Give me your hand, gentle reader, and come along with me. It is glorious weather; there is a tender blue in the May sky; the smooth young leaves of the willows glisten as though they had been polished; the wide even road is all covered with that delicate grass with the little reddish stalk that the sheep are so fond of nibbling; to right and to left, over the long sloping hillsides, the green rye is softly waving; the shadows of small clouds glide in thin long streaks over it. In the distance is the dark mass of forests, the glitter of ponds, yellow patches of village; larks in hundreds are soaring, singing, falling headlong with outstretched necks, hopping about the clods; the crows on the highroad stand still, look at you, peck at the earth, let you drive close up, and with two hops lazily move aside. On a hill beyond a ravine a peasant is ploughing; a piebald colt, with a cropped tail and ruffled mane, is running on unsteady legs after its mother; its shrill whinnying reaches us. We drive on into the birch wood, and drink in the strong, sweet, fresh fragrance. Here we are at the boundaries. The coachman gets down; the horses snort; the trace-horses look round; the centre horse in the shafts switches his tail, and turns his head up towards the wooden yoke above it . . . the great gate opens creaking; the coachman seats himself. . . . Drive on! the village is before us. Passing five homesteads, and turning off to the right, we drop down into a hollow and drive along a dyke, the farther side of a small pond; behind the round tops of the lilacs and apple-trees a wooden roof, once red, with two chimneys, comes into sight; the coachman keeps along the hedge to the left, and to the spasmodic and drowsy baying of three pug dogs he drives through the wide open gates, whisks smartly round the broad courtyard past the stable and the barn, gallantly salutes the old housekeeper, who is stepping sideways over the high lintel in the open doorway of the storehouse, and pulls up at last before the steps of a dark house with light windows. . . . We are at Tatyana Borissovna’s. And here she is herself opening the window and nodding at us. . . . ‘Good day, ma’am!’
Tatyana Borissovna is a woman of fifty, with large, prominent grey eyes, a rather broad nose, rosy cheeks and a double chin. Her face is brimming over with friendliness and kindness. She was once married, but was soon left a widow. Tatyana Borissovna is a very remarkable woman. She lives on her little property, never leaving it, mixes very little with her neighbours, sees and likes none but young people. She was the daughter of very poor landowners, and received no education; in other words, she does not know French; she has never been in Moscow — and in spite of all these defects, she is so good and simple in her manners, so broad in her sympathies and ideas, so little infected with the ordinary prejudices of country ladies of small means, that one positively cannot help marvelling at her. . . . Indeed, a woman who lives all the year round in the country and does not talk scandal, nor whine, nor curtsey, is never flurried, nor depressed, nor in a flutter of curiosity, is a real marvel! She usually wears a grey taffetas gown and a white cap with lilac streamers; she is fond of good cheer, but not to excess; all the preserving, pickling, and salting she leaves to her housekeeper. ‘What does she do all day long?’ you will ask. . . . ‘Does she read?’ No, she doesn’t read, and, to tell the truth, books are not written for her. . . . If there are no visitors with her, Tatyana Borissovna sits by herself at the window knitting a stocking in winter; in summer time she is in the garden, planting and watering her flowers, playing for hours together with her cats, or feeding her doves. . . . She does not take much part in the management of her estate. But if a visitor pays her a call — some young neighbour whom she likes — Tatyana Borissovna is all life directly; she makes him sit down, pours him out some tea, listens to his chat, laughs, sometimes pats his cheek, but says little herself; in trouble or sorrow she comforts and gives good advice. How many people have confided their family secrets and the griefs of their hearts to her, and have wept over her hands! At times she sits opposite her visitor, leaning lightly on her elbow, and looks with such sympathy into his face, smiles so affectionately, that he cannot help feeling: ‘What a dear, good woman you are, Tatyana Borissovna! Let me tell you what is in my heart.’ One feels happy and warm in her small, snug rooms; in her house it is always, so to speak, fine weather. Tatyana Borissovna is a wonderful woman, but no one wonders at her; her sound good sense, her breadth and firmness, her warm sympathy in the joys and sorrows of others — in a word, all her qualities are so innate in her; they are no trouble, no effort to her. . . . One cannot fancy her otherwise, and so one feels no need to thank her. She is particularly fond of watching the pranks and follies of young people; she folds her hands over her bosom, throws back her head, puckers up her eyes, and sits smiling at them, then all of a sudden she heaves a sigh, and says, ‘Ah, my children, my children!’ . . . Sometimes one longs to go up to her, take hold of her hands and say: ‘Let me tell you, Tatyana Borissovna, you don’t know your own value; for all your simplicity and lack of learning, you’re an extraordinary creature!’ Her very name has a sweet familiar ring; one is glad to utter it; it calls up a kindly smile at once. How often, for instance, have I chanced to ask a peasant: ‘Tell me, my friend, how am I to get to Gratchevka?’ let us say. ‘Well, sir, you go on first to Vyazovoe, and from there to Tatyana Borissovna’s, and from Tatyana Borissovna’s any one will show you the way.’ And at the name of Tatyana Borissovna the peasant wags his head in quite a special way. Her household is small, in accordance with her means. The house, the laundry, the stores and the kitchen, are in the charge of the housekeeper, Agafya, once her nurse, a good-natured, tearful, toothless creature; she has under her two stalwart girls with stout crimson cheeks like Antonovsky apples. The duties of valet, steward, and waiter are filled by Policarp, an extraordinary old man of seventy, a queer fellow, full of erudition, once a violinist and worshipper of Viotti, with a personal hostility to Napoleon, or, as he calls him, Bonaparty, and a passion for nightingales. He always keeps five or six of the latter in his room; in early spring he will sit for whole days together by the cage, waiting for the first trill, and when he hears it, he covers his face with his hands, and moans, ‘Oh, piteous, piteous!’ and sheds tears in floods. Policarp has, to help him, his grandson Vasya, a curly-headed, sharp-eyed boy of twelve; Policarp adores him, and grumbles at him from morning till night. He undertakes his education too. ‘Vasya,’ he says, ‘say Bonaparty was a scoundrel.’ ‘And what’ll you give me, granddad?’ ‘What’ll I give you? . . . I’ll give you nothing. . . . Why, what are you? Aren’t you a Russian?’ ‘I’m a Mtchanin, granddad; I was born in Mtchensk.’ ‘Oh, silly dunce! but where is Mtchensk?’ ‘How can I tell?’ ‘Mtchensk’s in Russia, silly!’ ‘Well, what then, if it is in Russia?’ ‘What then? Why, his Highness the late Prince Mihalo Ilarionovitch Golenishtchev-Kutuzov-Smolensky, with God’s aid, graciously drove Bonaparty out of the Russian territories. It’s on that event the song was composed: “Bonaparty’s in no mood to dance, He’s lost the garters he brought from France.” . . . Do you understand? he liberated your fatherland.’ ‘And what’s that to do with me?’ ‘Ah! you silly boy! Why, if his Highness Prince Mihalo Ilarionovitch hadn’t driven out Bonaparty, some mounseer would have been beating you about the head with a stick this minute. He’d come up to you like this, and say: “Koman voo porty voo?” and then a box on the ear!’ ‘But I’d give him one in the belly with my fist’ ‘But he’d go on: “Bonzhur, bonzhur, veny ici,” and then a cuff on the head.’ ‘And I’d give him one in his legs, his bandy legs.’ ‘You’re quite right, their legs are bandy. . . . Well, but suppose he tied your hands?’ ‘I wouldn’t let him; I’d call Mihay the coachman to help me.’ ‘But, Vasya, suppose you weren’t a match for the Frenchy even with Mihay?’ ‘Not a match for him! See how strong Mihay is!’ ‘Well, and what would you do with him?’ ‘We’d get him on his back, we would.’ ‘And he’d shout, “Pardon, pardon, seevooplay!”’ ‘We’d tell him, “None of your seevooplays, you old Frenchy!”’ ‘Bravo, Vasya! . . . Well, now then, shout, “Bonaparty’s a scoundrel!”’ ‘But you must give me some sugar!’ ‘You scamp!’
Of the neighbouring ladies Tatyana Borissovna sees very little; they do not care about going to see her, and she does not know how to amuse them; the sound of their chatter sends her to sleep; she starts, tries to keep her eyes open, and drops off again. Tatyana Borissovna is not fond of women as a rule. One of her friends, a good, harmless young man, had a sister, an old maid of thirty-eight and a half, a good-natured creature, but exaggerated, affected, and enthusiastic. Her brother had often talked to her of their neighbour. One fine morning our old maid has her horse saddled, and, without a word to any one, sallies off to Tatyana Borissovna’s. In her long habit, a hat on her head, a green veil and floating curls, she went into the hall, and passing by the panic-stricken Vasya, who took her for a wood-witch, ran into the drawing-room. Tatyana Borissovna, scared, tried to rise, but her legs sank under her. ‘Tatyana Borissovna,’ began the visitor in a supplicating voice, ‘forgive my temerity; I am the sister of your friend, Alexy Nikolaevitch K— — and I have heard so much about you from him that I resolved to make your acquaintance.’ ‘Greatly honoured,’ muttered the bewildered lady. The sister flung off her hat, shook her curls, seated herself near Tatyana Borissovna; took her by the hand . . . ‘So this is she,’ she began in a pensive voice fraught with feeling: ‘this is that sweet, clear, noble, holy being! This is she! that woman at once so simple and so deep! How glad I am! how glad I am! How we shall love each other! I can breathe easily at last . . . I always fancied her just so,’ she added in a whisper, her eyes riveted on the eyes of Tatyana Borissovna. ‘You won’t be angry with me, will you, my dear kind friend?’ ‘Really, I’m delighted! . . . Won’t you have some tea?’ The lady smiled patronisingly: ‘Wie wahr, wie unreflectiert’, she murmured, as it were to herself. ‘Let me embrace you, my dear one!’
The old maid stayed three hours at Tatyana Borissovna’s, never ceasing talking an instant. She tried to explain to her new acquaintance all her own significance. Directly after the unexpected visitor had departed, the poor lady took a bath, drank some lime-flower water, and took to her bed. But the next day the old maid came back, stayed four hours, and left, promising to come to see Tatyana Borissovna every day. Her idea, please to observe, was to develop, to complete the education of so rich a nature, to use her own expression, and she would probably have really been the death of her, if she had not, in the first place, been utterly disillusioned as regards her brother’s friend within a fortnight, and secondly, fallen in love with a young student on a visit in the neighbourhood, with whom she at once rushed into a fervid and active correspondence; in her missives she consecrated him, as the manner of such is, to a noble, holy life, offered herself wholly a sacrifice, asked only for the name of sister, launched into endless descriptions of nature, made allusions to Goethe, Schiller, Bettina and German philosophy, and drove the luckless young man at last to the blackest desperation. But youth asserted itself: one fine morning he woke up with such a furious hatred for ‘his sister and best of friends’ that he almost killed his valet in his passion, and was snappish for a long while after at the slightest allusion to elevated and disinterested passion. But from that time forth Tatyana Borissovna began to avoid all intimacy with ladies of the neighbourhood more than ever.
Alas! nothing is lasting on this earth. All I have related as to the way of life of my kind-hearted neighbour is a thing of the past; the peace that used to reign in her house has been destroyed for ever. For more than a year now there has been living with her a nephew, an artist from Petersburg. This is how it came about.
Eight years ago, there was living with Tatyana Borissovna a boy of twelve, an orphan, the son of her brother, Andryusha. Andryusha had large, clear, humid eyes, a tiny little mouth, a regular nose, and a fine lofty brow. He spoke in a low, sweet voice, was attentive and coaxing with visitors, kissed his auntie’s hand with an orphan’s sensibility; and one hardly had time to show oneself before he had put a chair for one. He had no mischievous tricks; he was never noisy; he would sit by himself in a corner with a book, and with such sedateness and propriety, never even leaning back in his chair. When a visitor came in, Andryusha would get up, with a decorous smile and a flush; when the visitor went away he would sit down again, pull out of his pocket a brush and a looking-glass, and brush his hair. From his earliest years he had shown a taste for drawing. Whenever he got hold of a piece of paper, he would ask Agafya the housekeeper for a pair of scissors at once, carefully cut a square piece out of the paper, trace a border round it and set to work; he would draw an eye with an immense pupil, or a Grecian nose, or a house with a chimney and smoke coming out of it in the shape of a corkscrew, a dog, en face, looking rather like a bench, or a tree with two pigeons on it, and would sign it: ‘Drawn by Andrei Byelovzorov, such a day in such a year, in the village of Maliya-Briki.’ He used to toil with special industry for a fortnight before Tatyana Borissovna’s birthday; he was the first to present his congratulations and offer her a roll of paper tied up with a pink ribbon. Tatyana Borissovna would kiss her nephew and undo the knot; the roll was unfolded and presented to the inquisitive gaze of the spectator, a round, boldly sketched temple in sepia, with columns and an altar in the centre; on the altar lay a burning heart and a wreath, while above, on a curling scroll, was inscribed in legible characters: ‘To my aunt and benefactress, Tatyana Borissovna Bogdanov, from her dutiful and loving nephew, as a token of his deepest affection.’ Tatyana Borissovna would kiss him again and give him a silver rouble. She did not, though, feel any very warm affection for him; Andryusha’s fawning ways were not quite to her taste. Meanwhile, Andryusha was growing up; Tatyana Borissovna began to be anxious about his future. An unexpected incident solved the difficulty to her.
One day eight years ago she received a visit from a certain Mr. Benevolensky, Piotr Mihalitch, a college councillor with a decoration. Mr. Benevolensky had at one time held an official post in the nearest district town, and had been assiduous in his visits to Tatyana Borissovna; then he had moved to Petersburg, got into the ministry, and attained a rather important position, and on one of the numerous journeys he took in the discharge of his official duties, he remembered his old friend, and came back to see her, with the intention of taking a rest for two days from his official labours ‘in the bosom of the peace of nature.’ Tatyana Borissovna greeted him with her usual cordiality, and Mr. Benevolensky. . . . But before we proceed with the rest of the story, gentle reader, let us introduce you to this new personage.
Mr. Benevolensky was a stoutish man, of middle height and mild appearance, with little short legs and little fat hands; he wore a roomy and excessively spruce frock-coat, a high broad cravat, snow-white linen, a gold chain on his silk waistcoat, a gem-ring on his forefinger, and a white wig on his head; he spoke softly and persuasively, trod noiselessly, and had an amiable smile, an amiable look in his eyes, and an amiable way of settling his chin in his cravat; he was, in fact, an amiable person altogether. God had given him a heart, too, of the softest; he was easily moved to tears and to transports; moreover, he was all aglow with disinterested passion for art: disinterested it certainly was, for Mr. Benevolensky, if the truth must be told, knew absolutely nothing about art. One is set wondering, indeed, whence, by virtue of what mysterious uncomprehended forces, this passion had come upon him. He was, to all appearance, a practical, even prosaic person . . . however, we have a good many people of the same sort among us in Russia.
Their devotion to art and artists produces in these people an inexpressible mawkishness; it is distressing to have to do with them and to talk to them; they are perfect logs smeared with honey. They never, for instance, call Raphael, Raphael, or Correggio, Correggio; ‘the divine Sanzio, the incomparable di Allegri,’ they murmur, and always with the broadest vowels. Every pretentious, conceited, home-bred mediocrity they hail as a genius: ‘the blue sky of Italy,’ ‘the lemons of the South,’ ‘the balmy breezes of the banks of the Brenta,’ are for ever on their lips. ‘Ah, Vasya, Vasya,’ or ‘Oh, Sasha, Sasha,’ they say to one another with deep feeling, ‘we must away to the South . . . we are Greeks in soul — ancient Greeks.’ One may observe them at exhibitions before the works of some Russian painters (these gentlemen, it should be noted, are, for the most part, passionate patriots). First they step back a couple of paces, and throw back their heads; then they go up to the picture again; their eyes are suffused with an oily moisture. . . . ‘There you have it, my God!’ they say at last, in voices broken with emotion; ‘there’s soul, soul! Ah! what feeling, what feeling! Ah, what soul he has put into it! what a mass of soul! . . . And how he has thought it out! thought it out like a master!’ And, oh! the pictures in their own drawing-rooms! Oh, the artists that come to them in the evenings, drink tea, and listen to their conversation! And the views in perspective they make them of their own rooms, with a broom in the foreground, a little heap of dust on the polished floor, a yellow samovar on a table near the window, and the master of the house himself in skull-cap and dressing-gown, with a brilliant streak of sunlight falling on his cheek! Oh, the long-haired nurslings of the Muse, wearing spasmodic and contemptuous smiles, that cluster about them! Oh, the young ladies, with faces of greenish pallor, who squeal; over their pianos! For that is the established rule with us in Russia; a man cannot be devoted to one art alone — he must have them all. And so it is not to be wondered at that these gentlemen extend their powerful patronage to Russian literature also, especially to dramatic literature. . . . The Jacob Sannazars are written for them; the struggle of unappreciated talent against the whole world, depicted a thousand times over, still moves them profoundly. . . .
The day after Mr. Benevolensky’s arrival, Tatyana Borissovna told her nephew at tea-time to show their guest his drawings. ‘Why, does he draw?’ said Mr. Benevolensky, with some surprise, and he turned with interest to Andryusha. ‘Yes, he draws,’ said Tatyana Borissovna; ‘he’s so fond of it! and he does it all alone, without a master.’ ‘Ah! show me, show me,’ cried Mr. Benevolensky. Andryusha, blushing and smiling, brought the visitor his sketch-book. Mr. Benevolensky began turning it over with the air of a connoisseur. ‘Good, young man,’ he pronounced at last; ‘good, very good.’ And he patted Andryusha on the head. Andryusha intercepted his hand and kissed it ‘Fancy, now, a talent like that! . . . I congratulate you, Tatyana Borissovna.’ ‘But what am I to do, Piotr Mihalitch? I can’t get him a teacher here. To have one from the town is a great expense; our neighbours, the Artamonovs, have a drawing-master, and they say an excellent one, but his mistress forbids his giving lessons to outsiders.’ ‘Hm,’ pronounced Mr. Benevolensky; he pondered and looked askance at Andryusha. ‘Well, we will talk it over,’ he added suddenly, rubbing his hands. The same day he begged Tatyana Borissovna’s permission for an interview with her alone. They shut themselves up together. In half-an-hour they called Andryusha — Andryusha went in. Mr. Benevolensky was standing at the window with a slight flush on his face and a beaming expression. Tatyana Borissovna was sitting in a corner wiping her eyes. ‘Come, Andryusha,’ she said at last, ‘you must thank Piotr Mihalitch; he will take you under his protection; he will take you to Petersburg.’ Andryusha almost fainted on the spot. ‘Tell me candidly,’ began Mr. Benevolensky, in a voice filled with dignity and patronising indulgence; ‘do you want to be an artist, young man? Do you feel yourself consecrated to the holy service of Art?’ ‘I want to be an artist, Piotr Mihalitch,’ Andryusha declared in a trembling voice. ‘I am delighted, if so it be. It will, of course,’ continued Mr. Benevolensky,‘be hard for you to part from your revered aunt; you must feel the liveliest gratitude to her.’ ‘I adore my auntie,’ Andryusha interrupted, blinking. ‘Of course, of course, that’s readily understood, and does you great credit; but, on the other hand, consider the pleasure that in the future . . . your success. . . . ’ ‘Kiss me, Andryusha,’ muttered the kind-hearted lady. Andryusha flung himself on her neck. ‘There, now, thank your benefactor.’ Andryusha embraced Mr. Benevolensky’s stomach, and stretching on tiptoe, reached his hand and imprinted a kiss, which his benefactor, though with some show of reluctance, accepted. . . . He had, to be sure, to pacify the child, and, after all, might reflect that he deserved it. Two days later, Mr. Benevolensky departed, taking with him his new protégé.
During the first three years of Andryusha’s absence he wrote pretty often, sometimes enclosing drawings in his letters. From time to time Mr. Benevolensky added a few words, for the most part of approbation; then the letters began to be less and less frequent, and at last ceased altogether. A whole year passed without a word from her nephew; and Tatyana Borissovna was beginning to be uneasy when suddenly she got the following note:—
‘DEAREST AUNTIE — Piotr Mihalitch, my patron, died three days ago. A severe paralytic stroke has deprived me of my sole support. To be sure, I am now twenty. I have made considerable progress during the last seven years; I have the greatest confidence in my talent, and can make my living by means of it; I do not despair; but all the same send me, if you can, as soon as convenient, 250 roubles. I kiss your hand and remain . . . ’ etc.
Tatyana Borissovna sent her nephew 250 roubles. Two months later he asked for more; she got together every penny she had and sent it him. Not six weeks after the second donation he was asking a third time for help, ostensibly to buy colours for a portrait bespoken by Princess Tertereshenev. Tatyana Borissovna refused. ‘Under these circumstances,’ he wrote to her, ‘I propose coming to you to regain my health in the country.’ And in the May of the same year Andryusha did, in fact, return to Maliya-Briki.
Tatyana Borissovna did not recognise him for the first minute. From his letter she had expected to see a wasted invalid, and she beheld a stout, broad-shouldered fellow, with a big red face and greasy, curly hair. The pale, slender little Andryusha had turned into the stalwart Andrei Ivanovitch Byelovzorov. And it was not only his exterior that was transformed. The modest spruceness, the sedateness and tidiness of his earlier years, was replaced by a careless swagger and slovenliness quite insufferable; he rolled from side to side as he walked, lolled in easy-chairs, put his elbows on the table, stretched and yawned, and behaved rudely to his aunt and the servants. ‘I’m an artist,’ he would say; ‘a free Cossack! That’s our sort!’ Sometimes he did not touch a brush for whole days together; then the inspiration, as he called it, would come upon him; then he would swagger about as if he were drunk, clumsy, awkward, and noisy; his cheeks were flushed with a coarse colour, his eyes dull; he would launch into discourses upon his talent, his success, his development, the advance he was making. . . . It turned out in actual fact that he had barely talent enough to produce passable portraits. He was a perfect ignoramus, had read nothing; why should an artist read, indeed? Nature, freedom, poetry were his fitting elements; he need do nothing but shake his curls, talk, and suck away at his eternal cigarette! Russian audacity is a fine thing, but it doesn’t suit every one; and Polezhaevs at second-hand, without the genius, are insufferable beings. Andrei Ivanovitch went on living at his aunt’s; he did not seem to find the bread of charity bitter, notwithstanding the proverb. Visitors to the house found him a mortal nuisance. He would sit at the piano (a piano, too, had been installed at Tatyana Borissovna’s) and begin strumming ‘The Swift Sledge’ with one finger; he would strike some chords, tap on the keys, and for hours together he would howl Varlamov’s songs, ‘The Solitary Pine,’ or ‘No, doctor, no, don’t come to me,’ in the most distressing manner, and his eyes seemed to disappear altogether, his cheeks were so puffed out and tense as drums. . . . Then he would suddenly strike up: ‘Be still, distracting passion’s tempest!’ . . . Tatyana Borissovna positively shuddered.
‘It’s a strange thing,’ she observed to me one day, ‘the songs they compose nowadays; there’s something desperate about them; in my day they were very different. We had mournful songs, too, but it was always a pleasure to hear them. . . . For instance:—
“‘Come, come to me in the meadow,
Where I am awaiting thee;
Come, come to me in the meadow,
Where I’m shedding tears for thee . . .
Alas! thou’rt coming to the meadow,
But too late, dear love, for me!’”
Tatyana Borissovna smiled slyly.
‘I agon-ise, I agon-ise!’ yelled her nephew in the next room.
‘Be quiet, Andryusha!’
‘My soul’s consumed apart from thee!’ the indefatigable singer continued.
Tatyana Borissovna shook her head.
‘Ah, these artists! these artists!’. . . .
A year has gone by since then. Byelovzorov is still living at his aunt’s, and still talking of going back to Petersburg. He has grown as broad as he is long in the country. His aunt — who could have imagined such a thing? — idolises him, and the young girls of the neighbourhood are falling in love with him. . . .
Many of her old friends have given up going to Tatyana Borissovna’s.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01