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eyes were very observant, his voice quiet and serious.

"Kseniya, you must not grieve, you must not."

"Do you love me?"

"As a woman - no, as a fellow-creature - I do," he answered firmly.

She smiled, dropped her eyes, then moved to the sofa, sat down and
arranged her dress, then smiled again.

"I want to be pure."

"And so you are!" Polunin sat down beside her, leaning forward, his
elbows on his knees.

They were silent.

Kseniya Ippolytovna said at last: "You have grown old, Polunin!"

"Yes, I have grown old. People do, but there is nothing terrible in
that when they have found what they sought for."

"Yes, when they have found it.... But what about now? Why do you say
that? Is it Alena?"

"Why ask? Although I am disillusioned, Kseniya, I go on chopping
firewood, heating the stove, living just to live. I read St. Francis
d'Assisi, think about him, and grieve that such a life as his may not
be lived again. I know he was absurd, but he had faith, And now
Alena - I love her, I shall love her for ever. I wish to feel God!"

Kseniya Ippolytovna looked at him curiously:

"Do you know what the baby-mice smelt like?"

"No, why do you ask?"

"They smelt like new-born babies - like human children! You have a
daughter, Natasha. That is everything."

The sun sank in an ocean of wine-coloured light, and a great red
wound remained amidst the drift of cold clouds over the western
horizon. The snow grew violet, and the room was filled with shadowy,
purplish twilight. Alena entered and the loud humming of the
telegraph wires came through the study's open door.

By nightfall battalions of fleeting clouds flecked the sky; the moon
danced and quivered in their midst - a silver-horned goddess, luminous
with the long-stored knowledge of the ages. The bitter snow-wind
crept, wound, and whirled along in spirals, loops, and ribbons,
lashing the fields, whining and wailing its age-old, dismal song over
the lone desolate spaces. The land was wretched, restless, and
forlorn; the sky was overcast with sombre, gaping caverns shot
through with lurid lines of fire.

* * * * * * *

At seven o'clock the Arkhipovs arrived.

Kseniya Ippolytovna had known them a long time: they had been
acquaintances even before Arkhipov's marriage. As he greeted her now,
he kissed her hand and began speaking about foreign countries -
principally Germany, which he knew and admired. They passed into the
study, where they argued and conversed: they had nothing much to talk
about really. Vera Lvovna was silent, as usual; and soon went to see
Natasha. Polunin also was quiet, walking about the room with his
hands behind his back.

Kseniya Ippolytovna jested in a wilful, merry, and coquettish fashion
with Arkhipov, who answered her in a polite, serious, and punctilious
manner. He was unable to carry on a light, witty conversation, and
was acutely conscious of his own awkwardness. From a mere trifle,
something Kseniya Ippolytovna said about fortune-telling at
Christmas, there arose an old-standing dispute between the two men on
Belief and Unbelief.

Arkhipov spoke with calmness and conviction, but Polunin grew angry,
confused, and agitated. Arkhipov declared that Faith was unnecessary
and injurious, like instinct and every other sentiment; that there
was only one thing immutable - Intellect. Only that was moral which
was intelligent.

Polunin retorted that the intellectual and the non-intellectual were
no standard of life, for was life intelligent? he asked. He contended
that without Faith there was only death; that the one thing immutable
in life was the tragedy of Faith and the Spirit.

"But do you know what Thought is, Polunin?"

"Yes, indeed I do!"

"Don't smile! Do you not know that Thought kills everything? Reflect,
think thrice over what you regard as sacred, and it will be as simple
as a glass of lemonade."

"But death?"

"Death is an exit into nothing. I have always that in reserve - when I
am heart-broken. For the present I am content to live and thrive."

When the dispute was over, Vera Lvovna said in a low voice, as calm
as ever:

"The only tragic thing in life is that there is nothing tragical,
while death is just death, when anyone dies physically. A little less

Kseniya Ippolytovna had been listening, alert and restless.

"But all the same," she answered Vera Lvovna animatedly, "Isn't the
absence of tragedy the true tragedy?"

"Yes, that alone."

"And love?"

"No, not love."

"But aren't you married?"

"I want my baby."

Kseniya Ippolytovna, who was lying on the sofa, rose up on her knees,
and stretching out her arms cried:

"Ah, a baby! Is that not instinct?"

"That is a law!"

The women began to argue. Then the dispute died down. Arkhipov
proposed a game of chance. They uncovered a green table, set lighted
candles at its corners and commenced to play leisurely and silently
as in winter. Arkhipov sat erect, resting his elbows at right angles
on the table.

The wind whistled outside, the blizzard increased in violence, and
from some far distance came the dismal, melancholy creaking and
grinding of iron. Alena came in, and sat quietly beside her husband,
her hands folded in her lap. They were killing time.

"The last time, I sat down to play a game of chance amidst the fjords
in a little valley hotel; a dreadful storm raged the whole while,"
Kseniya Ippolytovna remarked pensively. "Yes, there are big and
little tragedies in life!"

The wind shrieked mournfully; snow lashed at the windows. Kseniya
stayed on until a late hour, and Alena invited her to remain
overnight; but she refused and left.

Polunin accompanied her. The snow-wind blew violently, whistling and
cutting at them viciously. The moon seemed to be leaping among the
clouds; around them the green, snowy twilight hung like a thick
curtain. The horses jogged along slowly. Darkness lay over the land.

Polunin returned alone over a tractless road-way; the gale blew in
his face; the snow blinded him. He stabled his horses; then found
Alena waiting up for him in the kitchen, her expression was composed
but sad. Polunin took her in his arms and kissed her.

"Do not be anxious or afraid; I love only you, no one else. I know
why you are unhappy."

Alena looked up at him in loving gratitude, and shyly smiled.

"You do not understand that it is possible to love one only. Other
men are not able to do that," Polunin told her tenderly.

The hurricane raged over the house, but within reigned peace. Polunin
went into his study and sat down at his desk; Natasha began to cry;
he rose, took a candle, and brought her to Alena, who nursed her. The
infant looked so small, fragile, and red that Polunin's heart
overflowed with tenderness towards her. One solitary, flickering
candle illumined the room.

There was a call on the telephone at daybreak. Polunin was already
up. The day slowly broke in shades of blue; there was a murky, bluish
light inside the rooms and outside the windows, the panes of which
were coated with snow. The storm had subsided.

"Have I aroused you? Were you still in bed?" called Kseniya.

"No, I was already up."

"On the watch?"


"I have only just arrived home. The storm whirled madly round us in
the fields, and the roads were invisible, frozen under snow ... I
drove on thinking, and thinking - of the snow, you, myself, Arkhipov,
Paris ... oh, Paris...! You are not angry with me for ringing you up,
are you, my ascetic?... I was thinking of our conversation."

"What were you thinking?"

"This.... We were speaking together, you see.... Forgive me, but you
could not speak like that to Alena. She would not understand ... how
could she?"

"One need not speak a word, yet understand everything. There is
something that unites - without the aid of speech - not only Alena and
me, but the world and me. That is a law of God."

"So it is," murmured Kseniya. "Forgive me ... poor old Alena."

"I love her, and she has given me a daughter...."

"Yes, that is true. And we ... we love, but are childless... We rise
in the morning feeling dull and depressed from our revels of
overnight, while you were wisely sleeping." Kseniya Ippolytovna's
voice rose higher. "'We are the heisha-girls of lantern-light,' you
remember Annensky? At night we sit in restaurants, drinking wine and
listening to garish music. We love - but are childless.... And you?
You live a sober, righteous and sensible life, seeking the truth....
Isn't that so?' Truth!" Her cry was malignant and full of derision.

"That is unjust, Kseniya," answered Polunin in a low voice, hanging
his head.

"No, wait," continued the mocking voice at the other end of the line;
"here is something more from Annensky: 'We are the heisha-girls of
lantern-light!'... 'And what seemed to them music brought them
torment'; and again: 'But Cypris has nothing more sacred than the
words _I love_, unuttered by us' ..."

"That is unjust, Kseniya."

"Unjust!" She laughed stridently; then suddenly was silent. She began
to speak in a sad, scarcely audible whisper: "But Cypris has nothing
more sacred than the words _I love_, unuttered by us.... I love ...
love.... Oh, darling, at that time, in that June, I looked upon you
as a mere lad. But now I seem small and little myself, and you a big
man, who defends me. How miserable I was alone in the fields last
night! But that is expiation.... You are the only one who has loved
me devotedly. Thank you, but I have no faith now."

The dawn was grey, lingering, cold; the East grew red.


Kseniya Ippolytovna's ancestral home had reared its columns for fully
a century. It was of classic architecture, with pediment, balconied
hall, echoing corridors, and furniture that seemed never to have been
moved from the place it had occupied in her forefathers' time.

The old mansion greeted her - the last descendant of the ancient name -
with gloomy indifference; with cold, sombre apartments that were
terrible by night, and thickly covered with the accumulated dust of
many years. An ancient butler remained who recalled the former times
and masters, the former baronial pomp and splendour. The housemaid,
who spoke no Russian, was brought by Kseniya.

Kseniya Ippolytovna established herself in her mother's rooms. She
told the one ancient retainer that the household should be conducted
as in her parents' day, with all the old rules and regulations. He
thereupon informed her that it was customary in the times of the old
masters for relatives and friends to gather together on Christmas
Eve, while for the New Year all the gentry of the district considered
it their duty to come, even those who were uninvited. Therefore it
was necessary for her to order in the provisions at once.

The old butler called Kseniya Ippolytovna at eight; then served her
with coffee. After she had taken it, he said austerely:

"You will have to go round the house and arrange things, Barina; then
go into the study to read books and work out the expenses and write
out recipes for your house-party. The old gentry always did that."

She carried out all her instructions, adhering rigorously to former
rules. She was wonderfully quiet, submissive, and sad. She read
thick, simply-written books - those in which the old script for _sh_
is confused with that for _t_. Now and then, however, she rang up
Polunin behind the old man's back, talking to him long and fretfully,
with mingled love, grief, and hatred.

In the holidays they drove about together in droskies, and told
fortunes: Kseniya Ippolytovna was presented with a waxen cradle. They
drove to town with some mummers, and attended an amateur performance
in a club. Polunin dressed up as a wood-spirit, Kseniya as a wood-
spirit's daughter - out of a birch-grove. Then they visited the
neighbouring landowners.

The Christmas holidays were bright and frosty, with a red morning
glow from the east, the daylight waxy in the sun, and with long blue,
crepuscular evenings.


The old butler made a great ado in the house at the approach of the
New Year. In preparation for a great ball, he cleared the inlaid
floors, spread carpets, filled the lamps; placed new candles here and
there; took the silver and the dinner-services out of their chests,
and procured all the requisites for fortune-telling. By New Year's
Eve the house was in order, the stately rooms glittering with lights,
and uniformed village-lads stood by the doors.

Kseniya Ippolytovna awoke late on that day and did not get up, lying
without stirring in bed until dinner time, her hands behind her head.
It was a clear, bright day and the sun's golden rays streamed in
through the windows, and were reflected on the polished floor,
casting wavy shadows over the dark heavy tapestry on the walls.
Outside was the cold blue glare of the snow, which was marked with
the imprints of birds' feet, and a vast stretch of clear turquoise

The bedroom was large and gloomy; the polished floor was covered with
rugs; a canopied double bedstead stood against the further wall; a
large wardrobe was placed in a corner.

Kseniya Ippolytovna looked haggard and unhappy. She took a bath
before dinner; then had her meal - alone, in solitary state, drowsing
lingeringly over it with a book.

Crows, the birds of destruction, were cawing and gossiping outside in
the park. At dusk the fragile new moon rose for a brief while. The
frosty night was crisp and sparkling. The stars shone diamond-bright
in the vast, all-embracing vault of blue; the snow was a soft,
velvety green.

Polunin arrived early. Kseniya Ippolytovna greeted him in the
drawing-room. A bright fire burnt on the hearth; beside it were two
deep armchairs. No lamps were alight, but the fire-flames cast warm,
orange reflections; the round-topped windows seemed silvery in the

Kseniya Ippolytovna wore a dark evening dress and had plaited her
hair; she shook hands with Polunin.

"I am feeling sad to-day, Polunin," she said in a melancholy voice.
They sat down in the armchairs.

"I expected you at five. It is now six. But you are always churlish
and inconsiderate towards women. You haven't once wanted to be alone
with me - or guessed that I desired it!" She spoke calmly, rather
coldly, gazing obstinately into the fire, her cheeks cupped between
her narrow palms. "You are so very silent, a perfect diplomat....
What is it like in the fields to-day? Cold? Warm? Tea will be served
in a moment."

There was a pause.

At last Polunin broke the silence.

"Yes, it was bitterly cold, but fine." After a further pause he
added: "When we last talked together you did not say all that was in
your mind. Say it now."

Kseniya Ippolytovna laughed:

"I have already said everything! Isn't it cold? I have not been out
to-day. I have been thinking about Paris and of that ... that
June.... Tea should be ready by this time!"

She rose and rung the bell, and the old butler came in.

"Will tea be long?"

"I will bring it now, Barina."

He went out and returned with a tray on which were two glasses of
tea, a decanter of rum, some pastries, figs, and honey, and laid them
on the little table beside the armchairs.

"Will you have the lamps lighted, Barina?" he inquired, respectfully.

"No. You may go. Close the door."

The old butler looked at them knowingly; then withdrew.
Kseniya turned at once to Polunin.

"I have told you everything. How is it you have not understood? Drink
up your tea."

"Tell me again," he pleaded.

"Take your tea first; pour out the rum. I repeat I have already told
you all. You remember about the mice? Did you not understand that?"
Kseniya Ippolytovna sat erect in her chair; she spoke coldly, in the
same distant tone in which she had addressed the butler.

Polunin shook his head: "No, I haven't understood."

"Dear me, dear me!" she mocked, "and you used to be so quick-witted,
my ascetic. Still, health and happiness do not always sharpen the
wits. You are healthy and happy, aren't you?"

"You are being unjust again," Polunin protested. "You know very well
that I love you."

Kseniya Ippolytovna gave a short laugh: "Oh, come, come! None of
that!" She drank her glass of tea feverishly, threw herself back in
the chair, and was silent.

Polunin also took his, warming himself after his cold drive.

She spoke again after a while in a quiet dreamy tone: "In this stove,
flames will suddenly flare up, then die away, and it will become
cold. You and I have always had broken conversations. Perhaps the
Arkhipovs are right - when it seems expedient, kill! When it seems
expedient, breed! That is wise, prudent, honest...." Suddenly she sat
erect, pouring out quick, passionate, uneven words:

"Do you love me? Do you desire me ... as a woman?... to kiss, to
caress?... You understand? No, be silent! I am purged.... I come to
you as you came to me that June.... You didn't understand about the
mice?... Or perhaps you did.

"Have you noticed, have you ever reflected on that which does not
change in man's life, but for ever remains the same? No, no, wait!...
There have been hundreds of religions, ethics, aesthetics, sciences,
philosophical systems: they have all changed and are still changing -
only one law remains unaltered, that all living things - whether men,
mice, or rye - are born, breed, and die.

"I was packing up for Nice, where a lover expected me, when suddenly
I felt an overwhelming desire for a babe, a dear, sweet, little babe
of my own, and I remembered you .... Then I travelled here, to Russia
so as to bear it in reverence.... I am able to do so now!..."

Polunin rose and stood close to Kseniya Ippolytovna: his expression
was serious and alarmed.

"Don't beat me," she murmured.

"You are innocent, Kseniya," he replied.

"Oh, there you go again!" she cried impatiently. "Always sin and
innocence! I am a stupid woman, full of beliefs and superstitions -
nothing more - like all women. I want to conceive here, to breed and
bear a child here. Do you wish to be the father?"

She stood up, looking intently into Polunin's eyes.

"What are you saying, Kseniya?" he asked in a low, grave, pained

"I have told you what I want. Give me a child and then go - anywhere -
back to your Alena! I have not forgotten that June and July."

"I cannot," Polunin replied firmly; "I love Alena."

"I do not want love," she persisted; "I have no need of it. Indeed I
have not, for I do not even love you!" She spoke in a low, faint
voice, and passed her hand over her face.

"I must go," the man said at last.

She looked at him sharply. "Where to?"

"How do you mean 'where to'? I must go away altogether!"

"Ah, those tragedies, duties, and sins again!" she cried, her eyes
burning into his with hatred and contempt. "Isn't it all perfectly
simple? Didn't you make a contract with me?"

"I have never made one without love. And I love only Alena. I must

"Oh, what cruel, ascetical egoism!" she cried violently. Then
suddenly all her rage died down, and she sat quietly in the chair,
covering her face with her hands.

Polunin stood by, his shoulders bowed, his arms hanging limply. His
face betrayed grief and anxiety.

Kseniya looked up at him with a wan smile: "It is all right - there is
no need to go... It was only my nonsense.... I was merely venting my
anger.... Don't mind me .... I am tired and harassed. Of course I
have not been purged. I know that is impossible... We are the
'heisha-girls of lantern-light'.... You remember Annensky? ... Give
me your hand."

Polunin stretched out his large hand, took her yielding one in his
and pressed its delicate fingers.

"You have forgiven me?" she murmured.

He looked at her helplessly, then muttered: "I cannot either forgive
or not forgive. But ... I cannot!"

"Never mind; we shall forget. We shall be cheerful and happy. You
remember: 'Where beauty shines amidst mire and baseness there is only
torment'.... You need not mind, it is all over!"

She uttered the last few words with a cry, raised herself erect, and
laughed aloud with forced gaiety.

"We shall tell fortunes, jest, drink, be merry - like our grandfathers ...
you remember! ...Had not our grandmothers their coachmen

She rang the bell and the butler came in.

"Bring in more tea. Light the fire and the lamps."

The fire burnt brightly and illuminated the leather-covered chairs.
The portrait frames on the walls shone golden through the darkness.
Polunin paced up and down the room, his hands behind his back; his
footsteps were muffled in the thick carpet.

Sleigh bells began to ring outside.

It was just ten o'clock as the guests assembled from the town and the
neighbouring estates. They were received in the drawing-room.

Taper, the priest's son, commenced playing a polka, and the ladies
went into the ballroom; the old butler and two footmen brought wax
candles and basins of water, and the old ladies began to tell
fortunes. A troupe of mummers tumbled in, a bear performed tricks, a
Little Russian dulcimer-player sang songs.

The mummers brought in with them the smell of frost, furs, and
napthaline. One of them emitted a cock's crow, and they danced a
Russian dance. It was all merry and bright, a tumultuous, boisterous
revel, as in the old Russian aristocracy days. There was a smell of
burning wax, candle-grease, and burning paper.

Kseniya Ippolytovna was the soul of gaiety; she laughed and jested
cheerfully as she waltzed with a Lyceum student, a General's son. She
had re-dressed her hair gorgeously, and wore a pearl necklace round
her throat. The old men sat round card-tables in the lounge, talking
on local topics.

At half past eleven a footman opened the door leading into the
dining-room and solemnly announced that supper was served. They
supped and toasted, ate and drank amid the clatter of knives, forks,
dishes, and spoons. Kseniya made Arkhipov, Polunin, a General and a
Magistrate sit beside her.

At midnight, just as they were expecting the clock to chime, Kseniya
Ippolytovna rose to propose a toast; in her right hand was a glass;
her left was flung back behind her plaited hair; she held her head
high. All the guests at once rose to their feet.

"I am a woman," she cried aloud. "I drink to ourselves, to women, to
the gentle, to the homely, to happiness and purity! To motherhood! I
drink to the sacred - " she broke off abruptly, sat down and hung her

Somebody cried: "Hurrah!" To someone else it seemed that Kseniya was
weeping. The clock began to chime, the guests shouted "Hurrah!"
clinked glasses, and drank.

Then they sang, while some rose and carried round glasses to those of
the guests who were still sober and those who were only partially
intoxicated. They bowed. They sang _The Goblets_, and the basses

"Drink to the dregs! Drink to the dregs!" Kseniya Ippolytovna
offered her first glass to Polunin. She stood in front of him with a
tray, curtseyed without lifting her eyes and sang. Polunin rose,
colouring with embarrassment:

"I never drink wine," he protested.

But the basses thundered: "Drink to the dregs! Drink to the dregs!"

His face darkened, he raised a silencing arm, and firmly repeated:

"I never drink wine, and I do not intend to."

Kseniya gazed into the depths of his eyes and said softly:

"I want you to, I beg you.... Do you hear?"

"I will not," Polunin whispered back.

Then she cried out:

"He doesn't want to! We mustn't make him against his will!" She
turned away, offered her glass to the Magistrate, and after him to
the Lyceum student; then excused herself and withdrew, quietly
returning later looking sad and as if she had suddenly aged.

They lingered a long while over supper; then went into the ball-room
to dance, and sing, and play old fashioned games. The men went to the
buffets to drink, the older ones then sat in the drawing-room playing
whist, and talked.

It was nearly five o'clock when the guests departed. Only the
Arkhipovs and Polunin remained. Kseniya Ippolytovna ordered coffee,
and all four sat down at a small table feeling worn out. The house
was now wrapt in silence. The dawn had just broken.

Kseniya was tired to death, but endeavoured to appear fresh and
cheerful. She passed the coffee round, and then fetched a bottle of
liqueur. They sat almost in silence; what talk they exchanged was

"One more year dropped into Eternity," Arkhipov said, sombrely.

"Yes, a year nearer to death, a year further from birth," rejoined

Kseniya Ippolytovna was seated opposite him. Her eyes were veiled.
She rose now to her feet, leaned over the table and spoke to him in

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