The Devil, by Leo Tolstoy


It was just before Trinity Sunday. Liza was in her fifth month, and though careful she was still brisk and active. Both his mother and hers were living in the house, but under the pretext of watching and safeguarding her only upset her by their tiffs. Eugene was specially engrossed with a new experiment for the cultivation of sugar-beet on a large scale.

Just before Trinity Liza decided it was necessary to have a thorough house-cleaning as it had not been done since Easter, and she hired two women by the day to help the servants wash the floors and windows, beat the furniture and the carpets, and put covers on them. These women came early in the morning, heated the coppers, and set to work. One of the two was Stepanida, who had just weaned her baby boy and had begged for the job of washing the floors through the office-clerk — whom she now carried on with. She wanted to have a good look at the new mistress. Stepanida was living by herself as formerly, her husband being away, and she was up to tricks as she had formerly been first with old Daniel (who had once caught her taking some logs of firewood), afterwards with the master, and now with the young clerk. She was not concerning herself any longer about her master. “He has a wife now,” she thought. But it would be good to have a look at the lady and at her establishment: folk said it was well arranged.

Eugene had not seen her since he had met her with the child. Having a baby to attend to she had not been going out to work, and he seldom walked through the village. that morning, on the eve of Trinity Sunday, he got up at five o’clock and rode to the fallow land which was to sprinkled with phosphates, and had left the house before the women were about, and while they were still engaged lighting the copper fires.

He returned to breakfast merry, contented, and hungry; dismounting from his mare at the gate and handing her over to the gardener. Flicking the high grass with his whip and repeating a phrase he had just uttered, as one often does, he walked towards the house. The phrase was: “phosphates justify” — what or to whom, he neither knew nor reflected.

They were beating a carpet on the grass. The furniture had been brought out.

“There now! What a house-cleaning Liza has undertaken! . . . Phosphates justify. . . . What a manageress she is! Yes, a manageress,” said he to himself, vividly imagining her in her white wrapper and with her smiling joyful face, as it nearly always was when he looked at her. “Yes, I must change my boots, or else ‘phosphates justify’, that is, smell of manure, and the manageress in such a condition. Why ‘in such a condition’? Because a new little Irtenev is growing there inside her,” he thought. “Yes, phosphates justify,” and smiling at his thoughts he put his hand to the door of his room.

But he had not time to push the door before it opened of itself and he came face to face with a woman coming towards him carrying a pail, barefoot and with sleeves turned up high. He stepped aside to let her pass and she too stepped aside, adjusting her kerchief with a wet hand.

“Go on, go on, I won’t go in, if you . . . “ began Eugene and suddenly stopped, recognizing her.

She glanced merrily at him with smiling eyes, and pulling down her skirt went out at the door.

“What nonsense! . . . It is impossible,” said Eugene to himself, frowning and waving his hand as though to get rid of a fly, displeased at having noticed her. He was vexed that he had noticed her and yet he could not take his eyes from her strong body, swayed by her agile strides, from her bare feet, or from her arms and shoulders, and the pleasing folds of her shirt and the handsome skirt tucked up high above her white calves.

“But why am I looking?” said he to himself, lowering his eyes so as not to see her. “And anyhow I must go in to get some other boots.” and he turned back to go into his own room, but had not gone five steps before he again glanced round to have another look at her without knowing why or wherefore. She was just going round the corner and also glanced at him.

“Ah, what am I doing!” said he to himself. “She may think . . . It is even certain that she already does think . . . ”

He entered his damp room. another woman, an old and skinny one, was there, and was still washing it. Eugene passed on tiptoe across the floor, wet with dirty water, to the wall where his boots stood, and he was about to leave the room when the woman herself went out.

“This one has gone and the other, Stepanida, will come here alone,” someone within him began to reflect.

“My God, what am I thinking of and what am I doing!” He seized his boots and ran out with them into the hall, put them on there, brushed himself, and went out onto the veranda where both the mammas were already drinking coffee. Liza had evidently been expecting him and came onto the veranda through another door at the same time.

“My God! If she, who considers me so honourable, pure, and innocent — if she only knew!” — thought he.

Liza as usual met him with shining face. But today somehow she seemed to him particularly pale, yellow, long, and weak.

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