A regiment of cuirassiers was quartered in 1829 in the village of Kirilovo, in the K—— province. That village, with its huts and hay-stacks, its green hemp-patches, and gaunt willows, looked from a distance like an island in a boundless sea of ploughed, black-earth fields. In the middle of the village was a small pond, invariably covered with goose feathers, with muddy, indented banks; a hundred paces from the pond, on the other side of the road, rose the wooden manor-house, long, empty, and mournfully slanting on one side. Behind the house stretched the deserted garden; in the garden grew old apple-trees that bore no fruit, and tall birch-trees, full of rooks’ nests. At the end of the principal garden-walk, in a little house, once the bath-house, lived a decrepit old steward. Every morning, gasping and groaning, he would, from years of habit, drag himself across the garden to the seignorial apartments, though there was nothing to take care of in them except a dozen white arm-chairs, upholstered in faded stuff, two podgy chests on carved legs with copper handles, four pictures with holes in them, and one black alabaster Arab with a broken nose. The owner of the house, a careless young man, lived partly at Petersburg, partly abroad, and had completely forgotten his estate. It had come to him eight years before, from a very old uncle, once noted all over the countryside for his excellent liqueurs. The empty, dark-green bottles are to this day lying about in the storeroom, in company with rubbish of all sorts, old manuscript books in parti-coloured covers, scantily filled with writing, old-fashioned glass lustres, a nobleman’s uniform of the Catherine period, a rusty sabre with a steel handle and so forth. In one of the lodges of the great house the colonel himself took up his abode. He was a married man, tall, sparing of his words, grim and sleepy. In another lodge lived the regimental adjutant, an emotional person of fine sentiments and many perfumes, fond of flowers and female society. The social life of the officers of this regiment did not differ from any other kind of society. Among their number were good people and bad, clever and silly. . . . One of them, a certain Avdey Ivanovitch Lutchkov, staff captain, had a reputation as a duellist. Lutchkov was a short and not thick-set man; he had a small, yellowish, dry face, lank, black hair, unnoticeable features, and dark, little eyes. He had early been left an orphan, and had grown up among privations and hardships. For weeks together he would be quiet enough, . . . and then all at once — as though he were possessed by some devil — he would let no one alone, annoying everybody, staring every one insolently in the face; trying, in fact, to pick a quarrel. Avdey Ivanovitch did not, however, hold aloof from intercourse with his comrades, but he was not on intimate terms with any one but the perfumed adjutant. He did not play cards, and did not drink spirits.
In the May of 1829, not long before the beginning of the manoeuvres, there joined the regiment a young cornet, Fyodor Fedorovitch Kister, a Russian nobleman of German extraction, very fair-haired and very modest, cultivated and well read. He had lived up to his twentieth year in the home of his fathers, under the wings of his mother, his grandmother, and his two aunts. He was going into the army in deference solely to the wishes of his grandmother, who even in her old age could not see a white plumed helmet without emotion. . . . He served with no special enthusiasm but with energy, as it were conscientiously doing his duty. He was not a dandy, but was always cleanly dressed and in good taste. On the day of his arrival Fyodor Fedoritch paid his respects to his superior officers, and then proceeded to arrange his quarters. He had brought with him some cheap furniture, rugs, shelves, and so forth. He papered all the walls and the doors, put up some screens, had the yard cleaned, fixed up a stable, and a kitchen, even arranged a place for a bath. . . . For a whole week he was busily at work; but it was a pleasure afterwards to go into his room. Before the window stood a neat table, covered with various little things; in one corner was a set of shelves for books, with busts of Schiller and Goethe; on the walls hung maps, four Grevedon heads, and guns; near the table was an elegant row of pipes with clean mouthpieces; there was a rug in the outer room; all the doors shut and locked; the windows were hung with curtains. Everything in Fyodor Fedoritch’s room had a look of cleanliness and order.
It was quite a different thing in his comrades’ quarters. Often one could scarcely make one’s way across the muddy yard; in the outer room, behind a canvas screen, with its covering peeling off it, would lie stretched the snoring orderly; on the floor rotten straw; on the stove, boots and a broken jam-pot full of blacking; in the room itself a warped card-table, marked with chalk; on the table, glasses, half-full of cold, dark-brown tea; against the wall, a wide, rickety, greasy sofa; on the window-sills, tobacco-ash. . . . In a podgy, clumsy arm-chair one would find the master of the place in a grass-green dressing-gown with crimson plush facings and an embroidered smoking-cap of Asiatic extraction, and a hideously fat, unpleasant dog in a stinking brass collar would be snoring at his side. . . . All the doors always ajar. . . .
Fyodor Fedoritch made a favourable impression on his new comrades. They liked him for his good-nature, modesty, warm-heartedness, and natural inclination for everything beautiful, for everything, in fact, which in another officer they might, very likely, have thought out of place. They called Kister a young lady, and were kind and gentle in their manners with him. Avdey Ivanovitch was the only one who eyed him dubiously. One day after drill Lutchkov went up to him, slightly pursing up his lips and inflating his nostrils:
‘Good-morning, Mr. Knaster.’
Kister looked at him in some perplexity.
‘A very good day to you, Mr. Knaster,’ repeated Lutchkov.
‘My name’s Kister, sir.’
‘You don’t say so, Mr. Knaster.’
Fyodor Fedoritch turned his back on him and went homewards. Lutchkov looked after him with a grin.
Next day, directly after drill he went up to Kister again.
‘Well, how are you getting on, Mr. Kinderbalsam?’
Kister was angry, and looked him straight in the face. Avdey Ivanovitch’s little bilious eyes were gleaming with malignant glee.
‘I’m addressing you, Mr. Kinderbalsam!’
‘Sir,’ Fyodor Fedoritch replied, ‘I consider your joke stupid and ill-bred — do you hear? — stupid and ill-bred.’
‘When shall we fight?’ Lutchkov responded composedly.
‘When you like, . . . tomorrow.’
Next morning they fought a duel. Lutchkov wounded Kister slightly, and to the extreme astonishment of the seconds went up to the wounded man, took him by the hand and begged his pardon. Kister had to keep indoors for a fortnight. Avdey Ivanovitch came several times to ask after him and on Fyodor Fedoritch’s recovery made friends with him. Whether he was pleased by the young officer’s pluck, or whether a feeling akin to remorse was roused in his soul — it’s hard to say . . . but from the time of his duel with Kister, Avdey Ivanovitch scarcely left his side, and called him first Fyodor, and afterwards simply Fedya. In his presence he became quite another man and — strange to say! — the change was not in his favour. It did not suit him to be gentle and soft. Sympathy he could not call forth in any one anyhow; such was his destiny! He belonged to that class of persons to whom has somehow been granted the privilege of authority over others; but nature had denied him the gifts essential for the justification of such a privilege. Having received no education, not being distinguished by intelligence, he ought not to have revealed himself; possibly his malignancy had its origin in his consciousness of the defects of his bringing up, in the desire to conceal himself altogether under one unchanging mask. Avdey Ivanovitch had at first forced himself to despise people, then he began to notice that it was not a difficult matter to intimidate them, and he began to despise them in reality. Lutchkov enjoyed cutting short by his very approach all but the most vulgar conversation. ‘I know nothing, and have learned nothing, and I have no talents,’ he said to himself; ‘and so you too shall know nothing and not show off your talents before me. . . . ’ Kister, perhaps, had made Lutchkov abandon the part he had taken up — just because before his acquaintance with him, the bully had never met any one genuinely idealistic, that is to say, unselfishly and simple-heartedly absorbed in dreams, and so, indulgent to others, and not full of himself.
Avdey Ivanovitch would come sometimes to Kister, light a pipe and quietly sit down in an arm-chair. Lutchkov was not in Kister’s company abashed by his own ignorance; he relied — and with good reason — on his German modesty.
‘Well,’ he would begin, ‘what did you do yesterday? Been reading, I’ll bet, eh?’
‘Yes, I read. . . . ’
‘Well, and what did you read? Come, tell away, old man, tell away.’ Avdey Ivanovitch kept up his bantering tone to the end.
‘I read Kleist’s Idyll. Ah, what a fine thing it is! If you don’t mind, I’ll translate you a few lines. . . . ’ And Kister translated with fervour, while Lutchkov, wrinkling up his forehead and compressing his lips, listened attentively. . . . ‘Yes, yes,’ he would repeat hurriedly, with a disagreeable smile,‘it’s fine . . . very fine . . . I remember, I’ve read it . . . very fine.’
‘Tell me, please,’ he added affectedly, and as it were reluctantly, ‘what’s your view of Louis the Fourteenth?’
And Kister would proceed to discourse upon Louis the Fourteenth, while Lutchkov listened, totally failing to understand a great deal, misunderstanding a part . . . and at last venturing to make a remark. . . . This threw him into a cold sweat; ‘now, if I’m making a fool of myself,’ he thought. And as a fact he often did make a fool of himself. But Kister was never off-hand in his replies; the good-hearted youth was inwardly rejoicing that, as he thought, the desire for enlightenment was awakened in a fellow-creature. Alas! it was from no desire for enlightenment that Avdey Ivanovitch questioned Kister; God knows why he did! Possibly he wished to ascertain for himself what sort of head he, Lutchkov, had, whether it was really dull, or simply untrained. ‘So I really am stupid,’ he said to himself more than once with a bitter smile; and he would draw himself up instantly and look rudely and insolently about him, and smile malignantly to himself if he caught some comrade dropping his eyes before his glance. ‘All right, my man, you’re so learned and well educated, . . . ’ he would mutter between his teeth. ‘I’ll show you . . . that’s all. . . . ’
The officers did not long discuss the sudden friendship of Kister and Lutchkov; they were used to the duellist’s queer ways. ‘The devil’s made friends with the baby,’ they said. . . . Kister was warm in his praises of his friend on all hands; no one disputed his opinion, because they were afraid of Lutchkov; Lutchkov himself never mentioned Kister’s name before the others, but he dropped his intimacy with the perfumed adjutant.
The landowners of the South of Russia are very keen on giving balls, inviting officers to their houses, and marrying off their daughters.
About seven miles from the village of Kirilovo lived just such a country gentleman, a Mr. Perekatov, the owner of four hundred souls, and a fairly spacious house. He had a daughter of eighteen, Mashenka, and a wife, Nenila Makarievna. Mr. Perekatov had once been an officer in the cavalry, but from love of a country life and from indolence he had retired and had begun to live peaceably and quietly, as landowners of the middling sort do live. Nenila Makarievna owed her existence in a not perfectly legitimate manner to a distinguished gentleman of Moscow.
Her protector had educated his little Nenila very carefully, as it is called, in his own house, but got her off his hands rather hurriedly, at the first offer, as a not very marketable article. Nenila Makarievna was ugly; the distinguished gentleman was giving her no more than ten thousand as dowry; she snatched eagerly at Mr. Perekatov. To Mr. Perekatov it seemed extremely gratifying to marry a highly educated, intellectual young lady . . . who was, after all, so closely related to so illustrious a personage. This illustrious personage extended his patronage to the young people even after the marriage, that is to say, he accepted presents of salted quails from them and called Perekatov ‘my dear boy,’ and sometimes simply, ‘boy.’ Nenila Makarievna took complete possession of her husband, managed everything, and looked after the whole property — very sensibly, indeed; far better, any way, than Mr. Perekatov could have done. She did not hamper her partner’s liberty too much; but she kept him well in hand, ordered his clothes herself, and dressed him in the English style, as is fitting and proper for a country gentleman. By her instructions, Mr. Perekatov grew a little Napoleonic beard on his chin, to cover a large wart, which looked like an over-ripe raspberry. Nenila Makarievna, for her part, used to inform visitors that her husband played the flute, and that all flute-players always let the beard grow under the lower lip; they could hold their instrument more comfortably. Mr. Perekatov always, even in the early morning, wore a high, clean stock, and was well combed and washed. He was, moreover, well content with his lot; he dined very well, did as he liked, and slept all he could. Nenila Makarievna had introduced into her household ‘foreign ways,’ as the neighbours used to say; she kept few servants, and had them neatly dressed. She was fretted by ambition; she wanted at least to be the wife of the marshal of the nobility of the district; but the gentry of the district, though they dined at her house to their hearts’ content, did not choose her husband, but first the retired premier-major Burkolts, and then the retired second major Burundukov. Mr. Perekatov seemed to them too extreme a product of the capital.
Mr. Perekatov’s daughter, Mashenka, was in face like her father. Nenila Makarievna had taken the greatest pains with her education. She spoke French well, and played the piano fairly. She was of medium height, rather plump and white; her rather full face was lighted up by a kindly and merry smile; her flaxen, not over-abundant hair, her hazel eyes, her pleasant voice — everything about her was gently pleasing, and that was all. On the other hand the absence of all affectation and conventionality, an amount of culture exceptional in a country girl, the freedom of her expressions, the quiet simplicity of her words and looks could not but be striking in her. She had developed at her own free will; Nenila Makarievna did not keep her in restraint.
One morning at twelve o’clock the whole family of the Perekatovs were in the drawing-room. The husband in a round green coat, a high check cravat, and pea-green trousers with straps, was standing at the window, very busily engaged in catching flies. The daughter was sitting at her embroidery frame; her small dimpled little hand rose and fell slowly and gracefully over the canvas. Nenila Makarievna was sitting on the sofa, gazing in silence at the floor.
‘Did you send an invitation to the regiment at Kirilovo, Sergei Sergeitch?’ she asked her husband.
‘For this evening? To be sure I did, ma chère.’ (He was under the strictest orders not to call her ‘little mother.’) ‘To be sure!’
‘There are positively no gentlemen,’ pursued Nenila Makarievna. ‘Nobody for the girls to dance with.’
Her husband sighed, as though crushed by the absence of partners.
‘Mamma,’ Masha began all at once, ‘is Monsieur Lutchkov asked?’
‘He’s an officer too. They say he’s a very interesting person.’
‘Oh, he’s not good-looking and he’s not young, but every one’s afraid of him. He’s a dreadful duellist.’ (Mamma frowned a little.) ‘I should so like to see him.’
Sergei Sergeitch interrupted his daughter.
‘What is there to see in him, my darling? Do you suppose he must look like Lord Byron?’ (At that time we were only just beginning to talk about Lord Byron.) ‘Nonsense! Why, I declare, my dear, there was a time when I had a terrible character as a fighting man.’
Masha looked wonderingly at her parent, laughed, then jumped up and kissed him on the cheek. His wife smiled a little, too . . . but Sergei Sergeitch had spoken the truth.
‘I don’t know if that gentleman is coming,’ observed Nenila Makarievna. ‘Possibly he may come too.’
The daughter sighed.
‘Mind you don’t go and fall in love with him,’ remarked Sergei Sergeitch. ‘I know you girls are all like that nowadays — so — what shall I say? — romantic . . . ’
‘No,’ Masha responded simply.
Nenila Makarievna looked coldly at her husband. Sergei Sergeitch played with his watch-chain in some embarrassment, then took his wide-brimmed, English hat from the table, and set off to see after things on the estate.
His dog timidly and meekly followed him. As an intelligent animal, she was well aware that her master was not a person of very great authority in the house, and behaved herself accordingly with modesty and circumspection.
Nenila Makarievna went up to her daughter, gently raised her head, and looked affectionately into her eyes. ‘Will you tell me when you fall in love?’ she asked.
Masha kissed her mother’s hand, smiling, and nodded her head several times in the affirmative.
‘Mind you do,’ observed Nenila Makarievna, stroking her cheek, and she went out after her husband. Masha leaned back in her chair, dropped her head on her bosom, interlaced her fingers, and looked long out of window, screwing up her eyes . . . A slight flush passed over her fresh cheeks; with a sigh she drew herself up, was setting to work again, but dropped her needle, leaned her face on her hand, and biting the tips of her nails, fell to dreaming . . . then glanced at her own shoulder, at her outstretched hand, got up, went to the window, laughed, put on her hat and went out into the garden.
That evening at eight o’clock, the guests began to arrive. Madame Perekatov with great affability received and ‘entertained’ the ladies, Mashenka the girls; Sergei Sergeitch talked about the crops with the gentlemen and continually glanced towards his wife. Soon there arrived the young dandies, the officers, intentionally a little late; at last the colonel himself, accompanied by his adjutants, Kister and Lutchkov. He presented them to the lady of the house. Lutchkov bowed without speaking, Kister muttered the customary ‘extremely delighted’ . . . Mr. Perekatov went up to the colonel, pressed his hand warmly and looked him in the face with great cordiality. The colonel promptly looked forbidding. The dancing began. Kister asked Mashenka for a dance. At that time the Ecossaise was still flourishing.
‘Do tell me, please,’ Masha said to him, when, after galloping twenty times to the end of the room, they stood at last, the first couple, ‘why isn’t your friend dancing?’
Masha pointed with the tip of her fan at Lutchkov.
‘He never dances,’ answered Kister.
‘Why did he come then?’
Kister was a little disconcerted. ‘He wished to have the pleasure . . . ’
Mashenka interrupted him. ‘You’ve not long been transferred into our regiment, I think?’
‘Into your regiment,’ observed Kister, with a smile: ‘no, not long.’
‘Aren’t you dull here?’
‘Oh no . . . I find such delightful society here . . . and the scenery!’ . . . Kister launched into eulogies of the scenery. Masha listened to him, without raising her head. Avdey Ivanovitch was standing in a corner, looking indifferently at the dancers.
‘How old is Mr. Lutchkov?’ she asked suddenly.
‘Oh . . . thirty-five, I fancy,’ answered Kister.
‘They say he’s a dangerous man . . . hot-tempered,’ Masha added hurriedly.
‘He is a little hasty . . . but still, he’s a very fine man.’
‘They say every one’s afraid of him.’
‘I’m a friend of his.’
‘Your turn, your turn,’ was shrieked at them from all sides. They started and began galloping again right across the room.
‘Well, I congratulate you,’ Kister said to Lutchkov, going up to him after the dance; ‘the daughter of the house does nothing but ask questions about you.’
‘Really?’ Lutchkov responded scornfully.
‘On my honour! And you know she’s extremely nice-looking; only look at her.’
‘Which of them is she?’
Kister pointed out Masha.
‘Ah, not bad.’ And Lutchkov yawned.
‘Cold-hearted person!’ cried Kister, and he ran off to ask another girl to dance.
Avdey Ivanovitch was extremely delighted at the fact Kister had mentioned to him, though he did yawn, and even yawned loudly. To arouse curiosity flattered his vanity intensely: love he despised — in words — but inwardly he was himself aware that it would be a hard and difficult task for him to win love. . . . A hard and difficult task for him to win love, but easy and simple enough to wear a mask of indifference, of silent haughtiness. Avdey Ivanovitch was unattractive and no longer young; but on the other hand he enjoyed a terrible reputation — and consequently he had every right to pose. He was used to the bitter, unspoken enjoyment of grim loneliness. It was not the first time he had attracted the attention of women; some had even tried to get upon more friendly terms with him, but he repelled their advances with exasperated obstinacy; he knew that sentiment was not in his line (during tender interviews, avowals, he first became awkward and vulgar, and, through anger, rude to the point of grossness, of insult); he remembered that the two or three women with whom he had at different times been on a friendly footing had rapidly grown cool to him after the first moment of closer intimacy, and had of their own impulse made haste to get away from him . . . and so he had at last schooled himself to remain an enigma, and to scorn what destiny had denied him. . . . This is, I fancy, the only sort of scorn people in general do feel. No sort of frank, spontaneous, that is to say good, demonstration of passion suited Lutchkov; he was bound to keep a continual check on himself, even when he was angry. Kister was the only person who was not disgusted when Lutchkov broke into laughter; the kind-hearted German’s eyes shone with the generous delight of sympathy, when he read Avdey his favourite passages from Schiller, while the bully would sit facing him with lowering looks, like a wolf. . . . Kister danced till he was worn out, Lutchkov never left his corner, scowled, glanced stealthily at Masha, and meeting her eyes, at once threw an expression of indifference into his own. Masha danced three times with Kister. The enthusiastic youth inspired her with confidence. She chatted with him gaily enough, but at heart she was not at ease. Lutchkov engrossed her thoughts.
A mazurka tune struck up. The officers fell to bounding up and down, tapping with their heels, and tossing the epaulettes on their shoulders; the civilians tapped with their heels too. Lutchkov still did not stir from his place, and slowly followed the couples with his eyes, as they whirled by. Some one touched his sleeve . . . he looked round; his neighbour pointed him out Masha. She was standing before him with downcast eyes, holding out her hand to him. Lutchkov for the first moment gazed at her in perplexity, then he carelessly took off his sword, threw his hat on the floor, picked his way awkwardly among the arm-chairs, took Masha by the hand, and went round the circle, with no capering up and down nor stamping, as it were unwillingly performing an unpleasant duty. . . . Masha’s heart beat violently.
‘Why don’t you dance?’ she asked him at last.
‘I don’t care for it,’ answered Lutchkov.
‘Where’s your place?’
Lutchkov conducted Masha to her chair, coolly bowed to her and coolly returned to his corner . . . but there was an agreeable stirring of the spleen within him.
Kister asked Masha for a dance.
‘What a strange person your friend is!’
‘He does interest you . . . ’ said Fyodor Fedoritch, with a sly twinkle of his blue and kindly eyes.
‘Yes . . . he must be very unhappy.’
‘He unhappy? What makes you suppose so?’ And Fyodor Fedoritch laughed.
‘You don’t know . . . you don’t know . . . ’ Masha solemnly shook her head with an important air.
‘Me not know? How’s that?’ . . .
Masha shook her head again and glanced towards Lutchkov. Avdey Ivanovitch noticed the glance, shrugged his shoulders imperceptibly, and walked away into the other room.
Several months had passed since that evening. Lutchkov had not once been at the Perekatovs’. But Kister visited them pretty often. Nenila Makarievna had taken a fancy to him, but it was not she that attracted Fyodor Fedoritch. He liked Masha. Being an inexperienced person who had not yet talked himself out, he derived great pleasure from the interchange of ideas and feelings, and he had a simple-hearted faith in the possibility of a calm and exalted friendship between a young man and a young girl.
One day his three well-fed and skittish horses whirled him rapidly along to Mr. Perekatov’s house. It was a summer day, close and sultry. Not a cloud anywhere. The blue of the sky was so thick and dark on the horizon that the eye mistook it for storm-cloud. The house Mr. Perekatov had erected for a summer residence had been, with the foresight usual in the steppes, built with every window directly facing the sun. Nenila Makarievna had every shutter closed from early morning. Kister walked into the cool, half-dark drawing-room. The light lay in long lines on the floor and in short, close streaks on the walls. The Perekatov family gave Fyodor Fedoritch a friendly reception. After dinner Nenila Makarievna went away to her own room to lie down; Mr. Perekatov settled himself on the sofa in the drawing-room; Masha sat near the window at her embroidery frame, Kister facing her. Masha, without opening her frame, leaned lightly over it, with her head in her hands. Kister began telling her something; she listened inattentively, as though waiting for something, looked from time to time towards her father, and all at once stretched out her hand.
‘Listen, Fyodor Fedoritch . . . only speak a little more softly . . . papa’s asleep.’
Mr. Perekatov had indeed as usual dropped asleep on the sofa, with his head hanging and his mouth a little open.
‘What is it?’ Kister inquired with curiosity.
‘You will laugh at me.’
‘Oh, no, really! . . . ’
Masha let her head sink till only the upper part of her face remained uncovered by her hands and in a half whisper, not without hesitation, asked Kister why it was he never brought Mr. Lutchkov with him. It was not the first time Masha had mentioned him since the ball. . . . Kister did not speak. Masha glanced timorously over her interlaced fingers.
‘May I tell you frankly what I think?’ Kister asked her.
‘Oh, why not? of course.’
‘It seems to me that Lutchkov has made a great impression on you.’
‘No!’ answered Masha, and she bent over, as though wishing to examine the pattern more closely; a narrow golden streak of light lay on her hair; ‘no . . . but . . . ’
‘Well, but?’ said Kister, smiling.
‘Well, don’t you see,’ said Masha, and she suddenly lifted her head, so that the streak of light fell straight in her eyes; ‘don’t you see . . . he . . . ’
‘He interests you. . . . ’
‘Well . . . yes . . . ’ Masha said slowly; she flushed a little, turned her head a little away and in that position went on talking. ‘There is something about him so . . . There, you’re laughing at me,’ she added suddenly, glancing swiftly at Fyodor Fedoritch.
Fyodor Fedoritch smiled the gentlest smile imaginable.
‘I tell you everything, whatever comes into my head,’ Masha went on: ‘I know that you are a very’ . . . (she nearly said great) ‘good friend of mine.’
Kister bowed. Masha ceased speaking, and shyly held out her hand to him; Fyodor Fedoritch pressed the tips of her fingers respectfully.
‘He must be a very queer person!’ observed Masha, and again she propped her elbows on the frame.
‘Of course; he interests me just because he is queer!’ Masha added slily.
‘Lutchkov is a noble, a remarkable man,’ Kister rejoined solemnly. ‘They don’t know him in our regiment, they don’t appreciate him, they only see his external side. He’s embittered, of course, and strange and impatient, but his heart is good.’
Masha listened greedily to Fyodor Fedoritch.
‘I will bring him to see you, I’ll tell him there’s no need to be afraid of you, that it’s absurd for him to be so shy . . . I’ll tell him . . . Oh! yes, I know what to say . . . Only you mustn’t suppose, though, that I would . . . ’ (Kister was embarrassed, Masha too was embarrassed.) . . . ‘Besides, after all, of course you only . . . like him. . . . ’
‘Of course, just as I like lots of people.’
Kister looked mischievously at her.
‘All right, all right,’ he said with a satisfied air; ‘I’ll bring him to you. . . . ’
‘Oh, no. . . . ’
‘All right, I tell you it will be all right. . . . I’ll arrange everything.’
‘You are so . . . ’ Masha began with a smile, and she shook her finger at him. Mr. Perekatov yawned and opened his eyes.
‘Why, I almost think I’ve been asleep,’ he muttered with surprise. This doubt and this surprise were repeated daily. Masha and Kister began discussing Schiller.
Fyodor Fedoritch was not however quite at ease; he felt something like a stir of envy within him . . . and was generously indignant with himself. Nenila Makarievna came down into the drawing-room. Tea was brought in. Mr. Perekatov made his dog jump several times over a stick, and then explained he had taught it everything himself, while the dog wagged its tail deferentially, licked itself and blinked. When at last the great heat began to lessen, and an evening breeze blew up, the whole family went out for a walk in the birch copse. Fyodor Fedoritch was continually glancing at Masha, as though giving her to understand that he would carry out her behests; Masha felt at once vexed with herself, and happy and uncomfortable. Kister suddenly, apropos of nothing, plunged into a rather high-flown discourse upon love in the abstract, and upon friendship . . . but catching Nenila Makarievna’s bright and vigilant eye he, as abruptly, changed the subject. The sunset was brilliant and glowing. A broad, level meadow lay outstretched before the birch copse. Masha took it into her head to start a game of ‘catch-catch.’ Maid-servants and footmen came out; Mr. Perekatov stood with his wife, Kister with Masha. The maids ran with deferential little shrieks; Mr. Perekatov’s valet had the temerity to separate Nenila Makarievna from her spouse; one of the servant-girls respectfully paired off with her master; Fyodor Fedoritch was not parted from Masha. Every time as he regained his place, he said two or three words to her; Masha, all flushed with running, listened to him with a smile, passing her hand over her hair. After supper, Kister took leave.
It was a still, starlight night. Kister took off his cap. He was excited; there was a lump in his throat. ‘Yes,’ he said at last, almost aloud; ‘she loves him: I will bring them together; I will justify her confidence in me.’ Though there was as yet nothing to prove a definite passion for Lutchkov on Masha’s part, though, according to her own account, he only excited her curiosity, Kister had by this time made up a complete romance, and worked out his own duty in the matter. He resolved to sacrifice his feelings — the more readily as ‘so far I have no other sentiment for her but sincere devotion,’ thought he. Kister really was capable of sacrificing himself to friendship, to a recognised duty. He had read a great deal, and so fancied himself a person of experience and even of penetration; he had no doubt of the truth of his suppositions; he did not suspect that life is endlessly varied, and never repeats itself. Little by little, Fyodor Fedoritch worked himself into a state of ecstasy. He began musing with emotion on his mission. To be the mediator between a shy, loving girl and a man possibly embittered only because he had never once in his life loved and been loved; to bring them together; to reveal their own feelings to them, and then to withdraw, letting no one know the greatness of his sacrifice, what a splendid feat! In spite of the coolness of the night, the simple-hearted dreamer’s face burned. . . .
Next day he went round to Lutchkov early in the morning.
Avdey Ivanovitch was, as usual, lying on the sofa, smoking a pipe. Kister greeted him.
‘I was at the Perekatovs yesterday,’ he said with some solemnity.
‘Ah!’ Lutchkov responded indifferently, and he yawned.
‘Yes. They are splendid people.’
‘We talked about you.’
‘Much obliged; with which of them was that?’
‘With the old people . . . and the daughter too.’
‘Ah! that . . . little fat thing?’
‘She’s a splendid girl, Lutchkov.’
‘To be sure, they’re all splendid.’
‘No, Lutchkov, you don’t know her. I have never met such a clever, sweet and sensitive girl.’
Lutchkov began humming through his nose:
‘In the Hamburg Gazette,
You’ve read, I dare say,
How the year before last,
Munich gained the day. . . . ’
‘But I assure you. . . . ’
‘You ‘re in love with her, Fedya,’ Lutchkov remarked sarcastically.
‘Not at all. I never even thought of it.’
‘Fedya, you’re in love with her!’
‘What nonsense! As if one couldn’t . . . ’
‘You’re in love with her, friend of my heart, beetle on my hearth,’ Avdey Ivanovitch chanted drawling.
‘Ah, Avdey, you really ought to be ashamed!’ Kister said with vexation.
With any one else Lutchkov would thereupon have kept on more than before; Kister he did not tease. ‘Well, well, sprechen Sie deutsch, Ivan Andreitch,’ he muttered in an undertone, ‘don’t be angry.’
‘Listen, Avdey,’ Kister began warmly, and he sat down beside him. ‘You know I care for you.’ (Lutchkov made a wry face.) ‘But there’s one thing, I’ll own, I don’t like about you . . . it’s just that you won’t make friends with any one, that you will stick at home, and refuse all intercourse with nice people. Why, there are nice people in the world, hang it all! Suppose you have been deceived in life, have been embittered, what of it; there’s no need to rush into people’s arms, of course, but why turn your back on everybody? Why, you’ll cast me off some day, at that rate, I suppose.’
Lutchkov went on smoking coolly.
‘That’s how it is no one knows you . . . except me; goodness knows what some people think of you . . . Avdey!’ added Kister after a brief silence; ‘do you disbelieve in virtue, Avdey?’
‘Disbelieve . . . no, I believe in it,’ . . . muttered Lutchkov.
Kister pressed his hand feelingly.
‘I want,’ he went on in a voice full of emotion, ‘to reconcile you with life. You will grow happier, blossom out . . . yes, blossom out. How I shall rejoice then! Only you must let me dispose of you now and then, of your time. To-day it’s — what? Monday . . . tomorrow’s Tuesday . . . on Wednesday, yes, on Wednesday we’ll go together to the Perekatovs’. They will be so glad to see you . . . and we shall have such a jolly time there . . . and now let me have a pipe.’
Avdey Ivanovitch lay without budging on the sofa, staring at the ceiling. Kister lighted a pipe, went to the window, and began drumming on the panes with his fingers.
‘So they’ve been talking about me?’ Avdey asked suddenly.
‘They have,’ Kister responded with meaning.
‘What did they say?’
‘Oh, they talked. There’re very anxious to make your acquaintance.’
‘Which of them’s that?’
‘I say, what curiosity!’
Avdey called his servant, and ordered his horse to be saddled.
‘Where are you off to?’
‘Well, good-bye. So we’re going to the Perekatovs’, eh?’
‘All right, if you like,’ Lutchkov said lazily, stretching.
‘Bravo, old man!’ cried Kister, and he went out into the street, pondered, and sighed deeply.
Masha was just approaching the drawing-room door when the arrival of Kister and Lutchkov was announced. She promptly returned to her own room, and went up to the looking-glass. . . . Her heart was throbbing violently. A girl came to summon her to the drawing-room. Masha drank a little water, stopped twice on the stairs, and at last went down. Mr. Perekatov was not at home. Nenila Makarievna was sitting on the sofa; Lutchkov was sitting in an easy-chair, wearing his uniform, with his hat on his knees; Kister was near him. They both got up on Masha’s entrance — Kister with his usual friendly smile, Lutchkov with a solemn and constrained air. She bowed to them in confusion, and went up to her mother. The first ten minutes passed off favourably. Masha recovered herself, and gradually began to watch Lutchkov. To the questions addressed to him by the lady of the house, he answered briefly, but uneasily; he was shy, like all egoistic people. Nenila Makarievna suggested a stroll in the garden to her guests, but did not herself go beyond the balcony. She did not consider it essential never to lose sight of her daughter, and to be constantly hobbling after her with a fat reticule in her hands, after the fashion of many mothers in the steppes. The stroll lasted rather a long while. Masha talked more with Kister, but did not dare to look either at him or at Lutchkov. Avdey Ivanovitch did not address a remark to her; Kister’s voice showed agitation. He laughed and chattered a little over-much. . . . They reached the stream. A couple of yards or so from the bank there was a water-lily, which seemed to rest on the smooth surface of the water, encircled by its broad, round leaves.
‘What a beautiful flower!’ observed Masha.
She had hardly uttered these words when Lutchkov pulled out his sword, clutched with one hand at the frail twigs of a willow, and, bending his whole body over the water, cut off the head of the flower. ‘It’s deep here, take care!’ Masha cried in terror. Lutchkov with the tip of his sword brought the flower to the bank, at her very feet. She bent down, picked up the flower, and gazed with tender, delighted amazement at Avdey. ‘Bravo!’ cried Kister. ‘And I can’t swim . . . ’ Lutchkov observed abruptly. Masha did not like that remark. ‘What made him say that?’ she wondered.
Lutchkov and Kister remained at Mr. Perekatov’s till the evening. Something new and unknown was passing in Masha’s soul; a dreamy perplexity was reflected more than once in her face. She moved somehow more slowly, she did not flush on meeting her mother’s eyes — on the contrary, she seemed to seek them, as though she would question her. During the whole evening, Lutchkov paid her a sort of awkward attention; but even this awkwardness gratified her innocent vanity. When they had both taken leave, with a promise to come again in a few days, she quietly went off to her own room, and for a long while, as it were, in bewilderment she looked about her. Nenila Makarievna came to her, kissed and embraced her as usual. Masha opened her lips, tried to say something — and did not utter a word. She wanted to confess —— she did not know what. Her soul was gently wandering in dreams. On the little table by her bedside the flower Lutchkov had picked lay in water in a clean glass. Masha, already in bed, sat up cautiously, leaned on her elbow, and her maiden lips softly touched the fresh white petals. . . .
‘Well,’ Kister questioned his friend next day, ‘do you like the Perekatovs? Was I right? eh? Tell me.’
Lutchkov did not answer.
‘No, do tell me, do tell me!’
‘Really, I don’t know.’
‘Nonsense, come now!’
‘That . . . what’s her name . . . Mashenka’s all right; not bad-looking.’
‘There, you see . . . ’ said Kister — and he said no more.
Five days later Lutchkov of his own accord suggested that they should call on the Perekatovs.
Alone he would not have gone to see them; in Fyodor Fedoritch’s absence he would have had to keep up a conversation, and that he could not do, and as far as possible avoided.
On the second visit of the two friends, Masha was much more at her ease. She was by now secretly glad that she had not disturbed her mamma by an uninvited avowal. Before dinner, Avdey had offered to try a young horse, not yet broken in, and, in spite of its frantic rearing, he mastered it completely. In the evening he thawed, and fell into joking and laughing — and though he soon pulled himself up, yet he had succeeded in making a momentary unpleasant impression on Masha. She could not yet be sure herself what the feeling exactly was that Lutchkov excited in her, but everything she did not like in him she set down to the influence of misfortune, of loneliness.
The friends began to pay frequent visits to the Perekatovs’. Kister’s position became more and more painful. He did not regret his action . . . no, but he desired at least to cut short the time of his trial. His devotion to Masha increased daily; she too felt warmly towards him; but to be nothing more than a go-between, a confidant, a friend even — it’s a dreary, thankless business! Coldly idealistic people talk a great deal about the sacredness of suffering, the bliss of suffering . . . but to Kister’s warm and simple heart his sufferings were not a source of any bliss whatever. At last, one day, when Lutchkov, ready dressed, came to fetch him, and the carriage was waiting at the steps, Fyodor Fedoritch, to the astonishment of his friend, announced point-blank that he should stay at home. Lutchkov entreated him, was vexed and angry . . . Kister pleaded a headache. Lutchkov set off alone.
The bully had changed in many ways of late. He left his comrades in peace, did not annoy the novices, and though his spirit had not ‘blossomed out,’ as Kister had foretold, yet he certainly had toned down a little. He could not have been called ‘disillusioned’ before — he had seen and experienced almost nothing — and so it is not surprising that Masha engrossed his thoughts. His heart was not touched though; only his spleen was satisfied. Masha’s feelings for him were of a strange kind. She almost never looked him straight in the face; she could not talk to him. . . . When they happened to be left alone together, Masha felt horribly awkward. She took him for an exceptional man, and felt overawed by him and agitated in his presence, fancied she did not understand him, and was unworthy of his confidence; miserably, drearily — but continually — she thought of him. Kister’s society, on the contrary, soothed her and put her in a good humour, though it neither overjoyed nor excited her. With him she could chatter away for hours together, leaning on his arm, as though he were her brother, looking affectionately into his face, and laughing with his laughter — and she rarely thought of him. In Lutchkov there was something enigmatic for the young girl; she felt that his soul was ‘dark as a forest,’ and strained every effort to penetrate into that mysterious gloom. . . . So children stare a long while into a deep well, till at last they make out at the very bottom the still, black water.
On Lutchkov’s coming into the drawing-room alone, Masha was at first scared . . . but then she felt delighted. She had more than once fancied that there existed some sort of misunderstanding between Lutchkov and her, that he had not hitherto had a chance of revealing himself. Lutchkov mentioned the cause of Kister’s absence; the parents expressed their regret, but Masha looked incredulously at Avdey, and felt faint with expectation. After dinner they were left alone; Masha did not know what to say, she sat down to the piano; her fingers flitted hurriedly and tremblingly over the keys; she was continually stopping and waiting for the first word . . . Lutchkov did not understand nor care for music. Masha began talking to him about Rossini (Rossini was at that time just coming into fashion) and about Mozart. . . . Avdey Ivanovitch responded: ‘Quite so,’ ‘by no means,’ ‘beautiful,’ ‘indeed,’ and that was all. Masha played some brilliant variations on one of Rossini’s airs. Lutchkov listened and listened . . . and when at last she turned to him, his face expressed such unfeigned boredom, that Masha jumped up at once and closed the piano. She went up to the window, and for a long while stared into the garden; Lutchkov did not stir from his seat, and still remained silent. Impatience began to take the place of timidity in Masha’s soul. ‘What is it?’ she wondered, ‘won’t you . . . or can’t you?’ It was Lutchkov’s turn to feel shy. He was conscious again of his miserable, overwhelming diffidence; already he was raging! . . . ‘It was the devil’s own notion to have anything to do with the wretched girl,’ he muttered to himself. . . . And all the while how easy it was to touch Masha’s heart at that instant! Whatever had been said by such an extraordinary though eccentric man, as she imagined Lutchkov, she would have understood everything, have excused anything, have believed anything. . . . But this burdensome, stupid silence! Tears of vexation were standing in her eyes. ‘If he doesn’t want to be open, if I am really not worthy of his confidence, why does he go on coming to see us? Or perhaps it is that I don’t set the right way to work to make him reveal himself?’ . . . And she turned swiftly round, and glanced so inquiringly, so searchingly at him, that he could not fail to understand her glance, and could not keep silence any longer. . . .
‘Marya Sergievna,’ he pronounced falteringly; ‘I . . . I’ve . . . I ought to tell you something. . . . ’
‘Speak,’ Masha responded rapidly.
Lutchkov looked round him irresolutely.
‘I can’t now . . . ’
‘I should like to speak to you . . . alone. . . . ’
‘Why, we are alone now.’
‘Yes . . . but . . . here in the house. . . . ’
Masha was at her wits’ end. . . . ‘If I refuse,’ she thought, ‘it’s all over.’ . . . Curiosity was the ruin of Eve. . . .
‘I agree,’ she said at last.
‘When then? Where?’
Masha’s breathing came quickly and unevenly.
‘To-morrow . . . in the evening. You know the copse above the Long Meadow?’ . . .
‘Behind the mill?’
‘Wait . . . ’
She could not bring out another word; her voice broke . . . she turned pale and went quickly out of the room.
A quarter of an hour later, Mr. Perekatov, with his characteristic politeness, conducted Lutchkov to the hall, pressed his hand feelingly, and begged him ‘not to forget them’; then, having let out his guest, he observed with dignity to the footman that it would be as well for him to shave, and without awaiting a reply, returned with a careworn air to his own room, with the same careworn air sat down on the sofa, and guilelessly dropped asleep on the spot.
‘You’re a little pale today,’ Nenila Makarievna said to her daughter, on the evening of the same day. ‘Are you quite well?’
Nenila Makarievna set straight the kerchief on the girl’s neck.
‘You are very pale; look at me,’ she went on, with that motherly solicitude in which there is none the less audible a note of parental authority: ‘there, now, your eyes look heavy too. You’re not well, Masha.’
‘My head does ache a little,’ said Masha, to find some way of escape.
‘There, I knew it.’ Nenila Makarievna put some scent on Masha’s forehead. ‘You’re not feverish, though.’
Masha stooped down, and picked a thread off the floor.
Nenila Makarievna’s arms lay softly round Masha’s slender waist.
‘It seems to me you have something you want to tell me,’ she said caressingly, not loosing her hands.
Masha shuddered inwardly.
‘I? Oh, no, mamma.’
Masha’s momentary confusion did not escape her mother’s attention.
‘Oh, yes, you do. . . . Think a little.’
But Masha had had time to regain her self-possession, and instead of answering, she kissed her mother’s hand with a laugh.
‘And so you’ve nothing to tell me?’
‘No, really, nothing.’
‘I believe you,’ responded Nenila Makarievna, after a short silence. ‘I know you keep nothing secret from me. . . . That’s true, isn’t it?’
‘Of course, mamma.’
Masha could not help blushing a little, though.
‘You do quite rightly. It would be wrong of you to keep anything from me. . . . You know how I love you, Masha.’
‘Oh yes, mamma.’
And Masha hugged her.
‘There, there, that’s enough.’ (Nenila Makarievna walked about the room.) ‘Oh tell me,’ she went on in the voice of one who feels that the question asked is of no special importance; ‘what were you talking about with Avdey Ivanovitch today?’
‘With Avdey Ivanovitch?’ Masha repeated serenely. ‘Oh, all sorts of things. . . . ’
‘Do you like him?’
‘Oh yes, I like him.’
‘Do you remember how anxious you were to get to know him, how excited you were?’
Masha turned away and laughed.
‘What a strange person he is!’ Nenila Makarievna observed good-humouredly.
Masha felt an inclination to defend Lutchkov, but she held her tongue.
‘Yes, of course,’ she said rather carelessly; ‘he is a queer fish, but still he’s a nice man!’
‘Oh, yes! . . . Why didn’t Fyodor Fedoritch come?’
‘He was unwell, I suppose. Ah! by the way, Fyodor Fedoritch wanted to make me a present of a puppy. . . . Will you let me?’
‘What? Accept his present?’
‘Oh, thank you!’ said Masha, ‘thank you, thank you!’
Nenila Makarievna got as far as the door and suddenly turned back again.
‘Do you remember your promise, Masha?’
‘You were going to tell me when you fall in love.’
‘Well . . . hasn’t the time come yet?’ (Masha laughed musically.) ‘Look into my eyes.’
Masha looked brightly and boldly at her mother.
‘It can’t be!’ thought Nenila Makarievna, and she felt reassured. ‘As if she could deceive me! . . . How could I think of such a thing! . . . She’s still a perfect baby. . . . ’
She went away. . . .
‘But this is really wicked,’ thought Masha.
Kister had already gone to bed when Lutchkov came into his room. The bully’s face never expressed one feeling; so it was now: feigned indifference, coarse delight, consciousness of his own superiority . . . a number of different emotions were playing over his features.
‘Well, how was it? how was it?’ Kister made haste to question him.
‘Oh! I went. They sent you greetings.’
‘Well? Are they all well?’
‘Of course, why not?’
‘Did they ask why I didn’t come?’
‘Yes, I think so.’
Lutchkov stared at the ceiling and hummed out of tune. Kister looked down and mused.
‘But, look here,’ Lutchkov brought out in a husky, jarring voice, ‘you’re a clever fellow, I dare say, you’re a cultured fellow, but you’re a good bit out in your ideas sometimes for all that, if I may venture to say so.’
‘How do you mean?’
‘Why, look here. About women, for instance. How you’re always cracking them up! You’re never tired of singing their praises! To listen to you, they’re all angels. . . . Nice sort of angels!’
‘I like and respect women, but ———’
‘Oh, of course, of course,’ Avdey cut him short. ‘I am not going to argue with you. That’s quite beyond me! I’m a plain man.’
‘I was going to say that . . . But why just today . . . just now, . . . are you talking about women?’
‘Oh, nothing!’ Avdey smiled with great meaning. ‘Nothing!’
Kister looked searchingly at his friend. He imagined (simple heart!) that Masha had been treating him badly; had been torturing him, perhaps, as only women can. . . .
‘You are feeling hurt, my poor Avdey; tell me . . . ’
Lutchkov went off into a chuckle.
‘Oh, well, I don’t fancy I’ve much to feel hurt about,’ he said, in a drawling tone, complacently stroking his moustaches. ‘No, only, look here, Fedya,’ he went on with the manner of a preceptor, ‘I was only going to point out that you’re altogether out of it about women, my lad. You believe me, Fedya, they ‘re all alike. One’s only got to take a little trouble, hang about them a bit, and you’ve got things in your own hands. Look at Masha Perekatov now. . . . ’
Lutchkov tapped his foot on the floor and shook his head.
‘Is there anything so specially attractive about me, hey? I shouldn’t have thought there was anything. There isn’t anything, is there? And here, I’ve a clandestine appointment for tomorrow.’
Kister sat up, leaned on his elbow, and stared in amazement at Lutchkov.
‘For the evening, in a wood . . . ’ Avdey Ivanovitch continued serenely. ‘Only don’t you go and imagine it means much. It’s only a bit of fun. It’s slow here, don’t you know. A pretty little girl, . . . well, says I, why not? Marriage, of course, I’m not going in for . . . but there, I like to recall my young days. I don’t care for hanging about petticoats — but I may as well humour the baggage. We can listen to the nightingales together. Of course, it’s really more in your line; but the wench has no eyes, you see. I should have thought I wasn’t worth looking at beside you.’
Lutchkov talked on a long while. But Kister did not hear him. His head was going round. He turned pale and passed his hand over his face. Lutchkov swayed up and down in his low chair, screwed up his eyes, stretched, and putting down Kister’s emotion to jealousy, was almost gasping with delight. But it was not jealousy that was torturing Kister; he was wounded, not by the fact itself, but by Avdey’s coarse carelessness, his indifferent and contemptuous references to Masha. He was still staring intently at the bully, and it seemed as if for the first time he was thoroughly seeing his face. So this it was he had been scheming for! This for which he had sacrificed his own inclinations! Here it was, the blessed influence of love.
‘Avdey . . . do you mean to say you don’t care for her?’ he muttered at last.
‘O innocence! O Arcadia!’ responded Avdey, with a malignant chuckle.
Kister in the goodness of his heart did not give in even then; perhaps, thought he, Avdey is in a bad temper and is ‘humbugging’ from old habit . . . he has not yet found a new language to express new feelings. And was there not in himself some other feeling lurking under his indignation? Did not Lutchkov’s avowal strike him so unpleasantly simply because it concerned Masha? How could one tell, perhaps Lutchkov really was in love with her. . . . Oh, no! no! a thousand times no! That man in love? . . . That man was loathsome with his bilious, yellow face, his nervous, cat-like movements, crowing with conceit . . . loathsome! No, not in such words would Kister have uttered to a devoted friend the secret of his love. . . . In overflowing happiness, in dumb rapture, with bright, blissful tears in his eyes would he have flung himself on his bosom. . . .
‘Well, old man,’ queried Avdey, ‘own up now you didn’t expect it, and now you feel put out. Eh? jealous? Own up, Fedya. Eh? eh?’
Kister was about to speak out, but he turned with his face to the wall. ‘Speak openly . . . to him? Not for anything!’ he whispered to himself. ‘He wouldn’t understand me . . . so be it! He supposes none but evil feelings in me — so be it! . . . ’
Avdey got up.
‘I see you’re sleepy,’ he said with assumed sympathy: ‘I don’t want to be in your way. Pleasant dreams, my boy . . . pleasant dreams!’
And Lutchkov went away, very well satisfied with himself.
Kister could not get to sleep before the morning. With feverish persistence he turned over and over and thought over and over the same single idea — an occupation only too well known to unhappy lovers.
‘Even if Lutchkov doesn’t care for her,’ he mused, ‘if she has flung herself at his head, anyway he ought not even with me, with his friend, to speak so disrespectfully, so offensively of her! In what way is she to blame? How could any one have no feeling for a poor, inexperienced girl?
‘But can she really have a secret appointment with him? She has — yes, she certainly has. Avdey’s not a liar, he never tells a lie. But perhaps it means nothing, a mere freak. . . .
‘But she does not know him. . . . He is capable, I dare say, of insulting her. After today, I wouldn’t answer for anything. . . . And wasn’t it I myself that praised him up and exalted him? Wasn’t it I who excited her curiosity? . . . But who could have known this? Who could have foreseen it? . . .
‘Foreseen what? Has he so long ceased to be my friend? . . . But, after all, was he ever my friend? What a disenchantment! What a lesson!’
All the past turned round and round before Kister’s eyes. ‘Yes, I did like him,’ he whispered at last. ‘Why has my liking cooled so suddenly? . . . And do I dislike him? No, why did I ever like him? I alone?’
Kister’s loving heart had attached itself to Avdey for the very reason that all the rest avoided him. But the good-hearted youth did not know himself how great his good-heartedness was.
‘My duty,’ he went on, ‘is to warn Marya Sergievna. But how? What right have I to interfere in other people’s affairs, in other people’s love? How do I know the nature of that love? Perhaps even in Lutchkov. . . . No, no!’ he said aloud, with irritation, almost with tears, smoothing out his pillow, ‘that man’s stone. . . .
‘It is my own fault . . . I have lost a friend. . . . A precious friend, indeed! And she’s not worth much either! . . . What a sickening egoist I am! No, no! from the bottom of my soul I wish them happiness. . . . Happiness! but he is laughing at her! . . . And why does he dye his moustaches? I do, really, believe he does. . . . Ah, how ridiculous I am!’ he repeated, as he fell asleep.
The next morning Kister went to call on the Perekatovs. When they met, Kister noticed a great change in Masha, and Masha, too, found a change in him, but neither spoke of it. The whole morning they both, contrary to their habit, felt uncomfortable. Kister had prepared at home a number of hints and phrases of double meaning and friendly counsels . . . but all this previous preparation turned out to be quite thrown away. Masha was vaguely aware that Kister was watching her; she fancied that he pronounced some words with intentional significance; but she was conscious, too, of her own excitement, and did not trust her own observations. ‘If only he doesn’t mean to stay till evening!’ was what she was thinking incessantly, and she tried to make him realise that he was not wanted. Kister, for his part, took her awkwardness and her uneasiness for obvious signs of love, and the more afraid he was for her the more impossible he found it to speak of Lutchkov; while Masha obstinately refrained from uttering his name. It was a painful experience for poor Fyodor Fedoritch. He began at last to understand his own feelings. Never had Masha seemed to him more charming. She had, to all appearances, not slept the whole night. A faint flush stood in patches on her pale face; her figure was faintly drooping; an unconscious, weary smile never left her lips; now and then a shiver ran over her white shoulders; a soft light glowed suddenly in her eyes, and quickly faded away. Nenila Makarievna came in and sat with them, and possibly with intention mentioned Avdey Ivanovitch. But in her mother’s presence Masha was armed jusqu’aux dents, as the French say, and she did not betray herself at all. So passed the whole morning.
‘You will dine with us?’ Nenila Makarievna asked Kister.
Masha turned away.
‘No,’ Kister said hurriedly, and he glanced towards Masha. ‘Excuse me . . . duties of the service . . . ’
Nenila Makarievna duly expressed her regret. Mr. Perekatov, following her lead, also expressed something or other. ‘I don’t want to be in the way,’ Kister wanted to say to Masha, as he passed her, but he bowed down and whispered instead: ‘Be happy . . . farewell . . . take care of yourself . . . ’ and was gone.
Masha heaved a sigh from the bottom of her heart, and then felt panic-stricken at his departure. What was it fretting her? Love or curiosity? God knows; but, we repeat, curiosity alone was enough to ruin Eve.
Long Meadow was the name of a wide, level stretch of ground on the right of the little stream Sniezhinka, nearly a mile from the Perekatovs’ property. The left bank, completely covered by thick young oak bushes, rose steeply up over the stream, which was almost overgrown with willow bushes, except for some small ‘breeding-places,’ the haunts of wild ducks. Half a mile from the stream, on the right side of Long Meadow, began the sloping, undulating uplands, studded here and there with old birch-trees, nut bushes, and guelder-roses.
The sun was setting. The mill rumbled and clattered in the distance, sounding louder or softer according to the wind. The seignorial drove of horses was lazily wandering about the meadows; a shepherd walked, humming a tune, after a flock of greedy and timorous sheep; the sheepdogs, from boredom, were running after the crows. Lutchkov walked up and down in the copse, with his arms folded. His horse, tied up near by, more than once whinnied in response to the sonorous neighing of the mares and fillies in the meadow. Avdey was ill-tempered and shy, as usual. Not yet convinced of Masha’s love, he felt wrathful with her and annoyed with himself . . . but his excitement smothered his annoyance. He stopped at last before a large nut bush, and began with his riding-whip switching off the leaves at the ends of the twigs. . . .
He heard a light rustle . . . he raised his head. . . . Ten paces from him stood Masha, all flushed from her rapid walk, in a hat, but with no gloves, in a white dress, with a hastily tied kerchief round her neck. She dropped her eyes instantly, and softly nodded. . . .
Avdey went awkwardly up to her with a forced smile.
‘How happy I am . . . ’ he was beginning, scarcely audibly.
‘I am very glad . . . to meet you . . . ’ Masha interrupted breathlessly. ‘I usually walk here in the evening . . . and you . . . ’
But Lutchkov had not the sense even to spare her modesty, to keep up her innocent deception.
‘I believe, Marya Sergievna,’ he pronounced with dignity, ‘you yourself suggested . . . ’
‘Yes . . . yes . . . ’ rejoined Masha hurriedly. ‘You wished to see me, you wanted . . . ’ Her voice died away.
Lutchkov did not speak. Masha timidly raised her eyes.
‘Excuse me,’ he began, not looking at her, ‘I’m a plain man, and not used to talking freely . . . to ladies . . . I . . . I wished to tell you . . . but, I fancy, you ‘re not in the humour to listen to me. . . . ’
‘Since you tell me to . . . well, then, I tell you frankly that for a long while now, ever since I had the honour of making your acquaintance . . . ’
Avdey stopped. Masha waited for the conclusion of his sentence.
‘I don’t know, though, what I’m telling you all this for. . . . There’s no changing one’s destiny . . . ’
‘How can one know? . . . ’
‘I know!’ responded Avdey gloomily. ‘I am used to facing its blows!’
It struck Masha that this was not exactly the befitting moment for Lutchkov to rail against destiny.
‘There are kind-hearted people in the world,’ she observed with a smile; ‘some even too kind. . . . ’
‘I understand you, Marya Sergievna, and believe me, I appreciate your friendliness . . . I . . . I . . . You won’t be angry?’
‘No. . . . What do you want to say?’
‘I want to say . . . that I think you charming . . . Marya Sergievna, awfully charming. . . . ’
‘I am very grateful to you,’ Masha interrupted him; her heart was aching with anticipation and terror. ‘Ah, do look, Mr. Lutchkov,’ she went on —‘look, what a view!’
She pointed to the meadow, streaked with long, evening shadows, and flushed red with the sunset.
Inwardly overjoyed at the abrupt change in the conversation, Lutchkov began admiring the view. He was standing near Masha. . . .
‘You love nature?’ she asked suddenly, with a rapid turn of her little head, looking at him with that friendly, inquisitive, soft glance, which is a gift only vouchsafed to young girls.
‘Yes . . . nature . . . of course . . . ’ muttered Avdey. ‘Of course . . . a stroll’s pleasant in the evening, though, I confess, I’m a soldier, and fine sentiments are not in my line.’
Lutchkov often repeated that he ‘was a soldier.’ A brief silence followed. Masha was still looking at the meadow.
‘How about getting away?’ thought Avdey. ‘What rot it is, though! Come, more pluck! . . . Marya Sergievna . . . ’ he began, in a fairly resolute voice.
Masha turned to him.
‘Excuse me,’ he began, as though in joke, ‘but let me on my side know what you think of me, whether you feel at all . . . so to say, . . . amiably disposed towards my person?’
‘Mercy on us, how uncouth he is!’ Masha said to herself. ‘Do you know, Mr. Lutchkov,’ she answered him with a smile, ‘it’s not always easy to give a direct answer to a direct question.’
‘Still . . . ’
‘But what is it to you?’
‘Oh, really now, I want to know . . . ’
‘But . . . Is it true that you are a great duellist? Tell me, is it true?’ said Masha, with shy curiosity. ‘They do say you have killed more than one man?’
‘It has happened so,’ Avdey responded indifferently, and he stroked his moustaches.
Masha looked intently at him.
‘This hand then . . . ’ she murmured. Meanwhile Lutchkov’s blood had caught fire. For more than a quarter of an hour a young and pretty girl had been moving before his eyes.
‘Marya Sergievna,’ he began again, in a sharp and strange voice, ‘you know my feelings now, you know what I wanted to see you for. . . . You’ve been so kind. . . . You tell me, too, at last what I may hope for. . . . ’
Masha twisted a wildflower in her hands. . . . She glanced sideways at Lutchkov, flushed, smiled, said,’ What nonsense you do talk,’ and gave him the flower.
Avdey seized her hand.
‘And so you love me!’ he cried.
Masha turned cold all over with horror. She had not had the slightest idea of making a declaration of love to Avdey: she was not even sure herself as yet whether she did care for him, and here he was forestalling her, forcing her to speak out — he must be misunderstanding her then. . . . This idea flashed quicker than lightning into Masha’s head. She had never expected such a speedy dénouement. . . . Masha, like an inquisitive child, had been asking herself all day: ‘Can it be that Lutchkov cares for me?’ She had dreamed of a delightful evening walk, a respectful and tender dialogue; she had fancied how she would flirt with him, make the wild creature feel at home with her, permit him at parting to kiss her hand . . . and instead of that . . .
Instead of that, she was suddenly aware of Avdey’s rough moustaches on her cheek. . . .
‘Let us be happy,’ he was whispering: ‘there’s no other happiness on earth!’
Masha shuddered, darted horror-stricken on one side, and pale all over, stopped short, one hand leaning on a birch-tree. Avdey was terribly confused.
‘Excuse me,’ he muttered, approaching her, ‘I didn’t expect really . . . ’
Masha gazed at him, wide-eyed and speechless . . . A disagreeable smile twisted his lips . . . patches of red came out on his face. . . .
‘What are you afraid of?’ he went on; ‘it’s no such great matter. . . . Why, we understand each other . . . and so. . . . ’
Masha did not speak.
‘Come, stop that! . . . that’s all nonsense! it’s nothing but . . . ’ Lutchkov stretched out his hand to her.
Masha recollected Kister, his ‘take care of yourself,’ and, sinking with terror, in a rather shrill voice screamed, ‘Taniusha!’
From behind a nutbush emerged the round face of her maid. . . . Avdey was completely disconcerted. Reassured by the presence of her hand-maiden, Masha did not stir. But the bully was shaking all over with rage; his eyes were half closed; he clenched his fists and laughed nervously.
‘Bravo! bravo! Clever trick — no denying that!’ he cried out.
Masha was petrified.
‘So you took every care, I see, to be on the safe side, Marya Sergievna! Prudence is never thrown away, eh? Upon my word! Nowadays young ladies see further than old men. So this is all your love amounts to!’
‘I don’t know, Mr. Lutchkov, who has given you any right to speak about love . . . what love?’
‘Who? Why, you yourself!’ Lutchkov cut her short: ‘what next!’ He felt he was ship-wrecking the whole business, but he could not restrain himself.
‘I have acted thoughtlessly,’ said Masha. . . . ‘I yielded to your request, relying upon your délicatesse . . . but you don’t know French . . . on your courtesy, I mean. . . . ’
Avdey turned pale. Masha had stung him to the quick.
‘I don’t know French . . . may be; but I know . . . I know very well that you have been amusing yourself at my expense.’
‘Not at all, Avdey Ivanovitch . . . indeed, I’m very sorry . . . ’
‘Oh, please, don’t talk about being sorry for me,’ Avdey cut her short peremptorily; ‘spare me that, anyway!’
‘Mr. Lutchkov . . . ’
‘Oh, you needn’t put on those grand-duchess airs . . . It’s trouble thrown away! you don’t impress me.’
Masha stepped back a pace, turned swiftly round and walked away.
‘Won’t you give me a message for your friend, your shepherd lad, your tender sweet-heart, Kister,’ Avdey shouted after her. He had lost his head. ‘Isn’t he the happy man?’ . . .
Masha made him no reply, and hurriedly, gladly retreated. She felt light at heart, in spite of her fright and excitement. She felt as though she had waked up from a troubled sleep, had stepped out of a dark room into air and sunshine. . . . Avdey glared about him like a madman; in speechless frenzy he broke a young tree, jumped on to his mare, and so viciously drove the spurs into her, so mercilessly pulled and tugged at the reins that the wretched beast galloped six miles in a quarter of an hour and almost expired the same night.
Kister waited for Lutchkov in vain till midnight, and next morning he went round himself to see him. The orderly informed Fyodor Fedoritch that his master was lying down and had given orders that he would see no one. ‘He won’t see me even?’. ‘Not even your honour.’ Kister walked twice up and down the street, tortured by the keenest apprehensions, and then went home again. His servant handed him a note.
‘From the Perekatovs. Artiomka the postillion brought it.’
Kister’s hands began to tremble.
‘He had orders to give you their greetings. He had orders to wait for your answer. Am I to give Artiomka some vodka?’
Kister slowly unfolded the note, and read as follows:
‘DEAR GOOD FYODOR FEDORITCH — I want very, very much to see you. Come today, if you can. Don’t refuse my request, I entreat you, for the sake of our old friendship. If only you knew . . . but you shall know everything. Good-bye for a little while — eh?
‘P.S. — Be sure to come tomorrow.’
‘So your honour, am I to give Artiomka some vodka?’
Kister turned a long, bewildered stare at his servant’s countenance, and went out without uttering a word.
‘The master has told me to get you some vodka, and to have a drink with you,’ said Kister’s servant to Artiomka the postillion.
Masha came with such a bright and grateful face to meet Kister, when he came into the drawing-room, she pressed his hand so warmly and affectionately, that his heart throbbed with delight, and a weight seemed rolled from his mind. Masha did not, however, say a single word, and she promptly left the room. Sergei Sergeitch was sitting on the sofa, playing patience. Conversation sprang up. Sergei Sergeitch had not yet succeeded with his usual skill in bringing the conversation round from all extraneous topics to his dog, when Masha reappeared, wearing a plaid silk sash, Kister’s favourite sash. Nenila Makarievna came in and gave Fyodor Fedoritch a friendly greeting. At dinner they were all laughing and making jokes; even Sergei Sergeitch plucked up spirit and described one of the merriest pranks of his youthful days, hiding his head from his wife like an ostrich, as he told the story.
‘Let us go for a walk, Fyodor Fedoritch,’ Masha said to Kister after dinner with that note of affectionate authority in her voice which is, as it were, conscious that you will gladly submit to it. ‘I want to talk to you about something very, very important,’ she added with enchanting solemnity, as she put on her suede gloves. ‘Are you coming with us, maman?’
‘No,’ answered Nenila Makarievna.
‘But we are not going into the garden.’
‘To Long Meadow, to the copse.’
‘Take Taniusha with you.’
‘Taniusha, Taniusha!’ Masha cried musically, flitting lightly as a bird from the room.
A quarter of an hour later Masha walked with Kister into the Long Meadow. As she passed the cattle, she gave a piece of bread to her favourite cow, patted it on the head and made Kister stroke it. Masha was in great good humour and chatted merrily. Kister responded willingly, though he awaited explanations with impatience. . . . Taniusha walked behind at a respectful distance, only from time to time stealing a sly glance at her young lady.
‘You’re not angry with me, Fyodor Fedoritch?’ queried Masha.
‘With you, Marya Sergievna? Why, whatever for?’
‘The day before yesterday . . . don’t you remember?’
‘You were out of humour . . . that was all.’
‘What are we walking in single file for? Give me your arm. That’s right. . . . You were out of humour too.’
‘Yes, I was too.’
‘But today I’m in good humour, eh?’
‘Yes, I think so, today . . . ’
‘And do you know why? Because . . . ’
Masha nodded her head gravely. ‘Well, I know why. . . . Because I am with you,’ she added, not looking at Kister.
Kister softly pressed her hand.
‘But why don’t you question me? . . . ’ Masha murmured in an undertone.
‘Oh, don’t pretend . . . about my letter.’
‘I was waiting for . . . ’
‘That’s just why I am happy with you,’ Masha interrupted him impulsively: ‘because you are a gentle, good-hearted person, because you are incapable . . . parceque vous avez de la délicatesse. One can say that to you: you understand French.’
Kister did understand French, but he did not in the least understand Masha.
‘Pick me that flower, that one . . . how pretty it is!’ Masha admired it, and suddenly, swiftly withdrawing her hand from his arm, with an anxious smile she began carefully sticking the tender stalk in the buttonhole of Kister’s coat. Her slender fingers almost touched his lips. He looked at the fingers and then at her. She nodded her head to him as though to say ‘you may.’ . . . Kister bent down and kissed the tips of her gloves.
Meanwhile they drew near the already familiar copse. Masha became suddenly more thoughtful, and at last kept silent altogether. They came to the very place where Lutchkov had waited for her. The trampled grass had not yet grown straight again; the broken sapling had not yet withered, its little leaves were only just beginning to curl up and fade. Masha stared about her, and turned quickly to Kister.
‘Do you know why I have brought you here?’
‘No, I don’t.’
‘Don’t you know? Why is it you haven’t told me anything about your friend Lutchkov today? You always praise him so . . . ’
Kister dropped his eyes, and did not speak.
‘Do you know,’ Masha brought out with some effort, ‘that I made . . . an appointment . . . to meet him here . . . yesterday?’
‘I know that,’ Kister rejoined hurriedly.
‘You know it? . . . Ah! now I see why the day before yesterday . . . Mr. Lutchkov was in a hurry it seems to boast of his conquest.’
Kister was about to answer. . . .
‘Don’t speak, don’t say anything in opposition. . . . I know he’s your friend. You are capable of taking his part. You knew, Kister, you knew. . . . How was it you didn’t prevent me from acting so stupidly? Why didn’t you box my ears, as if I were a child? You knew . . . and didn’t you care?’
‘But what right had I . . . ’
‘What right! . . . the right of a friend. But he too is your friend. . . . I’m ashamed, Kister. . . . He your friend. . . . That man behaved to me yesterday, as if . . . ’
Masha turned away. Kister’s eyes flamed; he turned pale.
‘Oh, never mind, don’t be angry. . . . Listen, Fyodor Fedoritch, don’t be angry. It’s all for the best. I am very glad of yesterday’s explanation . . . yes, that’s just what it was,’ added Masha. ‘What do you suppose I am telling you about it for? To complain of Mr. Lutchkov? Nonsense! I’ve forgotten about him. But I have done you a wrong, my good friend. . . . I want to speak openly to you, to ask your forgiveness . . . your advice. You have accustomed me to frankness; I am at ease with you. . . . You are not a Mr. Lutchkov!’
‘Lutchkov is clumsy and coarse,’ Kister brought out with difficulty; ‘but . . . ’
‘Why but? Aren’t you ashamed to say but? He is coarse, and clumsy, and ill-natured, and conceited. . . . Do you hear? — and, not but.’
‘You are speaking under the influence of anger, Marya Sergievna,’ Kister observed mournfully.
‘Anger? A strange sort of anger! Look at me; are people like this when they ‘re angry? Listen,’ pursued Masha; ‘you may think what you like of me . . . but if you imagine I am flirting with you today from pique, well . . . well . . . ’ (tears stood in her eyes)‘I shall be angry in earnest.’
‘Do be open with me, Marya Sergievna . . . ’
‘O, silly fellow! how slow you are! Why, look at me, am I not open with you, don’t you see right through me?’
‘Oh, very well . . . yes; I believe you,’ Kister said with a smile, seeing with what anxious insistence she tried to catch his eyes. ‘But tell me, what induced you to arrange to meet Lutchkov?’
‘What induced me? I really don’t know. He wanted to speak to me alone. I fancied he had never had time, never had an opportunity to speak freely. He has spoken freely now! Do you know, he may be an extraordinary man, but he’s a fool, really. . . . He doesn’t know how to put two words together. He’s simply an ignoramus. Though, indeed, I don’t blame him much . . . he might suppose I was a giddy, mad, worthless girl. I hardly ever talked to him. . . . He did excite my curiosity, certainly, but I imagined that a man who was worthy of being your friend . . . ’
‘Don’t, please, speak of him as my friend,’ Kister interposed.
‘No, no, I don’t want to separate you.’
‘Oh, my God, for you I’m ready to sacrifice more than a friend. . . . Everything is over between me and Mr. Lutchkov,’ Kister added hurriedly.
Masha looked intently into his face.
‘Well, enough of him,’ she said. ‘Don’t let us talk of him. It’s a lesson to me for the future. It’s I that am to blame. For several months past I have almost every day seen a man who is good, clever, bright, friendly who . . . ’ (Masha was confused, and stammered) ‘who, I think, cared . . . a little . . . for me too . . . and I like a fool,’ she went on quickly, ‘preferred to him . . . no, no, I didn’t prefer him, but . . . ’
She drooped her head, and ceased speaking in confusion.
Kister was in a sort of terror. ‘It can’t be!’ he kept repeating to himself.
‘Marya Sergievna!’ he began at last.
Masha lifted her head, and turned upon him eyes heavy with unshed tears.
‘You don’t guess of whom I am speaking?’ she asked.
Scarcely daring to breathe, Kister held out his hand. Masha at once clutched it warmly.
‘You are my friend as before, aren’t you? . . . Why don’t you answer?’
‘I am your friend, you know that,’ he murmured.
‘And you are not hard on me? You forgive me? . . . You understand me? You’re not laughing at a girl who made an appointment only yesterday with one man, and today is talking to another, as I am talking to you. . . . You’re not laughing at me, are you? . . . ’ Masha’s face glowed crimson, she clung with both hands to Kister’s hand. . . .
‘Laugh at you,’ answered Kister: ‘I . . . I . . . why, I love you . . . I love you,’ he cried.
Masha hid her face.
‘Surely you’ve long known that I love you, Marya Sergievna?’
Three weeks after this interview, Kister was sitting alone in his room, writing the following letter to his mother:—
Dearest Mother! — I make haste to share my great happiness with you; I am going to get married. This news will probably only surprise you from my not having, in my previous letters, even hinted at so important a change in my life — and you know that I am used to sharing all my feelings, my joys and my sorrows, with you. My reasons for silence are not easy to explain to you. To begin with, I did not know till lately that I was loved; and on my own side too, it is only lately that I have realised myself all the strength of my own feeling. In one of my first letters from here, I wrote to you of our neighbours, the Perekatovs; I am engaged to their only daughter, Marya. I am thoroughly convinced that we shall both be happy. My feeling for her is not a fleeting passion, but a deep and genuine emotion, in which friendship is mingled with love. Her bright, gentle disposition is in perfect harmony with my tastes. She is well-educated, clever, plays the piano splendidly. . . . If you could only see her! I enclose her portrait sketched by me. I need hardly say she is a hundred times better-looking than her portrait. Masha loves you already, like a daughter, and is eagerly looking forward to seeing you. I mean to retire, to settle in the country, and to go in for farming. Mr. Perekatov has a property of four hundred serfs in excellent condition. You see that even from the material point of view, you cannot but approve of my plans. I will get leave and come to Moscow and to you. Expect me in a fortnight, not later. My own dearest mother, how happy I am! . . . Kiss me . . . ’ and so on.
Kister folded and sealed the letter, got up, went to the window, lighted a pipe, thought a little, and returned to the table. He took out a small sheet of notepaper, carefully dipped his pen into the ink, but for a long while he did not begin to write, knitted his brows, lifted his eyes to the ceiling, bit the end of his pen. . . . At last he made up his mind, and in the course of a quarter of an hour he had composed the following:
‘Dear Avdey Ivanovitch — Since the day of your last visit (that is, for three weeks) you have sent me no message, have not said a word to me, and have seemed to avoid meeting me. Every one is, undoubtedly, free to act as he pleases; you have chosen to break off our acquaintance, and I do not, believe me, in addressing you intend to reproach you in any way. It is not my intention or my habit to force myself upon any one whatever; it is enough for me to feel that I am not to blame in the matter. I am writing to you now from a feeling of duty. I have made an offer to Marya Sergievna Perekatov, and have been accepted by her, and also by her parents. I inform you of this fact — directly and immediately — to avoid any kind of misapprehension or suspicion. I frankly confess, sir, that I am unable to feel great concern about the good opinion of a man who himself shows so little concern for the opinions and feelings of other people, and I am writing to you solely because I do not care in this matter even to appear to have acted or to be acting underhandedly. I make bold to say, you know me, and will not ascribe my present action to any other lower motive. Addressing you for the last time, I cannot, for the sake of our old friendship, refrain from wishing you all good things possible on earth. — I remain, sincerely, your obedient servant, Fyodor Kister.’
Fyodor Fedoritch despatched this note to the address, changed his uniform, and ordered his carriage to be got ready. Light-hearted and happy, he walked up and down his little room humming, even gave two little skips in the air, twisted a book of songs into a roll, and was tying it up with blue ribbon. . . . The door opened, and Lutchkov, in a coat without epaulettes, with a cap on his head, came into the room. Kister, astounded, stood still in the middle of the room, without finishing the bow he was tying.
‘So you’re marrying the Perekatov girl?’ queried Avdey in a calm voice.
Kister fired up.
‘Sir,’ he began; ‘decent people take off their caps and say good-morning when they come into another man’s room.’
‘Beg pardon,’ the bully jerked out; and he took off his cap. ‘Good-morning.’
‘Good-morning, Mr. Lutchkov. You ask me if I am about to marry Miss Perekatov? Haven’t you read my letter, then?’
‘I have read your letter. You’re going to get married. I congratulate you.’
‘I accept your congratulation, and thank you for it. But I must be starting.’
‘I should like to have a few words of explanation with you, Fyodor Fedoritch.’
‘By all means, with pleasure,’ responded the good-natured fellow. ‘I must own I was expecting such an explanation. Your behaviour to me has been so strange, and I think, on my side, I have not deserved . . . at least, I had no reason to expect . . . But won’t you sit down? Wouldn’t you like a pipe?’
Lutchkov sat down. There was a certain weariness perceptible in his movements. He stroked his moustaches and lifted his eyebrows.
‘I say, Fyodor Fedoritch,’ he began at last; ‘why did you keep it up with me so long? . . . ’
‘How do you mean?’
‘Why did you pose as such . . . a disinterested being, when you were just such another as all the rest of us sinners all the while?’
‘I don’t understand you. . . . Can I have wounded you in some way? . . . ’
‘You don’t understand me . . . all right. I’ll try and speak more plainly. Just tell me, for instance, openly, Have you had a liking for the Perekatov girl all along, or is it a case of sudden passion?’
‘I should prefer, Avdey Ivanitch, not to discuss with you my relations with Marya Sergievna,’ Kister responded coldly.
‘Oh, indeed! As you please. Only you’ll kindly allow me to believe that you’ve been humbugging me.’
Avdey spoke very deliberately and emphatically.
‘You can’t believe that, Avdey Ivanitch; you know me.’
‘I know you? . . . who knows you? The heart of another is a dark forest, and the best side of goods is always turned uppermost. I know you read German poetry with great feeling and even with tears in your eyes; I know that you’ve hung various maps on your walls; I know you keep your person clean; that I know, . . . but beyond that, I know nothing . . . ’
Kister began to lose his temper.
‘Allow me to inquire,’ he asked at last, ‘what is the object of your visit? You have sent no message to me for three weeks, and now you come to me, apparently with the intention of jeering at me. I am not a boy, sir, and I do not allow any one . . . ’
‘Mercy on us,’ Lutchkov interrupted him; ‘mercy on us, Fyodor Fedoritch, who would venture to jeer at you? It’s quite the other way; I’ve come to you with a most humble request, that is, that you’d do me the favour to explain your behaviour to me. Allow me to ask you, wasn’t it you who forced me to make the acquaintance of the Perekatov family? Didn’t you assure your humble servant that it would make his soul blossom into flower? And lastly, didn’t you throw me with the virtuous Marya Sergievna? Why am I not to presume that it’s to you I’m indebted for that final agreeable scene, of which you have doubtless been informed in befitting fashion? An engaged girl, of course, tells her betrothed of everything, especially of her innocent indiscretions. How can I help supposing that it’s thanks to you I’ve been made such a terrific fool of? You took such a mighty interest in my “blossoming out,” you know!’
Kister walked up and down the room.
‘Look here, Lutchkov,’ he said at last; ‘if you really — joking apart — are convinced of what you say, which I confess I don’t believe, then let me tell you, it’s shameful and wicked of you to put such an insulting construction on my conduct and intentions. I don’t want to justify myself . . . I appeal to your own conscience, to your memory.’
‘Yes; I remember you were continually whispering with Marya Sergievna. Besides that, let me ask you another question: Weren’t you at the Perekatovs’ after a certain conversation with me, after that evening when I like a fool chattered to you, thinking you my greatest friend, of the meeting she’d arranged?’
‘What! you suspect me . . . ’
‘I suspect other people of nothing,’ Avdey cut him short with cutting iciness, ‘of which I would not suspect myself; but I have the weakness to suppose that other men are no better than I am.’
‘You are mistaken,’ Kister retorted emphatically; ‘other men are better than you.’
‘I congratulate them upon it,’ Lutchkov dropped carelessly; ‘but . . . ’
‘But remember,’ broke in Kister, now in his turn thoroughly infuriated, ‘in what terms you spoke of . . . of that meeting . . . of . . . But these explanations are leading to nothing, I see. . . . Think what you choose of me, and act as you think best.’
‘Come, that’s better,’ observed Avdey. ‘At last you’re beginning to speak plainly.’
‘As you think best,’ repeated Kister.
‘I understand your position, Fyodor Fedoritch,’ Avdey went on with an affectation of sympathy; ‘it’s disagreeable, certainly. A man has been acting, acting a part, and no one has recognised him as a humbug; and all of a sudden . . . ’
‘If I could believe,’ Kister interrupted, setting his teeth, ‘that it was wounded love that makes you talk like this, I should feel sorry for you; I could excuse you. . . . But in your abuse, in your false charges, I hear nothing but the shriek of mortified pride . . . and I feel no sympathy for you. . . . You have deserved what you’ve got.’
‘Ugh, mercy on us, how the fellow talks!’ Avdey murmured. ‘Pride,’ he went on; ‘may be; yes, yes, my pride, as you say, has been mortified intensely and insufferably. But who isn’t proud? Aren’t you? Yes, I’m proud, and for instance, I permit no one to feel sorry for me. . . . ’
‘You don’t permit it!’ Kister retorted haughtily. ‘What an expression, sir! Don’t forget, the tie between us you yourself have broken. I must beg you to behave with me as with a complete outsider.’
‘Broken! Broken the tie between us!’ repeated Avdey. ‘Understand me; I have sent you no message, and have not been to see you because I was sorry for you; you must allow me to be sorry for you, since you ‘re sorry for me! . . . I didn’t want to put you in a false position, to make your conscience prick. . . . You talk of a tie between us . . . as though you could remain my friend as before your marriage! Rubbish! Why, you were only friendly with me before to gloat over your fancied superiority . . . ’
Avdey’s duplicity overwhelmed, confounded Kister.
‘Let us end this unpleasant conversation!’ he cried at last. ‘I must own I don’t see why you’ve been pleased to come to me.’
‘You don’t see what I’ve come to you for?’ Avdey asked inquiringly.
‘I certainly don’t see why.’
‘No, I tell you . . . ’
‘Astonishing! . . . This is astonishing! Who’d have thought it of a fellow of your intelligence!’
‘Come, speak plainly . . . ’
‘I have come, Mr. Kister,’ said Avdey, slowly rising to his feet, ‘I have come to challenge you to a duel. Do you understand now? I want to fight you. Ah! you thought you could get rid of me like that! Why, didn’t you know the sort of man you have to do with? As if I’d allow . . . ’
‘Very good,’ Kister cut in coldly and abruptly. ‘I accept your challenge. Kindly send me your second.’
‘Yes, yes,’ pursued Avdey, who, like a cat, could not bear to let his victim go so soon: ‘it’ll give me great pleasure I’ll own to put a bullet into your fair and idealistic countenance tomorrow.’
‘You are abusive after a challenge, it seems,’ Kister rejoined contemptuously. ‘Be so good as to go. I’m ashamed of you.’
‘Oh, to be sure, délicatesse! . . . Ah, Marya Sergievna, I don’t know French!’ growled Avdey, as he put on his cap. ‘Till we meet again, Fyodor Fedoritch!’
He bowed and walked out.
Kister paced several times up and down the room. His face burned, his breast heaved violently. He felt neither fear nor anger; but it sickened him to think what this man really was that he had once looked upon as a friend. The idea of the duel with Lutchkov was almost pleasant to him. . . . Once get free from the past, leap over this rock in his path, and then to float on an untroubled tide . . . ‘Good,’ he thought, ‘I shall be fighting to win my happiness.’ Masha’s image seemed to smile to him, to promise him success. ‘I’m not going to be killed! not I!’ he repeated with a serene smile. On the table lay the letter to his mother. . . . He felt a momentary pang at his heart. He resolved any way to defer sending it off. There was in Kister that quickening of the vital energies of which a man is aware in face of danger. He calmly thought over all the possible results of the duel, mentally placed Masha and himself in all the agonies of misery and parting, and looked forward to the future with hope. He swore to himself not to kill Lutchkov . . . He felt irresistibly drawn to Masha. He paused a second, hurriedly arranged things, and directly after dinner set off to the Perekatovs. All the evening Kister was in good spirits, perhaps in too good spirits.
Masha played a great deal on the piano, felt no foreboding of evil, and flirted charmingly with him. At first her unconsciousness wounded him, then he took Masha’s very unconsciousness as a happy omen, and was rejoiced and reassured by it. She had grown fonder and fonder of him every day; happiness was for her a much more urgent need than passion. Besides, Avdey had turned her from all exaggerated desires, and she renounced them joyfully and for ever. Nenila Makarievna loved Kister like a son. Sergei Sergeitch as usual followed his wife’s lead.
‘Till we meet,’ Masha said to Kister, following him into the hall and gazing at him with a soft smile, as he slowly and tenderly kissed her hands.
‘Till we meet,’ Fyodor Fedoritch repeated confidently; ‘till we meet.’
But when he had driven half a mile from the Perekatovs’ house, he stood up in the carriage, and with vague uneasiness began looking for the lighted windows. . . . All in the house was dark as in the tomb.
Next day at eleven o’clock in the morning Kister’s second, an old major of tried merit, came for him. The good old man growled to himself, bit his grey moustaches, and wished Avdey Ivanovitch everything unpleasant. . . . The carriage was brought to the door. Kister handed the major two letters, one for his mother, the other for Masha.
‘What’s this for?’
‘Well, one can never tell . . . ’
‘Nonsense! we’ll shoot him like a partridge . . . ’
‘Any way it’s better . . . ’
The major with vexation stuffed the two letters in the side pocket of his coat.
‘Let us start.’
They set off. In a small copse, a mile and a half from the village of Kirilovo, Lutchkov was awaiting them with his former friend, the perfumed adjutant. It was lovely weather, the birds were twittering peacefully; not far from the copse a peasant was tilling the ground. While the seconds were marking out the distance, fixing the barrier, examining and loading the pistols, the opponents did not even glance at one another. . . . Kister walked to and fro with a careless air, swinging a flower he had gathered; Avdey stood motionless, with folded arms and scowling brow. The decisive moment arrived. ‘Begin, gentlemen!’ Kister went rapidly towards the barrier, but he had not gone five steps before Avdey fired, Kister started, made one more step forward, staggered. His head sank . . . His knees bent under him . . . He fell like a sack on the grass. The major rushed up to him. . . . ‘Is it possible?’ whispered the dying man.
Avdey went up to the man he had killed. On his gloomy and sunken face was a look of savage, exasperated regret. . . . He looked at the adjutant and the major, bent his head like a guilty man, got on his horse without a word, and rode slowly straight to the colonel’s quarters.
Masha . . . is living to this day.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:55