A Common Story
PIOTR IVANITCH ADOUEV, our hero's uncle, had, like him, been sent to Petersburg when twenty years old by his elder brother, Alexandr's father, and had lived there uninterruptedly for seventeen years. He had not kept up a correspondence with his relatives after his brother's death, and Anna Pavlovna had seen nothing of him since then, as he had sold his small property not far from her estate.
In Petersburg he passed for a wealthy man, and perhaps not without good grounds; he had an appointment under a certain influential personage, a secretary of special commissions, and had ribbons to wear in his buttonhole; he had a fine suite of rooms in a good street, kept three men and as many horses. He was not old, but what is called "a man in the prime of life" -- between thirty-five and forty. But he did not care to talk of his age, not from petty vanity, but from a sort of deliberate calculation, as though with an idea of insuring his life on the easiest terms. Any way there was no sign in his manner of concealing his age, of any frivolous pretensions to pleasing the fair sex.
He was a tall, well-made man, with large regular features and a swarthy complexion, a smooth graceful carriage, and dignified but agreeable manners -- one of those men who are generally described by the term bel homme.
His face, too, showed dignity -- that is, the power of controlling himself and not allowing his face to be the reflection of his feelings. He was of the opinion that this was improper both for his own sake, and for other people's, and behaved himself in public accordingly. Yet one could not call his face wooden; no, it was only tranquil. Sometimes he showed the traces of fatigue -- doubtless from overwork. He was known to be both a man of business and a busy man. He always dressed carefully, even stylishly, but only within the limits of good taste; his linen was unexceptionable; his hands were plump and white, with long transparent finger-nails.
One morning, when he had just waked up and rung his bell, his man brought him in three letters together with the tea, and informed him further of the arrival of a young gentleman, who called himself Alexandr Fedoritch Adouev, and him -- Piotr Ivanitch -- uncle, and had promised to call at twelve o'clock. Piotr Ivanitch listened tranquilly after his wont to this piece of news, only pricking up his ears, and raising his eyebrows a little.
"Good, you can go,"
he said to the servant.
Then he took one letter, and was about to break it open, when he paused and reflected.
"A nephew from the country -- what a surprise!"
"and I had hoped they had forgotten me in those regions. Well, why should I trouble myself about him? I will get rid of him."
He rang again.
"Tell that gentleman when he comes, that I set off directly I was up for my works, and shall be back in three months."
said the servant,
"and what shall I do with the presents?"
"With what presents?"
"A man brought them: the mistress, he says, sent them as presents from the country."
"Yes; a barrel of honey, a bag of dried raspberries."
Piotr Ivanitch shrugged his shoulders.
"And two pieces of linen, and preserves."
"Very fine linen, I should imagine!"
"Yes, the linen is fine, and the preserves are of sugar."
"Well, you can go, I will see them directly."
He took one letter, broke it open, and took a comprehensive look at the page. It was written in a large round hand like print, without punctuation.
Adouev began to read in an undertone.
"HONOURED SIR, --
Having been closely acquainted and friendly with your lamented parents, and having amused you not a little in your childhood and ofttimes eaten bread and salt in your house, therefore I cherish a warm feeling and an ardent hope that you have not forgotten the old man Vassili Tihovitch, as we here remember you and your parents with every kindness and we pray God --"
"What a rigmarole? Who is it from?"
said Piotr Ivanitch, looking at the signature.
"Vassili Zayeshaloff! Zayeshaloff! -- I'll be hanged if I remember it. What does he want from me?"
And he began reading further.
"But my most humble petition and importunity to you -- do not refuse it, little father -- to you in Petersburg, unlike us in these parts, all of course is known and everything is in your reach. There has been fixed upon me a cursed lawsuit, and here's the seventh year come and gone, and I cannot shake it off my neck. Do you remember the little copse which lies one mile from my property? The court made a mistake in the purchase deeds, and my adversary, Medvyedev, still persists in it; the point, he says, is a got-up one, and this he sticks to through thick and thin. This same Medvyedev is the fellow who always used to be poaching fish from your ponds without permission; your lamented father drove him away and put him to shame, and would have lodged a complaint with the governor for his impudence, but in the kindness of his heart -- God rest his soul! -- let him off, and he should not have had mercy on such a rogue. Help me, little father, Piotr Ivanitch; the affair is now before the Senate of Appeal, I don't know in what department, or under whom; but to be sure they will
tell you directly. Go and see the secretary and the senators; incline them in my favour, tell them it's all a mistake, simply from a mistake in the purchase-deed that I am suffering; for you they will do everything. While you are there, by the way, kindly trouble to obtain for me a patent of promotion and send it me. Further, little father, Piotr Ivanitch, there is a, little matter of the utmost importance: give your heart-felt sympathy to an innocently oppressed victim, and aid with advice and assistance. We have in the governor's service a councillor, Droshoff, a heart of gold more than a man; he would die before he would betray a friend; in the town I have no lodging but his house. As soon as I arrive I go straight to him, I live there for weeks, and God forbid you should not make yourself at home; he will overwhelm you with good things to eat and drink, and cards from dinner till the middle of the night. And such a man has been passed over, without promotion, and now they are forcing him to send in his resignation. Go and see, my dear father, all the grandees there, and suggest to them what a man Afanasy Ivanitch is; if there is work to be done it goes like a house on fire in his hands; tell them he has been falsely denounced by an intrigue of the governor's secretary -- they will listen to you, and write me by return of post. And go and see my old colleague Kostyakoff. I have heard from one of your Petersburgers who has arrived here, Studentsin -- no doubt you know him -- that he is living at Peska; there the street boys will tell you the house; write by the same post, don't be lazy, whether he is alive or dead, whether he is in good health, what he is doing, whether he remembers me. Get acquainted and make friends with him -- he is a capital fellow -- an open heart, and such an amusing fellow. I conclude my letter with a further request --"
Adouev ceased reading, slowly tore the letter into four pieces and threw it under the table into a basket, and then stretched and yawned.
He took the other letter and began to read it also in an undertone.
"DEAREST BROTHER, GRACIOUS SIR, PIOTR IVANITCH."
"What -- a sister!"
said Adouev, looking at the signature: "Maria Gorbatov." He looked up at the ceiling, trying to
"How is it? -- some recollection there, that's good -- my brother was married to a Gorbatov, this is her sister, this is -- ah! I remember!"
He frowned and began to read.
"Though fate has severed us, perhaps, for ever, and an abyss lies between us; years have rolled by --"
He skipped a few lines and began further on:
"To the day of my death I shall remember that walk together near our lake, when you, at risk of your life and health, went knee-deep into the water and picked for me some great yellow flowers among the rushes, and how a kind of juice ran out of the stems and stained our hands and you fetched water in your cap for us to wash them; we laughed so much at it then. Ah, how happy I was that day! That flower I have still pressed in a book."
Adouev stopped. It was clear that this circumstance was not very gratifying to him; he shook his head rather suspiciously.
"But have you still kept the ribbons [he continued reading] that you snatched out of my drawer, in spite of my entreaties?"
"I snatched out a ribbon!"
he said aloud, frowning angrily. He skipped a few more lines in silence and read:
"But I was destined for the unwedded state, and have always been happy in it: there is no one to hinder my recalling those happy days."
"Ah, the old maid!"
thought Piotr Ivanitch.
"Isn't it astonishing she should still have yellow flowers in her mind? What more is there?"
"Are you married, dearest brother, and to whom? Who is that dear unknown friend, who smoothes the path of your existence? tell me her name. I will love her like my own sister, and in my dreams her image will be joined with yours, and I will remember her in my prayers. But if you are not married, now what is the reason -- write me frankly; no one will tear your secrets from me, I shall bury them in my bosom, and they shall be torn from me only together with my heart. Do not delay; I am burning with eagerness to read your words, so incomprehensible --"
"No, it's your words that are so incomprehensible!"
thought Piotr Ivanitch.
"I did not know [he read] that our dear Sashenka had suddenly decided to visit the splendid metropolis -- happy boy! he will see the magnificent houses and shops, will enjoy the luxuries of town, and will press his adored uncle to his bosom; but I -- I -- meanwhile shall be shedding tears over the memory of my own happy days. If I had known of his departure, I should have worked day and night and have embroidered a cushion for you: a negress with two dogs. You would not believe how often I have wept looking at that pattern; what is more sacred than friendship and fidelity? Now I am possessed by one only thought; I shall devote my days to it; but I have no wool here good enough, and so I am venturing to beg you, dearest brother, to send me some like this pattern which I have enclosed, of the very best English wool as soon as possible from the first shop. But what am I saying? what an awful thought arrests my pen! perhaps you have already forgotten me, and how should you remember the poor sufferer, who can but weep secluded from the world? But no! I cannot think that you are a monster, like all men; no! my heart speaks and tells me that you have kept your old sentiment towards me -- towards all -- in the midst of all the pomps and pleasures of the great metropolis. This thought is a balm for my suffering heart. Forgive me, I cannot write more, my hand trembles.
"I remain till death yours,
by you? Send me some if you have any to spare; on every page I should remember you and weep, or get me some new from a
if they are not dear. They say the
of Mr. Zagoskin and of Mr. Marlinsky are very good -- let it be those; and I have seen in the
the title -- 'Of Prejudices' by Poozin -- send me that -- I can't endure prejudices."
Having read it through, Adouev was just going to get rid of the letter, but be stopped short.
"I will keep it; there are people who make a speciality of such letters; some of them have whole collections -- perhaps some one would be glad to have it."
He threw the letter into the beaded basket, which hung on the wall, then took up the third letter and began to read it:
"DEAR BROTHER-IN-LAW, PIOTR IVANITCH, --
Do you remember how seventeen years ago we were preparing for your departure from us? Now it has pleased God to send my own son on the same long journey. You will be delighted with him -- he will remind you of our dear lamented Fedor Ivanitch. Sashenka is his father over again. God alone knows what my mother's heart has suffered in letting him go away to strange parts. I send him, my dear brother-in-law, straight to you; I was not willing he should lodge anywhere except with you --"
Adouev again shook his head.
"Silly old woman!"
he muttered and read on:
"He might, in his inexperience, I daresay, have put up at the inn, but I knew that his uncle might feel hurt by that, and I bade him go straight to you. How delighted you will be when you see him! Don't let him want for advice, brother-in-law, and take him under your wing; I give him into your hands."
Piotr Ivanitch paused again.
"Of course you are all he has [he went on reading]. Look after him, don't spoil him too much, and don't be too severe with him; he is sure to get severity from some one, and strangers will be hard upon him, but he has no one to pet him, except his kinsman; and he is such an affectionate boy: you have only to see him and then you will not part with him. And tell the chief, in whose office he will be, to take care of my Sashenka and to treat him tenderly before all things; he has been tenderly cared for with me. Keep him from wine and cards. At night you will no doubt sleep in the same room -- Sashenka has a way of lying on his back; from this he is apt, dear heart, to toss and groan in his sleep; you must rouse him gently and turn him over, he will go off again at once; but in summer cover his mouth with a handkerchief, he is apt to sleep with it open and the tiresome flies are so troublesome in the morning; and don't let him want, either, in the matter of money."
Adouev frowned, but his face quickly brightened again, when he read further.
"But I am sending what is needful, and I have just put into his hands a thousand roubles, only don't let him waste it on trifles, and don't let sharpers get hold of him, to be sure one hears there are so many rascals and unscrupulous creatures of every sort in your metropolis. And, in conclusion, excuse all shortcomings, dear brother-in-law -- I have quite got out of the habit of letter-writing.
"I remain, "Your respectful and affectionate sister-in-law, "A. ADOUEV."
"P.S.--I send with this some presents from the country -- some raspberries from our garden, some white honey, as clear as teardrops, some linen for two dozen shirts and some household preserves. Eat and wear them, and may they do you good, and when they are done, I will send more. And keep an eye over Yevsay: he is a quiet fellow and sober, but I daresay in time he will be spoiled, if he is you must let him have a whipping."
Piotr Ivanitch laid the letter deliberately on the table, still more deliberately took up a cigar, and after rolling it in his hands, began to smoke. He deliberated a long while on the trick, as he mentally called it, which his sister-in-law was playing upon him. He began to analyse closely what they were doing with him and what he ought to do himself.
He resolved the whole incident into the following propositions. His nephew he knew nothing of, and consequently cared nothing about, and therefore his heart imposed on him no obligations of any kind to him; the matter must be judged simply by the light of reason and common justice. His brother had married, he had entered upon married life for his own pleasure -- why should he, Piotr Ivanitch, be burdened with the responsibility of his brother's son, he who had enjoyed none of the advantages of matrimony? There was obviously no reason.
But a point presented itself on the other side. The mother had packed her son straight off to him, to his protection, not knowing whether he was willing to undertake this responsibility, not even knowing whether he was in a position to do anything for his nephew. Granted this
was absurd; still if the deed was done and his nephew in Petersburg, without assistance, without acquaintance, without even letters of recommendation, young and quite inexperienced . . . .would he be doing right to leave him uncared for, to throw him on the world without advice and warnings, and if anything should go wrong with him, would he not feel answerable to his conscience?
At this point Adouev chanced to recall how seventeen years ago, his dead brother and Anna Pavlovna had despatched him to Petersburg. They certainly had not been able to do anything for him in Petersburg, he had made his own way . . . . but he remembered her tears at the leave-taking, her blessing, quite maternal, her fond caresses, her pies, and last of all her parting words:
"Ah, when our Sashenka -- then a child of three -- is grown up, perhaps you, brother, will be good to him."
Here Piotr Ivanitch stood up and went with quick steps into the hall.
"when my nephew comes, don't send him away. But go and find out whether the apartment above here has been taken, that was to let not long ago, and if it has not been let yet, say that I will retain it for myself. Ah, these are the presents! Well, what are we to do with them?"
"The man from our shop saw them just now, as they brought them upstairs; he inquired if we could let him have the honey. 'I will give you a good price,' said he, 'and the raspberries should he take . . . '"
"Good! give them to him. Well, and where are we to put the linen? Wouldn't it do for chair covers? Put away the linen then and put away the jam, we could eat that -- it looks good."
Piotr Ivanitch had just settled himself to shave when Alexandr Fedoritch appeared. He was just going to throw himself on his uncle's neck, but the latter, holding his soft youthful hand in his powerful one, kept him at some distance from him, ostensibly to get a good look at him, but apparently more with a view of preventing this demonstration and confining him to shaking hands.
"Your mother writes truly,"
"you are the living image of my late brother; I should have known you in the street But you are better looking. Well I will go on
shaving without ceremony, and you sit here opposite me, so that I can see you, and let us have a talk."
So saying Piotr Ivanitch continued what he was doing as though none were present, and began to soap his cheeks, stretching them with his tongue, first one, and then the other. Alexandr was overwhelmed with confusion at this reception and did not know how to begin the conversation. He attributed his uncle's coolness to the fact that he had not taken up his quarters with him at once.
"Well, how is your mother? Is she quite well? I suppose she begins to feel her age?"
asked his uncle, making various grimaces before the glass.
"Mamma is well thank God, Auntie Maria Pavlovna desires to be remembered to you,"
said Alexandr timidly.
"Auntie charged me to embrace you for . . . ."
He got up and went up to his uncle, to give him a kiss on the cheek, or the head, or the shoulder, or whatever part of him he could get at.
"It's time your aunt had more sense at her age, but I see she is just as foolish as she was twenty years ago."
Alexandr went back to his seat in bewilderment.
"You received a letter, uncle?"
"Yes, I did."
"Vassili Tihovitch Zayeshaloff,"
"earnestly begs you to examine his affair and interest yourself in it."
"Yes, he writes so to me. Such lunatics are not extinct among you yet then?"
Alexandr did not know what to think -- he was completely dumbfounded by these remarks.
"Forgive me, uncle,"
he began at last in trepidation.
"Forgive me for not having come straight to you; for having put up at the Diligence Hotel. I did not know your rooms."
"What is there to apologise for? You did very properly. Your good mother -- heaven knows what she is thinking of. How could you have come to me without knowing whether I could put you up, or not? Mine are bachelor's quarters, as you can see, for one only; a hall, a drawing-room, a dining-room, a smoking-room and a study, a wardrobe-room and a dressing-room -- there isn't a room to spare. I
should have been in your way and you in mine. But I have found a lodging here for you in the house."
"Ah! dear uncle!"
"how can I thank you for this kind service?"
And he leaped up again from his seat with the intention of showing his gratitude both in word and deed.
"Gently, gently, don't touch me!"
said his uncle,
"the razors are very sharp, I'm afraid of your getting cut, or cutting me."
Alexandr perceived that in spite of all his efforts he would not succeed that day in even once embracing and pressing to his heart his adored uncle and put off this project for a future occasion.
"The room is pretty cheerful,"
began Piotr Ivanitch;
"the look-out from the windows is rather on to walls, but of course you won't want to be always sitting at the window; when you are at home, you are always busy with something and haven't time to be gaping at a window. And it is not dear -- forty roubles a month. There is an ante-room for your man. You must accustom yourself from the very beginning to live alone, without a nurse; to conduct your own little household, I mean to board at home, in a word to have a corner of your own -- un chez soi, as the French say. There you will be able to entertain whom you please. However, when I dine at home, you are welcome, but on other days -- young men here generally dine at an eating house-- but I advise you to send out for your dinner; at home you will be quieter and you won't be exposed to mixing with God knows who. Eh?"
"I am very grateful, uncle."
"What is there to be grateful for? Aren't you a relation? I am only fulfilling my duty. Well, I will leave you now, I am going out, I have my official work and also a factory."
"I didn't know you had a factory, uncle."
"Yes, glass and porcelain works; but I am not the sole proprietor, there are three of us partners."
"Is business good?"
"Yes, fairly so; our sales are chiefly at the markets in the inland provinces. The last few years have been far from bad! If we have five years more like this, well and good. One partner to be sure is not very trustworthy -- he does nothing but spend money, but I know how to keep
him in check. Well, good-bye for the present. You go now and take a look at the town, stroll about, and dine somewhere, but come and have tea with me in the evening. I shall be at home, then we can talk a little. Here! Vassili, you show the room and help to get it ready."
"So this is how it is here, in Petersburg,"
thought Alexandr, sitting down in his new dwelling.
"If my own uncle is like this, what will others be?"
Young Adouev paced up and down his room deep in thought, but Yevsay talked to himself as he set the room to rights.
"It's a queer way of living here,"
he muttered, in Piotr Ivanitch's kitchen.
"I hear there's a baking once a month, the servants have their meals out. Ugh! my word, what people! A pretty thing, and they call themselves Petersburgers! Among us every dog has his own saucer to lap out of."
Alexandr seemed to share Yevsay's opinion though he was silent. He went up to the window and looked out upon a view of water-pipes, roofs, and brick walls of houses, black and filthy, and he compared it with what he had seen, just a fortnight before, from the window of his home in the country. His heart sank.
He went out into the street; all was confusion, every one running in different directions, occupied only with his own affairs, scarcely glancing at those who passed. He remembered the little town which was the capital of his province, where a meeting with any one, whoever it might be, was always interesting in one way or another. Here Ivan Ivanitch would be going to see Piotr Piotrovitch -- and every one in the town knows the reason why. Here is Maria Martinova coming home from vespers, and there Afanasy Savitch going out to fish. There a gendarme from the governor's would gallop past like mad for the doctor, and every one knew that Her Excellency's confinement was expected, though in the judgment of the various gossips and old women it was not proper to be aware of this fact too soon. Every one would be asking "boy or girl?" and the ladies were all making caps worthy to celebrate the occasion. Here Matvai Matvyitch would come out of his house with his thick stick, at six o'clock in the evening, and every one knew that he was going to take his evening constitutional, without which
his digestion would suffer; and that he would infallibly stop at the window of the old councillor, who, they also knew, would be drinking his tea at this hour. If you met any one -- no matter who -- there would be a bow and a word or two, and even if there is any one you don't salute, at least you know who he is, and where he is going and why, and in his face is written: I too know who you are and where you are going and why. And if it should ever happen that two people meet who don't know each other, directly they see one another, the faces of both assume an expression of inquiry; they stand still and look round twice, and when they get home they describe the dress and appearance of the unknown personage, and conjectures and discussions will follow as to who he is and where he comes from, and what is his object. But here with scarcely a glance they push along the way as though they were all enemies.
To begin with, Alexandr gazed with provincial curiosity at every one he met, and every respectably dressed man he took for either a minister, or an ambassador, or an author, "isn't he," he thought, "and isn't that one?" But soon he was weary of this -- ministers, ambassadors, authors met him at every step.
He looked at the houses and grew still more gloomy, he was depressed by the monotonous piles of stone, which stretch like colossal tombstones one after another in one unbroken mass. Here the street will end, and there will be open space to rest my eyes -- he thought -- or a hill or greenness, or a broken-down wall. No, there the stone ramparts begin again of houses all identical, with four rows of windows. And that street ended, again there was something to shut one in, another row of the same houses. You look to the right, to the left -- on all sides hemming you in like ranks of giants, houses, houses and houses, stone and stone, all the same and the same again; no freedom, no outlet for the eyes; cramped in on all sides. It seemed as though men's thoughts and feelings too must be cramped by it.
The first impressions of a provincial in Petersburg are disagreeable. It is all strange and depressing to him; no one notices him; he feels lost here; even the novelty, the variety of the crowds fail to please him. His provincial egoism is up in arms against everything he sees here, and
has not seen at home. He grows meditative and is carried back in thought to his own town. What a soothing vision! A house standing alone with sharp-pointed wall and a small avenue of acacias. Against the wall a kind of shed, a pigeon-house -- the merchant Izumin is a devoted pigeon fancier; this was his reason for taking the house and building the pigeon-house against the wall; and every morning and evening he stands under the wall in his nightcap and dressing-gown, a stick in his hand with a rag tied to the end of it, and whistles and waves the stick in the air. The house is exactly like a lighthouse: on all four sides it is all windows flush with the walls, a house of ancient construction; it seems as though it were always going to fall down. Next it, is the small gray house of the surgeon spread out in semicircle with two wings like sentry-boxes, and all hidden away in the green foliage; the next house has turned its back on the street, the next is shut in by a mile of fence, from behind which rosy-cheeked apples peep from the trees and tempt the schoolboys. The houses all stand back from the church at a respectful distance, and all round it the fresh grass is springing up, between the tombstones. The Government offices are such that there is no mistake about their being Government offices; no one dare come near them except on business. But here in the capital you cannot distinguish them from private houses, and what's more, shameful to say, they even have shops in the same building. And there in the provincial town you need only walk through two or three streets and you feel the fresh air of the country and the hedges begin and the market-gardens and then open fields of spring corn. And the peace, the unchanging monotony -- even in the street and in the people you find this same blessed stagnation! And all live unconfined, with space to move in; no one is cooped up; even the cocks and hens can run about in the streets, while the goats and cows nip the grass and the children are flying kites.
It is even more painful for the provincial when he comes to one of those houses with a letter of introduction. He imagines that they will receive him with open arms, that they will make much of him, give him the most comfortable chair, and the best of everything; that they will skilfully sound him as to his favourite dishes; how he will be
embarrassed by their warmth, and how finally he will throw aside all ceremony and embrace his host and hostess, will call them "thou," as though they had been friends for twenty years; how all would drink together, perhaps sing songs in chorus.
When he is there! they hardly look at him, and frowning excuse themselves on the plea of engagement; if they have a business, then it begins at a fixed hour, and then the do not dine or sup, and of taking "nips" they know nothing -- not even vodka and biscuits. The host retreats from his embrace and looks in a strange way at his guest. In the next room he hears the clatter of knives and forks; they should invite him in there, but they try to avoid his skilful hints. . . . Everywhere there are closed doors, everywhere bells; isn't it pitiful? and such cold inhospitable faces. But away at home one may venture to walk in; if they have finished dinner, why they will dine again with their guest; the samovar is on the table from morning till night, and there are no bells even in the shops. They embrace, they kiss every one who comes. A neighbour there is really a neighbour, they live hand in hand, and heart in heart; a kinsman is so much a kinsman; he would die for one of his own people -- ah! it is depressing!
Alexandr went as far as the Admiralty Square, and stood there quite overwhelmed. He stopped in rapt enthusiasm before the statue of Peter the Great. He gazed at the Neva and the buildings surrounding it, and his eyes sparkled He felt suddenly ashamed of his preference for shaky bridges, little gardens and tumble-down fences. He grew happy and lighthearted. Even the bustle and the crowd all took a different significance in his eyes. His aspirations, which had been overclouded for a time by painful impressions, grew bright again; a new life seemed to open its arms to him, and tempted him to the unknown. His heart beat violently. He dreamt of noble effort, of lofty aspirations and stepped proudly along the Nevsky Prospect, considering himself a citizen of a new world.... Full of such dreams, he returned home.
In the evening at eleven o'clock, his uncle sent up to summon him to tea.
I am only just home from the theatre,
said his uncle, lying down on the sofa.
What a pity you did not tell me sooner, uncle, I would have gone with you.
I was in the stalls. Where would you have been, sitting on my knee?
said Piotr Ivanitch.
Go by yourself to-morrow.
It's so depressing to be alone in a crowd, uncle, to have no one to share your impressions with.
And why should you? You will have to learn to think, and to feel, in fact to live alone; it is necessary now. But you ought to be suitably dressed before you go to the theatre.
Alexandr looked at his clothes and wondered at his uncle's words.
In what way am I unsuitably dressed?
I have a blue coat and blue trousers.
I have a lot of clothes, uncle,
made by Koenigstein; he makes for our governor.
Never mind; still it will not do; in a day or two I will send you to my own tailor; but that's a detail. We have something more important to talk about. Tell me, why did you come here?
I came . . . .to live here.
To live? Well if you understand by that term, to eat, to drink, and to sleep, then it was not worth the trouble of coming so far: you will not be able either to sleep or to eat here as you can there at home; but if you meant something else please explain yourself.
To enjoy life, I meant to say,
said Alexandr, blushing all over;
I was tired of the country -- it is always the same and. . .
Ah that's another thing! What, you want to take a flat in the Nevsky Prospect, set up a carrage, make a large circle of acquaintances and have reception-days?
But would not that cost a great deal?
remarked Alexandr naively.
Your mother writes that she has given you a thousand roubles; that is not much,
said Piotr Ivanitch.
An acquaintance of mine came here not long ago, he, too, was tired of the country; he wanted to enjoy life, so he brought fifty thousand and will receive as much every year. He will certainly enjoy life in Petersburg, but you -- no! you did not come up for that.
From your words, uncle, it seems to follow that I don't know myself why I came.
Exactly so; that's well said; that's the truth.; only I don't quite approve of it. Did you not, when you prepared to come here, put to yourself the question: why am I going? That would not have been inappropriate.
Before putting to myself the question, I had the answer ready,
replied Alexandr with pride.
Then why did you not tell it? Well, why?
I was carried along by an irresistible yearning, by a thirst for noble activity; a longing burned within me to illustrate and to realise . . .
Piotr Ivanitch rose a little from the sofa, took his cigar out of his mouth and pricked up his ears.
To give effect to the aspirations, which surged --
Don't you write
asked Piotr Ivanitch suddenly.
, too, uncle; shall I fetch some?
No, no! -- some future time; I only asked.
Because you talk so....
No -- perhaps very well, only strangely.
Our professor of aesthetics talked like that, and he was considered the most eloquent of the professors,
said Alexandr in confusion.
What did he talk about in that way?
About his subject.
How am I to talk then, uncle?
Rather more simply, like everyone else, and not like a lecturer on aesthetics. However, it is impossible for you to change all of a sudden; later on you will see for yourself. You mean to say, it appears, so far as I can recall your University jargon and translate your words, that you came here to make a career and a fortune. . . . Isn't it so?
Yes, uncle, a career.
added Piotr Ivanitch;
what is a career without a fortune? The idea is very fine; only -- it was a mistake for you to come.
Why so? I hardly think you say that from your own experience?
said Alexandr looking around him.
That's neatly said. Certainly I am well off and my
business is pretty fair. But I only consider -- you and I -- there's a great difference.
I never ventured to compare myself with you.
That's not the point, you are perhaps ten times as wise and good as I....but your nature, I fancy, is not capable of adapting itself to a new standard, and your standard at home -- oh, oh! You have been petted and spoiled by your mother; how are you to put up with what I put up with? You are bound to be a dreamer, and a dreamer is nowhere at all here; people like us come here to work.
Perhaps I am fit for work of some sort, if you will give me the benefit of your advice and experience.
Advise you -- I am afraid to do it. I could not answer for your countryman's nature; things would go wrong, and you would reproach me; but as for telling you my opinions -- well -- I will not refuse, you may listen or not as you please. But no! I don't expect success. You have your own way of looking at life in the country; how are you to work it in? You country-people are mad over love and friendship and the delights of life and happiness; you imagine that life consists only of this: oh and oh! you weep and sob and make love and do no work . . .how am I to break you of all that?. . . . It's a difficult task.
I will try, uncle, to adapt myself to the ideas of the time. Already to-day while gazing at the immense edifices, and the ships that bring us gifts from far-away lands, I thought of the achievements of humanity in this age, I grasped the significance of this multitude moving in brain-directed activity, and was ready to flow with it.
Piotr Ivanitch during this monologue contracted his brows expressively and looked steadily at his nephew. The latter stopped.
The fact is simple enough, I fancy," said his uncle; "but these country-people -- goodness knows what ideas they take into their heads...brain-directed activity indeed! Certainly you had done better to remain in the country. You would have had a splendid life there: you would have been the cleverest of all of them, and have been looked on as a
and an eloquent talker, you would have believed in eternal and unchanging love and friendship, in the family and in happiness, you would have married and have reached old age without noticing it, and you would have been in
reality happy after your own fashion; but you will not be happy after our fashion; here all these ideas must be turned upside down.
How, uncle, are love and friendship -- these sacred and lofty emotions, not the same here as at home?
We have love and friendship here of course -- they are cheap enough to be plentiful everywhere; only it is not the same as those in your home; in time you will see for yourself. But before everything you must forget these sacred and heavenly emotions and look at facts more simply as they are, indeed it would be better, then you will talk more simply too. However, it is not my business. You have come here and will not go back. If you don't find what you looked for, you have only yourself to blame. I will advise you what is good in my opinion and what is bad, and then do as you please. We will try -- perhaps -- something may be made of you. Ah! your mother asked me to provide you with money. . . . .You understand what I say to you; don't come to me for money; that always destroys a good understanding between honourable people. However, don't imagine that I have declined to help you; no, if it should come to there being no other resource, then there is no help for it, come to me. Any way, it is better to borrow from an uncle than from a stranger, especially as you would get it without interest. But you ought not to let yourself be driven to this extremity, I will quickly find you a place so that you can earn some money. Well, good bye for the present. Come in again in the morning, we will talk of what and how to begin.
Alexandr Fedovitch was going to his room.
Oh, don't you want some supper?
Piotr Ivanitch called after him.
Yes, uncle -- I should -- perhaps.
I have nothing to offer you.
Alexandr was silent.
Why this useless proposal then?
I don't have my meals prepared at home, and the shops are closed by now,
continued his uncle.
Here is a lesson for you at the very first turn -- accustom yourself to it. At home you go to bed and get up with the sun, eat and drink when nature bid you; if it is cold, you put on a cap with lappets and no one wants to know anything about it; when
it is light, it is day, when it is dark, it is night. At your home all are asleep, but I am still sitting at work; at the end of the month one has to balance one's accounts. You breathe the fresh air there all the year round, but here even that enjoyment costs money, and the same with everything. It's a complete antipodes! Here they do not even eat supper, especially at their own cost, or at mine either. This, perhaps, will be an advantage to you; you will not toss and groan at night, and I haven't the time to turn you over!
That one can easily get accustomed to, uncle.
Good, if it is so. But with you everything is still in the old style; you can still I suppose arrive at a friend's at midnight; and they will begin to get supper ready for you directly.
Why, uncle, I should think you could not find fault with that in us. The kindheartedness of Russians --
Stop! what sort of kindheartedness is there in it? You are so bored that you are glad of any creature who turns up: -- you are welcome, eat as much as you like, only employ our idleness in some way, help us to kill time, and let us look at you; any way it is something new; and we don't grudge you your entertainment; it costs us nothing here. A poor sort of kindheartedness!
So Alexandr went to bed and tried to conjecture what sort of a man his uncle was. He remembered the whole conversation; much of it he did not understand, and the rest he did not altogether believe.
I don't talk properly!
love and friendship are not undying! surely my uncle must be laughing at me? Can this be the way they live here? What was it Sophia liked so specially in me, but the gift of eloquence? But is her love really not undying?....And is it possible they really don't have supper here."
He lay tossing uneasily in his bed for a long time: with his head full of disquieting thoughts, and his stomach empty, he could not get to sleep.
Piotr Ivanitch became every day more contented with his nephew.
He does not intrude,
he said to one of his partners at the factory --
never comes to see me without an invitation; and when he notices that he is de trop, he goes away
directly; and he does not ask for money; he is a well-behaved boy. He has his peculiarities...sidles up to kiss you, and talks in a high-flown style; well he will get out of that; and what a good thing it is he does not come to me for everything.
Alexandr considered it his duty to love his uncle, but he could never get used to his character and ways of thinking.
My uncle seems a good-hearted man,
he wrote one morning to Pospyeloff, very intelligent, only he is utterly prosaic, for ever absorbed in business, in calculations. His soul seems chained to earth and is never lifted up into the pure ether far remote from earthly sordidness, and we shall never, I fancy, be altogether one in heart. When I came here, I imagined that as my uncle he would give me a place in his heart, that in the midst of the cold world here he would cherish me with all the warmth of affection and friendship; and friendship, you know, is a second providence. But he is nothing else than this world individualised. I expected to spend my time with him, never to be away from him for a minute, but what was my welcome? -- cold advice, which he calls common sense; but I would rather it were not common sense but full of warm, heartfelt interest. He is not exactly proud, but he is averse to all sincere outbursts of feeling. We do not dine nor sup together, and go out nowhere together. On my arrival he never told me how he was or what he was doing and he never tells me even where he is going and why, who are his acquaintances. what are his likes and dislikes and how he spends his time. He is never specially angry, nor affectionate, nor sad, nor cheerful. His heart is a stranger to all transport of love and friendship, all yearnings after the sublime. . .He does not believe in love, says there is no such thing as happiness, that nobody has guaranteed it to us, and that life is a simple matter, which is divided equally into good and bad, into pleasure, success, health and ease, and then into pain, failure, anxiety, disease and so on; that we ought to look at all this simply, and not to fill our heads with useless matters. And what do you suppose are useless matters? Why the problems of why we were created and to what we are striving -- that that is not our business and that it hinders us from seeing what is before our noses and from minding
our business. He is always talking about business! One sees no difference in him whether he is absorbed in some enjoyment or in prosaic business at his accounts, and at the theatre he is exactly the same; he receives no powerful impression from anything and I think does not care for art; it is foreign to his nature; I fancy he has not even read
Piotr Ivanitch unexpectedly appeared in his nephew's apartment and came upon him writing a letter.
I came to see how you were settled in here,
said his uncle,
and to talk a little of business.
Alexandr jumped up, and quickly covered something with his hand.
Hide it, hide your secret,
said Piotr Ivanitch;
I will turn my back. Well, have you put it away? But what is it has fallen out? What is this?
That -- uncle -- oh! nothing,
Alexandr was beginning, but he grew confused and stopped speaking.
A lock of hair it looks like! Is it really nothing? Come, I have seen one, so show me the other thing you are hiding in your hand.
Alexandr, like a schoolboy caught, unwillingly opened his hand and showed a ring.
What is this? Where did you get it?
asked Piotr Ivanitch.
These, uncle, are the material tokens of immaterial relations.
What -- what? Pass me these tokens.
They are the pledges. . . .
I suppose you brought them from the country?
From Sophia, uncle, a keepsake at parting.
So that is what it is. And you brought this 1500 miles with you?
The uncle shook his head.
You would have done better to bring a bag of dried raspberries, that at least you could have sold at a shop, but these pledges....
He looked, first at the lock of hair then at the ring. He sniffed at the hair contemptuously, but the ring he weighed in his hand. Then he took a sheet of paper from the table, wrapped both the tokens up in it, screwed it all into a compact pellet, and threw it out of window.
screamed Alexandr furiously, seizing his hand but too late the pellet flew into the corner of the opposite wall, fell towards the canal on the edge of a barge of bricks, jumped off, and leaped into the water.
Alexandr gazed in silence with an expression of bitter reproach at his uncle.
What is it?
How am I to describe your action?
As a throwing out of the window into the canal of some immaterial tokens and various odds and ends of rubbish which there was no need to keep in the room.
Rubbish -- that rubbish?
Why, what do you regard it as, a piece of your heart? I came to him about business, and what do I find him busy over, he is sitting thinking about some stuff and nonsense!
Does that interfere with business, uncle?
Very much so. Time is slipping away, and you have not so far talked to me of your plans; whether you do want a government clerkship or have you adopted some other occupation? You haven't said a word to me, and this is all because you have Sophia and her keepsake in your head. There, I do believe you are just writing a letter to her, aren't you now?
Yes, I was just beginning.
But have you written to your mother?
Not yet, I meant to to-morrow.
Why to-morrow? To your mother to-morrow, but to Sophia, whom you must forget within a month, to-day.
Sophia! can I ever forget her?
You will have to. If I had not thrown away your keepsakes what would you have gained, pray? You would have remembered her a month longer for nothing. I did you a double service. In a few years these keepsakes would have reminded you of a folly at which you would blush.
Blush at such a pure, such a sacred remembrance? That shows you do not recognise the
is there in what is foolish? Is there poetry for instance in your aunt's letter? Yellow flowers, a lake, some mystery or other. When I was reading it, it
made me feel sick beyond description! I was almost blushing, and yet I am not exactly in the habit of blushing.
That's awful -- awful, uncle! It must be that you have never loved.
I could never bear keepsakes.
It is a sort of wooden life!
said Alexandr, with great feeling.
It is vegetating, not living! Love -- sacred passion!
I know the sacred love you talk about; at your age, you need only see a curl, a slipper, a garter, or touch a hand. . . . through your whole body you feel a thrill of sacred, sublime love, but let it have its way -- and it's a different matter. . . . . Love is before you, more's the pity; you can't run away from it that's certain; but serious business will run away from you, if you don't devote yourself to it?
But is not love a serious business?
No; it is an agreeable distraction, only you must not give yourself up to it too much, or some harm will come of it. That's why I am afraid for you.
His uncle shook his head.
I have almost found you a position; you really do want to get into an office?
Alexandr rushed up and kissed his uncle on the cheek.
He has succeeded at last!
said his uncle, rubbing his cheek.
Why wasn't I on the look-out for it? Well, now listen. Tell me, what do you know, what do you feel yourself fit for?
I know theology, civil, criminal, and international law, and jurisprudence, diplomacy, political economy, philosophy, aesthetics and archaeology.
Stop, stop! but do you know how to write Russian correctly? At the present moment that is more necessary than all.
What a question, uncle; do I know how to write Russian!
said Alexandr, running to his bureau, and beginning to take from it various papers, but his uncle meantime picked up a letter from the table and began to read it.
Alexandr returned with his papers to the table, and saw
that his uncle was reading his letter. His papers fell out of his hand.
What is it you are reading, uncle?
he said in dismay.
Why a letter that was lying here; to a friend, it must be. I beg your pardon -- I wanted to see how you write.
And you have read it?
Yes, almost, only two lines more -- I shall have done with it directly; why what was in it? there are certainly no secrets in it, or it would not have been lying about like this.
What can you think of me now?
I think that you write fairly, correctly, smoothly.
Then you cannot have read what is written in it?
Alexandr asked eagerly.
No, I fancy I have read all,
said Piotr Ivanitch, looking at both pages;
to begin with you describe Petersburg and you impressions, and then me.
exclaimed Alexandr, covering his face with his hands.
Well, what is it? what is the matter?
And you say this calmly? you are not angry? you don't hate me?
No! what is there to make a fuss about?
Repeat it, calm me!
No, no, no.
But to read such bitter truths about yourself -- and from whom? from your own nephew!
You fancy that you have written the truth?
Oh, uncle! -- of course, I was mistaken -- I will correct -- forgive me. ""
Would you like me to dictate the truth to you?
If you would be so good.
Sit down then and write.
Alexandr picked out a sheet of paper, and took up a pen, while Piotr Ivanitch, looking at the letter he had read, dictated: --
Dear friend -- have you got it?
Petersburg and my impressions I will not describe to you.
Describe to you,
said Alexandr, writing it down.
Petersburg has been fully described long ago, and what has not been described you must see for yourself;
my impressions will be of no use whatever to you. It is useless to waste time and paper for nothing. I shall do better to describe my uncle, because that is of interest to me personally.
To me personally,
Well, you write here, that I am good-hearted and very intelligent -- I may be so, or may not; let us rather take a middle course, write: My uncle is not stupid nor unkind, he wishes me well.
Uncle! I know how to appreciate and to feel
...said Alexander, and got up to kiss him.
Although he does not fall upon my neck,
continued Piotr Ivanitch. Alexandr, who had not yet reached him, sat down again rather suddenly.
But he wishes me well, because he has no reason or motive to wish me ill, and because my mother has interceded with him on my behalf, and she was good to him formerly. He says he does not love me -- and very reasonably; it is impossible to love any one in a fortnight, and I do not love him yet, even though I maintain that I do.
How is that possible?
Write, write. 'But we are beginning to get used to one another. He even says that it is possible to do without love altogether. He does not sit with his arms round me, from morning till evening, because this is quite unnecessary, and he has not the time. 'Averse to all outbursts of feeling' -- that may stand: that is good. Have you written it?
Well, what have you next?
-- write it.
While Alexandr was writing, Piotr Ivanitch took from the table a paper of some sort, twisted it up, thrust it in the fire, and lighted a cigar with it, and threw the paper back into the fire and it burnt up.
My uncle is neither a demon, nor an angel, but just a man like every one else,
only not altogether like you and me. He thinks and feels after an earthly fashion, he considers that since we live on the earth, we must not fly off from earth to heaven, where we are not invited for the present, but must busy ourselves with human affairs which are our calling. Therefore he analyses all earthly matters and especially life, as it is, not as we should like it to be. He believes in good and at the same
time in evil, in the noble and in the base. He believes also in love and friendship, only he does not think they have fallen from heaven, but he considers that they came into existence together with men and for men, and that they too ought to be understood, and in fact generally that one ought to look at things steadily, in their actual bearings, and not be carried away God knows where. Among honest men he admits the possibility of a friendliness, which from frequent intercourse and habit turns into friendship. But he considers also that from separation habits lose their strength and people forget one another and that this is by no means a crime. For this reason he is convinced that I shall forget you and you me. This seems to me -- and probably also to you -- strange, but he advises us to accustom ourselves to this thought, so that we shall both avoid being deceived. As to love this is his view, roughly speaking; he does not believe in eternal and unchanging love, just as he does not believe in ghosts -- and he advises us not to believe in it. However, he advises me to think on this subject as little as possible and I advise you the same. It will come, he says, of itself, without any invitation; he says that life does not consist of love only, that like everything else it has its fitting season, but to dream your whole life of one love is absurd. Those who seek it and cannot do without it a minute -- live with their hearts at the expense of their heads. My uncle likes to be busy with work, and advises me to do the like and I you; we belong to society, he says, which has need of us; while be is busy, he does not forget his own interests; his work gains money and money brings comfort, which he likes extremely. Moreover, he has perhaps plans in consequence of which I shall not probably be his heir. My uncle is not always thinking of his official work and of his factory; he knows by heart not only
said Alexandr astonished.
Yes, you will see some day. Write:
He reads in two languages whatever appears worthy of note in all branches of human knowledge, loves art, has an excellent collection of pictures of the Flemish school -- that is his hobby -- often goes to the theatre, but he is not in a fuss and fidget, and does not sigh and moan, thinking that this is childish, that one must control oneself, not obtrude
one's emotions on any one, because nobody cares about them. He does not speak a strange tongue either and he advises me not to, and so do I advise you. Good-bye, write to me rather less often and don't waste time for nothing. Your friend so and so. Now, the day of the month.
How can I send such a letter?
'write rather less often' -- write that to the man who came over a hundred and sixty miles on purpose to say a last good-bye to me! 'I advise you so, and so, and so': he is just as clever as I am, he came out second.
No matter, send it all the same, perhaps he will learn something from it; it will lead him to several new reflections; though you have taken your degrees, your education is only just beginning.
I cannot make up my mind, uncle, to --
I never interfere in what doesn't concern me, but you yourself asked me to do something for you; well, as you like; I only give you my opinion.
Forgive me, uncle; I will obey you,
said Alexandr, and at once sealed up the letter.
Having sealed up one, he began to look for the other, to Sophia. He looked on the table -- not there; under the table -- not there either; in the desk -- it was not there.
What are you looking for?
said his uncle.
I am looking for another letter -- to Sophia.
And his uncle too began to look about.
Where can it be?
said Piotr Ivanitch,
I hope I did not throw it in the fire.
Uncle! what have you done? you actually lighted your cigar with it!
said Alexandr in great distress, picking up the charred fragments of the letter.
Is it possible?
cried his uncle,
how did I do that? I did not notice it; only imagine my having burnt such a precious thing. However, do you know what? from one point of view it is positively a good thing.
Oh, uncle! good God! not from any point of view can it be a good thing,
said Alexandr in despair.
I assure you it was a good thing; you will not have time to write to her by this post, and by the next you will certainly be in a different mood, you will be busy with your
new work; you will not be at the same stage and in this way you will commit one folly the less.
What will she think of me?
Why what she likes. And I think it will be a gain to her. I suppose you are not going to marry her? She will think you have forgotten her. She will forget you herself and will have the less reason to blush before her future husband, when she assures him that she has never loved any one but him.
You are a strange man, uncle! for you there is no such thing as constancy, no sacred vows. Life is so sweet, so full of charm, of subtlety, it is like a smooth, resplendent lake.
Where yellow flowers grow, I suppose!
put in his uncle.
Like a lake,
it is full of something mysterious, alluring, hiding within it so much.
Mud, my dear boy.
Why do you bring in mud, uncle, why do you destroy and put an end to all pleasure, hope, bliss -- why do you look at the dark side?
I look at reality, and I advise you to do the same; you will not be taken in then. According to your notions life is sweet in the provinces, where they know nothing about it - there they are not men, but angels: Zayeshaloff for instance -- a noble fellow; your auntie -- a sublime sensitive spirit, and Sophia, I fancy, is just such a silly creature as your auntie.
No more, uncle!
said Alexandr driven to fury.
And still more such idealists as you: they go blindfold through life, groping after unchanging love and friendship. For the hundredth time I say, it was a pity for you to come!
Will she assure her husband that she has never loved any one?
said Alexandr almost to himself.
Why! you are back at the same subject again!
No, I am convinced that she will straightway with noble frankness give him my letters and --
said Piotr Ivanitch.
Yes, and the tokens of our affection, and will say: Here this was he who first touched the chords of my heart; about whose name they first vibrated.
His uncle's brows began to contract and his eyes opened wide. Alexandr stopped.
Why did you cease to touch her chords then? Well my dear boy, your Sophia certainly is a fool, if she commits any folly of that kind; I suppose she has a mother, or some body who can prevent her? God knows what she will make her husband suspect; I daresay, the marriage will even be broken off, and why? because you gathered some yellow flowers together. . . No, things are not done like that. Well, since you can write in Russian, we will go to-morrow to the office of the department; I have already spoken of you to an old fellow-clerk of mine, now the chief of the department; he told me there was a vacancy; we must not lose time. What is that you are pulling out of that pile of papers?
My university notes. Allow me to read you a few pages from the lectures of Ivan Semenitch about the Art of Greece.
He was already beginning to turn over the pages in haste.
Oh, please, spare me!
said Piotr Ivanitch frowning.
But what is that?
My dissertations. I should like to show them to my chief; especially one scheme here which I elaborated.
Ah! one of those schemes which have been carried out a thousand years ago, or which is impossible and useless to carry out at all; you will never write anything worth having in that way, and you will waste time.
What? after having heard so many lectures.
They are of use to you for a time, but now you must see, read, learn and do what you are told.
How will the chief understand my qualifications?
He will understand them soon enough; he is first rate at understanding. And what kind of post would you like to occupy?
I don't know, uncle, what kind of --
There are posts of minister,
remarked Piotr Ivanitch,
and deputy-ministers, directors, vice-directors, chiefs of departments, branch-chiefs, their assistants, officials of several orders.
Alexandr thought a minute. He was abashed and did not know which to choose.
Well, to begin with the
of a branch-chief would do very well,
Yes, very well!
repeated Piotr Ivanitch.
I could see something of the work, uncle, and then in two months or so I might even be a chief of a department.
His uncle pricked up his ears.
Of course, of course!
then in three months a director; then in a year a minister; don't you think so?
Alexandr blushed and was silent.
The chief of the department told you, I suppose, what was the post vacant?
he asked after a pause.
answered his uncle: --
he did not say, but we had better leave it to him; we should find it difficult, you see, to choose, but he will know what to appoint you to. Don't talk to him of the difficulty you feel in choosing a post, and of your schemes not a word. I would not advise you to talk of material tokens to the pretty girls here; they won't know how to take you! This is too elevated for them; even I hardly fathomed it, and they will make faces at you.
While his uncle was speaking Alexandr was balancing a packet in his hand.
What have you there?
Alexandr had been impatiently expecting this question.
This -- I have long wanted to show you....
; you once showed an interest --
I don't remember it at all; I think I did not show any interest.
You see, uncle, I regard official life as a dry occupation, in which the soul has no part, but the soul thirsts for self-expression, it thirsts to share with others the overflow of emotions and thoughts which fill it.
Well, what of it?
asked his uncle impatiently.
I feel an impulse to creative work.
Which means, you would like some other occupation besides official duties -- for instance some translation? Well, it's very praiseworthy; what is it to be, literary work?
Yes, uncle, I wanted to ask you, if you had a chance of getting anything inserted --
Are you convinced that you have talent? without it
of course you can do hackwork in literature but what is the use of it? If you have talent, it is a different matter; you can work; you will do much that is worth doing and besides it is capital -- it is worth more than your hundred serfs.
Do you measure this too in money? Fame! fame! that is the
There is no such thing as fame nowadays. There is notoriety, but of fame you hear nothing at all, or perhaps it has taken to appearing in another form; the better a man writes the more money he gets. However in these days a decent author lives decently, he is not frozen and starved to death in a garret, though people don't run after him in the street and point at him with their fingers, as though he were a clown; they have learnt that a
is not a god but a man; that he looks, walks, thinks, and does silly things just like other people; why do you look like that?
Like other people -- what will you say next, uncle? how can any one say such things? A
is marked off by a special stamp; there are mysterious tokens of the existence in him of higher powers.
Yes, just as in some others -- in the mathematician and the watchmaker or even the manufacturer, like myself. Newton, Gutenberg, Watt, were also endowed with higher powers, like Shakespeare, Dante and the rest. If I could manage by some special process to work our Petersburg clay till china could be made of it better than Saxony or Sevres, do you consider that this would not show the possession of higher powers?
You are mixing up art with manufactures, uncle.
God forbid! Art is one thing, manufacture is another, but there may be creative genius in one just as much as in the other, and similarly there may not. If there is not, the manufacturer is simply called a manufacturer, and not a creative genius, and the
too without genius is not a poet, but a rhymer. . . Haven't you been told about this at the university? Pray what did you learn there?
The uncle began to be vexed with himself for having been led into such an exposition of what he considered commonplace truisms.
It's like a 'sincere outburst of feeling,'
Show me what have you there?
His uncle took the papers and began to read the first page.
Whence the cloud of pain and sorrow
Swooping sometimes suddenly
On the heart with life at conflict.
He began to smoke a cigar and continued: --
Filling it with passion high.
Why in time of storm and tempest
Doth some gloomy dream of ill,
With unfathomable sadness
Strike the inmost spirit chill.
Of the distant skies the silence
Fills us now with dread and fright --
'Dread' and 'fright' one and the same thing.
I gaze upwards; the moon soundless,
That's not so bad and not good!
he said as he finished it.
However others have begun worse than that; you can try a little, write, work at it if you have the inclination; possibly talent may show itself; then it will be a different matter.
Alexandr was very downcast. He had expected a very different criticism. He was a little consoled by reflecting that his uncle was a cold man almost destitute of soul.
Here is a translation from Schiller,
Well; I will look at it. Have you learnt foreign languages too then?
I know French, German, and a little English.
I congratulate you, you should have told me so before; there's a good deal to be made of you. You talked to me long ago about political economy, philosophy, archaeology, God knows what all. But of the most important thing not a word -- misplaced modesty. I will get you some literary work at once.
Really, uncle? how good you are! -- allow me to embrace you.
Wait till I have got it for you.
Will you not show any of my compositions to my future chief to give him an idea of me?
No, it is not necessary: if there is any need, you show it yourself, but perhaps it will not be needed. Do you make me a present of your dissertations and compositions?
Make you a present of them ? -- by all means, uncle,
said Alexandr, who was rather flattered by this request on the part of his uncle.
Would you not like me to make you an index of all the articles in chronological order?
No, there's no need of that....Thanks for the present. Yevsay! take these papers to Vassily.
Why to Vassily? surely to your study.
He asked me for some paper to paste on something.
cried Alexandr in horror, clutching the heap back again.
You gave them to me you know, and what does it matter to you what use I make of your present?
You are quite ruthless!
he groaned in despair, clasping his manuscripts in both hands to his heart.
Alexandr, listen to me,
said his uncle, taking the manuscript from him: --
you will not have to blush hereafter and you will thank me for it.
Alexandr let the manuscripts drop out of his hands.
There, take them away, Yevsay,
said Piotr Ivanitch.
Well now your room is tidy and nice, there is no rubbish lying about; it will depend on you whether it is filled with worthless litter or with something sensible. Let us go to the factory for a walk, to get a breath of fresh air and to see how they are working.
One morning Piotr Ivanitch took his nephew to the office of the department, and while he himself was talking to his friend the chief of the department, Alexandr began to make acquaintance with this new world. He was absorbed in dreaming of schemes and was cudgelling his brains to think what political question would be put for him to solve, and meanwhile he stood and looked about.
Exactly like my uncle's factory!
he decided at last:
Just as there one overseer takes a piece of the soft stuff, throws it into a machine, turns it once, twice, three times -- and lo and behold it comes out a cone, an oval, or a semicircle; then he passes it to another, who bakes it in the fire, a third gilds it, a fourth engraves it and it comes out a cup,
or a vase, or a saucer. And here; a casual petitioner comes in, almost crawling, and with a pitiful smile hands in a paper -- an overseer takes it, only just runs his pen across it, and hands it to another, who throws it into a mass of thousands of other papers -- but it is not lost; stamped with a number it passes unharmed through twenty hands, multiplying and begetting more of its own kind. At last when it is covered with the dust of ages, they disturb it and deliberate over it. And every day, every hour, to-day, to-morrow and for all time the bureaucratic machine works smoothly, without hitch or pause, as though not made of men, but as though it were made of wheels and springs. But where is the intelligence animating and moving this edifice of papers?
in the books, in the papers themselves or in the heads of these men?
And what faces he saw here; such faces seem not to be met in the street walking in the light of heaven: here one fancies they were born, and reared to manhood in their places and here they will die. Adouev looked attentively at the chief of the department; like Jupiter the Thunderer, he opens his mouth -- and a Mercury runs up with a copper number on his breast; he holds out his hand with some paper; ten hands are stretched out to take it.
Ivan Ivanitch jumped up from a table, ran up to Jupiter and was beside him in the twinkling of an eye.
And Alexandr felt overawed, though he could not himself have said why.
Give me my snuff-box!
With both hands he held the open snuff-box to him in a servile manner.
Now examine him!
said the chief pointing to Adouev.
So this is who is to examine me!
thought Adouev, looking at the yellow face and threadbare elbows of Ivan Ivanitch.
Is it possible that this man could settle questions of State?
Have you a good hand?
asked Ivan Ivanitch.
A good hand?
Yes, a good handwriting. I will trouble you to copy that paper.
Alexandr was surprised at this request; but he did so. Ivan Ivanitch made a grimace when he looked at what he had written.
A poor handwriting,
he said to the chief of the department. The latter looked at it.
Yes, it's not good; he can't write fair copies. Well let him for a time write out absence permits, and then when he is a little used to it, set him to writing forms for deeds perhaps he will do; he has been educated at a university.
Very soon Adouev too became one of the springs of the machine. He wrote, wrote, wrote unendingly, and began to wonder how it was possible to do anything else in the morning; but when he remembered his dissertations, be blushed.
in one thing you were right, cruelly right; can it be so in everything? can I have been mistaken in those inspired thoughts kept to myself alone and that warm trust in love, in friendship, and in men, and in myself? What is life then?
He bent over his papers and scribbled all the more zealously, but tears were glistening on his eyelashes.
Fortune certainly smiles upon you,
said Piotr Ivanitch to his nephew;
I was in an office a whole year to begin with without salary, but you have been put on the upper scale of salary at once; why it's 750 roubles and with the Christmas extras it will be 1000 roubles. It's splendid for the first start! The chief of the department praises you; only he says you are careless; sometimes you don't put in your stops, and sometimes you will forget to write a synopsis of the paper. Pray get out of that way; the chief thing is to pay attention to what is before your eyes, and don't go flying off aloft.
The uncle pointed upwards with his hand. From this time he behaved more affectionately to his nephew.
What a splendid fellow my head-clerk is, uncle!
said Alexandr one day.
And how do you know that?
I have made friends with him. Such an elevated soul, such a pure noble turn of mind! and with his sub too; he is a man, I think, of firm will, of iron character.
You have had time already to make friends with him?
Did not your head-clerk invite you to go to see him on Thursdays?
Yes, indeed; every Thursday. I fancy he feels a special attraction to me.
And he asked his sub to lend him money?
Yes, uncle, a trifle. I gave him twenty-five roubles which I had with me; he asked for eighty more.
You have given it him already! Ah!
said his uncle with vexation: --
I am partly to blame in the matter, for not having warned you beforehand; but I thought that you weren't simple to such a point as to lend money after only a fortnight's acquaintance. There is no help for it now, we will divide the guilt; for twelve and a half roubles you may count on me.
Why, uncle, surely he will return it?
You needn't reckon on that! I know him; I lost 100 roubles over him when I was in that office. He borrows from every one. Now, if he asks you again, you tell him that I beg him to remember his debt to me -- he will soon stop and don't go to see him.
He's a gambler. He will sit you down with two more fine fellows like himself, and they will play into each other's hands and leave you without a penny.
said Alexandr in amazement,
is it possible? He seems so inclined to sincere outbursts.
But you tell him, as though incidentally in conversation, that I have taken all your money to take care of it, and you will see whether he will be so inclined to sincere outbursts, and whether he will ever invite you to come to him on Thursdays.
Alexandr grew thoughtful, his uncle shook his head.
And you imagined that they were angels sitting by you there! Sincere outbursts, special attraction, indeed! So it seems it has never struck you to reflect whether they might not be scoundrels? It was a pity for you to come!" he said; "certainly, it was a pity!
One day Alexandr was only just awake when Yevsay gave him a large parcel with a note from his uncle.
At last here is some literary employment for you,
was written on the letter.
I met an acquaintance of mine, a journalist yesterday; he has sent you some work on trial.
Alexandr's hands trembled with pleasure when he broke the seal of the parcel. It was a German handwriting.
What is it --
And he read written above in pencil.
On manures, an
for our column on agriculture. You are requested to return it as soon as possible.
A long while he sat gloomily before the
, then slowly, with a sigh, he took his pen and began to translate it. In two days the article was ready and despatched.
said Piotr Ivanitch a few days later.
The editor was very pleased with it, only he thinks the style is a little too ornate; but one can't expect everything at first. He wants to make your acquaintance. Call on him to-morrow at seven in the evening; he will have another
for you by then.
On the same subject again, uncle?
No; on something different; he did tell me but I have forgotten -- oh! yes -- on potato starch. You must have been born, Alexandr, with a silver spoon in your mouth. I begin at last to suspect that something will be made of you; soon perhaps I shall stop saying to you, 'Why did you come?' A month has not gone by, and already good luck is being showered upon you from all sides. 1000 roubles from your office, and the editor offers 100 roubles a month for sixty-four
pages of print
; that makes 2200 roubles you know! No, I did not begin like that!" he said, knitting his eyebrows a little. "Write and tell your mother you are provided for and how. I will answer her too, I will tell her that in return for her kindness to me, I have done all I could for you.
Mamma will be -- very grateful to you, uncle; and I too,
said Alexandr with a sigh, but this time he did not throw himself on to his uncle's neck.