THE JEW AND OTHER STORIES
BY IVAN TURGENEV
Translated from the Russian By CONSTANCE GARNETT
TO THE MEMORY OF STEPNIAK WHOSE LOVE OF TURGENEV SUGGESTED THIS TRANSLATION
In studying the Russian novel it is amusing to note the childish attitude of certain English men of letters to the novel in general, their depreciation of its influence and of the public's 'inordinate' love of fiction. Many men of letters to-day look on the novel as a mere story-book, as a series of light-coloured, amusing pictures for their 'idle hours,' and on memoirs, biographies, histories, criticism, and poetry as the age's serious contribution to literature. Whereas the reverse is the case. The most serious and significant of all literary forms the modern world has evolved is the novel; and brought to its highest development, the novel shares with poetry to-day the honour of being the supreme instrument of the great artist's literary skill.
To survey the field of the novel as a mere pleasure-garden marked out for the crowd's diversion—a field of recreation adorned here and there by the masterpieces of a few great men—argues in the modern critic either an academical attitude to literature and life, or a one-eyed obtuseness, or merely the usual insensitive taste. The drama in all but two countries has been willy-nilly abandoned by artists as a coarse playground for the great public's romps and frolics, but the novel can be preserved exactly so long as the critics understand that to exercise a delicate art is the one serious duty of the artistic life. It is no more an argument against the vital significance of the novel that tens of thousands of people—that everybody, in fact—should to-day essay that form of art, than it is an argument against poetry that for all the centuries droves and flocks of versifiers and scribblers and rhymesters have succeeded in making the name of poet a little foolish in worldly eyes. The true function of poetry! That can only be vindicated in common opinion by the severity and enthusiasm of critics in stripping bare the false, and in hailing as the true all that is animated by the living breath of beauty. The true function of the novel! That can only be supported by those who understand that the adequate representation and criticism of human life would be impossible for modern men were the novel to go the way of the drama, and be abandoned to the mass of vulgar standards. That the novel is the most insidious means of mirroring human society Cervantes in his great classic revealed to seventeenth-century Europe. Richardson and Fielding and Sterne in their turn, as great realists and impressionists, proved to the eighteenth century that the novel is as flexible as life itself. And from their days to the days of Henry James the form of the novel has been adapted by European genius to the exact needs, outlook, and attitude to life of each successive generation. To the French, especially to Flaubert and Maupassant, must be given the credit of so perfecting the novel's technique that it has become the great means of cosmopolitan culture. It was, however, reserved for the youngest of European literatures, for the Russian school, to raise the novel to being the absolute and triumphant expression by the national genius of the national soul.
Turgenev's place in modern European literature is best defined by saying that while he stands as a great classic in the ranks of the great novelists, along with Richardson, Fielding, Scott, Balzac, Dickens, Thackeray, Meredith, Tolstoi, Flaubert, Maupassant, he is the greatest of them all, in the sense that he is the supreme artist. As has been recognised by the best French critics, Turgenev's art is both wider in its range and more beautiful in its form than the work of any modern European artist. The novel modelled by Turgenev's hands, the Russian novel, became the great modern instrument for showing 'the very age and body of the time his form and pressure.' To reproduce human life in all its subtlety as it moves and breathes before us, and at the same time to assess its values by the great poetic insight that reveals man's relations to the universe around him,—that is an art only transcended by Shakespeare's own in its unique creation of a universe of great human types. And, comparing Turgenev with the European masters, we see that if he has made the novel both more delicate and more powerful than their example shows it, it is because as the supreme artist he filled it with the breath of poetry where others in general spoke the word of prose. Turgenev's horizon always broadens before our eyes: where Fielding and Richardson speak for the country and the town, Turgenev speaks for the nation. While Balzac makes defile before us an endless stream of human figures, Turgenev's characters reveal themselves as wider apart in the range of their spirit, as more mysteriously alive in their inevitable essence, than do Meredith's or Flaubert's, than do Thackeray's or Maupassant's. Where Tolstoi uses an immense canvas in War and Peace, wherein Europe may see the march of a whole generation, Turgenev in Fathers and Children concentrates in the few words of a single character, Bazarov, the essence of modern science's attitude to life, that scientific spirit which has transformed both European life and thought. It is, however, superfluous to draw further parallels between Turgenev and his great rivals. In England alone, perhaps, is it necessary to say to the young novelist that the novel can become anything, can be anything, according to the hands that use it. In its application to life, its future development can by no means be gauged. It is the most complex of all literary instruments, the chief method to-day of analysing the complexities of modern life. If you love your art, if you would exalt it, treat it absolutely seriously. If you would study it in its highest form, the form the greatest artist of our time has perfected—remember Turgenev.
AN UNHAPPY GIRL
...'Tell us a story, colonel,' we said at last to Nikolai Ilyitch.
The colonel smiled, puffed out a coil of tobacco smoke between his moustaches, passed his hand over his grey hair, looked at us and considered. We all had the greatest liking and respect for Nikolai Ilyitch, for his good-heartedness, common sense, and kindly indulgence to us young fellows. He was a tall, broad-shouldered, stoutly-built man; his dark face, 'one of the splendid Russian faces,' [Footnote: Lermontov in the Treasurer's Wife.—AUTHOR'S NOTE.] straight-forward, clever glance, gentle smile, manly and mellow voice—everything about him pleased and attracted one.
'All right, listen then,' he began.
It happened in 1813, before Dantzig. I was then in the E—— regiment of cuirassiers, and had just, I recollect, been promoted to be a cornet. It is an exhilarating occupation—fighting; and marching too is good enough in its way, but it is fearfully slow in a besieging army. There one sits the whole blessed day within some sort of entrenchment, under a tent, on mud or straw, playing cards from morning till night. Perhaps, from simple boredom, one goes out to watch the bombs and redhot bullets flying.
At first the French kept us amused with sorties, but they quickly subsided. We soon got sick of foraging expeditions too; we were overcome, in fact, by such deadly dulness that we were ready to howl for sheer ennui. I was not more than nineteen then; I was a healthy young fellow, fresh as a daisy, thought of nothing but getting all the fun I could out of the French... and in other ways too... you understand what I mean... and this is what happened. Having nothing to do, I fell to gambling. All of a sudden, after dreadful losses, my luck turned, and towards morning (we used to play at night) I had won an immense amount. Exhausted and sleepy, I came out into the fresh air, and sat down on a mound. It was a splendid, calm morning; the long lines of our fortifications were lost in the mist; I gazed till I was weary, and then began to doze where I was sitting.
A discreet cough waked me: I opened my eyes, and saw standing before me a Jew, a man of forty, wearing a long-skirted grey wrapper, slippers, and a black smoking-cap. This Jew, whose name was Girshel, was continually hanging about our camp, offering his services as an agent, getting us wine, provisions, and other such trifles. He was a thinnish, red-haired, little man, marked with smallpox; he blinked incessantly with his diminutive little eyes, which were reddish too; he had a long crooked nose, and was always coughing.
He began fidgeting about me, bowing obsequiously.
'Well, what do you want?' I asked him at last.
'Oh, I only—I've only come, sir, to know if I can't be of use to your honour in some way...'
'I don't want you; you can go.'
'At your honour's service, as you desire.... I thought there might be, sir, something....'
'You bother me; go along, I tell you.'
'Certainly, sir, certainly. But your honour must permit me to congratulate you on your success....'
'Why, how did you know?'
'Oh, I know, to be sure I do.... An immense sum... immense....Oh! how immense....'
Girshel spread out his fingers and wagged his head.
'But what's the use of talking,' I said peevishly; 'what the devil's the good of money here?'
'Oh! don't say that, your honour; ay, ay, don't say so. Money's a capital thing; always of use; you can get anything for money, your honour; anything! anything! Only say the word to the agent, he'll get you anything, your honour, anything! anything!'
'Don't tell lies, Jew.'
'Ay! ay!' repeated Girshel, shaking his side-locks. 'Your honour doesn't believe me.... Ay... ay....' The Jew closed his eyes and slowly wagged his head to right and to left.... 'Oh, I know what his honour the officer would like.... I know,... to be sure I do!'
The Jew assumed an exceedingly knowing leer.
The Jew glanced round timorously, then bent over to me.
'Such a lovely creature, your honour, lovely!...' Girshel again closed his eyes and shot out his lips.
'Your honour, you've only to say the word... you shall see for yourself... whatever I say now, you'll hear... but you won't believe... better tell me to show you... that's the thing, that's the thing!'
I did not speak; I gazed at the Jew.
'Well, all right then; well then, very good; so I'll show you then....'
Thereupon Girshel laughed and slapped me lightly on the shoulder, but skipped back at once as though he had been scalded.
'But, your honour, how about a trifle in advance?'
'But you 're taking me in, and will show me some scarecrow?'
'Ay, ay, what a thing to say!' the Jew pronounced with unusual warmth, waving his hands about. 'How can you! Why... if so, your honour, you order me to be given five hundred... four hundred and fifty lashes,' he added hurriedly....' You give orders—'
At that moment one of my comrades lifted the edge of his tent and called me by name. I got up hurriedly and flung the Jew a gold coin.
'This evening, this evening,' he muttered after me.
I must confess, my friends, I looked forward to the evening with some impatience. That very day the French made a sortie; our regiment marched to the attack. The evening came on; we sat round the fires... the soldiers cooked porridge. My comrades talked. I lay on my cloak, drank tea, and listened to my comrades' stories. They suggested a game of cards—I refused to take part in it. I felt excited. Gradually the officers dispersed to their tents; the fires began to die down; the soldiers too dispersed, or went to sleep on the spot; everything was still. I did not get up. My orderly squatted on his heels before the fire, and was beginning to nod. I sent him away. Soon the whole camp was hushed. The sentries were relieved. I still lay there, as it were waiting for something. The stars peeped out. The night came on. A long while I watched the dying flame.... The last fire went out. 'The damned Jew was taking me in,' I thought angrily, and was just going to get up.
'Your honour,'... a trembling voice whispered close to my ear.
I looked round: Girshel. He was very pale, he stammered, and whispered something.
'Let's go to your tent, sir.' I got up and followed him. The Jew shrank into himself, and stepped warily over the short, damp grass. I observed on one side a motionless, muffled-up figure. The Jew beckoned to her—she went up to him. He whispered to her, turned to me, nodded his head several times, and we all three went into the tent. Ridiculous to relate, I was breathless.
'You see, your honour,' the Jew whispered with an effort, 'you see. She's a little frightened at the moment, she's frightened; but I've told her his honour the officer's a good man, a splendid man.... Don't be frightened, don't be frightened,' he went on—'don't be frightened....'
The muffled-up figure did not stir. I was myself in a state of dreadful confusion, and didn't know what to say. Girshel too was fidgeting restlessly, and gesticulating in a strange way....
'Any way,' I said to him, 'you get out....' Unwillingly, as it seemed, Girshel obeyed.
I went up to the muffled-up figure, and gently took the dark hood off her head. There was a conflagration in Dantzig: by the faint, reddish, flickering glow of the distant fire I saw the pale face of a young Jewess. Her beauty astounded me. I stood facing her, and gazed at her in silence. She did not raise her eyes. A slight rustle made me look round. Girshel was cautiously poking his head in under the edge of the tent. I waved my hand at him angrily,... he vanished.
'What's your name?' I said at last.
'Sara,' she answered, and for one instant I caught in the darkness the gleam of the whites of her large, long-shaped eyes and little, even, flashing teeth.
I snatched up two leather cushions, flung them on the ground, and asked her to sit down. She slipped off her shawl, and sat down. She was wearing a short Cossack jacket, open in front, with round, chased silver buttons, and full sleeves. Her thick black hair was coiled twice round her little head. I sat down beside her and took her dark, slender hand. She resisted a little, but seemed afraid to look at me, and there was a catch in her breath. I admired her Oriental profile, and timidly pressed her cold, shaking fingers.
'Do you know Russian?'
'Yes... a little.'
'And do you like Russians?'
'Yes, I like them.'
'Then, you like me too?'
'Yes, I like you.'
I tried to put my arm round her, but she moved away quickly....
'No, no, please, sir, please...'
'Oh, all right; look at me, any way.'
She let her black, piercing eyes rest upon me, and at once turned away with a smile, and blushed.
I kissed her hand ardently. She peeped at me from under her eyelids and softly laughed.
'What is it?'
She hid her face in her sleeve and laughed more than before.
Girshel showed himself at the entrance of the tent and shook his finger at her. She ceased laughing.
'Go away!' I whispered to him through my teeth; 'you make me sick!'
Girshel did not go away.
I took a handful of gold pieces out of my trunk, stuffed them in his hand and pushed him out.
'Your honour, me too....' she said.
I dropped several gold coins on her lap; she pounced on them like a cat.
'Well, now I must have a kiss.'
'No, please, please,' she faltered in a frightened and beseeching voice.
'What are you frightened of?'
She looked timidly at me, put her head a little on one side and clasped her hands. I let her alone.
'If you like... here,' she said after a brief silence, and she raised her hand to my lips. With no great eagerness, I kissed it. Sara laughed again.
My blood was boiling. I was annoyed with myself and did not know what to do. Really, I thought at last, what a fool I am.
I turned to her again.
'Sara, listen, I'm in love with you.'
'You know? And you're not angry? And do you like me too?'
Sara shook her head.
'No, answer me properly.'
'Well, show yourself,' she said.
I bent down to her. Sara laid her hands on my shoulders, began scrutinising my face, frowned, smiled.... I could not contain myself, and gave her a rapid kiss on her cheek. She jumped up and in one bound was at the entrance of the tent.
'Come, what a shy thing you are!'
She did not speak and did not stir.
'Come here to me....'
'No, sir, good-bye. Another time.'
Girshel again thrust in his curly head, and said a couple of words to her; she bent down and glided away, like a snake.
I ran out of the tent in pursuit of her, but could not get another glimpse of her nor of Girshel.
The whole night long I could not sleep a wink.
The next night we were sitting in the tent of our captain; I was playing, but with no great zest. My orderly came in.
'Some one's asking for you, your honour.'
'Who is it?'
'Can it be Girshel?' I wondered. I waited till the end of the rubber, got up and went out. Yes, it was so; I saw Girshel.
'Well,' he questioned me with an ingratiating smile, 'your honour, are you satisfied?'
'Ah, you———!' (Here the colonel glanced round. 'No ladies present, I believe.... Well, never mind, any way.') 'Ah, bless you!' I responded, 'so you're making fun of me, are you?'
'How so, indeed! What a question!'
'Ay, ay, your honour, you 're too bad,' Girshel said reproachfully, but never ceasing smiling. 'The girl is young and modest.... You frightened her, indeed, you did.'
'Queer sort of modesty! why did she take money, then?'
'Why, what then? If one's given money, why not take it, sir?'
'I say, Girshel, let her come again, and I '11 let you off... only, please, don't show your stupid phiz inside my tent, and leave us in peace; do you hear?'
Girshel's eyes sparkled.
'What do you say? You like her?'
'She's a lovely creature! there's not another such anywhere. And have you something for me now?'
'Yes, here, only listen; fair play is better than gold. Bring her and then go to the devil. I'll escort her home myself.'
'Oh, no, sir, no, that's impossible, sir,' the Jew rejoined hurriedly. 'Ay, ay, that's impossible. I'll walk about near the tent, your honour, if you like; I'll... I'll go away, your honour, if you like, a little.... I'm ready to do your honour a service.... I'll move away... to be sure, I will.'
'Well, mind you do.... And bring her, do you hear?'
'Eh, but she's a beauty, your honour, eh? your honour, a beauty, eh?'
Girshel bent down and peeped into my eyes.
'Well, then, give me another gold piece.'
I threw him a coin; we parted.
The day passed at last. The night came on. I had been sitting for a long while alone in my tent. It was dark outside. It struck two in the town. I was beginning to curse the Jew.... Suddenly Sara came in, alone. I jumped up took her in my arms... put my lips to her face.... It was cold as ice. I could scarcely distinguish her features.... I made her sit down, knelt down before her, took her hands, touched her waist.... She did not speak, did not stir, and suddenly she broke into loud, convulsive sobbing. I tried in vain to soothe her, to persuade her.... She wept in torrents.... I caressed her, wiped her tears; as before, she did not resist, made no answer to my questions and wept—wept, like a waterfall. I felt a pang at my heart; I got up and went out of the tent.
Girshel seemed to pop up out of the earth before me.
'Girshel,' I said to him, 'here's the money I promised you. Take Sara away.'
The Jew at once rushed up to her. She left off weeping, and clutched hold of him.
'Good-bye, Sara,'I said to her. 'God bless you, good-bye. We'll see each other again some other time.'
Girshel was silent and bowed humbly. Sara bent down, took my hand and pressed it to her lips; I turned away....
For five or six days, my friends, I kept thinking of my Jewess. Girshel did not make his appearance, and no one had seen him in the camp. I slept rather badly at nights; I was continually haunted by wet, black eyes, and long eyelashes; my lips could not forget the touch of her cheek, smooth and fresh as a downy plum. I was sent out with a foraging party to a village some distance away. While my soldiers were ransacking the houses, I remained in the street, and did not dismount from my horse. Suddenly some one caught hold of my foot....
'Mercy on us, Sara!'
She was pale and excited.
'Your honour... help us, save us, your soldiers are insulting us.... Your honour....'
She recognised me and flushed red.
'Why, do you live here?'
Sara pointed to a little, old house. I set spurs to my horse and galloped up. In the yard of the little house an ugly and tattered Jewess was trying to tear out of the hands of my long sergeant, Siliavka, three hens and a duck. He was holding his booty above his head, laughing; the hens clucked and the duck quacked.... Two other cuirassiers were loading their horses with hay, straw, and sacks of flour. Inside the house I heard shouts and oaths in Little-Russian.... I called to my men and told them to leave the Jews alone, not to take anything from them. The soldiers obeyed, the sergeant got on his grey mare, Proserpina, or, as he called her, 'Prozherpila,' and rode after me into the street.
'Well,' I said to Sara, 'are you pleased with me?'
She looked at me with a smile.
'What has become of you all this time?'
She dropped her eyes.
'I will come to you to-morrow.'
'In the evening?'
'No, sir, in the morning.'
'Mind you do, don't deceive me.'
'No... no, I won't.'
I looked greedily at her. By daylight she seemed to me handsomer than ever. I remember I was particularly struck by the even, amber tint of her face and the bluish lights in her black hair.... I bent down from my horse and warmly pressed her little hand.
'Good-bye, Sara... mind you come.'
She went home; I told the sergeant to follow me with the party, and galloped off.
The next day I got up very early, dressed, and went out of the tent. It was a glorious morning; the sun had just risen and every blade of grass was sparkling in the dew and the crimson glow. I clambered on to a high breastwork, and sat down on the edge of an embrasure. Below me a stout, cast-iron cannon stuck out its black muzzle towards the open country. I looked carelessly about me... and all at once caught sight of a bent figure in a grey wrapper, a hundred paces from me. I recognised Girshel. He stood without moving for a long while in one place, then suddenly ran a little on one side, looked hurriedly and furtively round... uttered a cry, squatted down, cautiously craned his neck and began looking round again and listening. I could see all his actions very clearly. He put his hand into his bosom, took out a scrap of paper and a pencil, and began writing or drawing something. Girshel continually stopped, started like a hare, attentively scrutinised everything around him, and seemed to be sketching our camp. More than once he hid his scrap of paper, half closed his eyes, sniffed at the air, and again set to work. At last, the Jew squatted down on the grass, took off his slipper, and stuffed the paper in it; but he had not time to regain his legs, when suddenly, ten steps from him, there appeared from behind the slope of an earthwork the whiskered countenance of the sergeant Siliavka, and gradually the whole of his long clumsy figure rose up from the ground. The Jew stood with his back to him. Siliavka went quickly up to him and laid his heavy paw on his shoulder. Girshel seemed to shrink into himself. He shook like a leaf and uttered a feeble cry, like a hare's. Siliavka addressed him threateningly, and seized him by the collar. I could not hear their conversation, but from the despairing gestures of the Jew, and his supplicating appearance, I began to guess what it was. The Jew twice flung himself at the sergeant's feet, put his hand in his pocket, pulled out a torn check handkerchief, untied a knot, and took out gold coins.... Siliavka took his offering with great dignity, but did not leave off dragging the Jew by the collar. Girshel made a sudden bound and rushed away; the sergeant sped after him in pursuit. The Jew ran exceedingly well; his legs, clad in blue stockings, flashed by, really very rapidly; but Siliavka after a short run caught the crouching Jew, made him stand up, and carried him in his arms straight to the camp. I got up and went to meet him.
'Ah! your honour!' bawled Siliavka,—'it's a spy I'm bringing you—a spy!...' The sturdy Little-Russian was streaming with perspiration. 'Stop that wriggling, devilish Jew—now then... you wretch! you'd better look out, I'll throttle you!'
The luckless Girshel was feebly prodding his elbows into Siliavka's chest, and feebly kicking.... His eyes were rolling convulsively....
'What's the matter?' I questioned Siliavka.
'If your honour'll be so good as to take the slipper off his right foot,—I can't get at it.' He was still holding the Jew in his arms.
I took off the slipper, took out of it a carefully folded piece of paper, unfolded it, and found an accurate map of our camp. On the margin were a number of notes written in a fine hand in the Jews' language.
Meanwhile Siliavka had set Girshel on his legs. The Jew opened his eyes, saw me, and flung himself on his knees before me.
Without speaking, I showed him the paper.
'It's—-nothing, your honour. I was only....' His voice broke.
'Are you a spy?'
He did not understand me, muttered disconnected words, pressed my knees in terror....
'Are you a spy?'
'I!' he cried faintly, and shook his head. 'How could I? I never did; I'm not at all. It's not possible; utterly impossible. I'm ready—I'll—this minute—I've money to give... I'll pay for it,' he whispered, and closed his eyes.
The smoking-cap had slipped back on to his neck; his reddish hair was soaked with cold sweat, and hung in tails; his lips were blue, and working convulsively; his brows were contracted painfully; his face was drawn....
Soldiers came up round us. I had at first meant to give Girshel a good fright, and to tell Siliavka to hold his tongue, but now the affair had become public, and could not escape 'the cognisance of the authorities.'
'Take him to the general,' I said to the sergeant.
'Your honour, your honour!' the Jew shrieked in a voice of despair. 'I am not guilty... not guilty.... Tell him to let me go, tell him...'
'His Excellency will decide about that,' said Siliavka. 'Come along.'
'Your honour!' the Jew shrieked after me—'tell him! have mercy!'
His shriek tortured me; I hastened my pace. Our general was a man of German extraction, honest and good-hearted, but strict in his adherence to military discipline. I went into the little house that had been hastily put up for him, and in a few words explained the reason of my visit. I knew the severity of the military regulations, and so I did not even pronounce the word 'spy,' but tried to put the whole affair before him as something quite trifling and not worth attention. But, unhappily for Girshel, the general put doing his duty higher than pity.
'You, young man,' he said to me in his broken Russian, 'inexperienced are. You in military matters yet inexperienced are. The matter, of which you to me reported have, is important, very important.... And where is this man who taken was? this Jew? where is he?'
I went out and told them to bring in the Jew. They brought in the Jew. The wretched creature could scarcely stand up.
'Yes,' pronounced the general, turning to me; 'and where's the plan which on this man found was?'
I handed him the paper. The general opened it, turned away again, screwed up his eyes, frowned....
'This is most as-ton-ish-ing...' he said slowly. 'Who arrested him?'
'I, your Excellency!' Siliavka jerked out sharply.
'Ah! good! good!... Well, my good man, what do you say in your defence?'
'Your... your... your Excellency,' stammered Girshel, 'I... indeed,... your Excellency... I'm not guilty... your Excellency; ask his honour the officer.... I'm an agent, your Excellency, an honest agent.'
'He ought to be cross-examined,' the general murmured in an undertone, wagging his head gravely. 'Come, how do you explain this, my friend?' 'I'm not guilty, your Excellency, I'm not guilty.'
'That is not probable, however. You were—how is it said in Russian?—taken on the fact, that is, in the very facts!'
'Hear me, your Excellency; I am not guilty.'
'You drew the plan? you are a spy of the enemy?'
'It wasn't me!' Girshel shrieked suddenly; 'not I, your Excellency!'
The general looked at Siliavka.
'Why, he's raving, your Excellency. His honour the officer here took the plan out of his slipper.'
The general looked at me. I was obliged to nod assent.
'You are a spy from the enemy, my good man....'
'Not I... not I...' whispered the distracted Jew.
'You have the enemy with similar information before provided? Confess....'
'How could I?'
'You will not deceive me, my good man. Are you a spy?'
The Jew closed his eyes, shook his head, and lifted the skirts of his gown.
'Hang him,' the general pronounced expressively after a brief silence,'according to the law. Where is Mr. Fiodor Schliekelmann?'
They ran to fetch Schliekelmann, the general's adjutant. Girshel began to turn greenish, his mouth fell open, his eyes seemed starting out of his head. The adjutant came in. The general gave him the requisite instructions. The secretary showed his sickly, pock-marked face for an instant. Two or three officers peeped into the room inquisitively.
'Have pity, your Excellency,' I said to the general in German as best I could; 'let him off....'
'You, young man,' he answered me in Russian, 'I was saying to you, are inexperienced, and therefore I beg you silent to be, and me no more to trouble.'
Girshel with a shriek dropped at the general's feet.
'Your Excellency, have mercy; I will never again, I will not, your Excellency; I have a wife... your Excellency, a daughter... have mercy....'
'It's no use!'
'Truly, your Excellency, I am guilty... it's the first time, your Excellency, the first time, believe me!'
'You furnished no other documents?'
'The first time, your Excellency,... my wife... my children... have mercy....'
'But you are a spy.'
'My wife... your Excellency... my children....'
The general felt a twinge, but there was no getting out of it.
'According to the law, hang the Hebrew,' he said constrainedly, with the air of a man forced to do violence to his heart, and sacrifice his better feelings to inexorable duty—'hang him! Fiodor Karlitch, I beg you to draw up a report of the occurrence....'
A horrible change suddenly came over Girshel. Instead of the ordinary timorous alarm peculiar to the Jewish nature, in his face was reflected the horrible agony that comes before death. He writhed like a wild beast trapped, his mouth stood open, there was a hoarse rattle in his throat, he positively leapt up and down, convulsively moving his elbows. He had on only one slipper; they had forgotten to put the other on again... his gown fell open... his cap had fallen off....
We all shuddered; the general stopped speaking.
'Your Excellency,' I began again, 'pardon this wretched creature.'
'Impossible! It is the law,' the general replied abruptly, and not without emotion, 'for a warning to others.'
'For pity's sake....'
'Mr. Cornet, be so good as to return to your post,' said the general, and he motioned me imperiously to the door.
I bowed and went out. But seeing that in reality I had no post anywhere, I remained at no great distance from the general's house.
Two minutes later Girshel made his appearance, conducted by Siliavka and three soldiers. The poor Jew was in a state of stupefaction, and could hardly move his legs. Siliavka went by me to the camp, and soon returned with a rope in his hands. His coarse but not ill-natured face wore a look of strange, exasperated commiseration. At the sight of the rope the Jew flung up his arms, sat down, and burst into sobs. The soldiers stood silently about him, and stared grimly at the earth. I went up to Girshel, addressed him; he sobbed like a baby, and did not even look at me. With a hopeless gesture I went to my tent, flung myself on a rug, and closed my eyes....
Suddenly some one ran hastily and noisily into my tent. I raised my head and saw Sara; she looked beside herself. She rushed up to me, and clutched at my hands.
'Come along, come along,' she insisted breathlessly.
'Where? what for? let us stop here.'
'To father, to father, quick... save him... save him!'
'To what father?'
'My father; they are going to hang him....'
'What! is Girshel...?'
'My father... I '11 tell you all about it later,' she added, wringing her hands in despair: 'only come... come....'
We ran out of the tent. In the open ground, on the way to a solitary birch-tree, we could see a group of soldiers.... Sara pointed to them without speaking....
'Stop,' I said to her suddenly: 'where are we running to? The soldiers won't obey me.'
Sara still pulled me after her.... I must confess, my head was going round.
'But listen, Sara,' I said to her; 'what sense is there in running here? It would be better for me to go to the general again; let's go together; who knows, we may persuade him.'
Sara suddenly stood still and gazed at me, as though she were crazy.
'Understand me, Sara, for God's sake. I can't do anything for your father, but the general can. Let's go to him.'
'But meanwhile they'll hang him,' she moaned....
I looked round. The secretary was standing not far off.
'Ivanov,' I called to him; 'run, please, over there to them, tell them to wait a little, say I've gone to petition the general.'
Ivanov ran off.
We were not admitted to the general's presence. In vain I begged, persuaded, swore even, at last... in vain, poor Sara tore her hair and rushed at the sentinels; they would not let us pass.
Sara looked wildly round, clutched her head in both hands, and ran at breakneck pace towards the open country, to her father. I followed her. Every one stared at us, wondering.
We ran up to the soldiers. They were standing in a ring, and picture it, gentlemen! they were laughing, laughing at poor Girshel. I flew into a rage and shouted at them. The Jew saw us and fell on his daughter's neck. Sara clung to him passionately.
The poor wretch imagined he was pardoned.... He was just beginning to thank me... I turned away.
'Your honour,' he shrieked and wrung his hands; 'I'm not pardoned?'
I did not speak.
'Your honour,' he began muttering; 'look, your honour, look... she, this girl, see—you know—she's my daughter.'
'I know,' I answered, and turned away again.
'Your honour,' he shrieked, 'I never went away from the tent! I wouldn't for anything...'
He stopped, and closed his eyes for an instant.... 'I wanted your money, your honour, I must own... but not for anything....'
I was silent. Girshel was loathsome to me, and she too, his accomplice....
'But now, if you save me,' the Jew articulated in a whisper, 'I'll command her... I... do you understand?... everything... I'll go to every length....'
He was trembling like a leaf, and looking about him hurriedly. Sara silently and passionately embraced him.
The adjutant came up to us.
'Cornet,' he said to me; 'his Excellency has given me orders to place you under arrest. And you...' he motioned the soldiers to the Jew... 'quickly.'
Siliavka went up to the Jew.
'Fiodor Karlitch,' I said to the adjutant (five soldiers had come with him); 'tell them, at least, to take away that poor girl....'
'Of course. Certainly.'
The unhappy girl was scarcely conscious. Girshel was muttering something to her in Yiddish....
The soldiers with difficulty freed Sara from her father's arms, and carefully carried her twenty steps away. But all at once she broke from their arms and rushed towards Girshel.... Siliavka stopped her. Sara pushed him away; her face was covered with a faint flush, her eyes flashed, she stretched out her arms.
'So may you be accursed,' she screamed in German; 'accursed, thrice accursed, you and all the hateful breed of you, with the curse of Dathan and Abiram, the curse of poverty and sterility and violent, shameful death! May the earth open under your feet, godless, pitiless, bloodthirsty dogs....'
Her head dropped back... she fell to the ground.... They lifted her up and carried her away.
The soldiers took Girshel under his arms. I saw then why it was they had been laughing at the Jew when I ran up from the camp with Sara. He was really ludicrous, in spite of all the horror of his position. The intense anguish of parting with life, his daughter, his family, showed itself in the Jew in such strange and grotesque gesticulations, shrieks, and wriggles that we all could not help smiling, though it was horrible—intensely horrible to us too. The poor wretch was half dead with terror....
'Oy! oy! oy!' he shrieked: 'oy... wait! I've something to tell you... a lot to tell you. Mr. Under-sergeant, you know me. I'm an agent, an honest agent. Don't hold me; wait a minute, a little minute, a tiny minute—wait! Let me go; I'm a poor Hebrew. Sara... where is Sara? Oh, I know, she's at his honour the quarter-lieutenant's.' (God knows why he bestowed such an unheard-of grade upon me.) 'Your honour the quarter-lieutenant, I'm not going away from the tent.' (The soldiers were taking hold of Girshel... he uttered a deafening shriek, and wriggled out of their hands.) 'Your Excellency, have pity on the unhappy father of a family. I'll give you ten golden pieces, fifteen I'll give, your Excellency!...' (They dragged him to the birch-tree.) 'Spare me! have mercy! your honour the quarter-lieutenant! your Excellency, the general and commander-in-chief!'
They put the noose on the Jew.... I shut my eyes and rushed away.
I remained for a fortnight under arrest. I was told that the widow of the luckless Girshel came to fetch away the clothes of the deceased. The general ordered a hundred roubles to be given to her. Sara I never saw again. I was wounded; I was taken to the hospital, and by the time I was well again, Dantzig had surrendered, and I joined my regiment on the banks of the Rhine.
AN UNHAPPY GIRL
Yes, yes, began Piotr Gavrilovitch; those were painful days... and I would rather not recall them.... But I have made you a promise; I shall have to tell you the whole story. Listen.
I was living at that time (the winter of 1835) in Moscow, in the house of my aunt, the sister of my dead mother. I was eighteen; I had only just passed from the second into the third course in the faculty 'of Language' (that was what it was called in those days) in the Moscow University. My aunt was a gentle, quiet woman—a widow. She lived in a big, wooden house in Ostozhonka, one of those warm, cosy houses such as, I fancy, one can find nowhere else but in Moscow. She saw hardly any one, sat from morning till night in the drawing-room with two companions, drank the choicest tea, played patience, and was continually requesting that the room should be fumigated. Thereupon her companions ran into the hall; a few minutes later an old servant in livery would bring in a copper pan with a bunch of mint on a hot brick, and stepping hurriedly upon the narrow strips of carpet, he would sprinkle the mint with vinegar. White fumes always puffed up about his wrinkled face, and he frowned and turned away, while the canaries in the dining-room chirped their hardest, exasperated by the hissing of the smouldering mint.
I was fatherless and motherless, and my aunt spoiled me. She placed the whole of the ground floor at my complete disposal. My rooms were furnished very elegantly, not at all like a student's rooms in fact: there were pink curtains in the bedroom, and a muslin canopy, adorned with blue rosettes, towered over my bed. Those rosettes were, I'll own, rather an annoyance to me; to my thinking, such 'effeminacies' were calculated to lower me in the eyes of my companions. As it was, they nicknamed me 'the boarding-school miss.' I could never succeed in forcing myself to smoke. I studied—why conceal my shortcomings?—very lazily, especially at the beginning of the course. I went out a great deal. My aunt had bestowed on me a wide sledge, fit for a general, with a pair of sleek horses. At the houses of 'the gentry' my visits were rare, but at the theatre I was quite at home, and I consumed masses of tarts at the restaurants. For all that, I permitted myself no breach of decorum, and behaved very discreetly, en jeune homme de bonne maison. I would not for anything in the world have pained my kind aunt; and besides I was naturally of a rather cool temperament.
From my earliest years I had been fond of chess; I had no idea of the science of the game, but I didn't play badly. One day in a caf, I was the spectator of a prolonged contest at chess, between two players, of whom one, a fair-haired young man of about five-and-twenty, struck me as playing well. The game ended in his favour; I offered to play a match with him. He agreed,... and in the course of an hour, beat me easily, three times running.
'You have a natural gift for the game,' he pronounced in a courteous tone, noticing probably that my vanity was suffering; 'but you don't know the openings. You ought to study a chess-book—Allgacir or Petrov.'
'Do you think so? But where can I get such a book?'
'Come to me; I will give you one.'
He gave me his name, and told me where he was living. Next day I went to see him, and a week later we were almost inseparable.
My new acquaintance was called Alexander Davidovitch Fustov. He lived with his mother, a rather wealthy woman, the widow of a privy councillor, but he occupied a little lodge apart and lived quite independently, just as I did at my aunt's. He had a post in the department of Court affairs. I became genuinely attached to him. I had never in my life met a young man more 'sympathetic.' Everything about him was charming and attractive: his graceful figure, his bearing, his voice, and especially his small, delicate face with the golden-blue eyes, the elegant, as it were coquettishly moulded little nose, the unchanging amiable smile on the crimson lips, the light curls of soft hair over the rather narrow, snow-white brow. Fustov's character was remarkable for exceptional serenity, and a sort of amiable, restrained affability; he was never pre-occupied, and was always satisfied with everything; but on the other hand he was never ecstatic over anything. Every excess, even in a good feeling, jarred upon him; 'that's savage, savage,' he would say with a faint shrug, half closing his golden eyes. Marvellous were those eyes of Fustov's! They invariably expressed sympathy, good-will, even devotion. It was only at a later period that I noticed that the expression of his eyes resulted solely from their setting, that it never changed, even when he was sipping his soup or smoking a cigar. His preciseness became a byword between us. His grandmother, indeed, had been a German. Nature had endowed him with all sorts of talents. He danced capitally, was a dashing horseman, and a first-rate swimmer; did carpentering, carving and joinery, bound books and cut out silhouettes, painted in watercolours nosegays of flowers or Napoleon in profile in a blue uniform; played the zither with feeling; knew a number of tricks, with cards and without; and had a fair knowledge of mechanics, physics, and chemistry; but everything only up to a certain point. Only for languages he had no great facility: even French he spoke rather badly. He spoke in general little, and his share in our students' discussions was mostly limited to the bright sympathy of his glance and smile. To the fair sex Fustov was attractive, undoubtedly, but on this subject, of such importance among young people, he did not care to enlarge, and fully deserved the nickname given him by his comrades, 'the discreet Don Juan.' I was not dazzled by Fustov; there was nothing in him to dazzle, but I prized his affection, though in reality it was only manifested by his never refusing to see me when I called. To my mind Fustov was the happiest man in the world. His life ran so very smoothly. His mother, brothers, sisters, aunts, and uncles all adored him, he was on exceptionally good terms with all of them, and enjoyed the reputation of a paragon in his family.
One day I went round to him rather early and did not find him in his study. He called to me from the next room; sounds of panting and splashing reached me from there. Every morning Fustov took a cold shower-bath and afterwards for a quarter of an hour practised gymnastic exercises, in which he had attained remarkable proficiency. Excessive anxiety about one's physical health he did not approve of, but he did not neglect necessary care. ('Don't neglect yourself, don't over-excite yourself, work in moderation,' was his precept.) Fustov had not yet made his appearance, when the outer door of the room where I was waiting flew wide open, and there walked in a man about fifty, wearing a bluish uniform. He was a stout, squarely-built man with milky-whitish eyes in a dark-red face and a perfect cap of thick, grey, curly hair. This person stopped short, looked at me, opened his mouth wide, and with a metallic chuckle, he gave himself a smart slap on his haunch, kicking his leg up in front as he did so.
'Ivan Demianitch?' my friend inquired through the door.
'The same, at your service,' the new comer responded. 'What are you up to? At your toilette? That's right! that's right!' (The voice of the man addressed as Ivan Demianitch had the same harsh, metallic note as his laugh.) 'I've trudged all this way to give your little brother his lesson; and he's got a cold, you know, and does nothing but sneeze. He can't do his work. So I've looked in on you for a bit to warm myself.'
Ivan Demianitch laughed again the same strange guffaw, again dealt himself a sounding smack on the leg, and pulling a check handkerchief out of his pocket, blew his nose noisily, ferociously rolling his eyes, spat into the handkerchief, and ejaculated with the whole force of his lungs: 'Tfoo-o-o!'
Fustov came into the room, and shaking hands with both of us, asked us if we were acquainted.
'Not a bit of it!' Ivan Demianitch boomed at once: 'the veteran of the year twelve has not that honour!'
Fustov mentioned my name first, then, indicating the 'veteran of the year twelve,' he pronounced: 'Ivan Demianitch Ratsch, professor of... various subjects.'
'Precisely so, various they are, precisely,' Mr. Ratsch chimed in. 'Come to think of it, what is there I haven't taught, and that I'm not teaching now, for that matter! Mathematics and geography and statistics and Italian book-keeping, ha-ha ha-ha! and music! You doubt it, my dear sir?'—he pounced suddenly upon me—'ask Alexander Daviditch if I'm not first-rate on the bassoon. I should be a poor sort of Bohemian—Czech, I should say—if I weren't! Yes, sir, I'm a Czech, and my native place is ancient Prague! By the way, Alexander Daviditch, why haven't we seen you for so long! We ought to have a little duet... ha-ha! Really!'
'I was at your place the day before yesterday, Ivan Demianitch,' replied Fustov.
'But I call that a long while, ha-ha!'
When Mr. Ratsch laughed, his white eyes shifted from side to side in a strange, restless way.
'You're surprised, young man, I see, at my behaviour,' he addressed me again. 'But that's because you don't understand my temperament. You must just ask our good friend here, Alexander Daviditch, to tell you about me. What'll he tell you? He'll tell you old Ratsch is a simple, good-hearted chap, a regular Russian, in heart, if not in origin, ha-ha! At his christening named Johann Dietrich, but always called Ivan Demianitch! What's in my mind pops out on my tongue; I wear my heart, as they say, on my sleeve. Ceremony of all sorts I know naught about and don't want to neither! Can't bear it! You drop in on me one day of an evening, and you'll see for yourself. My good woman—my wife, that is—has no nonsense about her either; she'll cook and bake you... something wonderful! Alexander Daviditch, isn't it the truth I'm telling?'
Fustov only smiled, and I remained silent.
'Don't look down on the old fellow, but come round,' pursued Mr. Ratsch. 'But now...' (he pulled a fat silver watch out of his pocket and put it up to one of his goggle eyes)'I'd better be toddling on, I suppose. I've another chick expecting me.... Devil knows what I'm teaching him,... mythology, by God! And he lives a long way off, the rascal, at the Red Gate! No matter; I'll toddle off on foot. Thanks to your brother's cutting his lesson, I shall be the fifteen kopecks for sledge hire to the good! Ha-ha! A very good day to you, gentlemen, till we meet again!... Eh?... We must have a little duet!' Mr. Ratsch bawled from the passage putting on his goloshes noisily, and for the last time we heard his metallic laugh.
'What a strange man!' I said, turning to Fustov, who had already set to work at his turning-lathe. 'Can he be a foreigner? He speaks Russian so fluently.'
'He is a foreigner; only he's been thirty years in Russia. As long ago as 1802, some prince or other brought him from abroad... in the capacity of secretary... more likely, valet, one would suppose. He does speak Russian fluently, certainly.'
'With such go, such far-fetched turns and phrases,' I put in.
'Well, yes. Only very unnaturally too. They're all like that, these Russianised Germans.'
'But he's a Czech, isn't he?'
'I don't know; may be. He talks German with his wife.'
'And why does he call himself a veteran of the year twelve? Was he in the militia, or what?'
'In the militia! indeed! At the time of the fire he remained in Moscow and lost all his property.... That was all he did.'
'But what did he stay in Moscow for?'
Fustov still went on with his turning.
'The Lord knows. I have heard that he was a spy on our side; but that must be nonsense. But it's a fact that he received compensation from the treasury for his losses.'
'He wears some sort of uniform.... I suppose he's in government service then?'
'Yes. Professor in the cadet's corps. He has the rank of a petty councillor.'
'What's his wife like?'
'A German settled here, daughter of a sausagemaker... or butcher....'
'And do you often go to see him?'
'What, is it pleasant there?'
'Has he any children?'
'Yes. Three by the German, and a son and daughter by his first wife.'
'And how old is the eldest daughter?'
I fancied Fustov bent lower over his lathe, and the wheel turned more rapidly, and hummed under the even strokes of his feet.
'Is she good-looking?'
'That's a matter of taste. She has a remarkable face, and she's altogether... a remarkable person.'
'Aha!' thought I. Fustov continued his work with special earnestness, and to my next question he only responded by a grunt.
'I must make her acquaintance,' I decided.
A few days later, Fustov and I set off to Mr. Ratsch's to spend the evening. He lived in a wooden house with a big yard and garden, in Krivoy Place near the Pretchistensky boulevard. He came out into the passage, and meeting us with his characteristic jarring guffaw and noise, led us at once into the drawing-room, where he presented me to a stout lady in a skimpy canvas gown, Eleonora Karpovna, his wife. Eleonora Karpovna had most likely in her first youth been possessed of what the French for some unknown reason call beaut du diable, that is to say, freshness; but when I made her acquaintance, she suggested involuntarily to the mind a good-sized piece of meat, freshly laid by the butcher on a clean marble table. Designedly I used the word 'clean'; not only our hostess herself seemed a model of cleanliness, but everything about her, everything in the house positively shone, and glittered; everything had been scoured, and polished, and washed: the samovar on the round table flashed like fire; the curtains before the windows, the table-napkins were crisp with starch, as were also the little frocks and shirts of Mr. Ratsch's four children sitting there, stout, chubby little creatures, exceedingly like their mother, with coarsely moulded, sturdy faces, curls on their foreheads, and red, shapeless fingers. All the four of them had rather flat noses, large, swollen-looking lips, and tiny, light-grey eyes.
'Here's my squadron!' cried Mr. Ratsch, laying his heavy hand on the children's heads one after another. 'Kolia, Olga, Sashka and Mashka! This one's eight, this one's seven, that one's four, and this one's only two! Ha! ha! ha! As you can see, my wife and I haven't wasted our time! Eh, Eleonora Karpovna?'
'You always say things like that,' observed Eleonora Karpovna and she turned away.
'And she's bestowed such Russian names on her squallers!' Mr. Ratsch pursued. 'The next thing, she'll have them all baptized into the Orthodox Church! Yes, by Jove! She's so Slavonic in her sympathies, 'pon my soul, she is, though she is of German blood! Eleonora Karpovna, are you Slavonic?'
Eleonora Karpovna lost her temper.
'I'm a petty councillor's wife, that's what I am! And so I'm a Russian lady and all you may say....'
'There, the way she loves Russia, it's simply awful!' broke in Ivan Demianitch. 'A perfect volcano, ho, ho!'
'Well, and what of it?' pursued Eleonora Karpovna. 'To be sure I love Russia, for where else could I obtain noble rank? And my children too are nobly born, you know. Kolia, sitze ruhig mit den Fssen!'
Ratsch waved his hand to her.
'There, there, princess, don't excite yourself! But where's the nobly born Viktor? To be sure, he's always gadding about! He'll come across the inspector one of these fine days! He'll give him a talking-to! Das ist ein Bummler, Fiktor!'
'Dem Fiktov kann ich nicht kommandiren, Ivan Demianitch. Sie wissen wohl!' grumbled Eleonora Karpovna.
I looked at Fustov, as though wishing finally to arrive at what induced him to visit such people... but at that instant there came into the room a tall girl in a black dress, the elder daughter of Mr. Ratsch, to whom Fustov had referred.... I perceived the explanation of my friend's frequent visits.
There is somewhere, I remember, in Shakespeare, something about 'a white dove in a flock of black crows'; that was just the impression made on me by the girl, who entered the room. Between the world surrounding her and herself there seemed to be too little in common; she herself seemed secretly bewildered and wondering how she had come there. All the members of Mr. Ratsch's family looked self-satisfied, simple-hearted, healthy creatures; her beautiful, but already careworn, face bore the traces of depression, pride and morbidity. The others, unmistakable plebeians, were unconstrained in their manners, coarse perhaps, but simple; but a painful uneasiness was manifest in all her indubitably aristocratic nature. In her very exterior there was no trace of the type characteristic of the German race; she recalled rather the children of the south. The excessively thick, lustreless black hair, the hollow, black, lifeless but beautiful eyes, the low, prominent brow, the aquiline nose, the livid pallor of the smooth skin, a certain tragic line near the delicate lips, and in the slightly sunken cheeks, something abrupt, and at the same time helpless in the movements, elegance without gracefulness... in Italy all this would not have struck me as exceptional, but in Moscow, near the Pretchistensky boulevard, it simply astonished me! I got up from my seat on her entrance; she flung me a swift, uneasy glance, and dropping her black eyelashes, sat down near the window 'like Tatiana.' (Pushkin's Oniegin was then fresh in every one's mind.) I glanced at Fustov, but my friend was standing with his back to me, taking a cup of tea from the plump hands of Eleonora Karpovna. I noticed further that the girl as she came in seemed to bring with her a breath of slight physical chillness.... 'What a statue!' was my thought.
'Piotr Gavrilitch,' thundered Mr. Ratsch, turning to me, 'let me introduce you to my... to my... my number one, ha, ha, ha! to Susanna Ivanovna!'
I bowed in silence, and thought at once: 'Why, the name too is not the same sort as the others,' while Susanna rose slightly, without smiling or loosening her tightly clasped hands.
'And how about the duet?' Ivan Demianitch pursued: 'Alexander Daviditch? eh? benefactor! Your zither was left with us, and I've got the bassoon out of its case already. Let us make sweet music for the honourable company!' (Mr. Ratsch liked to display his Russian; he was continually bursting out with expressions, such as those which are strewn broadcast about the ultra-national poems of Prince Viazemsky.) 'What do you say? Carried?' cried Ivan Demianitch, seeing Fustov made no objection. 'Kolka, march into the study, and look sharp with the music-stand! Olga, this way with the zither! And oblige us with candles for the stands, better-half!' (Mr. Ratsch turned round and round in the room like a top.) 'Piotr Gavrilitch, you like music, hey? If you don't care for it, you must amuse yourself with conversation, only mind, not above a whisper! Ha, ha ha! But what ever's become of that silly chap, Viktor? He ought to be here to listen too! You spoil him completely, Eleonora Karpovna.'
Eleonora Karpovna fired up angrily.
'Aber was kann ich denn, Ivan Demianitch...'
'All right, all right, don't squabble! Bleibe ruhig, hast verstanden? Alexander Daviditch! at your service, sir!'
The children had promptly done as their father had told them. The music-stands were set up, the music began. I have already mentioned that Fustov played the zither extremely well, but that instrument has always produced the most distressing impression upon me. I have always fancied, and I fancy still, that there is imprisoned in the zither the soul of a decrepit Jew money-lender, and that it emits nasal whines and complaints against the merciless musician who forces it to utter sounds. Mr. Ratsch's performance, too, was not calculated to give me much pleasure; moreover, his face became suddenly purple, and assumed a malignant expression, while his whitish eyes rolled viciously, as though he were just about to murder some one with his bassoon, and were swearing and threatening by way of preliminary, puffing out chokingly husky, coarse notes one after another. I placed myself near Susanna, and waiting for a momentary pause, I asked her if she were as fond of music as her papa.
She turned away, as though I had given her a shove, and pronounced abruptly, 'Who?'
'Your father,' I repeated,'Mr. Ratsch.'
'Mr. Ratsch is not my father.'
'Not your father! I beg your pardon... I must have misunderstood... But I remember, Alexander Daviditch...'
Susanna looked at me intently and shyly.
'You misunderstood Mr. Fustov. Mr. Ratsch is my stepfather.'
I was silent for a while.
'And you don't care for music?' I began again.
Susanna glanced at me again. Undoubtedly there was something suggesting a wild creature in her eyes. She obviously had not expected nor desired the continuation of our conversation.
'I did not say that,' she brought out slowly. 'Troo-too-too-too-too-oo-oo...' the bassoon growled with startling fury, executing the final flourishes. I turned round, caught sight of the red neck of Mr. Ratsch, swollen like a boa-constrictor's, beneath his projecting ears, and very disgusting I thought him.
'But that... instrument you surely do not care for,' I said in an undertone.
'No... I don't care for it,' she responded, as though catching my secret hint.
'Oho!' thought I, and felt, as it were, delighted at something.
'Susanna Ivanovna,' Eleonora Karpovna announced suddenly in her German Russian, 'music greatly loves, and herself very beautifully plays the piano, only she likes not to play the piano when she is greatly pressed to play.'
Susanna made Eleonora Karpovna no reply—she did not even look at her—only there was a faint movement of her eyes, under their dropped lids, in her direction. From this movement alone—this movement of her pupils—I could perceive what was the nature of the feeling Susanna cherished for the second wife of her stepfather.... And again I was delighted at something.
Meanwhile the duet was over. Fustov got up and with hesitating footsteps approached the window, near which Susanna and I were sitting, and asked her if she had received from Lengold's the music that he had promised to order her from Petersburg.
'Selections from Robert le Diable,' he added, turning to me, 'from that new opera that every one's making such a fuss about.'
'No, I haven't got it yet,' answered Susanna, and turning round with her face to the window she whispered hurriedly. 'Please, Alexander Daviditch, I entreat you, don't make me play to-day. I don't feel in the mood a bit.'
'What's that? Robert le Diable of Meyer-beer?' bellowed Ivan Demianitch, coming up to us: 'I don't mind betting it's a first-class article! He's a Jew, and all Jews, like all Czechs, are born musicians. Especially Jews. That's right, isn't it, Susanna Ivanovna? Hey? Ha, ha, ha, ha!'
In Mr. Ratsch's last words, and this time even in his guffaw, there could be heard something more than his usual bantering tone—the desire to wound was evident. So, at least, I fancied, and so Susanna understood him. She started instinctively, flushed red, and bit her lower lip. A spot of light, like the gleam of a tear, flashed on her eyelash, and rising quickly, she went out of the room.
'Where are you off to, Susanna Ivanovna?' Mr. Ratsch bawled after her.
'Let her be, Ivan Demianitch, 'put in Eleonora Karpovna. 'Wenn sie einmal so et was im Kopfe hat...'
'A nervous temperament,'Ratsch pronounced, rotating on his heels, and slapping himself on the haunch, 'suffers with the plexus solaris. Oh! you needn't look at me like that, Piotr Gavrilitch! I've had a go at anatomy too, ha, ha! I'm even a bit of a doctor! You ask Eleonora Karpovna... I cure all her little ailments! Oh, I'm a famous hand at that!'
'You must for ever be joking, Ivan Demianitch,' the latter responded with displeasure, while Fustov, laughing and gracefully swaying to and fro, looked at the husband and wife.
'And why not be joking, mein Mtterchen?' retorted Ivan Demianitch. 'Life's given us for use, and still more for beauty, as some celebrated poet has observed. Kolka, wipe your nose, little savage!'
'I was put in a very awkward position this evening through your doing,' I said the same evening to Fustov, on the way home with him. 'You told me that that girl—what's her name?—Susanna, was the daughter of Mr. Ratsch, but she's his stepdaughter.'
'Really! Did I tell you she was his daughter? But... isn't it all the same?'
'That Ratsch,' I went on.... 'O Alexander, how I detest him! Did you notice the peculiar sneer with which he spoke of Jews before her? Is she... a Jewess?'
Fustov walked ahead, swinging his arms; it was cold, the snow was crisp, like salt, under our feet.
'Yes, I recollect, I did hear something of the sort,' he observed at last.... 'Her mother, I fancy, was of Jewish extraction.'
'Then Mr. Ratsch must have married a widow the first time?'
'H'm!... And that Viktor, who didn't come in this evening, is his stepson too?'
'No... he's his real son. But, as you know, I don't enter into other people's affairs, and I don't like asking questions. I'm not inquisitive.'
I bit my tongue. Fustov still pushed on ahead. As we got near home, I overtook him and peeped into his face.
'Oh!' I queried, 'is Susanna really so musical?'
'She plays the piano well, 'he said between his teeth. 'Only she's very shy, I warn you!' he added with a slight grimace. He seemed to be regretting having made me acquainted with her.
I said nothing and we parted.
Next morning I set off again to Fustov's. To spend my mornings at his rooms had become a necessity for me. He received me cordially, as usual, but of our visit of the previous evening—not a word! As though he had taken water into his mouth, as they say. I began turning over the pages of the last number of the Telescope.
A person, unknown to me, came into the room. It turned out to be Mr. Ratsch's son, the Viktor whose absence had been censured by his father the evening before.
He was a young man, about eighteen, but already looked dissipated and unhealthy, with a mawkishly insolent grin on his unclean face, and an expression of fatigue in his swollen eyes. He was like his father, only his features were smaller and not without a certain prettiness. But in this very prettiness there was something offensive. He was dressed in a very slovenly way; there were buttons off his undergraduate's coat, one of his boots had a hole in it, and he fairly reeked of tobacco.
'How d'ye do,' he said in a sleepy voice, with those peculiar twitchings of the head and shoulders which I have always noticed in spoilt and conceited young men. 'I meant to go to the University, but here I am. Sort of oppression on my chest. Give us a cigar.' He walked right across the room, listlessly dragging his feet, and keeping his hands in his trouser-pockets, and sank heavily upon the sofa.
'Have you caught cold?' asked Fustov, and he introduced us to each other. We were both students, but were in different faculties.
'No!... Likely! Yesterday, I must own...' (here Ratsch junior smiled, again not without a certain prettiness, though he showed a set of bad teeth) 'I was drunk, awfully drunk. Yes'—he lighted a cigar and cleared his throat—'Obihodov's farewell supper.'
'Where's he going?'
'To the Caucasus, and taking his young lady with him. You know the black-eyed girl, with the freckles. Silly fool!'
'Your father was asking after you yesterday,' observed Fustov.
Viktor spat aside. 'Yes, I heard about it. You were at our den yesterday. Well, music, eh?'
'And she... with a new visitor' (here he pointed with his head in my direction) 'she gave herself airs, I'll be bound. Wouldn't play, eh?'
'Of whom are you speaking?' Fustov asked.
'Why, of the most honoured Susanna Ivanovna, of course!'
Viktor lolled still more comfortably, put his arm up round his head, gazed at his own hand, and cleared his throat hoarsely.
I glanced at Fustov. He merely shrugged his shoulders, as though giving me to understand that it was no use talking to such a dolt.
Viktor, staring at the ceiling, fell to talking, deliberately and through his nose, of the theatre, of two actors he knew, of a certain Serafrina Serafrinovna, who had 'made a fool' of him, of the new professor, R., whom he called a brute. 'Because, only fancy, what a monstrous notion! Every lecture he begins with calling over the students' names, and he's reckoned a liberal too! I'd have all your liberals locked up in custody!' and turning at last his full face and whole body towards Fustov, he brought out in a half-plaintive, half-ironical voice: 'I wanted to ask you something, Alexander Daviditch.... Couldn't you talk my governor round somehow?... You play duets with him, you know.... Here he gives me five miserable blue notes a month.... What's the use of that! Not enough for tobacco. And then he goes on about my not making debts! I should like to put him in my place, and then we should see! I don't come in for pensions, not like some people.' (Viktor pronounced these last words with peculiar emphasis.) 'But he's got a lot of tin, I know! It's no use his whining about hard times, there's no taking me in. No fear! He's made a snug little pile!'
Fustov looked dubiously at Victor.
'If you like,' he began, 'I'll speak to your father. Or, if you like... meanwhile... a trifling sum....'
'Oh, no! Better get round the governor... Though,' added Viktor, scratching his nose with all his fingers at once, 'you might hand over five-and-twenty roubles, if it's the same to you.... What's the blessed total I owe you?'
'You've borrowed eighty-five roubles of me.'
'Yes.... Well, that's all right, then... make it a hundred and ten. I'll pay it all in a lump.'
Fustov went into the next room, brought back a twenty-five-rouble note and handed it in silence to Viktor. The latter took it, yawned with his mouth wide open, grumbled thanks, and, shrugging and stretching, got up from the sofa.
'Foo! though... I'm bored,' he muttered, 'might as well turn in to the "Italie."'
He moved towards the door.
Fustov looked after him. He seemed to be struggling with himself.
'What pension were you alluding to just now, Viktor Ivanitch?' he asked at last.
Viktor stopped in the doorway and put on his cap.
'Oh, don't you know? Susanna Ivanovna's pension.... She gets one. An awfully curious story, I can tell you! I'll tell it you one of these days. Quite an affair, 'pon my soul, a queer affair. But, I say, the governor, you won't forget about the governor, please! His hide is thick, of course—German, and it's had a Russian tanning too, still you can get through it. Only, mind my step-mother Elenorka's nowhere about! Dad's afraid of her, and she wants to keep everything for her brats! But there, you know your way about! Good-bye!'
'Ugh, what a low beast that boy is!' cried Fustov, as soon as the door had slammed-to.
His face was burning, as though from the fire, and he turned away from me. I did not question him, and soon retired.
All that day I spent in speculating about Fustov, about Susanna, and about her relations. I had a vague feeling of something like a family drama. As far as I could judge, my friend was not indifferent to Susanna. But she? Did she care for him? Why did she seem so unhappy? And altogether, what sort of creature was she? These questions were continually recurring to my mind. An obscure but strong conviction told me that it would be no use to apply to Fustov for the solution of them. It ended in my setting off the next day alone to Mr. Ratsch's house.
I felt all at once very uncomfortable and confused directly I found myself in the dark little passage. 'She won't appear even, very likely,' flashed into my mind. 'I shall have to stop with the repulsive veteran and his cook of a wife.... And indeed, even if she does show herself, what of it? She won't even take part in the conversation.... She was anything but warm in her manner to me the other day. Why ever did I come?' While I was making these reflections, the little page ran to announce my presence, and in the adjoining room, after two or three wondering 'Who is it? Who, do you say?' I heard the heavy shuffling of slippers, the folding-door was slightly opened, and in the crack between its two halves was thrust the face of Ivan Demianitch, an unkempt and grim-looking face. It stared at me and its expression did not immediately change.... Evidently, Mr. Ratsch did not at once recognise me; but suddenly his cheeks grew rounder, his eyes narrower, and from his opening mouth, there burst, together with a guffaw, the exclamation: 'Ah! my dear sir! Is it you? Pray walk in!'
I followed him all the more unwillingly, because it seemed to me that this affable, good-humoured Mr. Ratsch was inwardly wishing me at the devil. There was nothing to be done, however. He led me into the drawing-room, and in the drawing-room who should be sitting but Susanna, bending over an account-book? She glanced at me with her melancholy eyes, and very slightly bit the finger-nails of her left hand.... It was a habit of hers, I noticed, a habit peculiar to nervous people. There was no one else in the room.
'You see, sir,' began Mr. Ratsch, dealing himself a smack on the haunch, 'what you've found Susanna Ivanovna and me busy upon: we're at our accounts. My spouse has no great head for arithmetic, and I, I must own, try to spare my eyes. I can't read without spectacles, what am I to do? Let the young people exert themselves, ha-ha! That's the proper thing. But there's no need of haste.... More haste, worse speed in catching fleas, he-he!'
Susanna closed the book, and was about to leave the room.
'Wait a bit, wait a bit,' began Mr. Ratsch. 'It's no great matter if you're not in your best dress....' (Susanna was wearing a very old, almost childish, frock with short sleeves.) 'Our dear guest is not a stickler for ceremony, and I should like just to clear up last week.... You don't mind?'—he addressed me. 'We needn't stand on ceremony with you, eh?'
'Please don't put yourself out on my account!' I cried.
'To be sure, my good friend. As you're aware, the late Tsar Alexey Nikolavitch Romanoff used to say, "Time is for business, but a minute for recreation!" We'll devote one minute only to that same business... ha-ha! What about that thirteen roubles and thirty kopecks?' he added in a low voice, turning his back on me.
'Viktor took it from Eleonora Karpovna; he said that it was with your leave,' Susanna replied, also in a low voice.
'He said... he said... my leave...' growled Ivan Demianitch. 'I'm on the spot myself, I fancy. Might be asked. And who's had that seventeen roubles?'
'Oh... the upholsterer. What's that for?' 'His bill.'
'His bill. Show me!' He pulled the book away from Susanna, and planting a pair of round spectacles with silver rims on his nose, he began passing his finger along the lines. 'The upholsterer,.. the upholsterer... You'd chuck all the money out of doors! Nothing pleases you better!... Wie die Croaten! A bill indeed! But, after all,' he added aloud, and he turned round facing me again, and pulled the spectacles off his nose, 'why do this now? I can go into these wretched details later. Susanna Ivanovna, be so good as to put away that account-book, and come back to us and enchant our kind guest's ears with your musical accomplishments, to wit, playing on the pianoforte... Eh?'
Susanna turned away her head.
'I should be very happy,' I hastily observed; 'it would be a great pleasure for me to hear Susanna Ivanovna play. But I would not for anything in the world be a trouble...'
'Trouble, indeed, what nonsense! Now then, Susanna Ivanovna, eins, zwei, drei!'
Susanna made no response, and went out.
I had not expected her to come back; but she quickly reappeared. She had not even changed her dress, and sitting down in a corner, she looked twice intently at me. Whether it was that she was conscious in my manner to her of the involuntary respect, inexplicable to myself, which, more than curiosity, more even than sympathy, she aroused in me, or whether she was in a softened frame of mind that day, any way, she suddenly went to the piano, and laying her hand irresolutely on the keys, and turning her head a little over her shoulder towards me, she asked what I would like her to play. Before I had time to answer she had seated herself, taken up some music, hurriedly opened it, and begun to play. I loved music from childhood, but at that time I had but little comprehension of it, and very slight knowledge of the works of the great masters, and if Mr. Ratsch had not grumbled with some dissatisfaction, 'Aha! wieder dieser Beethoven!' I should not have guessed what Susanna had chosen. It was, as I found out afterwards, the celebrated sonata in F minor, opus 57. Susanna's playing impressed me more than I can say; I had not expected such force, such fire, such bold execution. At the very first bars of the intensely passionate allegro, the beginning of the sonata, I felt that numbness, that chill and sweet terror of ecstasy, which instantaneously enwrap the soul when beauty bursts with sudden flight upon it. I did not stir a limb till the very end. I kept, wanting—and not daring—to sigh. I was sitting behind Susanna; I could not see her face; I saw only from time to time her long dark hair tossed up and down on her shoulders, her figure swaying impulsively, and her delicate arms and bare elbows swiftly, and rather angularly, moving. The last notes died away. I sighed at last. Susanna still sat before the piano.
'Ja, ja,' observed Mr. Ratsch, who had also, however, listened with attention; 'romantische Musik! That's all the fashion nowadays. Only, why not play correctly? Eh? Put your finger on two notes at once—what's that for? Eh? To be sure, all we care for is to go quickly, quickly! Turns it out hotter, eh? Hot pancakes!' he bawled like a street seller.
Susanna turned slightly towards Mr. Ratsch. I caught sight of her face in profile. The delicate eyebrow rose high above the downcast eyelid, an unsteady flush overspread the cheek, the little ear was red under the lock pushed behind it.
'I have heard all the best performers with my own ears,' pursued Mr. Ratsch, suddenly frowning, 'and compared with the late Field they were all—tfoo! nil! zero!! Das war ein Kerl! Und ein so reines Spiel! And his own compositions the finest things! But all those now "tloo-too-too," and "tra-ta-ta," are written, I suppose, more for beginners. Da braucht man keine Delicatesse! Bang the keys anyhow... no matter! It'll turn out some how! Janitscharen Musik! Pugh!' (Ivan Demianitch wiped his forehead with his handkerchief.) 'But I don't say that for you, Susanna Ivanovna; you played well, and oughtn't to be hurt by my remarks.'
'Every one has his own taste,' Susanna said in a low voice, and her lips were trembling; 'but your remarks, Ivan Demianitch, you know, cannot hurt me.'
'Oh! of course not! Only don't you imagine'—Mr. Ratsch turned to me—'don't you imagine, my young friend, that that comes from our excessive good-nature and meekness of spirit; it's simply that we fancy ourselves so highly exalted that—oo-oo!—we can't keep our cap on our head, as the Russian proverb says, and, of course, no criticism can touch us. The conceit, my dear sir, the conceit!'
I listened in surprise to Mr. Ratsch. Spite, the bitterest spite, seemed as it were boiling over in every word he uttered.... And long it must have been rankling! It choked him. He tried to conclude his tirade with his usual laugh, and fell into a husky, broken cough instead. Susanna did not let drop a syllable in reply to him, only she shook her head, raised her face, and clasping her elbows with her hands, stared straight at him. In the depths of her fixed, wide-open eyes the hatred of long years lay smouldering with dim, unquenchable fire. I felt ill at ease.
'You belong to two different musical generations,' I began, with an effort at lightness, wishing by this lightness to suggest that I noticed nothing, 'and so it is not surprising that you do not agree in your opinions.... But, Ivan Demianitch, you must allow me to take rather... the side of the younger generation. I'm an outsider, of course; but I must confess nothing in music has ever made such an impression on me as the... as what Susanna Ivanovna has just played us.'
Ratsch pounced at once upon me.
'And what makes you suppose,' he roared, still purple from the fit of coughing, 'that we want to enlist you on our side? We don't want that at all! Freedom for the free, salvation for the saved! But as to the two generations, that's right enough; we old folks find it hard to get on with you young people, very hard! Our ideas don't agree in anything: neither in art, nor in life, nor even in morals; do they, Susanna Ivanovna?'
Susanna smiled a contemptuous smile.
'Especially in regard to morals, as you say, our ideas do not agree, and cannot agree,' she responded, and something menacing seemed to flit over her brows, while her lips were faintly trembling as before.
'Of course! of course!' Ratsch broke in, 'I'm not a philosopher! I'm not capable of... rising so superior! I'm a plain man, swayed by prejudices—oh yes!'
Susanna smiled again.
'I think, Ivan Demianitch, you too have sometimes been able to place yourself above what are called prejudices.'
'Wie so? How so, I mean? I don't know what you mean.'
'You don't know what I mean? Your memory's so bad!'
Mr. Ratsch seemed utterly taken aback.
'I... I...' he repeated, 'I...'
'Yes, you, Mr. Ratsch.'
There followed a brief silence.
'Really, upon my word...' Mr. Ratsch was beginning; 'how dare you... such insolence...'
Susanna all at once drew herself up to her full height, and still holding her elbows, squeezing them tight, drumming on them with her fingers, she stood still facing Ratsch. She seemed to challenge him to conflict, to stand up to meet him. Her face was changed; it became suddenly, in one instant, extraordinarily beautiful, and terrible too; a sort of bright, cold brilliance—the brilliance of steel—gleamed in her lustreless eyes; the lips that had been quivering were compressed in one straight, mercilessly stern line. Susanna challenged Ratsch, but he gazed blankly, and suddenly subsiding into silence, all of a heap, so to say, drew his head in, even stepped back a pace. The veteran of the year twelve was afraid; there could be no mistake about that.
Susanna slowly turned her eyes from him to me, as though calling upon me to witness her victory, and the humiliation of her foe, and, smiling once more, she walked out of the room.
The veteran remained a little while motionless in his arm-chair; at last, as though recollecting a forgotten part, he roused himself, got up, and, slapping me on the shoulder, laughed his noisy guffaw.
'There, 'pon my soul! fancy now, it's over ten years I've been living with that young lady, and yet she never can see when I'm joking, and when I'm in earnest! And you too, my young friend, are a little puzzled, I do believe.... Ha-ha-ha! That's because you don't know old Ratsch!'
'No.... I do know you now,' I thought, not without a feeling of some alarm and disgust.
'You don't know the old fellow, you don't know him,' he repeated, stroking himself on the stomach, as he accompanied me into the passage. 'I may be a tiresome person, knocked about by life, ha-ha! But I'm a good-hearted fellow, 'pon my soul, I am!'
I rushed headlong from the stairs into the street. I longed with all speed to get away from that good-hearted fellow.
'They hate one another, that's clear,' I thought, as I returned homewards; 'there's no doubt either that he's a wretch of a man, and she's a good girl. But what has there been between them? What is the reason of this continual exasperation? What was the meaning of those hints? And how suddenly it broke out! On such a trivial pretext!'
Next day Fustov and I had arranged to go to the theatre, to see Shtchepkin in 'Woe from Wit.' Griboyedov's comedy had only just been licensed for performance after being first disfigured by the censors' mutilations. We warmly applauded Famusov and Skalozub. I don't remember what actor took the part of Tchatsky, but I well remember that he was indescribably bad. He made his first appearance in a Hungarian jacket, and boots with tassels, and came on later in a frockcoat of the colour 'flamme du punch,' then in fashion, and the frockcoat looked about as suitable as it would have done on our old butler. I recollect too that we were all in ecstasies over the ball in the third act. Though, probably, no one ever executed such steps in reality, it was accepted as correct and I believe it is acted in just the same way to-day. One of the guests hopped excessively high, while his wig flew from side to side, and the public roared with laughter. As we were coming out of the theatre, we jostled against Viktor in a corridor.
'You were in the theatre!' he cried, flinging his arms about. 'How was it I didn't see you? I'm awfully glad I met you. You must come and have supper with me. Come on; I'll stand the supper!'
Young Ratsch seemed in an excited, almost ecstatic, frame of mind. His little eyes darted to and fro; he was grinning, and there were spots of red on his face.
'Why this gleefulness?' asked Fustov.
'Why? Wouldn't you like to know, eh?' Viktor drew us a little aside, and pulling out of his trouser-pocket a whole bundle of the red and blue notes then in use waved them in the air.
Fustov was surprised.
'Has your governor been so liberal?'
'He liberal! You just try it on!... This morning, relying on your intercession, I asked him for cash. What do you suppose the old skinflint answered? "I'll pay your debts," says he, "if you like. Up to twenty-five roubles inclusive!" Do you hear, inclusive! No, sir, this was a gift from God in my destitution. A lucky chance.'
'Been robbing someone?' Fustov hazarded carelessly.
'Robbing, no indeed! I won it, won it from an officer, a guardsman. He only arrived from Petersburg yesterday. Such a chain of circumstances! It's worth telling... only this isn't the place. Come along to Yar's; not a couple of steps. I'll stand the show, as I said!'
We ought, perhaps, to have refused; but we followed without making any objection.
At Yar's we were shown into a private room; supper was served, champagne was brought. Viktor related to us, omitting no detail, how he had in a certain 'gay' house met this officer of the guards, a very nice chap and of good family, only without a hap'orth of brains; how they had made friends, how he, the officer that is, had suggested as a joke a game of 'fools' with Viktor with some old cards, for next to nothing, and with the condition that the officer's winnings should go to the benefit of Wilhelmina, but Viktor's to his own benefit; how afterwards they had got on to betting on the games.
'And I, and I,' cried Viktor, and he jumped up and clapped his hands, 'I hadn't more than six roubles in my pocket all the while. Fancy! And at first I was completely cleaned out.... A nice position! Only then—in answer to whose prayers I can't say—fortune smiled. The other fellow began to get hot and kept showing all his cards.... In no time he'd lost seven hundred and fifty roubles! He began begging me to go on playing, but I'm not quite a fool, I fancy; no, one mustn't abuse such luck; I popped on my hat and cut away. So now I've no need to eat humble pie with the governor, and can treat my friends.... Hi waiter! Another bottle! Gentlemen, let's clink glasses!'
We did clink glasses with Viktor, and continued drinking and laughing with him, though his story was by no means to our liking, nor was his society a source of any great satisfaction to us either. He began being very affable, playing the buffoon, unbending, in fact, and was more loathsome than ever. Viktor noticed at last the impression he was making on us, and began to get sulky; his remarks became more disconnected and his looks gloomier. He began yawning, announced that he was sleepy, and after swearing with his characteristic coarseness at the waiter for a badly cleaned pipe, he suddenly accosted Fustov, with a challenging expression on his distorted face.
'I say, Alexander Daviditch,' said he, 'you tell me, if you please, what do you look down on me for?'
'How so?' My friend was momentarily at a loss for a reply.
'I'll tell you how.... I'm very well aware that you look down on me, and that person does too' (he pointed at me with his finger), 'so there! As though you were yourself remarkable for such high and exalted principles, and weren't just as much a sinner as the rest of us. Worse even. Still waters... you know the proverb?'
Fustov turned rather red.
'What do you mean by that?' he asked.
'Why, I mean that I'm not blind yet, and I see very clearly everything that's going on under my nose.... And I have nothing against it: first it's not my principle to interfere, and secondly, my sister Susanna Ivanovna hasn't always been so exemplary herself.... Only, why look down on me?'
'You don't understand what you're babbling there yourself! You're drunk,' said Fustov, taking his overcoat from the wall. 'He's swindled some fool of his money, and now he's telling all sorts of lies!'
Viktor continued reclining on the sofa, and merely swung his legs, which were hanging over its arm.
'Swindled! Why did you drink the wine, then? It was paid for with the money I won, you know. As for lies, I've no need for lying. It's not my fault that in her past Susanna Ivanovna...'
'Hold your tongue!' Fustov shouted at him, 'hold your tongue... or...'
'You'll find out what. Come along, Piotr.'
'Aha!' pursued Viktor; 'our noble-hearted knight takes refuge in flight. He doesn't care to hear the truth, that's evident! It stings—the truth does, it seems!'
'Come along, Piotr,' Fustov repeated, completely losing his habitual coolness and self-possession.
'Let's leave this wretch of a boy!'
'The boy's not afraid of you, do you hear,' Viktor shouted after us, 'he despises you, the boy does! Do you hear!'
Fustov walked so quickly along the street that I had difficulty in keeping up with him. All at once he stopped short and turned sharply back.
'Where are you going?' I asked.
'Oh, I must find out what the idiot.... He's drunk, no doubt, God knows what.... Only don't you follow me... we shall see each other to-morrow. Good-bye!'
And hurriedly pressing my hand, Fustov set off towards Yar's hotel.
Next day I missed seeing Fustov; and on the day after that, on going to his rooms, I learned that he had gone into the country to his uncle's, near Moscow. I inquired if he had left no note for me, but no note was forth-coming. Then I asked the servant whether he knew how long Alexander Daviditch would be away in the country. 'A fortnight, or a little more, probably,' replied the man. I took at any rate Fustov's exact address, and sauntered home, meditating deeply. This unexpected absence from Moscow, in the winter, completed my utter perplexity. My good aunt observed to me at dinner that I seemed continually expecting something, and gazed at the cabbage pie as though I were beholding it for the first time in my life. 'Pierre, vous n'tes pas amoureux?' she cried at last, having previously got rid of her companions. But I reassured her: no, I was not in love.
Three days passed. I had a secret prompting to go to the Ratschs'. I fancied that in their house I should be sure to find a solution of all that absorbed my mind, that I could not make out.... But I should have had to meet the veteran.... That thought pulled me up. One tempestuous evening—the February wind was howling angrily outside, the frozen snow tapped at the window from time to time like coarse sand flung by a mighty hand—I was sitting in my room, trying to read. My servant came, and, with a mysterious air, announced that a lady wished to see me. I was surprised... ladies did not visit me, especially at such a late hour; however, I told him to show her in. The door opened and with swift step there walked in a woman, muffled up in a light summer cloak and a yellow shawl. Abruptly she cast off the cloak and the shawl, which were covered with snow, and I saw standing before me Susanna. I was so astonished that I did not utter a word, while she went up to the window, and leaning her shoulder against the wall, remained motionless; only her bosom heaved convulsively and her eyes moved restlessly, and the breath came with a faint moan from her white lips. I realised that it was no slight trouble that had brought her to me; I realised, for all my youth and shallowness, that at that instant before my eyes the fate of a whole life was being decided—a bitter and terrible fate.
'Susanna Ivanovna,' I began, 'how...'
She suddenly clutched my hand in her icy fingers, but her voice failed her. She gave a broken sigh and looked down. Her heavy coils of black hair fell about her face.... The snow had not melted from off it.
'Please, calm yourself, sit down,' I began again, 'see here, on the sofa. What has happened? Sit down, I entreat you.'
'No,' she articulated, scarcely audibly, and she sank on to the window-seat. 'I am all right here.... Let me be.... You could not expect... but if you knew... if I could... if...'
She tried to control herself, but the tears flowed from her eyes with a violence that shook her, and sobs, hurried, devouring sobs, filled the room. I felt a tightness at my heart.... I was utterly stupefied. I had seen Susanna only twice; I had conjectured that she had a hard life, but I had regarded her as a proud girl, of strong character, and all at once these violent, despairing tears.... Mercy! Why, one only weeps like that in the presence of death!
I stood like one condemned to death myself.
'Excuse me,' she said at last, several times, almost angrily, wiping first one eye, then the other. 'It'll soon be over. I've come to you....' She was still sobbing, but without tears. 'I've come.... You know that Alexander Daviditch has gone away?'
In this single question Susanna revealed everything, and she glanced at me, as though she would say: 'You understand, of course, you will have pity, won't you?' Unhappy girl! There was no other course left her then!
I did not know what answer to make....
'He has gone away, he has gone away... he believed him!' Susanna was saying meanwhile. 'He did not care even to question me; he thought I should not tell him all the truth, he could think that of me! As though I had ever deceived him!'
She bit her lower lip, and bending a little, began to scratch with her nail the patterns of ice that covered the window-pane. I went hastily into the next room, and sending my servant away, came back at once and lighted another candle. I had no clear idea why I was doing all this.... I was greatly overcome. Susanna was sitting as before on the window-seat, and it was at this moment that I noticed how lightly she was dressed: a grey gown with white buttons and a broad leather belt, that was all. I went up to her, but she did not take any notice of me.
'He believed it,... he believed it,' she whispered, swaying softly from side to side. 'He did not hesitate, he dealt me this last... last blow!' She turned suddenly to me. 'You know his address?'
'Yes, Susanna Ivanovna.. I learnt it from his servants... at his house. He told me nothing of his intention; I had not seen him for two days—went to inquire and he had already left Moscow.'
'You know his address?' she repeated. 'Well, write to him then that he has killed me. You are a good man, I know. He did not talk to you of me, I dare say, but he talked to me about you. Write... ah, write to him to come back quickly, if he wants to find me alive!... No! He will not find me!...'
Susanna's voice grew quieter at each word, and she was quieter altogether. But this calm seemed to me more awful than the previous sobs.
'He believed him,...' she said again, and rested her chin on her clasped hands.
A sudden squall of wind beat upon the window with a sharp whistle and a thud of snow. A cold draught passed over the room.... The candles flickered.... Susanna shivered. Again I begged her to sit on the sofa.
'No, no, let me be,' she answered, 'I am all right here. Please.' She huddled up to the frozen pane, as though she had found herself a refuge in the recesses of the window. 'Please.'
'But you're shivering, you're frozen,' I cried, 'Look, your shoes are soaked.'
'Let me be... please...' she whispered,. and closed her eyes.
A panic seized me.
'Susanna Ivanovna!' I almost screamed: 'do rouse yourself, I entreat you! What is the matter with you? Why such despair? You will see, every thing will be cleared up, some misunderstanding... some unlooked-for chance.... You will see, he will soon be back. I will let him know.... I will write to him to-day.... But I will not repeat your words.... Is it possible!'
'He will not find me,' Susanna murmured, still in the same subdued voice. 'Do you suppose I would have come here, to you, to a stranger, if I had not known I should not long be living? Ah, all my past has been swept away beyond return! You see, I could not bear to die so, in solitude, in silence, without saying to some one, "I've lost every thing... and I'm dying.... Look!"'
She drew back into her cold little corner.... Never shall I forget that head, those fixed eyes with their deep, burnt-out look, those dark, disordered tresses against the pale window-pane, even the grey, narrow gown, under every fold of which throbbed such young, passionate life!
Unconsciously I flung up my hands.
'You... you die, Susanna Ivanovna! You have only to live.... You must live!'
She looked at me.... My words seemed to surprise her.
'Ah, you don't know,' she began, and she softly dropped both her hands. 'I cannot live, Too much, too much I have had to suffer, too much! I lived through it.... I hoped... but now... when even this is shattered... when...'
She raised her eyes to the ceiling and seemed to sink into thought. The tragic line, which I had once noticed about her lips, came out now still more clearly; it seemed to spread across her whole face. It seemed as though some relentless hand had drawn it immutably, had set a mark for ever on this lost soul.
She was still silent.
'Susanna Ivanovna,' I said, to break that awful silence with anything; 'he will come back, I assure you!'