- The Princess
A CARRIAGE with four fine sleek horses drove
in at the big so-called Red Gate of the N--- Monastery. While it
was still at a distance, the priests and monks who were standing
in a group round the part of the hostel allotted to the gentry,
recognised by the coachman and horses that the lady in the
carriage was Princess Vera Gavrilovna, whom they knew very well.
An old man in livery jumped off the box and helped the princess
to get out of the carriage. She raised her dark veil and moved
in a leisurely way up to the priests to receive their blessing;
then she nodded pleasantly to the rest of the monks and went
into the hostel.
"Well, have you missed your princess?" she said to the monk who
brought in her things. "It's a whole month since I've been to
see you. But here I am; behold your princess. And where is the
Father Superior? My goodness, I am burning with impatience!
Wonderful, wonderful old man! You must be proud of having such a
When the Father Superior came in, the princess uttered a shriek
of delight, crossed her arms over her bosom, and went up to
receive his blessing.
"No, no, let me kiss your hand," she said, snatching it and
eagerly kissing it three times. "How glad I am to see you at
last, holy Father! I'm sure you've forgotten your princess, but
my thoughts have been in your dear monastery every moment. How
delightful it is here! This living for God far from the busy,
giddy world has a special charm of its own, holy Father, which I
feel with my whole soul although I cannot express it!"
The princess's cheeks glowed and tears came into her eyes. She
talked incessantly, fervently, while the Father Superior, a
grave, plain, shy old man of seventy, remained mute or uttered
abruptly, like a soldier on duty, phrases such as:
"Certainly, Your Excellency. . . . Quite so. I understand."
"Has Your Excellency come for a long stay?" he inquired.
"I shall stay the night here, and to-morrow I'm going on to
Klavdia Nikolaevna's -- it's a long time since I've seen her --
and the day after to-morrow I'll come back to you and stay three
or four days. I want to rest my soul here among you, holy
Father. . . ."
The princess liked being at the monastery at N---. For the last
two years it had been a favourite resort of hers; she used to go
there almost every month in the summer and stay two or three
days, even sometimes a week. The shy novices, the stillness, the
low ceilings, the smell of cypress, the modest fare, the cheap
curtains on the windows -- all this touched her, softened her,
and disposed her to contemplation and good thoughts. It was
enough for her to be half an hour in the hostel for her to feel
that she, too, was timid and modest, and that she, too, smelt of
cypress-wood. The past retreated into the background, lost its
significance, and the princess began to imagine that in spite of
her twenty-nine years she was very much like the old Father
Superior, and that, like him, she was created not for wealth,
not for earthly grandeur and love, but for a peaceful life
secluded from the world, a life in twilight like the hostel.
It happens that a ray of light gleams in the dark cell of the
anchorite absorbed in prayer, or a bird alights on the window
and sings its song; the stern anchorite will smile in spite of
himself, and a gentle, sinless joy will pierce through the load
of grief over his sins, like water flowing from under a stone.
The princess fancied she brought from the outside world just
such comfort as the ray of light or the bird. Her gay, friendly
smile, her gentle eyes, her voice, her jests, her whole
personality in fact, her little graceful figure always dressed
in simple black, must arouse in simple, austere people a feeling
of tenderness and joy. Every one, looking at her, must think:
"God has sent us an angel. . . ." And feeling that no one could
help thinking this, she smiled still more cordially, and tried
to look like a bird.
After drinking tea and resting, she went for a walk. The sun was
already setting. From the monastery garden came a moist
fragrance of freshly watered mignonette, and from the church
floated the soft singing of men's voices, which seemed very
pleasant and mournful in the distance. It was the evening
service. In the dark windows where the little lamps glowed
gently, in the shadows, in the figure of the old monk sitting at
the church door with a collecting-box, there was such unruffled
peace that the princess felt moved to tears.
Outside the gate, in the walk between the wall and the
birch-trees where there were benches, it was quite evening. The
air grew rapidly darker and darker. The princess went along the
walk, sat on a seat, and sank into thought.
She thought how good it would be to settle down for her whole
life in this monastery where life was as still and unruffled as
a summer evening; how good it would be to forget the ungrateful,
dissipated prince; to forget her immense estates, the creditors
who worried her every day, her misfortunes, her maid Dasha, who
had looked at her impertinently that morning. It would be nice
to sit here on the bench all her life and watch through the
trunks of the birch-trees the evening mist gathering in wreaths
in the valley below; the rooks flying home in a black cloud like
a veil far, far away above the forest; two novices, one astride
a piebald horse, another on foot driving out the horses for the
night and rejoicing in their freedom, playing pranks like little
children; their youthful voices rang out musically in the still
air, and she could distinguish every word. It is nice to sit and
listen to the silence: at one moment the wind blows and stirs
the tops of the birch-trees, then a frog rustles in last year's
leaves, then the clock on the belfry strikes the quarter. . . .
One might sit without moving, listen and think, and think. . . .
An old woman passed by with a wallet on her back. The princess
thought that it would be nice to stop the old woman and to say
something friendly and cordial to her, to help her. . . . But
the old woman turned the corner without once looking round.
Not long afterwards a tall man with a grey beard and a straw hat
came along the walk. When he came up to the princess, he took
off his hat and bowed. From the bald patch on his head and his
sharp, hooked nose the princess recognised him as the doctor,
Mihail Ivanovitch, who had been in her service at Dubovki. She
remembered that some one had told her that his wife had died the
year before, and she wanted to sympathise with him, to console
"Doctor, I expect you don't recognise me?" she said with an
"Yes, Princess, I recognised you," said the doctor, taking off
his hat again.
"Oh, thank you; I was afraid that you, too, had forgotten your
princess. People only remember their enemies, but they forget
their friends. Have you, too, come to pray?"
"I am the doctor here, and I have to spend the night at the
monastery every Saturday."
"Well, how are you?" said the princess, sighing. "I hear that
you have lost your wife. What a calamity!"
"Yes, Princess, for me it is a great calamity."
"There's nothing for it! We must bear our troubles with
resignation. Not one hair of a man's head is lost without the
To the princess's friendly, gentle smile and her sighs the
doctor responded coldly and dryly: "Yes, Princess." And the
expression of his face was cold and dry.
"What else can I say to him?" she wondered.
"How long it is since we met!" she said. "Five years! How much
water has flowed under the bridge, how many changes in that
time; it quite frightens one to think of it! You know, I am
married. . . . I am not a countess now, but a princess. And by
now I am separated from my husband too."
"Yes, I heard so."
"God has sent me many trials. No doubt you have heard, too, that
I am almost ruined. My Dubovki, Sofyino, and Kiryakovo have all
been sold for my unhappy husband's debts. And I have only
Baranovo and Mihaltsevo left. It's terrible to look back: how
many changes and misfortunes of all kinds, how many mistakes!"
"Yes, Princess, many mistakes."
The princess was a little disconcerted. She knew her mistakes;
they were all of such a private character that no one but she
could think or speak of them. She could not resist asking:
"What mistakes are you thinking about?"
"You referred to them, so you know them . . ." answered the
doctor, and he smiled. "Why talk about them!"
"No; tell me, doctor. I shall be very grateful to you. And
please don't stand on ceremony with me. I love to hear the
"I am not your judge, Princess."
"Not my judge! What a tone you take! You must know something
about me. Tell me!"
"If you really wish it, very well. Only I regret to say I'm not
clever at talking, and people can't always understand me."
The doctor thought a moment and began:
"A lot of mistakes; but the most important of them, in my
opinion, was the general spirit that prevailed on all your
estates. You see, I don't know how to express myself. I mean
chiefly the lack of love, the aversion for people that was felt
in absolutely everything. Your whole system of life was built
upon that aversion. Aversion for the human voice, for faces, for
heads, steps . . . in fact, for everything that makes up a human
being. At all the doors and on the stairs there stand sleek,
rude, and lazy grooms in livery to prevent badly dressed persons
from entering the house; in the hall there are chairs with high
backs so that the footmen waiting there, during balls and
receptions, may not soil the walls with their heads; in every
room there are thick carpets that no human step may be heard;
every one who comes in is infallibly warned to speak as softly
and as little as possible, and to say nothing that might have a
disagreeable effect on the nerves or the imagination. And in
your room you don't shake hands with any one or ask him to sit
down -- just as you didn't shake hands with me or ask me to sit
down. . . ."
"By all means, if you like," said the princess, smiling and
holding out her hand. "Really, to be cross about such trifles. .
"But I am not cross," laughed the doctor, but at once he
flushed, took off his hat, and waving it about, began hotly: "To
be candid, I've long wanted an opportunity to tell you all I
think. . . . That is, I want to tell you that you look upon the
mass of mankind from the Napoleonic standpoint as food for the
cannon. But Napoleon had at least some idea; you have nothing
"I have an aversion for people?" smiled the princess, shrugging
her shoulders in astonishment. "I have!"
"Yes, you! You want facts? By all means. In Mihaltsevo three
former cooks of yours, who have gone blind in your kitchens from
the heat of the stove, are living upon charity. All the health
and strength and good looks that is found on your hundreds of
thousands of acres is taken by you and your parasites for your
grooms, your footmen, and your coachmen. All these two-legged
cattle are trained to be flunkeys, overeat themselves, grow
coarse, lose the 'image and likeness,' in fact. . . . Young
doctors, agricultural experts, teachers, intellectual workers
generally -- think of it! -- are torn away from their honest
work and forced for a crust of bread to take part in all sorts
of mummeries which make every decent man feel ashamed! Some
young men cannot be in your service for three years without
becoming hypocrites, toadies, sneaks. . . . Is that a good
thing? Your Polish superintendents, those abject spies, all
those Kazimers and Kaetans, go hunting about on your hundreds of
thousands of acres from morning to night, and to please you try
to get three skins off one ox. Excuse me, I speak
disconnectedly, but that doesn't matter. You don't look upon the
simple people as human beings. And even the princes, counts, and
bishops who used to come and see you, you looked upon simply as
decorative figures, not as living beings. But the worst of all,
the thing that most revolts me, is having a fortune of over a
million and doing nothing for other people, nothing!"
The princess sat amazed, aghast, offended, not knowing what to
say or how to behave. She had never before been spoken to in
such a tone. The doctor's unpleasant, angry voice and his
clumsy, faltering phrases made a harsh clattering noise in her
ears and her head. Then she began to feel as though the
gesticulating doctor was hitting her on the head with his hat.
"It's not true!" she articulated softly, in an imploring voice.
"I've done a great deal of good for other people; you know it
"Nonsense!" cried the doctor. "Can you possibly go on thinking
of your philanthropic work as something genuine and useful, and
not a mere mummery? It was a farce from beginning to end; it was
playing at loving your neighbour, the most open farce which even
children and stupid peasant women saw through! Take for instance
your -- what was it called? -- house for homeless old women
without relations, of which you made me something like a head
doctor, and of which you were the patroness. Mercy on us! What a
charming institution it was! A house was built with parquet
floors and a weathercock on the roof; a dozen old women were
collected from the villages and made to sleep under blankets and
sheets of Dutch linen, and given toffee to eat."
The doctor gave a malignant chuckle into his hat, and went on
speaking rapidly and stammering:
"It was a farce! The attendants kept the sheets and the blankets
under lock and key, for fear the old women should soil them --
'Let the old devil's pepper-pots sleep on the floor.' The old
women did not dare to sit down on the beds, to put on their
jackets, to walk over the polished floors. Everything was kept
for show and hidden away from the old women as though they were
thieves, and the old women were clothed and fed on the sly by
other people's charity, and prayed to God night and day to be
released from their prison and from the canting exhortations of
the sleek rascals to whose care you committed them. And what did
the managers do? It was simply charming! About twice a week
there would be thirty-five thousand messages to say that the
princess -- that is, you -- were coming to the home next day.
That meant that next day I had to abandon my patients, dress up
and be on parade. Very good; I arrive. The old women, in
everything clean and new, are already drawn up in a row,
waiting. Near them struts the old garrison rat -- the
superintendent with his mawkish, sneaking smile. The old women
yawn and exchange glances, but are afraid to complain. We wait.
The junior steward gallops up. Half an hour later the senior
steward; then the superintendent of the accounts' office, then
another, and then another of them . . . they keep arriving
endlessly. They all have mysterious, solemn faces. We wait and
wait, shift from one leg to another, look at the clock -- all
this in monumental silence because we all hate each other like
poison. One hour passes, then a second, and then at last the
carriage is seen in the distance, and . . . and . . ."
The doctor went off into a shrill laugh and brought out in a
"You get out of the carriage, and the old hags, at the word of
command from the old garrison rat, begin chanting: 'The Glory of
our Lord in Zion the tongue of man cannot express. . .' A pretty
scene, wasn't it?"
The doctor went off into a bass chuckle, and waved his hand as
though to signify that he could not utter another word for
laughing. He laughed heavily, harshly, with clenched teeth, as
ill-natured people laugh; and from his voice, from his face,
from his glittering, rather insolent eyes it could be seen that
he had a profound contempt for the princess, for the home, and
for the old women. There was nothing amusing or laughable in all
that he described so clumsily and coarsely, but he laughed with
satisfaction, even with delight.
"And the school?" he went on, panting from laughter. "Do you
remember how you wanted to teach peasant children yourself? You
must have taught them very well, for very soon the children all
ran away, so that they had to be thrashed and bribed to come and
be taught. And you remember how you wanted to feed with your own
hands the infants whose mothers were working in the fields. You
went about the village crying because the infants were not at
your disposal, as the mothers would take them to the fields with
them. Then the village foreman ordered the mothers by turns to
leave their infants behind for your entertainment. A strange
thing! They all ran away from your benevolence like mice from a
cat! And why was it? It's very simple. Not because our people
are ignorant and ungrateful, as you always explained it to
yourself, but because in all your fads, if you'll excuse the
word, there wasn't a ha'p'orth of love and kindness! There was
nothing but the desire to amuse yourself with living puppets,
nothing else. . . . A person who does not feel the difference
between a human being and a lap-dog ought not to go in for
philanthropy. I assure you, there's a great difference between
human beings and lap-dogs!"
The princess's heart was beating dreadfully; there was a
thudding in her ears, and she still felt as though the doctor
were beating her on the head with his hat. The doctor talked
quickly, excitedly, and uncouthly, stammering and gesticulating
unnecessarily. All she grasped was that she was spoken to by a
coarse, ill-bred, spiteful, and ungrateful man; but what he
wanted of her and what he was talking about, she could not
"Go away!" she said in a tearful voice, putting up her hands to
protect her head from the doctor's hat; "go away!"
"And how you treat your servants!" the doctor went on,
indignantly. "You treat them as the lowest scoundrels, and don't
look upon them as human beings. For example, allow me to ask,
why did you dismiss me? For ten years I worked for your father
and afterwards for you, honestly, without vacations or holidays.
I gained the love of all for more than seventy miles round, and
suddenly one fine day I am informed that I am no longer wanted.
What for? I've no idea to this day. I, a doctor of medicine, a
gentleman by birth, a student of the Moscow University, father
of a family -- am such a petty, insignificant insect that you
can kick me out without explaining the reason! Why stand on
ceremony with me! I heard afterwards that my wife went without
my knowledge three times to intercede with you for me -- you
wouldn't receive her. I am told she cried in your hall. And I
shall never forgive her for it, never!"
The doctor paused and clenched his teeth, making an intense
effort to think of something more to say, very unpleasant and
vindictive. He thought of something, and his cold, frowning face
"Take your attitude to this monastery!" he said with avidity.
"You've never spared any one, and the holier the place, the more
chance of its suffering from your loving-kindness and angelic
sweetness. Why do you come here? What do you want with the monks
here, allow me to ask you? What is Hecuba to you or you to
Hecuba? It's another farce, another amusement for you, another
sacrilege against human dignity, and nothing more. Why, you
don't believe in the monks' God; you've a God of your own in
your heart, whom you've evolved for yourself at spiritualist
sances. You look with condescension upon the ritual of the
Church; you don't go to mass or vespers; you sleep till midday.
. . . Why do you come here? . . . You come with a God of your
own into a monastery you have nothing to do with, and you
imagine that the monks look upon it as a very great honour. To
be sure they do! You'd better ask, by the way, what your visits
cost the monastery. You were graciously pleased to arrive here
this evening, and a messenger from your estate arrived on
horseback the day before yesterday to warn them of your coming.
They were the whole day yesterday getting the rooms ready and
expecting you. This morning your advance-guard arrived -- an
insolent maid, who keeps running across the courtyard, rustling
her skirts, pestering them with questions, giving orders. . . .
I can't endure it! The monks have been on the lookout all day,
for if you were not met with due ceremony, there would be
trouble! You'd complain to the bishop! 'The monks don't like me,
your holiness; I don't know what I've done to displease them.
It's true I'm a great sinner, but I'm so unhappy!' Already one
monastery has been in hot water over you. The Father Superior is
a busy, learned man; he hasn't a free moment, and you keep
sending for him to come to your rooms. Not a trace of respect
for age or for rank! If at least you were a bountiful giver to
the monastery, one wouldn't resent it so much, but all this time
the monks have not received a hundred roubles from you!"
Whenever people worried the princess, misunderstood her, or
mortified her, and when she did not know what to say or do, she
usually began to cry. And on this occasion, too, she ended by
hiding her face in her hands and crying aloud in a thin treble
like a child. The doctor suddenly stopped and looked at her. His
face darkened and grew stern.
"Forgive me, Princess," he said in a hollow voice. "I've given
way to a malicious feeling and forgotten myself. It was not
And coughing in an embarrassed way, he walked away quickly,
without remembering to put his hat on.
Stars were already twinkling in the sky. The moon must have been
rising on the further side of the monastery, for the sky was
clear, soft, and transparent. Bats were flitting noiselessly
along the white monastery wall.
The clock slowly struck three quarters, probably a quarter to
nine. The princess got up and walked slowly to the gate. She
felt wounded and was crying, and she felt that the trees and the
stars and even the bats were pitying her, and that the clock
struck musically only to express its sympathy with her. She
cried and thought how nice it would be to go into a monastery
for the rest of her life. On still summer evenings she would
walk alone through the avenues, insulted, injured, misunderstood
by people, and only God and the starry heavens would see the
martyr's tears. The evening service was still going on in the
church. The princess stopped and listened to the singing; how
beautiful the singing sounded in the still darkness! How sweet
to weep and suffer to the sound of that singing!
Going into her rooms, she looked at her tear-stained face in the
glass and powdered it, then she sat down to supper. The monks
knew that she liked pickled sturgeon, little mushrooms, Malaga
and plain honey-cakes that left a taste of cypress in the mouth,
and every time she came they gave her all these dishes. As she
ate the mushrooms and drank the Malaga, the princess dreamed of
how she would be finally ruined and deserted -- how all her
stewards, bailiffs, clerks, and maid-servants for whom she had
done so much, would be false to her, and begin to say rude
things; how people all the world over would set upon her, speak
ill of her, jeer at her. She would renounce her title, would
renounce society and luxury, and would go into a convent without
one word of reproach to any one; she would pray for her enemies
-- and then they would all understand her and come to beg her
forgiveness, but by that time it would be too late. . . .
After supper she knelt down in the corner before the ikon and
read two chapters of the Gospel. Then her maid made her bed and
she got into it. Stretching herself under the white quilt, she
heaved a sweet, deep sigh, as one sighs after crying, closed her
eyes, and began to fall asleep.
In the morning she waked up and glanced at her watch. It was
half-past nine. On the carpet near the bed was a bright, narrow
streak of sunlight from a ray which came in at the window and
dimly lighted up the room. Flies were buzzing behind the black
curtain at the window. "It's early," thought the princess, and
she closed her eyes.
Stretching and lying snug in her bed, she recalled her meeting
yesterday with the doctor and all the thoughts with which she
had gone to sleep the night before: she remembered she was
unhappy. Then she thought of her husband living in Petersburg,
her stewards, doctors, neighbours, the officials of her
acquaintance . . . a long procession of familiar masculine faces
passed before her imagination. She smiled and thought, if only
these people could see into her heart and understand her, they
would all be at her feet.
At a quarter past eleven she called her maid.
"Help me to dress, Dasha," she said languidly. "But go first and
tell them to get out the horses. I must set off for Klavdia
Going out to get into the carriage, she blinked at the glaring
daylight and laughed with pleasure: it was a wonderfully fine
day! As she scanned from her half-closed eyes the monks who had
gathered round the steps to see her off, she nodded graciously
"Good-bye, my friends! Till the day after tomorrow."
It was an agreeable surprise to her that the doctor was with the
monks by the steps. His face was pale and severe.
"Princess," he said with a guilty smile, taking off his hat,
"I've been waiting here a long time to see you. Forgive me, for
God's sake. . . . I was carried away yesterday by an evil,
vindictive feeling and I talked . . . nonsense. In short, I beg
The princess smiled graciously, and held out her hand for him to
kiss. He kissed it, turning red.
Trying to look like a bird, the princess fluttered into the
carriage and nodded in all directions. There was a gay, warm,
serene feeling in her heart, and she felt herself that her smile
was particularly soft and friendly. As the carriage rolled
towards the gates, and afterwards along the dusty road past huts
and gardens, past long trains of waggons and strings of pilgrims
on their way to the monastery, she still screwed up her eyes and
smiled softly. She was thinking there was no higher bliss than
to bring warmth, light, and joy wherever one went, to forgive
injuries, to smile graciously on one's enemies. The peasants she
passed bowed to her, the carriage rustled softly, clouds of dust
rose from under the wheels and floated over the golden rye, and
it seemed to the princess that her body was swaying not on
carriage cushions but on clouds, and that she herself was like a
light, transparent little cloud. . . .
"How happy I am!" she murmured, shutting her eyes. "How happy I
Napoleonic standpoint: Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821) conquered
much of the civilized world in the 19th century, invading Russia
thirty-five thousand messages: echoes a famous passage in
Nikolay V. Gogol's play The Inspector General where Khlestakov
boasts that 35,000 messengers once had to be sent out to find
express: Russian Orthodox Church hymn often sung at funerals
Hecuba: cf. Hamlet, II:ii, 585; Hecuba was the wife of Priam,
King of Troy, in Homer's Iliad