A.P. Chekhov - An Enigmatic Nature
ON the red velvet seat of a first-class railway carriage a
pretty lady sits half reclining. An expensive fluffy fan
trembles in her tightly closed fingers, a pince-nez keeps
dropping off her pretty little nose, the brooch heaves and falls
on her bosom, like a boat on the ocean. She is greatly agitated.
On the seat opposite sits the Provincial Secretary of Special
Commissions, a budding young author, who from time to time
publishes long stories of high life, or "Novelli" as he calls
them, in the leading paper of the province. He is gazing into
her face, gazing intently, with the eyes of a connoisseur. He is
watching, studying, catching every shade of this exceptional,
enigmatic nature. He understands it, he fathoms it. Her soul,
her whole psychology lies open before him.
"Oh, I understand, I understand you to your inmost depths!" says
the Secretary of Special Commissions, kissing her hand near the
bracelet. "Your sensitive, responsive soul is seeking to escape
from the maze of ---- Yes, the struggle is terrific, titanic.
But do not lose heart, you will be triumphant! Yes!"
"Write about me, Voldemar!" says the pretty lady, with a
mournful smile. "My life has been so full, so varied, so
chequered. Above all, I am unhappy. I am a suffering soul in
some page of Dostoevsky. Reveal my soul to the world, Voldemar.
Reveal that hapless soul. You are a psychologist. We have not
been in the train an hour together, and you have already
fathomed my heart."
"Tell me! I beseech you, tell me!"
"Listen. My father was a poor clerk in the Service. He had a
good heart and was not without intelligence; but the spirit of
the age -- of his environment -- vous comprenez? -- I do not
blame my poor father. He drank, gambled, took bribes. My mother
-- but why say more? Poverty, the struggle for daily bread, the
consciousness of insignificance -- ah, do not force me to recall
it! I had to make my own way. You know the monstrous education
at a boarding-school, foolish novel-reading, the errors of early
youth, the first timid flutter of love. It was awful! The
vacillation! And the agonies of losing faith in life, in
oneself! Ah, you are an author. You know us women. You will
understand. Unhappily I have an intense nature. I looked for
happiness -- and what happiness! I longed to set my soul free.
Yes. In that I saw my happiness!"
"Exquisite creature!" murmured the author, kissing her hand
close to the bracelet. "It's not you I am kissing, but the
suffering of humanity. Do you remember Raskolnikov and his
"Oh, Voldemar, I longed for glory, renown, success, like every
-- why affect modesty? -- every nature above the commonplace. I
yearned for something extraordinary, above the common lot of
woman! And then -- and then -- there crossed my path -- an old
general -- very well off. Understand me, Voldemar! It was
self-sacrifice, renunciation! You must see that! I could do
nothing else. I restored the family fortunes, was able to
travel, to do good. Yet how I suffered, how revolting, how
loathsome to me were his embraces -- though I will be fair to
him -- he had fought nobly in his day. There were moments --
terrible moments -- but I was kept up by the thought that from
day to day the old man might die, that then I would begin to
live as I liked, to give myself to the man I adore -- be happy.
There is such a man, Voldemar, indeed there is!"
The pretty lady flutters her fan more violently. Her face takes
a lachrymose expression. She goes on:
"But at last the old man died. He left me something. I was free
as a bird of the air. Now is the moment for me to be happy,
isn't it, Voldemar? Happiness comes tapping at my window, I had
only to let it in -- but -- Voldemar, listen, I implore you! Now
is the time for me to give myself to the man I love, to become
the partner of his life, to help, to uphold his ideals, to be
happy -- to find rest -- but -- how ignoble, repulsive, and
senseless all our life is! How mean it all is, Voldemar. I am
wretched, wretched, wretched! Again there is an obstacle in my
path! Again I feel that my happiness is far, far away! Ah, what
anguish! -- if only you knew what anguish!"
"But what -- what stands in your way? I implore you tell me!
What is it?"
"Another old general, very well off----"
The broken fan conceals the pretty little face. The author props
on his fist his thought -- heavy brow and ponders with the air
of a master in psychology. The engine is whistling and hissing
while the window curtains flush red with the glow of the setting