what a career lies open before you, while I⁠—”

“Well, what about you?”

“I⁠—am blind!” he ended in a somewhat illogical conclusion.

The girl smiled, but continued in the same tone: “What if you are blind? I love you even so; hence it follows that I must marry you. That is the way things happen; what can we do about it?”

He also smiled, and dropped his head after his usual pensive fashion, as though he were listening to some voice within his soul. No sound could be heard save the gentle rippling of the water; and even that low murmur seemed at times to die away, but only to return with greater force, and ripple on forever. The leaves of the luxuriant wild cherry-tree whispered to one another, and the last pensive trills of the nightingale’s song echoed through the garden.

By this bold, unexpected, and yet gentle stroke the young girl had dispelled the lowering cloud that darkened the blind youth’s heart. Inspired by the new feeling that had taken possession of his whole being, he fervently pressed her little hand in his. A faint almost imperceptible pressure was the response. Then he clasped her round the waist and drew her toward him, gently stroking her silken hair with his other hand.

“Please, let me go, darling,” said the young girl, in low, shy tones as she released herself from his embrace.

Evelyn’s soft voice thrilled the blind youth’s heart. He made no effort to detain her, but as he yielded he heaved a profound sigh. He heard her smoothing her hair. His heart throbbed in deep but pleasing excitement, and he could feel the hot blood surging with a force hitherto unknown. And when a moment later she said to him, “Come, let us go back to the company,” he heard with delight and surprise a new music in her charming voice.

VII

The hosts were in the little drawing-room, and all the guests had likewise assembled there; the only missing members were Peter and Evelyn. Maxim was conversing with his old comrade, and the young men sat in silence beside the open windows. One could not fail to observe the strangely quiet yet expectant air that brooded over this little circle, as if each one had a premonition of an impending crisis. Although Maxim never interrupted his conversation, he kept all the while throwing swift, impatient glances toward the door. Pani Popèlska was trying to play the amiable and devoted hostess, but her face bore a sad and almost guilty look. Pan Popèlski alone, who had grown a good deal stouter, but had lost none of his amiability, sat quietly dozing in his chair, waiting for supper.

All eyes turned in that direction when footsteps were heard on the terrace which led from the garden into the drawing-room. Within the broad, dusky doorway appeared the figure of Evelyn with the blind youth slowly mounting the steps behind her. The young girl, although conscious that every eye rested upon her, was not in the least embarrassed. Crossing the room with her usual composure, she smiled slightly as she met the glance that Maxim darted at her from beneath his brows, and her own eyes flashed back defiance. Maxim grew suddenly abstracted, and replied at random when a question was directly addressed to him. Pani Popèlska watched her son.

The young man followed the maiden, giving no apparent heed to the direction in which she was leading him. When his slender form and pale face appeared against the background of the doorway, he seemed to pause on the threshold of that room so brightly lighted and filled with guests; but after a moment’s hesitation he crossed it with the air of one both absentminded and intensely absorbed, went up to the piano, and opened it.

For the moment Peter seemed utterly unconscious of his surroundings, forgetful of the presence of strangers, and instinctively longing for his favorite instrument as a vent whereby to express the emotions that were filling his bosom. Having raised the piano-lid, with his fingers resting lightly on the keys he struck a few rapid chords. It was as if he were putting a question, half to the instrument and half to his own soul. Then with his hands still resting on the keys, he remained plunged in deep thought, while utter silence reigned in the little drawing-room. The night looked in through the dusky windows, and here and there clusters of green leaves shining in the lamplight peered curiously in from the garden. The guests, their attention aroused by these few whispering chords, and influenced more or less by the strange inspiration that seemed to radiate from the face of the blind youth, sat in silent expectation.

But Peter remained as before, his eyes uplifted as if he were listening. Mingled emotions chased one another like billows through his heart. He had been uplifted by the tide of a new life⁠—even as a boat, after a long and peaceful rest upon the sandy shore, is suddenly tossed upward by the waves. Question, surprise, and unwonted excitement filled his mind. The blind eyes dilating, alternately sparkled and grew dim. For a moment one might imagine that he had not found within his soul the response for which he so eagerly listened; but all at once, with the same eager face, as though he could no longer wait, he started, touched the keys, and upborne by new waves of emotion surrendered himself to the tide that swept onward in full, resonant, and tumultuous chords. They gave voice to the countless memories of his past life which had thronged upon him, as with drooping head he sat there listening. The multitudinous voices of Nature, the moaning of the wind, the whispering of the forest, the ripple of the river, and that indefinite murmur which is lost in the remote distance could be heard, intermingling, forming a sort of background for the deep and inscrutable agitation that swells the heart and leaps up in the soul at the bidding of Nature’s mysterious whisper⁠—a feeling not easily defined. Sadness?⁠—why then is it so sweet? Joy?⁠—then why is it so profoundly, so inexplicably sad?

All this was evoked by the blind musician’s fingers, in low soft tones, at first hesitating and vague. His imagination strove as it were to gain control over this flood of chaotic images, and without success. Those powerful and depressing influences of an impetuous and passionate nature, confused and vague though they were, had taken full possession of the musician, but were as yet wholly beyond his control. From time to time the sounds grew in volume and power. One felt that the player must presently combine them into a melodious and perfect flood of harmony, and his audience listened in breathless expectation, Maxim wondering all the while as to the cause of the unusual depth of feeling displayed. But before the flood had time to rise to its full height, it suddenly subsided into a plaintive murmur, like a wave breaking into foam and spray; and again nothing was heard but the sad lingering notes, that rang like questions in the air.

The blind man paused for a moment, but the silence in the drawing-room remained uninterrupted, save by the rustling noise of the leaves in the garden. The fascination which had transported his listeners far beyond these walls suddenly vanished, and until the musician again struck the keys of the instrument they realized that they were seated in a small room, with the dark night peering in at the windows. Again the sounds rose and fell as if vainly seeking after the unknown. Charming folk-songs were interwoven with the vague harmony of the chords⁠—songs telling of love and sorrow, or reminiscences of the glories and sufferings of bygone days, or the eager impetuosity of youth and hope⁠—the blind man thus striving to express his feelings by embodying them in forms already familiar to his imagination. But the song too ended with the same minor note⁠—like an unanswered question echoing through the silence of the little drawing-room.

Then for the third time Peter began to play a piece which he had once learned by heart⁠—and again broke off.

Possibly he had hoped to find the musical genius of the composer in sympathy with his mood.

VIII

It is a very difficult matter for a blind man to play by note. These are printed in relief like the letters which they use; each note has its special sign, and stands in a row like the lines of a book. To designate the notes that form the chords, raised points are placed between them. It is of course a difficult and complicated task for a blind person to learn these by heart, each hand separately; but in Peter’s case the labor was lightened by his love for the integral parts of the work. Memorizing a few chords for one hand at a time, he would place himself at the piano; and when, from the combining of these hieroglyphics in relief, all of a sudden surprising harmonies resulted, it gave him a delight keen enough to enliven the otherwise dull work, and render it fascinating.

Yet even so, there still remained a weary way between the printed sheets of music and the execution of the same; for in order that the signs might be embodied in melody, the hands had first to transmit them to the memory, and the memory in its turn to send them back to the fingers. Meanwhile, however, Peter’s strongly developed musical instinct and imagination, that had already taken a definite form, began to play a part in the complicated labor of memorizing, and to stamp the work of the composer with the distinct impress of the player’s own individuality. Thus far the form which his musical feeling had taken, was for the most part derived from his mother’s playing. All Nature spoke to his soul in the language and music of the folk-songs of his native land.

While with beating heart and soul overflowing with emotion, Peter now played this piece, from the very first resonant chords there was such brilliancy, animation, and genuine feeling, and at the same time something so characteristic of the player, that an expression of wonder was mingled with delight on the faces of the listeners. The next moment, however, the wonder was wholly merged in delight; and the elder Stavruchènko’s son, a professional musician, as he listened, strove for a long time to follow the familiar piece, and at the same time to analyze the peculiar “style” of the pianist.

Music recognizes no party; it stands aloof from the clashing of opinions. If the eyes of the young people sparkled and their faces flushed, and daring conceptions of future life and happiness sprang up in their minds, so also the eyes of the old sceptic sparkled with animation.

At first old Stavruchènko sat with bowed head, listening in silence; but little by little he grew animated, and gently touching Maxim whispered, “How finely he plays! Wonderfully, it must be confessed! By Jove!⁠—”

As the sounds swelled a thought came into his mind, probably of his youth; for his eyes sparkled, his face flushed, he straightened himself, and raising his arm seemed about to dash his clenched hand upon the table, but restraining himself, allowed it to fall silently. Casting one rapid glance at his boys, he stroked his mustache, and leaning toward Maxim, whispered: “They talk of putting us old people into the archives. Nonsense! There was a time when you and I⁠—And even now⁠—Is it not true?”

Anna Michàilovna looked inquiringly at Evelyn. The girl had folded her work on her knees, and sat watching the blind musician but her blue eyes expressed nothing beyond a rapt attention. She was interpreting those sounds in her own way; she fancied she could hear in them the pattering sound of the water in the old locks, and the whisper of the wild cherry-tree in the dusky avenue.

IX

But the face of the blind man showed none of the rapture that had taken possession of his audience. It was plain that even this piece had not given him the satisfaction he was looking for. The last notes vibrated like the others, intimating the same question⁠—a murmur of dissatisfaction; and as the mother looked at her son’s face she saw in it an expression which was familiar to her. The sunny day of that faraway spring was revived in her memory, when her boy lay prostrated on the bank of the river, overcome by the too vivid emotions of the new and exciting world of spring. This expression however rested but for a moment on Peter’s face, then vanished.

Now the hum of voices filled the parlor. Stavruchènko embraced the musician with enthusiasm. “By Jove! my dear fellow, you play finely! That is the kind of playing we like!”

The young people, still excited and agitated, were shaking hands with him. The student prophesied a worldwide fame for him as an artist. “That is true,” assented the elder brother. “You are fortunate to have become thoroughly familiar with the character of the folk-songs. You are a perfect master in that domain. But will you tell me, please, what was the last piece you played?”

Peter gave the name of an Italian piece.

“I thought so,” replied the young man. “I am somewhat familiar with it. You have a remarkably original style. Many play it more correctly than you, but no one has ever yet played it with such effect.”

“Why do you think that others play it more correctly?” asked his brother.

“Well⁠—how can I convey my meaning? I have always heard it performed just as it is written. While this sounds like a translation from the Italian into Little Russian.”

The blind man listened attentively. It was a new thing for him to be the centre of animated conversation, and he was proud to feel his power. So he too might accomplish something in life!

As he sat there, with his hand resting on the music-rack, listening to all this talk, suddenly a warm touch fell on his hand. It was Evelyn, who had drawn near, and who now with a fugitive pressure of his fingers whispered joyously: “You hear? You too will have work in the world. If you could only see the effect you produce on others by your playing!”

The blind man started and drew himself erect. No one but the mother noticed this little interlude. Her face flushed as deeply as if she had just received the first kiss of a newborn and passionate love.

The blind man still remained on the same spot, and his face had not yet lost its pallor. Overwhelmed as he was by the impressions of his new happiness, he may also have felt the approach of the storm that like a dark and shapeless cloud was rising out of the depths of his brain.

VI

The Crisis⁠—An Attempt at Synthesis

I

On the following day the blind man awoke early. All was quiet in his room, neither was there as yet any movement in the house. Through the window which had remained open into the garden during the night came the freshness of the early morning. His memory had not yet recalled to him the events of the previous day, but his whole being was filled with a new and unusual sensation.

Peter lay for several moments in bed, listening to the twitter of a bird in the garden and to the feelings stirring within his own heart. “What has happened to me?” he thought; and at this very moment the words which were spoken to him in the twilight, near the old mill, flashed into his mind: “Is it possible that you had never thought of this? How dull you are.”

It was true, Peter had never thought of it. Evelyn’s presence had always been a joy to him, but until yesterday he had never realized the fact, any more than one realizes the air he breathes. Those simple words had fallen into his soul like a pebble upon the glassy surface of a stream: one moment it was placid, serenely reflecting the sunlight and the blue sky⁠—a toss of the pebble, and it is shaken to its very depths. Now he awoke like one newly born, and Evelyn⁠—his old companion⁠—appeared to him in an altered light. As he recalled one by one the incidents of yesterday, even the most minute, he heard with fresh surprise the accents of her altered voice as reproduced by his imagination⁠—“How stupid you are!” “Don’t, my darling!”

Instantly Peter rose, dressed himself, and ran through the dewy garden to the old mill. The water was murmuring and the wild-cherry bushes whispering the same as ever⁠—only then it had been dark, and now it was a bright sunny morning. Never before had light produced so palpable an effect upon him. The bright rays of the cheerful sun seemed to mingle with the dewy fragrance and the universal freshness of the early morning, stirring his nerves to a gentle excitement.

But together with this pleasing agitation there arose in the inmost depths of the blind man’s heart another and a different feeling, so vague and shapeless that at first he did not even realize its presence; but gradually it grew to be a part of himself, like the strain of melancholy that sometimes weaves itself imperceptibly through a merry song. It rose from the depths of his soul as from small beginnings a heavy cloud gathers in the heated atmosphere; and just as a cloud is expanded by rain, so was this emotion deepened by rising tears, until it grew to predominate over every other feeling. It was but recently that her words had sounded in his ears, and he could remember every detail of that first explanation; he seemed still to feel her silken hair and to hear the throbbing of her heart against his own. And out of all this he wrought an image that made his own heart beat with joy. Yet now a dark and shapeless “something” rises to blight this image with its poisonous breath, and to cause it to vanish into empty air.

In vain did Peter go afterward to the mill and spend hours at a time there, beset by contending feelings, endeavoring to recall to his imagination Evelyn’s words, her voice, and her movements. He had lost the power that once he possessed of uniting them in one harmonious whole. From the very beginning there had been an intangible “something” that he had been unable to grasp; and now this “something” was rising above his head, as a storm-cloud rises from the horizon. The sound of her voice was hushed, all the impressions of that happy evening had grown dim, and behold a void was in their place, to fill which void there rose from the depths of the blind man’s soul a yearning desire. He longed to see her. The sudden shock that had roused that evenly balanced youthful nature from its brief slumber had likewise awakened the fatal element that contained within itself the germs of irrepressible suffering. He loved her, and longed to see her.

II

Their guests had once more left them, and life returned to its usual regularity at the Popèlski manor; but the temper of the blind man had undergone a decided change. It had become variable and easily agitated. When at times his happy moments rose vividly before him, he grew more cheerful, and his face brightened. But this did not last long; and in the course of time even these cheerful moments were dimmed by the fear that they were about to vanish, never to return. Thus his temper grew very uneven; outbursts of demonstrative affection and of extreme nervous excitement were often succeeded by days of secret gloom and melancholy. And at last the mother’s worst fears were realized⁠—the fevered dreams of childhood returned to the youth.

One morning Anna Michàilovna went into her son’s room. He was still sleeping, but with a strange and restless sort of slumber. His eyes were partly open, and seemed to peer from beneath his eyelids; his face was pale, and wore an expression of alarm.

The mother paused as she cast a scrutinizing glance at her son, trying to discover the cause of this mysterious terror, which seemed momently to increase. But as she watched, the strained expression on the sleeper’s face grew more intense. Suddenly she became aware of an almost imperceptible movement above the bed. A sunbeam was shining on the wall over the head of the sleeper, and as it glided downward its vibrations grew more and more rapid. This brilliant ray of light was stealing its way to the half-open eyes, and the nearer it came the greater grew the restlessness of the sleeper. Anna Michàilovna remained motionless, as if gazing at a nightmare; she could not turn her eyes from the golden beam, which was drawing slowly but perceptibly nearer and nearer to her son’s pale face, which had become almost rigid under the prolonged strain. The yellow light had now begun to play over the hair and forehead of the youth. Instinctively the mother leaned forward to shield him, but her feet refused to move, as if she too were under some mesmeric influence. Meanwhile the sleeper raised his eyelids, and the sunbeam sparkled on his motionless eyeballs. His head, outlined against the pillow, was turned toward the light; something between a smile and a sob quivered on his lips, and again his face lapsed into its former rigidity.

At last, by a supreme effort of will, the mother overcame the torpor that had crept over her, and going up to the bed, placed her hand on her son’s head. He started and awoke.

“Is that you, mamma?” he asked.

“Yes, it is I.”

He rose on his elbow. It was as if his consciousness were still obscured by a sort of haze. The next moment he said: “I was dreaming again. I often dream now, but I can remember nothing.”

III

More than a year passed thus; periods of gloom alternating in the young man’s nature with a nervous irritability; and at the same time his senses, especially that of hearing, grew more and more acute. That his entire organism was susceptible to the light was evident even by night; he always knew when the moon was shining, and would often remain out of doors, sitting motionless and sad, when all the others in the house were sleeping⁠—giving himself up to the influence of that dreamy and fantastic light, his pale face meanwhile turned ever in the direction of the luminous globe that was traversing the dark-blue sky, and his eyes reflecting the lustre of its cold rays. But when the globe, growing larger and larger as it drew near the earth, became veiled by a heavy red mist and finally disappeared below the horizon line, the face of the blind man would soften and grow calm, and he would rise and go to his room.

As to his thoughts during these long nights, it would not be easy to describe them. Everyone who has experienced the joys and sorrows of self-consciousness is familiar with the crisis that occurs at a certain period of life, when a man, still pausing on the threshold strives to define to himself the place he occupies in Nature, his object in life, and his relations to the surrounding world. This is, so to speak, a “dead point;” and fortunate is the man whom the impetus of life’s power carries through it unharmed. In Peter’s case this crisis was seriously complicated. To the question, “What is the object of one’s life?” he added another: “What is the object of a blind man’s life?” Finally, into this travail of sad thoughts entered another element⁠—an almost physical pressure of unsatisfied desire, which reacted on his disposition; he grew more and more nervous and irritable, without an apparent cause.

“I long to see,” he said when this mood had so far relaxed that he could speak of it with Evelyn⁠—“I long to see, and I cannot overcome this desire. Could I but once, even in a dream, see heaven and earth and the bright sunlight, and remember it all⁠—could I but thus see my father and mother, you and Uncle Maxim⁠—I should be satisfied, and never be distressed again.”

And he persistently clung to that idea. When alone he would take up different objects, feel of them with unusual attention, and then putting them aside try to recall their familiar outlines. In the same way he studied the difference between bright-colored surfaces, which the abnormally keen perceptions of his nervous system enabled him to distinguish quite readily by the touch. But all this simply conveyed to Peter’s mind information in regard to his own relations to things, without giving him a clearly defined idea of their intrinsic properties. He could distinguish the difference between day and night from the fact that the sunbeams, in some mysterious way, penetrated his brain, irritating still more keenly his agonizing queries.

IV

Peter had lost all interest in the books that Maxim used to read aloud to him, and nothing ever arrested his attention now, unless it bore directly or indirectly upon his own affairs. Once he interrupted the reading to ask⁠—

Red ringing; carmine ringing⁠—what does that mean? Can one see colors in tones?”

“No,” replied Maxim; “but some sounds make an impression analogous to that of colors. I am not sure that I shall be doing right, or even if I shall succeed in explaining this analogy to you so that you will be able to understand it; but I have often thought of it myself, and this is the way it appears to me: Whenever I look upon a bright red surface of any considerable dimensions, it produces on me the impression of something flexible and quivering. It seems as if this red surface were changing every instant; rising from a substratum of a deeper color, it throbs, so to speak, with swift pulsations of a lighter shade, making a most vivid impression on the eyes. That may be the reason why a certain kind of ringing is called red.”

“Yes, yes! wait a moment,” said Peter, quickly opening the piano; and with practised hand he struck the keyboard in imitation of the holiday bell-ringing. The illusion was unusually perfect. A chord in the middle register served as a background, while the clearer high notes rose over it as though leaping and bounding through the air.

“Is that it?” asked the blind man.

“Yes, that is like it; and I know persons who are as unpleasantly affected by those sounds as I myself am affected by the color. I believe the expression ‘carmine ringing’ refers to post-bells. After a bell has been ringing for a long time it grows monotonous⁠—the sound becomes deeper, softer, and more uniform, although it is still as distinct as ever. The same effect may be obtained by a skilful selection of the different tones.”

“Now, listen,” said Peter; and under his fingers the piano rang out like the spasmodic peals of a post-bell.

“No, that is not the way,” said Maxim. “You must play more softly.”

“Ah, yes, I remember!”

And now the instrument sent forth tones, low, rhythmical, and sad, like the music of a “set of bells” under the dugà of a Russian troika, receding along the dusty road in the dim vista of evening⁠—a sound low and monotonous, growing softer and softer, until the last notes are lost amid the silence of the quiet fields.

“Ah, now you have it! You have caught the idea,” said Maxim. “Our language possesses certain definitions applicable to our conceptions of sound and light, as well as of touch. Thus we use the word ‘brilliant’ in regard to tones, and also in regard to colors; and the word ‘soft’ belonging primarily to the sense of touch, may also be applied to colors. We even say a ‘warm’ color, a ‘cold’ color. Of course this is only by way of analogy, but they show some points of resemblance. Some time ago, while you were still a child, your mother tried to explain colors to you by means of sounds.”

“Yes, I remember. Why did you forbid us to continue? Perhaps I might have succeeded in understanding.”

“No,” replied Maxim, “that would have been impossible, and all your labor would have been in vain. You can study an object by itself, as far as its form and the space it occupies are concerned⁠—and you seem able, in some inscrutable way, to perceive vague differences in color; but in order to gain any distinct ideas of form, size, and color the sense of sight is absolutely indispensable. The sooner you give up your vain efforts the better it will be for you.”

Peter made no reply; but afterward he returned to those musical experiments that had been given up in days gone by. While he by the sense of touch would examine bits of bright-colored cloth, his mother⁠—her nerves strained to their utmost tension, and trembling with agitation⁠—would try to represent the color by a correspondence in sound.

Maxim no longer opposed these performances; he realized that his influence was of no avail against that inward impulse, and felt that it would be better to allow the blind man to pursue his own course, that in the end he might be convinced that all his efforts to combine these separate impressions were utterly in vain. And that this result might be the sooner attained, Maxim lent his own assistance to promote the blind man’s researches.

“Uncle Maxim,” said Peter to him one day, “you once described red to me by means of words so vividly, I wish you would tell me about the other colors that you see in Nature.”

Maxim paused to consider. “That is a very difficult matter; but I will try. I will begin by describing to you something with which you are perfectly familiar, and that is blood. Blood courses through the veins, but it cannot be seen. It circulates through the body, diffused by the heart, which is constantly throbbing, beating, and burning with sorrow or joy. When a sudden thought occurs to you, or when from dreams you awake trembling and weeping, it is because the heart has given a more rapid impulse to the blood, and sent it coursing in bright streams to the brain. Well, this blood is red.”

“Red, warm,” said the young man, thoughtfully.

Maxim paused: was it well for him to go on with these fruitless illustrations? But when he saw the eagerness with which the blind man was hanging on his words, he sighed, and made up his mind to continue.

“First, I will tell you about the heavens. If you lift your arm above your head, you will describe with it a semicircle in space. In the same way, infinitely far above us, we behold the vaulted semicircle of the hemisphere. It is blue. We call it the sky. The sun crosses it from east to west⁠—that you already know. You can also tell when the sky is overcast; at such times its blue depths are hidden by the confused and portentous outlines of dense masses of clouds. You always perceive the approach of a threatening storm-cloud⁠—”

“Yes, I am conscious of an influence that agitates the soul.”

“You are right. A blue sky is the symbol of serene and lasting happiness. We watch for the return of the dark-blue sky. The tempest will pass over, while the sky above remains ever the same; knowing this, we can wait patiently for the passage of the storm. The sky then is blue; and the sea when it is calm is of the same color. Your mother has blue eyes, and Evelyn’s eyes are also blue.”

“Like the sky,” murmured the blind man, tenderly.

“Blue eyes are said to be the token of a pure soul. Now I will tell you about the earth. A little while ago it was spring; now the summer has come, and the surface of the ground is nearly all covered with green grass. The earth is black; and in the early spring the trunks and branches of the trees look black too, and moist; but no sooner are these dark surfaces warmed by the rays of the sun than they send forth green grass and leaves. Vegetation requires light and warmth; but the amount must not be excessive. The reason why all that is green is so grateful to the eye, is that it seems like the union of warmth and cool moisture; it arouses sensations of calm contentment and health, but not those of passion, or what the world calls happiness. Do you understand?”

“No, it is not quite clear. But please go on.”

“Well, I don’t know that I can make that clearer; but I will tell you more. The summer grows hotter and brighter as it goes on. All vegetation seems to be oppressed with its own vitality; the leaves droop, and if the heat of the sun is not cooled by the refreshing rain, the green vegetation grows utterly parched and withers away. But with the approach of autumn, the juicy fruit begins to ripen among the brown and faded leaves, reddening most on the side next the sun, as if all the intensity and passion of vegetable nature were concentrated therein. You see that even here red is as ever the symbol of passion. It is the color of luxury and delight; the color of sin, anger, and madness; the emblem of unforgiving vengeance.⁠—But you fail to follow me!”

“Never mind; go on, go on!”

“The autumn comes. The fruit has grown heavy; it drops and falls to the ground⁠—it dies; but the seed still lives⁠—and therein lies the germ of a ‘possibility’ of some future plant, with its luxuriant foliage and its fruit. The seed falls on the ground; and above this ground the cold sun hangs low, the cold wind sweeps over it, the cold clouds float overhead. So life and the passions die slowly, imperceptibly. Day by day the blackness of the soil shows more and more plainly through the green grass, until at last the day comes when the snowflakes fall by millions and cover the ground, humble and sorrowful in its widowhood, with a mantle of one uniform color⁠—cold, and white. The cold snow, the clouds that float in the inaccessible heights above our heads, the grand and sterile mountain-peaks, all are white. It is the emblem of a passionless nature, of the cold purity of holiness, and of the future spiritual life. As to black⁠—”

“I know,” interrupted the blind man, “that signifies silence and quiescence. It is night.”

“Yes; and therefore the emblem of death.”

Peter shuddered, and said in a low tone: “Yes⁠—as you say yourself⁠—of death. And for me black is the prevailing color!”

“You are wrong to say that,” rejoined Maxim unhesitatingly, “when you have access to all the pleasures of sound, warmth and movement.”

“Yes,” replied the young man, thoughtfully, “that is true. Sounds also have their colors; and I have learned to know the red tones, the green and the majestic white ones, that soar aloft in inaccessible heights. But those nearest akin to me are the dark tones of grief, which reverberate close to the earth. I never rejoice when I play⁠—I weep.”

“Let me tell you,” said Maxim earnestly, “of one gift which you fail to appreciate at its proper value⁠—one that has been bestowed upon you with a generosity rarely found among mortals. We have already spoken of light, warmth, and sound. But you know still another joy⁠—you are surrounded by love. You take little heed of this, and the reason of your suffering may be ascribed to an egotistic cherishing of your own woes.”

“Yes,” exclaimed Peter, passionately, “I cherish them against my will! Where can I hide from them, when they are with me wherever I go?”

“Could you once realize that the world is full of sorrow a hundredfold harder to bear than yours⁠—sorrows in comparison with which your life, rich in consolations and sympathy, may well be called bliss⁠—then⁠—”

“No, no! it is not so!” interrupted the blind man, angrily, in his former tone of passionate excitement. “I would change places with the lowest beggar; gladly would I wear his rags! He sees!”

“Very well,” said Maxim, coldly, “I will prove to you that you are mistaken.”

V

In a small town, sixty versts from the estate of the Popèlski, stands a miraculous Roman Catholic image. Persons versed in such matters could detail accurate accounts of its miraculous power, and all who make a pilgrimage to visit it on its holiday receive “twenty days absolution.” Therefore every year, on a certain day in the fall, the little town is so crowded that it can hardly be recognized. On the occasion of the anniversary, the old chapel is decorated with flowers and foliage; the merry pealing of the bells rings through the air, the carriages of the Pans roll past; the town is filled with worshippers, bivouacking in the streets and squares and even in the neighboring fields. Nor are Catholics the only visitors. The reputation of the N⁠⸺ image has spread far and wide, and the sick and afflicted Orthodox, particularly those from the cities, come also to visit it.

On this particular holiday of which we would now speak, the road on both sides of the chapel was lined with a many-colored procession of human beings. One viewing this spectacle from the summit of any of the low hills encircling the place might have imagined that some gigantic serpent had stretched itself out over the road near the chapel, and lay there motionless, save when from time to time it lifted its many-colored scales. On both sides of the road, lined with two far-reaching rows of men and women, stood a whole regiment of beggars in a line, stretching their hands for alms.

Maxim on his crutches, and Peter beside him leaning on Joachim’s arm, moved slowly along the street. Having passed the noisiest and most crowded spot, they came to the road where it entered the field. The hum of the many-voiced crowd, the cries of the Jewish tradesmen, the noise of the carriages⁠—all that vast rumbling as of mighty waves, mingled into one continuous surging volume of sound, they had left behind them. But even here where the crowd had diminished, they could still hear the tramp of the foot-passengers and the hum of the wheels and human voices. A carriage-train of teamsters was coming from the direction of the fields, and creaking heavily, turned into the nearest cross street.

Peter listened absentmindedly to this noisy life, wondering why Maxim had brought him there on such a day. Although Pan Popèlski was a Catholic himself, the child had been baptized in the mother’s church by an Orthodox priest, and this was no holiday of his. Nevertheless he obediently followed Maxim, once in a while pulling his overcoat together, for it was chilly weather; and thus he walked along, his mind a prey to melancholy thoughts. Suddenly in the midst of his absorption, Peter’s attention was so violently arrested that he shuddered as he paused. The last houses of the city buildings ended here, and the wide thoroughfare now lay between fences and empty lots. Just where it entered the fields, some pious hands had erected a stone post, with an icon and a lantern; the latter, which was never lighted, now hung creaking in the wind. At the very foot of the post crouched a group of blind beggars, who had been crowded from the desirable places by their more fortunate competitors. They sat there holding wooden cups, and some of them from time to time set up a heartrending wail:⁠—

“Give to the blind!⁠—for Christ’s sake!”

It was a cold day, and since early morning these beggars had been exposed to the cold wind that blew in gusts from the field. The crowd was so great that they could not keep themselves warm by exercise, and as by turns they drawled their mournful lamentation, the plaintive note of physical suffering and of utter helplessness could plainly be discerned. The first words were quite distinct, but they were soon lost in a mournful wail, expiring in a shudder as of one perishing from the cold. And yet the last low notes of the song, almost lost in the midst of the noisy street, on reaching the human ear struck it with a sense of the hopelessness of the enormous suffering they expressed.

“What is that?” exclaimed Peter, seizing his uncle suddenly by the arm. His face changed, as though this moan were the embodied image of some ghost that suddenly rose before him.

“That?” repeated Maxim, indifferently. “They are only blind beggars⁠—blind like yourself, and somewhat cold besides. They would like to go home, but they are hungry. You have some money in your pocket, have you not? Throw them a five-copeck piece.”

Peter, who in his anguish had rushed ahead, suddenly stopped. He took out his purse, and instinctively turning away that he might not hear the mournful strains repeated, held it out to Maxim, saying⁠—

“Give them this! Give them all you have with you⁠—only let us go away! For mercy’s sake, let us go home as quickly as possible! I cannot, I cannot bear to hear it!”

VI

On the following day Peter was lying in his room prostrated with a nervous fever. He lay tossing on his bed, with a look of agony on his face, as if he heard some sound from which he was struggling to escape. The old local doctor attributed this illness to a cold, but Maxim well knew its real cause. It was a severe attack, and at the time of the crisis the sick man lay motionless for several days; but youth came off victorious in the end.

One pleasant autumn morning a bright sunbeam crept in at the window and rested near the invalid’s head. Anna Michàilovna turning to Evelyn said, “Please draw the shade. I dread that light.”

Rising in obedience to her request, the girl was arrested by the unexpected sound of the blind man’s voice:⁠—

“Never mind, please. Let it be as it is.”

Both women leaned over him with rapture:

“Do you know me?” asked the mother.

“Yes,” replied the invalid; then paused, as though trying to recall some memory of the past. “Ah, yes!” he said softly. “How dreadful it was!”

Evelyn laid her hand on his lips. “Don’t, don’t! You must not talk; it is bad for you.”

Pressing the hand to his lips Peter covered it with kisses. Tears stood in his eyes. He wept long and freely, and seemed to gain relief. “I shall never forget your lesson,” he said, turning his face toward Maxim, who entered at that moment. “I thank you. You have helped me to realize my own happiness, by making me acquainted with the woes of others. God grant that I may never forget the lesson!”

The disease once conquered, the youthful constitution made short work of recovery. In two weeks Peter was again on his feet. A great change had taken place in him. The serious shock to his nerves was succeeded by a pensive but calm and gentle sadness; his very features were changed, having lost all trace of the old mental suffering.

Maxim feared lest this might prove but a phase, occasioned by the depression of the nervous system. But months went by, and still the blind man’s mood showed no sign of change.

The realization of one’s own misfortunes sometimes paralyzes the energy, and plunges the soul into a state of passive endurance; while the knowledge of the sorrows of others will, on the contrary, often rouse one to energetic action, and uplifting the whole nature stimulate mental activity, and lead one to seek opportunities for showing sympathy.

A longing to relieve human misery had now risen in Peter’s heart, supplanting his former vain endeavor to escape from personal grief. He had as yet no clear idea as to the ways and means, and had but slender confidence in his own power; yet he was inspired by hope.

VII

Intuition

I

When Evelyn announced to the old Yaskùlskis her firm intention of marrying the blind man, the old mother wept; but the father, after saying a prayer to the images, declared that it was manifestly the will of God. In due course of time, therefore, the wedding was celebrated.

Now began a new and happy life for Peter; and yet it made no great change in him. In his happiest moments there was a shade of sadness in his smile, as if he felt the insecurity of his happiness. When he was told that he was about to become a father, he received the news with alarm. Still his present life, absorbed as it was in anxiety for his wife and future child, left him no time for brooding over the inevitable. Now and then, in the midst of these cares the memory of that pitiful wail of the blind men would rise in his mind and wring his heart with pity and compassion, thereby diverting his thoughts into a different channel.

The blind man had also lost to a certain extent his extreme sensitiveness to the outward impressions made by light, and his mental activity was proportionately diminished. The turbulent organic force within him lay for the moment dormant, with no conscious effort of will on his part to rouse it into action, or to combine his manifold sensations into one consistent whole. But who can tell?⁠—this interior calmness may have served to promote the work that was unconsciously to himself going on within him; it may have facilitated the union of those vague sensations of light with his logical thoughts on the subject, and the analogies between light and sound. We know that in dreams the mind often creates images and ideas which it would be totally unable to produce by the agency of the will.

II

In the very same room where Peter was born, no sound could be heard save the wailing cry of an infant. A few days had passed since its birth, and Evelyn was rapidly recovering. But Peter still seemed depressed, as though weighed down by the presentiment of some impending misfortune.

The doctor taking the child in his arms carried him to the window. Quickly drawing aside the curtain and admitting a bright sunbeam into the room, he took his instruments and bent at once over the boy. Peter was also in the room, apathetic and depressed, with his head drooping low. He seemed to attach no importance whatever to the investigations of the doctor; his bearing was that of one who feels quite sure of the result.

“The child must be blind,” he kept repeating. “Better for it, too, had it never been born.”

The young doctor made no reply, but continued his observations in silence. At last he laid aside the ophthalmoscope, and his calm, encouraging voice echoed through the room: “The pupil contracts; the child sees!”

Peter started, and rose instantly to his feet. But although the act gave proof that he heard the doctor’s words, the expression of his face showed no comprehension of their significance. Resting his trembling hands upon the window-seat, and with his pale face and set features uplifted, he looked like one petrified. Until the present moment he had been in a state of unusual excitement, apparently unconscious of himself, and yet every nerve quivering with expectation. The darkness that surrounded him was an actual object, which he realized in all its immensity as something apart from himself, enveloping him as it were, while he strove to gain by an effort of imagination some adequate idea of its relation to himself. He threw himself before it as if he would shield his child from that illimitable tossing sea of impenetrable darkness.

Such had been Peter’s state of mind while the doctor was silently carrying on his preparations. He had wavered between hope and fear; but now the latter, rising to its highest pitch, had won entire control of his excited nerves, while hope withdrew to the innermost recesses of his heart. Then came the words, “The child sees!” and his feelings underwent a sudden transformation; his fears vanished, and assurance took the place of hope, illuminating the inner world of imagination in which the blind man dwelt. Like a stroke of lightning it burst upon the darkness of his soul, effecting a complete revolution. Now he knew the meaning of the words, “sound possessing the attribute of light.” The doctor’s words were like a pillar of fire in his brain; it was as if an electric spark had suddenly kindled in the secret recesses of his soul. Everything vibrated within him, and he himself quivered, as a tightly strung chord quivers under a sudden touch.

Directly upon this flash, strange shapes rose before those eyes blind from birth. Were these rays of light, or sounds? He could not tell. They seemed like vivified sounds, that had taken the form and the motion of light. They were radiant as the firmament, and their course was as that of the sun in the heavens above; waving to and fro, they whispered and rustled like the green steppe, and swayed like the branches of the pensive beech-trees. And all the time these branches were mysteriously but clearly outlined against the sky; the steppe stretched far, far away; the bright blue surface of the river rippled musically.

Someone touched the blind man’s hand. Yes! he knows, he hears, he feels, he sees this touch! Here again come the ray-sounds, shaping themselves into visible images. From his childhood he has known that bright vision, so dear to his heart, reproduced in his soul with such marvellous fidelity! He hears his mother’s gentle voice; her tender blue eyes rest lovingly and sadly upon his face, and somewhere in the depths of his heart the reflection of her gaze faintly glimmers. The silvery white hair, the clear, pure ringing tones of her voice⁠—he not only hears, he also sees and feels that fondly loved, that pure and gentle being, the embodiment of holy love!

A young, anxious, and sympathetic cry!⁠—His heart beats with passionate excitement. Can it be that he has never seen her before⁠—his friend, his wife, his best-beloved? Behold, she now lies before him, distinct and wonderful! Pain, love, and alarm may be seen upon her face⁠—Eyes blue like his mother’s; and in her voice the scarlet tones of love, vivid and intense, unlike that of a mother⁠—those tones that kindled in his heart the bright flame of passion! She has light “fair” hair⁠—he knew of course it must be so; he felt it and now he sees it. He is conscious with every instinct of his being that she half rises from her bed, her eyes dilating to greet his rapture.

And this?⁠—A discord; the tapping of a crutch; a stifled exclamation! He reaches out his hands toward the tutor who has devoted his life to him. He knows the keen glance, the dogged persistency, the energetic voice, the heavy and ungainly figure that seems to belong to the harsh, abrupt tones⁠—a succession of discordant sounds against a background of controlled emotions!

But now again comes the darkness, sweeping once more in waves across the blind man’s brain; and this form loses all distinctness of outline, and the other images waver and mingle one with the other, and all that is left glides down the gigantic radius into utter darkness! Thus intermingling, wavering, trembling, like the vibrations of a slender wire, first high and loud, then soft and low, these image-sounds were hushed at last.

Silence and darkness, with certain vague object-sounds, fantastic of outline, yet still striving to rise to the surface! Peter could not grasp their tones, forms, or colors, but somewhere from the depths he could still hear the resonant modulations of the scale, and seemed to see the rows of ivory keys flashing in the darkness, as they glided down into space. Suddenly the sounds began to reach him in their ordinary way. It was as if he had just waked, and bright and joyous began to press the hands of Maxim and of his mother.

“What is it?” asked his mother, in alarm.

“Nothing! I thought I⁠—saw you all. I am not sleeping, am I?”

“And now?” she asked anxiously. “Do you remember? Shall you remember?”

The blind man breathed a deep sigh. “Nothing,” he replied with an effort. “I shall transmit it all⁠—I have already transmitted it to the child.”

The blind man tottered, and fell fainting to the floor. His face was pale, but a gleam of joy and satisfaction still rested upon it.

Epilogue

A large number of persons had assembled in Kiev during the period of the Contracts to hear the musical improviser. He was blind; but marvellous reports had been circulated in regard to his musical talent. Therefore the Contract hall was crowded; and a lame old gentleman, a relative of the artist, had taken charge of the proceeds⁠—all which were to be devoted to some charitable object, unknown to the public.

Complete silence reigned in the hall when a young man, with a pale face and beautiful large eyes, appeared on the platform. No one would have suspected his blindness, save for the rigid expression of his eyes, and the fact that he was led by a fair-haired young woman, who was said to be his wife.

“No wonder he produces such a striking impression,” remarked a young man to his neighbor; “he has an unusually dramatic countenance.”

Indeed, the blind man’s pale face, with that thoughtful set look in the eyes, no less than his entire person, impressed the beholder as something quite remarkable; and his playing confirmed that impression.

A southern Russian audience generally loves and appreciates its national airs; and in this instance even the mixed audience that assembled at the Contracts was at once carried away by the burning torrent of melody which they heard. The marvellous improvisation evoked by the fingers of the blind musician revealed his keen appreciation of the Nature so familiar to them all, as well as a rare intimacy with the secret springs of national melody. Rich in coloring, graceful and melodious, it gushed forth like a rippling stream⁠—rising, now into a song of triumph, then again lapsing into a plaintive and sympathetic murmur. At times it was as if a storm were thundering in the sky, echoing through space; and the next moment the music changed to the whistling of the wind through the grass over the mounds of the wild steppes, reviving vague dreams of the past.

When the player ceased, the deafening applause of the delighted audience filled the great hall. The blind man sat with drooping head, listening in surprise to those unfamiliar sounds. But when he raised his hands and again struck the keys, silence fell at once upon the vast hall.

At this moment Maxim entered. He gazed attentively at this crowd, which controlled by one emotion sat with burning, eager eyes riveted upon the blind man. As the old man listened, he dreaded lest this powerful improvisation, now flowing so freely from the musician’s soul, might suddenly end, as it used of old, in a distressing and unsatisfied question⁠—thus opening a fresh wound in the heart of his blind pupil. But the sounds increased in volume and power, growing more and more imperious, as they touched the hearts of the sympathetic and expectant audience. And the longer Maxim listened, the stronger grew his assurance that he recognized something familiar in the blind man’s playing. Yes, it was that noisy street. A clear, resonant, and buoyant wave rolls dashing along, sparkling and breaking up into a thousand sounds. Now it rises and swells, now it recedes with a faint, remote, but continuous murmur⁠—always calm, picturesquely impassive, cold and indifferent.

Suddenly Maxim’s heart sank within him. Again came the well-known wail from the pressure of the musician’s fingers. It escaped, echoed through space, and was lost in the air. But it was no longer the moan of individual sorrow, the utterance of a blind man’s egotistical suffering. Tears sprang into the old man’s eyes, and tears stood also in those of his neighbors, while above the picturesque, impassioned tumult of the street rose the intensely woful heartrending note of lamentation. Maxim recognized in it the pathetic song of the blind⁠—“Give to the blind!⁠—for Christ’s sake!” It fell like a stroke of lightning on the heads of the assembled multitude, and every heart throbbed in unison with the expiring wail.

For some time after the music ceased, the audience, seized with horror at the awful realities of life, sat silent and motionless.

The old veteran bowed his head. “Yes, he sees at last. A perception of the woes of the world has taken the place of his former blind, unquenchable, selfish suffering. He feels, he sees; and his hands are endowed with a mighty power.”

The old soldier bent his head lower and lower. His task was accomplished; his life had not been in vain. Those full powerful tones, as they echoed through the hall, taking possession of the audience, bore witness to this truth.

This was the début of the blind musician.

In Two Moods

I

I must begin with my boyish enthusiasms.

I was nineteen years old in those days, and a student at the Petrovsky Academy.

Of course, that is a good age to be at; and then and early days of college life, and the academy out in the suburbs, by the lake, among the green parks; the young college friends, and students’ meetings, and work, and discussions;⁠—all this made it seem as if we were going to accomplish something something quite grand and out of the common, which would make everybody happy⁠—and that we ourselves should be perfectly happy ever afterwards.

Nothing less⁠—happy! I dreamt of great deeds, of struggle, of sacrifice; but in strife, and action, and struggle, even in sacrifice, there was ever the idea of happiness⁠—bright, complete, all-pervading happiness.

And besides that, there was she.

At the time I speak of, however, she was away. She had gone to the Volga in the spring to serve as cashier on a steamboat.

Theoretically, steamer cashiers are always men⁠—naturally. But that is a mere bit of red tape, and not only had she succeeded in obtaining the post she had done much more⁠—kept it for two summers. We all considered this a very important matter. There are plenty of cashiers in the world, yet none of them seemed to me to be doing anything worth doing: they just hand out tickets, and receive a wretched little salary. But of female cashiers at least female steamer cashiers⁠—there was only one, and her work seemed to me not work merely but a kind of mission. I was enraptured by the energy of this girl⁠—still little more than a child who by her strenuous courage and resolution had gained for herself the right of independent labor, and succeeded through all difficulties in keeping the place which she had won. On first making her acquaintance, I felt that I had found something which I had long been seeking in my vague daydreams, and there awakened within me quite a peculiar sensation which irradiated with its brightness all my other hopes and ecstasies. For the rest, I never breathed a word about love either to her or in my own mind.

She went away; but I knew that, so soon as the navigation should stop for the winter, she would come back and stand again in a corner of the room at our students’ meetings with her fair face, so expressive and full of life, thrown into strong relief by her dark dress. And again, her eyes would light up with childlike curiosity at our discussions, and flash with joyous approval when I happened to voice her own unspoken thought⁠—and her cheeks would glow with the bright color brought from the health-giving Volga.

When she was present, whatever questions we discussed interested and enlivened me; but even without her, life was very bright. We had just finished the practical part of the academy course, and were having a vacation before the lectures began. We spent our time amusing ourselves, reading and talking.

II

I well remember the peculiar mood I was in at that time.

When I was a child, my greatest though forbidden delight was to go secretly into a wretched little shop and buy a sausage for three-half pence. Long afterwards, as a grown-up man, I hunted all the great provision shops in St. Petersburg for just such another sausage⁠—one with the same flavor, but I never found what I sought. Sometimes, in the mingled odors of a sausage shop, I half recognized that particular smell, yet all the same I could not find it. That is quite natural: what I was really looking for were my childhood and the keen appetite of my infant years, and naturally I could not find them. If my simile seems to you too prosaic, change the sausage into an apple, or a peach, or anything you like. The fact remains the same. And this is why I mention it: every period of life has its own special flavor, the particular character of which we do not notice at the time. But so soon as the present is become the past and has moved a little way off from us, these peculiar characteristics of life stand out clear and call us back to them; where upon we regret the past, and wonder how it was we took so little notice of the enchanted atmosphere while it was round us, and failed to enjoy it consciously and to the full.

A few years pass: once more the present becomes the past, and we see again that it too, in its turn, had its own beauty, its own peculiar flavor. But when, on looking backward, we feel nothing save weariness or disgust⁠—that is sad indeed. It means that life has lost its savor.

However, all this is off the point. As I was saying⁠—at that period of my life, everything I went through, everything I felt, everything my intellect or imagination grasped, received a particular hue.

I read a great deal and learned much. Perhaps my learning was somewhat one-sided; in any case when I read those same authors over again now I find in them much which somehow escaped my notice then. On the other hand, passages which once appeared all important have faded into the general perspective and lost all character.

In every book I read, it was my habit to observe several distinguishing points which sank into my mind and became part of my own recollections. Thus, in Bokel I noticed especially, among others, that passage where he suggests a reason for the slavery of Ireland. The Irish, he says, are not free because they live on potato broth, while their conquerors eat flesh meat.

That is quite true. In any case, it is as true as the other proposition, that if the Irish were to become free and shake off the yoke of the English lords, they would probably choose nourishing beefsteaks in preference to potato broth. But in those days it did not occur to me to look at the other side of the medal and seek for deeper reasons. I accepted Bokel’s theory about meat and potatoes with all the warmth of a proselyte. His deductions were so simple, so clear; his lines seemed to be drawn so straight; first of all⁠—yes just that, first of all⁠—a “fowl in the pot,” and meat instead of potato broth, and meat for everybody. And after that, all which threw a light on the veracities of life: truth, justice, beauty, liberty, and the serving of higher interests generally.⁠ ⁠… Certainly that is rather a lot for one life.⁠ ⁠… But there was so much time before me⁠—a whole eternity.

Another favorite writer of mine was Vogt. His portrait hung in my room, with the inscription: Gegen Dummheit kämpfen Götter selbst vergebens. The accuracy and solidity of scientific thought affected me in the same way that beauty affects its adorers. I simply worshipped this destroyer of metaphysical prejudices, and in my eyes his device placed him on the pedestal of a Titan or demigod. The gods fought against stupidity in vain, but the great man fights not in vain. Poor great man! I did not know that already he had been given the lie in the very metaphysics he so hated, and that stupidity had shown its power by creeping even into his own works.

“Thought is a secretion of the brain, as bile is of the liver.” This seemed to me both new and brilliant. I saw in it the passionless proclamation of truth, and in my jealous proselytism was ready to follow it out to its logical conclusion. Yes, like bile⁠—like all other secretions⁠—and nevertheless, there was hardly a thing that I worshipped as I worshipped thought.

In those days we lived on arguments, fell in love over arguments, suffered and rejoiced in a cloud of arguments: our tragedies, the raptures and sorrows of rejected love, all these had their origin in “warring opinions.” Evidently, history, for some abstruse reason, needed a contentious generation.

But I will not weary you with a list of the Russian and foreign authors whom I loved and believed, in at that time. You can form an idea of my intellectual condition from the two examples I have already given. I went to the lectures, though I did not care much about them, never missed a students’ meeting, studied⁠—in the strict sense of the word⁠—little, but worked and read much.

III

The holidays were coming to an end and the lectures would soon recommence. The chill of autumn was already in the air, the water of the lake grew dark and dull; in the flowerbeds the gardeners replace the early summer flowers with their successors of the fall. Here and there, a few leaves fading early, dropped from the trees, shining like gold against the background of shady avenues.

The fields had turned yellow, and the railway trains, passing within two versts of the academy, stood out clearer, and seemed to pass closer than in the summer. Mine was the last room in the top story of the “state,” or students’ lodgings, and part of the railroad was visible from my window. The trains would come out from behind the hills, then disappear, leaving only a white trail of steam floating above the horizon. Then the entire train would reappear further on, and I could see the tiny carriages, like toys, running along the line. I could even distinguish the wheels, and the windows glittering in the sunset. Next, the white ribbon of steam would suddenly break as the train, after gliding under the bridge, disappeared in a deep cutting. The hoarse voice of it died away gradually, and with its last echoes faded the last rays of daylight.

Titus (the friend who shared my room) and I used then to leave the window, and, while waiting for the regulation tea-urn to boil, would lie down on our beds in the twilight and talk of heaven knows what, while the evening chill streamed in at our window from the fields.

It was a pleasant life.

Among my fellow-students at that time were several who afterwards won distinction in different pursuits. You are familiar with their names⁠—names of gifted and honorable workers. And yet if in those days anyone had raised for me, as the rhetoricians say, “the curtain of the future,” and shown them to me as they are now, I should have felt insulted;⁠—it would have seemed so petty in comparison with what I expected. Indeed, I must confess that however high I placed, for instance, Vogt, Buchner, Sechenoff, or Buckle, I felt at times that a certain trace of the old world lingered about them still. But we were to develop into something quite special⁠—altogether new and unexceptional people, such as never lived before. It seemed to me that there was a something in my soul, now latent, yet none the less plainly felt. And when it expanded!⁠ ⁠… Absurd, was it not? Nevertheless I was neither arrogant nor vain. I dreamt neither of wealth nor power, neither of distinction nor fame. I never thought myself a genius. I merely dreamt that in me and my fellow-students there existed, as it were, buds wherein lay hidden and ready to unfold and come forth, the bright, future, the full new life.⁠ ⁠…

At that time there was in the Academy a certain Urmánov. He was two terms ahead of me, and we were not particularly intimate. In spite of which, or perhaps because of it, he roused in me a peculiar, almost romantic interest. Urmánov was a native of the Arkhangelsk tundra (Arctic wastes). That is, he was born in the town of Arkhangelsk itself, in the family of a poor official engaged in the salt industry. But in my imagination his somewhat foreign, good-looking face was indissolubly associated with the idea of the tundra. A lowering sky⁠—snow all round⁠—wretched huts, smoke faintly curling above them⁠—reindeer cropping the scanty grass. The tundra sleeps⁠—the people sleep⁠—the reindeer sleep; and from the distance floats a hardly audible dreary song, full of hopeless grief. All the enchanted kingdom sleeps, until⁠—well, just until Urmánov has finished studying at the academy. Then, armed with knowledge, gained in the lecture halls or otherwise, he will turn aside from all temptations of civilization, from the love of women (this unquestionably)⁠—overcome all the allurements of personal life, and return to his gloomy native land. Then at last it will be springtime in the tundra, the songs will ring out clearer, the Samoyédes53 will awaken from their sleep of centuries to the new life, to the struggle for their rights, for the downtrodden rights of man. The young generation of the Samoyédes will gather round Urmánov, and he will speak to them of their “glorious past” (taking for granted that Samoyédes, like other people, have a glorious past)⁠—will teach them to unite with the best forces of other nations in a quest for the general good of humanity.

All this, among other things, was depicted in a long poem, which I wrote during my first term. The poem left something to be desired in the matter of rhyme and measure; nevertheless, when I read it to my chum and old schoolfellow, Titus, even that extremely sedate and practical personage was enraptured and prophesied for me undying poetic fame. The poem closed with the following picture: “The aurora borealis gleams faintly across the interminable plain, the snow glitters with reflected fire, the sledge-board creaks, the reindeers dash over the frozen waste; a Samoyéd courier, with full comprehension of his mission, is bringing Urmánov’s exhortation to ‘the great Samoyéd nation.’ ”

There⁠—don’t laugh! Youth always dreams; perhaps later on those dreams may become wiser, more practical; but whether they will become better, honester⁠—that I doubt.

IV

Urmánov had a slightly turned-up nose and prominent cheekbones. These features seemed to point to a strain of foreign blood. Otherwise, his face was rather handsome and interesting. He had fiery black eyes, glittering with animation, and long dark curls falling on his neck from under the broad-brimmed, high-crowned hat which he always wore, after the student fashion of the day. His figure was much too lithe for a Samoyéd’s; his movements were rapid, and I do not remember anyone whose personal appearance presented so perfect an example of that peculiar grace, and even in its way elegance, peculiar to students. His dress was far from being fashionable⁠—indeed it was rather shabby⁠—his coat was very threadbare, and showed plentiful traces of laboratory work in the form of acid-made stains. Nevertheless, whatever sort of garments Urmánov might wear, they always suited his slender figure to perfection, and everyone could recognize him as a student at the first glance.

His face, as also his figure, reflected faithfully and with extraordinary mobility the shifting moods of his expansive and impressionable nature. At our students’ meetings he would argue hotly, gesticulating frantically, sometimes raising his voice to a savage roar. It was, indeed, almost impossible to argue with Urmánov, and his antagonists generally found it expedient to leave him in possession of the battlefield, good-humoredly retreating before his attacks. For the rest, Urmánov always cooled down as quickly as he flared up, and in half-an-hour’s time would be ready to take up arms in defence of the very comrade whom he had just accused of being false to his principles and a traitor to his cause. Latterly, however, he had grown more self-restrained, and was less ready to express his extreme opinions at our meetings: he became sadder and more thoughtful. Somebody or other remarked that Urmánov was lowering his tone because he had reached his last term, and scented afar off the final examination and the coming degree. As a rule, we did not find it particularly difficult to justify these accusations; in fact, to speak the truth, they very often were justified. The jump from the unconditional rejection of all compromises to the acceptance of the most complex, was generally made but too often at the first step from the academy into the world. I did not know whether, or how, Urmánov would make that step; but I passionately denied so insulting a suggestion, feeling much more inclined to suppose that the consciousness of his approaching great mission to the Samoyédes had cast over Urmánov that shade of gravity and melancholy in which I contrived to see something grand and noble. What were our mutual help funds, our “students’ protests,” to him, when the “sorrow and anguish of centuries” were wafted to him from his “native tundra?”

It turned out, however, that both Urmánov’s antagonists and myself were equally at fault. The cause of his melancholy and his seriousness, as also of a certain indifference to our affairs and our differences, was both simpler and more emotional.

It was embodied in the small, slender and characteristic figure of a young woman, whom, though she was Russian born and bred, we had named “the American.” None of the students knew her personally; we were even ignorant of her name.

V

Besides attempting the poem which I have already mentioned, I, like many other young men at my age, dreamt of writing a gigantic novel. All the persons in it were to be heroes and heroines of a type altogether exceptional, “new people,” extraordinary characters. Several of these heroes floated vaguely in my imagination, and among them was always an American. The Yankees are a very clever race, and have a wonderful Constitution; nevertheless, a thoroughgoing Yankee who estimates everything by a monetary standard, and even says of himself, “I am worth so many dollars,” most certainly would not do for one of the heroes of my novel. My American must be a Russian, aspiring to become an American.

At that time America attracted many people, and I knew of several cases of emigration. Of course, to become simply an American with dollars did not amount to much. But the mere fact of the venture⁠—the fresh energy with which these young men flung themselves into an unknown land, intoxicated by its freedom and the novelty of its social relations⁠—this in itself was enough to attract and impress me.

I had not yet fully examined the results of even one of these ventures, and therefore, had no idea how my hero would act when he was settled in his adopted country. So far, I pictured him as a tall man, with a little beard cut in American fashion, wearing gold-rimmed spectacles, and with a cold, restrained smile, beneath which I could vaguely discern something very grave and significant.

Now, you can easily understand the interest that a live Russian American woman, both young and pretty, kindled in me and my fellow-students.

She appeared on our horizon while she was spending the summer at a villa in the neighborhood. The first time I saw her was in the park; she was walking arm-in-arm with her father, an old retired general. He was gray, bent, and rather deaf, and wore a huge green shade to protect his eyes from the sun. It seemed to cost him a great effort to lift up his big, drooping head. Yet, none the less, when I happened to pass before the old man as he sat resting on a seat, he always raised his head and stared at me with his faded eyes, even looking after me in a way which made me feel uncomfortable. His lower jaw trembled as though he wanted to say something, and his eyes protruded as though he was making up his mind to stop me and reprove me sternly for being young, for being a student, for having “views,” and probably not respecting generals as much as I ought to do.

This half-shattered figure appeared in the park all the summer through, accompanied by an old footman of most forbidding aspect, and gained a certain notoriety among the students. Somebody nicknamed him “General Ferapontyev,” and the appellation stuck. Although, apparently, the name itself implied nothing insulting, it was always used with a certain suggestion of irony. It expressed the silent antagonism between the decrepit general and the heedless academic youth.

And now for some time there had appeared, walking arm-in-arm with General Ferapontyev, a pretty young woman. The very notoriety of the general, helped to whet our curiosity touching his fair companion. But apart from this circumstance, there was something in the young woman’s face and figure which attracted our attention, and marked her out from the motley crowd of summer visitors.

VI

I have no gift for describing the detail of ladies’ dress, but it has always seemed to me that every “fashion” has its peculiar expression. It is worth while to observe how the expression of faces themselves alters with a change in fashion. To bold, open faces with high foreheads and direct glances, bespeaking a desire for independence and contempt of generally accepted prejudices, succeeded low foreheads covered with fringes, and eyes with painted lids and a helplessly naive, even foolish, gaze, with a look in them which suggested that they were begging for mercy. As for low cut bodices, and absurdly narrow dresses, I dare not affirm it positively, but I have heard from most trustworthy sources that many ladies tied cords round their legs under their gowns a little below the knee, in order that no full and free movement might disturb the general appearance of helpless innocence⁠—yielding passively for better or worse which their wearers affected.

Men of fashion at this time assumed conquering and insolent airs. The same low foreheads and protruding eyes; shirt-collars wide open, showing the throat, and with turned-back points sticking up to the ears. With this went loose coats, hands in waistcoat pockets and a careless and swaggering gait. The general effect was that of an impudent coxcomb who has flung off all prejudices, cares for nobody, and gives no quarter.

Such was the outward expression of fashion in those days, and it was lucidly explained to me by a very native boarding-school girl. To some critical remark of mine on the question of dress, she replied, with the unconscious logic of a young girl of the period, “Why, how can you say that? Forward girls used to be the fashion, but now retiring ones are coming into vogue.” On this I burst out laughing; but I see now that it was a piece of fine observation.

The young lady who walked with General Ferapontyev had a way of her own about clothes, although she dressed well, and even richly. If she followed any fashion at all it was evidently not ours. Everything she wore was simple, elegant, and easy. Her little feet, in their high kid boots with broad low heels, showed freely beneath her short skirt. I remember how firmly and evenly her heels struck the stone pavements and the steps of the garden stairs. Altogether, her walk was remarkable for a peculiar firmness and boldness which, in combination with her small figure, produced a very original impression.

The first time I succeeded in seeing her closely, I could not make up my mind whether she pleased me or not. I was walking with Urmánov along the principal avenue, when the General and the lady came towards us. As we met, Urmánov raised his hat. The old gentleman turned round, and his jaw trembled more than usual. The lady looked at us in perplexity, and the gaze of her large eyes, steady, cold and unabashed, so distracted my attention that I failed to observe the general character of her face.

“I suppose she did not recognize me,” said Urménov, somewhat confused. “I met her in Moscow, but there were a lot of people there. Do you like her?” he asked suddenly, with unexpected vivacity.

“Her face strikes me as cold. I don’t like such cold faces,” I replied.

“She’s an American,” said Urmánov half to himself, as if in defence of the lady, and glanced back.

American! That was quite another matter. Now her face appeared to me exquisite, and its cold expression quite becoming. It fully corresponded with the restrained and somewhat dim look with which my fancy had invested the half-American hero of my future novel.

“What is she doing here?” I asked.

“She is on a visit to her father. She’s the daughter of that⁠—Ferapontyev.”

Ferapontyev’s daughter! Who would have thought it of the old General? He has an American daughter then! For her sake I forgave the General his green shade, and his trembling jaw, and his forbidding looks. A general who has for daughter an American must needs be freer from old-fashioned prejudices than other generals.

But Urmánov instantly smashed the General’s reputation, and this time finally.

“He is a fearful tyrant, this Ferapontyev,” he remarked, kicking away a pebble in the road.

“Ah! then, what is she doing here? Why did she come from America?”

“Well, you see,⁠ ⁠… that is a whole history.”

A shade passed over Urmánov’s expressive face. I put it down to indignation against the old general.

“She went to America with the man she loved. You understand⁠ ⁠… without a marriage ceremony. He set up some business in Boston.⁠ ⁠… What their purpose was⁠—the deuce knows! But that is not the question. At first they got on capitally then some troubles⁠—about business, I think.⁠ ⁠… Everything will be lost if she cannot get some money. Well, you must know, she has inherited a fortune⁠—good large one, too⁠—from her mother. But old Ferapontyev contrived to get conditions put into the will: his daughter can only get the money with his consent, or in case of his death, or else⁠ ⁠… the brute! when she shall contract a legal marriage in Russia!”

A few steps further on Urmánov shook hands with me⁠—(he had to go to the Museum)⁠—and remarked at parting:⁠—

“So that’s the story. He⁠—the American, that is, can’t return and marry her. That’s what it comes to.”

VII

This story made at first no particular impression on me. I did not think that the failure of a business was any very great misfortune, especially in America. It happens there so often! But this was merely a momentary feeling. Of course, it was not a mere business concern for the accumulation of dollars. Behind that, without doubt, was something else, just the something which the half-American of my imagination would hate if he had a business office in Boston.⁠ ⁠…

I now looked with hatred upon “that Ferapontyev” returning from his walk. So that was what he was⁠—a conventional old parasite, eating away two young lives, demanding of his own daughter at once infidelity and a false oath! To me she seemed an enchanted princess in the power of an old ogre.

She was walking beside her father, with her usual calm look of dignity, as if conscious of her own integrity and obviously without any idea of trying to act oppressed innocence. She ministered to the old man simply and easily, and he, on his part, received her attentions with an air of fastidious distrust. For the rest, one could sometimes see that the young woman found it difficult to walk slowly, restraining the natural vivacity of her movements; a certain impatience showed through her reserve.

After she had accompanied her father back to the villa, she always came out again for a walk alone. It was then that I used to notice the sharp, hurried beat of her heels upon the stairs and pavement. The lithe figure seemed to fly along the paths, quivering all over, and moving her shoulders in a curious way, as if compressing a thousand separate efforts into that nervous step. She always took these walks in the dusk, and she would plunge resolutely into the dark avenues alone. On one of these occasions, unable to restrain my sympathetic interest in the little American lady, I yielded to my curiosity and followed her⁠—of course at a respectful distance. She walked rapidly down the straight main avenue, and stood hesitating a moment by the pool, evidently undecided as to whither she should wend. Then, turning into a sidepath she disappeared among the trees, in the direction of the grotto.

To follow her further would have been insolence; so I turned back; but this solitary walk by dark and lonely paths, late in the autumn evening, gave a finishing touch to the outline of the American which I had pictured in my mind. Everything about her was complete and harmonious, just as I had imagined a “heroine” to be, and it impressed me delightfully.

VIII

The lectures was not yet begun. Meanwhile the physical weariness caused by the practical work had gone off, and there were times when I did not know what to do with the glorious autumn, with my leisure, and with that vague, pleasant, yet exhausting sensation which continually sought new forms⁠—exciting and impelling me, I knew not whither.

At these moments I used to take a book and go to the railway station, to meet the evening passenger train.

The road to the station was perfectly straight and thickly set with double rows of larch-trees, planted along the sidewalks. From the distance the whole road looked like one unbroken green wall. After one had walked a few yards the academy, the state-buildings, the farm, and everything else were quite hidden by the trees. In either direction could be seen nothing but the narrow avenue, strewn with small rubble stones, which in their turn were covered with the fast falling larch needles. Rays of sunlight played on the sand and among the greenery; the thick, tufted boughs, touched here and there with autumn tints, like gold, kept up a soft, half-liquid murmur. Here I felt myself in complete solitude, and gave the rein to the vague sensations which unfolded themselves, free and untrammelled, in my heart. I cannot say, exactly, of what I used to think; only all that was pleasant to think of and dream of at other times seemed here to unite in a melodious chorus of feeling⁠—youth, strength, bright views of life, and still brighter hopes! The rays of light shimmer and play through the trees far and near, as silently as if they too were dreams. And it seems as though something or someone were passing in the far distance through the shifting lights and shadows.

Sometimes as I walked I read. Glancing through those books, even now, I identify at once the pages I read in the larch-avenue; the same soft murmur and the same green checkered light and shadow seem to hover round them still.

One day when I went to the station I saw Urmánov there. He was standing on the platform, and looking towards Moscow. The railroad, a double line, ran between bare embankments and was flanked with a row of tall telegraph poles. One could see the rails far off, always narrowing, till at the last they faded away in the distance; and above them floated the peculiar smoke or mist, which shows the presence of a large and busy town, hidden behind rising ground.

“Can you see the train?” asked Urmánov; “your sight is better than mine.”

“No, I can’t see it.”

“What is that? Like⁠ ⁠…”

These long narrow vistas ending in a mist are very deceptive; if you gaze into them with expectation, they begin to stir, and then, expanding, appear full of spots and take strange shapes. But as I was not in an expectant mood I answered indifferently:⁠—

“That is the smoke and fog of Moscow. You seem to be expecting someone.⁠ ⁠…”

“No, I just⁠ ⁠… that is⁠ ⁠…”

He broke off in confusion, and instantly began talking of something else.

The conversation flagged, and I buried myself in my book. Urmánov looked continually along the line. At last, the train appeared, first as a dark speck in the quivering mist; soon, the speck vanished, reappeared, and began to grow. When the train drew quite near, the guard’s hand came out at the side, waving a flag to the engine-driver. The locomotive drew up, rattling, screaming and roaring; the tank passed us, then the luggage-van, then two or three carriages. Finally, the entire monster, filling up the space a minute before so quiet, quivered, stopped, jerked a little backwards⁠—and out of it sprang the American lady.

She stopped short, and looked at us both in perplexity. I thought, at first, that she was going to come up to me, but Urmánov, with a movement of nervous haste, went suddenly up to her.

Mr. Urmánov?” she asked. “Ah, it is you!⁠—and I thought⁠ ⁠…”

Then, lightly taking his arm, she led him into the sidewalk.

“There then! I am very glad.⁠ ⁠… You do not look such a hobble-de-hoy as you used to do⁠ ⁠…” I heard her say laughing, as they continued their walk down the avenue.

The huge train, which had only stopped to cast out of its breast of wood and iron this daring little figure, moved on again heavily, groaning and shrieking. The last carriages passed me at full speed, the rails creaked and groaned, the platform quivered and shook.

When I, in my turn, reached the mound where the highroad began, Urmánov and the American were some way off. They were walking arm-in-arm and she was leaning towards him with singular gracefulness, yet somehow it seemed, not that he was leading her, but that this nervous little woman was carrying off the fiery young patriot. Sometimes she stopped short, speaking excitedly and raising her head to him. Then, he would stand still in confusion and ill at ease, and when she dashed abruptly on again he tried in vain to keep time with her quick short steps.

I somehow understood what it was all about. A fictitious marriage, no doubt. Probably she had raised the question in Moscow and been told of Urmánov, who, very likely had already declared himself willing to take a leading part in the proposed comedy. It was all so natural. This way out of the difficulty had come spontaneously into my head and into the heads of many of my fellow-students with whom I had discussed the subject. I was even a little envious of Urmánov. I remembered her momentary hesitation when she stood wondering to which of us to turn, and her evident joy when she saw that Urmánov was the one she sought That was doubtless due to my being so young and looking so boyish. Old Ferapontyev would perhaps have laughed at so juvenile a bridegroom.

But it was a real pleasure to me to look at those two from the distance. Assuredly Urmánov was just the right person to walk arm-in-arm with my heroine. It was beautiful, it was excellent, and it delighted me greatly.

From that day forward Urmánov accompanied the American lady on her evening walks, and when he met her by day walking in the avenues with the General, he raised his hat respectfully. The General at first regarded his daughter dubiously, but after a time he began to return the young man’s greetings. At length, as I sat one day on a bench in the main avenue, I saw her formally introducing Urmánov to her father. They were near the lake; the water was as smooth as a mirror, and reflected the figure of the General with his eyeshade like an absurd silhouette⁠—a caricature in black paper. Urmánov raised his hat and respectfully pressed the two extended fingers of the Generals right hand, the lady meanwhile watching them both like a careful theatre-manager. As moreover the trees bent over on both sides, forming an exquisite frame, the picture seemed to me exceedingly charming and poetic. As yet, I knew life only from books; I merely read and dreamt. Now something was taking place before my eyes.

The further progress of the affair was rapid. Urmánov’s tact and respectful manner evidently pleased the General. Soon they could be seen constantly together, playing at chess on the balcony of the villa or walking in the park. The General livened up, talked loudly in the avenues, laughed with an old man’s abrupt laughter, and often clapped Urmánov on the shoulder.

“You are the sort I like,” he would exclaim. “You ought to have been a soldier!”

The lady used occasionally to frown and pout. Urmánov played his part as gravely as if it had not been all make-believe.

The wedding took place in our church, in the presence of a few spectators. Several peasant women, some students in blouses and high boots, a few old fogies⁠—acquaintances and cronies of the General⁠—and a little group of groomsmen and witnesses, also a sprinkling of outsiders. We felt the kind of stillness peculiar to empty churches where every sound rings out distinctly, echoes in the corners, and clings somewhere high up among the arches. We could hear the whispering of the old women and, occasionally, a sigh or a murmured remark.

The bride was too gorgeously dressed for so quiet a wedding; her face was paler than usual, and rather too plainly expressed contemptuous impatience. Urmánov, who was dressed in black, was unnecessarily grave. On the other hand, the General was in the best of humors. He looked triumphantly at his old cronies, raised his head high and struck his stick heavily on the stone floor, fussing about and giving directions to everybody.

I stood leaning against the wall, careless and indifferent. The whole affair seemed to me commonplace and hardly worthy of notice. The priest went through the service gracefully, and with the customary unction. The deacon pursed his thick lips, rolling out a tremendous octave, with an air as if that were nothing to what he could do at a real grand wedding. The clerk scrambled through his part in a shuffling way.

I was carelessly watching the smoke of the curling incense, and my thoughts were wandering to other things: to the Volga, to the steamer that was passing somewhere between the hills, to the girl-cashier, when suddenly my ear caught a whispered conversation among a group of students.

“Indeed, I believe it is true.”

“What?” asked another voice.

“Why, they say Urmánov is over head and ears in love with his bride! Just look how white he is.”

I woke up. What was this? What was happening? What were they talking about?

The cloud of blue smoke, curling upward, streamed through a yellow ray of sunlight which shone in at the window. Through the smoke I could see the wedding wreath, trembling above Urmánov’s head in the tired hand of the student who acted as groomsman. The priest joined the hands of bride and bridegroom, the echo of the deacon’s octave died away somewhere high up under the arches, and a chorus of children’s voices rang out in the choir.

The general tapped with his stick, and as he glanced gleefully round looking very like a turkey-cock, I thought him disgusting. What was there for him to be so pleased about, so proud of? He, who himself believed in the significance of the ceremony which had just been performed; and why did he force these two people into acting a lie?

I left the church, and at the door I looked back. The newly wedded pair were being led round the lectern. The American bit her lip, and her gray eyes had a look of obstinate determination. Urmánov, pale and grave, walked beside her, stepping carefully, and looking dubiously at the bride’s gorgeous dress, as if to tread upon it would be for him the most terrible of misfortunes.

IX

Ten days passed. The students came back from the vacation, and the throng of summer visitors began to diminish. The General fell ill and discontinued his walks in the park. The newly married pair took a separate villa. The mock “honeymoon” was still going on, as the money was not forthcoming, and they began to fear some unexpected step on the part of the old man⁠—that he had possibly an unpleasant surprise in store for them.

At the same time Urmánov received visits from his fellow-students, and invited me, among others. The “young couple” led a gay life, rowing, driving, walking, giving and receiving many visits, so as to remain alone as little as possible. A feeling of youthful shyness withheld me from accepting my comrade’s invitation.

One evening I came upon Urmánov and his wife in one of the sidepaths⁠—quite unexpectedly. He was sitting on a bench and she standing before him, as if asking him to walk on but he took no notice; and remained motionless. His hat was tilted a little backwards, his head flung in the same direction, his lips were parted, and his face wore an expression which did not belong to it and which was not pleasant to see. I had only once before seen him with that look⁠—during a discussion at a students’ meeting. The man with whom he was arguing was unpleasant, but clever, and remarkably self-contained. Urmánov grew excited; his personal dislike to his opponent made itself evident both in his manner and his language. It chanced, however, that his antagonist was in the right, and he had no difficulty in refuting Urmánov’s arguments. On the other hand, it was plain that it pleased him to have roused the devil in Urmánov whom he still further irritated by jokes and sarcasms. It was as if there awoke in Urmánov some petty, evil, malicious imp which would otherwise have slumbered in the depths of his fiery yet lovable nature. His eyes glowed, his face was distorted, he lost his self-control, denied manifest truths, unceremoniously turned his back on his own principles, well knowing he was in the wrong, and that his friends knew it likewise; all of which made him more frantic than ever. The audience who were usually carried away by his ardor and sincerity, turned against him and burst into peals of ironical laughter, whereupon Urmánov fell more and more completely under the dominion of his baser self, against which he could no longer struggle.

For several days afterwards he was low-spirited and seemed ashamed of himself.

Now his countenance wore the selfsame expression. As I drew near he left off speaking and looked me straight in the face with frankly malignant eyes. He watched me, as if he were counting my steps and waiting impatiently for me to go by; there was something obstinately defiant and cynical as well in his attitude as his appearance.

I felt very uncomfortable, and not wanting to disturb him, quickened my pace as I passed the bench.

Mr. Gavrilov!” cried suddenly the American lady.

I started in surprise, and stopped short.

“Did I startle you? Forgive my speaking to you without being introduced; but what does it matter? We have known each other a long time.⁠ ⁠… Where are you going?”

“Yes, certainly,” I stammered in confusion. “I⁠ ⁠… was going⁠ ⁠… to fish.”

“Really? How nice! You have two lines, take me with you. Will you? And he can wait here on the bench” (pointing to her companion).

“I⁠ ⁠… I⁠ ⁠… with pleasure.”

“Come along, then. Where were you going? Not far? All right, come.”

Her voice, at first undecided and seemingly confused, was now firm, even slightly mocking. I gave her a line and, flinging it across her shoulder, she walked on beside me.

Not far off were two benches for fishers. Slightly lifting her skirt, she mounted lightly on to the plank, and threw her line with a bold toss.

“Wait,” I said apologetically. “You must have a bait.”

“Why, of course I must!” she answered laughing. “I actually forgot the bait. Will you put it on, please?”

I put on the bait clumsily, with a shaking hand, and threw my own line as well. As I felt very stupid I avoided looking my companion in the face, but neither did I watch my float properly. I could, however, see the end of her line reflected in the water, and the circles made by her float. The float quivered, disappeared, appeared again, then suddenly began to swim off towards the opposite bank.

Will this stupid business soon be over, I thought.

“Well, will it soon be over?” said Urmánov’s voice from the waterside, in a tone of suppressed anger.

“No, not yet,” she answered, without turning her head. “Pull in, pull in, you have a bite!”

To my annoyance and surprise, I had really hooked a large fish. I grew nervous, bent down awkwardly, and nearly slipped from the bench. Something heavy dragged at the end of the line, flashed through the air in a silvery bow, and dropped into the water with a thud. It was a large tench. Waving its tail once more on the surface, it disappeared, leaving me standing with lifted rod and stupidly open mouth.

“Oh, what a pity!” she said, in a slightly drawling tone, and in her natural manner. “Such a big one!⁠—There now, I’ve got one!”

She jerked the line skilfully and easily. A small carp described an arc through the air, and fell on the grass near Urmánov.

“Take it off!” she said, with a quick, searching glance at her husband.

I, too, looked at him curiously. Would he take it off or roughly refuse?

“Shall you soon have done?” he asked, shrugging his shoulders.

She raised her line, took off the carp, and threw it back into the water.

“You are not polite,” she remarked, throwing the line again.

It grew dark; so much so that we could scarcely see our floats. Among the reflections of the trees on the opposite bank, a faint glimmer showed in in the blackening depths of the water. The moon was rising. Then came another gentle plash again her line whirled, and a second carp fell on the bank.

“Will you take it off?” she asked again.

I could no longer see Urmánov’s face. He made two steps forward, and stooping, looked down on the grass.

“There then, I’ve taken it off. Shall you soon have done?”

“I think we have had enough.”

“One can’t even see the floats,” said I, and I suppose there must have been a comically aggrieved tone in my voice, for she broke into a laugh.

“Poor fellow! You are getting bored? Why didn’t you say so before? Come along? Give me your arm.”

“And the lines?” I asked.

“Put them on the grass. How helpless you are! There, give me your arm. No, no, that way” (correcting my clumsy fashion of giving my arm). “Now come!”

We walked on by the lake, over which a faint mist was hanging. Its reflection in the water seemed fainter still. Looking at the water, I wondered how, a minute ago, we managed to see our floats. Now the water was quite black; a bird hopped after us along the grassy bank, accompanying our steps with little interrogative chirps.

Urmánov walked beside us, gloomy and taciturn.

X

It was almost the first time in my life that I had walked arm-in-arm with a woman. At first, I felt uncomfortable, and could not keep in step; but she helped me, and by the time we were halfway down the main avenue, I was more at my ease. Our steps resounded clearly under the overhanging branches. She leaned so close against me that I could feel the warmth and pressure of her hand, the touch of her shoulder, and hear her breath. We were silent, and I thought we were going too fast; I wished the avenue had been endless. I forgot everything that had happened⁠—forgot even whose arm was in mine. I was overpowered by the sort of general impersonal enchantment of a woman’s presence⁠—the sense of an incipient love and a coming tragedy in which I could not foresee whether I should be an actor or spectator. There were moments when it seemed as if another woman were walking with me⁠—the girl from the Volga. Oh, if for any cause whatever she needed a fictitious marriage, how joyfully would I stand with her before the altar!⁠ ⁠…

In imagination I walked arm-in-arm with her, after a stormy scene on the lake shore. There I had given way and told her all I felt. But now I conquer myself, as befits a man and a future worker in the “Great Cause.” I tell her that she will never hear such words from me again⁠—never see one offensive look. I will force my heart to be silent, though it should burst with grief. Then she leaning towards me, chastely and confidingly answers that she appreciates my generosity. Her voice quivers, and I guess suddenly her secret, and my heart is filled with rapture.

At this juncture we stopped, and I ceased dreaming. We had passed the Academy, gone some way down the road, and reached the villas. The little houses were lighted up; through the evening stillness we heard voices, laughter, and here and there the sound of soft whisperings; it all seemed to come from no one knew where, to fade away, and then be lost, awakening the evening into unseen life.

The American drew her hand from my arm.

“Thank you!” she said. “I took you by storm⁠—you didn’t want to come. Now, I hope, we shall see more of you.”

She spoke the last words rapidly, and turned to her husband.

“I think papa is gone to bed. You needn’t come in. I will stop here tonight; he is not very well.”

She went quickly in at the gate, then returned to us.

“You live at Vyselki, Mr. Gavrilov, don’t you? So you will be going in the same direction as Nikolai. Good night!”

I did not live at Vyselki at all. Nevertheless, we both turned round and walked on together, as though in obedience to her command.

I still felt the warmth of her touch on my right arm, and wished the walk had not ended soon. My daydreams were broken and vanished. I was a mere boy again, she was on the Volga, and as she had not the slightest need of a fictitious marriage, there was very little likelihood that she would ever know the greatness of my generosity, and the vastness of my capacity for self-sacrifice.

I positively envied Urmánov, for whom all my dreams were reality; and although I observed something gloomy in his walk and bearing (I could not see his face), it seemed to me that at the bottom of his heart he must be very happy⁠—even satisfied. I knew that in his place I should have been unspeakably happy.

The park was quite lonely. A couple, arm-in-arm, passed us and disappeared. By the lake the same bird greeted us once more with its hesitating chirp. I fancied twice that Urmánov groaned.

When we reached the crescent-shaped mooring-place, he stopped abruptly and crossed to the other side of the fence. I stood still in doubt and perplexity. We had remained thus for several seconds, when I heard his voice, hoarse, and quivering with rage.

“Well? I should like to know why you can’t go! Why the deuce do you tack yourself on to me?”

He said something more, but in a voice so thick with passion as to be inaudible. Raising his cane, he struck it with all his might on the stone wall, then, flinging away the fragments, as if not satisfied even with that, he dashed his hat on the ground, tore off his shawl and flung it into the water. He then turned away bareheaded, with his hair dishevelled, and paced rapidly towards the avenue.

I pulled the shawl out of the water, picked up the hat, arid followed him.

Halfway across the landing-stage he slackened his pace; then turned back and came towards me. He was silent; and I thought he was probably speechless from agitation. I could hear his heavy, struggling, uneven breath. He put on his hat, threw the shawl over his arm, stood a moment in silence, and then suddenly caught hold of my hand.

“Forgive me, my friend,” he said hoarsely; “although⁠—” He clasped my hand hard in a burst of excitement. Then dropping it, he leaned his head against an old willow which grew near the landing-stage. I ran down to the lake, filled my hat with water, and brought it to him. He drank a little and gasped for breath.

“There⁠ ⁠… thanks⁠ ⁠… forgive me, old man⁠ ⁠… friend! I’ll do everything, everything!⁠ ⁠… I’ll get her money for her, I will give her a passport. Don’t think⁠ ⁠… anybody⁠ ⁠… that Urmánov is a scoundrel. Oh! but if you only knew what that woman is like!”

Something like a spasm came in his throat; but when I would have fetched him more water, he stopped me.

“No, don’t,” he said squeezing my hand tight. He seemed afraid that he should not be able to finish what he wanted to say.

“You imagine that she is really interested in you; that she really⁠ ⁠… wanted to know you?⁠ ⁠… Stuff and nonsense! It just came into her head that minute. Just for a moment she found you useful so she took you and turned your head⁠ ⁠… She⁠—I beg your pardon⁠—made a complete ass of you. And now she doesn’t need you any more. For a moment.⁠ ⁠… I, too⁠ ⁠… I know, I know, it is my own fault!” Here he broke off suddenly, dropped my hand, and walked away.

I did not follow him I only watched his figure; passing the landing-stage, and disappearing down the road, under the faint glimmer of the rising moon.

XI

However strange it may seem, all that had happened filled me with childish delight. This is just the right thing, I thought; love, real living love; not out of a book! Some day a similar storm will burst over me; and I, too, shall suffer and I, too, shall have something to fight against⁠—and to conquer!

The evening grew colder⁠—more beautiful.

The sky was bright; yet the trees in the park and on the island stood out in darkly defined clumps. Their reflections were lost in the depths of the water, yet deeper still the stars shone and twinkled; and a little white cloud floated like a dream in the purple gloom. Somebody’s boat moved over the smooth surface of the lake, now vanishing in the shadow of the shore, now creeping out into the open water and seeming to hang in an abyss of blue space. In the boat I could see two silhouettes. They were evidently enjoying this quiet evening, with the rising moon, with the trees in clusters dreaming above the lake, and the leaves falling from the boughs, fluttering silently through the air, then vanishing, and leaving behind faint circles on the water.

A man’s voice began to sing softly a song evidently intended to her alone; the singer not caring to scatter the tender sounds afar. (I do not remember now what the song was; and probably if I were to hear the same melody again it would not seem the same). It was the song of that particular evening in my life, an evening which never returned. It was full of sorrow and love and a kind of joy in that sorrow and love quivering somewhere deep down in the unseen.

I, too, was sad. I felt that I was in love with the fair American, though not with that American whom I had seen at the station and with the General, but with her who had walked in the avenue, arm-in-arm with me in the darkness, and who in my thoughts was so strangely blended with the girl on the Volga. At the same time I loved Urmánov, who had cursed her, and yet his curses made her still dearer to me. I was in love, too, with the girl on the Volga; and with the evening; and with the man who was singing on the lake; and with the woman for whom he sang.

When the moon rose quite high and lighted up the shore, I saw from the distance the fishing benches; and my ear caught the chirruping of the same bird which had asked questions while I was walking with the American.

I went home with a full heart. Titus, my room mate, was lying on his bed, dressed and asleep. In his hand were some papers⁠—the poor fellow was expecting a reexamination⁠—and the lamp was burning on the table. He had evidently been waiting for me; but I had no wish to waken him; for I knew he would begin to talk and scare away my fancies; and I did not want to lose a particle of them. I crossed the room softly, looked a moment at the face of my poor Titus, worn out with cramming, whom I loved now more than ever; and taking the lamp, went to my table. Opening the window and letting the rustle of the bushes and the dreamy howl of a dog somewhere at Vyselki mingle with the snoring of Titus, I sat down at the table, and, for some time gave myself up to contemplating the impressions of the evening as they disposed themselves harmoniously in my mind. Then I began to write.

I had a friend living in the little country town where I had been at school. He was too poor to come to the capital; and too practical to start off at random. He had therefore for over a year, been fagging at lessons to scrape together the money he needed. That night, in my agitation, I, for some inscrutable reason, thought of him; and although we hardly ever corresponded, wrote him a long epistle. Afterwards, I had the opportunity of reading this letter. In effect it was a hymn in praise of student-life; opening out future vistas of young love, and lofty aspirations. All this I illustrated with fact, and with the vivid sensations which filled my heart. The result was a picture in which everything came out beautifully; everything! even Urmánov’s suffering was tinged with happiness. It was very cruel to send this tempting picture to my poor anchorite friend. He told me afterwards that he wept with rage in his room in the dead-alive little town; and was so rude to the headmaster that he nearly lost his situation.

As I finished writing, a gust of wind blew in at the window and scattered the leaves of paper about the floor. By this time, it was nearly daybreak; the dawn was shimmering through the window. The dog had long since left off barking; but I fancied that the bird by the lake was still repeating its questions. That, of course, was only fancy.

Raising the lamp above my head, I cast its light on the haggard face of my poor Titus. The light and the chilly air woke him and he looked at me.⁠ ⁠… I laughed; and he laughed too, without knowing why.

“Is it late?” he asked, looking round.

“It is morning. What do you think, Titushka, is it worth while living in the world?”

“Quite worth while, Gavrik; only this confounded chemistry⁠—” he added mournfully.

We both burst out laughing. Then we undressed, put out the light, and went to bed, still laughing. We left the window wide open, although the gust flew in and kept humming round our ears.

XII

The autumn was late that year. Though all the leaves had fallen the earth was still warm. Even the latest of the summer visitors were gone, leaving warm days behind them. The park grew empty, bare and light. All its summer decorations lay like a russet carpet on the earth: and a warm, blue mist floated between the tree trunks, filled with the spicy scent of fallen leaves and damp earth. The dew dripped from the branches like quiet tears of farewell.

The General had long disappeared from our horizon, with his green shade, angry looks, mumbling speech and taciturn manservant. Latterly he had seldom been seen in the avenues of the park; and, when he did come out, moved feebly, his head shaking more than ever. His eyes stood out further and had a strange stony glare. But they expressed only helplessness; bodily sickness and general weariness of life. When I saw that expression, I involuntarily looked away, feeling within me a sort of dismal pity for the man.

Yes, I said to myself; but why did he demand a false oath and the breaking of a free bond? The fact is, however, that I felt the need of justifying to my own mind my former hatred of Ferapontyev.

The lectures were in full swing. I still felt almost a schoolboy’s delight in making the acquaintance of new professors and new subjects, and the beginning of a new term generally. The arranging of my notes, the life in a circle of comrades, the students’ meetings at which I felt myself a full-blown citizen in comparison with the crowd of freshmen⁠—all this absorbed me and for a time obscured the recollection of Urmánov and dimmed my interest in the tragedy of his life.

Then the first snow fell, and in such quantities that the porters had to clear paths to the Academy. In the park it lay in a smooth, even sheet, covering the clumps of trees, the stone staircase with its vases, the walks with their shrubs. Here and there the stalks of dead flowers stood out, and lumps of snow, like tufts of soft cotton-wool, covered the heads of the frozen asters. For the rest, the foggy sky, after unexpectedly shaking down this mass of snow, continued to breathe warmth upon the earth, and soon the snow began to melt. Water dripped from the trees; and all the air was full of that mysterious murmur which bespeaks the presence of warmth, soft weather, and tiny unseen streams.

That day, as I worked in the draughtsmen’s room, I saw from the window somebody who looked like Urmánov. He was walking in the avenue over the unbroken snow; and his tragic figure formed a striking contrast with the virgin stillness of the park. Hastily flinging on my overcoat, I ran out after him, calling him by name. The figure walked on without giving heed. After going down the main avenue it turned and disappeared among the tree-trunks. I stood still a moment, looking at the lonely footprints. The veil of snow was unsullied save here and there by the light marks of rooks’ feet, and a squirrel, running from tree to tree, had left traces of its path. A few dead boughs, which had fallen beneath their burden of the snow, showed black on the white surface.

My imagination was struck with some peculiar significance in the line of lonely footsteps across the virgin snow of the park.

“Urmánov!” I called again.

My voice rang out clear among the trees. Several rooks started from the boughs, shaking down lumps of snow. Then the faint echo of my cry came back to me from the lake which Urmánov was approaching. Though he must have heard me, he neither looked round nor altered his course. I saw in this inattention a sign of hostility, not to me personally, for I myself should not have recognised my own voice, but to anyone whatever who called to him in the mournful solitude into which he had plunged.

I felt sure that if it were Urmánov his face must again be wearing the gloomy and doggedly sinister expression which I had twice seen on it before. For that matter, I was not certain that I really had seen Urmánov. My fellow-students, when I told them of the incident, assured me that he had left Moscow a month previously.

As for the American woman, she had got her money and returned to America.

By the next morning the snow was half melted. Here and there the black earth peeped out, and in the morning a thick warm mist hung over the landscape. During the day it partially cleared off; and sharp, cold currents swept past, as though the frost were beginning to stretch out its icy fingers. The air became a clearer medium for both light and sound. The black spots of thawed earth, the damp fences, the humid tree-trunks and bushes all stood out clear in the atmosphere, and seemed to have grown heavy and dark and sorrowful.

The rattle and rush of the goods trains came from the distance so clearly and distinctly that one could almost distinguish every thud of the engine, every click of the wheels. When the train came out of the cutting it seemed quite close. It moved through the snowy fields like a long black serpent and something rumbled and steamed beneath it, as though the earth itself were boiling under the black band that moved along under the foggy sky from west to east.

As we sat in our room after dark, Titus and I heard the rumble of one of these trains through the closed window.

“It is curious how long that engine whistles,” suddenly remarked Titus, raising his head from his notes.

He went to the window and opened it. A great noise rushed into the room. Something was scraping, groaning and screaming, as if right underneath our window. Then the whistling and scraping stopped, and all was quiet. Leaning from our window in the darkness we saw lanterns moving along the rails.

“The train is gone off the rails,” said Titus indifferently. “That happened once last year. Come along Gavrik, let’s have tea.”

But still I stood, looking out of the window at the dark field and the little lights gleaming like glowworms in the night. After the sounds that had just filled the evening air there was something in the sudden silence weird and startling. The moist breeze shook our window-frame; a brook, half released from its frosty fetters, gurgled under the snow, and the bushes swayed their dry twigs under our windows.

Then the train moved on again, with a rumbling noise dying away in the distance. The night grew quite dark, impenetrable clouds covered the sky, and only one light remained on the spot where a moment ago there had been so much hurry and movement.

I shut the window.

Titus and I sat up long after midnight, carrying on a frank, delightful conversation. Then I put out the light and fell sound asleep, never thinking how long it would be before I should know such sweet, untroubled sleep again, nor that the last of my childish dreams hovered round my pillow on that last night of my youth.

Yes, if since then I have known joy, emotion, hope, they have certainly not been the same joys and hopes, and I have dreamt other dreams.

XIII

I was wakened next morning by a knock at my chamber door. Though the gray winter dawn looked in at the window and the flame of a candle shone through our ground glass door, it was still dark in our room. Soon the light disappeared, and the familiar tread of Markelych, the porter, sounded in the corridor. From the corner where Titus’ bed stood I heard sleepy sighs and lazy movements. Titus was dressing.

I surmised that he had heard some news. If anything happened during the evening or night Titus was always the first to know of it, thanks to Markelych, who was devoted to my friend on account of his simplicity and his habits of order.

“You might at least put your books away,” old Markelych used to say to me, pointing with his finger to my table. And he looked reproachfully at me from under his spectacles, which were tied around his bald head with a greasy string. “Just look at Titus Ivanich, that’s what you may call a real tidy gentleman.”

With me, as with most of the other students, Markelych usually put on a reproachful manner, and only spoke to order us about; but he was really fond of Titus, and gave him all the latest news and gossip. On wakening early in the morning I used greatly to enjoy listening to these simple-minded conversations. Titus had a delightfully naive way of putting himself on Markelych’s level, giving him in return original suggestions, sometimes even improvised lectures on scientific subjects. It happened occasionally that I could not help laughter at them, whereupon Titus, bashful yet good-natured, would laugh too, and Markelych growl indignantly.

“I don’t know what there is to laugh at; Titus Ivanich is a bit cleverer than most people, and he always crosses himself when he goes up for examination, and there you are giggling at nothing. If you ask some folks what they are laughing at they don’t know themselves⁠—ugh!⁠ ⁠…”

And the old man would angrily pick up the clothes he was going to brush and leave the room, shuffling along with his old slippers, the thick hems of his trousers dragging on the floor.

That morning there had evidently been another conference, and this put me into rather a nonsensical humor, all the more so as Titus looked very dismal. I could not see his face, only his long, lanky body showing white in the darkness. He put on his boots, sighed, and stood still a moment then after another deep sigh he lighted a cigarette. As he puffed at it intermittently the little gleam in the dark room seemed to express confusion and agitation.

“Markelych seems to have brought bad news this morning, Titus Ivanich,” said I, in joke.

“Ah, you heard?”

“No I didn’t; but I hear now. You are sighing as if it were examination morning.”

The only notice Titus took of my joke was to puff still more furiously at his cigarette, making the mouthpiece squeak again. Presently he took it from his lips and said bluntly⁠—

“Last night someone threw himself under the train.”

Even this ill-omened news failed to put me in a less frivolous mood.

“My dear old Titushka,” I remarked in a tone of ironical sympathy, “somebody dies in this world every day. You and I too, alas! will some day succumb to the universal law. All men, all people⁠—”

“It is very near,” Titus answered gloomily.

“Then the whole point lies in the melancholy event occurring not far from Titus Ivanich. If it had been a hundred versts off⁠—”

“He did it himself,” interrupted Titus, still more gloomily.

“Well, what of that? In that case it was a voluntary action.”

I, too, lighted a cigarette, and puffing smoke into the darkness began persecuting Titus with rationalistic questions.

“Now, just think, Titushka, is it not much more melancholy when a man dies who wishes to live? If one feels one’s-self useless, superfluous. The ancients had a tradition about Hyperboreans; when their old people had thoroughly enjoyed life they used to walk into the water and die. To speak plainly, they drowned themselves. It was very sensible of them. When I grow old and begin to feel that I am useless, that I am, as one may say, taking more from life than I can give, I⁠—”

“You are talking nonsense,” interrupted Titus angrily.

I burst out laughing. Titus, who worked very hard for his living, was exceedingly careful of his health, and for some time past had been afraid of death. I rejoiced in the consciousness that my nerves were strong and that my “way of thinking” placed me above foolish and superstitious terrors. I had slept well and felt fresh: I wanted to do something out of the common as an outlet for my superfluous energy.

“Titushka,” said I, throwing away the end of my cigarette, “do you know what?”

“What now?”

“Let us go there and see!”

Titus struck a match, and lighting the candle, eyed me askance. His face wore a scowling and sleepy expression, and he regarded me rather sternly, as he might have done a naughty child. Titus had rather a domineering way at times, after the fashion of Markelych. This time he said very gravely,

“You’re a clever fellow, Gavrik, and also a terrible fool.”

I laughed again, and being by this time half dressed, began to wash, enjoying the fresh feeling of the cold water. Titus looked at me interrogatively.

“You are not really going?” he asked when I had finished.

“Of course I’m going: and I hope you will go with me.”

“Not for the world!”

“You are silly, Titushka.”

He shrugged his shoulders. I knew that gesture, it meant that Titus was not going to argue, seeing beforehand that it would be useless, but that his decision remained unshaken.

I dressed and went out.

XIV

As I left the house and went into the cold air an invigorating sense of freshness came over me. The sun was not yet risen. It was that indefinite interval between night and dawn when light mingles with darkness and sleep with awakening, and I felt that I was not quite awake; the vague floating images of sleep still kept passing through my mind, and everything around looked somehow different⁠—new and strange.

The sky was entirely covered with clouds, the Academy windows looked blindly out on to the square, and the bluish reflections of dawn were beginning to play on their convex panes. Lights were burning in the basement with a reddish, greasy look, like the light of the street lamps just before they are extinguished. By the church stood a policeman in his sheepskin coat and huge goloshes, yawning and waiting for the relief-guard. A slumbering sledge driver passed; he had probably taken some students home after a frolic, and was now fast asleep on his seat while his horse trotted slowly along the familiar road. A dog ran out from somewhere, crossed the square as if looking for something, and then went towards Vyselki, meditatively hanging his head and curling his tail between his legs. The dog, at any rate, had begun the day, though as yet did not seem quite decided as to his plans.

I, too, was in a meditative and indefinite mood. The chilly air penetrating my coat, reminded me of my warm bed I had just left. Having sat up late with Titus the night before I could well have done with some more sleep.

However, I went yawning down the avenue that led to the station. This was rather from a kind of inertia than any conscious intention of accomplishing an aim. I thought no more whither I was going, than why I walked instead of flying, or grew warm with exercise, or let my fancy wander. Fragments of my life, dreams and some bits of old memories followed one after the other like formless clouds in the sky. I had never yet known real, gnawing grief, and slight melancholy is really a pleasant feeling. It forms a shadow in which the soul can grow, as flowers grow during a warm summer night.

The bare branches rustled in the avenue. I recalled that avenue with summer foliage, and saw again Urmánov walking arm-in-arm with the American. Then, no doubt, he was happy, and his heart as sunny as the avenue; but now⁠ ⁠… she is gone away, the leaves are fallen, and he is wandering about thinking of her.

“I must look him up today; I know the lodging where he used to live, I will tell him that I understand him, and earnestly sympathize with him. That will not seem offensive to him, I shall be able to say it in such a way that it will not be strange, for my words will simply express my sincere feelings which fill my heart. He will understand, and press my hand and say that indeed it is hard for him. But of course he must reconcile himself to it as an inevitable sacrifice; he knows that great results have never yet been attained without overcoming merely personal feelings, that now, emerging from this struggle free and strong, he can attack his great problem. Perhaps even⁠ ⁠… I shall read him the poem I have dedicated to him⁠ ⁠…”

I did not notice that I had walked the whole length of the avenue, and was unpleasantly startled when I saw the roof of the little shed at the station, peeping out from behind the hillock at the end of the road. I was so happy; Urmánov and I were both so happy; and at the moment I really did not know which of us was the happier, I the consoler, or he who needed consolation. No; he was the happier⁠—of course⁠—in any case I would gladly have exchanged places with him. I was still a lad. I could only look on at other people’s lives; but he was living through the joys and sorrows and sacrifices of a man’s life.

I had become so absorbed and was so happy in my dreams and the glowing words of sympathy which I meant to address to Urmánov, that I had it in my mind to turn back and go on dreaming all the way home. Why should I look at the thing lying there beyond the hillock?

At that moment, however, I trod on something, and stooping down picked up an elegant little pocketbook. On the upper flap was a crest, and an embroidered inscription, “Souvenir.” When I opened it, a little sheet of paper fell out.

By this time it was light, and mounting the hillock I read without difficulty the printed address on the outside. Then followed this:⁠—

“N⁠⸺ Y⁠⸺⁠
“Twenty Fourth Street,
“Boston,
U.S.A.

This roused me at once. I woke up with a start. Till then I had been lost in my dreams, but now they vanished in a moment and I began to have a dim foreboding of something very different, though of what nature I could as yet form not the faintest idea. Then I opened the letter. The words I saw there sank into my soul, and time has not effaced them from my memory.

“Honored Fellow-Countryman,

“I write for the last time, for you must know, positively, and once for all, that these are Ellen’s and my last words to you.”

On this little dirty leaf of paper there enrolled before me the epilogue of Urmánov’s tragedy. It appeared that Urmánov had proposed to his rival that he should go to America. He would then renounce formally (so far as it could be done) his marital rights on condition that Ignatyev renounced his actual rights. This done they would engage in a free competition on equal terms for the lady’s love. The answer was cold and somewhat ironical.

“No, my honored colleague, it won’t do! Of course all this is very romantic; but I am not romantic. Moreover, the stakes are not quite equal. You stake a fictitious right, I an actual right, that is to say, a reality. That the struggle for⁠ ⁠… love is a law of nature I acknowledge, as a general proposition; but don’t you see, on your part, that to arrange our marriage affairs as you suggest would resemble more the habits of buffaloes on the prairie than of civilized human beings? In one word, I consider our relations at an end. You knew the conditions on which you entered into the arrangement; you knew what you were going in for; and if Ellen had her motives you probably had yours, which are no concern of ours. As for your new demands, they were no part of the agreement and are quite foreign to our calculations. Our accounts are made up, and the balance is even. All right. We are not bound to discount any fresh bills⁠—Yours faithfully,

“John Ignatyev.”

P.S.⁠—As a proof that my wife entirely agrees with my view of this matter, she writes to you separately.”

XV

I looked around in amazement. What was it? Where was I?

It seemed to me that it had suddenly become day, cold and damp. The last larches of the avenue were waving their boughs in the wind before me. Was it really only a minute since I was walking in that avenue full of visions of Urmánov, and my sympathy with him as a living and suffering man? Had that been a dream? Or was I dreaming now?

I looked down on the railway-sleepers, and the damp stones, and shivered as from cold. Everything looked wet, dirty, and sombre. Here and there along the iron rails were white spots, and there was something in that awful whiteness, clinging to the cold iron, that set my teeth chattering.

Two men were sitting with their backs to me on the platform steps, wrapped in their sheepskin cloaks to keep out the damp. One of them was speaking, evenly and monotonously, the other listening. In all probability they were talking of the most ordinary subjects; but even now I often hear in dreams that even speech without audible words, and think of the damp morning and the splashed sleepers, and close by, in the shed, under a bit of wet matting, the thing that had once been called Urmánov.

And is this really the end of Urmánov’s history and of my dreams? Impossible! It is too senseless to be true. And, to shake off the nightmare I ran hastily down on to the platform and lifted the cold, damp, frozen matting.⁠ ⁠…

But the nightmare remained. Yes, evidently I had been too self-confident. My “way of thinking” was no protection against this, the most horrible of all forms of death.

The station people, in their simplicity, had gathered up the suicide’s brains and laid them mixed with sand and gravel, in the fragments of the shattered skull.

I stood before this thing, lost and helpless as a bird under the baleful eyes of a snake. And I felt how its deadly look pierced into the very depths of my defenceless soul.

The watchman laid his hand on my shoulder. I knew the fellow well (he acted as guard), and I had often talked with him. But now he eyed me as if he did not know me, and his face wore an unwonted look.

“Don’t touch it, sir, it would be sinful,” he said sternly, taking the matting from my hand. Then, probably noticing my stupefied condition, he added in a gentler tone, as he recognized me, “Don’t, sir⁠—it isn’t good for you to look at.”

“But why, why did you⁠ ⁠… ?” I asked, in a vacant sort of way.

“What?”

“Why⁠—did you⁠—pick it up?”

“Why, what else should we do? For decency.”

“It is our business,” added the other man severely. “God will judge him for it up there, but we have got to lay him in the earth⁠—that is our part.”

I looked at the speaker with a helpless, foolish smile.

“Lay him in the earth⁠—Who? Then that means⁠—for then all is not over with Urmánov yet⁠—there is still something to be done⁠—some process to be gone through;” then I stopped a moment and broke into a laugh.

The men glanced at each other in astonishment.

“He laughs!” said the one who was a stranger to me.

“There! There! It has just knocked him over. He doesn’t mean to laugh. I tell you what, sir you go home, and God speed you. He’s not fit for you to see.”

“And⁠—for⁠—you?” I asked mechanically.

“Well, we have to. That is another thing; we are working men,” added the strange peasant, looking away. “But you only get upset. Go, my lad, go away.”

He gave my shoulders a push; I went, and when, as I languidly mounted the hillock, I stopped short, he repeated:⁠—

“There, there, go along.”

And I did go, but it seemed to me that I carried away with me something out of the shed.

Certainly I had been mistaken in hoping that my strength and “way of thinking” could arm me against that awful sight.

XVI

I remember once hearing how a servant-maid, while cleaning a third-story window, slipped and fell onto the pavement. By some strange chance, she was able to get up and walk into the house. When asked how she felt, the poor girl replied that there was nothing the matter with her. It turned out, however, that she was all shattered internally, and a few hours later she died.⁠ ⁠…

I, too, when I stood in the shed, should have said that nothing particular had befallen me. Nevertheless, I also was shattered internally, although I felt no pain, no grief, no regret,⁠ ⁠… nothing!

There was only a strange calmness and an indescribable sense of isolation. I asked myself with a certain surprise: Had I really, really walked along that same avenue a few minutes previously? Was it actually myself, not some other body?

Did it ever happen to you in childhood to fall asleep in the daytime, while, though the sun was shining, storm clouds were gathering on the horizon? You slept through the storm, and heard neither the pelting rain nor the thunderclaps, nor the crash of splintered window-shutters, and yet, when you awoke you knew that something extraordinary had befallen since you fell asleep. Everything seems new and strange⁠—not as you left it not like a continuation of the same day.⁠ ⁠… Is it the same day? Is it the same room? Or have you slept a whole day and night through, to the next morning, and even been transported to a new place? A cock crows outside; and his shrill voice sounds as defiant as ever. A dog barks, and its bark only reminds you of the bark of a dog of your own; one you had long, long ago.⁠ ⁠… And you can hear children’s voices; but they, too, have a far-off sound, like faint memories of other and once familiar voices. And the little man who lay down in your bed?⁠ ⁠… You don’t even know whether it was you yourself, or another who merely lives in your recollection.⁠ ⁠…

A like experience had befallen me. During the few minutes that I stood in the shed with the corner of matting in my hand, a great gulf had opened between my present and my past life. It was as though I had really gone to sleep, and while I slept a hurricane had swept over my soul. For my former sensations had left me and faded into dim and confused memories.⁠ ⁠… Urmánov,⁠ ⁠… the American lady,⁠ ⁠… love, ecstasy,⁠ ⁠… his great mission,⁠ ⁠… whither is all that gone? When did it happen? With whom?⁠ ⁠…

There is nothing; and perhaps there never was anything.⁠ ⁠… Otherwise, how could I be so wonderfully calm? How is it that I neither pity nor accuse, nor feel angry with anyone for Urmánov’s death? I am not even sorry.⁠ ⁠…

No; there is nothing of that⁠ ⁠… there is only.⁠ ⁠…

Again a slight inward shiver; and, through all my strange calm, I realize that I am not happy. It is as if there had dripped into me something gray, a spot of foggy mire, which I instinctively fear to disturb. I remember that with this fear was mingled a sense of squeamishness; as if I wanted to get rid of something almost physically repulsive. It was the recollection of the white substance lying there. The shattered fragments of skull.

Whither, I asked, myself, is gone all that which appeared to me as love, suffering, exalted aspirations and high thought?

It all lies there in the shattered skull, together with the sand and the gravel.

The gray, miry stain changes from a foggy spot into a cloud, hiding the light of life in my mind. As I thought of all these things the cloud continued to grow, and I shivered as with inward cold.⁠ ⁠…

Between the larches at the end of the avenue, I could see the chipped and dirty stone pillars of the gate. Beyond these again were the walls of the students’ quarters, pitted with hideous gray spots where the stucco had peeled off. The wet roofs had begun to drip. The clouds were hanging low⁠—as if I had lost the sense of height⁠—and the sky seemed as if it were covered with dirty rags.

“What is wrong with you, Gavrik?” Titus asked me anxiously when I entered the room; “you are frightfully pale. Are you cold? Have some tea.”

He ran for boiling water, made tea, and, according to his habit, carefully covered the teapot with a napkin. I sat on the bed and watched his proceedings indifferently as if they were no concern of mine.

XVII

Till now, I had been very fond of Titus. We had been schoolfellows; although he was much older than I. Poor Titus was rather ill provided with brains, learned everything with incredible effort, and regarded me with adoring admiration. I, in my heart, appreciated the energy with which he overcame difficulties, rendered almost unconquerable by his stupidity, and highly valued his good-nature, his sincere affection for myself, and his sound common-sense⁠—a quality which I completely lacked.

I was often deeply touched by the sight of his arduous toil.

When preparing for examinations he would arm himself with notes a long time beforehand, sit down at the table, stop his ears, schoolboy fashion, and begin to mumble over his book, repeating every sentence again and again. At these moments his face wore a mixed expression of suffering and stern resolve. When he thought that he had got a sentence by heart, he would cover it with his hand, turn up his eyes, and repeat it, first with effort, afterwards more easily. Then a contented look would cross his weary face, only, however, to be replaced with the old careworn expression when he turned over a new page.

He was not ashamed to cram thus in my presence. I knew him well, and knew how hard it was for him, and how sometimes he would despair and imagine that he should never get his diploma. I knew, too, how much he needed his diploma⁠—that all his future depended on it. In some faraway little western town his old mother was struggling on earning her living among strangers, and supporting an invalid daughter by arduous effort. For his sake these two women practised a ferocious economy, putting all their trust in Titus, and looking forward to the completion of his course, for the fruition of their hopes and redemption from the dreary slavery of their lot. And Titus did his best.

I knew all this, and therefore it never entered into my head to laugh at him when he sat rocking himself backwards and forwards with half-shut eyes and an agonized face; or when, on going to bed, he put his book under his pillow according to the schoolboy superstition that he should thereby get its contents into his head during the night. I understood that at this moment, Titus was not in the mood for discussions on rationalism. When he went up to the examination table and held out his hand for the ticket, I trembled for him more than for myself. And when he answered, as was his wont, word for word from the notes which he had learned by rote, I used to fear that the professor would notice the senseless monotony of his voice and his occasional strange mistakes.

All this bound us together in a close friendship. I always did my best to keep Titus out of the complications into which I flung myself with enthusiasm and which might, in one way or another, have spoiled his career. Indeed, when he did occasionally appear at our meetings, in was only as a listener. He himself never uttered a word; and only afterwards, when alone with me, would he venture to submit some idea of his own for discussion. In this there was much that was pathetic. Poor Titus would doubtless have liked to cultivate “ideas,” but he knew that for him this was a forbidden luxury, that his business was to grind at his notes and get his degree. A certain shade of melancholy might therefore be observed in his Platonic affection for “ideas,” which he called by the generic name of “Philosophy,” esteeming them in his own particular fashion from afar, and through me, as people esteem the distinguished acquaintances of an intimate friend. Sometimes I would try to explain these ideas to him, eagerly and enthusiastically, as was my wont. In these talks and expositions he greatly delighted, listening attentively and earnestly, and never interrupting me, however late at night it might be. But when I left off and went comfortably to bed, Titus, with a sigh, would light the lamp on his table, put his fingers in his ears, and try to make up for lost time. And if I awoke, even after a long sleep, I could still hear his weary but persistent buzzing.

Now while my anxious friend was busying himself about me, I sat looking at him with a dim, unsteady gaze. My general feeling of isolation and estrangement included even him, who seemed to have strangely altered and to be no longer the old Titus.

Did you ever, when looking at a man while your thoughts were elsewhere, lose consciousness of the distance between you and him? The figure of the living man becomes like a blurred mark, the size and position of which you are unable to determine. The optic image forms itself in your eyes divested of all the impressions which usually accompany it. The sensation is a curious one; and it has sometimes happened to me, especially in childhood, to detain it for several seconds. I was interested in this arbitrary conversion of living people into mental phantasmagoria.

For several minutes my friend had been moving about before me in this way, but now I did not find it amusing. I tried to shake off the sensation. I failed. For there was something else which I saw at the same time whether I would or no⁠—the image of the broken fragments and what lay in them⁠—the image which had fallen into my mind on the platform. I instinctively felt that it was this that rendered Titus so different and divested him in my eyes of the quality for which I had previously esteemed him. His love for me, my tenderness for him, the recollection of his old mother, of the bitterness of her homeless life among strangers in a strange country, of her expectations and hopes⁠—all this was gone, far away, where Urmánov’s tragedy and my late exalted enthusiasms were gone.

I was even half surprised when Titus suddenly offered me a glass of hot tea. I felt surprised that he could hold a glass, and that I could take it in my hand and find it hot and heavy.

“What on earth is the matter with you, Gavrik?” asked Titus regarding me anxiously.

“What?” I asked, not knowing how to answer, averting my eyes.

“You look so⁠ ⁠… strange.”

“No, it is nothing.”

I put the glass to my lips, but drink I could not. The tea scalded me; to cool it appeared a difficult matter, and not worth the trouble. I set the glass on the table and lay down. In a few minutes I was asleep.

I slept long and awoke just as I had gone to sleep, suddenly, without any of that twilight of awakening consciousness which, in youth, is sweeter than sleep itself. It appeared as if I suddenly remembered something and opened my eyes at once.

Titus was sitting at his table, with his side face towards me writing. The sense of strangeness touching his personality had now disappeared; for though I had not resumed my normal condition, I was getting accustomed to my new mood.

Titus was tall and spare, the muscles and sinews stood out sharply on his long neck. His head was bent to the left, and he nodded it regularly as he wrote, slightly swaying his long back, while his lips unconsciously formed the words that he wrote. All his muscles were tense, and he seemed to be writing with his whole body. He was evidently copying out a lecture. Sometimes, on finishing a sentence, he would lay down his pen with a sigh and look round at me, on which I shut my eyes tight and waited impatiently till he returned to his work.

Directly I heard his pen squeaking along the paper, I would begin to watch him again, in imagination tracing his muscular action back to his anatomical component parts. From the movement of the wrist I went on⁠ ⁠… muscular biceps, shoulder⁠ ⁠… reflex movements of the lips and neck⁠ ⁠… and all this guided by “a secretion of the brain.” For some reason the process of secretion in this case is difficult. The thought which moves under Titus’ light hair creeps along very slowly; it is therefore perhaps quite in vain that the old mother and the invalid sister look forward to help from their Titushka; the engine is none of the best.

Now Urmánov’s engine was better. The movements in the brain were stronger and more definite; the boiler worked under high pressure. Herein, of course, lay the danger; there was no safety-valve; the passions began to boil too hard and blew up the machinery. That is Urmánov’s whole history in a nutshell. The American went away. Urmánov died. How simple it all is, how very simple!

How lean and bony Titus is! Evidently the brain, which he forces to perform labor beyond its strength, sucks into itself the other parts of my poor Titus. The central machine is overworked, and the levers and cogwheels are wearing out.

And still under all these thoughts lay the thing that had fallen into me on the platform. I had only to look at it, and the whole picture would rise before me⁠—the boiler smashed, its contents spilt, and the cogwheels and levers scattered about, an utter breakdown. That means that a man is dead.

And this is life.⁠ ⁠… And this death.

There is some physical law moving it. This is life; you may surround it with as many decorations as you like. Stop the movement with a mere touch⁠ ⁠… death! You can dress it up in gorgeous and funereal fictions. For my part, it seemed to me at that moment that I saw both sides of the medal; both with the same meaning; both leading to the same result. It is quite simple, clear, and⁠ ⁠… disgusting.

Titus left off writing, looked at his watch, and carefully put up his notes.

“What time is it?” I asked.

Titus started and looked round.

“Ah I you are awake! It is two o’clock⁠—time for the fifth lecture. Will you come?”

“All right!”

I got up languidly. I did not want either to go or to stay.

“What is going on there today?” I asked.

“Bratoshka lectures.”

“Ah!”

“What do you think, Gavrik; will they hiss him or not?”

I looked at Titus in surprise. His question reminded me of something that seemed to have happened long before the storm, or in a dream. Yes, of course, yesterday someone had got excited and said objectionable things to Professor Byelichka, and, if I remembered rightly, I also got excited yesterday about the same matter, and shouted like the others. But now I yawned carelessly.

“How the deuce should I know?”

Titus accounted for my indifference in his own way. He looked mournfully at me and sighed.

“Are you all right again? Are you well?”

“What should be wrong with me?”

“Well, I was quite frightened about you; you were awful to look at; perfectly livid and your eyes quite strange. Ah Gavrik! Gavrik! you were too sure of your nerve.”

It occurred to me that in truth I was not quite well. I felt a kind of nausea in my soul, as though I wanted to get rid of something to throw off something. For the first time I understood what it was that I wanted to throw off. It was the phantasm which had taken possession of me on the platform. But I no longer tried to get rid of it; I had either got used to it, or felt instinctively that it was useless to struggle.

“Yes⁠ ⁠… poor Urmánov!” said Titus with another sigh.

I looked at him with inexplicable annoyance.

“For pity’s sake, Titus, don’t let us have any nonsense.”

“I⁠ ⁠… why, what did I say?” asked my friend with amazement. “It was Urmánov there⁠ ⁠… Why, don’t you know?”

I looked at him again, trying the while to discern why his pity and his sighs should irritate me so.

“Yes, very well; I know. Urmánov⁠ ⁠… But you see, there isn’t any Urmánov. Well. Is there?”

“No-n-no⁠ ⁠… Of course, now⁠ ⁠… when⁠ ⁠… like that⁠ ⁠… ,” he stammered.

“Well; there you are; like⁠ ⁠… That is to say, you are pitying a person who⁠ ⁠… a thing which⁠ ⁠… do you understand me properly⁠ ⁠… doesn’t exist at all⁠ ⁠…”

Titus raised his eyebrows, looked at me timidly, as though trying to understand; he then gently submitted a fresh argument:

“But listen, Gavrik. All the same, you know⁠ ⁠… he⁠ ⁠… however that may be⁠ ⁠… he used to exist.”

“Well?”

“Well, then, that’s it. I am sorry for the man that was.”

I shrugged my shoulders. Titus had never before seemed so stupid and pitiable; and I wanted to tell him so point-blank.

“Look here, Titus! Wasn’t it I who painted Urmánov in such grand colors to you? Just try and remember.”

“That’s just it: there you see⁠ ⁠…”

“No, no; wait a bit! It is I who am talking to you now; and you may take my word for it,⁠ ⁠… there isn’t anything there at all;⁠ ⁠… do you understand? There is nothing whatsoever; and⁠ ⁠… there never was anything. Now let us go to lecture.”

I did not want to hear what Titus would say, or to talk any more myself. Did it ever happen to you to write verses or to prove a difficult syllogism in your sleep? It all goes so beautifully, so clearly. You wake up and eagerly recall what you have thought out, in the hope that you have hit upon something grand only to discover that there is no rhythm in the verses and that the syllogism is a glaring absurdity. Something of this kind befell me at that moment. I thought myself extremely keen-witted; everything I said sounded even cruelly brilliant; and only long afterwards did I understand that the stupider of the two was myself and not Titus.

XVIII

A policeman in a sheepskin coat and huge goloshes⁠—the exact counterpart of the one who had been there in the morning⁠—stood stolidly near the church; a dog, the precise image of the cur I had seen at the same time, was running along the same road, only in the opposite direction. Everything⁠—the square and the building and the sky, were just the same as they had been early in the day. But everything appeared profoundly uninteresting and simply annoyed me unspeakably. All that I saw seemed to be there purposely to remind me that an entire day had not yet passed since the events of the morning. Nonetheless, I knew in my own mind that a whole eternity had passed.

“A letter for you, sir.”

The Academy porter handed me a letter, which I stuffed into my pocket without opening. The handwriting seemed familiar to me; it was no doubt an answer from the friend to whom I had written in my time of enthusiasm. What was it I had written?⁠ ⁠… Ah! yes⁠ ⁠…

“How stupid!” I said aloud and angrily.

The porter, who had been looking at me expectantly, turned away grumbling, with an offended air.

“Sh⁠—sh⁠—sh⁠—sh!” hissed the sub-inspector, leaning over the top landing of the staircase.

The fat little old man, with his comic shaven face, did not look happy. The calm voice of a professor could be heard from the lecture-room close by; and from the other end of the corridor resounded a mingled hum of discordant voices. The sub-inspector strained anxiously his accustomed ear, listening to these sounds, in which an experienced man could catch a peculiar tone, for when a hundred young voices are raised a third above their ordinary pitch, the din resembles the angry buzzing of a disturbed hive.

The old man came up to me and took my arm; still straining his ears and looking anxiously towards the lecture-room. He had known my father, and as we were natives of the same province, he was rather partial to me. We often chatted together; and he had told me expansively of his youthful days, and how he had once “been in trouble.” This ruined his career; and now he was thankful for his present situation, which he had obtained with great difficulty. He valued the post highly, and I sometimes felt towards him as I felt towards Titus. The “crust-of-bread” question⁠—for himself and his family⁠—was a perpetual cause of anxiety for the old man. For this he would agitate and worry himself, even to the extent of equivocating and twisting his mind inside out, assuming an air of pedagogic severity, and trying to hide his inborn good-nature. “Ah!” he would say at times, sighing deeply, “it is difficult to get on with you students; I tell you so, in confidence, truthfully;” and then we would both smile sympathetically.

Just now he had an official and careworn expression.

“Look here, Mr. Gavrilov,” he said, “what’s going on among you in there?” And as he spoke he listened again.

“Do you hear that noise?”

I, too, listened; and then answered:⁠—

“Yes, they are making a terrible row.”

“What tricks are you up to? Tell an old man honestly.”

I shrugged my shoulders.

“What is it to me? However, I can tell you⁠ ⁠… Don’t be anxious. It is because something unpleasant has happened to one of them⁠—to Urmánov.”

“Why, what on earth do you mean? How unpleasant? They mean to hiss the Bohemian; that is it, nothing more.”

“Yes; it is true. Have you ever been to a slaughterhouse? Have you heard when the butcher kills an ox what a row the other beasts kick up?”

The old man edged away from me, drew his arm from mine and looked at me with astonished eyes, even putting out his lips with a startled expression.

At that moment the figure of Professor Byelichka appeared on the landing; and as the old man hurried up to him, I burst out laughing and went into the lecture-hall.

Several students surrounded me at once, pouring out confused questions; some asking what I knew about Urmánov; others speaking of the Bohemian. I stood looking at them all; and I felt that I was smiling in a strange way. I had, somehow, completely lost the power of hearing the din with understanding, and the once familiar excitement seemed strange to me and incomprehensible. I only saw moving lips and gesticulating arms, and again laughed.

To my delight, the door opened again and the Professor appeared on the threshold, the subinspector’s anxious face peeping in after him.

The students went to their benches. The Professor, going to his place, stood leaning with two fingers on the table, and waiting composedly for the noise to cease. Then his rich, even voice began:⁠—

“The last time, gentleman, we stopped at⁠—”

At the first sounds of this fine, passionless, and rather oily barytone I felt a certain sense of relief. The Bohemian was a first-rate lecturer; but it was all the same to me; I was quite indifferent to the subject of the lecture. Lately, there had been dark rumors concerning Byelichka. People talked of certain reform projects of his, of a character so utterly obscurantist as to render them incapable of adoption, and proposed merely to prove the author’s servile devotion to those in power. There were other vague rumors of like import. None of the students had any authentic information, for the Reports of the Council-meetings were kept secret, and the Professors knew how to hold their tongues. Hence, there were only dim conjectures, quite sufficient, however, to rouse angry discussions; some taking the Bohemian’s part; others vehemently attacking him.

To me, in my then mood, all this was utterly indifferent: but I could not help admiring the sangfroid with which the Bohemian began his lecture. Though he must have known of the incipient hostility of his audience, yet he began at the point where he had previously left off and lectured as calmly as if nothing had happened. Only on entering, he raised his long, thick eyelashes, and cast from under them a rapid and watchful glance.

“… Thus the monad of the species previously described may be defined as a simple sac devoid of even the most elementary organs. Taking up its abode in the stomach of a higher animal, it becomes completely surrounded with a nutritive environment.”

“In this nutritive environment, gentlemen,” proceeded the Bohemian meditately and in a singularly dulcet tone, raising his eyes to the ceiling as though seeking for better and still more dulcet words, “In this nutritive environment its existence is in many respects highly satisfactory. For it receives from Nature the utmost possible good, with the least possible expenditure of energy; and is not this the aim of many aspirations?”

Having made this slight excursion into the domain of generalization the Bohemian again glanced at the students. A low murmur, expressive of awakening interest, ran through the lecture-room, slight digressions from a dry exposition having always the effect of enlivening an audience.

The Bohemian’s voice flowed on still more smoothly, like a stream of oil. Rolling out his rounded periods, he mounted gradually higher and higher till, towards the end of the lecture, he passed from individual facts to broad generalizations. I believe he really loved science; he worked hard too, and was now himself carried away by his exposition. His eyes were fixed on the ceiling; the wording of his phrases became more and more flowing; the peculiar, unctuous notes of his voice grew more pronounced.

On the walls hung pictures, representing anatomical sections and cells, “leading a satisfactory existence.” Two skeletons stood, one on each side of the platform, with hanging arms, bent knees, and skulls drooping on one side, listening, as it were, with piteous attention, while the Professor knocked down one after another the barriers between the traditional “Kingdoms,” and placed a mere nutriment-absorbing cell in a recognized place among other “satisfactory existences.”

The audience had long since been carried away. I looked back and saw rows of eager faces and dilated eyes. Of the two contending influences⁠—science on the one hand and indignation on the other⁠—the former had obviously got the best of it; and the Bohemian, as representing science, held for the moment, not alone the attention but the hearts of his hearers.

But I felt myself equally a stranger to both these influences. While listening to the full, vibrating voice with its soft, rich tones, I had gone off into a dream. And in the only sounds which filled the lecture-hall, my fancy saw, floating and swimming, the contented cells described by the Professor, elementary and blessed prototypes of universal life.

Yes, it is quite true; this is the formula of life, simple and clear.⁠ ⁠… But why is he so pleased with it? What is there in this to kindle either enthusiasm or indignation?⁠ ⁠…

The lecture hour passed rapidly and imperceptibly. Towards the end I was suddenly seized with a feeling of intolerable depression and boredom, as though I had penetrated into the most secret essence of life and found therein only filthy and nauseous dregs. I rose and went out. As I closed the door a round of applause rang out in the lecture-hall. I listened to it through the door with surprise and annoyance. The noise of clapping resounding along the corridor frightened the old sub-inspector, who came running with a troubled face. On learning what it was all about he drew a long breath of relief.

“That is all right! That is all right! Heaven be praised! They have just clapped a little; that is much better⁠ ⁠… They have not hissed.”

I could not get rid of my feeling of amazement. Was it possible that only yesterday, I, too, should have clapped? Yes, I should, and I reflected with a glow of self-satisfaction, that I was now above suchlike frivolities. In there they shift about between enthusiasm and indignation, not knowing that to be impervious alike to enthusiasm and indignation is to understand Truth.

At the door was a two-seated droshky, waiting for a return fare to Moscow. The miserable jades in the shafts stood, with their heads bent and their legs wide apart, as if meditating on their dismal fate. I went down the steps and got into the droshky. Then, suddenly remembering that I did not want to go to Moscow, I got out and walked as usual to a restaurant frequented by the students.

The idea suggested in Byelichka’s lecture seemed to grow wider and wider. “Elementary processes”⁠—this is the final summing up of everything. And everyone has his own fashion of carrying on these processes; Byelichka acts one way, someone else another way, what does it matter?

XIX

At the entrance of the restaurant there stood behind the counter, as usual, a young German girl. She smiled a friendly smile, nodded her pretty almost childlike little head, and handed me my dinner-ticket. I bowed in return, and there must have been something peculiar in my expression, for the Fräulein becoming suddenly confused, dropped her eyes before mine, and all her face, even to the delicate, slightly protruding little ears, flushed scarlet.

A maiden, I thought, with a sort of malevolent flippancy; a specimen of restaurant virginity and German innocence. And, in reality, what is German innocence? It is said that if Shakespeare’s Teutonic ancestors had not gorged themselves with beer and raw beef his types would not have been characterized by such ungovernable passionateness. I wonder what ingredients have developed in the German nation innocence so extremely delicate. After this mental tirade, I went into the dining-room, where the girl’s father, Mr. Schmidt, an exceedingly fat German, with a head that narrowed at the top, and protruding ears like his daughter’s, was helping a student to soup with a majestically patronizing air, as if he were conferring on him a benefit for life.

I knew Mr. Schmidt, and we exchanged civilities every day. A certain strange resemblance between this fat and hideous German and his pretty slim young daughter was a continual source of amusement to me. Today I marked this resemblance even in the smile which stretched his mouth from ear to ear; and I instantly found an appropriate simile; “They are as like as an old toad and a brisk young tadpole.”

“Now ve vill dine mit goot abbedide,” observed Mr. Schmidt, glancing pompously round the room. He repeated this phrase every day, probably in the hope that the example of his appetite, and the sight of his bloated figure would give us a high idea of the quality of his fare.

“Yegor, gif me place by Mr. Gavrilov.”

Yegor laid a cover, served the soup, and uncorked a bottle of beer, whereupon the German set to work on his dinner with the air of a connoisseur and master of his art. In a few minutes there was nothing left on his plate. Mr. Schmidt broke off a piece of bread, and after wiping his greasy lips with it put it into his mouth; this done, he looked at me, winking with an air of cunning triumph, evidently expecting me to admire his wit and grace.

“Vat is ze matter, Mr. Gavrilov?” he asked with sudden severity, “you look at anoder man as he eats, and your soup will be quite colt.” Then, in the manner of a teacher who tempers reprimand with a joke, he added condescendingly, “One must oil ze machine, or it will not go, you know.”

“Yes, Mr. Schmidt, just so; one must oil the machine. Well, we will oil it.”

All this time I had been watching Mr. Schmidt’s proceedings as if it were the first time that I had seen this function performed in real life. I now took several spoonsful of soup, inspecting the spoon every time in a hesitating manner, and thinking how very deftly Mr. Schmidt did the daily oiling of his machine. After swallowing with disgust a little of the half-cold liquid I helplessly put down my spoon.

“Well?” asked Mr. Schmidt encouragingly, at the same time regarding me with sympathetic curiosity.

“I can’t,” I answered quietly, as I rose from the table.

“Ay-a-a-ay! zat means you are ill. Mina! Mr. Gavrilov is ill; fetch me quick von glass of my schnapps and a pinch of pepper; ve vill repair ze machine.⁠ ⁠…”

But I had already made my escape from Mr. Schmidt, who apparently cherished the fell intention of mending my “machine” as he would have mended his own.

By this time the class had broken up, and I saw the students coming along, hurrying to dinner, laughing and discussing the lecture and the unexpected ovation. I turned into a side-street to avoid meeting them.

Am I really ill? Why, only yesterday I too, should have gone tearing along, delighted with everything⁠—the ovation and the lecture, and the prospective “oiling of the machine.” And now? For that matter, the real reason is that my sight is grown so much keener that I have gained the power of seeing things in their true light. And if my nerves are a little upset, it merely shows that no man can digest the truth about himself.⁠ ⁠… There they are, quite cock-a-hoop, and for no other reason than that they cannot understand the meaning of the simplest phenomena. Schmidt, the fat machine, when he oils himself merely opens his mouth from ear to ear. That is it; they are all merely so many Schmidts.⁠ ⁠…

Having no wish to see Titus I did not go home; turning instead into the park where I walked about the deserted paths till evening.

The park was very lifeless; the bare trees looked desolate, and here and there, from under the slushy, melting snow, rotting leaves peeped out. The sight of this dying Nature soothed and calmed me. Its dismal appearance harmonized with my mental condition; but in this decay of the fallen leaves, in the mournfully drooping yellow grass, in the faint scent of rottenness hanging in the air, there was nothing that offended and jarred on my inner sensations. I walked till I was tired out, trying to forget myself, listening to the tears dripping from the trees, and the damp, fallen branches rustling on the ground, and watching the twilight unfolding everything, until night came and covered all the melancholy and corruption of dying or slumbering Nature.

I went home late. Titus was asleep, but he had left the lamp alight for me. The burner had got out of order, and the gas was escaping with a continuous thin hissing, which Titus accompanied by a rythmic nasal wheeze, the result being a peculiar but not very harmonious duet in the otherwise silent room. Our large cupboard and bookshelf seemed to be listening with ironical attention to this absurd and useless wheezing. The whining hiss of the gas irritated me far less than my friend’s hard breathing. The wheeze gradually passed into a snore; as always happened when he lay on his back.

I could not sleep; and so took up my notes. Perhaps this wise stuff will serve to send one to sleep, I thought. But I could not understand a single sentence. The words stood separately in my mind; and, when my eyes passed on further, scattered and vanished. In a sudden fit of vexation with my “idiotic head,” I tried to humiliate it by sitting down in the attitude which Titus always assumed when he was cramming. Like Titus, I stopped my ears and began whispering the words and sentences of my self-imposed task, mechanically repeating them, and rhythmically nodding my head.

I must have unnecessarily raised my voice and so disturbed the sleeper; for after a while he moved suddenly, sat up in his bed, and stared at me with astonished eyes.

“Ah! what is it?” he asked in a voice like a sleepwalker’s.

“It is nothing; it is nothing,” I answered, ironically soothing him; “go to sleep,⁠ ⁠… machine⁠ ⁠…”

Titus does as he is told. His face becomes passive again; his mouth slightly opens, and the sounds recommence. I sit still on my chair, and a kind of terror creeps over me. The feeling of loneliness and isolation grows more and more intense. The gas hisses; Titus snores,⁠ ⁠… but, after all, they are only two machines.⁠ ⁠… If you lower the light the noise will cease; if you roll Titus over on his side he will stop snoring. I think of his vacant look and the automatic way in which he obeyed my command and instantly went to sleep, and a sense of dread comes over me.

A machine?⁠ ⁠… In my childhood, I was afraid of ghosts in the dark; now, when in the darkness of this night I am surrounded by machines, when even my poor Titus is transformed for me into a complicated automaton, I feel again the same old horror, only it is deeper and more fearful than the horror of my childhood.

Though I had forgotten all about my notes I sat mechanically rocking my chair and waiting for something to come out of the silence and half shadows of the faintly lighted room. I had gradually slipped away from myself into that strange, desolate, inhospitable darkness peopled only by machines.

There is nothing, nothing!⁠ ⁠… The night, the cupboards, the dark corners and gray walls⁠ ⁠… the black windows, and the wind moaning in the chimney.⁠ ⁠… The machine called a gaslight squeaks like a gnat buzzing against my ear, and so piteously withal that I felt ready to weep. The machine called Titus snores and wheezes through its nose so senselessly that I want to smash it in pieces. And the machine that I call “I” lies without movement, without thought, merely feeling that the something cold, slimy, horrible and disgusting which dripped into my soul in the morning had become I myself, that whatever I felt in myself was it alone and that there was nothing else in me at all.⁠ ⁠…

Cold, empty, dead.⁠ ⁠…

Thus ended the first day of my new mood. The next morning, I woke up more composed, yet still with the consciousness that this mood had taken up a larger space in my soul.

The clouds continued to spread, and I remember the following days only as a mist without light and shadow, like an autumn twilight.

XX

“Won’t you come to the meeting today, Gavrik?” asked Titus one day, without looking at me; “come along, do!”

“What for?”

“There now, do come; you will see,” he said in a brighter tone; and then added significantly:⁠—“The question is of the very highest interest.”

He pronounced the word “question” half-shyly, with his eyes turned away and in the conscientious tone affected by unaccustomed persons when speaking of “high matters.” At any other time I should have understood his pathetic impulse; but now I only burst out laughing right in his face.

“Ah! How long have you been interested in ‘questions’?” and I laid an ironical emphasis on the last word.

This saying affected Titus like the stroke of a whip. He raised his head and looked at me, and our eyes met. A whole dialogue may be comprehended in a momentary interchange of glances. Titus meekly asked me whether I really believed that he cared for me, and knew that I was treating him with a coldness and a cruelty which he had not deserved.

It sometimes happens when you are looking at an object or a person on which your attention is concentrated, you realize that somebody is standing behind you, looking at you, thinking, about you, perhaps smiling and holding out his hand to you yet you are unable to turn your eyes thither-ward; and the other presence fades into the misty background of consciousness.

It was thus with me. My attention was fixed on that gray spot which imparted its sinister hue to Nature and Life. Yet I could easily distinguish the manifestation of lower instincts, find meanness in noble actions and see in man an animal consisting of elementary physical processes. I was even rather proud of the keenness of my insight, and soon acquired the trick of indicating unpleasant characteristics by two or three words, an obscure hint or a subtle innuendo. In the result I gradually formed about myself a sort of solitude, and people⁠—women especially⁠—when they met my steady, analyzing look, would lower their eyes and hurry on.

I began to repel Titus in the same way. Again he cast on me an inquiring and imploring look, a look which reawakened within me a passing tenderness, yet I merely shrugged my shoulders and answered his gaze with a half-contemptuous, half-cynical glance.

Titus turned away gloomily, with a lowering face.

“Look here, Gavrik,” he said angrily; “lately you have acted just like a mad dog.”

“Just like a mad dog,” I thought ironically; one might have found a better simile; but Titus’s ideas are not freely secreted and mould themselves into wrong forms.

It appeared, however, that this time I had struck home; I was however no more sorry for Titus, than for Urmánov, or myself. I had hurt my friend deeply, but I simply watched him as an artillery man watches the effect of a shot; and caring as little for the sufferings of my victim as he would care for the sufferings of his victim.

Meanwhile, Titus pulled his cap over his eyes, and put on his overcoat; then, tossing my books about, took from among them a work on sociology which he had lately bought for me. Thrusting it under his arm, he went out without looking back. He had the air of a man who surprises himself by resolving on a desperate undertaking.

I afterwards heard that, on the same day, Titus, for the first time, made a speech at the meeting. He returned late with a flushed face and looking like a half-tipsy man, although he had not drunk a single drop of spirits. He came to my bedside and stood there for several minutes as if he wanted to say something, then turning hastily away he went to bed. In the night he moaned piteously and cried out several times in his sleep.

As for myself, I felt neither grief nor pity, being as I said to myself, “above all that,” because I knew what others did not know. Though I had then no desire to resume my normal condition, I cannot look back to that time without an involuntary shudder. It was as if I walked, moved, and lived in a gray cloud, cold and formless, darkening the dawning light of my young life.

I remember how a cloud on the horizon once suggested to me thoughts of this kind. It was a somewhat frosty evening, the sinking sun had tipped the edges of the cloud with purple and gold. All the central part of it was of that dim blue in which unknown shapes form and disappear, and you cannot tell whether they are really clouds or only the creation of your own fancy. You know that at sunset, suchlike clouds can be very beautiful; that dusky blue and soft rays fading in a golden mist kindle within you a whole flood of sensations. Night is at hand; soon, it will hide everything and you will not have found out what was really there and what were the shapes forming themselves in the tremulous mist above the horizon. The night will fall; and the cloud, it may be, will spread over all the sky; and lightning will flash through the still darkness; and thunder will crash over the earth. Or else the cloud will float away, following the retreating daylight, and flash, instead, on some other body’s horizon; and some other body’s eyes will look upon it; and similar thoughts and dreams will arise in some other body’s mind. In a word, there is in that cloud a something which reflects itself in every human mind: either as vague dreams, or sadness, or a throng of fancies dim as the mist. Hence, the cloud contains an element of the thoughts and feelings which start into life within you, like sparks from the contact of flint and steel.

But when I looked at the cloud that evening, I felt that it was deceiving me, as all the world deceives.

It is a lie, I thought; a lie and an empty, glittering illusion. Reality has none of that beauty, of that gold, of that “Imperial purple.” These are loud and empty words! Climb up to that tinsel loveliness, enter into it, and you are surrounded only by cold, penetrating mist. It is the same with life: once you look at it from the inside, it, too, is nothing but senseless inhospitable sleet and fog; having neither beauty nor sunshine, neither purple nor gold; neither light nor darkness, and without form and void. There is nothing in the world save unnumbered isolated facts, and what seems exalted, bright, and grand is merely tinsel and lies.

XXI

In the evening when I was looking at the clouds, I went again along the familiar avenue. The bare and frozen boughs struck against one another with a dismal, dry, cracking sound, as on that memorable morning, and through the avenue there swept the dreary, prolonged howl of the wind, full of the same cold, pitiless misery which filled my heart.

I had no definite aim. Then, and many times afterwards, I went to the station for no other purpose, so far as I could tell, than to watch with fascinated gaze the wheels of the first morning train. I had no idea of committing suicide; yet I never could say positively that I should return; and though I did return home that time and so many other times, it was not because I feared death or enjoyed life. Oh, no! I took to the station and brought away a darkened soul and a heart paralyzed by dull despair. All around me lay the snow; the furious winter storms dashed by; the telegraph posts moaned and creaked; and from across the line the dismal little light of the watchman’s hut looked askance at me. There, crowded together in the close air, lived the watchman’s family; and the red lamp, looking out into the darkness, seemed as desolate and pitiable as the poor creatures upon whom it shone. The children were strumous and delicate, the mother weak, ill-tempered, and miserable; her life consisted in bearing children and burying them. And the father, with whom I used often to talk, was perhaps the most miserable of all. He endured his wretchedness only because, in his simple heart, he believed that it was part of some divine purpose. My heart used to ache when he talked to me and I considered his sunless life; yet in those days I was not without hope. I believed that we should soon find a way of making life bright and joyous for all.

How, when, in what way? That was another matter; but the significance of life lay in that belief. Now I had no belief, and life had lost its significance; and the sight of the uncompensated misery of the watchman’s lot would have been utterly intolerable to me had I not been clothed in a panoply of utter indifference.

Nevertheless, the little light, glancing obliquely down on the snow, the road, and the steel rails, glimmered so sadly.⁠ ⁠… And nothing there to warm my frozen heart.

On the station platform was a little shed⁠—the same where⁠ ⁠… A crust of ice, sprinkled over with frozen snow, covered the same bench. There I would sit, and while the wind whistled through the chinks, scattering sprays of snow obliquely against the boarded partition, recall that moment, rehearse those impressions once more, and resume that mental condition. The very air seemed saturated with an influence which penetrated my being, and brought back my old feelings. For hours together I would remain there alone with a spectre which, though I feared it no longer, seemed more terrible than all the spectres born of superstition. In them, at least, there is Some kind of life⁠—perhaps frightful, perhaps inimical, but still life. My spectre represented only the complete absence of life, the aimlessness, loneliness, and utter want of meaning of existence itself.⁠ ⁠…

I lost the consciousness of time.⁠ ⁠… Minute after minute fled away; the trains dashed past, rumbling through the darkness. In the carriages I could sometimes hear songs, music, talking. The light from the windows fell in bars across the platform, shadows flitted past the windows, and in a moment nothing was left of them but memory. And yet I sat, absorbed, in my corner, waiting for I knew not what.⁠ ⁠… My feet grew numb and my fingers stiff; the cold went through and through me, mingling with that inner cold which had frozen my soul. My teeth chattered. I trembled and shrank from head to foot, and to myself seemed as small, pitiable, and insignificant as any half-starved dog. And when I looked back on my former proud dreams and aspirations, I could hear in the darkness my own laughter, sounding so strange and dismal that a sense of horror crept over me: it was as though I were being mocked by some lost soul or invisible fiend.

Then I would think of my warm room and tea, and get up to crawl home, dimly aware that some day the longing for another resting-place might drag me down there under the wheels. I weighed both possibilities objectively, as if the matter concerned someone else; the two ideas contending in my mind while my will remained passive.

And if, nevertheless, I let train after train pass and went home (Titus, whom I had forbidden to follow me, meeting me with a gloomy and furtive yet relieved glance), it was simply because death appeared to me just as disgusting as life.

Yes, you may deem it a paradox, but to me this seems a universal truth: only those whose lives have been full and normal can face death calmly. He who has known intelligent joy has something to be thankful for. The man who has struggled and suffered sees in death a deliverer, a friend relieving him from the grievous burden of duty; but he who has never in life experienced either intelligent joy or intelligent grief fears the mere mention of death, because there remains in his soul a void⁠—something empty and unsatisfied. Death comes before life has given him what he thought he had a right to reckon upon; a man of this type is bitter against both life and death. But still more so when, as happened to me at that time, a man becomes sick of life without struggle, or pain, or joy; then death also appears sickening and hideous. For life and death are bound together by a living thread. I do not remember who it was that said, “Death is the child of life.” It is true in this sense: as healthy children are born of healthy parents, so a life that has been healthy in the full significance of the word is followed by a death as bright as the sunset of a clear day.

XXII

One evening as I sat in the shed, in the state of mind which I have just described, the passenger train from Moscow began to slacken speed as it neared the station. Again the bars of light flashed across the platform and shadows moved in the dim windows, and I could hear sounds and talking from the shut-in life of the carriages. And once more it seemed like the mere echo of long past impressions. When, however, the train went on again, I found that this echo had left upon the platform a living being.

The red lantern at the end of the last carriage flung a ray of light on the solitary passenger, from whom I instantly retreated to the furthest corner of the shed. It was the girl-cashier from the Volga, who, as the navigation was stopped, had made up her accounts and returned to us for the winter.

She apparently expected that somebody would meet her, and found herself mistaken. Perhaps, though, she was playing one of her audacious pranks, and trusted to chance for an escort. Be that as it might, there she stood, alone in the dark, looking round her. The train glittered in the distance like a red star; the place was quite deserted; and I sat still in the shed, trying not to stir.

The girl laid her handbag on the platform, and crossed the line to the watchman’s hut on the opposite bank. For a moment I lost sight of her, but the next moment her slender figure reappeared at the open door.

“Grigoryevna! Good evening!” she called to the watchman’s wife.

“Eh! Who is there?”

“I, I. Why, she doesn’t know me!”

Grigoryevna answered in the languid voice of a suffering woman. The door closed; but a moment afterwards both the women came out again.

“Dear! dear! What a pity! He is just gone down the line. You had better wait a bit for him; he will go with you.”

“No; it is all right; I’ll go alone. Goodbye!” And the girl went rapidly down the bank.

“No, but really⁠ ⁠… it is not safe; indeed, it is not safe. Heaven forbid! somebody might harm you.”

“No, they won’t. I’m lucky; no one ever harms me.”

These familiar words, accompanied by the old familiar laugh, sounded as if they had been spoken in my ear. Then she crossed the platform, and I withdrew further into my corner.

Why, I cannot tell. It seemed to me that the indefinite, half-conscious expectations which I had previously formed in the same place, referred to the event which was now coming to pass. I even fancied that, earlier in the day, I had felt a foreboding of her coming, and taken my “resolution” beforehand.

Be that as it might, there rose before me the living image of that past so near, yet already so far off.

Now I analyzed everything and mocked at everything. But, until this moment I had not dared to touch with my hideous analysis this girl whom I had once loved, and whose memory I still cherished, pure and unsullied. It lay dormant in the deepest recesses of my soul, together with some other memories that were also very dear to me. But I knew that they would be called up to judgment by my new mood, and if I once began to submit these memories and feelings to analysis, 1 should never stop, and there would not be left in my soul one single untainted spot.

It is very likely that I was trembling in my corner from a foreboding of all this. It is possible, too, that I did not like to let her, so strong and full of life, see me shivering, shrinking, with the inner consciousness of a wretched little dog. Anyhow, I waited till she had started, and then followed her.

She walked quickly, and her figure now showed like a dim shadow in front, now disappearing altogether. I followed her, dreading to lose sight of her, yet, at the same time, fearing to attract her attention. And then, for the first time, the oddity of my position occurred to me: why had I not gone straight up to her? Why hide myself, and then creep after her like a thief in the dark?

For the first time I felt causeless shame. Why? I had done nothing wrong⁠—nothing with which to reproach myself. It is the shame of existing at all, flashed through my mind. It was the dread of showing her the dirty, gray spot in my soul.

This thought angered me. At the same time, as I could no longer see her, I feared I might lose her, and forgetting both the cold and my own shivering fit hurried on peering into the darkness.

Suddenly I quivered as if I had been shot, and stood still, hearing at the same moment a low, startled cry. The girl, as it appeared, was tired, and, placing her portmanteau on the ground, sat down on it to rest herself. I thus found myself face to face with her.

For a few seconds we remained standing⁠—she in surprised silence⁠ ⁠… Then I held out my hand and said:⁠—

“Good evening,⁠ ⁠… Tonia.”

“Ah! it is you! There, I knew you would come. Why, Gavrik dear, how you startled me!” and, taking my hand in both hers, she pressed it warmly, laughing and talking merrily of her fright.

“Why didn’t I see you on the platform? Did you get my letter? Why, wherever did you come from?”

She showered questions upon me, and went straight on, without waiting for an answer. She had such a lot to tell me; she had seen so much. And what was going on in Moscow⁠—in the Academy? She asked after our acquaintances. But, first of all, how were the Sokolovs?

The Sokolovs were a couple united in civil marriage. He was a good-natured student, no longer young; she, an almost uneducated woman, also past her youth, with a freckled face and thin, close-cropped hair that suited her face very badly. Tonia (as the girl-cashier was still so called in our circle) was a great friend of theirs, and usually lodged with them.

I grew confused at her question, and was hesitating what to answer, when she stopped short and tried to look at me closely in the darkness.

“Do you know, there’s something strange about you?⁠ ⁠…” she said half-interrogatively.

I smiled, and felt glad that she could not see how unnatural was my smile.

“Strange, quite strange,” she repeated. “You turn up from one doesn’t know where,⁠ ⁠… you don’t speak,⁠ ⁠… you don’t answer one’s questions.”

“Well, but you don’t give me time to answer.”

“No, no! Somehow⁠—it isn’t that,” said the girl sadly, and then brightened up again. “Oh, well. I’ll find out all about that tomorrow. I shall stay here a fortnight.”

“And then?”

“Then? Perhaps.⁠ ⁠… Why, you know, I wrote to you.⁠ ⁠…”

She glanced at me again and walked faster.

“No, we’ll talk about that tomorrow.”

“Why? Because I am strange?” I asked involuntarily smiling again, but this time with deeply felt bitterness.

“Y⁠ ⁠… yes.”

“Well, perhaps that’s better, after all.”

“There you see!” said the girl mournfully. “Do tell me what is the matter?”

“It’s all the same. We won’t talk about that. But I am very glad to be walking with you now.”

“What did you say?”

“I say that I am very glad.⁠ ⁠… I really mean it⁠ ⁠…”

“Is⁠—is there any need to say that?”

She relapsed into an embarrassed silence, and walked on for some time thinking. I, too, was silent and oppressed with gloomy forebodings. I had fancied, at first that just this once, in the darkness, I might, for a passing moment, enjoy at least the illusion of a happy meeting, although on the morrow my new mood might again assert the mastery. But I felt that even the darkness could not for long hide my secret. She could not see my unnatural smile; and yet she knew intuitively that there was something strange about me. And, indeed, should we have met like this, should I have spoken as I did, if nothing had befallen me?

“All right; we needn’t talk at all,” I said again, although well aware that I had done better not to say it.

After passing the Academy and crossing the bridge, we arrived at a small villa, standing alone in a clump of young pine-trees. A stove was alight, and a lamp burning in the front room; and through the window, we could see three figures.

“Now, goodbye,” said I, stopping and handing her the portmanteau.

“Why? Aren’t you coming in?”

“No; you had better go alone.”

“Is anything⁠ ⁠… wrong between you and the Sokolovs?”

“Nothing particular.”

“But you know they are dear, good people.”

“I don’t dispute that.”

She stopped, made as if she would say something, but changing her mind, took the portmanteau from me, and held out her hand in silence.

I held it for a moment, and fancied that it trembled slightly, as though ready to respond warmly and strongly to the pressure of mine. But the moment passed; her hand slipped away from mine; and she said softly:⁠—

“Goodbye.”

“Goodbye, Antonina Dimitrievna.”

A moment later, I saw through the window how warmly she was welcomed by her friends. Sokolov, a dark, stooping, broad-shouldered man, swung himself out of his chair and embraced her. His wife ran in from the next room, and, tossing back her thin hair, flung herself on the girl’s neck. Syergakóv, a young student of the group to which I had formerly belonged, at first hesitatingly shook hands with her; then his face brightened into a smile, and he too kissed the newcomer.

I went up to the hedge without the slightest hesitation, fully determined to hide there and watch what happened next. I knew that I should probably be the subject of their conversation; and I was not mistaken.

For some time past I had observed that the people I met eyed me with peculiar attention, yet furtively, I knew that many considered me “cracked”; and this irritated me. At times, therefore, I would purposely say brusque and disagreeable things, carefully cultivating the art of finding out the weak points of these “sensible” folk. I had not been at the Sokolovs for a long time.

After the first greetings, Tonia, as she took off her cloak, asked a question which, as I could see from her contracted brows and the expression of her face, referred to me.

Sokolov turned away and began gloomily poking the fire. He was one of those very good-natured men who always find it difficult to speak ill of anyone, or to tell unpleasant news. Syergakóv sat down at the table and took up a pencil.

Tonia doffed her gray cloak and, flinging it on a chest, turned round, so that I could see her agitated face, and I inferred from her manner that she was repeating her question and telling them of her meeting with me. Then Madame Sokolov, sitting down on the chest, began to relate something. And her face gradually assumed an excited and indignant expression. I knew what she was saying. She was complaining that for some time past I had behaved very queerly, keeping aloof from my comrades and when I met her looking at her in the strangest way possible; moreover, when she remonstrated with me, I had answered sneeringly that I hoped she did not suspect me of any Don Juan-like intentions.

Sokolov rose impatiently and made an observation, whereupon his wife broke off and looked at Tonia conscience-stricken. The girl’s face was pale and sad. For some time nothing more was said; then Tonia turned her face away from them and stood looking at the fire. I could see her profile, her dark dress and the tress of fair hair hanging over her shoulder.

My eyes were glued to the window; it was as if I were looking at people who mourned for me, for the “me” which had been and was not. A sense of overwhelming misery swept over my soul as if I were assisting at the burial of something unspeakbly dear to me⁠—my own youth, and with it⁠ ⁠…

Strange! From that time I have understood the legends of demons entering into men’s bodies and speaking through their mouths.

At that very moment when I suffered this unbearable misery, and felt so much tenderness towards this girl who felt so much for me, the dirty spot in my soul asserted its influence; and for the first time my sneering analysis touched the girl’s image and my love for her.

A tress of fair hair, said someone within me, so distinctly that I started as if I had actually heard an internal whisper. The whole matter lies in the fair tress. Never since I began to grow up have I been able to look unmoved at a fair tress hanging down a girl’s back. A fair tress on a dark brown dress suggests thoughts which still cause me acute distress.

At that moment, I heard footsteps and the sound of voices, one of which I recognized as that of Chernov, a comrade of mine both in the classes and the group. He belonged to a family of rich landowners, and it was known that he had once been in the habit of striking his female serfs in the face with his boots when they brought them to him badly cleaned. Moreover his harsh unsympathetic voice showed that his character was hard, and he possessed few attractive qualities. Many who knew him doubted the sincerity of his present liberal opinions; but Tonia believed in him: and Chernov repaid her with a seeming affection bordering on devotion.

The students were walking rapidly and must have seen me; but this did not embarrass me in the least. I quietly left the window and walked towards them, thinking that Chernov did not know of Tonia’s arrival, but as he was going to the Sokolovs he would soon see her. And embrace her⁠ ⁠… fraternally.

When I came up to them, the students looked round in amazement.

“It is all right, it is all right!” I said roughly, “don’t be confused, good folk! Make haste; Tonichka is come back.”

Chernov uttered a cry of joy; and I impulsively, and to my own surprise, added bluntly:

“And how her hair has grown!⁠ ⁠… splendid!”

Then I burst out laughing. I can imagine how utterly wild this speech must have seemed to them. And yet, for me, it was the logical continuation of my thoughts. I must have seemed to my fellow-students completely insane, and I often think, now, that even in the thoughts of regular maniacs, who talk all kinds of nonsense, there is far more sequence than we usually suppose.

The students hurried to the villa and I struck off into the wood, walking straight on without choosing my way. I wanted to tire myself out. I needed exhaustion, oblivion, and darkness.

XXIII

I was anxious to reach home quickly; only to get in, to fling myself down on my bed, to go to sleep at once without thinking about myself or her, to have a lucid interval before the torture recommenced.⁠ ⁠…

In my boyhood, when I still retained my childish beliefs and said my prayers, I once awoke on just such a dark night, with a feeling of unaccountable dread. To drive away my fear I thought of saying a prayer, but a word which had no business there crept into the middle of it. I began again from the first word, only, however, to break down a second time in the same place. This happened several times in succession. At first, the interpolation was mere nonsense, but after a while I observed with terror that instead of meaningless phrases naive and childish blasphemies crept into my mind; and the more passionately I began the prayer the more I was beset in the middle of it by sinful words and thoughts. Cold sweat broke out on my forehead and I became postively convinced that a demon was taking advantage of the darkness to whisper bad thoughts in my ear.

Now, I had neither childish superstition; nor was I tempted by imaginary demons in the dark, pathless grove. I fled from a soulless spectre which I bore within myself, feeling that it would devour the one thing which still remained in my heart uncontaminated and untouched; that in a few minutes more, I myself should destroy the last pure image which was left to me.

I walked on fast, my heart palpitating, and at moments contracting in sudden fear as if grasped by an invisible hand. The sombre tree trunks, black pillars in a waste of snow, separated and drew back as I passed; yet still a wall loomed large before me, and it seemed as if the park would never end.

All this time I had been walking at random; but by a lucky chance I came out directly opposite the Academy. Titus had just returned, and was lighting the lamp. His cap was pushed on to the back of his head and his face flushed and excited. When he had finished with the lamp he turned round to me and gave an account of his theoretical conversations.

He no longer watched me and greeted me with anxious looks; and he failed to observe that I was in no condition to listen to his narration. He came up and barred my way; and his long figure with its gesticulating arms stood before me like an absurd and clumsy silhouette, the shadow of his cap thrown across the ceiling.

“Just imagine,” he said, gesticulating excitedly, “Rouchin said to me.⁠ ⁠… No, I said to him:⁠—‘No, no; you are all wrong⁠—you look here!⁠ ⁠… I’ll just prove to you.⁠ ⁠…’ ”

A revolution had taken place in poor Titus which in my egoistic reserve 1 had failed to notice. Since the day when I so harshly insulted him, he had flung himself into the very whirlwind of “philosophy” till then strange to him; and his poor head was completely turned thereby. He had thrown aside his notes for books on social questions, which he studied incessantly, neglecting lectures, and never missing a single meeting. Jumping on the benches in the lecture-halls, he would strike into the middle of any discussion whatever, listening to nobody and continually interrupting other speakers rudely and vociferously. At first his fellow-students could not make it out; then they took to laughing and finally, on the day in question there had been hot work; for Titus was becoming a regular obstructionist. The others attacked him, demanding a plain exposition of his views and trying to refute his arguments. This made Titus half frantic; in his excitement he stamped on the floor, repeating over and over again the same words:⁠—

“You are talking nonsense, all of you, sheer nonsense.”

I heard of all this afterwards. But now Titus stood before me with his cap shoved on to the back of his head, incoherently recounting his exploits.

“There; you hear what he said; and I said to him:⁠—‘No but wait a bit!’⁠ ⁠… Why! whatever is the matter with you, Gavrik? Good God!”

His face suddenly changed and became for a moment the face of the old Titus, anxious and startled.

“Leave me alone, for goodness sake,” I said hoarsely, pushing him aside. “I want to sleep,” and throwing myself down on my bed I hid my face in the pillow.

Titus came up to me on tiptoe, and after a short silence said softly, in the tone of a man thunderstruck and almost in despair:⁠—

“Oh! dear, oh dear! See what all this philosophy comes to. I wish it was all at the devil⁠ ⁠… by Jove!⁠ ⁠…”

XXIV

Now began the darkest days of my life. I was growing afraid of myself; afraid of yielding to that dissecting, analyzing impulse which I had hitherto blindly obeyed. I tried to restrain it by violent exercise and physical stupefaction, an expedient, however, that only answered so long as I was actually at work. I tramped about for days together and wandered over all the suburbs of Moscow, never getting home till late at night. My feet ached with weariness; there were times when I felt utterly worn out; nevertheless my eyes were burning and the fatigue soon passed away.

One day, as I crossed the bridge, I heard hurried footsteps behind me, and looking back saw Madame Sokolov. She was running quickly, with her hair in disorder, and her shawl awry. Observing that there was no one but myself on the bridge, I stopped, in some perplexity.

“Wait,” she said, panting for breath; “here is a letter for you.”

I took the little note out of her hand. It was from Tonia, and consisted of a few words written in pencil:⁠—

“Come tomorrow to the villa on the highroad. I ask you as a favor. It is very important for me.

Tonia.”

“All right!” I said.

Madame Sokolov, who by this time had regained her breath and straightened her shawl, made me a curtsey which at any other time would have set me off into a fit of laughing.

“All right,” she repeated, imitating me; “have you no further commands?”

I looked at her with hatred.

“I have nothing more to say.”

“Good gracious!” said Madame Sokolov, “how important!⁠ ⁠… I daresay you imagine that I came tearing along here like a wild thing for your sake. Please don’t get that into your head. I didn’t.”

“I have never dared to hope⁠ ⁠…”

“The reason I did it was because otherwise Tonia would have come to you herself; and I wanted to spare her that unpleasantness⁠ ⁠… because⁠ ⁠…”

“Thank you, Katerina Filippovna,” I replied simply and with sudden sincerity.

This unexpected answer and the tone of it seemed to surprise Madame Sokolov. She looked at me for a few seconds with her small and ugly yet honest eyes, and turned sharply away.

“Bah! there is no making you out. But it strikes me, young man, that you are giving yourself airs⁠ ⁠…”

“I do not take upon myself to contradict you,” said I, resuming the tones of delicate irony which vexed Madame Sokolov more than actual impertinence would have done.

“There! why the deuce should I stand arguing with you! If it was not that I am sorry for Tonia, I’d⁠ ⁠… Bah! what fools we women are!”

I remained for a few minutes watching her ungainly figure as she went away, and repeating to myself her last words.

For some time past I had attended our students’ meetings so seldom that I was hardly aware of the great change which had taken place in their tone. The purely student interest seemed to have receded into the background; the discussions were less noisy and more logical; the tone more serious. The juvenile excitement, vivacity, and enthusiasm of former days appeared to be taking a broader and better defined course.

All this reached me as a muffled sound from afar, falling on my ear despite the other matters which occupied my mind. I had, however, been in some measure prepared for the new departure by the incoherent accounts of my friend Titus; but the free discussion which I had heard affected me only as his own talk had affected me. I listened to them with a languid feeling of contemptuous indifference.

The villa to which Tonia invited me was some way off, on a road where there was little traffic. It was entirely covered with snow, and the footpaths were buried under the drifts. Most of the villas were boarded up, and only here and there a frozen window looked out into the desolation. Once in a way a side-path turned to some garden gate and a light gleamed across the heaps of snow.

When I came to the villa formerly occupied by the General I stopped. On the balcony, between the pillars, where the old gentleman used to play at chess with Urmánov, the snow lay thick. There was not a single track to the house, which looked terribly bleak and cold, and only a single pine-tree hard by the wall beat one of its boughs against the window. I leaned on the fence, and for a long while stood looking at this desolate, inhospitable dwelling.

Quite near, there shone through the trees, the lighted windows of a large villa, through which I could see a throng of dark shapes standing close together. I had but to turn my head, and, instead of the General’s empty villa, I saw the lighted house where she was. The contrast awoke within me a strange feeling. From one side gazed on me memories filled with the cold of death; on the other was a crowd of young life, and talk of life. And there, too, was she whom I both loved and feared.⁠ ⁠… I broke into a laugh. The fantastic idea occurred to me that the people in the large house were praying⁠ ⁠… perhaps to man, perhaps to idols, but still praying.⁠ ⁠… And yet the little villa was telling me that there is nothing in this world to pray to.⁠ ⁠…

I stood a long time, as it were, under some strange spell. At last, I tore myself away, and went slowly to the large house, stopping occasionally to look back.

The hall was hung round with overcoats; and traces of snowy boots were visible on the floor. Some of the men had made seats of their coats and were talking in low voices. But most of them were gathered in the large room. The air was full of smoke, the room faintly lighted with a single lamp; and at first I could see only a mass of heads, all turned in the same direction⁠—towards somebody who was reading aloud in a clear yet somewhat harsh and pedantic voice.

Before I had time to look round a young girl came forward from near one of the windows. She took me by the hand and whispered in my ear:⁠—

“Why are you so late?”

I made no answer.

“Come here⁠ ⁠… as we used to.”

She led me through a side passage into the host’s bedroom. Here sat only the Sokolovs and Chernov. Sokolov sat with folded hands, his rough, serious face turned towards the open door. As I entered, Madame Sokolov exchanged glances with Chernov, who moved nearer the door.

“Sit down here,” said Tonia. “Now, hush! listen.”

We sat on a chest, as in the old days. Tonia seemed pleased at this; but for a whole quarter of an hour she did not once turn towards me. A ray of light from the next room fell on her face, which wore a look expressive of intense and earnest attention. As I watched her eager eyes and parted lips, I realized that this matter was for her not one of curiosity merely, but the turning-point of an important question. So I began to listen carefully to what was being read. But though I heard I found it amazingly difficult to understand. In addition to the thoughts which for some time past had occupied my mind there was room in it for Tonia. I could still think of her without much effort. I realized that I was sitting beside her; everything else, however, was far away, and it gave me great trouble to piece together the separate ideas contained in the pamphlet which was being read.

It concerned the irredeemable debt of the educated classes to the people; told how this debt must needs go on growing; and insisted on the pressing necessity of a solution of the question.⁠ ⁠… The reading ceased. There was a slight rustle and some coughing in the room; then silence. The whole company waited for one of the habitual orators to speak; but the silence continued longer than usual.

Suddenly, to my great surprise, the voice of Titus broke the stillness:⁠—

“Allow me, friends⁠ ⁠… I should like to read to you.⁠ ⁠… Zaitzev writes⁠ ⁠…”

He spoke so easily that I was amazed.

“No, no! we don’t want it,” interrupted several voices; “we know⁠ ⁠…”

“No; but why? Allow me.”

“You must let him have his say.”

“Well, but look here, friends, he is wandering from the point⁠ ⁠…”

“Let the man have his say, then,” broke in the harsh voice of the reader; “but of course no sense will come of it; all the same, let him ring his chime out, and come down from the steeple!”

Titus found a marked place in the book, and read aloud a short quotation, then passed to the subject of the former reading. No one interrupted him. Besides our own set, there were in the room a number of Moscow students; and they took his part. I observed several attentive faces. It was, however, evident that no one could make out what the quotation from Zaitzev had to do with the matter under discussion; and many looked forward with interest to his explanation. But Titus’s speech was incoherent and incomprehensible. Why he quoted Zaitzev passed my comprehension; nevertheless, I did not find his observations utterly devoid of meaning. When he spoke of the people, I remembered our old Markelych, the corridor philosopher and veteran of the days of Nicholas, who was bound to Titus by ties of mutual sympathy. But at the meeting there reigned quite a different ideal of the people; it was the historical people, the people of folk-songs, the creators of the village commune. In addition to this, Titus got entangled in his talk; and, fearing to be interrupted, hurried on, and became still worse confused.

“There! Shut up!” said somebody.

“No, no; let me finish!” cried Titus, in an injured tone.

The comparative ease with which he had spoken, and the attention of his audience, had slightly turned his head.

“No, no! We won’t have it! Shut up; we have had enough.”

On this, the proceedings became uproarious. Titus shouted, but his voice was drowned in the increasing din. We could hear laughter, and, from the further corner, peculiar exclamations of the schoolboy sort.

“Every time the same thing,” said someone; “anybody would think he was doing it for fun; he comes on purpose, just to obstruct, confound him!”

“Why, good people, he doesn’t do it of his own accord,” remarked the seminarist Rouchin, shrugging his shoulders as he stood on the windowsill. “Somebody else puts him up to it.”

Rouchin was a naive and excitable lad, who fell into a state of fanatical adoration of every new idea that was presented to his boyish gaze, and imagined that all the powers of darkness were at that moment collecting in arms to attack the villa among the snowdrifts and strangle the new world in its birth.

“What’s that? Who puts him to this? What nonsense!” resounded from all sides.

“No, it is true. And I know who it is⁠—Gavrilov.”

My name rang out with startling suddenness. Several faces near the door turned to me. Tonia shuddered.

This startling charge produced at first deep silence, followed the next moment by a flood of talk. Some of the men expressed doubt; others defended me; the din became terrific.

“It is true,” broke in the harsh voice of Chernov, from our room, above the uproar, and he jumped up in his usual angular way, “he even sneaks into gardens, and peeps under win⁠ ⁠…”

Tonia, with a terrified and miserable face, started up hurriedly, and caught him by the arm.

“Hush! Hold your tongue; do you hear?” she said imperatively.

Chernov turned round and would have said something; but Madame Sokolov seized him, and forced him back into his seat.

Sit still when you are told. What a nuisance you are!”

Chernov submitted.

Tonia turned to me with a white face; and I could read in her eyes an entreaty not to be angry.

“Come along,” she said softly.

“Why?” said I, looking straight into her eyes.

“I⁠ ⁠… I ask you, please.”

I rose. In an anteroom, I found her gray cloak, and held it for her. She put in one arm; then, in an embarrassed way, pulled the cloak away from me, and put it on herself. I would have helped Madame Sokolov too; but she simply snatched her cloak from my hands.

Tonia tied her shawl, and drew her hair from under her collar, then, when we were on the road, she hurried along nervously, slipping in the snowdrifts.

As we passed the General’s villa, I again fixed my eyes on its dark windows, and glanced back at the big house.

“How stupid!” I involuntarily exclaimed.

Tonia walked on more rapidly; but Madame Sokolov, who wore a summer hat, turned her head, towards me, and said sharply:⁠—

“Well, what is there so very particular?⁠ ⁠… He cannot even hold his tongue, but must begin to whine.⁠ ⁠… Cannot you see that Tonia is not happy?” she added softly; “you are a precious lot!”

XXV

When we had gone a little way Tonia slackened her pace, and Madame Sokolov went on before us.

“What on earth can have happened to Titus Ivanich?” said Madame Sokolov without turning round. “Deuce take it! He is just like a dog that has broken his chain. And he used to be so quiet.”

When Tonia fell behind, I was walking with her, and although we both were ill-at-ease, remained with her.

“I want to ask you,” she began gently, and then stopped.

“If you, too, are curious concerning Titus, I can tell you beforehand I know nothing. I have nothing to do with it. You believe me, I hope?”

“There is no need for you to tell me that,” said the girl simply. “I believe you incapable of it. Indeed, I⁠ ⁠… I myself have to ask your forgiveness.”

“There! As if you need to apologize,” Madame Sokolov broke in again, without turning round; “too much honor.”

“Let us alone, Katia! Go on in front, can’t you?”

Madame Sokolov walked on quickly; and her ugly, angular figure disappeared in the darkness. Tonia walked with her head bent down.

“I wanted to ask you,” she began again, as if screwing up her courage, “what you think of all this?”

“Of Titus’s pranks?”

“Why, no, no! Of what Gribkov was reading.⁠ ⁠…”

“Ah! Well, to tell you the truth, I didn’t listen carefully. It isn’t a bad pamphlet; pretty fair.⁠ ⁠…”

“Is that all?”

“What don’t people write, Antonina Dimitrievna? So many different things are written.”

“Look here, Gavrik,” she began, walking more slowly and lowering her voice, as though she expected that, being alone with her, I should become different; “why do you always⁠ ⁠… why do you talk that way? It is not your own self; you know it is not you who speak thus.”

“Really, I don’t know how to answer you. So far I feel as if I were myself; but perhaps I may be mistaken.”

“You⁠ ⁠… you are laughing at me?⁠ ⁠… I don’t quite understand.”

“Not at all. A thing of this kind happened to me:⁠—I knew, or imagined I knew, a certain person; I even loved him; and then, somehow, instead of him, I saw a heap of dirt.⁠ ⁠…”

“No,” the girl interrupted, in a tone of distress; “I don’t understand at all. Did you read my letter?”

“I didn’t read any letter.”

“You didn’t read my letter through?”

“I didn’t receive any letter.”

She sighed with relief.

“I wrote you a letter from Trzaritrzyn. I asked you for your opinion. Well now, listen, Gavrik.⁠ ⁠… You see, I don’t believe people when they say all those things about you. I don’t even believe you yourself. I believe in the old Gavrik, that I⁠ ⁠… do you remember?⁠ ⁠… used to have so many long talks with⁠ ⁠… I have got into the habit of talking to you about things that I never talked about to anyone else. I trusted you as myself; even more than myself. And I trust you now; only don’t talk like that⁠ ⁠… There, then, tell me, as you used to.⁠ ⁠… Indeed, I am not asking an idle question. Very much depends upon it. Our whole lives may be different.⁠ ⁠… For heaven’s sake, cannot you speak?”

I felt as though my heart would break, something within me was struggling painfully to get out, yet however hard I tried to give it expression, however hard I tried to recall those happy moments of which she reminded me I could not. Something shut them out of me.

“I don’t remember anything,” I said, setting my teeth. “However, as you like⁠ ⁠… I’ll answer your question as well as 1 can. Look at that tree.”

By the road stood an aspen. The dead leaves that remained on it stirred and rustled softly in the darkness.

“Tell those leaves not to shake with the wind.”

The girl, looking up at the treetop, listened to me with painful attention.

“I don’t understand,” she said again.

“Men, as well as those dead leaves are ruled by the same laws.”

“I know that.”

“Oh! no; you don’t know! Otherwise, you wouldn’t dilute your knowledge with the water of idealistic impulses. Now, what is there that you can do, you, any more than that little worthless leaf?⁠ ⁠… You still believe in something.”

“In something? Yes, I do.”

I shrugged my shoulders.

“To what end? What can it do for you?”

“Wait a minute,” she returned earnestly. “I am not in the habit of arguing; above all, with you. But wait a bit. You speak of law. Law consists in this: that there are strong people and weak, full and hungry⁠ ⁠… Yes?”

“I hope so.”

“Don’t be satirical. But if⁠ ⁠… if the full go, really go to the hungry and feed them, is not that law too? It is a law; and, moreover, a higher law.”

“There, leave off,” I interrupted with growing annoyance. “Who makes such laws as that for you?”

“Who? I don’t know that, Gavrik.”

“And I don’t know. No one makes any laws whatever. There are neither higher nor lower laws; there is only one law; and even that is unconscious of its existence, because it is merely a soulless mathematical formula.⁠ ⁠… Do you understand?⁠ ⁠…”

“No. Even yet I don’t understand. Wait a minute, Gavrik⁠ ⁠…”

“Ah. And you needn’t understand⁠ ⁠… Heaven only knows why we should stand still in the middle of the road. There, you see; that’s what all these speculations come to. Really you know we ought to go home; it is where we sleep. And here we stand, without any reason, staring up into a tree. Well, of course, we shall stand until we are tired of it; and after all we shall end in going home to bed. Because bed, dinner, and⁠ ⁠… well, something else too⁠—all that is law; and abstract speculations and sky-gazing are simply whims and violations of law.”

“Oh! you don’t know how it hurts me to hear you talk in this way.”

On this I laughed maliciously. I wanted to say, that, perhaps, it hurt me still more; but a harsh little observation came out instead:⁠—

“I have nothing more agreeable to tell you.”

At that very moment I was longing to take her by the hand and say something quite different. I was in the same mental condition as when I insulted Titus. Through my harsh words, through my cruel thoughts, I felt her dear presence and felt it approaching me in a halo of tenderness and love. And still I went on, expounding my sardonic theories, wondering, in fearful suspense, whether my love would come fully out of the mist or⁠ ⁠… disappear forever⁠ ⁠…

“Listen,” I said to her, softly and tenderly, and took her hand in mine.

She let it rest there, and stood waiting for me to speak.

I thought I was going to say that she must not believe me, that I had to ask her forgiveness, that I was ill.⁠ ⁠… That she as well as others might be mistaken; that even in errors there is life, yet in me there was no life and that I was too faulty myself to correct the faults of my fellow-creatures⁠ ⁠… that I adored her for still remembering the old Gavrik whom everyone else had forgotten, and that she alone could restore him to life.⁠ ⁠…

My hand shook and I felt the agitated quivering of hers.

Suddenly, there rose before my eyes Madame Sokolov’s ugly silhouette, and the question flashed through my mind:⁠—Suppose Madame Sokolov was questioning you, instead of a girl with a fair tress, would your hand shake so and would you say to her what is now on your lips?

And with a trembling and sinking heart, I said, instead of what I wanted to say:

“Why don’t you cut off your hair?”

Her hand quivered violently.

“What⁠ ⁠… what did you say?” she asked terrified, and as if not believing her ears.

“Why don’t you cut off your hair, like hers there?” and I nodded contemptuously in the direction of Madame Sokolov.

Tonia wrenched her hand from mine, and running up to Madame Sokolov took her by the arm, as though to embrace her friend and protect her from my insults at the same time.

“Come here!” she commanded me suddenly, “come here, I tell you!”

I went up to her. For a few seconds we all three stood silent in the dark road.

“No, nothing!” broke from her at last with a sigh, “I have nothing more to say to you.⁠ ⁠… But⁠ ⁠… how dare you insult Katia?⁠ ⁠…”

“There, there!” interrupted Madame Sokolov indifferently; “as if it was worth while to speak of that! Leave off, Tonia.⁠ ⁠… As for you, sir, I tell you plainly you had better say goodbye to your queen forever.⁠ ⁠… And I am very glad of it⁠—anyhow she will do good work and not be wasting her time on you.⁠ ⁠…”

She would have walked on; but Tonia did not move.

“Don’t you dare⁠—do you hear?⁠—don’t you ever dare again,⁠ ⁠…” she began without listening to her friend; “she is better, a thousand times better than you.⁠ ⁠… And yet I trusted you so, till now⁠ ⁠… still⁠ ⁠…”

There were tears in her voice, but repressing her emotion with an effort she drew herself up to her full height, and added:

“And⁠ ⁠… and I⁠ ⁠… loved you so.⁠ ⁠…”

I bent my head. Again I was overwhelmed with pity for myself, as on the evening when I watched under her window, only this time the feeling was far more intense. I understood that if she now spoke of her love in my presence it was because, as regarded her, I had become as one dead, that she no longer saw in me the old Gavrik whom she had once loved.⁠ ⁠…

When I raised my head, the two women were both gone. I was alone on the dark road; the dry leaves were fluttering on the trees, and the wind moaned high above my head a long wail of sorrow and regret.

I sank down helplessly on a heap of stones. It was as if something were gone out of me and something else was again expanding within me. I had recovered the power of sorrowing; and I grieved for myself, and because I was alone in the darkness. And now at last I could grieve for Urmánov, who had been, and whom now I could deeply pity; and for Titus, whom I had repelled; and for her whom I had insulted, and who had gone her lonely way without help, without hope, without love; and I sorrowed for this too, that I could believe once more, and that the flower buried in dust, my love, had burst into full blossom in my soul. But faith was come and love had blossomed, too late; for I should perish here alone in the darkness on a heap of cold stones.⁠ ⁠… And the darkness thickened about me: the wind moaned over my head, rising higher and higher; then it died away and at last I heard it no more.


Titus, still continuing his discussion with some of my fellow-students as they walked home in company, found me lying insensible on the road and carried me home. I was delirious and in a state of high fever. The last saying which I remember, as through a fog, was his despairing exclamation:⁠—

“Oh! this philosophy! See what it comes to! May the devil take it for good and all! I have had enough.⁠ ⁠…”

And the first face that I saw, when I awoke long afterwards, was my dear comrade’s.

He was sitting with his head resting on his hands; and whispering his lecture over to himself softly, so as not to disturb me. I looked at him with the old feeling. How long it was since I had seen my Titus!⁠ ⁠… Ah! And the Titus that shouted at the students’ meetings!⁠ ⁠… Or was that a dream?

“Titus!” I called. And when, beaming with delight, he came to my bedside on tiptoe, I asked:⁠—“Tell me; is it true what happened to Urmánov, or did I dream it?” Titus, as he straightened my pillow, said, with ill-concealed terror:⁠—

“Don’t think about that; you will only fall ill again.”

So then it was true; but I knew that I should not fall ill again. For even as bespoke, a sense of quiet sadness flooded my soul, it was a feeling to which I had been so long a stranger!⁠ ⁠…

Another question arose in my mind. It made me still more sorrowful; but now I was afraid, terribly afraid that it would prove to be a dream.

“And⁠ ⁠… Tonia?”

Titus was silent.

“She went away? Is it true?”

“She left here the next morning.”

I sighed, with mingled sorrow and relief. Then, after all, my love and her confession were not a dream.⁠ ⁠… Neither is it a dream that I repulsed her, insulted her, and that she, too, had left me, although the last to do so.

“You don’t know where she is gone? You told her of my illness⁠ ⁠… and still, she⁠ ⁠…”

“I did not find her.⁠ ⁠… And where she is gone I don’t know; and, so far, no one knows.”

“I know.”

Titus again looked at me in terror.

“No; don’t be frightened, Titushka; I really know. I might have held her back that evening,⁠ ⁠… but, you see.⁠ ⁠… By-the-bye, look in my coat; there ought to be a letter.”

Titus thought that I was rambling. I confess that I too was half afraid as I watched him. What if the idea of the letter were really only a continuation of my delirium?

But when Titus put his hand into the pocket of my coat, he found an unopened letter, to his great surprise, the same which the porter gave me as I was going in to Byelichka’s lecture. I had thought then it was from my friend in the country.

It was from Tonia.

“Open it and read it,” I said to Titus, motioning him to sit down beside me.

Titus sat down and began to read in a timidly hesitating voice, which seemed to make the letter still dearer to me.

The contents of the letter were almost childishly naive. The girl told me her impressions and her new ideas about herself, about us all, and about the people which had come into her mind. When I took the little sheet of paper in my hand and looked at it, all the tenderness and the hope of the old days breathed on me once more. The letter ended with the request that I would meet her at the station on a day which she named. She wanted to talk over everything with me before speaking to anybody else, and to ask my advice as to how she ought to shape her life.

“You know I am an orphan; I have no one belonging to me in the world.” Thus ended the letter; and I felt that in these half-jesting words the girl had made to me a shy half-confession.⁠ ⁠…

A few grammatical mistakes looked innocently at me out of the letter. And this child is putting forth her feeble hands to stop the tremendous wheel of life.⁠ ⁠… What a mistake, and yet, what truth and earnest faith.⁠ ⁠…

She appealed to me to help her to decide, And I.⁠ ⁠… What have I done? Instead of showing her the mistake in the form, I tried to tear up by the roots her faith in that in which if we would live we must believe.

And she is gone her way⁠ ⁠… alone.⁠ ⁠…

I fell into deep thought and my eyes filled with tears. But they were tears of joy as well as of grief. In thought I can again wander freely over the world. Somewhere in its wide expanse my love is lost to ken among unknown dangers. But now I can go in search of her. And when I find her I shall dare to meet her eyes, to fight for her, and even to fight against her.⁠ ⁠…

Because now I have faith; first of all in her, next in humanity.⁠ ⁠… And beyond these glimmers the dawn of still other faiths.

And this is the golden cloud of a new mood; into whatever shape it may unfold my heart tells me that at least it will be life.⁠ ⁠…

The Shades, a Fantasy

I

A month and two days had elapsed since the judges, amid the loud acclaim of the Athenian people, had pronounced the death sentence against the philosopher Socrates because he had sought to destroy faith in the gods. What the gadfly is to the horse Socrates was to Athens. The gadfly stings the horse in order to prevent it from dozing off and to keep it moving briskly on its course. The philosopher said to the people of Athens:

“I am your gadfly. My sting pricks your conscience and arouses you when you are caught napping. Sleep not, sleep not, people of Athens; awake and seek the truth!”

The people arose in their exasperation and cruelly demanded to be rid of their gadfly.

“Perchance both of his accusers, Meletus and Anytus, are wrong,” said the citizens, on leaving the court after sentence had been pronounced.

“But after all whither do his doctrines tend? What would he do? He has wrought confusion, he overthrows beliefs that have existed since the beginning, he speaks of new virtues which must be recognised and sought for, he speaks of a Divinity hitherto unknown to us. The blasphemer, he deems himself wiser than the gods! No, ’twere better we remain true to the old gods whom we know. They may not always be just, sometimes they may flare up in unjust wrath, and they may also be seized with a wanton lust for the wives of mortals; but did not our ancestors live with them in the peace of their souls, did not our forefathers accomplish their heroic deeds with the help of these very gods? And now the faces of the Olympians have paled and the old virtue is out of joint. What does it all lead to? Should not an end be put to this impious wisdom once for all?”

Thus the citizens of Athens spoke to one another as they left the place, and the blue twilight was falling. They had determined to kill the restless gadfly in the hope that the countenances of the gods would shine again. And yet⁠—before their souls arose the mild figure of the singular philosopher. There were some citizens who recalled how courageously he had shared their troubles and dangers at Potidæa; how he alone had prevented them from committing the sin of unjustly executing the generals after the victory over the Arginusæ; how he alone had dared to raise his voice against the tyrants who had had fifteen hundred people put to death, speaking to the people on the marketplace concerning shepherds and their sheep.

“Is not he a good shepherd,” he asked, “who guards his flock and watches over its increase? Or is it the work of the good shepherd to reduce the number of his sheep and disperse them, and of the good ruler to do the same with his people? Men of Athens, let us investigate this question!”

And at this question of the solitary, undefended philosopher, the faces of the tyrants paled, while the eyes of the youths kindled with the fire of just wrath and indignation.

Thus, when on dispersing after the sentence the Athenians recalled all these things of Socrates, their hearts were oppressed with heavy doubt.

“Have we not done a cruel wrong to the son of Sophroniscus?”

But then the good Athenians looked upon the harbour and the sea, and in the red glow of the dying day they saw the purple sails of the sharp-keeled ship, sent to the Delian festival, shimmering in the distance on the blue Pontus. The ship would not return until the expiration of a month, and the Athenians recollected that during this time no blood might be shed in Athens, whether the blood of the innocent or the guilty. A month, moreover, has many days and still more hours. Supposing the son of Sophroniscus had been unjustly condemned, who would hinder his escaping from the prison, especially since he had numerous friends to help him? Was it so difficult for the rich Plato, for Æschines and others to bribe the guards? Then the restless gadfly would flee from Athens to the barbarians in Thessaly, or to the Peloponnesus, or, still farther, to Egypt; Athens would no longer hear his blasphemous speeches; his death would not weigh upon the conscience of the worthy citizens, and so everything would end for the best of all.

Thus said many to themselves that evening, while aloud they praised the wisdom of the demos and the heliasts. In secret, however, they cherished the hope that the restless philosopher would leave Athens, fly from the hemlock to the barbarians, and so free the Athenians of his troublesome presence and of the pangs of consciences that smote them for inflicting death upon an innocent man.

Two and thirty times since that evening had the sun risen from the ocean and dipped down into it again. The ship had returned from Delos and lay in the harbour with sadly drooping sails, as if ashamed of its native city. The moon did not shine in the heavens, the sea heaved under a heavy fog, and on the hills lights peered through the obscurity like the eyes of men gripped by a sense of guilt.

The stubborn Socrates did not spare the conscience of the good Athenians.

“We part! You go home and I go to death,” he said to the judges after the sentence had been pronounced. “I know not, my friends, which of us chooses the better lot!”

As the time had approached for the return of the ship, many of the citizens had begun to feel uneasy. Must that obstinate fellow really die? And they began to appeal to the consciences of Æschines, Phædo, and other pupils of Socrates, trying to urge them on to further efforts for their master.

“Will you permit your teacher to die?” they asked reproachfully in biting tones. “Or do you grudge the few coins it would take to bribe the guard?”

In vain Crito besought Socrates to take to flight, and complained that the public, was upbraiding his disciples with lack of friendship and with avarice. The self-willed philosopher refused to gratify his pupils or the good people of Athens.

“Let us investigate.” he said. “If it turns out that I must flee, I will flee; but if I must die, I will die. Let us remember what we once said⁠—the wise man need not fear death, he need fear nothing but falsehood. Is it right to abide by the laws we ourselves have made so long as they are agreeable to us, and refuse to obey those which are disagreeable? If my memory does not deceive me I believe we once spoke of these things, did we not?”

“Yes, we did,” answered his pupil.

“And I think all were agreed as to the answer?”

“Yes.”

“But perhaps what is true for others is not true for us?”

“No, truth is alike for all, including ourselves.”

“But perhaps when we must die and not someone else, truth becomes untruth?”

“No, Socrates, truth remains the truth under all circumstances.”

After his pupil had thus agreed to each premise of Socrates in turn, he smiled and drew his conclusion.

“If that is so, my friend, mustn’t I die? Or has my head already become so weak that I am no longer in a condition to draw a logical conclusion? Then correct me, my friend and show my erring brain the right way.”

His pupil covered his face with his mantle and turned aside.

“Yes,” he said, “now I see you must die.”

And on that evening when the sea tossed hither and thither and roared dully under the load of fog, and the whimsical wind in mournful astonishment gently stirred the sails of the ships; when the citizens meeting on the streets asked one another: “Is he dead?” and their voices timidly betrayed the hope that he was not dead; when the first breath of awakened conscience, touched the hearts of the Athenians like the first messenger of the storm; and when, it seemed the very faces of the gods were darkened with shame⁠—on that evening at the sinking of the sun the self-willed man drank the cup of death!

The wind increased in violence and shrouded the city more closely in the veil of mist, angrily tugging at the sails of the vessels delayed in the harbour. And the Erinyes sang their gloomy songs to the hearts of the citizens and whipped up in their breasts that tempest which was later, to overwhelm the denouncers of Socrates.

But in that hour the first stirrings of regret were still uncertain and confused. The citizens found more fault with Socrates than ever because he had not given them the satisfaction of fleeing to Thessaly; they were annoyed with his pupils because in the last days they had walked about in sombre mourning attire, a living reproach to the Athenians; they were vexed with the judges because they had not had the sense and the courage to resist the blind rage of the excited people; they bore even the gods resentment.

“To you, ye gods, have we brought this sacrifice,” spoke many. “Rejoice, ye unsatiable!”

“I know not which of us chooses the better lot!”

Those words of Socrates came back to their memory, those his last words to the judges and to the people gathered in the court. Now he lay in the prison quiet and motionless under his cloak, while over the city hovered mourning, horror, and shame.

Again he became the tormentor of the city, he who was himself no longer accessible to torment. The gadfly had been killed, but it stung the people more sharply than ever⁠—sleep not, sleep not this night, O men of Athens! Sleep not! You have committed an injustice, a cruel injustice, which can never be erased!

II

During those sad days Xenophon, the general, a pupil of Socrates, was marching with his Ten Thousand in a distant land, amid dangers, seeking a way of return to his beloved fatherland.

Æschines, Crito, Critobulus, Phædo, and Apollodorus were now occupied with the preparations for the modest funeral.

Plato was burning his lamp and bending over a parchment; the best disciple of the philosopher was busy inscribing the deeds, words, and teachings that marked the end of the sage’s life. A thought is never lost, and the truth discovered by a great intellect illumines the way for future generations like a torch in the dark.

There was one other disciple of Socrates. Not long before, the impetuous Ctesippus had been one of the most frivolous and pleasure-seeking of the Athenian youths. He had set up beauty as his sole god, and had bowed before Clinias as its highest exemplar. But since he had become acquainted with Socrates, all desire for pleasure and all light-mindedness had gone from him. He looked on indifferently while others took his place with Clinias. The grace of thought and the harmony of spirit that he found in Socrates seemed a hundred times more attractive than the graceful form and the harmonious features of Clinias. With all the intensity of his stormy temperament he hung on the man who had disturbed the serenity of his virginal soul, which for the first time opened to doubts as the bud of a young oak opens to the fresh winds of spring.

Now that the master was dead, he could find peace neither at his own hearth nor in the oppressive stillness of the streets nor among his friends and fellow-disciples. The gods of hearth and home and the gods of the people inspired him with repugnance.

“I know not,” he said, “whether ye are the best of all the gods to whom numerous generations have burned incense and brought offerings; all I know is that for your sake the blind mob extinguished the clear torch of truth, and for your sake sacrificed the greatest and best of mortals!”

It almost seemed to Ctesippus as though the streets and marketplaces still echoed with the shrieking of that unjust sentence. And he remembered how it was here that the people clamoured for the execution of the generals who had led them to victory against the Argunisæ, and how Socrates alone had opposed the savage sentence of the judges and the blind rage of the mob. But when Socrates himself needed a champion, no one had been found to defend him with equal strength. Ctesippus blamed himself and his friends, and for that reason he wanted to avoid everybody⁠—even himself, if possible.

That evening he went to the sea. But his grief grew only the more violent. It seemed to him that the mourning daughters of Nereus were tossing hither and thither on the shore bewailing the death of the best of the Athenians and the folly of the frenzied city. The waves broke on the rocky coast with a growl of lament. Their booming sounded like a funeral dirge.

He turned away, left the shore, and went on further without looking before him. He forgot time and space and his own ego, filled only with the afflicting thought of Socrates!

“Yesterday he still was, yesterday his mild words still could be heard. How is it possible that today he no longer is? O night, O giant mountain shrouded in mist, O heaving sea moved by your own life, O restless winds that carry the breath of an immeasurable world on your wings, O starry vault flecked with flying clouds⁠—take me to you, disclose to me the mystery of this death, if it is revealed to you! And if ye know not, then grant my ignorant soul your own lofty indifference. Remove from me these torturing questions. I no longer have strength to carry them in my bosom without an answer, without even the hope of an answer. For who shall answer them, now that the lips of Socrates are sealed in eternal silence, and eternal darkness is laid upon his lids?”

Thus Ctesippus cried out to the sea and the mountains, and to the dark night, which followed its invariable course, ceaselessly, invisibly, over the slumbering world. Many hours passed before Ctesippus glanced up and saw whither his steps had unconsciously led him. A dark horror seized his soul as he looked about him.

III

It seemed as if the unknown gods of eternal night had heard his impious prayer. Ctesippus looked about, without being able to recognise the place where he was. The lights of the city had long been extinguished by the darkness. The roaring of the sea had died away in the distance; his anxious soul had even lost the recollection of having heard it. No single sound⁠—no mournful cry of nocturnal bird, nor whirr of wings, nor rustling of trees, nor murmur of a merry stream⁠—broke the deep silence. Only the blind will-o’-the-wisps flickered here and there over rocks, and sheet-lightning, unaccompanied by any sound, flared up and died down against crag-peaks. This brief illumination merely emphasised the darkness; and the dead light disclosed the outlines of dead deserts crossed by gorges like crawling serpents, and rising into rocky heights in a wild chaos.

All the joyous gods that haunt green groves, purling brooks, and mountain valleys seemed to have fled forever from these deserts. Pan alone, the great and mysterious Pan, was hiding somewhere nearby in the chaos of nature, and with mocking glance seemed to be pursuing the tiny ant that a short time before had blasphemously asked to know the secret of the world and of death. Dark, senseless horror overwhelmed the soul of Ctesippus. It is thus that the sea in stormy floodtide overwhelms a rock on the shore.

Was it a dream, was it reality, or was it the revelation of the unknown divinity? Ctesippus felt that in an instant he would step across the threshold of life, and that his soul would melt into an ocean of unending, inconceivable horror like a drop of rain in the waves of the grey sea on a dark and stormy night. But at this moment he suddenly heard voices that seemed familiar to him, and in the glare of the sheet-lightning his eyes recognised human figures.

IV

On a rocky slope sat a man in deep despair. He had thrown a cloak over his head and was bowed to the ground. Another figure approached him softly, cautiously climbing upward and carefully feeling every step. The first man uncovered his face and exclaimed:

“Is that you I just now saw, my good Socrates? Is that you passing by me in this cheerless place? I have already spent many hours here without knowing when day will relieve the night. I have been waiting in vain for the dawn.”

“Yes, I am Socrates, my friend, and you, are you not Elpidias who died three days before me?”

“Yes, I am Elpidias, formerly the richest tanner in Athens, now the most miserable of slaves. For the first time I understand the words of the poet: ‘Better to be a slave in this world than a ruler in gloomy Hades.’ ”

“My friend, if it is disagreeable for you where you are, why don’t you move to another spot?”

“O Socrates, I marvel at you⁠—how dare you wander about in this cheerless gloom? I⁠—I sit here overcome with grief and bemoan the joys of a fleeting life.”

“Friend Elpidias, like you, I, too, was plunged in this gloom when the light of earthly life was removed from my eyes. But an inner voice told me: ‘Tread this new path without hesitation,’ and I went.”

“But whither do you go, O son of Sophroniscus? Here there is no way, no path, not even a ray of light; nothing but a chaos of rocks, mist, and gloom.”

“True. But, my Elpidias, since you are aware of this sad truth, have you not asked yourself what is the most distressing thing in your present situation?”

“Undoubtedly the dismal darkness.”

“Then one should seek for light. Perchance you will find here the great law⁠—that mortals must in darkness seek the source of life. Do you not think it is better so to seek than to remain sitting in one spot? I think it is, therefore I keep walking. Farewell!”

“Oh, good Socrates, abandon me not! You go with sure steps through the pathless chaos in Hades. Hold out to me but a fold of your mantle⁠—”

“If you think it is better for you, too, then follow me, friend Elpidias.”

And the two shades walked on, while the soul of Ctesippus, released by sleep from its mortal envelop, flew after them, greedily absorbing the tones of the clear Socratic speech.

“Are you here, good Socrates?” the voice of the Athenian again was heard. “Why are you silent? Converse shortens the way, and I swear, by Hercules, never did I have to traverse such a horrid way.”

“Put questions, friend Elpidias! The question of one who seeks knowledge brings forth answers and produces conversation.”

Elpidias maintained silence for a moment, and then, after he had collected his thoughts, asked:

“Yes, this is what I wanted to say⁠—tell me, my poor Socrates, did they at least give you a good burial?”

“I must confess, friend Elpidias, I cannot satisfy your curiosity.”

“I understand, my poor Socrates, it doesn’t help you cut a figure. Now with me it was so different! Oh, how they buried me, how magnificently they buried me, my poor fellow-Wanderer! I still think with great pleasure of those lovely moments after my death. First they washed me and sprinkled me with well-smelling balsam. Then my faithful Larissa dressed me in garments of the finest weave. The best mourning-women of the city tore their hair from their heads because they had been promised good pay, and in the family vault they placed an amphora⁠—a crater with beautiful, decorated handles of bronze, and, besides, a vial⁠—”

“Stay, friend Elpidias. I am convinced that the faithful Larissa converted her love into several minas. Yet⁠—”

“Exactly ten minas and four drachmas, not counting the drinks for the guests. I hardly think that the richest tanner can come before the souls of his ancestors and boast of such respect on the part of the living.”

“Friend Elpidias, don’t you think that money would have been of more use to the poor people who are still alive in Athens than to you at this moment?”

“Admit, Socrates, you are speaking in envy,” responded Elpidias, pained. “I am sorry for you, unfortunate Socrates, although, between ourselves, you really deserved your fate. I myself in the family circle said more than once that an end ought to be put to your impious doings, because⁠—”

“Stay, friend, I thought you wanted to draw a conclusion, and I fear you are straying from the straight path. Tell me, my good friend, whither does your wavering thought tend?”

“I wanted to say that in my goodness I am sorry for you. A month ago I myself spoke against you in the assembly, but truly none of us who shouted so loud wanted such a great ill to befall you. Believe me, now I am all the sorrier for you, unhappy philosopher!”

“I thank you. But tell me, my friend, do you perceive a brightness before your eyes?”

“No, on the contrary such darkness lies before me that I must ask myself whether this is not the misty region of Orcus.”

“This way, therefore, is just as dark for you as for me?”

“Quite right.”

“If I am not mistaken, you are even holding on to the folds of my cloak?”

“Also true.”

“Then we are in the same position? You see your ancestors are not hastening to rejoice in the tale of your pompous burial. Where is the difference between us, my good friend?”

“But, Socrates, have the gods enveloped your reason in such obscurity that the difference is not clear to you?”

“Friend, if your situation is clearer to you, then give me your hand and lead me, for I swear, by the dog, you let me go ahead in this darkness.”

“Cease your scoffing, Socrates! Do not make sport, and do not compare yourself, your godless self, with a man who died in his own bed⁠—”

“Ah, I believe I am beginning to understand you. But tell me, Elpidias, do you hope ever again to rejoice in your bed?”

“Oh, I think not.”

“And was there ever a time when you did not sleep in it?”

“Yes. That was before I bought goods from Agesilaus at half their value. You see, that Agesilaus is really a deep-dyed rogue⁠—”

“Ah, never mind about Agesilaus! Perhaps he is getting them back, from your widow at a quarter their value. Then wasn’t I right when I said that you were in possession of your bed only part of the time?”

“Yes, you were right.”

“Well, and I, too, was in possession of the bed in which I died part of the time. Proteus, the good guard of the prison, lent it to me for a period.”

“Oh, if I had known what you were aiming at with your talk, I wouldn’t have answered your wily questions. By Hercules, such profanation is unheard of⁠—he compares himself with me! Why, I could put an end to you with two words, if it came to it⁠—”

“Say them, Elpidias, without fear. Words can scarcely be more destructive to me than the hemlock.”

“Well, then, that is just what I wanted to say. You unfortunate man, you died by the sentence of the court and had to drink hemlock!”

“But I have known that since the day of my death, even long before. And you, unfortunate Elpidias, tell me what caused your death?”

“Oh, with me, it was different, entirely different! You see I got the dropsy in my abdomen. An expensive physician from Corinth was called who promised to cure me for two minas, and he was given half that amount in advance. I am afraid that Larissa in her lack of experience in such things gave him the other half, too⁠—”

“Then the physician did not keep his promise?”

“That’s it.”

“And you died from dropsy?”

“Ah, Socrates, believe me, three times it wanted to vanquish me, and finally it quenched the flame of my life!”

“Then tell me⁠—did death by dropsy give you great pleasure?”

“Oh, wicked Socrates, don’t make sport of me. I told you it wanted to vanquish me three times. I bellowed like a steer under the knife of the slaughterer, and begged the Parcæ to cut the thread of my life as quickly as possible.”

“That doesn’t surprise me. But from what do you conclude that the dropsy was pleasanter to you than the hemlock to me? The hemlock made an end of me in a moment.”

“I see, I fell into your snare again, you crafty sinner! I won’t enrage the gods still more by speaking with you, you destroyer of sacred customs.”

Both were silent, and quiet reigned. But in a short while Elpidias was again the first to begin a conversation.

“Why are you silent, good Socrates?”

“My friend; didn’t you yourself ask for silence?”

“I am not proud, and I can treat men who are worse than I am considerately. Don’t let us quarrel.”

“I did not quarrel with you, friend Elpidias, and did not wish to say anything to insult you. I am merely accustomed to get at the truth of things by comparisons. My situation is not clear to me. You consider your situation better, and I should be glad to learn why. On the other hand, it would not hurt you to learn the truth, whatever shape it may take.”

“Well, no more of this.”

“Tell me, are you afraid? I don’t think that the feeling I now have can be called fear.”

“I am afraid, although I have less cause than you to be at odds with the gods. But don’t you think that the gods, in abandoning us to ourselves here in this chaos, have cheated us of our hopes?”

“That depends upon what sort of hopes they were. What did you expect from the gods, Elpidias?”

“Well, well, what did I expect from the gods! What curious questions you ask, Socrates! If a man throughout life brings offerings, and at his death passes away with a pious heart and with all that custom demands, the gods might at least send someone to meet him, at least one of the inferior gods, to show a man the way.⁠ ⁠… But that reminds me. Many a time when I begged for good luck in traffic in hides, I promised Hermes calves⁠—”

“And you didn’t have luck?”

“Oh, yes, I had luck, good Socrates, but⁠—”

“I understand, you had no calf.”

“Bah! Socrates, a rich tanner and not have calves?”

“Now I understand. You had luck, had calves, but you kept them for yourself, and Hermes received nothing.”

“You’re a clever man. I’ve often said so. I kept only three of my ten oaths, and I didn’t deal differently with the other gods. If the same is the case with you, isn’t that the reason, possibly, why we are now abandoned by the gods? To be sure, I ordered Larissa to sacrifice a whole hecatomb after my death.”

“But that is Larissa’s affair, whereas it was you, friend Elpidias, who made the promises.”

“That’s true, that’s true. But you, good Socrates, could you, godless as you are, deal better with the gods than I who was a god-fearing tanner?”

“My friend, I know not whether I dealt better or worse. At first I brought offerings without having made vows. Later I offered neither calves nor vows.”

“What, not a single calf, you unfortunate man?”

“Yes, friend, if Hermes had had to live by my gifts, I am afraid he would have grown very thin.”

“I understand. You did not traffic in cattle, so you offered articles of some other trade⁠—probably a mina or so of what the pupils paid you.”

“You know, my friend, I didn’t ask pay of my pupils, and my trade scarcely sufficed to support me. If the gods reckoned on the sorry remnants of my meals they miscalculated.”

“Oh, blasphemer, in comparison with you I can be proud of my piety. Ye gods, look upon this man! I did deceive you at times, but now and then I shared with you the surplus of some fortunate deal. He who gives at all gives much in comparison with a blasphemer who gives nothing. Socrates, I think you had better go on alone! I fear that your company, godless one, damages me in the eyes of the gods.”

“As you will, good Elpidias. I swear by the dog no one shall force his company on another. Unhand the fold of my mantle, and farewell. I will go on alone.”

And Socrates walked forward with a sure tread, feeling the ground, however, at every step.

But Elpidias behind him instantly cried out:

“Wait, wait, my good fellow-citizen, do not leave an Athenian alone in this horrible place! I was only making fun. Take what I said as a joke, and don’t go so quickly. I marvel how you can see a thing in this hellish darkness.”

“Friend, I have accustomed my eyes to it.”

“That’s good. Still I can’t approve of your not having brought sacrifices to the gods. No, I can’t, poor Socrates, I can’t. The honourable Sophroniscus certainly taught you better in your youth, and you yourself used to take part in the prayers. I saw you.”

“Yes. But I am accustomed to examine all our motives and to accept only those that after investigation prove to be reasonable. And so a day came on which I said to myself: ‘Socrates, here you are praying to the Olympians. Why are you praying to them?’ ”

Elpidias laughed.

“Really you philosophers sometimes don’t know how to answer the simplest questions. I’m a plain tanner who never in my life studied sophistry, yet I know why I must honour the Olympians.”

“Tell me quickly, so that I, too, may know why.”

“Why? Ha! Ha! It’s too simple, you wise Socrates.”

“So much the better if it’s simple. But don’t keep your wisdom from me. Tell me⁠—why must one honour the gods?”

“Why. Because everybody does it.”

“Friend, you know very well that not everyone honours the gods. Wouldn’t it be more correct to say ‘many’?”

“Very well, many.”

“But tell me, don’t more men deal wickedly than righteously?”

“I think so. You find more wicked people than good people.”

“Therefore, if you follow the majority, you ought to deal wickedly and not righteously?”

“What are you saying?”

I’m not saying it, you are. But I think the reason that men reverence the Olympians is not because the majority worship them. We must find another, more rational ground. Perhaps you mean they deserve reverence?”

“Yes, very right.”

“Good. But then arises a new question: Why do they deserve reverence?”

“Because of their greatness.”

“Ah, that’s more like it. Perhaps I will soon be agreeing with you. It only remains for you to tell me wherein their greatness consists. That’s a difficult question, isn’t it? Let us seek the answer together. Homer says that the impetuous Ares, when stretched flat on the ground by a stone thrown by Pallas Athene, covered with his body the space that can be travelled in seven mornings. You see what an enormous space.”

“Is that wherein greatness consists?”

“There you have me, my friend. That raises another question. Do you remember the athlete Theophantes? He towered over the people a whole head’s length, whereas Pericles was no larger than you. But whom do we call great, Pericles or Theophantes?”

“I see that greatness does not consist in size of body. In that you’re right. I am glad we agree. Perhaps greatness consists in virtue?”

“Certainly.”

“I think so, too.”

“Well, then, who must bow to whom? The small before the large, or those who are great in virtues before the wicked?”

“The answer is clear.”

“I think so, too. Now we will look further into this matter. Tell me truly, did you ever kill other people’s children with arrows?”

“It goes without saying, never! Do you think so ill of me?”

“Nor have you, I trust, ever seduced the wives of other men?”

“I was an upright tanner and a good husband. Don’t forget that, Socrates, I beg of you!”

“You never became a brute, nor by your lustfulness gave your faithful Larissa occasion to revenge herself on women whom you had ruined and on their innocent children?”

“You anger me, really, Socrates.”

“But perhaps you snatched your inheritance from your father and threw him into prison?”

“Never! Why these insulting questions?”

“Wait, my friend. Perhaps we will both reach a conclusion. Tell me, would you have considered a man great who had done all these things of which I have spoken?”

“No, no, no! I should have called such a man a scoundrel, and lodged public complaint against him with the judges in the marketplace.”

“Well, Elpidias, why did you not complain in the marketplace against Zeus and the Olympians? The son of Cronos carried on war with his own father, and was seized with brutal lust for the daughters of men, while Hera took vengeance upon innocent virgins. Did not both of them convert the unhappy daughter of Inachos into a common cow? Did not Apollo kill all the children of Niobe with his arrows? Did not Callenius steal bulls? Well, then, Elpidias, if it is true that he who has less virtue must do honour to him who has more, then you should not build altars to the Olympians, but they to you.”

“Blaspheme not, impious Socrates! Keep quiet! How dare you judge the acts of the gods?”

“Friend, a higher power has judged them. Let us investigate the question. What is the mark of divinity? I think you said, Greatness, which consists in virtue. Now is not this greatness the one divine spark in man? But if we test the greatness of the gods by our small human virtues, and it turns out that that which measures is greater than that which is measured, then it follows that the divine principle itself condemns the Olympians. But, then⁠—”

“What, then?”

“Then, friend Elpidias, they are no gods, but deceptive phantoms, creations of a dream. Is it not so?”

“Ah, that’s whither your talk leads, you barefooted philosopher! Now I see what they said of you is true. You are like that fish that takes men captive with its look. So you took me captive in order to confound my believing soul and awaken doubt in it. It was already beginning to waver in its reverence for Zeus. Speak alone. I won’t answer any more.”

“Be not wrathful, Elpidias! I don’t wish to inflict any evil upon you. But if you are tired of following my arguments to their logical conclusions, permit me to relate to you an allegory of a Milesian youth. Allegories rest the mind, and the relaxation is not unprofitable.”

“Speak, if your story is not too long and its purpose is good.”

“Its purpose is truth, friend Elpidias, and I will be brief. Once, you know, in ancient times, Miletus was exposed to the attacks of the barbarians. Among the youth who were seized was a son of the wisest and best of all the citizens in the land. His precious child was overtaken by a severe illness and became unconscious. He was abandoned and allowed to lie like worthless booty. In the dead of night he came to his senses. High above him glimmered the stars. Round about stretched the desert; and in the distance he heard the howl of beasts of prey. He was alone.

“He was entirely alone, and, besides that, the gods had taken from him the recollection of his former life. In vain he racked his brain⁠—it was as dark and empty as the inhospitable desert in which he found himself. But somewhere, far away, behind the misty and obscure figures conjured up by his reason, loomed the thought of his lost home, and a vague realisation of the figure of the best of all men; and in his heart resounded the word ‘father.’ Doesn’t it seem to you that the fate of this youth resembles the fate of all humanity?”

“How so?”

“Do we not all awake to life on earth with a hazy recollection of another home? And does not the figure of the great unknown hover before our souls?”

“Continue, Socrates, I am listening.”

“The youth revived, arose, and walked cautiously, seeking to avoid all dangers. When after long wanderings his strength was nearly gone, he discerned a fire in the misty distance which illumined the darkness and banished the cold. A faint hope crept into his weary soul, and the recollections of his father’s house again awoke within him. The youth walked toward the light, and cried: ‘It is you, my father, it is you!’ ”

“And was it his father’s house?”

“No, it was merely a night lodging of wild nomads. So for many years he led the miserable life of a captive slave, and only in his dreams saw the distant home and rested on his father’s bosom. Sometimes with weak hand he endeavoured to lure from dead clay or wood or stone the face and form that ever hovered before him. There even came moments when he grew weary and embraced his own handiwork and prayed to it and wet it with his tears. But the stone remained cold stone. And as he waxed in years the youth destroyed his creations, which already seemed to him a vile defamation of his ever-present dreams. At last fate brought him to a good barbarian, who asked him for the cause of his constant mourning. When the youth, confided to him the hopes and longings of his soul, the barbarian, a wise man, said:

“ ‘The world would be better did such a man and such a country exist as that of which you speak. But by what mark would you recognise your father?’

“ ‘In my country,’ answered the youth, ‘they reverenced wisdom and virtue and looked up to my father as to the master.’

“ ‘Well and good,’ answered the barbarian. ‘I must assume that a kernel of your father’s teaching resides in you. Therefore take up the wanderer’s staff, and proceed on your way. Seek perfect wisdom and truth, and when you have found them, cast aside your staff⁠—there will be your home and your father.’

“And the youth went on his way at break of day⁠—”

“Did he find the one whom he sought?”

“He is still seeking. Many countries, cities and men has he seen. He has come to know all the ways by land; he has traversed the stormy seas; he has searched the courses of the stars in heaven by which a pilgrim can direct his course in the limitless deserts. And each time that on his wearisome way an inviting fire lighted up the darkness before his eyes, his heart beat faster and hope crept into his soul. ‘That is my father’s hospitable house,’ he thought.

“And when a hospitable host would greet the tired traveller and offer him the peace and blessing of his hearth, the youth would fall at his feet and say with emotion: ‘I thank you, my father! Do you not recognise your son?’

“And many were prepared to take him as their son, for at that time children were frequently kidnapped. But after the first glow of enthusiasm, the youth would detect traces of imperfection, sometimes even of wickedness. Then he would begin to investigate and to test his host with questions concerning justice and injustice. And soon he would be driven forth again upon the cold wearisome way. More than once he said to himself: ‘I will remain at this last hearth, I will preserve my last belief. It shall be the home of my father.’ ”

“Do you know, Socrates, perhaps that would have been the most sensible thing to do.”

“So he thought sometimes. But the habit of investigating, the confused dream of a father, gave him no peace. Again and again he shook the dust from his feet; again and again he grasped his staff. Not a few stormy nights found him shelterless. Doesn’t it seem to you that the fate of this youth resembles the fate of mankind?”

“Why?”

“Does not the race of man make trial of its childish belief and doubt it while seeking the unknown? Doesn’t it fashion the form of its father in wood, stone, custom, and tradition? And then man finds the form imperfect, destroys it, and again goes on his wanderings in the desert of doubt. Always for the purpose of seeking something better⁠—”

“Oh, you cunning sage, now I understand the purpose of your allegory! And I will tell you to your face that if only a ray of light were to penetrate this gloom, I would not put the Lord on trial with unnecessary questions⁠—”

“Friend, the light is already shining,” answered Socrates.

V

It seemed as if the words of the philosopher had taken effect. High up in the distance a beam of light penetrated a vapoury envelop and disappeared in the mountains. It was followed by a second and a third. There beyond the darkness luminous genii seemed to be hovering, and a great mystery seemed about to be revealed, as if the breath of life were blowing, as if some great ceremony were in process. But it was still very remote. The shades descended thicker and thicker; foggy clouds rolled into masses, separated, and chased one another endlessly, ceaselessly.

A blue light from a distant peak fell upon a deep ravine; the clouds rose and covered the heavens to the zenith.

The rays disappeared and withdrew to a greater and greater distance, as if fleeing from this vale of shades and horrors. Socrates stood and looked after them sadly. Elpidias peered up at the peak full of dread.

“Look, Socrates! What do you see there on the mountain?”

“Friend,” answered; the philosopher, “let us investigate our situation. Since we are in motion, we must arrive somewhere, and since earthly existence must have a limit, I believe that this limit is to be found at the parting of two beginnings. In the struggle of light with darkness we attain the crown of our endeavours. Since the ability to think has not been taken from us, I believe that it is the will of the divine being who called our power of thinking into existence that we should investigate the goal of our endeavours ourselves. Therefore, Elpidias, let us in dignified manner go to meet the dawn that lies beyond those clouds.”

“Oh, my friend! If that is the dawn, I would rather the long cheerless night had endured forever, for it was quiet and peaceful. Don’t you think our time passed tolerably well in instructive converse? And now my soul trembles before the tempest drawing nigh. Say what you will, but there before us are no ordinary shades of the dead night.”

Zeus hurled a bolt into the bottomless gulf.

Ctesippus looked up to the peak, and his soul was frozen with horror. Huge sombre figures of the Olympian gods crowded on the mountain in a circle. A last ray shot through the region of clouds and mists, and died away like a faint memory. A storm was approaching now, and the powers of night were once more in the ascendant. Dark figures covered the heavens. In the centre Ctesippus could discern the all-powerful son of Cronos surrounded by a halo. The sombre figures of the older gods encircled him in wrathful excitement. Like flocks of birds winging their way in the twilight, like eddies of dust driven by a hurricane, like autumn leaves lashed by Boreas, numerous minor gods hovered in long clouds and occupied the spaces.

When the clouds gradually lifted from the peak and sent down dismal horror to embrace the earth, Ctesippus fell upon his knees. Later, he admitted that in this dreadful moment he forgot all his master’s deductions and conclusions. His courage failed him; and terror took possession of his soul.

He merely listened.

Two voices resounded there where before had been silence, the one the mighty and threatening voice of the Godhead, the other the weak voice of a mortal which the wind carried from the mountain slope to the spot where Ctesippus had left Socrates.

“Are you,” thus spake the voice from the clouds, “are you the blasphemous Socrates who strives with the gods of heaven and earth? Once there were none so joyous, so immortal, as we. Now, for long we have passed our days in darkness because of the unbelief and doubt that have come upon earth. Never has the mist closed in on us so heavily as since the time your voice resounded in Athens, the city we once so dearly loved. Why did you not follow the commands of your father, Sophroniscus? The good man permitted himself a few little sins, especially in his youth, yet by way of recompense, we frequently enjoyed the smell of his offerings⁠—”

“Stay, son of Cronos, and solve my doubts! Do I understand that you prefer cowardly hypocrisy to searchings for the truth?”

At this question the crags trembled with the shock of a thundering peal. The first breath of the tempest scattered in the distant gorges. But the mountains still trembled, for he who was enthroned upon them still trembled. And in the anxious quiet of the night only distant sighs could be heard.

In the very bowels of the earth the chained Titans seemed to be groaning under the blow of the son of Cronos.

“Where are you now, you impious questioner?” suddenly came the mocking voice of the Olympian.

“I am here, son of Cronos, on the same spot. Nothing but your answer can move me from it. I am waiting.”

Thunder bellowed in the clouds like a wild animal amazed at the daring of a Lybian tamer’s fearless approach. At the end of a few moments the Voice again rolled over the spaces:

“Son of Sophroniscus! Is it not enough that you bred so much scepticism on earth that the clouds of your doubt reached even to Olympus? Indeed, many a time when you were carrying on your discourse in the marketplaces or in the academies or on the promenades, it seemed to me as if you had already destroyed all the altars on earth, and the dust were rising from them up to us here on the mountain. Even that is not enough! Here before my very face you will not recognise the power of the immortals⁠—”

“Zeus, thou art wrathful. Tell me, who gave me the ‘Daemon’ which spoke to my soul throughout my life and forced me to seek the truth without resting?”

Mysterious silence reigned in the clouds.

“Was it not you? You are silent? Then I will investigate the matter. Either this divine beginning emanates from you or from someone else. If from you, I bring it to you as an offering. I offer you the ripe fruit of my life, the flame of the spark of your own kindling! See, son of Cronos, I preserved my gift; in my deepest heart grew the seed that you sowed. It is the very fire of my soul. It burned in those crises when with my own hand I tore the thread of life. Why will you not accept it? Would you have me regard you as a poor master whose age prevents him from seeing that his own pupil obediently follows out his commands? Who are you that would command me to stifle the flame that has illuminated my whole life, ever since it was penetrated by the first ray of sacred thought? The sun says not to the stars: ‘Be extinguished that I may rise.’ The sun rises and the weak glimmer of the stars is quenched by its far, far stronger light. The day says not to the torch: ‘Be extinguished; you interfere with me.’ The day breaks, and the torch smokes, but no longer shines. The divinity that I am questing is not you who are afraid of doubt. That divinity is like the day, like the sun, and shines without extinguishing other lights. The god I seek is the god who would say to me: ‘Wanderer, give me your torch, you no longer need it, for I am the source of all light. Searcher for truth, set upon my altar the little gift of your doubt, because in me is its solution.’ If you are that god, harken to my questions. No one kills his own child, and my doubts are a branch of the eternal spirit whose name is truth.”

Round about, the fires of heaven tore the dark clouds, and out of the howling storm again resounded the powerful voice:

“Whither did your doubts tend, you arrogant sage, who renounce humility, the most beautiful adornment of earthly virtues? You abandoned the friendly shelter of credulous simplicity to wander in the desert of doubt. You have seen this dead space from which the living gods have departed. Will you traverse it, you insignificant worm, who crawl in the dust of your pitiful profanation of the gods? Will you vivify the world? Will you conceive the unknown divinity to whom you do not dare to pray? You miserable digger of dung, soiled by the smut of ruined altars, are you perchance the architect who shall build the new temple? Upon what do you base your hopes, you who disavow the old gods and have no new gods to take their place? The eternal night of doubts unsolved, the dead desert, deprived of the living spirit⁠—this is your world, you pitiful worm, who gnawed at the living belief which was a refuge for simple hearts, who converted the world into a dead chaos. Now, then, where are you, you insignificant, blasphemous sage?”

Nothing was heard but the mighty storm roaring through the spaces. Then the thunder died away, the wind folded its pinions, and torrents of rain streamed through the darkness, like incessant floods of tears which threatened to devour the earth and drown it in a deluge of unquenchable grief.

It seemed to Ctesippus that the master was overcome, and that the fearless, restless, questioning voice had been silenced forever. But a few moments later it issued again from the same spot.

“Your words, son of Cronos, hit the mark better than your thunderbolts. The thoughts you have cast into my terrified soul have haunted me often, and it has sometimes seemed as if my heart would break under the burden of their unendurable anguish. Yes, I abandoned the friendly shelter of credulous simplicity. Yes, I have seen the spaces from which the living gods have departed enveloped in the night of eternal doubt. But I walked without fear, for my ‘Daemon’ lighted the way, the divine beginning of all life. Let us investigate the question. Are not offerings of incense burnt on your altars in the name of Him who gives life? You are stealing what belongs to another! Not you, but that other, is served by credulous simplicity. Yes, you are right, I am no architect. I am not the builder of a new temple. Not to me was it given to raise from the earth to the heavens the glorious structure of the coming faith. I am one who digs dung, soiled by the smut of destruction. But my conscience tells me, son of Cronos, that the work of one who digs dung is also necessary for the future temple. When the time comes for the proud and stately edifice to stand on the purified place, and for the living divinity of the new belief to erect his throne upon it, I, the modest digger of dung, will go to him and say: ‘Here am I who restlessly crawled in the dust of disavowal. When surrounded by fog and soot, I had no time to raise my eyes from the ground; my head had only a vague conception of the future building. Will you reject me, you just one, Just, and True, and Great?’ ”

Silence and astonishment reigned in the spaces. Then Socrates raised his voice, and continued:

“The sunbeam falls upon the filthy puddle, and light vapour, leaving heavy mud behind, rises to the sun, melts, and dissolves in the ether. With your sunbeam you touched my dust-laden soul and it aspired to you, Unknown One, whose name is mystery! I sought for you, because you are Truth; I strove to attain to you, because you are Justice; I loved you, because you are Love; I died for you, because you are the Source of Life. Will you reject me, O Unknown? My torturing doubts, my passionate search for truth, my difficult life, my voluntary death⁠—accept them as a bloodless offering, as a prayer, as a sigh! Absorb them as the immeasurable ether absorbs the evaporating mists! Take them, you whose name I do not know, let not the ghosts of the night I have traversed bar the way to you, to eternal light! Give way, you shades who dim the light of the dawn! I tell you, gods of my people, you are unjust, and where there is no justice there can be no truth, but only phantoms, creations of a dream. To this conclusion have I come, I, Socrates, who sought to fathom all things. Rise, dead mists, I go my way to Him whom I have sought all my life long!”

The thunder burst again⁠—a short, abrupt peal, as if the egis had fallen from the weakened hand of the thunderer. Storm-voices trembled from the mountains, sounding dully in the gorges, and died away in the clefts. In their place resounded other, marvellous tones.

When Ctesippus looked up in astonishment, a spectacle presented itself such as no mortal eyes had ever seen.

The night vanished. The clouds lifted, and godly figures floated in the azure like golden ornaments on the hem of a festive robe. Heroic forms glimmered over the remote crags and ravines, and Elpidias, whose little figure was seen standing at the edge of a cleft in the rocks, stretched his hands toward them, as if beseeching the vanishing gods for a solution of his fate.

A mountain-peak now stood out clearly above the mysterious mist, gleaming like a torch over dark blue valleys. The son of Cronos, the thunderer, was no longer enthroned upon it, and the other Olympians too were gone.

Socrates stood alone in the light of the sun under the high heavens.

Ctesippus was distinctly conscious of the pulse-beat of a mysterious life quivering throughout nature, stirring even the tiniest blade of grass.

A breath seemed to be stirring the balmy air, a voice to be sounding in wonderful harmony, an invisible tread to be heard⁠—the tread of the radiant Dawn!

And on the illumined peak a man still stood, stretching out his arms in mute ecstasy, moved by a mighty impulse.

A moment, and all disappeared, and the light of an ordinary day shone upon the awakened soul of Ctesippus. It was like dismal twilight after the revelation of nature that had blown upon him the breath of an unknown life.


In deep silence the pupils of the philosopher listened to the marvellous recital of Ctesippus. Plato broke the silence.

“Let us investigate the dream and its significance,” he said.

“Let us investigate it,” responded the others.

Lights

A long time ago, on a dark autumn evening, I happened to be going in a boat up a gloomy Siberian river. Suddenly, beyond a bend of the river, a tiny speck of light flashed ahead, at the foot of some dark mountains.

It flashed brightly, clearly, as though it were very near⁠ ⁠…

“Thank God!” said I joyfully. “Now we are near a place to spend the night.”

The man at the oars glanced at the light over his shoulder, and then resumed his apathetic strokes.

“It’s far away.”

I did not believe him. The light seemed to be so close by, standing out against the vague darkness. But the oarsman was right; the light was really far away.

What a peculiar property do these night lights possess! They approach you ever so closely, conquering the darkness and burning in its midst, beckoning to you and alluring you with their nearness. It seems that two or three strokes more, and you will be at the end of your journey⁠ ⁠… And yet, that end is far, far away.

And on that autumn night, too, it was for a long time after we noticed the light that we were going up the river, black as ink. Rocks and gorges sprang up before us, seemed to be moving towards us, and then floated away, lagging behind and disappearing in the darkness, while the tiny speck of light was still standing before us, there, ahead, twinkling and beckoning, ever near, yet ever far away⁠ ⁠…

And even now, I often recall this dark river, with the rocky cliff’s crowding upon its banks, and the tiny speck of light burning far ahead. Many a light has thus allured me and others with its apparent nearness. But life flows, on, between its gloomy banks, and the lights are far away. And again we must ply our oars⁠ ⁠…

And yet⁠ ⁠… and yet, there are lights ahead!⁠ ⁠…

The Last Ray

I

The Nuysk hamlet stands in a small clearing, on the shore of the Lena. A few poor huts stand with their backs pressed to the steep rocks, as though drawing backward from the angry river. In this spot, the Lena is very narrow, unusually rapid, and very gloomy. The mountains on the opposite shore stand with their bases in the water, and it is at this spot, more than anywhere else, that the Lena deserves its surname, “the Accursed Crack.” And really, it seems that there is a gigantic crevice, at the bottom of which whirls the dark river, hemmed in by gloomy rocks and ravines. The fogs stand there for a long time, and a cold, damp twilight always hangs over it. The inhabitants of this hamlet are even weaker, sicklier, and more apathetic than the people of other places along the Lena. The mournful drone of the larches that grow on the mountain ridges form an eternal accompaniment to this staid existence⁠ ⁠…

I had come to the hamlet at night, tired and cold, and awoke quite early on the following morning.

It was quiet. An indeterminate light, either of a dull dawn or a late twilight, was streaming through the windows⁠—something filled with formless, crepuscular dusk. The wind was howling in the “crack” as in a chimney, and was driving night mists through it. Looking up through my window, I could see bits of clear sky. It was evident that a bright, sunny morning was springing to life. But curling clouds of cold darkness were still whirling past the hamlet⁠ ⁠… Everything was gloomy, quiet, grey, and sad.

In the hut where I was spending the night, a simple kerosene lamp was still burning on the table, adding its yellowish flicker to the room’s twilight. The room was quite clean, and the wooden partition that separated the bedrooms was pasted with news papers. In the front corner, near the holy image, were thick clusters of pictures, mostly portraits of generals. One of them was of General Muraviev-Amursky⁠—a large portrait, showing all the regalia. And next to it, I had noticed the night before, two small, modest portraits of Decembrists.

Lying in bed, I could see, through the partition, the table standing against the opposite wall, with the burning lamp on it. An old man sat at the table. His face was quite handsome, though very pale. His beard was gray, his high forehead had a yellowish tinge, and his hair, thin on the crown, was long and wavy behind. His whole figure reminded one of a monk or a clergyman, perhaps even of an evangelist, although the color of his face was unpleasantly pale and unhealthy, and his eyes seemed dull to me. His throat showed a swelling, indicative of the goiter, a disease quite prevalent along the Lena, and usually attributed to the water of the river.

By his side sat a boy of about eight. I could see only his head, bent over the table, with its fine hair, the color of flax. The old man, screwing up his half-blind, spectacled eyes, moved a pointer along the lines of the printed page, while the boy spelled out the syllables, straining his attention to the utmost. When he failed to grasp some word, the old man helped him with affectionate patience. The boy was attempting to piece together the letters before him.54

He stopped, evidently unable to master the strange word. The old man screwed up his eyes a little more, and helped him.

“The nightingale,” he read.

“The nightingale,” repeated the pupil faithfully. Then, raising his perplexed eyes to his teacher, he asked,

“The night-ingale⁠ ⁠… What’s that?”

“A bird,” said the old man.

“A bird⁠ ⁠…” And he continued the reading, finally mastering the word, “Bird-cherry.”

“What’s that?” the child again asked in his indifferent, wooden voice.

“On the bird-cherry. A bird-cherry is a tree. So he sat there.”

“He sat there? Why was be sitting? Is it a big bird?”

“No, a tiny, little one. He sings beautifully.”

“Sings beautifully⁠ ⁠…”

The boy stopped reading and became lost in thought. It grew quite dark in the hut. The clock was ticking, the fog was flying past outside⁠ ⁠… The piece of sky overhead reminded me of the fact that in other places it was a bright, sunny day, and nightingales were singing on the bird-cherry trees in spring⁠ ⁠…

“What a pitiful childhood!” thought I involuntarily, listening to the monotonous sounds of the child’s voice⁠ ⁠… “Without nightingales, without the blossoming spring! Nothing but water and rocks that bar the whole of God’s world from your eyes; with the crow as the sole representative of the birds, with the larches on the slopes, and an occasional pine tree, making the whole vegetation⁠ ⁠…”

The boy read another sentence in the same weary, inexpressive voice, and then suddenly stopped.

“Isn’t it time for us to go, grandfather?” he asked, and this time there were live, excited notes in his voice, while his clear eyes, reflecting the light of the lamp, were turned to his grandfather with evident interest.

The old man looked at the clock, which ticked on indifferently, then at the curling darkness outside, and replied calmly:

“It’s too early yet. It is only half-past.”

“Grandfather, maybe the clock is wrong?”

“Now, now, it’s too dark yet⁠ ⁠… It’s better for us, too. See how windy it is⁠ ⁠… Maybe it’ll drive away the fog, otherwise we won’t be able to see anything again, like the other day⁠ ⁠…”

“It’s better⁠ ⁠…” repeated the boy in his former, obedient tone, and continued the reading.

Thus about twenty minutes went by. The old man glanced at the clock, then out through the window, and blew out the lamp. A bluish twilight filled the room.

“Get dressed,” said the old man, and then added, “But quietly, so that Tanya won’t hear.”

The boy quickly jumped down from the chair.

“Aren’t we going to take her with us?” he asked in a whisper.

“No, it’s better not to⁠ ⁠… She has a cough⁠ ⁠… Let her sleep⁠ ⁠…”

The boy began to dress with careful haste, and soon the two figures, the grandfather and the grandson, glided past through the twilight of the room. The boy was dressed in what looked like an overcoat of the city cut; on his feet were felt boots, while a woman’s scarf was wrapped around his neck. The old man wore a short fur coat. The door creaked, and they were outside.

I remained alone. Beyond the partition I heard the quiet breathing of the sleeping girl and the harsh ticking of the clock. The moving fog outside rushed faster and faster, rents were torn in it oftener and oftener, and through them I caught glimpses of larger, sterner blots that represented dark rocks and ravines. The room now grew lighter, now was again plunged in twilight.

The desire to sleep had left me entirely. The silent sadness of the place was beginning to affect me, and I waited impatiently for the door to creak again, and admit the old man and the boy. But they did not return for some time.

Then I decided to see what it was that had induced them out of the hut into the fog and the cold. I had slept fully dressed, and it did not take me long to put on my boots and overcoat, and come out of the hut⁠ ⁠…

The old man and the boy were standing on the steps, their hands hidden in the openings of their coat sleeves, evidently expecting something.

The whole locality seemed even gloomier than it had appeared through the window. Above, the fog had already lifted, and the tops of the mountains stood sharply and sternly out lined against the sky that was growing clearer. Only isolated cloudlets of mist were still flying past, visible against the background of the mountains, while down below everything was still enveloped in the cold dusk. The Lena’s currents, still unfrozen, but already dark and heavy, were running together in the narrow channel, forming eddies and whirlpools. It seemed that the river was seething and raging in dumb despair, striving to force its way out of the gloomy crevice⁠ ⁠… The cold wind, blowing just before morning, was dispersing the remaining portions of the night fog, and rushed along angrily, causing our coats to flap to and fro.

The houses of the little hamlet, scattered on the rocky platform in little clusters, began to awaken. Smoke appeared over some of them, in others the windows became dimly lighted; a tall teamster in a ragged coat, blinking constantly, led two horses down to the watering place and soon disappeared in the shadow of the slope. Everything looked dejected and spoke of the awakening day of labor.

“What are you waiting for?” I asked of the old man.

“My grandson here wanted to see the sun,” he answered, and asked in turn: “Are you from Russia?”

“Yes.”

“Do you know anybody by the name of Chernyshov?”

“Chernyshov? No⁠ ⁠…”

“Of course it would be pretty hard. Russia is big⁠ ⁠… They say he was a general, though⁠ ⁠…”

He was silent for a few moments, shivering a little from the cold, and seemed to think deeply about something; then he turned to me again:

“A traveler said once that he served at the time of Empress Catherine and his name was Zakhar Grigoryevich⁠ ⁠…”

“Yes, I heard of a man like that⁠ ⁠…”

The old man wanted to ask me something more, but at that moment the boy suddenly began to move about, and touched his sleeve.

Involuntarily, I, too, turned and looked at the top of the rock which stood on our bank of the Lena, near the curve of the river.

Until that moment the place seemed like a dark hole from which the fog was constantly creeping forth. Now, above the fog, on the rugged crown of the rock, the tops of pine trees and the crests of the rare, already naked larches suddenly loomed up. Breaking out from somewhere behind the mountains that stood on the opposite bank, the first ray of the rising sun had already touched this rock and the group of trees that were growing out of its cracks. The trees stood above the cold, blue shadows of our crevice, as though wrapped in clouds, and were glowing quietly, gladdened by the first caress of the morning.

We stood silent, gazing at that height as though afraid to frighten away the majestic and newfound joy of the lonely rock and of the cluster of larches. The boy stood perfectly still, holding on to the old man’s sleeve. His eyes were wide open, his pale face seemed more lively and shone with joy. In the meantime, on the height, something else trembled and throbbed, and another rock, which until that moment had been sunk in the enveloping, gloomy, bluish background of the mountains, flared up, and joined its shining beauty to that of the already lit-up group. Only a short while before they had been merged with the faraway slopes, but now they stood out boldly, and their background seemed even more distant, dusky, and somber.

The boy again touched his grandfather’s sleeve, and his face seemed entirely transformed. His eyes were sparkling, his lips smiling, and a pink glow seemed to be struggling to appear on his pale and yellow cheeks.

A change had also taken place on the opposite shore of the river. The mountains still concealed the rising sun, but the sky about them had grown light, and the outlines of the ridge stood out sharp and distinct with deep indentations between the rocks. Streams of milky white fog were creeping down the dark slopes of the peaks, as though they were seeking a darker and damper place⁠ ⁠… And above them the sky was already glowing with gold, and the rows of larches on the ridge stood out against this light background as sharply outlined, violet silhouettes. It seemed that something was moving about behind them, something joyful, full of life. A little cloud, all ablaze, flew from mountain to mountain and disappeared behind the neighboring peak. After it came another, and still another, a whole flock of them. Something gladsome and jubilant was taking place behind the mountains. The bottom of the gully between the two mountains shone brighter and brighter. It seemed that the sun was climbing up the other side of the ridge, up to its crown in order to glance into this wretched crevice, upon this dark river, on the lonely heights, on the old man and the pale boy who were awaiting its appearance.

At last it came. A few bright, golden rays burst out in the depths of the mountain-gap, breaking through the thick wall of trees. Sparks of light began to fall in clusters down into the ravines, tearing out of the bluish, cold dusk, now a separate tree, now the crown of a slate rock, now a small mountain meadow⁠ ⁠… Everything seemed to move under their light, rushing to sudden life. Groups of trees seemed to be running from place to place, the rocks sprang forward and then again disappeared in the gloom, the little clearings flared up and became extinguished again. The bands of mist moved about like snakes, ever faster and more excited.

Even the dark river became light for a few moments. The little waves rippling toward our shore lit up; the sand sparkled, and the boats and groups of men and horses near the watering place appeared black against it. The slanting rays glided over the wretched huts, reflected from their mica windows, then touched with a gentle caress the boy’s pale face, which beamed with rapture⁠ ⁠…

And in the break between the mountains a part of the sun’s disk was already moving forward, while on our side the whole bank of the river was bright and joyful, twinkling and sparkling with the many-colored play of the slate-layers and the green pine needles⁠ ⁠…

But it was a brief, brief caress of the morning. A few seconds more, and the bottom of the valley was again cold and blue. The river became dark again and rushed on in its somber channel, madly whirling in its eddies. The colors of the mica panes died away, the shadows rose higher and higher, the mountains drew the curtain of the monotonous, bluish dusk over their erstwhile variety of slopes. The lonely peak on our side still burned for a few seconds like a dying torch over dark mists. Soon it, too, died away. In the break between the mountains all the openings were closed, the trees again stood like a continuous band of mourning, and only a lagging cloudlet or two flew over them, cold and colorless⁠ ⁠…

“That’s all,” said the boy sadly. And looking up at his grandfather, with his sad and darkened eyes, he asked, “Won’t there be any more?”

“No, I guess not,” he answered. “You see for yourself that only an edge of the sun appeared. Tomorrow it will all be down below.”

“That’s all, brother!” shouted the teamster returning from the river. “Good morning, grandfather and grandson!”

Turning around, I saw that there were people in front of other huts too. The doors creaked as the people returned to their huts, and the whole hamlet was again sunk in the discoloring mist.

And this lasts for long, long months!⁠ ⁠… The old man told me that in the summer the sun rises above the mountains, but towards autumn it becomes lower and lower, and finally dis appears behind the broad ridge, unable to rise above it. Then the level of the rays moves down towards the south, and for a few days it appears only in the morning in the break between the two mountains. At first it moves from peak to peak, then goes lower and lower, and finally its golden rays appear but for a few minutes at the bottom of the valley. This was what happened that morning.

The Nuysk hamlet was bidding the sun farewell for the whole winter. The teamsters, of course, would see it again in their travels, but the old men and the children would not see it again until spring, or, rather, until summer⁠ ⁠…

The last reflection died away⁠ ⁠… The day shone in full glory behind the mountain, but here the mist was again growing thicker and thicker and the mountain slopes were covered with its dull, monotonous curtain.

The dispersed light, cold and unfriendly, was sweeping in from behind the mountains.

II

“So you say you, too, are from Russia?” I asked of the old man when we re-entered the hut, and he had placed a small old samovar on the table. The boy had gone behind the partition and was trying to amuse his sister. From time to time, a weak, childish laughter was heard from within, that sounded like the jingling of small pieces of glass thrown about.

The old man arranged a little table cloth and then replied somewhat reluctantly.

“Yes⁠ ⁠… Of course⁠ ⁠… They were born here, so they belong here, too. The children are not of common stock, though⁠ ⁠…”

“What’s their name?” I asked.

“Oh, well!”⁠ ⁠… he replied reluctantly. “Avdeyev is what they are called here. But their real name is Chernyshov⁠ ⁠…”

Suddenly he ceased laying the table cloth and looked at me attentively and with interest.

“So you say you have read about Zakhar Grigoryevich Chernyshov? He was a general, wasn’t he?”

“Yes, there was a general by that name in Catherine’s time. Only he was never exiled to Siberia.”

“Well, not he, but somebody of the same name⁠ ⁠… In the time of Nicholas⁠ ⁠… When he became Emperor, or something⁠ ⁠…”

He looked at me attentively, but I could not recall the story. The old man shook his head sadly.

“They say the old man was very fond of books. When he was dying, his last word to his children was to be sure to read books⁠ ⁠…”

He was silent for a moment, and then added, “Oh, well, of course. You know yourself how it is to live here⁠ ⁠… My daughter married his grandson, so they were called Avdeyevs⁠ ⁠… But they won’t live long. The father died and the mother died too, and left me with the two children⁠ ⁠… I am old, and they are sickly⁠ ⁠… The boy is an epileptic⁠ ⁠… There won’t be a trace left of us.”

The door opened, admitting a teamster who made the sign of the cross, standing in front of the image, and then said, “Avdeyev, go over to the Elder’s and take down the travelers’ names⁠ ⁠…”

“All right.”

“Is your name Avdeyev, too?” I asked.

“That’s the way they call me here now⁠ ⁠… After them, I guess.”

And the old man, perhaps the only literate man in the whole Nuysk hamlet, took his dog-eared ledger and left the room.

I learned nothing more about the genealogy of this old family, and soon left forever the gloomy Nuysk hamlet. About two hours later, coming to another bend of the river, I saw the sun directly in front of me⁠ ⁠… It was already close to the horizon, but its splendor still glittered in the water and on the shore⁠ ⁠… And its quiet, saddened light seemed to me at that time bright and gladsome.

III

Upon my return to Russia, I made several attempts to gather information about the exiled branch of the Chernyshov family. The pages of the history of Catherine’s reign often spoke of the name of Zakhary Grigoryevich Chernyshov, but he was never exiled. Once, while waiting for the steamer some where on the Volga, I heard a sailor singing about the imprisonment of the brave Russian warrior, Zakhar Grigoryevich Chernyshov, in Prussia. The sailor, of course, knew nothing about this historical person, but his song was nevertheless partly connected with the actual occurrences. At the time of the Pugachov uprising, a Cossack by the name of Chika called him self Chernyshov and added the glory of an outlaw to the popular name of the famous general. Another song spoke about a prison on the shore of the Volga. In it, the bold hero, Chernyshov, calls the freemen of the Volga to rally to his standard⁠ ⁠…

For some reason or other this name became popular in the people’s memory and the name of Chernyshov is met quite often among the mysterious exiles of Siberia. I used this as an explanation of my experience in the Nuysk hamlet. Evidently the real name of the exile was unknown, and the old man unconsciously assumed that popular name⁠ ⁠… There had been conviction and truthfulness in his sad tone.

It was only recently that I met this name again in the list of the Decembrists⁠ ⁠… Then the incident in the Nuysk hamlet again arose in my memory and assumed a new significance.

I decided that the old man was right. But upon further investigation, I found that I was mistaken. The Decembrist Chernyshov had returned to Russia, had married there, and died abroad⁠ ⁠…

The curtain again fell over the genealogy of the Avdeyevs⁠ ⁠… In the vast gloom of Siberia, many lives become lost in this manner, and many a family has descended forever from the heights lit up by the sun, into the cold, misty ravines⁠ ⁠… On the shore of the Lena, above Yakutsk, there is a peak with a narrow path leading up to its crown. In a cleft on the slope of this peak one can still see the remains of a human habitation. There is a touching legend connected with this spot. A man very high in life was exiled to Siberia many years ago. For a long time he lived in different places, until he finally settled here, in the cleft of the mountain peak. He cut his own wood and brought up his own water. Once, when he was going up the mountain with a bundle of wood on his shoulders, he suddenly saw on the path above him a well-known figure. It was his wife, who had at last found him in this lonely spot. The exile recognized her, but because of joy or of shock, he fainted, and fell down into the precipice.

It was in vain that I tried to learn the name of this man and the details of the occurrence. Cold and indifferent, Siberia does not preserve such information, and the memory of the tragedy dies away as the afterglow of a dim legend connected merely with the rock, and not with the man⁠ ⁠…

The origin of the boy whom I met in the Nuysk hamlet is just as uncertain and just as dim. But whenever I think of Siberia, there inevitably rises in my imagination the spectacle of the dark crevice, the rapid river, the wretched huts of the hamlet, and the dying rays of the departing sun fading away in the sad eyes of the last offspring of a lost family.

The Old Bell-Ringer

The evening dusk has set in.

The little village, situated in a forest on the banks of a small river, is sunk in that peculiar dusk that sets in on a starry spring night, when a light fog rises from the ground, deepening the shadows cast by the forest and enveloping the open spots with a silvery-bluish haze. Everything is quiet, pensive, sad.

The village seems plunged in light slumber.

The huts are dimly outlined against the dark shadows; tiny specks of light are visible here and there; sometimes a gate would creak on its hinges; a dog would set up a howl, and become silent once more; occasionally human figures would appear from the dark forest, on foot, or on horseback, or on a squeaking wagon. They are the inhabitants of outlying hamlets going to their church to celebrate the spring holiday.

The church stands on a hillock, in the very center of the village. Its windows are lit up. Its belfry-tower, dark with age, thrusts its tall top into the bluish dusk.

The steps of the belfry staircase squeak, as the old bell-ringer, Mikheich, ascends the tower. Soon his little lantern hangs in the air like a star that has suddenly flown upward.

It is hard for the old man to climb those stairs. His old legs scarcely obey him, his eyes see very badly. It is time for the old man to rest from life’s labors, but God does not send him death. He has buried his sons, and his grandsons, has followed old and young to the graveyard, but he himself is still alive. The climbing is so hard⁠ ⁠… Many a time has he met the spring holiday on that belfry; he has already lost count of the number of times spring found him with his bells. And yet God has granted him another spring night.

The old man approached the edge of the platform, and leaned on the railing. Below him stretched the cemetery of the village; it seemed that the old crosses protected it, as if with outstretched arms. Here and there birch-trees, still leafless and bare, bent over the graves. Sweet fragrance of budding leaves was wafted up to where Mikheich was standing, and with it came a feeling of the solemn quiet that attends eternal sleep.

Where will he be a year hence? Will he again climb up this tower, to this platform under the great brass bell, and, with a resounding peal, awaken the slumbering night; or will he lie there, below, in a dark corner of the cemetery, under a wooden cross? God knows⁠ ⁠… He is ready, but God has granted him to meet at least another spring holiday. “Glory be to the Lord,” whisper his lips, repeating the formula he knows so well, and Mikheich, making the sign of the cross, looks upward into the starry sky that burns as with a million lights.

“Mikheich, eh, Mikheich!” a trembling old voice calls to him from below. The old deacon looks up from the ground, shielding his watery eyes with the palm of his hand, but he does not see Mikheich.

“What is it? I am here,” answers the bell-ringer, leaning over the rail. “Don’t you see me?”

“No. Isn’t it time to strike? What do you think?”

Both look up at the stars. Thousands of God’s bright eyes shine upon them from above. The fiery constellation is already high above the horizon. Mikheich is considering⁠ ⁠…

“No, I guess we’ll wait awhile⁠ ⁠… I know my time.”

He knows it well enough. He does not need a clock, for God’s stars will tell him when the right time comes. The earth and the sky, and the little white cloud that sails through the blue, and the dark forest whispering something there below, and the splashing of the little river invisible in the darkness⁠—all this is so familiar to him, so near. It is not in vain that he has spent his whole life here.

The faraway past springs into life again. He remembers how he climbed this tower for the first time, when he was still a child and his father brought him there. He sees himself as a little, blond-haired boy; his eyes are burning with excitement; the wind⁠—not the wind that whirls the dust through the village street, but a different one, one that shakes its invisible wings high above the ground⁠—raises his soft hair, making it flutter in the air⁠ ⁠… And there, far, far below, little human figures are moving to and fro, and the little houses of the village stand around, and the forest seems to be so far away, while the round clearing, in the middle of which stands the village, seems so large, almost limitless.

“Yet, there it is, the whole of it,” smiles the gray-haired old man, as he casts his eye over the little clearing.

And the whole of life is like this. In childhood it seems that life has no end, no limit. Yet, there it is, as if represented on the palm of his hand, from its very beginning to that quiet little grave that he has chosen for himself in a dark corner of the cemetery. Well, what of that? Glory be to God! It is time for a rest. He has gone honestly all along his difficult road, and the earth is his mother⁠ ⁠… It is coming soon, very soon!⁠ ⁠…

But it is time to strike the bell. Mikheich cast another look at the stars, bared his head, made the sign of the cross, and began to gather the bell ropes. A moment later the night air was startled by the first resounding peal of the great bell. Then came another peal, and still another. One after another they were falling on the gently slumbering night, filling the air with majestic, prolonged, ringing, and singing tones.

The ringing ceased, and the service began in the church. Formerly, Mikheich would descend into the church and stand somewhere in the corner, praying and listening to the singing. But this year he remained in the tower. It is too hard for him to walk up and down the stairs. He sat down on a little bench, and, listening to the dying sounds of the brass, he fell into a profound revery. What was he dreaming about? He himself could not say. The belfry-tower was dimly lit by his little lantern. The humming bells were sunk in the darkness. At times, like a faint rumbling, the sounds of singing floated from the church, while the night wind gently swayed the ropes tied to the iron hearts of the bells.

The old man dropped his white head on his chest, and wandering thoughts began to crowd through his mind. He seems to see himself in the church. Dozens of beautiful, childish voices are singing in unison, while old Father Naum, dead long ago, pronounces the service. Hundreds of peasant heads, like ears of ripe wheat swayed by the wind, are bending down and rising again. The peasants make the sign of the cross. The faces are all familiar, although the men are all dead by this time. Here is the stern face of his father; here is his elder brother, sighing and making the sign of the cross by his father’s side. And here is he, young, and healthy, and strong, and full of unconscious hopes of happiness and joy in life⁠ ⁠… Where is that happiness? His thought flares up like a dying flame, gliding along like a bright ray that illumines all the nooks and corners of his life⁠ ⁠… Unbearable toil, sorrows, and care⁠ ⁠… Where is that happiness? His hard lot will soon trace wrinkles on his youthful face, will bend his mighty back, will teach him how to sigh, as it has taught his elder brother⁠ ⁠…

Over to the left, among the women that stand there with meekly lowered heads, he sees his wife. A fine woman she was, God rest her soul! She, too, had to undergo unbearable suffering⁠ ⁠… But poverty and grinding toil will soon make her beauty wither; her eyes will grow dull, and the expression of constant fright before life’s unexpected blows will replace her beautiful gaze⁠ ⁠… Where is her happiness?⁠ ⁠… One son remained to them, but him, too, human injustice had overcome⁠ ⁠…

And here is he, his wealthy enemy, bowing to the ground, praying for mercy for the orphan tears that are on him; making the sign of the cross, he falls down on his knees, striking the floor with his forehead⁠ ⁠… And Mikheich’s heart boils and seethes, and the dark countenances of the icons gaze sternly upon human sorrow, human injustice⁠ ⁠…

All this is past; it has remained far behind⁠ ⁠… Now his whole world is this dark belfry-tower, where the wind whistles in the darkness, swaying the bell ropes⁠ ⁠… “Let God judge them!” whispers the old man, and bows his white head, while tears flow and flow down the bell-ringer’s cheeks⁠ ⁠…

“Hey, Mikheich! Have you fallen asleep?” shout people from below.

“Eh?” The old man jumped to his feet. “My God! Did I fall asleep? I’ve never had such shame!”

Quickly, with his long-accustomed hand, he seizes the bell-ropes. Below, the crowd moves on like a procession of ants; the church banners flutter in the air, shining with their gold ornaments. Now the procession has encircled the church, and Mikheich hears the joyous shouts:

“Christ is risen from the dead⁠ ⁠…”

Like a surging wave, this shout strikes the old man’s heart. It seems to Mikheich that the wax candles are burning brighter, that the banners are fluttering feverishly, that the wind has suddenly awakened, caught up the waves of sound, and borne them aloft on its broad wings, mingling them on high with the majestic ringing of the bells.

Never did Mikheich ring as he did that night.

It seemed that his overflowing heart transfused itself into the dead brass, and the peals of the bells sang and trembled and laughed and cried, as they rose upward to the very sky. And the stars burned brighter and brighter, and the sounds trembled and flowed, again falling to the earth and embracing it with a loving caress.

The great brass-bell thundered, hurling into space its mighty, commanding tones that resounded in heaven and on the earth with the words, “Christ is arisen!”

The two tenors, constantly startled by periodic strokes of their iron hearts, sang out joyously, “Christ is arisen!”

And the two little bells, hastening after the larger ones, sang out like children, outstripping each other in their joy, “Christ is arisen!”

It seemed that the whole tower was trembling and swaying, and that the wind, too, fluttered its mighty wings, and joined the chorus, “Christ is arisen!”

And the old heart forgot the past life, so full of cares and injustice⁠ ⁠… The old bell-ringer has forgotten that life has become contracted for him merely to the dimensions of that gloomy belfry-tower; that he is alone in the world, standing there as lonely as an old tree stump broken by lightning⁠ ⁠… He listens to these sounds, as they sing and cry, flying up to the sky, and falling back to the poor earth, and it seems to him that he is surrounded by his sons and grandsons, that it is their gladsome voices, the voices of the young and the old, that blend into this chorus and sing to him of happiness and joy, which he has not found in his life⁠ ⁠… And the old bell-ringer pulls the ropes, and tears run down his cheeks, and his heart beats joyfully with the illusion of happiness⁠ ⁠…

And below, men listened and said to each other that Mikheich had never rung as he did that night⁠ ⁠…

But suddenly, the great bell wavered and became silent⁠ ⁠… The startled smaller bells rang out the unfinished melody, and became silent, too, as if intently listening to the mournful prolonged note, that trembled and moaned and cried, slowly dying away in the air⁠ ⁠…

The old bell-ringer fell on the little bench, exhausted, and the last two tears were flowing down his cheeks.

Send someone now to replace him! The old bell-ringer has rung his last⁠ ⁠…

Makar’s Dream

A Christmas Story

This dream was dreamed by poor Makar, who herded his calves in a stern and distant land, by that same Makar upon whose head all troubles are said to fall.

Makar’s birth place was the lonely village of Chalgan, lost in the far forests of Yakutsk. His parents and grandparents had wrested a strip of land from the forest, and their courage had not failed even when the dark thickets still stood about them like a hostile wall. Rail fences began to stretch across the clearing; small, smoky huts began to crowd thickly upon it; hay and straw stacks sprang up; and at last, from a knoll in the centre of the encampment, a church spire had shot toward heaven like a banner of victory.

Chalgan had become a village.

But while Makar’s forbears had been striving with the forest, burning it with fire and hewing it with steel, they themselves had slowly become savage in their turn. They married Yakut women, spoke the language of the Yakuts, adopted their customs, and gradually in them the characteristics of the Great Russian race had been obliterated and lost.

Nevertheless, my Makar firmly believed that he was a Russian peasant of Chalgan, and not a nomad Yakut. In Chalgan he had been born, there he had lived and there he meant to die. He was very proud of his birth and station, and when he wished to vilify his fellow-townsmen would call them “heathen Yakuts,” though if the truth must be told, he differed from them neither in habits nor manner of living. He seldom spoke Russian and, when he did, spoke it badly. He dressed in skins, wore “torbas” on his feet, ate dough-cakes and drank brick-tea, supplemented on holidays and special occasions with as much cooked butter as happened to be on the table before him. He could ride very skilfully on an ox, and when he fell ill he always summoned a wizard, who would go mad and spring at him, gnashing his teeth, hoping to frighten the malady out of his patient and so drive it away.

Makar worked desperately hard, lived in poverty, and suffered from hunger and cold. Had he a thought beyond his unceasing anxiety to obtain his dough-cakes and brick-tea? Yes, he had.

When he was drunk, he would weep and cry: “Oh, Lord my God, what a life!” sometimes adding that he would like to give it all up and go up on to the “mountain.” There he need neither sow nor reap, nor cut and haul wood, nor even grind grain on a hand millstone. He would “be saved,” that was all. He did not know exactly where the mountain was, nor what it was like, he only knew that there was such a place, and that it was somewhere far away, so far that there not even the District Policeman could find him. Of course there he would pay no taxes.

When sober he abandoned these thoughts, realising perchance the impossibility of finding that beautiful mountain, but when drunk he grew bolder. Admitting that he might not find that particular mountain, but some other, he would say: “In that case I should die.” But he was prepared to start, nevertheless. If he did not carry out his intention, it was because the Tartars in the village always sold him vile vodka with an infusion of mahorka55 for strength, and this quickly made him ill and laid him by the heels.

It was Christmas Eve, and Makar knew that tomorrow would be a great holiday. This being the case, he was overpowered with a longing for drink, but to drink there was nothing. His resources were at an end. His flour was all gone, he was already in debt to the village merchants and Tartars, yet tomorrow was a great holiday, he would not be able to work, what could he do if he did not get drunk? This reflection made him unhappy. What a life it was! He had not even one bottle of vodka to drink on the great winter holiday.

Then a happy thought came to him. He got up and put on his ragged fur coat. His wife, a sturdy, sinewy woman, remarkably strong and equally remarkably ugly, who saw through all his simple wiles, guessed his intentions as usual.

“Where are you going, you wretch? To drink vodka alone?”

“Be quiet. I’m going to buy one bottle. We’ll drink it together tomorrow.”

He gave her a sly wink and clapped her on the shoulder with such force that she staggered. A woman’s heart is like that; though she knew that Makar was deceiving her, she surrendered to the charms of that conjugal caress.

He went out of the house, caught his old piebald pony in the courtyard, led him by the mane to the sleigh, and put him in harness. The piebald soon carried Makar through the gates and then stopped and looked enquiringly at his Master, who was sitting plunged in thought. At this Makar pulled the left rein, and drove away to the outskirts of the village.

On the edge of the village stood a little hut out of which, as out of the other huts, the smoke of a little fire rose high, high into the air, veiling the bright moon and the white, glittering hosts of stars. The flames crackled merrily and sparkled through the dim icicles that hung about the doorway. All was quiet inside the courtyard gates.

Strangers from a foreign land lived here. How they had come, what tempest had cast them up in that lonely clearing, Makar knew not, neither cared to know, but he liked to trade with them, for they neither pressed him too hard nor insisted upon payment.

On entering the hut, Makar went straight to the fireplace and stretched out his frozen hands over the blaze, crying “Tcha” to explain how the frost had nipped him.

The foreigners were at home; a candle was burning on the table although no work was being done. One man was lying on the bed blowing rings of smoke, pensively following their winding curves with his eyes, and intertwining with them the long threads of his thoughts.

The other was sitting over the fire thoughtfully watching the sparks that crept across the burning wood.

“Hello!” said Makar, to break the oppressive silence.

He did not know how should he the sadness that filled the hearts of the two strangers, the memories that crowded their brains that evening, the visions they saw in the fantastic play of fire and smoke. Besides, he had troubles of his own.

The young man who sat by the chimney raised his head and looked at Makar with puzzled eyes, as if not recognising him. Then, with a shake of his head, he quickly got up from his chair.

“Ah, good evening, good evening, Makar. Good. Will you have tea with us?”

“Tea?” Makar repeated after him. “That’s good. That’s good, brother; that’s fine.”

He began quickly to take off his things. Once free of his fur coat and cap he felt more at his ease, and, seeing the red coals already glowing in the samovar, he turned to the young man with exaggerated enthusiasm.

“I like you, that is the truth. I like you so, so very much; at night I don’t sleep⁠—”

The stranger turned, and a bitter smile crept over his face.

“You like me, do you?” he asked. “What do you want?”

“Business,” Makar answered. “But how did you know?”

“All right. When I’ve had tea I’ll tell you.”

As his hosts themselves had offered him tea, Makar thought the moment opportune to press the point farther.

“Have you any roast meat?” he asked. “I like it.”

“No, we haven’t.”

“Well, never mind,” replied Makar soothingly. “We’ll have that some other time, won’t we?” And he repeated his question: “We’ll have that some other time?”

“Very well.”

Makar now considered that the strangers owed him a piece of roast meat, and he never failed to collect a debt of this kind.

Another hour found him seated once more in his sled, having made one whole rouble by selling five loads of wood in advance on fairly good terms. Now, although he had vowed and sworn not to drink up the money until tomorrow, he nevertheless made up his mind to do so without delay. What odds? The pleasure ahead silenced the voice of his conscience; he even forgot the cruel drubbing in store for his drunken self from his wife, the faithful and the deceived.

“Where are you going, Makar?” called the stranger laughing, as Makar’s horse, instead of going straight ahead, turned off to the left in the direction of the Tartar settlement.

“Whoa! Whoa! Will you look where the brute is going?” cried Makar to exculpate himself, tugging hard at the left rein nevertheless and slyly slapping his pony’s side with the right.

The clever little horse stumbled patiently away in the direction required by his master, and the scraping of the runners soon stopped in front of a Tartar house.


At the gate stood several horses with high-peaked Yakut saddles on their backs.

The air in the crowded hut was stifling and hot; a dense cloud of acrid mahorka smoke hung in the air and wound slowly up the chimney. Yakut visitors were sitting on benches about the room or had clustered around the tables set with mugs full of vodka. Here and there little groups were gathered over a game of cards. The faces of all were flushed and shining with sweat. The eyes of the gamblers were fiercely intent on their play, and the money came and went in a flash from pocket to pocket. On a pile of straw in a corner sat a drunken Yakut, rocking his body to and fro and droning an endless song. He drew the wild, rasping sounds from his throat in every possible key, repeating always that tomorrow was a great holiday and that today he was drunk.

Makar paid his rouble and received in return a bottle of vodka. He slipped it into the breast of his coat and retired unnoticed into a corner. There he filled mug after mug in rapid succession and gulped them down one after another. The liquor was vile, diluted for the holiday with more than three quarters of water, but if the dole of vodka was scant, the mahorka had not been stinted. Makar caught his breath after each draught, and purple spots circled before his eyes.

The liquor soon overpowered him; he also sank down on the straw, folded his arms around his knees, and laid his heavy head upon them. The same dreary, rasping sounds burst of their own accord from his throat; he sang that tomorrow was a great holiday and that he had drunk up five loads of wood.

Meanwhile the hut was filling with other Yakuts who had come to town to go to church and to drink Tartar vodka, and the host saw that soon there would be no room for more. He rose from the table and looked at the company, and, as he did so, his eye fell upon Makar and the Yakut sitting in their dark corner. He made his way to the Yakut, seized him by the coat collar, and flung him out of the hut. Then he approached Makar.

As a citizen of Chalgan, the Tartar showed him greater respect; he threw the door open wide and gave the poor fellow such a kick from behind that Makar shot out of the hut and buried his nose in a snowdrift.

It would be difficult to say whether Makar was offended by this treatment or not. He felt snow up his sleeves and on his face, picked himself up somehow out of the drift, and staggered to where his piebald was standing.

The moon had by now risen high in the heavens and the tail of the Great Bear was dipping toward the horizon. The cold was tightening its grasp. The first fiery shafts of the Aurora were flaring up fitfully out of a dark, semicircular cloud in the north and playing softly across the sky.

The piebald, realising, it seemed, his master’s condition, trudged carefully and soberly homeward. Makar sat in his sled, swaying from side to side, and continued his song. He sang that he had drunk away five loads of wood, and that his old woman would kill him when he got home.

The sounds that burst from his throat rasped and groaned so dismally through the evening air that his friend the foreigner, who had climbed up on to his roof to close the mouth of the chimney, felt more than ever unhappy at the sound of Makar’s song.

Meanwhile the piebald had drawn the sled to the top of a little hill from where the surrounding country could be distinctly seen. The snowy expanse lay shining brightly, bathed in the rays of the moon, but from time to time the moonlight faded and the white fields grew dark until, with a sudden flash, the radiance of the Northern Lights streamed across them. Then it seemed as if the snowy hills and the forest that clothed them were coming very close, to withdraw once again into the distant shadow. Makar spied plainly through the trees the silvery bald crown of the little knoll behind which his traps were waiting for all the wild dwellers of the forest. The sight of this hill changed the tenor of his thoughts. He sang that a fox had been caught in one of his snares; he would sell the pelt in the morning, and so his wife would not kill him.

The first chimes of the church bells were ringing through the frosty air as Makar re-entered his hut. His first words were to tell his wife that a fox had been caught in one of his traps, and as he had forgotten entirely that the old woman had not shared his vodka, he was violently surprised when she gave him a cruel kick, without paying any attention to his good news.

Later, as he lay prostrate on the bed, she managed to give him another blow in the back with her fist.

Meanwhile the solemn, festal chiming of the bells broke over Chalgan and floated far, far away into the distance.


He lay on his bed with his head burning and his vitals on fire. The strong mixture of vodka and mahorka was coursing through his veins, and trickles of melted snow were running down his face and back.

His wife thought him asleep, but he was not sleeping. He could not get the idea of that fox out of his head. He had succeeded in convincing himself absolutely that a fox had been caught in one of his traps, and he even knew which trap it was. He saw the fox pinned under the heavy log, saw it tearing at the snow with its claws and struggling to be free, while the moonbeams stole into the thicket and played over its red-gold fur. The eyes of the wild creature were glowing at his approach.

He could stand it no longer. He rose from his bed, and started to find his faithful pony who was to carry him into the forest.

But what was this? Had the strong arms of his wife really seized him by the collar of his fur coat and thrown him back on the bed?

No, here he was, already beyond the village. The runners of his sleigh were creaking smoothly over the hard snow. Chalgan had been left behind. The solemn tones of the church bells came floating along his trail, and on the black line of the horizon bands of dark horsemen in tall, pointed hats were silhouetted against the bright sky. The Yakuts were hurrying to church.

The moon went down, and a small, whitish cloud appeared in the zenith, shining with suffused, phosphorescent lustre. It gathered size, it broke, it flickered, and rays of iridescent light spread swiftly from it in all directions, while the dark, semicircular cloud in the north grew blacker and blacker, more sombre than the forest which Makar was approaching.

The road wound through a dense, low thicket with little hills rising on either hand; the farther it advanced, the higher grew the trees, until at last the taiga closed about it, mute and pregnant with mystery. The naked branches of the larches drooped under their loads of silvery rime. The soft radiance of the Aurora filtered through the treetops, and strayed across the frosty earth, unveiling now an icy glade, now the fallen trunk of some giant of the forest half buried in the snow.

Another moment, and again all was sunk in murky darkness, full-fraught with secrecy and silence. Makar stopped. Here, almost at the side of the road, were set the first units of an elaborate system of traps. He could see clearly in the phosphorescent light the low stockade of fallen timber and the first trap⁠—three long, heavy logs resting upon an upright post, and held in place by a complicated arrangement of levers and horsehair ropes.

To be sure, these traps were not his, but might not a fox have been caught in them, too? Makar quickly got out of his sled, left the clever piebald standing in the road, and listened attentively.

Not a sound in the forest! Only the solemn ringing of the church bells came floating as before from the distant, invisible village.

There was nothing to fear. Aliosha, the owner of the traps and Makar’s neighbour and bitter enemy, was no doubt in church. Not a track could be seen on the smooth breast of the new-fallen snow.

Makar struck into the thicket⁠—no one was there.

The snow creaked under foot. The log traps lay side by side like a row of cannon with gaping jaws, in silent expectation.

Makar walked up and down the line without finding anything, and turned back to the road.

But what was that? A faint rustle! The gleam of red fur near at hand in a spot of light! Makar saw clearly the pointed ears of a fox; it waved its bushy tail from side to side as if to beckon him into the forest, and vanished among the tree-trunks in the direction of his traps. Next moment a dull, heavy thud resounded through the forest, ringing out clearly at first, and then echoing more faintly under the canopy of trees, until it died softly away in the dark abysses of the taiga.

Makar’s heart leapt⁠—a trap had fallen!

He sprang toward the sound, pushing his way through the undergrowth. The icy twigs whipped his eyes and showered snow in his face; he stumbled and lost his breath.

At last he ran into a clearing that he himself had made. Hoary white trees surrounded the little glade, and a shrinking path crept across it, with the mouth of a large trap guarding its farther end. A few steps more and⁠—

Suddenly, the figure of a man appeared on the path near the trap⁠—appeared and vanished. Makar recognised Aliosha. He saw distinctly his short, massive, stooping form and his walk like a bear’s. His dark face looked blacker than he had ever seen it, Makar thought, and his large teeth showed in a wider grin than ever.

Makar was seized with genuine anger. “The scoundrel! He has been at my traps!” It was true that Makar had just made the round of Aliosha’s traps, but that was a different matter. The difference was that when he visited other men’s traps he felt afraid of being discovered, but when others came to his traps, he felt indignation and a longing to lay hands on the man who had violated his rights.

He darted toward the fallen trap. There was the fox! Aliosha, too, was approaching with his shuffling bear’s walk; Makar must reach the trap first!

There lay the fallen log and under it glistened the ruddy coat of the captive creature. The fox was scratching at the snow with its paws exactly as Makar had seen it scratch in his dream, and was watching his approach with bright, burning eyes, just as he had dreamt that it would.

Titima! (Don’t touch it!) It is mine!” cried Makar to Aliosha.

Titima!” came Aliosha’s voice like an echo. “It is mine!”

Both men ran up at the same moment, and both began quickly to raise the log, freeing the animal beneath it. As the log was lifted the fox rose too. It gave a little jump, stopped, looked at the two men with mocking eyes, and then, lowering its nose, licked the place that had been caught under the log. This done it hopped gaily away with a farewell flirt of its tail.

Aliosha would have thrown himself after it, but Makar caught him by the coat tails.

Titima!” he cried. “It is mine!” And he started after the fox.

Titima!” echoed Aliosha’s voice again, and Makar felt himself seized, in turn, by the tails of his coat, and saw Aliosha dart forward.

Makar was furious. He forgot the fox and rushed after Aliosha, who now turned to flee.

They ran faster and faster. The twigs of the larches knocked the cap from Aliosha’s head, but he could not stop to regain it. Makar was already upon him with a fierce cry. But Aliosha had always been more crafty than poor Makar. He suddenly stopped, turned round, and lowered his head; Makar ran straight into it with his stomach and turned head over heels in the snow. As he fell, that infernal Aliosha snatched the cap from his head and vanished into the forest.

Makar rose slowly to his feet. He felt thoroughly beaten and miserable. The state of his mind was pitiful. The fox had been in his hands and now⁠—he thought he saw it again in the darkening forest wave its tail gaily once more and vanish forever.

Darkness was falling. The little white cloud in the zenith could barely be seen, and beams of fading light were flowing wearily and languidly from it as it gently melted away.

Sharp rivulets of icy water were running in streams over Makar’s heated body; the snow had gone up his sleeves and was trickling down his back and into his boots. That infernal Aliosha had taken away his cap and Makar well knew that the pitiless cold does not jest with men who go into the taiga without gloves and without a hat.

He had already walked far. According to his calculations he should long since have been in sight of the church steeple, but here he was still in the forest. The taiga held him in its embrace like a witch. The same solemn ringing came to his ears from afar; he thought he was walking toward it, but the sound kept growing more and more distant, and a dull despair crept into Makar’s heart as its echoes came ever more faintly to his ears.

He was tired; he was choking; his legs were shaking under him. His bruised body ached miserably, his breathing strangled him, his feet and hands were growing numb, and red-hot bands seemed tightening around his bare head.

“I shall die!” came more and more frequently into his mind, but still he walked on.

The taiga held its peace. It closed about him with obdurate hostility and gave him no light and no hope.

“I shall die!” Makar kept thinking.

His strength left him altogether. The saplings now beat him squarely in the face without the least shame, in derision at his helpless plight. As he crossed one little glade a white hare ran out, sat up on its hind legs, waved its long, black-tipped ears, and began to wash its face, making the rudest grimaces at Makar. It gave him to understand that it knew him well, knew him to be the same Makar who had devised cunning means of destruction for it in the forest; but now it was its turn to jeer.

Makar felt bitterly sad. The taiga grew more animated, but with a malign activity. Even the distant trees now threw their long branches across his way, snatched at his hair, and beat his face and’ eyes. The ptarmigans came out of their secret coverts and fixed their round, curious eyes upon him, and the wood-grouse ran in and out among them with drooping tails and angry, spreading wings, loudly telling their mates of him, Makar, and of his snares. Finally, a thousand fox-faces glanced from the distant thickets; they sniffed the air and looked derisively at him, pricking their sharp ears. Then the hares came and stood on their hind legs before him and shouted with laughter as they told of Makar’s misfortune.

That was too much.

“I shall die!” thought Makar, and he decided to do so as quickly as possible.

He lay down on the snow.

The cold increased. The last rays of the Aurora flickered faintly and stretched across the sky to peep at Makar through the treetops. The last echoes of the church bells came floating to him from faraway Chalgan.

The Northern Lights flared up and went out. The bells ceased ringing.

Makar died.


He did not notice how this came to pass. He knew that something should come out of him, and waited, thinking every moment it would come, but nothing appeared.

Nevertheless, he realised that he was now dead, and he therefore lay very still; he lay so long that he grew tired.

The night was dark when Makar felt someone push him with his foot. He turned his head and opened his eyes.

The larches were now standing meekly and quietly over him, as if ashamed of their former pranks. The shaggy spruces stretched out their long snow-covered arms and rocked themselves gently, gently, and the starry snowflakes settled softly through the air.

The kind, bright stars looked down through the branches from the dark blue sky, and seemed to be saying: “See, a poor man has died!”

Over Makar’s prostrate form and prodding him with his foot stood the old priest Ivan. His long cassock was white with snow; snow lay upon his fur hat, his shoulders, and his beard. Most surprising of all was the fact that this was the same Father Ivan who had died five years ago.

He had been a good priest. He had never pressed Makar for his tithes and had not even asked to be paid for the services of the church; Makar had always fixed the price of his own christenings and requiems, and he now remembered with confusion that it had sometimes been extremely low and that sometimes he had not even paid it at all. Father Ivan had never resented this, he had only required one thing: a bottle of vodka on every occasion. If Makar had no money, Father Ivan would send him for the bottle himself, and they would drink it together. The good priest always grew as drunk as a lord, but he fought neither fiercely nor often. Makar would see him home, and hand him over, helpless and defenseless, to the care of the Mother Priestess, his wife.

Yes, he had been a good priest, but his end had been bad.

One day, when there was no one else at home, the fuddled Father, who was lying alone on the bed, had taken it into his head to smoke. He got up and staggered toward the great, fiercely heated fireplace to light his pipe at the blaze. But he was too drunk, he swayed and fell into the fire. When his family returned, all that remained of the little Father were his feet.

Everyone regretted good Father Ivan, but no doctor on earth could have saved him, as only his feet remained. So they buried the feet, and a new priest was appointed to fill the place of Father Ivan.

And now Ivan himself, sound and whole, was standing over Makar, prodding him with his foot.

“Get up, Makar, old man!” he was saying, “and let us be going.”

“Where must I go?” asked Makar with displeasure. He supposed that once dead he ought to lie still, and that there was no need for him now to be wandering about the forest, losing his way. If he had to do that, then why had he died?

“Let us go to the great Toyon.”56

“Why should I go to him?” Makar asked.

“He is going to judge you,” answered the priest in a sorrowful, compassionate voice.

Makar recollected that, in fact, one did have to appear at some judgment after one died. He had heard that at church. The priest was right after all; he would have to get up.

So Makar rose, muttering under his breath that they couldn’t even let a man alone after he was dead.

The priest walked before and Makar followed. They went always straight ahead, and the larches stood meekly aside and allowed them to pass; they were going eastward.

Makar noted with surprise that Father Ivan left no tracks in the snow behind him; he looked under his own feet and saw no tracks either; the snow lay as fresh and smooth as a table cloth.

How easy it would be now, he reflected, to rob other men’s traps, as no one could find him out! But the priest must have read his secret thought, for he turned and said: “Kabis! (stop that!). You don’t know what you will get for thoughts like that.”

“Well, I declare!” exclaimed the disgusted Makar. “Can’t I even think what I please? What makes you so strict these days? Hold your tongue!”

The priest shook his head and walked on.

“Have we far to go?” asked Makar.

“Yes, a long way,” answered the priest sadly.

“And what shall we have to eat?” Makar inquired with anxiety.

“You have forgotten that you are dead,” the priest answered turning toward him. “You won’t have to eat or drink now.”

Makar did not like that idea in the least. Of course it would be all right in case there were nothing to eat, but then one ought to lie still, as he did at first after his death. But to walk, and to walk a long way, and to eat nothing, that seemed to him to be absolutely outrageous. He began muttering again.

“Don’t grumble!”

“All right!” he answered in an injured voice and went on complaining and growling to himself about such a stupid arrangement.

“They make a man walk and yet he needn’t eat! Who ever heard of such a thing?”

He was extremely discontented as he followed the priest. And they walked a long way. Though Makar could not see the dawn, they seemed, by the distance they had covered, to have been walking a week. They had left so many ravines and hills behind them, so many rivers and lakes, so many forests and plains! Whenever Makar looked back, the dark taiga seemed to be running away behind them and the high, snowclad mountains seemed to be melting into the murky night and hiding swiftly behind the horizon.

They appeared to be climbing higher and higher. The stars grew larger and brighter; from the crest of the height to which they had risen they could see the rim of the setting moon. It seemed to have been in haste to escape, but Makar and the priest had overtaken it. Then it rose again over the horizon, and the travellers found themselves on a level, very high plain. It was light now, much lighter than early in the night, and this was due, of course, to the fact that they were much nearer the stars than they had been before. Each one of these, in size like an apple, glittered with ineffable brightness; the moon, as large as a huge barrel-head, blazed with the brilliance of the sun, lighting up the vast expanse from one edge to the other.

Every snowflake on the plain was sharply discernible, and countless paths stretched across it, all converging toward the same point in the east. Men of various aspects and in many different garbs were walking and riding along these roads.

Makar looked sharply at one horseman, and then suddenly turned off the road and pursued him.

“Stop! Stop!” cried the priest, but Makar did not even hear him. He had recognised a Tartar, an old acquaintance of his, who had stolen a piebald horse from him once, and who had died five years ago. There was that same Tartar now, riding along on the very same horse! The animal was skimming over the ground, clouds of snowy dust were rising from under its hoofs, glittering with the rainbow colours of twinkling stars. Makar was surprised that he should be able, on foot, to overtake the Tartar so easily in his mad gallop. Besides, when he perceived Makar a few steps behind him, he stopped with great readiness. Makar fell upon him with passion.

“Come to the sheriff with me!” he cried. “That is my horse; he has a split in his right ear. Look at the man, how smart he is, riding along on a stolen horse while the owner follows on foot like a beggar!”

“Gently,” said the Tartar. “No need to go for the sheriff! You say this is your horse, take him and be damned to the brute! This is the fifth year I have been riding him up and down on one and the same spot! Every foot-passenger overtakes me. It is humiliating for a good Tartar, it is indeed!”

He threw his leg over the saddle in act to alight, but at that moment the panting priest came running up and seized Makar by the arm.

“Unfortunate man!” he cried. “What are you about? Can’t you see that the Tartar is fooling you?”

“Of course he is fooling me!” shouted Makar waving his arms. “That was a lovely horse, a real gentleman’s horse; I was offered forty roubles for him before his third spring. Never you mind, brother! If you have spoilt that horse for me I shall cut him up for meat, and you shall pay me his full value in money! Do you think, because you are a Tartar, there are no laws for you?”

Makar was flying into a passion and shouting in order to draw a crowd about him, for he was afraid of Tartars from habit, but the priest broke in on his outburst.

“Gently, gently, Makar, you keep forgetting that you are dead! What do you want with a horse? Can’t you see that you travel much faster on foot than the Tartar does on horseback? Would you like to be forced to ride for a whole thousand years?”

Makar now understood why the Tartar had been so willing to give up his horse.

“They’re a crooked lot!” he thought, and he turned to the Tartar.

“Very well then,” he said. “Take the horse, brother; I forgive you!”

The Tartar angrily pulled his fur cap over his ears and lashed his horse. The pony galloped madly, and clouds of snow flew from under its hoofs, but long as Makar and the priest stood still, the Tartar did not budge an inch from their side.

He spat angrily and turned to Makar.

“Listen, friend, haven’t you a bit of mahorka with you? I do want to smoke so badly, and I finished all mine five years ago.”

“You’re a friend of dogs but no friend of mine,” retorted Makar in a rage. “You have stolen my horse and now you ask for mahorka! Confound you altogether, I’m not sorry for you one bit!”

With these words Makar moved on.

“You made a mistake not to give him a little mahorka,” said Father Ivan. “The Toyon would have forgiven you at least one hundred sins for that at the Judgment.”

“Then why didn’t you tell me that before?” snapped Makar.

“Ah, it is too late to teach you anything now. You should have learnt it from your priest while you were alive.”

Makar was furious. He saw no sense in priests who took their tithes and did not even teach a man when to give a leaf of mahorka to a Tartar in order to gain forgiveness for his sins. One hundred sins were no joke! And all for a leaf of tobacco! The mistake had cost him dear.

“Wait a moment!” he exclaimed. “One leaf will do very well for us two. Let me give the other four to the Tartar this minute, that will mean four hundred sins!”

“Look behind you,” answered the priest.

Makar looked round. The white, empty plain lay stretched out far behind them; the Tartar appeared for a second upon it, a tiny, distant dot. Makar thought he could distinguish the white cloud rising from under the hoofs of his piebald, but next moment the dot, too, had vanished.

“Well, well, the Tartar will manage all right without his mahorka. You see how he has ruined my horse, the scoundrel!”

“No, he has not ruined your horse,” answered the priest. “That horse was stolen. Have you not heard the old men say that a stolen horse will never go far?”

Makar had certainly heard this from the old men, but as he had often seen Tartars ride all the way to the city on horses that they had stolen, he had never put much belief in the saying. He now concluded that old men were sometimes right.

They now began to pass many other horsemen on the plain. All were hurrying along as fast as the first; the horses were flying like birds, the riders dripping with sweat, yet Makar and the priest kept overtaking them and leaving them behind.

Most of these horsemen were Tartars, but a few were natives of Chalgan; some of the latter were astride stolen oxen and were goading them on with lumps of ice.

Makar looked with hatred at the Tartars, and muttered every time he passed one that the fellow had deserved much worse than this, but when he met a peasant from Chalgan he would stop and chat amicably with him, as they were friends, after all, even if they were thieves! Sometimes he would even show his fellow-feeling by picking up a lump of ice and diligently beating the ox or horse from behind, but let him take so much as one step forward himself, and horse and rider would be left far in the rear, a scarcely visible dot.

The plain seemed to be boundless. Though Makar and his companion occasionally overtook these riders and pedestrians, the country around was deserted, and the travellers seemed to be separated by hundreds of thousands of miles.

Among others, Makar fell in with an old man unknown to him, who plainly hailed from Chalgan; this could be discerned from his face, his clothes, and even from his walk, but Makar could not remember ever having seen him before. The old man wore a ragged fur coat, a great shaggy hat, tattered and worn leather breeches, and still older calfskin boots. Worst of all, he was carrying on his shoulders, in spite of his old age, a crone still more ancient than himself, whose feet trailed on the ground. The old man was wheezing and staggering along, leaning heavily on his stick. Makar felt sorry for him. He stopped and the old man stopped too.

Kansi! (Speak!)” said Makar pleasantly.

“No,” answered the greybeard.

“What have you seen?”

“Nothing.”

“What have you heard?”

“Nothing.”

Makar was silent for a while, and then thought he might ask the old man who he was and whence he had crawled.

The old man told his name. Long since, he said⁠—he did not know himself how many years ago⁠—he had left Chalgan and gone up to the “mountain” to save himself. There he had done no work, had lived on roots and berries, and had neither ploughed nor sowed nor ground wheat nor paid taxes. When he died he went to the Judgment of the Toyon. The Toyon asked him who he was, and what he had done. He answered he had gone up on the “mountain” and had saved himself. “Very well,” the Toyon answered, “but where is your wife? Go and fetch her here.” So he went back for his old woman. But she had been forced to beg before she died, as there had been no one to support her, and she had had neither house, nor cow, nor bread. Her strength had failed, and now finally she was not able to move her legs. So he was obliged to carry her to the Toyon on his back.

As he said this, the old man burst into tears, but the old woman kicked him with her heels as if he had been an ox, and cried in a weak, cross voice:

“Go on!”

Makar felt more sorry than ever for the old man, and heartily thanked his stars that he had not succeeded in going to the “mountain” himself. His wife was large and lusty, and his burden would have been even heavier than that of the old man; if, in addition to this, she had begun to kick him as if he were an ox, he would certainly have died a second death.

He tried to hold the old woman’s feet out of pity for his friend, but he had scarcely taken three steps before he was forced to drop them hastily, or they would certainly have remained in his hands; another minute, and the old man and his burden were left far out of sight.

For the remainder of his journey Makar met no more travellers whom he honoured with marked attention. Here were thieves crawling along step by step, laden like beasts of burden with stolen goods; here rode fat Yakut chieftains towering in their high saddles, their peaked hats brushing the clouds; here, skipping beside them, ran poor workmen, as lean and light as hares; here strode a gloomy murderer, blood-drenched, with haggard, furtive eyes. He kept casting himself in vain into the pure snow, hoping to wash out the crimson stains; the snow around him was instantly dyed red, but the blood upon the murderer started out more vividly than ever, and in his eyes there gleamed wild horror and despair. So he ran on, shunning the frightened gaze of all men.

From time to time the little souls of children came flying through the air like birds, winging their way in great flocks, and this was no surprise to Makar. Bad, coarse food, dirt, the heat from the fireplaces, and the cold draughts in the huts drove them from Chalgan alone in hundreds. As they overtook the murderer, the startled flocks wheeled swiftly aside, and long after their passage the air was filled with the quick, anxious whirring of their little pinions.

Makar could not help remarking that, in comparison with the other travellers, he was moving at a fairly swift pace, and he hastened to ascribe this to his own virtue.

“Listen Asabit! (Father!)” he said. “What do you think, even if I was fond of drinking I was a good man, wasn’t I? God loves me, doesn’t he?”

He looked inquiringly at Father Ivan. He had a secret motive for asking this question, he wanted to find out something from the old priest, but the latter answered curtly:

“Don’t be conceited! We are near the end now. You will soon find that out for yourself.”

Makar had not noticed until then that a light seemed to be breaking over the plain. First a few lambent rays flashed up over the horizon, spreading swiftly across the sky and extinguishing the bright stars. They went out, the moon set, and the plain lay in darkness.

Then mists arose on the plain and stood round about it like a guard of honour.

And at a certain point in the east the mists grew bright like a legion of warriors in golden armour.

And then the mists stirred, and the warriors prostrated themselves upon the ground.

And the sun rose from their midst, and rested upon their golden ranks, and looked across the plain.

And the whole plain shone with a wonderful, dazzling radiance.

And the mists rose triumphantly in a mighty host, parted in the south, swayed, and swept upwards.

And Makar seemed to hear a most enchanting melody, the immemorial paean with which the earth daily greets the rising sun. He had never before given it due attention, and only now felt for the first time the beauty of the song.

He stood and hearkened and would not go any farther; he wanted to stand there forever and listen.


But Father Ivan touched him on the arm. “We have arrived,” he said. “Let us go in.” Thereupon Makar noticed that they were standing before a large door which had previously been hidden by the mist.

He was very loath to proceed, but could not fail to comply.


They entered a large and spacious hut, and not until then did Makar reflect that it had been very cold outside. In the middle of the hut was a chimney of pure silver marvellously engraved, and in it blazed logs of gold, radiating such an even heat that one’s whole body was penetrated by it in an instant. The flames in this beautiful fireplace neither scorched nor dazzled the eyes, they only warmed, and once more Makar wanted to stand there and toast himself forever. Father Ivan, too, came and stood before the fire, stretching out his frozen hands to the blaze.

Four doors opened out of the room, and of these only one led into the open air; through the other three young men in long white gowns were coming and going. Makar imagined that they must be the servants of this Toyon. He seemed to remember having seen them somewhere before, but could not recollect exactly where. He was not a little surprised to note that each servant wore a pair of large white wings upon his back, and decided that the Toyon must have other workmen beside these, for surely they, encumbered with their wings, could never make their way through the forest thickets when they went to cut wood or poles.

One of the servants approached the fire, and, turning his back to the blaze, addressed Father Ivan.

“Speak!”

“There is nought to say.”

“What did you hear in the world?”

“Nothing.”

“What did you see?”

“Nothing.”

Both were silent, and then the priest said:

“I have brought this one.”

“Is he from Chalgan?” asked the servant.

“Yes, from Chalgan.”

“Then we must get ready the big scales.”

He left the room to make his preparations, and Makar asked the priest why scales were needed, and why they must be large.

“You see,” answered the priest a trifle embarrassed, “the scales are needed to weigh the good and evil you did when you were alive. With all other people the good and evil almost balance one another, but the inhabitants of Chalgan bring so many sins with them that the Toyon had to have special scales made with one of the bowls extra large in order to contain them all.”

At these words Makar quailed, and felt his heartstrings tighten.

The servant brought in and set up the big scales. One bowl was small and of gold, the other was wooden and of huge proportions. A deep black pit suddenly opened under the wooden bowl.

Makar approached the scales, and carefully inspected them to make sure they were not false. They proved to be correct; the bowls hung motionless, without movement up or down.

To tell the truth, he did not exactly understand their mechanism, and would have preferred to have done business with the simple balances by whose aid he had learned to buy and sell with great profit to himself during the course of his long life.

“The Toyon is coming!” cried Father Ivan suddenly, and hastily began to pull his cassock straight.

The central door opened and in came an ancient, venerable Toyon, his long silvery beard hanging below his waist. He was dressed in rich furs and tissues unknown to Makar, and on his feet he wore warm velvet-lined boots, such as Makar had seen depicted on antique ikons.

Makar recognised him at a glance as the same old greybeard whose picture he had seen in church, only here he was unattended by his son. Makar decided that the latter must have gone out on business. The dove flew into the room, however, and after circling about the old man’s head, settled upon his knee. The old Toyon stroked the dove with his hand as he sat on the seat that had been especially prepared for him.

The Toyon’s face was kind, and when Makar became too downcast he looked at it and felt better.

His heart was heavy because he was suddenly remembering all his past life down to the smallest detail; he remembered every step he had taken, every blow of his axe, every tree he had felled, every deceit he had practiced, every glass of vodka he had drunk.

He grew frightened and ashamed, but he took heart as he looked at the face of the old Toyon.

And as he took heart it occurred to him that there might be some things he could manage to conceal.

The old Toyon looked searchingly at him and asked him who he was and whence he had come, what his name was and what his age might be.

When Makar had replied to his questions, the old Toyon asked:

“What have you done in your life?”

“You know that yourself,” answered Makar. “Surely it is written in your book!”

Makar wanted to test the Toyon and find out whether everything was really inscribed there or no.

“Tell me yourself,” answered the old Toyon.

Makar took courage.

He began enumerating all his works, and although he remembered every blow he had struck with his axe, every pole he had cut, and every furrow he had ploughed, he added to his reckoning thousands of poles and hundreds of loads of wood and hundreds of logs and hundreds of pounds of sown seed.

When all had been told, the old Toyon turned to Father Ivan and said:

“Bring hither the book.”

Makar saw from this that Father Ivan was secretary to the Toyon, and was annoyed that the other had given him no friendly hint of the fact.

Father Ivan brought the great book, opened it, and began to read.

“Just look and see how many poles are inscribed there,” said the old Toyon.

Father Ivan looked and answered sorrowfully:

“He added a round three thousand to his reckoning.”

“It’s a lie!” shouted Makar vehemently. “He must be wrong because he was a drunkard and died a wicked death!”

“Be quiet!” commanded the Toyon. “Did he charge you more than was fair for christenings and weddings? Did he ever press you for tithes?”

“Why waste words?” answered Makar.

“You see,” the Toyon said, “I know without assistance from you that he was fond of drink⁠—”

And the old Toyon lost his temper. “Read his sins from the book now; he is a cheat, and I can’t believe his words!” he cried to Father Ivan.

Meanwhile the servants were heaping into the golden bowl all Makar’s poles, and his wood, and his ploughing, and all his work. And there proved to be so much that the golden bowl sank, and the wooden bowl rose out of reach, high, high into the air. So the young servants of God flew up to it on their pinions and hundreds of them pulled it to the floor with ropes.

Heavy is the labour of a native of Chalgan!

Then Father Ivan began adding up the number of frauds that Makar had committed, and there proved to be twenty-one thousand, three hundred and three. Then he added up the number of bottles of vodka he had drunk, and there proved to be four hundred. And the priest read on and Makar saw that the wooden bowl was pulling on the gold one; it sank into the hole, and, as the priest read, it descended ever deeper and deeper.

Makar realised then that things were going badly for him; he stepped up to the scales and furtively tried to block them with his foot.

But one of the servants saw it, and a clamour arose amongst them.

“What is the matter there?” asked the old Toyon.

“Why, he was trying to block the scales with his foot!” cried the servant.

At that the Toyon turned wrathfully to Makar, exclaiming:

“I see that you are a cheat, a sluggard, and a drunkard. You have left your arrears unpaid behind you, you owe tithes to the priest, and the policeman is steadily sinning on your account by swearing every time he speaks your name.”

Then, turning to Father Ivan, the old Toyon asked:

“Who in Chalgan gives the heaviest loads to his horses to pull, and who works them the hardest?”

Father Ivan answered:

“The church warden. He carries the mail and drives the district policeman.”

To that the Toyon answered:

“Hand over this sluggard to the church warden for a horse and let him pull the policeman until he drops⁠—we shall see what will happen next.”

Just as the Toyon was saying these words, the door opened; his son entered the hut and sat down at his right hand.

And the son said:

“I have heard the sentence pronounced by you. I have lived long on the earth, and I know the ways of the world. It will be hard for the poor man to take the place of the district policeman’s horse. However, so be it, only mayhap he still has something to say: speak baraksan! (poor fellow!)”

Then there happened a strange thing. Makar, the Makar who had never before in his life uttered more than ten words at a time, suddenly felt himself possessed of the gift of eloquence. He began speaking, and wondered at himself. There seemed to be two Makars, the one talking, the other listening and marvelling. He could scarcely believe his ears. His discourse flowed from his lips with fluency and passion; the words pursued one another swiftly, and ranged themselves in long and graceful rows. He did not hesitate. If by any chance he became confused, he corrected himself and shouted twice louder than before. But above all he felt that his words were carrying conviction.

The ancient Toyon, who had at first been a little annoyed by his boldness, began listening with rapt attention, as if he were being persuaded that Makar was not the fool that he seemed to be. Father Ivan had been frightened for an instant and had plucked Makar by the coattails, but Makar had pushed him aside and continued his speech. The fears of the old priest were quickly allayed; he even beamed at Makar as he heard his old parishioner boldly declaring the truth, and saw that that truth was pleasing to the heart of the ancient Toyon. Even the young servants of the Toyon with their long gowns and their white wings came out of their quarters and stood in the doorways listening with wonder to Makar’s words, nudging one another with their elbows.

Makar commenced his plea by saying that he did not want to take the place of the church warden’s horse. Not because he was afraid of hard work, but because the sentence was unjust. And because the sentence was unjust, he would not submit to it; he would not do a stroke of work nor move one single foot. Let them do what they would with him! Let them hand him over to the devils forever, he would not haul the policeman, because to condemn him to do so was an injustice. And let them not imagine that he was afraid of being a horse. Although the church warden drove his horse hard, he fed him with oats, but he, Makar, had been goaded all his life, and no one had ever fed him.

“Who has goaded you?” asked the Toyon.

Yes, all his life long he had been goaded. The bailiff had goaded him; the tax assessor and the policeman had goaded him, demanding taxes and tallage; hunger and want had goaded him; cold and heat, rain and drought had goaded him; the frozen earth and the ruthless forest had goaded him. The horse had trudged on with its eyes on the ground, ignorant of its journey’s end; so had he trudged through life. Had he known the meaning of what the priest read in church or for what his tithes were demanded? Had he known why his eldest son had been taken away as a soldier and whither he had gone? Had he known where he had died and where his poor bones had been laid?

He had drunk, it was charged, too much vodka; so he had, for his heart had craved it.

“How many bottles did you say that he drank?” the Toyon asked.

“Four hundred,” answered Father Ivan, with a glance at the book.

That might be so, pleaded Makar, but was it really all vodka? Three quarters of it was water; only one quarter was vodka, and that was stiffened with vile mahorka. Three hundred bottles might well be deducted from his account.

“Is what he says true?” asked the ancient Toyon of Father Ivan, and it was plain that his anger was not yet appeased.

“Absolutely true,” the priest answered quickly, and Makar continued his tale.

It was true that he had added three thousand poles to his account, but what if he had? What if he had only cut sixteen thousand? Was that so small a number? Besides, while he had cut two thousand his first wife had been ill. His heart had been aching, he had longed to sit by her bedside, but want had driven him into the forest, and in the forest he had wept, and the tears had frozen on his eyelashes, and because of his grief, the cold had struck into his very heart, and still he had chopped.

And then his old woman had died. He had to bury her, but he had no money to pay for the burial. So he had hired himself out to chop wood to pay for his wife’s abode in the world beyond. The merchant had seen how great was his need, and had only paid him ten kopecks⁠—and his old woman had lain all alone in the icy hut while he had once more chopped wood and wept. Surely each one of those loads should be counted as four or even more!

Tears rose in the eyes of the old Toyon, and Makar saw the scales trembling and the wooden bowl rising as the golden one sank.

And still he talked on.

Everything was written down in their book, he said, let them look and see if anyone had ever done him a kindness or brought him happiness and joy! Where were his children? If they had died his heart had been heavy and sad; if they had lived to grow up they had left him, to carry on their fight alone with their own grinding needs. So he had remained to grow old with his second wife, and had felt his strength failing and had seen that a pitiless, homeless old age was creeping upon him. They two had stood solitary as two lorn fir-trees on the steppe, buffeted on every hand by the merciless winds.

“Is that true?” asked the Toyon again, and the priest hastened to answer:

“Absolutely true.”

And the scales trembled once more⁠—but the old Toyon pondered.

“How is this?” he asked. “Have I not many on earth who are truly righteous? Their eyes are clear, their faces are bright, and their garments are without a stain. Their hearts are mellow as well tilled soil in which flourishes good seed, sending up strong and fragrant shoots whose odour is pleasant to my nostrils. But you⁠—look at yourself!”

All eyes were now turned on Makar, and he felt ashamed. He knew that his eyes were dim, that his face was dull, that his hair and beard were unkempt, that his raiment was torn. And though for some time before his death he had intended to buy a pair of new boots in which to appear at the Judgment, he somehow had always managed to drink up the money, and now stood before the Toyon in wretched fur shoes like a Yakut.

“Your face is dull,” the Toyon went on. “Your eyes are bleared and your clothes are torn. Your heart is choked with weeds and thistles and bitter wormwood. That is why I love my righteous and turn my face from the ungodly such as you.”

Makar’s heart contracted and he blushed for his own existence. He hung his head for a moment and then suddenly raised it and took up his tale once more.

Which righteous men did the Toyon mean? he asked. If he meant those that lived on earth in rich houses at the same time that Makar was there, then he knew all about them! Their eyes were clear because they had not shed the tears he had shed; their faces were bright because they were bathed in perfume, and their spotless garments were sewn by other hands than their own.

Again Makar hung his head, and again raised it.

And did not the Toyon know that he too had come into the world as they had with clear, candid eyes in which heaven and earth lay reflected? That he had been born with a pure heart, ready to expand to all the beauty of the world? Whose fault was it if he now longed to hide his besmirched and dishonoured head under the ground? He could not say. But this he did know, that the patience of his soul was exhausted!


Of course Makar would have been calmer could he have seen the effect that his speech was having on the Toyon, or how each of his wrathful words fell into the golden bowl like a plummet of lead. But he saw nothing of this because his heart was overwhelmed with blind despair.

He had gone over again the whole of his bitter existence. How had he managed to bear the terrible burden until now? He had borne it because the star of hope had still beckoned him onward, shining like a watch-fire through mists of toil and doubt. He was alive, therefore he might, he would, know a happier fate. But now he stood at the end, and the star had gone out.

Darkness fell on his soul, and rage broke over it as a tempest breaks over the steppe in the night. He forgot who he was and before whose face he stood; he forgot all but his wrath.

But the old Toyon said to him:

“Wait a moment, baraksan! You are not on earth. There is justice here for you, also.”

At that Makar trembled. The idea that someone pitied him dawned upon his mind and filled and softened his heart, but because his whole miserable existence now lay exposed before him from his first day to his last, unbearable self-pity overwhelmed him and he burst into tears.

And the ancient Toyon wept with him. And old Father Ivan wept, and the young servants of God shed tears and wiped them away with their wide sleeves.

And the scales wavered, and the wooden bowl rose ever higher and higher!

The Murmuring Forest

A Legend of the Polysie57

I

The forest was murmuring.

There was always a murmuring in this forest, long-drawn, monotonous, like the undertones of a distant bell, like a faint song without words, like vague memories of the past. There was always a murmuring in the forest because it was a dense wood of ancient pines, untouched as yet by the axe and saw of the timber merchant. The tall, century-old trees with their mighty red-brown trunks stood in frowning ranks, proudly thrusting their green, interwoven tops aloft. The air under them was still and sweet with resin; bright ferns pierced the carpet of needles with which the ground was clothed, and superbly displayed their motionless, fringed foliage. Tall, green grass-blades had shot upward in the moist places, and there, too, white clover-heads drooped heavily, as if overcome with gentle languor. And always overhead, without a pause and without an end, droned the voice of the forest, the low sighing of the ancient pines.

But now these sighs had grown deeper and louder. I was riding along a woodland path, and although the sky was invisible, I knew, under the darkly frowning trees, that a storm was gathering overhead. The hour was late. A few last rays of sunlight were still filtering in here and there between the tree-trunks, but misty shadows had already begun to gather in the thickets. A thunderstorm was brewing for the night. I was forced to abandon all idea of continuing the chase that day, and could only think of reaching a night’s lodging before the storm broke. My horse struck his hoof against a bare root, snorted, and pricked his ears, harkening to the muffled impacts of the forest echo. Then of his own accord he turned his steps into the well-known path that led to the hut of the forest guard.

A dog barked. White plastered walls gleamed among the thinning tree-trunks, a blue wisp of smoke appeared, curling upward under the overshadowing branches, and a lopsided cottage with a dilapidated roof stood before me, sheltering under a wall of ruddy tree-trunks. It seemed to have sunk down upon the ground, while the proud graceful pines nodded their heads, high, high above it. In the centre of the clearing stood two oak trees, huddling close to one another.

Here lived the foresters Zakhar and Maksim, the invariable companions of my hunting expeditions. But now they were evidently away from home, for no one came out of the house at the barking of the great collie. Only their old grandfather with his bald head and his grey whiskers was sitting on a bench outside the door, braiding shoes of bast. The old man’s beard swept almost to his belt; his eyes were vague as if he were trying in vain to remember something.

“Good evening, daddy! Is anyone at home?”

“Eh, hey,” mumbled the old man, shaking his head; “neither Zakhar nor Maksim is here and Motria has gone into the wood for the cow. The cow has run away; perhaps the bears have eaten her. And so there is no one in the cottage.”

“Well, well, never mind. I’ll sit here with you and wait.”

“Yes, sit down and wait!” the old man nodded, and watched me with dim, watery eyes as I tied my horse to the branch of one of the oaks. The old man was failing fast. He was nearly blind and his hands trembled.

“And who are you, lad?” he asked, as I sat down on the bench.

I was accustomed to hearing this question at every visit.

“Eh, hey; now I know, now I know,” said the old man, resuming his work on the shoe. “My old head is like a sieve; nothing stays in it now. I remember people who died a long time ago, oh, I remember them well! But I forget new people. I have lived in this world a long time.”

“Have you lived in this forest long, daddy?”

“Eh, hey; a long time! When the Frenchmen came into the Tsar’s country I was here.”

“You have seen much in your day. You must have many stories to tell.”

The old man looked at me with surprise.

“And what would I have seen, lad? I have seen the forest. The forest murmurs night and day, winter and summer. One hundred years have I lived in this forest like that tree there without heeding the passage of time. And now I must go to my grave, and sometimes I can’t tell, myself, whether I have lived in this world or not. Eh, hey; yes, yes. Perhaps, after all, I have not lived at all.”

A corner of the dark cloud moved out over the clearing from behind the close-growing treetops, and the pines that stood about the clearing rocked in the first gusts of wind. The murmur of the forest swelled into a great resonant chord. The old man raised his head and listened.

“A storm is coming,” he said after a pause. “I know. Oi, oi! A storm will howl tonight, and will break the pines and tear them up by the roots. The Master of the forest will come out.”

“How do you know that, daddy?”

“Eh, hey; I know it! I know what the trees are saying. Trees know what fear is as well as we do. There’s the aspen, a worthless tree that’s always getting broken to pieces. It trembles even when there is no wind. The pines in the forest sing and play, but if the wind rises ever so little they raise their voices and groan. This is nothing yet. There, listen to that! Although my eyes see badly, my ears can hear: that was an oak tree rustling. The oaks have been touched in the clearing. The storm is coming.”

And, as a matter of fact, the pair of low, gnarled oak trees that stood in the centre of the clearing, protected by the high wall of the forest, now waved their strong branches and gave forth a muffled rustling easily distinguishable from the clear, resonant notes of the pines.

“Eh, hey; do you hear that, lad?” asked the old man with a childishly cunning smile. “When the oak trees mutter like that, it means that the Master is coming out at night to break them. But no, he won’t break them! The oak is a strong tree, too strong even for the Master. Yes indeed!”

“What Master, daddy? You say yourself it is the storm that breaks them.”

The old man nodded his head with a crafty look.

“Eh, hey; I know that! They tell me there are some people in the world these days who don’t believe in anything. Yes indeed! But I have seen him as plainly as I see you now, and better, because my eyes are old now, and they were young then. Oi, oi! How well I could see when I was young!”

“When did you see him, daddy? Tell me, do!”

“It was an evening just like this. The pines began to groan in the forest. First they sang and then they groaned: oh-ah-o-oh-a-h! And then they stopped, and then they began again louder and more pitifully than ever. Eh, hey; they groaned because they knew that the Master would throw down many of them that night! And then the oak trees began to talk. And toward evening things grew worse until he came whirling along with the night. He ran through the forest laughing and crying, dancing and spinning, and always swooping down on those oak trees and trying to tear them up by the roots. And once in the Autumn I looked out of the window, and he didn’t like that. He came rushing up to the window and, bang-bang, he broke it with a pine knot. He nearly hit my face, bad luck to him! But I’m no fool. I jumped back. Eh, hey; lad, that’s the sort of a quarrelsome fellow he is!”

“But what does he look like?”

“He looks exactly like an old willow tree in a marsh. Just exactly! His hair is like dry mistletoe on a tree, and his beard too; but his nose is like a big fat pine knot and his mouth is as twisted as if it were all overgrown with lichen. Bah, how ugly he is! God pity any Christian that looks like him! Yes indeed! I saw him once quite close, in a swamp. If you’ll come here in the winter you can see him for yourself. You must go in that direction, up that hill⁠—it is covered with woods⁠—and climb to the very top of the highest tree. He can sometimes be seen from there racing along over the treetops, carrying a white staff in his hand, and whirling, whirling until he whirls down the hill into the valley. Then he runs away and disappears into the forest. Eh, hey! And wherever he steps he leaves a footprint of white snow. If you don’t believe an old man come and see for yourself.”

The old man babbled on; the excited, anxious voices of the forest and the impending storm seemed to have set his old blood racing. The aged gaffer laughed and blinked his faded eyes.

But suddenly a shadow flitted across his high, wrinkled forehead. He nudged me with his elbow and said with a mysterious look:

“Let me tell you something, lad. Of course the Master of the forest is a worthless, good-for-nothing creature, that is true. It disgusts a Christian to see an ugly face like his, but let me tell you the truth about him: he never does anyone any harm. He plays jokes on people, of course, but as for hurting them, he never would do that!”

“But you said yourself, daddy, that he tried to hit you with a pine knot.”

“Eh, hey; he tried to! But he was angry then because I was looking at him through the window; yes indeed! But if you don’t go poking your nose into his affairs he’ll never play you a dirty trick. That’s what he’s like. Worse things have been done by men than by him in this forest. Eh, hey; they have indeed!”

The old man’s head dropped forward on to his breast and he sat silent for several minutes. Then he looked at me, and a ray of awakening memory seemed to gleam through the film that fogged his eyes.

“I’ll tell you an old story of our forest, lad. It happened here in this very place, a long, long time ago. Almost always I remember it as in a dream. But when the forest begins to talk more loudly, I remember it well. Shall I tell it to you?”

“Yes, do, daddy! Tell me!”

“Very well, I’ll tell you; eh, hey! Listen!”

II

My father and mother died, you know, a long time ago when I was only a little lad. They left me in the world alone. That’s what happened to me, eh, hey! Well, the village warden looked at me and thought: “What shall we do with this boy?” And the lord of the manor thought the same thing. And at that time Raman, the forest guard, came out of the forest, and he said to the warden: “Let me have that boy to take back to my cottage with me. I’ll take good care of him. It will be company for me in the forest and he will be fed.” That’s what he said, and the warden answered: “Take him!” So he took me. And I have lived in the forest ever since.

Raman brought me up here. God forbid that anyone should look as terrible as he did! His eyes were black, his hair was black, and a dark soul looked out of his eyes because the man had lived alone in the forest all his life. The bears, people said, were his brothers and the wolves were his nephews. He knew all the wild animals and was afraid of none, but he kept away from people and wouldn’t even look at them. That’s what he was like. It’s the honest truth. When he looked at me I felt as if a cat were tickling my back with its tail. But he was a good man all the same, and I must say he fed me well. We always had buckwheat porridge with grease, and a duck if he happened to kill one. Yes, he fed me well; it’s the truth and I must say it.

So we two lived together. Raman used to go out into the forest every day and lock me up in the cottage so that the wild animals shouldn’t eat me. Then they gave him a wife called Aksana.

The Count, who was the lord of the manor, gave him his wife. He called Raman to the village and said to him:

“Come, Raman, you must marry.”

“How can I marry? What should I do with a wife in the forest when I already have a boy there? I don’t want to marry!” he said.

He wasn’t used to girls, that’s what the matter was. But the Count was sly. When I remember him, lad, I think to myself: there are no men like him now, they are all gone. Take yourself, for instance. They say you are a Count’s son too. That may be true, but you haven’t got the⁠—well the real thing, in you. You’re a miserable little snip of a boy, that’s all you are.

But he was a real one, just as they used to be. You may think it a funny thing that a hundred men should tremble before one, but look at the falcon, boy, and the chicken! Both are hatched out of an egg, but the falcon longs to soar as soon as his wings are strong. Then, when he screams in the sky, how not only the little chickens but the old cocks run! The noble is a falcon, the peasant is a hen.

I remember when I was a little boy seeing thirty peasants hauling heavy logs out of the forest and the Count riding along alone on his horse, twirling his whiskers. The horse under him was prancing, but he kept looking from side to side. Oi, oi! When the peasants met the Count, how they got out of his way, turning their horses aside into the snow, and how they took off their caps! They had heavy work afterwards pulling the logs out of the snow back on to the road while the Count galloped away. The road had been too narrow for him to pass the peasants of course! Whenever the Count moved an eyebrow the peasants trembled. When he laughed, they laughed; when he frowned, they cried. No one ever opposed the Count; it had never been done.

But Raman had grown up in the forest and did not know the ways of the world, so the Count was not very angry when he refused the girl.

“I want you to marry,” the Count said. “Why I want you to do it is my business. Take Aksana.”

“I don’t want to,” answered Raman. “I don’t want her. Let the Devil marry her, I won’t! There now!”

The Count ordered a knout to be brought. They stretched Raman out, and the Count asked him:

“Will you marry, Raman?”

“No,” he answered, “I won’t.”

“Then give it to him on the back,” commanded the Count, “as hard as you can lay it on.”

They gave it to him good and hard. Raman was a strong man, but he got tired of it at last.

“All right, stop!” he cried. “That’s enough. May all the devils in hell take her! I won’t suffer this torture for any woman! Give her to me; I’ll marry her!”

Now there lived at the Count’s castle a huntsman named Opanas. Opanas came riding in from the fields just as they were persuading Raman to be married. He heard Raman’s trouble and fell at the Count’s feet. He fell down and kissed them.

“What’s the use of thrashing that man, kind master?” he asked. “Better let me marry Aksana with a free will.”

Eh, hey; he wanted to marry her himself. That’s what he wanted, yes indeed!

So Raman was pleased and grew happy again. He got up and tied up his breeches and said:

“That’s splendid!” says he. “But why couldn’t you have come a little sooner, man? And the Count too⁠—that’s how it always is! Wouldn’t it have been better to have found out first who wanted to marry her? Instead of that they grab the first man that comes along and begin flogging him! Do you think that is Christian?” he asked. “Bah!”

Eh, hey; he didn’t have any mercy on the Count, that’s the sort of man Raman was. When he got angry it was safest to keep out of his way, even for a Count. But the Count was sly! You see he was after something. He ordered Raman to be stretched out on the grass.

“I want to make you happy, fool!” he cried. “And you turn up your nose at me! You are living alone now like a bear in his den; it is dull for me when I come to see you. Lay it on to the fool until he says he has had enough! As for you Opanas, go to the devil! You weren’t asked to this party,” he said. “So don’t sit down at the table unless you want to be entertained like Raman.”

But Raman’s anger had gone beyond joking by that time, eh, hey! They tickled him well, and, you know, people in those days could take a man’s hide off beautifully with a knout, but he lay quite still and never said: that’s enough! He endured it a long time, but at last he spat and cried:

“It’s not right to baste a Christian like this for a woman without even counting the stripes! That’s enough! And may your hands shrivel and drop off, you accursed servants! The devil himself must have taught you to use the knout. Do you think I’m a bundle of wheat on a threshing floor that you beat me like this? If that’s your idea, I’m going to get married.”

Then the Count laughed.

“That’s splendid!” he cried. “Though you won’t be able to sit down at your wedding, you will dance all the livelier.”

The Count was a jolly man, indeed he was, eh, hey! Something bad happened to him afterwards though; God forbid that anything like that should ever happen to any Christian! I wouldn’t wish it for anyone. It wouldn’t be right to wish it even for a Jew. That’s what I think about it.

Well, they got Raman married. He brought his young wife to this cottage, and at first he did nothing but scold her and blame her for his thrashing.

“You’re not worth a thrashing to any man!” he used to say.

As soon as he came home out of the forest he would chase her out of the house shouting:

“Away with you! I don’t want a woman in my house! Don’t let me see you here again! I don’t like to have a woman sleeping here. I don’t like the smell.”

Eh, hey!

But later he got used to her. Aksana swept out the hut and painted it to look nice and clean, and put the china neatly away, and at last everything shone so brightly that one’s heart grew merry at the sight of it. Raman saw what a good woman she was, and little by little he got used to her. Yes, he not only got used to her, lad, he began to love her. Yes indeed, I am telling you the truth. That’s what happened to Raman. When he found out what the woman was like he said:

“Thanks to the Count I have learnt what a good thing is. What a fool I was! How many stripes I took, and now I see that it isn’t so bad after all! It is even good. That’s the truth!”

And so some time passed, I don’t know exactly how much. Then one day Aksana lay down on a bench and began to groan. That evening she was ill, and when I woke up in the morning I heard a shrill little voice squeaking. Eh, hey, I thought to myself, I know what has happened, a baby has been born! And so it had.

The baby did not stay long in this world. Only from that morning until night. It stopped squeaking in the evening. Aksana cried, but Raman said:

“The child has gone, so now we won’t call in the priest. We can bury it ourselves under a pine tree.”

That’s what Raman said. And he not only said it, he did it. He dug a little grave under a tree and buried the child. There stands the old stump of the tree to this day. It has been split by lightning. Yes, that is the same pine tree under which Raman buried the child. And I’ll tell you something, boy: to this day when the sun goes down and the stars shine out over the forest a little bird comes flying to that tree and cries. It pipes so sadly, poor little bird, that one’s heart aches to hear it. It is the little unchristened soul crying for a cross. A learned man, they say, who knows things out of books, could give it a cross and then it would not fly about any more. But we live here in the forest and don’t know anything. It comes flying up begging for help and all we can say is: “You poor, poor little soul, we can’t do anything for you!” So then it cries and flies away, and next day it comes back again. Ah, boy, I’m sorry for the poor little soul!

Well, when Aksana got well again she was always going to the grave. She would sit on the grave and cry; sometimes she would cry so loudly that her voice could be heard through the whole forest. She was grieving for her baby, but Raman did not grieve for the baby, he grieved for her. He used to come back out of the forest and stand by Aksana and say:

“Be quiet, silly woman! What is there to cry for? One child has died but there may be another. And a better one, perhaps! Because that one may not have been mine, I don’t know whether it was or not, but the next one will be mine!”

Aksana did not like it when he talked like that. She would stop crying and begin to howl at him with bad words. Then Raman would get angry.

“What are you howling for?” he would ask. “I didn’t say anything of the kind. I only said I didn’t know. And the reason I don’t know is because you were living in the world among men then, and not in the forest. So how can I be sure? Now you are living in the forest; now it is all right. Old granny Feodosia said when I went to the village to fetch her: ‘Your baby came very quickly, Raman.’ And I said to the old woman: ‘How do I know whether it came quickly or not?’ But come now, stop bawling or I’ll get angry, and might even beat you.”

Well, Aksana would shout at him for a while and then she would stop. She would scold him and hit him on the back, but when Raman began to get angry himself she would grow quiet. She would be frightened. She used to embrace him then, and kiss him, and look into his eyes. Then my Raman would grow quiet again. Because, you know, lad⁠—but you probably don’t know, though I do, even if I have never married, because I’m an old man⁠—I know that a young woman is so sweet to kiss that she can twist any man around her finger at will no matter how angry he is. Oi, oi, I know what these women are! And Aksana was a tidy young thing; one doesn’t see her like nowadays. I’ll tell you, lad, women are not what they were.

Well, one day a horn blew in the forest: tara-tara-ta-ta! That’s how it echoed through the forest, clearly and gaily. I was a little fellow then and didn’t know what it was. I saw the birds rising from their nests and flapping their wings and screaming, and I saw the hares skipping over the ground with their ears laid back, as fast as they could scamper. I thought perhaps it was some unknown wild animal making that pretty noise. But it was not a wild animal, it was the Count trotting through the forest on his horse and blowing his horn. Behind him came his huntsmen leading their hounds on the leash. The handsomest of all the huntsmen was Opanas, caracoling behind the Count dressed in a long blue Cossack coat. Opanas’ cap had a peaked golden crown, his horse was capering under him, his carbine was glistening on his back, and his bandura58 was slung across his shoulder by a strap. The Count liked Opanas because he played well on the bandura and was an expert at singing songs. Ah, this lad Opanas was handsome, terribly handsome! The Count simply didn’t compare with Opanas. The Count was bald and his nose was red and his eyes, though they were merry, were not like those of Opanas! When Opanas looked at me⁠—at me, a little whippersnapper⁠—I couldn’t help laughing, and I wasn’t a young girl! People said that Opanas’ father was a Cossack from beyond the Dnieper; everyone there is handsome and nimble and sleek. And think, boy, the difference there is between flying across the plains like a bird with a horse and a lance, and chopping wood with an axe!

Well, I ran out of the hut and looked, and there came the Count and stopped right in front of the house, and the huntsmen stopped too. Raman ran out of the hut and held the Count’s stirrup and the Count climbed down from his horse. Raman bowed to him.

“Good day!” the Count says to Raman.

“Eh, hey,” answers Raman. “I’m very well, thanks, and how are you?”

You see, Raman didn’t know how to answer the Count as he ought to have done. The attendants all laughed at his words and the Count laughed too.

“I’m very glad you are well,” says the Count. “And where is your wife?”

“Where should my wife be? My wife is in the hut.”

“Then we’ll go into the hut,” says the Count. “And meanwhile light a fire, lads, and prepare something to eat, for we have come to congratulate the young couple.”

So they went into the hut; the Count, and Opanas, and Raman bareheaded behind them with Bogdan, the oldest of the huntsmen and the Count’s faithful servant. There are no servants like him in the world now.

Bogdan was old and ruled the other attendants sternly, but in the Count’s presence he was like that dog there. There was no one in the world for Bogdan except the Count. People said that when Bogdan’s father and mother had died he had asked the old Count for a house and land, for he wanted to marry. But the old Count would not allow it. He made him the young Count’s servant and said: “There are your mother and father and wife!” So Bogdan took the boy and taught him to ride and shoot. And the young Count grew up and began to rule in his father’s place, and old Bogdan still followed him like a dog.

Okh, I’ll tell you the truth. Many people have cursed Bogdan; many tears have fallen because of him, and all on account of the Count. At one word from the Count, Bogdan would have torn his own father to shreds.

Well, I was a little fellow, and I ran into the house behind the Count. I was curious to see what would happen. Wherever he went I went too.

Well, I looked, and there, standing in the middle of the hut, I saw the Count stroking his whiskers and laughing. And there was Raman standing first on one foot and then on another, crushing his hat in his hands, and there, too, was Opanas leaning against the wall, looking, poor fellow, like a young oak in a storm. He was frowning and sad.

All three were turned toward Aksana. Only old Bogdan was sitting on a bench in a corner with his topknot59 hanging down, waiting for the Count to give him an order. Aksana was standing in a corner by the stove with her eyes on the floor, as crimson as that poppy there in the barley. Okh, it was plain the witch felt that something wicked was about to happen because of her. Let me tell you something, lad: if three men stand looking at one woman nothing good ever comes of it. Hair is sure to fly, if nothing worse. I know that, because I have seen it happen myself.

“How now, Raman, lad?” laughed the Count. “Did I give you a good wife or not?”

“Not bad,” answered Raman. “The woman will do.”

Here Opanas shrugged his shoulders, raised his eyes to Aksana, and muttered:

“What a woman she is! If only that goose hadn’t got her!”

Raman overheard the words and turned to Opanas and said:

“Why do I seem a goose to you, Lord Opanas? Eh, hey; tell me that!”

“Because you don’t know how to protect your wife; that’s why you’re a goose.”

That’s what Opanas said to him! The Count stamped his foot. Bogdan shook his head, but Raman thought a minute and then raised his head and looked at the Count.

“Why should I protect her?” he asked Opanas, but his eyes were fixed on the Count. “There’s no one here in the forest except wild beasts, unless it is our gracious Count when he comes. Whom should I protect her from? Look out, you misbegotten Cossack you, don’t provoke me, or before you know it I’ll have you by the forelock!”

And perhaps the business would have ended in a thrashing if the Count hadn’t interfered. He stamped his foot, and everyone was silent.

“Gently there, you Devil’s spawn,” he said. “You didn’t come here to fight. Congratulate the young people first, and then in the evening we’ll go hunting on the marsh. Here, follow me!”

The Count turned on his heel and left the hut. The attendants had already spread a dinner under the trees. Bogdan followed the Count, but Opanas stayed with Raman in the front entry.

“Don’t be angry with me, brother,” said the Cossack. “Listen to what Opanas has to tell you. You saw how I rolled in the dust at the Count’s feet, and kissed his boots, and begged him to give me Aksana? Well, God bless you, man! The priest has tied you up; it’s your luck, I see, but my heart can’t stand that wicked fellow making sport of you and of her again. Hey ho, no one knows what I have in my heart! It would be well were I to lay him in the cold ground for a bed with the help of my gun!”

Raman stared at the Cossack and asked:

“Have you gone out of your head this hour, Cossack?”

I did not hear what Opanas began whispering to Raman in the front entry in answer to this; I only heard Raman clap him on the back.

“Okh, Opanas, Opanas! How wicked and cunning people are in this world! I knew nothing of this, living in the forest. Eh, hey, Count, Count, what evil you have brought on your head!”

“Come!” Opanas says to him. “Go now, and don’t show anything, especially before Bogdan. You’re a simple man and that hound of the Count’s is crafty. Be sure you don’t drink much of the Count’s wine; and if he sends you out on the marsh with the huntsmen and himself wants to stay behind, lead the huntsmen to the old oak tree, put them on a roundabout road, and tell them that you are going to walk straight through the forest. Then come back here as quick as you can.”

“Good,” says Raman. “It’s hunting I shall go, though my gun won’t be loaded with bird-shot for little birds, but with a good stout bullet for a bear.”

Then they went out. The Count was sitting on a carpet on the ground. He ordered a flagon of wine and a goblet to be brought to him, filled a goblet full and passed it to Raman. Eh, hey; the Count’s flagon and goblet were fair to see and his wine was better still. One little goblet, and your heart would be full of happiness; another, and it would leap in your breast; if a man were not used to it he would roll under his seat after the third unless a woman were there to lay him on top of it.

Eh, hey; I tell you, the Count was clever. He wanted to make Raman drunk on his wine, but there was no wine in the world that could overpower Raman. He emptied one goblet from the Count’s hands and then another, and still another, until his eyes glowed like a wolf’s and his black whiskers began to twitch. The Count at last grew angry.

“How sturdily that Devil’s spawn can lap up the wine and never blink an eye! Any other fellow would have been blubbering by now, but look at him, lads; he is laughing still!”

The wicked Count well knew that if a man cried from wine his topknot would soon be trailing on the table. But this time he had mistaken his man.

“And why should I cry?” asked Raman in return. “That would even be rude. The gracious Count comes to congratulate me on my marriage and I begin to howl like a woman! Thank God I have nothing to cry for yet; let my enemies do the crying!”

“That means you are contented?” asks the Count.

“Eh, hey! And why should I be discontented?”

“Do you remember how I betrothed you with the help of a knout?”

“How should I not remember? I was a foolish man then and didn’t know bitter from sweet. The knout was bitter, but I loved it better than a woman. Thanks to you, gracious Count, this fool has learned to eat honey.”

“All right, all right,” says the Count. “And now I want you to do me a good turn. Go out on the marsh with my huntsmen and shoot as many birds as you can, and especially do I want you to get me a blackcock.”

“And when does the Count send us out on the marsh?” asks Raman.

“When you have had one more drink. Opanas will sing us a song, and then go in God’s name.”

Raman fixes his eyes on the Count and says:

“That will not be easy. It is late, the marsh is far, and, besides, the forest is murmuring in the wind; there will be a storm tonight. How can one kill a shy bird on an evening like this?”

But the Count was drunk, and he was always powerfully bad-tempered in his cups. He heard his attendants whispering among themselves that “surely Raman was right, there would soon be a storm,” and he was very angry. He slammed down his goblet and glared about him. Every man held his tongue.

Only Opanas was not afraid; he stepped out as the Count had told him do to sing his song with his bandura. He tuned it, glanced sideways at the Count, and said:

“Come to your senses, gracious Lord! When has it ever been known that men went hunting birds at night, in a dark forest, in the midst of a storm?”

That’s how bold he was! The other serfs of the Count were afraid, of course, but he was a free man of Cossack birth. An old Cossack player of the bandura had brought him as a youngster from the Ukraine. There, lad, the people had made trouble in the town of Uman. They had put out this old Cossack’s eyes, cut off his ears, and sent him out like that into the world. So he had walked and walked, from village to town, and wandered into our country with the little lad Opanas as his guide. The old Count took him into his house because he loved beautiful songs. So when the old man died, Opanas grew up in the palace. The young Count grew to like him, and would often endure speeches from him for which he would have flayed three skins off the back of another man.

So it was now. He was angry at first, and the men thought he was going to hit the Cossack, but he soon spoke to Opanas and said:

“Oi, Opanas, Opanas! You’re a clever lad, but it’s plain you don’t understand that no man should put his nose in the crack of a door for fear someone might slam it.”

That’s how he guessed the Cossack’s riddle! And the Cossack saw at once he had guessed it. And he answered the Count in a song. Oi, if the Count had been able to understand a Cossack song, his Countess might not have had to shed tears over him that night! “Thank you, Count, for your wisdom,” said Opanas. “Now in return I am going to sing to you. Listen well.”

Then he raised his head and looked up at the sky; he saw an eagle soaring there and the wind driving the dark clouds along. He listened and heard the tall pines murmuring.

And once more he struck the strings of his bandura.

Eh, lad, you never chanced to hear Opanas play, and now you will never hear it! The bandura is a simple trick, but oh, how well a man who knows it can make it talk! When Opanas ran his hand across the strings it told him everything: how the dark pine forest sings in a storm; how the wind hums through the sedge on the desert steppe; how the dry grass whispers on a high Cossack grave.

No, lad, you won’t hear such playing as that nowadays!

All kinds of people come here now that have been not only in our Polyesie but in other countries as well: all over the Ukraine, in Chirigin and Poltava and Kiev. They say that players of the bandura are out of fashion now and that you never hear them at fairs and in the bazaars. I still have an old bandura hanging on the wall of the hut. Opanas taught me to play it, but no one has learnt to play it from me. When I die⁠—and that will be soon⁠—who knows, perhaps nobody in the wide world will ever hear the notes of a bandura again. No, indeed!

And Opanas began singing a song in a low voice. Opanas’ voice was not loud; it was brooding and sad, and went straight to the heart. And the song, lad, was made up for the Count by the Cossack himself. I have never heard it again, and when, later, I used to tease Opanas to sing it, he always refused.

“The man for whom that song was sung,” he would say, “is no longer in this world.”

The Cossack told the Count all the truth in that song, and what the Count’s fate would be, and the Count wept; the tears even trickled down his beard, and yet it was plain that not one word did he understand.

Okh, I can’t remember the song; I can only remember a few words. The Cossack sang about Count Ivan:

“Oi, Ivan! Alas, oi, Count!
The Count is clever and much he knows.
He knows that the falcon soars in the sky, and falls upon the crow.
Oi, Ivan! Alas, oi, Count!
But the Count does not know
How it is in this world,
That the crow will at last kill the falcon at its nest.”

There, lad! I seem to hear that song at this moment, and to see those men again. There stands the Cossack with his bandura; the Count is sitting on his carpet; his head is bowed, and he is weeping. The Count’s men are gathered about him and are nudging one another with their elbows, and old Bogdan is shaking his head. And the forest is murmuring, just as it is murmuring now, and the bandura is chiming softly, dreamily, while the Cossack sings of how the Countess wept over the grave of Count Ivan:

“She cries, the Countess cries,
While over the grave of Count Ivan a black crow flies.”

Okh, the Count did not understand that song. He wiped his eyes and said:

“Come now, Raman! Come, lads, mount your horses! And you, Opanas, ride with them; I’ve had enough of your singing! That was a good song, only you sang of things that never happen in this world.”

But the Cossack’s heart was softened by his song and his eyes were dim.

“Okh, Count, Count,” says Opanas. “In my country the old men say that legends and songs contain the truth. But in legends the truth is like iron that has passed through the world from hand to hand for many years and has grown rusty. But the truth in songs is like gold that rust will never corrode. That’s what the old men say!”

But the Count waved his hand.

“It may be so in your country, but here it is not so. Go, go, Opanas; I am tired of listening to you.”

The Cossack stood still for a moment and then fell at the Count’s feet.

“Do as I beseech you, Count!” he cried. “Mount your horse and ride home to your Countess! My heart foretells disaster.”

At that the Count grew angry in earnest. He kicked the Cossack aside with his boot as if he had been a dog.

“Get out of my sight!” he shouted. “Now I see that you’re not a Cossack but an old woman! Leave me, or evil will befall you! What are you waiting for, hounds? Am I no longer your master? Here, I’ll show you something that your fathers never saw done by my father!”

Opanas rose like a dark thundercloud and exchanged glances with Raman. Raman was standing off at one side, leaning on his carbine as if nothing had happened.

The Cossack struck his bandura against a tree; the bandura flew to pieces and the sound of its groan echoed through the forest.

“Very well, then!” he cried. “Let the devils in the next world teach him who will not hear wise counsel in this! I see, Count, you have no need of a faithful servant!”

Before the Count could answer Opanas had jumped into his saddle and ridden away. The other attendants mounted their horses too. Raman shouldered his carbine and walked away; as he passed the hut he called out to Aksana:

“Put the boy to sleep, Aksana; it is time. And prepare a bed for the Count!”

They had soon all ridden away into the wood by that road there, and the Count went into the hut; only the Count’s horse was left standing outside, tied to a tree. Night was already falling; a murmur was going about the forest, and a few drops of rain were falling, just as they are now. Aksana laid me to sleep in the hayloft and made the sign of the cross over me for the night. I could hear my Aksana crying.

Okh, what could a little lad like me understand of all that was going on? I wrapped myself in the hay and lay listening to the storm singing its song in the forest until I began to fall asleep.

Eh, hey! Suddenly I heard footsteps outside the hut. They reached the tree, and someone untied the Count’s horse. The horse snorted and stamped and galloped away into the forest. The sound of its hoofs soon died away in the distance. But before long I heard galloping again; someone was coming down the road. This man rode up post haste, jumped down from his saddle, and rushed to the window of the hut.

“Count! Count!” cried the voice of old Bogdan. “Oi, Count! Open the door quickly! That devil of a Cossack means harm! He has let your horse loose in the forest!”

Before the old man had time to finish his sentence he was seized from behind. I was frightened, for I heard something fall.

The Count tore open the door and jumped out with his carbine in his hand, but Raman caught him in the front entry right by the topknot as he had done the other, and flung him to the ground as well.

The Count saw that things were going badly for him and he cried:

“Oi, let me go, Raman, lad! Have you forgotten the good turn I did you?”

Raman answered:

“I remember, wicked Count, the good turn you did me and my wife. And now I shall pay you for it.”

But the Count cried again:

“Help me, help me, Opanas, my faithful servant! I have loved you as my own son!”

But Opanas answered:

“You drove your faithful servant away like a dog. You have loved me as a stick loves the back which it beats, and now you love me as the back loves the stick which beats it! I begged and implored you to listen to me. You wouldn’t!”

Then the Count began calling to Aksana for help.

“Intercede for me, Aksana; you have a kind heart!”

Aksana came running out, wringing her hands.

“I begged you on my knees, Count, at your feet I once begged you, to spare my maidenhood, and tonight I besought you not to defile me, a married woman. You would not spare me, and now you are asking mercy for yourself. Okh, do not ask it from me; what can I do?”

“Let me go!” cried the Count once more. “You will all go to Siberia because of me!”

“Do not grieve for us, Count,” answered Opanas. “Raman will be out on the marsh before your men get back, and, as for me, I am alone in the world, thanks to your kindness. I shan’t worry about myself. I shall shoulder my carbine and be off into the forest. I shall gather together a band of lusty lads and we shall roam through the country, coming forth out of the forest onto the highroads at night. When we reach a village we shall make straight for the Count’s domain. Come on, Raman, lad, raise up the Count and let us carry his honour out into the rain.”

Then the Count began to struggle and scream, but Rarnan only growled under his breath, and Opanas laughed. So they went out.

But I took fright. I rushed into the hut and ran straight to Aksana. My Aksana was sitting on a bench, as white as that plaster wall.

And the storm was raging in earnest through the forest by now; the pines were shouting with many voices, and the wind was howling, while from time to time a clap of thunder would rend the air. Aksana and I sat on a bench, and all at once I heard someone groan in the forest. Okh, he groaned so pitifully that today when I remember it my heart grows heavy, and yet it happened many years ago.

“Aksana,” I asked, “dear Aksana, who is that groaning in the forest?”

But she took me in her arms and rocked me and said:

“Go to sleep, little lad, it is nothing! It is only⁠—the forest murmuring.”

And the forest was murmuring indeed! Oh, how loudly it was talking that night!

We sat there together a little while longer and then I heard what I thought was a shot in the forest.

“Aksana,” I asked, “dear Aksana, who is that shooting with a gun?”

But she only rocked me and answered:

“Be quiet, be quiet, little lad; that is God’s lightning striking in the forest.”

But she herself was crying, and holding me close to her breast. She rocked me to sleep, repeating softly:

“The forest is murmuring; the forest is murmuring, little lad.”

So I lay in her arms and went to sleep.

And when morning came, lad, I jumped up, and there was the sun shining and Aksana sitting all dressed in the hut. I remembered what had happened the night before and thought: “It was all a dream!”

But it was not a dream; oi, no, not a dream; it was true. I ran out of the hut into the forest. The birds were singing and the dew was shining on the grass. I ran into the thicket and there I saw the Count and a huntsman lying side by side. The Count was peaceful and pale, but the huntsman was grey, like a dove, and stern as if he had been alive. On the breasts of the Count and of the huntsman were bloody stains.


“Well, and what became of the others?” I asked, seeing that the old man had bowed his head and was silent.

“Eh, hey! That is all there is to the story, as Opanas the Cossack used to say. He lived long in the forest, roaming about the highroads and over the domains of the nobles with his lads. His fate had been written at his birth; his fathers had been robbers and a robber he had to be. He came here to this hut more than once, lad, most often when Raman was away. He would come and sit for a while and sing a song and play upon his bandura. But when he came with his comrades, Aksana and Raman would always be here together to greet him. Okh, to tell you the truth, lad, guilty deeds have been done here. Maksim and Zakhar will soon come back out of the forest⁠—look well at them both. I say nothing to them about it, but anyone who knew Raman and Opanas could tell at a glance which one of the boys looks like which, although they are not the sons but the grandsons of those men. That is what has been done here in this forest, lad, in my memory.

“And the forest is murmuring loudly tonight. There will be rain.”

III

The old man spoke the last words as if he were tired. His excitement had died out, his tongue was tripping, his head was shaking, and his eyes were full of tears.

Night had fallen; the forest was wrapped in darkness. The wind was thundering against the hut like a rising tide. The black treetops were tossing like the crests of waves in a fierce gale.

Soon a merry barking announced the approach of the dogs and their masters. Both foresters appeared striding swiftly toward the hut, and behind them came the panting Motria, driving in her lost cow. Our company was now complete.

A few minutes later we were sitting in the hut. A cheerful fire was crackling in the stove; Motria was preparing our supper.

Although I had seen Zakhar and Maksim many times before, I now looked at them with especial interest. Zakhar’s face was dark. His eyebrows grew out from under a straight, low forehead, and his eyes were sombre, although a natural kindness and an inherent strength could also be read in his features. Maksim’s glance was frank and his grey eyes were caressing; he ruffled his fair curls now and then, and his laugh was peculiarly ringing and merry.

“And what has the old man been telling you?” asked Maksim. “That old legend about our grandfather?”

“Yes,” I answered.

“There now, he always does that! When the forest begins to murmur loudly he always remembers the past. Now he won’t be able to sleep all night.”

“He is like a little child,” added Motria, pouring out the old man’s tea.

The old man seemed not to know that they were talking of him. He had entirely collapsed, and was smiling vacantly from time to time and nodding his head. Only when the storm that was blustering through the forest shook the hut did he seem to grow anxious; then he would lend an ear to the noise, harkening to it with a frightened look on his face.

Soon all grew quiet in the hut. A tallow-dip flickered dimly and a cricket was chirping its monotonous song. In the forest a thousand mighty but muffled voices were talking together and calling fiercely to one another through the night. Terrible powers seemed to be holding a noisy conclave in the outer darkness. From time to time the tumultuous thunder would rise and swell and the door of the hut would quiver as if someone were leaning against it from the outside, hissing with rage, while the nocturnal tempest piped a piteous, heartbreaking note in the chimney. At moments the fury of the storm would abate and an ominous silence would fall and oppress the heart, until once more the thunder would rise, as if the ancient pines had plotted to suddenly tear themselves from their roots and fly away into an unknown land in the arms of the blast.

I lost myself for a few moments in a confused slumber, but it could not have been for long. The gale was howling through the forest in many tones and keys. The tallow-dip flared and lit up the hut. The old man was sitting on his bench feeling about him with his arms as if he expected to find somebody near him. A look of fear and almost of childish helplessness distorted the face of the poor old man.

“Aksana!” I heard his piteous whisper. “Dear Aksana, who is that groaning in the forest?”

His hands fluttered anxiously and he seemed to be listening for a reply.

“Eh, hey,” he spoke again. “No one is groaning; it is the noise of the storm in the forest. That is all; it is the forest murmuring, murmuring⁠—”

A few minutes passed. Bluish flashes of lightning stared every second or two into the little window, and the tall, fantastic forms of the pines kept springing out of the darkness and vanishing again into the angry heart of the storm. Suddenly a brilliant light dimmed the pale flame of the tallow-dip and a sharp, nearby peal of thunder crashed over the forest.

The old man again moved anxiously on his bench.

“Aksana, dear Aksana, who is that shooting with a gun?”

“Go to sleep, grandfather, go to sleep,” I heard Motria’s quiet voice answer from her place on the stove. “It’s always like this. He always calls Aksana if there’s a storm at night. He forgets that Aksana has long been dead. Okh⁠—ho!”

Motria yawned, whispered a prayer, and silence fell once more in the hut, broken only by the noise of the forest and the old man’s anxious whispering:

“The forest is murmuring, the forest is murmuring⁠—dear Aksana⁠—”

Soon a heavy rain began to fall, drowning with its descending torrents the groans of the pines.

In Bad Company

I

The Ruins

My mother died when I was six years old. After her death my father surrendered himself entirely to his own grief, and seemed to forget my existence. He caressed my little sister at times, and saw to her welfare in his own way, because he could trace her mother’s features in her face, but I grew up like a wild sapling of the fields; no one gave me any especial care, though, on the other hand, no one restricted my freedom.

The little village where we lived was called Kniazh Gorodok or Princetown. It belonged to a proud but impoverished race of Polish noblemen, and presented all the typical features of any small town in Southwestern Russia, where the pitiful remnants of stately Polish grandeur drag out their weary days in a gently flowing current of incessant toil mingled with the trivial bustle of Jewish geschäft or business.

If you approached the village from the east, the first thing that caught your eye was the prison⁠—the great architectural ornament of the town. The village itself lay spread below you on the shores of its slumberous ponds, and you descended to it by a steep highway that was barred at last by the traditional city gates. The drowsy veteran who was toasting his red face in the sun, the very embodiment of tranquil sleep, would lazily raise the barrier, and behold! you were in the town, although at first you might not perceive it. Grey fences and vacant lots littered with piles of rubbish were interspersed here and there among the crumbling and staring-eyed little khatkas or huts. Farther on, the wide market place appeared, bright with the roofs of the Jewish “travellers’ rests,” while the Government buildings gave an air of melancholy to the scene, with their white walls and their barrack-like regularity of outline. The wooden bridge thrown across the little river would groan and tremble under the wheels of your carriage, swaying like a decrepit old man. A Jewish street led away from the bridge, lined with warehouses, shops, miserable bazaars, and bakers’ booths, while the Hebrew money-changers sat at their tables on the sidewalks under their parasols. Everywhere were dirt and swarms of children tumbling in the dust of the street. Another minute, however, and you were already beyond the village. Softly the birches would be whispering over the graves in the cemetery, while the breeze stirred the wheat fields, and sang in mournful cadences among the roadside telegraph wires.

The little river, spanned by the above mentioned bridge, flowed from one pond into another, and thus enclosed the town at the north and south by swamps and broad expanses of water. The ponds had grown shallower from year to year, until at last they had become choked by vegetation, and tall, thickly-growing reeds now rippled like the sea upon the wide marshes. In the centre of one of these ponds was an island, and on the island stood an old, half-ruined castle.

I remember with what terror I used always to contemplate this mighty, decaying pile. Stories and legends, each one more frightful than the last, were current about it. The island, it was said, was artificial, piled up by the hands of captive Turks. “The castle is built upon human bones;” so ran the saying among the old people of the village, and my childish imagination pictured with horror thousands of Turkish skeletons supporting with bony hands the island, the castle, and the tall, pyramidal poplar trees. Of course this only made the castle appear more terrible than ever, and even on bright days, if, emboldened by the sunlight and the loud voices of the birds, we approached it too closely, it would ofttimes throw us into spasms of panic fear, so horribly did the dark cavities of its windows glower down upon us. A mysterious rustling would seem to stray through its deserted halls, and pebbles and bits of plaster would come rattling down, awakening the muffled echoes. At such times we would scamper away without even a glance behind us, seeming to hear, long after, sounds of clattering and banging and laughter resounding in our ears.

But, on autumn nights, when the giant poplars swayed and chanted under the wind that came flying to them across the ponds, this horror would spread from the island to the mainland and would reign over the whole village. “Oi vei mir!” the Jews would whisper with terror, while God-fearing old citizens crossed themselves, and even our nearest neighbour, the blacksmith, the very incarnation of diabolical strength, would come out into his little yard and, making the sign of the cross, would mutter under his breath a prayer for the peace of departed souls.

Old, grey-bearded Yanush, who, for lack of any other abode, had taken refuge in a cellar of the castle, had often told us that on such nights as these he could clearly hear cries rising from under the ground. It was the Turks stirring under the island, knocking their bones together, and loudly charging their Polish masters with cruelty. Then in the old castle halls and on the island would resound the clanking of arms, and the lords would call their liegemen together with loud shouts. Yanush could hear quite plainly, through the moaning and howling of the storm, the stamping of horses’ hoofs, the clashing of swords, and the words of command. He even heard, once, the great-grandfather of the present Count, immortalised by the memory of his ruthless deeds, come trampling out on his blooded steed, and, riding to the centre of the island, cry out with a dreadful oath: “Silence there, you yelping heathen dogs!”

The descendants of this Count had long since abandoned the home of their ancestors. The greater part of the ducats and treasure with which their coffers had once been filled to overflowing had crossed over the bridge into the hands of the Jews, and the last representatives of the glorious line had built themselves a commonplace white house on a hill a little farther from the town. Here their tedious but vainglorious lives were spent in contemptuous and dignified isolation.

Only at rare intervals did the old Count, himself a ruin as gloomy as the castle and the island, appear in the little town, mounted on an old nag of English breed. At his side through the streets rode his daughter, majestic and thin, in a black riding-habit, while their head groom followed respectfully behind. The stately Countess was fated to remain forever unwed. Any possible suitors who were her equals in birth had faint-heartedly scattered across the world in search of the rich daughters of merchants in foreign lands, and had either deserted their ancestral castles or had turned them over to be pulled down by the Jews. As for the little town which lay spread out at the foot of the hill, not a youth could be found there who would dare to raise his eyes to the beautiful Countess. We little boys, on catching sight of these three riders, would pick ourselves up out of the soft dust of the street, and, scattering timidly like a flock of birds into various houses, would follow the gloomy lords of the terrible castle with eyes full of curiosity and fear.

On a hill west of the town, among decaying crosses and sunken graves, there stood a long-deserted dissenting chapel, the offspring of a city in the valley proper below. Hither, in days of yore, the chapel bell had summoned the townsfolk in their clean if plain surtouts, with staves in their hands in place of the swords which rattled at the sides of the small farmers, also called hither from the neighbouring villages and farms by the clear notes of the chapel bell.

From here could be seen the island, with its great, sombre poplars, but the castle kept itself angrily and contemptuously hidden from the chapel behind their dense greenery. Only when the south-west wind rose from the reed-beds and descended upon the island did the sighing poplars sway aside and the castle windows gleam between them, allowing the castle to cast dark glances at the little chapel. Both were corpses now. The castle’s eyes were dim and no longer reflected the rays of the setting sun; the chapel’s roof had fallen in, and, in place of its sonorous, high-toned copper bell, the screech owls now raised their evil, midnight voices among its rafters.

But the old, historic gulf that had, in former times, divided the proud, lordly castle from the bourgeois dissenting chapel, continued even after their death, kept open by the worms that had burrowed into the crumbling corpses and had occupied the safest corners of their vaults and cellars. The coffin-worms infesting these lifeless buildings were men.

There had been a time when the ancient castle had served as a free refuge without restrictions of any kind for every poor wretch that needed it. Everyone who could find no shelter in the town, every poor creature that had fallen on evil days and had lost, for one reason or another, the power to pay even the few copecks needed for a roof and fire by night and in stormy weather⁠—all these poor wretches found their way to the island, and there hid their vanquished heads among the gloomy, threatening, tottering ruins, paying for the hospitality they found there only by the danger they ran of being buried alive under a pile of debris. “He lives in the castle” had come to be the expression used to denote the last stages of beggardom and civilian degradation. The old castle gladly received and sheltered every variety of wandering destitution: poor writers temporarily ruined, forlorn old women, and homeless vagabonds. These persons tore down the interior of the rotting building, broke up its floors and ceilings, lit their stoves, cooked heaven knows what, and, in a word, fulfilled in some way or another their functions of life.

Nevertheless, there came a day when dissension broke out among the company roosting under the roof of those hoary ruins. Then it was that old Yanush, who had once been one of the Count’s smaller “officials,” prepared a sort of gubernatorial manifesto for himself and seized the reins of power. He set himself to reorganise things, and for several days such a hubbub ensued and such cries arose on the island that it seemed at times as if the Turks had torn themselves from their prison underground in order to avenge themselves upon their Polish tyrants. This Yanush sorted out the inhabitants of the ruins, dividing the sheep from the goats. The sheep, who remained in the castle as before, helped him to expel the unhappy goats, who were stubborn and put up a desperate but ineffectual resistance. When, at last, with the silent but no less effective cooperation of the policeman, order was once more restored on the island it appeared that the change effected had been distinctly aristocratic in character. Yanush had allowed only “good Christians,” that is, Roman Catholics, to remain in the castle, and, besides this, most of them were either former servants or descendants of servants of the Count’s family. They were all either old men in long, tattered cloaks with huge red noses, or hideous, scolding hags who still clung, in the last stages of destitution, to their caps and mantles. They formed a homogeneous, closely united, aristocratic circle that had established, as it were, a monopoly in the trade of beggary. On weekdays these old dames and gaffers would go with prayers on their lips from house to house of the more prosperous townspeople, carrying gossip, complaining of their hard lot, and pouring forth tears and supplications; but on Sundays they would appear as the most honoured members of those long lines that, in Western Russia, extend from the doors of Roman Catholic churches. There they would proudly accept offerings in the name of the “Lord Jesus” and the “Lady Mother of God.”

Attracted by the uproar and shouts that came to us from the island during the revolution, I betook myself thither with a few of my companions, and, hiding behind the thick trunks of the poplars, we watched Yanush at the head of an army of red-nosed dotards and unsightly shrews drive out the last inhabitants of the castle that were liable to expulsion. Evening fell. Drops of rain were already falling from a cloud that was hanging over the high summits of the poplars. A few unhappy wretches, wrapping their impossibly tattered rags about them, still lingered about the island, piteous, confused, and scared, and, like toads that have been poked out of their holes by boys, tried to crawl back unnoticed into some cranny of the castle wall. But Yanush and the beldames drove them away with curses and cries, threatening them with sticks and pitchforks, while the silent policeman stood by, also grasping a stout oaken cudgel, and preserving an armed neutrality, although he plainly favoured the conquering party. So this unhappy riffraff disappeared grumbling over the bridge, leaving the island forever, until one by one they were swallowed up in the rainy darkness of the rapidly falling night.

After that memorable evening both Yanush and the old castle, which had both, until then, impressed me with their vague grandeur, lost all their attraction in my eyes. Before that night I had liked to cross over to the island and to contemplate the grey castle walls and mossy roof, even from afar. When the motley figures of its inmates crawled out into the brightness of morning, yawning, coughing, and crossing themselves in the sunlight, I had looked upon them with a sort of reverence, as upon creatures clothed in the same mystery that surrounded the whole castle. “They sleep there at night,” thought I; “they hear everything that happens when the moon looks in at the broken windows and the wind howls through the great halls.” I had loved to listen to Yanush, when, with all the loquacity of seventy years, he had taken his seat beneath a poplar tree and told me tales of the glorious past of the dying building. Images of this past would rise before my childish imagination, and there would be wafted into my heart a solemn melancholy and a vague sympathy for the life lived here of old inside these dismal walls. Romantic shades of an antiquity unknown to me would flit across my young soul as the light shadows of clouds flit across a bright field on a windy day.

But after that evening the castle and its bard appeared to me in a new light. Meeting me the following day near the island, Yanush called me to him and assured me with satisfaction that “the son of such honoured parents as mine” could now boldly visit the island, as he would find an absolutely orderly population upon it. He even led me by the hand up to the very castle, but I snatched my hand out of his almost in tears, and ran away as fast as my legs could carry me; the castle had become odious to me. The windows of the upper story had been boarded up, while the lower floor was ruled over by the “mantles and caps.” The old women crawled out, looking so unattractive, fawning upon me so mawkishly, and at the same time scolding one another so loudly that I honestly wondered how the old Count who was wont to discipline his Turks on stormy nights could stand having these old crones so near him. But chiefly I could not forget the cold ruthlessness with which the triumphant inhabitants of the castle had driven away their unfortunate fellow-inmates, and my heart contracted at the remembrance of the poor creatures left without a roof over their heads.

However this may be, the old castle taught me for the first time the great fact that, from the sublime to the ridiculous is but a step. That which was sublime in the castle was all overgrown with convolvulus and ivy, and that which was ridiculous was revolting to me, and wounded my childish susceptibility too keenly for me to feel the irony of the contrast; this was still inaccessible to me.

II

Queer Characters

The nights following the revolution on the island were passed by the town in great anxiety. Dogs barked, house doors creaked, and the citizens kept emerging into the streets, knocking on the fences with sticks, and letting everyone know how valiant they were. The town knew that a band of shivering and hungry folk was roaming through the streets, cold and wet, in the raw darkness of the rainy night, and realising full well that only harsh feelings could exist in the hearts of these people toward it, the town put itself on guard and answered these sentiments with threats. And, as if on purpose, the nights now fell upon the earth in the midst of torrents of cold rain, and passed away leaving low-flying clouds hanging close above the ground. And the wind bellowed in the heart of the evil weather, shaking the treetops, thundering against the walls, and chanting to me in my bed of the dozens of human creatures deprived of warmth, with no roof over their heads.

But at last spring triumphed over winter’s rage; the sun dried the wet earth, and in the meantime the homeless wanderers had slipped away, whither, heaven knows. The nightly barking of the dogs diminished, the townsfolk stopped knocking on the fences, and life assumed once more its monotonous and sleepy aspect. The hot sun rose in the sky, scorched the dusty streets, and drove the lively sons of Israel into the shelter of their little booths; the “commissionaires” lounged lazily in the sun, sharply eyeing the passersby and the Jewish geschäft; the scratching of official pens was heard through the open windows of the Government buildings; the town ladies wandered up and down the bazaars in the mornings with baskets on their arms, and in the evenings came out walking majestically, leaning upon the arms of their spouses, stirring up the street dust with the full trains of their dresses. The old men and women from the castle decorously made the round of their patrons without disturbing the universal harmony. The townsfolk gladly recognised their right to existence, and considered it absolutely proper that some people should receive alms every Saturday, while the denizens of the castle accepted this charity with the utmost respectability.

Only the unfortunate exiles now found no protection in the town. It is true they no longer roamed the streets at night, and people said they had taken refuge somewhere on the hill near the dissenting chapel, but how they had managed to find a dwelling place there no one could exactly say. All saw, however, the most impossible and suspicious-looking figures in the world climb down every morning from the cliffs on which the chapel stood and disappear again at twilight in the same direction. These people disturbed the quiet, sleepy life of the town by their appearance, standing out like sombre stains against the grey background of village life. The citizens looked at them askance with feelings of hostility and alarm, while they, on the other hand, watched the village with furtively attentive eyes that sent cold chills running down the back of many a townsman. These persons did not resemble in any way the aristocratic mendicants from the castle; the town did not recognise them and they did not ask for recognition. Their relations with the community were purely warlike in character; they preferred cursing a townsman to flattering him; they preferred taking things themselves to asking for them. Nevertheless, as often happens among a sombre mass of unfortunates, there were those among them who, for brains and talent, would have been an honour to the more select society of the castle, but who had been discontented there, and preferred the more democratic life of the dissenting chapel. A few of these poor creatures were distinguished by characteristics of profoundest tragedy.

I remember vividly to this day how merrily the street would hum as the melancholy, stooping figure of the old “Professor” walked along it. He was a gentle being, oppressed by a clouded intelligence, and he wore an old frieze overcoat and a wide-brimmed hat trimmed with a faded cockade. His learned title he had appropriated, it seemed, because of a vague tradition that he had once, somehow, somewhere, been a tutor. It would be hard to imagine a creature more mild and harmless. He could generally be seen wandering about the streets with dim eyes and head sunk forward on his breast. The ingenious townsfolk knew two peculiarities of his which they made use of to procure a cruel enjoyment for themselves. The Professor was always muttering something to himself and no one could ever make out what he was saying. His words would trickle after one another with the troubled murmur of a little brooklet, while he fixed his vague eyes upon his listener’s face as if he were trying to convey to that man’s mind the elusive meaning of his long discourses. He could be wound up like a clock, and to do this it was only necessary for one of the lanky commissionaires dozing on the sidewalk to call the old man to him and ask him some question. The Professor would shake his head, pensively fix his faded eyes upon the face of his interlocutor, and begin to murmur something sorrowful without an end. Thereupon his questioner could calmly walk away or go to sleep, and when he woke he would still be certain to see over him that dark, melancholy figure, murmuring his unintelligible phrases. But, naturally, this situation was not, in itself, particularly interesting. It was the second of the Professor’s characteristics that enabled the louts of the street-corners to procure their most striking effects. The unhappy man could never hear sharp or pointed instruments mentioned without emotion. And so, at the very height of his unintelligible eloquence, his listener would suddenly jump up and scream in a harsh voice: “Knives, scissors, needles, pins!” Then the poor old man, interrupted in the midst of his reverie, would throw up his arms with the gesture of a wounded bird, and stare about him in terror with his hands clutching at his breast. Ah, how many sufferings are incomprehensible to lanky commissionaires because the sufferers cannot express their pain by means of a lusty blow! But the poor Professor would only look about him in deep distress, and his inexpressible suffering could be divined from his voice as he turned his clouded eyes upon his tormentor and cried, convulsively tearing at his breast:

“A hook⁠—a hook in my heart!”

He was probably trying to say that his heart had been rent by the townsman’s exclamation, but naturally it was his very circumstance that had served to dispel somewhat the tedium of the street loafer. So the poor Professor would hurry away, his head bowed even lower than before, as if he feared a blow, and loud peals of laughter would pursue him as the pert townsfolk ran out into the street, filling the air with screams like the blows of a lash and shouting:

“Knives, scissors, needles, pins!”

In justice to the exiles from the castle, it must be said that they always stood loyally by one another, and if two or three of Turkevich’s tatterdemalions, or, more especially, if the retired grenadier Zausailov descended upon the Professor’s pursuers at such a time a cruel punishment always overtook a large number of that crowd. Zausailov, who was the possessor of a huge frame, a purplish blue nose, and fiercely protruding eyes, had long since declared war on every living being, and recognised neither treaties nor neutrality. Each time that he met the Professor with the rabble in pursuit his angry shouts would fill the air then and long after, as he swept through the streets like Tamerlane, destroying everything that stood in the way of his redoubtable progress. Thus he practised pogroms on the Jews on a large scale long before they had begun to break out elsewhere. He would torture every Jew that fell a prisoner into his hands and wreak insults on the Hebrew ladies until at last the expedition of the bold grenadier would come to an end in the gaol, where he was invariably domiciled after his bloody bouts with the populace in which both sides always manifested no small amount of valour.

The other individual the sight of whose misfortunes and downfall was a source of great amusement to the people, was Lavrovski, a retired and absolutely drink-sodden Civil Servant. The inhabitants of the town could easily remember the time when Lavrovski was never spoken of as anything but “My Lord the Secretary”; when he went about in a uniform with brass buttons, his neck swathed in handkerchiefs of the most marvellous hues. It is likely that this circumstance lent an additional piquancy to the contemplation of his present state. The change in Lavrovski’s life had come swiftly; it had sufficed for a certain brilliant officer of dragoons to come to Kniazh Gorodok and live there for two weeks. In that time he succeeded in winning and carrying off a golden-haired lady, the rich innkeeper’s daughter. The inhabitants of the town never heard of the beautiful Anna again, for she had sunk forever beneath their horizon. And so Lavrovski was left with all his bright-hued handkerchiefs, but without the hope that had once embellished the life of the little official. It was long since he had ceased to be a Civil Servant. Somewhere, in some remote village, there lived a family whose hope and mainstay he had once been, but he had lost all care for anything now. In his rare sober moments he would walk swiftly through the streets with downcast eyes, looking at no one, as if he were overcome with shame at the fact of his own existence. Ragged, dirty, with long, unkempt hair, he was always a prominent figure in a crowd, and attracted universal attention to himself, but he seemed never to notice anyone, or to hear anything. Only occasionally would he cast a wild look of bewilderment about him, as much as to say: “What do these strangers want of me? What have I done to them, and why do they follow me so persistently with their mockery?” If, during one of these flashes of consciousness, his ear caught the name of the lady with the golden hair a tempestuous fury would rise in his heart, his eyes would shine in his pale face with dark fire, and he would throw himself upon the crowd of his tormentors, which would then quickly disperse. These flashes of anger, rare as they were, strangely provoked the interest of the loafers who found that time hung heavily on their hands, and it is no wonder, then, that when Lavrovski walked down the street with downcast eyes, the rabble that followed him should try to rouse him from his apathy, and at last begin to throw mud and stones at him.

When Lavrovski was drunk he would obstinately seek out dark fence-corners and swampy meadows and other such extraordinary places, and there he would sit, his long legs stretched out in front of him, his poor grey head sunk on his breast. Solitude and vodka awoke in him a flow of expansiveness and a desire to pour forth the sorrow of his heavy heart, so he would embark upon endless stories of his ruined youth, addressing himself now to the grey posts of the ancient fence, now to the birch trees indulgently whispering something over his head, now to the magpies that came hopping up to his gloomy figure with feminine curiosity.

If any of us little boys succeeded in tracking him to such a place we would silently surround him and listen with beating hearts to his long and terrible stories. Our hair would stand on end as we gazed with horror at that pale creature accusing himself of every crime under the sun. According to Lavrovski’s own account he had killed his father, driven his mother into the grave, and brought disgrace on his brothers and sisters. We had no reason for not believing these fearful confessions, and were only surprised that Lavrovski seemed to have had several fathers; he had thrust a sword into the heart of one, another he had killed with slow poison, a third he had dragged down with him into some abyss or other. So we would listen, overwhelmed with sympathy and horror, until Lavrovski’s tongue became more and more entangled and at last ceased to be able to pronounce articulate sounds; merciful sleep would then put an end to the outpouring of his confessions.

The grown people laughed at us and told us that these stories were all moonshine, and that Lavrovski’s parents had died a natural death from sickness or starvation. But our tender, childish hearts heard the cries of genuine affliction in his groans, and, taking the allegories of the unhappy man literally, we came nearer than our elders to understanding the tragic wrecking of his life.

When Lavrovski’s head had sunk lower than ever and snores, broken by nervous sobs, came from his throat, we would lean our little heads over the poor man. We would peer into his face and watch the shadows of his misdeeds flitting across it even in his sleep; we would see his brows contract convulsively and his lips tighten in a piteous, almost childishly plaintive grimace.

“I’ll kill you!” he once shrieked suddenly, conscious of a vague uneasiness caused by our presence, and at this we scattered like a flock of startled birds.

It sometimes happened that rain fell on him sleeping thus, dust covered him, and several times in the autumn he was literally buried in snow. If he did not die an untimely death, he without doubt owed this to the care which other unfortunates like himself took of his pitiful person. Especially did he owe his life to the jolly Turkevich, who would search him out, pull him up, set him on his feet, and take him away with him.

Turkevich belonged to the class of people, who, as he himself expressed it, do not spit in their own porridge, and while the Professor and Lavrovski were passive sufferers, he presented the appearance of a person who was happy and fortunate in many ways. To begin with, he had suddenly announced that he was a general without asking the assent of anyone, and demanded that the townsfolk should call him by that honourable title. As no one dared to question his right to it, Turkevich very soon became imbued with a belief in his own greatness. He always stalked along very majestically, knitting his brows severely, and displaying a perfect readiness to break anyone’s jaw, which last act he evidently considered the special prerogative of a general. If his care free brain was ever visited for a moment by doubts on the score of his title, he would catch the first man he saw on the street and sternly ask him:

“Who am I, eh?”

“General Turkevich!” the man would answer meekly, feeling himself in an awkward position, whereupon Turkevich would slowly release him and proudly twirl his whiskers.

“Exactly!”

And as he had, beside all this, a very special way of twirling his beetling moustache and an inexhaustible fund of quaint sayings and witticisms, it was not surprising that he was constantly surrounded by a crowd of lively listeners. Even the doors of the best restaurants, where the landholders of the country assembled to play billiards, were open to him. To tell the truth, however, it not infrequently happened that General Turkevich would come flying out of them with the alacrity of a man who is being shoved rather unceremoniously from behind. But these incidents, which he explained by the lack of respect the landholders had for wit, had no effect upon Turkevich’s general frame of mind. A state of happy self-confidence and continual intoxication that was his normal condition.

In this last circumstance lay the second key to his felicity; one glass of vodka was enough to keep him fuddled for a day. This fact people explained by the immense quantity which Turkevich had already drunk, and which was said to have converted his blood into a solution of vodka. All that was necessary now was for the General to bring this solution to a proper strength, for it to ripple and rush through his veins, painting the world for him with rainbow tints.

If, on the other hand, for one reason or another, the General could not procure a glass of vodka for a day or two, he would suffer the most excruciating torture. First he would fall into a fit of melancholy and low spirits. All knew that at these times the terrible General was more helpless than a child, and many hastened to wreak vengeance upon him then for insults received. They would beat him and spit upon him and cover him with mud, while he would not even try to run away from the disgrace, but would bellow at the top of his lungs while the tears streamed in torrents down his long, drooping moustache. The poor wretch would turn to everyone, imploring them to kill him; saying that, anyhow, he was doomed to die a dog’s death in a fence corner. At that everyone would stand aside, for there was something in the voice and face of the General at those times which sent even his most determined enemies away as fast as their legs could carry them. They could not bear to see the face, to hear the voice of a man who, for an instant, was conscious of the appalling tragedy of his lot.

Then another change would come over the General and he would grow terrible to look at. His eyes would flash feverishly, his cheeks would cave in, his short hair would bristle on his head, he would go off into a kind of frenzy, and, rising to his feet, would stalk triumphantly through the streets, beating his breast and announcing to everyone in a loud voice:

“I am going! Like Jeremiah, I am going to denounce the ungodly!”

This was always the signal for an interesting scene.

It may safely be said that Turkevich played the part of a famous person in our little town, so it was small wonder that the sedatest and busiest of our townsmen should drop their work and mingle with the rabble at the heels of the new prophet, or that at least they should watch his progress from afar. He usually went first to the Secretary of the County Court, and before his house he would hold something like a session of court, choosing suitable members of the crowd to take the parts of the plaintiff and the defendant. He himself would make the pleas and reply to them, mimicking very skilfully the voice and manner of a prisoner.

As he was always able to give a contemporary flavour to his performances by alluding to some fact well known to all, and as he was extremely well versed in the procedures of a court room, it was not surprising that the Secretary’s cook should come flying out of the house in a twinkling, touch Turkevich on the arm, and hastily disappear, repulsing as she went the attentions of Turkevich’s followers. Turkevich would laugh sardonically on receiving this gift, and, waving the money triumphantly, would retire to the nearest tavern.

Having slightly slaked his thirst there, he would continue to lead his audience from house to house of those whom he “denounced,” varying his programme to suit each particular case. As he always received money for each performance, his fierce tone would gradually become more mild, his moustache would begin to curl once more, and the denunciatory drama gradually became a merry vaudeville that generally ended in front of the house where Kotz, the Captain of Police, lived. Kotz was the most kindly of all the city officials and had only two little weaknesses: he dyed his grey hair black and had a partiality for fat cooks. In everything else he showed an implicit confidence in the will of God and the “gratitude” of the townsfolk. Having arrived in front of the Police Captain’s house, Turkevich would wink gaily at his companions, throw up his cap, and announce in stentorian tones that not the Police Captain lived here, but Turkevich’s own father and benefactor.

Then he would fix his eyes on the windows and await results. The consequence was always one of two things: either the fat, red-cheeked Matriona would come running out of the front door with a present from Turkevich’s “father and benefactor,” or the door would remain closed, and Turkevich would catch sight at a window of an angry old face in a frame of coal-black hair, while Matriona would creep through back ways to the police station. There the cobbler Mikita, who made a very good living out of these very affairs with Turkevich, was always sitting. On seeing Matriona he would immediately throw down his boot-last and rise from his seat.

Meanwhile Turkevich, seeing that no good results followed his dithyrambs, would, little by little, cautiously have recourse to satire. He would usually begin by remarking what a pity it was that his benefactor thought it necessary to dye his honourable grey hair with shoe blacking. Next, grieved by the absolute lack of attention which his eloquence received, he would raise his voice and begin to assail his benefactor as a melancholy example of a man living illegally with Matriona. By the time he reached this delicate subject, the General had always lost all hope of reconciliation with his “benefactor,” and would therefore arm himself with all the genuine eloquence of indignation. It was a pity that an unexpected interruption almost always came at this point in his speech. Kotz’s angry yellow face would appear thrust out of one of the windows of his house, and Mikita, who had crept up with marvellous dexterity, would seize Turkevich from behind. No member of his audience ever tried to warn the orator of his approaching danger, for Mikita’s artistic methods always called forth universal admiration. Cut off in the midst of a word, the General would suddenly whirl through the air and find himself upside down on Mikita’s back. A few seconds more, and the sturdy cobbler would be quietly making his way to the gaol, bending slightly beneath his burden, and followed by the deafening shouts of the populace. Another minute, and the black door of the police station would gape like a pair of forbidding jaws and the General would disappear into the darkness, helplessly kicking his feet. The thankless mob would cry, “Hurrah for Mikita!” and gradually melt away.

Beside these individuals who were conspicuous among the ranks of the vagabonds, a dark crew of pitiful, ragged creatures had taken refuge near the chapel, and these never failed to create intense excitement by their appearance at the bazaars. The merchants would hastily seek to protect their goods with their hands, as a hen covers her brood when a hawk appears in the sky above her. There was a rumour afloat that these poor wretches had formed a fraternal organisation and that now, since they had been deprived of their last resources by their expulsion from the castle, they occupied themselves with petty thieving in the town and its environs. Such rumours were chiefly founded on the fact that a man cannot live without bread, and as all the suspicious persons had in some way or other abandoned the normal way of obtaining it, and had been cut off from the benefits of local charity, it was naturally concluded that they must either steal or die. As they did not die, the very fact of their remaining alive was evidence of their guilty practices.

If this was true, it was no less apparent that the organiser and leader of the band could be no other than Tiburtsi Drab, the most remarkable of all the queer characters that had lost their home in the castle.

Drab’s origin was shrouded in the most mystifying uncertainty. Those who were gifted with a vivid imagination credited him with having an aristocratic name which he had brought to shame; he was therefore obliged to conceal himself, at the same time taking part, it was said, in the exploits of the notorious Karmeliuk. But, in the first place, he was not old enough for this, and, in the second place, Tiburtsi’s appearance did not present one single aristocratic feature. He was tall, and his heavily stooping shoulders seemed to tell of great burdens borne by the unfortunate man. His large features were coarsely expressive. His short, reddish hair bristled stiffly all over his head; his receding forehead, his slightly projecting lower jaw, and the rapid play of his facial muscles lent something apish to his face, but the eyes that sparkled under his beetling brows were determined and dark, and there shone in them, beside cunning, a keen perspicacity, energy, and an uncommon intelligence. While his features were changing under the kaleidoscopic play of his expressions, his eyes would retain their same fixed, unvarying look, and for this reason the buffoonery of the strange man filled me with unreasoning dread.

Tiburtsi’s hands were callous and rough, and he stamped his great feet like a peasant. Therefore the consensus of opinion among the townsfolk was that he was not of aristocratic birth, and the most they would concede was that he might have been the servant of a great family. But here another difficulty presented itself: how, then, explain the phenomenal learning that everyone unanimously admitted he possessed? It was impossible not to acknowledge this obvious fact, for there was not a tavern in the whole town, where Tiburtsi had not stood on a barrel and spouted whole speeches from Cicero and Xenophon for the benefit of the Little Russians collected there on market days. These Little Russians would gape and nudge one another with their elbows, while Tiburtsi, towering above them in his rags, would thunder forth Catilinus or paint the exploits of Caesar and the craft of Mithridates. Little Russians are, by nature, endowed with a glowing fancy, and these were able to read their own meaning into Tiburtsi’s fiery if unintelligible speeches. When the orator beat his breast and turned to them with flashing eyes, exclaiming: “Patres Conscripti!” they too would knit their brows and say to one another:

“Aha, the son of a gun, he does bark!”

Later, when Tiburtsi would raise his eyes to the ceiling and begin declaiming endless verses of Latin poetry, his whiskered audience would follow every word he uttered with timid and pitying sympathy. They felt as if the soul of their orator were soaring somewhere in an unknown region where people did not talk like Christians, and by his despairing gestures they concluded that it was there meeting with the most sorrowful adventures. But this sympathetic tension reached its height whenever Tiburtsi rolled up his eyes so that only the whites were visible and wrung his audience’s heart with endless recitations from Virgil and from Homer. Such hollow, sepulchral tones would then shake his voice that those who sat farthest away and were most under the influence of the Jewish gorelka60 would hang their heads until their long topknots dangled before them, and begin to sob:

“Oh, oh, little mother, how sad it is!” while the tears would flow from their eyes and trickle piteously down their long whiskers.

This learning of the queer fellow’s made it necessary to invent a new hypothesis about him which should tally more closely with the obvious facts. It was at last agreed that Tiburtsi had once been the house-boy of a count who had sent him to a Jesuit school with his own son, desiring that he should clean the young gentleman’s boots. It appeared, however, that the young count had received most of the blows of the holy fathers’ three-tailed “disciplinarian,” while the servant had appropriated the learning intended for the head of his master.

As a result of the mystery which surrounded Tiburtsi, he was credited among other things with having an intimate knowledge of witchcraft. If a “witch-ball”61 suddenly appeared in the billowy fields that closed like a sea about the last hovels of the town, no one could pull it up with less danger to himself and to the reapers than Tiburtsi. If an owl settled in the evening on someone’s roof and, with loud cries, summoned death to the house, Tiburtsi would be sent for and would drive the ill-omened bird away by reciting quotations from Livy.

No one could even conjecture how Tiburtsi happened to have children, and yet the fact was obvious; there were even two facts, a boy of seven, unusually well-grown and intelligent for his age, and a little girl of three. Tiburtsi had led, or rather carried, the boy with him during the early days of his appearance over our horizon. As for the little girl, he had seemed to vanish for several months into an absolutely unknown place in order to procure her.

The boy, whose name was Valek, was tall and thin and dark. He might sometimes be seen sauntering gloomily about the town with his hands in his pockets, casting sidelong glances about him without having anything in particular to do, and was the cause of many a palpitating heart to the bakers.

The little girl was only seen once or twice, borne aloft in Tiburtsi’s arms. She then disappeared and no one knew whither she had gone.

People spoke of certain subterranean passages on the hill near the dissenting chapel, and such places were not uncommon in that part of Russia, over which the Tartars had so often swept with fire and sword, where Polish licence had run high, and where the fierce heroes of the old Ukraine had held their bloody tribunals. So everyone believed in the existence of these caves, especially as it was clear that the band of poor unfortunates must be living somewhere. They always disappeared toward evening in precisely the direction of the chapel. Thither the Professor hobbled with his drowsy gait; thither strode Tiburtsi, swiftly and resolutely; thither staggered Turkevich, leading the fierce and helpless Lavrovski; thither went a crowd of other suspicious creatures, and vanished into the darkness of night. There was no man brave enough to follow them up the slippery clay landslides that clothed the hillside. The hill, which was honeycombed with graves, enjoyed an evil reputation. Blue flames might be seen burning in the old cemetery in the dusk of autumn nights, and the screech owls hooted so shrilly and loudly in the chapel that even the blacksmith’s fearless heart would quail when the cries of the accursed birds came to his ears.

III

My Father and I

“This is bad, young man, bad!” old Yanush used often to say, meeting me in the street in Turkevich’s train or among Tiburtsi’s audience.

And as he said this the old man would wag his grey beard.

“This is bad, young man; you are in bad company. It is a pity, a very great pity to see the son of such honourable parents among them.”

As a matter of fact, since my mother had died and my father’s gloomy face had become even more sombre than before, I was very seldom seen at home. I used to creep into the garden like a young wolf in the late summer evenings, carefully avoid a meeting with my father, open my window which was half-concealed by lilac bushes, and slip silently into bed. If my little sister was not asleep in her cradle in the next room I used to go in to see her, and we would softly kiss one another and play together, taking care not to wake our grumbling old nurse.

In the morning, at break of day, while everyone else in the house was still asleep, I was already tracing a dewy pathway through the tall grass of our garden, jumping across the fence, and making my way to the pond where my madcap companions would be waiting for me with fishing rods. Or else I would go down to the mill where the sleepy miller would have opened the sluices a few moments before, and where the water, its glassy surface delicately quivering, would already be plunging down the millrace, going bravely on its way to its daily toil.

The big mill-wheels, roused by the water’s noisy blows, would quiver too and seem to yield unwillingly, as if loath to forego their sleep, but next moment they would be turning, splashing the foam about, and bathing themselves in the cold torrent.

Behind them the shafts would slowly begin to revolve; inside the mill pinions would rattle, millstones would whirr, and a white floury dust would rise in clouds through the cracks of the venerable building.

Then I would run on⁠—I loved to meet Nature at her awakening. I was glad when I succeeded in rousing a sleepy lark or in startling a timid hare from its form. The dewdrops would be dripping from the maidenhair and from the faces of the meadow flowers as I crossed the fields on my way to the woods beyond the town. The trees would greet me with a drowsy murmur. The pale, surly faces of the prisoners would not yet be peering from the windows of the gaol, and only the sentry would be walking around its walls, noisily rattling his rifle as he relieved the tired night-watchman.

Although I had made a long round, when I reached the town again I would still meet sleepy figures here and there, opening the shutters of the houses. But when the sun rose over the hill, a rackety bell would ring out across the ponds calling the schoolboys together, and hunger would drive me home to my morning tea.

Everyone called me a tramp and a young good-for-nothing, and I was on the whole so often reproached with my many wicked tendencies, that at last I came to be persuaded of them myself. My father believed in them too, and sometimes made an effort to take my education in hand, but these attempts invariably ended in failure. The sight of his stern, melancholy face on which lay the harsh imprint of inconsolable grief frightened me and drove me into myself. I would stand uneasily before him, first on one foot and then on the other, glancing about me, and plucking at my little breeches. Sometimes I seemed to feel something rising in my breast; I wanted him to kiss me and take me on his knee. I should then have nestled to his breast and perhaps we should have wept together⁠—the stern man and the child⁠—at the thought of our common loss. But he would look at me instead with dim eyes that seemed to be staring at something over my head, and I would shrink under that gaze, which was incomprehensible to me.

“Do you remember your mother?”

Did I remember her? Ah, yes, I remembered! I remembered how, in the night, I used to awaken and, finding her soft arms in the darkness, would nestle near them, covering them with kisses. I remembered her as she had sat dying at the open window, gazing sorrowfully at the lovely Spring landscape before her, bidding it farewell in the last year of her life.

Ah, yes, I remembered her! As she lay beautiful, young, and covered with flowers, but with the seal of death upon her pale face, I had crouched in a corner like a young wild thing, staring at her with burning eyes before which the whole awful riddle of life and death was being unfolded. And at last, when a crowd of strangers had borne her away, was it not my sobs that filled the house with low sounds of weeping on the first night of my bereavement?

Ah yes, I remembered her! And still, in the silence of night, I would awaken with my childish heart bursting with an overflowing love, a smile of happiness on my lips, in blessed forgetfulness, wrapped in the rosy dreams of childhood. And once more it seemed that she was with me, and that at any moment I might feel again her gentle, loving kiss. But my arms would reach out into the empty darkness, and again the consciousness of my bitter loneliness would pierce my soul. Then I would press my hands to my aching heart and scalding tears would trickle down my cheeks.

Ah yes, I remembered her! But at the question of that tall, stern man with whom I wished to feel a sense of kinship and could not, I would wince more than ever, and quietly withdraw my little hand from his.

And he would turn away from me with anger and pain. He felt that he had not the slightest influence over me, that an insurmountable barrier stood between us. He had loved her too much while she was alive to notice me in his happiness, and now his deep sorrow hid me from him.

So little by little the gulf dividing us grew ever wider and deeper. He became more and more convinced that I was a wicked, worthless boy, with a hard, selfish heart, and the feeling that he should but could not teach me; should love me, but could not find a corner in his heart to harbour this love, still more increased his dislike for me. And this I felt. I used to watch him sometimes from where I stood hidden behind the shrubbery. He would walk up and down the garden paths with ever quickening footsteps, groaning with the unbearable agony in his heart. My heart too would ache with sympathy and pity at the sight of him. Once, when he took his head in his hands and sank down sobbing on a bench, I could endure it no longer and ran out of the shrubbery into the path, impelled by an undefinable impulse to be near him.

But he, roused from his gloomy and hopeless meditations, looked at me sternly and checked me with the cold question:

“What do you want?”

I did not want anything. I turned quickly away, ashamed of my outburst, afraid lest my father should read it in my blushing face. I ran into the grove in the garden and falling on my face in the grass wept bitterly from vexation and pain.

At six years I had already experienced all the horrors of loneliness.

My sister Sonia was four. I loved her passionately and she returned my love, but the general, fixed opinion that I was an out-and-out little rascal at last succeeded in raising a high barrier between us. Whenever I began to play with her in my noisy, frolicsome way, our old nurse, always sleepy and always picking over hen feathers for pillows with closed eyes, would wake up in an instant, swiftly seize my Sonia, and carry her away, throwing an angry glance at me. At such times she always reminded me of a ruffled brood-hen, while I likened myself to a marauding hawk, and Sonia to a little chicken. I would be hurt and vexed. It was no wonder, then, that I soon abandoned all attempts to amuse Sonia with my objectionable games, and in a little while both our house and the little garden began to grow irksome to me, for I found there neither welcome nor kindness. I began to roam. My whole being was quivering with strange presentiments; a foretaste, as it were, of life. It seemed to me that I should surely find something somewhere out there, in that great, unknown world beyond the old walled garden; I felt as if I should and would do something, only I knew not what, and from the bottom of my soul a feeling that tempted me and teased me rose up to meet this mystery. I was constantly awaiting the solution of these riddles, and instinctively fled from our nurse and her feathers, from the familiar, lazy whispering of the apple trees in our little garden, and from the silly knife-blows that resounded whenever meat was being chopped in our kitchen. From then on the epithets of “street urchin” and “tramp” were added to my other unflattering appellations. But I paid no heed to this; I had grown accustomed to reproaches, and endured them as I endured sudden downpours of rain and the fierce heat of the sun. I listened scowling to all rebukes and went my own way. Wandering through the streets, I watched the life of the town with childishly inquiring eyes; I listened to the rumbling of the wagons on the highway and tried to catch the echoes of great faraway cities, either in the clatter of their wheels or in the whispering of the wind among the tall Cossack tombs by the roadside. More than once did my eyes open wide with fear, more than once did my heart stop beating at the panorama of life unfolding before me, picture after picture, impression after impression, each leaving a vivid imprint on my heart. I saw and knew a great deal that children much older than myself ordinarily never see, and all the while that unexplained something which had risen from the depths of my childish soul called to me as before, ceaseless, mysterious, vibrant.

After the shrews of the castle had deprived the old building of my respect and admiration, and when every corner of the town had become familiar to me down to the last filthy alley, then I began to turn my eyes into the distance, toward the hill on which the dissenting chapel stood. At first I approached it from one side and then from another like a timid animal, not daring to climb a hill that had such an evil reputation. But as I gradually grew more familiar with the place, I began to see before me only peaceful graves and fallen crosses. Nowhere were there any visible signs of life or of the presence of human beings. It lay quiet, deserted and alone. Only the chapel frowned at me with its empty windows, as if absorbed in melancholy meditation. I longed to inspect the building from every point of view, to look inside it, and so to make sure that there was nothing in it but dust. But it was both terrifying and inconvenient to undertake such an expedition alone, and so I enlisted a small army of three scapegraces, urchins who were attracted to the adventure by the promise of cakes and of apples from our garden.

IV

I Make Some New Acquaintances

We started on our expedition one day after dinner, and, having reached the hill, began climbing the clay landslides that had been torn from its side by grave diggers long dead and by the freshets of Spring. These landslides had stripped the hillside bare, and here and there white, crumbling bones protruded through the clay. In one place the rotting corner of a coffin jutted out; in another a human skull grinned at us, fixing us with its dark, hollow eyes.

At last, lending one another a hand, we scrambled up over the last cliff and found ourselves on the summit of the hill. The sun was already nearing the horizon. Its slanting rays were tenderly gilding the sward of the old cemetery, playing across its ancient, zigzag crosses, and streaming through the windows of the chapel. The air was still, and about us reigned the deep peace of a deserted burial ground. Here we no longer saw skulls and shank-bones and coffins. A soft, gently sloping carpet of fresh green grass had lovingly concealed in its embrace the horror and ugliness of death.

We were alone. Only the sparrows were bustling merrily about us, and a few swallows were silently flying in and out of the windows of the chapel standing disconsolately among its grassy graves, modest crosses, and the tumble-down stone sepulchres on the debris of which gleamed the bright faces of buttercups, violets, and clover blossoms.

“No one is here,” said one of my companions.

“The sun is setting,” added another, looking at the sun, which, although it had not yet set, was hanging low above the hill.

The doors and windows were boarded up for some distance above the ground, but, with the help of my companions, I had hopes of scaling them and peeping into the chapel.

“Don’t!” cried one of my band, suddenly losing his courage and seizing my arm.

“Get away, you old woman!” the oldest of our little army shouted at him, deftly offering me his back.

I jumped bravely upon it; he stood up, and I found myself with my feet on his shoulders. In this position I could easily reach the windowsill with my hand. I made sure of its strength, and then pulled myself up and sat on it.

“Well, what do you see?” the boys asked from below, with lively curiosity.

I was silent. By peering over the sill I could see down into the interior of the chapel, from whence there rose to meet me all the solemn quiet of an abandoned place of worship. The interior of the tall, narrow building was innocent of paint. The evening sunlight was streaming unobstructed through the open windows, staining the peeling walls a brilliant gold. I saw the inside of the closed door, the crumbling gallery, the ancient tottering columns. The distance from the window to the floor appeared much greater than from the window to the grass outside. I seemed to be looking down into a deep abyss, and at first I could not make out what certain strange objects were whose fantastic forms were resting upon the floor.

Meanwhile my friends were growing weary of standing below waiting for me to give them news, and one of them climbed up by the same method that I had employed, and took his seat beside me, holding on to the window frame.

“That’s the altar,” he said, looking down at one of the strange objects on the floor.

“And that’s the lustre.”

“And that’s the little table for the Bible.”

“Yes, but what’s that?” I asked, pointing to the dark shape that lay beside the altar.

“That’s a priest’s hat.”

“No, it’s a bucket.”

“What would they have used a bucket for?”

“To carry coals for the incense.”

“No, it certainly is a hat. Anyhow, we can find out!” I cried. “Here, let’s tie your belt to the windowsill, and you can let yourself down by it!”

“I like that! Let yourself down if you want to!”

“Do you think I wouldn’t go?”

“Go on then!”

Acting on impulse I tied the two belts together, slipped them under the windowsill, and, giving one end to my companion, let myself down by the other. I trembled as my feet touched the floor, but a glance at my friend’s face bending sympathetically over me reassured me. The sound of my heels rang out under the ceiling, resounding in the chapel’s void, and echoing among its dark corners. A few sparrows started up from their roosts in the gallery and fluttered out through a large hole in the roof. All at once I caught sight of a stern, bearded face under a crown of thorns looking down at me from over the window in which we had been sitting. It was an immense crucifix leaning out from high up under the rafters.

I was seized with dread. My companion’s eyes sparkled, and he held his breath with curiosity and sympathy.

“Are you going any farther?” he asked in a low voice.

“Yes,” I answered in the same tone, summoning all my courage, but at that instant something totally unexpected happened. First, we heard the rattle of plaster falling in the gallery. Then something moved overhead, stirring up clouds of dust, and a big grey mass flapped its wings and rose to the hole in the roof. The chapel was darkened in a moment. A huge old owl, frightened out of a dark corner by our noise, hung poised for a moment in the aperture with outstretched wings, and then sailed away.

A wave of shuddering fear passed over me.

“Pull me up!” I cried to my playmate, and seized the strap.

“Don’t be frightened!” he answered soothingly and prepared to pull me up into the sunshine and the light of day.

But all at once I saw his face become distorted with alarm. He screamed, jumped down from the windowsill, and vanished in an instant. I instinctively looked behind me, and caught sight of a strange apparition which filled me, however, more with surprise than terror.

The dark object that had been the subject of our dispute, and that had first looked like a bucket, then like a hat, and then at last like a kettle, suddenly flashed across my vision and vanished behind the altar. All I could distinguish was the dim outline of a small, what seemed to be a child’s, hand, beckoning the object into its hiding place.

It would be hard to describe my sensations at that moment. They were not painful, the feeling that overcame me could not even be called fear. I seemed to be in another world. From somewhere, as if from the world that I had left, there came to me, a few seconds later, the swift frightened pattering of three pairs of children’s feet. This sound soon died away, and I was left alone in that tomb-like place, in the presence of an apparition inexplicable and strange.

Time ceased to exist for me, therefore I cannot say whether it was soon or not before I was aware of suppressed whispering under the altar.

“Why doesn’t he climb up again?”

“You can see, he’s frightened.”

The first voice seemed to be that of a very little child, the second might have belonged to a boy of my own age. I seemed to see, too, a pair of black eyes shining through the chinks in the old altar.

“What’s he going to do now?” the whisper recommenced.

“Wait and see,” answered the older voice.

Something moved so violently under the altar that the structure trembled, and a little figure emerged from underneath it.

It was a boy of nine, taller than I was, thin and slight as a reed. He was dressed in a dirty shirt, and his hands were thrust into the pockets of a pair of short, tight breeches. His black hair hung in shaggy elf-locks over his dark, pensive eyes.

Although he was a stranger and had appeared on the scene in such an unusual and unexpected manner, and although he was approaching me with that infinitely provocative look with which boys always met each other among our bazaars when they were preparing for a fight, I nevertheless felt very much braver than I had before. My courage increased when there appeared from under the altar, or rather from a trap-door in the floor which was concealed by the altar, another grimy little face framed in golden curls, and a pair of bright blue eyes fixed on me full of childish curiosity.

I moved slightly away from the wall and also put my hands into my pockets according to the rules of our bazaars. This was a sign that I was not afraid of my adversary and even partly wished to hint at my contempt for him.

We stood face to face, measuring each other with our eyes. Having stared at me from head to foot, the boy asked:

“What are you doing here?”

“Nothing,” I answered. “What business is it of yours?”

My adversary jerked his shoulder as if he intended to take his hand out of his pocket and strike me. I did not blink.

“I’ll show you!” he threatened.

I stuck out my chest.

“Hit me! Try!”

The moment was crucial. On it depended the character of our future relationship. I waited, but my opponent continued to fix me with the same scrutinising gaze and did not move.

“I’ll hit⁠—too⁠—” I said, but more peaceably this time.

Meanwhile the little girl, with her tiny hands resting on the floor of the chapel, was trying to scramble up out of the trap-door. She fell down, got up again, and at last came tottering with uncertain steps toward the boy. Having reached him, she seized him and nestled closely to him, at the same time fixing eyes of wonder and fear upon my face.

This decided the affair. It was obvious that the boy could not fight under conditions such as these. Of course I was too generous to take advantage of the awkward situation he was in.

“What’s your name?” asked the boy, stroking the little girl’s fair curls.

“Vasia. What’s yours?”

“Mine’s Valek. I know you. You live in the garden near the pond. You have big apples.”

“Yes, our apples are fine. Don’t you want some?”

Taking out of my pocket two apples that had been intended as payment for my shamefully fugitive band, I gave one to Valek and held out the other to the little girl. But she only hid her face and pressed closer to Valek.

“She’s frightened,” he said, and handed the apple to the child himself.

“What did you come down here for?” he asked next. “Did I ever come into your garden?”

“You can come if you want to. I wish you would!” I answered joyfully.

Valek was taken back.

“I can’t play with you,” he answered sadly.

“Why not?” I asked, deeply grieved by the sorrowful voice in which he had spoken these words.

“Your father is a judge.”

“Well, what if he is?” I asked with candid amazement. “You’d play with me, not with my father!”

Valek shook his head.

“Tiburtsi wouldn’t let me.” And as if the name had reminded him of something, he suddenly recollected himself and went on: “Look here, you’re a fine boy, but you’d better go. If Tiburtsi should find you here it would be awful.”

I agreed that it was time for me to go. The last rays of the setting sun were already fading behind the windows of the chapel, and the town was some distance away.

“How can I get out of here?”

“I’ll show you. We’ll go out together.”

“And what about her?” I asked, pointing to the little girl.

“What, Marusia? She’ll come with us.”

“How? Through the window?”

Valek reflected a moment.

“I’ll tell you what; I’ll help you to climb through the window and we’ll go out another way.”

With the help of my new friend I climbed up to the windowsill. Untying the belt, I slipped it around the sill, seized both ends, and swung myself into the air. Then, releasing one end, I dropped to the ground and jerked down the belt. Valek and Marusia were already waiting for me outside, at the foot of the wall.

The sun had just set behind the hill. The town was sunk in purple mist, only the tall poplars on the island, stained by the last glow of the sunset, stood out sharply defined in pure gold. I felt as if I had been in the old cemetery for a day and a night; it was as if I had come there the day before.

“It’s lovely here!” I exclaimed, struck by the freshness of the evening and filling my lungs with the cool, damp air.

“It’s lonely here,” said Valek sadly.

“Do you live here?” I asked, as the three of us began to descend the hill.

“Yes.”

“Where’s your house?”

I couldn’t imagine that children like myself could live without a house.

Valek smiled in his habitual sad way and did not answer.

We avoided the steep landslides, for Valek knew a better path. Pushing through the reeds of a dry marsh and crossing a couple of little streams on narrow planks, we found ourselves on a flat at the foot of the hill.

Here we were forced to take leave of one another. I pressed my new friend’s hand and then held out mine to the little girl. She gave me her tiny paw affectionately and, looking up at me with her blue eyes, asked:

“Will you come again?”

“Oh, yes,” I answered. “I’ll surely come!”

“All right,” said Valek thoughtfully. “You might as well come, but only when our people are in town.”

“Who are your people?”

“Why our people: all of them, Tiburtsi and Lavrovski and Turkevich and the Professor⁠—but perhaps he wouldn’t matter.”

“All right, I’ll watch for them, and when they’re in town, I’ll come. Goodbye!”

“Hi! Listen!” Valek called after me when I had gone a few steps. “You won’t tell anyone you’ve been here with us, will you?”

“No, not a soul!” I answered firmly.

“That’s good. And when those idiots of yours ask you what you saw say the Devil.”

“All right. I’ll say that.”

“Goodbye, then!”

“Goodbye!”

The thick shades of night were descending on Kniazh Gorodok as I approached our garden wall. A slender crescent moon was hanging over the castle and the sky was bright with stars. I was about to climb the wall when someone seized my arm.

“Vasia!” my runaway friend burst out in an excited whisper. “Is that you?”

“You know it is. And so you all ran away!”

He hung his head, but curiosity got the better of his confusion and he asked again:

“What did you see there?”

“What do you think I saw?” I answered in a voice that would not admit of a doubt; “devils, of course. And you are all cowards!”

Pushing my abashed companion aside, I climbed over the wall.

Fifteen minutes later I had sunk into a profound slumber, and was dreaming that I was watching real little devils merrily hopping up out of the hole in the chapel floor. Valek was chasing them about with a birch twig, and Marusia, her eyes sparkling with pleasure, was laughing and clapping her hands.

V

My Acquaintanceship Is Continued

From thenceforth I became entirely absorbed in my new acquaintances. At night as I went to bed and on rising in the morning I thought of nothing but my coming visit to the hill. I now wandered about the streets for the sole purpose of ascertaining whether the whole assemblage of what Yanush called the “bad company” was there or not. If Lavrovski was sprawling in the meadow and Turkevich and Tiburtsi were holding forth to their audiences, and if the rest of the suspicious characters were poking about the bazaar, I immediately ran off across the marsh and up the hill to the chapel, having first filled my pockets with apples, which I was allowed to pick in our garden, and with sweetmeats, which I always saved up for my new friends.

Valek, who was very serious, and whose grown-up ways inspired me with respect, would quietly accept these gifts and generally put them aside for his sister, but Marusia would clap her hands and her eyes would sparkle with unaffected pleasure. The child’s pale cheeks would glow with rosy colour and she would laugh, and this laugh of our little friend’s always went straight to our hearts and rewarded us for the sweets we had sacrificed for her sake.

This pale, diminutive little creature reminded one of a flower that had blossomed without seeing the life-giving rays of the sun. Although she was four years old, she still walked weakly on her crooked little legs, swaying like a grass-blade as she moved. Her hands were transparent and thin, and her head nodded on her neck like a bluebell on its stalk, but her glance was, at times, so unchildlike and sad, and her smile reminded me so of my mother’s during her last days as she had sat at her open window with the breeze stirring her hair, that I would often grow sad myself at the sight of her little babyish face, and the tears would rise in my eyes.

I could not help comparing her to my sister who was the same age; the latter was as round as a dumpling and as buoyant as a rubber ball. Sonia ran so merrily when she was playing and laughed so ringingly, she wore such pretty dresses, and every day her nurse would braid a crimson ribbon into her dark hair.

But my little friend hardly ever ran and very seldom laughed; when she did her laughter sounded like the tiniest of silver bells that ten steps away is scarcely audible. Her dress was dirty and old, no ribbon decked her hair, which was much longer and thicker than Sonia’s. To my surprise, Valek knew how to braid it very cleverly, and this he would do every morning.

I was a great madcap. People used to say of me: “That boy’s hands and feet are full of quicksilver.” I believed this myself, although I could not understand how and by whom the quicksilver could have been inserted. During the first days of our friendship I brought my high spirits into the company of my new companions, and I doubt if the echoes of the old chapel had ever repeated such deafening shrieks as they did whilst I was trying to rouse and amuse Valek and Marusia with my pranks. But in spite of them all I did not succeed. Valek would gaze seriously first at me and then at the little girl, and once when I was making her run a race with me, he said:

“Don’t do that, you’ll make her cry.”

And in fact, when I had teased Marusia into running, and when she heard my steps behind her, she suddenly turned round, raised her arms above her head as if to protect herself, looked at me with the helpless eyes of a trapped bird, and burst into tears. I was touched to the quick.

“There, you see,” said Valek. “She doesn’t like to play.”

He seated her on the grass and began picking flowers and tossing them to her. She stopped crying and began quietly to pick up the blossoms, whispering something to the golden buttercups and raising the bluebells to her lips. I grew quiet too, and lay down beside Valek and the little girl.

“Why is she like that?” I finally asked, motioning with my eyes toward Marusia.

“Why is she so quiet, you mean?” asked Valek. And then in a tone of absolute conviction, he continued: “You see, it is the grey stone.”

“Yes,” the child repeated like a feeble echo. “It is the grey stone.”

“Which grey stone?” I asked, not understanding what they meant.

“The grey stone has sucked her life away,” Valek explained, gazing at the sky as before. “Tiburtsi says so. Tiburtsi knows.”

“Yes,” the child once more echoed softly. “Tiburtsi knows everything.”

I understood nothing of the puzzling words which Valek had repeated after Tiburtsi, but the argument that Tiburtsi knew everything had its effect on me. I raised myself on one elbow and looked at Marusia. She was sitting in the same position in which Valek had placed her, and was still picking up the scattered flowers. The movements of her thin hands were slow, her eyes were like blue bruises in her pale face, and her long lashes were downcast. As I looked at that wee, pathetic figure I realised that in Tiburtsi’s words, although I could not understand them, there lay a bitter truth. Something was surely sucking away the life of this strange child that wept when other children would have laughed. But how could a grey stone do this thing?

There was a riddle more dreadful to me than all the ghosts in the old castle. Let the Turks pining under ground be never so terrible and the old count never so cruel, they all smacked of the fantastic horror of ancient legends. But here was something incredibly dreadful taking place under my very eyes. Something formless, pitiless, cruel, and heavy as a stone was hanging over this little being’s head, draining the colour from her cheeks, the brightness from her eyes, and the life out of her limbs. “It must be done at night,” I thought, and something wrung my heart until it ached.

I, too, subdued my boisterous ways under the influence of this feeling. Suiting our actions to our little lady’s quiet gravity, Valek and I would put her down somewhere upon the grass and collect flowers and little bright-hued pebbles for her, or else we would catch butterflies, or make her sparrow traps of bricks. Sometimes, stretched beside her on the grass, we would lie gazing at the sky and, as we watched the clouds sailing high above the chapel’s crumbling roof, we would tell Marusia stories or talk with one another.

These conversations cemented the friendship between Valek and me more firmly every day, and it grew steadily in spite of the sharp contrast that our characters presented. He opposed a sorrowful gravity to my impulsive high spirits and won my respect by the masterly, independent way in which he spoke of grown-up people. He also told me much that was new to me, things of which I had never thought before. Noticing that he spoke of Tiburtsi as of a comrade I asked:

“Is Tiburtsi your father?”

“He must be,” he answered thoughtfully, as if the question had never before occurred to him.

“Does he love you?”

“Yes,” he answered much more decidedly this time. “He is always doing things for me, and sometimes, you know, he kisses me and cries.”

“He loves me and cries too!” Marusia chimed in, with a look of childish pride.

“My father doesn’t love me,” I said sadly. “He never kisses me. He is a horrid man.”

“No, no,” Valek objected. “You don’t understand. Tiburtsi says he isn’t. He says the Judge is the best man in the town, and that the town would have been ruined long ago if it had not been for your father and the Priest who has just gone into a monastery, and the Jewish Rabbi. Those three⁠—”

“What have those three done?”

“The town hasn’t been ruined because they were there, so Tiburtsi says, because they look after the poor people. Your father, you know, once sentenced a count to punishment.”

“Yes, that’s so. The count was very angry.”

“There, you see! It’s no joke to sentence a count.”

“Why?”

“Why?” Valek repeated. “Because a count isn’t an ordinary person. A count does what he pleases and drives in a coach, and then that count had money. He would have given money to any other judge, and the judge would have let him go and condemned a poor man.”

“Yes, that’s true. I heard the count shouting in our house: ‘I can buy and sell every one of you!’ ”

“And what did the Judge say?”

“My father said: ‘Get out of my sight!’ ”

“There, now, you see! And Tiburtsi says he isn’t afraid to drive a rich man away, but when old Ivanovna came to him with her rheumatism he had a chair brought for her. He’s like that! Even Turkevich has never raised a rumpus under his windows.”

That was true; when he was on his denunciatory expeditions Turkevich always passed by our windows in silence, and sometimes even took off his cap.

All this set me thinking deeply. Valek was showing me my father in a light in which I had never before seen him, and the boy’s words touched chords of filial pride in my heart. I was pleased to hear these praises of my father coming from Tiburtsi who “knew everything,” but there still quivered in my breast, with a pang of aching love, the bitter certainty that this man never could and never would love me as Tiburtsi loved his children.

VI

Among the “Grey Stones”

Several days passed. The “bad company” ceased to appear in town, and I wandered through the streets in vain, feeling sad and lonely, waiting for them to return so that I might hasten to the hill.

Only the Professor came down once with his sleepy walk; neither Tiburtsi nor Turkevich appeared. I was thoroughly unhappy, for not to see Valek and Marusia had come to be a great loss to me. But one day as I was walking down the street with hanging head Valek suddenly laid his hand upon my shoulder.

“Why don’t you come to see us any more?” he asked.

“I’m afraid to⁠—I haven’t seen your people in town.”

“O⁠—oh⁠—and I never thought of telling you! Our people aren’t at home; you can come. And I thought it was something else!”

“What?”

“I thought you were tired of coming.”

“No, no! I’m coming at once; I even have the apples here with me.”

At mention of the apples Valek suddenly turned toward me as if he wanted to say something, but nothing came, and he only gave me an odd look.

“No matter, no matter,” he dismissed the question, seeing that I was looking expectantly at him. “Go along up the hill; I have something to do; I’ll catch you up on the way.”

I walked along, glancing back frequently, expecting to be overtaken by Valek, but I had climbed the hill and reached the chapel before he had appeared. I stopped in doubt as to what I ought to do. Before me lay the graveyard, desolate and hushed, without the faintest sign of human habitation. Only sparrows were twittering in the sunshine, and a thicket of wild cherry trees, honeysuckle, and lilac bushes that nestled close up under the southern wall of the chapel was softly whispering something with its dark, dense foliage.

I looked about. Where should I go next? Clearly, the only thing to do was to wait for Valek. So I began to wander among the graves, idly trying to decipher the epitaphs on the mossy tombstones. As I was roaming thus from grave to grave, I suddenly stumbled upon a large, half-ruined vault. The roof of this vault had been taken off or else had been torn away by storms, and was lying close at hand. The door was boarded up. Out of curiosity I propped an old cross against the wall, climbed up, and peered into the vault. It was empty, but a window with glass panes had been let into the centre of the floor, and under these panes there gaped the black void of a subterranean chamber.

While I was looking into this tomb and marvelling at the strange situation of the window, Valek came running, panting and tired, to the top of the hill. He was carrying a large loaf of Jewish bread in his arms, something was sticking out from under his coat, and the perspiration was streaming down his face.

“Oh!” he cried at sight of me. “There you are! If Tiburtsi should find you here, how angry he would be! But it’s too late to do anything now. I know you’re all right and won’t tell anyone where we live. Let’s go in!”

“Go in where? Is it far?”

“You’ll see. Follow me.”

He pushed aside the twigs of the honeysuckle and lilac bushes and disappeared into the thicket beneath the chapel wall. I followed him, and found myself on a small trampled patch of earth which had been entirely concealed from me before by foliage. Between the stems of the cherry trees I saw a fairly large opening from which a flight of earthen steps led downward. Valek started down, bidding me follow him, and in a few seconds we found ourselves in darkness underground. Valek took my hand and led me through a narrow, damp passage, until, turning sharply to the right, we emerged into a spacious crypt.

I stopped at the entrance, amazed at this unexpected sight. Two beams of light fell sharply from overhead, painting two luminous bands across the darkness of the crypt. This light came from a couple of windows, one of which I had seen in the floor of the vault, and another, which lay beyond and which had evidently been constructed in the same way as the first. The rays of the sun did not fall directly upon these windows, but were reflected into them from the walls of the two old vaults. This light was diffused in the grey air underground, and fell upon the flagstone floor, from which it was reflected once more, filling the crypt with a dusky shimmer. The walls were also of stone, and massive, thick columns, rising ponderously from the floor, spread their stone arches in all directions and at last firmly clasped the vaulted roof above.

Two figures were sitting in a patch of light on the floor. The old Professor, with bowed head and muttering something to himself, was cobbling his rags together with a needle. He did not even look up as we entered the crypt, and had it not been for the slight movement of his hands, his grey figure might easily have been mistaken for some grotesque piece of stone carving.

Under the other window sat Marusia by a little heap of flowers, sorting them over, as her custom was. A beam of light fell on her fair curls, bathing her in radiance from head to foot, but in spite of this she stood out a strange little misty speck against the grey stone background, looking as if she might melt and vanish at any moment. Whenever a cloud passed over the earth, dimming the sun’s brightness, this background seemed to slip away and disappear, swallowed up in darkness, but when the sun shone out anew, the cold, cruel stones stood out once more, clasping each other above the tiny figure of the child in an indissoluble embrace. I involuntarily remembered Valek’s saying about the “grey stone” that was draining Marusia’s merriment away, and a feeling of superstitious fear came stealing into my heart. I seemed to be aware of an invisible but terrible stony stare directed at her, rapacious and intent; I felt that the crypt was keenly eyeing its prey.

“Valek!” lisped Marusia gaily, as she caught sight of her brother. When she saw me with him a faint light shone in her eyes.

I gave her the apples I had brought, and Valek, breaking the loaf in two, gave her a piece and handed the rest to the Professor. That unhappy man of learning accepted the gift indifferently, and began munching without tearing himself away from his occupation. I shivered and moved uneasily, stifled, as it were, by the oppressive “stare” of those grey stones.

“Come! Come away from here⁠—” I insisted, plucking at Valek’s sleeve. “Take her away!”

“Come, Marusia, let’s go upstairs,” Valek called to his sister.

And the three of us climbed up out of the crypt, but even out of doors I felt a sense of restlessness and strain. Valek was sadder and more silent than usual.

“Did you stay in town to buy that bread?” I asked.

“To buy it?” laughed Valek. “Where would I find the money?”

“How did you get it then? Did you ask for it?”

“Yes, that’s likely! Who would give it to me? No, brother, I nabbed it from Sarah the Jewess’ bread-tray at the bazaar. She didn’t see me.”

He said this in a matter-of-fact voice, sprawling on the grass with his hands under his head. I raised myself on my elbow and stared at him.

“So you stole it?”

“Yes, I did.”

I threw myself back on the grass and we lay for a minute in silence.

“It’s wicked to steal!” I burst out, full of the saddest perplexity.

“Our people were all away. Marusia was crying because she was hungry.”

“Yes, I was hungry,” repeated the child with pitiful simplicity.

I had not yet discovered what hunger was, but at the little one’s last words my breast heaved and I stared at my friends as if I were seeing them for the first time. Valek was lying on the grass as before, pensively watching a soaring sparrow-hawk, but he now no longer looked impressive. At the sight of Marusia holding her piece of bread in both hands my heart absolutely stopped beating.

“Why”⁠—I asked with an effort⁠—“Why didn’t you tell me this before?”

“I wanted to tell you, and then I changed my mind. You have no money of your own.”

“Well, what difference does that make? I should have brought a loaf from home.”

“What, on the sly?”

“Yes-es⁠—”

“Then you would have stolen it too.”

“I⁠—it would have been from my father.”

“That’s worse!” said Valek decidedly. “I never rob my father.”

“Well, then, I should have asked for it. He would have given it to me.”

“Oh, he might have given it to you once⁠—but how could he provide for all the beggars in town?”

“Are you⁠—beggars?” I asked in a low voice.

“Yes, we are beggars,” answered Valek bluntly and gruffly.

I said nothing, and in a few minutes I rose to go.

“Are you going away already?” asked Valek.

“Yes.”

I was going because I could not, that day, play tranquilly with my friends as before. The pure, childish affection I had felt for them was sullied. Although the love I bore Valek and Marusia was not diminished, there was now mingled with it a sharp current of pity that turned it to a burning heartache. On reaching home I went to bed early because I did not know where to lay this new feeling of pain with which my whole, soul was burning. I buried my head under my pillow and wept bitterly until kindly sleep at last came with her soft breath to blow away my grief.

VII

Tiburtsi Appears on the Scene

“Good morning! I thought you weren’t coming back any more!” this was Valek’s greeting to me when I appeared on the hill next day.

I understood why he had said this.

“No, I⁠—I shall always come here,” I answered firmly, to put an end to that question forever.

Valek’s spirits rose perceptibly at this answer and we both felt more at ease.

“Well, and where are your people?” I asked. “Haven’t they come back yet?”

“Not yet. The Lord knows what has become of them.”

We went gaily to work to manufacture a cunning sparrow trap for which I had brought the string. This string we put into Marusia’s hand, and whenever a thoughtless sparrow came hopping carelessly into the snare, Marusia would pull the string, and the cover would slam down over the bird, which we would afterwards release.

Meanwhile, at noon, the sky had grown overcast. Dark clouds soon came rolling up, and we could hear the storm roaring between merry claps of thunder. I was very unwilling, at first, to go down into the crypt, but remembering that Valek and Marusia lived there always I overcame the unpleasant sensation, and went with them. All was dark and quiet there, but we could hear the muffled din of the thunder overhead rumbling exactly as if someone were driving an enormous wagon over a monstrous bridge. I soon grew more accustomed to the crypt, and we stood listening happily to the broad sheets of rain descending upon the earth, while the roar and crash of the incessant thunderclaps keyed up our nerves and woke in us an animation that demanded an outlet.

“Come, let’s play blind-man’s buff!” I suggested.

They tied a bandage over my eyes. Marusia’s pitiful little laughter rang out as her languid feet stumbled across the stone floor, while I ran in pursuit, until I suddenly found myself bending over a wet form, and at the same moment felt someone seize my leg. A powerful arm raised me off the floor and held me upside down in the air. The bandage fell from my eyes.

Tiburtsi, angry and wet and more terrible than ever from being seen upside down, was holding me by the leg and wildly rolling his eyes.

“What is this, hey?” he asked sternly, glaring at Valek. “So you are passing the time gaily here! You have pleasant company, I see.”

“Let me go!” I cried, surprised that I was able to speak at all in such an unusual position, but Tiburtsi only held my leg the tighter.

Responde! Answer!” he sternly commanded Valek, who was standing under these difficult circumstances with two fingers thrust into his mouth, as if to proclaim that he had absolutely nothing to say.

I could see, though, that he was watching my unhappy person swinging in space like a pendulum with sympathetic eyes and a great deal of compassion.

Tiburtsi raised me and looked into my face.

“Aha, this is little master Judge unless my eyes deceive me! Why does his honour favour us with a visit?”

“Let me go!” I cried stubbornly. “Let me go at once!”

And at this I instinctively made a movement as if I were stamping my foot on the ground, but the only result was the quivering of my body, in midair.

Tiburtsi roared with laughter.

“Ha, ha, ha! My Lord the Judge is pleased to be annoyed! But come, you don’t know me yet. Ego Tiburtsi sum. And I am going to hold you over a fire, like this, and roast you like a little pig.”

I began to think that this would inevitably be my fate, especially as Valek’s despairing face seemed to foretell the possibility of such a sad ending, but fortunately Marusia came to my rescue.

“Don’t be frightened, Vasia! Don’t be frightened!” she admonished me, going right up to Tiburtsi’s legs. “He never roasts little boys over a fire. That isn’t true!”

Tiburtsi turned me right side up with a swift movement, and set me on my feet; at this I nearly fell down, for my head was swimming, but he supported me with his hand and then, sitting down on a log, stood me between his knees.

“And how did you get here?” he asked. “Have you been coming here long? You tell me!” he commanded, turning to Valek when he saw that I would not answer.

“A long time,” answered the boy.

“How long?”

“Six days.”

This answer seemed to please Tiburtsi.

“Aha, six days!” he said, turning me round so that I faced him. “Six days is a long time. And have you babbled to anyone yet where you have been?”

“No, not to anyone.”

“Is that true?”

“Not to anyone.”

Bene, that is excellent. The chances are that you will not henceforth babble. I always did think you were a decent little fellow from meeting you on the street. You’re a real little guttersnipe, even if you are a judge. Have you come here to try us, eh?”

He spoke kindly enough, but my feelings were deeply hurt, therefore I answered crossly:

“I’m not a judge. I’m Vasia.”

“The one doesn’t interfere with the other, and Vasia can be a judge too⁠—not now, but later on. It’s an old story. For instance, I am Tiburtsi, he is Valek; I am a beggar, he is a beggar. In fact, to speak frankly, I steal and he will steal too. Your father tries me now; very well then, some day you will try Valek. There you have it!”

“I shan’t try Valek,” I answered gloomily. “That isn’t true.”

“He won’t try Valek,” Marusia spoke up for me, confidently dismissing such an atrocious supposition.

The little girl nestled confidingly against the legs of this monster, and he tenderly stroked her curls with his sinewy hand.

“Don’t say that too soon,” said the strange fellow pensively, turning to me and speaking as if I were a grown man. “Don’t say that, amice! It’s an old story; every man to his own, suum cuique; everyone must go his own way, and who knows, perhaps it’s a good thing that your path has crossed ours. It’s a good thing for you, amice, because it’s a good thing to have a human heart in one’s breast and not a cold stone⁠—do you understand?”

I understood nothing, but nevertheless I fixed my gaze on this queer person’s face. Tiburtsi’s eyes were looking deeply into mine, and there gleamed dimly in them something that seemed to pierce into my very soul.

“Of course you don’t understand, because you are still a child. Therefore let me tell you briefly that you may some day remember the words of the philosopher Tiburtsi. If you ever find yourself sitting in judgment upon that boy there, remember that even in the days when you were both silly little lads playing together, you were travelling upon the road where men walk well-clothed and well-fed, while he was running along, a ragged sans-culotte with an empty belly. And besides, until that happens, remember one thing well,” he added, sharply changing his tone. “If you whisper one word of what you have seen here to that Judge of yours, or even to a bird, as sure as my name is Tiburtsi Drab I’ll hang you up by the heels in that fireplace and make roast ham of you. You understand that, I hope?”

“I won’t tell anyone⁠—I⁠—may I come again?”

“You may, I give you my permission⁠—sum conditionem⁠—but you’re stupid yet and don’t understand Latin. I have already told you about that ham⁠—now remember!”

He let me go, and stretched himself wearily on a bench by the wall.

“Bring me that there,” he said to Valek, pointing to a large bag which he had left on the threshold as he came in. “And light the fire. We’re going to cook dinner today.”

He was now no longer the same man who had frightened me a short while ago by rolling his eyes, or the mountebank who was wont to amuse the public for pennies. He had taken his place as a host at the head of his family, and, like a man who has returned from his daily toil, he issued commands to his household.

He seemed very tired. His clothes were drenched with rain, his hair was clinging to his brow, and his whole expression was one of utter weariness. It was the first time I had seen that look on the face of the jolly orator of the cafés, and this glimpse behind the scenes of an actor resting after playing a difficult and exhausting role on the stage of life, filled my heart with a feeling of pain and dread. It was another of those revelations with which the old chapel had been so rife for me.

Valek and I went quickly to work. Valek lit a little torch, and together we entered a dark passage adjoining the crypt. There, in a corner, lay some logs of half-decayed wood, bits of crosses, and old boards. We chose several pieces out of this store and, heaping them up in the fireplace, kindled a little fire. Then I had to stand aside while Valek with knowing hands went to work alone on the cooking.

Half an hour later some kind of a brew was already stewing in a pot over the fire, and while we were waiting for it to cook, Valek placed upon a rough three-legged table a frying pan in which some pieces of meat were steaming.

Tiburtsi rose.

“Is it ready?” he asked. “Well, that’s splendid. Sit down with us, boy, you have earned your dinner. Domine!”⁠—he next shouted to the Professor. “Put down your needle and come to the table.”

“In a minute,” answered the Professor in a low voice. Such a sensible remark from him surprised me.

But the spark of consciousness that Tiburtsi’s voice had awakened in him did not reappear. The old man thrust his needle into his rags and indifferently, with a dull look, took his seat on one of the logs that served as chairs in the crypt.

Tiburtsi held Marusia on his lap. She and Valek ate with an appetite that showed what a rare luxury meat was for them; Marusia even licked her greasy little fingers. Tiburtsi ate with frequent pauses, and, evidently obeying an irresistible impulse to talk, turned his conversation to the Professor. The poor man of letters grew surprisingly attentive whenever he did this, and bowed his head to listen, with a great air of intelligence as if he understood every word. Sometimes he even signified his assent by nodding and making soft little moans.

“You see, Domine, how little a man needs,” Tiburtsi said. “Am I not right? There! now our hunger is appeased, and all that now remains for us to do is to thank God⁠—and the Roman Catholic Priest.”

“Aha, aha!” agreed the Professor.

“You agree with me, Domine, but you don’t know what the Priest has to do with it. I know you well. Nevertheless, if it weren’t for the Priest we shouldn’t be eating fried meat and other things now.”

“Did he give it to you?” I asked.

“This youngster has an inquiring mind, Domine,” Tiburtsi continued. “Of course his Reverence gave us this, although we did not ask him for it, and although not only his left hand knew not what his right hand was doing, but neither hand had the slightest knowledge of the transaction. Eat, Domine!”

All I could understand from this strange, confused discourse was, that the method of obtaining our dinner had not been quite regular, and I could not refrain from asking another question.

“Did you⁠—take this yourself?”

“The boy is not devoid of shrewdness,” Tiburtsi continued. “It is only a pity that he hasn’t seen the Priest. The Priest has a belly like a forty-gallon cask, and it’s no doubt very dangerous for him to indulge in greed. On the other hand all of us here suffer rather from an excess of leanness than from corpulence, therefore a certain amount of food does not come amiss. Am I right, Domine?”

“Aha, aha!” pensively moaned the Professor again.

“There, you see! You have expressed your meaning extremely successfully this time. I was beginning to think that this youngster here had more brains than some men of learning. However, to return to the Priest, I always think that a good lesson is worth the price, and in this case we can say that we bought these provisions from him. If he makes the doors of his storehouse a little stronger in future we shall be quits. However,” he cried, suddenly turning to me, “you are stupid still and there is much you don’t understand. But she, there, will understand. Tell me, my Marusia, did I do right to bring you some meat?”

“Yes!” answered the child, her sapphire eyes shining softly, “Manya was hungry.”

At twilight that evening I turned homeward with a reeling brain. Tiburtsi’s strange sayings had not for a moment stilled the conviction in my breast that it was “wicked to steal.” On the contrary, the painful sensation that I had felt before had grown stronger than ever. They were beggars, thieves, they had no home! From everyone around me I had long ago heard that contempt was always attached to such people. I felt all the poignancy of contempt rising from the bottom of my soul, but I instinctively shielded my affection from this bitter alloy, and did not allow the two feelings to mingle. As a result of these dark workings of my soul, my pity for Valek and Marusia grew greater and more acute, but my affection did not diminish. The formula that “it was wicked to steal” remained inviolate in my mind, but when I saw in imagination my small friend licking her greasy little fingers I rejoiced in her joy and in Valek’s.

Next evening, in one of our dark garden paths, I unexpectedly met my father. He was pacing up and down as usual, staring before him with his accustomed strange, vacant look. When I appeared beside him he put his hand on my shoulder.

“Where have you been?”

“I⁠—I have been out walking.”

He looked at me sharply and seemed to want to say something, but his eyes soon grew abstracted again, and, with a motion of his hand, he walked away down the path. Even in those days I seemed to understand the meaning of that gesture. It said:

“Ah, what does it matter? She is not here!”

I had lied almost for the first time in my life.

I had always been afraid of my father, and I now feared him more than ever. I was harbouring in my breast a whole world of vague questions and sensations. Could he understand me? Could I confess anything to him without betraying my friends? I trembled at the thought that in due time he would hear of my acquaintance with that “bad company,” but, betray Valek and Marusia⁠—no, that I could never do! There was a reason for my resolve: if I broke my word and betrayed them, I should never be able to raise my eyes to their faces again for shame.

VIII

Autumn

Autumn was drawing near. In the fields the harvest was being reaped; the leaves were turning yellow in the woods. With the approach of autumn Marusia’s health began to fail.

It was not that she complained of any pain, but she grew thinner ever day; her face grew paler, her eyes grew larger and darker, and it was with difficulty that she could raise her drooping eyelids.

I could climb the hill now without caring whether the “bad company” was there or not. I had grown thoroughly accustomed to them, and felt absolutely at home in their abode.

“You’re a fine youngster, and you’ll be a great man some day,” Tiburtsi predicted.

The younger “suspicious persons” made me a bow and arrow out of elm wood; the tall, red-nosed Grenadier twirled me in the air like a leaf as he gave me gymnastic lessons. Only the Professor and Lavrovski always seemed to remain unconscious of my presence. The Professor was forever in the midst of some deep dream, while Lavrovski, when he was sober, by nature avoided all human intercourse, and preferred to crouch in a corner by himself.

All these people lived apart from Tiburtsi who, with his “family,” occupied the crypt I have already spoken of. They inhabited a crypt which was similar to ours but larger, and which was divided from it by two narrow halls. Here was less light and more dampness and gloom. In places along the walls stood wooden benches and the blocks which served as chairs. The benches were littered with heaps of rags, which had converted them into beds. In the middle of the crypt, under a ray of light, stood a joiner’s bench at which Tiburtsi and the others sometimes worked. The “bad company” included a cobbler and a basket maker, but all, with the exception of Tiburtsi, were either starvelings or triflers; men, I noticed, whose hands trembled too much for them to do any work successfully. The floor of this crypt was always strewn with chips and shavings and dirt, and disorder reigned supreme, even though Tiburtsi scolded the inmates furiously at times, and made one of them sweep the floor and put the gloomy abode in order if ever so little. I did not often visit them because I could not accustom myself to the foul air, and because, too, the sombre Lavrovski dwelt there when he was sober. He was generally either sitting on a bench with his head in his hands, his long hair streaming, or pacing up and down from corner to corner with swift strides. His whole person breathed an atmosphere of such depression and gloom that my nerves could not endure it. His fellow-unfortunates, however, had long since grown accustomed to his eccentric ways. “General Turkevich” would sometimes set him to work making fair copies of petitions and of quips and quirks which he himself had written for the townsfolk, or else he would make him write out the lampoons which he afterwards nailed to the lamp posts of the city. Lavrovski would then quietly take his seat at a table in Tiburtsi’s room, and for hours at a time would sit forming, one after another, the beautiful, even letters of his exquisite handwriting. Twice I chanced to see him carried down stupefied with drink from above ground into the crypt. The unhappy man’s head was dangling and banging from side to side, his legs were trundling helplessly after him and bumping down the stone steps, his face wore a look of misery, and tears were trickling down his cheeks. Marusia and I, clinging tightly to one another, watched these scenes from a distant corner, but Valek mixed quite nonchalantly with the men, supporting now a hand, now a foot, now the head of the helpless Lavrovski.

Everything about these people that had amused and interested me like a Punch and Judy show when I saw it in the streets was revealed to me here, behind the scenes, in all its ugly nakedness, and the sight of it weighed heavily upon my childish spirits.

Here Tiburtsi held undisputed sway. It was he who had discovered the crypts, he who had taken possession of them, and all his band obeyed him implicitly. That is probably the reason why I do not remember one single occasion on which any one of those creatures, who had certainly lost all the sembalance of human beings, ever came to me with an evil suggestion.

Having gained in knowledge from a prosaic experience of life, I know now that there must have been a certain amount of depravity, petty vice, and rottenness among them, but today, when those people and scenes rise in my memory wrapped in the mists of the past, I see before me only tragedy, poverty, and the profoundest sadness.

Oh, Childhood and Youth, what great fountainheads of idealism you are!

And now Autumn began to come into its own. The sky was more frequently overcast, the surrounding country sank into a misty crepuscule, torrents of rain swept noisily across the earth, and their thunder resounded monotonously and mournfully in the crypt.

I found it very hard to steal away from home in this weather, for my one desire was to get away unnoticed. When I came back drenched to the skin, I would hang up my clothes before the fire myself, and slip quietly into bed, there to endure philosophically the torrents of scolding that would invariably flow from the lips of the servants and my nurse.

Every time I visited my friends I noticed that Marusia’s health was failing more and more. She never went out into the fresh air now, and the grey stone⁠—that unseen, silent monster of the crypt⁠—did its dreadful work without interruption, sucking the life out of her little body. The child spent most of her time in bed, and Valek and I exhausted every means in our power to amuse and interest her and to awaken the soft peals of her frail laughter.

Now that I had really become one of the “bad company” the child’s sad smile had grown almost as dear to me as my sister’s, but with Marusia I was not constantly reminded of my wickedness; here was no scolding nurse; on the contrary, I knew that each time I came my arrival would call the colour into Marusia’s cheeks. Valek embraced me like a brother, and even Tiburtsi would sometimes watch us three with a strange expression on his face and something very like tears glistening in his eyes.

Then one day the sky grew clear again. The last clouds blew away, and the sun shone out upon the earth for the last time before winter’s coming. We carried Marusia up into the sunlight, and there she seemed to revive. She gazed about her with wide eyes, and the colour came into her cheeks. It seemed as if the wind that was blowing over her with its cool, fresh breath were returning to her part of the lifeblood stolen by the grey stones of the crypt. But alas! this did not last long.

And in the meanwhile clouds were beginning to gather over my head as well.

One morning as I was running down the garden path as usual I caught sight of my father and old Yanush of the castle. The old man was cringing and bowing and saying something to my father, and the latter was standing before him, gloomy and stern, with a frown of impatient anger between his eyes. At last my father stretched out his hand as if to push Yanush aside, and said:

“Go away! You are nothing but an old gossip!”

The old man blinked and, holding his hat in his hand, ran forward again and stood in my father’s path. My father’s eyes flashed with anger. Yanush was speaking in a low voice, and I could not hear what he was saying, but my father’s broken sentences fell upon my ears with the utmost distinctness, like the blows of a whip.

“I don’t believe a word of it⁠—What do you want to persecute those people for?⁠—I won’t listen to verbal accusations, and a written one you would be obliged to prove⁠—Silence! that is my business⁠—I won’t listen to you, I tell you.”

He finally pushed Yanush away so firmly that the latter did not dare to intrude upon him any longer. My father turned aside into another path, and I ran out through the gate.

I very much disliked this old owl of the castle, and I trembled now with a premonition of evil. I realised that the conversation I had overheard related to my friends and perhaps, also, to me.

When I told Tiburtsi what had happened he made a dreadful face.

“Whew, young one, what bad news that is! Oh, that accursed old fox!”

“My father drove him away,” I answered to console him.

“Your father, young man, is the best judge there has been since the days of Solomon, but do you know what curriculum vitae means? Of course you don’t. But you know what the Record of Service is, don’t you? Well, curriculum vitae is the Record of Service of a man who is not employed in the County Court, and if that old screech-owl has been able to ferret out anything and can show your father my record why⁠—well, I swear to the Queen of Heaven I wouldn’t care to fall into the Judge’s clutches!”

“He’s not a cruel man, is he?” I asked, remembering what Valek had told me.

“No, no, my boy, God forbid that you should think that of your father! Your father has a good heart. Perhaps he already knows everything that Yanush has been able to tell him, and still holds his tongue. He doesn’t think it is necessary to pursue a toothless old lion into his last lair. But how can I explain it to you, my boy? Your father works for a gentleman whose name is Law. He has eyes and a heart only as long as Law is nicely tucked up in bed, but when that gentleman gets up and comes to your father and says: ‘Come on, Judge, shan’t we get on the trail of Tiburtsi Drab or whatever his name is?’ from that moment the Judge must lock up his heart, and his claws will become so sharp that the earth will turn upside down before Tiburtsi will escape out of his clutches. Do you understand, my boy? And that’s why I, why we all, respect your father as we do, because he is a faithful servant of his master, and such men are rare. If all Law’s servants were like him, Law could sleep quietly in his bed and never wake up at all. My whole trouble is that I had a quarrel with Law a long time ago⁠—ah yes, my boy, a very violent quarrel!”

As he said this Tiburtsi got up, took Marusia’s hand, and, leading her into a distant corner, began kissing her and pressing his rough head to her tiny breast. I stood motionless where I was under the spell of the impression created by the strange words of this strange man. In spite of the fantastic and unintelligible twists and turns of his speech I understood perfectly the substance of what Tiburtsi had said, and my father’s image loomed more imposing than ever in my imagination, invested with a halo of stern but lovable strength amounting almost to grandeur. But at the same time another and a bitterer feeling which I bore in my breast had increased in intensity. “That’s what he’s like!” I thought. “And he doesn’t love me!”

IX

The Doll

The bright days soon passed, and Marusia began to grow worse again. She now gazed indifferently with her large, fixed, darkening eyes at all our cunning devices for her amusement, and it was long since we had heard her laughter. I began to bring my playthings to the crypt, but they only diverted her for a short time. I then decided to turn for help to my sister Sonia.

Sonia had a large doll with magnificent long hair and cheeks painted a brilliant red, a present from our mother. I had the greatest faith in the powers of this doll, and therefore, calling my sister into a distant part of the garden one day, I asked her to lend it to me. I begged so earnestly and described the little suffering girl who had no toys of her own so vividly that Sonia, who at first had only clasped the doll more tightly to her breast, handed it to me and promised to play with her other toys for two or three days and to forget the doll entirely.

The effect produced on Marusia by this gaily dressed young lady with the china face exceeded all my wildest hopes. The child, who had been fading like a flower in Autumn, suddenly seemed to revive again. How tightly she hugged me! How merrily she laughed as she chattered to her new acquaintance! The doll almost worked a miracle. Marusia, who had not left her bed for many days, began to toddle about, pulling her fair-haired daughter after her, and even ran a few steps, dragging her weak little feet across the floor as she had done in former days.

At the same time the doll gave me many an anxious moment. In the first place, on my way to the hill with my prize under my coat, I had met Yanush on the road, and the old man had followed me for a long time with his eyes, and shaken his head. Then, two days later, our old nurse had noticed the disappearance of the doll, and had begun poking her nose into every corner in search of it. Sonia tried to appease her, but the child’s artless assurances that she didn’t want the doll, that the doll had gone out for a walk and would soon come back, only served to create doubts in the minds of the servants, and to awaken their suspicions that this might not simply be a question of loss. My father knew nothing as yet, and though Yanush, who came to him again one day, was sent away even more angrily than before, my father stopped me that morning on the way to the garden gate and ordered me not to leave home. The same thing happened on the following day, and only on the fourth did I get up early and slip away over the fence while my father was still asleep.

Things were still going badly on the hill. Marusia was in bed again and was worse. Her face was strangely flushed, her fair curls were lying disheveled on her pillow, and she recognised no one. Beside her lay the disastrous doll with its pink cheeks and its stupid, staring eyes.

I told Valek of the danger I was running, and we both decided that undoubtedly I ought to take the doll home, especially as Marusia would not notice its absence. But we were mistaken! No sooner did I take the doll out of the arms of the unconscious child than she opened her eyes, stared vaguely about as if she did not see me and did not know what was happening to her, and then suddenly began to cry very, very softly, but oh, so piteously, while an expression of such deep sorrow swept across her features under the veil of her delirium that, panic-stricken, I immediately laid the doll back in its former place. The child smiled, drew the doll to her breast, and grew calm again. I realised that I had tried to deprive my little friend of the first and last pleasure of her short life.

Valek looked shyly at me.

“What shall we do now?” he asked sadly.

Tiburtsi, who was sitting on a bench with his head sunk dejectedly on his breast, also looked at me, with a question in his eyes. I therefore tried to look as careless as possible, and said:

“Never mind; nurse has probably forgotten all about it by now.”

But the old woman had not forgotten. When I reached home that day I again found Yanush at the garden gate. Sonia’s eyes were red with weeping and our nurse threw me an angry, icy glance and muttered something between her toothless gums.

My father asked me where I had been, and having listened attentively to my usual answer, confined himself to telling me not to leave the house without his permission under any circumstances whatsoever. This command was categorical and absolutely peremptory. I dared not disobey it, and at the same time I could not make up my mind to ask my father for leave to go to my friends.

Four weary days passed. I spent my time roaming dejectedly about the garden, gazing longingly in the direction of the hill, and waiting, too, for the storm which I felt was gathering over my head. I had no idea what the future might bring, but my heart was as heavy as lead. No one had ever punished me in my life; my father had never so much as laid a finger on me, and I had never heard a harsh word from his lips, but I was suffering now from an oppressive sense of coming misfortune.

At last my father summoned me to his study. I opened the door and stopped timidly on the threshold. The melancholy autumn sun was shining in through the windows. My father was sitting in an arm chair before a portrait of my mother, and did not turn to look at me as I came in. I could hear the anxious beating of my own heart.

At last my father turned round; I raised my eyes and instantly dropped them again. My father’s face looked terrible to me. Half a minute passed, and I could feel his stern, fixed, withering gaze riveted upon me.

“Did you take your sister’s doll?”

The words fell upon my ears so suddenly and sharply that I quivered.

“Yes,” I answered in a low voice.

“And do you know that that doll was a present from your mother, and that you ought to have preserved it as something sacred? Did you steal it?”

“No,” I answered, raising my head.

“How can you say no?” my father suddenly shouted. “You stole it and took it away. Whom did you take it to? Speak!”

He strode swiftly toward me, and laid a heavy hand upon my shoulder. I raised my head with an effort, and looked up. My father’s face was pale. The frown of pain which had lain between his brows since my mother’s death was still there, but now his eyes were flashing with sombre wrath. I shrank away. I seemed to see madness⁠—or was it hatred?⁠—glaring at me out of those eyes.

“Well, what did you do? Answer!” And the hand which was holding my shoulder gripped it more tightly than before.

“I⁠—I won’t tell you,” I answered in a low voice.

“Yes, you will tell me!” my father rapped out, and there was a threat in his voice.

“I won’t tell you,” I whispered lower still.

“You will, you will!”

He repeated these words in a muffled voice as if they had burst from him with a painful effort. I felt his hand trembling, and even seemed to hear the rage boiling in his breast. My head sank lower and lower, and tears began to drip slowly out of my eyes upon the floor, but I still kept repeating almost inaudibly:

“No, I won’t tell; I’ll never, never tell.”

It was my father’s son speaking in me. He could never have succeeded in extorting an answer from me, no, not by the fiercest tortures. There welled up in my breast in response to his threats the almost unconscious feeling of injury that comes to an illused child, and a sort of burning love for those whose betrayal my father was demanding.

My father drew a deep breath. I shrank away still farther, and the bitter tears scalded my cheeks. I waited.

It would be hard for me to describe my sensations at that moment. I knew that his breast was seething with rage, and that at any moment my body might be struggling helplessly in his strong, delirious arms. What would he do to me? Would he hurl me from him? Would he crush me? But I did not seem to dread that now. I even loved the man in that moment of fear, but, at the same time, I felt instinctively that he was about to shatter this love with one mad effort, and that forever and ever after I should carry the same little flame of hatred in my heart which I had seen gleaming in his eyes.

I had lost all sense of fear. Instead, there had begun to throb in my heart a feeling exasperating, bold, challenging; I seemed to be waiting, and longing for the catastrophe to come at last.

It would be better so⁠—yes⁠—better⁠—better⁠—

Once more my father sighed heavily. I was no longer looking at him. I only heard his sighs, long, deep, and convulsive, and I know not to this day whether he himself overcame the frenzy that possessed him or whether it failed to find an outlet owing to an unexpected occurrence. I only know that at that critical moment Tiburtsi suddenly shouted under the open window in his harsh voice:

“Hi, there, my poor little friend!”

“Tiburtsi is here!” flashed through my mind, but his coming made no other impression on me. I was all beside myself with suspense, and did not even heed the trembling of my father’s hand upon my shoulder, or realise that Tiburtsi’s appearance or any other external circumstance could come between my father and myself, or could avert that which I believed to be inevitable, and which I was awaiting with such a flood of passionate anger.

Meanwhile Tiburtsi had quickly opened the door of the room, and now stood on the threshold embracing us both with his piercing, lynx-like glance. I can remember to this day the smallest details of the scene. For a moment a flash of cold, malevolent mockery gleamed in the greenish eyes and passed over the wide, uncouth face of this gutter orator, but it was only a flash. Then he shook his head, and there was more of sorrow than of his accustomed irony in his voice as he said:

“Oho, I see that my young friend is in an awkward situation.”

My father received him with a gloomy, threatening look, but Tiburtsi endured it calmly. He had grown serious now, and his mockery had ceased. There was a striking look of sadness in his eyes.

“My Lord Judge,” he said gently. “You are a just man; let the child go! The boy has been ‘in bad company,’ but God knows he has done no bad deeds, and if his little heart is drawn toward my unfortunate people, I swear to the Queen of Heaven that you may hang me if you wish, but I will not allow the boy to suffer for that. Here is your doll, my lad.”

He untied a little bundle, and took out the doll.

The hands that had been gripping my shoulder relaxed. My father looked surprised.

“What does this mean?” he asked at last.

“Let the boy go!” Tiburtsi repeated, stroking my bowed head lovingly with his broad palm. “You will get nothing out of him with your threats, and besides, I will gladly tell you everything you want to know. Come, Your Honour, let us go into another room.”

My father consented, with his eyes fixed in surprise on Tiburtsi’s face. They went out together, and I stayed rooted to the spot, overwhelmed with the emotions with which my heart was bursting. At that moment I was unconscious of what was going on around me, and if, in calling to mind the details of this scene, I remember that sparrows were twittering outside the window and that the rhythmic splash of the waterwheel came to me from the river, why that is only the mechanical action of my memory. Nothing external existed for me then; there existed only a little boy in whose breast two separate emotions were seething: anger and love; seething so fiercely that my heart was troubled as a glass of water is dimmed when two different liquids are poured into it at the same time. Such a little boy existed, and that boy was I; I was even sorry, in a way, for myself. There existed also two voices, that came to me from the next room in a confused but animated conversation.

I was still standing on the same spot when the study door opened, and both talkers came into the room. Once more I felt a hand on my head, and trembled.

It was my father’s, and he was tenderly stroking my hair.

Tiburtsi took my hands, and set me upon his knees right in my father’s presence.

“Come and see us,” he said. “Your father will let you come and say goodbye to my little girl. She⁠—she is dead.”

Tiburtsi’s voice trembled, and he winked his eyes queerly, but he at once rose quickly to his feet, set me down on the floor, pulled himself together, and left the room.

I raised my eyes inquiringly to my father’s face. Another man was standing before me now, and there was something lovable about him which I had sought in vain before. He was looking at me with his usual pensive gaze, but there was a shade of surprise in his eyes, and what might have been a question. The storm which had just passed over our heads seemed to have dispelled the heavy mist that had lain on my father’s soul and frozen the gentle, kind expression on his face. He now seemed to recognise in me the familiar features of his own son.

I took his hand trustfully, and said:

“I didn’t steal it. Sonia lent it to me herself.”

“Yes,” he answered thoughtfully. “I know; I am guilty before you, boy, but you will try to forget it sometime, won’t you?”

I seized his hand and kissed it. I knew that he would never again look at me with the dreadful eyes which I had seen only a few moments before, and my long pent-up love burst forth in a torrent. I did not fear him now.

“Will you let me go to the hill?” I suddenly asked, remembering Tiburtsi’s invitation.

“Ye-es⁠—go, boy, and say goodbye,” he answered tenderly, but with still the same shade of hesitation in his voice. “No, wait a minute; wait a minute, boy, please.”

He went into his bedroom and came back in a minute with a few bills which he thrust into my hand.

“Give these to Tiburtsi. Tell him that I beg him⁠—do you understand?⁠—that I beg him to accept this money from you. Do you understand? And say, too,” added my father, “say that if he knows anyone called Feodorovich he had better tell that Feodorovich to leave this town. And now run along boy, quickly.”

Panting and incoherent, I overtook Tiburtsi on the hill and gave him my father’s message.

“My father begs you to⁠—” I said, and pressed the money which I had received into his hand.

I did not look at his face. He took the money, and gloomily listened to my message concerning Feodorovich.

In the crypt, on a bench in a dark corner, I found Marusia lying. The word death has little meaning for a child, but bitter tears choked me at the sight of her lifeless body. My little friend was lying there looking very serious and sad, and her tiny face was pitifully drawn. Her closed eyes were a little sunken and the blue circles around them were darker than before. Her little mouth was slightly open, and wore an expression of childish grief. This little grimace was Marusia’s answer to our tears.

The Professor was standing at her bedside, indifferently shaking his head. The Grenadier was hammering in a corner, making a coffin out of some old boards torn from the chapel roof. Lavrovski, sober and with a look of perfect understanding, was strewing Marusia’s body with autumn flowers which he himself had gathered. Valek was lying asleep in a corner, shuddering all over in his dreams, and crying out restlessly from time to time.

X

Conclusion

Soon after this the members of the “bad company” dispersed to the four corners of the earth. There remained behind only the Professor, who until his death continued to haunt the streets of the town, and Turkevich, to whom my father would give a little writing to do from time to time. For my part, I lost not a little blood in combats with the Jewish boys who tormented the Professor by reminding him of sharp and pointed instruments.

The Grenadier and the other suspicious characters went elsewhere to seek their fortunes. Tiburtsi and Valek suddenly and completely vanished, and no one could say whither they had gone, as no one knew whence they had come.

The old chapel has suffered much since then from the onslaughts of Time. First the roof fell in, breaking down the ceiling of the crypt. Then landslides began to form around the building, and the place grew more dismal than ever. The owls now hoot more loudly than before among its ruins, and the will-o’-the-wisps on the graves still glow with a malign blue fire on dark autumn nights.

One grave only, surrounded by a little fence, grows green with fresh grass every spring, and lies bedecked with brilliant flowers.

Sonia and I used often to visit this little grave, and sometimes our father would go with us. We liked to sit there in the shade of the whispering birch trees, with the town below us shimmering placidly in the sunlight. Here my sister and I read and dreamed together, sharing our first young thoughts and our first premonitions of upright, winged youth.

And when at last the time came for us to leave the quiet city of our birth, it was here, over this little grave, in the Springtime of life and hope, that we made our last compacts with one another on the last day that we spent at home.

The Day of Atonement

A Tale of Little Russia62

The lights are out, the moon is rising.
The werewolf in the wood is feeding.

Shevchenko

I

Listen to me, man; go out of your khata on a clear night, or better still walk to the top of some little hill, and look well at the sky and the earth. Watch the bright moon climbing the heavens, and the stars winking and twinkling, and the light clouds of mist rising from the earth and wandering off somewhere one behind the other like belated travellers on a night journey. The woods will lie as if bewitched, listening to the spells that rise from them after the midnight hour, and the sleepy river will flow murmuring by you, whispering to the sycamores on its banks. Then tell me after that if anything, if any miracle, is not possible in this khata of God’s which we call the wide world.

Everything is possible. Take, for instance, an adventure that happened to a friend of mine, the miller from Novokamensk. If no one has told you the story already, I will tell it to you now, only please don’t make me swear that every word is true. I won’t swear to a thing, for though I got it from the miller himself, I don’t know to this day whether it really happened to him or not.

But whether it’s true or not, I shall tell it to you as I heard it.

One evening the miller was returning from vespers in Novokamensk, which was about three versts, not more, from his mill. For some reason the miller was a little out of temper, though he himself could not have said why. Everything had gone well in the church, and our miller, who could shout with the best, had read the prayers so loudly and so fast that the good people had been astonished.

“How he does bawl, that son of a gun!” they had exclaimed with the deepest respect. “You can’t understand one word he says. He’s a regular wheel, he is; he turns and spins and you know he has spokes in him, but you can’t see a single one, no matter how closely you look. His reading sounds like an iron wheel rumbling over a stony road; you can’t catch a word of it to save your life.”

The miller heard what the people were saying among themselves, and it made him glad. He knew how to work for the glory of God, he did! He swung his tongue as a lusty lad swings a flail on a threshing floor, till he was parched to the bottom of his throat and his eyes were popping out of his head.

The priest took him home with him after church, gave him tea, and set a full bottle of herb brandy before him, and this was afterwards taken away empty. The moon was floating high above the fields, and was staring down into the swift little Stony River when the miller left the priest’s house and started home to his mill.

Some of the villagers were already asleep; some were sitting in their khatas eating their suppers by the light of a tallow-dip, and some had been tempted out into the street by the warm, clear autumn night. The old people were sitting at the doors of their khatas, but the lasses and lads had gone out under the hedges where the heavy shade of the cherry trees hid them from view, and only their low voices could be heard in various places, with an occasional peal of suppressed laughter, and now and then the incautious kiss of a young couple. Yes, many things can happen in the dense shade of a cherry tree on such a clear, warm night!

But though the miller could not see the villagers, they could see him very well because he was walking down the middle of the street in the full light of the moon. And so they occasionally called out to him as he passed:

“Good evening, Mr. Miller! Aren’t you coming from the priest’s? Is it at his house you have been such a long time?”

Everyone knew that he could not have been anywhere else, but the miller liked the question, and, slackening his pace, he would answer a little proudly each time:

“Yes, yes, I’ve made him a little visit!” and then he would walk on more puffed-up than ever.

On the other hand, some of the people sat as silent as mice under the eaves of their houses, and only hoped he would go by quickly and not see where they were hidden. But the miller was not the man to pass or forget people who owed him for flour or for grinding, or who simply had borrowed money from him. No use for them to sit out of sight in the dark, as silent as if they had taken a mouthful of water! The miller would stop in front of them every time and say:

“Good evening! Are you there? You can hold your tongues or not as you like, but get ready to pay me your debts, because your time will be up early tomorrow morning. And I won’t wait for the money, I promise you!”

And then he would walk on down the street with his shadow running beside him, so black, so very black, that the miller, who was a bookman and always ready to use his brain if need be, said to himself:

“Goodness, how black my shadow is! It really is strange. When a man’s overcoat is whiter than flour why should his shadow be blacker than soot?”

At this point in his reflections he reached the inn kept by Yankel the Jew, which stood on a little hill not far from the village. The Sabbath had been over since sunset, but the innkeeper was not at home; only Kharko was there, the Jew’s servant, who took his place on Sabbaths and feast-days. Kharko lit his master’s candles for him and collected his debts on each Hebrew holiday, for the Jews, as everyone knows, strictly observe the rules of their faith. Do you think a Jew would light a candle or touch money on a holiday? Not he! It would be a sin. Kharko the servant did all that for the innkeeper, and he, his wife, and his children, only followed him sharply with their eyes to see that no stray five or ten copeck pieces wandered into his pocket by accident instead of into the till.

“They’re cunning people!” thought the miller to himself. “Oh, they’re very cunning! They know how to please their God and catch every penny at the same time. Yes, they’re clever people, far cleverer than we are, there’s no use denying it!”

He paused on the little patch of earth at the inn door trampled hard by the numberless human feet that jostled each other there every week day and shouted:

“Yankel! Hey, Yankel! Are you at home or not?”

“He isn’t at home, can’t you see that?” answered the servant from behind the counter.

“Where is he, then?”

“Where should he be? In the city of course,” answered the servant. “Don’t you know what today is?”

“No, what is it?”

“Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement!”

“Ah, so that’s the explanation!” thought the miller.

And I must tell you that even though Kharko was a common servant and the servant of a Jew at that, he had been a soldier, and could write, and was a very proud person. He liked to turn up his nose and give himself airs, especially before the miller. He could read in church no worse than the miller himself, except that he had a cracked voice and talked through his nose. In reading the prayers he always managed to keep up with Philip the miller, but in reading the Acts he was left far behind. But he never yielded an inch. If the miller said one thing, he always said another. If the miller said “I don’t know,” the servant would answer “I do.” A disagreeable fellow he was! So now he was delighted because he had said something that had made the miller scratch his head under his hat.

“Perhaps you don’t know even yet what day this is?”

“How can I keep track of every Jewish holiday? Am I a servant of Jews?” retorted the miller angrily.

“Every holiday, indeed! That’s just it; this isn’t like every holiday. They only have one like this every year. And let me tell you something: no other people in the whole world have a holiday like this one.”

“You don’t say so!”

“You’ve heard about Khapun, I suppose?”

“Aha!”

The miller only whistled. Of course, he might have guessed it! And he peeped in through the window of the Jewish khata. The floor was strewn with hay and straw; in two and three branched candlesticks slender tallow candles were burning; he could hear a humming that seemed to come from several huge, lusty bees. It was Yankel’s young second wife and a few Jewish children mumbling and humming their unintelligible prayers with closed eyes. There was, however, something remarkable about these prayers; it seemed as if each one of these Jews were possessed by some alien creature, sitting there in him weeping and lamenting, remembering something and praying for something. But to whom were they praying, and for what were they asking? No one could have said. Only whatever it was, it seemed to have no connection either with the inn or with money.

The miller was filled with pity and sadness and dread as he listened to the prayers of the Jews. He glanced at the servant, who could also hear the humming through the door of the inn, and said:

“They’re praying! And so you say Yankel has gone to the city?”

“Yes.”

“And what did he want to do that for? Supposing Khapun should happen to get him?”

“I don’t know why he went,” answered the servant. “If it had been me, though I’ve fought with every heathen tribe under the sun and got a medal for it, no silver roubles on earth could have tempted me away from here. I should have stayed in my khata; Khapun would hardly snatch him out of his hut.”

“And why not? If he wanted to catch a man he’d get him in his khata as well as anywhere else, I suppose.”

“You think he would, do you? If you wanted to buy a hat or a pair of gloves, where would you go for them?”

“Where should I go but to a store?”

“And why would you go to a store?”

“What a question! Because there are plenty of hats there.”

“Very well. And if you looked into the synagogue now you would see Jews a-plenty in there. They are jostling one another, and weeping and screaming so that the whole city from one end to another can hear their lamentations. Where the gnats are there the birds go. Khapun would be a fool if he trotted about hunting and rummaging through all the woods and villages. He has only one day in the year, and do you think he would waste it like that? Some villages have Jews in them, and some haven’t.”

“Well, there aren’t many that haven’t!”

“I know there aren’t many that haven’t, but there are some. And then, he can pick and choose so much better out of a crowd.”

Both men were silent. The miller was thinking that the servant had caught him again with his clever tongue, and he was feeling uncomfortable for the second time. The humming and weeping and lamenting of the Jews still came to them through the windows of the hut.

“Perhaps they are praying for the old man?”

“Perhaps they are. Anything is possible.”

“Does it really ever happen?” asked the miller, wishing to tease the servant, and at the same time feeling a twinge of human pity for the Jew. “Perhaps it’s only gossip. You know how people will gabble silly nonsense, and how everyone believes them.”

These words displeased Kharko.

“Yes, people do gabble nonsense; like you, for instance!” he answered. “Do you think I invented the story myself, or my father or my father-in-law, when every Christian knows it is true?”

“Well, but have you seen it happen yourself?” asked the miller irritably, stung by the servant’s scornful words.

Now you must know that when the miller was in a passion he sometimes said that he didn’t believe in the Devil himself, and wouldn’t, until he saw him sitting in the palm of his hand. And he was flying into a passion now.

“Have you seen it happen yourself?” he repeated. “If you haven’t, don’t say it’s true, do you hear?”

Then the servant hung his head, and even went so far as to cough. Though he had been a soldier and was a lively fellow, he could sing very small at times.

“No, I haven’t seen it myself, I won’t tell you a lie. And you, Mr. Miller, have you ever seen the city of Kiev?”

“No, I haven’t: I won’t tell you a lie, either.”

“But Kiev is there just the same!”

When he heard it put as clearly as that, the miller’s eyes nearly popped out of his head.

“Whatever is true, is true,” he assented. “Yes, Kiev is there, though I haven’t seen it. One certainly ought to believe what honest folks say. You see, I should like to⁠—I want to ask you who told you the story?”

“Who told it to me? Bah! Who told you about Kiev?”

“Tut, tut, what a tongue you have! It’s sharper than a razor; may it shrivel in your head!”

“There’s no reason why my tongue should shrivel in my head. You’d better believe what people say when everyone says it. If everyone says it, it must be true. If it weren’t true, everyone wouldn’t say it; only magpies like you would say it, so there!”

“Tut, tut, tut! For Heaven’s sake stop a minute! You rattle out your words like a pestle in a mortar. I see I was on the wrong track, but I only wanted to know how the story began.”

“It began because it happens every year. Whatever happens people will talk about; what doesn’t happen isn’t worth talking about.”

“What a fellow you are! Wait a minute, let me catch your prattle by the tail; you whirl like a wild mare in a bog. Only just tell me what really takes place, that’s all!”

“Eh hey, so you don’t know, I see, what takes place on the Day of Atonement?”

“I used to know, and that’s why I didn’t ask. I used to hear people chattering like you about Khapun, Khapun, but what the sense of it was I never could make out.”

“Then you ought to have said so at once, and I should have told you long ago. I don’t like proud people who, when they want a drink of gorelka, say they’d drink water if it didn’t taste so bad. If you want to know what happens I’ll tell you, because I’ve been about the world and am not a stay-at-home like you. I have lived in the city for more than a year, and this is the first time I have ever worked for a Jew.”

“And isn’t it a sin to work for a Jew?” asked the miller.

“It would be for anyone else; a soldier can do anything. We get a paper given to us that says so.”

“Can a piece of paper really⁠—”

Then the soldier began telling the miller very affably all about Khapun and how he carries off one Jew a year on this day.

And if you don’t know it, I might as well tell you that Khapun is a regular Hebrew devil. He is just like ours in every way, black, with horns just like him, and he has wings like a huge bat; the only difference is that he wears ringlets and a skull cap, and only has power over Jews. If a Christian meets him at midnight in the desert, or even on the shore of a pond, he runs away like a scary dog. But he can do what he likes with the Jews, so he catches one every year and carries him away.

And Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is the day fixed for him to make his choice. Long before that day comes the Jews weep and tear their clothes, and even put ashes out of their stoves on their heads for some reason or other. On the evening of the day they bathe in the rivers and ponds, and as soon as the sun goes down the poor wretches all go to their churches, and you never heard in your life such screams as come from there then! They all bawl at the top of their lungs, keeping their eyes shut tight with terror all the time. Then, as soon as the sky grows dark and the evening star comes out, Khapun comes flying from where he lives, and hovers over the church. He beats on the windows with his wings, and looks in to choose his prey. But when midnight comes, that’s when the Jews begin to get really frightened. They light all the candles to give themselves courage, fall down on the floor, and begin to scream as if someone were cutting their throats. And while they are lying there squirming Khapun flies into the room in the shape of a great crow, and they all feel the cold wind of his wings blowing across their hearts. The Jew whom Khapun has already spotted through the window feels the devil’s claws sinking into his back. Ugh! It makes one’s flesh creep even to tell of it, so just think what the poor Jew must feel! Of course he yells as loud as ever he can. But who can hear him when all the rest of them are yelling like lunatics, too? And maybe one of his neighbours does hear him, and is only glad it isn’t himself who is in such a sorry plight.

Kharko himself had heard more than once the pitiful, clear, long-drawn notes of a trumpet floating out over the city. It was a novice in the synagogue trumpeting out a farewell call to his unfortunate brother, while the rest of the Jews were putting on their shoes in the entry⁠—Jews always go into church in their stocking feet⁠—or standing in little groups in the moonlight, whispering together on tiptoe, staring up at the sky. And when the last man has gone, one lonely pair of shoes is left lying in the entry, waiting for its owner. Ah, those shoes will have to wait a long time, for at that very moment Khapun is flying with their owner high over woods and fields, over valleys and hills and plains, flapping his wings, and keeping well out of sight of Christian eyes. The accursed one is glad when the night is cloudy and dark. But when it is clear and still like tonight, with the moon shining as bright as day, the devil’s work may very well come to naught.

“And why?” asked the miller, trembling lest the talkative Kharko should begin poking insults at him again. But this time the servant answered quietly enough:

“Well, you see, any Christian, no matter if he’s stupid, like you, can call to the devil: ‘Drop it! It is mine!’ and Khapun will drop the Jew at once. The devil will flutter his wings, and fly away with a shrill cry like a wounded hawk, to be left without prey for a year. The Jew will fall to the ground. It will be lucky for him if he wasn’t too high up and if he falls into a bog or some other soft spot. If he doesn’t, no one will profit by his fall, neither he nor the devil.”

“So that’s how it is!” said the miller, staring nervously at the sky, in which the moon was shining with all its might. The heavens were clear; only one little cloudlet like a bit of black down was flying swiftly along between the moon and the wood that shrouded the river bank. It was a cloud, of course, but one thing about it seemed strange to the miller. Not a breath of wind was stirring, the leaves on the bushes were motionless as if in a trance, and yet the cloud was flying like a bird straight toward the city.

“Come here; let me show you something!” the miller called to the servant.

Kharko came out of the inn, and leaning against the door post, said calmly:

“Well, what is it? A fine thing you have found to show me! That’s a cloud, that is; let it alone!”

“Take another look at it! Is there any wind blowing?”

“Well, well, well! That is funny!” said the servant, perplexed. “It’s making straight for the city, too.”

And both men scratched their heads and craned their necks.

The same humming sounds came to their ears through the window as before; the miller caught a glimpse of lugubrious yellow faces, closed eyes, and motionless lips. The little Jews were crying and wriggling, and once more the miller seemed to see an alien presence in them weeping and praying for something unknown, long lost, and already half forgotten.

“Well, I must be going home,” said the miller, collecting his wits. “And yet I wanted to pay Yankel a few copecks.”

“That’s all right. I can take them for him,” said the servant, without looking at the miller.

But the miller pretended not to have heard this last remark. The sum was not so small that he cared to entrust it to a servant, much less to a vagabond soldier. With a sum like that the fellow might easily kick up his heels, as the saying is, and run away, not only out of the village, but even out of the District. If he did that, look for the wind in the fields, you would find it sooner than Kharko!

“Good night!” said the miller at last.

“Good night! And I’ll take the money if you’ll give it to me!”

“Don’t bother; I can give it to him myself.”

“Do as you like. But if I took it you wouldn’t be bothered about it any more. Well, well, it’s time to close the inn. You’re the last dog that’ll be round tonight, I’ll be bound.”

The servant scratched his back on the door post, whistled not very agreeably after the miller, and bolted the door on which were depicted in white paint a quart measure, a wineglass, and a tin mug. Meanwhile the miller descended the hill, and walked down the road in his long white overcoat, with his coal-black shadow running beside him as before.

But the miller was not thinking of his shadow now. His thoughts were of something far different.