Infomotions, Inc.Tales of the Wilderness / Pilniak, Boris, 1894-1937



Author: Pilniak, Boris, 1894-1937
Title: Tales of the Wilderness
Publisher: Project Gutenberg
Tag(s): kseniya; polunin; kseniya ippolytovna; ippolytovna; ivanov; mintz; russian; alexander alexandrovitch; lydia; ravine; snow; wolf
Contributor(s): Shepherd, J. Clinton, 1888-1975 [Illustrator]
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Title: Tales of the Wilderness

Author: Boris Pilniak

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*** START OF THE PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK TALES OF THE WILDERNESS ***




Produced by Eric Eldred, Charles Franks
and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team.




TALES OF THE WILDERNESS

By

BORIS ANDREYEVICH VOGAU (Boris Pilniak, pseud.)


WITH AN INTRODUCTION BY

PRINCE D. S. MIRSKY


TRANSLATED INTO ENGLISH BY

F. O'DEMPSEY




CONTENTS

  THE SNOW
  A YEAR OF THEIR LIVES
  A THOUSAND YEARS
  OVER THE RAVINE
  ALWAYS ON DETACHMENT
  THE SNOW WIND
  THE FOREST MANOR
  THE BIELOKONSKY ESTATE
  DEATH
  THE HEIRS
  THE CROSSWAYS




INTRODUCTION


I

RUSSIAN FICTION SINCE CHEKHOV


The English reading public knows next to nothing of contemporary
Russian Literature. In the great age of the Russian Realistic Novel,
which begins with Turgeniev and finishes with Chekhov, the English
reader is tolerably at home. But what came after the death of Chekhov
is still unknown or, what is worse, misrepresented. Second and third-
rate writers, like Merezhkovsky, Andreyev, and Artsybashev, have
found their way into England and are still supposed to be the best
Russian twentieth century fiction can offer. The names of really
significant writers, like Remizov and Andrey Bely, have not even been
heard of. This state of affairs makes it necessary, in introducing a
contemporary Russian writer to the English public, to give at least a
few indications of his place in the general picture of modern Russian
Literature.

The date of Chekhov's death (1904) may be taken to mark the end of a
long and glorious period of literary achievement. It is conveniently
near the dividing line of two centuries, and it coincides rather
exactly with the moment when Russian Literature definitely ceased to
be dominated by Realism and the Novel. In the two or three years that
followed the death of Chekhov Russian Literature underwent a complete
and drastic transformation. The principal feature of the new
literature became the decisive preponderance of Poetry over Prose and
of Manner over Matter--a state of things exactly opposite to that
which prevailed during what we may conveniently call the Victorian
age. Poetry in contemporary Russian Literature is not only of greater
intrinsic merit than prose, but almost all the prose there is has to
such an extent been permeated with the methods and standards of
poetry that in the more extreme cases it is almost impossible to tell
whether what is printed as prose is really prose or verse.

Contemporary Russian Poetry is a vigorous organic growth. It is a
self-contained movement developing along logically consistent lines.
It has produced much that is of the very first order. The poetry of
Theodore Sologub, of Innocent Annensky, [Footnote: The reader will
notice the quotations from Annensky in the first story of this
volume.] of Vyacheslav Ivanov, and of Alexander Blok, is to our best
understanding of that perennial quality that will last. They have
been followed by younger poets, more debatable and more debated, many
of them intensely and daringly original, but all of them firmly
planted in the living tradition of yesterday. They learn from their
elders and teach their juniors--the true touchstone of an organic and
vigorous movement. What is perhaps still more significant--the level
of minor poetry is extraordinarily high, and every verse-producer is,
in varying degrees, a conscious and efficient craftsman.

The case with prose is very different. The old nineteenth century
realistic tradition is dead. It died, practically, very soon after
Chekhov. It has produced a certain amount of good, even excellent,
work within these last twenty years, but this work is disconnected,
sterile of influence, and more or less belated; at the best it has
the doubtful privilege of at once becoming classical and above the
age. Such for instance was the case of Bunin's solitary masterpiece
_The Gentleman from San Francisco_, and of that wonderful series of
Gorky's autobiographical books, the fourth of which appeared but a
few months ago. These, however, can hardly be included in the domain
of Fiction, any more than his deservedly famous _Reminiscences of
Tolstoy_. But Gorky, and that excellent though minor writer, Kuprin,
are the only belated representatives of the fine nineteenth century
tradition. For even Bunin is a poet and a stylist rather than a story
teller: his most characteristic "stories" are works of pure
atmosphere, as diffuse and as skeletonless as a picture by Claude
Monet.

The Symbolists of the early twentieth century (all the great poets of
the generation were Symbolists) tried also to create a prose of their
own. They tried many directions but they did not succeed in creating
a style or founding a tradition. The masterpiece of this Symbolist
prose is Theodore Sologub's great novel _The Little Demon_[Footnote:
English translation.] (by the way a very inadequate rendering of the
Russian title). It is a great novel, probably the most perfect
Russian _novel_ since the death of Dostoyevsky. It breaks away very
decidedly from Realism and all the traditions of the nineteenth
century. It is symbolic, synthetic, and poetical. But it is so
intensely personal and its achievements are so intimately conditioned
by the author's idiosyncrasies that it was quite plainly impossible
to imitate it, or even to learn from it. This is still more the case
with the later works of Sologub, like the charming but baffling and
disconcerting romance of _Queen Ortruda_.

The other Symbolists produced nothing of the same calibre, and they
failed to attract the public. The bestsellers of the period after
1905 were, naturally enough, hybrid writers like Andreyev. The cheap
effect of his cadenced prose, his dreary and monotonous rhetoric, his
sensational way of treating "essential problems" were just what the
intelligentsia wanted at the time; it is also just what nobody is
likely to want again. Another writer of "problem stories" was
Artsybashev. His notorious _Sanin_ (1907) is very typical of a
certain phase of Russian life. It has acquired a somewhat
unaccountable popularity among the budding English intelligentsia.
From the literary point of view its value is nil. Artsybashev and
Andreyev were very second-rate writers; they had no knowledge of
their art and their taste was deplorably bad and crude, but at least
they were in a way, sincere, and gave expression to the genuine
vacuum and desolation of their hearts. But around them sprung up a
literature which sold as well and better than they did, but was
openly meretricious and, fortunately, ephemeral. If it has done
nothing else the great Revolution of 1917 has at least done one good
thing in making a clean sweep of all this interrevolutionary (1905-
1917) fiction.

All this literature appealed to certain sides of the "intellectual"
heart, but it could not slake the thirst for fiction. It was rather
natural that the reading public turned to foreign novelists in
preference to the native ones. It may be confidently said that three-
quarters of what the ordinary Russian novel-reader read in the years
preceding the Revolution were translated novels. The book-market was
swamped with translations, Polish, German, Scandinavian, English,
French and Spanish. Knut Hamsun, H. G. Wells, and Jack London were
certainly more popular than any living Russian novelist, except
perhaps the Russian Miss Dell, Mme. Verbitsky. In writers like Jack
London and H. G. Wells the reader found what he missed in the Russian
novelists--a good story thrillingly told. For no reader, be he ever
so Russian, will indefinitely put up with a diet of "problems" and
imitation poetry.

While all these things were going on on the surface of things and
sharing between themselves the whole of the book-market, a secret
undercurrent was burrowing out its bed, scarcely noticed at first but
which turned out to be the main prolongation of the Russian novel.
The principal characteristic of this undercurrent was the revival of
realism and of that untranslatable Russian thing "byt," [Footnote:
"Byt" is the life of a definite community at a definite time in its
individual, as opposed to universally human, features.] but a revival
under new forms and in a new spirit. The pioneers of this movement
were Andrey Bely and Remizov. There was little in common between the
two men, except that both were possessed with a startlingly original
genius, and both directed it towards the utilization of Russian "byt"
for new artistic ends.

Andrey Bely was, and is, a poet rather than a novelist. His prose
from the very beginning exhibits in its extreme form the Symbolist
tendency towards wiping away the difference between poetry and prose:
in his later novels his prose becomes distinctly metrical, it is
prose after all only because it cannot be devided into _lines_; it
can be devided into _feet_ very easily. But, though such prose is
essentially a hybrid and illegitimate form, Bely has achieved with it
things that have probably never been achieved with the aid of
anything like his instruments. The first of the series of his big
novels appeared in 1909: it is the _Silver Dove_, a story of Russian
mystical sectarians and of an intellectual who gets entangled in
their meshes. At its appearance it sold only five hundred copies. His
next novel _Petersburg_ (1913) had not a much greater success. The
third of the series is _Kotik Letaev_ (1917). The three novels form a
series unique in its way. Those who can get over the initial
difficulties and accustom themselves to the very peculiar proceedings
of the author will not fail to be irresistibly fascinated by his
strange genius. The first novel, the _Silver Dove_, is in my opinion
the most powerful of the three. It combines a daring realism, which
is akin to Gogol both in its exaggerations and in its broad humour,
with a wonderful power of suggestion and of "atmosphere." One of its
most memorable passages is the vast and elemental picture of the Wind
driving over the Russian plain; a passage familiarised to satiety by
numerous more or less clever imitations. _Petersburg_ is a
"political" novel. It is intended to symbolise the Nihilism, the
geometrical irreality of Petersburg and Petersburg bureaucracy. The
cold spirit of system of the Revolutionary Terrorists is presented as
the natural and legitimate outcome of bureaucratic formalism.

A cunningly produced atmosphere of weird irreality pervades the whole
book. It is in many ways a descendant of Dostoyevsky--and has in its
turn again produced a numerous family of imitations, including
Pilniak's most characteristic tales of the Revolution. _Kotik
Letaev_, the last and up to the present the least imitated of Bely's
novels, is the story of a child in his very first years. In it the
"poetical" methods of the author reach their full development; but at
the same time he achieves miracles of vividness and illusion in the
realism of his dialogue and the minute, but by no means dry, analysis
of the movements of his hero's subconscious Ego. In spite of the
enormous difference of style, methods, and aims Bely approaches in
many ways the effects and the achievements of Proust.

Remizov is very different. He is steeped in Russian popular and
legendary lore. His roots are deep down in the Russian soil. He is
the greatest living master of racy and idiomatic Russian. He has also
written prose that elbows poetry, and that was looked upon with
surprise and bewilderment until people realised that it was poetry.
But his importance in the history of the Russian Novel is of another
kind. It is firstly in his deliberate effort to "deliteralize"
Russian prose, to give it the accent, the intonation, and the syntax
of the _spoken_ language. He has fully achieved his ends; he has
created a prose which is entirely devoid of all bookishness and even
on the printed page gives the illusion of being heard, not seen.

Few have been able to follow him in this path; for in the present
state of linguistic chaos and decomposition few writers have the
necessary knowledge of Russian, the taste and the sense of measure,
to write anything like his pure and flexible Russian. In the hands of
others it degenerates into slang, or into some personal jargon
closely related to Double Dutch.

Remizov, however, has been more influential in another way, by his
method of treating Russian _life_. The most notable of Remizov's
"provincial" stories [Footnote: In the second edition it is called
"The Story of Ivan Semenovich Stratilatov." ] _The Unhushable
Tambourine _was written at one time with Bely's _The Silver Dove_, in
1909. At the time it met with even greater indifference: it was
refused by the leading magazine of the literary "party" to which the
author belonged, and could appear only some years later in a
collection of short stories. But it at once became known and very
soon began to "make school." Remizov's manner was to a certain degree
a reversion to the nineteenth century, but to such aspects of that
century that had before him been unnoticed. One of his chief
inspirers was Leskov, a writer who is only now coming into his own.
Remizov's _Tambourine_ and his other stories of this class are
realistic, they are "representations of real life," of "byt", but
their Realism is very different from the traditional Russian realism.
The style is dominated not by any "social" pre-occupation, but by a
deliberate bringing forward of the grotesque. It verges on
caricature, but is curiously and inseparably blended with a sympathy
for even the lowest and vilest specimens of Mankind which is
reminiscent of Dostoyevsky. It would be out of place here to give any
detailed account of Remizov's many-sided genius, of his _Tales of the
Russian People_, of his _Dreams_ (real night-dreams), of his books
written during the War and the Revolution (_Mara_ and _The Noises of
the Town_). In his later work he tends towards a greater simplicity,
a certain "primitiveness" of outline, and a more concentrated style.
Remizov's disciples, as might be expected, have been more successful
in imitating the grotesqueness of his caricatures and the vivid and
intense concentration of his character painting than in adopting his
sympathetic and human attitude or in speaking his pure Russian.

The first of the new realists to win general recognition was A. N.
Tolstoy, who speedily caught and vulgarised Remizov's knack of
creating grotesque "provincial" characters. He has an easy way of
writing, which is miles apart from Remizov's perfect craftsmanship, a
love for mere filth, characteristic of his time and audience, and
water enough to make his writings palatable to the average reader. So
he early became the most popular of the _literary_ novelists of the
years before the Revolution.

A far more significant writer is Michael Prishvin. He belongs to an
older generation and attracted some attention by good work in the
line of descriptive journalism before he came in touch with Remizov.
A man of the soil, he was capable of following Remizov's lead in
making his Russian more colloquial and less bookish, without
slavishly imitating him. He was unfortunately too much absorbed by
his journalistic work to give much time to literature. But he wrote
at least one story which deserves a high rank in even the smallest
selection of Russian stories--_The Beast of Krutoyarsk_ (1913). It is
the story of a dog, and is far the best "animal" story in the whole
of Russian literature. The animal stories of Rudyard Kipling and Jack
London were very popular in Russia at that time, but Prishvin is
curiously free from every foreign, in fact from every bookish,
influence; his story smells of the damp and acid soil of his native
Smolensk province, and even Remizov was to him only a guide towards
the right use of words and the right way of concentrating on his
subject.

Prishvin stands alone. But in the years 1913-1916 the Russian
literary press was flooded with short stories modelled on the
_Unhushable Tambourine_. The most promising of these provincialists
was E. Zamyatin, whose stories [Footnote: _Uyezdnoe_, which may be
rendered as "something provincial."] are as intense and packed with
suggestive ugliness as anything in Remizov, but lack the master's
unerring linguistic flair and his profound and inclusive humanness.
Zamyatin's stories are most emphatically _made_, manufactured, there
is not an ounce of spontaneity in them, and, especially in the later
work where he is more or less free from reminiscences of Remizov,
they produce the impression of mosaic laboriously set together. They
are overloaded with pointedly suggestive metaphor and symbolically
expressive detail, and in their laborious and disproportionate
elaborateness they remind you of the deliberate ugliness of a
painting by some German "Expressionist." [Footnote: Zamyatin was
during the war a shipbuilding Engineer in the Russian service at
Newcastle. He has written several stories of English life which are
entirely in his later "expressionist" manner (_The Islanders_,
Berlin, 1922)].

When the Revolution came and brought Russia that general
impoverishment and reversion to savagery and primitive manners which
is still the dominant feature of life in the U.S.S.R., literature was
at first faced with a severe crisis. The book market was ruined. In
the years 1918-1921 the publication of a book became a most difficult
and hazardous undertaking. During these years the novel entirely
disappeared from the market. For three years at least the Russian
novel was dead. When it emerged again in 1922 it emerged very
different from what it had been in 1917. As I have said, the surface
"literature" of pre-Revolutionary date was swept away altogether. The
new Realism of Remizov and Bely was triumphant all along the line.
The works of both these writers were among the first books to be
reprinted on the revival of the book-trade. And it soon became
apparent that practically all the young generation belonged to their
progeny. The first of these younger men to draw on himself the
attention of critics and readers was Pilniak, the author of the
present volume, on whom I shall dwell anon in greater detail.

In Petersburg there appeared a whole group of young novelists who
formed a sort of professional and amicable confraternity and called
themselves the "Serapion Brothers." They were all influenced by
Remizov; they were taught (in the very precise sense of the word--
they had regular classes) by Zamyatin; and explained the general
principles of Art by the gifted and light-minded young "formalist"
critic, Victor Shklovsky. Other writers emerged in all ends of
Russia, all of them more or less obssessed by the dazzling models of
Bely and Remizov.

All the writers of this new school have many features in common. They
are all of them more interested in Manner than in Matter. They work
at their style assiduously and fastidiously. They use an indirect
method of narrating by aid of symbolic detail and suggestive
metaphor. This makes their stories obscure and not easy to grasp at
first reading. Their language is elaborate; it is as full as possible
of unusual provincial words, or permeated with slang. It is coarse
and crude and many a page of their writings would not have been
tolerated by the editor of a pre-Revolution Russian magazine, not to
speak of an English publisher. They choose their subjects from the
Revolution and the Civil War. They are all fascinated by the
"elemental" greatness of the events, and are in a way the bards of
the Revolution. But their "Revolutionism" is purely aesthetical and
is conspicuously empty of ideas. Most of their stories appear on the
pages of official Soviet publications, but they are regarded with
rather natural mistrust by the official Bolshevik critics, who draw
attention to the essentially uncivic character of their art.

The exaggerated elaborateness and research of their works makes all
these writers practically untranslatable; not that many of them are
really worth translating. Their deliberate aestheticism--using as
they do revolutionary subjects only as material for artistic effect--
prevents their writings from being acceptable as reliable pictures of
Russian post-Revolutionary life. And it is quite obvious that they
have very few of the qualities that make good fiction in the eyes of
the ordinary novel-reader.

There are marked inequalities of talent between them, as well as
considerable differences of style. Pilniak is the most ambitious, he
aims highest--and at his worst falls lowest. Vyacheslav Shishkov, a
Siberian, is notable for his good Russian, a worthy pupil of Remizov
and Prishvin. Vsevolod Ivanov, another Siberian, is perhaps the most
interesting for the subjects he chooses (the Civil War in the
backwoods of Siberia), but his style is, though vigorous, diffuse and
hazy, and his narrative is lost in a nebula of poetically-produced
"atmosphere."

Nicholas Nikitin, who is considered by some to be the most promising
of all, is certainly the most typical of the school of Zamyatin; his
style, overloaded with detail which swamps the outline of the story,
is disfigured by the deliberate research of unfamiliar provincial
idioms. Michael Zoshchenko is the only one who has, in a small way,
reached perfection in his rendering of the common slang of a private
soldier. But his art savours too much of a pastiche; he is really a
born parodist and may some day give us a Russian _Christmas Garland_.

The most striking feature of all these story-tellers is their almost
complete inability to tell a story. And this in spite of their great
reverence for Leskov, the greatest of Russian story-tellers. But of
Leskov they have only imitated the style, not his art of narrative.
Miss Harrison, in her notable essay on the Aspects of the Russian
Verb, [Footnote: _Aspects and Aorists_, by Jane Harrison, Cambridge
University Press, 1919.] makes an interesting distinction between the
"perfective" and "imperfective" style in fiction. The perfective is
the ordinary style of an honest narrative. The "imperfective" is
where nothing definitely happens but only goes on indefinitely
"becoming." Russian Literature (as the Russian language, according to
Miss Harrison) has a tendency towards the "imperfective." But never
has this "imperfective" been so exclusively paramount as now. In all
these stories of thrilling events the writers have a most cunning way
of concealing the adventure under such a thick veil of detail,
description, poetical effusion, idiom, and metaphor, that it can only
with difficulty be discovered by the very experienced reader. To
choose such adventures for subjects and then deliberately to make no
use of them and concentrate all attention on style and atmosphere, is
really a _tour de force_, the crowning glory and the _reductio ad
absurdum_ of this imperfective tendency.

These extremities, which are largely conditioned by the whole past of
Russian Literature, must naturally lead to a reaction. The reading
public cannot be satisfied with such a literature. Nor are the
critics. A reaction against all this style is setting in, but it
remains in the domain of theory and has not produced work of any
importance. And it is doubtful whether it will. If even Leskov with
his wonderful genius for pure narrative has failed to influence the
moderns in any way except by his mannerisms of speech, the case seems
indeed desperate. Those who are most thirsty for good stories
properly told turn their eyes westwards, towards "Stevenson and
Dumas" and E. A. T. Hoffmann. Better imitate Pierre Benois than go on
in the way you are doing, says Lev Lunts, one of the Serapion
Brothers, in a violent and well-founded invective against modern
Russian fiction. [Footnote: In Gorky's miscellany, _Beseda_. N3,
1923.] But though he sees the right way out pretty clearly Lunts has
not seriously tried his hand at the novel. [Footnote: As I write I
hear of the death of Lev Lunts at the age of 22. His principal work
is a good tragedy of pure action without "atmosphere" or psychology
(in the same _Beseda_, N2).] A characteristic sign of the times is a
novel by Sergey Bobrov, [Footnote: _The Specification of Iditol_.
Iditol being the name of an imaginary chemical discovery.] a
"precious" poet and a good critic, where he adopts the methods of the
film-drama with its rapid development and complicated plot, and
carefully avoids everything picturesque or striking in his style. But
the common run of fiction in the Soviet magazines continues as it
was, and it is to be feared that there is something intrinsically
opposed to the "perfective" narrative in the constitution of the
contemporary Russian novelist.




II

BORIS PILNIAK


Boris Pilniak (or in more correct transliteration, Pil'nyak) is the
pseudonym of Boris Andreyevich Wogau. He is not of pure Russian
blood, but a descendant of German colonists; a fact which incidently
proves the force of assimilation inherent in the Russian milieu and
the capacity to be assimilated, so typical of Germans. For it is
difficult to deny Pilniak the appellation of a typical Russian.

Pilniak is about thirty-five years of age. His short stories began to
appear in periodicals before the War, and his first book appeared in
1918. It contained four stories, two of which are included in the
present volume (_Death_ and _Over the Ravine_). A second volume
appeared in 1920 (including the _Crossways, The Bielokonsky Estate,
The Snow Wind, A Year of Their Lives_, and _A Thousand Years_). These
volumes attracted comparatively little attention, though considering
the great scarcity of fiction in those years they were certainly
notable events. But _Ivan-da-Marya_ and _The Bare Year_, published in
1922, produced a regular boom, and Pilniak jumped into the limelight
of all-Russian celebrity. The cause of the success of these volumes,
or rather the attention attracted by them, lay in their subject-
matter: Pilniak was the first novelist to approach the subject of
"Soviet _Byt_," to attempt to utilise the everyday life and routine
of Soviet officialdom, and to paint the new forms Russian life had
taken since the Revolution. Since 1922 editions and reprints of
Pilniak's stories have been numerous, and as he follows the rather
regrettable usage of making up every new book of his unpublished
stories with reprints of earlier work the bibliography of his works
is rather complicated and entangled, besides being entirely
uninteresting to the English reader.

The most interesting portion of Pilniak's works are no doubt his
longer stories of "Soviet life" written since 1921. Unfortunately
they are practically untranslatable. His proceedings, imitated from
Bely and Remizov, would seem incongruous to the English reader, and
the translation would be laid aside in despair or in disgust, in
spite of all its burning interest of actuality. None of the stories
included in this volume belong to this last manner of Pilniak's, but
in order to give a certain idea of what it is like I will attempt a
specimen-translation of the beginning of his story _The Third
Metropolis_ (dated May-June 1922), reproducing all his typographical
mannerisms, which are in their turn reproduced rather unintelligently,
from his great masters, Remizov and Bely. The story, by the way, is
dedicated "To A. M. Remizov, the Master in whose Workshop I
was an apprentice."




THE THIRD METROPOLIS


CHAPTER I

NOW OPEN


By the District Department for Popinstruct [Footnote: That is
"District Department for popular instruction"--in "Russian,"
_Uotnarobraz_.] provided with every commodity.

--BATHS--

(former Church school in garden) for public use with capacity to
receive 500 persons in an 8-hour working-day.

Hours of baths:

Monday--municipal children's asylums (free)

Tuesdays, Friday, Saturday--males

Wednesday, Thursday--females

Price for washing
  adults--50kop.gold
  children--25kop.gold

DISDEPOPINSTRUCT [Footnote: That is "District Department for popular
instruction"--in "Russian," _Uotnarobraz_.]

Times: Lent of the eighth year of the World War and of the downfall
of European Civilisation (see Spengler)--and sixth Lent since the
great Russian Revolution; in other words: March, Spring, breaking-up
of the ice--when the Russian Empire exploded in the great revolution
the way Rupert's drops explode, casting off--Estia, Latvia,
Lithuania, Poland, the Monarchy, Chernov, Martov, the Dardanelles---
Russian Civilisation,--Russian blizzards---

   --and when---
   --Europe--
    was:
   --nothing but one Ersatz
   from end to end--
   (Ersatz--a German word
   --means the adverb
   "instead.")

_Place_: there is no place of action. Russia, Europe, the world,
fraternity.

Dramatis persona: there are none. Russia, Europe, the world, belief,
disbelief,--civilisation, blizzards, thunderstorms, the image of the
Holy Virgin. People,--men in overcoats with collars turned up, go-
alones, of course;--women;--but women are my sadness,--to me who am a
romanticist--

   --the only thing, the most
    beautiful, the greatest
    joy.

All this does after all make itself into some sort of sense, but the
process by which this is at length attained is lengthy, tedious, and
full of pitfalls to the reader who is unfamiliar with some dozen
modern Russian writers and is innocent of "Soviet life."

In the impossibility of giving an intelligible English version of the
_Bare Year_ and its companions, the stories contained in this volume
have been selected from the early and less sensational part of
Pilniak's writings and will be considerably less staggering to the
average English intelligence.

       *       *       *       *       *       *       *

There are two things an English reader is in the habit of expecting
when approaching a new Russian writer: first he expects much--and
complains when he does not get it; to be appreciated by an English
reader the Russian writer must be a Turgenev or a Chekhov, short of
that he is no use. Secondly in every Russian book he expects to find
"ideas" and "a philosophy." If the eventual English reader approaches
Pilniak with these standards, he will be disappointed; Pilniak is not
a second Dostoyevsky, and he has singularly few "ideas." It is not
that he has no ambition in the way of ideas, but they are incoherent
and cheap. The sort of historical speculations he indulges in may be
appreciated at their right value on reading _A Thousand Years_. In
later books he is still more self-indulgent in this direction, and
many of his "stories" are a sort of muddle-headed historical
disquisitions rather than stories in any acceptable sense of the
word. Andrey Bely and his famous _Petersburg_ are responsible for
this habit of Pilniak's, as well as for many others of his
perversities.

Pilniak is without a doubt a writer of considerable ability, but he
is essentially unoriginal and derivative. Even in his famous novels
of "Soviet life," it is only the subject matter he has found out for
himself--the methods of treating it are other peoples'. But this
imitativeness makes Pilniak a writer of peculiar interest: he is a
sort of epitome of modern Russian fiction, a living literary history,
and this representative quality of his is perhaps the chief claim on
our attention that can be advanced on behalf of the stories included
in this book. Almost every one of them can be traced back to some
Russian or foreign writer. Each of them belongs to and is eminently
typical of some accepted literary genre in vogue between 1910 and
1920. The _Snow_ and _The Forest Manor_ belong to the ordinary
psychological problem-story acted among "intellectuals"; they have
for their ancestors Chekhov, Zenaide Hippius, and the Polish
novelists. _Always on Detachment_, belongs to the progeny of A. N.
Tolstoy, with the inevitable blackguardly seduction of a more or less
pure girl or woman at the end. _The Snow Wind_ and _Over the Ravine_
are animal stories, for which, I believe, Jack London is mainly
responsible. In _A Year of Their Lives_ the same "animal" method is
transfered to the treatment of primitive human life, and the shadow
of Knut Hamsun is plainly discernible in the background. _Death_,
_The Heirs_, and _The Belokonsky Estate_ are first class exercises in
the manner of Bunin, and only _A Thousand Years_ and _The Crossways_
herald in, to a certain extent, Pilniak's own manner of invention.
From the point of view of "ideas" _The Crossways_ is the most
interesting in the book, for it gives expression to that which is
certainly the root of all Pilniak's conception of the Revolution. It
is--to use two terms which have been applied to Russia by two very
different schools of thought but equally opposed to Europe--a
"Scythian" or an "Eurasian" conception. To Pilniak the Revolution is
essentially the "Revolt" of peasant and rural Russia against the
alien network of European civilisation, the Revolt of the "crossways"
against the highroad and the railroad, of the village against the
town. A conception, you will perceive, which is opposed to that of
Lenin and the orthodox Communists, and which explains why official
Bolshevism is not over-enthusiastic about Pilniak. The _Crossways_ is
a good piece of work (it can hardly be called a story) and it just
gives a glimpse of that ambitious vastness of scale on which Pilniak
was soon to plan his bigger Soviet stories.

       *       *       *       *       *       *       *

But taken in themselves and apart from his later work I think the
stories in the manner of Bunin will be found the most satisfactory
items in this volume. Of these _Death_ was written before the
Revolution and, but for an entirely irrelevant and very Pilniakish
allusion to Lermontov and other deceased worthies, it is entirely
unconnected with events and revolutions. Very "imperfective" and
hardly a "story," it is nevertheless done with sober and
conscientious craftsmanship, very much like Bunin and very unlike the
usual idea we have of Pilniak. The only thing Pilniak was incapable
of taking from his model was Bunin's wonderfully rich and full
Russian, a shortcoming which is least likely to be felt in
translation.

       *       *       *       *       *       *       *

The other two Buninesque stories, _The Belokonsky Estate_ and _The
Heirs_, are stories (again, can the word "story" be applied to this
rampantly "imperfective" style?) of the Revolution. They display the
same qualities of sober measure and solid texture which are not
usually associated with the name of Pilniak. These two stories ought
to be read side by side, for they are correlative. In _The Belokonsky
Estate_ the representative of "the old order," Prince Constantine, is
drawn to an almost heroical scale and the "new man" cuts a poor and
contemptible figure by his side. In the other story the old order is
represented by a studied selection of all its worst types. I do not
think that the stories were meant as a deliberate contrast, they are
just the outcome of the natural lack of preconceived idea which is
typical of Pilniak and of his passive, receptive, plastical mind. As
long as he does not go out of his way to give expression to vague and
incoherent ideas, the outcome of his muddle-headed meditations on
Russian History, this very shortcoming (if shortcoming it be) becomes
something of a virtue, and Pilniak--an honest membrana vibrating with
unbiassed indifference to every sound from the outer world.

       *       *       *       *       *       *       *

The reader may miss the more elaborate and sensational stories of
Soviet life. But I have a word of consolation for him--they are
eminently unreadable, and for myself I would never have read them had
it not been for the hard duties of a literary critic. In this case as
in others I prefer to go direct to the fountain-source and read
Bely's _Petersburg_ and the books of Remizov, which for all the
difficulties they put in the way of the reader and of the translator
will at least amply repay their efforts. But Pilniak has also
substantial virtues: the power to make things live; an openness to
life and an acute vision. If he throws away the borrowed methods that
suit him as little as a peacock's feathers may suit a crow, he will
no doubt develop rather along the lines of the better stories
included in this volume, than in the direction of his more ambitious
novels. And I imagine that his _opus magnum_, if, in some distant
future he ever comes to write one, will be more like the good old
realism of the nineteenth century than like the intense and troubled
art of his present masters; I venture to prophesy that he will
finally turn out something like a Soviet (or post-Soviet) Trollope,
rather than a vulgarised Andrey Bely.

D. S. MIRSKY.

_May_, 1924.






TALES OF THE WILDERNESS


THE SNOW

I


The tinkling of postillion-bells broke the stillness of the crisp
winter night--a coachman driving from the station perhaps. They rang
out near the farm, were heard descending into a hollow; then, as the
horses commenced to trot, they jingled briskly into the country,
their echoes at last dying away beyond the common.

Polunin and his guest, Arkhipov, were playing chess in his study.
Vera Lvovna was minding the infant; she talked with Alena for a
while; then went into the drawing-room, and rummaged among the books
there.

Polunin's study was large, candles burnt on the desk, books were
scattered about here and there; an antique firearm dimly shone above
a wide, leather-covered sofa. The silent, moonlit night peered in
through the blindless windows, through one of which was passed a
wire. The telegraph-post stood close beside it, and its wires hummed
ceaselessly in the room somewhere in a corner of the ceiling--a
monotonous, barely audible sound, like a snow-storm.

The two men sat in silence, Polunin broad-shouldered and bearded,
Arkhipov lean, wiry, and bald.

Alena entered bringing in curdled milk and cheese-cakes. She was a
modest young woman with quiet eyes, and wore a white kerchief.

"Won't you please partake of our simple fare?" she asked shyly,
inclining her head and folding her hands across her bosom.

Silent and absent-minded, the chess-players sat down to table and
supped. Alena was about to join them, but just then her child began
to cry, and she hurriedly left the room. The tea-urn softly simmered
and seethed, emitting a low, hissing sound in unison with that of the
wires. The men took up their tea and returned to their chess. Vera
Lvovna returned from the drawing-room; and, taking a seat on the sofa
beside her husband, sat there without stirring, with the fixed,
motionless eyes of a nocturnal bird.

"Have you examined the Goya, Vera Lvovna?" Polunin asked suddenly.

"I just glanced through the _History of Art_; then I sat down with
Natasha."

"He has the most wonderful devilry!" Polunin declared, "and, do you
know, there is another painter--Bosch. _He_ has something more than
devilry in _him_. You should see his Temptation of St. Anthony!"

They began to discuss Goya, Bosch, and St. Anthony, and as Polunin
spoke he imperceptibly led the conversation to the subject of St.
Francis d'Assisi. He had just been reading the Saint's works, and was
much attracted by his ascetical attitude towards the world. Then the
conversation flagged.

It was late when the Arkhipovs left, and Polunin accompanied them
home. The last breath of an expiring wind softly stirred the pine-
branches, which swayed to and fro in a mystic shadow-dance against
the constellations. Orion, slanting and impressive, listed across a
boundless sky, his starry belt gleaming as he approached his midnight
post. In the widespread stillness the murmur of the pines sounded
like rolling surf as it beats on the rocks, and the frozen snow
crunched like broken glass underfoot: the frost was cruelly sharp.

On reaching home, Polunin looked up into the overarching sky,
searching the glittering expanse for his beloved Cassiopeian
Constellation, and gazed intently at the sturdy splendour of the
Polar Star; then he watered the horses, gave them their forage for
the night, and treated them to a special whistling performance.

It struck warm in the stables, and there was a smell of horses'
sweat. A lantern burned dimly on the wall; from the horses' nostrils
issued grey, steamy cloudlets; Podubny, the stallion, rolled a great
wondering eye round on his master, as though inquiring what he was
doing. Polunin locked the stable; then stood outside in the snow for
a while, examining the bolts.

In the study Alena had made herself up a bed on the sofa, sat down
next it in an armchair and began tending her baby, bending over it
humming a wordless lullaby. Polunin sat down by her when he came in
and discussed domestic affairs; then took the child from Alena and
rocked her. Pale green beams of moonlight flooded through the
windows.

Polunin thought of St. Francis d'Assisi, of the Arkhipovs who had
lost faith and yet were seeking the law, of Alena and their
household. The house was wrapped in utter silence, and he soon fell
into that sound, healthy sleep to which he was now accustomed, in
contrast to his former nights of insomnia.

The faint moon drifted over the silent fields, and the pines shone
tipped with silver. A new-born wind sighed, stirred, then rose gently
from the enchanted caverns of the night and soared up into the sky
with the swift flutter of many-plumed wings. Assuredly Kseniya
Ippolytovna Enisherlova was not asleep on such a night.

II

The day dawned cold, white, pellucid--breathing forth thin, misty
vapour, while a hoar-frost clothed the houses, trees, and hedges. The
smoke from the village chimneypots rose straight and blue. Outside
the windows was an overgrown garden, a snow-covered tree lay prone on
the earth; further off were snow-clad fields, the valley and the
 forest. Sky and air were pale and transparent,
 and the sun was hidden behind a drift of fleecy white clouds.

Alena came in, made some remark about the house, then went out to
singe the pig for Christmas.

The library-clock struck eleven; a clock in the hall answered. Then
there came a sudden ring on the telephone; it sounded strange and
piercing in the empty stillness.

"Is that you, Dmitri Vladimirovich? Dmitri Vladimirovich, is that
you?" cried a woman's muffled voice: it sounded a great way off
through the instrument.

"Yes, but who is speaking?"

"Kseniya Ippolytovna Enisherlova is speaking", the voice answered
quietly; then added in a higher key: "Is it you, my ascetic and
seeker? This is me, me, Kseniya."

"You, Kseniya Ippolytovna?" Polunin exclaimed joyfully.

"Yes, yes ... Oh yes!... I am tired of roaming about and being always
on the brink of a precipice, so I have come to you ... across the
fields, where there is snow, snow, snow and sky ... to you, the
seeker.... Will you take me? Have you forgiven me that July?"

Polunin's face was grave and attentive as he bent over the telephone:

"Yes, I have forgiven," he replied.

       *       *       *       *       *       *       *

One long past summer, Polunin and Kseniya Ippolytovna used to greet
the glowing dawn together. At sundown, when the birch-trees exhaled a
pungent odour and the crystal sickle of the moon was sinking in the
west, they bade adieu until the morrow on the cool, dew-sprinkled
terrace, and Polunin passionately kissed--as he believed--the pure,
innocent lips of Kseniya Ippolytovna.

But she laughed at his ardour, and her avid lips callously drank in
his consuming, protesting passion, only to desert him afterwards,
abandoning him for Paris, and leaving behind her the shreds of his
pure and passionate love.

That June and July had brought joy and sorrow, good and ill. Polunin
was already disillusioned when he met Alena, and was living alone
with his books. He met her in the spring, and quickly and simply
became intimate with her, begetting a child, for he found that the
instinct of fatherhood had replaced that of passion within him.

Alena entered his house at evening, without any wedding-ceremony,
placed her trunk on a bench in the kitchen, and passing quickly
through into the study, said quietly:

"Here I am, I have come." She looked very beautiful and modest as she
stood there, wiping the corner of her mouth with her handkerchief.

Kseniya Ippolytovna arrived late when dusk was already falling and
blue shadows crept over the snow. The sky had darkened, becoming
shrouded in a murky blue; bullfinches chirruped in the snow under the
windows. Kseniya Ippolytovna mounted the steps and rang, although
Polunin had already opened the door for her.

The hall was large, bright, and cold. As she entered, the sunrays
fell a moment on the windows and the light grew warm and waxy,
lending to her face--as Polunin thought--a greenish-yellow tint, like
the skin of a peach, and infinitely beautiful. But the rays died away
immediately, leaving a blue crepuscular gloom, in which Kseniya
Ippolytovna's figure grew dim, forlorn, and decrepit.

Alena curtseyed: Kseniya Ippolytovna hesitated a moment, wondering if
she should give her hand; then she went up to Alena and kissed her.

"Good evening", she cried gaily, "you know I am an old friend of your
husband's."

But she did not offer her hand to Polunin.

Kseniya Ippolytovna had greatly changed since that far-off summer.
Her eyes, her wilful lips, her Grecian nose, and smooth brows were as
beautiful as ever, but now there was something reminiscent of late
August in her. Formerly she had worn bright costumes--now she wore
dark; and her soft auburn hair was fastened in a simple plait.

They entered the study and sat down on the sofa. Outside the windows
lay the snow, blue like the glow within. The walls and the furniture
grew dim in the twilight. Polunin--grave and attentive--hovered
solicitously round his guest. Alena withdrew, casting a long,
steadfast look at her husband.

"I have come here straight from Paris", Kseniya explained. "It is
rather queer--I was preparing to leave for Nice in the spring, and
was getting my things together, when I found a nest of mice in my
wardrobe. The mother-mouse ran off, leaving three little babes behind
her; they were raw-skinned and could only just crawl. I spent my
whole time with them, but on the third day the first died, and then
the same night the other two.... I packed up for Russia the next
morning, to come here, to you, where there is snow, snow.... Of
course there is no snow in Paris--and it will soon be Christmas, the
Russian Christmas."

She became silent, folded her hands and laid them against her cheek;
for a moment she had a sorrowful, forlorn expression.

"Continue, Kseniya Ippolytovna", Polunin urged.

"I was driving by our fields and thinking how life here is as simple
and monotonous as the fields themselves, and that it is possible to
live here a serious life without trivialities. You know what it is to
live for trivialities. I am called--and I go. I am loved--and I let
myself be loved! Something in a showcase catches my eye and I buy it.
I should always remain stationary were it not for those that have the
will to move me....

"I was driving by our fields and thinking of the impossibility of
such a life: I was thinking too that I would come to you and tell you
of the mice.... Paris, Nice, Monaco, costumes, English perfumes,
wine, Leonardo da Vinci, neo-classicism, lovers, what are they? With
you everything is just as of old."

She rose and crossed to the window.

"The snow is blue-white here, as it is in Norway--I jilted Valpyanov
there. The Norwegian people are like trolls. There is no better place
than Russia! With you nothing changes. Have you forgiven me that
July?"

Polunin approached and stood beside her.

"Yes, I have forgiven", he said earnestly.

"But I have not forgiven you that June!" she flashed at him; then she
resumed: "The library, too, is the same as ever. Do you remember how
we used to read Maupassant together in there?"

Kseniya Ippolytovna approached the library-door, opened it, and went
in. Inside were book-cases behind whose glass frames stood even rows
of gilded volumes; there was also a sofa, and close to it a large,
round, polished table. The last yellow rays of the sun came in
through the windows. Unlike that in the study, the light in here was
not cold, but warm and waxy, so that again Kseniya Ippolytovna's face
seemed strangely green to Polunin, her hair a yellow-red; her large,
dark, deep-sunken eyes bore a stubborn look.

"God has endowed you with wonderful beauty, Kseniya, Ippolytovna,"
Polunin said gravely.

She gave him a keen glance; then smiled. "God has made me wonderfully
tempting! By the way, you used to dream of faith; have you found it?"

"Yes, I have found it."

"Faith in what?"

"In life."

"But if there is nothing to believe in?"

"Impossible!"

"I don't know. I don't know." Kseniya Ippolytovna raised her hands to
her head. "The Japanese, Naburu Kotokami, is still looking for me in
Paris and Nice... I wonder if he knows about Russia.... I have not
had a smoke for a whole week, not since the last little mouse died; I
smoked Egyptians before .... Yes, you are right, it is impossible not
to have faith."

Polunin went to her quickly, took her hands, then dropped them; his
eyes were very observant, his voice quiet and serious.

"Kseniya, you must not grieve, you must not."

"Do you love me?"

"As a woman--no, as a fellow-creature--I do," he answered firmly.

She smiled, dropped her eyes, then moved to the sofa, sat down and
arranged her dress, then smiled again.

"I want to be pure."

"And so you are!" Polunin sat down beside her, leaning forward, his
elbows on his knees.

They were silent.

Kseniya Ippolytovna said at last: "You have grown old, Polunin!"

"Yes, I have grown old. People do, but there is nothing terrible in
that when they have found what they sought for."

"Yes, when they have found it.... But what about now? Why do you say
that? Is it Alena?"

"Why ask? Although I am disillusioned, Kseniya, I go on chopping
firewood, heating the stove, living just to live. I read St. Francis
d'Assisi, think about him, and grieve that such a life as his may not
be lived again. I know he was absurd, but he had faith, And now
Alena--I love her, I shall love her for ever. I wish to feel God!"

Kseniya Ippolytovna looked at him curiously:

"Do you know what the baby-mice smelt like?"

"No, why do you ask?"

"They smelt like new-born babies--like human children! You have a
daughter, Natasha. That is everything."

The sun sank in an ocean of wine-coloured light, and a great red
wound remained amidst the drift of cold clouds over the western
horizon. The snow grew violet, and the room was filled with shadowy,
purplish twilight. Alena entered and the loud humming of the
telegraph wires came through the study's open door.

By nightfall battalions of fleeting clouds flecked the sky; the moon
danced and quivered in their midst--a silver-horned goddess, luminous
with the long-stored knowledge of the ages. The bitter snow-wind
crept, wound, and whirled along in spirals, loops, and ribbons,
lashing the fields, whining and wailing its age-old, dismal song over
the lone desolate spaces. The land was wretched, restless, and
forlorn; the sky was overcast with sombre, gaping caverns shot
through with lurid lines of fire.

       *       *       *       *       *       *       *

At seven o'clock the Arkhipovs arrived.

Kseniya Ippolytovna had known them a long time: they had been
acquaintances even before Arkhipov's marriage. As he greeted her now,
he kissed her hand and began speaking about foreign countries--
principally Germany, which he knew and admired. They passed into the
study, where they argued and conversed: they had nothing much to talk
about really. Vera Lvovna was silent, as usual; and soon went to see
Natasha. Polunin also was quiet, walking about the room with his
hands behind his back.

Kseniya Ippolytovna jested in a wilful, merry, and coquettish fashion
with Arkhipov, who answered her in a polite, serious, and punctilious
manner. He was unable to carry on a light, witty conversation, and
was acutely conscious of his own awkwardness. From a mere trifle,
something Kseniya Ippolytovna said about fortune-telling at
Christmas, there arose an old-standing dispute between the two men on
Belief and Unbelief.

Arkhipov spoke with calmness and conviction, but Polunin grew angry,
confused, and agitated. Arkhipov declared that Faith was unnecessary
and injurious, like instinct and every other sentiment; that there
was only one thing immutable--Intellect. Only that was moral which
was intelligent.

Polunin retorted that the intellectual and the non-intellectual were
no standard of life, for was life intelligent? he asked. He contended
that without Faith there was only death; that the one thing immutable
in life was the tragedy of Faith and the Spirit.

"But do you know what Thought is, Polunin?"

"Yes, indeed I do!"

"Don't smile! Do you not know that Thought kills everything? Reflect,
think thrice over what you regard as sacred, and it will be as simple
as a glass of lemonade."

"But death?"

"Death is an exit into nothing. I have always that in reserve--when I
am heart-broken. For the present I am content to live and thrive."

When the dispute was over, Vera Lvovna said in a low voice, as calm
as ever:

"The only tragic thing in life is that there is nothing tragical,
while death is just death, when anyone dies physically. A little less
metaphysics!"

Kseniya Ippolytovna had been listening, alert and restless.

"But all the same," she answered Vera Lvovna animatedly, "Isn't the
absence of tragedy the true tragedy?"

"Yes, that alone."

"And love?"

"No, not love."

"But aren't you married?"

"I want my baby."

Kseniya Ippolytovna, who was lying on the sofa, rose up on her knees,
and stretching out her arms cried:

"Ah, a baby! Is that not instinct?"

"That is a law!"

The women began to argue. Then the dispute died down. Arkhipov
proposed a game of chance. They uncovered a green table, set lighted
candles at its corners and commenced to play leisurely and silently
as in winter. Arkhipov sat erect, resting his elbows at right angles
on the table.

The wind whistled outside, the blizzard increased in violence, and
from some far distance came the dismal, melancholy creaking and
grinding of iron. Alena came in, and sat quietly beside her husband,
her hands folded in her lap. They were killing time.

"The last time, I sat down to play a game of chance amidst the fjords
in a little valley hotel; a dreadful storm raged the whole while,"
Kseniya Ippolytovna remarked pensively. "Yes, there are big and
little tragedies in life!"

The wind shrieked mournfully; snow lashed at the windows. Kseniya
stayed on until a late hour, and Alena invited her to remain
overnight; but she refused and left.

Polunin accompanied her. The snow-wind blew violently, whistling and
cutting at them viciously. The moon seemed to be leaping among the
clouds; around them the green, snowy twilight hung like a thick
curtain. The horses jogged along slowly. Darkness lay over the land.

Polunin returned alone over a tractless road-way; the gale blew in
his face; the snow blinded him. He stabled his horses; then found
Alena waiting up for him in the kitchen, her expression was composed
but sad. Polunin took her in his arms and kissed her.

"Do not be anxious or afraid; I love only you, no one else. I know
why you are unhappy."

Alena looked up at him in loving gratitude, and shyly smiled.

"You do not understand that it is possible to love one only. Other
men are not able to do that," Polunin told her tenderly.

The hurricane raged over the house, but within reigned peace. Polunin
went into his study and sat down at his desk; Natasha began to cry;
he rose, took a candle, and brought her to Alena, who nursed her. The
infant looked so small, fragile, and red that Polunin's heart
overflowed with tenderness towards her. One solitary, flickering
candle illumined the room.

There was a call on the telephone at daybreak. Polunin was already
up. The day slowly broke in shades of blue; there was a murky, bluish
light inside the rooms and outside the windows, the panes of which
were coated with snow. The storm had subsided.

"Have I aroused you? Were you still in bed?" called Kseniya.

"No, I was already up."

"On the watch?"

"Yes."

"I have only just arrived home. The storm whirled madly round us in
the fields, and the roads were invisible, frozen under snow ... I
drove on thinking, and thinking--of the snow, you, myself, Arkhipov,
Paris ... oh, Paris...! You are not angry with me for ringing you up,
are you, my ascetic?... I was thinking of our conversation."

"What were you thinking?"

"This.... We were speaking together, you see.... Forgive me, but you
could not speak like that to Alena. She would not understand ... how
could she?"

"One need not speak a word, yet understand everything. There is
something that unites--without the aid of speech--not only Alena and
me, but the world and me. That is a law of God."

"So it is," murmured Kseniya. "Forgive me ... poor old Alena."

"I love her, and she has given me a daughter...."

"Yes, that is true. And we ... we love, but are childless... We rise
in the morning feeling dull and depressed from our revels of
overnight, while you were wisely sleeping." Kseniya Ippolytovna's
voice rose higher. "'We are the heisha-girls of lantern-light,' you
remember Annensky? At night we sit in restaurants, drinking wine and
listening to garish music. We love--but are childless.... And you?
You live a sober, righteous and sensible life, seeking the truth....
Isn't that so?' Truth!" Her cry was malignant and full of derision.

"That is unjust, Kseniya," answered Polunin in a low voice, hanging
his head.

"No, wait," continued the mocking voice at the other end of the line;
"here is something more from Annensky: 'We are the heisha-girls of
lantern-light!'... 'And what seemed to them music brought them
torment'; and again: 'But Cypris has nothing more sacred than the
words _I love_, unuttered by us' ..."

"That is unjust, Kseniya."

"Unjust!" She laughed stridently; then suddenly was silent. She began
to speak in a sad, scarcely audible whisper: "But Cypris has nothing
more sacred than the words _I love_, unuttered by us.... I love ...
love.... Oh, darling, at that time, in that June, I looked upon you
as a mere lad. But now I seem small and little myself, and you a big
man, who defends me. How miserable I was alone in the fields last
night! But that is expiation.... You are the only one who has loved
me devotedly. Thank you, but I have no faith now."

The dawn was grey, lingering, cold; the East grew red.

III

Kseniya Ippolytovna's ancestral home had reared its columns for fully
a century. It was of classic architecture, with pediment, balconied
hall, echoing corridors, and furniture that seemed never to have been
moved from the place it had occupied in her forefathers' time.

The old mansion greeted her--the last descendant of the ancient name--
with gloomy indifference; with cold, sombre apartments that were
terrible by night, and thickly covered with the accumulated dust of
many years. An ancient butler remained who recalled the former times
and masters, the former baronial pomp and splendour. The housemaid,
who spoke no Russian, was brought by Kseniya.

Kseniya Ippolytovna established herself in her mother's rooms. She
told the one ancient retainer that the household should be conducted
as in her parents' day, with all the old rules and regulations. He
thereupon informed her that it was customary in the times of the old
masters for relatives and friends to gather together on Christmas
Eve, while for the New Year all the gentry of the district considered
it their duty to come, even those who were uninvited. Therefore it
was necessary for her to order in the provisions at once.

The old butler called Kseniya Ippolytovna at eight; then served her
with coffee. After she had taken it, he said austerely:

"You will have to go round the house and arrange things, Barina; then
go into the study to read books and work out the expenses and write
out recipes for your house-party. The old gentry always did that."

She carried out all her instructions, adhering rigorously to former
rules. She was wonderfully quiet, submissive, and sad. She read
thick, simply-written books--those in which the old script for _sh_
is confused with that for _t_. Now and then, however, she rang up
Polunin behind the old man's back, talking to him long and fretfully,
with mingled love, grief, and hatred.

In the holidays they drove about together in droskies, and told
fortunes: Kseniya Ippolytovna was presented with a waxen cradle. They
drove to town with some mummers, and attended an amateur performance
in a club. Polunin dressed up as a wood-spirit, Kseniya as a wood-
spirit's daughter--out of a birch-grove. Then they visited the
neighbouring landowners.

The Christmas holidays were bright and frosty, with a red morning
glow from the east, the daylight waxy in the sun, and with long blue,
crepuscular evenings.

IV

The old butler made a great ado in the house at the approach of the
New Year. In preparation for a great ball, he cleared the inlaid
floors, spread carpets, filled the lamps; placed new candles here and
there; took the silver and the dinner-services out of their chests,
and procured all the requisites for fortune-telling. By New Year's
Eve the house was in order, the stately rooms glittering with lights,
and uniformed village-lads stood by the doors.

Kseniya Ippolytovna awoke late on that day and did not get up, lying
without stirring in bed until dinner time, her hands behind her head.
It was a clear, bright day and the sun's golden rays streamed in
through the windows, and were reflected on the polished floor,
casting wavy shadows over the dark heavy tapestry on the walls.
Outside was the cold blue glare of the snow, which was marked with
the imprints of birds' feet, and a vast stretch of clear turquoise
sky.

The bedroom was large and gloomy; the polished floor was covered with
rugs; a canopied double bedstead stood against the further wall; a
large wardrobe was placed in a corner.

Kseniya Ippolytovna looked haggard and unhappy. She took a bath
before dinner; then had her meal--alone, in solitary state, drowsing
lingeringly over it with a book.

Crows, the birds of destruction, were cawing and gossiping outside in
the park. At dusk the fragile new moon rose for a brief while. The
frosty night was crisp and sparkling. The stars shone diamond-bright
in the vast, all-embracing vault of blue; the snow was a soft,
velvety green.

Polunin arrived early. Kseniya Ippolytovna greeted him in the
drawing-room. A bright fire burnt on the hearth; beside it were two
deep armchairs. No lamps were alight, but the fire-flames cast warm,
orange reflections; the round-topped windows seemed silvery in the
hoar-frost.

Kseniya Ippolytovna wore a dark evening dress and had plaited her
hair; she shook hands with Polunin.

"I am feeling sad to-day, Polunin," she said in a melancholy voice.
They sat down in the armchairs.

"I expected you at five. It is now six. But you are always churlish
and inconsiderate towards women. You haven't once wanted to be alone
with me--or guessed that I desired it!" She spoke calmly, rather
coldly, gazing obstinately into the fire, her cheeks cupped between
her narrow palms. "You are so very silent, a perfect diplomat....
What is it like in the fields to-day? Cold? Warm? Tea will be served
in a moment."

There was a pause.

At last Polunin broke the silence.

"Yes, it was bitterly cold, but fine." After a further pause he
added: "When we last talked together you did not say all that was in
your mind. Say it now."

Kseniya Ippolytovna laughed:

"I have already said everything! Isn't it cold? I have not been out
to-day. I have been thinking about Paris and of that ... that
June.... Tea should be ready by this time!"

She rose and rung the bell, and the old butler came in.

"Will tea be long?"

"I will bring it now, Barina."

He went out and returned with a tray on which were two glasses of
tea, a decanter of rum, some pastries, figs, and honey, and laid them
on the little table beside the armchairs.

"Will you have the lamps lighted, Barina?" he inquired, respectfully.

"No. You may go. Close the door."

The old butler looked at them knowingly; then withdrew.
 Kseniya turned at once to Polunin.

"I have told you everything. How is it you have not understood? Drink
up your tea."

"Tell me again," he pleaded.

"Take your tea first; pour out the rum. I repeat I have already told
you all. You remember about the mice? Did you not understand that?"
Kseniya Ippolytovna sat erect in her chair; she spoke coldly, in the
same distant tone in which she had addressed the butler.

Polunin shook his head: "No, I haven't understood."

"Dear me, dear me!" she mocked, "and you used to be so quick-witted,
my ascetic. Still, health and happiness do not always sharpen the
wits. You are healthy and happy, aren't you?"

"You are being unjust again," Polunin protested. "You know very well
that I love you."

Kseniya Ippolytovna gave a short laugh: "Oh, come, come! None of
that!" She drank her glass of tea feverishly, threw herself back in
the chair, and was silent.

Polunin also took his, warming himself after his cold drive.

She spoke again after a while in a quiet dreamy tone: "In this stove,
flames will suddenly flare up, then die away, and it will become
cold. You and I have always had broken conversations. Perhaps the
Arkhipovs are right--when it seems expedient, kill! When it seems
expedient, breed! That is wise, prudent, honest...." Suddenly she sat
erect, pouring out quick, passionate, uneven words:

"Do you love me? Do you desire me ... as a woman?... to kiss, to
caress?... You understand? No, be silent! I am purged.... I come to
you as you came to me that June.... You didn't understand about the
mice?... Or perhaps you did.

"Have you noticed, have you ever reflected on that which does not
change in man's life, but for ever remains the same? No, no, wait!...
There have been hundreds of religions, ethics, aesthetics, sciences,
philosophical systems: they have all changed and are still changing--
only one law remains unaltered, that all living things--whether men,
mice, or rye--are born, breed, and die.

"I was packing up for Nice, where a lover expected me, when suddenly
I felt an overwhelming desire for a babe, a dear, sweet, little babe
of my own, and I remembered you .... Then I travelled here, to Russia
so as to bear it in reverence.... I am able to do so now!..."

Polunin rose and stood close to Kseniya Ippolytovna: his expression
was serious and alarmed.

"Don't beat me," she murmured.

"You are innocent, Kseniya," he replied.

"Oh, there you go again!" she cried impatiently. "Always sin and
innocence! I am a stupid woman, full of beliefs and superstitions--
nothing more--like all women. I want to conceive here, to breed and
bear a child here. Do you wish to be the father?"

She stood up, looking intently into Polunin's eyes.

"What are you saying, Kseniya?" he asked in a low, grave, pained
tone.

"I have told you what I want. Give me a child and then go--anywhere--
back to your Alena! I have not forgotten that June and July."

"I cannot," Polunin replied firmly; "I love Alena."

"I do not want love," she persisted; "I have no need of it. Indeed I
have not, for I do not even love you!" She spoke in a low, faint
voice, and passed her hand over her face.

"I must go," the man said at last.

She looked at him sharply. "Where to?"

"How do you mean 'where to'? I must go away altogether!"

"Ah, those tragedies, duties, and sins again!" she cried, her eyes
burning into his with hatred and contempt. "Isn't it all perfectly
simple? Didn't you make a contract with me?"

"I have never made one without love. And I love only Alena. I must
go."

"Oh, what cruel, ascetical egoism!" she cried violently. Then
suddenly all her rage died down, and she sat quietly in the chair,
covering her face with her hands.

Polunin stood by, his shoulders bowed, his arms hanging limply. His
face betrayed grief and anxiety.

Kseniya looked up at him with a wan smile: "It is all right--there is
no need to go... It was only my nonsense.... I was merely venting my
anger.... Don't mind me .... I am tired and harassed. Of course I
have not been purged. I know that is impossible... We are the
'heisha-girls of lantern-light'.... You remember Annensky? ... Give
me your hand."

Polunin stretched out his large hand, took her yielding one in his
and pressed its delicate fingers.

"You have forgiven me?" she murmured.

He looked at her helplessly, then muttered: "I cannot either forgive
or not forgive. But ... I cannot!"

"Never mind; we shall forget. We shall be cheerful and happy. You
remember: 'Where beauty shines amidst mire and baseness there is only
torment'.... You need not mind, it is all over!"

She uttered the last few words with a cry, raised herself erect, and
laughed aloud with forced gaiety.

"We shall tell fortunes, jest, drink, be merry--like our grandfathers ...
you remember! ...Had not our grandmothers their coachmen
friends?"

She rang the bell and the butler came in.

"Bring in more tea. Light the fire and the lamps."

The fire burnt brightly and illuminated the leather-covered chairs.
The portrait frames on the walls shone golden through the darkness.
Polunin paced up and down the room, his hands behind his back; his
footsteps were muffled in the thick carpet.

Sleigh bells began to ring outside.

It was just ten o'clock as the guests assembled from the town and the
neighbouring estates. They were received in the drawing-room.

Taper, the priest's son, commenced playing a polka, and the ladies
went into the ballroom; the old butler and two footmen brought wax
candles and basins of water, and the old ladies began to tell
fortunes. A troupe of mummers tumbled in, a bear performed tricks, a
Little Russian dulcimer-player sang songs.

The mummers brought in with them the smell of frost, furs, and
napthaline. One of them emitted a cock's crow, and they danced a
Russian dance. It was all merry and bright, a tumultuous, boisterous
revel, as in the old Russian aristocracy days. There was a smell of
burning wax, candle-grease, and burning paper.

Kseniya Ippolytovna was the soul of gaiety; she laughed and jested
cheerfully as she waltzed with a Lyceum student, a General's son. She
had re-dressed her hair gorgeously, and wore a pearl necklace round
her throat. The old men sat round card-tables in the lounge, talking
on local topics.

At half past eleven a footman opened the door leading into the
dining-room and solemnly announced that supper was served. They
supped and toasted, ate and drank amid the clatter of knives, forks,
dishes, and spoons. Kseniya made Arkhipov, Polunin, a General and a
Magistrate sit beside her.

At midnight, just as they were expecting the clock to chime, Kseniya
Ippolytovna rose to propose a toast; in her right hand was a glass;
her left was flung back behind her plaited hair; she held her head
high. All the guests at once rose to their feet.

"I am a woman," she cried aloud. "I drink to ourselves, to women, to
the gentle, to the homely, to happiness and purity! To motherhood! I
drink to the sacred--" she broke off abruptly, sat down and hung her
head.

Somebody cried: "Hurrah!" To someone else it seemed that Kseniya was
weeping. The clock began to chime, the guests shouted "Hurrah!"
clinked glasses, and drank.

Then they sang, while some rose and carried round glasses to those of
the guests who were still sober and those who were only partially
intoxicated. They bowed. They sang _The Goblets_, and the basses
thundered:

 "Drink to the dregs! Drink to the dregs!" Kseniya Ippolytovna
offered her first glass to Polunin. She stood in front of him with a
tray, curtseyed without lifting her eyes and sang. Polunin rose,
colouring with embarrassment:

"I never drink wine," he protested.

But the basses thundered: "Drink to the dregs! Drink to the dregs!"

His face darkened, he raised a silencing arm, and firmly repeated:

"I never drink wine, and I do not intend to."

Kseniya gazed into the depths of his eyes and said softly:

"I want you to, I beg you.... Do you hear?"

"I will not," Polunin whispered back.

Then she cried out:

"He doesn't want to! We mustn't make him against his will!" She
turned away, offered her glass to the Magistrate, and after him to
the Lyceum student; then excused herself and withdrew, quietly
returning later looking sad and as if she had suddenly aged.

They lingered a long while over supper; then went into the ball-room
to dance, and sing, and play old fashioned games. The men went to the
buffets to drink, the older ones then sat in the drawing-room playing
whist, and talked.

It was nearly five o'clock when the guests departed. Only the
Arkhipovs and Polunin remained. Kseniya Ippolytovna ordered coffee,
and all four sat down at a small table feeling worn out. The house
was now wrapt in silence. The dawn had just broken.

Kseniya was tired to death, but endeavoured to appear fresh and
cheerful. She passed the coffee round, and then fetched a bottle of
liqueur. They sat almost in silence; what talk they exchanged was
desultory.

"One more year dropped into Eternity," Arkhipov said, sombrely.

"Yes, a year nearer to death, a year further from birth," rejoined
Polunin.

Kseniya Ippolytovna was seated opposite him. Her eyes were veiled.
She rose now to her feet, leaned over the table and spoke to him in
slow, measured accents vibrating with malice:

"Well, pious one! Everything here is mine. I asked you to-day to give
me a baby, because I am merely a woman and so desire motherhood.... I
asked you to take wine... You refused. The nearer to death the
further from birth, you say? Well then, begone!"

She broke into tears, sobbing loudly and plaintively, covering her
face with her hands; then leant against the wall, still sobbing. The
Arkhipovs ran to her; Polunin stood at the table dumbfounded, then
left the room.

"I didn't ask him for passion or caresses. ... I have no husband!"
Kseniya cried, sobbing and shrieking like a hysterical girl. They
calmed her after a time, and she spoke to them in snatches between
her sobs, which were less violent for a while. Then she broke out
weeping afresh, and sank into an armchair.

The dawn had now brightened; the room was filled with a faint,
flickering light. Misty, vaporous, tormenting shadows danced and
twisted oddly in the shifting glimmer: in the tenebrous half-light
the occupants looked grey, weary, and haggard, their faces strangely
distorted by the alternate rise and fall of the shadows. Arkhipov's
bald head with its tightly stretched skin resembled a greatly
elongated skull.

"Listen to me, you Arkhipovs," Kseniya cried brokenly. "Supposing a
distracted woman who desired to be pure were to come and ask you for
a baby--would you give her the same answer as Polunin? He said it was
impossible, that it was sin, that he loved someone else. Would you
answer like that, Arkhipov, knowing it was the woman's last--her
only--chance of salvation--her only love?" She looked eagerly from
one to the other.

"No, certainly not--I should answer in a different way," Arkhipov
replied quietly.

"And you, Vera Lvovna, a wife ... do you hear? I speak in front of
you?"

Vera Lvovna nodded, laid her hand gently on Kseniya's forehead, and
answered softly and tenderly:

"I understand you perfectly."

Again Kseniya wept.

       *       *       *       *       *       *       *

The dawn trod gently down the lanes of darkness. The light grew
clearer and the candles became dim and useless. The outlines of the
furniture crept out of the net of shadows. Through the blue mist
outside the snow, valley, forest, and fields were faintly visible.
From the right of the horizon dawn's red light flushed the heavens
with a cold purple.

Polunin drove along by the fields, trotting smoothly behind his
stallion. The earth was blue and cold and ghostly, a land carved out
of dreams, seemingly unsubstantial and unreal. A harsh, bitter wind
blew from the north, stirring the telegraph-wires by the roadside to
a loud, humming refrain. A silence as of death reigned over the land,
yet life thrilled through it; and now and then piping goldfinches
appeared from their winter nests in the moist green ditches, and flew
ahead of Polunin; then suddenly turned aside and perched lightly on
the wayside brambles.

Night still lingered amid the calm splendour of the vast, primeval
forest. As he drove through the shadowed glades the huge trees gently
swayed their giant boughs, softly brushing aside the shroud of
encompassing darkness.

A golden eagle darted from its mist-wreathed eyrie and flew over the
fields; then soared upwards in ever-widening circles towards the
east--where, like a pale rose ribbon stretched across the sky, the
light from the rising sun shed a delicate opalescent glow on the
snow, which it transformed to an exquisite lilac, and the shadows, to
which it lent a wonderful, mysterious, quivering blue tint.

Polunin sat in his seat, huddled together, brooding morosely,
deriving a grim satisfaction from the fact that--all the same--he had
not broken the law. Henceforth, he never could break it; the thought
of Kseniya Ippolytovna brought pain, but he would not condemn her.

At home, Alena was already up and about; he embraced her fondly,
clasped her in his arms, kissed her forehead; then he took up the
infant and gazed lingeringly, with infinite tenderness, upon her
innocent little face.

The day was glorious; the golden sunlight streamed in through the
windows in a shining cataract, betokening the advent of spring, and
made pools of molten gold upon the floor. But the snow still lay in
all its virgin whiteness over the earth.




A YEAR OF THEIR LIVES

I


To the north, south, east, and west--in all directions for hundreds
of miles--stretched forests and bogs enveloped in a wide-spread veil
of lichen. Brown-trunked cedars and pines towered on high. Beneath
there was a thick, impenetrable jungle of firs, alders, wild-berries,
junipers, and low-hanging birches. Pungent, deep-sunken, lichen-
covered springs of reddish water were hidden amidst undergrowth in
little glades, couched in layers of turf bordered by red bilberries
and huckleberries.

With September came the frosts--fifty degrees below zero. The snow
lay everywhere--crisp and dazzling. There was daylight for three or
four hours only; the remainder of the time it was night. The sky was
lowering, and brooded darkly over the earth. There was a tense hush
and stillness, only broken in September by the lowing of mating elks.
In December came the mournful, sinister howling of the wolves; for
the rest of the time--a deep, dreadful, overpowering silence! A
silence that can be found only in the wastelands of the world.

A village stood on the hill by the river.

The bare slope descended to the water's edge, a grey-brown granite,
and white slatey clay, steep, beaten by wind and rain. Clumsy
discoloured boats were anchored to the bank. The river was broad,
dark, and cold, its surface broken by sombre, choppy, bluish waves.
Here and there the grey silhouettes of huts were visible; their high,
projecting, boarded roofs were covered by greenish lichen. The
windows were shuttered. Nets dried close by. It was the abode of
hunters who went long excursions into the forests in winter, to fight
the wild beasts.

II

In the spring the rivers--now broad, free and mighty--overflowed
their banks. Heavy waves broke up the face of the waters, which sent
forth a deep, hoarse, subdued murmur, as restless and disquieting as
the season itself. The snow thawed. The pine-trees showed resinous
lights, and exhaled a strong, pungent odour.

In the day-time the sky was a broad expanse of blue; at dusk it had a
soft murky hue and a melancholy attraction. In the heart of the
woods, now that winter was over, the first deed of the beasts was
being accomplished--birth. Eider-ducks, swans, and geese were crying
noisily on the river.

At dusk the sky became greenish and murky, merging into a vast tent
of deepest blue studded with a myriad of shining golden stars. Then
the eider-ducks and swans grew silent and went to roost for the
night, and the soft warm air was thrilled by the whines of bear-cubs
and the cries of land-rails. It was then that the maidens assembled
on the slope to sing of Lada and to dance their ancient dances, while
strapping youths came forth from their winter dwellings in the woods
and listened.

The slope down to the river was steep; below was the rustling sound
of water among the reeds. Everything was wrapt in stillness, yet
everywhere the throb and flow of life could be heard. The maidens sat
huddled together on the top of the slope, where the granite and slate
were covered with scanty moss and yellow grass.

They were dressed in gaily-coloured dresses: all of them strong and
robust; they sang their love-songs--old and sad and free--and gazed
into the gathering opalescent mists. Their songs seemed to overflow
from their hearts, and were sung to the youths who stood around them
like sombre, restive shadows, ogling and lustful, like the beasts in
their forest-haunts.

This festive coupling-time had its law.

The youths came here to choose their wives; they quarrelled and
fought, while the maidens remained listless, yielding to them in all.
The young men ogled and fought and he who triumphed first chose his
wife. Then he and she together retired from the festival.

III

Marina was twenty when she proceeded to the river-bank.

Her tall, somewhat heavy body was wonderfully moulded, with strong
muscles and snowy skin. Her chest, back, hips, and limbs were sharply
outlined; she was strong, supple, and well developed. Her round,
broad breast rose high; her hair, eye-brows and eye-lashes were thick
and dark. The pupils of her eyes were deep and liquid; her cheeks
showed a flush of red. Her lips were soft--like a beast's--large,
sensuous and rosy. She walked slowly, moving her long straight legs
evenly, and slightly swaying from her hips....

She joined the maidens on the river slope.

They were singing their mysterious, alluring and illusive songs.

Marina mingled among the crowd of maidens, lay down upon her back,
closed her dreamy eyes, and joined in the festive chorus. The
maidens' souls became absorbed in the singing, and their song spread
far and wide through all the shadowy recesses of the woods, like
shining rays of sunlight. Their eyes closed in langour, their full-
blooded bodies ached with a delicious sensation. Their hearts seemed
to grow benumbed, the numbness spreading through their blood to their
limbs; it deprived them of strength, and their thoughts became
chaotic.

Marina stretched her limbs sensuously; then became absorbed in the
singing, and she also sang. She felt strangely inert; only quivering
at the sound of the lusty, excited voices of the youths.

Afterwards she lay on a couch in her suffocatingly close room; her
hands were clasped behind her head; her bosom swelled. She stretched,
opened her dark pensive eyes wide, compressed her lips, then sank
again into the drowsy langour, lying thus for many hours.

She was twenty, and had grown up free and solitary--with the hunters,
the woods, and the steep and the river--from her birth.

IV

Demid lived on his own plot of ground, which, like the village, stood
on a hill above the river. But here the hill was higher and steeper,
sweeping the edge of the horizon. The wood was nearer, and its grey-
trunked cedars and pines rose from their beds of golden moss to shake
their crests to the stars and stretch their dark-green forest hands
right up to the house. The view was wide and sweeping from here: the
dark, turbulent river, the marsh beyond, the deep-blue billowing
woods fringing the horizon, the heavy lowering sky--all were clearly
visible.

The house, made of huge pines, with timbered walls, plain white-
washed ceilings and floors, was bestrewn with pelts of bears, elks,
wolves, foxes, and ermines. Gunpowder and grape-shot lay on the
tables. In the corners was a medley of lassoes, snares, and
wolftraps. Some rifles hung round the walls. There was a strong
pungent odour, as though all the perfumes of the woods were collected
here. The house contained two rooms and a kitchen.

In the centre of one of the rooms stood a large, rough-hewn table;
round it were some low wooden stools covered with bear-skin. This was
Demid's own room; in the other was the young bear, Makar.

Demid lay motionless for a long time on his bear-skin bed, listening
to the vibrations of his great body--how it lived and throbbed, how
the rich blood coursed through its veins. Makar, the bear,
approached, laid his heavy paws on his chest, and amicably sniffed at
his body. Demid stroked the beast on its ear, and it seemed as if the
man and animal understood each other. Outside the window loomed the
wood.

Demid was rugged and broad-shouldered, a large, quiet, dark-eyed,
good man. He smelt of the woods, and was strong and healthy. Like all
the hunters, he dressed in furs and a rough, home-woven fabric
streaked with red. He wore high, heavy boots made of reindeer hide,
and his coarse, broad hands were covered with broken chilblains.

Makar was young, and, like all young things, he was foolish. He liked
to roll about, and was often destructive--he would gnaw the nets and
skins, break the traps, and lick up the gunpowder. Then Demid
punished him, whereupon Makar would turn on his heel, make foolish
grimaces, and whine plaintively.

V

Demid went to the maidens on the slope and took Marina to his plot of
land. She became his wife.

VI

The dark-green, wind-swept grass grew sweet and succulent in summer.
The sun seemed to shine from out a deep blue ocean of light. The
nights were silvery, the sky seemed dissolved into a pale, pellucid
mist; sunset and dawn co-mingled, and a white wavering haze crept
over the earth. Here life was strong and swift, for it knew that its
days were brief.

Marina was installed in Makar's room, and he was transferred to
Demid's.

Makar greeted Marina with an inhospitable snarl when he saw her for
the first time; then, showing his teeth, he struck her with his paw.
Demid beat him for this behaviour, and he quieted down. Then Marina
made friends with him.

Demid went into the woods in the daytime, and Marina was left alone.

She decorated her room in her own fashion, with a crude, somewhat
exaggerated, yet graceful, taste. She hung round in symmetrical order
the skins and cloth hangings, brightly embroidered with red and blue
cocks and reindeers. She placed an image of the God-Mother in the
corner; she washed the floor; and her multi-coloured room--smelling
as before of the woods--began to resemble a forest-chapel, where the
forest folk pray to their gods.

In the pale-greenish twilight of the illimitable night, when only
horn-owls cried in the woods and bear-cubs snarled by the river,
Demid went in to Marina. She could not think--her mind moved slowly
and awkwardly like a great lumbering animal--she could only feel, and
in those warm, voluptuous, star-drenched nights she yielded herself
to Demid, desiring to become one with him, his strength, and his
passion.

The nights were pale, tremulous, and mysterious. There was a deep,
heavy, nocturnal stillness. White spirals of mist drifted along the
ground. Night-owls and wood spirits hooted. In the morning was a red
blaze of glory as the great orb of day rose from the east into the
azure vault of heaven.

The days flew by and summer passed.

VII

It snowed in September.

It had been noticeable, even in August, how the days drew in and
darkened, how the nights lengthened and deepened. The wood all at
once grew still and dumb; it seemed as though it were deserted. The
air grew cold, and the river became locked in ice. The twilight was
slow and lingering, its deepening shadows turning the snow and ice on
the river to a keen, frosty blue.

Through the nights rang the loud, strange, fierce bellowing of the
elks as they mated; the walls shook, and the hills re-echoed with
their terrible roar.

Marina was with child in the autumn.

One night she woke before dawn. The room was stifling from the heat
of the stove, and she could smell the bear. There was a faint glimmer
of dawn, and the dark walls showed the window frames in a wan blue
outline. Somewhere close by an old elk was bellowing: you could tell
it was old by the hoarse, hissing notes of its hollow cries.

Marina sat up in bed. Her head swam, and she felt nauseated. The bear
lay beside her; he was already awake and was watching her. His eyes
shone with quiet, greenish lights; from outside, the thin crepuscular
light crept into the room through little crevices.

Again Marina felt the nausea, and her head swam; the lights in
Makar's eyes were re-enkindled in Marina's soul into a great,
overwhelming joy that made her body quiver with emotion . . . Her
heart beat like a snared bird--all was wavering and misty, like a
summer morn.

She rose from her bed of bear-skin furs, and naked, with swift,
awkward, uncertain steps, went in to Demid. He was still asleep--she
put her burning arms about him and drew his head to her deep bosom,
whispering to him softly:

"A child ... it is the child...."

Little by little, the night lifted and in through the windows came
the daylight. The elk ceased his bellowing The room filled with
glancing morning shadows. Makar approached, sniffed, and laid his
paws on the bed. Demid seized his collar with his free hand and
patting him fondly said:

"That is right, Makar Ivanych--you know, don't you?" Then turning to
Marina, he added: "What do you think, Marinka? Doesn't he know?
Doesn't the old bear know, Marinka?"

Makar licked Demid's hand, and laid his head knowingly on his
forepaws. The night had gone; rays of lilac-coloured light illumined
the snow and entered the house. Round, red, and distant rose the sun.
Below the hill lay the blue, ice-bound river, and away beyond it
stretched the ribbed outline of the vast, marshy Siberian forest.
Demid did not enter it that day, nor on many of the following days.

VIII

The winter descended.

The snow lay in deep layers, blue by day and night, lilac in the
brief intervals of sunrise and sunset. The pale, powerless sun seemed
far away and strange during the three short hours that it showed over
the horizon. The rest of the time it was night. The northern lights
flashed like quivering arrows across the sky, in their sublime and
awful majesty. The frost lay like a veil over the earth, enveloping
all in a dazzling whiteness in which was imprisoned every shade of
colour under the sun. Crimsons, purples, softest yellows, tenderest
greens, and exquisite blues and pinks flashed and quivered fiercely
under the morning rays, shimmering in the brilliance. Over all hung
the hush of the trackless desert, the stillness that betokened death!

Marina's eyes had changed--they were no longer dark, limpid, full of
intoxication; they were wonderfully bright and clear. Her hips had
widened, her body had increased, adding a new grace to her stature.
She seldom went out, sitting for the most part in her room, which
resembled a forest-chapel where men prayed to the gods. In the
daytime she did her simple houskeeping--chopped wood, heated the
stove, cooked meat and fish, helped Demid to skin the beasts he had
slain, and to weed their plot of land. During the long evenings she
spun and wove clothes for the coming babe. As she sewed she thought
of the child, and sung and smiled softly.

An overwhelming joy possessed Marina when she thought of her
approaching motherhood. Her heart beat faster and her happiness
increased. Her own possible sufferings held no place in her thoughts.

In the lilac glow of dawn, when a round moon, solemn and immense,
glowed in the south-western sky, Demid took his rifle and Finnish
knife, and went on his sleigh into the forest.

The pine-trees and cedars stood starkly under their raiment of snow--
mighty forest giants--beneath them clustered prickly firs, junipers
and alders. The stillness was profound. Demid sped from trap to trap,
from snare to snare, over the silent soundless snow. He strangled the
beasts; he fired, and the crack of his gun resounded through the
empty space. He sought for the trail of the elks and wolf-packs. He
descended to the river and watched for otters, caught bewildered fish
amidst the broken ice, and set his nets afresh. The scenes all round
him were old and familiar. The majesty of day died down in the west
on a flaming pyre of vivid clouds, and the quivering, luminous
streamers of the north re-appeared.

Standing in his plot of ground in the evening, he cut up the fish and
meat, hung it up to freeze, threw pieces to the bear, ate some
himself, washed his hands in ice-cold water, and sat down beside
Marina--big and rugged, his powerful legs wide apart, his hands
resting heavily on his knees. The room became stifling with his
presence. He smiled down quietly and good-naturedly at Marina.

The lamp shone cheerfully. Outside was snow, frost, and peace. Makar
approached and lounged on the floor. There was an atmosphere of quiet
joy and comfort in the chapel-like room. The walls cracked in the
frost; some towels embroidered in red and blue with reindeer and
cocks hung over them. Outside the frozen windows was darkness, cold,
and night.

Demid rose from his bench, took Marina tenderly and firmly in his
arms, and led her to the bed. The lamp flickered, and in the half-
light Makar's eyes glowed. He had grown up during the winter and he
was now an adult bear--with a sombre, solemn air and a kind of clumsy
skill. He had a large flat nose and grave, good-natured eyes.

IX

It was the last days of December. There had been a merry Christmas
festival and the snow had lain thick on house and slope. Wolves were
now on the trail. Then Marina felt the first stirring of her child;
soft, gentle movements, like the touch of eiderdown upon her body.
She was filled with a triumphant joy, and pressed her hands softly
and tenderly to her side; then sang a lullaby of how her son should
become a great hunter and slay a thousand and three hundred elks, a
thousand and three hundred bears, a thousand and three hundred
ermines, and take the chief village beauty as his wife!

There was misty frost, the night, and stillness outside--the
stillness that whispers of death. Wolves crept up to the plot of
land, sat on their hind-legs and howled long and dismally at the sky.

In the spring the shores of the river were strewn with wild flocks of
swans, geese, and eider-ducks. The forest resounded with the stir of
the beasts. Its woody depths echoed with the noise of bears, elks,
wolves, foxes, owls, and woodcocks. The herbage began to sprout and
flourish. The nights now drew in, and the days were longer. Dawn and
sunset were lilac and lingering. The twilight fell in pale green,
shimmering floods of light, and as it deepened and spread the village
maidens gathered again on the river slope and sang their songs of
Lada, the Spring God.

In the morning the sun rose in a glory of golden splendour and swam
into the limpid blue heavens. There, enthroned, it spent the many
hours of spring. Then came the Easter Festival when, according to the
legend, the sun smiled and the people exchanged red eggs as its
symbol.

X

On this Festival, Marina became a mother.

That night the bear left Demid. He must surely have scented the
spring and gone into the forest to find himself a mate.

He left late at night, after breaking down the door. It was dark. A
scarcely noticeable streak of light lay over the eastern horizon.
Somewhere afar the village maidens were singing their songs of Lada.




_A THOUSAND YEARS_

"LET THE DEAD BURY THE DEAD."--_Matthew_, ch. vii.


It was night time when Prince Constantine arrived at his brother's
little cabin. Young Vilyashev himself opened the door, and throughout
the brief conversation that ensued they remained in darkness--not
even a candle was lighted. Tall, lean, cadaverous, dressed in a much-
worn day suit, his cap under his arm, Constantine stonily listened to
Vilyashev's terse account of their sister's last moments.

"She died peacefully," the young man told his brother, "and she was
quite calm to the end, for she believed in God. But she could not rid
herself of memories of the past. How could she when the present shows
such an awful contrast? Famine, scurvy, typhus, sorrow brood over the
countryside. Our old home is the hands of strangers: we ourselves are
outcasts living in a peasant's cabin. Imagine what this meant to a
delicately nurtured woman! Men are wild beasts, brother."

"There were three of us," Constantine said with quiet bitterness--
"you, Natalia, and myself. It is ended! I travelled here in a cattle-
truck, walking from the station on foot--and was too late for the
funeral."

"She was buried yesterday. She knew from the first she was dying, and
would not stir a step from here."

"Poor girl," sighed Constantine. "She had lived here all her life."

He left abruptly without a word of farewell, and they did not meet
again until the next evening: both had spent the day wandering about
the valleys.

At dawn the following morning Vilyashev ascended a steep hill; on the
flat summit of a tumulus that crowned it he observed an eagle tearing
a pigeon to pieces. At his approach the bird flew up into the clear,
empty sky, towards the east, emitting a low, deep, unforgettable cry
that echoed dolefully over the fragrant fields.

From the hill and tumulus could be seen a vast panorama of meadows,
thickets, villages, and white steeples of churches. A golden sun rose
and swung slowly above the hill, gilding the horizon, the clouds,
hill-ridges, and the tumulus; steeping them in wave upon wave of
shimmering yellow light.

Below, in wisps and long slender ribbons, a rosy mist crept over the
fields; it covered everything with the softest of warmly tinted
light. There was a morning frost, and thin sheets of ice crackled in
the dykes. An invigorating breeze stirred gently, as if but half-
awakened, and tenderly ruffled fronds of bracken, sliding softly
upward from moss and roots, tremulously caressing the sweet-smelling
grass, to sweep grandly over the hill-crest in ripples and eddies,
increasing in volume as it sped.

The earth was throbbing: it panted like a thirsty wood-spirit. Cranes
sent their weird, mournful cries echoing over the undulating plains
and valleys; birds of passage were a-wing. It was the advent of
teeming, tumultuous, perennial spring.

Bells tolled mournfully over the fragrant earth. Typhus, famine,
death spread like a poisonous vapour through the villages, through
the peasants' tiny cabins. The windowless huts waved the rotting
straw of their thatch in the wind as they had done five hundred years
ago, when they had been taken down every spring to be carried further
into the forests--ever eastward--to the Chuvash tribe.

In every hut there was hunger. In every hut there was death. In every
one the fever-stricken lay under holy ikons, surrendering their souls
to the Lord in the same calm, stoical and wise spirit in which they
had lived.

Those who survived bore the dead to the churches, and went in
consternation and dread through the fields carrying crosses and
banners. They dug trenches round the villages and sprinkled the dykes
with Holy Water; they prayed for bread and for preservation from
death, while the air resounded with the tolling of bells.

Nevertheless, at eventide the maidens came to the tumulus arrayed in
their home-woven dresses, and sang their old, old songs, for it was
spring and the mating season for all living things. Yet they sang
alone, for their youths had been given to the Moloch of war: they had
gone to Uralsk, to Ufa, and to Archangel. Only old men were left to
plough the fields in the spring.

Vilyashev stood dejectedly on the crest of the hill, a solitary,
lonely figure outlined darkly against the clear blue background of
sky and distance. He gazed unseeingly into space; thought and
movement alike were suspended. He was only conscious of pain. He knew
all was ended. Thus his errant forbear from the north may have stood
five hundred years ago, leaning upon his lance, a sword in his chain
girdle.

Vilyashev pictured him with a beard like Constantine's. He had had
glory and conquest awaiting him; he strode the world a victorious
warrior! But now--little Natalya who had died of famine-typhus had
realized that they were no longer needed, neither she, nor
Constantine, nor himself! She was calling to him across the great
gulf; it was as if her words were trembling on the air, telling him
the hour had struck. The Vilyashev's power had been great; it had
been achieved by force; by force it had been overthrown, the vulture-
nest was torn to pieces. Men had become ravenous.

The Prince descended and made his way to the river Oka, ten miles
distant, wandering all day through the fields and dales--a giant full
seven feet high, with a beard to his waist. The heavy earth clung to
his boots. At last he flung himself on to the ground, burying his
face in his hands, and lay motionless, abandoning himself to an
anxious, sorrowful reverie.

Snow still lay on the lowlands, but the sky was warm, pellucid,
expansive. The Oka broadened out rushing in a mighty, irresistible
torrent towards its outlet, and inundating its banks. Purling brooks
danced and sang their way through the valleys. The wind breathed a
feeling of expectancy--sweet, tender, evanescent, like the day-dream
of a Russian maiden who has not yet known the secrets of love. With
delicate gossamer fingers it gently caressed the barren hill that
frowned above the Oka, uttering its gentle poignantly-stirring song
at the same time.

Larks warbled. From all around echoed the happy cries of birds; the
vernal air thrilled and vibrated in great running arpeggios to the
wonder-music of the winds. The river alone preserved a rigid silence.

Vilyashev brooded a long while beside the swiftly running waters; but
at sunset's approach he rose hastily, and returned to the tumulus.
The sky was wrapped in its evening shroud of deep, mysterious
darkness. Set brightly against the sombre background of the tumulus-
crowned hill stood shining silver birch trees and dark shaggy firs:
they now looked wan and spectral in the fading light. For a fleeting
moment the world glowed like a huge golden ball; then the whole
countryside was one vast vista of green, finally merging into a deep
illimitable purple. Down the valley crept the mist, trailing its
filmy veils over point and peak and ridge. The air throbbed with the
cries of geese and bitterns. The hush of the spring-time night set in
and covered the world--that hush that is more vibrant than thunder,
that gathers the forest sounds and murmurs to itself, and weaves them
all into a tense, vernal harmony.

Prince Constantine's gaunt form struck a sharp note of discord as he
walked straight up to the tumulus. His presence breathed conflict and
stress that accorded ill with the universal peace of nature.

He greeted his brother, and began to smoke; the light from his
cigarette illumined his eagle nose and bony brow; his quiet grey eyes
gleamed with a wintry look.

"One longs to fly away like a bird in the spring," he murmured; then
added with a sharp change of tone; "How did Natalya die?"

"In her right mind, thank God! But, she had lived torn by a madness
of hatred and contempt, loathing all, despising all."

"What wonder, look around you!" cried Constantine. He hesitated a
moment then said softly: "To-morrow is the Annunciation--the
recollection of that festival made me think. Look around!"

The tumulus stood out sheer and stark, a grim relic of a bygone age.
There was a faint rustling through last year's wormwood. The air
arose from the plains in a crescendo of quivering chords, gushing
upward like a welling spring. There was the scent of decaying
foliage. The sky beyond had darkened, charged to the brim with
mystery. The atmosphere became moist and cold; the valley lay
beneath--empty, boundless, a region of illimitable space.

"Do you hear?" Constantine asked.

"Hear what?"

"The earth's groans."

"Yes, it is waking. Do you hear the soft stir and shudder among the
roots of the flowers and grass? The whisper of the trees, the tremor
of leaves and fronds? It is the earth's joyful welcome to the
Spring."

Constantine shook his head: "Not joy ... sorrow. The air is permeated
with the scent of decay. To-morrow will see the Annunciation, a great
festival, little brother, and that recollection has set me thinking.
Look round you! Everywhere are savages--men gone mad with blood and
terror. Death, famine, barbarity ride the world! Idolatry is still
rampant: to this day men believe in wood-spirits, witches and the
devil--and God, oh yes, men still believe in God! They bury their
dead when the bodies should be burnt. They seek to drive away typhus
by religious processions!"

He laughed mockingly.

"I stood the whole time in the train to avoid infection. But the
people do not even think of that: their one thought is bread. I
wanted to sleep through the journey; but a wretched woman, starving
before my very eyes, prevented me. She said she was going to a sister
so as to get milk to drink. She made me feel sick; she could not say
bread, meat, milk, and butter, but called them 'brud,' 'mate,'
'mulk,' and 'buzzer'. 'Ah, for a bit of buzzer--how I will ate it and
enjoy it!' she kept muttering.

"I tell you, Vilyashev, the people are bewildered. The world is
returning to savagery. Remember the history of all times and of all
peoples--an endless repetition of schisms, deceptions, stupidity,
superstition and cannibalism--not so long ago--as late as the Thirty
Years War--there was cannibalism in Europe; human flesh was cooked
and eaten.... Liberty, Equality, Fraternity! How fine they sound! But
better for Fraternity ever to remain a mere ideal than to be
introduced by the butt-end of a rifle."

Constantine took off his cap, and his bony forehead seemed pale and
green in the ghostly darkness of the night. His eyes were deep
sunken, and for an instant his face resembled a skull.

"I am bewildered, brother; I feel so utterly alone! I am wretched and
disillusioned. In what does man transcend the beast?..." He turned
towards the west, and a cruel, rapacious, predatory look flitted over
his face; he took a piece of bread from his overcoat pocket and
handed it to Vilyashev:

"Eat, brother; you are hungry."

From the valley uprose the muffled chime of a church bell, and a low
baying of dogs could be heard round the village settlements. Great
gusts of wind swept over the earth, which shook and trembled beneath
their rush. In thin, high, piercing notes it ascended--the song of
the winds to the setting sun.

"Listen," continued Constantine; "I was thinking of the Annunciation ...
and I had a dream.

"The red glow of sunset was slowly fading. Around stretched huge,
slumbering, primeval forests, shadow-filled bogs, and wide green
marshes. Wolves howled mournfully through the woods and the valleys.
Carts were creaking; horses were neighing; men were shouting--this
wild race of the Ancient Russians was marching to collect tribute.
Down a forest roadway they went, from the Oka to the rivers Sozh and
Desna.

 "A Prince pitched his camp on a hill: his son lay dying with the
slowly-sinking sunlight. They prayed to the gods to spare the
princeling. They burned youths and maidens at the stake. They cast
men into the river to appease the water-spirit. They invoked the
ancient Slavic god Perun. They called on Jesus and the Mother of God.
In vain! In the terrible, lurid light of that vernal evening the
princeling died.

"Then they slew his horse and his wife, and raised the tumulus.

"In the Prince's suite was an Arab scholar named Ibn-Sadif. He was as
thin as an arrow, pliant as a bow, as dark as pitch, with the eyes
and nose of an eagle under his white turban. He was a wanderer over
the earth, for, learned in all else, he still sought knowledge of men
and of countries. He had gone up by the Volga to the Kama and to the
Bulgarians. Now he was wending his way with the Russians to Kiev and
Tsargrad.

"Ibn-Sadif ascended the hill, and beheld a blazing pile. On a log of
wood lay a maiden with her left breast ripped open; flames licked her
feet. Around were sombre, bearded men with swords in their hands. An
ancient Shaman priest was circling in front of the funeral pyre and
shouting furiously.

"Ibn-Sadif turned aside from the fire, and descended the forest
pathway to the river.

"The sky was thickly studded with stars that shone like points of
living gold in the warm deeps of the night; the water gave back a
glittering reflection. The Arab gazed up at that vast space where the
shining constellations swam towards the bosom of the Infinite, then
down at their fantastically mirrored image in the river's depths--and
cried aloud:

"'Woe! Woe!'"

"In the far distance beyond the water the wolves howled.

"At nightfall Ibn-Sadif joined the Prince who was directing the
ancient funeral rites. The Arab raised his hands to the sky; his
white garments flew round him like the wings of a bird; in a shrill,
eerie voice like an eagle's he cried to the fierce bearded men
gathered around:

"'This night just a thousand years ago, the Archangel told the Mother
of God in Nazareth of the coming of your God, Jesus. Woe! A thousand
years ago! Can it be?'

"Thus spoke Ibn-Sadif. None in the camp knew of the Annunciation, of
that fair, sacred day when the birds will not even build their nests
lest their labour desecrate its holiness."

Constantine paused; then lifted his head and listened.

"Do you hear, brother? Bells are tolling! Do you hear how the dogs
are barking?... And, just as of yore, death, famine, barbarity,
cannibalism shadow the earth. I am heart stricken!"

The night deepened to an intense blue; a faint chill stole through
the air. Prince Constantine sat down resting his head on his stick.
Suddenly he rose:

"It is late and cold; let us go. I am miserable, for I have lost my
faith. This reversion to savagery is horrible and bewildering. What
are we? What can we do when barbarians surround us? The loneliness
and desolation of our plight! I feel utterly lost, Vilyashev. We are
no good to anyone. Not so long ago our ancestors used to flog
peasants in the stables and abduct maidens on their wedding-nights.
How I curse them! They were wild beasts! Ibn-Sadif spoke the truth ...
a thousand years--and still the Mark of the Beast!"

The Prince's cry was low; but deep, and wild. Vilyashev answered
quietly:

"I have the strength of a mailed knight, Constantine. I could smash,
rend, and trample the peasants underfoot as my forebears did, but
they have wound themselves round my heart; they are like little
children!"

They went along by the hill; the tumulus was left behind. A light
sparkling frost powdered the rich loamy earth. Through the darkness,
swimming with purple shadows, came a great continuous murmur from the
ancient forests. A pair of cranes cried softly as they roosted for
the night, and a pearl grey mist rolled down to the meadows and
enveloped them in innumerable murkyscarves. The brothers entered a
village as still as the grave. Somewhere beyond, a dog barked. Not a
sound broke the utter, solemn silence as they walked along.

"There is typhus and barbarity in every peasant's hut," Constantine
muttered. Then he, too, lapsed into silence, listening.

Beyond some huts on a village by-path girls' voices could be heard
singing an Annunciation hymn. In the vasts depths of silence it
sounded solemn, simple, sane. The two princes felt it to be as
immutable as the Spring with its law of birth. They remained standing
there a long while, resting first on one foot, then on the other.
Each felt that mankind's blood and energy still flowed bright and
unsullied despite the world upheaval.

"Good! That is infinitely touching. That will not die," declared
Vilyashev. "It has come down to us through the Ages."

"Aye," replied Prince Constantine bitterly, "wonderfully good.
Pathetically good. Abominably good!"

From the bend in the road the girls appeared in their coloured
aprons; they passed decorously in pairs, singing:

"Rejoice, O Virgin Mother! Blessed art Thou amongst women"....

The earth was moist and exhaled a sweet, delicate odour of rich,
fresh vegetation. Reluctantly, at last, the two brothers resumed
their way. They heard the weird midnight-crowing of the cock. A pale
silvery moon--the last before Easter Day--rose gently in the East,
letting down its luminous web from the sky, flinging back the dark
shadows of the night.

On reaching home, the cabin seemed damp and cold and inexpressibly
dreary--as on the day Natalya died; when the door had slammed
incessantly. The brothers went hastily to their rooms without
speaking or lighting up. Constantine lay on Natalya's bed.

At dawn he awoke Vilyashev.

"I am going. Goodbye! It is ended! I am going out of Russia, out of
Europe. Here, where were we born, they have called us their masters,
their fathers--carrion crows, vultures! Like the fierce Russian
tribes of old, they have let loose the hounds of destruction on
wolves and hares and men alike! Woe!... Ibn-Sadif!"

Constantine lighted a candle on a table, and crossed the room. In the
strange blue light of dawn his livid shadow fell on the whitewashed
wall. Vilyashev was amazed; the shadow was so extraordinarily blue
and ghastly--it seemed as if his brother were dead.




OVER THE RAVINE

I


The ravine was deep and dark.

Its yellow clay slopes, overgrown with red-trunked pines, presented
craggy ridges; at the bottom flowed a brook. Above, right and left,
grew a pine forest--dark, ancient, covered with lichen and shubbery.
Overhead was a grey, heavy, low-hanging sky.

Man seldom came to this wild and savage spot.

The trees had in the course of time been uprooted by storms of wind
and rain, and had fallen just where they stood, strewing the earth,
rotting, emitting thick pungent odours of decaying pinewood.
Thistles, chicory, milfoil, and wormwood had flourished there for
years undisturbed, and they now covered the ground with thorny
bristles. There was a den of bears at the bottom of the ravine; many
wolves prowled through the forest.

Over the edge of the steep, yellow slope hung a fallen pine, and for
many years its roots were exposed, raised on high in the air. They
looked like some petrified octopus stretching up its hideous
tentacles to the elements, and were already covered with lichen and
juniper.

In the midst of these roots two great grey birds--a male and a
female--had built themselves a nest.

They were large and grey, thickly covered by yellowish-grey and
cinnamon-coloured feathers. Their wings were short, broad, and
strong; their feet, armed with great claws, were covered with black
down. Surmounting their short, thick necks were large quadratic heads
with yellow, rapaciously curved beaks and round, fierce, heavy
looking eyes.

The female was the smaller. Her legs were more slender and handsome,
and there was a kind of rough, heavy gracefulness in the curves of
her neck. The male was fierce and stiff; his left wing did not fold
properly; he had injured it at the time he had fought other males for
his mate.

There was steepness on three sides of their nest. Above it was the
wide expanse of the sky. Around, about, and beneath it lay bones
washed and whitened by the rain. The nest itself was made of stones
and mud, and overspread with down.

The female always sat in the nest.

The male hummed to himself on the end of a root that was suspended
over the steep, alone, peering far into the distance around and below
him with his heavy, pensive eyes; perched with his head sunk deep
into his shoulders and his wings hanging heavily down.

II

These two great birds had met here, not far from the ravine, one
evening at twilight.

It was spring; the snow was thawing on the slopes, whilst in the
forest and valleys it became grey and mellow; the pine-trees exhaled
a pungent odour; and the brook at the bottom of the ravine had
awakened.

The sun already gave warmth in the daytime. The twilight was
verdurous, lingering, and resonant with life. Wolf-packs were astir,
and the males fought each other for the females.

This spring, with the sun and the soft breeze, an unwonted heaviness
pervaded the male-bird's body. Formerly he used to fly or roost,
croak or sit silent, fly swiftly or slowly, because there were causes
both around and within him: when hungry he would find a hare, kill,
and devour it; when the sun was too hot or the wind too keen, he
would shelter from them; when he saw a crouching wolf, he would
hastily fly away from it.

Now it was no longer so.

It was not a sense of hunger or self-preservation now that induced
him to fly, to roost, cry, or be silent: something outside of him and
his feelings now possessed him.

When the twilight came, as though befogged, not knowing why, he rose
from the spot on which he had perched all day and flew from glade to
glade, from crag to crag, moving his great wings softly and peering
hard into the dense, verdurous darkness. In one of the glades he saw
birds similar to himself, a female among them. Without knowing why,
he threw himself amidst them, feeling an inordinate strength within
him and a great hatred for all the other males.

He walked slowly round the female, treading hard on the ground,
spreading out his wings, tossing back his head to look askance at the
males. One, he who until now had been victor, tried to impede him--
then flew at him with beak prepared to strike, and a long silent,
cruel fight began. They flew at each other, beating with their bills,
chests, wings, and claws, blindly rumpling and tearing each others'
feathers and body.

His opponent proved the weaker and drew off; then again he threw
himself towards the female and walked round her, limping a little
now, and trailing his blood-stained left wing along the ground.

Pine-trees surrounded the glade; the earth was bestrewn with dry,
withered leaves; the night sky was blue.

The female was indifferent to him and to all; she strode calmly about
the glade, pecked at the ground, caught a mouse and quietly swallowed
it. She appeared to pay no attention to the males.

It was thus all night long.

But when the night began to pale and over the east lay the greenish-
blue outline of dawn, she moved close to him who had conquered the
rest, leaned her back against his breast, tipped his injured wing
tenderly with her bill--as though she would nurse and dress it; then
slowly rising from the ground, she flew towards the ravine.

And he, moving his injured wing painfully but without heeding it,
emitting shrill cries of joy, flew after her.

She came down just by the roots of that pine where afterwards they
built their nest.

The male perched beside her. He was irresolute and apparently
abashed.

The female strutted several times round him, scenting him again.
Then, pressing her breast to the ground, tail uplifted, her eyes
half-closed--she waited. The male threw himself towards her, seized
her comb with his bill, clapping the ground with his heavy wings; and
through his veins there coursed such a wonderful ecstasy, such
invigorating joy, that he was dazzled, feeling nothing else save this
delicious rapture, croaking hoarsely and making the ravine
reverberate with a dull echo that ruffled the stillness of the early
morn.

The female was submissive.

III

In the winter the pines stood motionless and their trunks were a
greyish brown. The snow lay deep, swept into great drifts which
reared in a dark pile towards the ravine. The sky was a grey stretch;
the days short and almost dim.

At night the tree-boles cracked in the frost and their branches
broke. The pale moon shone calmly in the stillness, and seemed to
make the frost still harder.

The nights were weirdly horrible with the frost and the
phosphorescent light of the moon; the birds sat tucked in their nest,
pressing close together to keep themselves warm. Yet still the frost
penetrated their feathers, got into their skin and made their feet,
bills, and backs feel cold. The errant light of the moon was also
disquieting; it made the whole earth appear to be a great wolfish
eye--that was why it shone so terribly!

The birds had no sleep.

They turned painfully in their nest, changing their position; their
large green eyes emitted a greenish light. Had they possessed the
power of thought, they would certainly have longed for the advent of
morning.

While it was still an hour before dawn, as the moon was fading and
the first faint glimmer of daylight approaching, they began to feel
hungry; in their mouths there was a disagreeable, bitterish taste,
and from time to time their craws painfully contracted.

When the grey morning had at last come, the male bird flew off for
his prey; he flew slowly, spreading his wings wide and rarely
flapping them, vigilantly eying the ground beneath him. He usually
hunted for hares. It was sometimes a long while before he found one;
then he rose high over the ravine and set out on a distant flight
from his nest, far away from the ravine into the vast white expanse
of snow.

When there were no hares about, he seized young foxes and magpies,
although their flesh was unsavoury. The foxes would defend themselves
long and stubbornly, biting viciously, and they had to be attacked
cautiously and skilfully. It was necessary to strike the bill at once
into the animal's neck near its head, and, immediately clutching its
back with the talons, to rise into the air--for there the fox ceased
all resistance.

With his prey the bird flew back to his nest by the ravine, and here
he and his mate at once devoured it. They ate but once in the day,
and so satiated themselves that they could move only with difficulty
afterwards, and their crops hung low. They even ate up the snow which
had become soaked with blood. The female threw the bones that
remained down the side of the steep.

The male perched himself on the end of a root, ruffling his feathers
in an effort to make himself more comfortable; and the blood coursed
warmly through his veins after his meal.

The female was sitting in the nest.

Towards evening the male, for some unknown reason, began to croak.

"Oo-hoo-hoo-oo!" he cried in guttural tones, as though the sound in
his throat came from across the water.

Sometimes as he sat solitary on his height, the wolves would observe
him, and one of the famished beasts would begin clambering up the
precipitous side of the ravine.

The female would then take fright, and flap her wings; but the male
would look down calmly with his big, glistening eyes, watching the
wolf slowly clamber, slip and fall headlong downwards, bringing a
heap of snow with it, tumbling over and over and yelping in fright.

The twilight crept on.

IV

In March, as the days lengthened, the sun grew warmer; the snow
darkened and thawed; the twilight grew balmy; and the wolf-packs
stirred, while prey became more abundant, for now all the forest
denizens felt the overwhelming, entrancing throb of Spring, and
wandered through the glades, down the ravines and into the woods,
powerless under the sway of the early Spring-time langour; and it was
easy to catch them.

The male-bird brought all his kill to his mate--he ate little
himself: only what she left him, usually the entrails, the flesh of
the thoracic muscles, the skin and the head, although she usually
pecked out the eyes as the most savoury portion.

The sun was bright. There was a soft, gentle breeze. At the bottom of
the ravine the dark, turbulent brook rushed gurgling between the
sharp outlines of its snow-laden banks.

It was cool. The male-bird sat roosting with his eyes closed, his
head sunk deep into his shoulders. Outwardly he bore a look of great
humility, of languishing expectation, and a droll look of guiltiness
wholly unbecoming to his natural severity.

At dusk he grew restless. He stood up on his feet, stretched his
neck, opened wide his round eyes, spread out his wings, beating the
air with them: then closed them again. Curling up into a ball,
drawing his head into his shoulders and blinking, he croaked:

"Oo-hoo-hoo-hoo!" The rueful cry scared the forest denizens.

And the echo in the ravine answered back:

"Oo-oo..."

The twilight was green, merging into blue. The sky was spangled with
great glowing stars. The pine-trees exhaled an oily odour. In the
night-frost, the brook at the bottom of the ravine grew still.
Somewhere, caught in its current, birds were crying. Yet all was in a
state of watchful calm.

When at length the night set in, the male stealthily and guiltily
approached the female in the nest, cautiously spreading his big,
awkward feet, which were so clumsy on the ground . . . A great and
beautiful passion urged him to the side of his mate.

He perched beside her, smoothing her feathers with his bill, still
with that droll absurd look of guilt. The female responded to his
caresses; she was very soft and tender; but behind this tenderness
could be detected her great strength and power over the male: perhaps
she realized it herself.

In the language of instinct, she said to her mate:

"Yes, you may."

The male succumbed to his passion, and she yielded to him.

V

It was thus for a week or ten days.

Then at last, when the male came to her one night-time, she said:

"No! Enough!"

She spoke instinctively, for another time had come--the time for the
birth of her children.

The male-bird, abashed, as though conscience-stricken at not having
divined the bidding of his mate earlier, went away from her only to
return at the end of a year.

VI

From Spring-time, all through the Summer until September, the male
and female were absorbed in the great, beautiful, indispensable task
of breeding their young. In September the fledgelings took wing.

The Spring and Summer developed in their multi-coloured glory: they
burned with fiery splendour; the pine-trees glowed with a resinous
phosphorescence. There was the fragrance of wormwood. Chicory, blue-
bells, buttercups, milfoil, and cowslip blossomed and faded; prickly
thistles abounded.

In May the nights were deeply blue.

In June they were pale green.

The dawn broke in a blood-red flare like a great conflagration, and
at night pale silvery mists moved along the bottom of the ravine,
washing the tops of the pines.

At first the nest contained five grey eggs with green speckles. Then
came the little birds, big-headed, with disproportionately large
yellow mouths, their bodies covered with down. They chirruped
plaintively, stretching their long necks out from the nest, and they
ate voraciously.

They flew in June, though as yet clumsily, piping, and awkwardly
fluttering their immature wings.

The female was with them all the time, ruffling her feathers,
solicitous and petulant.

The male had no power of thought and hardly any of feeling, but
within him was a sense of pride in his own work, which he carried on
with joy. His whole life was dominated with an instinct which
subjugated his will and his desires to the care of his young.

He hunted for prey.

He had to obtain a great deal, because both his fledglings and his
mate were voracious. He had to fly sometimes as far as the river
Kama, in order to catch seagulls, which hovered over the huge, white,
unfamiliar, many-eyed monsters that floated over the water, puffing,
and smelling strangely like forest fires--the steamers!

He fed his fledgelings himself, tearing the meat into pieces. And he
watched attentively how, with wide open beaks, they seized the little
lumps of meat and, rolling their eyes and almost choking in the
effort, swallowed them.

Sometimes one of the fledgelings awkwardly fell out of the nest and
rolled down the steep. Then he hastily and anxiously flew after it,
bustling and croaking as though he were grumbling; he would take it
cautiously and clumsily in his talons and carry it, a frightened
flustered atom, back to the nest. There he would smooth its feathers
with his great beak for a long time, strutting round it, standing
high on his legs, and continuing his anxious croaks.

He dared not sleep at nights.

He perched on the end of a root, vigilantly peering into the
darkness, guarding his nestlings and their mother from danger. The
stars were above him. At times, as though scenting the fullness and
beauty of life, he fiercely and ruefully uttered his croak--scaring
the night.

VII

He lived through the Winter in order to live. Through the Spring and
Summer he lived to breed. He was unable to think. He acted
instinctively, because God had so ordained it. Instinct alone guided
him.

He lived to eat in the Winter so that he should not die. The Winters
were cold and cruel.

In the Spring he bred. Then the blood coursed warmly through his
veins. It was calm; the sun was bright; the stars glittered; and all
the time he longed to stretch himself, to close his eyes, to smite
the air with his wings, and to croak with an unreasoning joy.

The birdlings flew away in the autumn. The old birds and the young
bade adieu for ever with indifference. Rain came, mists swept by, the
sky hung lowering over the earth. The nights were dreary, damp and
dark. The old couple sat together in their nest, trying to cover
themselves and sleep. They froze and tossed about in discomfort.
Their eyes gleamed with greenish-yellow lights.

Thus passed the thirteen years of their life together.

       *       *       *       *       *       *       *
X

Then the male-bird died.

His wing had been injured in youth, at the time he fought for his
mate. As the years rolled on, he found it more and more difficult to
hunt his prey: he had to fly ever farther and farther for it, and in
the nights he could get no rest because of the overwhelming pain that
shot right through the whole of his wing, and tormented him terribly.
Formerly he had not heeded the injury; now he found it grew
exceedingly grave and painful.

He did not sleep, but let his wing hang down as though he were
thrusting it from him. And in the morning he was hardly able to use
it when he flew off after his prey.

His mate forsook him.

She flew away from the nest at dusk one evening in early spring.

He sought for her all through the night--at dawn he found her with
another male, young and strong, who croaked tenderly round her. Then
the old bird felt life was over: he had lost all that made it
beautiful. He flew to fight his younger rival, but his attack was
weak and wavering. The young one rushed at him violently and
passionately, tore his body, and croaked menacingly. The female
watched the fray with indifference, as she had done many years
before.

The old bird was beaten.

Fluttered, blood-stained, with one eye swollen, he flew back to his
nest and painfully perched himself on the end of a root. Something
within him told him his life was at an end. He had lived in order to
eat and to breed. Now he had only to die. Instinct told him that. For
two days he sat perched above the steep, quiet, immovable, his head
sunk deep into his shoulders.

Then, calmly, unperceivingly, he died. He fell down from the steep
and lay with his legs crooked and turned upward.

This was during the night. The stars were brilliant. Birds were
crying in the woods and over the river. Somewhere owls hooted.

The male-bird lay at the bottom of the ravine for five days. His body
was already decaying, and emitted a bitter, offensive odour.

A wolf came and devoured it.




ALWAYS ON DETACHMENT

Alexander Alexandrovitch Agrenev, engineer, spent all day in the
quarry, laying and exploding dynamite. In the village below was a
factory, its chimneys belching smoke; and creaking wagonettes sped
backwards and forwards from the parapet. Above on the cliff stood
huge sappy pines. All day the sky was grey and cloudy, and the smoke
from the chimneys spread like a low pall over the earth. The dynamite
exploded with a great detonation and expulsion of smoke.

The autumn darkness, with its sharp, acid, sweet tang, was already
falling as Agrenev proceeded homeward with the head-miner,
Eduardovich Bitska, a Lithuanian, and the lights from the engine-
house shone brightly in the distance.

The engineer's quarters lay in a forest-clearing on the further side
of the valley; the cement structures of its small buildings stood out
in monotonous uniformity; the blue light of its torches flared and
hissed, throwing back dark shadows from the trunks and branches of
the pine-trees, which laced, interlaced, and glided dusky and
intangible between the tall straight stems, finally melting amidst
the foliage.

His skin jacket was sticking to Agrenev's back, as, no doubt,
Bitska's was also.

"My missus will soon be home," Bitska said cheerfully--he had
recently been married. He spoke in broken Russian, with a foreign
accent.

In Agrenev's house it was dark. The warm glow from the torches
outside fell on the window-ledges and illuminated them, but inside
the only light was that visible through the crevices of his wife's
tightly closed door: his beloved wife--so aloof--so strange. The rain
had started, and its drip on the roof was like the sound of water-
falls: he changed, washed, took up a newspaper. The maid entered and
announced that tea was ready.

His wife--tall, slim, beautiful, and strange--was standing by the
window, her back to him, a book in her hand; a tumbler was on the
window-sill close beside her. She did not turn round as he entered,
merely murmuring: "Have some tea."

The electric light gave a brilliant glow. The freshly varnished
woodwork smelt of polish. She did not say another word, but returned
to her book, her delicate fingers turning over the leaves as,
standing with bent head, she read.

"Are you going out this evening, Anna?" he asked.

"Eh? No, I am staying in."

"Is there anyone coming?"

"Eh? No, nobody. Are _you_ going out?"

"I am not sure. I am going to-morrow on Detachment duty for a week."

"Eh? Oh yes, on Detachment."

Always the same! No interest in him; indifferent, absorbed in other
things. How he longed to stay and talk to her, on and on, of
everything; of the utter impossibility of life without love or
sympathy, of the intensity of his own love, and the melancholy of his
evenings. But he was silent.

"Is Asya asleep?" he inquired at last.

"Yes, she is asleep."

A nickel tea-pot and a solitary tumbler stood on the table with its
white cloth falling in straight folds. The ticking of the clock
sounded monotonously.

"She does not deceive, nor betray, nor leave me," he thought; "but
she is strange, strange--and a mother!"

II

At last the earth was cloaked in darkness, the torches hung like
gleaming balls of fire, the pattering of the rain echoed dismally,
and above it, drowning all other sounds, was the dreary roar of the
factory.

He sauntered through the straight-cut avenues of the park towards his
club, but near the school turned aside and went in to see Nina. They
had known each other from childhood, attending the same school, Nina
his faithful comrade and devoted slave--and ever since he had
remained for her the one and only man, for she was of those who love
but once. Since then she had been flung about Russia, striven to
retain her honour, vainly tilting against the windmills of poverty
and temptation--had failed, been broken, and now had crept back that
she might live near him.

He walked through the school's dark corridors and knocked.

"Come in."

Alone, in a grey dress, plain-featured, her cheek red where it had
rested against the palm of her hand, she sat beside a little table in
the bare, simple room, a book on her lap. With a pang, Agrenev noted
her sunken eyes. But at sight of him they brightened instantly, and
she rose from her seat, putting the book aside.

"You darling? Welcome! Is it raining?"

"Greeting! Nina. I have just come in for a moment."

"Take off your coat," she urged. "You will have some tea?" Her eyes
and outstretched hands both said: "Thank you, thank you." "How are
you doing?" she asked him anxiously.

"I am bored. I can do nothing. I am utterly bored."

She placed the tea-urn on the table in her tiny kitchen, laid some
pots of jam by her copy-book, seated him in the solitary armchair,
and bustled round, all smiles, her cheeks flushing--the spot where
she had rested her hand all the long evening still showing red,--all-
loving, all-surrendering, yet undesired.

"You musn't wait on me like this, Nina," Agrenev protested;"... Sit
down and let us talk."

Their hands touched caressingly, and she sat down beside him.

"What is it, my dear?" She stroked his hand and its touch warmed her!
"What is it?"

At times indignation overcame her at the thought of life; she wrung
her hands, spoke with hatred, and her eyes darkened in anger. At
times she fell on her knees in tears and supplication; but with
Alexander Alexandrovitch she was always tender, with the tenderness
of unrequited love.

"What is it, darling?"

"I am bored, Nina. She ... Anna ... does not love me; she does not
leave me, nor deceive me, but neither does she love me. I know you
love ..."

At home four walls ... Coldness ... The miner, Bitska, making jokes
all day in the rain ... the fuse to be lighted in the quarry, the
slow igniting to be watched. Thirty years had been lived ... five-
tenths of his life ... a half ... ten-twentieths. It was like a blank
cartridge ... no kindness ... a life without feeling ... all blank ...

The lamp seemed to go out and something warm lay over his eyes. The
palm of a hand. Nina's words were calm at first; then they grew
frantic.

"Leave her, leave her, darling! Come to me, to me who wants you! What
if she doesn't love you? I do, I love you ..."

He was silent.

"You say nothing? I will give you all; you shall have everything!
Come to me, to me who will give to you so gladly! She is as dead; she
needs nothing! Do you hear? You have me ... I will take all the
suffering on myself ..."

       *       *       *       *       *       *       *

The lamp streamed forth clearly again. A little grey clod of humanity
fell on to the maiden's narrow bed.

It was so intensely dark that the blackness seemed to close in on one
like a great wall, and it was difficult to see two paces ahead. Close
to the barracks some men were bawling to the music of a mouth-organ.
Under cover of the gloom someone whistled between his fingers,
babbling insolence and nonsense. The torches glowed through the
tangled network of branches and leaves like globes of fire.

Agrenev walked along, carrying a lantern, by the light of which he
mechanically picked his steps; close to his heels, Nina hurried
through the darkness and puddles. On every side there was the
rustling of pines, hundreds of them, their immense stems towering
upwards into obscurity. Although invisible, their presence could be
felt. The place was wild and dreary, odours of earth, moss, and pine-
sap mingled together in an overpowering perfume; it was the heart of
a vast primeval forest. Agrenev murmured as if to himself:

"No, Nina, I do not love you. I want nothing from you.... Anna ...
her father ordered her to marry me.... Ancient blood.... Anna told me
she would never love.... Asya is growing up under her influence.... I
love my little daughter ... yet she is strange too ... she looks at
me with vacant eyes ... my daughter! I stole her mother out of a
void! I go home and lie down alone ... or I go to Anna and she
receives me with compressed lips. I do not want a daughter from you,
Nina ... Why should I? To-morrow will ... be the same as yesterday."

By the door of his house in the engineer's quarters, he remembered
Nina, and all at once became solicitous:

"You will catch cold, my dear. It will be terrible for you getting
back ..."

He stood before her a moment silently; then stretched out his hand:

"Well, the best of luck, my dear!"

A band of youths strolled by. One of them flashed a lantern-light on
the doorway.

"Aha! Sky-larking with the engineers! Ha! Ha! Ha!"

They began chattering among themselves and sang in chorus a ribald
doggerel:


     "Once upon a time a wench
     Appeared before a judge's bench.."

III

Before he went to bed Agrenev laid out cards to play Patience, ate a
cold supper, stood a long time staring at the light from under Anna's
door, then knocked.

"Come in."

He entered for a moment, and found her sitting at a table with a
book, which she laid down upon an open copybook diary. When, when is
he to know what is written there?

He spoke curtly:

"I go to Moscow the first thing to-morrow on Detachment. Here is some
money for the housekeeping."

"Thanks. When do you return?"

"In a week--that is, Friday next week. Is there anything you need?"

"No thanks." She rose, came close and kissed him on the cheek near
his lips. "A safe journey. Goodbye. Do not waken Asya."

And she turned away, sat down at the table, and took up her book
again.

In the early hours of the morning a horse was yoked, and Agrenev
drove with Bitska over the main road to the station. It was wet. The
sombre figures of workmen were dimly seen through the rain and
darkness, hastening to the factory. The staff drove round in a motor
as the shrill sound of the factory horn split the silence.

Bitska in a bowler-hat, red-faced, with thin whiskers such as are
worn by the Letts, looked gravely round:

"You have not slept, Robert Edouardovitch?" asked Agrenev.

"No, I have not, and I am not in a good humour either." The man was
silent a moment, then burst out; "Now I am forty years, and my vife
she is eighteen. I am in vants of an earnest housekeeper. But my
vife, she is always jesting and dragging me by the--how do you call
it--the beard! And laughing and larking...." His little narrow eyes
wrinkled up into a wry smile: "Ah, the larking vench!"




THE WOLF'S RAVINE

In childhood, as a small lad, Alexander Alexandrovitch Agrenev had
heard from listening to his mother's conversation how--lo and behold!
one morning at 9 o'clock Nina Kallistratovna Zamotkina had proceeded
with her daughter to Doctor Chasovnikov's flat, in order to deliver a
slap in the face to his wife for having broken up the family hearth
by a liaison with Paul Alexander Zamotkin, Nina Kallistratovna's
husband.

The child Agrenev had vividly pictured to himself how Nina
Kallistratovna had walked, holding her daughter with one hand, an
attache-case in the other: of course her bearing must have been
singular, as she was going to the flat to administer a slap in the
face; no doubt she had walked either in a squatting or a bandy-legged
fashion. The family hearth must have been something extremely
valuable, as she was going to deliver a slap in the face on its
account--perhaps it was some kind of stove.

It was highly interesting--in the child's imagination--to picture
Nina Kallistratovna entering the flat, swinging back her arm, and
delivering the slap: her gait, her arms, the flat--all had a sudden
hidden and exceedingly curious meaning for the child.

This had remained out of his childhood memories of the little town
and province, where all had seemed unusual as childhood itself.

Now in the Wolf's Ravine Agrenev recalled this incident, and he
brooded bitterly over the certainty that no one would ever deliver a
slap in the face on his account! What vulgarity--slaps in the
face!... and a slap in the face was no solution.

It was now autumn, and as he stood in the ravine waiting for Olya,
the cranes flew low over his head, stretching themselves out like
arrows and crying discordantly. A wintry sulphurous light overspread
the eastern sky, and the blue crest of the Vega shone out above him
tremendous and triumphant, sweeping up into the very heart of the
flaming sunset.

On a sudden, Olya arrived, her figure darkly silhouetted an instant--
a tiny insignificant atom--against the vastness of the hill and sky
as she stood poised on the brink of the ravine; then she clambered
down its precipitous side to Agrenev.

Alexander Alexandrovitch Agrenev, mining engineer and married man,
and Olya Andreevna Golovkina!

       *       *       *       *       *       *       *

She was a school teacher, who, after passing through the eight
classes of her college, now resided with her aunt. She was always
known as Olya Golovkina, although she bore the ancient Russian
surname made famous in the time of Peter the Great by Senator
Golovkin. But even in the time of Peter the Great this name had sunk
into the gutter and had left in this town a street Golovkinskaya, and
in that same Golovkinskaya Street a house, by the letting of which
Olya's aunt made her living.

Agrenev knew that the aunt--whose name he had never heard--was an old
maid, and that she had one joy--Olya. He knew she sat at her window
without a lamp throughout the evenings, waiting for Olya; and that
for this reason her niece, on leaving him, went round by the back-
way, in order to obviate suspicion.

Nothing was ever said of the aunt in a personal way; the name was
uttered only indirectly, as though applying to a substance and not to
a human being.

Olya was a very charming girl, of whom it was difficult to say
anything definite: such a pretty provincial maid, like a slender
willow-reed.

The town lay over hillocks and fields and the ancient quarries, all
its energies flowing out from the factory at the further end--and a
casual conversation which occured in the spring at the beginning of
Agrenev's acquaintance with Olya was characteristic alike of the town
and of her. Agrenev had said apropos of something:

"Balmont, Blok, Brusov, Sologub..."

She interrupted him hastily--a slender little reed: "As a whole I
know little of foreign writers ..."

In the town--neither in the high-school, the library, nor the
newspapers--did they know of Balmont or Blok, but Olya loved to
declaim by rote from Kozlov, and she spoke French.

The factory lived its dark, noisy, unwholesome life sunk in poverty
beneath the surface, steeped in luxury above; the little town lived
amid the fields, scared and pressed down by the factory, but still
carrying on its own individual life.

Beyond it, on the side away from the factory, lay the pass called the
Wolf's Ravine. On the right, close to the river, was a grove where
couples walked. They never descended to the ravine, because it was so
unpoetic, a treeless, shallow, dull, unterrifying spot. Yet it
skirted the hills, dominated the surrounding country; and people
lying flat in the channel at its summit could survey the locality for
a mile round without being seen themselves.

Alexander Alexandrovitch was a married man. The shepherd lads tending
their herds at pasture began to notice how every evening a man on a
bicycle turned off the main road into the ravine, and how--soon
after--a girl hurried past them following in his steps, like a reed
blown in the wind. As befitted their kind, the shepherds cried out
every abomination after her.

All the summer Olya had begged Agrenev to bring her books to read;
she did not notice, however, that he had never once brought her any!

Then one evening, early in September, after a spell of rain which had
prevented their meeting for some days, there happened that which was
bound to happen--which happens to a maiden only once in her life.
They used always to meet at eight, but eight in September was not
like eight in June. The rain was over, but a chill, desolating,
autumnal wind remained. The sky was laden with heavy, leaden clouds;
it was cold and wretched. That evening the cranes flew southward,
gabbling in the sky. The grass in the ravine was yellow and withered.
There was sunshine there in the daytime, and Olya wore a white dress.
It was there the two of them, Agrenev and Olya, usually bade each
other adieu.

But on that evening, Agrenev accompanied Olya to her home, and both
were absorbed by the same thought--the aunt! Was she sitting by the
window without a lamp waiting for her niece, or had she already
lighted it in order to prepare the supper? Olya hoped desperately
that her aunt would be in her usual place and the lamp unlit, so that
she could slip by into her room unseen and secretly change her
clothes.

Not only did Olya and Alexander Alexandrovitch walk arm-in-arm but
they pressed close together, their heads bent the one to the other--
whispering ... only of the aunt. Olya could not think of the pain or
the joy or the suffering--she was only thinking how she could pass
her aunt unnoticed; Agrenev felt cold and sickened at the thought of
a possible scandal.

They discovered there was a light at the aunt's window, and Olya
began to tremble like a reed, whispering hoarsely--almost crying:

"I won't go in! I won't go in!"

But all the same she did--a willow-reed blown in the wind. Agrenev
arranged to meet her the next day in the factory office, so that he
might hear whether the aunt had created a scene or not, although he
did not admit that reason, even to himself.

In the ravine when Olya--after yielding all--wept and clung to his
knees, Agrenev's heart had been pierced with pangs of remorse. In the
pitchblack darkness overhead the wild-geese could be heard rustling
their wings as they flew southward, scared by his cigarette--the
tenth in succession.

"Southward, geese, southward!... But you shall go nowhere, slave,
useless among the useless!" Then he remembered that slap in the face
Nina Kallistratovna had given for her husband--nobody would give Olya
Golovkina one for him! "Olya is a useless accidental burden," he
thought.

Then Agrenev dismissed her from his mind; and, as he bicycled from
Golovkinskaya Street through the whole length of the town, past the
factory to the engineers' quarters--there was no need to hide now it
was dark--he thought only of Olya's aunt: of how she was an old maid
with nothing else in her life but her niece, and that Olya was hiding
her tragedy from her; of how she spent the entire evenings sitting
alone by the window in the dark--assuredly not on Olya's account, but
because she was dying; all her life she had been dying, as the town
was dying where Kozlov was read; as he, Agrenev, was dying; as the
maidenhood of Olya had died. How powerful is the onward rush of life!
What tragedy lay in those evenings by the window in the darkness!

Every morning the housemaid used to bring Alexander Alexandrovitch in
his study a cup of lukewarm coffee on a tray. Then he went out to the
factory--the rest of the household was still asleep. There he came
into contact with the workmen, and saw their hopeless, wretched,
impoverished lives; listened to Bitska's jests, and to the rumbling
of the wagonettes--identified himself with the life of the factory,
which dominated all like some fabulous brooding monster.

During the luncheon interval he went home, washed himself, and
listened to his wife rattling spoons on the other side of the wall.
And this made up the entire substance of his life! Yes, it was
certainly interesting how Nina Kallistratovna had entered that flat,
swung back her hand--which hand had it been?--was it the one in which
she held the attache-case or was that transferred to the other hand
first?--and delivered the smack to Madame Chasovnikova. Then there
was Olya, darling Olya Golovkina, from whom--as from them all--he
desired nothing.

That night, when he reached home at last, his daughter came in and
made him a curtsey, saying:

"Goodnight, daddy."

Alexander Alexandrovitch caught her in his arms, placed her on his
knees--his beloved, his only little daughter.

"Well, little Asya, what have you been doing?" he asked.

"When you went out to Olya Golovkina Mummy and I played tig."

The next morning, when Olya came into the office for business as
usual, she exclaimed joyfully:

"My aunt has not found out anything. She opened the door for me
without lighting the lamp, and as she groped through the passage I
ran quickly past her. Then I changed my clothes and appeared at
supper as though nothing had happened!"

A willow-reed blown by the wind!

In the office were many telephone calls and the rattling of counting-
boards. Agrenev and Olya sat together and arranged when to meet
again. She did not want to go to the Ravine because of the shepherd
boys' rude remarks. Alexander Alexandrovitch did not tell her all was
known at home. As she said goodby she clung to him like a reed in the
wind and whispered:

"I have been awake all night. You have noticed surely that I have not
called you by any name; I have no name for you."

And she begged him not to forget to bring her some books.

All that was known of the town was that it lay at the intersection of
such and such a latitude and longitude. But articles on the factory
were printed each year in the industrial magazines, and also
occasionally in the newspapers, as when the workmen struck or were
buried under a fall of limestone. The factory was run by a limited
company. Alexander Alexandrovitch Agrenev made out the returns for
his department; these were duly printed--not to be read, but so that
beneath them might appear the signature: "A. A. Agrenev, Engineer."
Olya only kept a report-book and the name-rolls, placing in her
reports so many marks opposite the pupil's names.




THE FIRST DAY OF SPRING

Mammy rose in the morning just as usual during those interminable
months. I was accustomed to calling Alexander Alexandrovitch's mother
"mammy." She always wore a dark dress and carried a large white
handkerchief which she continually raised to her lips. It was bright
and cheerful in the dining-room. The tea-service stood on the table
and the samovar was boiling. The room always made me feel that we
were going away--into the country, for all the pictures had been
taken down, and a mirror that had been casually hung on the walls was
now shrouded in a linen sheet. I generally rise very early, say my
prayers, and immediately look at the newspapers. Formerly I scarcely
even thought of them and was quite indifferent to their contents; now
I cannot even imagine life without them! By the time my morning cup
of tea is brought, I have already read all the news of the world, and
I tell it to Mammy, who cannot read the papers herself.

She has the room Alexander Alexandrovitch formerly occupied; she is
tall, always dresses in black, and there is a certain severity about
her general demeanour. This is quite natural. She invariably makes
the sign of the Cross over me, kisses me on the forehead and lips,
and then--as ever--turns quickly away, bringing her handkerchief to
her lips. I know, though, what it is that distresses her--it is that
Georgie is killed, and Alexander Alexandrovitch is still "Out there"
. . . and that I, Anna, alone am left to her of her family.

We are always silent at tea: we generally are at all times. She asks
only a single question:

"What is in the newspapers?"

She always utters it in a hoarse voice, and very excitedly and
clumsily I tell her all I know. After breakfast I walk about outside
the window looking at the old factory and awaiting the postman's
arrival.

Thus I pass my days one by one, watching for the post, for the
newspapers, enduring the mother's grief--and my own. And whenever I
wait for the letters, I recall a little episode of the War told me by
a wounded subaltern at an evacuated point. He had sustained a slight
head wound, and I am certain he was not normal, but was suffering
from shell-shock. Dark-eyed, swarthy, he was lying on a stretcher and
wearing a white bandage. I offered him tea, but he would not take it;
pushing aside the mug and gripping my hand he said:

"Do you know what war is? Don't laugh! bayonets ... do you
understand?"--his voice rose in a shriek--"... into bayonets ... that
is, to cut, to kill, to slaughter one another--men! They turned the
machine-guns on us, and this is what happened: the private Kuzmin and
I were together, when suddenly two bullets struck him. He fell, and,
losing all sense of distinction, forgetting that I was his officer,
he stretched out his arms towards me in a sort of half-conscious way,
and cried: 'Towny, bayonet me!' You understand? 'Towny, bayonet me!'
But you cannot understand.... Do not laugh!"

He told me this, now whispering, now shrieking. He told me that I
could not understand; but I can . . . "Towny, bayonet me!" Those
words express all the terror of war for me--Georgie's death,
Alexander's wound, the mother's grief; all, all that the War has
brought: they express it with such force that my temples ache with an
almost physical sense of anguish,

"Towny, bayonet me!" How simple, how superhuman!

I remember those words every day, especially when in the hall waiting
for the post. Alexander writes seldom and his letters are very dry,
merely telling me that he is well, that either there are no dangers
or that they have passed; he writes to us all at the same time, to
mother, to Asya, and to me.

It was like that to-day. I was waiting for the postman. He came and
brought several letters, one of them from Alexander. I did not open
it at once, but waited for Mother.

This is what he wrote:

"Darling Anna,

Yesterday and to-day (a Censor's erasure) I feel depressed and think
of you, only of you. When things are quiet and there is little doing
many a fine thing passes unobserved; I allude to the flowers, of
which I am sending you specimens. They grow quite close to the
trench, but it is difficult and dangerous to get them, as one may
easily be killed. I have seen such flowers before, but am ignorant of
their name."

"Goodbye. My love. Forgive the 'army style'; this letter is for you
alone."

The letter contained two of those little blue violets which spring up
directly the snow has melted.

I handed the letter, as always, to his mother that she might read it
too; her lips began to tremble, and her eyes filled with tears as she
read, but in the midst of her tears she laughed. And we both of us, I
the young woman, and Mammy the old mother, laughed and cried
simultaneously, tightly clasped in each other's arms. I had pictured
the War hitherto in the words: "Towny, bayonet me!". And now
Alexander had sent me from it--violets! Two violets that are still
unfaded.

I had noticed before the phenomenon of the four seasons suddenly
bursting, as it were, upon the human consciousness. I remember that
happening to me in my childhood when on holiday in the country. The
summer was still in full swing, everything seemed just as usual, when
suddenly one morning, in a most ordinary gust of wind, the red-vine
leaves, then some three weeks old, were blown into my eyes, and all
at once I realized that it was autumn. My mood changed on the
instant, and I prepared to go home, back to town.

How many years is it since I have seen the autumn, winter, or spring--
since I felt their magic? But to-day, after a long-past summer, I
have all at once felt the call of the spring. Only to-day I have
noticed that our windows are tightly closed, that I am wearing a dark
costume, that it is already May, and that bluebells are blossoming in
the fields. I had forgotten that I was young. I remembered it to-day.

And I know further that I have faith, that I have love--love of
Georgie and Alexander. I know too, although there is so much terror,
so much that is foolish and ugly, there is still youth, love, and the
spring--and the blue violets that grow by the trenches.

After Mammy and I had wept and laughed in each other's embrace, I
went out alone into the fields beyond the factory--to love, to think,
to dream . . . I love Alexander Alexandrovitch for ever and ever...




THE SEAS AND HILLS

A rainy night, trenches--not in the forest lands of Lithuania, but at
the Vindavo-Rybinsky station in Moscow itself. The train is like a
trench; voices are heard from the adjoining carriage.

"Where do you come from?" "Yes, yes, that is so, truly! You remember
the ravine there, all rocks, and the lake below; many met their doom
there." "Let me introduce you to the Commander of the Third
Division." "Give me a light, old fellow! We are back from furlough."

The train is going at nightfall to Rzhov, Velikiya Luki, and Polotsk.
Outside on the platform the brethren are lying at ease under benches,
drinking tea, and full of contentment. The gas-jets shine dimly in
the rain, and behind the spattered panes of glass the women's eyes
gleam like lamp-lights. There is a smell of naphthaline.

"Where is the Commandant's carriage?" "No women allowed here! Men
only! We're for the front!" And there is a smell of leather, tar, and
leggings--a smell of men.

"Yes, yes, you're right! Ha-ha! He is a liar, an egregious liar! No,
I bet you a beauty like that isn't going headlong into an attack!"

There is a sound of laughing and a deep base voice speaking with
great assurance. The third bell.

"Where's the Commandant's carriage?" "Well, goodbye!" "Ha-ha-ha-ha!
He lies, Madam, I assure you, he lies." "Bah! those new boots they
have issued have given me corns; I'll have to send them back."

This conversation proceeded from beneath a bench and from the steps
that led to a top-compartment; the men hung up their leggings which,
though marked with fresh Government labels, were none the less
reeking with perspiration. The lamps moved along the platform and
disappeared into the night; the figures of women and stretcher-
bearers silently crept along; a sentry began to flirt with one of the
former; the rain fell slantingly, arrow-like, in the darkness.

They reached Rzhov at midnight in the train; the men climbed out of
the windows for tea; then clambered in again with their rifles; the
carriages resounded with the rattling of canteens. It was raining
heavily and there was a sound of splashing water. The brethren in the
corridors grumbled bitterly as they inspected papers. Under the
benches there was conversation, and also garbage.

Then morning with its rose-coloured clouds: the sky had completely
cleared; rain-drops fell from the trees; it was bright and fragrant.
Velikiya Luki, Lovat; at the station were soldiers, not a single
woman.

The train eludes the enemy's reconnaissance. Soldiers, soldiers,
soldiers!--rifles, rifles!--canteens:--the brethren! It is no
longer Great Russia; around are pine woods, hills, lakes, and the
land is everywhere strewn with cobble-stones and pebbles--- whilst at
every little station from under fir-trees creep silent, sombre
figures, barefooted and wearing sheep-skin coats and caps--in the
summer. It is Lithuania.

The enemy's reconnaissance is a diversion: otherwise the day is long
and dreary--all routine like a festival; already one knows
 the detachment, the number of wounded, the engagements with the
enemy. Many had alighted from the train at Velikiya Luki, and nobody
had got in. We are quiet and idle all day long.

Then towards night we reach Polotsk--the white walls of the monastery
are left behind; we come to the Dvina, and the train rumbles over a
bridge. Now we journey by night only, without a time-table or lights,
and again under a drizzling rain. The train stops without whistling
and as silently starts again. Around us all is still, as in October;
the country-side is shrouded by night. Men alight at each stop after
Polotsk; no one sits down again; and at every stop thirty miles of
narrow gauge railway lead to the trenches. What monotony after
Moscow! after the hustle and clatter of an endless day! There is the
faintest glimmer of dawn, and the eastern sky looks like a huge green
bottle.

"Get up--we have arrived!"

Budslav station; the roof is demolished by aeroplane bombs. Soldiers
sleep side by side in a little garden on asphalt steps beneath
crocuses. A drowsy Jew opens his bookstall on the arrival of the
train: he sells books by Chirikov, Von Vizin, and Verbitskaya. And
from the distance, with strange distinctness, comes a sound like
muffled clapping.

"What is that?" "Must be the heavy artillery." "Where is the
Commandant?" "The Commandant is asleep!..."

A week has passed by in the trenches, and another week has commenced.
The bustle of the first few days is over; now all is in order. In a
corner of a meadow, a little way from the front, hangs a man's body;
the head by degrees has become severed from the trunk. But I do not
see very much. We sleep in the day.

It is June, and there is scarcely any night. I know when it is
evening by the sound of the firing; it begins from beyond the marshes
at seven o'clock. Moment after moment a bullet comes--zip--into my
dug-out: scarcely a second passes before there is another zip. The
sound of the shot itself is lost amid the general crashing of guns;
there is only the zip of the bullet as it strikes the earth or is
embedded in the beams overhead. And so on all through the night,
moment after moment, until seven in the morning.

There are three of us in the dug-out; two are playing chess, but I am
reading--the same thing over and over again, for I am tired to death
of lying idle, of sleeping and walking. Poor indeed are men's
resources, for in three days we had exhausted all we had to say.
Yesterday a soldier who had lost his hand when scouting, came running
in to us crying wildly:

"Bayonet me, Towny, Bayonet me!"

Sometimes we come out at night to enjoy the fireworks. They fire on
us hoping to unnerve us, and their bullets strike--zip-zip-zip--into
our earthworks. We stand and look on as though spell-bound. Guns
belch out in the distance, a green light begins to quiver over the
whole horizon. Rockets incessantly tear their way, screaming, through
the air, amongst them some similar to those we ourselves used to send
up over the river Oka. Balls of fire burst in twain, and huge discs
emitting a hundred different deadly lights flare above us.

Soon the rockets disappear, and from behind the frost creep three
gigantic luminous figures; at first they stretch up into the sky,
then, quivering convulsively, they fall down upon us, upon the
trenches upon our right and left. In their lurid light our uniforms
show white. Over the graves in the Lithuanian forests stand enormous
crosses--as enormous as those in Gogol's "_Dreadful Vengance_" and
now, on the hill behind us, we discern two of them, one partly
shattered and overhanging the other--a bodeful grim reminder!

Always soldiers, soldiers, soldiers. Not a single old man, not a
single woman, not a single child. For three weeks now I have not seen
a glimpse of a woman. That is what I want to speak of--the meaning of
woman.

We were dining at a spot behind the lines, and from the other side of
the screen a woman laughed: I never heard sweeter music. I can find
no other words "sweeter music." This sister had come up from the
hospital; her dress, her veil--what a joy! She had made some remark
to the Commanding Officer: I have never heard more beautiful poetry
than those words. All that is best, most noble, most virginal--all
that is within me, all that life has bestowed is woman, woman! That
is what I wish to explain.

I visited the staff cinema in the evening. I took a seat in a box.
When the lights were switched off, I wrote in blue pencil on the
railing in front of me:

"I am a blonde with blue eyes. Who are you? Come, I am waiting."

I had done a cruel thing!

Directly I had written those words, I felt ashamed. I could not stay
in the cinema. I wandered about between the benches, went out into
the little village, walked round its chapels--every window of which
was smashed; and gathered a bunch of forget-me-nots from a ditch
by the cemetery. On returning to the crowded cinema I noticed that
the box in which I had been sitting was empty; presently an officer
entered it; sat down leisurely to enjoy the pictures; read what I had
written; and all at once became a different man. I had injected a
deadly poison, he left the box. I walked out after him. He went
straight in the direction of the chapel. Ah, I had done a cruel thing!

I had written of a blonde with blue eyes; and I went out, saw her,
and awaited her--I who had written the message. It seemed as though
hundreds of instruments were making music within me, yet my heart was
sad and weighed down with oppresion--it felt crushed. More than
anything, more than anything in the whole world, I loved and awaited
a blonde who did not exist, to whom I would have surrendered all that
was most beautiful within me.

I could not stay in the cinema, but crawled through the trenches. On
the hill towered the two huge crosses; sitting down beneath their
shadow, I clenched my hands, and murmured:

"Darling, darling, darling! Beloved and tender one! I am waiting."

Far in the distance, the green rockets soared skyward, the same as
those we used to send up over the river Oka. Then the gargantuan
fingers of a searchlight began to sweep the area, my uniform appeared
white in its gleam, and all at once a shell fell by the crosses. I
had been observed, I had become a target.

The bullets fell zip-zip-zip into the earthworks. I lay in my bunk
and buried my head in the pillow. I felt horribly alone as I lay
there, murmuring to myself, and breathing all the tenderness I was
capable of into my words:

"Darling, darling, darling!..."

III

Love!

Can one credit the romanticists that--across the seas and hills and
years--there is so strange a thing as a single-hearted love, an all-
conquering, all-subduing, all-renovating love?

In the train at Budslav--where the staff-officers were billeted--it
was known that Lieutenant Agrenev had such a single, overmastering,
life-long love.

A wife--the woman, the maiden who loves only once--to whom love is
the most beautiful and only thing in life, will do heroic deeds to
get past all the Army ordinances, the enemy's reconnaissance, and
reach her beloved. To her there is but one huge heart in the world
and nothing more.

Lieutenant Agrenev's quarters were in a distant carriage, Number 30-
35.

The Staff Officers' train stood under cover. No one was allowed to
strike a light there. In the evening, after curtaining the windows
with blankets, the officers gathered together in the carriage of the
General Commanding the XXth Corps, to play cards and drink cognac.
Someone cynically remarked that there was a close resemblance between
life at the front and life in a monastery, in as much as in both the
chief topic of conversation was women: there was no reason,
therefore, why monks should not be sent to the front for fasting and
prayer.

While they were playing cards, the guard, Pan Ponyatsky, came in and
spoke to the cavalry-captain Kremnev. He told him of a woman, young
and very beautiful. The captain's knees began to tremble; he sat
helplessly on the step of the carriage, and fumbled in his pocket for
a cigarette. Pan Ponyatsky warned him that he must not strike a
light. In the distance could be heard the roar of cannon, like an
approaching midnight storm. Kremnev had never felt such a throbbing
joy as he felt now, sitting on the carriage step. Pan Ponyatsky
repeated that she was a beauty, and waiting--that the captain must
not delay; and led him through the dark corridor of the train.

The carriage smelt of men and leather; behind the doors of the
compartments echoed a sound of laughter from those who were playing
cards. The two men walked half the length of the train.

As they passed from one waggon to another they saw the flare of a
rocket in the distance, and in its baleful green light the number of
carriage--30-35--loomed in faint outline.

Pan Ponyatsky unlocked the door and whispered:

"Here. Only mind, be quiet."

The Pan closed the door after Kremnev. It was an officer's
compartment; there was a smell of perfume, and on one of the lower
bunks was a woman--sleeping. Kremnev threw off his cloak and sat down
by the sleeping figure.

The door opened; Pan Ponyatsky thrust in his head and whispered:

"Don't worry about her, sir; she is all right, only a little quieter
now." Then the head disappeared.

Love! Love over the seas and hills and years!

It had become known that a woman was to visit Agrenev, and forthwith
he was ordered away for twenty-four hours on Detachment. Who then
would ever know what guard had opened the door, what officer had
wrought the deed? Would a woman dare scream, having come where she
had no right to be? Or would she dare tell ... to a husband or a
lover? No, not to a husband, nor a lover, nor to anyone! And Pan
Ponyatsky? Why should he not earn an odd fifty roubles? Who was he to
know of love across the seas and hills?

Yesterday, the day before, and again to-day, continuous fighting and
retreating. The staff-train moved off, but the officers went on foot.
A wide array of men, wagons, horses, cannon, ordinance. All in a vast
confusion. None could hear the rattling fire of the machine-guns and
rifles. All was lost in a torrential downpour of rain. Towards
evening there was a halt. All were eager to rest. No one noticed the
approaching dawn. Then a Russian battery commenced to thunder. They
were ordered to counter-attack. They trudged back through the rain,
no one knew why--Agrenev, Kremnev, the brethren--three women.




THE SNOW WIND

A cruel, biting blizzard swept across the snow; over the earth moved
misty, fantastic clouds, that drifted slowly across the face of a
pale troubled moon. Towards night-fall, the wolves could be heard in
the valley, howling a summons to their leader from the spot where the
pack always assembled.

The valley descended sharply to a hollow thickly overgrown with red
pines. Thirteen years back an unusually violent storm had swept the
vicinity, and hurled an entire pine belt to the ground. Now, under
the wide, windy sky, spread a luxuriant growth of young firs, while
little oaks, hazels, and alders here and there dotted the depression.

Here the leader of the wolf-pack had his lair. Here for thirteen
years his mate had borne his cubs. He was already old, but huge,
strong, greedy, ferocious, and fearless, with lean legs, powerful
snapping jaws, a short, thick neck on which the hair stood up
shaggily like a short mane and terrified his younger companions.

This great, gaunt old wolf had been leader for seven years, and with
good reason. By day he kept to his lair. At night, terrible and
relentless, he prowled the fields and growled a short summons to his
mates. He led the pack on their quests for food, hunting throughout
the night, racing over plains and down ravines, ravening round farms
and villages. He not only slew elks, horses, bulls, and bears, but
also his own wolves if they were impudent or rebellious. He lived--as
every wolf must live--to hunt, to eat, and to breed.

In winter the snow lay over the land like a dead white pall, and food
was scarce. The wolves sat round in a circle, gnashed their teeth,
and wailed long and plaintively through the night, their noses
pointed at the moon.

Five days back, on a steep slope of the valley not far from the wolf
track to a watering place, and close to a belt of young fir-trees
surrounded by a snow-topped coppice, some men from a neighbouring
farm had set a powerful wolf-trap, above which they had thrown a dead
calf. On their nocturnal prowls the wolves discovered the carcase.
For a long time they sat round it in the grey darkness, howling
plaintively, hungrily gnashing their fangs, afraid to move nearer,
and each one timidly jostling the other forward with cruel vicious
eyes.

At last one young wolf's hunger overcame his fear; he threw himself
on the calf with a shrill squeal, and after him rushed the rest,
whining, growling, raising their tails, bending their bony backs,
bristling the hair on their short thick necks--and into the trap fell
the leader's mate.

They paid no attention to her, but eagerly devoured the calf, and it
was only when they had finished and cleared away all traces of the
orgy that they realised the she-wolf was trapped there for good.

All night she howled and threw herself about, saliva falling from her
dripping jaws, her eyes rolling wildly and emitting little sparks of
green fire as she circled round and round on a clanking chain. In the
morning two farm-hands arrived, threw her on their sleigh and drove
away.

The leader remained alone the whole day. Then, when night again
returned, he called his band together, tore one young wolf to pieces,
rushed round with lowered head and bristling hair, finally leaving
the pack and returning to his lair. The wolves submitted to his
terrible punishment, for he was their chief, who had seized power by
force, and they patiently awaited his return, thinking he had gone on
a solitary food-hunt.

But as the night advanced and he did not come, they began to howl
their urgent summons to him, and now there was an undercurrent of
menace in their cries, the lust to kill, for the code of the wild
beasts prescribed only one penalty for the leader who deserted his
pack--death!

II

All through that night, and the following days and nights, the old
wolf lay immovable in his lair. At last, with drooping head, he rose
from his resting-place, stretched himself mournfully, first on his
fore-paws, then on his hind-legs, arched his back, gnashed his fangs
and licked the snow with his clotted tongue. The sky was still
shrouded in a dense, velvety darkness: the snow was hard, and
glittered like a million points of white light. The moon--a dark red
orb--was blotted over with ragged masses of inky clouds and was fast
disappearing on the right of the horizon; on the left, a crimson dawn
full of menace was slowly breaking. The snow-wind blew and whistled
overhead. Around the wolf, under a bleak sky, were fallen pines and
little fir trees cloaked with snow.

He moved up to a lone, naked waste above the valley, emerged from the
wood, and stood with lowered head by its border, listening and
sniffing. Here the wind blew more strongly, the trees cracked and
groaned, and from the wide dark expanse of open country came a sense
of dreary emptiness and bitter cold.

The old wolf raised his head, pointed his nose, and uttered a
prolonged howl. There was no answer. Then he sped to the watering
place and to the river, to the place where his mate had perished.

He loped along swiftly, noiselessly, crouching on the earth,
unnoticeable but for his glistening eyes, which made him terrible to
encounter suddenly.

From a hill by the riverside a village could be descried, its mole-
like windows already alight, and not far distant loomed the dark
silhouette of a lonely farm.

The wolf prowled aimlessly through the quiet, snow-covered fields.
Although it was a still, dark night, the blue lights of the
approaching dawn proclaimed that March had already come. The gale
blew fiercely and bitingly, driving the snow in swirls and spirals
before it.

All was smooth at the place where the trap had been set; there was
not a trace of the recent death, even the snow round the trap had
been flattened out. The very scent of the she-wolf had been almost
entirely blown away. The wolf again raised his head and uttered a
deep, mournful howl; the moonlight was reflected in his
expressionless eyes, which were filled with little tears, then he
lowered his head to the earth and was silent.

A light twinkled in the farm-house windows. The wolf went towards it,
his eyes gleaming with vicious green sparks. The dogs scented him and
began a loud, terrified barking. The wolf lay in the snow and howled
back loudly. The red moon was swimming towards the horizon, and swift
murky clouds glided over it. Here by the river-side, and down at the
watering-place, in the great primeval woods and in the valleys, this
wolf had lived for thirteen years. Now his mate lay in the yard of
yonder farm-house. He howled again. A man came out into the yard and
shouted savagely, thinking a pack of wolves were approaching.

The night passed, but the wolf still wandered aimlessly, his broad
head drooping, his ferocious eyes glaring. The moon sank, slanting
and immense, behind the horizon, the dawn-light increased, a
universal murmuring filled the air, shadowy vistas of pine-trees,
firs and frowning ravines began to open up in all directions. The
morning glow deepened into rivers and floods of delicate,
interchanging colour. Under the protean play the snow changed its
dress to lilac. The wolf withdrew to its lair.

By the fallen pine trees where grew delicate green firs, fat, clumsy
little cubs, born earlier in the spring, played among the cones and
the belt of young spruces that guarded the entrance to their lair.

III

The morning came, its clear blue bringing an assurance that it was
March to those desolate places lying in lonely grandeur beneath a
smiling sky. It whispered that the winter was passed and that spring
had come. Soon the snow would melt and the sodden earth would throb
and pulse with vernal activity, and it would be impossible not to
rejoice with Nature.

The snow thickened into a grey shining crust under the warm rays of
the sun, to deepen into blue where the shadows fell. The fir-trees,
shaggy and formidable, seemed especially verdant and welcoming to the
tide of sunlight that flowed to their feet, and lay there collected
in the little hollows about their roots. The woodpecker could be
heard amidst the pines, and daws, tomtits and bullfinches carolled
merrily as they spread their wings and preened their plumage in the
sun. The pines exhaled their pungent, resinous, exhilarating odour.

The wolf lay under cover all day. His bed was bestrewn with decaying
foliage and overgrown with moss. He rested his head on his paws,
gazing solemnly before him with small tear-stained eyes; he lay there
motionless, feeling a great weariness and melancholy. Around him was
a thick cluster of firs overspread with snow.

Twice the old wolf raised his head, opened his jaws wide and gave a
bitter plaintive whine; then his eyes grew dim, their ferocity died
down, and he wagged his tail like a cub, striking a thick branch a
sharp blow with it. Then again he relapsed into melancholy
immobility.

At last, as the day declined, as the naming splendour of the dying
sun sailed majestically towards the west and sank beneath the horizon
in a glory of spilled violets and purples, and as the moon uprose, a
huge, glowing lantern of light, the old wolf for the first time
showed himself angry and restless. He emerged from his cover and
commenced a loud howling, fiercely bristling his hair; then he sat on
his hind-legs and whined as though in great pain, again, as if driven
wild by this agony, he began to scatter and gnaw at the snow. Finally
at a swift pace, and crouching, he fled into the fields, to the
neighbourhood of the farm near which the wolf-traps were laid.

Here it was dark and cold, the snow-wind rose afresh, harsh and
violent, and the crusted snow cut the animal's feet. The last scent
of the she-wolf, which he had sniffed only the previous day, had
completely disappeared. In some remote part of the valley the pack
were howling in rage and hunger for their leader.

Tossing himself about and howling, the old wolf rushed madly over
hill and hollow. The night passed; he dashed about the fields and
valleys, went down to the river, ran into the deep fastness of the
forest and whined ferociously, for there was nothing left for him to
do. He had lived to eat and to breed. Man, by an iron trap, had
severed him from the law; now he knew only death awaited him.

       *       *       *       *       *       *       *

IV

While it was yet quite dark, a farm-hand rose from his warm bed to go
to the village on business. He put on a wadded jacket and fur-lined
cap, lighted a pipe--the glow illuminating his pock-marked hands--and
went out into the yard. The dogs leaped round him, uttering timid
cowardly whines. He grinned, kicked them aside, and opened the gate.

Outside darkness had descended softly from the heavens, and lovingly
overspread a tired world; greenish clouds floated through the blue-
black sea of naked space and the snow gleamed greyish blue beneath a
turbid moon. The keen snow-wind swept the ground in a fury of white
swirls.

The man glanced up at the sky, whistled, and strode off to the
village at a brisk swinging pace. He did not mark a wolf stealing
along close by the road and running on ahead of him. But when he was
near the village he came to a sudden halt. There, on the road in
front of him, a huge, lean, much-scarred wolf sat on its hind legs by
a crossway. With hideous, baleful green eyes it watched his approach.
The man whistled, and waved his arm. The wolf did not stir: its eyes
grew dim for a moment; then lighted up again with a cruel ferocious
glare.

The man struck a match and took a few steps forward: still the wolf
did not stir. Then the man halted, the smile left his face, and he
looked anxiously about him. All around stretched fields, the village
was yet in the distance. He made a snow-ball and flung it
ingratiatingly at the wolf. The brute remained still, only champing
its jaws and bristling the hair on its neck.

A moment the man remained there; then turned back. He walked slowly
at first; then he began to run. Faster and faster he flew; but, as he
neared his farm, he beheld the wolf again on the road before him. It
was once more sitting on its haunches, and it licked its dripping
jaws. Now terror seized the unfortunate peasant. He shouted; then
wheeled, and ran back blindly. He shrieked wildly as he ran--mad with
fear, unaware what he was doing. There was a death-like hush over the
snow-laden earth that lay supine beneath the cloud-ridden moon. The
frenzied man alone was screaming.

Gasping, staggering, with froth on his lips, he reached the village
at last. There stood the wolf! He dashed from the road tossing his
arms, uttering hoarse terrified cries; his cap had fallen off long
before, his hair and red scarf were streaming in the wind. Behind him
came the relentless pad, pad of the wolf; it's hot, fetid breath
scorched the nape of his neck; he could hear it snapping its jaws. He
stumbled, lurched forward, fell: as he was about to lift himself from
the deep spongy snow, the wolf leaped upon him and struck him from
behind--a short, powerful blow on the neck.

The man fell--to rise no more! A moment, and then his horrible
choking cries had ceased. Through the vastness rang the wolf's
savage, solitary howling.

V

At dusk when the snow-wind was rushing through the darkness of the
night--a wild turbulent cataract of icy air--the wolf-pack gathered
together in the valley and howled. They were calling for a leader.

The sky spread above them, wan and pallid, the wind moaned and
whistled through the feathery tops of the pine-trees. Amid the snow
the wolves sat in a circle on their haunches and howled dismally.
They were hungry and had not eaten for six days; their leader had
deserted them. He who had led them on their hunts and prowls, who
seven years back had killed their former leader and established his
own chieftainship, had now left them forlorn.

Sitting in a circle, howling with gleaming eyes and bristling hair,
they were mournful yet vicious; like helpless slaves they did not
know what to do. Only one young wolf, a brother of the one their
leader had recently killed, strutted about independently and gnashed
his teeth, conscious of his strength and agility. In the pride of his
youthful vigour he had conceived the ambition to make himself the
leader; he certainly had no thought that this was a fatal step
entailing in the end his doom. For it is the Law of the Pack that
death is meted out to the usurper of power. He commenced to howl
proudly, but the others paid no heed, they only drooped their heads
and howled in fear and trembling.

Gradually the dawn broke. Faint and silvery, the moon was sinking
through pale, luminous veils in the west; in the east there glowed a
fierce red light like that of a camp fire. The sky was still shrouded
in darkness, the snow glimmered a cold pallid blue in the half-light.

The old wolf, fresh from his kill, slowly descended the valley where
his pack had gathered. At sight of his grey, gaunt form they rushed
forward to meet him, and as they ran none seemed to know what was
about to happen; they advanced fawning and cringing until the young
wolf, with a savage squeal, dared to throw himself upon the leader in
a sudden fierce attack: then they all suddenly remembered his
desertion of them, their law which demands death for its
infringement, and with glistening bared teeth they too flung
themselves upon him. He made no resistance. He died and was torn to
pieces which, with his bones, were quickly devoured.

       *       *       *       *       *       *       *

 VI

The leader died seven days after the death of his mate.

A week later, beneath a golden sun and a smiling blue sky, the snow
was melting, cleansing the earth for the breath of spring. Streamlets
became abundant, twining like shining ribbons of molten light through
the fields and valleys, the river grew swollen and turbid, becoming a
fierce impassable flood, and the little fir trees grew still more
feathery and verdant.

The young wolf, like the old one before him, now became leader and
took a mate; she was the daughter of the old leader, and she went
into the cover to breed.




THE FOREST MANOR


I

Dark, yellow snow still lay in the ravines from under which flowed
icy streamlets; on the surface it was thawing, and last year's grass
pointed up like stiff golden arrows to the cold Heavens. Here and
there, in bright sunny patches, appeared the first yellow flowers.
The sky was dull and overcast, laden with massy, leaden-coloured
clouds.

A carrion-crow flew low over the trees and the twittering birds fell
silent. When the menace had passed they broke forth anew in
triumphant song, once more absorbed by the joy of living,

The swelling earth gurgled happily beneath the soft kiss of the warm
humid wind, and from somewhere afar came reverberating sounds of
spring; perchance from the people in the village across the water, or
perchance from the warbling birds over the streams.

Ivanov the forester came out on to the door-step which had already
dried, and lighted a cigarette; it burned but slowly in the moist
atmosphere of the deepening twilight.

"It will be hot, Mitrich, thank God!" remarked the watchman, Ignat,
as he passed by with some buckets.... "Snipe will be about to-morrow,
and we will have to hunt right into Easter."

He went into the cow-house, then returned, sat down on a step, and
rolled a cigarette.

The pungent odour of his bad tobacco mingled with the sweet aroma of
dying foliage and melting snow. Beyond the river a church bell was
ringing for the Lenten festival, and there was a melancholy thrill in
its notes as they crossed the water.

"That must be the seventh Gospel," said Ignat. "They will be coming
out with the candles soon." Then he added abruptly: "The river won't
reach to a man's waist in the summer and now it is like a torrent;
they have been hardly able to cross it in the long boat ... Spring,
ah!... Well, I shall certainly have to clean out my double-barrelled
gun to-day." With a business-like air he spat into a puddle and
vigorously inhaled his cigarette smoke.

"The cranes will come down by the garden for the night, at dusk,
judging by all portents, and to-morrow we will go after the grouse,"
replied Ivanov, and listened intently to the myriad sounds of
evening.

Ignat also listened, bending his shaggy head sideways to the earth
and the sky. He caught some desired note and agreed:

"Yes, it must be so. I can hear the beat of their wings. I am truly
thankful. At dawn to-morrow we must get out the drosky. We will go to
the Ratchinsky wood and have a look. We can get through all right by
the upper road."

From the right of the steps, his daughter Aganka skipped gaily on to
the terrace and began beating the dust out of a sheep-skin
 coat with thin brown sticks. It was cold and she commenced to dance
for warmth, singing in a shrill voice:

  "The nightingale sings
   In the branches above--
  The nightingale brings
   No rest to his love!"

Ignat gave her an indulgent look; nevertheless he said sternly:
"Come, come! That is sin ... it is Lent and you singing!"

Aganka merely laughed.

"There is no sin now!" she retorted, turning her back to the steps
and propping up her right leg as she vigorously beat the sheepskin
coat.

Ignat playfully threatened her--then smiled and said to Ivanov: "A
fine girl, isn't she?... She is not yet sixteen and is already a
flirt! Its no use talking to her. She won't remain in the house at
night, but must go slipping off somewhere."

Aganka turned round sharply, tossing her head. "Well, I am not a dead
creature!"

"You are not, my girl; indeed you are not--only hold your tongue!"

Ivanov glanced at her. She was like a little wild fawn with her fresh
young body and sparkling eyes, always so ready to bewitch. His own
weary eyes involuntarily saddened for a moment; then he said
cheerily, in a louder tone than necessary:

"Well, isn't that the right attitude? Isn't it the best way? Love
while you can, Aganka, have a happy time."

"Oh, yes, let her have a happy time by all means ... it is young
blood's privilege." replied Ignat.

The bells again rang out for the Gospel. The sky grew darker and
darker. Ravens croaked hoarsely amidst the verdant foliage of the
trees. Ignat put his ear to the ground, listening. From the distance,
from the garden, the ravines, and the pasturage came the low cries of
cranes, barely audible amid the subdued rustling of the spring. Ignat
thrust forward his bearded face, it looked at first serious and
attentive, then it grew cunning and became animated with joy.

"The cranes have come down!" he cried in an excited whisper, as
though afraid of frightening them. Then he began to bustle about,
muttering:

"I must grease the double-barrel...."

Ivanov also bestirred himself. Because while tracking the cranes he
would be seeing her, Arina's image now came vividly before him--
broad, strong, ardent, with soft sensual lips, and wearing a red
handkerchief.

"Get the drosky out at dawn to-morrow," he ordered Ignat. "We will go
to the Ratchinsky wood. I will go there now and have a look round."

II

The panelled walls and the stove with its cracked tiles were only
faintly visible in the soft twilight which filled Ivanov's study. By
the walls stood a sofa, and a desk whose green cloth was untidily
bestrewn with the accumulated litter of years and copiously spotted
with candle grease, reminiscent of the long, dreary nights Ivanov had
spent--a prey to loneliness.

A heap of horse trappings--collars, straps, saddles, bridles--lay by
the large, square, bare windows. During the winter nights wolves
watched the gleam of yellow candlelight within them. Now outside was
the tranquil, genial atmosphere of Spring with all its multi-coloured
splendour. Against a deep-blue sky with an orange streak like a
pencil line drawn across the horizon, showed the sharp, knotted twigs
of the crotegus and the lilac beneath the windows.

Ivanov lighted a candle and commenced manufacturing cartridges to
pass away the time. Lydia Constantinovna entered the room.

"Will you have tea here or in the dining-room?" she inquired.

Ivanov declined tea with a wave of his hand.

All through the years of the Revolution Lydia Constantinovna had
lived in the Crimea, coming to Marin-Brod for a fortnight the
previous summer, afterwards leaving for Moscow. Now she had returned
for the Easter holidays, but not alone--the artist Mintz accompanied
her. Ivanov had never heard of him before.

Mintz was clean-shaven and had long fair hair; he wore steel-rimmed
pince-nez over his cold grey eyes which he often took off and put on
again; when he did so his eyes changed, looking helpless and
malicious without the glasses, like those of little owlets in
daylight; his thin, shaven lips were closely compressed, and there
was often an expression of mistrust and decrepitude in his face; his
conversation and movements were noisy.

Lydia Constantinovna had arrived with Mintz the day before at dusk;
Ivanov was not at home. They had gone for a walk in the evening,
returning only at two o'clock when dawn was just about to break, and
a cold mist hung over the earth like a soft grey veil. They were met
by barking dogs which were quickly silenced by the lash of Ignat's
whip.

Ivanov had come home earlier, at eleven o'clock, and sat by his study
window alone, listening to the gentle sounds of night and the
ceaseless hootings of the owls in the park. Lydia Constantinovna did
not come to him, nor did he go in to her.

It was in the daytime that Ivanov first saw the artist. Mintz was
sitting in the park on a dried turf-bench, and gazing intently at the
river. Ivanov passed him. The artist's shrunken ruffled figure had an
air of desolation and abandonment.

The drawing-room was next to Ivanov's study. There still remained out
of the ruin a carpet and some armchairs near the large, dirty
windows, an old piano stood unmoved, and some portraits still hung on
the walls.

Lydia Constantinovna and Mintz came in from the back-room. Lydia
walked with her usual brisk, even tread, carrying herself with the
smooth, elastic bearing and graceful swing of her beautiful body that
Ivanov remembered so well.

She raised the piano-cover and began playing a dashing bravura that
was strikingly out of place in the dismantled room, then she closed
the piano-lid with a slam.

Aganka entered with the tea on a tray.

Mintz walked about the dim room, tapping his heels on the parquet
floor, and though he spoke loudly, his voice held a note of yearning
pain.

"I was in the park just now. That pond, those maple avenues--
disintegrating, dying, disappearing--drive me melancholy mad. The ice
has already melted in the pond by the dam. Why can we not bring back
the romantic eighteenth century, and sit in dressing-gowns, musing
with delicious sadness over our pipes? Why are we not illustrious
lords?"

Lydia Constantinovna smiled as she answered: "Why not indeed! That is
a poetic fancy. But the reality is very much worse. Marin-Brod has
never been a country house, it is a forest manor, a forestry-office
and nothing more ... nothing more.... I always feel an interloper
here. This is only my second day and I am already depressed." Her
tone was sad, yet it held just a perceptible note of anger.

"Reality and Fancy? Certainly I am an artist, for I always see the
latter, the beautiful and spiritual side," Mintz declared; and added
in an undertone: "Do you remember yesterday ... the park?"

"Oh, yes, the park," Lydia replied in a tired, subdued tone. "They
hold the Twelfth Gospel Service to-day; when I was a young girl, how
I used to love standing in church with a candle--I felt so good. And
now I love nothing!"

It was already quite dark in the drawing room. A wavering, greenish-
golden light streamed in through the windows and played on the dim
walls. Ivanov came out of his study. He was wearing high boots and a
leather jacket, and carried a rifle under his arm. He went silently
to the door. Lydia Constantinovna stopped him.

"Are you going out again, Sergius? Is it to hunt?"

"Yes."

Ivanov stood still and Lydia went up to him. She had dark shadows
under her eyes, and the hand of time--already bearing away her youth
and beauty--lay upon her marvellously white skin, at her lips and on
her cheeks, in faint, scarcely visible wrinkles. Ivanov noticed it
distinctly.

"Does one hunt at night--in the dark? I did not know that," Lydia
said, repeating "I did not know...."

"I am going to the wood."

"I have come back here after not having seen you for months, and we
have not yet spoken a word...."

Ivanov did not reply, but went out. His footsteps echoed through the
great house, finally dying away in the distance. The front-door
slammed, shaking the whole mansion, which was old and falling to
pieces.

Lydia Constantinovna remained in the middle of the room, her face
turned to the door. Mintz approached, took her hand, and raised it to
his lips.

"You must not take it to heart, Lit," he said softly and kindly.

She freed her hand and laid it on Mintz's shoulder.

"No, one should not take it to heart," she assented in a low voice,
"One should not.... But listen, Mintz.... How strange it all is! Once
he loved me very much, though I never loved him.... But my youth was
spent here, and now I feel unhappy.... I remember all that happened
in this drawing-room, it was the first time. If only I could have all
over again! Perhaps I should act differently then. I feel sorry now
for my youth and inexperience, though formerly I cursed them, and I
am far from regretting all that followed afterwards. But I need a
refuge now.... If you only knew how much he loved me in those
days!..."

Lydia Constantinovna was silent a moment, her head bent, then
flinging it back she gave a hollow sardonic laugh.

"Oh, what nonsense I talk! Well, we will be cheerful yet. I am tired,
that is all. How stuffy it is in here!... Open the windows, Mintz ...
Now let down the blinds ... They live on milk and black bread here
and are happy--but I have a bottle of brandy in my trunk. Get it out!
Light the chandelier."

Mintz opened the windows. From outside came a cool, refreshing breeze
laden with the moist and fragrant perfumes of spring. Dusk had crept
over the sky, which was flecked with warm vernal clouds.

III

The heavens were a glorious, triumphant, impenetrable blue; there was
a faint glimmer of greenish light on the Western horizon over which
brooded damp low clouds. The air was humid, soft, and redolent with
the aroma of earth and melting snow. From all around came a faint
medley of echoing sounds.... The wind fell completely, not a tree
stirred; the ferns stood motionless with all the magic of the
springtime among their roots. So calm and still was the night, the
earth herself, it seemed, stopped turning in that wonderful
stillness.

Ivanov lighted a cigarette, and as the match flared between his
fingers, illuminating his black beard, his trembling hands were
distinctly visible. His pointer Gek came out of the darkness and
fawned round his legs.

Through the darkness of the windless night rang the church bell
tolling for the last Gospel Service; it seemed to peal just outside
the manor. The yard was silent, but once or twice Aganka's voice
could be heard from the cattle-shed calling to the cows, and the
sound of milk falling into her pail was faintly audible.

Ivanov listened to the church chimes and the subdued sounds of night
round the manor, then noiselessly, well accustomed to the obscurity,
he descended the steps; only Gek was at his side, the other dogs did
not hear him.

Cold raindrops fell from the trees in tiny shining globules of
iridescent light, close by him an owl fluttered in a tangle of
branches, uttering its dreadful cry of joy as it flashed past.

Ivanov walked through the fields, descended by a chalky ribbon of a
footpath to the ravine, crossed over it by a narrow shadow-dappled
pathway hidden among a maze of trees, and made his way along its
further ridge to a forest watch-house. It stood in a bare open space,
exposed to the swift rushing Dance of the Winds, and close to the
naked trunks of three ancient pines that still reared their grim,
shaggy heads to the sky and spilled their pungent balsam perfumes
into the air. Behind it loomed the faint grey shadow of an
embankment.

A dog at the watch-house began to bark. Gek growled in return and
suddenly disappeared. The dogs became silent. A man appeared on the
step with a lantern.

"Who is there?" he asked quietly.

"It is I," said Ivanov.

"You, Sergius Mitrich?... Aha! But Arina is still at church ... went
off there ... busy with her nonsense." The watchman paused. "Shall I
go in and turn off the light? The express will soon be passing. Will
you come in? Arina will be back before long. The wife's at home."

"No, I'm going into the forest."

"As you wish." The watchman passed along the embankment with his
lantern and approached the bridge.

Ivanov left the watch-house, and went into the forest, walking along
the edge of the ravine towards the river slope. A train rushed out
from the forest on the further side of the river, its flaming eyes
reflected in the dark shiny water; it moved forward, rolling loudly
and harshly over the bridge.

It was that hour of spring-time when, despite the many noises, there
was still an atmosphere of peace, and the burgeoning, luxuriantly-
clad earth could almost be heard breathing as it absorbed the vernal
moisture; the clash of the stream as it struck the rocks in the
ravine was hushed for the night. Nevertheless it seemed as though the
bold-browed, rugged wood-demon--awakened by spring--was shaking his
wings in the water.

Beyond the ravine and wood, beyond the river to the right, left,
behind, and before, the birds still chirruped over the currents.
Below, not many steps away, the stream flowed almost noiselessly;
only, as though immeasurably remote the confused gurgle of its waters
broke the profound quiet. Far away rose a soft murmur. The air hummed
and shook with the roar of distant rapids.

Ivanov leaned against a birch tree, laid his rifle beside him, struck
a match and began to smoke. The flickering light illuminated the
white trunks of the trees, the withered herbage of last year's growth
and a path leading down the embankment. Arina had descended it many
times.

The church bells in the village were ringing for evensong. From the
church precincts twinkled the yellow lights of candles and lanterns,
then there was the hum of people's voices. Many of the lights
dispersed to the right and left, others moved down to the river side.
There was the sound of foot-falls on the bottom of a boat and the
splashing of oars. Someone called out:

"Wai ... ait ... Mitri ... ich!"

There was a clanking of iron--a boat-chain; then stillness. Only the
lights showed that the boat had been launched into the middle of the
river and was floating down stream. Soon the murmur of voices again,
and the plash of oars, and now these sounds were quite close to
Ivanov. One of the men was teasing the girls, the latter laughed at
first, then all at once they were silent.

The boat was made fast to the bridge, the passengers bustling about
for a long time on landing. The ferryman collected his paper roubles,
the men continued merry-making with the girls. Their rugged forms--
their chest, knees and chins were clearly discernible in the lights
they carried. They all strolled up a narrow pathway, but one light
withdrew from the rest and moved along a short cut that led to the
watch-house--it was Arina's. Ivanov held Gek in tightly, the dog was
straining to rush down the embankment.

Arina slowly ascended the steep incline, planting her broad, short
heavily-shod feet firmly in the sticky mud; her breath came
pantingly. She wore a red jacket, unbuttoned in the front through
which her large bosom was visible in the lantern-light. The
reflection shone upon her bent face, illuminating her lips, her
bluish cheek-bones and dark arched brows; only her eyes were
invisible in the darkness, and their cavities seemed enormous. The
night's density gave way before the light of her lantern and the
silvery trunks of birch trees glimmered ahead.

Ivanov crossed the road in front of her. Arina stopped with a sudden
gasp, and he felt the touch of her warm breath.

"How you scared me!" she exclaimed quickly, stretching out her hand.
"How are you? I have been at the church service. How you scared me!"

Ivanov was about to draw her hand towards him, but she withdrew it,
saying sternly: "No, you musn't, I'm in a hurry to get home, I have
no time. Let me go."

Ivanov smiled faintly, and dropped her hands.

"All right, it does not matter, I will come to-morrow at dusk." Then
in a low voice he added: "Will you come?"

Arina moved closer to him, and she too spoke under her breath: "Yes,
come this way. And we will have a walk ... Bother my father! But go
now, I am in a hurry ... there is the house to put straight.... I
feel the baby under my heart. Go!"

The first warm rain drops fell from the invisible sky as Ivanov
walked across the meadows; at first they were sparse, pattering
noisily on his leather jacket; then they began to fall more heavily
and he was soon enveloped in the sonorous downpour of a vernal
shower. Close to the manor Gek darted aside and disappeared down the
ravine, from whence arose the rustling of wings, and the perturbed
cries of cranes. Gek barked, some dogs on a neighbouring farm
answered him; to these, others responded from a distant village, and
then again, from far away there was borne over the earth the clear
springtime baying of other dogs.

On entering the main avenue of the park, Ivanov noticed the glow of a
cigarette suddenly disappearing down a side-walk; afterwards he
encountered Aganka at a gate.

"You!" he exclaimed. "On the run as usual? So you have made friends
with a smoker this time?"

The girl giggled loudly and ran off, splashing through the mud
towards the cow-shed; then she called out innocently:

"I have put the milk by the window in your study."

Ivanov lingered a while on the doorstep scraping the mud off his
boots, then stretched himself vigorously, working the muscles of his
arms and reflecting that it was high time for him to be in bed, in a
sound healthy sleep, so as to be up at dawn on the morrow.

IV

In the drawing-room a chandelier hung above the sofa and round table
near the piano; it had not been lighted for many years, indeed not
since the last Christmas before the Revolution. Now once again it was
illumined, and the dull yellow flare of its candles--dimly shining
out of their dust-laden pendants--lit up the near side of the room
and its contents; at the further side, however, where doors led into
the hall and a sittingroom, there was a complete wreckage. The
chairs, armchairs, and couches had vanished through the agency of
unknown hands, leaving only fragments of broken furniture, and odds
and ends of utensils heaped together in casual profusion in a dark
corner, only penetrated by grey, ghostlike shadows. The curtains were
closely drawn; outside the rain pattered drearily on the windows.

Lydia Constantinovna played a long while on the piano, at first a
bravura from the operas, then some classical pieces, Liszt's "Twelfth
Rhapsody," and finally ended with the artless music of Oppel's "A
Summer's Night in Berezovka"--a piece she used to play to Ivanov when
she was his fiancee.

She played it through twice; then broke off abruptly, rising from her
seat and shaking with gusts of malicious laughter. Still laughing
loudly and evilly, she began to sip brandy out of a high narrow
glass.

Her eyes were still beautiful, with the beauty of lakes in autumn
when the trees are shedding their leaves. She seated herself on the
sofa, and lay back among its cushions, her hands clasped behind her
head, in an attitude of utter abandonment. Her legs in their open-
work stockings were plainly visible under her black silk skirt, and
she crossed them, leisurely placing her feet, encased in their patent
leather shoes, upon a low footstool.

She drank a great deal of brandy in slow sips, and as she pressed her
beautiful lips to the glass she vilified everybody and everything--
Ivanov, the Revolution, Moscow, the Crimea, Marin-Brod, Mintz, and
herself.

Then she became silent, her eyes grew dull, she began to speak
quietly and sadly, with a foolish helpless smile.

Mintz was drinking and pacing up and down the room, speaking volubly
with noisy derision. The brandy flowed through his veins, warming his
sluggish blood; his thoughts grew vivid and spiteful, engendering
sarcastic, malicious remarks. Whenever he took a drink, he removed
his pince-nez for a moment, and his eyes became evil, vacant and
bemused.

Lydia Constantinovna sat in the corner of the sofa, covered her
shoulders with a plaid shawl, and crossed her legs in the Turkish
fashion.

"What a smell of chipre there is, Mintz," she murmured in a low
voice. "I think I must be tipsy. Yes, I must be. When I drink a great
deal I always begin to think there are too many perfumes about. They
suffocate me, I get their taste in my mouth, they sing in my ears and
I feel ill.... What a smell of chipre ... it is my favourite perfume:
do you smell it?"

She looked at Mintz with a half dazed stare, then continued:

"In an hour's time I shall be having hysterics. It is always the way
when I drink too much. I don't feel cheerful any longer, I feel
melancholy now, Mintz. I feel now as though ... as though I have wept
on this sofa all through the night ... Oh, how happy we used to be
once upon a time," she sighed tearfully, then added with a giggle.
"Why I hardly know what I am saying!"

Mintz was walking up and down the room, measuring his steps extremely
carefully. He halted in front of Lydia Constantinovna, removed his
glasses and scowled:

"But I, when I drink, I begin to see things with extraordinary
clearness: I see that we are melancholy because the devil only knows
why or for what we are living; I see that life is impossible without
faith; that our hearts and minds are exhausted with the endless
discussions in cafes, attics and promenades. I realise that no matter
what happens, villainy will always exist. I see, too, that we have
been drinking because we feel lonely and dull--yes, even though we
have been joking and laughing boisterously; I see that there is now
the great joy and beauty of spring outside--so different from the
distorted images visible to warped minds and clouded eyes; I see,
moreover, that the Revolution has passed us by after throwing us
aside, even though the New Economic Policy may put on us our feet
again for a while, and that ... that ..." Mintz did not finish, but
turned round abruptly and strode away with an air of self-assertion,
into the remote end of the room, where the debris was littered.

"Yes, that is true ... you are right," answered Lydia Constantinovna.
"But then I do not love Sergius, I never have done."

"Of course I am right," Mintz retorted severely from his dim corner.
"People never love others. They love themselves--through others."

Ivanov came in from the hall in his cap and muddy boots, carrying his
rifle. Without a single word he passed through the room and went into
his study. Mintz watched him in severe silence, then followed him.
Inside he leaned against the door-post with a wry smile:

"You are shunning me all this time. Why?"

"You imagine it," returned Ivanov.

He lighted a candle on his desk, took off his coat, changed his boots
and clothes, hung up his rifle.

"That is ridiculous!" Mintz replied coldly. "I very seldom imagine
things. I want to say how very comfortable you seem here, because
this is the very essence of comfort.... Look at me! I have painted
pictures, sold them, painted more in order to sell those also--though
I ceased painting long ago--and I lived in garrets because I must
have light, and by myself because my wife will not come to such a
place.... True, she is no longer with me, she deserted me long ago!
Now I have only mistresses.... And I envy you because ... because it
is very cold in garrets.... You understand me?"

Mintz took off his pince-nez and his eyes looked bewildered and
malignant: "In the name of all who had been tortured, all who have
exchanged the springtime beauty of the parks for the erotic
atmosphere of boudoirs; all who in the soft luxury of their homes
forgot, and have now lost their claim on Russia--I say you are
supremely comfortable, and we envy you! One may work here, one may
even ... marry ... You have never painted, have you?"

"No."

Mintz was silent, then suddenly said in a low tone: "Look here! We
have some brandy. Shall we have a drink?"

"No, thank you. I want to sleep. Good night."

"I want to talk!"

Ivanov extinguished the candle, through custom finding his bread and
milk in the dark, and hastily consumed it without sitting down. Mintz
stood a moment by the door; then went out, slamming it behind him.

Lydia Constantinovna now had her feet on the carpet and her head was
bowed. Her eyes under their long lashes were blank and limpid, like
lakes amid reeds. Her hands were clasped round her knees.

"How was Sergius?" she enquired, without raising her head.

"Boorish, he has gone to bed," answered Mintz.

He was about to sit beside her, but she rose, arranged her hair
mechanically, and smiled faintly and tenderly--not at Mintz, but into
the empty space.

"To bed? Well, it is time. Good rest!" she said softly. "Ah, how the
perfume torments me. I feel giddy."

She went to the other end of the room, Mintz following her, and
halted on the threshold. In the stillness of the night the pattering
rain could be heard distinctly. Lydia Constantinovna leaned against
the white door, throwing back her head, and began to speak; avoiding
Mintz's eyes, she endeavoured to express herself simply and clearly,
but the words seemed dry as they fell from her lips:

"I am very tired, Mintz, I am going to bed at once. You go too.
Goodbye until tomorrow. We shall not meet again to-night. Do you
understand, Mintz? It is my wish."

Mintz stood still, his legs wide apart, his arms akimbo, his head
hanging. Then with a sad, submissive smile he answered in an
unexpectedly mild tone: "Very well, then, All right, I understand
you. It is quite all right."

Lydia Constantinovna stretched out her hand, speaking in the
unaffected, friendly way she had desired earlier: "I know you are a
malicious, bored, lonely cynic, like ... like an old homeless dog ...
But you are kind and intelligent.... You know I will never leave you--
we are so.... But now I am going in to him ... just for the last
time."

Mintz kissed her hand without speaking, then his tall, bony, somewhat
stooping figure disappeared down the corridor.

V

Lydia Constantinovna's bedroom was cold and gloomy. As formerly, it
contained a huge four-poster, a chest of drawers, a dressing table
and a wardrobe. The rain beat fiercely against the window panes
running down in tiny glass globules.

Lydia lighted two candles, and placed them beside the tarnished
mirror. Some toilette belongings, relics of her childhood, lay on the
chest-of-drawers, and the contents of the baggage she had brought
with her the previous day were scattered about the room. The candles
burnt dimly, their yellow tongues flickering unsteadily over the
tarnished mirror.

She changed her garments and put on a loose green neglige, then re-
arranged her hair into plaits, forming them into a coronet which made
her head appear very small and graceful.

From force of habit she opened a bottle of perfume, moistened the
palms of her hands and rubbed them over her neck and bosom. At once
she felt giddy, even the cold, dampish sheets on her bed seemed to
smell of chipre.

Lydia sat down on the edge of her bed in her green neglige, listening
to the sounds around her. Outside, there was a continuous howling and
barking of dogs, now and then she could distinguish the croaking of
half-awakened crows in the park.

The clock struck eleven, then half-past, someone passed along the
corridor, Aganka cleared up in the dining-room, Mintz walked to and
fro in the drawing-room, then all became quiet.

Lydia Constantinovna went to the window and gazed out for a long
time. Then, quietly, she left her bedroom and crept down to Ivanov's
study. All around her it was dark, cold and silent as she passed
through the empty, spacious rooms. A forgotten candle still burnt
wanly in the drawing-room, and a rat ran out from under the table.

She was again plunged in darkness when she entered Ivanov's study,
and she was greeted by a smell of horse trappings and joiners' glue.

Ivanov was asleep on the sofa. He lay on his back, his arms extended;
the outlines of his body could just be discerned. Lydia sat down
quietly beside him and laid her hand on his breast. Ivanov sighed,
drew in his arms and raised his head quickly from the pillow:

"Who is there?"

"It is I, Sergius--me--Lida," answered Lydia Constantinovna in a
rapid whisper. "I know you do not wish to speak to me. I am bored ...
I returned here in a happy mood, not even thinking of you, and now
all at once I feel wretched.... Oh, those perfumes! How they torment
me...." She passed her hand over her face, then was silent. Ivanov
sat up.

"What is the matter Lida? What do you want?" he asked drowsily, and
he lighted a cigarette. The light shone on them as they sat half-
dressed on the sofa. Ivanov had a rugged, lumbering look.

"What do I want?" Lydia Constantinovna murmured. "Age creeps on me,
Sergius, and a lonely old age is terrible ... I feel so weary.... I
came here happy enough, now I am miserable. I can think of nothing
but the time you and I spent here together ... I am always playing" A
Summer's Night in Berezovka "--do you remember? I used to play it to
you in those days.... Well, so there you see.... Age creeps on and I
am longing for a home.... To-day they had the Twelfth Gospel
Service.... Surely we still have a word for each other?" Her face
clouded in sudden doubt. "You have been with Arina then?" she
questioned sharply.

Ivanov did not answer immediately.

"I have grieved and worried greatly, Lida," he said at last, "but
that does not matter. These four years I have lived alone, and have
placed the past behind me. It is gone for ever. These four years I
have struggled against death, and struggled for my daily bread. You
know nothing of all this, we are as strangers.... Yes, I have been
with Arina. Soon I shall have a son. I do not know if I am broken or
merely tired, but for the moment I feel all right. I am going to
bring Arina here, she will be my wife and keep house for me. And I
shall live.... I am keeping step with some elemental Force . . . I
shall have a son.... It will be a totally different life for me,
Lida."

"And for me Moscow--as ever--wine, theatres, cafes, Mintz, an eternal
hurly-burly ... I am sick of it!"

"I cannot help you, Lida. I too am sick of all that, but now I am at
peace. We must all work out our own salvation."

Ivanov spoke very quietly and simply. Lydia Constantinovna sat bowed
and motionless, as if fearing to move, clasping her knees with both
hands. When Ivanov ceased speaking she rose noiselessly and went
towards the door. She stood on the threshold a brief moment then,
went out. The candle still burnt fitfully in the drawing-room. The
house was wrapt in silence.




THE BIELOKONSKY ESTATE

Ivan Koloturov, President of the Bielokonsky Committee of the Poor,
had ploughed his tiny holding for twenty years. He always rose before
dawn and worked--dug, harrowed, threshed, planed, repaired--with his
huge, strong, pock-marked hands; he could only use his muscular
strength.

On rising in the morning, he prepared his hash of potatoes and bread,
and went out of the hut to work--on the land, with cattle, with wood,
stone and iron. He was honest, careful, and laborious. While still a
lad of five he had, while driving from the station, helped a stranger
in a mechanic's overalls to a seat; the man had told him all were
equal in the sight of God, that the land belonged to the peasants,
that the proprieters had stolen it from them, and that a time would
come when he would have to "do things."

Ivan Koloturov did not understand what he would have to do, but when
the fierce wave of the Revolution broke over the country and swept
into the Steppe, he was the first to rise to "do things." Now he felt
disillusioned. He had wanted to do everything honestly, but he was
only able to work with his hands and muscles.

They elected him to the County Committee. He was accustomed to rise
before dawn and set to work immediately. Now he was not permitted to
do anything before ten o'clock. At ten he went to the Committee
where, with the greatest difficulty, he put his name to papers--but
this was not work: papers came in and went out independently of him.
He did not understand their purport, he only signed them.

He wanted to do something! In the spring he went home to the plough.
He had been elected in the Autumn, President of the Committee of the
Poor, and he established himself in Prince Prozorovsky's domain,
putting on his soldier brother's great coat and carrying a revolver
in his belt.

He went home in the evening. His wife met him sullenly, jerking her
elbows as she prepared some mash. The children were sitting on the
stove, some little pigs grunted in a corner. There was a strong smell
of burning wood.

"You won't care to eat with us now after the Barin's meal," nagged
the old woman. "You are a Barin yourself now. Ha, ha!"

Ivan remained silent, sitting down on a bench beneath the Ikon.

"So you mix with rascals now," she persisted, "yes, that is what they
are, Ivan Koloturov. Discontented rascals!"

"Peace, fool! You don't understand. Be quiet, I say!"

"You are ashamed of me, so you are hiding."

"We will live there together--soon."

"Not I! I will not go there."

"Idiot!"

"Ah, you have already learnt to snarl," the old woman jibed. "Ate
your mash then! But perhaps you don't relish it after your Barin's
pork."

She was right, he had already eaten--pork, and she had guessed it.
Ivan began to puff. "You are an idiot, I tell you," he growled.

He had come home to have a business talk about their affairs, but he
left without settling anything. The old woman's sharp tongue had
stung him in a tender spot. It was true that all the respectable
peasants had stood aside, and only those who had nothing to lose had
joined the Committee.

Ivan passed through the village. As he walked across the park, he saw
a light burning in the stables and went over to discover the reason.
He found some lads had assembled there and were playing cards and
smoking. He watched them awhile, frowningly.

"This is stupid! You will set the place alight," he grumbled.

"What if we do?" the men answered sulkily. "It is for you to defend
other people's property?"

"Not other peoples'--ours!" he retorted, then turned away.

"Ivan!" they shouted after him; "have you the wine-cellar key? There
are spirits in there--if you don't give it to us, we shall break
in...."

The house was dark and silent. The huge, spacious apartments seemed
strange, terrible. The Prince still occupied the drawing-room. Ivan
entered his office--formerly the dining-room--and lighted a lamp. He
went down on his knees and began to pick up the clods of earth that
lay on the floor; he threw them out of the window, then fetched a
brush and swept up. He could not understand why gentlemen's boots did
not leave a trail of dirt behind them.

Then he went into the drawing-room and served the final notice on the
Prince while the men were accommodating themselves in the kitchen.
Then he joined them, lying down on a form without undressing. After a
long time he fell asleep.

He awoke the next morning while all were still sleeping, rose and
walked round the manor. The lads were still playing cards in the
stable.

"Why aren't you asleep?" one of them asked him.

"I have had all I want," he replied. He called the cow-herd. The man
came out, stood still, scratched his head, and swore angrily--
indignant at being aroused.

"Don't meddle in other people's affairs," he grunted. "I know when to
wake."

The dawn was fine, clear and chilly. A light appeared in the drawing-
room, and Ivan saw the Prince go out, cross the terrace and depart
into the Steppe.

At ten o'clock, the President entered the office, and set about what
was, in his opinion, a torturous, useless business--the making out an
inventory of the wheat and rye in each peasant's possession. It was
useless because he knew, as did everyone in the village, how much
each man had; it was torturous because it entailed such a great deal
of writing.

Prince Prozorovsky had risen at daybreak. The sun glared fiercely
over the bare autumn-swept park and into the drawing-room windows.
The wedding cry of the ravens echoed through the autumnal stillness
that hung broodingly over the Steppe.

On such a dazzling golden day as this, the Prince's ancestors had set
off with their blood-hounds in by-gone days. In this house a whole
generation had lived--now the old family was forced to leave it--for
ever!

A red notice--"The Bielokonsky Committee of the Poor"--had been
affixed to the front door the previous evening, and the intruders had
bustled all night arranging something in the hall. The drawing-room
had not so far been touched; the gilt backs of books still glittered
from behind glass cases in the study. Oh books! Will not your poison
and your delights still abide?

Prince Prozorovsky went out into the fields; they were barren but for
dead rye-stalks that stuck up starkly from the earth. Wolves were
already on the trail. He wandered all day long, drank the last wine
of autumn and listened to the ravens' wedding cries.

When he had beheld this bird's carnival as a child, he had clapped
his hands, crying: "Hurrah for my wedding! Hurrah for my wedding!" He
had never had a wedding. Now his days were numbered. He had lived for
love. He had known many affections, had felt bitter pangs. He had
tasted the poison of the Moscow streets, of books and of women; had
been touched by the autumnal sadness of Bielokonsky, where he always
stayed in the autumn. Now he knew grief!

He walked aimlessly through the trackless fields and down into
hollows; the aspens glowed in a purple hue around him; on a hill
behind him the old white house stood amid the lilac shrubbery of a
decaying park. The crystal clear, vast, blue vista was immeasurably
distant.

The hair on his temples was already growing thin and gray--there was
no stopping, no returning!

He met a peasant, a rough, plain man in a sheep-skin jacket, driving
a cart laden with sacks. The man took off his cap and stopped his
horse, to make way for the ... _gentleman_.

"Good morning, little Father," he wheezed, then addressed his beast,
pulled the reins, drove on, then stopped again and called out:

"Listen, Barin, I want to tell you...."

The Prince turned round and looked at the man. The peasant was old,
his face was covered with hair and wrinkles.

"What will your Excellency do now?"

"That is difficult to say," replied the Prince.

"When will you go?" the old man asked. "Those Committees of the Poor
are taking away the corn. There are no matches, no manufacturers, and
I am burning splinters for light.... They say no corn is to be
sold.... Listen, Barin, I will take some secretly to the station.
People are coming from Moscow ... and ... and ... about thirty five
of them ... thirty five I tell you!... But then, what will there be
to buy with the proceeds?... Well, well! It is a great time all the
same ... a great time, Barin! Have a smoke, your Excellency."

Prozorovsky refused the proffered pipe, and rolled himself a small
cigar of an inferior brand. Around was the Steppe. No one saw, no one
knew of the peasant's compassion. The prince shook hands with him,
turned sharply on his heel and went home.

The cold, clear, glassy water in the park lake was blue and limpid,
for it was still too early for it to freeze all over. The sun was now
sinking towards the west in an ocean of ruddy gold and amethyst.

Prince Prozorovsky entered his study, sat down at the desk and drew
out a drawer full of letters. No! he could not take all his life away
with him: He laid the drawer on the desk, then went into the drawing-
room. A jug of milk and some bread stood on an album-table. The
Prince lighted the fire, burnt some papers, and stood by the
mantelpiece drinking his milk and eating the bread, for he had grown
hungry during the day.... The milk was sour, the bread stale.

Already the room was filling with the dim shadows of evening, a
purplish mist hung outside; the fire burnt with a bright yellow
flame.

Heavy footsteps echoed through the silence of the corridor, and Ivan
Koloturov appeared in the doorway. Koloturov! As young lads they had
played together, Ivan had developed into a sober, sensible, thrifty,
and industrious peasant. Standing in the middle of the room, the
President silently handed the Prince his paper--it had taken him a
whole hour to type it out.

On the sheet was typed "To the Barin Prozorovsky. The Bielokonsky
Committee of the Poor order you to withdraw from the Soviet Estate of
Bielokonsky and from the district precincts. President Koloturov."

"Very well," said the Prince quietly; "I will go this evening."

"You will take no horse."

"I will go on foot."

"As you like," Koloturov replied. "You will take nothing with you."
He turned round, stood a moment with his back to the Prince, then
went out of the room.

At that instant, a clock struck three quarters of the hour. It was
the work of Kuvaldin, the eighteenth century master. It had been in
the Moscow Kremlin and had afterwards travelled through the Caucasus
with the Vadkovsky Princes. How many times had its ticking sounded
during the course of those centuries.

Prozorovsky sat down by the window and looked out at the neglected
park. He remained there for about an hour, leaning his arms on the
marble sill, thinking, remembering. His reflections were interrupted
by Koloturov. The peasant came in silently with two of his men and
passed through into the office. They endeavoured silently to lift a
writing-table. Something cracked.

The Prince rose and put on his big grey overcoat, a felt hat, and
went out. He walked through the rustling gold-green foliage of the
park, passed close by some stables and a distillery, descended into a
dell, came up on its opposite side. Then, feeling tired, he decided
to walk slowly--walk twenty miles on foot for the first time in his
life. After all, how simple the whole thing was ... it was only
terrible in its simplicity.

The sun had already sunk beneath the horizon. The last ravens had
flown. An autumn hush over-hung the Steppe. He walked on briskly
through the wide, windy, open space, walking for the first time he
knew not whither, nor wherefore. He carried nothing, he possessed
nothing. The night was silent, dark, autumnal, and frosty.

He walked on briskly for eight miles, heedless of everything around,
then he stopped a moment to tie his shoe lace. Suddenly he felt an
overwhelming weariness and his legs began to ache; he had covered
nearly forty miles during the day.

In front of him lay the village of Makhmytka; he had often ridden
there in his youth on secret visits to a soldier's wife; but now he
would not go to her; no, not for anything in the world! The village
lay pressed to the earth and was ornamented with numerous stacks
which smelt of straw and dung. On its outskirts the Prince was met by
a pack of baying dogs, who flitted over the ground like dark, ghostly
shadows as they leapt round him.

At the first cabin he tapped at the little window, dimly lighted
within by some smouldering splinters.

"Who is there?" came the tardy response.

"Let me in for the night, good people," called the Prince.

"Who is it?"

"A traveller."

"Well, just a minute," came the grudging answer.

A bare-footed peasant in red drawers came out holding a lighted
splinter over his head and looking round.

"Ah!" he exclaimed, "it is you, Prince! So you were too wise to stay,
were you? Well, come in."

An immense quantity of straw was spread over the floor. A cricket was
chirruping, and there was a smell of soot and dung.

"Lay yourself down, Barin, and God bless you!"

The peasant climbed on to the stove and sighed. His old wife began to
mutter something, the man grumbled, then said to the Prince:

"Barin, you can have your sleep, only get up in the morning and leave
before daylight, so that none will see you. You know yourself these
are troubled times, there is no gainsaying it. You are a gentleman,
Barin, and gentlemen have got to be done away with. The old woman
will wake you.... Sleep now."

Prozorovsky lay down without undressing, put his cape under his head--
and at once caught a cockroach on his neck! Some young pigs grunted
in a corner. The hut was swarming with vermin, blackened by smoke and
filled with stenches. Here, where men, calves and pigs herded all
together, the Prince lay on his straw, tossing about and scratching.
He thought of how, some centuries hence, people would be writing of
this age with love, compassion, and tenderness. It would be thought
of as an epoch of the most sublime and beautiful manifestation of the
human spirit.

A little pig came up, sniffed all round him, then trotted away again.
A low, bright star peeped in through the window. How infinite the
world seemed!

He did not notice when he fell asleep. The old woman woke him at
daybreak and led him through the backyard. The dawn was bright and
cold, and the grass was covered with a light frost. He walked along
briskly, swinging his stick, the collar of his overcoat turned up.
The sky was marvellously deep and blue.

At the station the Prince squeezed himself into a warm place on the
train, amongst other passengers carrying little sacks and bags of
flour. Thus, pressed against the sides of a truck, his clothes
bedaubed with white flour, he journeyed off to--Moscow.

Prince Prozorovsky had left at evening. Immediately after, furniture
was pulled about and re-arranged, the veneer was chipped off the
desk. The clock was about to be transferred to the office, but some
one noticed that it had only one hand. None of the men realised that
Kuvaldin's old clocks were necessarily one-handed, and moved every
five minutes simply because the minutes were not counted singly in
those days. Somebody suggested that the clock could be removed from
its case.

"Take the clock out of the box," Ivan Koloturov ordered. "Tell the
joiners to put some shelves in it, it will do as a cupboard for the
office.... Now then, don't stamp, don't stamp!"

That night an old woman came running in. There was a great turmoil in
the village: a girl had been abused--no one knew by whom, whether by
the villagers themselves or the people who had come from Moscow for
flour; the old woman began to accuse the Committee men. She stood by
the window and reviled them at the top of her voice. Ivan Koloturov
drove her away with a blow on the neck, and she went off wailing
bitterly.

It was pitch-dark. The house was quiet. Milkmaids outside were
singing boisterously. Ivan went into the study, sat down on the sofa,
felt its softness, found a forgotten electric lamp and played with
it, flashing its light on the walls as he passed through. He noticed
the clock on the floor of the drawing-room and began to think what he
would do with it, then he picked it up and threw it into the water-
closet. A band of his men had broken their way into the other end of
the house, and some one was thumping on the piano; Ivan Koloturov
would have liked to have driven them away, to prevent them from doing
damage, but he dared not. He suddenly felt sorry for himself and his
old wife and he wanted to go home to his stove.

A bell clanged--supper! Ivan quietly stole to the wine-cellar, filled
up his jug, and drank, then hurriedly locked the cellar door.

On the way home he fell down in the park; he lay there a long time,
trying to lift himself, wanting all the while to say something and to
explain--but he fell asleep.

The dark, dismal autumn night enfolded the empty, frozen, desolate
Steppe.




DEATH


I

It seemed as though the golden days of "St. Martin's" summer had come
to stay.

The sun shone without warmth in the vast blue expanse of sky, across
which swept the gabbling cranes on their annual flight southward. A
hoar-frost lay in the shadow of the houses. The air was crisp and
sapphire, the cold invigorating, a brooding stillness wrapped the
world.

The vine-wreathed columns on the terrace, the maple avenue and the
ground beneath, all glowed under a purple pall of fallen leaves. The
lake shone blue and smooth as a mirror, reflecting in its shining
surface the white landing-stage and its boat, the swans and the
statues. The fruit was already plucked in the garden and the leaves
were falling. What a foolish wanton waste this stripping of the trees
after summer seemed!

In days such as these, the mind grows at once alert and calm. It
dwells peacefully on the past and the future. The individual feels
impelled by a kind of langour just to walk over the fallen leaves, to
look in the gardens for unnoticed, forgotten apples, and to listen to
the cries of the cranes flying south.

II

Ippolyte Ippolytovich was a hundred years old less three months and
some days. He had been a student in the Moscow University with
Lermontov, and they had been drawn together in friendship through
their mutual admiration of Byron. In the "sixties,"--he was then
close to his fiftieth birthday--he constantly conferred with the
Emperor Alexander on liberative reforms, and pored over Pisarev's
writings in his own home.

It was only by the huge, skeleton frame over which stretched the
parchment skin, that it could be seen he had once been a tall, big,
broad-shouldered man; his large face was covered with yellowish-white
hair that crept from the nose, the cheek-bones, the forehead and the
ears, while the skull was completely bald; the eyes were white and
discoloured; the hands and legs shrunken, and seemed as though
emaciated by nature's own design.

There was a smell of wax in his room, and that peculiar fusty odour
that pervades every old nobleman's home. It was a large, bare
apartment containing only a massive mahogany writing-table, covered
with a faded green cloth and bestrewn with a quantity of old-
fashioned ornaments; there was also an armchair and a sofa.

The moulded ceiling, the greenish-white marbled walls, the dragon
fire-place, the inlaid flooring of speckled birch, the window panes,
rounded at the tops, curtainless and with frequent intersecting of
their framework, all, had become tarnished and lustreless, covered
over with all the colours of the rainbow. Through the windows
streamed the mellow golden rays of the autumn sun, resting on the
table, a part of the sofa, and on the floor.

For many years the old man had ceased to sleep at night so as to sit
up by day. It might truly be said that he slept almost the entire
twenty-four hours, and also that he sat up during the whole of that
time! He was always slumbering, lying with half-open, discoloured
eyes on a large sofa tapestried in pig-skin of English make, and
covered with a bear-skin rug. He lay there day and night, his right
arm flung back behind his head. Whenever, by day or night, he was
called by his name--Ippolyte Ippolytovich, he would remain silent a
moment collecting his wits, then answer:

"Eh?"

He had no thoughts. All that took place round him, all that he had
gone through in life, was meaningless to him now. It was all
outlived, and he had nothing to think about. Neither had he any
feelings, for all his organs of receptivity had grown dulled.

At night mice could be heard; while through the empty, columned hall
out of which his room opened, rats scurried, flopping about and
tumbling down from the armchairs and tables. But the old man did not
hear them.

III

Vasilisa Vasena came every morning at seven o'clock; she was a
country-woman of about thirty seven, strong, healthy, red-faced,
reminiscent of a July day in her floridness and vigorous health.

She used to say quietly: "Good morning to you, Ippolyte
Ippolytovich."

And he would give a base "Eh?" in a voice like a worn-out gramophone
record.

Vasena promptly began washing him with a sponge, then fed him with
manna-gruel. The old man sat bent up on the sofa, his hands resting
on his knees. He ate slowly from a spoon. They were silent, his eyes
gazing inwardly, seeing nothing. Sunbeams stole in through the window
and glistened on his yellowish hair.

"Your good son, Ilya Ippolytovich, has come," Vasena said.

"Eh?"

Ippolyte Ippolytovich had married at about the age of forty; of his
three sons only Ilya was living. The old man called his son to
memory, pictured him in his mind, but felt neither joy nor interest--
felt nothing!

Dimly, somewhere far away in the dark recesses of his memory, lurked
a glimmering, wavering image of his son; at first he saw him as an
infant, then as a boy, finally a youth. He recollected that now
already he too was almost an old man. It came to him that once, long
ago, this image was necessary and very dear to him, that afterwards
he had lost sight of it, and that now it had become meaningless to
him.

Dully, through inertia, the old man inquired: "He has come, you say?"

"Yes, came in the night, alone. He is resting now."

"Eh? He has come to have a look at me before I die."

Vasena promptly answered: "Lord! you are not so young as to...."

They were silent. The old man lay back on the sofa and slept.

"Ippolyte Ippolytovich, you must take your walk!"

"Eh?"

It was a "St. Martin's Summer." Over the scattered blood-red vine
leaves on the terrace, which was deluged in mellow autumnal sunshine,
the bent-up old man walked, leaning heavily on a bamboo cane, and
supported by the sturdy Vasena. He had a skull-cap pulled down low
over his forehead, and wore a long, black overcoat.

IV

Sometimes the old man relapsed into a state of coma, lasting several
hours. Then life seemed to have ebbed from him entirely. A clay-like
pallor over-spread his face, he had the lips and open, glassy eyes of
a corpse, and he scarcely breathed. Then they sent post-haste for the
doctor, who sprinkled him with camphor, gave him oxygen and produced
artificial respiration. The old man slowly came to, rolling his eyes.

"Another minute and it would have been death," the doctor would say
in a deep, grave voice.

When the old man had at length recovered, Vasena used to say to him:
"Lord! We were so frightened, we were so frightened! ... We thought
you were quite gone. Yes, we did. For you know, you are not so young
as to...."

Ippolyte Ippolytovich was silent and indifferent, only at moments,
half-closing and screwing up his eyes, and straightening out his
lips, he laughed:

"He-he! He-he!" Then added, slyly: "I am dying, you say? He-he! He-
he!"

V

Ilya Ippolytovich walked through the empty rooms of the dying house.
How dusty and mouldy it seemed! The sun came through the tarnished
window-panes and the specks of dust looked golden in its radiant
light. He entered the room where he had passed his childhood. Dust
lay everywhere, on the window-sills, on the floor, and on the
furniture. Here and there fresh boot-prints were visible. A thin
portmanteau--not belonging to the house and pasted over with many
labels--lay on a table. A hard, icy stillness pervaded the entire
place.

Ilya Ippolytovich was stout like his father, but he still walked
erect. His hair was already thinning and growing grey over the
temples, but his face was clean-shaven, like a youth's. His lips were
wrinkled and he had large, grey, weary eyes.

He felt gloomy and unhappy, because his father's days were numbered;
and he brooded miserably over the awkwardness of approaching death,
wondering how one should behave towards a man who was definitely
doomed. To and fro, from corner to corner, he walked, with restless,
springy steps.

He met his father on the terrace.

"Hallo, father!" he said briskly, with an intentional show of
carelessness.

The old man looked at him blindly, not recognising his son at first.
But afterwards he smiled, went up the steps, and gave his cheek to be
kissed. It smelt of wax.

"Eh?" said the old man.

Ilya kissed him, laughed hilariously, and slapped him lightly on the
shoulder: "It is a long time since we met, father. How are you?"

His father looked at him from beneath his cap, gave a feeble smile,
then said after a pause: "Eh?"

Vasena answered for him: "You may well ask how he is doing, Ilya
Ippolytovich! Why, we are fearing the worst every day."

Ilya threw her a reproachful glance and said loudly: "It is nonsense,
father! You have still a hundred years to live! You are tired, let us
sit down here and have a talk together."

They sat down on the marble steps of the terrace. Silence. No words
came to Ilya. Try as he might, he could not think what to say.

"Well, I am still painting pictures," he tried at last; "I am
preparing to go abroad."

The old man did not hear him; he looked at his son without seeing or
understanding, plunged in his own reflections.

"You have come to look at me? You think I shall die soon?" he asked
suddenly.

Ilya Ippolytovich grew very pale and muttered confusedly: "What are
you saying, father? What do you mean?"

But his father no longer heard. He had fallen back in his chair, his
eyes half-closed and glassy, his face utterly expressionless. He was
asleep.

VI

The sun was shining, the sky was blue; in the limpid spaces above the
earth there was a flood of crystal light.

Ilya Ippolytovich strolled through the park and thought of his
father. The old man had lived a full, rich, and magnificent life. It
had possessed so much that was good, bright and necessary. Now--
death! Nothing would remain. Nothing! And this nothing was terrible
to Ilya Ippolytovitch.

Does not living man recognize life, the world, the sun, all that is
around and within him, through himself? he reflected. A man dies, and
the world dies for him. Thenceforward he feels and recognises
nothing. Nothing! Then what is the use of living, developing,
working, when in the end there will be--nothing?... Was there no
great wisdom in his father's hundred years? Nor in his fatherhood?

A crane was crying somewhere overhead. The sound came from a scarcely
visible dark arrow in the cloudless sky, which flew south. Red,
frost-covered leaves were rustling underfoot. Ilya's face was pale,
the wrinkles round his lips made him seem tired and feeble. He had
spent his whole life alone, in the solitude of a cold studio, living
arduously among pictures, for the sake of pictures. To what end?

VII

Ippolyte Ippolytovich sat in the large, bare dining-room eating
chicken cutlets and broth. A napkin was tied round his neck as if he
were a child. Vasena fed him from a tea-spoon, and afterwards led him
into his study. The old man lay down on a sofa, put his hand behind
his head and fell asleep, his eyes half-open.

Ilya went to him in the study. He again made a pretence of being
cheerful, but his tired eyes betrayed grief, and behind his clean-
shaven face, his grey English coat, and yellow boots, somehow one
felt there was a great shaken and puzzled soul suffering, yet seeking
to conceal its anguish.

He sat down at his father's feet.

For a long time the old man searched his face with his eyes, then in
a scraping, worn-out piping voice, said: "Eh?"

"It is so long since we met, father, I am longing to have a chat with
you! Somehow I have no one dearer to me than you! Absolutely no one!
How are you, sir?"

The old man gazed before him with bleary eyes. He did not seem to
have heard. But suddenly screwing up his eyes, straightening out his
lips and opening his empty jaws, he laughed:

"He-he! he-he!" he laughed, and said jovially: "I am dying soon. He-
he! he-he!"

However, Ilya no longer felt as embarrassed as on that first occasion
on the terrace. In a hasty undertone, almost under his breath, he
asked:

"But aren't you afraid?"

"No! He-he!"

"Don't you believe in God?"

"No! He-he!"

They were silent for a long time after that. Then the old man raised
himself on his elbows with a sly grin.

"You see," he said, "when a man is worn out ... sleep is the best
thing for him ... that is so with dying ... one wants to die....
Understand? When a man is worn out...."

He was silent for a moment, then grinned and repeated:

"He-he! He-he! Understand?"

Ilya gave his father a long look, standing there motionless, with
wide-open eyes, feeling a thrill of utter horror.

But the old man was already slumbering.

VIII

Day faded. The blue autumnal twilight spread over the earth and
peeped in through the windows. A purple mist filled the room with
vague, spectral shadows. Outside was a white frost. A silvery moon
triumphantly rode the clear cold over-arching sky.

Ippolyte Ippolytovich lay upon his sofa. He felt nothing. The space
occupied by his body resembled only a great, dark, hollow bin in
which there was--nothing! Close by, a rat flopped across the floor,
but the old man did not hear. A teasing autumnal fly settled on his
eyebrow, he did not wink. From the withered toes to the withered
legs, to the hips, stomach, chest, and heart, passed a faint,
agreeable, scarcely noticeable numbness.

It was evening now and the room was dark; the mist gathered thick and
threatening through the windows. Outside in the crisp, frosty
moonlight, it was bright. The old man's face--all over-grown with
white hair--and his bald skull, had a death-like look.

Vasena entered in her calm yet vigorous manner. Her broad hips and
deep bosom were only loosely covered by a red jacket.

"Ippolyte Ippolytovich, it is time for your meal," she called in a
matter of fact tone.

But he did not reply, nor utter his usual "Eh?"

They sent at once for the doctor, who felt his pulse, pressed a glass
to his lips, then said in a low, solemn tone:

"He is dead."

Vasena, standing by the door, and somewhat resembling a wild animal,
answered calmly:

"Well he wasn't so young as to.... Haven't we all got to die! What is
it to him now? He and his had everything in their day! Dear Lord,
they had everything!"

IX

Low, downy cloudlets drifted over the sky in the early hours of the
morning. Dark, lowering masses followed in their wake. The snow fell
in large, cold, soft, feather-like flakes.

St. Martin's Summer was past, to be succeeded by the advent of
another earthly joy--the first white covering of snow, when it is so
delicious to follow the fresh footprints of the beasts, a rifle in
hand.




THE HEIRS


I

Legend says that from the Sokolovaya Mountain--called the Mountain of
Falcons, came Stenka Razin. It is written in books that from thence
came also Emelian Pugachev.

The Sokolovaya Mountain towers high above the Volga and the plains,
making a dark, precipitous descent to the pirate river below.

Across the Volga lies an ancient town. By the Glebychev Ravine, close
to the old Cathedral guarded by one of Pugachev's guns, stands a
mansion with a facade of ochre-coloured-columns. In olden days, when
it was the residence of the princely Rastorovs' balls were held
there, but decay had set in during the last twenty years, and Kseniya
Davydovna--the mistress--old, ill, a spinster, was drawing to the end
of her days.

She died in October, 1917, and now the tumbling, plundered house was
occupied by--the heirs.

They had been scattered over the face of Russia, had spent their
lives in Petersburg, Moscow and Paris; for twenty years the house had
stood vacant and moribund. Then the Revolution came! The instinctive
fury of the masses burst forth--and the remnants of the Rastorov
family gathered in their old nest--to be hidden from the Revolution
and famine.

Snow-storms--galloping snowy chargers--howled over the Steppe, the
Volga, and the town. Elemental, all-devastating, as in the days of
Stenka Razin--thundered the Revolution.

The rooms in the ancient mansion were damp, dark and chilly. The old
cathedral could be seen from the window, and down below lay the
Volga, seven miles wide, wrapt in a dazzling sheet of snow, its
steamers moored to their wharves.

The family lived as a community at first, but their communism was
nominal, for each barricaded and entrenched himself in his own room,
with his own pot and samovar. They lived tedious, mean, malignant,
worthless lives, execrating existence and the Revolution; they lived
utterly apart from the turmoil that now replaced the placid even flow
of the old regime: they were outside current events, and their
thoughts for ever turned back to the past, awaiting its return.

General Kirill Lvovich awoke at seven o'clock. Everything was crowded
closely together in the room, which was bedroom, drawing-room and
dining-room combined. The blue dusk of morning was visible through
the heavy blinds of the low window. The general put on his tasselled
Bukhara dressing-gown and went outside, then returned coughing
hoarsely.

"Anna," he snarled, "ask your kinsfolk which of them left the place
in such a state. Don't they know we have no servants? It is your turn
to set the samovar to-day. Are there no cigarette boxes?" he walked
about the room, his hands behind his back, diamond rings glittering
on his fingers.

"And it is your turn to go for the rations," retorted Anna Andreevna.

"That will do, I know it. There are four families living in the house
and they cannot organise themselves so as to go in turn for the
rations. Give me a sheet of paper and some ink."

The general sat down at the table and wrote out a notice:

  "Ladies and Gentlemen, we have no servants;
  We must see to things ourselves. We can't
   all perch like eagles, therefore,
   I beg you to be more careful.
               Kirill L. Lezhner."

Kirill Lvovich was not one of the heirs, it was his wife who came of
the Rastorov family, and he had merely accompanied her to the
ancestral mansion. Lvovich took his notice and hung it on the
lavatory door. Then again he paced the floor, his jewels sparkling
brilliantly.

"Why the devil do Sergius and his family occupy three rooms, and we
only one?" he grumbled. "I shall leave this den. They don't behave
like relatives! Are there no cigarettes?"

Anna Andreevna, a quiet, weary, feeble woman, replied tonelessly:
"You know there are none. But I will look for some butt-ends in a
moment. Lina sometimes throws away the unused cigarette wraps."

"What bourgeois they are--throwing away fag-ends and keeping
servants!" her husband complained.

The dark twining corridor was strewn with rubbish, for no one had the
will or wish to keep it neat. Anna Andreevna rummaged by the stove of
Sergius Andreevich, Lina's husband, looking among the papers and
sweepings. She peered into the stove and discovered that Leontyevna,
the maid--a one-eyed Cyclop--had filled it with birch-wood, whereas
it had been agreed that the rotting timber from the summer-house
should be used as fuel first.

After enjoying a cigarette of his "own" tobacco, the general went out
to the courtyard for firewood, returning with a bundle of sticks from
the summer-house. The samovar was now ready and he sat down to his
tea, leisurely drinking glass after glass, while Anna Andreevna
heated her stove in the corridor.

A dim, wintry dawn was gradually breaking. The family of Sergius--the
former head of a ministerial department--could be heard rousing
themselves behind the wall.

"You have had sufficient albumen; take hydrates now," rose Lina's
voice, calling to her children.

"Potatoes?"

"Yes."

"And fat?"

"You have had enough fat."

The general smiled craftily, then muttered grumpily:

"That is not eating, that is scientific alimentation." He cut himself
a piece of bacon, ate it with some white bread, and drank more tea
with sweet root and candied melon.

Gradually the occupants of the house roused themselves and half-
dressed, sleepy--carrying their towels, empty samovars, and tooth
brushes--they began to pass along the corridor in front of the
general's open door.

Kirill Lvovich eyed them maliciously as he sat drinking his tea and
inwardly cursed them all.

The Cyclop, Leontyevna, Sergius Andreevich's servant, tramped in
heavily with her man's boots from the Labour Exchange; her solitary
eye peered searchingly into Anna Andreevna's stove.

"I'll see she's not deceiving us over the firewood," she shouted
aggressively: "Oh, what a store she's got!"

"But you have used the birch-wood," the general hit back from his
room.

The Cyclop flew into a rage and slapped her thighs. One of the
periodic scenes ensued.

"What?" Leontyevna cried, "I am not trusted, I am being spied on!
Lina Fedorovna, I am going to complain to the Exchange."

Lina Fedorovna joined in from behind her door.

"She isn't trusted, she is being spied on," she echoed, "there must
be spies in this house! And they call themselves intellectual
people!"

"But you took the birch-wood!" protested Lvovich.

"And they call themselves intellectual!" screamed Lina.

The general came out into the passage and said severely:

"It is not for _us_ to judge, Lina Fedorovna. We are not the heirs
here. But it seems strange to me that Sergius should occupy three
rooms, and Anna only one--yes, very strange indeed."

The quarrel became more violent. Satisfied, the general put on his
overcoat and went out to take his place in the ration queue. Lina ran
to her husband; he went to get an explanation of the scene, but
Lvovich was not to be found, however; he remonstrated with his
sister, Anna Andreevna.

"This spying is impossible, it must stop," he insisted.

"But, can't you understand, it all began with searching for the butt-
end of a cigarette?" Anna pleaded in deep distress.

Lina had gone upstairs and was telling the whole story to Ekaterina.
Anna appealed to her younger brother, Constantine, a Lyceum student,
but he told her he was busy, immediately sitting down at his desk to
write. Soon after, however, he rose and went to Sergius.

"Busy?" he asked.

"What? Yes, I am busy."

"Have a smoke."

They began to smoke an inferior brand of tobacco known as "Kepsten."
They were silent.

"Will you have a game of chess?" Constantine asked after a while.

"Yes...But no, I think not," Sergius replied.

"Just one game?"

"Just one? Well, only one!"

They sat down and played chess. Constantine was dressed in a rumpled
Lyceum uniform; he wore rings on his fingers, like the general and
Sergius, and an antique gold chain hung round his neck.

Being in constant dread of requisitioners and robbers they had
divided all the jewellery between them, and wore it for safety.

The brothers played one game, then a second, a fourth, a sixth--
smoking and quarrelling, disagreeing over the moves and trying to re-
arrange them. The general returned from the ration queue in the
market and came along the passage. He peeped in at the two players
through the open door, and after some hesitation decided to enter.

"Greenhorns, you don't know how to play!" he said.

"What do you mean? Don't know how to play?"

"Now, now, don't fly into a rage. If I am wrong--excuse an old man ...
I sent Kirka for the newspaper, I gave him a twenty copeck piece
for a tip."

"I am not in a rage!"

"Very well, then that's all right. But throw over your chess. Let us
play a game of chance."

They sat down and played it for the entire day, only interrupting the
game to go to their rooms for dinner.

Whenever Sergius had to pay a fine he would say:

"Anyhow, Kirill Lvovich, you have an objectionable manner."

"Now, now, greenhorn!" the general would reply.

They had not a penny between them. Katerina Andreevna had been
appointed guardian of their possessions. The men refused to recognise
her authority and called it merely a "femocracy." Only Sergius still
had some capital, the proceeds of an estate he had sold before the
Revolution. Therefore he could well afford to keep a servant.

Upstairs with Katerina were two girls who had thrown up their careers
on principle--the one her college studies, the other her
Conservatoire courses. They kept up a desultory conversation while
helping to clean potatoes. Presently Anna and Lina joined them, and
they all went down to the storeroom and began rummaging through their
grandparents' old wardrobes. They turned over a variety of
crinolines, farthingales, bustles and wigs, laying on one side the
articles of silver, bronze and porcelain--for the Tartars were coming
after dinner. The storeroom smelt of rats. Packed along its walls
were boxes, coffers, trunks, and a huge pair of rusty scales.

They all gathered together on the arrival of the Tartars, who greeted
them with handshakes. The general snorted. One of the Tartars, an old
man wearing new goloshes over felt boots, spoke to Katerina:

"How d'ye do, Barina?"

The general leisurely swung one leg over the other, and said stiffly:

"Be good enough to state your price."

The two Tartars looked over the old-fashioned articles, criticised
them, none too well, and fixed the most ridiculous prices. The
general burst out laughing and tried to be witty. Katerina grew
angrier and angrier, until at last she could no longer contain
herself:

"Kirill Lvovich," she shouted, "you are impossible!" "Very well,"
came the infuriated reply; "I am not one of the heirs, I can go!"

They calmed him, however, and then began bargaining with the Tartars,
who slung the old-fashioned articles carelessly over their arms--
laces worked by serfs, antique, hand made candle-sticks, a field-
glass and an acetylene lamp.

The twilight spread gently over the town, and through its dusky,
star-spangled veil, loomed the old Cathedral--reminiscent of Stenka
Razin; now and then came the chime of its deep-toned bells.

The Tartars at length succeeding in striking a bargain, rolled the
goods up into neat little packs with their customary promptitude,
paid out Kerensky notes from their bulging purses and left.

Then the heirs divided the proceeds. They were sitting in the
drawing-room. Blinds covered the low windows; some portraits hung on
the walls, a chandelier was shrouded in a muslin wrapper that had not
been changed for years. A yellow oaken piano was covered with dust,
and the furniture's velvet covering was tarnished and threadbare. The
house struck cold.

The heirs were dressed fantastically; the general in a dressing-gown
with gold embroideries and tassels; Sergius wore a black hooded coat;
Lina a warm hare-skin jacket, and Katerina, the eldest--the
moustached guardian--a man's thick overcoat, a petticoat and felt
shoes. On all were jewels--rings, ear-rings, bracelets and necklaces.

Sergius remarked ungallantly:

"This is a trying time for us all, and I propose that we divide the
proceeds among us according to the number of consumers."

"I am not one of the heirs," the general hastily interposed.

"I don't share your socialistic views." Constantine informed Sergius
with a cold smile; "I think they should be divided according to the
number of heirs."

A heated argument followed, above which rang the Cathedral bells. At
last, with great difficulty, they came to an agreement. Then Katerina
brought in the samovar. All fetched their own bread and sweet roots
and drank the tea, thankful not to have to prepare it for themselves.

Suddenly--with unexpected sadness and, therefore, unusually well--the
general began to speak:

"When I--a lieutenant-bridegroom--met our Aunt Kseniya for the first
time, she was wearing that bustle that you sold just now. Ah, will
things ever be the same again? If I were told the Bolshevik tyranny
would endure for another year, I should shoot myself! For, good Lord,
what I suffer! How my heart is wrung! And I am an old man.... Life is
simply not worth living."

All burst into tears; the general wept as old men weep, the
moustached Katerina cried in a sobbing bass. Neither could Anna
Andreevna, nor the two girls who stood clasping each other in the
corner, refrain from shedding tears, the girls for their youth and
the sparkling joys of their maidenhood of which they had been
deprived.

"I would shoot them all if I could!" Katerina declared.

Then Sergius' children, Kira and Lira, came in and Lina told them
they might take some albumen. Kira put butter on his.

The moon rose.... The stars shone brilliantly. The snow was dead-
white. The river Volga was deserted. It was dark and still by the old
Cathedral. The frost was hard and crisp, crackling underfoot. The two
young girls, Kseniya and Lena, with Sergius and the general, were
returning to the mansion to fetch their handsleighs and toboggan down
the slope to the river.

Constantine had gone into town, to a club of cocaine-eaters, to drug
himself, utter vulgar platitudes, and kiss the hands of loose women.
Leontyevna, the Cyclop maid from the Exchange, lay down on a bench in
the kitchen to rest from the day's work, said her prayers, and fell
into a sound sleep.

The general stood on the door-steps. Sergius drew up the sleighs, and
they took their seats--three abreast--Kseniya, Elena and himself, and
whirled along over the crackling snow, down to the ice-covered Volga.
The sleighs flew wildly down the slope, and in this impetuous flight,
in the sprinkling and crackling snow, and bitter, numbing frost,
Kseniya dreamed of a wondrous bliss: she felt a desire to embrace the
world! Life suddenly seemed so joyous.

The frost was harsh, cruel and penetrating. On regaining the house
the general bristled up like a sparrow--he was frozen--and called out
from the door-step:

"Sergius! There is a frost to-day that will certainly burst the
water-pipes. We will have to place a guard for the night."

Perhaps Sergius, and even the old man, had had a glimpse of wonderful
happiness in the sleigh's swift flight over the snow. The former
called back:

"Never mind!"--and again whirled wildly down from the old Cathedral
to the Volga, where the boats and steamers plied amid the deep-blue,
massive ice-floes, so sparkling and luminous in their snowy raiment.

But the general had now worked himself up to a state of great
excitement. He rushed indoors and roused everyone:

"I tell you, it will freeze and the pipes will burst unless you let
the water run a little. There are 27 degrees of frost!"

"But the tap is in the kitchen and Leontyevna is sleeping there,"
objected Lina.

"Well, waken her!"

"Impossible!"

"Damn rot!" snarled the general and went into the kitchen and shook
Leontyevna, explaining to her about the pipes.

"I will go to the Exchange and complain! Not even letting one
rest!...Stealing in to an undressed woman!..."

Lina jabbered her words after her like a parrot. Sergius ran in.

"Leave off, please," he begged. "It is I who am responsible. Let
Leontyevna sleep."

"Certainly, I am not one of the heirs," the general retorted
smoothly.

The night and the frost swept over the Volga, the Steppe, and
Saratov. The general was unable to sleep. Kseniya and Lena were
crying in the attic. Constantine arrived home late, and noiselessly
crept in to Leontyevna.

Bluish patches of moonlight fell in through the windows.

The water pipes froze in the night and burst.




THE CROSSWAYS

Forest, thickets, marshes, fields, a tranquil sky--and the crossways!
The sky is overcast at times with dove-coloured clouds; the forest
now gabbles, now groans in the glittering summer sunshine.

The crossways creep and crawl like a winding thread, without
beginning and without end. Sometimes their stretch tires and vexes--
one wants to go by a shorter route and turns aside, goes astray,
comes back to the former way. Two wheel-tracks, ripple grass, a foot-
path and around them, besides sky or rye or snow or trees, are the
crossways, without beginning or end or limit. And over them pass the
peasants singing their low toned songs. At times these are sorrowful,
as endless as the crossways themselves: Russia was borne in these
songs, born with them, from them.

Our ways lie through the crossways as they ever have done, and ever
will. All Russia is in the crossways--amid the fields, thickets
marshes, and forests.

But there were also those Others who wanted to march over the bog-
ways, who planned to throw Russia on to her haunches, to press on
through the marshlands, make main-roads straight as rules, and
barricade themselves behind granite and steel, forgetful of Russia's
peasant cottages. And on they marched!

Sometimes the main-road is joined by the crossways, and from them to
the main-road and over it passes the long vaunted Rising, the
people's tumult, to sweep away the Unnecessary, then vanish back
again into the crossways.

Near the main-road lies the railway. By turning aside from it,
walking through a field, fording a river, penetrating first through a
dark aspen grove, then through a red pine belt, skirting some
ravines, threading a way across a village, trudging wearily through
dried-up river-beds and on through a marsh, the village of Pochinki
is reached, surrounded by forest.

In the village were three cottages, their backs to the forest; their
rugged noses seemed to scowl from beneath the pine-trees, and their
dim, tear-dribbling window-eyes looked wolfish. Their grey timbers
lay on them like wrinkles, their reddish-yellow thatch, like bobbed
hair, hung to the ground. Behind them was the forest; in front,
pasture, thickets, forest again, and sky. The neighbouring crossways
coiled round them in a ring, then narrowed away into the forest.

In all three cottages dwelt Kononovs: they were not kinsfolk, though
they bore that name, closer linked through their common life than
kinsmen ever were. Kononov-Yonov, the One-Eyed, was the village
elder: he no longer remembered his grandfather's name, but knew the
olden times well, and remembered how his great-grandfathers and his
great-great-grandfathers had lived and how it was good for men to
live.

From the oldest to the youngest they toiled with all their strength
from spring to autumn, from autumn to spring, and from sunrise to
sundown, growing grey like their hen-coops from smoke, scorching in
the heat and steaming sweat like boiling tar.

The kinsfolk of Yonov the One-eyed made tar besides tilling the land,
while Yonov himself kept bee-hives in the forest. The sisters Yonov
barked lime-trees and made bast shoes. It was a hard, stern life,
with its smoke, heat, frosts, and languour; but they loved it
profoundly.

The Kononovs lived alone in friendship with the woods, the fields,
and the sky; yet ever engaged in stubborn struggle against them. They
had to remember the rise and set of the sun, the nights and the dung-
mounds. They had to look into putrid corners, watch for cold blasts
from the north, and give ear to the rumbling and gabbling of the
forest.

They knew:

  With January, mid-winter time,
  Starts the year its frosty prime,
  Blows wild the wind e'er yet'tis still,
  Crackles the ice in the frozen rill;
  Epiphany betimes is past,
  Approaches now the Lenten Fast.

  In February there's a breath of heat,
  Summer and winter at Candlemas meet.
  In April the year grows moist and warm the air,
  The old folks' lives without their doors bids fair;
  The woodcock then comes flying from the sea,
  Brings back the Spring from its captivity.

  Under a showery sky,
  Bloom wide the fields of rye,
  Ever blue and chill
  May will the granaries fill.

It was necessary to work stubbornly, sternly, in harmony with the
earth, to fight hand-to-hand with the forest, the axe, the plough and
the scythe. They had learnt to keep their eyes wide open, for each
had to hold his own against the wood-spirit, the rumbling forest,
famine, and the marshes. They had learnt to know their Mother-Earth
by the birds, sky, wind, and stars, like those men of whom Yonov the
One-Eyed told them--those who of old wended their way to Chuvsh
tribes and the Murman Forest.

All the Kononovs were built alike, strong, rugged, with short legs
and broad, heavy feet like juniper-roots, long backs, arms that hung
down to their knees, shoulder-blades protruding as though made for
harness, mossy green eyes that gazed with a slow stubborn look, and
noses like earthen whistles.

They lived with the rye, horses, cows, the sheep, the woods, and the
grass. They knew that as the rye dropped seeds to the ground and
reproduced in abundance so also bred beast and bird, counteracting
death with birth. They knew too that to breed was also man's lot.

Ulyanka reached her seventeenth year, Ivan his eighteenth: they bowed
to the winds and went to the altar.

Ivan Kononov did not think of death when he went to the war, for what
was death when through it came birth? Were there not heat-waves and
drought in summer? Did not the winter sweep the earth by blizzards?
Yet in spring all began to pulsate again with life.

The War came: Ivan Kononov went without understanding, without
reason--what concern was it of Pochinki? He was dragged through
towns, he pined in spittle-stained barracks; and then he was sent to
the Carpathians. He fired. He fought hand-to-hand: he fled; he
retreated forty versts a day, resting in the woods singing his
peasant-songs with the soldiers--and yearning for Pochinki. He found
all spoke like Grandfather Yonov the One-Eyed; he learnt of the land
in the olden time order, of the people's Rising. At its approach he
went on furlough to Pochinki, met it there, and there remained.

The Rising came like happy tidings, like the cool breath of dawn,
like a May-time shower:

  Under a showery sky
  Bloom wide the fields of rye,
  Ever blue and chill
  May will the granaries fill.

Formerly there were the village constable, the district clerk,
trumperies, requisitions, and taxations; for then it was the gentry
who were the guardians. But now, Yonov the One-Eyed croaked
exultantly:

"Now it's ourselves! We ourselves! In our own way! In our own world!
The land is ours! We are the masters: it is the Rising! _Our_ Rising!"

There were no storms that winter; it was cold and dark, and the wolf-
packs were astir. One after another the inhabitants were stricken
down with typhoid--it was with typhoid that they paid for the Rising!
Half the village succumbed and was borne on the peasants' sleighs to
the churchyard.

By Candlemas, when winter and summer meet, all the provisions were
exhausted, and the villagers drove to the station. But even that had
changed. New people congregated there, some shouting, others hurrying
to and fro with sacks. The villagers returned with nothing and sat
down to their potatoes.

In the spring prayers were offered up for the dead and a religious
procession paraded round the village, the outskirts of which were
bestrewn with ashes. Then the villagers started to take tar and bast
shoes to the station; they wanted to sell them, and with the proceeds
buy ploughshares, harrows, scythes, sickles, and leather straps. But
they never reached the station.

Their way led them through fields all lilac-coloured in the glowing
sun: there they encountered an honest peasant dressed in a short fur
jacket and a cap beneath which his look was calm and grave.

He told them there was nothing at the station, that the townsfolk
themselves were running like mice; and he urged them to go to
Poriechie, to give Silvester the blacksmith some tar for his
ploughshares, and, if he had none, to make them some of his own hand-
ploughshares; then to go and sow flax. The towns were dying out. The
towns were no more! It was the people's Rising, and they had to live
as in the olden days: there were no towns then, and there was no need
for them.

They turned back. To Poriechie for tar.... Silvester made them a
hand-plough.... Grandfather Yonov the One Eyed stalked round the
fields exhorting to sow: "We have to live by ourselves! Now we
ourselves are the Masters! Ourselves alone! It is the Rising!"

They worked from dawn till sunset with all their strength, fastening
their belts tight round their bodies to stifle the pangs of hunger.

The summer passed in heat-waves, thunder and lightning. The forest
gabbled in the storms at night. Towards autumn it began to rustle,
leafless, beneath the showers of rain. The rye, oats, millet, and
buckwheat were carried into the corn-kilns and barns, and the fields
lay stripped and bare.

The corn had been harvested; there was enough and to spare till the
fallow crop was reaped. The air in the peasants' cottages was
bedimmed by the smoke from the stoves; Grandfather Yonov the One-Eyed
climbed on to his, to tell his grandchildren fairytales and to rest.

The nights grew dark and damp, the forest began to rumble, and wolves
approached from the marshlands. A new couple had grown up, bowed to
the winds and wedded; half the village had perished the previous
winter, and it was necessary to breed. The people lived in their
cabins together with the calves, the sheep, and the swine. They used
splinters for lights, striking the light from flint.

Often at night starving people from the towns brought money, clothes,
foot-ware, bundles of odds-and ends--in short anything they could
steal from the towns and exchange for flour. They rapped on the
windows like thieves.

The Kononov women sat at their looms while the men went a-preying in
the forest. And so they toiled on stubbornly, sternly, alone,
fighting hand-to-hand with the night, with the forest and with the
frost. The crossways to the forests became choked, and they made new
ways to the marshlands, to the Seven Brothers, to the wastelands.
Life was hard and stern. The peasants looked out upon the world from
beneath their brows, as their cottages from beneath the pines; and
they lived gladsomely, as they should.

They knew it was the Rising. And in the Rising there could be no
falling back.

Forests, thickets, fields, a tranquil sky--and crossways!...
Sometimes the crossways joined the main-road that ran alongside the
railway. Both led to the towns where dwelt Those Others who had
yearned to march over the crossways, who had made the main-roads
straight as rules. And to the towns the elemental Rising of the
Crossways brought death.

There, lamenting the past, in terror before the people's Rising, all
were employed in offices filling up papers. All for safety held
official positions, all to a man busying themselves over papers,
documents, cards, placards, and speeches until they were lost in a
whirlwind of words.

The food of the towns was exhausted; the lights had gone out; there
was neither fuel nor water. Dogs, cats, mice, all had disappeared--
even the nettles on the outskirts had been plucked by famished
urchins as vegetable for soup. Into the cookhouses, whence cutlery
had vanished, crowded old men in bowlers and bonneted old women,
whose bony fingers clutched convulsively at plates of leavings.

Everywhere there were groups of miscreants selling mouldy bread at
exorbitant prices. The dead in their thousands, over whom there was
no time to carry out funeral rites, were borne away to the churches.

Famine, disease, and death swept the towns. The inhabitants grew
savage in their craving for bread. They starved. They sat without
light. They froze. They pulled down the hedges and wooden buildings
to warm their dying hearths and their offices. The red-blood life
deserted the towns; indeed it had never really existed in them; and
there came a white-paper life that was death. When death means life
there is no death, but the towns were still-born.

There were harrowing scenes in the spring, when, like incense at
funeral-rites, the smoky wood-piles smouldered on the pillaged,
ransacked, and bespattered streets with their broken windows,
boarded-up doors, and defaced walls, consuming carrion and enveloping
the town in a stinking and stifling vapour.

Men with soft-skinned hands still frequented restaurants, still wooed
lascivious women, still sought to pillage the towns; they even
plundered the very corpses, hoping to carry loot into the country, to
barter it for the bread that had been gained by horny-handed labour.
Thus might they postpone their deaths another month, thus might they
still fill up papers, still go on wooing (legally) carnal women and
await their heart's desire, the return of the decadent past. They
were afraid to recognise that only one thing was left them, to rot in
death--to die--that even the past they longed for was a way to death
for them.

... Forests, thickets, fields, a tranquil sky....

Many dwelt in the towns--amongst them a certain man, no different
from the rest. He had no bread, and he too went into the country to
bargain for flour in exchange for his gramophone. Producing all the
necessary papers, permits, and licences, he proceeded to the railway,
which was dying because it too was of the towns.

At the station there were thousands of others with permits to travel
for bread, and because of those thousands only those without permits
succeeded in boarding the train. This particular man fastened himself
on the lower step of a carriage, under sacks that hung from the roof,
travelling thus for some forty miles. Then he and his gramophone were
thrown off, and for the first time in his life he tramped thirty
miles on foot under the weight of a gramophone.

At the next station he climbed on to the roof of a carriage and
travelled a hundred miles further. Then he was thrown off again, But
there the main-road passed the railway; by turning aside from it,
walking through a field, fording a river, making a way through the
woods, skirting the ravines, trudging through river beds, and
traversing the marshes he reached the village of Pochinki.

He arrived there with his gramophone at sundown. The red light of the
sun was reflected on the windows, the women-folk were milking the
cows: it was already autumn and the daylight faded rapidly. The man
with the gramophone tapped at the window and Kononov Ivan lifted the
shutter.

"Look, comrade, I've a gramophone here, to exchange for flour ... a
gramophone, a musical instrument, and records...."

Throwing back his shoulders, Kononov-Ivan stood by the window--then
stooped, looked askance at the sunset, at the fields, at the musical
instrument. He reflected a moment, then muttered absently:

"Aint wanted.... Go to Poriechie...." and the shutter dropped.

A sombre sky in autumnal lights--and the crossways.... Two wheel-
tracks, ripple-grass, a foot-path. Sometimes the wanderer tired, that
path seemed interminable, without beginning or ending. He turned
aside, went astray, returned on his tracks--evermore to the thickets,
forests, marshes....





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