Orloff was soon

During the first days of their service, the Orloffs found an immense
deal to do. Many sick people were daily brought to the Infirmary, and
the two novices, who were only accustomed to the tedious weariness of
their former life, felt at first very uncomfortable in the midst of
this rapid, pulsating, busy rush into which they were suddenly thrown.
They lost their heads, and failed to understand at once the orders that
were given them; whilst they became confused with all the different
impressions that poured in upon them. And though they had the firm
intention of making themselves useful, running hither and thither full
of zeal, they succeeded nevertheless in doing very little work, and too
often got into the way of other people. Grigori felt more than once
that he had indeed deserved a reproof for his clumsiness, but to his
astonishment no one took it upon them to reprove him.

One of the doctors, a tall dark man with a black moustache and a hooked
nose, with an enormous wart over his right eyebrow, told Grigori to
help one of the patients into the bath-room; the new attendant, eager
to be useful, seized hold of the patient with such a show of zeal that
he called out and groaned.

“Take care, my man! Don’t break him in two!” said the doctor quite
seriously. “We’ve got to get him into the bath-room whole…. These
words confused Orloff. The patient, however, a long thin fellow, smiled
constrainedly, and said in a hollow voice–” He doesn’t understand yet
… he’s a new hand….

The head doctor, an old gentleman with a pointed grey beard and great
flashing eyes, had told the Orloffs when they first came into the
Infirmary how they should manage the patients, and what they had to do
under certain circumstances. At the end of his instructions he asked
them if they had taken a bath lately, and then gave them out white
aprons. The voice of this old gentleman had in it something pleasing
and sympathetic, and the Orloffs felt they should like him. But
half-an-hour afterwards they had forgotten all his instructions in the
noisy rush of work in the Infirmary.

People in white clothes ran up against them; commands which were
carried out with lightning speed by the attendants, sounded in their
ears; the patients groaned, sobbed and sighed; water flowed splashing
and hissing from the taps; and this blending of sounds seemed to fill
the air, which was already saturated with sharp unpleasant smells that
irritated the nose; and it seemed to Orloff that every word of the
doctors, every sigh of the patients, was impregnated with the same

At first all this appeared to him like a wild chaos, in which he
could never feel at home, but which worked on him increasingly in a
depressing, bewildering way. But after a few hours he was seized by the
strong current of energy which flowed through everything. He pricked up
his ears, and felt a burning desire to get into the swim, and learn how
to do all these things that others were doing; joined with the feeling
that he would be lighter-hearted and happier if he could be swept away
in this whirlpool.

“Corrosive sublimate!” shouted one of the doctors.

“Some more hot water in the bath over there!” a thin little student
with red eyes ordered.

“Look here! What’s your name?”


“All right!… Just rub this patient’s feet … yes, that’s right …
so…. I see you understand at once…. So–o … not so hard! or you
will rub his skin off!…”

“Oh! how tired I am!” exclaimed another student, long-haired and
pock-marked, whilst he was giving Orloff the necessary instructions.

“They have brought in another patient!” some one exclaimed.

“Orloff, just go and see!… Help them to bring him in.”

Grigori, full of zeal, followed out all the directions. He was covered
with perspiration, there was a ringing in his ears, and a mist swam
before his eyes. At times the consciousness of himself disappeared
entirely under the mass of impressions which crowded in upon him
at every moment. The dark-green rings round the glassy eyes of the
patients, their leaden-coloured faces, their bones, which stood out
from their bodies, their clammy, bad-smelling skins, the horrible
convulsions of the half-dead bodies, all this oppressed his heart
painfully, and produced a nausea which he had never experienced before.

Once or twice he had caught a hurried glimpse of his wife in the
corridor of the Infirmary; she seemed in these few hours to have grown
thinner, and her white face wore a troubled look.

“Well, how are you getting on?” he asked during one of these hurried
encounters. She could only answer with a smile, and disappeared

A thought struck Grischka, which he however kept to himself; was it
really so necessary for him to have brought his wife with him into this
hell? She might catch the infection and die…. The second time he met
her he called out to her in a loud voice–

“Be sure and keep yourself clean; wash your hands very often, and take
every care!”

“Why do you say all that? What if I don’t take care?” she asked,
showing her little white teeth; and it seemed to him as if she were
defying him.

Her reply made him angry.

“There she is,” he thought, “joking even in such a place as this! What
a parcel of fools these women-folk are!”

He found however no further opportunity to give her recommendations.
Matrona, having noticed the angry look on his face, hurried away to the
women’s side of the building.

A minute later Grigori was helping to carry into the mortuary the body
of a policeman who had been well known to him. Only two days before
he had seen the policeman at his post, and had sworn at him as he had
passed by; they had never been on good terms together. And now he saw
this man, such a short time before so strong and healthy, lying dead,
and quite disfigured with convulsions. The corpse swayed backwards and
forwards against the bearers, and stared with wide-open glassy eyes.

Orloff realized the whole force and cruelty of the contrast. “Why does
one ever come into the world?” he thought to himself, “if such a
horrible complaint as this can knock one over in four-and-twenty hours?”

He glanced at the bier, and felt a movement of pity for the dead
policeman. What would become now of the three children of the dead man?
Last year he lost his wife, and there had scarcely been time for him
to marry again … now the poor little creatures would be left orphans

This thought filled him with a feeling of real pain. Suddenly the left
arm of the corpse began to stretch out and to straighten itself, and
at the same time the mouth of the dead man, which till then had stood
open, and drawn down on the left side, closed itself.

“Stop a moment,” said Orloff to the other bearer; and he rested the
bier on the ground. “He is still alive!” he whispered in a terrified

The bearer, who had been helping him to carry the stretcher, turned
round, looked at the corpse attentively, and then said angrily to

“What nonsense you are talking! Don’t you understand that he is getting
himself ready for his coffin? Don’t you see how the cholera has twisted
him up?… He can’t lie in the coffin in that position!… Come! Let’s
get on again!”

“But just look; he is still moving!” protested Orloff, trembling with

“Hurry up now! Catch hold, you fool!… Don’t you understand what I
say, then?… He _has_ to move in order to relax his limbs! Are you
then such an ignorant and stupid chap?… _He_ alive?… How can any
one say that about a corpse? That’s mutiny, brother!… All our corpses
here move, but I should advise you to be quiet about it Don’t tell a
soul that he has moved! Otherwise one will tell his neighbour, and his
neighbour will add a little bit on to the story, and we shall soon
have a regular row up at the Infirmary, because they will be saying
we bury them alive! The whole mob would come here and pull everything
to pieces…. And you would get your share of the knocks!… Do you
understand? …. We will put him down there to the left.”

The quiet voice of Pronim–that was the name of the other
attendant–and his soft way of speaking, calmed and reassured Grigori.

“Just keep a level head, brother! You will soon get used to it all.
There is no harm going on here…. The feeding, and the management, and
everything are first-class…. We have all to die some day, every one
recognizes that But till that time comes, keep, as I have said, a level
head!… Will you have a glass of schnapps?”

“Why not?” replied Orloff.

“I have got a drop in the corner there, ready for use on these sort
of occasions. What do you say; shall we have a go at it?” They went
off accordingly towards a quiet corner of the Infirmary, and pulled
themselves together with a small glass of spirits. Then Pronim dropped
some essence of peppermint on to a piece of sugar, and handed it to

“Take it; otherwise they will smell that we have been drinking. They
are very particular here about vodka; they say it is bad for one.”

“And you?… have you got accustomed to the life here?” asked Grigori.

“I should think so! I was one of the first to come. Hundreds have died
before my eyes. One lives here indeed in a state of uncertainty, but
otherwise, to tell the truth, it’s not bad … it is God’s work,–just
like the Red Cross in war. Have you heard of the Red Cross ambulance
work, and of the nurses and sisters? I saw them in the Turkish war….
And I was also at Ardahan and at Kars. They were indeed a brave lot,
those ambulance people I Full of kind-heartedness and courage. We
soldiers had at least our guns and cannons; but they went about among
the bullets as if they had been walking about in some pleasant garden.
And when they found either one of us or a Turk–they brought them all
to the place where the doctors were dressing the wounds, and stood
near, whilst all around them the bullets were flying … sch!…
sch!… Tju!… Fit!… Often some poor chap would be hit by a ball
just at the back of the neck,–ping!… and there he would lie….”

This conversation, added to the drop of vodka which he held drunk, put
Orloff into a more cheerful frame of mind.

“If I were to tell A, then I should also have to tell B,” he consoled
himself with thinking, whilst he rubbed the feet of a patient. “As the
ale is drawn, so it must be drunk.”

Behind him some one was begging in a plaintive voice–“Give me
water!… Give me something to drink … for the love of….”

Another one called out, his teeth chattering with cold–“Oh!… Och!…
Hohoho!… hotter still!… It does me good, doctor! Christ will reward
you!… Give me some more hot water….”

“Just pass the wine over here!” called out Doctor Wasschtschenko.

Orloff listened, full of interest, whilst he did his own work, to all
that went on around him, and it began to dawn upon him that it was not
all so meaningless and chaotic as it appeared to him at first This
was no chaos reigning here, but powerful, conscious, active strength.
It was only when he thought of the police-officer, that a cold terror
took possession of him, and he threw a scared glance out of the window
towards the mortuary where the dead man lay. He really did believe at
heart that the police-officer was dead, but at times horrid doubts
shot through his mind. Suppose the dead man were to suddenly jump up
and shout! And he remembered how some one had told him once that those
who had died of the cholera broke out of their coffins, and, so it was
said, ran about alter each other. As he went backwards and forwards
at his work, rubbing the limbs of one patient, helping another into a
bath, everything seemed to be seething and turning round in his brain.
He thought of Matrona; what was she perhaps doing at this same moment?
Sometimes he felt a fleeting wish to see her at once, if only for a
minute. But immediately this was succeeded by another thought; “After
all, she’s all right here!… It’s good for her to have to move about;
the fat little lump…. It won’t hurt her to get a bit thinner …
perhaps then she won’t be so stupid….”

He could not get rid of the thought that Matrona was nourishing hidden
desires in her breast, which were not flattering to his own manly
vanity. He went to the length of acknowledging to himself that she
certainly had every right to be discontented with her past life, and
it was possible she might long for some sort of change. The fact of
his acknowledging this much to himself was the cause of his mistaking
his doubts as to her loyalty for the truth; and as a result of his
jealousy he asked himself the question–“Why did I want to leave my
cellar, and get into this kettle of hot water?” … But all these, and
other thoughts, stirred and whirled deep down at the bottom of his
soul, they had no influence on his work, and they were driven into the
background by the ceaseless attention which he bestowed on all that
went on in the Infirmary. He had never in his life seen men work as
did these doctors and medical students, and more than once he thought,
as he looked into their drawn faces, that they indeed more than earned
their salaries.

As soon as Orloff was off duty he went, though he could hardly keep on
his legs, into the courtyard of the Infirmary, and lay down close to
the wall, under the window of the dispensary. His thoughts seemed all
scattered; near his heart he felt a dull, throbbing pain, and his legs
were heavy with fatigue. He seemed to have no more strength left either
for thought or desire, but stretched himself out at once on the turf,
and stared up towards the sky, which was filled with the many-coloured
cloud-glories of the setting sun. He dropped asleep at once, half-dead
with fatigue.

He dreamt that he and his wife were the guests of Doctor
Wasschtschenko–in a great room, around which stood elegant Viennese
chairs. On these chairs sat all the patients from the Infirmary. In
the middle of the room the doctor began to dance the Russian national
dance with Matrona, whilst Grischka himself played on the accordion and
laughed light-heartedly, for the doctor’s long legs were quite stiff at
the joints, and he stepped in a dignified way like a heron on a bog, by
the side of Matrona. And the patients sitting round all laughed also,
and swayed uncertainly on their chairs.

Suddenly there appeared at the door the police-officer.

“Aha!” he cried out in a gloomy threatening voice. “You thought I was
dead already, brother Grischka! Here you are playing on the accordion
… but you sent _me_ into the mortuary…. So now then, get up with
you, and come and follow me!”

Trembling in his whole body, and covered with perspiration, Orloff
awoke, and scrambled up from the ground, whilst Doctor Wasschtschenko
stood watching him reproachfully, and remarked–

“Just listen to what I’ve got to say to you, my friend; if you want
to go to sleep you have your own bunk there in the Infirmary! Haven’t
they shown you where it is? What sort of an attendant do you call
yourself, if you go and lie here on the ground with nothing over your
body?… If you get an inward chill, and knock up and die (which God
forbid), what’s going to happen then? That’s not the way to behave, my
friend…. Why you’re shivering now … come along with me, and I will
give you something for that….”

“I was so dead tired,” muttered Orloff in a low voice, making excuses
for himself.

“So much the worse! You’ll have to take care…. It’s a dangerous time
just now, and we need you here very much.”

Orloff followed the doctor quietly through the corridors of the
Infirmary, swallowed in silence a small glass of medicine, which was
handed to him, then drank another; finally made a grimace and spat on
one side.

“That’s right … and now go and have a good sleep…. Good-day to

The doctor strode with his long thin legs down the corridor, and Orloff
stood watching him. Suddenly a smile lit up the attendant’s whole face,
and he ran after the doctor.

“Thank you so much, doctor.”

“What for?” asked the doctor, standing still.

“Why, for the work that I have got here! I will do all I can to please
you, for I like being here in all this bustle … and you said just
now you needed me … so I thank you specially for that, with all my

The doctor watched with surprise the joyful, excited face of the new
attendant, and smiled in a friendly way.

“You’re a queer sort of fellow! But it’s all right … you take it the
right way…. There is something straightforward in what you say. Come
then … do your work well But not for my sake; do it for the sick
people…. It’s like a field of battle here; we have to save the sick
from the jaws of disease; do you understand? Well then, help us with
all your strength to conquer. Now then, be off and get some sleep!”

Orloff was soon lying in his bunk, feeling a pleasant sensation of
pride at being on such a confidential footing with a person like
the doctor. He was’ only sorry that Matrona had not overheard the
conversation. But he would tell her about it to-morrow. She would
scarcely believe it, the fat little lump that she was…. Busy with
such pleasant thoughts Grigori fell asleep.

Continue Reading

You are indeed

Towards the end of this disturbed day, whilst the Orloffs were sitting
at tea, Matrona asked her husband in a tone of curiosity, “Where did
you go just now with the student?”

Grigori seemed to be looking at her as through a mist, and he poured
his tea from the cup into the saucer without replying.

Towards mid-day, after they had disinfected the accordion-player’s
room, both Grigori and the sanitary officer had gone off together. On
his return, Grigori had remained for nearly three hours in a silent,
thoughtful mood. He had lain down on the bed, and had remained there
till tea-time, his face turned up towards the ceiling, without speaking
a word. In vain had Matrona tried, over and over again, to begin a
conversation with him. He did not once swear, even when she worried
him. This was quite an uncommon occurrence which gave her much cause
for thought With the instinct of the woman whose life is absorbed in
that of her husband, she guessed at once that something new had come
between them. She felt alarmed, and was all the more curious to find
out what had really happened.

“Come, arn’t you feeling very well, Grischka?” she began once more.

Grigori gulped down the last drop of tea from his saucer, wiped his
moustache with his sleeve, handed the cup to his wife, and said with a
dark frown, “I was with the medical student, up at the Infirmary.”

“What, in the cholera hospital?” exclaimed Matrona, in a scared voice;
and then added, terrified, “Are there many folk there?”

“Fifty-three people, counting the one they brought from here.”

“You don’t say so?–and—-”

“About a dozen are getting better, they can already walk about; but
they are quite yellow and thin.”

“Are they really cholera patients…? Or have they been changed for
others?–so that the doctors might be able to say they had cured them?”

“You stupid goose!” cried Grigori roughly, throwing an angry look at
her. “What a lot of foolish people you are, all of you! It is ignorance
and stupidity, nothing else! One can stick here all one’s days in blind
ignorance–understanding nothing!”

He pulled the cup of tea, which Matrona had just poured out for him,
violently towards him, and was silent.

“I should like to know where you get all your great wisdom?” said
Matrona mockingly.

Orloff did not pay the least attention to her words. He grew as silent
as before, and appeared quite unapproachable. The samovar was nearly
extinguished, only a simmering sound escaping from it. There came into
the windows from across the yard a smell of oil-paints, carbolic, and
dirty slops. This smell, blending with the twilight of evening, and the
monotonous singing of the samovar, awoke in the narrow close cellar a
sensation, which lay with the weight of a nightmare on its occupants.
The black ghastly mouth of the stove seemed to look at them menacingly,
as if about to devour them. For a long time the Orloffs sat there in
silence, nibbling sugar, gulping down mouthfuls of tea, and fidgeting
with the tea-things. Matrona sighed, and Grigori drummed with his
fingers on the tea-table.

“I never saw such cleanliness as reigns there!–never saw anything like
it!” Grischka broke in suddenly on the silence.

“Every one of the attendants wears white linen clothes; the sick people
have baths as often as it is necessary–and they get wine to drink at
five and a half roubles a bottle! And the food!… The smell is almost
enough for one; it’s so delicious! There is such care–such attention!
–no mother could be kinder to a child. Yes, yes! when one comes to
think of it! Here we live, and not a soul bothers his head about us,
asks us how we are, or how we are getting on;–whether we are happy
or unhappy–whether we have anything to put in our mouths or not But
as soon as it’s a case of dying, then they can’t do enough for one,
they will go to any expense. These infirmaries, for instance–and the
wine–five and a half roubles the bottle! Don’t the fellows reason
then, what all that is going to cost them? They had better have spent
it in helping the living every year a little.”

Matrona did not trouble to try and follow what he was saying. It was
sufficient for her that his thoughts had taken a new direction, and
that now her relations with Grigori would be on a different footing.
She was quite convinced that this would be the result, and foresaw only
too quickly what the consequences of this spiritual change would be to
her. Fear and hope moved her, together with a feeling of enmity against
her husband.

“They’ll know very well what to do without you,” she said ironically,
drawing down the corners of her mouth.

Grigori shrugged his shoulders, glancing askance at her; then continued
to speak in still more meaning tones, this time watching her

“Whether they know it or not that is their business…. But if I have
to die without seeing something of life, then I shall be the first to
whom such a thing happens!… Understand then, this time of torment
must come to an end! I won’t sit here any longer, and wait till the
cholera comes to me as it did to the accordion-player, and carries me
off to the grave. No, I won’t, I can’t! I would rather go boldly and
meet it…. Peter, the student, said to me–‘If Fate is against you,
just show that you also can oppose Fate. You can but try which is the
stronger…. It’s simply a battle–nothing more.’ You ask what is the
matter with me?… I mean to go as an attendant in the Infirmary! do
you understand?… I will crawl right into the jaws that threaten, and
they may swallow me up, but at least I will defend myself with my hands
and my feet!… I shan’t be so badly off there; I shall get twenty
roubles a month, besides tips, and my keep. It’s just possible that
I shall die there; but that might happen here!… At any rate it’s a
change in one’s life.”

He struck the table with his fist in wild excitement, so that the
tea-things clattered and danced.

Matrona had listened to him at first full of curiosity and
disquietude, but towards the end she interrupted angrily.

“The medical student has been advising you to do this, hasn’t he?” she
asked in a meaning voice.

“Haven’t I my own reason to go by? Can’t I take a decision for myself?”
answered Grigori, evading a direct answer.

“Well!–and what am I to do meanwhile?”

“What are you to do?” asked Grigori, astonished. He had not once
thought about this side of the question. The simplest way, of course,
would be for him to leave his wife in their old lodgings. But wives
are not always trustworthy, and he had not entire confidence in his
Matrona. She required, according to him, a good deal of looking after.
Struck by this thought, Grigori continued sullenly–

“The most simple thing would be for you to remain here. I shall always
get my wages, and that will keep you. Hm!–yes,” he said, apparently
anxious to hear what she would reply to this.

“It’s all the same to me,” she answered quietly.

And once more he noticed cross her face that woman’s smile, which
seemed to him to possess a double meaning, and which had so often
before awoke in him a feeling of jealousy. It aroused his anger now
just in the same way, but he knew how to control himself, and said
abruptly, “It’s all nonsense, all that you say!”

He looked at her irritably, full of expectation of what she would
reply. She however was silent, but continued to annoy him with the same
provoking smile.

“Well!–what’s to be done?” asked Grigori at last in a higher key.

“Yes, what’s to be done?” replied Matrona indifferently, drying the

“You had better not play me any tricks, you serpent!–you had better
not, or you will get one over the head!” raged Orloff. “It may be I am
going to my death!”

“Well, don’t go then–I don’t send you,” replied Matrona quietly.

“Anyhow, I know that you are glad I am going,” continued Orloff with a

She was for once silent. This silence aggravated his rage, but he
controlled himself so as not to destroy this moment of resolution by a
horrid scene of wife-beating.

And suddenly there entered his mind a thought, which appeared to him
more diabolical than the aggravating mood of his wife.

“I feel certain you want me to be underground,” he said, “but just wait
a little–we’ll see who gets there first!–yes, that we will! I’ll do
something that will settle your business, my good woman!”

He jumped up from the table, took his cap in his hand, and hurried
out. Matrona remained behind alone. She was dissatisfied with the
result of her manoeuvres, and upset by his threats. With a steadily
growing feeling of fear, she thought about the future. She looked out
of the window and whispered softly to herself, “Oh! Lord God! King of
heaven! Holy Mother of God!”

She sat for a long time at the table, filled with terror-stricken
presentiments, trying in vain to guess what was really the matter with
Grigori. Before her stood the clean tea-things. The setting sun threw
a great streak of light across the massive wall of the neighbour’s
house, which stood opposite the window of their room; the whiteness
of the wall reflected this light, causing it to fall straight across
the cellar and sparkle on the glass sugar-basin standing in front of
Matrona. She watched with wrinkled brow this glimmer of light till her
eyes grew tired. Then she rose, put the tea-things away, and lay down
on the bed; she was feeling anxious and heavy-hearted.

When Grigori returned it was already dark. She could tell by the way he
walked that he was in a good temper. He did not swear at the darkness
of the room, but called Matrona by her name, and then went up to the
bed and sat down on it Matrona raised herself and sat by his side.

“Guess what’s the latest news!” began Orloff, smiling.

“Well, what is it?”

“You are going to take a situation also.”

“Where?” she asked with stammering lips.

“In the same Infirmary as I shall be in,” he explained in an impressive
tone of voice.

She fell on his neck, pressed him closely to her breast, and kissed
his lips. He did not expect this and pushed her away. “She is only
pretending,” he said to himself. “The cunning creature, she does not
really want to be with me! She thinks me a fool, the little serpent!”

“Well, why are you so pleased about it?” he asked in a rough voice that
was hill of distrust He would have liked to have pushed her off the bed.

“I am only so pleased,” she said, smiling happily.

“Don’t try and humbug me; I know you!”

“My dear brave knight!”

“Shut up–or I’ll give you something!”

“My dear, dear Grischanja!”

“Just say straight out what you want from me!”

Finally, when her endearments had appeased him a little, he asked her

“Are you not frightened then at all?”

“But we shall be together!” she answered at once simply.

It was pleasant to him to hear her say this, and he replied gratefully–

“You are indeed a plucky little wife!”

Then he pinched her till she screamed.

Continue Reading

Senka looked

One Monday morning, just as the Orloffs had finished their breakfast,
there appeared on the threshold of their unfriendly-looking dwelling
the imposing form of a police-officer. Grischka Orloff sprang
frightened from his seat, and catching a glimpse of a startled and
reproachful look in his wife’s eye, made vain efforts to recall to his
dulled brain the events of the last few days. Matrona watched him with
looks that spoke of anxious reproach. In obstinate silence, though
full of scared expectation, Grischka turned his troubled eyes on the
unexpected guest.

“This way! Down here!” cried the police-officer to some one who was
coming down behind him.

“It’s as dark as a vault here!… What a devil’s hole is this merchant
Petounukoff’s house!” The words were spoken in a young, cheerful voice.

The police-officer moved on one side, and, with a rapid step, a
medical student in a white coat entered the Orloffs’ dwelling, holding
his cap in his hand. His head was smooth shaven, his forehead high
and sunburnt; he had cheerful brown eyes, which smiled through his

“Good-morning!” he exclaimed, in his still youthful ringing alto
voice. “I have the honour to introduce myself to you; I am a member
of the Sanitary Commission. I have come to inquire about the state
in which you live here, and just to report what sort of air you are
breathing…. It’s quite abominable air!”

Orloff breathed more freely, and a look of relief passed across his
face. From the first moment, the medical student, with his boisterous
unaffected ways, pleased him; the healthy young face, covered on
cheeks and chin with fair downy hair, had something so friendly and
good-natured in it The fresh free laughter of the young man brought
into the Orloffs’ cellar a ray of light and of brightness.

“Now, my good people,” continued the student, after a pause; “you might
empty the slop-pail a little more often, for it is from that this
horrible smell comes. I should like to advise you, my good woman, to
wash it out more often, and to place chloride of lime in the corners of
the room. That will purify the air, and it’s a very good remedy against
the damp. And you, my fine fellow–why do you look so upset?” He turned
towards Orloff, seized his hand suddenly, and felt his pulse. The quick
assured manner of the medical student impressed the Orloffs to such
a degree that they seemed at first to be struck dumb. Matrona smiled
constrainedly and watched him in silence, whilst Grigori seemed as if
refreshed by the sight of the open fair young face.

“Well, and how are your stomachs feeling?” asked the medical student
“You can speak out openly to me without any fuss–it’s a question you
see of life and death…. If anything is not quite right we will treat
you gratis with some simple citrate medicine or something of that sort,
and you will be all right in a few days.”

“We can’t complain; we are fairly healthy,” said Grigori, smiling.
“And if I don’t seem quite up to the mark, it’s nothing out of the
common–to tell the truth, I took a drop too much last night….”

“That I had already guessed, for my nose told me so…. Of course it
was only a _small_ glass too much? Only half a glass or so?…”

Grischka could not contain himself when listening to the comical way
in which this was said, and watching the sly grimace which accompanied
it; and he burst into a loud good-tempered laugh. Matrona smiled also
behind her apron. The medical student, who, at first had laughed with
them for company, then changed to a more serious expression. As the
lines of his face altered, it appeared even more open and candid than

“That a man who is working should drink a glass from time to time–that
is all right,” said he. “But as I have just said, it must be taken in
moderation, and as times are now it is better to keep away from drink
altogether. Have you already heard about the epidemic that is just now
raging in the town?”

And with a serious expression on his face, he began to tell the
Orloffs about the cholera, and the means to be taken to counteract it;
trying to express himself as clearly and as simply as possible. Whilst
talking, he was busily examining the room, feeling the walls with his
hands, looking behind the door, stooping down to peep into the stove,
and sniffing about everywhere with his nose. His voice, which had not
yet completely changed, alternated between bass and treble, and the
simple forms of words which he used impressed themselves unconsciously
on the minds of his audience. His brown eyes gleamed, and seemed full
of youthful enthusiasm for the work to which he had dedicated himself
so earnestly and simply.

Grigori hung eagerly on every one of his words, and followed
with curiosity all his movements. Matrona listened also, without
understanding very much; the police-officer had already gone off.

“Be careful to use chloride of lime as I have told you. Close by here
is a new building; for a couple of kopecks they will give you a whole
heap of it. And, about the drink, it’s better to leave it alone for a
while, my friend. Well, good-day to you I I shall soon be looking you
up again….”

And he disappeared as quickly as he came, and left as it were as a
recollection of his pleasant visit, a contented, happy smile on the
faces of the couple.

For a time they were silent, both looking at each other, unable to
put into words the impression which this sudden visit, with all its
revelation of well-directed energy, had made on the monotonous tenor of
their dull automatic life.

“Just think, now!” began Grigori at last, shaking his head, “what a
sorcerer that fellow is!… And they tell us that those are the men who
poison people! Can a man with a face like that have anything to do with
those sort of goings on?… And that cheerful clear voice, and all the
rest of it!… No, it’s all open and above board, it’s all straight!
He comes in quite simply–‘Here I am, my good people; listen to what I
have to say!’ Chloride of lime, that can’t hurt And citric acid, that’s
just an acid, and nothing more…. The principal thing, however, is
to keep clean, to have everything clean indoors, and to attend to the
slop-bucket Can a man be poisoned by attending to those sort of things?
They must be stupid folk who talk like that!… Poisoners, they call
them? Yes, that’s it…. To think that such a dear fellow as that could
be a poisoner! Pfui!… ‘He who works may drink a glass,’ he said; ‘of
course with moderation.’ Did you hear, Matrona? Well, pour me out one,
then. Is there one left?”

Matrona hastened to pour him out a glass of vodka, which she produced
from some hiding-place.

“He is really a very nice fellow; there is something so friendly about
him,” she said, still smiling at the thought of the student. “But who
can say what the others may be like? Perhaps they are indeed hired

“What do you mean?… Hired to do what?” roared Grigori.

“Well, to put folk out of the way…. It seems there is an order that
all the poor people are to be poisoned when there are too many of
them,” added Motrja.

“Who told you that?”

“Well, everybody says so…. The painter’s cook says so also…. And
lots of others say the same thing.”

“A lot of silly fools! What would the Government gain by it? Just think
a moment! First they would have to treat us all with medicine; and
then they would have to pay for the funerals, the coffins, the graves,
and all that sort of thing. That all costs something, and it all has
to come out of the coffers of the State…. That’s all idle chatter;
if they really want to get rid of a few of the poor people, they have
only got to send them out to Siberia; there’s room for them all there;
or to some uninhabited island, where they can dig the ground, work
and pay taxes! Can’t you understand? Don’t you see that would be the
right sort of way of thinning out the people, and would be at the same
time advantageous…. For an uninhabited island produces nothing; but
workers, who pay taxes, are the most important matter for the State
coffers. But what sense would there be in poisoning people and burying
them?… There would be no sense in it, don’t you see? And then about
the medical students; they are certainly a troublesome lot, but more
especially because they are always in opposition to the authorities,
than because they poison people…. No, you won’t catch a medical
student doing that, not for all the money in the world!… One can see
at once that these students are not that sort.”

The whole day they talked of the medical student, and of the advice he
had given them. They spoke of his cheerful laugh, of his expression,
and they remembered that there was a button missing on his coat But
on the question as to whether it was missing on the right side or
the left, they could not agree; and they nearly came to pulling one
another’s hair over it. Twice already Grischka had made his wife
angry, but he noticed in time that her bottle still contained a good
drop of vodka; so in the end he gave in to her. They made resolutions
to commence cleaning up their cellar the next day, and then began once
more to talk of the student, whose entry into their home had acted on
them like a refreshing breath of fresh air.

“By heavens, but he’s a regular jolly lad!” said Grigori delighted. “He
comes in as simply as if he had known us for years, gives the necessary
directions, and there’s an end of it…. All without noise or fuss,
though he had a right to use authority…. That’s the sort of fellow
that takes my fancy! One sees at once that he has a heart for people
like us…. What say you, Motrja? They don’t want us to die, that’s
all about it I And all this women’s chatter about poisoning and that
sort of thing–that’s all rubbish. ‘How are your stomachs getting on?’
he asked. If he wants to poison me what can it matter to him how my
stomach is? And how cleverly he explained all that…. What the devil
did he call those–those worms that get into our insides?”

“‘Bactery,’ or some word like that,” answered Motrja, with a sneer.
“But he only told us that to frighten us, so as to make us more careful
about being clean….”

“Who knows, perhaps it is true! Perhaps there are animals of that
sort–in the damp all kinds of creatures live! Damn it all, what was
the name of those little beasts? Bac–bactery–that was not quite
it…. If I could only pronounce it I…. It’s just on the tip of my
tongue, but I can’t get it out!…”

Once again, in the evening when they lay down to sleep, they spoke
about the event of the day with the most naïve excitement, just as
children have the habit of chattering with each other about some strong
impression they may have received. And they fell asleep in the middle
of the conversation.

In the morning they woke up early. At their bedside stood the painter’s
stout cook; her usually healthy, rosy-coloured face was now white and

“How is it you are still in bed?”.she began at once in an excited
voice, speaking with trembling lips. “The cholera has started here in
the courtyard! The Lord has visited us…!” and she began suddenly to
sob aloud.

“What nonsense! It can’t be true!” cried Grigori In a scared voice.

“And I forgot again last night to carry out the slop-bucket!” said
Matrona with contrition.

“I have come in to say good-bye to you, my dear friends,” said the
cook. “I have decided to leave, and go back to my village.”

“Who is in for it?” asked Grigori, jumping out of bed.

“The accordion-player. He drank last evening some cold water from the
pump, and in the night he was taken with dreadful cramps.”

“The accordion-player?” muttered Grigori. It seemed to him quite
incredible that any sort of illness could hurt that strong fellow.
Yesterday only he crossed the yard as cheerful and as proud as a

“I shall just go and see what is going on,” said Grischka, still
smiling incredulously.

“But it is catching, Grischka!” screamed Matrona, horrified.

“What do you want to be doing there, man? Stay here!” cried the cook.

Grigori muttered a few curses, and began to dress himself hastily
without washing, and went out just as he was into the yard.

Matrona caught hold of him by the shoulders to hold him back; he felt
how her hand trembled, but he shook her off against her will.

“Get away, or something will happen!” he shouted out, pushing her back,
and he strode out by the door.

The courtyard seemed empty and quiet…. Whilst Grigori walked towards
the accordion-player’s room a feeling of fear took possession of him;
but this was followed by an immediate sense of satisfaction that he
should be the only one in the house who had the courage to visit the
sick man. This feeling increased when he noticed that the tailor’s
apprentices were watching him from the windows of the second-floor.
In order to appear quite free from fear he whistled as he went along.
At the door, however, of the accordion-player’s room he met with a
slight surprise. He was not the first to visit the sick man; Senka
Tschischik was there before him. Senka was just sticking his nose
through the crack of the door, and observing in his usual fashion, with
intense curiosity, all that was going on in the room. He did not notice
Orloff’s approach till the latter took him by the ear.

“Just look, Uncle Grischka, how the cramps have got hold of him!” he
whispered, lifting his dirty little face, which, under the impression
of what he had just been witnessing, seemed more sharp-set than ever.
“How parched and dried up he looks. By Jove! he looks like a dry cask!”

Orloff was quite overcome by the pestiferous atmosphere which
was issuing from the room. He stood there silently, listening to
Tschischik, whilst watching with one eye through the narrow crack of
the partly open door.

“We ought, perhaps, to give him some water to drink, Uncle Grigori,”
said Tschischik.

Orloff glanced at the excited, nervous, trembling face of the child,
and felt within himself the desire to help the sufferer.

“Be off, quick, and get some water!” he ordered Senka. Then he opened
wide the door of the sick man’s room, and stepped boldly across the

Through the mist, which seemed to have arisen before his eyes, Grigori
saw poor Kisljakoff. The accordion-player, dressed in his best clothes,
leant all of a heap against the table, pressing convulsively his body
against the edge, which he held with both his hands. His feet, still
wearing the patent leather boots, dangled helplessly on the damp floor.

“Who is there?” asked the sick man in a hollow, apathetic, changed

Grigori moved a step nearer, treading carefully over the damp boards,
and trying to speak in even cheerful tone of voice.

“It is!–brother Mitri Pawlow…. What’s the matter with you, then?
This is a queer sort of music you are making here! Did you have a drop
too much yesterday?”

He looked at Kisljakoff with terrified curiosity, for he scarcely
recognized him. The accordion-player’s face had taken on it a drawn
angular expression; the cheek-bones stood out sharply. The deep-sunk
eyes, surrounded by black rings, looked unusually fixed and staring.
The skin had turned the colour of a corpse in summer-time. Orloff felt
he was looking into the leaden face of a dying man. Only the slow
movement of the jaws showed that what was before him was still a living
body…. For some time Kisljakoff stared with motionless, glassy eyes
into Grigori’s face; and this dying stare frightened Orloff. It seemed
to him as if a damp, cold hand had seized him by the throat, and was
slowly strangling him. And he felt within him the desire to leave as
soon as possible this room, which used to be so pleasant and gay, but
which now seemed unnaturally cold, and filled with such a horrible foul
smell of decay and rottenness.

“Come now,” said he, preparing to leave the room.

Suddenly a sort of change passed over the grey face of the
accordion-player. The lips, which were tinged with a leaden-coloured
shade, opened, and he said in a low monotonous voice–


These three words, uttered so apathetically, struck Orloff’s head and
heart like three dull strokes. He turned, as if stunned, towards the
door, where he was met by Tschischik, hot and perspiring, who was
returning with a bucket of water.

“Here’s some water from Spridinoff’s well!… They did not want to let
me take it, the dogs!”

He placed the bucket on the ground, disappeared quickly into a corner
of the room, and re-appeared with a glass, which he handed to Orloff.
Then he went on chattering–

“They said we had cholera here. Well, I said, what does that matter?…
It will come to you, too–it’s going all round the town. Then I got a
box on the ear….”

Orloff took the glass, filled it from the bucket, and drank it off in
one draught In his ears still rang the words of the sick man–


Tschischik wriggled about the room like an eel; he seemed to be quite
in his element.

“Give me water,” moaned the accordion-player, leaning his trembling
body forward on the table.

Tschischik ran up to him and held a glass of water to his black,
swelled lips. Grigori stood as if spell-bound or in a bad dream,
leaning against the wall near the door. He heard how the sick man
gulped down the water, and how Tschischik asked him if he should
undress him and put him on the bed; and then he heard once more the
voice of the painter’s cook. He could see her fat face glancing with
an expression of mingled fear and pity from one of the windows of the
courtyard, as she said in a whining tone–“Mix two tablespoonfuls of
soot with pine-juice and rum, and give it to him.”

Some one whom he could not see, but who stood behind her, recommended
cucumber-pickle and aqua regia.

Orloff felt suddenly with a clear flash the strong silent voice of his
soul speaking. In order to strengthen the flickering flame, he rubbed
his forehead briskly; then he left the room suddenly, ran across the
yard, and disappeared down the street.

“Oh, Lord!… The cobbler’s taken ill now!… He’s run off to the
Infirmary!” cried loudly the cook.

Matrona stood near her, with wide-open eyes, and trembling in her whole

“You’re a liar!” she said angrily, though her white lips could
scarcely pronounce the words. “My Grischka could not catch this filthy
complaint. He’d never give way to it.”

But the cook was not listening to her; she had already gone off
somewhere else, talking excitedly as she went along. Five minutes later
quite a crowd of neighbours and passers-by had assembled before the
merchant Petounukoff’s house. There they stood, whispering together
under their breath, and on each of their faces one could read the
same feeling of terror, nervous excitement and hopeless misery–mixed
with secret rage on the part of some, and of fictitious boldness on
that of others. Tschischik ran backwards and forwards between the
courtyard and the sick man’s room, bringing each time to the curious
crowd of onlookers some fresh piece of news about the condition of the

The crowd stood tightly pressed together, and filled the dusty,
foul-smelling air of the street with its half-uttered whispers. From
time to time a loud oath from some undistinguishable quarter was heard;
an oath as senseless as it was malicious.

“Look there; there’s Orloff coming!”

Orloff drove up on an ambulance-van covered over with a white awning,
which stopped at the door of the old house. He was seated by the side
of the driver, a dark-looking man, who was also dressed in white linen.

“Make way there! Get out of the way!” shouted the driver of the
carriage, in a deep bass voice to the bystanders.

He drove right into the midst of the crowd, so that they scattered
to right and left, falling over each other. The sight of the
ambulance-van, and the rough voice of the driver, both helped to calm
the excited feelings of the onlookers, and many of them left their
posts of observation. Close behind the driver was to be seen the
medical student, who had the day before visited the Orloffs. His hat
was on the back of his head, big drops of perspiration stood out on his
forehead. He wore a long, dazzlingly white coat, in front of which a
big hole had been burnt out with some strong acid.

“Now then, Orloff! Where’s the sick man?” asked the student in a loud
voice, throwing a critical glance at the bystanders, who were loitering
about in small knots, partially concealed behind the comers of the

“Look out! There’s the cook coming,” cried some one.

“Take care, or he’ll cook you something you don’t like!” replied a
second voice in a vicious tone.

The would-be wit, who is always to be found in a crowd, shouted out,
“Just wait; he’ll cook a broth for you that won’t agree with your

The crowd laughed, but it was a mirthless laugh, a mixture of fear and
of distrust.

“They don’t seem to be afraid of the infection themselves…. That’s
rather difficult to understand,” some one in the crowd remarked, with a
meaning look, but in a voice that betrayed hatred. Under the impression
of this question the faces in the crowd took on once more threatening
expressions, and the conversation fell to low whispers.

“Look, they are bringing him out now!”

“Orloff is carrying him! Just look what a bold fellow he is!”

“It’s true, he has plenty of courage.”

“What does it matter for a sot like him? What has he to be afraid of?”

“Carefully, carefully, Orloff! Lift his legs higher … that’s right
Ate you ready?… Drive on, Peter!” the student ordered. “Tell the
doctor I will follow him directly…. I beg of you, Mr. Orloff, to stay
here for a time and help me to disinfect the place…. You might take
this opportunity of learning what to do in case of necessity some other
time. Is it agreed? Yes?”

“We can set about it at once,” said Orloff with visible pride, glancing
round at the crowd.

“I will help too!” cried Tschischik.

He had followed the ambulance-van up to the door of the Infirmary,
and had already returned in time to offer his services to the medical
student The latter looked at him over his spectacles.

“Who are you, my little chap?”

“I am the apprentice here at the painter’s,” replied Tschischik.

“And you are not afraid of the cholera?”

“I … afraid?” replied Senka, astonished. “I am not afraid of anything
in the world.”

“Is that so?… Well, that’s all right…. Just listen now, my friends.”

The student sat down on a barrel which stood in the yard, and, whilst
he rocked himself backwards and forwards on it, he began to explain
to Orloff and Tschischik how, before everything else, they must be
scrupulously clean in their own persons.

A few minutes later Matrona, smiling anxiously, joined the group in
the courtyard. The cook followed her, wiping her tear-stained eyes with
a damp apron. One by one the crowd followed, approaching the group
where sat the student, with furtive steps as a cat might approach a
sparrow. After about a dozen people had collected, the student became
more enthusiastic and interested, for he observed the increasing
attention paid to what he was saying. Standing in their midst, and
gesticulating as he spoke, he gave a sort of lecture, raising by turns
a laugh, or calling forth an expression of distrust.

“The principal thing, gentlemen, in all cases of illness is cleanliness
in your own persons, and good fresh air,” thus he instructed his

“But those who keep clean manage to die all the same!” remarked one of
the audience.

“Ah! dear Lord!” sighed the painter’s cook out loud. “It would be
better to pray to the holy martyr St. Barbara to save us from a sudden

Orloff stood near his wife, and though apparently occupied with his own
thoughts, watched the student with a fixed stare. Suddenly he felt some
one pull his sleeve.

“Little Uncle Grigori!” whispered Tschischik in his ear, standing on
tiptoe, and looking at the cobbler with small round eyes that glowed
like burning coals. “The poor Mitri Pavlovitch is going to die. He has
no relations–what will become of his accordion?”

“Keep quiet, you little imp!” Orloff replied, and pushed him on one

Senka looked in at the window of the room from which they had just
carried out the accordion-player, his eyes searching round with a
covetous glance.

“Well, as a final word of caution, my friends, use plenty of chloride
of lime!” the student’s voice was heard once more saying.

Continue Reading

But ever more

The Orloffs had been married three years. They had had a child, which
died at the age of a year and a half. Neither of them grieved over it
much, for they consoled themselves with the thought that they would
soon get another one. The cellar in which they lived was a great long,
dusty room with a cobwebby ceiling. Close against the door stood, with
its front towards the window, a huge Russian oven; between it and
the wall a narrow passage led into a square room which obtained its
light from two of the windows that looked on to the courtyard. Through
these windows the light fell in two dim streaks into the cellar, which
was damp, clammy, and death-like in its stillness…. Life flowed by
somewhere, far, far away out there and above; here, in this hole only
vague, dull sounds found an entrance, and blending with the dust of
th? court, pressed in on the senses of the Orloffs in formless and
colourless waves. Opposite the stove stood, behind a brown curtain with
a pattern of roses, a great wooden double bedstead; over against the
bed, and near the other wall stood a table, at which the Orloffs drank
their tea and ate their dinner, and between the bed and the opposite
wall, in a sort of frame formed by two rays of light, the couple sat
and worked.

Blackbeetles wandered about, nibbling the paste with which old
newspapers had been stuck against the walls. Flies hovered over
everything, buzzing in a melancholy drone; and the pictures, which were
decorated with the spots they left, looked against the dirty green
background of the walls like dark blotches.

The day’s work of the Orloffs left nothing to wish for in the way of
monotony. Matrona got up at six o’clock, washed herself, and prepared
the samovar; this utensil had more than once in the heat of strife,
received some hard hits, and was in consequence covered with patches
of solder. While the water was heating in the samovar, she had already
swept out the room and prepared breakfast Then she awoke her husband.
By the time he was up and washed, the samovar was boiling and hissing
on the table. Then they drank their tea and ate their white bread, of
which they consumed a whole pound. Grigori was a skilled worker, and
never therefore without work. Whilst they were drinking their tea he
apportioned out the day’s labour; he did the finer parts which required
a master hand, whilst his wife’s share lay in twisting the waxed
threads, and in finishing off pieces of work which did not require so
much skill. They also spoke during breakfast of what they should have
for their dinner. In the winter, when the stomach required more, this
was a fairly interesting subject, but in the summer when the stove,
for motives of economy, was only lit on high days and holidays, and
not always then, they lived mostly on cold meats, on kwass, varied
with salt-fish and onions; sometimes they boiled, on some neighbour’s
fire in the courtyard, a piece of meat. As soon as their breakfast
was finished they sat down to work, Grigori astride on a log of wood
covered with bits of leather, Matrona on a low stool beside him. At
first they would work in silence, for what had they to talk about? They
might sometimes exchange a few words about their work, and then silence
would once more reign for half-an-hour or more. The blows of the hammer
fell with a dull sound, the thread squeaked as it was drawn through the
tight-stretched leather. Grigori yawned now and then, and after each
yawn would close his mouth with a loud noise. Matrona sighed and was

Often Orloff would begin a song; he possessed a powerful metallic
voice, and did not sing badly. The words of the song poured forth
rapidly and plaintively in a ringing recitative from Grischka’s
whole chest, or they flowed evenly in loud, strong wailings, whose
melancholy sounds found their way out of the cellar windows into
the courtyard. Matrona in a weak soft alto would sing second to
her husband. Both faces at such times would wear a thoughtful, sad
expression, and Grischka’s dark eyes would grow moist His wife,
absorbed in the world of sound, would sit in a half-conscious state,
swaying from side to side; sometimes she would appear completely lost
in the music, suddenly pausing on a note, and then slowly falling
once more into the words of the song her husband was singing. Neither
of them felt at such times the presence of the other; they were each
pouring forth what seemed to be the whole emptiness and dreariness
of their joyless lives, and through the words of the song they were
seeking for an outlet for their own half-conscious feelings and
thoughts. At times Grischka would improvise–

“Ah! to think of my life, my cursed Life! And the ache in my soul, that
cursed ache! Ah! this bitter ache! Ah! this ache and sorrow….!”

But Matrona did not love these improvisings, and she generally asked

“Why do you howl then like a dog, when death is about?”

He immediately answered her angrily–

“Thick-headed creature! What do you understand about things–an old
scarecrow like you?”

“Oh, howl and howl away, and then bark if you like!”

“Hold your tongue! Am I an apprentice, that you want to begin to teach
me now, eh?… Just mind your own business!”

Matrona saw that his eyes flashed angrily, and that the veins of his
neck were swelling. She was silent for some time, refusing to answer
the questions of her husband, whose anger had disappeared as quickly
as it had arisen. She turned away her face so as not to meet his eyes,
which were full of love and of self-reproach for the cruel words he had
just spoken. She heeded not his signals of reconciliation, and though
awaiting impatiently his smile, trembled with fear lest he should once
more lose his temper over this game which she was playing out with
him. But it was pleasant to her to sit opposite to him in this defiant
mood, and to watch how he longed to make peace with her; it seemed like
living, it awoke feeling and gave an object to her thoughts.

They were both young and healthy, they both loved each other and were
proud of each other. Grischka was such a handsome, hearty, strong
fellow, and Matrona was a plump little woman with a clear, fair
complexion, and warm sympathy in her grey eyes; “a fine little woman”
as all the neighbours used to call her. They loved each other, but
their life was so monotonous and tedious, so entirely bereft of all
deep interests and outside influences, which might have given them the
possibility of diverting occasionally their thoughts from each other,
of getting change, which is the natural desire of every human heart,
of, in a word–living. It is in fact a psychological fact that man and
wife, though they may have attained a high degree of culture, without
such an inner life, such an interest, must inevitably grow tired of,
and burdensome to each other. If the Orloffs had had an object in life,
if it had only been in the empty toil of hoarding halfpence in order
to collect capital–life would certainly have appeared easier to them.
But as it was, they were deprived even of this interest, which might
have proved a bond between them. As each had the other always before
his eyes, they had grown to know each other’s every movement, every
gesture. One day followed the other, and brought nothing into their
lives either of change or of excitement Sometimes on holidays they went
to see friends, whose lives were as poor and as empty as their own;
occasionally friends came to see them, drank, sang and beat each other.
And then would follow an endless succession of monotonous grey days,
just like the links of an invisible chain, which made dreary the lives
of these people with work, _ennui,_ and groundless irritation against
each other.

“A regular devil of a life!” Grischka used to say. “Just as if it
were bewitched. Whatever was life given to us for? Work and weariness;
weariness and work….” And after he had been silent for some time he
continued with a blank look on his face, and with downcast eyes–“Well,
it was God’s decree that my mother should bear me … so it’s no use
complaining about that! Then I learnt my trade…. Why was that?…
Are there not enough cobblers in the world without me?… So then I
became a cobbler…. And what next?… What good fortune is there for
me in that?… I sit here in a hole and stitch boots…. And by and by
I shall die. There is what they call cholera in the town…. Perhaps
it will find us out.;. Then they will merely say–‘There was once a
certain Grigori Orloff, who made boots, and who died of cholera.’ …
What sense is there in that? Why is it necessary that I should live,
make boots and die? Eh?…”

Matrona was silent? she was always upset when her husband spoke in
that tone; often she begged him not to talk like that, for it was like
speaking against God, who knew best how men’s lives should be arranged.
Sometimes, when not too depressed, she would interject a remark full
of common-sense–“You shouldn’t drink vodka, then you would live more
happily, and not frighten yourself with such thoughts. Others live and
don’t complain; they save money, open a shop, and in time become their
own masters.”

“Stop talking nonsense, you stupid woman!” Grischka would exclaim
angrily. “Just consider a moment how can I possibly live without drink,
when that is my only pleasure? You talk about others … how many
do you know pray, who have been fortunate enough to make themselves
independent? Was I not before my marriage quite a different sort of
fellow? I will just tell you the truth; it is you who give me so much
trouble, and who embitter my life … you ugly frog!…”

Matrona felt herself wronged when she heard these words. He was
certainly right in saying that he was jollier and more amiable when he
was drunk. The “others” however of whom she spoke, were a product of
her imagination. And that before his marriage he was more cheerful,
more entertaining, more good-natured–that also was true…. Now
however he had really grown like a wild beast…. “Am I indeed then
such a burden to him?” thought Matrona to herself. Her heart ached at
this painful thought–she felt pity for him and for herself. She went
up to him looked smilingly into his eyes, and pressed her head tenderly
against his breast.

“Just look at that now! She finds time for wheedling me, the little
cow!…” grumbled Grischka, pretending to push her away from him. But
she knew very well that he would not do so, and pressed closer against

Then his eyes would suddenly brighten; he would throw his work on one
side, take her on his knee, and kiss her long and passionately; at the
same time sighing deeply and low, as if he feared that some one might
hear him, whilst he whispered in her ear–

“Ah, Motrja! here we are living like cat and dog together … we tear
each other like wild beasts; why is that so?… It seems to be my
fate…. Every man it seems is born under a certain star, and that star
is his fate.”

But this explanation was but poor comfort, and whilst he clasped his
wife closer to him, he fell into a dull state of despondency. For
a long time they sat thus in the dim twilight, surrounded by the
oppressive atmosphere of their cellar. Matrona only sighed and was
silent Sometimes however at these happy moments, the memory of her
undeserved sufferings and blows came across her and she would begin to
cry and sob softly. Her gentle reproaches moved him, and his caresses
became more and more warm. She however would go on complaining, and
make statements which finally exhausted his patience.

“Shut up with your whining!” he cried harshly; “I suffer, very likely,
a thousand times more than you do, when I beat you…. Now be quiet,
will you? If one gives in the least bit to a woman, she will take
advantage of you at once. Leave off reproaching me! What is a man to do
whose life is a burden to him?”

Another time, perhaps, his heart would melt under the torrent of
her tears, and pitiful complaints. Then he would say humbly and

“What on earth am I to do, with the unfortunate disposition that I
possess? I have hurt you often, that is certain…. I know very well
that you are the only one in the world who cares for me, though I often
seem to forget it But it’s like this, Motrja; sometimes it seems as if
I could no longer bear the sight of you … as if I had had enough of
you for ever. And then, such a rage comes into my soul, as if I could
tear you and myself to pieces; and the more you are in the right, the
stronger the desire grows in me to beat you.”

She did not quite understand what he meant to express; but the
contrite, loving tone in which he spoke, touched her deeply.

“God grant that we may both improve; that we may grow used to each
other,” she said. “Perhaps it would be better if we had a child …
then we should have something to care for, and to interest us,” she
continued with a sigh.

“Well then, bring one into the world!”

“How can I bear a child, when you knock me about so?… always
striking me on the body and on the loins…. If only you would give up
kicking me so constantly!…”

“How can one arrange the exact place where one kicks a person?”

Grischka tried to excuse himself in a grumbling voice. “At any rate I
am not a brute! I don’t do it for my pleasure, but only when that ache
comes over me … and I can’t help myself then….”

“How is it that that aching feeling comes over you?” asked Matrona

“You see, that’s my fate, Motrja,” Grischka philosophized. “My fate
and my disposition. Am I worse than others?… Worse, for instance,
than Lewtschenko, the ‘Little Russian’? Certainly he takes life more
easily than I do, and does not know what this ache is. He is alone in
the world, and has no wife, no relations…. But without you I should
certainly die…. Yes, that ‘Little Russian’ is happy enough; he smokes
his pipe, and laughs, is lively and contented, the devil he is!… But
I can’t live like that…. I certainly was born with unrest in my soul,
and have got that sort of disposition. Lewtschenko’s nature is just
like a straight stick; mine is like a spring; the least pressure on
it makes it start vibrating…. For instance, I go along the street,
and see beautiful things on every hand–and nothing of it all belongs
to me. That makes me feel injured. The ‘Little Russian,’ he does not
need any of those things. But it makes me furious to think how that
moustached fellow is so entirely without needs, whilst I … ah! I
don’t even know what I want…. I should like to have everything, yes,
everything! But I sit here in this hole and work from morning till
night, and it all leads to nothing. We sit here together, you and I,
you my wife … and what is the good of it all? What is there in you
to give me pleasure? You are a woman, like all the rest of women. You
can offer me nothing new; I know you through and through. I even know
how you will sneeze to-morrow. I know it so well, because I have heard
you sneeze a thousand times in the same way before…. What interest
can I find in such a life? That’s what is wanting to me–interest in
life. Yes … and that’s why I go to the vodka-shop, because it’s more
cheerful there….”

“Then why on earth did you marry?” asked Matrona.

“Why?” Grischka asked mockingly. “The devil only knows why! I have
often said I ought not to have done so. I ought instead to have joined
the ranks of the tramps, where I should have suffered hunger, but I
should have been free! Go where you will…. The whole world lies open
before you!”

“Go then!… Set me free!” cried Matrona, with difficulty suppressing a

“Where would you go then?” asked Grischka with angry interest.

“That’s my business!”

“Where?” he shouted at her, a wild hatred flashing from his eyes.

“Don’t shout so; I’m not afraid of you!”

“Have you already taken up with some one else?… Out with it!”

“Just let me go!”

“Where shall I let you go?” Grischka continued to shout.

He tore the handkerchief from her head, and in his fury caught her by
the hair. His blows awoke her whole spirit of opposition, and all that
was worst in her; and the feeling of this anger gave her real pleasure,
thrilled every fibre of her soul. Instead of quenching his jealousy
with a few conciliatory words, she fed it all the more, whilst she
smiled in his face with a peculiarly meaning smile. His rage grew more
and more furious, and he beat her unmercifully.

But in the night, when she, with her bruised and ill-used body, lay
groaning by his side, he would watch her from the corner of his eye,
and sigh heavily. His conscience troubled him, and he felt a painful
feeling of shame, as he realized that there was not the smallest
foundation for his jealousy, and that he had once more unjustly beaten
his wife.

“Now then, stop sobbing!” he said in a remorseful tone. “Is it my
fault if I have that sort of character?… And it’s a great deal your
fault…. Instead of speaking to me quietly, you try and aggravate me.
What is it makes you behave like that?”

She did not answer, though she was quite conscious why she acted thus.
She knew that she was looking forward to the pitying and passionate
caresses with which he would seal her forgiveness. For the sake of
these caresses she was prepared to allow herself to be beaten every
day till the blood flowed, and she shed precious tears in the sole
expectation of this joy of reconciliation.

“How do you feel now?… Come now, be quiet, Motrja! Come, my treasure,
forgive me?… do forgive me now!”

He stroked her hair, kissed her tenderly, whilst he ground his teeth
with the bitterness which was eating into his soul.

The window of their room stood open, but the sky was hidden by the
thick wall of the neighbouring houses, and in the cellar it was, as
usual, dark, damp, and sticky.

“Ah! this life; it’s a veritable prison!” whispered Grischka, unable to
put into words all the pain that was oppressing his soul, “This hole
that we live in is the cause of it all, Motrja! Whatever do we stay
here for?… It’s just as if we were buried alive!”

“Well, let’s go into other lodgings,” remarked Motrja through her
tears, taking his words literally.

“It’s not that, dear…. I did not mean that exactly…. For even if
we were to live in a garret we should still be living in a hole, and
all would remain exactly the same I It’s not only the lodgings … our
whole life is like a hole….”

Matrona began to think over his words, and finally remarked, “God grant
that we may improve … that we may get used to each other.”

“Yes, that things may improve … you have often said that already. It
doesn’t look much like it, Motrja…. The scandals we create become
more and more frequent.”

Motrja could not deny this. The intervals between her beatings grew
ever shorter and shorter, and Grischka would frequently begin the
trouble quite early on Saturday morning. He would commence by saying–

“This evening, as soon as I have finished work, I am off to the
vodka-shop across the way, and I mean to have such a bout!”

Motrja blinked her eyes, and was silent “Have you nothing to say about
it? Well, well! It’s better to be silent…. It’s better for you!” he
added threateningly. As the evening hour approached, he grew more
and more excited. He would speak to her over and over again of his
intention to get drunk. He knew only too well how painful it was to
her to hear such words, and he noticed how she went about in obstinate
silence, with a cold glance in her grey eyes, attending to her duties
in the cellar; and this made him feel all the more furious.

In the evening Senka Tschischik, the herald of misfortune to the
inhabitants of the court, was able to report another battle having been
fought at the Orloffs’.

When Grischka had beaten his wife black and blue, he disappeared
sometimes for the whole night, not even coming back to the house for
Sunday. Finally he would return, dirty, and with bloodshot eyes, to
his home. Matrona would receive him in silence, wearing a severe
expression, but full of secret pity. She knew that under these
circumstances he would like nothing better than a drop of spirits, and
already had a bottle of vodka prepared for him.

“Come, pour me out a glass!” he cried in a hoarse voice, and after
swallowing two, he would sit down to work.

The whole of that day he would be troubled with pricks of conscience,
which often became so severe and painful that he could not bear
himself. He would throw down his work, and uttering wild words of
self-reproach would pace up and down the room, or would throw himself
on the bed. Motrja would give him time to get over this attack of
remorse, and then they would make it up again.

At first these reconciliations were full of much that was tender
and sweet, but after a time this delight disappeared entirely, and
they simply made it up, because it was impossible to remain a whole
week–that is to say, till the following Saturday–without speaking to
each other.

“Are you going to destroy yourself, then, altogether with that vodka?”
sighed Motrja.

“It’s possible,” replied Grischka, spitting on one side, with the look
of a man to whom it was quite immaterial whether he destroyed himself
or not “And you will end by running away from me?…” he continued
generally, exaggerating the picture of the future, and looking
searchingly into her eyes.

For some time past she had cast down her eyes whenever he had spoken
in this way; though at first she had never done so. Grischka, when he
noticed this, frowned threateningly, and ground his teeth ominously. As
a matter of fact Matrona was just now doing her very best to win back
his heart She visited the fortune-teller’s and wise women, and brought
back with her all sorts of charms and spells in order to gain this
object When none of these had any effect she paid for a mass in honour
of the martyr St Boniface, the patron saint against drunkenness;
during the whole mass she knelt in a dark corner of the church crying
bitterly, whilst her trembling lips moved in wordless prayer.

But ever more and more often her soul became possessed with a cold
feeling of hatred against Grischka, which awoke within her dark
thoughts. She felt ever less and less pity towards this man, who three
years ago, with his joyful laugh and his loving words, had given to
her whole life such full delight and pleasure…. Thus lived, from one
day’s end to another, these two children of men, who at heart were
neither of them evilly disposed; whilst they waited with fatalistic
simplicity for something to happen, which would break into and dispel
their present meaningless, and terrible life.

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In the courtyard

Almost every Saturday, just before supper-time, the dirty old house
of the merchant Petounukoff was the scene of a violent and murderous
attack. From the two cellar windows there rang forth into the narrow
courtyard, surrounded by old tumble-down hovels, and filled with all
sorts of rubbish, the horrible screams of a woman.

“Let me alone! Let me alone! you devil!” she shrieked in a high treble

“Leave go of me then!” answered the tenor voice of a man.

“I won’t let go of you, you wretch! you monster!”

“Shut up, and leave go of me!”

“Not if you kill me–I won’t let you go!”

“What, you won’t? Then take that, you heretic!”

“Help! He is killing me! Help!”

“Will you let go of me then?”

“You may go on beating me, you dog, till you have killed me!”

“I can’t do that in a hurry–you take more killing than that!”

At the first words of such a dialogue, the painter Soutchkoff’s
apprentice, Senka Tschischik, who from one day’s end to the other
was busy in one of the sheds in the yard rubbing and mixing colours,
used to rush out in hot haste, and whilst his little black mouse eyes
flashed, he would shout with all his might, so that his voice rang
right across the court–

“There’s another row up at Orloff’s the cobbler.”

The little Tschischik was an ardent lover of every sort of adventure
and story. As soon as there appeared to be trouble at the Orloffs he
would run quickly to the window of their dwelling, lie down on his
stomach, poke his mischievous shock head of hair and his thin face,
smeared with ochre and vermilion, as far as he could into the gloom
of the cellar, and watch with curiosity all that went on in the dark,
damp hole, from which arose a smell of musty cobbler’s wax and of sour
batter. There, on the floor of this hole were to be seen two figures,
rolling over each other on the ground, groaning and cursing.

“You want to kill me, then?” gasped at this moment, in a warning,
breathless voice, the woman.

“Don’t be afraid!” the man mockingly reassured her in a tone of
suppressed violence.

Heavy dull blows were then heard, falling on something soft; then sobs
and sighs, and the panting of a man, who seemed to be making efforts to
move a heavy object.

“Blast it all! Now he has given her a good one!–with the boot-last,”
cried Tschischik, watching what was going on in the cellar, whilst
the public who had gathered round–the porter, Lewtschenko, the
accordion-player Kisljakoff, a couple of tailor’s apprentices, and
other amateurs of gratuitous amusement,–were all impatient to get
news from Senka, and pulled him, now by his legs and now by his
many-coloured trousers.

“Well, what’s going on now? what’s he doing to her this time?” they
would ask.

“Now he is sitting astride of her, and is banging her nose into the
ground,” explained Senka, who with true enjoyment was taking in every
action of the play.

The public pushed nearer to the windows of the Orloffs’ dwelling. They
burned with curiosity to see with their own eyes all the developments
of the struggle, and although they knew well of old every point in the
attack and defence in the war which Grischka Orloff waged against his
wife, they always appeared equally surprised and astonished.

“No, but what a devil he is! He has beaten her again, has he not, till
she is bleeding?” asked one of them.

“Her nose is all over blood…. It is running down,” Senka informed

“Ah! good heavens! What a terror, what a wretch he is!” cried some
women, full of sympathy.

The men regarded the matter from a more abstract and philosophic point
of view.

“He will certainly end by killing her,” they said.

The accordion-player remarked in a prophetic voice–

“He’ll stick a knife into her some day; you take my word for it He’ll
get tired of always knocking her about, and some day will put an end to
the whole business in a hurry.”

“Now he has let go of her,” said Senka in a whisper, springing up
from the ground, and bounding on one side like an india-rubber ball.
Immediately afterwards he took up another post of observation in a
corner of the court, for he knew that Grischka Orloff would now appear
above ground.

Most of the spectators went off rapidly, for they had no desire to come
face to face with the enraged cobbler. Now that the fight was over
Grischka had lost all interest in their eyes, and besides it was not
without danger to come across him under these circumstances.

So it happened that when Orloff emerged from his cellar, there was
generally, with the exception of Senka, no living soul to be seen in
the courtyard. Breathing heavily, his shirt torn, his hair tumbled,
with fresh scratches on his still excited and perspiring face, Grischka
Orloff, with bloodshot eyes would glance suspiciously round the court.
With his hands behind his back, he would walk slowly towards an old
sledge which was leaning against the wall of a dilapidated wool-shed.
Sometimes he would whistle and throw threatening glances around, as if
he were challenging all the dwellers in Petounukoff’s house to battle.
Then he would sit down on the sledge, and with the sleeve of his shirt
wipe the blood away from his face. He would remain for a long time
motionless, glowering darkly at the wall of the opposite house, where
the plaster was crumbling away, and where a variety of colours had been
smeared on by the house-painter Soutchkoff’s apprentices, who had the
habit, when they left off work, of cleaning their brushes on this part
of the wall.

The cobbler Orloff was about thirty years old. His dark, nervous,
finely-cut face was adorned with a black moustache, under which showed
full red lips. Above a prominent nose thick black eyebrows were drawn
close together; dark restless flashing eyes looked out from under them.
The curly hair that hung forward on his forehead fell behind over his
brown strong neck in thick ringlets. Orloff was of middle height, a
little bent with a slight stoop–the result of his special work,–
muscular and full-blooded; but now he sat on the sledge as if in a dull
state of stupor, and gazed blankly at the variegated wall, his breath
coming in heavy gasps and throbs.

The sun had already gone off the courtyard, in which there still
reigned a dull twilight; a mingled smell of oil-paint, of tar, of
sauerkraut and of rotting vegetable matter hung heavy on the sultry
evening air. From the windows of the two-storied dwelling there came
a sound of song and of oaths, which rang through the court, whilst a
drunken man thrust an inquiring head out of a window from behind a
corner, looked across at Orloff, and then disappeared with a mocking

The time came for the painters to leave their work; they passed by
Orloff, throwing mocking glances at him, winking meaningly at one
another, and filled the courtyard with the sounds of their Kostroma
dialect Then they separated–each going his own way, the one to the
bath, the other to the vodka-shop.

Later on, the tailors came down from the second storey into the
courtyard; half-dressed, bow-legged fellows who were making merry over
the dialect of their painter comrades. The whole court was once more
filled with noise, jovial laughter and jokes. Orloff sat silent in his
corner, taking no notice of any one. No one went near him, no one dared
to joke with him, for all knew that at these moments he was like a
raging animal.

Completely swayed by his dark desperate mood, which seemed to weigh
on his breast and oppress his breathing, he sat there as if rooted to
the spot.

From time to time his nostrils swelled and his lips parted,
showing two rows of big yellow teeth. A dark indescribable feeling
of anguish seemed to hold him inexorably; red spots swam before his
eyes. A sense of utter melancholy took possession of him, and to this
was added a burning thirst for vodka. He knew that he would feel more
lighthearted when he had had something to drink, but he was ashamed
while it was still light to show his torn and ragged condition in the
street, where every one knew him personally as Grigori Orloff the
cobbler. He had a feeling of his own dignity, and would not expose
himself as a butt for general mirth. But neither could he go home to
wash and dress himself,–for there, lying bleeding on the ground, was
his wife whom he had greviously ill-used, and whom, at any price, he
must not look on at present.

There, no doubt, she is lying groaning, and he feels that she is a
martyr, and that he has been a thousand times guilty towards her. All
this he realizes quite clearly and distinctly. He knows well that where
she is concerned he has much to blame himself, and this consideration
increases even more the hatred which he feels towards her. A vague but
dominating feeling of anger gnaws his soul, prevailing over every other
feeling, whilst an inconsolable melancholy overwhelms his inmost being,
and he gives way consciously to the dull heavy misery which has taken
possession of him, but against which he knows no other remedy than–a
pint of vodka….

The accordion-player Kisljakoff crosses the yard. He is wearing a
velvet tunic without sleeves; a red silk shirt and wide trousers tucked
into his stockings; on his feet are smartly-polished shoes. Under his
arm he carries in a green bundle his accordion; he has twisted up his
black moustache, his cap is worn jauntily on one side, and his whole
countenance beams with the joy of living. Orloff liked his brisk
liveliness, his cordial ways, and his playing, and he envied him his
bright, happy-go-lucky life, free from all care.

“I greet thee, Grischka, proud conqueror, returning blood-stained from
the fray!” cried jokingly the accordion-player.

Orloff did not feel angry with Kisljakoff’s joke, though he had heard
it already for the fiftieth time. He knew that the accordion-player
meant no harm, but only wanted to have a little innocent fun with him.

“Well, brother; so you have been acting Plevna again?” Kisljakoff asked
the cobbler, as he remained for a moment standing before him.

“Ah! Grischka, you are indeed a melancholy-looking swain!… Come along
with me to the only place which is of any good to such as you and me
… we will go and have a drop together!”

“It’s too early yet,” objected Orloff, without moving his head.

“I shall await thee then with silent longing!…” said Kisljakoff,
turning away.

After a time Orloff followed him. As soon as he had left, there issues
from the cellar a short, plump woman’s form. A handkerchief is bound
tightly round her head, allowing only one eye and a piece of her
cheek to be seen; she walks with tottering steps, leaning for support
against the wall, crosses the courtyard, going straight to the place
where a short time before her husband had sat, and sits down precisely
in the same spot No one is surprised at her appearance, they are all
accustomed to it, and they know she will sit there till Grischka, drunk
and repentant, returns from the dram-shop. She has come up into the
courtyard, because the air is too heavy in the cellar, and because she
will have to guide the drunken steps of Grischka on his return.

The steps are very steep and half broken away; once before, when
Grischka returned from the dram-shop he fell down, and sprained his
arm, so that he could not work for a fortnight, and she, in order that
they might live, had been obliged to pawn everything they possessed.
From that time Matrona had taken good care of him. Sometimes one of
the inhabitants of the house would come and speak to her; generally
it was Lewtschenko, a retired, bearded non-commissioned officer, a
very sensible worthy “Little Russian,” with a smooth shaven head and a
purple nose.

He would sit down, with a yawn and a stretch, and remark–“Well, have
you been catching it again?”

“What’s that to you?” Matrona would reply in an unfriendly tone.

“Nothing in the world!” said the “Little Russian,” and then they both
remained silent for a while.

Matrona would gasp; something seemed to be choking her breath.

“What a pity it is to think that you are always at loggerheads with
one another! Can’t you alter things?” the “Little Russian” would begin

“That’s our business,” replied Orloff’s wife shortly.

“Of course it is! Of course it’s your business…” agreed Lewtschenko,
nodding his head to show that he was entirely at one with her on this

“What are you driving at?” continued Matrona in an angry voice.

“La! la! la! What a bad temper you are in! You won’t let one say a
word to you! Whenever I see you and Grischka, I say to myself, what
a pair they are! They worry each other like two dogs! You ought both
to be beaten twice a day, morning and evening–then perhaps the desire
for quarrelling would be knocked out of you.” And he went away angrily
and Matrona was glad; for several times there had been whisperings
and gossipings in die court, caused by Lewtschenko’s attempts to be
friendly; so she was vexed with him, as she was with everybody who
mixed themselves up with her affairs.

Lewtschenko, in spite of his forty years, walked with a soldierly
stride to a corner of the yard, when suddenly Tschischik, the painter’s
apprentice, ran like a ball between his legs.

“That was a nasty one she gave you, little uncle!” he whispered with a
precocious air to the non-commissioned officer, winking cunningly in
the direction of Matrona.

“You’ll get something nasty from me, if you don’t look out! do you
understand!” the “Little Russian” threatened him, though he was really
laughing behind his moustache. He liked the lively little lad, who knew
all the secrets of the court, and he really enjoyed having a gossip
with him.

“There is nothing to be done with her,” continued Senka, without
paying any attention to Lewtschenko’s threat, and going on with his
revelations. “Maximka, the painter, has also tried–but what did he
get for his pains?… a box on the ear!… I saw it myself….”

The, but half grown, lively little lad of twelve absorbed greedily all
the filth and evil with which his life was surrounded, just as a sponge
absorbs the water in which it lies; and the delicate wrinkles on his
forehead showed that Senka Tschischik had already begun to think.

In the courtyard it grew dark. Overhead was stretched a square patch of
dark blue sky on which twinkled the shimmering glory of the stars. The
courtyard itself with its steep walled sides looked like a deep pit, at
the bottom of which sat, huddled up in a corner, the form of Matrona,
resting after the beating she had received, and awaiting the return of
her drunken husband….

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