A.P. Chekhov - On the Road
"Upon the breast of a gigantic crag,
A golden cloudlet rested for one night."
IN the room which the tavern keeper, the Cossack Semyon
Tchistopluy, called the "travellers' room," that is kept
exclusively for travellers, a tall, broad-shouldered man of
forty was sitting at the big unpainted table. He was asleep with
his elbows on the table and his head leaning on his fist. An end
of tallow candle, stuck into an old pomatum pot, lighted up his
light brown beard, his thick, broad nose, his sunburnt cheeks,
and the thick, black eyebrows overhanging his closed eyes. . . .
The nose and the cheeks and the eyebrows, all the features, each
taken separately, were coarse and heavy, like the furniture and
the stove in the "travellers' room," but taken all together they
gave the effect of something harmonious and even beautiful. Such
is the lucky star, as it is called, of the Russian face: the
coarser and harsher its features the softer and more
good-natured it looks. The man was dressed in a gentleman's
reefer jacket, shabby, but bound with wide new braid, a plush
waistcoat, and full black trousers thrust into big high boots.
On one of the benches, which stood in a continuous row along the
wall, a girl of eight, in a brown dress and long black
stockings, lay asleep on a coat lined with fox. Her face was
pale, her hair was flaxen, her shoulders were narrow, her whole
body was thin and frail, but her nose stood out as thick and
ugly a lump as the man's. She was sound asleep, and unconscious
that her semi-circular comb had fallen off her head and was
cutting her cheek.
The "travellers' room" had a festive appearance. The air was
full of the smell of freshly scrubbed floors, there were no rags
hanging as usual on the line that ran diagonally across the
room, and a little lamp was burning in the corner over the
table, casting a patch of red light on the ikon of St. George
the Victorious. From the ikon stretched on each side of the
corner a row of cheap oleographs, which maintained a strict and
careful gradation in the transition from the sacred to the
profane. In the dim light of the candle end and the red ikon
lamp the pictures looked like one continuous stripe, covered
with blurs of black. When the tiled stove, trying to sing in
unison with the weather, drew in the air with a howl, while the
logs, as though waking up, burst into bright flame and hissed
angrily, red patches began dancing on the log walls, and over
the head of the sleeping man could be seen first the Elder
Seraphim, then the Shah Nasir-ed-Din, then a fat, brown baby
with goggle eyes, whispering in the ear of a young girl with an
extraordinarily blank, and indifferent face. . . .
Outside a storm was raging. Something frantic and wrathful, but
profoundly unhappy, seemed to be flinging itself about the
tavern with the ferocity of a wild beast and trying to break in.
Banging at the doors, knocking at the windows and on the roof,
scratching at the walls, it alternately threatened and besought,
then subsided for a brief interval, and then with a gleeful,
treacherous howl burst into the chimney, but the wood flared up,
and the fire, like a chained dog, flew wrathfully to meet its
foe, a battle began, and after it -- sobs, shrieks, howls of
wrath. In all of this there was the sound of angry misery and
unsatisfied hate, and the mortified impatience of something
accustomed to triumph.
Bewitched by this wild, inhuman music the "travellers' room"
seemed spellbound for ever, but all at once the door creaked and
the potboy, in a new print shirt, came in. Limping on one leg,
and blinking his sleepy eyes, he snuffed the candle with his
fingers, put some more wood on the fire and went out. At once
from the church, which was three hundred paces from the tavern,
the clock struck midnight. The wind played with the chimes as
with the snowflakes; chasing the sounds of the clock it whirled
them round and round over a vast space, so that some strokes
were cut short or drawn out in long, vibrating notes, while
others were completely lost in the general uproar. One stroke
sounded as distinctly in the room as though it had chimed just
under the window. The child, sleeping on the fox-skin, started
and raised her head. For a minute she stared blankly at the dark
window, at Nasir-ed-Din over whom a crimson glow from the fire
flickered at that moment, then she turned her eyes upon the
"Daddy," she said.
But the man did not move. The little girl knitted her brow
angrily, lay down, and curled up her legs. Someone in the tavern
gave a loud, prolonged yawn. Soon afterwards there was the
squeak of the swing door and the sound of indistinct voices.
Someone came in, shaking the snow off, and stamping in felt
boots which made a muffled thud.
"What is it?" a woman s voice asked languidly.
"Mademoiselle Ilovaisky has come, . . ." answered a bass voice.
Again there was the squeak of the swing door. Then came the roar
of the wind rushing in. Someone, probably the lame boy, ran to
the door leading to the "travellers' room," coughed
deferentially, and lifted the latch.
"This way, lady, please," said a woman's voice in dulcet tones.
"It's clean in here, my beauty. . . ."
The door was opened wide and a peasant with a beard appeared in
the doorway, in the long coat of a coachman, plastered all over
with snow from head to foot, and carrying a big trunk on his
shoulder. He was followed into the room by a feminine figure,
scarcely half his height, with no face and no arms, muffled and
wrapped up like a bundle and also covered with snow. A damp
chill, as from a cellar, seemed to come to the child from the
coachman and the bundle, and the fire and the candles flickered.
"What nonsense!" said the bundle angrily, "We could go perfectly
well. We have only nine more miles to go, mostly by the forest,
and we should not get lost. . . ."
"As for getting lost, we shouldn't, but the horses can't go on,
lady!" answered the coachman. "And it is Thy Will, O Lord! As
though I had done it on purpose!"
"God knows where you have brought me. . . . Well, be quiet. . .
. There are people asleep here, it seems. You can go. . . ."
The coachman put the portmanteau on the floor, and as he did so,
a great lump of snow fell off his shoulders. He gave a sniff and
Then the little girl saw two little hands come out from the
middle of the bundle, stretch upwards and begin angrily
disentangling the network of shawls, kerchiefs, and scarves.
First a big shawl fell on the ground, then a hood, then a white
knitted kerchief. After freeing her head, the traveller took off
her pelisse and at once shrank to half the size. Now she was in
a long, grey coat with big buttons and bulging pockets. From one
pocket she pulled out a paper parcel, from the other a bunch of
big, heavy keys, which she put down so carelessly that the
sleeping man started and opened his eyes. For some time he
looked blankly round him as though he didn't know where he was,
then he shook his head, went to the corner and sat down. . . .
The newcomer took off her great coat, which made her shrink to
half her size again, she took off her big felt boots, and sat
By now she no longer resembled a bundle: she was a thin little
brunette of twenty, as slim as a snake, with a long white face
and curly hair. Her nose was long and sharp, her chin, too, was
long and sharp, her eyelashes were long, the corners of her
mouth were sharp, and, thanks to this general sharpness, the
expression of her face was biting. Swathed in a closely fitting
black dress with a mass of lace at her neck and sleeves, with
sharp elbows and long pink fingers, she recalled the portraits
of medival English ladies. The grave concentration of her face
increased this likeness.
The lady looked round at the room, glanced sideways at the man
and the little girl, shrugged her shoulders, and moved to the
window. The dark windows were shaking from the damp west wind.
Big flakes of snow glistening in their whiteness, lay on the
window frame, but at once disappeared, borne away by the wind.
The savage music grew louder and louder. . . .
After a long silence the little girl suddenly turned over, and
said angrily, emphasizing each word:
"Oh, goodness, goodness, how unhappy I am! Unhappier than
The man got up and moved with little steps to the child with a
guilty air, which was utterly out of keeping with his huge
figure and big beard.
"You are not asleep, dearie?" he said, in an apologetic voice.
"What do you want?"
"I don't want anything, my shoulder aches! You are a wicked man,
Daddy, and God will punish you! You'll see He will punish you."
"My darling, I know your shoulder aches, but what can I do,
dearie?" said the man, in the tone in which men who have been
drinking excuse themselves to their stern spouses. "It's the
journey has made your shoulder ache, Sasha. To-morrow we shall
get there and rest, and the pain will go away. . . ."
"To-morrow, to-morrow. . . . Every day you say to-morrow. We
shall be going on another twenty days."
"But we shall arrive to-morrow, dearie, on your father's word of
honour. I never tell a lie, but if we are detained by the
snowstorm it is not my fault."
"I can't bear any more, I can't, I can't!"
Sasha jerked her leg abruptly and filled the room with an
unpleasant wailing. Her father made a despairing gesture, and
looked hopelessly towards the young lady. The latter shrugged
her shoulders, and hesitatingly went up to Sasha.
"Listen, my dear," she said, "it is no use crying. It's really
naughty; if your shoulder aches it can't be helped."
"You see, Madam," said the man quickly, as though defending
himself, "we have not slept for two nights, and have been
travelling in a revolting conveyance. Well, of course, it is
natural she should be ill and miserable, . . . and then, you
know, we had a drunken driver, our portmanteau has been stolen .
. . the snowstorm all the time, but what's the use of crying,
Madam? I am exhausted, though, by sleeping in a sitting
position, and I feel as though I were drunk. Oh, dear! Sasha,
and I feel sick as it is, and then you cry!"
The man shook his head, and with a gesture of despair sat down.
"Of course you mustn't cry," said the young lady. "It's only
little babies cry. If you are ill, dear, you must undress and go
to sleep. . . . Let us take off your things!"
When the child had been undressed and pacified a silence reigned
again. The young lady seated herself at the window, and looked
round wonderingly at the room of the inn, at the ikon, at the
stove. . . . Apparently the room and the little girl with the
thick nose, in her short boy's nightgown, and the child's
father, all seemed strange to her. This strange man was sitting
in a corner; he kept looking about him helplessly, as though he
were drunk, and rubbing his face with the palm of his hand. He
sat silent, blinking, and judging from his guilty-looking figure
it was difficult to imagine that he would soon begin to speak.
Yet he was the first to begin. Stroking his knees, he gave a
cough, laughed, and said:
"It's a comedy, it really is. . . . I look and I cannot believe
my eyes: for what devilry has destiny driven us to this accursed
inn? What did she want to show by it? Life sometimes performs
such 'salto mortale,' one can only stare and blink in amazement.
Have you come from far, Madam?"
"No, not from far," answered the young lady. "I am going from
our estate, fifteen miles from here, to our farm, to my father
and brother. My name is Ilovaisky, and the farm is called
Ilovaiskoe. It's nine miles away. What unpleasant weather!"
"It couldn't be worse."
The lame boy came in and stuck a new candle in the pomatum pot.
"You might bring us the samovar, boy," said the man, addressing
"Who drinks tea now?" laughed the boy. "It is a sin to drink tea
before mass. . . ."
"Never mind boy, you won't burn in hell if we do. . . ."
Over the tea the new acquaintances got into conversation.
Mlle. Ilovaisky learned that her companion was called Grigory
Petrovitch Liharev, that he was the brother of the Liharev who
was Marshal of Nobility in one of the neighbouring districts,
and he himself had once been a landowner, but had "run through
everything in his time." Liharev learned that her name was Marya
Mihailovna, that her father had a huge estate, but that she was
the only one to look after it as her father and brother looked
at life through their fingers, were irresponsible, and were too
fond of harriers.
"My father and brother are all alone at the farm," she told him,
brandishing her fingers (she had the habit of moving her fingers
before her pointed face as she talked, and after every sentence
moistened her lips with her sharp little tongue). "They, I mean
men, are an irresponsible lot, and don't stir a finger for
themselves. I can fancy there will be no one to give them a meal
after the fast! We have no mother, and we have such servants
that they can't lay the tablecloth properly when I am away. You
can imagine their condition now! They will be left with nothing
to break their fast, while I have to stay here all night. How
strange it all is."
She shrugged her shoulders, took a sip from her cup, and said:
"There are festivals that have a special fragrance: at Easter,
Trinity and Christmas there is a peculiar scent in the air. Even
unbelievers are fond of those festivals. My brother, for
instance, argues that there is no God, but he is the first to
hurry to Matins at Easter."
Liharev raised his eyes to Mlle. Ilovaisky and laughed.
"They argue that there is no God," she went on, laughing too,
"but why is it, tell me, all the celebrated writers, the learned
men, clever people generally, in fact, believe towards the end
of their life?"
"If a man does not know how to believe when he is young, Madam,
he won't believe in his old age if he is ever so much of a
Judging from Liharev's cough he had a bass voice, but, probably
from being afraid to speak aloud, or from exaggerated shyness,
he spoke in a tenor. After a brief pause he heaved a sign and
"The way I look at it is that faith is a faculty of the spirit.
It is just the same as a talent, one must be born with it. So
far as I can judge by myself, by the people I have seen in my
time, and by all that is done around us, this faculty is present
in Russians in its highest degree. Russian life presents us with
an uninterrupted succession of convictions and aspirations, and
if you care to know, it has not yet the faintest notion of lack
of faith or scepticism. If a Russian does not believe in God, it
means he believes in something else."
Liharev took a cup of tea from Mlle. Ilovaisky, drank off half
in one gulp, and went on:
"I will tell you about myself. Nature has implanted in my breast
an extraordinary faculty for belief. Whisper it not to the
night, but half my life I was in the ranks of the Atheists and
Nihilists, but there was not one hour in my life in which I
ceased to believe. All talents, as a rule, show themselves in
early childhood, and so my faculty showed itself when I could
still walk upright under the table. My mother liked her children
to eat a great deal, and when she gave me food she used to say:
'Eat! Soup is the great thing in life!' I believed, and ate the
soup ten times a day, ate like a shark, ate till I was disgusted
and stupefied. My nurse used to tell me fairy tales, and I
believed in house-spirits, in wood-elves, and in goblins of all
kinds. I used sometimes to steal corrosive sublimate from my
father, sprinkle it on cakes, and carry them up to the attic
that the house-spirits, you see, might eat them and be killed.
And when I was taught to read and understand what I read, then
there was a fine to-do. I ran away to America and went off to
join the brigands, and wanted to go into a monastery, and hired
boys to torture me for being a Christian. And note that my faith
was always active, never dead. If I was running away to America
I was not alone, but seduced someone else, as great a fool as I
was, to go with me, and was delighted when I was nearly frozen
outside the town gates and when I was thrashed; if I went to
join the brigands I always came back with my face battered. A
most restless childhood, I assure you! And when they sent me to
the high school and pelted me with all sorts of truths -- that
is, that the earth goes round the sun, or that white light is
not white, but is made up of seven colours -- my poor little
head began to go round! Everything was thrown into a whirl in
me: Navin who made the sun stand still, and my mother who in the
name of the Prophet Elijah disapproved of lightning conductors,
and my father who was indifferent to the truths I had learned.
My enlightenment inspired me. I wandered about the house and
stables like one possessed, preaching my truths, was horrified
by ignorance, glowed with hatred for anyone who saw in white
light nothing but white light. . . . But all that's nonsense and
childishness. Serious, so to speak, manly enthusiasms began only
at the university. You have, no doubt, Madam, taken your degree
"I studied at Novotcherkask at the Don Institute."
"Then you have not been to a university? So you don't know what
science means. All the sciences in the world have the same
passport, without which they regard themselves as meaningless .
. . the striving towards truth! Every one of them, even
pharmacology, has for its aim not utility, not the alleviation
of life, but truth. It's remarkable! When you set to work to
study any science, what strikes you first of all is its
beginning. I assure you there is nothing more attractive and
grander, nothing is so staggering, nothing takes a man's breath
away like the beginning of any science. From the first five or
six lectures you are soaring on wings of the brightest hopes,
you already seem to yourself to be welcoming truth with open
arms. And I gave myself up to science, heart and soul,
passionately, as to the woman one loves. I was its slave; I
found it the sun of my existence, and asked for no other. I
studied day and night without rest, ruined myself over books,
wept when before my eyes men exploited science for their own
personal ends. But my enthusiasm did not last long. The trouble
is that every science has a beginning but not an end, like a
recurring decimal. Zoology has discovered 35,000 kinds of
insects, chemistry reckons 60 elements. If in time tens of
noughts can be written after these figures. Zoology and
chemistry will be just as far from their end as now, and all
contemporary scientific work consists in increasing these
numbers. I saw through this trick when I discovered the
35,001-st and felt no satisfaction. Well, I had no time to
suffer from disillusionment, as I was soon possessed by a new
faith. I plunged into Nihilism, with its manifestoes, its 'black
divisions,' and all the rest of it. I 'went to the people,'
worked in factories, worked as an oiler, as a barge hauler.
Afterwards, when wandering over Russia, I had a taste of Russian
life, I turned into a fervent devotee of that life. I loved the
Russian people with poignant intensity; I loved their God and
believed in Him, and in their language, their creative genius. .
. . And so on, and so on. . . . I have been a Slavophile in my
time, I used to pester Aksakov with letters, and I was a
Ukrainophile, and an archologist, and a collector of specimens
of peasant art. . . . I was enthusiastic over ideas, people,
events, places . . . my enthusiasm was endless! Five years ago I
was working for the abolition of private property; my last creed
was non-resistance to evil."
Sasha gave an abrupt sigh and began moving. Liharev got up and
went to her.
"Won't you have some tea, dearie?" he asked tenderly.
"Drink it yourself," the child answered rudely. Liharev was
disconcerted, and went back to the table with a guilty step.
"Then you have had a lively time," said Mlle. Ilovaisky; "you
have something to remember."
"Well, yes, it's all very lively when one sits over tea and
chatters to a kind listener, but you should ask what that
liveliness has cost me! What price have I paid for the variety
of my life? You see, Madam, I have not held my convictions like
a German doctor of philosophy, zierlichmnnerlich, I have not
lived in solitude, but every conviction I have had has bound my
back to the yoke, has torn my body to pieces. Judge, for
yourself. I was wealthy like my brothers, but now I am a beggar.
In the delirium of my enthusiasm I smashed up my own fortune and
my wife's -- a heap of other people's money. Now I am forty-two,
old age is close upon me, and I am homeless, like a dog that has
dropped behind its waggon at night. All my life I have not known
what peace meant, my soul has been in continual agitation,
distressed even by its hopes . . . I have been wearied out with
heavy irregular work, have endured privation, have five times
been in prison, have dragged myself across the provinces of
Archangel and of Tobolsk . . . it's painful to think of it! I
have lived, but in my fever I have not even been conscious of
the process of life itself. Would you believe it, I don't
remember a single spring, I never noticed how my wife loved me,
how my children were born. What more can I tell you? I have been
a misfortune to all who have loved me. . . . My mother has worn
mourning for me all these fifteen years, while my proud
brothers, who have had to wince, to blush, to bow their heads,
to waste their money on my account, have come in the end to hate
me like poison."
Liharev got up and sat down again.
"If I were simply unhappy I should thank God," he went on
without looking at his listener. "My personal unhappiness sinks
into the background when I remember how often in my enthusiasms
I have been absurd, far from the truth, unjust, cruel,
dangerous! How often I have hated and despised those whom I
ought to have loved, and vice versa, I have changed a thousand
times. One day I believe, fall down and worship, the next I flee
like a coward from the gods and friends of yesterday, and
swallow in silence the 'scoundrel!' they hurl after me. God
alone has seen how often I have wept and bitten my pillow in
shame for my enthusiasms. Never once in my life have I
intentionally lied or done evil, but my conscience is not clear!
I cannot even boast, Madam, that I have no one's life upon my
conscience, for my wife died before my eyes, worn out by my
reckless activity. Yes, my wife! I tell you they have two ways
of treating women nowadays. Some measure women's skulls to prove
woman is inferior to man, pick out her defects to mock at her,
to look original in her eyes, and to justify their sensuality.
Others do their utmost to raise women to their level, that is,
force them to learn by heart the 35,000 species, to speak and
write the same foolish things as they speak and write
Liharev's face darkened.
"I tell you that woman has been and always will be the slave of
man," he said in a bass voice, striking his fist on the table.
"She is the soft, tender wax which a man always moulds into
anything he likes. . . . My God! for the sake of some trumpery
masculine enthusiasm she will cut off her hair, abandon her
family, die among strangers! . . . among the ideas for which she
has sacrificed herself there is not a single feminine one. . . .
An unquestioning, devoted slave! I have not measured skulls, but
I say this from hard, bitter experience: the proudest, most
independent women, if I have succeeded in communicating to them
my enthusiasm, have followed me without criticism, without
question, and done anything I chose; I have turned a nun into a
Nihilist who, as I heard afterwards, shot a gendarme; my wife
never left me for a minute in my wanderings, and like a
weathercock changed her faith in step with my changing
Liharev jumped up and walked up and down the room.
"A noble, sublime slavery!" he said, clasping his hands. "It is
just in it that the highest meaning of woman's life lies! Of all
the fearful medley of thoughts and impressions accumulated in my
brain from my association with women my memory, like a filter,
has retained no ideas, no clever saying, no philosophy, nothing
but that extraordinary, resignation to fate, that wonderful
mercifulness, forgiveness of everything."
Liharev clenched his fists, stared at a fixed point, and with a
sort of passionate intensity, as though he were savouring each
word as he uttered it, hissed through his clenched teeth:
"That . . . that great-hearted fortitude, faithfulness unto
death, poetry of the heart. . . . The meaning of life lies in
just that unrepining martyrdom, in the tears which would soften
a stone, in the boundless, all-forgiving love which brings light
and warmth into the chaos of life. . . ."
Mlle. Ilovaisky got up slowly, took a step towards Liharev, and
fixed her eyes upon his face. From the tears that glittered on
his eyelashes, from his quivering, passionate voice, from the
flush on his cheeks, it was clear to her that women were not a
chance, not a simple subject of conversation. They were the
object of his new enthusiasm, or, as he said himself, his new
faith! For the first time in her life she saw a man carried
away, fervently believing. With his gesticulations, with his
flashing eyes he seemed to her mad, frantic, but there was a
feeling of such beauty in the fire of his eyes, in his words, in
all the movements of his huge body, that without noticing what
she was doing she stood facing him as though rooted to the spot,
and gazed into his face with delight.
"Take my mother," he said, stretching out his hand to her with
an imploring expression on his face, "I poisoned her existence,
according to her ideas disgraced the name of Liharev, did her as
much harm as the most malignant enemy, and what do you think? My
brothers give her little sums for holy bread and church
services, and outraging her religious feelings, she saves that
money and sends it in secret to her erring Grigory. This trifle
alone elevates and ennobles the soul far more than all the
theories, all the clever sayings and the 35,000 species. I can
give you thousands of instances. Take you, even, for instance!
With tempest and darkness outside you are going to your father
and your brother to cheer them with your affection in the
holiday, though very likely they have forgotten and are not
thinking of you. And, wait a bit, and you will love a man and
follow him to the North Pole. You would, wouldn't you?"
"Yes, if I loved him."
"There, you see," cried Liharev delighted, and he even stamped
with his foot. "Oh dear! How glad I am that I have met you! Fate
is kind to me, I am always meeting splendid people. Not a day
passes but one makes acquaintance with somebody one would give
one's soul for. There are ever so many more good people than bad
in this world. Here, see, for instance, how openly and from our
hearts we have been talking as though we had known each other a
hundred years. Sometimes, I assure you, one restrains oneself
for ten years and holds one's tongue, is reserved with one's
friends and one's wife, and meets some cadet in a train and
babbles one's whole soul out to him. It is the first time I have
the honour of seeing you, and yet I have confessed to you as I
have never confessed in my life. Why is it?"
Rubbing his hands and smiling good-humouredly Liharev walked up
and down the room, and fell to talking about women again.
Meanwhile they began ringing for matins.
"Goodness," wailed Sasha. "He won't let me sleep with his
"Oh, yes!" said Liharev, startled. "I am sorry, darling, sleep,
sleep. . . . I have two boys besides her," he whispered. "They
are living with their uncle, Madam, but this one can't exist a
day without her father. She's wretched, she complains, but she
sticks to me like a fly to honey. I have been chattering too
much, Madam, and it would do you no harm to sleep. Wouldn't you
like me to make up a bed for you?"
Without waiting for permission he shook the wet pelisse,
stretched it on a bench, fur side upwards, collected various
shawls and scarves, put the overcoat folded up into a roll for a
pillow, and all this he did in silence with a look of devout
reverence, as though he were not handling a woman's rags, but
the fragments of holy vessels. There was something apologetic,
embarrassed about his whole figure, as though in the presence of
a weak creature he felt ashamed of his height and strength. . .
When Mlle. Ilovaisky had lain down, he put out the candle and
sat down on a stool by the stove.
"So, Madam," he whispered, lighting a fat cigarette and puffing
the smoke into the stove. "Nature has put into the Russian an
extraordinary faculty for belief, a searching intelligence, and
the gift of speculation, but all that is reduced to ashes by
irresponsibility, laziness, and dreamy frivolity. . . . Yes. . .
She gazed wonderingly into the darkness, and saw only a spot of
red on the ikon and the flicker of the light of the stove on
Liharev's face. The darkness, the chime of the bells, the roar
of the storm, the lame boy, Sasha with her fretfulness, unhappy
Liharev and his sayings -- all this was mingled together, and
seemed to grow into one huge impression, and God's world seemed
to her fantastic, full of marvels and magical forces. All that
she had heard was ringing in her ears, and human life presented
itself to her as a beautiful poetic fairy-tale without an end.
The immense impression grew and grew, clouded consciousness, and
turned into a sweet dream. She was asleep, though she saw the
little ikon lamp and a big nose with the light playing on it.
She heard the sound of weeping.
"Daddy, darling," a child's voice was tenderly entreating,
"let's go back to uncle! There is a Christmas-tree there! Styopa
and Kolya are there!"
"My darling, what can I do?" a man's bass persuaded softly.
"Understand me! Come, understand!"
And the man's weeping blended with the child's. This voice of
human sorrow, in the midst of the howling of the storm, touched
the girl's ear with such sweet human music that she could not
bear the delight of it, and wept too. She was conscious
afterwards of a big, black shadow coming softly up to her,
picking up a shawl that had dropped on to the floor and
carefully wrapping it round her feet.
Mile. Ilovaisky was awakened by a strange uproar. She jumped up
and looked about her in astonishment. The deep blue dawn was
looking in at the window half-covered with snow. In the room
there was a grey twilight, through which the stove and the
sleeping child and Nasir-ed-Din stood out distinctly. The stove
and the lamp were both out. Through the wide-open door she could
see the big tavern room with a counter and chairs. A man, with a
stupid, gipsy face and astonished eyes, was standing in the
middle of the room in a puddle of melting snow, holding a big
red star on a stick. He was surrounded by a group of boys,
motionless as statues, and plastered over with snow. The light
shone through the red paper of the star, throwing a glow of red
on their wet faces. The crowd was shouting in disorder, and from
its uproar Mile. Ilovaisky could make out only one couplet:
"Hi, you Little Russian lad,
Bring your sharp knife,
We will kill the Jew, we will kill him,
The son of tribulation. . ."
Liharev was standing near the counter, looking feelingly at the
singers and tapping his feet in time. Seeing Mile. Ilovaisky, he
smiled all over his face and came up to her. She smiled too.
"A happy Christmas!" he said. "I saw you slept well."
She looked at him, said nothing, and went on smiling.
After the conversation in the night he seemed to her not tall
and broad shouldered, but little, just as the biggest steamer
seems to us a little thing when we hear that it has crossed the
"Well, it is time for me to set off," she said. "I must put on
my things. Tell me where you are going now?"
"I? To the station of Klinushki, from there to Sergievo, and
from Sergievo, with horses, thirty miles to the coal mines that
belong to a horrid man, a general called Shashkovsky. My
brothers have got me the post of superintendent there. . . . I
am going to be a coal miner."
"Stay, I know those mines. Shashkovsky is my uncle, you know.
But . . . what are you going there for?" asked Mlle. Ilovaisky,
looking at Liharev in surprise.
"As superintendent. To superintend the coal mines."
"I don't understand!" she shrugged her shoulders. "You are going
to the mines. But you know, it's the bare steppe, a desert, so
dreary that you couldn't exist a day there! It's horrible coal,
no one will buy it, and my uncle's a maniac, a despot, a
bankrupt. . . . You won't get your salary!"
"No matter," said Liharev, unconcernedly, "I am thankful even
for coal mines."
She shrugged her shoulders, and walked about the room in
"I don't understand, I don't understand," she said, moving her
fingers before her face. "It's impossible, and . . . and
irrational! You must understand that it's . . . it's worse than
exile. It is a living tomb! O Heavens!" she said hotly, going up
to Liharev and moving her fingers before his smiling face; her
upper lip was quivering, and her sharp face turned pale, "Come,
picture it, the bare steppe, solitude. There is no one to say a
word to there, and you . . . are enthusiastic over women! Coal
mines . . . and women!"
Mlle. Ilovaisky was suddenly ashamed of her heat and, turning
away from Liharev, walked to the window.
"No, no, you can't go there," she said, moving her fingers
rapidly over the pane.
Not only in her heart, but even in her spine she felt that
behind her stood an infinitely unhappy man, lost and outcast,
while he, as though he were unaware of his unhappiness, as
though he had not shed tears in the night, was looking at her
with a kindly smile. Better he should go on weeping! She walked
up and down the room several times in agitation, then stopped
short in a corner and sank into thought. Liharev was saying
something, but she did not hear him. Turning her back on him she
took out of her purse a money note, stood for a long time
crumpling it in her hand, and looking round at Liharev, blushed
and put it in her pocket.
The coachman's voice was heard through the door. With a stern,
concentrated face she began putting on her things in silence.
Liharev wrapped her up, chatting gaily, but every word he said
lay on her heart like a weight. It is not cheering to hear the
unhappy or the dying jest.
When the transformation of a live person into a shapeless bundle
had been completed, Mlle. Ilovaisky looked for the last time
round the "travellers' room," stood a moment in silence, and
slowly walked out. Liharev went to see her off. . . .
Outside, God alone knows why, the winter was raging still. Whole
clouds of big soft snowflakes were whirling restlessly over the
earth, unable to find a resting-place. The horses, the sledge,
the trees, a bull tied to a post, all were white and seemed soft
"Well, God help you," muttered Liharev, tucking her into the
sledge. "Don't remember evil against me . . . ."
She was silent. When the sledge started, and had to go round a
huge snowdrift, she looked back at Liharev with an expression as
though she wanted to say something to him. He ran up to her, but
she did not say a word to him, she only looked at him through
her long eyelashes with little specks of snow on them.
Whether his finely intuitive soul were really able to read that
look, or whether his imagination deceived him, it suddenly began
to seem to him that with another touch or two that girl would
have forgiven him his failures, his age, his desolate position,
and would have followed him without question or reasonings. He
stood a long while as though rooted to the spot, gazing at the
tracks left by the sledge runners. The snowflakes greedily
settled on his hair, his beard, his shoulders. . . . Soon the
track of the runners had vanished, and he himself covered with
snow, began to look like a white rock, but still his eyes kept
seeking something in the clouds of snow.
Lermontov: Mikhail Y. Lermontov (1814-1841) poet and novelist
ikon of St. George the Victorious: 4th century Roman soldier who
died for Christianity
oleographs: imitation oil paintings
salto mortale: complete somersaults
corrosive sublimate: mercuric chloride
Slavophile: one who claimed that the Russian way of life, based
on the Orthodox Church, was superior to the culture of Western
I used to pester Aksakov with letters: the poet and journalist
Ivan Aksakov (1823-1886) was an outspoken advocate of
zierlichmnnerlich: dainty mannerly