The Kiss and Other Stories/La Cigale
TO Olga Ivanovna's wedding came all her friends and acquaintances.
“Look at him! Isn't it true there is something in him?” she said to them, nodding towards her husband, as if to justify her marriage to this simple, commonplace, in no way remarkable man.
The bridegroom, Osip Stepanuitch Duimoff, was a doctor, with the rank of Titular Councillor. He worked at two hospitals; in one as supernumerary ordinator; as dissector in the other. At one, from nine in the morning till midday, he received out-patients and worked in the wards; and, finished with this, he took a tram to the second hospital, and dissected bodies. His private practice was small, worth some five hundred roubles a year. That was all. What more could be said of him? On the other hand, Olga Ivanovna, her friends and acquaintances, were by no means ordinary. All were noted for something, and fairly well known; they had names; they were celebrated, or if not celebrated yet, they inspired great hope for the future. A talented actor, clever, modest, a fine gentleman, a master of declamation, who taught Olga Ivanovna to recite; a good-humoured opera-singer who told Olga Ivanovna with a sigh that she was throwing herself away — if she gave up idling and took herself in hand, she would make a famous singer; a few artists, chief of them the genre-ist, animal-, and landscape-painter Riabovsky, handsome, fair-haired, twenty-five, successful at exhibitions, who sold his last picture for five hundred roubles — he touched up Olga Ivanovna's etudes, and predicted a future for her; a violoncellist, whose instrument wept, who frankly said that of all the women he knew Olga Ivanovna alone could accompany; a man of letters, young, but already known for his short stories, sketches, and plays. Who else? Yes, Vassili Vassiluitch, country gentleman, dilettante illustrator and vignettist, with his love of the national epos and his passion for old Russian art — on paper, china, and smoked plates he turned out veritable masterpieces. In such society — artistic, free, and spoiled by fate; and (though delicate and modest) oblivious of doctors save when ill; to whom “Duimoff” sounded as impersonal as “Tarasoff” or “Sidoroff” — in such society, the bridegroom seemed out-of-place, needless, and even insignificant, although he was really a very tall and very broad-shouldered man. His evening dress seemed made for some one else. His beard was like a shopman's. Though it is true that had he been a writer or artist, this beard would have reminded them of Zola.
The artist told Olga Ivanovna that with her flaxen hair and wedding dress she was a graceful cherry-tree covered with tender, white blossoms in spring.
“No, but listen!” replied Olga Ivanovna, seizing his hand. “How suddenly all this happened! Listen, listen! . . . I should tell you that Duimoff and my father were at the same hospital. While my poor father was ill, DuimofF watched day and night at his bedside. Such self-sacrifice! Listen, Riabovsky! . . . And you, writer, listen — this is very interesting! Come nearer! Such sacrifice of self, such sincere concern! I myself could not sleep at night, and sat at my father's bedside, and suddenly! . . . I captivated the poor young man! My Duimoff was up to his neck in love! In truth, things happen strangely. Well, after my father's death we sometimes met in the street; he paid me occasional visits, and one fine evening suddenly — he proposed to me! . . . I cried all night, and myself fell in love with him. And now, you see, I am married. Don't you think there is something in him? Something strong, mighty, leonine! Just now his face is turned three-quarters from us and the light is bad, but when he turns round just look at his fore-head! Riabovsky, what do you think of his forehead? Duimoff, we are speaking of you.” She turned to her husband. “Come here! Give your honest hand to Riabovsky. . . . That's right. Be friends!”
With a simple, kindly smile, Duimoff gave his hand to the artist, and said —
“I'm delighted! There was a Riabovsky at college with me. Was he a relation of yours?”
Olga Ivanovna was twenty-two years old, Duimoff thirty-one. After the marriage they lived well. Olga Ivanovna hung the drawing-room with drawings, her own and her friends', framed and unframed; and about the piano and furniture, arranged in pretty confusion Chinese parasols, easels, many-coloured draperies, poniards, busts, photographs. The dining-room she decked with the bright-coloured oleographs beloved by peasants, bast-shoes and sickles, and these, with the scythe and hay-rake in the corner, made a room in national style. To make her bedroom like a cave, she draped the ceiling and walls with dark cloth, hung a Venetian lantern over the bed, and set near the door a figure with a halberd. And every one agreed that the young couple had a charming flat.
Rising every day at eleven, Olga Ivanovna sat at the piano, or, if the sun shone, painted in oils. At one o'clock she drove to her dressmaker's. As neither she nor Duimoff was rich, many ingenious shifts were resorted to to keep her in the new-looking dresses which made such an impression on all. Pieces of old dyed cloth; worthless patches of tulle, lace, plush, and silk, came back from the dressmaker miracles, not dresses but ravishing dreams. Done with the dress-maker, Olga Ivanovna drove to some actress friend to learn theatrical news and get tickets for first-nights or benefits; thence to an artist's studio or picture gallery, ending up with some other celebrity whom she invited to visit her, or simply gossiped to. And those whom she counted celebrities and great men received her as an equal, and told her in one voice that if she did not throw away her opportunities, her talents, taste, and intellect would yield something really great. She sang, played, painted, modelled, acted in amateur theatricals; and did everything well: if she merely made lanterns for illuminations, or dressed herself up, or tied some one's necktie, the result was invariably graceful, artistic, charming. But none of her talents outshone her skill in meeting and getting on terms of intimacy with men of note. Let a man get the least reputation, or even be talked about, and in a single day she had met him, established friendly relations, and invited him to her home. And each new acquaintance was a festival in himself. She worshipped the well-known, was proud of them, and dreamed of them all night. Her thirst was insatiable. The old celebrities departed and were forgotten, and new celebrities replaced them; and to these last she grew accustomed in time; they lost their charm, so that she sought for more.
She dined at home with her husband at five o'clock. She was in ecstasies over his simplicity, common sense, and good humour. She jumped up from her chair, embraced his head, and covered it with kisses.
“You are a clever, a noble man, Duimoff!” she exclaimed. “You have only one drawback. You take no interest in art. You deny music and painting.”
“I don't understand them,” he answered kindly. “All my life I have studied only science and medicine. I have no time for art.”
“But that is awful, Duimoff!”
“Why awful? Your friends know nothing of science or medicine, yet you don't blame them for that. To each man his own! I don't understand landscapes or operas, but I look at the matter thus: if talented men devote their lives to such things, and clever men pay vast sums for them, that means they are useful. I don't understand them, but not to understand does not mean to deny.”
“Give me your hand! Let me press your honest hand!”
After dinner Olga Ivanovna drove away to her friends; after that followed theatres or concerts. She returned after midnight. And so every day. On Wednesdays she gave evening parties. There were no cards and no dancing. Hostess and guests devoted themselves to art. The actor recited, the singer sang, artists sketched in Olga Ivanovna's numberless albums; the hostess painted, modelled, accompanied, and sang. In the pauses between these recreations, they talked of books, the theatre, and art. No women were present, because Olga Ivanovna considered all women, except actresses and dressmakers, tiresome and contemptible. When the hall bell rang the hostess started, and exclaimed triumphantly, “It's he!” meaning thereby some newly met celebrity. Duimoff kept out of sight, and few remembered his existence. But at half-past eleven the dining-room door flew open, and Duimoff appeared with a kindly smile, rubbed his hands, and said —
“Come, gentlemen, to supper!”
Whereupon all thronged to the dining-room, and each time found awaiting them the same things: a dish of oysters, a joint of ham or veal, sardines, cheese, caviare, mushrooms, vodka, and two decanters of wine. “My dear maître d'hôtel!” cried Olga Ivanovna, waving her hands ecstatically. “You are simply adorable! Gentlemen, look at his forehead! Duimoff, show us your profile. Look at him, gentlemen: it is the face of a Bengal tiger with an expression as kind and good as a deer's. My sweetheart!”
And the guests ate steadily and looked at Duimoff. But soon they forgot his presence, and returned to theatre, music, and art.
The young couple were happy. Their life, it seemed, flowed as smoothly as oil. But the third week of the honeymoon was crossed by a cloud. Duimoff got erysipelas at the hospital, and his fine black hair was cut off. Olga Ivanovna sat with him and cried bitterly, but when he got better she bound a white handkerchief around his head and sketched him as a Bedouin. And both were happy. Three days after he had returned to hospital a second misfortune occurred.
“I am in bad luck, mama!” he said at dinner. “To-day I had four dissections, and I cut two fingers. I noticed it only just now.”
Olga Ivanovna was frightened. But Duimoif smiled, dismissed the accident as a trifle, and said that he cut himself often.
“I am carried away by my work, mama, and forget what I'm about.”
Olga Ivanovna dreaded blood-poisoning, and at night prayed to God. But no consequences followed, and life, serene and happy, flowed without trouble or alarm. The present was all delight, and behind it came spring — spring already near, beaming and beckoning, with a thousand joys. Pleasures it promised without end. In April, May, and June a villa far from town, with walks, fishing, studies, nightingales. From June till autumn the artists' tour on the Volga, and in this tour, as member of the Artists' Association, Olga Ivanovna would take part. She had already ordered two expensive dresses of gingham, and laid in a stock of colours, brushes, canvas, and a new palette. Almost every day came Riabovsky to watch her progress in painting. When she showed him her work he thrust his hands deep in his pockets, compressed tightly his lips, grunted, and said —
“So! . . . This cloud of yours glares; the light is not right for evening. The foreground is somehow chewed up, and there is something, you understand. . . . And the cabin is somehow crushed . . . you should make that corner a little darker. But on the whole it's not bad. . . . I can praise it.”
And the less intelligibly he spoke the better Olga Ivanovna understood.
After dinner, on the second day of Trinity week, Duimoff bought some hors d'œuvres and sweets and took train for his villa in the country. Two whole weeks he had not seen his wife, and he longed to be with her again. During the journey and afterwards, as he searched for the villa in a big wood, he felt hungry and fatigued, and rejoiced at the thought of supping in freedom with his wife and having a sound sleep. So, looking at his parcel of caviare, cheese, and white-fish, he felt happy.
Before he found the villa the sun had begun to set. The old servant said that her mistress was not at home, but that she would soon return. The villa, a very ugly villa, with low ceilings, papered with writing-paper, and uneven, chinky floors, contained only three rooms. In one was a bed, in another canvas, brushes, dirty paper, and men's clothes and hats scattered on chairs and window-sills; and in the third Duimoff found three strangers, two dark and bearded, the third — evidently an actor — clean-shaven and stout.
“What do you want?” asked the actor in a bass voice, looking at Duimoff shyly. “You want Olga Ivanovna? Wait; she'll be back shortly.”
Duimoff sat down and waited. One of the dark men, looking at him drowsily and lazily, poured tea into his glass and asked —
“Would you like some tea?”
Duimoff wanted both to eat and drink, but, fearing to spoil his appetite, he refused the tea. Soon afterwards came footsteps and a familiar laugh; the door flew open, and in came Olga Ivanovna wearing a big hat. On her arm hung a basket, and behind her, with a big parasol and a deck-chair, came merry, rosy-cheeked Riabovsky. “Duimoff!” cried Olga Ivanovna, radiant with joy. “Duimoff!” she repeated, laying her head and both hands on his shoulder. “It is you? Why did you not come sooner? Why? Why?”
“I couldn't, mama! I am always busy, and when I end my work there's generally no train.”
“How glad I am youVe come! I dreamed of you all, all last night. Akh, if you knew how I love you — and how opportunely you've come! You are my saviour! To-morrow we have a most original wedding.” She laughed and re-tied her husband's tie. “A young telegraphist at the station, a certain Tchikeldeyeff, is going to be married. A handsome boy, not at all stupid; in his face, you know, there's something strong, bearish. . . . He'd sit admirably as model for a Varangian. We are all interested in him, and promised to come to the wedding. . . . He is a poor man, solitary and shy, and it would be a sin to refuse. Imagine! . . . after church there'll be the wedding, then all go to the bride's house . . . you understand . . . the woods, the birds' songs, sunspots on the grass, and we ourselves — variegated spots on a bright green background. . . . Most original, quite in the style of the French impressionists! But what am I to wear, Duimoff? I have nothing here, literally nothing. . . . No dress, no flowers, no gloves! . . . You must save me. Your arrival means that fate is on my side. Here are the keys, sweet-heart! take the train home and bring my rose-coloured dress from the wardrobe. You know it; it's the first you'll see. Then in the chest of drawers — the bottom right-hand drawer — you'll find two boxes. At the top there's only tulle and other rags, but underneath you'll find flowers. Bring all the flowers — carefully! I don't know . . . then I'll choose. . . And buy me some gloves.”
“All right,” said Duimoff. “I'll get them to-morrow!”
“How to-morrow?” asked Olga Ivanovna, looking at him with surprise. “You can't do it to-morrow. The first train leaves at nine, and the wedding is at eleven. No, dear; go to-night! If you can't get back yourself to-morrow send a messenger. The train is nearly due. Don't miss it, my soul!”
“Akh, how sorry I am to have to send you!” she said, and tears came into her eyes. “Why did I promise the telegraph clerk, like a fool!”
Duimoff' hastily gulped down a glass of tea, and, still smiling kindly, returned to the station. And the caviare, the cheese, and the white-fish were eaten by the actor and the two dark men.
It was a still moonlight night of July. Olga Ivanovna stood on the deck of a Volga steamer and looked now at the river, now at its beautiful banks. Beside her stood Riabovsky, and affirmed that the black shadows on the water were not shadows but a dream; that this magic stream with its fantastic shimmer, this unfathomable sky, these mournful banks — which expressed but the vanity of life, and the existence of something higher, something eternal, something blessed — called to us to forget ourselves, to die, to fade into memories. The past was trivial and tedious, the future insignificant; and this magic night, this one night of life, would soon be past, would have hurried into eternity. Why, then, live?
And Olga Ivanovna listened, first to Riabovsky's voice, then to the midnight silence, and thought that she was immortal, and would never die. The river's turquoise hue, a hue she had never seen before, the sky, the banks, the black shadows, and the irresponsible joy which filled her heart, all whispered to her that she would become a great artist, that somewhere far away, beyond these distances, beyond the moon-light night, somewhere in infinite space there awaited success and glory, and the love of the world. When she looked earnestly into the distance, she saw crowds, lights; she heard solemn music and cries of rapture; she saw herself in a white dress surrounded by flowers cast at her from all sides. And she believed that here beside her, leaning on the bulwark, stood a really great man, a genius, the elected of God. He had already accomplished things beautiful, new, uncommon; what he would do when time had ripened his great talents would be greater immeasurably — that was written legibly in his face, his expressions, his relations to the world around. Of the shadows, the hues of nights, the moonlight, he spoke in language all his own, and unconsciously betrayed the power of his magic mastery over Nature. He was handsome and original; and his life, unhampered, free, alien to the trifles of the world, seemed the life of a bird.
“It is getting cold!” said Olga Ivanovna, shuddering.
Riabovsky wrapped her in his cloak and said mournfully —
“I feel myself in your power. I am a slave. Why are you so ravishing to-night?”
He looked at her steadily, and his eyes were so terrible that she feared to look at him.
“I love you madly . . .” he whispered, breathing against her cheek. “Say to me but one word, and I will not live . . . I will abandon my art. . . .” He stammered in his extreme agitation. “Love me, love. . . .”
“Don't speak in that way!” said Olga Ivanovna, closing her eyes. “It is terrible. And Duimoff?” “What is Duimoff? Why Duimoff? What have I to do with Duimoff? The Volga, the moon, beauty, my love, my raptures . . . and no Duimoff at all! . . . Akh, I know nothing. . . . I do not want the past; give me but one moment . . . one second!”
Olga Ivanovna's heart beat quickly. She tried to think of her husband; but her whole past, her marriage, Duimoff, even the evening parties seemed to her trivial, contemptible, dull, needless, and remote. . . . And, indeed, who was Duimoff? Why Duimoff? What had she to do with Duimoff? Did he exist really in Nature; was he only a dream?
“He has had more happiness than he could expect, a simple and ordinary man,” she thought, closing her eyes. “Let them condemn me, let them curse me; but I will take all and perish, take all and perish. . . . We must experience everything in life. . . . Lord, how painful and how good!”
“Well, what? What?” stammered the artist, embracing her. He kissed her hands greedily, while she strove to withdraw them. “You love me? Yes? Yes? O, what a night! O night divine!”
“Yes, what a night!” she whispered, looking into his eyes which glittered with tears. Then she looked around her, clasped her arms about him, and kissed him firmly on the lips.
“We are near Kineshma,” said a voice somewhere across the deck. Heavy footfalls echoed behind them. A waiter passed from the buffet.
“Waiter!” cried Olga Ivanovna, laughing and crying in her joy. “Bring us some wine.”
Pale with excitement, the artist sat on a bench, and stared at Olga Ivanovna with grateful, adoring eyes. But in a moment he shut these eyes, and said with a weary smile —
“I am tired.”
And he leaned his head against the bulwark.
The second of September was warm and windless but dull. Since early morning a light mist had wandered across the Volga, and at nine o'clock it began to rain. There was no hope of a clear sky. At breakfast Riabovsky told Olga Ivanovna that painting was the most thankless and tedious of arts, that he was no artist, and that only fools thought him talented. Then, for no cause whatever, he seized a knife and cut to pieces his best study. After breakfast, in bad humour, he sat at a window and looked at the river, and found it without life — dull, dead, and cold. All around spoke of frowning autumn's approach. It seemed already that the green carpet on the banks, the diamond flashes from the water, the clear blue distances — all the vanity and parade of Nature had been taken from the Volga and packed in a box until the coming spring; and that the ravens flying over the river mocked it and cried, “Naked! Naked!” Riabovsky listened to their cry, and brooded on the exhaustion and loss of his talent: and he thought that all the world was conditional, relative, and stupid, and that he should not have tied himself up with this woman. In one word he was out of spirits, and sulked.
On her bed behind the partition, pulling at her pretty hair, sat Olga Ivanovna; and pictured herself at home, first in the drawing-room, then in her bedroom, then in her husband's study; imagination bore her to theatres, to her dressmaker, to her friends. What was DuimofF doing now? Did he think of her? The season had already begun; it was time to think of the evening parties. And Duimoff? Dear Duimoff! How kindly, with what infantile complaints, he begged her in his letters to come home! Every month he sent her seventy-five roubles, and when she Avrote that she had boiTowed a hundred from the artists he sent her also that hundred. The good, the generous man! Olga Ivanovna was tired of the tour; she suffered from tedium, and wished to escape as soon as possible from the muzhiks, from the river damp, from the feeling of physical uncleanliness caused by living in huts and wandering from village to village. Had Riabovsky not promised his brother artists to stay till the twentieth of September, they might have left at once. And how good it would be to leave!
“My God!” groaned Riabovsky. “Will the sun ever come out? I cannot paint a landscape virithout the sun!”
“But your study of a cloudy sky?” said Olga Ivanovna, coming from behind the partition. “You remember, the one with the trees in the foreground to the right, and the cows and geese at the left. You could finish that.”
“What?” The artist frowned. “Finish it? Do you really think I'm so stupid that I don't know what to do?”
“What I do think is that you've changed to me!” sighed Olga Ivanovna.
“Yes; and that's all right.”
Olga Ivanovna's face quivered; she went to the stove and began to cry.
“We only wanted tears to complete the picture! Do stop! I have a thousand reasons for crying, but I don't cry.”
“A thousand reasons!” burst out Olga Ivanovna. “The chief reason is that you are tired of me. Yes!” She began to sob. “I will tell you the truth: you are ashamed of your love. You try to hide it, to prevent the others noticing, but that is useless, because they knew about it long ago.” “Olga, I ask only one thing,” said the artist imploringly. He put his hand to his ear. “One thing only; do not torture me! I want nothing more from you!”
“Then swear to me that you love me still!”
“This is torture!” hissed Riabovsky through his teeth. He jumped up. “It will end in my throwing myself into the Volga, or going out of my mind. Leave me alone!”
“Then kill me! Kill me!” cried Olga Ivanovna. “Kill me!”
She again sobbed, and retired behind the partition. Raindrops pattered on the cabin roof. Riabovsky with his hands to his head walked from corner to corner; then with a determined face, as if he wanted to prove something, put on his cap, took his gun, and went out of the hut.
When he left, Olga Ivanovna lay on her bed and cried. At first she thought that it would be good to take poison, so that Riabovsky on his return would find her dead. But soon her thoughts bore her back to the drawing-room and to her husband's study; and she fancied herself sitting quietly beside Duimoff, enjoying physical rest and cleanliness; and spending the evening listening to Cavalleria Rusticuna. And a yearning for civilisation, for the sound of cities, for celebrjties filled her heart. A peasant woman entered the hut, and lazily prepared the stove for dinner. There was a smell of soot, and the air turned blue from smoke. Then in came several artists in muddy top boots, their faces wet with rain; and they looked at the drawings, and consoled themselves by saying that even in bad weather the Volga had its especial charm. The cheap clock on the wall ticked away; half-frozen flies swarmed in the ikon-corner and buzzed; and cockroaches could be heard under the benches.
Riabovsky returned at sunset. He flung his cap on the table, and, pale, tired, and muddy, dropped on a bench and shut his eyes.
“I am tired,” he said, and wrinkled his brows, trying to open his eyes.
To show him kindness, and prove that her anger had passed, Olga Ivanovna came up to him, kissed him silently, and drew a comb through his long, fair hair.
“What are you doing?” he asked, starting as if something cold had touched him. He opened his eyes. “What are you doing? Leave me alone, I beg of you!”
He repulsed her with both hands; and his face seemed to express repugnance and vexation. The peasant woman cautiously brought him a plate, and Olga Ivanovna noticed how she stuck her big fingers in the soup. And the dirty peasant woman with her pendent stomach, the soup which Riabovsky ate greedily, the hut, which she had loved at first for its plainness and artistic disorder, seemed to her unbearable. She felt a deep sense of offence, and said coldly —
“We must part for a time, otherwise we'll only quarrel seriously out of sheer tedium. I am tired of this. I am going to-day.”
“Going, how? On the steamer?”
“To-day is Thursday — there is a steamer at half-past nine.”
“Eh? Yes! . . . All right, go,” said Riabovsky softly, using a towel for a table-napkin. “It's tire-some here for you, and there's nothing to do. Only a great egoist would try to keep you. Go . . . we will meet after the twentieth.”
Olga Ivanovna, in good spirits, packed her clothes. Her cheeks burnt with pleasure. “Is it possible?” she asked herself. “Is it possible I shall soon paint in the drawing-room and sleep in a bedroom and dine off a tablecloth?” Her heart grew lighter, and her anger with the artist disappeared.
“I'll leave you the colours and brushes, Riabusha,” she said. “You'll bring everything. . . . And, mind, don't idle when I am gone; don't sulk, but work. You are my boy, Riabusha!”
At ten o'clock Riabovsky kissed her good-bye in the hut, to avoid — as she saw — kissing her on the landiog-stage in the presence of others. Soon afterwards the steamer arrived and took her away. Two and a half days later she reached home. Still in her hat and waterproof cloak, panting with excitement, she went through the drawing-room into the dining-room. In his shirt-sleeves, with unbuttoned waistcoat, Duimoff sat at the table and sharpened a knife; on a plate before him was a grouse. As Olga Ivanovna entered the house she resolved to hide the truth from her husband, and felt that she was clever and strong enough to succeed. But when she saw his broad, kindly, happy smile and his bright, joyful eyes, she felt that to deceive such a man would be base and impossible, as impossible as to slander, steal, or kill; and she made up her mind in a second to tell him the whole story. When he had kissed and embraced her she fell upon her knees and hid her face.
“What? What is it, mama!” he asked tenderly. “You got tired of it?”
She raised her face, red with shame, and looked at him guiltily and imploringly. But fear and shame forbade her to tell the truth.
“It is nothing,” she said. “I only . . .”
“Sit down here!” he said, lifting her and seating her at the table. “There we are! Eat the grouse! You are starving, of course, poor child!”
She breathed in greedily her native air and ate the grouse. And Duimoff looked at her with rapture and smiled merrily.
Apparently about the middle of winter Duimoff first suspected his wife's unfaithfulness. He behaved as if his own conscience reproached him. He no longer looked her straight in the face; no longer smiled radiantly when she came in sight; and, to avoid being alone with her, often brought home to dinner his colleague, Korosteleff, a little short-haired man, with a crushed face, who showed his confusion in Olga Ivanovna's society by buttoning and unbuttoning his coat and pinching his right moustache. During dinner the doctors said that when the diaphragm rises abnormally high the heart sometimes beats irregularly, that neuritis had greatly increased, and they discussed DuimoflTs discovery made during dissection that a case of cancer of the pancreas had been wrongly diagnosed as “malignant anæmia.” And it was plain that both men spoke only of medicine in order that Olga Ivanovna might be silent and tell no lies. After dinner, Korosteleff sat at the piano, and Duimoff sighed and said to him —
“Akh, brother! Well! Play me something mournful.”
Whereupon, raising his shoulders and spreading his hands, Korosteleff strummed a few chords and sang in tenor, “Show me but one spot where Russia's peasants do not groan!” and Duimoff sighed again, rested his head on his hands, and seemed lost in thought.
Of late Olga Ivanovna had behaved recklessly. She awoke each morning in bad spirits, tortured by the thought that Riabovsky no longer loved her, that — thanks to the Lord, all the same! — all was over. But as she drank her coffee she reasoned that Riabovsky had stolen her from her husband, and that now she belonged to neither. Then she remembered a friend's remark that Riabovsky was getting ready for the exhibition a striking picture, a mixture of landscape and genre, in the style of Polienoff, and that this picture sent every one into raptures; this, she consoled herself, he had done under her influence. Thanks to her influence, indeed, he had on the whole changed for the better, and deprived of it, he would probably perish. She remembered that when last he visited her he came in a splashed cloth coat and a new tie and asked her languidly, “Am I good-looking?” And, in truth, elegant Riabovsky with his blue eyes and long curls was very good-looking — or, it may be, he merely seemed so — and he had treated her with affection.
Having remembered and reasoned much, Olga Ivanovna dressed, and in deep agitation drove to Riabovsky's studio. He was in good humour, delighted with what was indeed a fine picture; he hopped, played the fool, and answered every serious question with a joke, Olga Ivanovna was jealous of the picture, and hated it, but for the sake of good manners, she stood before it five minutes, and, sighing as people sigh before holy things, said softly —
“Yes, you never painted like that before. Do you know, it almost frightens me.”
And she began to implore him to love her, not to forsake her, to pity her — poor and unfortunate! She kissed his hand, cried, made him swear his love, and boasted that without her influence he would go off the track and perish utterly. Thus having spoilt his good humour, and humiliated herself, she would drive away to a dressmaker, or to some actress friend to ask for free tickets.
Once when she found Riabovsky out she left a note swearing that if he did not visit her at once she would take poison. And he, frightened, came and stayed to dinner. Ignoring her husband's presence, he spoke to her impudently ; and she answered in the same tone. They felt chained to one another; they were despots and foes; and their anger hid from them their own rudeness, which even close-clipped Korosteleff remarked. After dinner Riabovsky said good-bye hastily and went.
“Where are you going?” asked Olga Ivanovna. She stood in the hall, and looked at him with hatred.
Riabovsky frowned and Winked, and named a woman she knew, and it was plain that he enjoyed her jealousy, and wished to annoy her. Olga Ivanovna went to her bedroom and lay on her bed ; from jealousy, anger, and a sense of humiliation and shame, she bit her pillow, and sobbed aloud. Duimoff left Korosteleff alone, came into the bedroom, and, confused and abstracted, said softly —
“Don't cry so loudly, mama! . . . What good is it? We must keep silence about this. . . . People mustn't see. . . . You know yourself that what has happened is beyond recall.”
Unable to appease the painful jealousy which made her temples throb, thinking, nevertheless, that what had happened was not beyond recall, she washed and powdered her face, and flew off to the woman friend. Finding no Riabovsky there she drove to another, then to a third. . . . At first she felt ashamed of these visits, but she soon reconciled herself; and one evening even called on every woman she knew and sought Riabovsky; and all of them understood her.
Of her husband she said to Riabovsky —
“This man tortures me with his magnanimity.”
And this sentence so pleased her that, meeting artists who knew of her affair with Riabovsky, she repeated with an emphatic gesture —
“This man tortures me with his magnanimity.”
In general, her life remained unchanged. She resumed her Wednesday-evening parties. The actor declaimed, the painters sketched, the violoncellist played, the singers sang; and invariably half an hour before midnight the dining-room door opened, and Duimoff said with a smile —
“Come, gentlemen, supper is ready.”
As before, Olga Ivanovna sought celebrities, found them, and, insatiable, sought for more. As before, she returned home late. But Duimoff, no longer sleeping as of old, sat in his study and worked. He went to bed at three, and rose at eight.
Once as she stood before the pier-glass dressing for the theatre, Duimoff, in evening dress and a white tie, came into the room. He smiled kindly, with his old smile, and looked, his wife joyfully in the face. His face shone.
“I have just defended my dissertation,” he said. He sat down and stroked his leg.
“Your dissertation?” said Olga Ivanovna.
“Yes,” he laughed. He stretched forward so as to see in the mirror the face of his wife, who continued to stand with her back to him and dress her hair, “Yes,” he repeated. “Do you know what? I expect to be offered a privat-docentship in general pathology. That is something.”
It was plain from his radiant face that had Olga Ivanovna shared his joy and triumph he would have forgiven and forgotten everything. But “privat-docentship” and “general pathology” had no meaning for her, and, whafs more, she feared to be late for the theatre. She said nothing.
Duimoff sat still for a few minutes, smiled guiltily, and left the room.
This was an evil day.
Duimoff's head ached badly; he ate no breakfast, and did not go to the hospital, but lay on the sofa in his study. At one o'clock Olga Ivanovna went to Riabovsky's, to show him her Nature morte, and ask why he had not come the day before. The Nature morte she herself did not take seriously; she had painted it only as an excuse to visit the artist.
She went to his apartment unannounced. As she took off her goloshes in the hall she heard hasty footsteps, and the rustle of a woman's dress; and as she hurried into the studio a brown skirt flashed for a moment before her and vanished behind a big picture, which together with its easel was hung with black calico. There was no doubt that a woman hid there. How often had Olga Ivanovna herself hidden behind that picture! Riabovsky, in confusion, stretched out both hands as if surprised at her visit, and said with a constrained smile —
“Ah, I am glad to see you. What is the news?”
Olga Ivanovua's eyes filled with tears. She was ashamed and angered, and would have given millions to be spared speaking before the strange woman, the rival, the liar, who hid behind the picture and tittered, no doubt, maliciously.
“I have brought a study . . .” she said in a thin, frightened voice. Her lips trembled. “Nature morfe.”
“What? What? A study?”
The artist took the sketch, looked at it, and walked mechanically into another room. Olga Ivanovna followed submissively.
“Nature morte . . .” he stammered, seeking rhymes, “Kurort . . . sort . . . porte . . .”
From the studio came hasty footfalls and the rustle of a skirt. She had gone. Olga Ivanovna felt impelled to scream and strike the artist on the head; but tears blinded her, she was crushed by her shame, and felt as if she were not Olga Ivanovna the artist, but a little beetle.
“I am tired . . .” said Riabovsky languidly. He looked at the study, and shook his head as if to drive away sleep. “This is charming, of course, but . . . it is study to-day, and study to-morrow, and study last year, and study it will be again in a month. . . . How is it you don't get tired? If I were you, I should give up painting, and take up seriously music, or something else. . . . You are not an artist but a musician. You cannot imagine how tired I am. Let me order some tea. Eh?” He left the room, and Olga Ivanovna heard him giving an order. To avoid good-byes and explanations, still more to prevent herself sobbing, she went quickly into the hall, put on her goloshes, and went out. Once in the street she sighed faintly. She felt that she was for ever rid of Riabovsky and painting, and the heavy shame which had crushed her in the studio. All was over! She drove to her dressmaker, then to Barnay, who had arrived the day before, and from Barnay to a music shop, thinking all the time how she would write Riabovsky a cold, hard letter, full of her own worth; and that the spring and summer she would spend with Duimoff in the Crimea, free herself for ever from the past, and begin life anew.
On her return, late as usual, she sat in her street clothes in the drawing-room, and prepared to write. Riabovsky had told her she was no artist; in revenge she would write that he painted every year one and the same tiresome thing, that he had exhausted himself, and would never again produce original work. She would write also that he owed much to her beneficent influence; and that if he made mistakes it was only because her influence was paralysed by various ambiguous personages who hid behind his pictures.
“Mama!” cried Duimoff from his study, without opening the door.
“What is it?”
“Mama, don't come in, but just come to the door. It is this. The day before yesterday I took diphtheria at the hospital, and now . . . I feel bad. Send at once for Korosteleff.”
Olga Ivanovna called her husband and men-friends by their surnames; she disliked his name Osip, which reminded her of Gogol's Osip, and the pun “Osip okrip, a Arkhip osip.” But this time she cried —
“Osip, that is impossible!”
“Send! I am ill,” said Duimoff from behind the door; and she heard hira walking to the sofa and lying down. “Send!” came his hoarse voice.
“What can it be,” thought Olga Ivanovna, chilled with fear. “Why this is dangerous!”
Without any aim she took a candle, and went into her room, and there, wondering what she should do, she saw herself unexpectedly in the glass. With her pale, terrified face, her high-sleeved jacket with the yellow gathers on the breast, her skirt with its strange stripes, she seemed to herself frightful and repulsive. And suddenly she felt sorry for Duimoff, sorry for his infinite love, his young life, the forsaken bed on which he had not slept so long. And remembering his kindly, suppliant smile, she cried bitterly, and wrote Korosteleff an imploring letter. It was two o'clock in the morning.
When at eight next morning Olga Ivanovna, heavy, from sleeplessness, untidy, unattractive, and guilty-faced, came out of her bedroom, an unknown, black-bearded man, obviously a doctor, passed her in the hall. There was a smell of drugs. Outside Duimoff's study stood Korosteleff, twisting his left moustache with his right hand.
“Excuse me, I cannot let you in,” he said, looking at her savagely. “You might catch the diseased And in any case, what's the use? He's raving.”
“Is it really diphtheria?” whispered Olga Ivanovna.
“People who do foolish things ought to pay for them,” muttered Korosteleff, ignoring Olga Ivanovna's question. “Do you know how he got this diphtheria? On Tuesday he sucked through a tube the diphtheria laminse from a boy's throat. And why? Stupid. . . . Like a fool!”
“Is it dangerous? Very?” asked she.
“Yes, it's a very bad form, they say. We must send for Schreck, we must. . . .”
First came a little, red-haired, long-nosed man with a Jewish accent; then a tall, stooping, untidy man like a proto-deacon; lastly a young, very stout, red-faced man with spectacles. All these doctors came to attend their sick colleague. Korosteleff, having served his turn, remained in the house, wandering about like a' shadow. The maid-servant was kept busy serving the doctors with tea, and running to the apothecary's, and no one tidied the rooms. All was still and sad.
Olga Ivanovna sat in her room, and reflected that God was punishing her for deceiving her husband. That silent, uncomplaining, inexplicable man — impersonified, it seemed, by kindness and mildness, weak from excessive goodness — lay on his sofa and suffered alone, uttering no groan. And if he did complain in his delirium, the doctors would guess that the diphtheria was not the only culprit. They would question KorostelefF, who knew all, and not without cause looked viciously at his friend's wife as if she were chief and real offender, and disease only her accomplice. She no longer thought of the moon-light Volga night, the love avowal, the romance of life in the peasant's hut; she remembered only that from caprice and selfishness she had smeared herself from head to feet with something vile and sticky which no washing would wash away.
“Ahh, how I lied to him!” she said, remembering her restless love of Riabovsky. “May it be accursed!”
At four o'clock she - dined with Korosteleff, who ate nothing, but drank red wine, and frowned. She too ate nothing. But she prayed silently, and vowed to God that if Duimoff only recovered, she would love him again and be his faithful wife. Then, forgetting herself for a moment, she looked at Korosteleff and thought: “How tiresome it is to be such a simple, undistinguished, obscure man, and to have such bad manners.” It seemed to Iier that God would strike her dead for her cowardice in keeping away from her husband. And altogether she was oppressed by a dead melancholy, and a feeling that; her life was ruined, and that nothing now would mend it.
After dinner, darkness. Olga Ivanovna went into the drawing-room, and found Korosteleff asleep on a couch, his head resting on a silk cushion embroidr ered with gold. He snored loudly.
Alone the doctors, coming on and off duty, ignored the disorder. The strange man sleeping and snoring in the drawing-room, the studies on the walls, the wonderful decorations, the mistress's dishevelled hair and untidy dress — none of these awakened the least interest. One of the doctors laughed; and this laugh had such a timid sound that it was painful to hear.
When next Olga Ivanovna entered the drawing-room Korosteleff was awake. He sat up and smoked.
“He has got diphtheria . . . in the nasal cavity,” he said quietly. “Yes , . . and his heart is weak. . . . It is a bad business.”
“Better send for Sehreck,” said Olga Ivanovna. "He's been. It was he noticed that the diphtheria had got into the nose. Yes … but what is Schreck? In reality, Schreck is nothing. He is Schreck, I am Korosteleff, and nothing more!"
Time stretched into eternity. Olga Ivanovna lay dressed on her unmade bed, and slumbered. She felt that the whole flat from floor to ceiling was filled with a giant block of iron, and that if the iron were only removed, all would be well again. But then she remembered that there was no iron, but only Duimoff's illness.
"Nature morte …" she thought, again losing consciousness. "Sport, kurort. … And what about Schreck? Schreck, greck, vreck, kreck. Where are my friends now? Do they know of the sorrow that has overtaken us? O Lord, save … deliver us! Schreck, greek. …"
And again the iron. Time stretched into eternity, and the clock downstairs struck innumerable times. Now and then the bell was rung. Doctors came. … In came the servant with an empty glass on a salver, and said—
"Shall I make the bed, ma'am?"
And, receiving no answer, she went out. Again the clock struck—dreams of rain on the Volga—and again some one arrived, this time, it seemed, a stranger. Olga Ivanovna started, and saw Korosteleff.
“What time is it ?” she asked.
“Just that. I came to say that he's dying.”
He sobbed, sat down on her bed, and wiped away his tears with his sleeve. At first Olga Ivanovna understood nothhig; than she turned cold, and began to cross herself.
“He is dying,” he repeated in a thin voice; and again he sobbed. “He is dying — because he sacrificed himself. What a loss to science!” He spoke bitterly. “This man, compared with the best of us, was a great man, an exceptional man! What gifts! What hopes he awakened in us all!” Korosteleff wrung his hands. “Lord, my God, you will not find such a scholar if you search till judgment day! Oska Duimoff, Oska Duimoff, what have you done? My God!”
In despair he covered his face with his hands and shook his head.
“And what moral fortitude!” he continued, each second increasing in anger. “Good, pure, loving soul — not a man, but a crystal! How he served his science, how he's died for it. Worked — day and night — like an ox, sparing himself never; and he, the young scholar, the coming professor, was forced to seek a practice and spend his nights translating to pay for these . . . these dirty rags!” Korosteleff looked fiendishly at Olga Ivanovna, seized the sheet with both hands, and tore it as angrily as if it, and not she, were guilty.
“And he never spared himself . . . nor did others spare him. And for what purpose . . . why?”
“Yes, a man in a hundred!” came a deep voice from the dining-room.
Olga Ivanovna recalled her life with Duimoff, from beginning to end, in all its details; and suddenly she realised that her husband was indeed an exceptional man, a rare — compared with all her other friends — a great man. And remembering how he was looked up to by her late father and by all his colleagues, she understood that there was indeed good reason to predict for him future fame. The walls, the ceiling, the lamp, the carpet winked at her derisively, as if saying, “You have let it slip by, slip by!” With a cry, she rushed out of the room, slipped past some unknown man in the dining-room, and rushed into her husband's study. Covered with a counter-pane to the waist, DuimofF lay, motionless, on the couch. His face had grown thin, and was a greyish-yellow never seen on the living; his black eyebrows and his kindly smile were all that remained of Duimoff. She felt his chest, his forehead, his hands. His chest was still warm, his forehead and hands were icy. And his half-closed eyes looked not at Olga Ivanovna, but down at the counterpane. “Duimoff!” she cried loudly. “Duimoff!”
She wished to explain to him that the past was but a mistake; that all was not yet lost; that life might yet be happy and beautiful; that he was a rare, an uncommon, a great man; that she would worship him from this day forth, and pray, and torture herself with holy dread. . . .
“Duimoff!” she cried, tapping his shoulder, refusing to believe that he would never awaken. “Duimoff! Duimoff!”
But in the drawing-room Korosteleff spoke to the maid-servant.
“Don't ask silly questions! Go at once to the church watchman, and get the women's address. They will wash the body, and lay it out, and do all that's wanted.”