An Artist's Story
It was quite still out of doors; the village on the further side
of the pond was already asleep; there was not a light to be
seen, and only the stars were faintly reflected in the pond. At
the gate with the lions on it Genya was standing motionless,
waiting to escort me.
"Every one is asleep in the village," I said to her, trying to
make out her face in the darkness, and I saw her mournful dark
eyes fixed upon me. "The publican and the horse-stealers are
asleep, while we, well-bred people, argue and irritate each
It was a melancholy August night -- melancholy because there was
already a feeling of autumn; the moon was rising behind a purple
cloud, and it shed a faint light upon the road and on the dark
fields of winter corn by the sides. From time to time a star
fell. Genya walked beside me along the road, and tried not to
look at the sky, that she might not see the falling stars, which
for some reason frightened her.
"I believe you are right," she said, shivering with the damp
night air. "If people, all together, could devote themselves to
spiritual ends, they would soon know everything."
"Of course. We are higher beings, and if we were really to
recognise the whole force of human genius and lived only for
higher ends, we should in the end become like gods. But that
will never be -- mankind will degenerate till no traces of
When the gates were out of sight, Genya stopped and shook hands
"Good-night," she said, shivering; she had nothing but her
blouse over her shoulders and was shrinking with cold. "Come
I felt wretched at the thought of being left alone, irritated
and dissatisfied with myself and other people; and I, too, tried
not to look at the falling stars. "Stay another minute," I said
to her, "I entreat you."
I loved Genya. I must have loved her because she met me when I
came and saw me off when I went away; because she looked at me
tenderly and enthusiastically. How touchingly beautiful were her
pale face, slender neck, slender arms, her weakness, her
idleness, her reading. And intelligence? I suspected in her
intelligence above the average. I was fascinated by the breadth
of her views, perhaps because they were different from those of
the stern, handsome Lida, who disliked me. Genya liked me,
because I was an artist. I had conquered her heart by my talent,
and had a passionate desire to paint for her sake alone; and I
dreamed of her as of my little queen who with me would possess
those trees, those fields, the mists, the dawn, the exquisite
and beautiful scenery in the midst of which I had felt myself
hopelessly solitary and useless.
"Stay another minute," I begged her. "I beseech you."
I took off my overcoat and put it over her chilly shoulders;
afraid of looking ugly and absurd in a man's overcoat, she
laughed, threw it off, and at that instant I put my arms round
her and covered her face, shoulders, and hands with kisses.
"Till to-morrow," she whispered, and softly, as though afraid of
breaking upon the silence of the night, she embraced me. "We
have no secrets from one another. I must tell my mother and my
sister at once. . . . It's so dreadful! Mother is all right;
mother likes you -- but Lida!"
She ran to the gates.
"Good-bye!" she called.
And then for two minutes I heard her running. I did not want to
go home, and I had nothing to go for. I stood still for a little
time hesitating, and made my way slowly back, to look once more
at the house in which she lived, the sweet, simple old house,
which seemed to be watching me from the windows of its upper
storey, and understanding all about it. I walked by the terrace,
sat on the seat by the tennis ground, in the dark under the old
elm-tree, and looked from there at the house. In the windows of
the top storey where Misuce slept there appeared a bright light,
which changed to a soft green -- they had covered the lamp with
the shade. Shadows began to move. . . . I was full of
tenderness, peace, and satisfaction with myself -- satisfaction
at having been able to be carried away by my feelings and having
fallen in love, and at the same time I felt uncomfortable at the
thought that only a few steps away from me, in one of the rooms
of that house there was Lida, who disliked and perhaps hated me.
I went on sitting there wondering whether Genya would come out;
I listened and fancied I heard voices talking upstairs.
About an hour passed. The green light went out, and the shadows
were no longer visible. The moon was standing high above the
house, and lighting up the sleeping garden and the paths; the
dahlias and the roses in front of the house could be seen
distinctly, and looked all the same colour. It began to grow
very cold. I went out of the garden, picked up my coat on the
road, and slowly sauntered home.
When next day after dinner I went to the Voltchaninovs, the
glass door into the garden was wide open. I sat down on the
terrace, expecting Genya every minute, to appear from behind the
flower-beds on the lawn, or from one of the avenues, or that I
should hear her voice from the house. Then I walked into the
drawing-room, the dining-room. There was not a soul to be seen.
From the dining-room I walked along the long corridor to the
hall and back. In this corridor there were several doors, and
through one of them I heard the voice of Lida:
" 'God . . . sent . . . a crow,' " she said in a loud, emphatic
voice, probably dictating -- " 'God sent a crow a piece of
cheese. . . . A crow . . . a piece of cheese.' . . . Who's
there?" she called suddenly, hearing my steps.
"Ah! Excuse me, I cannot come out to you this minute; I'm giving
Dasha her lesson."
"Is Ekaterina Pavlovna in the garden?"
"No, she went away with my sister this morning to our aunt in
the province of Penza. And in the winter they will probably go
abroad," she added after a pause. " 'God sent . . . the crow . .
. a piece . . . of cheese.' . . . Have you written it?"
I went into the hall, and stared vacantly at the pond and the
village, and the sound reached me of "A piece of cheese. . . .
God sent the crow a piece of cheese."
And I went back by the way I had come here for the first time --
first from the yard into the garden past the house, then into
the avenue of lime-trees. . . . At this point I was overtaken by
a small boy who gave me a note:
"I told my sister everything and she insists on my parting from
you," I read. "I could not wound her by disobeying. God will
give you happiness. Forgive me. If only you knew how bitterly my
mother and I are crying!"
Then there was the dark fir avenue, the broken-down fence. . . .
On the field where then the rye was in flower and the corncrakes
were calling, now there were cows and hobbled horses. On the
slope there were bright green patches of winter corn. A sober
workaday feeling came over me and I felt ashamed of all I had
said at the Voltchaninovs', and felt bored with life as I had
been before. When I got home, I packed and set off that evening
I never saw the Voltchaninovs again. Not long ago, on my way to
the Crimea, I met Byelokurov in the train. As before, he was
wearing a jerkin and an embroidered shirt, and when I asked how
he was, he replied that, God be praised, he was well. We began
talking. He had sold his old estate and bought another smaller
one, in the name of Liubov Ivanovna. He could tell me little
about the Voltchaninovs. Lida, he said, was still living in
Shelkovka and teaching in the school; she had by degrees
succeeded in gathering round her a circle of people sympathetic
to her who made a strong party, and at the last election had
turned out Balagin, who had till then had the whole district
under his thumb. About Genya he only told me that she did not
live at home, and that he did not know where she was.
I am beginning to forget the old house, and only sometimes when
I am painting or reading I suddenly, apropos of nothing,
remember the green light in the window, the sound of my
footsteps as I walked home through the fields in the night, with
my heart full of love, rubbing my hands in the cold. And still
more rarely, at moments when I am sad and depressed by
loneliness, I have dim memories, and little by little I begin to
feel that she is thinking of me, too -- that she is waiting for
me, and that we shall meet. . . .
Misuce, where are you?
title: "The House with a Mezzanine: An Artist's Story"
patience: a card came
Amos stoves: Amosov stoves were invented in 1835 by Nicholas
privy councillor: 3rd grade, typically reserved for very
distinguished members of the Civil Service
Zemstvo school: a school created by the local district council
Misuce: a mispronunciation of "Miss Hughes"
oleographs: imitation oil paintings
intellectual family: the word should be translated as "family of
the intelligentsia"; that is, a family of culture
Buriat girl: the Buryats were a Mongol people living in
Chinese canvas: a coarse cotton material
tunic: poddiovka, a long, close-fitting pleated coat
Annas, Mavras, Pelageas: typical Russian peasant names
Rurik: founder of the first of the ruling houses in Russia, that
lasted from 862 until 1598
Gogol's Petrushka: the servant in the novel Dead Souls (1842) by
Nikolay V. Gogol (1809-1852) often read things he didn't
Vichy: spa in France
cheese: the first line of a well-known Russian fable is: "A crow
picked up a piece of cheese"