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[Translated by Ivy Litvinov, A. P. Chekhov: Short Novels and Stories, Moscow: Foreign Languages Printing House, no date. As reprinted in the Norton Critical Edition paperback, Anton Chekhov's Short Stories, selected and edited by Ralph E. Matlaw, New York: W. W. Norton & Company, ISBN 0-393-09002-7, PZ3.C3985Cg 1979 [PG3456.A15] 891.7'3'3, 78-17052, pages 247-263.]
By Anton Chekhov
It was already nine o'clock in the evening, and the full moon was shining over the garden. In the Shumin house the evening service ordered by the grandmother, Marfa Mikhailovna, was only just over, and Nadya, who had slipped out into the garden for a minute, could see a cold supper being laid in the dining-room; her grandmother in her billowing silk dress hovering about the table; Father Andrey, the cathedral priest, talking to Nadya's mother, Nina Ivanovna, who looked very young seen through the window, by artificial
light. Beside her stood Andrey Andreyich, Father Andrey's son, listening attentively.
It was cool and still in the garden, and dark shadows lay peacefully on the ground. From a long way off, probably outside town, came the distant croaking of frogs. There was a feeling of May, the delightful month of May, in the air. One could draw deep breaths, and imagine that somewhere, far beyond the town, beneath the sky, above the treetops, in the fields and woods, the spring was beginning its own life, that mysterious, exquisite life, rich and sacred, from which sinful mortals are shut out. It almost made one want to cry.
Nadya was now twenty-three; ever since she was sixteen years old she had been dreaming ardently of marriage, and now at last she was betrothed to Andrey Andreyich, the young man standing in the dining-room. She liked him, and the wedding was fixed for the seventh of July, but she felt no joy; she slept badly, her gaiety had deserted her. From the open windows of the basement kitchen came sounds of bustling and the clanging of knives, and the door, which closed by a pulley, banged constantly. There was a smell of roasting turkey and spiced cherries. And it seemed as if things would go on like this, without changing, for ever and ever.
Someone came out of the house and stood in the porch. It was Aleksander Timofeyich, or, as everyone called him, Sasha, who had arrived from Moscow about ten days before, on a visit. Long ago, Maria Petrovna, an impoverished widow gentlewoman, small, slight and delicate, used to visit Nadya's grandmother, to whom she was distantly related, asking for charity. She had a son called Sasha. For some reason or other people said he was a fine artist, and when his mother died, Granny, for her own soul's salvation, sent him to the Komissarov school in Moscow. A year or two later he got himself transferred to an art school, where he remained something like fifteen years, till at last he scrambled through his final examinations in the architectural department; he never worked as an architect, but found occupation in a Moscow lithographical works. He came to stay almost every summer, usually very ill, to rest and recuperate.
He was wearing a long coat buttoned up to his neck and shabby canvas trousers with frayed hems. And his shirt was unironed, and his whole appearance was dingy. He was emaciated, with huge eyes and long, bony fingers, bearded, dark-skinned, and, with it all, handsome. At the Shumins' he felt as if he were among his own people, and was quite at home in their house. And the room he occupied on his visits had long been known as Sasha's room.
He caught sight of Nadya from the porch, and went out to her.
"It's nice here," he said.
"It's ever so nice. You ought to stay till the autumn."
"Yes, I know, I shall have to, I suppose. I shall probably stay with you till September."
He laughed for no apparent reason, and sat down beside her.
"I've been standing here watching Mama," said Nadya. "She looks so young from here. Of course I know my Mama has her weaknesses," she continued after a pause, "but just the same she's a marvellous woman."
"Yes, she's very nice," agreed Sasha. "In her way your Mama is of course very good and kind, but. .. how shall I put it? I went into the kitchen this morning early and saw four servants sleeping right on the floor, no beds, only rags to lie on, a stench, bugs, cockroaches. . . . Just the same as it used to be twenty years ago, not the slightest change. Granny's not to be blamed, of course, she's old--but your mother, with her French and her amateur theatricals. . . . You'd think she'd understand."
When Sasha spoke he had a habit of holding up two long, bony fingers in the direction of his hearer.
"Everything here strikes me as so strange," he continued. "I'm not used to it, I suppose. Good heavens, nobody ever does anything! Your mother does nothing but stroll about like a grand-duchess, Granny does nothing at all, and nor do you. And Andrey Andreyich, your fiancé, he does nothing, either."
Nadya had heard all this last year, and, she seemed to remember, the year before, and she knew it was the only way Sasha's mind could work; there was a time when it had amused her, but now for some reason it irritated her.
"That's old stuff, I'm sick of hearing it," she said, getting up. "Can't you think of anything new?"
He laughed and got up, too, and they both went back to the house. Good-looking, tall and slender, she seemed almost offensively well-dressed and healthy, as she walked by his side. She was conscious of it herself, and felt sorry for him, and almost apologetic.
"And you talk a lot of nonsense," she said. "Look what you just said about my Andrey--you don't know him a bit, really!"
"My Andrey. . . . Never mind your Andrey! It's your youth I begrudge."
When they went into the dining-room everyone was just sitting down to supper. Nadya's grandmother, or, as everyone in the house called her, Granny, a corpulent, plain old woman, with heavy eyebrows and a moustache, was talking loudly, and her voice and manner of speaking showed that it was she who was the real head of the house. She owned a row of booths in the marketplace, and the old house with its pillars and garden was hers, but every morning she prayed with tears for the Lord to preserve her from ruin.
Her daughter-in-law and Nadya's mother, Nina Ivanovna, blonde, tightly corseted, who wore pince-nez and had diamond rings on all her fingers; Father Andrey, a lean, toothless old man who always looked as if he were just going to say something very funny; and Andrey Andreyich, his son and Nadya's fiancé, a stout, handsome young man with curly hair, rather like an actor or an artist, were all three talking about hypnotism.
"You'll fatten up in a week here," Granny told Sasha. "But you must eat more. Just look at yourself!" she sighed. "You look awful. A real prodigal son, that's what you are."
"He wasted his substance with riotous living," interpolated Father Andrey, bringing out the words slowly, his eyes twinkling, "and he was sent into the fields to feed swine.
"I love my old Dad," said Andrey Andreyich, patting his father on the shoulder. "Dear old man. Good old man!"
Nobody said anything. Sasha suddenly burst out laughing, and pressed his napkin to his lips.
"So you believe in hypnotism?" Father Andrey asked Nina Ivanovna.
"I can't exactly say I believe in it," replied Nina Ivanovna, assuming a grave, almost severe expression. "But I have to acknowledge that there is much that is mysterious and incomprehensible in nature."
"I quite agree with you, though I am bound to add that faith narrows the sphere of the mysterious considerably for us."
An enormous, juicy turkey was placed on the table. Father Andrey and Nina Ivanovna continued their conversation. The diamonds on Nina Ivanovna's fingers sparkled, and in her eves sparkled tears; she was deeply moved.
"Of course I cannot venture to argue with you," she said. "But you will agree that there are many unsolved riddles in life."
"Not one, I assure you."
After supper Andrey Andreyich played the violin, Nina Ivanovna accompanying him on the piano. He had graduated from the philological department of the university ten years before, but had no employment and no fixed occupation, merely playing at occasional charity concerts. In the town he was spoken of as a musician.
Andrey Andreyich played and all listened in silence. The samovar steamed quietly on the table, and Sasha was the only one drinking tea. Just as twelve o'clock struck a fiddle-string snapped. Everyone laughed, and there was a bustle of leavetaking.
After saying good-night to her fiancé, Nadya went upstairs to the rooms she shared with her mother (the ground floor was occupied by Granny). The lights were being extinguished downstairs, in the dining-room, but Sasha still sat on, drinking tea. He always sat long over his tea, in the Moscow way, drinking six or seven glasses one
after another. Long after Nadya had undressed and got into bed she could hear the servants clearing the table, and Granny scolding. At last the house was quiet but for an occasional sonorous cough from downstairs, in Sasha's room.
It must have been about two o'clock when Nadya awoke, for dawn was beginning to break. The night watchman could be heard striking his board in the distance. Nadya could not sleep; her bed seemed too soft to lie down in comfortably. As she had done on all the previous nights this May Nadya sat up in bed and gave herself up to her thoughts. The thoughts were just the same as those of the night before, monotonous, futile, insistent--thoughts of how Andrey Andreyich had courted her and proposed, how she had accepted him and gradually learned to appreciate this good and clever man. But somehow or other now that there was only a month left till the wedding, she began to experience fear, uneasiness, as if something vaguely sad lay in wait for her.
"Tick-tock, tick-tock," rapped out the night watchman lazily. "Tick-tock. . . ."
Through the big old-fashioned window could be seen the garden, and beyond it lilac bushes, heavy with bloom, drowsy and languid in the cold air. And a dense white mist encroached silently upon the lilacs, as if intent on enveloping them. Sleepy rooks cawed from distant trees.
"Oh, God, what makes me so sad?"
Do all girls feel like this before their weddings? Who knows? Or could it be the influence of Sasha? But Sasha had been saying the same things over and over again, as if by rote, year after year, and what he said always sounded so naive and quaint. And why couldn't she get the thought of Sasha out of her head? Why?
The watchman had long stopped going his rounds. Birds began twittering beneath the window and in the tree tops, the mist in the garden cleared away, and now everything was gilded by the spring sunlight, everything seemed to be smiling. In a short time the whole garden, warmed by the caresses of the sun, had sprung to life, and drops of dew gleamed like diamonds on the leaves of the trees. And the old, neglected garden was young and gay for that one morning.
Granny was already awake. Sasha gave his harsh, deep cough. Downstairs the servants could be heard bringing in the samovar, moving chairs about.
The hours passed slowly. Nadya had been up and walking in the garden for a long time and the morning still dragged on.
And here came Nina Ivanovna, tearful, a glass of mineral water
in her hand. She went in for spiritualism and homeopathy, read a great deal, and was fond of talking about her religious doubts, and Nadya supposed there must be some profound, mysterious significance in all this. She kissed her mother, and walked on at her side.
"What have you been crying about, Mama?" she asked.
"I read a book last night about an old man and his daughter. The old man worked at some office, and what d'you think, his chief fell in love with the old man's daughter! I haven't finished it, but I came to a place in it where I couldn't help crying," said Nina Ivanovna, and took a sip from her glass. "I remembered it this morning, and cried again."
"And I've been so depressed all these days," said Nadya after a pause. "Why can't I sleep?"
"I don't know, dearie. When I can't sleep I shut my eyes tight--like this--and imagine how Anna Karenina looked and spoke, or I try to imagine something historical, something from olden times. . . ."
Nadya felt that her mother did not understand her, that she was incapable of understanding her. She had never had this feeling before, it frightened her; she wanted to hide, and went back to her room.
At two o'clock everyone sat down to dinner. It was Wednesday, a fast-day, and Granny was served meatless borshch and bream with buckwheat porridge.
To tease Granny, Sasha ate borshch as well as meat soup. He joked all through the meal, but his jokes were too elaborate and always intended to point a moral, and it was not funny at all when, before coming out with a witticism, he lifted his long, bony, dead-looking fingers; and when the thought that he was very ill and probably had not long to live crossed your mind, you felt so sorry for him you could have cried.
After dinner Granny went to her room to rest. Nina Ivanovna played the piano for a short time, and then she went out of the room, too.
"Oh, Nadya dear," Sasha said, returning to his usual after-dinner topic, "if only you would listen to me! If only you would!"
She sat curled up in an old-fashioned armchair, closing her eyes, while he paced quietly up and down the room.
"If only you would go away and study," he said. "Enlightened, saintly people are the only interesting ones, the only ones who are needed. And the more such people there are, the sooner the kingdom of heaven will be on earth. Then not one stone will be left on another, in this town of yours everything will be turned topsy-turvy,
everything will change, as if by magic. And there will be huge splendid buildings, beautiful parks, marvellous fountains, fine people. . . . But that's not the chief thing. The chief thing is that then there will be no crowd anymore, as we now understand the word, that evil in its present aspect will disappear, for each individual will have faith, and know what he lives for, and nobody will seek support from the crowd. Darling, little pet, go away! Show them all that you have had enough of this stagnant, dull, corrupt life! At least show yourself that you have."
"I can't, Sasha, I'm going to get married."
"Never mind that! What does it matter?"
They went out into the garden and strolled about.
"Anyhow, my dear, you've simply got to think, you've got to understand, how abhorrent, how immoral your idle life is," continued Sasha. "Can't you see that to enable you and your Mama and your Granny to live in idleness, others have to work for you, you are devouring the life of others, is that pure, now, isn't it filthy?"
Nadya wanted to say: "Yes, you are right," wanted to tell him she understood, but tears came into her eyes and she fell silent and seemed to shrink into herself; she went to her room.
In the evening Andrey Andreyich came and played the violin a long time, as usual. He was taciturn by nature, and perhaps he loved his violin because while playing he did not have to speak. Soon after ten, when he had his coat on to go home, he took Nadya in his arms and showered passionate kisses on her face, shoulders, and hands.
"My dearest, my darling, my beautiful," he murmured. "Oh, how happy I am! I think I shall go mad with joy!"
And this, too, she seemed to have heard long, long ago, to have read it in some novel, some old, tattered volume which no one ever read anymore.
In the dining-room was Sasha, sitting at the table, drinking tea from a saucer balanced on the tips of his five long fingers. Granny was playing patience. Nina Ivanovna was reading. The flame sputtered in the icon-lamp, and everything seemed still and secure. Nadya said good-night and went up to her room, falling asleep the moment she got into bed. But, just as the night before, she waked up at the first streak of dawn. She could not sleep, something heavy and restless lay on her heart. She sat up and put her head on her knees, thinking about her fianc&eacut;e, her wedding. . . . For some reason she remembered that her mother had not loved her husband, and now had nothing of her own. and was completely dependent on Granny, her mother-in-law. And try as she would, Nadya could not understand how it was that she had regarded her mother as something special, remarkable, had not seen that she was just an ordinary, unhappy woman.
Downstairs, Sasha, too, was awake--she could hear him coughing. A strange, naive creature, thought Nadya, and there is something absurd in his dreams, in all those splendid parks, and marvellous fountains. But there was so much that was beautiful in his naivety in his very absurdity, that the moment she began to wonder if she ought to go away and study, her whole heart, her very being, was bathed in refreshing coolness, and she was plunged in ecstasy.
"Better not think .. . ." she whispered. "Better not think about it."
"Tick-tock," the distant night-watchman rapped out on the board. "Tick-tock. . . tick-tock. . . ."
Towards the middle of June Sasha was suddenly overcome by boredom and began to talk about going back to Moscow.
"I can't live in this town," he said morosely. "No running water, no drainage! I can hardly bear to eat my dinner--the kitchen is indescribably filthy.
"Wait a little longer, Prodigal Son," Granny whispered. "The wedding will be on the seventh."
"I simply can't!"
"You said you would stay with us till September."
"And now I don't want to. I've got to work."
The summer had turned out cold and rainy, the trees were always dripping, the garden looked somber and unfriendly, and the desire to get away and work was quite natural. Unfamiliar feminine voices could be heard in all the rooms, upstairs and downstairs, a sewing-machine whirred in Granny's room. It was all part of the bustle over the trousseau. Of winter-coats alone Nadya was to have six, and the cheapest of them, boasted Granny, had cost three hundred rubles. All this fuss irritated Sasha. He sat and sulked in his room. But they managed to persuade him to stay, and he promised not to leave before the first of July.
The time passed quickly. On St. Peter's day Andrey Andreyich took Nadya after dinner to Moscow Street to have yet another look at the house which had long been rented and furnished for the young couple. It was a two-story house, but so far only the upper floor had been furnished. In the ballroom, with its gleaming floor, painted to look like parquet, were bent-wood chairs, a grand piano, a music-stand for the violin. There was a smell of paint. On the wall was a large oil-painting in a gilt frame--a picture of a naked lady beside a purple vase with a broken handle.
"Beautiful picture," said Andrey Andreyich with an awed sigh. "It's by Shishmachevsky."
Next came the drawing-room, in which were a round table, a sofa, and some armchairs upholstered in bright blue material. Over the sofa hung an enlarged photograph of Father Andrey with all his medals on, wearing a tall ceremonial hat. They passed into the dining-room with its sideboard, and from there into the bedroom. Here, in the half-light, stood two beds side by side, and it looked as if those who had furnished the bedroom had taken it for granted that life would always be happy here, that it could not be otherwise. Andrey Andreyich conducted Nadya through the rooms, never removing his arm from her waist. And she felt weak, guilty, hating all these rooms and beds and chairs, while the naked lady made her sick. She now saw quite clearly that she no longer loved Andrey Andreyich, perhaps never had loved him. But she did not know how to say this, whom to say it to, and why to say it at all, and though she thought about it day and night she came no nearer to knowing. . . . He had his arm round her waist, spoke to her so kindly, so humbly, was so happy, walking about his home. And all she saw was vulgarity, stupid, naive, intolerable vulgarity, and his arm round her waist seemed to her cold and rigid, like an iron hoop. At any moment she was ready to run away, to burst into sobs, to jump out of the window. Andrey Andreyich led her to the bathroom, touched a tap screwed into the wall, and the water gushed out.
"What do you think of that?" he said, and laughed. "I had them put up a cistern holding three hundred gallons of water, so we shall have running water in our bathroom."
They walked about the yard for a while and then went out into the street, where they got into a carriage. The dust rose in thick clouds, and it looked as if it were just going to rain.
"Are you cold?" asked Andrey Andreyich, narrowing his eves against the dust.
She did not answer.
"Remember Sasha reproaching me for not doing anything, yesterday?" he said, after a short pause. "Well, he was right. Infinitely right. I do nothing, and there is nothing I know how to do. Why is it, my dear one? How is it that the very thought of one day wearing a cockade in my cap and going to an office makes me feel sick? How is it that I can't stand the sight of a lawyer, or a Latin teacher, or a town councilor? Oh, Mother Russia, Mother Russia! How many idlers and useless beings you still bear on your bosom! How many beings like myself, oh, long-suffering one!"
And he theorized about his own idleness, seeing it as a sign of the times.
"When we arc married," he continued, "we'll go to live in the country, my dear one, we'll work. We'll buy a little plot of land with a garden and a stream, and we'll toil, observe life. . . Oh, how lovely it will be!"
He took his hat off and his hair waved in the breeze, and she listened to him, thinking all the time: "Oh, God, I want to go home! Oh, God!" They overtook Father Andrey just before they got back to Nadya's home.
"Look, there's my father!" said Andrey Andreyich joyfully, and he waved his hat. "I love my old Dad, really I do," he said, paying off the cabby. "Dear old man! Good old man!"
Nadya went into the house feeling out-of-humor and unwell, unable to forget that all the evening there would be visitors, that she would have to entertain them, to smile, to listen to the violin, to hear all sorts of nonsense and talk about nothing but the wedding. Granny, stiff and pompous in her silk dress, was sitting beside the samovar, looking very haughty, as she always did when there were visitors. Father Andrey came into the room with his subtle smile.
"I have the pleasure and virtuous consolation of seeing you in good health," he said to Granny, and it was hard to say whether he was in earnest or joking.
The wind knocked on the window-panes and on the roof. Whistling sounds could be heard, and the chimney goblin moaned his morose, plaintive song. It was one o'clock in the morning. Everyone in the house was in bed, but no one was asleep, and Nadya kept thinking she could hear the violin being played downstairs. There was a sharp report from outside; a shutter must have torn loose from its hinges. A minute later Nina Ivanovna came into the room in her chemise, holding a candle.
"What was that noise, Nadya?" she asked.
Nadya's mother, her hair in a single plait, smiling timidly, seemed on this stormy night older, plainer, and shorter than usual. Nadya remembered how, so very recently, she had considered her mother a remarkable woman and had felt pride in listening to the words she used. And now she could not for the life of her remember what those words had been--the only ones that came back to her were feeble and affected.
Bass voices seemed to be singing in the chimney, even the words "Oh, my God!" could be made out. Nadya sat up in bed, and tugged violently at her hair, sobbing.
"Mama, Mama!" she cried. "Oh, darling, if you only knew what I was going through! I beg you, I implore you--let me go away!"
"Where to?" asked Nina Ivanovna, in bewilderment, and she sat down on the side of the bed. "Where d'you want to go?"
Nadya cried and cried, unable to bring out another word.
"Let me go away from this town," she said at last. "The wedding must not, will not be, believe me. I don't love that man. I can't bear to speak about him."
"No, my darling, no," said Nina Ivanovna quickly, frightened out of her wits. "Calm yourself. You're out of sorts. It'll pass. It often happens. You've probably had a quarrel with Andrey, but lovers' tiffs end in kisses."
"Go, Mama, go!" sobbed Nadya.
"Yes," said Nina Ivanovna, after a pause. "Only the other day you were a little girl, and now you're almost a bride. Nature is in a constant state of metabolism. Before you know where you are you'll be a mother yourself, and then an old woman, with a troublesome daughter like mine."
"My darling, you're kind and clever, and you're unhappy," said Nadya. "You're ever so unhappy--why do you say such commonplace things? Why, for God's sake?"
Nina Ivanovna tried to speak, but could not utter a word, only sobbed and went back to her room. Once more the bass voices moaned in the chimney, and Nadya was suddenly terrified. She jumped out of bed and ran into her mother's room. Nina Ivanovna, her eyelids swollen from crying, was lying in bed covered by a blue blanket, a book in her hands.
"Mama, listen to me," said Nadya. "Think, try to understand me, I implore you! Only think how shallow and humiliating our life is! My eyes have been opened, I see it all now. And what is your Andrey Andreyich? Why, he's not a bit clever, Mama. Oh, God, oh, God! Only think, Mama, why, he's stupid!" Nina Ivanovna sat up with a jerk.
"You and your grandmother keep torturing me," she said, with a gasping sob. "I want to live! To live!" she repeated, smiting her chest again and again. "Can't you let me have my freedom? I'm still young, I want to live, you've made an old woman of me!"
She cried bitterly and lay down, rolling herself up in the blanket, and looking just a silly, pathetic little thing. Nadya went back to her room and dressed, then she sat at the window to wait for morning to come. All night she sat there thinking, and someone seemed to be knocking at the shutter outside and whistling.
The next morning Granny complained that the wind had beaten down all the apples and split the trunk of an old plum-tree. It was a grey, dim, joyless morning, one of those days when you feel inclined to light the lamp from the very morning. Everyone complained of the cold, and the raindrops tapped on the window-panes. After breakfast Nadya went to Sasha's room and, without a word, fell on
her knees before a chair in the corner, covering her face with her hands.
"What's the matter?" asked Sasha.
"I can't go on like this, I can't!" she exclaimed. "I don't know how I could live here before, I simply can't understand it! I despise my fiancé, I despise myself, I despise this whole idle, empty life. . . . "
"Come, come . . ." Sasha interrupted her, not yet realizing what she was talking about. "Never mind . . . it's all right...."
"'This life is hateful to me," continued Nadya. "I won't be able to bear another day here! I shall go away tomorrow. Take me with you, for God's sake!"
Sasha gazed at her for a moment in amazement. At last the truth dawned upon him, and he rejoiced like a child, waving his arms and shuffling in his loose slippers, as if he were dancing with joy.
"Splendid!" he said, rubbing his hands. "God, how fine that is!"
She gazed at him unblinkingly, from wide-open eyes, full of love, as if fascinated, waiting for him to come out immediately with something significant, something of infinite importance. He had not told her anything yet, but she felt that something new and vast, something she had never known before, was already opening before her, and she looked at him full of expectation, ready for anything, for death itself.
"I'm leaving tomorrow," he said after a pause. "You can come to the station to see me off. I'll take your things in my trunk and buy a ticket for you. And when the third bell rings, you can get into the train, and off we go. Go with me as far as Moscow, and go to Petersburg by yourself. Have you a passport?"
"You will never regret it--never repent it, I'm sure!" said Sasha enthusiastically. "You will go away and study, and afterwards things will take their own course. As soon as you turn your life upside down, everything will change. The great thing is to turn your life upside down, nothing else matters. So we're off tomorrow?"
"Oh, yes! For God's sake!"
Nadya, who imagined that she was profoundly stirred and that her heart had never before been so heavy, was quite sure that now, on the eve of departure, she would suffer, be racked with anguished thoughts. But she had hardly gone upstairs to her room and lain down on the bed when she fell fast asleep, and slept soundly, with a tear-stained face and a smile on her lips, till the very evening.
The carriage had been sent for. Nadya, in her hat and coat, went upstairs to have one last look at her mother, at all that had been hers so long. She stood in her room beside the bed, which was still
warm, and then went softly into her mother's room. Nina Ivanovna was asleep, and it was very quiet in her room. After kissing her mother and smoothing her. hair, Nadya stood for a minute or two ....Then she went downstairs with unhurried steps.
The rain was coming down in torrents. A carriage, dripping wet, stood in front of the porch, its hood raised.
"There's no room for you, Nadya," said Granny, when the servant began putting the luggage into the carriage. "I wonder you want to see him off in such weather! You'd better stay at home. Just look at the rain!"
Nadya tried to say something, but could not. Sasha helped her into the carriage, covering her knees with the rug. And now he was seated beside her.
"Good-bye! God bless you!" shouted Granny from the porch. "Mind you write when you get to Moscow, Sasha!"
"All right. Good-bye, Granny!"
"May the Queen of Heaven protect you!"
"What weather!" said Sasha.
It was only now that Nadya began to cry. It was only now that she realized she was really going away, a thing she had not quite believed, even when saving good-bye to Granny, or standing beside her mother. Good-bye, town! Everything came over her with a rush--Andrey, his father, the new house, the naked lady with the vase. But all this no longer frightened her or weighed upon her, it had become naive and trivial, it was retreating farther into the past. And when they got into the railway carriage and the train started, the whole of this past, so big and important, shrank to a little lump, and a vast future, scarcely perceptible till now, opened before her. The raindrops tapped on the windows, there was nothing to be seen but the green fields, the telegraph-poles flashing by, the birds on the wires, and joy suddenly almost choked her. She remembered that she was going to be at liberty, to study, doing what used to be called in the old days "running away to the Cossacks." She laughed and cried and prayed.
"Come, come," said Sasha, smiling broadly. "Come, come!"
Autumn passed, and after it winter. Nadya was now very homesick, and thought every day of her mother and Granny; she thought of Sasha, too. Letters from home were resigned and kindly, everything seemed to have been forgiven and forgotten. After passing her May examinations, she set off, well and happy, for home, breaking her journey at Moscow to see Sasha. He was just the same as he had been the year before--bearded, shaggy, still wearing the same long old-fashioned coat and canvas trousers, his eyes as large and
beautiful as ever. But he looked ill and worried, he had got older and thinner, and coughed incessantly. And to Nadya he seemed dingy and provincial.
"Why, it's Nadya!" he cried, laughing joyfully. "My darling, my pet!"
They sat together in the lithographic workshop, amidst the fumes of tobacco smoke and a stifling smell of ink and paint; then they went to his room, which reeked of smoke, too, and was littered and filthy. On the table, beside the cold samovar, was a broken plate with a bit of dark paper on it, and both floor and table were strewn with dead flies. Everything here showed that Sasha took no thought for his private life, lived in a continual mess, with utter contempt for comfort. If anyone had spoken to him about his personal happiness and private life, had asked him if there was anyone who loved him, he would have been at a loss to know what was meant, and would only have laughed.
"Everything passed off all right," said Nadya hurriedly. "Mama came to Petersburg in the autumn, to see me, she says Granny isn't angry, but keeps going into my room and making the sign of the cross on the walls."
Sasha looked cheerful, but coughed and spoke in a cracked voice, and Nadya kept looking at him, wondering if he was really seriously ill, or if it was her imagination.
"Sasha, dear Sasha," she said, "but you're ill!"
"I'm all right. A bit unwell--nothing serious. . . ."
"For goodness' sake," said Nadya, in agitated tones, "why don't you go to a doctor? Why don't you take care of your health? My dear one, Sasha, dear," she murmured, and tears sprang into her eyes, and for some reason Andrey Andreyich, and the naked lady with the vase, and the whole of her past, which now seemed as far off as her childhood, rose before her mind. And she cried because Sasha no longer seemed to her so original, clever and interesting as he had last year. "Sasha dear, you are very, very ill. I don't know what I wouldn't give for you not to be so pale and thin! I owe you so much. You can have no idea what a lot you have done for me, Sasha darling! You are now the closest, the dearest person in my life, you know."
They sat on, talking and talking. And now, after a winter in Petersburg, it seemed to her that something outmoded, old-fashioned, finished, something, perhaps, already half in the grave, could be felt in everything he said, in his smile, in the whole of him.
"I'm going for a trip down the Volga the day after tomorrow," said Sasha, "and then I'll go somewhere and take kumiss. I want to
try kumiss. A friend of mine, and his wife, are going with me. The wife is a marvelous person. I keep trying to persuade her to go and study. I want her to turn her life topsy-turvy."
When they had talked themselves out, they went to the station. Sasha treated her to tea and bought her some apples, and when the train started, and he stood smiling and waving his handkerchief, she could see by just looking at his legs how ill he was, and that he was not likely to live long.
Nadya arrived at her native town at noon. As she drove home from the station the streets seemed to her disproportionately wide, the houses very small and squat. There was hardly anyone about, and the only person she met was the German piano-tuner in his rusty overcoat. And the houses seemed to be covered with a film of dust. Granny, now really old, and as stout and plain as ever, put her arms round Nadya and cried for a long time, with her face pressed against Nadya's shoulder, as if she could not tear herself away. Nina Ivanovna, who had aged greatly, too, had become quite plain and seemed to have shrunk, but she was as tightly laced as ever and the diamonds still shone from her fingers.
"My darling," she said, shaking all over. "My own darling!"
Then they sat down and wept silently. It was easy to see that both Granny and Mama realized that the past was irrevocably lost. Gone were their social position, their former distinction, their right to invite guests to their house. They felt as people feel when, in the midst of an easy, carefree life, the police break in one night and search the house, and it is discovered that the master of the house has committed an embezzlement or a forgery--and then farewell forever to the easy, carefree life!
Nadya went upstairs and saw the same bed, the same window with its demure white curtains, the same view of the garden from the window, flooded with sunshine, gay, noisy with life. She touched her table, sat down, fell into a reverie. She had a good dinner, drinking tea after it, with delicious thick cream, but something was missing, there was an emptiness in the rooms, and the ceiling struck her as very low. When she went to bed in the evening, covering herself with the bed-clothes, there was something ridiculous in lying in this warm, too soft bed.
Nina Ivanovna came in for a moment, and seated herself as the guilty do, timidly, with furtive glances.
"Well, Nadya, how is everything?" she asked. "Are you happy? Really happy?"
Nina Ivanovna got up and made the sign of the cross over Nadya and the window.
"As you see, I have turned religious," she said. "I'm studying
philosophy, you know, and I keep thinking, thinking. . . . And many things are as clear as daylight to me now. It seems to me that the most important thing is to see life through a prism."
"Mama, how is Granny really?"
"She seems all right. When you went away with Sasha and Granny read your telegram, she fell down on the spot. After that she lay three days in bed without stirring. And then she began praying and crying. But she's all right now."
She got up and began pacing up and down the room.
"Tick-tock," rapped the watchman, "tick-tock."
"The great thing is for life to be seen through a prism," she said. "In other words, life must be divided up in our consciousness into its simplest elements, as if into the seven primary colors, and each element must be studied separately."
What more Nina Ivanovna said, and when she went away, Nadya did not know, for she soon fell asleep.
May passed, and June came. Nadya had got used to being at home again. Granny sat beside the samovar, pouring out tea and giving deep sighs. Nina Ivanovna talked about her philosophy in the evenings. She still lived like a dependent, and had to turn to Granny whenever she wanted a few kopeks. The house was full of flies and the ceilings seemed to be getting lower and lower. Granny and Nina Ivanovna never went out, for fear of meeting Father Andrey and Andrey Andreyich. Nadya walked about the garden and the streets, looking at the houses and the drab fences, and it seemed to her that the town had been getting old for a long time, that it had outlived its day and was now waiting, either for its end, or for the beginning of something fresh and youthful. Oh, for this new, pure life to begin, when one could go straight forward, looking one's fate boldly in the eves, confident that one was in the right, could be gay and free! This life was bound to come sooner or later. The time would come when there would be nothing left of Granny's house, in which the only way for four servants to live was in one room, in the basement, surrounded by filth--yes, the time would come when there would not be a trace left of such a house, when everyone would have forgotten it, when there would be no one left to remember it. Nadya's only distraction was the little boys in the next house who banged on the fence when she strolled about the garden and laughed at her, shouting, "There goes the bride!"
A letter came from Saratov, from Sasha. He wrote in his reckless, staggering handwriting that the trip down the Volga had been a complete success, but that he had been taken rather ill at Saratov, and had lost his voice, and been in hospital for the last fortnight. She understood what this meant, and a foreboding amounting almost to a conviction came over her. It vexed her that this foreboding and the thought of Sasha himself no longer moved her as
formerly. She felt a longing to live, to be in Petersburg, and her friendship with Sasha seemed to belong to a past, which, while dear, was now very distant. She could not sleep all night, and in the morning sat at the window, as if listening for something. And there really did come the sound of voices from below--Granny was saying something in rapid, querulous tones. Then someone cried. . . .When Nadya went downstairs Granny was standing in the corner of the room praying, and her face was tear-stained. On the table lay a telegram.
Nadya paced up and down the room for a long time, listening to Granny's crying, before picking up the telegram and reading it. It said that yesterday morning, in Saratov, Aleksander Timofeyich, Sasha for short, had died of consumption.
Granny and Nina Ivanovna went to the church to order a service for the dead, and Nadya walked about the rooms for a long time, thinking. She realized clearly that her life had been turned topsy-turvy, as Sasha had wanted it to be, that she was lonely, alien, unwanted here, and that there was nothing she wanted here, the past had been torn away and vanished, as if burned by fire, and the ashes scattered to the winds. She went into Sasha's room and stood there.
"Good-bye, dear Sasha," she thought. Life stretched before her, new, vast, spacious, and this life, though still vague and mysterious, beckoned to her, drawing her onward.
She went upstairs to pack, and the next morning said good-bye to her family, and left the town, gay and full of spirits--as she supposed, forever.