Whistling from off the sea, the wind was charged with moist, salt
spray, and dashing foaming billows ashore with their white manes
full of snakelike, gleaming black ribands of seaweed, and causing
the rocks to rumble angrily in response, and the trees to rustle
with a dry, agitated sound as their tops swayed to and fro, and
their trunks bent earthwards as though they would fain reeve up
their roots, and betake them whither the mountains stood veiled
in a toga of heavy, dark mist.
Over the sea the clouds were hurrying towards the land as ever
and anon they rent themselves into strips, and revealed
fathomless abysses of blue wherein the autumn sun burned
uneasily, and sent cloud-shadows gliding over the puckered waste
of waters, until, the shore reached, the wind further harried the
masses of vapour towards the sharp flanks of the mountains, and,
after drawing them up and down the slopes, relegated them to
clefts, and left them steaming there.
There was about the whole scene a louring appearance, an
appearance as though everything were contending with everything,
as now all things turned sullenly dark, and now all things
emitted a dull sheen which almost blinded the eyes. Along the
narrow road, a road protected from the sea by a line of wave-
washed dykes, some withered leaves of oak and wild cherry were
scudding in mutual chase of one another; with the general result
that the combined sounds of splashing and rustling and howling
came to merge themselves into a single din which issued as a song
with a rhythm marked by the measured blows of the waves as they
struck the rocks.
"Zmiulan, the King of the Ocean, is abroad!" shouted my fellow
traveller in my ear. He was a tall, round-shouldered man of
childishly chubby features and boyishly bright, transparent eyes.
"WHO do you say is abroad?" I queried.
Never having heard of the monarch, I made no reply.
The extent to which the wind buffeted us might have led one to
suppose that its primary objective was to deflect our steps, and
turn them in the direction of the mountains. Indeed, at times its
pressure was so strong that we had no choice but to halt, to turn
our backs to the sea, and, with feet planted apart, to prise
ourselves against our sticks, and so remain, poised on three
legs, until we were past any risk of being overwhelmed with the
soft incubus of the tempest, and having our coats torn from our
At intervals such gasps would come from my companion that he
might well have been standing on the drying-board of a bath. Nor,
as they did so, was his appearance aught but comical, seeing that
his ears, appendages large and shaggy like a dog's, and
indifferently shielded with a shabby old cap, kept being pushed
forward by the wind until his small head bore an absurd
resemblance to a china bowl. And that, to complete the
resemblance, his long and massive nose, a feature grossly
disproportionate to the rest of his diminutive face, might
equally well have passed for the spout of the receptacle
Yet a face out of the common it was, like the whole of his
personality. And this was the fact which had captivated me from
the moment when I had beheld him participating in a vigil service
held in the neighbouring church of the monastery of New Athos.
There, spare, but with his withered form erect, and his head
slightly tilted, he had been gazing at the Crucifix with a
radiant smile, and moving his thin lips in a sort of whispered,
confidential, friendly conversation with the Saviour. Indeed, so
much had the man's smooth, round features (features as beardless
as those of a Skopetz [A member of the Skoptzi, a non-Orthodox
sect the members of which "do make of themselves eunuchs for the
Lord's sake."], save for two bright tufts at the corners of the
mouth) been instinct with intimacy, with a consciousness of
actually being in the presence of the Son of God, that the
spectacle, transcending anything of the kind that my eyes had
before beheld, had led me, with its total absence of the
customary laboured, servile, pusillanimous attitude towards the
Almighty which I had generally found to be the rule, to accord
the man my whole interest, and, as long as the service had
lasted, to keep an eye upon one who could thus converse with God
without rendering Him constant obeisance, or again and again
making the sign of the cross, or invariably making it to the
accompaniment of groans and tears which had always hitherto
obtruded itself upon my notice.
Again had I encountered the man when I had had supper at the
workmen's barraque, and then proceeded to the monastery's guest-
chamber. Seated at a table under a circle of light falling from a
lamp suspended from the ceiling, he had gathered around him a
knot of pilgrims and their women, and was holding forth in low,
cheerful tones that yet had in them the telling, incisive note of
the preacher, of the man who frequently converses with his fellow
"One thing it may be best always to disclose," he was saying,
"and another thing to conceal. If aught in ourselves seems harmful
or senseless, let us put to ourselves the question: 'Why is this
so?' Contrariwise ought a prudent man never to thrust himself
forward and say: 'How discreet am I!' while he who makes a parade
of his hard lot, and says, 'Good folk, see ye and hear how bitter
my life is,' also does wrong."
Here a pilgrim with a black beard, a brigand's dark eyes, and the
wasted features of an ascetic rose from the further side of the
table, straightened his virile frame, and said in a dull voice:
"My wife and one of my children were burnt to death through the
falling of an oil lamp. On THAT ought I to keep silence?"
No answer followed. Only someone muttered to himself:
"What? Again?": until the first speaker, the speaker seated
near the corner of the table, launched into the oppressive lull
the unhesitating reply:
"That of which you speak may be taken to have been a punishment
by God for sin."
"What? For a sin committed by one three years of age (for,
indeed, my little son was no more)? The accident happened of his
pulling down a lamp upon himself, and of my wife seizing him, and
herself being burnt to death. She was weak, too, for but eleven
days had passed since her confinement."
"No. What I mean is that in that accident you see a punishment
for sins committed by the child's father and mother."
This reply from the corner came with perfect confidence. The
black-bearded man, however, pretended not to hear it, but spread
out his hands as though parting the air before him, and proceeded
hurriedly, breathlessly to detail the manner in which his wife
and little one had met their deaths. And all the time that he was
doing so one had an inkling that often before had he recounted
his narrative of horror, and that often again would he repeat it.
His shaggy black eyebrows, as he delivered his speech, met in a
single strip, while the whites of his eyes
grew bloodshot, and their dull, black pupils never ceased their
Presently the gloomy recital was once more roughly,
unceremoniously broken in upon by the cheerful voice of the
"It is not right, brother," the voice said, "to blame God for
untoward accidents, or for mistakes and follies committed by
"But if God be God, He is responsible for all things."
"Not so. Concede to yourself the faculty of reason."
"Pah! What avails reason if it cannot make me understand?"
"Cannot make you understand WHAT?"
"The main point, the point why MY wife had to be burnt rather
than my neighbour's?"
Somewhere an old woman commented in spitefully distinct tones:
"Oh ho, ho! This man comes to a monastery, and starts railing as
soon as he gets there!"
Flashing his eyes angrily, the black-bearded man lowered his head
like a bull. Then, thinking better of his position, and
contenting himself with a gesture, he strode swiftly, heavily
towards the door. Upon this the Christ-loving pilgrim rose with a
swaying motion, bowed to everyone present, and set about
following his late interlocutor.
"It has all come of a broken heart," he said with a smile as he
passed me. Yet somehow the smile seemed to lack sympathy.
With a disapproving air someone else remarked:
"That fellow's one thought is to enlarge and to enlarge upon his
"Yes, and to no purpose does he do so," added the Christ-loving
pilgrim as he halted in the doorway. "All that he accomplishes by
it is to weary himself and others alike. Such experiences are far
better put behind one."
Presently I followed the pair into the forecourt, and near the
entrance-gates heard a voice say quietly:
"Do not disturb yourself, good father."
"Nevertheless" (the second voice was that of the porter of the
monastery, Father Seraphim, a strapping Vetlugan) "a spectre
walks here nightly."
"Never mind if it does. As regards myself, no spectre would
Here I moved in the direction of the gates.
"Who comes there?" Seraphim inquired as he thrust a hairy and
uncouth, but infinitely kindly, face close to mine. "Oh, it is
the young fellow from Nizhni Novgorod! You are wasting your time,
my good sir, for the women have all gone to bed."
With which he laughed and chuckled like a bear.
Beyond the wall of the forecourt the stillness of the autumn
night was the languid inertia of a world exhausted by summer, and
the withered grass and other objects of the season were exhaling
a sweet and bracing odour, and the trees looking like fragments
of cloud where motionless they hung in the moist, sultry air.
Also, in the darkness the half-slumbering sea could be heard
soughing as it crept towards the shore while over the sky lay a
canopy of mist, save at the point where the moon's opal-like blur
could be descried over the spot where that blur's counterfeit
image glittered and rocked on the surface of the dark waters.
Under the trees there was set a bench whereon I could discern
there to be resting a human figure. Approaching the figure, I
seated myself beside it.
"Whence, comrade?" was my inquiry.
"From Voronezh. And you?"
A Russian is never adverse to talking about himself. It would seem
as though he is never sure of his personality, as though he is
ever yearning to have that personality confirmed from some source
other than, extraneous to, his own ego. The reason for this must
be that we Russians live diffused over a land of such vastness
that, the more we grasp the immensity of the same, the smaller do
we come to appear in our own eyes; wherefore, traversing, as we
do, roads of a length of a thousand versts, and constantly losing
our way, we come to let slip no opportunity of restating
ourselves, and setting forth all that we have seen and thought
Hence, too, must it be that in conversations one seems to hear
less of the note of "I am I" than of the note of "Am I really
and truly myself?"
"What may be your name?" next I inquired of the figure on the
"A name of absolute simplicity--the name of Alexei Kalinin."
"You are a namesake of mine, then."
"Indeed? Is that so?"
With which, tapping me on the knee, the figure added:
"Come, then, namesake. 'I have mortar, and you have water, so
together let us paint the town.'"
Murmuring amid the silence could be heard small, light waves that
were no more than ripples. Behind us the busy clamour of the
monastery had died down, and even Kalinin's cheery voice seemed
subdued by the influence of the night--it seemed to have in it
less of the note of self-confidence.
"My mother was a wet-nurse," he went on to volunteer, and I her
only child. When I was twelve years of age I was, owing to my
height, converted into a footman. It happened thus. One day, on
General Stepan (my mother's then employer) happening to catch
sight of me, he exclaimed: 'Evgenia, go and tell Fedor' (the
ex-soldier who was then serving the General as footman) 'that he
is to teach your son to wait at table! The boy is at least tall
enough for the work.' And for nine years I served the General in
this capacity. And then, and then--oh, THEN I was seized with an
illness. . . . Next, I obtained a post under a merchant who was
then mayor of our town, and stayed with him twenty-one months.
And next I obtained a situation in an hotel at Kharkov, and held
it for a year. And after that I kept changing my places, for,
steady and sober though I was, I was beginning to lack taste for
my profession, and to develop a spirit of the kind which deemed
all work to be beneath me, and considered that I had been created
to serve only myself, not others."
Along the high road to Sukhum which lay behind us there were
proceeding some invisible travellers whose scraping of feet as
they walked proclaimed the fact that they were not over-used to
journeying on foot. Just as the party drew level with us, a
musical voice hummed out softly the line "Alone will I set forth
upon the road," with the word "alone" plaintively stressed.
Next, a resonant bass voice said with a sort of indolent
"Aphon or aphonia means loss of speech to the extent of, to the
extent of--oh, to WHAT extent, most learned Vera Vasilievna?"
"To the extent of total loss of power of articulation," replied
a voice feminine and youthful of timbre.
Just at that moment we saw two dark, blurred figures, with a
paler figure between them, come gliding into view.
"Strange indeed is it that, that--"
"That so many names proper to these parts should also be so
suggestive. Take, for instance, Mount Nakopioba. Certainly folk
hereabouts seem to have " amassed " things, and to have known how
to do so." [The verb nakopit means to amass, to heap up.]
"For my part, I always fail to remember the name of Simon the
Canaanite. Constantly I find myself calling him 'the Cainite.'"
"Look here," interrupted the musical voice in a tone of
chastened enthusiasm. "As I contemplate all this beauty, and
inhale this restfulness, I find myself reflecting: 'How would it
be if I were to let everything go to the devil, and take up my
abode here for ever?'"
At this point all further speech became drowned by the sound of
the monastery's bell as it struck the hour. The only utterance
that came borne to my ears was the mournful fragment:
Oh, if into a single word
I could pour my inmost thoughts!
To the foregoing dialogue my companion had listened with his head
tilted to one side, much as though the dialogue had deflected it
in that direction: and now, as the voices died away into the
distance, he sighed, straightened himself, and said:
"Clearly those people were educated folk. And see too how, as
they talked of one thing and another, there cropped up the old
and ever-persistent point."
"To what point are you referring?"
My companion paused a moment before he replied. Then he said:
"Can it be that you did not hear it? Did you not hear one of
those people remark: 'I have a mind to surrender everything '?"
Whereafter, bending forward, and peering at me as a blind man
would do, Kalinin added in a half-whisper:
"More and more are folk coming to think to themselves: 'Now must
I forsake everything.' In the end I myself came to think it. For
many a year did I increasingly reflect: 'Why should I be a
servant? What will it ever profit me? Even if I should earn
twelve, or twenty, or fifty roubles a month, to what will such
earnings lead, and where will the man in me come in? Surely it
would be better to do nothing at all, but just to gaze into space
(as I am doing now), and let my eyes stare straight before me?'"
"By the way, what were you talking to those people about?"
"Which people do you mean?"
"The bearded man and the rest, the company in the guest-chamber?"
"Ah, THAT man I did not like--I have no fancy at all for fellows
who strew their grief about the world, and leave it to be
trampled upon by every chance-comer. For how can the tears of my
neighbour benefit me? True, every man has his troubles; but also
has every man such a predilection for his particular woe that he
ends by deeming it the most bitter and remarkable grief in the
universe--you may take my word for that."
Suddenly the speaker rose to his feet, a tall, lean figure.
"Now I must seek my bed," he remarked. "You see, I shall have
to leave here very early tomorrow."
"And for what point?"
Now, the day being a Saturday, I had drawn my week's earnings
from the monastery's pay-office just before the vigil service.
Also, Novorossisk did not really lie in my direction. Thirdly, I
had no particular wish to exchange the monastery for any other
lodging. Nevertheless, despite all this, the man interested me to
such an extent (of persons who genuinely interest one there never
exist but two, and, of them, oneself is always one) that
straightway I observed:
"I too shall be leaving here tomorrow."
"Then let us travel together."
At dawn, therefore, we set forth to foot the road in company. At
times I mentally soared aloft, and viewed the scene from that
vantage-point. Whenever I did so, I beheld two tall men traversing
a narrow track by a seashore--the one clad in a grey military
overcoat and a hat with a broken crown, and the other in a drab
kaftan and a plush cap. At their feet the boundless sea was
splashing white foam, salt-dried ribands of seaweed were strewing
the path, golden leaves were dancing hither and thither, and the
wind was howling at, and buffeting, the travellers as clouds
sailed over their heads. Also, to their right there lay stretched
a chain of mountains towards which the clouds kept wearily,
nervelessly tending, while to their left there lay spread a
white-laced expanse over the surface of which a roaring wind kept
ceaselessly driving transparent columns of spray.
On such stormy days in autumn everything near a seashore looks
particularly cheerful and vigorous, seeing that, despite the
soughing of wind and wave, and the swift onrush of cloud, and the
fact that the sun is only occasionally to be seen suspended in
abysses of blue, and resembles a drooping flower, one feels that
the apparent chaos has lurking in it a secret harmony of mundane,
but imperishable, forces--so much so that in time even one's puny
human heart comes to imbibe the prevalent spirit of revolt, and,
catching fire, to cry to all the universe: " I love you! "
Yes, at such times one desires to taste life to the full, and so
to live that the ancient rocks shall smile, and the sea's white
horses prance the higher, as one's mouth acclaims the earth in
such a paean that, intoxicated with the laudation, it shall
unfold its riches with added bountifulness and display more and
more manifest beauty under the spur of the love expressed by one
of its creatures, expressed by a human being who feels for the
earth what he would feel for a woman, and yearns to fertilise the
same to ever-increasing splendour.
Nevertheless,words are as heavy as stones, and after felling
fancy to the ground, serve but to heap her grey coffin-lid, and
cause one, as one stands contemplating the tomb, to laugh in
sheer self-derision. . . .
Suddenly, plunged in dreams as I walked along, I heard through
the plash of the waves and the sizzle of the foam the unfamiliar
"Hymen, Demon, Igamon, and Zmiulan. Good devils are these, not
"How does Christ get on with them?" I asked.
"Christ? He does not enter into the matter."
"Is He hostile to them?"
"Is He HOSTILE to them? How could He be? Devils of that kind are
devils to themselves-devils of a decent sort. Besides, to no one
is Christ hostile" .............................. . . . . . .
[In the Russian this hiatus occurs as marked.]
As though unable any longer to brave the assault of the billows,
the path suddenly swerved towards the bushes on our right, and,
in doing so, caused the cloud-wrapped mountains to shift
correspondingly to our immediate front, where the masses of
vapour were darkening as though rain were probable.
Kalinin's discourse proved instructive as with his stick he from
time to time knocked the track clear of clinging tendrils.
"The locality is not without its perils," once he remarked.
"For hereabouts there lurks malaria. It does so because long ago
Maliar of Kostroma banished his evil sister, Fever, to these
parts. Probably he was paid to do so, but the exact circumstances
escape my memory."
So thickly was the surface of the sea streaked with cloud-shadows
that it bore the appearance of being in mourning, of being decked
in the funeral colours of black and white. Afar off, Gudaout lay
lashed with foam, while constantly objects like snowdrifts kept
gliding towards it.
"Tell me more about those devils," I said at length.
"Well, if you wish. But what exactly am I to tell you about
"All that you may happen to know."
"Oh, I know EVERYTHING about them."
To this my companion added a wink. Then he continued:
"I say that I know everything about those devils for the reason
that for my mother I had a most remarkable woman, a woman
cognisant of each and every species of proverb, anathema, and
item of hagiology. You must know that, after spreading my bed
beside the kitchen stove each night, and her own bed on the top
of the stove (for, after her wet-nursing of three of the
General's children, she lived a life of absolute ease, and did no
work at all)--"
Here Kalinin halted, and, driving his stick into the ground,
glanced back along the path before resuming his way with firm,
"I may tell you that the General had a niece named Valentina
Ignatievna. And she too was a most remarkable woman."
"Remarkable for what?"
"Remarkable for EVERYTHING."
At this moment there came floating over our heads through the
damp-saturated air a cormorant--one of those voracious birds which
so markedly lack intelligence. And somehow the whistling of its
powerful pinions awoke in me an unpleasant reminiscent thought.
"Pray continue," I said to my fellow traveller.
And each night, as I lay on the floor (I may mention that never
did I climb on to the stove, and to this day I dislike the heat
of one), it was her custom to sit with her legs dangling over the
edge of the top, and tell me stories. And though the room would
be too dark for me to see her face, I could yet see the things of
which she would be speaking. And at times, as these tales came
floating down to me, I would find them so horrible as to be
forced to cry out, 'Oh, Mamka, Mamka, DON'T! . . .' To this hour
I have no love for the bizarre, and am but a poor hand at
remembering it. And as strange as her stories was my mother.
Eventually she died of an attack of blood-poisoning and, though
but forty, had become grey-headed. Yes, and so terribly did she
smell after her death that everyone in the kitchen was
constrained to exclaim at the odour."
"Yes, but what of the devils?"
"You must wait a minute or two."
Ever as we proceeded, clinging, fantastic branches kept closing
in upon the path, so that we appeared to be walking through a sea
of murmuring verdure. And from time to time a bough would flick
us as though to say: "Speed, speed, or the rain will be upon
If anything, however, my companion slackened his pace as in
measured, sing-song accents he continued:
"When Jesus Christ, God's Son, went forth into the wilderness to
collect His thoughts, Satan sent devils to subject Him to
temptation. Christ was then young; and as He sat on the burning
sand in the middle of the desert, He pondered upon one thing and
another, and played with a handful of pebbles which He had
collected. Until presently from afar, there descried Him the
devils Hymen, Demon, Igamon, and Zmiulan--devils of equal age with
"Drawing near unto Him, they said, 'Pray suffer us to sport with
Thee.' Whereupon Christ answered with a smile: 'Pray be seated.'
Then all of them did sit down in a circle, and proceed to
business, which business was to see whether or not any member of
the party could so throw a stone into the air as to prevent it
from falling back upon the burning sand.
.............................. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . .
[In the original Russian this hiatus occurs as given.]
"Christ Himself was the first to throw a stone; whereupon His
stone became changed into a six-winged dove, and fluttered away
towards the Temple of Jerusalem. And, next, the impotent devils
strove to do the same; until at length, when they saw that Christ
could not in any wise be tempted, Zmiulan, the senior of the
"'0h Lord, we will tempt Thee no more; for of a surety do we
avail not, and, though we be devils, never shall do so!'
"'Aye, never shall ye!' Christ did agree. 'And, therefore, I
will now fulfil that which from the first I did conceive. That ye
be devils I know right well. And that, while yet afar off, ye
did, on beholding me, have compassion upon me I know right well.
While also ye did not in any wise seek to conceal from me the
truth as concerning yourselves. Hence shall ye, for the remainder
of your lives, be GOOD devils; so that at the last shall matters
be rendered easier for you. Do thou, Zmiulan, become King of the
Ocean, and send the winds of the sea to cleanse the land of foul
air. And do thou, Demon, see to it that the cattle shall eat of
no poisonous herb, but that all herbs of the sort be covered with
prickles. Do thou, Igamon, comfort, by night, all comfortless
widows who shall be blaming God for the death of their husbands?
And do thou, Hymen, as the youngest devil of the band, choose for
thyself wherein shall lie thy charge.'
"'0h Lord,' replied Hymen, 'I do love but to laugh.'
"And the Saviour replied:
"'Then cause thou folk to laugh. Only, mark thou, see to it
that they laugh not IN CHURCH.'
"'Yet even in church would I laugh, 0h Lord,' the devil objected.
" 'Jesus Christ Himself laughed.
" 'God go with you!' at length He said. 'Then let folk laugh even
in church--but QUIETLY.'
"In such wise did Christ convert those four evil devils into
devils of goodness."
Soaring over the green, bushy sea were a number of old oaks. On
them the yellow leaves were trembling as though chilled; here
and there a sturdy hazel was doffing its withered garments, and
elsewhere a wild cherry was quivering, and elsewhere an almost
naked chestnut was politely rendering obeisance to the earth.
"Did you find that story of mine a good one?" my companion
"I did, for Christ was so good in it."
"Always and everywhere He is so," Kalinin proudly rejoined. "But
do you also know what an old woman of Smolensk used to sing
" I do not."
Halting, my strange traveller chanted in a feignedly senile and
tremulous voice, as he beat time with his foot:
In the heavens a flow'r doth blow,
It is the Son of God.
From it all our joys do flow,
It is the Son of God.
In the sun's red rays He dwells
He, the Son of God.
His light our every ill dispels.
Praised be the Son of God!
Each successive line seemed to inspire Kalinin's voice with added
youthfulness, until, indeed, the concluding words-- "The One and
Only God"-- issued in a high, agreeable tenor.
Suddenly a flash of lightning blazed before us, while dull
thunder crashed among the mountains, and sent its hundred-voiced
echoes rolling over land and sea. In his consternation, Kalinin
opened his mouth until a set of fine, even teeth became bared to
view. Then, with repeated crossings of himself, he muttered.
"0h dread God, 0h beneficent God, 0h God who sittest on high, and
on a golden throne, and under a gilded canopy, do Thou now punish
Satan, lest he overwhelm me in the midst of my sins!"
Whereafter, turning a small and terrified face in my direction,
and blinking his bright eyes, he added with hurried diction:
"Come, brother! Come! Let us run on ahead, for thunderstorms are
my bane. Yes, let us run with all possible speed, run ANYWHERE,
for soon the rain will be pouring down, and these parts are full
of lurking fever."
Off, therefore, we started, with the wind smiting us behind, and
our kettles and teapots jangling, and my wallet, in particular,
thumping me about the middle of the body as though it had been
wielding a large, soft fist. Yet a far cry would it be to the
mountains, nor was any dwelling in sight, while ever and anon
branches caught at our clothes, and stones leapt aloft under our
tread, and the air grew steadily darker, and the mountains seemed
to begin gliding towards us.
Once more from the black cloud-masses, heaven belched a fiery dart
which caused the sea to scintillate with blue sapphires in
response, and, seemingly, to recoil from the shore as the earth
shook, and the mountain defiles emitted a gigantic scrunching
sound of their rock-hewn jaws.
"0h Holy One! 0h Holy One! 0h Holy One!" screamed Kalinin as he
dived into the bushes.
In the rear, the waves lashed us as though they had a mind to
arrest our progress; from the gloom to our front came a sort of
scraping and rasping; long black hands seemed to wave over our
heads; just at the point where the mountain crests lay swathed in
their dense coverlet of cloud ,there rumbled once more the
deafening iron chariot of the thunder-god; more and more
frequently flashed the lightning as the earth rang, and rifts
cleft by the blue glare disclosed, amid the obscurity, great
trees that were rustling and rocking and, to all appearances,
racing headlong before the scourge of a cold, slanting rain.
The occasion was a harassing but bracing one, for as the fine
bands of rain beat upon our faces, our bodies felt filled with a
heady vigour of a kind to fit us to run indefinitely--at all
events to run until this storm of rain and thunder should be
outpaced, and clear weather be reached again.
Suddenly Kalinin shouted: "Stop! Look!"
This was because the fitful illumination of a flash had just
shown up in front of us the trunk of an oak tree which had a
large black hollow let into it like a doorway. So into that
hollow we crawled as two mice might have done--laughing aloud in
our glee as we did so.
"Here there is room for THREE persons," my companion remarked.
"Evidently it is a hollow that has been burnt out--though rascals
indeed must the burners have been to kindle a fire in a living
However, the space within the hollow was both confined and
redolent of smoke and dead leaves. Also, heavy drops of rain
still bespattered our heads and shoulders, and at every peal of
thunder the tree quivered and creaked until the strident din
around us gave one the illusion of being afloat in a narrow
caique. Meanwhile at every flash of the lightning's glare, we
could see slanting ribands of rain cutting the air with a network
of blue, glistening, vitreous lines.
Presently, the wind began to whistle less loudly, as though now it
felt satisfied at having driven so much productive rain into the
ground, and washed clean the mountain tops, and loosened the
"U-oh! U-oh!" hooted a grey mountain owl just over our heads.
"Why, surely it believes the time to be night!" Kalinin
commented in a whisper.
"U-oh! U-u-u-oh!" hooted the bird again, and in response my
"You have made a mistake, my brother!"
By this time the air was feeling chilly, and a bright grey fog
had streamed over us, and wrapped a semi-transparent veil about
the gnarled, barrel-like trunks with their outgrowing shoots and
the few remaining leaves still adhering.
Far and wide the monotonous din continued to rage--it did so until
conscious thought began almost to be impossible. Yet even as one
strained one's attention, and listened to the rain lashing the
fallen leaves, and pounding the stones, and bespattering the
trunks of the trees, and to the murmuring and splashing of
rivulets racing towards the sea, and to the roaring of torrents
as they thundered over the rocks of the mountains, and to the
creaking of trees before the wind, and to the measured thud-thud
of the waves; as one listened to all this, the thousand sounds
seemed to combine into a single heaviness of hurried clamour, and
involuntarily one found oneself striving to disunite them, and to
space them even as one spaces the words of a song.
Kalinin fidgeted, nudged me, and muttered:
"I find this place too close for me. Always I have hated
Nevertheless he had taken far more care than I to make himself
comfortable, for he had edged himself right into the hollow, and,
by squatting on his haunches, reduced his frame to the form of a
ball. Moreover, the rain-drippings scarcely or in no wise touched
him, while, in general, he appeared to have developed to the full
an aptitude for vagrancy as a permanent condition, and for the
allowing of no unpleasant circumstance to debar him from
invariably finding the most convenient vantage-ground at a given
juncture. Presently, in fact, he continued:
"Yes; despite the rain and cold and everything else, I consider
life to be not quite intolerable."
"Not quite intolerable in what?"
"Not quite intolerable in the fact that at least I am bound to
the service of no one save God. For if disagreeablenesses have to
be endured, at all events they come better from Him than from
one's own species."
"Then you have no great love for your own species?"
"One loves one's neighbour as the dog loves the stick." To
which, after a pause, the speaker added:
For WHY should I love him?"
It puzzled me to cite a reason off-hand, but, fortunately,
Kalinin did not wait for an answer--rather, he went on to ask:
"Have you ever been a footman?"
"No," I replied.
"Then let me tell you that it is peculiarly difficult for a
footman to love his neighbour."
"Go and be a footman; THEN you will know. In fact, it is never
the case that, if one serves a man, one can love that man. . . .
How steadily the rain persists!"
Indeed, on every hand there was in progress a trickling and a
splashing sound as though the weeping earth were venting soft,
sorrowful sobs over the departure of summer before winter and its
storms should arrive.
"How come you to be travelling the Caucasus?" I asked at
"Merely through the fact that my walking and walking has brought
me hither," was the reply. "For that matter, everyone ends by
heading for the Caucasus."
"Why NOT, seeing that from one's earliest years one hears of
nothing but the Caucasus, the Caucasus? Why, even our old General
used to harp upon the name, with his moustache bristling, and his
eyes protruding, as he did so. And the same as regards my mother,
who had visited the country in the days when, as yet, the General
was in command but of a company. Yes, everyone tends hither. And
another reason is the fact that the country is an easy one to live
in, a country which enjoys much sunshine, and produces much food,
and has a winter less long and severe than our own winter, and
therefore presents pleasanter conditions of life."
"And what of the country's people?"
"What of the country's people? Oh, so long as you keep yourself
to yourself they will not interfere with you."
"And why will they not?"
Kalinin paused, stared at me, smiled condescendingly, and,
"What a dullard you are to ask about such simple things! Were
you never given any sort of an education? Surely by this time you
ought to be able to understand something?"
Then, with a change of subject, and subduing his tone to one of
snuffling supplication, he added in the sing-song chant of a
person reciting a prayer:
"'0h Lord, suffer me not to become bound unto the clergy the
priesthood, the diaconate, the tchinovstvo, [The official class]
or the intelligentsia!' This was a petition which my mother used
often to repeat."
The raindrops now were falling more gently, and in finer lines
and more transparent network, so that one could once more descry
the great trunks of the blackened oaks, with the green and gold
of their leaves. Also, our own hollow had grown less dark, and
there could be discerned its smoky, satin-bright walls. From
those walls Kalinin picked a bit of charcoal with finger and
"It was shepherds that fired the place. See where they dragged
in hay and dead leaves! A shepherd's fife hereabouts must be a
truly glorious one!"
Lastly, clasping his head as though he were about to fall asleep,
he sank his chin between his knees, and relapsed into silence.
Presently a brilliant, sinuous little rivulet which had long been
laving the bare roots of our tree brought floating past us a red
and fawn leaf.
"How pretty," I thought, "that leaf will look from a distance
when reposing on the surface of the sea! For, like the sun when
he is in solitary possession of the heavens, that leaf will stand
out against the blue, silky expanse like a lonely red star."
After awhile my companion began, catlike, to purr to himself a
song. Its melody, the melody of "the moon withdrew behind a
cloud," was familiar enough, but not so the words, which ran:
0h Valentina, wondrous maid,
More comely thou than e'er a flow'r!
The nurse's son doth pine for thee,
And yearn to serve thee every hour!
"What does that ditty mean?" I inquired.
Kalinin straightened himself, gave a wriggle to a form that was
as lithe as a lizard's, and passed one hand over his face.
"It is a certain composition," he replied presently. "It is a
composition that was composed by a military clerk who afterwards
died of consumption. He was my friend his life long, and my only
friend, and a true one, besides being a man out of the common."
"And who was Valentina?"
"My one-time mistress," Kalinin spoke unwillingly.
"And he, the clerk--was he in love with her?"
"Oh dear no!"
Evidently Kalinin had no particular wish to discuss the subject,
for he hugged himself together, buried his face in his hands, and
"I should like to kindle a fire, were it not that everything in
the place is too damp for the purpose."
The wind shook the trees, and whistled despondently, while the
fine, persistent rain still whipped the earth.
"I but humble am, and poor,
Nor fated to be otherwise,"
sang Kalinin softly as, flinging up his head with an unexpected
movement, he added meaningly:
"Yes, it is a mournful song, a song which could move to tears.
Only to two persons has it ever been known; to my friend the
clerk and to myself. Yes, and to HER, though I need hardly add
that at once she forgot it."
And Kalinin's eyes flashed into a smile as he added:
"I think that, as a young man, you had better learn forthwith
where the greatest danger lurks in life. Let me tell you a
And upon that a very human tale filtered through the silken
monotonous swish of the downpour, with, for listeners to it, only
the rain and myself.
"Lukianov was NEVER in love with her," he narrated. "Only I was
that. All that Lukianov did in the matter was to write, at my
request, some verses. When she first appeared on the scene (I
mean Valentina Ignatievna) I was just turned nineteen years of
age; and the instant that my eyes fell upon her form I realised
that in her alone lay my fate, and my heart almost stopped
beating, and my vitality stretched out towards her as a speck of
dust flies towards a fire. Yet all this I had to conceal as best
I might; with the result that in the company's presence I felt
like a sentry doing guard duty in the presence of his commanding
officer. But at last, though I strove to pull myself together, to
steady myself against the ferment that was raging in my breast,
something happened. Valentina Ignatievna was then aged about
twenty-five, and very beautiful--marvellous, in fact! Also, she
was an orphan, since her father had been killed by the
Chechentzes, and her mother had died of smallpox at Samarkand. As
regards her kinship with the General, she stood to him in the
relation of niece by marriage. Golden-locked, and as skin-fair as
enamelled porcelain, she had eyes like emeralds, and a figure
wholly symmetrical, though as slim as a wafer. For bedroom she
had a little corner apartment situated next to the kitchen (the
General possessed his own house, of course), while, in addition,
they allotted her a bright little boudoir in which she disposed
her curios and knickknacks, from cut-glass bottles and goblets to
a copper pipe and a glass ring mounted on copper. This ring, when
turned, used to emit showers of glittering sparks, though she was
in no way afraid of them, but would sing as she made them dance:
"Not for me the spring will dawn!
Not for me the Bug will spate!
Not for me love's smile will wait!
Not for me, ah, not for me!
"Constantly would she warble this.
"Also, once she flashed an appeal at me with her eyes, and said:
"'Alexei, please never touch anything in my room, for my things
are too fragile.'
"Sure enough, in HER presence ANYTHING might have fallen from my
"Meanwhile her song about 'Not for me' used to make me feel
sorry for her. 'Not for you? ' I used to say to myself. 'Ought
not EVERYTHING to be for you? ' And this reflection would cause
my heart to yearn and stretch towards her. Next, I bought a
guitar, an instrument which I could not play, and took it for
instruction to Lukianov, the clerk of the Divisional Staff, which
had its headquarters in our street. In passing I may say that
Lukianov was a little Jewish convert with dark hair, sallow
features, and gimlet-sharp eyes, but beyond all things a fellow
with brains, and one who could play the guitar unforgettably.
"Once he said: 'In life all things are attainable--nothing need
we lose for want of trying. For whence does everything come? From
the plainest of mankind. A man may not be BORN in the rank of a
general, but at least he may attain to that position. Also, the
beginning and ending of all things is woman. All that she
requires for her captivation is poetry. Hence, let me write you
some verses, that you may tender them to her as an offering.'
"These, mind you, were the words of a man in whom the heart was
absolutely single, absolutely dispassionate."
Until then Kalinin had told his story swiftly, with animation;
but thereafter he seemed, as it were, to become extinguished.
After a pause of a few seconds he continued--continued in slower,
to all appearances more unwilling, accents--
"At the time I believed what Lukianov said, but subsequently I
came to see that things were not altogether as he had
represented--that woman is merely a delusion, and poetry merely
fiddle-faddle; and that a man cannot escape his fate, and that,
though good in war, boldness is, in peace affairs, but naked
effrontery. In this, brother, lies the chief, the fundamental law
of life. For the world contains certain people of high station,
and certain people of low; and so long as these two categories
retain their respective positions, all goes well; but as soon as
ever a man seeks to pass from the upper category to the inferior
category, or from the inferior to the upper, the fat falls into
the fire, and that man finds himself stuck midway, stuck neither
here nor there, and bound to abide there for the remainder of his
life, for the remainder of his life. . . . Always keep to your
own position, to the position assigned you by fate.. . . . Will
the rain NEVER cease, think you?"
By this time, as a matter of fact, the raindrops. were falling
less heavily and densely than hitherto, and the wet clouds were
beginning to reveal bright patches in the moisture-soaked
firmament, as evidence that the sun was still in existence.
"Continue," I said.
"Then you find the story an interesting one," he remarked.
Presently he resumed:
"As I have said, I trusted Lukianov implicitly, and begged of
him to write the verses. And write them he did--he wrote them the
very next day. True, at this distance of time I have forgotten
the words in their entirety, but at least I remember that there
occurred in them a phrase to the effect that 'for days and weeks
have your eyes been consuming my heart in the fire of love, so
pity me, I pray.' I then proceeded to copy out the poem, and
tremblingly to leave it on her table.
"The next morning, when I was tidying her boudoir, she made an
unexpected entry, and, clad in a loose, red dressing-gown, and
holding a cigarette between her lips, said to me with a kindly
smile as she produced my precious paper of verses:
"'Alexei, did YOU write these?'
"'Yes,' was my reply. 'And for Christ's sake pardon me for the
"'What a pity that such a fancy should have entered your head!
For, you see, I am engaged already--my uncle is intending to marry
me to Doctor Kliachka, and I am powerless in the matter.'
"The very fact that she could address me with so much sympathy
and kindness struck me dumb. As regards Doctor Kliachka, I may
mention that he was a good-looking, blotchy-faced, heavy-jowled
fellow with a moustache that reached to his shoulders, and lips
that were for ever laughing and vociferating. 'Nothing has
either a beginning or an end. The only thing really existent is
"Nay, even the General could, at times, make sport of the
fellow, and say as he shook with merriment:
"'A doctor-comedian is the sort of man that you are.'
"Now, at the period of which I am speaking I was as straight as
a dart, and had a shock of luxuriant hair over a set of ruddy
features. Also, I was living a life clean in every way, and
maintaining a cautious attitude towards womenfolk, and holding
prostitutes in a contempt born of the fact that I had higher
views with regard to my life's destiny. Lastly, I never indulged
in liquor, for I actually disliked it, and gave way to its
influence only in days subsequent to the episode which I am
narrating. Yes, and, last of all, I was in the habit of taking a
bath every Saturday.
"The same evening Kliachka and the rest of the party went out to
the theatre (for, naturally, the General had horses and a
carriage of his own), and I, for my part, went to inform Lukianov
of what had happened.
"He said: 'I must congratulate you, and am ready to wager you
two bottles of beer that your affair is as good as settled. In a
few seconds a fresh lot of verses shall be turned out, for poetry
constitutes a species of talisman or charm.'
"And, sure enough, he then and there composed the piece about
'the wondrous Valentina.' What a tender thing it is, and how full
of understanding! My God, my God!"
And, with a thoughtful shake of his bead, Kalinin raised his
boyish eyes towards the blue patches in the rain-washed sky.
"Duly she found the verses," he continued after a while, and
with a vehemence that seemed wholly independent of his will. "And
thereupon she summoned me to her room.
"'What are we to do about it all?' she inquired.
"She was but half-dressed, and practically the whole of her
bosom was visible to my sight. Also, her naked feet had on them
only slippers, and as she sat in her chair she kept rocking one
foot to and fro in a maddening way.
"'What are we to do about it all?' she repeated.
"'What am I to say about it, at length I replied, 'save that I
feel as though I were not really existing on earth?'
"'Are you one who can hold your tongue?' was her next question.
"I nodded--nothing else could I compass, for further speech had
become impossible. Whereupon, rising with brows puckered, she
fetched a couple of small phials, and, with the aid of
ingredients thence, mixed a powder which she wrapped in paper,
and handed me with the words:
"'Only one way of escape offers from the Plagues of Egypt. Here
I have a certain powder. Tonight the doctor is to dine with us.
Place the powder in his soup, and within a few days I shall be
free!--yes, free for you!'
"I crossed myself, and duly took from her the paper, whilst a
mist rose, and swam before my eyes, as I did so, and my legs
became perfectly numb. What I next did I hardly know, for
inwardly I was swooning. Indeed, until Kliachka's arrival the
same evening I remained practically in a state of coma."
Here Kalinin shuddered--then glanced at me with drawn features and
chattering teeth, and stirred uneasily.
"Suppose we light a fire?" he ventured. "I am growing shivery
all over. But first we must move outside."
The torn clouds were casting their shadows wearily athwart the
sodden earth and glittering stones and silver-dusted herbage.
Only on a single mountain top had a blur of mist settled like an
arrested avalanche, and was resting there with its edges
steaming. The sea too had grown calmer under the rain, and was
splashing with more gentle mournfulness, even as the blue patches
in the firmament had taken on a softer, warmer look, and stray
sunbeams were touching upon land and sea in turn, and, where they
chanced to fall upon herbage, causing pearls and emeralds to
sparkle on every leaf, and kaleidoscopic tints to glow where the
dark-blue sea reflected their generous radiance. Indeed, so
goodly, so full of promise, was the scene that one might have
supposed autumn to have fled away for ever before the wind and
the rain, and beneficent summer to have been restored.
Presently through the moist, squelching sound of our footsteps,
and the cheerful patter of the rain-drippings, Kalinin's
narrative resumed its languid, querulous course:
"When, that evening, I opened the door to the doctor I could not
bring myself to look him in the face--I could merely hang my head;
whereupon, taking me by the chin, and raising it, he inquired:
"Why is your face so yellow? What is the matter with you?'
"Yes, a kind-hearted man was he, and one who had never failed to
tip me well, and to speak to me with as much consideration as
though I had not been a footman at all.
"'I am not in very good health,' I replied. 'I, I--'
"'Come, come!' was his interjection. 'After dinner I must look
you over, and in the meanwhile, do keep up your spirits.'
"Then I realised that poison him I could not, but that the
powder must be swallowed by myself--yes, by myself! Aye, over my
heart a flash of lightning had gleamed, and shown me that now I
was no longer following the road properly assigned me by fate.
"Rushing away to my room, I poured out a glass of water, and
emptied into it the powder; whereupon the water thickened,
fizzed, and became topped with foam. Oh, a terrible moment it
was! . . . Then I drank the mixture. Yet no burning sensation
ensued, and though I listened to my vitals, nothing was to be
heard in that quarter, but, on the contrary, my head began to
lighten, and I found myself losing the sense of self-pity which
had brought me almost to the point of tears. . . . Shall we
settle ourselves here?"
Before us a large stone, capped with green moss and climbing
plants, was good-humouredly thrusting upwards a broad, flat face
beneath which the body had, like that of the hero Sviatogov,
sunken into the earth through its own weight until only the face,
a visage worn with aeons of meditation, was now visible. On every
side, also, had oak-trees overgrown and encompassed the bulk of
the projection, as though they too had been made of stone, with
their branches drooping sufficiently low to brush the wrinkles of
the ancient monolith. Kalinin seated himself on his haunches
under the overhanging rim of the stone, and said as he snapped
some twigs in half:
"This is where we ought to have been sitting whilst the rain was
"And so say I," I rejoined. "But pray continue your story."
"Yes, when you have put a match to the fire."
Whereafter, further withdrawing his spare frame under the stone,
so that he might stretch himself at full length, Kalinin
"I walked to the pantry quietly enough, though my legs were
tottering beneath me, and I had a cold sensation in my breast.
Suddenly I heard the dining-room echo to a merry peal of
laughter from Valentina Ignatievna, and the General reply to that
"'Ah, that man! Ah, these servants of ours! Why, the fellow would
do ANYTHING for a piatak '[A silver five-kopeck piece, equal in
value to 2 1/4 pence.]
"To this my beloved one retorted:
"'Oh, uncle, uncle! Is it only a piatak that I am worth?
And then I heard the doctor put in:
"'What was it you gave him?'
"'Merely some soda and tartaric acid. To think of the fun that we
Here, closing his eyes, Kalinin remained silent for a moment,
whilst the moist breeze sighed as it drove dense, wet mist
against the black branches of the trees.
"At first my feeling was one of overwhelming joy at the thought
that at least not DEATH was to be my fate. For I may tell you
that, so far from being harmful, soda and tartaric acid are
frequently taken as a remedy against drunken headache. Then the
thought occurred to me: 'But, since I am not a tippler, why
should such a joke have been played upon ME?' However, from that
moment I began to feel easier, and when the company had sat down
to dinner, and, amid a general silence, I was handing round the
soup, the doctor tasted his portion, and, raising his head with a
"'Forgive me, but what soup is this? '
"' Ah!' I inwardly reflected. 'Soon, good gentlefolk, you will
see how your jest has miscarried.'
"Aloud I replied--replied with complete boldness:
"'Do not fear, sir. I have taken the powder myself.'
Upon this the General and his wife, who were still in ignorance
that the jest had gone amiss, began to titter, but the others
said nothing, though Valentina Ignatievna's eyes grew rounder and
rounder, until in an undertone she murmured:
"'Did you KNOW that the stuff was harmless?'
"'I did not,' I replied. 'At least, not at the moment of my
"Whereafter falling headlong to the floor, I lost
Kalinin's small face had become painfully contracted, and grown
old and haggard-looking. Rolling over on to his breast before the
languishing fire, he waved a hand to dissipate the smoke which
was lazily drifting slant-wise.
"For seventeen days did I remain stretched on a sick-bed, and
was attended by the doctor in person. One day, when sitting by my
side, he inquired:
"'I presume your intention was to poison yourself, you foolish
"Yes, merely THAT was what he called me--a 'foolish fellow.' Yet
indeed, what was I to him? Only an entity which might become food
for dogs, for all he cared. Nor did Valentina Ignatievna herself
pay me a single visit, and my eyes never again beheld her. Before
long she and Dr. Kliachka were duly married, and departed to
Kharkov, where he was assigned a post in the Tchuguerski Camp.
Thus only the General remained. Rough and ready, he was,
nevertheless, old and sensible, and for that reason, did not
matter; wherefore I retained my situation as before. On my
recovery, he sent for me, and said in a tone of reproof:
"'Look here. You are not wholly an idiot. What has happened is
that those vile books of yours have corrupted your mind' (as a
matter of fact, I had never read a book in my life, since for
reading I have no love or inclination). 'Hence you must have seen
for yourself that only in tales do clowns marry princesses. You
know, life is like a game of chess. Every piece has its proper
move on the board, or the game could not be played at all.'"
Kalinin rubbed his hands over the fire (slender, non-workmanlike
hands they were), and winked and smiled.
"I took the General's words very seriously, and proceeded to ask
myself: 'To what do those words amount? To this: that though I
may not care actually to take part in the game, I need not waste
my whole existence through a disinclination to learn the best use
to which that existence can be put.'
With a triumphant uplift of tone, Kalinin continued:
"So, brother, I set myself to WATCH the game in question; with
the result that soon I discovered that the majority of men live
surrounded with a host of superfluous commodities which do but
burden them, and have in themselves no real value. What I refer
to is books, pictures, china, and rubbish of the same sort.
Thought I to myself: 'Why should I devote my life to tending and
dusting such commodities while risking, all the time, their
breakage? No more of it for me! Was it for the tending of such
articles that my mother bore me amid the agonies of childbirth?
Is it an existence of THIS kind that must be passed until the
tomb be reached? No, no--a thousand times no! Rather will I, with
your good leave, reject altogether the game of life, and subsist
as may be best for me, and as may happen to be my pleasure.'"
Now, as Kalinin spoke, his eyes emitted green sparks, and as he
waved his hands over the fire, as though to lop off the red
tongues of flame, his fingers twisted convulsively.
"Of course, not all at a stroke did I arrive at this conclusion;
I did so but gradually. The person who finally confirmed me in my
opinion was a friar of Baku, a sage of pre-eminent wisdom,
through his saying to me: 'With nothing at all ought a man to
fetter his soul. Neither with bond-service, nor with property,
nor with womankind, nor with any other concession to the
temptations of this world ought he to constrain its action.
Rather ought he to live alone, and to love none but Christ. Only
this is true. Only this will be for ever lasting.'
"And," added Kalinin with animation and inflated cheeks and
flushed, suppressed enthusiasm, "many lands and many peoples
have I seen, and always have I found (particularly in Russia)
that many folk already have reached an understanding of
themselves, and, consequently, refused any longer to render
obeisance to absurdities. 'Shun evil, and you will evolve good.'
That is what the friar said to me as a parting word--though long
before our encounter had I grasped the meaning of the axiom. And
that axiom I myself have since passed on to other folk, as I hope
to do yet many times in the future."
At this point the speaker's tone reverted to one of querulous
"Look how low the sun has sunk!" he exclaimed.
True enough, that luminary, large and round, was declining into--
rather, towards--the sea, while suspended between him and the
water were low, dark, white-topped cumuli.
"Soon nightfall will be overtaking us," continued Kalinin as he
fumbled in his kaftan. "And in these parts jackals howl when
darkness is come."
In particular did I notice three clouds that looked like Turks in
white turbans and robes of a dusky red colour. And as these cloud
Turks bent their heads together in private converse, suddenly
there swelled up on the back of one of the figures a hump, while
on the turban of a second there sprouted forth a pale pink
feather which, becoming detached from its base, went floating
upwards towards the zenith and the now rayless, despondent,
moonlike sun. Lastly the third Turk stooped forward over the sea
to screen his companions, and as he did so, developed a huge red
nose which comically seemed to dip towards, and sniff at, the
"Sometimes," continued Kalinin's even voice through the
crackling and hissing of the wood fire, "a man who is old and
blind may cobble a shoe better than cleverer men than he, can
order their whole lives."
But no longer did I desire to listen to Kalinin, for the threads
which had drawn me, bound me, to his personality had now parted.
All that I desired to do was to contemplate in silence the sea,
while thinking of some of those subjects which at eventide never
fail to stir the soul to gentle, kindly emotion. Bombers,
Kalinin's words continued dripping into my ear like belated
"Nowadays everybody is a busybody. Nowadays everyone inquires of
his fellow-man, 'How is your life ordered?' To which always
there is added didactically, 'But you ought not to live as you
are doing. Let me show you the way.' As though anyone can tell me
how best my life may attain full development, seeing that no one
can possibly have such a matter within his knowledge! Nay, let
every man live as best he pleases, without compulsion. For
instance, I have no need of you. In return, it is not your
business either to require or to expect aught of me. And this I
say though Father Vitali says the contrary, and avers that
throughout should man war with the evils of the world."
In the vague, wide firmament a blood-red cluster of clouds was
hanging, and as I contemplated it there occurred to me the
thought, "May not those clouds be erstwhile righteous world-folk
who are following an unseen path across that expanse, and dyeing
it red with their good blood as they go, in order that the earth
may be fertilised?"
To right and left of that strip of living flame the sea was of a
curious wine tint, while further off, rather, it was as soft and
black as velvet, and in the remote east sheet-lightning was
flashing even as though some giant hand were fruitlessly
endeavouring to strike a match against the sodden firmament.
Meanwhile Kalinin continued to discourse with enthusiasm on the
subject of Father Vitali, the Labour Superintendent of the
monastery of New Athos, while describing in detail the monk's
jovial, clever features with their pearly teeth and contrasting
black and silver beard. In particular he related how
once Vitali had knitted his fine, almost womanlike eyes, and said
in a bass which stressed its "o's":
"On our first arrival here, we found in possession only
prehistoric chaos and demoniacal influence. Everywhere had
clinging weeds grown to rankness; everywhere one found one's feet
entangled among bindweed and other vegetation of the sort. And
now see what beauty and joy and comfort the hand of man has
And, having thus spoken, the monk had traced a great circle with
his eye and doughty hand, a circle which had embraced as in a
frame the mount, and the gardens fashioned and developed by
ridgings of the rock, and the downy soil which had been beaten
into those ridgings, and the silver streak of waterfall playing
almost at Vitali's feet, and the stone-hewn staircase leading to
the cave of Simeon the Canaanite, and the gilded cupolas of the
new church where they had stood flashing in the noontide sun, and
the snow-white, shimmering blocks of the guesthouse and the
servants' quarters, and the glittering fishponds, and the trees
of uniform trimness, yet a uniformly regal dignity.
"Brethren," the monk had said in triumphant conclusion,
"wheresoever man may be, he will, as he so desires, be given power
to overcome the desolation of the wilds."
"And then I pressed him further," Kalinin added. " Yes, I said
to him: 'Nevertheless Christ, our Lord, was not like you, for He
was homeless and a wanderer. He was one who utterly rejected your
life of intensive cultivation of the soil'" (as he related the
incident Kalinin gave his head sundry jerks from side to side
which made his ears flap, to and fro). "'Also neither for the
lowly alone nor for the exalted alone did Christ exist. Rather,
He, like all great benefactors, was one who had no particular
leaning. Nay, even when He was roaming the Russian Land in
company with Saints Yuri and Nikolai, He always forbore to
intrude Himself into the villages' affairs, just as, whenever His
companions engaged in disputes concerning mankind, He never
failed to maintain silence on the subject.' Yes, thus I plagued
Vitali until he shouted at my head, 'Ah, impudence, you are a
By this time, the air under the lee of the stone was growing smoky
and oppressive, for the fire, with its flames looking like a
bouquet compounded of red poppies or azaleas and blooms of an
aureate tint, had begun fairly to live its beautiful existence,
and was blazing, and diffusing warmth, and laughing its bright,
cheerful, intelligent laugh. Yet from the mountains and the
cloud-masses evening was descending, as the earth emitted
profound gasps of humidity, and the sea intoned its vague,
thoughtful, resonant song.
"I presume we are going to pass the night here?" Kalinin at
"No, for my intention is, rather, to continue my journey."
"Then let us make an immediate start."
"But my direction will not be the same as yours, I think?"
Previously to this, Kalinin had squatted down upon his haunches,
and taken some bread and a few pears from his wallet; but now, on
hearing my decision, he replaced the viands in his receptacle,
snapped--to the lid of it with an air of vexation-- and asked:
"Why did you come with me at all?"
"Because I wanted to have a talk with you--I had found you an
"Yes. At least I am THAT; many like me do not exist."
"Pardon me; I have met several."
"Perhaps you have." After which utterance, doubtfully drawled,
the speaker added more sticks to the fire.
Eventide was falling with tardy languor, but, as yet, the sun,
though become a gigantic, dull, red lentil in appearance, was not
hidden, and the waves were still powerless to besprinkle his
downward road of fire. Presently, however, he subsided into a
cloud bank; whereupon darkness flooded the earth like water
poured from an empty basin, and the great kindly stars shone
forth, and the nocturnal profundity, enveloping the world, seemed
to soften it even as a human heart may be rendered gentle.
"Good-bye!" I said as I pressed my companion's small, yielding
hand: whereupon he looked me in the eyes in his open, boyish way,
"I wish I were going with you!"
"Well, come with me as far as Gudaout."
"Yes, I will."
So we set forth once more to traverse the land which I, so alien
to its inhabitants, yet so at one with all that it contained,
loved so dearly, and of which I yearned to fertilise the life in
return for the vitality with which it had filled my own
For daily, the threads with which my heart was bound to the world
at large were growing more numerous; daily my heart was storing
up something which had at its root a sense of love for life, of
interest in my fellow-man.
And that evening,as we proceeded on our way, the sea was
singing its vespertinal hymn, the rocks were rumbling as the
water caressed them, and on the furthermost edge of the dark void
there were floating dim white patches where the sunset's glow had
not yet faded-- though already stars were glowing in the zenith.
Meanwhile every slumbering treetop was aquiver, and as I
stepped across the scattered rain-pools, their water gurgled
dreamily, timidly under my feet.
Yes, that night I was a torch unto myself, for in my breast a red
flame was smouldering like a living beacon, and leading me to
long that some frightened, belated wayfarer should, as it were,
sight my little speck of radiancy amid the darkness.