BY MICHAEL ARTZIBASHEF
WITH A PREFACE BY
SOME PRESS NOTICES OF
"It has a treble interest. It discusses sex-problems with unusual candour ... it gives a vivid picture of Russian life ... and it reflects the welter of thoughts and aspirations which are common to the whole contemporary Western world."
"A book which deals with powerful human passions in no lethargic way. It may horrify by its brutality, and its assault on ordinary morality may well be considered startling: yet it counts for something that M. Artzibashef does not display the common fear of life."
"It is of the greatest interest psychologically, as an outstanding product of a despairing epoch in Russian history."
"The artistry of the novel, brutal, direct, detached, courageous, desperately poignant, is not to be disputed."
"The strength of the book is undeniable"
"This is a strong and fascinating story depicting the unfettered life of a young Russian ... the background of society and Russian scenery is excellent."
"Sanine" is a thoroughly uncomfortable book, but it has a fierce energy which has carried it in a very short space of time into almost every country in Europe and at last into this country, where books, like everything else, are expected to be comfortable. It has roused fury both in Russia and in Germany, but, being rather a furious effort itself, it has thriven on that, and reached an enormous success. That is not necessarily testimony of a book's value or even of its power. On the other hand, no book becomes international merely by its capacity for shocking moral prejudices, or by its ability to titillate the curiosity of the senses. Every nation has its own writers who can shock and titillate. But not every nation has the torment of its existence coming to such a crisis that books like "Sanine" can spring to life in it. This book was written in the despair which seized the Intelligenzia of Russia after the last abortive revolution, when the Constitution which was no constitution was wrung out of the grand dukes. Even suppose the revolution had succeeded, the intellectuals must have asked themselves, even suppose they had mastered the grand dukes and captured the army, would they have done more than altered the machinery of government, reduced the quantity of political injustice, amended the principles of taxation, and possibly changed the colours of the postage stamps? Could they have made society less oppressive to the life of the individual? Like all intellectuals, M. Artzibashef is fascinated by the brutality of human life, and filled with hatred of his own disgust at it. As with all artists, it is necessary for him to shake free of his own disgust, or there will be an end of his art. Intellectual and an artist, less artist for being intellectual, responding to the despairing mood of those around him, it became clear to him that political agitation had failed and must fail because it has a vision of government and no vision of human life. Society is factitious. The intellectual asks why. The artist never asks these absurd questions. Art is free. If he can attain art that is enough for him. Life, whether or no it be the slow process of evolution it is generally supposed to be, can and does look after itself. Society is certainly a nuisance and a heavy drag upon human energy, but so long as that energy can express itself in art, society cannot be altogether obstructive. That, says the intellectual, is well enough for the artist, but what of the individuals to whom art can only be at best a keen stimulus, at worst a drugging pleasure? Is the dead weight of society altogether to crush their delight in life? What is society? What is it but the accumulated emanations of the fear and timidity and shyness that beset human beings whenever they are gathered together? And to this accumulation are those who are not artists to bring nothing but fear and shyness and timidity to make the shadow over life grow denser and darker? Is there to be no reaction? How can there be individuals worthy of being alive except through reaction? And how can there be good government unless there are good individuals to be governed—individuals in fine, worthy of being governed?
In the matters of being fed, clothed, and housed few men and women feel the hindrance of society. Indeed it is for those purposes that they are gathered together. Being so, it is then that their fear and shyness and timidity make them disguise their real natures and suppress their other desires and aspirations. It is in the matter of love that men and women feel society's oppression, submit to it and; set up their subjection as the rule which must be obeyed. Very rarely is it obeyed except by a few virtuous women who go through life coldly and destructively, driving the men with whom they come in contact into the arms of their more generous sisters. Women have fewer defences against the tyranny of society, which makes all but a very few either prostitutes or prigs, exploiting their womanhood in emotional and physical excitement, their motherhood to defend themselves and their self-respect from the consequences of that indulgence. Men are of harder stuff. Some of them can escape into the intellectual life; many preserve only their practical cunning and, for the rest, are insensible and stupid and fill their lives with small pleasures and trifling discontents, and feed their conceit with success or failure as they happen.
In Vladimir Saline Artzibashef has imagined, postulated, a man who has escaped the tyranny of society, is content to take his living where he finds it, and determined to accept whatever life has to offer of joy or sorrow. Returning to his home, he observes and amuses himself with all that is going on in the little provincial garrison town, where men and women—except his mother, who is frozen to the point of living altogether by formula—are tormented by the exasperation of unsatisfied desires. He sees Novikoff absurdly and hopelessly in love with his sister, Lida; he sees Lida caught up in an intrigue with an expert soldier love-maker, and bound, both by her own weakness and by her dependence upon society for any opinion of her own actions, to continue in that hateful excitement; he sees men and women all round him letting their love and their desire trickle through their fingers; he sees Semenoff die, and death also in that atmosphere is blurred and meaningless. Men and women plunge into horrible relationships and constantly excuse themselves. They seek to propitiate society by labouring to give permanence to fleeting pleasures, the accidents of passion and propinquity. Love is rare; physical necessity is common to all men and women; it is absurd to expect the growth of the one and the satisfaction of the other often to coincide. Nature is apparently indifferent and does not demand love of human beings but only mutual attraction, and of that are most children born. They grow up to dwell in the heated confusion which passes for life. Of that mutual attraction and in that heated confusion two children are born in this book, Lida's and Sarudine's, Sanine's and Karsavina's. Lida yields to Society's view of such affairs and is near broken by it; Sanine sustains Karsavina and brings her to the idea, cherished by Thomas Hardy among others, as a way out of confusion, of a woman's right to have a child without suffering from impertinent curiosity as to who the father may be if he be such that she thinks herself better rid of him. This does not necessarily mean that women would at once become as loose and casual as men. On the contrary, it would probably make many of them realize their responsibility and fewer of them would capture men as Arabella captured Jude the Obscure. In any case there is no excuse for the cruelty which regards a child born out of wedlock as nothing but evidence of wickedness. A child born in wedlock may be as lustfully and lovelessly begotten. Marriage does not necessarily provide relief from physical necessity and often aggravates it; and when a child, as often happens, is nothing to its father and mother but a sordid tie, a constant reminder of a connexion which both would be happier to forget, then, for its sake, they are better separate.
_It has been objected to M. Artzibashef's work that it deals so little with love and so much with physical necessity. That arises, I fancy, because his journalistic intention has overridden his artistic purpose. He has been exasperated into frankness more than moved to truth. He has desired to lay certain facts of modern existence before the world and has done so in a form which could gain a hearing, as a pure work of art probably could not. He has attempted a re-valuation where it is most needed, where the unhappy Weininger failed. Weininger demanded, insanely, that humanity should renounce sex and the brutality it fosters; Artzibashef suggests that the brutishness should be accepted frankly, cleared of confusion with love, and slowly mastered so that out of passion love can grow. His book has the noble quality of being full of the love of life, however loveless. It cannot possibly give the kind of pleasure sought by those to whom even the Bible is a dirty book. It is too brutal for that. Books which pander to that mean desire are of all books the most injurious. But this is not one of them.
That important period in his life when character is influenced and formed by its first contact with the world and with men, was not spent by Vladimir Sanine at home, with his parents. There had been none to guard or guide him; and his soul developed in perfect freedom and independence, just as a tree in the field.
He had been away from home for many years, and, when he returned, his mother and his sister Lida scarcely recognized him. His features, voice, and manner had changed but little, yet something strange and new, and riper in his whole personality gave a light to his countenance and endowed it with an altered expression. It was in the evening that he came home, entering the room as quietly as if he had only left it five minutes before. As he stood there, tall, fair, and broad- shouldered, his calm face with its slightly mocking expression at the corners of the mouth showed not a sign of fatigue or of emotion, and the boisterous greeting of his mother and sister subsided of itself.
While he was eating, and drinking tea, his sister, sitting opposite, gazed steadfastly at him. She was in love with him, as most romantic girls usually are with their absent brother. Lida had always imagined Vladimir to be an extraordinary person, as strange as any to be found in books. She pictured his life as one of tragic conflict, sad and lonely as that of some great, uncomprehended soul.
"Why do you look at me like that?" asked Sanine, smiling.
This quiet smile and searching glance formed his usual expression, but, strange to say, they did not please Lida. To her, they seemed self- complacent, revealing nought of spiritual suffering and strife. She looked away and was silent. Then, mechanically, she kept turning over the pages of a book.
When the meal was at an end, Sanine's mother patted his head affectionately, and said:
"Now, tell us all about your life, and what you did there."
"What I did?" said Sanine, laughing. "Well, I ate, and drank, and slept; and sometimes I worked; and sometimes I did nothing!"
It seemed at first as if he were unwilling to speak of himself, but when his mother questioned him about this or that, he appeared pleased to narrate his experiences. Yet, for some reason or other, one felt that he was wholly indifferent as to the impression produced by his tales. His manner, kindly and courteous though it was in no way suggested that intimacy which only exists among members of a family. Such kindliness and courtesy seemed to come naturally from him as the light from a lamp which shines with equal radiance on all objects.
They went out to the garden terrace and sat down on the steps. Lida sat on a lower one, listening in silence to her brother. At her heart she felt an icy chill. Her subtle feminine instinct told her that her brother was not what she had imagined him to be. In his presence she felt shy and embarrassed, as if he were a stranger. It was now evening; faint shadows encircled them. Sanine lit a cigarette and the delicate odour of tobacco mingled with the fragrance of the garden. He told them how life had tossed him hither and thither; how he had often been hungry and a vagrant; how he had taken part in political struggles, and how, when weary, he had renounced these.
Lida sat motionless, listening attentively, and looking as quaint and pretty as any charming girl would look in summer twilight.
The more he told her, the more she became convinced that this life which she had painted for herself in such glowing colours was really most simple and commonplace. There was something strange in it as well. What was it? That she could not define. At any rate, from her brother's account, it seemed to her very simple, tedious and boring. Apparently he had lived just anywhere, and had done just anything; at work one day, and idle the next; it was also plain that he liked drinking, and knew a good deal about women. But life such as this had nothing dark or sinister about it; in no way did it resemble the life she imagined her brother had led. He had no ideas to live for; he hated no one; and for no one had he suffered. At some of his disclosures she was positively annoyed, especially when he told her that once, being very hard up, he was obliged to mend his torn trousers himself.
"Why, do you know how to sew?" she asked involuntarily, in a tone of surprise and contempt. She thought it paltry; unmanly, in fact.
"I did not know at first, but I soon had to learn," replied Sanine, who smilingly guessed what his sister thought.
The girl carelessly shrugged her shoulders, and remained silent, gazing at the garden. It seemed to her as if, dreaming of sunshine, she awoke beneath a grey, cold sky.
Her mother, too, felt depressed. It pained her to think that her son did not occupy the position to which, socially, he was entitled. She began by telling him that things could not go on like this, and that he must be more sensible in future. At first she spoke warily, but when she saw that he paid scarcely any attention to her remarks, she grew angry, and obstinately insisted, as stupid old women do, thinking her son was trying to tease her. Sanine was neither surprised nor annoyed: he hardly seemed to understand what she said, but looked amiably indifferent, and was silent.
Yet at the question, "How do you propose to live?" he answered, smiling, "Oh! somehow or other."
His calm, firm voice, and open glance made one feel that those words, which meant nothing to his mother, had for him a deep and precise significance.
Maria Ivanovna sighed, and after a pause said anxiously:
"Well, after all, it's your affair. You're no longer a child. You ought to walk round the garden. It's looking so pretty now."
"Yes, of course! Come along, Lida; come and show me the garden," said Sanine to his sister, "I have quite forgotten what it looks like."
Roused from her reverie, Lida sighed and got up. Side by side they walked down the path leading to the green depths of the dusky garden.
The Sanines' house was in the main street of the town, and, the town being small, their garden extended as far as the river, beyond which were fields. The house was an old mansion, with rickety pillars on either side and a broad terrace. The large gloomy garden had run to waste; it looked like some dull green cloud that had descended to earth. At night it seemed haunted. It was as if some sad spirit were wandering through the tangled thicket, or restlessly pacing the dusty floors of the old edifice. On the first floor there was an entire suite of empty rooms dismal with faded carpets and dingy curtains. Through the garden there was but one narrow path or alley, strewn with dead branches and crushed frogs. What modest, tranquil life there was appeared to be centred in one corner. There, close to the house, yellow sand and gravel gleamed, and there, beside neat flower-beds bright with blossom stood the green table on which in summer-time tea or lunch was set. This little corner, touched by the breath of simple peaceful life, was in sharp contrast to the huge, deserted mansion, doomed to inevitable decay.
When the house behind them had disappeared from view and the silent, motionless trees, like thoughtful witnesses, surrounded them, Sanine suddenly put his arm round Lida's waist and said in a strange tone, half fierce, half tender:
"You've become quite a beauty! The first man you love will be a happy fellow."
The touch of his arm with its muscles like iron sent a fiery thrill through Lida's soft, supple frame. Bashful and trembling, she drew away from him as if at the approach of some unseen beast of prey.
They had now reached the river's edge. There was a moist, damp odour from the reeds that swayed pensively in the stream. On the other side, fields lay dim in twilight beneath the vast sky where shone the first pale stars.
Stepping aside, Sanine seized a withered branch, broke it in two, and flung the pieces into the stream where swiftly circles appeared on its surface and swiftly vanished. As if to hail Sanine as their comrade, the reeds bent their heads.
It was about six o'clock. The sun still shone brightly, but in the garden there were already faint green shadows. The air was full of light and warmth and peace. Maria Ivanovna was making jam, and under the green linden-tree there was a strong smell of boiling sugar and raspberries. Sanine had been busy at the flower-beds all the morning, trying to revive some of the flowers that suffered most from the dust and heat.
"You had better pull up the weeds first," suggested his mother, as from time to time she watched him through the blue, quivering stream. "Tell Grounjka, and she'll do it for you."
Sanine looked up, hot and smiling. "Why?" said he, as he tossed back his hair that clung to his brow. "Let them grow as much as they like. I am fond of everything green."
"You're a funny fellow!" said his mother, as she shrugged her shoulders, good-humouredly. For some reason or other, his answer had pleased her.
"It is you yourselves that are funny," said Sanine, in a tone of conviction. He then went into the house to wash his hands, and, coming back, sat down at his ease in a wicker arm-chair near the table. He felt happy, and in a good temper. The verdure, the sunlight and the blue sky filled him with a keener sense of the joy of life. Large towns with their bustle and din were to him detestable. Around him were sunlight and freedom; the future gave him no anxiety; for he was disposed to accept from life whatever it could offer him. Sanine shut his eyes tight, and stretched himself; the tension of his sound, strong muscles gave him pleasurable thrills.
A gentle breeze was blowing. The whole garden seemed to sigh. Here and there, sparrows chattered noisily about their intensely important but incomprehensible little lives, and Mill, the fox-terrier, with ears erect and red tongue lolling out, lay in the long grass, listening. The leaves whispered softly; their round shadows quivered on the smooth gravel path.
Maria Ivanovna was vexed at her son's calmness. She was fond of him, just as she was fond of all her children, and for that very reason she longed to rouse him, to wound his self-respect, if only to force him to heed her words and accept her view of life. Like an ant in the sand, she had employed every moment of a long existence in building up the frail structure of her domestic well-being. It was a long, bare, monotonous edifice, like a barrack or a hospital, built with countless little bricks that to her, as an incompetent architect, constituted the graces of life, though in fact they were petty worries that kept her in a perpetual state of irritation or of anxiety.
"Do you suppose things will go on like this, later on?" she said, with lips compressed, and feigning intense interest in the boiling jam.
"What do you mean by 'later on'?" asked Sanine, and then sneezed.
Maria Ivanovna thought that he had sneezed on purpose to annoy her, and, absurd though such a notion was, looked cross.
"How nice it is to be here, with you!" said Sanine, dreamily.
"Yes, it's not so bad," she answered, drily. She was secretly pleased at her son's praise of the house and garden that to her were as lifelong kinsfolk.
Sanine looked at her, and then said, thoughtfully:
"If you didn't bother me with all sorts of silly things, it would be nicer still."
The bland tone in which these words were spoken seemed at variance with their meaning, so that Maria Ivanovna did not know whether to be vexed or amused.
"To look at you, and then to think that, as a child, you were always rather odd," said she, sadly, "and now—"
"And now?" exclaimed Sanine, gleefully, as if he expected to hear something specially pleasant and interesting.
"Now you are more crazy than ever!" said Maria Ivanovna sharply, shaking her spoon.
"Well, all the better!" said Sanine, laughing. After a pause, he added, "Ah! here's Novikoff!"
Out of the house came a tall, fair, good-looking man. His red silk shirt, fitting tight to his well-proportioned frame, looked brilliant in the sun; his pale blue eyes had a lazy, good-natured expression.
"There you go! Always quarrelling!" said he, in a languid, friendly tone. "And in Heaven's name, what about?"
"Well, the fact is, mother thinks that a Grecian nose would suit me better, while I am quite satisfied with the one that I have got."
Sanine looked down his nose and, laughing, grasped the other's big, soft hand.
"So, I should say!" exclaimed Maria Ivanovna, pettishly.
Novikoff laughed merrily; and from the green thicket, came a gentle echo in reply, as if some one yonder heartily; shared his mirth.
"Ah! I know what it is! Worrying about your future."
"What, you, too?" exclaimed Sanine, in comic alarm.
"It just serves you right."
"Ah!" cried Sanine. "If it's a case of two to one, I had better clear out."
"No, it is I that will soon have to clear out," said Maria Ivanovna with sudden irritation at which she herself was vexed. Hastily removing her saucepan of jam, she hurried into the house, without looking back. The terrier jumped up, and with ears erect watched her go. Then it rubbed its nose with its front paw, gave another questioning glance at the house and ran off into the garden.
"Have you got any cigarettes?" asked Sanine, delighted at his mother's departure.
Novikoff with a lazy movement of his large body produced a cigarette- case.
"You ought not to tease her so," said he, in a voice of gentle reproof. "She's an old lady."
"How have I teased her?"
"Well, you see—"
"What do you mean by 'well, you see?' It is she who is always after me. I have never asked anything of anybody, and therefore people ought to leave me alone."
Both remained silent.
"Well, how goes it, doctor?" asked Sanine, as he watched the tobacco- smoke rising in fantastic curves above his head.
Novikoff, who was thinking of something else, did not answer at once.
"In what way?"
"Oh! in every way. Everything is so dull and this little town bores me to death. There's nothing to do."
"Nothing to do? Why it was you that complained of not having time to breathe!"
"That is not what I mean. One can't be always seeing patients, seeing patients. There is another life besides that."
"And who prevents you from living that other life?"
"That is rather a complicated question."
"In what way is it complicated? You are a young, good-looking, healthy man; what more do you want?"
"In my opinion that is not enough," replied Novikoff, with mild irony.
"Really!" laughed Sanine. "Well, I think it is a very great deal."
"But not enough for me," said Novikoff, laughing in his turn. It was plain that Sanine's remark about his health and good looks had pleased him, and yet it had made him feel shy as a girl.
"There's one thing that you want," said Sanine, pensively.
"And what is that?"
"A just conception of life. The monotony of your existence oppresses you; and yet, if some one advised you to give it all up, and go straight away into the wide world, you would be afraid to do so."
"And as what should I go? As a beggar? H .. m!"
"Yes, as a beggar, even! When I look at you, I think: there is a man who in order to give the Russian Empire a constitution would let himself be shut up in Schlusselburg [Footnote: A fortress for political prisoners.] for the rest of his life, losing all his rights, and his liberty as well. After all, what is a constitution to him? But when it is a question of altering his own tedious mode of life, and of going elsewhere to find new interests, he at once asks, 'how should I get a living? Strong and healthy as I am, should I not come to grief if I had not got my fixed salary, and consequently cream in my tea, my silk shirts, stand-up collars, and all the rest of it?' It's funny, upon my word it is!"
"I cannot see anything funny in it at all. In the first case, it is the question of a cause, an idea, whereas in the other—"
"Oh! I don't know how to express myself!" And Novikoff snapped his fingers.
"There now!" said Sanine, interrupting. "That's how you always evade the point. I shall never believe that the longing for a constitution is stronger in you than the longing to make the most of your own life."
"That is just a question. Possibly it is."
Sanine waved his hand, irritably.
"Oh! don't, please! If somebody were to cut off your finger, you would feel it more than if it were some other Russian's finger. That is a fact, eh?"
"Or a cynicism," said Novikoff, meaning to be sarcastic when he was merely foolish.
"Possibly. But, all the same, it is the truth. And now though in Russia and in many other States there is no constitution, nor the slightest sign of one, it is your own unsatisfactory life that worries you, not the absence of a constitution. And if you say it isn't, then you're telling a lie. What is more," added Sanine, with a merry twinkle in his eyes, "you are worried not about your life but because Lida has not yet fallen in love with you. Now, isn't that so?"
"What utter nonsense you're talking!" cried Novikoff, turning as red as his silk shirt. So confused was he, that tears rose to his calm, kindly eyes.
"How is it nonsense, when besides Lida you can see nothing else in the whole world? The wish to possess her is written in large letters on your brow."
Novikoff winced perceptibly and began to walk rapidly up and down the path. If anyone but Lida's brother had spoken to him in this way it would have pained him deeply, but to hear such words from Sanine's mouth amazed him; in fact at first he scarcely understood them.
"Look here," he muttered, "either you are posing, or else—"
"Or else—what?" asked Sanine, smiling.
Novikoff looked aside, shrugged his shoulders, and was silent. The other inference led him to regard Sanine as an immoral, bad man. But he could not tell him this, for, ever since their college days, he had always felt sincere affection for him, and it seemed to Novikoff impossible that he should have chosen a wicked man as his friend. The effect on his mind was at once bewildering and unpleasant. The allusion to Lida pained him, but, as the goddess whom he adored, he could not feel angry with Sanine for speaking of her. It pleased him, and yet he felt hurt, as if a burning hand had seized his heart and had gently pressed it.
Sanine was silent, and smiled good-humouredly.
After a pause he said:
"Well, finish your statement; I am in no hurry!"
Novikoff kept walking up and down the path, as before. He was evidently hurt. At this moment the terrier came running back excitedly and rubbed against Sanine's knees, as if wishful to let every one know how pleased he was.
"Good dog!" said Sanine, patting him.
Novikoff strove to avoid continuing the discussion, being afraid that Sanine might return to the subject which for personally was the most interesting in the whole world. Anything that did not concern Lida seemed le to him—dull.
"And—where is Lidia Petrovna?" he asked mechanically, albeit loth to utter the question that was uppermost in his mind.
"Lida? Where should she be? Walking with officers on the boulevard, where all our young ladies are to be found at this time of day."
A look of jealousy darkened his face, as Novikoff asked:
"How can a girl so clever and cultivated as she waste her time with such empty-headed fools?"
"Oh! my friend," exclaimed Sanine, smiling, "Lida is handsome, and young, and healthy, just as you are; more so, in fact, because she has that which you lack—keen desire for everything. She wants to know everything, to experience everything—why, here she comes! You've only got to look at her to understand that. Isn't she pretty?"
Lida was shorter and much handsomer than her brother. Sweetness combined with supple strength gave to her whole personality charm and distinction. There was a haughty look in her dark eyes, and her voice, of which she was proud, sounded rich and musical. She walked slowly down the steps, moving with the lithe grace of a thoroughbred, while adroitly holding up her long grey dress. Behind her, clinking their spurs, came two good-looking young officers in tightly-fitting riding- breeches and shining top-boots.
"Who is pretty? Is it I?" asked Lida, as she filled the whole garden with the charm of her voice, her beauty and her youth. She gave Novikoff her hand, with a side-glance at her brother, about whose attitude she did not feel quite clear, never knowing whether he was joking or in earnest. Grasping her hand tightly, Novikoff grew very red, but his emotions were unnoticed by Lida, used as she was to his reverent, bashful glance that never troubled her.
"Good evening, Vladimir Petrovitch," said the elder, handsomer and fairer of the two officers, rigid, erect as a spirited stallion, while his spurs clinked noisily.
Sanine knew him to be Sarudine, a captain of cavalry, one of Lida's most persistent admirers. The other was Lieutenant Tanaroff, who regarded Sarudine as the ideal soldier, and strove to copy everything he did. He was taciturn, somewhat clumsy, and not so good-looking as Sarudine. Tanaroff rattled his spurs in his turn, but said nothing.
"Yes, you!" replied Sanine to his sister, gravely.
"Why, of course I am pretty. You should have said indescribably pretty!" And, laughing gaily, Lida sank into a chair, glancing again at Sanine. Raising her arms and thus emphasizing the curves of her shapely bosom, she proceeded to remove her hat, but, in so doing, let a long hat-pin fall on the gravel, and her veil and hair became disarranged.
"Andrei Pavlovitch, do please help me!" she plaintively cried to the taciturn lieutenant.
"Yes, she's a beauty!" murmured Sanine, thinking aloud, and never taking his eyes off her. Once more Lida glanced shyly at her brother.
"We're all of us beautiful here," said she.
"What's that? Beautiful? Ha! Ha!" laughed Sarudine, showing his white, shining teeth. "We are at best but the modest frame that serves to heighten the dazzling splendour of your beauty."
"I say, what eloquence, to be sure!" exclaimed Sanine, in surprise. There was a slight shade of irony in his tone.
"Lidia Petrovna would make anybody eloquent," said Tanaroff the silent, as he tried to help Lida to take off her hat, and in so doing ruffled her hair. She pretended to be vexed, laughing all the while.
"What?" drawled Sanine. "Are you eloquent too?"
"Oh! let them be!" whispered Novikoff, hypocritically, though secretly pleased.
Lida frowned at Sanine, to whom her dark eyes plainly said:
"Don't imagine that I cannot see what these people are. I intend to please myself. I am not a fool any more than you are, and I know what I am about."
Sanine smiled at her.
At last the hat was removed, which Tanaroff solemnly placed on the table.
"Look! Look what you've done to me, Andrei Pavlovitch!" cried Lida half peevishly, half coquettishly. "You've got my hair into such a tangle! Now I shall have to go indoors."
"I'm so awfully sorry!" stammered Tanaroff, in confusion.
Lida rose, gathered up her skirts, and ran indoors laughing, followed by the glances of all the men. When she had gone they seemed to breathe more freely, without that nervous sense of restraint which men usually experience in the presence of a pretty young woman. Sarudine lighted a cigarette which he smoked with evident gusto. One felt, when he spoke, that he habitually took the lead in a conversation, and that what he thought was something quite different from what he said.
"I have just been persuading Lidia Petrovna to study singing seriously. With such a voice, her career is assured."
"A fine career, upon my word!" sullenly rejoined Novikoff, looking aside.
"What is wrong with it?" asked Sarudine, in genuine amazement, removing the cigarette from his lips.
"Why, what's an actress? Nothing else but a harlot!" replied Novikoff, with sudden heat. Jealousy tortured him; the thought that the young woman whose body he loved could appear before other men in an alluring dress that would exhibit her charms in order to provoke their passions.
"Surely it is going too far to say that," replied Sarudine, raising his eyebrows.
Novikoff's glance was full of hatred. He regarded Sarudine as one of those men who meant to rob him of his beloved; moreover, his good looks annoyed him.
"No, not in the least too far," he retorted. "To appear half nude on the stage and in some voluptuous scene exhibit one's personal charms to those who in an hour or so take their leave as they would of some courtesan after paying the usual fee! A charming career indeed!"
"My friend," said Sanine, "every woman in the first instance likes to be admired for her personal charms."
Novikoff shrugged his shoulders irritably.
"What a silly, coarse statement!" said he.
"At any rate, coarse or not, it's the truth," replied Sanine. "Lida would be most effective on the stage, and I should like to see her there."
Although in the others this speech roused a certain instinctive curiosity, they all felt ill at ease. Sarudine, who thought himself more intelligent and tactful than the rest, deemed it his duty to dispel this vague feeling of embarrassment.
"Well, what do you think the young lady ought to do? Get married? Pursue a course of study, or let her talent be lost? That would be a crime against nature that had endowed her with its fairest gift."
"Oh!" exclaimed Sanine, with undisguised sarcasm, "till now the idea of such a crime had never entered my head."
Novikoff laughed maliciously, but replied politely enough to Sarudine.
"Why a crime? A good mother or a female doctor is worth a thousand times more than an actress."
"Not at all!" said Tanaroff, indignantly.
"Don't you find this sort of talk rather boring?" asked Sanine.
Sarudine's rejoinder was lost in a fit of coughing. They all of them really thought such a discussion tedious and unnecessary; and yet they all felt somewhat offended. An unpleasant silence reigned.
Lida and Maria Ivanovna appeared on the verandah. Lida had heard her brother's last words, but did not know to what they referred.
"You seem to have soon become bored!" cried she, laughing. "Let us go down to the river. It is charming there, now."
As she passed in front of the men, her shapely figure swayed slightly, and there was a look of dark mystery in her eyes that seemed to say something, to promise something.
"Go for a walk till supper-time," said Maria Ivanovna.
"Delighted," exclaimed Sarudine. His spurs clinked, as he offered Lida his arm.
"I hope that I may be allowed to come too," said Novikoff, meaning to be satirical, though his face wore a tearful expression.
"Who is there to prevent you?" replied Lida, smiling, at him over her shoulder.
"Yes, you go, too," exclaimed Sanine. "I would come with you if she were not so thoroughly convinced that I am her brother."
Lida winced somewhat, and glanced swiftly at Sanine, as she laughed, a short, nervous laugh.
Maria Ivanovna was obviously displeased.
"Why do you talk in that stupid way?" she bluntly exclaimed. "I suppose you think it is original?"
"I really never thought about it at all," was Sanine's rejoinder.
Maria Ivanovna looked at him in amazement. She had never been able to understand her son; she never could tell when he was joking or in earnest, nor what he thought or felt, when other comprehensible persons felt and thought much as she did herself. According to her idea, a man was always bound to speak and feel and act exactly as other men of his social and intellectual status were wont to speak and feel and act. She was also of opinion that people were not simply men with their natural characteristics and peculiarities, but that they must be all cast in one common mould. Her own environment encouraged and confirmed this belief. Education, she thought, tended to divide men into two groups, the intelligent and the unintelligent. The latter might retain their individuality, which drew upon them the contempt of others. The former were divided into groups, and their convictions did not correspond with their personal qualities but with their respective positions. Thus, every student was a revolutionary, every official was bourgeois, every artist a free thinker, and every officer an exaggerated stickler for rank. If, however, it chanced that a student was a Conservative, or an officer an Anarchist, this must be regarded as most extraordinary, and even unpleasant. As for Sanine, according to his origin and education he ought to have been something quite different from what he was; and Maria Ivanovna felt as Lida, Novikoff and all who came into contact with him felt, that he had disappointed expectation. With a mother's instinct she quickly saw the impression that her son made on those about him; and it pained her.
Sanine was aware of this. He would fain have reassured her, but was at a loss how to begin. At first he thought of professing sentiments that were false, so that she might be pacified; however, he only laughed, and, rising, went indoors. There, for a while, he lay on his bed, thinking. It seemed as if men wished to turn the whole world into a sort of military cloister, with one set of rules for all, framed with a view to destroy all individuality, or else to make this submit to one vague, archaic power of some kind. He was even led to reflect upon Christianity and its fate, but this bored him to such an extent that he fell asleep, and did not wake until evening had turned to night.
Maria Ivanovna watched him go, and she, too, sighing deeply, became immersed in thought. Sarudine, so she said to herself, was obviously paying court to Lida, and she hoped that his intentions were serious.
"Lida's already twenty, and Sarudine seems to be quite a nice sort of young man. They say he'll get his squadron this year. Of course, he's heavily in debt—But oh! why did I have that horrid dream? I know it's absurd, yet somehow I can't get it out of my head!"
This dream was one that she had dreamed on the same day that Sarudine had first entered the house. She thought that she saw Lida, dressed all in white, walking in a green meadow bright with flowers.
Maria Ivanovna sank into an easy chair, leaning her head on her hand, as old women do, and she gazed at the darkening sky. Thoughts gloomy and tormenting gave no respite, and there was an indefinable something caused her to feel anxious and afraid.
It was already quite dark when the others returned from their walk. Their clear, merry voices rang out through the soft dusk that veiled the garden. Lida ran, flushed and laughing, to her mother. She brought with her cool scents from the river that blended delightfully with the fragrance of her own sweet youth and beauty which the companionship of sympathetic admirers heightened and enhanced.
"Supper, mamma, let's have supper!" she cried playfully dragging her mother along. "Meanwhile Victor Sergejevitsch is going to sing something to us."
Maria Ivanovna, as she went out to get supper ready, thought to herself that Fate could surely have nothing but happiness in store for so beautiful and charming a girl as her darling Lida.
Sarudine and Tanaroff went to the piano in the drawing-room, while Lida reclined lazily in the rocking-chair on the veranda. Novikoff, mute, walked up and down on the creaking boards of the veranda floor, furtively glancing at Lida's face, at her firm, full bosom, at her little feet shod in yellow shoes, and her dainty ankles. But she took no heed of him nor of his glances, so enthralled was she by the might and magic of a first passion. She shut her eyes, and smiled at her thoughts.
In Novikoff's soul there was the old strife; he loved Lida, yet he could not be sure of her feelings towards himself. At times she loved him, so he thought; and again, there were times when she did not. If he thought 'yes,' how easy and pleasant it seemed for this young, pure, supple body to surrender itself to him. If he thought 'no,' such an idea was foul and detestable; he was angry at his own lust, deeming himself vile, and unworthy of Lida.
At last be determined to be guided by chance.
"If I step on the last board with my right foot, then I've got to propose; and if with the left, then—"
He dared not even think of what would happen in that case.
He trod on the last board with his left foot. It threw him into a cold sweat; but he instantly reassured himself.
"Pshaw! What nonsense! I'm like some old woman! Now then; one, two, three—at three I'll go straight up to her, and speak. Yes, but what am I going to say? No matter! Here goes! One, two, three! No, three times over! One, two, three! One, two—"
His brain seemed on fire, his mouth grew parched, his heart beat so violently that his knees shook.
"Don't stamp like that!" exclaimed Lida, opening her eyes. "One can't hear anything."
Only then was Novikoff aware that Sarudine was singing.
The young officer had chosen that old romance,
I loved you once! Can you forget? Love in my heart is burning yet.
He did not sing badly, but after the style of untrained singers who seek to give expression by exaggerated tone-colour. Novikoff found nothing to please him in such a performance.
"What is that? One of his own compositions?" asked he, with unusual bitterness.
"No! Don't disturb us, please, but sit down!" said Lida, sharply. "And if you don't like music, go and look at the moon!"
Just then the moon, large, round and red, was rising above the black tree-tops. Its soft evasive light touched the stone steps, and Lida's dress, and her pensive, smiling face. In the garden the shadows had grown deeper; they were now sombre and profound as those of the forest.
Novikoff sighed, and then blurted out.
"I prefer you to the moon," thinking to himself, "that's an idiotic remark!"
Lida burst out laughing.
"What a lumpish compliment!" she exclaimed.
"I don't know how to pay compliments," was Novikoff's sullen rejoinder.
"Very well, then, sit still and listen," said Lida, shrugging her shoulders, pettishly.
But you no longer care, I know, Why should I grieve you with my woe?
The tones of the piano rang out with silvery clearness through the green, humid garden. The moonlight became more and more intense and the shadows harder. Crossing the grass, Sanine sat down under a linden-tree and was about to light a cigarette. Then he suddenly stopped and remained motionless, as if spell-bound by the evening calm that the sounds of the piano and of this youthfully sentimental voice in no way disturbed, but rather served to make more complete.
"Lidia Petrovna!" cried Novikoff hurriedly, as if this particular moment must never be lost. "Well?" asked Lida mechanically, as she looked at the garden and the moon above it and the dark boughs that stood out sharply against its silver disc.
"I have long waited—that is—I have been anxious to say something to you," Novikoff stammered out.
Sanine turned his head round to listen.
"What about?" asked Lida, absently.
Sarudine had finished his song and after a pause began to sing again. He thought that he had a voice of extraordinary beauty, and he much liked to hear it.
Novikoff felt himself growing red, and then pale. It was as if he were going to faint.
"I—look here—Lidia Petrovna—will you be my wife?"
As he stammered out these words he felt all the while that he ought to have said something very different and that his own emotions should have been different also. Before he had got the words out he was certain that the answer would be "no"; and at the same time he had an impression that something utterly silly and ridiculous was about to occur.
Lida asked mechanically, "Whose wife?" Then suddenly, she blushed deeply, and rose, as if intending to speak. But she said nothing and turned aside in confusion. The moonlight fell full on her features.
"I—love you!" stammered Novikoff.
For him, the moon no longer shone; the evening air seemed stifling, the earth, he thought, would open beneath his feet.
"I don't know how to make speeches—but—no matter, I love you very much!"
("Why, very much?" he thought to himself, "as if I were alluding to ice-cream.")
Lida played nervously with a little leaf that had fluttered down into her hands. What she had just heard embarrassed her, being both unexpected and futile; besides, it created a novel feeling of disagreeable restraint between herself and Novikoff whom from her childhood she had always looked upon as a relative, and whom she liked.
"I really don't know what to say! I had never thought about it."
Novikoff felt a dull pain at his heart, as if it would stop beating. Very pale, he rose and seized his cap.
"Good-bye," he said, not hearing the sound of his own voice. His quivering lips were twisted into a meaningless smile.
"Are you going? Good-bye!" said Lida, laughing nervously and proffering her hand.
Novikoff grasped it hastily, and without putting on his cap strode out across the grass, into the garden. In the shade he stood still and gripped his head with both hands.
"My God! I am doomed to such luck as this! Shoot myself? No, that's all nonsense! Shoot myself, eh?" Wild, incoherent thoughts flashed through his brain. He felt that he was the most wretched and humiliated and ridiculous of mortals.
Sanine at first wished to call out to him, but checking the impulse, he merely smiled. To him it was grotesque that Novikoff should tear his hair and almost weep because a woman whose body he desired would not surrender herself to him. At the same time he was rather glad that his pretty sister did not care for Novikoff.
For some moments Lida remained motionless in the same place, and Sanine's curious gaze was riveted on her white silhouette in the moonlight. Sarudine now came from the lighted drawing-room on to the veranda. Sanine distinctly heard the faint jingling of his-spurs. In the drawing-room Tanaroff was playing an old-fashioned, mournful waltz whose languorous cadences floated on the air. Approaching Lida, Sarudine gently and deftly placed his arm round her waist. Sanine could perceive that both figures became merged into one that swayed in the misty light.
"Why so pensive?" murmured Sarudine, with shining eyes, as his lips touched Lida's dainty little ear, Lida was at once joyful and afraid. Now, as on all occasions when Sarudine embraced her, she felt a strange thrill. She knew that in intelligence and culture he was her inferior, and that she could never be dominated by him; yet at the same time she was aware of something delightful and alarming in letting herself be touched by this strong, comely young man. She seemed to be gazing down into a mysterious, unfathomable abyss, and thinking, "I could hurl myself in, if I chose."
"We shall be seen," she murmured half audibly.
Though not encouraging his embrace, she yet did not shrink from it; such passive surrender excited him the more.
"One word, just one!" whispered Sarudine, as he crushed her closer to him, his veins throbbing with desire; "will you come?"
Lida trembled. It was not the first time that he had asked her this question, and each time she had felt strange tremors that deprived her of her will.
"Why?" she asked, in a low voice as she gazed dreamily at the moon.
"Why? That I may have you near me, and see you, and talk to you. Oh! like this, it's torture! Yes, Lida, you're torturing me! Now, will you come?"
So saying, he strained her to him, passionately. His touch as that of glowing iron, sent a thrill through her limbs; it seemed as if she were enveloped in a mist, languorous, dreamy, oppressive. Her lithe, supple frame grew rigid and then swayed towards him, trembling with pleasure and yet with fear. Around her all things had undergone a curious, sudden change. The moon was a moon no longer; it seemed close, close to the trellis-work of the veranda, as if it hung just above the luminous lawn. The garden was not the one that she knew, but another garden, sombre, mysterious, that, suddenly approaching, closed round her. Her brain reeled. She drew back, and with strange languor, freed herself from Sarudine's embrace.
"Yes," she murmured with difficulty. Her lips were white and parched.
With faltering steps she re-entered the house, conscious of something terrible yet alluring that inevitably drew her to the brink of an abyss.
"Nonsense!" she reflected. "It's not that at all. I am only joking. It just interests me, and it amuses me, too."
Thus did she seek to persuade herself, as she stood facing the darkened mirror in her room, wherein she only saw herself en silhouette against the glass door of the brightly lighted dining-room. Slowly she raised both arms above her head, and lazily stretched herself, watching meanwhile the sensuous movements of her supple body.
Left to himself, Sarudine stood erect and shook his shapely limbs. His eyes were half closed, and, as he smiled, his teeth shone beneath his fair moustache. He was accustomed to have luck, and on this occasion he foresaw even greater enjoyment in the near future. He imagined Lida in all her voluptuous beauty at the very moment of surrender. The passion of such a picture caused him physical pain.
At first, when he paid court to her, and after that, when she had allowed him to embrace her and kiss her, Lida had always made him feel somewhat afraid. While he caressed her, there was something strange, unintelligible in her dark eyes, as though she secretly despised him She seemed to him so clever, so absolutely unlike other women to whom he had always felt himself obviously superior, and so proud, that for a kiss he looked to receive a box on the ear. The thought of possessing her was almost disquieting. At times he believed that she was just playing with him and his position appeared simply foolish and absurd. But to-day, after this promise, uttered hesitatingly, in faltering tones such as he had heard other women use, he felt suddenly certain of his power and that victory was near. He knew that things would be just as he had desired them to be. And to this sense of voluptuous expectancy was added a touch of spite: this proud, pure, cultured girl should surrender to him, as all the others had surrendered; he would use her at his pleasure, as he had used the rest. Scenes libidinous and debasing rose up before him. Lida nude, with hair dishevelled and inscrutable eyes, became the central figure in a turbulent orgy of cruelty and lust. Suddenly he distinctly saw her lying on the ground; he heard the swish of the whip; he observed a blood-red stripe on the soft, nude, submissive body. His temples throbbed, he staggered backwards, sparks danced before his eyes. The thought of it all became physically intolerable. His hand shook as he lit a cigarette; again his strong limbs twitched convulsively, and he went indoors. Sanine who had heard nothing yet who had seen and comprehended all, followed him, roused almost to a feeling of jealousy.
"Brutes like that are always lucky," he thought to himself, "What the devil does it all mean? Lida and he?"
At supper, Maria Ivanovna seemed in a bad temper. Tanaroff as usual said nothing. He thought what a fine thing it would be if he were Sarudine, and had such a sweetheart as Lida to love him. He would have loved her in quite a different way, though. Sarudine did not know how to appreciate his good fortune. Lida was pale and silent, looking at no one. Sarudine was gay, and on the alert, like a wild beast that scents its prey. Sanine yawned as usual, ate, drank a good deal of brandy and apparently seemed longing to go to sleep. But when supper was over, he declared his intention of walking home with Sarudine. It was near midnight, and the moon shone high overhead. Almost in silence the two walked towards the officer's quarters. All the way Sanine kept looking furtively at Sarudine, wondering if he should, or should not, strike him in the face.
"Hm! Yes!" he suddenly began, as they got close to the house, "there are all sorts of blackguards in this world!"
"What do you mean by that?" asked Sarudine, raising his eyebrows.
"That is so; speaking generally. Blackguards are the most fascinating people."
"You don't say so?" exclaimed Sarudine, smiling.
"Of course they are. There's nothing so boring in all the world as your so-called honest man. What is an honest man? With the programme of honesty and virtue everybody has long been familiar; and so it contains nothing that is new. Such antiquated rubbish robs a man of all individuality, and his life is lived within the narrow, tedious limits of virtue. Thou shalt not steal, nor lie, nor cheat, nor commit adultery. The funny thing is, that all that is born is one! Everybody steals, and lies, and cheats and commits adultery as much as he can."
"Not everybody," protested Sarudine loftily.
"Yes, yes; everybody! You have only got to examine a man's life in order to get at his sins. Treachery, for instance. Thus, after rendering to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, when we go quietly to bed, or sit down to table, we commit acts of treachery."
"What's that you say?" cried Sarudine, half angrily.
"Of course we do. We pay taxes; we serve our time in the army, yes; but that means that we harm millions by warfare and injustice, both of which we abhor. We go calmly to our beds, when we should hasten to rescue those who in that very moment are perishing for us and for our ideas. We eat more than we actually want, and leave others to starve, when, as virtuous folk, our whole lives should be devoted to their welfare. So it goes on. It's plain enough. Now a blackguard, a real, genuine blackguard is quite another matter. To begin with he is a perfectly sincere, natural fellow."
"Of course he is. He does only what a man naturally does. He sees something that does not belong to him, something that he likes—and, he takes it. He sees a pretty woman who won't give herself to him, so he manages to get her, either by force or by craft. And that is perfectly natural, the desire and the instinct for self-gratification being one of the few traits that distinguish a man from a beast. The more animal an animal is, the less it understands of enjoyment, the less able it is to procure this. It only cares to satisfy its needs. We are all agreed that man was not created in order to suffer, and that suffering is not the ideal of human endeavour."
"Quite so," said Sarudine.
"Very well, then, enjoyment is the aim of human life. Paradise is the synonym for absolute enjoyment, and we all of us, more or less, dream of an earthly paradise. This legend of paradise is by no means an absurdity, but a symbol, a dream."
"Yes," continued Sanine, after a pause, "Nature never meant men to be abstinent, and the sincerest men are those who do not conceal their desires, that is to say, those who socially count as blackguards, fellows such as—you, for instance."
Sarudine started back in amazement.
"Yes, you," continued Sanine, affecting not to notice this, "You're the best fellow in the world, or, at any rate, you think you are. Come now, tell me, have you ever met a better?"
"Yes, lots of them," replied Sarudine, with some hesitation. He had not the least idea what Sanine meant, nor if he ought to appear amused or annoyed.
"Well, name them, please," said Sanine.
Sarudine shrugged his shoulders, doubtfully.
"There, you see!" exclaimed Sanine gaily. "You yourself are the best of good fellows, and so am I; yet we both of us would not object to stealing, or telling lies or committing adultery—least of all to committing adultery."
"How original!" muttered Sarudine, as he again shrugged his shoulders.
"Do you think so?" asked the other, with a slight shade of annoyance in his tone. "Well, I don't! Yes, blackguards, as I said, are the most sincere and interesting people imaginable, for they have no conception of the bounds of human baseness. I always feel particularly pleased to shake hands with a blackguard."
He immediately grasped Sarudine's hand and shook it vigorously as he looked him full in the face. Then he frowned, and muttered curtly, "Good-bye, good-night," and left him.
For a few moments Sarudine stood perfectly still and watched him depart. He did not know how to take such speeches as these of Sanine; he became at once bewildered and uneasy. Then he thought of Lida, and smiled. Sanine was her brother, and what he had said was really right after all. He began to feel a sort of brotherly attachment for him.
"An amusing fellow, by Gad!" he thought, complacently, as if Sanine in a way belonged to him, also. Then he opened the gate, and went across the moonlit courtyard to his quarters.
On reaching home, Sanine undressed and got into bed, where he tried to read "Thus spake Zarathustra" which he had found among Lida's books. But the first few pages were enough to irritate him. Such inflated imagery left him unmoved. He spat, flung the volume aside, and soon fell fast asleep.
Colonel Nicolai Yegorovitch Svarogitsch who lived in the little town awaited the arrival of his son, a student at the Moscow Polytechnic.
The latter was under the surveillance of the police and had been expelled from Moscow as a suspected person. It was thought that he was in league with revolutionists. Yourii Svarogitsch had already written to his parents informing them of his arrest, his six months' imprisonment, and his expulsion from the capital, so that they were prepared for his return. Though Nicolai Yegorovitch looked upon the whole thing as a piece of boyish folly, he was really much grieved, for he was very fond of his son, whom he received with open arms, avoiding any allusion to this painful subject. For two whole days Yourii had travelled third-class, and owing to the bad air, the stench, and the cries of children, he got no sleep at all. He was utterly exhausted, and had no sooner greeted his father and his sister Ludmilla (who was always called Lialia) than he lay down on her bed, and fell asleep.
He did not wake until evening, when the sun was near the horizon, and its slanting rays, falling through the panes, threw rosy squares upon the wall. In the next room there was a clatter of spoons and glasses; he could hear Lialia's merry laugh, and also a man's voice both pleasant and refined which he did not know. At first it seemed to him as if he were still in the railway-carriage and heard the noise of the train, the rattle of the window-panes and the voices of travellers in the next compartment. But he quickly remembered where he was, and sat bolt upright on the bed. "Yes, here I am," he yawned, as, frowning, he thrust his fingers through his thick, stubborn black hair.
It then occurred to him that he need never have come home. He had been allowed to choose where he would stay. Why, then, did he return to his parents? That he could not explain. He believed, or wished to believe, that he had fixed upon the most likely place that had occurred to him. But this was not the case at all. Yourii had never had to work for a living; his father kept him supplied with funds, and the prospect of being alone and without means among strangers seemed terrible to him. He was ashamed of such a feeling, and loth to admit it to himself. Now, however, he thought that he had made a mistake. His parents could never understand the whole story, nor form any opinion regarding it; that was quite plain. Then again, the material question would arise, the many useless years that he had cost his father—it all made a mutually cordial, straightforward understanding impossible. Moreover, in this little town, which he had not seen for two years, he would find it dreadfully dull. He looked upon all the inhabitants of petty provincial towns as narrow-minded folk, incapable of being interested in, or even of understanding those philosophical and political questions which for him were the only really important things of life.
Yourii got up, and, opening the window, leaned out. Along the wall of the house there was a little flower-garden bright with flowers, red, yellow, blue, lilac and white. It was like a kaleidoscope. Behind it lay the large dusky garden that, as all gardens in this town, stretched down to the river, which glimmered like dull glass between the stems of the trees. It was a calm, clear evening. Yourii felt a vague sense of depression. He had lived too long in large towns built of stone, and though he liked to fancy that he was fond of nature, she really gave him nothing, neither solace, nor peace, nor joy, and only roused in him a vague, dreamy, morbid longing.
"Aha! You're up at last! it was about time," said Lialia, as she entered the room.
Oppressed as he was by the sense of his uncertain position and by the melancholy of the dying day, Yourii felt almost vexed by his sister's gaiety and by her merry voice.
"What are you so pleased about?" he asked abruptly.
"Well, I never!" cried Lialia, wide-eyed, while she laughed again, just as if her brother's question had reminded her of something particularly amusing.
"Imagine your asking me why I am so pleased? You see, I am never bored. I have no time for that sort of thing."
Then, in a graver tone, and evidently proud of her last remark, she added.
"We live in such interesting times that it would really be a sin to feel bored. I have got the workmen to teach, and then the library takes up a lot of my time. While you were away, we started a popular library, and it is going very well indeed."
At any other time this would have interested Yourii, but now something made him indifferent. Lialia looked very serious, waiting, as a child might wait, for her brother's praise. At last he managed to murmur.
"With all that to do, can you expect me to be bored?" said Lialia contentedly.
"Well, anyhow, everything bores me," replied Yourii involuntarily. She pretended to be hurt.
"That's very nice of you, I am sure. You've hardly been two hours in the house, and asleep most of the time, yet you are bored already!"
"It is not my fault, but my misfortune," replied Yourii, in a slightly arrogant tone. He thought it showed superior intelligence to be bored rather than amused.
"Your misfortune, indeed!" cried Lialia, mockingly. "Ha! Ha!" She pretended to slap him. "Ha! Ha!"
Yourii did not perceive that he had already recovered his good humour. Lialia's merry voice and her joy of living had speedily banished his depression which he had imagined to be very real and deep. Lialia did not believe in his melancholy, and therefore his remarks caused her no concern.
Yourii looked at her, and said with a smile.
"I am never merry."
At this Lialia laughed, as though he had said something vastly droll.
"Very well, Knight of the Rueful Countenance, if you aren't you aren't. Never mind, come with me, and I will introduce you to a charming young man. Come!"
So saying she took her brother's hand, and laughingly led him along.
"Stop! Who is this charming young man?"
"My fiance," cried Lialia, as, joyful and confused, she twisted sharply round so that her gown was puffed out. Yourii knew already, from his father's and sister's letters, that a young doctor recently established in the town had been paying court to Lialia, but he was not aware that their engagement was a fait accompli.
"You don't say so?" said he, in amazement. It seemed to him so strange that pretty, fresh-looking little Lialia, almost a child, should already have a lover, and should soon become a bride—a wife. It touched him to a vague sense of pity for his sister. Yourii put his arm round Lialia's waist and went with her into the dining-room where in the lamp-light shone the large, highly polished samovar. At the table, by the side of Nicolai Yegorovitch sat a well-built young man, not Russian in type, with bronzed features and keen bright eyes.
He rose in simple, friendly fashion to meet Yourii.
"Anatole Pavlovitch Riasantzeff!" cried Lialia, with a gesture of comic solemnity.
"Who craves your friendship and indulgence," added Riasantzeff, joking in his turn.
With a sincere wish to become friends, the two shook hands. For a moment it seemed as if they would embrace, but they refrained, merely exchanging frank, amicable glances.
"So this is her brother, is it?" thought Riasantzeff, in surprise, for he had imagined that a brother of Lialia, short, fair, and merry, would be short, fair and merry too. Yourii, on the contrary was tall, thin and dark, though as good-looking as Lialia, and with the same regular features.
And, as Yourii looked at Riasantzeff, he thought to himself: "So this is the man who in my little sister Lialia, as fresh and fair as a spring morning, loves the woman; loves her just as I myself have loved women." Somehow, it hurt him to look at Lialia and Riasantzeff, as if he feared that they would read his thoughts.
The two men felt that they had much that was important to say to each other. Yourii would have liked to ask:
"Do you love Lialia? Really and truly? It would be sad, and indeed shameful, if you were to betray her; she's so pure, so innocent!"
And Riasantzeff would have liked to answer:
"Yes, I love your sister deeply; who could do anything else but love her? Look how pure and sweet, and charming she is; how fond she is of me; and what a pretty dimple she's got!"
But instead of all this, Yourii said nothing, and Riasantzeff asked:
"Have you been expelled for long?"
"For five years," was Yourii's answer.
At these words Nicolai Yegorovitch, who was pacing up and down the room, stopped for a moment and then, recollecting himself, he continued his walk with the regular, precise steps of an old soldier. As yet he was ignorant of the details of his son's exile, and this unexpected news came as a shock.
"What the devil does it all mean?" he muttered to himself.
Lialia understood this movement of her father's. She was afraid of scenes, and tried to change the conversation.
"How foolish of me," she thought, "not to have remembered to tell Anatole!"
But Riasantzeff did not know the real facts, and, replying to Lialia's invitation to have some tea, he again began to question Yourii.
"And what do you think of doing now?"
Nicolai Yegorovitch frowned, and said nothing. Yourii at once knew what his father's silence meant; and before he had reflected upon the consequences of such an answer he replied, defiantly and with irritation,
"Nothing for the moment."
"How do you mean—nothing?" asked Nicolai Yegorovitch, stopping short. He had not raised his voice, but its tone clearly conveyed a hidden reproach.
"How can you say such a thing? As if I were obliged always to have you round my neck! How can you forget that I am old, and that it is high time that you earned your own living? I say nothing. Live as you like! But can't you yourself understand?" The tone implied all this. And the more it made Yourii feel that his father was right in thinking as he did, the more he took offence.
"Yes, nothing! What do you expect me to do?" he asked provocatively.
Nicolai Yegorovitch was about to make a cutting retort, but said nothing, merely shrugging his shoulders and with measured tread resuming his march from one corner of the room to the other. He was too well-bred to wrangle with his son on the very day of his arrival. Yourii watched him with flashing eyes, being hardly able to control himself and ready on the slightest chance to open the quarrel. Lialia was almost in tears. She glanced imploringly from her brother to her father. Riasantzeff at last understood the situation, and he felt so sorry for Lialia, that, clumsily enough, he turned the talk into another channel.
Slowly, tediously, the evening passed. Yourii would not admit that he was blameworthy, for he did not agree with his father that politics were no part of his business. He considered that his father was incapable of understanding the simplest things, being old and void of intelligence. Unconsciously he blamed him for his old age and his antiquated ideas: they enraged him. The topics touched upon by Riasantzeff did not interest him. He scarcely listened, but steadily watched his father with black, glittering eyes. Just at supper-time came Novikoff, Ivanoff and Semenoff.
Semenoff was a consumptive student who for some months past had lived in the town, where he gave lessons. He was thin, ugly, and looked very delicate. Upon his face, which was prematurely aged, lay the fleeting shadow of approaching death. Ivanoff was a schoolmaster, a long-haired, broad-shouldered, ungainly man. They had been walking on the boulevard, and hearing of Yourii's arrival had come to salute him. With their coming things grew more cheerful. There was laughter and joking, and at supper much was drunk. Ivanoff distinguished himself in this respect. During the few days that followed his unfortunate proposal to Lida, Novikoff had become somewhat calmer. That Lida had refused him might have been accidental, he thought; it was his fault, indeed, as he ought to have prepared her for such an avowal. Nevertheless it was painful to him to visit the Sanines. Therefore he endeavoured to meet Lida elsewhere, either in the street, or at the house of a mutual friend. She, for her part, pitied him, and, in a way, blamed herself which caused her to treat him with exaggerated cordiality, so that Novikoff once more began to hope.
"What do you say to this?" he asked, just as they were all going, "Let's arrange a picnic at the convent, shall we?"
The convent, situated on a hill at no great distance from the town, was a favourite place for excursions. It was near the river, and the road leading to it was good.
Devoted as she was to every kind of amusement such as bathing, rowing and walks in the woods, Lialia welcomed the idea with enthusiasm.
"Yes, of course! Of course! But when is it to be?"
"Well, why not to-morrow?" said Novikoff.
"Who else shall we ask?" asked Riasantzeff, equally pleased at the prospect of a day's outing. In the woods he would be able to hold Lialia in his arms, to kiss her, and feel that the sweet body he coveted was near.
"Let us see. We are six. Suppose we ask Schafroff?"
"Who is he?" inquired Yourii.
"Oh! he's a young student."
"Very well; and Ludmilla Nicolaievna will invite Karsavina and Olga Ivanovna."
"Who are they?" asked Yourii once more.
Lialia laughed. "You will see!" she said, kissing the tips of her fingers and looking very mysterious.
"Aha!" said Yourii, smiling. "Well, we shall see what we shall see!"
After some hesitation, Novikoff with an air of indifference, remarked:
"We might ask the Sanines too."
"Oh! we must have Lida," cried Lialia, not because she particularly liked the girl, but because she knew of Novikoff's passion, and wished to please him. She was so happy herself in her own love, that she wanted all those about her to be happy also.
"Then we shall have to invite the officers, too," observed Ivanoff, maliciously.
"What does that matter? Let us do so. The more the merrier!"
They all stood at the front door, in the moonlight.
"What a lovely night!" exclaimed Lialia, as unconsciously she drew closer to her lover. She did not wish him to go yet. Riasantzeff with his elbow pressed her warm, round arm.
"Yes, it's a wonderful night!" he replied, giving to these simple words a meaning that they two alone could seize.
"Oh! you, and your night!" muttered Ivanoff in his deep bass. "I'm sleepy, so good-night, sirs!"
And he slouched off, along the street, swinging his arms like the sails of a windmill.
Novikoff and Semenoff went next, and Riasantzeff was a long while saying good-bye to Lialia, pretending to talk about the picnic.
"Now, we must all go to bye-bye," said Lialia, laughingly, when he had taken his leave. Then she sighed, being loth to leave the moonlight, the soft night air, and all for which her youth and beauty longed. Yourii remembered that his father had not yet retired to rest, and feared that, if they met, a painful and useless discussion would be inevitable.
"No!" he replied, his eyes fixed on the faint blue mist about the river, "No! I don't want to go to sleep. I shall go out for a while."
"As you like," said Lialia, in her sweet, gentle voice. Stretching herself, she half closed her eyes like a cat, smiled at the moonlight, and went in. For a few minutes Yourii stood there, watching the dark shadows of the houses and the trees; then he went in the same direction that Semenoff had taken.
The latter had not gone far, walking slowly and stooping as he coughed. His black shadow followed him along the moonlit road. Yourii soon overtook him and at once noticed how changed he was. During supper Semenoff had joked and laughed more perhaps than anyone else, but now he walked along, gloomy and self-absorbed, and in his hollow cough there was something hopeless and threatening like the disease from which he suffered.
"Ah! it's you!" he said, somewhat peevishly, as Yourii thought.
"I wasn't sleepy. I'll walk back with you, if you like."
"Yes, do!" replied Semenoff, carelessly.
"Aren't you cold?" asked Yourii, merely because this distressing cough made him nervous.
"I am always cold," replied Semenoff irritably.
Yourii felt pained, as if he had purposely touched a sore point.
"Is it a long while since you left the University?" he asked.
Semenoff did not immediately reply.
"A long while," he said, at last.
Yourii then spoke of the feeling that actually existed among the students and of what they considered most important and essential. He began simply and impassively, but by degrees let himself go, expressing himself with fervour and point.
Semenoff said nothing, and listened.
Then Yourii deplored the lack of revolutionary spirit among the masses. It was plain that he felt this deeply.
"Did you read Bebel's last speech?" he asked.
"Yes, I did," replied Semenoff.
"Well, what do you say?"
Semenoff irritably flourished his stick, which had a crooked handle. His shadow similarly waved a long black arm which made Yourii think of the black wings of some infuriated bird of prey.
"What do I say?" he blurted out. "I say that I am going to die."
And again he waved his stick and again the sinister shadow imitated his gesture. This time Semenoff also noticed it.
"Do you see?" said he bitterly. "There, behind me, stands Death, watching my every movement. What's Bebel to me? Just a babbler, who babbles about this. And then some other fool will babble about that. It is all the same to me! If I don't die to-day, I shall die to-morrow."
Yourii made no answer. He felt confused and hurt.
"You, for instance," continued Semenoff, "you think that it's very important, all this that goes on at the University, and what Bebel says. But what I think is that, if you knew for certain, as I do, that you were going to die you would not care in the least what Bebel or Nietzsche or Tolstoi or anybody else said."
Semenoff was silent.
The moon still shone brightly, and ever the black shadow followed in their wake.
"My constitution's done for!" said Semenoff suddenly in quite a different voice, thin and querulous. "If you knew how I dread dying.... Especially on such a bright, soft night as this," he continued plaintively, turning to Yourii his ugly haggard face and glittering eyes. "Everything lives, and I must die. To you that sounds a hackneyed phrase, I feel certain. 'And I must die.' But it is not from a novel, not taken from a work written with 'artistic truth of presentment.' I really am going to die, and to me the words do not seem hackneyed. One day you will not think that they are, either. I am dying, dying, and all is over!"
Semenoff coughed again.
"I often think that before long I shall be in utter darkness, buried in the cold earth, my nose fallen in, and my hands rotting, and here in the world all will be just as it is now, while I walk along alive. And you'll be living, and breathing this air, and enjoying this moonlight, and you'll go past my grave where I lie, hideous and corrupted. What do you suppose I care for Bebel, or Tolstoi or a million other gibbering apes?" These last words he uttered with sudden fury. Yourii was too depressed to reply.
"Well, good-night!" said Semenoff faintly. "I must go in." Yourii shook hands with him, feeling deep pity for him, hollow-chested, round- shouldered, and with the crooked stick hanging from a button of his overcoat. He would have liked to say something consoling that might encourage hope, but he felt that this was impossible.
"Good-bye!" he said, sighing.
Semenoff raised his cap and opened the gate. The sound of his footsteps and of his cough grew fainter, and then all was still. Yourii turned homewards. All that only one short half-hour ago had seemed to him bright and fair and calm—the moonlight, the starry heaven, the poplar trees touched with silvery splendour, the mysterious shadows—all were now dead, and cold and terrible as some vast, tremendous tomb.
On reaching home, he went softly to his room and opened the window looking on to the garden. For the first time in his life he reflected that all that had engrossed him, and for which he had shown such zeal and unselfishness was really not the right, the important thing. If, so he thought, some day, like Semenoff, he were about to die, he would feel no burning regret that men had not been made happier by his efforts, nor grief that his life-long ideals remained unrealized. The only grief would be that he must die, must lose sight, and sense, and hearing, before having had time to taste all the joys that life could yield.
He was ashamed of such a thought, and, putting it aside, sought for an explanation.
"Life is conflict."
"Yes, but conflict for whom, if not for one's self, for one's own place in the sun?"
Thus spake a voice within. Yourii affected not to hear it and strove to think of something else. But his mind reverted to this thought without ceasing; it tormented him even to bitter tears.
When Lida Sanine received Lialia's invitation, she showed it to her brother. She thought that he would refuse; in fact, she hoped as much. She felt that on the moonlit river she would again be drawn to Sarudine, and would again experience that sensation at once delicious and disquieting. At the same time she was ashamed that her brother should know that it was Sarudine, of all people, whom he cordially despised.
But Sanine at once accepted with pleasure.
The day was an ideal one; bright sunlight and a cloudless sky.
"No doubt there will be some nice girls there, whose acquaintance you may care to make," said Lida, mechanically.
"Ah! that's good!" said Sanine. "The weather is lovely, too; so let's go!"
At the time appointed, Sarudine and Tanaroff drove up in the large lineika belonging to their squadron with two big regimental horses.
"Lidia Petrovna, we are waiting for you," cried Sarudine, looking extremely smart in white, and heavily scented.
Lida in a light gauzy dress with a collar and waist-band of rose- coloured velvet ran down the steps and held out both her hands to Sarudine. For a moment he grasped them tightly, as he glanced admiringly at her person.
"Let us go, let us go," she exclaimed, in excitement, and confusion, for she knew the meaning of that glance.
Very soon the lineika was swiftly rolling along the little-used road across the steppes. The tall stems of the grass bent beneath the wheels; the fresh breeze as it lightly touched the hair, made the grasses wave on either side. Outside the town they overtook another carriage containing Lialia, Yourii, Riasantzeff, Novikoff, Ivanoff and Semenoff. They were cramped and uncomfortable, yet all were merry and in high spirits. Only Yourii, after last night's talk, was puzzled by Semenoff's behaviour. He could not understand how the latter could laugh and joke like the others. After all that he had told him, such mirth seemed strange. "Was it all put on?" he thought, as he furtively glanced at Semenoff. He shrank from such an explanation. From both carriages there was a lively interchange of wit and raillery. Novikoff jumped down and ran races through the grass with Lida. Apparently there was a tacit understanding between them to appear to be the best of friends, for they kept merrily teasing each other all the time.
They now approached the hill on whose summit stood the convent with its glittering cupolas and white stone walls. The hill was covered by woods, and the curled tips of the oak-trees looked like wool. There were oak-trees also on the islands at the foot of it, where the broad, calm river flowed.
Leaving the road, the horses trotted over the moist, rich turf in which the carriage-wheels made deep ruts. There was a pleasant odour of earth and of green leaves.
At the appointed place, a meadow, seated on the grass were a young student and two girls wearing the dress of Little Russia. Being the first to arrive, they were busily preparing tea and light refreshments. When the carriage stopped, the horses snorted and whisked away flies with their tails. Everybody jumped down, enlivened and refreshed by the drive and the sweet country air. Lialia bestowed resounding kisses upon the two girls who were making tea, and introduced them to her brother and to Sanine, whom they regarded with shy curiosity. Lida suddenly remembered that the two men did not know each other. "Allow me," she said to Yourii, "to introduce to you my brother Vladimir." Sanine smiled and grasped Yourii's hand, but the latter scarcely noticed him. Sanine found everybody interesting and liked making new acquaintances. Yourii considered that very few people in this world were interesting, and always felt disinclined to meet strangers. Ivanoff knew Sanine slightly and liked what he had about him. He was the first to go up to him and begin talking, while Semenoff ceremoniously shook hands with him.
"Now we can all enjoy ourselves after these tiresome formalities," cried Lialia.
At first a certain stiffness prevailed, for many of the party were complete strangers to each other. But as they began to eat, when the men had had several liqueurs, and the ladies wine, such constraint gave way to mirth. They drank freely, and there was much laughter and joking. Some ran races and others clambered up the hill-side. All around was so calm and bright and the green woods so fair, that nothing sad or sinister could cast its shadows on their souls.
"If everybody were to jump about and run like this," said Riasantzeff, flushed and breathless, "nine-tenths of the world's diseases would not exist."
"Nor the vices either," added Lialia.
"Well, as regards vice there will always be plenty of that," observed Ivanoff, and although no one thought such a remark either witty or wise, it provoked hearty laughter.
As they were having tea, it was the sunset hour. The river gleamed like gold, and through the trees fell slanting rays of warm red light.
"Now for the boat!" cried Lida, as, holding up her skirts, she ran down to the river-bank. "Who'll get there first?"
Some ran after her, while others followed at a more leisurely pace, and amid much laughter they all got into a large painted boat.
"Let her go!" cried Lida, in a merry voice of command. The boat slid away from the shore leaving behind it two broad stripes on the water that disappeared in ripples at the river's edge.
"Yourii Nicolaijevitch, why are you so silent?" asked Lida.
Yourii smiled. "I've got nothing to say."
"Impossible!" she answered, with a pretty pout, throwing back her head as if she knew that all men thought her irresistible.
"Yourii doesn't like talking nonsense," said Semenoff. "He requires...."
"A serious subject, is that it?" exclaimed Lida, interrupting.
"Look! there is a serious subject!" said Sarudine, pointing to the shore.
Where the bank was steep, between the gnarled roots of a rugged oak one could see a narrow aperture, dark and mysterious, which was partially hidden by weeds and grasses.
"What is that?" asked Schafroff, who was unfamiliar with this part of the country.
"A cavern," replied Ivanoff.
"What sort of cavern?"
"The devil only knows! They say that once it was a coiners' den. As usual they were all caught. Rather hard lines, wasn't it?" said Ivanoff.
"Perhaps you'd like to start a business of that sort yourself and manufacture sham twenty-copeck pieces?" asked Novikoff.
"Copecks? Not I! Roubles, my friend, roubles!"
"H—m!" muttered Sarudine, shrugging his shoulders. He did not like Ivanoff, whose jokes to him were unintelligible.
"Yes, they were all caught, and the cave was filled up; it gradually collapsed, and no one ever goes into it now. As a child I often used to creep in there. It is a most interesting place."
"Interesting? I should rather think so!" exclaimed Lida.
"Victor Sergejevitsch, suppose you go in? You're one of the brave ones."
"Why?" asked Sarudine, somewhat perplexed.
"I'll go!" exclaimed Yourii, blushing to think that the others would accuse him of showing off.
"It's a wonderful place!" said Ivanoff by way of encouragement.
"Aren't you going too?" asked Novikoff.
"No, I'd rather stop here!"
At this they all laughed.
The boat drew near the bank and a wave of cold air from the cavern passed over their heads.
"For heaven's sake, Yourii, don't do such a silly thing!" said Lialia, trying to dissuade her brother. "It really is silly of you!"
"Silly? Of course it is." Yourii, smiling, assented. "Semenoff, just give me that candle, will you?"
"Where shall I find it?"
"There is one behind you, in the hamper."
Semenoff coolly produced the candle.
"Are you really going?" asked a tall girl, magnificently proportioned. Lialia called her Sina, her surname being Karsavina.
"Of course I am. Why not?" replied Yourii, striving to show utter indifference. He recollected having done this when engaged in some of his political adventures. The thought for some reason or other was not an agreeable one.
The entrance to the cavern was damp and dark. "Brrr!" exclaimed Sanine, as he looked in. To him it seemed absurd that Yourii should explore a disagreeable, dangerous place simply because others watched him doing it. Yourii, as self-conscious as ever, lighted the candle, thinking inwardly, "I am making myself rather ridiculous, am I not?" But so far from seeming ridiculous, he won admiration, especially from the ladies, who were in an agreeable state of curiosity bordering on alarm. He waited till the candle burnt more brightly and then, laughing to avoid being laughed at, disappeared in the darkness. The light seemed to have vanished, also. They all suddenly felt concern for his safety and intense curiosity as to what would happen.
"Look out for wolves!" cried Riasantzeff.
"It's all right. I've got a revolver!" came the answer. It sounded faint and weird.
Yourii advanced slowly and with caution. The sides of the cavern were low, uneven, and damp as the walls of a large cellar. The ground was so irregular that twice Yourii just missed falling into a hole. He thought it would be best to turn back, or to sit down and wait a while so that he could say that he had gone a good way in.
Suddenly he heard the sound of footsteps behind him slipping on the wet clay, and of some one breathing hard. He held the light aloft.
"Sinaida Karsavina!" he exclaimed in amazement.
"Her very self!" replied Sina gaily, as she caught up her dress and jumped lightly over a hole. Yourii was glad that she, this merry, handsome girl, had come, and he greeted her with laughing eyes.