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Yes, it was the real feeling of hatred that was mine now—not the
hatred of which one reads in novels, and in the existence of which I do
not believe—the hatred which finds satisfaction in doing harm to a
fellow-creature, but the hatred which consists of an unconquerable
aversion to a person who may be wholly deserving of your esteem, yet whose
very hair, neck, walk, voice, limbs, movements, and everything else are
disgusting to you, while all the while an incomprehensible force attracts
you towards him, and compels you to follow his slightest acts with anxious
This was the feeling which I cherished for St. Jerome, who had lived with
us now for a year and a half.
Judging coolly of the man at this time of day, I find that he was a true
Frenchman, but a Frenchman in the better acceptation of the term. He was
fairly well educated, and fulfilled his duties to us conscientiously, but
he had the peculiar features of fickle egotism, boastfulness,
impertinence, and ignorant self-assurance which are common to all his
countrymen, as well as entirely opposed to the Russian character.
All this set me against him, Grandmamma had signified to him her dislike
for corporal punishment, and therefore he dared not beat us, but he
frequently THREATENED us, particularly myself, with the cane, and would
utter the word fouetter as though it were fouatter in an expressive and
detestable way which always gave me the idea that to whip me would afford
him the greatest possible satisfaction.
I was not in the least afraid of the bodily pain, for I had never
experienced it. It was the mere idea that he could beat me that threw me
into such paroxysms of wrath and despair.
True, Karl Ivanitch sometimes (in moments of exasperation) had recourse to
a ruler or to his braces, but that I can look back upon without anger.
Even if he had struck me at the time of which I am now speaking (namely,
when I was fourteen years old), I should have submitted quietly to the
correction, for I loved him, and had known him all my life, and looked
upon him as a member of our family, but St. Jerome was a conceited,
opinionated fellow for whom I felt merely the unwilling respect which I
entertained for all persons older than myself. Karl Ivanitch was a comical
old "Uncle" whom I loved with my whole heart, but who, according to my
childish conception of social distinctions, ranked below us, whereas St.
Jerome was a well-educated, handsome young dandy who was for showing
himself the equal of any one.
Karl Ivanitch had always scolded and punished us coolly, as though he
thought it a necessary, but extremely disagreeable, duty. St. Jerome, on
the contrary, always liked to emphasise his part as JUDGE when correcting
us, and clearly did it as much for his own satisfaction as for our good.
He loved authority. Nevertheless, I always found his grandiloquent French
phrases (which he pronounced with a strong emphasis on all the final
syllables) inexpressibly disgusting, whereas Karl, when angry, had never
said anything beyond, "What a foolish puppet-comedy it is!" or "You boys
are as irritating as Spanish fly!" (which he always called "Spaniard"
fly). St. Jerome, however, had names for us like "mauvais sujet,"
"villain," "garnement," and so forth—epithets which greatly offended
my self-respect. When Karl Ivanitch ordered us to kneel in the corner with
our faces to the wall, the punishment consisted merely in the bodily
discomfort of the position, whereas St. Jerome, in such cases, always
assumed a haughty air, made a grandiose gesture with his hand, and
exclaiming in a pseudo-tragic tone, "A genoux, mauvais sujet!" ordered us
to kneel with our faces towards him, and to crave his pardon. His
punishment consisted in humiliation.
However, on the present occasion the punishment never came, nor was the
matter ever referred to again. Yet, I could not forget all that I had gone
through—the shame, the fear, and the hatred of those two days. From
that time forth, St. Jerome appeared to give me up in despair, and took no
further trouble with me, yet I could not bring myself to treat him with
indifference. Every time that our eyes met I felt that my look expressed
only too plainly my dislike, and, though I tried hard to assume a careless
air, he seemed to divine my hypocrisy, until I was forced to blush and
In short, it was a terrible trial to me to have anything to do with him.
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XVIII. THE MAIDSERVANTS' ROOM
I BEGAN to feel more and more lonely, until my chief solace lay in
solitary reflection and observation. Of the favourite subject of my
reflections I shall speak in the next chapter. The scene where I indulged
in them was, for preference, the maidservants' room, where a plot suitable
for a novel was in progress—a plot which touched and engrossed me to
the highest degree. The heroine of the romance was, of course, Masha. She
was in love with Basil, who had known her before she had become a servant
in our house, and who had promised to marry her some day. Unfortunately,
fate, which had separated them five years ago, and afterwards reunited
them in Grandmamma's abode, next proceeded to interpose an obstacle
between them in the shape of Masha's uncle, our man Nicola, who would not
hear of his niece marrying that "uneducated and unbearable fellow," as he
called Basil. One effect of the obstacle had been to make the otherwise
slightly cool and indifferent Basil fall as passionately in love with
Masha as it is possible for a man to be who is only a servant and a
tailor, wears a red shirt, and has his hair pomaded. Although his methods
of expressing his affection were odd (for instance, whenever he met Masha
he always endeavoured to inflict upon her some bodily pain, either by
pinching her, giving her a slap with his open hand, or squeezing her so
hard that she could scarcely breathe), that affection was sincere enough,
and he proved it by the fact that, from the moment when Nicola refused him
his niece's hand, his grief led him to drinking, and to frequenting
taverns, until he proved so unruly that more than once he had to be sent
to undergo a humiliating chastisement at the police-station.
Nevertheless, these faults of his and their consequences only served to
elevate him in Masha's eyes, and to increase her love for him. Whenever he
was in the hands of the police, she would sit crying the whole day, and
complain to Gasha of her hard fate (Gasha played an active part in the
affairs of these unfortunate lovers). Then, regardless of her uncle's
anger and blows, she would stealthily make her way to the police-station,
there to visit and console her swain.
Excuse me, reader, for introducing you to such company. Nevertheless, if
the cords of love and compassion have not wholly snapped in your soul, you
will find, even in that maidservants' room, something which may cause them
to vibrate again.
So, whether you please to follow me or not, I will return to the alcove on
the staircase whence I was able to observe all that passed in that room.
From my post I could see the stove-couch, with, upon it, an iron, an old
cap-stand with its peg bent crooked, a wash-tub, and a basin. There, too,
was the window, with, in fine disorder before it, a piece of black wax,
some fragments of silk, a half-eaten cucumber, a box of sweets, and so on.
There, too, was the large table at which SHE used to sit in the pink
cotton dress which I admired so much and the blue handkerchief which
always caught my attention so. She would be sewing-though interrupting her
work at intervals to scratch her head a little, to bite the end of her
thread, or to snuff the candle—and I would think to myself: "Why was
she not born a lady—she with her blue eyes, beautiful fair hair, and
magnificent bust? How splendid she would look if she were sitting in a
drawing-room and dressed in a cap with pink ribbons and a silk gown—not
one like Mimi's, but one like the gown which I saw the other day on the
Tverski Boulevard!" Yes, she would work at the embroidery-frame, and I
would sit and look at her in the mirror, and be ready to do whatsoever she
wanted—to help her on with her mantle or to hand her food. As for
Basil's drunken face and horrid figure in the scanty coat with the red
shirt showing beneath it, well, in his every gesture, in his every
movement of his back, I seemed always to see signs of the humiliating
chastisements which he had undergone.
"Ah, Basil! AGAIN?" cried Masha on one occasion as she stuck her needle
into the pincushion, but without looking up at the person who was
"What is the good of a man like HIM?" was Basil's first remark.
"Yes. If only he would say something DECISIVE! But I am powerless in the
matter—I am all at odds and ends, and through his fault, too."
"Will you have some tea?" put in Madesha (another servant).
"No, thank you.—But why does he hate me so, that old thief of an
uncle of yours? Why? Is it because of the clothes I wear, or of my height,
or of my walk, or what? Well, damn and confound him!" finished Basil,
snapping his fingers.
"We must be patient," said Masha, threading her needle.
"You are so—"
"It is my nerves that won't stand it, that's all."
At this moment the door of Grandmamma's room banged, and Gasha's angry
voice could be heard as she came up the stairs.
"There!" she muttered with a gesture of her hands. "Try to please people
when even they themselves do not know what they want, and it is a cursed
life—sheer hard labour, and nothing else! If only a certain thing
would happen!—though God forgive me for thinking it!"
"Good evening, Agatha Michaelovna," said Basil, rising to greet her.
"You here?" she answered brusquely as she stared at him, "That is not very
much to your credit. What do you come here for? Is the maids' room a
proper place for men?"
"I wanted to see how you were," said Basil soothingly.
"I shall soon be breathing my last—THAT'S how I am!" cried Gasha,
still greatly incensed.
"Oh, there's nothing to laugh at when I say that I shall soon be dead. But
that's how it will be, all the same. Just look at the drunkard! Marry her,
would he? The fool! Come, get out of here!" and, with a stamp of her foot
on the floor, Gasha retreated to her own room, and banged the door behind
her until the window rattled again. For a while she could be heard
scolding at everything, flinging dresses and other things about, and
pulling the ears of her favourite cat. Then the door opened again, and
puss, mewing pitifully, was flung forth by the tail.
"I had better come another time for tea," said Basil in a whisper—"at
some better time for our meeting."
"No, no!" put in Madesha. "I'll go and fetch the urn at once."
"I mean to put an end to things soon," went on Basil, seating himself
beside Masha as soon as ever Madesha had left the room. "I had much better
go straight to the Countess, and say 'so-and-so' or I will throw up my
situation and go off into the world. Oh dear, oh dear!"
"And am I to remain here?"
"Ah, there's the difficulty—that's what I feel so badly about, You
have been my sweetheart so long, you see. Ah, dear me!"
"Why don't you bring me your shirts to wash, Basil?" asked Masha after a
pause, during which she had been inspecting his wrist-bands.
At this moment Grandmamma's bell rang, and Gasha issued from her room
"What do you want with her, you impudent fellow?" she cried as she pushed
Basil (who had risen at her entrance) before her towards the door. "First
you lead a girl on, and then you want to lead her further still. I suppose
it amuses you to see her tears. There's the door, now. Off you go! We want
your room, not your company. And what good can you see in him?" she went
on, turning to Masha. "Has not your uncle been walking into you to-day
already? No; she must stick to her promise, forsooth! 'I will have no one
but Basil,' Fool that you are!"
"Yes, I WILL have no one but him! I'll never love any one else! I could
kill myself for him!" poor Masha burst out, the tears suddenly gushing
For a while I stood watching her as she wiped away those tears. Then I
fell to contemplating Basil attentively, in the hope of finding out what
there was in him that she found so attractive; yet, though I sympathised
with her sincerely in her grief, I could not for the life of me understand
how such a charming creature as I considered her to be could love a man
"When I become a man," I thought to myself as I returned to my room,
"Petrovskoe shall be mine, and Basil and Masha my servants. Some day, when
I am sitting in my study and smoking a pipe, Masha will chance to pass the
door on her way to the kitchen with an iron, and I shall say, 'Masha, come
here,' and she will enter, and there will be no one else in the room. Then
suddenly Basil too will enter, and, on seeing her, will cry, 'My
sweetheart is lost to me!' and Masha will begin to weep, Then I shall say,
'Basil, I know that you love her, and that she loves you. Here are a
thousand roubles for you. Marry her, and may God grant you both
happiness!' Then I shall leave them together."
Among the countless thoughts and fancies which pass, without logic or
sequence, through the mind and the imagination, there are always some
which leave behind them a mark so profound that, without remembering their
exact subject, we can at least recall that something good has passed
through our brain, and try to retain and reproduce its effect. Such was
the mark left upon my consciousness by the idea of sacrificing my feelings
to Masha's happiness, seeing that she believed that she could attain it
only through a union with Basil.
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PERHAPS people will scarcely believe me when I tell them what were the
dearest, most constant, objects of my reflections during my boyhood, so
little did those objects consort with my age and position. Yet, in my
opinion, contrast between a man's actual position and his moral activity
constitutes the most reliable sign of his genuineness.
During the period when I was leading a solitary and self-centred moral
life, I was much taken up with abstract thoughts on man's destiny, on a
future life, and on the immortality of the soul, and, with all the ardour
of inexperience, strove to make my youthful intellect solve those
questions—the questions which constitute the highest level of
thought to which the human intellect can tend, but a final decision of
which the human intellect can never succeed in attaining.
I believe the intellect to take the same course of development in the
individual as in the mass, as also that the thoughts which serve as a
basis for philosophical theories are an inseparable part of that
intellect, and that every man must be more or less conscious of those
thoughts before he can know anything of the existence of philosophical
theories. To my own mind those thoughts presented themselves with such
clarity and force that I tried to apply them to life, in the fond belief
that I was the first to have discovered such splendid and invaluable
Sometimes I would suppose that happiness depends, not upon external causes
themselves, but only upon our relation to them, and that, provided a man
can accustom himself to bearing suffering, he need never be unhappy. To
prove the latter hypothesis, I would (despite the horrible pain) hold out
a Tatistchev's dictionary at arm's length for five minutes at a time, or
else go into the store-room and scourge my back with cords until the tears
involuntarily came to my eyes!
Another time, suddenly bethinking me that death might find me at any hour
or any minute, I came to the conclusion that man could only be happy by
using the present to the full and taking no thought for the future.
Indeed, I wondered how people had never found that out before. Acting
under the influence of the new idea, I laid my lesson-books aside for two
or three days, and, reposing on my bed, gave myself up to novel-reading
and the eating of gingerbread-and-honey which I had bought with my last
Again, standing one day before the blackboard and smearing figures on it
with honey, I was struck with the thought, "Why is symmetry so agreeable
to the eye? What is symmetry? Of course it is an innate sense," I
continued; "yet what is its basis? Perhaps everything in life is symmetry?
But no. On the contrary, this is life"—and I drew an oblong figure
on the board—"and after life the soul passes to eternity"—here
I drew a line from one end of the oblong figure to the edge of the board.
"Why should there not be a corresponding line on the other side? If there
be an eternity on one side, there must surely be a corresponding one on
the other? That means that we have existed in a previous life, but have
lost the recollection of it."
This conclusion—which seemed to me at the time both clear and novel,
but the arguments for which it would be difficult for me, at this distance
of time, to piece together—pleased me extremely, so I took a piece
of paper and tried to write it down. But at the first attempt such a rush
of other thoughts came whirling though my brain that I was obliged to jump
up and pace the room. At the window, my attention was arrested by a driver
harnessing a horse to a water-cart, and at once my mind concentrated
itself upon the decision of the question, "Into what animal or human being
will the spirit of that horse pass at death?" Just at that moment, Woloda
passed through the room, and smiled to see me absorbed in speculative
thoughts. His smile at once made me feel that all that I had been thinking
about was utter nonsense.
I have related all this as I recollect it in order to show the reader the
nature of my cogitations. No philosophical theory attracted me so much as
scepticism, which at one period brought me to a state of mind verging upon
insanity. I took the fancy into my head that no one nor anything really
existed in the world except myself—that objects were not objects at
all, but that images of them became manifest only so soon as I turned my
attention upon them, and vanished again directly that I ceased to think
about them. In short, this idea of mine (that real objects do not exist,
but only one's conception of them) brought me to Schelling's well-known
theory. There were moments when the influence of this idea led me to such
vagaries as, for instance, turning sharply round, in the hope that by the
suddenness of the movement I should come in contact with the void which I
believed to be existing where I myself purported to be!
What a pitiful spring of moral activity is the human intellect! My faulty
reason could not define the impenetrable. Consequently it shattered one
fruitless conviction after another—convictions which, happily for my
after life, I never lacked the courage to abandon as soon as they proved
inadequate. From all this weary mental struggle I derived only a certain
pliancy of mind, a weakening of the will, a habit of perpetual moral
analysis, and a diminution both of freshness of sentiment and of clearness
of thought. Usually abstract thinking develops man's capacity for
apprehending the bent of his mind at certain moments and laying it to
heart, but my inclination for abstract thought developed my consciousness
in such a way that often when I began to consider even the simplest
matter, I would lose myself in a labyrinthine analysis of my own thoughts
concerning the matter in question. That is to say, I no longer thought of
the matter itself, but only of what I was thinking about it. If I had then
asked myself, "Of what am I thinking?" the true answer would have been, "I
am thinking of what I am thinking;" and if I had further asked myself,
"What, then, are the thoughts of which I am thinking?" I should have had
to reply, "They are attempts to think of what I am thinking concerning my
own thoughts"—and so on. Reason, with me, had to yield to excess of
reason. Every philosophical discovery which I made so flattered my conceit
that I often imagined myself to be a great man discovering new truths for
the benefit of humanity. Consequently, I looked down with proud dignity
upon my fellow-mortals. Yet, strange to state, no sooner did I come in
contact with those fellow-mortals than I became filled with a stupid
shyness of them, and, the higher I happened to be standing in my own
opinion, the less did I feel capable of making others perceive my
consciousness of my own dignity, since I could not rid myself of a sense
of diffidence concerning even the simplest of my words and acts.
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THE further I advance in the recital of this period of my life, the more
difficult and onerous does the task become. Too rarely do I find among the
reminiscences of that time any moments full of the ardent feeling of
sincerity which so often and so cheeringly illumined my childhood. Gladly
would I pass in haste over my lonely boyhood, the sooner to arrive at the
happy time when once again a tender, sincere, and noble friendship marked
with a gleam of light at once the termination of that period and the
beginning of a phase of my youth which was full of the charm of poetry.
Therefore, I will not pursue my recollections from hour to hour, but only
throw a cursory glance at the most prominent of them, from the time to
which I have now carried my tale to the moment of my first contact with
the exceptional personality that was fated to exercise such a decisive
influence upon my character and ideas.
Woloda was about to enter the University. Tutors came to give him lessons
independently of myself, and I listened with envy and involuntary respect
as he drew boldly on the blackboard with white chalk and talked about
"functions," "sines," and so forth—all of which seemed to me terms
pertaining to unattainable wisdom. At length, one Sunday before luncheon
all the tutors—and among them two professors—assembled in
Grandmamma's room, and in the presence of Papa and some friends put Woloda
through a rehearsal of his University examination—in which, to
Grandmamma's delight, he gave evidence of no ordinary amount of knowledge.
Questions on different subjects were also put to me, but on all of them I
showed complete ignorance, while the fact that the professors manifestly
endeavoured to conceal that ignorance from Grandmamma only confused me the
more. Yet, after all, I was only fifteen, and so had a year before me in
which to prepare for the examinations. Woloda now came downstairs for
luncheon only, and spent whole days and evenings over his studies in his
own room—to which he kept, not from necessity, but because he
preferred its seclusion. He was very ambitious, and meant to pass the
examinations, not by halves, but with flying colours.
The first day arrived. Woloda was wearing a new blue frockcoat with brass
buttons, a gold watch, and shiny boots. At the door stood Papa's phaeton,
which Nicola duly opened; and presently, when Woloda and St. Jerome set
out for the University, the girls—particularly Katenka—could
be seen gazing with beaming faces from the window at Woloda's pleasing
figure as it sat in the carriage. Papa said several times, "God go with
him!" and Grandmamma, who also had dragged herself to the window,
continued to make the sign of the cross as long as the phaeton was
visible, as well as to murmur something to herself.
When Woloda returned, every one eagerly crowded round him. "How many
marks? Were they good ones?" "Yes." But his happy face was an answer in
itself. He had received five marks-the maximum! The next day, he sped on
his way with the same good wishes and the same anxiety for his success,
and was welcomed home with the same eagerness and joy.
This lasted for nine days. On the tenth day there was to be the last and
most difficult examination of all—the one in divinity.
We all stood at the window, and watched for him with greater impatience
than ever. Two o'clock, and yet no Woloda.
"Here they come, Papa! Here they come!" suddenly screamed Lubotshka as she
peered through the window.
Sure enough the phaeton was driving up with St. Jerome and Woloda—the
latter no longer in his grey cap and blue frockcoat, but in the uniform of
a student of the University, with its embroidered blue collar,
three-cornered hat, and gilded sword.
"Ah! If only SHE had been alive now!" exclaimed Grandmamma on seeing
Woloda in this dress, and swooned away.
Woloda enters the anteroom with a beaming face, and embraces myself,
Lubotshka, Mimi, and Katenka—the latter blushing to her ears. He
hardly knows himself for joy. And how smart he looks in that uniform! How
well the blue collar suits his budding, dark moustache! What a tall,
elegant figure is his, and what a distinguished walk!
On that memorable day we all lunched together in Grandmamma's room. Every
face expressed delight, and with the dessert which followed the meal the
servants, with grave but gratified faces, brought in bottles of champagne.
Grandmamma, for the first time since Mamma's death, drank a full glass of
the wine to Woloda's health, and wept for joy as she looked at him.
Henceforth Woloda drove his own turn-out, invited his own friends, smoked,
and went to balls. On one occasion, I even saw him sharing a couple of
bottles of champagne with some guests in his room, and the whole company
drinking a toast, with each glass, to some mysterious being, and then
quarrelling as to who should have the bottom of the bottle!
Nevertheless he always lunched at home, and after the meal would stretch
himself on a sofa and talk confidentially to Katenka: yet from what I
overheard (while pretending, of course, to pay no attention) I gathered
that they were only talking of the heroes and heroines of novels which
they had read, or else of jealousy and love, and so on. Never could I
understand what they found so attractive in these conversations, nor why
they smiled so happily and discussed things with such animation.
Altogether I could see that, in addition to the friendship natural to
persons who had been companions from childhood, there existed between
Woloda and Katenka a relation which differentiated them from us, and
united them mysteriously to one another.