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Chapter 6

  • … Somewhere behind a screen a clock began wheezing, as though oppressed b_omething, as though someone were strangling it. After an unnaturall_rolonged wheezing there followed a shrill, nasty, and as it were unexpectedl_apid, chime—as though someone were suddenly jumping forward. It struck two. _oke up, though I had indeed not been asleep but lying half-conscious.
  • It was almost completely dark in the narrow, cramped, low-pitched room, cumbered up with an enormous wardrobe and piles of cardboard boxes and al_orts of frippery and litter. The candle end that had been burning on th_able was going out and gave a faint flicker from time to time. In a fe_inutes there would be complete darkness.
  • I was not long in coming to myself; everything came back to my mind at once, without an effort, as though it had been in ambush to pounce upon me again.
  • And, indeed, even while I was unconscious a point seemed continually to remai_n my memory unforgotten, and round it my dreams moved drearily. But strang_o say, everything that had happened to me in that day seemed to me now, o_aking, to be in the far, far away past, as though I had long, long ago live_ll that down.
  • My head was full of fumes. Something seemed to be hovering over me, rousin_e, exciting me, and making me restless. Misery and spite seemed surging up i_e again and seeking an outlet. Suddenly I saw beside me two wide open eye_crutinising me curiously and persistently. The look in those eyes was coldl_etached, sullen, as it were utterly remote; it weighed upon me.
  • A grim idea came into my brain and passed all over my body, as a horribl_ensation, such as one feels when one goes into a damp and mouldy cellar.
  • There was something unnatural in those two eyes, beginning to look at me onl_ow. I recalled, too, that during those two hours I had not said a single wor_o this creature, and had, in fact, considered it utterly superfluous; i_act, the silence had for some reason gratified me. Now I suddenly realise_ividly the hideous idea— revolting as a spider—of vice, which, without love, grossly and shamelessly begins with that in which true love finds it_onsummation. For a long time we gazed at each other like that, but she di_ot drop her eyes before mine and her expression did not change, so that a_ast I felt uncomfortable.
  • "What is your name?" I asked abruptly, to put an end to it.
  • "Liza," she answered almost in a whisper, but somehow far from graciously, an_he turned her eyes away.
  • I was silent.
  • "What weather! The snow … it's disgusting!" I said, almost to myself, puttin_y arm under my head despondently, and gazing at the ceiling.
  • She made no answer. This was horrible.
  • "Have you always lived in Petersburg?" I asked a minute later, almost angrily, turning my head slightly towards her.
  • "No."
  • "Where do you come from?"
  • "From Riga," she answered reluctantly.
  • "Are you a German?"
  • "No, Russian."
  • "Have you been here long?"
  • "Where?"
  • "In this house?"
  • "A fortnight."
  • She spoke more and more jerkily. The candle went out; I could no longe_istinguish her face.
  • "Have you a father and mother?"
  • "Yes … no … I have."
  • "Where are they?"
  • "There … in Riga."
  • "What are they?"
  • "Oh, nothing."
  • "Nothing? Why, what class are they?"
  • "Tradespeople."
  • "Have you always lived with them?"
  • "Yes."
  • "How old are you?"
  • "Twenty." "Why did you leave them?"
  • "Oh, for no reason."
  • That answer meant "Let me alone; I feel sick, sad."
  • We were silent.
  • God knows why I did not go away. I felt myself more and more sick and dreary.
  • The images of the previous day began of themselves, apart from my will, flitting through my memory in confusion. I suddenly recalled something I ha_een that morning when, full of anxious thoughts, I was hurrying to th_ffice.
  • "I saw them carrying a coffin out yesterday and they nearly dropped it," _uddenly said aloud, not that I desired to open the conversation, but as i_ere by accident.
  • "A coffin?"
  • "Yes, in the Haymarket; they were bringing it up out of a cellar."
  • "From a cellar?"
  • "Not from a cellar, but a basement. Oh, you know … down below … from a hous_f ill-fame. It was filthy all round … Egg-shells, litter … a stench. It wa_oathsome."
  • Silence.
  • "A nasty day to be buried," I began, simply to avoid being silent.
  • "Nasty, in what way?"
  • "The snow, the wet." (I yawned.)
  • "It makes no difference," she said suddenly, after a brief silence.
  • "No, it's horrid." (I yawned again). "The gravediggers must have sworn a_etting drenched by the snow. And there must have been water in the grave."
  • "Why water in the grave?" she asked, with a sort of curiosity, but speakin_ven more harshly and abruptly than before.
  • I suddenly began to feel provoked.
  • "Why, there must have been water at the bottom a foot deep. You can't dig _ry grave in Volkovo Cemetery."
  • "Why?"
  • "Why? Why, the place is waterlogged. It's a regular marsh. So they bury the_n water. I've seen it myself … many times."
  • (I had never seen it once, indeed I had never been in Volkovo, and had onl_eard stories of it.)
  • "Do you mean to say, you don't mind how you die?"
  • "But why should I die?" she answered, as though defending herself.
  • "Why, some day you will die, and you will die just the same as that dea_oman. She was … a girl like you. She died of consumption."
  • "A wench would have died in hospital … " (She knows all about it already: sh_aid "wench," not "girl.")
  • "She was in debt to her madam," I retorted, more and more provoked by th_iscussion; "and went on earning money for her up to the end, though she wa_n consumption. Some sledge-drivers standing by were talking about her to som_oldiers and telling them so. No doubt they knew her. They were laughing. The_ere going to meet in a pot-house to drink to her memory."
  • A great deal of this was my invention. Silence followed, profound silence. Sh_id not stir.
  • "And is it better to die in a hospital?"
  • "Isn't it just the same? Besides, why should I die?" she added irritably.
  • "If not now, a little later."
  • "Why a little later?"
  • "Why, indeed? Now you are young, pretty, fresh, you fetch a high price. Bu_fter another year of this life you will be very different—you will go off."
  • "In a year?"
  • "Anyway, in a year you will be worth less," I continued malignantly. "You wil_o from here to something lower, another house; a year later— to a third, lower and lower, and in seven years you will come to a basement in th_aymarket. That will be if you were lucky. But it would be much worse if yo_ot some disease, consumption, say … and caught a chill, or something o_ther. It's not easy to get over an illness in your way of life. If you catc_nything you may not get rid of it. And so you would die."
  • "Oh, well, then I shall die," she answered, quite vindictively, and she made _uick movement.
  • "But one is sorry."
  • "Sorry for whom?"
  • "Sorry for life." Silence.
  • "Have you been engaged to be married? Eh?"
  • "What's that to you?"
  • "Oh, I am not cross-examining you. It's nothing to me. Why are you so cross?
  • Of course you may have had your own troubles. What is it to me? It's simpl_hat I felt sorry."
  • "Sorry for whom?"
  • "Sorry for you."
  • "No need," she whispered hardly audibly, and again made a faint movement.
  • That incensed me at once. What! I was so gentle with her, and she … .
  • "Why, do you think that you are on the right path?"
  • "I don't think anything."
  • "That's what's wrong, that you don't think. Realise it while there is stil_ime. There still is time. You are still young, good-looking; you might love, be married, be happy … ."
  • "Not all married women are happy," she snapped out in the rude abrupt tone sh_ad used at first.
  • "Not all, of course, but anyway it is much better than the life here.
  • Infinitely better. Besides, with love one can live even without happiness.
  • Even in sorrow life is sweet; life is sweet, however one lives. But here wha_s there but … foulness? Phew!"
  • I turned away with disgust; I was no longer reasoning coldly. I began to fee_yself what I was saying and warmed to the subject. I was already longing t_xpound the cherished ideas I had brooded over in my corner. Somethin_uddenly flared up in me. An object had appeared before me.
  • "Never mind my being here, I am not an example for you. I am, perhaps, wors_han you are. I was drunk when I came here, though," I hastened, however, t_ay in self-defence. "Besides, a man is no example for a woman. It's _ifferent thing. I may degrade and defile myself, but I am not anyone's slave.
  • I come and go, and that's an end of it. I shake it off, and I am a differen_an. But you are a slave from the start. Yes, a slave! You give up everything, your whole freedom. If you want to break your chains afterwards, you won't b_ble to; you will be more and more fast in the snares. It is an accurse_ondage. I know it. I won't speak of anything else, maybe you won'_nderstand, but tell me: no doubt you are in debt to your madam? There, yo_ee," I added, though she made no answer, but only listened in silence, entirely absorbed, "that's a bondage for you! You will never buy your freedom.
  • They will see to that. It's like selling your soul to the devil … . An_esides … perhaps, I too, am just as unlucky—how do you know—and wallow in th_ud on purpose, out of misery? You know, men take to drink from grief; well, maybe I am here from grief. Come, tell me, what is there good here? Here yo_nd I … came together … just now and did not say one word to one another al_he time, and it was only afterwards you began staring at me like a wil_reature, and I at you. Is that loving? Is that how one human being shoul_eet another? It's hideous, that's what it is!"
  • "Yes!" she assented sharply and hurriedly.
  • I was positively astounded by the promptitude of this "Yes." So the sam_hought may have been straying through her mind when she was staring at m_ust before. So she, too, was capable of certain thoughts? "Damn it all, thi_as interesting, this was a point of likeness!" I thought, almost rubbing m_ands. And indeed it's easy to turn a young soul like that!
  • It was the exercise of my power that attracted me most.
  • She turned her head nearer to me, and it seemed to me in the darkness that sh_ropped herself on her arm. Perhaps she was scrutinising me. How I regrette_hat I could not see her eyes. I heard her deep breathing.
  • "Why have you come here?" I asked her, with a note of authority already in m_oice.
  • "Oh, I don't know."
  • "But how nice it would be to be living in your father's house! It's warm an_ree; you have a home of your own."
  • "But what if it's worse than this?"
  • "I must take the right tone," flashed through my mind. "I may not get far wit_entimentality." But it was only a momentary thought. I swear she really di_nterest me. Besides, I was exhausted and moody. And cunning so easily goe_and-in-hand with feeling.
  • "Who denies it!" I hastened to answer. "Anything may happen. I am convince_hat someone has wronged you, and that you are more sinned against tha_inning. Of course, I know nothing of your story, but it's not likely a gir_ike you has come here of her own inclination … ."
  • "A girl like me?" she whispered, hardly audibly; but I heard it.
  • Damn it all, I was flattering her. That was horrid. But perhaps it was a goo_hing … . She was silent.
  • "See, Liza, I will tell you about myself. If I had had a home from childhood, I shouldn't be what I am now. I often think that. However bad it may be a_ome, anyway they are your father and mother, and not enemies, strangers. Onc_ year at least, they'll show their love of you. Anyway, you know you are a_ome. I grew up without a home; and perhaps that's why I've turned so … unfeeling."
  • I waited again. "Perhaps she doesn't understand," I thought, "and, indeed, i_s absurd—it's moralising."
  • "If I were a father and had a daughter, I believe I should love my daughte_ore than my sons, really," I began indirectly, as though talking of somethin_lse, to distract her attention. I must confess I blushed.
  • "Why so?" she asked.
  • Ah! so she was listening!
  • "I don't know, Liza. I knew a father who was a stern, austere man, but used t_o down on his knees to his daughter, used to kiss her hands, her feet, h_ouldn't make enough of her, really. When she danced at parties he used t_tand for five hours at a stretch, gazing at her. He was mad over her: _nderstand that! She would fall asleep tired at night, and he would wake t_iss her in her sleep and make the sign of the cross over her. He would g_bout in a dirty old coat, he was stingy to everyone else, but would spend hi_ast penny for her, giving her expensive presents, and it was his greates_elight when she was pleased with what he gave her. Fathers always love thei_aughters more than the mothers do. Some girls live happily at home! And _elieve I should never let my daughters marry."
  • "What next?" she said, with a faint smile.
  • "I should be jealous, I really should. To think that she should kiss anyon_lse! That she should love a stranger more than her father! It's painful t_magine it. Of course, that's all nonsense, of course every father would b_easonable at last. But I believe before I should let her marry, I shoul_orry myself to death; I should find fault with all her suitors. But I shoul_nd by letting her marry whom she herself loved. The one whom the daughte_oves always seems the worst to the father, you know. That is always so. S_any family troubles come from that."
  • "Some are glad to sell their daughters, rather than marrying them honourably."
  • Ah, so that was it!
  • "Such a thing, Liza, happens in those accursed families in which there i_either love nor God," I retorted warmly, "and where there is no love, ther_s no sense either. There are such families, it's true, but I am not speakin_f them. You must have seen wickedness in your own family, if you talk lik_hat. Truly, you must have been unlucky. H'm! … that sort of thing mostl_omes about through poverty."
  • "And is it any better with the gentry? Even among the poor, honest people wh_ive happily?"
  • "H'm … yes. Perhaps. Another thing, Liza, man is fond of reckoning up hi_roubles, but does not count his joys. If he counted them up as he ought, h_ould see that every lot has enough happiness provided for it. And what if al_oes well with the family, if the blessing of God is upon it, if the husban_s a good one, loves you, cherishes you, never leaves you! There is happines_n such a family! Even sometimes there is happiness in the midst of sorrow; and indeed sorrow is everywhere. If you marry YOU WILL FIND OUT FOR YOURSELF.
  • But think of the first years of married life with one you love: wha_appiness, what happiness there sometimes is in it! And indeed it's th_rdinary thing. In those early days even quarrels with one's husband en_appily. Some women get up quarrels with their husbands just because they lov_hem. Indeed, I knew a woman like that: she seemed to say that because sh_oved him, she would torment him and make him feel it. You know that you ma_orment a man on purpose through love. Women are particularly given to that, thinking to themselves 'I will love him so, I will make so much of hi_fterwards, that it's no sin to torment him a little now.' And all in th_ouse rejoice in the sight of you, and you are happy and gay and peaceful an_onourable … . Then there are some women who are jealous. If he went of_nywhere—I knew one such woman, she couldn't restrain herself, but would jum_p at night and run off on the sly to find out where he was, whether he wa_ith some other woman. That's a pity. And the woman knows herself it's wrong, and her heart fails her and she suffers, but she loves—it's all through love.
  • And how sweet it is to make up after quarrels, to own herself in the wrong o_o forgive him! And they both are so happy all at once—as though they had me_new, been married over again; as though their love had begun afresh. And n_ne, no one should know what passes between husband and wife if they love on_nother. And whatever quarrels there may be between them they ought not t_all in their own mother to judge between them and tell tales of one another.
  • They are their own judges. Love is a holy mystery and ought to be hidden fro_ll other eyes, whatever happens. That makes it holier and better. The_espect one another more, and much is built on respect. And if once there ha_een love, if they have been married for love, why should love pass away?
  • Surely one can keep it! It is rare that one cannot keep it. And if the husban_s kind and straightforward, why should not love last? The first phase o_arried love will pass, it is true, but then there will come a love that i_etter still. Then there will be the union of souls, they will have everythin_n common, there will be no secrets between them. And once they have children, the most difficult times will seem to them happy, so long as there is love an_ourage. Even toil will be a joy, you may deny yourself bread for you_hildren and even that will be a joy, They will love you for it afterwards; s_ou are laying by for your future. As the children grow up you feel that yo_re an example, a support for them; that even after you die your children wil_lways keep your thoughts and feelings, because they have received them fro_ou, they will take on your semblance and likeness. So you see this is a grea_uty. How can it fail to draw the father and mother nearer? People say it's _rial to have children. Who says that? It is heavenly happiness! Are you fon_f little children, Liza? I am awfully fond of them. You know—a little ros_aby boy at your bosom, and what husband's heart is not touched, seeing hi_ife nursing his child! A plump little rosy baby, sprawling and snuggling, chubby little hands and feet, clean tiny little nails, so tiny that it make_ne laugh to look at them; eyes that look as if they understand everything.
  • And while it sucks it clutches at your bosom with its little hand, plays. Whe_ts father comes up, the child tears itself away from the bosom, flings itsel_ack, looks at its father, laughs, as though it were fearfully funny, an_alls to sucking again. Or it will bite its mother's breast when its littl_eeth are coming, while it looks sideways at her with its little eyes a_hough to say, 'Look, I am biting!' Is not all that happiness when they ar_he three together, husband, wife and child? One can forgive a great deal fo_he sake of such moments. Yes, Liza, one must first learn to live onesel_efore one blames others!"
  • "It's by pictures, pictures like that one must get at you," I thought t_yself, though I did speak with real feeling, and all at once I flushe_rimson. "What if she were suddenly to burst out laughing, what should I d_hen?" That idea drove me to fury. Towards the end of my speech I really wa_xcited, and now my vanity was somehow wounded. The silence continued. _lmost nudged her.
  • "Why are you—" she began and stopped. But I understood: there was a quiver o_omething different in her voice, not abrupt, harsh and unyielding as before, but something soft and shamefaced, so shamefaced that I suddenly felt ashame_nd guilty.
  • "What?" I asked, with tender curiosity.
  • "Why, you … "
  • "What?"
  • "Why, you … speak somehow like a book," she said, and again there was a not_f irony in her voice.
  • That remark sent a pang to my heart. It was not what I was expecting.
  • I did not understand that she was hiding her feelings under irony, that thi_s usually the last refuge of modest and chaste-souled people when the privac_f their soul is coarsely and intrusively invaded, and that their pride make_hem refuse to surrender till the last moment and shrink from givin_xpression to their feelings before you. I ought to have guessed the trut_rom the timidity with which she had repeatedly approached her sarcasm, onl_ringing herself to utter it at last with an effort. But I did not guess, an_n evil feeling took possession of me.
  • "Wait a bit!" I thought.