The Devil, by Leo Tolstoy

xi

After breakfast they all dispersed. Eugene as usual went to his study, but instead of beginning to read or write his letters, he sat smoking one cigarette after another and thinking. He was terribly surprised and disturbed by the unexpected recrudescence within him of the bad feeling from which he had thought himself free since his marriage. Since then he had not once experienced that feeling, either for her — the woman he had known — or for any other woman except his wife. He had often felt glad of this emancipation, and now suddenly a chance meeting, seemingly so unimportant, revealed to him the fact that he was not free. What now tormented him was not that he was yielding to that feeling and desired her — he did not dream of so doing — but that the feeling was awake within him and he had to be on his guard against it. He had not doubt but that he would suppress it.

He had a letter to answer and a paper to write, and sat down at his writing table and began to work. Having finished it and quite forgotten what had disturbed him, he went out to go to the stables. And again as ill-luck would have it, either by unfortunate chance or intentionally, as soon as he stepped from the porch a red skirt and a red kerchief appeared from round the corner, and she went past him swinging her arms and swaying her body. She not only went past him, but on passing him ran, as if playfully, to overtake her fellow-servant.

Again the bright midday, the nettles, the back of Daniel’s hut, and in the shade of the plant-trees her smiling face biting some leaves, rose in his imagination.

“No, it is impossible to let matters continue so,” he said to himself, and waiting till the women had passed out of sight he went to the office.

It was just the dinner-hour and he hoped to find the steward still there, and so it happened. The steward was just waking up from his after-dinner nap, and stretching himself and yawning was standing in the office, looking at the herdsman who was telling him something.

“Vasili Nikolaich!” said Eugene to the steward.

“What is your pleasure?”

“Just finish what you are saying.”

“Aren’t you going to bring it in?” said Vasili Nikolaich to the herdsman.

“It’s heavy, Vasili Nikolaich.”

“What is it?” asked Eugene.

“Why, a cow has calved in the meadow. Well, all right, I’ll order them to harness a horse at once. Tell Nicholas Lysukh to get out the dray cart.” The herdsman went out.

“Do you know,” began Eugene, flushing and conscious that he was doing so, “do you know, Vasili Nikolaich, while I was a bachelor I went off the track a bit. . . . You may have heard . . . ”

Vasili Nikolaich, evidently sorry for his master, said with smiling eyes: “Is it about Stepanida?”

“Why, yes. Look here. Please, please do not engage her to help in the house. You understand, it is very awkward for me . . . ” “Yes, it must have been Vanya the clerk who arranged it.” “Yes, please . . . and hadn’t the rest of the phosphate better be strewn?” said Eugene, to hide his confusion.

 “Yes, I am just going to see to it.”

So the matter ended, and Eugene calmed down, hoping that as he had lived for a year without seeing her, so things would go on now. “Besides, Vasili Nikolaich will speak to Ivan the clerk; Ivan will speak to her, and she will understand that I don’t want it,” said Eugene to himself, and he was glad he had forced himself to speak to Vasili Nikolaich, hard as it had been to do so.

“Yes, it is better, much better, than that feeling of doubt, that feeling of shame.” He shuddered at the mere remembrance of his sin in thought.

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 20:04