A Living Chattle by Anton Chekhov
GROHOLSKY embraced Liza, kept kissing one after another all her little fingers with their bitten pink nails, and laid her on the couch covered with cheap velvet. Liza crossed one foot over the other, clasped her hands behind her head, and lay down.
Groholsky sat down in a chair beside her and bent over. He was entirely absorbed in contemplation of her.
How pretty she seemed to him, lighted up by the rays of the setting sun!
There was a complete view from the window of the setting sun, golden, lightly flecked with purple.
The whole drawing-room, including Liza, was bathed by it with brilliant light that did not hurt the eyes, and for a little while covered with gold.
Groholsky was lost in admiration. Liza was so incredibly beautiful. It is true her little kittenish face with its brown eyes, and turn up nose was fresh, and even piquant, his scanty hair was black as soot and curly, her little figure was graceful, well proportioned and mobile as the body of an electric eel, but on the whole. . . . However my taste has nothing to do with it. Groholsky who was spoilt by women, and who had been in love and out of love hundreds of times in his life, saw her as a beauty. He loved her, and blind love finds ideal beauty everywhere.
“I say,” he said, looking straight into her eyes, “I have come to talk to you, my precious. Love cannot bear anything vague or indefinite. . . . Indefinite relations, you know, I told you yesterday, Liza . . . we will try to-day to settle the question we raised yesterday. Come, let us decide together. . . .”
What are we to do?”
Liza gave a yawn and scowling, drew her right arm from under her head.
“What are we to do?” she repeated hardly audibly after Groholsky.
“Well, yes, what are we to do? Come, decide, wise little head . . . I love you, and a man in love is not fond of sharing. He is more than an egoist. It is too much for me to go shares with your husband. I mentally tear him to pieces, when I remember that he loves you too. In the second place you love me. . . . Perfect freedom is an essential condition for love. . . . And are you free? Are you not tortured by the thought that that man towers for ever over your soul? A man whom you do not love, whom very likely and quite naturally, you hate. . . . That’s the second thing. . . . And thirdly. . . . What is the third thing? Oh yes. . . . We are deceiving him and that . . . is dishonourable. Truth before everything, Liza. Let us have done with lying!”
“Well, then, what are we to do?”
“You can guess. . . . I think it necessary, obligatory, to inform him of our relations and to leave him, to begin to live in freedom. Both must be done as quickly as possible. . . . This very evening, for instance. . . . It’s time to make an end of it. Surely you must be sick of loving like a thief?”
“Tell! tell Vanya?”
“That’s impossible! I told you yesterday, Michel, that it is impossible.”
“He will be upset. He’ll make a row, do all sorts of unpleasant things. . . . Don’t you know what he is like? God forbid! There’s no need to tell him. What an idea!”
Groholsky passed his hand over his brow, and heaved a sigh.
“Yes,” he said, “he will be more than upset. I am robbing him of his happiness. Does he love you?”
“He does love me. Very much.”
“There’s another complication! One does not know where to begin. To conceal it from him is base, telling him would kill him. . . . Goodness knows what’s one to do. Well, how is it to be?”
Groholsky pondered. His pale face wore a frown.
“Let us go on always as we are now,” said Liza. “Let him find out for himself, if he wants to.”
“But you know that . . . is sinful, and besides the fact is you are mine, and no one has the right to think that you do not belong to me but to someone else! You are mine! I will not give way to anyone! . . . I am sorry for him — God knows how sorry I am for him, Liza! It hurts me to see him! But . . . it can’t be helped after all. You don’t love him, do you? What’s the good of your going on being miserable with him? We must have it out! We will have it out with him, and you will come to me. You are my wife, and not his. Let him do what he likes. He’ll get over his troubles somehow. . . . He is not the first, and he won’t be the last. . . . Will you run away? Eh? Make haste and tell me! Will you run away?”
Liza got up and looked inquiringly at Groholsky.
“Yes. . . . To my estate. . . . Then to the Crimea. . . . We will tell him by letter. . . . We can go at night. There is a train at half past one. Well? Is that all right?”
Liza scratched the bridge of her nose, and hesitated.
“Very well,” she said, and burst into tears.
Patches of red came out of her cheeks, her eyes swelled, and tears flowed down her kittenish face. . . .
“What is it?” cried Groholsky in a flutter. “Liza! what’s the matter? Come! what are you crying for? What a girl! Come, what is it? Darling! Little woman!”
Liza held out her hands to Groholsky, and hung on his neck. There was a sound of sobbing.
“I am sorry for him . . .” muttered Liza. “Oh, I am so sorry for him!”
“Sorry for whom?”
“Va–Vanya. . . .”
“And do you suppose I’m not? But what’s to be done? We are causing him suffering. . . . He will be unhappy, will curse us . . . but is it our fault that we love one another?”
As he uttered the last word, Groholsky darted away from Liza as though he had been stung and sat down in an easy chair. Liza sprang away from his neck and rapidly — in one instant — dropped on the lounge.
They both turned fearfully red, dropped their eyes, and coughed.
A tall, broad-shouldered man of thirty, in the uniform of a government clerk, had walked into the drawing-room. He had walked in unnoticed. Only the bang of a chair which he knocked in the doorway had warned the lovers of his presence, and made them look round. It was the husband.
They had looked round too late.
He had seen Groholsky’s arm round Liza’s waist, and had seen Liza hanging on Groholsky’s white and aristocratic neck.
“He saw us!” Liza and Groholsky thought at the same moment, while they did not know what to do with their heavy hands and embarrassed eyes. . . .
The petrified husband, rosy-faced, turned white.
An agonising, strange, soul-revolting silence lasted for three minutes. Oh, those three minutes! Groholsky remembers them to this day.
The first to move and break the silence was the husband. He stepped up to Groholsky and, screwing his face into a senseless grimace like a smile, gave him his hand. Groholsky shook the soft perspiring hand and shuddered all over as though he had crushed a cold frog in his fist.
“Good evening,” he muttered.
“How are you?” the husband brought out in a faint husky, almost inaudible voice, and he sat down opposite Groholsky, straightening his collar at the back of his neck.
Again, an agonising silence followed . . . but that silence was no longer so stupid. . . . The first step, most difficult and colourless, was over.
All that was left now was for one of the two to depart in search of matches or on some such trifling errand. Both longed intensely to get away. They sat still, not looking at one another, and pulled at their beards while they ransacked their troubled brains for some means of escape from their horribly awkward position. Both were perspiring. Both were unbearably miserable and both were devoured by hatred. They longed to begin the tussle but how were they to begin and which was to begin first? If only she would have gone out!
“I saw you yesterday at the Assembly Hall,” muttered Bugrov (that was the husband’s name).
“Yes, I was there . . . the ball . . . did you dance?”
“M’m . . . yes . . . with that . . . with the younger Lyukovtsky. . . . She dances heavily. . . . She dances impossibly. She is a great chatterbox.” (Pause.) “She is never tired of talking.”
“Yes. . . . It was slow. I saw you too. . .”
Groholsky accidentally glanced at Bugrov. . . . He caught the shifting eyes of the deceived husband and could not bear it. He got up quickly, quickly seized Bugrov’s hand, shook it, picked up his hat, and walked towards the door, conscious of his own back. He felt as though thousands of eyes were looking at his back. It is a feeling known to the actor who has been hissed and is making his exit from the stage, and to the young dandy who has received a blow on the back of the head and is being led away in charge of a policeman.
As soon as the sound of Groholsky’s steps had died away and the door in the hall creaked, Bugrov leapt up, and after making two or three rounds of the drawing-room, strolled up to his wife. The kittenish face puckered up and began blinking its eyes as though expecting a slap. Her husband went up to her, and with a pale, distorted face, with arms, head, and shoulders shaking, stepped on her dress and knocked her knees with his.
“If, you wretched creature,” he began in a hollow, wailing voice, “you let him come here once again, I’ll. . . . Don’t let him dare to set his foot. . . . I’ll kill you. Do you understand? A-a-ah . . . worthless creature, you shudder! Fil-thy woman!”
Bugrov seized her by the elbow, shook her, and flung her like an indiarubber ball towards the window. . . .
“Wretched, vulgar woman! you have no shame!”
She flew towards the window, hardly touching the floor with her feet, and caught at the curtains with her hands.
“Hold your tongue,” shouted her husband, going up to her with flashing eyes and stamping his foot.
She did hold her tongue, she looked at the ceiling, and whimpered while her face wore the expression of a little girl in disgrace expecting to be punished.
“So that’s what you are like! Eh? Carrying on with a fop! Good! And your promise before the altar? What are you? A nice wife and mother. Hold your tongue!”
And he struck her on her pretty supple shoulder. “Hold your tongue, you wretched creature. I’ll give you worse than that! If that scoundrel dares to show himself here ever again, if I see you — listen! — with that blackguard ever again, don’t ask for mercy! I’ll kill you, if I go to Siberia for it! And him too. I shouldn’t think twice about it! You can go, I don’t want to see you!”
Bugrov wiped his eyes and his brow with his sleeve and strode about the drawing-room, Liza sobbing more and more loudly, twitching her shoulders and her little turned up nose, became absorbed in examining the lace on the curtain.
“You are crazy,” her husband shouted. “Your silly head is full of nonsense! Nothing but whims! I won’t allow it, Elizaveta, my girl! You had better be careful with me! I don’t like it! If you want to behave like a pig, then . . . then out you go, there is no place in my house for you! Out you pack if. . . . You are a wife, so you must forget these dandies, put them out of your silly head! It’s all foolishness! Don’t let it happen again! You try defending yourself! Love your husband! You have been given to your husband, so you must love him. Yes, indeed! Is one not enough? Go away till. . . . Torturers!”
Bugrov paused; then shouted:
“Go away I tell you, go to the nursery! Why are you blubbering, it is your own fault, and you blubber! What a woman! Last year you were after Petka Totchkov, now you are after this devil. Lord forgive us! . . . Tfoo, it’s time you understood what you are! A wife! A mother! Last year there were unpleasantnesses, and now there will be unpleasantnesses. . . . Tfoo!”
Bugrov heaved a loud sigh, and the air was filled with the smell of sherry. He had come back from dining and was slightly drunk. . . .
“Don’t you know your duty? No! . . . you must be taught, you’ve not been taught so far! Your mamma was a gad-about, and you . . . you can blubber. Yes! blubber away. . . .”
Bugrov went up to his wife and drew the curtain out of her hands.
“Don’t stand by the window, people will see you blubbering. . . . Don’t let it happen again. You’ll go from embracing to worse trouble. You’ll come to grief. Do you suppose I like to be made a fool of? And you will make a fool of me if you carry on with them, the low brutes. . . . Come, that’s enough. . . . Don’t you. . . . Another time. . . . Of course I . . Liza . . . stay. . . .”
Bugrov heaved a sigh and enveloped Liza in the fumes of sherry.
“You are young and silly, you don’t understand anything. . . . I am never at home. . . . And they take advantage of it. You must be sensible, prudent. They will deceive you. And then I won’t endure it. . . . Then I may do anything. . . . Of course! Then you can just lie down, and die. I . . . I am capable of doing anything if you deceive me, my good girl. I might beat you to death. . . . And . . . I shall turn you out of the house, and then you can go to your rascals.”
And Bugrov (horribile dictu) wiped the wet, tearful face of the traitress Liza with his big soft hand. He treated his twenty-year-old wife as though she were a child.
“Come, that’s enough. . . . I forgive you. Only God forbid it should happen again! I forgive you for the fifth time, but I shall not forgive you for the sixth, as God is holy. God does not forgive such as you for such things.”
Bugrov bent down and put out his shining lips towards Liza’s little head. But the kiss did not follow. The doors of the hall, of the dining-room, of the parlour, and of the drawing-room all slammed, and Groholsky flew into the drawing-room like a whirlwind. He was pale and trembling. He was flourishing his arms and crushing his expensive hat in his hands. His coat fluttered upon him as though it were on a peg. He was the incarnation of acute fever. When Bugrov saw him he moved away from his wife and began looking out of the other window. Groholsky flew up to him, and waving his arms and breathing heavily and looking at no one, he began in a shaking voice:
“Ivan Petrovitch! Let us leave off keeping up this farce with one another! We have deceived each other long enough! It’s too much! I cannot stand it. You must do as you like, but I cannot! It’s hateful and mean, it’s revolting! Do you understand that it is revolting?”
Groholsky spluttered and gasped for breath.
“It’s against my principles. And you are an honest man. I love her! I love her more than anything on earth! You have noticed it and . . . it’s my duty to say this!”
“What am I to say to him?” Ivan Petrovitch wondered.
“We must make an end of it. This farce cannot drag on much longer! It must be settled somehow.”
Groholsky drew a breath and went on:
“I cannot live without her; she feels the same. You are an educated man, you will understand that in such circumstances your family life is impossible. This woman is not yours, so . . . in short, I beg you to look at the matter from an indulgent humane point of view. . . . Ivan Petrovitch, you must understand at last that I love her — love her more than myself, more than anything in the world, and to struggle against that love is beyond my power!”
“And she?” Bugrov asked in a sullen, somewhat ironical tone.
“Ask her; come now, ask her! For her to live with a man she does not love, to live with you is . . . is a misery!”
“And she?” Bugrov repeated, this time not in an ironical tone.
“She . . . she loves me! We love each other, Ivan Petrovitch! Kill us, despise us, pursue us, do as you will, but we can no longer conceal it from you. We are standing face to face — you may judge us with all the severity of a man whom we . . . whom fate has robbed of happiness!”
Bugrov turned as red as a boiled crab, and looked out of one eye at Liza. He began blinking. His fingers, his lips, and his eyelids twitched. Poor fellow! The eyes of his weeping wife told him that Groholsky was right, that it was a serious matter.
“Well!” he muttered. “If you. . . . In these days. . . . You are always. . . .”
“As God is above,” Groholsky shrilled in his high tenor, “we understand you. Do you suppose we have no sense, no feeling? I know what agonies I am causing you, as God’s above! But be indulgent, I beseech you! We are not to blame. Love is not a crime. No will can struggle against it. . . . Give her up to me, Ivan Petrovitch! Let her go with me! Take from me what you will for your sufferings. Take my life, but give me Liza. I am ready to do anything. . . . Come, tell me how I can do something to make up in part at least! To make up for that lost happiness, I can give you other happiness. I can, Ivan Petrovitch; I am ready to do anything! It would be base on my part to leave you without satisfaction. . . . I understand you at this moment.”
Bugrov waved his hand as though to say, ‘For God’s sake, go away.’ His eyes began to be dimmed by a treacherous moisture — in a moment they would see him crying like a child.
“I understand you, Ivan Petrovitch. I will give you another happiness, such as hitherto you have not known. What would you like? I have money, my father is an influential man. . . . Will you? Come, how much do you want?”
Bugrov’s heart suddenly began throbbing. . . . He clutched at the window curtains with both hands. . . .
“Will you have fifty thousand? Ivan Petrovitch, I entreat you. . . . It’s not a bribe, not a bargain. . . .
I only want by a sacrifice on my part to atone a little for your inevitable loss. Would you like a hundred thousand? I am willing. A hundred thousand?”
My God! Two immense hammers began beating on the perspiring temples of the unhappy Ivan Petrovitch. Russian sledges with tinkling bells began racing in his ears. . . .
“Accept this sacrifice from me,” Groholsky went on, “I entreat you! You will take a load off my conscience. . . . I implore you!”
My God! A smart carriage rolled along the road wet from a May shower, passed the window through which Bugrov’s wet eyes were looking. The horses were fine, spirited, well-trained beasts. People in straw hats, with contented faces, were sitting in the carriage with long fishing-rods and bags. . . . A schoolboy in a white cap was holding a gun. They were driving out into the country to catch fish, to shoot, to walk about and have tea in the open air. They were driving to that region of bliss in which Bugrov as a boy — the barefoot, sunburnt, but infinitely happy son of a village deacon — had once raced about the meadows, the woods, and the river banks. Oh, how fiendishly seductive was that May! How happy those who can take off their heavy uniforms, get into a carriage and fly off to the country where the quails are calling and there is the scent of fresh hay. Bugrov’s heart ached with a sweet thrill that made him shiver. A hundred thousand! With the carriage there floated before him all the secret dreams over which he had gloated, through the long years of his life as a government clerk as he sat in the office of his department or in his wretched little study. . . . A river, deep, with fish, a wide garden with narrow avenues, little fountains, shade, flowers, arbours, a luxurious villa with terraces and turrets with an Aeolian harp and little silver bells (he had heard of the existence of an Aeolian harp from German romances); a cloudless blue sky; pure limpid air fragrant with the scents that recall his hungry, barefoot, crushed childhood. . . . To get up at five, to go to bed at nine; to spend the day catching fish, talking with the peasants. . . . What happiness!
“Ivan Petrovitch, do not torture me! Will you take a hundred thousand?”
“H’m . . . a hundred and fifty thousand!” muttered Bugrov in a hollow voice, the voice of a husky bull. He muttered it, and bowed his head, ashamed of his words, and awaiting the answer.
“Good,” said Groholsky, “I agree. I thank you, Ivan Petrovitch . . . . In a minute. . . . I will not keep you waiting. . . .”
Groholsky jumped up, put on his hat, and staggering backwards, ran out of the drawing-room
Bugrov clutched the window curtains more tightly than ever. . . . He was ashamed . . . . There was a nasty, stupid feeling in his soul, but, on the other hand, what fair shining hopes swarmed between his throbbing temples! He was rich!
Liza, who had grasped nothing of what was happening, darted through the half-opened door trembling all over and afraid that he would come to her window and fling her away from it. She went into the nursery, laid herself down on the nurse’s bed, and curled herself up. She was shivering with fever.
Bugrov was left alone. He felt stifled, and he opened the window. What glorious air breathed fragrance on his face and neck! It would be good to breathe such air lolling on the cushions of a carriage. . . . Out there, far beyond the town, among the villages and the summer villas, the air was sweeter still. . . . Bugrov actually smiled as he dreamed of the air that would be about him when he would go out on the verandah of his villa and admire the view. A long while he dreamed. . . . The sun had set, and still he stood and dreamed, trying his utmost to cast out of his mind the image of Liza which obstinately pursued him in all his dreams.
“I have brought it, Ivan Petrovitch!” Groholsky, re-entering, whispered above his ear. “I have brought it — take it. . . . Here in this roll there are forty thousand. . . . With this cheque will you kindly get twenty the day after to-morrow from Valentinov? . . . Here is a bill of exchange . . . a cheque. . . . The remaining thirty thousand in a day or two. . . . My steward will bring it to you.”
Groholsky, pink and excited, with all his limbs in motion, laid before Bugrov a heap of rolls of notes and bundles of papers. The heap was big, and of all sorts of hues and tints. Never in the course of his life had Bugrov seen such a heap. He spread out his fat fingers and, not looking at Groholsky, fell to going through the bundles of notes and bonds. . . .
Groholsky spread out all the money, and moved restlessly about the room, looking for the Dulcinea who had been bought and sold.
Filling his pockets and his pocket-book, Bugrov thrust the securities into the table drawer, and, drinking off half a decanter full of water, dashed out into the street.
“Cab!” he shouted in a frantic voice.
At half-past eleven that night he drove up to the entrance of the Paris Hotel. He went noisily upstairs and knocked at the door of Groholsky’s apartments. He was admitted. Groholsky was packing his things in a portmanteau, Liza was sitting at the table trying on bracelets. They were both frightened when Bugrov went in to them. They fancied that he had come for Liza and had brought back the money which he had taken in haste without reflection. But Bugrov had not come for Liza. Ashamed of his new get-up and feeling frightfully awkward in it, he bowed and stood at the door in the attitude of a flunkey. The get-up was superb. Bugrov was unrecognisable. His huge person, which had never hitherto worn anything but a uniform, was clothed in a fresh, brand-new suit of fine French cloth and of the most fashionable cut. On his feet spats shone with sparkling buckles. He stood ashamed of his new get-up, and with his right hand covered the watch-chain for which he had, an hour before, paid three hundred roubles.
“I have come about something,” he began. “A business agreement is beyond price. I am not going to give up Mishutka. . . .”
“What Mishutka?” asked Groholsky.
Groholsky and Liza looked at each other. Liza’s eyes bulged, her cheeks flushed, and her lips twitched. . . .
“Very well,” she said.
She thought of Mishutka’s warm little cot. It would be cruel to exchange that warm little cot for a chilly sofa in the hotel, and she consented.
“I shall see him,” she said.
Bugrov bowed, walked out, and flew down the stairs in his splendour, cleaving the air with his expensive cane. . . .
“Home,” he said to the cabman. “I am starting at five o’clock to-morrow morning. . . . You will come; if I am asleep, you will wake me. We are driving out of town.”
It was a lovely August evening. The sun, set in a golden background lightly flecked with purple, stood above the western horizon on the point of sinking behind the far-away tumuli. In the garden, shadows and half-shadows had vanished, and the air had grown damp, but the golden light was still playing on the tree-tops. . . . It was warm. . . . Rain had just fallen, and made the fresh, transparent fragrant air still fresher.
I am not describing the August of Petersburg or Moscow, foggy, tearful, and dark, with its cold, incredibly damp sunsets. God forbid! I am not describing our cruel northern August. I ask the reader to move with me to the Crimea, to one of its shores, not far from Feodosia, the spot where stands the villa of one of our heroes. It is a pretty, neat villa surrounded by flower-beds and clipped bushes. A hundred paces behind it is an orchard in which its inmates walk. . . . Groholsky pays a high rent for that villa, a thousand roubles a year, I believe. . . . The villa is not worth that rent, but it is pretty. . . . Tall, with delicate walls and very delicate parapets, fragile, slender, painted a pale blue colour, hung with curtains, portires, draperies, it suggests a charming, fragile Chinese lady. . . .
On the evening described above, Groholsky and Liza were sitting on the verandah of this villa. Groholsky was reading Novoye Vremya and drinking milk out of a green mug. A syphon of Seltzer water was standing on the table before him. Groholsky imagined that he was suffering from catarrh of the lungs, and by the advice of Dr. Dmitriev consumed an immense quantity of grapes, milk, and Seltzer water. Liza was sitting in a soft easy chair some distance from the table. With her elbows on the parapet, and her little face propped on her little fists, she was gazing at the villa opposite. . . . The sun was playing upon the windows of the villa opposite, the glittering panes reflected the dazzling light. . . . Beyond the little garden and the few trees that surrounded the villa there was a glimpse of the sea with its waves, its dark blue colour, its immensity, its white masts. . . . It was so delightful! Groholsky was reading an article by Anonymous, and after every dozen lines he raised his blue eyes to Liza’s back. . . . The same passionate, fervent love was shining in those eyes still. . . . He was infinitely happy in spite of his imaginary catarrh of the lungs. . . . Liza was conscious of his eyes upon her back, and was thinking of Mishutka’s brilliant future, and she felt so comfortable, so serene. . . .
She was not so much interested by the sea, and the glittering reflection on the windows of the villa opposite as by the waggons which were trailing up to that villa one after another.
The waggons were full of furniture and all sorts of domestic articles. Liza watched the trellis gates and big glass doors of the villa being opened and the men bustling about the furniture and wrangling incessantly. Big armchairs and a sofa covered with dark raspberry coloured velvet, tables for the hall, the drawing-room and the dining-room, a big double bed and a child’s cot were carried in by the glass doors; something big, wrapped up in sacking, was carried in too. A grand piano, thought Liza, and her heart throbbed.
It was long since she had heard the piano, and she was so fond of it. They had not a single musical instrument in their villa. Groholsky and she were musicians only in soul, no more. There were a great many boxes and packages with the words: “with care” upon them carried in after the piano.
They were boxes of looking-glasses and crockery. A gorgeous and luxurious carriage was dragged in, at the gate, and two white horses were led in looking like swans.
“My goodness, what riches!” thought Liza, remembering her old pony which Groholsky, who did not care for riding, had bought her for a hundred roubles. Compared with those swan-like steeds, her pony seemed to her no better than a bug. Groholsky, who was afraid of riding fast, had purposely bought Liza a poor horse.
“What wealth!” Liza thought and murmured as she gazed at the noisy carriers.
The sun hid behind the tumuli, the air began to lose its dryness and limpidity, and still the furniture was being driven up and hauled into the house. At last it was so dark that Groholsky left off reading the newspaper while Liza still gazed and gazed.
“Shouldn’t we light the lamp?” said Groholsky, afraid that a fly might drop into his milk and be swallowed in the darkness.
“Liza! shouldn’t we light the lamp? Shall we sit in darkness, my angel?”
Liza did not answer. She was interested in a chaise which had driven up to the villa opposite. . . . What a charming little mare was in that chaise. Of medium size, not large, but graceful. . . . A gentleman in a top hat was sitting in the chaise, a child about three, apparently a boy, was sitting on his knees waving his little hands. . . . He was waving his little hands and shouting with delight.
Liza suddenly uttered a shriek, rose from her seat and lurched forward.
“What is the matter?” asked Groholsky.
“Nothing. . . I only . . . I fancied. . . .”
The tall, broad-shouldered gentleman in the top hat jumped out of the chaise, lifted the boy down, and with a skip and a hop ran gaily in at the glass door. The door opened noisily and he vanished into the darkness of the villa apartments.
Two smart footmen ran up to the horse in the chaise, and most respectfully led it to the gate. Soon the villa opposite was lighted up, and the clatter of plates, knives, and forks was audible. The gentleman in the top hat was having his supper, and judging by the duration of the clatter of crockery, his supper lasted long. Liza fancied she could smell chicken soup and roast duck. After supper discordant sounds of the piano floated across from the villa. In all probability the gentleman in the top hat was trying to amuse the child in some way, and allowing it to strum on it.
Groholsky went up to Liza and put his arm round her waist.
“What wonderful weather!” he said. “What air! Do you feel it? I am very happy, Liza, very happy indeed. My happiness is so great that I am really afraid of its destruction. The greatest things are usually destroyed, and do you know, Liza, in spite of all my happiness, I am not absolutely . . . at peace. . . . One haunting thought torments me . . . it torments me horribly. It gives me no peace by day or by night. . . .”
“An awful thought, my love. I am tortured by the thought of your husband. I have been silent hitherto. I have feared to trouble your inner peace, but I cannot go on being silent. Where is he? What has happened to him? What has become of him with his money? It is awful! Every night I see his face, exhausted, suffering, imploring. . . . Why, only think, my angel — can the money he so generously accepted make up to him for you? He loved you very much, didn’t he?”
“There you see! He has either taken to drink now, or . . . I am anxious about him! Ah, how anxious I am! Should we write to him, do you think? We ought to comfort him . . . a kind word, you know.”
Groholsky heaved a deep sigh, shook his head, and sank into an easy chair exhausted by painful reflection. Leaning his head on his fists he fell to musing. Judging from his face, his musings were painful.
“I am going to bed,” said Liza; “it’s time.”
Liza went to her own room, undressed, and dived under the bedclothes. She used to go to bed at ten o’clock and get up at ten. She was fond of her comfort.
She was soon in the arms of Morpheus. Throughout the whole night she had the most fascinating dreams. . . . She dreamed whole romances, novels, Arabian Nights. . . . The hero of all these dreams was the gentleman in the top hat, who had caused her to utter a shriek that evening.
The gentleman in the top hat was carrying her off from Groholsky, was singing, was beating Groholsky and her, was flogging the boy under the window, was declaring his love, and driving her off in the chaise. . . . Oh, dreams! In one night, lying with one’s eyes shut, one may sometimes live through more than ten years of happiness. . . . That night Liza lived through a great variety of experiences, and very happy ones, even in spite of the beating.
Waking up between six and seven, she flung on her clothes, hurriedly did her hair, and without even putting on her Tatar slippers with pointed toes, ran impulsively on to the verandah. Shading her eyes from the sun with one hand, and with the other holding up her slipping clothes, she gazed at the villa opposite. Her face beamed. . . . There could be no further doubt it was he.
On the verandah in the villa opposite there was a table in front of the glass door. A tea service was shining and glistening on the table with a silver samovar at the head. Ivan Petrovitch was sitting at the table. He had in his hand a glass in a silver holder, and was drinking tea. He was drinking it with great relish. That fact could be deduced from the smacking of his lips, the sound of which reached Liza’s ears. He was wearing a brown dressing-gown with black flowers on it. Massive tassels fell down to the ground. It was the first time in her life Liza had seen her husband in a dressing-gown, and such an expensive-looking one.
Mishutka was sitting on one of his knees, and hindering him from drinking his tea. The child jumped up and down and tried to clutch his papa’s shining lip. After every three or four sips the father bent down to his son and kissed him on the head. A grey cat with its tail in the air was rubbing itself against one of the table legs, and with a plaintive mew proclaiming its desire for food. Liza hid behind the verandah curtain, and fastened her eyes upon the members of her former family; her face was radiant with joy.
“Misha!” she murmured, “Misha! Are you really here, Misha? The darling! And how he loves Vanya! Heavens!”
And Liza went off into a giggle when Mishutka stirred his father’s tea with a spoon. “And how Vanya loves Misha! My darlings!”
Liza’s heart throbbed, and her head went round with joy and happiness. She sank into an armchair and went on observing them, sitting down.
“How did they come here?” she wondered as she sent airy kisses to Mishutka. “Who gave them the idea of coming here? Heavens! Can all that wealth belong to them? Can those swan-like horses that were led in at the gate belong to Ivan Petrovitch? Ah!”
When he had finished his tea, Ivan Petrovitch went into the house. Ten minutes later, he appeared on the steps and Liza was astounded. . . . He, who in his youth only seven years ago had been called Vanushka and Vanka and had been ready to punch a man in the face and turn the house upside down over twenty kopecks, was dressed devilishly well. He had on a broad-brimmed straw hat, exquisite brilliant boots, a piqu waistcoat. . . . Thousands of suns, big and little, glistened on his watch-chain. With much chic he held in his right hand his gloves and cane.
And what swagger, what style there was in his heavy figure when, with a graceful motion of his hand, he bade the footman bring the horse round.
He got into the chaise with dignity, and told the footmen standing round the chaise to give him Mishutka and the fishing tackle they had brought. Setting Mishutka beside him, and putting his left arm round him, he held the reins and drove off.
“Ge-ee up!” shouted Mishutka.
Liza, unaware of what she was doing, waved her handkerchief after them. If she had looked in the glass she would have been surprised at her flushed, laughing, and, at the same time, tear-stained face. She was vexed that she was not beside her gleeful boy, and that she could not for some reason shower kisses on him at once.
For some reason! . . . Away with all your petty delicacies!
“Grisha! Grisha!” Liza ran into Groholsky’s bedroom and set to work to wake him. “Get up, they have come! The darling!”
“Who has come?” asked Groholsky, waking up.
“Our people . . . Vanya and Misha, they have come, they are in the villa opposite. . . . I looked out, and there they were drinking tea. . . . And Misha too. . . . What a little angel our Misha has grown! If only you had seen him! Mother of God!”
“Seen whom? Why, you are. . . . Who has come? Come where?”
“Vanya and Misha. . . . I have been looking at the villa opposite, while they were sitting drinking tea. Misha can drink his tea by himself now. . . . Didn’t you see them moving in yesterday, it was they who arrived!”
Groholsky rubbed his forehead and turned pale.
“Arrived? Your husband?” he asked.
“Most likely he is going to live here. They don’t know we are here. If they did, they would have looked at our villa, but they drank their tea and took no notice.”
“Where is he now? But for God’s sake do talk sense! Oh, where is he?”
“He has gone fishing with Misha in the chaise. Did you see the horses yesterday? Those are their horses . . . Vanya’s . . . Vanya drives with them. Do you know what, Grisha? We will have Misha to stay with us. . . . We will, won’t we? He is such a pretty boy. Such an exquisite boy!”
Groholsky pondered, while Liza went on talking and talking.
“This is an unexpected meeting,” said Groholsky, after prolonged and, as usual, harrassing reflection. “Well, who could have expected that we should meet here? Well. . . There it is. . . . So be it. It seems that it is fated. I can imagine the awkwardness of his position when he meets us.”
“Shall we have Misha to stay with us?”
“Yes, we will. . . . It will be awkward meeting him. . . . Why, what can I say to him? What can I talk of? It will be awkward for him and awkward for me. . . . We ought not to meet. We will carry on communications, if necessary, through the servants. . . . My head does ache so, Lizotchka. My arms and legs too, I ache all over. Is my head feverish?
Liza put her hand on his forehead and found that his head was hot.
“I had dreadful dreams all night . . . I shan’t get up to-day. I shall stay in bed . . . I must take some quinine. Send me my breakfast here, little woman.”
Groholsky took quinine and lay in bed the whole day. He drank warm water, moaned, had the sheets and pillowcase changed, whimpered, and induced an agonising boredom in all surrounding him.
He was insupportable when he imagined he had caught a chill. Liza had continually to interrupt her inquisitive observations and run from the verandah to his room. At dinner-time she had to put on mustard plasters. How boring all this would have been, O reader, if the villa opposite had not been at the service of my heroine! Liza watched that villa all day long and was gasping with happiness.
At ten o’clock Ivan Petrovitch and Mishutka came back from fishing and had breakfast. At two o’clock they had dinner, and at four o’clock they drove off somewhere in a carriage. The white horses bore them away with the swiftness of lightning. At seven o’clock visitors came to see them — all of them men. They were playing cards on two tables in the verandah till midnight. One of the men played superbly on the piano. The visitors played, ate, drank, and laughed. Ivan Petrovitch guffawing loudly, told them an anecdote of Armenian life at the top of his voice, so that all the villas round could hear. It was very gay and Mishutka sat up with them till midnight.
“Misha is merry, he is not crying,” thought Liza, “so he does not remember his mamma. So he has forgotten me!”
And there was a horrible bitter feeling in Liza’ s soul. She spent the whole night crying. She was fretted by her little conscience, and by vexation and misery, and the desire to talk to Mishutka and kiss him. . . . In the morning she got up with a headache and tear-stained eyes. Her tears Groholsky put down to his own account.
“Do not weep, darling,” he said to her, “I am all right to-day, my chest is a little painful, but that is nothing.”
While they were having tea, lunch was being served at the villa opposite. Ivan Petrovitch was looking at his plate, and seeing nothing but a morsel of goose dripping with fat.
“I am very glad,” said Groholsky, looking askance at Bugrov, “very glad that his life is so tolerable! I hope that decent surroundings anyway may help to stifle his grief. Keep out of sight, Liza! They will see you . . . I am not disposed to talk to him just now . . . God be with him! Why trouble his peace?”
But the dinner did not pass off so quietly. During dinner precisely that “awkward position” which Groholsky so dreaded occurred. Just when the partridges, Groholsky’s favorite dish, had been put on the table, Liza was suddenly overcome with confusion, and Groholsky began wiping his face with his dinner napkin. On the verandah of the villa opposite they saw Bugrov. He was standing with his arms leaning on the parapet, and staring straight at them, with his eyes starting out of his head.
“Go in, Liza, go in,” Groholsky whispered. “I said we must have dinner indoors! What a girl you are, really. . . .”
Bugrov stared and stared, and suddenly began shouting. Groholsky looked at him and saw a face full of astonishment. . . .
“Is that you ?” bawled Ivan Petrovitch, “you! Are you here too?”
Groholsky passed his fingers from one shoulder to another, as though to say, “My chest is weak, and so I can’t shout across such a distance.” Liza’s heart began throbbing, and everything turned round before her eyes. Bugrov ran from his verandah, ran across the road, and a few seconds later was standing under the verandah on which Groholsky and Liza were dining. Alas for the partridges!
“How are you?” he began, flushing crimson, and stuffing his big hands in his pockets. “Are you here? Are you here too?”
“Yes, we are here too. . . .”
“How did you get here?”
“Why, how did you?”
“I? It’s a long story, a regular romance, my good friend! But don’t put yourselves out — eat your dinner! I’ve been living, you know, ever since then . . . in the Oryol province. I rented an estate. A splendid estate! But do eat your dinner! I stayed there from the end of May, but now I have given it up. . . . It was cold there, and — well, the doctor advised me to go to the Crimea. . . .”
“Are you ill, then?” inquired Groholsky.
“Oh, well. . . . There always seems, as it were. . . something gurgling here. . . .”
And at the word “here” Ivan Petrovitch passed his open hand from his neck down to the middle of his stomach.
“So you are here too. . . . Yes . . . that’s very pleasant. Have you been here long?”
“Oh, and you, Liza, how are you? Quite well?”
“Quite well,” answered Liza, and was embarrassed.
“You miss Mishutka, I’ll be bound. Eh? Well, he’s here with me. . . . I’ll send him over to you directly with Nikifor. This is very nice. Well, good-bye! I have to go off directly. . . . I made the acquaintance of Prince Ter-Haimazov yesterday; delightful man, though he is an Armenian. So he has a croquet party to-day; we are going to play croquet. . . . Good-bye! The carriage is waiting. . . .”
Ivan Petrovitch whirled round, tossed his head, and, waving adieu to them, ran home.
“Unhappy man,” said Groholsky, heaving a deep sigh as he watched him go off.
“In what way is he unhappy?” asked Liza.
“To see you and not have the right to call you his!”
“Fool!” Liza was so bold to think. “Idiot!”
Before evening Liza was hugging and kissing Mishutka. At first the boy howled, but when he was offered jam, he was all friendly smiles.
For three days Groholsky and Liza did not see Bugrov. He had disappeared somewhere, and was only at home at night. On the fourth day he visited them again at dinner-time. He came in, shook hands with both of them, and sat down to the table. His face was serious.
“I have come to you on business,” he said. “Read this.” And he handed Groholsky a letter. “Read it! Read it aloud!”
Groholsky read as follows:
“My beloved and consoling, never-forgotten son Ioann! I have received the respectful and loving letter in which you invite your aged father to the mild and salubrious Crimea, to breathe the fragrant air, and behold strange lands. To that letter I reply that on taking my holiday, I will come to you, but not for long. My colleague, Father Gerasim, is a frail and delicate man, and cannot be left alone for long. I am very sensible of your not forgetting your parents, your father and your mother. . . . You rejoice your father with your affection, and you remember your mother in your prayers, and so it is fitting to do. Meet me at Feodosia. What sort of town is Feodosia — what is it like? It will be very agreeable to see it. Your godmother, who took you from the font, is called Feodosia. You write that God has been graciously pleased that you should win two hundred thousand roubles. That is gratifying to me. But I cannot approve of your having left the service while still of a grade of little importance; even a rich man ought to be in the service. I bless you always, now and hereafter. Ilya and Seryozhka Andronov send you their greetings. You might send them ten roubles each — they are badly off!
“Your loving Father,
“Pyotr Bugrov, Priest.”
Groholsky read this letter aloud, and he and Liza both looked inquiringly at Bugrov.
“You see what it is,” Ivan Petrovitch began hesitatingly. “I should like to ask you, Liza, not to let him see you, to keep out of his sight while he is here. I have written to him that you are ill and gone to the Caucasus for a cure. If you meet him. . . You see yourself. . . . It’s awkward. . . H’m. . . .”
“Very well,” said Liza.
“We can do that,” thought Groholsky, “since he makes sacrifices, why shouldn’t we?”
“Please do. . . . If he sees you there will be trouble. . . . My father is a man of strict principles. He would curse me in seven churches. Don’t go out of doors, Liza, that is all. He won’t be here long. Don’t be afraid.”
Father Pyotr did not long keep them waiting. One fine morning Ivan Petrovitch ran in and hissed in a mysterious tone:
“He has come! He is asleep now, so please be careful.”
And Liza was shut up within four walls. She did not venture to go out into the yard or on to the verandah. She could only see the sky from behind the window curtain. Unluckily for her, Ivan Petrovitch’s papa spent his whole time in the open air, and even slept on the verandah. Usually Father Pyotr, a little parish priest, in a brown cassock and a top hat with a curly brim, walked slowly round the villas and gazed with curiosity at the “strange lands” through his grandfatherly spectacles. Ivan Petrovitch with the Stanislav on a little ribbon accompanied him. He did not wear a decoration as a rule, but before his own people he liked to show off. In their society he always wore the Stanislav.
Liza was bored to death. Groholsky suffered too. He had to go for his walks alone without a companion. He almost shed tears, but . . . had to submit to his fate. And to make things worse, Bugrov would run across every morning and in a hissing whisper would give some quite unnecessary bulletin concerning the health of Father Pyotr. He bored them with those bulletins.
“He slept well,” he informed them. “Yesterday he was put out because I had no salted cucumbers. . . He has taken to Mishutka; he keeps patting him on the head.”
At last, a fortnight later, little Father Pyotr walked for the last time round the villas and, to Groholsky’s immense relief, departed. He had enjoyed himself, and went off very well satisfied. Liza and Groholsky fell back into their old manner of life. Groholsky once more blessed his fate. But his happiness did not last for long. A new trouble worse than Father Pyotr followed. Ivan Petrovitch took to coming to see them every day. Ivan Petrovitch, to be frank, though a capital fellow, was a very tedious person. He came at dinner-time, dined with them and stayed a very long time. That would not have mattered. But they had to buy vodka, which Groholsky could not endure, for his dinner. He would drink five glasses and talk the whole dinner-time. That, too, would not have mattered. . . . But he would sit on till two o’clock in the morning, and not let them get to bed, and, worse still, he permitted himself to talk of things about which he should have been silent. When towards two o’clock in the morning he had drunk too much vodka and champagne, he would take Mishutka in his arms, and weeping, say to him, before Groholsky and Liza:
“Mihail, my son, what am I? I . . . am a scoundrel. I have sold your mother! Sold her for thirty pieces of silver, may the Lord punish me! Mihail Ivanitch, little sucking pig, where is your mother? Lost! Gone! Sold into slavery! Well, I am a scoundrel.”
These tears and these words turned Groholsky’s soul inside out. He would look timidly at Liza’s pale face and wring his hands.
“Go to bed, Ivan Petrovitch,” he would say timidly.
“I am going. . . . Come along, Mishutka. . . . The Lord be our judge! I cannot think of sleep while I know that my wife is a slave. . . . But it is not Groholsky’s fault. . . . The goods were mine, the money his. . . . Freedom for the free and Heaven for the saved.”
By day Ivan Petrovitch was no less insufferable to Groholsky. To Groholsky’s intense horror, he was always at Liza’s side. He went fishing with her, told her stories, walked with her, and even on one occasion, taking advantage of Groholsky’s having a cold, carried her off in his carriage, goodness knows where, and did not bring her back till night!
“It’s outrageous, inhuman,” thought Groholsky, biting his lips.
Groholsky liked to be continually kissing Liza. He could not exist without those honeyed kisses, and it was awkward to kiss her before Ivan Petrovitch. It was agony. The poor fellow felt forlorn, but fate soon had compassion on him. Ivan Petrovitch suddenly went off somewhere for a whole week. Visitors had come and carried him off with them . . . And Mishutka was taken too.
One fine morning Groholsky came home from a walk good-humoured and beaming.
“He has come,” he said to Liza, rubbing his hands. “I am very glad he has come. Ha-ha-ha!”
“What are you laughing at?”
“There are women with him.”
“I don’t know. . . . It’s a good thing he has got women. . . . A capital thing, in fact. . . . He is still young and fresh. Come here! Look!”
Groholsky led Liza on to the verandah, and pointed to the villa opposite. They both held their sides, and roared with laughter. It was funny. Ivan Petrovitch was standing on the verandah of the villa opposite, smiling. Two dark-haired ladies and Mishutka were standing below, under the verandah. The ladies were laughing, and loudly talking French.
“French women,” observed Groholsky. “The one nearest us isn’t at all bad-looking. Lively damsels, but that’s no matter. There are good women to be found even among such. . . . But they really do go too far.”
What was funny was that Ivan Petrovitch bent across the verandah, and stretching with his long arms, put them round the shoulders of one of the French girls, lifted her in the air, and set her giggling on the verandah. After lifting up both ladies on to the verandah, he lifted up Mishutka too. The ladies ran down and the proceedings were repeated.
“Powerful muscles, I must say,” muttered Groholsky looking at this scene. The operation was repeated some six times, the ladies were so amiable as to show no embarrassment whatever when the boisterous wind disposed of their inflated skirts as it willed while they were being lifted. Groholsky dropped his eyes in a shamefaced way when the ladies flung their legs over the parapet as they reached the verandah. But Liza watched and laughed! What did she care? It was not a case of men misbehaving themselves, which would have put her, as a woman, to shame, but of ladies.
In the evening, Ivan Petrovitch flew over, and with some embarrassment announced that he was now a man with a household to look after. . . .
“You mustn’t imagine they are just anybody,” he said. “It is true they are French. They shout at the top of their voices, and drink . . . but we all know! The French are brought up to be like that! It can’t be helped. . . . The prince,” Ivan Petrovitch added, “let me have them almost for nothing. . . . He said: ‘take them, take them. . . .’ I must introduce you to the prince sometime. A man of culture! He’s for ever writing, writing. . . . And do you know what their names are? One is Fanny, the other Isabella. . . . There’s Europe, ha-ha-ha! . . . The west! Good-bye!”
Ivan Petrovitch left Liza and Groholsky in peace, and devoted himself to his ladies. All day long sound of talk, laughter, and the clatter of crockery came from his villa. . . . The lights were not put out till far into the night. . . . Groholsky was in bliss. . . . At last, after a prolonged interval of agony, he felt happy and at peace again. Ivan Petrovitch with his two ladies had no such happiness as he had with one. But alas, destiny has no heart. She plays with the Groholskys, the Lizas, the Ivans, and the Mishutkas as with pawns. . . . Groholsky lost his peace again. . . .
One morning, about ten days afterwards, on waking up late, he went out on to the verandah and saw a spectacle which shocked him, revolted him, and moved him to intense indignation. Under the verandah of the villa opposite stood the French women, and between them Liza. She was talking and looking askance at her own villa as though to see whether that tyrant, that despot were awake (so Groholsky interpreted those looks). Ivan Petrovitch standing on the verandah with his sleeves tucked up, lifted Isabella into the air, then Fanny, and then Liza. When he was lifting Liza it seemed to Groholsky that he pressed her to himself. . . . Liza too flung one leg over the parapet. . . . Oh these women! All sphinxes, every one of them!
When Liza returned home from her husband’s villa and went into the bedroom on tip-toe, as though nothing had happened, Groholsky, pale, with hectic flushes on his cheeks, was lying in the attitude of a man at his last gasp and moaning.
On seeing Liza, he sprang out of bed, and began pacing about the bedroom.
“So that’s what you are like, is it?” he shrieked in a high tenor. “So that’s it! Very much obliged to you! It’s revolting, madam! Immoral, in fact! Let me tell you that!”
Liza turned pale, and of course burst into tears. When women feel that they are in the right, they scold and shed tears; when they are conscious of being in fault, they shed tears only.
“On a level with those depraved creatures! It’s . . . it’s . . . it’s . . . lower than any impropriety! Why, do you know what they are? They are kept women! Cocottes! And you a respectable woman go rushing off where they are. . . And he . . . He! What does he want? What more does he want of me? I don’t understand it! I have given him half of my property — I have given him more! You know it yourself! I have given him what I have not myself. . . . I have given him almost all. . . . And he! I’ve put up with your calling him Vanya, though he has no right whatever to such intimacy. I have put up with your walks, kisses after dinner. . . . I have put up with everything, but this I will not put up with. . . . Either he or I! Let him go away, or I go away! I’m not equal to living like this any longer, no! You can see that for yourself! . . . Either he or I. . . . Enough! The cup is brimming over. . . . I have suffered a great deal as it is. . . . I am going to talk to him at once — this minute! What is he, after all? What has he to be proud of? No, indeed. . . . He has no reason to think so much of himself. . . . “
Groholsky said a great many more valiant and stinging things, but did not “go at once”; he felt timid and abashed. . . . He went to Ivan Petrovitch three days later.
When he went into his apartment, he gaped with astonishment. He was amazed at the wealth and luxury with which Bugrov had surrounded himself. Velvet hangings, fearfully expensive chairs. . . . One was positively ashamed to step on the carpet. Groholsky had seen many rich men in his day, but he had never seen such frenzied luxury. . . . And the higgledy-piggledy muddle he saw when, with an inexplicable tremor, he walked into the drawing-room — plates with bits of bread on them were lying about on the grand piano, a glass was standing on a chair, under the table there was a basket with a filthy rag in it. . . . Nut shells were strewn about in the windows. Bugrov himself was not quite in his usual trim when Groholsky walked in. . . . With a red face and uncombed locks he was pacing about the room in deshabille, talking to himself, apparently much agitated. Mishutka was sitting on the sofa there in the drawing-room, and was making the air vibrate with a piercing scream.
“It’s awful, Grigory Vassilyevitch!” Bugrov began on seeing Groholsky, “such disorder. . . such disorder. . . Please sit down. You must excuse my being in the costume of Adam and Eve. . . . It’s of no consequence. . . . Horrible disorderliness! I don’t understand how people can exist here, I don’t understand it! The servants won’t do what they are told, the climate is horrible, everything is expensive. . . . Stop your noise,” Bugrov shouted, suddenly coming to a halt before Mishutka; “stop it, I tell you! Little beast, won’t you stop it?”
And Bugrov pulled Mishutka’s ear.
“That’s revolting, Ivan Petrovitch,” said Groholsky in a tearful voice. “How can you treat a tiny child like that? You really are. . .”
“Let him stop yelling then. . . . Be quiet — I’ll whip you!”
“Don’t cry, Misha darling. . . . Papa won’t touch you again. Don’t beat him, Ivan Petrovitch; why, he is hardly more than a baby. . . . There, there. . . . Would you like a little horse? I’ll send you a little horse. . . . You really are hard-hearted. . . .”
Groholsky paused, and then asked:
“And how are your ladies getting on, Ivan Petrovitch?”
“Not at all. I’ve turned them out without ceremony. I might have gone on keeping them, but it’s awkward. . . . The boy will grow up. . . . A father’s example. . . . If I were alone, then it would be a different thing. . . . Besides, what’s the use of my keeping them? Poof . . . it’s a regular farce! I talk to them in Russian, and they answer me in French. They don’t understand a thing — you can’t knock anything into their heads.”
“I’ve come to you about something, Ivan Petrovitch, to talk things over. . . . H’m. . . . It’s nothing very particular. But just . . . two or three words. . . . In reality, I have a favour to ask of you.”
“Would you think it possible, Ivan Petrovitch, to go away? We are delighted that you are here; it’s very agreeable for us, but it’s inconvenient, don’t you know. . . . You will understand me. It’s awkward in a way. . . . Such indefinite relations, such continual awkwardness in regard to one another. . . . We must part. . . . It’s essential in fact. Excuse my saying so, but . . . you must see for yourself, of course, that in such circumstances to be living side by side leads to . . . reflections. . . that is . . . not to reflections, but there is a certain awkward feeling. . . .”
“Yes. . . . That is so, I have thought of it myself. Very good, I will go away.”
“We shall be very grateful to you. . . . Believe me, Ivan Petrovitch, we shall preserve the most flattering memory of you. The sacrifice which you. . .”
“Very good. . . . Only what am I to do with all this? I say, you buy this furniture of mine! What do you say? It’s not expensive, eight thousand . . . ten. . . . The furniture, the carriage, the grand piano. . . .”
“Very good. . . . I will give you ten thousand. . . .”
“Well, that is capital! I will set off to-morrow. I shall go to Moscow. It’s impossible to live here. Everything is so dear! Awfully dear! The money fairly flies. . . . You can’t take a step without spending a thousand! I can’t go on like that. I have a child to bring up. . . . Well, thank God that you will buy my furniture. . . . That will be a little more in hand, or I should have been regularly bankrupt. . . .”
Groholsky got up, took leave of Bugrov, and went home rejoicing. In the evening he sent him ten thousand roubles.
Early next morning Bugrov and Mishutka were already at Feodosia.
Several months had passed; spring had come. With spring, fine bright days had come too. Life was not so dull and hateful, and the earth was more fair to look upon. . . . There was a warm breeze from the sea and the open country. . . . The earth was covered with fresh grass, fresh leaves were green upon the trees. Nature had sprung into new life, and had put on new array.
It might be thought that new hopes and new desires would surge up in man when everything in nature is renewed, and young and fresh . . . but it is hard for man to renew life. . . .
Groholsky was still living in the same villa. His hopes and desires, small and unexacting, were still concentrated on the same Liza, on her alone, and on nothing else! As before, he could not take his eyes off her, and gloated over the thought: how happy I am! The poor fellow really did feel awfully happy. Liza sat as before on the verandah, and unaccountably stared with bored eyes at the villa opposite and the trees near it through which there was a peep at the dark blue sea. . . . As before, she spent her days for the most part in silence, often in tears and from time to time in putting mustard plasters on Groholsky. She might be congratulated on one new sensation, however. There was a worm gnawing at her vitals. . . . That worm was misery. . . . She was fearfully miserable, pining for her son, for her old, her cheerful manner of life. Her life in the past had not been particularly cheerful, but still it was livelier than her present existence. When she lived with her husband she used from time to time to go to a theatre, to an entertainment, to visit acquaintances. But here with Groholsky it was all quietness and emptiness. . . . Besides, here there was one man, and he with his ailments and his continual mawkish kisses, was like an old grandfather for ever shedding tears of joy.
It was boring! Here she had not Mihey Sergeyitch who used to be fond of dancing the mazurka with her. She had not Spiridon Nikolaitch, the son of the editor of the Provincial News. Spiridon Nikolaitch sang well and recited poetry. Here she had not a table set with lunch for visitors. She had not Gerasimovna, the old nurse who used to be continually grumbling at her for eating too much jam. . . . She had no one! There was simply nothing for her but to lie down and die of depression. Groholsky rejoiced in his solitude, but . . . he was wrong to rejoice in it. All too soon he paid for his egoism. At the beginning of May when the very air seemed to be in love and faint with happiness, Groholsky lost everything; the woman he loved and. . .
That year Bugrov, too, visited the Crimea. He did not take the villa opposite, but pottered about, going from one town to another with Mishutka. He spent his time eating, drinking, sleeping, and playing cards. He had lost all relish for fishing, shooting and the French women, who, between ourselves, had robbed him a bit. He had grown thin, lost his broad and beaming smiles, and had taken to dressing in canvas. Ivan Petrovitch from time to time visited Groholsky’s villa. He brought Liza jam, sweets, and fruit, and seemed trying to dispel her ennui. Groholsky was not troubled by these visits, especially as they were brief and infrequent, and were apparently paid on account of Mishutka, who could not under any circumstances have been altogether deprived of the privilege of seeing his mother. Bugrov came, unpacked his presents, and after saying a few words, departed. And those few words he said not to Liza but to Groholsky. . . . With Liza he was silent and Groholsky’s mind was at rest; but there is a Russian proverb which he would have done well to remember: “Don’t fear the dog that barks, but fear the dog that’s quiet. . . .” A fiendish proverb, but in practical life sometimes indispensable.
As he was walking in the garden one day, Groholsky heard two voices in conversation. One voice was a man’s, the other was a woman’s. One belonged to Bugrov, the other to Liza. Groholsky listened, and turning white as death, turned softly towards the speakers. He halted behind a lilac bush, and proceeded to watch and listen. His arms and legs turned cold. A cold sweat came out upon his brow. He clutched several branches of the lilac that he might not stagger and fall down. All was over!
Bugrov had his arm round Liza’ s waist, and was saying to her:
“My darling! what are we to do? It seems it was God’s will. . . . I am a scoundrel. . . . I sold you. I was seduced by that Herod’s money, plague take him, and what good have I had from the money? Nothing but anxiety and display! No peace, no happiness, no position. . . . One sits like a fat invalid at the same spot, and never a step forwarder. . . . Have you heard that Andrushka Markuzin has been made a head clerk? Andrushka, that fool! While I stagnate. . . . Good heavens! I have lost you, I have lost my happiness. I am a scoundrel, a blackguard, how do you think I shall feel at the dread day of judgment?”
“Let us go away, Vanya,” wailed Liza. “I am dull. . . . I am dying of depression.”
“We cannot, the money has been taken. . . .”
“Well, give it back again.”
“I should be glad to, but . . . wait a minute. I have spent it all. We must submit, my girl. God is chastising us. Me for my covetousness and you for your frivolity. Well, let us be tortured. . . . It will be the better for us in the next world.”
And in an access of religious feeling, Bugrov turned up his eyes to heaven.
“But I cannot go on living here; I am miserable.”
“Well, there is no help for it. I’m miserable too. Do you suppose I am happy without you? I am pining and wasting away! And my chest has begun to be bad! . . . You are my lawful wife, flesh of my flesh . . . one flesh. . . . You must live and bear it! While I . . . will drive over . . . visit you.”
And bending down to Liza, Bugrov whispered, loudly enough, however, to be heard several yards away:
“I will come to you at night, Lizanka. . . . Don’t worry. . . . I am staying at Feodosia close by. . . . I will live here near you till I have run through everything . . . and I soon shall be at my last farthing! A-a-ah, what a life it is! Dreariness, ill . . . my chest is bad, and my stomach is bad.”
Bugrov ceased speaking, and then it was Liza’s turn. . . . My God, the cruelty of that woman! She began weeping, complaining, enumerating all the defects of her lover and her own sufferings. Groholsky as he listened to her, felt that he was a villain, a miscreant, a murderer.
“He makes me miserable. . . .” Liza said in conclusion.
After kissing Liza at parting, and going out at the garden gate, Bugrov came upon Groholsky, who was standing at the gate waiting for him.
“Ivan Petrovitch,” said Groholsky in the tone of a dying man, “I have seen and heard it all. . . It’s not honourable on your part, but I do not blame you. . . . You love her too, but you must understand that she is mine. Mine! I cannot live without her! How is it you don’t understand that? Granted that you love her, that you are miserable. . . . Have I not paid you, in part at least, for your sufferings? For God’s sake, go away! For God’s sake, go away! Go away from here for ever, I implore you, or you will kill me. . . .”
“I have nowhere to go,” Bugrov said thickly.
“H’m, you have squandered everything. . . . You are an impulsive man. Very well. . . . Go to my estate in the province of Tchernigov. If you like I will make you a present of the property. It’s a small estate, but a good one. . . . On my honour, it’s a good one!”
Bugrov gave a broad grin. He suddenly felt himself in the seventh heaven.
“I will give it you. . . . This very day I will write to my steward and send him an authorisation for completing the purchase. You must tell everyone you have bought it. . . . Go away, I entreat you.”
“Very good, I will go. I understand.”
“Let us go to a notary . . . at once,” said Groholsky, greatly cheered, and he went to order the carriage.
On the following evening, when Liza was sitting on the garden seat where her rendezvous with Ivan Petrovitch usually took place, Groholsky went quietly to her. He sat down beside her, and took her hand.
“Are you dull, Lizotchka?” he said, after a brief silence. “Are you depressed? Why shouldn’t we go away somewhere? Why is it we always stay at home? We want to go about, to enjoy ourselves, to make acquaintances. . . . Don’t we?”
“I want nothing,” said Liza, and turned her pale, thin face towards the path by which Bugrov used to come to her.
Groholsky pondered. He knew who it was she expected, who it was she wanted.
“Let us go home, Liza,” he said, “it is damp here. . . .”
“You go; I’ll come directly.”
Groholsky pondered again.
“You are expecting him?” he asked, and made a wry face as though his heart had been gripped with red-hot pincers.
“Yes. . . . I want to give him the socks for Misha. . . .”
“He will not come.”
“How do you know?”
“He has gone away. . . .”
Liza opened her eyes wide. . . .
“He has gone away, gone to the Tchernigov province. I have given him my estate. . . .”
Liza turned fearfully pale, and caught at Groholsky’s shoulder to save herself from falling.
“I saw him off at the steamer at three o’clock.”
Liza suddenly clutched at her head, made a movement, and falling on the seat, began shaking all over.
“Vanya,” she wailed, “Vanya! I will go to Vanya. . . . Darling!”
She had a fit of hysterics. . . .
And from that evening, right up to July, two shadows could be seen in the park in which the summer visitors took their walks. The shadows wandered about from morning till evening, and made the summer visitors feel dismal. . . . After Liza’s shadow invariably walked the shadow of Groholsky. . . . I call them shadows because they had both lost their natural appearance. They had grown thin and pale and shrunken, and looked more like shadows than living people. . . . Both were pining away like fleas in the classic anecdote of the Jew who sold insect powder.
At the beginning of July, Liza ran away from Groholsky, leaving a note in which she wrote that she was going for a time to “her son” . . . For a time! She ran away by night when Groholsky was asleep. . . . After reading her letter Groholsky spent a whole week wandering round about the villa as though he were mad, and neither ate nor slept. In August, he had an attack of recurrent fever, and in September he went abroad. There he took to drink. . . . He hoped in drink and dissipation to find comfort. . . . He squandered all his fortune, but did not succeed, poor fellow, in driving out of his brain the image of the beloved woman with the kittenish face. . . . Men do not die of happiness, nor do they die of misery. Groholsky’s hair went grey, but he did not die: he is alive to this day. . . . He came back from abroad to have “just a peep” at Liza. . . . Bugrov met him with open arms, and made him stay for an indefinite period. He is staying with Bugrov to this day.
This year I happened to be passing through Groholyovka, Bugrov’s estate. I found the master and the mistress of the house having supper. . . . Ivan Petrovitch was highly delighted to see me, and fell to pressing good things upon me. . . . He had grown rather stout, and his face was a trifle puffy, though it was still rosy and looked sleek and well-nourished. . . . He was not bald. Liza, too, had grown fatter. Plumpness did not suit her. Her face was beginning to lose the kittenish look, and was, alas! more suggestive of the seal. Her cheeks were spreading upwards, outwards, and to both sides. The Bugrovs were living in first-rate style. They had plenty of everything. The house was overflowing with servants and edibles. . . .
When we had finished supper we got into conversation. Forgetting that Liza did not play, I asked her to play us something on the piano.
“She does not play,” said Bugrov; “she is no musician. . . . Hey, you there! Ivan! call Grigory Vassilyevitch here! What’s he doing there?” And turning to me, Bugrov added, “Our musician will come directly; he plays the guitar. We keep the piano for Mishutka — we are having him taught. . . .”
Five minutes later, Groholsky walked into the room — sleepy, unkempt, and unshaven. . . . He walked in, bowed to me, and sat down on one side.
“Why, whoever goes to bed so early?” said Bugrov, addressing him. “What a fellow you are really! He’s always asleep, always asleep. . . . The sleepy head! Come, play us something lively. . . .”
Groholsky turned the guitar, touched the strings, and began singing:
“Yesterday I waited for my dear one. . . .”
I listened to the singing, looked at Bugrov’s well-fed countenance, and thought: “Nasty brute!” I felt like crying. . . . When he had finished singing, Groholsky bowed to us, and went out.
“And what am I to do with him?” Bugrov said when he had gone away. “I do have trouble with him! In the day he is always brooding and brooding. . . . And at night he moans. . . . He sleeps, but he sighs and moans in his sleep. . . . It is a sort of illness. . . . What am I to do with him, I can’t think! He won’t let us sleep. . . . I am afraid that he will go out of his mind. People think he is badly treated here. . . . In what way is he badly treated? He eats with us, and he drinks with us. . . . Only we won’t give him money. If we were to give him any he would spend it on drink or waste it. . . . That’s another trouble for me! Lord forgive me, a sinner!”
They made me stay the night. When I woke next morning, Bugrov was giving some one a lecture in the adjoining room. . . .
“Set a fool to say his prayers, and he will crack his skull on the floor! Why, who paints oars green! Do think, blockhead! Use your sense! Why don’t you speak?”
“I . . . I . . . made a mistake,” said a husky tenor apologetically.
The tenor belonged to Groholsky.
Groholsky saw me to the station.
“He is a despot, a tyrant,” he kept whispering to me all the way. “He is a generous man, but a tyrant! Neither heart nor brain are developed in him. . . . He tortures me! If it were not for that noble woman, I should have gone away long ago. I am sorry to leave her. It’s somehow easier to endure together.”
Groholsky heaved a sigh, and went on:
“She is with child. . . . You notice it? It is really my child. . . . Mine. . . . She soon saw her mistake, and gave herself to me again. She cannot endure him. . . .”
“You are a rag,” I could not refrain from saying to Groholsky.
“Yes, I am a man of weak character. . . . That is quite true. I was born so. Do you know how I came into the world? My late papa cruelly oppressed a certain little clerk — it was awful how he treated him! He poisoned his life. Well . . . and my late mama was tender-hearted. She came from the people, she was of the working class. . . . She took that little clerk to her heart from pity. . . . Well . . . and so I came into the world. . . . The son of the ill-treated clerk. How could I have a strong will? Where was I to get it from? But that’s the second bell. . . . Good-bye. Come and see us again, but don’t tell Ivan Petrovitch what I have said about him.”
I pressed Groholsky’s hand, and got into the train. He bowed towards the carriage, and went to the water-barrel — I suppose he was thirsty!