- The Grasshopper
On the second of September the day was warm
and still, but overcast. In the early morning a light mist had
hung over the Volga, and after nine o'clock it had begun to
spout with rain. And there seemed no hope of the sky clearing.
Over their morning tea Ryabovsky told Olga Ivanovna that
painting was the most ungrateful and boring art, that he was not
an artist, that none but fools thought that he had any talent,
and all at once, for no rhyme or reason, he snatched up a knife
and with it scraped over his very best sketch. After his tea he
sat plunged in gloom at the window and gazed at the Volga. And
now the Volga was dingy, all of one even colour without a gleam
of light, cold-looking. Everything, everything recalled the
approach of dreary, gloomy autumn. And it seemed as though
nature had removed now from the Volga the sumptuous green covers
from the banks, the brilliant reflections of the sunbeams, the
transparent blue distance, and all its smart gala array, and had
packed it away in boxes till the coming spring, and the crows
were flying above the Volga and crying tauntingly, "Bare, bare!"
Ryabovsky heard their cawing, and thought he had already gone
off and lost his talent, that everything in this world was
relative, conditional, and stupid, and that he ought not to have
taken up with this woman. . . . In short, he was out of humour
Olga Ivanovna sat behind the screen on the bed, and, passing her
fingers through her lovely flaxen hair, pictured herself first
in the drawing-room, then in the bedroom, then in her husband's
study; her imagination carried her to the theatre, to the
dress-maker, to her distinguished friends. Were they getting
something up now? Did they think of her? The season had begun by
now, and it would be time to think about her "At Homes." And
Dymov? Dear Dymov! with what gentleness and childlike pathos he
kept begging her in his letters to make haste and come home!
Every month he sent her seventy-five roubles, and when she wrote
him that she had lent the artists a hundred roubles, he sent
that hundred too. What a kind, generous-hearted man! The
travelling wearied Olga Ivanovna; she was bored; and she longed
to get away from the peasants, from the damp smell of the river,
and to cast off the feeling of physical uncleanliness of which
she was conscious all the time, living in the peasants' huts and
wandering from village to village. If Ryabovsky had not given
his word to the artists that he would stay with them till the
twentieth of September, they might have gone away that very day.
And how nice that would have been!
"My God!" moaned Ryabovsky. "Will the sun ever come out? I can't
go on with a sunny landscape without the sun. . . ."
"But you have a sketch with a cloudy sky," said Olga Ivanovna,
coming from behind the screen. "Do you remember, in the right
foreground forest trees, on the left a herd of cows and geese?
You might finish it now."
"Aie!" the artist scowled. "Finish it! Can you imagine I am such
a fool that I don't know what I want to do?"
"How you have changed to me!" sighed Olga Ivanovna.
"Well, a good thing too!"
Olga Ivanovna's face quivered; she moved away to the stove and
began to cry.
"Well, that's the last straw -- crying! Give over! I have a
thousand reasons for tears, but I am not crying."
"A thousand reasons!" cried Olga Ivanovna. "The chief one is
that you are weary of me. Yes!" she said, and broke into sobs.
"If one is to tell the truth, you are ashamed of our love. You
keep trying to prevent the artists from noticing it, though it
is impossible to conceal it, and they have known all about it
for ever so long."
"Olga, one thing I beg you," said the artist in an imploring
voice, laying his hand on his heart -- "one thing, don't worry
me! I want nothing else from you!"
"But swear that you love me still!"
"This is agony!" the artist hissed through his teeth, and he
jumped up. "It will end by my throwing myself in the Volga or
going out of my mind! Let me alone!"
"Come, kill me, kill me!" cried Olga Ivanovna. "Kill me!"
She sobbed again, and went behind the screen. There was a swish
of rain on the straw thatch of the hut. Ryabovsky clutched his
head and strode up and down the hut; then with a resolute face,
as though bent on proving something to somebody, put on his cap,
slung his gun over his shoulder, and went out of the hut.
After he had gone, Olga Ivanovna lay a long time on the bed,
crying. At first she thought it would be a good thing to poison
herself, so that when Ryabovsky came back he would find her
dead; then her imagination carried her to her drawing-room, to
her husband's study, and she imagined herself sitting motionless
beside Dymov and enjoying the physical peace and cleanliness,
and in the evening sitting in the theatre, listening to Mazini.
And a yearning for civilization, for the noise and bustle of the
town, for celebrated people sent a pang to her heart. A peasant
woman came into the hut and began in a leisurely way lighting
the stove to get the dinner. There was a smell of charcoal
fumes, and the air was filled with bluish smoke. The artists
came in, in muddy high boots and with faces wet with rain,
examined their sketches, and comforted themselves by saying that
the Volga had its charms even in bad weather. On the wall the
cheap clock went "tic-tic-tic." . . . The flies, feeling
chilled, crowded round the ikon in the corner, buzzing, and one
could hear the cockroaches scurrying about among the thick
portfolios under the seats. . . .
Ryabovsky came home as the sun was setting. He flung his cap on
the table, and, without removing his muddy boots, sank pale and
exhausted on the bench and closed his eyes.
"I am tired . . ." he said, and twitched his eyebrows, trying to
raise his eyelids.
To be nice to him and to show she was not cross, Olga Ivanovna
went up to him, gave him a silent kiss, and passed the comb
through his fair hair. She meant to comb it for him.
"What's that?" he said, starting as though something cold had
touched him, and he opened his eyes. "What is it? Please let me
He thrust her off, and moved away. And it seemed to her that
there was a look of aversion and annoyance on his face.
At that time the peasant woman cautiously carried him, in both
hands, a plate of cabbage-soup. And Olga Ivanovna saw how she
wetted her fat fingers in it. And the dirty peasant woman,
standing with her body thrust forward, and the cabbage-soup
which Ryabovsky began eating greedily, and the hut, and their
whole way of life, which she at first had so loved for its
simplicity and artistic disorder, seemed horrible to her now.
She suddenly felt insulted, and said coldly:
"We must part for a time, or else from boredom we shall quarrel
in earnest. I am sick of this; I am going today."
"Going how? Astride on a broomstick?"
"Today is Thursday, so the steamer will be here at half-past
"Eh? Yes, yes. . . . Well, go, then . . ." Ryabovsky said
softly, wiping his mouth with a towel instead of a dinner
napkin. "You are dull and have nothing to do here, and one would
have to be a great egoist to try and keep you. Go home, and we
shall meet again after the twentieth."
Olga Ivanovna packed in good spirits. Her cheeks positively
glowed with pleasure. Could it really be true, she asked
herself, that she would soon be writing in her drawing-room and
sleeping in her bedroom, and dining with a cloth on the table? A
weight was lifted from her heart, and she no longer felt angry
with the artist.
"My paints and brushes I will leave with you, Ryabovsky," she
said. "You can bring what's left. . . . Mind, now, don't be lazy
here when I am gone; don't mope, but work. You are such a
splendid fellow, Ryabovsky!"
At ten o'clock Ryabovsky gave her a farewell kiss, in order, as
she thought, to avoid kissing her on the steamer before the
artists, and went with her to the landing-stage. The steamer
soon came up and carried her away.
She arrived home two and a half days later. Breathless with
excitement, she went, without taking off her hat or waterproof,
into the drawing-room and thence into the dining-room. Dymov,
with his waistcoat unbuttoned and no coat, was sitting at the
table sharpening a knife on a fork; before him lay a grouse on a
plate. As Olga Ivanovna went into the flat she was convinced
that it was essential to hide everything from her husband, and
that she would have the strength and skill to do so; but now,
when she saw his broad, mild, happy smile, and shining, joyful
eyes, she felt that to deceive this man was as vile, as
revolting, and as impossible and out of her power as to bear
false witness, to steal, or to kill, and in a flash she resolved
to tell him all that had happened. Letting him kiss and embrace
her, she sank down on her knees before him and hid her face.
"What is it, what is it, little mother?" he asked tenderly.
"Were you homesick?"
She raised her face, red with shame, and gazed at him with a
guilty and imploring look, but fear and shame prevented her from
telling him the truth.
"Nothing," she said; "it's just nothing. . . ."
"Let us sit down," he said, raising her and seating her at the
table. "That's right, eat the grouse. You are starving, poor
She eagerly breathed in the atmosphere of home and ate the
grouse, while he watched her with tenderness and laughed with