Old House

The Old House [1]


It was an old, large, one-storied house, with a mezzanine. It stood in a village, eleven versts from a railway station, and about fifty versts from the district town. The garden which surrounded the house seemed lost in drowsiness, while beyond it stretched vistas and vistas of inexpressibly dull, infinitely depressing fields.

Once this house had been painted lavender, but now it was faded. Its roof, once red, had turned dark brown. But the pillars of the terrace were still quite strong, the little arbours in the garden were intact, and there was an Aphrodite in the shrubbery.

It seemed as if the old house were full of memories. It stood, as it were, dreaming, recalling, lapsing finally into a mood of sorrow at the overwhelming flood of doleful memories.

Everything in this house was as before, as in those days when the whole family lived there together in the summer, when Borya was yet alive.

Now, in the old manor, lived only women: Borya's grandmother, Elena Kirillovna Vodolenskaya; Borya's mother, Sofia Alexandrovna Ozoreva; and Borya's sister, Natalya Vasilyevna. The old grandmother, and the mother, and the young girl appeared tranquil, and at times even cheerful. It was the second year of their awaiting in the old house the youngest of the family, Boris. Boris who was no longer among the living.

They hardly spoke of him to one another; yet their thoughts, their memories, and their musings of him filled their days. At times dark threads of grief stole in among the even woof of these thoughts and reveries; and tears fell bitterly and ceaselessly.

When the midday sun rested overhead, when the sad moon beckoned, when the rosy dawn blew its cool breezes, when the evening sun blazed its red laughter—these were the four points between which their spirits fluctuated from evening joy to high midday sorrow. Swayed involuntarily, all three of them felt the sympathy and antipathy of the hours, each mood in turn.

The happiness of dawn, the bright, midday sadness, the joy of dusk, the pale pining of night. The four emotions lifted them infinitely higher than the rope upon which Borya had swung, upon which Borya had died.

[1]In collaboration with Anastasya Chebotarevskaya.


At pale-rose dawn, when the merrily green, harmoniously white birches bend their wet branches before the windows, just beyond the little patch of sand by the round flower-bed; at pale-rose dawn—when a fresh breeze comes blowing from the bathing pond—then wakes Natasha, the first of the three.

What a joy it is to wake at dawn! To throw aside the cool cover of muslin, to rest upon the elbow, upon one's side, and to look out of the window with large, dark, sad eyes.

Out of the window the sky is visible, seeming quite low over the white distant birches. A pale vermilion sunrise brightly suffuses its soft fire through the thin mist which stretches over the earth. There is in its quiet, gently joyous flame a great tension of young fears and of half-conscious desires; what tension, what happiness, and what sadness! It smiles through the dew of sweet morning tears, over white lilies-of-the-valley, over the blue violets of the broad fields.

Wherefore tears! To what end the grief of night!

There, close to the window, hangs a sprig of sweet-flag, banishing all evil. It was put there by the grandmother, and the old nurse insists on its staying there. It trembles in the air, the sprig of sweet-flag, and smiles its dry green smile.

Natasha's face lapses into a quiet, rosy serenity.

The earth awakes in its fresh morning vigour. The voices of newly-roused life reach Natasha. Here the restless twitter of birds comes from among the swaying damp branches. There in the distance can be heard the prolonged trill of a horn. Elsewhere, quite near, on the path by the window, there are sounds of something walking with a heavy, stamping tread. The cheerful neighing of a foal is heard, and from another quarter the protracted lowing of sullen cows.


Natasha rises, smiles at something, and goes quickly to the window. Her window looks down upon the earth from a height. It is in three sections, in the mezzanine. Natasha does not draw the curtains across it at night, so as not to hide from her drowsing eyes the comforting glimmer of the stars and the witching face of the moon.

What happiness it is to open the window, to fling it wide open with a vigorous thrust of the hand! From the direction of the river the gentlest of morning breezes comes blowing into Natasha's face, still somewhat rapt in sleep. Beyond the garden and the hedges she can see the broad fields beloved from childhood. Spread over them are sloping hillocks, rows of ploughed soil, green groves, and clusters of shrubbery.

The river winds its way among the green, full of capricious turnings. White tufts of mist, dispersing gradually, hang over it like fragments of a torn veil. The stream, visible in places, is more often hidden by some projection of its low bank, but in the far distance its path is marked by dense masses of willow-herb, which stand out dark green against the bright grass.

Natasha washed herself quickly; it was pleasant to feel the cold water upon her shoulders and upon her neck. Then, childlike, she prayed diligently before the ikon in the dark corner, her knees not upon the rug but upon the bare floor, in the hope that it might please God.

She repeated her daily prayer:

"Perform a miracle, O Lord!"

And she bent her face to the floor.

She rose. Then quickly she put on her gay, light dress with broad shoulder-straps, cut square on the breast, and a leather belt, drawn in at the back with a large buckle. Quickly she plaited her dark braids, and deftly wound them round her head. With a flourish she stuck into them horn combs and hairpins, the first that came to her hand. She threw over her shoulders a grey, knitted kerchief, pleasantly soft in texture, and made haste to go out onto the terrace of the old house.

The narrow inner staircase creaked gently under Natasha's light step. It was pleasant to feel the contact of the cold hard floor of planks under her warm feet.

When Natasha descended and passed down the corridor and through the dining-room, she walked on tip-toe so as to awaken neither her mother nor her grandmother. Upon her face was a sweet expression of cheerful preoccupation, and between her brows a slight contraction. This contraction had remained as it was formed in those other days.

The curtains in the dining-room were still drawn. The room seemed dark and oppressive. She wanted to run through quickly, past the large drawn-out table. She had no wish to stop at the sideboard to snatch something to eat.

Quicker, quicker! Toward freedom, toward the open, toward the smiles of the careless dawn which does not think of wearisome yesterdays.


It was bright and refreshing on the terrace. Natasha's light-coloured dress suddenly kindled with the pale-rose smiles of the early sun. A soft breeze blew from the garden. It caressed and kissed Natasha's feet.

Natasha seated herself in a wicker chair, and leant her slender rosy elbows upon the broad parapet of the terrace. She directed her gaze toward the gate between the hedges beyond which the grey silent road was visible, gently serene in the pale rose light.

Natasha looked long, intently, with a steady pensive gaze in her dark eyes. A small vein quivered at the left corner of her mouth. The left brow trembled almost imperceptibly. The vertical contraction between her eyes defined itself rather sharply. Equal to the fixity of the tremulous, ruby-like flame of the rising sun, was the fixed vision of her very intent, motionless eyes.

If an observer were to give a long and searching look at Natasha as she sat there in the sunrise, it would seem to him that she was not observing what was before her, but that her intent gaze was fixed on something very far away, at something that was not in sight.

It was as though she wished to see some one who was not there, some one she was waiting for, some one who will come—who will come to-day. Only let the miracle happen. Yes, the miracle!


Natasha's grey daily routine was before her. It was always the same, always in the same place. And as yesterday, as to-morrow, as always, the same people. Eternal unchanging people.

muzhik  walked along with a monotonous swing, the iron heels of his boots striking the hard clay of the road with a resounding clang. A peasant woman walked unsteadily by, softly rustling her way through the dewy grass, showing her sunburnt legs. Regarding the old house with a kind of awe, a number of sweet, sunburnt, dirty, white-haired urchins ran by.

Past the house, always past it. No one thought of stopping at the gate. And no one saw the young girl behind that pillar of the terrace.

Sweet-briar bloomed near the gate. It let fall its first pale-rose petals on the yellow sandy path, petals of heavenly innocence even in their actual fall. The roses in the garden exhaled their sweet, passionate perfume. At the terrace itself, reflecting the light of the sky, they flaunted their bright rosy smiles, their aromatic shameless dreams and desires, innocent as all was innocent in the primordial paradise, innocent as only the perfumes of roses are innocent upon this earth. White tobacco plants and red poppies bloomed in one part of the garden. And just beyond a marble Aphrodite gleamed white, like some eternal emblem of beauty, in the green, refreshing, aromatic, joyous life of this passing day.

Natasha said quietly to herself: "He must have changed a great deal. Perhaps I shan't know him when he comes."

And quietly she answered herself: "But I would know him at once by his voice and his eyes."

And listening intently she seemed to hear his deep, sonorous voice. Then she seemed to see his dark eyes, and their flaming, dauntless, youthfully-bold glance. And again she listened intently and gave a searching look into the great distance. She bent down lightly, and inclined her sensitive ear toward something while her glance, pensive and motionless, seemed no less fixed. It was as though she had stopped suddenly in an attitude, tense and not a little wild.

The rosy smile of the now blazing sunrise timidly played on Natasha's pale face.


A voice in the distance gave a cry, and there was an answering echo.

Natasha shivered. She started, sighed, and then rose. Down the low, broad steps she descended into the garden, and found herself on the sandy path. The fine grey sand grated under her small and narrow feet, which left behind their delicate traces.

Natasha approached the white marble statue.

For a long time she gazed upon the tranquil beauty of the goddess's face, so remote from her own tedious, dried-up life, and then upon the ever-youthful form, nude and unashamed, radiating freedom. Roses bloomed at the foot of the plain pedestal. They added the enchantment of their brief aromatic existence to the enchantment of eternal beauty.

Very quietly Natasha addressed the Aphrodite.

"If he should come to-day, I will put into the buttonhole of his jacket the most scarlet, the most lovely of these roses. He is swarthy, and his eyes are dark—yes, I shall take the most scarlet of your roses!"

The goddess smiled. Gathering up with her beautiful hands the serene draperies which fell about her knees, silently but unmistakably she answered, "Yes."

And Natasha said again: "I will plait a wreath of scarlet roses, and I will let down my hair, my long, dark hair; and I will put on the wreath, and I will dance and laugh and sing, to comfort him, to make him joyous."

And again the goddess said to her, "Yes."

Natasha spoke again: "You will remember him. You will recognize him. You gods remember everything. Only we people forget. In order to destroy and to create—ourselves and you."

And in the silence of the white marble was clear the eternal "Yes," the comforting answer, "Yes."

Natasha sighed and took her eyes from the statue. The sunrise blazed into a flame; the joyous garden smiled with the radiations of dawn's ever-youthful, triumphant laughter.


Then Natasha went quietly toward the gate. There again she looked a long time down the road. She had her hand on the gate in an attitude of expectation, ready, as it were, to swing it wide open before him who was coming, before him whom she awaited.

Stirring the grey dust of the road the refreshing early wind blew softly into Natasha's face, and whispered in her ears persistent, evil and ominous things, as though it envied her expectation, her tense calm.

O wind, you who blow everywhere, you know all, you come and you go at will, and you pursue your way into the endless beyond.

O wind, you who blow everywhere, perchance you have flown into the regions where he is? Perchance you have brought tidings of him?

If you would but bring hither a single sigh from him, or bear one hence to him; if but the light, pale shadow of a word.

When the early wind blows a flush comes to Natasha's face, and a flame to her eyes; her red lips quiver, a few tears appear, her slender form sways slightly—all this when the wind blows, the cool, the desolate, the unmindful, the infinitely wise wind. It blows, and in its blowing there is the sense of fleeting, irrevocable time.

It blows, and it stings, and it brings sadness, and pitilessly it goes on.

It goes on, and the frail dust falls back in the road, grey-rose yet dim in the dawn. It has wiped out all its traces, it has forgotten all who have walked upon it, and it lies faintly rose in the dawn.

There is a gnawing at the heart from the sweet sadness of expectation. Some one seems to stand near Natasha, whispering in her ear: "He will come. He is on the way. Go and meet him."


Natasha opens the gate and goes quickly down the road in the direction of the distant railway station. Having walked as far as the hillock by the river, one and a half versts away, Natasha pauses and looks into the distance.

A clear view of the road is to be had from this hillock. Somewhere below, among the meadows, a curlew gives a sharp cry. The pleasant smell of the damp grass fills the air.

The sun is rising. Suddenly everything becomes white, bright, and clear. Joyousness fills the great open expanse. On the top of the hillock the morning wind blows more strongly and more sweetly. It seems to have forgotten its desolation and its grief.

The grass is quite wet with dew. How gently it clings to her ankles. It is resplendent in its multi-coloured, gem-like, tear-like glitter.

The red sun rises slowly but triumphantly above the blue mist of the horizon. In its bright red flame there is a hidden foreboding of quiet melancholy.

Natasha lowers her glance upon the wet grass. Sweet little flowers! She recognizes the flower of faithfulness, the blue periwinkle.

Here also, quite near, reminiscent of death, is the black madwort. But what of that? Is it not everywhere? Soothe us, soothe us, little blue flowers!

"I will not pluck a single one of you; not one of you will I plait into my wreath."

She stands, waiting, watching.

Were he to show himself in the road she would recognize him even in the distance. But no—there is no one. The road is deserted, and the misty distances are dumb.


Natasha remains standing a little while, then turns back. Her feet sink in the wet grass. The tall stalks half wind themselves round her ankles and rustle against the hem of her light-coloured dress. Natasha's graceful arms, half hidden by the grey knitted kerchief, hang subdued at her sides. Her eyes have already lost their fixed expression, and have begun to jump from object to object.

How often have they walked this road, all together, her little sisters, and Borya! They were noisy with merriment. What did they not talk about! Their quarrels! What proud songs they sang! Now she was alone, and there was no sign of Borya.

Why were they waiting for him? In what manner would he come? She did not know. Perhaps she would not recognize him.

There awakens in Natasha's heart a presentiment of bitter thoughts. With a heavy rustle an evil serpent begins to stir in the darkness of her wearied memory.

Slowly and sorrowfully Natasha turns her steps homeward. Her eyes are drowsy and seem to look aimlessly, with fallen and fatigued glances. The grass now seems disagreeably damp, the wind malicious; her feet feel the wet, and the hem of her thin dress has grown heavy with moisture. The new light of a new day, resplendent, glimmering with the play of the laughing dew, resounding with the hum of birds and the voices of human folk, becomes again for Natasha tiresomely blatant.

What does a new day matter? Why invoke the unattainable?

The murmur of pitiless memory, at first faint, grows more audible. The heavy burden of insurmountable sorrow falls on the heart like an aspen-grey weight. The heart feels proudly the pressure of the inexpressibly painful foreboding of tears.

As she nears the house Natasha increases her pace. Faster and yet faster, in response to the growing beat of her sorrowful heart, she is running over the dry clay of the road, over the wet grass of the bypath, trodden by pedestrians, over the moist, crunching, sandy footpaths of the garden, which still treasure the gentle traces left by her at dawn. Natasha runs across the warm planks, as yet unswept of dust and litter. And she no longer tries to step lightly and inaudibly. She stumbles across the astonished, open-mouthed Glasha. She runs impetuously and noisily up the stairway to her room, and throws herself on the bed. She pulls the coverlet over her head, and falls asleep.


Borya's grandmother, Elena Kirillovna, sleeps below. She is old, and she cannot sleep in the morning; but never in all her life has she risen early; so even now she is awake only a little later than Natasha. Elena Kirillovna, straight, thin, motionless, the back of her head resting on the pillow, lies for a long time waiting for the maid to bring her a cup of coffee—she has long ago accustomed herself to have her coffee in bed.

Elena Kirillovna has a dry, yellow face, marked with many wrinkles; but her eyes are still sparkling, and her hair is black, especially by day, when she uses a cosmetic.

The maid Glasha is habitually late. She sleeps well in the morning, for in the evening she loves to stroll over to the bridge in the village. The harmonica makes merry there, and on holidays all sorts of jolly folk and maidens dance and sing.

Elena Kirillovna rings a number of times. In the end the unanswering stillness behind the door begins to irritate her. Sadly she turns on her side, grumbling. She stretches her dry, yellow hand forward and with a kind of concentrated intentness presses her bent, bony finger a long time on the white bell-button lying on the little round table at her head.

At last Glasha hears the prolonged, jarring ring above her head. She jumps quickly from her bed, and anxiously gropes about for something or other in her narrow quarters under the stairway of the mezzanine; then she throws a skirt over her head, and hurries to her old mistress. While running she arranges somehow her heavy, tangled braids.

Glasha's face is angry and sleepy. She reels in her drowsiness. On the way to her mistress's bedroom the morning air refreshes her a little. She faces her mistress looking more or less normal.

Glasha has on a pink skirt and a white blouse. In the semi-darkness of the curtained windows her sunburnt arms and strong legs seem almost white. Young, strong, rustic and impetuous, she suddenly appears before her old mistress's bed, her vigorous tread causing the heavy metal bed with its nickelled posts and surmounting knobs to rattle slightly, and the tumbler on the small round table to tinkle against the flagon.


Elena Kirillovna greets Glasha with her customary observation:

"Glasha, when am I to have my coffee? I ring and ring, and no one comes. You, girl, seem to sleep like the dead."

Glasha's face assumes a look of astonishment and fear. Restraining a yawn, she bends down to put a disarranged rug in order, and puts a pair of soft, worn slippers closer to the bed. Then assuming an excessively tender, deferential tone which old gentlewomen like in their servants, she remarks:

"Forgive me, barinya,[2] it shan't take a minute. But how early you are awake to-day, barinya ! Did you have a bad night?"

Elena Kirillovna replies:

"What sort of sleep can one except at my age! Get me my coffee a little more quickly, and I will try to get up."

She now speaks more calmly, despite the capricious note in her voice.

Glasha replies heartily:

"This very minute, barinya. You shall have it at once."

And she turns about to go out.

Elena Kirillovna stops her with an angry exclamation:

"Glasha, where are you going? You seem to forget, no matter how often I tell you! Draw the curtains aside."

Glasha, with some agility, thrusts back the curtains of the two windows and flies out of the room. She is rather low of stature and slender, and one can tell from her face that she is intelligent, but the sound of her rapid footsteps is measured and heavy, giving the impression that the runner is large, powerful, heavy, and capable of doing everything but what requires lightness. The mistress grumbles, looking after her:

"Lord, how she stamps with her feet! She spares neither the floor nor her own heels!"

[2]Means "gentlewoman," and is a common form of salutation from servant to mistress.


At last the sound of Glasha's feet dies away in the echoing silence of the long corridor. The old lady lies, waiting, thinking. She is once more straight and motionless under her bed-cover, and very yellow and very still. Her whole life seems to be concentrated in the living sparkle of her keen eyes.

The sun, still low, throws a subdued rosy light on the wall facing her. The bedroom is lit-up and quiet. Swift atoms of dust are dancing about in the air. There is a glitter on the glass of the photographic portraits which hang on the wall, as well as on the narrow gilt rims of their black frames.

Elena Kirillovna looks at the portraits. Her keen, youthfully sparkling eyes carefully scrutinize the beloved faces. Many of these are no longer upon the earth.

Borya's portrait is a large one, in a broad dark frame. It is a young face, the face of a seventeen-year-old lad, quite smooth and with dark eyes. The upper lip shows a small but vigorous growth of hair. The lips are tightly compressed and the entire face gives the impression of an indomitable will.

Elena Kirillovna looks long at the portrait, and recalls Borya. Of all her grandsons she loved him best. And now she is recalling him. She sees him as he had once looked. Where is he now? Before long Borya will return. She will be overjoyed, her eyes will have their fill of him. But how soon?

It comforts the old woman to think, "It can't be very long."

Some one has just run past her window, giving a shrill cry.

Elena Kirillovna, turning in her bed, looks out of the window.

The white acacia trees before the window, gaily rustling their leaves, smile innocently, naïvely and cheerily. Behind them, looming densely, are the tops of the birches and of the limes. Some of the branches lean toward the window. Their harsh rustle evokes a memory in Elena Kirillovna.

If Borya were but to cry out like that! He had loved this garden. He had loved the white bloom of the acacia trees, and he had loved to gather the little field flowers. He used to bring her some. He liked cornflowers specially.


At last Glasha has come with the coffee. She has placed a silver tray on the little round table near the bed. Above the broad blue-and-gold porcelain cup rises a thin bluish cloud of steam.

Elena Kirillovna draws her scant body higher upon the pillows, and sits upright in her bed; she seems straight, dry, and thin in her white night-jacket. With trembling hands she very fastidiously rearranges the ribbons of her white ruffled nightcap.

Glasha, with great solicitude and skill, has placed a number of pillows at her back, and these piled up high make a soft wall of comfort.

The little silver spoon held by the old dry fingers rings with fragile laughter as it stirs the sugar in the cup. Afterwards out of a small milk-jug comes a generous helping of boiled milk. And Glasha, having shifted somewhat to the side in order to catch a stealthy look of herself in the mirror, goes out.

Elena Kirillovna sips her coffee slowly. She breaks a sugared biscuit, throws half of it in the cup, and leaves it there for a time. Then, when it is completely softened, she carefully takes it out with the little spoon.

Elena Kirillovna's teeth are still quite strong. She is very proud of this; nevertheless she has preferred of late to eat softer things. She munches away at the wet biscuit. Her face expresses gratification. Her small, keen eyes sparkle merrily.

When the coffee is finished Elena Kirillovna lies down again. She dozes for half an hour on her back, under the bed-cover. Then she rings again and waits.


Glasha comes in. She has had time to comb her hair and to put on a pink blouse, and this makes her seem even thinner. As she is in no haste her footfalls sound even heavier than before.

Glasha approaches her mistress's bed and silently throws the bed-cover aside. She helps Elena Kirillovna to sit on the bed, holding her up under the arm. Then, getting down on her knees, she helps her mistress to put on her long black stockings and her soft grey slippers.

Elena Kirillovna holds on to Glasha's shoulder with her trembling, nervous hands. She envies Glasha's youth, strength, and naïve simplicity. Grumbling under her breath at her unfortunate lot, Elena Kirillovna imagines in her dejection that she would be willing to sacrifice all her comfort to become like Glasha, a common servant-maid with coarse hands and feet red from rough usage and the wet—if she could but possess the youth, the cheerfulness, the sang-froid, and the happiness attainable upon this earth only by the stupid.

The old woman grumbles often at her fate, but is quite unwilling to give up a single one of her gentlewoman's habits.

Glasha says, "All ready, barinya."

"Now my capote, Glasha," Elena Kirillovna says as she gets up.

But Glasha herself knows what is wanted. She deftly puts on Elena Kirillovna's shoulders a white flannel robe.

"Now you may go, Glashenka. I will ring if I want you again."


Glasha goes. She hurries to the veranda staircase.

Here she washes herself a second time in a clay turn-over basin, which is attached by a rope to one of the posts of the veranda; she quickly plunges her face and hands in the water that had been left there overnight. She splashes the water a long way off on the green grass, on the lilac-grey planks of the staircase and on her feet, which are red from the early morning freshness and from the tender contact with the dewy grass in the vegetable garden. She laughs happily at herself—because she is a young, healthy girl, because the early morning freshness caresses the length of her strong, swift body with brisk cool strokes; and finally, because not far away, in the village, there is a lively and handsome young fellow, not unlike herself, who pays attention to her and whom she is rather fond of. It is true that her mother scolds her on his account, because the young man is poor. But what's that to Glasha? Not for nothing is there an adage:

"Without bread 'tis very sad,
Still sadder 'tis without a lad."

Glasha laughs loudly and merrily.

Stepanida cries at her from the kitchen window: "Glash, Glash, why do you neigh like a horse?"

Glasha laughs, makes no reply, and goes off.

Stepanida puts her simple, red face out of the window and asks: "I wonder what's the matter with her."

She receives no answer, for there is no one to reply. Out of doors all is deserted. Only somewhere from behind the barn the languid voices of working-men can be heard.


In the meantime Elena Kirillovna kneels down with a sigh before the ikon in her bedroom. She prays a long time. Conscientiously she repeats all the prayers she knows. Her dry, raspberry-coloured lips stir slightly. Her face has a severe, concentrated expression. All her wrinkles seem also austere, weary, callous.

There are many words in her prayers—holy, lofty, touching words. But because of their frequent repetition their meaning has become, as it were, hardened, stereotyped and ordinary; the tears which appear in her eyes are habitual tears wrung out by her antique emotion, and have no relation to the secret trepidation of impossible hopes which have stolen into the old woman's heart of late.

Diligently her lips murmur prayers each day for the forgiveness of sins, voluntary and involuntary, committed in deed, in word, or in thought; prayers for the purification of our souls of all defilement; and again words concerning our impieties, our evil actions, our disregard of commandments, our general unworthiness, our worldly frailty, and the temptations of Satan; and again concerning the accursed soul and the accursed body and the sensual life; and her words embrace only universal evil and all-pervading depravity. Surely these prayers were composed for Titans, created to reconstruct the universe, but who, out of shamefaced indolence, are attending to this business with their arms hanging at their sides.

And not a word does she utter of he r own, her personal affliction, of what is in her soul.

The old, dried-up lips mumble of mercy, of generosity, of brotherly love, of the holy life—of all those lofty regions pouring out their bounty upon all creation. And not a word of the miracle, awaited eagerly and with trepidation.

But here are words for those who are in prison and in exile; it is a prayer for their liberation, for their redemption.

Here is something at last about Borya.

Freedom and redemption....

But the prayer runs on and on, and it is again for strangers, for distant people, for the universal; only for an instant, and then lightly, does she pause to put in something for herself, for her desire, for what is in her heart.

Then for the dead—for those others, the long since departed, the almost forgotten, the resurrected only in word in the hour of these strangers, prayed for in this easy, gliding way all the world over where piety reigns.

The prayers are ended. Elena Kirillovna lingers for a moment. She has an air of having forgotten to say something indispensable.

What else? Or has she said all?

"All"—some one seems to say simply, softly and inexorably.

Elena Kirillovna rises from her knees. She goes to the window. Her soul is calm and self-contained. The prayer has not left her in a mood of piety, but has relieved her weary soul for a brief time of its material, matter-of-fact existence.


Elena Kirillovna looks out of the window. She is returning, as it were, once more from some dark, abstract world to the bright, profusely-coloured, resonant impressions of a rough, cheery, not altogether disagreeable life.

Small white clouds tinged with red float slowly in the heights and merge imperceptibly in the vivid blue. Ablaze like a piece of coal at red heat their soul seems to fuse with their cold white bodies, to consume them as well as itself with fire, and to sink exhausted in the cold blue heights. The sun, as yet invisible behind the left wing of the house, has already begun to pour upon the garden its warm and glowing waves of laughter, joy and light, animating the flowers and birds.

"Well, it's time to dress," Elena Kirillovna says to herself.

She rings.

Soon Glasha appears and helps Elena Kirillovna to dress.

At last she is ready. She casts a final look in the mirror to see that everything is in order.

Elena Kirillovna's hair is very neatly combed, and lightly brushed down with a cosmetic. This makes it shine and appear as though it were glued together. At her every movement in the light there is visible, from right to left, a slender silver thread, due to the reflection of light at the parting of the smoothed coiffure. Her face shows slight traces of powder.

Elena Kirillovna's dress is always of a light colour, when not actually white, and of the simplest cut. The small soft ruffle of the broad collar hides her neck and chin. She has already substituted for her dressing slippers a pair of light summer shoes.


Elena Kirillovna enters the dining-room. She looks on as the table is being laid for breakfast. She always notes the slightest disorder. She grumbles quietly as she picks up something from one place on the table and puts it in another.

Then she goes into the large, unused front room, with its closed door on to the staircase of the front façade. She walks along the corridor to the vestibule and to the back staircase. She stops on the high landing, wrinkles up her face from the sun, and looks down to see what is going on in the yard. Small, quite erect, like a young school-girl with a yellow, wrinkled face which expresses at the moment a severe domestic concern, she stands, looks on, and is silent; she is, it seems, unnecessary here. No one pays her the slightest attention.

"Good morning, Stepanida," she calls out. Stepanida, a buxom, red-cheeked maid in a bright red dress, under which is visible a strip of her white chemise and her stout sunburnt legs, is attending to the samovar at the bottom of the stairs, and is vigorously blowing to set the fire going. Upon her head is a neatly-arranged green kerchief, which hides her folded braids of hair like a head-dress.

The bulging sides of the samovar glow radiantly in the sun. Its bent chimney sends out a curl of blue smoke, which smells sharply, pungently, and not altogether disagreeably, of juniper and tar.

In answer to the old mistress's greeting Stepanida raises her broad, cheerfully-preoccupied face, with its small, dark brown eyes, and says in prolonged caressing tones, sing-song fashion:

"Good morning to you, matushka barinya.[3] It's a fine morning, to be sure. How warm it is, by the grace of God! And you're up early,matushka barinya !"

Her words are indeed honeyed, and above in the sweet air an early, shaggy bee hovers, with a thick buzzing, tremulously golden in the clear, fluid haze of the early, gentle sun. Silent again, Stepanida is once more busy with the samovar; the disenchanted bee flies away, its buzzing growing less and less audible behind the fence.

The pungent smell of tar causes Elena Kirillovna to frown. She says:

"What makes the thing smell so strongly? You had better leave it for a while, or you will get giddy."

Stepanida, without moving, answers languidly and indifferently:

"It's nothing, barinya. We are used to it. It's but a slight smell, and it is the juniper."

Through the blue, curling smoke of juniper her sweet voice seems dull and bitter. There is a tickling at Elena Kirillovna's throat. There is a slight giddiness in her head. Elena Kirillovna makes haste to go. She descends the staircase, and proceeds upon her customary morning stroll.

[3]Literally: "Little mother—gentlewoman."


Glasha soon overtakes her. With an exaggerated loudness she runs stamping down the stairs, showing a wing-like glimmer of her strong legs from under the pink skirt, set a-flutter by her vigorous movement. She calls out in a clear, solicitously joyous voice:

"Barinya, you have come out! The sun will scorch you. I've fetched your hat."

The yellow straw hat, with its lavender ribbon, glimmers in Glasha's hands like some strange, low-fluttering bird.

Elena Kirillovna, as she puts the hat on, says: "Why do you run about in such disorder! You ought to tidy yourself—you know whom we are expecting."

Glasha is silent, and her face assumes a compassionate expression. For a long time she looks after her strolling mistress, then she smiles and walks back.

Stepanida asks her in a loud whisper: "Well, is she still expecting her grandson?"

"Rather!" Glasha replies compassionately. "And it's simply pitiful to look at them. They never stop thinking about him."

In the meanwhile Elena Kirillovna makes her way across the vegetable garden, past the labourers and the servants in the stockyard, and then across the field. Near the garden fence she enters the road.

There, not far from the garden, in the shade of an old, spreading lime, stands a bench—a board upon two supports, which still shows traces of having been once painted green. From this place a view is to be had of the road, of the garden, and of the house.

Elena Kirillovna seats herself upon the bench. She looks out on the road. She sits quietly, seeming so small, so slender, and so erect. She waits a long time. She falls into a doze.

Through the thin haze of slumber she can see a beloved, smooth face smiling, and she can hear a quiet, dear voice calling:


She gives a start and opens her eyes. There is no one there. But she waits. She believes and waits.


There is a lightness in the air. The road is radiant and tranquil. A gentle, refreshing breeze softly passes and repasses her. The sun is warming her old bones, it is caressing her lean back through her dress. Everything round her rejoices in the green, the golden, and the blue. The foliage of the birches, of the willows, and of the limes in full bloom is rustling quietly. From the fields comes the honeyed smell of clover.

Oh, how light and lovely the air is upon the earth!

How beautiful thou art, my earth, my golden, my emerald, my sapphire earth! Who, born to thy heritage would care to die, would care to close his eyes upon thy serene beauties and upon thy magnificent spaces? Who, resting in thee, damp Mother Earth, would not wish to rise, would not wish to return to thy enchantments and to thy delights? And what stern fate shall drive one who is aflame with life-thirst to seek the shelter of death?

Upon the road where once he walked he shall walk again. Upon the earth, which still preserves his footprints, he shall walk again. Borya, the grandmother's beloved Borya, shall return.

A golden bee flies by. It seems to say, the golden bee, that Borya will return to the quiet of the old house and will taste the fragrant honey—the sweet gift of the wise bees, buzzing under the sun upon the beloved earth. The old grandmother, in her joy, will place before the ikon of the Virgin a candle of the purest bees'-wax—a gift of the wise bees, buzzing away among the gold of the sun's rays—a gift to man and a gift to God.

"Women and girls of the village pass by with their sunburnt, wind-swept faces. They greet the barinya  and look at her with compassion. Elena Kirillovna smiles at them, and addresses them in her usual gentle manner:

"Good morning, my dears!"

They pass by. Their loud voices die away in the distance, and Elena Kirillovna soon forgets them. They will pass by once more that day, when the time comes. They will pass by. They will return. Upon the road, where their dusty footprints remain, they will pass by once more.


Elena Kirillovna suddenly awoke from her drowse and looked at the things before her with a perplexed gaze. Everything seemed to be clear, bright, free from care—and relentless.

Inevitably the triumphant sun rose higher in the heavens' dome. Grown powerful, wise and resplendent, it seemed indifferent now to oppressive earthly melancholy and to sweet earthly delights. And its laughter was high, joyless, and sorrowless.

Everything as before was green, blue and gold, many-toned and vividly tinted; truly all the objects of nature showed the real colour of their souls in honour of this feast of light. But the fine dust upon the silent road had already lost its rose tinge, and stirred before the wind like a grey, depressing veil. And when the wind calmed down, the dust slowly fell back upon the road, like a grey, blind serpent which, trailing its fat, fantastic belly, falls back exhausted, gasping its last breath.

All monotony had become wearisome. This inevitable recurrence of lucid moments began to torment Elena Kirillovna with the grey foreboding of sadness, of bitter tears, of unanswered prayers, and of a profound hopelessness.


Glasha appeared at the garden gate. She glanced cheerfully along both sides of the road. Walking more slowly she approached Elena Kirillovna deferentially.

Glasha looked quite ordinary now, stiff-mannered and stupid. There was nothing to envy in her. Her dress too was quite common-place. Her braids were arranged upon her head quite like a young lady's, and held fast by three combs of transparent bone. Her blouse was light-coloured—pink stripes and lavender flowers on a ground of white—its short sleeves reached the elbows. She wore a neat blue skirt and a white apron.

Elena Kirillovna asked:

"Well, what is it, Glashenka? Is Sonyushka up yet?"

Glasha replied in a respectful voice:

"Sofia Alexandrovna is getting up. She wants me to ask you if we shall lay the table on the terrace?"

"Yes, yes, let it be on the terrace. And how is Natashenka?" asked Elena Kirillovna, looking anxiously at Glasha.

"The young lady is asleep," answered Glasha. "To-day again, quite early, she went out for a walk straight from bed, without so much as a bite of something. Her skirt's wet with dew. She might have caught a cold. And now she sleeps. If you'd but talk to her."

Elena Kirillovna said irresolutely:

"Very well. I had better be going. All right, Glasha."

Glasha goes. Elena Kirillovna rises slowly from the bench, as though she regretted moving from the spot where she saw Borya in a half-dream. Slowly she walks toward the house.

Having reached the gate she pauses, and again looks for some moments down the road, in the direction of the station.

A cart rumbles by noisily over the travelled road. The muzhik  barely holds the reins and rocks from side to side sleepily. The harnessed horse swings its tail and its head. A white-haired urchin, in broad blue breeches, lets his brown feet hang over the edge of the cart and stares with his bright hazel eyes at a gaunt, evil-looking dog which runs after, barking hoarsely.

Elena Kirillovna gives a sigh—there is as yet no Borya—and enters the garden.

Glasha's light-coloured blouse glimmers on the terrace. There is a rattle of dishes. The grumbling chatter of Borya's old nurse is also audible.


The last to awake, with the sun quite high and scorching, is Borya's mother, Sofia Alexandrovna. Through the thin bright curtains, drawn for the night across the windows, the light fills her bedroom.

Sofia Alexandrovna awakes with a start, as though some one had touched her suddenly or had called to her. With her right hand she impetuously throws aside her light white bed-cover. Quickly she sits up in bed, holding her hands over her bent knees. For a moment she looks before her at a bare place in the simple pattern of the bright green hangings.

Sofia Alexandrovna's eyes are dark, wide open, with black, fiery pupils which seem lost in the abysmal, depths of their own sorrowful gaze. Her face is long, its skin smooth and colourless, though quite fresh and almost free of wrinkles. The lips are a vivid red.

Sofia Alexandrovna's expression is like that of one faced suddenly with a tragic apparition. She rocks herself back and forward.

Then, abruptly, she jumps out of bed with a single spring. She runs to the washing-basin of marble mounted on a red stand. She washes herself quickly, as though in haste to go somewhere. Now she is at the window. The curtains are flung violently aside. She peers anxiously to see what the outlook is—whether there are any clouds in the sky that might bring rain and make the road muddy, the road upon which Borya would return home.

The heavens are tremulously joyous. The birches are rustling quietly. The sparrows are twittering. Everything is green, bright, quivering; everything palpitates under the tension of hopes and anticipations. Voices are audible; cries of good cheer and sounds of laughter. One of the laughers runs by, as though making haste to live.

A torrent of tears floods Sofia Alexandrovna's eyes. Her breast heaves visibly under the white linen chemise.


Sofia Alexandrovna goes to the image. She thrusts aside with her foot the small velvet rug which Glasha had purposely laid there the day before. She throws herself down on her knees before the image. You hear her knees strike the floor softly. Sofia Alexandrovna quietly crosses herself, bends her face to the floor, and mutters passionately:

"O Lord, Thou knowest, Thou knowest all, Thou canst do all. Do this, O Lord, return him to us, to his mother, return him to-day."

Her prayer is warm and passionate, quite unlike a prayer. Its words are disconnected, and they fall confusedly, like small, broken tears. Her naked feet come in contact with the cold, painted floor. And the entire, warm, prostrate body of the weeping woman is throbbing and trembling on the boards. Her head repeatedly strikes the boards, loosening her dark braids of hair.

She does not pray long. The torrents of tears have cleansed her soul, as it were; and she becomes at once cheerful and tranquil.

She rises quite, as suddenly, and rings. She seats herself on the edge of the bed, and dries her tears with a soft handkerchief. Then she laughs silently. She swings one of her feet impatiently, striking the rug in front of the bed with the toes. Her eyes wander about the room, but seem to observe nothing.

Glasha had only just begun to dress, and she had only tied the strings of her apron round her slender waist. The sharp impatient ring causes her to start. She runs to the barinya, seizing quickly at the same time a pair of blackened boots and some clothes from the laundry.

Sofia Alexandrovna cries in an urgent voice:

"Now be quick, Glasha. Help me on with my things."

She looks on impatiently as Glasha puts down her burden.

The daily ceremony is gone through quickly. Sofia Alexandrovna dresses herself. Glasha only draws on her boots, and hooks up her dress behind.

Soon Sofia Alexandrovna is quite ready. She gives a brief, vacant look in the mirror.

Her pale face still seems to be young and handsome. She is slender, like her mother, and small in stature. She has on a closely fitting white dress with short, wide sleeves. Her coiffure is arranged in a Greek knot, held fast with a red ribbon. Her slender, shapely feet are clad in coloured silk stockings and white shoes with silver buckles.


Sofia Alexandrovna goes quickly into the dining-room. She pours herself a glass of fresh milk out of a jug on the table. She drinks it standing, and munches a piece of black bread with it.

She orders the things for dinner at the same time. She chooses dishes loved by Borya. She stops to recollect whether Borya likes this, or does not like that.

Stepanida listens to her sadly, and replies in a tearful voice:

"Yes, I know! Why shouldn't I know? It's not the first time."

Glasha asks something. The old, tottering nurse rattles on rather volubly. Sofia Alexandrovna answers them mechanically and rapidly. She seems all the while to be listening intently, either for the sound of a distant little bell, or for the rumble of wheels on the road. She makes her way out in haste. And she no longer listens to what is being said to her. She goes out.

She enters Borya's study. Everything there is as in the old days, and in order. When Borya comes back he will find everything in its place.

Sofia Alexandrovna, with great concern, takes a rapid look round the room. She wishes to see whether everything is in its place, whether the dust has been swept, whether the rug has been laid before the bed, and whether the inkstand has been filled with ink. She herself changes the water in the vase which holds the cornflowers. If anything is out of place she gives way to tears, then rings for Glasha, and heaps reproaches upon her.

Glasha's face assumes a frightened, compassionate look. In a most humble manner she begs forgiveness.

Sofia Alexandrovna remonstrates with her:

"How can you be so careless, Glasha? You know that we are expecting him every minute. Suppose he should suddenly come in and find this disorder."

Glasha replies humbly:

"Forgive me, barinya. Don't think any more about it. I'll quickly put everything to rights."

As she goes out she wipes away two or three tears with her white apron.


With the same undue haste Sofia Alexandrovna goes into the garden. She sees nothing, neither the white Aphrodite nor her roses, on her way to the little arbour from which, overlooking a corner of the garden, the road is visible. Vividly green in the sun, a four-sloped roof covers the arbour, while hangings of coarse cloth, with a red border, serve as a protection against inquisitive eyes.

Sofia Alexandrovna looks down the road with dark, hungry eyes. She waits impatiently, listening to the rapid, uneven beat of her heart; she waits: Borya will surely come in sight.

The wind blows into her face, and partly conceals it with the hangings; her face is pale, and her eyes are dry. The sun warmly kisses her slender arms, which lie motionless on the broad, lavender-grey parapet of the arbour. Everything is bright, green and gay in the fields, but her eyes are fixed on the grey serpent of dust trailing among the freedom of the fields.

If they await him like this surely Borya will come.

But there is no sign of him. In vain her hungry glances penetrate the open waste. There is no Borya. More fixed and piercing grows her glance of infinite longing upon the road—but there is no Borya.

Everything is as before, as yesterday, as always. Tranquil, serene and pitiless.


The hour of the early luncheon came. All three sat at the table on the terrace. There was a fourth place laid, and a fourth chair, for who could tell whether Borya might not arrive at luncheon time!

The sun was already high. The day was turning sultry. The fragrance of the red roses at the foot of the goddess's pedestal became ever more passionate. And the smile of the marble-white Aphrodite was even more clear and serene, as she let fall her draperies with a marvellous grace born of eternal movement. In the bright sunshine the sand on the footpaths seemed yellow-white. The trees cast austere dark shadows. They seemed to exhale an odour of the soil, of sap, and of warmth.

The women sat so that each one of them, looking beyond the drawn hangings of the terrace and over the bushes, could see the short narrow path ending at the garden gate, where a part of the road was also visible; they could not fail to observe every passer-by and every vehicle.

But during this hour of the day hardly anyone ever walked or drove by the old house.

Glasha waited on them. She had on a newly-laundered cap with starched ribbons and plaited frills fitting tightly over her hair. The snow-white cap shone pleasantly above Glasha's fresh, sunburnt face.

In the garden, on a form just under the terrace, sat Borya's old nurse, dressed in a dark lavender blouse, black skirt, with a dark blue kerchief over her head. She was warming her old bones in the sun, and listening to the conversation on the terrace; now she grumbled, now she dozed.

Broad-boned and stout, she had a round, amiable face, and even through the compact network of wrinkles there were palpable suggestions of former beauty. Her eyes were clear. The grey hair was flatly combed down. Her figure and her face wore a settled expression of languid good nature.


As always, they eat and drink, and they keep up a cheerful and friendly chatter. Sometimes two of them speak together. A stranger in the garden might conclude that a large company is gathered on the terrace.

Frequently Borya's name is mentioned.

"To be sure, Borya likes...."

"Perhaps Borya will bring...."

"It is strange Borya is not yet here...."

"Perhaps Borya will come in the evening...."

"We must ask Borya whether he has read...."

"It is possible this is not new to Borya...."

While below, under the terrace, the old nurse, each time she hears Borya's name, crosses herself and mumbles:

"O Lord, rest the soul of thy servant, Boris."

At first her voice is low, but it gradually grows louder and louder. Finally the three women at the table can hear her words. They tremble slightly and exchange anxious glances, into which steals an expression of perplexed fear. So they begin to speak even louder, and to laugh even more merrily. They permit no intervals of silence, and the hum of their talk and laughter prevents for the time their hearing the nurse's mumbling in the garden.

But their voices inevitably fall after a mention of the beloved name, and now again they hear the tranquil, terrible words:

"O Lord, rest the soul...."

They sit at luncheon long, but they talk more industriously than they eat. They glance nervously toward the gate. It seems a terrible thing to have to leave the table and to go somewhere while Borya is not yet with them.


Toward the end of luncheon the post arrives. Grisha, a fourteen-year-old youngster, goes for it daily to the station on horseback. Raising clouds of dust he jumps off briskly at the gate. Leaving his horse he enters the garden carrying a black leather bag, and smiles broadly at something or other. Ascending the long steps of the terrace he announces loudly and joyously:

"I've fetched the post!"

He is cheery, sunburnt, perspiring. He smells of the sun, of the soil, of dust and tar. His hands and feet are as large as a man's. His lips are soft and pouting, like those of a sweet-tempered foal. At the opening of his shirt, cut on the slant, buttons are missing, exposing a strip of his sunburnt chest and a piece of grey string.

Sofia Alexandrovna rises abruptly from her place. She takes the bag from Grisha, and throws it quickly on the table. A pile of stamped wrappers comes pouring upon the white cloth. The three women bend over the table and rummage for letters. But letters come only rarely.

Knitting her brows Natasha looks at the smiling youngster and asks:

"No letters, Grisha?"

Grisha, shuffling his feet, brick-red from the sun, smiles and answers, as always, in the same words:

"The letters are being written, barishnya."

Sofia Alexandrovna says impatiently:

"You may go, Grisha."

Grisha goes. The women open their newspapers.

Sofia Alexandrovna takes up the Rech  and scans it rapidly, occasionally mentioning something that has attracted her notice.

Natasha is looking over Slovo. She reads silently, slowly, and attentively.

Elena Kirillovna has the Russkiya Vedomosti. She tears the wrapper open slowly and spreads the entire sheet on the table. She reads on, quickly running her eyes over the lines.


Groaning, the old nurse slowly ascends the steps. Sofia Alexandrovna pauses from her reading a moment and looks with fear at the old woman. Natasha gives a nervous start and turns away. Elena Kirillovna reads on calmly, without looking at the nurse.

The nurse sighs, sits down on the bench at the entrance, and asks in a monotone the one and the same question that she asks each day:

"And how many folk are there in this morning's paper that's been ordered to die? And how many are there that's been hanged?"

Sofia Alexandrovna drops the paper, and suddenly rising, very pale, looks upon the old woman. She is quivering from head to foot. Elena Kirillovna, folding the paper, pushes it aside and looks straight before her with arrested eyes. Natasha rises; she turns her face, which has suddenly grown pale, toward the old woman, and utters in a kind of wooden voice that does not seem like her own:

"In Ekaterinoslav—seven; in Moscow—one."

Or other towns, and other figures—such as fresh newspaper lists bring each day.

The nurse rises and crosses herself piously. She mutters:

"O Lord, rest the souls of Thy servants! And give them eternal life!"

Then Sofia Alexandrovna cries out in despair:

"Oh Borya, Borya, my Borya!"

Her face is as pale as though there were not a single drop of blood left under her dull, elastic skin.

Wringing her hands with a convulsive movement, she looks with terror at Elena Kirillovna and at her daughter. Elena Kirillovna turns aside, and, looking at the old nurse, shakes her head reproachfully, while in her eyes, like drops of early evening dew, appear a few scant tears.

Natasha, looking determinedly at her mother, says with pale, quivering lips:

"Mamma, calm yourself."

Suddenly her voice becomes cold and wooden again as though some evil stranger compelled her each day to utter her words slowly and deliberately.

"You yourself know, mamma, that Borya was hanged a full year ago!"

She looks at her mother with the motionless, pathetic gaze of her very dark eyes, and repeats:

"You yourself know this, mamma!"

Sofia Alexandrovna's eyes are widely dilated; dull, there is terror in them, and the deep pupils burn with an impercipient lustre in their dark depths. She repeats almost soundlessly, looking straight into Natasha's eyes:


She resumes her place, looks out of her sad eyes at the white Aphrodite and the red roses at the goddess's feet, and is silent. Her face is white and rigid, her lips are red and tightly set; there is a suggestion of latent madness in the still lustre of her eyes.

Before the image of eternal beauty, before the fragrance of the short-lived, exultant roses, she is hardening as it were into an image of the eternal grief of a disconsolate mother.


Elena Kirillovna quietly descends the narrow side staircase into the garden. She sits down on a bench somewhat away from the house, looks upon the green bedecked pond and weeps.

Natasha goes into her room in the mezzanine. She opens a book and tries to read. But she finds it impossible. She puts the book aside and looks out of the window, and her eyes are dimmed.

Higher and higher above the old house rises the pitiless, bright Dragon. His joyous laughter rings in the merry heights, encloses, as in a flaming circle, the depressing silence of the house. The well-directed rays shoot out like sharp-plumed arrows, and the air is tremulous with eternal, inexhaustible anger. No one is being awaited. No one will come. Borya has died. The relentless wheel of time knows no turning back.

So the day is passing—clearly and brightly. The dazzling white light says there is nothing to hope for.


Natasha sits in her room before an open window. A book is lying on the window-sill. She has no desire to read.

Every line in the book reminds her of him, of unfinished conversations, of heated discussions, of what had been, of what is no more.

The memories become brighter and brighter, and reach at last a clearness and fullness of vision, overwhelming her soul.

The fiery Dragon, obscured by a leaden grey cloud, becomes a little dim. Dimness also creeps into the memory of him. It seems as though the heavens are being traversed by the cold, clear, tranquil moon. Her face is pale, but not from sadness. Her rays have cast a spell upon the sleeping earth and upon the unattainably high heavens.

The moon has bewitched the fields and also the valleys, which are full of mist. There is a dull glimmer in the drops of cool, tranquil dew upon the slumbering grass.

There is in this fantastic glimmer the resurrection of that which has died—of that past tenderness and love which inspired deeds requiring superhuman strength. There come again to the lips proud, long-unsung hymns, and vows of action and loyalty.

And what of that evil, vigilant, and instigating eye; and what of the traitor whose words mingled with the passionate words of the young people! Not even the waters of all the cold oceans can quench the fire of daring love, and all the cunning poisons of the earth cannot poison it.

Bewitched with the lunar mystery, the wood stands expectant, nebulous, silent. Incomprehensible and inaccessible to men is its slow, sure experience, and the secret of its forged desires.

Into its lunar silence men have brought the revolt, the speech and laughter of youth; but, overcome by the lunar mystery, they are suddenly grown silent and meditative.

The open glade in the woods, enchanted by the green, cold light of the moon, seems very white. Along the edge of the glade lie the shadows of the trees; they seem unreal and nebulous and mysteriously still.

The moon, very slowly, almost stealthily, is rising higher in the pale blue dome. Round, cold, half lost in the milk-white mist as behind a thin veil, she disperses by her dispassionate gaze the nebulous, silent tops of the slumbering trees, and looks down upon the glade with the motionless, inquisitive glance of her white eyes.

The thin particles of dew scattered over the cold grasses vanish—the white nocturnal haze drinks them greedily. The air is oppressively sweet. On the edge of the glade a number of slender, erect, white-limbed birches emerge out of the mist; they are still asleep, and as innocent as their girl companions who rest beneath them in their green-white dresses.


Reposing under the slender birches in the glade is a party of girls, young men and grown-up people. One sits on the stump of a felled tree, another on the trunk of an old birch struck down in a storm, a third lies upon an overcoat spread on the grass, a fourth rests his back against a young birch. There is a single, slight glow of a cigarette, but this, too, goes out.

In the luminous, haunting mist everything seems white, translucent, fabulously impressive. And it seems as though the birches in the glade and the moon in the sky are waiting for something.

Here is Natasha. Here is also Natasha's friend, a college girl from Moscow, white-skinned, sharp-featured, looking like a healthy little wild beast. Then there are Borya and his friend, both in linen jackets, both lean, with pale faces and dark, flaming eyes.

And there is yet another—a tall, stout figure in a dark blouse. He has an air of self-confidence and seems to be the most knowing, the most experienced, the most able of those present.

He is surrounded by the grown-up people and the girls, and he is being questioned. Cheery, good-natured, impatient voices appeal to him.

"Do sing for us the International."

Borya, a lad with pale, frowning forehead, and blue-black circles under his eyes, looks into the other's face and implores more heartily than the rest.

The tall, broad-chested Mikhail Lvovich looks askance and stubbornly refuses to sing.

"I can't," he says gruffly. "My throat is not in condition."

Borya and Natasha insist.

Mikhail Lvovich then makes a gesture with his hand and accedes not less gruffly.

"Very well, I'll sing."

Every one is overjoyed.

Mikhail Lvovich poses himself on his knees. Above the mist-white glade, above the white-faced lads, above the white mist itself, there rises toward the witching moon, floating tranquilly in the skies, the words of that proud, passionate hymn:

"Arise, ye branded with a curse!"

Mikhail Lvovich sings. His eyes are fixed on the ground, upon the cold grass, white in the glamorous light of the full, clear moon. It is hard to tell whether he does not wish to or cannot look straight into the eyes of these girls and boys—into these trusting, clean eyes.

And they have gathered round him, how closely they have nestled round him, these pure-spirited young girls; and the young lads, their knees in the grass, follow every movement of his lips, and join in quietly. The bold melody grows, gains in volume. Like an exultant prophecy ring the eloquent words:

In the International
As brothers all men shall meet.


Mikhail has finished the song. For a time no one speaks. Then the agitated voices all ring out together, stirring the heavy silence of the woods.

Clear, girlish eyes are looking earnestly upon Mikhail Lvovich's morose set face. A clear, girlish voice implores insistently and gently:

"Sing again, please. Be a dear. Sing it once more. I will make a note of the words. I want to know them by heart."

Natasha approaches nearer and says quietly:

"We will all of us learn the words and sing them each day, like a prayer. We shall do it with a full heart."

Mikhail Lvovich at last lifts his eyes. They are small, sparkling, shrewd. This time they have fixed themselves severely and inquisitively on Natasha's face, which suddenly has become confused at this snake-like glance.

Mikhail Lvovich addresses her gruffly.

"It doesn't require much bravery to sing on the quiet, in the woods. Any one can do that."

Natasha's face becomes pale. Dark flames of unchildish determination kindle in her eyes. Excitedly she cries:

"We will learn the words, and we will sing them where they are wanted. My God, are we to depend upon words, and upon words alone? We are ready for deeds."

Borya repeats after her: "We are ready. We shall do all that is necessary. Yes, even die if need be."

Mikhail Lvovich says with a calm assurance:

"Yes, I know."

In his eyes, fixed intently upon the ground, a dim, small flame is visible.


There is a short silence. Then a thin voice is heard. It is the girl, slender as a young birch, with the sharp, cheerful little face, who is speaking.

"My God! What strength! What eloquence!"

Mikhail Lvovich slowly turns his face toward her. He smiles severely and says nothing.

The girl has her hands clasped across her knees. It is an extremely pretty pose. Her face has suddenly assumed a very grave air, breathing passionate entreaty and fiery determination. She exclaims fervently:

"Let's all sing the chorus! Mikhail Lvovich will teach us. You will teach us, Mikhail Lvovich, won't you?"

"Very well," Mikhail Lvovich replies with his usual severe dignity.

He casts his dull, heavy gaze round the crowded circle of delighted young faces. He alone sits with his back to the open glade and to the witching moon. His face, now in the shade, has become even more significant. And his whole bearing is one of imposing solemnity.

The faces of the younger people are white in the moonlight. Their garments are luminously bright. Their voices are brilliantly clear. In their simple trust there is the sense of an avowal.

"Well, let us begin!" exclaims the slender girl, somewhat agitated.

Mikhail Lvovich raises his hand with a solemn gesture and begins:

"Arise, ye branded with a curse!"

The children sing with a will, mingling their high, clear voices with Mikhail Lvovich's deep, low voice. Their young voices are blazing with the passionate flame of freedom and revolt. Higher and still higher, above the white mists, above the black forest, toward the silver clouds and the quiet glimmering stars, toward the aspectful moon, rise the sounds of the invocation.

And the white-trunked birches, the milk-white moon, motionless in the sky, the white, silvery grass, pressed down by children's knees—all is still, all is silent, all is harkening with a sensitive ear. Everything around listens with poignant and solemn intentness to the song of these luminous children who, bathed in the translucent silver of the cool, lunar glimmer, their knees on the grass, their eyes burning in their uplifted faces, are repeating faithfully the words sung by the tall, self-contained young man whose dark face with fixed glance gazes morosely on the ground. They repeat after him:

In the International
As brothers all men shall meet.

The strange foreign word, un-Russian in its ring, suggests to them the lofty, holy designation of a promised land, a new land under new skies, a land in which they have faith.

After the hymn there is silence, a holy silence, solemn and palpable, reaching from the earth to the heavens. They might have been in the temple of a new, as yet unknown religion, in a mystic moment of sacrificial rites.


Mikhail Lvovich is the first to break the silence. He speaks slowly, looking at no one and directing his heavy gaze above the children's pale faces, beyond the flaming ring of their glances:

"My friends, you know the sort of time this is. Each one of us can be of use. If any one of us is sent I hope that none will, tremble for his precious life, and that none will be deterred by the thought of a mother's sorrow."

The children exclaim:

"None! None! If they would but send us!"

"What is the sorrow of a single mother compared to the suffering of an entire nation!" thinks Natasha proudly.

There rises up for an instant a mental image of the ashen-pale face of her mother, her intensely dark, eloquent eyes. A sharp pain, lasting a moment, pierces her heart. What of that? It is, after all, but a single instant of weakness. A proud will shall conquer this slight suffering of a single relative by conferring great love upon the many, the strangers, the grievous sufferers.

What is the woe of one mother! Let Niobe weep eternally for her children, killed by the burning, poisoned arrows of the high Dragon; let Rachel remain unconsoled for ever—what is the woe of a poor mother? Serene is Apollo's face, radiant is Apollo's dream.

Yet how painful, how painful! A dimness comes over the transcendent idea, as though the dark countenance of the ominous figure who sang the proud hymn has dimmed the moon and has cast an austere shadow upon the heart itself.

And now there is no moon, and no night, and no white glade in the mist in the forest. The bright day stares again at Natasha, she is at the window, the book lies before her, the old house is depressingly silent. The cloud has disappeared, the heavens are clear again, the evil Dragon is once more aiming his flaming arrows, he reiterates his conquest anew.

This cruel melancholy must be faced. Sting, accursed Dragon, burn, torment. Rejoice, conqueror! But even he must soon go to his setting, and, dying, pour out his blood upon half the heavens.


Natasha, a yellow straw hat upon her head, is now walking in the field. The ground is hot, the sky is blue, the air is sultry and the wind asleep; the corn is yellow, the grass is green. Bathed again in the bright heat, Natasha prods her sweetly fatiguing memories, which cast into oblivion this dismal day.

She goes on—and there stretches before her, even as on a day long ago, the hot golden field, with its tall stalks inclining their heads in the heat. It is the revival of a former stifling, sultry midday.

That was in the days when Natasha still loved the good, human sun, the source of life and joy, the eternal, the untiring herald of labours and deeds, of deeds beyond the powers of man.

Oh, the treacherous speech of the Serpent Tempter! He turns our heads and he entices, and he makes our poor earth seem like some fabulous kingdom.

Again there is a slight wavering stir in the sea of the heat-exhausted ears of rye, studded over with little blue flowers which lower timidly their sweetly-dazed heads from sultriness.

Natasha and her brother Boris are walking together, on an inviting narrow path among the golden waves of rye.

How high the rye is! One can barely see the green roof of the old house on the right for the tall stalks, and the semi-circular window in the mezzanine: and on the left the little grey, rough huts of the village.

Natasha and Boris follow one another. All around them the dry ears of rye waver and rustle, and among them are the blue-eyed little cornflowers. The two fragilely slender human silhouettes answered to the same wavering motion.

Natasha goes ahead. She turns to see why Boris has lagged behind. The boy, brown and slender, with large burning eyes, attired in his linen jacket, is gathering the little blue flowers. He has already gathered almost as many as his hands can hold.


Natasha, laughing, says to her brother: "Enough, my dear, enough. I shan't be able to carry them all."

"You'll do it easily enough, never fear!" Boris answers cheerfully.

Natasha stretches out her sunburnt hand to take the flowers. The sheaf of blue cornflowers, spreading across her breast, almost hides her, she is so slender.

Again Boris addresses her cheerfully: "Well, is it heavy?"

Natasha laughs. Her face lights up with the joy of gratitude, and with a cheerful, childlike determination. "I will carry these, but no more!" she says.

"I want to gather as many as possible for you." Boris's voice is serious; "because you know we may not see each other for some time." There is a quaver in his voice as he says this.

"Perhaps, never," Natasha, growing pensive, replies.

Both faces become sad and careworn.

Boris, frowning, glances sideways, and asks: "Natasha, are you going with him?"

Natasha knows that Boris is inquiring about Mikhail Lvovich, who is now sending her on a dangerous business, and who has also promised to send Boris on some foolhardy errand. The brave are so often foolhardy.

"No, I am going alone," Natasha replies, "he will only lead me later to the spot."

Boris looks at Natasha with gloomy, envious eyes, and asks rather cautiously: "Are you frightened, Natasha?"

Natasha smiles. And what pride there is in her smile! She speaks, and her voice is tranquil: "No, Boris, I feel happy."

Boris observes that her face is really happy, and that her dark, flaming eyes are cheerful enough. Looking at her thus, her tranquillity communicates itself to him, and inspires him with a calm confidence in himself and in the business in hand.

The children go farther. Boris again gathers the cornflowers. Natasha is musing about something. She has broken off an ear of rye, and is absently nibbling at the grain.


It is a long, hot, sultry day. The inexorable Dragon looks down indifferently upon the children. Unwearying, he aims his bright, vivid shafts at the sunburnt, fiery-eyed lad and at the slender, erect, black-eyed girl. His blazing shafts are evil, and they are well aimed; and his strong clear light is pitiless—but she walks on, and in her eyes there is hope, and in her eyes there is resolution, and in her dark eyes there is a flame which sets the soul afire to achieve deeds beyond the powers of man.

Natasha suddenly pauses at the end of the path by the dusty road. Her eyes look at Boris full of tender admiration. It is evident that she desires to stamp upon her memory all the beloved features of the familiar tanned face—the curve of the dense brows, the rigid set of the red lips, the firm outlines of the chin, the stern profile.

Natasha sighs lightly and addresses Boris gently and cheerfully:

"Enough, dearest. They may not let me into the train with a heap like this. They will say: 'This should be put in the luggage van.'"

Both laugh carelessly. And still Boris is loath to leave the cornflowers. He says:

"Only a few more. I want you to have a gigantic bouquet."

"You would have everything gigantic!" Natasha returns good-humouredly.

But her face is serious. She knows how deep this quality is in him, and how significant. Boris looks at her, and in answer repeats his favourite, his most intimate thought:

"Yes, it is true. I love all bigness, all immoderation. In everything! In everything! If we only acted like this always! And gave ourselves wholly to a thing! Oh, how different life would be!"

Natasha, lost in thought, repeats: "Yes, big things, things beyond the powers of man. To make life lavish. Only no stinginess, no trembling for one's skin. Far better to die—to gather all life into one little knot, and to throw it away!"

"Yes, yes," says Boris, and his eyes, dark as night, glow with the fury of a yet distant storm. "We must have no care for lives, but be lavish with them, lavish to the end—only then may we reach our goal!"

They cross the road and again walk calmly along a narrow path. Her dress is white among the golden waves. Natasha stretches out her slender hand, the ears of rye rustle dryly and solid seeds of ripe rye fall into it. They are struck from above by the vivid shafts of the pitiless Dragon.

The children are walking on, conscious of their vow. They go trustingly, and they do not know that he who sends them is a traitor, and that their sacrifice is vain.


What is this dry rustling all around? It is the rye. But where are the little cornflowers, where is Boris? The little blue-eyed flowers are in the rye, and Boris has been hanged.

"And I?" Natasha asks herself in a strange, oppressive perplexity. She looks round her like one just awakened.

"Why am I here?"

She answers herself: "I escaped. A lucky chance saved me."

Natasha is oppressed by the thought. How had she survived it? "Far better if I had perished!"

It all happened very simply. Natasha, being Number Three, was placed at the railway station itself, her duty being contingent on the failure of Number One and Number Two. But the first was successful, though he himself perished in the explosion.

The second, upon hearing the explosion not far away, lost his presence of mind. He ran to save himself. He caught a cab, and got off near the river. Here he hired a row-boat. When near the middle of the river, he threw the bomb into the water. The man who rowed had guessed that something was wrong. Besides, he had been seen from the Government steamer and from the banks. Number Two was taken, tried and hanged.

Natasha did not betray herself in any way. She walked calmly, without haste, bearing her dangerous burden, observed by no one. She mixed freely with the passing crowd. She delivered the bomb at the appointed place.

A few days later she left for home. She had not been followed. Natasha was awaiting a second commission, and quite suddenly she abandoned the business, because her trust in it had died.

It happened even before Borya was hanged. But her decision came finally in those nightmare days when, quickly and unexpectedly, his life came to an end.

Those were terrible days.

But, no, it is better not to think of them, it is better not to remember them. To remember them is to suffer. Far better to remember other things, things cloudless and long past.


Oh magic mirror of memory, so much is reflected in thee! Beloved images pass by with a kind of glimmer.

There were the flowers, which they themselves looked after. There was one flower-bed which they cared for with especial tenderness. There was the fresh, intoxicating evening aroma of gilliflower. There was the cluster of jasmine, dewy at dawn, so sweetly and so gently fragrant, that one wished to weep in its presence, as the grass weeps its tears of dew at golden dawn.

Then there was the open space in the garden, and the giant-stride in the centre. What gigantic steps they took! How fast and how high she flew round with Boris!

How glorious were the feast-days to the childish hearts. There was Christmas Eve, with its tree, and candles upon the green branches, with all the many-coloured glitter of golden nuts, red, green and blue trimmings, snow-white foils of cotton-wool, offerings which gladdened with their unexpectedness. Then in the daytime there is real snow, glittering like salt, and crunching under one's feet; the frost pinches the cheeks, the sun is shining, their mittens are of the softest down, their hats are white and soft, the sleds are flying down hillocks—oh, what joy!

And now Easter is here. What a solemn night! Then the joyous chanting of matins. The candle flames are everywhere, there seems to be no end to them. There is a smell of Easter cakes. There are Easter eggs painted in all colours. Every one is kissing each other. Every one is happy.

"Christoss Voskress!"

"Voistinu Voskress!"

But the dear dead do not stir.

No. The beloved memories do not break the continuity of the circle, the resurrection of the others—the fearsome, tragic memories. Inevitably the vision leads on to the last terrible moments.


They lived in the capital that winter. Boris was studying his final term in the gymnasia. For Christmas he went to another city: to relatives, he said.

Natasha was suspicious. But he did not tell her the truth.

"Really, nothing," he answered to all her questions. "No one is sending me. I am going of my own accord. To see Aunt Liuba."

And Natasha did not insist.

For several days she did not get any letters from him. But she did not worry. Boris disliked writing letters. They thought he was enjoying himself.

It was an evening in early January. Her mother and grandmother had gone out visiting. Natasha, pleading a headache, remained at home.

"I'll lie down on the sofa. It will pass away."

The truth was she thought the home of her affected, worldly relatives a dull place, and she had no desire to go there.

The maid had leave to go out. Natasha remained in the house alone. She lay down in her room on the sofa with an interesting new book.

After the cheer and ease of the holidays, Natasha felt in good spirits. She was comfortable, tranquil and cheerful. The hangings on the windows were impenetrably opaque. The lamp, burning brightly and evenly, concealed its garish white blaze from her eyes under its trimmed, beaded shade. The whole small room was lost in a luminous twilight.

At last, however, page after page of running lines of print tired Natasha. She dropped into a doze, and was shortly sound asleep. The open book fell softly on the rug.


Suddenly a bell rings. Natasha gives a start.

Ours? No. The bell rang so timidly, so hesitatingly. It was as though she heard it ring in a dream, and not in reality; again, it might have been the ring of some mischievous urchin.

Perhaps she had only imagined it. It is so comfortable to doze. She feels too lazy to get up. Let them ring.

But here is a second ring, more insistent and louder.

Natasha jumps up and runs into the vestibule, rearranging her hair on the way. Remembering that she is alone in the house she does not open the door, but asks: "Who's there?"

From behind the door she can hear the low, somewhat hoarse voice of the telegraph boy: "A telegram."

Her heart begins to beat with fright. It is always terrible to receive telegrams. For only good news travels slowly. Bad news makes haste.

Natasha puts one end of the door-chain to a little hook in the door. Then she opens the door partly and looks out. There stands the messenger in his uniform, with a metal plate in his cap. He hands her the telegram.

"Sign here, miss."

The grey-white, dry paper trembles in Natasha's hands. Natasha feels a sudden tug at her heart. She speaks incoherently:

"What is it? Oh my God! Sign, did you say?"

She runs to the table. Her hands tremble. She has managed somehow to scrawl her family name "Ozoreva," the pen hesitating and scratching upon the grey paper.

"Here is the signature."

Across the little door-chain she thrusts the signed paper and a tip into the hand of the messenger. Then she bangs the door to after him. Now she is in front of the lamp. What can it be?

Tearing the seal open she reads. Terrible words. Such simple, yet such incomprehensible words. Because they are about Boris.

"Boris has shot ——. Arrested with comrades Military trial to-morrow. Death sentence threatened."


Natasha re-reads the telegram. A sudden terror, strangely akin to shame, for a moment strikes at her heart. She can hear the heavy beat of blood in her temples. She is, as it were, being strangled from all sides; she can hardly breathe; the walls seem to have come together, oppressing her on all sides; and the rapid, pale, pencilled strokes seem also to have run together into one jumble on the grey paper.

Certain thoughts, one after the other, slowly make way into Natasha's dimmed consciousness—oppressive, evil, pitiless thoughts.

Stupefied, she wonders how she shall tell her mother. She observes that her hands tremble. She recalls the telephone number of the Lareyevs, where her mother undoubtedly is.

Then terror seizes her anew; she shivers violently from head to foot as with ague. Her mind is a whirl of confusion.

"No, it is a mistake! It cannot be. It is a cruel, senseless mistake! It is some one's stupid, cruel joke."

Boris, our beloved boy, with his fine honest eyes—think of him hanging! There will be a rattle in his throat, as strangling, he will swing in the noose. With sharp, clutching pain, the gentle, childish neck will tighten; the sunburnt face will grow purple; the swollen tongue will creep out all in froth, and the widely dilated eyes will reflect the terror of cruel death.

No, no, it cannot be! It is a mistake! But who can be malicious enough to make such a mistake?

And then where is Boris?

Her cold reasoning says that it is so, that no mistake has been made. The words are clear, the address is correct—yes, yes! It was really to be expected. Here it is, this lavishness of life which he dreamt of, which they both dreamt of. "I love all immoderation. To be lavish—only then we may reach our goal!"

Her legs tremble. She feels herself terribly weak. She sits down on the sofa.

Oh God, what's to be done? How is she to tell her mother this terrible thing?

Or should she conceal it? And do everything that could be done by herself? But no, she could do ridiculously little herself!

It is necessary to tell. It must be done quickly. She must not lose an instant. Perhaps it is still possible to save Boris, by going, by petitioning.

Why is she sitting still then? It is necessary to act at once.

Natasha seizes the telephone. What a long time the operator takes to answer.

At last she is connected. She can hear sounds of music and the hum of voices.

A cheerful, familiar voice asks:

"Who's there?"

"It is Natasha Ozoreva."

"Good evening, Natasha," says Marusya Lareyeva loudly. "What a pity you did not come. We are having a fine time."

"Good evening, dear Marusya. Is mamma with you?"

"Yes, she is here. Shall I call her?"

"No, no, for God's sake. Let some one break it to her...."

"Has anything happened?"

"Marusya, a terrible misfortune. Our Boris has been arrested."

"My God! For what?"

"I don't know. He'll have a military trial. I feel desperate. It's so terrible. For God's sake, don't frighten mother too much. Tell her to come home at once, please."

"Oh, my God, how awful!"

"Oh, Marusya, dearest, for God's sake, be quick."

"I'll tell my mother at once. Wait at the telephone, Natasha."

Natasha holds the receiver to her ear and waits. She hears the noise of footsteps. Some one has begun to sing.

Then again the same voice, extremely agitated:

"Natasha, do you hear? Your mother wants to speak to you herself."

Natasha trembles with fright. Good God, what shall she tell her mother! She inquires:

"What? Is she coining herself to the telephone?" she asks.

"Yes, yes. Your mother is here now."


The voice of Sofia Alexandrovna, terribly agitated, is heard:

"Natasha, is that you? For God's sake, what has happened?"

Natasha replies:

"Yes, mamma, it is I. A telegram has come. Mamma, don't be frightened, it must be a mistake."

This time the voice is more controlled.

"Read me the telegram at once."

"Just a moment. I'll get it," says Natasha.

The telegram is read.

"What, a military trial?"

"Yes, military."


"Yes, yes, to-morrow."

"Death sentence threatened?"

"Mamma, please be yourself, for God's sake. Perhaps something can be done."

"We must go there. Get the things ready, Natasha. Mother and I are returning at once, and we will take the first train out."

The conversation is at an end.

Natasha is alone. She runs about the deserted house, letting things fall in the poignant silence. She is busy with travelling bags and with pillows.

She stops to look at the time-table. There is a train at half-past twelve. Yes, there is still time to catch it.

Then the bell rings, frightening her even more than the earlier ring. The mother and the grandmother have arrived, pale and distraught.


A sleepless, wearisome journey in the train. The wheels roll on with a measured, jarring sound. Stops are made. How slow it all is! How agonizing! If only it would be quicker, quicker!

Or were it better to wish that time should be arrested? That its huge, shaggy wings outspread and flapping above the world should suddenly become motionless? That its owlish glance should be stilled for ever in the instant just before the terrible word is said?

They reach their destination in the morning. At the station, a dirty, dejected place, they are met by a cousin of Natasha's, an attorney by profession. From his pale, worried face, they guess that everything is over.

He talks quickly and incoherently. He comforts them with hopes in which he himself does not believe. The trial had been held early that morning. Boris and both his comrades—all of the same green youth—had been sentenced to die by hanging. The court would entertain no appeal. The only hope lay in the district general. He was really not a bad man at heart. Perhaps, by imploring, he might be induced to lighten the sentence to that of hard labour for an indefinite period.

Poor mothers! What is it they implore?


Sofia Alexandrovna and Natasha arrived at the general's. They waited long in the quiet, cold-looking reception-room; the glossy parquet floor shone, portraits in heavy gilt frames hung on the walls, and the careful steps of uniformed officials, coming through a large white door, resounded from time to time.

At last they were received. The general listened most amiably, but declined emphatically to do anything. He rose, clinked his spurs, and stretched himself to his full height; He stood there tall, erect, his breast decorated with orders, his head grey, his face ruddy, with black eyebrows and broad nose.

In vain the humiliating entreaties.

Pale, the proud mother knelt before the general and, weeping bitterly, she kissed his hands and at last threw herself at his feet—all in vain. She received the cold answer:

"I am sorry, madam, it is impossible. I understand your affliction, I sympathize fully; with your sorrow, but what can I do? Whose fault is it? Upon me lies a great responsibility toward my Emperor and my country. I have my duty—I can't help you. It is against yourself that you ought to bring your reproaches—you've brought him up."

Of what avail the tears of a poor mother? Strike thy head upon the parquet floor, bend thy face to the black glitter of his boots; or else depart, proud and silent. It is all the same, he can do nothing. Thy tears and thy entreaties do not touch him, thy curses do not offend him. He is a kind man, he is the loving father of a family, but his upright martial soul does not tremble before the word death. More than once he had risked his life boldly in battle—what is the life of a conspirator to him?

"But he is a mere boy!"

"No, madam, this is not a childish prank. I am sorry."

He walks away. She hears the measured clinking of his spurs. The parquet floor reflects dimly his tall, erect figure.

"General, have pity!"

The cold, white door has swung to after him. She hears the quiet, pleasant voice of a young official. He raises her from the floor and helps her to find her way out.


They granted a last meeting. A few minutes passed in questions, answers, embraces, and tears.

Boris said very little.

"Don't cry, mamma. I am not afraid. There is nothing else they can do. They don't feed you at all badly here. Remember me to all. And you, Natasha, take care of mother. One sacrifice is enough from our family. Well, good-bye."

He seemed somehow callous and distant. He seemed to be thinking of something else, of something he could tell no one. And his words had an external ring, as though merely to make conversation.

That night, before daybreak, Boris was hanged. The scaffold was set up in the gaol courtyard. The spot where he was buried was kept secret.

The mother implored the next day: "Show me his grave at least!"

What was there to show! He was laid in a coffin, he was put into a hole in the earth and the soil that covered him was smoothed down to its original level—we all know how such culprits are buried.

"Tell me at least how he died."

"Well, he was a brave one. He was calm, a bit serious. And he refused a priest, and would not kiss the cross."

They returned home. A fog of melancholy hung over them, and within them there lit up a spark of mad hope—no, Borya is not dead, Borya will return.


The thought that Boris had been hanged could not enter into their habitual, everyday thoughts. Only in the hour when the sun was at its zenith, and in the hour of the midnight moon, it would penetrate their awakened consciousness like a sharp poniard. Again it would pierce the soul with a sharp, tormenting pain, and again it would vanish in the dim mist of dawn with a kind of dull agony. And again, the same unreasonable conviction would awake in their hearts.

No, Borya will return. The bell will suddenly ring, and the door will be opened to him.

"Oh, Borya! Where have you been wandering?"

How we shall kiss him! And how much there will be to tell!

"What does it matter where you have been wandering. You have been wandering, and, you have been found, like the prodigal son."

How happy all will be!

The old nurse will not be consoled. She wails:

"Boryushka, Boryushka, my incomparable one! I say to him: 'Boryushka, I'm going to the poor-house!' And he says to me: 'No,' says he, 'nyanechka,[4] I'll not let you go to the poor-house. I,' he says, 'will let you stop with me, nyanechka ; only wait till I grow up,' says he, 'and you can live with me.' Oh, Boryushka, what's this you've done!"

In the morning the old nurse enters the vestibule. Whose grey overcoat is it that she sees hanging on the rack? It is Borya's, his gymnasia uniform. Has he then not gone to the gymnasia  to-day?

She wanders into the dining-room, making a muffled noise with her soft slippers.

"Natashenka, is Boryushka home to-day? His overcoat's there on the rack. Or is he sick?"

"Nyanechka !" exclaims Natasha.

And, frightened, she looks at her mother.

The old nurse has suddenly remembered. She is crying. The grey head shivers in its black wrap. The old woman wails:

"I go there and I look, what's that I see? Borya's overcoat. I say to myself, Borya's gone to the gymnasia, why's his overcoat here? It's no holiday. Oh, my Boryushka is gone!"

She wails louder and louder. Then the old woman falls to the floor and begins to beat the boards with her head.

"Borechka, my own Borechka! If the Lord had only taken me, an old woman, instead of him. What's the use of life to me? I drag along, of no cheer to myself or to any one else."

Natasha, helpless, tries to quiet her.

"Nyanechka, dearest, rest a little."

"May Thou rest me, O Lord! My heart told me something was wrong. I've been dreaming all sorts of bad dreams. These black dreams have come true! Oh, Borechka, my own!"

The old woman continues to beat her head and to wail. Natasha implores her mother:

"For God's sake, mamma, have Borya's overcoat taken from the rack."

Sofia Alexandrovna looks at her with her dark, smouldering eyes and says morosely:

"Why? It had better hang there. He might suddenly need it."

Oh, hateful memories! As long as the evil Dragon reigns in the heavens it is impossible to escape them.

Natasha roams restlessly, she can find no place for herself. She is off to the woods; she recalls Boris there, and that he has been hanged. She is off to the river; she recalls Boris there, and that he is no more. She is back at home, and the walls of the old house recall Boris to her, and that he will not return.

Like a pale shadow the mother wanders along the walks of the garden, choosing to pause there where the shade is densest. The old grandmother sits upon a bench and finishes the reading of the newspapers. It is the same every day.

[4]Little nurse.


And now the evening is approaching. The sun is low and red. It looks straight into people's eyes as though, while expiring, it were begging for mercy. A breeze blows from the river, and it brings the laughter of white water nymphs.

A number of noisy urchins are running in the road; their shirt-tails flap merrily in the wind, while their sleeves are filled with wind like balloons. The sound of a harmonica comes from the distance, and its song runs on very merrily. The corncrake screeches in the field, and its call resembles a general's loud snore.

The old house once more casts and arranges its long dark shadows disturbed by the intrusive day. Its windows blaze forth with the red fire of the evening sun.

The gilliflower exhales its seductive aroma in some of the distant paths. The roses seem even redder in the sunset, and more sweet. The eternal Aphrodite—the naked marble of her proud body taking on a rose tint—smiles again, and lets fall her draperies as fascinatingly as ever.

And everything is directed as before toward cherished, unreasonable hopes. Enfeebled by the day's heat, and by the sadness of the bright day, the harassed soul has exhausted its measure of suffering, and it falls from the iron embrace of sorrow to the beloved dark earth of the past, once more besprinkled with dreamily refreshing dew.

And again, as at dawn, the three women in the old house await Boris, or a short time happy in their madness.

They await him, and they chat of him, until, from behind the trees of the dark wood, the cold moon shows her ever sad face. The dead moon is under a white shroud of mist.

Then again they remember that Borya has been hanged, and they meet at the green-covered pond to weep for him.


Natasha is the first to leave the house. She has on a white dress and a black cloak. Her black hair is covered with a thin black kerchief. Her very deep dark eyes shine with flame-like brightness. She stands, her pale face uplifted toward the moon. She awaits the other two.

Elena Kirillovna and Sofia Alexandrovna arrive together.

Elena Kirillovna leaves the house slightly earlier, but Sofia Alexandrovna runs after her and overtakes her almost at the pond. They wear black cloaks, black kerchiefs on their heads, and black shoes.

Natasha begins:

"On the night before the execution he did not sleep. The moon, just as clear as to-night's, looked into the narrow window of his cell. On the floor the moon sadly outlined a green rhomb, intersected lengthwise and crosswise by narrow dark strokes. Boris walked up and down his cell, and looked now at the moon, now at the green rhomb, and thought—I wish I knew his thoughts that night."

Her remark has a quite tranquil sound. It might have been about a stranger.

Sofia Alexandrovna now and again wrings her hands, and as she begins to speak her voice is agitated and heavy with grief:

"What can one think at such moments! The moon, long dead, looks in. There are five steps from the door to the window, four steps across. The mind springs feverishly from object to object. That the execution is to take place on the morrow is the one thing you try not to think of. Stubbornly you repel the thought. But it remains, it refuses to depart, it throttles the soul with an oppressive, horrible nightmare. The anguish is intense and enfeebling. But I do not wish my gaolers and all these officials who are come to me to see my anguish. I will be calm. And yet what anguish—if only, lifting up my pale face, I could cry aloud to the pale moon!"

Elena Kirillovna whispers faintly:

"Terrible, Sonyushka."

There are tears in her voice—simple, old-womanish, grandmotherly tears.


Sofia Alexandrovna, ignoring the interruption, continues:

"Why should I really go to my death boldly and resolutely? Is it not all the same? I shall die in the courtyard, in the dark of night. Whether I die boldly, or weep like a coward, or beg for mercy, or resist the executioner—is it not all the same? No one will know how I died. I shall face death alone. Why should I really suffer this wild anguish? I will raise up my voice to wail and to weep, and I will shake the whole gaol with my despairing cries, and I will awake the town, the so-called free town, which is only a larger gaol—so that I shall not suffer alone, but that others shall share in my last agony, in my last dread. But no, I won't do that. It is my fate to die alone."

Natasha rises, trembles, presses her mother's cold hand in hers, and says:

"Mamma, mamma, it is terrible, if alone. No, don't say that he felt alone. We shall be with him."

Elena Kirillovna whispers:

"Yes, Sonyushka, it would be terrible alone. In such moments!"

"We are with him," insists Natasha vehemently. "We are with him now."

A smile is on Sofia Alexandrovna's lips, a smile such as a dying person smiles to greet his last consolation. Sofia Alexandrovna speaks:

"My last consolation is the thought that I am not alone. He is with me. These walls are unrealities, this gaol built by men is a lie. What is real and true is my suffering and I am one with them in my grief. A poor consolation! And yet I, just think, this extraordinary I, Boris, I am dying."

"I am dying," repeats Natasha.

Her voice is clouded, and it is fraught with despair. And all three remain silent for a brief while, overcome by the spell of these tragic words.


Sofia Alexandrovna speaks again. Her voice sounds tranquil, deliberate, measured:

"There is no consolation for the dying. His grief is boundless. The cold moon continues to torment him. A moan struggles to break from his throat, a moan like the wild baying of a caged beast."

Natasha speaks sadly:

"But he is not alone, not alone. We are with him in his grief."

Her eyes, darker than a dark night, look up toward the lifeless moon, and the green enchantress, reflected in them, torments her with a dull pain.

Sofia Alexandrovna smiles—and her smile is dead—and with the voice of inconsolable sorrow she speaks again slowly and calmly:

"We are with him only in his despair, in his pitiful inconsolability, in his dark solitude. But he was alone, alone, when he was strangled by the hand of a hired hangman; strangled in that dark enclosure which it is not for us to demolish. And the dead moon tormented him, as it torments us. She tempted him with the mad desire to moan wildly, like a wild beast before dying. And now we, in this hour, under this moon—are we not also tormented by the same mad desire to run, to run far from people, and to moan and to wail, and to flee from a grief too great to be borne!"

She rises abruptly and walks away, wringing her beautiful white hands. She walks fast, almost runs, driven as it were by some strange, furious will not her own. Natasha follows her with the measured yet rapid, deliberate, mechanical gait of an automaton. And behind them trips along Elena Kirillovna, who lets fall a few scant tears on her black cloak.

The moon follows them callously in their hurried journey across the garden, across the field, into that wood, into that still glade, where once the children sang their proud hymn, and where they let their mad desires be known to one who was to betray them for a price—young blood for gold.

The grass in the fields is wet with dew. The river is white with mist. The high moon is clear and cold. Everywhere it is quiet, as though all the earthly rustlings and noises had lost themselves in the moon's dead light.


And here is the glade. "Natasha, do you remember? How warmly they all sang Arise, ye branded with a curse! Natasha, will you sing it again? Do. Is it a torture?"

"I'll sing," replies Natasha quietly.

She sings in a low voice, almost to herself. The mother listens, and the grandmother listens—but what have the birches and the grass and the clear moon to do with human songs!

In the International
As brothers all men shall meet!

Her song is at an end. The wood is silent. The moon waits. The mist is pensive. The birches seem to listen. The sky is clear.

Ah, for whom is all this life? Who calls? Who responds? Or is it all the play of the dead?

Loudly wailing, the mother calls: "Borya, Borya!"

Overflowing with tears Elena Kirillovna replies: "Borya won't come. There is no Borya."

Natasha stretches out her arms toward the lifeless moon, and cries out: "Borya has been hanged!"

All three now stand side by side, looking at the moon, and weeping. Louder grows their sobbing, fiercer the note of despair. Their moans merge finally into a prolonged, wild wailing, which can be heard for some distance.

The dog at the forester's hut is restless. Trembling with all his lean body, his short hair bristling, he has pricked up his ears. Rising, he stretches his slender limbs. His sharp muzzle, showing its teeth, is uplifted to the tormenting moon. His eyes burn with a yearning flame. The dog bays in answer to the distant wail of the women in the wood.

People are asleep.