- An Anonymous Story
She used as before to come into my room in the morning to
coffee, but we no longer dined together, as she said she was not
hungry; and she lived only on coffee, tea, and various trifles
such as oranges and caramels.
And we no longer had conversations in the evening. I don't know
why it was like this. Ever since the day when I had found her in
tears she had treated me somehow lightly, at times casually,
even ironically, and for some reason called me "My good sir."
What had before seemed to her terrible, heroic, marvellous, and
had stirred her envy and enthusiasm, did not touch her now at
all, and usually after listening to me, she stretched and said:
"Yes, 'great things were done in days of yore,' my good sir."
It sometimes happened even that I did not see her for days
together. I would knock timidly and guiltily at her door and get
no answer; I would knock again -- still silence. . . . I would
stand near the door and listen; then the chambermaid would pass
and say coldly, "Madame est partie." Then I would walk about the
passages of the hotel, walk and walk. . . . English people,
full-bosomed ladies, waiters in swallow-tails. . . . And as I
keep gazing at the long striped rug that stretches the whole
length of the corridor, the idea occurs to me that I am playing
in the life of this woman a strange, probably false part, and
that it is beyond my power to alter that part. I run to my room
and fall on my bed, and think and think, and can come to no
conclusion; and all that is clear to me is that I want to live,
and that the plainer and the colder and the harder her face
grows, the nearer she is to me, and the more intensely and
painfully I feel our kinship. Never mind "My good sir," never
mind her light careless tone, never mind anything you like, only
don't leave me, my treasure. I am afraid to be alone.
Then I go out into the corridor again, listen in a tremor. . . .
I have no dinner; I don't notice the approach of evening. At
last about eleven I hear the familiar footstep, and at the turn
near the stairs Zinaida Fyodorovna comes into sight.
"Are you taking a walk?" she would ask as she passes me. "You
had better go out into the air. . . . Good-night!"
"But shall we not meet again to-day?"
"I think it's late. But as you like."
"Tell me, where have you been?" I would ask, following her into
"Where? To Monte Carlo." She took ten gold coins out of her
pocket and said: "Look, my good sir; I have won. That's at
"Nonsense! As though you would gamble."
"Why not? I am going again to-morrow."
I imagined her with a sick and morbid face, in her condition,
tightly laced, standing near the gaming-table in a crowd of
cocottes, of old women in their dotage who swarm round the gold
like flies round the honey. I remembered she had gone off to
Monte Carlo for some reason in secret from me.
"I don't believe you," I said one day. "You wouldn't go there."
"Don't agitate yourself. I can't lose much."
"It's not the question of what you lose," I said with annoyance.
"Has it never occurred to you while you were playing there that
the glitter of gold, all these women, young and old, the
croupiers, all the surroundings -- that it is all a vile,
loathsome mockery at the toiler's labour, at his bloody sweat?
"If one doesn't play, what is one to do here?" she asked. "The
toiler's labour and his bloody sweat -- all that eloquence you
can put off till another time; but now, since you have begun,
let me go on. Let me ask you bluntly, what is there for me to do
here, and what am I to do?"
"What are you to do?" I said, shrugging my shoulders. "That's a
question that can't be answered straight off."
"I beg you to answer me honestly, Vladimir Ivanitch," she said,
and her face looked angry. "Once I have brought myself to ask
you this question, I am not going to listen to stock phrases. I
am asking you," she went on, beating her hand on the table, as
though marking time, "what ought I to do here? And not only here
at Nice, but in general?"
I did not speak, but looked out of window to the sea. My heart
was beating terribly.
"Vladimir Ivanitch," she said softly and breathlessly; it was
hard for her to speak -- "Vladimir Ivanitch, if you do not
believe in the cause yourself, if you no longer think of going
back to it, why . . . why did you drag me out of Petersburg? Why
did you make me promises, why did you rouse mad hopes? Your
convictions have changed; you have become a different man, and
nobody blames you for it -- our convictions are not always in
our power. But . . . but, Vladimir Ivanitch, for God's sake, why
are you not sincere?" she went on softly, coming up to me. "All
these months when I have been dreaming aloud, raving, going into
raptures over my plans, remodelling my life on a new pattern,
why didn't you tell me the truth? Why were you silent or
encouraged me by your stories, and behaved as though you were in
complete sympathy with me? Why was it? Why was it necessary?"
"It's difficult to acknowledge one's bankruptcy," I said,
turning round, but not looking at her. "Yes, I have no faith; I
am worn out. I have lost heart. . . . It is difficult to be
truthful -- very difficult, and I held my tongue. God forbid
that any one should have to go through what I have been
I felt that I was on the point of tears, and ceased speaking.
"Vladimir Ivanitch," she said, and took me by both hands, "you
have been through so much and seen so much of life, you know
more than I do; think seriously, and tell me, what am I to do?
Teach me! If you haven't the strength to go forward yourself and
take others with you, at least show me where to go. After all, I
am a living, feeling, thinking being. To sink into a false
position . . . to play an absurd part . . . is painful to me. I
don't reproach you, I don't blame you; I only ask you."
Tea was brought in.
"Well?" said Zinaida Fyodorovna, giving me a glass. "What do you
say to me?"
"There is more light in the world than you see through your
window," I answered. "And there are other people besides me,
"Then tell me who they are," she said eagerly. "That's all I ask
"And I want to say, too," I went on, "one can serve an idea in
more than one calling. If one has made a mistake and lost faith
in one, one may find another. The world of ideas is large and
cannot be exhausted."
"The world of ideas!" she said, and she looked into my face
sarcastically. "Then we had better leave off talking. What's the
use? . . ."
"The world of ideas!" she repeated. She threw her dinner-napkin
aside, and an expression of indignation and contempt came into
her face. "All your fine ideas, I see, lead up to one
inevitable, essential step: I ought to become your mistress.
That's what's wanted. To be taken up with ideas without being
the mistress of an honourable, progressive man, is as good as
not understanding the ideas. One has to begin with that . . .
that is, with being your mistress, and the rest will come of
"You are irritated, Zinaida Fyodorovna," I said.
"No, I am sincere!" she cried, breathing hard. "I am sincere!"
"You are sincere, perhaps, but you are in error, and it hurts me
to hear you."
"I am in error?" she laughed. "Any one else might say that, but
not you, my dear sir! I may seem to you indelicate, cruel, but I
don't care: you love me? You love me, don't you?"
I shrugged my shoulders.
"Yes, shrug your shoulders!" she went on sarcastically. "When
you were ill I heard you in your delirium, and ever since these
adoring eyes, these sighs, and edifying conversations about
friendship, about spiritual kinship. . . . But the point is, why
haven't you been sincere? Why have you concealed what is and
talked about what isn't? Had you said from the beginning what
ideas exactly led you to drag me from Petersburg, I should have
known. I should have poisoned myself then as I meant to, and
there would have been none of this tedious farce. . . . But
what's the use of talking!"
With a wave of the hand she sat down.
"You speak to me as though you suspected me of dishonourable
intentions," I said, offended.
"Oh, very well. What's the use of talking! I don't suspect you
of intentions, but of having no intentions. If you had any, I
should have known them by now. You had nothing but ideas and
love. For the present -- ideas and love, and in prospect -- me
as your mistress. That's in the order of things both in life and
in novels. . . . Here you abused him," she said, and she slapped
the table with her hand, "but one can't help agreeing with him.
He has good reasons for despising these ideas."
"He does not despise ideas; he is afraid of them," I cried. "He
is a coward and a liar."
"Oh, very well. He is a coward and a liar, and deceived me. And
you? Excuse my frankness; what are you? He deceived me and left
me to take my chance in Petersburg, and you have deceived me and
abandoned me here. But he did not mix up ideas with his deceit,
and you . . ."
"For goodness' sake, why are you saying this?" I cried in
horror, wringing my hands and going up to her quickly. "No,
Zinaida Fyodorovna, this is cynicism. You must not be so
despairing; listen to me," I went on, catching at a thought
which flashed dimly upon me, and which seemed to me might still
save us both. "Listen. I have passed through so many experiences
in my time that my head goes round at the thought of them, and I
have realised with my mind, with my racked soul, that man finds
his true destiny in nothing if not in self-sacrificing love for
his neighbour. It is towards that we must strive, and that is
our destination! That is my faith!"
I wanted to go on to speak of mercy, of forgiveness, but there
was an insincere note in my voice, and I was embarrassed.
"I want to live!" I said genuinely. "To live, to live! I want
peace, tranquillity; I want warmth -- this sea here -- to have
you near. Oh, how I wish I could rouse in you the same thirst
for life! You spoke just now of love, but it would be enough for
me to have you near, to hear your voice, to watch the look in
your face . . . !"
She flushed crimson, and to hinder my speaking, said quickly:
"You love life, and I hate it. So our ways lie apart."
She poured herself out some tea, but did not touch it, went into
the bedroom, and lay down.
"I imagine it is better to cut short this conversation," she
said to me from within. "Everything is over for me, and I want
nothing. . . . What more is there to say?"
"No, it's not all over!"
"Oh, very well! . . . I know! I am sick of it. . . . That's
I got up, took a turn from one end of the room to the other, and
went out into the corridor. When late at night I went to her
door and listened, I distinctly heard her crying.
Next morning the waiter, handing me my clothes, informed me,
with a smile, that the lady in number thirteen was confined. I
dressed somehow, and almost fainting with terror ran to Zinaida
Fyodorovna. In her room I found a doctor, a midwife, and an
elderly Russian lady from Harkov, called Darya Milhailovna.
There was a smell of ether. I had scarcely crossed the threshold
when from the room where she was lying I heard a low, plaintive
moan, and, as though it had been wafted me by the wind from
Russia, I thought of Orlov, his irony, Polya, the Neva, the
drifting snow, then the cab without an apron, the prediction I
had read in the cold morning sky, and the despairing cry "Nina!
"Go in to her," said the lady.
I went in to see Zinaida Fyodorovna, feeling as though I were
the father of the child. She was lying with her eyes closed,
looking thin and pale, wearing a white cap edged with lace. I
remember there were two expressions on her face: one -- cold,
indifferent, apathetic; the other -- a look of childish
helplessness given her by the white cap. She did not hear me
come in, or heard, perhaps, but did not pay attention. I stood,
looked at her, and waited.
But her face was contorted with pain; she opened her eyes and
gazed at the ceiling, as though wondering what was happening to
her. . . . There was a look of loathing on her face.
"It's horrible . . ." she whispered.
"Zinaida Fyodorovna." I spoke her name softly. She looked at me
indifferently, listlessly, and closed her eyes. I stood there a
little while, then went away.
At night, Darya Mihailovna informed me that the child, a girl,
was born, but that the mother was in a dangerous condition. Then
I heard noise and bustle in the passage. Darya Mihailovna came
to me again and with a face of despair, wringing her hands,
"Oh, this is awful! The doctor suspects that she has taken
poison! Oh, how badly Russians do behave here!"
And at twelve o'clock the next day Zinaida Fyodorovna died.