The Devil, by Leo Tolstoy


Towards spring he went to his estate at Semenovskoe to have a look at it and to give directions about the management, and especially about the house which was being done up for his wedding.

Mary Pavlovna was dissatisfied with her son’s choice, not only because the match was not as brilliant as it might have been, but also because she did not like Varvara Alexeevna, his future mother-in-law. Whether she was good-natured or not she did not know and could not decide, but that she was not well-bred, not *comme il faut* — “not a lady” as Mary Pavlovna said to herself — she saw from their first acquaintance, and this distressed her; distressed her because she was accustomed to value breeding and knew that Eugene was sensitive to it, and she foresaw that he would suffer much annoyance on this account. But she liked the girl. Liked her chiefly because Eugene did. One could not help loving her, and Mary Pavlovna was quite sincerely ready to do so.

Eugene found his mother contented and in good spirits. She was getting everything straight in the house and preparing to go away herself as soon as he brought his young wife. Eugene persuaded her to stay for the time being, and the future remained undecided.

In the evening after tea Mary Pavlovna played patience as usual. Eugene sat by, helping her. This was the hour of their most intimate talks. Having finished one game and while preparing to begin another, she looked up at him and, with a little hesitation, began thus:

“I wanted to tell you, Jenya — of course I do not know, but in general I wanted to suggest to you — that before your wedding it is absolutely necessary to have finished with all your bachelor affairs so that nothing may disturb either you or your wife. God forbid that it should. You understand me?”

And indeed Eugene at once understood that Mary Pavlovna was hinting at his relations with Stepanida which had ended in the previous autumn, and that she attributed much more importance to those relations than they deserved, as solitary women always do. Eugene blushed, not from shame so much as from vexation that good- natured Mary Pavlovna was bothering — out of affection no doubt, but still was bothering — about matters that were not her business and that she did not and could not understand. He answered that there was nothing that needed concealment, and that he had always conducted himself so that there should be nothing to hinder his marrying.

“Well, dear, that is excellent. Only, Jenya . . . don’t be vexed with me,” said Mary Pavlovna, and broke off in confusion.

Eugene saw that she had not finished and had not said what she wanted to. And this was confirmed, when a little later she began to tell him how, in his absence, she had been asked to stand godmother at . . . the Pechnikovs.

Eugene flushed again, not with vexation or shame this time, but with some strange consciousness of the importance of what was about to be told him — an involuntary consciousness quite at variance with his conclusions. And what he expected happened. Mary Pavlovna, as if merely by way of conversation, mentioned that this year only boys were being born — evidently a sign of a coming war. Both at the Vasins and the Pechnikovs the young wife had a first child — at each house a boy. Mary Pavlovna wanted to say this casually, but she herself felt ashamed when she saw the colour mount to her son’s face and saw him nervously removing, tapping, and replacing his pince-nez and hurriedly lighting a cigarette. She became silent. He too was silent and could not think how to break that silence. So they both understood that they had understood one another.

“Yes, the chief thing is that there should be justice and no favouritism in the village — as under your grandfather.”

“Mamma,” said Eugene suddenly, “I know why you are saying this. You have no need to be disturbed. My future family life is so sacred to me that I should not infringe it in any case. and as to what occurred in my bachelor days, that is quite ended. I never formed any union and on one has any claims on me.”

“Well, I am glad,” said his mother. “I know how noble your feelings are.”

Eugene accepted his mother’s words as a tribute due to him, and did not reply.

Next day he drove to town thinking of his fianc? and of anything in the world except of Stepanida. but, as if purposely to remind him, on approaching the church he met people walking and driving back from it. He met old Matvey with Simon, some lads and girls, and then two women, one elderly, the other, who seemed familiar, smartly dressed and wearing a bright-red kerchief. This woman was walking lightly and boldly, carrying a child in her arms. He came up to them, and the elder woman bowed, stopping in the old- fashioned way, but the young woman with the child only bent her

head, and from under the kerchief gleamed familiar, merry, smiling eyes.

Yes, this was she, but all that was over and it was no use looking at her: “and the child may be mine,” flashed through his mind. No, what nonsense! There was her husband, she used to see him. He did not even consider the matter further, so settled in his mind was it that it had been necessary for his health — he had paid her money and there was no more to be said; there was, there had been, and there could be, no question of any union between them. It was not that he stifled the voice of conscience, no -his conscience simply said nothing to him. And he thought no more about her after the conversation with his mother and this meeting. Nor did he meet her again.

Eugene was married in town the week after Easter, and left at once with his young wife for his country estate. The house had been arranged as usual for a young couple. Mary Pavlovna wished to leave, but Eugene begged her to remain, and Liza still more strongly, and she only moved into a detached wing of the house.

And so a new life began for Eugene.

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