A.P. Chekhov - Verotchka
IVAN ALEXEYITCH OGNEV remembers how on that August evening he
opened the glass door with a rattle and went out on to the
verandah. He was wearing a light Inverness cape and a
wide-brimmed straw hat, the very one that was lying with his
top-boots in the dust under his bed. In one hand he had a big
bundle of books and notebooks, in the other a thick knotted
Behind the door, holding the lamp to show the way, stood the
master of the house, Kuznetsov, a bald old man with a long grey
beard, in a snow-white piqu jacket. The old man was smiling
cordially and nodding his head.
"Good-bye, old fellow!" said Ognev.
Kuznetsov put the lamp on a little table and went out to the
verandah. Two long narrow shadows moved down the steps towards
the flower-beds, swayed to and fro, and leaned their heads on
the trunks of the lime-trees.
"Good-bye and once more thank you, my dear fellow!" said Ivan
Alexeyitch. "Thank you for your welcome, for your kindness, for
your affection. . . . I shall never forget your hospitality as
long as I live. You are so good, and your daughter is so good,
and everyone here is so kind, so good-humoured and friendly . .
. Such a splendid set of people that I don't know how to say
what I feel!"
From excess of feeling and under the influence of the home-made
wine he had just drunk, Ognev talked in a singing voice like a
divinity student, and was so touched that he expressed his
feelings not so much by words as by the blinking of his eyes and
the twitching of his shoulders. Kuznetsov, who had also drunk a
good deal and was touched, craned forward to the young man and
"I've grown as fond of you as if I were your dog," Ognev went
on. "I've been turning up here almost every day; I've stayed the
night a dozen times. It's dreadful to think of all the home-made
wine I've drunk. And thank you most of all for your co-operation
and help. Without you I should have been busy here over my
statistics till October. I shall put in my preface: 'I think it
my duty to express my gratitude to the President of the District
Zemstvo of N----, Kuznetsov, for his kind co-operation.' There
is a brilliant future before statistics! My humble respects to
Vera Gavrilovna, and tell the doctors, both the lawyers and your
secretary, that I shall never forget their help! And now, old
fellow, let us embrace one another and kiss for the last time!"
Ognev, limp with emotion, kissed the old man once more and began
going down the steps. On the last step he looked round and
asked: "Shall we meet again some day?"
"God knows!" said the old man. "Most likely not!"
"Yes, that's true! Nothing will tempt you to Petersburg and I am
never likely to turn up in this district again. Well, good-bye!"
"You had better leave the books behind!" Kuznetsov called after
him. "You don't want to drag such a weight with you. I would
send them by a servant to-morrow!"
But Ognev was rapidly walking away from the house and was not
listening. His heart, warmed by the wine, was brimming over with
good-humour, friendliness, and sadness. He walked along thinking
how frequently one met with good people, and what a pity it was
that nothing was left of those meetings but memories. At times
one catches a glimpse of cranes on the horizon, and a faint gust
of wind brings their plaintive, ecstatic cry, and a minute
later, however greedily one scans the blue distance, one cannot
see a speck nor catch a sound; and like that, people with their
faces and their words flit through our lives and are drowned in
the past, leaving nothing except faint traces in the memory.
Having been in the N---- District from the early spring, and
having been almost every day at the friendly Kuznetsovs', Ivan
Alexeyitch had become as much at home with the old man, his
daughter, and the servants as though they were his own people;
he had grown familiar with the whole house to the smallest
detail, with the cosy verandah, the windings of the avenues, the
silhouettes of the trees over the kitchen and the bath-house;
but as soon as he was out of the gate all this would be changed
to memory and would lose its meaning as reality for ever, and in
a year or two all these dear images would grow as dim in his
consciousness as stories he had read or things he had imagined.
"Nothing in life is so precious as people!" Ognev thought in his
emotion, as he strode along the avenue to the gate. "Nothing!"
It was warm and still in the garden. There was a scent of the
mignonette, of the tobacco-plants, and of the heliotrope, which
were not yet over in the flower-beds. The spaces between the
bushes and the tree-trunks were filled with a fine soft mist
soaked through and through with moonlight, and, as Ognev long
remembered, coils of mist that looked like phantoms slowly but
perceptibly followed one another across the avenue. The moon
stood high above the garden, and below it transparent patches of
mist were floating eastward. The whole world seemed to consist
of nothing but black silhouettes and wandering white shadows.
Ognev, seeing the mist on a moonlight August evening almost for
the first time in his life, imagined he was seeing, not nature,
but a stage effect in which unskilful workmen, trying to light
up the garden with white Bengal fire, hid behind the bushes and
let off clouds of white smoke together with the light.
When Ognev reached the garden gate a dark shadow moved away from
the low fence and came towards him.
"Vera Gavrilovna!" he said, delighted. "You here? And I have
been looking everywhere for you; wanted to say good-bye. . . .
Good-bye; I am going away!"
"So early? Why, it's only eleven o'clock."
"Yes, it's time I was off. I have a four-mile walk and then my
packing. I must be up early to-morrow."
Before Ognev stood Kuznetsov's daughter Vera, a girl of
one-and-twenty, as usual melancholy, carelessly dressed, and
attractive. Girls who are dreamy and spend whole days lying
down, lazily reading whatever they come across, who are bored
and melancholy, are usually careless in their dress. To those of
them who have been endowed by nature with taste and an instinct
of beauty, the slight carelessness adds a special charm. When
Ognev later on remembered her, he could not picture pretty
Verotchka except in a full blouse which was crumpled in deep
folds at the belt and yet did not touch her waist; without her
hair done up high and a curl that had come loose from it on her
forehead; without the knitted red shawl with ball fringe at the
edge which hung disconsolately on Vera's shoulders in the
evenings, like a flag on a windless day, and in the daytime lay
about, crushed up, in the hall near the men's hats or on a box
in the dining-room, where the old cat did not hesitate to sleep
on it. This shawl and the folds of her blouse suggested a
feeling of freedom and laziness, of good-nature and sitting at
home. Perhaps because Vera attracted Ognev he saw in every frill
and button something warm, nave, cosy, something nice and
poetical, just what is lacking in cold, insincere women that
have no instinct for beauty.
Verotchka had a good figure, a regular profile, and beautiful
curly hair. Ognev, who had seen few women in his life, thought
her a beauty.
"I am going away," he said as he took leave of her at the gate.
"Don't remember evil against me! Thank you for everything!"
In the same singing divinity student's voice in which he had
talked to her father, with the same blinking and twitching of
his shoulders, he began thanking Vera for her hospitality,
kindness, and friendliness.
"I've written about you in every letter to my mother," he said.
"If everyone were like you and your dad, what a jolly place the
world would be! You are such a splendid set of people! All such
genuine, friendly people with no nonsense about you."
"Where are you going to now?" asked Vera.
"I am going now to my mother's at Oryol; I shall be a fortnight
with her, and then back to Petersburg and work."
"And then? I shall work all the winter and in the spring go
somewhere into the provinces again to collect material. Well, be
happy, live a hundred years . . . don't remember evil against
me. We shall not see each other again."
Ognev stooped down and kissed Vera's hand. Then, in silent
emotion, he straightened his cape, shifted his bundle of books
to a more comfortable position, paused, and said:
"What a lot of mist!"
"Yes. Have you left anything behind?"
"No, I don't think so. . . ."
For some seconds Ognev stood in silence, then he moved clumsily
towards the gate and went out of the garden.
"Stay; I'll see you as far as our wood," said Vera, following
They walked along the road. Now the trees did not obscure the
view, and one could see the sky and the distance. As though
covered with a veil all nature was hidden in a transparent,
colourless haze through which her beauty peeped gaily; where the
mist was thicker and whiter it lay heaped unevenly about the
stones, stalks, and bushes or drifted in coils over the road,
clung close to the earth and seemed trying not to conceal the
view. Through the haze they could see all the road as far as the
wood, with dark ditches at the sides and tiny bushes which grew
in the ditches and caught the straying wisps of mist. Half a
mile from the gate they saw the dark patch of Kuznetsov's wood.
"Why has she come with me? I shall have to see her back,"
thought Ognev, but looking at her profile he gave a friendly
smile and said: "One doesn't want to go away in such lovely
weather. It's quite a romantic evening, with the moon, the
stillness, and all the etceteras. Do you know, Vera Gavrilovna,
here I have lived twenty-nine years in the world and never had a
romance. No romantic episode in my whole life, so that I only
know by hearsay of rendezvous, 'avenues of sighs,' and kisses.
It's not normal! In town, when one sits in one's lodgings, one
does not notice the blank, but here in the fresh air one feels
it. . . . One resents it!"
"Why is it?"
"I don't know. I suppose I've never had time, or perhaps it was
I have never met women who. . . . In fact, I have very few
acquaintances and never go anywhere."
For some three hundred paces the young people walked on in
silence. Ognev kept glancing at Verotchka's bare head and shawl,
and days of spring and summer rose to his mind one after
another. It had been a period when far from his grey Petersburg
lodgings, enjoying the friendly warmth of kind people, nature,
and the work he loved, he had not had time to notice how the
sunsets followed the glow of dawn, and how, one after another
foretelling the end of summer, first the nightingale ceased
singing, then the quail, then a little later the landrail. The
days slipped by unnoticed, so that life must have been happy and
easy. He began calling aloud how reluctantly he, poor and
unaccustomed to change of scene and society, had come at the end
of April to the N---- District, where he had expected
dreariness, loneliness, and indifference to statistics, which he
considered was now the foremost among the sciences. When he
arrived on an April morning at the little town of N---- he had
put up at the inn kept by Ryabuhin, the Old Believer, where for
twenty kopecks a day they had given him a light, clean room on
condition that he should not smoke indoors. After resting and
finding who was the president of the District Zemstvo, he had
set off at once on foot to Kuznetsov. He had to walk three miles
through lush meadows and young copses. Larks were hovering in
the clouds, filling the air with silvery notes, and rooks
flapping their wings with sedate dignity floated over the green
"Good heavens!" Ognev had thought in wonder; "can it be that
there's always air like this to breathe here, or is this scent
only to-day, in honour of my coming?"
Expecting a cold business-like reception, he went in to
Kuznetsov's diffidently, looking up from under his eyebrows and
shyly pulling his beard. At first Kuznetsov wrinkled up his
brows and could not understand what use the Zemstvo could be to
the young man and his statistics; but when the latter explained
at length what was material for statistics and how such material
was collected, Kuznetsov brightened, smiled, and with childish
curiosity began looking at his notebooks. On the evening of the
same day Ivan Alexeyitch was already sitting at supper with the
Kuznetsovs, was rapidly becoming exhilarated by their strong
home-made wine, and looking at the calm faces and lazy movements
of his new acquaintances, felt all over that sweet, drowsy
indolence which makes one want to sleep and stretch and smile;
while his new acquaintances looked at him good-naturedly and
asked him whether his father and mother were living, how much he
earned a month, how often he went to the theatre. . . .
Ognev recalled his expeditions about the neighbourhood, the
picnics, the fishing parties, the visit of the whole party to
the convent to see the Mother Superior Marfa, who had given each
of the visitors a bead purse; he recalled the hot, endless
typically Russian arguments in which the opponents, spluttering
and banging the table with their fists, misunderstand and
interrupt one another, unconsciously contradict themselves at
every phrase, continually change the subject, and after arguing
for two or three hours, laugh and say: "Goodness knows what we
have been arguing about! Beginning with one thing and going on
"And do you remember how the doctor and you and I rode to
Shestovo?" said Ivan Alexeyitch to Vera as they reached the
copse. "It was there that the crazy saint met us: I gave him a
five-kopeck piece, and he crossed himself three times and flung
it into the rye. Good heavens! I am carrying away such a mass of
memories that if I could gather them together into a whole it
would make a good nugget of gold! I don't understand why clever,
perceptive people crowd into Petersburg and Moscow and don't
come here. Is there more truth and freedom in the Nevsky and in
the big damp houses than here? Really, the idea of artists,
scientific men, and journalists all living crowded together in
furnished rooms has always seemed to me a mistake."
Twenty paces from the copse the road was crossed by a small
narrow bridge with posts at the corners, which had always served
as a resting-place for the Kuznetsovs and their guests on their
evening walks. From there those who liked could mimic the forest
echo, and one could see the road vanish in the dark woodland
"Well, here is the bridge!" said Ognev. "Here you must turn
Vera stopped and drew a breath.
"Let us sit down," she said, sitting down on one of the posts.
"People generally sit down when they say good-bye before
starting on a journey."
Ognev settled himself beside her on his bundle of books and went
on talking. She was breathless from the walk, and was looking,
not at Ivan Alexeyitch, but away into the distance so that he
could not see her face.
"And what if we meet in ten years' time?" he said. "What shall
we be like then? You will be by then the respectable mother of a
family, and I shall be the author of some weighty statistical
work of no use to anyone, as thick as forty thousand such works.
We shall meet and think of old days. . . . Now we are conscious
of the present; it absorbs and excites us, but when we meet we
shall not remember the day, nor the month, nor even the year in
which we saw each other for the last time on this bridge. You
will be changed, perhaps. . . . Tell me, will you be different?"
Vera started and turned her face towards him.
"What?" she asked.
"I asked you just now. . . ."
"Excuse me, I did not hear what you were saying."
Only then Ognev noticed a change in Vera. She was pale,
breathing fast, and the tremor in her breathing affected her
hands and lips and head, and not one curl as usual, but two,
came loose and fell on her forehead. . . . Evidently she avoided
looking him in the face, and, trying to mask her emotion, at one
moment fingered her collar, which seemed to be rasping her neck,
at another pulled her red shawl from one shoulder to the other.
"I am afraid you are cold," said Ognev. "It's not at all wise to
sit in the mist. Let me see you back nach-haus."
Vera sat mute.
"What is the matter?" asked Ognev, with a smile. "You sit silent
and don't answer my questions. Are you cross, or don't you feel
Vera pressed the palm of her hand to the cheek nearest to Ognev,
and then abruptly jerked it away.
"An awful position!" she murmured, with a look of pain on her
"How is it awful?" asked Ognev, shrugging his shoulders and not
concealing his surprise. "What's the matter?"
Still breathing hard and twitching her shoulders, Vera turned
her back to him, looked at the sky for half a minute, and said:
"There is something I must say to you, Ivan Alexeyitch. . . ."
"I am listening."
"It may seem strange to you. . . . You will be surprised, but I
don't care. . . ."
Ognev shrugged his shoulders once more and prepared himself to
"You see . . ." Verotchka began, bowing her head and fingering a
ball on the fringe of her shawl. "You see . . . this is what I
wanted to tell you. . . . You'll think it strange . . . and
silly, but I . . . can't bear it any longer."
Vera's words died away in an indistinct mutter and were suddenly
cut short by tears. The girl hid her face in her handkerchief,
bent lower than ever, and wept bitterly. Ivan Alexeyitch cleared
his throat in confusion and looked about him hopelessly, at his
wits' end, not knowing what to say or do. Being unused to the
sight of tears, he felt his own eyes, too, beginning to smart.
"Well, what next!" he muttered helplessly. "Vera Gavrilovna,
what's this for, I should like to know? My dear girl, are you .
. . are you ill? Or has someone been nasty to you? Tell me,
perhaps I could, so to say . . . help you. . . ."
When, trying to console her, he ventured cautiously to remove
her hands from her face, she smiled at him through her tears and
"I . . . love you!"
These words, so simple and ordinary, were uttered in ordinary
human language, but Ognev, in acute embarrassment, turned away
from Vera, and got up, while his confusion was followed by
The sad, warm, sentimental mood induced by leave-taking and the
home-made wine suddenly vanished, and gave place to an acute and
unpleasant feeling of awkwardness. He felt an inward revulsion;
he looked askance at Vera, and now that by declaring her love
for him she had cast off the aloofness which so adds to a
woman's charm, she seemed to him, as it were, shorter, plainer,
"What's the meaning of it?" he thought with horror. "But I . . .
do I love her or not? That's the question!"
And she breathed easily and freely now that the worst and most
difficult thing was said. She, too, got up, and looking Ivan
Alexeyitch straight in the face, began talking rapidly, warmly,
As a man suddenly panic-stricken cannot afterwards remember the
succession of sounds accompanying the catastrophe that
overwhelmed him, so Ognev cannot remember Vera's words and
phrases. He can only recall the meaning of what she said, and
the sensation her words evoked in him. He remembers her voice,
which seemed stifled and husky with emotion, and the
extraordinary music and passion of her intonation. Laughing,
crying with tears glistening on her eyelashes, she told him that
from the first day of their acquaintance he had struck her by
his originality, his intelligence, his kind intelligent eyes, by
his work and objects in life; that she loved him passionately,
deeply, madly; that when coming into the house from the garden
in the summer she saw his cape in the hall or heard his voice in
the distance, she felt a cold shudder at her heart, a foreboding
of happiness; even his slightest jokes had made her laugh; in
every figure in his note-books she saw something extraordinarily
wise and grand; his knotted stick seemed to her more beautiful
than the trees.
The copse and the wisps of mist and the black ditches at the
side of the road seemed hushed listening to her, whilst
something strange and unpleasant was passing in Ognev's heart. .
. . Telling him of her love, Vera was enchantingly beautiful;
she spoke eloquently and passionately, but he felt neither
pleasure nor gladness, as he would have liked to; he felt
nothing but compassion for Vera, pity and regret that a good
girl should be distressed on his account. Whether he was
affected by generalizations from reading or by the insuperable
habit of looking at things objectively, which so often hinders
people from living, but Vera's ecstasies and suffering struck
him as affected, not to be taken seriously, and at the same time
rebellious feeling whispered to him that all he was hearing and
seeing now, from the point of view of nature and personal
happiness, was more important than any statistics and books and
truths. . . . And he raged and blamed himself, though he did not
understand exactly where he was in fault.
To complete his embarrassment, he was absolutely at a loss what
to say, and yet something he must say. To say bluntly, "I don't
love you," was beyond him, and he could not bring himself to say
"Yes," because however much he rummaged in his heart he could
not find one spark of feeling in it. . . .
He was silent, and she meanwhile was saying that for her there
was no greater happiness than to see him, to follow him wherever
he liked this very moment, to be his wife and helper, and that
if he went away from her she would die of misery.
"I cannot stay here!" she said, wringing her hands. "I am sick
of the house and this wood and the air. I cannot bear the
everlasting peace and aimless life, I can't endure our
colourless, pale people, who are all as like one another as two
drops of water! They are all good-natured and warm-hearted
because they are all well-fed and know nothing of struggle or
suffering, . . . I want to be in those big damp houses where
people suffer, embittered by work and need. . ."
And this, too, seemed to Ognev affected and not to be taken
seriously. When Vera had finished he still did not know what to
say, but it was impossible to be silent, and he muttered:
"Vera Gavrilovna, I am very grateful to you, though I feel I've
done nothing to deserve such . . . feeling . . . on your part.
Besides, as an honest man I ought to tell you that . . .
happiness depends on equality -- that is, when both parties are
. . . equally in love. . . ."
But he was immediately ashamed of his mutterings and ceased. He
felt that his face at that moment looked stupid, guilty, blank,
that it was strained and affected. . . . Vera must have been
able to read the truth on his countenance, for she suddenly
became grave, turned pale, and bent her head.
"You must forgive me," Ognev muttered, not able to endure the
silence. "I respect you so much that . . . it pains me. . . ."
Vera turned sharply and walked rapidly homewards. Ognev followed
"No, don't!" said Vera, with a wave of her hand. "Don't come; I
can go alone."
"Oh, yes . . . I must see you home anyway."
Whatever Ognev said, it all to the last word struck him as
loathsome and flat. The feeling of guilt grew greater at every
step. He raged inwardly, clenched his fists, and cursed his
coldness and his stupidity with women. Trying to stir his
feelings, he looked at Verotchka's beautiful figure, at her hair
and the traces of her little feet on the dusty road; he
remembered her words and her tears, but all that only touched
his heart and did not quicken his pulse.
"Ach! one can't force oneself to love," he assured himself, and
at the same time he thought, "But shall I ever fall in love
without? I am nearly thirty! I have never met anyone better than
Vera and I never shall. . . . Oh, this premature old age! Old
age at thirty!"
Vera walked on in front more and more rapidly, without looking
back at him or raising her head. It seemed to him that sorrow
had made her thinner and narrower in the shoulders.
"I can imagine what's going on in her heart now!" he thought,
looking at her back. "She must be ready to die with shame and
mortification! My God, there's so much life, poetry, and meaning
in it that it would move a stone, and I . . . I am stupid and
At the gate Vera stole a glance at him, and, shrugging and
wrapping her shawl round her walked rapidly away down the
Ivan Alexeyitch was left alone. Going back to the copse, he
walked slowly, continually standing still and looking round at
the gate with an expression in his whole figure that suggested
that he could not believe his own memory. He looked for Vera's
footprints on the road, and could not believe that the girl who
had so attracted him had just declared her love, and that he had
so clumsily and bluntly "refused" her. For the first time in his
life it was his lot to learn by experience how little that a man
does depends on his own will, and to suffer in his own person
the feelings of a decent kindly man who has against his will
caused his neighbour cruel, undeserved anguish.
His conscience tormented him, and when Vera disappeared he felt
as though he had lost something very precious, something very
near and dear which he could never find again. He felt that with
Vera a part of his youth had slipped away from him, and that the
moments which he had passed through so fruitlessly would never
When he reached the bridge he stopped and sank into thought. He
wanted to discover the reason of his strange coldness. That it
was due to something within him and not outside himself was
clear to him. He frankly acknowledged to himself that it was not
the intellectual coldness of which clever people so often boast,
not the coldness of a conceited fool, but simply impotence of
soul, incapacity for being moved by beauty, premature old age
brought on by education, his casual existence, struggling for a
livelihood, his homeless life in lodgings. From the bridge he
walked slowly, as it were reluctantly, into the wood. Here,
where in the dense black darkness glaring patches of moonlight
gleamed here and there, where he felt nothing except his
thoughts, he longed passionately to regain what he had lost.
And Ivan Alexeyitch remembers that he went back again. Urging
himself on with his memories, forcing himself to picture Vera,
he strode rapidly towards the garden. There was no mist by then
along the road or in the garden, and the bright moon looked down
from the sky as though it had just been washed; only the eastern
sky was dark and misty. . . . Ognev remembers his cautious
steps, the dark windows, the heavy scent of heliotrope and
mignonette. His old friend Karo, wagging his tail amicably, came
up to him and sniffed his hand. This was the one living creature
who saw him walk two or three times round the house, stand near
Vera's dark window, and with a deep sigh and a wave of his hand
walk out of the garden.
An hour later he was in the town, and, worn out and exhausted,
leaned his body and hot face against the gatepost of the inn as
he knocked at the gate. Somewhere in the town a dog barked
sleepily, and as though in response to his knock, someone
clanged the hour on an iron plate near the church.
"You prowl about at night," grumbled his host, the Old Believer,
opening the door to him, in a long nightgown like a woman's.
"You had better be saying your prayers instead of prowling
When Ivan Alexeyitch reached his room he sank on the bed and
gazed a long, long time at the light. Then he tossed his head
and began packing.
kissed him: it is normal for Russian men who are good friends to
kiss each other when parting or meeting
Bengal fire: fireworks, sparkles
forty thousand: humorous expression in Russian derived from
Hamlet's "forty thousand brothers" speech (Act V, Scene 1)
Old Believer: someone who adhered to the ritual of the Russian
Orthodox Church as practiced before the 17th century reforms;
they did not smoke
sit down: a common Russian custom to bring good luck on the
nach-haus: to the house