I was living at that time with my mother in a little seaside town. I was in
my seventeenth year, while my mother was not quite five-and-thirty; she had
married very young. When my father died, I was only seven years old, but I
remember him well. My mother was a fair-haired woman, not very tall, with
a charming, but always sad-looking face, a soft, tired voice and timid
gestures. In her youth she had been reputed a beauty, and to the end she
remained attractive and pretty. I have never seen deeper, tenderer, and
sadder eyes, finer and softer hair; I never saw hands so exquisite. I
adored her, and she loved me.... But our life was not a bright one; a
secret, hopeless, undeserved sorrow seemed for ever gnawing at the very
root of her being. This sorrow could not be accounted for by the loss of my
father simply, great as that loss was to her, passionately as my mother had
loved him, and devoutly as she had cherished his memory.... No! something
more lay hidden in it, which I did not understand, but of which I was
aware, dimly and yet intensely aware, whenever I looked into those soft
and unchanging eyes, at those lips, unchanging too, not compressed in
bitterness, but, as it were, for ever set in one expression.
I have said that my mother loved me; but there were moments when she
repulsed me, when my presence was oppressive to her, unendurable. At such
times she felt a sort of involuntary aversion for me, and was horrified
afterwards, blamed herself with tears, pressed me to her heart. I used to
ascribe these momentary outbreaks of dislike to the derangement of her
health, to her unhappiness.... These antagonistic feelings might indeed, to
some extent, have been evoked by certain strange outbursts of wicked and
criminal passions, which arose from time to time in me, though I could not
myself account for them....
But these evil outbursts were never coincident with the moments of
aversion. My mother always wore black, as though in mourning. We were in
fairly good circumstances, but we hardly knew any one.
My mother concentrated her every thought, her every care, upon me. Her
life was wrapped up in my life. That sort of relation between parents and
children is not always good for the children ... it is rather apt to be
harmful to them. Besides, I was my mother's only son ... and only children
generally grow up in a one-sided way. In bringing them up, the parents
think as much of themselves as of them.... That's not the right way. I was
neither spoiled nor made hard by it (one or the other is apt to be the fate
of only children), but my nerves were unhinged for a time; moreover, I was
rather delicate in health, taking after my mother, whom I was very like
in face. I avoided the companionship of boys of my own age; I held aloof
from people altogether; even with my mother I talked very little. I liked
best reading, solitary walks, and dreaming, dreaming! What my dreams were
about, it would be hard to say; sometimes, indeed, I seemed to stand at a
half-open door, beyond which lay unknown mysteries, to stand and wait, half
dead with emotion, and not to step over the threshold, but still pondering
what lay beyond, still to wait till I turned faint ... or fell asleep. If
there had been a vein of poetry in me, I should probably have taken to
writing verses; if I had felt an inclination for religion, I should perhaps
have gone into a monastery; but I had no tendency of the sort, and I went
on dreaming and waiting.
I have just mentioned that I used sometimes to fall asleep under the
influence of vague dreams and reveries. I used to sleep a great deal at
all times, and dreams played an important part in my life; I used to
have dreams almost every night. I did not forget them, I attributed a
significance to them, regarded them as fore-warnings, tried to divine their
secret meaning; some of them were repeated from time to time, which always
struck me as strange and marvellous. I was particularly perplexed by
one dream. I dreamed I was going along a narrow, ill-paved street of an
old-fashioned town, between stone houses of many stories, with pointed
roofs. I was looking for my father, who was not dead, but, for some reason
or other, hiding away from us, and living in one of these very houses.
And so I entered a low, dark gateway, crossed a long courtyard, lumbered
up with planks and beams, and made my way at last into a little room
with two round windows. In the middle of the room stood my father in
a dressing-gown, smoking a pipe. He was not in the least like my real
father; he was tall and thin, with black hair, a hook nose, with sullen and
piercing eyes; he looked about forty. He was displeased at my having found
him; and I too was far from being delighted at our meeting, and stood still
in perplexity. He turned a little away, began muttering something, and
walking up and down with short steps.... Then he gradually got farther
away, never ceasing his muttering, and continually looking back over his
shoulder; the room grew larger and was lost in fog.... I felt all at once
horrified at the idea that I was losing my father again, and rushed after
him, but I could no longer see him, I could only hear his angry muttering,
like a bear growling.... My heart sank with dread; I woke up and could not
for a long while get to sleep again.... All the following day I pondered on
this dream, and naturally could make nothing of it.
The month of June had come. The town in which I was living with my mother
became exceptionally lively about that time. A number of ships were in the
harbour, a number of new faces were to be seen in the streets. I liked at
such times to wander along the sea front, by cafés and hotels, to stare at
the widely differing figures of the sailors and other people, sitting under
linen awnings, at small white tables, with pewter pots of beer before them.
As I passed one day before a café, I caught sight of a man who at once
riveted my whole attention. Dressed in a long black full coat, with a straw
hat pulled right down over his eyes, he was sitting perfectly still, his
arms folded across his chest. The straggling curls of his black hair fell
almost down to his nose; his thin lips held tight the mouthpiece of a short
pipe. This man struck me as so familiar, every feature of his swarthy
yellow face were so unmistakably imprinted in my memory, that I could not
help stopping short before him, I could not help asking myself, 'Who is
that man? where have I seen him?' Becoming aware, probably, of my intent
stare, he raised his black, piercing eyes upon me.... I uttered an
The man was the father I had been looking for, the father I had beheld in
There was no possibility of mistake--the resemblance was too striking. The
very coat even, that wrapped his spare limbs in its long skirts, in hue
and cut, recalled the dressing-gown in which my father had appeared in the
'Am I not asleep now?' I wondered.... No.... It was daytime, about me
crowds of people were bustling, the sun was shining brightly in the blue
sky, and before me was no phantom, but a living man.
I went up to an empty table, asked for a pot of beer and a newspaper, and
sat down not far off from this enigmatical being.
Putting the sheet of newspaper on a level with my face, I continued my
scrutiny of the stranger. He scarcely stirred at all, only from time to
time raising his bowed head. He was obviously expecting some one. I gazed
and gazed.... Sometimes I fancied I must have imagined it all, that there
could be really no resemblance, that I had given way to a half-unconscious
trick of the imagination ... but the stranger would suddenly turn round
a little in his seat, or slightly raise his hand, and again I all but
cried out, again I saw my 'dream-father' before me! He at last noticed my
uncalled-for attention, and glancing at first with surprise and then with
annoyance in my direction, was on the point of getting up, and knocked down
a small walking-stick he had stood against the table. I instantly jumped
up, picked it up, and handed it to him. My heart was beating violently.
He gave a constrained smile, thanked me, and as his face drew closer to my
face, he lifted his eyebrows and opened his mouth a little as though struck
'You are very polite, young man,' he began all at once in a dry, incisive,
nasal voice, 'That's something out of the common nowadays. Let me
congratulate you; you must have been well brought up?'
I don't remember precisely what answer I made; but a conversation soon
sprang up between us. I learnt that he was a fellow-countryman, that he
had not long returned from America, where he had spent many years, and was
shortly going back there. He called himself Baron ... the name I could not
make out distinctly. He, just like my 'dream-father,' ended every remark
with a sort of indistinct inward mutter. He desired to learn my surname....
On hearing it, he seemed again astonished; then he asked me if I had lived
long in the town, and with whom I was living. I told him I was living with
'And your father?' 'My father died long ago.' He inquired my mother's
Christian name, and immediately gave an awkward laugh, but apologised,
saying that he picked up some American ways, and was rather a queer fellow
altogether. Then he was curious to know what was our address. I told him.
The excitement which had possessed me at the beginning of our conversation
gradually calmed down; I felt our meeting rather strange and nothing more.
I did not like the little smile with which the baron cross-examined me; I
did not like the expression of his eyes when he, as it were, stuck them
like pins into me.... There was something in them rapacious, patronising
... something unnerving. Those eyes I had not seen in the dream. A
strange face was the baron's! Faded, fatigued, and, at the same time,
young-looking--unpleasantly young-looking! My 'dream-father' had not the
deep scar either which ran slanting right across my new acquaintance's
forehead, and which I had not noticed till I came closer to him.
I had hardly told the baron the name of the street, and the number of
the house in which we were living, when a tall negro, swathed up to the
eyebrows in a cloak, came up to him from behind, and softly tapped him on
the shoulder. The baron turned round, ejaculated, 'Aha! at last!' and with
a slight nod to me, went with the negro into the café. I was left under the
awning; I meant to await the baron's return, not so much with the object
of entering into conversation with him again (I really did not know what
to talk about to him), as to verify once more my first impression. But
half-an-hour passed, an hour passed.... The baron did not appear. I went
into the café, passed through all the rooms, but could see nowhere the
baron or the negro.... They must both have gone out by a back-door.
My head ached a little, and to get a little fresh air, I walked along the
seafront to a large park outside the town, which had been laid out two
hundred years ago.
After strolling for a couple of hours in the shade of the immense oaks and
plane-trees, I returned home.
Our maid-servant rushed all excitement, to meet me, directly I appeared in
the hall; I guessed at once from the expression of her face, that during my
absence something had gone wrong in our house. And, in fact, I learnt that
an hour before, a fearful shriek had suddenly been heard in my mother's
bedroom, the maid running in had found her on the floor in a fainting
fit, which had lasted several moments. My mother had at last regained
consciousness, but had been obliged to lie down, and looked strange and
scared; she had not uttered a word, had not answered inquiries, she had
done nothing but look about her and shudder. The maid had sent the gardener
for a doctor. The doctor came and prescribed soothing treatment; but my
mother would say nothing even to him. The gardener maintained that, a few
instants after the shriek was heard in my mother's room, he had seen a man,
unknown to him, running through the bushes in the garden to the gate into
the street. (We lived in a house of one story, with windows opening on to
a rather large garden.) The gardener had not time to get a look at the
man's face; but he was tall, and was wearing a low straw hat and long coat
with full skirts ... 'The baron's costume!' at once crossed my mind. The
gardener could not overtake him; besides, he had been immediately called
into the house and sent for the doctor. I went in to my mother; she was
lying on the bed, whiter than the pillow on which her head was resting.
Recognising me, she smiled faintly, and held out her hand to me. I sat down
beside her, and began to question her; at first she said no to everything;
at last she admitted, however, that she had seen something which had
greatly terrified her. 'Did some one come in here?' I asked. 'No,' she
hurriedly replied--'no one came in, it was my fancy ... an apparition....'
She ceased and hid her face in her hands. I was on the point of telling
her, what I had learnt from the gardener, and incidentally describing
my meeting with the baron ... but for some reason or other, the words
died away on my lips. I ventured, however, to observe to my mother, that
apparitions do not usually appear in the daytime.... 'Stop,' she whispered,
'please; do not torture me now. You will know some time....' She was silent
again. Her hands were cold and her pulse beat fast and unevenly. I gave her
some medicine and moved a little away so as not to disturb her. She did not
get up the whole day. She lay perfectly still and quiet, and now and then
heaving a deep sigh, and timorously opening her eyes. Every one in the
house was at a loss what to think.
Towards night my mother became a little feverish, and she sent me away. I
did not, however, go to my own room, but lay down in the next room on
the sofa. Every quarter of an hour I got up, went on tiptoe to the door,
listened.... Everything was still--but my mother hardly slept that night.
When I went in to her early in the morning, her face looked hollow, her
eyes shone with an unnatural brightness. In the course of the day she got
a little better, but towards evening the feverishness increased again. Up
till then she had been obstinately silent, but all of a sudden she began
talking in a hurried broken voice. She was not wandering, there was a
meaning in her words--but no sort of connection. Just upon midnight, she
suddenly, with a convulsive movement raised herself in bed--I was sitting
beside her--and in the same hurried voice, continually taking sips of
water, from a glass beside her, feebly gesticulating with her hands,
and never once looking at me, she began to tell her story.... She would
stop, make an effort to control herself and go on again.... It was all so
strange, just as though she were doing it all in a dream, as though she
herself were absent, and some one else were speaking by her lips, or
forcing her to speak.
'Listen to what I am going to tell you,' she began. 'You are not a little
boy now; you ought to know all. I had a friend, a girl.... She married a
man she loved with all her heart, and she was very happy with her husband.
During the first year of their married life they went together to the
capital to spend a few weeks there and enjoy themselves. They stayed at a
good hotel, and went out a great deal to theatres and parties. My friend
was very pretty--every one noticed her, young men paid her attentions,--but
there was among them one ... an officer. He followed her about incessantly,
and wherever she was, she always saw his cruel black eyes. He was not
introduced to her, and never once spoke to her--only perpetually stared at
her--so insolently and strangely. All the pleasures of the capital were
poisoned by his presence. She began persuading her husband to hasten their
departure--and they had already made all the preparations for the journey.
One evening her husband went out to a club--he had been invited by the
officers of the same regiment as that officer--to play cards.... She was
for the very first time left alone. Her husband did not return for a long
while. She dismissed her maid, and went to bed.... And suddenly she felt
overcome by terror, so that she was quite cold and shivering. She fancied
she heard a slight sound on the other side of the wall, like a dog
scratching, and she began watching the wall. In the corner a lamp was
burning; the room was all hung with tapestry.... Suddenly something stirred
there, rose, opened.... And straight out of the wall a black, long figure
came, that awful man with the cruel eyes! She tried to scream, but could
not. She was utterly numb with terror. He went up to her rapidly, like some
beast of prey, flung something on her head, something strong-smelling,
heavy, white.... What happened then I don't remember I ... don't remember!
It was like death, like a murder.... When at last that fearful darkness
began to pass away--when I ... when my friend came to herself, there was no
one in the room. Again, and for a long time, she had not the strength to
scream, she screamed at last ... then again everything was confusion....
Then she saw her husband by her side: he had been kept at the club till two
o'clock at night.... He looked scared and white. He began questioning her,
but she told him nothing.... Then she swooned away again. I remember though
when she was left alone in the room, she examined the place in the wall....
Under the tapestry hangings it turned out there was a secret door. And her
betrothal ring had gone from off her hand. This ring was of an unusual
pattern; seven little gold stars alternated on it with seven silver stars;
it was an old family heirloom. Her husband asked her what had become of the
ring; she could give him no answer. Her husband supposed she had dropped
it somewhere, searched everywhere, but could not find it. He felt uneasy
and distressed; he decided to go home as soon as possible and directly the
doctor allowed it--they left the capital.... But imagine! On the very day
of their departure they happened suddenly to meet a stretcher being carried
along the street.... On the stretcher lay a man who had just been killed,
with his head cut open; and imagine! the man was that fearful apparition
of the night with the evil eyes.... He had been killed over some gambling
Then my friend went away into the country ... became a mother for the first
time ... and lived several years with her husband. He never knew anything;
indeed, what could she have told him?--she knew nothing herself.
But her former happiness had vanished. A gloom had come over their lives,
and never again did that gloom pass out of it.... They had no other
children, either before or after ... and that son....'
My mother trembled all over and hid her face in her hands.
'But say now,' she went on with redoubled energy, 'was my friend to blame
in any way? What had she to reproach herself with? She was punished, but
had she not the right to declare before God Himself that the punishment
that overtook her was unjust? Then why is it, that like a criminal,
tortured by stings of conscience, why is it she is confronted with the past
in such a fearful shape after so many years? Macbeth slew Bancho--so no
wonder that he could be haunted ... but I....'
But here my mother's words became so mixed and confused, that I ceased to
follow her.... I no longer doubted that she was in delirium.
The agitating effect of my mother's recital on me--any one may easily
conceive! I guessed from her first word that she was talking of herself,
and not any friend of hers. Her slip of the tongue confirmed my conjecture.
Then this really was my father, whom I was seeking in my dream, whom I had
seen awake by daylight! He had not been killed, as my mother supposed, but
only wounded. And he had come to see her, and had run away, alarmed by
her alarm. I suddenly understood everything: the feeling of involuntary
aversion for me, which arose at times in my mother, and her perpetual
melancholy, and our secluded life.... I remember my head seemed going
round, and I clutched it in both hands as though to hold it still. But one
idea, as it were, nailed me down; I resolved I must, come what may, find
that man again? What for? with what aim? I could not give myself a clear
answer, but to find him ... find him--that had become a question of life
and death for me! The next morning my mother, at last, grew calmer ...
the fever left her ... she fell asleep. Confiding her to the care of the
servants and people of the house, I set out on my quest.
First of all I made my way, of course, to the café where I had met the
baron; but no one in the café knew him or had even noticed him; he had
been a chance customer there. The negro the people there had observed, his
figure was so striking; but who he was, and where he was staying, no one
knew. Leaving my address in any case at the café, I fell to wandering about
the streets and sea front by the harbour, along the boulevards, peeped
into all places of public resort, but could find no one like the baron or
his companion!... Not having caught the baron's surname, I was deprived
of the resource of applying to the police; I did, however, privately let
two or three guardians of the public safety know--they stared at me in
bewilderment, and did not altogether believe in me--that I would reward
them liberally if they could trace out two persons, whose exterior I tried
to describe as exactly as possible. After wandering about in this way till
dinner-time, I returned home exhausted. My mother had got up; but to her
usual melancholy there was added something new, a sort of dreamy blankness,
which cut me to the heart like a knife. I spent the evening with her.
We scarcely spoke at all; she played patience, I looked at her cards
in silence. She never made a single reference to what she had told me,
nor to what had happened the preceding evening. It was as though we had
made a secret compact not to touch on any of these harrowing and strange
incidents.... She seemed angry with herself, and ashamed of what had broken
from her unawares; though possibly she did not remember quite what she had
said in her half delirious feverishness, and hoped I should spare her....
And indeed this was it, I spared her, and she felt it; as on the previous
day she avoided my eyes. I could not get to sleep all night. Outside, a
fearful storm suddenly came on. The wind howled and darted furiously hither
and thither, the window-panes rattled and rang, despairing shrieks and
groans sounded in the air, as though something had been torn to shreds up
aloft, and were flying with frenzied wailing over the shaken houses. Before
dawn I dropped off into a doze ... suddenly I fancied some one came into my
room, and called me, uttered my name, in a voice not loud, but resolute.
I raised my head and saw no one; but, strange to say! I was not only
not afraid--I was glad; I suddenly felt a conviction that now I should
certainly attain my object. I dressed hurriedly and went out of the house.
The storm had abated ... but its last struggles could still be felt. It was
very early, there were no people in the streets, many places were strewn
with broken chimney-pots and tiles, pieces of wrecked fencing, and branches
of trees.... 'What was it like last night at sea?' I could not help
wondering at the sight of the traces left by the storm. I intended to go
to the harbour, but my legs, as though in obedience to some irresistible
attraction, carried me in another direction. Ten minutes had not gone by
before I found myself in a part of the town I had never visited till then.
I walked not rapidly, but without halting, step by step, with a strange
sensation at my heart; I expected something extraordinary, impossible, and
at the same time I was convinced that this extraordinary thing would come
And, behold, it came to pass, this extraordinary, this unexpected thing!
Suddenly, twenty paces before me, I saw the very negro who had addressed
the baron in the café! Muffled in the same cloak as I had noticed on him
there, he seemed to spring out of the earth, and with his back turned to
me, walked with rapid strides along the narrow pavement of the winding
street. I promptly flew to overtake him, but he, too, redoubled his pace,
though he did not look round, and all of a sudden turned sharply round the
corner of a projecting house. I ran up to this corner, turned round it
as quickly as the negro.... Wonderful to relate! I faced a long, narrow,
perfectly empty street; the fog of early morning rilled it with its leaden
dulness, but my eye reached to its very end, I could scan all the buildings
in it ... and not a living creature stirring anywhere! The tall negro in
the cloak had vanished as suddenly as he had appeared! I was bewildered ...
but only for one instant. Another feeling at once took possession of me;
the street, which stretched its length, dumb, and, as it were, dead, before
my eyes, I knew it! It was the street of my dream. I started, shivered, the
morning was so fresh, and promptly, without the least hesitation, with a
sort of shudder of conviction, went on!
I began looking about.... Yes, here it was; here to the right, standing
cornerwise to the street, was the house of my dream, here too the
old-fashioned gateway with scrollwork in stone on both sides.... It is true
the windows of the house were not round, but rectangular ... but that was
not important.... I knocked at the gate, knocked twice or three times,
louder and louder.... The gate was opened slowly with a heavy groan as
though yawning. I was confronted by a young servant girl with dishevelled
hair, and sleepy eyes. She was apparently only just awake. 'Does the baron
live here?' I asked, and took in with a rapid glance the deep narrow
courtyard.... Yes; it was all there ... there were the planks and beams I
had seen in my dream.
'No,' the servant girl answered, 'the baron's not living here.'
'He's not here now. He left yesterday.'
'Where's he gone?'
'To America!' I repealed involuntarily. 'But he will come back?'
The servant looked at me suspiciously.
'We don't know about that. May be he won't come back at all.'
'And has he been living here long?'
'Not long, a week. He's not here now.'
'And what was his surname, the baron's?' The girl stared at me.
'You don't know his name? We simply called him the baron.--Hi! Piotr!'
she shouted, seeing I was pushing in. 'Come here; here's a stranger keeps
From the house came the clumsy figure of a sturdy workman.
'What is it? What do you want?' he asked in a sleepy voice; and having
heard me sullenly, he repeated what the girl had told me.
'But who does live here?' I asked.
'Who is he?'
'A carpenter. They're all carpenters in this street.'
'Can I see him?'
'You can't now, he's asleep.'
'But can't I go into the house?'
'No. Go away.'
'Well, but can I see your master later on?'
'What for? Of course. You can always see him.... To be sure, he's always at
his business here. Only go away now. Such a time in the morning, upon my
'Well, but that negro?' I asked suddenly.
The workman looked in perplexity first at me, then at the servant girl.
'What negro?' he said at last. 'Go away, sir. You can come later. You can
talk to the master.'
I went out into the street. The gate slammed at once behind me, sharply and
heavily, with no groan this time.
I carefully noted the street and the house, and went away, but not home--I
was conscious of a sort of disillusionment. Everything that had happened to
me was so strange, so unexpected, and meanwhile what a stupid conclusion to
it! I had been persuaded, I had been convinced, that I should see in that
house the room I knew, and in the middle of it my father, the baron, in the
dressing-gown, and with a pipe.... And instead of that, the master of the
house was a carpenter, and I could go and see him as much as I liked--and
order furniture of him, I dare say.
My father had gone to America. And what was left for me to do?... To tell
my mother everything, or to bury for ever the very memory of that meeting?
I positively could not resign myself to the idea that such a supernatural,
mysterious beginning should end in such a senseless, ordinary conclusion!
I did not want to return home, and walked at random away from the town.
I walked with downcast head, without thought, almost without sensation, but
utterly buried in myself. A rhythmic hollow and angry noise raised me from
my numbness. I lifted my head; it was the sea roaring and moaning fifty
paces from me. I saw I was walking along the sand of the dunes. The sea,
set in violent commotion by the storm in the night, was white with foam to
the very horizon, and the sharp crests of the long billows rolled one after
another and broke on the flat shore. I went nearer to it, and walked along
the line left by the ebb and flow of the tides on the yellow furrowed sand,
strewn with fragments of trailing seaweed, broken shells, and snakelike
ribbons of sea-grass. Gulls, with pointed wings, flying with a plaintive
cry on the wind out of the remote depths of the air, soared up, white as
snow against the grey cloudy sky, fell abruptly, and seeming to leap from
wave to wave, vanished again, and were lost like gleams of silver in the
streaks of frothing foam. Several of them, I noticed, hovered persistently
over a big rock, which stood up alone in the midst of the level uniformity
of the sandy shore. Coarse seaweed was growing in irregular masses on one
side of the rock; and where its matted tangles rose above the yellow line,
was something black, something longish, curved, not very large.... I looked
attentively.... Some dark object was lying there, lying motionless beside
the rock.... This object grew clearer, more defined the nearer I got to
There was only a distance of thirty paces left between me and the rock....
Why, it was the outline of a human form! It was a corpse; it was a drowned
man thrown up by the sea! I went right up to the rock.
The corpse was the baron, my father! I stood as though turned to stone.
Only then I realised that I had been led since early morning by some
unknown forces, that I was in their power, and for some instants there was
nothing in my soul but the never-ceasing crash of the sea, and dumb horror
at the fate that had possession of me....
He lay on his back, turned a little to one side, with his left arm behind
his head ... the right was thrust under his bent body. The toes of his
feet, in high sailor's boots, had been sucked into the slimy sea-mud; the
short blue jacket, drenched through with brine, was still closely buttoned;
a red scarf was fastened in a tight knot about his neck. The dark face,
turned to the sky, looked as if it were laughing; the small close-set teeth
could be seen under the lifted upper lip; the dim pupils of the half-closed
eyes were scarcely discernible in the darkened eyeballs; the clotted hair,
covered with bubbles of foam, lay dishevelled on the ground, and bared the
smooth brow with the purple line of the scar; the narrow nose rose, a sharp
white line, between the sunken cheeks. The storm of the previous night
had done its work.... He would never see America again! The man who had
outraged my mother, who had spoiled and soiled her life; my father--yes!
my father--of that I could feel no doubt--lay helplessly outstretched in
the mud at my feet. I experienced a sensation of satisfied revenge, and of
pity, and repulsion, and horror, more than all ... a double horror, at what
I saw, and at what had happened. The wicked criminal feelings of which I
have spoken, those uncomprehended impulses of rage rose up in me ... choked
me. 'Aha!' I thought, 'so that is why I am like this ... that is how my
blood shows itself!' I stood beside the corpse, and stared in suspense.
Would not those dead eyes move, would not those stiff lips quiver? No! all
was still; the very seaweed seemed lifeless where the breakers had flung
it; even the gulls had flown; not a broken spar anywhere, not a fragment
of wood, nor a bit of rigging. On all sides emptiness ... only he and I,
and in the distance the sounding sea. I looked back; the same emptiness
there: a ridge of lifeless downs on the horizon ... that was all! My heart
revolted against leaving this luckless wretch in this solitude, on the
briny sand of the seashore, to be devoured by fishes and birds; an inner
voice told me I ought to find people, call them, if not to help--what help
could there be now!--at least to lift him up, to carry him into some living
habitation ... but an indescribable panic suddenly seized on me. It seemed
to me that this dead man knew I had come here, that he had himself planned
this last meeting. I even fancied I heard the indistinct mutter I knew so
well.... I ran away ... looked back once.... Something glittering caught
my eye; it brought me to a halt. It was a hoop of gold on the hand of
the corpse.... I knew it for my mother's betrothal ring. I remember how
I forced myself to turn back, to go up, to bend down ... I remember the
clammy touch of the chill fingers; I remember how I held my breath, and
half-closed my eyes, and set my teeth, tearing off the obstinate ring....
At last, it was off ... and I was running, running away at full speed, with
something flying behind me, upon my heels, overtaking me.
All I had felt and gone through was probably written on my face when I got
home. My mother abruptly drew herself up directly I went into her room, and
looked with such urgent inquiry at me, that, after an unsuccessful attempt
to explain, I ended by holding out the ring to her in silence. She turned
fearfully white, her eyes opened extraordinarily and looked dead, like
_those_ eyes; she uttered a faint cry, snatched the ring, reeled, fell
on my breast, and fairly swooned away, her head falling back, and her
blank wide-open eyes staring at me. I threw both my arms about her, and
standing where I was, without moving, told her slowly, in a subdued voice,
everything, without the slightest concealment: my dream, and the meeting,
and everything, everything.... She heard me to the end without uttering a
single word, only her bosom heaved more and more violently, and her eyes
suddenly flashed and sank. Then she put the ring on her third finger, and,
moving away a little, began getting her cape and hat. I asked her where she
was going. She lifted eyes full of surprise upon me, and tried to answer,
but her voice failed her. She shuddered several times, rubbed her hands, as
though she were trying to warm them, and at last said, 'Let us go there at
'Where he is lying ... I want to see ... I want to know ... I will
I endeavoured to persuade her not to go; but she almost fell into a nervous
attack. I saw it was impossible to oppose her wish, and we set off.
And now I was again walking along the sand; but this time not alone. I had
my mother on my arm. The sea had ebbed away, had retreated farther still;
it was calmer, but its roar, though fainter, was still menacing and
malignant. There, at last, rose the solitary rock before us; there was the
seaweed too. I looked intently, I tried to distinguish that curved object
lying on the ground--but I saw nothing. We went closer; instinctively I
slackened my pace. But where was the black still object? Only the tangles
of seaweed rose black against the sand, which had dried up by now. We went
right up to the rock.... There was no corpse to be seen; and only where it
had been lying there was still a hollow place, and one could see where the
arms and where the legs had lain.... The seaweed around looked as it were
crushed, and prints were visible of one man's feet; they crossed the dune,
then were lost, as they reached the heaped-up shingle.
My mother and I looked at each other, and were frightened at what we saw in
each other's faces....
Surely he had not got up of himself and gone away?
'You are sure you saw him dead?' she asked in a whisper.
I could only nod in assent. Three hours had not passed since I had come
upon the baron's corpse.... Some one had discovered and removed it. I must
find out who had done it, and what had become of it.
But first I had to look after my mother.
While she had been walking to the fatal spot she had been in a fever, but
she controlled herself. The disappearance of the dead body came upon her
as a final blow. She was struck dumb. I feared for her reason. With great
difficulty I got her home. I made her lie down again on her bed, again
I sent for the doctor, but as soon as my mother had recovered herself a
little, she at one desired me to set off without delay to find out 'that
man.' I obeyed. But, in spite of every possible effort, I discovered
nothing. I went several times to the police, visited several villages in
the neighbourhood, put several advertisements in the papers, collected
information in all directions, and all in vain! I received information,
indeed, that the corpse of a drowned man had been picked up in one of the
seaside villages near.... I at once hastened off there, but from all I
could hear the body had no resemblance to the baron. I found out in what
ship he had set sail for America; at first every one was positive that ship
had gone down in the storm; but a few months later there were rumours that
it had been seen riding at anchor in New York harbour. Not knowing what
steps to take, I began seeking out the negro I had seen, offering him in
the papers a considerable sum of money if he would call at our house. Some
tall negro in a cloak did actually call on us in my absence.... But after
questioning the maid, he abruptly departed, and never came back again.
So all traces were lost of my ... my father; so he vanished into silence
and darkness never to return. My mother and I never spoke of him; only one
day, I remember, she expressed surprise that I had never told her before
of my strange dream; and added, 'It must mean he really....', but did not
utter all her thought. My mother was ill a long while, and even after her
recovery our former close relations never returned. She was ill at ease
with me to the day of her death.... Ill at ease was just what she was. And
that is a trouble there is no cure for. Anything may be smoothed over,
memories of even the most tragic domestic incidents gradually lose their
strength and bitterness; but if once a sense of being ill at ease installs
itself between two closely united persons, it can never be dislodged! I
never again had the dream that had once so agitated me; I no longer 'look
for' my father; but sometimes I fancied--and even now I fancy--that I hear,
as it were, distant wails, as it were, never silent, mournful plaints; they
seem to sound somewhere behind a high wall, which cannot be crossed; they
wring my heart, and I weep with closed eyes, and am never able to tell what
it is, whether it is a living man moaning, or whether I am listening to the
wild, long-drawn-out howl of the troubled sea. And then it passes again
into the muttering of some beast, and I fall asleep with anguish and horror
in my heart.