On that 19th of September I was also to receive my first salary for the first month of my work in Petersburg in my “private” situation. They did not ask me about this job but simply handed me over to it, I believe, on the very first day of my arrival. This was very unmannerly, and it was almost my duty to protest. The job turned out to be a situation in the household of old Prince Sokolsky. But to protest then would have meant breaking off relations on the spot, and though I was not in the least afraid of that, it would have hindered the attainment of my primary objects; and so in silence I accepted the job for the time, maintaining my dignity by silence. I must explain from the very first that this Prince Sokolsky, a wealthy man and a privy councillor, was no relation at all of the Moscow princes of that name (who had been poor and insignificant for several generations past) with whom Versilov was contesting his lawsuit. It was only that they had the same name. Yet the old prince took a great interest in them, and was particularly fond of one of them who was, so to speak, the head of the family — a young officer. Versilov had till recently had an immense influence in this old man’s affairs and had been his friend, a strange sort of friend, for the poor old prince, as I detected, was awfully afraid of him, not only at the time when I arrived on the scene, but had apparently been always afraid of him all through their friendship. They had not seen each other for a long time, however. The dishonourable conduct of which Versilov was accused concerned the old prince’s family. But Tatyana Pavlovna had intervened and it was through her that I was placed in attendance on the old prince, who wanted a “young man” in his study. At the same time it appeared that he was very anxious to do something to please Versilov, to make, so to speak, the first advance to him, and Versilov ALLOWED it. The old man had made the arrangement in the absence of his daughter, the widow of a general, who would certainly not have permitted him to take this step. Of this later, but I may remark that the strangeness of his relations with Versilov impressed me in the latter’s favour. It occurred to the imagination that if the head of the injured family still cherished a respect for Versilov, the rumours of Versilov’s scoundrelly behaviour must be absurd, or at least exaggerated, and might have more than one explanation. It was partly this circumstance which kept me from protesting against the situation; in accepting it I hoped to verify all this.
Tatyana Pavlovna was playing a strange part at the time when I found her in Petersburg. I had almost forgotten her, and had not at all expected to find her possessed of such influence. She had met me three or four times during my life in Moscow, and had always turned up, goodness knows where from, sent by some one or other whenever I needed fitting out — to go into Touchard’s boarding school, or two and a half years later, when I was being transferred to the grammar school and sent to board with Nikolay Semyonovitch, a friend I shall never forget. She used to spend the whole day with me and inspect my linen and my clothes. She drove about the town with me, took me to Kuznetsky Street, bought me what was necessary, provided me with a complete outfit, in fact, down to the smallest box and penknife. All the while she nagged at me, scolded me, reproached me, cross-examined me, quoting as examples to me various phantom boys among her relations and acquaintances who were all said to be better than I was. She even pinched me and actually gave me several vicious pokes. After fitting me out and installing me, she would disappear completely for several years. On this occasion, too, she turned up at once on my arrival to instal me again. She was a spare little figure with a sharp nose like a beak, and sharp little eyes like a bird’s. She waited on Versilov like a slave, and grovelled before him as though he were the Pope, but she did it through conviction. But I soon noticed with surprise that she was respected by all and, what was more, known to every one everywhere. Old Prince Sokolsky treated her with extraordinary deference; it was the same thing with his family; the same with Versilov’s haughty children; the same with the Fanariotovs; and yet she lived by taking in sewing, and washing lace, and fetched work from the shops. She and I fell out at the first word, for she thought fit to begin nagging at me just as she had done six years before. And from that time forward we quarrelled every day, but that did not prevent us from sometimes talking, and I must confess that by the end of the month I began to like her: for her independent character, I believe. But I did not tell her so.
I realized at once that I had only been given this post at the old invalid prince’s in order to “amuse” him, and that that was my whole duty. Naturally this was humiliating, and I should at once have taken steps, but the queer old fellow soon made an unexpected impression upon me. I felt something like compassion for him, and by the end of the month I had become strangely attached to him; anyway I gave up my intention of being rude. He was not more than sixty, however, but there had been a great to-do with him a year and a half before, when he suddenly had a fit. He was travelling somewhere and went mad on the way, so there was something of a scandal of which people talked in Petersburg. As is usual in such cases, he was instantly taken abroad, but five months later he suddenly reappeared perfectly well, though he gave up the service. Versilov asserted seriously (and with noticeable heat) that he had not been insane at all, but had only had some sort of nervous fit. I promptly made a note of Versilov’s warmth about it. I may observe, however, that I was disposed to share his opinion. The old man only showed perhaps an excessive frivolity at times, not quite appropriate to his years, of which, so they say, there was no sign in him before. It was said that in the past he had been a councillor of some sort, and on one occasion had quite distinguished himself in some commission with which he had been charged. After knowing him for a whole month, I should never have supposed he could have any special capacity as a councillor. People observed (though I saw nothing of it) that after his fit he developed a marked disposition to rush into matrimony, and it was said that he had more than once reverted to this idea during the last eighteen months, that it was known in society and a subject of interest. But as this weakness by no means fell in with the interests of certain persons of the prince’s circle, the old man was guarded on all sides. He had not a large family of his own; he had been a widower for twenty years, and had only one daughter, the general’s widow, who was now daily expected from Moscow. She was a young person whose strength of will was evidently a source of apprehension to the old man. But he had masses of distant relatives, principally through his wife, who were all almost beggars, besides a multitude of protégés of all sorts, male and female, all of whom expected to be mentioned in his will, and so they all supported the general’s widow in keeping watch over the old man. He had, moreover, had one strange propensity from his youth up (I don’t know whether it was ridiculous or not) for making matches for poor girls. He had been finding husbands for the last twenty-five years — for distant relations, for the step-daughters of his wife’s cousins, for his god-daughters; he even found a husband for the daughter of his house porter. He used to take his protégées into his house when they were little girls, provide them with governesses and French mademoiselles, then have them educated in the best boarding schools, and finally marry them off with a dowry. The calls upon him were continually increasing. When his protégées were married they naturally produced more little girls and all these little girls became his protégées. He was always having to stand as god-father. The whole lot turned up to congratulate him on his birthdays, and it was all very agreeable to him.
I noticed at once that the old man had lurking in his mind a painful conviction (it was impossible to avoid noticing it, indeed) that every one had begun to look at him strangely, that every one had begun to behave to him not as before, not as to a healthy man. This impression never left him even at the liveliest social functions. The old man had become suspicious, had begun to detect something in every one’s eyes. He was evidently tormented by the idea that every one suspected him of being mad. He sometimes looked mistrustfully even at me. And if he had found out that some one was spreading or upholding such rumours, the benevolent old man would have become his implacable foe. I beg that this circumstance may be noted. I may add that it was what decided me from the first day not to be rude to him; in fact, I was glad if I were able sometimes to amuse or entertain him; I don’t think that this confession can cast any slur on my dignity.
The greater part of his money was invested. He had since his illness become a partner in a large joint stock enterprise, a very safe one, however. And though the management was in other hands he took a great interest in it, too, attended the shareholders’ meetings, was appointed a director, presided at the board-meetings, opposed motions, was noisy and obviously enjoyed himself. He was very fond of making speeches: every one could judge of his brain anyway. And in general he developed a great fancy for introducing profound reflections and bon mots in his conversation, even in the intimacy of private life. I quite understand it.
On the ground floor of his house there was something like a private office where a single clerk kept the books and accounts and also managed the house. This clerk was quite equal to the work alone, though he had some government job as well, but by the prince’s own wish I was engaged to assist him; but I was immediately transferred to the prince’s study, and often had no work before me, not even books or papers to keep up appearances. I am writing now sobered by time; and about many things feel now almost like an outsider; but how can I describe the depression (I recall it vividly at this moment) that weighed down my heart in those days, and still more, the excitement which reached such a pitch of confused feverishness that I did not sleep at night — all due to my impatience, to the riddles I had set myself to solve.
To ask for money, even a salary, is a most disgusting business, especially if one feels in the recesses of one’s conscience that one has not quite earned it. Yet the evening before, my mother had been whispering to my sister apart from Versilov (“so as not to worry Andrey Petrovitch”) that she intended to take the ikon which for some reason was particularly precious to her to the pawnbroker’s. I was to be paid fifty roubles a month, but I had no idea how I should receive the money; nothing had been said to me about it.
Meeting the clerk downstairs three days before, I inquired of him whom one was to ask for one’s salary. He looked at me with a smile as though of astonishment (he did not like me).
“Oh, you get a salary?”
I thought that on my answering he would add:
But he merely answered drily, that he “knew nothing about it,” and buried himself in the ruled exercise book into which he was copying accounts from some bills.
He was not unaware, however, that I did something. A fortnight before I had spent four days over work he had given me, making a fair copy, and as it turned out, almost a fresh draft of something. It was a perfect avalanche of “ideas” of the prince’s which he was preparing to present to the board of directors. These had to be put together into a whole and clothed in suitable language. I spent a whole day with the prince over it afterwards, and he argued very warmly with me, but was well satisfied in the end. But I don’t know whether he read the paper or not. I say nothing of the two or three letters, also about business, which I wrote at his request.
It was annoying to me to have to ask for my salary because I had already decided to give up my situation, foreseeing that I should be obliged through unavoidable circumstances to go away. When I waked up and dressed that morning in my garret upstairs, I felt that my heart was beating, and though I pooh-poohed it, yet I was conscious of the same excitement as I walked towards the prince’s house. That morning there was expected a woman, whose presence I was reckoning upon for the explanation of all that was tormenting me! This was the prince’s daughter, the young widow of General Ahmakov, of whom I have spoken already and who was bitterly hostile to Versilov. At last I have written that name! I had never seen her, of course, and could not imagine how I should speak to her or whether I should speak, but I imagined (perhaps on sufficient grounds) that with her arrival there would be some light thrown on the darkness surrounding Versilov in my eyes. I could not remain unmoved. It was frightfully annoying that at the very outset I should be so cowardly and awkward; it was awfully interesting, and, still more, sickening — three impressions at once. I remember every detail of that day!
My old prince knew nothing of his daughter’s probable arrival, and was not expecting her to return from Moscow for a week. I had learnt this the evening before quite by chance: Tatyana Pavlovna, who had received a letter from Mme. Ahmakov, let it out to my mother. Though they were whispering and spoke in veiled allusions, I guessed what was meant. Of course I was not eavesdropping, I simply could not avoid listening when I saw how agitated my mother was at the news of this woman’s arrival. Versilov was not in the house.
I did not want to tell the old prince because I could not help noticing all that time how he was dreading her arrival. He had even let drop three days before, though only by a timid and remote hint, that he was afraid of her coming on my account; that is that he would have trouble about me. I must add, however, that in his own family he preserved his independence and was still master in his own house, especially in money matters. My first judgment of him was that he was a regular old woman, but I was afterwards obliged to revise my opinion, and to recognize that, if he were an old woman, there was still a fund of obstinacy, if not of real manliness, in him. There were moments when one could hardly do anything with him in spite of his apprehensive and yielding character. Versilov explained this to me more fully later. I recall now with interest that the old prince and I scarcely ever spoke of his daughter, we seemed to avoid it: I in particular avoided it, while he, on his side, avoided mentioning Versilov, and I guessed that he would not answer if I were to ask him one of the delicate questions which interested me so much.
If anyone cares to know what we did talk about all that month I must answer that we really talked of everything in the world, but always of the queerest things. I was delighted with the extraordinary simplicity with which he treated me. Sometimes I looked with extreme astonishment at the old man and wondered how he could ever have presided at meetings. If he had been put into our school and in the fourth class too, what a nice schoolfellow he would have made. More than once, too, I was surprised by his face; it was very serious-looking, almost handsome and thin; he had thick curly grey hair, wide-open eyes; and he was besides slim and well built; but there was an unpleasant, almost unseemly, peculiarity about his face, it would suddenly change from excessive gravity to an expression of exaggerated playfulness, which was a complete surprise to a person who saw him for the first time. I spoke of this to Versilov, who listened with curiosity; I fancy that he had not expected me to be capable of making such observations; he observed casually that this had come upon the prince since his illness and probably only of late.
We used to talk principally of two abstract subjects — of God and of His existence, that is, whether there was a God or not — and of women. The prince was very religious and sentimental. He had in his study a huge stand of ikons with a lamp burning before them. But something seemed to come over him — and he would begin expressing doubts of the existence of God and would say astounding things, obviously challenging me to answer. I was not much interested in the question, speaking generally, but we both got very hot about it and quite genuinely. I recall all those conversations even now with pleasure. But what he liked best was gossiping about women, and he was sometimes positively disappointed at my disliking this subject of conversation, and making such a poor response to it.
He began talking in that style as soon as I went in that morning. I found him in a jocose mood, though I had left him the night before extremely melancholy. Meanwhile it was absolutely necessary for me to settle the matter of the salary — before the arrival of certain persons. I reckoned that that morning we should certainly be interrupted (it was not for nothing my heart was beating) and then perhaps I should not be able to bring myself to speak of money. But I did not know how to begin about money and I was naturally angry at my stupidity. And, as I remember now in my vexation at some too jocular question of his, I blurted out my views on women point-blank and with great vigour.
And this led him to be more expansive with me than ever.
“I don’t like women because they’ve no manners, because they are awkward, because they are not self-reliant, and because they wear unseemly clothes!” I wound up my long tirade incoherently.
“My dear boy, spare us!” he cried, immensely delighted, which enraged me more than ever.
I am ready to give way and be trivial only about trifles. I never give way in things that are really important. In trifles, in little matters of etiquette, you can do anything you like with me, and I curse this peculiarity in myself. From a sort of putrid good nature I’ve sometimes been ready to knuckle under to some fashionable snob, simply flattered by his affability, or I’ve let myself be drawn into argument with a fool, which is more unpardonable than anything. All this is due to lack of self-control, and to my having grown up in seclusion, but next day it would be the same thing again: that’s why I was sometimes taken for a boy of sixteen. But instead of gaining self-control I prefer even now to bottle myself up more tightly than ever in my shell — “I may be clumsy — but good-bye!”— however misanthropic that may seem. I say that seriously and for good. But I don’t write this with reference to the prince or even with reference to that conversation.
“I’m not speaking for your entertainment,” I almost shouted at him. “I am speaking from conviction.”
“But how do you mean that women have no manners and are unseemly in their dress? That’s something new.”
“They have no manners. Go to the theatre, go for a walk. Every man knows the right side of the road, when they meet they step aside, he keeps to the right, I keep to the right. A woman, that is a lady — it’s ladies I’m talking about — dashes straight at you as though she doesn’t see you, as though you were absolutely bound to skip aside and make way for her. I’m prepared to make way for her as a weaker creature, but why has she the right, why is she so sure it’s my duty — that’s what’s offensive. I always curse when I meet them. And after that they cry out that they’re oppressed and demand equality; a fine sort of equality when she tramples me under foot and fills my mouth with sand.”
“Yes, because they’re not decently dressed — it’s only depraved people don’t notice it. In the law-courts they close the doors when they’re trying cases of indecency. Why do they allow it in the streets, where there are more people? They openly hang bustles on behind to look as though they had fine figures; openly! I can’t help noticing; the young lad notices it too; and the child that’s growing into a boy notices it too; it’s abominable. Let old rakes admire them and run after them with their tongues hanging out, but there is such a thing as the purity of youth which must be protected. One can only despise them. They walk along the parade with trains half a yard long behind them, sweeping up the dust. It’s a pleasant thing to walk behind them: you must run to get in front of them, or jump on one side, or they’ll sweep pounds of dust into your mouth and nose. And what’s more it’s silk, and they’ll drag it over the stones for a couple of miles simply because it’s the fashion, when their husbands get five hundred roubles a year in the Senate: that’s where bribes come in! I’ve always despised them. I’ve cursed them aloud and abused them.”
Though I describe this conversation somewhat humorously in the style that was characteristic of me at that time, my ideas are still the same.
“And how do you come off?” the prince queried.
“I curse them and turn away. They feel it, of course, but they don’t show it, they prance along majestically without turning their heads. But I only came to actual abuse on one occasion with two females, both wearing tails on the parade; of course I didn’t use bad language, but I said aloud that long tails were offensive.”
“Did you use that expression?”
“Of course I did. To begin with, they trample upon the rules of social life, and secondly, they raise the dust, and the parade is meant for all. I walk there, other men walk, Fyodor, Ivan, it’s the same for all. So that’s what I said. And I dislike the way women walk altogether, when you look at their back view; I told them that too, but only hinted at it.”
“But, my dear boy, you might get into serious trouble; they might have hauled you off to the police station.”
“They couldn’t do anything. They had nothing to complain of: a man walks beside them talking to himself. Every one has the right to express his convictions to the air. I spoke in the abstract without addressing them. They began wrangling with me of themselves; they began to abuse me, they used much worse language than I did; they called me milksop, said I ought to go without my dinner, called me a nihilist, and threatened to hand me over to the police; said that I’d attacked them because they were alone and weak women, but if there’d been a man with them I should soon sing another tune. I very coolly told them to leave off annoying me, and I would cross to the other side of the street. And to show them that I was not in the least afraid of their men, and was ready to accept their challenge, I would follow them to their house, walking twenty paces behind them, then I would stand before the house and wait for their men. And so I did.”
“You don’t say so?”
“Of course it was stupid, but I was roused. They dragged me over two miles in the heat, as far as the ‘institutions,’ they went into a wooden house of one storey — a very respectable-looking one I must admit — one could see in at the windows a great many flowers, two canaries, three pug-dogs and engravings in frames. I stood for half an hour in the street facing the house. They peeped out two or three times, then pulled down all the blinds. Finally an elderly government clerk came out of the little gate; judging from his appearance he had been asleep and had been waked up on purpose; he was not actually in a dressing-gown, but he was in a very domestic-looking attire. He stood at the gate, folded his hands behind him, and proceeded to stare at me — I at him. Then he looked away, then gazed at me again, and suddenly began smiling at me. I turned and walked away.”
“My dear boy, how Schilleresque! I’ve always wondered at you; with your rosy cheeks, your face blooming with health, and such an aversion, one may say, for women! How is it possible that woman does not make a certain impression on you at your age? Why, when I was a boy of eleven, mon cher, my tutor used to notice that I looked too attentively at the statues in the Summer Gardens.”
“You would like me to take up with some Josephine here, and come and tell you all about it! Rather not; I saw a woman completely naked when I was thirteen; I’ve had a feeling of disgust ever since.”
“Do you mean it? But, cher enfant, about a fresh, beautiful woman there’s a scent of apples; there’s nothing disgusting.”
“In the little boarding school I was at before I went to the grammar school, there was a boy called Lambert. He was always thrashing me, for he was three years older than I was, and I used to wait on him, and take off his boots. When he was going to be confirmed an abbé, called Rigaud, came to congratulate him on his first communion, and they dissolved in tears on each other’s necks, and the abbé hugged him tightly to his bosom. I shed tears, too, and felt very envious. He left school when his father died, and for two years I saw nothing of him. Then I met him in the street. He said he would come and see me. By that time I was at the grammar school and living at Nikolay Semyonovitch’s. He came in the morning, showed me five hundred roubles, and told me to go with him. Though he had thrashed me two years before, he had always wanted my company, not simply to take off his boots, but because he liked to tell me things. He told me that he had taken the money that day out of his mother’s desk, to which he had made a false key, for legally all his father’s money was his, and so much the worse for her if she wouldn’t give it to him. He said that the Abbé Rigaud had been to lecture him the day before, that he’d come in, stood over him, begun whimpering, and described all sorts of horrors, lifting up his hands to heaven. “And I pulled out a knife and told him I’d cut his throat” (he pronounced it ‘thr-r-roat’). We went to Kuznetsky Street. On the way he informed me that his mother was the abbé‘s mistress, and that he’d found it out, and he didn’t care a hang for anything, and that all they said about the sacrament was rubbish. He said a great deal more, and I felt frightened. In Kuznetsky Street he bought a double-barrelled gun, a game bag, cartridges, a riding-whip, and afterwards a pound of sweets. We were going out into the country to shoot, and on the way we met a bird-catcher with cages of birds. Lambert bought a canary from him. In a wood he let the canary go, as it couldn’t fly far after being in the cage, and began shooting at it, but did not hit it. It was the first time in his life he had fired off a gun, but he had wanted to buy a gun years before; at Touchard’s even we were dreaming of one. He was almost choking with excitement. His hair was black, awfully black, his face was white and red, like a mask, he had a long aquiline nose, such as are common with Frenchmen, white teeth and black eyes. He tied the canary by a thread to a branch, and an inch away fired off both barrels, and the bird was blown into a hundred feathers. Then we returned, drove to an hotel, took a room, and began eating, and drinking champagne; a lady came in. . . . I remember being awfully impressed by her being so splendidly dressed; she wore a green silk dress. It was then I saw . . . all that I told you about. . . . Afterwards, when we had begun drinking, he began taunting and abusing her; she was sitting with nothing on, he took away her clothes and when she began scolding and asking for her clothes to dress again, he began with all his might beating her with the riding-whip on her bare shoulders. I got up, seized him by the hair, and so neatly that I threw him on the ground at once. He snatched up a fork and stuck it in my leg. Hearing the outcry, people ran in, and I had time to run away. Ever since then it’s disgusted me to think of nakedness; and, believe me, she was a beauty.”
As I talked, the prince’s face changed from a playful expression to one of great sadness.
“Mon pauvre enfant! I have felt convinced all along that there have been very many unhappy days in your childhood.”
“Please don’t distress yourself!”
“But you were alone, you told me so yourself, but for that Lambert; you have described it so well, that canary, the confirmation and shedding tears on the abbé‘s breast, and only a year or so later saying that of his mother and the abbé! . . . Oh, mon cher, the question of childhood in our day is truly awful; for a time those golden heads, curly and innocent, flutter before one and look at one with their clear eyes like angels of God, or little birds, and afterwards . . . and afterwards it turns out that it would have been better if they had not grown up at all!”
“How soft you are, prince! It’s as though you had little children of your own. Why, you haven’t any and never will have.”
“Tiens!” His whole face was instantly transformed, “that’s just what Alexandra Petrovna said — the day before yesterday, he-he! — Alexandra Petrovna Sinitsky — you must have met her here three weeks ago — only fancy, the day before yesterday, in reply to my jocular remark that if I do get married now I could set my mind at rest, there’d be no children, she suddenly said, and with such spite, ‘On the contrary, there certainly would be; people like you always have them, they’ll arrive the very first year, you’ll see.’ He-he! And they’ve all taken it into their heads, for some reason, that I’m going to get married; but though it was spiteful I admit it was — witty!”
“Witty — but insulting!”
“Oh, cher enfant, one can’t take offence at some people. There’s nothing I prize so much in people as wit, which is evidently disappearing among us; though what Alexandra Petrovna said — can hardly be considered wit.”
“What? What did you say?” I said, catching at his words —“one can’t take offence at some people. That’s just it! Some people are not worth noticing — an excellent principle! Just the one I need. I shall make a note of it. You sometimes say the most delightful things, prince.”
He beamed all over.
“N’est ce pas? Cher enfant, true wit is vanishing; the longer one lives the more one sees it. Eh, mais . . . c’est moi qui connait les femmes! Believe me, the life of every woman, whatever she may profess, is nothing but a perpetual search for some one to submit to . . . so to speak a thirst for submission. And mark my words, there’s not a single exception.”
“Perfectly true! Magnificent!” I cried rapturously. Another time we should have launched into philosophical disquisitions on this theme, lasting for an hour, but suddenly I felt as though something had bitten me, and I flushed all over. I suddenly imagined that in admiring his bon mots I was flattering him as a prelude to asking for money, and that he would certainly think so as soon as I began to ask for it. I purposely mention this now.
“Prince, I humbly beg you to pay me at once the fifty roubles you owe me for the month,” I fired off like a shot, in a tone of irritability that was positively rude.
I remember (for I remember every detail of that morning) that there followed between us then a scene most disgusting in its realistic truth. For the first minute he did not understand me, stared at me for some time without understanding what money I was talking about. It was natural that he should not realize I was receiving a salary — and indeed, why should I? It is true that he proceeded to assure me afterwards that he had forgotten, and when he grasped the meaning of my words, he instantly began taking out fifty roubles, but he was flustered and turned crimson. Seeing how things stood, I got up and abruptly announced that I could not take the money now, that in what I had been told about a salary they had made a mistake, or deceived me to induce me to accept the situation, and that I saw only too well now, that I did nothing to earn one, for I had no duties to perform. The prince was alarmed and began assuring me that I was of the greatest use to him, that I should be still more useful to him in the future, and that fifty roubles was so little that he should certainly add to it, for he was bound to do so, and that he had made the arrangement himself with Tatyana Pavlovna, but had “unpardonably forgotten it.” I flushed crimson and declared resolutely that it was degrading for me to receive a salary for telling scandalous stories of how I had followed two draggle-tails to the ‘institutions,’ that I had not been engaged to amuse him but to do work, and that if there was no work I must stop it, and so on, and so on. I could never have imagined that anyone could have been so scared as he was by my words. Of course it ended in my ceasing to protest, and his somehow pressing the fifty roubles into my hand: to this day I recall with a blush that I took it. Everything in the world always ends in meanness, and what was worst of all, he somehow succeeded in almost proving to me that I had unmistakably earned the money, and I was so stupid as to believe it, and so it was absolutely impossible to avoid taking it.
“Cher, cher enfant!” he cried, kissing and embracing me (I must admit I was on the point of tears myself, goodness knows why, though I instantly restrained myself, and even now I blush as I write it). “My dear boy, you’re like one of the family to me now; in the course of this month you’ve won a warm place in my heart! In ‘society’ you get ‘society’ and nothing else. Katerina Nikolaevna (that was his daughter’s name) is a magnificent woman and I’m proud of her, but she often, my dear boy, very often, wounds me. And as for these girls (elles sont charmantes) and their mothers who come on my birthday, they merely bring their embroidery and never know how to tell one anything. I’ve accumulated over sixty cushions embroidered by them, all dogs and stags. I like them very much, but with you I feel as if you were my own — not son, but brother, and I particularly like it when you argue against me; you’re literary, you have read, you can be enthusiastic . . . .”
“I have read nothing, and I’m not literary at all. I used to read what I came across, but I’ve read nothing for two years and I’m not going to read.”
“Why aren’t you going to?”
“I have other objects.”
“Cher . . . it’s a pity if at the end of your life you say, like me, ‘Je sais tout, mais je ne sais rien de bon.’ I don’t know in the least what I have lived in this world for! But . . . I’m so much indebted to you . . . and I should like, in fact . . .”
He suddenly broke off, and with an air of fatigue sank into brooding. After any agitation (and he might be overcome by agitation at any minute, goodness knows why) he generally seemed for some time to lose his faculties and his power of self-control, but he soon recovered, so that it really did not matter. We sat still for a few minutes. His very full lower lip hung down . . . what surprised me most of all was that he had suddenly spoken of his daughter, and with such openness too. I put it down, of course, to his being upset.
“Cher enfant, you don’t mind my addressing you so familiarly, do you?” broke from him suddenly.
“Not in the least. I must confess that at the very first I was rather offended by it and felt inclined to address you in the same way, but I saw it was stupid because you didn’t speak like that to humiliate me.”
But he had forgotten his question and was no longer listening.
“Well, how’s your FATHER?” he said, suddenly raising his eyes and looking dreamily at me.
I winced. In the first place he called Versilov my FATHER, which he had never permitted himself to do before, and secondly, he began of himself to speak of Versilov, which he had never done before.
“He sits at home without a penny and is very gloomy,” I answered briefly, though I was burning with curiosity.
“Yes, about money. His lawsuit is being decided to-day, and I’m expecting Prince Sergay as soon as he arrives. He promised to come straight from the court to me. Their whole future turns on it. It’s a question of sixty or seventy thousand. Of course, I’ve always wished well to Andrey Petrovitch” (Versilov’s name), “and I believe he’ll win the suit, and Prince Sergay has no case. It’s a point of law.”
“The case will be decided to-day?” I cried, amazed. The thought that Versilov had not deigned to tell me even that was a great shook to me. “Then he hasn’t told my mother, perhaps not anyone,” it suddenly struck me. “What strength of will!”
“Then is Prince Sokolsky in Petersburg?” was another idea that occurred to me immediately.
“He arrived yesterday. He has come straight from Berlin expressly for this day.”
That too was an extremely important piece of news for me. And he would be here to-day, that man who had given HIM a slap in the face!
“Well, what then?” The old prince’s face suddenly changed again. “He’ll preach religion as before and . . . and . . . maybe run after little girls, unfledged girls, again. He-he! There’s a very funny little story about that going about even now. . . . He-he!”
“Who will preach? Who will run after little girls?”
“Andrey Petrovitch! Would you believe it, he used to pester us all in those days. ‘Where are we going?’ he would say. ‘What are we thinking about?’ That was about it, anyway. He frightened and chastened us. ‘If you’re religious,’ he’d say, ‘why don’t you become a monk?’ That was about what he expected. Mais quelle idée! If it’s right, isn’t it too severe? He was particularly fond of frightening me with the Day of Judgment — me of all people!”
“I’ve noticed nothing of all this, and I’ve been living with him a month,” I answered, listening with impatience. I felt fearfully vexed that he hadn’t pulled himself together and was rambling on so incoherently.
“It’s only that he doesn’t talk about that now, but, believe me, it was so. He’s a clever man, and undoubtedly very learned; but is his intellect quite sound? All this happened to him after his three years abroad. And I must own he shocked me very much and shocked every one. Cher enfant, j’aime le bon Dieu. . . . I believe, I believe as much as I can, but I really was angry at the time. Supposing I did put on a frivolous manner, I did it on purpose because I was annoyed — and besides, the basis of my objection was as serious as it has been from the beginning of the world. ‘If there is a higher Being,’ I said, ‘and He has a PERSONAL existence, and isn’t some sort of diffused spirit for creation, some sort of fluid (for that’s even more difficult to understand), where does He live?’ C’etait bête, no doubt, my dear boy, but, you know, all the arguments come to that. Un domicile is an important thing. He was awfully angry. He had become a Catholic out there.”
“I’ve heard that too. But it was probably nonsense.”
“I assure you by everything that’s sacred. You’ve only to look at him. . . . But you say he’s changed. But in those days how he used to worry us all! Would you believe it, he used to behave as though he were a saint and his relics were being displayed. He called us to account for our behaviour, I declare he did! Relics! En voilà un autre! It’s all very well for a monk or a hermit, but here was a man going about in a dress-coat and all the rest of it, and then he sets up as a saint! A strange inclination in a man in good society, and a curious taste, I admit. I say nothing about that; no doubt all that’s sacred, and anything may happen. . . . Besides, this is all l’inconnu, but it’s positively unseemly for a man in good society. If anything happened to me and the offer were made me I swear I should refuse it. I go and dine to-day at the club and then suddenly make a miraculous appearance as a saint! Why, I should be ridiculous. I put all that to him at the time. . . . He used to wear chains.”
I turned red with anger.
“Did you see the chains yourself?”
“I didn’t see them myself but . . .”
“Then let me tell you that all that is false, a tissue of loathsome fabrications, the calumny of enemies, that is, of one chief and inhuman enemy — for he has only one enemy — your daughter!”
The old prince flared up in his turn.
“Mon cher, I beg and insist that from this time forth you never couple with that revolting story the name of my daughter.”
I stood up. He was beside himself. His chin was quivering.
“Cette histoire infame! . . . . I did not believe it, I never would believe it, but . . . they tell me, believe it, believe it, I . . .”
At that instant a footman came in and announced visitors. I dropped into my chair again.
Two ladies came in. They were both young and unmarried. One was a stepdaughter of a cousin of the old prince’s deceased wife or something of the sort, a protégée of his for whom he had already set aside a dowry, and who (I mention it with a view to later events) had money herself: the other was Anna Andreyevna Versilov, the daughter of Versilov, three years older than I. She lived with her brother in the family of Mme. Fanariotov. I had only seen her once before in my life, for a minute in the street, though I had had an encounter, also very brief, with her brother in Moscow. (I may very possibly refer to this encounter later — if I have space, that is, for it is hardly worth recording.) Anna Andreyevna had been from childhood a special favourite of the old prince (Versilov’s acquaintance with the prince dated from very long ago). I was so overcome by what had just happened that I did not even stand up on their entrance, though the old prince rose to greet them. Afterwards I thought it would be humiliating to get up, and I remained where I was. What overwhelmed me most was the prince’s having shouted at me like that three minutes before, and I did not know whether to go away or not. But the old man, as usual, had already forgotten everything, and was all pleasure and animation at sight of the young ladies. At the very moment of their entrance he hurriedly whispered to me, with a rapid change of expression and a mysterious wink:
“Look at Olympiada, watch her, watch her; I’ll tell you why after . . . .”
I did look at her rather carefully, but I saw nothing special about her. She was a plump, not very tall young lady, with exceedingly red cheeks. Her face was rather pleasing, of the sort that materialists like. She had an expression of kindness, perhaps, but with a touch of something different. She could not have been very brilliant intellectually — that is, not in the higher sense — for one could see cunning in her eyes. She was not more than nineteen. In fact, there was nothing remarkable about her. In our school we should have called her a cushion. (I only give this minute description of her because it will be useful later on.)
Indeed, all I have written hitherto with, apparently, such unnecessary detail is all leading up to what is coming and is necessary for it. It will all come in in its proper place; I cannot avoid it; and if it is dull, pray don’t read it.
Versilov’s daughter was a very different person. She was tall and somewhat slim, with a long and strikingly pale face and splendid black hair. She had large dark eyes with an earnest expression, a small mouth, and most crimson lips. She was the first woman who did not disgust me by her horrid way of walking. She was thin and slender, however. Her expression was not altogether good-natured, but was dignified. She was twenty-two. There was hardly a trace of resemblance to Versilov in her features, and yet, by some miracle, there was an extraordinary similarity of expression. I do not know whether she was pretty; that is a matter of taste. They were both very simple in their dress, so that it is not worth while to describe it. I expected to be at once insulted by some glance or gesture of Mlle. Versilov, and I was prepared for it. Her brother had insulted me in Moscow the first time we ever met. She could hardly know me by sight, but no doubt she had heard I was in attendance on the prince. Whatever the prince did or proposed to do at once aroused interest and was looked upon as an event in the whole gang of his relations and expectant beneficiaries, and this was especially so with his sudden partiality for me. I knew for a fact that the old prince was particularly solicitous for Anna Andreyevna’s welfare and was on the look-out for a husband for her. But it was more difficult to find a suitor for Mlle. Versilov than for the ladies who embroidered on canvas.
And, lo and behold! contrary to all my expectations, after shaking hands with the prince and exchanging a few light, conventional phrases with him, she looked at me with marked curiosity, and, seeing that I too was looking at her, bowed to me with a smile. It is true that she had only just come into the room, and so might naturally bow to anyone in it, but her smile was so friendly that it was evidently premeditated; and, I remember, it gave me a particularly pleasant feeling.
“And this . . . this is my dear young friend Arkady Andreyevitch Dol . . .” The prince faltered, noticing that she bowed to me while I remained sitting — and he suddenly broke off; perhaps he was confused at introducing me to her (that is, in reality, introducing a brother to a sister). The “cushion” bowed to me too; but I suddenly leapt up with a clumsy scrape of my chair: it was a rush of simulated pride, utterly senseless, all due to vanity.
“Excuse me, prince, I am not Arkady Andreyevitch but Arkady Makarovitch!” I rapped out abruptly, utterly forgetting that I ought to have bowed to the ladies. Damnation take that unseemly moment!
“Mais tiens!” cried the prince, tapping his forehead with his finger.
“Where have you studied?” I heard the stupid question drawled by the “cushion,” who came straight up to me.
“In Moscow, at the grammar school.”
“Ah! so I have heard. Is the teaching good there?”
I remained standing and answered like a soldier reporting himself.
The young lady’s questions were certainly not appropriate, but she did succeed in smoothing over my stupid outbreak and relieving the embarrassment of the prince, who was meanwhile listening with an amused smile to something funny Mlle. Versilov was whispering in his ear, evidently not about me. But I wondered why this girl, who was a complete stranger to me, should put herself out to smooth over my stupid behaviour and all the rest of it. At the same time, it was impossible to imagine that she had addressed me quite casually; it was obviously premeditated. She looked at me with too marked an interest; it was as though she wanted me, too, to notice her as much as possible. I pondered over all this later, and I was not mistaken.
“What, surely not to-day?” the prince cried suddenly, jumping up from his seat.
“Why, didn’t you know?” Mlle. Versilov asked in surprise. “Olympie! the prince didn’t know that Katerina Nikolaevna would be here to-day. Why, it’s to see her we’ve come. We thought she’d have arrived by the morning train and have been here long ago. She has just driven up to the steps; she’s come straight from the station, and she told us to come up and she would be here in a minute. . . . And here she is!”
The side-door opened and — THAT WOMAN WALKED IN!
I knew her face already from the wonderful portrait of her that hung in the prince’s study. I had been scrutinizing the portrait all that month. I spent three minutes in the study in her presence, and I did not take my eyes off her face for a second. But if I had not known her portrait and had been asked, after those three minutes, what she was like, I could not have answered, for all was confusion within me.
I only remember from those three minutes the image of a really beautiful woman, whom the prince was kissing and signing with the cross, and who looked quickly at once — the very minute she came in — at me. I distinctly heard the prince muttering something, with a little simper, about his new secretary and mentioning my name, evidently pointing at me. Her face seemed to contract; she threw a vicious glance at me, and smiled so insolently that I took a sudden step forward, went up to the prince, and muttered, trembling all over and unable to finish my words (I believe my teeth were chattering):
“From this time I . . . I’ve business of my own. . . . I’m going.”
And I turned and went out. No one said a word to me, not even the prince; they all simply stared. The old prince told me afterwards that I turned so white that he “was simply frightened.”
But there was no need.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:53