The Project Gutenberg eBook of Short-stories masterpieces - Vol. IV - Russian, by Joseph Berg Esenwein

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Title: Short-stories masterpieces - Vol. IV - Russian

Editor: Joseph Berg Esenwein

Release Date: June 20, 2022 [eBook #68357]

Language: English

Produced by: Andrés V. Galia, momonaco, joehp and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team at (This book was produced from images made available by the HathiTrust Digital Library.)

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In the plain text version text in italics is enclosed by underscores (_italics_), small capitals are represented in upper case as in SMALL CAPS, text in bold is represented as in =text in bold=.

The book cover was modified by the transcriber and has been added to the public domain.

A number of words in this book have both hyphenated and non-hyphenated variants. For the words with both variants present the one more used has been kept.

Obvious punctuation and other printing errors have been corrected.

Leonid Andreyev





Editor of Lippincott’s Magazine

The Home Correspondence School
Springfield, Massachusetts

Copyright 1912 and 1913—J. B. Lippincott Company

Copyright 1913—The Home Correspondence School



Dostoevski, Apostle to the Lowly 5
Story: The Tree and the Wedding 17
Korolenko the Exile 33
Story: The Old Bell-Ringer 45
Garshin the Melancholiac 57
Story: Four Days 71
Chekhov, Recorder of Lost Illusions 95
Story: In Exile 113
Andreev: Apostle of the Terrible 131
Story: Silence 145
Gorki the Bitter 169
Story: Comrades 183

[Pg 5]


It is really a hopeless task to view within small compass so prolific and so intense a novelist as Féodor Mikhailovich Dostoevski. Indeed, I long questioned the fitness of including him in this series of brief studies, for his little fictions are few; but Russian literature knows no more vigorous novelist than this inartistic though colossal figure, and any compendious treatment of Russian writers would seem inadequate which did not include the author of “Crime and Punishment.” Apart from a few little stories, Dostoevski’s short fictional creations are chiefly episodes in his long and mostly rambling novels—powerful and compact little digressions often almost unrelated to the main thread of the story, but worthy of existence separately as pieces of impressionism.

No finer tribute could be paid to a man than to recognize him as the apostle of humble folk—unless it were to add that this apostolate was free from the taint of demagoguery and solely the vocation of a tender spirit. Fifty years ago, in the Russia of the sixties, Dostoevski came to the full enduement of his ministry for man.[Pg 6] What Jean François Millet saw in the French peasant, that the great Russian novelist felt in the muzhik—the pathos of those who suffer under burdens, the heart-break of hopeless toil, the unexpected beauty gleaming in the midst of ugliness, honey hidden in the carcass of the lion.

No man ever lived a selfless life of service but his reward followed him—though often enough too late to cheer the rigors of his way. So too Dostoevski came to his own at last, but not till after a life of suffering, banishment, disease, disappointment, poverty, and debt; and he died just when his voice was heard most impressively, leaving his master-novel unfinished, and its author wept by forty thousand mourners who followed his bier as delegates, so to call them, of the uncounted millions whose cries he had voiced.

We are all agreed that the function of literature is to portray life, but when we have said that, we have not begun at the beginning. What motive must be back of the portrayal? Or must there be no motive at all save that of picturing life faithfully? Here is where opinions divide, as well as upon that other question: Is all life proper subject-matter for literary portrayal?

Russian literature especially furnishes ground for such questionings, and the work of Dostoevski[Pg 7] in particular; but to me it illustrates the view which seems to be the true one. The literary portrayal of life must have a motive beyond that of mere faithful delineation, for it is inevitable that the artist must foresee this truth: the effect which the contemplation of certain aspects of life had upon him will be the effect upon the reader after having read his transcription. So the desire to reproduce an effect—impressionism, they call it in art—is in itself a powerful motive, changing according to the greatness or littleness of the effect to be produced.

Thus we have the whole range of possible motives for the portrayal of life in literature—entertainment, teaching, arousement, propagandum, what-not. This variation of motive naturally leads us to the question: Who should read? Certainly not every one should read everything; hence many books not bad in themselves become bad influences when placed in wrong hands. It is worth while remembering this in forming our judgments.

The second question—Is all life proper subject-matter for literary portrayal?—lies close beside the former. If we could assume that certain literary delineations would be held as material sacred to the pathologist of soul, of mind, of body, of society, we could unhesitatingly say “Yes”[Pg 8] to this question. But when we consider that the inevitable destiny of great writing is its free distribution in periodical or book form, we are certain that not all books are for all readers.

In discussing the work of Gorki in this series this question is touched upon. Here we face it also—Dostoevski is too true, too terrible, at times too revolting, for every one to read. Let no one read him who dreads to look upon scenes sad, terrible, funereal; who fears to enter hospitals, prisons, charnel houses, and the place of knout and execution. The message of this precursor of Bourget was not one of lyric sweetness, he never dwelt in ecstasy upon the beauties of forest and stream—man, not nature, was his theme. With a wildly passionate understanding—perhaps a diseased and certainly an abnormal understanding—he showed the furies of crime, the viciousness of those whom society has thrust out, the dull brutality of the under dog, the aborted egoism of those who haunt every dark way—but in all he found goodness, for his eye was full of pity, always full of pity. To him crime was a misfortune more than a mark of sheer evil. A dangerous view? Yes—and a gentle one.

No man can persistently look upon his fellow men without awakening his own real self. Now, see how this doctrine of expression works itself[Pg 9] out when we give due value to the personal equation. Here is a man who was born October 30, 1821, in a charity hospital in Warsaw, as the second of seven children. His father, a poor army surgeon, was of excellent birth, though his family lived in but two rooms. Féodor went to boarding-school when thirteen, was graduated with honors from the Military School of Engineering in St. Petersburg, received a good appointment, but soon resigned to give himself to literature.

His first novel, “Poor People” (1846), won him the name of the “new Gogol,” but in 1849 he was unjustly arrested for inciting to insurrection, condemned to be shot, and reprieved after standing on the executioner’s platform for twenty minutes in freezing weather while almost naked. Four terrible years in a Siberian prison nearly completed the ruin which a sickly constitution, shattered nerves, and epileptic attacks had begun. Brückner puts it thus dramatically: “...for no single moment, or at most when he collapsed under his load of bricks, did he feel himself a man.” Yet, quite in the wonderful way that life often takes, this very prison era made the man and the novelist.

When at length he was released from prison, he served three years in the Siberian army, and[Pg 10] finally was permitted to return home—to a period of struggle with his little magazine, its silly suppression by the censor, the ruin of his family, the death of his dear ones, the exhausting fight to bear the load of debt, the flight from the debtors’ prison into foreign countries, the ill-rewarded toil which forever harassed him, in short, to a cycle of suffering which might well have worn out the strongest. No wonder that he had the sensation of being flayed alive—that every breath of air held pains in store for him.

Now suppose that such a maddening plenitude of experience should clamor for expression, why should not the unfortunate epileptic indite with his pen the diseased, the abnormal, the despairing, sensations which piled upon him with terrific weight year after year? He saw all with sympathy, why should not his soul-cries rouse the world to pity for what he saw?

There is an immeasurable area lying between that morbid mind which loves to depict the purlieus of life and that brave heart which reaches down deep into the filthy and the sickening for the sake of dragging somewhat of value up to the light. Dostoevski conceived that Russia could never energize her arm for saving service without a wide knowledge of what existed in every place of nameless horror. As a great natural pathologist,[Pg 11] he understood the vagaries of the diseased and the defective; in Siberia he perforce mingled with the lowest criminals—the results he embodied in a score of novels, four or five of them great novels, for those to read who dare look in the face the life of the shadowy alleys, for those to avoid who prefer the light and airy high-paths.

What is more, no pleasant bucolic pipe can rouse like a bugle-blast. Those who play the notes of beauty will exalt or pacify the soul, but those who would rouse the whole being must choose sturdy instruments and various. To shift the similitude, Russia needed no soothing unguents, her festering sores called for the heroic knife—first exact diagnosis, then the knife. And Dostoevski showed always the truth—the sordid, noisome, revolting, pitiful truth—and, as this serene prophet saw that she would, Russia herself is more and more bravely using the knife. Yet beauty and sweetness and upper air are in his stories, too, especially if one sees beneath the surface.

Russia’s greatest novelists are really three: Turgenev, the cosmopolitan, was an æsthete, an artist, a polished littérateur; Tolstoi, the mystic, was a brooding reformer, too self-centered to realize his humanitarian ideals, but a majestic[Pg 12] figure in literature as in life; Dostoevski, the profoundly religious psychologist, was an unbalanced, fiery apostle, winging among the highest, stalking amidst the lowest, seeing visions not given to common men.

Dostoevski’s novels are great not by reason of their art, but from their artlessness, which is to say their explosive sincerity, like the incoherent violence of one who feels things too powerful for orderly utterance. In this they reflect his life only in that they reproduce what the seismograph of his spirit recorded. Outwardly, he was quiet, detached, even morose, his epileptic seizures doubtless sending him into the companionship of his own life; but his soul shook with the volcanic terrors which he perforce beheld, from his cradle in the charity hospital, through the turbulent years of Siberia, Russia, and the continent, down to the day of his too early taking-off at the age of fifty-nine.

Not all of his novels are worth general reading, even were they all available in English. He was too much preoccupied with his struggle with debt, his physical sufferings, his inner life, his passion of pity, his profound analyses of the characters about him, his tender religious faith, to allow him to study the graces of expression. In consequence, diffuseness and lack of compact,[Pg 13] progressive plot—for he had no dramatic skill—characterize his work, and when he does rise to heights of beautiful utterance, which is not seldom, it is the outbursting of sheer feeling, the power of his theme, not the premeditated caperings of the self-conscious stylist. The man and his vehement message are far bigger than his technique.

Seven of his works must here be dismissed in as many paragraphs as they deserve chapters.

“Poor Folk,” strongly influenced by Gogol’s “The Cloak,” was written when Dostoevski was twenty-five. Though told in the handicapping form of letters, it made an immediate impression. Simplicity, human understanding, and compression—and the last was not one of his usual virtues—mark this spiritual history of two lives. It is an effective book, though not a great.

The years of Siberian torment yielded fruit in that remarkable example of criminal psychology, “Memories of a House of the Dead,” 1861-62. Not Dickens, and certainly not Oscar Wilde, approached this dispassionate record of a tremendously passionate and passion-inspiring theme, the inside of a terrible prison, which stirred Europe just when Hugo was issuing “Les Miserables.” “His calm account of their unblushing[Pg 14] knavery is entirely free from either vindictive malice or superior contempt. He loved them because they were buried alive, he loved them because of their wretchedness, with a love as far removed from condescension as it was from secret admiration of their bold wickedness.” These words of Professor Phelps are singularly illuminating.

“Crime and Punishment,” the best known to English readers of the author’s works, is by many considered his masterpiece. Notwithstanding many waste places of digression, this book is a lofty peak. No one could picture in a few words the tremendous story of that other Eugene Aram—Raskolnikov—the philosophical student of crime, his double murder, his confession to the courtesan Sonia, her great-hearted reception of the news, her counsel that he confess his crime, their life in Siberia, and the gradual regeneration of both souls through the ministry of service.

Then, there are “The Gambler,” in which Dostoevski’s own passion for the green table is evidently recorded; and “The Idiot,” a prince whose unworldly sweetness is notable, even under the stress of epilepsy, and whose influence over the lives of all about him is a genuine creation; and “Possessed by Demons,” a portrayal of Nihilism, largely written as a fling at Turgenev,[Pg 15] whom Dostoevski never loved; and finally that gigantic conception, “The Karamazov Brothers,” which he did not live to complete—a terrible yet sublime work that promised to be as soul-shaking as interminable.

The business of grown-up life is too serious to allow much space in Russian literature for that most really serious subject, child-life. Dostoevski is an exception. Though he has very few strong and beautiful women characters, his tender heart felt for every child, as witness the penetrating anecdotal sketch which here follows. Note its characteristic humor, tinged with satire; see the pity of it—a pity of situation, not of overwrought description; feel the essential right-mindedness of it, written at a period when the modern view of girlhood’s right to her own self was yet unpreached. This one powerful plea—without a word of homily, as it is—forms big enough foundation for the building of this man’s name for great-heartedness and ranks him in this respect with Charles Dickens, whom he loved.

[Pg 16]

[Pg 17]


By Féodor Dostoevski

A few days ago I saw a wedding.... But no! I had better tell you about a Christmas tree. The wedding was fine in its way, and it pleased me immensely; but the other episode was more interesting. It is difficult to say why, at the sight of the wedding, I recalled the tree. This is how it happened.

Exactly five years ago, on New Year’s Eve, I had been invited to a children’s party. The personage who invited me was a well-known man of affairs, with many connections, a wide acquaintance, involved in intrigue; so it was quite natural to suppose that this children’s party served as a mere pretext for the parents to crowd together and to discuss other interesting matters in what seemed like an innocent, accidental, and unpremeditated manner.

I was an outsider; I had little to talk about, and I therefore passed the evening quite independently. There was another gentleman present, who was apparently of no particular importance, and who, like myself, had stumbled upon this domestic happiness. He, above all[Pg 18] others, attracted my attention. He was a tall, spare figure, quite serious in aspect and very neat in dress. But it was evident that he was beyond joyousness and domestic happiness. Once he betook himself to a corner, he immediately ceased to smile, but frowned with his dense, black brows. Except for the host, he was unacquainted with a single soul at the party. It was apparent that he was terribly bored, and that he sustained bravely until the end the rôle of a totally diverted and happy individual. I learned later that this gentleman was from the provinces, and had a very important head-splitting affair to settle in the capital; that he had a letter of recommendation to our host, who was not at all disposed to treat its bearer con amore, and had invited him to the children’s party merely out of politeness. He was not asked to join in a game of cards, nor to help himself to a cigar; and no one thought to enter into conversation with him. It was possible that the species of bird was recognized from a distance by its feathers. At any rate, our gentleman, at a loss what to do with his hands, found it necessary to stroke his side-whiskers. The side-whiskers were indeed very good ones, but he stroked them with such assiduity that to look at him it was quite natural to presume that the side-whiskers came into the world first, and that[Pg 19] the gentleman was attached to them afterwards that he might stroke them.

Aside from this figure, participating after the manner described in the domestic happiness of the host—who had five well-fed boy youngsters—there was another gentleman who diverted me. He, however, was of a totally different character. In fact, a real personage. They called him Julian Mastakovich. The very first glance could have told you that he was a respected guest, and that his relation to the host was similar to the host’s relation to the man who stroked his side-whiskers. The host and the hostess showered compliments upon him, waited upon him, flattered him, conducted their guests into his presence for introduction, while him they did not conduct to any one else. I observed how a tear glistened in the host’s eyes when Julian Mastakovich said that seldom had he spent so pleasant an evening.

I experienced a disagreeable feeling before this person, and so after admiring the children I went into the small drawing-room, which was almost empty, and sat down in a kind of flowery arbor belonging to the hostess, and occupying almost half of the room.

The children were incredibly charming, and seemed determined not to resemble their elders, notwithstanding all the efforts of their mothers[Pg 20] and governesses. In a twinkling they bared the tree to its last bonbon, and had managed to break half of the playthings before they knew for whom they were designated. Especially fine to look at was a dark-eyed, curly-haired lad, who aimed at me continuously with his wooden gun. But, above all, my attention was attracted by his sister, a girl of eleven years, as lovely as Cupid, quiet, pensive, pale, with large, musing eyes, slightly projecting out of their circles. The other children had somehow offended her; for that reason, she came into the very room where I sat, and, betaking herself into a corner, was soon occupied with her doll. The guests looked with great deference in the direction of her father, a wealthy proprietor, and some one mentioned in a half-whisper that a dowry of three hundred thousand rubles had already been laid aside for her.

I turned around to glance at those interested in this circumstance, and my gaze fell upon Julian Mastakovich, who, having thrust his hands behind him and inclined his head a trifle to the side, was listening with a marked intentness to the chatter of these folk.

Afterward I could not help but feel astonished at the sageness of the hosts in distributing the children’s gifts. The little girl who already had[Pg 21] a dowry of three hundred thousand rubles received the most expensive doll. Then followed the other gifts, growing lower in value in proportion to the lower standing of the parents of these happy children. The last youngster, a boy of ten years, meagre, diminutive, freckled, and red-haired, received only a small volume of tales dealing with the bountifulness of nature, the joy of tears, and the like; the book contained no pictures, not even a decoration. He was the son of a poor widow, the governess of the host’s children, and had a haunted, suppressed look. He was dressed in a wretched cotton jacket. Having received his book, he hovered for a long time around the toys. He had the most intense longing to play with the other children, but dared not. It was evident that he already felt and understood his position.

It is a favorite occupation of mine to observe children. It is highly interesting to mark in them certain early and free inclinations of their natures. I noted how the red-haired boy was tempted by the expensive playthings of the other children—and especially by a toy theatre, in which he showed a most eager desire to play some rôle—to such a degree that he adopted an ingratiating manner to attain his end. He smiled and joined the other children in their play, gave up his apple[Pg 22] to one puffed-up youngster who already had a whole handkerchiefful of gifts tied to his body, and even offered to carry another boy on his back, if only they would not drive him away from the theatre. Soon, however, a bully in the party gave him a sound drubbing. The boy did not dare to cry out. Presently the governess, his mother, appeared, and ordered him not to interfere with the other children’s play. The boy came into the room where the little girl was. She permitted him to join her, and the two of them were at once absorbed very earnestly in the rich doll.

I had been sitting in the ivy bower a half-hour and had almost dozed off, while listening to the small chatter of the red-haired boy and the beauty with three hundred thousand rubles’ dowry, solicitous over the doll, when suddenly Julian Mastakovich walked into the room. He took advantage of a particularly disgraceful quarrel among the children to steal out of the reception-room. I had noticed that only a few moments before he was discussing very fervently with the father of the future rich bride, whose acquaintance he had only just made, the preëminence of one kind of service over another. At this instant he stood as if lost in thought, and seemed to be making a calculation of some sort upon his fingers.

“Three hundred ... three hundred,” he[Pg 23] whispered. “Eleven ... twelve ... thirteen ... sixteen ... five years! Say, at four per cent—five times twelve equal sixty; at compound interest ... well, let us suppose in five years it ought to reach four hundred. Yes, that’s it.... But the rascal surely has it salted away at more than four per cent. Eight or ten is more likely. Well, let’s say five hundred—five hundred thousand at the very least; not counting a few extra for rags ... h’m ...”

Having ended his calculation, he sneezed vigorously and moved to leave the room, when suddenly, his eye alighting upon the little girl, he stopped. He did not see me behind the vases of flowers. He seemed to me to be violently agitated. Either his calculation had upset him, or something else; but he did not know what to do with his hands, and was unable to remain on one spot. His agitation increased— ne plus ultra—when he stopped and threw another determined glance at the future bride. He was about to move forward, but first looked around. Then he approached the child on his tiptoes, as if conscious of guilt. Smiling, he bent over her and kissed her head; while she, not expecting this onslaught, cried out from fright.

“What are you doing here, sweet child?” he[Pg 24] asked in a whisper, glancing around him, and pinching the little girl’s cheek.

“We are playing....”

“Ah! With him?” Julian Mastakovich looked askew at the boy. “Go into the next room, like a nice little boy,” he said to him.

The boy was silent and gazed at him with perturbed eyes. Julian Mastakovich looked around once more and bent over the little girl.

“And what have you, sweet child, a doll?” he asked.

“Yes, a doll,” answered the little girl, frowning, and quailing visibly.

“A doll.... And do you know, sweet child, what the doll is made of?”

“I don’t know,” answered the little girl in a whisper, lowering her head.

“Of rags, my darling.... And you, my boy, you had better go into the other room to your fellows,” said Julian Mastakovich, as he looked severely at the youngster. The girl and the boy frowned and caught hold of each other. They did not wish to part.

“And do you know why they gave you this doll?” asked Julian Mastakovich, lowering his voice more and more.

“I don’t know.”

[Pg 25]

“Because you have been a lovely and well-behaved child the entire week.”

At this juncture, Julian Mastakovich, agitated to the utmost, looked round and, lowering his tone to a whisper, asked finally in an almost inaudible voice, dying away more and more from agitation and impatience:

“And will you love me, sweet girlie, when I shall come as a guest to your papa and mamma?”

Having said this, Julian Mastakovich made one more effort to kiss the lovely child; but the red-haired boy, quick to see that she was at the point of tears, seized her hands and, out of deep sympathy for her, began to whimper. Julian Mastakovich became quite angry.

“Begone, begone from here, begone!” he said to the boy. “Begone into the other room! Begone to your own fellows!”

“No, don’t go! Don’t go! You had better go,” said the young girl, “but leave him alone, leave him alone!” She was almost in tears.

Presently there was a commotion just within the door. Julian Mastakovich immediately rose to his feet, somewhat frightened. The red-haired boy was even more frightened. He left his companion and stole out silently, with his hands brushing the wall, into the dining-room. To hide his confusion, Julian Mastakovich followed him.[Pg 26] He was as red as a lobster, and when he looked in the glass he seemed appalled as his own image. Perhaps he was annoyed at his rage and impatience. Perhaps the calculation he made earlier on his fingers had so affected him, tempting and inflaming him, that, notwithstanding his position and dignity, he was impelled to act like a young boy to attain his object, despite the fact that the object in any case could be attained only five years hence. I followed the esteemed gentleman into the dining-room and witnessed a strange scene. Julian Mastakovich, his face all red from irritation and malice, was pursuing the red-haired boy, who, retreating farther and farther from him, did not know what to do with himself in his fright.

“Begone with you! What are you doing here? Begone, you good-for-nothing! Begone! Stealing fruit, are you? Stealing fruit? Begone, good-for-nothing! Begone, unclean one! Begone, begone to the likes of yourself!”

The frightened boy, driven to desperate measures, tried to get under the table. Then his pursuer, enraged to the last degree, drew out his long batiste handkerchief and lashed it out at the cowering boy.

It is necessary to mention that Julian Mastakovich was a trifle fat. He was a satiated, red-cheeked,[Pg 27] stoutish person, large at the waist and with fat legs; he was as round as a nut. He began to perspire, to pant, and to grow fearfully red. His fury knew no bounds, so great was his feeling of malice and—who knows?—perhaps jealousy. I laughed out loud. Julian Mastakovich turned around, and in spite of his importance was covered with most abject confusion. At this instant the host entered by the opposite door. The boy climbed out from under the table and wiped his knees and elbows. Julian Mastakovich made haste to put his handkerchief, which he held by one corner, to his nose.

The host, not without perplexity, surveyed the three of us; but, like a man who understood life and looked at it with a serious eye, availed himself of the opportunity to speak to his guest alone.

“This is the youngster,” said he, pointing at the red-haired boy, “whom I had the pleasure of mentioning to you....”

“Ah?” answered Julian Mastakovich, not yet fully recovered from his discomfiture.

“He is the son of the governess of my children,” continued the host in an appealing voice. “She is a poor woman, a widow, the wife of an honest official; and it is for this reason that ... Julian Mastakovich, is it possible to....”

[Pg 28]

“Oh, no, no!” Julian Mastakovich made haste to exclaim. “No, Philip Alekseievich; I am sorry, but it is utterly impossible. There is no vacancy, and even if there were, there would be ten candidates for the place, each having a greater right to it than he.... It is a great pity, a great pity....”

“Yes, a pity,” repeated the host. “He is such a modest, quiet lad....”

“And quite a scamp, I should say,” added Julian Mastakovich, his mouth hysterically athwart. “Begone, boy! Why are you standing there? Go to your equals!”

At this point he could not restrain himself any longer, and looked at me with one eye. I too could not resist, and laughed straight in his face. Julian Mastakovich turned away immediately, and with sufficient distinctness for me to hear asked the host the identity of “that strange young man.” They exchanged whispers and left the room. I observed afterward how Julian Mastakovich, listening to the host, shook his head incredulously.

Having laughed to my heart’s content, I returned to the reception-room. There the great man, surrounded by the fathers and the mothers of families, the host and the hostess, was speaking with great warmth to a lady to whom he had just[Pg 29] been introduced. The lady held by her hand the little girl with whom only ten minutes before he had made the scene. Now he was lavish in his praises and raptures over the beauty, talents, manners, and breeding of the lovely child. He was plainly playing the wheedler before the mother. She listened to him, almost with tears of joy in her eyes. The father’s lips smiled. The prevailing spirit of good-will rejoiced the heart of the host. Even all the guests lent a sympathetic hand, and made the children stop their games in order not to interfere with the conversation. The entire atmosphere was saturated with devotion. I heard later how the mother of the interesting little girl, touched to the very depths of her heart, begged Julian Mastakovich, in most effusive language, to do her the great honor of conferring on the house more often his precious presence; I heard with what undisguised joy Julian Mastakovich accepted the invitation, and how the guests, dispersing afterward in various directions as propriety demanded, exchanged with one another complimentary salutations regarding the host, the hostess, the little girl, and in particular Julian Mastakovich.

“Is this gentleman married?” I asked almost aloud of an acquaintance who stood nearest to Julian Mastakovich.

[Pg 30]

Julian Mastakovich threw at me a searching and malicious glance.

“No!” answered my acquaintance, mortified deeply at the awkwardness which I committed purposely....

Not long ago I was passing the—— Church, and I was astonished at the tremendous crowd that had gathered there. Every one talked about a wedding. It was a bleak day in late autumn. I made my way through the crowd and caught a glimpse of the bridegroom. He was a round, satiated, pot-bellied little person, very much adorned. He ran hither and thither, fussed, and gave orders. At last a murmur went through the crowd, announcing the arrival of the bride. I squeezed through the crowd and saw an astoundingly beautiful girl, who had hardly experienced the first bloom of spring. But the beautiful girl was pale and sad. She looked bewildered; and it seemed to me that her eyes were red from newly-shed tears. The classic rigidity of her features imparted to her beauty a kind of dignity and strength. But through all this rigidity and dignity, through all this sadness, there penetrated the first aspect of childhood’s innocence; it suggested something naïve, fragile, and juvenile to the last degree; and though the look bespoke[Pg 31] resignation, it also seemed to utter a silent prayer for mercy.

It was said in the crowd that she had just passed her sixteenth birthday. An intent scrutiny of the bridegroom suddenly revealed him to me as Julian Mastakovich, whom I had not seen for exactly five years. I looked at her.... My God! I quickly made haste to leave the church. In the crowd they were telling each other how rich the bride was, that she had a dowry of five hundred thousand rubles ... and so much besides in rags....

“At any rate, his calculation was a good one!” I reflected, as I jostled my way into the street.

[Pg 32]

[Pg 33]


No intelligent outlander, I suppose, but marvels at the patience with which the Russian people endure the exile system that has so long brewed hell-broth for the nation to drink. When some violent offense is answered by such punishment, we do not demur, but when trivialities are magnified, and the police stupidly blunder, our blood boils with protest.

So many times has Vladimir Korolenko been banished, that exile must seem to him almost a normal condition, and freedom from police surveillance a happy freak of fortune. And yet, more than any other distinguished Russian writer, he is free from pessimism—his writings are filled with passages of lyric sweetness.

Sixty years ago—in July, 1853—Vladimir was born at Jitomir, in the government of Volynia. His father, of Cossack blood, was a district judge in the cities of Dubno and Rovno, having previously served as district attorney, and also as a minor judge. He was an honest man, since he forbore to enrich himself with bribes, but made his modest salary suffice. This course—eccentric in those days—left his wife in straitened circumstances when he died. Vladimir was about fifteen[Pg 34] at the time, and still in the Gymnasium at Rovno, but his mother, the daughter of a Polish landed proprietor, was enabled to keep him in school and also maintain her other children, three boys and two girls.

The future author entered the Institute of Technology at St. Petersburg in due course, and for two years fought off the extremes of nakedness and hunger by coloring maps in the intervals of study, for he had come to the great capital with only seventeen rubles in his purse. The third year found him in Moscow, in the Petrovsk (St. Peter’s) Agricultural Academy, and here, in the third year of his new course (1875), he got his first taste of exile. His unforgivable crime was to participate in a joint address of the students to the Faculty! For this he was banished to the government of Vologda, but the sentence was not completely carried out, for some one relented and before he reached the place he was bidden to return to his home at Kronstadt. Here for one year he was kept under police surveillance.

At the end of the year he was allowed to remove with his family to St. Petersburg, where he worked in peace as a proof-reader, until February, 1879. But he was soon to learn that Government never forgets, for twice during that month was his home officially searched, and at length he, together with[Pg 35] his brother, his brother-in-law, and his cousin, was banished to Glazof, in the government of Vyatka, and presently still further north, to Vyshne Volotsk, where he was confined in a political prison—and all without a trial, the reading of charges, or any semblance of human justice.

The whole term of his exile was spent without a single gleam of light to make clear his offense. But after his release in 1880, he learned that his exile was due to his having attempted to break prison—an offense which was alleged against him before he had ever been in prison!

The circumstances of his release were fortunate. Prince Imeritinsky had been deputized to investigate the condition of the political prisons and to report on the causes of incarceration. Among other prisons, he visited that at Vyshne Volotsk, and Korolenko was already on the way to Yakutsk, Siberia, when the message came ordering his release—probably as a result of the investigation.

Even then entire freedom was not granted him, for he was “allowed” to settle at Perm; and here he began his active work as a writer, though he had written successfully as early as 1879.

In 1881 Alexander III became Emperor of Russia, and all his subjects were required to take oath of allegiance. But Korolenko refused, because[Pg 36] in addition the government officers demanded that he betray his friends by giving details of any revolutionary enterprises in which he knew them to be engaged. Rather than become a party to such villainy, the young man chose further exile, and for the succeeding three years lived miserably in Yakutsk, in East Siberia. At length he returned to the ancient Tartar city of Nijni Novgorod, on the Volga, where he now lives with his family.

All this period of maddening oppression was aggravated by the fact that his mother needed his help. When in 1879 Korolenko began to contribute literary sketches to such Russian periodicals as Russian Thought, The Northern Messenger, and Annals of the Fatherland, the meagre honorariums were indeed a blessing to his loved ones.

The thing that “goes without saying” often needs to be said just the same. That a writer is likely to reproduce his life-experiences in his writings is one of these truisms, yet it will always remain an interesting occupation to trace connection between life and literary product in the work of an author of individuality.

Korolenko came from “Little Russia,” and began to find his subjects in the towns and villages of the west country in which he was born,[Pg 37] but naturally he turned at length to depicting the life of the extreme Siberian east.

That Korolenko has been formed in opinion and moulded to iron fortitude of heart by his severe experiences in exile is shown by his remarkable story, “The Wondrous Maid,” in which the Nihilist is depicted as a simple gendarme, whose manhood transfigures his Nihilism and his work as an officer. Again, our author proved his independence in a letter to the St. Petersburg Academy, in which, as did Chekhov before him, he courteously declined membership because the Academy had struck the name of Gorki from its list of members.

It was in 1885, while in exile in Yakutsk, that he wrote his famous “Makár’s Dream.” It is an odd fantasy, this story of the Yakut who, having gotten half frozen in the wood, dreams that he is dragged before the tribunal of the great Lord Toyon—a nondescript judge who is neither of heaven nor of earth. Before a great scale, whose one end is a small golden platter and whose other a huge wooden bowl, the peasant is summoned to explain the acts of his life. At length, when his cheatings and stealings are found to have outweighed all of the deeds of service and faithfulness in his life, he suddenly breaks into an unwonted eloquence of protest. He is unwilling[Pg 38] to bear the penalty of being turned into a beast of burden by becoming the horse of a church official, not because the horse is badly treated, for it is well fed—better fed, indeed, than he, the peasant, has ever been—but he protests because the penalty is unjust. This appeal to justice seems to move the great Toyon, and he ends by saying to the dejected Makár, “Have patience, poor soul, thou art no longer on earth: here will be found justice, even for thee!” And as he speaks the scales begin to tremble, and the wooden bowl, filled with his evil deeds, rises higher and higher, as though weighed down by his good acts.

Surely, the great meed of injustice suffered by The Exile himself gave inspiration for the message of mercy at the end of this fantastic tale.

What may be called Korolenko’s Siberian era is further illustrated in his sketches of a Siberian tourist, nine of which cover about one hundred pages of ordinary size. All the sketches are remarkable for local color and fine understanding of character. The one unfortunate tendency is toward unfinished situation, for the sense of coming to an adequate close is inseparable from good story-telling. It is but fair to observe, however, that this trait of incompleteness is characteristic of the sketch as a fictional form.

Throughout this series I have frequently[Pg 39] asserted the obvious fact that Russian themes have largely reflected the Russian temperament, as is shown by the realistically direct and often terrible pictures which fill the pages of their literature. Altogether apart from our interest in the literate expressions of a great and alien people, we must feel a sort of gruesome fascination as we are thrilled to the point of horror in reading these simple yet titanic records of gloom.

All this raises the question of what is the difference between fascination and charm—for charm, from the Anglo-American viewpoint, is almost an unknown element in Russian literature. Fascination they all possess; but charm is fascination plus delight. In Korolenko we do have a writer of charm; and, besides, a charm that is not the reflex of literatures other than his own—it evidently springs from the sweetness of a spirit which all of the bitterness of banishment could not defile. Here is a high and final test of native fineness.

As compared with the stories of Garshin, with their “terrible, incoherent cries of woe,” Korolenko’s tales are idyllic. A rhythmical, lyrical measure beats enchantingly in his nature passages, whose intimacy with the life of the woods inevitably recalls the French Theuriet. “The Forest Whispers,” one of his longer short-stories,[Pg 40] is simply redolent of tree-fragrance. We feel the wandering airs of the glades; we hear the never-ceasing swish of majestic boughs; we stand rapt in the cathedral silences of the green-shadowy aisles. The peasant tale is the thread on which these pearls are strung, but the pearls hide the string.

Listen to this passage. What Loti has evoked from the inscrutable sea, Korolenko has charmed from the forest with his enchanter’s wand.

In the forest there was always a murmur, regular, continuous, like the faint echo of a distant peal of bells; soft and indistinct, like a song without words, or like the confused recollection of bygone days. The murmur never ceased by day or night, for it was an old dense forest of pines that had never been touched by woodman’s saw or axe. Lofty pines, a hundred years old, with their red, sturdy trunks, stood in close array, waving, in response to each breath of wind, their high-tufted tops. Below, all was quiet; the air was filled with an odor of tar; through the thick layer of pine-cones, with which the ground was strewn, pushed gay ferns, in all the luxury of their rich fringes, and standing motionless, their leaves unstirred by the breeze. In damp nooks green grasses rose up on their high stalks; and the white clover bent its heavy head, overcome, as it were, with dreamy lassitude. And above flowed the murmur of the forest, the mingling sighs of the old pine-wood.

[Pg 41]

Besides “The Forest Whispers,” two stories belong especially to Korolenko’s Little-Russian group—“Iom-Kipour” (the Jewish Day of Expiation) and “The Blind Musician.” The former relates how a Little-Russian miller, good Christian though he is, narrowly escapes being carried away by the Devil, in the place of the Jewish tavern-keeper Iankiel, because, like him, he has tried to make money out of the poor peasants—the same tendency to penetrate to the inner life which we discover in other of Korolenko’s work, for he rose above the realistic school, with its pathological records.

“The Blind Musician” is a remarkable psychological story—about forty thousand words in length—in which all the sensations of the blind are portrayed with sympathy and intelligence. The author has not attempted to build up a meretricious interest by surrounding his blind characters with the usual accompaniments to be found in fiction—poverty and physical distress. Disallowing all such devices, he wonderfully pictures the life of a child born blind in the home of a wealthy family, his advance to boyhood, his love-life, and finally his manhood’s experiences as a brilliant musician, “who attempts to reproduce the sensations of sight by means of sounds.”

The following passage is typical:

[Pg 42]

The boy imaged to himself depth in the form of the soft murmur of the stream as it flowed at the foot of the precipice, or of the frightened splash of pebbles thrown from its top. Distance sounded in his ears like the confused notes of a dying song. At times, in the sultry noonday, when over the whole of nature there reigns a quiet so profound that we can only divine the uninterrupted noiseless course of life, the face of the blind boy would light up with a strange expression. It seemed as if, under the influence of the silence that prevailed around, there rose from the depth of his soul sounds audible only to himself, to which he was listening with rapt attention. It was easy to believe that at such moments a vague but productive train of thought was awakening in his soul, like to the imperfectly caught melody of an unknown song.

Two prose poems, of harmonious diction and fine human feeling, I have space only to mention—“Easter Night,” and “The Old Bell-Ringer,” which Korolenko calls “A Spring Idyl.” The latter is reproduced herewith in a new translation for this series, and from it the tone of the former may well be inferred.

Though not a great novelist—if he can be classed as a novelist at all—Korolenko is the exponent of normality. He is more like Turgenev than is any other living writer, though comparison with the Greatest must not be taken to imply[Pg 43] equality. The anarchistic, anti-Christian Artsybashev, whose big-fisted novel, “Sanin,” forms an iconoclastic type of its own, cannot approach Korolenko in lucid attractiveness. Tolstoi, Korolenko followed, but at a distance, for he was of the romantic school and little inclined to Tolstoi’s ultra-idealism, particularly that of the last period.

One more refreshing characteristic of our author I venture to name—human sympathy. True, he does not always temper his pity for the “unfortunates” with the sound judgment of the moralist. Whether they suffer deservedly or not, he does not deeply inquire—it is enough for him that they suffer.

Well, I love him for that very trait of all-embracing sympathy. When a man lets his heart go unleashed by the eternal judgment as to whether the victim has sinned and may be suffering a righteous punishment, he rises to utmost humanity—which is to say, the divine spirit of the Great Master whose heart was Pity.

[Pg 44]

[Pg 45]


By Vladimir Korolenko

It had grown dark.

The tiny village, resting on the ledge of a remote stream, in a pine forest, had become enveloped in that twilight which is peculiar to starry spring nights, when the thin mist, rising from the earth, deepens the shadows of the woods and fills the open spaces with a silvery blue vapor.... How still was everything, and pensive and sad!

The village was quietly dreaming.

The dark outlines of the wretched huts were but vaguely visible; here and there lights were aglimmer; now and then you could hear a gate creak; a dog’s bark would start suddenly and die away; occasionally out of the dark woods the figure of a pedestrian would emerge, or that of a horseman; or a cart would pass by with a jolting noise. These were the inhabitants of lone forest settlements, gathering to their church to greet the great spring holiday.

The church stood on a little hill, in the very middle of the village. Its windows were all alight. Its belfry—an old, tall, and dark structure—pierced the blue sky.

[Pg 46]

The steps of the staircase creaked as the old bell-ringer ascended the belfry, and soon his little lantern looked like a star suddenly sprung into space.

It was hard for the old man to mount the steep staircase. His old legs had already served their time, and his eyesight had grown dim.... It was time an old man had rest, but God seemed slow in sending deliverance. The old bell-ringer had buried sons and grandsons; he had escorted both young and old to their final resting-place; but he himself was still alive. It was hard!... So many times had he greeted Easter that he had lost count—he could not even remember how many times he had awaited here his last hour. And now once more God had willed that he should be here.

Having reached the top, he leaned his elbow on the railing.

Below, around the church, he could discern the wretchedly kept graves of the village burial-place; as if to protect, old crosses stood over them with outstretched arms. Here and there a young birch-tree inclined over them its branches, as yet leafless.... The aromatic odor of young buds ascended from below towards Mikheyich, and with it came a feeling of the sad tranquillity of eternal sleep.

[Pg 47]

And what would he be doing a year hence? Would he once more climb this height, under this bronze bell, to arouse with a resounding peal the lightly-slumbering night, or would he be resting ... down there, in some dark corner of the graveyard, under a cross? God knows!... He was ready, but in the meantime the Lord called him once more to greet the holiday.

“All glory be to God!” whispered his lips, accustomed to the old formula. Mikheyich raised his eyes towards the sky, dense with millions of stars, and crossed himself.

“Mikheyich, Mikheyich!” a trembling voice, also that of an old man, suddenly called him from below. The aged sexton looked up towards the belfry, even fixed his palm over his blinking, tear-wet eyes, and still could not see Mikheyich.

“What do you want? I am here,” answered the bell-ringer, leaning out from the belfry. “Can’t you see me?”

“No, I can’t see. Isn’t it time to strike? What do you think?”

Both of them glanced at the stars. Thousands of God’s lights twinkled on high. The fiery “Wagoner” was already far above the horizon. Mikheyich pondered.

[Pg 48]

“No, not yet; wait just a little longer.... I know when to ...”

He knew. He had no need of a timepiece. God’s stars always told him when the time came. The earth and the sky, the white cloud floating silently across the expanse of blue, the indistinct murmur of dark pines below, and the rippling of the stream concealed by the dark—all were familiar to him, near to him.... Not in vain had he spent his life here.

For the moment his entire long past unrolled before him.... He recalled how he ascended the belfry with his father for the first time.... Good Lord! how long ago it was!—and what a short time it seemed!... He saw himself once more a fair-haired lad; his eyes were kindled; the wind—not the sort that raises the dust of the street, but rather a more rare wind, flapping, as it were, its noiseless wings high above the earth—played with his hair.... There below, so far, so far away, he saw some sort of little people; and the houses of the village also seemed small, and the forest receded into the distance, and the round-shaped meadow, upon which stood the village, seemed immense, almost boundless.

[Pg 49]

“Well, here it is, all here!” smiled the old man, glancing at the small spot of earth.

“So life, too, is like that,” he reflected. “When one is young, one sees neither its end nor its edge.” ... And yet here it was, as if in the palm of one’s hand, from the very beginning to the very grave he had just been contemplating in the corner of the burial-ground.... What of that? Glory be to the Lord!—It was time for rest. It was a hard road, and he had traversed it an honest man; and the damp earth was his mother.... Soon—if only soon!...

Well, the time had come. Mikheyich glanced once more at the stars, removed his cap, crossed himself, and began to gather up the ropes of the bells.... A few more moments, and the nocturnal air trembled from the resounding stroke.... Another, a third, a fourth ... one after the other, filling the lightly-slumbering pre-festal night with an outpouring of powerful, lingering, resonant, singing tones.

The bell grew silent. The service in church had begun. It was the habit of Mikheyich in former years to go down and to stop in a corner near the door in order to pray and listen to the chanting. This time, however, he remained in[Pg 50] the tower. It was difficult for him; aside from that, he felt intensely fatigued. He sat down on a little bench, and as he listened to the dying tones of the agitated bronze he grew deeply pensive. What were his thoughts? He himself could hardly have answered the question.... The bell-tower was but dimly lighted by his lantern. The still vibrating bells were lost in the darkness; faint murmurs of the chant reached him occasionally from below, and the nocturnal wind stirred the ropes fastened to the iron hearts of the bells.

The old fellow let fall his gray head upon his breast. His mind was in a state of delirious fancy. “Now they are singing a hymn,” he thought, and he imagined himself among the others in church. He heard an outpouring of children’s voices in a choir; he saw the figure of the long-since-departed priest Nahum exhorting the congregation to prayer; he saw hundreds of peasants’ heads, like ripe corn before the wind, bend low and stand erect again.... The peasants were crossing themselves.... Familiar faces, all of them, and all faces of the dead. Here was the stern face of his father; here, beside his father, his older brother, crossing himself and sighing. And he himself stood here, in the bloom of health and strength and full of the[Pg 51] unconscious yearning for happiness and the joy of life.... Where, oh, where, was this happiness?... The old man’s mind flared up for a moment, like a dying flame, flashing with a bright, quick movement and illuminating for the moment all the passages of his past life.... Hard work, sorrow, care.... Oh, where was this happiness? A hard fate can bring furrows to a young face, give a stoop to a strong back, and cause one to sigh like an older man.

There, on the left, among the women of the village, humbly inclining her head, stood his sweetheart. A good woman, hers be the Kingdom of God! How much had she not suffered, that fine soul!... Constant need and labor and the inevitable womanly sorrow will cause a handsome woman to wither; her eyes will lose their sparkle; and the expression of perpetual, dull-like fright before each unawaited blow of life will change the most superbly beautiful creature.... Yes, and where was her happiness?... One son remained to them, their one hope and joy, and he fell a victim to human weakness.

And he too was here, his rich enemy, bending low time and again, seeking to pray away the bitter tears of orphans he had wronged; repeatedly he was performing upon himself the[Pg 52] sign of the cross, falling on his knees and touching the ground with his forehead.... And Mikheyich’s heart boiled over within him, while the dark faces of the ikons looked down severely from their walls upon human sorrow and human iniquity.

All that was past, all that behind him.... Now the entire world seemed to him like a dark bell-tower, where the wind blew in the dusk, stirring the bell-ropes.... “Let the Lord judge you!” whispered the old man, shaking his gray head, while tears silently ran down his cheeks.

“Mikheyich! Mikheyich!... You haven’t fallen asleep?” someone shouted up to him from below.

“Eh?” returned the old man, and quickly jumped to his feet. “Lord! Have I in truth fallen asleep? That never happened before!”

With an accustomed hand, Mikheyich quickly caught the ropes. Below him moved the peasant throng, a veritable ant-hill; the holy banners aglimmer with gold brocade fluttered in the wind.... The procession made a circuit of the church, and presently Mikheyich heard the joyous cry, “Christ has risen from the dead!”

Coming like a mighty wave, the cry whelmed[Pg 53] the old man’s heart.... And it seemed to Mikheyich that brighter flared the lights of the waxen candles, and that stronger grew the agitation of the people; the holy banners seemed to become more alive; and the suddenly awakened wind caught up the waves of sound and with broad sweeps lifted them high, where they became one with the loud triumphant music of the bell.

Never before had old Mikheyich rung so well!

It was as if the old man’s brimming-over heart had passed into the inanimate bronze; and it seemed as if the reverberations at the same time sang and throbbed, laughed and wept, and, uniting in a rare harmony, rose higher and higher unto the starry sky. The stars themselves seemed to him to take on a new sparkle, to burst into flame, while the sounds trembled and flowed, and again came down to earth with a loving embrace.

A powerful bass loudly proclaimed: “Christ has risen!”

While two tenor voices, constantly atremble from the repeated blows of the iron hearts, mingled with the bass joyously and resonantly: “Christ has risen!”

And, again, two most slender soprano voices,[Pg 54] seemingly in haste not to be left behind, stole in among the more powerful ones, little children, as it were, and sang in emulation: “Christ has risen!”

The entire belfry seemed to tremble and to shake; and the wind blowing in the face of the bell-ringer appeared to flap its mighty wings and to repeat: “Christ has risen!”

The old heart forgot about life, full of cares and wrongs. The old bell-ringer forgot that life for him had become a thing shut up in a melancholy and crowded tower; he forgot that he was alone in the world—like an old stump, weather-beaten and broken.... He intercepted these singing and weeping sounds, fleeting higher towards the skies and falling again to the poor earth, and it seemed to him that he was surrounded by his sons and his grandsons; that these joyous voices, of old and young, had flowed together into one great chorus, and that they sang to him of happiness and joyousness, which he had not tasted in his life.... And the old man continued to tug at the ropes, while tears ran down his face, and his heart beat tremulously with the illusion of happiness.

And below the people were listening and saying to each other that never had old Mikheyich rung so marvellously.

[Pg 55]

Then all of a sudden the large bell trembled violently and grew silent.... The smaller ones, as if confused, rang an unfinished tone; and then too stopped, as if to drink in the prolonged, sadly droning note, which trembled and flowed and wept, gradually dying away in the air....

The old bell-ringer fell back exhausted on the bench, and his last two tears trickled silently down his pale face.

“Quick! Send a substitute! The old bell-ringer has rung his last stroke.”

[Pg 56]

[Pg 57]


“There is still something around us and within that baffles and surprises us. Events happen which are as mysterious after our glib explanations as they were before. Changes for good or ill take place in the heart of man for which his intellect gives no reason.”

These words of Dr. Henry Van Dyke, written among others to preface his latest collected short fictions, apply right well to our attempts at literary criticism. Mathematics differ from life in this: after a proposition in number or in form-theory is demonstrated the last word has been said; the height of finality is reached; for any one to argue the point might amaze, though it would not interest us. But with life, who can name a fixed and infallible answer to its problems? Here is ever the unknown quantity, irreducible to precise terms, and varying in all sorts of perplexing ratios.

Is it not exactly because literature is the literate expression of life that we approach its subtler problems with the same sense of futility as the issues of life arouse in us? Yet the eternal challenge to discover the why, born, as it is, with our own babyhood, dies not with our manhood’s[Pg 58] strength, but still calls us to try our “literary discernment” once more, and yet once more, to see if we may not by some magic of penetration find the true causes which move back among the shadows.

So, with some degree of assurance we lay our fingers upon the causes in a given literary career which seem to us to be calculable—parentage, birth, early environment, education, chosen occupation, and all the rest. Yet a considerable proportion of the results must remain unaccountable, because the actuating forces are, after all, imponderable. We find motives and standards of conduct, or ideals, clearly expressed in the man’s own words; but did he understand himself? Here we find one acknowledged fact, here a second, and here a third. But by what law of causation may we say that three-times-one is three and not six, or sixty, or even six myriads?

No, in seeking to estimate the weight of the inner things we are calculating the incalculable; it is like trying to clothe in cumbersome workaday garb a being that is too subtle for material restrictions.

Especially, then, in seeking to enter the penetralia of a man of Garshin’s varying moods and tenses, let us confess anew to ourselves how tentative must be our guesses at truth. His mind—like[Pg 59] that of not a few other literary artists—fluttered between normality and abnormality. However, only the literal, prosaic, practical, uninventive mind is sane, and that is but a shorter way of spelling uninteresting. There is still a strong argument to be made for the essential seer-quality—perhaps the “second sight,” perhaps the inner light—of many a one whom the sober world has adjudged as of unsound mind. But this again brings us up facing another great and tantalizing x of life.

Wsewolod Michailovich Garshin was born in February, 1855, of good family. His south-of-Russia parentage marked his physique. He was good-looking, almost dark, fiery of eye, and in temperament sweet, impressionable, and sympathetic—a combination rare enough in a man to make it noteworthy.

Like Pushkin, he spent his very early life on the family estates, his father having retired from the army when the boy was three years old. At nine, however, the child was placed at school in the inevitable St. Petersburg, with the object of his preparing for the study of medicine. But the parental ambitions were not realized, for the lad was so abnormally nervous that he became subject to vagaries and hallucinations, so that while[Pg 60] yet but seventeen years of age, and already writing remarkable bits of realistic self-revelation, it was found best to place him under restraint. The effects of this clouded period are to be traced in much of his later work.

Happily, in about a year he recovered his balance, took up study anew, and finished his preparatory course with credit, entering the Institute of Mining Engineers in 1874, at the age of nineteen—for in everything Garshin was precocious.

From this point on, Garshin’s career may plainly be read in his writings. He wrote only about twenty-five stories in all, and practically without exception they are autobiographical. The two great dominant motifs grew out of his two great life-experiences: war—but war from a special viewpoint—and what I may call the border consciousness, experiences of the mind when its poise is either uncertain or completely upset.

I have said that Garshin viewed war in an unusual way. This is true not alone of his fiction but of his life. In 1876 the Russo-Turkish war broke out, and Garshin considered it his sacred duty to go. The horrors of war had always deeply affected his sensitive nature. The intoxicating blare, the thrill of glory, the call of the[Pg 61] spectacle, all meant nothing to him, except revulsion. But duty was a word of serious meaning, and it won from him a serious response. This pupil of Tolstoi could detest and denounce an institution to whose claims he felt bound to bow in time of national need.

It is always interesting to observe how two artists, especially contemporary artists, interpret the same theme. Guy de Maupassant, incomparably the greater literator, but destined to the same sad end as met Garshin, has worked out a motive in “A Coward” similar to the Russian author’s “Coward,” though the stories themselves could not be more dissimilar.

Maupassant simply unclothes a human soul face to face with the idea of suicide. Relentlessly he strips shred after shred of illusion from the introspective thinker who is meditating upon his own cowardice. But when the end does come the reader is half in doubt as to how to judge the wretch.

Garshin’s impressionistic sketch is tremendously cumulative. In soliloquy the Person of the story weighs the war, its appeals, its repulsions, the motives that lead men to go, the awful casualties, and finally tells how that he is considered a coward for his inaction.

Am I a coward or not?

To-day I was told that I am a coward. Certainly it[Pg 62] was a very shallow-minded person who said so when I declared in her presence my unwillingness to go to the war, and expressed a fear that they will call me up to serve. Her opinion did not distress me, but raised the question, Am I really a coward? Perhaps all my aversion against what every one else considers a great matter arises only from fear of my skin! Is it really worth while to worry about any one unimportant life in view of a great matter? And am I capable of subjecting my life to danger generally for the sake of any matter?

At length—just as it was with Garshin, who joined a regiment at Kishinev-of-terrible-memory—the “coward” goes to war, and after a story-within-a-story is told, his act of heroism closes the picture.

Ever since I was old enough to attempt just thinking, I have always had much sympathy for a coward—I suppose because I have been afraid so often myself at moments when heroes are said to feel no trepidation. And do we not all feel keenly with Garshin?—for a man of his temperament, and one finding nothing admirable in war, it must have required genuine courage to go, even while he was repelled and afraid. But this was only one more phase of a contradictory character—as all characters are in whom the inner life and the outer do not coördinate.

[Pg 63]

In “The Signal,” we have a perfectly-wrought short-story with as dramatic a surprise as ever capped a climax.

While serving in the army, as servant to an officer, the health of Simon Ivanoff had broken down, and all that was left to him was a minor post as linesman on the railway. One day, while walking the tracks, he met for the first time his neighboring linesman, whom he found to be quite repellent in his manner. The simple-minded Simon, however, eventually pressed an acquaintance upon both the linesman, Vassili Stepanich Spiridoff, and his young wife, and found that Vassili had been much embittered by reflecting upon the inequalities of life, and especially those of his own hard position.

One day, the traffic inspector came along and forced Vassili to tear up his little garden, merely because he had planted it without permission; and, besides, he reported him for his technical irregularity. Shortly after this, the district chief arrived and showed animosity, evidently founded upon the report against Vassili, and when the man protested, the chief struck him brutally.

The next day Simon met Vassili, stick and bundle over his shoulder, and his cheek bound up in a handkerchief.

[Pg 64]

“Where are you off to, Neighbor?” cried Simon.

Vassili came close, but was quite pale, white as chalk, and his eyes had a wild look.

Almost choking, he muttered, “To the town—to Moscow—to the Head Office.”

“Head Office? Ah, you are going, I suppose, to complain. Give it up, Vassili Stepanich. Forget it.”

“No, Mate, I will not forget. It is too late. See! He struck me in the face—drew blood. So long as I live, I will not forget.”

Simon vainly attempted to dissuade him, and the man at length passed on.

On the day following, Simon left his wife at home to meet the six o’clock train, and, taking his knife, started off to the forest to get some reeds out of which to make flutes, which he used to sell for two copecks apiece. As he walked along, he fancied that he heard the clang of iron striking iron. Since there were no repairs going on, he wondered, but as he came out on the fringe of the wood he saw a man squatting on the roadbed, busily engaged in loosening a rail.

A mist came before Simon’s eyes; he wanted to cry out, but he could not. It was Vassili!... Simon scrambled up the bank as Vassili, with crowbar and wrench, slid headlong down the other side.

“Vassili Stepanich! For the love ... Old friend! Come back! Give me the crowbar. We will[Pg 65] put the rail back; no one will know. Come back! Save your soul from this sin!”

Vassili did not look back, but disappeared into the wood.

Simon stood before the rail which had been torn up. He threw down his bundle of sticks. A train was due; not a goods train, but a passenger train. And he had nothing with which to stop it, no flag. He could not replace the rail, and could not drive in the spikes with his bare hands. It was necessary to run to the hut for some tools. “God help me,” he murmured.

He ran toward his hut, faltering every now and then in his eagerness, but he soon realized that he would be too late. What should he do! In desperation, he turned back to the spot where the rail threatened disaster to the on-coming train. As he reached it, he heard the even tremor of the rails.

Then an idea came into his head, literally like a ray of light. Pulling off his cap, he took out of it a cotton scarf, drew his knife out of the upper part of his boot, and crossed himself, muttering, “God bless me!”

He buried the knife into his left arm above the elbow; the blood spurted out, flowing in a hot stream. In this he soaked his scarf, smoothed it out, tied it to the stick, and hung out his red flag.

He stood waving his flag. The train was already in sight. The driver will not see him—will come close up, and a heavy train cannot be pulled up in a hundred sajenes.

And the blood kept on flowing. Simon kept pressing the sides of the wound together, wanting to close it,[Pg 66] but the blood did not diminish. Evidently he had cut his arm very deeply. His head commenced to swim, black spots began to dance before his eyes, and then it became dark. There was a ringing in his ears. He could not see the train or hear the noise. Only one thought possessed him: “I shall not be able to keep standing up. I shall fall and drop the flag; the train will pass over me.... Help me, O Lord!...”

All became quite black before him, his mind became a blank, and he dropped the flag; but the blood-stained banner did not fall to the ground. A hand seized it and held it high to meet the approaching train. The engine-driver saw it, shut the regulator, and reversed steam. The train came to a standstill.

People jumped out of the carriages and collected in a crowd. Looking, they saw a man lying senseless on the footway, drenched in blood, and another man standing beside him with a blood-stained rag on a stick.

Vassili looked around at all; then, lowering his head, said, “Bind me; I have pulled up a rail!”

In “Four Days,” which follows in an original translation for this series, we have another autobiographical story of singular penetration. It must be remembered that Garshin’s convictions of duty led him to unusual length—he enlisted as a private, when his family connections would have warranted something better. So he writes from close to the people—in this respect differing from Tolstoi, with whose memorable Sevastopol[Pg 67] sketches Garshin’s “Four Days” has been seriously compared by critics. It was at the engagement of Aislar that Garshin received his incapacitating bullet-wound, after real gallantry in action, and Aislar is the battle of the story.

After recovering from his wound, our author became desperately absorbed in trying to save one of his friends from execution for having attempted the life of Loris Melikov, but Garshin failed, and soon afterward it again became necessary to confine him in an asylum.

From this seizure he recovered, and married a young lady who devoted her life to a beautiful service—that of healing his mind and preventing a recurrence of his malady; but, sadly enough, without success. He never shook off the boding pall of the madhouse. One needs only to read his “Red Flower” to feel the haunting presence of that pathetic colony of abnormal minds and spirits coming to sit with him in hours when he sought happiness in forgetfulness. Half-memories of days of half-self-possession are indeed shapes that haunt the dusk! To quote Waliszewski’s vivid summary: “The story describes a demented person, half-conscious of his condition, who wears himself out in superhuman efforts to gain possession of a red-poppy—reddened, as he imagines, by the blood of all the martyrdoms of[Pg 68] the human race. If the flower were only destroyed, he thinks, humanity would be saved.”

In 1887, in physical and mental suffering too combinedly torturing to be borne, Garshin eluded the watchers by his bedside and flung himself down a stone staircase, sustaining injuries from which he never recovered. The consciousness of his act caused him to brood still more painfully over his state, and he died in a hospital the next year, 1888, at the age of only thirty-three.

If one may venture to be analytical, there are three kinds of stories: those told of life as it exists apart from the narrator; those dealing with events intimately associated with the narrator; and those that are purely evoked from the inner life of the story-teller himself.

These last-named—spun of gossamer thread, intangible as the dawn, airy, floating, subtle—are the highest type. To this height Garshin did not perfectly attain. His stories were rather of the second sort, drawn from his own experiences. That they were touched with mysterious moods and vague, unnamable potencies must have been due to the author’s pitiful journeys into that shadowy, distraught land which we so confidently call the Insane.

Garshin’s realism grew out of his need for writing[Pg 69] his own experiences. Though some of his descriptions of the dead Turk, in the following sketch, “Four Days,” are so revoltingly real as to justify the excisions made in the magazine version, I have retained them here, for Garshin’s realism, as a rule, lacks disgusting detail. But it is as faithful to fact as a canvas by Verestchagin, whose paintings, indeed, might be said to exhibit the same method which Garshin applied to literature.

Garshin is a pessimist—of course, one is almost forced to add. His heroes are not idealized, even in the hour of their victory. But there is nobility—that priceless tone in literature!—in much of his work, and the body takes its true place in life, as an expression of spirit, and not as the master of the house.

All in all, Garshin was a great writer, doing pitifully wonderful things under such stress as makes us love him for his brave, losing fight against black foes within and without.

[Pg 70]

[Pg 71]


By Wsewolod Garshin

I remember how we ran through the wood, how the bullets whizzed past us, how the twigs that were hit by them snapped and fell, how we scrambled through the bushes. The firing grew heavier. Looking through to the outer edge, I could see little flashes of red here and there. Sidorov, a young private of Company I—“How did he come to fall into our line?” was the thought that flashed through my head—suddenly sat down on the ground and silently looked at me with open, terrified eyes. A stream of blood trickled from his mouth. Yes, that too I remember well. I also remember how when almost on the edge of the wood I first saw ... him in the thick bushes. He was an enormous, corpulent Turk, but I ran straight at him, although I am weak and small. Something burst, something huge seemed to fly past me; there was a ringing in my ears. “He has shot me,” was my thought. But he, with a cry of terror, pressed his back against the dense foliage. He could have gone around it without difficulty,[Pg 72] but in his fright he lost his presence of mind completely, and he tried to crawl through the prickly bushes.

With a blow, I knocked the gun out of his hand; I followed this by a thrust with my bayonet. There was an outcry: a roar that died into a moan. I ran on farther. Our soldiers cried, “Hurrah!” fell low, and discharged their guns. I remember that I too fired several times after we had left the wood and were in the field. Suddenly the cry of “Hurrah!” grew louder, and we all in a body moved forward. That is, not we, but my comrades; I remained behind. That seemed strange to me. Still stranger was the fact that suddenly everything vanished; all the cries and firing died away. I could hear nothing, but saw only something blue, which I concluded was the sky. Afterwards, that too passed out of my senses.

Never before have I found myself in such a strange situation. I am lying, it seems, on my stomach, and I see before me only a small clod of earth. A few blades of grass, an ant climbing down one of these head downwards, bits of litter from last year’s grass—that is my whole world. And I can see with only one eye, because the other is obstructed by some hard[Pg 73] substance, perhaps a twig upon which my head rests. I feel terribly uncomfortable, and I wish to stir; it is incomprehensible to me why I cannot. So the time passes. I hear the noise of the grasshoppers and the humming of bees. Nothing more. At last I make an effort, and, extracting my right arm from under me, I press both my hands against the earth and try to rise to my knees.

Something sharp and rapid like lightning shoots across my entire body from the knees to my chest and head, and I collapse to the ground. Again darkness, again nothingness.

I am awake once more. Why do I see stars, which shine so brightly in the dark-blue Bulgarian sky? Am I in my tent? Why have I crawled out of it? I make a movement, and feel an agonizing pain in my legs.

Yes, I have been wounded in battle. Dangerously or not? I catch hold of my legs, there where the pain is. And both the right and the left legs are covered with clotted blood. When I touch them with my hands, the pain becomes even more intense. It is like a protracted toothache, gnawing at the very soul. There is a ringing in the ears, an oppressiveness in the head. I vaguely understand that I have been wounded in both[Pg 74] legs. But it is all incomprehensible. Why have I not been picked up? Have the Turks really beaten us? I try to recall what has happened to me; at the beginning things seem a bit confused, but they gradually become clearer, and I come to the conclusion that we have not been beaten. And simply because I fell on the little field on top of the slope. In any case, how it all happened is difficult for me to remember; but I do recall how they all rushed forward, and that I alone could not run; and that only something blue remained before my eyes. Somewhat earlier our captain pointed towards this hillock. “Boys, we will get there!” he cried in his sonorous voice. And we got there; it is clear we have not been beaten.... Why, then, was I not picked up? This is such an open spot, and everything is visible. There must be others lying here. The shots came so thick. I must turn my head to look. It is easier to do this now, because when I first came to consciousness and I saw the grass, and the ant crawling head downwards, I tried to rise, and I fell back, not into my former position, but turned over on my spine. That explains why I see the stars.

I try to rise to a sitting position. This is very difficult, when both legs are wounded. After several attempts I begin to despair; at last,[Pg 75] however, with tears in my eyes, forced out by the pain, I manage it.

Overhead I see a spot of dark-blue sky, in which are visible a large star and a number of small ones; and around me something dark and tall—the bushes. I am in the bushes—that is why I have not been found!

I feel a stirring at the roots of my hair.

How, then, did I get into the bushes, if I were shot in the open field? It is likely that I crawled here when I was wounded and the pain obliterated the memory of it. It is singular, however, that I should not be able to move now, and that I had been able to drag myself then towards these bushes. It is possible that I got my second wound while lying here, which may explain the matter.

I now see pale-rose stains around me. The large star has lost its brilliancy; some of the small ones have disappeared. It is because the moon has begun to rise. How good it must be at home!...

I hear strange sounds somewhere.... As if some one were moaning. Yes, it is a moan. Is it another unfortunate lying near me, forgotten like myself, with broken legs—or with a bullet in his stomach? No, the moans sound so near, and yet it seems there is no one here.... Oh, God, but it is—myself! Low, piteous moans;[Pg 76] am I actually in such agony? I must be. Only, I don’t understand this pain; because there is a fog in my head that weighs me down like lead. It is better that I should lie down again and go to sleep—and sleep and sleep.... Shall I ever wake again? It does not really matter.

At the instant that I am gathering strength to lie down, a broad, pale strip of moonlight strikes the spot where I am sitting, revealing something dark and large lying only a few feet away. Here and there upon it little gleams are visible in the moonlight. Is it buttons or bullets? Is it a corpse, or is it some one wounded?

Well, I will lie down....

No, it is impossible. Our soldiers have not departed. They are here, they have beaten the Turks and have remained here. Why do I not hear voices and the crackle of bonfires? I must be too weak to hear. They are surely here.

“Help! Help!”

Wild, incoherent, and hoarse cries burst from my bosom, and they receive no answer. Loudly they scatter in the nocturnal air. Everything else is silent. Only the crickets chirrup on ceaselessly as before. The round moon looks compassionately down on me.

If he were only wounded, my cries surely would have roused him. It is a corpse. Is it one of us[Pg 77] or a Turk? Oh, God! as if it really mattered.... And I feel sleep descending upon my inflamed eyes.

I am lying with closed eyes, though I have been awake for some time. I do not wish to open my eyes, because I feel through the shut eyelids the blaze of the sun; if I open them, they will begin to smart. Perhaps I had better not even stir.... It was yesterday—yes, it must have been yesterday—that I was wounded; a day has now passed, and other days will pass, and I shall die. It does not matter. It is better not to stir. I will keep my body motionless. If I could only stop the working of the brain! Nothing will stop that. Thoughts, memories, crowd upon me. In any case, it will not be for long; the end must come soon. The newspapers will publish just a few lines to say that our losses have been insignificant: so many have been wounded; among those killed is Ivanov, a private in the volunteers’ ranks. No, even my name will not be mentioned; they will simply say, “One killed.” One soldier in the ranks—like some little dog.

The entire picture now comes to mind. It happened long ago; in fact, everything, all my life, that life, before I lay here with wounded legs, seems to have been such a long time ago....[Pg 78] I remember strolling along the street. Seeing a crowd of people, I stopped. The crowd stood and silently looked upon something white, bloody, piteously whining. It was a handsome little dog which had been run over by a tram-car. It was dying, as I am now. A house-porter made his way through the crowd, picked the dog up by the collar, and carried it away. The crowd dispersed.

Will some one carry me away? No, you lie here and die. But how good it is to live!... Upon that particular day—when the little dog met misfortune—I was happy. I was walking along in a kind of intoxication; and there was good cause. Oh, my memories, don’t torture me, leave me! My past was happiness; my present is agony.... If only my sufferings alone remained, and my memories ceased to torture me—for they compel comparisons. Ah, longings, longings! You are wounded worse.

It is becoming hot. The sun is scorching me. I open my eyes, see the same bushes, the same sky—only, in the light of day. And here, too, is my neighbor. Yes, it is the Turk—his body. What a huge fellow! I recognize him—it is the very same one.

Before my eyes lies a man I have killed. Why have I killed him?

[Pg 79]

He lies here dead, blood-stained. What fate brought him here? Who is he? Perhaps, like myself, he has an old mother. Long will she sit evenings at the door of her wretched hut, looking ever towards the north: is he coming home, he, her beloved son, her protector and provider?...

And I? Yes, I also.... I would even change places with him. How happy he is! He hears nothing; neither does he feel pain from wounds, nor terrible longing, nor thirst.... The bayonet entered his very heart.... There is a large black hole in his uniform, and blood all around it. That is my work.

I did not wish to do it. I did not wish to harm any one when I volunteered. The thought that I too should have to kill somehow escaped me. I only imagined how I would expose my own breast to bullets. And I did expose it.

Well, and what has it come to? Fool, fool! This unfortunate fellah, in Egyptian uniform, he is even less to blame than you are. Before he and others were packed, like herrings in a barrel, into a steamer and brought to Constantinople, he had not even heard of Russia or of Bulgaria. He was commanded to go, and he went. Had he refused to go, he would have been beaten with sticks, and perhaps some Pasha or other would[Pg 80] have fired a bullet into him. It was a long, difficult march for him from Stamboul to Rustchuk. We attacked, he defended himself. Seeing, however, that we were a fearless people, and that, unafraid of his English carbine, we rushed forward and still moved forward, he was seized with terror. Just as he was trying to get away, some sort of little man, whom he could have killed with one blow of his dark fist, ran forward and plunged a bayonet into his heart.

Of what had he been guilty?

And of what am I guilty, even though I have killed him? Of what am I guilty? Why am I tortured by thirst? Thirst! Who knows the meaning of this word? Even during the days when we marched through Roumania, fifty versts at a stretch, through unbearable heat, I did not feel what I feel now. If only some one came along this way!

Oh, God! But there must be water in that big flask of his! Only to reach it! Come what may, I will get it.

I begin to crawl. I drag my legs slowly; my exhausted arms barely stir the passive body from its place. The spot is hardly more than fifteen feet away, but it seems like ten versts. Nevertheless, I must crawl on. My throat is aflame with a terrible fire. To be sure, without water, I[Pg 81] could die the more quickly. All the same, perhaps....

And so I crawl. My legs drag on the ground, and every movement calls forth most excruciating pain. I cry out again and again, with tears in my eyes, and still I crawl on. At last! The flask is in my hand.... There’s water in it—and quite a deal! It seems more than half full. Ah, it will last me some time ... until I die!

It is you, my victim, who will save me! I begin to undo the flask, propping myself up on one elbow; and suddenly, losing my balance, I fall downward across the breast of my deliverer. Decay having set in, a strong stench comes from his body.

I have slaked my thirst. The water is warm, but not spoilt; and there is a great deal of it. I can live a few more days. I remember having read somewhere that one could exist without food for over a week, provided one had water. Yes, and I recall also the story of the man who committed suicide by starvation, but who lived a long time because he drank water.

Well, and what’s to be the end of it? And if I do live five or six days longer, what of that? Our troops have gone, the Bulgarians have dispersed. I am far from a road. Death—there is no way[Pg 82] out of it. I have but prolonged my three-day agony with a seven-day one. Perhaps I had better end it all. At my neighbor’s side lies his gun, an excellent English mechanism. I have only to stretch out my hand; then—one little moment, and an end. There is quite a lot of cartridges here, too. He hadn’t had time to dispose of them all.

Shall I end it all—or wait? Wait for what? Deliverance? Death? Or shall I wait until the Turks come here and tear the skin from my wounded legs? Far better that I should put an end to it myself.

No; there is no need to lose courage. I will struggle to the end, to my last resource. There is still hope of being found. It is possible my bones are not affected; and I may return to health. I shall again see my native land, my mother, and Masha....

Oh, Lord, save them from knowing the whole truth! Let them think I was killed outright. What if they should learn that I had suffered slow torture for two, three, or four days!

My head is in a whirl. My journey to my neighbor has completely exhausted me. What a terrible stench! He has grown black ... and what will he be like to-morrow or the day after? And now I am lying here only because I[Pg 83] haven’t sufficient strength to drag myself away. I will rest awhile, and will then crawl back to my old place; and, besides, the breeze blows from that direction and will drive the smell away.

I am lying now in complete exhaustion. The sun is scorching my face and hands. There is nothing to cover oneself with. If only night would come! I think this will be the second night.

My thoughts wander, and I am losing consciousness.

I must have slept a long time, because when I awoke it was already night. As before, the wounds ache, and my neighbor lies beside me—the same huge, motionless figure.

I cannot help thinking of him. Have I really left behind me all that is pleasant and dear to me, and marched here at the speed of four versts an hour, hungered, froze, suffered from the heat, only to undergo this final torture—for no other reason than that this unfortunate should cease to live? And have I really accomplished anything useful for my country except this murder?

This is murder—and I am a murderer.

When I first got the idea into my head to go and fight, Mother and Masha did not try to dissuade me, although they both wept much. Blinded by my idea, I did not understand those[Pg 84] tears. Only now I understand what I have done to those so near to me.

Why recall all this? There is no returning to the past.

And what a singular attitude my acquaintances assumed towards my action! “What a madman! He is meddling without knowing why!” How could they say that? How could they reconcile their words with their ideas of heroism, love of mother country, and other such things? Surely I earned their admiration for living up to these virtues. Yet I am a “madman.”

Presently I am on my way to Kishinev; I am supplied with a knapsack and all the other military accoutrements. I go with thousands of others; among them a few, like myself, are volunteers. The rest would have preferred to remain at home, if they were permitted. Nevertheless, they go along just like we “conscious ones,” march thousands of versts, and fight as well as ourselves, or even better. They fulfil their obligations notwithstanding the fact that they would on the instant drop everything and go home if permission were given them.

A fresh early morning breeze has begun to blow. There is a stirring among the bushes; I can hear the flutter of a bird’s wings. The stars are no longer visible. The dark blue sky has[Pg 85] turned gray, and stretching across it are gentle, fleecy cloudlets; a gray mist is rising from the earth. It is the beginning of the third day of my ... what can I call it? Life? Agony?

The third day.... How many more are left to me? At any rate, only a few. I have grown terribly weak, and I fear that I am unable to move away from the corpse. Only a little while longer, and I will stretch out by his side, and we shall not be unpleasant to each other.

I must have a drink. I will drink three times a day—in the morning, at noon, and in the evening.

The sun has risen. Its enormous disk, broken and intersected by the dark branches of the bushes, is red like blood. It looks as if it will be a hot day. My neighbor—what will become of you? Even now you are quite terrible.

Yes, he is terrible. His hair has begun to fall out. His skin, dark by nature, has grown a pale yellow; his bloated face has become so tightly stretched that the skin burst just behind one ear. The worms have begun to swarm there. The lower limbs, encased in gaiters, have swollen, and huge blisters have showed themselves from between the hooks of the gaiters. What will the sun make of him to-day?

[Pg 86]

It is unendurable to be so near him. I must get away, at all costs. Can I do it? I am still able to lift my hand, open the flask, and drink; but to move my passive, cumbersome body is quite another matter. Still, I will make an effort, even if it should take me an hour to move a few inches.

The entire morning passes in this attempt to shift. The pain is intense, but what does it matter? I no longer remember; I cannot imagine to myself the perception of a normal man. I have gotten used to the pain. I have managed to shift about fifteen feet, and am now in my old place. Not for long, however, have I enjoyed the fresh breeze, as far as it can be fresh with a rotting corpse only a few steps away. The breeze too has shifted and has brought the stench upon me anew to the point of nausea. The empty stomach contracts painfully and convulsively; all the internals groan. But the ill-smelling, infected air continues to pour upon me.

I weep in my desperation.

Broken in body and spirit and half insane, I was beginning to lose consciousness. Suddenly ... or is it only a delusion of a distressed imagination? Yes, I think I hear voices. The clatter of horses’ hoofs—and human voices. I almost came near shouting, but restrained[Pg 87] myself. Suppose they should be Turks? They, of course—as if I already hadn’t suffered enough—will subject me to terrible torture, such as makes your hair stand on end just to read about in the newspapers. They’ll peel my skin off, and they’ll apply a fire to my wounded legs ... or they might invent some new torture. Is it not better to end my life at their hands than die here? Who can tell?—they may be my countrymen! Oh, accursed bushes! Why have you fenced yourselves so thickly around me? There is no opening except one aperture in the foliage, that opens like a window upon a hollow visible in the distance. There, I think, is a brook from which we drank before the battle. I can see, too, the huge flat stone across the stream, put there to serve as a bridge. They will surely cross it. The voices are dying away. I cannot make out the language they speak; my hearing too has grown weak. Oh, Lord! what if they are my countrymen!... I will shout. They will hear me even from the brook. That is better than falling into the hands of the Bashi-Bazouks. What has become of them? I don’t see them. I am being consumed with impatience; I no longer even notice the smell of the corpse, although it has not grown any less.

Suddenly a body of horsemen make their[Pg 88] appearance crossing the bridge. Cossacks! Blue uniforms, red stripes, lances! About fifty of them! At the fore, upon a handsome horse, is an officer with a black beard. No sooner do the fifty horsemen cross the brook than he turns full face in his saddle and shouts:

“Tro-t, march!”

“Stop, stop, for God’s sake! Help, help, brothers!” But the stamping of sturdy horses, the clanging of many sabres, and the lusty shouting of Cossack throats are too much for my weak outcry—and I am not heard.

Oh, curses! In complete exhaustion, I fall face to the ground and begin to weep. In my falling, I fail to notice that I have upset the flask and out of its mouth the water—my life, my deliverance, my respite from death—is oozing. I notice it only when there is no more than a half-cupful left; the rest has been absorbed by the dry, thirsty earth.

It is simply agony to recall the stupor which seized me after this terrible accident. I lay motionless, with half-closed eyes. The wind kept changing, and now fanned me with pure, clear air and now sent the stench upon me anew. My neighbor has become unsightly beyond all description. Once I opened my eyes to glance at him, and I recoiled in horror. He no longer had[Pg 89] any face. The flesh seemed to peel right off the bone. That horrible smile of bones, that eternal grin, seemed never so repulsive, never so awful, although it had been my lot to hold many a human skull in my hands before, in the medical classes. The skeleton in uniform with shining buttons caused me to shudder. “This is war,” I reflected, “and here is its symbol.”

The sun is burning and scorching me as before. My hands and face have been smarting for some time. I drank up the remaining water. The thirst tortured me so intensely that in trying to take a single swallow I gulped down all. Fool that I was not to have called to the Cossacks when they were so near! Even if they had been Turks, it would have been better than this. They would have tortured me an hour or two; but now there’s no saying how long I am to lie here and suffer. My dear, dearest mother! If you only knew! You would tear your gray hair out, you would knock your head against the wall, you would curse the day of my birth, you would curse the world which invented war and its sorrows.

It is well that you and Masha will not hear of my sufferings. Farewell, Mother; farewell, my sweetheart, my love! But how sad and bitter I feel! And there is something gnawing at the heart....

[Pg 90]

Again I am thinking of that little white dog! The porter did not pity it, but knocked its head against the wall and threw it into a garbage heap. And still it was alive; and suffered a whole day. I am more unfortunate, because I have suffered already three days. To-morrow will be the fourth day, then the fifth, the sixth.... Death, where art thou? Come, come! Take me!

But death does not come. And I am lying in the blaze of this terrible sun; and there is not a drop of water to refreshen my inflamed throat; the corpse, too, is making me ill. Myriads of vermin are feeding in it. How they swarm! When he is eaten, and there is nothing left except the bones and the uniform, then it will be my turn. I too shall share the same fate.

The day passes, and the night passes. No change. Again morning. No change. Another day will pass....

The bushes are stirring and rustling, as if they were talking among themselves. “You will die, you will die, you will die!” they whisper. “You will not see, you will not see, you will not see!” answer the bushes on the other side.

“No, you will not see them here!” I hear a loud voice quite near.

I tremble and at once come to myself. I look[Pg 91] up, to find the good blue eyes of our corporal Yakovlev looking at me.

“Spades!” he cries out. “There are two more of them here—and one of them is theirs!”

“There is no need for spades, no need to bury me; I’m alive!” I wish to cry out; but only a feeble groan issues from my parched lips.

“Lord! But he is alive! Barin[1] Ivanov! Children, come this way! Our Barin is alive! And bring the doctor, quick!”

Presently I feel the pleasant contact in my mouth of water, whiskey, and of something else. Then everything disappears.

The stretcher sways with a measured motion. This motion is soothing. Now I recall myself, now everything lapses from my memory. The bandaged wounds no longer hurt. An inexpressible feeling of comfort has diffused itself through my entire body....

“Hal-t! L-lo-wer! Fresh hands to the stretchers! Now get hold—lift—march!”

The command is issued by Peter Ivanich, our sanitary officer, a tall, lean, and very kindly man. He is so tall that as I turn my eyes in his direction I can see his head, his peculiar long beard, [Pg 92]and his shoulders, although the stretcher is being carried on the shoulders of four big men.

“Peter Ivanich!” I whisper.

“What is it, dear fellow?”

Peter Ivanich leans toward me.

“Peter Ivanich, what did the doctor tell you? Will I die soon?”

“What are you saying, Ivanov? Of course you will live. Your bones are whole. What a lucky fellow you are! Your bones are all right, and so are your arteries! But tell me, how did you manage to pull through these three and a half days? What did you eat?”


“And had you anything to drink?”

“I took the Turk’s flask. Peter Ivanich, I cannot speak now. Later....”

“Well, God be with you, dear fellow, and have your nap.”

Again sleep, forgetfulness....

When I awake again, I am in the division hospital, surrounded by nurses and doctors. At my feet stands a man whom I recognize as a celebrated St. Petersburg professor. His hands are blood-stained. He is attending to me, and presently he turns to speak to me:

“Well, the Lord has been good to you, young man. You will remain alive. We’ve deprived[Pg 93] you of one leg; but that is a mere trifle. Can you talk?”

Yes, I can talk, and I am telling him all that I have written here.

[Pg 94]


[1] A term of deference usually employed by peasants and servants in addressing their master, or in speaking of him.

[Pg 95]


The history—that is, the philosophical history—of a national literature is sure to reveal the close relation subsisting between the significant social movements of that nation and its literature. Those who think lightly of fiction as a force in a people’s life fail to recognize that in the large it is something more than a mirror of the times, since worthy fiction must be an expression—and that the most vivid possible—of the ideals, the faiths, the scepticisms, the struggles, the foibles, the prejudices, the occupations light and serious, and, chiefly, the social ferment, of the era it represents, because out of, and not merely during, that era its fiction was born.

While really no more applicable to Russia than to any other nation, this representative quality of literature is more startlingly apparent in Slavic literature than in any other. During the period just preceding 1880, the “back to the people” movement was at its height. Tolstoi’s life among his peasants inspired many to imitation—but that is a story by itself. Enough to note here that the movement broke down of its own weight, as all social movements must which think to fill[Pg 96] old skins with new wine. And Anton Pavlovich Chekhov came to a full though depressing inheritance of the stunned discouragement characteristic of the early eighties. In common with his entire school, Chekhov’s philosophy embraced three paramount tenets: The “system” in Russia is productive of evil, and evil only; there is no present hope of better things; but for the future, such hope as may gestate unborn can come to birth only by the Russian people’s facing the full truth honestly and fearlessly.

Here is a social philosophy which is something more than pessimism, for while it believes that things must be worse before they can be better, it neither denies nor predicts the coming of that meliorated day. The true basis of Russian realism is thus seen to differ from the French: French realism is sensational and of the senses; that of Russia is intellectual and largely for a patriotic purpose.

Chekhov was a south-Russian, born January 17, 1860, in Taganrog, a seaport on an arm of the Black Sea, near the mouth of the river Don. His father was a serf, whose ambition and ability led him early to buy his freedom and provide for the education of his four children. Anton passed through the local college and was graduated from[Pg 97] the school of medicine at Moscow, but more than his year as a hospital interne, and a volunteer service during an epidemic of cholera, he did not practise.

His medical education, however, set the tone for Chekhov’s literary work, for he became a great pathologist of character, dealing chiefly with those sick of mind and heart whom we are wont to think of as unnormal. Early afflicted with the tubercular trouble which he combated in vain, and which carried him off July 2, 1904, in Badenweiler, Germany, at forty-four, he disclosed in his work, as Professor Phelps has pointed out, the double character of the observing physician and the sick patient. To the observer and in the observed, in such a dual rôle, trivialities would assume a larger interest than to the typical healthy man writing of complacent themes in a rosy land. And so they did to Chekhov—as will more and more appear.

While yet the youth was in the University (1879) he began to write “fugitive sketches” for the minor metropolitan newspapers, and eventually for the better-known Novoe Vremya and the St. Petersburg Gazette. A humor keen, if somewhat coarse, characterized these productions, which were often only a few hundred words in length. This light satirical tone prevailed until[Pg 98] after the appearance in 1887 of his first book. Perhaps the critical disapproval it aroused made him see that one who could write so well might be better employed than in merely making people laugh, as one reviewer expressed it. At all events, his later work was more serious, though always a subtle, intellectual humor might be found—for it often lurked—in his most sober fictional and dramatic writings.

Chekhov was so modest, so retiring, so diffident even, that he came to his own by dint of sheer merit. When in the later years of his short life he married Olga Knipper, the blonde beauty of the Théâtre Libre, they took a villa at Yalta, on the Black Sea, for the husband’s enfeebled health demanded a milder climate than that of the metropolis. At Yalta, for a time, dwelt also Tolstoi and Gorki, and there Chekhov learned to know his brother writers. With that sincere big-heartedness which is happily characteristic of each of the Russian littérateurs chosen for inclusion in this series, both did much to bring his work to the attention of the public to which they were themselves looking.

With Tolstoi’s convictions Chekhov had little in common, so he did not seek him out. But the elder artist went to the younger, and a firm friendship ensued. That the enthusiastic prophesies[Pg 99] of both Tolstoi and Gorki were not fully realized was doubtless due to the untimely ending of a career so full of promise and of real literary achievement.

Naturally, Chekhov’s attitude toward life was something more personal than was his conscious philosophy. The lost illusions of the Russian people—I speak now of the Russia of the late eighties and early nineties—were perfectly reflected in our author’s work. Of one of his characters he writes:

The Student remembered that when he left the house his mother sat in the hall, barefooted, and cleaned the samovar; and his father lay upon the stove and coughed; and because it was Good Friday nothing was being cooked at home, though he was tortured with desire to eat. And now, shivering with cold, the Student reflected that just the same icy wind blew in the reign of Rurik, in the reign of Ivan the Terrible, and in the reign of Peter the Great; and that there was just the same gnawing hunger and poverty, just the same dilapidated thatched roofs, just the same ignorance, the same boredom with life, the same desert around, the same darkness within, the same sense of oppression—that all these terrors were and are and will be, and that, though a thousand years roll by, life can never be any better.

Could anything be more pitiful—and more[Pg 100] hopeless! And yet it was not the pity of it that Chekhov was picturing. It was the fatalism, the mockery, the uselessness of struggle, the satire of even complaining, that seemed to him to demand a voice. All contemporary life was gray. To him it was a silly thing to seek to idealize it. The only course was to view things as they are—the venom, the scurrility, the disenchantment, the heart-break, the hunger, the chill of soul and body, were real; then why delude self by renaming them, for alter them one could not! Why struggle when inertia accomplished just as much—that is to say, nothing! Why dream when the visions brought one no nearer light than did waking! Again and again his characters set out cheered by hopes and warmed by illusions, but one by one they return, hardened, dulled, disenchanted. But even this experience is not worth fretting about. The gaunt, wild-eyed men, the flat, empty-breasted women, are products of the Russian system, so why should they aspire to the unattainable? Let them be indifferent, for that is the surest anæsthetic.

But in all this one feels the terrible arraignment of the god-of-things-as-they-are, and no blame for the individual. Chekhov doubtless pitied men, but he excoriated Russian society. If he laughed at misery, it was that misery might not[Pg 101] crush out the very life. If he preached indifferentism, it was that the Juggernaut of society should not pulverize those over whom its wheels must surely pass.

In the banalities of life and its useless beatings against the bars Chekhov was quick to see effective literary material. If life was colorless, it still called for a master of grays and neutral tints to lay them effectively upon the canvas—and such a painter was Chekhov. Dealing with trivial things, and dealing with them in a manner sometimes bitterly laughing, again at times with fierce cynicism, but sometimes too with the gentle sadness of an accepted despair, the man became a sincere realist—an accurate delineator of “the unprofitable life.” He could picture, in “The Steppe,” that most monotonous of all landscapes with an idealized charm of variety which enchanted the reader, but his obligation to human nature was to paint it remorselessly with truth. Unhappily, his pathological mind saw little but the contemptible, the trivial, the stupid, and the mean. The nobler elements he did not omit, but he never asserted or even intimated their final triumph. He could strip the shreds of pretension and illusion from the soul of man as ruthlessly as a fiend would denude the body of his helpless victim. For old age to be despicable, or for youth[Pg 102] to be polluted, was all the justification needed to picture them just so upon his canvas.

“Ward No. 6”—a pitiless tragedy disclosing the ultimate break-down of all that is noble in body, mind, and spirit—is probably Chekhov’s greatest story. It takes its title from the lunatic asylum in a “squalid, remote, and stagnant country town.... A pandemonium of brutality, corruption, and neglect.” The patients suffer unspeakable abuses from the attendants, chiefly from the porter, Nikita, whose brutal fists beat all protesting patients into insensibility.

The old doctor used to sell the hospital stores to enrich himself, but Ragin, the new physician, was a man of honesty, heart, and ability. The abuses of the place he detests, and the sufferings of the inmates make his gorge rise and his heart burn. But, as with most of Chekhov’s good men, his will is inert, and at last he condones and falls into indifference toward the horrors of the place.

One day he discovers an unusual intelligence in Gromof, one of the long-time inmates, and comes to take a great interest in him. For hours at a time he gives up his occupations and listens to Gromof’s wisdom. The nurses, at this, think Ragin insane, and by a trick shut him up in the very room whose terrible condition at first so inspired him with horror. “I am glad! You[Pg 103] drank other men’s blood; now they will drink yours!” screams Gromof in a rage of madness.

After a short confinement, Ragin joins the other inmates in a revolt, but Nikita uses his huge fists, and the next day Ragin is dead.

I recite this at some length because no shorter story could so fully present the hopeless philosophy of its author. It is a powerful, impressionistic picture of Russia—at its worst, let us hope.

Chekhov made several excursions into the drama, but he was not given to plot, and all his efforts were subtle and intellectual, so that it requires a company of brilliant actors to present his plays. The most important are “The Cherry Orchard,” “The Seagull,” “The Bear,” and “The Gray Stocking.”

In the short-story our author excelled, but here too his tendency was not toward plot. The objectivist in fiction tends toward the impressionistic sketch, and Chekhov was a master in sensing a mood outside of himself and relentlessly reproducing the impression.

Of “Darling,” Tolstoi has said that the author intended to laugh at Darling, sneer at her self-sacrifice; but in spite of his plan he had created a character of beauty.

[Pg 104]

Olenka Plemyannikof, the daughter of a retired “college assessor,” cannot live unless she is loving some one. She loves her father, her mother, her relatives, and when at school she had fallen in love with the French-master. Observing her rosy cheeks and kind expression, and the naïve smile playing on her face when she is pleased, every one feels attracted to her, and frequently women stop in the midst of a conversation and grasp her hand, exclaiming, “You darling!”

Koukin, manager and proprietor of the Tivoli pleasure gardens, occupies the wing in the Plemyannikofs’ house. Troubles connected with rainy evenings, when his audiences are small, touch Olenka’s kind heart, and she stays awake at night until he comes home, so that she may smile encouragement through her window. At length they marry, and their life runs smoothly, Olenka helping her husband in many ways. Her radiant face alone draws people, and she tells them that the theatre is the greatest thing in the world. “What a wonderful man you are!” she says adoringly to her husband. But when on a business trip to Moscow Koukin dies; and Olenka feels then that the end of the world has come for her.

Three months after, returning from church one day, she meets Vassili Andreyich Pastovalof,[Pg 105] manager of a timber merchant’s yard, and he tells her that she should bear submissively the fate which God willed. His grave voice stays in her memory—and shortly afterward they are married. They live happily, and now it seems to Olenka that she has been in the timber trade all her life. She echoes her husband’s opinions—whatever he thinks, she thinks, wherever he wants to go, or not to go, she does the same. When her friends suggest recreation, her reply is, “I and Vassichka have no time to frequent theatres. We are business people, with no time for trifles. Besides, what good is there in theatres?”

Thus they live harmoniously for six years. But one cold morning, after drinking some hot tea, Pastovalof steps into the yard without his hat and catches a chill. Four months later Olenka is again a widow.

Not till six months after her husband’s death does she remove her weeds and open the house shutters, so great is her grief. Then it is rumored that she takes tea with a regimental veterinary surgeon, Smirnin, who occupies one of the wings of her house. He is separated from his wife, but contributes to his son’s support. Olenka becomes absorbed in this new interest, for she cannot live without lavishing her affection on some one.[Pg 106] Their happiness is interrupted by Smirnin’s being called away with his regiment; and now the woman is once more desolate.

The years pass and Olenka is entirely without fixed opinions, has nothing to speak about, so she grows old-looking and dormant. She has nothing to reflect. But one night Smirnin comes back. He has retired from the army, is reunited with his wife, and wants to settle down in the town. Olenka offers him her house free to live in, saying that the wing is quite enough for her; so the man and the woman and their child come to Olenka’s house. And in the little boy she finds an object to love, even taking him into her own rooms, where they play and study together. Then Olenka develops opinions on education, and grows young again.

In his earlier days Chekhov espoused satirical comedy. In “A Work of Art—The Story of a Gift” we have one of these typical nonsense stories.

A young man, Alexander Smirnoff, enters the office of Dr. Koshelkoff, his physician, and, with many expressions of profoundest gratitude, presents him with an exquisite bronze candelabrum. The youth is the only son of his mother, and out of the stock left by his father—for they are carrying[Pg 107] on his business in antiques—they have reserved this treasure, which they now give to the physician because his care had saved the young man’s life. Smirnoff’s one regret is that he does not possess the mate, so as to give the doctor the pair.

The medical man is embarrassed. The piece is lovely, but—improper. The two dancing female figures are quite too unconventional for the doctor’s office—he has a wife, a family, a mother-in-law, and lady patients! No, he cannot accept the gift. But after many hurt protests on the part of the donor, the physician keeps it anyhow.

No sooner is the young man gone than the doctor remembers a gay bachelor lawyer to whom he owes many favors, and hurries off to give him the beautiful but immodest bronze. The lawyer cannot express his admiration—and regret. His patrons would be horrified, it would injure his reputation. No, he cannot keep it.

The physician in turn is deeply wounded, so to save his friend’s feelings the lawyer consents to keep it; and the doctor hurries off chuckling in glee.

Immediately the lawyer presents the statuette to an actor. The theatrical star is delighted, and soon his room is besieged by men who want to see[Pg 108] the savory work of art. But presently the actor sees that he cannot receive lady visitors in the presence of such a statuette.

“Sell it,” suggests a friend, and at once he despatches the offending candelabrum to Madame Smirnoff, the old woman who deals in antiques.

Two days later Dr. Koshelkoff sat peacefully in his study—when suddenly the door of his room flew open, and Alexander Smirnoff burst upon his sight. His face beamed with joy, he fairly shone, and his whole body breathed inexpressible content.

In his hands he held an object wrapped in a newspaper.

“Doctor,” he began breathlessly, “imagine my joy! What good fortune! Luckily for you, my mother has succeeded in obtaining a companion piece to your candelabrum. You now have the pair complete. Mother is so happy. I am her only son, you know. You saved my life.”

Trembling with joy and with excess of gratitude, young Smirnoff placed the candelabrum before the doctor. The physician opened his mouth, attempted to say something, but the power of speech failed him—and he said nothing.

Again in a different vein is “The Safety Match.”

Lieutenant Klausoff, a retired officer of the Horse Guards, who has separated from his wife,[Pg 109] Olga, on account of his own dissipations and her shrewish temper, is reported as missing by Psyekoff, the lieutenant’s agent. The examining magistrate, Chubikoff, and Dukovski, his ambitious assistant, learn that Klausoff has not been seen for a week, and when they break open his room all signs suggest a murder. Young Dukovski, who is a disciple of induction as a means of arriving at the facts of crime, discovers in the room one boot, a burned safety-match, marks of teeth on a pillow, signs of struggle about the bed, an unfastened window, footprints beneath it, the mark of a knee on the window-sill, and some threads of blue cloth caught in a burdock bush near-by. All these lead him to conclude that the murderers, one of whom wore blue trousers, climbed in the window, sprang upon Klausoff while he was taking off his boots, smothered him with a pillow, and dragged him away. The second boot is at length found near-by, and the investigators now seek for the criminals. The shrewd Dukovski, who is continually laughed at by his superior Chubikoff, infers that two of the murderers are the valet and Psyekoff, the agent, because it developed that first the valet and then Psyekoff had loved the same woman, whom their master had finally won. Besides, Psyekoff wears blue trousers. Jealousy must have been the[Pg 110] cause, for the victim’s watch and money still lay upon his table. When confronted with these facts and a reconstruction of the deed, neither can make effective denial.

A third conspirator is found in the victim’s sister, who is a religious enthusiast and intensely indignant that her rakish brother should be living apart from his wife, Olga.

At last Dukovski succeeds in tracing the purchase of a box of safety matches to Olga, whereupon he concludes that she also is implicated. He and Chubikoff confront her with the circumstantial evidences which indicate that she and her accomplices have dragged off the body of her husband. Astounded, she breaks down, and leads the officers into an adjoining room, where the body of Klausoff is lying on a couch—asleep! The wife, who still loves her tipsy lord, has dragged him away and holds him in durance so that she may live with him whether he will or not.

Master of an alert, firm style, and skilled not only in penetration but in effective expression, Chekhov has a place in Russian literature which is less difficult to designate than is usual in the case of one only a few years dead. Certainly his themes are neither big nor vital enough, nor yet sufficiently human, to accord him position beside[Pg 111] the philosophical Tolstoi, the titanic Turgenev, and the iron-hearted Dostoevski (a greater novelist than short-story writer). Rather do his workmanship, power of characterization, and subtle, sardonic humor point to a solitary niche close to the grim and morbid Andreev. His appeal—always intellectual—to his own people is tremendous, and in Germany his vogue is still important. It seems safe to say that among Russian fictionists he stands in the first rank of the second company.

To represent Chekhov’s work, I have chosen “In Exile,” which follows complete in a new translation, because, while it exhibits all his mature characteristics, it is less unpleasant on the one hand and on the other less trivial than many of his other short-stories. But of its qualities the reader may now judge.

[Pg 112]

[Pg 113]


By Anton Chekhov

Old Simon, nicknamed Wiseacre, and a young Tartar, whom no one knew by name, sat on the river-bank before a bonfire. The other three ferrymen were in the hut. Simon, a man of sixty, gaunt and toothless, but broad of shoulder and still hale in appearance, was drunk. He had meant to go to sleep long ago, but there was a flask in his pocket, and he feared that his comrades in the hut might ask him to pass it around. The Tartar felt ill and tired; shivering in his rags, he was recounting what a comfortable home he had had in his native province, and what a handsome, clever wife he had left there. He was hardly more than twenty-five years old, but now, before the blaze of the bonfire, his pale, melancholy face seemed to be that of a mere lad.

“It’s no paradise here, to be sure,” Wiseacre agreed with him. “You can see for yourself: water, bare banks, and everywhere clay—nothing more.... Holy Week has passed, there’s ice on the river, and only this morning it snowed.”

“It’s miserable! Miserable!” said the Tartar, as he glanced round him in terror.

[Pg 114]

Some ten paces away flowed the dark, cold river. It seemed to grumble as it noised its way past the corroded clay bank and rapidly bore itself onward somewhere towards the distant sea. At the very edge of the bank there rose the dark, massive form of a barge, the kind called karbass by the ferrymen. Looking in the distance towards the opposite bank, one could see numerous fires, flaring and retreating, and resembling so many leaping serpents. It was the burning of last year’s grass. And beyond the fires, again darkness. The sound of floating ice beating against the barge could be heard. It was damp, cold....

The Tartar glanced up towards the sky. There were just as many stars here as at home, and the same surrounding darkness; yet there was something lacking. Somehow, at home, in the Simbirsk province, there were no such stars and no such sky.

“It’s miserable! Miserable!” he repeated.

“You’ll get used to it!” said Wiseacre, and laughed. “You are still in your teens, and silly. Your mother’s milk hasn’t as yet dried upon your lips. Of course it seems to your foolish mind that there is no one more miserable than you; but the time will come when you yourself will say, ‘May God grant every one such a life!’ Now,[Pg 115] look at me. In another week the water will be normal again; I shall take charge of the ferry-boat; you will go jaunting through Siberia, while I shall remain here and resume making my way from bank to bank. I’ve been doing it twenty-two years, night and day. The pike and the salmon under the water; I above it. And thank God for that! I want nothing. May God grant every one such a life!”

The Tartar threw more brushwood into the fire, and, moving closer to it, said:

“I have an ailing father. When he dies, my mother and my wife will join me here. They have promised.”

“What do you want with a mother and a wife?” asked Wiseacre. “You’ll repent it, brother. It’s the devil that’s putting you up to it, curse his soul! Don’t listen to him, the accursed one! Don’t give in to him. When he gets your mind on women, just spite him; tell him, ‘I don’t want them!’ When he talks freedom to you, get stubborn; tell him, ‘I don’t want it! I want nothing—neither father, nor mother, nor wife, nor freedom, nor house, nor anything! I want nothing, confound their souls!’”

Wiseacre took another gulp from his flask, and continued:

“Now, look at me, brother. I am not a simple[Pg 116] muzhik, but a sexton’s son, in fact; and when I lived in freedom in Kursk I wore a frock-coat; but now I’ve gotten so that I could sleep naked on the ground and eat grass. And God grant every one such a life! I want nothing, and I fear no one. I’m on good terms with myself, and I cannot imagine any one richer and freer than I. When I was banished from Russia, I insisted from the very first day: ‘I want nothing!’ The devil he talks to me of wife, and of home, and of freedom; and I back at him: ‘I want nothing!’ I insisted on mine, and, as you see, I live well, and do not complain. Give way to the devil but an inch, and you are lost. There’s no deliverance, you sink into the bog over your very head, and there’s no getting out. Not alone your brother, the stupid muzhik; but nobles and educated men are lost. Some fifteen years ago they sent here one of that gentry. He didn’t share some property with his brothers, tampered somehow with a will. They say he comes from the dukes or the barons—or perhaps he is only an official—how should one know? Well, this gentleman arrived here, and the first thing he did was to buy himself a house and some land. ‘I intend,’ he said, ‘to live by the sweat of my brow, because,’ he said, ‘I am no longer a gentleman, but a convict.’ ‘Well,’ said I to myself, ‘may God help him, he[Pg 117] means well!’ He was at that time a fussy, bustling young man; did his own mowing and now and then caught fish, and rode sixty versts a day on horseback. That was his one misfortune. From the very first year he made trips to Girino, to the post-office there. Times were and he would be on my ferry-boat, sighing: ‘Ah, Simon, it’s rather a long time since they have sent me money from home!’ ‘There’s no need,’ I’d go on telling him, ‘of money, Vassili Sergeyich. What good is it? Throw it aside,’ I argued with him. ‘All that’s gone by; forget it as if it never were; as if you had only dreamt it; and begin life anew. Don’t listen,’ I said to him, ‘to the devil. It’ll lead to no good; it’ll only draw a noose around your neck. Now it’s money you want, and later it’ll be another thing—there’s no end to it. If it’s happiness you seek, first of all desire nothing. Yes.... If,’ I said to him, ‘fate has treated you and me badly, there’s no begging charity of her, no falling at her feet; rather should one treat her with scorn and laugh at her—then she too will laugh.’ So I spoke to him.... Two years later I ferried him over to this side—and he all overjoyed and laughing. ‘I am going,’ he said, ‘to Girino to meet my wife. She has taken pity on me,’ he said, ‘and is coming out here. She’s a fine woman, good-hearted.’ He almost[Pg 118] choked from happiness. The next day he brought his wife. She was young, handsome, in a pretty hat; and in her arms a girl baby; and all sorts of baggage with her. As to Vassili Sergeyich, he fussed around her, couldn’t stop feasting his eyes on her or stop raving about her. ‘Yes, brother Simon, even in Siberia people live.’ ‘All right,’ I said to myself. ‘Don’t be too sure of that.’ And from that time on, mark it, he began to make weekly visits to Girino: to see if any money had come from Russia. He needed no end of money. ‘She,’ he said, ‘is sacrificing her youth and beauty in Siberia for my sake, and is sharing with me my bitter lot; and therefore,’ he said, ‘I should give her every possible pleasure.’ ... To make it cheerful for her, he started up an acquaintance with the officials and with all sorts of trashy people. Well, all this company had to be furnished food and drink; then a piano had to be had, and a shaggy little dog for the sofa—the deuce take it!... In a word, luxury, extravagance! She did not live long with him. How could she? Here she saw only mud, water, cold, no vegetables or fruits, and all around her uneducated people, full of drink, and without manners—and she a spoiled lady from St. Petersburg.... Naturally, she grew sick of it. And the husband too was no longer what he had been, but a convict.

[Pg 119]

“It was one Assumption Eve, three years later, that I remember some one shouting from the opposite bank. I crossed over, and whom should I see but the lady herself, all wrapped up—and with her a young gentleman, one of the officials. A troika!... I ferried them over to this side; the troika was ready; ah, but you should have seen them fly! Hardly the wink of an eye and there was not a trace of them.

“And in the morning Vassili Sergeyich came running here. ‘Simon, has my wife passed this way with a gentleman in spectacles?’ ‘Yes, she did pass this way,’ I said to him. ‘Go and seek the wind in the fields!’ He gave chase to them, but returned in five days. When I ferried him across to the other side, he threw himself down in the bottom of the boat, and began to beat his head against the planks and to whine. ‘What else had you to expect?’ I said to him. I laughed and reminded him: ‘Even in Siberia people live!’ But he only beat his head the harder.... Then he began to hanker after freedom. He heard his wife was in Russia, and of course he wanted to go there and to take her away from her lover. Almost every day he would go to the post-office or to the government offices. He presented petition after petition, begging for pardon and for permission to return home. He told me he[Pg 120] had spent a couple of hundred rubles on telegrams alone. He sold his land, while he mortgaged his house to Jews. He grew gray and bent; his face yellow—a consumptive, in fact. Speaking to you, he would always go: khe-khe-khe ... and his eyes full of tears. For eight years he kept on handing in those petitions, but after that he had come to life and grown jolly again. You see, he had thought of another luxury. His daughter had grown up. And he feasted his eyes on her and didn’t get enough of it. She really was an attractive girl—pretty, black-browed, and rather spirited in manner. Every Sunday he’d take her with him to Girino to church. They’d stand hand in hand on the ferry, and he not taking his eyes from her. ‘Yes, Simon,’ he would say, ‘even in Siberia people live. Even in Siberia there is happiness. Just look what a daughter I’ve got! You can’t find another like her if you seek a thousand miles around!’ The girl, as I said, was really a beauty.... But I thought to myself: ‘Just wait.... She’s a young girl; the blood tingles, and one wants to live, and what sort of life is to be had here?’ And, comrade, to make the story short, she really began to ail.... She got to coughing, and coughing, to pining away; and now she is very sick, can hardly stand on her legs.[Pg 121] Consumption! There’s your Siberian happiness for you—the deuce take it!—that’s how even in Siberia people live.... Now he’s begun to chase after doctors, and to bring them back home with him. Let him but hear there’s a doctor or a healer within two hundred or three hundred versts, and off he goes after him. It’s terrible to think how much money he has spent on doctors. I’d rather drink up the money.... She’ll die, any way. She’ll die, there’s no gainsaying that, and then he’ll be lost altogether. He’ll hang himself from sorrow, or he’ll escape to Russia—and then you know what will happen. He’ll be caught, sentenced to hard labor; he’ll taste the knout....”

“That is well,” murmured the Tartar, trembling with cold.

“What is well?” asked Wiseacre.

“He’s had his wife, his daughter.... You say you want nothing. To have nothing is bad! His wife lived with him three years—God was good to him. To have nothing is bad, but three years is good. Don’t you understand?”

Trembling with cold, stammering out with difficulty the few Russian words he knew, the Tartar expressed the hope that God might preserve him from dying in a strange land and being buried in a cold, blighted earth; if his wife should[Pg 122] come only for a single day, for a single hour, he would consent, for the sake of this brief happiness, to undergo the worst tortures and thank God for them. Better one day of happiness than nothing!

Again he spoke of the handsome and clever wife he had left at home; then, putting his hands to his head, he began to cry and to assure Simon that he was innocent and was undergoing punishment for no just cause. His two brothers and an uncle had stolen some horses from a muzhik and had beaten the old man half to death; but society dealt with him unjustly, and sent the three brothers to Siberia, while the uncle, a rich man, remained at home.

“You’ll get used to it,” said Simon.

The Tartar did not reply, but fixed a tearful gaze upon the fire. His face expressed doubt and alarm, as if he still did not understand why he was here in this darkness and cold, among strangers, and not at home. Wiseacre lay beside the fire, chuckled at something, and hummed.

“What sort of happiness is there for her with her father?” he said after a pause. “He loves her, and is comforted in her, it is true; but he’s no fool; he’s a stern, harsh old man—and young girls don’t want sternness.... They want caresses and ha-ha-ha! and hi-ho-ho!—and perfume[Pg 123] and pomade. Yes.... Ekh, this business!” sighed Simon, and lifted himself awkwardly. “The vodka’s all gone; that means it’s time to go to bed. Well, I’m going, brother....”

Left alone, the Tartar added more brushwood to the fire, lay down facing it, and began to think of his native village and of his wife; if she were to come, even if only for a month, for a day—then let her go back if she wanted to! Better a month, even a day, than nothing! But if his wife were to keep her promise and come, how should he feed her? Where could she live?

“If there is nothing to eat, how can one live?” he asked aloud.

For working day and night at an oar he was paid but ten copecks a day; it is true, passengers sometimes gave a gratuity for tea and for vodka, but his companions shared it among themselves, and gave the Tartar nothing, only laughing at him. And poverty made him feel hungry, cold, and frightened. Now, since his body ached and trembled, he wished to go into the hut and to bed, but he knew that there was nothing there to cover oneself with, and that it was colder than on the bank; here too there was nothing to cover oneself with, but one could at least keep up the fire....

In another week, when the water should have[Pg 124] subsided, and the regular ferry-boat resumed its course, the services of the ferrymen, with the exception of Simon’s, would be dispensed with; then the Tartar must start tramping from village to village and beg for alms and work. His wife was but seventeen years old; pretty, petted, and shy—must she too traverse villages and beg for bread? No, the mere thought of it was terrible.

Dawn was already breaking. The barge and the willows stood out clearly; the surging foam too was visible. Glancing behind him, the Tartar could see the clayey slope; the small, brown-thatched hut was at its base, and the huts of the village above. The cocks already crowed in the village.

The red clayey slope, the barge, the river, the strange, evil-minded people, hunger, cold, disease—they all seemed not to exist at all. It was all a dream, thought the Tartar. He imagined that he was asleep and could hear himself snoring.... Of course he was at home, in the Simbirsk province, and all he needed to do to have his wife appear was to call her by name; and in the next room was his mother.... What terrible things dreams are! Of what use are they? The Tartar smiled and opened his eyes. What river was this? The Volga?

It began to snow.

[Pg 125]

“Ho, there!” came a shout from the other side. “The boat!”

The Tartar sprang up and went to wake his companions. Pulling on their torn sheepskin coats while on the way to the boat, filling the air with oaths from their hoarse throats, and shivering with cold, the ferrymen made their appearance. After their sleep, the river, with its cold, penetrating wind, seemed to them most repellent and terrible. Leisurely they took their places in the karbass.

The Tartar and three ferrymen seized the long, broad-bladed oars, resembling in the dark the claws of a crab; while Simon threw himself down on his stomach across the helm. The shouting continued on the other side; two revolver-shots were also heard; it was apparent that he who fired them thought the ferrymen were still asleep, or in the village tavern.

“Never mind, you’ll get there,” murmured Wiseacre in a voice which conveyed his assurance that in this world there was no need of hurrying—that it was all the same in the long run.

The heavy, awkward barge parted from the bank, and made its way slowly through the willows; and only the slightly perceptible backward movement of the willows indicated that the barge was moving at all. The ferrymen, with measured[Pg 126] slowness, swung their oars. Wiseacre lay on his stomach across the helm, and, describing a curve in the air, was thrown from one side to the other. In the dark, it seemed as if a number of men were sitting on some long-clawed antediluvian animal and were floating towards that cold, melancholy land seen only in nightmares.

The barge passed beyond the willows and was now in the open. Presently, on the other bank, could be heard the creaking and the measured dipping of the oars; while those in the boat could hear some one shouting, “Quicker! Quicker!” Another ten minutes, and the barge struck heavily against the landing.

“It keeps on snowing! It keeps on snowing!” grumbled Simon, wiping the snow from his face. “God knows where it all comes from!”

On the bank stood a rather thin, low-statured old man, dressed in a short foxskin coat and a white lambskin cap. He stood at some distance from the horses and did not move; his face had a morose, concentrated expression, as if he were making an effort to recall something and were angry at his disobedient memory. When Simon, smiling, approached him, and took off his cap, the man said:

“I am in great haste to go to Anastasevka.[Pg 127] My daughter is worse again, and there, I am told, a new doctor has come.”

The coach was wheeled on board the barge, which started to cross back. The man, whom Simon called Vassili Sergeyich, stood all the time immovable, tightly compressing his thick lips, and looking with a fixed gaze into the distance. When the driver asked permission to smoke in his presence, he did not reply, as if he had not heard. Simon lay on the bottom of the boat, on his stomach, looked at him derisively, and said:

“Even in Siberia people live. L-live!”

The face of Wiseacre wore a triumphant expression, as if he had demonstrated something and rejoiced that what he had prophesied had come true. The unhappy, helpless look of the man in the foxskin coat apparently afforded him considerable gratification.

“Rather muddy now for travelling, Vassili Sergeyich,” said he, while the horses were being harnessed. “It wouldn’t be a bad idea to postpone your trip for a week or two, till it gets a bit more dry. Perhaps it were better you didn’t go at all.... If there were only some sense in your going! Well, you yourself know that people travel eternally, day and night, and get nowheres. What do you say?”

[Pg 128]

Vassili Sergeyich gave the ferrymen for vodka, sat himself in the coach, and was off.

“There! After the doctor again!” said Simon, trembling from cold.... “Yes, seek a real doctor, catch the wind in the field, seize the devil by the tail, confound your soul! What queer people there are! And forgive me, O Lord, a sinner!”

The Tartar walked up to Wiseacre, and looked at him with hatred and repulsion. He trembled, and as he spoke he mingled with his broken Russian several Tartar words:

“He is good ... good, but you are bad! You are bad! He is a good soul, a noble soul, but you are a beast, you are bad! He is living, but you are dead.... God created men that they might live, that they might have joys and sorrows; but you want nothing—which means that you are dead, you’re a stone, you’re earth! A stone wants nothing—and you want nothing!... You’re a stone—and God does not love you, but him He loves!”

All laughed; the Tartar frowned disgustedly, waved with his hand, and, wrapping his rags around him, walked up to the fire. Simon and the ferrymen went towards the hut.

“It’s cold!” hoarsely murmured one ferryman, stretching himself on the straw, with which the entire floor was covered.

[Pg 129]

“Yes, it isn’t warm!” agreed another. “A galley slave’s life!”

All lay down. The door flew open before the wind, and the snow drifted into the hut. No one wanted to get up and close the door; they all felt cold and lazy.

“Well, things suit me,” said Simon drowsily. “God grant every one such a life!”

“You, as every one knows, are a born galley slave. Even the devil won’t take you!”

From the outside came sounds resembling the whining of a dog.

“What’s that? Who’s there?”

“That’s the Tartar crying!”

“Well!... What a character!”

“He’ll get used to it!” said Simon, and soon was asleep.

Soon the others were also asleep. But the door remained unshut.

[Pg 130]

[Pg 131]


Of contemporary Russian fictionists, Leonid Nikolaevich Andreev rises largest with promise. Just past forty, he has for fourteen years been producing work of strength and individual flavor, and, now that Tolstoi is gone, his place is probably ahead of even Maxim Gorki—at least, he is primus inter pares.

Andreev’s life is best told in his own brief words:

“I was born in 1871, in Oryol, and studied there at the gymnasium. I studied poorly: while in the seventh class I was for a whole year known as the worst student, and my mark for conduct was never higher than 4, sometimes 3. The most pleasant time spent in school, which I recall to this day with pleasure, was recess time between the lectures, and also the rare occasions when I was sent out from the class-room. The sunbeams which penetrated some cleft, and which played with the dust in the hallway—all this was so mysterious, so interesting, so full of a peculiar, hidden meaning.

“When I studied at the gymnasium my father,[Pg 132] an engineer, died, and while at the university I was in dire need. During my first year at the St. Petersburg University I even starved—not so much out of real necessity as because of my youth, inexperience, and inability to utilize the unnecessary parts of my costume. I am to this day ashamed to think that I went without food at a time when I had two or three pairs of trousers, two overcoats, and the like.

“It was then that I wrote my first story—about a starving student. I cried when I wrote it, and the editor who returned my manuscript—laughed. That story of mine remained unpublished.

“In 1894 I made an unsuccessful attempt to kill myself by shooting. As a result of this unsuccessful attempt, I was forced by the authorities into religious penitence, and I contracted heart trouble, though not of a serious nature, yet very annoying. During this time I made one or two unsuccessful attempts at writing. I devoted myself with greater pleasure and success to painting, which I loved from childhood on. I made portraits to order at three and five rubles apiece.

“In 1897 I received my diploma and became an assistant attorney, but I was sidetracked at the very outset of my career. I was offered a position on the Courier, for which I was to report court proceedings. I did not succeed in securing[Pg 133] any practice as a lawyer. I had but one case, and lost it at every point.

“In 1898 I wrote my first story—for the Easter number—and since then I have devoted myself exclusively to literature. Maxim Gorki helped me considerably in my literary work by his always practical advice and suggestions.”

The anecdote is told that when this first story was published Gorki telegraphed the Courier, “Who is it who hides himself under the pseudonym of Leonid Andreev?” And later, when the Russian Life issued another of his stories, the poet Mereschkowsky asked if Andreev was the pseudonym of Gorki or of Chekhov.

But Andreev is best to be studied through his writings.

“The Friend” is an effective bit of impressionism which must have driven countless thousands to repentant kindness toward neglected animals.

Vladimir, the typical young Russian, is a promising writer, wrapped up in his work, and safely past the period of gay carousing. At night he returns to his room and his “only friend,” Vasyuk, a little black-haired dog, who adores his master. “My friend, my only friend,” are words often on Vladimir’s lips, but at length he comes to love Natalia, and Vasyuk gets his favorite[Pg 134] dish of liver less often. One day the dog is taken ill, but in his haste to visit Natalia, Vladimir does not take Vasyuk to the veterinary. By and by it is too late. In months to come, Vladimir fails to make good his literary promise, and—

... then, like the cover of a coffin, heavy, dead oblivion fell upon him.

The woman had also forsaken him; she too considered herself deceived.

The fumy, vaporous nights went by, also the mercilessly punishing white days, and often, more often than before ... he lay in his bed ... and whispered:

“My friend, my only friend!”

And his quivering hand fell faintly upon the empty place.

From the foregoing, and even more from that which follows, we may conclude it to be a peculiar property of the sketch-form in fiction that its story may not be told in synopsis. Indeed, in the true sketch there is no story. Atmosphere, character-drawing, swift outlining of a situation, impressions of mood and feeling—all these permeate the sketch, but crises in human lives, complications arising therefrom, and the untangling of the plotted skein—these belong to the short-story and the novel.

For this reason much of Andreev’s shorter work defies our efforts to retell it; one must go[Pg 135] to the writer himself for his final phrase, his subtly suggested situation, his almost uncanny evocation of mood. “Valia,” for example, is one of his sketches which baffle the second-hand narrator: as well try to reconstruct an old-time beauty by dressing up a lay-figure in hand-me-downs.

Valia is a sensitive child who is awakened from his unconscious joy in home by the hard, prickling kisses of a thin-lipped, long-necked woman who announces herself to be his mother. Indignantly, yet politely, the lad turns for denial to his supposed mother, rosy and sweet-lipped, but she tearfully confirms the claim—he had been abandoned in babyhood when he was inconvenient, but now that the mother was lonely she claimed the child. The impending separation tears the hearts of foster-father and -mother and the child himself. Valia becomes nervous, fearful of the dark, and pines almost to illness. But joy and new health come to them all when the courts, which have been invoked to aid the unnatural mother, decide against her claim. At length, however, the highest tribunal reverses the lower court, and the child must go away. The final scene leaves the real mother weeping because her stranger-child takes no pleasure in playthings. The situation is symbolical, for that is the only appeal a sordid, self-serving woman knows how[Pg 136] to make to a spirituelle child who has drawn his spirituality not from her nature, but—who knows whence, if not from the breast of his foster-mother! And when the child at the last timidly approaches the weeping egoist and with gentle dignity promises to love her “all he can,” we see a triumph of impressionistic sketch-work.

Even more difficult to outline is “The Man Who Found the Truth.” It is the story told by himself of a man who at sixty is released from an unjust imprisonment, after having been convicted years before of murdering several members of his family in order to gain an inheritance. But when he realizes the stress of his old life out in the world, he has his room transformed into a model of his old cell, hires a keeper from his prison, and once more returns to a tranquil life. Its leit-motif is strikingly like that of Pierre Loti’s “The Wall Opposite.”

The last cry in mysticism is Andreev’s “A Story Which Will Never Be Finished.” Seek to lay your finger upon its precise meaning, and it flutters away like a gauzy-winged visitant; and yet every progressing line deepens an impression upon the soul. It is a pervasive, atmospheric thing, full of mysterious movements, potent though nameless—breaths of uncharted freedom whisper of an impinging world where our realities[Pg 137] are unreal; sleeping senses, hitherto unsuspected, strangely stir to their awakening; yet they do not actually awaken. Is it war, is it death opening out into life, is it emancipation—one doesn’t quite know; yet it is all of these. Hawthorne was never more vaguely pregnant, and Poe never more perfectly conveyed the sense of an unnamed something which is just about to be.

Here indeed Andreev is like Poe. Now and then I hear him called “The Russian Poe.” The epithet is not satisfactory. Something of our American poet there is in the Russian, for both, like Hawthorne, are masters of introspection, and both know the ritual of fantasy as past-masters, but when Andreev depicts the weird there is always a basis of human reality. Poe could harrow the soul with a sense of fantastic horrors impending, but Andreev need only draw aside the curtains and show us truth unadorned, truth unrelieved by truth’s beautiful other half, and a deeper shudder rocks the soul than ever chilled the flesh at Poe’s phantasmagoric evocations. Really, this young titan is two men—one mystical like Hawthorne, a vein of melancholy in his pessimism, but sympathetic withal, and showing more pity for his characters than the realistic school approves. The other fairly makes revel with the gibbering images of war, abnormalities[Pg 138] of soul rise and take on flesh at his bidding, and there is no spirit so gloomy, wicked, and repellent but he can conjure it into being for these terrible story-pictures. Which will be the artist’s final mood, one may not surely forecast. In either extreme he is not his best self, one may surmise. Certainly we should deplore the constant choice of a theme like that of “The Abyss,” his first important story, in which the love of a pure lad for a spotless girl is transformed into a vicious thing that leads at length to a revolting crime. At the other end of the gamut sounds the author’s idealistic note. “To the Stars,” his first drama, is as far removed in tone from “The Abyss” as the titles indicate. But Andreev’s dramas are worthy of a separate study.

Doubtless the mantle of fatalism which dropped from the shoulders of Turgenev and Tolstoi successively will some day be discarded by Russia’s younger prophets. Nietzsche influences Andreev strongly, but so do the former great Russian novelists; is it too much to expect that a spirit of hope may yet penetrate the heart of this genius who is still young? Just now the revolution is outwardly cowed, anticipation of better things has been rebuffed; but the spirit of progress rising everywhere else is not for nought, and out of the very blackness painted by[Pg 139] Russia’s realists must come a determined and successful struggle for vital reforms. Think of a nation of which the recent Congress of Pathology at Moscow could report:

They all drink, the students, the collegians, and even the pupils of the primary schools. There are a great number of alcoholics among children of from seven to ten years of age. In the government of Perm, all the students in the primary school, without exception, drink vodka. In Livonia, 72 per cent. of the school-children drink systematically. At Moscow, 64 per cent. are given up to the vice.

These facts, on Russian authority, make one accept the essential truth of Andreev’s terrible revelations of depraved student life in his recent play, “The Days of Our Life.” If only this black realism be accepted as the prophet’s warning, its revolting character will be not without justification. It is, however, a paradoxical seer who can in his play, “Black Masks,” ridicule the spiritual struggle between darkness and light, and yet write to an admirer that he finds in the Bible the greatest teacher of all.

Four of Andreev’s longer stories deserve more than mere mention. “A Dilemma”—sometimes called “Thought,” which conforms to the Russian title, Mysl (1902)—is a long short-story. It is a remarkable psychological study of Kerzhentsev,[Pg 140] a physician, who hovers between sanity and madness. In spite of his superb endowments of body and mind, he becomes obsessed with the desire to murder his best friend, Alexis Savelov, merely because Savelov had married the woman whom the physician desired. This murder he determines to commit under two conditions—the murder shall be known to the victim’s wife, yet the perpetrator must escape punishment. One night, while dining with the Savelovs, the doctor feigns a sort of mad fit, but for a whole month craftily does not renew the pretense. At length Kerzhentsev propounds his problem to his intended victim in a veiled way, and the victim argues that with a heavy metal paper-weight one might crush a man’s head, and bids the doctor go through such an action in dumb show. But the wife protests against such risks, for she has had a presentiment of evil. Soon after this the doctor actually does crush the head of Savelov, and in the confusion slips away to his home. Just as he is falling asleep, delighted with the success of his plan, a thought languidly enters his brain, as though a voice issued from another: It is very possible that Dr. Kerzhentsev is really insane. He thought that he simulated, but he is really insane—insane at this very instant.

Thus begins the terrible dilemma, “for he is[Pg 141] fighting against himself for his own reason.” At length to save himself from the madhouse he confesses to the judges that he is not mad, but a criminal deserving of punishment.

“The Red Laugh” (1904), which has been translated into German, French, and English, is Andreev’s most terrible piece of realism. If this inspired picture of the Manchurian War is true, and one feels that it is, General Sherman was conservative. Those who thrill at war pictures and feel the power of patriotism in the call of battle will not enjoy the bloody horror of “The Red Laugh.” The story is a service—of the heroic remedy sort—which Andreev renders to the cause of peace. Naked, lustful, scheming war, hellish and brutal, that is the Russian’s picture—like Wiertz in his mad paintings of blood and torment. The title takes itself naturally from an incident which the narrator, an officer, tells early in the book, how that a young volunteer approaches him with a countenance so intensely white that the officer asks, “Are you afraid?” With that the young man’s face bursts into the red laugh—He has become a victim of war’s awful stroke, frightful, unspeakable.

Sidorov fell suddenly to the ground and stared at me in silence, with great, terrified eyes. Out of his mouth poured a stream of blood.

[Pg 142]

“Judas Iscariot and the Others” (1907) is a short novel truly notable for its unique motif—the traitorous apostle is not inspired to betray Jesus by mercenary motives, but in order to force the Master to manifest his power and demonstrate his Divinity. Thus were Judas a high-minded patriot instead of a contemptible bribe-taker.

“The Seven Who Were Hanged” (1907) is Andreev’s most distinguished work. As a novel, it is sincere, powerful, and provocative. Whatever one’s views of the death penalty for crime, the author makes a tremendous appeal to pity. Here are seven condemned ones who are to suffer “the horror and the iniquity of capital punishment,” and they surely are of “all sorts and conditions,” from Musya, whose large womanhood flows, a sustaining stream, to the least of her fellow victims, down to that miserable one whose inert soul suffers less than his brutalized body. The identity of each is not lost for a moment in the circumstances and occupations of imprisonment, nor yet in the midnight journey to the hanging place. They are individual, yet they are pitiably types. Oh, the sadness of it—we feel that to be the burden of the author’s soul, and so it becomes our own. It is a poignant, fearful picture, depressing and relentless, but more[Pg 143] deeply imbued with pity than anything else Andreev has written.

“Silence,” which was published in 1900, and is therefore one of our author’s earliest stories, is a sketch whose iterant impressionism is felt in every line.

[Pg 144]

[Pg 145]


By Leonid Andreev


It was a moonlight night in May, and the nightingales were singing, when the wife of Father Ignatius entered his chamber. Her countenance expressed suffering, and the little lamp she held in her hand trembled. Approaching her husband, she touched his shoulder, and managed to say between her sobs:

“Father, let us go to Verochka!”

Without turning his head, Father Ignatius glanced severely at his wife over the rims of his spectacles, and looked long and intently, till she waved her unoccupied hand and dropped on a low divan.

“That one toward the other should be so pitiless!” she pronounced slowly, with emphasis on the final syllables, and her good plump face was distorted with a grimace of pain and exasperation, as if thus she would express what stern people they were—her husband and daughter.

Father Ignatius smiled and arose. Closing his book, he took off his spectacles, put them in the case, and meditated. His long black beard, inwoven[Pg 146] with silver threads, lay dignified on his breast, and slowly heaved at every deep breath.

“Well, let us go,” said he.

Olga Stepanovna quickly arose and entreated in an appealing, timorous voice:

“Only don’t revile her, Father! You know the sort she is.”

Vera’s chamber was in the attic, and the narrow, wooden stair bent and creaked under the heavy tread of Father Ignatius. Tall and ponderous, he bent his head to avoid striking the floor of the upper story, and frowned disdainfully when the white jacket of his wife brushed his face. Well he knew that nothing would come of their talk with Vera.

“Why do you come?” asked Vera, raising a bared arm to her eyes. The other arm lay on top of a white summer blanket, hardly distinguishable from the fabric, so white, translucent, and cold was its aspect.

“Verochka——” began her mother, but, sobbing, she grew silent.

“Vera,” said her father, making an effort to soften his dry and hard voice—“Vera, tell us, what troubles you?”

Vera was silent.

“Vera, do not your mother and I deserve your[Pg 147] confidence? Do we not love you? And is there some one nearer to you than we? Tell us about your sorrow, and, take the word of an experienced old man, you’ll feel better for it. And we too. Look at your aged mother, how much she suffers!”


“And I——” The dry voice trembled, truly something had broken in it. “And I—do you think I find it easy? As if I did not see that some sorrow is gnawing at you—and what is it? And I, your father, do not know what it is. Do you think that right?”

Vera was silent. Father Ignatius very cautiously stroked his beard, as if afraid that his fingers would enmesh themselves involuntarily in it, and continued:

“Against my wish you went to St. Petersburg—did I pronounce a curse upon you, you who disobeyed me? Or did I deny you money? Or, perhaps, I have not been kind? Well, why, then, are you silent? There, you’ve had your St. Petersburg!”

Father Ignatius became silent, and there loomed before him an image of something huge, granite, and terrible, full of invisible dangers and of strange and indifferent people. And it was there that, alone and weak, his Vera had gone, and it was there they had lost her. An awful hatred[Pg 148] against that terrible and mysterious city arose in the soul of Father Ignatius, and an anger against his daughter, who was silent—obstinately silent.

“St. Petersburg has nothing to do with it,” said Vera morosely, and closed her eyes. “And nothing is the matter with me. Better go to bed, it is late.”

“Verochka, my child,” whimpered her mother, “do tell me!”

Akh, Mamma!” Vera impatiently interrupted her.

Father Ignatius sat down on a chair and laughed.

“Well, then, it’s nothing?” he inquired ironically.

“Father,” sharply ejaculated Vera, raising herself from the pillow, “you know that I love you and Mother. Well, I do feel a little weary. But that will pass. Do go to sleep, and I also wish to sleep. And to-morrow, or some other time, we’ll have a chat.”

Father Ignatius arose so impetuously that the chair hit the wall, and he took his wife’s hand.

“Let us go.”


“Let us go, I tell you!” shouted Father[Pg 149] Ignatius. “If she has forgotten God, shall we——”

Almost forcibly he led Olga Stepanovna out of the room, and when they descended the stairs, his wife, decreasing her gait, said in a harsh whisper:

“It was you, priest, who have made her such! From you she learned her ways. And you’ll answer for it. Akh, unhappy creature that I am!”

She burst into tears, and, as her vision grew dim, her foot, missing a step, would descend with a sudden jolt, as if she were eager to fall into some abyss which waited below.

From that day Father Ignatius ceased to speak to his daughter, but she seemed not to notice it. As before, she lay in her room, or walked about, continually with the palms of her hands wiping her eyes, as if they contained some irritating foreign substance. And, crushed between these two silent people, the jolly, fun-loving wife of the priest quailed and seemed lost, not knowing what to say or do.

Occasionally Vera took a stroll. A week after the interview she went out in the evening, as was her habit. She was not seen again alive, as that night she threw herself under the train, and it cut her in two.

Father Ignatius himself directed the funeral.[Pg 150] His wife was not present in church, for at the news of Vera’s death she was prostrated by a stroke. She lost control of her feet, hands, and tongue, and when the church bells rang out she lay motionless in the half-darkened room. She heard the people intone the chants as they issued out of church and passed the house, and she made an effort to raise her hand to make the sign of the cross, but her hand refused to obey; she wished to say, “Farewell, Vera!” but the tongue lay in her mouth huge and heavy. And her attitude was so calm that it gave one an impression of restfulness, or of sleep. Only, her eyes remained open.

At the funeral, in church, were many people who knew Father Ignatius, and many strangers. All bewailed Vera’s terrible death, and tried to detect in the movements and voice of Father Ignatius tokens of a deep sorrow. They did not love Father Ignatius, because of his severity and proud manners, his scorn of sinners, his unforgiving spirit, his envy and covetousness, his habit of utilizing every opportunity to extort money from his parishioners. They all wished to see him suffer, to see his spirit broken, to see him conscious in his two-fold guilt for the death of his daughter—as a cruel father and a bad priest—incapable of preserving his own flesh from sin.[Pg 151] They cast searching glances at him, and he, feeling these glances directed toward his back, made efforts to hold erect its broad and strong expanse, and his thoughts were not concerning his dead daughter, but concerning his own dignity.

“A hardened priest!” with a shake of his head said Karzenoff, a carpenter, to whom Father Ignatius owed five rubles for frames.

And thus, hard and erect, Father Ignatius reached the burial-ground; and in the same manner he returned. Only at the door of his wife’s chamber did his backbone relax a little, but this may have been due to the fact that the height of the door was insufficient to admit his tall figure. The change from broad daylight made it hard for him to distinguish the face of his wife, but, after scrutiny, he was astonished at its calmness, and because the eyes showed no tears. And there was neither anger nor sorrow in the eyes—they were dumb, though they kept silent with difficulty, reluctantly, as did the entire round and helpless body that pressed against the feather bedding.

“Well, how do you feel?” inquired Father Ignatius.

But the lips were dumb; the eyes too were silent. Father Ignatius laid his hand on her forehead; it was cold and moist, and Olga Stepanovna did not show in any way that she had[Pg 152] felt the contact of the hand. When Father Ignatius removed his hand there gazed at him, immobile, two deep gray eyes, from the dilated pupils seeming almost entirely dark, and there was neither sadness in them nor anger.

“I am going into my own room,” said Father Ignatius, who began to feel cold and terror.

He passed through the drawing-room, where, as usual, everything appeared neat and in order, and where, attired in white covers, stood tall chairs, like corpses in their shrouds. In one window hung an empty wire cage, with the door open.

“Nastasya,” shouted Father Ignatius. His own voice seemed to him coarse, and he felt ill at ease because he raised it to so high a pitch in these silent rooms, so soon after his daughter’s funeral.

“Nastasya!” he called more softly, “where is the canary?”

“It flew away, to be sure.”

“Why did you let it out?”

Nastasya began to weep, and, wiping her face with the edges of her calico headkerchief, said through her tears:

“It was my young mistress’s soul. Was it right to hold it?”

And it seemed to Father Ignatius that the[Pg 153] happy little yellow canary, always singing with side-tilted head, was actually the soul of Vera, and if it had not flown away it wouldn’t have been possible to say that Vera had died. He became even more incensed at the maid-servant and shouted:

“Off with you!”

And because Nastasya did not vanish on the instant he added:



From the day of the funeral, silence reigned in the little house. It was not stillness, for stillness is merely the absence of sounds; it was silence, because it seemed that they who were silent could speak but would not. So thought Father Ignatius each time he entered his wife’s chamber and met that obstinate gaze, so heavy in its aspect that it seemed to transform the very air into lead, which bore down one’s head and spine. So thought he, examining his daughter’s music-sheets, which bore marks of her voice-work, and also her books and her portrait, which she had brought with her from St. Petersburg. Father Ignatius never deviated from the following order when scrutinizing the portrait: First, he would[Pg 154] gaze on the cheek upon which a strong light had been thrown by the painter; in his fancy he would see upon it a slight wound, which he had noticed on Vera’s cheek in death, and the source of which mystified him. More than once he meditated upon causes, and each time he reasoned that if it had been made by the train the entire skull would have been crushed, whereas the head of Vera remained wholly untouched.

It was possible that some one had done it with his foot when the body was being lifted, or accidentally with a finger-nail.

The details of Vera’s death, contemplated at length, taxed the strength of Father Ignatius, so that he would soon pass on to the eyes. These were dark, handsome, with long lashes that cast deep shadows beneath, causing the whites to seem particularly luminous, both eyes appearing to be inclosed in black mourning frames. A strange expression had been given them by the unknown but talented artist; it seemed as if in the space between the eyes and the object upon which they gazed lay a thin, transparent film. It resembled somewhat the effect made by an imperceptible layer of dust on the black top of a piano, softening the shine of polished wood. And no matter how Father Ignatius placed the portrait, the eyes insistently followed him; but there was no speech[Pg 155] in them, only silence; and this silence was so clear that it seemed it could be heard. Gradually Father Ignatius began to think that he heard silence.

Every morning after breakfast the priest would enter the drawing-room, take in at a rapid glance the empty cage and the other familiar objects, and, seating himself in the arm-chair, would close his eyes and listen to the silence of the house. There was something grotesque about this. The cage kept silence, stilly and tenderly, and in this silence were felt sorrow and tears and distant dead laughter. The silence of his wife, deepened by the walls, continued insistent, heavy as lead, and terrible, so terrible that on the hottest day Father Ignatius would be seized with cold shivers. Continuous and frigid as the grave, and mysterious as death, was the silence of his daughter. The silence itself seemed to share this suffering and struggled, as it were, with the terrible desire to pass into speech; something strong and cumbersome, as a machine, held it motionless, however, and stretched it out as a wire. And somewhere at the distant end, the wire would begin to agitate and resound subduedly, feebly, and plaintively. With joy, yet with terror, Father Ignatius would seize upon this engendered sound, and, resting with his arms upon the arm of the[Pg 156] chair, would lean his head forward, waiting for the sound to reach him. But it would break and pass into silence.

“How stupid!” muttered Father Ignatius angrily, arising from the chair, still erect and tall. Through the window he saw, suffused with sunlight, the street paved with round, even-sized stones, and, directly across, the stone wall of a long, windowless shed. On the corner stood a cab-driver, looking like a clay statue, and it was difficult to understand why he stood there, when for hours there was not a single passer-by.


Father Ignatius had occasion for considerable speech outside his house. There was talking to be done with the clergy, with the members of his flock, while officiating at ceremonies, sometimes with acquaintances at social evenings; yet, upon his return, he would feel invariably that the entire day he had been silent. This was due to the fact that with none of those people could he talk upon the matter which concerned him most, and upon which he would reflect each night: Why did Vera die?

Father Ignatius did not seem to realize that now this could not be known, and thought that[Pg 157] it was still possible to know. Each night—all his nights had become sleepless—he would re-experience that moment when he and his wife, at dead midnight, had stood near Vera’s bed, and he had entreated her: “Tell us!” And when in his recollection he would reach these words, the rest appeared to him not as it was in reality. His closed eyes, preserving in their darkness a live, undimmed picture of that night, saw how Vera raised herself in her bed, smiled, and tried to say something. But what was it she had tried to say? That unuttered word of Vera’s, which would have solved all, seemed so near that if one only had bent his ear and suppressed the beats of his heart, one could have heard it—and at the same time it was so infinitely, so hopelessly distant. Father Ignatius would arise from his bed, stretch forth his wringing hands, and cry:


And he would be answered by silence.

One evening Father Ignatius entered the chamber of Olga Stepanovna, whom he had not come to see for a week, seated himself at her head, and, turning away from that insistent, heavy gaze, said:

“Mother, I wish to talk to you about Vera. Do you hear?”

Her eyes were silent, and Father Ignatius,[Pg 158] raising his voice, spoke sternly and powerfully, as he was accustomed to speak to penitents:

“I am aware that you are under the impression that I have been the cause of Vera’s death. Reflect, however: did I love her less than you loved her? You reason absurdly. I have been stern; did that prevent her from doing as she wished? I forfeited the dignity of a father, I humbly bent my neck, when she defied my malediction and departed—hence. And you—did you not plead with her to remain, did you not weep, old woman, until I commanded you to be silent? Did I beget cruelty in her? Did I not teach her about God, about humility, about love?”

Father Ignatius quickly glanced into the eyes of his wife, and turned away.

“What was there for me to do when she refused to reveal her sorrow? Did I not command her? Did I not entreat her? I suppose, in your opinion, I should have dropped on my knees before the girl, and cried like an old woman! How should I have known what was going on in her head! Cruel, heartless daughter!”

Father Ignatius came down on his knee with his fist.

“There was no love in her—that’s what! As far as I’m concerned, that’s settled, of course—I’m[Pg 159] a tyrant! Perhaps she loved you—you who wept and humbled yourself?”

Father Ignatius gave a hollow laugh.

“There’s love for you! And as a solace for you, what a death she chose! A cruel, ignominious death. She died in the dust, in the dirt—as a d-dog who is kicked in the jaw.”

The voice of Father Ignatius sounded low and hoarse:

“I feel ashamed! Ashamed to go out in the street! Ashamed before the altar! Ashamed before God! Cruel, undeserving daughter! Accurst in thy grave!”

When Father Ignatius glanced at his wife she was unconscious; she came to only after several hours. When she regained consciousness her eyes maintained their silence, and it was impossible to tell whether or not she remembered what Father Ignatius had said.

That very night—it was a moonlit, calm, warm, deathly still night in May—Father Ignatius, proceeding on his tiptoes so as not to be overheard by his wife and the sick-nurse, climbed up the stairs and entered Vera’s room. The window in the attic had remained closed since the death of Vera, and the air was dry and warm, with a light odor of burning that comes from heat generated during the day in the iron roof. Long[Pg 160] unvisited, an atmosphere of lifelessness and forsakenness permeated the apartment, while the timber of the the walls, and other objects gave forth a slight odor of active decay. The moonlight streamed in through the window, and its reflections on the white floor cast a dim light into the corners of the room, while the white, clean bed, with two pillows, one large and one small, seemed phantom-like and aërial. Father Ignatius opened the window, causing a considerable current of fresh air to pour into the room, smelling of dust, of the near-by river, and of the blooming linden. An indistinct sound as of voices in chorus also drifted in occasionally; evidently young people were rowing and singing.

Resembling a white phantom, Father Ignatius made his way noiselessly, in bare feet, to the empty bed, bent his knees, and fell face down on the pillows, embracing them—on that spot where Vera’s face should have been. Long he lay thus; the song grew louder, then died out; but he still lay there, while his long black hair spread over his shoulders and the bed.

The moon had changed its position, and the room grew darker, when Father Ignatius raised his head and murmured, charging his voice with the entire strength of his long-suppressed and unconscious love, and hearkening to his own[Pg 161] words, as if it were not he who was listening, but Vera.

“Vera, my daughter! Do you understand what you are to me, daughter? Little daughter! My heart, my blood, and my life. Your father—your old father—is already gray, and also feeble.”

The shoulders of Father Ignatius shook, and the entire burdened figure became convulsed. Suppressing his agitation, Father Ignatius murmured tenderly, as to an infant:

“Your old father entreats you. No, little Vera, he supplicates. He weeps. He never has wept before. Your sorrow, little child, your sufferings—they are also mine. Greater than mine.”

Father Ignatius shook his head.

“Greater, Verochka. What is death to an old man like me? But you—if you only knew how delicate and weak and timid you are! Do you recall how you bruised your finger once and the blood trickled and you cried a little? My child! I know that you love me, love me intensely. Every morning you kiss my hand. Tell me, do tell me, what grief troubles your little head, and I—with these hands—shall smother your grief. They are still strong, Vera, these hands.”

The hair of Father Ignatius shook.

“Tell me!”

[Pg 162]

Father Ignatius fixed his eyes on the wall, and wrung his hands.

“Tell me!”

Stillness prevailed in the room, and from afar was heard the prolonged, interrupted whistle of a locomotive.

Father Ignatius, gazing out of his dilated eyes, as if there had suddenly arisen before him the frightful phantom of the mutilated corpse, slowly raised himself from his knees, and, making an incredulous motion, reached for his head with his hand, with spread and tensely stiffened fingers. Making a step toward the door, Father Ignatius whispered brokenly:

“Tell me!”

And he was answered by silence.


The next day, after an early and lonely dinner, Father Ignatius went to the graveyard, for the first time since his daughter’s death. It was warm, deserted, and still; it seemed more like a brilliantly clear night. Following habit, Father Ignatius straightened his back with effort, looked severely about him, and thought that he was the same as formerly; he was conscious neither of the new, terrible weakness in his legs, nor that[Pg 163] his long beard had become entirely white, as if a hard frost had hit it. The road to the graveyard led through a long, direct street, slightly on an upward incline, and at its termination loomed the arch of the graveyard gate, resembling a dark, perpetually open mouth, edged with glistening teeth.

Vera’s grave was situated in the depth of the grounds, where the sandy little pathways ended, and for a considerable time Father Ignatius was obliged to blunder along the narrow footpaths which led in a broken line between green mounds, forgotten and abandoned by all. Here and there appeared sloping tombstones, green with age, broken railings, and large, heavy stones planted in the ground, and seemingly crushing it with some cruel, ancient spite.

Near one such stone was the grave of Vera. It was covered with fresh turf, turned yellow; around, however, all was in bloom. The ash embraced the maple tree; and the widely spread hazel bush stretched out over the grave its bending branches with their downy, shaggy foliage. Sitting down on a neighboring grave and catching his breath, Father Ignatius looked around him, throwing a glance toward the cloudless expanse of sky, where in complete immobility hung the glowing sun disk—and here he felt only that deep,[Pg 164] incomparable stillness which reigns in graveyards, when the wind is absent and the slumbering foliage has ceased its rustling. And anew the thought came to Father Ignatius that this was not a stillness, but a silence. It extended to the very brick walls of the graveyard, crept over them, and occupied the town. And it terminated only—in those gray, obstinate, and persistently silent eyes.

Father Ignatius’s shoulders shivered, and he lowered his eyes upon the grave of Vera. He gazed long upon the little tufts of grass uprooted together with the earth from some open, windswept field and not successful in adapting themselves to a strange soil; he could not imagine that here, under this grass, only a few feet from him, lay Vera. And this nearness seemed incomprehensible, and brought confusion into the soul, and a strange agitation. She of whom Father Ignatius was accustomed to think as of one passed away forever into the dark depths of eternity was here, close by—and it was hard to understand that nevertheless she was no more and never again would be. And in the mind’s fancy of Father Ignatius it seemed that if he could only utter some word, which was almost upon his lips, or if he could make some sort of movement, Vera would issue forth from her grave and arise to the[Pg 165] same height and beauty that was once hers. And not alone would she arise, but all the corpses, intensely sensitive in their solemnly-cold silence.

Father Ignatius removed his wide-brimmed black hat, smoothed down his disarranged hair, and whispered:


The fear that he might be overheard by a stranger made Father Ignatius feel ill at ease and caused him to look carefully around him as he stepped on the grave. No one was present, and this time he repeated loudly:


It was the voice of an aged man, sharp and demanding, and it was strange that so powerfully expressed a desire should receive no response.


Loudly and insistently the voice called, and when it relapsed into silence it seemed for a moment that somewhere from underneath came an incoherent answer. And Father Ignatius, clearing his ear of his long hair, pressed it to the rough, prickly turf.

“Vera, tell me!”

With terror, Father Ignatius felt pouring into his ear something cold as of the grave, which froze his marrow; Vera seemed to be speaking—speaking, however, with the same unbroken[Pg 166] silence. This feeling became more racking and terrible, and when Father Ignatius finally forced himself to wrench away his head, his face was as pale as that of a corpse, and he fancied that the entire atmosphere trembled and palpitated from a resounding silence, and that this terrible sea was being swept by a wild hurricane. The silence strangled him; with icy waves it rolled through his head and agitated the hair; it smote against his breast, which groaned under the blows. Trembling from head to foot, casting around him sharp and sudden glances, Father Ignatius slowly raised himself and with a prolonged and torturous effort attempted to straighten his spine and to give proud dignity to his trembling body. He succeeded in this. With measured protractedness, Father Ignatius shook the dirt from his knees, put on his hat, made the sign of the cross three times over the grave, and walked away with an even and firm gait, not recognizing, however, the familiar burial ground and losing his way.

“Well, here I’ve gone astray!” smiled Father Ignatius, halting at the branching of the footpaths.

He stood there for a moment, and, unreflecting, turned to the left, because it was impossible to stand and to wait. The silence drove him on. It arose from the green graves; it was the breath[Pg 167] issuing from the gray, melancholy crosses; in thin, stifling currents it came from all pores of the earth, satiated with the dead. Father Ignatius increased his stride. Dizzy, he circled the same paths, jumped over graves, stumbled across railings, clutching with his hands the prickly, metallic garlands, and turning the soft material of his dress into tatters. His sole thought was to escape. He fled from one place to another, and finally broke into a dead run, seeming very tall and unusual in the flowing cassock, and his hair streaming in the wind. A corpse arisen from the grave could not have frightened a passer-by more than this wild figure of a man, running and leaping, and waving his arms, his face distorted and insane, and the open mouth breathing with a dull, hoarse sound. With one long leap, Father Ignatius landed on a little street, at one end of which appeared the small church attached to the graveyard. At the entrance, on a low bench, dozed an old man, seemingly a distant pilgrim, and near him, assailing each other, were two quarreling old beggar women, filling the air with their oaths.

When Father Ignatius reached his home, it was already dusk, and there was light in Olga Stepanovna’s chamber. Not waiting to undress, or even to remove his hat, Father Ignatius, dusty[Pg 168] and tattered, approached his wife and fell on his knees.

“Mother ... Olga ... have pity on me!” he wept. “I shall go mad.”

He beat his head against the edge of the table and he wept with anguish, as one who was weeping for the first time. Then he raised his head, confident that a miracle would come to pass, that his wife would speak and would pity him.

“My love!”

With his entire big body he drew himself toward his wife—and met the gaze of those gray eyes. There was neither compassion in them, nor anger. It was possible his wife had forgiven him, but in her eyes there was neither pity nor anger. They were dumb and silent.

And silent was the entire dark, deserted house.

[Pg 169]


Some day we shall be indebted to the clear-visioned critic who will expound for us the true place of the unpleasant, the terrible, even the horrible, in fiction; and the study would not be complete without a thorough-going examination of Russian literature generally, and the writings of Maxim Gorki in particular.

Such an inquiry—which I must only touch upon—would doubtless focus upon two factors of importance: the one a primary cause—the nature of the author as conditioned by self, environment, and nationality; the other a secondary cause—the ultimate purposes of fiction. Phrased differently, we have the two elements: what an author writes because he is what and where he is, and what he writes quite deliberately.

Reference has already been made, in these introductory studies, to the sombre, hopeless, and even tragic tone of Russian life—a tone sounded deeply in its literature. In fact, the broader the sweep of view, the more instances stand forth to support the statement that all Muscovite art feels the same impulse—witness in an exemplary and typical way the paintings of Verestchagin and the music of Tschaikovsky. It is an inviting[Pg 170] theme, this one of why one nation should drink fiery vodka, another phlegmatic beer, and yet another light wine. Are the national characteristics which plainly go with drinks and foods and pleasures causes, in the final analysis, or effects? Do servitude and stolidity and hopelessness on the one hand, and thin-nostriled freedom and lofty spirit on the other, arise from forces which the historian may trace clearly to their political well-springs, or are there certain imponderable potencies in the air of different lands which in the very beginning of things instilled a spirit of fatalism into the Moslem, nihilism into the Russian, emotionalism into the French, and a nervous need for action into the American? When outward national conditions change, or when nations are transplanted, precisely what is it in climate that breeds essentially the same strain cycle after cycle?

So we should have to dissect, weigh, and classify all available facts about Russia past and present in order to get an unclouded understanding of the national temper, just as a similar study of Gorki’s antecedents and life, for instance, would illuminate his literary expressions. Each of these studies would be consistent with the other, for Gorki is a national figure, though, as all such iconoclastic spirits will, he outrussias his own[Pg 171] middle-class countrymen in outspoken unfaith in and defiance of the god-of-things-as-they-are.

The second great factor for finding the place and potency of the unpleasant, the bitter, and the terrible in fiction consists in the purpose of fiction, which broadly is one of two: either to picture forth life or to interpret life. When the fictional artist—granted that he is clear-headed—sets out to hold the mirror relentlessly up to life, he becomes an extreme realist. When he faithfully paints life as he sees it, sincerely using his selective powers so as to present what he conceives to be types rather than mere personalities, and thus interprets life for those of less penetrative and constructive vision, we have a philosophical realist. When he takes liberties with the spirit of facts (not merely with the facts themselves, which may be just as real in one order as in another), he is a romancer. When he uses facts to support and enforce ideals of his own, he is an idealist.

Thus all fiction, so far as it has a respectable purpose at all, falls easily into one class or the other—that which merely represents life, or that which interprets life while it represents it. All the farther motives—amusement, teaching, excoriation, demagoguery, what not—line up behind these two prime purposes.

[Pg 172]

Now, how does all this bear upon the place of unpleasant fiction? Very vitally, and we are considering Gorki—a highly morbid and at times revolting writer—as a notable example of this rather Russian characteristic. In him we have a spirit who looks at facts, despises all palliations, dares greatly for his convictions, and in it all is Russian through and through. Such a man, of such a history, in such a period, in such a land, with such a motive of truth-telling, for such a purpose of reform, could not write pleasant, tinkly fiction. Russians read him because Russia must read him. An author draws men to his message either because they need it without liking it, or like it already. First of all, Gorki is himself—a soul sensitive to the tragic, the morbid, and the bitter—then he boldly gives Russia her own self-made wormwood to drink while she thirsts in the hour of her crucifixion.

With two classes I have no sympathy: writers who pander to morbid, dirty tastes, and readers who support gruesome, nasty writers for pure love of noisome pestilence. No more do we have need for the not-impure and not-revolting yet depressing and pessimistic fiction which serves no good purpose beyond that of producing revenue. The place for such unpleasant, unhappy-beginning, tearful-middle, and sorrowful-ending[Pg 173] stories is precisely nowhere. But in Gorki we have a queer contradiction of conditions: some of his most revolting fiction is as important to the Muscovite land which bred it as light is vital to a dark place. Yet when some one of these poignant, dreadful diagnoses of Russian sicknesses is translated and spread abroad, say in English, it should be read only by those who are students of the writer and his country, and not by the young or the morbid. It is needful to expose ulcers in a clinic, it is indecent and disgusting to parade them on the street. In a word: the horrible in fiction needs be justified by a high purpose.

In “The Exorcism,” a thousand-word sketch, Gorki has produced a terrible illustration of how worse than useless such material may be for purposes of general reading in translation, while originally serving a tremendous moral purpose by showing his own people what beasts some of their fellows are.

Along a village street a strange procession is moving slowly with wild howls. The dense, wave-like crowd surrounds a cart. Tied by her wrists to a rope attached to the cart is a slight, almost girlish woman—entirely nude. Dazed, halting, gazing into nothing with wide, lacklustre look, she staggers bleeding on. Now and again a tall peasant standing in the cart, his white[Pg 174] canine teeth showing, his eyes bloodshot from fury, lays a lash upon the woman’s body, already covered with unspeakable slashes and bruises. And every fiendish brutality—detailed and repeated until the soul sickens—the men, women, and children of the mob acclaim!

“This,” he concludes, “which I have written above, is not an allegorical description of the persecution and torture of a prophet, who has no honor in his own country—no, unfortunately, it is not that! It is called an ‘exorcism.’ Thus do husbands punish their wives for infidelity; this is a picture from life, a custom—and I beheld it in the year 1891, on the 15th of July, in the village of Kandybovko, Government of Kherson.”

Need I say that I have toned down the horror of this presentment, and that I relate it, horrible still, to show the very futility of such pictures as pictures, and their very great worth, to those concerned, as pleas for reform?

The readers of modern fiction need to look this question full in the face and then make their feelings known to the magazines. There is a place for all pathological studies, whether of society, soul, or body, by priest, physician, sociologist, and novelist. But is that place either the market-place, or a fiction-printing magazine whose pages invite the scrutiny of children as[Pg 175] well as morbid adults? If we segregate bodily pestilence, why should the public magazine and the public playhouse be allowed to spread contagion? Is there no difference between an earnest fictional presentation of moral problems which must be solved more or less publicly, and the mere skilful portrayal of lust and degradation and easy morals, with no possible resultant good? If a hatter took it into his head to be interested in smallpox, what would the authorities say? Well, shall magazines be exposed for general circulation because that same hatter, and a million of his like, love dirty, crime-teaching, and viciously morbid fiction? Some one must be brave enough to declare the difference between “frank” fiction in books for those who really wish to study social problems (and there are too many filthy books sold under the guise of social study) and the printing of such material in the magazines which make appeal to families for their circulation. We can keep such books out of the home and the library if we wish, but when vicious short-stories creep into otherwise clean magazines, the damage is great enough to be serious.

But Gorki’s fiction is not unclean, as a rule, even when it deals with “broad” subjects. He moves directly and simply among the facts of an unlovely and often brutalized life and tells the[Pg 176] truth about it without interpretation or apology. For example, here is the story of “The Khan and His Son,” as told by a blind mendicant. It is more romantic than most of Gorki’s work.

Mosolaīma el Asvab, an old Crimean Khan, is possessed of many women in his harem, who love “the old eagle” for the noble fire of his spirit, which age has not quenched. One above all others is his favorite, a Kazak prisoner maid from the steppes of the Dnieper. Once when the Khan’s much-loved son, Alhalla, returns from a victorious raid on the Russians, the father exchanges with him words of affection and rashly makes the time-honored oriental promise: “What wilt thou take from the hand of thy father, Alhalla? Tell me, and I will give thee everything, according to thy desire.”

And the son asks of his father the one thing the old man loves best and leans upon in his old age—the Russian prisoner maid.

The Khan spake not—for a space he said no word, for so long as was required to crush the shudder in his heart—and, after this pause, he said, boldly and firmly:

“Take her! Let us finish the feast, and then thou shalt take her.”

The son knows what his request means, and soon they fall to talking of the sacrifice required.[Pg 177] But to the pleadings of the old Khan the son returns only the argument of his own love for the girl. At length the young man proposes that “in mercy to each other” they fling her into the sea from the mountain, and in despair the Khan consents.

Summoned by her lord, the girl divines all, and asks only that she be carried to the place of sacrifice in the arms of her “old eagle,” whom she loves. And so they slowly journey to the cliff, and by his arms she is flung into the sea.

The son at last turns away, but—

With swift strides the Khan approached the brink, and hurled himself down. His son did not hold him back, there was no time for that. And again nothing was audible from the sea—neither shriek nor noise of the Khan’s fall. Only the waves plashed on there, and the wind hummed wild songs.

Long did Tolaīk Alhalla gaze below, and then he said aloud:

“And grant me, also, as stout a heart, O Allah!”

And then he went forth into the gloom of the night.... Thus perished Khan Mosolaīma el Asvab, and Tolaīk Alhalla became Khan of the Crimea.

Of all his varied and acrid experiences the brain of “Maxim the Bitter,” as his pseudonym means, is a bursting note-book. From it he[Pg 178] selects with entire artlessness—that is, without either the patience or the knowledge which true art presupposes—whatever he needs for his fictional work. Hence his longer productions, novels and plays, are not well constructed. Indeed, they are marvellous mixtures of idealism, realism, humor, shocking openness, and drivel, illuminated in sudden patches by exquisite descriptions and lofty beauties. The best example of his novels is “Fomá Gordyéeff,” and his strongest play is “The Night Asylum.”

The general tone of Gorki’s work is not so depressing, because not so hopeless, as that of his fellow fiction-writers of the younger generation; but none of them dives so deep into the sub-silt of the great Russian stream, for none is so native to its turgid, fetid flow. To witness before our eyes, for example, the dragging down of the girl in the short-story “Twenty-Six and One Other,” is so terrible as to revolt the hardened. Yet in his tramps, his thieves, his broken-down derelicts, there is a certain impudent bravery that strikes a new note of hopefulness for submerged Russia. It is this, I think, that endeared the young apostle of the proletariat when from 1892 to 1897 his greatest short fictional work was done. He not only had a message for revolutionary Russia, but the spirit of his characters was precisely[Pg 179] what so many of the drifting, sodden wrecks needed—boldness to look up.

For many superficial English and American readers Gorki furnished what Professor Phelps has aptly compared to a slumming party—they were pleased to be nauseated. Naturally, they soon dropped the new toy. But others have continued to read him, some because they are in sympathy with the reform movement, some from sheer enjoyment of the terrible, others for the flashes of genius which are frequent enough to remind us that he has not lived up to the anticipations his earlier writings evoked. In this country, he has lost general sympathy, especially since his comparatively recent visit culminated in the disclosure of his illicit relations with his travelling companion, and much consequent newspaper gossip; so that on the whole we wait for another to wear the mantle of Tolstoi, which so many, six years ago, were ready to cast upon the shoulders of Maxim Gorki.

Gorki has had a wild and varied life,—but he may tell the story in his own words:

“I was born March 14th, either in 1868 or 1869, in Nijni Novgorod, in the family of Vassili Vassilezewitsch Kaschirin, dyer, to his daughter Warwara, and Maxim Sawwatjev Pjeschkow,[Pg 180] who, according to his sign, was an upholsterer. Thenceforth I have borne honorably and without a stain the title of a member of the guild of artists. I was baptized by the name of Alexei, but in choosing a pseudonym I preferred my father’s name, Maxim.

“My real name is therefore Alexei Maximowitsch Pjeschkow. My father died in Astrakhan when I was five years old. After the death of my mother my grandfather placed me in a shoe-store. I was then nine years old, and my grandfather had taught me to read in the Psalter and Prayer Book. I ran away from my studies and became a draughtsman’s apprentice; ran away from him and entered the workshop of a painter of saints’ images; then I served on a steamer as a cook’s boy; then I became a gardener’s assistant.

“Here I remained till my fifteenth year, spending all my time in zealously reading the productions of known authors, such as ‘Guak; or, Unshakable Fidelity,’ ‘Andreas Fearnaught,’ ‘Jacschka, the Cut-throat,’ etc.

“While I was serving as cook’s boy on the steamboat, the cook, Smury, gained a powerful influence over my development. He persuaded me to read the ‘Legends of the Saints,’ Eckartshausen, Gogol, Gljeb Uspenski, Dumas père, and various books on Freemasonry.

[Pg 181]

“Up to that time I had been a sworn enemy of all books and of all printed paper, even including my passport. After my fifteenth year I felt a passionate wish to learn, in pursuance of which I betook myself to Kasan, under the impression that knowledge would be imparted free to all who desired it. It turned out, however, that this was not the case; so I went to work in a pretzel bakery, at a salary of three rubles a month.

“Of all the kinds of work I have tried, this was the hardest. In Kasan I came into relations with the ‘Lost People’ and lived long with them. I worked in the villages on the Volga, now as a woodchopper, now as a porter, and during this time read every book I could lay my hands on, which various kind people supplied me with. I got along very badly, and in 1888 even tried to kill myself by shooting a bullet into my body.

“I lay a long time in the hospital, but finally recovered and went into the apple trade. I finally turned my back on inhospitable Kasan, to try my luck in Zarizyn, where I got a job as a railroad attendant. Then I returned to Nijni, where I had to go up for the army. But since they could not make use of fellows with holes in their bodies, I escaped the fate of becoming a soldier, and instead became a Munich beer seller. I soon exchanged this calling for that of a clerk[Pg 182] in the office of Lanin, a lawyer of Nijni Novgorod.

“That was a turning point in my life. Lanin’s influence on my development was immeasurably great. I owe this cultivated and great-hearted man more than to any one else. But, however agreeable I found life with Lanin, where my soul could at last find room to breathe, I was again impelled to the life of a tramp. And I have tramped all over Russia. Where have I not been! What have I not seen and suffered! What kind of work have I not done!”

[Pg 183]


By Maxim Gorki


The burning July sun blazed dazzlingly over Smolkena, pouring down upon the old huts a generous stream of resplendent rays. A goodly share of the sunlight fell to the roof of the Starosta’s[2] hut, newly recovered with smoothly-planed, yellow, fragrant planks. It was Sunday, and almost the entire population of the village had gone out into the street, thickly overgrown with grass and bespattered in spots with quantities of dry mud. A large group of peasants—men and women—had gathered in front of the Starosta’s hut. Some sat on the earthwork around the house, others simply stood; while the children chased one another in and out of the throng, calling forth from the elders rebukes and blows.

The centre of the crowd was a tall man, with large, drooping mustaches. To judge from his swarthy face, covered with thick gray bristles and a network of deep wrinkles, as well as from the gray tufts of hair which forced their way from under the dirty straw hat, he might have been [Pg 184]fifty years of age. He was gazing on the ground, and the nostrils of his large, gristly nose were quivering; and when he raised his head, throwing his glance upon the windows of the Starosta’s hut, his eyes—large, melancholy, and even morose—became visible; they were sunk deep within their orbits, and the bushy brows cast shadows over their dark pupils. He was dressed in the brown under-cassock of a lay-brother, worse for the wear; it hardly covered his knees, and was girt with cord. Over his back was flung a bag; in his right hand he carried a long stick with iron ferrule; his left hand he held in his bosom. The people eyed him suspiciously, derisively, with contempt; and with evident joy in having caught a wolf before he had had time to do hurt to their flock. He was passing through the village, and had asked for a drink at the window of the Starosta’s hut. The Starosta gave him cider and entered into conversation with him. The wayfarer, however, unlike his kind, answered unwillingly. The Starosta asked him for his passport, but none was forthcoming. It was decided to send him to the local magistrate. The Starosta chose as the man’s escort the village deputy, and was now in the hut giving him directions, having in the meantime left the prisoner in the midst of the mob which made sport of him.

[Pg 185]

The prisoner stood near the trunk of a willow and rested against it his stooped back.

Presently there appeared on the staircase of the hut a dim-eyed old man, with a foxy face and a gray, wedge-shaped beard. He lowered his booted feet step by step, measuredly, and his round stomach moved from side to side solidly under the long calico shirt. Just over his shoulder came to view the bearded, four-cornered face of the deputy.

“Do you understand me, Efimushka?” the Starosta questioned the deputy.

“Why shouldn’t I understand? It’s easy enough. Simply means I am to take this man to the magistrate—and there’s an end of it!” The deputy, pronouncing his speech with measured emphasis and with comical dignity, winked at the public.

“And the papers?”

“The papers are stuck away in my bosom.”

“Well, all right, then,” said the Starosta, and, scratching his sides energetically, he added:

“Go, and God be with you!”

“Well, shall we march on, father?” said the deputy to the prisoner.

“You might furnish a conveyance,” grumbled the prisoner at the deputy’s proposition.

The Starosta smiled.

[Pg 186]

“A con—vey—ance? The idea! There are lots of you fellows tramping across fields and villages. Where are all the horses to come from? You’ve got to make it on foot; that’s all there’s to it!”

“That’s nothing, father; let us go,” said the deputy cheerfully. “Do you think it so far? Can’t be more than twenty versts! You’ll be there before you know it. We shall make a nice trip of it. And afterwards you shall have a rest.”

“In a cool place,” explained the Starosta.

“That’s nothing,” the deputy hastened to say. “A man, when he is very tired, will find rest even in jail. And especially after a hot day you will find it cool and comfortable there.”

The prisoner eyed his escort sharply; the latter smiled good-naturedly and frankly.

“Well, come along, honest father! Good-bye, Vasil Gavrilich! Let’s go!”

“God be with you, Efimushka! Use both your eyes.”

“Yes, you’ll have to look sharp!” was the suggestion thrown at the deputy by a young peasant in the crowd.

“What, do you think I’m an infant?”

They started, keeping close to the huts, so as to be within the strip of shadow. The man in the cassock walked in front, with the loose but rapid[Pg 187] gait of a being accustomed to roaming. The deputy, with a sturdy stick in his hand, followed.

Efimushka was a little peasant, low in stature, but built strongly, with a broad, good-natured face framed in an unkempt red beard beginning just below his bright gray eyes. He nearly always smiled at something, showing his healthy yellow teeth, and wrinkling his nose as if he wanted to sneeze. He was dressed in a long garment whose folds were caught up at the waist with a belt, so that they might not hamper his feet; on his head was stuck a dark green cap, without a visor, reminding one of a prisoner’s cap.

His companion moved on as if oblivious of another presence. They walked along by a narrow by-path, which wound its way through a billowy sea of rye; and the shadows of the travellers glided along against the gold of the corn.

Looking towards the horizon, the crest of a wood appeared blue against the sky. To the left stretched endlessly field upon field; in their midst, like a dark patch, lay a village; and beyond the village again fields, losing themselves finally in the bluish haze.

To the right, from behind a group of willows, a church spire covered with tin-plate, as yet unpainted, pierced the blue sky. It glistened so[Pg 188] strongly in the sun that it was painful to look at.

Up high the larks twittered; and in the rye the cornflowers smiled; and it was hot—almost stifling. From under the feet of the travellers the dust flew up.

Efimushka, clearing his throat, began to sing in falsetto voice.

“It’s no use. I can’t make my voice carry! And yet—there was a time when I could sing.... The Vishensky teacher would say, ‘Well, Efimushka, make a start!’ And we would sing together! A fine fellow he was, too!”

“Who was he?”, asked the man in the cassock, in a dull bass voice.

“The Vishensky teacher.”

“Was Vishensky his name?”

“No, brother; that’s the name of the village. The teacher’s name was Pavel Mikhalich. A first-rate sort he was. Died three years ago.”

“Was he young?”

“He wasn’t thirty.”

“What did he die of?”

“Of grief, I take it.”

Efimushka’s companion glanced at him askance and smiled.

“You see, my dear fellow, this is how it happened. He taught—seven years at a stretch he taught. Well, he began to cough. He coughed[Pg 189] and he coughed, and then got to grieving.... Well, you know how it is—grief drove him to drink. And Father Alexei did not like him; and when he started drinking, Father Alexei sent a report to town—told this and that: the teacher is drinking, and that sort of thing. It’s a scandal, to be sure. And the people in town sent back an answer and a woman teacher. She was tall, bony, big-nosed. Well, Pavel Mikhalich saw how things stood. He felt hurt. ‘Here,’ thought he,’ I have taught and taught ... and now you—— ’ ... From the school he went straight to the hospital, and within five days gave up his soul to God.... That’s all.”

For a time they went on in silence. They were approaching the wood, which with every step loomed larger and larger and was turning from blue to green.

“Shall we go by the wood?” asked Efimushka’s fellow traveller.

“We will only catch the edge of it, for a half-verst or so. But what are you up to? I shall keep my eye on you, my good man.”

And Efimushka, shaking his head, laughed.

“What ails you?” the prisoner asked.

“Oh, nothing! But you are a funny one! ‘Shall we go by the wood?’ says he. You are a simpleton, dear fellow; another wouldn’t have[Pg 190] asked this question—that is, if he were any smarter. He would have made straight for the wood, and——”


“Oh, nothing! I see through you, brother. Your game is like a very thin reed! I should advise you to drop this idea about the wood! Do you think you can get around me? I can handle three like you; as for you, I can manage you with my left hand. Do you understand?”

“Understand you? You’re a fool!” said the prisoner simply but with emphasis.

“Ah, I hit the mark that time!” said Efimushka triumphantly.

“Blockhead! What mark did you hit?” asked the prisoner, with a wry smile.

“About the wood. I understand, I do. You were thinking that when we reached the wood you would knock me down—yes, knock me down—and then make a break for the fields or for the woods. Now, isn’t that so?”

“You’re a fool,” said the apprehended man, shrugging his shoulders. “Where could I go?”

“Well, where you wish—that’s your affair.”

“But where?”

Efimushka’s companion was either angry or else he really wished to know from his escort precisely in what direction he could run.

[Pg 191]

“I told you, where you wished,” replied Efimushka calmly.

“There’s nowhere where I could run, nowhere,” said his companion quietly.

“W-well!” the escort pronounced incredulously, and waved his hand. “There’s always some place where one could run to. The world is large. There will be always enough room in it for one man.”

“Tell me, then: do you really want me to run away?” the prisoner, smiling, ventured to ask.

“Ah, you! You are terribly good! What will come of it? You’ll run away, and in your place some one else will have to go to jail. And that one will be me. No, I’m simply making conversation.”

“You are a blessed fool—otherwise you seem a good sort of fellow,” said Efimushka’s companion, uttering a sigh. Efimushka quite agreed with him.

“It is true I am called blessed by some people; and that I’m a good fellow is also true. I am a simple man—that’s at the bottom of it. Other people say things with cunning, in an underhand sort of way, but why should I? I am alone in the world. Deal wrongly—and you die; deal rightly—you die also. And so I’ve kept straight, mostly.”

[Pg 192]

“That is the right way,” remarked the prisoner indifferently.

“How else should it be? Why should I let my soul go wrong when I am alone here? I am a free man, brother. As I wish, so I live. I have my own idea of life, and live according to it. So it goes. By the way, how are you called?”

“How? Well, you may call me Ivan Ivanov.”

“So! Are you of the priesthood?”


“Well! And I thought you were——”

“Because of my dress?”

“Well, you look like a runaway monk or an unfrocked priest.... But your face is not at all suited; it looks more like a soldier’s. God knows what kind of man you are!” Efimushka cast a curious glance at the stranger. The other sighed, readjusted his hat, wiped the perspiration from his forehead, and asked the deputy:

“Do you smoke?”

“Happy to afford you the pleasure. To be sure, I do!”

He drew out of his bosom a soiled pouch and, lowering his head, without decreasing his gait, began to fill a clay pipe with tobacco.

“Well, have your smoke.” The prisoner paused, inclined his head to receive a light from a match held by the convoy, and drew in[Pg 193] his cheeks. A thin blue smoke rose in the air.

“You haven’t told me as yet to what class you belong.”

“The gentry,” replied the prisoner curtly, and spat out sideways.

“So that’s it! How come you, then, to be strolling about without a passport?”

“I simply choose to.”

“So—so! What an occupation! You gentry do not usually take to this wolfish life. Ah, but you are a poor wretch!”

“Well, let it go at that ... and stop your chattering,” remarked the poor wretch dryly.

Efimushka, however, surveyed the passportless man with increased curiosity and interest, and, shaking his head in a perplexed manner, continued:

“Eh, but how fate does play with a man, when you come to think of it! And it is very likely true that you are of the gentry, because you have a grand manner about you. Have you lived long like this?”

The man with the grand manner looked gloomily at Efimushka, and waved him aside like some pestering wasp.

“Drop it, I tell you! Why do you stick at it like a woman?”

[Pg 194]

“Now, don’t be vexed,” said Efimushka reassuringly. “I speak from the heart ... and I am really kind-hearted....”

“Well, that’s lucky for you.... On the other hand, your tongue keeps on babbling without a stop—that’s unlucky for me!”

“No more, then, since you object. I can keep quiet, since you want none of my conversation. Still, you’re vexed for nothing. Is it my fault that you are leading a vagabond’s life?”

The prisoner stopped and clamped his jaws together so that his cheek-bones stood out like two sharp corners and the gray bristle covering them rose rigidly on end. He measured Efimushka from head to foot with passionate disdain and with a screwed-up expression at the eyes. Before Efimushka could note this, the other once more began to measure the ground with a broad stride.

The face of the loquacious deputy assumed an aspect of distraught pensiveness. He gazed upwards, whence sounded the trills of the larks, and with them whistled between his teeth, at the same time swinging his stick to the measure of his steps.

They approached the edge of the forest. It stood there like an immovable, dark wall. Not a sound came from it to greet the travellers. The[Pg 195] sun already had set, and its oblique rays colored the tops of the trees purple and gold. The trees exhumed a fragrant dampness; and the gloom and the concentrated silence which filled the forest gave birth to sombre feelings.

When a forest stands before us dark and immovable, when it is all plunged in a mysterious silence, and every tree assumes the attitude as of listening to something, then it seems that the entire forest is filled with something alive, and that that something is only hiding for a time. And you await the next moment in the expectation that it will bring forth something huge and incomprehensible to the human mind, and that it will speak in a mighty voice about the great mysteries of creation.


At the edge of the wood, Efimushka and his companion decided to rest, and so they sat themselves on the grass beside the trunk of a huge oak. The prisoner slowly took down the bag from his shoulder and asked his convoy indifferently:

“Do you want some bread?”

“If you’ll give me, I’ll not refuse,” Efimushka replied with a smile.

And in silence they began to eat their bread. Efimushka ate slowly and sighed continually,[Pg 196] directing his gaze across the field to his left, somewhere into the distance, while his companion was all absorbed in the process of gratifying his appetite. He ate rapidly and munched audibly, measuring with his eyes his crust of bread. The dusk began to settle upon the field, and the corn had already lost its golden lustre and assumed a rose-yellow hue. Towards the southwest small fleecy clouds advanced across the sky; they cast shadows upon the field and crept across the ears of corn towards the forest, where sat two dark human figures. Other shadows were cast on the ground by the trees, and they breathed melancholy into the soul.

“Glory be to Thee, O Lord!” exclaimed Efimushka, gathering up the crumbs of his piece of bread and licking them up from the palm of his hand with his tongue. “The Lord hath fed us—no one hath seen us; and He who hath seen us, His eye was unoffended! Comrade, what do you say to sitting here another hour or so? Plenty time for the cold cell, eh?”

His comrade nodded his assent.

“Well, well.... A very good place—it has a place in my heart.... Over there, to the left, once stood the manor of the Tuchkovs.”

“Where?” quickly inquired the prisoner, wheeling[Pg 197] around in the direction indicated by Efimushka.

“Over there, behind that hill. All the land hereabouts belonged to them. They were very rich; but after the emancipation they didn’t do as well.... I too belonged to them—all of us belonged to them. It was a big family.... There was the Colonel himself—Alexander Nikitich Tuchkov. Then, there were four sons—where could they all have gone to? It is as if the wind carried them along, like leaves in the autumn. Only Ivan Alexandrovich remains—I am taking you to him now. He is our magistrate ... quite an old man.”

The prisoner laughed. His laugh had a hollow sound in it; it was a strange inward sort of laugh: his chest and stomach shook, but the face remained unmoved; and when he showed his teeth, there issued from between them hollow, dog-like sounds.

Efimushka, trembling apprehensively, reached out for his stick and placed it nearer within his reach. He asked:

“What is the matter with you now?”

“Nothing.... It was just a passing thought,” said the prisoner abruptly, but kindly. “Go on with your story.”

“W-well, yes. As I was saying, they were[Pg 198] important people, the Tuchkovs, and now they are here no more.... Some of them have died, some of them have simply vanished, and not a soul knows what’s become of them. One especially I have in mind—the very youngest. Victor was his name—Vic for short. He was a comrade of mine.... At the time of the emancipation we were, both of us, fourteen years old.... He was a fine lad, and may God be good to his soul! A pure stream! Running along beautifully all day—and gurgling.... Where is he now? Is he living or dead?”

“In what way was he so ‘good’?” Efimushka’s companion asked quietly.

“In every way!” exclaimed Efimushka. “He had beauty, good sense, a kind heart.... My dear man, he was a ripe berry. Ah, but you should have seen then the two of us!... The games we played! The merry life we led! There were times when he would cry, ‘Efimka, let’s go hunting!’ He had a gun—a birthday gift from his father—and I used to carry it. And off we would wander into the woods for a whole day, or for two days, or even three! Once back home, he would get a scolding, and I a birching; the next day you’d forget all about it and start life anew. This time he would call, ‘Efimushka, let us go after mushrooms!’ Thousands of birds we[Pg 199] must have killed! We gathered these mushrooms by the ton! He used to catch butterflies and bugs and stick them on pins in little boxes. And he taught me my letters.... ‘Efimka,’ he said to me,’ I will teach you. Begin,’ said he, and I began. ‘Say,’ says he, ‘A!’ I roared out, ‘A—a!’ How we did laugh! At the start I took it as a joke—what does a man like me want with reading and writing?... But he rebuked me: ‘You, fool, have been granted freedom that you might learn.... If you knew how to read, it would help you to know how to live and where to seek the truth.’ ... To be sure, he was an apt child; and he had probably heard such speeches from his elders, and began to talk that way himself.... Of course, we know it’s nonsense. Real learning is in the heart; and only the heart can point the way to truth.... It is all-seeing.... And so he taught me.... Stuck so hard to his business that he gave me no rest! It was torture to me. ‘Vic,’ I would appeal to him, ‘it’s impossible for me to learn my letters. I really can’t manage it!’ ... You should have seen him rage at me! Sometimes he threatened me with a whip! But teach me he would! ‘Be merciful!’ I’d cry.... Once I tried to dodge the lesson, and there was a row, let me tell you. He sought for[Pg 200] me all day long with a gun—wanted to shoot me. And later he told me that had he met me that day he certainly would have shot me! He was a fearless one. He was unbending and fiery—a real lord.... He loved me; his was an ardent soul.... Once my father used the birch on my back, and when Vic saw it, off he went at once to my father’s house. Good Lord, but there was a scene! He was all pale and trembling, and clenched his fists, and followed my father up into the loft. Says he, ‘How dared you?’ The old man replied, ‘But I’m his father!’ ‘So? Very well, father, I can’t manage you single-handed, but your back all the same shall be like Efimka’s!’ He gave way to tears after that, and ran out of the house.... And what do you say to this? He actually carried out his word. He must have said something to his servants, for one day father came home groaning; he tried to take off his shirt, and it stuck to his back.... My father was very angry with me at the time. ‘I’m suffering on your account. You are an informer.’ And he gave me a good beating. But as to being an informer, that I was not....”

“That’s true, Efim, you were not!” said the prisoner, with emphasis, and trembled violently. “It’s evident even now that you couldn’t have been an informer,” he added hastily.

[Pg 201]

“That’s it!” exclaimed Efimushka. “I simply loved him—this fellow Vic.... Such a talented child he was! All loved him, not alone I.... Fine speeches he used to make.... I can’t remember any of them now—thirty years have passed since then.... Oh, Lord! Where is he now? If he is alive, he must be having a grand job, or else—he is having the very devil of a time of it.... Life is a most strange thing! It seethes and seethes—and still nothing comes of it.... And people perish.... It is pitiful, to the very death, how pitiful!”

Efimushka, sighing deeply, inclined his head on his bosom.... There was a brief silence.

“And are you sorry for me?” asked the prisoner cheerfully, while his face lit up with a good, kindly smile.

“You are a queer one!” exclaimed Efimushka. “Why shouldn’t I feel sorry for you? What are you, when you come to think of it? If you are roaming about, that only shows that you haven’t a thing on earth of your own—not a corner, not a chip.... And, aside from that, perhaps you are burdened with some great sin—who knows? In a word, you’re a miserable man.”

“That’s how it is,” replied the prisoner.

Once more there was a pause. The sun had[Pg 202] already set, and the shadows grew more dense. The air was fragrant with the fresh moisture of the earth, with the smell of flowers, and with that pungent odor that comes from the woods. For a long time they sat there in silence.

“It is fine to sit here; but, for all that, we’ve got to go. Still eight more versts to do.... Come along, father; get up!”

“Let’s sit here a while longer,” begged the other.

“I don’t mind it myself—I love to be near the woods at night.... But when shall we ever get to the magistrate’s? I will catch it if I get there late.”

“Never fear, they shan’t say anything.”

“Perhaps you’ll put in a word for me,” said the deputy, with a smile.

“I may.”


“And why not?”

“You’re a wag! He’ll try a little pepper on you.”

“You mean, he’ll flog me?”

“He’s a terror! And right clever, too. He’ll punch you with his fist on the ear, and I’ll warrant you—you’ll not be steady on your feet.”

“We’ll see to that,” said the prisoner reassuringly, touching the convoy’s shoulder in a friendly manner.

[Pg 203]

This familiarity did not please Efimushka. Everything else considered, he, after all, stood for the law, and this goose should bear in mind that Efimushka wore under his coat a brass badge. Efimushka arose, took his stick in his hand, rearranged the badge in a conspicuous place on his breast, and said gruffly:

“Get up! We’ve got to be on the move.”

“I am not going,” said the prisoner.

Efimushka was nonplussed, and, opening his eyes wide, remained for the moment silent—not comprehending why the prisoner had become all of a sudden such a joker.

“Well, don’t make a fuss, and come along,” said he more softly.

“I am not going,” the prisoner repeated resolutely.

“What do you mean by saying you’re not going?” shouted Efimushka, in astonishment and anger.

“Just that. I want to spend the night with you here. Come, build a fire.”

“Let you spend the night here, will I? As to the fire, I’ll build it on your back, I will,” growled Efimushka. But in the depths of his soul he was amazed. Here is a man who says, “I am not going,” and yet shows no opposition, nor any desire to quarrel, but[Pg 204] simply lies on the ground, and that’s all. What is one to do?

“Don’t shout so, Efim,” suggested the prisoner calmly.

Efimushka again became silent, and, changing his weight from foot to foot, he looked down on the prisoner with wide-awake eyes. But the other returned his gaze and smiled. Efimushka was thinking very hard as to what his next move should be.

What he could not understand was that this vagabond, who had been all the time morose and malignant in his manner, should suddenly develop such good spirits. What was to prevent Efimushka from falling on the fellow, wrenching his arms, hitting him once or twice across the neck, and ending this farce? Assuming the most severe, authoritative tone of which he was capable, Efimushka said:

“Well, you piece of putty, enough of that! Up with you! Or else I’ll bind you—and then you’ll go along all right, never fear! Do you understand me? Well? I’ll flog you!”

“M-me?” asked the prisoner, with a chuckle.

“Whom else do you think?”

“What, you’ll flog Vic Tuchkov?”

“None of that, now!” cried the astonished[Pg 205] Efimushka. “But who are you, really? What sort of game are you playing?”

“Don’t shout so, Efimushka; it is time you recognized me,” said the prisoner, smiling calmly, and rising to his feet. “Why don’t you say ‘how d’you do?’”

Efimushka drew back from the hand stretched out to him, and, open-eyed, looked into the face of the prisoner. Then his lips trembled and his face contracted.

“Victor Alexandrovich!... Really, is it you?” he asked in a whisper.

“If you insist, I’ll show you my papers. But I’ll do better—I’ll remind you of old times.... Now, let me see—do you remember how you once fell into a wolves’ lair in the pine forest of Ramensk? And how I climbed up a tree after a nest and hung head downwards from a limb? And how we stole cream from the old woman Petrovna? And the tales she told us?”

Overpowered by this recital, Efimushka sat down on the ground and laughed in a confused manner.

“Do you believe now?” the prisoner asked, as he sat down at Efimushka’s side, looking straight in his companion’s face and placing his hand on his shoulder. Efimushka was silent. The landscape had grown dark by this time. In the forest[Pg 206] arose a confused murmuring and whispering. Somewhere from its distant depths came the sounds of a night-bird’s song. A cloud was passing over the wood with an almost imperceptible motion.

“What ails you, Efim? Aren’t you glad to meet me, or are you so glad? Eh, you holy soul! As you were as a babe, so are you now. Well, Efim! Say something, dear creature!”

Efimushka tried to control himself.

“Well, brother, why don’t you speak?” said the prisoner, shaking his head reproachfully. “What ails you, any way? You should be ashamed! Here you are in your fiftieth year, and occupied with such trifling business! Give it up!” And, taking hold of the deputy by the shoulders, he shook him lightly. The deputy burst into laughter, and at last delivered himself, without glancing at his neighbor:

“Well, who am I? Of course, I’m glad.... And it’s really you? How am I to believe it? You, and ... such a business as this! Vic ... and in such a shape! Going to jail.... Without passport ... without tobacco.... Oh, Lord! Is that the proper order of things? At least, if I were only in your place, and you were the deputy! Even that would have been easier to bear! But instead[Pg 207] ... how can I look you straight in your eyes? I had always recalled you with joy ... Vic.... One sometimes thinks about it.... And the heart aches at the thought.... But now—look! Oh, Lord! ... if one were to tell people about it, they wouldn’t believe it.”

His eyes fixed intently upon the ground, he mumbled his broken phrases, and now and then gripped his hand to his bosom or to his throat.

“Never mind telling people about it; it is unnecessary. And stop lamenting.... Don’t worry on my account. I have my papers. I didn’t show them to the Starosta, because I didn’t want to be recognized.... My brother Ivan shan’t send me to jail, but will help to put me on my feet. I will remain with him, and once more will we two go hunting.... Now, you see how well everything will end.”

Vic said this gently, using the intonation which elders employ in calming their aggrieved young. The passing cloud and the moon met by this time; and the edge of the cloud, touched up with the silver rays, took on a soft, opal tint. From among the corn came the cries of the quail; somewhere or other the railbird prattled. The darkness grew denser....

“To think that it’s really true,” began Efimushka[Pg 208] softly. “Ivan Alexandrovich will surely lend a helping hand to his own brother; and that means you will begin life anew. It is really so.... And we will go hunting.... And yet, somehow, it is different.... I thought you would do things in this world! But instead, here’s what it’s come to!”

Vic Tuchkov laughed.

“I, brother Efimushka, have done enough deeds in my day.... I have squandered my share in the estate; I have given up my position in the service; I have been an actor; I have been a clerk in the lumber trade; afterwards I have had my own troupe of actors.... Then I lost everything, contracted debts, got mixed up in a bad affair ... eh! I have had everything.... And I have lost everything!”

The prisoner waved his hand and laughed good-naturedly.

“And, brother Efimushka, I am no longer a gentleman. I am cured of that. Now we will have good times together! Eh? what do you say? Come, cheer up!”

“What should I say,” began Efimushka, in a subdued voice. “I am ashamed. I have been telling you such things ... such nonsense!... I am only a peasant....[Pg 209] And we will spend the night here? I’ll light a fire.”

“Well, go ahead!”

The prisoner stretched himself upon the ground, face upwards, while the deputy went into the woods, from whence soon came sounds of the cracking of twigs. Presently Efimushka reappeared with an armful of firewood, and in a jiffy a small serpent of flame was merrily working its way upward through the pile of wood.

The old comrades, sitting opposite each other, watched it pensively, and took turns at smoking the pipe.

“Just as in the old days,” said Efimushka sadly.

“Only, the times are not the same,” said Tuchkov.

“W-well, yes, life is sterner than character.... Ah, but she has broken you....”

“That still remains to be seen—whether I’m stronger or she,” smiled Tuchkov.

They became silent.

Behind them loomed the dark wall of the softly whispering forest; the bonfire crackled merrily; around it danced the silent shadows; and across the field lay an impenetrable darkness.


[2] Head of village community.

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