y heart the names of all the
ministers and the men in high commands and their past history; he could
tell why one sea lay at a higher tide than another; he was the first to
know what the English or the French had invented, and whether the
inventions were useful or not. If there was any business to be arranged
in the law courts, Tiet Nikonich arranged it, and sometimes concealed
the sums that he spent in so doing. If he was found out, she scolded him;
he could not conceal his confusion, begged her pardon, kissed her hand,
and took his leave.
Tatiana Markovna was always at loggerheads with the bureaucracy of the
neighbourhood. If soldiers were to be billeted on her, the roads to be
improved, or the taxes collected, she complained of outrage, argued and
refused to pay. She would hear nothing about the public interest. In her
opinion everyone had his own business to mind. She strongly objected to
the police, and especially to the Superintendent, who was in her view a
robber. More than once Tiet Nikonich tried, without success, to
reconcile her to the doctrine of the public interest; he had to be
content if she was reconciled with the officials and the police.
This was the patriarchal, peaceful atmosphere which young Raisky
absorbed. Grandmother and the little girls were mother and sisters to
him, and Tiet Nikonich the ideal uncle.
Boris's aunt had only just begun to give him an idea of her methods of
conducting the estate when he began to yawn.
"Listen, these are all your affairs; I am only your Starost," she said.
But he could not suppress a yawn, watched the birds, the dragon-flies,
picked the cornflowers, looked curiously at the peasants, and gazed up
at the sky over-arching the wide horizon. Then his aunt began to talk to
one of the peasants, and he hurried off to the garden, ran down to the
edge of the precipice, and made his way through the undergrowth to the
steep bank of the Volga.
"He is still too young, only a child, does not understand serious
matters," thought his aunt, as she followed him with her eyes. "What
will become of him?"
The Volga glided quietly between its overgrown banks, with here and
there a sandbank or an island thickly covered with bushes. In the
distance lay the sandhills and the darkening forest. Here and there
shimmered a sail; gulls, with an even balancing of their wings, skimmed
the water, and then rose with a more strenuous movement, while over the
gardens, high in the air, the goshawks hovered.
Boris stood still for a long time, recalling his childhood. He
remembered that he had sat on this spot with his mother, looking
thoughtfully out at this same landscape. Then he went slowly back to the
house, and climbed the precipice, with the picture of her vividly before
his mind's eye.
In Malinovka and the neighbourhood there were tragic memories connected
with this precipice. In the lifetime of Boris's parents a man wild with
jealousy, a tailor from the town, had killed his wife and her lover
there in the midst of the thicket, and had then cut his own throat. The
suicide had been buried on the spot where he had committed the crime.
Among the common people, as always happens in cases of this sort, there
were rumours that the murderer, all dressed in white, wandered about the
wood, climbed the precipice, and looked down on town and village before
he vanished into air. And for superstitious reasons this part of the
grounds had been left neglected. None of the servants went down the
precipice, and the peasants from the outskirts of the town and from
Malinovka made a dИtour to avoid it. The fence that divided the Raiskys'
park from the woods had long since fallen into disrepair. Pines and
bushes of hawthorn and dwarf-cherry had woven themselves together into a
dense growth in the midst of which was concealed a neglected arbour.
Boris vividly imagined the scene, how the jealous husband, trembling
with agitation, stole through the bushes, threw himself on his rival,
and struck him with his knife; how the woman flung herself at his feet
and begged his forgiveness. But he, with the foam of madness on his lips,
struck her again and again, and then, in the presence of the two corpses,
cut his own throat. Boris shuddered. Agitated and gloomy he turned from
the accursed spot. Yet he was attracted by the mysterious darkness of
the tangled wood to the precipice, to the lovely view over the Volga and
He closed his eyes, abandoning himself to the contemplation of the
picture; his thoughts swept over him like the waves of the Volga; the
lovely landscape was ever before his eyes, mirrored in his consciousness.
Veroshka and Marfinka provided him with amusement.
Veroshka was a little girl of six, with dark, brilliant eyes and dark
complexion, who was beginning to be serious and to be ashamed of her
baby ways. She would hop, skip and jump, then stand still, look shyly
round and walk sedately along; then she would dart on again like a bird,
pick a handful of currants and stuff them into her mouth. If Boris
patted her hair, she smoothed it rapidly; if he gave her a kiss, she
wiped it away. She was self-willed too. When she was sent on an errand
she would shake her head, then run off to do it. She never asked Boris
to draw for her, but if Marfinka asked him she watched silently and more
intently than her sister. She did not, like Marfinka, beg either
drawings or pencils.
Marfinka, a rosy little girl of four, was often self-willed, and often
cried, but before the tears were dry she was laughing and shouting again.
Veroshka rarely wept, and then quietly. She soon recovered, but she did
not like to be told to beg pardon.
Boris's aunt wondered, as she saw him gay and serious by turns, what
occupied his mind; she wondered what he did all day long. In answer
Boris showed his sketching folio; then he would play her quadrilles,
mazurkas, excerpts from opera, and finally his own improvisations.
Tatiana Markovna's astonishment remained. "Just like your mother," she
said. "She was just as restless, always sighing as if she expected
something to happen. Then she would begin to play and was gay again. See,
Vassilissa, he has sketched you and me, like life! When Tiet Nikonich
comes, hide yourself and make a sketch of him, and next day we will send
it him, and it can hang on the study wall. What a boy you are! And you
play as well as the French emigrИ who used to live with your Aunt. Only
it is impossible to talk to you about the farm; you are still too
She always wished to go through the accounts with him. "The accounts for
Veroshka and Marfinka are separate, you see," she said. "You need not
think that a penny of your money goes to them. See...."
But he never listened. He merely watched how his aunt wrote, how she
looked at him over her spectacles, observed the wrinkles in her face,
her birthmark, her eyes, her smile, and then burst out laughing, and,
throwing himself into her arms, kissed her, and begged to go and look at
the old house. She could refuse him nothing; so she unwillingly gave him
the keys and he went to look at the rooms where he was born and had
spent his childhood, of which he retained only a confused memory.
"I am going with Cousin Boris," said Marfinka.
"Where, my darling? It is uncanny over there," said Tatiana Markovna.
Marfinka was frightened. Veroshka said nothing, but when Boris reached
the old house, she was already standing at the door, with her hand on
the latch, as if she feared she might be driven away.
Boris shuddered as he entered the ante-room, and cast an anxious glance
into the neighbouring hall, supported by pillars. Veroshka had run on in
"Where are you off to, Veroshka?"
She stood still a moment, her hand on the latch of the nearest door, and
he had only just time to follow her before she vanished. Dark,
smoke-stained reception rooms adjoined the hall. In one were two ghostly
figures of shrouded statues and shrouded candelabra; by the walls were
ranged dark stained oak pieces of furniture with brass decorations and
inlaid work; there were huge Chinese vases, a clock representing Bacchus
with a barrel, and great oval mirrors in elaborate gilded frames. In the
bedroom stood an enormous bed, like a magnificent bier, with a brocade
cover. Boris could not imagine how any human being could sleep in such a
catafalque. Under the baldachin hovered a gilded Cupid, spotted and
faded, with his arrow aimed at the bed. In the corners stood carved
cupboards, damascened with ebony and mother-of-pearl. Veroshka opened a
press and put her little face inside, and a musty, dusty smell came from
the shelves, laden with old-fashioned caftans and embroidered uniforms
with big buttons.
Raisky shivered. "Granny was right!" he laughed. "It is uncanny here."
"But everything here is so beautiful!" cried Vera, "the great pictures
and the books!"
"Pictures? Books? Where? I don't remember. Bravo, little Veroshka."
He kissed her. She wiped her lips, and ran on in front to show him the
books. He found some two thousand volumes, and was soon absorbed in
reading the titles; many of the books were still uncut.
From this time he was not often to be seen in the wooden house. He did
not even go down to the Volga, but devoured one volume after another.
Then he wrote verses, read them aloud, and intoxicated himself with the
sound of them; then gave all his time to drawing. He expected something,
he knew not what, from the future. He was filled with passion, with the
foretaste of pleasure; there rose before him a world of wonderful music,
marvellous pictures, and the murmur of enchanting life.
"I have been wanting to ask you," said Tatiana Markovna, "why you have
entered yourself for school again."
"Not the school, the University!"
"It's the same thing. You studied at your guardian's, and at the High
School, you can draw, play the piano. What more do you want to learn?
The students will only teach you to smoke a pipe, and in the end-which
God forbid-to drink wine. You should go into the Guards."
"Uncle says my means are not sufficient...."
"Not sufficient! What next?" She pointed to the fields and the village.
She counted out his resources in hundreds and thousands of roubles. She
had had no experience of army circles, had never lived in the capital,
and did not know how much money was needed.
"Your means insufficient! Why, I can send provision alone for a whole
regiment. No means! What does your Uncle do with the revenues?"
"I intend to be an artist, Granny."
"What! An artist!"
"When I leave the University, I intend to enter the Academy."
"What's the matter with you, Borushka? Make the sign of the cross! Do
you want to be a teacher!"
"All artists are not teachers. Among artists there are great geniuses,
who are famous and receive large sums for pictures or music."
"And do you intend to sell your pictures for money, or to play the piano
for money in the evenings? What a disgrace!"
"No, Grandmother, an artist...."
"No, Borushka, don't anger your Grandmother; let her have the joy of
seeing you in your Guard's uniform."
"Uncle says I ought to go into the Civil Service."
"A clerk! Good heavens! To stoop over a desk all day, bathed in ink, run
in and out of the courts! Who would marry you then? No, no; come home to
me as an officer, and marry a rich woman!"
Although Boris shared neither his uncle's nor his aunt's views, yet for
a moment there shimmered before his eyes a vision of his own figure in a
hussar's or a court uniform. He saw how well he sat his horse, how well
he danced. That day he made a sketch of himself, negligently seated in
the saddle, with a cloak over his shoulders.
In Moscow Raisky spent his time partly in the University, partly in the
Kremlin gardens. In the evening he sat in the club with his friends,
hot-headed, good-hearted individuals. Every one of them made a great
to-do, and confidently expected a great future.
At the University, as at school, Raisky paid little attention to the
rules of grammar, but observed intently the professor and the students.
But as soon as the lecture touched actual life and brought living men,
Romans, Germans or Russians on the scene, whether in history or
literature, he involuntarily gave the lecturer his attention, and the
personages and their doings became real to him.
In his second year he made friends with a poor student named Koslov, the
son of a deacon, who had been sent first of all to a seminary, but had
taught himself Latin and Greek at home, and thus gained admission to the
Gymnasium. He zealously studied the life of antiquity, but understood
nothing of the life going on around him. Raisky felt himself drawn to
this young man, at first because of his loneliness, his reserve,
simplicity and kindness; later he discovered in him passion, the sacred
fire, profundity of comprehension and austerity of thought and delicacy
of perception-in all that pertained to antiquity. Koslov on his side
was devoted to Raisky, whose vivacious temperament could not be
permanently bound by anything. The outcome was the great gift of an
In summer Raisky liked to explore the neighbourhood of Moscow. He
explored old convents, examined their dark recesses, the blackened
pictures of the saints and martyrs; his imagination interpreted old
Russia for him better than the lectures of his professors.
The tsars, monks, warriors and statesmen of the past filed before him as
they lived and moved. Moscow seemed to him to be a miniature tsardom.
Here was conflict, here the death punishment was carried out; he saw
Tatars, Cossacks of the Don. The varied life attracted him.
In spite of obstacles he passed from one course to another at the
University. He was helped by the reputation for talent he had won by
certain poems and essays, the subjects of which were drawn from Russian
"Which service do you mean to enter?" the Dean asked him one day. "In a
week's time you will be leaving the University. What are you going to
Raisky was silent.
"What profession have you selected?"
Raisky almost answered that he meant to be an artist, but he remembered
in time the reception that this proposition had received from his
guardian and his aunt. "I shall write verses," he answered in a low tone.
"But that is not a profession. You may write verses and yet...."
"Naturally, you can write stories as well. You have talent and means to
develop it. But what profession-profession, I asked."
"For the moment I shall enter the Guards, later on the Civil Service-I
mean to be a barrister, a governor...."
The Dean smiled. "You begin by being an ensign, that is comprehensible.
You and Leonid Koslov are exceptions; every other man has made his
When Koslov was asked his intentions he replied that he would like to be
a schoolmaster somewhere in the interior, and from this intention he
refused to be turned aside.
Raisky moved among the golden youth of St. Petersburg society, first as
young officer, then as bureaucrat, fulfilled his duties in devotion to
the beauty of many an Armide, suffering to some degree, and gaining some
experience in the process. After a time his dreams and his artistic
consciousness revived. He seemed to see the Volga flowing between its
steep banks, the shady garden, and the wooded precipice. He abandoned
the Civil Service in its turn to enter the Academy of Arts. His
education would never be finished, but he was determined to be a
creative artist. His aunt scolded him by letter for having left the
Guards; his guardian advised him to seek a position in the Senate, and
sent him letters of recommendation.
But Raisky did not enter the Senate, but indolently pursued his artistic
studies, read a great deal, wrote poems and prose, danced, went into
society and to the theatre, indulged in wild dissipation, and at the
same time did some musical composition, and drew a portrait of a lady.
He would spend one week in dissipation and the next in diligent study at
the Academy. Life knocked at the door and tore him from his artist's
dreams to a dissolute existence of alternating pleasure and boredom.
The universal summer exodus from the capital had driven him abroad. But
one day when he came home he found two letters awaiting him, one from
Tatiana Markovna, the other from his comrade at the University, Leonid
Koslov, who had been installed in Raisky's native place as a master in
During all these years his aunt had often written to him, and sent him
statements of accounts. His answers were short but affectionate; the
accounts he tore up without having even looked at them.
"Is it not a sin," she wrote, "to forget an old woman like me, when I am
all the family you have? But in these days it seems that old people have,
in the judgment of youth, become superfluous. But I have not even
leisure to die; I have two grown-up nieces, and until their future is
settled to my satisfaction, I shall pray God to spare my life-and then
His will be done. I do not complain that you forget me. But if I were
not here my little girls, your sisters, would be alone. You are their
next of kin and their natural protector. Think, too, of the estate. I am
old, and can no longer be your bailiff. To whom do you intend to entrust
the estate? The place will be ruined and the estate dissipated. It
breaks my heart to think that your family silver, bronzes, pictures,
diamonds, lace, china and glass will come into the hands of the servants,
or the Jews, or the usurers. So long as your Grandmother lives, you may
be sure that not a thread goes astray, but after that I can give no
guarantee. And my two nieces, what is to become of them? Vera is a good,
sensible, but retiring girl, and does not concern herself with domestic
matters at all. Marfinka will be a splendid manager, but she is still
young; although she ought to have been married before now, she is still
such a child in her ideas, thank God! She will mature with experience,
and meantime I shelter her. She appreciates this and does nothing
against her Grandmother's will, for which may God reward her. In the
house she is a great help, but I do not let her do anything on the
estate; that is no work for a young girl.
"Do not defer your coming, but gladden your Grandmother's heart. She is
devoted to you, not merely because of the relationship, but from her
heart. You were conscious of the sympathy between us when you were a
child. I don't know what you are in manhood, but you were then a good
nephew. Come, if only to see your sisters, and perhaps happiness will
reward your coming. If God grants me the joy of seeing you married and
laying the estate in your hands I shall die happy. Marry, Borushka; you
are long since of an age to do so. Then my little girls will still have
a home. So long as you remain unmarried they cannot live in your house.
Marry, please your Grandmother, and God will not forsake you. I wait
your coming; let me know when to expect you.
"Tiet Nikonich desires to be remembered to you. He has aged, but is
still hale and hearty, he has the same smile, still talks well and has
such pleasant manners that none of the young dandies can hold a candle
to him. Bring him, please, a vest and hose of Samian leather; it is worn
now, I hear, as a specific against rheumatism. It will be a surprise for
him. I enclose the account for the last two years. Accept my blessing."
In a _kibitka_ covered with bast, drawn by three lean and sleepy
nags, Raisky drove slowly to his estate. It was not without agitation
that he saw the smoke curling up from the chimneys of his own roof, the
fresh, delicate green of the birches and the limes which overshadowed
this place of refuge, the gables of the old house and the pale line of
the Volga now gleaming between the trees and now hidden from view. He
approached nearer and nearer; now he could see the shimmer of the
flowers in the garden, the avenues of lime and acacia became visible,
the old elm emerged, and there, more to the left, lay the orchard. There
were dogs in the yard, cats sunning themselves, on the roof of the new
house flocked the pigeon and the swallows flitted around the eaves.
Behind the house, on the side towards the village, linen lay out to
bleach. One woman was rolling a cask, the coachman was chopping wood, a
peasant got into the _telega_ and gathered up the reins-Boris saw
only unfamiliar faces. But Yakob was there and looked sleepily round.
One familiar face, but how aged!
Raisky observed the scene intently. He alighted from the _kibitka_,
and walked along the fence which divided house, yard, garden and park
from the road, feasting his eyes on the well-remembered prospect, when
suddenly his eye was caught by an unexpected apparition.
On the verandah, which led down to the garden and was decorated by lemon
and pomegranate trees in tubs, and with cactus and aloe and flowering
plants, stood a young girl of about twenty, scattering millet from two
plates held by a barefooted child of twelve. At her feet were assembled
hens, turkeys, ducks, pigeons, sparrows and daws. She called to the
birds to come to breakfast, and cocks, hens and pigeons fell to, looking
round every moment as if they feared treason, and then again falling to.
As the morning sun shed a fierce light on the busy group of birds and on
the young girl herself, Raisky saw her large, dark grey eyes, her round,
healthy cheeks, her narrow white teeth, her long light-brown tresses
wound twice round her head, and the strong young breasts rising and
sinking underneath her white blouse. Her white, slightly tanned neck was
innocent of collar or scarf. A hasty movement loosened one plait of hair
over her head and back, but she took no notice, but continued to scatter
the corn, taking care that all received their share and that sparrows
and daws did not obtrude too much, and looking as fresh and happy as the
"Didn't you see the goose?" she asked the little girl in a loud clear
"No," answered the child, "it is the cat's fault. Afimua says it will
"I shall look after it myself. Afimua has no pity."
Motionless, Raisky watched the scene without his presence being
suspected. This must be his cousin, and how charming! But which one,
Veroshka or Marfinka? Without waiting for the _kibitka_ to turn in
through the gate, he ran forward, and stood before the young girl.
"Cousin," he cried, extending his arms.
In a moment both girls had vanished as if by magic, the sparrows were
away on the roof, and the pigeons in flight. The servants in the yard
stopped their work. Raisky looked in amazement on the emptiness and at
the corn scattered at his feet.
Then he heard in the house bustle, murmurs, movement, the clatter of
keys, and his aunt's voice, "Where is he?" Her face lighted up when she
saw Raisky and she opened her arms, to press him to her breast.
She had aged, but in so even, so healthy a fashion, that there were no
unwholesome patches, no deep hanging pockets about the eyes and mouth,
no sadness or gloom in her eyes. Life had not conquered her; she
conquered life, and only slowly laid down her weapons in the combat. Her
voice was not so clear as of old, and she leaned on a stick, but she
made no complaint. She still wore no cap on her short hair. Health and
kindliness shone from her eyes, and not only from her eyes, from her
"Borushka, my friend!" Three times she embraced him. Tears stood in her
eyes. In her embrace, her voice, in the sudden grip of joy, there was
tenderness, affection, and ardour.
He felt that he was almost a criminal, that he had been playing with his
emotions and seeking forbidden fruit, wandering homelessly in the world,
while Nature himself had been preparing for him a nest where sympathy
and happiness awaited him.
"Marfinka, where are you, come here," cried her grandmother. "She was so
terrified when she saw you, and terrified me too. Let me look at you,
She led him to the light and looked at him long and earnestly.
"How ill you look," she said. "But no, you are sunburnt. The moustache
suits you, why do you grow a beard? Shave it off, Borushka, I can't
endure it. Ah! grey hairs here and there already. You are beginning to
age too soon."
"It's not with age, Granny."
"Why then? Are you in good health?"
"I'm well enough. Let us talk of something else. You, thank God, are
always the same."
"What do you mean?"
"You don't alter a bit, are still as beautiful as ever. I never saw an
old lady whose age adorned her so."
"Thanks for the compliment, my child. It would be better for you to
spend your admiration on your sisters. I will whisper the truth to you.
Two such beauties you will not find in the town, especially the
"Where is my other sister?"
"On a visit to the pope's wife on the other side of the Volga. It is a
pity. The pope's wife has been ill and sent for her, of course just now.
A messenger shall go."
"No! No! Why should anyone be disturbed on my account?"
"And you have come on your Grandmother so suddenly. We waited, waited,
in vain. The peasants sat up for you at night, I have just sent Egorka
on to the highway to look for you and Savili into the town. Now you must
have your breakfast. Why is it so long in coming? The master has come,
and there is nothing ready, just as if the house was nothing better than
a station. Serve what is ready."
"I need nothing, Granny. I am stuffed with food. At one station I drank
tea, milk at another, and at the third there was a wedding, and I was
treated to wine, meat and gingerbread."
"You are on your way home to your Grandmother, and are not ashamed to
eat and drink all sorts of things. Gingerbread in the morning! Marfinka
ought to have been there; she loves weddings and gingerbread. Come in.
Marfinka, don't be so shy. She is ashamed because you caught her in her
morning gown. Come here, darling; he is your brother."
Tea and coffee appeared, and finally breakfast. However much he
protested Raisky had to eat, for otherwise his aunt's morning would have
"Marfinka, come here and entertain us."
After about five minutes the door opened slowly and quietly, and
Marfinka entered, blushing with confusion and with downcast eyes. At her
heels followed Vassilissa with a tea-tray full of sweets, preserves,
cakes, etc. Marfinka stood still, betraying in her confusion a certain
curiosity. She wore lace at her neck and wrists; her hair was plaited
firmly around her head and the waist of her barХge dress encircled by a
Raisky threw down his napkin, and jumped up, to stand before her in
admiration. "How lovely," he cried. "This is my little sister, Marfa
Vassilievna. And is the goose still alive?"
Marfinka became still more embarrassed, returned his greeting awkwardly,
and retired to a corner.
"You have both gone mad," interrupted their aunt. "Is that the way to
greet one another?"
"Marfa Vassilievna," said Raisky, as he sought to kiss Marfinka's hand.
"Vassilievna!" cried Tatiana Markovna. "Don't you love her any more?
Marfinka, not Marfa Vassilievna! You will be addressing me as Tatiana
Markovna next! Kiss one another. Are you not brother and sister?"
"I won't, Grandmama. He is teasing me about the goose. It is not polite
to spy on people," she said severely.
Everybody laughed. Raisky kissed her on both cheeks, embraced her, and
overcame her confusion. She kissed him in return, and her shyness
"Do you remember, Marfinka, how we used to run about and draw, and how
"No ... but yes. I do remember as if in a dream."
"How should she remember, when she was only five?" interrupted her aunt.
"But I do, Grandmama, as in a dream."
Raisky had hardly captured his old memories when Marfinka disappeared.
Soon she returned with sketch books, drawings and toys, and sitting down
by Raisky in friendly fashion began, "Granny says that I don't remember.
I remember how you used to draw, and how I sat on your knee. Granny has
all your drawings, portraits and sketch books. She has kept them all in
the dark room where the silver, the diamonds and the lace are. She got
them out, and gave them to me a little time ago, when she heard you were
coming. Here is my portrait. How funny I looked! And here is Veroshka,
and Granny, and Vassilissa. Do you remember how you held me, and
Veroshka sat on your shoulder, and you carried us over the water?"
"Do you remember that too?" asked her aunt. "Boastful child! Veroshka
said the other day...."
"This is how I draw now," said Marfinka, handing him a drawing of a
bunch of flowers.
"Splendid, little sister! Is it done from nature?"
"Yes, from nature. I can make wax-flowers, too."
"And do you play or sing?"
"I play the piano."
"And does Veroshka draw and play?"
Marfinka shook her head.
"Does she like needlework? No? Then is she fond of reading?"
"Yes, she reads a great deal. But she does not tell us what she reads,
nor show us the book, nor even say where she got it."
"She hides herself from everybody, does my strange child," sighed
Tatiana Markovna. "God only knows what will become of her. Now, Marfinka,
don't waste your brother's time any longer with your chatter about
trifles. We will talk about serious matters, about the estate."
The old lady had worn a serious expression while she watched Boris as he
talked to Marfinka. She recognised his mother's features, but the
changes in his face did not escape her-the indications of vanishing
youth, the premature furrows; and she was baffled by the original
expression of his eyes. Formerly she had always been able to read his
face, but now there was much inscribed on it that was undecipherable for
her. Yet his temperament was open and affectionate and his words frankly
interpreted his thoughts.
Now his aunt stood before him wearing a most business-like expression;
in her hand were accounts and a ledger.
"Are you not weary with your journey?" she said. "You are yawning and
perhaps you would like a little sleep. Business can wait till
"I slept a good deal on the journey. But you are giving yourself useless
trouble, Grandmother, for I am not going to look at your accounts."
"What? You have surely come to take over the estate and to ask for an
account of my stewardship. The accounts and statements that I sent you-"
"I have never even read, Grandmother."
"You haven't read them. I have sent you precise information about your
income and you don't even know how your money is spent."
"And I don't want to know," answered Raisky, looking out of the window
away towards the banks of the Volga.
"Imagine, Marfinka," he said, "I remember a verse I learnt as a child-
"'Oh Volga, proudest of rivers,
Stem thy hurrying flood;
Oh Volga, hearken, hearken,
To the ringing song of the poet,
The unknown, whose life thou hast spared.'"
"Don't be vexed with me, Borushka," cried Tatiana Markovna, "but I think
you are mad. What have you done with the papers I sent you? Have you
"Where are they?" she continued, as he shook his head.
"Granny, I tore up all the accounts, and I swear I will do the same with
these if you worry me with them."
He seized the paper, but she snatched them away, exclaiming, "You dare
to tear up my accounts."
He laughed, suddenly embraced her, and kissed her lips as he had done
when he was a child. She shook herself free and wiped her mouth.
"I toil till midnight, adding up and writing down every kopek, and he
tears up my work. That is why you never wrote about money matters, gave
any orders, made any preparations, or did anything of the kind. Did you
never think of your estate?"
"Not at all, Granny. I forgot all about it. If I thought at all I
thought of these rooms in which lives the only woman who loves me and is
loved by me, you alone in the whole world. And now," he said, turning to
Marfinka, "I want to win my sisters too."
His aunt took off her spectacles and gazed at him.
"In all my days I have never seen anything like it," she said. "Here the
only person with no roots like that is Markushka."
"What sort of person is this Markushka. Leonti Koslov writes about him.
How is Leonti, Granny? I must look him up."
"How should he be? He crouches in one spot with a book, and his wife in
another. But he does not even see what goes on under his nose, and can
any good come from his friendship with this Markushka. Only the other
day your friend came here to complain that that Markushka was destroying
books from your library. You know, don't you, that the library from the
old house has been installed in Koslov's house?"
Raisky hummed an air from _"Il Barbiere."_
"You are an extraordinary man," cried his aunt angrily. "Why did you
come at all? Do talk sensibly."
"I came to see you, Granny, to live here for a little while, to breathe
freely, to look out over the Volga, to write, to draw...."
"But the estate? If you are not tired we will drive out into the field,
to look at the sowing of the winter-corn."
"Later on, Granny."
"Will you take over the management of the estate?"
"No, Granny, I will not."
"Who then is to look after it? I am old and can no longer do all the
work. Do you wish me to put the estate into strange hands?"
"Farm it yourself, Granny, so long as you take any pleasure in it."
"And if I die?"
"Then leave everything as it is."
Tatiana Markovna looked at the portrait of Raisky's mother, for a long
time she looked at the languishing eyes, the melancholy smile.
"Yes," she whispered. "I honour the memory of the departed, but hers is
the fault. She kept you by her side, talked to you, played the piano,
read out of books and wept as she did so. And this is the result.
Singing and painting. Now tell me, Borushka," she went on in her
ordinary tone, "what is to become of the house, of the linen, the silver,
the diamonds? Shall you order them to be given to the peasants?"
"Do I possess diamonds and silver?"
"How often have I told you so? From your mother you have inherited all
these things; what is to be done with them. I will show you the
inventory of them."
"Don't do that, for Heaven's sake. I can believe they are mine. And so I
can dispose of them as I please?"
"Of course; you are the proprietor. We live here as your guests, though
we do not eat your bread. See here are my receipts and expenditure," she
said, thrusting towards another big ledger which he waved away.
"But I believe all you say, Granny," he said. "Send for a clerk and tell
him to make out a deed, by which I give the house, the land, and all
that belongs to it to my dear cousins, Veroshka and Marfinka, as dowry."
The old lady wrinkled her brow, and waited impatiently till he should
finish speaking. "So long as you live, dear Granny," he continued, "the
estate naturally remains under your control; the peasants must have
"Never," interrupted his aunt, "Veroshka and Marfinka are not
beggars-each of them has her fifty thousand roubles-and after my death
three times that sum, perhaps more. All I have is for my little girls,
and, thank God, I am not a pauper. I have a corner of my own, a bit of
land, and a roof to cover them. One would think you were a millionaire.
You make gifts; you will have this, and you won't have that. Here,
Marfinka! where have you hidden yourself?"
"Directly!" cried Marfinka's clear voice from a neighbouring room. Happy,
gay, smiling and frank, she fluttered into the room, looked hesitatingly,
first at Raisky, then at her aunt, who was nearly beside herself.
"Your cousin, Marfinka, is pleased to present you with a house, silver,
and lace. You are, he thinks, a beggared, dowerless girl. Make a curtsey,
thank your benefactor, kiss his hand-Well?"
Marfinka, who did not know what to say, squeezed herself flat against
the stove and looked at her two relatives. Her aunt pushed papers and
books on one side, crossed her hands over her breast, and looked out of
the window, while Raisky sat down beside Marfinka, and took her hand.
"Would you like to go away from here, Marfinka, into a strange house,
perhaps in an altogether different district?"
"God forbid! How could such a thing happen. Who ever imagined such
"Granny," laughed Raisky.
Happily "Granny" had not heard the words. Marfinka was embarrassed, and
looked out of the window.
"Here I have everything I want, the lovely flowers in the garden, the
birds. Who would look after the birds? I will never go away from here,
"But Granny wants to go and take you with her."
"Granny! Where? Why?" she asked her aunt in her caressing, coaxing way.
"Don't tease me," said Tatiana Markovna.
"Marfinka, you don't want to leave home?" asked Boris.
"Not for anything in the world. How could such a thing be?"
"What would Veroshka say about it?"
"She would never be separated from the old house."
"She loves the old house?"
"Yes. She is only happy when she is here. If she were taken away from it
she would die. We both should."
"That matter is settled then, little sister. You two, Veroshka and you,
will accept the gift from me, won't you?"
"I will if Veroshka agrees."
"Agreed, dear sister. You are not so proud as Granny," he said, as he
kissed her forehead.
"What is agreed?" suddenly grumbled Tatiana Markovna. "You have accepted?
Who told you you might accept? Grandmother will never permit you to live
at a stranger's expense. Be so kind, Boris Pavlovich, as to take over
books, accounts, inventories and sales. I am not your paid servant." She
pushed papers and books towards him.
"Granny! My name is Tatiana Markovna Berezhkov." She stood up, and
opened the door into the servants' room. "Send Savili here."
A quarter of an hour later, a peasant of almost forty-five years of age
opened the door with a casual greeting. He was strongly-built, big boned,
and was robust, without being fat. His eyes with their overhanging brows
and wide heavy lids, wasted no idle glances; he neither spoke an
unnecessary word, nor made a superfluous gesture.
"The proprietor is here," said Tatiana Markovna, indicating Raisky. "You
must now make your reports to him. He intends to administer the estate
Savili looked askance at Raisky.
"At your orders," he said stiffly, slowly raising his eyes. "What orders
are you pleased to give?" he asked, lowering his eyes again.
Raisky thought for a moment before he replied:
"Do you know an official who could draw up a document for the transfer
of the estate?"
"Gavril Ivanov Meshetshnikov draws up the papers we require," he said.
"Send for him."
As Savili bowed, and slowly retired, Raisky followed him with his eyes.
"An anxious rascal," was his comment.
"How should he be other than anxious," said his aunt, "when he is tied
to a wife like Marina Antipovna? Do you remember Antip? Well, she is his
daughter. But for his marriage he is a treasure. He does my important
business, sells the corn, and collects the money. He is honest and
practical, but fate deals her blows where she will, and every man must
bear his own burden. But what idea have you in your head now? Are you
"Something must be done. I am going away, and you will not administer
the estate, so some arrangement must be made."
"And is that your reason for going? I thought you were now going to take
over the management of your estate. You have done enough gadding about.
Why not marry and settle here?"
She was visibly struggling with herself. It had never entered her head
to give up the administration; she would not have known what to do with
herself. Her idea had been to alarm Raisky, and he was taking her
"What is to be done?" she said. "I will see after the estate as long as
I have the strength to do so. How else should you live, you strange
"I receive two thousand roubles from my other estate, and that is a
sufficient income. I want to work, to draw, to write, to travel for a
little; and for that purpose I might mortgage or sell the other estate."
"God bless you, Borushka, what next? Are you so near beggary? You talk
of drawing, writing, alienating your land; next it will be giving
lessons or school teaching. Instead of arriving with four horses and a
travelling carriage you sneak in, without a servant, in a miserable
_kibitka_, you, a Raisky. Look at the old house, at the portraits
of your ancestors, and take shame to yourself. Shame, Borushka! How
splendid it would have been if you had come epauletted like Sergei
Ivanovich, and had married a wife with a dowry of three thousand souls."
Raisky burst out laughing.
"Why laugh? I am speaking seriously when I tell you what a joy it would
have been for your Grandmother. Then you would have wanted the lace and
the silver, and not be flinging it away."
"But as I am not marrying, I don't need these things. Therefore it is
settled that Veroshka and Marfinka shall have them."
"Your decision is final?"
"It is final. And it is further settled that if you do not like this
arrangement, everything passes into the hands of strangers. You have my
word for it."
"Your word for it," cried his aunt. "You are a lost man. Where have you
lived, and what have you done. Tell me, for Heaven's sake, what your
purpose in life is, and what you really are?"
"What I am, Grandmother? The unhappiest of men!" He leaned his head back
on the cushion as he spoke.
"Never say such a thing," she interrupted. "Fate hears and exacts the
penalty, and you will one day be unhappy. Either be content or feign
She looked anxiously round, as if Fate were already standing at her
Raisky rose from the divan.
"Let us be reconciled," he said. "Agree to keep this little corner of
God's earth under your protection."
"It is an estate, not a 'corner.'"
"Resign yourself to my gift of this old stuff to the dear girls. A
lonely man like me has no use for it, but they will be mistresses of a
house. If you don't agree, I will present it to the school...."
"The school-children! Those rascals who steal our apples, shall not have
"Come to the point, Granny! You don't really want to leave this nest in
your old age."
"We'll see, we'll see. Give them the lace on their wedding-day. I can do
nothing with you; talk to Tiet Nikonich who is coming to dinner." And
she wondered what would come of such strangeness.
Raisky took his cap to go out, and Marfinka went with him. She showed
him the park, her own garden, the vegetable and flower gardens, and the
arbours. When they came to the precipice she looked anxiously over the
edge, and drew back with a shudder. Raisky looked down on the Volga,
which was in flood, and had overflowed into the meadows. In the distance
were ships which appeared to be motionless, and above hung heaped banks
of cloud. Marfinka drew closer to Raisky, and looked down indifferently
on the familiar picture.
"Come down!" he said suddenly, and seized her hand.
"No, I am afraid," she answered trembling, and drew back.
"I won't let you fall. Do you think I can't take care of you?"
"Not at all, but I am afraid. Veroshka has no fear, but goes down alone,
even in the dusk. Although a murderer lies buried there, she is not
"Try, shut your eyes, and give me your hand. You will see how carefully
I take you down."
Marfinka half closed her eyes, but she had hardly taken his hand and
made one step, when she found herself standing on the edge of the
precipice. Shuddering she withdrew her hand.
"I would not go down for anything in the world," she cried as she ran
back. "Where are you going to!"
No answer reached her. She approached the edge and looked timidly over.
She saw how the bushes were bent noisily aside, as Raisky sprang down,
step by step. How horrible! she thought as she returned to the house.
Raisky went nearly all round the town, and when he climbed the cliffs
once more, he was on the extreme boundary of his estate. A steep path
led down to the suburbs, and the town lay before him as in the palm of a
hand. Stirred with the passion aroused by his memories of childhood, he
looked at the rows of houses, cottages and huts. It was not a town, but,
like other towns, a cemetery. Going from street to street, Raisky saw
through the windows, how in one house the family sat at dinner, and in
another the amovar had already been brought in. In the empty streets,
every conversation could be heard a _verst_ away; voices and
footsteps re-echoed on the wooden pavement. It seemed to Raisky a
picture of dreamy peace, the tranquillity of the grave. What a frame for
a novel, if only he knew what to put in the novel. The houses fell into
their places in the picture that filled his mind, he drew in the faces
of the towns-people, grouped the servants with his aunt, the whole
composition centring in Marfinka. The figures stood sharply outlined in
his mind; they lived and breathed. If the image of passion should float
over this motionless sleeping little world, the picture would glow with
the enchanting colour of life. Where was he to find the passion, the
"Passion!" he repeated to himself. If her burning fire could but be
poured out upon him, and engulf the artist in her destroying waves.
As he moved forward he remembered that his stroll had an aim. He
wondered how Leonid Koslov was, whether he had changed, or whether he
had remained what he had been before, a child for all his learning. He
too was a good subject for an artist. Raisky thought of Leonti's
beautiful wife, whose acquaintance he had made during his student days
in Moscow, when she was a young girl. She used to call Leonti her fiancИ,
without any denial on his part, and five years after he had left the
University he made the journey to Moscow, and married her. He loved his
wife as a man loves air and warmth; absorbed in the life and art of the
ancients, his lover's eyes saw in her the antique ideal of beauty. The
lines of her neck and bosom charmed him, and her head recalled to him
Roman heads seen on bas-reliefs and cameos.
Leonti did not recognise Raisky, when his friend suddenly entered his
"I have not the honour," he began.
But when Boris Pavlovich opened his lips he embraced him.
"Wife! Ulinka!" he cried into the garden. "Come quickly, and see who has
come to see us."
She came hastily, and kissed Raisky.
"What a man you have grown, and how much more handsome you are!" she
said, her eyes flashing.
Her eyes, her mien, her whole figure betrayed audacity. Just over thirty
years old, she gave the impression of a splendidly developed specimen of
"Have you forgotten me?" she asked.
"How should he forget you?" broke in Leonti. "But Ulinka is right. You
have altered, and are hardly recognisable with your beard. How delighted
your Aunt must have been to see you."
"Ah! his Aunt!" remarked Juliana Andreevna in a tone of displeasure. "I
don't like her."
"She is despotic and censorious."
"Yes, she is a despot," answered Raisky. "That comes from intercourse
with serfs. Old customs!"
"According to Tatiana Markovna," continued Juliana Andreevna, "everybody
should stay on one spot, turn his head neither to right nor left, and
never exchange a word with his neighbours. She is a past mistress in
fault-finding; nevertheless she and Tiet Nikonich are inseparable, he
spends his days and nights with her."
Raisky laughed and said, "She is a saint nevertheless, whatever you may
find to say about her."
"A saint perhaps, but nothing is right for her. Her world is in her two
nieces, and who knows how they will turn out? Marfinka plays with her
canaries and her flowers, and the other sits in the corner like the
family ghost, and not a word can be got from her. We shall see what will
become of her."
"Veroshka? I haven't seen her yet. She is away on a visit on the other
side of the Volga."
"And who knows what her business is there?"
"I love my Aunt as if she were my Mother," said Raisky emphatically.
"She is wise, honourable, just! She has strength and individuality, and
there is nothing commonplace about her."
"You will believe everything she says?" asked Juliana Andreevna, drawing
him away to the window, while Leonti collected the scattered papers,
laid them in cupboards and put the books on the shelves.
"Yes, everything," she said.
"Don't believe her. I know she will tell you all sorts of
nonsense-about Monsieur Charles."
"Who is he?"
"A Frenchman, a teacher, and a colleague of my husband's. They sit there
reading till all hours. How can I help it? Yet God knows what they make
out of it in the town, as if I.... Don't believe it," she went on, as she
saw Raisky was silent. "It is idle talk, there is nothing," she
concluded, with a false s