THE CREATED LEGEND
BY FEODOR SOLOGUB
AUTHORIZED TRANSLATION FROM THE RUSSIAN BY JOHN COURNOS
"For there is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so." SHAKESPEARE
"To the impure all things are impure." NIETZSCHE
In "The Little Demon" Sologub has shown us how the evil within us peering out through our imagination makes all the world seem evil to us. In "The Created Legend," feeling perhaps the need of reacting from his morose creation Peredonov, the author has set himself the task of showing the reverse of the picture: how the imagination, no longer warped, but sensitized with beauty, is capable of creating a world of its own, legendary yet none the less real for the legend.
The Russian title of the book is more descriptive of the author's intentions than an English translation will permit it to be. "Tvorimaya Legenda" actually means "The legend in the course of creation." The legend that Sologub has in mind is the active, eternally changing process of life, orderly and structural in spite of the external confusion. The author makes an effort to bring order out of apparent chaos by stripping life of its complex modern detail and reducing it to a few significant symbols, as in a rather more subtle "morality play." The modern novel is perhaps over-psychologized; eternal truths and eternal passions are perhaps too often lost sight of under the mass of unnecessary naturalistic detail.
In this novel life passes by the author as a kind of dream, a dream within that nightmare Reality, a legend within that amorphousness called Life. And the nightmare and the dream, like a sensitive individual's ideas of the world as it is and as it ought to be, alternate here like moods. The author has expressed this changeableness of mood curiously by alternating a crudely realistic, deliberately naive, sometimes journalese style with an extremely decorative, lyrical manner—this taxing the translator to the utmost in view of the urgency to translate the mood as well as the ideas.
As a background we have "the abortive revolution of 1905." This novel is an emotional statement of those "nightmarish" days. Against this rather hazy, tempestuous background we have the sharply outlined portrait of an individual, a poet, containing a world within himself, a more radiant and orderly world than the one which his eyes look upon outwardly. It is this "inner vision" which permits him to see the legend in the outer chaos, and we read in this book of his efforts to disentangle the thread of this legend by the establishment of a kind of Hellenic Utopia.
_It is not alone the poet who is capable of creating his legend, but any one who refuses to be subject to the whims of fate and to serve the goddess of chance and chaos, "the prodigal scatterer of episodes" (Aisa). The tragic thing about this philosophy, as one Russian critic points out, is that even the definite settling of the question does not assure one complete consolation, for, like Ivan Karamazov in Dostoyevsky's "Brothers Karamazov," one may say: "I do not accept God, I do not accept the world created by Him, God's world; I simply return Him the ticket most respectfully." Still it is with some such definite decision that he enters the kingdom of Ananke, the goddess of Necessity. Readers of "The Little Demon" have seen a practical illustration of the two forces in Peredonov and Liudmilla. Peredonov was petty and pitiful, "a little demon"—nevertheless he too "strove towards the truth in common with all conscious life, and this striving tormented him. He himself did not understand that he, like all men, was striving towards the truth, and that was why he had that confused unrest. He could not find his truth, and he became entangled, and was perishing." Liudmilla, however, had saved herself from the pettiness and provinciality of this "unclean, impotent earth" by creating a new world for herself. She, at any rate, had her beautiful legend, knew her truth.
Elisaveta, of "The Created Legend," also belongs to the Kingdom of Ananke. She finds her salvation in "the dream of liberation," the dream dreamt by all good Russians and made an active creative legend by the efforts to realize it in life. Being an antithesis to the analytical novel, this novel treats of sex, not as a psychology but as a philosophy; nuances are avoided, the feminine figure becomes a symbol, drawn, not photographically but broadly, in fluent, even exaggerated Botticellian outlines. I might go even further and say that as a symbol of Russian revolution the figure of Elisaveta is perhaps meant to stand out with the statuesque boldness of the Victory of Samothrace. The feminine figure, nude or thinly draped, has been used as symbol for ideas in the plastic arts ever since art was born; our puritans have never been faced with the problem of what some of the mythological divinities in stone would do if they should suddenly come to life, become human. Yet it is a problem of this sort that Sologub has attempted to solve—the problem of the gods in exile. As for Elisaveta, Sologub goes indeed the length of describing her previous existence in the second of the series of novels that go under the general head of "The Created Legend"; she was then the Queen Ortruda of some beautiful isles in the Mediterranean, and she is fated to carry her queenliness into her later life._
"The Little Demon" is Sologub's "Inferno," "The Created Legend" his "Paradiso." And just as the problem there was the abuse of bodily beauty, so it is here the idealism of bodily beauty. It is natural that the over-draping of our bodies, the supposed symbol of our modesty, but in reality an evidence of our lust, should form part of his thesis. But M. Anatole France has already pointed out brilliantly in "Penguin Island" how immodesty originated in the invention of clothes.
The conclusion is quite clear: it is beauty that can save the world, it is our eyes and our imaginations behind our eyes that can remodel the world into "a chaste dream." Like Don Quixote, whom Sologub loves, we must see Dulcinea in our Aldonza, and our persistent thought of her as Dulcinea may make her Dulcinea in actuality.
Such are the thoughts behind this strange book, in which fantasy and reality rub unfriendly shoulders. But it would be robbing the reader of his prerogative to explain the various symbols the author employs; for this is in the full sense a Symbolist novel, and, like a piece of music or a picture in patterns, its charm to him who will like it will lie in individual interpretation. I cannot, however, resist the desire to speak of my own personal preference for Chapter XIII, in which the death of certain musty Russian institutions is brilliantly symbolized by the author in the passage of the risen dead on St. John's Eve.
In the "quiet children" the author has resurrected, as it were, the child heroes in which his stories abound, and given them an existence on a new plane, "beyond good and evil." It is only children, beings chaste and impressionable, who are capable of transformation—or shall we say transfiguration?—and if they happen to be in this case more paradisian than earthly it is because truth expressed in symbols must of necessity appear fantastic and exaggerated. It is, for the same reason, that we find the worthlessness of Matov expressed in his being turned by Trirodov into a paper-weight. Then there is the Sun, the Flaming Dragon, the infuriator of men's passions, powerless, however, to affect the "quiet children," who, freed of all passion—"the beast in man"—may have their white feet covered with the light dust of the earth, but never scorched by the evil heat.
The various references to the art and ideas of the poet Trirodov and to the poet's tardy recognition are certain to be recognized as autobiographical.
I must add that in the original this first of "Created Legend" novels is called "Drops of Blood," a phrase which recurs several times in the course of the narrative in connexion with the problem of cruelty in life.
I take a piece of life, coarse and poor, and create from it a delightful legend—because I am a poet. Whether it linger in the darkness; whether it be dim, commonplace, or raging with a furious fire—life is before you; I, a poet, will erect the legend I have created about the enchanting and the beautiful.
Chance caught in the entangling net of circumstance brings about every beginning. Yet it is better to begin with what is splendid in earthly experience, or at any rate with what is beautiful and pleasing. Splendid are the body, the youth, and the gaiety in man; splendid are the water, the light, and the summer in nature.
It was a bright, hot midday in summer, and the heavy glances of the flaming Dragon fell on the River Skorodyen. The water, the light, and the summer beamed and were glad; they beamed because of the sunlight that filled the immense space, they were glad because of the wind that blew from some far land, because of the many birds, because of the two nude maidens.
Two sisters, Elisaveta and Elena, were bathing in the River Skorodyen. And the sun and the water were gay, because the two maidens were beautiful and were naked. And the two girls felt also gay and cool, and they wanted to scamper and to laugh, to chatter and to jest. They were talking about a man who had aroused their curiosity.
They were the daughters of a rich proprietor. The place where they bathed adjoined the spacious old garden of their estate. Perhaps they enjoyed their bathing because they felt themselves the mistresses of these fast-flowing waters and of the sand-shoals under their agile feet. And they swam about and laughed in this river with the assurance and freedom of princesses born to rule. Few know the boundaries of their kingdom—but fortunate are they who know what they possess and exercise their sway.
They swam up and down and across the river, and tried to outswim and outdive one another. Their bodies, immersed in the water, would have presented an entrancing sight to any one who might have looked down upon them from the bench in the garden on the high bank and watched the exquisite play of their muscles under their thin elastic skin. Pink tones lost themselves in the skin-yellow pearl of their bodies. But pink triumphed in their faces, and in those parts of the body most often exposed.
The river-bank opposite rose in a slope. There were bushes here; behind them for a great distance stretched fields of rye, while just over the edge, where the earth and the sky met, were visible the far huts of the suburban village. Peasant boys passed by on the bank. They did not look at the bathing women. But a schoolboy, who had come a long way from the other end of the town, sat on his heels behind the bushes. He called himself an ass because he had not brought his camera. But he consoled himself with the thought:
"To-morrow I'll surely bring it."
The schoolboy quickly looked at his watch in order to make a note of the time the girls went out bathing. He knew them, and often came to their house to see his friend, their relative. Elena, the younger, now appealed most to him; she was plump, cheerful, white, rosy, her hands and feet were small. He did not like the hands and feet of the elder sister, Elisaveta—they seemed to him to be too large and too red. Her face also was red, very sunburnt, and she was altogether quite large.
"Oh well," he reflected, "she is certainly well formed, you can't deny her that."
About a year had now passed since the retired privat-docent Giorgiy Sergeyevitch Trirodov, a doctor of chemistry, had settled in the town of Skorodozh. From the very first he had caused much talk in the town, mostly unsympathetic. It was quite natural that the two rose-yellow, black-haired girls in the water should also talk of him. They splashed about gaily, and as they raised jewel-like spray with their feet they kept up a conversation.
[Footnote 1: Also the scene of Sologub's "Little Demon."]
"How puzzling it all is!" said Elena, the younger sister. "No one knows where his income comes from, what he does in his house, and why he has this colony of children. There are all sorts of strange rumours about him. It's certainly a mystery."
Elena's words reminded Elisaveta of an article she had read lately in a philosophic periodical published at Moscow. Elisaveta had a good memory. She recalled a phrase:
"In our world reason will never dominate, and the mysterious will always maintain its place."
She tried to recall more, but suddenly realizing that it would not interest Elena, she gave a sigh and grew silent. Elena gave her a tender, appealing look and said:
"When it is so bright you want everything to be as clear as it is around us now."
"Is everything really clear now?" exclaimed Elisaveta. "The sun blinds your eyes, the water flashes and dazzles, and in this ragingly bright world we do not even know whether there isn't some one a couple of paces away peeping at us."
At this moment the sisters were standing breast-high in the water, near the overgrown bank. The schoolboy who sat on his heels behind the bush heard Elisaveta's words. He grew cold in his confusion, and began to crawl on all-fours between the bushes, away from the river. He got in among the rye, then perched himself on the rail-fence and pretended to rest, as though he were not even aware of the closeness of the river. But no one had noticed him, as if he were non-existent.
The schoolboy sat there a little while, then went home with a vague feeling of disenchantment, injury, and irritation. There was something especially humiliating to him in the thought that to the two girl bathers he was merely a possibility speculated upon but actually non-existent.
Everything in this world has an end. There was an end also to the sisters' bathing. They made their way silently together out of the pleasant, cool, deep water towards the dry ground, heaven's terrestrial footstool, and out into the air, where they met the hot kisses of the slowly, cumbrously rising Dragon. They stood a while on the bank, yielding themselves to the Dragon's kisses, then entered the protected bath-house where they had left their clothes.
Elisaveta's clothes were very simple. They consisted of a greenish yellow, not over-long tunic-dress without sleeves, and a plain straw hat. Elisaveta nearly always wore yellow dresses. She loved yellow, she loved buttercups and gold, and though she sometimes said that she wore yellow in order to soften her ruddy complexion, she really loved it simply, sincerely, and for its own sake. Yellow delighted Elisaveta. There was something remote and unpremeditated in this, as if it were a thing remembered from another, previous life.
Elisaveta's heavy black braid of hair was coiled tightly and attractively around her head, and as it was lifted quite high at the back, her neck showed—sunburnt and gracefully erect. Elisaveta's face had a keen, almost exaggerated, expression of the mastery of will and intellect over the emotions. The long and peculiarly straight parting of her lips was very exquisite. Her blue eyes were cheerful—even when her lips did not smile. Their glance was thoughtful and gentle. The bright ruddiness and strong tan of the face seemed strangely alien to it.
While waiting for Elena to finish dressing Elisaveta walked slowly on the sandy bank and looked into the monotonous distances. The fine warm grains of sand gently warmed her bare feet, which had grown cold in the water.
Elena dressed slowly. She enjoyed dressing; everything that she put on seemed an adornment to her. She delighted in the rosy reflections of her skin, in her pretty light dress of a pinkish white material, in her broad sash of pink silk fastened behind with a buckle of mother-of-pearl, in her straw hat trimmed with bright pink ribbons on top and yellow-pink velvet on its underbrim.
At last Elena was dressed. The sisters climbed the sloping bank and went where their curiosity drew them. They loved to take long walks. They had already passed several times the house and grounds of Giorgiy Trirodov, whom they had not yet seen once. To-day they wished to go that way again and to try and see what was to be seen.
The sisters walked two versts through the wood. They spoke quietly of various things, and felt a little agitated. Curiosity often agitates people.
The sinuous road with two wagon-ruts revealed picturesque views at every turn. The path finally chosen by the sisters led to a hollow. Its sides, overgrown with bushes and weeds, looked wildly beautiful. From its depth came the sweet, warm odour of clover, and down below its white bosom grass was visible. A small narrow bridge, propped up from below with thin slender stakes, hung over the hollow. On the other side of the bridge a low hedge stretched right and left, and in this hedge, quite facing the bridge, a small gate was visible.
The sisters crossed the bridge, holding on to its slender hand-rail of birch. They tried the gate—it was closed. They looked at one another. Elisaveta, growing red with vexation, said:
"We'll have to go back again."
"Every one says that you can't get into the place," said Elena, "that you've got to get over the hedge, and that even that is impossible for some reason or other. It's very strange. I wonder what they can be up to?"
Suddenly there was a slight rustle in the bushes by the hedge. The branches parted. A pale boy ran up to them. He looked quickly at the sisters with his clear, intensely calm, almost dead eyes. There was something strange in the shape of his pale lips, thought Elisaveta. A motionless, sorrowful expression lurked in the corners of his mouth. He opened the gate; he seemed to say something, but so quietly that the sisters could not catch his words. Or was it the sound of the light breeze in the wavering foliage?
The boy hid himself behind the bushes so quickly that it was hard to believe that he had been there at all; the sisters had no time to be astonished or to thank him. It was as if the gate had opened by itself, or had been pushed open by one of the sisters by chance.
They stood there undecided. An incomprehensible unrest took possession of them for an instant and as quickly went from them. Curiosity again dominated them. The sisters entered.
"How did he open it?" asked Elena.
Elisaveta, without a word, went quickly forward. She was so elated at getting in that she had almost forgotten the pale boy. Only somewhere, within the domain of vague consciousness, there gleamed dimly a strange white face.
The wood was quite like the one by which they had come to the gate, quite as pensive and as tall and as isolated from the sky, and as absorbed in its own mysteries. But here it seemed to have been conquered by human activity. Not far away voices, cries, laughter resounded. Here and there were evidences of left-off games. The narrow footpaths often led to wider paths of sand. The sisters quickly followed the winding path in the direction from which the children's voices sounded loudest. Afterwards all this jumble of sound seemed to collapse, and it renewed itself in loud, sweet singing.
At last there appeared before them a small glade—oval in shape. Tall firs edged this open space as evenly as graceful columns in a magnificent salle. The blue of the sky above it seemed especially bright, pure and dominant. The glade was full of children of various ages. They were sitting and reclining all around in ones, twos, and threes. In the middle some thirty boys and girls were singing and dancing; their dance followed strictly the rhythm of the tune and interpreted the words of the song with beautiful fidelity. They were directed by a tall, graceful girl who had a strong, sonorous voice, braids of magnificent golden hair, and grey, cheerful eyes.
All of them, the children as well as their instructresses—of whom three or four were to be seen—were dressed quite simply and alike. Their simple, light attire seemed beautiful. It was pleasant to look at them, perhaps because their dress revealed the active parts of their body, the arms and the legs. Dress here was made to protect, and not to conceal; to clothe, and not to muffle.
The blue and red of the hats and of the dresses gave emphasis to the vivid tones of the faces and of the arms and legs. There was a spirit of gaiety here, a sense of holiday splendour in these naturally adorned bodies, boldly revealed under clear azure skies.
Some of the children from among those who did not sing approached the sisters and looked at them in a friendly manner, smiling trustfully.
"You may sit down if you like," said a boy with very blue eyes; "here is a bench."
"Thank you, my dear," said Elisaveta.
The sisters sat down. The children wished to talk to them. One little girl said:
"I've just seen a little squirrel. It was sitting on a pine. Then I gave a shout—you should have seen it run!"
The others also began to talk and to ask questions. The singers ended their song and scattered in all directions to play. The golden-haired instructress went up to the sisters and asked:
"Have you come from town? Are you pleased with what you have seen here?"
"Yes, it's splendid here," said Elisaveta. "Our place adjoins this. We are the Rameyevs. I am Elisaveta. And this is my sister Elena."
The golden-haired girl suddenly blushed as if she felt ashamed that the wealthy young women were looking at her naked shoulders and at her legs naked to the knee. But seeing that they too were barefoot and wore short skirts, she quickly recovered and smiled at them.
"My name is Nadezhda Vestchezerova," she said.
She looked attentively at the sisters. Elisaveta thought that she had heard the name somewhere in town—perhaps a tale in connexion with it, she could not remember exactly what. For some reason she did not mention this to Nadezhda. Perhaps it was a tragic history.
This fear of talking about the past occasionally came upon Elisaveta. Who knows what sorrow is hid behind a bright smile, and from what darkness has sprung the blossoming which gives sudden joy to a glance, elusively beautiful and born of unhappy worldly experience?
"Did you find your way in easily?" asked the golden-haired Nadezhda with a friendly but subtle smile. "It's usually not a simple matter," she explained.
"A white boy opened the gate for us. He ran off so quickly that we had not even the time to thank him."
Nadezhda suddenly ceased smiling.
"Oh yes—he isn't one of us," she said falteringly. "They live over there with Trirodov. There are several of them. Wouldn't you like to have lunch with us?" she asked, cutting short her previous remarks.
Elisaveta suspected that Nadezhda wanted to change the subject.
"We live here all day long, we eat here, we learn here, and we play here—do everything here," said Nadezhda. "People have built cities to escape the wild beast, but they themselves have become like wild beasts, like savages."
A bitter note crept into her voice—was it the echo of her past life or was it a thing foreign to her and grafted upon her sensitive nature? She continued:
"We have come from the town into the woods. From the wild beast, from the savages of the town. The beast must be killed. The wolf and the fox and the hawk—all those who prey upon others—they must be killed."
"How is one to kill a beast who has grown iron and steel nails, and who has built his lair in the town? It is he who does the killing, and there's no end in sight to his ferocity."
Nadezhda knitted her eyebrows, pressed her hands, and stubbornly repeated:
"We shall kill him, we shall kill him."
The sisters stayed to lunch.
They remained over an hour chattering cheerfully with the children and their instructresses. The children were sweet and confiding. The instructresses, no less simple and charming, seemed cheerful, care-free, and restful. Yet they were always busy, and nothing escaped them. Besides many of the children did certain things without being urged, this being evidently a part of a system, of which the sisters had as yet barely an inkling.
Instruction was mixed up with play. One of the instructresses invited the sisters to listen to what she called her lesson. The sisters listened with enjoyment to an interesting discourse concerning the objects the children had observed that day in the wood. There were other instructresses who had just returned from the depths of the wood—some children were going into the wood, others were coming out, quite different ones.
The instructress to whom the sisters were listening ended her discourse and suddenly scampered off somewhere. Through the dark foliage of the trees could be seen the glimmer of red caps and of sunburnt arms and legs. The sisters were again left alone. No one paid especial attention to them any longer; evidently there was no one they either embarrassed or hindered.
"It's time to go," said Elena.
Elisaveta made a move.
"Yes, let's go," she agreed. "It's very interesting and delightful here, but we can't stay for ever."
The departure of the sisters had been noticed. A few of the children ran up to them. The children cried gaily:
"We will show you the way, or you'll get lost."
When the sisters paused at the gate, Elisaveta thought that some one was looking at her, out of a hiding-place, with a gaze of astonishment. In perplexity, strange and distressing, she looked around her. Behind the hedge in the bushes a small boy and a small girl were hiding. They were like the others she had seen here, except that they were very white, as though the kisses of the stern Dragon floating in the hot sky had left no traces upon their tender skin. Both the little boy and the little girl were staring with a motionless but attentive gaze. Their chaste look seemed to penetrate into the very depth of one's soul; this rather disconcerted Elisaveta. She whispered to Elena:
"Look, what strange beings!"
Elena looked in the direction of Elisaveta's glance and said indifferently:
Elisaveta was astonished at her sister's observation—the faces of these hiding children seemed to her like the faces of praying angels.
By this time the children who had escorted the sisters ran back, jostling each other and laughing. Only one boy remained with them. He opened the gate and waited for the sisters to go out so that he could shut it again. Elisaveta quietly asked him:
"Who are these?"
With a light movement of her head she indicated the bushes, where the boy and the girl were hiding. The cheerful urchin looked in the direction of her glance, then at her, and said:
"There's no one there."
And actually no one was now visible in the bushes. Elisaveta persisted:
"But I did see a boy and a girl there. Both were quite white, not at all brown like the rest of you. They stood ever so quietly and looked."
The cheery, dark-eyed lad looked attentively at Elisaveta, frowned slightly, lowered his eyes, reflected, then again eyed the sisters attentively and sadly, and said:
"In the main building, where Giorgiy Sergeyevitch lives, there are more of these quiet children. They are never with us. They are quiet ones. They do not play. They have been ill. It's likely they haven't improved yet. I don't know. They are kept separately."
The boy said this slowly and thoughtfully, as if he were astonished because there, in the house of the master, were other children, quiet ones, who did not join in their play. Suddenly he shook his head lustily, banishing, as it were, unaccustomed thoughts, then took off his cap and exclaimed cheerily and with some tenderness:
"A happy journey, darlings! Follow this footpath."
He made an obeisance and ran off. The sisters were quite alone now. They went on in the direction given them by the boy. A quiet vale opened up before them, and in the distance a white wall was visible, which concealed Trirodov's house. They continued their way towards the house. In front of them, keeping close to the bushes, walked a boy in a white dress; he appeared to be showing them the way.
It was very quiet. High above them, protecting himself from the human eye by dark purple shields, the flaming Dragon rested. His look from behind the deceptive, vacillant shields was hot and evil; he poured out his dazzling light, tormented men with it, yet wished them to rejoice in his presence and to compose hymns to him. He wished to rule, and it seemed as though he were motionless, as though he would never decide to retire. But his livid weariness already began to incline him westwards. Still his passion grew, and his kisses were scorching, and his infuriated gaze with its livid purple dimmed the glances of the two girls.
The girls' glances were seeking—seeking Trirodov's house.
Trirodov's house stood about a verst and a half from the edge of the town, not at the end where the dirty and smoky factory buildings squatted, but quite at the other end, along the River Skorodyen, above the town of Skorodozh. This house and the estate attached to it occupied a considerable space, surrounded by a stone wall. One side of the place faced the river, the other the town, the rest adjoined the fields and woods. The house stood in the middle of an old garden. From behind the tall white stone wall the tops of the trees were to be seen, while between them, quite high, two turrets of the house, one somewhat higher than the other, were visible. The sisters felt as if some one in the high turret were looking down upon them.
There were ominous rumours concerning the house even in the days when it belonged to the previous tenant Matov, a kinsman of the Rameyev sisters. It was said that the house was inhabited by ghosts, and by phantoms who had left their graves. There was a footpath close to the house which led across the northern part of the estate, through a wood, to the Krutitsk cemetery. In the town they called this the footpath of Navii, and they were afraid to walk upon it even by day. Many legends grew up around it. The local intelligentsia tried vainly to disprove them. The whole property was sometimes called Navii's playground. There were some who said that they had seen with their own eyes this enigmatic inscription on the gates: "Three went in, two came out." This inscription was, of course, no longer there. Now only lightly cut-out figures were to be seen, one under the other: '3' on top, '2' lower, and '1' at the bottom.
[Footnote 2: Footpath of the dead.]
All the evil rumours and warnings did not prevent Giorgiy Sergeyevitch Trirodov from buying the house. He made changes in it, and then settled here after his comparatively brief educational career had been rudely cut short.
It took a long time to rebuild and transform the house. The high walls prevented any one from seeing what was being done there. This aroused the curiosity of the townsfolk and caused all sorts of malicious gossip. The working men did not belong to the place, but were brought from a distance. Dark and short and rather gruff-looking, they did not understand the local speech, and seldom showed themselves in the streets.
"They are wicked and dark" was said about them in the town. "They carry knives about with them, and dig underground passages in Navii's playground. He himself is clean-shaven like a German, and he's imported these foreign earth-diggers."
* * * * *
"I like that red-haired instructress, Nadezhda Vestchezerova," said Elena.
She looked searchingly at her sister.
"Yes, she's very sincere," answered Elisaveta. '"A fine girl."
"They are all charming," said Elena with greater assurance.
"Yes," observed Elisaveta, with indecision in her voice. "But there is that other—the one that ran away from us—there's something I don't like about her. Perhaps it's a slight veneer of hypocrisy."
"Why do you say so?" asked Elena.
"I simply feel it. She smiles too pleasantly, too lovingly. She seems in every way phlegmatic, yet she tries to appear animated. Her words come rather easily sometimes, and she exaggerates."
* * * * *
It was quiet in the garden behind the stone wall. This was Kirsha's free hour. But he could not play, though he tried to.
Little Kirsha, Trirodov's son, whose mother had died not long before, was dark and thin. He had a very mobile face and restless dark eyes. He was dressed like the boys in the wood. He was quite restless to-day. He felt sad without knowing why. He felt as if some invisible being were drawing him on, calling to him in an inaudible whisper, demanding something—what? And who was it approaching their house? Why? Friend or foe? It was a stranger—yet curiously intimate.
At that moment, when the sisters were taking leave of the children in the wood, Kirsha felt especially perturbed. In the far corner of the garden he saw a boy in white dress; he ran up to him. They spoke long and quietly. Then Kirsha ran to his father.
Giorgiy Sergeyevitch Trirodov was all alone at home. He was lying on the sofa, reading a book by Wilde.
Trirodov was forty years old. He was slender and erect. His short-trimmed hair and clean-shaven face made him look very young. Only on closer scrutiny it was possible to detect the many grey hairs, the wrinkles on the forehead around the eyes. His face was pale. His broad forehead seemed very large—it was partly due to a narrow chin, lean cheeks, and baldness.
The room where Trirodov was reading—his study—was large, bright, and simple, with a white, unpainted floor as smooth as a mirror. The walls were lined with open bookcases. In the wall opposite the windows, between the bookcases, a narrow space was left, large enough for a man to stand in. It gave the impression of a door being there, hidden by hangings. In the middle of the room stood a very large table, upon which lay books, papers, and several strange objects—hexahedral prisms of an unfamiliar substance, heavy and solid in appearance, dark red in colour, with purple, blue, grey, and black spots, and with veins running across it.
Kirsha knocked on the door and entered—quiet, small, troubled. Trirodov looked at him anxiously. Kirsha said:
"There are two young women in the wood. Such an inquisitive pair. They have been looking over our colony. Now they'd like to come here to take a look round."
Trirodov let the pale green ribbon with a lightly stamped pattern fall upon the page he was reading and laid the book on the small table at his side. He then took Kirsha by the hand, drew him close, and looked attentively at him, with a slight stir in his eyes; then said quietly:
"You've been asking questions of those quiet boys again."
Kirsha grew red, but stood erect and calm, Trirodov continued to reproach him:
"How often have I told you that this is wicked. It is bad for you and for them."
"It's all the same to them," said Kirsha quietly.
"How do you know?" asked Trirodov.
Kirsha shrugged his shoulders and said obstinately:
"Why are they here? What are they to us?"
Trirodov turned away, then rose abruptly, went to the window, and looked gloomily into the garden. Clearly something was agitating his consciousness, something that needed deciding. Kirsha quietly walked up to him, stepping softly upon the white, warm floor with his sunburnt graceful feet, high in instep, and with long, beautiful, well-formed toes. He touched his father on the shoulder, quietly rested his sunburnt hand there, and said:
"You know, daddy, that I seldom do this, only when I must. I felt very much troubled to-day. I knew that something would happen."
"What will happen?" asked his father.
"I have a feeling," said Kirsha with a pleading voice, "that you must let them in to us—these inquisitive girls."
Trirodov looked very attentively at his son and smiled. Kirsha said gravely:
"The elder one is very charming. In some way she is like mother. But the other is also nice."
"What brings them here?" again asked Trirodov. "They might have waited until their elders brought them here."
Kirsha smiled, sighed lightly, and said thoughtfully, shrugging his small shoulders:
"All women are curious. What's to be done with them?"
Smiling now joyously, now gravely, Trirodov asked:
"And will mother not come to us?"
"Oh, if she only came, if only for one little minute!" exclaimed Kirsha.
"What are we to do with these girls?" asked Trirodov.
"Invite them in, show them the house," replied Kirsha.
"And the quiet children?" quietly asked Trirodov.
"The quiet children also like the elder one," answered Kirsha.
"And who are they, these girls?" asked Trirodov.
"They are our neighbours, the Rameyevs," said Kirsha.
Trirodov smiled again and said:
"Yes, one can understand why they are so curious."
He frowned, went to the table, put his hand on one of the dark, heavy prisms and picked it up cautiously, and again carefully put it back in its place, saying at the same time to Kirsha:
"Go, then, and meet them and bring them here."
Kirsha, growing animated, asked:
"By the door or through the grotto?"
"Yes, bring them through the dark passage, underground."
Kirsha went out. Trirodov was left alone. He opened the drawer of his writing-table, took out a strangely shaped flagon of green glass filled with a dark fluid, and looked in the direction of the secret door. At that instant it opened quietly and easily. A pale, quiet boy entered and looked at Trirodov with his dispassionate and innocent, but understanding eyes.
Trirodov went up to him. A reproach was ripe on his tongue but he could not say it. Pity and tenderness clung to his lips. Silently he gave the strange-shaped flagon to the boy. The boy went out quietly.
The sisters entered a thicket. The path's many turnings made them giddy. Suddenly the turrets of the old house vanished from sight. Everything around them assumed an unfamiliar look.
"We seem to have lost our way," said Elena cheerfully.
"Never fear, we'll find our way out," replied Elisaveta. "We are bound to get somewhere."
At that instant there came towards them from among the bushes the small, sunburnt, handsome Kirsha. His dark, closely grown eyebrows and black wavy hair, unspoiled by headgear, gave him the wild look of a wood-sprite.
"Dear boy, where do you come from?" asked Elisaveta.
Kirsha eyed the sisters with an attentive, direct, and innocent gaze. He said:
"I am Kirsha Trirodov. Follow this path, and you'll find yourselves where you want to go. I'll go ahead of you."
He turned and walked on. The sisters followed him upon the narrow path between the tall trees. Here and there flowers were visible—small, white, odorous flowers. They emitted a strange, pungent smell. It made the sisters feel both gay and languid. Kirsha walked silently before them.
At the end of the road loomed a mound, overgrown by tangled, ugly grass. At the foot of the mound was a rusty door which looked as if it were meant to hide some treasure.
Kirsha felt in his pocket, took out a key, and opened the door. It creaked unpleasantly and breathed out cold, dampness, and fear. A long dark passage became discernible. Kirsha pressed a spot near the door. The dark passage became lit up as though by electric light, but the lights themselves were not visible.
The sisters entered the grotto. The light poured from everywhere. But the sources of light remained a mystery. The walls themselves seemed to radiate. The light fell evenly, and neither bright reflections nor shadowy places were to be seen.
The sisters went on. Now they were alone. The door closed behind them with a grating sound. Kirsha ran on ahead. The sisters no longer saw him. The corridor was sinuous. It was difficult to walk fast for some unknown reason. A kind of weight seemed to fetter their limbs. The passage inclined slightly downwards. They walked on like this a long time. It grew hotter and damper the farther they advanced. There was an aroma—strange, sad, and exotic. The fragrance increased, became more and more languorous. It made the head dizzy and the heart ready to faint with a sweetness not free from pain.
It seemed an incredibly long way. Their legs now moved more slowly. The stone floor was cruelly hard.
"It's almost impossible to walk," whispered Elisaveta.
Those few moments seemed like ages in that dank, sultry underground. There seemed to be no end to the narrow winding passage; the two sisters felt as though they were doomed to walk on and on, for ever and ever, without reaching any place.
The light gradually grew dimmer, a thin mist rose before their eyes. Still they walked on along the cruel, endless way.
Suddenly their journey was done. Before them was an open door, a shaft of white, exultant light came pouring in—freedom's own ecstasy.
The door opened into an immense greenhouse. Strange, muscular, monstrously green plants grew here. The air was very humid, very oppressive. The glass walls intersected by iron bars let through much light. The light was painfully, pitilessly dazzling, so that everything appeared in a whirl before their eyes.
Elena glanced at her dress. It struck her as being grey, worn out. But the bright light diverted her glances elsewhere and made her forget herself. The blue-green glass sky of the greenhouse flung down sparks and heat. The cruel Dragon rejoiced at the earthly respirations confined in this prison of glass. He furiously kissed his beloved poisonous grasses.
"It is even more terrible here than in the passage," said Elisaveta. "Let's leave this place quickly."
"No, it is pleasant here," said Elena with a happy smile. She was enjoying the pink and purple flowers which bloomed in a round basin.
But Elisaveta walked rapidly towards the door leading to the garden. Elena overtook her, and grumbled:
"Why are you running? Here is a bench; let's rest here."
Trirodov met them in the garden just outside the greenhouse. His manner of addressing them was simple and direct.
"I believe," he began, "that you are interested in this house and its owner. Well, if you like I'll show you a part of my kingdom."
Elena blushed. Elisaveta calmly bowed and said:
"Yes, we are an inquisitive pair. This house once belonged to a relative, but it was left abandoned. It is said that many changes have been made."
"Yes, many changes have been made," said Trirodov quietly, "but the greater part remains as it was."
"Every one was astonished," continued Elisaveta, "when you decided to settle here. The reputation of the house did not hinder you."
Trirodov led the sisters through the house and the garden. The conversation ran on smoothly. The sisters' embarrassment was soon gone. They felt quite natural with Trirodov. His calm, friendly voice put them wholly at ease. They continued to walk and to observe. But they felt conscious that another life, intimate yet remote, hovered round them all the while. Sounds of music came to them at intervals; sometimes it was the doleful tones of a violin, sometimes the quiet plaint of a flute; again it was the reed-like voice of some unseen singer which sang a tender and restful song.
Upon one small lawn, in the shade of old trees, whose foliage protected them from the hot glare of the Dragon, making it pleasantly cool and pleasantly dark there, a number of small boys and girls, dressed in white, had formed a ring and were dancing. As the sisters approached them the children dispersed. They scampered off so quietly that they barely made a sound even when they brushed against the twigs; they vanished as though they had not been there.
The sisters listened to Trirodov as they walked, pausing often to admire the beauties of the garden—its trees, lawns, ponds, islands, its quietly murmuring fountains, its picturesque arbours, its profusely gay flower-beds. They felt a keen elation at having penetrated this mysterious house—they were as happy as schoolgirls at the thought of having infringed the commonly accepted rules of good society in coming here.
As they entered one room of the house Elena exclaimed:
"What a strange room!"
"A magic room," said Trirodov with a smile.
It was indeed a strange room—everything in it had an odd shape: the ceiling sloped, the floor was concave, the corners were round, upon the walls were incomprehensible pictures and unfamiliar hieroglyphics. In one corner was a dark, flat object in a carved frame of black wood.
"It's a mirror in which it is interesting to take a look at oneself," said Trirodov. "Only you have to stand in that triangle close to the wall, near the corner."
The sisters went there and glanced in the mirror: two old wrinkled faces were reflected in it. Elena cried out in fright. Elisaveta, growing pale, turned towards her sister and smiled.
"Don't be afraid," she said, "it's a trick of some sort."
Elena looked at her and cried out in horror:
"You have become quite old—grey-haired! How awful!"
She ran from the mirror, crying out in her fright:
"What is it? What is it?"
Elisaveta followed her. She did not understand what had happened; she was agitated, and tried to hide her confusion. Trirodov looked at them in a self-possessed manner. He opened a cupboard, inset in the wall.
"Be calm," he said to Elena. "I'll give you some water in a moment."
He gave her a glass containing a fluid as colourless as water. Elena quickly drank the sour-sweet water, and suddenly felt cheerful. Elisaveta also drank it. Elena threw herself towards the mirror.
"I'm young again," she exclaimed in a high voice.
Then she ran forward, embraced Elisaveta, and said cheerfully:
"And you too, Elisaveta, have grown young."
An impetuous joy seized both sisters. They caught each other by the hands and began to dance and to twirl round the room. Then they suddenly felt ashamed. They stopped, and did not know which way to look; they laughed in their confusion. Elisaveta said:
"What a stupid pair we are! You think us ridiculous, don't you?"
Trirodov smiled in a friendly fashion:
"That is the nature of this place," he observed. "Terror and joy live here together."
* * * * *
The sisters were shown many interesting things in the house—objects of art and of worship; things which told of distant lands and of hoary antiquity; engravings of a strange and disturbing character; variegated stones, turquoise, pearls; ugly, amorphous, and grotesque idols; representations of the god-child—there were many of these, but only one face profoundly stirred Elisaveta....
Elena enjoyed the objects that resembled toys. There were many things there that one could play with, and thus indulge in a jumble of magic reflections of time and space.
The sisters had seen so much that it seemed as if an age had passed, but actually they had spent only two hours here. It is impossible to measure time. One hour is an age, another is an instant; but humanity makes no distinction, levels the hours down to an average.
"What, only two hours!" exclaimed Elena. "How long we've spent here. It's time to go home for dinner."
"Do you mind being a little late?" asked Trirodov.
"How can we?" said Elena.
"The hour of dinner is strictly kept in our house."
"I'll have a cart ready for you."
The sisters thanked him. But they must start at once. They both suddenly felt sad and tired. They bade their host good-bye and left him. The boy in white went before them in the garden and showed them the way.
No sooner had they again entered the underground passage than they saw a soft couch, and a fatigue so poignant suddenly overcame them that they could not advance another step.
"Let's sit down," said Elena.
"Yes," replied Elisaveta, "I too am tired. How strange! What a weariness!"
The sisters sat down. Elisaveta said quietly:
"The light that falls upon us here from an unknown source is not a living light, and it is terrifying—but the stern face of the monster, burning yet not consuming itself, is even more terrifying."
"The lovely sun," said Elena.
"It will become extinguished," said Elisaveta, "extinguished—this unrighteous luminary, and in the depth of subterranean passages, freed from the scorching Dragon and from cold that kills, men will erect a new life full of wisdom."
"When the earth grows cold, men will die."
"The earth will not die," answered Elisaveta no less quietly.
The sisters fell into a sleep. They did not sleep long, and when both awakened quite suddenly, everything that had just happened seemed like a dream. They made haste.
"We must hurry home," said Elena in an anxious voice.
They ran quickly. The door of the underground passage was open. Just outside the door, in the road, stood a cart. Kirsha sat in it and held the reins. The sisters seated themselves. Elisaveta took the reins. Kirsha spoke a word now and then. They said little on the way, in odd, disjointed words.
Arrived at their destination, they got out of the cart. They were in a half-somnolent state. Kirsha was off before they realized that they had not thanked him. When they looked for him they could only see a cloud of dust and hear the clatter of hoofs and the rattle of wheels on the cobblestones.
The sisters had barely time to change for dinner. They entered the dining-room somewhat weary and distraught. They were awaited there by their father Rameyev, the two Matovs—the student Piotr Dmitrievitch and the schoolboy Misha, sons of Rameyev's lately deceased cousin to whom Trirodov's estate had previously belonged.
The sisters spoke little at the table, and they said nothing of their day's adventure. Yet before this they used to be frank and loved to chat, to tell the things that had happened to them.
Piotr Matov, a tall, spare, pale youth with sparkling eyes, who looked like a man about to enter a prophetic school, seemed worried and irritated. His nervousness reflected itself, in embarrassed smiles and awkward movements, in Misha. The latter was a well-nourished, rosy-cheeked lad, with a quick, merry eye, but betraying his intense impressionableness. His smiling mouth trembled slightly around the corners, apparently without cause.
The old Rameyev, who was more robust than tall, and had the tranquil manners of a well-trained, well-balanced individual, did not betray his impatience at his daughters' tardy appearance, but took his place at the partially extended table, which seemed small in the middle of the immense dining-room of dark, embellished oak. Miss Harrison, unembarrassed, began to ladle out the soup; she was a plump, calm, slightly grey-haired woman, the personification of a successful household.
Rameyev noticed that his daughters were tired. A vague alarm stirred within him. But he quickly extinguished this tiny spark of displeasure, smiled tenderly at his daughters, and said very quietly, as if cautiously hinting at something:
"You have walked a little too far, my dears."
There was a short but awkward silence; then, in order to soften the hidden significance of his words and to ease his daughters' embarrassment, he added:
"I see you don't ride horseback as much as you used to."
After this he turned to the eldest of the brothers:
"Well, Petya, have you brought any news from town?"
The sisters felt uneasy. They tried to take part in the conversation.
This was in those days when the red demon of murder was prowling in our native land, and his terrible deeds brought discord and hate into the bosom of peaceful families. The young people in this house, as elsewhere, often talked and wrangled about what had happened and what was yet to be. For all their wrangling, they could not reach any agreement. Friendship from childhood and good breeding mitigated to some extent this antagonism of ideas. But more than once their discussions ended in bitter words.
Piotr, in reply to Rameyev, began to tell about working-men's disturbances and projected strikes. Irritation was evident in his voice. He was one of those who was intensely troubled by problems of a religious-philosophical character. He thought that the mystical existence of human unities might be achieved only under the brilliant and alluring sway of Caesars and Popes. He imagined that he loved freedom—Christian freedom—yet all the turbulent movements of newly awakened life aroused only hate in his heart.
"There's terrible news," said Piotr; "a general strike is talked of. It is reported that all the factories will shut down to-morrow."
Misha burst into an unexpected laugh; it was loud, merry, and childlike; and there was almost rapture in his remark:
"But you ought to see the sort of face the Headmaster makes on all such occasions."
His voice was tender and sonorous, and it rang so softly and sweetly that he might have been telling about the blessed and the innocent, about the chaste play on the threshold of paradisian abodes. The words "strike" and "obstruction" came from his lips like the names of rare, sweet morsels. He grew cheerful and had a sudden desire to make things lively in schoolboy fashion. He began to sing loudly:
"Awake, rise up...."
But he became confused, stopped sadly, grew quiet, and blushed. The sisters laughed. Piotr had a surly look. Rameyev smiled benignly. Miss Harrison, pretending not to have noticed the discordant incident, calmly pressed the button of the electric bell attached on a cord to the hanging light to bring on the next course.
The dinner proceeded slowly in the usual order. The discussion grew hotter, and went helter-skelter from subject to subject. Such is said to be the Russian manner in argument. Perhaps it is the universal manner of people when discussing something that touches them deeply.
Piotr exclaimed hotly:
"Why is the autocracy of the proletariat better than the one already in force? And what wild, barbarous watchwords they have! 'Who is not with us, he is against us!' 'Who is master, let him get down from his place; it's our banquet.'"
"It's yet too early to speak of our banquet," said Elena in a restrained voice.
"Do you know where we are drifting?" continued Piotr. "There will be a reign of terror, and a shaking up such as Russia has not yet experienced. The point at issue is not that there is talking or doing here or there by certain gentry who imagine that they are making history. The real issue is in the clash of two classes, two interests, two cultures, two conceptions of the world, two moral systems. Who is it that wishes to seize the crown of lordship? It is the Kham, it is he who threatens to devour our culture."
[Footnote 3: This word, which is the Russian equivalent for Ham of the Bible, describes a man in a state of serfdom. Since the abolition of serfdom in Russia, it has come to define the plebeian; and is a sort of personification of the rabble. The satirist Stchedrin has defined Kham as "one who eats with a knife and takes milk with his after-dinner coffee." Merezhkovsky has written a book on Gorky under the title of "The Future Kham."—Translator.]
Elisaveta said reproachfully:
"What a word—Kham!"
Piotr smiled in a nervous and aggrieved manner, and asked:
"You don't like it?"
"I don't like it," said Elisaveta calmly.
With her habitual subjection to the thoughts and moods of her elder sister, Elena said:
"It is a rude word. I feel a reminiscence of a once helpless serfdom in it."
"Nevertheless this word is now sufficiently literary," said Piotr, with a vague smile. "And why shouldn't one use it? It's not the word that matters. We have seen countless instances with our own eyes of the progress of the spiritual bossiak who is savagely indifferent to everything, who is hopelessly wild, malicious, and drunken for generations to come. He will crush everything—science, art, everything! A good characteristic specimen of a kham is your Stchemilov, with whom, Elisaveta, you sympathize so strongly. He's a familiar young fellow, a handsome flunkey."
[Footnote 4: Bossiak literally means "a barefooted one," but may be more freely translated a "tramp." This type has come very much into vogue since Gorky has put him into his stories.—Translator.]
Piotr fixed his eyes on Elisaveta. She replied calmly:
"I think you very unjust to him. He is a good man."
Every one was glad when dinner was ended. It was a provoking conversation. Even the imperturbable Miss Harrison rose from her place rather sooner than usual. Rameyev went to his own room to get his hour's nap. The young people went into the garden. Misha and Elena ran downhill to the river. They had a keen desire to run one after the other and to laugh.
"Elisaveta!" called out Piotr.
His voice trembled nervously. Elisaveta paused. She now stood within the deep shadow of an old linden. She looked questioningly at Piotr, her graceful bare arms folded on her breast; suddenly her heart beat faster. What a power of bewitchment was in those most lovable arms—oh, why did not some sudden impulse of passion throw them upon his shoulders!
"May I speak a few words to you, Elisaveta?" asked Piotr.
Elisaveta flushed a little, lowered her head, and said quietly:
"Let's sit down somewhere."
She walked along the path towards the small summer-house which looked down the slope. Piotr followed her silently. In silence also they ascended the steep passage. Elisaveta seated herself and rested her arms upon the low rail of the open summer-house. The undulating distances lay before her in one broad panoramic sweep—a view intimate from childhood, and which never failed to awaken the same delightful emotion. She was looking no longer at the separate objects—Nature poured herself out like music before her, in an inexhaustible play of colour and of soothing sound. Piotr stood before her and looked at her handsome face. The setting Dragon caressed Elisaveta's face with its warm light; the skin thus suffused exulted in its radiance and bloom.
They were silent. Both felt a painful awkwardness. Piotr was nervously breaking twigs from a birch near by. Elisaveta began:
"What is it you wish to tell me?"
A cold remoteness, almost enmity, sounded in her deeply agitated voice. She felt her own harshness, to soften which she smiled gently and timidly.
"What's there to say," began Piotr quietly and irresolutely, "but one and the same thing. Elisaveta, I love you!"
Elisaveta flushed. Her eyes gave a. sudden flare, then grew dull. She rose from her seat and spoke in an agitated manner:
"Piotr, why do you again torment yourself and me needlessly? We have been so intimate from childhood—yet it seems that we must part! Our ways are different, we think differently, and believe differently."
Piotr listened to her with an expression of intense impatience and vexation. Elisaveta wished to continue, but he interrupted:
"Ah, but what's the good of saying that? Elisaveta, do, I beg you, forget our differences. They are so petty! Or let us admit that they are significant. What I wish to say is that politics and all that separates us is only a light scum, a momentary froth on the broad surface of our life. In love there is revelation, there is eternal truth. He who does not love, he who does not strive towards union with a beloved, he is dead."
"I love the people, I love freedom," said Elisaveta quietly. "My love is revolt."
Piotr, ignoring her words, went on:
"You know that I love you. I have loved you a long time. My whole soul is absorbed as with light with my love for you. I am jealous—and I'm not ashamed to tell you I am jealous of your favour to any one; I am even jealous of this bloused workman, whose accomplice you would be if he had had the sufficient boldness and the brain to be a conspirator; I am jealous of the half-truths which have captivated you and screen your love of me."
Again Elisaveta spoke quietly:
"You reproach me for what is dear to me, for my better part, you wish that I should become different. You do not love me, you are tempted by the beautiful Beast—my young body with its smiles and its caresses...."
And again ignoring what she said, Piotr asserted passionately:
"Elisaveta, dearest, love me! You surely do not love any one else! Isn't that so? You do not love any one? You have had no time to fall in love, to fetter your soul to any one else's. You are as free as man's first bride, you are as superb as his last wife. You have grown ripe for love—for my love—you too are thirsty for kisses and embraces, even as I. O Elisaveta, love me, love me!"
"How can I?" said Elisaveta.
"Elisaveta, if you'd only will it!" exclaimed Piotr. "One must wish to love. If you only understood how I love you, you would love me also. My love should fire in you a responsive love."
"My friend, you do not love anything that is mine," answered Elisaveta. "You do not love me. I don't believe you—forgive me—I don't understand your love."
Piotr frowned gloomily and said gruffly:
"You have been fascinated by that false, empty word freedom. You have never thought over its true meaning."
"I've had little time to think over anything," observed Elisaveta calmly, "but the feeling of freedom is the thing nearest to me. I cannot express it in words—I only know that we are fettered on this earth by iron bonds of necessity and of circumstance, but the nature of my soul is freedom; its fire is consuming the chains of my material dependence. I know that we human beings will always be frail, poor, lonely; but a time will surely come when we shall pass through the purifying flame of a great conflagration; then a new earth and a new heaven shall open up to us; through union we shall attain our final freedom. I know I am saying all this badly, incoherently—I cannot say clearly what I feel—but let us, please, say no more."
Elisaveta strode out of the summer-house. Piotr slowly followed her. His face was sad and his eyes shone feverishly, but he could not utter a word—inertia gripped his mind. Quite suddenly he roused himself, raised his head, smiled, overtook Elisaveta.
"You love me, Elisaveta," he said with joyous assurance. "You love me, though you won't admit it. You are not speaking the truth when you say that you don't understand my love. You do know my love, you do believe in it—tell me, is it possible to love so strongly and not be loved in return?"
Elisaveta stopped. Her eyes lit up with a strange joy.
"I tell you once more," she said with calm resolution, "it is not me you love—you love the First Bride. I am going where I must."
Piotr stood there and looked after her—helpless, pale, dejected. Between the bushes a sun-yellow dress fluttered against the now dull sky of a setting sun.
Piotr and Elisaveta descended towards the boat landing. Two rowing-boats seemed to rock on the water, though there was no breeze and the water was smooth like a mirror. A little farther, behind the bushes, the canvas roof of the bath-house stood revealed. Elena, Misha, and Miss Harrison were already there. They were sitting on a bench halfway down the slope, where the path to the landing was broken. The view from here, showing the bend of the river, was very restful. The water was growing darker, heavier, gradually assuming a leadlike dullness.
Misha and Elena, flushed with running, could not suppress their smiles. The Englishwoman looked calmly at the river, and nothing shocked her in the evening landscape and in the peaceful water. But now two persons came who brought with them their poignant unrest, their uneasiness, their confusion—and again an endless wrangle began.
They left this bench, from which one could look into such a great distance and see nothing but calm and peace everywhere. They descended below to the very bank. Even at this close range the water was still and smooth, and the agitated words of the restless people did not cause the broad sheet to stir. Misha picked up thin, flat stones and threw them underhand into the distance so that, touching the water, they skipped repeatedly on the surface. He did this habitually whenever the wrangling distressed him. His hands trembled, the little stones ricochetted badly sometimes; this annoyed him, but he tried to hide his annoyance and to look cheerful.
"Misha, let's see who can throw the better. Let's try for pennies."
They began to play. Misha was losing.
At the turn of the river, from the direction of the town, a rowing-boat appeared. Piotr looked searchingly into the distance, and said in a vexed voice:
"Mr. Stchemilov, our intelligent workman, the Social Democrat of the Russia Party, is again about to honour us."
Elisaveta smiled. She asked with gentle reproof:
"Why do you dislike him so?"
"No, you tell me," exclaimed Piotr, "why this party calls itself the Russia Party, and not the Russian Party? Why this high tone?"
Elisaveta answered with her usual calm:
"It is called the Russia and not the Russian Party because it includes not only the Russian, but also the Lithuanian, the Armenian, the Jew, and men of other races who happen to be citizens of Russia. It seems to me this is quite comprehensible."
"No, I do not understand," said Piotr obstinately. "I see in it only unnecessary pretence."
In the meantime the boat drew nearer. Two men were sitting in it. Aleksei Makarovitch Stchemilov, a young working man, a locksmith by trade, sat at the oars. He was thin and of medium height; there was a suggestion of irony in the shape of his lips. Elisaveta had known Stchemilov since the past autumn, when she became acquainted with other labouring men and party workmen.
The boat touched the landing, and Stchemilov sprang out gracefully. Piotr remarked derisively as he bowed with exaggerated politeness:
"My homage to the proletariat of all lands."
Stchemilov answered quietly:
"My most humble respects to the gentleman student."
He exchanged greetings with all; then, turning with special deference towards Elisaveta, said:
"I've rowed back your property. It was almost taken from me. Our suburbanites have their own conceptions of the divine rights of ownership."
Piotr boiled over with vexation—the very sight of this young blouse-wearer irritated him beyond bounds; he thought Stchemilov's manners and speech arrogant. Piotr said sharply:
"As far as I understand your notion of things, it is not rights that are holy, but brute force."
Stchemilov whistled and said:
"That is the origin of all ownership. You simply took a thing—and that's all there was to it. 'Blessed are the strong' is a little adage among those who have conquered violently."
"And how did you get hold of this?" asked Piotr with derision.
"Crumbs of wisdom fall from the tables of the rich even to us," answered Stchemilov in a no less contemptuous tone; "we nourish ourselves on these small trifles."
The other young man, clearly a workman also, remained in the boat. He looked rather timid, lean, and taciturn, and had gleaming eyes.
He sat holding on to the ropes of the rudder, and was looking cautiously towards the bank. Stchemilov looked at him with amused tenderness and called to him:
"Come here, Kiril, don't be afraid; there are kindly people here—quite disposed to us, in fact."
Piotr grumbled angrily under his breath. Misha smiled. He was eager to see the new-comer, though he hated violent discussions. Kiril got out of the boat awkwardly, and no less awkwardly stood up on the sand, his face averted; he smiled to hide his uneasiness. Piotr's irritation grew.
"Please be seated," he said, trying to assume a pleasant tone.
"I've done a lot of sitting," answered Kiril in an artificial bass voice.
He continued to smile, but sat down on the edge of the bench, so that he nearly fell over; his arms shot up into the air, and one of his hands brushed against Elisaveta. He felt vexed with himself, and he flushed. As he moved away from the edge he remarked:
"I've sat two months in administrative order."
[Footnote 5: This phrase signifies punishment inflicted by the authorities without a trial.]
Every one understood these strange words. Piotr asked:
Kiril seemed embarrassed. He answered with a morose uneasiness:
"It's all a very simple affair with us—you do the slightest thing, and they try at once the most murderous measures."
At this moment Stchemilov said very quietly to Elisaveta:
"Not a bad chap. He wants to become acquainted with you, comrade."
Elisaveta silently inclined her head, smiled amiably at Kiril, and pressed his hand. His face brightened.
Rameyev came up to them. He greeted his visitors pleasantly but coldly, giving an impression of studied correctness. The conversation continued somewhat awkwardly. Elisaveta's blue eyes looked gently and pensively at the irritated Piotr and at his deliberately inimical adversary Stchemilov.
"Mr. Stchemilov, would you care to explain to me this talk of an autocracy by the proletariat? You admit the need of an autocracy, but only wish to shift it to another centre? In what way is this an improvement?"
Stchemilov answered quite simply:
"You masters and possessors do not wish to give us anything—neither a fraction of an ounce of power nor of possessions; what's left for us to do?"
"What's your immediate object?" put in Rameyev.
"Immediate or ultimate—what's that!" answered Stchemilov. "We have only one object: the public ownership of the machinery of production."
"What of the land?" cried out Piotr rather shrilly.
"Yes, the land too we consider as machinery of production," answered Stchemilov.
"You imagine that there is an infinite amount of land in Russia?" asked Piotr with bitter irony.
"Not an infinite amount, but certainly enough to go round—and plenty for every one," was Stchemilov's calm reply.
"Ten—or, say, a hundred—acres per soul? Is that what you mean?" continued Piotr in loud derision. "You've got that idea into the heads of the muzhiks, and now they're in revolt."
Stchemilov again whistled, and said with contemptuous calm:
"Fiddlesticks! The muzhik is not as stupid as all that. And in any case, let me ask you what hindered the opposing side from hammering the right ideas into the muzhik's mind?"
Piotr got up angrily and strode away without saying another word. Rameyev looked quietly after him and said to Stchemilov:
"Piotr loves culture, or, more properly speaking, civilization, too well to appreciate freedom. You insist too strongly on your class interests, and therefore freedom is no such great lure to you. But we Russian constitutionalists are carrying on the struggle for freedom almost alone."
Stchemilov listened to him and made an effort to suppress an ironic smile.
"It's true," he said, "we won't join hands with you. You wish to fly about in the free air; while we are still ravenously hungry and want to eat."
Rameyev said after a brief silence:
"I am appalled at this savagery. Murders every day, every day."
"What's there to do?" asked Stchemilov, persisting in his ironic tone. "I suppose you'd like to have freedom for domestic use, the sort you could fold up and put in your pocket."
Rameyev, making no effort to disguise his desire of closing the conversation, rose, smiling, and stretched out his hand to Stchemilov.
"I must go now."
Misha was about to follow him, but changed his mind and ran towards the river. He found his fishing-rod near the bath-house and entered the water up to his knees. He had long ago accustomed himself to go to the river when agitated by sadness or joy or when he had to think about something very seriously. He was a shy and self-sufficient boy and loved to be alone with his thoughts and his dreams. The coolness of the water running fast about his legs comforted him and banished evil moods. As he stood here, with his naked legs in the water, he became gentle and calm.
Elena soon came there also. She stood silently on the bank and looked at the water. For some reason she felt sad and wanted to cry.
The water glided past her tranquilly, almost noiselessly. Its surface was smooth—and thus it ran on.
Elisaveta looked at Stchemilov with mild displeasure.
"Why are you so sharp, Aleksei?" she asked.
"You don't like it, comrade?" he asked in return.
"No, I don't like it," said Elisaveta in simple, unmistakable tones.
Stchemilov did not reply at once. He grew thoughtful, then said:
"The abyss that separates us from your cousin is too broad. And even between us and your father. It is hard to come together with them. Their chief concern, as you very well know, is to construct a pyramid out of people; ours to scatter this pyramid in an even stratum over the earth. That's how it is, Elizaveta."
Elisaveta showed her annoyance and corrected him:
"Elisaveta. How many times have I told you?"
"A lordly caprice, comrade Elisaveta. Well, as you like, though it is a trifle hard to pronounce. Now we would say Lizaveta."
Kiril complained of his failures, of the police, of the detectives, of the patriots. His complaints were pitiful and depressing. He had been arrested and had lost his job. It was easy to see that he had suffered. The gleam of hunger trembled in his eyes.
"The police treated me most horribly," complained Kiril, "and then there's my family...."
After an awkward silence he continued:
"Not a single thing escapes them at our factory, you get humiliated at every step. They actually search you."
Again he lapsed into silence. Again he complained:
"They force their way into your soul. You can't hold private conversations.... They stop at nothing."
He told of hunger, he told of a sick old woman. All this was very touching, but it had lost its freshness by constant repetition—the pity of it had become, as it were, stamped out. Kiril, indeed, was a common type, whose state of mind made him valuable as material to be used up at an opportune moment in the interests of a political cause.
Stchemilov was saying:
"The Black Hundred are organizing. Zherbenev is very busy at this—he's one of your genuine Russians."
"Kerbakh is with him—another patriot for you," observed Kiril.
"The most dangerous man in our town, this Zherbenev. Vermin of the most foul kind," said Stchemilov contemptuously.
"I am going to kill him," said Kiril hotly.
To this Elisaveta said:
"In order to kill a man you need to believe that one man is essentially better or worse than another, that he is distinct from the other not accidentally or socially, but in the mystic sense. That is to say, murder only confirms inequality."
"By the way, Elisaveta," remarked Stchemilov, "we have come to talk business with you."
"Tell me what it is," answered Elisaveta calmly.
"We are expecting some comrades from Rouban within the next few days. They are coming to talk things over," said Stchemilov; "but of course you know all that."
"Yes, I know," said Elisaveta.
"We want to use the occasion," went on Stchemilov, "to organize a mass meeting not far from here for our town factory folk. So here, at last, is your chance to appear as an orator."
"How can I be of any use?" asked Elisaveta.
"You have the gift of expression, Elisaveta," said Stchemilov. "You have a good voice, an easy flow of language, and you have a way of putting the case simply and clearly. It would be a sin for you not to speak."
"We will bring down the Cadets a peg or two," said Kiril in his bass voice.
[Footnote 6: The name by which the members of the Constitutional Democratic Party are known. It is a development of the initials "C. D."]
"You'll forgive Kiril, comrade Elisaveta," said Stchemilov. "I don't think he knows that your father is a Cadet. Besides, he's a rather simple, frank fellow."
Kiril grew red.
"I know so little," said Elisaveta timidly. "What shall I talk about, and how?"
"You know enough," said the other confidently; "more than myself and Kiril put together. You do things remarkably well. Everything you say is so clear and accurate."
"What shall I talk about?"
"You can draw a picture of the general condition of working men," answered Stchemilov, "and how capital is forging a hammer against itself and compelling labour to organize."
Elisaveta grew red and silently inclined her head.
"Then it's all settled, comrade?" asked Stchemilov.
Elisaveta burst into a laugh.
"Yes, settled," she exclaimed cheerfully.
It was good to hear this gravely and simply pronounced word "comrade."
The sweet, quiet night came, and brought her enchantments. The weary din of day lost itself in oblivion. The clear, tranquil, anaemic moon encircled herself with her own radiance, basked in her own light. She looked at the earth and did not dissipate the mist—it was as if she had taken to herself all the brightness and translucence of the sun's last afterglow. A calm poured itself out upon the earth and upon the water, and embraced every tree, every bush, every blade of grass.
A soothing mood took possession of Elisaveta. It struck her as strange that they should have quarrelled and stood facing one another like enemies. Why shouldn't she love him? Why not give herself up to him, submit to the will of another, make it her will? Why all this noisy discussion, these fine, yet remote words about a struggle, about ideals?
Every one in the house, she thought, was tired—was it with the heat? With wrangling? With a secret sorrow inducing sleep, soothingness? The sisters went to their rooms somewhat earlier than usual. Fatigue and a languorous sadness oppressed them. The sisters' bedrooms were next to each other, one entering the other by a wide, always open door. They could hear one another. The even breathing of her sleeping sister gave a poignant reality to the terrible world of night and slumber.
Elisaveta and Elena did not converse long that night. They parted early. Elisaveta undressed herself, lit a candle, and began to admire herself in the cold, dead, indifferent mirror. Pearl-like were the moon's reflections on the lines of her graceful body. Palpitating were her white girlish breasts, crowned by two rubies. The living, passionate form stood flaming and throbbing, strangely white in the tranquil rays of the moon. The gradual curves of the body and legs were precise and delicate. The skin stretched across the knees hinted at the elastic energy that it covered. And equally elastic and energetic were the curves of the calves and the feet.
Elisaveta's body flamed all over, as though a fire had penetrated the whole sweet, sensitive flesh; and oh, how she wished to press, to cling, to embrace! If he would only come! Only by day he spoke to her his dead-sounding words of love, kindled by the kisses of the accursed Dragon. Oh, if he would only come by night to the secretly flaming great Fire of the blossoming Flesh!
Did he love her? Was his a final and a single-souled love conquering by the eternal spirit of the divine Aphrodite? Where love is there daring should be also. Is love, then, gentle, meek, obedient? Is it not a flame, decreed to take what is its own without waiting?
Her eager, impatient fancies seethed. If he only had come he would have been a young god. But he was only a human being who bowed down before his idol; he was a small slave of a small demon. He did not come, he had not dared, he had not guessed: a dark grief came over Elisaveta from the secret seething of her passion.
As she looked at her wonderful image in the mirror, Elisaveta thought:
"Perhaps he is praying. The weak and the haughty—why do they pray? They should be taught to be joyous, to remake their religion and be the first in the new sect."
Elisaveta could not sleep. Desire tormented her; she did not know what she wanted—was it to go?—to wait? She walked out on the balcony. The nocturnal coolness caressed her naked body. She stood there long; the contact of her naked feet with the warm, moist boards was pleasant. She looked into the pale light of the mist-wrapt garden dreaming there under the moon. She recalled at this moment the details of the day's walk, and all that they had seen in Trirodov's house; she recalled it all so clearly, with almost the vividness of a hallucination. Then a drowsiness crept up, seized her. And Elisaveta could not recall later how she found herself in her bed. It was almost as if an invisible being had carried her, tucked her in, and rocked her to sleep.
It was a restless, tormenting sleep. She saw horrible visions, nightmares. They were remarkably clear and real.
She was in a very dusty room. The air in it was stifling, it oppressed her breast. The walls were covered with bookcases filled with books. The tables were also covered with books—all new, slender, with bright covers. The title-pages were for some reason ponderous, terrible to look at. A tall, gaunt, long-haired student entered; his hair was very straight, his face morose and grey, he wore spectacles. He whispered:
And he placed on the table a bundle of books and pamphlets. Some one behind Elisaveta stretched out a hand, took the books, and thrust them under the table. Then came a woman student, strangely resembling the man student yet quite different; she was short, thick, red-cheeked, short-haired, cheerful, and wore pince-nez. She also brought a bundle of books, and said quietly:
Elisaveta hid the books in the bookcase and was afraid of something.
Then came more students, working men, young women, schoolboys, military men, officials, and clerks; each, placing a packet of books on the table, whispered:
Each one slipped away. And Elisaveta went to work to hide the books. She put them in the table drawer, in the cupboard, under the sofas, behind the doors, and in the fireplace. But the pile of books on the table grew and grew; more and more persistent became the whisper:
There was no hiding-place left, and yet the books were still being brought in—there was no end to them. Everywhere books—they were pressing on her breast....
Elisaveta awakened. Some one's face was bending over her. The bedcover slipped from her handsome body. Elena was whispering something. Elisaveta asked her in a drowsy voice:
"Did I wake you?"
"You cried out so," said Elena.
"I've had such a stupid dream," whispered Elisaveta.
She went to sleep again, and again the same hoard of books. There were so many books that even the window-sills were piled up with them, and a dim and dusty gleam of light barely penetrated. An ominous silence tormented her. Behind the counter at her side stood a student and two boys, strangely erect; they were pale, and seemed to wait for something. All at once the door opened noiselessly. Many men entered, making a loud noise with their boots—first a police official, then another, then a detective in gold-rimmed spectacles, a house-porter, another house-porter, a muzhik, a policeman, another muzhik, another house-porter. More and more came; they filled the room, and still they came—huge, moody, silent fellows. Elisaveta felt it stifling; she awoke.