An Anonymous Story
Then I will tell you what happened the following Thursday. That
day Zinaida Fyodorovna dined at Content's or Donon's. Orlov
returned home alone, and Zinaida Fyodorovna, as I learnt
afterwards, went to the Petersburg Side to spend with her old
governess the time visitors were with us. Orlov did not care to
show her to his friends. I realised that at breakfast, when he
began assuring her that for the sake of her peace of mind it was
essential to give up his Thursday evenings.
As usual the visitors arrived at almost the same time.
"Is your mistress at home, too?" Kukushkin asked me in a
"No, sir," I answered.
He went in with a sly, oily look in his eyes, smiling
mysteriously, rubbing his hands, which were cold from the frost.
"I have the honour to congratulate you," he said to Orlov,
shaking all over with ingratiating, obsequious laughter. "May
you increase and multiply like the cedars of Lebanon."
The visitors went into the bedroom, and were extremely jocose on
the subject of a pair of feminine slippers, the rug that had
been put down between the two beds, and a grey dressing-jacket
that hung at the foot of the bedstead. They were amused that the
obstinate man who despised all the common place details of love
had been caught in feminine snares in such a simple and ordinary
"He who pointed the finger of scorn is bowing the knee in
homage," Kukushkin repeated several times. He had, I may say in
parenthesis, an unpleasant habit of adorning his conversation
with texts in Church Slavonic. "Sh-sh!" he said as they went
from the bedroom into the room next to the study. "Sh-sh! Here
Gretchen is dreaming of her Faust."
He went off into a peal of laughter as though he had said
something very amusing. I watched Gruzin, expecting that his
musical soul would not endure this laughter, but I was mistaken.
His thin, good-natured face beamed with pleasure. When they sat
down to play cards, he, lisping and choking with laughter, said
that all that "dear George" wanted to complete his domestic
felicity was a cherry-wood pipe and a guitar. Pekarsky laughed
sedately, but from his serious expression one could see that
Orlov's new love affair was distasteful to him. He did not
understand what had happened exactly.
"But how about the husband?" he asked in perplexity, after they
had played three rubbers.
"I don't know," answered Orlov.
Pekarsky combed his big beard with his fingers and sank into
thought, and he did not speak again till supper-time. When they
were seated at supper, he began deliberately, drawling every
"Altogether, excuse my saying so, I don't understand either of
you. You might love each other and break the seventh commandment
to your heart's content -- that I understand. Yes, that's
comprehensible. But why make the husband a party to your
secrets? Was there any need for that?"
"But does it make any difference?"
"Hm! . . . ." Pekarsky mused. "Well, then, let me tell you this,
my friend," he went on, evidently thinking hard: "if I ever
marry again and you take it into your head to seduce my wife,
please do it so that I don't notice it. It's much more honest to
deceive a man than to break up his family life and injure his
reputation. I understand. You both imagine that in living
together openly you are doing something exceptionally honourable
and advanced, but I can't agree with that . . . what shall I
call it? . . . romantic attitude?"
Orlov made no reply. He was out of humour and disinclined to
talk. Pekarsky, still perplexed, drummed on the table with his
fingers, thought a little, and said:
"I don't understand you, all the same. You are not a student and
she is not a dressmaker. You are both of you people with means.
I should have thought you might have arranged a separate flat
"No, I couldn't. Read Turgenev."
"Why should I read him? I have read him already."
"Turgenev teaches us in his novels that every exalted,
noble-minded girl should follow the man she loves to the ends of
the earth, and should serve his idea," said Orlov, screwing up
his eyes ironically. "The ends of the earth are poetic license;
the earth and all its ends can be reduced to the flat of the man
she loves. . . . And so not to live in the same flat with the
woman who loves you is to deny her her exalted vocation and to
refuse to share her ideals. Yes, my dear fellow, Turgenev wrote,
and I have to suffer for it."
"What Turgenev has got to do with it I don't understand," said
Gruzin softly, and he shrugged his shoulders. "Do you remember,
George, how in 'Three Meetings' he is walking late in the
evening somewhere in Italy, and suddenly hears, 'Vieni pensando
a me segretamente,'" Gruzin hummed. "It's fine."
"But she hasn't come to settle with you by force," said
Pekarsky. "It was your own wish."
"What next! Far from wishing it, I never imagined that this
would ever happen. When she said she was coming to live with me,
I thought it was a charming joke on her part."
"I couldn't have wished for such a thing," said Orlov in the
tone of a man compelled to justify himself. "I am not a Turgenev
hero, and if I ever wanted to free Bulgaria I shouldn't need a
lady's company. I look upon love primarily as a necessity of my
physical nature, degrading and antagonistic to my spirit; it
must either be satisfied with discretion or renounced
altogether, otherwise it will bring into one's life elements as
unclean as itself. For it to be an enjoyment and not a torment,
I will try to make it beautiful and to surround it with a mass
of illusions. I should never go and see a woman unless I were
sure beforehand that she would be beautiful and fascinating; and
I should never go unless I were in the mood. And it is only in
that way that we succeed in deceiving one another, and fancying
that we are in love and happy. But can I wish for copper
saucepans and untidy hair, or like to be seen myself when I am
unwashed or out of humour? Zinaida Fyodorovna in the simplicity
of her heart wants me to love what I have been shunning all my
life. She wants my flat to smell of cooking and washing up; she
wants all the fuss of moving into another flat, of driving about
with her own horses; she wants to count over my linen and to
look after my health; she wants to meddle in my personal life at
every instant, and to watch over every step; and at the same
time she assures me genuinely that my habits and my freedom will
be untouched. She is persuaded that, like a young couple, we
shall very soon go for a honeymoon -- that is, she wants to be
with me all the time in trains and hotels, while I like to read
on the journey and cannot endure talking in trains."
"You should give her a talking to," said Pekarsky.
"What! Do you suppose she would understand me? Why, we think so
differently. In her opinion, to leave one's papa and mamma or
one's husband for the sake of the man one loves is the height of
civic virtue, while I look upon it as childish. To fall in love
and run away with a man to her means beginning a new life, while
to my mind it means nothing at all. Love and man constitute the
chief interest of her life, and possibly it is the philosophy of
the unconscious at work in her. Try and make her believe that
love is only a simple physical need, like the need of food or
clothes; that it doesn't mean the end of the world if wives and
husbands are unsatisfactory; that a man may be a profligate and
a libertine, and yet a man of honour and a genius; and that, on
the other hand, one may abstain from the pleasures of love and
at the same time be a stupid, vicious animal! The civilised man
of to-day, even among the lower classes -- for instance, the
French workman -- spends ten sous on dinner, five sous on his
wine, and five or ten sous on woman, and devotes his brain and
nerves entirely to his work. But Zinaida Fyodorovna assigns to
love not so many sous, but her whole soul. I might give her a
talking to, but she would raise a wail in answer, and declare in
all sincerity that I had ruined her, that she had nothing left
to live for."
"Don't say anything to her," said Pekarsky, "but simply take a
separate flat for her, that's all."
"That's easy to say."
There was a brief silence.
"But she is charming," said Kukushkin. "She is exquisite. Such
women imagine that they will be in love for ever, and abandon
themselves with tragic intensity."
"But one must keep a head on one's shoulders," said Orlov; "one
must be reasonable. All experience gained from everyday life and
handed down in innumerable novels and plays, uniformly confirms
the fact that adultery and cohabitation of any sort between
decent people never lasts longer than two or at most three
years, however great the love may have been at the beginning.
That she ought to know. And so all this business of moving, of
saucepans, hopes of eternal love and harmony, are nothing but a
desire to delude herself and me. She is charming and exquisite
-- who denies it? But she has turned my life upside down; what I
have regarded as trivial and nonsensical till now she has forced
me to raise to the level of a serious problem; I serve an idol
whom I have never looked upon as God. She is charming --
exquisite, but for some reason now when I am going home, I feel
uneasy, as though I expected to meet with something inconvenient
at home, such as workmen pulling the stove to pieces and
blocking up the place with heaps of bricks. In fact, I am no
longer giving up to love a sous, but part of my peace of mind
and my nerves. And that's bad."
"And she doesn't hear this villain!" sighed Kukushkin. "My dear
sir," he said theatrically, "I will relieve you from the
burdensome obligation to love that adorable creature! I will
wrest Zinaida Fyodorovna from you!"
"You may . . ." said Orlov carelessly.
For half a minute Kukushkin laughed a shrill little laugh,
shaking all over, then he said:
"Look out; I am in earnest! Don't you play the Othello
They all began talking of Kukushkin's indefatigable energy in
love affairs, how irresistible he was to women, and what a
danger he was to husbands; and how the devil would roast him in
the other world for his immorality in this. He screwed up his
eyes and remained silent, and when the names of ladies of their
acquaintance were mentioned, he held up his little finger -- as
though to say they mustn't give away other people's secrets.
Orlov suddenly looked at his watch.
His friends understood, and began to take their leave. I
remember that Gruzin, who was a little drunk, was wearisomely
long in getting off. He put on his coat, which was cut like
children's coats in poor families, pulled up the collar, and
began telling some long-winded story; then, seeing he was not
listened to, he flung the rug that smelt of the nursery over one
shoulder, and with a guilty and imploring face begged me to find
"George, my angel," he said tenderly. "Do as I ask you, dear
boy; come out of town with us!"
"You can go, but I can't. I am in the position of a married man
"She is a dear, she won't be angry. My dear chief, come along!
It's glorious weather; there's snow and frost. . . . Upon my
word, you want shaking up a bit; you are out of humour. I don't
know what the devil is the matter with you. . . ."
Orlov stretched, yawned, and looked at Pekarsky.
"Are you going?" he said, hesitating.
"I don't know. Perhaps."
"Shall I get drunk? All right, I'll come," said Orlov after some
hesitation. "Wait a minute; I'll get some money."
He went into the study, and Gruzin slouched in, too, dragging
his rug after him. A minute later both came back into the hall.
Gruzin, a little drunk and very pleased, was crumpling a
ten-rouble note in his hands.
"We'll settle up to-morrow," he said. "And she is kind, she
won't be cross. . . . She is my Lisotchka's godmother; I am fond
of her, poor thing! Ah, my dear fellow!" he laughed joyfully,
and pressing his forehead on Pekarsky's back. "Ah, Pekarsky, my
dear soul! Advocatissimus -- as dry as a biscuit, but you bet he
is fond of women. . . ."
"Fat ones," said Orlov, putting on his fur coat. "But let us get
off, or we shall be meeting her on the doorstep."
"'Vieni pensando a me segretamente,'" hummed Gruzin.
At last they drove off: Orlov did not sleep at home, and
returned next day at dinner-time.