An Anonymous Story
After lunch next day -- it was the seventh of January, St. John
the Baptist's Day -- Orlov put on his black dress coat and his
decoration to go to visit his father and congratulate him on his
name day. He had to go at two o'clock, and it was only half-past
one when he had finished dressing. What was he to do for that
half-hour? He walked about the drawing-room, declaiming some
congratulatory verses which he had recited as a child to his
father and mother.
Zinaida Fyodorovna, who was just going out to a dressmaker's or
to the shops, was sitting, listening to him with a smile. I
don't know how their conversation began, but when I took Orlov
his gloves, he was standing before her with a capricious,
beseeching face, saying:
"For God's sake, in the name of everything that's holy, don't
talk of things that everybody knows! What an unfortunate gift
our intellectual thoughtful ladies have for talking with
enthusiasm and an air of profundity of things that every
schoolboy is sick to death of! Ah, if only you would exclude
from our conjugal programme all these serious questions! How
grateful I should be to you!"
"We women may not dare, it seems, to have views of our own."
"I give you full liberty to be as liberal as you like, and quote
from any authors you choose, but make me one concession: don't
hold forth in my presence on either of two subjects: the
corruption of the upper classes and the evils of the marriage
system. Do understand me, at last. The upper class is always
abused in contrast with the world of tradesmen, priests, workmen
and peasants, Sidors and Nikitas of all sorts. I detest both
classes, but if I had honestly to choose between the two, I
should without hesitation, prefer the upper class, and there
would be no falsity or affectation about it, since all my tastes
are in that direction. Our world is trivial and empty, but at
any rate we speak French decently, read something, and don't
punch each other in the ribs even in our most violent quarrels,
while the Sidors and the Nikitas and their worships in trade
talk about 'being quite agreeable,' 'in a jiffy,' 'blast your
eyes,' and display the utmost license of pothouse manners and
the most degrading superstition."
"The peasant and the tradesman feed you."
"Yes, but what of it? That's not only to my discredit, but to
theirs too. They feed me and take off their caps to me, so it
seems they have not the intelligence and honesty to do
otherwise. I don't blame or praise any one: I only mean that the
upper class and the lower are as bad as one another. My feelings
and my intelligence are opposed to both, but my tastes lie more
in the direction of the former. Well, now for the evils of
marriage," Orlov went on, glancing at his watch. "It's high time
for you to understand that there are no evils in the system
itself; what is the matter is that you don't know yourselves
what you want from marriage. What is it you want? In legal and
illegal cohabitation, in every sort of union and cohabitation,
good or bad, the underlying reality is the same. You ladies live
for that underlying reality alone: for you it's everything; your
existence would have no meaning for you without it. You want
nothing but that, and you get it; but since you've taken to
reading novels you are ashamed of it: you rush from pillar to
post, you recklessly change your men, and to justify this
turmoil you have begun talking of the evils of marriage. So long
as you can't and won't renounce what underlies it all, your
chief foe, your devil -- so long as you serve that slavishly,
what use is there in discussing the matter seriously? Everything
you may say to me will be falsity and affectation. I shall not
I went to find out from the hall porter whether the sledge was
at the door, and when I came back I found it had become a
quarrel. As sailors say, a squall had blown up.
"I see you want to shock me by your cynicism today," said
Zinaida Fyodorovna, walking about the drawing-room in great
emotion. "It revolts me to listen to you. I am pure before God
and man, and have nothing to repent of. I left my husband and
came to you, and am proud of it. I swear, on my honour, I am
proud of it!"
"Well, that's all right, then!"
"If you are a decent, honest man, you, too, ought to be proud of
what I did. It raises you and me above thousands of people who
would like to do as we have done, but do not venture through
cowardice or petty prudence. But you are not a decent man. You
are afraid of freedom, and you mock the promptings of genuine
feeling, from fear that some ignoramus may suspect you of being
sincere. You are afraid to show me to your friends; there's no
greater infliction for you than to go about with me in the
street. . . . Isn't that true? Why haven't you introduced me to
your father or your cousin all this time? Why is it? No, I am
sick of it at last," cried Zinaida Fyodorovna, stamping. "I
demand what is mine by right. You must present me to your
"If you want to know him, go and present yourself. He receives
visitors every morning from ten till half-past."
"How base you are!" said Zinaida Fyodorovna, wringing her hands
in despair. "Even if you are not sincere, and are not saying
what you think, I might hate you for your cruelty. Oh, how base
"We keep going round and round and never reach the real point.
The real point is that you made a mistake, and you won't
acknowledge it aloud. You imagined that I was a hero, and that I
had some extraordinary ideas and ideals, and it has turned out
that I am a most ordinary official, a cardplayer, and have no
partiality for ideas of any sort. I am a worthy representative
of the rotten world from which you have run away because you
were revolted with its triviality and emptiness. Recognise it
and be just: don't be indignant with me, but with yourself, as
it is your mistake, and not mine."
"Yes, I admit I was mistaken."
"Well, that's all right, then. We've reached that point at last,
thank God. Now hear something more, if you please: I can't rise
to your level -- I am too depraved; you can't descend to my
level, either, for you are too exalted. So there is only one
thing left to do. . . ."
"What?" Zinaida Fyodorovna asked quickly, holding her breath and
turning suddenly as white as a sheet of paper.
"To call logic to our aid. . . ."
"Georgy, why are you torturing me?" Zinaida Fyodorovna said
suddenly in Russian in a breaking voice. "What is it for? Think
of my misery. . . ."
Orlov, afraid of tears, went quickly into his study, and I don't
know why -- whether it was that he wished to cause her extra
pain, or whether he remembered it was usually done in such cases
-- he locked the door after him. She cried out and ran after him
with a rustle of her skirt.
"What does this mean?" she cried, knocking at his door. "What .
. . what does this mean?" she repeated in a shrill voice
breaking with indignation. "Ah, so this is what you do! Then let
me tell you I hate you, I despise you! Everything is over
between us now."
I heard hysterical weeping mingled with laughter. Something
small in the drawing-room fell off the table and was broken.
Orlov went out into the hall by another door, and, looking round
him nervously, he hurriedly put on his great-coat and went out.
Half an hour passed, an hour, and she was still weeping. I
remembered that she had no father or mother, no relations, and
here she was living between a man who hated her and Polya, who
robbed her -- and how desolate her life seemed to me! I do not
know why, but I went into the drawing-room to her. Weak and
helpless, looking with her lovely hair like an embodiment of
tenderness and grace, she was in anguish, as though she were
ill; she was lying on a couch, hiding her face, and quivering
"Madam, shouldn't I fetch a doctor?" I asked gently.
"No, there's no need . . . it's nothing," she said, and she
looked at me with her tear-stained eyes. "I have a little
headache. . . . Thank you."
I went out, and in the evening she was writing letter after
letter, and sent me out first to Pekarsky, then to Gruzin, then
to Kukushkin, and finally anywhere I chose, if only I could find
Orlov and give him the letter. Every time I came back with the
letter she scolded me, entreated me, thrust money into my hand
-- as though she were in a fever. And all the night she did not
sleep, but sat in the drawing-room, talking to herself.
Orlov returned to dinner next day, and they were reconciled.
The first Thursday afterwards Orlov complained to his friends of
the intolerable life he led; he smoked a great deal, and said
"It is no life at all; it's the rack. Tears, wailing,
intellectual conversations, begging for forgiveness, again tears
and wailing; and the long and the short of it is that I have no
flat of my own now. I am wretched, and I make her wretched.
Surely I haven't to live another month or two like this? How can
I? But yet I may have to."
"Why don't you speak, then?" said Pekarsky.
"I've tried, but I can't. One can boldly tell the truth,
whatever it may be, to an independent, rational man; but in this
case one has to do with a creature who has no will, no strength
of character, and no logic. I cannot endure tears; they disarm
me. When she cries, I am ready to swear eternal love and cry
Pekarsky did not understand; he scratched his broad forehead in
perplexity and said:
"You really had better take another flat for her. It's so
"She wants me, not the flat. But what's the good of talking?"
sighed Orlov. "I only hear endless conversations, but no way out
of my position. It certainly is a case of 'being guilty without
guilt.' I don't claim to be a mushroom, but it seems I've got to
go into the basket. The last thing I've ever set out to be is a
hero. I never could endure Turgenev's novels; and now, all of a
sudden, as though to spite me, I've heroism forced upon me. I
assure her on my honour that I'm not a hero at all, I adduce
irrefutable proofs of the same, but she doesn't believe me. Why
doesn't she believe me? I suppose I really must have something
of the appearance of a hero."
"You go off on a tour of inspection in the provinces," said
"Yes, that's the only thing left for me."
A week after this conversation Orlov announced that he was again
ordered to attend the senator, and the same evening he went off
with his portmanteaus to Pekarsky.