The Devil, by Leo Tolstoy


To settle the matter in his own mind was one thing but to carry it out was another. To approach a woman himself was impossible. which one? Where? It must be done through someone else, but to whom should he speak about it?

He happened to go into a watchman’s hut in the forest to get a drink of water. The watchman had been his father’s huntsman, and Eugene Ivanich chatted with him, and the man began telling some strange tales of hunting sprees. It occurred to Eugene Ivanich that it would be convenient to arrange matters in this hut, or in the wood, only he did not know how to manage it and whether old Daniel would undertake the arrangement. “Perhaps he will be horrified at such a proposal and I shall have disgraced myself, but perhaps he will agree to it quite simply.” So he thought while listening to Daniel’s stories. Daniel was telling how once when they had been stopping at the hut of the sexton’s wife in an outlying field, he had brought a woman for Fedor Zakharich Pryanishnikov.

“It will be all right,” thought Eugene.

“Your father, may the kingdom of heaven be his, did not go in for nonsense of that kind.”

“It won’t do,” thought Eugene. But to test the matter he said: “How was it you engaged on such bad things?”

“But what was there bad in it? She was glad, and Fedor Zakharich was satisfied, very satisfied. I got a ruble. Why, what was he to do? He too is a lively limb apparently, and drinks wine.”

“Yes, I may speak,” thought Eugene, and at once proceeded to do so.

“And do you know, Daniel, I don’t know how to endure it,” -he felt himself going scarlet.

Daniel smiled.

“I am not a monk — I have been accustomed to it.”

He felt that what he was saying was stupid, but was glad to see that Daniel approved.

“Why of course, you should have told me long ago. It can all be arranged,” said he: “only tell me which one you want.”

“Oh, it is really all the same to me. Of course not an ugly one, and she must be healthy.”

“I understand!” said Daniel briefly. He reflected.

“Ah! There is a tasty morsel,” he began. Again Eugene went red.

“A tasty morsel. See here, she was married last autumn.” Daniel whispered — “and he hasn’t been able to do anything. Think what that is worth to one who wants it!”

Eugene even frowned with shame.

“No, no,” he said. “I don’t want that at all. I want, on the contrary (what could the contrary be?), on the contrary I only want that she should be healthy and that there should be as little fuss as possible — a woman whose husband is away in the army or something of that kind.”

“I know. It’s Stepanida I must bring you. Her husband is away in town, just the same as a soldier. and she is a fine woman, and clean. You will be satisfied. As it is I was saying to her the other day — you should go, but she . . . ”

“Well then, when is it to be?”

“Tomorrow if you like. I shall be going to get some tobacco and I will call in, and at the dinner-hour come here, or to the bath- house behind the kitchen garden. There will be nobody about. Besides after dinner everybody takes a nap.”

“All right then.”

A terrible excitement seized Eugene as he rode home. “what will happen? What is a peasant woman like? Suppose it turns out that she is hideous, horrible? No, she is handsome,” he told himself, remembering some he had been noticing. “But what shall I say? What shall I do?”

He was not himself all that day. Next day at noon he went to the forester’s hut. Daniel stood at the door and silently and significantly nodded towards the wood. The blood rushed to Eugene’s heart, he was conscious of it and went to the kitchen garden. No one was there. He went to the bath-house — there was no one about, he looked in, came out, and suddenly heard the crackling of a breaking twig. He looked round — and she was standing in the thicket beyond the little ravine. He rushed there across the ravine. There were nettles in it which he had not noticed. they stung him and, losing the pince-nez from his nose, he ran up the slope on the farther side. She stood there, in a white embroidered apron, a red-brown skirt, and a bright red kerchief, barefoot, fresh, firm, and handsome, and smiling shyly. “There is a path leading round — you should have gone round,” she said. “I came long ago, ever so long.”

He went up to her and, looking her over, touched her.

A quarter of an hour later they separated; he found his pincenez, called in to see Daniel, and in reply to his question: “Are you satisfied, master?” gave him a ruble and went home.

He was satisfied. Only at first had he felt ashamed, then it had passed off. And everything had gone well. The best thing was that he now felt at ease, tranquil and vigorous. As for her, he had not even seen her thoroughly. He remembered that she was clean, fresh, not bad-looking, and simple, without any pretence. “Whose wife is she?” said he to himself. “Pechnikov’s, Daniel said. What Pechnikov is that? There are two households of that name. Probably she is old Michael’s daughter-in-law. Yes, that must be it. His son does live in Moscow. I’ll ask Daniel about it some time.”

From then onward that previously important drawback to country life — enforced self-restraint — was eliminated. Eugene’s freedom of mind was no longer disturbed and he was able to attend freely to his affairs.

And the matter Eugene had undertaken was far from easy: before he had time to stop up one hole a new one would unexpectedly show itself, and it sometimes seemed to him that he would not be able to go through with it and that it would end in his having to sell the estate after all, which would mean that all his efforts would be wasted and that he had failed to accomplish what he had undertaken. That prospect disturbed him most of all.

All this time more and more debts of his father’s unexpectedly came to light. It was evident that towards the end of his life he had borrowed right and left. At the time of the settlement in May, Eugene had thought he at least knew everything, but in the middle of the summer he suddenly received a letter from which it appeared that there was still a debt of twelve thousand rubles to the widow Esipova. There was no promissory note, but only an ordinary receipt which his lawyer told him could be disputed. But it did not enter Eugene’s head to refuse to pay a debt of his father’s merely because the document could be challenged. He only wanted to know for certain whether there had been such a debt.

“Mamma! who is Kaleriya Vladimirovna Esipova?” he asked his mother when they met as usual for dinner.

“Esipova? she was brought up by your grandfather. Why?”

Eugene told his mother about the letter.

“I wonder she is not ashamed to ask for it. Your father gave her so much!”

“But do we owe her this?”

“Well now, how shall I put it? It is not a debt. Papa, out of his unbounded kindness . . . ”

“Yes, but did Papa consider it a debt?”

“I cannot say. I don’t know. I only know it is hard enough for you without that.”

Eugene saw that Mary Pavlovna did not know what to say, and was as it were sounding him.

“I see from what you say that it must be paid,” said he. “I will go to see her tomorrow and have a chat, and see if it cannot be deferred.”

“Ah, how sorry I am for you, but you know that will be best. Tell her she must wait,” said mary Pavlovna, evidently tranquillized and proud of her son’s decision.

Eugene’s position was particularly hard because his mother, who was living with him, did not at all realize his position. She had been accustomed all her life long to live extravagantly that she could not even imagine to herself the position her son was in, that is to say, that today or tomorrow matters might shape themselves so that they would have nothing left and he would have to sell everything and live and support his mother on what salary he could earn, which at the very most would be tow thousand rubles. She did not understand that they could only save themselves from that position by cutting down expense in everything, and so she could not understand why Eugene was so careful about trifles, in expenditure on gardeners, coachmen, servants — even on food. Also, like most widows, she nourished feelings of devotion to the memory of her departed spouse quite different from those she had felt for him while he lived, and she did not admit the thought that anything the departed had done or arranged could be wrong or could be altered.

Eugene by great efforts managed to keep up the garden and the conservatory with two gardeners, and the stables with two coachmen. And Mary Pavlovna naively thought that she was sacrificing herself for her son and doing all a mother could do, by not complaining of the food which the old man-cook prepared, of the fact that the

paths in the park were not all swept clean, and that instead of footmen they had only a boy.

So, too, concerning this new debt, in which Eugene saw an almost crushing blow to all his undertakings, Mary Pavlovna only saw an incident displaying Eugene’s noble nature. Moreover she did not feel much anxiety about Eugene’s position, because she was confident that he would make a brilliant marriage which would put everything right. And he could make a very brilliant marriage: she knew a dozen families who would be glad to give their daughters to him. And she wished to arrange the matter as soon as possible.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01