‘Neighbours’ constitute one of the most serious drawbacks of life in the country. I knew a country gentleman of the Vologodsky district, who used on every suitable occasion to repeat the following words, ‘Thank God, I have no neighbours,’ and I confess I could not help envying that happy mortal. My own little place is situated in one of the most thickly peopled provinces of Russia. I am surrounded by a vast number of dear neighbours, from highly respectable and highly respected country gentlemen, attired in ample frockcoats and still more ample waistcoats, down to regular loafers, wearing jackets with long sleeves and a so-called shooting-bag on their back. In this crowd of gentlefolks I chanced, however, to discover one very pleasant fellow. He had served in the army, had retired and settled for good and all in the country. According to his story, he had served for two years in the B——— regiment. But I am totally unable to comprehend how that man could have performed any sort of duty, not merely for two years, but even for two days. He was born ‘for a life of peace and country calm,’ that is to say, for lazy, careless vegetation, which, I note parenthetically, is not without great and inexhaustible charms. He possessed a very fair property, and without giving too much thought to its management, spent about ten thousand roubles a year, had obtained an excellent cook — my friend was fond of good fare — and ordered too from Moscow all the newest French books and magazines. In Russian he read nothing but the reports of his bailiff, and that with great difficulty. He used, when he did not go out shooting, to wear a dressing-gown from morning till dinner-time and at dinner. He would look through plans of some sort, or go round to the stables or to the threshing barn, and joke with the peasant women, who, to be sure, in his presence wielded their flails in leisurely fashion. After dinner my friend would dress very carefully before the looking-glass, and drive off to see some neighbour possessed of two or three pretty daughters. He would flirt serenely and unconcernedly with one of them, play blind-man’s-buff with them, return home rather late and promptly fall into a heroic sleep. He could never be bored, for he never gave himself up to complete inactivity; and in the choice of occupations he was not difficult to please, and was amused like a child with the smallest trifle. On the other hand, he cherished no particular attachment to life, and at times, when he chanced to get a glimpse of the track of a wolf or a fox, he would let his horse go at full gallop over such ravines that to this day I cannot understand how it was he did not break his neck a hundred times over. He belonged to that class of persons who inspire in one the idea that they do not know their own value, that under their appearance of indifference strong and violent passions lie concealed. But he would have laughed in one’s face if he could have guessed that one cherished such an opinion of him. And indeed I must own I believe myself that even supposing my friend had had in youth some strong impulse, however vague, towards what is so sweetly called ‘higher things,’ that impulse had long, long ago died out. He was rather stout and enjoyed superb health. In our day one cannot help liking people who think little about themselves, because they are exceedingly rare . . . and my friend had almost forgotten his own personality. I fancy, though, that I have said too much about him already, and my prolixity is the more uncalled for as he is not the hero of my story. His name was Piotr Fedorovitch Lutchinov.
One autumn day there were five of us, ardent sportsmen, gathered together at Piotr Fedorovitch’s. We had spent the whole morning out, had run down a couple of foxes and a number of hares, and had returned home in that supremely agreeable frame of mind which comes over every well-regulated person after a successful day’s shooting. It grew dusk. The wind was frolicking over the dark fields and noisily swinging the bare tops of the birches and lime-trees round Lutchinov’s house. We reached the house, got off our horses. . . . On the steps I stood still and looked round: long storm-clouds were creeping heavily over the grey sky; a dark-brown bush was writhing in the wind, and murmuring plaintively; the yellow grass helplessly and forlornly bowed down to the earth; flocks of thrushes were fluttering in the mountain-ashes among the bright, flame-coloured clusters of berries. Among the light brittle twigs of the birch-trees blue-tits hopped whistling. In the village there was the hoarse barking of dogs. I felt melancholy . . . but it was with a genuine sense of comfort that I walked into the dining-room. The shutters were closed; on a round table, covered with a tablecloth of dazzling whiteness, amid cut-glass decanters of red wine, there were eight lighted candles in silver candlesticks; a fire glowed cheerfully on the hearth, and an old and very stately-looking butler, with a huge bald head, wearing an English dress, stood before another table on which was pleasingly conspicuous a large soup-tureen, encircled by light savoury-smelling steam. In the hall we passed by another venerable man, engaged in icing champagne —‘according to the strictest rules of the art.’ The dinner was, as is usual in such cases, exceedingly pleasant. We laughed and talked of the incidents of the day’s shooting, and recalled with enthusiasm two glorious ‘runs.’ After dining pretty heartily, we settled comfortably into ample arm-chairs round the fire; a huge silver bowl made its appearance on the table, and in a few minutes the white flame of the burning rum announced our host’s agreeable intention ‘to concoct a punch.’ Piotr Fedoritch was a man of some taste; he was aware, for instance, that nothing has so fatal an influence on the fancy as the cold, steady, pedantic light of a lamp, and so he gave orders that only two candles should be left in the room. Strange half-shadows quivered on the walls, thrown by the fanciful play of the fire in the hearth and the flame of the punch . . . a soft, exceedingly agreeable sense of soothing comfort replaced in our hearts the somewhat boisterous gaiety that had reigned at dinner.
Conversations have their destinies, like books, as the Latin proverb says, like everything in the world. Our conversation that evening was particularly many-sided and lively. From details it passed to rather serious general questions, and lightly and casually came back to the daily incidents of life. . . . After chatting a good deal, we suddenly all sank into silence. At such times they say an angel of peace is flying over.
I cannot say why my companions were silent, but I held my tongue because my eyes had suddenly come to rest on three dusty portraits in black wooden frames. The colours were rubbed and cracked in places, but one could still make out the faces. The portrait in the centre was that of a young woman in a white gown with lace ruffles, her hair done up high, in the style of the eighties of last century. On her right, upon a perfectly black background, there stood out the full, round face of a good-natured country gentleman of five-and-twenty, with a broad, low brow, a thick nose, and a good-humoured smile. The French powdered coiffure was utterly out of keeping with the expression of his Slavonic face. The artist had portrayed him wearing a long loose coat of crimson colour with large paste buttons; in his hand he was holding some unlikely-looking flower. The third portrait, which was the work of some other more skilful hand, represented a man of thirty, in the green uniform, with red facings, of the time of Catherine, in a white shirt, with a fine cambric cravat. One hand leaned on a gold-headed cane, the other lay on his shirt front. His dark, thinnish face was full of insolent haughtiness. The fine long eyebrows almost grew together over the pitch-black eyes, about the thin, scarcely discernible lips played an evil smile.
‘Why do you keep staring at those faces?’ Piotr Fedoritch asked me.
‘Oh, I don’t know!’ I answered, looking at him.
‘Would you care to hear a whole story about those three persons?’
‘Oh, please tell it,’ we all responded with one voice.
Piotr Fedoritch got up, took a candle, carried it to the portraits, and in the tone of a showman at a wild beast show, ‘Gentlemen!’ he boomed, ‘this lady was the adopted child of my great-grandfather, Olga Ivanovna N.N., called Lutchinov, who died forty years ago unmarried. This gentleman,’ he pointed to the portrait of a man in uniform, ‘served as a lieutenant in the Guards, Vassily Ivanovitch Lutchinov, expired by the will of God in the year seventeen hundred and ninety. And this gentleman, to whom I have not the honour of being related, is a certain Pavel Afanasiitch Rogatchov, serving nowhere, as far as I’m aware. . . . Kindly take note of the hole in his breast, just on the spot where the heart should be. That hole, you see, a regular three-sided hole, would be hardly likely to have come there by chance. . . . Now, ‘he went on in his usual voice, ‘kindly seat yourselves, arm yourselves with patience, and listen.’
Gentlemen! (he began) I come of a rather old family. I am not proud of my descent, seeing that my ancestors were all fearful prodigals. Though that reproach cannot indeed be made against my great-grandfather, Ivan Andreevitch Lutchinov; on the contrary, he had the character of being excessively careful, even miserly — at any rate, in the latter years of his life. He spent his youth in Petersburg, and lived through the reign of Elizabeth. In Petersburg he married, and had by his wife, my great-grandmother, four children, three sons, Vassily, Ivan, and Pavel, my grandfather, and one daughter, Natalia. In addition, Ivan Andreevitch took into his family the daughter of a distant relation, a nameless and destitute orphan — Olga Ivanovna, of whom I spoke just now. My great-grandfather’s serfs were probably aware of his existence, for they used (when nothing particularly unlucky occurred) to send him a trifling rent, but they had never seen his face. The village of Lutchinovka, deprived of the bodily presence of its lord, was flourishing exceedingly, when all of a sudden one fine morning a cumbrous old family coach drove into the village and stopped before the elder’s hut. The peasants, alarmed at such an unheard-of occurrence, ran up and saw their master and mistress and all their young ones, except the eldest, Vassily, who was left behind in Petersburg. From that memorable day down to the very day of his death, Ivan Andreevitch never left Lutchinovka. He built himself a house, the very house in which I have the pleasure of conversing with you at this moment. He built a church too, and began living the life of a country gentleman. Ivan Andreevitch was a man of immense height, thin, silent, and very deliberate in all his movements. He never wore a dressing-gown, and no one but his valet had ever seen him without powder. Ivan Andreevitch usually walked with his hands clasped behind his back, turning his head at each step. Every day he used to walk in a long avenue of lime-trees, which he had planted with his own hand; and before his death he had the pleasure of enjoying the shade of those trees. Ivan Andreevitch was exceedingly sparing of his words; a proof of his taciturnity is to be found in the remarkable fact that in the course of twenty years he had not said a single word to his wife, Anna Pavlovna. His relations with Anna Pavlovna altogether were of a very curious sort. She directed the whole management of the household; at dinner she always sat beside her husband — he would mercilessly have chastised any one who had dared to say a disrespectful word to her — and yet he never spoke to her, never touched her hand. Anna Pavlovna was a pale, broken-spirited woman, completely crushed. She prayed every day on her knees in church, and she never smiled. There was a rumour that they had formerly, that is, before they came into the country, lived on very cordial terms with one another. They did say too that Anna Pavlovna had been untrue to her matrimonial vows; that her conduct had come to her husband’s knowledge. . . . Be that as it may, any way Ivan Andreevitch, even when dying, was not reconciled to her. During his last illness, she never left him; but he seemed not to notice her. One night, Anna Pavlovna was sitting in Ivan Andreevitch’s bedroom — he suffered from sleeplessness — a lamp was burning before the holy picture. My grandfather’s servant, Yuditch, of whom I shall have to say a few words later, went out of the room. Anna Pavlovna got up, crossed the room, and sobbing flung herself on her knees at her husband’s bedside, tried to say something — stretched out her hands . . . Ivan Andreevitch looked at her, and in a faint voice, but resolutely, called, ‘Boy!’ The servant went in; Anna Pavlovna hurriedly rose, and went back, tottering, to her place.
Ivan Andreevitch’s children were exceedingly afraid of him. They grew up in the country, and were witnesses of Ivan Andreevitch’s strange treatment of his wife. They all loved Anna Pavlovna passionately, but did not dare to show their love. She seemed of herself to hold aloof from them. . . . You remember my grandfather, gentlemen; to the day of his death he always walked on tiptoe, and spoke in a whisper . . . such is the force of habit! My grandfather and his brother, Ivan Ivanovitch, were simple, good-hearted people, quiet and depressed. My grand’tante Natalia married, as you are aware, a coarse, dull-witted man, and all her life she cherished an unutterable, slavish, sheep-like passion for him. But their brother Vassily was not of that sort. I believe I said that Ivan Andreevitch had left him in Petersburg. He was then twelve. His father confided him to the care of a distant kinsman, a man no longer young, a bachelor, and a terrible Voltairean.
Vassily grew up and went into the army. He was not tall, but was well-built and exceedingly elegant; he spoke French excellently, and was renowned for his skilful swordsmanship. He was considered one of the most brilliant young men of the beginning of the reign of Catherine. My father used often to tell me that he had known more than one old lady who could not refer to Vassily Ivanovitch Lutchinov without heartfelt emotion. Picture to yourselves a man endowed with exceptional strength of will, passionate and calculating, persevering and daring, reserved in the extreme, and — according to the testimony of all his contemporaries — fascinatingly, captivatingly attractive. He had no conscience, no heart, no principle, though no one could have called him positively a bad-hearted man. He was vain, but knew how to disguise his vanity, and passionately cherished his independence. When Vassily Ivanovitch would half close his black eyes, smiling affectionately, when he wanted to fascinate any one, they say it was impossible to resist him; and even people, thoroughly convinced of the coldness and hardness of his heart, were more than once vanquished by the bewitching power of his personal influence. He served his own interests devotedly, and made other people, too, work for his advantage; and he was always successful in everything, because he never lost his head, never disdained using flattery as a means, and well understood how to use it.
Ten years after Ivan Andreevitch had settled in the country, he came for a four months’ visit to Lutchinovka, a brilliant officer of the Guards, and in that time succeeded positively in turning the head of the grim old man, his father. Strange to say, Ivan Andreevitch listened with enjoyment to his son’s stories of some of his conquests. His brothers were speechless in his presence, and admired him as a being of a higher order. And Anna Pavlovna herself became almost fonder of him than any of her other children who were so sincerely devoted to her.
Vassily Ivanovitch had come down into the country primarily to visit his people, but also with the second object of getting as much money as possible from his father. He lived sumptuously in the glare of publicity in Petersburg, and had made a mass of debts. He had no easy task to get round his father’s miserliness, and though Ivan Andreevitch gave him on this one visit probably far more money than he gave all his other children together during twenty years spent under his roof, Vassily followed the well-known Russian rule, ‘Get what you can!’
Ivan Andreevitch had a servant called Yuditch, just such another tall, thin, taciturn person as his master. They say that this man Yuditch was partly responsible for Ivan Andreevitch’s strange behaviour with Anna Pavlovna; they say he discovered my great-grandmother’s guilty intrigue with one of my great-grandfather’s dearest friends. Most likely Yuditch deeply regretted his ill-timed jealousy, for it would be difficult to conceive a more kind-hearted man. His memory is held in veneration by all my house-serfs to this day. My great-grandfather put unbounded confidence in Yuditch. In those days landowners used to have money, but did not put it into the keeping of banks, they kept it themselves in chests, under their floors, and so on. Ivan Andreevitch kept all his money in a great wrought-iron coffer, which stood under the head of his bed. The key of this coffer was intrusted to Yuditch. Every evening as he went to bed Ivan Andreevitch used to bid him open the coffer in his presence, used to tap in turn each of the tightly filled bags with a stick, and every Saturday he would untie the bags with Yuditch, and carefully count over the money. Vassily heard of all these doings, and burned with eagerness to overhaul the sacred coffer. In the course of five or six days he had softened Yuditch, that is, he had worked on the old man till, as they say, he worshipped the ground his young master trod on. Having thus duly prepared him, Vassily put on a careworn and gloomy air, for a long while refused to answer Yuditch’s questions, and at last told him that he had lost at play, and should make an end of himself if he could not get money somehow. Yuditch broke into sobs, flung himself on his knees before him, begged him to think of God, not to be his own ruin. Vassily locked himself in his room without uttering a word. A little while after he heard some one cautiously knocking at his door; he opened it, and saw in the doorway Yuditch pale and trembling, with the key in his hand. Vassily took in the whole position at a glance. At first, for a long while, he refused to take it. With tears Yuditch repeated, ‘Take it, your honour, graciously take it!’ . . . Vassily at last agreed. This took place on Monday. The idea occurred to Vassily to replace the money taken out with broken bits of crockery. He reckoned on Ivan Andreevitch’s tapping the bags with his stick, and not noticing the hardly perceptible difference in the sound, and by Saturday he hoped to obtain and to replace the sum in the coffer. As he planned, so he did. His father did not, in fact, notice anything. But by Saturday Vassily had not procured the money; he had hoped to win the sum from a rich neighbour at cards, and instead of that, he lost it all. Meantime, Saturday had come; it came at last to the turn of the bags filled with broken crocks. Picture, gentlemen, the amazement of Ivan Andreevitch!
‘What does this mean?’ he thundered. Yuditch was silent.
‘You stole the money?’
‘Then some one took the key from you?’
‘I didn’t give the key to any one.’
‘Not to any one? Well then, you are the thief. Confess!’
‘I am not a thief, Ivan Andreevitch.’
‘Where the devil did these potsherds come from then? So you’re deceiving me! For the last time I tell you — confess!’ Yuditch bowed his head and folded his hands behind his back.
‘Hi, lads!’ shrieked Ivan Andreevitch in a voice of frenzy. ‘A stick!’
‘What, beat . . . me?’ murmured Yuditch.
‘Yes, indeed! Are you any better than the rest? You are a thief! O Yuditch! I never expected such dishonesty of you!’
‘I have grown grey in your service, Ivan Andreevitch,’ Yuditch articulated with effort.
‘What have I to do with your grey hairs? Damn you and your service!’
The servants came in.
‘Take him, do, and give it him thoroughly.’ Ivan Andreevitch’s lips were white and twitching. He walked up and down the room like a wild beast in a small cage.
The servants did not dare to carry out his orders.
‘Why are you standing still, children of Ham? Am I to undertake him myself, eh?’
Yuditch was moving towards the door. . . .
‘Stay!’ screamed Ivan Andreevitch. ‘Yuditch, for the last time I tell you, I beg you, Yuditch, confess!’
‘I can’t!’ moaned Yuditch.
‘Then take him, the sly old fox! Flog him to death! His blood be on my head!’ thundered the infuriated old man. The flogging began. . . . The door suddenly opened, and Vassily came in. He was almost paler than his father, his hands were shaking, his upper lip was lifted, and laid bare a row of even, white teeth.
‘I am to blame,’ he said in a thick but resolute voice. ‘I took the money.’
The servants stopped.
‘You! what? you, Vaska! without Yuditch’s consent?’
‘No!’ said Yuditch, ‘with my consent. I gave Vassily Ivanovitch the key of my own accord. Your honour, Vassily Ivanovitch! why does your honour trouble?’
‘So this is the thief!’ shrieked Ivan Andreevitch. ‘Thanks, Vassily, thanks! But, Yuditch, I’m not going to forgive you anyway. Why didn’t you tell me all about it directly? Hey, you there! why are you standing still? do you too resist my authority? Ah, I’ll settle things with you, my pretty gentleman!’ he added, turning to Vassily.
The servants were again laying hands on Yuditch. . . .
‘Don’t touch him!’ murmured Vassily through his teeth. The men did not heed him. ‘Back!’ he shrieked and rushed upon them. . . . They stepped back.
‘Ah! mutiny!’ moaned Ivan Andreevitch, and, raising his stick, he approached his son. Vassily leaped back, snatched at the handle of his sword, and bared it to half its length. Every one was trembling. Anna Pavlovna, attracted by the noise, showed herself at the door, pale and scared.
A terrible change passed over the face of Ivan Andreevitch. He tottered, dropped the stick, and sank heavily into an arm-chair, hiding his face in both hands. No one stirred, all stood rooted to the spot, Vassily like the rest. He clutched the steel sword-handle convulsively, and his eyes glittered with a weary, evil light. . . .
‘Go, all of you . . . all, out,’ Ivan Andreevitch brought out in a low voice, not taking his hands from his face.
The whole crowd went out. Vassily stood still in the doorway, then suddenly tossed his head, embraced Yuditch, kissed his mother’s hand . . . and two hours later he had left the place. He went back to Petersburg.
In the evening of the same day Yuditch was sitting on the steps of the house serfs’ hut. The servants were all round him, sympathising with him and bitterly reproaching their young master.
‘That’s enough, lads,’ he said to them at last, ‘give over . . . why do you abuse him? He himself, the young master, I dare say is not very happy at his audacity. . . . ’
In consequence of this incident, Vassily never saw his father again. Ivan Andreevitch died without him, and died probably with such a load of sorrow on his heart as God grant none of us may ever know. Vassily Ivanovitch, meanwhile, went into the world, enjoyed himself in his own way, and squandered money recklessly. How he got hold of the money, I cannot tell for certain. He had obtained a French servant, a very smart and intelligent fellow, Bourcier, by name. This man was passionately attached to him and aided him in all his numerous manoeuvres. I do not intend to relate in detail all the exploits of my grand-uncle; he was possessed of such unbounded daring, such serpent-like resource, such inconceivable wiliness, such a fine and ready wit, that I must own I can understand the complete sway that unprincipled person exercised even over the noblest natures.
Soon after his father’s death, in spite of his wiliness, Vassily Ivanovitch was challenged by an injured husband. He fought a duel, seriously wounded his opponent, and was forced to leave the capital; he was banished to his estate, and forbidden to leave it. Vassily Ivanovitch was thirty years old. You may easily imagine, gentlemen, with what feelings he left the brilliant life in the capital that he was used to, and came into the country. They say that he got out of the hooded cart several times on the road, flung himself face downwards in the snow and cried. No one in Lutchinovka would have known him as the gay and charming Vassily Ivanovitch they had seen before. He did not talk to any one; went out shooting from morning to night; endured his mother’s timid caresses with undisguised impatience, and was merciless in his ridicule of his brothers, and of their wives (they were both married by that time). . . .
I have not so far, I think, told you anything about Olga Ivanovna. She had been brought as a tiny baby to Lutchinovka; she all but died on the road. Olga Ivanovna was brought up, as they say, in the fear of God and her betters. It must be admitted that Ivan Andreevitch and Anna Pavlovna both treated her as a daughter. But there lay hid in her soul a faint spark of that fire which burned so fiercely in Vassily Ivanovitch. While Ivan Andreevitch’s own children did not dare even to wonder about the cause of the strange, dumb feud between their parents, Olga was from her earliest years disturbed and tormented by Anna Pavlovna’s position. Like Vassily, she loved independence; any restriction fretted her. She was devoted with her whole soul to her benefactress; old Lutchinov she detested, and more than once, sitting at table, she shot such black looks at him, that even the servant handing the dishes felt uncomfortable. Ivan Andreevitch never noticed these glances, for he never took the slightest notice of his family.
At first Anna Pavlovna had tried to eradicate this hatred, but some bold questions of Olga’s forced her to complete silence. The children of Ivan Andreevitch adored Olga, and the old lady too was fond of her, but not with a very ardent affection.
Long continued grieving had crushed all cheerfulness and every strong feeling in that poor woman; nothing is so clear a proof of Vassily’s captivating charm as that he had made even his mother love him passionately. Demonstrations of tenderness on the part of children were not in the spirit of the age, and so it is not to be wondered at that Olga did not dare to express her devotion, though she always kissed Anna Pavlovna’s hand with special reverence, when she said good-night to her. Twenty years later, Russian girls began to read romances of the class of The Adventures of Marquis Glagol, Fanfan and Lolotta, Alexey or the Cottage in the Forest; they began to play the clavichord and to sing songs in the style of the once very well-known:
‘Men like butterflies in sunshine
Flutter round us opening blossoms,’ etc.
But in the seventies of last century (Olga Ivanovna was born in 1757) our country beauties had no notion of such accomplishments. It is difficult for us now to form a clear conception of the Russian miss of those days. We can indeed judge from our grandmothers of the degree of culture of girls of noble family in the time of Catherine; but how is one to distinguish what they had gradually gained in the course of their long lives from what they were in the days of their youth?
Olga Ivanovna spoke French a little, but with a strong Russian accent: in her day there was as yet no talk of French emigrants. In fact, with all her fine qualities, she was still pretty much of a savage, and I dare say in the simplicity of her heart, she had more than once chastised some luckless servant girl with her own hands. . . .
Some time before Vassily Ivanovitch’s arrival, Olga Ivanovna had been betrothed to a neighbour, Pavel Afanasievitch Rogatchov, a very good-natured and straightforward fellow. Nature had forgotten to put any spice of ill-temper into his composition. His own serfs did not obey him, and would sometimes all go off, down to the least of them, and leave poor Rogatchov without any dinner . . . but nothing could trouble the peace of his soul. From his childhood he had been stout and indolent, had never been in the government service, and was fond of going to church and singing in the choir. Look, gentlemen, at this round, good-natured face; glance at this mild, beaming smile . . . don’t you really feel it reassuring, yourselves? His father used at long intervals to drive over to Lutchinovka, and on holidays used to bring with him his Pavlusha, whom the little Lutchinovs teased in every possible way. Pavlusha grew up, began driving over to call on Ivan Andreevitch on his own account, fell in love with Olga Ivanovna, and offered her his hand and heart — not to her personally, but to her benefactors. Her benefactors gave their consent. They never even thought of asking Olga Ivanovna whether she liked Rogatchov. In those days, in the words of my grandmother, ‘such refinements were not the thing.’ Olga soon got used to her betrothed, however; it was impossible not to feel fond of such a gentle and amiable creature. Rogatchov had received no education whatever; his French consisted of the one word bonjour, and he secretly considered even that word improper. But some jocose person had taught him the following lines, as a French song: ‘Sonitchka, Sonitchka! Ke-voole-voo-de-mwa — I adore you — me-je-ne-pyoo-pa. . . . ’ This supposed song he always used to hum to himself when he felt in good spirits. His father was also a man of incredible good-nature, always wore a long nankin coat, and whatever was said to him he responded with a smile. From the time of Pavel Afanasievitch’s betrothal, both the Rogatchovs, father and son, had been tremendously busy. They had been having their house entirely transformed adding various ‘galleries,’ talking in a friendly way with the workmen, encouraging them with drinks. They had not yet completed all these additions by the winter; they put off the wedding till the summer. In the summer Ivan Andreevitch died; the wedding was deferred till the following spring. In the winter Vassily Ivanovitch arrived. Rogatchov was presented to him; he received him coldly and contemptuously, and as time went on, he, so alarmed him by his haughty behaviour that poor Rogatchov trembled like a leaf at the very sight of him, was tongue-tied and smiled nervously. Vassily once almost annihilated him altogether — by making him a bet, that he, Rogatchov, was not able to stop smiling. Poor Pavel Afanasievitch almost cried with, embarrassment, but — actually! — a smile, a stupid, nervous smile refused to leave his perspiring face! Vassily toyed deliberately with the ends of his neckerchief, and looked at him with supreme contempt. Pavel Afanasievitch’s father heard too of Vassily’s presence, and after an interval of a few days —‘for the sake of greater formality’— he sallied off to Lutchinovka with the object of ‘felicitating our honoured guest on his advent to the halls of his ancestors.’ Afanasey Lukitch was famed all over the countryside for his eloquence — that is to say, for his capacity for enunciating without faltering a rather long and complicated speech, with a sprinkling of bookish phrases in it. Alas! on this occasion he did not sustain his reputation; he was even more disconcerted than his son, Pavel Afanasievitch; he mumbled something quite inarticulate, and though he had never been used to taking vodka, he at once drained a glass ‘to carry things off’— he found Vassily at lunch — tried at least to clear his throat with some dignity, and did not succeed in making the slightest sound. On their way home, Pavel Afanasievitch whispered to his parent, ‘Well, father?’ Afanasey Lukitch responded angrily also in a whisper, ‘Don’t speak of it!’
The Rogatchovs began to be less frequent visitors at Lutchinovka. Though indeed they were not the only people intimidated by Vassily; he awakened in his own brothers, in their wives, in Anna Pavlovna herself, an instinctive feeling of uneasiness and discomfort . . . they tried to avoid him in every way they could. Vassily must have noticed this, but apparently had no intention of altering his behaviour to them. Suddenly, at the beginning of the spring, he became once more the charming, attractive person they had known of old . . .
The first symptom of this sudden transformation was Vassily’s unexpected visit to the Rogatchovs. Afanasey Lukitch, in particular, was fairly disconcerted at the sight of Lutchinov’s carriage, but his dismay very quickly vanished. Never had Vassily been more courteous and delightful. He took young Rogatchov by the arm, went with him to look at the new buildings, talked to the carpenters, made some suggestions, with his own hands chopped a few chips off with the axe, asked to be shown Afanasey Lukitch’s stud horses, himself trotted them out on a halter, and altogether so affected the good-hearted children of the steppes by his gracious affability that they both embraced him more than once. At home, too, Vassily managed, in the course of a few days, to turn every one’s head just as before. He contrived all sorts of laughable games, got hold of musicians, invited the ladies and gentlemen of the neighbourhood, told the old ladies the scandals of the town in the most amusing way, flirted a little with the young ones, invented unheard-of diversions, fireworks and such things, in short, he put life into every thing and every one. The melancholy, gloomy house of the Lutchinovs was suddenly converted into a noisy, brilliant, enchanted palace of which the whole countryside was talking. This sudden transformation surprised many and delighted all. All sorts of rumours began to be whispered about. Sagacious persons opined that Vassily Ivanovitch had till then been crushed under the weight of some secret trouble, that he saw chances of returning to the capital . . . but the true cause of Vassily Ivanovitch’s metamorphosis was guessed by no one.
Olga Ivanovna, gentlemen, was rather pretty; though her beauty consisted rather in the extraordinary softness and freshness of her shape, in the quiet grace of her movements than in the strict regularity of her features. Nature had bestowed on her a certain independence; her bringing up — she had grown up without father or mother — had developed in her reserve and determination. Olga did not belong to the class of quiet and tame-spirited young ladies; but only one feeling had reached its full possibilities in her as yet — hatred for her benefactor. Other more feminine passions might indeed flare up in Olga Ivanovna’s heart with abnormal and painful violence . . . but she had not the cold pride, nor the intense strength of will, nor the self-centred egoism, without which any passion passes quickly away.
The first rush of feeling in such half-active, half-passive natures is sometimes extremely violent; but they give way very quickly, especially when it is a question of relentless conformity with accepted principles; they are afraid of consequences. . . . And yet, gentlemen, I will frankly confess, women of that sort always make the strongest impression on me. . . . (At these words the speaker drank a glass of water. Rubbish! rubbish! thought I, looking at his round chin; nothing in the world makes a strong impression on you, my dear fellow!)
Piotr Fedoritch resumed: Gentlemen, I believe in blood, in race. Olga Ivanovna had more blood than, for instance, her foster sister, Natalia. How did this blood show itself, do you ask? Why, in everything; in the lines of her hands, in her lips, in the sound of her voice, in her glance, in her carriage, in her hair, in the very folds of her gown. In all these trifles there lay hid something special, though I am bound to admit that the — how can one express it? — la distinction, which had fallen to Olga Pavlovna’s share would not have attracted Vassily’s notice had he met her in Petersburg. But in the country, in the wilds, she not only caught his attention, she was positively the sole cause of the transformation of which I have just been speaking.
Consider the position. Vassily Ivanovitch liked to enjoy life; he could not but be bored in the country; his brothers were good-natured fellows, but extremely limited people: he had nothing in common with them. His sister, Natalia, with the assistance of her husband, had brought into the world in the course of three years no less than four babies; between her and Vassily was a perfect gulf. . . . Anna Pavlovna went to church, prayed, fasted, and was preparing herself for death. There remained only Olga — a fresh, shy, pretty girl. . . . Vassily did not notice her at first . . . indeed, who does notice a dependant, an orphan girl kept from charity in the house? . . . One day, at the very beginning of spring, Vassily was walking about the garden, and with his cane slashing off the heads of the dandelions, those stupid yellow flowers, which come out first in such numbers in the meadows, as soon as they begin to grow green. He was walking in the garden in front of the house; he lifted his head, and caught sight of Olga Ivanovna.
She was sitting sideways at the window, dreamily stroking a tabby kitten, who, purring and blinking, nestled on her lap, and with great satisfaction held up her little nose into the rather hot spring sunshine. Olga Ivanovna was wearing a white morning gown, with short sleeves; her bare, pale-pink, girlish shoulders and arms were a picture of freshness and health. A little red cap discreetly restrained her thick, soft, silky curls. Her face was a little flushed; she was only just awake. Her slender, flexible neck bent forward so charmingly; there was such seductive negligence, such modesty in the restful pose of her figure, free from corsets, that Vassily Ivanovitch (a great connoisseur!) halted involuntarily and peeped in. It suddenly occurred to him that Olga Ivanovna ought not to be left in her primitive ignorance; that she might with time be turned into a very sweet and charming woman. He stole up to the window, stretched up on tiptoe, and imprinted a silent kiss on Olga Ivanovna’s smooth, white arm, a little below the elbow.
Olga shrieked and jumped up, the kitten put its tail in the air and leaped into the garden. Vassily Ivanovitch with a smile kept her by the arm. . . . Olga flushed all over, to her ears; he began to rally her on her alarm . . . invited her to come a walk with him. But Olga Ivanovna became suddenly conscious of the negligence of her attire, and ‘swifter than the swift red deer’ she slipped away into the next room.
The very same day Vassily set off to the Rogatchovs. He was suddenly happy and light-hearted. Vassily was not in love with Olga, no! the word ‘love’ is not to be used lightly. . . . He had found an occupation, had set himself a task, and rejoiced with the delight of a man of action. He did not even remember that she was his mother’s ward, and another man’s betrothed. He never for one instant deceived himself; he was fully aware that it was not for her to be his wife. . . . Possibly there was passion to excuse him — not a very elevated nor noble passion, truly, but still a fairly strong and tormenting passion. Of course he was not in love like a boy; he did not give way to vague ecstasies; he knew very well what he wanted and what he was striving for.
Vassily was a perfect master of the art of winning over, in the shortest time, any one however shy or prejudiced against him. Olga soon ceased to be shy with him. Vassily Ivanovitch led her into a new world. He ordered a clavichord for her, gave her music lessons (he himself played fairly well on the flute), read books aloud to her, had long conversations with her. . . . The poor child of the steppes soon had her head turned completely. Vassily dominated her entirely. He knew how to tell her of what had been till then unknown to her, and to tell her in a language she could understand. Olga little by little gained courage to express all her feelings to him: he came to her aid, helped her out with the words she could not find, did not alarm her, at one moment kept her back, at another encouraged her confidences. . . . Vassily busied himself with her education from no disinterested desire to awaken and develop her talents. He simply wanted to draw her a little closer to himself; and he knew too that an innocent, shy, but vain young girl is more easily seduced through the mind than the heart. Even if Olga had been an exceptional being, Vassily would never have perceived it, for he treated her like a child. But as you are aware, gentlemen, there was nothing specially remarkable in Olga. Vassily tried all he could to work on her imagination, and often in the evening she left his side with such a whirl of new images, phrases and ideas in her head that she could not sleep all night, but lay breathing uneasily and turning her burning cheeks from side to side on the cool pillows, or got up, went to the window and gazed fearfully and eagerly into the dark distance. Vassily filled every moment of her life; she could not think of any one else. As for Rogatchov, she soon positively ceased to notice his existence. Vassily had the tact and shrewdness not to talk to Olga in his presence; but he either made him laugh till he was ready to cry, or arranged some noisy entertainment, a riding expedition, a boating party by night with torches and music — he did not in fact let Pavel Afanasievitch have a chance to think clearly.
But in spite of all Vassily Ivanovitch’s tact, Rogatchov dimly felt that he, Olga’s betrothed and future husband, had somehow become as it were an outsider to her . . . but in the boundless goodness of his heart, he was afraid of wounding her by reproaches, though he sincerely loved her and prized her affection. When left alone with her, he did not know what to say, and only tried all he could to follow her wishes. Two months passed by. Every trace of self-reliance, of will, disappeared at last in Olga. Rogatchov, feeble and tongue-tied, could be no support to her. She had no wish even to resist the enchantment, and with a sinking heart she surrendered unconditionally to Vassily. . . .
Olga Ivanovna may very likely then have known something of the bliss of love; but it was not for long. Though Vassily — for lack of other occupation — did not drop her, and even attached himself to her and looked after her fondly, Olga herself was so utterly distraught that she found no happiness even in love and yet could not tear herself away from Vassily. She began to be frightened at everything, did not dare to think, could talk of nothing, gave up reading, and was devoured by misery. Sometimes Vassily succeeded in carrying her along with him and making her forget everything and every one. But the very next day he would find her pale, speechless, with icy hands, and a fixed smile on her lips. . . . There followed a time of some difficulty for Vassily; but no difficulties could dismay him. He concentrated himself like a skilled gambler. He could not in the least rely upon Olga Ivanovna; she was continually betraying herself, turning pale, blushing, weeping . . . her new part was utterly beyond her powers. Vassily toiled for two: in his restless and boisterous gaiety, only an experienced observer could have detected something strained and feverish. He played his brothers, sisters, the Rogatchovs, the neighbours, like pawns at chess. He was everlastingly on the alert. Not a single glance, a single movement, was lost on him, yet he appeared the most heedless of men. Every morning he faced the fray, and every evening he scored a victory. He was not the least oppressed by such a fearful strain of activity. He slept four hours out of the twenty-four, ate very little, and was healthy, fresh, and good-humoured.
Meantime the wedding-day was approaching. Vassily succeeded in persuading Pavel Afanasievitch himself of the necessity of delay. Then he despatched him to Moscow to make various purchases, while he was himself in correspondence with friends in Petersburg. He took all this trouble, not so much from sympathy for Olga Ivanovna, as from a natural bent and liking for bustle and agitation. . . . Besides, he was beginning to be sick of Olga Ivanovna, and more than once after a violent outbreak of passion for her, he would look at her, as he sometimes did at Rogatchov. Lutchinov always remained a riddle to every one. In the coldness of his relentless soul you felt the presence of a strange almost southern fire, and even in the wildest glow of passion a breath of icy chill seemed to come from the man.
Before other people he supported Olga Ivanovna as before. But when they were alone, he played with her like a cat with a mouse, or frightened her with sophistries, or was wearily, malignantly bored, or again flung himself at her feet, swept her away, like a straw in a hurricane . . . and there was no feigning at such moments in his passion . . . he really was moved himself.
One day, rather late in the evening, Vassily was sitting alone in his room, attentively reading over the last letters he had received from Petersburg, when suddenly he heard a faint creak at the door, and Olga Ivanovna’s maid, Palashka, came in.
‘What do you want?’ Vassily asked her rather crossly.
‘My mistress begs you to come to her.’
‘I can’t just now. Go along. . . . Well what are you standing there for?’ he went on, seeing that Palashka did not go away.
‘My mistress told me to say that she very particularly wants to see you,’ she said.
‘Why, what’s the matter?’
‘Would your honour please to see for yourself. . . . ’
Vassily got up, angrily flung the letters into a drawer, and went in to Olga Ivanovna. She was sitting alone in a corner, pale and passive.
‘What do you want?’ he asked her, not quite politely.
Olga looked at him and closed her eyes.
‘What’s the matter? what is it, Olga?’
He took her hand. . . . Olga Ivanovna’s hand was cold as ice . . . She tried to speak . . . and her voice died away. The poor woman had no possible doubt of her condition left her.
Vassily was a little disconcerted. Olga Ivanovna’s room was a couple of steps from Anna Pavlovna’s bedroom. Vassily cautiously sat down by Olga, kissed and chafed her hands, comforted her in whispers. She listened to him, and silently, faintly, shuddered. In the doorway stood Palashka, stealthily wiping her eyes. In the next room they heard the heavy, even ticking of the clock, and the breathing of some one asleep. Olga Ivanovna’s numbness dissolved at last into tears and stifled sobs. Tears are like a storm; after them one is always calmer. When Olga Ivanovna had quieted down a little, and only sobbed convulsively at intervals, like a child, Vassily knelt before her with caresses and tender promises, soothed her completely, gave her something to drink, put her to bed, and went away. He did not undress all night; wrote two or three letters, burnt two or three papers, took out a gold locket containing the portrait of a black-browed, black-eyed woman with a bold, voluptuous face, scrutinised her features slowly, and walked up and down the room pondering.
Next day, at breakfast, he saw with extreme displeasure poor Olga’s red and swollen eyes and pale, agitated face. After breakfast he proposed a stroll in the garden to her. Olga followed Vassily, like a submissive sheep. When two hours afterwards she came in from the garden she quite broke down; she told Anna Pavlovna she was unwell, and went to lie down on her bed. During their walk Vassily had, with a suitable show of remorse, informed her that he was secretly married — he was really as much a bachelor as I am. Olga Ivanovna did not fall into a swoon — people don’t fall into swoons except on the stage — but she turned all at once stony, though she herself was so far from hoping to marry Vassily Ivanovitch that she was even afraid to think about it. Vassily had begun to explain to her the inevitableness of her parting from him and marrying Rogatchov. Olga Ivanovna looked at him in dumb horror. Vassily talked in a cool, business-like, practical way, blamed himself, expressed his regret, but concluded all his remarks with the following words: ‘There’s no going back on the past; we’ve got to act.’
Olga was utterly overwhelmed; she was filled with terror and shame; a dull, heavy despair came upon her; she longed for death, and waited in agony for Vassily’s decision.
‘We must confess everything to my mother,’ he said to her at last.
Olga turned deadly pale; her knees shook under her.
‘Don’t be afraid, don’t be afraid,’ repeated Vassily, ‘trust to me, I won’t desert you . . . I will make everything right . . . rely upon me.’
The poor woman looked at him with love . . . yes, with love, and deep, but hopeless devotion.
‘I will arrange everything, everything,’ Vassily said to her at parting . . . and for the last time he kissed her chilly hands. . . .
Next morning — Olga Ivanovna had only just risen from her bed — her door opened . . . and Anna Pavlovna appeared in the doorway. She was supported by Vassily. In silence she got as far as an arm-chair, and in silence she sat down. Vassily stood at her side. He looked composed; his brows were knitted and his lips slightly parted. Anna Pavlovna, pale, indignant, angry, tried to speak, but her voice failed her. Olga Ivanovna glanced in horror from her benefactress to her lover, with a terrible sinking at her heart . . . she fell on her knees with a shriek in the middle of the room, and hid her face in her hands.
‘Then it’s true . . . is it true?’ murmured Anna Pavlovna, and bent down to her. . . . ‘Answer!’ she went on harshly, clutching Olga by the arm.
‘Mother!’ rang out Vassily’s brazen voice, ‘you promised me not to be hard on her.’
‘I want . . . confess . . . confess . . . is it true? is it true?’
‘Mother . . . remember . . . ’ Vassily began deliberately.
This one word moved Anna Pavlovna greatly. She leaned back in her chair, and burst into sobs.
Olga Ivanovna softly raised her head, and would have flung herself at the old lady’s feet, but Vassily kept her back, raised her from the ground, and led her to another arm-chair. Anna Pavlovna went on weeping and muttering disconnected words. . . .
‘Come, mother,’ began Vassily, ‘don’t torment yourself, the trouble may yet be set right. . . . If Rogatchov . . . ’
Olga Ivanovna shuddered, and drew herself up.
‘If Rogatchov,’ pursued Vassily, with a meaning glance at Olga Ivanovna, ‘imagines that he can disgrace an honourable family with impunity . . . ’
Olga Ivanovna was overcome with horror.
‘In my house,’ moaned Anna Pavlovna.
‘Calm yourself, mother. He took advantage of her innocence, her youth, he — you wish to say something’— he broke off, seeing that Olga made a movement towards him. . . .
Olga Ivanovna sank back in her chair.
‘I will go at once to Rogatchov. I will make him marry her this very day. You may be sure I will not let him make a laughing-stock of us. . . . ’
‘But . . . Vassily Ivanovitch . . . you . . . ’ whispered Olga.
He gave her a prolonged, cold stare. She sank into silence again.
‘Mother, give me your word not to worry her before I return. Look, she is half dead. And you, too, must rest. Rely upon me; I answer for everything; in any case, wait till I return. I tell you again, don’t torture her, or yourself, and trust to me.’
He went to the door and stopped. ‘Mother,’ said he, ‘come with me, leave her alone, I beg of you.’
Anna Pavlovna got up, went up to the holy picture, bowed down to the ground, and slowly followed her son. Olga Ivanovna, without a word or a movement, looked after them.
Vassily turned back quickly, snatched her hand, whispered in her ear, ‘Rely on me, and don’t betray us,’ and at once withdrew. . . . ‘Bourcier!’ he called, running swiftly down the stairs, ‘Bourcier!’
A quarter of an hour later he was sitting in his carriage with his valet.
That day the elder Rogatchov was not at home. He had gone to the district town to buy cloth for the liveries of his servants. Pavel Afanasievitch was sitting in his own room, looking through a collection of faded butterflies. With lifted eyebrows and protruding lips, he was carefully, with a pin, turning over the fragile wings of a ‘night sphinx’ moth, when he was suddenly aware of a small but heavy hand on his shoulder. He looked round. Vassily stood before him.
‘Good-morning, Vassily Ivanovitch,’ he said in some amazement.
Vassily looked at him, and sat down on a chair facing him.
Pavel Afanasievitch was about to smile . . . but he glanced at Vassily, and subsided with his mouth open and his hands clasped.
‘Tell me, Pavel Afanasievitch,’ said Vassily suddenly, ‘are you meaning to dance at your wedding soon?’
‘I? . . . soon . . . of course . . . for my part . . . though as you and your sister . . . I, for my part, am ready tomorrow even.’
‘Very good, very good. You’re a very impatient person, Pavel Afanasievitch.’
‘Let me tell you,’ pursued Vassily Ivanovitch, getting up, ‘I know all; you understand me, and I order you without delay tomorrow to marry Olga.’
‘Excuse me, excuse me,’ objected Rogatchov, not rising from his seat; ‘you order me. I sought Olga Ivanovna’s hand of myself and there’s no need to give me orders. . . . I confess, Vassily Ivanovitch, I don’t quite understand you.’
‘You don’t understand me?’
‘No, really, I don’t understand you.’
‘Do you give me your word to marry her tomorrow?’
‘Why, mercy on us, Vassily Ivanovitch . . . haven’t you yourself put off our wedding more than once? Except for you it would have taken place long ago. And now I have no idea of breaking it off. What is the meaning of your threats, your insistence?’
Pavel Afanasievitch wiped the sweat off his face.
‘Do you give me your word? Say yes or no!’ Vassily repeated emphatically.
‘Excuse me . . . I will . . . but . . . ’
‘Very good. Remember then . . . She has confessed everything.’
‘Who has confessed?’
‘Why, what has she confessed?’
‘Why, what are you pretending to me for, Pavel Afanasievitch? I’m not a stranger to you.’
‘What am I pretending? I don’t understand you, I don’t, I positively don’t understand a word. What could Olga Ivanovna confess?’
‘What? You are really too much! You know what.’
‘May God slay me . . . ’
‘No, I’ll slay you, if you don’t marry her . . . do you understand?’
‘What! . . . ’ Pavel Afanasievitch jumped up and stood facing Vassily. ‘Olga Ivanovna . . . you tell me . . . ’
‘You’re a clever fellow, you are, I must own’— Vassily with a smile patted him on the shoulder —‘though you do look so innocent.’
‘Good God! . . . You’ll send me out of my mind. . . . What do you mean, explain, for God’s sake!’
Vassily bent down and whispered something in his ear.
Rogatchov cried out, ‘What! . . .!?’
‘Olga Ivanovna? Olga? . . . ’
‘Yes . . . your betrothed . . . ’
‘My betrothed . . . Vassily Ivanovitch . . . she . . . she . . . Why, I never wish to see her again,’ cried Pavel Afanasievitch. ‘Good-bye to her for ever! What do you take me for? I’m being duped . . . I’m being duped . . . Olga Ivanovna, how wrong of you, have you no shame? . . . ’ (Tears gushed from his eyes.) ‘Thanks, Vassily Ivanovitch, thanks very much . . . I never wish to see her again now! no! no! don’t speak of her. . . . Ah, merciful Heavens! to think I have lived to see this! Oh, very well, very well!’
‘That’s enough nonsense,’ Vassily Ivanovitch observed coldly. ‘Remember, you’ve given me your word: the wedding’s tomorrow.’
‘No, that it won’t be! Enough of that, Vassily Ivanovitch. I say again, what do you take me for? You do me too much honour. I’m humbly obliged. Excuse me.’
‘As you please!’ retorted Vassily. ‘Get your sword.’
‘Sword . . . what for?’
‘What for? . . . I’ll show you what for.’
Vassily drew out his fine, flexible French sword and bent it a little against the floor.
‘You want . . . to fight . . . me?’
‘But, Vassily Ivanovitch, put yourself in my place! How can I, only think, after what you have just told me. . . . I’m a man of honour, Vassily Ivanovitch, a nobleman.’
‘You’re a nobleman, you’re a man of honour, so you’ll be so good as to fight with me.’
‘You are frightened, I think, Mr. Rogatchov.’
‘I’m not in the least frightened, Vassily Ivanovitch. You thought you would frighten me, Vassily Ivanovitch. I’ll scare him, you thought, he’s a coward, and he’ll agree to anything directly . . . No, Vassily Ivanovitch, I am a nobleman as much as you are, though I’ve not had city breeding, and you won’t succeed in frightening me into anything, excuse me.’
‘Very good,’ retorted Vassily; ‘where is your sword then?’
‘Eroshka!’ shouted Pavel Afanasievitch. A servant came in.
‘Get me the sword — there — you know, in the loft . . . make haste. . . . ’
Eroshka went out. Pavel Afanasievitch suddenly became exceedingly pale, hurriedly took off his dressing-gown, put on a reddish coat with big paste buttons . . . twisted a cravat round his neck . . . Vassily looked at him, and twiddled the fingers of his right hand.
‘Well, are we to fight then, Pavel Afanasievitch?’
‘Let’s fight, if we must fight,’ replied Rogatchov, and hurriedly buttoned up his shirt.
‘Ay, Pavel Afanasievitch, you take my advice, marry her . . . what is it to you . . . And believe me, I’ll . . . ’
‘No, Vassily Ivanovitch,’ Rogatchov interrupted him. ‘You’ll kill me or maim me, I know, but I’m not going to lose my honour; if I’m to die then I must die.’
Eroshka came in, and trembling, gave Rogatchov a wretched old sword in a torn leather scabbard. In those days all noblemen wore swords with powder, but in the steppes they only put on powder twice a year. Eroshka moved away to the door and burst out crying. Pavel Afanasievitch pushed him out of the room.
‘But, Vassily Ivanovitch,’ he observed with some embarrassment, ‘I can’t fight with you on the spot: allow me to put off our duel till tomorrow. My father is not at home, and it would be as well for me to put my affairs in order to — to be ready for anything.’
‘I see you’re beginning to feel frightened again, sir.’
‘No, no, Vassily Ivanovitch; but consider yourself . . . ’
‘Listen!’ shouted Lutchinov, ‘you drive me out of patience. . . . Either give me your word to marry her at once, or fight . . . or I’ll thrash you with my cane like a coward — do you understand?’
‘Come into the garden,’ Rogatchov answered through his teeth.
But all at once the door opened, and the old nurse, Efimovna, utterly distracted, broke into the room, fell on her knees before Rogatchov, and clasped his legs. . . .
‘My little master!’ she wailed, ‘my nursling . . . what is it you are about? Will you be the death of us poor wretches, your honour? Sure, he’ll kill you, darling! Only you say the word, you say the word, and we’ll make an end of him, the insolent fellow. . . . Pavel Afanasievitch, my baby-boy, for the love of God!’
A number of pale, excited faces showed in the door . . . there was even the red beard of the village elder . . .
‘Let me go, Efimovna, let me go!’ muttered Rogatchov.
‘I won’t, my own, I won’t. What are you about, sir, what are you about? What’ll Afanasey Lukitch say? Why, he’ll drive us all out of the light of day. . . . Why are you fellows standing still? Take the uninvited guest in hand and show him out of the house, so that not a trace be left of him.’
‘Rogatchov!’ Vassily Ivanovitch shouted menacingly.
‘You are crazy, Efimovna, you are shaming me, come, come . . . ’ said Pavel Afanasievitch. ‘Go away, go away, in God’s name, and you others, off with you, do you hear? . . . ’
Vassily Ivanovitch moved swiftly to the open window, took out a small silver whistle, blew lightly . . . Bourcier answered from close by. Lutchinov turned at once to Pavel Afanasievitch.
‘What’s to be the end of this farce?’
‘Vassily Ivanovitch, I will come to you tomorrow. What can I do with this crazy old woman? . . . ’
‘Oh, I see it’s no good wasting words on you,’ said Vassily, and he swiftly raised his cane . . .
Pavel Afanasievitch broke loose, pushed Efimovna away, snatched up the sword, and rushed through another door into the garden.
Vassily dashed after him. They ran into a wooden summerhouse, painted cunningly after the Chinese fashion, shut themselves in, and drew their swords. Rogatchov had once taken lessons in fencing, but now he was scarcely capable of drawing a sword properly. The blades crossed. Vassily was obviously playing with Rogatchov’s sword. Pavel Afanasievitch was breathless and pale, and gazed in consternation into Lutchinov’s face.
Meanwhile, screams were heard in the garden; a crowd of people were running to the summerhouse. Suddenly Rogatchov heard the heart-rending wail of old age . . . he recognised the voice of his father. Afanasey Lukitch, bare-headed, with dishevelled hair, was running in front of them all, frantically waving his hands. . . .
With a violent and unexpected turn of the blade Vassily sent the sword flying out of Pavel Afanasievitch’s hand.
‘Marry her, my boy,’ he said to him: ‘give over this foolery!’
‘I won’t marry her,’ whispered Rogatchov, and he shut his eyes, and shook all over.
Afanasey Lukitch began banging at the door of the summerhouse.
‘You won’t?’ shouted Vassily.
Rogatchov shook his head.
‘Well, damn you, then!’
Poor Pavel Afanasievitch fell dead: Lutchinov’s sword stabbed him to the heart . . . The door gave way; old Rogatchov burst into the summerhouse, but Vassily had already jumped out of window . . .
Two hours later he went into Olga Ivanovna’s room . . . She rushed in terror to meet him . . . He bowed to her in silence; took out his sword and pierced Pavel Afanasievitch’s portrait in the place of the heart. Olga shrieked and fell unconscious on the floor . . . Vassily went in to Anna Pavlovna. He found her in the oratory. ‘Mother,’ said he, ‘we are avenged.’ The poor old woman shuddered and went on praying.
Within a week Vassily had returned to Petersburg, and two years later he came back stricken with paralysis — tongue-tied. He found neither Anna Pavlovna nor Olga living, and soon after died himself in the arms of Yuditch, who fed him like a child, and was the only one who could understand his incoherent stuttering.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01