It was eight o’clock in the morning — the time when the officers, the local officials, and the visitors usually took their morning dip in the sea after the hot, stifling night, and then went into the pavilion to drink tea or coffee. Ivan Andreitch Laevsky, a thin, fair young man of twenty-eight, wearing the cap of a clerk in the Ministry of Finance and with slippers on his feet, coming down to bathe, found a number of acquaintances on the beach, and among them his friend Samoylenko, the army doctor.
With his big cropped head, short neck, his red face, his big nose, his shaggy black eyebrows and grey whiskers, his stout puffy figure and his hoarse military bass, this Samoylenko made on every newcomer the unpleasant impression of a gruff bully; but two or three days after making his acquaintance, one began to think his face extraordinarily good-natured, kind, and even handsome. In spite of his clumsiness and rough manner, he was a peaceable man, of infinite kindliness and goodness of heart, always ready to be of use. He was on familiar terms with every one in the town, lent every one money, doctored every one, made matches, patched up quarrels, arranged picnics at which he cooked shashlik and an awfully good soup of grey mullets. He was always looking after other people’s affairs and trying to interest some one on their behalf, and was always delighted about something. The general opinion about him was that he was without faults of character. He had only two weaknesses: he was ashamed of his own good nature, and tried to disguise it by a surly expression and an assumed gruffness; and he liked his assistants and his soldiers to call him “Your Excellency,” although he was only a civil councillor.
“Answer one question for me, Alexandr Daviditch,” Laevsky began, when both he and Samoylenko were in the water up to their shoulders. “Suppose you had loved a woman and had been living with her for two or three years, and then left off caring for her, as one does, and began to feel that you had nothing in common with her. How would you behave in that case?”
“It’s very simple. ‘You go where you please, madam’ — and that would be the end of it.”
“It’s easy to say that! But if she has nowhere to go? A woman with no friends or relations, without a farthing, who can’t work . . .”
“Well? Five hundred roubles down or an allowance of twenty-five roubles a month — and nothing more. It’s very simple.”
“Even supposing you have five hundred roubles and can pay twenty-five roubles a month, the woman I am speaking of is an educated woman and proud. Could you really bring yourself to offer her money? And how would you do it?”
Samoylenko was going to answer, but at that moment a big wave covered them both, then broke on the beach and rolled back noisily over the shingle. The friends got out and began dressing.
“Of course, it is difficult to live with a woman if you don’t love her,” said Samoylenko, shaking the sand out of his boots. “But one must look at the thing humanely, Vanya. If it were my case, I should never show a sign that I did not love her, and I should go on living with her till I died.”
He was at once ashamed of his own words; he pulled himself up and said:
“But for aught I care, there might be no females at all. Let them all go to the devil!”
The friends dressed and went into the pavilion. There Samoylenko was quite at home, and even had a special cup and saucer. Every morning they brought him on a tray a cup of coffee, a tall cut glass of iced water, and a tiny glass of brandy. He would first drink the brandy, then the hot coffee, then the iced water, and this must have been very nice, for after drinking it his eyes looked moist with pleasure, he would stroke his whiskers with both hands, and say, looking at the sea:
“A wonderfully magnificent view!”
After a long night spent in cheerless, unprofitable thoughts which prevented him from sleeping, and seemed to intensify the darkness and sultriness of the night, Laevsky felt listless and shattered. He felt no better for the bathe and the coffee.
“Let us go on with our talk, Alexandr Daviditch,” he said. “I won’t make a secret of it; I’ll speak to you openly as to a friend. Things are in a bad way with Nadyezhda Fyodorovna and me . . . a very bad way! Forgive me for forcing my private affairs upon you, but I must speak out.”
Samoylenko, who had a misgiving of what he was going to speak about, dropped his eyes and drummed with his fingers on the table.
“I’ve lived with her for two years and have ceased to love her,” Laevsky went on; “or, rather, I realised that I never had felt any love for her. . . . These two years have been a mistake.”
It was Laevsky’s habit as he talked to gaze attentively at the pink palms of his hands, to bite his nails, or to pinch his cuffs. And he did so now.
“I know very well you can’t help me,” he said. “But I tell you, because unsuccessful and superfluous people like me find their salvation in talking. I have to generalise about everything I do. I’m bound to look for an explanation and justification of my absurd existence in somebody else’s theories, in literary types — in the idea that we, upper-class Russians, are degenerating, for instance, and so on. Last night, for example, I comforted myself by thinking all the time: ‘Ah, how true Tolstoy is, how mercilessly true!’ And that did me good. Yes, really, brother, he is a great writer, say what you like!”
Samoylenko, who had never read Tolstoy and was intending to do so every day of his life, was a little embarrassed, and said:
“Yes, all other authors write from imagination, but he writes straight from nature.”
“My God!” sighed Laevsky; “how distorted we all are by civilisation! I fell in love with a married woman and she with me. . . . To begin with, we had kisses, and calm evenings, and vows, and Spencer, and ideals, and interests in common. . . . What a deception! We really ran away from her husband, but we lied to ourselves and made out that we ran away from the emptiness of the life of the educated class. We pictured our future like this: to begin with, in the Caucasus, while we were getting to know the people and the place, I would put on the Government uniform and enter the service; then at our leisure we would pick out a plot of ground, would toil in the sweat of our brow, would have a vineyard and a field, and so on. If you were in my place, or that zoologist of yours, Von Koren, you might live with Nadyezhda Fyodorovna for thirty years, perhaps, and might leave your heirs a rich vineyard and three thousand acres of maize; but I felt like a bankrupt from the first day. In the town you have insufferable heat, boredom, and no society; if you go out into the country, you fancy poisonous spiders, scorpions, or snakes lurking under every stone and behind every bush, and beyond the fields — mountains and the desert. Alien people, an alien country, a wretched form of civilisation — all that is not so easy, brother, as walking on the Nevsky Prospect in one’s fur coat, arm-in-arm with Nadyezhda Fyodorovna, dreaming of the sunny South. What is needed here is a life and death struggle, and I’m not a fighting man. A wretched neurasthenic, an idle gentleman. . . . From the first day I knew that my dreams of a life of labour and of a vineyard were worthless. As for love, I ought to tell you that living with a woman who has read Spencer and has followed you to the ends of the earth is no more interesting than living with any Anfissa or Akulina. There’s the same smell of ironing, of powder, and of medicines, the same curl-papers every morning, the same self-deception.”
“You can’t get on in the house without an iron,” said Samoylenko, blushing at Laevsky’s speaking to him so openly of a lady he knew. “You are out of humour to-day, Vanya, I notice. Nadyezhda Fyodorovna is a splendid woman, highly educated, and you are a man of the highest intellect. Of course, you are not married,” Samoylenko went on, glancing round at the adjacent tables, “but that’s not your fault; and besides . . . one ought to be above conventional prejudices and rise to the level of modern ideas. I believe in free love myself, yes. . . . But to my thinking, once you have settled together, you ought to go on living together all your life.”
“I will tell you directly,” said Samoylenko. “Eight years ago there was an old fellow, an agent, here — a man of very great intelligence. Well, he used to say that the great thing in married life was patience. Do you hear, Vanya? Not love, but patience. Love cannot last long. You have lived two years in love, and now evidently your married life has reached the period when, in order to preserve equilibrium, so to speak, you ought to exercise all your patience. . . .”
“You believe in your old agent; to me his words are meaningless. Your old man could be a hypocrite; he could exercise himself in the virtue of patience, and, as he did so, look upon a person he did not love as an object indispensable for his moral exercises; but I have not yet fallen so low. If I want to exercise myself in patience, I will buy dumb-bells or a frisky horse, but I’ll leave human beings alone.”
Samoylenko asked for some white wine with ice. When they had drunk a glass each, Laevsky suddenly asked:
“Tell me, please, what is the meaning of softening of the brain?”
“How can I explain it to you? . . . It’s a disease in which the brain becomes softer . . . as it were, dissolves.”
“Is it curable?”
“Yes, if the disease is not neglected. Cold douches, blisters. . . . Something internal, too.”
“Oh! . . . Well, you see my position; I can’t live with her: it is more than I can do. While I’m with you I can be philosophical about it and smile, but at home I lose heart completely; I am so utterly miserable, that if I were told, for instance, that I should have to live another month with her, I should blow out my brains. At the same time, parting with her is out of the question. She has no friends or relations; she cannot work, and neither she nor I have any money. . . . What could become of her? To whom could she go? There is nothing one can think of. . . . Come, tell me, what am I to do?”
“H’m! . . .” growled Samoylenko, not knowing what to answer. “Does she love you?”
“Yes, she loves me in so far as at her age and with her temperament she wants a man. It would be as difficult for her to do without me as to do without her powder or her curl-papers. I am for her an indispensable, integral part of her boudoir.”
Samoylenko was embarrassed.
“You are out of humour to-day, Vanya,” he said. “You must have had a bad night.”
“Yes, I slept badly. . . . Altogether, I feel horribly out of sorts, brother. My head feels empty; there’s a sinking at my heart, a weakness. . . . I must run away.”
“There, to the North. To the pines and the mushrooms, to people and ideas. . . . I’d give half my life to bathe now in some little stream in the province of Moscow or Tula; to feel chilly, you know, and then to stroll for three hours even with the feeblest student, and to talk and talk endlessly. . . . And the scent of the hay! Do you remember it? And in the evening, when one walks in the garden, sounds of the piano float from the house; one hears the train passing. . . .”
Laevsky laughed with pleasure; tears came into his eyes, and to cover them, without getting up, he stretched across the next table for the matches.
“I have not been in Russia for eighteen years,” said Samoylenko. “I’ve forgotten what it is like. To my mind, there is not a country more splendid than the Caucasus.”
“Vereshtchagin has a picture in which some men condemned to death are languishing at the bottom of a very deep well. Your magnificent Caucasus strikes me as just like that well. If I were offered the choice of a chimney-sweep in Petersburg or a prince in the Caucasus, I should choose the job of chimney-sweep.”
Laevsky grew pensive. Looking at his stooping figure, at his eyes fixed dreamily at one spot, at his pale, perspiring face and sunken temples, at his bitten nails, at the slipper which had dropped off his heel, displaying a badly darned sock, Samoylenko was moved to pity, and probably because Laevsky reminded him of a helpless child, he asked:
“Is your mother living?”
“Yes, but we are on bad terms. She could not forgive me for this affair.”
Samoylenko was fond of his friend. He looked upon Laevsky as a good-natured fellow, a student, a man with no nonsense about him, with whom one could drink, and laugh, and talk without reserve. What he understood in him he disliked extremely. Laevsky drank a great deal and at unsuitable times; he played cards, despised his work, lived beyond his means, frequently made use of unseemly expressions in conversation, walked about the streets in his slippers, and quarrelled with Nadyezhda Fyodorovna before other people — and Samoylenko did not like this. But the fact that Laevsky had once been a student in the Faculty of Arts, subscribed to two fat reviews, often talked so cleverly that only a few people understood him, was living with a well-educated woman — all this Samoylenko did not understand, and he liked this and respected Laevsky, thinking him superior to himself.
“There is another point,” said Laevsky, shaking his head. “Only it is between ourselves. I’m concealing it from Nadyezhda Fyodorovna for the time. . . . Don’t let it out before her. . . . I got a letter the day before yesterday, telling me that her husband has died from softening of the brain.”
“The Kingdom of Heaven be his!” sighed Samoylenko. “Why are you concealing it from her?”
“To show her that letter would be equivalent to ‘Come to church to be married.’ And we should first have to make our relations clear. When she understands that we can’t go on living together, I will show her the letter. Then there will be no danger in it.”
“Do you know what, Vanya,” said Samoylenko, and a sad and imploring expression came into his face, as though he were going to ask him about something very touching and were afraid of being refused. “Marry her, my dear boy!”
“Do your duty to that splendid woman! Her husband is dead, and so Providence itself shows you what to do!”
“But do understand, you queer fellow, that it is impossible. To marry without love is as base and unworthy of a man as to perform mass without believing in it.”
“But it’s your duty to.”
“Why is it my duty?” Laevsky asked irritably.
“Because you took her away from her husband and made yourself responsible for her.”
“But now I tell you in plain Russian, I don’t love her!”
“Well, if you’ve no love, show her proper respect, consider her wishes. . . .”
” ‘Show her respect, consider her wishes,’ ” Laevsky mimicked him. “As though she were some Mother Superior! . . . You are a poor psychologist and physiologist if you think that living with a woman one can get off with nothing but respect and consideration. What a woman thinks most of is her bedroom.”
“Vanya, Vanya!” said Samoylenko, overcome with confusion.
“You are an elderly child, a theorist, while I am an old man in spite of my years, and practical, and we shall never understand one another. We had better drop this conversation. Mustapha!” Laevsky shouted to the waiter. “What’s our bill?”
“No, no . . .” the doctor cried in dismay, clutching Laevsky’s arm. “It is for me to pay. I ordered it. Make it out to me,” he cried to Mustapha.
The friends got up and walked in silence along the sea-front. When they reached the boulevard, they stopped and shook hands at parting.
“You are awfully spoilt, my friend!” Samoylenko sighed. “Fate has sent you a young, beautiful, cultured woman, and you refuse the gift, while if God were to give me a crooked old woman, how pleased I should be if only she were kind and affectionate! I would live with her in my vineyard and . . .”
Samoylenko caught himself up and said:
“And she might get the samovar ready for me there, the old hag.”
After parting with Laevsky he walked along the boulevard. When, bulky and majestic, with a stern expression on his face, he walked along the boulevard in his snow-white tunic and superbly polished boots, squaring his chest, decorated with the Vladimir cross on a ribbon, he was very much pleased with himself, and it seemed as though the whole world were looking at him with pleasure. Without turning his head, he looked to each side and thought that the boulevard was extremely well laid out; that the young cypress-trees, the eucalyptuses, and the ugly, anemic palm-trees were very handsome and would in time give abundant shade; that the Circassians were an honest and hospitable people.
“It’s strange that Laevsky does not like the Caucasus,” he thought, “very strange.”
Five soldiers, carrying rifles, met him and saluted him. On the right side of the boulevard the wife of a local official was walking along the pavement with her son, a schoolboy.
“Good-morning, Marya Konstantinovna,” Samoylenko shouted to her with a pleasant smile. “Have you been to bathe? Ha, ha, ha! . . . My respects to Nikodim Alexandritch!”
And he went on, still smiling pleasantly, but seeing an assistant of the military hospital coming towards him, he suddenly frowned, stopped him, and asked:
“Is there any one in the hospital?”
“No one, Your Excellency.”
“No one, Your Excellency.”
“Very well, run along. . . .”
Swaying majestically, he made for the lemonade stall, where sat a full-bosomed old Jewess, who gave herself out to be a Georgian, and said to her as loudly as though he were giving the word of command to a regiment:
“Be so good as to give me some soda-water!”
Laevsky’s not loving Nadyezhda Fyodorovna showed itself chiefly in the fact that everything she said or did seemed to him a lie, or equivalent to a lie, and everything he read against women and love seemed to him to apply perfectly to himself, to Nadyezhda Fyodorovna and her husband. When he returned home, she was sitting at the window, dressed and with her hair done, and with a preoccupied face was drinking coffee and turning over the leaves of a fat magazine; and he thought the drinking of coffee was not such a remarkable event that she need put on a preoccupied expression over it, and that she had been wasting her time doing her hair in a fashionable style, as there was no one here to attract and no need to be attractive. And in the magazine he saw nothing but falsity. He thought she had dressed and done her hair so as to look handsomer, and was reading in order to seem clever.
“Will it be all right for me to go to bathe to-day?” she said.
“Why? There won’t be an earthquake whether you go or not, I suppose. . . .”
“No, I only ask in case the doctor should be vexed.”
“Well, ask the doctor, then; I’m not a doctor.”
On this occasion what displeased Laevsky most in Nadyezhda Fyodorovna was her white open neck and the little curls at the back of her head. And he remembered that when Anna Karenin got tired of her husband, what she disliked most of all was his ears, and thought: “How true it is, how true!”
Feeling weak and as though his head were perfectly empty, he went into his study, lay down on his sofa, and covered his face with a handkerchief that he might not be bothered by the flies. Despondent and oppressive thoughts always about the same thing trailed slowly across his brain like a long string of waggons on a gloomy autumn evening, and he sank into a state of drowsy oppression. It seemed to him that he had wronged Nadyezhda Fyodorovna and her husband, and that it was through his fault that her husband had died. It seemed to him that he had sinned against his own life, which he had ruined, against the world of lofty ideas, of learning, and of work, and he conceived that wonderful world as real and possible, not on this sea-front with hungry Turks and lazy mountaineers sauntering upon it, but there in the North, where there were operas, theatres, newspapers, and all kinds of intellectual activity. One could only there — not here — be honest, intelligent, lofty, and pure. He accused himself of having no ideal, no guiding principle in life, though he had a dim understanding now what it meant. Two years before, when he fell in love with Nadyezhda Fyodorovna, it seemed to him that he had only to go with her as his wife to the Caucasus, and he would be saved from vulgarity and emptiness; in the same way now, he was convinced that he had only to part from Nadyezhda Fyodorovna and to go to Petersburg, and he would get everything he wanted.
“Run away,” he muttered to himself, sitting up and biting his nails. “Run away!”
He pictured in his imagination how he would go aboard the steamer and then would have some lunch, would drink some cold beer, would talk on deck with ladies, then would get into the train at Sevastopol and set off. Hurrah for freedom! One station after another would flash by, the air would keep growing colder and keener, then the birches and the fir-trees, then Kursk, Moscow. . . . In the restaurants cabbage soup, mutton with kasha, sturgeon, beer, no more Asiaticism, but Russia, real Russia. The passengers in the train would talk about trade, new singers, the Franco-Russian entente; on all sides there would be the feeling of keen, cultured, intellectual, eager life. . . . Hasten on, on! At last Nevsky Prospect, and Great Morskaya Street, and then Kovensky Place, where he used to live at one time when he was a student, the dear grey sky, the drizzling rain, the drenched cabmen. . . .
“Ivan Andreitch!” some one called from the next room. “Are you at home?”
“I’m here,” Laevsky responded. “What do you want?”
Laevsky got up languidly, feeling giddy, walked into the other room, yawning and shuffling with his slippers. There, at the open window that looked into the street, stood one of his young fellow-clerks, laying out some government documents on the window-sill.
“One minute, my dear fellow,” Laevsky said softly, and he went to look for the ink; returning to the window, he signed the papers without looking at them, and said: “It’s hot!”
“Yes. Are you coming to-day?”
“I don’t think so. . . . I’m not quite well. Tell Sheshkovsky that I will come and see him after dinner.”
The clerk went away. Laevsky lay down on his sofa again and began thinking:
“And so I must weigh all the circumstances and reflect on them. Before I go away from here I ought to pay up my debts. I owe about two thousand roubles. I have no money. . . . Of course, that’s not important; I shall pay part now, somehow, and I shall send the rest, later, from Petersburg. The chief point is Nadyezhda Fyodorovna. . . . First of all we must define our relations. . . . Yes.”
A little later he was considering whether it would not be better to go to Samoylenko for advice.
“I might go,” he thought, “but what use would there be in it? I shall only say something inappropriate about boudoirs, about women, about what is honest or dishonest. What’s the use of talking about what is honest or dishonest, if I must make haste to save my life, if I am suffocating in this cursed slavery and am killing myself? . . . One must realise at last that to go on leading the life I do is something so base and so cruel that everything else seems petty and trivial beside it. To run away,” he muttered, sitting down, “to run away.”
The deserted seashore, the insatiable heat, and the monotony of the smoky lilac mountains, ever the same and silent, everlastingly solitary, overwhelmed him with depression, and, as it were, made him drowsy and sapped his energy. He was perhaps very clever, talented, remarkably honest; perhaps if the sea and the mountains had not closed him in on all sides, he might have become an excellent Zemstvo leader, a statesman, an orator, a political writer, a saint. Who knows? If so, was it not stupid to argue whether it were honest or dishonest when a gifted and useful man — an artist or musician, for instance — to escape from prison, breaks a wall and deceives his jailers? Anything is honest when a man is in such a position.
At two o’clock Laevsky and Nadyezhda Fyodorovna sat down to dinner. When the cook gave them rice and tomato soup, Laevsky said:
“The same thing every day. Why not have cabbage soup?”
“There are no cabbages.”
“It’s strange. Samoylenko has cabbage soup and Marya Konstantinovna has cabbage soup, and only I am obliged to eat this mawkish mess. We can’t go on like this, darling.”
As is common with the vast majority of husbands and wives, not a single dinner had in earlier days passed without scenes and fault-finding between Nadyezhda Fyodorovna and Laevsky; but ever since Laevsky had made up his mind that he did not love her, he had tried to give way to Nadyezhda Fyodorovna in everything, spoke to her gently and politely, smiled, and called her ” darling.”
“This soup tastes like liquorice,” he said, smiling; he made an effort to control himself and seem amiable, but could not refrain from saying: “Nobody looks after the housekeeping. . . . If you are too ill or busy with reading, let me look after the cooking.”
In earlier days she would have said to him, “Do by all means,” or, “I see you want to turn me into a cook”; but now she only looked at him timidly and flushed crimson.
“Well, how do you feel to-day?” he asked kindly.
“I am all right to-day. There is nothing but a little weakness.”
“You must take care of yourself, darling. I am awfully anxious about you.”
Nadyezhda Fyodorovna was ill in some way. Samoylenko said she had intermittent fever, and gave her quinine; the other doctor, Ustimovitch, a tall, lean, unsociable man, who used to sit at home in the daytime, and in the evenings walk slowly up and down on the sea-front coughing, with his hands folded behind him and a cane stretched along his back, was of opinion that she had a female complaint, and prescribed warm compresses. In old days, when Laevsky loved her, Nadyezhda Fyodorovna’s illness had excited his pity and terror; now he saw falsity even in her illness. Her yellow, sleepy face, her lustreless eyes, her apathetic expression, and the yawning that always followed her attacks of fever, and the fact that during them she lay under a shawl and looked more like a boy than a woman, and that it was close and stuffy in her room — all this, in his opinion, destroyed the illusion and was an argument against love and marriage.
The next dish given him was spinach with hard-boiled eggs, while Nadyezhda Fyodorovna, as an invalid, had jelly and milk. When with a preoccupied face she touched the jelly with a spoon and then began languidly eating it, sipping milk, and he heard her swallowing, he was possessed by such an overwhelming aversion that it made his head tingle. He recognised that such a feeling would be an insult even to a dog, but he was angry, not with himself but with Nadyezhda Fyodorovna, for arousing such a feeling, and he understood why lovers sometimes murder their mistresses. He would not murder her, of course, but if he had been on a jury now, he would have acquitted the murderer.
“Merci, darling,” he said after dinner, and kissed Nadyezhda Fyodorovna on the forehead.
Going back into his study, he spent five minutes in walking to and fro, looking at his boots; then he sat down on his sofa and muttered:
“Run away, run away! We must define the position and run away!”
He lay down on the sofa and recalled again that Nadyezhda Fyodorovna’s husband had died, perhaps, by his fault.
“To blame a man for loving a woman, or ceasing to love a woman, is stupid,” he persuaded himself, lying down and raising his legs in order to put on his high boots. “Love and hatred are not under our control. As for her husband, maybe I was in an indirect way one of the causes of his death; but again, is it my fault that I fell in love with his wife and she with me?”
Then he got up, and finding his cap, set off to the lodgings of his colleague, Sheshkovsky, where the Government clerks met every day to play vint and drink beer.
“My indecision reminds me of Hamlet,” thought Laevsky on the way. “How truly Shakespeare describes it! Ah, how truly!”
For the sake of sociability and from sympathy for the hard plight of newcomers without families, who, as there was not an hotel in the town, had nowhere to dine, Dr. Samoylenko kept a sort of table dhte. At this time there were only two men who habitually dined with him: a young zoologist called Von Koren, who had come for the summer to the Black Sea to study the embryology of the medusa, and a deacon called Pobyedov, who had only just left the seminary and been sent to the town to take the duty of the old deacon who had gone away for a cure. Each of them paid twelve roubles a month for their dinner and supper, and Samoylenko made them promise to turn up at two o’clock punctually.
Von Koren was usually the first to appear. He sat down in the drawing-room in silence, and taking an album from the table, began attentively scrutinising the faded photographs of unknown men in full trousers and top-hats, and ladies in crinolines and caps. Samoylenko only remembered a few of them by name, and of those whom he had forgotten he said with a sigh: “A very fine fellow, remarkably intelligent!” When he had finished with the album, Von Koren took a pistol from the whatnot, and screwing up his left eye, took deliberate aim at the portrait of Prince Vorontsov, or stood still at the looking-glass and gazed a long time at his swarthy face, his big forehead, and his black hair, which curled like a negro’s, and his shirt of dull-coloured cotton with big flowers on it like a Persian rug, and the broad leather belt he wore instead of a waistcoat. The contemplation of his own image seemed to afford him almost more satisfaction than looking at photographs or playing with the pistols. He was very well satisfied with his face, and his becomingly clipped beard, and the broad shoulders, which were unmistakable evidence of his excellent health and physical strength. He was satisfied, too, with his stylish get-up, from the cravat, which matched the colour of his shirt, down to his brown boots.
While he was looking at the album and standing before the glass, at that moment, in the kitchen and in the passage near, Samoylenko, without his coat and waistcoat, with his neck bare, excited and bathed in perspiration, was bustling about the tables, mixing the salad, or making some sauce, or preparing meat, cucumbers, and onion for the cold soup, while he glared fiercely at the orderly who was helping him, and brandished first a knife and then a spoon at him.
“Give me the vinegar!” he said. “That’s not the vinegar — it’s the salad oil!” he shouted, stamping. “Where are you off to, you brute?”
“To get the butter, Your Excellency,” answered the flustered orderly in a cracked voice.
“Make haste; it’s in the cupboard! And tell Daria to put some fennel in the jar with the cucumbers! Fennel! Cover the cream up, gaping laggard, or the flies will get into it!
And the whole house seemed resounding with his shouts. When it was ten or fifteen minutes to two the deacon would come in; he was a lanky young man of twenty-two, with long hair, with no beard and a hardly perceptible moustache. Going into the drawing-room, he crossed himself before the ikon, smiled, and held out his hand to Von Koren.
“Good-morning,” the zoologist said coldly. “Where have you been?”
“I’ve been catching sea-gudgeon in the harbour.”
“Oh, of course. . . . Evidently, deacon, you will never be busy with work.”
“Why not? Work is not like a bear; it doesn’t run off into the woods,” said the deacon, smiling and thrusting his hands into the very deep pockets of his white cassock.
“There’s no one to whip you!” sighed the zoologist.
Another fifteen or twenty minutes passed and they were not called to dinner, and they could still hear the orderly running into the kitchen and back again, noisily treading with his boots, and Samoylenko shouting:
“Put it on the table! Where are your wits? Wash it first.”
The famished deacon and Von Koren began tapping on the floor with their heels, expressing in this way their impatience like the audience at a theatre. At last the door opened and the harassed orderly announced that dinner was ready! In the dining-room they were met by Samoylenko, crimson in the face, wrathful, perspiring from the heat of the kitchen; he looked at them furiously, and with an expression of horror, took the lid off the soup tureen and helped each of them to a plateful; and only when he was convinced that they were eating it with relish and liked it, he gave a sigh of relief and settled himself in his deep arm-chair. His face looked blissful and his eyes grew moist. . . . He deliberately poured himself out a glass of vodka and said:
“To the health of the younger generation.”
After his conversation with Laevsky, from early morning till dinner Samoylenko had been conscious of a load at his heart, although he was in the best of humours; he felt sorry for Laevsky and wanted to help him. After drinking a glass of vodka before the soup, he heaved a sigh and said:
“I saw Vanya Laevsky to-day. He is having a hard time of it, poor fellow! The material side of life is not encouraging for him, and the worst of it is all this psychology is too much for him. I’m sorry for the lad.”
“Well, that is a person I am not sorry for,” said Von Koren. “If that charming individual were drowning, I would push him under with a stick and say, ‘Drown, brother, drown away.’ . . .”
“That’s untrue. You wouldn’t do it.”
“Why do you think that?” The zoologist shrugged his shoulders. “I’m just as capable of a good action as you are.”
“Is drowning a man a good action?” asked the deacon, and he laughed.
I think there is something amiss with the soup . . .” said Samoylenko, anxious to change the conversation.
“Laevsky is absolutely pernicious and is as dangerous to society as the cholera microbe,” Von Koren went on. “To drown him would be a service.”
“It does not do you credit to talk like that about your neighbour. Tell us: what do you hate him for?”
“Don’t talk nonsense, doctor. To hate and despise a microbe is stupid, but to look upon everybody one meets without distinction as one’s neighbour, whatever happens — thanks very much, that is equivalent to giving up criticism, renouncing a straightforward attitude to people, washing one’s hands of responsibility, in fact! I consider your Laevsky a blackguard; I do not conceal it, and I am perfectly conscientious in treating him as such. Well, you look upon him as your neighbour — and you may kiss him if you like: you look upon him as your neighbour, and that means that your attitude to him is the same as to me and to the deacon; that is no attitude at all. You are equally indifferent to all.”
“To call a man a blackguard!” muttered Samoylenko, frowning with distaste — “that is so wrong that I can’t find words for it!”
“People are judged by their actions,” Von Koren continued. “Now you decide, deacon. . . . I am going to talk to you, deacon. Mr. Laevsky’s career lies open before you, like a long Chinese puzzle, and you can read it from beginning to end. What has he been doing these two years that he has been living here? We will reckon his doings on our fingers. First, he has taught the inhabitants of the town to play vint: two years ago that game was unknown here; now they all play it from morning till late at night, even the women and the boys. Secondly, he has taught the residents to drink beer, which was not known here either; the inhabitants are indebted to him for the knowledge of various sorts of spirits, so that now they can distinguish Kospelov’s vodka from Smirnov’s No. 21, blindfold. Thirdly, in former days, people here made love to other men’s wives in secret, from the same motives as thieves steal in secret and not openly; adultery was considered something they were ashamed to make a public display of. Laevsky has come as a pioneer in that line; he lives with another man’s wife openly. . . . Fourthly . . .”
Von Koren hurriedly ate up his soup and gave his plate to the orderly.
“I understood Laevsky from the first month of our acquaintance,” he went on, addressing the deacon. “We arrived here at the same time. Men like him are very fond of friendship, intimacy, solidarity, and all the rest of it, because they always want company for vint, drinking, and eating; besides, they are talkative and must have listeners. We made friends — that is, he turned up every day, hindered me working, and indulged in confidences in regard to his mistress. From the first he struck me by his exceptional falsity, which simply made me sick. As a friend I pitched into him, asking him why he drank too much, why he lived beyond his means and got into debt, why he did nothing and read nothing, why he had so little culture and so little knowledge; and in answer to all my questions he used to smile bitterly, sigh, and say: ‘I am a failure, a superfluous man’; or: ‘What do you expect, my dear fellow, from us, the debris of the serf-owning class?’ or: ‘We are degenerate. . . .’ Or he would begin a long rigmarole about Onyegin, Petchorin, Byron’s Cain, and Bazarov, of whom he would say: ‘They are our fathers in flesh and in spirit.’ So we are to understand that it was not his fault that Government envelopes lay unopened in his office for weeks together, and that he drank and taught others to drink, but Onyegin, Petchorin, and Turgenev, who had invented the failure and the superfluous man, were responsible for it. The cause of his extreme dissoluteness and unseemliness lies, do you see, not in himself, but somewhere outside in space. And so — an ingenious idea! — it is not only he who is dissolute, false, and disgusting, but we . . . ‘we men of the eighties,’ ‘we the spiritless, nervous offspring of the serf-owning class’; ‘civilisation has crippled us’ . . . in fact, we are to understand that such a great man as Laevsky is great even in his fall: that his dissoluteness, his lack of culture and of moral purity, is a phenomenon of natural history, sanctified by inevitability; that the causes of it are world-wide, elemental; and that we ought to hang up a lamp before Laevsky, since he is the fated victim of the age, of influences, of heredity, and so on. All the officials and their ladies were in ecstasies when they listened to him, and I could not make out for a long time what sort of man I had to deal with, a cynic or a clever rogue. Such types as he, on the surface intellectual with a smattering of education and a great deal of talk about their own nobility, are very clever in posing as exceptionally complex natures.”
“Hold your tongue!” Samoylenko flared up. “I will not allow a splendid fellow to be spoken ill of in my presence!”
“Don’t interrupt, Alexandr Daviditch,” said Von Koren coldly; “I am just finishing. Laevsky is by no means a complex organism. Here is his moral skeleton: in the morning, slippers, a bathe, and coffee; then till dinner-time, slippers, a constitutional, and conversation; at two o’clock slippers, dinner, and wine; at five o’clock a bathe, tea and wine, then vint and lying; at ten o’clock supper and wine; and after midnight sleep and la femme. His existence is confined within this narrow programme like an egg within its shell. Whether he walks or sits, is angry, writes, rejoices, it may all be reduced to wine, cards, slippers, and women. Woman plays a fatal, overwhelming part in his life. He tells us himself that at thirteen he was in love; that when he was a student in his first year he was living with a lady who had a good influence over him, and to whom he was indebted for his musical education. In his second year he bought a prostitute from a brothel and raised her to his level — that is, took her as his kept mistress, and she lived with him for six months and then ran away back to the brothel-keeper, and her flight caused him much spiritual suffering. Alas! his sufferings were so great that he had to leave the university and spend two years at home doing nothing. But this was all for the best. At home he made friends with a widow who advised him to leave the Faculty of Jurisprudence and go into the Faculty of Arts. And so he did. When he had taken his degree, he fell passionately in love with his present . . . what’s her name? . . . married lady, and was obliged to flee with her here to the Caucasus for the sake of his ideals, he would have us believe, seeing that . . . to-morrow, if not to-day, he will be tired of her and flee back again to Petersburg, and that, too, will be for the sake of his ideals.”
“How do you know?” growled Samoylenko, looking angrily at the zoologist. “You had better eat your dinner.”
The next course consisted of boiled mullet with Polish sauce. Samoylenko helped each of his companions to a whole mullet and poured out the sauce with his own hand. Two minutes passed in silence.
“Woman plays an essential part in the life of every man,” said the deacon. “You can’t help that.”
“Yes, but to what degree? For each of us woman means mother, sister, wife, friend. To Laevsky she is everything, and at the same time nothing but a mistress. She — that is, cohabitation with her — is the happiness and object of his life; he is gay, sad, bored, disenchanted — on account of woman; his life grows disagreeable — woman is to blame; the dawn of a new life begins to glow, ideals turn up — and again look for the woman. . . . He only derives enjoyment from books and pictures in which there is woman. Our age is, to his thinking, poor and inferior to the forties and the sixties only because we do not know how to abandon ourselves obviously to the passion and ecstasy of love. These voluptuaries must have in their brains a special growth of the nature of sarcoma, which stifles the brain and directs their whole psychology. Watch Laevsky when he is sitting anywhere in company. You notice: when one raises any general question in his presence, for instance, about the cell or instinct, he sits apart, and neither speaks nor listens; he looks languid and disillusioned; nothing has any interest for him, everything is vulgar and trivial. But as soon as you speak of male and female — for instance, of the fact that the female spider, after fertilisation, devours the male — his eyes glow with curiosity, his face brightens, and the man revives, in fact. All his thoughts, however noble, lofty, or neutral they may be, they all have one point of resemblance. You walk along the street with him and meet a donkey, for instance. . . . ‘Tell me, please,’ he asks, ‘what would happen if you mated a donkey with a camel?’ And his dreams! Has he told you of his dreams? It is magnificent! First, he dreams that he is married to the moon, then that he is summoned before the police and ordered to live with a guitar . . .”
The deacon burst into resounding laughter; Samoylenko frowned and wrinkled up his face angrily so as not to laugh, but could not restrain himself, and laughed.
“And it’s all nonsense!” he said, wiping his tears. “Yes, by Jove, it’s nonsense!”
The deacon was very easily amused, and laughed at every trifle till he got a stitch in his side, till he was helpless. It seemed as though he only liked to be in people’s company because there was a ridiculous side to them, and because they might be given ridiculous nicknames. He had nicknamed Samoylenko “the tarantula,” his orderly “the drake,” and was in ecstasies when on one occasion Von Koren spoke of Laevsky and Nadyezhda Fyodorovna as “Japanese monkeys.” He watched people’s faces greedily, listened without blinking, and it could be seen that his eyes filled with laughter and his face was tense with expectation of the moment when he could let himself go and burst into laughter.
“He is a corrupt and depraved type,” the zoologist continued, while the deacon kept his eyes riveted on his face, expecting he would say something funny. “It is not often one can meet with such a nonentity. In body he is inert, feeble, prematurely old, while in intellect he differs in no respect from a fat shopkeeper’s wife who does nothing but eat, drink, and sleep on a feather-bed, and who keeps her coachman as a lover.”
The deacon began guffawing again.
“Don’t laugh, deacon,” said Von Koren. “It grows stupid, at last. I should not have paid attention to his insignificance,” he went on, after waiting till the deacon had left off laughing; “I should have passed him by if he were not so noxious and dangerous. His noxiousness lies first of all in the fact that he has great success with women, and so threatens to leave descendants — that is, to present the world with a dozen Laevskys as feeble and as depraved as himself. Secondly, he is in the highest degree contaminating. I have spoken to you already of vint and beer. In another year or two he will dominate the whole Caucasian coast. You know how the mass, especially its middle stratum, believe in intellectuality, in a university education, in gentlemanly manners, and in literary language. Whatever filthy thing he did, they would all believe that it was as it should be, since he is an intellectual man, of liberal ideas and university education. What is more, he is a failure, a superfluous man, a neurasthenic, a victim of the age, and that means he can do anything. He is a charming fellow, a regular good sort, he is so genuinely indulgent to human weaknesses; he is compliant, accommodating, easy and not proud; one can drink with him and gossip and talk evil of people. . . . The masses, always inclined to anthropomorphism in religion and morals, like best of all the little gods who have the same weaknesses as themselves. Only think what a wide field he has for contamination! Besides, he is not a bad actor and is a clever hypocrite, and knows very well how to twist things round. Only take his little shifts and dodges, his attitude to civilisation, for instance. He has scarcely sniffed at civilisation, yet: ‘Ah, how we have been crippled by civilisation! Ah, how I envy those savages, those children of nature, who know nothing of civilisation!’ We are to understand, you see, that at one time, in ancient days, he has been devoted to civilisation with his whole soul, has served it, has sounded it to its depths, but it has exhausted him, disillusioned him, deceived him; he is a Faust, do you see? — a second Tolstoy. . . . As for Schopenhauer and Spencer, he treats them like small boys and slaps them on the shoulder in a fatherly way: ‘Well, what do you say, old Spencer?’ He has not read Spencer, of course, but how charming he is when with light, careless irony he says of his lady friend: ‘She has read Spencer!’ And they all listen to him, and no one cares to understand that this charlatan has not the right to kiss the sole of Spencer’s foot, let alone speaking about him in that tone! Sapping the foundations of civilisation, of authority, of other people’s altars, spattering them with filth, winking jocosely at them only to justify and conceal one’s own rottenness and moral poverty is only possible for a very vain, base, and nasty creature.”
“I don’t know what it is you expect of him, Kolya,” said Samoylenko, looking at the zoologist, not with anger now, but with a guilty air. “He is a man the same as every one else. Of course, he has his weaknesses, but he is abreast of modern ideas, is in the service, is of use to his country. Ten years ago there was an old fellow serving as agent here, a man of the greatest intelligence . . . and he used to say . . .”
“Nonsense, nonsense!” the zoologist interrupted. “You say he is in the service; but how does he serve? Do you mean to tell me that things have been done better because he is here, and the officials are more punctual, honest, and civil? On the contrary, he has only sanctioned their slackness by his prestige as an intellectual university man. He is only punctual on the 20th of the month, when he gets his salary; on the other days he lounges about at home in slippers and tries to look as if he were doing the Government a great service by living in the Caucasus. No, Alexandr Daviditch, don’t stick up for him. You are insincere from beginning to end. If you really loved him and considered him your neighbour, you would above all not be indifferent to his weaknesses, you would not be indulgent to them, but for his own sake would try to make him innocuous.”
“Innocuous. Since he is incorrigible, he can only be made innocuous in one way. . . .” Von Koren passed his finger round his throat. “Or he might be drowned . . .,” he added. “In the interests of humanity and in their own interests, such people ought to be destroyed. They certainly ought.”
“What are you saying?” muttered Samoylenko, getting up and looking with amazement at the zoologist’s calm, cold face. ” Deacon, what is he saying? Why — are you in your senses?”
“I don’t insist on the death penalty,” said Von Koren. “If it is proved that it is pernicious, devise something else. If we can’t destroy Laevsky, why then, isolate him, make him harmless, send him to hard labour.”
“What are you saying!” said Samoylenko in horror. “With pepper, with pepper,” he cried in a voice of despair, seeing that the deacon was eating stuffed aubergines without pepper. “You with your great intellect, what are you saying! Send our friend, a proud intellectual man, to penal servitude!”
“Well, if he is proud and tries to resist, put him in fetters!”
Samoylenko could not utter a word, and only twiddled his fingers; the deacon looked at his flabbergasted and really absurd face, and laughed.
“Let us leave off talking of that,” said the zoologist. “Only remember one thing, Alexandr Daviditch: primitive man was preserved from such as Laevsky by the struggle for existence and by natural selection; now our civilisation has considerably weakened the struggle and the selection, and we ought to look after the destruction of the rotten and worthless for ourselves; otherwise, when the Laevskys multiply, civilisation will perish and mankind will degenerate utterly. It will be our fault.”
“If it depends on drowning and hanging,” said Samoylenko, “damnation take your civilisation, damnation take your humanity! Damnation take it! I tell you what: you are a very learned and intelligent man and the pride of your country, but the Germans have ruined you. Yes, the Germans! The Germans!
Since Samoylenko had left Dorpat, where he had studied medicine, he had rarely seen a German and had not read a single German book, but, in his opinion, every harmful idea in politics or science was due to the Germans. Where he had got this notion he could not have said himself, but he held it firmly.
“Yes, the Germans!” he repeated once more. “Come and have some tea.”
All three stood up, and putting on their hats, went out into the little garden, and sat there under the shade of the light green maples, the pear-trees, and a chestnut-tree. The zoologist and the deacon sat on a bench by the table, while Samoylenko sank into a deep wicker chair with a sloping back. The orderly handed them tea, jam, and a bottle of syrup.
It was very hot, thirty degrees Raumur in the shade. The sultry air was stagnant and motionless, and a long spider-web, stretching from the chestnut-tree to the ground, hung limply and did not stir.
The deacon took up the guitar, which was constantly lying on the ground near the table, tuned it, and began singing softly in a thin voice:
” ‘Gathered round the tavern were the seminary lads,’ “
but instantly subsided, overcome by the heat, mopped his brow and glanced upwards at the blazing blue sky. Samoylenko grew drowsy; the sultry heat, the stillness and the delicious after-dinner languor, which quickly pervaded all his limbs, made him feel heavy and sleepy; his arms dropped at his sides, his eyes grew small, his head sank on his breast. He looked with almost tearful tenderness at Von Koren and the deacon, and muttered:
“The younger generation. . . A scientific star and a luminary of the Church. . . . I shouldn’t wonder if the long-skirted alleluia will be shooting up into a bishop; I dare say I may come to kissing his hand. . . . Well . . . please God. . . .”
Soon a snore was heard. Von Koren and the deacon finished their tea and went out into the street.
“Are you going to the harbour again to catch sea-gudgeon?” asked the zoologist.
“No, it’s too hot.”
“Come and see me. You can pack up a parcel and copy something for me. By the way, we must have a talk about what you are to do. You must work, deacon. You can’t go on like this.”
“Your words are just and logical,” said the deacon. “But my laziness finds an excuse in the circumstances of my present life. You know yourself that an uncertain position has a great tendency to make people apathetic. God only knows whether I have been sent here for a time or permanently. I am living here in uncertainty, while my wife is vegetating at her father’s and is missing me. And I must confess my brain is melting with the heat.”
“That’s all nonsense,” said the zoologist. “You can get used to the heat, and you can get used to being without the deaconess. You mustn’t be slack; you must pull yourself together.”
Nadyezhda Fyodorovna went to bathe in the morning, and her cook, Olga, followed her with a jug, a copper basin, towels, and a sponge. In the bay stood two unknown steamers with dirty white funnels, obviously foreign cargo vessels. Some men dressed in white and wearing white shoes were walking along the harbour, shouting loudly in French, and were answered from the steamers. The bells were ringing briskly in the little church of the town.
“To-day is Sunday!” Nadyezhda Fyodorovna remembered with pleasure.
She felt perfectly well, and was in a gay holiday humour. In a new loose-fitting dress of coarse thick tussore silk, and a big wide-brimmed straw hat which was bent down over her ears, so that her face looked out as though from a basket, she fancied she looked very charming. She thought that in the whole town there was only one young, pretty, intellectual woman, and that was herself, and that she was the only one who knew how to dress herself cheaply, elegantly, and with taste. That dress, for example, cost only twenty-two roubles, and yet how charming it was! In the whole town she was the only one who could be attractive, while there were numbers of men, so they must all, whether they would or not, be envious of Laevsky.
She was glad that of late Laevsky had been cold to her, reserved and polite, and at times even harsh and rude; in the past she had met all his outbursts, all his contemptuous, cold or strange incomprehensible glances, with tears, reproaches, and threats to leave him or to starve herself to death; now she only blushed, looked guiltily at him, and was glad he was not affectionate to her. If he had abused her, threatened her, it would have been better and pleasanter, since she felt hopelessly guilty towards him. She felt she was to blame, in the first place, for not sympathising with the dreams of a life of hard work, for the sake of which he had given up Petersburg and had come here to the Caucasus, and she was convinced that he had been angry with her of late for precisely that. When she was travelling to the Caucasus, it seemed that she would find here on the first day a cosy nook by the sea, a snug little garden with shade, with birds, with little brooks, where she could grow flowers and vegetables, rear ducks and hens, entertain her neighbours, doctor poor peasants and distribute little books amongst them. It had turned out that the Caucasus was nothing but bare mountains, forests, and huge valleys, where it took a long time and a great deal of effort to find anything and settle down; that there were no neighbours of any sort; that it was very hot and one might be robbed. Laevsky had been in no hurry to obtain a piece of land; she was glad of it, and they seemed to be in a tacit compact never to allude to a life of hard work. He was silent about it, she thought, because he was angry with her for being silent about it.
In the second place, she had without his knowledge during those two years bought various trifles to the value of three hundred roubles at Atchmianov’s shop. She had bought the things by degrees, at one time materials, at another time silk or a parasol, and the debt had grown imperceptibly.
“I will tell him about it to-day . . .,” she used to decide, but at once reflected that in Laevsky’s present mood it would hardly be convenient to talk to him of debts.
Thirdly, she had on two occasions in Laevsky’s absence received a visit from Kirilin, the police captain: once in the morning when Laevsky had gone to bathe, and another time at midnight when he was playing cards. Remembering this, Nadyezhda Fyodorovna flushed crimson, and looked round at the cook as though she might overhear her thoughts. The long, insufferably hot, wearisome days, beautiful languorous evenings and stifling nights, and the whole manner of living, when from morning to night one is at a loss to fill up the useless hours, and the persistent thought that she was the prettiest young woman in the town, and that her youth was passing and being wasted, and Laevsky himself, though honest and idealistic, always the same, always lounging about in his slippers, biting his nails, and wearying her with his caprices, led by degrees to her becoming possessed by desire, and as though she were mad, she thought of nothing else day and night. Breathing, looking, walking, she felt nothing but desire. The sound of the sea told her she must love; the darkness of evening — the same; the mountains — the same. . . . And when Kirilin began paying her attentions, she had neither the power nor the wish to resist, and surrendered to him. . . .
Now the foreign steamers and the men in white reminded her for some reason of a huge hall; together with the shouts of French she heard the strains of a waltz, and her bosom heaved with unaccountable delight. She longed to dance and talk French.
She reflected joyfully that there was nothing terrible about her infidelity. Her soul had no part in her infidelity; she still loved Laevsky, and that was proved by the fact that she was jealous of him, was sorry for him, and missed him when he was away. Kirilin had turned out to be very mediocre, rather coarse though handsome; everything was broken off with him already and there would never be anything more. What had happened was over; it had nothing to do with any one, and if Laevsky found it out he would not believe in it.
There was only one bathing-house for ladies on the sea-front; men bathed under the open sky. Going into the bathing-house, Nadyezhda Fyodorovna found there an elderly lady, Marya Konstantinovna Bityugov, and her daughter Katya, a schoolgirl of fifteen; both of them were sitting on a bench undressing. Marya Konstantinovna was a good-natured, enthusiastic, and genteel person, who talked in a drawling and pathetic voice. She had been a governess until she was thirty-two, and then had married Bityugov, a Government official — a bald little man with his hair combed on to his temples and with a very meek disposition. She was still in love with him, was jealous, blushed at the word “love,” and told every one she was very happy.
“My dear,” she cried enthusiastically, on seeing Nadyezhda Fyodorovna, assuming an expression which all her acquaintances called “almond-oily.” “My dear, how delightful that you have come! We’ll bathe together — that’s enchanting!”
Olga quickly flung off her dress and chemise, and began undressing her mistress.
“It’s not quite so hot to-day as yesterday?” said Nadyezhda Fyodorovna, shrinking at the coarse touch of the naked cook. “Yesterday I almost died of the heat.”
“Oh, yes, my dear; I could hardly breathe myself. Would you believe it? I bathed yesterday three times! Just imagine, my dear, three times! Nikodim Alexandritch was quite uneasy.”
“Is it possible to be so ugly?” thought Nadyezhda Fyodorovna, looking at Olga and the official’s wife; she glanced at Katya and thought: “The little girl’s not badly made.”
“Your Nikodim Alexandritch is very charming!” she said. “I’m simply in love with him.”
“Ha, ha, ha!” cried Marya Konstantinovna, with a forced laugh; “that’s quite enchanting.”
Free from her clothes, Nadyezhda Fyodorovna felt a desire to fly. And it seemed to her that if she were to wave her hands she would fly upwards. When she was undressed, she noticed that Olga looked scornfully at her white body. Olga, a young soldier’s wife, was living with her lawful husband, and so considered herself superior to her mistress. Marya Konstantinovna and Katya were afraid of her, and did not respect her. This was disagreeable, and to raise herself in their opinion, Nadyezhda Fyodorovna said:
“At home, in Petersburg, summer villa life is at its height now. My husband and I have so many friends! We ought to go and see them.”
“I believe your husband is an engineer?” said Marya Konstantinovna timidly.
“I am speaking of Laevsky. He has a great many acquaintances. But unfortunately his mother is a proud aristocrat, not very intelligent. . . .”
Nadyezhda Fyodorovna threw herself into the water without finishing; Marya Konstantinovna and Katya made their way in after her.
“There are so many conventional ideas in the world,” Nadyezhda Fyodorovna went on, “and life is not so easy as it seems.”
Marya Konstantinovna, who had been a governess in aristocratic families and who was an authority on social matters, said:
“Oh yes! Would you believe me, my dear, at the Garatynskys’ I was expected to dress for lunch as well as for dinner, so that, like an actress, I received a special allowance for my wardrobe in addition to my salary.”
She stood between Nadyezhda Fyodorovna and Katya as though to screen her daughter from the water that washed the former.
Through the open doors looking out to the sea they could see some one swimming a hundred paces from their bathing-place.
“Mother, it’s our Kostya,” said Katya.
“Ach, ach!” Marya Konstantinovna cackled in her dismay. “Ach, Kostya!” she shouted, “Come back! Kostya, come back!”
Kostya, a boy of fourteen, to show off his prowess before his mother and sister, dived and swam farther, but began to be exhausted and hurried back, and from his strained and serious face it could be seen that he could not trust his own strength.
“The trouble one has with these boys, my dear! said Marya Konstantinovna, growing calmer. “Before you can turn round, he will break his neck. Ah, my dear, how sweet it is, and yet at the same time how difficult, to be a mother! One’s afraid of everything.”
Nadyezhda Fyodorovna put on her straw hat and dashed out into the open sea. She swam some thirty feet and then turned on her back. She could see the sea to the horizon, the steamers, the people on the sea-front, the town; and all this, together with the sultry heat and the soft, transparent waves, excited her and whispered that she must live, live. . . . A sailing-boat darted by her rapidly and vigorously, cleaving the waves and the air; the man sitting at the helm looked at her, and she liked being looked at. . . .
After bathing, the ladies dressed and went away together.
“I have fever every alternate day, and yet I don’t get thin,” said Nadyezhda Fyodorovna, licking her lips, which were salt from the bathe, and responding with a smile to the bows of her acquaintances. “I’ve always been plump, and now I believe I’m plumper than ever.”
“That, my dear, is constitutional. If, like me, one has no constitutional tendency to stoutness, no diet is of any use. . . . But you’ve wetted your hat, my dear.”
“It doesn’t matter; it will dry.”
Nadyezhda Fyodorovna saw again the men in white who were walking on the sea-front and talking French; and again she felt a sudden thrill of joy, and had a vague memory of some big hall in which she had once danced, or of which, perhaps, she had once dreamed. And something at the bottom of her soul dimly and obscurely whispered to her that she was a pretty, common, miserable, worthless woman. . . .
Marya Konstantinovna stopped at her gate and asked her to come in and sit down for a little while.
“Come in, my dear,” she said in an imploring voice, and at the same time she looked at Nadyezhda Fyodorovna with anxiety and hope; perhaps she would refuse and not come in!
“With pleasure,” said Nadyezhda Fyodorovna, accepting. “You know how I love being with you!”
And she went into the house. Marya Konstantinovna sat her down and gave her coffee, regaled her with milk rolls, then showed her photographs of her former pupils, the Garatynskys, who were by now married. She showed her, too, the examination reports of Kostya and Katya. The reports were very good, but to make them seem even better, she complained, with a sigh, how difficult the lessons at school were now. . . . She made much of her visitor, and was sorry for her, though at the same time she was harassed by the thought that Nadyezhda Fyodorovna might have a corrupting influence on the morals of Kostya and Katya, and was glad that her Nikodim Alexandritch was not at home. Seeing that in her opinion all men are fond of “women like that,” Nadyezhda Fyodorovna might have a bad effect on Nikodim Alexandritch too.
As she talked to her visitor, Marya Konstantinovna kept remembering that they were to have a picnic that evening, and that Von Koren had particularly begged her to say nothing about it to the “Japanese monkeys” — that is, Laevsky and Nadyezhda Fyodorovna; but she dropped a word about it unawares, crimsoned, and said in confusion:
“I hope you will come too!”
It was agreed to drive about five miles out of town on the road to the south, to stop near a duhan at the junction of two streams — the Black River and the Yellow River — and to cook fish soup. They started out soon after five. Foremost of the party in a char–banc drove Samoylenko and Laevsky; they were followed by Marya Konstantinovna, Nadyezhda Fyodorovna, Katya and Kostya, in a coach with three horses, carrying with them the crockery and a basket with provisions. In the next carriage came the police captain, Kirilin, and the young Atchmianov, the son of the shopkeeper to whom Nadyezhda Fyodorovna owed three hundred roubles; opposite them, huddled up on the little seat with his feet tucked under him, sat Nikodim Alexandritch, a neat little man with hair combed on to his temples. Last of all came Von Koren and the deacon; at the deacon’s feet stood a basket of fish.
“R-r-right!” Samoylenko shouted at the top of his voice when he met a cart or a mountaineer riding on a donkey.
“In two years’ time, when I shall have the means and the people ready, I shall set off on an expedition,” Von Koren was telling the deacon. ” I shall go by the sea-coast from Vladivostok to the Behring Straits, and then from the Straits to the mouth of the Yenisei. We shall make the map, study the fauna and the flora, and make detailed geological, anthropological, and ethnographical researches. It depends upon you to go with me or not.”
“It’s impossible,” said the deacon.
“I’m a man with ties and a family.”
“Your wife will let you go; we will provide for her. Better still if you were to persuade her for the public benefit to go into a nunnery; that would make it possible for you to become a monk, too, and join the expedition as a priest. I can arrange it for you.”
The deacon was silent.
“Do you know your theology well?” asked the zoologist.
“No, rather badly.”
“H’m! . . . I can’t give you any advice on that score, because I don’t know much about theology myself. You give me a list of books you need, and I will send them to you from Petersburg in the winter. It will be necessary for you to read the notes of religious travellers, too; among them are some good ethnologists and Oriental scholars. When you are familiar with their methods, it will be easier for you to set to work. And you needn’t waste your time till you get the books; come to me, and we will study the compass and go through a course of meteorology. All that’s indispensable.”
“To be sure . . .” muttered the deacon, and he laughed. “I was trying to get a place in Central Russia, and my uncle, the head priest, promised to help me. If I go with you I shall have troubled them for nothing.”
“I don’t understand your hesitation. If you go on being an ordinary deacon, who is only obliged to hold a service on holidays, and on the other days can rest from work, you will be exactly the same as you are now in ten years’ time, and will have gained nothing but a beard and moustache; while on returning from this expedition in ten years’ time you will be a different man, you will be enriched by the consciousness that something has been done by you.”
From the ladies’ carriage came shrieks of terror and delight. The carriages were driving along a road hollowed in a literally overhanging precipitous cliff, and it seemed to every one that they were galloping along a shelf on a steep wall, and that in a moment the carriages would drop into the abyss. On the right stretched the sea; on the left was a rough brown wall with black blotches and red veins and with climbing roots; while on the summit stood shaggy fir-trees bent over, as though looking down in terror and curiosity. A minute later there were shrieks and laughter again: they had to drive under a huge overhanging rock.
“I don’t know why the devil I’m coming with you,” said Laevsky. “How stupid and vulgar it is! I want to go to the North, to run away, to escape; but here I am, for some reason, going to this stupid picnic.”
“But look, what a view!” said Samoylenko as the horses turned to the left, and the valley of the Yellow River came into sight and the stream itself gleamed in the sunlight, yellow, turbid, frantic.
“I see nothing fine in that, Sasha,” answered Laevsky. “To be in continual ecstasies over nature shows poverty of imagination. In comparison with what my imagination can give me, all these streams and rocks are trash, and nothing else.”
The carriages now were by the banks of the stream. The high mountain banks gradually grew closer, the valley shrank together and ended in a gorge; the rocky mountain round which they were driving had been piled together by nature out of huge rocks, pressing upon each other with such terrible weight, that Samoylenko could not help gasping every time he looked at them. The dark and beautiful mountain was cleft in places by narrow fissures and gorges from which came a breath of dewy moisture and mystery; through the gorges could be seen other mountains, brown, pink, lilac, smoky, or bathed in vivid sunlight. From time to time as they passed a gorge they caught the sound of water falling from the heights and splashing on the stones.
“Ach, the damned mountains!” sighed Laevsky. “How sick I am of them!”
At the place where the Black River falls into the Yellow, and the water black as ink stains the yellow and struggles with it, stood the Tatar Kerbalay’s duhan, with the Russian flag on the roof and with an inscription written in chalk: “The Pleasant duhan.” Near it was a little garden, enclosed in a hurdle fence, with tables and chairs set out in it, and in the midst of a thicket of wretched thornbushes stood a single solitary cypress, dark and beautiful.
Kerbalay, a nimble little Tatar in a blue shirt and a white apron, was standing in the road, and, holding his stomach, he bowed low to welcome the carriages, and smiled, showing his glistening white teeth.
“Good-evening, Kerbalay,” shouted Samoylenko. “We are driving on a little further, and you take along the samovar and chairs! Look sharp!”
Kerbalay nodded his shaven head and muttered something, and only those sitting in the last carriage could hear: “We’ve got trout, your Excellency.”
“Bring them, bring them!” said Von Koren.
Five hundred paces from the duhan the carriages stopped. Samoylenko selected a small meadow round which there were scattered stones convenient for sitting on, and a fallen tree blown down by the storm with roots overgrown by moss and dry yellow needles. Here there was a fragile wooden bridge over the stream, and just opposite on the other bank there was a little barn for drying maize, standing on four low piles, and looking like the hut on hen’s legs in the fairy tale; a little ladder sloped from its door.
The first impression in all was a feeling that they would never get out of that place again. On all sides wherever they looked, the mountains rose up and towered above them, and the shadows of evening were stealing rapidly, rapidly from the duhan and dark cypress, making the narrow winding valley of the Black River narrower and the mountains higher. They could hear the river murmuring and the unceasing chirrup of the grasshoppers.
“Enchanting!” said Marya Konstantinovna, heaving deep sighs of ecstasy. “Children, look how fine! What peace!”
“Yes, it really is fine,” assented Laevsky, who liked the view, and for some reason felt sad as he looked at the sky and then at the blue smoke rising from the chimney of the duhan. “Yes, it is fine,” he repeated.
“Ivan Andreitch, describe this view,” Marya Konstantinovna said tearfully.
“Why?” asked Laevsky. “The impression is better than any description. The wealth of sights and sounds which every one receives from nature by direct impression is ranted about by authors in a hideous and unrecognisable way.”
“Really?” Von Koren asked coldly, choosing the biggest stone by the side of the water, and trying to clamber up and sit upon it. “Really?” he repeated, looking directly at Laevsky. “What of ‘Romeo and Juliet’? Or, for instance, Pushkin’s ‘Night in the Ukraine’? Nature ought to come and bow down at their feet.”
“Perhaps,” said Laevsky, who was too lazy to think and oppose him. “Though what is ‘Romeo and Juliet’ after all? ” he added after a short pause. “The beauty of poetry and holiness of love are simply the roses under which they try to hide its rottenness. Romeo is just the same sort of animal as all the rest of us.”
“Whatever one talks to you about, you always bring it round to . . .” Von Koren glanced round at Katya and broke off.
“What do I bring it round to?” asked Laevsky.
“One tells you, for instance, how beautiful a bunch of grapes is, and you answer: ‘Yes, but how ugly it is when it is chewed and digested in one’s stomach!’ Why say that? It’s not new, and . . . altogether it is a queer habit.”
Laevsky knew that Von Koren did not like him, and so was afraid of him, and felt in his presence as though every one were constrained and some one were standing behind his back. He made no answer and walked away, feeling sorry he had come.
“Gentlemen, quick march for brushwood for the fire!” commanded Samoylenko.
They all wandered off in different directions, and no one was left but Kirilin, Atchmianov, and Nikodim Alexandritch. Kerbalay brought chairs, spread a rug on the ground, and set a few bottles of wine.
The police captain, Kirilin, a tall, good-looking man, who in all weathers wore his great-coat over his tunic, with his haughty deportment, stately carriage, and thick, rather hoarse voice, looked like a young provincial chief of police; his expression was mournful and sleepy, as though he had just been waked against his will.
“What have you brought this for, you brute?” he asked Kerbalay, deliberately articulating each word. “I ordered you to give us kvarel, and what have you brought, you ugly Tatar? Eh? What?”
“We have plenty of wine of our own, Yegor Alekseitch,” Nikodim Alexandritch observed, timidly and politely.
“What? But I want us to have my wine, too; I’m taking part in the picnic and I imagine I have full right to contribute my share. I im-ma-gine so! Bring ten bottles of kvarel.”
“Why so many?” asked Nikodim Alexandritch, in wonder, knowing Kirilin had no money.
“Twenty bottles! Thirty!” shouted Kirilin.
“Never mind, let him,” Atchmianov whispered to Nikodim Alexandritch; “I’ll pay.”
Nadyezhda Fyodorovna was in a light-hearted, mischievous mood; she wanted to skip and jump, to laugh, to shout, to tease, to flirt. In her cheap cotton dress with blue pansies on it, in her red shoes and the same straw hat, she seemed to herself, little, simple, light, ethereal as a butterfly. She ran over the rickety bridge and looked for a minute into the water, in order to feel giddy; then, shrieking and laughing, ran to the other side to the drying-shed, and she fancied that all the men were admiring her, even Kerbalay. When in the rapidly falling darkness the trees began to melt into the mountains and the horses into the carriages, and a light gleamed in the windows of the duhan, she climbed up the mountain by the little path which zigzagged between stones and thorn-bushes and sat on a stone. Down below, the camp-fire was burning. Near the fire, with his sleeves tucked up, the deacon was moving to and fro, and his long black shadow kept describing a circle round it; he put on wood, and with a spoon tied to a long stick he stirred the cauldron. Samoylenko, with a copper-red face, was fussing round the fire just as though he were in his own kitchen, shouting furiously:
“Where’s the salt, gentlemen? I bet you’ve forgotten it. Why are you all sitting about like lords while I do the work?”
Laevsky and Nikodim Alexandritch were sitting side by side on the fallen tree looking pensively at the fire. Marya Konstantinovna, Katya, and Kostya were taking the cups, saucers, and plates out of the baskets. Von Koren, with his arms folded and one foot on a stone, was standing on a bank at the very edge of the water, thinking about something. Patches of red light from the fire moved together with the shadows over the ground near the dark human figures, and quivered on the mountain, on the trees, on the bridge, on the drying-shed; on the other side the steep, scooped-out bank was all lighted up and glimmering in the stream, and the rushing turbid water broke its reflection into little bits.
The deacon went for the fish which Kerbalay was cleaning and washing on the bank, but he stood still half-way and looked about him.
“My God, how nice it is!” he thought. “People, rocks, the fire, the twilight, a monstrous tree — nothing more, and yet how fine it is!”
On the further bank some unknown persons made their appearance near the drying-shed. The flickering light and the smoke from the camp-fire puffing in that direction made it impossible to get a full view of them all at once, but glimpses were caught now of a shaggy hat and a grey beard, now of a blue shirt, now of a figure, ragged from shoulder to knee, with a dagger across the body; then a swarthy young face with black eyebrows, as thick and bold as though they had been drawn in charcoal. Five of them sat in a circle on the ground, and the other five went into the drying-shed. One was standing at the door with his back to the fire, and with his hands behind his back was telling something, which must have been very interesting, for when Samoylenko threw on twigs and the fire flared up, and scattered sparks and threw a glaring light on the shed, two calm countenances with an expression on them of deep attention could be seen, looking out of the door, while those who were sitting in a circle turned round and began listening to the speaker. Soon after, those sitting in a circle began softly singing something slow and melodious, that sounded like Lenten Church music. . . . Listening to them, the deacon imagined how it would be with him in ten years’ time, when he would come back from the expedition: he would be a young priest and monk, an author with a name and a splendid past; he would be consecrated an archimandrite, then a bishop; and he would serve mass in the cathedral; in a golden mitre he would come out into the body of the church with the ikon on his breast, and blessing the mass of the people with the triple and the double candelabra, would proclaim: “Look down from Heaven, O God, behold and visit this vineyard which Thy Hand has planted,” and the children with their angel voices would sing in response: “Holy God. . .”
“Deacon, where is that fish?” he heard Samoylenko’s voice.
As he went back to the fire, the deacon imagined the Church procession going along a dusty road on a hot July day; in front the peasants carrying the banners and the women and children the ikons, then the boy choristers and the sacristan with his face tied up and a straw in his hair, then in due order himself, the deacon, and behind him the priest wearing his calotte and carrying a cross, and behind them, tramping in the dust, a crowd of peasants — men, women, and children; in the crowd his wife and the priest’s wife with kerchiefs on their heads. The choristers sing, the babies cry, the corncrakes call, the lark carols. . . . Then they make a stand and sprinkle the herd with holy water. . . . They go on again, and then kneeling pray for rain. Then lunch and talk. . . .
“And that’s nice too . . .” thought the deacon.
Kirilin and Atchmianov climbed up the mountain by the path. Atchmianov dropped behind and stopped, while Kirilin went up to Nadyezhda Fyodorovna.
“Good-evening,” he said, touching his cap.
“Yes!” said Kirilin, looking at the sky and pondering.
“Why ‘yes’?” asked Nadyezhda Fyodorovna after a brief pause, noticing that Atchmianov was watching them both.
“And so it seems,” said the officer, slowly, “that our love has withered before it has blossomed, so to speak. How do you wish me to understand it? Is it a sort of coquetry on your part, or do you look upon me as a nincompoop who can be treated as you choose.”
“It was a mistake! Leave me alone!” Nadyezhda Fyodorovna said sharply, on that beautiful, marvellous evening, looking at him with terror and asking herself with bewilderment, could there really have been a moment when that man attracted her and had been near to her?
“So that’s it!” said Kirilin; he thought in silence for a few minutes and said: “Well, I’ll wait till you are in a better humour, and meanwhile I venture to assure you I am a gentleman, and I don’t allow any one to doubt it. Adieu!”
He touched his cap again and walked off, making his way between the bushes. After a short interval Atchmianov approached hesitatingly.
“What a fine evening!” he said with a slight Armenian accent.
He was nice-looking, fashionably dressed, and behaved unaffectedly like a well-bred youth, but Nadyezhda Fyodorovna did not like him because she owed his father three hundred roubles; it was displeasing to her, too, that a shopkeeper had been asked to the picnic, and she was vexed at his coming up to her that evening when her heart felt so pure.
The picnic is a success altogether,” he said, after a pause.
“Yes,” she agreed, and as though suddenly remembering her debt, she said carelessly: “Oh, tell them in your shop that Ivan Andreitch will come round in a day or two and will pay three hundred roubles. . . . I don’t remember exactly what it is.”
“I would give another three hundred if you would not mention that debt every day. Why be prosaic?”
Nadyezhda Fyodorovna laughed; the amusing idea occurred to her that if she had been willing and sufficiently immoral she might in one minute be free from her debt. If she, for instance, were to turn the head of this handsome young fool! How amusing, absurd, wild it would be really! And she suddenly felt a longing to make him love her, to plunder him, throw him over, and then to see what would come of it.
“Allow me to give you one piece of advice,” Atchmianov said timidly. “I beg you to beware of Kirilin. He says horrible things about you everywhere.”
“It doesn’t interest me to know what every fool says of me,” Nadyezhda Fyodorovna said coldly, and the amusing thought of playing with handsome young Atchmianov suddenly lost its charm.
“We must go down,” she said; “they’re calling us.”
The fish soup was ready by now. They were ladling it out by platefuls, and eating it with the religious solemnity with which this is only done at a picnic; and every one thought the fish soup very good, and thought that at home they had never eaten anything so nice. As is always the case at picnics, in the mass of dinner napkins, parcels, useless greasy papers fluttering in the wind, no one knew where was his glass or where his bread. They poured the wine on the carpet and on their own knees, spilt the salt, while it was dark all round them and the fire burnt more dimly, and every one was too lazy to get up and put wood on. They all drank wine, and even gave Kostya and Katya half a glass each. Nadyezhda Fyodorovna drank one glass and then another, got a little drunk and forgot about Kirilin.
“A splendid picnic, an enchanting evening,” said Laevsky, growing lively with the wine. “But I should prefer a fine winter to all this. ‘His beaver collar is silver with hoar-frost.’
“Every one to his taste,” observed Von Koren.
Laevsky felt uncomfortable; the heat of the campfire was beating upon his back, and the hatred of Von Koren upon his breast and face: this hatred on the part of a decent, clever man, a feeling in which there probably lay hid a well-grounded reason, humiliated him and enervated him, and unable to stand up against it, he said in a propitiatory tone:
“I am passionately fond of nature, and I regret that I’m not a naturalist. I envy you.”
“Well, I don’t envy you, and don’t regret it,” said Nadyezhda Fyodorovna. “I don’t understand how any one can seriously interest himself in beetles and ladybirds while the people are suffering.”
Laevsky shared her opinion. He was absolutely ignorant of natural science, and so could never reconcile himself to the authoritative tone and the learned and profound air of the people who devoted themselves to the whiskers of ants and the claws of beetles, and he always felt vexed that these people, relying on these whiskers, claws, and something they called protoplasm (he always imagined it in the form of an oyster), should undertake to decide questions involving the origin and life of man. But in Nadyezhda Fyodorovna’s words he heard a note of falsity, and simply to contradict her he said: “The point is not the ladybirds, but the deductions made from them.”
It was late, eleven o’clock, when they began to get into the carriages to go home. They took their seats, and the only ones missing were Nadyezhda Fyodorovna and Atchmianov, who were running after one another, laughing, the other side of the stream.
“Make haste, my friends,” shouted Samoylenko.
“You oughtn’t to give ladies wine,” said Von Koren in a low voice.
Laevsky, exhausted by the picnic, by the hatred of Von Koren, and by his own thoughts, went to meet Nadyezhda Fyodorovna, and when, gay and happy, feeling light as a feather, breathless and laughing, she took him by both hands and laid her head on his breast, he stepped back and said dryly:
“You are behaving like a . . . cocotte.”
It sounded horribly coarse, so that he felt sorry for her at once. On his angry, exhausted face she read hatred, pity and vexation with himself, and her heart sank at once. She realised instantly that she had gone too far, had been too free and easy in her behaviour, and overcome with misery, feeling herself heavy, stout, coarse, and drunk, she got into the first empty carriage together with Atchmianov. Laevsky got in with Kirilin, the zoologist with Samoylenko, the deacon with the ladies, and the party set off.
“You see what the Japanese monkeys are like,” Von Koren began, rolling himself up in his cloak and shutting his eyes. “You heard she doesn’t care to take an interest in beetles and ladybirds because the people are suffering. That’s how all the Japanese monkeys look upon people like us. They’re a slavish, cunning race, terrified by the whip and the fist for ten generations; they tremble and burn incense only before violence; but let the monkey into a free state where there’s no one to take it by the collar, and it relaxes at once and shows itself in its true colours. Look how bold they are in picture galleries, in museums, in theatres, or when they talk of science: they puff themselves out and get excited, they are abusive and critical . . . they are bound to criticise — it’s the sign of the slave. You listen: men of the liberal professions are more often sworn at than pickpockets — that’s because three-quarters of society are made up of slaves, of just such monkeys. It never happens that a slave holds out his hand to you and sincerely says ‘Thank you’ to you for your work.”
“I don’t know what you want,” said Samoylenko, yawning; “the poor thing, in the simplicity of her heart, wanted to talk to you of scientific subjects, and you draw a conclusion from that. You’re cross with him for something or other, and with her, too, to keep him company. She’s a splendid woman.”
“Ah, nonsense! An ordinary kept woman, depraved and vulgar. Listen, Alexandr Daviditch; when you meet a simple peasant woman, who isn’t living with her husband, who does nothing but giggle, you tell her to go and work. Why are you timid in this case and afraid to tell the truth? Simply because Nadyezhda Fyodorovna is kept, not by a sailor, but by an official.”
“What am I to do with her?” said Samoylenko, getting angry. “Beat her or what?
“Not flatter vice. We curse vice only behind its back, and that’s like making a long nose at it round a corner. I am a zoologist or a sociologist, which is the same thing; you are a doctor; society believes in us; we ought to point out the terrible harm which threatens it and the next generation from the existence of ladies like Nadyezhda Ivanovna.”
“Fyodorovna,” Samoylenko corrected. “But what ought society to do?”
“Society? That’s its affair. To my thinking the surest and most direct method is — compulsion. Manu militari she ought to be returned to her husband; and if her husband won’t take her in, then she ought to be sent to penal servitude or some house of correction.”
“Ouf!” sighed Samoylenko. He paused and asked quietly: “You said the other day that people like Laevsky ought to be destroyed. . . . Tell me, if you . . . if the State or society commissioned you to destroy him, could you . . . bring yourself to it?”
“My hand would not tremble.”
When they got home, Laevsky and Nadyezhda Fyodorovna went into their dark, stuffy, dull rooms. Both were silent. Laevsky lighted a candle, while Nadyezhda Fyodorovna sat down, and without taking off her cloak and hat, lifted her melancholy, guilty eyes to him.
He knew that she expected an explanation from him, but an explanation would be wearisome, useless and exhausting, and his heart was heavy because he had lost control over himself and been rude to her. He chanced to feel in his pocket the letter which he had been intending every day to read to her, and thought if he were to show her that letter now, it would turn her thoughts in another direction.
“It is time to define our relations,” he thought. “I will give it her; what is to be will be.”
He took out the letter and gave it her.