The guests had long since departed. The clock struck half-past twelve.
There remained in the room only the host, Sergyéi Nikoláevitch, and
The host rang and ordered the remains of the supper to be removed.–“So
then, the matter is settled,”–he said, ensconcing himself more deeply
in his arm-chair, and lighting a cigar:–“each of us is to narrate the
history of his first love. ’Tis your turn, Sergyéi Nikoláevitch.”
Sergyéi Nikoláevitch, a rather corpulent man, with a plump, fair-skinned
face, first looked at the host, then raised his eyes to the ceiling.–“I
had no first love,”–he began at last:–“I began straight off with the
“How was that?”
“Very simply. I was eighteen years of age when, for the first time, I
dangled after a very charming young lady; but I courted her as though it
were no new thing to me: exactly as I courted others afterward. To tell
the truth, I fell in love, for the first and last time, at the age of
six, with my nurse;–but that is a very long time ago. The details of
our relations have been erased from my memory; but even if I remembered
them, who would be interested in them?”
“Then what are we to do?”–began the host.–“There was nothing very
startling about my first love either; I never fell in love with any one
before Anna Ivánovna, now my wife; and everything ran as though on oil
with us; our fathers made up the match, we very promptly fell in love
with each other, and entered the bonds of matrimony without delay. My
story can be told in two words. I must confess, gentlemen, that in
raising the question of first love, I set my hopes on you, I will not
say old, but yet no longer young bachelors. Will not you divert us with
something, Vladímir Petróvitch?”
“My first love belongs, as a matter of fact, not altogether to the
ordinary category,”–replied, with a slight hesitation, Vladímir
Petróvitch, a man of forty, whose black hair was sprinkled with grey.
“Ah!”–said the host and Sergyéi Nikoláevitch in one breath.–“So much
the better…. Tell us.”
“As you like … or no: I will not narrate; I am no great hand at
telling a story; it turns out dry and short, or long-drawn-out and
artificial. But if you will permit me, I will write down all that I
remember in a note-book, and will read it aloud to you.”
At first the friends would not consent, but Vladímir Petróvitch
insisted on having his own way. A fortnight later they came together
again, and Vladímir Sergyéitch kept his promise.
This is what his note-book contained.
I was sixteen years old at the time. The affair took place in the summer
I was living in Moscow, in my parents’ house. They had hired a villa
near the Kalúga barrier, opposite the Neskútchny Park.–I was
preparing for the university, but was working very little and was not in
No one restricted my freedom. I had done whatever I pleased ever since I
had parted with my last French governor, who was utterly unable to
reconcile himself to the thought that he had fallen “like a bomb”
(_comme une bombe_) into Russia, and with a stubborn expression on his
face, wallowed in bed for whole days at a time. My father treated me in
an indifferently-affectionate way; my mother paid hardly any attention
to me, although she had no children except me: other cares engrossed
her. My father, still a young man and very handsome, had married her
from calculation; she was ten years older than he. My mother led a
melancholy life: she was incessantly in a state of agitation, jealousy,
and wrath–but not in the presence of my father; she was very much
afraid of him, and he maintained a stern, cold, and distant manner…. I
have never seen a man more exquisitely calm, self-confident, and
I shall never forget the first weeks I spent at the villa. The weather
was magnificent; we had left town the ninth of May, on St. Nicholas’s
day. I rambled,–sometimes in the garden of our villa, sometimes in
Neskútchny Park, sometimes beyond the city barriers; I took with me some
book or other,–a course of Kaidánoff,–but rarely opened it, and
chiefly recited aloud poems, of which I knew a great many by heart. The
blood was fermenting in me, and my heart was aching–so sweetly and
absurdly; I was always waiting for something, shrinking at something,
and wondering at everything, and was all ready for anything at a
moment’s notice. My fancy was beginning to play, and hovered swiftly
ever around the selfsame image, as martins hover round a belfry at
sunset. But even athwart my tears and athwart the melancholy, inspired
now by a melodious verse, now by the beauty of the evening, there peered
forth, like grass in springtime, the joyous sensation of young, bubbling
I had a saddle-horse; I was in the habit of saddling it myself, and
when I rode off alone as far as possible, in some direction, launching
out at a gallop and fancying myself a knight at a tourney–how blithely
the wind whistled in my ears!–Or, turning my face skyward, I welcomed
its beaming light and azure into my open soul.
I remember, at that time, the image of woman, the phantom of woman’s
love, almost never entered my mind in clearly-defined outlines; but in
everything I thought, in everything I felt, there lay hidden the
half-conscious, shamefaced presentiment of something new, inexpressibly
This presentiment, this expectation permeated my whole being; I breathed
it, it coursed through my veins in every drop of blood … it was fated
to be speedily realised.
Our villa consisted of a wooden manor-house with columns, and two tiny
outlying wings; in the wing to the left a tiny factory of cheap
wall-papers was installed…. More than once I went thither to watch how
half a score of gaunt, dishevelled young fellows in dirty smocks and
with tipsy faces were incessantly galloping about at the wooden levers
which jammed down the square blocks of the press, and in that manner, by
the weight of their puny bodies, printed the motley-hued patterns of the
wall-papers. The wing on the right stood empty and was for rent. One
day–three weeks after the ninth of May–the shutters on the windows of
this wing were opened, and women’s faces made their appearance in them;
some family or other had moved into it. I remember how, that same day at
dinner, my mother inquired of the butler who our new neighbours were,
and on hearing the name of Princess Zasyékin, said at first, not without
some respect:–“Ah! a Princess” … and then she added:–“She must be
some poor person!”
“They came in three hired carriages, ma’am,”–remarked the butler, as he
respectfully presented a dish. “They have no carriage of their own,
ma’am, and their furniture is of the very plainest sort.”
“Yes,”–returned my mother,–“and nevertheless, it is better so.”
My father shot a cold glance at her; she subsided into silence.
As a matter of fact, Princess Zasyékin could not be a wealthy woman: the
wing she had hired was so old and tiny and low-roofed that people in the
least well-to-do would not have been willing to inhabit it.–However, I
let this go in at one ear and out at the other. The princely title had
little effect on me: I had recently been reading Schiller’s “The
I had a habit of prowling about our garden every evening, gun in hand,
and standing guard against the crows.–I had long cherished a hatred for
those wary, rapacious and crafty birds. On the day of which I have been
speaking, I went into the garden as usual, and, after having fruitlessly
made the round of all the alleys (the crows recognised me from afar, and
merely cawed spasmodically at a distance), I accidentally approached the
low fence which separated _our_ territory from the narrow strip of
garden extending behind the right-hand wing and appertaining to it. I
was walking along with drooping head. Suddenly I heard voices: I glanced
over the fence–and was petrified…. A strange spectacle presented
itself to me.
A few paces distant from me, on a grass-plot between green
raspberry-bushes, stood a tall, graceful young girl, in a striped, pink
frock and with a white kerchief on her head; around her pressed four
young men, and she was tapping them in turn on the brow with those small
grey flowers, the name of which I do not know, but which are familiar to
children; these little flowers form tiny sacs, and burst with a pop when
they are struck against anything hard. The young men offered their
foreheads to her so willingly, and in the girl’s movements (I saw her
form in profile) there was something so bewitching, caressing, mocking,
and charming, that I almost cried aloud in wonder and pleasure; and I
believe I would have given everything in the world if those lovely
little fingers had only consented to tap me on the brow. My gun slid
down on the grass, I forgot everything, I devoured with my eyes that
slender waist, and the neck and the beautiful arms, and the slightly
ruffled fair hair, the intelligent eyes and those lashes, and the
delicate cheek beneath them….
“Young man, hey there, young man!”–suddenly spoke up a voice near
me:–“Is it permissible to stare like that at strange young ladies?”
I trembled all over, I was stupefied…. Beside me, on the other side of
the fence, stood a man with closely-clipped black hair, gazing
ironically at me. At that same moment, the young girl turned toward
me…. I beheld huge grey eyes in a mobile, animated face–and this
whole face suddenly began to quiver, and to laugh, and the white teeth
gleamed from it, the brows elevated themselves in an amusing way…. I
flushed, picked up my gun from the ground, and, pursued by ringing but
not malicious laughter, I ran to my own room, flung myself on the bed,
and covered my face with my hands. My heart was fairly leaping within
me; I felt very much ashamed and very merry: I experienced an
After I had rested awhile, I brushed my hair, made myself neat and went
down-stairs to tea. The image of the young girl floated in front of me;
my heart had ceased to leap, but ached in an agreeable sort of way.
“What ails thee?”–my father suddenly asked me:–“hast thou killed a
I was on the point of telling him all, but refrained and only smiled to
myself. As I was preparing for bed, I whirled round thrice on one foot,
I know not why, pomaded my hair, got into bed and slept all night like a
dead man. Toward morning I awoke for a moment, raised my head, cast a
glance of rapture around me–and fell asleep again.
“How am I to get acquainted with them?” was my first thought, as soon as
I awoke in the morning. I went out into the garden before tea, but did
not approach too close to the fence, and saw no one. After tea I walked
several times up and down the street in front of the villa, and cast a
distant glance at the windows…. I thought I descried _her_ face behind
the curtains, and retreated with all possible despatch. “But I must get
acquainted,”–I thought, as I walked with irregular strides up and down
the sandy stretch which extends in front of the Neskútchny Park … “but
how? that is the question.” I recalled the most trifling incidents of
the meeting on the previous evening; for some reason, her manner of
laughing at me presented itself to me with particular clearness…. But
while I was fretting thus and constructing various plans, Fate was
already providing for me.
During my absence, my mother had received a letter from her new
neighbour on grey paper sealed with brown wax, such as is used only on
postal notices, and on the corks of cheap wine. In this letter, written
in illiterate language, and with a slovenly chirography, the Princess
requested my mother to grant her her protection: my mother, according to
the Princess’s words, was well acquainted with the prominent people on
whom the fortune of herself and her children depended, as she had some
extremely important law-suits: “I apeal tyou,”–she wrote,–“as a knoble
woman to a knoble woman, and moarover, it is agriable to me to makeus of
this oportunity.” In conclusion, she asked permission of my mother to
call upon her. I found my mother in an unpleasant frame of mind: my
father was not at home, and she had no one with whom to take counsel. It
was impossible not to reply to a “knoble woman,” and to a Princess into
the bargain; but how to reply perplexed my mother. It seemed to her
ill-judged to write a note in French, and my mother was not strong in
Russian orthography herself–and was aware of the fact–and did not wish
to compromise herself. She was delighted at my arrival, and immediately
ordered me to go to the Princess and explain to her verbally that my
mother was always ready, to the extent of her ability, to be of service
to Her Radiance, and begged that she would call upon her about one
This unexpectedly swift fulfilment of my secret wishes both delighted
and frightened me; but I did not betray the emotion which held
possession of me, and preliminarily betook myself to my room for the
purpose of donning a new neckcloth and coat; at home I went about in a
round-jacket and turn-over collars, although I detested them greatly.
In the cramped and dirty anteroom of the wing, which I entered with an
involuntary trembling of my whole body, I was received by a grey-haired
old serving-man with a face the hue of dark copper, pig-like, surly
little eyes, and such deep wrinkles on his forehead as I had never seen
before in my life. He was carrying on a platter the gnawed spinal bone
of a herring, and, pushing to with his foot the door which led into the
adjoining room, he said abruptly:–“What do you want?”
“Is Princess Zasyékin at home?”–I inquired.
“Vonifáty!”–screamed a quavering female voice on the other side of the
The servant silently turned his back on me, thereby displaying the
badly-worn rear of his livery with its solitary, rusted, armouried
button, and went away, leaving the platter on the floor.
“Hast thou been to the police-station?”–went on that same feminine
voice. The servant muttered something in reply.–“Hey?… Some one has
come?”–was the next thing audible…. “The young gentleman from next
door?–Well, ask him in.”
“Please come into the drawing-room, sir,”–said the servant, making his
appearance again before me, and picking up the platter from the floor. I
adjusted my attire and entered the “drawing-room.”
I found myself in a tiny and not altogether clean room, with shabby
furniture which seemed to have been hastily set in place. At the window,
in an easy-chair with a broken arm, sat a woman of fifty, with uncovered
hair and plain-featured, clad in an old green gown, and with a
variegated worsted kerchief round her neck. Her small black eyes fairly
bored into me.
I went up to her and made my bow.
“I have the honour of speaking to Princess Zasyékin?”
“I am Princess Zasyékin: and you are the son of Mr. B–?”
“Yes, madam. I have come to you with a message from my mother.”
“Pray be seated. Vonifáty! where are my keys? Hast thou seen them?”
I communicated to Madame Zasyékin my mother’s answer to her note. She
listened to me, tapping the window-pane with her thick, red fingers, and
when I had finished she riveted her eyes on me once more.
“Very good; I shall certainly go,”–said she at last.–“But how young
you are still! How old are you, allow me to ask?”
“Sixteen,”–I replied with involuntary hesitation.
The Princess pulled out of her pocket some dirty, written documents,
raised them up to her very nose and began to sort them over.
“‘Tis a good age,”–she suddenly articulated, turning and fidgeting in
her chair.–“And please do not stand on ceremony. We are plain folks.”
“Too plain,”–I thought, with involuntary disgust taking in with a
glance the whole of her homely figure.
At that moment, the other door of the drawing-room was swiftly thrown
wide open, and on the threshold appeared the young girl whom I had seen
in the garden the evening before. She raised her hand and a smile
flitted across her face.
“And here is my daughter,”–said the Princess, pointing at her with her
elbow.–“Zínotchka, the son of our neighbour, Mr. B–. What is your
name, permit me to inquire?”
“Vladímir,”–I replied, rising and lisping with agitation.
“And your patronymic?”
“Yes! I once had an acquaintance, a chief of police, whose name was
Vladímir Petróvitch also. Vonifáty! don’t hunt for the keys; the keys
are in my pocket.”
The young girl continued to gaze at me with the same smile as before,
slightly puckering up her eyes and bending her head a little on one
“I have already seen M’sieu Voldemar,”–she began. (The silvery tone of
her voice coursed through me like a sweet chill.)–“Will you permit me
to call you so?”
“Pray do, madam,”–I lisped.
“Where was that?”–asked the Princess.
The young Princess did not answer her mother.
“Are you busy now?”–she said, without taking her eyes off me.
“Not in the least, madam.”
“Then will you help me to wind some wool? Come hither, to me.”
She nodded her head at me and left the drawing-room. I followed her.
In the room which we entered the furniture was a little better and was
arranged with great taste.–But at that moment I was almost unable to
notice anything; I moved as though in a dream and felt a sort of intense
sensation of well-being verging on stupidity throughout my frame.
The young Princess sat down, produced a knot of red wool, and pointing
me to a chair opposite her, she carefully unbound the skein and placed
it on my hands. She did all this in silence, with a sort of diverting
deliberation, and with the same brilliant and crafty smile on her
slightly parted lips. She began to wind the wool upon a card doubled
together, and suddenly illumined me with such a clear, swift glance,
that I involuntarily dropped my eyes. When her eyes, which were
generally half closed, opened to their full extent her face underwent a
complete change; it was as though light had inundated it.
“What did you think of me yesterday, M’sieu Voldemar?”–she asked, after
a brief pause.–“You certainly must have condemned me?”
“I … Princess … I thought nothing … how can I….” I replied, in
“Listen,”–she returned.–“You do not know me yet; I want people always
to speak the truth to me. You are sixteen, I heard, and I am twenty-one;
you see that I am a great deal older than you, and therefore you must
always speak the truth to me … and obey me,”–she added.–“Look at me;
why don’t you look at me?”
I became still more confused; but I raised my eyes to hers,
nevertheless. She smiled, only not in her former manner, but with a
different, an approving smile.–“Look at me,”–she said, caressingly
lowering her voice:–“I don’t like that…. Your face pleases me; I
foresee that we shall be friends. And do you like me?”–she added slyly.
“Princess….” I was beginning….
“In the first place, call me Zinaída Alexándrovna; and in the second
place,–what sort of a habit is it for children”–(she corrected
herself)–“for young men–not to say straight out what they feel? You do
like me, don’t you?”
Although it was very pleasant to me to have her talk so frankly to me,
still I was somewhat nettled. I wanted to show her that she was not
dealing with a small boy, and, assuming as easy and serious a mien as I
could, I said:–“Of course I like you very much, Zinaída Alexándrovna; I
have no desire to conceal the fact.”
She shook her head, pausing at intervals.–“Have you a governor?”–she
“No, I have not had a governor this long time past.”
I lied: a month had not yet elapsed since I had parted with my
“Oh, yes, I see: you are quite grown up.”
She slapped me lightly on the fingers.–“Hold your hands straight!”–And
she busied herself diligently with winding her ball.
I took advantage of the fact that she did not raise her eyes, and set to
scrutinising her, first by stealth, then more and more boldly. Her face
seemed to me even more charming than on the day before: everything about
it was so delicate, intelligent and lovely. She was sitting with her
back to the window, which was hung with a white shade; a ray of sunlight
making its way through that shade inundated with a flood of light her
fluffy golden hair, her innocent neck, sloping shoulders, and calm,
tender bosom.–I gazed at her–and how near and dear she became to me!
It seemed to me both that I had known her for a long time and that I had
known nothing and had not lived before she came…. She wore a rather
dark, already shabby gown, with an apron; I believe I would willingly
have caressed every fold of that gown and of that apron. The tips of her
shoes peeped out from under her gown; I would have bowed down to those
little boots…. “And here I sit, in front of her,”–I thought.–“I
have become acquainted with her … what happiness, my God!” I came
near bouncing out of my chair with rapture, but I merely dangled my feet
to and fro a little, like a child who is enjoying dainties.
I felt as much at my ease as a fish does in water, and I would have
liked never to leave that room again as long as I lived.
Her eyelids slowly rose, and again her brilliant eyes beamed caressingly
before me, and again she laughed.
“How you stare at me!”–she said slowly, shaking her finger at me.
I flushed scarlet…. “She understands all, she sees all,”–flashed
through my head. “And how could she fail to see and understand all?”
Suddenly there was a clattering in the next room, and a sword clanked.
“Zína!”–screamed the old Princess from the drawing-room.–“Byelovzóroff
has brought thee a kitten.”
“A kitten!”–cried Zinaída, and springing headlong from her chair, she
flung the ball on my knees and ran out.
I also rose, and, laying the skein of wool on the window-sill, went into
the drawing-room, and stopped short in amazement. In the centre of the
room lay a kitten with outstretched paws; Zinaída was kneeling in front
of it, and carefully raising its snout. By the side of the young
Princess, taking up nearly the entire wall-space between the windows,
was visible a fair-complexioned, curly-haired young man, a hussar, with
a rosy face and protruding eyes.
“How ridiculous!”–Zinaída kept repeating:–“and its eyes are not grey,
but green, and what big ears it has! Thank you, Viktór Egóritch! you are
The hussar, in whom I recognised one of the young men whom I had seen on
the preceding evening, smiled and bowed, clicking his spurs and clanking
the links of his sword as he did so.
“You were pleased to say yesterday that you wished to possess a striped
kitten with large ears … so I have got it, madam. Your word is my
law.”–And again he bowed.
The kitten mewed faintly, and began to sniff at the floor.
“He is hungry!”–cried Zinaída.–“Vonifáty! Sónya! bring some milk.”
The chambermaid, in an old yellow gown and with a faded kerchief on her
head, entered with a saucer of milk in her hand, and placed it in front
of the kitten. The kitten quivered, blinked, and began to lap.
“What a rosy tongue it has,”–remarked Zinaída, bending her head down
almost to the floor, and looking sideways at it, under its very nose.
The kitten drank its fill, and began to purr, affectedly contracting and
relaxing its paws. Zinaída rose to her feet, and turning to the maid,
said indifferently:–“Take it away.”
“Your hand–in return for the kitten,”–said the hussar, displaying his
teeth, and bending over the whole of his huge body, tightly confined in
a new uniform.
“Both hands,”–replied Zinaída, offering him her hands. While he was
kissing them, she gazed at me over his shoulder.
I stood motionless on one spot, and did not know whether to laugh or to
say something, or to hold my peace. Suddenly, through the open door of
the anteroom, the figure of our footman, Feódor, caught my eye. He was
making signs to me. I mechanically went out to him.
“What dost thou want?”–I asked.
“Your mamma has sent for you,”–he said in a whisper.–“She is angry
because you do not return with an answer.”
“Why, have I been here long?”
“More than an hour.”
“More than an hour!”–I repeated involuntarily, and returning to the
drawing-room, I began to bow and scrape my foot.
“Where are you going?”–the young Princess asked me, with a glance at
“I must go home, madam. So I am to say,”–I added, addressing the old
woman,–“that you will call upon us at two o’clock.”
“Say that, my dear fellow.”
The old Princess hurriedly drew out her snuffbox, and took a pinch so
noisily that I fairly jumped.–“Say that,”–she repeated, tearfully
blinking and grunting.
I bowed once more, turned and left the room with the same sensation of
awkwardness in my back which a very young man experiences when he knows
that people are staring after him.
“Look here, M’sieu Voldemar, you must drop in to see us,”–called
Zinaída, and again burst out laughing.
“What makes her laugh all the time?” I thought, as I wended my way home
accompanied by Feódor, who said nothing to me, but moved along
disapprovingly behind me. My mother reproved me, and inquired, with
surprise, “What could I have been doing so long at the Princess’s?” I
made her no answer, and went off to my own room. I had suddenly grown
very melancholy…. I tried not to weep…. I was jealous of the hussar.
The Princess, according to her promise, called on my mother, and did not
please her. I was not present at their meeting, but at table my mother
narrated to my father that that Princess Zasyékin seemed to her a _femme
très vulgaire_; that she had bored her immensely with her requests that
she would intervene on her behalf with Prince Sergyéi; that she was
always having such law-suits and affairs,–_de vilaines affaires
d’argent_,–and that she must be a great rogue. But my mother added that
she had invited her with her daughter to dine on the following day (on
hearing the words “with her daughter,” I dropped my nose into my
plate),–because, notwithstanding, she was a neighbour, and with a name.
Thereupon my father informed my mother that he now recalled who the lady
was: that in his youth he had known the late Prince Zasyékin, a
capitally-educated but flighty and captious man; that in society he was
called “_le Parisien_,” because of his long residence in Paris; that he
had been very wealthy, but had gambled away all his property–and, no
one knew why, though probably it had been for the sake of the
money,–“although he might have made a better choice,”–added my father,
with a cold smile,–he had married the daughter of some clerk in a
chancellery, and after his marriage had gone into speculation, and
ruined himself definitively.
“‘Tis a wonder she did not try to borrow money,”–remarked my mother.
“She is very likely to do it,”–said my father, calmly.–“Does she speak
“M-m-m. However, that makes no difference. I think thou saidst that
thou hadst invited her daughter; some one assured me that she is a very
charming and well-educated girl.”
“Ah! Then she does not take after her mother.”
“Nor after her father,”–returned my father.–“He was also well
educated, but stupid.”
My mother sighed, and became thoughtful. My father relapsed into
silence. I felt very awkward during the course of that conversation.
After dinner I betook myself to the garden, but without my gun. I had
pledged my word to myself that I would not go near the “Zasyékin
garden”; but an irresistible force drew me thither, and not in vain. I
had no sooner approached the fence than I caught sight of Zinaída. This
time she was alone. She was holding a small book in her hands and
strolling slowly along the path. She did not notice me. I came near
letting her slip past; but suddenly caught myself up and coughed.
She turned round but did not pause, put aside with one hand the broad
blue ribbon of her round straw hat, looked at me, smiled quietly, and
again riveted her eyes on her book.
I pulled off my cap, and after fidgeting about a while on one spot, I
went away with a heavy heart. “_Que suis-je pour elle?_”–I thought (God
knows why) in French.
Familiar footsteps resounded behind me; I glanced round and beheld my
father advancing toward me with swift, rapid strides.
“Is that the young Princess?”–he asked me.
“Dost thou know her?”
“I saw her this morning at the Princess her mother’s.”
My father halted and, wheeling abruptly round on his heels, retraced his
steps. As he came on a level with Zinaída he bowed courteously to her.
She bowed to him in return, not without some surprise on her face, and
lowered her book. I saw that she followed him with her eyes. My father
always dressed very elegantly, originally and simply; but his figure had
never seemed to me more graceful, never had his grey hat sat more
handsomely on his curls, which were barely beginning to grow thin.
I was on the point of directing my course toward Zinaída, but she did
not even look at me, but raised her book once more and walked away.
I spent the whole of that evening and the following day in a sort of
gloomy stupor. I remember that I made an effort to work, and took up
Kaidánoff; but in vain did the large-printed lines and pages of the
famous text-book flit before my eyes. Ten times in succession I read the
words: “Julius Cæsar was distinguished for military daring,” without
understanding a word, and I flung aside my book. Before dinner I pomaded
my hair again, and again donned my frock-coat and neckerchief.
“What’s that for?”–inquired my mother.–“Thou art not a student yet,
and God knows whether thou wilt pass thy examination. And thy
round-jacket was made not very long ago. Thou must not discard it!”
“There are to be guests,”–I whispered, almost in despair.
“What nonsense! What sort of guests are they?”
I was compelled to submit. I exchanged my coat for my round-jacket, but
did not remove my neckerchief. The Princess and her daughter made their
appearance half an hour before dinner; the old woman had thrown a yellow
shawl over her green gown, with which I was familiar, and had donned an
old-fashioned mob-cap with ribbons of a fiery hue. She immediately began
to talk about her notes of hand, to sigh and to bewail her poverty, and
to “importune,” but did not stand in the least upon ceremony; and she
took snuff noisily and fidgeted and wriggled in her chair as before. It
never seemed to enter her head that she was a Princess. On the other
hand, Zinaída bore herself very stiffly, almost haughtily, like a real
young Princess. Cold impassivity and dignity had made their appearance
on her countenance, and I did not recognise her,–did not recognise her
looks or her smile, although in this new aspect she seemed to me very
beautiful. She wore a thin barège gown with pale-blue figures; her hair
fell in long curls along her cheeks, in the English fashion: this
coiffure suited the cold expression of her face.
My father sat beside her during dinner, and with the exquisite and
imperturbable courtesy which was characteristic of him, showed attention
to his neighbour. He glanced at her from time to time, and she glanced
at him now and then, but in such a strange, almost hostile, manner.
Their conversation proceeded in French;–I remember that I was surprised
at the purity of Zinaída’s accent. The old Princess, as before, did not
restrain herself in the slightest degree during dinner, but ate a great
deal and praised the food. My mother evidently found her wearisome, and
answered her with a sort of sad indifference; my father contracted his
brows in a slight frown from time to time. My mother did not like
“She’s a haughty young sprig,”–she said the next day.–“And when one
comes to think of it, what is there for her to be proud of?–_avec sa
mine de grisette_!”
“Evidently, thou hast not seen any grisettes,”–my father remarked to
“Of course I haven’t, God be thanked!… Only, how art thou capable of
judging of them?”
Zinaída paid absolutely no attention whatever to me. Soon after dinner
the old Princess began to take her leave.
“I shall rely upon your protection, Márya Nikoláevna and Piótr
Vasílitch,”–she said, in a sing-song tone, to my father and
mother.–“What is to be done! I have seen prosperous days, but they are
gone. Here am I a Radiance,”–she added, with an unpleasant laugh,–“but
what’s the good of an honour when you’ve nothing to eat?”–My father
bowed respectfully to her and escorted her to the door of the anteroom.
I was standing there in my round-jacket, and staring at the floor, as
though condemned to death. Zinaída’s behaviour toward me had
definitively annihilated me. What, then, was my amazement when, as she
passed me, she whispered to me hastily, and with her former affectionate
expression in her eyes:–“Come to us at eight o’clock, do you hear?
without fail….” I merely threw my hands apart in amazement;–but she
was already retreating, having thrown a white scarf over her head.
Precisely at eight o’clock I entered the tiny wing inhabited by the
Princess, clad in my coat, and with my hair brushed up into a crest on
top of my head. The old servant glared surlily at me, and rose
reluctantly from his bench. Merry voices resounded in the drawing-room.
I opened the door and retreated a pace in astonishment. In the middle of
the room, on a chair, stood the young Princess, holding a man’s hat in
front of her; around the chair thronged five men. They were trying to
dip their hands into the hat, but she kept raising it on high and
shaking it violently. On catching sight of me she exclaimed:–
“Stay, stay! Here’s a new guest; he must be given a ticket,”–and
springing lightly from the chair, she seized me by the lapel of my
coat.–“Come along,”–said she;–“why do you stand there? Messieurs,
allow me to make you acquainted: this is Monsieur Voldemar, the son of
our neighbour. And this,”–she added, turning to me, and pointing to the
visitors in turn,–“is Count Malévsky, Doctor Lúshin, the poet
Maidánoff, retired Captain Nirmátzky, and Byelovzóroff the hussar, whom
you have already seen. I beg that you will love and favour each other.”
I was so confused that I did not even bow to any one; in Doctor Lúshin I
recognised that same swarthy gentleman who had so ruthlessly put me to
shame in the garden; the others were strangers to me.
“Count!”–pursued Zinaída,–“write a ticket for M’sieu Voldemar.”
“That is unjust,”–returned the Count, with a slight accent,–a very
handsome and foppishly-attired man, with a dark complexion, expressive
brown eyes, a thin, white little nose, and a slender moustache over his
tiny mouth.–“He has not been playing at forfeits with us.”
“‘Tis unjust,”–repeated Byelovzóroff and the gentleman who had been
alluded to as the retired Captain,–a man of forty, horribly pockmarked,
curly-haired as a negro, round-shouldered, bow-legged, and dressed in a
military coat without epaulets, worn open on the breast.
“Write a ticket, I tell you,”–repeated the Princess.–“What sort of a
rebellion is this? M’sieu Voldemar is with us for the first time, and
to-day no law applies to him. No grumbling–write; I will have it so.”
The Count shrugged his shoulders, but submissively bowing his head, he
took a pen in his white, ring-decked hand, tore off a scrap of paper and
began to write on it.
“Permit me at least to explain to M’sieu Voldemar what it is all
about,”–began Lúshin, in a bantering tone;–“otherwise he will be
utterly at a loss. You see, young man, we are playing at forfeits; the
Princess must pay a fine, and the one who draws out the lucky ticket
must kiss her hand. Do you understand what I have told you?”
I merely glanced at him and continued to stand as though in a fog, while
the Princess again sprang upon the chair and again began to shake the
hat. All reached up to her–I among the rest.
“Maidánoff,”–said the Princess to the tall young man with a gaunt face,
tiny mole-like eyes and extremely long, black hair,–“you, as a poet,
ought to be magnanimous and surrender your ticket to M’sieu Voldemar, so
that he may have two chances instead of one.”
But Maidánoff shook his head in refusal and tossed his hair. I put in my
hand into the hat after all the rest, drew out and unfolded a ticket….
O Lord! what were my sensations when I beheld on it, “Kiss!”
“Kiss!”–I cried involuntarily.
“Bravo! He has won,”–chimed in the Princess.–“How delighted I
am!”–She descended from the chair, and gazed into my eyes so clearly
and sweetly that my heart fairly laughed with joy.–“And are you
glad?”–she asked me.
“I?” … I stammered.
“Sell me your ticket,”–suddenly blurted out Byelovzóroff, right in my
ear.–“I’ll give you one hundred rubles for it.”
I replied to the hussar by such a wrathful look that Zinaída clapped
her hands, and Lúshin cried:–“That’s a gallant fellow!”
“But,”–he went on,–“in my capacity of master of ceremonies, I am bound
to see that all the regulations are carried out. M’sieu Voldemar, get
down on one knee. That is our rule.”
Zinaída stood before me with her head bent a little to one side, as
though the better to scrutinise me, and offered me her hand with
dignity. Things grew dim before my eyes; I tried to get down on one
knee, plumped down on both knees, and applied my lips to Zinaída’s
fingers in so awkward a manner that I scratched the tip of my nose
slightly on her nails.
“Good!”–shouted Lúshin, and helped me to rise.
The game of forfeits continued. Zinaída placed me beside her. What
penalties they did invent! Among other things, she had to impersonate a
“statue”–and she selected as a pedestal the monstrously homely
Nirmátzky, ordering him to lie flat on the floor, and to tuck his face
into his breast. The laughter did not cease for a single moment. All
this noise and uproar, this unceremonious, almost tumultuous merriment,
these unprecedented relations with strangers, fairly flew to my head;
for I was a boy who had been reared soberly, and in solitude, and had
grown up in a stately home of gentry. I became simply intoxicated, as
though with wine. I began to shout with laughter and chatter more
loudly than the rest, so that even the old Princess, who was sitting in
the adjoining room with some sort of pettifogger from the Íversky
Gate who had been summoned for a conference, came out to take a look
at me. But I felt so happy that, as the saying is, I didn’t care a
farthing for anybody’s ridicule, or anybody’s oblique glances.
Zinaída continued to display a preference for me and never let me leave
her side. In one forfeit I was made to sit by her, covered up with one
and the same silk kerchief: I was bound to tell her _my secret_. I
remember how our two heads found themselves suddenly in choking,
semi-transparent, fragrant gloom; how near and softly her eyes sparkled
in that gloom, and how hotly her parted lips breathed; and her teeth
were visible, and the tips of her hair tickled and burned me. I
maintained silence. She smiled mysteriously and slyly, and at last
whispered to me: “Well, what is it?” But I merely flushed and laughed,
and turned away, and could hardly draw my breath. We got tired of
forfeits, and began to play “string.” Good heavens! what rapture I felt
when, forgetting myself with gaping, I received from her a strong, sharp
rap on my fingers; and how afterward I tried to pretend that I was
yawning with inattention, but she mocked at me and did not touch my
hands, which were awaiting the blow!
But what a lot of other pranks we played that same evening! We played on
the piano, and sang, and danced, and represented a gipsy camp. We
dressed Nirmátzky up like a bear, and fed him with water and salt. Count
Malévsky showed us several card tricks, and ended by stacking the cards
and dealing himself all the trumps at whist; upon which Lúshin “had the
honour of congratulating him.” Maidánoff declaimed to us fragments from
his poem, “The Murderer” (this occurred in the very thick of
romanticism), which he intended to publish in a black binding, with the
title in letters of the colour of blood. We stole his hat from the knees
of the pettifogger from the Íversky Gate, and made him dance the kazák
dance by way of redeeming it. We dressed old Vonifáty up in a mob-cap,
and the young Princess put on a man’s hat…. It is impossible to
recount all we did. Byelovzóroff alone remained most of the time in a
corner, angry and frowning…. Sometimes his eyes became suffused with
blood, he grew scarlet all over and seemed to be on the very point of
swooping down upon all of us and scattering us on all sides, like chips;
but the Princess glanced at him, menaced him with her finger, and again
he retired into his corner.
We were completely exhausted at last. The old Princess was equal to
anything, as she put it,–no shouts disconcerted her,–but she felt
tired and wished to rest. At midnight supper was served, consisting of a
bit of old, dry cheese and a few cold patties filled with minced ham,
which seemed to us more savoury than any pasty; there was only one
bottle of wine, and that was rather queer:–dark, with a swollen neck,
and the wine in it left an after-taste of pinkish dye; however, no one
drank it. Weary and happy to exhaustion, I emerged from the wing; a
thunder-storm seemed to be brewing; the black storm-clouds grew larger
and crept across the sky, visibly altering their smoky outlines. A light
breeze was uneasily quivering in the dark trees, and somewhere beyond
the horizon the thunder was growling angrily and dully, as though to
I made my way through the back door to my room. My nurse-valet was
sleeping on the floor and I was obliged to step over him; he woke up,
saw me, and reported that my mother was angry with me, and had wanted to
send after me again, but that my father had restrained her. I never went
to bed without having bidden my mother good night and begged her
blessing. There was no help for it! I told my valet that I would undress
myself and go to bed unaided,–and extinguished the candle. But I did
not undress and I did not go to bed.
I seated myself on a chair and sat there for a long time, as though
enchanted. That which I felt was so new and so sweet…. I sat there,
hardly looking around me and without moving, breathing slowly, and only
laughing silently now, as I recalled, now inwardly turning cold at the
thought that I was in love, that here it was, that love. Zinaída’s face
floated softly before me in the darkness–floated, but did not float
away; her lips still smiled as mysteriously as ever, her eyes gazed
somewhat askance at me, interrogatively, thoughtfully and tenderly …
as at the moment when I had parted from her. At last I rose on tiptoe,
stepped to my bed and cautiously, without undressing, laid my head on
the pillow, as though endeavouring by the sharp movement to frighten off
that wherewith I was filled to overflowing….
I lay down, but did not even close an eye. I speedily perceived that
certain faint reflections kept constantly falling into my room…. I
raised myself and looked out of the window. Its frame was distinctly
defined from the mysteriously and confusedly whitened panes. “‘Tis the
thunder-storm,”–I thought,–and so, in fact, there was a thunder-storm;
but it had passed very far away, so that even the claps of thunder were
not audible; only in the sky long, indistinct, branching flashes of
lightning, as it were, were uninterruptedly flashing up. They were not
flashing up so much as they were quivering and twitching, like the wing
of a dying bird. I rose, went to the window, and stood there until
morning…. The lightning-flashes never ceased for a moment; it was what
is called a pitch-black night. I gazed at the dumb, sandy plain, at the
dark mass of the Neskútchny Park, at the yellowish façades of the
distant buildings, which also seemed to be trembling at every faint
flash…. I gazed, and could not tear myself away; those dumb
lightning-flashes, those restrained gleams, seemed to be responding to
the dumb and secret outbursts which were flaring up within me also.
Morning began to break; the dawn started forth in scarlet patches. With
the approach of the sun the lightning-flashes grew paler and paler; they
quivered more and more infrequently, and vanished at last, drowned in
the sobering and unequivocal light of the breaking day.
And my lightning-flashes vanished within me also. I felt great fatigue
and tranquillity … but Zinaída’s image continued to hover triumphantly
over my soul. Only it, that image, seemed calm; like a flying swan from
the marshy sedges, it separated itself from the other ignoble figures
which surrounded it, and as I fell asleep, I bowed down before it for
the last time in farewell and confiding adoration….
Oh, gentle emotions, soft sounds, kindness and calming of the
deeply-moved soul, melting joy of the first feelings of love,–where are
ye, where are ye?
On the following morning, when I went down-stairs to tea, my mother
scolded me,–although less than I had anticipated,–and made me narrate
how I had spent the preceding evening. I answered her in few words,
omitting many particulars and endeavouring to impart to my narrative the
most innocent of aspects.
“Nevertheless, they are not people _comme il faut_,”–remarked my
mother;–“and I do not wish thee to run after them, instead of preparing
thyself for the examination, and occupying thyself.”
As I knew that my mother’s anxiety was confined to these few words, I
did not consider it necessary to make her any reply; but after tea my
father linked his arm in mine, and betaking himself to the garden with
me, made me tell him everything I had done and seen at the Zasyékins’.
My father possessed a strange influence over me, and our relations were
strange. He paid hardly any attention to my education, but he never
wounded me; he respected my liberty–he was even, if I may so express
it, courteous to me … only, he did not allow me to get close to him.
I loved him, I admired him; he seemed to me a model man; and great
heavens! how passionately attached to him I should have been, had I not
constantly felt his hand warding me off! On the other hand, when he
wished, he understood how to evoke in me, instantaneously, with one
word, one movement, unbounded confidence in him. My soul opened, I
chatted with him as with an intelligent friend, as with an indulgent
preceptor … then, with equal suddenness, he abandoned me, and again
his hand repulsed me, caressingly and softly, but repulsed nevertheless.
Sometimes a fit of mirth came over him, and then he was ready to frolic
and play with me like a boy (he was fond of every sort of energetic
bodily exercise); once–only once–did he caress me with so much
tenderness that I came near bursting into tears…. But his mirth and
tenderness also vanished without leaving a trace, and what had taken
place between us gave me no hopes for the future; it was just as though
I had seen it all in a dream. I used to stand and scrutinise his clever,
handsome, brilliant face … and my heart would begin to quiver, and my
whole being would yearn toward him, … and he would seem to feel what
was going on within me, and would pat me on the cheek in passing–and
either go away, or begin to occupy himself with something, or suddenly
freeze all over,–as he alone knew how to freeze,–and I would
immediately shrivel up and grow frigid also. His rare fits of affection
for me were never called forth by my speechless but intelligible
entreaties; they always came upon him without warning. When meditating,
in after years, upon my father’s character, I came to the conclusion
that he did not care for me or for family life; he loved something
different, and enjoyed that other thing to the full. “Seize what thou
canst thyself, and do not give thyself into any one’s power; the whole
art of life consists in belonging to one’s self,”–he said to me once.
On another occasion I, in my capacity of a young democrat, launched out
in his presence into arguments about liberty (he was what I called
“kind” that day; at such times one could say whatever one liked to
him).–“Liberty,”–he repeated,–“but dost thou know what can give a man
“Will, his own will, and the power which it gives is better than
liberty. Learn to will, and thou wilt be free, and wilt command.”
My father wished, first of all and most of all, to enjoy life–and he
did enjoy life…. Perhaps he had a presentiment that he was not fated
long to take advantage of the “art” of living: he died at the age of
I described to my father in detail my visit to the Zasyékins. He
listened to me half-attentively, half-abstractedly, as he sat on the
bench and drew figures on the sand with the tip of his riding-whip. Now
and then he laughed, glanced at me in a brilliant, amused sort of way,
and spurred me on by brief questions and exclamations. At first I could
not bring myself even to utter Zinaída’s name, but I could not hold out,
and began to laud her. My father still continued to laugh. Then he
became thoughtful, dropped his eyes and rose to his feet.
I recalled the fact that, as he came out of the house, he had given
orders that his horse should be saddled. He was a capital rider, and
knew much better how to tame the wildest horses than did Mr. Rarey.
“Shall I ride with thee, papa?”–I asked him.
“No,”–he replied, and his face assumed its habitual
indifferently-caressing expression.–“Go alone, if thou wishest; but
tell the coachman that I shall not go.”
He turned his back on me and walked swiftly away. I followed him with my
eyes, until he disappeared beyond the gate. I saw his hat moving along
the fence; he went into the Zasyékins’ house.
He remained with them no more than an hour, but immediately thereafter
went off to town and did not return home until evening.
After dinner I went to the Zasyékins’ myself. I found no one in the
drawing-room but the old Princess. When she saw me, she scratched her
head under her cap with the end of her knitting-needle, and suddenly
asked me: would I copy a petition for her?
“With pleasure,”–I replied, and sat down on the edge of a chair.
“Only look out, and see that you make the letters as large as
possible,”–said the Princess, handing me a sheet of paper scrawled over
in a slovenly manner:–“and couldn’t you do it to-day, my dear fellow?”
“I will copy it this very day, madam.”
The door of the adjoining room opened a mere crack and Zinaída’s face
showed itself in the aperture,–pale, thoughtful, with hair thrown
carelessly back. She stared at me with her large, cold eyes, and softly
shut the door.
“Zína,–hey there, Zína!”–said the old woman. Zinaída did not answer. I
carried away the old woman’s petition, and sat over it the whole
My “passion” began with that day. I remember that I then felt something
of that which a man must feel when he enters the service: I had already
ceased to be a young lad; I was in love. I have said that my passion
dated from that day; I might have added that my sufferings also dated
from that day. I languished when absent from Zinaída; my mind would not
work, everything fell from my hands; I thought intently of her for days
together…. I languished … but in her presence I was no more at ease.
I was jealous, I recognised my insignificance, I stupidly sulked and
stupidly fawned; and, nevertheless, an irresistible force drew me to
her, and every time I stepped across the threshold of her room, it was
with an involuntary thrill of happiness. Zinaída immediately divined
that I had fallen in love with her, and I never thought of concealing
the fact; she mocked at my passion, played tricks on me, petted and
tormented me. It is sweet to be the sole source, the autocratic and
irresponsible cause of the greatest joys and the profoundest woe to
another person, and I was like soft wax in Zinaída’s hands. However, I
was not the only one who was in love with her; all the men who were in
the habit of visiting her house were crazy over her, and she kept them
all in a leash at her feet. It amused her to arouse in them now hopes,
now fears, to twist them about at her caprice (she called it, “knocking
people against one another”),–and they never thought of resisting, and
willingly submitted to her. In all her vivacious and beautiful being
there was a certain peculiarly bewitching mixture of guilefulness and
heedlessness, of artificiality and simplicity, of tranquillity and
playfulness; over everything she did or said, over her every movement,
hovered a light, delicate charm, and an original, sparkling force made
itself felt in everything. And her face was incessantly changing and
sparkling also; it expressed almost simultaneously derision,
pensiveness, and passion. The most varied emotions, light, fleeting as
the shadows of the clouds on a sunny, windy day, kept flitting over her
eyes and lips.
Every one of her adorers was necessary to her. Byelovzóroff, whom she
sometimes called “my wild beast,” and sometimes simply “my own,” would
gladly have flung himself into the fire for her; without trusting to his
mental capacities and other merits, he kept proposing that he should
marry her, and hinting that the others were merely talking idly.
Maidánoff responded to the poetical chords of her soul: a rather cold
man, as nearly all writers are, he assured her with intense force–and
perhaps himself also–that he adored her. He sang her praises in
interminable verses and read them to her with an unnatural and a genuine
sort of enthusiasm. And she was interested in him and jeered lightly at
him; she did not believe in him greatly, and after listening to his
effusions she made him read Púshkin, in order, as she said, to purify
the air. Lúshin, the sneering doctor, who was cynical in speech, knew
her best of all and loved her best of all, although he abused her to her
face and behind her back. She respected him, but would not let him go,
and sometimes, with a peculiar, malicious pleasure, made him feel that
he was in her hands. “I am a coquette, I am heartless, I have the nature
of an actress,” she said to him one day in my presence; “and ’tis well!
So give me your hand and I will stick a pin into it, and you will feel
ashamed before this young man, and it will hurt you; but nevertheless,
Mr. Upright Man, you will be so good as to laugh.” Lúshin flushed
crimson, turned away and bit his lips, but ended by putting out his
hand. She pricked it, and he actually did break out laughing … and she
laughed also, thrusting the pin in pretty deeply and gazing into his
eyes while he vainly endeavoured to glance aside….
I understood least of all the relations existing between Zinaída and
Count Malévsky. That he was handsome, adroit, and clever even I felt,
but the presence in him of some false, dubious element, was palpable
even to me, a lad of sixteen, and I was amazed that Zinaída did not
notice it. But perhaps she did detect that false element and it did not
repel her. An irregular education, strange acquaintances, the constant
presence of her mother, the poverty and disorder in the house–all this,
beginning with the very freedom which the young girl enjoyed, together
with the consciousness of her own superiority to the people who
surrounded her, had developed in her a certain half-scornful
carelessness and lack of exaction. No matter what happened–whether
Vonifáty came to report that there was no sugar, or some wretched bit
of gossip came to light, or the visitors got into a quarrel among
themselves, she merely shook her curls, and said: “Nonsense!”–and
grieved very little over it.
On the contrary, all my blood would begin to seethe when Malévsky would
approach her, swaying his body cunningly like a fox, lean elegantly over
the back of her chair and begin to whisper in her ear with a conceited
and challenging smile, while she would fold her arms on her breast, gaze
attentively at him and smile also, shaking her head the while.
“What possesses you to receive Malévsky?”–I asked her one day.
“Why, he has such handsome eyes,”–she replied.–“But that is no
business of yours.”
“You are not to think that I am in love with him,”–she said to me on
another occasion.–“No; I cannot love people upon whom I am forced to
look down. I must have some one who can subdue me…. And I shall not
hit upon such an one, for God is merciful! I shall not spare any one who
falls into my paws–no, no!”
“Do you mean to say that you will never fall in love?”
“And how about you? Don’t I love you?”–she said, tapping me on the nose
with the tip of her glove.
Yes, Zinaída made great fun of me. For the space of three weeks I saw
her every day; and what was there that she did not do to me! She came to
us rarely, but I did not regret that; in our house she was converted
into a young lady, a Princess,–and I avoided her. I was afraid of
betraying myself to my mother; she was not at all well disposed toward
Zinaída, and kept a disagreeable watch on us. I was not so much afraid
of my father; he did not appear to notice me, and talked little with
her, but that little in a peculiarly clever and significant manner. I
ceased to work, to read; I even ceased to stroll about the environs and
to ride on horseback. Like a beetle tied by the leg, I hovered
incessantly around the beloved wing; I believe I would have liked to
remain there forever … but that was impossible. My mother grumbled at
me, and sometimes Zinaída herself drove me out. On such occasions I shut
myself up in my own room, or walked off to the very end of the garden,
climbed upon the sound remnant of a tall stone hothouse, and dangling my
legs over the wall, I sat there for hours and stared,–stared without
seeing anything. White butterflies lazily flitted among the nettles
beside me; an audacious sparrow perched not far off on the
half-demolished red bricks and twittered in an irritating manner,
incessantly twisting his whole body about and spreading out his tail;
the still distrustful crows now and then emitted a caw, as they sat
high, high above me on the naked crest of a birch-tree; the sun and the
wind played softly through its sparse branches; the chiming of the
bells, calm and melancholy, at the Don Monastery was wafted to me now
and then,–and I sat on, gazing and listening, and became filled with a
certain nameless sensation which embraced everything: sadness and joy,
and a presentiment of the future, and the desire and the fear of life.
But I understood nothing at the time of all that which was fermenting
within me, or I would have called it all by one name, the name of
But Zinaída continued to play with me as a cat plays with a mouse. Now
she coquetted with me, and I grew agitated and melted with emotion; now
she repulsed me, and I dared not approach her, dared not look at her.
I remember that she was very cold toward me for several days in
succession and I thoroughly quailed, and when I timidly ran to the wing
to see them, I tried to keep near the old Princess, despite the fact
that she was scolding and screaming a great deal just at that time: her
affairs connected with her notes of hand were going badly, and she had
also had two scenes with the police-captain of the precinct.
One day I was walking through the garden, past the familiar fence, when
I caught sight of Zinaída. Propped up on both arms, she was sitting
motionless on the grass. I tried to withdraw cautiously, but she
suddenly raised her head and made an imperious sign to me. I became
petrified on the spot; I did not understand her the first time. She
repeated her sign. I immediately sprang over the fence and ran joyfully
to her; but she stopped me with a look and pointed to the path a couple
of paces from her. In my confusion, not knowing what to do, I knelt down
on the edge of the path. She was so pale, such bitter grief, such
profound weariness were revealed in her every feature, that my heart
contracted within me, and I involuntarily murmured: “What is the matter
Zinaída put out her hand, plucked a blade of grass, bit it, and tossed
it away as far as she could.
“Do you love me very much?”–she inquired suddenly.–“Yes?”
I made no answer,–and what answer was there for me to make?
“Yes,”–she repeated, gazing at me as before.–“It is so. They are the
same eyes,”–she added, becoming pensive, and covering her face with her
hands.–“Everything has become repulsive to me,”–she whispered;–“I
would like to go to the end of the world; I cannot endure this, I cannot
reconcile myself…. And what is in store for me?… Akh, I am heavy at
heart … my God, how heavy at heart!”
“Why?”–I timidly inquired.
Zinaída did not answer me and merely shrugged her shoulders. I continued
to kneel and to gaze at her with profound melancholy. Every word of
hers fairly cut me to the heart. At that moment, I think I would
willingly have given my life to keep her from grieving. I gazed at her,
and nevertheless, not understanding why she was heavy at heart, I
vividly pictured to myself how, in a fit of uncontrollable sorrow, she
had suddenly gone into the garden, and had fallen on the earth, as
though she had been mowed down. All around was bright and green; the
breeze was rustling in the foliage of the trees, now and then rocking a
branch of raspberry over Zinaída’s head. Doves were cooing somewhere and
the bees were humming as they flew low over the scanty grass. Overhead
the sky shone blue,–but I was so sad….
“Recite some poetry to me,”–said Zinaída in a low voice, leaning on her
elbow.–“I like to hear you recite verses. You make them go in a
sing-song, but that does not matter, it is youthful. Recite to me: ‘On
the Hills of Georgia.’–Only, sit down first.”
I sat down and recited, “On the Hills of Georgia.”
“‘That it is impossible not to love,’”–repeated Zinaída.–“That is why
poetry is so nice; it says to us that which does not exist, and which is
not only better than what does exist, but even more like the truth….
‘That it is impossible not to love’?–I would like to, but
cannot!”–Again she fell silent for a space, then suddenly started and
rose to her feet.–“Come along. Maidánoff is sitting with mamma; he
brought his poem to me, but I left him. He also is embittered now …
how can it be helped? Some day you will find out … but you must not be
angry with me!”
Zinaída hastily squeezed my hand, and ran on ahead. We returned to the
wing. Maidánoff set to reading us his poem of “The Murderer,” which had
only just been printed, but I did not listen. He shrieked out his
four-footed iambics in a sing-song voice; the rhymes alternated and
jingled like sleigh-bells, hollow and loud; but I kept staring all the
while at Zinaída, and striving to understand the meaning of her strange
“Or, perchance, a secret rival
Has unexpectedly subjugated thee?”
suddenly exclaimed Maidánoff through his nose–and my eyes and Zinaída’s
met. She dropped hers and blushed faintly. I saw that she was blushing,
and turned cold with fright. I had been jealous before, but only at that
moment did the thought that she had fallen in love flash through my
mind. “My God! She is in love!”
My real tortures began from that moment. I cudgelled my brains, I
pondered and pondered again, and watched Zinaída importunately, but
secretly, as far as possible. A change had taken place in her, that was
evident. She took to going off alone to walk, and walked a long while.
Sometimes she did not show herself to her visitors; she sat for hours
together in her chamber. This had not been her habit hitherto. Suddenly
I became–or it seemed to me that I became–extremely penetrating. “Is
it he? Or is it not he?”–I asked myself, as in trepidation I mentally
ran from one of her admirers to another. Count Malévsky (although I felt
ashamed to admit it for Zinaída’s sake) privately seemed to me more
dangerous than the others.
My powers of observation extended no further than the end of my own
nose, and my dissimulation probably failed to deceive any one; at all
events, Doctor Lúshin speedily saw through me. Moreover, he also had
undergone a change of late; he had grown thin, he laughed as frequently
as ever, but somehow it was in a duller, more spiteful, a briefer
way;–an involuntary, nervous irritability had replaced his former light
irony and feigned cynicism.
“Why are you forever tagging on here, young man?”–he said to me one
day, when he was left alone with me in the Zasyékins’ drawing-room. (The
young Princess had not yet returned from her stroll and the shrill voice
of the old Princess was resounding in the upper story; she was wrangling
with her maid.)–“You ought to be studying your lessons, working while
you are young;–but instead of that, what are you doing?”
“You cannot tell whether I work at home,”–I retorted not without
arrogance, but also not without confusion.
“Much work you do! That’s not what you have in your head. Well, I will
not dispute … at your age, that is in the natural order of things. But
your choice is far from a happy one. Can’t you see what sort of a house
“I do not understand you,”–I remarked.
“You don’t understand me? So much the worse for you. I regard it as my
duty to warn you. Fellows like me, old bachelors, may sit here: what
harm will it do us? We are a hardened lot. You can’t pierce our hide,
but your skin is still tender; the air here is injurious for
you,–believe me, you may become infected.”
“Because you may. Are you healthy now? Are you in a normal condition? Is
what you are feeling useful to you, good for you?”
“But what am I feeling?”–said I;–and in my secret soul I admitted that
the doctor was right.
“Eh, young man, young man,”–pursued the doctor, with an expression as
though something extremely insulting to me were contained in those two
words;–“there’s no use in your dissimulating, for what you have in
your soul you still show in your face, thank God! But what’s the use of
arguing? I would not come hither myself, if …” (the doctor set his
teeth) … “if I were not such an eccentric fellow. Only this is what
amazes me–how you, with your intelligence, can fail to see what is
going on around you.”
“But what is going on?”–I interposed, pricking up my ears.
The doctor looked at me with a sort of sneering compassion.
“A nice person I am,”–said he, as though speaking to himself.–“What
possessed me to say that to him. In a word,”–he added, raising his
voice,–“I repeat to you: the atmosphere here is not good for you. You
find it pleasant here, and no wonder! And the scent of a hothouse is
pleasant also–but one cannot live in it! Hey! hearken to me,–set to
work again on Kaidánoff.”
The old Princess entered and began to complain to the doctor of
toothache. Then Zinaída made her appearance.
“Here,”–added the old Princess,–“scold her, doctor, do. She drinks
iced water all day long; is that healthy for her, with her weak chest?”
“Why do you do that?”–inquired Lúshin.
“But what result can it have?”
“What result? You may take cold and die.”
“Really? Is it possible? Well, all right–that just suits me!”
“You don’t say so!”–growled the doctor. The old Princess went away.
“I do say so,”–retorted Zinaída.–“Is living such a cheerful thing?
Look about you…. Well–is it nice? Or do you think that I do not
understand it, do not feel it? It affords me pleasure to drink iced
water, and you can seriously assure me that such a life is worth too
much for me to imperil it for a moment’s pleasure–I do not speak of
“Well, yes,”–remarked Lúshin:–“caprice and independence…. Those two
words sum you up completely; your whole nature lies in those two words.”
Zinaída burst into a nervous laugh.
“You’re too late by one mail, my dear doctor. You observe badly; you are
falling behind.–Put on your spectacles.–I am in no mood for caprices
now; how jolly to play pranks on you or on myself!–and as for
independence…. M’sieu Voldemar,”–added Zinaída, suddenly stamping her
foot,–“don’t wear a melancholy face. I cannot endure to have people
commiserating me.”–She hastily withdrew.
“This atmosphere is injurious, injurious to you, young man,”–said
Lúshin to me once more.
On the evening of that same day the customary visitors assembled at the
Zasyékins’; I was among the number.
The conversation turned on Maidánoff’s poem; Zinaída candidly praised
it.–“But do you know what?”–she said:–“If I were a poet, I would
select other subjects. Perhaps this is all nonsense, but strange
thoughts sometimes come into my head, especially when I am wakeful
toward morning, when the sky is beginning to turn pink and grey.–I
would, for example…. You will not laugh at me?”
“No! No!”–we all exclaimed with one voice.
“I would depict,”–she went on, crossing her arms on her breast, and
turning her eyes aside,–“a whole company of young girls, by night, in a
big boat, on a tranquil river. The moon is shining, and they are all in
white and wear garlands of white flowers, and they are singing, you
know, something in the nature of a hymn.”
“I understand, I understand, go on,”–said Maidánoff significantly and
“Suddenly there is a noise–laughter, torches, tambourines on the
shore…. It is a throng of bacchantes running with songs and outcries.
It is your business to draw the picture, Mr. Poet … only I would like
to have the torches red and very smoky, and that the eyes of the
bacchantes should gleam beneath their wreaths, and that the wreaths
should be dark. Don’t forget also tiger-skins and cups–and gold, a
great deal of gold.”
“But where is the gold to be?” inquired Maidánoff, tossing back his lank
hair and inflating his nostrils.
“Where? On the shoulders, the hands, the feet, everywhere. They say that
in ancient times women wore golden rings on their ankles.–The
bacchantes call the young girls in the boat to come to them. The girls
have ceased to chant their hymn,–they cannot go on with it,–but they
do not stir; the river drifts them to the shore. And now suddenly one of
them rises quietly…. This must be well described: how she rises
quietly in the moonlight, and how startled her companions are…. She
has stepped over the edge of the boat, the bacchantes have surrounded
her, they have dashed off into the night, into the gloom…. Present at
this point smoke in clouds; and everything has become thoroughly
confused. Nothing is to be heard but their whimpering, and her wreath
has been left lying on the shore.”
Zinaída ceased speaking. “Oh, she is in love!”–I thought again.
“Is that all?”–asked Maidánoff.
“That is all,”–she replied.
“That cannot be made the subject of an entire poem,”–he remarked
pompously,–“but I will utilise your idea for some lyrical verses.”
“In the romantic vein?”–asked Malévsky.
“Of course, in the romantic vein–in Byron’s style.”
“But in my opinion, Hugo is better than Byron,”–remarked the young
Count, carelessly:–“he is more interesting.”
“Hugo is a writer of the first class,”–rejoined Maidánoff, “and my
friend Tonkoshéeff, in his Spanish romance, ‘El Trovador’….”
“Ah, that’s the book with the question-marks turned upside
“Yes. That is the accepted custom among the Spaniards. I was about to
say that Tonkoshéeff….”
“Come now! You will begin to wrangle again about classicism and
romanticism,”–Zinaída interrupted him again.–“Let us rather play….”
“At forfeits?”–put in Lúshin.
“No, forfeits is tiresome; but at comparisons.” (This game had been
invented by Zinaída herself; some object was named, and each person
tried to compare it with something or other, and the one who matched the
thing with the best comparison received a prize.) She went to the
window. The sun had just set; long, crimson clouds hung high aloft in
“What are those clouds like?”–inquired Zinaída and, without waiting for
our answers, she said:–“I think that they resemble those crimson sails
which were on Cleopatra’s golden ship, when she went to meet Antony. You
were telling me about that not long ago, do you remember, Maidánoff?”
All of us, like Polonius in “Hamlet,” decided that the clouds reminded
us precisely of those sails, and that none of us could find a better
“And how old was Antony at that time?”–asked Zinaída.
“He was assuredly still a young man,”–remarked Malévsky.
“Yes, he was young,”–assented Maidánoff confidently.
“Excuse me,”–exclaimed Lúshin,–“he was over forty years of age.”
“Over forty years of age,”–repeated Zinaída, darting a swift glance at
I soon went home.–“She is in love,” my lips whispered involuntarily….
“But with whom?”
The days passed by. Zinaída grew more and more strange, more and more
incomprehensible. One day I entered her house and found her sitting on a
straw-bottomed chair, with her head pressed against the sharp edge of a
table. She straightened up … her face was again all bathed in tears.
“Ah! It’s you!”–she said, with a harsh grimace.–“Come hither.”
I went up to her: she laid her hand on my head and, suddenly seizing me
by the hair, began to pull it.
“It hurts” … I said at last.
“Ah! It hurts! And doesn’t it hurt me? Doesn’t it hurt me?”–she
“Aï!”–she suddenly cried, perceiving that she had pulled out a small
tuft of my hair.–“What have I done? Poor M’sieu Voldemar!” She
carefully straightened out the hairs she had plucked out, wound them
round her finger, and twisted them into a ring.
“I will put your hair in my locket and wear it,”–she said, and tears
glistened in her eyes.–“Perhaps that will comfort you a little … but
I returned home and found an unpleasant state of things there. A scene
was in progress between my father and my mother; she was upbraiding him
for something or other, while he, according to his wont, was maintaining
a cold, polite silence–and speedily went away. I could not hear what my
mother was talking about, neither did I care to know: I remember only,
that, at the conclusion of the scene, she ordered me to be called to her
boudoir, and expressed herself with great dissatisfaction about my
frequent visits at the house of the old Princess, who was, according to
her assertions, _une femme capable de tout_. I kissed her hand (I always
did that when I wanted to put an end to the conversation), and went off
to my own room. Zinaída’s tears had completely discomfited me; I
positively did not know what to think, and was ready to cry myself: I
was still a child, in spite of my sixteen years. I thought no more of
Malévsky, although Byelovzóroff became more and more menacing every day,
and glared at the shifty Count like a wolf at a sheep; but I was not
thinking of anything or of anybody. I lost myself in conjectures and
kept seeking isolated spots. I took a special fancy to the ruins of the
hothouse. I could clamber up on the high wall, seat myself, and sit
there such an unhappy, lonely, and sad youth that I felt sorry for
myself–and how delightful those mournful sensations were, how I gloated
One day, I was sitting thus on the wall, gazing off into the distance
and listening to the chiming of the bells … when suddenly something
ran over me–not a breeze exactly, not a shiver, but something
resembling a breath, the consciousness of some one’s proximity…. I
dropped my eyes. Below me, in a light grey gown, with a pink parasol on
her shoulder, Zinaída was walking hastily along the road. She saw me,
halted, and, pushing up the brim of her straw hat, raised her velvety
eyes to mine.
“What are you doing there, on such a height?”–she asked me, with a
strange sort of smile.–“There now,”–she went on,–“you are always
declaring that you love me–jump down to me here on the road if you
really do love me.”
Before the words were well out of Zinaída’s mouth I had flown down,
exactly as though some one had given me a push from behind. The wall was
about two fathoms high. I landed on the ground with my feet, but the
shock was so violent that I could not retain my balance; I fell, and
lost consciousness for a moment. When I came to myself I felt, without
opening my eyes, that Zinaída was by my side.–“My dear boy,”–she was
saying, as she bent over me–and tender anxiety was audible in her
voice–“how couldst thou do that, how couldst thou obey?… I love thee
Her breast was heaving beside me, her hands were touching my head, and
suddenly–what were my sensations then!–her soft, fresh lips began to
cover my whole face with kisses … they touched my lips…. But at this
point Zinaída probably divined from the expression of my face that I had
already recovered consciousness, although I still did not open my
eyes–and swiftly rising to her feet, she said:–“Come, get up, you
rogue, you foolish fellow! Why do you lie there in the dust?”–I got up.
“Give me my parasol,”–said Zinaída.–“I have thrown it somewhere; and
don’t look at me like that what nonsense is this? You are hurt? You have
burned yourself with the nettles, I suppose. Don’t look at me like that,
I tell you…. Why, he understands nothing, he doesn’t answer me,”–she
added, as though speaking to herself…. “Go home, M’sieu Voldemar,
brush yourself off, and don’t dare to follow me–if you do I shall be
very angry, and I shall never again….”
She did not finish her speech and walked briskly away, while I sat down
by the roadside … my legs would not support me. The nettles had stung
my hands, my back ached, and my head was reeling; but the sensation of
beatitude which I then experienced has never since been repeated in my
life. It hung like a sweet pain in all my limbs and broke out at last in
rapturous leaps and exclamations. As a matter of fact, I was still a
I was so happy and proud all that day; I preserved so vividly on my
visage the feeling of Zinaída’s kisses; I recalled her every word with
such ecstasy; I so cherished my unexpected happiness that I even became
frightened; I did not even wish to see her who was the cause of those
new sensations. It seemed to me that I could ask nothing more of Fate,
that now I must “take and draw a deep breath for the last time, and
die.” On the other hand, when I set off for the wing next day, I felt a
great agitation, which I vainly endeavoured to conceal beneath the
discreet facial ease suitable for a man who wishes to let it be
understood that he knows how to keep a secret. Zinaída received me very
simply, without any emotion, merely shaking her finger at me and asking:
Had I any bruises? All my discreet ease of manner and mysteriousness
instantly disappeared, and along with them my agitation. Of course I had
not expected anything in particular, but Zinaída’s composure acted on me
like a dash of cold water. I understood that I was a child in her
eyes–and my heart waxed very heavy! Zinaída paced to and fro in the
room, smiling swiftly every time she glanced at me; but her thoughts
were far away, I saw that clearly…. “Shall I allude to what happened
yesterday myself,”–I thought;–“shall I ask her where she was going in
such haste, in order to find out, definitively?” … but I merely waved
my hand in despair and sat down in a corner.
Byelovzóroff entered; I was delighted to see him.
“I have not found you a gentle saddle-horse,”–he began in a surly
tone;–“Freitag vouches to me for one–but I am not convinced. I am
“Of what are you afraid, allow me to inquire?” asked Zinaída.
“Of what? Why, you don’t know how to ride. God forbid that any accident
should happen! And what has put that freak into your head?”
“Come, that’s my affair, M’sieu my wild beast. In that case, I will ask
Piótr Vasílievitch”…. (My father was called Piótr Vasílievitch…. I
was amazed that she should mention his name so lightly and freely,
exactly as though she were convinced of his readiness to serve her.)
“You don’t say so!”–retorted Byelovzóroff.–“Is it with him that you
wish to ride?”
“With him or some one else,–that makes no difference to you. Only not
“Not with me,”–said Byelovzóroff.–“As you like. What does it matter? I
will get you the horse.”
“But see to it that it is not a cow-like beast. I warn you in advance
that I mean to gallop.”
“Gallop, if you wish…. But is it with Malévsky that you are going to
“And why shouldn’t I ride with him, warrior? Come, quiet down. I’ll take
you too. You know that for me Malévsky is now–fie!”–She shook her
“You say that just to console me,”–growled Byelovzóroff.
Zinaída narrowed her eyes.–“Does that console you? oh … oh oh …
warrior!”–she said at last, as though unable to find any other
word.–“And would you like to ride with us, M’sieu Voldemar?”
“I’m not fond of riding … in a large party,” … I muttered, without
raising my eyes.
“You prefer a _tête-à-tête_?… Well, every one to his taste,”–she
said, with a sigh.–“But go, Byelovzóroff, make an effort. I want the
horse for to-morrow.”
“Yes; but where am I to get the money?”–interposed the old Princess.
“I am not asking any from you; Byelovzóroff will trust me.”
“He will, he will,” grumbled the old Princess–and suddenly screamed at
the top of her voice:–“Dunyáshka!”
“_Maman_, I made you a present of a bell,”–remarked the young Princess.
“Dunyáshka!”–repeated the old woman.
Byelovzóroff bowed himself out; I went out with him. Zinaída did not
I rose early the next morning, cut myself a staff, and went off beyond
the city barrier. “I’ll have a walk and banish my grief,”–I said to
myself. It was a beautiful day, brilliant but not too hot; a cheerful,
fresh breeze was blowing over the earth and rustling and playing
moderately, keeping in constant motion and agitating nothing. For a long
time I roamed about on the hills and in the forests. I did not feel
happy; I had left home with the intention of surrendering myself to
melancholy;–but youth, the fine weather, the fresh air, the diversion
of brisk pedestrian exercise, the delight of lying in solitude on the
thick grass, produced their effect; the memory of those unforgettable
words, of those kisses, again thrust themselves into my soul. It was
pleasant to me to think that Zinaída could not, nevertheless, fail to do
justice to my decision, to my heroism…. “Others are better for her
than I,”–I thought:–“so be it! On the other hand, the others only say
what they will do, but I have done it! And what else am I capable of
doing for her?”–My imagination began to ferment. I began to picture to
myself how I would save her from the hands of enemies; how, all bathed
in blood, I would wrest her out of prison; how I would die at her feet.
I recalled a picture which hung in our drawing-room of Malek-Adel
carrying off Matilda–and thereupon became engrossed in the appearance
of a big, speckled woodpecker which was busily ascending the slender
trunk of a birch-tree, and uneasily peering out from behind it, now on
the right, now on the left, like a musician from behind the neck of his
Then I began to sing: “Not the white snows,”–and ran off into the
romance which was well known at that period, “I will await thee when the
playful breeze”; then I began to recite aloud Ermák’s invocation to the
stars in Khomyakóff’s tragedy; I tried to compose something in a
sentimental vein; I even thought out the line wherewith the whole poem
was to conclude: “Oh, Zinaída! Zinaída!”–But it came to nothing.
Meanwhile, dinner-time was approaching. I descended into the valley; a
narrow, sandy path wound through it and led toward the town. I strolled
along that path…. The dull trampling of horses’ hoofs resounded behind
me. I glanced round, involuntarily came to a standstill and pulled off
my cap. I beheld my father and Zinaída. They were riding side by side.
My father was saying something to her, bending his whole body toward
her, and resting his hand on the neck of her horse; he was smiling.
Zinaída was listening to him in silence, with her eyes severely downcast
and lips compressed. At first I saw only them; it was not until several
moments later that Byelovzóroff made his appearance from round a turn in
the valley, dressed in hussar uniform with pelisse, and mounted on a
foam-flecked black horse. The good steed was tossing his head, snorting
and curvetting; the rider was both reining him in and spurring him on.
I stepped aside. My father gathered up his reins and moved away from
Zinaída; she slowly raised her eyes to his–and both set off at a
gallop…. Byelovzóroff dashed headlong after them with clanking sword.
“He is as red as a crab,”–I thought,–“and she…. Why is she so pale?
She has been riding the whole morning–and yet she is pale?”
I redoubled my pace and managed to reach home just before dinner. My
father was already sitting, re-dressed, well-washed and fresh, beside my
mother’s arm-chair, and reading aloud to her in his even, sonorous
voice, the feuilleton of the _Journal des Débats_; but my mother was
listening to him inattentively and, on catching sight of me, inquired
where I had been all day, adding, that she did not like to have me
prowling about God only knew where and God only knew with whom. “But I
have been walking alone,”–I was on the point of replying; but I glanced
at my father and for some reason or other held my peace.
During the course of the next five or six days I hardly saw Zinaída; she
gave it out that she was ill, which did not, however, prevent the
habitual visitors from presenting themselves at the wing–“to take their
turn in attendance,”–as they expressed it;–all except Maidánoff, who
immediately became dispirited as soon as he had no opportunity to go
into raptures. Byelovzóroff sat morosely in a corner, all tightly
buttoned up and red in the face; on Count Malévsky’s delicate visage
hovered constantly a sort of evil smile; he really had fallen into
disfavour with Zinaída and listened with particular pains to the old
Princess, and drove with her to the Governor-General’s in a hired
carriage. But this trip proved unsuccessful and even resulted in an
unpleasantness for Malévsky: he was reminded of some row with certain
Putéisk officers, and was compelled, in self-justification, to say that
he was inexperienced at the time. Lúshin came twice a day, but did not
remain long. I was somewhat afraid of him after our last explanation
and, at the same time, I felt a sincere attachment for him. One day he
went for a stroll with me in the Neskútchny Park, was very good-natured
and amiable, imparted to me the names and properties of various plants
and flowers, and suddenly exclaimed–without rhyme or reason, as the
saying is–as he smote himself on the brow: “And I, like a fool, thought
she was a coquette! Evidently, it is sweet to sacrifice one’s self–for
“What do you mean to say by that?”–I asked.
“I don’t mean to say anything to you,”–returned Lúshin, abruptly.
Zinaída avoided me; my appearance–I could not but perceive the
fact–produced an unpleasant impression on her. She involuntarily turned
away from me … involuntarily; that was what was bitter, that was what
broke my heart! But there was no help for it and I tried to keep out of
her sight and only stand guard over her from a distance, in which I was
not always successful. As before, something incomprehensible was taking
place with her; her face had become different–she was altogether a
different person. I was particularly struck by the change which had
taken place in her on a certain warm, tranquil evening. I was sitting on
a low bench under a wide-spreading elder-bush; I loved that little nook;
the window of Zinaída’s chamber was visible thence. I was sitting there;
over my head, in the darkened foliage, a tiny bird was rummaging fussily
about; a great cat with outstretched back had stolen into the garden,
and the first beetles were booming heavily in the air, which was still
transparent although no longer light. I sat there and stared at the
window, and waited to see whether some one would not open it: and, in
fact, it did open, and Zinaída made her appearance in it. She wore a
white gown, and she herself–her face, her shoulders and her hands–was
pale to whiteness. She remained for a long time motionless, and for a
long time stared, without moving, straight in front of her from beneath
her contracted brows. I did not recognise that look in her. Then she
clasped her hands very, very tightly, raised them to her lips, to her
forehead–and suddenly, unlocking her fingers, pushed her hair away from
her ears, shook it back and, throwing her head downward from above with
a certain decisiveness, she shut the window with a bang.
Two days later she met me in the park. I tried to step aside, but she
“Give me your hand”–she said to me, with her former affection.–“It is
a long time since you and I have had a chat.”
I looked at her; her eyes were beaming softly and her face was smiling,
as though athwart a mist.
“Are you still ailing?”–I asked her.
“No, everything has passed off now,”–she replied, breaking off a small,
red rose.–“I am a little tired, but that will pass off also.”
“And will you be once more the same as you used to be?”–I queried.
Zinaída raised the rose to her face, and it seemed to me as though the
reflection of the brilliant petals fell upon her cheeks.–“Have I
changed?”–she asked me.
“Yes, you have changed,”–I replied in a low voice.
“I was cold toward you,–I know that,”–began Zinaída;–“but you must
not pay any heed to that…. I could not do otherwise…. Come, what’s
the use of talking about that?”
“You do not want me to love you–that’s what!” I exclaimed gloomily,
with involuntary impetuosity.
“Yes, love me, but not as before.”
“Let us be friends,–that is how!”–Zinaída allowed me to smell of the
rose.–“Listen; I am much older than you, you know–I might be your
aunt, really; well, if not your aunt, then your elder sister. While
“I am a child to you,”–I interrupted her.
“Well, yes, you are a child, but a dear, good, clever child, of whom I
am very fond. Do you know what? I will appoint you to the post of my
page from this day forth; and you are not to forget that pages must not
be separated from their mistress. Here is a token of your new dignity
for you,”–she added, sticking the rose into the button-hole of my
round-jacket; “a token of our favour toward you.”
“I have received many favours from you in the past,”–I murmured.
“Ah!”–said Zinaída, and darting a sidelong glance at me.–“What a
memory you have! Well? And I am ready now also….”
And bending toward me, she imprinted on my brow a pure, calm kiss.
I only stared at her–but she turned away and, saying,–“Follow me, my
page,”–walked to the wing. I followed her–and was in a constant state
of bewilderment.–“Is it possible,”–I thought,–“that this gentle,
sensible young girl is that same Zinaída whom I used to know?”–And her
very walk seemed to me more quiet, her whole figure more majestic, more
And, my God! with what fresh violence did love flame up within me!
After dinner the visitors were assembled again in the wing, and the
young Princess came out to them. The whole company was present, in full
force, as on that first evening, never to be forgotten by me: even
Nirmátzky had dragged himself thither. Maidánoff had arrived earlier
than all the rest; he had brought some new verses. The game of forfeits
began again, but this time without the strange sallies, without pranks
and uproar; the gipsy element had vanished. Zinaída gave a new mood to
our gathering. I sat beside her, as a page should. Among other things,
she proposed that the one whose forfeit was drawn should narrate his
dream; but this was not a success. The dreams turned out to be either
uninteresting (Byelovzóroff had dreamed that he had fed his horse on
carp, and that it had a wooden head), or unnatural, fictitious.
Maidánoff regaled us with a complete novel; there were sepulchres and
angels with harps, and burning lights and sounds wafted from afar.
Zinaída did not allow him to finish. “If it is a question of
invention,”–said she,–“then let each one relate something which is
positively made up.”–Byelovzóroff had to speak first.
The young hussar became confused.–“I cannot invent anything!”–he
“What nonsense!”–interposed Zinaída.–“Come, imagine, for instance,
that you are married, and tell us how you would pass the time with your
wife. Would you lock her up?”
“And would you sit with her yourself?”
“I certainly would sit with her myself.”
“Very good. Well, and what if that bored her, and she betrayed you?”
“I would kill her.”
“Just so. Well, now supposing that I were your wife, what would you do
Byelovzóroff made no answer for a while.–“I would kill myself….”
Zinaída burst out laughing.–“I see that there’s not much to be got out
The second forfeit fell to Zinaída’s share. She raised her eyes to the
ceiling and meditated.–“See here,”–she began at last,–“this is what I
have devised…. Imagine to yourselves a magnificent palace, a summer
night, and a marvellous ball. This ball is given by the young Queen.
Everywhere there are gold, marble, silk, lights, diamonds, flowers, the
smoke of incense–all the whims of luxury.”
“Do you love luxury?”–interrupted Lúshin.
“Luxury is beautiful,”–she returned;–“I love everything that is
“More than what is fine?”–he asked.
“That is difficult; somehow I don’t understand. Don’t bother me. So
then, there is a magnificent ball. There are many guests, they are all
young, very handsome, brave; all are desperately in love with the
“Are there no women among the guests?”–inquired Malévsky.
“No–or stay–yes, there are.”
“Also very handsome?”
“Charming. But the men are all in love with the Queen. She is tall and
slender; she wears a small gold diadem on her black hair.”
I looked at Zinaída–and at that moment she seemed so far above us, her
white forehead and her impassive eyebrows exhaled so much clear
intelligence and such sovereignty, that I said to myself: “Thou thyself
art that Queen!”
“All throng around her,”–pursued Zinaída;–“all lavish the most
flattering speeches on her.”
“And is she fond of flattery?”–asked Lúshin.
“How intolerable! He is continually interrupting…. Who does not like
“One more final question,”–remarked Malévsky:–“Has the Queen a
“I have not thought about that. No, why should she have a husband?”
“Of course,”–assented Malévsky;–“why should she have a husband?”
“Silence!”–exclaimed, in English, Maidánoff, who spoke French badly.
“_Merci_,”–said Zinaída to him.–“So then, the Queen listens to those
speeches, listens to the music, but does not look at a single one of the
guests. Six windows are open from top to bottom, from ceiling to floor,
and behind them are the dark sky with great stars and the dark garden
with huge trees. The Queen gazes into the garden. There, near the trees
is a fountain: it gleams white athwart the gloom–long, as long as a
spectre. The Queen hears the quiet plashing of its waters in the midst
of the conversation and the music. She gazes and thinks: ‘All of you
gentlemen are noble, clever, wealthy; you are all ready to die at my
feet, I rule over you; … but yonder, by the side of the fountain, by
the side of that plashing water, there is standing and waiting for me
the man whom I love, who rules over me. He wears no rich garments, nor
precious jewels; no one knows him; but he is waiting for me, and is
convinced that I shall come–and I shall come, and there is no power in
existence which can stop me when I wish to go to him and remain with
him and lose myself with him yonder, in the gloom of the park, beneath
the rustling of the trees, beneath the plashing of the fountain….’”
Zinaída ceased speaking.
“Is that an invention?”–asked Malévsky slyly.
Zinaída did not even glance at him.
“But what should we do, gentlemen,”–suddenly spoke up Lúshin,–“if we
were among the guests and knew about that lucky man by the fountain?”
“Stay, stay,”–interposed Zinaída:–“I myself will tell you what each
one of you would do. You, Byelovzóroff, would challenge him to a duel;
you, Maidánoff, would write an epigram on him…. But no–you do not
know how to write epigrams; you would compose a long iambic poem on him,
after the style of Barbier, and would insert your production in the
_Telegraph_. You, Nirmátzky, would borrow from him … no, you would
lend him money on interest; you, doctor….” She paused…. “I really do
not know about you,–what you would do.”
“In my capacity of Court-physician,” replied Lúshin, “I would advise the
Queen not to give balls when she did not feel in the mood for
“Perhaps you would be in the right. And you, Count?”
“And I?”–repeated Malévsky, with an evil smile.
“And you would offer him some poisoned sugar-plums.”
Malévsky’s face writhed a little and assumed for a moment a Jewish
expression; but he immediately burst into a guffaw.
“As for you, M’sieu Voldemar….” went on Zinaída,–“but enough of this;
let us play at some other game.”
“M’sieu Voldemar, in his capacity of page to the Queen, would hold up
her train when she ran off into the park,”–remarked Malévsky viciously.
I flared up, but Zinaída swiftly laid her hand on my shoulder and
rising, said in a slightly tremulous voice:–“I have never given Your
Radiance the right to be insolent, and therefore I beg that you will
withdraw.”–She pointed him to the door.
“Have mercy, Princess,”–mumbled Malévsky, turning pale all over.
“The Princess is right,”–exclaimed Byelovzóroff, rising to his feet
“By God! I never in the least expected this,”–went on Malévsky:–“I
think there was nothing in my words which…. I had no intention of
offending you…. Forgive me.”
Zinaída surveyed him with a cold glance, and smiled coldly.–“Remain, if
you like,”–she said, with a careless wave of her hand.–“M’sieu
Voldemar and I have taken offence without cause. You find it merry to
jest…. I wish you well.”
“Forgive me,”–repeated Malévsky once more; and I, recalling Zinaída’s
movement, thought again that a real queen could not have ordered an
insolent man out of the room with more majesty.
The game of forfeits did not continue long after this little scene; all
felt somewhat awkward, not so much in consequence of the scene itself as
from another, not entirely defined, but oppressive sensation. No one
alluded to it, but each one was conscious of its existence within
himself and in his neighbour. Maidánoff recited to us all his poems–and
Malévsky lauded them with exaggerated warmth.
“How hard he is trying to appear amiable now,”–Lúshin whispered to me.
We soon dispersed. Zinaída had suddenly grown pensive; the old Princess
sent word that she had a headache; Nirmátzky began to complain of his
For a long time I could not get to sleep; Zinaída’s narrative had
impressed me.–“Is it possible that it contains a hint?”–I asked
myself:–“and at whom was she hinting? And if there really is some one
to hint about … what must I decide to do? No, no, it cannot be,”–I
whispered, turning over from one burning cheek to the other…. But I
called to mind the expression of Zinaída’s face during her narration….
I called to mind the exclamation which had broken from Lúshin in the
Neskútchny Park, the sudden changes in her treatment of me–and lost
myself in conjectures. “Who is he?” Those three words seemed to stand in
front of my eyes, outlined in the darkness; a low-lying, ominous cloud
seemed to be hanging over me–and I felt its pressure–and waited every
moment for it to burst. I had grown used to many things of late; I had
seen many things at the Zasyékins’; their disorderliness, tallow
candle-ends, broken knives and forks, gloomy Vonifáty, the shabby maids,
the manners of the old Princess herself,–all that strange life no
longer surprised me…. But to that which I now dimly felt in Zinaída I
could not get used…. “An adventuress,”–my mother had one day said
concerning her. An adventuress–she, my idol, my divinity! That
appellation seared me; I tried to escape from it by burrowing into my
pillow; I raged–and at the same time, to what would not I have agreed,
what would not I have given, if only I might be that happy mortal by the
My blood grew hot and seethed within me. “A garden … a fountain,” …
I thought…. “I will go into the garden.” I dressed myself quickly and
slipped out of the house. The night was dark, the trees were barely
whispering; a quiet chill was descending from the sky, an odour of
fennel was wafted from the vegetable-garden. I made the round of all the
alleys; the light sound of my footsteps both disconcerted me and gave me
courage; I halted, waiting and listening to hear how my heart was
beating quickly and violently. At last I approached the fence and leaned
against a slender post. All at once–or was it only my imagination?–a
woman’s figure flitted past a few paces distant from me…. I strained
my eyes intently on the darkness; I held my breath. What was this? Was
it footsteps that I heard or was it the thumping of my heart
again?–“Who is here?”–I stammered in barely audible tones. What was
that again? A suppressed laugh?… or a rustling in the leaves?… or a
sigh close to my very ear? I was terrified…. “Who is here?”–I
repeated, in a still lower voice.
The breeze began to flutter for a moment; a fiery band flashed across
the sky; a star shot down.–“Is it Zinaída?”–I tried to ask, but the
sound died on my lips. And suddenly everything became profoundly silent
all around, as often happens in the middle of the night…. Even the
katydids ceased to shrill in the trees; only a window rattled somewhere.
I stood and stood, then returned to my chamber, to my cold bed. I felt a
strange agitation–exactly as though I had gone to a tryst, and had
remained alone, and had passed by some one else’s happiness.
The next day I caught only a glimpse of Zinaída; she drove away
somewhere with the old Princess in a hired carriage. On the other hand,
I saw Lúshin–who, however, barely deigned to bestow a greeting on
me–and Malévsky. The young Count grinned and entered into conversation
with me in friendly wise. Among all the visitors to the wing he alone
had managed to effect an entrance to our house, and my mother had taken
a fancy to him. My father did not favour him and treated him politely to
the point of insult.
“Ah, _monsieur le page_,”–began Malévsky,–“I am very glad to meet you.
What is your beauteous queen doing?”
His fresh, handsome face was so repulsive to me at that moment, and he
looked at me with such a scornfully-playful stare, that I made him no
“Are you still in a bad humour?”–he went on.–“There is no occasion for
it. It was not I, you know, who called you a page; and pages are chiefly
with queens. But permit me to observe to you that you are fulfilling
your duties badly.”
“Pages ought to be inseparable from their sovereigns; pages ought to
know everything that they do; they ought even to watch over them,”–he
added, lowering his voice,–“day and night.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“What do I mean? I think I have expressed myself plainly. Day–and
night. It does not matter so much about the day; by day it is light and
there are people about; but by night–that’s exactly the time to expect
a catastrophe. I advise you not to sleep o’nights and to watch, watch
with all your might. Remember–in a garden, by night, near the
fountain–that’s where you must keep guard. You will thank me for this.”
Malévsky laughed and turned his back on me. He did not, in all
probability, attribute any special importance to what he had said to me;
he bore the reputation of being a capital hand at mystification, and was
renowned for his cleverness in fooling people at the masquerades, in
which that almost unconscious disposition to lie, wherewith his whole
being was permeated, greatly aided him…. He had merely wished to tease
me; but every word of his trickled like poison through all my
veins.–The blood flew to my head.
“Ah! so that’s it!”–I said to myself:–“good! So it was not for nothing
that I felt drawn to the garden! That shall not be!” I exclaimed,
smiting myself on the breast with my fist; although I really did not
know what it was that I was determined not to permit.–“Whether Malévsky
himself comes into the garden,”–I thought (perhaps he had blurted out a
secret; he was insolent enough for that),–“or some one else,”–(the
fence of our vegetable-garden was very low and it cost no effort to
climb over it)–“at any rate, it will be all the worse for the person
whom I catch! I would not advise any one to encounter me! I’ll show the
whole world and her, the traitress,”–(I actually called her a
traitress)–“that I know how to avenge myself!”
I returned to my own room, took out of my writing-table a recently
purchased English knife, felt of the sharp blade, and, knitting my
brows, thrust it into my pocket with a cold and concentrated decision,
exactly as though it was nothing remarkable for me to do such deeds, and
this was not the first occasion. My heart swelled angrily within me and
grew stony; I did not unbend my brows until nightfall and did not relax
my lips, and kept striding back and forth, clutching the knife which had
grown warm in my pocket, and preparing myself in advance for something
terrible. These new, unprecedented emotions so engrossed and even
cheered me, that I thought very little about Zinaída herself. There kept
constantly flitting through my head Aleko, the young gipsy:–“Where
art thou going, handsome youth?–Lie down….” and then: “Thou’rt all
with blood bespattered!… Oh, what is’t that thou hast done?…
Nothing!” With what a harsh smile I repeated that: that “Nothing!”
My father was not at home; but my mother, who for some time past had
been in a state of almost constant, dull irritation, noticed my baleful
aspect at supper, and said to me:–“What art thou sulking at, like a
mouse at groats?”–I merely smiled patronisingly at her by way of reply
and thought to myself: “If they only knew!”–The clock struck eleven; I
went to my own room but did not undress; I was waiting for midnight; at
last it struck.–“’Tis time!”–I hissed between my teeth, and buttoning
my coat to the throat and even turning up my sleeves I betook myself to
I had selected a place beforehand where I meant to stand on guard. At
the end of the garden, at the spot where the fence, which separated our
property from the Zasyékins’, abutted on the party-wall, grew a solitary
spruce-tree. Standing beneath its low, thick branches, I could see well,
as far as the nocturnal gloom permitted, all that went on around; there
also meandered a path which always seemed to me mysterious; like a
serpent it wound under the fence, which at that point bore traces of
clambering feet, and led to an arbour of dense acacias. I reached the
spruce-tree, leaned against its trunk and began my watch.
The night was as tranquil as the preceding one had been; but there were
fewer storm-clouds in the sky, and the outlines of the bushes, even of
the tall flowers, were more plainly discernible. The first moments of
waiting were wearisome, almost terrible. I had made up my mind to
everything; I was merely considering how I ought to act. Ought I to
thunder out: “Who goes there? Halt! Confess–or die!”–or simply
smite…. Every sound, every noise and rustling seemed to me
significant, unusual…. I made ready…. I bent forward…. But half an
hour, an hour, elapsed; my blood quieted down and turned cold; the
consciousness that I was doing all this in vain, that I was even
somewhat ridiculous, that Malévsky had been making fun of me, began to
steal into my soul. I abandoned my ambush and made the round of the
entire garden. As though expressly, not the slightest sound was to be
heard anywhere; everything was at rest; even our dog was asleep, curled
up in a ball at the gate. I climbed up on the ruin of the hothouse,
beheld before me the distant plain, recalled my meeting with Zinaída,
and became immersed in meditation….
I started…. I thought I heard the creak of an opening door, then the
light crackling of a broken twig. In two bounds I had descended from
the ruin–and stood petrified on the spot. Swift, light but cautious
footsteps were plainly audible in the garden. They were coming toward
me. “Here he is…. Here he is, at last!”–darted through my heart. I
convulsively jerked the knife out of my pocket, convulsively opened
it–red sparks whirled before my eyes, the hair stood up on my head with
fright and wrath…. The steps were coming straight toward me–I bent
over, and went to meet them…. A man made his appearance…. My God! It
was my father!
I recognised him instantly, although he was all enveloped in a dark
cloak,–and had pulled his hat down over his face. He went past me on
tiptoe. He did not notice me although nothing concealed me; but I had so
contracted myself and shrunk together that I think I must have been on a
level with the ground. The jealous Othello, prepared to murder, had
suddenly been converted into the school-boy…. I was so frightened by
the unexpected apparition of my father that I did not even take note, at
first, in what direction he was going and where he had disappeared. I
merely straightened up at the moment and thought: “Why is my father
walking in the garden by night?”–when everything around had relapsed
into silence. In my alarm I had dropped my knife in the grass, but I did
not even try to find it; I felt very much ashamed. I became sobered on
the instant. But as I wended my way home, I stepped up to my little
bench under the elder-bush and cast a glance at the little window of
Zinaída’s chamber. The small, somewhat curved panes of the little window
gleamed dully blue in the faint light which fell from the night sky.
Suddenly their colour began to undergo a change…. Behind them–I saw
it, saw it clearly,–a whitish shade was lowered, descended to the
sill,–and there remained motionless.
“What is the meaning of that?”–I said aloud, almost involuntarily, when
I again found myself in my own room.–“Was it a dream, an accident,
or….” The surmises which suddenly came into my head were so new and
strange that I dared not even yield to them.
I rose in the morning with a headache. My agitation of the night before
had vanished. It had been replaced by an oppressive perplexity and a
certain, hitherto unknown sadness,–exactly as though something had died
“What makes you look like a rabbit which has had half of its brain
removed?”–said Lúshin, who happened to meet me. At breakfast I kept
casting covert glances now at my father, now at my mother; he was calm,
as usual; she, as usual, was secretly irritated. I waited to see
whether my father would address me in a friendly way, as he sometimes
did…. But he did not even caress me with his cold, everyday
affection.–“Shall I tell Zinaída all?”–I thought…. “For it makes no
difference now–everything is over between us.” I went to her, but I not
only did not tell her anything,–I did not even get a chance to talk to
her as I would have liked. The old Princess’s son, a cadet aged twelve,
had come from Petersburg to spend his vacation with her; Zinaída
immediately confided her brother to me.–“Here, my dear Volódya,”–said
she (she called me so for the first time), “is a comrade for you. His
name is Volódya also. Pray, like him; he’s a wild little fellow still,
but he has a good heart. Show him Neskútchny Park, walk with him, take
him under your protection. You will do that, will you not? You, too, are
such a good fellow!”–She laid both hands affectionately on my
shoulder–and I was reduced to utter confusion. The arrival of that boy
turned me into a boy. I stared in silence at the cadet, who riveted his
eyes in corresponding silence on me. Zinaída burst out laughing and
pushed us toward each other.–“Come, embrace, children!”–We
embraced.–“I’ll take you into the garden if you wish,–shall I?”–I
asked the cadet.
“Certainly, sir,”–he replied, in a hoarse, genuine cadet voice. Again
Zinaída indulged in a burst of laughter…. I managed to notice that
never before had she had such charming colour in her face. The cadet and
I went off together. In our garden stood an old swing. I seated him on
the thin little board and began to swing him. He sat motionless in his
new little uniform of thick cloth with broad gold galloon, and clung
tightly to the ropes.
“You had better unhook your collar,”–I said to him.
“Never mind, sir, we are used to it, sir,”–he said, and cleared his
He resembled his sister; his eyes were particularly suggestive of her.
It was pleasant to me to be of service to him; and, at the same time,
that aching pain kept quietly gnawing at my heart. “Now I really am a
child,” I thought; “but last night….” I remembered where I had dropped
my knife and found it. The cadet asked me to lend it to him, plucked a
thick stalk of lovage, cut a whistle from it, and began to pipe. Othello
But in the evening, on the other hand, how he did weep, that same
Othello, over Zinaída’s hands when, having sought him out in a corner of
the garden, she asked him what made him so melancholy. My tears streamed
with such violence that she was frightened.–“What is the matter with
you? What is the matter with you, Volódya?”–she kept repeating, and
seeing that I made her no reply, she took it into her head to kiss my
wet cheek. But I turned away from her and whispered through my sobs:–“I
know everything: why have you trifled with me?… Why did you want my
“I am to blame toward you, Volódya” … said Zinaída.–“Akh, I am very
much to blame” … she said, and clenched her hands.–“How much evil,
dark, sinful, there is in me!… But I am not trifling with you now, I
love you–you do not suspect why and how…. But what is it you know?”
What could I say to her? She stood before me and gazed at me–and I
belonged to her wholly, from head to foot, as soon as she looked at
me…. A quarter of an hour later I was running a race with the cadet
and Zinaída; I was not weeping; I was laughing, although my swollen
eyelids dropped tears from laughing; on my neck, in place of a tie, was
bound a ribbon of Zinaída’s, and I shouted with joy when I succeeded in
seizing her round the waist. She did with me whatsoever she would.
I should be hard put to it, if I were made to narrate in detail all that
went on within me in the course of the week which followed my
unsuccessful nocturnal expedition. It was a strange, feverish time, a
sort of chaos in which the most opposite emotions, thoughts, suspicions,
hopes, joys, and sufferings revolved in a whirlwind; I was afraid to
look into myself, if a sixteen-year-old can look into himself; I was
afraid to account to myself for anything whatsoever; I simply made haste
to live through the day until the evening; on the other hand, at night I
slept … childish giddiness helped me. I did not want to know whether I
was beloved, and would not admit to myself that I was not beloved; I
shunned my father–but could not shun Zinaída…. I burned as with fire
in her presence, … but what was the use of my knowing what sort of
fire it was wherewith I burned and melted–seeing that it was sweet to
me to burn and melt! I surrendered myself entirely to my impressions,
and dealt artfully with myself, turned away from my memories and shut my
eyes to that of which I had a presentiment in the future…. This
anguish probably would not have continued long … a thunder-clap put an
instantaneous end to everything and hurled me into a new course.
On returning home one day to dinner from a rather long walk, I learned
with surprise that I was to dine alone; that my father had gone away,
while my mother was ill, did not wish to dine and had shut herself up in
her bedroom. From the footmen’s faces I divined that something unusual
had taken place…. I dared not interrogate them, but I had a friend,
the young butler Philípp, who was passionately fond of poetry and an
artist on the guitar; I applied to him. From him I learned that a
frightful scene had taken place between my father and mother (for in the
maids’ room everything was audible, to the last word; a great deal had
been said in French, but the maid Másha had lived for five years with a
dressmaker from Paris and understood it all); that my mother had accused
my father of infidelity, of being intimate with the young lady our
neighbour; that my father had first defended himself, then had flared up
and in his turn had made some harsh remark “seemingly about her age,”
which had set my mother to crying; that my mother had also referred to a
note of hand, which appeared to have been given to the old Princess, and
expressed herself very vilely about her, and about the young lady as
well; and that then my father had threatened her.–“And the whole
trouble arose,”–pursued Philípp, “out of an anonymous letter; but who
wrote it no one knows; otherwise there was no reason why this affair
should have come out.”
“But has there been anything?”–I enunciated with difficulty, while my
hands and feet turned cold, and something began to quiver in the very
depths of my breast.
Philípp winked significantly.–“There has. You can’t conceal such
doings, cautious as your papa has been in this case;–still, what
possessed him, for example, to hire a carriage, or to … for you can’t
get along without people there also.”
I dismissed Philípp, and flung myself down on my bed. I did not sob, I
did not give myself up to despair; I did not ask myself when and how all
this had taken place; I was not surprised that I had not guessed it
sooner, long before–I did not even murmur against my father…. That
which I had learned was beyond my strength; this sudden discovery had
crushed me…. All was over. All my flowers had been plucked up at one
blow and lay strewn around me, scattered and trampled under foot.
On the following day my mother announced that she was going to remove to
town. My father went into her bedroom in the morning and sat there a
long time alone with her. No one heard what he said to her, but my
mother did not weep any more; she calmed down and asked for something to
eat, but did not show herself and did not alter her intention. I
remember that I wandered about all day long, but did not go into the
garden and did not glance even once at the wing–and in the evening I
was the witness of an amazing occurrence; my father took Count Malévsky
by the arm and led him out of the hall into the anteroom and, in the
presence of a lackey, said coldly to him: “Several days ago Your
Radiance was shown the door in a certain house. I shall not enter into
explanations with you now, but I have the honour to inform you that if
you come to my house again I shall fling you through the window. I don’t
like your handwriting.” The Count bowed, set his teeth, shrank together,
Preparations began for removing to town, on the Arbát, where our
house was situated. Probably my father himself no longer cared to remain
in the villa; but it was evident that he had succeeded in persuading my
mother not to make a row. Everything was done quietly, without haste; my
mother even sent her compliments to the old Princess and expressed her
regret that, owing to ill-health, she would be unable to see her before
her departure. I prowled about like a crazy person, and desired but one
thing,–that everything might come to an end as speedily as possible.
One thought never quitted my head: how could she, a young girl,–well,
and a princess into the bargain,–bring herself to such a step, knowing
that my father was not a free man while she had the possibility of
marrying Byelovzóroff at least, for example? What had she hoped for?
How was it that she had not been afraid to ruin her whole
future?–“Yes,”–I thought,–“that’s what love is,–that is
passion,–that is devotion,” … and I recalled Lúshin’s words to me:
“Self-sacrifice is sweet–for some people.” Once I happened to catch
sight of a white spot in one of the windows of the wing…. “Can that be
Zinaída’s face?”–I thought; … and it really was her face. I could not
hold out. I could not part from her without bidding her a last farewell.
I seized a convenient moment and betook myself to the wing.
In the drawing-room the old Princess received me with her customary,
“What has made your folks uneasy so early, my dear fellow?”–she said,
stuffing snuff up both her nostrils. I looked at her, and a weight was
removed from my heart. The word “note of hand” uttered by Philípp
tormented me. She suspected nothing … so it seemed to me then, at
least. Zinaída made her appearance from the adjoining room in a black
gown, pale, with hair out of curl; she silently took me by the hand and
led me away to her room.
“I heard your voice,”–she began,–“and came out at once. And did you
find it so easy to desert us, naughty boy?”
“I have come to take leave of you, Princess,”–I replied,–“probably
forever. You may have heard we are going away.”
Zinaída gazed intently at me.
“Yes, I have heard. Thank you for coming. I was beginning to think that
I should not see you.–Think kindly of me. I have sometimes tormented
you; but nevertheless I am not the sort of person you think I am.”
She turned away and leaned against the window-casing.
“Really, I am not that sort of person. I know that you have a bad
opinion of me.”
“Yes, you … you.”
“I?”–I repeated sorrowfully, and my heart began to quiver as of old,
beneath the influence of the irresistible, inexpressible witchery.–“I?
Believe me, Zinaída Alexándrovna, whatever you may have done, however
you may have tormented me, I shall love and adore you until the end of
She turned swiftly toward me and opening her arms widely, she clasped my
head, and kissed me heartily and warmly. God knows whom that long,
farewell kiss was seeking, but I eagerly tasted its sweetness. I knew
that it would never more be repeated.–“Farewell, farewell!” I kept
She wrenched herself away and left the room. And I withdrew also. I am
unable to describe the feeling with which I retired. I should not wish
ever to have it repeated; but I should consider myself unhappy if I had
never experienced it.
We removed to town. I did not speedily detach myself from the past, I
did not speedily take up my work. My wound healed slowly; but I really
had no evil feeling toward my father. On the contrary, he seemed to have
gained in stature in my eyes … let the psychologists explain this
contradiction as best they may. One day I was walking along the
boulevard when, to my indescribable joy, I encountered Lúshin. I liked
him for his straightforward, sincere character; and, moreover, he was
dear to me in virtue of the memories which he awakened in me. I rushed
“Aha!”–he said, with a scowl.–“Is it you, young man? Come, let me have
a look at you. You are still all sallow, and yet there is not the olden
trash in your eyes. You look like a man, not like a lap-dog. That’s
good. Well, and how are you? Are you working?”
I heaved a sigh. I did not wish to lie, and I was ashamed to tell the
“Well, never mind,”–went on Lúshin,–“don’t be afraid. The principal
thing is to live in normal fashion and not to yield to impulses.
Otherwise, where’s the good? No matter whither the wave bears one–’tis
bad; let a man stand on a stone if need be, but on his own feet. Here I
am croaking … but Byelovzóroff–have you heard about him?”
“What about him? No.”
“He has disappeared without leaving a trace; they say he has gone to the
Caucasus. A lesson to you, young man. And the whole thing arises from
not knowing how to say good-bye,–to break bonds in time. You, now, seem
to have jumped out successfully. Look out, don’t fall in again.
“I shall not fall in,”–I thought…. “I shall see her no more.” But I
was fated to see Zinaída once more.
My father was in the habit of riding on horseback every day; he had a
splendid red-roan English horse, with a long, slender neck and long
legs, indefatigable and vicious. Its name was Electric. No one could
ride it except my father. One day he came to me in a kindly frame of
mind, which had not happened with him for a long time: he was preparing
to ride, and had donned his spurs. I began to entreat him to take me
“Let us, rather, play at leap-frog,”–replied my father,–“for thou wilt
not be able to keep up with me on thy cob.”
“Yes, I shall; I will put on spurs also.”
“Well, come along.”
We set out. I had a shaggy, black little horse, strong on its feet and
fairly spirited; it had to gallop with all its might, it is true, when
Electric was going at a full trot; but nevertheless I did not fall
behind. I have never seen such a horseman as my father. His seat was so
fine and so carelessly-adroit that the horse under him seemed to be
conscious of it and to take pride in it. We rode the whole length of all
the boulevards, reached the Maidens’ Field, leaped over several
enclosures (at first I was afraid to leap, but my father despised timid
people, and I ceased to be afraid), crossed the Moscow river twice;–and
I was beginning to think that we were on our way homeward, the more so
as my father remarked that my horse was tired, when suddenly he turned
away from me in the direction of the Crimean Ford, and galloped along
the shore.–I dashed after him. When he came on a level with a lofty
pile of old beams which lay heaped together, he sprang nimbly from
Electric, ordered me to alight and, handing me the bridle of his horse,
told me to wait for him on that spot, near the beams; then he turned
into a narrow alley and disappeared. I began to pace back and forth
along the shore, leading the horses after me and scolding Electric, who
as he walked kept incessantly twitching his head, shaking himself,
snorting and neighing; when I stood still, he alternately pawed the
earth with his hoof, and squealed and bit my cob on the neck; in a word,
behaved like a spoiled darling, _pur sang_. My father did not return. A
disagreeable humidity was wafted from the river; a fine rain set in and
mottled the stupid, grey beams, around which I was hovering and of which
I was so heartily tired, with tiny, dark spots. Anxiety took possession
of me, but still my father did not come. A Finnish sentry, also all
grey, with a huge, old-fashioned shako, in the form of a pot, on his
head, and armed with a halberd (why should there be a sentry, I thought,
on the shores of the Moscow river?), approached me, and turning his
elderly, wrinkled face to me, he said:
“What are you doing here with those horses, my little gentleman? Hand
them over to me; I’ll hold them.”
I did not answer him; he asked me for some tobacco. In order to rid
myself of him (moreover, I was tortured by impatience), I advanced a few
paces in the direction in which my father had retreated; then I walked
through the alley to the very end, turned a corner, and came to a
standstill. On the street, forty paces distant from me, in front of the
open window of a small wooden house, with his back to me, stood my
father; he was leaning his breast on the window-sill, while in the
house, half concealed by the curtain, sat a woman in a dark gown talking
with my father: the woman was Zinaída.
I stood rooted to the spot in amazement. I must confess that I had in
nowise expected this. My first impulse was to flee. “My father will
glance round,” I thought,–“and then I am lost.”… But a strange
feeling–a feeling more powerful than curiosity, more powerful even than
jealousy, more powerful than fear,–stopped me. I began to stare, I
tried to hear. My father appeared to be insisting upon something.
Zinaída would not consent. I seem to see her face now–sad, serious,
beautiful, and with an indescribable imprint of adoration, grief, love,
and a sort of despair. She uttered monosyllabic words, did not raise her
eyes, and only smiled–submissively and obstinately. From that smile
alone I recognised my former Zinaída. My father shrugged his shoulders,
and set his hat straight on his head–which was always a sign of
impatience with him…. Then the words became audible: “_Vous devez vous
séparer de cette._”… Zinaída drew herself up and stretched out her
hand…. Suddenly, before my very eyes, an incredible thing came to
pass:–all at once, my father raised the riding-whip, with which he had
been lashing the dust from his coat-tails,–and the sound of a sharp
blow on that arm, which was bare to the elbow, rang out. I could hardly
keep from shrieking, but Zinaída started, gazed in silence at my father,
and slowly raising her arm to her lips, kissed the mark which glowed
scarlet upon it.
My father hurled his riding-whip from him, and running hastily up the
steps of the porch, burst into the house…. Zinaída turned round, and
stretching out her arms, and throwing back her head, she also quitted
My heart swooning with terror, and with a sort of alarmed perplexity, I
darted backward; and dashing through the alley, and almost letting go of
Electric, I returned to the bank of the river…. I could understand
nothing. I knew that my cold and self-contained father was sometimes
seized by fits of wild fury; and yet I could not in the least comprehend
what I had seen…. But I immediately felt that no matter how long I
might live, it would be impossible for me ever to forget that movement,
Zinaída’s glance and smile; that her image, that new image which had
suddenly been presented to me, had forever imprinted itself on my
memory. I stared stupidly at the river and did not notice that my tears
were flowing. “She is being beaten,”–I thought…. “She is being beaten
“Come, what ails thee?–Give me my horse!”–rang out my father’s voice
I mechanically gave him the bridle. He sprang upon Electric … the
half-frozen horse reared on his hind legs and leaped forward half a
fathom … but my father speedily got him under control; he dug his
spurs into his flanks and beat him on the neck with his fist…. “Ekh, I
have no whip,”–he muttered.
I remembered the recent swish through the air and the blow of that same
whip, and shuddered.
“What hast thou done with it?”–I asked my father, after waiting a
My father did not answer me and galloped on. I dashed after him. I was
determined to get a look at his face.
“Didst thou get bored in my absence?”–he said through his teeth.
“A little. But where didst thou drop thy whip?”–I asked him again.
My father shot a swift glance at me.–“I did not drop it,”–he said,–“I
threw it away.”–He reflected for a space and dropped his head … and
then, for the first and probably for the last time, I saw how much
tenderness and compunction his stern features were capable of
He set off again at a gallop, and this time I could not keep up with
him; I reached home a quarter of an hour after him.
“That’s what love is,”–I said to myself again, as I sat at night before
my writing-table, on which copy-books and text-books had already begun
to make their appearance,–“that is what passion is!… How is it
possible not to revolt, how is it possible to endure a blow from any one
whomsoever … even from the hand that is most dear? But evidently it
can be done if one is in love…. And I … I imagined….”
The last month had aged me greatly, and my love, with all its agitations
and sufferings, seemed to me like something very petty and childish and
wretched in comparison with that other unknown something at which I
could hardly even guess, and which frightened me like a strange,
beautiful but menacing face that one strives, in vain, to get a good
look at in the semi-darkness….
That night I had a strange and dreadful dream. I thought I was entering
a low, dark room…. My father was standing there, riding-whip in hand,
and stamping his feet; Zinaída was crouching in one corner and had a red
mark, not on her arm, but on her forehead … and behind the two rose up
Byelovzóroff, all bathed in blood, with his pale lips open, and
wrathfully menacing my father.
Two months later I entered the university, and six months afterward my
father died (of an apoplectic stroke) in Petersburg, whither he had just
removed with my mother and myself. A few days before his death my father
had received a letter from Moscow which had agitated him extremely….
He went to beg something of my mother and, I was told, even wept,–he,
my father! On the very morning of the day on which he had the stroke, he
had begun a letter to me in the French language: “My son,”–he wrote to
me,–“fear the love of women, fear that happiness, that poison….”
After his death my mother sent a very considerable sum of money to
Four years passed. I had but just left the university, and did not yet
quite know what to do with myself, at what door to knock; in the
meanwhile, I was lounging about without occupation. One fine evening I
encountered Maidánoff in the theatre. He had contrived to marry and
enter the government service; but I found him unchanged. He went into
unnecessary raptures, just as of old, and became low-spirited as
suddenly as ever.
“You know,”–he said to me,–“by the way, that Madame Dólsky is here.”
“What Madame Dólsky?”
“Is it possible that you have forgotten? The former Princess Zasyékin,
with whom we were all in love, you included. At the villa, near
Neskútchny Park, you remember?”
“Did she marry Dólsky?”
“And is she here in the theatre?”
“No, in Petersburg; she arrived here a few days ago; she is preparing to
“What sort of a man is her husband?”–I asked.
“A very fine young fellow and wealthy. He’s my comrade in the service, a
Moscow man. You understand–after that scandal … you must be well
acquainted with all that …” (Maidánoff smiled significantly), “it was
not easy for her to find a husband; there were consequences … but with
her brains everything is possible. Go to her; she will be delighted to
see you. She is handsomer than ever.”
Maidánoff gave me Zinaída’s address. She was stopping in the Hotel
Demuth. Old memories began to stir in me…. I promised myself that I
would call upon my former “passion” the next day. But certain affairs
turned up: a week elapsed, and when, at last, I betook myself to the
Hotel Demuth and inquired for Madame Dólsky I learned that she had died
four days previously, almost suddenly, in childbirth.
Something seemed to deal me a blow in the heart. The thought that I
might have seen her but had not, and that I should never see her,–that
bitter thought seized upon me with all the force of irresistible
reproach. “Dead!” I repeated, staring dully at the door-porter, then
quietly made my way to the street and walked away, without knowing
whither. The whole past surged up at one blow and stood before me. And
now this was the way it had ended, this was the goal of that young,
fiery, brilliant life? I thought that–I pictured to myself those dear
features, those eyes, those curls in the narrow box, in the damp,
underground gloom,–right there, not far from me, who was still alive,
and, perchance, only a few paces from my father…. I thought all that,
I strained my imagination, and yet–
From a mouth indifferent I heard the news of death,
And with indifference did I receive it–
resounded through my soul. O youth, youth! Thou carest for nothing: thou
possessest, as it were, all the treasures of the universe; even sorrow
comforts thee, even melancholy becomes thee; thou are self-confident and
audacious; thou sayest: “I alone live–behold!”–But the days speed on
and vanish without a trace and without reckoning, and everything
vanishes in thee, like wax in the sun, like snow…. And perchance the
whole secret of thy charm consists not in the power to do everything,
but in the possibility of thinking that thou wilt do
everything–consists precisely in the fact that thou scatterest to the
winds thy powers which thou hast not understood how to employ in any
other way,–in the fact that each one of us seriously regards himself as
a prodigal, seriously assumes that he has a right to say: “Oh, what
could I not have done, had I not wasted my time!”
And I myself … what did I hope for, what did I expect, what rich
future did I foresee, when I barely accompanied with a single sigh, with
a single mournful emotion, the spectre of my first love which had arisen
for a brief moment?
And what has come to pass of all for which I hoped? Even now, when the
shades of evening are beginning to close in upon my life, what is there
that has remained for me fresher, more precious than the memory of that
morning spring thunder-storm which sped so swiftly past?
But I calumniate myself without cause. Even then, at that frivolous,
youthful epoch, I did not remain deaf to the sorrowful voice which
responded within me to the triumphant sound which was wafted to me from
beyond the grave. I remember that a few days after I learned of
Zinaída’s death I was present, by my own irresistible longing, at the
death-bed of a poor old woman who lived in the same house with us.
Covered with rags, with a sack under her head, she died heavily and with
difficulty. Her whole life had been passed in a bitter struggle with
daily want; she had seen no joy, she had not tasted the honey of
happiness–it seemed as though she could not have failed to rejoice at
death, at her release, her repose. But nevertheless, as long as her
decrepit body held out, as long as her breast heaved under the icy hand
which was laid upon it, until her last strength deserted her, the old
woman kept crossing herself and whispering:–“O Lord, forgive my
sins,”–and only with the last spark of consciousness did there vanish
from her eyes the expression of fear and horror at her approaching end.
And I remember that there, by the bedside of that poor old woman, I felt
terrified for Zinaída, and felt like praying for her, for my father–and