- On Official Duty
THE deputy examining magistrate and the
district doctor were going to an inquest in the village of
Syrnya. On the road they were overtaken by a snowstorm; they
spent a long time going round and round, and arrived, not at
midday, as they had intended, but in the evening when it was
dark. They put up for the night at the Zemstvo hut. It so
happened that it was in this hut that the dead body was lying --
the corpse of the Zemstvo insurance agent, Lesnitsky, who had
arrived in Syrnya three days before and, ordering the samovar in
the hut, had shot himself, to the great surprise of everyone;
and the fact that he had ended his life so strangely, after
unpacking his eatables and laying them out on the table, and
with the samovar before him, led many people to suspect that it
was a case of murder; an inquest was necessary.
In the outer room the doctor and the examining magistrate shook
the snow off themselves and knocked it off their boots. And
meanwhile the old village constable, Ilya Loshadin, stood by,
holding a little tin lamp. There was a strong smell of paraffin.
"Who are you?" asked the doctor.
"Conshtable, . . ." answered the constable.
He used to spell it "conshtable" when he signed the receipts at
the post office.
"And where are the witnesses?"
"They must have gone to tea, your honor."
On the right was the parlor, the travelers' or gentry's room; on
the left the kitchen, with a big stove and sleeping shelves
under the rafters. The doctor and the examining magistrate,
followed by the constable, holding the lamp high above his head,
went into the parlor. Here a still, long body covered with white
linen was lying on the floor close to the table-legs. In the dim
light of the lamp they could clearly see, besides the white
covering, new rubber goloshes, and everything about it was
uncanny and sinister: the dark walls, and the silence, and the
goloshes, and the stillness of the dead body. On the table stood
a samovar, cold long ago; and round it parcels, probably the
"To shoot oneself in the Zemstvo hut, how tactless!" said the
doctor. "If one does want to put a bullet through one's brains,
one ought to do it at home in some outhouse."
He sank on to a bench, just as he was, in his cap, his fur coat,
and his felt overboots; his fellow-traveler, the examining
magistrate, sat down opposite.
"These hysterical, neurasthenic people are great egoists," the
doctor went on hotly. "If a neurasthenic sleeps in the same room
with you, he rustles his newspaper; when he dines with you, he
gets up a scene with his wife without troubling about your
presence; and when he feels inclined to shoot himself, he shoots
himself in a village in a Zemstvo hut, so as to give the maximum
of trouble to everybody. These gentlemen in every circumstance
of life think of no one but themselves! That's why the elderly
so dislike our 'nervous age.'"
"The elderly dislike so many things," said the examining
magistrate, yawning. "You should point out to the elder
generation what the difference is between the suicides of the
past and the suicides of to-day. In the old days the so-called
gentleman shot himself because he had made away with Government
money, but nowadays it is because he is sick of life, depressed.
. . . Which is better?"
"Sick of life, depressed; but you must admit that he might have
shot himself somewhere else."
"Such trouble!" said the constable, "such trouble! It's a real
affliction. The people are very much upset, your honor; they
haven't slept these three nights. The children are crying. The
cows ought to be milked, but the women won't go to the stall --
they are afraid . . . for fear the gentleman should appear to
them in the darkness. Of course they are silly women, but some
of the men are frightened too. As soon as it is dark they won't
go by the hut one by one, but only in a flock together. And the
witnesses too. . . ."
Dr. Startchenko, a middle-aged man in spectacles with a dark
beard, and the examining magistrate Lyzhin, a fair man, still
young, who had only taken his degree two years before and looked
more like a student than an official, sat in silence, musing.
They were vexed that they were late. Now they had to wait till
morning, and to stay here for the night, though it was not yet
six o'clock; and they had before them a long evening, a dark
night, boredom, uncomfortable beds, beetles, and cold in the
morning; and listening to the blizzard that howled in the
chimney and in the loft, they both thought how unlike all this
was the life which they would have chosen for themselves and of
which they had once dreamed, and how far away they both were
from their contemporaries, who were at that moment walking about
the lighted streets in town without noticing the weather, or
were getting ready for the theatre, or sitting in their studies
over a book. Oh, how much they would have given now only to
stroll along the Nevsky Prospect, or along Petrovka in Moscow,
to listen to decent singing, to sit for an hour or so in a
"Oo-oo-oo-oo!" sang the storm in the loft, and something outside
slammed viciously, probably the signboard on the hut. "Oo-oo-oo-oo!"
"You can do as you please, but I have no desire to stay here,"
said Startchenko, getting up. "It's not six yet, it's too early
to go to bed; I am off. Von Taunitz lives not far from here,
only a couple of miles from Syrnya. I shall go to see him and
spend the evening there. Constable, run and tell my coachman not
to take the horses out. And what are you going to do?" he asked
"I don't know; I expect I shall go to sleep."
The doctor wrapped himself in his fur coat and went out. Lyzhin
could hear him talking to the coachman and the bells beginning
to quiver on the frozen horses. He drove off.
"It is not nice for you, sir, to spend the night in here," said
the constable; "come into the other room. It's dirty, but for
one night it won't matter. I'll get a samovar from a peasant and
heat it directly. I'll heap up some hay for you, and then you go
to sleep, and God bless you, your honor."
A little later the examining magistrate was sitting in the
kitchen drinking tea, while Loshadin, the constable, was
standing at the door talking. He was an old man about sixty,
short and very thin, bent and white, with a nave smile on his
face and watery eyes, and he kept smacking with his lips as
though he were sucking a sweetmeat. He was wearing a short
sheepskin coat and high felt boots, and held his stick in his
hands all the time. The youth of the examining magistrate
aroused his compassion, and that was probably why he addressed
"The elder gave orders that he was to be informed when the
police superintendent or the examining magistrate came," he
said, "so I suppose I must go now. . . . It's nearly three miles
to the volost, and the storm, the snowdrifts, are something
terrible -- maybe one won't get there before midnight. Ough! how
the wind roars!"
"I don't need the elder," said Lyzhin. "There is nothing for him
to do here."
He looked at the old man with curiosity, and asked:
"Tell me, grandfather, how many years have you been constable?"
"How many? Why, thirty years. Five years after the Freedom I
began going as constable, that's how I reckon it. And from that
time I have been going every day since. Other people have
holidays, but I am always going. When it's Easter and the church
bells are ringing and Christ has risen, I still go about with my
bag -- to the treasury, to the post, to the police
superintendent's lodgings, to the rural captain, to the tax
inspector, to the municipal office, to the gentry, to the
peasants, to all orthodox Christians. I carry parcels, notices,
tax papers, letters, forms of different sorts, circulars, and to
be sure, kind gentleman, there are all sorts of forms nowadays,
so as to note down the numbers -- yellow, white, and red -- and
every gentleman or priest or well-to-do peasant must write down
a dozen times in the year how much he has sown and harvested,
how many quarters or poods he has of rye, how many of oats, how
many of hay, and what the weather's like, you know, and insects,
too, of all sorts. To be sure you can write what you like, it's
only a regulation, but one must go and give out the notices and
then go again and collect them. Here, for instance, there's no
need to cut open the gentleman; you know yourself it's a silly
thing, it's only dirtying your hands, and here you have been put
to trouble, your honor; you have come because it's the
regulation; you can't help it. For thirty years I have been
going round according to regulation. In the summer it is all
right, it is warm and dry; but in winter and autumn it's
uncomfortable At times I have been almost drowned and almost
frozen; all sorts of things have happened -- wicked people set
on me in the forest and took away my bag; I have been beaten,
and I have been before a court of law."
"What were you accused of?"
"How do you mean?"
"Why, you see, Hrisanf Grigoryev, the clerk, sold the contractor
some boards belonging to someone else -- cheated him, in fact. I
was mixed up in it. They sent me to the tavern for vodka; well,
the clerk did not share with me -- did not even offer me a
glass; but as through my poverty I was -- in appearance, I mean
-- not a man to be relied upon, not a man of any worth, we were
both brought to trial; he was sent to prison, but, praise God! I
was acquitted on all points. They read a notice, you know, in
the court. And they were all in uniforms -- in the court, I
mean. I can tell you, your honor, my duties for anyone not used
to them are terrible, absolutely killing; but to me it is
nothing. In fact, my feet ache when I am not walking. And at
home it is worse for me. At home one has to heat the stove for
the clerk in the volost office, to fetch water for him, to clean
"And what wages do you get?" Lyzhin asked.
"Eighty-four roubles a year."
"I'll bet you get other little sums coming in. You do, don't
"Other little sums? No, indeed! Gentlemen nowadays don't often
give tips. Gentlemen nowadays are strict, they take offense at
anything. If you bring them a notice they are offended, if you
take off your cap before them they are offended. 'You have come
to the wrong entrance,' they say. 'You are a drunkard,' they
say. 'You smell of onion; you are a blockhead; you are the son
of a bitch.' There are kind-hearted ones, of course; but what
does one get from them? They only laugh and call one all sorts
of names. Mr. Altuhin, for instance, he is a good-natured
gentleman; and if you look at him he seems sober and in his
right mind, but so soon as he sees me he shouts and does not
know what he means himself. He gave me such a name 'You,' said
he, . . ." The constable uttered some word, but in such a low
voice that it was impossible to make out what he said.
"What?" Lyzhin asked. "Say it again."
" 'Administration,' " the constable repeated aloud. "He has been
calling me that for a long while, for the last six years.
'Hullo, Administration!' But I don't mind; let him, God bless
him! Sometimes a lady will send one a glass of vodka and a bit
of pie and one drinks to her health. But peasants give more;
peasants are more kind-hearted, they have the fear of God in
their hearts: one will give a bit of bread, another a drop of
cabbage soup, another will stand one a glass. The village elders
treat one to tea in the tavern. Here the witnesses have gone to
their tea. 'Loshadin,' they said, 'you stay here and keep watch
for us,' and they gave me a kopeck each. You see, they are
frightened, not being used to it, and yesterday they gave me
fifteen kopecks and offered me a glass."
"And you, aren't you frightened?"
"I am, sir; but of course it is my duty, there is no getting
away from it. In the summer I was taking a convict to the town,
and he set upon me and gave me such a drubbing! And all around
were fields, forest -- how could I get away from him? It's just
the same here. I remember the gentleman, Mr. Lesnitsky, when he
was so high, and I knew his father and mother. I am from the
village of Nedoshtchotova, and they, the Lesnitsky family, were
not more than three-quarters of a mile from us and less than
that, their ground next to ours, and Mr. Lesnitsky had a sister,
a God-fearing and tender-hearted lady. Lord keep the soul of Thy
servant Yulya, eternal memory to her! She was never married, and
when she was dying she divided all her property; she left three
hundred acres to the monastery, and six hundred to the commune
of peasants of Nedoshtchotova to commemorate her soul; but her
brother hid the will, they do say burnt it in the stove, and
took all this land for himself. He thought, to be sure, it was
for his benefit; but -- nay, wait a bit, you won't get on in the
world through injustice, brother. The gentleman did not go to
confession for twenty years after. He kept away from the church,
to be sure, and died impenitent. He burst. He was a very fat
man, so he burst lengthways. Then everything was taken from the
young master, from Seryozha, to pay the debts -- everything
there was. Well, he had not gone very far in his studies, he
couldn't do anything, and the president of the Rural Board, his
uncle -- 'I'll take him' -- Seryozha, I mean -- thinks he, 'for
an agent; let him collect the insurance, that's not a difficult
job,' and the gentleman was young and proud, he wanted to be
living on a bigger scale and in better style and with more
freedom. To be sure it was a come-down for him to be jolting
about the district in a wretched cart and talking to the
peasants; he would walk and keep looking on the ground, looking
on the ground and saying nothing; if you called his name right
in his ear, 'Sergey Sergeyitch!' he would look round like this,
'Eh?' and look down on the ground again, and now you see he has
laid hands on himself. There's no sense in it, your honor, it's
not right, and there's no making out what's the meaning of it,
merciful Lord! Say your father was rich and you are poor; it is
mortifying, there's no doubt about it, but there, you must make
up your mind to it. I used to live in good style, too; I had two
horses, your honor, three cows, I used to keep twenty head of
sheep; but the time has come, and I am left with nothing but a
wretched bag, and even that is not mine but Government property.
And now in our Nedoshtchotova, if the truth is to be told, my
house is the worst of the lot. Makey had four footmen, and now
Makey is a footman himself. Petrak had four laborers, and now
Petrak is a laborer himself."
"How was it you became poor?" asked the examining magistrate.
"My sons drink terribly. I could not tell you how they drink,
you wouldn't believe it."
Lyzhin listened and thought how he, Lyzhin, would go back sooner
or later to Moscow, while this old man would stay here for ever,
and would always be walking and walking. And how many times in
his life he would come across such battered, unkempt old men,
not "men of any worth," in whose souls fifteen kopecks, glasses
of vodka, and a profound belief that you can't get on in this
life by dishonesty, were equally firmly rooted.
Then he grew tired of listening, and told the old man to bring
him some hay for his bed, There was an iron bedstead with a
pillow and a quilt in the traveler's room, and it could be
fetched in; but the dead man had been lying by it for nearly
three days (and perhaps sitting on it just before his death),
and it would be disagreeable to sleep upon it now. . . .
"It's only half-past seven," thought Lyzhin, glancing at his
watch. "How awful it is!"
He was not sleepy, but having nothing to do to pass away the
time, he lay down and covered himself with a rug. Loshadin went
in and out several times, clearing away the tea-things; smacking
his lips and sighing, he kept tramping round the table; at last
he took his little lamp and went out, and, looking at his long,
gray-headed, bent figure from behind, Lyzhin thought:
"Just like a magician in an opera."
It was dark. The moon must have been behind the clouds, as the
windows and the snow on the window-frames could be seen
"Oo-oo-oo!" sang the storm, "Oo-oo-oo-oo!"
"Ho-ho-ly sa-aints!" wailed a woman in the loft, or it sounded
like it. "Ho-ho-ly sa-aints!"
"B-booh!" something outside banged against the wall. "Trah!"
The examining magistrate listened: there was no woman up there,
it was the wind howling. It was rather cold, and he put his fur
coat over his rug. As he got warm he thought how remote all this
-- the storm, and the hut, and the old man, and the dead body
lying in the next room -- how remote it all was from the life he
desired for himself, and how alien it all was to him, how petty,
how uninteresting. If this man had killed himself in Moscow or
somewhere in the neighborhood, and he had had to hold an inquest
on him there, it would have been interesting, important, and
perhaps he might even have been afraid to sleep in the next room
to the corpse. Here, nearly a thousand miles from Moscow, all
this was seen somehow in a different light; it was not life,
they were not human beings, but something only existing
"according to the regulation," as Loshadin said; it would leave
not the faintest trace in the memory, and would be forgotten as
soon as he, Lyzhin, drove away from Syrnya. The fatherland, the
real Russia, was Moscow, Petersburg; but here he was in the
provinces, the colonies. When one dreamed of playing a leading
part, of becoming a popular figure, of being, for instance,
examining magistrate in particularly important cases or
prosecutor in a circuit court, of being a society lion, one
always thought of Moscow. To live, one must be in Moscow; here
one cared for nothing, one grew easily resigned to one's
insignificant position, and only expected one thing of life --
to get away quickly, quickly. And Lyzhin mentally moved about
the Moscow streets, went into the familiar houses, met his
kindred, his comrades, and there was a sweet pang at his heart
at the thought that he was only twenty-six, and that if in five
or ten years he could break away from here and get to Moscow,
even then it would not be too late and he would still have a
whole life before him. And as he sank into unconsciousness, as
his thoughts began to be confused, he imagined the long corridor
of the court at Moscow, himself delivering a speech, his
sisters, the orchestra which for some reason kept droning:
"Booh! Trah!" sounded again. "Booh!"
And he suddenly recalled how one day, when he was talking to the
bookkeeper in the little office of the Rural Board, a thin, pale
gentleman with black hair and dark eyes walked in; he had a
disagreeable look in his eyes such as one sees in people who
have slept too long after dinner, and it spoilt his delicate,
intelligent profile; and the high boots he was wearing did not
suit him, but looked clumsy. The bookkeeper had introduced him:
"This is our insurance agent."
"So that was Lesnitsky, . . . this same man," Lyzhin reflected
He recalled Lesnitsky's soft voice, imagined his gait, and it
seemed to him that someone was walking beside him now with a
step like Lesnitsky's.
All at once he felt frightened, his head turned cold.
"Who's there?" he asked in alarm.
"What do you want here?"
"I have come to ask, your honor -- you said this evening that
you did not want the elder, but I am afraid he may be angry. He
told me to go to him. Shouldn't I go?"
"That's enough, you bother me," said Lyzhin with vexation, and
he covered himself up again.
"He may be angry. . . . I'll go, your honor. I hope you will be
comfortable," and Loshadin went out.
In the passage there was coughing and subdued voices. The
witnesses must have returned.
"We'll let those poor beggars get away early to-morrow, . . ."
thought the examining magistrate; "we'll begin the inquest as
soon as it is daylight."
He began sinking into forgetfulness when suddenly there were
steps again, not timid this time but rapid and noisy. There was
the slam of a door, voices, the scratching of a match. . . .
"Are you asleep? Are you asleep?" Dr. Startchenko was asking him
hurriedly and angrily as he struck one match after another; he
was covered with snow, and brought a chill air in with him. "Are
you asleep? Get up! Let us go to Von Taunitz's. He has sent his
own horses for you. Come along. There, at any rate, you will
have supper, and sleep like a human being. You see I have come
for you myself. The horses are splendid, we shall get there in
"And what time is it now?"
"A quarter past ten."
Lyzhin, sleepy and discontented, put on his felt overboots, his
furlined coat, his cap and hood, and went out with the doctor.
There was not a very sharp frost, but a violent and piercing
wind was blowing and driving along the street the clouds of snow
which seemed to be racing away in terror: high drifts were
heaped up already under the fences and at the doorways. The
doctor and the examining magistrate got into the sledge, and the
white coachman bent over them to button up the cover. They were
They drove through the village. "Cutting a feathery furrow,"
thought the examining magistrate, listlessly watching the action
of the trace horse's legs. There were lights in all the huts, as
though it were the eve of a great holiday: the peasants had not
gone to bed because they were afraid of the dead body. The
coachman preserved a sullen silence, probably he had felt dreary
while he was waiting by the Zemstvo hut, and now he, too, was
thinking of the dead man.
"At the Von Taunitz's," said Startchenko, "they all set upon me
when they heard that you were left to spend the night in the
hut, and asked me why I did not bring you with me."
As they drove out of the village, at the turning the coachman
suddenly shouted at the top of his voice: "Out of the way!"
They caught a glimpse of a man: he was standing up to his knees
in the snow, moving off the road and staring at the horses. The
examining magistrate saw a stick with a crook, and a beard and a
bag, and he fancied that it was Loshadin, and even fancied that
he was smiling. He flashed by and disappeared.
The road ran at first along the edge of the forest, then along a
broad forest clearing; they caught glimpses of old pines and a
young birch copse, and tall, gnarled young oak trees standing
singly in the clearings where the wood had lately been cut; but
soon it was all merged in the clouds of snow. The coachman said
he could see the forest; the examining magistrate could see
nothing but the trace horse. The wind blew on their backs.
All at once the horses stopped.
"Well, what is it now?" asked Startchenko crossly.
The coachman got down from the box without a word and began
running round the sledge, treading on his heels; he made larger
and larger circles, getting further and further away from the
sledge, and it looked as though he were dancing; at last he came
back and began to turn off to the right.
"You've got off the road, eh?" asked Startchenko.
"It's all ri-ight. . . ."
Then there was a little village and not a single light in it.
Again the forest and the fields. Again they lost the road, and
again the coachman got down from the box and danced round the
sledge. The sledge flew along a dark avenue, flew swiftly on.
And the heated trace horse's hoofs knocked against the sledge.
Here there was a fearful roaring sound from the trees, and
nothing could be seen, as though they were flying on into space;
and all at once the glaring light at the entrance and the
windows flashed upon their eyes, and they heard the
good-natured, drawn-out barking of dogs. They had arrived.
While they were taking off their fur coats and their felt boots
below, "Un Petit Verre de Clicquot" was being played upon the
piano overhead, and they could hear the children beating time
with their feet. Immediately on going in they were aware of the
snug warmth and special smell of the old apartments of a mansion
where, whatever the weather outside, life is so warm and clean
"That's capital!" said Von Taunitz, a fat man with an incredibly
thick neck and with whiskers, as he shook the examining
magistrate's hand. "That's capital! You are very welcome,
delighted to make your acquaintance. We are colleagues to some
extent, you know. At one time I was deputy prosecutor; but not
for long, only two years. I came here to look after the estate,
and here I have grown old -- an old fogey, in fact. You are very
welcome," he went on, evidently restraining his voice so as not
to speak too loud; he was going upstairs with his guests. "I
have no wife, she's dead. But here, I will introduce my
daughters," and turning round, he shouted down the stairs in a
voice of thunder: "Tell Ignat to have the sledge ready at eight
o'clock to-morrow morning."
His four daughters, young and pretty girls, all wearing gray
dresses and with their hair done up in the same style, and their
cousin, also young and attractive, with her children, were in
the drawing-room. Startchenko, who knew them already, began at
once begging them to sing something, and two of the young ladies
spent a long time declaring they could not sing and that they
had no music; then the cousin sat down to the piano, and with
trembling voices, they sang a duet from "The Queen of Spades."
Again "Un Petit Verre de Clicquot" was played, and the children
skipped about, beating time with their feet. And Startchenko
pranced about too. Everybody laughed.
Then the children said good-night and went off to bed. The
examining magistrate laughed, danced a quadrille, flirted, and
kept wondering whether it was not all a dream? The kitchen of
the Zemstvo hut, the heap of hay in the corner, the rustle of
the beetles, the revolting poverty-stricken surroundings, the
voices of the witnesses, the wind, the snow storm, the danger of
being lost; and then all at once this splendid, brightly lighted
room, the sounds of the piano, the lovely girls, the
curly-headed children, the gay, happy laughter -- such a
transformation seemed to him like a fairy tale, and it seemed
incredible that such transitions were possible at the distance
of some two miles in the course of one hour. And dreary thoughts
prevented him from enjoying himself, and he kept thinking this
was not life here, but bits of life fragments, that everything
here was accidental, that one could draw no conclusions from it;
and he even felt sorry for these girls, who were living and
would end their lives in the wilds, in a province far away from
the center of culture, where nothing is accidental, but
everything is in accordance with reason and law, and where, for
instance, every suicide is intelligible, so that one can explain
why it has happened and what is its significance in the general
scheme of things. He imagined that if the life surrounding him
here in the wilds were not intelligible to him, and if he did
not see it, it meant that it did not exist at all.
At supper the conversation turned on Lesnitsky
"He left a wife and child," said Startchenko. "I would forbid
neurasthenics and all people whose nervous system is out of
order to marry, I would deprive them of the right and
possibility of multiplying their kind. To bring into the world
nervous, invalid children is a crime."
"He was an unfortunate young man," said Von Taunitz, sighing
gently and shaking his head. "What a lot one must suffer and
think about before one brings oneself to take one's own life, .
. . a young life! Such a misfortune may happen in any family,
and that is awful. It is hard to bear such a thing,
insufferable. . . ."
And all the girls listened in silence with grave faces, looking
at their father. Lyzhin felt that he, too, must say something,
but he couldn't think of anything, and merely said:
"Yes, suicide is an undesirable phenomenon."
He slept in a warm room, in a soft bed covered with a quilt
under which there were fine clean sheets, but for some reason
did not feel comfortable: perhaps because the doctor and Von
Taunitz were, for a long time, talking in the adjoining room,
and overhead he heard, through the ceiling and in the stove, the
wind roaring just as in the Zemstvo hut, and as plaintively
Von Taunitz's wife had died two years before, and he was still
unable to resign himself to his loss and, whatever he was
talking about, always mentioned his wife; and there was no trace
of a prosecutor left about him now.
"Is it possible that I may some day come to such a condition?"
thought Lyzhin, as he fell asleep, still hearing through the
wall his host's subdued, as it were bereaved, voice.
The examining magistrate did not sleep soundly. He felt hot and
uncomfortable, and it seemed to him in his sleep that he was not
at Von Taunitz's, and not in a soft clean bed, but still in the
hay at the Zemstvo hut, hearing the subdued voices of the
witnesses; he fancied that Lesnitsky was close by, not fifteen
paces away. In his dreams he remembered how the insurance agent,
black-haired and pale, wearing dusty high boots, had come into
the bookkeeper's office. "This is our insurance agent. . . ."
Then he dreamed that Lesnitsky and Loshadin the constable were
walking through the open country in the snow, side by side,
supporting each other; the snow was whirling about their heads,
the wind was blowing on their backs, but they walked on,
singing: "We go on, and on, and on. . . ."
The old man was like a magician in an opera, and both of them
were singing as though they were on the stage:
"We go on, and on, and on! . . . You are in the warmth, in the
light and snugness, but we are walking in the frost and the
storm, through the deep snow. . . . We know nothing of ease, we
know nothing of joy. . . . We bear all the burden of this life,
yours and ours. . . . Oo-oo-oo! We go on, and on, and on. . . ."
Lyzhin woke and sat up in bed. What a confused, bad dream! And
why did he dream of the constable and the agent together? What
nonsense! And now while Lyzhin's heart was throbbing violently
and he was sitting on his bed, holding his head in his hands, it
seemed to him that there really was something in common between
the lives of the insurance agent and the constable. Don't they
really go side by side holding each other up? Some tie unseen,
but significant and essential, existed between them, and even
between them and Von Taunitz and between all men -- all men; in
this life, even in the remotest desert, nothing is accidental,
everything is full of one common idea, everything has one soul,
one aim, and to understand it it is not enough to think, it is
not enough to reason, one must have also, it seems, the gift of
insight into life, a gift which is evidently not bestowed on
all. And the unhappy man who had broken down, who had killed
himself -- the "neurasthenic," as the doctor called him -- and
the old peasant who spent every day of his life going from one
man to another, were only accidental, were only fragments of
life for one who thought of his own life as accidental, but were
parts of one organism -- marvelous and rational -- for one who
thought of his own life as part of that universal whole and
understood it. So thought Lyzhin, and it was a thought that had
long lain hidden in his soul, and only now it was unfolded
broadly and clearly to his consciousness.
He lay down and began to drop asleep; and again they were going
along together, singing: "We go on, and on, and on. . . . We
take from life what is hardest and bitterest in it, and we leave
you what is easy and joyful; and sitting at supper, you can
coldly and sensibly discuss why we suffer and perish, and why we
are not as sound and as satisfied as you."
What they were singing had occurred to his mind before, but the
thought was somewhere in the background behind his other
thoughts, and flickered timidly like a faraway light in foggy
weather. And he felt that this suicide and the peasant's
sufferings lay upon his conscience, too; to resign himself to
the fact that these people, submissive to their fate, should
take up the burden of what was hardest and gloomiest in life --
how awful it was! To accept this, and to desire for himself a
life full of light and movement among happy and contented
people, and to be continually dreaming of such, means dreaming
of fresh suicides of men crushed by toil and anxiety, or of men
weak and outcast whom people only talk of sometimes at supper
with annoyance or mockery, without going to their help. . . .
"We go on, and on, and on . . ." as though someone were beating
with a hammer on his temples.
He woke early in the morning with a headache, roused by a noise;
in the next room Von Taunitz was saying loudly to the doctor:
"It's impossible for you to go now. Look what's going on
outside. Don't argue, you had better ask the coachman; he won't
take you in such weather for a million."
"But it's only two miles," said the doctor in an imploring
"Well, if it were only half a mile. If you can't, then you
can't. Directly you drive out of the gates it is perfect hell,
you would be off the road in a minute. Nothing will induce me to
let you go, you can say what you like."
"It's bound to be quieter towards evening," said the peasant who
was heating the stove.
And in the next room the doctor began talking of the rigorous
climate and its influence on the character of the Russian, of
the long winters which, by preventing movement from place to
place, hinder the intellectual development of the people; and
Lyzhin listened with vexation to these observations and looked
out of window at the snow drifts which were piled on the fence.
He gazed at the white dust which covered the whole visible
expanse, at the trees which bowed their heads despairingly to
right and then to left, listened to the howling and the banging,
and thought gloomily:
"Well, what moral can be drawn from it? It's a blizzard and that
is all about it. . . ."
At midday they had lunch, then wandered aimlessly about the
house; they went to the windows.
"And Lesnitsky is lying there," thought Lyzhin, watching the
whirling snow, which raced furiously round and round upon the
drifts. "Lesnitsky is lying there, the witnesses are waiting. .
They talked of the weather, saying that the snowstorm usually
lasted two days and nights, rarely longer. At six o'clock they
had dinner, then they played cards, sang, danced; at last they
had supper. The day was over, they went to bed.
In the night, towards morning, it all subsided. When they got up
and looked out of window, the bare willows with their weakly
drooping branches were standing perfectly motionless; it was
dull and still, as though nature now were ashamed of its orgy,
of its mad nights, and the license it had given to its passions.
The horses, harnessed tandem, had been waiting at the front door
since five o'clock in the morning. When it was fully daylight
the doctor and the examining magistrate put on their fur coats
and felt boots, and, saying good-by to their host, went out.
At the steps beside the coachman stood the familiar figure of
the constable, Ilya Loshadin, with an old leather bag across his
shoulder and no cap on his head, covered with snow all over, and
his face was red and wet with perspiration. The footman who had
come out to help the gentlemen and cover their legs looked at
him sternly and said:
"What are you standing here for, you old devil? Get away!"
"Your honor, the people are anxious," said Loshadin, smiling
navely all over his face, and evidently pleased at seeing at
last the people he had waited for so long. "The people are very
uneasy, the children are crying. . . . They thought, your honor,
that you had gone back to the town again. Show us the heavenly
mercy, our benefactors! . . ."
The doctor and the examining magistrate said nothing, got into
the sledge, and drove to Syrnya.
Zemstvo hut: a hut owned by the local district council for
temporary housing for visitors
volost: a group of villages or canton
Freedom: the serfs were freed in 1861
Cutting a feathery furrow: from Pushkin's Eugene Onegin, Canto 5
"Un Petit Verre de Clicquot": "The Cliquot Waltz" by A. Raynal
"The Queen of Spades": 1890 opera by Peter I. Tchaikovsky
(1840-1893) based on Pushkin's story