In a small, decently furnished room several young men were sitting before the fire. The winter evening was only just beginning; the samovar was boiling on the table, the conversation had hardly taken a definite turn, but passed lightly from one subject to another. They began discussing exceptional people, and in what way they differed from ordinary people. Every one expounded his views to the best of his abilities; they raised their voices and began to be noisy. A small, pale man, after listening long to the disquisitions of his companions, sipping tea and smoking a cigar the while, suddenly got up and addressed us all (I was one of the disputants) in the following words:–
‘Gentlemen! all your profound remarks are excellent in their own way, but unprofitable.
Every one, as usual, hears his opponent’s views, and every one retains his own convictions. But it’s not the first time we have met, nor the first time we have argued, and so we have probably by now had ample opportunity for expressing our own views and learning those of others. Why, then, do you take so much trouble?’
Uttering these words, the small man carelessly flicked the ash off his cigar into the fireplace, dropped his eyelids, and smiled serenely. We all ceased speaking.
‘Well, what are we to do then, according to you?’ said one of us; ‘play cards, or what? go to sleep? break up and go home?’
‘Playing cards is agreeable, and sleep’s always salutary,’ retorted the small man; ‘but it’s early yet to break up and go home. You didn’t understand me, though. Listen: I propose, if it comes to that, that each of you should describe some exceptional personality, tell us of any meeting you may have had with any remarkable man. I can assure you even the feeblest description has far more sense in it than the finest argument.’
‘It’s a strange thing,’ observed one of us, an inveterate jester; ‘except myself I don’t know a single exceptional person, and with my life you are all, I fancy, familiar already. However, if you insist–‘
‘No!’ cried another, ‘we don’t! But, I tell you what,’ he added, addressing the small man, ‘you begin. You have put a stopper on all of us, you’re the person to fill the gap. Only mind, if we don’t care for your story, we shall hiss you.’
‘If you like,’ answered the small man. He stood close to the fire; we sat round him and kept quiet. The small man looked at all of us, glanced at the ceiling, and began as follows:–
‘Ten years ago, my dear friends, I was a student at Moscow. My father, a virtuous landowner of the steppes, had handed me over to a retired German professor, who, for a hundred roubles a month, undertook to lodge and board me, and to watch over my morals. This German was the fortunate possessor of an exceedingly solemn and decorous manner; at first I went in considerable awe of him. But on returning home one evening, I saw, with indescribable emotion, my preceptor sitting with three or four companions at a round table, on which there stood a fair-sized collection of empty bottles and half-full glasses. On seeing me, my revered preceptor got up, and, waving his arms and stammering, presented me to the honourable company, who all promptly offered me a glass of punch. This agreeable spectacle had a most illuminating effect on my intelligence; my future rose before me in the most seductive images. And, as a fact, from that memorable day I enjoyed unbounded freedom, and all but worried my preceptor to death. He had a wife who always smelt of smoke and pickled cucumbers; she was still youngish, but had not a single front tooth in her head. All German women, as we know, very quickly lose those indispensable ornaments of the human frame. I mention her, solely because she fell passionately in love with me and fed me almost into my grave.’
‘To the point, to the point,’ we shouted. ‘Surely it’s not your own adventures you’re going to tell us?’
‘No, gentlemen!’ the small man replied composedly. ‘I am an ordinary mortal. And so I lived at my German’s, as the saying is, in clover. I did not attend lectures with too much assiduity, while at home I did positively nothing. In a very short time, I had got to know all my comrades and was on intimate terms with all of them. Among my new friends was one rather decent and good-natured fellow, the son of a town provost on the retired list. His name was Bobov. This Bobov got in the habit of coming to see me, and seemed to like me. I, too … do you know, I didn’t like him, nor dislike him; I was more or less indifferent…. I must tell I hadn’t in all Moscow a single relation, except an old uncle, who used sometimes to ask me for money. I never went anywhere, and was particularly afraid of women; I also avoided all acquaintance with the parents of my college friends, ever after one such parent (in my presence) pulled his son’s hair–because a button was off his uniform, while at the very time I hadn’t more than six buttons on my whole coat. In comparison with many of my comrades, I passed for being a person of wealth; my father used to send me every now and then small packets of faded blue notes, and consequently I not only enjoyed a position of independence, but I was continually surrounded by toadies and flatterers…. What am I saying?–why, for that matter, so was my bobtail dog Armishka, who, in spite of his setter pedigree, was so frightened of a shot, that the very sight of a gun reduced him to indescribable misery. Like every young man, however, I was not without that vague inward fermentation which usually, after bringing forth a dozen more or less shapeless poems, passes off in a peaceful and propitious manner. I wanted something, strove towards something, and dreamed of something; I’ll own I didn’t know precisely what it was I dreamed of. Now I understand what was lacking:–I felt my loneliness, thirsted for the society of so-called live people; the word Life waked echoes in my heart, and with a vague ache I listened to the sound of it…. Valerian Nikitich, pass me a cigarette.’
Lighting the cigarette, the small man continued:
‘One fine morning Bobov came running to me, out of breath: “Do you know, old man, the great news? Kolosov has arrived.” “Kolosov? and who on earth is Mr. Kolosov?”
‘”You don’t know him? Andriusha Kolosov! Come, old boy, let’s go to him directly. He came back last night from a holiday engagement.” “But what sort of fellow is he?” “An exceptional man, my boy, let me assure you!” “An exceptional man,” I answered; “then you go alone. I’ll stop at home. I know your exceptional men! A half-tipsy rhymester with an everlastingly ecstatic smile!” … “Oh no! Kolosov’s not like that.” I was on the point of observing that it was for Mr. Kolosov to call on me; but, I don’t know why, I obeyed Bobov and went. Bobov conducted me to one of the very dirtiest, crookedest, and narrowest streets in Moscow…. The house in which Kolosov lodged was built in the old-fashioned style, rambling and uncomfortable. We went into the courtyard; a fat peasant woman was hanging out clothes on a line stretched from the house to the fence…. Children were squalling on the wooden staircase…’
‘Get on! get on!’ we objected plaintively.
‘I see, gentlemen, you don’t care for the agreeable, and cling solely to the profitable. As you please! We groped our way through a dark and narrow passage to Kolosov’s room; we went in. You have most likely an approximate idea of what a poor student’s room is like. Directly facing the door Kolosov was sitting on a chest of drawers, smoking a pipe. He gave his hand to Bobov in a friendly way, and greeted me affably. I looked at Kolosov and at once felt irresistibly drawn to him. Gentlemen! Bobov was right: Kolosov really was a remarkable person. Let me describe a little more in detail…. He was rather tall, slender, graceful, and exceedingly good-looking. His face…I find it very difficult to describe his face. It is easy to describe all the features one by one; but how is one to convey to any one else what constitutes the distinguishing characteristic, the essence of just _that_ face?’
‘What Byron calls “the music of the face,”‘ observed a tightly buttoned-up, pallid gentleman.
‘Quite so…. And therefore I will confine myself to a single remark: the especial “something” to which I have just referred consisted in Kolosov’s case in a carelessly gay and fearless expression of face, and also in an exceedingly captivating smile. He did not remember his parents, and had had a wretched bringing-up in the house of a distant relative, who had been degraded from the service for taking bribes. Up to the age of fifteen, he had lived in the country; then he found his way into Moscow, and after two years spent in the care of an old deaf priest’s wife, he entered the university and began to get his living by lessons. He gave instruction in history, geography, and Russian grammar, though he had only a dim notion of these branches of science; but in the first place, there is an abundance of ‘textbooks’ among us in Russia, of the greatest usefulness to teachers; and secondly, the requirements of the respectable merchants, who confided their children’s education to Kolosov, were exceedingly limited. Kolosov was neither a wit nor a humorist; but you cannot imagine how readily we all fell under that fellow’s sway. We felt a sort of instinctive admiration of him; his words, his looks, his gestures were all so full of the charm of youth that all his comrades were head over ears in love with him. The professors considered him as a fairly intelligent lad, but ‘of no marked abilities,’ and lazy.
Kolosov’s presence gave a special harmony to our evening reunions. Before him, our liveliness never passed into vulgar riotousness; if we were all melancholy–this half childlike melancholy, in his presence, led on to quiet, sometimes fairly sensible, conversation, and never ended in dejected boredom. You are smiling, gentlemen–I understand your smile; no doubt, many of us since then have turned out pretty cads! But youth … youth….’
‘Oh, talk not to me of a name great in story! The days of our youth are the days of our glory….’
commented the same pallid gentleman.
‘By Jove, what a memory he’s got! and all from Byron!’ observed the storyteller. ‘In one word, Kolosov was the soul of our set. I was attached to him by a feeling stronger than any I have ever felt for any woman. And yet, I don’t feel ashamed even now to remember that strange love–yes, love it was, for I recollect I went through at that time all the tortures of that passion, jealousy, for instance. Kolosov liked us all equally, but was particularly friendly with a silent, flaxen-haired, and unobtrusive youth, called Gavrilov. From Gavrilov he was almost inseparable; he would often speak to him in a whisper, and used to disappear with him out of Moscow, no one knew where, for two or three days at a time…. Kolosov did not care to be questioned, and I was lost in surmises. It was not simple curiosity that disturbed me. I longed to become the friend, the attendant squire of Kolosov; I was jealous of Gavrilov; I envied him; I could never find an explanation to satisfy me of Kolosov’s strange absences. Meanwhile he had none of that air of mysteriousness about him, which is the proud possession of youths endowed with vanity, pallor, black hair, and ‘expressive’ eyes, nor had he anything of that studied carelessness under which we are given to understand that vast forces are slumbering; no, he was quite open and free; but when he was possessed by passion, an intense, impulsive energy was apparent in everything about him; only he did not waste his energies in vain, and never under any circumstances became high-flown or affected. By the way … tell me the truth, hasn’t it happened to you to sit smoking a pipe with an air of as weary solemnity as if you had just resolved on a grand achievement, while you were simply pondering on what colour to choose for your next pair of trousers?… But the point is, that I was the first to observe in Kolosov, always cheerful and friendly as he was, these instinctive, passionate impulses…. They may well say that love is penetrating. I made up my mind at all hazards to get into his confidence. It was no use for me to lay myself out to please Kolosov; I had such a childlike adoration for him that he could have no doubt of my devotion … but to my indescribable vexation, I had, at last, to yield to the conviction that Kolosov avoided closer intimacy with me, that he was as it were oppressed by my uninvited attachment. Once, when with obvious displeasure he asked me to lend him money–the very next day he returned me the loan with ironical gratitude. During the whole winter my relations with Kolosov were utterly unchanged; I often compared myself with Gavrilov, and could not make out in what respect he was better than I…. But suddenly everything was changed. In the middle of April, Gavrilov fell ill, and died in the arms of Kolosov, who never left his room for an instant, and went nowhere for a whole week afterwards. We were all grieved for poor Gavrilov; the pale, silent lad seemed to have had a foreboding of his end. I too grieved sincerely for him, but my heart ached with expectation of something…. One ever memorable evening … I was alone, lying on the sofa, gazing idly at the ceiling … some one rapidly opened the door of my room and stood still in the doorway; I raised my head; before me stood Kolosov.
He slowly came in and sat down beside me. ‘I have come to you,’ he began in a rather thick voice, ‘because you care more for me than any of the others do…. I have lost my best friend’–his voice shook a little–‘and I feel lonely…. None of you knew Gavrilov … none of you knew….’ He got up, paced up and down the room, came rapidly towards me again…. ‘Will you take his place?’ he said, and gave me his hand. I leaped up and flung myself on his breast. My genuine delight touched him…. I did not know what to say, I was choking…. Kolosov looked at me and softly laughed. We had tea. At tea he talked of Gavrilov; I heard that that timid, gentle boy had saved Kolosov’s life, and I could not but own to myself that in Gavrilov’s place I couldn’t have resisted chattering about it–boasting of my luck. It struck eight. Kolosov got up, went to the window, drummed on the panes, turned swiftly round to me, tried to say something … and sat down on a chair without a word. I took his hand. ‘Kolosov, truly, truly I deserve your confidence!’ He looked straight into my eyes. ‘Well, if so,’ he brought out at last, ‘take your cap and come along.’ ‘Where to?’ ‘Gavrilov did not ask me.’ I was silent at once. ‘Can you play at cards?’ ‘Yes.’
We went out, took a cab to one of the gates of the town. At the gate we got out. Kolosov went on in front very quickly; I followed him. We walked along the highroad. After we had gone three-quarters of a mile, Kolosov turned off. Meanwhile night had come on. On the right in the fog were the twinkling lights, the innumerable church-spires of the immense city; on the left, two white horses were grazing in a meadow skirting the forest: before us stretched fields covered with greyish mists. I followed Kolosov in silence. He stopped all at once, stretched his hand out in front of him, and said: ‘Here, this is where we are going.’ I saw a small dark house; two little windows showed a dim light in the fog. ‘In this house,’ Kolosov went on, ‘lives a man called Sidorenko, a retired lieutenant, with his sister, an old maid, and his daughter. I shall pass you off as a relation of mine–you must sit down and play at cards with him.’ I nodded without a word.
I wanted to show Kolosov that I could be as silent as Gavrilov…. But I will own I was suffering agonies of curiosity. As we went up to the steps of the house, I caught sight, at a lighted window, of the slender figure of a girl…. She seemed waiting for us and vanished at once. We went into a dark and narrow passage. A crooked, hunchback old woman came to meet us, and looked at me with astonishment. ‘Is Ivan Semyonitch at home?’ inquired Kolosov. ‘He is at home.’… ‘He is at home!’ called a deep masculine voice from within. We went into the dining-room, if dining-room one can call the long, rather dirty room; a small old piano huddled unassumingly in a corner beside the stove; a few chairs stood out along the walls which had once been yellow. In the middle of the room stood a tall, stooping man of fifty, in a greasy dressing-gown. I looked at him more attentively: a morose looking countenance, hair standing up like a brush, a low forehead, grey eyes, immense whiskers, thick lips…. ‘A nice customer!’ I thought. ‘It’s a longish time since we’ve seen you, Andrei Nikolaevitch,’ he observed, holding out his hideous red hand, ‘a longish time it is! And where’s Sevastian Sevastianovitch?’ ‘Gavrilov is dead,’ answered Kolosov mournfully. ‘Dead! you don’t say so! And who’s this?’ ‘My relation–I have the honour to present to you Nikolai Alexei….’ ‘All right, all right,’ Ivan Semyonitch cut him short, ‘delighted, delighted. And does he play cards?’ ‘Play, of course he does!’ ‘Ah, then, that’s capital; we’ll sit down directly. Hey! Matrona Semyonovna–where are you? the card-table–quick!… And tea!’ With these words Mr. Sidorenko walked into the next room. Kolosov looked at me. ‘Listen,’ he said, ‘you can’t think how ashamed I am!’… I shut him up. ‘Come, you there, what’s your name, this way,’ called Ivan Semyonitch. I went into the drawing-room. The drawing-room was even smaller than the dining-room. On the walls hung some monstrosities of portraits; in front of the sofa, of which the stuffing protruded in several places, stood a green table; on the sofa sat Ivan Semyonitch, already shuffling the cards. Near him on the extreme edge of a low chair sat a spare woman in a white cap and a black gown, yellow and wrinkled, with short-sighted eyes and thin cat-like lips. ‘Here,’ said Ivan Semyonitch, ‘let me introduce him; the first man’s dead; Andrei Nikolaevitch has brought us another; let’s see how he plays!’ The old lady bowed awkwardly and cleared her throat. I looked round; Kolosov was no longer in the room. ‘Stop that coughing, Matrona Semyonovna; sheep cough,’ grumbled Sidorenko. I sat down; the game began. Mr. Sidorenko got fearfully hot and furious at my slightest mistake; he pelted his sister with abusive epithets, but she had apparently had time to get used to her brother’s amenities, and only blinked in response. But when he announced to Matrona Semyonovna that she was ‘Antichrist,’ the poor old woman fired up. ‘Ivan Semyonitch,’ she protested with heat, ‘you were the death of your wife, Anfisa Karpovna, but you shan’t worry me into my grave!’ ‘Indeed?’ ‘No! you shan’t.’ ‘Indeed?’ ‘No! you shan’t.’ They kept it up in this fashion for some time. My position was, as you perceive, not merely an unenviable one: it was positively idiotic. I couldn’t conceive what had induced Kolosov to bring me…. I have never been a good card-player; but on that occasion I was aware myself that I was playing excruciatingly badly. ‘No!’ the retired lieutenant repeated continually,’ you can’t hold a candle to Sevastianovitch! No! you play carelessly!’ I, you may be sure, was inwardly wishing him at the devil. This torture continued for two hours; they beat me hollow. Before the end of the last rubber, I heard a slight sound behind my chair–I looked round and saw Kolosov; beside him stood a girl of seventeen, who was watching me with a scarcely perceptible smile. ‘Fill me my pipe, Varia,’ muttered Ivan Semyonitch. The girl promptly flew off into the other room. She was not very pretty, rather pale, rather thin; but never before or since have I seen such hair, such eyes. We finished the rubber somehow; I paid up, Sidorenko lighted his pipe and grumbled:
‘Well, now it’s time for supper!’ Kolosov presented me to Varia, that is, to Varvara Ivanovna, the daughter of Ivan Semyonitch. Varia was embarrassed; I too was embarrassed. But in a few minutes Kolosov, as usual, had got everything and everyone into full swing; he sat Varia down to the piano, begged her to play a dance tune, and proceeded to dance a Cossack dance in competition with Ivan Semyonitch. The lieutenant uttered little shrieks, stamped and cut such incredible capers that even Matrona Semyonovna burst out laughing and retreated to her own room upstairs. The hunchback old woman laid the table; we sat down to supper. At supper Kolosov told all sorts of nonsensical stories; the lieutenant’s guffaws were deafening; I peeped from under my eyelids at Varia. She never took her eyes off Kolosov … and from the expression of her face alone, I could divine that she both loved him and was loved by him. Her lips were slightly parted, her head bent a little forward, a faint colour kept flitting across her whole face; from time to time she sighed deeply, suddenly dropped her eyes, and softly laughed to herself…. I rejoiced for Kolosov…. But at the same time, deuce take it, I was envious….
After supper, Kolosov and I promptly took up our caps, which did not, however, prevent the lieutenant from saying, with a yawn: ‘You’ve paid us a long visit, gentlemen; it’s time to say good-bye.’ Varia accompanied Kolosov into the passage: ‘When are you coming, Andrei Nikolaevitch?’ she whispered to him. ‘In a few days, for certain.’ ‘Bring him too,’ she added, with a very sly smile. ‘Of course, of course.’ … ‘Your humble servant!’ thought I….
On the way home, I heard the following story. Six months before, Kolosov had become acquainted with Mr. Sidorenko in a rather queer way. One rainy evening, Kolosov was returning home from shooting, and had reached the gate of the city, when suddenly, at no great distance from the highroad, he heard groans, interspersed with curses. He had a gun; without thinking long, he made straight for the sound, and found a man lying on the ground with a dislocated ankle. This man was Mr. Sidorenko. With great difficulty he got him home, handed him over to the care of his frightened sister and his daughter, and ran for the doctor…. Meantime it was nearly morning; Kolosov was almost dropping with fatigue. With the permission of Matrona Semyonovna, he lay down on the sofa in the parlour, and slept till eight o’clock. On waking up he would at once have gone home; but they kept him and gave him some tea. In the night he had twice succeeded in catching a glimpse of the pale face of Varvara Ivanovna; he had not particularly noticed her, but in the morning she made a decidedly agreeable impression on him. Matrona Semyonovna garrulously praised and thanked Kolosov; Varvara sat silent, pouring out the tea, glanced at him now and then, and with timid shame-faced attentiveness handed him first a cup of tea, then the cream, then the sugar-basin. Meanwhile the lieutenant waked up, loudly called for his pipe, and after a short pause bawled: ‘Sister! hi, sister!’ Matrona Semyonovna went to his bedroom. ‘What about that…what the devil’s his name? is he gone?’ ‘No, I’m still here,’ answered Kolosov, going up to the door; ‘are you better now?’ ‘Yes,’ answered the lieutenant; ‘come in here, my good sir.’ Kolosov went in. Sidorenko looked at him, and reluctantly observed: ‘Well, thanks; come sometimes and see me–what’s your name? who the devil’s to know?’ ‘Kolosov,’ answered Andrei. ‘Well, well, come and see us; but it’s no use your sticking on here now, I daresay they’re expecting you at home.’ Kolosov retreated, said good-bye to Matrona Semyonovna, bowed to Varvara Ivanovna, and returned home. From that day he began to visit Ivan Semyonitch, at first at long intervals, then more and more frequently. The summer came on; he would sometimes take his gun, put on his knapsack, and set off as if he were going shooting. He would go to the retired lieutenant’s, and stay on there till evening.
Varvara Ivanovna’s father had served twenty-five years in the army, had saved a small sum of money, and bought himself a few acres of land a mile and a half from Moscow. He could scarcely read and write; but in spite of his external clumsiness and coarseness, he was shrewd and cunning, and even, on occasion, capable of sharp practice, like many Little Russians. He was a fearful egoist, obstinate as an ox, and in general exceedingly impolite, especially with strangers; I even detected in him something like a contempt for the whole human race. He indulged himself in every caprice, like a spoilt child; would know no one, and lived for his own pleasure. We were once somehow or other talking about marriages with him; ‘Marriage … marriage,’ said he; ‘whom the devil would I let my daughter marry? Eh? what should I do it for? for her husband to knock her about as I used to my wife? Besides, whom should I be left with?’ Such was the retired lieutenant, Ivan Semyonitch. Kolosov used to go and see him, not on his account, of course, but for the sake of his daughter. One fine evening, Andrei was sitting in the garden with her, chatting about something; Ivan Semyonitch went up to him, looked sullenly at Varia, and called Andrei away. ‘Listen, my dear fellow,’ he said to him; ‘you find it good fun, I see, gossiping with my only child, but I’m dull in my old age; bring some one with you, or I’ve nobody to deal a card to; d’ye hear? I shan’t give admittance to you by yourself.’ The next day Kolosov turned up with Gavrilov, and poor Sevastian Sevastianovitch had for a whole autumn and winter been playing cards in the evenings with the retired lieutenant; that worthy treated him without ceremony, as it is called–in other words, fearfully rudely. You now probably realise why it was that, after Gavrilov’s death, Kolosov took me with him to Ivan Semyonitch’s. As he communicated all these details, Kolosov added, ‘I love Varia, she is the dearest girl; she liked you.’
I have forgotten, I fancy, to make known to you that up to that time I had been afraid of women and avoided them, though I would sometimes, in solitude, spend whole hours in dreaming of tender interviews, of love, of mutual love, and so on. Varvara Ivanovna was the first girl with whom I was forced to talk, by necessity–by necessity it really was. Varia was an ordinary girl, and yet there are very few such girls in holy Russia. You will ask me–why so? Because I never noticed in her anything strained, unnatural, affected; because she was a simple, candid, rather melancholy creature, because one could never call her ‘a young lady.’ I liked her soft smile; I liked her simple-hearted, ringing little voice, her light and mirthful laugh, her attentive though by no means ‘profound’ glances. The child promised nothing; but you could not help admiring her, as you admire the sudden, soft cry of the oriole at evening, in the lofty, dark birch-wood. I must confess that at the present time I should pass by such a creature with some indifference; I’ve no taste now for solitary evening strolls, and orioles; but in those days …
I’ve no doubt, gentlemen, that, like all well-educated persons, you have been in love at least once in the course of your life, and have learnt from your own experience how love springs up and develops in the human heart, and therefore I’m not going to enlarge too much on what took place with me at that time. Kolosov and I used to go pretty often to Ivan Semyonitch’s; and though those damned cards often drove me to utter despair, still, in the mere proximity of the woman one loves (I had fallen in love with Varia) there is a sort of strange, sweet, tormenting joy. I made no effort to suppress this growing feeling; besides, by the time I had at last brought myself to call the emotion by its true name, it was already too strong…. I cherished my love in silence, and jealously and shyly concealed it. I myself enjoyed this agonising ferment of silent passion. My sufferings did not rob me of my sleep, nor of my appetite; but for whole days together I was conscious of that peculiar physical sensation in my breast which is a symptom of the presence of love. I am incapable of depicting the conflict of various sensations which took place within me when, for example, Kolosov came in from the garden with Varia, and her whole face was aglow with ecstatic devotion, exhaustion from excess of bliss…. She so completely lived in his life, was so completely taken up with him, that unconsciously she adopted his ways, looked as he looked, laughed as he laughed…. I can imagine the moments she passed with Andrei, the raptures she owed to him…. While he … Kolosov did not lose his freedom; in her absence he did not, I suppose, even think of her; he was still the same unconcerned, gay, and happy fellow we had always known him.
And, as I have already told you, we used, Kolosov and I, to go pretty often to Ivan Semyonitch’s. Sometimes, when he was out of humour, the retired lieutenant did not make me sit down to cards; on such occasions, he would shrink into a corner in silence, scowling and looking crossly at every one. The first time I was delighted at his letting me off so easily; but afterwards I would sometimes begin myself begging him to sit down to whist, the part of third person was so insupportable! I was so unpleasantly in Kolosov’s and Varia’s way, though they did assure each other that there was no need to mind me!…
Meanwhile time went on…. They were happy…. I have no great fondness for describing other people’s happiness. But then I began to notice that Varia’s childish ecstasy had gradually given way to a more womanly, more restless feeling. I began to surmise that the new song was being sung to the old tune–that is, that Kolosov was…little by little…cooling. This discovery, I must own, delighted me; I did not feel, I must confess, the slightest indignation against Andrei.
The intervals between our visits became longer and longer…. Varia began to meet us with tear-stained eyes. Reproaches were heard … Sometimes I asked Kolosov with affected indifference, ‘Well, shall we go to Ivan Semyonitch’s to-day?’ … He looked coldly at me, and answered quietly, ‘No, we’re not going.’ I sometimes fancied that he smiled slily when he spoke to me of Varia…. I failed generally to fill Gavrilov’s place with him…. Gavrilov was a thousand times more good-natured and foolish than I.
Now allow me a slight digression…. When I spoke of my university comrades, I did not mention a certain Mr. Shtchitov. He was five-and-thirty; he had been a student for ten years already. I can see even now his rather long pale face, his little brown eyes, his long hawk nose crooked at the end, his thin sarcastic lips, his solemn upstanding shock of hair, and his chin that lost itself complacently in the wide striped cravat of the colour of a raven’s wing, the shirt front with bronze buttons, the open blue frock-coat and striped waistcoat…. I can hear his unpleasantly jarring laugh…. He went everywhere, was conspicuous at all possible kinds of ‘dancing classes.’ … I remember I could not listen to his cynical stories without a peculiar shudder…. Kolosov once compared him to an unswept Russian refreshment bar … a horrible comparison! And with all that, there was a lot of intelligence, common sense, observation, and wit in the man…. He sometimes impressed us by some saying so apt, so true and cutting, that we were all involuntarily reduced to silence and looked at him with amazement. But, to be sure, it is just the same to a Russian whether he has uttered an absurdity or a clever thing. Shtchitov was especially dreaded by those self-conscious, dreamy, and not particularly gifted youths who spend whole days in painfully hatching a dozen trashy lines of verse and reading them in sing-song to their ‘friends,’ and who despise every sort of positive science. One such he simply drove out of Moscow, by continually repeating to him two of his own lines. Yet all the while Shtchitov himself did nothing and learnt nothing…. But that’s all in the natural order of things. Well, Shtchitov, God only knows why, began jeering at my romantic attachment to Kolosov. The first time, with noble indignation, I told him to go to the devil; the second time, with chilly contempt, I informed him that he was not capable of judging of our friendship–but I did not send him away; and when, on taking leave of me, he observed that without Kolosov’s permission I didn’t even dare to praise him, I felt annoyed; Shtchitov’s last words sank into my heart.–For more than a fortnight I had not seen Varia…. Pride, love, a vague anticipation, a number of different feelings were astir within me … with a wave of the hand and a fearful sinking at my heart, I set off alone to Ivan Semyonitch’s.
I don’t know how I made my way to the familiar little house; I remember I sat down several times by the road to rest, not from fatigue, but from emotion. I went into the passage, and had not yet had time to utter a single word when the door of the drawing-room flew open and Varia ran to meet me. ‘At last,’ she said, in a quavering voice; ‘where’s Andrei Nikolaevitch?’ ‘Kolosov has not come,’ I muttered with an effort. ‘Not come!’ she repeated. ‘Yes … he told me to tell you that … he was detained….’ I positively did not know what I was saying, and I did not dare to raise my eyes. Varia stood silent and motionless before me. I glanced at her: she turned away her head; two big tears rolled slowly down her cheeks. In the expression of her face there was such sudden, bitter suffering; the conflict between bashfulness, sorrow, and confidence in me was so simply, so touchingly apparent in the unconscious movement of her poor little head that it sent a pang to my heart. I bent a little forward … she gave a hurried start and ran away. In the parlour I was met by Ivan Semyonitch. ‘How’s this, my good sir, are you alone?’ he asked me, with a queer twitch of his left eyelid. ‘Yes, I’ve come alone,’ I stammered. Sidorenko went off into a sudden guffaw and departed into the next room.
I had never been in such a foolish position; it was too devilishly disgusting! But there was nothing to be done. I began walking up and down the room. ‘What was the fat pig laughing at?’ I wondered. Matrona Semyonovna came into the room with a stocking in her hands and sat down in the window. I began talking to her. Meanwhile tea was brought in. Varia came downstairs, pale and sorrowful. The retired lieutenant made jokes about Kolosov. ‘I know,’ said he, ‘what sort of customer he is; you couldn’t tempt him here with lollipops now, I expect!’ Varia hurriedly got up and went away. Ivan Semyonitch looked after her and gave a sly whistle. I glanced at him in perplexity. ‘Can it be,’ I wondered, ‘that he knows all about it?’ And the lieutenant, as though divining my thoughts, nodded his head affirmatively. Directly after tea I got up and took leave. ‘You, my good sir, we shall see again,’ observed the lieutenant. I did not say a word in reply…. I began to feel simply frightened of the man.
On the steps a cold and trembling hand clutched at mine; I looked round: Varia. ‘I must speak to you,’ she whispered. ‘Come to-morrow rather earlier, straight into the garden. After dinner papa is asleep; no one will interfere with us.’ I pressed her hand without a word, and we parted.
Next day, at three o’clock in the afternoon, I was in Ivan Semyonitch’s garden. In the morning I had not seen Kolosov, though he had come to see me. It was a grey autumn day, but soft and warm. Delicate yellow blades of grass nodded over the blanching turf; the nimble tomtits were hopping about the bare dark-brown twigs; some belated larks were hurriedly running about the paths; a hare was creeping cautiously about among the greens; a herd of cattle wandered lazily over the stubble. I found Varia in the garden under the apple-tree on the little garden-seat; she was wearing a dark dress, rather creased; her weary eyes, the dejected droop of her hair, seemed to express genuine suffering.
I sat down beside her. We were both silent. For a long while she kept twisting a twig in her hand; she bent her head, and uttered: ‘Andrei Nikolaevitch….’ I noticed at once, by the twitching of her lips, that she was getting ready to cry, and began consoling her, assuring her hotly of Andrei’s devotion…. She heard me, nodded her head mournfully, articulated some indistinct words, and then was silent but did not cry. The first moments I had dreaded most of all had gone off fairly well. She began little by little to talk about Andrei. ‘I know that he does not love me now,’ she repeated: ‘God be with him! I can’t imagine how I am to live without him…. I don’t sleep at nights, I keep weeping…. What am I to do! What am I to do! …’ Her eyes filled with tears. ‘I thought him so kind … and here …’ Varia wiped her eyes, cleared her throat, and sat up. ‘It seems such a little while ago,’ she went on: ‘he was reading to me out of Pushkin, sitting with me on this bench….’ Varia’s naïve communicativeness touched me. I listened in silence to her confessions; my soul was slowly filled with a bitter, torturing bliss; I could not take my eyes off that pale face, those long, wet eyelashes, and half-parted, rather parched lips…. And meanwhile I felt … Would you care to hear a slight psychological analysis of my emotions at that moment? in the first place I was tortured by the thought that it was not I that was loved, not I that as making Varia suffer: secondly, I was delighted at her confidence; I knew she would be grateful to me for giving her an opportunity of expressing her sorrow: thirdly, I was inwardly vowing to myself to bring Kolosov and Varia together again, and was deriving consolation from the consciousness of my magnanimity … in the fourth place, I hoped, by my self-sacrifice, to touch Varia’s heart; and then … You see I do not spare myself; no, thank God! it’s high time!
But from the bell-tower of the monastery near it struck five o’clock; the evening was coming on rapidly. Varia got up hastily, thrust a little note into my hand, and went off towards the house. I overtook her, promised to bring Andrei to her, and stealthily, like a happy lover, crept out by the little gate into the field. On the note was written in an unsteady hand the words: To Andrei Nikolaevitch.
Next day I set off early in the morning to Kolosov’s. I’m bound to confess that, although I assured myself that my intentions were not only honourable, but positively brimful of great-hearted self-sacrifice, I was yet conscious of a certain awkwardness, even timidity. I arrived at Kolosov’s. There was with him a fellow called Puzyritsin, a former student who had never taken his degree, one of those authors of sensational novels of the so-called ‘Moscow’ or ‘grey’ school. Puzyritsin was a very good-natured and shy person, and was always preparing to be an hussar, in spite of his thirty-three years. He belonged to that class of people who feel it absolutely necessary, once in the twenty-four hours, to utter a phrase after the pattern of, ‘The beautiful always falls into decay in the flower of its splendour; such is the fate of the beautiful in the world,’ in order to smoke his pipe with redoubled zest all the rest of the day in a circle of ‘good comrades.’ On this account he was called an idealist. Well, so Puzyritsin was sitting with Kolosov reading him some ‘fragment.’ I began to listen; it was all about a youth, who loves a maiden, kills her, and so on. At last Puzyritsin finished and retreated. His absurd production, solemnly bawling voice, his presence altogether, had put Kolosov into a mood of sarcastic irritability. I felt that I had come at an unlucky moment, but there was nothing to be done for it; without any kind of preface, I handed Andrei Varia’s note.
Kolosov looked at me in perplexity, tore open the note, ran his eyes over it, said nothing, but smiled composedly. ‘Oh, ho!’ he said at last; ‘so you’ve been at Ivan Semyonitch’s?’
‘Yes, I was there yesterday, alone,’ I answered abruptly and resolutely.
‘Ah!…’ observed Kolosov ironically, and he lighted his pipe. ‘Andrei,’ I said to him, ‘aren’t you sorry for her?… If you had seen her tears…’
And I launched into an eloquent description of my visit of the previous day. I was genuinely moved. Kolosov did not speak, and smoked his pipe.
‘You sat with her under the apple-tree in the garden,’ he said at last. ‘I remember in May I, too, used to sit with her on that seat…. The apple-tree was in blossom, the fresh white flowers fell upon us sometimes; I held both Varia’s hands… we were happy then…. Now the apple-blossom is over, and the apples on the tree are sour.’
I flew into a passion of noble indignation, began reproaching Andrei for coldness, for cruelty, argued with him that he had no right to abandon a girl so suddenly, after awakening in her a multitude of new emotions; I begged him at least to go and say good-bye to Varia. Kolosov heard me to the end.
‘Admitting,’ he said to me, when, agitated and exhausted, I flung myself into an armchair, ‘that you, as my friend, may be allowed to criticise me. But hear my defence, at least, though…’
Here he paused for a little while and smiled curiously. ‘Varia’s an excellent girl,’ he went on, ‘and has done me no wrong whatever…. On the contrary, I am greatly, very greatly indebted to her. I have left off going to see her for a very simple reason–I have left off caring for her….’
‘But why? why?’ I interrupted him.
‘Goodness knows why. While I loved her, I was entirely hers; I never thought of the future, and everything, my whole life, I shared with her … now this passion has died out in me…. Well, you would tell me to be a humbug, to play at being in love, wouldn’t you? But what for? from pity for her? If she’s a decent girl, she won’t care for such charity herself, but if she is glad to be consoled by my … my sympathy, well, she’s not good for much!’
Kolosov’s carelessly offhand expressions offended me, perhaps, the more because they were applied to the woman with whom I was secretly in love…. I fired up. ‘Stop,’ I said to him; ‘stop! I know why you have given up going to see Varia.’
‘Taniusha has forbidden you to.’
In uttering these words, I fancied I was dealing a most cutting blow at Andrei. Taniusha was a very ‘easy-going’ young lady, black-haired, dark, five-and-twenty, free in her manners, and devilishly clever, a Shtchitov in petticoats. Kolosov quarrelled with her and made it up again half a dozen times in a month. She was passionately fond of him, though sometimes, during their misunderstandings, she would vow and declare that she thirsted for his blood…. And Andrei, too, could not get on without her. Kolosov looked at me, and responded serenely, ‘Perhaps so.’
‘Not perhaps so,’ I shouted, ‘but certainly!’
Kolosov at last got sick of my reproaches…. He got up and put on his cap.
‘Where are you going?’
‘For a walk; you and Puzyritsin have given me a headache between you.’
‘You are angry with me?’
‘No,’ he answered, smiling his sweet smile, and holding out his hand to me.
‘Well, anyway, what do you wish me to tell Varia?’
‘Eh?’ … He thought a little. ‘She told you,’ he said, ‘that we had read Pushkin together…. Remind her of one line of Pushkin’s.’ ‘What line? what line?’ I asked impatiently. ‘This one:
“What has been will not be again.”‘
With those words he went out of the room. I followed him; on the stairs he stopped.
‘And is she very much upset?’ he asked me, pulling his cap over his eyes.
‘Very, very much!…’
‘Poor thing! Console her, Nikolai; you love her, you know.’
‘Yes, I have grown fond of her, certainly….’
‘You love her,’ repeated Kolosov, and he looked me straight in the face. I turned away without a word, and we separated.
On reaching home, I was in a perfect fever.
‘I have done my duty,’ I thought; ‘I have overcome my own egoism; I have urged Andrei to go back to Varia!… Now I am in the right; he that will not when he may…!’ At the same time Andrei’s indifference wounded me. He had not been jealous of me, he told me to console her…. But is Varia such an ordinary girl, is she not even worthy of sympathy?… There are people who know how to appreciate what you despise, Andrei Nikolaitch!… But what’s the good? She does not love me…. No, she does not love me now, while she has not quite lost hope of Kolosov’s return…. But afterwards…who knows, my devotion will touch her. I will make no claims…. I will give myself up to her wholly, irrevocably…. Varia! is it possible you will not love me?…never!…never!…
Such were the speeches your humble servant was rehearsing in the city of Moscow, in the year 1833, in the house of his revered preceptor. I wept…I felt faint… The weather was horrible…a fine rain trickled down the window panes with a persistent, thin, little patter; damp, dark-grey storm-clouds hung stationary over the town. I dined hurriedly, made no response to the anxious inquiries of the kind German woman, who whimpered a little herself at the sight of my red, swollen eyes (Germans–as is well known–are always glad to weep). I behaved very ungraciously to my preceptor…and at once after dinner set off to Ivan Semyonitch… Bent double in a jolting droshky, I kept asking myself whether I should tell Varia all as it was, or go on deceiving her, and little by little turn her heart from Andrei… I reached Ivan Semyonitch’s without knowing what to decide upon… I found all the family in the parlour. On seeing me, Varia turned fearfully white, but did not move from her place; Sidorenko began talking to me in a peculiarly jeering way. I responded as best I could, looking from time to time at Varia, and almost unconsciously giving a dejected and pensive expression to my features. The lieutenant started whist again. Varia sat near the window and did not stir. ‘You’re dull now, I suppose?’ Ivan Semyonitch asked her twenty times over.
At last I succeeded in seizing a favourable opportunity.
‘You are alone again,’ Varia whispered to me.
‘Yes,’ I answered gloomily; ‘and probably for long.’
She swiftly drew in her head.
‘Did you give him my letter?’ she asked in a voice hardly audible.
‘Well?’… she gasped for breath. I glanced at her…. There was a sudden flash of spiteful pleasure within me.
‘He told me to tell you,’ I pronounced deliberately, ‘that “what has been will not be again….”‘
Varia pressed her left hand to her heart, stretched her right hand out in front, staggered, and went quickly out of the room. I tried to overtake her…. Ivan Semyonitch stopped me. I stayed another two hours with him, but Varia did not appear. On the way back I felt ashamed … ashamed before Varia, before Andrei, before myself; though they say it is better to cut off an injured limb at once than to keep the patient in prolonged suffering; but who gave me a right to deal such a merciless blow at the heart of a poor girl?… For a long while I could not sleep … but I fell asleep at last. In general I must repeat that ‘love’ never once deprived me of sleep.
I began to go pretty often to Ivan Semyonitch’s. I used to see Kolosov as before, but neither he nor I ever referred to Varia. My relations with her were of a rather curious kind. She became attached to me with that sort of attachment which excludes every possibility of love. She could not help noticing my warm sympathy, and talked eagerly with me … of what, do you suppose?… of Kolosov, nothing but Kolosov! The man had taken such possession of her that she did not, as it were, belong to herself. I tried in vain to arouse her pride … she was either silent or, if she talked–chattered on about Kolosov. I did not even suspect in those days that sorrow of that kind–talkative sorrow–is in reality far more genuine than any silent suffering. I must own I passed many bitter moments at that time. I was conscious that I was not capable of filling Kolosov’s place; I was conscious that Varia’s past was so full, so rich … and her present so poor…. I got to the point of an involuntary shudder at the words ‘Do you remember’ … with which almost every sentence of hers began. She grew a little thinner during the first days of our acquaintance … but afterwards got better again, and even grew cheerful; she might have been compared then with a wounded bird, not yet quite recovered. Meanwhile my position had become insupportable; the lowest passions gradually gained possession of my soul; it happened to me to slander Kolosov in Varia’s presence. I resolved to cut short such unnatural relations. But how? Part from Varia–I could not…. Declare my love to her–I did not dare; I felt that I could not, as yet, hope for a return. Marry her…. This idea alarmed me; I was only eighteen; I felt a dread of putting all my future into bondage so early; I thought of my father, I could hear the jeering comments of Kolosov’s comrades…. But they say every thought is like dough; you have only to knead it well–you can make anything you like of it. I began, for whole days together, to dream of marriage…. I imagined what gratitude would fill Varia’s heart when I, the friend and confidant of Kolosov, should offer her my hand, knowing her to be hopelessly in love with another. Persons of experience, I remembered, had told me that marriage for love is a complete absurdity; I began to indulge my fancy; I pictured to myself our peaceful life together in some snug corner of South Russia; an mentally I traced the gradual transition in Varia’s heart from gratitude to affection, from affection to love…. I vowed to myself at once to leave Moscow, the university, to forget everything and every one. I began to avoid meeting Kolosov.
At last, one bright winter day (Varia had been somehow peculiarly enchanting the previous evening), I dressed myself in my best, slowly and solemnly sallied out from my room, took a first-rate sledge, and drove down to Ivan Semyonitch’s. Varia was sitting alone in the drawing-room reading Karamzin. On seeing me she softly laid the book down on her knees, and with agitated curiosity looked into my face; I had never been to see them in the morning before…. I sat down beside her; my heart beat painfully. ‘What are you reading?’ I asked her at last. ‘Karamzin.’ ‘What, are you taking up Russian literature?…’ She suddenly cut me short. ‘Tell me, haven’t you come from Andrei?’ That name, that trembling, questioning voice, the half-joyful, half-timid expression of her face, all these unmistakable signs of persistent love, pierced to my heart like arrows. I resolved either to part from Varia, or to receive from her herself the right to chase the hated name of Andrei from her lips for ever. I do not remember what I said to her; at first I must have expressed myself in rather confused fashion, as for a long while she did not understand me; at last I could stand it no longer, and almost shouted, ‘I love you, I want to marry you.’ ‘You love me?’ said Varia in bewilderment. I fancied she meant to get up, to go away, to refuse me. ‘For God’s sake,’ I whispered breathlessly, ‘don’t answer me, don’t say yes or no; think it over; to-morrow I will come again for a final answer…. I have long loved you. I don’t ask of you love, I want to be your champion, your friend; don’t answer me now, don’t answer…. Till to-morrow.’ With these words I rushed out of the room. In the passage Ivan Semyonitch met me, and not only showed no surprise at my visit, but positively, with an agreeable smile, offered me an apple. Such unexpected amiability so struck me that I was simply dumb with amazement. ‘Take the apple, it’s a nice apple, really!’ persisted Ivan Semyonitch. Mechanically I took the apple at last, and drove all the way home with it in my hand.
You may easily imagine how I passed all that day and the following morning. That night I slept rather badly. ‘My God! my God!’ I kept thinking; ‘if she refuses me! … I shall die…. I shall die….’ I repeated wearily. ‘Yes, she will certainly refuse me…. And why was I in such a hurry!’… Wishing to turn my thoughts, I began to write a letter to my father–a desperate, resolute letter. Speaking of myself, I used the expression ‘your son.’ Bobov came in to see me. I began weeping on his shoulder, which must have surprised poor Bobov not a little…. I afterwards learned that he had come to me to borrow money (his landlord had threatened to turn him out of the house); he had no choice but to hook it, as the students say….
At last the great moment arrived. On going out of my room, I stood still in the doorway. ‘With what feelings,’ thought I, ‘shall I cross this threshold again to-day?’ … My emotion at the sight of Ivan Semyonitch’s little house was so great that I got down, picked up a handful of snow and pressed it to my face. ‘Oh, heavens!’ I thought, ‘if I find Varia alone–I am lost!’ My legs were giving way under me; I could hardly get to the steps. Things were as I had hoped. I found Varia in the parlour with Matrona Semyonovna. I made my bows awkwardly, and sat down by the old lady. Varia’s face was rather paler than usual…. I fancied that she tried to avoid my eyes…. But what were my feelings when Matrona Semyonovna suddenly got up and went into the next room!… I began looking out of the window–I was trembling inwardly like an autumn leaf. Varia did not speak…. At last I mastered my timidity, went up to her, bent my head….
‘What are you going to say to me?’ I articulated in a breaking voice.
Varia turned away–the tears were glistening on her eyelashes.
‘I see,’ I went on, ‘it’s useless for me to hope.’…
Varia looked shyly round and gave me her hand without a word.
‘Varia!’ I cried involuntarily…and stopped, as though frightened at my own hopes.
‘Speak to papa,’ she articulated at last.
‘You permit me to speak to Ivan Semyonitch?’ …
‘Yes.’… I covered her hands with kisses.
‘Don’t, don’t,’ whispered Varia, and suddenly burst into tears.
I sat down beside her, talked soothingly to her, wiped away her tears…. Luckily, Ivan Semyonitch was not at home, and Matrona Semyonovna had gone up to her own little room. I made vows of love, of constancy to Varia.
…’Yes,’ she said, suppressing her sobs and continually wiping her eyes; ‘I know you are a good man, an honest man; you are not like Kolosov.’… ‘That name again!’ thought I. But with what delight I kissed those warm, damp little hands! with what subdued rapture I gazed into that sweet face!… I talked to her of the future, walked about the room, sat down on the floor at her feet, hid my eyes in my hands, and shuddered with happiness…. Ivan Semyonitch’s heavy footsteps cut short our conversation. Varia hurriedly got up and went off to her own room–without, however, pressing my hand or glancing at me. Mr. Sidorenko was even more amiable than on the previous day: he laughed, rubbed his stomach, made jokes about Matrona Semyonovna, and so on. I was on the point of asking for his blessing there and then, but I thought better of it and deferred doing so till the next day. His ponderous jokes jarred upon me; besides I was exhausted…. I said good-bye to him and went away.
I am one of those persons who love brooding over their own sensations, though I cannot endure such persons myself. And so, after the first transport of heartfelt joy, I promptly began to give myself up to all sorts of reflections. When I had got half a mile from the house of the retired lieutenant, I flung my hat up in the air, in excessive delight, and shouted ‘Hurrah!’ But while I was being jolted through the long, crooked streets of Moscow, my thoughts gradually took another turn. All sorts of rather sordid doubts began to crowd upon my mind. I recalled my conversation with Ivan Semyonitch about marriage in general … and unconsciously I murmured to myself, ‘So he was putting it on, the old humbug!’ It is true that I continually repeated, ‘but then Varia is mine! mine!’ … Yet that ‘but’–alas, that _but_!–and then, too, the words, ‘Varia is mine!’ aroused in me not a deep, overwhelming rapture, but a sort of paltry, egoistic triumph…. If Varia had refused me point-blank, I should have been burning with furious passion; but having received her consent, I was like a man who has just said to a guest, ‘Make yourself at home,’ and sees the guest actually beginning to settle into his room, as if he were at home. ‘If she had loved Kolosov,’ I thought, ‘how was it she consented so soon? It’s clear she’s glad to marry any one…. Well, what of it? all the better for me.’… It was with such vague and curious feelings that I crossed the threshold of my room. Possibly, gentlemen, my story does not strike you as sounding true.
I don’t know whether it sounds true or not, but I know that all I have told is the absolute and literal truth. However, I gave myself up all that day to a feverish gaiety, assured myself that I simply did not deserve such happiness; but next morning….
A wonderful thing is sleep! It not only renews one’s body: in a way it renews one’s soul, restoring it to primaeval simplicity and naturalness. In the course of the day you succeed in _tuning_ yourself, in soaking yourself in falsity, in false ideas … sleep with its cool wave washes away all such pitiful trashiness; and on waking up, at least for the first few instants, you are capable of understanding and loving truth. I waked up, and, reflecting on the previous day, I felt a certain discomfort…. I was, as it were, ashamed of all my own actions. With instinctive uneasiness I thought of the visit to be made that day, of my interview with Ivan Semyonitch…. This uneasiness was acute and distressing; it was like the uneasiness of the hare who hears the barking of the dogs and is bound at last to run out of his native forest into the open country…and there the sharp teeth of the harriers are awaiting him…. ‘Why was I in such a hurry?’ I repeated, just as I had the day before, but in quite a different sense. I remember the fearful difference between yesterday and to-day struck myself; for the first time it occurred to me that in human life there lie hid secrets–strange secrets…. With childish perplexity I gazed into this new, not fantastic, real world. By the word ‘real’ many people understand ‘trivial.’ Perhaps it sometimes is so; but I must own that the first appearance of _reality_ before me shook me profoundly, scared me, impressed me….
What fine-sounding phrases all about love that didn’t come off, to use Gogol’s expression! … I come back to my story. In the course of that day I assured myself again that I was the most blissful of mortals. I drove out of the town to Ivan Semyonitch’s. He received me very gleefully; he had been meaning to go and see a neighbour, but I myself stopped him. I was afraid to be left alone with Varia. The evening was cheerful, but not reassuring. Varia was neither one thing nor the other, neither cordial nor melancholy … neither pretty nor plain. I looked at her, as the philosophers say, objectively–that is to say, as the man who has dined looks at the dishes. I thought her hands were rather red. Sometimes, however, my heart warmed, and watching her I gave way to other dreams and reveries. I had only just made her an offer, as it is called, and here I was already feeling as though we were living as husband and wife … as though our souls already made up one lovely whole, belonged to one another, and consequently were trying each to seek out a separate path for itself….
‘Well, have you spoken to papa?’ Varia said to me, as soon as we were left alone.
This inquiry impressed me most disagreeably…. I thought to myself, ‘You’re pleased to be in a desperate hurry, Varvara Ivanovna.’
‘Not yet,’ I answered, rather shortly, ‘but I will speak to him.’
Altogether I behaved rather casually with her. In spite of my promise, I said nothing definite to Ivan Semyonitch. As I was leaving, I pressed his hand significantly, and informed him that I wanted to have a little talk with him … that was all…. ‘Good-bye!’ I said to Varia.
‘Till we meet!’ said she.
I will not keep you long in suspense, gentlemen; I am afraid of exhausting your patience….We never met again. I never went back to Ivan Semyonitch’s. The first days, it is true, of my voluntary separation from Varia did not pass without tears, self-reproach, and emotion; I was frightened myself at the rapid drooping of my love; twenty times over I was on the point of starting off to see her. Vividly I pictured to myself her amazement, her grief, her wounded feelings; but–I never went to Ivan Semyonitch’s again. In her absence I begged her forgiveness, fell on my knees before her, assured her of my profound repentance–and once, when I met a girl in the street slightly resembling her, I took to my heels without looking back, and only breathed freely in a cook-shop after the fifth jam-puff. The word ‘to-morrow’ was invented for irresolute people, and for children; like a baby, I lulled myself with that magic word. ‘To-morrow I will go to her, whatever happens,’ I said to myself, and ate and slept well to-day. I began to think a great deal more about Kolosov than about Varia … everywhere, continually, I saw his open, bold, careless face. I began going to see him as before. He gave me the same welcome as ever. But how deeply I felt his superiority to me! How ridiculous I thought all my fancies, my pensive melancholy, during the period of Kolosov’s connection with Varia, my magnanimous resolution to bring them together again, my anticipations, my raptures, my remorse!… I had played a wretched, drawn-out part of screaming farce, but he had passed so simply, so well, through it all….
You will say, ‘What is there wonderful in that? your Kolosov fell in love with a girl, then fell out of love again, and threw her over…. Why, that happens with everybody….’ Agreed; but which of us knows just when to break with our past? Which of us, tell me, is not afraid of the reproaches–I don’t mean of the woman–the reproaches of every chance fool? Which of us is proof against the temptation of making a display of magnanimity, or of playing egoistically with another devoted heart? Which of us, in fact, has the force of character to be superior to petty vanity, to _petty fine feelings_, sympathy and self-reproach?… Oh, gentlemen, the man who leaves a woman at that great and bitter moment when he is forced to recognise that his heart is not altogether, not fully, hers, that man, believe me, has a truer and deeper comprehension of the sacredness of love than the faint-hearted creatures who, from dulness or weakness, go on playing on the half-cracked strings of their flabby and sentimental hearts! At the beginning of my story I told you that we all considered Andrei Kolosov an extraordinary man. And if a clear, simple outlook upon life, if the absence of every kind of cant in a young man, can be called an extraordinary thing, Kolosov deserved the name. At a certain age, to be natural is to be extraordinary…. It is time to finish, though. I thank you for your attention…. Oh, I forgot to tell you that three months after my last visit I met the old humbug Ivan Semyonitch. I tried, of course, to glide hurriedly and unnoticed by him, but yet I could not help overhearing the words, ‘Feather-headed scoundrels!’ uttered angrily.
‘And what became of Varia?’ asked some one.
‘I don’t know,’ answered the story-teller.
We all got up and separated.
Andrei Kolosov by Ivan Turgenev