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VILLAGE OF SHEEP'S SPRINGS, _March_ 20, 18--.
The doctor has just left me. At last I have got at something definite!
For all his cunning, he had to speak out at last. Yes, I am soon, very
soon, to die. The frozen rivers will break up, and with the last snow I
shall, most likely, swim away ... whither? God knows! To the ocean too.
Well, well, since one must die, one may as well die in the spring. But
isn't it absurd to begin a diary a fortnight, perhaps, before death?
What does it matter? And by how much are fourteen days less than
fourteen years, fourteen centuries? Beside eternity, they say, all is
nothingness--yes, but in that case eternity, too, is nothing. I see I
am letting myself drop into metaphysics; that's a bad sign--am I not
rather faint-hearted, perchance? I had better begin a description of
some sort. It's damp and windy out of doors.
I'm forbidden to go out. What can I write about, then? No decent man
talks of his maladies; to write a novel is not in my line; reflections
on elevated topics are beyond me; descriptions of the life going on
around me could not even interest me; while I am weary of doing
nothing, and too lazy to read. Ah, I have it, I will write the story of
all my life for myself. A first-rate idea! Just before death it is a
suitable thing to do, and can be of no harm to any one. I will begin.
I was born thirty years ago, the son of fairly well-to-do landowners.
My father had a passion for gambling; my mother was a woman of
character ... a very virtuous woman. Only, I have known no woman whose
moral excellence was less productive of happiness. She was crushed
beneath the weight of her own virtues, and was a source of misery to
every one, from herself upwards. In all the fifty years of her life,
she never once took rest, or sat with her hands in her lap; she was for
ever fussing and bustling about like an ant, and to absolutely no good
purpose, which cannot be said of the ant. The worm of restlessness
fretted her night and day. Only once I saw her perfectly tranquil, and
that was the day after her death, in her coffin. Looking at her, it
positively seemed to me that her face wore an expression of subdued
amazement; with the half-open lips, the sunken cheeks, and
meekly-staring eyes, it seemed expressing, all over, the words, 'How
good to be at rest!' Yes, it is good, good to be rid, at last, of the
wearing sense of life, of the persistent, restless consciousness of
existence! But that's neither here nor there.
I was brought up badly and not happily. My father and mother both loved
me; but that made things no better for me. My father was not, even in
his own house, of the slightest authority or consequence, being a man
openly abandoned to a shameful and ruinous vice; he was conscious of
his degradation, and not having the strength of will to give up his
darling passion, he tried at least, by his invariably amiable and
humble demeanour and his unswerving submissiveness, to win the
condescending consideration of his exemplary wife. My mother certainly
did bear her trial with the superb and majestic long-suffering of
virtue, in which there is so much of egoistic pride. She never
reproached my father for anything, gave him her last penny, and paid
his debts without a word. He exalted her as a paragon to her face and
behind her back, but did not like to be at home, and caressed me by
stealth, as though he were afraid of contaminating me by his presence.
But at such times his distorted features were full of such kindness,
the nervous grin on his lips was replaced by such a touching smile, and
his brown eyes, encircled by fine wrinkles, shone with such love, that
I could not help pressing my cheek to his, which was wet and warm with
tears. I wiped away those tears with my handkerchief, and they flowed
again without effort, like water from a brimming glass. I fell to
crying, too, and he comforted me, stroking my back and kissing me all
over my face with his quivering lips. Even now, more than twenty years
after his death, when I think of my poor father, dumb sobs rise into my
throat, and my heart beats as hotly and bitterly and aches with as
poignant a pity as if it had long to go on beating, as if there were
anything to be sorry for!
My mother's behaviour to me, on the contrary, was always the same,
kind, but cold. In children's books one often comes across such
mothers, sermonising and just. She loved me, but I did not love her.
Yes! I fought shy of my virtuous mother, and passionately loved my
But enough for to-day. It's a beginning, and as for the end, whatever
it may be, I needn't trouble my head about it. That's for my illness to
To-day it is marvellous weather. Warm, bright; the sunshine frolicking
gaily on the melting snow; everything shining, steaming, dripping; the
sparrows chattering like mad things about the drenched, dark hedges.
Sweetly and terribly, too, the moist air frets my sick chest. Spring,
spring is coming! I sit at the window and look across the river into
the open country. O nature! nature! I love thee so, but I came forth
from thy womb good for nothing--not fit even for life. There goes a
cock-sparrow, hopping along with outspread wings; he chirrups, and
every note, every ruffled feather on his little body, is breathing with
health and strength....
What follows from that? Nothing. He is well and has a right to chirrup
and ruffle his wings; but I am ill and must die--that's all. It's not
worth while to say more about it. And tearful invocations to nature are
mortally absurd. Let us get back to my story.
I was brought up, as I have said, very badly and not happily. I had no
brothers or sisters. I was educated at home. And, indeed, what would my
mother have had to occupy her, if I had been sent to a boarding-school
or a government college? That's what children are for--that their
parents may not be bored. We lived for the most part in the country,
and sometimes went to Moscow. I had tutors and teachers, as a matter of
course; one, in particular, has remained in my memory, a dried-up,
tearful German, Rickmann, an exceptionally mournful creature, cruelly
maltreated by destiny, and fruitlessly consumed by an intense pining
for his far-off fatherland. Sometimes, near the stove, in the fearful
stuffiness of the close ante-room, full of the sour smell of stale
kvas, my unshaved man-nurse, Vassily, nicknamed Goose, would sit,
playing cards with the coachman, Potap, in a new sheepskin, white as
foam, and superb tarred boots, while in the next room Rickmann would
sing, behind the partition--
Herz, mein Herz, warum so traurig?
Was bekümmert dich so sehr?
'Sist ja schön im fremden Lande--
Herz, mein Herz--was willst du mehr?'
After my father's death we moved to Moscow for good. I was twelve years
old. My father died in the night from a stroke. I shall never forget
that night. I was sleeping soundly, as children generally do; but I
remember, even in my sleep, I was aware of a heavy gasping noise at
regular intervals. Suddenly I felt some one taking hold of my shoulder
and poking me. I opened my eyes and saw my nurse. 'What is it?' 'Come
along, come along, Alexey Mihalitch is dying.' ... I was out of bed and
away like a mad thing into his bedroom. I looked: my father was lying
with his head thrown back, all red, and gasping fearfully. The servants
were crowding round the door with terrified faces; in the hall some one
was asking in a thick voice: 'Have they sent for the doctor?' In the
yard outside, a horse was being led from the stable, the gates were
creaking, a tallow candle was burning in the room on the floor, my
mother was there, terribly upset, but not oblivious of the proprieties,
nor of her own dignity. I flung myself on my father's bosom, and hugged
him, faltering: 'Papa, papa...' He lay motionless, screwing up his eyes
in a strange way. I looked into his face--an unendurable horror caught
my breath; I shrieked with terror, like a roughly captured bird--they
picked me up and carried me away. Only the day before, as though aware
his death was at hand, he had caressed me so passionately and
A sleepy, unkempt doctor, smelling strongly of spirits, was brought. My
father died under his lancet, and the next day, utterly stupefied by
grief, I stood with a candle in my hands before a table, on which lay
the dead man, and listened senselessly to the bass sing-song of the
deacon, interrupted from time to time by the weak voice of the priest.
The tears kept streaming over my cheeks, my lips, my collar, my
shirt-front. I was dissolved in tears; I watched persistently, I
watched intently, my father's rigid face, as though I expected
something of him; while my mother slowly bowed down to the ground,
slowly rose again, and pressed her fingers firmly to her forehead, her
shoulders, and her chest, as she crossed herself. I had not a single
idea in my head; I was utterly numb, but I felt something terrible was
happening to me.... Death looked me in the face that day and took note
We moved to Moscow after my father's death for a very simple cause: all
our estate was sold up by auction for debts--that is, absolutely all,
except one little village, the one in which I am at this moment living
out my magnificent existence. I must admit that, in spite of my youth
at the time, I grieved over the sale of our home, or rather, in
reality, I grieved over our garden. Almost my only bright memories are
associated with our garden. It was there that one mild spring evening I
buried my best friend, an old bob-tailed, crook-pawed dog, Trix. It was
there that, hidden in the long grass, I used to eat stolen
apples--sweet, red, Novgorod apples they were. There, too, I saw for
the first time, among the ripe raspberry bushes, the housemaid Klavdia,
who, in spite of her turned-up nose and habit of giggling in her
kerchief, aroused such a tender passion in me that I could hardly
breathe, and stood faint and tongue-tied in her presence; and once at
Easter, when it came to her turn to kiss my seignorial hand, I almost
flung myself at her feet to kiss her down-trodden goat-skin slippers.
My God! Can all that be twenty years ago? It seems not long ago that I
used to ride on my shaggy chestnut pony along the old fence of our
garden, and, standing up in the stirrups, used to pick the two-coloured
poplar leaves. While a man is living he is not conscious of his own
life; it becomes audible to him, like a sound, after the lapse of time.
Oh, my garden, oh, the tangled paths by the tiny pond! Oh, the little
sandy spot below the tumbledown dike, where I used to catch gudgeons!
And you tall birch-trees, with long hanging branches, from beyond which
came floating a peasant's mournful song, broken by the uneven jolting
of the cart, I send you my last farewell!... On parting with life, to
you alone I stretch out my hands. Would I might once more inhale the
fresh, bitter fragrance of the wormwood, the sweet scent of the mown
buckwheat in the fields of my native place! Would I might once more
hear far away the modest tinkle of the cracked bell of our parish
church; once more lie in the cool shade under the oak sapling on the
slope of the familiar ravine; once more watch the moving track of the
wind, flitting, a dark wave over the golden grass of our meadow!... Ah,
what's the good of all this? But I can't go on to-day. Enough till
To-day it's cold and overcast again. Such weather is a great deal more
suitable. It's more in harmony with my task. Yesterday, quite
inappropriately, stirred up a multitude of useless emotions and
memories within me. This shall not occur again. Sentimental out-breaks
are like liquorice; when first you suck it, it's not bad, but
afterwards it leaves a very nasty taste in the mouth. I will set to
work simply and serenely to tell the story of my life. And so, we moved
But it occurs to me, is it really worth while to tell the story of my
No, it certainly is not.... My life has not been different in any
respect from the lives of numbers of other people. The parental home,
the university, the government service in the lower grades, retirement,
a little circle of friends, decent poverty, modest pleasures,
unambitious pursuits, moderate desires--kindly tell me, is that new to
any one? And so I will not tell the story of my life, especially as I
am writing for my own pleasure; and if my past does not afford even me
any sensation of great pleasure or great pain, it must be that there is
nothing in it deserving of attention. I had better try to describe my
own character to myself. What manner of man am I?... It may be observed
that no one asks me that question--admitted. But there, I'm dying, by
Jove!--I'm dying, and at the point of death I really think one may be
excused a desire to find out what sort of a queer fish one really was
Thinking over this important question, and having, moreover, no need
whatever to be too bitter in my expressions in regard to myself, as
people are apt to be who have a strong conviction of their valuable
qualities, I must admit one thing. I was a man, or perhaps I should say
a fish, utterly superfluous in this world. And that I propose to show
to-morrow, as I keep coughing to-day like an old sheep, and my nurse,
Terentyevna, gives me no peace: 'Lie down, my good sir,' she says, 'and
drink a little tea.'... I know why she keeps on at me: she wants some
tea herself. Well! she's welcome! Why not let the poor old woman
extract the utmost benefit she can from her master at the last ... as
long as there is still the chance?
Winter again. The snow is falling in flakes. Superfluous,
superfluous.... That's a capital word I have hit on. The more deeply I
probe into myself, the more intently I review all my past life, the
more I am convinced of the strict truth of this expression.
Superfluous--that's just it. To other people that term is not
applicable.... People are bad, or good, clever, stupid, pleasant, and
disagreeable; but superfluous ... no. Understand me, though: the
universe could get on without those people too... no doubt; but
uselessness is not their prime characteristic, their most distinctive
attribute, and when you speak of them, the word 'superfluous' is not
the first to rise to your lips. But I ... there's nothing else one can
say about me; I'm superfluous and nothing more. A supernumerary, and
that's all. Nature, apparently, did not reckon on my appearance, and
consequently treated me as an unexpected and uninvited guest. A
facetious gentleman, a great devotee of preference, said very happily
about me that I was the forfeit my mother had paid at the game of life.
I am speaking about myself calmly now, without any bitterness.... It's
all over and done with! Throughout my whole life I was constantly
finding my place taken, perhaps because I did not look for my place
where I should have done. I was apprehensive, reserved, and irritable,
like all sickly people. Moreover, probably owing to excessive
self-consciousness, perhaps as the result of the generally unfortunate
cast of my personality, there existed between my thoughts and feelings,
and the expression of those feelings and thoughts, a sort of
inexplicable, irrational, and utterly insuperable barrier; and whenever
I made up my mind to overcome this obstacle by force, to break down
this barrier, my gestures, the expression of my face, my whole being,
took on an appearance of painful constraint. I not only seemed, I
positively became unnatural and affected. I was conscious of this
myself, and hastened to shrink back into myself. Then a terrible
commotion was set up within me. I analysed myself to the last thread,
compared myself with others, recalled the slightest glances, smiles,
words of the people to whom I had tried to open myself out, put the
worst construction on everything, laughed vindictively at my own
pretensions to 'be like every one else,'--and suddenly, in the midst of
my laughter, collapsed utterly into gloom, sank into absurd dejection,
and then began again as before--went round and round, in fact, like a
squirrel on its wheel. Whole days were spent in this harassing,
fruitless exercise. Well now, tell me, if you please, to whom and for
what is such a man of use? Why did this happen to me? what was the
reason of this trivial fretting at myself?--who knows? who can tell?
I remember I was driving once from Moscow in the diligence. It was a
good road, but the driver, though he had four horses harnessed abreast,
hitched on another, alongside of them. Such an unfortunate, utterly
useless, fifth horse--fastened somehow on to the front of the shaft by
a short stout cord, which mercilessly cuts his shoulder, forces him to
go with the most unnatural action, and gives his whole body the shape
of a comma--always arouses my deepest pity. I remarked to the driver
that I thought we might on this occasion have got on without the fifth
horse.... He was silent a moment, shook his head, lashed the horse a
dozen times across his thin back and under his distended belly, and
with a grin responded: 'Ay, to be sure; why do we drag him along with
us? What the devil's he for?' And here am I too dragged along. But,
thank goodness, the station is not far off.
Superfluous.... I promised to show the justice of my opinion, and I
will carry out my promise. I don't think it necessary to mention the
thousand trifles, everyday incidents and events, which would, however,
in the eyes of any thinking man, serve as irrefutable evidence in my
support--I mean, in support of my contention. I had better begin
straight away with one rather important incident, after which probably
there will be no doubt left of the accuracy of the term superfluous. I
repeat: I do not intend to indulge in minute details, but I cannot pass
over in silence one rather serious and significant fact, that is, the
strange behaviour of my friends (I too used to have friends) whenever I
met them, or even called on them. They used to seem ill at ease; as
they came to meet me, they would give a not quite natural smile, look,
not into my eyes nor at my feet, as some people do, but rather at my
cheeks, articulate hurriedly, 'Ah! how are you, Tchulkaturin!' (such is
the surname fate has burdened me with) or 'Ah! here's Tchulkaturin!'
turn away at once and positively remain stockstill for a little while
after, as though trying to recollect something. I used to notice all
this, as I am not devoid of penetration and the faculty of observation;
on the whole I am not a fool; I sometimes even have ideas come into my
head that are amusing, not absolutely commonplace. But as I am a
superfluous man with a padlock on my inner self, it is very painful for
me to express my idea, the more so as I know beforehand that I shall
express it badly. It positively sometimes strikes me as extraordinary
the way people manage to talk, and so simply and freely.... It's
marvellous, really, when you think of it. Though, to tell the truth, I
too, in spite of my padlock, sometimes have an itch to talk. But I did
actually utter words only in my youth; in riper years I almost always
pulled myself up. I would murmur to myself: 'Come, we'd better hold our
tongue.' And I was still. We are all good hands at being silent; our
women especially are great in that line. Many an exalted Russian young
lady keeps silent so strenuously that the spectacle is calculated to
produce a faint shudder and cold sweat even in any one prepared to face
it. But that's not the point, and it's not for me to criticise others.
I proceed to my promised narrative.
A few years back, owing to a combination of circumstances, very
insignificant in themselves, but very important for me, it was my lot
to spend six months in the district town O----. This town is all built
on a slope, and very uncomfortably built, too. There are reckoned to be
about eight hundred inhabitants in it, of exceptional poverty; the
houses are hardly worthy of the name; in the chief street, by way of an
apology for a pavement, there are here and there some huge white slabs
of rough-hewn limestone, in consequence of which even carts drive round
it instead of through it. In the very middle of an astoundingly dirty
square rises a diminutive yellowish edifice with black holes in it, and
in these holes sit men in big caps making a pretence of buying and
selling. In this place there is an extraordinarily high striped post
sticking up into the air, and near the post, in the interests of public
order, by command of the authorities, there is kept a cartload of
yellow hay, and one government hen struts to and fro. In short,
existence in the town of O---- is truly delightful. During the first
days of my stay in this town, I almost went out of my mind with
boredom. I ought to say of myself that, though I am, no doubt, a
superfluous man, I am not so of my own seeking; I'm morbid myself, but
I can't bear anything morbid.... I'm not even averse to happiness--
indeed, I've tried to approach it right and left.... And so it is no
wonder that I too can be bored like any other mortal. I was staying in
the town of O---- on official business.
Terentyevna has certainly sworn to make an end of me. Here's a specimen
of our conversation:--
TERENTYEVNA. Oh--oh, my good sir! what are you for ever writing for?
it's bad for you, keeping all on writing.
I. But I'm dull, Terentyevna.
SHE. Oh, you take a cup of tea now and lie down. By God's mercy you'll
get in a sweat and maybe doze a bit.
I. But I'm not sleepy.
SHE. Ah, sir! why do you talk so? Lord have mercy on you! Come, lie
down, lie down; it's better for you.
I. I shall die any way, Terentyevna!
SHE. Lord bless us and save us!... Well, do you want a little tea?
I. I shan't live through the week, Terentyevna!
SHE. Eh, eh! good sir, why do you talk so?... Well, I'll go and heat
Oh, decrepit, yellow, toothless creature! Am I really, even in your
eyes, not a man?
_March 24. Sharp frost_.
On the very day of my arrival in the town of O----, the official
business, above referred to, brought me into contact with a certain
Kirilla Matveitch Ozhogin, one of the chief functionaries of the
district; but I became intimate, or, as it is called, 'friends' with
him a fortnight later. His house was in the principal street, and was
distinguished from all the others by its size, its painted roof, and
the lions on its gates, lions of that species extraordinarily
resembling unsuccessful dogs, whose natural home is Moscow. From those
lions alone, one might safely conclude that Ozhogin was a man of
property. And so it was; he was the owner of four hundred peasants; he
entertained in his house all the best society of the town of O----, and
had a reputation for hospitality. At his door was seen the mayor with
his wide chestnut-coloured droshky and pair--an exceptionally bulky
man, who seemed as though cut out of material that had been laid by for
a long time. The other officials, too, used to drive to his receptions:
the attorney, a yellowish, spiteful creature; the land surveyor, a
wit--of German extraction, with a Tartar face; the inspector of means
of communication--a soft soul, who sang songs, but a scandalmonger; a
former marshal of the district--a gentleman with dyed hair, crumpled
shirt front, and tight trousers, and that lofty expression of face so
characteristic of men who have stood on trial. There used to come also
two landowners, inseparable friends, both no longer young and indeed a
little the worse for wear, of whom the younger was continually crushing
the elder and putting him to silence with one and the same reproach.
'Don't you talk, Sergei Sergeitch! What have you to say? Why, you spell
the word cork with two _k_'s in it.... Yes, gentlemen,' he would go on,
with all the fire of conviction, turning to the bystanders, 'Sergei
Sergeitch spells it not cork, but kork.' And every one present would
laugh, though probably not one of them was conspicuous for special
accuracy in orthography, while the luckless Sergei Sergeitch held his
tongue, and with a faint smile bowed his head. But I am forgetting that
my hours are numbered, and am letting myself go into too minute
descriptions. And so, without further beating about the bush,--Ozhogin
was married, he had a daughter, Elizaveta Kirillovna, and I fell in
love with this daughter.
Ozhogin himself was a commonplace person, neither good-looking nor
bad-looking; his wife resembled an aged chicken; but their daughter had
not taken after her parents. She was very pretty and of a bright and
gentle disposition. Her clear grey eyes looked out kindly and directly
from under childishly arched brows; she was almost always smiling, and
she laughed too, pretty often. Her fresh voice had a very pleasant
ring; she moved freely, rapidly, and blushed gaily. She did not dress
very stylishly, only plain dresses suited her. I did not make friends
quickly as a rule, and if I were at ease with any one from the
first--which, however, scarcely ever occurred--it said, I must own, a
great deal for my new acquaintance. I did not know at all how to behave
with women, and in their presence I either scowled and put on a morose
air, or grinned in the most idiotic way, and in my embarrassment turned
my tongue round and round in my mouth. With Elizaveta Kirillovna, on
the contrary, I felt at home from the first moment. It happened in this
I called one day at Ozhogin's before dinner, asked, 'At home?' was
told, 'The master's at home, dressing; please to walk into the
drawing-room.' I went into the drawing-room; I beheld standing at the
window, with her back to me, a girl in a white gown, with a cage in her
hands. I was, as my way was, somewhat taken aback; however, I showed no
sign of it, but merely coughed, for good manners. The girl turned round
quickly, so quickly that her curls gave her a slap in the face, saw me,
bowed, and with a smile showed me a little box half full of seeds. 'You
don't mind?' I, of course, as is the usual practice in such cases,
first bowed my head, and at the same time rapidly crooked my knees, and
straightened them out again (as though some one had given me a blow
from behind in the legs, a sure sign of good breeding and pleasant,
easy manners), and then smiled, raised my hand, and softly and
carefully brandished it twice in the air. The girl at once turned away
from me, took a little piece of board out of the cage, began vigorously
scraping it with a knife, and suddenly, without changing her attitude,
uttered the following words: 'This is papa's parrot.... Are you fond of
parrots?' 'I prefer siskins,' I answered, not without some effort. 'I
like siskins, too; but look at him, isn't he pretty? Look, he's not
afraid.' (What surprised me was that I was not afraid.) 'Come closer.
His name's Popka.' I went up, and bent down. 'Isn't he really sweet?'
She turned her face to me; but we were standing so close together, that
she had to throw her head back to get a look at me with her clear eyes.
I gazed at her; her rosy young face was smiling all over in such a
friendly way that I smiled too, and almost laughed aloud with delight.
The door opened; Mr. Ozhogin came in. I promptly went up to him, and
began talking to him very unconstrainedly. I don't know how it was, but
I stayed to dinner, and spent the whole evening with them; and next day
the Ozhogins' footman, an elongated, dull-eyed person, smiled upon me
as a friend of the family when he helped me off with my overcoat.
To find a haven of refuge, to build oneself even a temporary nest, to
feel the comfort of daily intercourse and habits, was a happiness I, a
superfluous man, with no family associations, had never before
experienced. If anything about me had had any resemblance to a flower,
and if the comparison were not so hackneyed, I would venture to say
that my soul blossomed from that day. Everything within me and about me
was suddenly transformed! My whole life was lighted up by love, the
whole of it, down to the paltriest details, like a dark, deserted room
when a light has been brought into it. I went to bed, and got up,
dressed, ate my breakfast, and smoked my pipe--differently from before.
I positively skipped along as I walked, as though wings were suddenly
sprouting from my shoulders. I was not for an instant, I remember, in
uncertainty with regard to the feeling Elizaveta Kirillovna inspired in
me. I fell passionately in love with her from the first day, and from
the first day I knew I was in love. During the course of three weeks I
saw her every day. Those three weeks were the happiest time in my life;
but the recollection of them is painful to me. I can't think of them
alone; I cannot help dwelling on what followed after them, and the
intensest bitterness slowly takes possession of my softened heart.
When a man is very happy, his brain, as is well known, is not very
active. A calm and delicious sensation, the sensation of satisfaction,
pervades his whole being; he is swallowed up by it; the consciousness
of personal life vanishes in him--he is in beatitude, as badly educated
poets say. But when, at last, this 'enchantment' is over, a man is
sometimes vexed and sorry that, in the midst of his bliss, he observed
himself so little; that he did not, by reflection, by recollection,
redouble and prolong his feelings ... as though the 'beatific' man had
time, and it were worth his while to reflect on his sensations! The
happy man is what the fly is in the sunshine. And so it is that, when I
recall those three weeks, it is almost impossible for me to retain in
my mind any exact and definite impression, all the more so as during
that time nothing very remarkable took place between us.... Those
twenty days are present to my imagination as something warm, and young,
and fragrant, a sort of streak of light in my dingy, greyish life. My
memory becomes all at once remorselessly clear and trustworthy, only
from the instant when, to use the phrase of badly-educated writers, the
blows of destiny began to fall upon me.
Yes, those three weeks.... Not but what they have left some images in
my mind. Sometimes when it happens to me to brood a long while on that
time, some memories suddenly float up out of the darkness of the
past--like stars which suddenly come out against the evening sky to
meet the eyes straining to catch sight of them. One country walk in a
wood has remained particularly distinct in my memory. There were four
of us, old Madame Ozhogin, Liza, I, and a certain Bizmyonkov, a petty
official of the town of O----, a light-haired, good-natured, and
harmless person. I shall have more to say of him later. Mr. Ozhogin had
stayed at home; he had a headache, from sleeping too long. The day was
exquisite; warm and soft. I must observe that pleasure-gardens and
picnic-parties are not to the taste of the average Russian. In district
towns, in the so-called public gardens, you never meet a living soul at
any time of the year; at the most, some old woman sits sighing and
moaning on a green garden seat, broiling in the sun, not far from a
sickly tree--and that, only if there is no greasy little bench in the
gateway near. But if there happens to be a scraggy birchwood in the
neighbourhood of the town, tradespeople and even officials gladly make
excursions thither on Sundays and holidays, with samovars, pies, and
melons; set all this abundance on the dusty grass, close by the road,
sit round, and eat and drink tea in the sweat of their brows till
evening. Just such a wood there was at that time a mile and a half from
the town of O---. We repaired there after dinner, duly drank our fill
of tea, and then all four began to wander about the wood. Bizmyonkov
walked with Madame Ozhogin on his arm, I with Liza on mine. The day was
already drawing to evening. I was at that time in the very fire of
first love (not more than a fortnight had passed since our first
meeting), in that condition of passionate and concentrated adoration,
when your whole soul innocently and unconsciously follows every
movement of the beloved being, when you can never have enough of her
presence, listen enough to her voice, when you smile with the look of a
child convalescent after sickness, and a man of the smallest experience
cannot fail at the first glance to recognise a hundred yards off what
is the matter with you. Till that day I had never happened to have Liza
on my arm. We walked side by side, stepping slowly over the green
grass. A light breeze, as it were, flitted about us between the white
stems of the birches, every now and then flapping the ribbon of her hat
into my face. I incessantly followed her eyes, until at last she turned
gaily to me and we both smiled at each other. The birds were chirping
approvingly above us, the blue sky peeped caressingly at us through the
delicate foliage. My head was going round with excess of bliss. I
hasten to remark, Liza was not a bit in love with me. She liked me; she
was never shy with any one, but it was not reserved for me to trouble
her childlike peace of mind. She walked arm in arm with me, as she
would with a brother. She was seventeen then.... And meanwhile, that
very evening, before my eyes, there began that soft inward ferment
which precedes the metamorphosis of the child into the woman.... I was
witness of that transformation of the whole being, that guileless
bewilderment, that agitated dreaminess; I was the first to detect the
sudden softness of the glance, the sudden ring in the voice--and oh,
fool! oh, superfluous man! For a whole week I had the face to imagine
that I, I was the cause of this transformation!
This was how it happened.
We walked rather a long while, till evening, and talked little. I was
silent, like all inexperienced lovers, and she, probably, had nothing
to say to me. But she seemed to be pondering over something, and shook
her head in a peculiar way, as she pensively nibbled a leaf she had
picked. Sometimes she started walking ahead, so resolutely...then all
at once stopped, waited for me, and looked round with lifted eyebrows
and a vague smile. On the previous evening we had read together. The
Prisoner of the Caucasus_. With what eagerness she had listened to me,
her face propped in both hands, and her bosom pressed against the
table! I began to speak of our yesterday's reading; she flushed, asked
me whether I had given the parrot any hemp-seed before starting, began
humming some little song aloud, and all at once was silent again. The
copse ended on one side in a rather high and abrupt precipice; below
coursed a winding stream, and beyond it, over an immense expanse,
stretched the boundless prairies, rising like waves, spreading wide
like a table-cloth, and broken here and there by ravines. Liza and I
were the first to come out at the edge of the wood; Bizmyonkov and the
elder lady were behind. We came out, stood still, and involuntarily we
both half shut our eyes; directly facing us, across a lurid mist, the
vast, purple sun was setting. Half the sky was flushed and glowing; red
rays fell slanting on the meadows, casting a crimson reflection even on
the side of the ravines in shadow, lying in gleams of fire on the
stream, where it was not hidden under the overhanging bushes, and, as
it were, leaning on the bosom of the precipice and the copse. We stood,
bathed in the blazing brilliance. I am not capable of describing all
the impassioned solemnity of this scene. They say that by a blind man
the colour red is imagined as the sound of a trumpet. I don't know how
far this comparison is correct, but really there was something of a
challenge in this glowing gold of the evening air, in the crimson flush
on sky and earth. I uttered a cry of rapture and at once turned to
Liza. She was looking straight at the sun. I remember the sunset glow
was reflected in little points of fire in her eyes. She was
overwhelmed, deeply moved. She made no response to my exclamation; for
a long while she stood, not stirring, with drooping head.... I held out
my hand to her; she turned away from me, and suddenly burst into tears.
I looked at her with secret, almost delighted amazement.... The voice
of Bizmyonkov was heard a couple of yards off. Liza quickly wiped her
tears and looked with a faltering smile at me. The elder lady came out
of the copse leaning on the arm of her flaxen-headed escort; they, in
their turn, admired the view. The old lady addressed some question to
Liza, and I could not help shuddering, I remember, when her daughter's
broken voice, like cracked glass, sounded in reply. Meanwhile the sun
had set, and the afterglow began to fade. We turned back. Again I took
Liza's arm in mine. It was still light in the wood, and I could clearly
distinguish her features. She was confused, and did not raise her eyes.
The flush that overspread her face did not vanish; it was as though she
were still standing in the rays of the setting sun.... Her hand
scarcely touched my arm. For a long while I could not frame a sentence;
my heart was beating so violently. Through the trees there was a
glimpse of the carriage in the distance; the coachman was coming at a
walking pace to meet us over the soft sand of the road.
'Lizaveta Kirillovna,' I brought out at last, 'what did you cry for?'
'I don't know,' she answered, after a short silence. She looked at me
with her soft eyes still wet with tears--her look struck me as changed,
and she was silent again.
'You are very fond, I see, of nature,' I pursued. That was not at all
what I meant to say, and the last words my tongue scarcely faltered out
to the end. She shook her head. I could not utter another word.... I
was waiting for something ... not an avowal--how was that possible? I
waited for a confiding glance, a question.... But Liza looked at the
ground, and kept silent. I repeated once more in a whisper: 'Why was
it?' and received no reply. She had grown, I saw that, ill at ease,
A quarter of an hour later we were sitting in the carriage driving to
the town. The horses flew along at an even trot; we were rapidly
whirled along through the darkening, damp air. I suddenly began
talking, more than once addressing first Bizmyonkov, and then Madame
Ozhogin. I did not look at Liza, but I could see that from her corner
in the carriage her eyes did not once rest on me. At home she roused
herself, but would not read with me, and soon went off to bed. A
turning-point, that turning-point I have spoken of, had been reached by
her. She had ceased to be a little girl, she too had begun ... like me
... to wait for something. She had not long to wait.
But that night I went home to my lodgings in a state of perfect
ecstasy. The vague half presentiment, half suspicion, which had been
arising within me, had vanished. The sudden constraint in Liza's manner
towards me I ascribed to maidenly bashfulness, timidity.... Hadn't I
read a thousand times over in many books that the first appearance of
love always agitates and alarms a young girl? I felt supremely happy,
and was already making all sorts of plans in my head.
If some one had whispered in my ear then: 'You're raving, my dear chap!
that's not a bit what's in store for you. What's in store for you is to
die all alone, in a wretched little cottage, amid the insufferable
grumbling of an old hag who will await your death with impatience to
sell your boots for a few coppers...'!
Yes, one can't help saying with the Russian philosopher--'How's one to
know what one doesn't know?'
Enough for to-day.
_March 25. A white winter day._
I have read over what I wrote yesterday, and was all but tearing up the
whole manuscript. I think my story's too spun out and too sentimental.
However, as the rest of my recollections of that time presents nothing
of a pleasurable character, except that peculiar sort of consolation
which Lermontov had in view when he said there is pleasure and pain in
irritating the sores of old wounds, why not indulge oneself? But one
must know where to draw the line. And so I will continue without any
sort of sentimentality.
During the whole of the week after the country excursion, my position
was in reality in no way improved, though the change in Liza became
more noticeable every day. I interpreted this change, as I have said
before, in the most favourable way for me.... The misfortune of
solitary and timid people--who are timid from self-consciousness--is
just that, though they have eyes and indeed open them wide, they see
nothing, or see everything in a false light, as though through coloured
spectacles. Their own ideas and speculations trip them up at every
step. At the commencement of our acquaintance, Liza behaved confidingly
and freely with me, like a child; perhaps there may even have been in
her attitude to me something more than mere childish liking.... But
after this strange, almost instantaneous change had taken place in her,
after a period of brief perplexity, she felt constrained in my
presence; she unconsciously turned away from me, and was at the same
time melancholy and dreamy.... She was waiting ... for what? She did
not know ... while I ... I, as I have said above, was delighted at this
change.... Yes, by God, I was ready to expire, as they say, with
rapture. Though I am prepared to allow that any one else in my place
might have been deceived.... Who is free from vanity? I need not say
that all this was only clear to me in the course of time, when I had to
lower my clipped and at no time over-powerful wings.
The misunderstanding that had arisen between Liza and me lasted a whole
week--and there is nothing surprising in that: it has been my lot to be
a witness of misunderstandings that have lasted for years and years.
Who was it said, by the way, that truth alone is powerful? Falsehood is
just as living as truth, if not more so. To be sure, I recollect that
even during that week I felt from time to time an uneasy gnawing astir
within me ... but solitary people like me, I say again, are as
incapable of understanding what is going on within them as what is
taking place before their eyes. And, besides, is love a natural
feeling? Is it natural for man to love? Love is a sickness; and for
sickness there is no law. Granting that there was at times an
unpleasant pang in my heart; well, everything inside me was turned
upside down. And how is one to know in such circumstances, what is all
right and what is all wrong? and what is the cause, and what the
significance, of each separate symptom? But, be that as it may, all
these misconceptions, presentiments, and hopes were shattered in the
One day--it was in the morning about twelve o'clock--I had hardly
entered Mr. Ozhogin's hall, when I heard an unfamiliar, mellow voice in
the drawing-room, the door opened, and a tall and slim man of
five-and-twenty appeared in the doorway, escorted by the master of the
house. He rapidly put on a military overcoat which lay on the slab, and
took cordial leave of Kirilla Matveitch. As he brushed past me, he
carelessly touched his foraging cap, and vanished with a clink of his
'Who is that?' I asked Ozhogin.
'Prince N., 'the latter responded, with a preoccupied face; 'sent from
Petersburg to collect recruits. But where are the servants?' he went on
in a tone of annoyance; 'no one handed him his coat.'
We went into the drawing-room.
'Has he been here long?' I inquired.
'Arrived yesterday evening, I'm told. I offered him a room here, but he
refused. He seems a very nice fellow, though.'
'Has he been long with you?'
'About an hour. He asked me to introduce him to Olimpiada Nikitishna.'
'And did you introduce him?'
'And Lizaveta Kirillovna, too, did he ...'
'He made her acquaintance, too, of course.'
I was silent for a space.
'Has he come here for long, do you know?'
'Yes, I believe he has to be here for a fortnight.'
And Kirilla Matveitch hurried away to dress. I walked several times up
and down the drawing-room. I don't recollect that Prince N.'s arrival
made any special impression on me at the time, except that feeling of
hostility which usually possesses us on the appearance of any new
person in our domestic circle. Possibly there was mingled with this
feeling something too of the nature of envy--of a shy and obscure
person from Moscow towards a brilliant officer from Petersburg. 'The
prince,' I mused, 'is an upstart from the capital; he'll look down upon
us....' I had not seen him for more than an instant, but I had had time
to perceive that he was good-looking, clever, and at his ease. After
pacing the room for some time, I stopped at last before a
looking-glass, pulled a comb out of my pocket, gave a picturesque
carelessness to my hair, and, as sometimes happens, became suddenly
absorbed in the contemplation of my own face. I remember my attention
centred anxiously about my nose; the soft and undefined outlines of
that feature afforded me no great satisfaction, when suddenly in the
dark depths of the sloping mirror, which reflected almost the whole
room, the door opened, and the slender figure of Liza appeared. I don't
know why I did not stir, and kept the same expression on my face. Liza
craned her head forward, looked intently at me, and raising her
eyebrows, biting her lips, and holding her breath as any one does who
is glad at not being noticed, she cautiously drew back and stealthily
drew the door to after her. The door creaked slightly. Liza started and
stood rooted to the spot... I still kept from stirring ... she pulled
the handle again and vanished. There was no possibility of doubt: the
expression of Liza's face at the sight of my figure, that expression in
which nothing could be detected except a desire to get away again
successfully, to escape a disagreeable interview, the quick flash of
delight I had time to catch in her eyes when she fancied she really had
managed to creep away unnoticed--it all spoke too clearly; that girl
did not love me. For a long, long while I could not take my eyes off
that motionless, dumb door, which was once more a patch of white in the
looking-glass. I tried to smile at my own long face--dropped my head,
went home again, and flung myself on the sofa. I felt extraordinarily
heavy at heart, so much so that I could not cry ... and, besides, what
was there to cry about...? 'Is it possible?' I repeated incessantly,
lying, as though I were murdered, on my back with my hands folded on my
breast--'is it possible?'...Don't you think that's rather good, that
'is it possible?'
_March 26. Thaw._
When, next day, after long hesitation and with a low sinking at my
heart, I went into the Ozhogins' familiar drawing-room, I was no longer
the same man as they had known during the last three weeks. All my old
peculiarities, which I had begun to get over, under the influence of a
new feeling, reappeared and took possession of me, like proprietors
returning to their house. People of my sort are usually guided, not so
much by positive facts, as by their own impressions: I, who no longer
ago than the day before had been dreaming of the 'raptures of love
returned,' was that day no less convinced of my 'unhappiness,' and was
absolutely despairing, though I was not myself able to find any
rational ground for my despair. I could not as yet be jealous of Prince
N., and whatever his qualities might be, his mere arrival was not
sufficient to extinguish Liza's good-will towards me at once.... But
stay, was there any good-will on her part? I recalled the past. 'What
of the walk in the wood?' I asked myself. 'What of the expression of
her face in the glass?' 'But,' I went on, 'the walk in the wood, I
think ... Fie on me! my God, what a wretched creature I am!' I said at
last, out loud. Of such sort were the unphrased, incomplete thoughts
that went round and round a thousand times over in a monotonous whirl
in my head. I repeat, I went back to the Ozhogins' the same
hypersensitive, suspicious, constrained creature I had been from my
I found the whole family in the drawing-room; Bizmyonkov was sitting
there, too, in a corner. Every one seemed in high good-humour; Ozhogin,
in particular, positively beamed, and his first word was to tell me
that Prince N. had spent the whole of the previous evening with them.
Liza gave me a tranquil greeting. 'Oh,' said I to myself; 'now I
understand why you're in such spirits.' I must own the prince's second
visit puzzled me. I had not anticipated it. As a rule fellows like me
anticipate everything in the world, except what is bound to occur in
the natural order of things; I sulked and put on the air of an injured
but magnanimous person; I tried to punish Liza by showing my
displeasure, from which one must conclude I was not yet completely
desperate after all. They do say that in some cases when one is really
loved, it's positively of use to torment the adored one; but in my
position it was indescribably stupid. Liza, in the most innocent way,
paid no attention to me. No one but Madame Ozhogin observed my solemn
taciturnity, and she inquired anxiously after my health. I replied, of
course, with a bitter smile, that I was thankful to say I was perfectly
well. Ozhogin continued to expatiate on the subject of their visitor;
but noticing that I responded reluctantly, he addressed himself
principally to Bizmyonkov, who was listening to him with great
attention, when a servant suddenly came in, announcing the arrival of
Prince N. Our host jumped up and ran to meet him; Liza, upon whom I at
once turned an eagle eye, flushed with delight, and made as though she
would move from her seat. The prince came in, all agreeable perfume,
As I am not composing a romance for a gentle reader, but simply writing
for my own amusement, it stands to reason I need not make use of the
usual dodges of our respected authors. I will say straight out without
further delay that Liza fell passionately in love with the prince from
the first day she saw him, and the prince fell in love with her
too--partly from having nothing to do, and partly from a propensity for
turning women's heads, and also owing to the fact that Liza really was
a very charming creature. There was nothing to be wondered at in their
falling in love with each other. He had certainly never expected to
find such a pearl in such a wretched shell (I am alluding to the
God-forsaken town of O----), and she had never in her wildest dreams
seen anything in the least like this brilliant, clever, fascinating
After the first courtesies, Ozhogin introduced me to the prince, who
was very affable in his behaviour to me. He was as a rule very affable
with every one; and in spite of the immeasurable distance between him
and our obscure provincial circle, he was clever enough to avoid being
a source of constraint to any one, and even to make a show of being on
our level, and only living at Petersburg, as it were, by accident.
That first evening.... Oh, that first evening! In our happy days of
childhood our teachers used to describe and set up before us as an
example the manly fortitude of the young Spartan, who, having stolen a
fox and hidden it under his tunic, without uttering one shriek let it
devour all his entrails, and so preferred death itself to disgrace....
I can find no better comparison for my indescribable sufferings during
the evening on which I first saw the prince by Liza's side. My
continual forced smile and painful vigilance, my idiotic silence, my
miserable and ineffectual desire to get away--all that was doubtless
something truly remarkable in its own way. It was not one wild beast
alone gnawing at my vitals; jealousy, envy, the sense of my own
insignificance, and helpless hatred were torturing me. I could not but
admit that the prince really was a very agreeable young man.... I
devoured him with my eyes; I really believe I forgot to blink as usual,
as I stared at him. He talked not to Liza alone, but all he said was of
course really for her. He must have felt me a great bore. He most
likely guessed directly that it was a discarded lover he had to deal
with, but from sympathy for me, and also a profound sense of my
absolute armlessness, he treated me with extraordinary gentleness. You
can fancy how this wounded me! In the course of the evening I tried, I
remember, to smooth over my mistake. I positively (don't laugh at me,
whoever you may be, who chance to look through these lines--especially
as it was my last illusion...) ... I, positively, in the midst of my
different sufferings, imagined all of a sudden that Liza wanted to
punish me for my haughty coldness at the beginning of my visit, that
she was angry with me and only flirting with the prince from pique....
I seized my opportunity and with a meek but gracious smile, I went up
to her, and muttered--'Enough, forgive me, not that I'm afraid ...' and
suddenly, without awaiting her reply, I gave my features an
extraordinarily cheerful and free-and-easy expression, with a set grin,
passed my hand above my head in the direction of the ceiling (I wanted,
I remember, to set my cravat straight), and was even on the point of
pirouetting round on one foot, as though to say, 'All is over, I am
happy, let's all be happy,'--I did not, however, execute this
manoeuvre, as I was afraid of losing my balance, owing to an unnatural
stiffness in my knees.... Liza failed absolutely to understand me; she
looked in my face with amazement, gave a hasty smile, as though she
wanted to get rid of me as quickly as possible, and again approached
the prince. Blind and deaf as I was, I could not but be inwardly aware
that she was not in the least angry, and was not annoyed with me at
that instant: she simply never gave me a thought. The blow was a final
one. My last hopes were shattered with a crash, just as a block of ice,
thawed by the sunshine of spring, suddenly falls into tiny morsels. I
was utterly defeated at the first skirmish, and, like the Prussians at
Jena, lost everything at once in one day. No, she was not angry with
Alas, it was quite the contrary! She too--I saw that--was being swept
off her feet by the torrent. Like a young tree, already half torn from
the bank, she bent eagerly over the stream, ready to abandon to it for
ever the first blossom of her spring and her whole life. A man whose
fate it has been to be the witness of such a passion, has lived through
bitter moments if he has loved himself and not been loved. I shall for
ever remember that devouring attention, that tender gaiety, that
innocent self-oblivion, that glance, still a child's and already a
woman's, that happy, as it were flowering smile that never left the
half-parted lips and glowing cheeks.... All that Liza had vaguely
foreshadowed during our walk in the wood had come to pass now--and she,
as she gave herself up utterly to love, was at once stiller and
brighter, like new wine, which ceases to ferment because its full
maturity has come....
I had the fortitude to sit through that first evening and the
subsequent evenings ... all to the end! I could have no hope of
anything. Liza and the prince became every day more devoted to each
other ... But I had absolutely lost all sense of personal dignity, and
could not tear myself away from the spectacle of my own misery. I
remember one day I tried not to go, swore to myself in the morning that
I would stay at home, and at eight o'clock in the evening (I usually
set off at seven) leaped up like a madman, put on my hat, and ran
breathless into Kirilla Matveitch's drawing-room. My position was
excessively absurd. I was obstinately silent; sometimes for whole days
together I did not utter a sound. I was, as I have said already, never
distinguished for eloquence; but now everything I had in my mind took
flight, as it were, in the presence of the prince, and I was left bare
and bereft. Besides, when I was alone, I set my wretched brain working
so hard, slowly going over everything I had noticed or surmised during
the preceding day, that when I went back to the Ozhogins' I scarcely
had energy left to observe again. They treated me considerately, as a
sick person; I saw that. Every morning I adopted some new, final
resolution, for the most part painfully hatched in the course of a
sleepless night. At one time I made up my mind to have it out with
Liza, to give her friendly advice ... but when I chanced to be alone
with her, my tongue suddenly ceased to work, froze as it were, and we
both, in great discomfort, waited for the entrance of some third
person. Another time I meant to run away, of course for ever, leaving
my beloved a letter full of reproaches, and I even one day began this
letter; but the sense of justice had not yet quite vanished in me. I
realised that I had no right to reproach any one for anything, and I
flung what I had written in the fire. Then I suddenly offered myself up
wholly as a sacrifice, gave Liza my benediction, praying for her
happiness, and smiled in meek and friendly fashion from my corner at
the prince. But the cruel-hearted lovers not only never thanked me for
my self-sacrifice, they never even noticed me, and were, apparently,
quite ready to dispense with my smiles and my blessings....
Then, in wrath, I suddenly flew into quite the opposite mood. I swore
to myself, wrapping my cloak about me like a Spaniard, to rush out from
some dark corner and stab my lucky rival, and with brutal glee I
imagined Liza's despair.... But, in the first place, such corners were
few in the town of O----; and, secondly--the wooden fence, the street
lamp, the policeman in the distance.... No! in such corners it was
somehow far more suitable to sell buns and oranges than to shed human
blood. I must own that, among other means of deliverance, as I very
vaguely expressed it in my colloquies with myself, I did entertain the
idea of having recourse to Ozhogin himself ... of calling the attention
of that nobleman to the perilous situation of his daughter, and the
mournful consequences of her indiscretion....
I even once began speaking to him on a certain delicate subject; but my
remarks were so indirect and misty, that after listening and listening
to me, he suddenly, as it were, waking up, rubbed his hand rapidly and
vigorously all over his face, not sparing his nose, gave a snort, and
walked away from me. It is needless to say that in resolving on this
step I persuaded myself that I was acting from the most disinterested
motives, was desirous of the general welfare, and was doing my duty as
a friend of the house.... But I venture to think that even had Kirilla
Matveitch not cut short my outpourings, I should in any case not have
had courage to finish my monologue. At times I set to work with all the
solemnity of some sage of antiquity, weighing the qualities of the
prince; at times I comforted myself with the hope that it was all of no
consequence, that Liza would recover her senses, that her love was not
real love ... oh, no! In short, I know no idea that I did not worry
myself with at that time. There was only one resource which never, I
candidly admit, entered my head: I never once thought of taking my
life. Why it did not occur to me I don't know.... Possibly, even then,
I had a presentiment I should not have long to live in any case.
It will be readily understood that in such unfavourable circumstances
my manner, my behaviour with people, was more than ever marked by
unnaturalness and constraint. Even Madame Ozhogin--that creature
dull-witted from her birth up--began to shun me, and at times did not
know in what way to approach me. Bizmyonkov, always polite and ready to
do services, avoided me. I fancied even at that time that I had in him
a companion in misfortune--that he too loved Liza. But he never
responded to my hints, and altogether showed a reluctance to converse
with me. The prince behaved in a very friendly way to him; the prince,
one might say, respected him. Neither Bizmyonkov nor I was any obstacle
to the prince and Liza; but he did not shun them as I did, nor look
savage nor injured--and readily joined them when they desired it. It is
true that on such occasions he was not conspicuous for any special
mirthfulness; but his good-humour had always been somewhat subdued in
In this fashion about a fortnight passed by. The prince was not only
handsome and clever: he played the piano, sang, sketched fairly well,
and was a good hand at telling stories. His anecdotes, drawn from the
highest circles of Petersburg society, always made a great impression
on his audience, all the more so from the fact that he seemed to attach
no importance to them....
The consequence of this, if you like, simple accomplishment of the
prince's was that in the course of his not very protracted stay in the
town of O---- he completely fascinated all the neighbourhood. To
fascinate us poor dwellers in the steppes is at all times a very easy
task for any one coming from higher spheres. The prince's frequent
visits to the Ozhogins (he used to spend his evenings there) of course
aroused the jealousy of the other worthy gentry and officials of the
town. But the prince, like a clever person and a man of the world,
never neglected a single one of them; he called on all of them; to
every married lady and every unmarried miss he addressed at least one
flattering phrase, allowed them to feed him on elaborately solid
edibles, and to make him drink wretched wines with magnificent names;
and conducted himself, in short, like a model of caution and tact.
Prince N---- was in general a man of lively manners, sociable and
genial by inclination, and in this case incidentally from prudential
motives also; he could not fail to be a complete success in everything.
Ever since his arrival, all in the house had felt that the time had
flown by with unusual rapidity; everything had gone off beautifully.
Papa Ozhogin, though he pretended that he noticed nothing, was
doubtless rubbing his hands in private at the idea of such a
son-in-law. The prince, for his part, managed matters with the utmost
sobriety and discretion, when, all of a sudden, an unexpected
Till to-morrow. To-day I'm tired. These recollections irritate me even
at the edge of the grave. Terentyevna noticed to-day that my nose has
already begun to grow sharp; and that, they say, is a bad sign.
_March 27. Thaw continuing._
Things were in the position described above: the prince and Liza were
in love with each other; the old Ozhogins were waiting to see what
would come of it; Bizmyonkov was present at the proceedings--there was
nothing else to be said of him. I was struggling like a fish on the
ice, and watching with all my might,--I remember that at that time I
set myself the task of preventing Liza at least from falling into the
snares of a seducer, and consequently began paying particular attention
to the maidservants and the fateful 'back stairs'--though, on the other
hand, I often spent whole nights in dreaming with what touching
magnanimity I would one day hold out a hand to the betrayed victim and
say to her, 'The traitor has deceived thee; but I am thy true friend
... let us forget the past and be happy!'--when sudden and glad
tidings overspread the whole town. The marshal of the district proposed
to give a great ball in honour of their respected guest, on his private
estate Gornostaevka. All the official world, big and little, of the
town of O---- received invitations, from the mayor down to the
apothecary, an excessively emaciated German, with ferocious pretensions
to a good Russian accent, which led him into continually and quite
inappropriately employing racy colloquialisms.... Tremendous
preparations were, of course, put in hand. One purveyor of cosmetics
sold sixteen dark-blue jars of pomatum, which bore the inscription _ŕ
la jesmin_. The young ladies provided themselves with tight dresses,
agonising in the waist and jutting out sharply over the stomach; the
mammas put formidable erections on their heads by way of caps; the busy
papas were half dead with the bustle. The longed-for day arrived at
last. I was among those invited. From the town to Gornostaevka was
reckoned between seven and eight miles. Kirilla Matveitch offered me a
seat in his coach; but I refused.... In the same way children, who have
been punished, wishing to pay their parents out, refuse their favourite
dainties at table. Besides, I felt that my presence would be felt as a
constraint by Liza. Bizmyonkov took my place. The prince drove in his
own carriage, and I in a wretched little droshky, hired for an immense
sum for this solemn occasion. I am not going to describe that ball.
Everything about it was just as it always is. There was a band, with
trumpets extraordinarily out of tune, in the gallery; there were
country gentlemen, greatly flustered, with their inevitable families,
mauve ices, viscous lemonade; servants in boots trodden down at heel
and knitted cotton gloves; provincial lions with spasmodically
contorted faces, and so on and so on. And all this little world was
revolving round its sun--round the prince. Lost in the crowd,
unnoticed even by the young ladies of eight-and-forty, with red pimples
on their brows and blue flowers on the top of their heads, I stared
incessantly, first at the prince, then at Liza. She was very charmingly
dressed and very pretty that evening. They only twice danced together
(it is true, he danced the mazurka with her); but it seemed, to me at
least, that there was a sort of secret, continuous communication
between them. Even while not looking at her, while not speaking to her,
he was still, as it were, addressing her, and her alone. He was
handsome and brilliant and charming with other people--for her sake
only. She was apparently conscious that she was the queen of the ball,
and that she was loved. Her face at once beamed with childlike delight
and innocent pride, and was suddenly illuminated by another, deeper
feeling. Happiness radiated from her. I observed all this.... It was
not the first time I had watched them.... At first this wounded me
intensely; afterwards it, as it were, touched me; but, finally, it
infuriated me. I suddenly felt extraordinarily wrathful, and, I
remember, was extraordinarily delighted at this new sensation, and even
conceived a certain respect for myself. 'We'll show them we're not
crushed yet,' I said to myself. When the first inviting notes of the
mazurka sounded, I looked about me with composure, and with a cool and
easy air approached a long-faced young lady with a red and shiny nose,
a mouth that stood awkwardly open, as though it had come unbuttoned,
and a scraggy neck that recalled the handle of a bass-viol. I went up
to her, and, with a perfunctory scrape of my heels, invited her to the
dance. She was wearing a dress of faded rosebud pink, not full-blown
rose colour; on her head quivered a striped and dejected beetle of some
sort on a thick bronze pin; and altogether this lady was, if one may so
express it, soaked through and through with a sort of sour ennui and
inveterate lack of success. From the very commencement of the evening
she had not once stirred from her seat; no one had thought of asking
her to dance. One flaxen-headed youth of sixteen had, through lack of a
partner, been on the point of addressing this lady, and had taken a
step in her direction, but had thought better of it, stared at her, and
hurriedly dived into the crowd. You can fancy with what joyful
amazement she agreed to my proposal! I led her in triumph right across
the ballroom, picked out two chairs, and sat down with her in the ring
of the mazurka, among ten couples, almost opposite the prince, who had,
of course, been offered the first place. The prince, as I have said
already, was dancing with Liza. Neither I nor my partner was disturbed
by invitations; consequently, we had plenty of time for conversation.
To tell the truth, my partner was not conspicuous for her capacity for
the utterance of words in consecutive speech; she used her mouth
principally for the achievement of a strange downward smile such as I
had never till then beheld; while she raised her eyes upward, as though
some unseen force were pulling her face in two. But I did not feel her
lack of eloquence. Happily I felt full of wrath, and my partner did not
make me shy. I fell to finding fault with everything and every one in
the world, with especial emphasis on town-bred youngsters and
Petersburg dandies; and went to such lengths at last, that my partner
gradually ceased smiling, and instead of turning her eyes upward, began
suddenly--from astonishment, I suppose--to squint, and that so
strangely, as though she had for the first time observed the fact that
she had a nose on her face. And one of the lions, referred to above,
who was sitting next me, did not once take his eyes off me; he
positively turned to me with the expression of an actor on the stage,
who has waked up in an unfamiliar place, as though he would say, 'Is it
really you!' While I poured forth this tirade, I still, however, kept
watch on the prince and Liza. They were continually invited; but I
suffered less when they were both dancing; and even when they were
sitting side by side, and smiling as they talked to each other that
sweet smile which hardly leaves the faces of happy lovers, even then I
was not in such torture; but when Liza flitted across the room with
some desperate dandy of an hussar, while the prince with her blue gauze
scarf on his knees followed her dreamily with his eyes, as though
delighting in his conquest;--then, oh! then, I went through intolerable
agonies, and in my anger gave vent to such spiteful observations, that
the pupils of my partner's eyes simply fastened on her nose!
Meanwhile the mazurka was drawing to a close. They were beginning the
figure called _la confidente_. In this figure the lady sits in the
middle of a circle, chooses another lady as her confidant, and whispers
in her ear the name of the gentleman with whom she wishes to dance.
Her partner conducts one after another of the dancers to her; but the
lady, who is in the secret, refuses them, till at last the happy man
fixed on beforehand arrives. Liza sat in the middle of the circle and
chose the daughter of the host, one of those young ladies of whom one
says, 'God help them!'... The prince proceeded to discover her choice.
After presenting about a dozen young men to her in vain (the daughter
of the house refused them all with the most amiable of smiles), he at
last turned to me.
Something extraordinary took place within me at that instant; I, as it
were, twitched all over, and would have refused, but got up and went
along. The prince conducted me to Liza.... She did not even look at me;
the daughter of the house shook her head in refusal, the prince turned
to me, and, probably incited by the goose-like expression of my face,
made me a deep bow. This sarcastic bow, this refusal, transmitted to me
through my triumphant rival, his careless smile, Liza's indifferent
inattention, all this lashed me to frenzy.... I moved up to the prince
and whispered furiously, 'You think fit to laugh at me, it seems?'
The prince looked at me with contemptuous surprise, took my arm again,
and making a show of re-conducting me to my seat, answered coldly, 'I?'
'Yes, you!' I went on in a whisper, obeying, however--that is to say,
following him to my place; 'you; but I do not intend to permit any
empty-headed Petersburg up-start----'
The prince smiled tranquilly, almost condescendingly, pressed my arm,
whispered, 'I understand you; but this is not the place; we will have a
word later,' turned away from me, went up to Bizmyonkov, and led him up
to Liza. The pale little official turned out to be the chosen partner.
Liza got up to meet him.
Sitting beside my partner with the dejected beetle on her head, I felt
almost a hero. My heart beat violently, my breast heaved gallantly
under my starched shirt front, I drew deep and hurried breaths, and
suddenly gave the local lion near me such a magnificent glare that
there was an involuntary quiver of his foot in my direction. Having
disposed of this person, I scanned the whole circle of dancers.... I
fancied two or three gentlemen were staring at me with some perplexity;
but, in general, my conversation with the prince had passed
unnoticed.... My rival was already back in his chair, perfectly
composed, and with the same smile on his face. Bizmyonkov led Liza back
to her place. She gave him a friendly bow, and at once turned to the
prince, as I fancied, with some alarm. But he laughed in response, with
a graceful wave of his hand, and must have said something very
agreeable to her, for she flushed with delight, dropped her eyes, and
then bent them with affectionate reproach upon him.
The heroic frame of mind, which had suddenly developed in me, had not
disappeared by the end of the mazurka; but I did not indulge in any
more epigrams or 'quizzing.' I contented myself with glancing
occasionally with gloomy severity at my partner, who was obviously
beginning to be afraid of me, and was utterly tongue-tied and
continuously blinking by the time I placed her under the protection of
her mother, a very fat woman with a red cap on her head. Having
consigned the scared maiden lady to her natural belongings, I turned
away to a window, folded my arms, and began to await what would happen.
I had rather long to wait. The prince was the whole time surrounded by
his host--surrounded, simply, as England is surrounded by the sea,--to
say nothing of the other members of the marshal's family and the rest
of the guests. And besides, he could hardly go up to such an
insignificant person as me and begin to talk without arousing a general
feeling of surprise. This insignificance, I remember, was positively a
joy to me at the time. 'All right,' I thought, as I watched him
courteously addressing first one and then another highly respected
personage, honoured by his notice, if only for an 'instant's flash,' as
the poets say;--'all right, my dear ... you'll come to me soon--I've
insulted you, anyway.' At last the prince, adroitly escaping from the
throng of his adorers, passed close by me, looked somewhere between the
window and my hair, was turning away, and suddenly stood still, as
though he had recollected something. 'Ah, yes!' he said, turning to me
with a smile, 'by the way, I have a little matter to talk to you
Two country gentlemen, of the most persistent, who were obstinately
pursuing the prince, probably imagined the 'little matter' to relate to
official business, and respectfully fell back. The prince took my arm
and led me apart. My heart was thumping at my ribs.
'You, I believe,' he began, emphasising the word _you,_ and looking at
my chin with a contemptuous expression, which, strange to say, was
supremely becoming to his fresh and handsome face, 'you said something
abusive to me?'
'I said what I thought,' I replied, raising my voice.
'Sh ... quietly,' he observed; 'decent people don't bawl. You would
like, perhaps, to fight me?'
'That's your affair,' I answered, drawing myself up.
'I shall be obliged to challenge you,' he remarked carelessly, 'if you
don't withdraw your expressions....'
'I do not intend to withdraw from anything,' I rejoined with pride.
'Really?' he observed, with an ironical smile.
'In that case,' he continued, after a brief pause, 'I shall have the
honour of sending my second to you to-morrow.'
'Very good, 'I said in a voice, if possible, even more indifferent.
The prince gave a slight bow.
'I cannot prevent you from considering me empty-headed,' he added, with
a haughty droop of his eyelids; 'but the Princes' N---- cannot be
upstarts. Good-bye till we meet, Mr.... Mr. Shtukaturin.'
He quickly turned his back on me, and again approached his host, who
was already beginning to get excited.
Mr. Shtukaturin!... My name is Tchulkaturin.... I could think of
nothing to say to him in reply to this last insult, and could only gaze
after him with fury. 'Till to-morrow,' I muttered, clenching my teeth,
and I at once looked for an officer of my acquaintance, a cavalry
captain in the Uhlans, called Koloberdyaev, a desperate rake, and a
very good fellow. To him I related, in few words, my quarrel with the
prince, and asked him to be my second. He, of course, promptly
consented, and I went home.
I could not sleep all night--from excitement, not from cowardice. I am
not a coward. I positively thought very little of the possibility
confronting me of losing my life--that, as the Germans assure us,
highest good on earth. I could think only of Liza, of my ruined hopes,
of what I ought to do. 'Ought I to try to kill the prince?' I asked
myself; and, of course, I wanted to kill him--not from revenge, but
from a desire for Liza's good. 'But she will not survive such a blow,'
I went on. 'No, better let him kill me!' I must own it was an agreeable
reflection, too, that I, an obscure provincial person, had forced a man
of such consequence to fight a duel with me.
The morning light found me still absorbed in these reflections; and,
not long after it, appeared Koloberdyaev.
'Well,' he asked me, entering my room with a clatter, 'where's the
prince's second?' 'Upon my word,' I answered with annoyance, 'it's
seven o'clock at the most; the prince is still asleep, I should
imagine.' 'In that case,' replied the cavalry officer, in nowise
daunted, 'order some tea for me. My head aches from yesterday
evening.... I've not taken my clothes off all night. Though, indeed,'
he added with a yawn, 'I don't as a rule often take my clothes off.'
Some tea was given him. He drank off six glasses of tea and rum, smoked
four pipes, told me he had on the previous day bought, for next to
nothing, a horse the coachman refused to drive, and that he was meaning
to drive her out with one of her fore legs tied up, and fell asleep,
without undressing, on the sofa, with a pipe in his mouth. I got up and
put my papers to rights. One note of invitation from Liza, the one note
I had received from her, I was on the point of putting in my bosom, but
on second thoughts I flung it in a drawer. Koloberdyaev was snoring
feebly, with his head hanging from the leather pillow.... For a long
while, I remember, I scrutinised his unkempt, daring, careless, and
good-natured face. At ten o'clock the man announced the arrival of
Bizmyonkov. The prince had chosen him as second.
We both together roused the soundly sleeping cavalry officer. He sat
up, stared at us with dim eyes, in a hoarse voice demanded vodka. He
recovered himself, and exchanging greetings with Bizmyonkov, he went
with him into the next room to arrange matters. The consultation of the
worthy seconds did not last long. A quarter of an hour later, they both
came into my bedroom. Koloberdyaev announced to me that 'we're going to
fight to-day at three o'clock with pistols.' In silence I bent my head,
in token of my agreement. Bizmyonkov at once took leave of us, and
departed. He was rather pale and inwardly agitated, like a man unused
to such jobs, but he was, nevertheless, very polite and chilly. I felt,
as it were, conscience-stricken in his presence, and did not dare look
him in the face. Koloberdyaev began telling me about his horse. This
conversation was very welcome to me. I was afraid he would mention
Liza. But the good-natured cavalry officer was not a gossip, and,
moreover, he despised all women, calling them, God knows why, green
stuff. At two o'clock we had lunch, and at three we were at the place
fixed upon--the very birch copse in which I had once walked with Liza,
a couple of yards from the precipice.
We arrived first; but the prince and Bizmyonkov did not keep us long
waiting. The prince was, without exaggeration, as fresh as a rose; his
brown eyes looked out with excessive cordiality from under the peak of
his cap. He was smoking a cigar, and on seeing Koloberdyaev shook his
hand in a friendly way.
Even to me he bowed very genially. I was conscious, on the contrary, of
being pale, and my hands, to my terrible vexation, were slightly
trembling ... my throat was parched.... I had never fought a duel
before. 'O God!' I thought; 'if only that ironical gentleman doesn't
take my agitation for timidity!' I was inwardly cursing my nerves; but
glancing, at last, straight in the prince's face, and catching on his
lips an almost imperceptible smile, I suddenly felt furious again, and
was at once at my ease. Meanwhile, our seconds were fixing the barrier,
measuring out the paces, loading the pistols. Koloberdyaev did most;
Bizmyonkov rather watched him. It was a magnificent day--as fine as the
day of that ever-memorable walk. The thick blue of the sky peeped, as
then, through the golden green of the leaves. Their lisping seemed to
mock me. The prince went on smoking his cigar, leaning with his
shoulder against the trunk of a young lime-tree....
'Kindly take your places, gentlemen; ready,' Koloberdyaev pronounced at
last, handing us pistols.
The prince walked a few steps away, stood still, and, turning his head,
asked me over his shoulder, 'You still refuse to take back your words,
I tried to answer him; but my voice failed me, and I had to content
myself with a contemptuous wave of the hand. The prince smiled again,
and took up his position in his place. We began to approach one
another. I raised my pistol, was about to aim at my enemy's chest--but
suddenly tilted it up, as though some one had given my elbow a shove,
and fired. The prince tottered, and put his left hand to his left
temple--a thread of blood was flowing down his cheek from under the
white leather glove, Bizmyonkov rushed up to him.
'It's all right,' he said, taking off his cap, which the bullet had
pierced; 'since it's in the head, and I've not fallen, it must be a
He calmly pulled a cambric handkerchief out of his pocket, and put it
to his blood-stained curls.
I stared at him, as though I were turned to stone, and did not stir.
'Go up to the barrier, if you please!' Koloberdyaev observed severely.
'Is the duel to go on?' he added, addressing Bizmyonkov.
Bizmyonkov made him no answer. But the prince, without taking the
handkerchief from the wound, without even giving himself the
satisfaction of tormenting me at the barrier, replied with a smile.
'The duel is at an end,' and fired into the air. I was almost crying
with rage and vexation. This man by his magnanimity had utterly
trampled me in the mud; he had completely crushed me. I was on the
point of making objections, on the point of demanding that he should
fire at me. But he came up to me, and held out his hand.
'It's all forgotten between us, isn't it?' he said in a friendly voice.
I looked at his blanched face, at the blood-stained handkerchief, and
utterly confounded, put to shame, and annihilated, I pressed his hand.
'Gentlemen!' he added, turning to the seconds, 'everything, I hope,
will be kept secret?'
'Of course!' cried Koloberdyaev; 'but, prince, allow me ...'
And he himself bound up his head.
The prince, as he went away, bowed to me once more. But Bizmyonkov did
not even glance at me. Shattered--morally shattered--went homewards
'Why, what's the matter with you?' the cavalry captain asked me. 'Set
your mind at rest; the wound's not serious. He'll be able to dance by
to-morrow, if you like. Or are you sorry you didn't kill him? You're
wrong, if you are; he's a first-rate fellow.'
'What business had he to spare me!' I muttered at last.
'Oh, so that's it!' the cavalry captain rejoined tranquilly... 'Ugh,
you writing fellows are too much for me!'
I don't know what put it into his head to consider me an author.
I absolutely decline to describe my torments during the evening
following upon that luckless duel. My vanity suffered indescribably. It
was not my conscience that tortured me; the consciousness of my
imbecility crushed me. 'I have given myself the last decisive blow by
my own act!' I kept repeating, as I strode up and down my room. 'The
prince, wounded by me, and forgiving me... Yes, Liza is now his. Now
nothing can save her, nothing can hold her back on the edge of the
abyss.' I knew very well that our duel could not be kept secret, in
spite of the prince's words; in any case, it could not remain a secret
'The prince is not such a fool,' I murmured in a frenzy of rage, 'as
not to profit by it.'... But, meanwhile, I was mistaken. The whole town
knew of the duel and of its real cause next day, of course. But the
prince had not blabbed of it; on the contrary, when, with his head
bandaged and an explanation ready, he made his appearance before Liza,
she had already heard everything.... Whether Bizmyonkov had betrayed
me, or the news had reached her by other channels, I cannot say.
Though, indeed, can anything ever be concealed in a little town? You
can fancy how Liza received him, how all the family of the Ozhogins
received him! As for me, I suddenly became an object of universal
indignation and loathing, a monster, a jealous bloodthirsty madman. My
few acquaintances shunned me as if I were a leper. The authorities of
the town promptly addressed the prince, with a proposal to punish me in
a severe and befitting manner. Nothing but the persistent and urgent
entreaties of the prince himself averted the calamity that menaced me.
That man was fated to annihilate me in every way. By his generosity he
had shut, as it were, a coffin-lid down upon me. It's needless to say
that the Ozhogins' doors were at once closed against me. Kirilla
Matveitch even sent me back a bit of pencil I had left in his house. In
reality, he, of all people, had no reason to be angry with me. My
'insane' (that was the expression current in the town) jealousy had
pointed out, defined, so to speak, the relations of the prince to Liza.
Both the old Ozhogins themselves and their fellow-citizens began to
look on him almost as betrothed to her. This could not, as a fact, have
been quite to his liking. But he was greatly attracted by Liza; and
meanwhile, he had not at that time attained his aims. With all the
adroitness of a clever man of the world, he took advantage of his new
position, and promptly entered, as they say, into the spirit of his new
But I!... For myself, for my future, I renounced all hopes, at that
time. When suffering reaches the point of making our whole being creak
and groan, like an overloaded cart, it ought to cease to be ridiculous
... but no! laughter not only accompanies tears to the end, to
exhaustion, to the impossibility of shedding more--it even rings and
echoes, where the tongue is dumb, and complaint itself is dead.... And
so, as in the first place I don't intend to expose myself as
ridiculous, even to myself, and secondly as I am fearfully tired, I
will put off the continuation, and please God the conclusion, of my
story till tomorrow....
A slight frost; yesterday it was thawing._
Yesterday I had not the strength to go on with my diary; like
Poprishtchin, I lay, for the most part, on my bed, and talked to
Terentyevna. What a woman! Sixty years ago she lost her first betrothed
from the plague, she has outlived all her children, she is inexcusably
old, drinks tea to her heart's desire, is well fed, and warmly clothed;
and what do you suppose she was talking to me about, all day yesterday?
I had sent another utterly destitute old woman the collar of an old
livery, half moth-eaten, to put on her vest (she wears strips over the
chest by way of vest) ... and why wasn't it given to her? 'But I'm your
nurse; I should think... Oh ... oh, my good sir, it's too bad of you
... after I've looked after you as I have!' ... and so on. The
merciless old woman utterly wore me out with her reproaches.... But to
get back to my story.
And so, I suffered like a dog, whose hindquarters have been run over by
a wheel. It was only then, only after my banishment from the Ozhogins'
house, that I fully realised how much happiness a man can extract from
the contemplation of his own unhappiness. O men! pitiful race, indeed!
... But, away with philosophical reflections.... I spent my days in
complete solitude, and could only by the most roundabout and even
humiliating methods find out what was passing in the Ozhogins'
household, and what the prince was doing. My man had made friends with
the cousin of the latter's coachman's wife. This acquaintance afforded
me some slight relief, and my man soon guessed, from my hints and
little presents, what he was to talk about to his master when he pulled
his boots off every evening. Sometimes I chanced to meet some one of
the Ozhogins' family, Bizmyonkov, or the prince in the street.... To
the prince and to Bizmyonkov I bowed, but I did not enter into
conversation with them. Liza I only saw three times: once, with her
mamma, in a fashionable shop; once, in an open carriage with her father
and mother and the prince; and once, in church. Of course, I was not
impudent enough to approach her, and only watched her from a distance.
In the shop she was very much preoccupied, but cheerful.... She was
ordering something for herself, and busily matching ribbons. Her mother
was gazing at her, with her hands folded on her lap, and her nose in
the air, smiling with that foolish and devoted smile which is only
permissible in adoring mothers. In the carriage with the prince, Liza
was ... I shall never forget that meeting! The old people were sitting
in the back seats of the carriage, the prince and Liza in the front.
She was paler than usual; on her cheek two patches of pink could just
be seen. She was half facing the prince; leaning on her straight right
arm (in the left hand she was holding a sunshade), with her little head
drooping languidly, she was looking straight into his face with her
expressive eyes. At that instant she surrendered herself utterly to
him, intrusted herself to him for ever. I had not time to get a good
look at his face--the carriage galloped by too quickly,--but I fancied
that he too was deeply touched.
The third time I saw her in church. Not more than ten days had passed
since the day when I met her in the carriage with the prince, not more
than three weeks since the day of my duel. The business upon which the
prince had come to O---- was by now completed. But he still kept
putting off his departure. At Petersburg, he was reported to be ill. In
the town, it was expected every day that he would make a proposal in
form to Kirilla Matveitch. I was myself only awaiting this final blow
to go away for ever. The town of O---- had grown hateful to me. I could
not stay indoors, and wandered from morning to night about the suburbs.
One grey, gloomy day, as I was coming back from a walk, which had been
cut short by the rain, I went into a church. The evening service had
only just begun, there were very few people; I looked round me, and
suddenly, near a window, caught sight of a familiar profile. For the
first instant, I did not recognise it: that pale face, that spiritless
glance, those sunken cheeks--could it be the same Liza I had seen a
fortnight before? Wrapped in a cloak, without a hat on, with the cold
light from the broad white window falling on her from one side, she was
gazing fixedly at the holy image, and seemed striving to pray, striving
to awake from a sort of listless stupor. A red-cheeked, fat little page
with yellow trimmings on his chest was standing behind her, and, with
his hands clasped behind his back, stared in sleepy bewilderment at his
mistress. I trembled all over, was about to go up to her, but stopped
short. I felt choked by a torturing presentiment. Till the very end of
the evening service, Liza did not stir. All the people went out, a
beadle began sweeping out the church, but still she did not move from
her place. The page went up to her, said something to her, touched her
dress; she looked round, passed her hand over her face, and went away.
I followed her home at a little distance, and then returned to my
'She is lost!' I cried, when I had got into my room.
As a man, I don't know to this day what my sensations were at that
moment. I flung myself, I remember, with clasped hands, on the sofa and
fixed my eyes on the floor. But I don't know--in the midst of my woe I
was, as it were, pleased at something.... I would not admit this for
anything in the world, if I were not writing only for myself.... I had
been tormented, certainly, by terrible, harassing suspicions ... and
who knows, I should, perhaps, have been greatly disconcerted if they
had not been fulfilled. 'Such is the heart of man!' some middle-aged
Russian teacher would exclaim at this point in an expressive voice,
while he raises a fat forefinger, adorned with a cornelian ring. But
what have we to do with the opinion of a Russian teacher, with an
expressive voice and a cornelian on his finger?
Be that as it may, my presentiment turned out to be well founded.
Suddenly the news was all over the town that the prince had gone away,
presumably in consequence of a summons from Petersburg; that he had
gone away without making any proposal to Kirilla Matveitch or his wife,
and that Liza would have to deplore his treachery till the end of her
days. The prince's departure was utterly unexpected, for only the
evening before his coachman, so my man assured me, had not the
slightest suspicion of his master's intentions. This piece of news
threw me into a perfect fever. I at once dressed, and was on the point
of hastening to the Ozhogins', but on thinking the matter over I
considered it more seemly to wait till the next day. I lost nothing,
however, by remaining at home. The same evening, there came to see me
in all haste a certain Pandopipopulo, a wandering Greek, stranded by
some chance in the town of O----, a scandalmonger of the first
magnitude, who had been more indignant with me than any one for my duel
with the prince. He did not even give my man time to announce him; he
fairly burst into my room, warmly pressed my hand, begged my pardon a
thousand times, called me a paragon of magnanimity and courage, painted
the prince in the darkest colours, censured the old Ozhogins, who, in
his opinion, had been punished as they deserved, made a slighting
reference to Liza in passing, and hurried off again, kissing me on my
shoulder. Among other things, I learned from him that the prince, _en
vrai grand seigneur_, on the eve of his departure, in response to a
delicate hint from Kirilla Matveitch, had answered coldly that he had
no intention of deceiving any one, and no idea of marrying, had risen,
made his bow, and that was all.... Next day I set off to the Ozhogins'.
The shortsighted footman leaped up from his bench on my appearance,
with the rapidity of lightning. I bade him announce me; the footman
hurried away and returned at once. 'Walk in,' he said; 'you are begged
to go in.' I went into Kirilla Matveitch's study.... The rest
_March 30. Frost._
And so I went into Kirilla Matveitch's study. I would pay any one
handsomely, who could show me now my own face at the moment when that
highly respected official, hurriedly flinging together his
dressing-gown, approached me with outstretched arms. I must have been a
perfect picture of modest triumph, indulgent sympathy, and boundless
magnanimity.... I felt myself something in the style of Scipio
Africanus. Ozhogin was visibly confused and cast down, he avoided my
eyes, and kept fidgeting about. I noticed, too, that he spoke
unnaturally loudly, and in general expressed himself very vaguely.
Vaguely, but with warmth, he begged my forgiveness, vaguely alluded to
their departed guest, added a few vague generalities about deception
and the instability of earthly blessings, and, suddenly feeling the
tears in his eyes, hastened to take a pinch of snuff, probably in order
to deceive me as to the cause of his tearfulness.... He used the
Russian green snuff, and it's well known that that article forces even
old men to shed tears that make the human eye look dull and senseless
for several minutes.
I behaved, of course, very cautiously with the old man, inquired after
the health of his wife and daughter, and at once artfully turned the
conversation on to the interesting subject of the rotation of crops. I
was dressed as usual, but the feeling of gentle propriety and soft
indulgence which filled me gave me a fresh and festive sensation, as
though I had on a white waistcoat and a white cravat. One thing
agitated me, the thought of seeing Liza.... Ozhogin, at last, proposed
of his own accord to take me up to his wife. The kind-hearted but
foolish woman was at first terribly embarrassed on seeing me; but her
brain was not capable of retaining the same impression for long, and so
she was soon at her ease. At last I saw Liza ... she came into the
I had expected to find in her a shamed and penitent sinner, and had
assumed beforehand the most affectionate and reassuring expression of
face.... Why lie about it? I really loved her and was thirsting for the
happiness of forgiving her, of holding out a hand to her; but to my
unutterable astonishment, in response to my significant bow, she
laughed coldly, observed carelessly, 'Oh, is that you?' and at once
turned away from me. It is true that her laugh struck me as forced, and
in any case did not accord well with her terribly thin face ... but,
all the same, I had not expected such a reception.... I looked at her
with amazement ... what a change had taken place in her! Between the
child she had been and the woman before me, there was nothing in
common. She had, as it were, grown up, straightened out; all the
features of her face, especially her lips, seemed defined ... her gaze
had grown deeper, harder, and gloomier. I stayed on at the Ozhogins'
till dinner-time. She got up, went out of the room, and came back
again, answered questions with composure, and designedly took no notice
of me. She wanted, I saw, to make me feel that I was not worth her
anger, though I had been within an ace of killing her lover. I lost
patience at last; a malicious allusion broke from my lips.... She
started, glanced swiftly at me, got up, and going to the window,
pronounced in a rather shaky voice, 'You can say anything you like, but
let me tell you that I love that man, and always shall love him, and do
not consider that he has done me any injury, quite the contrary.'...
Her voice broke, she stopped ... tried to control herself, but could
not, burst into tears, and went out of the room.... The old people were
much upset.... I pressed the hands of both, sighed, turned my eyes
heavenward, and withdrew.
I am too weak, I have too little time left, I am not capable of
describing in the same detail the new range of torturing reflections,
firm resolutions, and all the other fruits of what is called inward
conflict, that arose within me after the renewal of my acquaintance
with the Ozhogins. I did not doubt that Liza still loved, and would
long love, the prince ... but as one reconciled to the inevitable, and
anxious myself to conciliate, I did not even dream of her love. I
desired only her affection, I desired to gain her confidence, her
respect, which, we are assured by persons of experience, forms the
surest basis for happiness in marriage.... Unluckily, I lost sight of
one rather important circumstance, which was that Liza had hated me
ever since the day of the duel. I found this out too late. I began, as
before, to be a frequent visitor at the house of the Ozhogins. Kirilla
Matveitch received me with more effusiveness and affability than he had
ever done. I have even ground for believing that he would at that time
have cheerfully given me his daughter, though I was certainly not a
match to be coveted. Public opinion was very severe upon him and Liza,
while, on the other hand, it extolled me to the skies. Liza's attitude
to me was unchanged. She was, for the most part, silent; obeyed, when
they begged her to eat, showed no outward signs of sorrow, but, for all
that, was wasting away like a candle. I must do Kirilla Matveitch the
justice to say that he spared her in every way. Old Madame Ozhogin only
ruffled up her feathers like a hen, as she looked at her poor nestling.
There was only one person Liza did not shun, though she did not talk
much even to him, and that was Bizmyonkov. The old people were rather
short, not to say rude, in their behaviour to him. They could not
forgive him for having been second in the duel. But he went on going to
see them, as though he did not notice their unamiability. With me he
was very chilly, and--strange to say--I felt, as it were, afraid of
him. This state of things went on for a fortnight. At last, after a
sleepless night, I resolved to have it out with Liza, to open my heart
to her, to tell her that, in spite of the past, in spite of all
possible gossip and scandal, I should consider myself only too happy if
she would give me her hand, and restore me her confidence. I really did
seriously imagine that I was showing what they call in the school
reading-books an unparalleled example of magnanimity, and that, from
sheer amazement alone, she would consent. In any case, I resolved to
have an explanation and to escape, at last, from suspense.
Behind the Ozhogins' house was a rather large garden, which ended in a
little grove of lime-trees, neglected and overgrown. In the middle of
this thicket stood an old summer-house in the Chinese style: a wooden
paling separated the garden from a blind alley. Liza would sometimes
walk, for hours together, alone in this garden. Kirilla Matveitch was
aware of this, and forbade her being disturbed or followed; let her
grief wear itself out, he said. When she could not be found indoors,
they had only to ring a bell on the steps at dinner-time and she made
her appearance at once, with the same stubborn silence on her lips and
in her eyes, and some little leaf crushed up in her hand. So, noticing
one day that she was not in the house, I made a show of going away,
took leave of Kirilla Matveitch, put on my hat, and went out from the
hall into the courtyard, and from the courtyard into the street, but
promptly darted in at the gate again with extraordinary rapidity and
hurried past the kitchen into the garden. Luckily no one noticed me.
Without losing time in deliberation, I went with rapid steps into the
grove. In a little path before me was standing Liza. My heart beat
violently. I stood still, drew a deep sigh, and was just on the point
of going up to her, when suddenly she lifted her hand without turning
round, and began listening.... From behind the trees, in the direction
of the blind alley, came a distinct sound of two knocks, as though some
one were tapping at the paling. Liza clapped her hands together, there
was heard the faint creak of the gate, and out of the thicket stepped
Bizmyonkov. I hastily hid behind a tree. Liza turned towards him
without speaking.... Without speaking, he drew her arm in his, and the
two walked slowly along the path together. I looked after them in
amazement. They stopped, looked round, disappeared behind the bushes,
reappeared again, and finally went into the summer-house. This
summer-house was a diminutive round edifice, with a door and one little
window. In the middle stood an old one-legged table, overgrown with
fine green moss; two discoloured deal benches stood along the sides,
some distance from the damp and darkened walls. Here, on exceptionally
hot days, in bygone times, perhaps once a year or so, they had drunk
tea. The door did not quite shut, the window-frame had long ago come
out of the window, and hung disconsolately, only attached at one
corner, like a bird's broken wing. I stole up to the summer-house, and
peeped cautiously through the chink in the window. Liza was sitting on
one of the benches, with her head drooping. Her right hand lay on her
knees, the left Bizmyonkov was holding in both his hands. He was
looking sympathetically at her.
'How do you feel to-day?' he asked her in a low voice.
'Just the same,' she answered, 'not better, nor worse.--The emptiness,
the fearful emptiness!' she added, raising her eyes dejectedly.
Bizmyonkov made her no answer.
'What do you think,' she went on: 'will he write to me once more?'
'I don't think so, Lizaveta Kirillovna!'
She was silent.
'And after all, why should he write? He told me everything in his first
letter. I could not be his wife; but I have been happy ... not for long
... I have been happy ...'
Bizmyonkov looked down.
'Ah,' she went on quickly, 'if you knew how I loathe that Tchulkaturin
... I always fancy I see on that man's hands ... his blood.' (I
shuddered behind my chink.) 'Though indeed,' she added, dreamily, 'who
knows, perhaps, if it had not been for that duel.... Ah, when I saw him
wounded I felt at once that I was altogether his.'
'Tchulkaturin loves you,' observed Bizmyonkov.
'What is that to me? I don't want any one's love.'... She stopped and
added slowly, 'Except yours. Yes, my friend, your love is necessary to
me; except for you, I should be lost. You have helped me to bear
terrible moments ...'
She broke off ... Bizmyonkov began with fatherly tenderness stroking
'There's no help for it! What is one to do! what is one to do, Lizaveta
Kirillovna!' he repeated several times.
'And now indeed,' she went on in a lifeless voice, 'I should die, I
think, if it were not for you. It's you alone that keep me up; besides,
you remind me of him.... You knew all about it, you see. Do you
remember how fine he was that day.... But forgive me; it must be hard
'Go on, go on! Nonsense! Bless you!' Bizmyonkov interrupted her.
She pressed his hand.
'You are very good, Bizmyonkov,' she went on;' you are good as an
angel. What can I do! I feel I shall love him to the grave. I have
forgiven him, I am grateful to him. God give him happiness! May God
give him a wife after his own heart'--and her eyes filled with
tears--'if only he does not forget me, if only he will sometimes think
of his Liza!--Let us go,' she added, after a brief silence.
Bizmyonkov raised her hand to his lips.
'I know,' she began again hotly, 'every one is blaming me now, every
one is throwing stones at me. Let them! I wouldn't, any way, change my
misery for their happiness ... no! no!... He did not love me for long,
but he loved me! He never deceived me, he never told me I should be his
wife; I never dreamed of it myself. It was only poor papa hoped for it.
And even now I am not altogether unhappy; the memory remains to me, and
however fearful the results ... I'm stifling here ... it was here I saw
him the last time.... Let's go into the air.'
They got up. I had only just time to skip on one side and hide behind a
thick lime-tree. They came out of the summer-house, and, as far as I
could judge by the sound of their steps, went away into the thicket. I
don't know how long I went on standing there, without stirring from my
place, plunged in a sort of senseless amazement, when suddenly I heard
steps again. I started, and peeped cautiously out from my hiding-place.
Bizmyonkov and Liza were coming back along the same path. Both were
greatly agitated, especially Bizmyonkov.
I fancied he was crying. Liza stopped, looked at him, and distinctly
uttered the following words: 'I do consent, Bizmyonkov. I would never
have agreed if you were only trying to save me, to rescue me from a
terrible position, but you love me, you know everything--and you love
me. I shall never find a trustier, truer friend. I will be your wife.'
Bizmyonkov kissed her hand: she smiled at him mournfully and moved away
towards the house. Bizmyonkov rushed into the thicket, and I went my
way. Seeing that Bizmyonkov had apparently said to Liza precisely what
I had intended to say to her, and she had given him precisely the reply
I was longing to hear from her, there was no need for me to trouble
myself further. Within a fortnight she was married to him. The old
Ozhogins were thankful to get any husband for her.
Now, tell me, am I not a superfluous man? Didn't I play throughout the
whole story the part of a superfluous person? The prince's part ... of
that it's needless to speak; Bizmyonkov's part, too, is
comprehensible.... But I--with what object was I mixed up in it?... A
senseless fifth wheel to the cart!... Ah, it's bitter, bitter for
me!... But there, as the barge-haulers say, 'One more pull, and one
more yet,'--one day more, and one more yet, and there will be no more
bitter nor sweet for me.
I'm in a bad way. I am writing these lines in bed. Since yesterday
evening there has been a sudden change in the weather. To-day is hot,
almost a summer day. Everything is thawing, breaking up, flowing away.
The air is full of the smell of the opened earth, a strong, heavy,
stifling smell. Steam is rising on all sides. The sun seems beating,
seems smiting everything to pieces. I am very ill, I feel that I am
I meant to write my diary, and, instead of that, what have I done? I
have related one incident of my life. I gossiped on, slumbering
reminiscences were awakened and drew me away. I have written, without
haste, in detail, as though I had years before me. And here now,
there's no time to go on. Death, death is coming. I can hear her
menacing _crescendo_. The time is come ... the time is come!...
And indeed, what does it matter? Isn't it all the same whatever I
write? In sight of death the last earthly cares vanish. I feel I have
grown calm; I am becoming simpler, clearer. Too late I've gained
sense!... It's a strange thing! I have grown calm--certainly, and at
the same time ... I'm full of dread. Yes, I'm full of dread. Half
hanging over the silent, yawning abyss, I shudder, turn away, with
greedy intentness gaze at everything about me. Every object is doubly
precious to me. I cannot gaze enough at my poor, cheerless room, saying
farewell to each spot on my walls. Take your fill for the last time, my
eyes. Life is retreating; slowly and smoothly she is flying away from
me, as the shore flies from the eyes of one at sea. The old yellow face
of my nurse, tied up in a dark kerchief, the hissing samovar on the
table, the pot of geranium in the window, and you, my poor dog, Tresór,
the pen I write these lines with, my own hand, I see you now ... here
you are, here.... Is it possible ... can it be, to-day ... I shall
never see you again! It's hard for a live creature to part with life!
Why do you fawn on me, poor dog? why do you come putting your forepaws
on the bed, with your stump of a tail wagging so violently, and your
kind, mournful eyes fixed on me all the while? Are you sorry for me? or
do you feel already that your master will soon be gone? Ah, if I could
only keep my thoughts, too, resting on all the objects in my room! I
know these reminiscences are dismal and of no importance, but I have no
other. 'The emptiness, the fearful emptiness!' as Liza said.
O my God, my God! Here I am dying.... A heart capable of loving and
ready to love will soon cease to beat.... And can it be it will be
still for ever without having once known happiness, without having once
expanded under the sweet burden of bliss? Alas! it's impossible,
impossible, I know.... If only now, at least, before death--for death
after all is a sacred thing, after all it elevates any being--if any
kind, sad, friendly voice would sing over me a farewell song of my own
sorrow, I could, perhaps, be resigned to it. But to die stupidly,
I believe I'm beginning to rave.
Farewell, life! farewell, my garden! and you, my lime-trees! When the
summer comes, do not forget to be clothed with flowers from head to
foot ... and may it be sweet for people to lie in your fragrant shade,
on the fresh grass, among the whispering chatter of your leaves,
lightly stirred by the wind. Farewell, farewell! Farewell, everything
and for ever!
Farewell, Liza! I wrote those two words, and almost laughed aloud. This
exclamation strikes me as taken out of a book. It's as though I were
writing a sentimental novel and ending up a despairing letter....
To-morrow is the first of April. Can I be going to die to-morrow? That
would be really too unseemly. It's just right for me, though ...
How the doctor did chatter to-day.
It is over.... Life is over. I shall certainly die to-day. It's hot
outside ... almost suffocating ... or is it that my lungs are already
refusing to breathe? My little comedy is played out. The curtain is
Sinking into nothing, I cease to be superfluous ...
Ah, how brilliant that sun is! Those mighty beams breathe of eternity
Farewell, Terentyevna!... This morning as she sat at the window she was
crying ... perhaps over me ... and perhaps because she too will soon
have to die. I have made her promise not to kill Tresór.
It's hard for me to write.... I will put down the pen.... It's high
time; death is already approaching with ever-increasing rumble, like a
carriage at night over the pavement; it is here, it is flitting about
me, like the light breath which made the prophet's hair stand up on
I am dying.... Live, you who are living,
'And about the grave
May youthful life rejoice,
And nature heedless
Glow with eternal beauty.
_Note by the Editor_.--Under this last line was a head in profile with
a big streak of hair and moustaches, with eyes _en face_, and eyelashes
like rays; and under the head some one had written the following words:
'This manuscript was read
And the Contents of it Not Approved
By Peter Zudotyeshin
My My My
My dear Sir,
But as the handwriting of these lines was not in the least like the
handwriting in which the other part of the manuscript was written, the
editor considers that he is justified in concluding that the above
lines were added subsequently by another person, especially since it
has come to his (the editor's) knowledge that Mr. Tchulkaturin actually
did die on the night between the 1st and 2nd of April in the year 18--,
at his native place, Sheep's Springs.
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