An Anonymous Story
Zinaida Fyodorovna had lost her gold watch, a present from her
father. This loss surprised and alarmed her. She spent half a
day going through the rooms, looking helplessly on all the
tables and on all the windows. But the watch had disappeared
Only three days afterwards Zinaida Fyodorovna, on coming in,
left her purse in the hall. Luckily for me, on that occasion it
was not I but Polya who helped her off with her coat. When the
purse was missed, it could not be found in the hall.
"Strange," said Zinaida Fyodorovna in bewilderment. "I
distinctly remember taking it out of my pocket to pay the cabman
. . . and then I put it here near the looking-glass. It's very
I had not stolen it, but I felt as though I had stolen it and
had been caught in the theft. Tears actually came into my eyes.
When they were seated at dinner, Zinaida Fyodorovna said to
Orlov in French:
"There seem to be spirits in the flat. I lost my purse in the
hall to-day, and now, lo and behold, it is on my table. But it's
not quite a disinterested trick of the spirits. They took out a
gold coin and twenty roubles in notes."
"You are always losing something; first it's your watch and then
it's your money . . ." said Orlov. "Why is it nothing of the
sort ever happens to me?"
A minute later Zinaida Fyodorovna had forgotten the trick played
by the spirits, and was telling with a laugh how the week before
she had ordered some notepaper and had forgotten to give her new
address, and the shop had sent the paper to her old home at her
husband's, who had to pay twelve roubles for it. And suddenly
she turned her eyes on Polya and looked at her intently. She
blushed as she did so, and was so confused that she began
talking of something else.
When I took in the coffee to the study, Orlov was standing with
his back to the fire and she was sitting in an arm-chair facing
"I am not in a bad temper at all," she was saying in French.
"But I have been putting things together, and now I see it
clearly. I can give you the day and the hour when she stole my
watch. And the purse? There can be no doubt about it. Oh!" she
laughed as she took the coffee from me. "Now I understand why I
am always losing my handkerchiefs and gloves. Whatever you say,
I shall dismiss the magpie to-morrow and send Stepan for my
Sofya. She is not a thief and has not got such a repulsive
"You are out of humour. To-morrow you will feel differently, and
will realise that you can't discharge people simply because you
"It's not suspicion; it's certainty," said Zinaida Fyodorovna.
"So long as I suspected that unhappy-faced, poor-looking valet
of yours, I said nothing. It's too bad of you not to believe me,
"If we think differently about anything, it doesn't follow that
I don't believe you. You may be right," said Orlov, turning
round and flinging his cigarette-end into the fire, "but there
is no need to be excited about it, anyway. In fact, I must say,
I never expected my humble establishment would cause you so much
serious worry and agitation. You've lost a gold coin: never mind
-- you may have a hundred of mine; but to change my habits, to
pick up a new housemaid, to wait till she is used to the place
-- all that's a tedious, tiring business and does not suit me.
Our present maid certainly is fat, and has, perhaps, a weakness
for gloves and handkerchiefs, but she is perfectly well behaved,
well trained, and does not shriek when Kukushkin pinches her."
"You mean that you can't part with her? . . . Why don't you say
"Are you jealous?"
"Yes, I am," said Zinaida Fyodorovna, decidedly.
"Yes, I am jealous," she repeated, and tears glistened in her
eyes. "No, it's something worse . . . which I find it difficult
to find a name for." She pressed her hands on her temples, and
went on impulsively. "You men are so disgusting! It's horrible!"
"I see nothing horrible about it."
"I've not seen it; I don't know; but they say that you men begin
with housemaids as boys, and get so used to it that you feel no
repugnance. I don't know, I don't know, but I have actually read
. . .George, of course you are right," she said, going up to
Orlov and changing to a caressing and imploring tone. "I really
am out of humour to-day. But, you must understand, I can't help
it. She disgusts me and I am afraid of her. It makes me
miserable to see her."
"Surely you can rise above such paltriness?" said Orlov,
shrugging his shoulders in perplexity, and walking away from the
fire. "Nothing could be simpler: take no notice of her, and then
she won't disgust you, and you won't need to make a regular
tragedy out of a trifle."
I went out of the study, and I don't know what answer Orlov
received. Whatever it was, Polya remained. After that Zinaida
Fyodorovna never applied to her for anything, and evidently
tried to dispense with her services. When Polya handed her
anything or even passed by her, jingling her bangle and rustling
her skirts, she shuddered.
I believe that if Gruzin or Pekarsky had asked Orlov to dismiss
Polya he would have done so without the slightest hesitation,
without troubling about any explanations. He was easily
persuaded, like all indifferent people. But in his relations
with Zinaida Fyodorovna he displayed for some reason, even in
trifles, an obstinacy which sometimes was almost irrational. I
knew beforehand that if Zinaida Fyodorovna liked anything, it
would be certain not to please Orlov. When on coming in from
shopping she made haste to show him with pride some new
purchase, he would glance at it and say coldly that the more
unnecessary objects they had in the flat, the less airy it would
be. It sometimes happened that after putting on his dress
clothes to go out somewhere, and after saying good-bye to
Zinaida Fyodorovna, he would suddenly change his mind and remain
at home from sheer perversity. I used to think that he remained
at home then simply in order to feel injured.
"Why are you staying?" said Zinaida Fyodorovna, with a show of
vexation, though at the same time she was radiant with delight.
"Why do you? You are not accustomed to spending your evenings at
home, and I don't want you to alter your habits on my account.
Do go out as usual, if you don't want me to feel guilty."
"No one is blaming you," said Orlov.
With the air of a victim he stretched himself in his easy-chair
in the study, and shading his eyes with his hand, took up a
book. But soon the book dropped from his hand, he turned heavily
in his chair, and again screened his eyes as though from the
sun. Now he felt annoyed that he had not gone out.
"May I come in?" Zinaida Fyodorovna would say, coming
irresolutely into the study. "Are you reading? I felt dull by
myself, and have come just for a minute . . . to have a peep at
I remember one evening she went in like that, irresolutely and
inappropriately, and sank on the rug at Orlov's feet, and from
her soft, timid movements one could see that she did not
understand his mood and was afraid.
"You are always reading . . ." she said cajolingly, evidently
wishing to flatter him. "Do you know, George, what is one of the
secrets of your success? You are very clever and well-read. What
book have you there?"
Orlov answered. A silence followed for some minutes which seemed
to me very long. I was standing in the drawing-room, from which
I could watch them, and was afraid of coughing.
"There is something I wanted to tell you," said Zinaida
Fyodorovna, and she laughed; "shall I? Very likely you'll laugh
and say that I flatter myself. You know I want, I want horribly
to believe that you are staying at home to-night for my sake . .
. that we might spend the evening together. Yes? May I think
"Do," he said, screening his eyes. "The really happy man is he
who thinks not only of what is, but of what is not."
"That was a long sentence which I did not quite understand. You
mean happy people live in their imagination. Yes, that's true. I
love to sit in your study in the evening and let my thoughts
carry me far, far away. . . . It's pleasant sometimes to dream.
Let us dream aloud, George."
"I've never been at a girls' boarding-school; I never learnt the
"You are out of humour?" said Zinaida Fyodorovna, taking Orlov's
hand. "Tell me why. When you are like that, I'm afraid. I don't
know whether your head aches or whether you are angry with me. .
Again there was a silence lasting several long minutes.
"Why have you changed?" she said softly. "Why are you never so
tender or so gay as you used to be at Znamensky Street? I've
been with you almost a month, but it seems to me as though we
had not yet begun to live, and have not yet talked of anything
as we ought to. You always answer me with jokes or else with a
long cold lecture like a teacher. And there is something cold in
your jokes. . . . Why have you given up talking to me
"I always talk seriously."
"Well, then, let us talk. For God's sake, George. . . . Shall
"Certainly, but about what?"
"Let us talk of our life, of our future," said Zinaida
Fyodorovna dreamily. "I keep making plans for our life, plans
and plans -- and I enjoy doing it so! George, I'll begin with
the question, when are you going to give up your post?"
"What for?" asked Orlov, taking his hand from his forehead.
"With your views you cannot remain in the service. You are out
of place there."
"My views?" Orlov repeated. "My views? In conviction and
temperament I am an ordinary official, one of Shtchedrin's
heroes. You take me for something different, I venture to assure
"Joking again, George!"
"Not in the least. The service does not satisfy me, perhaps;
but, anyway, it is better for me than anything else. I am used
to it, and in it I meet men of my own sort; I am in my place
there and find it tolerable."
"You hate the service and it revolts you."
"Indeed? If I resign my post, take to dreaming aloud and letting
myself be carried away into another world, do you suppose that
that world would be less hateful to me than the service?"
"You are ready to libel yourself in order to contradict me."
Zinaida Fyodorovna was offended and got up. "I am sorry I began
"Why are you angry? I am not angry with you for not being an
official. Every one lives as he likes best."
"Why, do you live as you like best? Are you free? To spend your
life writing documents that are opposed to your own ideas,"
Zinaida Fyodorovna went on, clasping her hands in despair: "to
submit to authority, congratulate your superiors at the New
Year, and then cards and nothing but cards: worst of all, to be
working for a system which must be distasteful to you -- no,
George, no! You should not make such horrid jokes. It's
dreadful. You are a man of ideas, and you ought to be working
for your ideas and nothing else."
"You really take me for quite a different person from what I
am," sighed Orlov.
"Say simply that you don't want to talk to me. You dislike me,
that's all," said Zinaida Fyodorovna through her tears.
"Look here, my dear," said Orlov admonishingly, sitting up in
his chair. "You were pleased to observe yourself that I am a
clever, well-read man, and to teach one who knows does nothing
but harm. I know very well all the ideas, great and small, which
you mean when you call me a man of ideas. So if I prefer the
service and cards to those ideas, you may be sure I have good
grounds for it. That's one thing. Secondly, you have, so far as
I know, never been in the service, and can only have drawn your
ideas of Government service from anecdotes and indifferent
novels. So it would not be amiss for us to make a compact, once
for all, not to talk of things we know already or of things
about which we are not competent to speak."
"Why do you speak to me like that?" said Zinaida Fyodorovna,
stepping back as though in horror. "What for? George, for God's
sake, think what you are saying!"
Her voice quivered and broke; she was evidently trying to
restrain her tears, but she suddenly broke into sobs.
"George, my darling, I am perishing!" she said in French,
dropping down before Orlov, and laying her head on his knees. "I
am miserable, I am exhausted. I can't bear it, I can't bear it.
. . . In my childhood my hateful, depraved stepmother, then my
husband, now you . . . you! . . . You meet my mad love with
coldness and irony. . . . And that horrible, insolent servant,"
she went on, sobbing. "Yes, yes, I see: I am not your wife nor
your friend, but a woman you don't respect because she has
become your mistress. . . . I shall kill myself!"
I had not expected that her words and her tears would make such
an impression on Orlov. He flushed, moved uneasily in his chair,
and instead of irony, his face wore a look of stupid,
"My darling, you misunderstood me," he muttered helplessly,
touching her hair and her shoulders. "Forgive me, I entreat you.
I was unjust and I hate myself."
"I insult you with my whining and complaints. You are a true,
generous . . . rare man -- I am conscious of it every minute;
but I've been horribly depressed for the last few days. . ."
Zinaida Fyodorovna impulsively embraced Orlov and kissed him on
"Only please don't cry," he said.
"No, no. . . . I've had my cry, and now I am better."
"As for the servant, she shall be gone to-morrow," he said,
still moving uneasily in his chair.
"No, she must stay, George! Do you hear? I am not afraid of her
now. . . . One must rise above trifles and not imagine silly
things. You are right! You are a wonderful, rare person!"
She soon left off crying. With tears glistening on her
eyelashes, sitting on Orlov's knee, she told him in a low voice
something touching, something like a reminiscence of childhood
and youth. She stroked his face, kissed him, and carefully
examined his hands with the rings on them and the charms on his
watch-chain. She was carried away by what she was saying, and by
being near the man she loved, and probably because her tears had
cleared and refreshed her soul, there was a note of wonderful
candour and sincerity in her voice. And Orlov played with her
chestnut hair and kissed her hands, noiselessly pressing them to
Then they had tea in the study, and Zinaida Fyodorovna read
aloud some letters. Soon after midnight they went to bed. I had
a fearful pain in my side that night, and I not get warm or go
to sleep till morning. I could hear Orlov go from the bedroom
into his study. After sitting there about an hour, he rang the
bell. In my pain and exhaustion I forgot all the rules and
conventions, and went to his study in my night attire,
barefooted. Orlov, in his dressing-gown and cap, was standing in
the doorway, waiting for me.
"When you are sent for you should come dressed," he said
sternly. "Bring some fresh candles."
I was about to apologise, but suddenly broke into a violent
cough, and clutched at the side of the door to save myself from
"Are you ill?" said Orlov.
I believe it was the first time of our acquaintance that he
addressed me not in the singular -- goodness knows why. Most
likely, in my night clothes and with my face distorted by
coughing, I played my part poorly, and was very little like a
"If you are ill, why do you take a place?" he said.
"That I may not die of starvation," I answered.
"How disgusting it all is, really!" he said softly, going up to
While hurriedly getting into my coat, I put up and lighted fresh
candles. He was sitting at the table, with feet stretched out on
a low chair, cutting a book.
I left him deeply engrossed, and the book did not drop out of
his hands as it had done in the evening.