My Life -
Masha and I drove to Kurilovka to the dedication of the school.
"Autumn, autumn, autumn, . . ." said Masha softly, looking away.
"Summer is over. There are no birds and nothing is green but the
Yes, summer was over. There were fine, warm days, but it was
fresh in the morning, and the shepherds went out in their
sheepskins already; and in our garden the dew did not dry off
the asters all day long. There were plaintive sounds all the
time, and one could not make out whether they came from the
shutters creaking on their rusty hinges, or from the flying
cranes -- and one's heart felt light, and one was eager for
"The summer is over," said Masha. "Now you and I can balance our
accounts. We have done a lot of work, a lot of thinking; we are
the better for it -- all honour and glory to us -- we have
succeeded in self-improvement; but have our successes had any
perceptible influence on the life around us, have they brought
any benefit to anyone whatever? No. Ignorance, physical
uncleanliness, drunkenness, an appallingly high infant
mortality, everything remains as it was, and no one is the
better for your having ploughed and sown, and my having wasted
money and read books. Obviously we have been working only for
ourselves and have had advanced ideas only for ourselves." Such
reasonings perplexed me, and I did not know what to think.
"We have been sincere from beginning to end," said I, "and if
anyone is sincere he is right."
"Who disputes it? We were right, but we haven't succeeded in
properly accomplishing what we were right in. To begin with, our
external methods themselves -- aren't they mistaken? You want to
be of use to men, but by the very fact of your buying an estate,
from the very start you cut yourself off from any possibility of
doing anything useful for them. Then if you work, dress, eat
like a peasant you sanctify, as it were, by your authority,
their heavy, clumsy dress, their horrible huts, their stupid
beards. . . . On the other hand, if we suppose that you work for
long, long years, your whole life, that in the end some
practical results are obtained, yet what are they, your results,
what can they do against such elemental forces as wholesale
ignorance, hunger, cold, degeneration? A drop in the ocean!
Other methods of struggle are needed, strong, bold, rapid! If
one really wants to be of use one must get out of the narrow
circle of ordinary social work, and try to act direct upon the
mass! What is wanted, first of all, is a loud, energetic
propaganda. Why is it that art -- music, for instance -- is so
living, so popular, and in reality so powerful? Because the
musician or the singer affects thousands at once. Precious,
precious art!" she went on, looking dreamily at the sky. "Art
gives us wings and carries us far, far away! Anyone who is sick
of filth, of petty, mercenary interests, anyone who is revolted,
wounded, and indignant, can find peace and satisfaction only in
When we drove into Kurilovka the weather was bright and joyous.
Somewhere they were threshing; there was a smell of rye straw. A
mountain ash was bright red behind the hurdle fences, and all
the trees wherever one looked were ruddy or golden. They were
ringing the bells, they were carrying the ikons to the school,
and we could hear them sing: "Holy Mother, our Defender," and
how limpid the air was, and how high the doves were flying.
The service was being held in the classroom. Then the peasants
of Kurilovka brought Masha the ikon, and the peasants of
Dubetchnya offered her a big loaf and a gilt salt cellar. And
Masha broke into sobs.
"If anything has been said that shouldn't have been or anything
done not to your liking, forgive us," said an old man, and he
bowed down to her and to me.
As we drove home Masha kept looking round at the school; the
green roof, which I had painted, and which was glistening in the
sun, remained in sight for a long while. And I felt that the
look Masha turned upon it now was one of farewell.