all at once I feel wretched.... Oh, those perfumes! How they torment
me...." She passed her hand over her face, then was silent. Ivanov
"What is the matter Lida? What do you want?" he asked drowsily, and
he lighted a cigarette. The light shone on them as they sat half-
dressed on the sofa. Ivanov had a rugged, lumbering look.
"What do I want?" Lydia Constantinovna murmured. "Age creeps on me,
Sergius, and a lonely old age is terrible ... I feel so weary.... I
came here happy enough, now I am miserable. I can think of nothing
but the time you and I spent here together ... I am always playing" A
Summer's Night in Berezovka " - do you remember? I used to play it to
you in those days.... Well, so there you see.... Age creeps on and I
am longing for a home.... To-day they had the Twelfth Gospel
Service.... Surely we still have a word for each other?" Her face
clouded in sudden doubt. "You have been with Arina then?" she
Ivanov did not answer immediately.
"I have grieved and worried greatly, Lida," he said at last, "but
that does not matter. These four years I have lived alone, and have
placed the past behind me. It is gone for ever. These four years I
have struggled against death, and struggled for my daily bread. You
know nothing of all this, we are as strangers.... Yes, I have been
with Arina. Soon I shall have a son. I do not know if I am broken or
merely tired, but for the moment I feel all right. I am going to
bring Arina here, she will be my wife and keep house for me. And I
shall live.... I am keeping step with some elemental Force . . . I
shall have a son.... It will be a totally different life for me,
"And for me Moscow - as ever - wine, theatres, cafes, Mintz, an eternal
hurly-burly ... I am sick of it!"
"I cannot help you, Lida. I too am sick of all that, but now I am at
peace. We must all work out our own salvation."
Ivanov spoke very quietly and simply. Lydia Constantinovna sat bowed
and motionless, as if fearing to move, clasping her knees with both
hands. When Ivanov ceased speaking she rose noiselessly and went
towards the door. She stood on the threshold a brief moment then,
went out. The candle still burnt fitfully in the drawing-room. The
house was wrapt in silence.
THE BIELOKONSKY ESTATE
Ivan Koloturov, President of the Bielokonsky Committee of the Poor,
had ploughed his tiny holding for twenty years. He always rose before
dawn and worked - dug, harrowed, threshed, planed, repaired - with his
huge, strong, pock-marked hands; he could only use his muscular
On rising in the morning, he prepared his hash of potatoes and bread,
and went out of the hut to work - on the land, with cattle, with wood,
stone and iron. He was honest, careful, and laborious. While still a
lad of five he had, while driving from the station, helped a stranger
in a mechanic's overalls to a seat; the man had told him all were
equal in the sight of God, that the land belonged to the peasants,
that the proprieters had stolen it from them, and that a time would
come when he would have to "do things."
Ivan Koloturov did not understand what he would have to do, but when
the fierce wave of the Revolution broke over the country and swept
into the Steppe, he was the first to rise to "do things." Now he felt
disillusioned. He had wanted to do everything honestly, but he was
only able to work with his hands and muscles.
They elected him to the County Committee. He was accustomed to rise
before dawn and set to work immediately. Now he was not permitted to
do anything before ten o'clock. At ten he went to the Committee
where, with the greatest difficulty, he put his name to papers - but
this was not work: papers came in and went out independently of him.
He did not understand their purport, he only signed them.
He wanted to do something! In the spring he went home to the plough.
He had been elected in the Autumn, President of the Committee of the
Poor, and he established himself in Prince Prozorovsky's domain,
putting on his soldier brother's great coat and carrying a revolver
in his belt.
He went home in the evening. His wife met him sullenly, jerking her
elbows as she prepared some mash. The children were sitting on the
stove, some little pigs grunted in a corner. There was a strong smell
of burning wood.
"You won't care to eat with us now after the Barin's meal," nagged
the old woman. "You are a Barin yourself now. Ha, ha!"
Ivan remained silent, sitting down on a bench beneath the Ikon.
"So you mix with rascals now," she persisted, "yes, that is what they
are, Ivan Koloturov. Discontented rascals!"
"Peace, fool! You don't understand. Be quiet, I say!"
"You are ashamed of me, so you are hiding."
"We will live there together - soon."
"Not I! I will not go there."
"Ah, you have already learnt to snarl," the old woman jibed. "Ate
your mash then! But perhaps you don't relish it after your Barin's
She was right, he had already eaten - pork, and she had guessed it.
Ivan began to puff. "You are an idiot, I tell you," he growled.
He had come home to have a business talk about their affairs, but he
left without settling anything. The old woman's sharp tongue had
stung him in a tender spot. It was true that all the respectable
peasants had stood aside, and only those who had nothing to lose had
joined the Committee.
Ivan passed through the village. As he walked across the park, he saw
a light burning in the stables and went over to discover the reason.
He found some lads had assembled there and were playing cards and
smoking. He watched them awhile, frowningly.
"This is stupid! You will set the place alight," he grumbled.
"What if we do?" the men answered sulkily. "It is for you to defend
other people's property?"
"Not other peoples' - ours!" he retorted, then turned away.
"Ivan!" they shouted after him; "have you the wine-cellar key? There
are spirits in there - if you don't give it to us, we shall break
The house was dark and silent. The huge, spacious apartments seemed
strange, terrible. The Prince still occupied the drawing-room. Ivan
entered his office - formerly the dining-room - and lighted a lamp. He
went down on his knees and began to pick up the clods of earth that
lay on the floor; he threw them out of the window, then fetched a
brush and swept up. He could not understand why gentlemen's boots did
not leave a trail of dirt behind them.
Then he went into the drawing-room and served the final notice on the
Prince while the men were accommodating themselves in the kitchen.
Then he joined them, lying down on a form without undressing. After a
long time he fell asleep.
He awoke the next morning while all were still sleeping, rose and
walked round the manor. The lads were still playing cards in the
"Why aren't you asleep?" one of them asked him.
"I have had all I want," he replied. He called the cow-herd. The man
came out, stood still, scratched his head, and swore angrily -
indignant at being aroused.
"Don't meddle in other people's affairs," he grunted. "I know when to
The dawn was fine, clear and chilly. A light appeared in the drawing-
room, and Ivan saw the Prince go out, cross the terrace and depart
into the Steppe.
At ten o'clock, the President entered the office, and set about what
was, in his opinion, a torturous, useless business - the making out an
inventory of the wheat and rye in each peasant's possession. It was
useless because he knew, as did everyone in the village, how much
each man had; it was torturous because it entailed such a great deal
Prince Prozorovsky had risen at daybreak. The sun glared fiercely
over the bare autumn-swept park and into the drawing-room windows.
The wedding cry of the ravens echoed through the autumnal stillness
that hung broodingly over the Steppe.
On such a dazzling golden day as this, the Prince's ancestors had set
off with their blood-hounds in by-gone days. In this house a whole
generation had lived - now the old family was forced to leave it - for
A red notice - "The Bielokonsky Committee of the Poor" - had been
affixed to the front door the previous evening, and the intruders had
bustled all night arranging something in the hall. The drawing-room
had not so far been touched; the gilt backs of books still glittered
from behind glass cases in the study. Oh books! Will not your poison
and your delights still abide?
Prince Prozorovsky went out into the fields; they were barren but for
dead rye-stalks that stuck up starkly from the earth. Wolves were
already on the trail. He wandered all day long, drank the last wine
of autumn and listened to the ravens' wedding cries.
When he had beheld this bird's carnival as a child, he had clapped
his hands, crying: "Hurrah for my wedding! Hurrah for my wedding!" He
had never had a wedding. Now his days were numbered. He had lived for
love. He had known many affections, had felt bitter pangs. He had
tasted the poison of the Moscow streets, of books and of women; had
been touched by the autumnal sadness of Bielokonsky, where he always
stayed in the autumn. Now he knew grief!
He walked aimlessly through the trackless fields and down into
hollows; the aspens glowed in a purple hue around him; on a hill
behind him the old white house stood amid the lilac shrubbery of a
decaying park. The crystal clear, vast, blue vista was immeasurably
The hair on his temples was already growing thin and gray - there was
no stopping, no returning!
He met a peasant, a rough, plain man in a sheep-skin jacket, driving
a cart laden with sacks. The man took off his cap and stopped his
horse, to make way for the ... _gentleman_.
"Good morning, little Father," he wheezed, then addressed his beast,
pulled the reins, drove on, then stopped again and called out:
"Listen, Barin, I want to tell you...."
The Prince turned round and looked at the man. The peasant was old,
his face was covered with hair and wrinkles.
"What will your Excellency do now?"
"That is difficult to say," replied the Prince.
"When will you go?" the old man asked. "Those Committees of the Poor
are taking away the corn. There are no matches, no manufacturers, and
I am burning splinters for light.... They say no corn is to be
sold.... Listen, Barin, I will take some secretly to the station.
People are coming from Moscow ... and ... and ... about thirty five
of them ... thirty five I tell you!... But then, what will there be
to buy with the proceeds?... Well, well! It is a great time all the
same ... a great time, Barin! Have a smoke, your Excellency."
Prozorovsky refused the proffered pipe, and rolled himself a small
cigar of an inferior brand. Around was the Steppe. No one saw, no one
knew of the peasant's compassion. The prince shook hands with him,
turned sharply on his heel and went home.
The cold, clear, glassy water in the park lake was blue and limpid,
for it was still too early for it to freeze all over. The sun was now
sinking towards the west in an ocean of ruddy gold and amethyst.
Prince Prozorovsky entered his study, sat down at the desk and drew
out a drawer full of letters. No! he could not take all his life away
with him: He laid the drawer on the desk, then went into the drawing-
room. A jug of milk and some bread stood on an album-table. The
Prince lighted the fire, burnt some papers, and stood by the
mantelpiece drinking his milk and eating the bread, for he had grown
hungry during the day.... The milk was sour, the bread stale.
Already the room was filling with the dim shadows of evening, a
purplish mist hung outside; the fire burnt with a bright yellow
Heavy footsteps echoed through the silence of the corridor, and Ivan
Koloturov appeared in the doorway. Koloturov! As young lads they had
played together, Ivan had developed into a sober, sensible, thrifty,
and industrious peasant. Standing in the middle of the room, the
President silently handed the Prince his paper - it had taken him a
whole hour to type it out.
On the sheet was typed "To the Barin Prozorovsky. The Bielokonsky
Committee of the Poor order you to withdraw from the Soviet Estate of
Bielokonsky and from the district precincts. President Koloturov."
"Very well," said the Prince quietly; "I will go this evening."
"You will take no horse."
"I will go on foot."
"As you like," Koloturov replied. "You will take nothing with you."
He turned round, stood a moment with his back to the Prince, then
went out of the room.
At that instant, a clock struck three quarters of the hour. It was
the work of Kuvaldin, the eighteenth century master. It had been in
the Moscow Kremlin and had afterwards travelled through the Caucasus
with the Vadkovsky Princes. How many times had its ticking sounded
during the course of those centuries.
Prozorovsky sat down by the window and looked out at the neglected
park. He remained there for about an hour, leaning his arms on the
marble sill, thinking, remembering. His reflections were interrupted
by Koloturov. The peasant came in silently with two of his men and
passed through into the office. They endeavoured silently to lift a
writing-table. Something cracked.
The Prince rose and put on his big grey overcoat, a felt hat, and
went out. He walked through the rustling gold-green foliage of the
park, passed close by some stables and a distillery, descended into a
dell, came up on its opposite side. Then, feeling tired, he decided
to walk slowly - walk twenty miles on foot for the first time in his
life. After all, how simple the whole thing was ... it was only
terrible in its simplicity.
The sun had already sunk beneath the horizon. The last ravens had
flown. An autumn hush over-hung the Steppe. He walked on briskly
through the wide, windy, open space, walking for the first time he
knew not whither, nor wherefore. He carried nothing, he possessed
nothing. The night was silent, dark, autumnal, and frosty.
He walked on briskly for eight miles, heedless of everything around,
then he stopped a moment to tie his shoe lace. Suddenly he felt an
overwhelming weariness and his legs began to ache; he had covered
nearly forty miles during the day.
In front of him lay the village of Makhmytka; he had often ridden
there in his youth on secret visits to a soldier's wife; but now he
would not go to her; no, not for anything in the world! The village
lay pressed to the earth and was ornamented with numerous stacks
which smelt of straw and dung. On its outskirts the Prince was met by
a pack of baying dogs, who flitted over the ground like dark, ghostly
shadows as they leapt round him.
At the first cabin he tapped at the little window, dimly lighted
within by some smouldering splinters.
"Who is there?" came the tardy response.
"Let me in for the night, good people," called the Prince.
"Who is it?"
"Well, just a minute," came the grudging answer.
A bare-footed peasant in red drawers came out holding a lighted
splinter over his head and looking round.
"Ah!" he exclaimed, "it is you, Prince! So you were too wise to stay,
were you? Well, come in."
An immense quantity of straw was spread over the floor. A cricket was
chirruping, and there was a smell of soot and dung.
"Lay yourself down, Barin, and God bless you!"
The peasant climbed on to the stove and sighed. His old wife began to
mutter something, the man grumbled, then said to the Prince:
"Barin, you can have your sleep, only get up in the morning and leave
before daylight, so that none will see you. You know yourself these
are troubled times, there is no gainsaying it. You are a gentleman,
Barin, and gentlemen have got to be done away with. The old woman
will wake you.... Sleep now."
Prozorovsky lay down without undressing, put his cape under his head -
and at once caught a cockroach on his neck! Some young pigs grunted
in a corner. The hut was swarming with vermin, blackened by smoke and
filled with stenches. Here, where men, calves and pigs herded all
together, the Prince lay on his straw, tossing about and scratching.
He thought of how, some centuries hence, people would be writing of
this age with love, compassion, and tenderness. It would be thought
of as an epoch of the most sublime and beautiful manifestation of the
A little pig came up, sniffed all round him, then trotted away again.
A low, bright star peeped in through the window. How infinite the
He did not notice when he fell asleep. The old woman woke him at
daybreak and led him through the backyard. The dawn was bright and
cold, and the grass was covered with a light frost. He walked along
briskly, swinging his stick, the collar of his overcoat turned up.
The sky was marvellously deep and blue.
At the station the Prince squeezed himself into a warm place on the
train, amongst other passengers carrying little sacks and bags of
flour. Thus, pressed against the sides of a truck, his clothes
bedaubed with white flour, he journeyed off to - Moscow.
Prince Prozorovsky had left at evening. Immediately after, furniture
was pulled about and re-arranged, the veneer was chipped off the
desk. The clock was about to be transferred to the office, but some
one noticed that it had only one hand. None of the men realised that
Kuvaldin's old clocks were necessarily one-handed, and moved every
five minutes simply because the minutes were not counted singly in
those days. Somebody suggested that the clock could be removed from
"Take the clock out of the box," Ivan Koloturov ordered. "Tell the
joiners to put some shelves in it, it will do as a cupboard for the
office.... Now then, don't stamp, don't stamp!"
That night an old woman came running in. There was a great turmoil in
the village: a girl had been abused - no one knew by whom, whether by
the villagers themselves or the people who had come from Moscow for
flour; the old woman began to accuse the Committee men. She stood by
the window and reviled them at the top of her voice. Ivan Koloturov
drove her away with a blow on the neck, and she went off wailing
It was pitch-dark. The house was quiet. Milkmaids outside were
singing boisterously. Ivan went into the study, sat down on the sofa,
felt its softness, found a forgotten electric lamp and played with
it, flashing its light on the walls as he passed through. He noticed
the clock on the floor of the drawing-room and began to think what he
would do with it, then he picked it up and threw it into the water-
closet. A band of his men had broken their way into the other end of
the house, and some one was thumping on the piano; Ivan Koloturov
would have liked to have driven them away, to prevent them from doing
damage, but he dared not. He suddenly felt sorry for himself and his
old wife and he wanted to go home to his stove.
A bell clanged - supper! Ivan quietly stole to the wine-cellar, filled
up his jug, and drank, then hurriedly locked the cellar door.
On the way home he fell down in the park; he lay there a long time,
trying to lift himself, wanting all the while to say something and to
explain - but he fell asleep.
The dark, dismal autumn night enfolded the empty, frozen, desolate
It seemed as though the golden days of "St. Martin's" summer had come
The sun shone without warmth in the vast blue expanse of sky, across
which swept the gabbling cranes on their annual flight southward. A
hoar-frost lay in the shadow of the houses. The air was crisp and
sapphire, the cold invigorating, a brooding stillness wrapped the
The vine-wreathed columns on the terrace, the maple avenue and the
ground beneath, all glowed under a purple pall of fallen leaves. The
lake shone blue and smooth as a mirror, reflecting in its shining
surface the white landing-stage and its boat, the swans and the
statues. The fruit was already plucked in the garden and the leaves
were falling. What a foolish wanton waste this stripping of the trees
after summer seemed!
In days such as these, the mind grows at once alert and calm. It
dwells peacefully on the past and the future. The individual feels
impelled by a kind of langour just to walk over the fallen leaves, to
look in the gardens for unnoticed, forgotten apples, and to listen to
the cries of the cranes flying south.
Ippolyte Ippolytovich was a hundred years old less three months and
some days. He had been a student in the Moscow University with
Lermontov, and they had been drawn together in friendship through
their mutual admiration of Byron. In the "sixties," - he was then
close to his fiftieth birthday - he constantly conferred with the
Emperor Alexander on liberative reforms, and pored over Pisarev's
writings in his own home.
It was only by the huge, skeleton frame over which stretched the
parchment skin, that it could be seen he had once been a tall, big,
broad-shouldered man; his large face was covered with yellowish-white
hair that crept from the nose, the cheek-bones, the forehead and the
ears, while the skull was completely bald; the eyes were white and
discoloured; the hands and legs shrunken, and seemed as though
emaciated by nature's own design.
There was a smell of wax in his room, and that peculiar fusty odour
that pervades every old nobleman's home. It was a large, bare
apartment containing only a massive mahogany writing-table, covered
with a faded green cloth and bestrewn with a quantity of old-
fashioned ornaments; there was also an armchair and a sofa.
The moulded ceiling, the greenish-white marbled walls, the dragon
fire-place, the inlaid flooring of speckled birch, the window panes,
rounded at the tops, curtainless and with frequent intersecting of
their framework, all, had become tarnished and lustreless, covered
over with all the colours of the rainbow. Through the windows
streamed the mellow golden rays of the autumn sun, resting on the
table, a part of the sofa, and on the floor.
For many years the old man had ceased to sleep at night so as to sit
up by day. It might truly be said that he slept almost the entire
twenty-four hours, and also that he sat up during the whole of that
time! He was always slumbering, lying with half-open, discoloured
eyes on a large sofa tapestried in pig-skin of English make, and
covered with a bear-skin rug. He lay there day and night, his right
arm flung back behind his head. Whenever, by day or night, he was
called by his name - Ippolyte Ippolytovich, he would remain silent a
moment collecting his wits, then answer:
He had no thoughts. All that took place round him, all that he had
gone through in life, was meaningless to him now. It was all
outlived, and he had nothing to think about. Neither had he any
feelings, for all his organs of receptivity had grown dulled.
At night mice could be heard; while through the empty, columned hall
out of which his room opened, rats scurried, flopping about and
tumbling down from the armchairs and tables. But the old man did not
Vasilisa Vasena came every morning at seven o'clock; she was a
country-woman of about thirty seven, strong, healthy, red-faced,
reminiscent of a July day in her floridness and vigorous health.
She used to say quietly: "Good morning to you, Ippolyte
And he would give a base "Eh?" in a voice like a worn-out gramophone
Vasena promptly began washing him with a sponge, then fed him with
manna-gruel. The old man sat bent up on the sofa, his hands resting
on his knees. He ate slowly from a spoon. They were silent, his eyes
gazing inwardly, seeing nothing. Sunbeams stole in through the window
and glistened on his yellowish hair.
"Your good son, Ilya Ippolytovich, has come," Vasena said.
Ippolyte Ippolytovich had married at about the age of forty; of his
three sons only Ilya was living. The old man called his son to
memory, pictured him in his mind, but felt neither joy nor interest -
Dimly, somewhere far away in the dark recesses of his memory, lurked
a glimmering, wavering image of his son; at first he saw him as an
infant, then as a boy, finally a youth. He recollected that now
already he too was almost an old man. It came to him that once, long
ago, this image was necessary and very dear to him, that afterwards
he had lost sight of it, and that now it had become meaningless to
Dully, through inertia, the old man inquired: "He has come, you say?"
"Yes, came in the night, alone. He is resting now."
"Eh? He has come to have a look at me before I die."
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