Authors: Anton Chekhov
EGOR SEMENYCH and Tania often quarreled and said unpleasant things to each other.
One morning they had a quarrel. Tania began to cry and went to her room. She did not appear at dinner nor at tea. At first Egor Semenych went about looking very important and sulky, as if he wished everybody to know that for him the interests of justice and order stood above everything in the world, but soon he was unable to maintain that character and became depressed. He wandered sadly about the park and constantly sighed: “Oh, good God, good God!” At dinner he would not eat a crumb. At last feeling guilty and having qualms of conscience he knocked at his daughter's locked door and called to her timidly:
And in answer he heard on the other side of the door a weak voice exhausted with crying, but still very positive, reply:
“Leave me alone, I beg you!”
The master's trouble affected the whole house, even the people working in the garden were under its influence. Kovrin was immersed in his own interesting work, but at last he too became sad and felt awkward. In order in some measure to dissipate the general gloomy mood he decided to intervene, and early in the evening he knocked at Tania's door. He was admitted.
“Oh, oh, what a shame!” he began jokingly, looking with astonishment at Tania's tear-stained, sad little face that was all covered with red blotches. “Is it possible it is so serious? Oh, oh!”
“If you only knew how he tortures me!” she said, and tearsâbitter, plentiful tearsâwelled up in her large eyes. “He has worn me quite out!” she continued, wringing her hands. “I said nothing to him . . . nothing at all. . . . I only said there is no need to keep . . . extra workmen if . . . if it is possible to get day labourers whenever they are wanted. Why, why the workmen have been doing nothing for a whole week. . . . I . . . I only said this and he shouted at me and he told me . . . many offensive, many deeply insulting things. Why, why?”
“Enough! Enough!” Kovrin said as he arranged a lock of her hair. “You have abused each other, you have wept, and that's enough. One must not be angry for long, that's wrong . . . all the more because he loves you tenderly.”
“He . . . he has spoilt my whole life,” Tania continued. “I am only insulted and . . . wounded here. He considers me superfluous in his house. What am I to do? He is right. I'll go away from here to-morrow and become a telegraph girl. . . . Let him . . .”
“Well, well, well. . . . Tania, don't cry. You mustn't, my dear. . . . You are both hot-headed, irritable, and you are both in fault. Come along, I'll make peace between you.”
Kovrin spoke affectionately and persuasively, but she continued to cry, her shoulders shaking and her hands clenched, as if a terrible misfortune had befallen her. He was all the more sorry for her because her grief was not serious, yet she suffered deeply. What trifles were sufficient to make this poor creature unhappy for a whole day, yes, perhaps even for her whole life! While comforting Tania, Kovrin thought that besides this girl and her father he might search the whole world without being able to find any other people who loved him as one of their family. If it had not been for these two people perhaps he, who had lost both his parents in his early childhood, would not have known to his very death what sincere affection was, nor that naÃ¯ve, uncritical love that only exists between very near blood relatives. And he felt that his half-diseased, overtaxed nerves were drawn towards the nerves of this weeping, shuddering girl as iron is drawn to the magnet. He could never love a healthy, strong, red-cheeked woman, but pale, fragile, unhappy Tania attracted him.
He was pleased to stroke her hair, pat her shoulders, press her hands and wipe away her tears. At last she stopped crying; but for a long time she continued to complain about her father, and of her difficult, unbearable life in that house, begging Kovrin to enter into her position; then she gradually began to smile and to sigh that God had given her such a bad character, and at last she laughed aloud, called herself a fool and ran out of the room.
Shortly after, when Kovrin went into the garden, Egor Semenych and Tania were walking together in the avenue eating black bread and salt (they were both hungry), as if nothing had happened.
DELIGHTED THAT the part of peacemaker had been successful, Kovrin went into the park. While sitting on a bench thinking he heard the sound of wheels and of girls' laughterâvisitors had arrived. When the shades of evening had begun to settle down on the gardens faint sounds of a violin and of voices singing reached his ear, and this reminded him of the black monk. Where, in what land or on what planet was that optical incongruity now being borne?
He had scarcely remembered the legend, and recalled to his memory the dark vision he had seen in the rye field, when just before him a middle-sized man with a bare grey head and bare feet, who looked like a beggar, came silently out of the pine wood, walking with small, unheard steps. On his pale, deathlike face the black eyebrows stood out sharply. Nodding affably this beggar or pilgrim came noiselessly and sat down on the bench. Kovrin recognized in him the black monk. For a minute they looked at each otherâKovrin with astonishment; the monk in a kindly and, as on the previous occasion, in a somewhat cunning manner, and with a self-complacent expression.
“But you are a mirage,” Kovrin exclaimed; “why are you here and sitting in one place too? That is not in accordance with the legend.”
“That's all the same,” the monk replied after a pause, in a low quiet voice, turning his face towards Kovrin. “The mirage, the legend and I are all the products of your excited imagination. I am a phantom.”
“Then, you do not exist?” Kovrin asked.
“Think what you like,” the monk answered with a faint smile. “I exist in your imagination, and your imagination is part of nature, consequently I exist in nature too.”
“You have a very old, clever and expressive face; just as if you had really existed for more than a thousand years,” Kovrin said. “I did not know that my imagination was capable of creating such phenomena. But why are you looking at me with such rapture? Do I please you?”
“Yes. You are one of the few who are justly called the chosen of God. You serve the eternal truth. Your thoughts, your intentions, your extraordinary science and your whole life bear the godlike, the heavenly stamp, as they are devoted to the reasonable and the beautiful, that is to say, to that which is eternal.”
“You said the eternal truth. . . . But can people attain to the eternal truth, and is it necessary for them if there is no eternal life?”
“There is eternal life,” the monk answered.
“Do you believe in the immortality of man?”
“Yes, of course. A great brilliant future awaits you men. And the more men like you there are on earth, the sooner this future will be realized. Without you, the servants of the first cause, you who live with discernment and in freedom, the human race would, indeed, be insignificant. Developing in a natural way it would long have waited for the end of its earthly history. You are leading it to the kingdom of eternal truth several thousand years soonerâand in this lies your great service. . . . You incarnate in yourselves the blessing with which God has honoured mankind.”
“But what is the object of eternal life?” Kovrin asked.
“The same as of all lifeâenjoyment. True enjoyment is knowledge, and eternal life offers numberless and inexhaustible sources of knowledge; this is the meaning of: âin my Father's House are many mansions.'”
“If you only knew how pleasant it is to listen to you,” Kovrin said, rubbing his hands with satisfaction.
“I'm very pleased.”
“But I know that when you go away I will be troubled about your reality. You are a vision, a hallucination. Consequently I am physically ill, I am not normal.”
“And what of that! Why are you troubled? You are ill because you have worked beyond your strength and you are exhausted, which means that you have sacrificed your health to an idea, and the time is near when you will sacrifice your life to it too. What could be better? It is the object to which all noble natures, gifted from above, constantly aspire.”
“If I know that I am mentally diseased, can I believe in myself?”
“How do you know that the men of genius, who are believed in by the whole world, have not also seen visions? Scholars say now that genius is allied to insanity. My friend, only the ordinary peopleâthe herdâare quite well and normal. All this consideration about the nervous century, overwork, degeneration, etc., can only seriously alarm those whose object in life is the presentâthat is the people of the herd.”
“The Romans said: âmens sana in corpore sano.'”
“Not all that the Romans and Greeks said is true. Overstrain, excitement, ecstasy, all that distinguishes the prophets, the poets, the martyrs for ideas, from ordinary people, is opposed to the animal side of man's nature, that is, to his physical health. I repeat, if you wish to be healthy and normal go to the herd.”
“It is strange, you say what often comes into my mind,” Kovrin said. “You appear to have looked into my soul and listened to my most secret thoughts. But let us not speak of me. What do you mean by the eternal truth?”
The monk did not reply. Kovrin glanced at him and could not distinguish his face. The features became misty and melted away. The monk's head and hands gradually disappeared, his body seemed to be blended with the bench and with the evening twilight and then he vanished entirely.
“The hallucination is over,” Kovrin said, and he laughed. “What a pity!”
He returned towards the house gay and happy. What little the black monk had said to him flattered not only his self-love, but his whole soul, his whole being. To be one of the chosen, to serve the eternal truth, to stand in the ranks of those who will render mankind worthy of the Kingdom of God a few thousand years sooner than it would otherwise have been, that is, will save mankind from an extra thousand years of struggle, sin and suffering, to sacrifice everythingâyouth, strength, health, to the ideaâto be ready to die for the general goodâwhat a high, what a happy fate! His clean, chaste life, so full of work, passed through his memory; he remembered what he himself had learned, what he had taught others, and he arrived at the conclusion that there was no exaggeration in the words the monk had spoken.
Tania came to meet him through the park. She was dressed in another frock.
“Here you are at last!” she said. “We are looking for you everywhere. But what has happened to you?” she said with astonishment, gazing at his enraptured, beaming countenance and his eyes that were brimming over with tears. “How strange you look, Andryusha.”
“I am satisfied, Tania,” Kovrin said, putting his hands on her shoulders. “I am more than satisfied, I am happy! Tania, dear Tania, you are a most congenial creature! Dear Tania, I am so glad, so glad!”
He kissed both her hands passionately and continued:
“I have just passed through bright, beautiful, unearthly moments. But I cannot tell you all because you would call me mad, or you would not believe me. Let us talk of you. Dear, charming Tania! I love you, and I have become used to love you. Your nearness, our meetings, ten times daily have become a necessity for my soul. I don't know how I shall be able to exist without you, when I go home.”
Well!” and Tania laughed, “you will forget us in two days. We are little people, and you are a great man.”
“No, let us talk seriously,” he said. “I will take you with me. Yes? Won't you come with me? You want to be mine?”
“Well, well!” Tania said and again she wanted to laugh, but laughter would not come, and red spots came out on her face.
She began to breathe fast, and she walked on very quickly, not towards the house, but deeper into the park.
“I never thought of this . . . never!” she said, clasping her hands as if in despair.
Kovrin followed her and continued to speak with the same brilliant, excited face.
“I want love that would conquer me entirely, and that love, Tania, you alone can give me. I am happy, happy!”
She was stupefied, she bent, she shrivelled, she seemed suddenly to grow ten years older, and he thought her beautiful and he expressed his thoughts aloud:
“How beautiful she is!”
WHEN EGOR SEMENYCH heard from Kovrin that the romance had not only begun, but that there was to be a wedding, he walked about the rooms for a long time trying to hide his agitation. His hands began to tremble, his neck seemed to grow thicker and became purple; he ordered his racing droshky
to be put to and drove off somewhere. Tania, seeing how he whipped the horse and how low down, almost over his ears, he had pressed his cap, understood his mood, shut herself up in her room and cried all day.
The peaches and plums were already ripening in the hot-houses; the packing and sending off to Moscow of these delicate and tender goods required much attention, trouble and work. Owing to the summer having been very hot and dry, it was necessary to water every tree; this took up much time and labour; besides multitudes of caterpillars appeared on the trees, which the work-people, as well as Egor Semenych and Tania, crushed with their fingers, to Kovrin's great disgust. Besides all this work it was necessary to accept orders for fruit and trees for the autumn deliveries, and to carry on a large correspondence. While at the busiest time, when it seemed that nobody had a moment to spare, the season for field work came on and took away more than half the hands from the garden. Egor Semenych, very much sunburnt, exhausted and irritated, rushed about now in the gardens, now in the fields, crying that he was torn to pieces, and that he would send a bullet through his head.
There was also all the bustle caused by the preparation of the trousseau, on which the Pesotskis set great store; everybody in the house was made quite dizzy by the click of scissors, the noise of sewing machines, the fumes of hot irons and the caprices of the milliner, a nervous lady, who was easily offended. And, as if on purpose, every day saw the arrival of guests, who had to be entertained and fed, and who often even stayed the night. However, all this drudgery passed by almost unperceived as if in a mist. Tania felt that love and happiness had come upon her unawares, although for some reason from the age of fourteen she had been convinced that Kovrin would be sure to marry her. She was amazed, she was perplexed, she could not believe it herself. . . . At times she was suddenly overpowered by such joy, that she wanted to fly above the clouds, and pray to God there; at others, equally suddenly, she would remember that in August she would have to take leave of her paternal home and her father, orâGod knows from where the thought would comeâthat she was insignificant, small and unworthy of such a great man as Kovrinâthen she went to her own room, locked herself in and wept bitterly during several hours. When they had company it would suddenly appear to her that Kovrin was uncommonly handsome, and that all the women were in love with him, and were envious of her; then her soul was filled with pride and delight as if she had conquered the whole world, but he had only to smile affably at one of the girls to cause her to tremble with jealousy and retire to her own room; then there were tears again. These new sensations quite took possession of her; she helped her father mechanically, and never noticed the peaches nor the caterpillars, nor the labourers, nor even how quickly the time flew.
Much the same happened to Egor Semenych. He worked from morning to night, he was always hurrying somewhere, he constantly lost his temper, he was irritable, but all this took place in a sort of enchanted state of semi-sleep. It was as if there were two men in him: one was the real Egor Semenych who, listening to his gardener, Ivan Karlych, making his report about the disorders in the gardens, would be indignant, and put his hands to his head in despair; and the other, not the real one, who, as if in a half-tipsy state, would suddenly break into the business report in the middle of a word and placing his hand on the gardener's shoulder would begin to murmur:
“Whatever one may say there is much in blood. His mother was a wonderful, a most noble, a most clever woman. It was a delight to look at her good, bright, pure face, like an angel's. She painted beautifully, she wrote verses, she could speak five foreign languages, she sang. . . . Poor thing, may the heavenly kingdom be hers, she died of consumption.”
The unreal Egor Semenych sighed, and after a pause continued:
“When he was a boy growing up in my house, he had the same angelic, bright and good face. He has the same look, the same movements and the same soft, elegant manner of speaking that his mother had. And his intellect! He always astonished us by his intellect. By the way, it is not for nothing that he is a Master of Arts! . . . No, not for nothing! But wait a little, Ivan Karlych, you'll see what he'll be in ten years! He'll be quite unapproachable!”
But here the real Egor Semenych, checking himself, made a serious face, caught hold of his head and shouted:
“Devils! They've dirtied, destroyed, devastated everything! The garden is lost! The garden is ruined!”
Kovrin worked with the same zeal as before, and did not notice the hurly-burly around him. Love only added oil to the fire. After each meeting with Tania he returned to his room happy, enraptured, and with the same passion with which he had just kissed Tania and had told her of his love, he seized a book or set to work at his manuscript. All that the black monk had said about the chosen of God, eternal truth, the brilliant future of the human race, etc., only gave his work a special, an uncommon meaning and filled his soul with pride, and the consciousness of his own eminence. Once or twice a week either in the park or in the house he met the black monk and conversed with him for a long time; but this did not frighten him; on the contrary, it delighted him, as he was firmly convinced that such an apparition only visited the chosen, the eminent people, who had devoted themselves to the service of the idea.
One day the monk appeared during dinner and sat down in the dining-room near the window. Kovrin was delighted, and he very adroitly turned the conversation with Egor Semenych and Tania upon subjects that might interest the monk. The black guest listened and nodded his head affably; Egor Semenych and Tania also listened and smiled gaily, never suspecting that Kovrin was not talking to them, but to his vision.
Unperceived the fast of the Assumption was there, and soon after it the wedding-day arrived. The marriage was celebrated according to Egor Semenych's persistent desire “with racket,” that is, with senseless festivities that lasted two days. They ate and drank far more than three thousand roubles, but owing to the bad hired band, the shrill toasts, the hurrying to and fro of the lackeys, the noise and the overcrowding, nobody could appreciate the bouquet of the expensive wines nor the taste of the wonderful delicacies that had been ordered from Moscow.