And thus the trace of my ... my father grew cold; thus did it vanish irrevocably in the mute gloom. My mother and I never spoke of him. Only, one day, I remember that she expressed surprise at my never having alluded before to my strange dream; and then she added: "Of course, it really ..." and did not finish her sentence.
My mother was ill for a long time, and after her convalescence our former relations were not reestablished. She felt awkward in my presence until the day of her death.... Precisely that, awkward. And there was no way of helping her in her grief. Everything becomes smoothed down, the memories of the most tragic family events gradually lose their force and venom; but if a feeling of awkwardness has been set up between two closely-connected persons, it is impossible to extirpate it!
I have never again had that dream which had been wont so to disturb me; I no longer "search for" my father; but it has sometimes seemed to me—and it seems so to me to this day—that in my sleep I hear distant shrieks, unintermittent, melancholy plaints; they resound somewhere behind a lofty wall, across which it is impossible to clamber; they rend my heart—and I am utterly unable to comprehend what it is: whether it is a living man groaning, or whether I hear the wild, prolonged roar of the troubled sea. And now it passes once more into that beast-like growl—and I awake with sadness and terror in my soul.
FATHER ALEXYEI'S STORY
Twenty years ago I was obliged—in my capacity of private inspector—to make the circuit of all my aunt's rather numerous estates. The parish priests, with whom I regarded it as my duty to make acquaintance, proved to be individuals of pretty much one pattern, and made after one model, as it were. At length, in about the last of the estates which I was inspecting, I hit upon a priest who did not resemble his brethren. He was a very aged man, almost decrepit; and had it not been for the urgent entreaties of his parishioners, who loved and respected him, he would long before have petitioned to be retired that he might rest. Two peculiarities impressed me in Father Alexyei (that was the priest's name). In the first place, he not only asked nothing for himself but announced plainly that he required nothing; and, in the second place, I have never beheld in any human face a more sorrowful, thoroughly indifferent—what is called an "overwhelmed"—expression. The features of that face were of the ordinary rustic type: a wrinkled forehead, small grey eyes, a large nose, a wedge-shaped beard, a swarthy, sunburned skin.... But the expression! ... the expression!... In that dim gaze life barely burned, and sadly at that; and his voice also was, somehow, lifeless and dim.
I fell ill and kept my bed for several days. Father Alexyei dropped in to see me in the evenings, not to chat, but to play "fool." The game of cards seemed to divert him more than it did me. One day, after having been left "the fool" several times in succession (which delighted Father Alexyei not a little), I turned the conversation on his past life, on the afflictions which had left on him such manifest traces. Father Alexyei remained obdurate for a long time at first, but ended by relating to me his story. He must have taken a liking to me for some reason or other. Otherwise he would not have been so frank with me.
I shall endeavour to transmit his story in his own words. Father Alexyei talked very simply and intelligently, without any seminary or provincial tricks and turns of speech. It was not the first time I had noticed that Russians, of all classes and callings, who have been violently shattered and humbled express themselves precisely in such language.
... I had a good and sedate wife [thus he began], I loved her heartily, and we begat eight children. One of my sons became a bishop, and died not so very long ago, in his diocese. I shall now tell you about my other son,—Yakoff was his name. I sent him to the seminary in the town of T——, and soon began to receive the most comforting reports about him. He was the best pupil in all the branches! Even at home, in his boyhood, he had been distinguished for his diligence and discretion; a whole day would sometimes pass without one's hearing him ... he would be sitting all the time over his book, reading. He never caused me and my wife the slightest displeasure; he was a meek lad. Only sometimes he was thoughtful beyond his years, and his health was rather weak. Once something remarkable happened to him. He left the house at daybreak, on St. Peter's day, and was gone almost all the morning. At last he returned. My wife and I ask him: "Where hast thou been?"
"I have been for a ramble in the forest," says he, "and there I met a certain little green old man, who talked a great deal with me, and gave me such savoury nuts!"
"What little green old man art thou talking about?" we ask him.
"I don't know," says he; "I never saw him before. He was a little old man with a hump, and he kept shifting from one to the other of his little feet, and laughing—and he was all green, just like a leaf."
"What," say we, "and was his face green also?"
"Yes, his face, and his hair, and even his eyes."
Our son had never lied to us; but this time my wife and I had our doubts.
"Thou must have fallen asleep in the forest, in the heat of the day, and have seen that old man in thy dreams."
"I wasn't asleep at all," says he. "Why, don't you believe me?" says he. "See here, I have one of the nuts left in my pocket."
Yakoff pulled the nut out of his pocket and showed it to us.—The kernel was small, in the nature of a chestnut, and rather rough; it did not resemble our ordinary nuts. I laid it aside, and intended to show it to the doctor ... but it got lost.... I did not find it again.
Well, sir, so we sent him to the seminary, and, as I have already informed you, he rejoiced us by his success. So my spouse and I assumed that he would turn out a fine man! When he came for a sojourn at home it was a pleasure to look at him; he was so comely, and there was no mischief about him;—every one liked him, every one congratulated us. Only he was still rather thin of body, and there was no real good rosiness in his face. So then, he was already in his nineteenth year, and his education would soon be finished. When suddenly we receive from him a letter.—He writes to us: "Dear father and mother, be not wroth with me, permit me to be a layman; my heart does not incline to the ecclesiastical profession, I dread the responsibility, I am afraid I shall sin—doubts have taken hold upon me! Without your parental permission and blessing I shall venture on nothing—but one thing I will tell you; I am afraid of myself, for I have begun to think a great deal."
I assure you, my dear sir, that this letter made me very sad,—as though a boar-spear had pricked my heart,—for I saw that I should have no one to take my place! My eldest son was a monk; and this one wanted to abandon his vocation altogether. I was also pained because priests from our family have lived in our parish for close upon two hundred years. But I thought to myself: "There's no use in kicking against the pricks; evidently, so it was predestined for him. What sort of a pastor would he be if he has admitted doubt to his mind?" I took counsel with my wife, and wrote to him in the following sense:
"Think it over well, my son Yakoff; measure ten times before you cut off once—there are great difficulties in the worldly service, cold and hunger, and scorn for our caste! And thou must know beforehand that no one will lend a hand to aid; so see to it that thou dost not repine afterward. My desire, as thou knowest, has always been that thou shouldst succeed me; but if thou really hast come to cherish doubts as to thy calling and hast become unsteady in the faith, then it is not my place to restrain thee. The Lord's will be done! Thy mother and I will not refuse thee our blessing."
Yakoff answered me with a grateful letter. "Thou hast rejoiced me, dear father," said he. "It is my intention to devote myself to the profession of learning, and I have some protection; I shall enter the university and become a doctor, for I feel a strong bent for science." I read Yashka's letter and became sadder than before; but I did not share my grief with any one. My old woman caught a severe cold about that time and died—from that same cold, or the Lord took her to Himself because He loved her, I know not which. I used to weep and weep because I was a lonely widower—but what help was there for that? So it had to be, you know. And I would have been glad to go into the earth ... but it is hard ... it will not open. And I was expecting my son; for he had notified me: "Before I go to Moscow," he said, "I shall look in at home." And he did come to the parental roof, but did not remain there long. It seemed as though something were urging him on; he would have liked, apparently, to fly on wings to Moscow, to his beloved university! I began to question him as to his doubts. "What was the cause of them?" I asked. But I did not get much out of him. One idea had pushed itself into his head, and that was the end of it! "I want to help my neighbours," he said.—Well, sir, he left me. I don't believe he took a penny with him, only a few clothes. He had such reliance on himself! And not without reason. He passed an excellent examination, matriculated as student, obtained lessons in private houses.... He was very strong on the ancient languages! And what think you? He took it into his head to send me money. I cheered up a little,—not on account of the money, of course,—I sent that back to him, and even scolded him; but I cheered up because I saw that the young fellow would make his way in the world. But my rejoicing did not last long....
He came to me for his first vacation.... And, what marvel is this? I do not recognise my Yakoff! He had grown so tiresome and surly,—you couldn't get a word out of him. And his face had changed also: he had grown about ten years older. He had been taciturn before, there's no denying that! At the slightest thing he would grow shy and blush like a girl.... But when he raised his eyes, you could see that all was bright in his soul! But now it was quite different. He was not shy, but he held aloof, like a wolf, and was always looking askance. He had neither a smile nor a greeting for any one—he was just like a stone! If I undertook to interrogate him, he would either remain silent or snarl. I began to wonder whether he had taken to drink—which God forbid!—or had conceived a passion for cards; or whether something in the line of a weakness for women had happened to him. In youth love-longings act powerfully,—well, and in such a large city as Moscow bad examples and occasions are not lacking. But no; nothing of that sort was discernible. His drink was kvas and water; he never looked at the female sex—and had no intercourse with people in general. And what was most bitter of all to me, he did not have his former confidence in me; a sort of indifference had made its appearance, just as though everything belonging to him had become loathsome to him. I turned the conversation on the sciences, on the university, but even there could get no real answer. He went to church, but he was not devoid of peculiarities there also; everywhere he was grim and scowling, but in church he seemed always to be grinning.
After this fashion he spent six weeks with me, then went back to Moscow. From Moscow he wrote to me twice, and it seemed to me, from his letters, as though he were regaining his sensibilities. But picture to yourself my surprise, my dear sir! Suddenly, in the very middle of the winter, just before the Christmas holidays, he presents himself before me!
"How didst thou get here? How is this? What's the matter? I know that thou hast no vacation at this time.—Dost thou come from Moscow?"—I ask.
"And how about ... the university?"
"I have left the university."
"Thou hast left it?"
"But art thou ill, pray, Yakoff?"
"No, father," says he, "I am not ill; but just don't bother me and question me, dear father, or I will go away from here—and that's the last thou wilt ever see of me."
Yakoff tells me that he is not ill, but his face is such that I am fairly frightened. It was dreadful, dark—not human, actually!—His cheeks were drawn, his cheek-bones projected, he was mere skin and bone; his voice sounded as though it proceeded from a barrel ... while his eyes.... O Lord and Master! what eyes!—menacing, wild, incessantly darting from side to side, and it was impossible to catch them; his brows were knit, his lips seemed to be twisted on one side.... What had happened to my Joseph Most Fair, to my quiet lad? I cannot comprehend it. "Can he have gone crazy?" I say to myself. He roams about like a spectre by night, he does not sleep,—and then, all of a sudden, he will take to staring into a corner as though he were completely benumbed.... It was enough to scare one!
Although he had threatened to leave the house if I did not leave him in peace, yet surely I was his father! My last hope was ruined—yet I was to hold my tongue! So one day, availing myself of an opportunity, I began to entreat Yakoff with tears, I began to adjure him by the memory of his dead mother:
"Tell me," I said, "as thy father in the flesh and in the spirit, Yasha, what aileth thee? Do not kill me; explain thyself, lighten thy heart! Can it be that thou hast ruined some Christian soul? If so, repent!"
"Well, dear father," he suddenly says to me (this took place toward nightfall), "thou hast moved me to compassion. I will tell thee the whole truth. I have not ruined any Christian soul—but my own soul is going to perdition."
"How is that?"
"In this way...." And thereupon Yakoff raised his eyes to mine for the first time.—"It is going on four months now," he began.... But suddenly he broke off and began to breathe heavily.
"What about the fourth month? Tell me, do not make me suffer!"
"This is the fourth month that I have been seeing him."
"Him? Who is he?"
"Why, the person ... whom it is awkward to mention at night."
I fairly turned cold all over and fell to quaking.
"What?!" I said, "dost thou see him?"
"And dost thou see him now?"
"Where?" And I did not dare to turn round, and we both spoke in a whisper.
"Why, yonder ..." and he indicated the spot with his eyes ... "yonder, in the corner."
I summoned up my courage and looked at the corner; there was nothing there.
"Why, good gracious, there is nothing there, Yakoff!"
"Thou dost not see him, but I do."
Again I glanced round ... again nothing. Suddenly there recurred to my mind the little old man in the forest who had given him the chestnut. "What does he look like?" I said.... "Is he green?"
"No, he is not green, but black."
"Has he horns?"
"No, he is like a man,—only all black."
As Yakoff speaks he displays his teeth in a grin and turns as pale as a corpse, and huddles up to me in terror; and his eyes seem on the point of popping out of his head, and he keeps staring at the corner.
"Why, it is a shadow glimmering faintly," I say. "That is the blackness from a shadow, but thou mistakest it for a man."
"Nothing of the sort!—And I see his eyes: now he is rolling up the whites, now he is raising his hand, he is calling me."
"Yakoff, Yakoff, thou shouldst try to pray; this obsession would disperse. Let God arise and His enemies shall be scattered!"
"I have tried," says he, "but it has no effect."
"Wait, wait, Yakoff, do not lose thy courage. I will fumigate with incense; I will recite a prayer; I will sprinkle holy water around thee."
Yakoff merely waved his hand. "I believe neither in thy incense nor in holy water; they don't help worth a farthing. I cannot get rid of him now. Ever since he came to me last summer, on one accursed day, he has been my constant visitor, and he cannot be driven away, Understand this, father, and do not wonder any longer at my behaviour—and do not torment me."
"On what day did he come to thee?" I ask him, and all the while I am making the sign of the cross over him. "Was it not when thou didst write about thy doubts?"
Yakoff put away my hand.
"Let me alone, dear father," says he, "don't excite me to wrath lest worse should come of it. I'm not far from laying hands on myself, as it is."
You can imagine, my dear sir, how I felt when I heard that.... I remember that I wept all night. "How have I deserved such wrath from the Lord?" I thought to myself.
At this point Father Alexyei drew from his pocket a checked handkerchief and began to blow his nose, and stealthily wiped his eyes, by the way.
A bad time began for us then [he went on]. I could think of but one thing: how to prevent him from running away, or—which the Lord forbid!—of actually doing himself some harm! I watched his every step, and was afraid to enter into conversation.—And there dwelt near us at that time a neighbour, the widow of a colonel, Marfa Savishna was her name; I cherished a great respect for her, because she was a quiet, sensible woman, in spite of the fact that she was young and comely. I was in the habit of going to her house frequently, and she did not despise my vocation. Not knowing, in my grief and anguish, what to do, I just told her all about it.—At first she was greatly alarmed, and even thoroughly frightened; but later on she became thoughtful. For a long time she deigned to sit thus, in silence; and then she expressed a wish to see my son and converse with him. And I felt that I ought without fail to comply with her wish; for it was not feminine curiosity which prompted it in this case, but something else.
On returning home I began to persuade Yakoff. "Come with me to see the colonel's widow," I said to him.
He began to flourish his legs and arms!
"I won't go to her," says he, "not on any account! What shall I talk to her about?" He even began to shout at me. But at last I conquered him, and hitching up my little sledge, I drove him to Marfa Savishna's, and, according to our compact, I left him alone with her. I was surprised at his having consented so speedily. Well, never mind,—we shall see. Three or four hours later my Yakoff returns.
"Well," I ask, "how did our little neighbour please thee?"
He made me no answer. I asked him again.
"She is a virtuous woman," I said.—"I suppose she was amiable with thee?"
"Yes," he says, "she is not like the others."
I saw that he seemed to have softened a little. And I made up my mind to question him then and there....
"And how about the obsession?" I said.
Yakoff looked at me as though I had lashed him with a whip, and again made no reply. I did not worry him further, and left the room; and an hour later I went to the door and peeped through the keyhole.... And what do you think?—My Yasha was asleep! He was lying on the couch and sleeping. I crossed myself several times in succession. "May the Lord send Marfa Savishna every blessing!" I said. "Evidently, she has managed to touch his embittered heart, the dear little dove!"
The next day I see Yakoff take his cap.... I think to myself: "Shall I ask him whither he is going?—But no, better not ask ... it certainly must be to her!"... And, in point of fact, Yakoff did set off for Marfa Savishna's house—and sat with her still longer than before; and on the day following he did it again! Then again, the next day but one! My spirits began to revive, for I saw that a change was coming over my son, and his face had grown quite different, and it was becoming possible to look into his eyes: he did not turn away. He was just as depressed as ever, but his former despair and terror had disappeared. But before I had recovered my cheerfulness to any great extent everything again broke off short! Yakoff again became wild, and again it was impossible to approach him. He sat locked up in his little room, and went no more to the widow's.
"Can it be possible," I thought, "that he has hurt her feelings in some way, and she has forbidden him the house?—But no," I thought ... "although he is unhappy he would not dare to do such a thing; and besides, she is not that sort of woman."
At last I could endure it no longer, and I interrogated him: "Well, Yakoff, how about our neighbour?... Apparently thou hast forgotten her altogether."
But he fairly roared at me:—"Our neighbour? Dost thou want him to jeer at me?"
"What?" I say.—Then he even clenched his fists and ... got perfectly furious.
"Yes!" he says; and formerly he had only towered up after a fashion, but now he began to laugh and show his teeth.—"Away! Begone!"
To whom these words were addressed I know not! My legs would hardly bear me forth, to such a degree was I frightened. Just imagine: his face was the colour of red copper, he was foaming at the mouth, his voice was hoarse, exactly as though some one were choking him!... And that very same day I went—I, the orphan of orphans—to Marfa Savishna ... and found her in great affliction. Even her outward appearance had undergone a change: she had grown thin in the face. But she would not talk with me about my son. Only one thing she did say: that no human aid could effect anything in that case. "Pray, father," she said,—and then she presented me with one hundred rubles,—"for the poor and sick of your parish," she said. And again she repeated: "Pray!"—O Lord! As if I had not prayed without that—prayed day and night!
Here Father Alexyei again pulled out his handkerchief, and again wiped away his tears, but not by stealth this time, and after resting for a little while, he resumed his cheerless narrative.
Yakoff and I then began to descend as a snowball rolls down hill, and both of us could see that an abyss lay at the foot of the hill; but how were we to hold back, and what measures could we take? And it was utterly impossible to conceal this; my entire parish was greatly disturbed, and said: "The priest's son has gone mad; he is possessed of devils,—and the authorities ought to be informed of all this."—And people infallibly would have informed the authorities had not my parishioners taken pity on me ... for which I thank them. In the meantime winter was drawing to an end, and spring was approaching.—And such a spring as God sent!—fair and bright, such as even the old people could not remember: the sun shone all day long, there was no wind, and the weather was warm! And then a happy thought occurred to me: to persuade Yakoff to go off with me to do reverence to Mitrofany, in Voronezh. "If that last remedy is of no avail," I thought, "well, then, there is but one hope left—the grave!"
So I was sitting one day on the porch just before evening, and the sunset glow was flaming in the sky, and the larks were warbling, and the apple-trees were in bloom, and the grass was growing green.... I was sitting and meditating how I could communicate my intention to Yakoff. Suddenly, lo and behold! he came out on the porch; he stood, gazed around, sighed, and sat down on the step by my side. I was even frightened out of joy, but I did nothing except hold my tongue. But he sits and looks at the sunset glow, and not a word does he utter either. But it seemed to me as though he had become softened, the furrows on his brow had been smoothed away, his eyes had even grown bright.... A little more, it seemed, and a tear would have burst forth! On beholding such a change in him I—excuse me!—grew bold.
"Yakoff," I said to him, "do thou hearken to me without anger...." And then I informed him of my intention; how we were both to go to Saint Mitrofany on foot; and it is about one hundred and fifty versts to Voronezh from our parts; and how pleasant it would be for us two, in the spring chill, having risen before dawn, to walk and walk over the green grass, along the highway; and how, if we made proper obeisance and prayed before the shrine of the holy man, perhaps—who knows?—the Lord God would show mercy upon us, and he would receive healing, of which there had already been many instances. And just imagine my happiness, my dear sir!
"Very well," says Yakoff, only he does not turn round, but keeps on gazing at the sky.—"I consent. Let us go."
I was fairly stupefied....
"My friend," I say, "my dear little dove, my benefactor!"... But he asks me:
"When shall we set out?"
"Why, to-morrow, if thou wilt," I say.
So on the following day we started. We slung wallets over our shoulders, took staves in our hands, and set forth. For seven whole days we trudged on, and all the while the weather favoured us, and was even downright wonderful! There was neither sultry heat nor rain; the flies did not bite, the dust did not make us itch. And every day my Yakoff acquired a better aspect. I must tell you that Yakoff had not been in the habit of seeing that one in the open air, but had felt him behind him, close to his back, or his shadow had seemed to be gliding alongside, which troubled my son greatly. But on this occasion nothing of that sort happened, and nothing made its appearance. We talked very little together ... but how greatly at our ease we felt—especially I! I saw that my poor boy was coming to life again. I cannot describe to you, my dear sir, what my feelings were then.—Well, we reached Voronezh at last. We cleaned up ourselves and washed ourselves, and went to the cathedral, to the holy man. For three whole days we hardly left the temple. How many prayer-services we celebrated, how many candles we placed before the holy pictures! And everything was going well, everything was fine; the days were devout, the nights were tranquil; my Yakoff slept like an infant. He began to talk to me of his own accord. He would ask: "Dost thou see nothing, father dear?" and smile. "No, I see nothing," I would answer.—What more could be demanded? My gratitude to the saint was unbounded.
Three days passed; I said to Yakoff: "Well, now, dear son, the matter has been set in order; there's a festival in our street. One thing remains to be done; do thou make thy confession and receive the communion; and then, with God's blessing, we will go our way, and after having got duly rested, and worked a bit on the farm to increase thy strength, thou mayest bestir thyself and find a place—and Marfa Savishna will certainly help us in that," I said.
"No," said Yakoff, "why should we trouble her? But I will take her a ring from Mitrofany's hand."
Thereupon I was greatly encouraged. "See to it," I said, "that thou takest a silver ring, not a gold one,—not a wedding-ring!"
My Yakoff flushed up and merely repeated that it was not proper to trouble her, but immediately assented to all the rest.—We went to the cathedral on the following day; my Yakoff made his confession, and prayed so fervently before it! And then he went forward to take the communion. I was standing a little to one side, and did not feel the earth under me for joy.... It is no sweeter for the angels in heaven! But as I look—what is the meaning of that?—My Yakoff has received the communion, but does not go to sip the warm water and wine! He is standing with his back to me.... I go to him.
"Yakoff," I say, "why art thou standing here?"
He suddenly wheels round. Will you believe it, I sprang back, so frightened was I!—His face had been dreadful before, but now it had become ferocious, frightful! He was as pale as death, his hair stood on end, his eyes squinted.... I even lost my voice with terror. I tried to speak and could not; I was perfectly benumbed.... And he fairly rushed out of the church! I ran after him ... but he fled straight to the tavern where we had put up, flung his wallet over his shoulder, and away he flew!
"Whither?" I shouted to him. "Yakoff, what aileth thee? Stop, wait!"
But Yakoff never uttered a word in reply to me, but ran like a hare, and it was utterly impossible to overtake him! He disappeared from sight. I immediately turned back, hired a cart, and trembled all over, and all I could say was: "O Lord!" and, "O Lord!" And I understood nothing: some calamity had descended upon us! I set out for home, for I thought, "He has certainly fled thither."—And so he had. Six versts out of the town I espied him; he was striding along the highway. I overtook him, jumped out of the cart, and rushed to him.
"Yasha! Yasha!"—He halted, turned his face toward me, but kept his eyes fixed on the ground and compressed his lips. And say what I would to him, he stood there just like a statue, and one could just see that he was breathing. And at last he trudged on again along the highway.—What was there to do? I followed him....
Akh, what a journey that was, my dear sir! Great as had been our joy on the way to Voronezh, just so great was the horror of the return! I would try to speak to him, and he would begin to gnash his teeth at me over his shoulder, precisely like a tiger or a hyena! Why I did not go mad I do not understand to this day! And at last, one night, in a peasant's chicken-house, he was sitting on the platform over the oven and dangling his feet and gazing about on all sides, when I fell on my knees before him and began to weep, and besought him with bitter entreaty:
"Do not slay thy old father outright," I said; "do not let him fall into despair—tell me what has happened to thee?"
He glanced at me as though he did not see who was before him, and suddenly began to speak, but in such a voice that it rings in my ears even now.
"Listen, daddy," said he. "Dost thou wish to know the whole truth? When I had taken the communion, thou wilt remember, and still held the particle in my mouth, suddenly he (and that was in the church, in the broad daylight!) stood in front of me, just as though he had sprung out of the ground, and whispered to me ... (but he had never spoken to me before)—whispered: 'Spit it out, and grind it to powder!' I did so; I spat it out, and ground it under foot. And now it must be that I am lost forever, for every sin shall be forgiven, save the sin against the Holy Spirit...."
And having uttered these dreadful words, my son threw himself back on the platform and I dropped down on the floor of the hut.... My legs failed me....
Father Alexyei paused for a moment, and covered his eyes with his hand.
But why should I weary you longer [he went on], and myself? My son and I dragged ourselves home, and there he soon afterward expired, and I lost my Yasha. For several days before his death he neither ate nor drank, but kept running back and forth in the room and repeating that there could be no forgiveness for his sin.... But he never saw him again. "He has ruined my soul," he said; "and why should he come any more now?" And when Yakoff took to his bed, he immediately sank into unconsciousness, and thus, without repentance, like a senseless worm, he went from this life to life eternal....
But I will not believe that the Lord judged harshly....
And among other reasons why I do not believe it is, that he looked so well in his coffin; he seemed to have grown young again and resembled the Yakoff of days gone by. His face was so tranquil and pure, his hair curled in little rings, and there was a smile on his lips. Marfa Savishna came to look at him, and said the same thing. She encircled him all round with flowers, and laid flowers on his heart, and set up the gravestone at her own expense.
And I was left alone.... And that is why, my dear sir, you have beheld such great grief on my face.... It will never pass off—-and it cannot.
I wanted to speak a word of comfort to Father Alexyei ... but could think of none. We parted soon after.
About forty versts from our village there dwelt, many years ago, the great-uncle of my mother, a retired Sergeant of the Guards and a fairly wealthy landed proprietor, Alexyei Sergyeitch Telyegin, on his ancestral estate, Sukhodol. He never went anywhere himself, and therefore did not visit us; but I was sent to pay my respects to him a couple of times a year, at first with my governor, and later on alone. Alexyei Sergyeitch always received me very cordially, and I spent three or four days with him. He was already an old man when I made his acquaintance; I remember that I was twelve years old at my first visit, and he was already over seventy. He had been born under the Empress Elizabeth, in the last year of her reign. He lived alone with his wife, Malanya Pavlovna; she was ten years younger than he. They had had two daughters who had been married long before, and rarely visited Sukhodol; there had been quarrels between them and their parents, and Alexyei Sergyeitch hardly ever mentioned them.
I see that ancient, truly noble steppe home as though it stood before me now. Of one story, with a huge mezzanine, erected at the beginning of the present century from wonderfully thick pine beams—such beams were brought at that epoch from the Zhizdrin pine forests; there is no trace of them nowadays!—it was very spacious and contained a multitude of rooms, which were decidedly low-ceiled and dark, it is true, and the windows were mere slits in the walls, for the sake of warmth. As was proper, the offices and the house-serfs' cottages surrounded the manor-house on all sides, and a park adjoined it, small but with fine fruit-trees, pellucid apples and seedless pears; for ten versts round about stretched out the flat, black-loam steppe. There was no lofty object for the eye: neither a tree nor a belfry; only here and there a windmill reared itself aloft with holes in its wings; it was a regular Sukhodol! (Dry Valley). Inside the house the rooms were filled with ordinary, plain furniture; rather unusual was a verst-post which stood on a window-sill in the hall, and bore the following inscription:
"If thou walkest 68 times around this hall, thou wilt have gone a verst; if thou goest 87 times from the extreme corner of the drawing-room to the right corner of the billiard-room, thou wilt have gone a verst,"—and so forth. But what most impressed the guest who arrived for the first time was the great number of pictures hung on the walls, for the most part the work of so-called Italian masters: ancient landscapes, and mythological and religious subjects. But as all these pictures had turned very black, and had even become warped, all that met the eye was patches of flesh-colour, or a billowy red drapery on an invisible body—or an arch which seemed suspended in the air, or a dishevelled tree with blue foliage, or the bosom of a nymph with a large nipple, like the cover of a soup-tureen; a sliced watermelon, with black seeds; a turban, with a feather above a horse's head; or the gigantic, light-brown leg of some apostle or other, with a muscular calf and up-turned toes, suddenly protruded itself. In the drawing-room, in the place of honour, hung a portrait of the Empress Katherine II, full length, a copy from Lampi's well-known portrait—the object of special reverence, one may say adoration, for the master of the house. From the ceiling depended crystal chandeliers in bronze fittings, very small and very dusty.
Alexyei Sergyeitch himself was a very squat, pot-bellied, little old man, with a plump, but agreeable face all of one colour, with sunken lips and very vivacious little eyes beneath lofty eyebrows. He brushed his scanty hair over the back of his head; it was only since the year 1812 that he had discarded powder. Alexyei Sergyeitch always wore a grey "redingote" with three capes which fell over his shoulders, a striped waistcoat, chamois-leather breeches and dark-red morocco short boots with a heart-shaped cleft, and a tassel at the top of the leg; he wore a white muslin neckerchief, a frill, lace cuffs, and two golden English "onions," one in each pocket of his waistcoat. In his right hand he generally held an enamelled snuff-box with "Spanish" snuff, while his left rested on a cane with a silver handle which had been worn quite smooth with long use. Alexyei Sergyeitch had a shrill, nasal voice, and was incessantly smiling, amiably, but somewhat patronisingly, not without a certain self-satisfied pompousness. He also laughed in an amiable manner, with a fine, thin laugh like a string of wax pearls. He was courteous and affable, in the ancient manner of Katherine's day, and moved his hands slowly and with a circular motion, also in ancient style. On account of his weak legs he could not walk, but he was wont to trip with hurried little steps from one arm-chair to another arm-chair, in which he suddenly seated himself—or, rather, he fell into it, as softly as though he had been a pillow.
As I have already said, Alexyei Sergyeitch never went anywhere, and associated very little with the neighbours, although he was fond of society,—for he was loquacious! He had plenty of society in his own house, it is true: divers Nikanor Nikanoritches, Sevastyei Sevastyeitches, Fedulitches, and Mikheitches, all poverty-stricken petty nobles, in threadbare kazak coats and short jackets, frequently from his own noble shoulders, dwelt beneath his roof, not to mention the poor gentlewomen in cotton-print gowns, with black kerchiefs on their shoulders, and worsted reticules in their tightly-clenched fingers,—divers Avdotiya Savishnas, Pelageya Mironovnas, and plain Fekluskas and Arinkas, who received asylum in the women's wing. No less than fifteen persons ever sat down to Alexyei Sergyeitch's table ... he was so hospitable!—Among all these parasites two individuals stood forth with special prominence: a dwarf named Janus or the Two-faced, a Dane,—or, as some asserted, of Jewish extraction,—and crazy Prince L. In contrast to the customs of that day the dwarf did not in the least serve as a butt for the guests, and was not a jester; on the contrary, he maintained constant silence, wore an irate and surly mien, contracted his brows in a frown, and gnashed his teeth as soon as any one addressed a question to him. Alexyei Sergyeitch also called him a philosopher, and even respected him. At table he was always the first to be served after the guests and the master and mistress of the house.—"God has wronged him," Alexyei Sergyeitch was wont to say: "that was the Lord's will; but it is not my place to wrong him."
"Why is he a philosopher?" I asked one day. (Janus did not like me. No sooner would I approach him, than he would begin to snarl and growl hoarsely, "Stranger! don't bother me!")
"But God have mercy, why isn't he a philosopher?" replied Alexyei Sergyeitch. "Just observe, my little gentleman, how finely he holds his tongue!"
"But why is he two-faced?"
"Because, my young sir, he has one face outside; there it is for you, ninny, and judge it.... But the other, the real one, he hides. And I am the only one who knows that face, and for that I love him.... Because 't is a good face. Thou, for example, gazest and beholdest nothing ... but even without words, I see when he is condemning me for anything; for he is strict! And always with reason. Which thing thou canst not understand, young sir; but just believe me, an old man!"
The true history of the two-faced Janus—whence he had come, how he had got into Alexyei Sergyeitch's house—no one knew. On the other hand, the story of Prince L. was well known to all. As a young man of twenty, he had come from a wealthy and distinguished family to Petersburg, to serve in a regiment of the Guards; the Empress Katherine noticed him at the first Court reception, and halting in front of him and pointing to him with her fan, she said, in a loud voice, addressing one of her favourites: "Look, Adam Vasilievitch, see what a beauty! A regular doll!" The blood flew to the poor young fellow's head. On reaching home he ordered his calash to be harnessed up, and donning his ribbon of the Order of Saint Anna, he started out to drive all over the town, as though he had actually fallen into luck.—"Crush every one who does not get out of the way!" he shouted to his coachman.—All this was immediately brought to the Empress's knowledge; an order was issued that he was to be adjudged insane and given in charge of his two brothers; and the latter, without the least delay, carried him off to the country and chained him up in a stone bag.—As they were desirous to make use of his property, they did not release the unfortunate man even when he recovered his senses and came to himself, but continued to keep him incarcerated until he really did lose his mind.—But their wickedness profited them nothing. Prince L. outlived his brothers, and after long sufferings, found himself under the guardianship of Alexyei Sergyeitch, who was a connection of his. He was a fat, perfectly bald man, with a long, thin nose and blue goggle-eyes. He had got entirely out of the way of speaking—he merely mumbled something unintelligible; but he sang the ancient Russian ballads admirably, having retained, to extreme old age, his silvery freshness of voice, and in his singing he enunciated every word clearly and distinctly. Something in the nature of fury came over him at times, and then he became terrifying. He would stand in one corner, with his face to the wall, and all perspiring and crimson,—crimson all over his bald head to the nape of his neck. Emitting a malicious laugh, and stamping his feet, he would issue orders that some one was to be castigated,—probably his brothers.—"Thrash!"— he yelled hoarsely, choking and coughing with laughter,—"scourge, spare not, thrash, thrash, thrash the monsters my malefactors! That's right! That's right!" Just before he died he greatly amazed and frightened Alexyei Sergyeitch. He entered the latter's room all pale and quiet, and inclining his body in obeisance to the girdle, he first returned thanks for the asylum and oversight, and then requested that a priest might be sent for; for Death had come to him—he had beheld her—and he must pardon all men and whiten himself.
"How was it that thou didst see her?" muttered the astounded Alexyei Sergyeitch, who now heard a coherent speech from him for the first time.—"What is she like? Has she a scythe?"
"No," replied Prince L.—"She's a plain old woman in a loose gown—only she has but one eye in her forehead, and that eye has no lid."
And on the following day Prince L. actually expired, after having fulfilled all his religious obligations and taken leave of every one intelligently and with emotion.
"That's the way I shall die also," Alexyei Sergyeitch was wont to remark. And, in fact, something similar happened with him—of which, later on.
But now let us return to our former subject. Alexyei Sergyeitch did not consort with the neighbours, as I have already said; and they did not like him any too well, calling him eccentric, arrogant, a mocker, and even a Martinist who did not recognise the authorities, without themselves understanding, of course, the meaning of the last word. To a certain extent the neighbours were right. Alexyei Sergyeitch had resided for nearly seventy years in succession in his Sukhodol, having almost no dealings whatever with the superior authorities, with the military officials, or the courts. "The court is for the bandit, the military officer for the soldier," he was wont to say; "but I, God be thanked, am neither a bandit nor a soldier." Alexyei Sergyeitch really was somewhat eccentric, but the soul within him was not of the petty sort. I will narrate a few things about him.
I never found out authoritatively what were his political views, if, indeed, one can apply to him such a very new-fangled expression; but he was, in his way, rather an aristocrat than a nobly-born master of serfs. More than once he complained because God had not given him a son and heir "for the honour of the race, for the continuation of the family." On the wall of his study hung the genealogical tree of the Telyegins, with very profuse branches, and multitudinous circles in the shape of apples, enclosed in a gilt frame.
"We Telyegins," he said, "are a very ancient stock, existing from remote antiquity; there have been a great many of us Telyegins, but we have not run after foreigners, we have not bowed our backs, we have not wearied ourselves by standing on the porches of the mighty, we have not nourished ourselves on the courts, we have not earned wages, we have not pined for Moscow, we have not intrigued in Peter; we have sat still, each on his place, his own master on his own land ... thrifty, domesticated birds, my dear sir!—Although I myself have served in the Guards, yet it was not for long, I thank you!"
Alexyei Sergyeitch preferred the olden days.—"Things were freer then, more seemly, I assure you on my honour! But ever since the year one thousand and eight hundred" (why precisely from that year he did not explain), "this warring and this soldiering have come into fashion, my dear fellow. These military gentlemen have mounted upon their heads some sort of plumes made of cocks' tails, and made themselves like cocks; they have drawn their necks up tightly, very tightly ... they speak in hoarse tones, their eyes are popping out of their heads—and how can they help being hoarse? The other day some police corporal or other came to see me.—'I have come to you, Your Well-Born,' quoth he.... (A pretty way he had chosen to surprise me! ... for I know myself that I am well-born....) 'I have a matter of business with you.' But I said to him: 'Respected sir, first undo the hooks on thy collar. Otherwise, which God forbid, thou wilt sneeze! Akh, what will become of thee! What will become of thee!—Thou wilt burst like a puff-ball.... And I shall be responsible for it!' And how they drink, those military gentlemen—o-ho-ho! I generally give orders that they shall be served with champagne from the Don, because Don champagne and Pontacq are all the same to them; it slips down their throats so smoothly and so fast—how are they to distinguish the difference? And here's another thing: they have begun to suck that sucking-bottle, to smoke tobacco. A military man will stick that same sucking-bottle under his moustache, between his lips, and emit smoke through his nostrils, his mouth, and even his ears—and think himself a hero! There are my horrid sons-in-law, for example; although one of them is a senator, and the other is some sort of a curator, they suck at the sucking-bottle also,—and yet they regard themselves as clever men!..."
Alexyei Sergyeitch could not endure smoking tobacco, nor dogs, especially small dogs.—"Come, if thou art a Frenchman, then keep a lap-dog. Thou runnest, thou skippest hither and thither, and it follows thee, with its tail in the air ... but of what use is it to fellows like me?"—He was very neat and exacting. He never spoke of the Empress Katherine otherwise than with enthusiasm, and in a lofty, somewhat bookish style: "She was a demi-god, not a human being!—Only contemplate yon smile, my good sir," he was wont to add, pointing at the Lampi portrait, "and admit that she was a demi-god! I, in my lifetime, have been so happy as to have been vouchsafed the bliss of beholding yon smile, and to all eternity it will never be erased from my heart!"—And thereupon he would impart anecdotes from the life of Katherine such as it has never been my lot to read or hear anywhere. Here is one of them. Alexyei Sergyeitch did not permit the slightest hint at the failings of the great Empress. "Yes, and in conclusion," he cried: "is it possible to judge her as one judges other people?—One day, as she was sitting in her powder-mantle, at the time of her morning toilet, she gave orders that her hair should be combed out.... And what happened? The waiting-woman passes the comb through it, and electric sparks fly from it in a perfect shower!—Then she called to her the body physician, Rodgerson, who was present on duty, and says to him: 'I know that people condemn me for certain actions; but dost thou see this electricity? Consequently, with such a nature and constitution as mine, thou mayest thyself judge, for thou art a physician, that it is unjust to condemn me, but they should understand me!'"
The following incident was ineffaceably retained in the memory of Alexyei Sergyeitch. He was standing one day on the inner watch in the palace, and he was only sixteen years of age. And lo, the Empress passes him—he presents arms.... "And she," cried Alexyei Sergyeitch, again with rapture, "smiling at my youth and my zeal, deigned to give me her hand to kiss, and patted me on the cheek, and inquired who I was, and whence I came, and from what family? And then ..." (here the old man's voice generally broke) ... "then she bade me give my mother her compliments and thank her for rearing her children so well. And whether I was in heaven or on earth, and how and whither she withdrew,—whether she soared up on high, or passed into another room,—I know not to this day!"
I often tried to question Alexyei Sergyeitch about those olden days, about the men who surrounded the Empress.... But he generally evaded the subject. "What's the use of talking about old times?"—he said ... "one only tortures himself. One says to himself,—'Thou wert a young man then, but now thy last teeth have vanished from thy mouth.' And there's no denying it—the old times were good ... well, and God be with them! And as for those men—I suppose, thou fidgety child, that thou art talking about the accidental men? Thou hast seen a bubble spring forth on water? So long as it is whole and lasts, what beautiful colours play upon it! Red and yellow and blue; all one can say is, ''Tis a rainbow or a diamond!'—But it soon bursts, and no trace of it remains. And that's what those men were like."
"Well, and how about Potyomkin?" I asked one day.
Alexyei Sergyeitch assumed a pompous mien. "Potyomkin, Grigory Alexandritch, was a statesman, a theologian, a nursling of Katherine's, her offspring, one must say.... But enough of that, my little sir!"
Alexyei Sergyeitch was a very devout man and went to church regularly, although it was beyond his strength. There was no superstition perceptible in him; he ridiculed signs, the evil eye, and other "twaddle," yet he did not like it when a hare ran across his path, and it was not quite agreeable for him to meet a priest. He was very respectful to ecclesiastical persons, nevertheless, and asked their blessing, and even kissed their hand every time, but he talked with them reluctantly.—"They emit a very strong odour," he explained; "but I, sinful man that I am, have grown effeminate beyond measure;—their hair is so long and oily, and they comb it out in all directions, thinking thereby to show me respect, and they clear their throats loudly in the middle of conversation, either out of timidity or because they wish to please me in that way also. Well, but they remind me of my hour of death. But be that as it may, I want to live a while longer. Only, little sir, don't repeat these remarks of mine; respect the ecclesiastical profession—only fools do not respect it; and I am to blame for talking nonsense in my old age."
Alexyei Sergyeitch had received a scanty education, like all nobles of that epoch; but he had completed it, to a certain degree, by reading. He read only Russian books of the end of the last century; he considered the newer writers unleavened and weak in style. During his reading he placed beside him, on a round, one-legged little table, a silver jug filled with a special effervescent kvas flavoured with mint, whose pleasant odour disseminated itself through all the rooms. He placed large, round spectacles on the tip of his nose; but in his later years he did not so much read as stare thoughtfully over the rims of the spectacles, elevating his brows, mowing with his lips and sighing. Once I caught him weeping, with a book on his knees, which greatly surprised me, I admit.
He recalled the following wretched doggerel:
O all-conquering race of man! Rest is unknown to thee! Thou findest it only When thou swallowest the dust of the grave.... Bitter, bitter is this rest! Sleep, ye dead.... But weep, ye living!
These verses were composed by a certain Gormitch-Gormitzky, a roving poetaster, whom Alexyei Sergyeitch had harboured in his house because he seemed to him a delicate and even subtle man; he wore shoes with knots of ribbon, pronounced his o's broadly, and, raising his eyes to heaven, he sighed frequently. In addition to all these merits, Gormitch-Gormitzky spoke French passably well, for he had been educated in a Jesuit college, while Alexyei Sergyeitch only "understood" it. But having once drunk himself dead-drunk in a dram-shop, this same subtle Gormitzky displayed outrageous violence. He thrashed "to flinders" Alexyei Sergyeitch's valet, the cook, two laundresses who happened along, and even an independent carpenter, and smashed several panes in the windows, yelling lustily the while: "Here now, I'll just show these Russian sluggards, these unlicked katzapy!"—And what strength that puny little man displayed! Eight men could hardly control him! For this turbulence Alexyei Sergyeitch gave orders that the rhymster should be flung out of the house, after he had preliminarily been rolled in the snow (it happened in the winter), to sober him.
"Yes," Alexyei Sergyeitch was wont to say, "my day is over; the horse is worn out. I used to keep poets at my expense, and I used to buy pictures and books from the Jews—and my geese were quite as good as those of Mukhan, and I had genuine slate-coloured tumbler-pigeons.... I was an amateur of all sorts of things! Except that I never was a dog-fancier, because of the drunkenness and the clownishness! I was mettlesome, untamable! God forbid that a Telyegin should be anything but first-class in everything! And I had a splendid horse-breeding establishment.... And those horses came ... whence, thinkest thou, my little sir?—From those very renowned studs of the Tzar Ivan Alexyeitch, the brother of Peter the Great.... I'm telling you the truth! All stallions, dark brown in colour, with manes to their knees, tails to their hoofs.... Lions! Vanity of vanities, all is vanity! But what's the use of regretting it? Every man has his limit fixed for him.—You cannot fly higher than heaven, nor live in the water, nor escape from the earth.... Let us live on a while longer, at any rate!"
And again the old man smiled and took a pinch of his Spanish tobacco.
His peasants loved him. Their master was kind, according to them, and not a heart-breaker.—Only, they also repeated that he was a worn-out steed. Formerly Alexyei Sergyeitch had gone into everything himself: he had ridden out into the fields, and to the flour-mill, and to the oil-mill and the storehouses, and looked in to the peasants' cottages; every one was familiar with his racing-drozhky, upholstered in crimson plush and drawn by a well-grown horse with a broad blaze extending clear across its forehead, named "Lantern"—from that same famous breeding establishment. Alexyei Sergyeitch drove him himself with the ends of the reins wound round his fists. But when his seventieth birthday came the old man gave up everything, and entrusted the management of his estate to the peasant bailiff Antip, of whom he secretly stood in awe and called Micromegas (memories of Voltaire!), or simply "robber."
"Well, robber, hast thou gathered a big lot of stolen goods?" he would say, looking the robber straight in the eye.
"Everything is according to your grace," Antip would reply merrily.
"Grace is all right, only just look out for thyself, Micromegas! Don't dare to touch my peasants, my subjects behind my back! They will make complaint ... my cane is not far off, seest thou?"
"I always keep your little cane well in mind, dear little father Alexyei Sergyeitch," replied Antip-Micromegas, stroking his beard.
"That's right, keep it in mind!" and master and bailiff laughed in each other's faces.
With his house-serfs, with his serfs in general, with his "subjects" (Alexyei Sergyeitch loved that word), he dealt gently.—"Because, judge for thyself, little nephew, if thou hast nothing of thine own save the cross on thy neck, and that a brass one, don't hanker after other folks' things.... What sense is there in that?" There is no denying the fact that no one even thought of the so-called problem of the serfs at that epoch; and it could not disturb Alexyei Sergyeitch. He very calmly ruled his "subjects"; but he condemned bad landed proprietors and called them the enemies of their class.
He divided the nobles in general into three categories: the judicious, "of whom there are not many"; the profligate, "of whom there is a goodly number"; and the licentious, "of whom there are enough to dam a pond." And if any one of them was harsh and oppressive to his subjects, that man was guilty in the sight of God, and culpable in the sight of men!—Yes; the house-serfs led an easy life in the old man's house; the "subjects behind his back" were less well off, as a matter of course, despite the cane wherewith he threatened Micromegas.—And how many there were of them—of those house-serfs—in his manor! And for the most part they were old, sinewy, hairy, grumbling, stoop-shouldered, clad in long-skirted nankeen kaftans, and imbued with a strong acrid odour! And in the women's department nothing was to be heard but the trampling of bare feet, and the rustling of petticoats.—The head valet was named Irinarkh, and Alexyei Sergyeitch always summoned him with a long-drawn-out call: "I-ri-na-a-arkh!"—He called the others: "Young fellow! Boy! What subject is there?!"—He could not endure bells. "God have mercy, this is no tavern!" And what amazed me was, that no matter at what time Alexyei Sergyeitch called his valet, the man instantly presented himself, just as though he had sprung out of the earth, and placing his heels together, and putting his hands behind his back, stood before his master a grim and, as it were, an irate but zealous servant!
Alexyei Sergyeitch was lavish beyond his means; but he did not like to be called "benefactor."—"What sort of a benefactor am I to you, sir?... I'm doing myself a favour, not you, my good sir!" (When he was angry or indignant he always called people "you.")—"To a beggar give once, give twice, give thrice," he was wont to say.... "Well, and if he returns for the fourth time—give to him yet again, only add therewith: 'My good man, thou shouldst work with something else besides thy mouth all the time.'"
"Uncle," I used to ask him, "what if the beggar should return for the fifth time after that?"
"Why, then, do thou give to him for the fifth time."
The sick people who appealed to him for aid he had cured at his own expense, although he himself did not believe in doctors, and never sent for them.—"My deceased mother," he asserted, "used to heal all maladies with olive-oil and salt; she both administered it internally and rubbed it on externally, and everything passed off splendidly. And who was my mother? She had her birth under Peter the First—only think of that!"
Alexyei Sergyeitch was a Russian man in every respect; he loved Russian viands, he loved Russian songs, but the accordion, "a factory invention," he detested; he loved to watch the maidens in their choral songs, the women in their dances. In his youth, it was said, he had sung rollickingly and danced with agility. He loved to steam himself in the bath,—and steamed himself so energetically that Irinarkh, who served him as bath-attendant, thrashed him with a birch-besom soaked in beer, rubbed him down with shredded linden bark, then with a bit of woollen cloth, rolled a soap bladder over his master's shoulders,—this faithfully-devoted Irinarkh was accustomed to say every time, as he climbed down from the shelf as red as "a new brass statue": "Well, for this time I, the servant of God, Irinarkh Tolobyeeff, am still whole.... What will happen next time?"
And Alexyei Sergyeitch spoke splendid Russian, somewhat old-fashioned, but piquant and pure as spring water, constantly interspersing his speech with his pet words: "honour bright," "God have mercy," "at any rate," "sir," and "little sir."...
Enough concerning him, however. Let us talk about Alexyei Sergyeitch's spouse, Malanya Pavlovna.
Malanya Pavlovna was a native of Moscow, and had been accounted the greatest beauty in town, la Venus de Moscou.—When I knew her she was already a gaunt old woman, with delicate but insignificant features, little curved hare-like teeth in a tiny little mouth, with a multitude of tight little curls on her forehead, and dyed eyebrows. She constantly wore a pyramidal cap with rose-coloured ribbons, a high ruff around her neck, a short white gown and prunella shoes with red heels; and over her gown she wore a jacket of blue satin, with the sleeve depending from the right shoulder. She had worn precisely such a toilet on St. Peter's day, 1789! On that day, being still a maiden, she had gone with her relatives to the Khodynskoe Field, to see the famous prize-fight arranged by the Orloffs.
"And Count Alexyei Grigorievitch ..." (oh, how many times did I hear that tale!), ... "having descried me, approached, made a low obeisance, holding his hat in both hands, and spake thus: 'My stunning beauty, why dost thou allow that sleeve to hang from thy shoulder? Is it that thou wishest to have a match at fisticuffs with me?... With pleasure; only I tell thee beforehand that thou hast vanquished me—I surrender!—and I am thy captive!'—and every one stared at us and marvelled."
And so she had worn that style of toilet ever since.
"Only, I wore no cap then, but a hat a la bergere de Trianon; and although I was powdered, yet my hair gleamed through it like gold!"
Malanya Pavlovna was stupid to sanctity, as the saying goes; she chattered at random, and did not herself quite know what issued from her mouth—but it was chiefly about Orloff.—Orloff had become, one may say, the principal interest of her life. She usually entered—no! she floated into—the room, moving her head in a measured way like a peacock, came to a halt in the middle of it, with one foot turned out in a strange sort of way, and holding the pendent sleeve in two fingers (that must have been the pose which had pleased Orloff once on a time), she looked about her with arrogant carelessness, as befits a beauty,— she even sniffed and whispered "The idea!" exactly as though some important cavalier-adorer were besieging her with compliments,—then suddenly walked on, clattering her heels and shrugging her shoulders.— She also took Spanish snuff out of a tiny bonbon box, scooping it out with a tiny golden spoon, and from time to time, especially when a new person made his appearance, she raised—not to her eyes, but to her nose (her vision was excellent)—a double lorgnette in the shape of a pair of horns, showing off and twisting about her little white hand with one finger standing out apart.
How many times did Malanya Pavlovna describe to me her wedding in the Church of the Ascension, "which is on the Arbat Square—such a fine church!—and all Moscow was present at it ... there was such a crush! 'T was frightful! There were equipages drawn by six horses, golden carriages, runners ... one of Count Zavadovsky's runners even fell under the wheels! And the bishop himself married us, and what an address he delivered! Everybody wept—wherever I looked there was nothing but tears, tears ... and the Governor-General's horses were tiger-coloured.... And how many, many flowers people brought!... They overwhelmed us with flowers! And one foreigner, a rich, very rich man, shot himself for love on that occasion, and Orloff was present also.... And approaching Alexyei Sergyeitch he congratulated him and called him a lucky dog.... 'Thou art a lucky dog, brother gaper!' he said. And in reply Alexyei Sergyeitch made such a wonderful obeisance, and swept the plume of his hat along the floor from left to right ... as much as to say: 'There is a line drawn now, Your Radiance, between you and my spouse which you must not step across!'—And Orloff, Alexyei Grigorievitch, immediately understood and lauded him.—Oh, what a man he was! What a man! And then, on another occasion, Alexis and I were at a ball in his house—I was already married—and what magnificent diamond buttons he wore! And I could not restrain myself, but praised them. 'What splendid diamonds you have, Count!' And thereupon he took a knife from the table, cut off one button and presented it to me—saying: 'You have in your eyes, my dear little dove, diamonds a hundredfold finer; just stand before the mirror and compare them.' And I did stand there, and he stood beside me.—'Well? Who is right?'—says he—and keeps rolling his eyes all round me. And then Alexyei Sergyeitch was greatly dismayed; but I said to him: 'Alexis,' I said to him, 'please do not be dismayed; thou shouldst know me better!' And he answered me: 'Be at ease, Melanie!'—And those same diamonds I now have encircling a medallion of Alexyei Grigorievitch—I think, my dear, that thou hast seen me wear it on my shoulder on festival days, on a ribbon of St. George—because he was a very brave hero, a cavalier of the Order of St. George: he burned the Turks!"
Notwithstanding all this, Malanya Pavlovna was a very kind woman; she was easy to please.—"She doesn't nag you, and she doesn't sneer at you," the maids said of her.—Malanya Pavlovna was passionately fond of all sweets, and a special old woman, who occupied herself with nothing but the preserves, and therefore was called the preserve-woman, brought to her, half a score of times in a day, a Chinese plate now with candied rose-leaves, again with barberries in honey, or orange sherbet. Malanya Pavlovna feared solitude—dreadful thoughts come then—and was almost constantly surrounded by female hangers-on whom she urgently entreated: "Talk, talk! Why do you sit there and do nothing but warm your seats?"—and they began to twitter like canary-birds. Being no less devout than Alexyei Sergyeitch, she was very fond of praying; but as, according to her own words, she had not learned to recite prayers well, she kept for that purpose the widow of a deacon, who prayed so tastily! She would never stumble to all eternity! And, in fact, that deacon's widow understood how to utter prayerful words in an irrepressible sort of way, without a break even when she inhaled or exhaled her breath—and Malanya Pavlovna listened and melted with emotion. She had another widow also attached to her service; the latter's duty consisted in telling her stories at night,—"but only old ones," entreated Malanya Pavlovna, "those I already know; all the new ones are spurious."
Malanya Pavlovna was very frivolous and sometimes suspicious. All of a sudden she would take some idea into her head. She did not like the dwarf Janus, for example; it always seemed to her as though he would suddenly start in and begin to shriek: "But do you know who I am? A Buryat Prince! So, then, submit!"—And if she did not, he would set fire to the house out of melancholy. Malanya Pavlovna was as lavish as Alexyei Sergyeitch; but she never gave money—she did not wish to soil her pretty little hands—but kerchiefs, ear-rings, gowns, ribbons, or she would send a patty from the table, or a bit of the roast, or if not that, a glass of wine. She was also fond of regaling the peasant-women on holidays. They would begin to dance, and she would click her heels and strike an attitude.
Alexyei Sergyeitch was very well aware that his wife was stupid; but he had trained himself, almost from the first year of his married life, to pretend that she was very keen of tongue and fond of saying stinging things. As soon as she got to chattering he would immediately shake his little finger at her and say: "Okh, what a naughty little tongue! What a naughty little tongue! Won't it catch it in the next world! It will be pierced with red-hot needles!"—But Malanya Pavlovna did not take offence at this; on the contrary, she seemed to feel flattered at hearing such remarks—as much as to say: "Well, I can't help it! It isn't my fault that I was born witty!"
Malanya Pavlovna worshipped her husband, and all her life remained an exemplary and faithful wife. But there had been an "object" in her life also, a young nephew, a hussar, who had been slain, so she assumed, in a duel on her account—-but, according to more trustworthy information, he had died from a blow received on the head from a billiard-cue, in tavern company. The water-colour portrait of this "object" was preserved by her in a secret casket. Malanya Pavlovna crimsoned to the very ears every time she alluded to Kapitonushka—that was the "object's" name;—while Alexyei Sergyeitch scowled intentionally, again menaced his wife with his little finger and said, "Trust not a horse in the meadow, a wife in the house! Okh, that Kapitonushka, Kupidonushka!"—Then Malanya Pavlovna bristled up all over and exclaimed:
"Alexis, shame on you, Alexis!—You yourself probably flirted with divers little ladies in your youth—and so you take it for granted...."
"Come, that will do, that will do, Malaniushka," Alexyei Sergyeitch interrupted her, with a smile;—"thy gown is white, and thy soul is whiter still!"
"It is whiter, Alexis; it is whiter!"
"Okh, what a naughty little tongue, on my honour, what a naughty little tongue!" repeated Alexyei Sergyeitch, tapping her on the cheek.
To mention Malanya Pavlovna's "convictions" would be still more out of place than to mention those of Alexyei Sergyeitch; but I once chanced to be the witness of a strange manifestation of my aunt's hidden feelings. I once chanced, in the course of conversation, to mention the well-known Sheshkovsky. Malanya Pavlovna suddenly became livid in the face,—as livid as a corpse,—turned green, despite the layer of paint and powder, and in a dull, entirely-genuine voice (which very rarely happened with her—as a general thing she seemed always somewhat affected, assumed an artificial tone and lisped) said: "Okh! whom hast thou mentioned! And at nightfall, into the bargain!—Don't utter that name!" I was amazed; what significance could that name possess for such an inoffensive and innocent being, who would not have known how to devise, much less to execute, anything reprehensible?—This alarm, which revealed itself after a lapse of nearly half a century, induced in me reflections which were not altogether cheerful.
Alexyei Sergyeitch died in his eighty-eighth year, in the year 1848, which evidently disturbed even him. And his death was rather strange. That morning he had felt well, although he no longer quitted his arm-chair at all. But suddenly he called to his wife: "Malaniushka, come hither!"
"What dost thou want, Alexis?"
"It is time for me to die, that's what, my darling."
"God be with you, Alexyei Sergyeitch! Why so?"
"This is why. In the first place, one must show moderation; and more than that; I was looking at my legs a little while ago ... they were strange legs—and that settles it!—I looked at my hands—-and those were strange also! I looked at my belly—and the belly belonged to some one else!—Which signifies that I am devouring some other person's life. Send for the priest; and in the meanwhile, lay me on my bed, from which I shall not rise again."
Malanya Pavlovna was in utter consternation, but she put the old man to bed, and sent for the priest. Alexyei Sergyeitch made his confession, received the holy communion, took leave of the members of his household, and began to sink into a stupor. Malanya Pavlovna was sitting beside his bed.
"Alexis!" she suddenly shrieked, "do not frighten me, do not close thy dear eyes! Hast thou any pain?"
The old man looked at his wife.—"No, I have no pain ... but I find it ... rather difficult ... difficult to breathe." Then, after a brief pause:—"Malaniushka," he said, "now life has galloped past—but dost thou remember our wedding ... what a fine young couple we were?"
"We were, my beauty, Alexis my incomparable one!"
Again the old man remained silent for a space.
"And shall we meet again in the other world, Malaniushka?"
"I shall pray to God that we may, Alexis."—And the old woman burst into tears.
"Come, don't cry, silly one; perchance the Lord God will make us young again there—and we shall again be a fine young pair!"
"He will make us young, Alexis!"
"Everything is possible to Him, to the Lord," remarked Alexyei Sergyeitch.—"He is a worker of wonders!—I presume He will make thee a clever woman also.... Come, my dear, I was jesting; give me thy hand to kiss."
"And I will kiss thine."
And the two old people kissed each other's hands.
Alexyei Sergyeitch began to quiet down and sink into a comatose state. Malanya Pavlovna gazed at him with emotion, brushing the tears from her eyelashes with the tip of her finger. She sat thus for a couple of hours.
"Has he fallen asleep?" asked in a whisper the old woman who knew how to pray so tastily, peering out from behind Irinarkh, who was standing as motionless as a pillar at the door, and staring intently at his dying master.
"Yes," replied Malanya Pavlovna, also in a whisper. And suddenly Alexyei Sergyeitch opened his eyes.
"My faithful companion," he stammered, "my respected spouse, I would like to bow myself to thy feet for all thy love and faithfulness—but how am I to rise? Let me at least sign thee with the cross."
Malanya Pavlovna drew nearer, bent over.... But the hand which had been raised fell back powerless on the coverlet, and a few moments later Alexyei Sergyeitch ceased to be.
His daughters with their husbands only arrived in time for the funeral; neither one of them had any children. Alexyei Sergyeitch had not discriminated against them in his will, although he had not referred to them on his death-bed.
"My heart is locked against them," he had said to me one day. Knowing his kind-heartedness, I was surprised at his words.—It is a difficult matter to judge between parents and children.—"A vast ravine begins with a tiny rift," Alexyei Sergyeitch had said to me on another occasion, referring to the same subject. "A wound an arshin long will heal over, but if you cut off so much as a nail, it will not grow again!"
I have an idea that the daughters were ashamed of their eccentric old folks.
A month later Malanya Pavlovna expired also. She hardly rose from her bed again after the day of Alexyei Sergyeitch's death, and did not array herself; but they buried her in the blue jacket, and with the medal of Orloff on her shoulder, only minus the diamonds. The daughters shared those between them, under the pretext that those diamonds were to be used for the setting of holy pictures; but as a matter of fact they used them to adorn their own persons.
And now how vividly do my old people stand before me, and what a good memory I cherish of them! And yet, during my very last visit to them (I was already a student at the time) an incident occurred which injected some discord into the harmoniously-patriarchal mood with which the Telyegin house inspired me.
Among the number of the household serfs was a certain Ivan, nicknamed "Sukhikh—the coachman, or the little coachman, as he was called, on account of his small size, in spite of his years, which were not few. He was a tiny scrap of a man, nimble, snub-nosed, curly-haired, with a perennial smile on his infantile countenance, and little, mouse-like eyes. He was a great joker and buffoon; he was able to acquire any trick; he set off fireworks, snakes, played all card-games, galloped his horse while standing erect on it, flew higher than any one else in the swing, and even knew how to present Chinese shadows. There was no one who could amuse children better than he, and he would have been only too glad to occupy himself with them all day long. When he got to laughing he set the whole house astir. People would answer him from this point and that—every one would join in.... They would both abuse him and laugh.—Ivan danced marvellously—especially 'the fish.'—The chorus would thunder out a dance tune, the young fellow would step into the middle of the circle, and begin to leap and twist about and stamp his feet, and then come down with a crash on the ground—and there represent the movements of a fish which has been thrown out of the water upon the dry land; and he would writhe about this way and that, and even bring his heels up to his neck; and then, when he sprang to his feet and began to shout, the earth would simply tremble beneath him! Alexyei Sergyeitch was extremely fond of choral songs and dances, as I have already said; he could never refrain from shouting: 'Send hither Vaniushka! the little coachman! Give us 'the fish,' be lively!'—and a minute later he would whisper in ecstasy: 'Akh, what a devil of a man he is!'"
Well, then,—on my last visit this same Ivan Sukhikh comes to me in my room, and without uttering a word plumps down on his knees.
"What is the matter with thee, Ivan?"
"Save me, master!"
"Why, what's the trouble?"
And thereupon Ivan related to me his grief.
He had been swapped twenty years previously by the Messrs. Sukhoy for another serf, a man belonging to the Telyegins—he had simply been exchanged, without any formalities and documents. The man who had been given in exchange for him had died, but the Messrs. Sukhoy had forgotten all about Ivan and had left him in Alexyei Sergyeitch's house as his property; his nickname alone served as a reminder of his origin.—But lo and behold! his former owners had died also, their estate had fallen into other hands, and the new owner, concerning whom rumours were in circulation to the effect that he was a cruel man, a torturer, having learned that one of his serfs was to be found at Alexyei Sergyeitch's without any passport and right, began to demand his return; in case of refusal he threatened to have recourse to the courts and a penalty—and he did not threaten idly, as he himself held the rank of Privy Councillor, and had great weight in the government. Ivan, in his affright, darted to Alexyei Sergyeitch. The old man was sorry for his dancer, and he offered to buy Ivan from the privy councillor at a good price; but the privy councillor would not hear of such a thing; he was a Little Russian and obstinate as the devil. The poor fellow had to be surrendered.
"I have got used to living here, I have made myself at home here, I have eaten bread here, and here I wish to die," Ivan said to me—and there was no grin on his face now; on the contrary, he seemed turned into stone.... "But now I must go to that malefactor.... Am I a dog that I am to be driven from one kennel to another with a slip-noose round my neck—and a 'take that'? Save me, master; entreat your uncle,—remember how I have always amused you.... Or something bad will surely come of it; the matter will not pass off without sin."
"Without what sin, Ivan?"
"Why, I will kill that gentleman.—When I arrive I shall say to him: 'Let me go back, master; otherwise, look out, beware.... I will kill you.'"
If a chaffinch or a bullfinch could talk and had begun to assure me that it would claw another bird, it would not have caused me greater astonishment than did Ivan on that occasion.—What! Vanya Sukhikh, that dancer, jester, buffoon, that favourite of the children, and a child himself—that kindest-hearted of beings—a murderer! What nonsense! I did not believe him for a single moment. I was startled in the extreme that he should have been able to utter such a word! Nevertheless, I betook myself to Alexyei Sergyeitch. I did not repeat to him what Ivan had said to me, but I tried in every way to beg him to see whether he could not set the matter right.
"My little sir," the old man replied to me, "I would be only too delighted, but how can I?—I have offered that Topknot huge remuneration. I offered him three hundred rubles, I assure thee on my honour! but in vain. What is one to do? We had acted illegally, on faith, after the ancient fashion ... and now see what a bad thing has come of it! I am sure that Topknot will take Ivan from me by force the first thing we know; he has a strong hand, the Governor eats sour cabbage-soup with him—the Topknot will send a soldier! I'm afraid of those soldiers! In former days, there's no denying it, I would have defended Ivan,—but just look at me now, how decrepit I have grown. How am I to wage war?"—And, in fact, during my last visit I found that Alexyei Sergyeitch had aged very greatly; even the pupils of his eyes had acquired a milky hue—like that in infants—and on his lips there appeared not the discerning smile of former days, but that strainedly-sweet, unconscious smirk which never leaves the faces of very old people even in their sleep.
I imparted Alexyei Sergyeitch's decision to Ivan. He stood a while, held his peace, and shook his head.—"Well," he said at last, "what is fated to be cannot be avoided. Only my word is firm. That is to say: only one thing remains for me ... play the wag to the end.—Master, please give me something for liquor!" I gave it; he drank himself drunk—and on that same day he danced "the fish" in such wise that the maidens and married women fairly squealed with delight, so whimsically amusing was he.
The next day I went home, and three months later—when I was already in Petersburg—I learned that Ivan had actually kept his word!—He had been sent to his new master; his master had summoned him to his study and announced to him that he was to serve as his coachman, that he entrusted him with a troika of Vyatka horses, and that he should exact a strict account from him if he treated them badly, and, in general, if he were not punctual.—"I'm not fond of jesting," he said.—Ivan listened to his master, first made obeisance to his very feet, and then informed him that it was as his mercy liked, but he could not be his servant.—"Release me on quit-rent, Your High-Born," he said, "or make a soldier of me; otherwise there will be a catastrophe before long."
The master flared up.—"Akh, damn thee! What is this thou darest to say to me?—Know, in the first place, that I am 'Your Excellency,' and not 'Your High-Born'; in the second place, thou art beyond the age, and thy size is not such that I can hand thee over as a soldier; and, in conclusion,—what calamity art thou threatening me with? Art thou preparing to commit arson?"
"No, your Excellency, not to commit arson."
"To kill me, then, pray?"
Ivan maintained a stubborn silence.—"I will not be your servant," he said at last.
"Here, then, I'll show thee," roared the gentleman, "whether thou wilt be my servant or not!"—And after having cruelly flogged Ivan, he nevertheless ordered that the troika of Vyatka horses should be placed in his charge, and appointed him a coachman at the stables.
Ivan submitted, to all appearances; he began to drive as coachman. As he was a proficient in that line his master speedily took a fancy to him,—the more so as Ivan behaved very discreetly and quietly, and the horses throve under his care; he tended them so that they became as plump as cucumbers,—one could never leave off admiring them! The master began to drive out more frequently with him than with the other coachmen. He used to ask: "Dost thou remember, Ivan, how unpleasant was thy first meeting with me? I think thou hast got rid of thy folly?" But to these words Ivan never made any reply.
So, then, one day, just before the Epiphany, the master set out for the town with Ivan in his troika with bells, in a broad sledge lined with rugs. The horses began to ascend a hill at a walk, while Ivan descended from the box and went back to the sledge, as though he had dropped something.—The cold was very severe. The master sat there all wrapped up, and with his beaver cap drawn down over his ears. Then Ivan pulled a hatchet out from under the skirts of his coat, approached his master from behind, knocked off his cap, and saying: "I warned thee, Piotr Petrovitch—now thou hast thyself to thank for this!"—he laid open his head with one slash. Then he brought the horses to a standstill, put the cap back on his murdered master's head, and again mounting the box, he drove him to the town, straight to the court-house.
"Here's the general from Sukhoy for you, murdered; and I killed him.—I told him I would do it, and I have done it. Bind me!"
They seized Ivan, tried him, condemned him to the knout and then to penal servitude.—The merry, bird-like dancer reached the mines—and there vanished forever....
Yes; involuntarily—although in a different sense,—one repeats with Alexyei Sergyeitch:—"The old times were good ... well, yes, but God be with them! I want nothing to do with them!"
THE SONG OF LOVE TRIUMPHANT
DEDICATED TO THE MEMORY OF GUSTAVE FLAUBERT
Wage du zu irren und zu traeumen! SCHILLER.
The following is what I read in an Italian manuscript:
About the middle of the sixteenth century there dwelt in Ferrara—(it was then flourishing under the sceptre of its magnificent dukes, the patrons of the arts and of poetry)—there dwelt two young men, named Fabio and Muzio. Of the same age and nearly related, they were almost never separated; a sincere friendship had united them since their early childhood, and a similarity of fate had strengthened this bond. Both belonged to ancient families; both were wealthy, independent, and without family; the tastes and inclinations of both were similar. Muzio occupied himself with music, Fabio with painting. All Ferrara was proud of them as the finest ornaments of the Court, of society, and of the city. But in personal appearance they did not resemble each other, although both were distinguished for their stately, youthful beauty. Fabio was the taller of the two, white of complexion, with ruddy-gold hair, and had blue eyes. Muzio, on the contrary, had a swarthy face, black hair, and in his dark-brown eyes there was not that merry gleam, on his lips not that cordial smile, which Fabio had; his thick eyebrows over-hung his narrow eyelids, while Fabio's golden brows rose in slender arches on his pure, smooth forehead. Muzio was less animated in conversation also; nevertheless both friends were equally favoured by the ladies; for not in vain were they models of knightly courtesy and lavishness.
At one and the same time with them there dwelt in Ferrara a maiden named Valeria. She was considered one of the greatest beauties in the city, although she was to be seen only very rarely, as she led a retired life and left her house only to go to church;—and on great festivals for a walk. She lived with her mother, a nobly-born but not wealthy widow, who had no other children. Valeria inspired in every one whom she met a feeling of involuntary amazement and of equally involuntary tender respect: so modest was her mien, so little aware was she, to all appearance, of the full force of her charms. Some persons, it is true, thought her rather pale; the glance of her eyes, which were almost always lowered, expressed a certain shyness and even timidity; her lips smiled rarely, and then but slightly; hardly ever did any one hear her voice. But a rumour was in circulation to the effect that it was very beautiful, and that, locking herself in her chamber, early in the morning, while everything in the city was still sleeping, she loved to warble ancient ballads to the strains of a lute, upon which she herself played. Despite the pallor of her face, Valeria was in blooming health; and even the old people, as they looked on her, could not refrain from thinking:—"Oh, how happy will be that young man for whom this bud still folded in its petals, still untouched and virgin, shall at last unfold itself!"
Fabio and Muzio beheld Valeria for the first time at a sumptuous popular festival, got up at the command of the Duke of Ferrara, Ercole, son of the famous Lucrezia Borgia, in honour of some distinguished grandees who had arrived from Paris on the invitation of the Duchess, the daughter of Louis XII, King of France. Side by side with her mother sat Valeria in the centre of an elegant tribune, erected after drawings by Palladius on the principal square of Ferrara for the most honourable ladies of the city. Both Fabio and Muzio fell passionately in love with her that day; and as they concealed nothing from each other, each speedily learned what was going on in his comrade's heart. They agreed between themselves that they would both try to make close acquaintance with Valeria, and if she should deign to choose either one of them the other should submit without a murmur to her decision.
Several weeks later, thanks to the fine reputation which they rightfully enjoyed, they succeeded in penetrating into the not easily accessible house of the widow; she gave them permission to visit her. From that time forth they were able to see Valeria almost every day and to converse with her;—and with every day the flame kindled in the hearts of both young men blazed more and more vigorously. But Valeria displayed no preference for either of them, although their presence evidently pleased her. With Muzio she occupied herself with music; but she chatted more with Fabio: she was less shy with him. At last they decided to learn their fate definitely, and sent to Valeria a letter wherein they asked her to explain herself and say on whom she was prepared to bestow her hand. Valeria showed this letter to her mother, and informed her that she was content to remain unmarried; but if her mother thought it was time for her to marry, she would wed the man of her mother's choice. The honourable widow shed a few tears at the thought of parting from her beloved child; but there was no reason for rejecting the suitors: she considered them both equally worthy of her daughter's hand. But as she secretly preferred Fabio, and suspected that he was more to Valeria's taste also, she fixed upon him. On the following day Fabio learned of his happiness: and all that was left to Muzio was to keep his word and submit.
This he did; but he was not able to be a witness to the triumph of his friend, his rival. He immediately sold the greater part of his property, and collecting a few thousand ducats, he set off on a long journey to the Orient. On taking leave of Fabio he said to him that he would not return until he should feel that the last traces of passion in him had vanished. It was painful for Fabio to part from the friend of his childhood and his youth ... but the joyful anticipation of approaching bliss speedily swallowed up all other sentiments—and he surrendered himself completely to the transports of happy love.
He soon married Valeria, and only then did he learn the full value of the treasure which it had fallen to his lot to possess. He had a very beautiful villa at a short distance from Ferrara; he removed thither with his wife and her mother. A bright time then began for them. Wedded life displayed in a new and captivating light all Valeria's perfections. Fabio became a remarkable artist,—-no longer a mere amateur, but a master. Valeria's mother rejoiced and returned thanks to God as she gazed at the happy pair. Four years flew by unnoticed like a blissful dream. One thing alone was lacking to the young married couple, one thing caused them grief: they had no children ... but hope had not deserted them. Toward the end of the fourth year a great, and this time a genuine grief, visited them: Valeria's mother died, after an illness of a few days.
Valeria shed many tears; for a long time she could not reconcile herself to her loss. But another year passed; life once more asserted its rights and flowed on in its former channel. And, lo! one fine summer evening, without having forewarned any one, Muzio returned to Ferrara.
During the whole five years which had elapsed since his departure, no one had known anything about him. All rumours concerning him had died out, exactly as though he had vanished from the face of the earth. When Fabio met his friend on one of the streets in Ferrara he came near crying out aloud, first from fright, then from joy, and immediately invited him to his villa. There, in the garden, was a spacious, detached pavilion; he suggested that his friend should settle down in that pavilion. Muzio gladly accepted, and that same day removed thither with his servant, a dumb Malay—dumb but not deaf, and even, judging from the vivacity of his glance, a very intelligent man.... His tongue had been cut out. Muzio had brought with him scores of chests filled with divers precious things which he had collected during his prolonged wanderings.
Valeria was delighted at Muzio's return; and he greeted her in a cheerfully-friendly but composed manner. From everything it was obvious that he had kept the promise made to Fabio. In the course of the day he succeeded in installing himself in his pavilion; with the aid of his Malay he set out the rarities he had brought—rugs, silken tissues, garments of velvet and brocade, weapons, cups, dishes, and beakers adorned with enamel, articles of gold and silver set with pearls and turquoises, carved caskets of amber and ivory, faceted flasks, spices, perfumes, pelts of wild beasts, the feathers of unknown birds, and a multitude of other objects, the very use of which seemed mysterious and incomprehensible. Among the number of all these precious things there was one rich pearl necklace which Muzio had received from the Shah of Persia for a certain great and mysterious service; he asked Valeria's permission to place this necklace on her neck with his own hand; it seemed to her heavy, and as though endowed with a strange sort of warmth ... it fairly adhered to the skin. Toward evening, after dinner, as they sat on the terrace of the villa, in the shade of oleanders and laurels, Muzio began to narrate his adventures. He told of the distant lands which he had seen, of mountains higher than the clouds, of rivers like unto seas; he told of vast buildings and temples, of trees thousands of years old, of rainbow-hued flowers and birds; he enumerated the cities and peoples he had visited.... (their very names exhaled something magical). All the Orient was familiar to Muzio: he had traversed Persia and Arabia, where the horses are more noble and beautiful than all other living creatures; he had penetrated the depths of India, where is a race of people resembling magnificent plants; he had attained to the confines of China and Tibet, where a living god, the Dalai Lama by name, dwells upon earth in the form of a speechless man with narrow eyes. Marvellous were his tales! Fabio and Valeria listened to him as though enchanted.
In point of fact, Muzio's features had undergone but little change: swarthy from childhood, his face had grown still darker,—had been burned beneath the rays of a more brilliant sun,—his eyes seemed more deeply set than of yore, that was all; but the expression of that face had become different: concentrated, grave, it did not grow animated even when he alluded to the dangers to which he had been subjected by night in the forests, deafened by the roar of tigers, by day on deserted roads where fanatics lie in wait for travellers and strangle them in honour of an iron goddess who demands human blood. And Muzio's voice had grown more quiet and even; the movements of his hands, of his whole body, had lost the flourishing ease which is peculiar to the Italian race.
With the aid of his servant, the obsequiously-alert Malay, he showed his host and hostess several tricks which he had been taught by the Brahmins of India. Thus, for example, having preliminarily concealed himself behind a curtain, he suddenly appeared sitting in the air, with his legs doubled up beneath him, resting the tips of his fingers lightly on a bamboo rod set upright, which not a little amazed and even alarmed Fabio and Valeria.... "Can it be that he is a magician?" the thought occurred to her.—But when he set to calling out tame snakes from a covered basket by whistling on a small flute,—when, wiggling their fangs, their dark, flat heads made their appearance from beneath the motley stuff, Valeria became frightened and begged Muzio to hide away those horrors as quickly as possible.