Yes, yes, began Piotr Gavrilovitch; those were painful days... and I
would rather not recall them.... But I have made you a promise; I shall
have to tell you the whole story. Listen.
I was living at that time (the winter of 1835) in Moscow, in the house
of my aunt, the sister of my dead mother. I was eighteen; I had only
just passed from the second into the third course in the faculty 'of
Language' (that was what it was called in those days) in the Moscow
University. My aunt was a gentle, quiet woman--a widow. She lived in a
big, wooden house in Ostozhonka, one of those warm, cosy houses such as,
I fancy, one can find nowhere else but in Moscow. She saw hardly any
one, sat from morning till night in the drawing-room with two
companions, drank the choicest tea, played patience, and was continually
requesting that the room should be fumigated. Thereupon her companions
ran into the hall; a few minutes later an old servant in livery would
bring in a copper pan with a bunch of mint on a hot brick, and stepping
hurriedly upon the narrow strips of carpet, he would sprinkle the mint
with vinegar. White fumes always puffed up about his wrinkled face, and
he frowned and turned away, while the canaries in the dining-room
chirped their hardest, exasperated by the hissing of the smouldering
I was fatherless and motherless, and my aunt spoiled me. She placed the
whole of the ground floor at my complete disposal. My rooms were
furnished very elegantly, not at all like a student's rooms in fact:
there were pink curtains in the bedroom, and a muslin canopy, adorned
with blue rosettes, towered over my bed. Those rosettes were, I'll own,
rather an annoyance to me; to my thinking, such 'effeminacies' were
calculated to lower me in the eyes of my companions. As it was, they
nicknamed me 'the boarding-school miss.' I could never succeed in
forcing myself to smoke. I studied--why conceal my shortcomings?--very
lazily, especially at the beginning of the course. I went out a great
deal. My aunt had bestowed on me a wide sledge, fit for a general, with
a pair of sleek horses. At the houses of 'the gentry' my visits were
rare, but at the theatre I was quite at home, and I consumed masses of
tarts at the restaurants. For all that, I permitted myself no breach of
decorum, and behaved very discreetly, _en jeune homme de bonne
maison_. I would not for anything in the world have pained my kind
aunt; and besides I was naturally of a rather cool temperament.
From my earliest years I had been fond of chess; I had no idea of the
science of the game, but I didn't play badly. One day in a café, I was
the spectator of a prolonged contest at chess, between two players, of
whom one, a fair-haired young man of about five-and-twenty, struck me as
playing well. The game ended in his favour; I offered to play a match
with him. He agreed,... and in the course of an hour, beat me easily,
three times running.
'You have a natural gift for the game,' he pronounced in a courteous
tone, noticing probably that my vanity was suffering; 'but you don't
know the openings. You ought to study a chess-book--Allgacir or Petrov.'
'Do you think so? But where can I get such a book?'
'Come to me; I will give you one.'
He gave me his name, and told me where he was living. Next day I went to
see him, and a week later we were almost inseparable.
My new acquaintance was called Alexander Davidovitch Fustov. He lived
with his mother, a rather wealthy woman, the widow of a privy
councillor, but he occupied a little lodge apart and lived quite
independently, just as I did at my aunt's. He had a post in the
department of Court affairs. I became genuinely attached to him. I had
never in my life met a young man more 'sympathetic.' Everything about
him was charming and attractive: his graceful figure, his bearing, his
voice, and especially his small, delicate face with the golden-blue
eyes, the elegant, as it were coquettishly moulded little nose, the
unchanging amiable smile on the crimson lips, the light curls of soft
hair over the rather narrow, snow-white brow. Fustov's character was
remarkable for exceptional serenity, and a sort of amiable, restrained
affability; he was never pre-occupied, and was always satisfied with
everything; but on the other hand he was never ecstatic over anything.
Every excess, even in a good feeling, jarred upon him; 'that's savage,
savage,' he would say with a faint shrug, half closing his golden eyes.
Marvellous were those eyes of Fustov's! They invariably expressed
sympathy, good-will, even devotion. It was only at a later period that I
noticed that the expression of his eyes resulted solely from their
setting, that it never changed, even when he was sipping his soup or
smoking a cigar. His preciseness became a byword between us. His
grandmother, indeed, had been a German. Nature had endowed him with all
sorts of talents. He danced capitally, was a dashing horseman, and a
first-rate swimmer; did carpentering, carving and joinery, bound books
and cut out silhouettes, painted in watercolours nosegays of flowers or
Napoleon in profile in a blue uniform; played the zither with feeling;
knew a number of tricks, with cards and without; and had a fair
knowledge of mechanics, physics, and chemistry; but everything only up
to a certain point. Only for languages he had no great facility: even
French he spoke rather badly. He spoke in general little, and his share
in our students' discussions was mostly limited to the bright sympathy
of his glance and smile. To the fair sex Fustov was attractive,
undoubtedly, but on this subject, of such importance among young people,
he did not care to enlarge, and fully deserved the nickname given him by
his comrades, 'the discreet Don Juan.' I was not dazzled by Fustov;
there was nothing in him to dazzle, but I prized his affection, though
in reality it was only manifested by his never refusing to see me when I
called. To my mind Fustov was the happiest man in the world. His life
ran so very smoothly. His mother, brothers, sisters, aunts, and uncles
all adored him, he was on exceptionally good terms with all of them, and
enjoyed the reputation of a paragon in his family.
One day I went round to him rather early and did not find him in his
study. He called to me from the next room; sounds of panting and
splashing reached me from there. Every morning Fustov took a cold
shower-bath and afterwards for a quarter of an hour practised gymnastic
exercises, in which he had attained remarkable proficiency. Excessive
anxiety about one's physical health he did not approve of, but he did
not neglect necessary care. ('Don't neglect yourself, don't over-excite
yourself, work in moderation,' was his precept.) Fustov had not yet made
his appearance, when the outer door of the room where I was waiting flew
wide open, and there walked in a man about fifty, wearing a bluish
uniform. He was a stout, squarely-built man with milky-whitish eyes in a
dark-red face and a perfect cap of thick, grey, curly hair. This person
stopped short, looked at me, opened his mouth wide, and with a metallic
chuckle, he gave himself a smart slap on his haunch, kicking his leg up
in front as he did so.
'Ivan Demianitch?' my friend inquired through the door.
'The same, at your service,' the new comer responded. 'What are you up
to? At your toilette? That's right! that's right!' (The voice of the man
addressed as Ivan Demianitch had the same harsh, metallic note as his
laugh.) 'I've trudged all this way to give your little brother his
lesson; and he's got a cold, you know, and does nothing but sneeze. He
can't do his work. So I've looked in on you for a bit to warm myself.'
Ivan Demianitch laughed again the same strange guffaw, again dealt
himself a sounding smack on the leg, and pulling a check handkerchief
out of his pocket, blew his nose noisily, ferociously rolling his eyes,
spat into the handkerchief, and ejaculated with the whole force of his
Fustov came into the room, and shaking hands with both of us, asked us
if we were acquainted.
'Not a bit of it!' Ivan Demianitch boomed at once: 'the veteran of the
year twelve has not that honour!'
Fustov mentioned my name first, then, indicating the 'veteran of the
year twelve,' he pronounced: 'Ivan Demianitch Ratsch, professor of...
'Precisely so, various they are, precisely,' Mr. Ratsch chimed in. 'Come
to think of it, what is there I haven't taught, and that I'm not
teaching now, for that matter! Mathematics and geography and statistics
and Italian book-keeping, ha-ha ha-ha! and music! You doubt it, my dear
sir?'--he pounced suddenly upon me--'ask Alexander Daviditch if I'm not
first-rate on the bassoon. I should be a poor sort of Bohemian--Czech, I
should say--if I weren't! Yes, sir, I'm a Czech, and my native place is
ancient Prague! By the way, Alexander Daviditch, why haven't we seen you
for so long! We ought to have a little duet... ha-ha! Really!'
'I was at your place the day before yesterday, Ivan Demianitch,' replied
'But I call that a long while, ha-ha!'
When Mr. Ratsch laughed, his white eyes shifted from side to side in a
strange, restless way.
'You're surprised, young man, I see, at my behaviour,' he addressed me
again. 'But that's because you don't understand my temperament. You must
just ask our good friend here, Alexander Daviditch, to tell you about
me. What'll he tell you? He'll tell you old Ratsch is a simple,
good-hearted chap, a regular Russian, in heart, if not in origin, ha-ha!
At his christening named Johann Dietrich, but always called Ivan
Demianitch! What's in my mind pops out on my tongue; I wear my heart, as
they say, on my sleeve. Ceremony of all sorts I know naught about and
don't want to neither! Can't bear it! You drop in on me one day of an
evening, and you'll see for yourself. My good woman--my wife, that
is--has no nonsense about her either; she'll cook and bake you...
something wonderful! Alexander Daviditch, isn't it the truth I'm
Fustov only smiled, and I remained silent.
'Don't look down on the old fellow, but come round,' pursued Mr. Ratsch.
'But now...' (he pulled a fat silver watch out of his pocket and put it
up to one of his goggle eyes)'I'd better be toddling on, I suppose. I've
another chick expecting me.... Devil knows what I'm teaching him,...
mythology, by God! And he lives a long way off, the rascal, at the Red
Gate! No matter; I'll toddle off on foot. Thanks to your brother's
cutting his lesson, I shall be the fifteen kopecks for sledge hire to
the good! Ha-ha! A very good day to you, gentlemen, till we meet
again!... Eh?... We must have a little duet!' Mr. Ratsch bawled from the
passage putting on his goloshes noisily, and for the last time we heard
his metallic laugh.
'What a strange man!' I said, turning to Fustov, who had already set to
work at his turning-lathe. 'Can he be a foreigner? He speaks Russian so
'He is a foreigner; only he's been thirty years in Russia. As long ago
as 1802, some prince or other brought him from abroad... in the capacity
of secretary... more likely, valet, one would suppose. He does speak
Russian fluently, certainly.'
'With such go, such far-fetched turns and phrases,' I put in.
'Well, yes. Only very unnaturally too. They're all like that, these
'But he's a Czech, isn't he?'
'I don't know; may be. He talks German with his wife.'
'And why does he call himself a veteran of the year twelve? Was he in
the militia, or what?'
'In the militia! indeed! At the time of the fire he remained in Moscow
and lost all his property.... That was all he did.'
'But what did he stay in Moscow for?'
Fustov still went on with his turning.
'The Lord knows. I have heard that he was a spy on our side; but that
must be nonsense. But it's a fact that he received compensation from the
treasury for his losses.'
'He wears some sort of uniform.... I suppose he's in government service
'Yes. Professor in the cadet's corps. He has the rank of a petty
'What's his wife like?'
'A German settled here, daughter of a sausagemaker... or butcher....'
'And do you often go to see him?'
'What, is it pleasant there?'
'Has he any children?'
'Yes. Three by the German, and a son and daughter by his first wife.'
'And how old is the eldest daughter?'
I fancied Fustov bent lower over his lathe, and the wheel turned more
rapidly, and hummed under the even strokes of his feet.
'Is she good-looking?'
'That's a matter of taste. She has a remarkable face, and she's
altogether... a remarkable person.'
'Aha!' thought I. Fustov continued his work with special earnestness,
and to my next question he only responded by a grunt.
'I must make her acquaintance,' I decided.
A few days later, Fustov and I set off to Mr. Ratsch's to spend the
evening. He lived in a wooden house with a big yard and garden, in
Krivoy Place near the Pretchistensky boulevard. He came out into the
passage, and meeting us with his characteristic jarring guffaw and
noise, led us at once into the drawing-room, where he presented me to a
stout lady in a skimpy canvas gown, Eleonora Karpovna, his wife.
Eleonora Karpovna had most likely in her first youth been possessed of
what the French for some unknown reason call _beauté du diable_,
that is to say, freshness; but when I made her acquaintance, she
suggested involuntarily to the mind a good-sized piece of meat, freshly
laid by the butcher on a clean marble table. Designedly I used the word
'clean'; not only our hostess herself seemed a model of cleanliness, but
everything about her, everything in the house positively shone, and
glittered; everything had been scoured, and polished, and washed: the
samovar on the round table flashed like fire; the curtains before the
windows, the table-napkins were crisp with starch, as were also the
little frocks and shirts of Mr. Ratsch's four children sitting there,
stout, chubby little creatures, exceedingly like their mother, with
coarsely moulded, sturdy faces, curls on their foreheads, and red,
shapeless fingers. All the four of them had rather flat noses, large,
swollen-looking lips, and tiny, light-grey eyes.
'Here's my squadron!' cried Mr. Ratsch, laying his heavy hand on the
children's heads one after another. 'Kolia, Olga, Sashka and Mashka!
This one's eight, this one's seven, that one's four, and this one's only
two! Ha! ha! ha! As you can see, my wife and I haven't wasted our time!
Eh, Eleonora Karpovna?'
'You always say things like that,' observed Eleonora Karpovna and she
'And she's bestowed such Russian names on her squallers!' Mr. Ratsch
pursued. 'The next thing, she'll have them all baptized into the
Orthodox Church! Yes, by Jove! She's so Slavonic in her sympathies, 'pon
my soul, she is, though she is of German blood! Eleonora Karpovna, are
Eleonora Karpovna lost her temper.
'I'm a petty councillor's wife, that's what I am! And so I'm a Russian
lady and all you may say....'
'There, the way she loves Russia, it's simply awful!' broke in Ivan
Demianitch. 'A perfect volcano, ho, ho!'
'Well, and what of it?' pursued Eleonora Karpovna. 'To be sure I love
Russia, for where else could I obtain noble rank? And my children too
are nobly born, you know. Kolia, sitze ruhig mit den Füssen!'
Ratsch waved his hand to her.
'There, there, princess, don't excite yourself! But where's the nobly
born Viktor? To be sure, he's always gadding about! He'll come across
the inspector one of these fine days! He'll give him a talking-to! Das
ist ein Bummler, Fiktor!'
'Dem Fiktov kann ich nicht kommandiren, Ivan Demianitch. Sie wissen
wohl!' grumbled Eleonora Karpovna.
I looked at Fustov, as though wishing finally to arrive at what induced
him to visit such people... but at that instant there came into the room
a tall girl in a black dress, the elder daughter of Mr. Ratsch, to whom
Fustov had referred.... I perceived the explanation of my friend's
There is somewhere, I remember, in Shakespeare, something about 'a white
dove in a flock of black crows'; that was just the impression made on me
by the girl, who entered the room. Between the world surrounding her and
herself there seemed to be too little in common; she herself seemed
secretly bewildered and wondering how she had come there. All the
members of Mr. Ratsch's family looked self-satisfied, simple-hearted,
healthy creatures; her beautiful, but already careworn, face bore the
traces of depression, pride and morbidity. The others, unmistakable
plebeians, were unconstrained in their manners, coarse perhaps, but
simple; but a painful uneasiness was manifest in all her indubitably
aristocratic nature. In her very exterior there was no trace of the type
characteristic of the German race; she recalled rather the children of
the south. The excessively thick, lustreless black hair, the hollow,
black, lifeless but beautiful eyes, the low, prominent brow, the
aquiline nose, the livid pallor of the smooth skin, a certain tragic
line near the delicate lips, and in the slightly sunken cheeks,
something abrupt, and at the same time helpless in the movements,
elegance without gracefulness... in Italy all this would not have struck
me as exceptional, but in Moscow, near the Pretchistensky boulevard, it
simply astonished me! I got up from my seat on her entrance; she flung
me a swift, uneasy glance, and dropping her black eyelashes, sat down
near the window 'like Tatiana.' (Pushkin's _Oniegin_ was then fresh
in every one's mind.) I glanced at Fustov, but my friend was standing
with his back to me, taking a cup of tea from the plump hands of
Eleonora Karpovna. I noticed further that the girl as she came in seemed
to bring with her a breath of slight physical chillness.... 'What a
statue!' was my thought.
'Piotr Gavrilitch,' thundered Mr. Ratsch, turning to me, 'let me
introduce you to my... to my... my number one, ha, ha, ha! to Susanna
I bowed in silence, and thought at once: 'Why, the name too is not the
same sort as the others,' while Susanna rose slightly, without smiling
or loosening her tightly clasped hands.
'And how about the duet?' Ivan Demianitch pursued: 'Alexander Daviditch?
eh? benefactor! Your zither was left with us, and I've got the bassoon
out of its case already. Let us make sweet music for the honourable
company!' (Mr. Ratsch liked to display his Russian; he was continually
bursting out with expressions, such as those which are strewn broadcast
about the ultra-national poems of Prince Viazemsky.) 'What do you say?
Carried?' cried Ivan Demianitch, seeing Fustov made no objection.
'Kolka, march into the study, and look sharp with the music-stand! Olga,
this way with the zither! And oblige us with candles for the stands,
better-half!' (Mr. Ratsch turned round and round in the room like a
top.) 'Piotr Gavrilitch, you like music, hey? If you don't care for it,
you must amuse yourself with conversation, only mind, not above a
whisper! Ha, ha ha! But what ever's become of that silly chap, Viktor?
He ought to be here to listen too! You spoil him completely, Eleonora
Eleonora Karpovna fired up angrily.
'Aber was kann ich denn, Ivan Demianitch...'
'All right, all right, don't squabble! Bleibe ruhig, hast verstanden?
Alexander Daviditch! at your service, sir!'
The children had promptly done as their father had told them. The
music-stands were set up, the music began. I have already mentioned that
Fustov played the zither extremely well, but that instrument has always
produced the most distressing impression upon me. I have always fancied,
and I fancy still, that there is imprisoned in the zither the soul of a
decrepit Jew money-lender, and that it emits nasal whines and complaints
against the merciless musician who forces it to utter sounds. Mr.
Ratsch's performance, too, was not calculated to give me much pleasure;
moreover, his face became suddenly purple, and assumed a malignant
expression, while his whitish eyes rolled viciously, as though he were
just about to murder some one with his bassoon, and were swearing and
threatening by way of preliminary, puffing out chokingly husky, coarse
notes one after another. I placed myself near Susanna, and waiting for a
momentary pause, I asked her if she were as fond of music as her papa.
She turned away, as though I had given her a shove, and pronounced
'Your father,' I repeated,'Mr. Ratsch.'
'Mr. Ratsch is not my father.'
'Not your father! I beg your pardon... I must have misunderstood... But
I remember, Alexander Daviditch...'
Susanna looked at me intently and shyly.
'You misunderstood Mr. Fustov. Mr. Ratsch is my stepfather.'
I was silent for a while.
'And you don't care for music?' I began again.
Susanna glanced at me again. Undoubtedly there was something suggesting
a wild creature in her eyes. She obviously had not expected nor desired
the continuation of our conversation.
'I did not say that,' she brought out slowly.
'Troo-too-too-too-too-oo-oo...' the bassoon growled with startling fury,
executing the final flourishes. I turned round, caught sight of the red
neck of Mr. Ratsch, swollen like a boa-constrictor's, beneath his
projecting ears, and very disgusting I thought him.
'But that... instrument you surely do not care for,' I said in an
'No... I don't care for it,' she responded, as though catching my secret
'Oho!' thought I, and felt, as it were, delighted at something.
'Susanna Ivanovna,' Eleonora Karpovna announced suddenly in her German
Russian, 'music greatly loves, and herself very beautifully plays the
piano, only she likes not to play the piano when she is greatly pressed
Susanna made Eleonora Karpovna no reply--she did not even look at
her--only there was a faint movement of her eyes, under their dropped
lids, in her direction. From this movement alone--this movement of her
pupils--I could perceive what was the nature of the feeling Susanna
cherished for the second wife of her stepfather.... And again I was
delighted at something.
Meanwhile the duet was over. Fustov got up and with hesitating footsteps
approached the window, near which Susanna and I were sitting, and asked
her if she had received from Lengold's the music that he had promised to
order her from Petersburg.
'Selections from _Robert le Diable,_' he added, turning to me,
'from that new opera that every one's making such a fuss about.'
'No, I haven't got it yet,' answered Susanna, and turning round with her
face to the window she whispered hurriedly. 'Please, Alexander
Daviditch, I entreat you, don't make me play to-day. I don't feel in the
mood a bit.'
'What's that? Robert le Diable of Meyer-beer?' bellowed Ivan Demianitch,
coming up to us: 'I don't mind betting it's a first-class article! He's
a Jew, and all Jews, like all Czechs, are born musicians. Especially
Jews. That's right, isn't it, Susanna Ivanovna? Hey? Ha, ha, ha, ha!'
In Mr. Ratsch's last words, and this time even in his guffaw, there
could be heard something more than his usual bantering tone--the desire
to wound was evident. So, at least, I fancied, and so Susanna understood
him. She started instinctively, flushed red, and bit her lower lip. A
spot of light, like the gleam of a tear, flashed on her eyelash, and
rising quickly, she went out of the room.
'Where are you off to, Susanna Ivanovna?' Mr. Ratsch bawled after her.
'Let her be, Ivan Demianitch, 'put in Eleonora Karpovna. 'Wenn sie
einmal so et was im Kopfe hat...'
'A nervous temperament,'Ratsch pronounced, rotating on his heels, and
slapping himself on the haunch, 'suffers with the _plexus solaris._
Oh! you needn't look at me like that, Piotr Gavrilitch! I've had a go
at anatomy too, ha, ha! I'm even a bit of a doctor! You ask Eleonora
Karpovna... I cure all her little ailments! Oh, I'm a famous hand at
'You must for ever be joking, Ivan Demianitch,' the latter responded
with displeasure, while Fustov, laughing and gracefully swaying to and
fro, looked at the husband and wife.
'And why not be joking, mein Mütterchen?' retorted Ivan Demianitch.
'Life's given us for use, and still more for beauty, as some celebrated
poet has observed. Kolka, wipe your nose, little savage!'
'I was put in a very awkward position this evening through your doing,'
I said the same evening to Fustov, on the way home with him. 'You told
me that that girl--what's her name?--Susanna, was the daughter of Mr.
Ratsch, but she's his stepdaughter.'
'Really! Did I tell you she was his daughter? But... isn't it all the
'That Ratsch,' I went on.... 'O Alexander, how I detest him! Did you
notice the peculiar sneer with which he spoke of Jews before her? Is
she... a Jewess?'
Fustov walked ahead, swinging his arms; it was cold, the snow was crisp,
like salt, under our feet.
'Yes, I recollect, I did hear something of the sort,' he observed at
last.... 'Her mother, I fancy, was of Jewish extraction.'
'Then Mr. Ratsch must have married a widow the first time?'
'H'm!... And that Viktor, who didn't come in this evening, is his
'No... he's his real son. But, as you know, I don't enter into other
people's affairs, and I don't like asking questions. I'm not
I bit my tongue. Fustov still pushed on ahead. As we got near home, I
overtook him and peeped into his face.
'Oh!' I queried, 'is Susanna really so musical?'
'She plays the piano well, 'he said between his teeth. 'Only she's very
shy, I warn you!' he added with a slight grimace. He seemed to be
regretting having made me acquainted with her.
I said nothing and we parted.
Next morning I set off again to Fustov's. To spend my mornings at his
rooms had become a necessity for me. He received me cordially, as usual,
but of our visit of the previous evening--not a word! As though he had
taken water into his mouth, as they say. I began turning over the pages
of the last number of the _Telescope._
A person, unknown to me, came into the room. It turned out to be Mr.
Ratsch's son, the Viktor whose absence had been censured by his father
the evening before.
He was a young man, about eighteen, but already looked dissipated and
unhealthy, with a mawkishly insolent grin on his unclean face, and an
expression of fatigue in his swollen eyes. He was like his father, only
his features were smaller and not without a certain prettiness. But in
this very prettiness there was something offensive. He was dressed in a
very slovenly way; there were buttons off his undergraduate's coat, one
of his boots had a hole in it, and he fairly reeked of tobacco.
'How d'ye do,' he said in a sleepy voice, with those peculiar twitchings
of the head and shoulders which I have always noticed in spoilt and
conceited young men. 'I meant to go to the University, but here I am.
Sort of oppression on my chest. Give us a cigar.' He walked right across
the room, listlessly dragging his feet, and keeping his hands in his
trouser-pockets, and sank heavily upon the sofa.
'Have you caught cold?' asked Fustov, and he introduced us to each
other. We were both students, but were in different faculties.
'No!... Likely! Yesterday, I must own...' (here Ratsch junior smiled,
again not without a certain prettiness, though he showed a set of bad
teeth) 'I was drunk, awfully drunk. Yes'--he lighted a cigar and cleared
his throat--'Obihodov's farewell supper.'
'Where's he going?'
'To the Caucasus, and taking his young lady with him. You know the
black-eyed girl, with the freckles. Silly fool!'
'Your father was asking after you yesterday,' observed Fustov.
Viktor spat aside. 'Yes, I heard about it. You were at our den
yesterday. Well, music, eh?'
'And _she_... with a new visitor' (here he pointed with his head in
my direction) 'she gave herself airs, I'll be bound. Wouldn't play, eh?'
'Of whom are you speaking?' Fustov asked.
'Why, of the most honoured Susanna Ivanovna, of course!'
Viktor lolled still more comfortably, put his arm up round his head,
gazed at his own hand, and cleared his throat hoarsely.
I glanced at Fustov. He merely shrugged his shoulders, as though giving
me to understand that it was no use talking to such a dolt.
Viktor, staring at the ceiling, fell to talking, deliberately and
through his nose, of the theatre, of two actors he knew, of a certain
Serafrina Serafrinovna, who had 'made a fool' of him, of the new
professor, R., whom he called a brute. 'Because, only fancy, what a
monstrous notion! Every lecture he begins with calling over the
students' names, and he's reckoned a liberal too! I'd have all your
liberals locked up in custody!' and turning at last his full face and
whole body towards Fustov, he brought out in a half-plaintive,
half-ironical voice: 'I wanted to ask you something, Alexander
Daviditch.... Couldn't you talk my governor round somehow?... You play
duets with him, you know.... Here he gives me five miserable blue notes
a month.... What's the use of that! Not enough for tobacco. And then he
goes on about my not making debts! I should like to put him in my place,
and then we should see! I don't come in for pensions, not like _some
people_.' (Viktor pronounced these last words with peculiar
emphasis.) 'But he's got a lot of tin, I know! It's no use his whining
about hard times, there's no taking me in. No fear! He's made a snug
Fustov looked dubiously at Victor.
'If you like,' he began, 'I'll speak to your father. Or, if you like...
meanwhile... a trifling sum....'
'Oh, no! Better get round the governor... Though,' added Viktor,
scratching his nose with all his fingers at once, 'you might hand over
five-and-twenty roubles, if it's the same to you.... What's the blessed
total I owe you?'
'You've borrowed eighty-five roubles of me.'
'Yes.... Well, that's all right, then... make it a hundred and ten. I'll
pay it all in a lump.'
Fustov went into the next room, brought back a twenty-five-rouble note
and handed it in silence to Viktor. The latter took it, yawned with his
mouth wide open, grumbled thanks, and, shrugging and stretching, got up
from the sofa.
'Foo! though... I'm bored,' he muttered, 'might as well turn in to the
He moved towards the door.
Fustov looked after him. He seemed to be struggling with himself.
'What pension were you alluding to just now, Viktor Ivanitch?' he asked
Viktor stopped in the doorway and put on his cap.
'Oh, don't you know? Susanna Ivanovna's pension.... She gets one. An
awfully curious story, I can tell you! I'll tell it you one of these
days. Quite an affair, 'pon my soul, a queer affair. But, I say, the
governor, you won't forget about the governor, please! His hide is
thick, of course--German, and it's had a Russian tanning too, still you
can get through it. Only, mind my step-mother Elenorka's nowhere about!
Dad's afraid of her, and she wants to keep everything for her brats! But
there, you know your way about! Good-bye!'
'Ugh, what a low beast that boy is!' cried Fustov, as soon as the door
His face was burning, as though from the fire, and he turned away from
me. I did not question him, and soon retired.
All that day I spent in speculating about Fustov, about Susanna, and
about her relations. I had a vague feeling of something like a family
drama. As far as I could judge, my friend was not indifferent to
Susanna. But she? Did she care for him? Why did she seem so unhappy? And
altogether, what sort of creature was she? These questions were
continually recurring to my mind. An obscure but strong conviction told
me that it would be no use to apply to Fustov for the solution of them.
It ended in my setting off the next day alone to Mr. Ratsch's house.
I felt all at once very uncomfortable and confused directly I found
myself in the dark little passage. 'She won't appear even, very likely,'
flashed into my mind. 'I shall have to stop with the repulsive veteran
and his cook of a wife.... And indeed, even if she does show herself,
what of it? She won't even take part in the conversation.... She was
anything but warm in her manner to me the other day. Why ever did I
come?' While I was making these reflections, the little page ran to
announce my presence, and in the adjoining room, after two or three
wondering 'Who is it? Who, do you say?' I heard the heavy shuffling of
slippers, the folding-door was slightly opened, and in the crack between
its two halves was thrust the face of Ivan Demianitch, an unkempt and
grim-looking face. It stared at me and its expression did not
immediately change.... Evidently, Mr. Ratsch did not at once recognise
me; but suddenly his cheeks grew rounder, his eyes narrower, and from
his opening mouth, there burst, together with a guffaw, the exclamation:
'Ah! my dear sir! Is it you? Pray walk in!'
I followed him all the more unwillingly, because it seemed to me that
this affable, good-humoured Mr. Ratsch was inwardly wishing me at the
devil. There was nothing to be done, however. He led me into the
drawing-room, and in the drawing-room who should be sitting but Susanna,
bending over an account-book? She glanced at me with her melancholy
eyes, and very slightly bit the finger-nails of her left hand.... It was
a habit of hers, I noticed, a habit peculiar to nervous people. There
was no one else in the room.
'You see, sir,' began Mr. Ratsch, dealing himself a smack on the haunch,
'what you've found Susanna Ivanovna and me busy upon: we're at our
accounts. My spouse has no great head for arithmetic, and I, I must own,
try to spare my eyes. I can't read without spectacles, what am I to do?
Let the young people exert themselves, ha-ha! That's the proper thing.
But there's no need of haste.... More haste, worse speed in catching
Susanna closed the book, and was about to leave the room.
'Wait a bit, wait a bit,' began Mr. Ratsch. 'It's no great matter if
you're not in your best dress....' (Susanna was wearing a very old,
almost childish, frock with short sleeves.) 'Our dear guest is not a
stickler for ceremony, and I should like just to clear up last week....
You don't mind?'--he addressed me. 'We needn't stand on ceremony with
'Please don't put yourself out on my account!' I cried.
'To be sure, my good friend. As you're aware, the late Tsar Alexey
Nikolavitch Romanoff used to say, "Time is for business, but a minute
for recreation!" We'll devote one minute only to that same business...
ha-ha! What about that thirteen roubles and thirty kopecks?' he added in
a low voice, turning his back on me.
'Viktor took it from Eleonora Karpovna; he said that it was with your
leave,' Susanna replied, also in a low voice.
'He said... he said... my leave...' growled Ivan Demianitch. 'I'm on the
spot myself, I fancy. Might be asked. And who's had that seventeen
'Oh... the upholsterer. What's that for?' 'His bill.'
'His bill. Show me!' He pulled the book away from Susanna, and planting
a pair of round spectacles with silver rims on his nose, he began
passing his finger along the lines. 'The upholsterer,.. the
upholsterer... You'd chuck all the money out of doors! Nothing pleases
you better!... Wie die Croaten! A bill indeed! But, after all,' he added
aloud, and he turned round facing me again, and pulled the spectacles
off his nose, 'why do this now? I can go into these wretched details
later. Susanna Ivanovna, be so good as to put away that account-book,
and come back to us and enchant our kind guest's ears with your musical
accomplishments, to wit, playing on the pianoforte... Eh?'
Susanna turned away her head.
'I should be very happy,' I hastily observed; 'it would be a great
pleasure for me to hear Susanna Ivanovna play. But I would not for
anything in the world be a trouble...'
'Trouble, indeed, what nonsense! Now then, Susanna Ivanovna, eins, zwei,
Susanna made no response, and went out.
I had not expected her to come back; but she quickly reappeared. She had
not even changed her dress, and sitting down in a corner, she looked
twice intently at me. Whether it was that she was conscious in my manner
to her of the involuntary respect, inexplicable to myself, which, more
than curiosity, more even than sympathy, she aroused in me, or whether
she was in a softened frame of mind that day, any way, she suddenly went
to the piano, and laying her hand irresolutely on the keys, and turning
her head a little over her shoulder towards me, she asked what I would
like her to play. Before I had time to answer she had seated herself,
taken up some music, hurriedly opened it, and begun to play. I loved
music from childhood, but at that time I had but little comprehension of
it, and very slight knowledge of the works of the great masters, and if
Mr. Ratsch had not grumbled with some dissatisfaction, 'Aha! wieder
dieser Beethoven!' I should not have guessed what Susanna had chosen. It
was, as I found out afterwards, the celebrated sonata in F minor, opus
57. Susanna's playing impressed me more than I can say; I had not
expected such force, such fire, such bold execution. At the very first
bars of the intensely passionate allegro, the beginning of the sonata, I
felt that numbness, that chill and sweet terror of ecstasy, which
instantaneously enwrap the soul when beauty bursts with sudden flight
upon it. I did not stir a limb till the very end. I kept, wanting--and
not daring--to sigh. I was sitting behind Susanna; I could not see her
face; I saw only from time to time her long dark hair tossed up and down
on her shoulders, her figure swaying impulsively, and her delicate arms
and bare elbows swiftly, and rather angularly, moving. The last notes
died away. I sighed at last. Susanna still sat before the piano.
'Ja, ja,' observed Mr. Ratsch, who had also, however, listened with
attention; 'romantische Musik! That's all the fashion nowadays. Only,
why not play correctly? Eh? Put your finger on two notes at once--what's
that for? Eh? To be sure, all we care for is to go quickly, quickly!
Turns it out hotter, eh? Hot pancakes!' he bawled like a street seller.
Susanna turned slightly towards Mr. Ratsch. I caught sight of her face
in profile. The delicate eyebrow rose high above the downcast eyelid, an
unsteady flush overspread the cheek, the little ear was red under the
lock pushed behind it.
'I have heard all the best performers with my own ears,' pursued Mr.
Ratsch, suddenly frowning, 'and compared with the late Field they were
all--tfoo! nil! zero!! Das war ein Kerl! Und ein so reines Spiel! And
his own compositions the finest things! But all those now
"tloo-too-too," and "tra-ta-ta," are written, I suppose, more for
beginners. Da braucht man keine Delicatesse! Bang the keys anyhow... no
matter! It'll turn out some how! Janitscharen Musik! Pugh!' (Ivan
Demianitch wiped his forehead with his handkerchief.) 'But I don't say
that for you, Susanna Ivanovna; you played well, and oughtn't to be hurt
by my remarks.'
'Every one has his own taste,' Susanna said in a low voice, and her lips
were trembling; 'but your remarks, Ivan Demianitch, you know, cannot
'Oh! of course not! Only don't you imagine'--Mr. Ratsch turned to
me--'don't you imagine, my young friend, that that comes from our
excessive good-nature and meekness of spirit; it's simply that we fancy
ourselves so highly exalted that--oo-oo!--we can't keep our cap on our
head, as the Russian proverb says, and, of course, no criticism can
touch us. The conceit, my dear sir, the conceit!'
I listened in surprise to Mr. Ratsch. Spite, the bitterest spite, seemed
as it were boiling over in every word he uttered.... And long it must
have been rankling! It choked him. He tried to conclude his tirade with
his usual laugh, and fell into a husky, broken cough instead. Susanna
did not let drop a syllable in reply to him, only she shook her head,
raised her face, and clasping her elbows with her hands, stared straight
at him. In the depths of her fixed, wide-open eyes the hatred of long
years lay smouldering with dim, unquenchable fire. I felt ill at ease.
'You belong to two different musical generations,' I began, with an
effort at lightness, wishing by this lightness to suggest that I noticed
nothing, 'and so it is not surprising that you do not agree in your
opinions.... But, Ivan Demianitch, you must allow me to take rather...
the side of the younger generation. I'm an outsider, of course; but I
must confess nothing in music has ever made such an impression on me as
the... as what Susanna Ivanovna has just played us.'
Ratsch pounced at once upon me.
'And what makes you suppose,' he roared, still purple from the fit of
coughing, 'that we want to enlist you on our side? We don't want that at
all! Freedom for the free, salvation for the saved! But as to the two
generations, that's right enough; we old folks find it hard to get on
with you young people, very hard! Our ideas don't agree in anything:
neither in art, nor in life, nor even in morals; do they, Susanna
Susanna smiled a contemptuous smile.
'Especially in regard to morals, as you say, our ideas do not agree, and
cannot agree,' she responded, and something menacing seemed to flit over
her brows, while her lips were faintly trembling as before.
'Of course! of course!' Ratsch broke in, 'I'm not a philosopher! I'm not
capable of... rising so superior! I'm a plain man, swayed by
Susanna smiled again.
'I think, Ivan Demianitch, you too have sometimes been able to place
yourself above what are called prejudices.'
'Wie so? How so, I mean? I don't know what you mean.'
'You don't know what I mean? Your memory's so bad!'
Mr. Ratsch seemed utterly taken aback.
'I... I...' he repeated, 'I...'
'Yes, you, Mr. Ratsch.'
There followed a brief silence.
'Really, upon my word...' Mr. Ratsch was beginning; 'how dare you...
Susanna all at once drew herself up to her full height, and still
holding her elbows, squeezing them tight, drumming on them with her
fingers, she stood still facing Ratsch. She seemed to challenge him to
conflict, to stand up to meet him. Her face was changed; it became
suddenly, in one instant, extraordinarily beautiful, and terrible too; a
sort of bright, cold brilliance--the brilliance of steel--gleamed in her
lustreless eyes; the lips that had been quivering were compressed in one
straight, mercilessly stern line. Susanna challenged Ratsch, but he
gazed blankly, and suddenly subsiding into silence, all of a heap, so to
say, drew his head in, even stepped back a pace. The veteran of the year
twelve was afraid; there could be no mistake about that.
Susanna slowly turned her eyes from him to me, as though calling upon me
to witness her victory, and the humiliation of her foe, and, smiling
once more, she walked out of the room.
The veteran remained a little while motionless in his arm-chair; at
last, as though recollecting a forgotten part, he roused himself, got
up, and, slapping me on the shoulder, laughed his noisy guffaw.
'There, 'pon my soul! fancy now, it's over ten years I've been living
with that young lady, and yet she never can see when I'm joking, and
when I'm in earnest! And you too, my young friend, are a little puzzled,
I do believe.... Ha-ha-ha! That's because you don't know old Ratsch!'
'No.... I do know you now,' I thought, not without a feeling of some
alarm and disgust.
'You don't know the old fellow, you don't know him,' he repeated,
stroking himself on the stomach, as he accompanied me into the passage.
'I may be a tiresome person, knocked about by life, ha-ha! But I'm a
good-hearted fellow, 'pon my soul, I am!'
I rushed headlong from the stairs into the street. I longed with all
speed to get away from that good-hearted fellow.
'They hate one another, that's clear,' I thought, as I returned
homewards; 'there's no doubt either that he's a wretch of a man, and
she's a good girl. But what has there been between them? What is the
reason of this continual exasperation? What was the meaning of those
hints? And how suddenly it broke out! On such a trivial pretext!'
Next day Fustov and I had arranged to go to the theatre, to see
Shtchepkin in 'Woe from Wit.' Griboyedov's comedy had only just been
licensed for performance after being first disfigured by the censors'
mutilations. We warmly applauded Famusov and Skalozub. I don't remember
what actor took the part of Tchatsky, but I well remember that he was
indescribably bad. He made his first appearance in a Hungarian jacket,
and boots with tassels, and came on later in a frockcoat of the colour
'flamme du punch,' then in fashion, and the frockcoat looked about as
suitable as it would have done on our old butler. I recollect too that
we were all in ecstasies over the ball in the third act. Though,
probably, no one ever executed such steps in reality, it was accepted as
correct and I believe it is acted in just the same way to-day. One of
the guests hopped excessively high, while his wig flew from side to
side, and the public roared with laughter. As we were coming out of the
theatre, we jostled against Viktor in a corridor.
'You were in the theatre!' he cried, flinging his arms about. 'How was
it I didn't see you? I'm awfully glad I met you. You must come and have
supper with me. Come on; I'll stand the supper!'
Young Ratsch seemed in an excited, almost ecstatic, frame of mind. His
little eyes darted to and fro; he was grinning, and there were spots of
red on his face.
'Why this gleefulness?' asked Fustov.
'Why? Wouldn't you like to know, eh?' Viktor drew us a little aside, and
pulling out of his trouser-pocket a whole bundle of the red and blue
notes then in use waved them in the air.
Fustov was surprised.
'Has your governor been so liberal?'
'He liberal! You just try it on!... This morning, relying on your
intercession, I asked him for cash. What do you suppose the old
skinflint answered? "I'll pay your debts," says he, "if you like. Up to
twenty-five roubles inclusive!" Do you hear, inclusive! No, sir, this
was a gift from God in my destitution. A lucky chance.'
'Been robbing someone?' Fustov hazarded carelessly.
'Robbing, no indeed! I won it, won it from an officer, a guardsman. He
only arrived from Petersburg yesterday. Such a chain of circumstances!
It's worth telling... only this isn't the place. Come along to Yar's;
not a couple of steps. I'll stand the show, as I said!'
We ought, perhaps, to have refused; but we followed without making any
At Yar's we were shown into a private room; supper was served, champagne
was brought. Viktor related to us, omitting no detail, how he had in a
certain 'gay' house met this officer of the guards, a very nice chap and
of good family, only without a hap'orth of brains; how they had made
friends, how he, the officer that is, had suggested as a joke a game of
'fools' with Viktor with some old cards, for next to nothing, and with
the condition that the officer's winnings should go to the benefit of
Wilhelmina, but Viktor's to his own benefit; how afterwards they had got
on to betting on the games.
'And I, and I,' cried Viktor, and he jumped up and clapped his hands, 'I
hadn't more than six roubles in my pocket all the while. Fancy! And at
first I was completely cleaned out.... A nice position! Only then--in
answer to whose prayers I can't say--fortune smiled. The other fellow
began to get hot and kept showing all his cards.... In no time he'd lost
seven hundred and fifty roubles! He began begging me to go on playing,
but I'm not quite a fool, I fancy; no, one mustn't abuse such luck; I
popped on my hat and cut away. So now I've no need to eat humble pie
with the governor, and can treat my friends.... Hi waiter! Another
bottle! Gentlemen, let's clink glasses!'
We did clink glasses with Viktor, and continued drinking and laughing
with him, though his story was by no means to our liking, nor was his
society a source of any great satisfaction to us either. He began being
very affable, playing the buffoon, unbending, in fact, and was more
loathsome than ever. Viktor noticed at last the impression he was making
on us, and began to get sulky; his remarks became more disconnected and
his looks gloomier. He began yawning, announced that he was sleepy, and
after swearing with his characteristic coarseness at the waiter for a
badly cleaned pipe, he suddenly accosted Fustov, with a challenging
expression on his distorted face.
'I say, Alexander Daviditch,' said he, 'you tell me, if you please, what
do you look down on me for?'
'How so?' My friend was momentarily at a loss for a reply.
'I'll tell you how.... I'm very well aware that you look down on me, and
that person does too' (he pointed at me with his finger), 'so there! As
though you were yourself remarkable for such high and exalted
principles, and weren't just as much a sinner as the rest of us. Worse
even. Still waters... you know the proverb?'
Fustov turned rather red.
'What do you mean by that?' he asked.
'Why, I mean that I'm not blind yet, and I see very clearly everything
that's going on under my nose.... And I have nothing against it: first
it's not my principle to interfere, and secondly, my sister Susanna
Ivanovna hasn't always been so exemplary herself.... Only, why look down
'You don't understand what you're babbling there yourself! You're
drunk,' said Fustov, taking his overcoat from the wall. 'He's swindled
some fool of his money, and now he's telling all sorts of lies!'
Viktor continued reclining on the sofa, and merely swung his legs, which
were hanging over its arm.
'Swindled! Why did you drink the wine, then? It was paid for with the
money I won, you know. As for lies, I've no need for lying. It's not my
fault that in her past Susanna Ivanovna...'
'Hold your tongue!' Fustov shouted at him, 'hold your tongue... or...'
'You'll find out what. Come along, Piotr.'
'Aha!' pursued Viktor; 'our noble-hearted knight takes refuge in flight.
He doesn't care to hear the truth, that's evident! It stings--the truth
does, it seems!'
'Come along, Piotr,' Fustov repeated, completely losing his habitual
coolness and self-possession.
'Let's leave this wretch of a boy!'
'The boy's not afraid of you, do you hear,' Viktor shouted after us, 'he
despises you, the boy does! Do you hear!'
Fustov walked so quickly along the street that I had difficulty in
keeping up with him. All at once he stopped short and turned sharply
'Where are you going?' I asked.
'Oh, I must find out what the idiot.... He's drunk, no doubt, God knows
what.... Only don't you follow me... we shall see each other to-morrow.
And hurriedly pressing my hand, Fustov set off towards Yar's hotel.
Next day I missed seeing Fustov; and on the day after that, on going to
his rooms, I learned that he had gone into the country to his uncle's,
near Moscow. I inquired if he had left no note for me, but no note was
forth-coming. Then I asked the servant whether he knew how long
Alexander Daviditch would be away in the country. 'A fortnight, or a
little more, probably,' replied the man. I took at any rate Fustov's
exact address, and sauntered home, meditating deeply. This unexpected
absence from Moscow, in the winter, completed my utter perplexity. My
good aunt observed to me at dinner that I seemed continually expecting
something, and gazed at the cabbage pie as though I were beholding it
for the first time in my life. 'Pierre, vous n'êtes pas amoureux?' she
cried at last, having previously got rid of her companions. But I
reassured her: no, I was not in love.
Three days passed. I had a secret prompting to go to the Ratschs'. I
fancied that in their house I should be sure to find a solution of all
that absorbed my mind, that I could not make out.... But I should have
had to meet the veteran.... That thought pulled me up. One tempestuous
evening--the February wind was howling angrily outside, the frozen snow
tapped at the window from time to time like coarse sand flung by a
mighty hand--I was sitting in my room, trying to read. My servant came,
and, with a mysterious air, announced that a lady wished to see me. I
was surprised... ladies did not visit me, especially at such a late
hour; however, I told him to show her in. The door opened and with swift
step there walked in a woman, muffled up in a light summer cloak and a
yellow shawl. Abruptly she cast off the cloak and the shawl, which were
covered with snow, and I saw standing before me Susanna. I was so
astonished that I did not utter a word, while she went up to the window,
and leaning her shoulder against the wall, remained motionless; only her
bosom heaved convulsively and her eyes moved restlessly, and the breath
came with a faint moan from her white lips. I realised that it was no
slight trouble that had brought her to me; I realised, for all my youth
and shallowness, that at that instant before my eyes the fate of a whole
life was being decided--a bitter and terrible fate.
'Susanna Ivanovna,' I began, 'how...'
She suddenly clutched my hand in her icy fingers, but her voice failed
her. She gave a broken sigh and looked down. Her heavy coils of black
hair fell about her face.... The snow had not melted from off it.
'Please, calm yourself, sit down,' I began again, 'see here, on the
sofa. What has happened? Sit down, I entreat you.'
'No,' she articulated, scarcely audibly, and she sank on to the
window-seat. 'I am all right here.... Let me be.... You could not
expect... but if you knew... if I could... if...'
She tried to control herself, but the tears flowed from her eyes with a
violence that shook her, and sobs, hurried, devouring sobs, filled the
room. I felt a tightness at my heart.... I was utterly stupefied. I had
seen Susanna only twice; I had conjectured that she had a hard life, but
I had regarded her as a proud girl, of strong character, and all at once
these violent, despairing tears.... Mercy! Why, one only weeps like that
in the presence of death!
I stood like one condemned to death myself.
'Excuse me,' she said at last, several times, almost angrily, wiping
first one eye, then the other. 'It'll soon be over. I've come to
you....' She was still sobbing, but without tears. 'I've come.... You
know that Alexander Daviditch has gone away?'
In this single question Susanna revealed everything, and she glanced at
me, as though she would say: 'You understand, of course, you will have
pity, won't you?' Unhappy girl! There was no other course left her then!
I did not know what answer to make....
'He has gone away, he has gone away... he believed him!' Susanna was
saying meanwhile. 'He did not care even to question me; he thought I
should not tell him all the truth, he could think that of me! As though
I had ever deceived him!'
She bit her lower lip, and bending a little, began to scratch with her
nail the patterns of ice that covered the window-pane. I went hastily
into the next room, and sending my servant away, came back at once and
lighted another candle. I had no clear idea why I was doing all this....
I was greatly overcome. Susanna was sitting as before on the
window-seat, and it was at this moment that I noticed how lightly she
was dressed: a grey gown with white buttons and a broad leather belt,
that was all. I went up to her, but she did not take any notice of me.
'He believed it,... he believed it,' she whispered, swaying softly from
side to side. 'He did not hesitate, he dealt me this last... last blow!'
She turned suddenly to me. 'You know his address?'
'Yes, Susanna Ivanovna.. I learnt it from his servants... at his house.
He told me nothing of his intention; I had not seen him for two
days--went to inquire and he had already left Moscow.'
'You know his address?' she repeated. 'Well, write to him then that he
has killed me. You are a good man, I know. He did not talk to you of me,
I dare say, but he talked to me about you. Write... ah, write to him to
come back quickly, if he wants to find me alive!... No! He will not find
Susanna's voice grew quieter at each word, and she was quieter
altogether. But this calm seemed to me more awful than the previous
'He believed him,...' she said again, and rested her chin on her clasped
A sudden squall of wind beat upon the window with a sharp whistle and a
thud of snow. A cold draught passed over the room.... The candles
flickered.... Susanna shivered. Again I begged her to sit on the sofa.
'No, no, let me be,' she answered, 'I am all right here. Please.' She
huddled up to the frozen pane, as though she had found herself a refuge
in the recesses of the window. 'Please.'
'But you're shivering, you're frozen,' I cried, 'Look, your shoes are
'Let me be... please...' she whispered,. and closed her eyes.
A panic seized me.
'Susanna Ivanovna!' I almost screamed: 'do rouse yourself, I entreat
you! What is the matter with you? Why such despair? You will see, every
thing will be cleared up, some misunderstanding... some unlooked-for
chance.... You will see, he will soon be back. I will let him know.... I
will write to him to-day.... But I will not repeat your words.... Is it
'He will not find me,' Susanna murmured, still in the same subdued
voice. 'Do you suppose I would have come here, to you, to a stranger, if
I had not known I should not long be living? Ah, all my past has been
swept away beyond return! You see, I could not bear to die so, in
solitude, in silence, without saying to some one, "I've lost every
thing... and I'm dying.... Look!"'
She drew back into her cold little corner.... Never shall I forget that
head, those fixed eyes with their deep, burnt-out look, those dark,
disordered tresses against the pale window-pane, even the grey, narrow
gown, under every fold of which throbbed such young, passionate life!
Unconsciously I flung up my hands.
'You... you die, Susanna Ivanovna! You have only to live.... You must
She looked at me.... My words seemed to surprise her.
'Ah, you don't know,' she began, and she softly dropped both her hands.
'I cannot live, Too much, too much I have had to suffer, too much! I
lived through it.... I hoped... but now... when even this is
She raised her eyes to the ceiling and seemed to sink into thought. The
tragic line, which I had once noticed about her lips, came out now still
more clearly; it seemed to spread across her whole face. It seemed as
though some relentless hand had drawn it immutably, had set a mark for
ever on this lost soul.
She was still silent.
'Susanna Ivanovna,' I said, to break that awful silence with anything;
'he will come back, I assure you!'
Susanna looked at me again.
'What do you say?' she enunciated with visible effort.
'He will come back, Susanna Ivanovna, Alexander will come back!'
'He will come back?' she repeated. 'But even if he did come back, I
cannot forgive him this humiliation, this lack of faith....'
She clutched at her head.
'My God! my God! what am I saying, and why am I here? What is it all?
What... what did I come to ask... and whom? Ah, I am going mad!...'
Her eyes came to a rest.
'You wanted to ask me to write to Alexander,' I made haste to remind
'Yes, write, write to him... what you like.... And here...' She
hurriedly fumbled in her pocket and brought out a little manuscript
book. 'This I was writing for him... before he ran away.... But he
believed... he believed him!'
I understood that her words referred to Viktor; Susanna would not
mention him, would not utter his detested name.
'But, Susanna Ivanovna, excuse me,' I began, 'what makes you suppose
that Alexander Daviditch had any conversation... with that person?'
'What? Why, he himself came to me and told me all about it, and bragged
of it... and laughed just as his father laughs! Here, here, take it,'
she went on, thrusting the manuscript into my hand, 'read it, send it to
him, burn it, throw it away, do what you like, as you please.... But I
can't die like this with no one knowing.... Now it is time.... I must
She got up from the window-seat.... I stopped her.
'Where are you going, Susanna Ivanovna, mercy on us! Listen, what a
storm is raging! You are so lightly dressed.... And your home is not
near here. Let me at least go for a carriage, for a sledge....'
'No, no, I want nothing,' she said resolutely, repelling me and taking
up her cloak and shawl. 'Don't keep me, for God's sake! or... I can't
answer for anything! I feel an abyss, a dark abyss under my feet....
Don't come near me, don't touch me!' With feverish haste she put on her
cloak, arranged her shawl.... 'Good-bye... good-bye.... Oh, my unhappy
people, for ever strangers, a curse lies upon us! No one has ever cared
for me, was it likely he...' She suddenly ceased. 'No; one man loved
me,' she began again, wringing her hands, 'but death is all about me,
death and no escape! Now it is my turn.... Don't come after me,' she
cried shrilly. 'Don't come! don't come!'
I was petrified, while she rushed out; and an instant later, I heard the
slam downstairs of the heavy street door, and the window panes shook
again under the violent onslaught of the blast.
I could not quickly recover myself. I was only beginning life in those
days: I had had no experience of passion nor of suffering, and had
rarely witnessed any manifestation of strong feeling in others.... But
the sincerity of this suffering, of this passion, impressed me. If it
had not been for the manuscript in my hands, I might have thought that I
had dreamed it all--it was all so unlikely, and swooped by like a
passing storm. I was till midnight reading the manuscript. It consisted
of several sheets of letter-paper, closely covered with a large,
irregular writing, almost without an erasure. Not a single line was
quite straight, and one seemed in every one of them to feel the excited
trembling of the hand that held the pen. Here follows what was in the
manuscript. I have kept it to this day.
I am this year twenty-eight years old. Here are my earliest
recollections; I was living in the Tambov province, in the country house
of a rich landowner, Ivan Matveitch Koltovsky, in a small room on the
second storey. With me lived my mother, a Jewess, daughter of a dead
painter, who had come from abroad, a woman always ailing, with an
extraordinarily beautiful face, pale as wax, and such mournful eyes,
that sometimes when she gazed long at me, even without looking at her, I
was aware of her sorrowful, sorrowful eyes, and I would burst into tears
and rush to embrace her. I had tutors come to me; I had music lessons,
and was called 'miss.' I dined at the master's table together with my
mother. Mr. Koltovsky was a tall, handsome old man with a stately
manner; he always smelt of _ambre_. I stood in mortal terror of him,
though he called me Suzon and gave me his dry, sinewy hand to kiss under
its lace-ruffles. With my mother he was elaborately courteous, but he
talked little even with her. He would say two or three affable words, to
which she promptly made a hurried answer; and he would be silent and sit
looking about him with dignity, and slowly picking up a pinch of Spanish
snuff from his round, golden snuff-box with the arms of the Empress
Catherine on it.
My ninth year has always remained vivid in my memory.... I learnt then,
from the maids in the servants' room, that Ivan Matveitch Koltovsky was
my father, and almost on the same day, my mother, by his command, was
married to Mr. Ratsch, who was something like a steward to him. I was
utterly unable to comprehend the possibility of such a thing, I was
bewildered, I was almost ill, my brain suffered under the strain, my
mind was overclouded. 'Is it true, is it true, mamma,' I asked her,
'that scented bogey' (that was my name for Ivan Matveitch) 'is my
father?' My mother was terribly scared, she shut my mouth.... 'Never
speak to any one of that, do you hear, Susanna, do you hear, not a
word!'... she repeated in a shaking voice, pressing my head to her
bosom.... And I never did speak to any one of it.... That prohibition of
my mother's I understood.... I understood that I must be silent, that my
mother begged my forgiveness!
My unhappiness began from that day. Mr. Ratsch did not love my mother,
and she did not love him. He married her for money, and she was obliged
to submit. Mr. Koltovsky probably considered that in this way everything
had been arranged for the best, _la position était régularisée_. I
remember the day before the marriage my mother and I--both locked in
each other's arms--wept almost the whole morning--bitterly,
bitterly--and silently. It is not strange that she was silent.... What
could she say to me? But that I did not question her shows that unhappy
children learn wisdom sooner than happy ones... to their cost.
Mr. Koltovsky continued to interest himself in my education, and even by
degrees put me on a more intimate footing. He did not talk to me... but
morning and evening, after flicking the snuff from his jabot with two
fingers, he would with the same two fingers--always icy cold--pat me on
the cheek and give me some sort of dark-coloured sweetmeats, also
smelling of _ambre_, which I never ate. At twelve years old I
became his reader---_sa petite lectrice_. I read him French books
of the last century, the memoirs of Saint Simon, of Mably, Renal,
Helvetius, Voltaire's correspondence, the encyclopedists, of course
without understanding a word, even when, with a smile and a grimace, he
ordered me, 'relire ce dernier paragraphe, qui est bien remarquable!'
Ivan Matveitch was completely a Frenchman. He had lived in Paris till
the Revolution, remembered Marie Antoinette, and had received an
invitation to Trianon to see her. He had also seen Mirabeau, who,
according to his account, wore very large buttons--_exagéré en
tout_, and was altogether a man of _mauvais ton, en dépit de sa
naissance!_ Ivan Matveitch, however, rarely talked of that time; but
two or three times a year, addressing himself to the crooked old
emigrant whom he had taken into his house, and called for some unknown
reason 'M. le Commandeur,' he recited in his deliberate, nasal voice,
the impromptu he had once delivered at a soiree of the Duchesse de
Polignac. I remember only the first two lines.... It had reference to a
comparison between the Russians and the French:
'L'aigle se plait aux regions austères
Ou le ramier ne saurait habiter...'
'Digne de M. de Saint Aulaire!' M. le Commandeur would every time
Ivan Matveitch looked youngish up to the time of his death: his cheeks
were rosy, his teeth white, his eyebrows thick and immobile, his eyes
agreeable and expressive, clear, black eyes, perfect agate. He was not
at all unreasonable, and was very courteous with every one, even with
the servants.... But, my God! how wretched I was with him, with what joy
I always left him, what evil thoughts confounded me in his presence! Ah,
I was not to blame for them!... I was not to blame for what they had
made of me....
Mr. Ratsch was, after his marriage, assigned a lodge not far from the
big house. I lived there with my mother. It was a cheerless life I led
there. She soon gave birth to a son, Viktor, this same Viktor whom I
have every right to think and to call my enemy. From the time of his
birth my mother never regained her health, which had always been weak.
Mr. Ratsch did not think fit in those days to keep up such a show of
good spirits as he maintains now: he always wore a morose air and tried
to pass for a busy, hard-working person. To me he was cruel and rude. I
felt relief when I retired from Ivan Matveitch's presence; but my own
home too I was glad to leave.... Unhappy was my youth! For ever tossed
from one shore to the other, with no desire to anchor at either! I would
run across the courtyard in winter, through the deep snow, in a thin
frock--run to the big house to read to Ivan Matveitch, and as it were be
glad to go.... But when I was there, when I saw those great cheerless
rooms, the bright-coloured, upholstered furniture, that courteous and
heartless old man in the open silk wadded jacket, in the white jabot and
white cravat, with lace ruffles falling over his fingers, with a
_soupçon_ of powder (so his valet expressed it) on his combed-back
hair, I felt choked by the stifling scent of _ambre_, and my heart
sank. Ivan Matveitch usually sat in a large low chair; on the wall
behind his head hung a picture, representing a young woman, with a
bright and bold expression of face, dressed in a sumptuous Hebrew
costume, and simply covered with precious stones, with diamonds.... I
often stole a glance at this picture, but only later on I learned that
it was the portrait of my mother, painted by her father at Ivan
Matveitch's request. She had changed indeed since those days! Well had
he succeeded in subduing and crushing her! 'And she loved him! Loved
that old man!' was my thought.... 'How could it be! Love him!' And yet,
when I recalled some of my mother's glances, some half-uttered phrases
and unconscious gestures.... 'Yes, yes, she did love him!' I repeated
with horror. Ah, God, spare others from knowing aught of such feelings!
Every day I read to Ivan Matveitch, sometimes for three or four hours
together.... So much reading in such a loud voice was harmful to me. Our
doctor was anxious about my lungs and even once communicated his fears
to Ivan Matveitch. But the old man only smiled--no; he never smiled, but
somehow sharpened and moved forward his lips--and told him: 'Vous ne
savez pas ce qu'il y a de ressources dans cette jeunesse.' 'In former
years, however, M. le Commandeur,'... the doctor ventured to observe.
Ivan Matveitch smiled as before. 'Vous rêvez, mon cher,' he interposed:
'le commandeur n'a plus de dents, et il crache à chaque mot. J'aime les
And I still went on reading, though my cough was very troublesome in the
mornings and at night.... Sometimes Ivan Matveitch made me play the
piano. But music always had a soporific influence on his nerves. His
eyes closed at once, his head nodded in time, and only rarely I heard,
'C'est du Steibelt, n'est-ce pas? Jouez-moi du Steibelt!' Ivan Matveitch
looked upon Steibelt as a great genius, who had succeeded in overcoming
in himself 'la grossière lourdeur des Allemands,' and only found fault
with him for one thing: 'trop de fougue! trop d'imagination!'... When
Ivan Matveitch noticed that I was tired from playing he would offer me
'du cachou de Bologne.' So day after day slipped by....
And then one night--a night never to be forgotten!--a terrible calamity
fell upon me. My mother died almost suddenly. I was only just fifteen.
Oh, what a sorrow that was, with what cruel violence it swooped down
upon me! How terrified I was at that first meeting with death! My poor
mother! Strange were our relations; we passionately loved each other...
passionately and hopelessly; we both as it were treasured up and hid
from each other our common secret, kept obstinately silent about it,
though we knew all that was passing at the bottom of our hearts! Even of
the past, of her own early past, my mother never spoke to me, and she
never complained in words, though her whole being was nothing but one
dumb complaint. We avoided all conversation of any seriousness. Alas! I
kept hoping that the hour would come, and she would open her heart at
last, and I too should speak out, and both of us would be more at
ease.... But the daily little cares, her irresolute, shrinking temper,
illnesses, the presence of Mr. Ratsch, and most of all the eternal
question,--what is the use? and the relentless, unbroken flowing away of
time, of life.... All was ended as though by a clap of thunder, and the
words which would have loosed us from the burden of our secret--even the
last dying words of leave-taking--I was not destined to hear from my
mother! All that is left in my memory is Mr. Ratsch's calling, 'Susanna
Ivanovna, go, please, your mother wishes to give you her blessing!' and
then the pale hand stretched out from the heavy counterpane, the
agonised breathing, the dying eyes.... Oh, enough! enough!
With what horror, with what indignation and piteous curiosity I looked
next day, and on the day of the funeral, into the face of my father...
yes, my father! In my dead mother's writing-case were found his letters.
I fancied he looked a little pale and drawn... but no! Nothing was
stirring in that heart of stone. Exactly as before, he summoned me to
his room, a week later; exactly in the same voice he asked me to read:
'Si vous le voulez bien, les observations sur l'histoire de France de
Mably, à la page 74... là où nous avons ètè interrompus.' And he had
not even had my mother's portrait moved! On dismissing me, he did indeed
call me to him, and giving me his hand to kiss a second time, he
observed: 'Suzanne, la mort de votre mère vous a privée de votre appui
naturel; mais vous pourrez toujours compter sur ma protection,' but with
the other hand he gave me at once a slight push on the shoulder, and,
with the sharpening of the corners of the mouth habitual with him, he
added, 'Allez, mon enfant.' I longed to shriek at him: 'Why, but you
know you're my father!' but I said nothing and left the room.
Next morning, early, I went to the graveyard. May had come in all its
glory of flowers and leaves, and a long while I sat on the new grave. I
did not weep, nor grieve; one thought was filling my brain: 'Do you
hear, mother? He means to extend his protection to me, too!' And it
seemed to me that my mother ought not to be wounded by the smile which
it instinctively called up on my lips.
At times I wonder what made me so persistently desire to wring--not a
confession... no, indeed! but, at least, one warm word of kinship from
Ivan Matveitch? Didn't I know what he was, and how little he was like
all that I pictured in my dreams as a _father_!... But I was so
lonely, so alone on earth! And then, that thought, ever recurring, gave
me no rest: 'Did not she love him? She must have loved him for
Three years more slipped by. Nothing changed in the monotonous round of
life, marked out and arranged for us. Viktor was growing into a boy. I
was eight years older and would gladly have looked after him, but Mr.
Ratsch opposed my doing so. He gave him a nurse, who had orders to keep
strict watch that the child was not 'spoilt,' that is, not to allow me
to go near him. And Viktor himself fought shy of me. One day Mr. Ratsch
came into my room, perturbed, excited, and angry. On the previous
evening unpleasant rumours had reached me about my stepfather; the
servants were talking of his having been caught embezzling a
considerable sum of money, and taking bribes from a merchant.
'You can assist me,' he began, tapping impatiently on the table with his
fingers. 'Go and speak for me to Ivan Matveitch.'
'Speak for you? On what ground? What about?'
'Intercede for me.... I'm not like a stranger any way... I'm accused...
well, the fact is, I may be left without bread to eat, and you, too.'
'But how can I go to him? How can I disturb him?'
'What next! You have a right to disturb him!'
'What right, Ivan Demianitch?'
'Come, no humbug.... He cannot refuse you, for many reasons. Do you mean
to tell me you don't understand that?'
He looked insolently into my eyes, and I felt my cheeks simply burning.
Hatred, contempt, rose up within me, surged in a rush upon me, drowning
'Yes, I understand you, Ivan Demianitch,' I answered at last--my own
voice seemed strange to me--'and I am not going to Ivan Matveitch, and I
will not ask him for anything. Bread, or no bread!'
Mr. Ratsch shivered, ground his teeth, and clenched his fists.
'All right, wait a bit, your highness!' he muttered huskily. 'I won't
forget it!' That same day, Ivan Matveitch sent for him, and, I was told,
shook his cane at him, the very cane which he had once exchanged with
the Due de la Rochefoucauld, and cried, 'You be a scoundrel and
extortioner! I put you outside!' Ivan Matveitch could hardly speak
Russian at all, and despised our 'coarse jargon,' _ce jargon vulgaire
et rude_. Some one once said before him, 'That same's self-understood.'
Ivan Matveitch was quite indignant, and often afterwards quoted the phrase
as an example of the senselessness and absurdity of the Russian tongue.
'What does it mean, that same's self-understood?' he would ask in Russian,
with emphasis on each syllable. 'Why not simply that's understood, and why
same and self?'
Ivan Matveitch did not, however, dismiss Mr. Ratsch, he did not even
deprive him of his position. But my stepfather kept his word: he never
I began to notice a change in Ivan Matveitch. He was low-spirited,
depressed, his health broke down a little. His fresh, rosy face grew
yellow and wrinkled; he lost a front tooth. He quite ceased going out,
and gave up the reception-days he had established for the peasants,
without the assistance of the priest, _sans le concours du clergé_.
On such days Ivan Matveitch had been in the habit of going in to the
peasants in the hall or on the balcony, with a rose in his buttonhole,
and putting his lips to a silver goblet of vodka, he would make them a
speech something like this: 'You are content with my actions, even as I
am content with your zeal, whereat I rejoice truly. We are all _brothers_;
at our birth we are equal; I drink your health!' He bowed to them, and
the peasants bowed to him, but only from the waist, no prostrating
themselves to the ground, that was strictly forbidden. The peasants were
entertained with good cheer as before, but Ivan Matveitch no longer
showed himself to his subjects. Sometimes he interrupted my reading with
exclamations: 'La machine se détraque! Cela se gâte!' Even his
eyes--those bright, stony eyes--began to grow dim and, as it were,
smaller; he dozed oftener than ever and breathed hard in his sleep. His
manner with me was unchanged; only a shade of chivalrous deference began
to be perceptible in it. He never failed to get up--though with
difficulty--from his chair when I came in, conducted me to the door,
supporting me with his hand under my elbow, and instead of Suzon began
to call me sometimes, 'ma chère demoiselle,' sometimes, 'mon Antigone.'
M. le Commandeur died two years after my mother's death; his death
seemed to affect Ivan Matveitch far more deeply. A contemporary had
disappeared: that was what distressed him. And yet in later years M. le
Commandeur's sole service had consisted in crying, 'Bien joué, mal
réussi!' every time Ivan Matveitch missed a stroke, playing billiards
with Mr. Ratsch; though, indeed, too, when Ivan Matveitch addressed him
at table with some such question as: 'N'est-ce pas, M. le Commandeur,
c'est Montesquieu qui a dit cela dans ses _Lettres Persanes_?' he had
still, sometimes dropping a spoonful of soup on his ruffle, responded
profoundly: 'Ah, Monsieur de Montesquieu? Un grand écrivain, monsieur,
un grand écrivain!' Only once, when Ivan Matveitch told him that 'les
théophilanthropes ont eu pourtant du bon!' the old man cried in an
excited voice, 'Monsieur de Kolontouskoi' (he hadn't succeeded in the
course of twenty years in learning to pronounce his patron's name
correctly), 'Monsieur de Kolontouskoi! Leur fondateur, l'instigateur de
cette secte, ce La Reveillère Lepeaux était un bonnet rouge!' 'Non,
non,' said Ivan Matveitch, smiling and rolling together a pinch of
snuff: 'des fleurs, des jeunes vierges, le culte de la Nature... ils out
eu du bon, ils out eu du bon!'...I was always surprised at the extent of
Ivan Matveitch's knowledge, and at the uselessness of his knowledge to
Ivan Matveitch was perceptibly failing, but he still put a good face on
it. One day, three weeks before his death, he had a violent attack of
giddiness just after dinner. He sank into thought, said, 'C'est la fin,'
and pulling himself together with a sigh, he wrote a letter to
Petersburg to his sole heir, a brother with whom he had had no
intercourse for twenty years. Hearing that Ivan Matveitch was unwell, a
neighbour paid him a visit--a German, a Catholic--once a distinguished
physician, who was living in retirement in his little place in the
country. He was very rarely at Ivan Matveitch's, but the latter always
received him with special deference, and in fact had a great respect for
him. He was almost the only person in the world he did respect. The old
man advised Ivan Matveitch to send for a priest, but Ivan Matveitch
responded that 'ces messieurs et moi, nous n'avons rien à nous dire,'
and begged him to change the subject. On the neighbour's departure, he
gave his valet orders to admit no one in future.
Then he sent for me. I was frightened when I saw him; there were blue
patches under his eyes, his face looked drawn and stiff, his jaw hung
down. 'Vous voila grande, Suzon,' he said, with difficulty articulating
the consonants, but still trying to smile (I was then nineteen), 'vous
allez peut-être bientót rester seule. Soyez toujours sage et vertueuse.
C'est la dernière récommandation d'un'--he coughed--'d'un vieillard qui
vous veut du bien. Je vous ai recommandé à mon frère et je ne doute pas
qu'il ne respecte mes volontés....' He coughed again, and anxiously felt
his chest. 'Du reste, j'esèpre encore pouvoir faire quelque chose pour
vous... dans mon testament.' This last phrase cut me to the heart, like
a knife. Ah, it was really too... too contemptuous and insulting! Ivan
Matveitch probably ascribed to some other feeling--to a feeling of grief
or gratitude--what was expressed in my face, and as though wishing to
comfort me, he patted me on the shoulder, at the same time, as usual,
gently repelling me, and observed: 'Voyons, mon enfant, du courage! Nous
sommes tous mortels! Et puis il n'y a pas encore de danger. Ce n'est
qu'une précaution que j'ai cru devoir prendre.... Allez!'
Again, just as when he had summoned me after my mother's death, I longed
to shriek at him, 'But I'm your daughter! your daughter!' But I thought
in those words, in that cry of the heart, he would doubtless hear
nothing but a desire to assert my rights, my claims on his property, on
his money.... Oh, no, for nothing in the world would I say a word to
this man, who had not once mentioned my mother's name to me, in whose
eyes I was of so little account that he did not even trouble himself to
ascertain whether I was aware of my parentage! Or, perhaps, he
suspected, even knew it, and did not wish 'to raise a dust' (a favourite
saying of his, almost the only Russian expression he ever used), did not
care to deprive himself of a good reader with a young voice! No! no! Let
him go on wronging his daughter, as he had wronged her mother! Let him
carry both sins to the grave! I swore it, I swore he should not hear
from my lips the word which must have something of a sweet and holy
sound in every ear! I would not say to him father! I would not forgive
him for my mother and myself! He felt no need of that forgiveness, of
that name.... It could not be, it could not be that he felt no need of
it! But he should not have forgiveness, he should not, he should not!
God knows whether I should have kept my vow, and whether my heart would
not have softened, whether I should not have overcome my shyness, my
shame, and my pride... but it happened with Ivan Matveitch just as with
my mother. Death carried him off suddenly, and also in the night. It was
again Mr. Ratsch who waked me, and ran with me to the big house, to Ivan
Matveitch's bedroom.... But I found not even the last dying gestures,
which had left such a vivid impression on my memory at my mother's
bedside. On the embroidered, lace-edged pillows lay a sort of withered,
dark-coloured doll, with sharp nose and ruffled grey eyebrows.... I
shrieked with horror, with loathing, rushed away, stumbled in doorways
against bearded peasants in smocks with holiday red sashes, and found
myself, I don't remember how, in the fresh air....
I was told afterwards that when the valet ran into the bedroom, at a
violent ring of the bell, he found Ivan Matveitch not in the bed, but a
few feet from it. And that he was sitting huddled up on the floor, and
that twice over he repeated, 'Well, granny, here's a pretty holiday for
you!' And that these were his last words. But I cannot believe that. Was
it likely he would speak Russian at such a moment, and such a homely old
Russian saying too!
For a whole fortnight afterwards we were awaiting the arrival of the new
master, Semyon Matveitch Koltovsky. He sent orders that nothing was to
be touched, no one was to be discharged, till he had looked into
everything in person. All the doors, all the furniture, drawers,
tables--all were locked and sealed up. All the servants were downcast
and apprehensive. I became suddenly one of the most important persons in
the house, perhaps the most important. I had been spoken of as 'the
young lady' before; but now this expression seemed to take a new
significance, and was pronounced with a peculiar emphasis. It began to
be whispered that 'the old master had died suddenly, and hadn't time to
send for a priest, indeed and he hadn't been at confession for many a
long day; but still, a will doesn't take long to make.'
Mr. Ratsch, too, thought well to change his mode of action. He did not
affect good-nature and friendliness; he knew he would not impose upon
me, but his face wore an expression of sulky resignation. 'You see, I
give in,' he seemed to say. Every one showed me deference, and tried to
please me... while I did not know what to do or how to behave, and could
only marvel that people failed to perceive how they were hurting me. At
last Semyon Matveitch arrived.
Semyon Matveitch was ten years younger than Ivan Matveitch, and his
whole life had taken a completely different turn. He was a government
official in Petersburg, filling an important position.... He had married
and been left early a widower; he had one son. In face Semyon Matveitch
was like his brother, only he was shorter and stouter, and had a round
bald head, bright black eyes, like Ivan Matveitch's, only more
prominent, and full red lips. Unlike his brother, whom he spoke of even
after his death as a French philosopher, and sometimes bluntly as a
queer fish, Semyon Matveitch almost invariably talked Russian, loudly
and fluently, and he was constantly laughing, completely closing his
eyes as he did so and shaking all over in an unpleasant way, as though
he were shaking with rage. He looked after things very sharply, went
into everything himself, exacted the strictest account from every one.
The very first day of his arrival he ordered a service with holy water,
and sprinkled everything with water, all the rooms in the house, even
the lofts and the cellars, in order, as he put it, 'radically to expel
the Voltairean and Jacobin spirit.' In the first week several of Ivan
Matveitch's favourites were sent to the right-about, one was even
banished to a settlement, corporal punishment was inflicted on others;
the old valet--he was a Turk, knew French, and had been given to Ivan
Matveitch by the late field-marshal Kamensky--received his freedom,
indeed, but with it a command to be gone within twenty-four hours, 'as
an example to others.' Semyon Matveitch turned out to be a harsh master;
many probably regretted the late owner.
'With the old master, Ivan Matveitch,' a butler, decrepit with age,
wailed in my presence, 'our only trouble was to see that the linen put
out was clean, and that the rooms smelt sweet, and that the servants'
voices weren't heard in the passages--God forbid! For the rest, you
might do as you pleased. The old master never hurt a fly in his life!
Ah, it's hard times now! It's time to die!'
Rapid, too, was the change in my position, that is to say in the
position in which I had been placed for a few days against my own
will.... No sort of will was found among Ivan Matveitch's papers, not a
line written for my benefit. At once every one seemed in haste to avoid
me.... I am not speaking of Mr. Ratsch... every one else, too, was angry
with me, and tried to show their anger, as though I had deceived them.
One Sunday after matins, in which he invariably officiated at the altar,
Semyon Matveitch sent for me. Till that day I had seen him by glimpses,
and he seemed not to have noticed me. He received me in his study,
standing at the window. He was wearing an official uniform with two
stars. I stood still, near the door; my heart was beating violently from
fear and from another feeling, vague as yet, but still oppressive. 'I
wish to see you, young lady,' began Semyon Matveitch, glancing first at
my feet, and then suddenly into my eyes. The look was like a slap in the
face. 'I wished to see you to inform you of my decision, and to assure
you of my unhesitating inclination to be of service to you.' He raised
his voice. 'Claims, of course, you have none, but as... my brother's
reader you may always reckon on my... my consideration. I am... of
course convinced of your good sense and of your principles. Mr. Ratsch,
your stepfather, has already received from me the necessary
instructions. To which I must add that your attractive exterior seems to
me a pledge of the excellence of your sentiments.' Semyon Matveitch went
off into a thin chuckle, while I... I was not offended exactly... but I
suddenly felt very sorry for myself... and at that moment I fully
realised how utterly forsaken and alone I was. Semyon Matveitch went
with short, firm steps to the table, took a roll of notes out of the
drawer, and putting it in my hand, he added: 'Here is a small sum from
me for pocket-money. I won't forget you in future, my pretty; but
good-bye for the present, and be a good girl.' I took the roll
mechanically: I should have taken anything he had offered me, and going
back to my own room, a long while I wept, sitting on my bed. I did not
notice that I had dropped the roll of notes on the floor. Mr. Ratsch
found it and picked it up, and, asking me what I meant to do with it,
kept it for himself.
An important change had taken place in his fortunes too in those days.
After a few conversations with Semyon Matveitch, he became a great
favourite, and soon after received the position of head steward. From
that time dates his cheerfulness, that eternal laugh of his; at first it
was an effort to adapt himself to his patron... in the end it became a
habit. It was then, too, that he became a Russian patriot. Semyon
Matveitch was an admirer of everything national, he called himself 'a
true Russian bear,' and ridiculed the European dress, which he wore
however. He sent away to a remote village a cook, on whose training Ivan
Matveitch had spent vast sums: he sent him away because he had not known
how to prepare pickled giblets.
Semyon Matveitch used to stand at the altar and join in the responses
with the deacons, and when the serf-girls were brought together to dance
and sing choruses, he would join in their songs too, and beat time with
his feet, and pinch their cheeks.... But he soon went back to
Petersburg, leaving my stepfather practically in complete control of the
Bitter days began for me.... My one consolation was music, and I gave
myself up to it with my whole soul. Fortunately Mr. Ratsch was very
fully occupied, but he took every opportunity to make me feel his
hostility; as he had promised, he 'did not forget' my refusal. He
ill-treated me, made me copy his long and lying reports to Semyon
Matveitch, and correct for him the mistakes in spelling. I was forced to
obey him absolutely, and I did obey him. He announced that he meant to
tame me, to make me as soft as silk. 'What do you mean by those mutinous
eyes?' he shouted sometimes at dinner, drinking his beer, and slapping
the table with his hand. 'You think, maybe, you're as silent as a sheep,
so you must be all right.... Oh, no! You'll please look at me like a
sheep too!' My position became a torture, insufferable,... my heart was
growing bitter. Something dangerous began more and more frequently to
stir within it. I passed nights without sleep and without a light,
thinking, thinking incessantly; and in the darkness without and the
gloom within, a fearful determination began to shape itself. The arrival
of Semyon Matveitch gave another turn to my thoughts.
No one had expected him. It turned out that he was retiring in
unpleasant circumstances; he had hoped to receive the Alexander ribbon,
and they had presented him with a snuff-box. Discontented with the
government, which had failed to appreciate his talents, and with
Petersburg society, which had shown him little sympathy, and did not
share his indignation, he determined to settle in the country, and
devote himself to the management of his property. He arrived alone. His
son, Mihail Semyonitch, arrived later, in the holidays for the New Year.
My stepfather was scarcely ever out of Semyon Matveitch's room; he still
stood high in his good graces. He left me in peace; he had no time for
me then... Semyon Matveitch had taken it into his head to start a paper
factory. Mr. Ratsch had no knowledge whatever of manufacturing work, and
Semyon Matveitch was aware of the fact; but then my stepfather was an
active man (the favourite expression just then), an 'Araktcheev!' That
was just what Semyon Matveitch used to call him--'my Araktcheev!'
'That's all I want,' Semyon Matveitch maintained; 'if there is zeal, I
myself will direct it.' In the midst of his numerous occupations--he had
to superintend the factory, the estate, the foundation of a
counting-house, the drawing up of counting-house regulations, the
creation of new offices and duties--Semyon Matveitch still had time to
attend to me.
I was summoned one evening to the drawing-room, and set to play the
piano. Semyon Matveitch cared for music even less than his brother; he
praised and thanked me, however, and next day I was invited to dine at
the master's table. After dinner Semyon Matveitch had rather a long
conversation with me, asked me questions, laughed at some of my replies,
though there was, I remember, nothing amusing in them, and stared at me
so strangely... I felt uncomfortable. I did not like his eyes, I did not
like their open expression, their clear glance.... It always seemed to
me that this very openness concealed something evil, that under that
clear brilliance it was dark within in his soul. 'You shall not be my
reader,' Semyon Matveitch announced to me at last, prinking and setting
himself to rights in a repulsive way. 'I am, thank God, not blind yet,
and can read myself; but coffee will taste better to me from your little
hands, and I shall listen to your playing with pleasure.' From that day
I always went over to the big house to dinner, and sometimes remained in
the drawing-room till evening. I too, like my stepfather, was in favour:
it was not a source of joy for me. Semyon Matveitch, I am bound to own,
showed me a certain respect, but in the man there was, I felt it,
something that repelled and alarmed me. And that 'something' showed
itself not in words, but in his eyes, in those wicked eyes, and in his
laugh. He never spoke to me of my father, of his brother, and it seemed
to me that he avoided the subject, not because he did not want to excite
ambitious ideas or pretensions in me, but from another cause, to which I
could not give a definite shape, but which made me blush and feel
bewildered.... Towards Christmas came his son, Mihail Semyonitch.
Ah, I feel I cannot go on as I have begun; these memories are too
painful. Especially now I cannot tell my story calmly.... But what is
the use of concealment? I loved Michel, and he loved me.
How it came to pass--I am not going to describe that either. From the
very evening when he came into the drawing-room--I was at the piano,
playing a sonata of Weber's when he came in--handsome and slender, in a
velvet coat lined with sheepskin and high gaiters, just as he was,
straight from the frost outside, and shaking his snow-sprinkled, sable
cap, before he had greeted his father, glanced swiftly at me, and
wondered--I knew that from that evening I could never forget him--I
could never forget that good, young face. He began to speak... and his
voice went straight to my heart.... A manly and soft voice, and in every
sound such a true, honest nature!
Semyon Matveitch was delighted at his son's arrival, embraced him, but
at once asked, 'For a fortnight, eh? On leave, eh?' and sent me away.
I sat a long while at my window, and gazed at the lights flitting to and
fro in the rooms of the big house. I watched them, I listened to the
new, unfamiliar voices; I was attracted by the cheerful commotion, and
something new, unfamiliar, bright, flitted into my soul too.... The next
day before dinner I had my first conversation with him. He had come
across to see my stepfather with some message from Semyon Matveitch, and
he found me in our little sitting-room. I was getting up to go; he
detained me. He was very lively and unconstrained in all his movements
and words, but of superciliousness or arrogance, of the tone of
Petersburg superiority, there was not a trace in him, and nothing of the
officer, of the guardsman.... On the contrary, in the very freedom of
his manner there was something appealing, almost shamefaced, as though
he were begging you to overlook something. Some people's eyes are never
laughing, even at the moment of laughter; with _him_ it was the
lips that almost never changed their beautiful line, while his eyes were
almost always smiling. So we chatted for about an hour... what about I
don't remember; I remember only that I looked him straight in the face
all the while, and oh, how delightfully at ease I felt with him!
In the evening I played on the piano. He was very fond of music, and he
sat down in a low chair, and laying his curly head on his arm, he
listened intently. He did not once praise me, but I felt that he liked
my playing, and I played with ardour. Semyon Matveitch, who was sitting
near his son, looking through some plans, suddenly frowned. 'Come,
madam,' he said, smoothing himself down and buttoning himself up, as his
manner was, 'that's enough; why are you trilling away like a canary?
It's enough to make one's head ache. For us old folks you wouldn't exert
yourself so, no fear...' he added in an undertone, and again he sent me
away. Michel followed me to the door with his eyes, and got up from his
seat. 'Where are you off to? Where are you off to?' cried Semyon
Matveitch, and he suddenly laughed, and then said something more... I
could not catch his words; but Mr. Ratsch, who was present, sitting in a
corner of the drawing-room (he was always 'present,' and that time he
had brought in the plans), laughed, and his laugh reached my ears....
The same thing, or almost the same thing, was repeated the following
evening... Semyon Matveitch grew suddenly cooler to me.
Four days later I met Michel in the corridor that divided the big house
in two. He took me by the hand, and led me to a room near the
dining-room, which was called the portrait gallery. I followed him, not
without emotion, but with perfect confidence. Even then, I believe, I
would have followed him to the end of the world, though I had as yet no
suspicion of all that he was to me. Alas, I loved him with all the
passion, all the despair of a young creature who not only has no one to
love, but feels herself an uninvited and unnecessary guest among
strangers, among enemies!... Michel said to me--and it was strange! I
looked boldly, directly in his face, while he did not look at me, and
flushed slightly--he said to me that he understood my position, and
sympathised with me, and begged me to forgive his father.... 'As far as
I'm concerned,' he added, 'I beseech you always to trust me, and believe
me, to me you 're a sister--yes, a sister.' Here he pressed my hand
warmly. I was confused, it was my turn to look down; I had somehow
expected something else, some other word. I began to thank him. 'No,
please,'--he cut me short--'don't talk like that.... But remember, it's
a brother's duty to defend his sister, and if you ever need protection,
against any one whatever, rely upon me. I have not been here long, but I
have seen a good deal already... and among other things, I see through
your stepfather.' He squeezed my hand again, and left me.
I found out later that Michel had felt an aversion for Mr. Ratsch from
his very first meeting with him. Mr. Ratsch tried to ingratiate himself
with him too, but becoming convinced of the uselessness of his efforts,
promptly took up himself an attitude of hostility to him, and not only
did not disguise it from Semyon Matveitch, but, on the contrary, lost no
opportunity of showing it, expressing, at the same time, his regret that
he had been so unlucky as to displease the young heir. Mr. Ratsch had
carefully studied Semyon Matveitch's character; his calculations did not
lead him astray. 'This man's devotion to me admits of no doubt, for the
very reason that after I am gone he will be ruined; my heir cannot
endure him.'... This idea grew and strengthened in the old man's head.
They say all persons in power, as they grow old, are readily caught by
that bait, the bait of exclusive personal devotion....
Semyon Matveitch had good reason to call Mr. Ratsch his Araktcheev....
He might well have called him another name too. 'You're not one to make
difficulties,' he used to say to him. He had begun in this
condescendingly familiar tone with him from the very first, and my
stepfather would gaze fondly at Semyon Matveitch, let his head droop
deprecatingly on one side, and laugh with good-humoured simplicity, as
though to say, 'Here I am, entirely in your hands.'
Ah, I feel my hands shaking, and my heart's thumping against the table
on which I write at this moment. It's terrible for me to recall those
days, and my blood boils.... But I will tell everything to the end... to
A new element had come into Mr. Ratsch's treatment of me during my brief
period of favour. He began to be deferential to me, to be respectfully
familiar with me, as though I had grown sensible, and become more on a
level with him. 'You've done with your airs and graces,' he said to me
one day, as we were going back from the big house to the lodge. 'Quite
right too! All those fine principles and delicate sentiments--moral
precepts in fact--are not for us, young lady, they're not for poor
When I had fallen out of favour, and Michel did not think it necessary
to disguise his contempt for Mr. Ratsch and his sympathy with me, the
latter suddenly redoubled his severity with me; he was continually
following me about, as though I were capable of any crime, and must be
sharply looked after. 'You mind what I say,' he shouted, bursting
without knocking into my room, in muddy boots and with his cap on his
head; 'I won't put up with such goings on! I won't stand your stuck-up
airs! You're not going to impose on me. I'll break your proud spirit.'
And accordingly, one morning he informed me that the decree had gone
forth from Semyon Matveitch that I was not to appear at the dinner-table
for the future without special invitation.... I don't know how all this
would have ended if it had not been for an event which was the final
turning-point of my destiny....
Michel was passionately fond of horses. He took it into his head to
break in a young horse, which went well for a while, then began kicking
and flung him out of the sledge.... He was brought home unconscious,
with a broken arm and bruises on his chest. His father was
panic-stricken; he sent for the best doctors from the town. They did a
great deal for Michel; but he had to lie down for a month. He did not
play cards, the doctor forbade him to talk, and it was awkward for him
to read, holding the book up in one hand all the while. It ended by
Semyon Matveitch sending me in to his son, in my old capacity of reader.
Then followed hours I can never forget! I used to go in to Michel
directly after dinner, and sit at a little round table in the
half-darkened window. He used to be lying down in a little room out of
the drawing-room, at the further end, on a broad leather sofa in the
Empire style, with a gold bas-relief on its high, straight back. The
bas-relief represented a marriage procession among the ancients.
Michel's head, thrown a little back on the pillow, always moved at once,
and his pale face turned towards me: he smiled, his whole face
brightened, he flung back his soft, damp curls, and said to me softly,
'Good-morning, my kind sweet girl.' I took up the book--Walter Scott's
novels were at the height of their fame in those days--the reading of
Ivanhoe has left a particularly vivid recollection in my mind.... I
could not help my voice thrilling and quivering as I gave utterance to
Rebecca's speeches. I, too, had Jewish blood, and was not my lot like
hers? Was I not, like Rebecca, waiting on a sick man, dear to me? Every
time I removed my eyes from the page and lifted them to him, I met his
eyes with the same soft, bright smile over all his face. We talked very
little; the door into the drawing-room was invariably open and some one
was always sitting there; but whenever it was quiet there, I used, I
don't know why, to cease reading and look intently at Michel, and he
looked at me, and we both felt happy then and, as it were, glad and
shamefaced, and everything, everything we told each other then without a
gesture or a word! Alas! our hearts came together, ran to meet each
other, as underground streams flow together, unseen, unheard... and
'Can you play chess or draughts?' he asked me one day.
'I can play chess a little,' I answered.
'That's good. Tell them to bring a chess-board and push up the table.'
I sat down beside the sofa, my heart was throbbing, I did not dare
glance at Michel,... Yet from the window, across the room, how freely I
had gazed at him!
I began to set the chessmen... My fingers shook.
'I suggested it... not for the game,'... Michel said in an undertone,
also setting the pieces, 'but to have you nearer me.'
I made no answer, but, without asking which should begin, moved a
pawn... Michel did not move in reply... I looked at him. His head was
stretched a little forward; pale all over, with imploring eyes he signed
towards my hand...
Whether I understood him... I don't remember, but something
instantaneously whirled into my head.... Hesitating, scarcely breathing,
I took up the knight and moved it right across the board. Michel bent
down swiftly, and catching my fingers with his lips, and pressing them
against the board, he began noiselessly and passionately kissing
them.... I had no power, I had no wish to draw them back; with my other
hand I hid my face, and tears, as I remember now, cold but blissful...
oh, what blissful tears!... dropped one by one on the table. Ah, I knew,
with my whole heart I felt at that moment, all that he was who held my
hand in his power! I knew that he was not a boy, carried away by a
momentary impulse, not a Don Juan, not a military Lovelace, but one of
the noblest, the best of men... and he loved me!
'Oh, my Susanna!' I heard Michel whisper, 'I will never make you shed
other tears than these.'
He was wrong... he did.
But what use is there in dwelling on such memories... especially,
Michel and I swore to belong to each other. He knew that Semyon
Matveitch would never let him marry me, and he did not conceal it from
me. I had no doubt about it myself and I rejoiced, not that he did not
deceive me--he _could not_ deceive--but that he did not try to
delude himself. For myself I asked for nothing, and would have followed
where and how he chose. 'You shall be my wife,' he repeated to me. 'I am
not Ivanhoe; I know that happiness is not with Lady Rowena.'
Michel soon regained his health. I could not continue going to see him,
but everything was decided between us. I was already entirely absorbed
in the future; I saw nothing of what was passing around me, as though I
were floating on a glorious, calm, but rushing river, hidden in mist.
But we were watched, we were being spied upon. Once or twice I noticed
my stepfather's malignant eyes, and heard his loathsome laugh.... But
that laugh, those eyes as it were emerged for an instant from the
mist... I shuddered, but forgot it directly, and surrendered myself
again to the glorious, swift river...
On the day before the departure of Michel--we had planned together that
he was to turn back secretly on the way and fetch me--I received from
him through his trusted valet a note, in which he asked me to meet him
at half-past nine in the summer billiard-room, a large, low-pitched
room, built on to the big house in the garden. He wrote to me that he
absolutely must speak with me and arrange things. I had twice already
met Michel in the billiard-room... I had the key of the outer door. As
soon as it struck half-past nine I threw a warm wrap over my shoulders,
stepped quietly out of the lodge, and made my way successfully over the
crackling snow to the billiard-room. The moon, wrapped in vapour, stood
a dim blur just over the ridge of the roof, and the wind whistled
shrilly round the corner of the wall. A shiver passed over me, but I put
the key into the lock, went into the room, closed the door behind me,
turned round... A dark figure became visible against one of the walls,
took a couple of steps forward, stopped...
'Michel,' I whispered.
'Michel is locked up by my orders, and this is I!' answered a voice,
which seemed to rend my heart...
Before me stood Semyon Matveitch!
I was rushing to escape, but he clutched at my arm.
'Where are you off to, vile hussy?' he hissed. 'You 're quite equal to
stolen interviews with young fools, so you'll have to be equal to the
I was numb with horror, but still struggled towards the door... In vain!
Like iron hooks the ringers of Semyon Matveitch held me tight.
'Let me go, let me go,' I implored at last.
'I tell you you shan't stir!'
Semyon Matveitch forced me to sit down. In the half-darkness I could not
distinguish his face. I had turned away from him too, but I heard him
breathing hard and grinding his teeth. I felt neither fear nor despair,
but a sort of senseless amazement... A captured bird, I suppose, is numb
like that in the claws of the kite... and Semyon Matveitch's hand, which
still held me as fast, crushed me like some wild, ferocious claw....
'Aha!' he repeated; 'aha! So this is how it is... so it's come to
this... Ah, wait a bit!'
I tried to get up, but he shook me with such violence that I almost
shrieked with pain, and a stream of abuse, insult, and menace burst upon
'Michel, Michel, where are you? save me,' I moaned.
Semyon Matveitch shook me again... That time I could not control
myself... I screamed.
That seemed to have some effect on him. He became a little quieter, let
go my arm, but remained where he was, two steps from me, between me and
A few minutes passed... I did not stir; he breathed heavily as before.
'Sit still,' he began at last, 'and answer me. Let me see that your
morals are not yet utterly corrupt, and that you are still capable of
listening to the voice of reason. Impulsive folly I can overlook, but
stubborn obstinacy--never! My son...' there was a catch in his
breath... 'Mihail Semyonitch has promised to marry you? Hasn't he?
Answer me! Has he promised, eh?'
I answered, of course, nothing. Semyon Matveitch was almost flying into
'I take your silence as a sign of assent,' he went on, after a brief
pause. 'And so you were plotting to be my daughter-in-law? A pretty
notion! But you're not a child of four years old, and you must be fully
aware that young boobies are never sparing of the wildest promises, if
only they can gain their ends... but to say nothing of that, could you
suppose that I--a noble gentleman of ancient family, Semyon Matveitch
Koltovsky--would ever give my consent to such a marriage? Or did you
mean to dispense with the parental blessing?... Did you mean to run
away, get married in secret, and then come back, go through a nice
little farce, throw yourself at my feet, in the hope that the old man
will be touched.... Answer me, damn you!'
I only bent my head. He could kill me, but to force me to speak--that
was not in his power.
He walked up and down a little.
'Come, listen to me,' he began in a calmer voice. 'You mustn't think...
don't imagine... I see one must talk to you in a different manner.
Listen; I understand your position. You are frightened, upset.... Pull
yourself together. At this moment I must seem to you a monster... a
despot. But put yourself in my position too; how could I help being
indignant, saying too much? And for all that I have shown you that I am
not a monster, that I too have a heart. Remember how I treated you on my
arrival here and afterwards till... till lately... till the illness of
Mihail Semyonitch. I don't wish to boast of my beneficence, but I should
have thought simple gratitude ought to have held you back from the
slippery path on which you were determined to enter!'
Semyon Matveitch walked to and fro again, and standing still patted me
lightly on the arm, on the very arm which still ached from his violence,
and was for long after marked with blue bruises.
'To be sure,' he began again, 'we're headstrong... just a little
headstrong! We don't care to take the trouble to think, we don't care to
consider what our advantage consists in and where we ought to seek it.
You ask me: where that advantage lies? You've no need to look far....
It's, maybe, close at hand.... Here am I now. As a father, as head of
the family I am bound to be particular.... It's my duty. But I'm a man
at the same time, and you know that very well. Undoubtedly I'm a
practical person and of course cannot tolerate any sentimental nonsense;
expectations that are quite inconsistent with everything, you must of
course dismiss from your mind for really what sense is there in
them?--not to speak of the immorality of such a proceeding.... You will
assuredly realise all this yourself, when you have thought it over a
little. And I say, simply and straightforwardly, I wouldn't confine
myself to what I have done for you. I have always been prepared--and I
am still prepared--to put your welfare on a sound footing, to guarantee
you a secure position, because I know your value, I do justice to your
talents, and your intelligence, and in fact... (here Semyon Matveitch
stooped down to me a little)... you have such eyes that, I confess...
though I am not a young man, yet to see them quite unmoved... I
understand... is not an easy matter, not at all an easy matter.'
These words sent a chill through me. I could scarcely believe my ears.
For the first minute I fancied that Semyon Matveitch meant to bribe me
to break with Michel, to pay me 'compensation.'... But what was he
saying? My eyes had begun to get used to the darkness and I could make
out Semyon Matveitch's face. It was smiling, that old face, and he was
walking to and fro with little steps, fidgeting restlessly before me....
'Well, what do you say,' he asked at last, 'does my offer please you?'
'Offer?'... I repeated unconsciously,... I simply did not understand a
Semyon Matveitch laughed... actually laughed his revolting thin laugh.
'To be sure,' he cried, 'you're all alike you young women'--he corrected
himself--'young ladies... young ladies... you all dream of nothing
else... you must have young men! You can't live without love! Of course
not. Well, well! Youth's all very well! But do you suppose that it's
only young men that can love?... There are some older men, whose hearts
are warmer... and when once an old man does take a fancy to any one,
well--he's simply like a rock! It's for ever! Not like these beardless,
feather-brained young fools! Yes, yes; you mustn't look down on old men!
They can do so much! You've only to take them the right way! Yes... yes!
And as for kissing, old men know all about that too, he-he-he...' Semyon
Matveitch laughed again. 'Come, please... your little hand... just as a
proof... that's all....'
I jumped up from the chair, and with all my force I gave him a blow in
the chest. He tottered, he uttered a sort of decrepit, scared sound, he
almost fell down. There are no words in human language to express how
loathsome and infinitely vile he seemed to me. Every vestige of fear had
'Get away, despicable old man,' broke from my lips; 'get away, Mr.
Koltovsky, you noble gentleman of ancient family! I, too, am of your
blood, the blood of the Koltovskys, and I curse the day and the hour
when I was born of that ancient family!'
'What!... What are you saying!... What!' stammered Semyon Matveitch,
gasping for breath. 'You dare... at the very minute when I've caught
you... when you came to meet Misha... eh? eh? eh?'
But I could not stop myself.... Something relentless, desperate was
roused up within me.
'And you, you, the brother... of your brother, you had the insolence,
you dared... What did you take me for? Can you be so blind as not to
have seen long ago the loathing you arouse in me?... You dare use the
word offer!... Let me out at once, this instant!'
I moved towards the door.
'Oh, indeed! oh, oh! so this is what she says!' Semyon Matveitch piped
shrilly, in a fit of violent fury, but obviously not able to make up his
mind to come near me.... 'Wait a bit, Mr. Ratsch, Ivan Demianitch, come
The door of the billiard-room opposite the one I was near flew wide
open, and my stepfather appeared, with a lighted candelabrum in each
hand. His round, red face, lighted up on both sides, was beaming with
the triumph of satisfied revenge, and slavish delight at having rendered
valuable service.... Oh, those loathsome white eyes! when shall I cease
to behold them?
'Be so good as to take this girl at once,' cried Semyon Matveitch,
turning to my stepfather and imperiously pointing to me with a shaking
hand. 'Be so good as to take her home and put her under lock and key...
so that she... can't stir a finger, so that not a fly can get in to her!
Till further orders from me! Board up the windows if need be! You'll
answer for her with your head!'
Mr. Ratsch set the candelabra on the billiard-table, made Semyon
Matveitch a low bow, and with a slight swagger and a malignant smile,
moved towards me. A cat, I imagine, approaches a mouse who has no chance
of escape in that way. All my daring left me in an instant. I knew the
man was capable of... beating me. I began to tremble; yes; oh, shame! oh
ignominy! I shivered.
'Now, then, madam,' said Mr. Ratsch, 'kindly come along.'
He took me, without haste, by the arm above the elbow.... He saw that I
should not resist. Of my own accord I pushed forward towards the door;
at that instant I had but one thought in my mind, to escape as quickly
as possible from the presence of Semyon Matveitch.
But the loathsome old man darted up to us from behind, and Ratsch
stopped me and turned me round face to face with his patron.
'Ah!' the latter shouted, shaking his fist; 'ah! So I'm the brother...
of my brother, am I? Ties of blood! eh? But a cousin, a first cousin you
could marry? You could? eh? Take her, you!' he turned to my stepfather.
'And remember, keep a sharp look-out! The slightest communication with
her--and no punishment will be too severe.... Take her!'
Mr. Ratsch conducted me to my room. Crossing the courtyard, he said
nothing, but kept laughing noiselessly to himself. He closed the
shutters and the doors, and then, as he was finally returning, he bowed
low to me as he had to Semyon Matveitch, and went off into a ponderous,
'Good-night to your highness,' he gasped out, choking: 'she didn't catch
her fairy prince! What a pity! It wasn't a bad idea in its way! It's a
lesson for the future: not to keep up correspondence! Ho-ho-ho! How
capitally it has all turned out though!' He went out, and all of a
sudden poked his head in at the door. 'Well? I didn't forget you, did I?
Hey? I kept my promise, didn't I? Ho-ho!' The key creaked in the lock. I
breathed freely. I had been afraid he would tie my hands... but they
were my own, they were free! I instantly wrenched the silken cord off my
dressing-gown, made a noose, and was putting it on my neck, but I flung
the cord aside again at once. 'I won't please you!' I said aloud. 'What
madness, really! Can I dispose of my life without Michel's leave, my
life, which I have surrendered into his keeping? No, cruel wretches! No!
You have not won your game yet! He will save me, he will tear me out of
this hell, he... my Michel!'
But then I remembered that he was shut up just as I was, and I flung
myself, face downwards, on my bed, and sobbed... and sobbed.... And only
the thought that my tormentor was perhaps at the door, listening and
triumphing, only that thought forced me to swallow my tears....
I am worn out. I have been writing since morning, and now it is evening;
if once I tear myself from this sheet of paper, I shall not be capable
of taking up the pen again.... I must hasten, hasten to the finish! And
besides, to dwell on the hideous things that followed that dreadful day
is beyond my strength!
Twenty-four hours later I was taken in a closed cart to an isolated hut,
surrounded by peasants, who were to watch me, and kept shut up for six
whole weeks! I was not for one instant alone.... Later on I learnt that
my stepfather had set spies to watch both Michel and me ever since his
arrival, that he had bribed the servant, who had given me Michel's note.
I ascertained too that an awful, heart-rending scene had taken place the
next morning between the son and the father.... The father had cursed
him. Michel for his part had sworn he would never set foot in his
father's house again, and had set off to Petersburg. But the blow aimed
at me by my stepfather rebounded upon himself. Semyon Matveitch
announced that he could not have him remaining there, and managing the
estate any longer. Awkward service, it seems, is an unpardonable
offence, and some one must be fixed upon to bear the brunt of the
_scandal_. Semyon Matveitch recompensed Mr. Ratsch liberally,
however: he gave him the necessary means to move to Moscow and to
establish himself there. Before the departure for Moscow, I was brought
back to the lodge, but kept as before under the strictest guard. The
loss of the 'snug little berth,' of which he was being deprived 'thanks
to me,' increased my stepfather's vindictive rage against me more than
'Why did you make such a fuss?' he would say, almost snorting with
indignation; 'upon my word! The old chap, of course, got a little too
hot, was a little too much in a hurry, and so he made a mess of it; now,
of course, his vanity's hurt, there's no setting the mischief right
again now! If you'd only waited a day or two, it'd all have been right
as a trivet; you wouldn't have been kept on dry bread, and I should have
stayed what I was! Ah, well, women's hair is long... but their wit is
short! Never mind; I'll be even with you yet, and that pretty young
gentleman shall smart for it too!'
I had, of course, to bear all these insults in silence. Semyon Matveitch
I did not once see again. The separation from his son had been a shock
to him too. Whether he felt remorse or--which is far more likely--wished
to bind me for ever to my home, to my family--my family!--anyway, he
assigned me a pension, which was to be paid into my stepfather's hands,
and to be given to me till I married.... This humiliating alms, this
pension I still receive... that is to say, Mr. Ratsch receives it for
We settled in Moscow. I swear by the memory of my poor mother, I would
not have remained two days, not two hours, with my stepfather, after
once reaching the town... I would have gone away, not knowing where...
to the police; I would have flung myself at the feet of the
governor-general, of the senators; I don't know what I would have done,
if it had not happened, at the very moment of our starting from the
country, that the girl who had been our maid managed to give me a letter
from Michel! Oh, that letter! How many times I read over each line, how
many times I covered it with kisses! Michel besought me not to lose
heart, to go on hoping, to believe in his unchanging love; he swore that
he would never belong to any one but me; he called me his wife, he
promised to overcome all hindrances, he drew a picture of our future, he
asked of me only one thing, to be patient, to wait a little....
And I resolved to wait and be patient. Alas! what would I not have
agreed to, what would I not have borne, simply to do his will! That
letter became my holy thing, my guiding star, my anchor. Sometimes when
my stepfather would begin abusing and insulting me, I would softly lay
my hand on my bosom (I wore Michel's letter sewed into an amulet) and
only smile. And the more violent and abusive was Mr. Ratsch, the easier,
lighter, and sweeter was the heart within me.... I used to see, at last,
by his eyes, that he began to wonder whether I was going out of my
mind.... Following on this first letter came a second, still more full
of hope.... It spoke of our meeting soon.
Alas! instead of that meeting there came a morning... I can see Mr.
Ratsch coming in--and triumph again, malignant triumph, in his face--and
in his hands a page of the _Invalid_, and there the announcement of
the death of the Captain of the Guards--Mihail Koltovsky.
What can I add? I remained alive, and went on living in Mr. Ratsch's
house. He hated me as before--more than before--he had unmasked his
black soul too much before me, he could not pardon me that. But that was
of no consequence to me. I became, as it were, without feeling; my own
fate no longer interested me. To think of him, to think of him! I had no
interest, no joy, but that. My poor Michel died with my name on his
lips.... I was told so by a servant, devoted to him, who had been with
him when he came into the country. The same year my stepfather married
Eleonora Karpovna. Semyon Matveitch died shortly after. In his will he
secured to me and increased the pension he had allowed me.... In the
event of my death, it was to pass to Mr. Ratsch....
Two--three--years passed... six years, seven years.... Life has been
passing, ebbing away... while I merely watched how it was ebbing. As in
childhood, on some river's edge one makes a little pond and dams it up,
and tries in all sorts of ways to keep the water from soaking through,
from breaking in. But at last the water breaks in, and then you abandon
all your vain efforts, and you are glad instead to watch all that you
had guarded ebbing away to the last drop....
So I lived, so I existed, till at last a new, unhoped-for ray of warmth
The manuscript broke off at this word; the following leaves had been
torn off, and several lines completing the sentence had been crossed
through and blotted out.
The reading of this manuscript so upset me, the impression made by
Susanna's visit was so great, that I could not sleep all night, and
early in the morning I sent an express messenger to Fustov with a
letter, in which I besought him to come to Moscow as soon as possible,
as his absence might have the most terrible results. I mentioned also my
interview with Susanna, and the manuscript she had left in my hands.
After having sent off the letter, I did not go out of the house all day,
and pondered all the time on what might be happening at the Ratsches'. I
could not make up my mind to go there myself. I could not help noticing
though that my aunt was in a continual fidget; she ordered pastilles to
be burnt every minute, and dealt the game of patience, known as 'the
traveller,' which is noted as a game in which one can never succeed. The
visit of an unknown lady, and at such a late hour, had not been kept
secret from her: her imagination at once pictured a yawning abyss on the
edge of which I was standing, and she was continually sighing and
moaning and murmuring French sentences, quoted from a little manuscript
book entitled _Extraits de Lecture_. In the evening I found on the
little table at my bedside the treatise of De Girando, laid open at the
chapter: On the evil influence of the passions. This book had been put
in my room, at my aunt's instigation of course, by the elder of her
companions, who was called in the household Amishka, from her
resemblance to a little poodle of that name, and was a very sentimental,
not to say romantic, though elderly, maiden lady. All the following day
was spent in anxious expectation of Fustov's coming, of a letter from
him, of news from the Ratsches' house... though on what ground could
they have sent to me? Susanna would be more likely to expect me to visit
her.... But I positively could not pluck up courage to see her without
first talking to Fustov. I recalled every expression in my letter to
him.... I thought it was strong enough; at last, late in the evening, he
He came into my room with his habitual, rapid, but deliberate step. His
face struck me as pale, and though it showed traces of the fatigue of
the journey, there was an expression of astonishment, curiosity, and
dissatisfaction--emotions of which he had little experience as a rule. I
rushed up to him, embraced him, warmly thanked him for obeying me, and
after briefly describing my conversation with Susanna, handed him the
manuscript. He went off to the window, to the very window in which
Susanna had sat two days before, and without a word to me, he fell to
reading it. I at once retired to the opposite corner of the room, and
for appearance' sake took up a book; but I must own I was stealthily
looking over the edge of the cover all the while at Fustov. At first he
read rather calmly, and kept pulling with his left hand at the down on
his lip; then he let his hand drop, bent forward and did not stir again.
His eyes seemed to fly along the lines and his mouth slightly opened. At
last he finished the manuscript, turned it over, looked round, thought a
little, and began reading it all through a second time from beginning to
end. Then he got up, put the manuscript in his pocket and moved towards
the door; but he turned round and stopped in the middle of the room.
'Well, what do you think?' I began, not waiting for him to speak.
'I have acted wrongly towards her,' Fustov declared thickly. 'I have
behaved... rashly, unpardonably, cruelly. I believed that... Viktor--'
'What!' I cried; 'that Viktor whom you despise so! But what could he say
Fustov crossed his arms and stood obliquely to me. He was ashamed, I saw
'Do you remember,' he said with some effort, 'that... Viktor alluded
to... a pension. That unfortunate word stuck in my head. It's the cause
of everything. I began questioning him.... Well, and he--'
'What did he say?'
'He told me that the old man... what's his name?... Koltovsky, had
allowed Susanna that pension because... on account of... well, in fact,
by way of damages.'
I flung up my hands.
'And you believed him?'
'Yes! I believed him.... He said, too, that with the young one... In
fact, my behaviour is unjustifiable.'
'And you went away so as to break everything off?'
'Yes; that's the best way... in such cases. I acted savagely, savagely,'
We were both silent. Each of us felt that the other was ashamed; but it
was easier for me; I was not ashamed of myself.
'I would break every bone in that Viktor's body now,' pursued Fustov,
clenching his teeth, 'if I didn't recognise that I'm in fault. I see now
what the whole trick was contrived for, with Susanna's marriage they
would lose the pension.... Wretches!'
I took his hand.
'Alexander,' I asked him, 'have you been to her?'
'No; I came straight to you on arriving. I'll go to-morrow... early
to-morrow. Things can't be left so. On no account!'
'But you... love her, Alexander?'
Fustov seemed offended.
'Of course I love her. I am very much attached to her.'
'She's a splendid, true-hearted girl!' I cried.
Fustov stamped impatiently.
'Well, what notion have you got in your head? I was prepared to marry
her--she's been baptized--I'm ready to marry her even now, I'd been
thinking of it, though she's older than I am.'
At that instant I suddenly fancied that a pale woman's figure was seated
in the window, leaning on her arms. The lights had burnt down; it was
dark in the room. I shivered, looked more intently, and saw nothing, of
course, in the window seat; but a strange feeling, a mixture of horror,
anguish and pity, came over me.
'Alexander!' I began with sudden intensity, 'I beg you, I implore you,
go at once to the Ratsches', don't put it off till to-morrow! An inner
voice tells me that you really ought to see Susanna to-day!'
Fustov shrugged his shoulders.
'What are you talking about, really! It's eleven o'clock now, most
likely they're all in bed.'
'No matter.... Do go, for goodness' sake! I have a presentiment....
Please do as I say! Go at once, take a sledge....'
'Come, what nonsense!' Fustov responded coolly; 'how could I go now?
To-morrow morning I will be there, and everything will be cleared up.'
'But, Alexander, remember, she said that she was dying, that you would
not find her... And if you had seen her face! Only think, imagine, to
make up her mind to come to me... what it must have cost her....'
'She's a little high-flown,' observed Fustov, who had apparently
regained his self-possession completely. 'All girls are like that... at
first. I repeat, everything will be all right to-morrow. Meanwhile,
good-bye. I'm tired, and you're sleepy too.'
He took his cap, and went out of the room.
'But you promise to come here at once, and tell me all about it?' I
called after him.
'I promise.... Good-bye!'
I went to bed, but in my heart I was uneasy, and I felt vexed with my
friend. I fell asleep late and dreamed that I was wandering with Susanna
along underground, damp passages of some sort, and crawling along
narrow, steep staircases, and continually going deeper and deeper down,
though we were trying to get higher up out into the air. Some one was
all the while incessantly calling us in monotonous, plaintive tones.
Some one's hand lay on my shoulder and pushed it several times.... I
opened my eyes and in the faint light of the solitary candle, I saw
Fustov standing before me. He frightened me. He was staggering; his face
was yellow, almost the same colour as his hair; his lips seemed hanging
down, his muddy eyes were staring senselessly away. What had become of
his invariably amiable, sympathetic expression? I had a cousin who from
epilepsy was sinking into idiocy.... Fustov looked like him at that
I sat up hurriedly.
'What is it? What is the matter? Heavens!'
He made no answer.
'Why, what has happened? Fustov! Do speak! Susanna?...'
Fustov gave a slight start.
'She...' he began in a hoarse voice, and broke off.
'What of her? Have you seen her?'
He stared at me.
'She's no more.'
'No. She is dead.'
I jumped out of bed.
'Dead? Susanna? Dead?'
Fustov turned his eyes away again.
'Yes; she is dead; she died at midnight.'
'He's raving!' crossed my mind.
'At midnight! And what's the time now?'
'It's eight o'clock in the morning now.
They sent to tell me. She is to be buried to-morrow.'
I seized him by the hand.
'Alexander, you're not delirious? Are you in your senses?'
'I am in my senses,' he answered. 'Directly I heard it, I came straight
My heart turned sick and numb, as always happens on realising an
'My God! my God! Dead!' I repeated. 'How is it possible? So suddenly! Or
perhaps she took her own life?'
'I don't know,' said Fustov, 'I know nothing. They told me she died at
midnight. And to-morrow she will be buried.'
'At midnight!' I thought.... 'Then she was still alive yesterday when I
fancied I saw her in the window, when I entreated him to hasten to
'She was still alive yesterday, when you wanted to send me to Ivan
Demianitch's,' said Fustov, as though guessing my thought.
'How little he knew her!' I thought again. 'How little we both knew her!
"High-flown," said he, "all girls are like that."... And at that very
minute, perhaps, she was putting to her lips... Can one love any one and
be so grossly mistaken in them?'
Fustov stood stockstill before my bed, his hands hanging, like a guilty
I dressed hurriedly.
'What do you mean to do now, Alexander?' I asked.
He gazed at me in bewilderment, as though marvelling at the absurdity of
my question. And indeed what was there to do?
'You simply must go to them, though,' I began. 'You're bound to
ascertain how it happened; there is, possibly, a crime concealed. One
may expect anything of those people.... It is all to be thoroughly
investigated. Remember the statement in her manuscript, the pension was
to cease on her marriage, but in event of her death it was to pass to
Ratsch. In any case, one must render her the last duty, pay homage to
I talked to Fustov like a preceptor, like an elder brother. In the midst
of all that horror, grief, bewilderment, a sort of unconscious feeling
of superiority over Fustov had suddenly come to the surface in me....
Whether from seeing him crushed by the consciousness of his fault,
distracted, shattered, whether that a misfortune befalling a man almost
always humiliates him, lowers him in the opinion of others, 'you can't
be much,' is felt, 'if you hadn't the wit to come off better than that!'
God knows! Any way, Fustov seemed to me almost like a child, and I felt
pity for him, and saw the necessity of severity. I held out a helping
hand to him, stooping down to him from above. Only a woman's sympathy is
free from condescension.
But Fustov continued to gaze with wild and stupid eyes at me--my
authoritative tone obviously had no effect on him, and to my second
question, 'You're going to them, I suppose?' he replied--
'No, I'm not going.'
'What do you mean, really? Don't you want to ascertain for yourself, to
investigate, how, and what? Perhaps, she has left a letter... a document
of some sort....'
Fustov shook his head.
'I can't go there,' he said. 'That's what I came to you for, to ask you
to go... for me... I can't... I can't....'
Fustov suddenly sat down to the table, hid his face in both hands, and
'Alas, alas!' he kept repeating through his tears; 'alas, poor girl...
poor girl... I loved... I loved her... alas!'
I stood near him, and I am bound to confess, not the slightest sympathy
was excited in me by those incontestably sincere sobs. I simply
marvelled that Fustov could cry _like that_, and it seemed to me
that _now_ I knew what a small person he was, and that I should, in
his place, have acted quite differently. What's one to make of it? If
Fustov had remained quite unmoved, I should perhaps have hated him, have
conceived an aversion for him, but he would not have sunk in my
esteem.... He would have kept his prestige. Don Juan would have remained
Don Juan! Very late in life, and only after many experiences, does a man
learn, at the sight of a fellow-creature's real failing or weakness, to
sympathise with him, and help him without a secret self-congratulation
at his own virtue and strength, but on the contrary, with every humility
and comprehension of the naturalness, almost the inevitableness, of sin.
I was very bold and resolute in sending Fustov to the Ratsches'; but
when I set out there myself at twelve o'clock (nothing would induce
Fustov to go with me, he only begged me to give him an exact account of
everything), when round the corner of the street their house glared at
me in the distance with a yellowish blur from the coffin candles at one
of the windows, an indescribable panic made me hold my breath, and I
would gladly have turned back.... I mastered myself, however, and went
into the passage. It smelt of incense and wax; the pink cover of the
coffin, edged with silver lace, stood in a corner, leaning against the
wall. In one of the adjoining rooms, the dining-room, the monotonous
muttering of the deacon droned like the buzzing of a bee. From the
drawing-room peeped out the sleepy face of a servant girl, who murmured
in a subdued voice, 'Come to do homage to the dead?' She indicated the
door of the dining-room. I went in. The coffin stood with the head
towards the door; the black hair of Susanna under the white wreath,
above the raised lace of the pillow, first caught my eyes. I went up
sidewards, crossed myself, bowed down to the ground, glanced... Merciful
God! what a face of agony! Unhappy girl! even death had no pity on her,
had denied her--beauty, that would be little--even that peace, that
tender and impressive peace which is often seen on the faces of the
newly dead. The little, dark, almost brown, face of Susanna recalled the
visages on old, old holy pictures. And the expression on that face! It
looked as though she were on the point of shrieking--a shriek of
despair--and had died so, uttering no sound... even the line between the
brows was not smoothed out, and the fingers on the hands were bent back
and clenched. I turned away my eyes involuntarily; but, after a brief
interval, I forced myself to look, to look long and attentively at her.
Pity filled my soul, and not pity alone. 'That girl died by violence,' I
decided inwardly; 'that's beyond doubt.' While I was standing looking at
the dead girl, the deacon, who on my entrance had raised his voice and
uttered a few disconnected sounds, relapsed into droning again, and
yawned twice. I bowed to the ground a second time, and went out into the
In the doorway of the drawing-room Mr. Ratsch was already on the
look-out for me, dressed in a gay-coloured dressing-gown. Beckoning to
me with his hand, he led me to his own room--I had almost said, to his
lair. The room, dark and close, soaked through and through with the sour
smell of stale tobacco, suggested a comparison with the lair of a wolf
or a fox.
'Rupture! rupture of the external... of the external covering.... You
understand.., the envelopes of the heart!' said Mr. Ratsch, directly the
door closed. 'Such a misfortune! Only yesterday evening there was
nothing to notice, and all of a sudden, all in a minute, all was over!
It's a true saying, "heute roth, morgen todt!" It's true; it's what was
to be expected. I always expected it. At Tambov the regimental doctor,
Galimbovsky, Vikenty Kasimirovitch.... you've probably heard of him... a
first-rate medical man, a specialist--'
'It's the first time I've heard the name,' I observed.
'Well, no matter; any way he was always,' pursued Mr. Ratsch, at first
in a low voice, and then louder and louder, and, to my surprise, with a
perceptible German accent, 'he was always warning me: "Ay, Ivan
Demianitch! ay! my dear boy, you must be careful! Your stepdaughter has
an organic defect in the heart--hypertrophia cordialis! The least thing
and there'll be trouble! She must avoid all exciting emotions above
all.... You must appeal to her reason."... But, upon my word, with a
young lady... can one appeal to reason? Ha... ha... ha...'
Mr. Ratsch was, through long habit, on the point of laughing, but he
recollected himself in time, and changed the incipient guffaw into a
And this was what Mr. Ratsch said! After all that I had found out about
him!... I thought it my duty, however, to ask him whether a doctor was
Mr. Ratsch positively bounced into the air.
'To be sure there was.... Two were summoned, but it was already
over--abgemacht! And only fancy, both, as though they were agreeing'
(Mr. Ratsch probably meant, as though they had agreed), 'rupture!
rupture of the heart! That's what, with one voice, they cried out. They
proposed a post-mortem; but I... you understand, did not consent to
'And the funeral's to-morrow?' I queried.
'Yes, yes, to-morrow, to-morrow we bury our dear one! The procession
will leave the house precisely at eleven o'clock in the morning.... From
here to the church of St. Nicholas on Hen's Legs... what strange names
your Russian churches do have, you know! Then to the last resting-place
in mother earth. You will come! We have not been long acquainted, but I
make bold to say, the amiability of your character and the elevation of
I made haste to nod my head.
'Yes, yes, yes,' sighed Mr. Ratsch. 'It... it really has been, as they
say, a thunderbolt from a clear sky! Ein Blitz aus heiterem Himmel!'
'And Susanna Ivanovna said nothing before her death, left nothing?'
'Nothing, positively! Not a scrap of anything! Not a bit of paper! Only
fancy, when they called me to her, when they waked me up--she was stiff
already! Very distressing it was for me; she has grieved us all
terribly! Alexander Daviditch will be sorry too, I dare say, when he
knows.... They say he is not in Moscow.'
'He did leave town for a few days...' I began.
'Viktor Ivanovitch is complaining they're so long getting his sledge
harnessed,' interrupted a servant girl coming in--the same girl I had
seen in the passage. Her face, still looking half-awake, struck me this
time by the expression of coarse insolence to be seen in servants when
they know that their masters are in their power, and that they do not
dare to find fault or be exacting with them.
'Directly, directly,' Ivan Demianitch responded nervously. 'Eleonora
Karpovna! Leonora! Lenchen! come here!'
There was a sound of something ponderous moving the other side of the
door, and at the same instant I heard Viktor's imperious call: 'Why on
earth don't they put the horses in? You don't catch me trudging off to
the police on foot!'
'Directly, directly,' Ivan Demianitch faltered again. 'Eleonora
Karpovna, come here!'
'But, Ivan Demianitch,' I heard her voice, 'ich habe keine Toilette
'Macht nichts. Komm herein!'
Eleonora Karpovna came in, holding a kerchief over her neck with two
fingers. She had on a morning wrapper, not buttoned up, and had not yet
done her hair. Ivan Demianitch flew up to her.
'You hear, Viktor's calling for the horses,' he said, hurriedly pointing
his finger first to the door, then to the window. 'Please, do see to it,
as quick as possible! Der Kerl schreit so!'
'Der Viktor schreit immer, Ivan Demianitch, Sie wissen wohl,' responded
Eleonora Karpovna, 'and I have spoken to the coachman myself, but he's
taken it into his head to give the horses oats. Fancy, what a calamity
to happen so suddenly,' she added, turning to me; 'who could have
expected such a thing of Susanna Ivanovna?'
'I was always expecting it, always!' cried Ratsch, and threw up his
arms, his dressing-gown flying up in front as he did so, and displaying
most repulsive unmentionables of chamois leather, with buckles on the
belt. 'Rupture of the heart! rupture of the external membrane!
'To be sure,' Eleonora Karpovna repeated after him, 'hyper... Well, so
it is. Only it's a terrible, terrible grief to me, I say again...' And
her coarse-featured face worked a little, her eyebrows rose into the
shape of triangles, and a tiny tear rolled over her round cheek, that
looked varnished like a doll's.... 'I'm very sorry that such a young
person who ought to have lived and enjoyed everything... everything...
And to fall into despair so suddenly!'
'Na! gut, gut... geh, alte!' Mr. Ratsch cut her short.
'Geh' schon, geh' schon,' muttered Eleonora Karpovna, and she went away,
still holding the kerchief with her fingers, and shedding tears.
And I followed her. In the passage stood Viktor in a student's coat with
a beaver collar and a cap stuck jauntily on one side. He barely glanced
at me over his shoulder, shook his collar up, and did not nod to me, for
which I mentally thanked him.
I went back to Fustov.
I found my friend sitting in a corner of his room with downcast head and
arms folded across his breast. He had sunk into a state of numbness, and
he gazed around him with the slow, bewildered look of a man who has
slept very heavily and has only just been waked. I told him all about my
visit to Ratsch's, repeated the veteran's remarks and those of his wife,
described the impression they had made on me and informed him of my
conviction that the unhappy girl had taken her own life.... Fustov
listened to me with no change of expression, and looked about him with
the same bewildered air.
'Did you see her?' he asked me at last.
'In the coffin?'
Fustov seemed to doubt whether Susanna were really dead.
'In the coffin.'
Fustov's face twitched and he dropped his eyes and softly rubbed his
'Are you cold?' I asked him.
'Yes, old man, I'm cold,' he answered hesitatingly, and he shook his
I began to explain my reasons for thinking that Susanna had poisoned
herself or perhaps had been poisoned, and that the matter could not be
Fustov stared at me.
'Why, what is there to be done?' he said, slowly opening his eyes wide
and slowly closing them. 'Why, it'll be worse... if it's known about.
They won't bury her. We must let things... alone.'
This idea, simple as it was, had never entered my head. My friend's
practical sense had not deserted him.
'When is... her funeral?' he went on.
'Are you going?'
'To the house or straight to the church?'
'To the house and to the church too; and from there to the cemetery.'
'But I shan't go... I can't, I can't!' whispered Fustov and began
crying. It was at these same words that he had broken into sobs in the
morning. I have noticed that it is often so with weeping; as though to
certain words, for the most of no great meaning,--but just to these
words and to no others--it is given to open the fount of tears in a man,
to break him down, and to excite in him the feeling of pity for others
and himself... I remember a peasant woman was once describing before me
the sudden death of her daughter, and she fairly dissolved and could not
go on with her tale as soon as she uttered the phrase, 'I said to her,
Fekla. And she says, "Mother, where have you put the salt... the salt...
sa-alt?"' The word 'salt' overpowered her.
But again, as in the morning, I was but little moved by Fustov's tears.
I could not conceive how it was he did not ask me if Susanna had not
left something for him. Altogether their love for one another was a
riddle to me; and a riddle it remained to me.
After weeping for ten minutes Fustov got up, lay down on the sofa,
turned his face to the wall, and remained motionless. I waited a little,
but seeing that he did not stir, and made no answer to my questions, I
made up my mind to leave him. I am perhaps doing him injustice, but I
almost believe he was asleep. Though indeed that would be no proof that
he did not feel sorrow... only his nature was so constituted as to be
unable to support painful emotions for long... His nature was too
The next day exactly at eleven o'clock I was at the place. Fine hail was
falling from the low-hanging sky, there was a slight frost, a thaw was
close at hand, but there were cutting, disagreeable gusts of wind
flitting across in the air.... It was the most thoroughly Lenten,
cold-catching weather. I found Mr. Ratsch on the steps of his house. In
a black frock-coat adorned with crape, with no hat on his head, he
fussed about, waved his arms, smote himself on the thighs, shouted up to
the house, and then down into the street, in the direction of the
funeral car with a white catafalque, already standing there with two
hired carriages. Near it four garrison soldiers, with mourning capes
over their old coats, and mourning hats pulled over their screwed-up
eyes, were pensively scratching in the crumbling snow with the long
stems of their unlighted torches. The grey shock of hair positively
stood up straight above the red face of Mr. Ratsch, and his voice, that
brazen voice, was cracking from the strain he was putting on it. 'Where
are the pine branches? pine branches! this way! the branches of pine!'
he yelled. 'They'll be bearing out the coffin directly! The pine! Hand
over those pine branches! Look alive!' he cried once more, and dashed
into the house. It appeared that in spite of my punctuality, I was late:
Mr. Ratsch had thought fit to hurry things forward. The service in the
house was already over; the priests--of whom one wore a calotte, and the
other, rather younger, had most carefully combed and oiled his
hair--appeared with all their retinue on the steps. The coffin too
appeared soon after, carried by a coachman, two door-keepers, and a
water-carrier. Mr. Ratsch walked behind, with the tips of his fingers on
the coffin lid, continually repeating, 'Easy, easy!' Behind him waddled
Eleonora Karpovna in a black dress, also adorned with crape, surrounded
by her whole family; after all of them, Viktor stepped out in a new
uniform with a sword with crape round the handle. The coffin-bearers,
grumbling and altercating among themselves, laid the coffin on the
hearse; the garrison soldiers lighted their torches, which at once began
crackling and smoking; a stray old woman, who had joined herself on to
the party, raised a wail; the deacons began to chant, the fine snow
suddenly fell faster and whirled round like 'white flies.' Mr. Ratsch
bawled, 'In God's name! start!' and the procession started. Besides Mr.
Ratsch's family, there were in all five men accompanying the hearse: a
retired and extremely shabby officer of roads and highways, with a faded
Stanislas ribbon--not improbably hired--on his neck; the police
superintendent's assistant, a diminutive man with a meek face and greedy
eyes; a little old man in a fustian smock; an extremely fat fishmonger
in a tradesman's bluejacket, smelling strongly of his calling, and I.
The absence of the female sex (for one could hardly count as such two
aunts of Eleonora Karpovna, sisters of the sausagemaker, and a hunchback
old maiden lady with blue spectacles on her blue nose), the absence of
girl friends and acquaintances struck me at first; but on thinking it
over I realised that Susanna, with her character, her education, her
memories, could not have made friends in the circle in which she was
living. In the church there were a good many people assembled, more
outsiders than acquaintances, as one could see by the expression of
their faces. The service did not last long. What surprised me was that
Mr. Ratsch crossed himself with great fervour, quite as though he were
of the orthodox faith, and even chimed in with the deacons in the
responses, though only with the notes not with the words. When at last
it came to taking leave of the dead, I bowed low, but did not give the
last kiss. Mr. Ratsch, on the contrary, went through this terrible
ordeal with the utmost composure, and with a deferential inclination of
his person invited the officer of the Stanislas ribbon to the coffin, as
though offering him entertainment, and picking his children up under the
arms swung them up in turn and held them up to the body. Eleonora
Karpovna, on taking farewell of Susanna, suddenly broke into a roar that
filled the church; but she was soon soothed and continually asked in an
exasperated whisper, 'But where's my reticule?' Viktor held himself
aloof, and seemed to be trying by his whole demeanour to convey that he
was out of sympathy with all such customs and was only performing a
social duty. The person who showed the most sympathy was the little old
man in the smock, who had been, fifteen years before, a land surveyor in
the Tambov province, and had not seen Ratsch since then. He did not know
Susanna at all, but had drunk a couple of glasses of spirits at the
sideboard before starting. My aunt had also come to the church. She had
somehow or other found out that the deceased woman was the very lady who
had paid me a visit, and had been thrown into a state of indescribable
agitation! She could not bring herself to suspect me of any sort of
misconduct, but neither could she explain such a strange chain of
circumstances.... Not improbably she imagined that Susanna had been led
by love for me to commit suicide, and attired in her darkest garments,
with an aching heart and tears, she prayed on her knees for the peace of
the soul of the departed, and put a rouble candle before the picture of
the Consolation of Sorrow.... 'Amishka' had come with her too, and she
too prayed, but was for the most part gazing at me, horror-stricken....
That elderly spinster, alas! did not regard me with indifference. On
leaving the church, my aunt distributed all her money, more than ten
roubles, among the poor.
At last the farewell was over. They began closing the coffin. During the
whole service I had not courage to look straight at the poor girl's
distorted face; but every time that my eyes passed by it--'he did not
come, he did not come,' it seemed to me that it wanted to say. They were
just going to lower the lid upon the coffin. I could not restrain
myself: I turned a rapid glance on to the dead woman. 'Why did you do
it?' I was unconsciously asking.... 'He did not come!' I fancied for the
last time.... The hammer was knocking in the nails, and all was over.
We followed the hearse towards the cemetery. We were forty in number, of
all sorts and conditions, nothing else really than an idle crowd. The
wearisome journey lasted more than an hour. The weather became worse and
worse. Halfway there Viktor got into a carriage, but Mr. Ratsch stepped
gallantly on through the sloppy snow; just so must he have stepped
through the snow when, after the fateful interview with Semyon
Matveitch, he led home with him in triumph the girl whose life he had
ruined for ever. The 'veteran's' hair and eyebrows were edged with snow;
he kept blowing and uttering exclamations, or manfully drawing deep
breaths and puffing out his round, dark-red cheeks.... One really might
have thought he was laughing. 'On my death the pension was to pass to
Ivan Demianitch'; these words from Susanna's manuscript recurred again
to my mind. We reached the cemetery at last; we moved up to a freshly
dug grave. The last ceremony was quickly performed; all were chilled
through, all were in haste. The coffin slid on cords into the yawning
hole; they began to throw earth on it. Mr. Ratsch here too showed the
energy of his spirit, so rapidly, with such force and vigour, did he
fling clods of earth on to the coffin lid, throwing himself into an
heroic pose, with one leg planted firmly before him... he could not have
shown more energy if he had been stoning his bitterest foe. Viktor, as
before, held himself aloof; he kept muffling himself up in his coat, and
rubbing his chin in the fur of his collar. Mr. Ratsch's other children
eagerly imitated their father. Flinging sand and earth was a source of
great enjoyment to them, for which, of course, they were in no way to
blame. A mound began to rise up where the hole had been; we were on the
point of separating, when Mr. Ratsch, wheeling round to the left in
soldierly fashion, and slapping himself on the thigh, announced to all
of us 'gentlemen present,' that he invited us, and also the 'reverend
clergy,' to a 'funeral banquet,' which had been arranged at no great
distance from the cemetery, in the chief saloon of an extremely superior
restaurant, 'thanks to the kind offices of our honoured friend Sigismund
Sigismundovitch.'... At these words he indicated the assistant of the
police superintendent, and added that for all his grief and his Lutheran
faith, he, Ivan Demianitch Ratsch, as a genuine Russian, put the old
Russian usages before everything. 'My spouse,' he cried, 'with the
ladies that have accompanied her, may go home, while we gentlemen
commemorate in a modest repast the shade of Thy departed servant!' Mr.
Ratsch's proposal was received with genuine sympathy; 'the reverend
clergy' exchanged expressive glances with one another, while the officer
of roads and highways slapped Ivan Demianitch on the shoulder, and
called him a patriot and the soul of the company.
We set off all together to the restaurant. In the restaurant, in the
middle of a long, wide, and quite empty room on the first storey, stood
two tables laid for dinner, covered with bottles and eatables, and
surrounded by chairs. The smell of whitewash, mingled with the odours of
spirits and salad oil, was stifling and oppressive. The police
superintendent's assistant, as the organiser of the banquet, placed the
clergy in the seats of honour, near which the Lenten dishes were crowded
together conspicuously; after the priests the other guests took their
seats; the banquet began. I would not have used such a festive word as
banquet by choice, but no other word would have corresponded with the
real character of the thing. At first the proceedings were fairly quiet,
even slightly mournful; jaws munched busily, and glasses were emptied,
but sighs too were audible--possibly sighs of digestion, but possibly
also of feeling. There were references to death, allusions to the
brevity of human life, and the fleeting nature of earthly hopes. The
officer of roads and highways related a military but still edifying
anecdote. The priest in the calotte expressed his approval, and himself
contributed an interesting fact from the life of the saint, Ivan the
Warrior. The priest with the superbly arranged hair, though his
attention was chiefly engrossed by the edibles, gave utterance to
something improving on the subject of chastity. But little by little all
this changed. Faces grew redder, and voices grew louder, and laughter
reasserted itself; one began to hear disconnected exclamations,
caressing appellations, after the manner of 'dear old boy,' 'dear heart
alive,' 'old cock,' and even 'a pig like that'--everything, in fact, of
which the Russian nature is so lavish, when, as they say, 'it comes
unbuttoned.' By the time that the corks of home-made champagne were
popping, the party had become noisy; some one even crowed like a cock,
while another guest was offering to bite up and swallow the glass out of
which he had just been drinking. Mr. Ratsch, no longer red but purple,
suddenly rose from his seat; he had been guffawing and making a great
noise before, but now he asked leave to make a speech. 'Speak! Out with
it!' every one roared; the old man in the smock even bawled 'bravo!' and
clapped his hands... but he was already sitting on the floor. Mr. Ratsch
lifted his glass high above his head, and announced that he proposed in
brief but 'impressionable' phrases to refer to the qualities of the
noble soul which,'leaving here, so to say, its earthly husk (die
irdische Hülle) has soared to heaven, and plunged...' Mr. Ratsch
corrected himself: 'and plashed....' He again corrected himself: 'and
'Father deacon! Reverend sir! My good soul!' we heard a subdued but
insistent whisper, 'they say you've a devilish good voice; honour us
with a song, strike up: "We live among the fields!"'
'Sh! sh!... Shut up there!' passed over the lips of the guests.
...'Plunged all her devoted family,' pursued Mr. Ratsch, turning a
severe glance in the direction of the lover of music, 'plunged all her
family into the most irreplaceable grief! Yes!' cried Ivan Demianitch,
'well may the Russian proverb say, "Fate spares not the rod."...'
'Stop! Gentlemen!' shouted a hoarse voice at the end of the table, 'my
purse has just been stolen!...'
'Ah, the swindler!' piped another voice, and slap! went a box on the
Heavens! What followed then! It was as though the wild beast, till then
only growling and faintly stirring within us, had suddenly broken from
its chains and reared up, ruffled and fierce in all its hideousness. It
seemed as though every one had been secretly expecting 'a scandal,' as
the natural outcome and sequel of a banquet, and all, as it were, rushed
to welcome it, to support it.... Plates, glasses clattered and rolled
about, chairs were upset, a deafening din arose, hands were waving in
the air, coat-tails were flying, and a fight began in earnest.
'Give it him! give it him!' roared like mad my neighbour, the
fishmonger, who had till that instant seemed to be the most peaceable
person in the world; it is true he had been silently drinking some dozen
glasses of spirits. 'Thrash him!...'
Who was to be thrashed, and what he was to be thrashed for, he had no
idea, but he bellowed furiously.
The police superintendent's assistant, the officer of roads and
highways, and Mr. Ratsch, who had probably not expected such a speedy
termination to his eloquence, tried to restore order... but their
efforts were unavailing. My neighbour, the fishmonger, even fell foul of
Mr. Ratsch himself.
'He's murdered the young woman, the blasted German,' he yelled at him,
shaking his fists; 'he's bought over the police, and here he's crowing
At this point the waiters ran in.... What happened further I don't know;
I snatched up my cap in all haste, and made off as fast as my legs would
carry me! All I remember is a fearful crash; I recall, too, the remains
of a herring in the hair of the old man in the smock, a priest's hat
flying right across the room, the pale face of Viktor huddled up in a
corner, and a red beard in the grasp of a muscular hand.... Such were
the last impressions I carried away of the 'memorial banquet,' arranged
by the excellent Sigismund Sigismundovitch in honour of poor Susanna.
After resting a little, I set off to see Fustov, and told him all of
which I had been a witness during that day. He listened to me, sitting
still, and not raising his head, and putting both hands under his legs,
he murmured again, 'Ah! my poor girl, my poor girl!' and again lay down
on the sofa and turned his back on me.
A week later he seemed to have quite got over it, and took up his life
as before. I asked him for Susanna's manuscript as a keepsake: he gave
it me without raising any objection.
Several years passed by. My aunt was dead; I had left Moscow and settled
in Petersburg. Fustov too had moved to Petersburg. He had entered the
department of the Ministry of Finance, but we rarely met and I saw
nothing much in him then. An official like every one else, and nothing
more! If he is still living and not married, he is, most likely,
unchanged to this day; he carves and carpenters and uses dumb-bells, and
is as much a lady-killer as ever, and sketches Napoleon in a blue
uniform in the albums of his lady friends. It happened that I had to go
to Moscow on business. In Moscow I learned, with considerable surprise,
that the fortunes of my former acquaintance, Mr. Ratsch, had taken an
adverse turn. His wife had, indeed, presented him with twins, two boys,
whom as a true Russian he had christened Briacheslav and Viacheslav, but
his house had been burnt down, he had been forced to retire from his
position, and worst of all, his eldest son, Viktor, had become
practically a permanent inmate of the debtors' prison. During my stay in
Moscow, among a company at a friendly gathering, I chanced to hear an
allusion made to Susanna, and a most slighting, most insulting allusion!
I did all I could to defend the memory of the unhappy girl, to whom fate
had denied even the charity of oblivion, but my arguments did not make
much impression on my audience. One of them, a young student poet, was,
however, a little moved by my words. He sent me next day a poem, which I
have forgotten, but which ended in the following four lines:
'Her tomb lies cold, forlorn, but even death
Her gentle spirit's memory cannot save
From the sly voice of slander whispering on,
Withering the flowers on her forsaken tomb....'
I read these lines and unconsciously sank into musing. Susanna's image
rose before me; once more I seemed to see the frozen window in my room;
I recalled that evening and the blustering snowstorm, and those words,
those sobs.... I began to ponder how it was possible to explain
Susanna's love for Fustov, and why she had so quickly, so impulsively
given way to despair, as soon as she saw herself forsaken. How was it
she had had no desire to wait a little, to hear the bitter truth from
the lips of the man she loved, to write to him, even? How could she
fling herself at once headlong into the abyss? Because she was
passionately in love with Fustov, I shall be told; because she could not
bear the slightest doubt of his devotion, of his respect for her.
Perhaps; or perhaps because she was not at all so passionately in love
with Fustov; that she did not deceive herself about him, but simply
rested her last hopes on him, and could not get over the thought that
even this man had at once, at the first breath of slander, turned away
from her with contempt! Who can say what killed her; wounded pride, or
the wretchedness of her helpless position, or the very memory of that
first, noble, true-hearted nature to whom she had so joyfully pledged
herself in the morning of her early days, who had so deeply trusted her,
and so honoured her? Who knows; perhaps at the very instant when I
fancied that her dead lips were murmuring, 'he did not come!' her soul
was rejoicing that she had gone herself to him, to her Michel? The
secrets of human life are great, and love itself, the most impenetrable
of those secrets.... Anyway, to this day, whenever the image of Susanna
rises before me, I cannot overcome a feeling of pity for her, and of
angry reproach against fate, and my lips whisper instinctively, 'Unhappy
girl! unhappy girl!'