I hurried home and — marvellous to relate — I was very well satisfied with myself. That’s not the way one talks to women, of course, and to such women too — it would be truer to say such a woman, for I was not considering Tatyana Pavlovna. Perhaps it’s out of the question to say to a woman of that class that one spits on her intrigues, but I had said that, and it was just that that I was pleased with. Apart from anything else, I was convinced that by taking this tone I had effaced all that was ridiculous in my position. But I had not time to think much about that: my mind was full of Kraft. Not that the thought of him distressed me very greatly, but yet I was shaken to my inmost depths, and so much so that the ordinary human feeling of pleasure at another man’s misfortune — at his breaking his leg or covering himself with disgrace, at his losing some one dear to him, and so on — even this ordinary feeling of mean satisfaction was completely eclipsed by another absolutely single-hearted feeling, a feeling of sorrow, of compassion for Kraft — at least I don’t know whether it was compassion, but it was a strong and warm-hearted feeling. And I was glad of this too. It’s marvellous how many irrelevant ideas can flash through the mind at the very time when one is shattered by some tremendous piece of news, which one would have thought must overpower all other feelings and banish all extraneous thoughts, especially petty ones; yet petty ones, on the contrary, obtrude themselves. I remember, too, that I was gradually overcome by a quite perceptible nervous shudder, which lasted several minutes, in fact all the time I was at home and talking to Versilov.
This interview followed under strange and exceptional circumstances. I had mentioned already that we lived in a separate lodge in the courtyard; this lodging was marked “No. 13.” Before I had entered the gate I heard a woman’s voice asking loudly, with impatience and irritation, “Where is No. 13?” The question was asked by a lady who was standing close to the gate and had opened the door of the little shop; but apparently she got no answer there, or was even repulsed, for she came down the steps, resentful and angry.
“But where is the porter?” she cried, stamping her foot. I had already recognized the voice.
“I am going to No. 13,” I said, approaching her. “Whom do you want?”
“I have been looking for the porter for the last hour. I keep asking every one; I have been up all the staircases.”
“It’s in the yard. Don’t you recognize me?”
But by now she had recognized me.
“You want Versilov; you want to see him about something, and so do I,” I went on. “I have come to take leave of him for ever. Come along.”
“You are his son?”
“That means nothing. Granted, though, that I am his son, yet my name’s Dolgoruky; I am illegitimate. This gentleman has an endless supply of illegitimate children. When conscience and honour require it a son will leave his father’s house. That’s in the Bible. He has come into a fortune too, and I don’t wish to share it, and I go to live by the work of my hands. A noble-hearted man will sacrifice life itself, if need be; Kraft has shot himself, Kraft for the sake of an idea, imagine, a young man, yet he overcame hope. . . . This way, this way! We live in a lodge apart. But that’s in the Bible; children leave their parents and make homes for themselves. . . . If the idea draws one on . . . if there is an idea! The idea is what matters, the idea is everything . . . .”
I babbled on like this while we were making our way to the lodge. The reader will, no doubt, observe that I don’t spare myself much, though I give myself a good character on occasion; I want to train myself to tell the truth. Versilov was at home. I went in without taking off my overcoat; she did the same. Her clothes were dreadfully thin: over a wretched gown of some dark colour was hung a rag that did duty for a cloak or mantle; on her head she wore an old and frayed sailor-hat, which was very unbecoming. When we went into the room my mother was sitting at her usual place at work, and my sister came out of her room to see who it was, and was standing in the doorway. Versilov, as usual, was doing nothing, and he got up to meet us. He looked at me intently with a stern and inquiring gaze.
“It’s nothing to do with me,” I hastened to explain, and I stood on one side. “I only met this person at the gate; she was trying to find you and no one could direct her. I have come about my own business, which I shall be delighted to explain afterwards . . . .”
Versilov nevertheless still scrutinized me curiously.
“Excuse me,” the girl began impatiently. Versilov turned towards her.
“I have been wondering a long while what induced you to leave money for me yesterday. . . . I . . . in short . . . here’s your money!” she almost shrieked, as she had before, and flung a bundle of notes on the table. “I’ve had to hunt for you through the address bureau, or I should have brought it before. Listen, you!” She suddenly addressed my mother, who had turned quite pale. “I don’t want to insult you; you look honest, and perhaps this is actually your daughter. I don’t know whether you are his wife, but let me tell you that this gentleman gets hold of the advertisements on which teachers and governesses have spent their last farthing and visits these luckless wretches with dishonourable motives, trying to lure them to ruin by money. I don’t understand how I could have taken his money yesterday: he looked so honest. . . . Get away, don’t say a word! You are a villain, sir! Even if you had honourable intentions I don’t want your charity. Not a word, not a word! Oh, how glad I am that I have unmasked you now before your women! Curse you!”
She ran to the door, but turned for one instant in the doorway to shout.
“You’ve come into a fortune, I’m told.”
With that she vanished like a shadow. I repeat again, it was frenzy. Versilov was greatly astonished; he stood as though pondering and reflecting on something. At last he turned suddenly to me:
“You don’t know her at all?”
“I happened to see her this morning when she was raging in the passage at Vassin’s; she was screaming and cursing you. But I did not speak to her and I know nothing about it, and just now I met her at the gate. No doubt she is that teacher you spoke of yesterday, who also gives lessons in arithmetic.”
“Yes, she is. For once in my life I did a good deed and. . . . But what’s the matter with you?”
“Here is this letter,” I answered. “I don’t think explanation necessary: it comes from Kraft, and he got it from Andronikov. You will understand what’s in it. I will add that no one but me in the whole world knows about that letter, for Kraft, who gave me that letter yesterday just as I was leaving him, has shot himself.”
While I was speaking with breathless haste he took the letter and, holding it lightly poised in his left hand, watched me attentively. When I told him of Kraft’s suicide I looked at him with particular attention to see the effect. And what did I see? The news did not make the slightest impression on him. If he had even raised an eyebrow! On the contrary, seeing that I had paused, he drew out his eyeglasses, which he always had about him hanging on a black ribbon, carried the letter to the candle and, glancing at the signature, began carefully examining it. I can’t express how mortified I was at this supercilious callousness. He must have known Kraft very well: it was, in any case, such an extraordinary piece of news! Besides, I naturally desired it to produce an effect. Knowing that the letter was long, I turned, after waiting, and went out. My trunk had been packed long ago, I had only to stuff a few things into my bag. I thought of my mother and that I had not gone up to speak to her. Ten minutes later, when I had finished my preparations and was meaning to go for a cab, my sister walked into my attic.
“Here are your sixty roubles; mother sends it and begs you again to forgive her for having mentioned it to Andrey Petrovitch. And here’s twenty roubles besides. You gave her fifty yesterday for your board; mother says she can’t take more than thirty from you because you haven’t cost fifty, and she sends you twenty roubles back.”
“Well, thanks, if she is telling the truth. Good-bye, sister, I’m going.”
“Where are you going now?”
“For the time being to an hotel, to escape spending the night in this house. Tell mother that I love her.”
“She knows that. She knows that you love Andrey Petrovitch too. I wonder you are not ashamed of having brought that wretched girl here!”
“I swear I did not; I met her at the gate.”
“No, it was your doing.”
“I assure you . . . .”
“Think a little, ask yourself, and you will see that you were the cause.”
“I was only very pleased that Versilov should be put to shame. Imagine, he had a baby by Lidya Ahmakov . . . but what am I telling you!”
“He? A baby? But it is not his child! From whom have you heard such a falsehood?”
“Why, you can know nothing about it.”
“Me know nothing about it? But I used to nurse the baby in Luga. Listen, brother: I’ve seen for a long time past that you know nothing about anything, and meanwhile you wound Andrey Petrovitch — and . . . mother too.”
“If he is right, then I shall be to blame. That’s all, and I love you no less for it. What makes you flush like that, sister? And more still now! Well, never mind, anyway, I shall challenge that little prince for the slap he gave Versilov at Ems. If Versilov was in the right as regards Mlle. Ahmakov, so much the better.”
“Brother, what are you thinking of?”
“Luckily, the lawsuit’s over now. . . . Well, now she has turned white!”
“But the prince won’t fight you,” said Liza, looking at me with a wan smile in spite of her alarm.
“Then I will put him to shame in public. What’s the matter with you, Liza?”
She had turned so pale that she could not stand, and sank on to my sofa.
“Liza,” my mother’s voice called from below.
She recovered herself and stood up; she smiled at me affectionately.
“Brother, drop this foolishness, or put it off for a time till you know about ever so many things: it’s awful how little you understand.”
“I shall remember, Liza, that you turned pale when you heard I was going to fight a duel.”
“Yes, yes, remember that too!” she said, smiling once more at parting, and she went downstairs.
I called a cab, and with the help of the man I hauled my things out of the lodge. No one in the house stopped me or opposed my going. I did not go in to say good-bye to my mother as I did not want to meet Versilov again. When I was sitting in the cab a thought flashed upon me:
“To Fontanka by Semyonovsky Bridge,” I told the man, and went back to Vassin’s.
It suddenly struck me that Vassin would know already about Kraft, and perhaps know a hundred times more than I did; and so it proved to be. Vassin immediately informed me of all the facts with great precision but with no great warmth; I concluded that he was very tired, and so indeed he was. He had been at Kraft’s himself in the morning. Kraft had shot himself with a revolver (that same revolver) after dark, as was shown by his diary. The last entry in the diary was made just before the fatal shot, and in it he mentioned that he was writing almost in the dark and hardly able to distinguish the letters, that he did not want to light a candle for fear that it should set fire to something when he was dead. “And I don’t want to light it and then, before shooting, put it out like my life,” he added strangely, almost the last words. This diary he had begun three days before his death, immediately on his return to Petersburg, before his visit to Dergatchev’s. After I had gone away he had written something in it every quarter of an hour; the last three or four entries were made at intervals of five minutes. I expressed aloud my surprise that though Vassin had had this diary so long in his hands (it had been given him to read), he had not made a copy of it, especially as it was not more than a sheet or so and all the entries were short. “You might at least have copied the last page!” Vassin observed with a smile that he remembered it as it was; moreover, that the entries were quite disconnected, about anything that came into his mind. I was about to protest that this was just what was precious in this case, but without going into that I began instead to insist on his recalling some of it, and he did recall a few sentences — for instance, an hour before he shot himself, “That he was chilly,” “That he thought of drinking a glass of wine to warm himself, but had been deterred by the idea that it might cause an increase in the flow of blood.” “It was almost all that sort of thing,” Vassin remarked in conclusion.
“And you call that nonsense!” I cried.
“And when did I call it nonsense? I simply did not copy it. But though it’s not nonsense, the diary certainly is somewhat ordinary, or rather, natural — that is, it’s just what it’s bound to be in such circumstances . . . .”
“But the last thoughts, the last thoughts!”
“The last thoughts sometimes are extremely insignificant. One such suicide complained, in fact, in a similar diary that not one lofty idea visited him at that important hour, nothing but futile and petty thoughts.”
“And that he was chilly, was that too a futile thought?”
“Do you mean his being chilly, or the thought about the blood? Besides, it’s a well-known fact that very many people who are capable of contemplating their approaching death, whether it’s by their own hand or not, frequently show a tendency to worry themselves about leaving their body in a presentable condition. It was from that point of view that Kraft was anxious about the blood.”
“I don’t know whether that is a well-known fact . . . or whether that is so,” I muttered; “but I am surprised that you consider all that natural, and yet it’s not long since Kraft was speaking, feeling, sitting among us. Surely you must feel sorry for him?”
“Oh, of course, I’m sorry, and that’s quite a different thing; but, in any case, Kraft himself conceived of his death as a logical deduction. It turns out that all that was said about him yesterday at Dergatchev’s was true. He left behind him a manuscript book full of abtruse theories, proving by phrenology, by craniology, and even by mathematics, that the Russians are a second-rate race, and that therefore, since he was a Russian, life was not worth living for him. What is more striking about it, if you like, is that it shows one can make any logical deduction one pleases; but to shoot oneself in consequence of a deduction does not always follow.”
“At least one must do credit to his strength of will.”
“Possibly not that only,” Vassin observed evasively; it was clear that he assumed stupidity or weakness of intellect. All this irritated me.
“You talked of feeling yourself yesterday, Vassin.”
“I don’t gainsay it now; but what has happened betrays something in him so crudely mistaken that, if one looks at it critically, it checks one’s compassion in spite of oneself.”
“Do you know that I guessed yesterday from your eyes that you would disapprove of Kraft, and I resolved not to ask your opinion, that I might not hear evil of him; but you have given it of yourself, and I am forced to agree with you in spite of myself; and yet I am annoyed with you! I am sorry for Kraft.”
“Do you know we are going rather far . . . .”
“Yes, yes,” I interrupted, “but it’s a comfort, anyway, that in such cases those who are left alive, the critics of the dead, can say of themselves: ‘Though a man has shot himself who was worthy of all compassion and indulgence, we are left, at any rate, and so there’s no great need to grieve.’”
“Yes, of course, from that point of view. . . . Oh, but I believe you are joking, and very cleverly! I always drink tea at this time, and am just going to ask for it: you will join me, perhaps.”
And he went out, with a glance at my trunk and bag.
I had wanted to say something rather spiteful, to retaliate for his judgment of Kraft, and I had succeeded in saying it, but it was curious that he had taken my consoling reflection that “such as we are left” as meant seriously. But, be that as it may, he was, anyway, more right than I was in everything, even in his feelings. I recognized this without the slightest dissatisfaction, but I felt distinctly that I did not like him.
When they had brought in the tea I announced that I was going to ask for his hospitality for one night only, and if this were impossible I hoped he would say so, and I would go to an hotel. Then I briefly explained my reasons, simply and frankly stating that I had finally quarrelled with Versilov, without, however, going into details. Vassin listened attentively but without the slightest excitement. As a rule he only spoke in reply to questions, though he always answered with ready courtesy and sufficient detail. I said nothing at all about the letter concerning which I had come to ask his advice in the morning, and I explained that I had looked in then simply to call on him. Having given Versilov my word that no one else should know of the letter, I considered I had no right to speak of it to anyone. I felt it for some reason peculiarly repugnant to speak of certain things to Vassin — of some things and not of others; I succeeded, for instance, in interesting him in my description of the scenes that had taken place that morning in the passage, in the next room, and finally at Versilov’s. He listened with extreme attention, especially to what I told him of Stebelkov. When I told him how Stebelkov asked about Dergatchev he made me repeat the question again, and seemed to ponder gravely over it, though he did laugh in the end. It suddenly occurred to me at that moment that nothing could ever have disconcerted Vassin; I remember, however, that this idea presented itself at first in a form most complimentary to him.
“In fact, I could not gather much from what M. Stebelkov said,” I added finally; “he talks in a sort of muddle . . . and there is something, as it were, feather-headed about him . . . .”
Vassin at once assumed a serious air.
“He certainly has no gift for language, but he sometimes manages to make very acute observations at first sight, and in fact he belongs to the class of business men, men of practical affairs, rather than of theoretical ideas; one must judge them from that point of view . . . .”
It was exactly what I had imagined him saying that morning. “He made an awful row next door, though, and goodness knows how it might have ended.”
Of the inmates of the next room, Vassin told me that they had been living there about three weeks and had come from somewhere in the provinces; that their room was very small, and that to all appearance they were very poor; that they stayed in and seemed to be expecting something. He did not know the young woman had advertised for lessons, but he had heard that Versilov had been to see them; it had happened in his absence, but the landlady had told him of it. The two ladies had held themselves aloof from every one, even from the landlady. During the last few days he had indeed become aware that something was wrong with them, but there had been no other scenes like the one that morning. I recall all that was said about the people next door because of what followed. All this time there was a dead silence in the next room. Vassin listened with marked interest when I told him that Stebelkov had said he must talk to the landlady about our neighbours and that he had twice repeated, “Ah! you will see! you will see!”
“And you will see,” added Vassin, “that that notion of his stands for something; he has an extraordinarily keen eye for such things.”
“Why, do you think the landlady ought to be advised to turn them out?”
“No, I did not mean that they should be turned out . . . simply that there might be a scandal . . . but all such cases end one way or another. . . . Let’s drop the subject.”
As for Versilov’s visit next door, he absolutely refused to give any opinion.
“Anything is possible: a man feels that he has money in his pocket . . . but he may very likely have given the money from charity; that would perhaps be in accordance with his traditions and his inclinations.”
I told him that Stebelkov had chattered that morning about “a baby.”
“Stebelkov is absolutely mistaken about that,” Vassin brought out with peculiar emphasis and gravity (I remembered this particularly). “Stebelkov sometimes puts too much faith in his practical common sense, and so is in too great a hurry to draw conclusions to fit in with his logic, which is often very penetrating; and all the while the actual fact may be far more fantastic and surprising when one considers the character of the persons concerned in it. So it has been in this case; having a partial knowledge of the affair, he concluded the child belonged to Versilov; and yet the child is not Versilov’s.”
I pressed him, and, to my great amazement, learned from him that the infant in question was the child of Prince Sergay Sokolsky. Lidya Ahmakov, either owing to her illness or to some fantastic streak in her character, used at times to behave like a lunatic. She had been fascinated by the prince before she met Versilov, “and he had not scrupled to accept her love,” to use Vassin’s expression. The liaison had lasted but for a moment; they had quarrelled, as we know already, and Lidya had dismissed the prince, “at which the latter seems to have been relieved.” “She was a very strange girl,” added Vassin; “it is quite possible that she was not always in her right mind. But when he went away to Paris, Prince Sokolsky had no idea of the condition in which he had left his victim, he did not know until the end, until his return. Versilov, who had become a friend of the young lady’s, offered her his hand, in view of her situation (of which it appears her parents had no suspicion up to the end). The lovesick damsel was overjoyed, and saw in Versilov’s offer “something more than self-sacrifice,” though that too she appreciated. “Of course, though, he knew how to carry it through,” Vassin added. “The baby (a girl) was born a month or six weeks before the proper time; it was placed out somewhere in Germany but afterwards taken back by Versilov and is now somewhere in Russia — perhaps in Petersburg.”
“And the phosphorus matches?”
“I know nothing about that,” Vassin said in conclusion. “Lidya Ahmakov died a fortnight after her confinement: what had happened I don’t know. Prince Sokolsky, who had only just returned from Paris, learned there was a child, and seems not to have believed at first that it was his child. . . . The whole affair has, in fact, been kept secret by all parties up till now.”
“But what a wretch this prince must be,” I cried indignantly. “What a way to treat an invalid girl!”
“She was not so much of an invalid then. . . . Besides, she sent him away herself. . . . It is true, perhaps, that he was in too great a hurry to take advantage of his dismissal.”
“You justify a villain like that!”
“No, only I don’t call him a villain. There is a great deal in it besides simple villainy. In fact, it’s quite an ordinary thing.”
“Tell me, Vassin, did you know him intimately? I should particularly value your opinion, owing to a circumstance that touches me very nearly.”
But to this Vassin replied with excessive reserve. He knew the prince, but he was, with obvious intention, reticent in regard to the circumstances under which he had made his acquaintance. He added further that one had to make allowances for Prince Sokolsky’s character. “He is impressionable and full of honourable impulses, but has neither good sense nor strength of will enough to control his desires. He is not a well-educated man; many ideas and situations are beyond his power to deal with, and yet he rushes upon them. He will, for example, persist in declaring, ‘I am a prince and descended from Rurik; but there’s no reason why I shouldn’t be a shoemaker if I have to earn my living; I am not fit for any other calling. Above the shop there shall be, “Prince So-and-so, Bootmaker”— it would really be a credit.’ He would say that and act upon it, too, that’s what matters,” added Vassin; “and yet it’s not the result of strong conviction, but only the most shallow impressionability. Afterwards repentance invariably follows, and then he is always ready to rush to an opposite extreme; his whole life is passed like that. Many people come to grief in that way nowadays,” Vassin ended, “just because they are born in this age.”
I could not help pondering on his words.
“Is it true that he was turned out of his regiment?” I asked.
“I don’t know whether he was turned out, but he certainly did leave the regiment through some unpleasant scandal. I suppose you know that he spent two or three months last autumn at Luga.”
“I . . . I know that you were staying at Luga at that time.”
“Yes, I was there too for a time. Prince Sokolsky knew Lizaveta Makarovna too.”
“Oh! I didn’t know. I must confess I’ve had so little talk with my sister. . . . But surely he was not received in my mother’s house?” I cried.
“Oh, no; he was only slightly acquainted with them through other friends.”
“Ah, to be sure, what did my sister tell me about that child? Was the baby at Luga?”
“For a while.”
“And where is it now.”
“No doubt in Petersburg.”
“I never will believe,” I cried in great emotion, “that my mother took any part whatever in this scandal with this Lidya!”
“Apart from these intrigues, of which I can’t undertake to give the details, there was nothing particularly reprehensible in Versilov’s part of the affair,” observed Vassin, with a condescending smile. I fancy he began to feel it difficult to talk to me, but he tried not to betray it.
“I will never, never believe,” I cried again, “that a woman could give up her husband to another woman; that I won’t believe! . . . I swear my mother had no hand in it!”
“It seems, though, she did not oppose it.”
“In her place, from pride I should not have opposed it.”
“For my part, I absolutely refuse to judge in such a matter,” was Vassin’s final comment.
Perhaps, for all his intelligence, Vassin really knew nothing about women, so that a whole cycle of ideas and phenomena remained unknown to him. I sank into silence. Vassin had a temporary berth in some company’s office, and I knew that he used to bring work home with him. When I pressed him, he admitted that he had work to do now, accounts to make up, and I begged him warmly not to stand on ceremony with me. I believe this pleased him; but before bringing out his papers he made up a bed for me on the sofa. At first he offered me his bed, but when I refused it I think that too gratified him. He got pillows and a quilt from the landlady. Vassin was extremely polite and amiable, but it made me feel uncomfortable, seeing him take so much trouble on my account. I had liked it better when, three weeks before, I had spent a night at Efim’s. I remember how he concocted a bed for me, also on a sofa, and without the knowledge of his aunt, who would, he thought, for some reason, have been vexed if she had known he had a schoolfellow staying the night with him. We laughed a great deal. A shirt did duty for a sheet and an overcoat for a pillow. I remember how Efim, when he had completed the work, patted the sofa tenderly and said to me:
“Vous dormirez comme un petit roi.”
And his foolish mirth and the French phrase, as incongruous in his mouth as a saddle on a cow, made me enjoy sleeping at that jocose youth’s. As for Vassin, I felt greatly relieved when he sat down to work with his back to me. I stretched myself on the sofa and, looking at his back, pondered deeply on many things.
And indeed I had plenty to think about. Everything seemed split up and in confusion in my soul, but certain sensations stood out very definitely, though from their very abundance I was not dominated by any one of them. They all came, as it were, in disconnected flashes, one after another, and I had no inclination, I remember, to dwell on any one of my impressions or to establish any sequence among them. Even the idea of Kraft had imperceptibly passed into the background. What troubled me most of all was my own position, that here I had “broken off,” and that my trunk was with me, and I was not at home, and was beginning everything new. It was as though all my previous intentions and preparations had been in play, “and only now — and above all so SUDDENLY— everything was beginning in reality.” This idea gave me courage and cheered me up, in spite of the confusion within me over many things.
But . . . but I had other sensations; one of them was trying to dominate the others and to take possession of my soul, and, strange to say, this sensation too gave me courage and seemed to hold out prospects of something very gay. Yet this feeling had begun with fear: I had been afraid for a long time, from the very hour that in my heat I had, unawares, said too much to Mme. Ahmakov about the “document.” “Yes, I said too much,” I thought, “and maybe they will guess something . . . it’s a pity! No doubt they will give me no peace if they begin to suspect, but . . . let them! Very likely they won’t find me, I’ll hide! And what if they really do run after me . . .?” And then I began recalling minutely in every point, and with growing satisfaction, how I had stood up before Katerina Nikolaevna and how her insolent but extremely astonished eyes had gazed at me obstinately. Going away, I had left her in the same amazement, I remembered; “her eyes are not quite black, though . . . it’s only her eyelashes that are so black, and that’s what makes her eyes look so dark . . . .”
And suddenly, I remember, I felt horribly disgusted at the recollection . . . and sick and angry both at them and at myself. I reproached myself and tried to think of something else. “Why did I not feel the slightest indignation with Versilov for the incident with the girl in the next room?” it suddenly occurred to me to wonder. For my part, I was firmly convinced that he had had amorous designs and had come to amuse himself, but I was not particularly indignant at this. It seemed to me, indeed, that one could not have conceived of his behaving differently, and although I really was glad he had been put to shame, yet I did not blame him. It was not that which seemed important to me; what was important was the exasperation with which he had looked at me when I came in with the girl, the way he had looked at me as he had never done before.
“At last he has looked at me SERIOUSLY,” I thought, with a flutter at my heart. Ah, if I had not loved him I should not have been so overjoyed at his hatred!
At last I began to doze and fell asleep. I can just remember being aware of Vassin’s finishing his work, tidying away his things, looking carefully towards my sofa, undressing and putting out the light.
It was one o’clock at night.
Almost exactly two hours later I woke up with a start and, jumping up as though I were frantic, sat on my sofa. From the next room there arose fearful lamentations, screams, and sounds of weeping. Our door was wide open, and people were shouting and running to and fro in the lighted passage. I was on the point of calling to Vassin, but I realized that he was no longer in his bed. I did not know where to find the matches; I fumbled for my clothes and began hurriedly dressing in the dark. Evidently the landlady, and perhaps the lodgers, had run into the next room. Only one voice was wailing, however, that of the older woman: the youthful voice I had heard the day before, and so well remembered, was quite silent; I remember that this was the first thought that came into my mind. Before I had finished dressing Vassin came in hurriedly. He laid his hand on the matches instantly and lighted up the room. He was in his dressing-gown and slippers, and he immediately proceeded to dress.
“What’s happened?” I cried.
“A most unpleasant and bothersome business,” he answered almost angrily; “that young girl you were telling me about has hanged herself in the next room.”
I could not help crying out. I cannot describe the pang at my heart! We ran out into the passage. I must own I did not dare go into the room, and only saw the unhappy girl afterwards, when she had been taken down, and even then, indeed, at some distance and covered with a sheet, beyond which the two narrow soles of her shoes stood out. So I did not for some reason look into her face. The mother was in a fearful condition; our landlady was with her — not, however, greatly alarmed. All the lodgers in the flat had gathered round. There were only three of them: an elderly naval man, always very peevish and exacting, though on this occasion he was quite quiet, and an elderly couple, respectable people of the small functionary class who came from the province of Tver. I won’t attempt to describe the rest of that night, the general commotion and afterwards the visit of the police. Literally till daylight I kept shuddering and felt it my duty to sit up, though I did absolutely nothing. And indeed every one had an extraordinarily cheery air, as though they had been particularly cheered by something. Vassin went off somewhere. The landlady turned out to be rather a decent woman, much better than I had imagined her. I persuaded her (and I put it down to my credit) that the mother must not be left alone with the daughter’s corpse, and that she must, at least until to-morrow, take her into her room. The landlady at once agreed, and though the mother struggled and shed tears, refusing to leave her daughter, she did at last move into the landlady’s room, and the latter immediately ordered the samovar to be brought. After that the lodgers went back to their rooms and shut the doors, but nothing would have induced me to go to bed, and I remained a long time with the landlady, who was positively relieved at the presence of a third person, and especially one who was able to give some information bearing on the case.
The samovar was most welcome, and in fact the samovar is the most essential thing in Russia, especially at times of particularly awful, sudden, and eccentric catastrophes and misfortunes; even the mother was induced to drink two cups — though, of course, only with much urging and almost compulsion. And yet I can honestly say that I have never seen a bitterer and more genuine sorrow that that poor mother’s.
After the first paroxysms of sobbing and hysterics she was actually eager to talk, and I listened greedily to her story. There are unhappy people, especially women, who must be allowed to talk as freely as possible when they are in trouble. Moreover, there are characters too, blurred so to speak by sorrow, who all their life long have suffered, have suffered terribly much both of great sorrow and of continual worry about trifles, and who can never be surprised by anything, by any sort of sudden calamity, and who, above all, never, even beside the coffin of their dearest, can forget the rules of behaviour for propitiating people, which they have learnt by bitter experience. And I don’t criticize it: there is neither the vulgarity of egoism nor the insolence of culture in this; there is perhaps more genuine goodness to be found in these simple hearts than in heroines of the loftiest demeanour, but the long habit of humiliation, the instinct of self-preservation, the years of timid anxiety and oppression, leave their mark at last. The poor girl who had died by her own hand was not like her mother in this. They were alike in face, however, though the dead girl was decidedly good-looking. The mother was not a very old woman, fifty at the most; she, too, was fair, but her eyes were sunken, her cheeks were hollow, and she had large yellow, uneven teeth. And indeed everything had a tinge of yellowness: the skin on her hands and face was like parchment; her dark dress had grown yellow with age, and the nail on the forefinger of her right hand1 had been, I don’t know why, carefully and tidily plastered up with yellow wax.
The poor woman’s story was in parts quite disconnected. I will tell it as I understood it and as I remember it.
1 This must be an error on Dostoevsky’s part. Russian women sometimes plaster with wax the forefinger of the left hand to protect it from being pricked in sewing. — Translator’s Note.
They had come from Moscow. She had long been a widow —“the widow of an official, however.” Her husband had been in the government service, but had left them practically nothing “except a pension of two hundred roubles.” But what are two hundred roubles? Olya grew up, however, and went to the high school —“and how well she did, how good she was at her lessons; she won the silver medal when she left” (at this point, of course, prolonged weeping). The deceased husband had lost a fortune of nearly four thousand roubles, invested with a merchant here in Petersburg. This merchant had suddenly grown rich again. “I had papers, I asked advice; I was told, ‘Try, and you will certainly get it . . . .’ I wrote, the merchant agreed: ‘Go yourself,’ I was told. Olya and I set off, and arrived a month ago. Our means were small: we took this room because it was the smallest of all and, as we could see ourselves, in a respectable house, and that’s what mattered most to us. We were inexperienced women; every one takes advantage of us. Well, we paid you for one month. With one thing and another, Petersburg is ruinous. Our merchant gives us a flat refusal —‘I don’t know you or anything about you’; and the paper I had was not regular, I knew that. Then I was advised to go to a celebrated lawyer; he was a professor, not simply a lawyer but an expert, so he’d be sure to tell me what to do. I took him my last fifteen roubles. The lawyer came out to me, and he did not listen to me for three minutes: ‘I see,’ says he, ‘I know,’ says he. ‘If the merchant wants to,’ says he, ‘he’ll pay the money; if he doesn’t want to, he won’t, and if you take proceedings you may have to pay yourself, perhaps; you had far better come to terms.’ He made a joke, then, out of the Gospel: ‘Make peace,’ said he, ‘while your enemy is in the way with you, lest you pay to the uttermost farthing.’ He laughed as he saw me out. My fifteen roubles were wasted! I came back to Olya; we sat facing one another. I began crying. Olya did not cry; she sat there, proud and indignant. She has always been like that with me; all her life, even when she was tiny, she was never one to moan, she was never one to cry, but she would sit and look fierce; it used to make me creep to look at her. And — would you believe it? — I was afraid of her, I was really quite afraid of her; I’ve been so for a long time past. I often wanted to grieve, but I did not dare before her. I went to the merchant for the last time. I cried before him freely: he said it was all right, and would not even listen. Meanwhile I must confess that, not having reckoned on being here for so long, we had been for some time without a penny. I began taking our clothes one by one to the pawnbroker’s; we have been living on what we have pawned. I stripped myself of everything; she gave me the last of her linen, and I cried bitterly at taking it. She stamped, then she jumped up and ran off to the merchant herself. He was a widower; he talked to her. ‘Come at five o’clock the day after to-morrow,’ says he, ‘perhaps I shall have something to say to you.’ She came home quite gay: ‘He says he may have something to say to me.’ Well, I was pleased too, but yet I somehow felt a sort of chill at my heart. ‘Something will come of it,’ I thought, but I did not dare to question her. Two days later she came back from the merchant’s, pale and trembling all over, and threw herself on her bed. I saw what it meant, and did not dare to question her. And — would you believe it? — the villain had offered her fifteen roubles. ‘If I find you pure and virtuous I’ll hand you over another forty.’ He said that to her face — he wasn’t ashamed to. At that she flew at him, so she told me; he thrust her out, and even locked himself in the next room. And meanwhile I must confess, to tell the truth, we had nothing to eat. We brought out a jacket lined with hare-fur; we sold it. She went to a newspaper and put in an advertisement at once: she offered lessons in all subjects and in arithmetic. ‘If they’ll only pay thirty kopecks,’ she said. And in the end I began to be really alarmed at her: she would sit for hours at the window without saying a word, staring at the roof of the house opposite, and then she would suddenly cry out, ‘If I could only wash or dig!’ She would say one sentence like that and stamp her foot. And there was no one we knew here, no one we could go to: I wondered what would become of us. And all the while I was afraid to talk to her. One day she fell asleep in the daytime. She waked up, opened her eyes, and looked at me; I was sitting on the box, and I was looking at her too. She got up, came to me without saying a word, and threw her arms round me. And we could not help crying, both of us; we sat crying and clinging to each other. It was the first time in her life I had seen her like that. And just as we were sitting like that, your Nastasya came in and said, ‘There’s a lady inquiring for you.’ This was only four days ago. The lady came in; we saw she was very well dressed, though she spoke Russian, it seemed to me, with a German accent. ‘You advertised that you give lessons,’ she said. We were so delighted then, we made her sit down. She laughed in such a friendly way: ‘It’s not for me,’ she said, but my niece has small children; and if it suits you, come to us, and we will make arrangements.’ She gave an address, a flat in Voznessensky Street. She went away. Dear Olya set off the same day; she flew there. She came back two hours later; she was in hysterics, in convulsions. She told me afterwards: ‘I asked the porter where flat No. so-and-so was.’ The porter looked at her and said, ‘And what do you want to go to that flat for?’ He said that so strangely that it might have made one suspicious, but she was so self-willed, poor darling, so impatient, she could not bear impertinent questions. ‘Go along, then,’ he said, and he pointed up the stairs to her and went back himself to his little room. And what do you think! She went in, asked for the lady, and on all sides women ran up to her at once — horrid creatures, rouged; they rushed at her, laughing. ‘Please come in, please come in,’ they cried; they dragged her in. Some one was playing the piano. ‘I tried to get away from them,’ she said, ‘but they would not let me go.’ She was frightened, her legs gave way under her. They simply would not let her go; they talked to her coaxingly, they persuaded her, they uncorked a bottle of porter, they pressed it on her. She jumped up trembling, screamed at the top of her voice ‘Let me go, let me go!’ She rushed to the door; they held the door, she shrieked. Then the one who had been to see us the day before ran up and slapped my Olya twice in the face and pushed her out of the door: ‘You don’t deserve to be in a respectable house, you skinny slut!’ And another shouted after her on the stairs: ‘You came of yourself to beg of us because you have nothing to eat, but we won’t look at such an ugly fright!’ All that night she lay in a fever and delirious and in the morning her eyes glittered; she got up and walked about. ‘Justice,’ she cried, ‘she must be brought to justice!’ I said nothing, but I thought, ‘If you brought her up how could we prove it?’ She walked about with set lips, wringing her hands and tears streaming down her face. And her whole face seemed darkened from that time up to the very end. On the third day she seemed better; she was quiet and seemed calmer. And then at four o’clock in the afternoon M. Versilov came to us. And I must say I can’t understand, even now, how Olya, who was always so mistrustful, was ready to listen to him almost at the first word. What attracted us both more than anything was that he had such a grave, almost stern air; he spoke gently, impressively, and so politely — more than politely, respectfully even — and yet at the same time he showed no sign of trying to make up to us: it was plain to see he had come with a pure heart. ‘I read your advertisement in the paper,’ said he. ‘You did not word it suitably, madam, and you may damage your prospects by that.’ And he began explaining — I must own I did not understand — something about arithmetic, but I saw that Olya flushed and seemed to brighten up altogether. She listened and talked readily (and, to be sure, he must be a clever man!); I heard her even thank him. He questioned her so minutely about everything, and it seemed that he had lived a long time in Moscow, and it turned out that he knew the head mistress of the high school. ‘I will be sure to find you lessons,’ said he, ‘for I know a great many people here, and I can, in fact, apply to many influential people, so that if you would prefer a permanent situation we might look out for that. . . . Meanwhile,’ said he, ‘forgive me one direct question: can I be of some use to you at once? It will be your doing me a favour, not my doing you one,’ said he, ‘if you will allow me to be of use to you in any way. Let it be a loan,’ said he, ‘and as soon as you have a situation, in a very short time, you will be able to repay me. Believe me, on my honour,’ said he, ‘if ever I were to come to poverty and you had plenty of everything I would come straight to you for some little help. I would send my wife and daughter’ . . . at least, I don’t remember all his words, only I was moved to tears, for I saw that Olya’s lips were trembling with gratitude too. ‘If I take it,’ she answered him, ‘it is because I trust an honourable and humane man, who might have been my father . . . .’ That was very well said by her, briefly and with dignity. ‘A humane man,’ said she. He stood up at once: ‘I will get you lessons and a situation without fail. I will set to work this very day, for you have quite a satisfactory diploma too . . . .’ I forgot to say that he looked through all her school certificates when he first came in; she showed them to him, and he examined her in several subjects. . . . ‘You see, he examined me, mamma,’ Olya said to me afterwards, ‘and what a clever man he is,’ she said; ‘it is not often one speaks to such a well-educated, cultured man . . . .’ And she was quite radiant. The money — sixty roubles, lay on the table: ‘Take it, mamma,’ said she; ‘when I get a situation we will pay it back as soon as possible. We will show that we are honest and that we have delicacy: he has seen that already, though.’ Then she paused. I saw her draw a deep breath. ‘Do you know, mamma,’ she said to me suddenly, ‘if we had been coarse we should perhaps have refused to take it through pride, but by taking it now we only show our delicacy of feeling and that we trust him completely, out of respect for his grey hair, don’t we?’ At first I did not quite understand: ‘But why, Olya, not accept the benevolence a wealthy and honourable man if he has a good heart too?’ She scowled at me. ‘No, mamma,’ she said, ‘that’s not it; I don’t want benevolence, but his humanity is precious. And it would have been better really not to have taken the money at all, since he has promised to get me a situation; that’s enough . . . though we are in need.’ ‘Well, Olya,’ said I, ‘our need is so great that we could not have refused it.’ I actually laughed. Well, I was pleased, but an hour later she turned to me: ‘Don’t spend that money yet, mamma,’ said she resolutely. ‘What?’ said I. ‘I mean it,’ she said, and she broke off and said no more. She was silent all the evening, only at two o’clock in the night I waked up and heard Olya tossing in her bed: ‘Are you awake, mamma?’ ‘Yes, I am awake.’ ‘Do you know, he meant to insult me.’ ‘What nonsense, what nonsense,’ I said. ‘There is no doubt of it,’ she said; ‘he is a vile man; don’t dare to spend a farthing of his money.’ I tried to talk to her. I burst out crying, in bed as I was. She turned away to the wall. ‘Be quiet,’ she said, ‘let me go to sleep!’ In the morning I looked at her; she was not like herself. And you may believe it or not, before God I swear she was not in her right mind then! From the time that she was insulted in that infamous place there was darkness and perplexity in her heart . . . and in her brain. Looking at her that morning, I had misgivings about her; I was alarmed. I made up my mind I would not say a word to contradict her. ‘He did not even leave his address, mamma,’ she said. ‘For shame, Olya,’ I said; ‘you listened to him last night; you praised him and were ready to shed tears of gratitude.’ That was all I said, but she screamed and stamped. ‘You are a woman of low feelings,’ she said, ‘brought up in the old slavish ideas . . . .’ And then, without a word, she snatched up her hat, ran out. I called after her. I wondered what was the matter with her, where she had run. She had run to the address bureau to find out where Versilov lived. ‘I’ll take him back the money today and fling it in his face; he meant to insult me,’ she said, ‘like Safronov (that is the merchant), but Safronov insulted me like a coarse peasant, but he like a cunning Jesuit.’ And just then, unhappily, that gentleman knocked at the door: ‘I hear the name of Versilov,’ he said; ‘I can tell you about him.’ When she heard Versilov’s name she pounced on him. She was in a perfect frenzy; she kept talking away. I gazed at her in amazement. She was always a silent girl and had never talked to anyone like that, and with a perfect stranger too. Her cheeks were burning, her eyes glittered. . . . And he said at once: ‘You are perfectly right, madam. Versilov,’ said he, ‘is just like the generals here, described in the newspapers; they dress themselves up with all their decorations and go after all the governesses who advertise in the papers. Sometimes they find what they want, or, if they don’t, they sit and talk a little, make bushels of promises and go away, having got diversion out of it, anyway.’ Olya actually laughed, but so bitterly, and I saw the gentleman take her hand and press it to his heart. ‘I am a man of independent means, madam,’ said he, ‘and might well make a proposal to a fair maiden, but I’d better,’ said he, ‘kiss your little hand to begin with . . . .’ And he was trying to kiss her hand. How she started! But I came to the rescue, and together we turned him out of the room. Then, towards evening, Olya snatched the money from me and ran out. When she came back she said, ‘I have revenged myself on that dishonourable man, mamma.’ ‘Oh, Olya, Olya,’ I said, ‘perhaps we have thrown away our happiness. You have insulted a generous, benevolent man!’ I cried — I was so vexed with her I could not help it. She shouted at me. ‘I won’t have it, I won’t have it!’ she cried; ‘if he were ever so honest, I don’t want his charity! I don’t want anyone to pity me!’ I went to bed with no thought of anything. How many times I had looked on that nail in your wall where once there had been a looking-glass — it never entered my head, never; I never thought of it yesterday and I’d never thought of it before; I had no inkling of it, and I did not expect it of Olya at all. I usually sleep heavily and snore; it’s the blood going to my head, and sometimes it goes to my heart. I call out in my sleep so that Olya wakes me up at night. ‘What is the matter with you, mamma?’ she would say; ‘you sleep so heavily there’s no waking you.’ ‘Oh, Olya,’ I said, ‘I do, I do.’ That’s how I must have slept this night, so that, after waiting a bit, she got up without fear of waking me. The strap, a long one from our trunk, had been lying about all that month where we could see it; only yesterday morning I had been thinking of tidying it away. And the chair she must have kicked away afterwards, and she had put her petticoat down beside it to prevent its banging on the floor. And it must have been a long time afterwards, a whole hour or more afterwards, that I waked up and called ‘Olya, Olya’; all at once I felt something amiss, and called her name. Either because I did not hear her breathing in her bed, or perhaps I made out in the dark that the bed was empty — anyway, I got up suddenly and felt with my hand; there was no one in the bed and the pillow was cold. My heart sank; I stood still as though I were stunned; my mind was a blank. ‘She’s gone out,’ I thought. I took a step, and by the bed I seemed to see her standing in the corner by the door. I stood still and gazed at her without speaking, and through the darkness she seemed to look at me without stirring. . . . ‘But why has she got on a chair,’ I wondered. ‘Olya,’ I whispered. I was frightened. ‘Olya, do you hear?’ But suddenly, as it were, it all dawned upon me. I went forward, held out both arms and put them round her, and she swayed in my arms; I swayed and she swayed with me. I understood and would not understand. . . . I wanted to cry out, but no cry came. . . . Ach! I fell on the floor and shrieked . . . .”
“Vassin,” I said at six o’clock in the morning, “if it had not been for your Stebelkov this might not have happened.”
“Who knows? — most likely it would have happened. One can’t draw such a conclusion; everything was leading up to it, apart from that. . . . It is true that Stebelkov sometimes . . . .”
He broke off and frowned disagreeably. At seven o’clock he went out again; he still had a great deal to do. I was left at last entirely alone. It was by now daylight. I felt rather giddy. I was haunted by the figure of Versilov: this lady’s story had brought him out in quite a different light. To think this over better, I lay down on Vassin’s bed just as I was, in my clothes and my boots, just for a minute, with no intention of going to sleep — and suddenly I fell asleep; I don’t remember how it happened, indeed. I slept almost four hours; nobody waked me.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:07