Part 2 out of 3
and showed itself in a certain rakishness. I hated them horribly,
though perhaps I was worse than any of them. They repaid me in the
same way, and did not conceal their aversion for me. But by then I did not
desire their affection: on the contrary, I continually longed for their
humiliation. To escape from their derision I purposely began to make all
the progress I could with my studies and forced my way to the very top.
This impressed them. Moreover, they all began by degrees to grasp that I
had already read books none of them could read, and understood things
(not forming part of our school curriculum) of which they had not even
heard. They took a savage and sarcastic view of it, but were morally
impressed, especially as the teachers began to notice me on those
grounds. The mockery ceased, but the hostility remained, and cold and
strained relations became permanent between us. In the end I could not
put up with it: with years a craving for society, for friends, developed in
me. I attempted to get on friendly terms with some of my schoolfellows;
but somehow or other my intimacy with them was always strained and
soon ended of itself. Once, indeed, I did have a friend. But I was already
a tyrant at heart; I wanted to exercise unbounded sway over him; I tried to
instil into him a contempt for his surroundings; I required of him a
disdainful and complete break with those surroundings. I frightened him
with my passionate affection; I reduced him to tears, to hysterics. He was
a simple and devoted soul; but when he devoted himself to me entirely I
began to hate him immediately and repulsed him--as though all I
needed him for was to win a victory over him, to subjugate him and
nothing else. But I could not subjugate all of them; my friend was not at
all like them either, he was, in fact, a rare exception. The first thing I did
on leaving school was to give up the special job for which I had been
destined so as to break all ties, to curse my past and shake the dust from
off my feet .... And goodness knows why, after all that, I should go
trudging off to Simonov's!
Early next morning I roused myself and jumped out of bed with
excitement, as though it were all about to happen at once. But I believed
that some radical change in my life was coming, and would inevitably
come that day. Owing to its rarity, perhaps, any external event, however
trivial, always made me feel as though some radical change in my life
were at hand. I went to the office, however, as usual, but sneaked away
home two hours earlier to get ready. The great thing, I thought, is not to
be the first to arrive, or they will think I am overjoyed at coming. But
there were thousands of such great points to consider, and they all
agitated and overwhelmed me. I polished my boots a second time with
my own hands; nothing in the world would have induced Apollon to
clean them twice a day, as he considered that it was more than his duties
required of him. I stole the brushes to clean them from the passage, being
careful he should not detect it, for fear of his contempt. Then I minutely
examined my clothes and thought that everything looked old, worn and
threadbare. I had let myself get too slovenly. My uniform, perhaps, was
tidy, but I could not go out to dinner in my uniform. The worst of it was
that on the knee of my trousers was a big yellow stain. I had a foreboding
that that stain would deprive me of nine-tenths of my personal dignity. I
knew, too, that it was very poor to think so. "But this is no time for
thinking: now I am in for the real thing," I thought, and my heart sank. I
knew, too, perfectly well even then, that I was monstrously exaggerating
the facts. But how could I help it? I could not control myself and was
already shaking with fever. With despair I pictured to myself how coldly
and disdainfully that "scoundrel" Zverkov would meet me; with what
dull-witted, invincible contempt the blockhead Trudolyubov would look
at me; with what impudent rudeness the insect Ferfitchkin would snigger
at me in order to curry favour with Zverkov; how completely Simonov
would take it all in, and how he would despise me for the abjectness of
my vanity and lack of spirit--and, worst of all, how paltry, UNLITERARY,
commonplace it would all be. Of course, the best thing would be not to
go at all. But that was most impossible of all: if I feel impelled to do
anything, I seem to be pitchforked into it. I should have jeered at myself
ever afterwards: "So you funked it, you funked it, you funked the REAL
THING!" On the contrary, I passionately longed to show all that "rabble"
that I was by no means such a spiritless creature as I seemed to myself.
What is more, even in the acutest paroxysm of this cowardly fever, I
dreamed of getting the upper hand, of dominating them, carrying them
away, making them like me--if only for my "elevation of thought and
unmistakable wit." They would abandon Zverkov, he would sit on one
side, silent and ashamed, while I should crush him. Then, perhaps, we
would be reconciled and drink to our everlasting friendship; but what was
most bitter and humiliating for me was that I knew even then, knew fully
and for certain, that I needed nothing of all this really, that I did not really
want to crush, to subdue, to attract them, and that I did not care a straw
really for the result, even if I did achieve it. Oh, how I prayed for the day
to pass quickly! In unutterable anguish I went to the window, opened the
movable pane and looked out into the troubled darkness of the thickly
falling wet snow. At last my wretched little clock hissed out five. I seized
my hat and, trying not to look at Apollon, who had been all day
expecting his month's wages, but in his foolishness was unwilling to be
the first to speak about it, I slipped between him and the door and,
jumping into a high-class sledge, on which I spent my last half rouble, I
drove up in grand style to the Hotel de Paris.
I had been certain the day before that I should be the first to arrive. But it
was not a question of being the first to arrive. Not only were they not
there, but I had difficulty in finding our room. The table was not laid
even. What did it mean? After a good many questions I elicited from the
waiters that the dinner had been ordered not for five, but for six o'clock.
This was confirmed at the buffet too. I felt really ashamed to go on
questioning them. It was only twenty-five minutes past five. If they
changed the dinner hour they ought at least to have let me know--that is
what the post is for, and not to have put me in an absurd position in my
own eyes and ... and even before the waiters. I sat down; the servant
began laying the table; I felt even more humiliated when he was present.
Towards six o'clock they brought in candles, though there were lamps
burning in the room. It had not occurred to the waiter, however, to bring
them in at once when I arrived. In the next room two gloomy, angry-
looking persons were eating their dinners in silence at two different
tables. There was a great deal of noise, even shouting, in a room further
away; one could hear the laughter of a crowd of people, and nasty little
shrieks in French: there were ladies at the dinner. It was sickening, in fact.
I rarely passed more unpleasant moments, so much so that when they did
arrive all together punctually at six I was overjoyed to see them, as though
they were my deliverers, and even forgot that it was incumbent upon me
to show resentment.
Zverkov walked in at the head of them; evidently he was the leading
spirit. He and all of them were laughing; but, seeing me, Zverkov drew
himself up a little, walked up to me deliberately with a slight, rather jaunty
bend from the waist. He shook hands with me in a friendly, but not over-
friendly, fashion, with a sort of circumspect courtesy like that of a General,
as though in giving me his hand he were warding off something. I had
imagined, on the contrary, that on coming in he would at once break into
his habitual thin, shrill laugh and fall to making his insipid jokes and
witticisms. I had been preparing for them ever since the previous day, but I
had not expected such condescension, such high-official courtesy. So,
then, he felt himself ineffably superior to me in every respect! If he only
meant to insult me by that high-official tone, it would not matter, I
thought--I could pay him back for it one way or another. But what if, in
reality, without the least desire to be offensive, that sheepshead had a
notion in earnest that he was superior to me and could only look at me in a
patronising way? The very supposition made me gasp.
"I was surprised to hear of your desire to join us," he began, lisping and
drawling, which was something new. "You and I seem to have seen nothing of one
another. You fight shy of us. You shouldn't. We are not such terrible
people as you think. Well, anyway, I am glad to renew our acquaintance."
And he turned carelessly to put down his hat on the window.
"Have you been waiting long?" Trudolyubov inquired.
"I arrived at five o'clock as you told me yesterday," I answered aloud,
with an irritability that threatened an explosion.
"Didn't you let him know that we had changed the hour?" said
Trudolyubov to Simonov.
"No, I didn't. I forgot," the latter replied, with no sign of regret,
and without even apologising to me he went off to order the HORS D'OEUVRE.
"So you've been here a whole hour? Oh, poor fellow!" Zverkov cried
ironically, for to his notions this was bound to be extremely funny. That
rascal Ferfitchkin followed with his nasty little snigger like a puppy yapping.
My position struck him, too, as exquisitely ludicrous and embarrassing.
"It isn't funny at all!" I cried to Ferfitchkin, more and more irritated.
"It wasn't my fault, but other people's. They neglected to let me know. It
was ... it was ... it was simply absurd."
"It's not only absurd, but something else as well," muttered Trudolyubov,
naively taking my part. "You are not hard enough upon it. It was
simply rudeness--unintentional, of course. And how could Simonov ... h'm!"
"If a trick like that had been played on me," observed Ferfitchkin, "I
"But you should have ordered something for yourself," Zverkov interrupted,
"or simply asked for dinner without waiting for us."
"You will allow that I might have done that without your permission,"
I rapped out. "If I waited, it was ..."
"Let us sit down, gentlemen," cried Simonov, coming in. "Everything
is ready; I can answer for the champagne; it is capitally frozen .... You
see, I did not know your address, where was I to look for you?" he
suddenly turned to me, but again he seemed to avoid looking at me.
Evidently he had something against me. It must have been what
All sat down; I did the same. It was a round table. Trudolyubov was on
my left, Simonov on my right, Zverkov was sitting opposite, Ferfitchkin
next to him, between him and Trudolyubov.
"Tell me, are you ... in a government office?" Zverkov went on
attending to me. Seeing that I was embarrassed he seriously thought that
he ought to be friendly to me, and, so to speak, cheer me up.
"Does he want me to throw a bottle at his head?" I thought, in a fury.
In my novel surroundings I was unnaturally ready to be irritated.
"In the N--- office," I answered jerkily, with my eyes on my plate.
"And ha-ave you a go-od berth? I say, what ma-a-de you leave your
"What ma-a-de me was that I wanted to leave my original job," I
drawled more than he, hardly able to control myself. Ferfitchkin went off
into a guffaw. Simonov looked at me ironically. Trudolyubov left off
eating and began looking at me with curiosity.
Zverkov winced, but he tried not to notice it.
"And the remuneration?"
"I mean, your sa-a-lary?"
"Why are you cross-examining me?" However, I told him at once what
my salary was. I turned horribly red.
"It is not very handsome," Zverkov observed majestically.
"Yes, you can't afford to dine at cafes on that," Ferfitchkin
"To my thinking it's very poor," Trudolyubov observed gravely.
"And how thin you have grown! How you have changed!" added
Zverkov, with a shade of venom in his voice, scanning me and my attire
with a sort of insolent compassion.
"Oh, spare his blushes," cried Ferfitchkin, sniggering.
"My dear sir, allow me to tell you I am not blushing," I broke out at
last; "do you hear? I am dining here, at this cafe, at my own expense, not
at other people's--note that, Mr. Ferfitchkin."
"Wha-at? Isn't every one here dining at his own expense? You would
seem to be ..." Ferfitchkin flew out at me, turning as red as a lobster,
and looking me in the face with fury.
"Tha-at," I answered, feeling I had gone too far, "and I imagine it
would be better to talk of something more intelligent."
"You intend to show off your intelligence, I suppose?"
"Don't disturb yourself, that would be quite out of place here."
"Why are you clacking away like that, my good sir, eh? Have you gone
out of your wits in your office?"
"Enough, gentlemen, enough!" Zverkov cried, authoritatively.
"How stupid it is!" muttered Simonov.
"It really is stupid. We have met here, a company of friends, for a
farewell dinner to a comrade and you carry on an altercation," said
Trudolyubov, rudely addressing himself to me alone. "You invited yourself
to join us, so don't disturb the general harmony."
"Enough, enough!" cried Zverkov. "Give over, gentlemen, it's out of
place. Better let me tell you how I nearly got married the day before
And then followed a burlesque narrative of how this gentleman had
almost been married two days before. There was not a word about the
marriage, however, but the story was adorned with generals, colonels and
kammer-junkers, while Zverkov almost took the lead among them. It was
greeted with approving laughter; Ferfitchkin positively squealed.
No one paid any attention to me, and I sat crushed and humiliated.
"Good Heavens, these are not the people for me!" I thought. "And
what a fool I have made of myself before them! I let Ferfitchkin go too far,
though. The brutes imagine they are doing me an honour in letting me
sit down with them. They don't understand that it's an honour to them
and not to me! I've grown thinner! My clothes! Oh, damn my trousers!
Zverkov noticed the yellow stain on the knee as soon as he came in ....
But what's the use! I must get up at once, this very minute, take my hat
and simply go without a word ... with contempt! And tomorrow I can
send a challenge. The scoundrels! As though I cared about the seven
roubles. They may think .... Damn it! I don't care about the seven
roubles. I'll go this minute!"
Of course I remained. I drank sherry and Lafitte by the glassful in my
discomfiture. Being unaccustomed to it, I was quickly affected. My
annoyance increased as the wine went to my head. I longed all at once to
insult them all in a most flagrant manner and then go away. To seize the
moment and show what I could do, so that they would say, "He's clever,
though he is absurd," and ... and ... in fact, damn them all!
I scanned them all insolently with my drowsy eyes. But they seemed to
have forgotten me altogether. They were noisy, vociferous, cheerful.
Zverkov was talking all the time. I began listening. Zverkov was talking of
some exuberant lady whom he had at last led on to declaring her love (of
course, he was lying like a horse), and how he had been helped in this
affair by an intimate friend of his, a Prince Kolya, an officer in the
hussars, who had three thousand serfs.
"And yet this Kolya, who has three thousand serfs, has not put in an
appearance here tonight to see you off," I cut in suddenly.
For one minute every one was silent. "You are drunk already."
Trudolyubov deigned to notice me at last, glancing contemptuously in my
direction. Zverkov, without a word, examined me as though I were an insect.
I dropped my eyes. Simonov made haste to fill up the glasses with champagne.
Trudolyubov raised his glass, as did everyone else but me.
"Your health and good luck on the journey!" he cried to Zverkov. "To
old times, to our future, hurrah!"
They all tossed off their glasses, and crowded round Zverkov to kiss
him. I did not move; my full glass stood untouched before me.
"Why, aren't you going to drink it?" roared Trudolyubov, losing patience
and turning menacingly to me.
"I want to make a speech separately, on my own account ... and then
I'll drink it, Mr. Trudolyubov."
"Spiteful brute!" muttered Simonov. I drew myself up in my chair and
feverishly seized my glass, prepared for something extraordinary, though
I did not know myself precisely what I was going to say.
"SILENCE!" cried Ferfitchkin. "Now for a display of wit!"
Zverkov waited very gravely, knowing what was coming.
"Mr. Lieutenant Zverkov," I began, "let me tell you that I hate
phrases, phrasemongers and men in corsets ... that's the first point, and
there is a second one to follow it."
There was a general stir.
"The second point is: I hate ribaldry and ribald talkers. Especially
ribald talkers! The third point: I love justice, truth and honesty." I went
on almost mechanically, for I was beginning to shiver with horror myself
and had no idea how I came to be talking like this. "I love thought,
Monsieur Zverkov; I love true comradeship, on an equal footing and
not ... H'm ... I love ... But, however, why not? I will drink your
health, too, Mr. Zverkov. Seduce the Circassian girls, shoot the enemies
of the fatherland and ... and ... to your health, Monsieur Zverkov!"
Zverkov got up from his seat, bowed to me and said:
"I am very much obliged to you." He was frightfully offended and
"Damn the fellow!" roared Trudolyubov, bringing his fist down on
"Well, he wants a punch in the face for that," squealed Ferfitchkin.
"We ought to turn him out," muttered Simonov.
"Not a word, gentlemen, not a movement!" cried Zverkov solemnly,
checking the general indignation. "I thank you all, but I can show him
for myself how much value I attach to his words."
"Mr. Ferfitchkin, you will give me satisfaction tomorrow for your
words just now!" I said aloud, turning with dignity to Ferfitchkin.
"A duel, you mean? Certainly," he answered. But probably I was
so ridiculous as I challenged him and it was so out of keeping with
my appearance that everyone including Ferfitchkin was prostrate with laughter.
"Yes, let him alone, of course! He is quite drunk," Trudolyubov said
"I shall never forgive myself for letting him join us," Simonov
"Now is the time to throw a bottle at their heads," I thought to myself.
I picked up the bottle ... and filled my glass .... "No, I'd better sit
on to the end," I went on thinking; "you would be pleased, my friends, if I
went away. Nothing will induce me to go. I'll go on sitting here and
drinking to the end, on purpose, as a sign that I don't think you of the
slightest consequence. I will go on sitting and drinking, because this is a
public-house and I paid my entrance money. I'll sit here and drink, for I
look upon you as so many pawns, as inanimate pawns. I'll sit here and
drink ... and sing if I want to, yes, sing, for I have the right to ... to
sing ... H'm!"
But I did not sing. I simply tried not to look at any of them. I assumed
most unconcerned attitudes and waited with impatience for them to
speak FIRST. But alas, they did not address me! And oh, how I wished, how
I wished at that moment to be reconciled to them! It struck eight, at last
nine. They moved from the table to the sofa. Zverkov stretched himself
on a lounge and put one foot on a round table. Wine was brought there.
He did, as a fact, order three bottles on his own account. I, of course, was
not invited to join them. They all sat round him on the sofa. They
listened to him, almost with reverence. It was evident that they were fond
of him. "What for? What for?" I wondered. From time to time they were
moved to drunken enthusiasm and kissed each other. They talked of the
Caucasus, of the nature of true passion, of snug berths in the service, of
the income of an hussar called Podharzhevsky, whom none of them knew
personally, and rejoiced in the largeness of it, of the extraordinary grace
and beauty of a Princess D., whom none of them had ever seen; then it
came to Shakespeare's being immortal.
I smiled contemptuously and walked up and down the other side of the
room, opposite the sofa, from the table to the stove and back again. I tried
my very utmost to show them that I could do without them, and yet I
purposely made a noise with my boots, thumping with my heels. But it
was all in vain. They paid no attention. I had the patience to walk up and
down in front of them from eight o'clock till eleven, in the same place,
from the table to the stove and back again. "I walk up and down to please
myself and no one can prevent me." The waiter who came into the room
stopped, from time to time, to look at me. I was somewhat giddy from
turning round so often; at moments it seemed to me that I was in
delirium. During those three hours I was three times soaked with sweat
and dry again. At times, with an intense, acute pang I was stabbed to the
heart by the thought that ten years, twenty years, forty years would pass,
and that even in forty years I would remember with loathing and humiliation
those filthiest, most ludicrous, and most awful moments of my life.
No one could have gone out of his way to degrade himself more shamelessly,
and I fully realised it, fully, and yet I went on pacing up and down
from the table to the stove. "Oh, if you only knew what thoughts and
feelings I am capable of, how cultured I am!" I thought at moments,
mentally addressing the sofa on which my enemies were sitting. But my
enemies behaved as though I were not in the room. Once--only once--
they turned towards me, just when Zverkov was talking about Shakespeare,
and I suddenly gave a contemptuous laugh. I laughed in such an
affected and disgusting way that they all at once broke off their conversation,
and silently and gravely for two minutes watched me walking up and
down from the table to the stove, TAKING NO NOTICE OF THEM. But nothing
came of it: they said nothing, and two minutes later they ceased to notice
me again. It struck eleven.
"Friends," cried Zverkov getting up from the sofa, "let us all be off
"Of course, of course," the others assented. I turned sharply to
Zverkov. I was so harassed, so exhausted, that I would have cut my throat
to put an end to it. I was in a fever; my hair, soaked with perspiration,
stuck to my forehead and temples.
"Zverkov, I beg your pardon," I said abruptly and resolutely.
"Ferfitchkin, yours too, and everyone's, everyone's: I have insulted you all!"
"Aha! A duel is not in your line, old man," Ferfitchkin
It sent a sharp pang to my heart.
"No, it's not the duel I am afraid of, Ferfitchkin! I am ready to fight
you tomorrow, after we are reconciled. I insist upon it, in fact, and you
cannot refuse. I want to show you that I am not afraid of a duel. You shall
fire first and I shall fire into the air."
"He is comforting himself," said Simonov.
"He's simply raving," said Trudolyubov.
"But let us pass. Why are you barring our way? What do you want?"
Zverkov answered disdainfully.
They were all flushed, their eyes were bright: they had been
"I ask for your friendship, Zverkov; I insulted you, but ..."
"Insulted? YOU insulted ME? Understand, sir, that you never, under any
circumstances, could possibly insult ME."
"And that's enough for you. Out of the way!" concluded Trudolyubov.
"Olympia is mine, friends, that's agreed!" cried Zverkov.
"We won't dispute your right, we won't dispute your right," the others
I stood as though spat upon. The party went noisily out of the room.
Trudolyubov struck up some stupid song. Simonov remained behind for
a moment to tip the waiters. I suddenly went up to him.
"Simonov! give me six roubles!" I said, with desperate resolution.
He looked at me in extreme amazement, with vacant eyes. He, too,
"You don't mean you are coming with us?"
"I've no money," he snapped out, and with a scornful laugh he went
out of the room.
I clutched at his overcoat. It was a nightmare.
"Simonov, I saw you had money. Why do you refuse me? Am I a
scoundrel? Beware of refusing me: if you knew, if you knew why I am
asking! My whole future, my whole plans depend upon it!"
Simonov pulled out the money and almost flung it at me.
"Take it, if you have no sense of shame!" he pronounced pitilessly, and
ran to overtake them.
I was left for a moment alone. Disorder, the remains of dinner, a
broken wine-glass on the floor, spilt wine, cigarette ends, fumes of drink
and delirium in my brain, an agonising misery in my heart and finally
the waiter, who had seen and heard all and was looking inquisitively into
"I am going there!" I cried. "Either they shall all go down on their
knees to beg for my friendship, or I will give Zverkov a slap in the face!"
"So this is it, this is it at last--contact with real life," I muttered as I ran
headlong downstairs. "This is very different from the Pope's leaving Rome
and going to Brazil, very different from the ball on Lake Como!"
"You are a scoundrel," a thought flashed through my mind, "if you
laugh at this now."
"No matter!" I cried, answering myself. "Now everything is lost!"
There was no trace to be seen of them, but that made no difference--I
knew where they had gone.
At the steps was standing a solitary night sledge-driver in a rough
peasant coat, powdered over with the still falling, wet, and as it were
warm, snow. It was hot and steamy. The little shaggy piebald horse was
also covered with snow and coughing, I remember that very well. I made
a rush for the roughly made sledge; but as soon as I raised my foot to get
into it, the recollection of how Simonov had just given me six roubles
seemed to double me up and I tumbled into the sledge like a sack.
"No, I must do a great deal to make up for all that," I cried. "But I will
make up for it or perish on the spot this very night. Start!"
We set off. There was a perfect whirl in my head.
"They won't go down on their knees to beg for my friendship. That is a
mirage, cheap mirage, revolting, romantic and fantastical--that's another
ball on Lake Como. And so I am bound to slap Zverkov's face! It is
my duty to. And so it is settled; I am flying to give him a slap in the face.
The driver tugged at the reins.
"As soon as I go in I'll give it him. Ought I before giving him the slap
to say a few words by way of preface? No. I'll simply go in and give it him.
They will all be sitting in the drawing-room, and he with Olympia on the
sofa. That damned Olympia! She laughed at my looks on one occasion
and refused me. I'll pull Olympia's hair, pull Zverkov's ears! No, better
one ear, and pull him by it round the room. Maybe they will all begin
beating me and will kick me out. That's most likely, indeed. No matter!
Anyway, I shall first slap him; the initiative will be mine; and by the laws
of honour that is everything: he will be branded and cannot wipe off the
slap by any blows, by nothing but a duel. He will be forced to fight. And
let them beat me now. Let them, the ungrateful wretches! Trudolyubov
will beat me hardest, he is so strong; Ferfitchkin will be sure to catch hold
sideways and tug at my hair. But no matter, no matter! That's what I am
going for. The blockheads will be forced at last to see the tragedy of it all!
When they drag me to the door I shall call out to them that in reality they
are not worth my little finger. Get on, driver, get on!" I cried to the driver.
He started and flicked his whip, I shouted so savagely.
"We shall fight at daybreak, that's a settled thing. I've done with the
office. Ferfitchkin made a joke about it just now. But where can I get
pistols? Nonsense! I'll get my salary in advance and buy them. And
powder, and bullets? That's the second's business. And how can it all be
done by daybreak? and where am I to get a second? I have no friends.
Nonsense!" I cried, lashing myself up more and more. "It's of no consequence!
The first person I meet in the street is bound to be my second, just
as he would be bound to pull a drowning man out of water. The most
eccentric things may happen. Even if I were to ask the director himself to
be my second tomorrow, he would be bound to consent, if only from a
feeling of chivalry, and to keep the secret! Anton Antonitch ...."
The fact is, that at that very minute the disgusting absurdity of my plan
and the other side of the question was clearer and more vivid to my
imagination than it could be to anyone on earth. But ....
"Get on, driver, get on, you rascal, get on!"
"Ugh, sir!" said the son of toil.
Cold shivers suddenly ran down me. Wouldn't it be better ... to go
straight home? My God, my God! Why did I invite myself to this dinner
yesterday? But no, it's impossible. And my walking up and down for three
hours from the table to the stove? No, they, they and no one else must
pay for my walking up and down! They must wipe out this dishonour!
And what if they give me into custody? They won't dare! They'll be
afraid of the scandal. And what if Zverkov is so contemptuous that he
refuses to fight a duel? He is sure to; but in that case I'll show them ... I
will turn up at the posting station when he's setting off tomorrow, I'll
catch him by the leg, I'll pull off his coat when he gets into the carriage.
I'll get my teeth into his hand, I'll bite him. "See what lengths you can
drive a desperate man to!" He may hit me on the head and they may
belabour me from behind. I will shout to the assembled multitude:
"Look at this young puppy who is driving off to captivate the Circassian
girls after letting me spit in his face!"
Of course, after that everything will be over! The office will have
vanished off the face of the earth. I shall be arrested, I shall be tried, I
shall be dismissed from the service, thrown in prison, sent to Siberia.
Never mind! In fifteen years when they let me out of prison I will trudge
off to him, a beggar, in rags. I shall find him in some provincial town. He
will be married and happy. He will have a grown-up daughter .... I shall
say to him: "Look, monster, at my hollow cheeks and my rags! I've lost
everything--my career, my happiness, art, science, THE WOMAN I LOVED,
and all through you. Here are pistols. I have come to discharge my pistol
and ... and I ... forgive you. Then I shall fire into the air and he will
hear nothing more of me ...."
I was actually on the point of tears, though I knew perfectly well at that
moment that all this was out of Pushkin's SILVIO and Lermontov's MASQUERADE.
And all at once I felt horribly ashamed, so ashamed that I
stopped the horse, got out of the sledge, and stood still in the snow in the
middle of the street. The driver gazed at me, sighing and astonished.
What was I to do? I could not go on there--it was evidently stupid,
and I could not leave things as they were, because that would seem as
though ... Heavens, how could I leave things! And after such insults!
"No!" I cried, throwing myself into the sledge again. "It is ordained! It is
fate! Drive on, drive on!"
And in my impatience I punched the sledge-driver on the back of the neck.
"What are you up to? What are you hitting me for?" the peasant
shouted, but he whipped up his nag so that it began kicking.
The wet snow was falling in big flakes; I unbuttoned myself, regardless
of it. I forgot everything else, for I had finally decided on the slap, and
felt with horror that it was going to happen NOW, AT ONCE, and that NO FORCE
COULD STOP IT. The deserted street lamps gleamed sullenly in the snowy
darkness like torches at a funeral. The snow drifted under my great-coat,
under my coat, under my cravat, and melted there. I did not wrap myself
up--all was lost, anyway.
At last we arrived. I jumped out, almost unconscious, ran up the steps
and began knocking and kicking at the door. I felt fearfully weak,
particularly in my legs and knees. The door was opened quickly as
though they knew I was coming. As a fact, Simonov had warned them
that perhaps another gentleman would arrive, and this was a place in
which one had to give notice and to observe certain precautions. It was
one of those "millinery establishments" which were abolished by the
police a good time ago. By day it really was a shop; but at night, if one had
an introduction, one might visit it for other purposes.
I walked rapidly through the dark shop into the familiar drawing-
room, where there was only one candle burning, and stood still in
amazement: there was no one there. "Where are they?" I asked somebody.
But by now, of course, they had separated. Before me was standing a
person with a stupid smile, the "madam" herself, who had seen me
before. A minute later a door opened and another person came in.
Taking no notice of anything I strode about the room, and, I believe, I
talked to myself. I felt as though I had been saved from death and was
conscious of this, joyfully, all over: I should have given that slap, I should
certainly, certainly have given it! But now they were not here and ...
everything had vanished and changed! I looked round. I could not realise
my condition yet. I looked mechanically at the girl who had come in: and
had a glimpse of a fresh, young, rather pale face, with straight, dark
eyebrows, and with grave, as it were wondering, eyes that attracted me at
once; I should have hated her if she had been smiling. I began looking at
her more intently and, as it were, with effort. I had not fully collected my
thoughts. There was something simple and good-natured in her face, but
something strangely grave. I am sure that this stood in her way here, and
no one of those fools had noticed her. She could not, however, have been
called a beauty, though she was tall, strong-looking, and well built. She
was very simply dressed. Something loathsome stirred within me. I went
straight up to her.
I chanced to look into the glass. My harassed face struck me as
revolting in the extreme, pale, angry, abject, with dishevelled hair. "No
matter, I am glad of it," I thought; "I am glad that I shall seem repulsive
to her; I like that."
... Somewhere behind a screen a clock began wheezing, as though
oppressed by something, as though someone were strangling it. After an
unnaturally prolonged wheezing there followed a shrill, nasty, and as it
were unexpectedly rapid, chime--as though someone were suddenly
jumping forward. It struck two. I woke up, though I had indeed not been
asleep but lying half-conscious.
It was almost completely dark in the narrow, cramped, low-pitched
room, cumbered up with an enormous wardrobe and piles of cardboard
boxes and all sorts of frippery and litter. The candle end that had been
burning on the table was going out and gave a faint flicker from time to
time. In a few minutes there would be complete darkness.
I was not long in coming to myself; everything came back to my mind
at once, without an effort, as though it had been in ambush to pounce
upon me again. And, indeed, even while I was unconscious a point
seemed continually to remain in my memory unforgotten, and round it
my dreams moved drearily. But strange to say, everything that had
happened to me in that day seemed to me now, on waking, to be in the
far, far away past, as though I had long, long ago lived all that down.
My head was full of fumes. Something seemed to be hovering over
me, rousing me, exciting me, and making me restless. Misery and spite
seemed surging up in me again and seeking an outlet. Suddenly I saw
beside me two wide open eyes scrutinising me curiously and persistently.
The look in those eyes was coldly detached, sullen, as it were utterly
remote; it weighed upon me.
A grim idea came into my brain and passed all over my body, as a
horrible sensation, such as one feels when one goes into a damp and
mouldy cellar. There was something unnatural in those two eyes,
beginning to look at me only now. I recalled, too, that during those two
hours I had not said a single word to this creature, and had, in fact,
considered it utterly superfluous; in fact, the silence had for some reason
gratified me. Now I suddenly realised vividly the hideous idea--
revolting as a spider--of vice, which, without love, grossly and shamelessly
begins with that in which true love finds its consummation. For a long time
we gazed at each other like that, but she did not drop her eyes before mine
and her expression did not change, so that at last I felt uncomfortable.
"What is your name?" I asked abruptly, to put an end to it.
"Liza," she answered almost in a whisper, but somehow far from
graciously, and she turned her eyes away.
I was silent.
"What weather! The snow ... it's disgusting!" I said, almost to myself,
putting my arm under my head despondently, and gazing at the ceiling.
She made no answer. This was horrible.
"Have you always lived in Petersburg?" I asked a minute later, almost
angrily, turning my head slightly towards her.
"Where do you come from?"
"From Riga," she answered reluctantly.
"Are you a German?"
"Have you been here long?"
"In this house?"
She spoke more and more jerkily. The candle went out; I could no
longer distinguish her face.
"Have you a father and mother?"
"Yes ... no ... I have."
"Where are they?"
"There ... in Riga."
"What are they?"
"Nothing? Why, what class are they?"
"Have you always lived with them?"
"How old are you?"
"Why did you leave them?"
"Oh, for no reason."
That answer meant "Let me alone; I feel sick, sad."
We were silent.
God knows why I did not go away. I felt myself more and more sick and
dreary. The images of the previous day began of themselves, apart from
my will, flitting through my memory in confusion. I suddenly recalled
something I had seen that morning when, full of anxious thoughts, I was
hurrying to the office.
"I saw them carrying a coffin out yesterday and they nearly dropped
it," I suddenly said aloud, not that I desired to open the conversation, but
as it were by accident.
"Yes, in the Haymarket; they were bringing it up out of a cellar."
"From a cellar?"
"Not from a cellar, but a basement. Oh, you know ... down below ... from
a house of ill-fame. It was filthy all round ... Egg-shells, litter ...
a stench. It was loathsome."
"A nasty day to be buried," I began, simply to avoid being silent.
"Nasty, in what way?"
"The snow, the wet." (I yawned.)
"It makes no difference," she said suddenly, after a brief silence.
"No, it's horrid." (I yawned again). "The gravediggers must have sworn
at getting drenched by the snow. And there must have been water in the grave."
"Why water in the grave?" she asked, with a sort of curiosity, but
speaking even more harshly and abruptly than before.
I suddenly began to feel provoked.
"Why, there must have been water at the bottom a foot deep. You can't
dig a dry grave in Volkovo Cemetery."
"Why? Why, the place is waterlogged. It's a regular marsh. So they
bury them in water. I've seen it myself ... many times."
(I had never seen it once, indeed I had never been in Volkovo, and had
only heard stories of it.)
"Do you mean to say, you don't mind how you die?"
"But why should I die?" she answered, as though defending herself.
"Why, some day you will die, and you will die just the same as that
dead woman. She was ... a girl like you. She died of consumption."
"A wench would have died in hospital ..." (She knows all about it
already: she said "wench," not "girl.")
"She was in debt to her madam," I retorted, more and more provoked
by the discussion; "and went on earning money for her up to the end,
though she was in consumption. Some sledge-drivers standing by were
talking about her to some soldiers and telling them so. No doubt they
knew her. They were laughing. They were going to meet in a pot-house
to drink to her memory."
A great deal of this was my invention. Silence followed, profound
silence. She did not stir.
"And is it better to die in a hospital?"
"Isn't it just the same? Besides, why should I die?" she added irritably.
"If not now, a little later."
"Why a little later?"
"Why, indeed? Now you are young, pretty, fresh, you fetch a high
price. But after another year of this life you will be very different--you
will go off."
"In a year?"
"Anyway, in a year you will be worth less," I continued malignantly.
"You will go from here to something lower, another house; a year later--
to a third, lower and lower, and in seven years you will come to a
basement in the Haymarket. That will be if you were lucky. But it would
be much worse if you got some disease, consumption, say ... and caught
a chill, or something or other. It's not easy to get over an illness in your
way of life. If you catch anything you may not get rid of it. And so you
"Oh, well, then I shall die," she answered, quite vindictively, and she
made a quick movement.
"But one is sorry."
"Sorry for whom?"
"Sorry for life."
"Have you been engaged to be married? Eh?"
"What's that to you?"
"Oh, I am not cross-examining you. It's nothing to me. Why are you
so cross? Of course you may have had your own troubles. What is it to
me? It's simply that I felt sorry."
"Sorry for whom?"
"Sorry for you."
"No need," she whispered hardly audibly, and again made a faint movement.
That incensed me at once. What! I was so gentle with her, and she ....
"Why, do you think that you are on the right path?"
"I don't think anything."
"That's what's wrong, that you don't think. Realise it while there is still
time. There still is time. You are still young, good-looking; you might
love, be married, be happy ...."
"Not all married women are happy," she snapped out in the rude
abrupt tone she had used at first.
"Not all, of course, but anyway it is much better than the life here.
Infinitely better. Besides, with love one can live even without happiness.
Even in sorrow life is sweet; life is sweet, however one lives. But here what
is there but ... foulness? Phew!"
I turned away with disgust; I was no longer reasoning coldly. I began to
feel myself what I was saying and warmed to the subject. I was already
longing to expound the cherished ideas I had brooded over in my corner.
Something suddenly flared up in me. An object had appeared before me.
"Never mind my being here, I am not an example for you. I am,
perhaps, worse than you are. I was drunk when I came here, though," I
hastened, however, to say in self-defence. "Besides, a man is no example
for a woman. It's a different thing. I may degrade and defile myself, but I
am not anyone's slave. I come and go, and that's an end of it. I shake it off,
and I am a different man. But you are a slave from the start. Yes, a slave!
You give up everything, your whole freedom. If you want to break your
chains afterwards, you won't be able to; you will be more and more fast in
the snares. It is an accursed bondage. I know it. I won't speak of anything
else, maybe you won't understand, but tell me: no doubt you are in debt
to your madam? There, you see," I added, though she made no answer,
but only listened in silence, entirely absorbed, "that's a bondage for you!
You will never buy your freedom. They will see to that. It's like selling
your soul to the devil .... And besides ... perhaps, I too, am just as
unlucky--how do you know--and wallow in the mud on purpose, out of
misery? You know, men take to drink from grief; well, maybe I am here
from grief. Come, tell me, what is there good here? Here you and I ...
came together ... just now and did not say one word to one another all
the time, and it was only afterwards you began staring at me like a wild
creature, and I at you. Is that loving? Is that how one human being
should meet another? It's hideous, that's what it is!"
"Yes!" she assented sharply and hurriedly.
I was positively astounded by the promptitude of this "Yes." So the
same thought may have been straying through her mind when she was
staring at me just before. So she, too, was capable of certain thoughts?
"Damn it all, this was interesting, this was a point of likeness!" I thought,
almost rubbing my hands. And indeed it's easy to turn a young soul
It was the exercise of my power that attracted me most.
She turned her head nearer to me, and it seemed to me in the darkness
that she propped herself on her arm. Perhaps she was scrutinising me.
How I regretted that I could not see her eyes. I heard her deep breathing.
"Why have you come here?" I asked her, with a note of authority
already in my voice.
"Oh, I don't know."
"But how nice it would be to be living in your father's house! It's warm
and free; you have a home of your own."
"But what if it's worse than this?"
"I must take the right tone," flashed through my mind. "I may not get
far with sentimentality." But it was only a momentary thought. I swear
she really did interest me. Besides, I was exhausted and moody. And
cunning so easily goes hand-in-hand with feeling.
"Who denies it!" I hastened to answer. "Anything may happen. I am
convinced that someone has wronged you, and that you are more sinned
against than sinning. Of course, I know nothing of your story, but it's not
likely a girl like you has come here of her own inclination ...."
"A girl like me?" she whispered, hardly audibly; but I heard it.
Damn it all, I was flattering her. That was horrid. But perhaps it was a
good thing .... She was silent.
"See, Liza, I will tell you about myself. If I had had a home from
childhood, I shouldn't be what I am now. I often think that. However bad
it may be at home, anyway they are your father and mother, and not
enemies, strangers. Once a year at least, they'll show their love of you.
Anyway, you know you are at home. I grew up without a home; and
perhaps that's why I've turned so ... unfeeling."
I waited again. "Perhaps she doesn't understand," I thought, "and,
indeed, it is absurd--it's moralising."
"If I were a father and had a daughter, I believe I should love my
daughter more than my sons, really," I began indirectly, as though talking
of something else, to distract her attention. I must confess I blushed.
"Why so?" she asked.
Ah! so she was listening!
"I don't know, Liza. I knew a father who was a stern, austere man, but
used to go down on his knees to his daughter, used to kiss her hands, her
feet, he couldn't make enough of her, really. When she danced at parties
he used to stand for five hours at a stretch, gazing at her. He was mad over
her: I understand that! She would fall asleep tired at night, and he would
wake to kiss her in her sleep and make the sign of the cross over her. He
would go about in a dirty old coat, he was stingy to everyone else, but
would spend his last penny for her, giving her expensive presents, and it
was his greatest delight when she was pleased with what he gave her.
Fathers always love their daughters more than the mothers do. Some girls
live happily at home! And I believe I should never let my daughters marry."
"What next?" she said, with a faint smile.
"I should be jealous, I really should. To think that she should kiss
anyone else! That she should love a stranger more than her father! It's
painful to imagine it. Of course, that's all nonsense, of course every
father would be reasonable at last. But I believe before I should let her
marry, I should worry myself to death; I should find fault with all her
suitors. But I should end by letting her marry whom she herself loved.
The one whom the daughter loves always seems the worst to the father,
you know. That is always so. So many family troubles come from that."
"Some are glad to sell their daughters, rather than marrying
Ah, so that was it!
"Such a thing, Liza, happens in those accursed families in which
there is neither love nor God," I retorted warmly, "and where there is no
love, there is no sense either. There are such families, it's true, but I am
not speaking of them. You must have seen wickedness in your own
family, if you talk like that. Truly, you must have been unlucky. H'm! ...
that sort of thing mostly comes about through poverty."
"And is it any better with the gentry? Even among the poor, honest
people who live happily?"
"H'm ... yes. Perhaps. Another thing, Liza, man is fond of reckoning
up his troubles, but does not count his joys. If he counted them up as he
ought, he would see that every lot has enough happiness provided for it.
And what if all goes well with the family, if the blessing of God is upon it,
if the husband is a good one, loves you, cherishes you, never leaves you!
There is happiness in such a family! Even sometimes there is happiness
in the midst of sorrow; and indeed sorrow is everywhere. If you marry YOU
WILL FIND OUT FOR YOURSELF. But think of the first years of married life with
one you love: what happiness, what happiness there sometimes is in it!
And indeed it's the ordinary thing. In those early days even quarrels with
one's husband end happily. Some women get up quarrels with their
husbands just because they love them. Indeed, I knew a woman like that:
she seemed to say that because she loved him, she would torment him
and make him feel it. You know that you may torment a man on purpose
through love. Women are particularly given to that, thinking to themselves
'I will love him so, I will make so much of him afterwards, that it's
no sin to torment him a little now.' And all in the house rejoice in the
sight of you, and you are happy and gay and peaceful and honourable ....
Then there are some women who are jealous. If he went off
anywhere--I knew one such woman, she couldn't restrain herself, but
would jump up at night and run off on the sly to find out where he was,
whether he was with some other woman. That's a pity. And the woman
knows herself it's wrong, and her heart fails her and she suffers, but she
loves--it's all through love. And how sweet it is to make up after quarrels,
to own herself in the wrong or to forgive him! And they both are so happy
all at once--as though they had met anew, been married over again; as
though their love had begun afresh. And no one, no one should know
what passes between husband and wife if they love one another. And
whatever quarrels there may be between them they ought not to call in
their own mother to judge between them and tell tales of one another.
They are their own judges. Love is a holy mystery and ought to be hidden
from all other eyes, whatever happens. That makes it holier and better.
They respect one another more, and much is built on respect. And if
once there has been love, if they have been married for love, why should
love pass away? Surely one can keep it! It is rare that one cannot keep it.
And if the husband is kind and straightforward, why should not love last?
The first phase of married love will pass, it is true, but then there will
come a love that is better still. Then there will be the union of souls, they
will have everything in common, there will be no secrets between them.
And once they have children, the most difficult times will seem to them
happy, so long as there is love and courage. Even toil will be a joy, you
may deny yourself bread for your children and even that will be a joy,
They will love you for it afterwards; so you are laying by for your future.
As the children grow up you feel that you are an example, a support for
them; that even after you die your children will always keep your
thoughts and feelings, because they have received them from you, they
will take on your semblance and likeness. So you see this is a great duty.
How can it fail to draw the father and mother nearer? People say it's a trial
to have children. Who says that? It is heavenly happiness! Are you fond of
little children, Liza? I am awfully fond of them. You know--a little rosy
baby boy at your bosom, and what husband's heart is not touched, seeing
his wife nursing his child! A plump little rosy baby, sprawling and
snuggling, chubby little hands and feet, clean tiny little nails, so tiny that
it makes one laugh to look at them; eyes that look as if they understand
everything. And while it sucks it clutches at your bosom with its little
hand, plays. When its father comes up, the child tears itself away from the
bosom, flings itself back, looks at its father, laughs, as though it were
fearfully funny, and falls to sucking again. Or it will bite its mother's
breast when its little teeth are coming, while it looks sideways at her with
its little eyes as though to say, 'Look, I am biting!' Is not all that happiness
when they are the three together, husband, wife and child? One can
forgive a great deal for the sake of such moments. Yes, Liza, one must first
learn to live oneself before one blames others!"
"It's by pictures, pictures like that one must get at you," I thought to
myself, though I did speak with real feeling, and all at once I flushed
crimson. "What if she were suddenly to burst out laughing, what should I
do then?" That idea drove me to fury. Towards the end of my speech I
really was excited, and now my vanity was somehow wounded. The
silence continued. I almost nudged her.
"Why are you--" she began and stopped. But I understood: there
was a quiver of something different in her voice, not abrupt, harsh and
unyielding as before, but something soft and shamefaced, so shamefaced
that I suddenly felt ashamed and guilty.
"What?" I asked, with tender curiosity.
"Why, you ..."
"Why, you ... speak somehow like a book," she said, and again there
was a note of irony in her voice.
That remark sent a pang to my heart. It was not what I was expecting.
I did not understand that she was hiding her feelings under irony,
that this is usually the last refuge of modest and chaste-souled people
when the privacy of their soul is coarsely and intrusively invaded, and
that their pride makes them refuse to surrender till the last moment
and shrink from giving expression to their feelings before you. I ought
to have guessed the truth from the timidity with which she had repeatedly
approached her sarcasm, only bringing herself to utter it at last
with an effort. But I did not guess, and an evil feeling took possession
"Wait a bit!" I thought.
"Oh, hush, Liza! How can you talk about being like a book, when it
makes even me, an outsider, feel sick? Though I don't look at it as an
outsider, for, indeed, it touches me to the heart .... Is it possible, is it
possible that you do not feel sick at being here yourself? Evidently habit
does wonders! God knows what habit can do with anyone. Can you
seriously think that you will never grow old, that you will always be good-
looking, and that they will keep you here for ever and ever? I say nothing
of the loathsomeness of the life here .... Though let me tell you this
about it--about your present life, I mean; here though you are young
now, attractive, nice, with soul and feeling, yet you know as soon as I
came to myself just now I felt at once sick at being here with you! One
can only come here when one is drunk. But if you were anywhere else,
living as good people live, I should perhaps be more than attracted by
you, should fall in love with you, should be glad of a look from you, let
alone a word; I should hang about your door, should go down on my
knees to you, should look upon you as my betrothed and think it an
honour to be allowed to. I should not dare to have an impure thought
about you. But here, you see, I know that I have only to whistle and you
have to come with me whether you like it or not. I don't consult your
wishes, but you mine. The lowest labourer hires himself as a workman,
but he doesn't make a slave of himself altogether; besides, he knows that
he will be free again presently. But when are you free? Only think what
you are giving up here? What is it you are making a slave of? It is your
soul, together with your body; you are selling your soul which you have
no right to dispose of! You give your love to be outraged by every
drunkard! Love! But that's everything, you know, it's a priceless diamond,
it's a maiden's treasure, love--why, a man would be ready to give his
soul, to face death to gain that love. But how much is your love worth
now? You are sold, all of you, body and soul, and there is no need to strive
for love when you can have everything without love. And you know there
is no greater insult to a girl than that, do you understand? To be sure, I
have heard that they comfort you, poor fools, they let you have lovers of
your own here. But you know that's simply a farce, that's simply a sham,
it's just laughing at you, and you are taken in by it! Why, do you suppose
he really loves you, that lover of yours? I don't believe it. How can he
love you when he knows you may be called away from him any minute?
He would be a low fellow if he did! Will he have a grain of respect for
you? What have you in common with him? He laughs at you and robs
you--that is all his love amounts to! You are lucky if he does not beat
you. Very likely he does beat you, too. Ask him, if you have got one,
whether he will marry you. He will laugh in your face, if he doesn't spit
in it or give you a blow--though maybe he is not worth a bad halfpenny
himself. And for what have you ruined your life, if you come to think of
it? For the coffee they give you to drink and the plentiful meals? But with
what object are they feeding you up? An honest girl couldn't swallow the
food, for she would know what she was being fed for. You are in debt here,
and, of course, you will always be in debt, and you will go on in debt to
the end, till the visitors here begin to scorn you. And that will soon
happen, don't rely upon your youth--all that flies by express train here,
you know. You will be kicked out. And not simply kicked out; long before
that she'll begin nagging at you, scolding you, abusing you, as though
you had not sacrificed your health for her, had not thrown away your
youth and your soul for her benefit, but as though you had ruined her,
beggared her, robbed her. And don't expect anyone to take your part: the
others, your companions, will attack you, too, win her favour, for all are
in slavery here, and have lost all conscience and pity here long ago. They
have become utterly vile, and nothing on earth is viler, more loathsome,
and more insulting than their abuse. And you are laying down everything
here, unconditionally, youth and health and beauty and hope, and at
twenty-two you will look like a woman of five-and-thirty, and you will be
lucky if you are not diseased, pray to God for that! No doubt you are
thinking now that you have a gay time and no work to do! Yet there is no
work harder or more dreadful in the world or ever has been. One would
think that the heart alone would be worn out with tears. And you won't
dare to say a word, not half a word when they drive you away from here;
you will go away as though you were to blame. You will change to
another house, then to a third, then somewhere else, till you come down
at last to the Haymarket. There you will be beaten at every turn; that is
good manners there, the visitors don't know how to be friendly without
beating you. You don't believe that it is so hateful there? Go and look for
yourself some time, you can see with your own eyes. Once, one New
Year's Day, I saw a woman at a door. They had turned her out as a joke, to
give her a taste of the frost because she had been crying so much, and
they shut the door behind her. At nine o'clock in the morning she was
already quite drunk, dishevelled, half-naked, covered with bruises, her
face was powdered, but she had a black-eye, blood was trickling from her
nose and her teeth; some cabman had just given her a drubbing. She was
sitting on the stone steps, a salt fish of some sort was in her hand; she was
crying, wailing something about her luck and beating with the fish on the
steps, and cabmen and drunken soldiers were crowding in the doorway
taunting her. You don't believe that you will ever be like that? I should be
sorry to believe it, too, but how do you know; maybe ten years, eight
years ago that very woman with the salt fish came here fresh as a cherub,
innocent, pure, knowing no evil, blushing at every word. Perhaps she
was like you, proud, ready to take offence, not like the others; perhaps she
looked like a queen, and knew what happiness was in store for the man
who should love her and whom she should love. Do you see how it
ended? And what if at that very minute when she was beating on the filthy
steps with that fish, drunken and dishevelled--what if at that very
minute she recalled the pure early days in her father's house, when she
used to go to school and the neighbour's son watched for her on the way,
declaring that he would love her as long as he lived, that he would devote
his life to her, and when they vowed to love one another for ever and be
married as soon as they were grown up! No, Liza, it would be happy for
you if you were to die soon of consumption in some corner, in some
cellar like that woman just now. In the hospital, do you say? You will be
lucky if they take you, but what if you are still of use to the madam here?
Consumption is a queer disease, it is not like fever. The patient goes on
hoping till the last minute and says he is all right. He deludes himself
And that just suits your madam. Don't doubt it, that's how it is; you have
sold your soul, and what is more you owe money, so you daren't say a
word. But when you are dying, all will abandon you, all will turn away
from you, for then there will be nothing to get from you. What's more,
they will reproach you for cumbering the place, for being so long over
dying. However you beg you won't get a drink of water without abuse:
'Whenever are you going off, you nasty hussy, you won't let us sleep with
your moaning, you make the gentlemen sick.' That's true, I have heard
such things said myself. They will thrust you dying into the filthiest
corner in the cellar--in the damp and darkness; what will your thoughts
be, lying there alone? When you die, strange hands will lay you out, with
grumbling and impatience; no one will bless you, no one will sigh for
you, they only want to get rid of you as soon as may be; they will buy a
coffin, take you to the grave as they did that poor woman today, and
celebrate your memory at the tavern. In the grave, sleet, filth, wet snow--
no need to put themselves out for you--'Let her down, Vanuha; it's just
like her luck--even here, she is head-foremost, the hussy. Shorten the
cord, you rascal.' 'It's all right as it is.' 'All right, is it? Why, she's
on her side! She was a fellow-creature, after all! But, never mind, throw the
earth on her.' And they won't care to waste much time quarrelling over
you. They will scatter the wet blue clay as quick as they can and go off to
the tavern ... and there your memory on earth will end; other women
have children to go to their graves, fathers, husbands. While for you
neither tear, nor sigh, nor remembrance; no one in the whole world will
ever come to you, your name will vanish from the face of the earth--as
though you had never existed, never been born at all! Nothing but filth
and mud, however you knock at your coffin lid at night, when the dead
arise, however you cry: 'Let me out, kind people, to live in the light of
day! My life was no life at all; my life has been thrown away like a dish-
clout; it was drunk away in the tavern at the Haymarket; let me out, kind
people, to live in the world again.'"
And I worked myself up to such a pitch that I began to have a lump in
my throat myself, and ... and all at once I stopped, sat up in dismay and,
bending over apprehensively, began to listen with a beating heart. I had
reason to be troubled.
I had felt for some time that I was turning her soul upside down and
rending her heart, and--and the more I was convinced of it, the more
eagerly I desired to gain my object as quickly and as effectually as
possible. It was the exercise of my skill that carried me away; yet it was not
merely sport ....
I knew I was speaking stiffly, artificially, even bookishly, in fact, I
could not speak except "like a book." But that did not trouble me: I
knew, I felt that I should be understood and that this very bookishness
might be an assistance. But now, having attained my effect, I was
suddenly panic-stricken. Never before had I witnessed such despair! She
was lying on her face, thrusting her face into the pillow and clutching it
in both hands. Her heart was being torn. Her youthful body was
shuddering all over as though in convulsions. Suppressed sobs rent her
bosom and suddenly burst out in weeping and wailing, then she pressed
closer into the pillow: she did not want anyone here, not a living soul, to
know of her anguish and her tears. She bit the pillow, bit her hand till it
bled (I saw that afterwards), or, thrusting her fingers into her dishevelled
hair, seemed rigid with the effort of restraint, holding her breath and
clenching her teeth. I began saying something, begging her to calm
herself, but felt that I did not dare; and all at once, in a sort of cold
shiver, almost in terror, began fumbling in the dark, trying hurriedly to
get dressed to go. It was dark; though I tried my best I could not finish
dressing quickly. Suddenly I felt a box of matches and a candlestick with
a whole candle in it. As soon as the room was lighted up, Liza sprang
up, sat up in bed, and with a contorted face, with a half insane smile,
looked at me almost senselessly. I sat down beside her and took her
hands; she came to herself, made an impulsive movement towards me,
would have caught hold of me, but did not dare, and slowly bowed her
head before me.
"Liza, my dear, I was wrong ... forgive me, my dear," I began, but
she squeezed my hand in her fingers so tightly that I felt I was saying the
wrong thing and stopped.
"This is my address, Liza, come to me."
"I will come," she answered resolutely, her head still bowed.
"But now I am going, good-bye ... till we meet again."
I got up; she, too, stood up and suddenly flushed all over, gave a
shudder, snatched up a shawl that was lying on a chair and muffled
herself in it to her chin. As she did this she gave another sickly smile,
blushed and looked at me strangely. I felt wretched; I was in haste to get
"Wait a minute," she said suddenly, in the passage just at the doorway,
stopping me with her hand on my overcoat. She put down the candle in
hot haste and ran off; evidently she had thought of something or wanted
to show me something. As she ran away she flushed, her eyes shone, and
there was a smile on her lips--what was the meaning of it? Against my
will I waited: she came back a minute later with an expression that
seemed to ask forgiveness for something. In fact, it was not the same face,
not the same look as the evening before: sullen, mistrustful and obstinate.
Her eyes now were imploring, soft, and at the same time trustful,
caressing, timid. The expression with which children look at people they
are very fond of, of whom they are asking a favour. Her eyes were a light
hazel, they were lovely eyes, full of life, and capable of expressing love as
well as sullen hatred.
Making no explanation, as though I, as a sort of higher being, must
understand everything without explanations, she held out a piece of
paper to me. Her whole face was positively beaming at that instant with
naive, almost childish, triumph. I unfolded it. It was a letter to her from
a medical student or someone of that sort--a very high-flown and
flowery, but extremely respectful, love-letter. I don't recall the words
now, but I remember well that through the high-flown phrases there was
apparent a genuine feeling, which cannot be feigned. When I had
finished reading it I met her glowing, questioning, and childishly
impatient eyes fixed upon me. She fastened her eyes upon my face and
waited impatiently for what I should say. In a few words, hurriedly,
but with a sort of joy and pride, she explained to me that she had been
to a dance somewhere in a private house, a family of "very nice people,
WHO KNEW NOTHING, absolutely nothing, for she had only come here
so lately and it had all happened ... and she hadn't made up her
mind to stay and was certainly going away as soon as she had paid her
debt..." and at that party there had been the student who had danced
with her all the evening. He had talked to her, and it turned out that he
had known her in old days at Riga when he was a child, they had played
together, but a very long time ago--and he knew her parents, but ABOUT THIS
he knew nothing, nothing whatever, and had no suspicion! And the
day after the dance (three days ago) he had sent her that letter through
the friend with whom she had gone to the party ... and ... well, that
She dropped her shining eyes with a sort of bashfulness as she finished.
The poor girl was keeping that student's letter as a precious treasure,
and had run to fetch it, her only treasure, because she did not want me to
go away without knowing that she, too, was honestly and genuinely loved;
that she, too, was addressed respectfully. No doubt that letter was destined
to lie in her box and lead to nothing. But none the less, I am certain
that she would keep it all her life as a precious treasure, as her pride and
justification, and now at such a minute she had thought of that letter and
brought it with naive pride to raise herself in my eyes that I might see,
that I, too, might think well of her. I said nothing, pressed her hand and
went out. I so longed to get away ... I walked all the way home, in spite
of the fact that the melting snow was still falling in heavy flakes. I was
exhausted, shattered, in bewilderment. But behind the bewilderment the
truth was already gleaming. The loathsome truth.
It was some time, however, before I consented to recognise that truth.
Waking up in the morning after some hours of heavy, leaden sleep, and
immediately realising all that had happened on the previous day, I was
positively amazed at my last night's SENTIMENTALITY with Liza, at all those
"outcries of horror and pity." "To think of having such an attack of
womanish hysteria, pah!" I concluded. And what did I thrust my address
upon her for? What if she comes? Let her come, though; it doesn't
matter .... But OBVIOUSLY, that was not now the chief and the most
important matter: I had to make haste and at all costs save my reputation
in the eyes of Zverkov and Simonov as quickly as possible; that was the
chief business. And I was so taken up that morning that I actually forgot
all about Liza.
First of all I had at once to repay what I had borrowed the day before
from Simonov. I resolved on a desperate measure: to borrow fifteen
roubles straight off from Anton Antonitch. As luck would have it he was
in the best of humours that morning, and gave it to me at once, on the
first asking. I was so delighted at this that, as I signed the IOU with a
swaggering air, I told him casually that the night before "I had been
keeping it up with some friends at the Hotel de Paris; we were giving a
farewell party to a comrade, in fact, I might say a friend of my childhood,
and you know--a desperate rake, fearfully spoilt--of course, he belongs
to a good family, and has considerable means, a brilliant career; he is
witty, charming, a regular Lovelace, you understand; we drank an extra
'half-dozen' and ..."
And it went off all right; all this was uttered very easily,
unconstrainedly and complacently.
On reaching home I promptly wrote to Simonov.
To this hour I am lost in admiration when I recall the truly gentlemanly,
good-humoured, candid tone of my letter. With tact and good-
breeding, and, above all, entirely without superfluous words, I blamed
myself for all that had happened. I defended myself, "if I really may be
allowed to defend myself," by alleging that being utterly unaccustomed
to wine, I had been intoxicated with the first glass, which I said, I had
drunk before they arrived, while I was waiting for them at the Hotel de
Paris between five and six o'clock. I begged Simonov's pardon especially;
I asked him to convey my explanations to all the others, especially to
Zverkov, whom "I seemed to remember as though in a dream" I had
insulted. I added that I would have called upon all of them myself, but
my head ached, and besides I had not the face to. I was particularly
pleased with a certain lightness, almost carelessness (strictly within the
bounds of politeness, however), which was apparent in my style, and
better than any possible arguments, gave them at once to understand that
I took rather an independent view of "all that unpleasantness last night";
that I was by no means so utterly crushed as you, my friends, probably
imagine; but on the contrary, looked upon it as a gentleman serenely
respecting himself should look upon it. "On a young hero's past no
censure is cast!"
"There is actually an aristocratic playfulness about it!" I thought
admiringly, as I read over the letter. "And it's all because I am an
intellectual and cultivated man! Another man in my place would not have
known how to extricate himself, but here I have got out of it and am as
jolly as ever again, and all because I am 'a cultivated and educated man
of our day.' And, indeed, perhaps, everything was due to the wine
yesterday. H'm!" ... No, it was not the wine. I did not drink anything at
all between five and six when I was waiting for them. I had lied to
Simonov; I had lied shamelessly; and indeed I wasn't ashamed now ....
Hang it all though, the great thing was that I was rid of it.
I put six roubles in the letter, sealed it up, and asked Apollon to take it
to Simonov. When he learned that there was money in the letter, Apollon
became more respectful and agreed to take it. Towards evening I went out
for a walk. My head was still aching and giddy after yesterday. But as
evening came on and the twilight grew denser, my impressions and,
following them, my thoughts, grew more and more different and confused.
Something was not dead within me, in the depths of my heart and
conscience it would not die, and it showed itself in acute depression. For
the most part I jostled my way through the most crowded business streets,
along Myeshtchansky Street, along Sadovy Street and in Yusupov Garden.
I always liked particularly sauntering along these streets in the dusk,
just when there were crowds of working people of all sorts going home
from their daily work, with faces looking cross with anxiety. What I liked
was just that cheap bustle, that bare prose. On this occasion the jostling
of the streets irritated me more than ever, I could not make out what was
wrong with me, I could not find the clue, something seemed rising up
continually in my soul, painfully, and refusing to be appeased. I returned
home completely upset, it was just as though some crime were lying on
The thought that Liza was coming worried me continually. It seemed
queer to me that of all my recollections of yesterday this tormented me, as
it were, especially, as it were, quite separately. Everything else I had quite
succeeded in forgetting by the evening; I dismissed it all and was still
perfectly satisfied with my letter to Simonov. But on this point I was not
satisfied at all. It was as though I were worried only by Liza. "What if she
comes," I thought incessantly, "well, it doesn't matter, let her come!
H'm! it's horrid that she should see, for instance, how I live. Yesterday I
seemed such a hero to her, while now, h'm! It's horrid, though, that I have
let myself go so, the room looks like a beggar's. And I brought myself to go
out to dinner in such a suit! And my American leather sofa with the
stuffing sticking out. And my dressing-gown, which will not cover me,
such tatters, and she will see all this and she will see Apollon. That beast
is certain to insult her. He will fasten upon her in order to be rude to me.
And I, of course, shall be panic-stricken as usual, I shall begin bowing
and scraping before her and pulling my dressing-gown round me, I shall
begin smiling, telling lies. Oh, the beastliness! And it isn't the
beastliness of it that matters most! There is something more important, more
loathsome, viler! Yes, viler! And to put on that dishonest lying mask
When I reached that thought I fired up all at once.
"Why dishonest? How dishonest? I was speaking sincerely last night. I
remember there was real feeling in me, too. What I wanted was to excite
an honourable feeling in her .... Her crying was a good thing, it will
have a good effect."
Yet I could not feel at ease. All that evening, even when I had come
back home, even after nine o'clock, when I calculated that Liza could
not possibly come, still she haunted me, and what was worse, she came
back to my mind always in the same position. One moment out of all that
had happened last night stood vividly before my imagination; the moment
when I struck a match and saw her pale, distorted face, with its look
of torture. And what a pitiful, what an unnatural, what a distorted smile
she had at that moment! But I did not know then, that fifteen years later I
should still in my imagination see Liza, always with the pitiful, distorted,
inappropriate smile which was on her face at that minute.
Next day I was ready again to look upon it all as nonsense, due to over-
excited nerves, and, above all, as EXAGGERATED. I was always conscious of
that weak point of mine, and sometimes very much afraid of it. "I
exaggerate everything, that is where I go wrong," I repeated to myself
every hour. But, however, "Liza will very likely come all the same," was
the refrain with which all my reflections ended. I was so uneasy that I
sometimes flew into a fury: "She'll come, she is certain to come!" I cried,
running about the room, "if not today, she will come tomorrow; she'll
find me out! The damnable romanticism of these pure hearts! Oh, the
vileness--oh, the silliness--oh, the stupidity of these 'wretched sentimental
souls!' Why, how fail to understand? How could one fail to
But at this point I stopped short, and in great confusion, indeed.
And how few, how few words, I thought, in passing, were needed; how
little of the idyllic (and affectedly, bookishly, artificially idyllic too) had
sufficed to turn a whole human life at once according to my will. That's
virginity, to be sure! Freshness of soil!
At times a thought occurred to me, to go to her, "to tell her all," and
beg her not to come to me. But this thought stirred such wrath in me that
I believed I should have crushed that "damned" Liza if she had chanced
to be near me at the time. I should have insulted her, have spat at her,
have turned her out, have struck her!
One day passed, however, another and another; she did not come and I
began to grow calmer. I felt particularly bold and cheerful after nine
o'clock, I even sometimes began dreaming, and rather sweetly: I, for
instance, became the salvation of Liza, simply through her coming to me
and my talking to her .... I develop her, educate her. Finally, I notice
that she loves me, loves me passionately. I pretend not to understand (I
don't know, however, why I pretend, just for effect, perhaps). At last all
confusion, transfigured, trembling and sobbing, she flings herself at my
feet and says that I am her saviour, and that she loves me better than
anything in the world. I am amazed, but .... "Liza," I say, "can you
imagine that I have not noticed your love? I saw it all, I divined it, but I
did not dare to approach you first, because I had an influence over you and was
afraid that you would force yourself, from gratitude, to respond to my
love, would try to rouse in your heart a feeling which was perhaps absent,
and I did not wish that ... because it would be tyranny ... it would be
indelicate (in short, I launch off at that point into European, inexplicably
lofty subtleties a la George Sand), but now, now you are mine, you are my
creation, you are pure, you are good, you are my noble wife.
'Into my house come bold and free,
Its rightful mistress there to be'."
Then we begin living together, go abroad and so on, and so on. In fact,
in the end it seemed vulgar to me myself, and I began putting out my
tongue at myself.
Besides, they won't let her out, "the hussy!" I thought. They don't let
them go out very readily, especially in the evening (for some reason I
fancied she would come in the evening, and at seven o'clock precisely).
Though she did say she was not altogether a slave there yet, and had
certain rights; so, h'm! Damn it all, she will come, she is sure to come!
It was a good thing, in fact, that Apollon distracted my attention at that
time by his rudeness. He drove me beyond all patience! He was the bane
of my life, the curse laid upon me by Providence. We had been squabbling
continually for years, and I hated him. My God, how I hated him!
I believe I had never hated anyone in my life as I hated him, especially at
some moments. He was an elderly, dignified man, who worked part of his
time as a tailor. But for some unknown reason he despised me beyond all
measure, and looked down upon me insufferably. Though, indeed, he
looked down upon everyone. Simply to glance at that flaxen, smoothly
brushed head, at the tuft of hair he combed up on his forehead and oiled
with sunflower oil, at that dignified mouth, compressed into the shape of
the letter V, made one feel one was confronting a man who never doubted
of himself. He was a pedant, to the most extreme point, the greatest
pedant I had met on earth, and with that had a vanity only befitting
Alexander of Macedon. He was in love with every button on his coat,
every nail on his fingers--absolutely in love with them, and he looked it!
In his behaviour to me he was a perfect tyrant, he spoke very little to me,
and if he chanced to glance at me he gave me a firm, majestically self-
confident and invariably ironical look that drove me sometimes to fury.
He did his work with the air of doing me the greatest favour, though he did
scarcely anything for me, and did not, indeed, consider himself bound to
do anything. There could be no doubt that he looked upon me as the
greatest fool on earth, and that "he did not get rid of me" was simply that he
could get wages from me every month. He consented to do nothing for me
for seven roubles a month. Many sins should be forgiven me for what I
suffered from him. My hatred reached such a point that sometimes his
very step almost threw me into convulsions. What I loathed particularly
was his lisp. His tongue must have been a little too long or something of
that sort, for he continually lisped, and seemed to be very proud of it,
imagining that it greatly added to his dignity. He spoke in a slow, measured
tone, with his hands behind his back and his eyes fixed on the ground. He
maddened me particularly when he read aloud the psalms to himself
behind his partition. Many a battle I waged over that reading! But he was
awfully fond of reading aloud in the evenings, in a slow, even, sing-song
voice, as though over the dead. It is interesting that that is how he has
ended: he hires himself out to read the psalms over the dead, and at the
same time he kills rats and makes blacking. But at that time I could not get
rid of him, it was as though he were chemically combined with my
existence. Besides, nothing would have induced him to consent to leave
me. I could not live in furnished lodgings: my lodging was my private
solitude, my shell, my cave, in which I concealed myself from all mankind,
and Apollon seemed to me, for some reason, an integral part of that
flat, and for seven years I could not turn him away.
To be two or three days behind with his wages, for instance, was
impossible. He would have made such a fuss, I should not have known
where to hide my head. But I was so exasperated with everyone during
those days, that I made up my mind for some reason and with some
object to PUNISH Apollon and not to pay him for a fortnight the wages that
were owing him. I had for a long time--for the last two years--been
intending to do this, simply in order to teach him not to give himself airs
with me, and to show him that if I liked I could withhold his wages. I
purposed to say nothing to him about it, and was purposely silent indeed,
in order to score off his pride and force him to be the first to speak of his
wages. Then I would take the seven roubles out of a drawer, show him I
have the money put aside on purpose, but that I won't, I won't, I simply
won't pay him his wages, I won't just because that is "what I wish,"
because "I am master, and it is for me to decide," because he has been
disrespectful, because he has been rude; but if he were to ask respectfully
I might be softened and give it to him, otherwise he might wait another
fortnight, another three weeks, a whole month ....
But angry as I was, yet he got the better of me. I could not hold out for
four days. He began as he always did begin in such cases, for there had
been such cases already, there had been attempts (and it may be observed
I knew all this beforehand, I knew his nasty tactics by heart). He would
begin by fixing upon me an exceedingly severe stare, keeping it up for
several minutes at a time, particularly on meeting me or seeing me out of
the house. If I held out and pretended not to notice these stares, he
would, still in silence, proceed to further tortures. All at once, A PROPOS of
nothing, he would walk softly and smoothly into my room, when I was
pacing up and down or reading, stand at the door, one hand behind his
back and one foot behind the other, and fix upon me a stare more than
severe, utterly contemptuous. If I suddenly asked him what he wanted,
he would make me no answer, but continue staring at me persistently for
some seconds, then, with a peculiar compression of his lips and a most
significant air, deliberately turn round and deliberately go back to his
room. Two hours later he would come out again and again present
himself before me in the same way. It had happened that in my fury I did
not even ask him what he wanted, but simply raised my head sharply and
imperiously and began staring back at him. So we stared at one another
for two minutes; at last he turned with deliberation and dignity and went
back again for two hours.
If I were still not brought to reason by all this, but persisted in my
revolt, he would suddenly begin sighing while he looked at me, long,
deep sighs as though measuring by them the depths of my moral degradation,
and, of course, it ended at last by his triumphing completely: I
raged and shouted, but still was forced to do what he wanted.
This time the usual staring manoeuvres had scarcely begun when I lost
my temper and flew at him in a fury. I was irritated beyond endurance
apart from him.
"Stay," I cried, in a frenzy, as he was slowly and silently turning, with
one hand behind his back, to go to his room. "Stay! Come back, come
back, I tell you!" and I must have bawled so unnaturally, that he turned
round and even looked at me with some wonder. However, he persisted in
saying nothing, and that infuriated me.
"How dare you come and look at me like that without being sent for?
After looking at me calmly for half a minute, he began turning
"Stay!" I roared, running up to him, "don't stir! There. Answer, now:
what did you come in to look at?"
"If you have any order to give me it's my duty to carry it out," he
answered, after another silent pause, with a slow, measured lisp, raising
his eyebrows and calmly twisting his head from one side to another, all
this with exasperating composure.
"That's not what I am asking you about, you torturer!" I shouted,
turning crimson with anger. "I'll tell you why you came here myself: you
see, I don't give you your wages, you are so proud you don't want to bow
down and ask for it, and so you come to punish me with your stupid
stares, to worry me and you have no sus-pic-ion how stupid it is--
stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid! ..."
He would have turned round again without a word, but I seized him.
"Listen," I shouted to him. "Here's the money, do you see, here it is," (I
took it out of the table drawer); "here's the seven roubles complete, but
you are not going to have it, you ... are ... not ... going ... to ...
have it until you come respectfully with bowed head to beg my pardon.
Do you hear?"
"That cannot be," he answered, with the most unnatural self-confidence.
"It shall be so," I said, "I give you my word of honour, it shall be!"
"And there's nothing for me to beg your pardon for," he went on, as
though he had not noticed my exclamations at all. "Why, besides, you
called me a 'torturer,' for which I can summon you at the police-station
at any time for insulting behaviour."
"Go, summon me," I roared, "go at once, this very minute, this very
second! You are a torturer all the same! a torturer!"
But he merely looked at me, then turned, and regardless of my loud
calls to him, he walked to his room with an even step and without
"If it had not been for Liza nothing of this would have happened," I
decided inwardly. Then, after waiting a minute, I went myself behind his
screen with a dignified and solemn air, though my heart was beating
slowly and violently.
"Apollon," I said quietly and emphatically, though I was breathless,
"go at once without a minute's delay and fetch the police-officer."
He had meanwhile settled himself at his table, put on his spectacles
and taken up some sewing. But, hearing my order, he burst into a guffaw.
"At once, go this minute! Go on, or else you can't imagine what
"You are certainly out of your mind," he observed, without even
raising his head, lisping as deliberately as ever and threading his needle.
"Whoever heard of a man sending for the police against himself? And as
for being frightened--you are upsetting yourself about nothing, for
nothing will come of it."
"Go!" I shrieked, clutching him by the shoulder. I felt I should strike
him in a minute.
But I did not notice the door from the passage softly and slowly open at
that instant and a figure come in, stop short, and begin staring at us in
perplexity I glanced, nearly swooned with shame, and rushed back to my
room. There, clutching at my hair with both hands, I leaned my head
against the wall and stood motionless in that position.
Two minutes later I heard Apollon's deliberate footsteps. "There is
some woman asking for you," he said, looking at me with peculiar
severity. Then he stood aside and let in Liza. He would not go away, but
stared at us sarcastically.
"Go away, go away," I commanded in desperation. At that moment my
clock began whirring and wheezing and struck seven.
"Into my house come bold and free,
Its rightful mistress there to be."
I stood before her crushed, crestfallen, revoltingly confused, and I believe
I smiled as I did my utmost to wrap myself in the skirts of my ragged
wadded dressing-gown--exactly as I had imagined the scene not long
before in a fit of depression. After standing over us for a couple of minutes
Apollon went away, but that did not make me more at ease. What made it
worse was that she, too, was overwhelmed with confusion, more so, in
fact, than I should have expected. At the sight of me, of course.
"Sit down," I said mechanically, moving a chair up to the table, and I
sat down on the sofa. She obediently sat down at once and gazed at me
open-eyed, evidently expecting something from me at once. This
naivete of expectation drove me to fury, but I restrained myself.
She ought to have tried not to notice, as though everything had been as
usual, while instead of that, she ... and I dimly felt that I should make
her pay dearly for ALL THIS.
"You have found me in a strange position, Liza," I began, stammering
and knowing that this was the wrong way to begin. "No, no, don't
imagine anything," I cried, seeing that she had suddenly flushed. "I am
not ashamed of my poverty .... On the contrary, I look with pride on my
poverty. I am poor but honourable .... One can be poor and honourable,"
I muttered. "However ... would you like tea? ...."
"No," she was beginning.
"Wait a minute."
I leapt up and ran to Apollon. I had to get out of the room somehow.
"Apollon," I whispered in feverish haste, flinging down before him the
seven roubles which had remained all the time in my clenched fist, "here
are your wages, you see I give them to you; but for that you must come to
my rescue: bring me tea and a dozen rusks from the restaurant. If you
won't go, you'll make me a miserable man! You don't know what this
woman is .... This is--everything! You may be imagining something ....
But you don't know what that woman is! ..."
Apollon, who had already sat down to his work and put on his
spectacles again, at first glanced askance at the money without speaking
or putting down his needle; then, without paying the slightest attention to
me or making any answer, he went on busying himself with his needle,
which he had not yet threaded. I waited before him for three minutes
with my arms crossed A LA NAPOLEON. My temples were moist with sweat.
I was pale, I felt it. But, thank God, he must have been moved to pity,
looking at me. Having threaded his needle he deliberately got up from
his seat, deliberately moved back his chair, deliberately took off his
spectacles, deliberately counted the money, and finally asking me over
his shoulder: "Shall I get a whole portion?" deliberately walked out of the
room. As I was going back to Liza, the thought occurred to me on the
way: shouldn't I run away just as I was in my dressing-gown, no matter
where, and then let happen what would?
I sat down again. She looked at me uneasily. For some minutes we
"I will kill him," I shouted suddenly, striking the table with my fist so
that the ink spurted out of the inkstand.
"What are you saying!" she cried, starting.
"I will kill him! kill him!" I shrieked, suddenly striking the table in
absolute frenzy, and at the same time fully understanding how stupid it
was to be in such a frenzy. "You don't know, Liza, what that torturer is to
me. He is my torturer .... He has gone now to fetch some rusks; he ..."
And suddenly I burst into tears. It was an hysterical attack. How
ashamed I felt in the midst of my sobs; but still I could not restrain them.
She was frightened.
"What is the matter? What is wrong?" she cried, fussing about me.
"Water, give me water, over there!" I muttered in a faint voice, though
I was inwardly conscious that I could have got on very well without water
and without muttering in a faint voice. But I was, what is called, PUTTING
IT ON, to save appearances, though the attack was a genuine one.
She gave me water, looking at me in bewilderment. At that moment
Apollon brought in the tea. It suddenly seemed to me that this commonplace,
prosaic tea was horribly undignified and paltry after all that had
happened, and I blushed crimson. Liza looked at Apollon with positive
alarm. He went out without a glance at either of us.
"Liza, do you despise me?" I asked, looking at her fixedly, trembling
with impatience to know what she was thinking.
She was confused, and did not know what to answer.
"Drink your tea," I said to her angrily. I was angry with myself, but, of
course, it was she who would have to pay for it. A horrible spite against
her suddenly surged up in my heart; I believe I could have killed her. To
revenge myself on her I swore inwardly not to say a word to her all the
time. "She is the cause of it all," I thought.
Our silence lasted for five minutes. The tea stood on the table; we did
not touch it. I had got to the point of purposely refraining from beginning
in order to embarrass her further; it was awkward for her to begin
alone. Several times she glanced at me with mournful perplexity. I was
obstinately silent. I was, of course, myself the chief sufferer, because I
was fully conscious of the disgusting meanness of my spiteful stupidity,
and yet at the same time I could not restrain myself.
"I want to... get away ... from there altogether," she began, to break
the silence in some way, but, poor girl, that was just what she ought not to
have spoken about at such a stupid moment to a man so stupid as I was.
My heart positively ached with pity for her tactless and unnecessary
straightforwardness. But something hideous at once stifled all compassion
in me; it even provoked me to greater venom. I did not care what
happened. Another five minutes passed.
"Perhaps I am in your way," she began timidly, hardly audibly, and was
But as soon as I saw this first impulse of wounded dignity I positively
trembled with spite, and at once burst out.
"Why have you come to me, tell me that, please?" I began, gasping for
breath and regardless of logical connection in my words. I longed to have
it all out at once, at one burst; I did not even trouble how to begin. "Why
have you come? Answer, answer," I cried, hardly knowing what I was
doing. "I'll tell you, my good girl, why you have come. You've come
because I talked sentimental stuff to you then. So now you are soft as
butter and longing for fine sentiments again. So you may as well know
that I was laughing at you then. And I am laughing at you now. Why are
you shuddering? Yes, I was laughing at you! I had been insulted just
before, at dinner, by the fellows who came that evening before me. I
came to you, meaning to thrash one of them, an officer; but I didn't
succeed, I didn't find him; I had to avenge the insult on someone to get
back my own again; you turned up, I vented my spleen on you and
laughed at you. I had been humiliated, so I wanted to humiliate; I had
been treated like a rag, so I wanted to show my power .... That's what it
was, and you imagined I had come there on purpose to save you. Yes? You
imagined that? You imagined that?"
I knew that she would perhaps be muddled and not take it all in exactly,
but I knew, too, that she would grasp the gist of it, very well indeed. And
so, indeed, she did. She turned white as a handkerchief, tried to say
something, and her lips worked painfully; but she sank on a chair as
though she had been felled by an axe. And all the time afterwards she
listened to me with her lips parted and her eyes wide open, shuddering
with awful terror. The cynicism, the cynicism of my words overwhelmed
"Save you!" I went on, jumping up from my chair and running up and
down the room before her. "Save you from what? But perhaps I am worse
than you myself. Why didn't you throw it in my teeth when I was giving
you that sermon: 'But what did you come here yourself for? was it to read
us a sermon?' Power, power was what I wanted then, sport was what I
wanted, I wanted to wring out your tears, your humiliation, your
hysteria--that was what I wanted then! Of course, I couldn't keep it up
then, because I am a wretched creature, I was frightened, and, the devil
knows why, gave you my address in my folly. Afterwards, before I got
home, I was cursing and swearing at you because of that address, I hated
you already because of the lies I had told you. Because I only like playing
with words, only dreaming, but, do you know, what I really want is that
you should all go to hell. That is what I want. I want peace; yes, I'd sell
the whole world for a farthing, straight off, so long as I was left in peace.
Is the world to go to pot, or am I to go without my tea? I say that the world
may go to pot for me so long as I always get my tea. Did you know that, or
not? Well, anyway, I know that I am a blackguard, a scoundrel, an egoist,
a sluggard. Here I have been shuddering for the last three days at the
thought of your coming. And do you know what has worried me particularly
for these three days? That I posed as such a hero to you, and now
you would see me in a wretched torn dressing-gown, beggarly, loathsome.
I told you just now that I was not ashamed of my poverty; so you
may as well know that I am ashamed of it; I am more ashamed of it than
of anything, more afraid of it than of being found out if I were a thief,
because I am as vain as though I had been skinned and the very air
blowing on me hurt. Surely by now you must realise that I shall never
forgive you for having found me in this wretched dressing-gown, just as I
was flying at Apollon like a spiteful cur. The saviour, the former hero, was
flying like a mangy, unkempt sheep-dog at his lackey, and the lackey was
jeering at him! And I shall never forgive you for the tears I could not help
shedding before you just now, like some silly woman put to shame! And
for what I am confessing to you now, I shall never forgive you either!
Yes--you must answer for it all because you turned up like this, because I
am a blackguard, because I am the nastiest, stupidest, absurdest and most
envious of all the worms on earth, who are not a bit better than I am, but,
the devil knows why, are never put to confusion; while I shall always be
insulted by every louse, that is my doom! And what is it to me that you
don't understand a word of this! And what do I care, what do I care about
you, and whether you go to ruin there or not? Do you understand? How I
shall hate you now after saying this, for having been here and listening.
Why, it's not once in a lifetime a man speaks out like this, and then it is in
hysterics! ... What more do you want? Why do you still stand confronting
me, after all this? Why are you worrying me? Why don't you go?"
But at this point a strange thing happened. I was so accustomed to think
and imagine everything from books, and to picture everything in the
world to myself just as I had made it up in my dreams beforehand, that I
could not all at once take in this strange circumstance. What happened
was this: Liza, insulted and crushed by me, understood a great deal more
than I imagined. She understood from all this what a woman understands
first of all, if she feels genuine love, that is, that I was myself unhappy.
The frightened and wounded expression on her face was followed first
by a look of sorrowful perplexity. When I began calling myself a scoundrel
and a blackguard and my tears flowed (the tirade was accompanied
throughout by tears) her whole face worked convulsively. She was on the
point of getting up and stopping me; when I finished she took no notice of
my shouting: "Why are you here, why don't you go away?" but realised
only that it must have been very bitter to me to say all this. Besides, she
was so crushed, poor girl; she considered herself infinitely beneath me;
how could she feel anger or resentment? She suddenly leapt up from her
chair with an irresistible impulse and held out her hands, yearning
towards me, though still timid and not daring to stir .... At this point
there was a revulsion in my heart too. Then she suddenly rushed to me,
threw her arms round me and burst into tears. I, too, could not restrain
myself, and sobbed as I never had before.
"They won't let me ... I can't be good!" I managed to articulate; then
I went to the sofa, fell on it face downwards, and sobbed on it for a quarter
of an hour in genuine hysterics. She came close to me, put her arms
round me and stayed motionless in that position. But the trouble was that
the hysterics could not go on for ever, and (I am writing the loathsome
truth) lying face downwards on the sofa with my face thrust into my nasty
leather pillow, I began by degrees to be aware of a far-away, involuntary
but irresistible feeling that it would be awkward now for me to raise my
head and look Liza straight in the face. Why was I ashamed? I don't
know, but I was ashamed. The thought, too, came into my overwrought
brain that our parts now were completely changed, that she was now the
heroine, while I was just a crushed and humiliated creature as she had
been before me that night--four days before .... And all this came into
my mind during the minutes I was lying on my face on the sofa.
My God! surely I was not envious of her then.
I don't know, to this day I cannot decide, and at the time, of course, I
was still less able to understand what I was feeling than now. I cannot get
on without domineering and tyrannising over someone, but ... there is
no explaining anything by reasoning and so it is useless to reason.
I conquered myself, however, and raised my head; I had to do so
sooner or later ... and I am convinced to this day that it was just because
I was ashamed to look at her that another feeling was suddenly kindled
and flamed up in my heart ... a feeling of mastery and possession. My
eyes gleamed with passion, and I gripped her hands tightly. How I hated
her and how I was drawn to her at that minute! The one feeling intensified
the other. It was almost like an act of vengeance. At first there was a
look of amazement, even of terror on her face, but only for one instant.
She warmly and rapturously embraced me.