My Life -
When I was doing anything in the garden or the yard, Moisey
would stand beside me, and folding his arms behind his back he
would stand lazily and impudently staring at me with his little
eyes. And this irritated me to such a degree that I threw up my
work and went away.
From Stepan we heard that Moisey was Madame Tcheprakov's lover.
I noticed that when people came to her to borrow money they
addressed themselves first to Moisey, and once I saw a peasant,
black from head to foot -- he must have been a coalheaver -- bow
down at Moisey's feet. Sometimes, after a little whispering, he
gave out money himself, without consulting his mistress, from
which I concluded that he did a little business on his own
He used to shoot in our garden under our windows, carried off
victuals from our cellar, borrowed our horses without asking
permission, and we were indignant and began to feel as though
Dubetchnya were not ours, and Masha would say, turning pale:
"Can we really have to go on living with these reptiles another
Madame Tcheprakov's son, Ivan, was serving as a guard on our
railway-line. He had grown much thinner and feebler during the
winter, so that a single glass was enough to make him drunk, and
he shivered out of the sunshine. He wore the guard's uniform
with aversion and was ashamed of it, but considered his post a
good one, as he could steal the candles and sell them. My new
position excited in him a mixed feeling of wonder, envy, and a
vague hope that something of the same sort might happen to him.
He used to watch Masha with ecstatic eyes, ask me what I had for
dinner now, and his lean and ugly face wore a sad and sweetish
expression, and he moved his fingers as though he were feeling
my happiness with them.
"Listen, Better-than-nothing," he said fussily, relighting his
cigarette at every instant; there was always a litter where he
stood, for he wasted dozens of matches, lighting one cigarette.
"Listen, my life now is the nastiest possible. The worst of it
is any subaltern can shout: 'Hi, there, guard!' I have overheard
all sorts of things in the train, my boy, and do you know, I
have learned that life's a beastly thing! My mother has been the
ruin of me! A doctor in the train told me that if parents are
immoral, their children are drunkards or criminals. Think of
Once he came into the yard, staggering; his eyes gazed about
blankly, his breathing was laboured; he laughed and cried and
babbled as though in a high fever, and the only words I could
catch in his muddled talk were, "My mother! Where's my mother?"
which he uttered with a wail like a child who has lost his
mother in a crowd. I led him into our garden and laid him down
under a tree, and Masha and I took turns to sit by him all that
day and all night. He was very sick, and Masha looked with
aversion at his pale, wet face, and said:
"Is it possible these reptiles will go on living another year
and a half in our yard? It's awful! it's awful!"
And how many mortifications the peasants caused us! How many
bitter disappointments in those early days in the spring months,
when we so longed to be happy. My wife built a school. I drew a
plan of a school for sixty boys, and the Zemstvo Board approved
of it, but advised us to build the school at Kurilovka the big
village which was only two miles from us. Moreover, the school
at Kurilovka in which children -- from four villages, our
Dubetchnya being one of the number -- were taught, was old and
too small, and the floor was scarcely safe to walk upon. At the
end of March at Masha's wish, she was appointed guardian of the
Kurilovka school, and at the beginning of April we three times
summoned the village assembly, and tried to persuade the
peasants that their school was old and overcrowded, and that it
was essential to build a new one. A member of the Zemstvo Board
and the Inspector of Peasant Schools came, and they, too, tried
to persuade them. After each meeting the peasants surrounded us,
begging for a bucket of vodka; we were hot in the crowd; we were
soon exhausted, and returned home dissatisfied and a little ill
at ease. In the end the peasants set apart a plot of ground for
the school, and were obliged to bring all the building material
from the town with their own horses. And the very first Sunday
after the spring corn was sown carts set off from Kurilovka and
Dubetchnya to fetch bricks for the foundations. They set off as
soon as it was light, and came back late in the evening; the
peasants were drunk, and said they were worn out.
As ill-luck would have it, the rain and the cold persisted all
through May. The road was in an awful state: it was deep in mud.
The carts usually drove into our yard when they came back from
the town -- and what a horrible ordeal it was. A potbellied
horse would appear at the gate, setting its front legs wide
apart; it would stumble forward before coming into the yard; a
beam, nine yards long, wet and slimy-looking, crept in on a
waggon. Beside it, muffled up against the rain, strode a peasant
with the skirts of his coat tucked up in his belt, not looking
where he was going, but stepping through the puddles. Another
cart would appear with boards, then a third with a beam, a
fourth . . . and the space before our house was gradually
crowded up with horses, beams, and planks. Men and women, with
their heads muffled and their skirts tucked up, would stare
angrily at our windows, make an uproar, and clamour for the
mistress to come out to them; coarse oaths were audible.
Meanwhile Moisey stood at one side, and we fancied he was
enjoying our discomfiture.
"We are not going to cart any more," the peasants would shout.
"We are worn out! Let her go and get the stuff herself."
Masha, pale and flustered, expecting every minute that they
would break into the house, would send them out a half-pail of
vodka; after that the noise would subside and the long beams,
one after another, would crawl slowly out of the yard.
When I was setting off to see the building my wife was worried
"The peasants are spiteful; I only hope they won't do you a
mischief. Wait a minute, I'll come with you."
We drove to Kurilovka together, and there the carpenters asked
us for a drink. The framework of the house was ready. It was
time to lay the foundation, but the masons had not come; this
caused delay, and the carpenters complained. And when at last
the masons did come, it appeared that there was no sand; it had
been somehow overlooked that it would be needed. Taking
advantage of our helpless position, the peasants demanded thirty
kopecks for each cartload, though the distance from the building
to the river where they got the sand was less than a quarter of
a mile, and more than five hundred cartloads were found to be
necessary. There was no end to the misunderstandings, swearing,
and importunity; my wife was indignant, and the foreman of the
masons, Tit Petrov, an old man of seventy, took her by the arm,
"You look here! You look here! You only bring me the sand; I set
ten men on at once, and in two days it will be done! You look
But they brought the sand and two days passed, and four, and a
week, and instead of the promised foundations there was still a
"It's enough to drive one out of one's senses," said my wife, in
distress. "What people! What people!"
In the midst of these disorderly doings the engineer arrived; he
brought with him parcels of wine and savouries, and after a
prolonged meal lay down for a nap in the verandah and snored so
loudly that the labourers shook their heads and said: "Well!"
Masha was not pleased at his coming, she did not trust him,
though at the same time she asked his advice. When, after
sleeping too long after dinner, he got up in a bad humour and
said unpleasant things about our management of the place, or
expressed regret that he had bought Dubetchnya, which had
already been a loss to him, poor Masha's face wore an expression
of misery. She would complain to him, and he would yawn and say
that the peasants ought to be flogged.
He called our marriage and our life a farce, and said it was a
caprice, a whim.
"She has done something of the sort before," he said about
Masha. "She once fancied herself a great opera singer and left
me; I was looking for her for two months, and, my dear soul, I
spent a thousand roubles on telegrams alone."
He no longer called me a dissenter or Mr. Painter, and did not
as in the past express approval of my living like a workman, but
"You are a strange person! You are not a normal person! I won't
venture to prophesy, but you will come to a bad end!"
And Masha slept badly at night, and was always sitting at our
bedroom window thinking. There was no laughter at supper now, no
charming grimaces. I was wretched, and when it rained, every
drop that fell seemed to pierce my heart, like small shot, and I
felt ready to fall on my knees before Masha and apologize for
the weather. When the peasants made a noise in the yard I felt
guilty also. For hours at a time I sat still in one place,
thinking of nothing but what a splendid person Masha was, what a
wonderful person. I loved her passionately, and I was fascinated
by everything she did, everything she said. She had a bent for
quiet, studious pursuits; she was fond of reading for hours
together, of studying. Although her knowledge of farming was
only from books she surprised us all by what she knew; and every
piece of advice she gave was of value; not one was ever thrown
away; and, with all that, what nobility, what taste, what
graciousness, that graciousness which is only found in
To this woman, with her sound, practical intelligence, the
disorderly surroundings with petty cares and sordid anxieties in
which we were living now were an agony: I saw that and could not
sleep at night; my brain worked feverishly and I had a lump in
my throat. I rushed about not knowing what to do.
I galloped to the town and brought Masha books, newspapers,
sweets, flowers; with Stepan I caught fish, wading for hours up
to my neck in the cold water in the rain to catch eel-pout to
vary our fare; I demeaned myself to beg the peasants not to make
a noise; I plied them with vodka, bought them off, made all
sorts of promises. And how many other foolish things I did!
At last the rain ceased, the earth dried. One would get up at
four o'clock in the morning; one would go out into the garden --
where there was dew sparkling on the flowers, the twitter of
birds, the hum of insects, not one cloud in the sky; and the
garden, the meadows, and the river were so lovely, yet there
were memories of the peasants, of their carts, of the engineer.
Masha and I drove out together in the racing droshky to the
fields to look at the oats. She used to drive, I sat behind; her
shoulders were raised and the wind played with her hair.
"Keep to the right!" she shouted to those she met.
"You are like a sledge-driver," I said to her one day.
"Maybe! Why, my grandfather, the engineer's father, was a
sledge-driver. Didn't you know that?" she asked, turning to me,
and at once she mimicked the way sledge-drivers shout and sing.
"And thank God for that," I thought as I listened to her. "Thank
And again memories of the peasants, of the carts, of the
engineer. . . .