The date of the fete which Yulia Mihailovna was getting up for the benefit o_he governesses of our province had been several times fixed and put off. Sh_ad invariably bustling round her Pyotr Stepanovitch and a little clerk, Lyamshin, who used at one time to visit Stepan Trofimovitch, and had suddenl_ound favour in the governor's house for the way he played the piano and no_as of use running errands. Liputin was there a good deal too, and Yuli_ihailovna destined him to be the editor of a new independent provincia_aper. There were also several ladies, married and single, and lastly, eve_armazinov who, though he could not be said to bustle, announced aloud with _omplacent air that he would agreeably astonish every one when the literar_uadrille began. An extraordinary multitude of donors and subscribers ha_urned up, all the select society of the town; but even the unselect wer_dmitted, if only they produced the cash. Yulia Mihailovna observed tha_ometimes it was a positive duty to allow the mixing of classes, "fo_therwise who is to enlighten them?"
A private drawing-room committee was formed, at which it was decided that th_ete was to be of a democratic character. The enormous list of subscription_empted them to lavish expenditure. They wanted to do something on _arvellous scalethat's why it was put off. They were still undecided where th_all was to take place, whether in the immense house belonging to th_arshal's wife, which she was willing to give up to them for the day, or a_arvara Petrovna's mansion at Skvoreshniki. It was rather a distance t_kvoreshniki, but many of the committee were of opinion that it would be
"freer" there. Varvara Petrovna would dearly have liked it to have been in he_ouse. It's difficult to understand why this proud woman seemed almost makin_p to Yulia Mihailovna. Probably what pleased her was that the latter in he_urn seemed almost fawning upon Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch and was more graciou_o him than to anyone. I repeat again that Pyotr Stepanovitch was always, i_ontinual whispers, strengthening in the governor's household an idea he ha_nsinuated there already, that Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch was a man who had ver_ysterious connections with very mysterious circles, and that he had certainl_ome here with some commission from them.
People here seemed in a strange state of mind at the time. Among the ladie_specially a sort of frivolity was conspicuous, and it could not be said to b_ gradual growth. Certain very free-and-easy notions seemed to be in the air.
There was a sort of dissipated gaiety and levity, and I can't say it wa_lways quite pleasant. A lax way of thinking was the fashion. Afterwards whe_t was all over, people blamed Yulia Mihailovna, her circle, her attitude. Bu_t can hardly have been altogether due to Yulia Mihailovna. On the contrary; at first many people vied with one another in praising the new governor's wif_or her success in bringing local society together, and for making things mor_ively. Several scandalous incidents took place, for which Yulia Mihailovn_as in no way responsible, but at the time people were amused and did nothin_ut laugh, and there was no one to check them. A rather large group of people, it is true, held themselves aloof, and had views of their own on the course o_vents. But even these made no complaint at the time; they smiled, in fact.
I remember that a fairly large circle came into existence, as it were, spontaneously, the centre of which perhaps was really to be found in Yuli_ihailovna's drawing-room. In this intimate circle which surrounded her, amon_he younger members of it, of course, it was considered admissible to play al_orts of pranks, sometimes rather free-and-easy ones, and, in fact, suc_onduct became a principle among them. In this circle there were even som_ery charming ladies. The young people arranged picnics, and even parties, an_ometimes went about the town in a regular cavalcade, in carriages and o_orseback. They sought out adventures, even got them up themselves, simply fo_he sake of having an amusing story to tell. They treated our town as thoug_t were a sort of Glupov. People called them the jeerers or sneerers, becaus_hey did not stick at anything. It happened, for instance, that the wife of _ocal lieutenant, a little brunette, very young though she looked worn ou_rom her husband's ill-treatment, at an evening party thoughtlessly sat dow_o play whist for high stakes in the fervent hope of winning enough to bu_erself a mantle, and instead of winning, lost fifteen roubles. Being afrai_f her husband, and having no means of paying, she plucked up the courage o_ormer days and ventured on the sly to ask for a loan, on the spot, at th_arty, from the son of our mayor, a very nasty youth, precociously vicious.
The latter not only refused it, but went laughing aloud to tell her husband.
The lieutenant, who certainly was poor, with nothing but his salary, took hi_ife home and avenged himself upon her to his heart's content in spite of he_hrieks, wails, and entreaties on her knees for forgiveness. This revoltin_tory excited nothing but mirth all over the town, and though the poor wif_id not belong to Yulia Mihailovna's circle, one of the ladies of the
"cavalcade," an eccentric and adventurous character who happened to know her, drove round, and simply carried her off to her own house. Here she was at onc_aken up by our madcaps, made much of, loaded with presents, and kept for fou_ays without being sent back to her husband. She stayed at the adventurou_ady's all day long, drove about with her and all the sportive company i_xpeditions about the town, and took part in dances and merry-making. The_ept egging her on to haul her husband before the court and to make a scandal.
They declared that they would all support her and would come and bear witness.
The husband kept quiet, not daring to oppose them. The poor thing realised a_ast that she had got into a hopeless position and, more dead than alive wit_right, on the fourth day she ran off in the dusk from her protectors to he_ieutenant. It's not definitely known what took place between husband an_ife, but two shutters of the low-pitched little house in which the lieutenan_odged were not opened for a fortnight. Yulia Mihailovna was angry with th_ischief-makers when she heard about it all, and was greatly displeased wit_he conduct of the adventurous lady, though the latter had presented th_ieutenant's wife to her on the day she carried her off. However, this wa_oon forgotten.
Another time a petty clerk, a respectable head of a family, married hi_aughter, a beautiful girl of seventeen, known to every one in the town, t_nother petty clerk, a young man who came from a different district. Bu_uddenly it was learned that the young husband had treated the beauty ver_oughly on the wedding night, chastising her for what he regarded as a stai_n his honour. Lyamshin, who was almost a witness of the affair, because h_ot drunk at the wedding and so stayed the night, as soon as day dawned, ra_ound with the diverting intelligence.
Instantly a party of a dozen was made up, all of them on horseback, some o_ired Cossack horses, Pyotr Stepanovitch, for instance, and Liputin, who, i_pite of his grey hairs, took part in almost every scandalous adventure of ou_eckless youngsters. When the young couple appeared in the street in a droshk_ith a pair of horses to make the calls which are obligatory in our town o_he day after a wedding, in spite of anything that may happen, the whol_avalcade, with merry laughter, surrounded the droshky and followed them abou_he town all the morning. They did not, it's true, go into the house, bu_aited for them outside, on horseback. They refrained from marked insult t_he bride or bridegroom, but still they caused a scandal. The whole town bega_alking of it. Every one laughed, of course. But at this Von Lembke was angry, and again had a lively scene with Yulia Mihailovna. She, too, was extremel_ngry, and formed the intention of turning the scapegraces out of her house.
But next day she forgave them all after persuasions from Pyotr Stepanovitc_nd some words from Karmazinov, who considered the affair rather amusing.
"It's in harmony with the traditions of the place," he said. "Anyway it'_haracteristic and … bold; and look, every one's laughing, you're the onl_erson indignant."
But there were pranks of a certain character that were absolutely pas_ndurance.
A respectable woman of the artisan class, who went about selling gospels, cam_nto the town. People talked about her, because some interesting references t_hese gospel women had just appeared in the Petersburg Capers. Again the sam_uffoon, Lyamshin, with the help of a divinity student, who was taking _oliday while waiting for a post in the school, succeeded, on the pretence o_uying books from the gospel woman, in thrusting into her bag a whole bundl_f indecent and obscene photographs from abroad, sacrificed expressly for th_urpose, as we learned afterwards, by a highly respectable old gentleman (_ill omit his name) with an order on his breast, who, to use his own words, loved "a healthy laugh and a merry jest." When the poor woman went to take ou_he holy books in the bazaar, the photographs were scattered about the place.
There were roars of laughter and murmurs of indignation. A crowd collected, began abusing her, and would have come to blows if the police had not arrive_n the nick of time. The gospel woman was taken to the lock-up, and only i_he evening, thanks to the efforts of Mavriky Nikolaevitch, who had learne_ith indignation the secret details of this loathsome affair, she was release_nd escorted out of the town. At this point Yulia Mihailovna would certainl_ave forbidden Lyamshin her house, but that very evening the whole circl_rought him to her with the intelligence that he had just composed a new piec_or the piano, and persuaded her at least to hear it. The piece turned out t_e really amusing, and bore the comic title of "The Franco-Prussian War." I_egan with the menacing strains of the "Marseillaise ":
"Qu'un sang impur abreuve nos sillons."
There is heard the pompous challenge, the intoxication of future victories.
But suddenly mingling with the masterly variations on the national hymn, somewhere from some corner quite close, on one side come the vulgar strains of
"Mein lieber Augustin." The "Marseillaise" goes on unconscious of them. The
"Marseillaise" is at the climax of its intoxication with its own grandeur; bu_ugustin gains strength; Augustin grows more and more insolent, and suddenl_he melody of Augustin begins to blend with the melody of the "Marseillaise."
The latter begins, as it were, to get angry; becoming aware of Augustin a_ast she tries to fling him off, to brush him aside like a tiresom_nsignificant fly. But "Mein lieber Augustin" holds his ground firmly, he i_heerful and self-confident, he is gleeful and impudent, and the
"Marseillaise" seems suddenly to become terribly" stupid. She can no longe_onceal her anger and mortification; it is a wail of indignation, tears, an_urses, with hands outstretched to Providence.
"Pas un police de noire, terrain; pas une de nos forteresses."
But she is forced to sing in time with "Mein lieber Augustin." Her melod_asses in a sort of foolish way into Augustin; she yields and dies away. An_nly by snatches there is heard again:
"Qu'un sang impur … "
But at once it passes very offensively into the vulgar waltz. She submit_ltogether. It is Jules Favre sobbing on Bismarck's bosom and surrenderin_very thing… . But at this point Augustin too grows fierce; hoarse sounds ar_eard; there is a suggestion of countless gallons of beer, of a frenzy o_elf-glorification, demands for millions, for fine cigars, champagne, an_ostages. Augustin passes into a wild yell… . "The Franco-Prussian War" i_ver. Our circle applauded, Yulia Mihailovna smiled, and said, "Now, how i_ne to turn him out?" Peace was made. The rascal really had talent. Stepa_rofimovitch assured me on one occasion that the very highest artistic talent_ay exist in the most abominable blackguards, and that the one thing does no_nterfere with the other. There was a rumour afterwards that Lyamshin ha_tolen this burlesque from a talented and modest young man of hi_cquaintance, whose name remained unknown. But this is beside the mark. Thi_orthless fellow who had hung about Stepan Trofimovitch for years, who used a_is evening parties, when invited, to mimic Jews of various types, a dea_easant woman making her confession, or the birth of a child, now at Yuli_ihailovna's caricatured Stepan Trofimovitch himself in a killing way, unde_he title of "A Liberal of the Forties." Everybody shook with laughter, s_hat in the end it was quite impossible to turn him out: he had become to_ecessary a person. Besides he fawned upon Pyotr Stepanovitch in a slavis_ay, and he, in his turn, had obtained by this time a strange an_naccountable influence over Yulia Mihailovna.
I wouldn't have talked about this scoundrel, and, indeed, he would not b_orth dwelling upon, but there was another revolting story, so people declare, in which he had a hand, and this story I cannot omit from my record.
One morning the news of a hideous and revolting sacrilege was all over th_own. At the entrance to our immense marketplace there stands the ancien_hurch of Our Lady's Nativity, which was a remarkable antiquity in our ancien_own. At the gates of the precincts there is a large ikon of the Mother of Go_ixed behind a grating in the wall. And behold, one night the ikon had bee_obbed, the glass of the case was broken, the grating was smashed and severa_tones and pearls (I don't know whether they were very precious ones) had bee_emoved from the crown and the setting. But what was worse, besides the thef_ senseless, scoffing sacrilege had been perpetrated. Behind the broken glas_f the ikon they found in the morning, so it was said, a live mouse. Now, fou_onths since, it has been established beyond doubt that the crime wa_ommitted by the convict Fedka, but for some reason it is added that Lyamshi_ook part in it. At the time no one spoke of Lyamshin or had any suspicion o_im. But now every one says it was he who put the mouse there. I remember al_ur responsible officials were rather staggered. A crowd thronged round th_cene of the crime from early morning. There was a crowd continually befor_t, not a very huge one, but always about a hundred people, some coming an_ome going. As they approached they crossed themselves and bowed down to th_kon. They began to give offerings, and a church dish made its appearance, an_ith the dish a monk. But it was only about three o'clock in the afternoon i_ccurred to the authorities that it was possible to prohibit the crowd_tanding about, and to command them when they had prayed, bowed down and lef_heir offerings, to pass on. Upon Von Lembke this unfortunate incident mad_he gloomiest impression. As I was told, Yulia Mihailovna said afterwards i_as from this ill-omened morning that she first noticed in her husband tha_trange depression which persisted in him until he left our province o_ccount of illness two months ago, and, I believe, haunts him still i_witzerland, where he has gone for a rest after his brief career amongst us.
I remember at one o'clock in the afternoon I crossed the marketplace; th_rowd was silent and their faces solemn and gloomy. A merchant, fat an_allow, drove up, got out of his carriage, made a bow to the ground, kisse_he ikon, offered a rouble, sighing, got back into his carriage and drove off.
Another carriage drove up with two ladies accompanied by two of ou_capegraces. The young people (one of whom was not quite young) got out o_heir carriage too, and squeezed their way up to the ikon, pushing peopl_side rather carelessly. Neither of the young men took off his hat, and one o_hem put a pince-nez on his nose. In the crowd there was a murmur, vague bu_nfriendly. The dandy with the pince-nez took out of his purse, which wa_tuffed full of bank-notes, a copper farthing and flung it into the dish. Bot_aughed, and, talking loudly, went back to their carriage. At that momen_izaveta Nikolaevna galloped up, escorted by Mavriky Nikolaevitch. She jumpe_ff her horse, flung the reins to her companion, who, at her bidding, remaine_n his horse, and approached the ikon at the very moment when the farthing ha_een flung down. A flush of indignation suffused her cheeks; she took off he_ound hat and her gloves, fell straight on her knees before the ikon on th_uddy pavement, and reverently bowed down three times to the earth. Then sh_ook out her purse, but as it appeared she had only a few small coins in i_he instantly took off her diamond ear-rings and put them in the dish.
"May I? May I? For the adornment of the setting?" she asked the monk.
"It is permitted," replied the latter, "every gift is good." The crowd wa_ilent, expressing neither dissent nor approval.
Liza got on her horse again, in her muddy riding-habit, and galloped away.
Two days after the incident I have described I met her in a numerous company, who were driving out on some expedition in three coaches, surrounded by other_n horseback. She beckoned to me, stopped her carriage, and pressingly urge_e to join their party. A place was found for me in the carriage, and sh_aughingly introduced me to her companions, gorgeously attired ladies, an_xplained to me that they were all going on a very interesting expedition. Sh_as laughing, and seemed somewhat excessively happy. Just lately she had bee_ery lively, even playful, in fact.
The expedition was certainly an eccentric one. They were all going to a hous_he other side of the river, to the merchant Sevastyanov's. In the lodge o_his merchant's house our saint and prophet, Semyon Yakovlevitch, who wa_amous not only amongst us but in the surrounding provinces and even i_etersburg and Moscow, had been living for the last ten years, in retirement, ease, and Comfort. Every one went to see him, especially visitors to th_eighbourhood, extracting from him some crazy utterance, bowing down to him, and leaving an offering. These offerings were sometimes considerable, and i_emyon Yakovlevitch did not himself assign them to some other purpose wer_iously sent to some church or more often to the monastery of Our Lady. A mon_rom the monastery was always in waiting upon Semyon Yakovlevitch with thi_bject.
All were in expectation of great amusement. No one of the party had see_emyon Yakovlevitch before, except Lyamshin, who declared that the saint ha_iven orders that he should be driven out with a broom, and had with his ow_and flung two big baked potatoes after him. Among the party I noticed Pyot_tepanovitch, again riding a hired Cossack horse, on which he sat extremel_adly, and Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch, also on horseback. The latter did no_lways hold aloof from social diversions, and on such occasions always wore a_ir of gaiety, although, as always, he spoke little and seldom. When our part_ad crossed the bridge and reached the hotel of the town, some one suddenl_nnounced that in one of the rooms of the hotel they had just found _raveller who had shot himself, and were expecting the police. At once th_uggestion was made that they should go and look at the suicide. The idea me_ith approval: our ladies had never seen a suicide. I remember one of the_aid aloud on the occasion, "Everything's so boring, one can't be squeamis_ver one's amusements, as long as they're interesting." Only a few of the_emained outside. The others went in a body into the dirty corridor, an_mongst the others I saw, to my amazement, Lizaveta Nikolaevna. The door o_he room was open, and they did not, of course, dare to prevent our going i_o look at the suicide. He was quite a young lad, not more than nineteen. H_ust have been very good-looking, with thick fair hair, with a regular ova_ace, and a fine, pure forehead. The body was already stiff, and his whit_oung face looked like marble. On the table lay a note, in his handwriting, t_he effect that no one was to blame for his death, that he had killed himsel_ecause he had "squandered" four hundred roubles. The word "squandered" wa_sed in the letter; in the four lines of his letter there were three mistake_n spelling, A stout country gentleman, evidently a neighbour, who had bee_taying in the hotel on some business of his own, was particularly distresse_bout it. From his words it appeared that the boy had been sent by his family, that is, a widowed mother, sisters, and aunts, from the country to the town i_rder that, under the supervision of a female relation in the town, he migh_urchase and take home with him various articles for the trousseau of hi_ldest sister, who was going to be married. The family had, with sighs o_pprehension, entrusted him with the four hundred roubles, the savings of te_ears, and had sent him on his way with exhortations, prayers, and signs o_he cross. The boy had till then been well-behaved and trustworthy. Arrivin_hree days before at the town, he had not gone to his relations, had put up a_he hotel, and gone straight to the club in the hope of finding in some bac_oom a "travelling banker," or at least some game of cards for money. But tha_vening there was no "banker" there or gambling going on. Going back to th_otel about midnight he asked for champagne, Havana cigars, and ordered _upper of six or seven dishes. But the champagne made him drunk, and the ciga_ade him sick, so that he did not touch the food when it was brought to him, and went to bed almost unconscious. Waking next morning as fresh as an apple, he went at once to the gipsies' camp, which was in a suburb beyond the river, and of which he had heard the day before at the club. He did not reappear a_he hotel for two days. At last, at five o'clock in the afternoon of th_revious day, he had returned drunk, had at once gone to bed, and had slep_ill ten o'clock in the evening. On waking up he had asked for a cutlet, _ottle of Chateau d'Yquem, and some grapes, paper, and ink, and his bill. N_ne noticed anything special about him; he was quiet, gentle, and friendly. H_ust have shot himself at about midnight, though it was strange that no on_ad heard the shot, and they only raised the alarm at midday, when, afte_nocking in vain, they had broken in the door. The bottle of Chateau d'Yque_as half empty, there was half a plateful of grapes left too. The shot ha_een fired from a little three-chambered revolver, straight into the heart.
Very little blood had flowed. The revolver had dropped from his hand on to th_arpet. The boy himself was half lying in a corner of the sofa. Death mus_ave been instantaneous. There was no trace of the anguish of death in th_ace; the expression was serene, almost happy, as though there were no care_n his life. All our party stared at him with greedy curiosity. In ever_isfortune of one's neighbour there is always something cheering for a_nlookerwhoever he may be. Our ladies gazed in silence, their companion_istinguished themselves by their wit and their superb equanimity. On_bserved that his was the best way out of it, and that the boy could not hav_it upon anything more sensible; another observed that he had had a good tim_f only for a moment. A third suddenly blurted out the inquiry why people ha_egun hanging and shooting themselves among us of late, as though they ha_uddenly lost their roots, as though the ground were giving way under ever_ne's feet. People looked coldly at this raisonneur. Then Lyamshin, who pride_imself on playing the fool, took a bunch of grapes from the plate; another, laughing, followed his example, and a third stretched out his hand for th_hateau d'Yquem. But the head of police arriving checked him, and even ordere_hat the room should be cleared. As every one had seen all they wanted the_ent out without disputing, though Lyamshin began pestering the police captai_bout something. The general merrymaking, laughter, and playful talk wer_wice as lively on the latter half of the way.
We arrived at Semyon Yakovlevitch's just at one o'clock. The gate of th_ather large house stood unfastened, and the approach to the lodge was open.
We learnt at once that Semyon Yakovlevitch was dining, but was receivin_uests. The whole crowd of us went in. The room in which the saint dined an_eceived visitors had three windows, and was fairly large. It was divided int_wo equal parts by a wooden lattice-work partition, which ran from wall t_all, and was three or four feet high. Ordinary visitors remained on th_utside of this partition, but lucky ones were by the saint's invitatio_dmitted through the partition doors into his half of the room. And if s_isposed he made them sit down on the sofa or on his old leather chairs. H_imself invariably sat in an old-fashioned shabby Voltaire arm-chair. He was _ather big, bloated-looking, yellow-faced man of five and fifty, with a bal_ead and scanty flaxen hair. He wore no beard; his right cheek was swollen, and his mouth seemed somehow twisted awry. He had a large wart on the lef_ide of his nose; narrow eyes, and a calm, stolid, sleepy expression. He wa_ressed in European style, in a black coat, but had no waistcoat or tie. _ather coarse, but white shirt, peeped out below his coat. There was somethin_he matter with his feet, I believe, and he kept them in slippers. I've hear_hat he had at one time been a clerk, and received a rank in the service. H_ad just finished some fish soup, and was beginning his second dish o_otatoes in their skins, eaten with salt. He never ate anything else, but h_rank a great deal of tea, of which he was very fond. Three servants provide_y the merchant were running to and fro about him. One of them was in _wallow-tail, the second looked like a workman, and the third like a verger.
There was also a very lively boy of sixteen. Besides the servants there wa_resent, holding a jug, a reverend, grey-headed monk, who was a little to_at. On one of the tables a huge samovar was boiling, and a tray with almos_wo dozen glasses was standing near it. On another table opposite offering_ad been placed: some loaves and also some pounds of sugar, two pounds of tea, a pair of embroidered slippers, a foulard handkerchief, a length of cloth, _iece of linen, and so on. Money offerings almost all went into the monk'_ug. The room was full of people, at least a dozen visitors, of whom two wer_itting with Semyon Yakovlevitch on the other side of the partition. One was _rey-headed old pilgrim of the peasant class, and the other a little, dried-u_onk, who sat demurely, with his eyes cast down. The other visitors were al_tanding on the near aide of the partition, and were mostly, too, of th_easant class, except one elderly and poverty-stricken lady, one landowner, and a stout merchant, who had come from the district town, a man with a bi_eard, dressed in the Russian style, though he was known to be worth a hundre_housand.
All were waiting for their chance, not daring to speak of themselves. Fou_ere on their knees, but the one who attracted most attention was th_andowner, a stout man of forty-five, kneeling right at the partition, mor_onspicuous than any one, waiting reverently for a propitious word or loo_rom Semyon Yakovlevitch. He had been there for about an hour already, but th_aint still did not notice him.
Our ladies crowded right up to the partition, whispering gaily and laughingl_ogether. They pushed aside or got in front of all the other visitors, eve_hose on their knees, except the landowner, who remained obstinately in hi_rominent position even holding on to the partition. Merry and greedil_nquisitive eyes were turned upon Semyon Yakovlevitch, as well as lorgnettes, pince-nez, and even opera-glasses. Lyamshin, at any rate, looked through a_pera-glass. Semyon Yakovlevitch calmly and lazily scanned all with his littl_yes.
"Milovzors! Milovzors!" he deigned to pronounce, in a hoarse bass, an_lightly staccato.
All our party laughed: '' What's the meaning of 'Milovzors'?" But Semyo_akovlevitch relapsed into silence, and finished his potatoes. Presently h_iped his lips with his napkin, and they handed him tea.
As a rule, he did not take tea alone, but poured out some for his visitors, but by no means for all, usually pointing himself to those he wished t_onour. And his choice always surprised people by its unexpectedness. Passin_y the wealthy and the high-placed, he sometimes pitched upon a peasant o_ome decrepit old woman. Another time he would pass over the beggars to honou_ome fat wealthy merchant. Tea was served differently, too, to differen_eople, sugar was put into some of the glasses and handed separately wit_thers, while some got it without any sugar at all. This time the favoured on_as the monk sitting by him, who had sugar put in; and the old pilgrim, t_hom it was given without any sugar. The fat monk with the jug, from th_onastery, for some reason had none handed to him at all, though up till the_e had had his glass every day.
"Semyon Yakovlevitch, do say something to me. I've been longing to make you_cquaintance for ever so long," carolled the gorgeously dressed lady from ou_arriage, screwing up her eyes and smiling. She was the lady who had observe_hat one must not be squeamish about one's amusements, so long as they wer_nteresting. Semyon Yakovlevitch did not even look at her. The kneelin_andowner uttered a deep, sonorous sigh, like the sound of a big pair o_ellows.
"With sugar in it!" said Semyon Yakovlevitch suddenly, pointing to the wealth_erchant. The latter moved forward and stood beside the kneeling gentleman.
"Some more sugar for him!" ordered Semyon Yakovlevitch, after the glass ha_lready been poured out. They put some more in. "More, more, for him!" Mor_as put in a third time, and again a fourth. The merchant began submissivel_rinking his syrup.
"Heavens!" whispered the people, crossing themselves. The kneeling gentlema_gain heaved a deep, sonorous sigh.
"Father! Semyon Yakovlevitch!" The voice of the poor lady rang out all at onc_laintively, though so sharply that it was startling. Our party had shoved he_ack to the wall. "A whole hour, dear father, I've been waiting for grace.
Speak to me. Consider my case in my helplessness."
"Ask her," said Semyon Yakovlevitch to the verger, who went to the partition.
"Have you done what Semyon Yakovlevitch bade you last time?" he asked th_idow in a soft and measured voice.
"Done it! Father Semyon Yakovlevitch. How can one do it with them?" wailed th_idow. "They're cannibals; they're lodging a complaint against me, in th_ourt; they threaten to take it to the senate. That's how they treat their ow_other!"
"Give her!" Semyon Yakovlevitch pointed to a sugar-loaf. The boy skipped up, seized the sugar-loaf and dragged it to the widow.
"Ach, father; great is your merciful kindness. What am I to do with so much?"
wailed the widow.
"More, more," said Semyon Yakovlevitch lavishly.
They dragged her another sugar-loaf. "More, more!" the saint commanded. The_ook her a third, and finally a fourth. The widow was surrounded with sugar o_ll sides. The monk from the monastery sighed; all this might have gone to th_onastery that day as it had done on former occasions.
"What am I to do with so much," the widow sighed obsequiously. "It's enough t_ake one person sick! … Is it some sort of a prophecy, father?"
"Be sure it's by way of a prophecy," said some one in the crowd.
"Another pound for her, another!" Semyon Yakovlevitch persisted.
There was a whole sugar-loaf still on the table, but the saint ordered a poun_o be given, and they gave her a pound.
"Lord have mercy on us!" gasped the people, crossing themselves. "It's surel_ prophecy."
"Sweeten your heart for the future with mercy and loving kindness, and the_ome to make complaints against your own children; bone of your bone. That'_hat we must take this emblem to mean," the stout monk from the monastery, wh_ad had no tea given to him, said softly but self-complacently, taking upo_imself the role of interpreter in an access of wounded vanity.
"What are you saying, father?" cried the widow, suddenly infuriated. "Why, they dragged me into the fire with a rope round me when the Verhishins' hous_as burnt, and they locked up a dead cat in my chest. They are ready to do an_illainy… ."
"Away with her! Away with her!" Semyon Yakovlevitch said suddenly, waving hi_ands.
The verger and the boy dashed through the partition. The verger took the wido_y the arm, and without resisting she trailed to the door, keeping her eye_ixed _ on the loaves of sugar that had been bestowed on her, which the bo_ragged after her.
"One to be taken away. Take it away," Semyon Yakovlevitch commanded to th_ervant like a workman, who remained with him. The latter rushed after th_etreating woman, and the three servants returned somewhat later bringing bac_ne loaf of sugar which had been presented to the widow and now taken awa_rom her. She carried off three, however.
"Semyon Yakovlevitch," said a voice at the door. "I dreamt of a bird, _ackdaw; it flew out of the water and flew into the fire. What does the drea_ean?"
"Frost," Semyon Yakovlevitch pronounced.
"Semyon Yakovlevitch, why don't you answer me all this time? I've bee_nterested in you ever so long," the lady of our party began again.
"Ask him!" said Semyon Yakovlevitch, not heeding her, but pointing to th_neeling gentleman.
The monk from the monastery to whom the order was given moved sedately to th_neeling figure.
"How have you sinned? And was not some command laid upon you?"
"Not to fight; not to give the rein to my hands," answered the kneelin_entleman hoarsely.
"Have you obeyed?" asked the monk.
"I cannot obey. My own strength gets the better of me."
"Away with him, away with him! With a broom, with a broom!" cried Semyo_akovlevitch, waving his hands. The gentleman rushed out of the room withou_aiting for this penalty.
"He's left a gold piece where he knelt," observed the monk, picking up a half- imperial.
"For him!" said the saint, pointing to the rich merchant. The latter dared no_efuse it, and took it.
"Gold to gold," the monk from the monastery could not refrain from saying.
"And give him some with sugar in it," said the saint, pointing to Mavrik_ikolaevitch. The servant poured out the tea and took it by mistake to th_andy with the pince-nez.
"The long one, the long one!" Semyon Yakovlevitch corrected him.
Mavriky Nikolaevitch took the glass, made a military half-bow, and bega_rinking it. I don't know why, but all our party burst into peals of laughter.
"Mavriky Nikolaevitch," cried Liza, addressing him suddenly." That kneelin_entleman has gone away. You kneel down in his place."
Mavriky Nikolaevitch looked at her in amazement.
"I beg you to. You'll do me the greatest favour. Listen, Mavrik_ikolaevitch," she went on, speaking in an emphatic, obstinate, excited, an_apid voice. "You must kneel down; I must see you kneel down. If you won't, don't come near me. I insist, I insist!"
I don't know what she meant by it; but she insisted upon it relentlessly, a_hough she were in a fit. Mavriky Nikolaevitch, as we shall see later, se_own these capricious impulses, which had been particularly frequent of late, to outbreaks of blind hatred for him, not due to spite, for, on the contrary, she esteemed him, loved him, and respected him, and he knew that himself- bu_rom a peculiar unconscious hatred which at times she could not control.
In silence he gave his cup to an old woman standing behind him, opened th_oor of the partition, and, without being invited, stepped into Semyo_akovlevitch's private apartment, and knelt down in the middle of the room i_ight of all. I imagine that he was deeply shocked in his candid and delicat_eart by Liza's coarse and mocking freak before the whole company. Perhaps h_magined that she would feel ashamed of herself, seeing his humiliation, o_hich she had so insisted. Of course no one but he would have dreamt o_ringing a woman to reason by so naive and risky a proceeding. He remaine_neeling with his imperturbable gravitylong, tall, awkward, and ridiculous.
But our party did not laugh. The unexpectedness of the action produced _ainful shock. Every one looked at Liza.
"Anoint, anoint!" muttered Semyon Yakovlevitch.
Liza suddenly turned white, cried out, and rushed through the partition. The_ rapid and hysterical scene followed. She began pulling Mavriky Nikolaevitc_p with all her might, tugging at his elbows with both hands.
"Get up! Get up!" she screamed, as though she were crazy. "Get up at once, a_nce. How dare you?"
Mavriky Nikolaevitch got up from his knees. She clutched his arms above th_lbow and looked intently into his face. There was terror in her expression.
She dragged Mavriky Nikolaevitch back to the other part of the room at last.
There was some commotion in all our company. The lady from our carriage, probably intending to relieve the situation, loudly and shrilly asked th_aint for the third time, with an affected smile:
"Well, Semyon Yakovlevitch, won't you utter some saying for me I I've bee_eckoning so much on you."
"Out with the, out with the," said Semyon Yakovlevitch, suddenly addressin_er, with an extremely indecent word. The words were uttered savagely, an_ith horrifying distinctness. Our ladies shrieked, and rushed headlong away, while the gentlemen escorting them burst into Homeric laughter. So ended ou_isit to Semyon Yakovlevitch.
At this point, however, there took place, I am told, an extremely enigmati_ncident, and, I must own, it was chiefly on account of it that I hav_escribed this expedition so minutely.
I am told that when all nocked out, Liza, supported by Mavriky Nikolaevitch, was jostled against Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch in the crush in the doorway. _ust mention that since that Sunday morning when she fainted they had no_pproached each other, nor exchanged a word, though they had met more tha_nce. I saw them brought together in the doorway. I fancied they both stoo_till for an instant, and looked, as it were, strangely at one another, but _ay not have seen rightly in the crowd. It is asserted, on the contrary, an_uite seriously, that Liza, glancing at Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch, quickl_aised her hand to the level of his face, and would certainly have struck hi_f he had not drawn back in time. Perhaps she was displeased with th_xpression of his face, or the way he smiled, particularly just after such a_pisode with Mavriky Nikolaevitch. I must admit I saw nothing myself, but al_he others declared they had, though they certainly could not all have seen i_n such a crush, though perhaps some may have. But I did not believe it at th_ime. I remember, however, that Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch was rather pale al_he way home.
Almost at the same time, and certainly on the same day, the interview at las_ook place between Stepan Trofimovitch and Varvara Petrovna. She had long ha_his meeting in her mind, and had sent word about it to her former friend, bu_or some reason she had kept putting it off till then. It took place a_kvoreshniki: Varvara Petrovna arrived at her country house all in a bustle: it had been definitely decided the evening before that the fete was to tak_lace at the marshal's, but Varvara Petrovna's rapid brain at once graspe_hat no one could prevent her from afterwards giving her own specia_ntertainment at Skvoreshniki, and again assembling the whole town. Then ever_ne could see for themselves whose house was best, and in which more taste wa_isplayed in receiving guests and giving a ball. Altogether she was hardly t_e recognised. She seemed completely transformed, and instead of th_napproachable "noble lady" (Stepan Trofimovitch's expression) seemed change_nto the most commonplace, whimsical society woman. But perhaps this may onl_ave been on the surface.
When she reached the empty house she had gone through all the rooms, accompanied by her faithful old butler, Alexey Yegorytch, and by Fomushka, _an who had seen much of life and was a specialist in decoration. They bega_o consult and deliberate: what furniture was to be brought from the tow_ouse, what things, what pictures, where they were to be put, how th_onservatories and flowers could be put to the best use, where to put ne_urtains, where to have the refreshment rooms, whether one or two, and so o_nd so on. And, behold, in the midst of this exciting bustle she suddenly too_t into her head to send for Stepan Trofimovitch.
The latter had long before received notice of this interview and was prepare_or it, and he had every day been expecting just such a sudden summons. As h_ot into the carriage he crossed himself: his fate was being decided. He foun_is friend in the big drawing-room on the little sofa in the recess, before _ittle marble table with a pencil and paper in her hands. Fomushka, with _ard measure, was measuring the height of the galleries and the windows, whil_arvara Petrovna herself was writing down the numbers and making notes on th_argin. She nodded in Stepan Trofimovitch's direction without breaking of_rom what she was doing, and when the latter muttered some sort of greeting, she hurriedly gave him her hand, and without looking at him motioned him to _eat beside her.
"I sat waiting for five minutes, 'mastering my heart,'" he told me afterwards.
"I saw before me not the woman whom I had known for twenty years. An absolut_onviction that all was over gave me a strength which astounded even her. _wear that she was surprised at my stoicism in that last hour."
Varvara Petrovna suddenly put down her pencil on the table and turned quickl_o Stepan Trofimovitch.
"Stepan Trofimovitch, we have to talk of business. I'm sure you have prepare_ll your fervent words and various phrases, but we'd better go straight to th_oint, hadn't we?"
She had been in too great a hurry to show the tone she meant to take. And wha_ight not come next?
"Wait, be quiet; let me speak. Afterwards you shall, though really I don'_now what you can answer me," she said in a rapid patter. "The twelve hundre_oubles of your pension I consider a sacred obligation to pay you as long a_ou live. Though why a sacred obligation, simply a contract; that would be _reat deal more real, wouldn't it? If you like, we'll write it out. Specia_rrangements have been made in case of my death. But you are receiving from m_t present lodging, servants, and your maintenance in addition. Reckoning tha_n money it would amount to fifteen hundred roubles, wouldn't it? I will ad_nother three hundred roubles, making three thousand roubles in all. Will tha_e enough a year for you? I think that's not too little? In any extrem_mergency I would add something more. And so, take your money, send me back m_ervants, and live by yourself where you like in Petersburg, in Moscow, abroad, or here, only not with me. Do you hear?"
"Only lately those lips dictated to me as imperatively and as suddenly ver_ifferent demands," said Stepan Trofimovitch slowly and with sorrowfu_istinctness. "I submitted … and danced the Cossack dance to please you. Oui, la comparaison peut etre permise. C'etait comme un petit Cosaque du Don qu_autait sur sa propre tombe. Now … "
"Stop, Stepan Trofimovitch, you are horribly long-winded. You didn't dance, but came to see me in a new tie, new linen, gloves, scented and pomatumed. _ssure you that you were very anxious to get married yourself; it was writte_n your face, and I assure you a most unseemly expression it was. If I did no_ention it to you at the time, it was simply out of delicacy. But you wishe_t, you wanted to be married, in spite of the abominable things you wrot_bout me and your betrothed. Now it's very different. And what has the Cosaqu_u Don to do with it, and what tomb do you mean? I don't understand th_omparison. On the contrary, you have only to live. Live as long as you can. _hall be delighted."
"In an almshouse?"
"In an almshouse? People don't go into almshouses with three thousand rouble_ year. Ah, I remember," she laughed. "Pyotr Stepanovitch did joke about a_lmshouse once. Bah, there certainly is a special almshouse, which is wort_onsidering. It's for persons who are highly respectable; there are colonel_here, and there's positively one general who wants to get into it. If yo_ent into it with all your money, you would find peace, comfort, servants t_ait on you. There you could occupy yourself with study, and could always mak_p a party for cards."
"Passons?" Varvara Petrovna winced. "But, if so, that's all. You've bee_nformed that we shall live henceforward entirely apart."
"And that's all?" he said. "All that's left of twenty years? Our las_arewell?"
"You're awfully fond of these exclamations, Stepan Trofimovitch. It's not a_ll the fashion. Nowadays people talk roughly but simply. You keep harping o_ur twenty years! Twenty years of mutual vanity, and nothing more. Ever_etter you've written me was written not for me but for posterity. You're _tylist, and not a friend, and friendship is only a splendid word. In reality_utual exchange of sloppiness… ."
"Good heavens! How many sayings not your own! Lessons learned by heart!
They've already put their uniform on you too. You, too, are rejoicing; you, too, are basking in the sunshine. Chere. chere, for what a mess of pottage yo_ave sold them your freedom!"
"I'm not a parrot, to repeat other people's phrases!" cried Varvara Petrovna, boiling over. "You may be sure I have stored up many sayings of my own. Wha_ave you been doing for me all these twenty years? You refused me even th_ooks I ordered for you, though, except for the binder, they would hav_emained uncut. What did you give me to read when I asked you during thos_irst years to be my guide? Always Kapfig, and nothing but Kapfig. You wer_ealous of my culture even, and took measures. And all the while every one'_aughing at you. I must confess I always considered you only as a critic. Yo_re a literary critic and nothing more. When on the way to Petersburg I tol_ou that I meant to found a journal and to devote my whole life to it, yo_ooked at me ironically at once, and suddenly became horribly supercilious."
"That was not that, not that… . we were afraid then of persecution… ."
"It was just that. And you couldn't have been afraid of persecution i_etersburg at that time. Do you remember that in February, too, when the new_f the emancipation came, you ran to me in a panic, and demanded that I shoul_t once give you a written statement that the proposed magazine had nothing t_o with you; that the young people had been coming to see me and not you; tha_ou were only a tutor who lived in the house, only because he had not ye_eceived his salary. Isn't that so? Do remember that? You have distinguishe_ourself all your life, Stepan Trofimovitch."
"That was only a moment of weakness, a moment when we were alone," h_xclaimed mournfully. "But is it possible, is it possible, to break of_verything for the sake of such petty impressions? Can it be that nothing mor_as been left between us after those long years?"
"You are horribly calculating; you keep trying to leave me in your debt. Whe_ou came back from abroad you looked down upon me and wouldn't let me utter _ord, but when I came back myself and talked to you afterwards of m_mpressions of the Madonna, you wouldn't hear me, you began smilin_ondescendingly into your cravat, as though I were incapable of the sam_eelings as you."
"It was not so. It was probably not so. J'ai oublie!"
"No; it was so," she answered, "and, what's more, you've nothing to prid_ourself on. That's all nonsense, and one of your fancies. Now, there's n_ne, absolutely no one, in ecstasies over the Madonna; no one wastes time ove_t except old men who are hopelessly out of date. That's established."
"Established, is it?"
"It's of no use whatever. This jug's of use because one can pour water int_t. This pencil's of use because you can write anything with it. But tha_oman's face is inferior to any face in nature. Try drawing an apple, and pu_ real apple beside it. Which would you take? You wouldn't make a mistake, I'_ure. This is what all our theories amount to, now that the first light o_ree investigation has dawned upon them."
'' You laugh ironically. And what used you to say to me about charity? Yet th_njoyment derived from charity is a haughty and immoral enjoyment. The ric_an's enjoyment in his wealth, his power, and in the comparison of hi_mportance with the poor. Charity corrupts giver and taker alike; and, what'_ore, does not attain it's object, as it only increases poverty. Fathers wh_on't want to work crowd round the charitable like gamblers round th_ambling-table, hoping for gain, while the pitiful farthings that are flun_hem are a hundred times too little. Have you given away much in your life?
Less than a rouble, if you try and think. Try to remember when last you gav_way anything; it'll be two years ago, maybe four. You make an outcry and onl_inder things. Charity ought to be forbidden by law, even in the present stat_f society. In the new regime there will be no poor at all."
"Oh, what an eruption of borrowed phrases! So it's come to the new regim_lready? Unhappy woman, God help you!"
"Yes; it has, Stepan Trofimovitch. You carefully concealed all these new idea_rom me, though every one's familiar with them nowadays. And you did it simpl_ut of jealousy, so as to have power over me. So that now even that Yulia is _undred miles ahead of me. But now my eyes have been opened. I have defende_ou, Stepan Trofimovitch, all I could, but there is no one who does not blam_ou."
"Enough!" said he, getting up from his seat. "Enough! And what can I wish yo_ow, unless it's repentance?"
"Sit still a minute, Stepan Trofimovitch. I have another question to ask you.
You've been told of the invitation to read at the literary matinee. It wa_rranged through me. Tell me what you're going to read?"
"Why, about that very Queen of Queens, that ideal of humanity, the Sistin_adonna, who to your thinking is inferior to a glass or a pencil."
"So you're not taking something historical?'" said Varvara Petrovna i_ournful surprise. "But they won't listen to you. You've got that Madonna o_our brain. You seem bent on putting every one to sleep! Let me assure you, Stepan Trofimovitch, I am speaking entirely in your own interest. It would b_ different matter if you would take some short but interesting story o_ediaeval court life from Spanish history, or, better still, some anecdote, and pad it out with other anecdotes and witty phrases of your own. There wer_agnificent courts then; ladies, you know, poisonings. Karmazinov says i_ould be strange if you couldn't read something interesting from Spanis_istory."
"Karmazinovthat fool who has written himself outlooking for a subject for me!"
"Karmazinov, that almost imperial intellect. You are too free in you_anguage, Stepan Trofimovitch."
"Your Karmazinov is a spiteful old woman whose day is over. Chere, chere, ho_ong have you been so enslaved by them? Oh God!"
"I can't endure him even now for the airs he gives himself. But I do justic_o his intellect. I repeat, I have done my best to defend you as far as _ould. And why do you insist on being absurd and tedious? On the contrary, come on to the platform with a dignified smile as the representative of th_ast generation, and tell them two or three anecdotes in your witty way, a_nly you can tell things sometimes. Though you may be an old man now, thoug_ou may belong to a past age, though you may have dropped behind them, i_act, yet you'll recognise it yourself, with a smile, in your preface, and al_ill see that you're an amiable, good-natured, witty relic … in brief, a ma_f the old savour, and so far advanced as to be capable of appreciating a_heir value all the absurdities of certain ideas which you have hithert_ollowed. Come, as a favour to me, I beg you."
"Chere, enough. Don't ask me. I can't. I shall speak of the Madonna, but _hall raise a storm that will either crush them all or shatter me alone.",
"It will certainly be you alone, Stepan Trofimovitch."
"Such is my fate. I will speak of the contemptible slave, of the stinking, depraved flunkey who will first climb a ladder with scissors in his hands, an_lash to pieces the divine image of the great ideal, in the name of equality, envy, and … digestion. Let my curse thunder out upon them, and thenthen … "
"Perhaps. But in any case, whether I shall be left vanquished or victorious, that very evening I shall take my bag, my beggar's bag. I shall leave all m_oods and chattels, all your presents, all your pensions and promises o_uture benefits, and go forth on foot to end my life a tutor in a merchant'_amily or to die somewhere of hunger in a ditch. I have said it. Alea jact_at." He got up again.
"I've been convinced for years," said Varvara Petrovna, getting up wit_lashing eyes, "that your only object in life is to put me and my house t_hame by your calumnies! What do you mean by being a tutor in a merchant'_amily or dying in a ditch? It's spite, calumny, and nothing more."
"You have always despised me. But I will end like a knight, faithful to m_ady. Your good opinion has always been dearer I to me than anything. Fro_his moment I will take nothing, but will worship you disinterestedly."
" How stupid that is!"
"You have never respected me. I may have had a mass of weaknesses. Yes, I hav_ponged on you. I speak the language of nihilism, but sponging has never bee_he guiding motive of my action. It has happened so of itself. I don't kno_ow… . I always imagined there was something higher than meat and drin_etween us, andI've never, never been a scoundrel! And so, to take the ope_oad, to set things right. I set off late, late autumn out of doors, the mis_ies over the fields, the hoarfrost of old age covers the road before me, an_he wind howls about the approaching grave… . But so forward, forward, on m_ew way
' Filled with purest love and fervour,
Faith which my sweet dream did yield.'
Oh, my dreams. Farewell. Twenty years. Alea jacta est!"
His face was wet with a sudden gush of tears. He took his hat.
"I don't understand Latin," said Varvara Petrovna, doing her best to contro_erself.
Who knows, perhaps, she too felt like crying. But caprice and indignation onc_ore got the upper hand.
"I know only one thing, that all this is childish nonsense. You will never b_apable of carrying out your threats, which are a mass of egoism. You will se_ff nowhere, to no merchant; you'll end very peaceably on my hands, takin_our pension, and receiving your utterly impossible friends on Tuesdays. Good- bye, Stepan Trofimovitch."
"Aleajacta est!" He made her a deep bow, and returned home, almost dead wit_motion.