My hopes were not fully realized. I did not find them alone though Versilov was not at home, Tatyana Pavlovna was sitting with my mother, and she was, after all, not one of the family. Fully half of my magnanimous feelings disappeared instantly. It is wonderful how hasty and changeable I am; in such cases a straw, a grain of sand is enough to dissipate my good mood and replace it by a bad one. My bad impressions, I regret to say, are not so quickly dispelled, though I am not resentful. . . . When I went in, I had a feeling that my mother immediately and hastily broke off what she was saying to Tatyana Pavlovna; I fancied they were talking very eagerly. My sister turned from her work only for a moment to look at me and did not come out of her little alcove again. The flat consisted of three rooms. The room in which we usually sat, the middle room or drawing-room, was fairly large and almost presentable. In it were soft, red armchairs and a sofa, very much the worse for wear, however (Versilov could not endure covers on furniture); there were rugs of a sort and several tables, including some useless little ones. On the right was Versilov’s room, cramped and narrow with one window; it was furnished with a wretched-looking writing-table covered with unused books and crumpled papers, and an equally wretched-looking easy chair with a broken spring that stuck up in one corner and often made Versilov groan and swear. On an equally threadbare sofa in this room he used to sleep. He hated this study of his, and I believe he never did anything in it; he preferred sitting idle for hours together in the drawing-room. On the left of the drawing-room there was another room of the same sort in which my mother and sister slept. The drawing-room was entered from the passage at the end of which was the kitchen, where the cook, Lukerya, lived, and when she cooked, she ruthlessly filled the whole flat with the smell of burnt fat. There were moments when Versilov cursed his life and fate aloud on account of the smell from the kitchen, and in that one matter I sympathized with him fully; I hated that smell, too, though it did not penetrate to my room: I lived upstairs in an attic under the roof, to which I climbed by a very steep and shaky ladder. The only things worth mentioning in it were a semicircular window, a low-pitched ceiling, a sofa covered with American leather on which at night Lukerya spread sheets and put a pillow for me. The rest of the furniture consisted of two articles, a perfectly plain deal table and a wooden rush-bottomed chair. We still preserved, however, some relics of former comfort. In the drawing-room, for instance, we had a fairly decent china lamp, and on the wall hung a large and splendid engraving of the Sistine Madonna; facing it on the other wall was an immense and expensive photograph of the cast-bronze gates of the cathedral of Florence. In the corner of the same room was a shrine of old-fashioned family ikons, one of which had a gilt-silver setting — the one they had meant to pawn, while another (the image of Our Lady) had a velvet setting embroidered in pearls. Under the ikons hung a little lamp which was lighted on every holiday. Versilov evidently had no feeling for the ikons in their inner meaning and religious significance, but he restrained himself. He merely screwed up his eyes, sometimes complaining that the lamplight reflected in the gilt setting hurt them, but he did not hinder my mother from lighting the lamp.
I usually entered in gloomy silence, looking away into some corner, and sometimes without even greeting anyone. As a rule I returned earlier than to-day, and they used to send my dinner to me upstairs. Going into the room I said, “Good evening, mother,” a thing I had never done before. Though even this time I was unable from a sort of bashfulness to make myself look at her, and I sat down in the opposite corner of the room. I was awfully tired, but I did not think of that.
“That lout of yours still walks in as rudely as ever,” Tatyana Pavlovna hissed at me. She had been in the habit in old days of using abusive epithets to me and it had become an established tradition between us.
My mother faltered “Good evening” to me, using the formal mode of address, and evidently embarrassed at my greeting her. “Your dinner has been ready a long while,” she added, almost overcome by confusion: “I hope the soup is not cold, I will order the cutlets at once . . . .” She was hastily jumping up to go to the kitchen and, for the first time perhaps during that whole month, I felt ashamed that she should run about to wait on me so humbly, though till that moment I had expected it of her.
“Thank you very much, mother, I have had dinner already. May I stay and rest here if I am not in the way?”
“Oh . . . of course. . . . how can you ask, pray sit down . . . .”
“Don’t worry yourself, mother, I won’t be rude to Andrey Petrovitch again,” I rapped out all at once.
“Good heavens! how noble of him,” cried Tatyana Pavlovna. “Sonia darling, you don’t mean to say you still stand on ceremony with him? Who is he to be treated with such deference, and by his own mother, too! Look at you, why you behave as though you were afraid of him, it is disgraceful.”
“I should like it very much, mother, if you would call me Arkasha.”
“Oh . . . yes . . . certainly, yes I will,” my mother said hurriedly. I . . . don’t always . . . henceforward I will.”
She blushed all over. Certainly her face had at times a great charm. . . . It had a look of simplicity, but by no means of stupidity. It was rather pale and anaemic, her cheeks were very thin, even hollow; her forehead was already lined by many wrinkles, but there were none round her eyes, and her eyes were rather large and wide open, and shone with a gentle and serene light which had drawn me to her from the very first day. I liked her face, too, because it did not look particularly depressed or drawn; on the contrary, her expression would have been positively cheerful, if she had not been so often agitated, sometimes almost panic-stricken over trifles, starting up from her seat for nothing at all, or listening in alarm to anything new that was said, till she was sure that all was well and as before. What mattered to her was just that all should be as before; that there should be no change, that nothing new should happen, not even new happiness. . . . It might have been thought that she had been frightened as a child. Besides her eyes, I liked the oval of her rather long face, and I believe if it had been a shade less broad across the cheekbones she might have been called beautiful, not only in her youth but even now. She was not more than thirty-nine, but grey hairs were already visible in her chestnut hair.
Tatyana Pavlovna glanced at her in genuine indignation.
“A booby like him! And you tremble before him, you are ridiculous, Sofia, you make me angry, I tell you!”
“Ah, Tatyana Pavlovna, why should you attack him now? But you are joking perhaps, eh?” my mother added, detecting something like a smile on Tatyana Pavlovna’s face. Her scoldings could not indeed be always taken seriously. But she smiled (if she did smile) only at my mother, of course, because she loved her devotedly, and no doubt noticed how happy she was at that moment at my meekness.
“Of course, I can’t help feeling hurt, if you will attack people unprovoked, Tatyana Pavlovna, and just when I’ve come in saying ‘Good evening, mother,’ a thing I’ve never done before,” I thought it necessary to observe at last.
“Only fancy,” she boiled over at once: “He considers it as something to be proud of. Am I to go down on my knees to you, pray, because for once in your life you’ve been polite? and as though it were politeness! Why do you stare into the corner when you come in? I know how you tear and fling about before her! You might have said ‘Good evening’ to me, too, I wrapped you in your swaddling clothes, I am your godmother.”
I need not say I did not deign to answer. At that moment my sister came in and I made haste to turn to her.
“Liza, I saw Vassin to-day and he inquired after you. You have met him?”
“Yes, last year in Luga,” she answered quite simply, sitting down beside me and looking at me affectionately. I don’t know why, but I had fancied she would flush when I spoke of Vassin. My sister was a blonde; very fair with flaxen hair, quite unlike both her parents. But her eyes and the oval of her face were like our mother’s. Her nose was very straight, small, and regular; there were tiny freckles in her face, however, of which there was no sign in my mother’s. There was very little resemblance to Versilov, nothing but the slenderness of figure, perhaps, her tallness and something charming in her carriage. There was not the slightest likeness between us — we were the opposite poles.
“I knew his honour for three months,” Liza added.
“Is it Vassin you call ‘his honour,’ Liza? You should call him by his name. Excuse my correcting you, sister, but it grieves me that they seem to have neglected your education.”
“But it’s shameful of you to remark upon it before your mother,” cried Tatyana Pavlovna, firing up; “and you are talking nonsense, it has not been neglected at all.”
“I am not saying anything about my mother,” I said sharply, defending myself. “Do you know, mother, that when I look at Liza it’s as though it were you over again; you have given her the same charm of goodness, which you must have had yourself, and you have it to this day and always will have it. . . . I was only talking of the surface polish, of the silly rules of etiquette, which are necessary, however. I am only indignant at the thought that when Versilov has heard you call Vassin ‘his honour’ he has not troubled to correct you at all — his disdain and his indifference to us are so complete. That’s what makes me furious.”
“He is a perfect bear himself, and he is giving us lessons in good manners! Don’t you dare talk of Versilov before your mother, sir, or before me either, I won’t stand it!” Tatyana Pavlovna flashed out.
“I got my salary to-day, mother, fifty roubles; take it, please; here!”
I went up to her and gave her the money; she was in a tremor of anxiety at once.
“Oh, I don’t know about taking it,” she brought out, as though afraid to touch the money. I did not understand.
“For goodness’ sake, mother, if you both think of me as one of the family, as a son and a brother . . . .”
“Oh, I’ve been to blame, Arkady: I ought to have confessed something to you, but I am afraid of you . . . .”
She said this with a timid and deprecating smile; again I did not understand and interrupted.
“By the way, did you know, mother, that Andrey Petrovitch’s case against the Sokolskys is being decided to-day?”
“Ah! I knew,” she cried, clasping her hands before her (her favourite gesture) in alarm.
“To-day?” cried Tatyana Pavlovna startled, “but it’s impossible, he would have told us. Did he tell you?” she turned to my mother.
“Oh! no . . . that it was to-day . . . he didn’t. But I have been fearing it all the week. I would have prayed for him to lose it even, only to have it over and off one’s mind, and to have things as they used to be again.”
“What! hasn’t he even told you, mother?” I exclaimed. “What a man! There’s an example of the indifference and contempt I spoke of just now.”
“It’s being decided, how is it being decided? And who told you?” cried Tatyana Pavlovna, pouncing upon me. “Speak, do.”
“Why, here he is himself! Perhaps he will tell you,” I announced, catching the sound of his step in the passage and hastily sitting down again beside Liza.
“Brother, for God’s sake, spare mother, and be patient with Andrey Petrovitch . . .” she whispered to me.
“I will, I will,” with that I turned to her and pressed her hand.
Liza looked at me very mistrustfully, and she was right.
He came in very much pleased with himself, so pleased that he did not feel it necessary to conceal his state of mind. And, indeed, he had become accustomed of late to displaying himself before us without the slightest ceremony, not only in his bad points but even where he was ridiculous, a thing which most people are afraid to do; at the same time, he fully recognized that we should understand to the smallest detail. In the course of the last year, so Tatyana Pavlovna observed, he had become slovenly in his dress: his clothes though old were always well cut and free from foppishness. It is true that he was prepared to put on clean linen only on every alternate day, instead of every day, which was a real distress to my mother; it was regarded by them as a sacrifice, and the whole group of devoted women looked upon it as an act of heroism. He always wore soft wide-brimmed black hats. When he took off his hat his very thick but silvery locks stood up in a shock on his head; I liked looking at his hair when he took off his hat.
“Good evening; still disputing; and is he actually one of the party? I heard his voice from outside in the passage; he has been attacking me I suppose?”
It was one of the signs of his being in a good humour for him to be witty at my expense; I did not answer, of course. Lukerya came in with a regular sackful of parcels and put them on the table.
“Victory! Tatyana Pavlovna! the case is won, and the Sokolskys certainly won’t venture to appeal. I’ve won the day! I was able to borrow a thousand roubles at once. Sonia, put down your work, don’t try your eyes. Back from work, Liza?”
“Yes, father,” answered Liza, looking at him affectionately; she used to call him father; nothing would have induced me to submit to doing the same.
“Give up your work, don’t go to-morrow, and drop it altogether.”
“Father, that will be worse for me.”
“I beg you will . . . I greatly dislike to see women working, Tatyana Pavlovna.”
“How can they get on without work? a woman’s not to work?”
“I know, I know; that’s excellent and very true, and I agree with it beforehand, but — I mean needlework particularly. Only imagine, I believe that’s one of the morbid anomalous impressions of my childhood. In my dim memories of the time when I was five or six years old I remember more often than anything — with loathing, of course — a solemn council of wise women, stern and forbidding, sitting at a round table with scissors, material, patterns, and a fashion-plate. They thought they knew all about it, and shook their heads slowly and majestically, measuring, calculating, and preparing to cut out. All those kind people who were so fond of me had suddenly become unapproachable, and if I began to play I was carried out of the room at once. Even my poor nurse, who held me by the hand and took no notice of my shouting and pulling at her, was listening and gazing enraptured, as though at a kind of paradise. The sternness of those sensible faces and the solemnity with which they faced the task of cutting out is for some reason distressing for me to picture even now. Tatyana Pavlovna, you are awfully fond of cutting out. Although it may be aristocratic, yet I do prefer a woman who does not work at all. Don’t take that as meant for you, Sonia. . . . How could you, indeed! Woman is an immense power without working. You know that, though, Sonia. What’s your opinion, Arkady Makarovitch? No doubt you disagree?”
“No, not at all,” I answered —“that’s a particularly good saying that woman is an immense power, though I don’t understand why you say that about work. And she can’t help working if she has no money — as you know yourself.”
“Well, that’s enough,” and he turned to my mother, who positively beamed all over (when he addressed me she was all of a tremor); “at least, to begin with, I beg you not to let me see you doing needlework for me. No doubt, Arkady, as a young man of the period you are something of a socialist; well, would you believe it, my dear fellow, none are so fond of idleness as the toiling masses.”
“Rest perhaps, not idleness.”
“No, idleness, doing nothing; that’s their ideal! I knew a man who was for ever at work, though he was not one of the common people, he was rather intellectual and capable of generalizing. Every day of his life, perhaps, he brooded with blissful emotion on visions of utter idleness, raising the ideal to infinity, so to speak, to unlimited independence, to everlasting freedom, dreaming, and idle contemplation. So it went on till he broke down altogether from overwork. There was no mending him, he died in a hospital. I am sometimes seriously disposed to believe that the delights of labour have been invented by the idle, from virtuous motives, of course. It is one of the ‘Geneva ideas’ of the end of last century. Tatyana Pavlovna, I cut an advertisement out of the newspaper the day before yesterday, here it is”; he took a scrap of paper out of his waist-coat pocket. “It is one of those everlasting students, proficient in classics and mathematics and prepared to travel, to sleep in a garret or anywhere. Here, listen: ‘A teacher (lady) prepares for all the scholastic establishments (do you hear, for all) and gives lessons in arithmetic!’ Prepares for all the scholastic establishments — in arithmetic, therefore, may we assume? No, arithmetic is something apart for her. It is a case of simple hunger, the last extremity of want. It is just the ineptitude of it that’s so touching: it’s evident that the lady has never prepared anyone for any school, and it is doubtful whether she is fit to teach anything. Yet at her last gasp she wastes her one remaining rouble and prints in the paper that she prepares for all the scholastic establishments, and what’s more, gives lessons in arithmetic. Per tutto mundo e in altri siti.”
“Oh, Andrey Petrovitch, she ought to be helped! Where does she live?” cried Tatyana Pavlovna.
“Oh, there are lots of them!” He put the advertisement in his pocket. “That bag’s full of treats for you, Liza, and you, Tatyana Pavlovna; Sonia and I don’t care for sweet things. And perhaps for you, young man. I bought the things myself at Eliseyev’s and at Ballé‘s. Too long we’ve gone hungry, as Lukerya said. (NB— None of us had ever gone hungry.) Here are grapes, sweets, duchesses and strawberry tarts; I’ve even brought some excellent liqueur; nuts, too. It’s curious that to this day I’m fond of nuts as I have been from a child, Tatyana Pavlovna, and of the commonest nuts, do you know. Liza takes after me; she is fond of cracking nuts like a squirrel. But there’s nothing more charming, Tatyana Pavlovna, than sometimes when recalling one’s childhood to imagine oneself in a wood, in a copse, gathering nuts. . . . The days are almost autumnal, but bright; at times it’s so fresh, one hides in the bushes, one wanders in the wood, there’s a scent of leaves. . . . I seem to see something sympathetic in your face, Arkady Makarovitch?”
“The early years of my childhood, too, were spent in the country.”
“But I thought you were brought up in Moscow, if I am not mistaken.”
“He was living in Moscow at the Andronikovs’ when you went there; but till then he used to live in the country with your aunt, Varvara Stepanovna,” Tatyana Pavlovna put in.
“Sonia, here’s some money, put it away. I promise you, in a few days, five thousand.”
“So there’s no hope then for the Sokolskys?” asked Tatyana Pavlovna.
“Absolutely none, Tatyana Pavlovna.”
“I have always sympathized with you and all of yours, Andrey Petrovitch, and I have always been a friend of the family, but though the Sokolskys are strangers, yet, upon my word, I am sorry for them. Don’t be angry, Andrey Petrovitch.”
“I have no intention of going shares with them, Tatyana Pavlovna!”
“You know my idea, of course, Andrey Petrovitch; they would have settled the case out of court, if at the very beginning you had offered to go halves with them; now, of course, it is too late. Not that I venture to criticize. . . . I say so because I don’t think the deceased would have left them out of his will altogether.”
“Not only he wouldn’t have left them out, he’d have certainly left them everything, and would have left none out but me, if he’d known how to do things and to write a will properly; but as it is, the law’s on my side, and it’s settled. I can’t go shares, and I don’t want to, Tatyana Pavlovna, and that is the end of the matter.”
He spoke with real exasperation, a thing he rarely allowed himself to do. Tatyana Pavlovna subsided. My mother looked down mournfully. Versilov knew that she shared Tatyana Pavlovna’s views.
“He has not forgotten that slap in the face at Ems,” I thought to myself. The document given me by Kraft and at that moment in my pocket would have a poor chance if it had fallen into his hands. I suddenly felt that the whole responsibility was still weighing upon me, and this idea, together with all the rest, had, of course, an irritating effect upon me.
“Arkady, I should like you to be better dressed, my dear fellow; your suit is all right, but for future contingencies I might recommend you to an excellent Frenchman, most conscientious and possessed of taste.”
“I beg you never to make such suggestions again,” I burst out suddenly.
“It is not that I consider it humiliating, of course, but we are not agreed about anything; on the contrary, our views are entirely opposed, for in a day or two — to-morrow — I shall give up going to the prince’s, as I find there is absolutely no work for me to do there.”
“But you are going and sitting there with him — that is the work.”
“Such ideas are degrading.”
“I don’t understand; but if you are so squeamish, don’t take money from him, but simply go. You will distress him horribly, he has already become attached to you, I assure you. . . . However, as you please . . . .” He was evidently put out.
“You say, don’t ask for money, but thanks to you I did a mean thing to-day: you did not warn me, and I demanded my month’s salary from him to-day.”
“So you have seen to that already; I confess I did not expect you to ask for it; but how sharp you all are nowadays! There are no young people in these days, Tatyana Pavlovna.” He was very spiteful: I was awfully angry too.
“I ought to have had things out with you . . . you made me do it, I don’t know now how it’s to be.”
“By the way, Sonia, give Arkady back his sixty roubles at once; and you, my dear fellow, don’t be angry at our repaying it so quickly. I can guess from your face that you have some enterprise in your mind and that you need it. . . . So invest it . . . or something of the sort.”
“I don’t know what my face expresses, but I did not expect mother would have told you of that money when I so particularly asked her . . . .” I looked at my mother with flashing eyes, I cannot express how wounded I felt.
“Arkasha, darling, for God’s sake forgive me, I couldn’t possibly help speaking of it . . . .”
“My dear fellow, don’t make a grievance of her telling me your secrets: besides, she did it with the best intentions — it was simply a mother’s longing to boast of her son’s feeling for her. But I assure you I should have guessed without that you were a capitalist. All your secrets are written on your honest countenance. He has ‘his idea,’ Tatyana Pavlovna, as I told you.”
“Let’s drop my honest countenance,” I burst out again. “I know that you often see right through things, but in some cases you see no further than your own nose, and I have marvelled at your powers of penetration. Well then, I have ‘my idea.’ That you should use that expression, of course, was an accident, but I am not afraid to admit it; I have ‘an idea’ of my own, I am not afraid and I am not ashamed of it.”
“Don’t be ashamed, that’s the chief thing.”
“And all the same I shall never tell it you.”
“That’s to say you won’t condescend to; no need to, my dear fellow, I know the nature of your idea as it is; in any case it implies:
Into the wilderness I flee.
Tatyana Pavlovna, my notion is that he wants . . . to become a Rothschild, or something of the kind, and shut himself up in his grandeur. . . . No doubt he’ll magnanimously allow us a pension, though perhaps he won’t allow me one — but in any case he will vanish from our sight. Like the new moon he has risen, only to set again.”
I shuddered in my inmost being; of course, it was all chance; he knew nothing of my idea and was not speaking about it, though he did mention Rothschild; but how could he define my feelings so precisely, my impulse to break with them and go away? He divined everything and wanted to defile beforehand with his cynicism the tragedy of fact. That he was horribly angry, of that there could be no doubt.
“Mother, forgive my hastiness, for I see that there’s no hiding things from Andrey Petrovitch in any case,” I said, affecting to laugh and trying if only for a moment to turn it into a joke.
“That’s the very best thing you can do, my dear fellow, to laugh. It is difficult to realize how much every one gains by laughing even in appearance; I am speaking most seriously. He always has an air, Tatyana Pavlovna, of having something so important on his mind, that he is quite abashed at the circumstance himself.”
“I must ask you in earnest, Andrey Petrovitch, to be more careful what you say.”
“You are right, my dear boy; but one must speak out once for all, so as never to touch upon the matter again. You have come to us from Moscow, to begin making trouble at once. That’s all we know as yet of your object in coming. I say nothing, of course, of your having come to surprise us in some way. And all this month you have been snorting and sneering at us. Yet you are obviously an intelligent person, and as such you might leave such snorting and sneering to those who have no other means of avenging themselves on others for their own insignificance. You are always shutting yourself up, though your honest countenance and your rosy cheeks bear witness that you might look every one straight in the face with perfect innocence. He’s a neurotic; I can’t make out, Tatyana Pavlovna, why they are all neurotic nowadays . . .?”
“If you did not even know where I was brought up, you are not likely to know why a man’s neurotic.”
“Oh, so that’s the key to it! You are offended at my being capable of forgetting where you were brought up!”
“Not in the least. Don’t attribute such silly ideas to me. Mother! Andrey Petrovitch praised me just now for laughing; let us laugh — why sit like this! Shall I tell you a little anecdote about myself? Especially as Andrey Petrovitch knows nothing of my adventures.”
I was boiling. I knew this was the last time we should be sitting together like this, that when I left that house I should never enter it again, and so on the eve of it all I could not restrain myself. He had challenged me to such a parting scene himself.
“That will be delightful, of course, if it is really amusing,” he observed, looking at me searchingly. “Your manners were rather neglected where you were brought up, my dear fellow, though they are pretty passable. He is charming to-day, Tatyana Pavlovna, and it’s a good thing you have undone that bag at last.”
But Tatyana Pavlovna frowned; she did not even turn round at his words, but went on untying the parcels and laying out the good things on some plates which had been brought in. My mother, too, was sitting in complete bewilderment, though she had misgivings, of course, and realized that there would be trouble between us. My sister touched my elbow again.
“I simply want to tell you all,” I began, with a very free-and-easy air, “how a father met for the first time a dearly loved son: it happened ‘wherever you were brought up’ . . .”
“My dear fellow, won’t it be . . . a dull story? You know, tous les genres . . . .”
“Don’t frown, Andrey Petrovitch, I am not speaking at all with the object you imagine. All I want is to make every one laugh.”
“Well, God hears you, my dear boy. I know that you love us all . . . and don’t want to spoil our evening,” he mumbled with a sort of affected carelessness.
“Of course, you have guessed by my face that I love you?”
“Yes, partly by your face, too.”
“Just as I guessed from her face that Tatyana Pavlovna’s in love with me. Don’t look at me so ferociously, Tatyana Pavlovna, it is better to laugh! it is better to laugh!”
She turned quickly to me, and gave me a searching look which lasted half a minute.
“Mind now,” she said, holding up her finger at me, but so earnestly that her words could not have referred to my stupid joke, but must have been meant as a warning in case I might be up to some mischief.
“Andrey Petrovitch, is it possible you don’t remember how we met for the first time in our lives?”
“Upon my word I’ve forgotten, my dear fellow, and I am really very sorry. All that I remember is that it was a long time ago . . . and took place somewhere . . . .”
“Mother, and don’t you remember how you were in the country, where I was brought up, till I was six or seven I believe, or rather were you really there once, or is it simply a dream that I saw you there for the first time? I have been wanting to ask you about it for a long time, but I’ve kept putting it off; now the time has come.”
“To be sure, Arkasha, to be sure I stayed with Varvara Stepanovna three times; my first visit was when you were only a year old, I came a second time when you were nearly four, and afterwards again when you were six.”
“Ah, you did then; I have been wanting to ask you about it all this month.”
My mother seemed overwhelmed by a rush of memories, and she asked me with feeling:
“Do you really mean, Arkasha, that you remembered me there?”
“I don’t know or remember anything, only something of your face remained in my heart for the rest of my life, and the fact, too, that you were my mother. I recall everything there as though it were a dream, I’ve even forgotten my nurse. I have a faint recollection of Varvara Stepanovna, simply that her face was tied up for toothache. I remember huge trees near the house — lime-trees I think they were — then sometimes the brilliant sunshine at the open windows, the little flower garden, the little paths and you, mother, I remember clearly only at one moment when I was taken to the church there, and you held me up to receive the sacrament and to kiss the chalice; it was in the summer, and a dove flew through the cupola, in at one window and out at another . . . .”
“Mercy on us, that’s just how it was,” cried my mother, throwing up her hands, “and the dear dove I remember, too, now. With the chalice just before you, you started, and cried out, ‘a dove, a dove.’”
“Your face or something of the expression remained in my memory so distinctly that I recognized you five years after in Moscow, though nobody there told me you were my mother. But when I met Andrey Petrovitch for the first time, I was brought from the Andronikovs’; I had been vegetating quietly and happily with them for five years on end. I remember their flat down to the smallest detail, and all those ladies who have all grown so much older here; and the whole household, and how Andronikov himself used to bring the provisions, poultry, fish, and sucking-pigs from the town in a fish-basket. And how at dinner instead of his wife, who always gave herself such airs, he used to help the soup, and how we all laughed at his doing it, he most of all. The young ladies there used to teach me French. But what I liked best of all was Krylov’s Fables. I learned a number of them by heart and every day I used to recite one to Andronikov . . . going straight into his tiny study to do so without considering whether he were busy or not. Well, it was through a fable of Krylov’s that I got to know you, Andrey Petrovitch. I see you are beginning to remember.”
“I do recall something, my dear fellow, that you repeated something to me . . . a fable or a passage from ‘Woe from Wit,’ I fancy. What a memory you have, though!”
“A memory! I should think so! it’s the one thing I’ve remembered all my life.”
“That’s all right, that’s all right, my dear fellow, you are quite waking me up.”
He actually smiled; as soon as he smiled, my mother and sister smiled after him, confidence was restored; but Tatyana Pavlovna, who had finished laying out the good things on the table and settled herself in a corner, still bent upon me a keen and disapproving eye. “This is how it happened,” I went on: “one fine morning there suddenly appeared the friend of my childhood, Tatyana Pavlovna, who always made her entrance on the stage of my existence with dramatic suddenness. She took me away in a carriage to a grand house, to sumptuous apartments. You were staying at Madame Fanariotov’s, Andrey Petrovitch, in her empty house, which she had bought from you; she was abroad at that time. I always used to wear short jackets; now all of a sudden I was put into a pretty little blue greatcoat, and a very fine shirt. Tatyana Pavlovna was busy with me all day and bought me lots of things; I kept walking through all the empty rooms, looking at myself in all the looking-glasses. And wandering about in the same way the next morning, at ten o clock, I walked quite by chance into your study. I had seen you already the evening before, as soon as I was brought into the house, but only for an instant on the stairs. You were coming downstairs to get into your carriage and drive off somewhere; you were staying alone in Moscow then, for a short time after a very long absence, so that you had engagements in all directions and were scarcely ever at home. When you met Tatyana Pavlovna and me you only drawled ‘Ah!’ and did not even stop.”
“He describes it with a special love,” observed Versilov, addressing Tatyana Pavlovna; she turned away and did not answer.
“I can see you now as you were then, handsome and flourishing. It is wonderful how much older and less good-looking you have grown in these years; please forgive this candour, you were thirty-seven even then, though. I gazed at you with admiration; what wonderful hair you had, almost jet black, with a brilliant lustre without a trace of grey; moustaches and whiskers, like the setting of a jewel: I can find no other expression for it; your face of an even pallor; not like its sickly pallor to-day, but like your daughter, Anna Andreyevna, whom I had the honour of seeing this morning; dark, glowing eyes, and gleaming teeth, especially when you laughed. And you did laugh, when you looked round as I came in; I was not very discriminating at that time, and your smile rejoiced my heart. That morning you were wearing a dark blue velvet jacket, a sulphur coloured necktie, and a magnificent shirt with Alençon lace on it; you were standing before the looking-glass with a manuscript in your hand, and were busy declaiming Tchatsky’s monologue, and especially his last exclamation: ‘A coach, I want a coach.’”
“Good heavens!” cried Versilov. “Why, he’s right! Though I was only in Moscow for so short a time, I undertook to play Tchatsky in an amateur performance at Alexandra Petrovna Vitovtov’s in place of Zhileyko, who was ill!”
“Do you mean to say you had forgotten it?” laughed Tatyana Pavlovna.
“He has brought it back to my mind! And I own that those few days in Moscow were perhaps the happiest in my life! We were still so young then . . . and all so fervently expecting something. . . . It was then in Moscow I unexpectedly met so much. . . . But go on, my dear fellow: this time you’ve done well to remember it all so exactly . . . .”
“I stood still to look at you and suddenly cried out, ‘Ah, how good, the real Tchatsky’ You turned round at once and asked: ‘Why, do you know Tchatsky already?’ and you sat down on a sofa, and began drinking your coffee in the most charming humour — I could have kissed you. Then I informed you that at the Andronikovs’ every one read a great deal, and that the young ladies knew a great deal of poetry by heart, and used to act scenes out of ‘Woe from Wit’ among themselves, and that all last week we had been reading aloud in the evening ‘A Sportsman’s Sketches,’ but what I liked best of all was Krylov’s Fables, and that I knew them by heart. You told me to repeat one, and I repeated ‘The Girl who was Hard to Please.’”
A maid her suitor shrewdly scanned.
“Yes! Yes! I remember it all now,” cried Versilov again; “but, my dear fellow, I remember you, too, clearly now; you were such a charming boy then, a thoughtful boy even, and, I assure you, you, too, have changed for the worse in the course of these nine years.”
At this point all of them, even Tatyana Pavlovna, laughed. It was evident that Andrey Petrovitch had deigned to jest, and had paid me out in the same coin for my biting remark about his having grown old. Every one was amused, and indeed, it was well said.
“As I recited, you smiled, but before I was half-way through the fable you rang the bell and told the footman who answered it to ask Tatyana Pavlovna to come, and she ran in with such a delighted face, that though I had seen her the evening before I scarcely knew her. For Tatyana Pavlovna, I began the fable again, I finished it brilliantly, even Tatyana Pavlovna smiled, and you, Andrey Petrovitch cried ‘Bravo!’ and observed with warmth that if it had been ‘The Ant and the Grasshopper’ it would not be wonderful that a sensible boy of my age should recite it sensibly, but this fable
A maid her suitor shrewdly scanned.
Indeed, that’s not a crime.
was different. “Listen how he brings out ‘Indeed, that’s not a crime,’” you said; in fact, you were enthusiastic. Then you said something in French to Tatyana Pavlovna, and she instantly frowned and began to protest, and grew very hot, in fact; but as it was impossible to oppose Andrey Petrovitch if he once took an idea into his head, she hurriedly carried me off to her room, there my hands and face were washed again, my shirt was changed, my hair was pomaded and even curled.
“Then towards evening Tatyana Pavlovna dressed herself up rather grandly as I had never expected to see her, and she took me with her in the carriage. It was the first time in my life I had been to a play; it was at a private performance at Mme. Vitovtov’s. The lights, the chandeliers, the ladies, the officers, the generals, the young ladies, the curtain, the rows of chairs, were utterly unlike anything I had seen before. Tatyana Pavlovna took a very modest seat in one of the back rows, and made me sit down beside her. There were, of course, other children like me in the room, but I had no eyes for anything, I simply waited with a sinking of my heart for the performance. When you came on, Andrey Petrovitch, I was ecstatic to the point of tears. What for and why, I don’t understand. Why those tears of rapture? It has been a strange recollection for me ever since, for these last nine years! I followed the drama with a throbbing heart; all I understood of it, of course, was that SHE was deceiving HIM, and that he was ridiculed by stupid people who were not worth his little finger. When he was reciting at the ball I understood that he was humiliated and insulted, that he was reproaching all these miserable people, but that he was — great, great! No doubt my training at the Andronikovs’ helped me to understand, and your acting, Andrey Petrovitch! It was the first time I had seen a play! When you went off shouting ‘A coach, a coach!’ (and you did that shout wonderfully) I jumped up from my seat, and while the whole audience burst into applause, I, too, clapped my hands and cried ‘bravo’ at the top of my voice. I vividly recall how at that instant I felt as though I had been pierced by a pin in my back ‘a little below the waist’; Tatyana Pavlovna had given me a ferocious pinch; but I took no notice of it. As soon as ‘Woe from Wit’ was over, Tatyana Pavlovna took me home, of course. ‘You can’t stay for the dancing, and it’s only on your account I am not staying!’ you hissed at me all the way home in the carriage, Tatyana Pavlovna. All night I was delirious, and by ten o’clock the next morning I was standing at the study door, but it was shut; there were people with you and you were engaged in some business with them; then you drove off and were away the whole day till late at night — so I did not see you again! What I meant to say to you, I have forgotten, of course, and indeed I did not know then, but I longed passionately to see you as soon as possible. And at eight o’clock next morning you were graciously pleased to set off for Serpuhov; at that time you had just sold your Tula estate to settle with your creditors, but there was still left in your hands a tempting stake; that was why you had come at that time to Moscow, where you had not been able to show yourself till then for fear of your creditors, and this Serpuhov ruffian was the only one of them who had not agreed to take half of what you owed him instead of the whole. When I questioned Tatyana Pavlovna, she did not even answer me. ‘It’s no business of yours, but the day after to-morrow I shall take you to your boarding school: get your exercise-books ready, take your lesson books, put them all in order, and you must learn to pack your little box yourself, you can’t expect to be waited on, sir.’ You were drumming this and that into my ears all those three days, Tatyana Pavlovna. It ended in my being taken in my innocence to school at Touchard’s, adoring you, Andrey Petrovitch; our whole meeting was a trivial incident, perhaps, but would you believe it, six months afterwards I longed to run away from Touchard’s to you!”
“You describe it capitally, you have brought it all back so vividly,” Versilov pronounced incisively; “but what strikes me most in your story is the wealth of certain strange details, concerning my debts, for instance. Apart from the fact that these details are hardly a suitable subject for you to discuss, I can’t imagine how you managed to get hold of them.”
“Details? how I got hold of them? Why I repeat, for the last nine years I have been doing nothing but getting hold of facts about you.”
“A strange confession, and a strange way of spending your time.”
He turned half-reclining in his easy chair, and even yawned slightly, whether intentionally or not I could not say.
“Well, shall I go on telling you how I wanted to run to you from Touchard’s?”
“Forbid him, Andrey Petrovitch; suppress him and send him away,” Tatyana Pavlovna burst out.
“That won’t do, Tatyana Pavlovna,” Versilov answered her impressively. “Arkasha has evidently something on his mind, and so he must be allowed to finish. Well, let him speak! When he’s said what he’s got to say, it will be off his mind, and what matters most to him is that he should get it off his mind. Begin your new story, my dear fellow; I call it new, but you may rest assured that I know how it ends.”
“I ran away, that is, I tried to run away to you, very simply. Tatyana Pavlovna, do you remember after I had been there a fortnight Touchard wrote you a letter — didn’t he? Marie Ivanovna showed me the letter afterwards; that turned up among Andronikov’s papers, too. Touchard suddenly discovered that the fees he had asked were too small, and with ‘dignity’ announced in his letter to you that little princes and senator’s children were educated in his establishment, and that it was lowering its tone to keep a pupil of such humble origin as me unless the remuneration were increased.”
“Mon cher, you really might . . . .”
“Oh that’s nothing, that’s nothing,” I interrupted, “I am only going to say a little about Touchard. You wrote from the provinces a fortnight later, Tatyana Pavlovna, and answered with a flat refusal. I remember how he walked into our classroom, flushing crimson. He was a very short thick-set little Frenchman of five-and-forty, a Parisian cobbler by origin, though he had from time immemorial held a position in Moscow as an instructor in the French language, and even had an official rank, of which he was extremely proud; he was a man of crass ignorance. There were only six of us pupils; among them there actually was a nephew of a Moscow senator; and we all lived like one family under the supervision of his wife, a very affected lady, who was the daughter of a Russian government clerk. During that fortnight I had given myself great airs before my schoolfellows. I boasted of my blue overcoat, and my papa, Andrey Petrovitch, and their questions: why I was called Dolgoruky and not Versilov did not embarrass me in the least, since I did not know why.”
“Andrey Petrovitch!” cried Tatyana Pavlovna, in a voice almost menacing. My mother, on the contrary, was watching me intently, and evidently wished me to go on.
“Ce Touchard . . . I actually recall him now . . . he was a fussy little man,” Versilov admitted; “but he was recommended to me by the very best people . . . .”
“Ce Touchard walked in with the letter in his hand, went up to the big oak table, at which all six of us were seated learning something by heart; he seized me firmly by the shoulder, picked me up from the chair, and ordered me to collect my exercise-books. ‘Your place is not here but there,’ he said, pointing to a tiny room on the left of the passage, where there was nothing but a plain deal table, a rush-bottom chair, and an American leather sofa — exactly like what I have upstairs in the attic. I went into it in amazement, very much downcast; I had never been roughly treated before. Half an hour later when Touchard had gone out of the schoolroom, I began to exchange glances and smiles with my schoolfellows; they, of course, were laughing at me; but I had no suspicion of it and thought we were laughing because we were merry. At that moment Touchard darted in, seized me by the forelock, and dragged me about.
“‘Don’t you dare sit with gentlemanly boys, you are a child of low origin and no better than a lackey.’
“And he gave me a stinging blow on my chubby, rosy cheek. He must have enjoyed doing so and he struck me a second time, and a third. I cried violently and was terribly astonished. For a whole hour I sat with my face hidden in my hands crying and crying. Something had happened which was utterly beyond my comprehension. I don’t understand how a man, not of spiteful character, a foreigner like Touchard, who rejoiced at the emancipation of the Russian peasants, could have beaten a foolish child like me. I was only amazed, not resentful, however. I had not yet learnt to resent an insult. It seemed to me that I had somehow been naughty, that when I was good again I should be forgiven, and that we should all be merry again at once, that we should go out to play in the yard and live happy ever after.”
“My dear fellow, if I had only known . . . .” Versilov drawled with the careless smile of a rather weary man. “What a scoundrel that Touchard was, though! I have not given up all hope, however, that you may make an effort and forgive us for all that at last, and that we may all live happy ever after.”
He yawned decisively.
“But I am not blaming you at all, and believe me, I am not complaining of Touchard,” I cried, a little disconcerted. “Though, indeed, he beat me for ten months or so. I remember I was always trying to appease him in some way; I used to rush to kiss his hands, I was always kissing them, and I was always crying and crying. My schoolfellows laughed at me and despised me, because Touchard began to treat me sometimes like a servant, he used to order me to bring him his clothes when he was dressing. My menial instincts were of use to me there; I did my very utmost to please him, and was not in the least offended, because I did not at that time understand it at all, and I am surprised to this day that I could have been so stupid as not to realize that I was not on an equal footing with the rest. It’s true my schoolfellows made many things clear to me even then; it was a good school. Touchard came in the end to prefer giving me a kick to slapping me in the face, and six months later he even began to be affectionate; only he never failed to beat me once a month or so to remind me not to forget myself. He soon let me sit with the other boys, too, and allowed me to play with them, but not once during those two and a half years did Touchard forget the difference in our social positions, and from time to time, though not very frequently, he employed me in menial tasks, I verily believe, to remind me of it.
“I was running away; that’s to say, I was on the point of running away for five months after those first two months. I have always been slow in taking action. When I got into bed and pulled the quilt over me, I began thinking of you at once, Andrey Petrovitch, only of you, of no one else; I don’t in the least know why it was so. I dreamed about you too. I used always to be passionately imagining that you would walk in, and I would rush up to you and you would take me out of that place, and bring me home with you to the same study, and that we would go to the theatre again, and so on. Above all, that we should not part again — that was the chief thing! As soon as I had to wake up in the morning the jeers and contempt of the boys began again; one of them actually began beating me and making me put on his boots for him; he called me the vilest names, particularly aiming at making my origin clear to me, to the diversion of all who heard him. When at last Touchard himself became comprehensible, something unbearable began in my soul. I felt that I should never be forgiven here. Oh, I was beginning by degrees to understand what it was they would not forgive me and of what I was guilty! And so at last I resolved to run away. For two whole months I dreamed of it incessantly at last — it was September — I made up my mind. I waited for Saturday, when my schoolfellows used to go home for the week-end, and meanwhile I secretly and carefully got together a bundle of the most necessary things; all the money I had was two roubles. I meant to wait till dusk; ‘then I will go downstairs,’ I thought, ‘and I’ll go out and walk away!’ Where? I knew that Andronikov had moved to Petersburg, and I resolved that I would look for Mme. Fanariotov’s house in Arbaty; ‘I’ll spend the night walking or sitting somewhere, and in the morning I’ll ask some one in the courtyard of the house, where Andrey Petrovitch is now, and if not in Moscow, in what town or country. They will be sure to tell me. I’ll walk away, and then ask some one, somewhere else, by which gate to go out to reach such a town; and then I’ll go and walk and walk, I shall keep on walking; I shall sleep somewhere under the bushes; I shall eat nothing but bread, and for two roubles I can get bread enough for a long time.’
“I could not manage to run away on Saturday, however; I had to wait till next day, Sunday, and as luck would have it, Touchard and his wife were going away somewhere for the Sunday; there was no one left in the house but Agafya and me. I awaited the night in terrible agitation, I remember. I sat at the window in the schoolroom, looking out at the dusty street, the little wooden houses, and the few passers-by. Touchard lived in an out-of-the-way street; from the windows I could see one of the city gates; ‘Isn’t it the one?’ I kept wondering. The sun set in a red glow, the sky was so cold-looking, and a piercing wind was stirring up the dust, just as it is to-day. It was quite dark at last; I stood before the ikon and began to pray, only very, very quickly, I was in haste; I caught up my bundle, and went on tip-toe down the creaking stairs, horribly afraid that Agafya would hear me from the kitchen. The door was locked, I turned the key, and at once a dark, dark night loomed black before me like a boundless perilous unknown land, and the wind snatched off my cap. I was just going out on the same side of the pavement; I heard a hoarse volley of oaths from a drunken man in the street. I stood, looked, and slowly turned, slowly went upstairs, slowly took off my things, put down my little bundle and lay down flat, without tears, and without thoughts, and it was from that moment, Andrey Petrovitch, that I began to think. It was from that moment that I realized that besides being a lackey, I was a coward, too, and my real development began!”
“Well, I see through you once and for all from this minute,” cried Tatyana Pavlovna, jumping up from her seat, and so suddenly, that I was utterly unprepared for it; “yes, you were not only a lackey then, you are a lackey now; you’ve the soul of a lackey! Why should not Andrey Petrovitch have apprenticed you to a shoemaker? it would have been an act of charity to have taught you a trade! Who would have expected more than that of him? Your father, Makar Ivanovitch, asked — in fact, he insisted — that you, his children, should not be brought up to be above your station. Why, you think nothing of his having educated you for the university, and that through him you have received class rights. The little rascals teased him, to be sure, so he has sworn to avenge himself on humanity. . . . You scoundrel!”
I must confess I was struck dumb by this outburst, I got up and stood for some time staring and not knowing what to say.
“Well, certainly Tatyana Pavlovna has told me something new,” I said at last, turning resolutely to Versilov; “yes, certainly I am such a lackey that I can’t be satisfied with Versilov’s not having apprenticed me to a shoemaker; even ‘rights’ did not touch me. I wanted the whole of Versilov, I wanted a father . . . that’s what I asked for — like a regular lackey. Mother, I’ve had it on my conscience for eight years — when you came to Moscow alone to see me at Touchard’s, the way I received you then, but I have no time to speak of it now. Tatyana Pavlovna won’t let me tell my story, Good-bye till to-morrow, mother; we may see each other again. Tatyana Pavlovna! what if I am so utterly a lackey that I am quite unable to admit the possibility of a man’s marrying again when his wife is alive? Yet you know that all but happened to Andrey Petrovitch at Ems! Mother, if you don’t want to stay with a husband who may take another wife to-morrow, remember you have a son who promises to be a dutiful son to you for ever; remember, and let us go away, only on condition that it is ‘either he, or I’ will you? I don’t ask you for an answer at once, of course: I know that such questions can’t be answered straight off.”
But I could not go on, partly because I was excited and confused. My mother turned pale and her voice seemed to fail her: she could not utter a word. Tatyana Pavlovna said something in a very loud voice and at great length which I could not make out, and twice she pushed me on the shoulder with her fist. I only remember that she shouted that “my words were a sham, the broodings of a petty soul, counted over and turned inside out.” Versilov sat motionless and very serious, he was not smiling. I went upstairs to my room. The last thing I saw as I went out was the reproach in my sister’s eyes; she shook her head at me sternly.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:49