ANDREI VASSILICH KOVRIN, who was a Master of Arts, had worn himself out, and was on the verge of nervous prostration. He did not consult a doctor formally, but spoke casually over a bottle of wine to a doctor friend, who told him that he should spend the spring and summer months in the country. A long and timely letter came from Tania Pesotski, who asked him to come and stay with her at Borissovka. And he decided that he must really go.
First of all -- that was in April -- he went to Kovrinka, his own home, and spent three weeks there in solitude; then, as soon as the roads were in good shape, he drove off in a carriage to visit Pesotski, his former guardian, who had brought him up, and was well-known through Russia as a horticulturist. It was supposed to be about fifty miles from Kovrinka to Borissovka. It was a real pleasure to drive along a good road in May in a comfortable well-sprung carriage.
Pesotski had a vast house with columns and lions and peeling stucco and with a footman in swallowtails at the door. The old park, which was laid out in a stern and gloomy English style, extended for nearly three-quarters of a mile to the river, where it ended in a steep and slippery bank of clay in which pine trees grew with bare roots like the shaggy paws of an animal. The water below had a hostile gleam, the peewits cried mournfully as they rose, and you always felt as if you must sit down at once and write a ballad. But in the courtyard of the orchard and the nurseries which covered some ninety acres nearer the house, it was gay and lively even in rainy weather. The roses, lilies, and camellias were glorious. There were tulips of every conceivable color from shiny white to inky black. In fact, Kovrin had never seen such an abundance of flowers anywhere else. Spring was just beginning, and the real glory of the garden alleys was still hidden away in greenhouses. Yet even the flowers on the paths, and in the beds here and there, made you feel, as you strolled through the garden, as if you were in a fairyland of delicate hues, especially in the early morning when the dew shone on every bud and petal.
The ornamental part of the garden, which Pesotski contemptuously dismissed as insignificant, had once in his childhood made Kovrin dream of fairyland.
Here every conceivable whim and gibe of Nature was to be seen. There were espaliered fruit trees, a pear tree like a pyramided poplar, oaks and lime trees in the shape of a ball, an apple tree which looked like an umbrella, and plum trees shaped into arches, coats of arms, seven-branched candlesticks, and even into the number 1862, which was the year in which Pesotski first took up horticulture. Then again you would come across fair slender trees with sturdy straight trunks like palms, and when you looked at them closely you would discover that they were gooseberries or currants. But what made the garden most cheerful and animated was the continuous stir in it from morn till night. Men with barrows, spades, and watering cans swarmed like ants round the trees and plants, in the alleys and flower-beds. . . .
Kovrin reached Pesotski's house about ten o'clock in the evening. He found Tania and her father, Yegor Semionich, in a state of great anxiety. The unclouded starry sky and the thermometer promised a frost before morning, but the gardener, Ivan Karlich, had gone to town, and there was no one to depend upon. At supper they talked of nothing but the frost. It was decided that Tania should stay up and walk through the garden between twelve and one to see that everything was in order, while Yegor Semionich was to get up at three, or earlier, if possible.
Kovrin sat up with Tania all evening, and went out into the garden with her after midnight. It was cold. There was a strong smell of burning already. In the big orchard, which Yegor Semionich called the business garden, because it brought him in a profit of several thousand a year, a thick, black, acrid smoke was stealing over the ground and, wrapping itself round the trees, was saving all this profit from the frost. The trees were arranged like a chessboard. They stood up in straight and even rows like files of soldiers. Their harsh academic regularity, added to the fact that they were all of the same height, and were exactly alike, gave them a monotonously mournful appearance. Kovrin and Tania walked between the rows where fires of dung, straw, and all sorts of rubbish were glowing. Now and then they met under-gardeners drifting through the smoke like shadows. The only trees in blossom were the cherries, plums, and some sorts of apple trees, but the whole orchard reeked with smoke, and Kovrin could not breathe freely until he drew near the nurseries.
"Even as a child the smoke here used to make me sneeze," he said, shrugging his shoulders, "but I don't understand yet why smoke keeps off the frost."
"Smoke takes the place of clouds," answered Tania.
"But what do you want clouds for?"
"There is no frost in cloudy weather."
"You don't tell me so."
He laughed and took her arm. Her broad, serious face, paled by the frost, with her slender black eyebrows, the turned-up coat preventing her head from moving freely, and the whole of her thin delicate figure, with her skirts pulled up because of the dew, charmed him.
"Why! she is grown up now," he exclaimed. "When I left this house five years ago, you were still a girl. Such a thin, long-legged creature you were then, with your hair streaming down your shoulders. You used to wear short dresses, and I called you a heron to tease you. . . . How time flies!"
"Yes, five years!" Tania sighed. "Much water has run under the bridge in these five years. But tell me, Andriusha," she said eagerly, looking into his eyes, "really and truly, do you feel strange here now? But why should I ask you that? You are a man, you live your own interesting life, you are somebody . . . It is only natural for us to grow apart. But whatever the change may be, Andriusha, you must think of us as your people. That is only our due."
"I do, Tania."
"You seemed surprised tonight to discover that we had so many photographs of you. You know my father worships you. Sometimes I think he loves you more than me. He is very proud of you. You are an unusually clever man, you have carved out a brilliant career, and he is convinced himself that this is because he brought you up. I don't try to alter his opinion. Let him think so."
They were now on the edge of dawn, as could be perceived from the clearness with which the wreaths of smoke and the tops of the trees began to stand out against the sky.
"We ought to be in bed, though," said Tania. "Besides, it's cold." She took his arm. "Thank you for coming, Andriusha. We have only colorless acquaintances, and few of them. We have only the garden, the garden, the garden, -- that's all! Standards, half-standards," she said with a ripple of laughter. "Sports, reinettes, borovinkas, budded-stocks, grafted ones. . . . All our life has passed into the garden. I dream of nothing but apples and pears. I suppose it's all very useful and admirable, but sometimes I long for a change. You know that when you used to come here for your summer holidays, or even on a visit, the house always seemed cooler and brighter to me, as though the covers had been taken off all the furniture. I was only a child then, but I understood."
She kept on talking for a long time with deep feeling. Somehow the idea crossed his mind that before the summer was out he might grow fond of this little, weak, chatty creature. He might be carried off his feet and fall in love. Under the circumstances nothing could be more natural. The thought touched him and he played with it. He stooped to her sweet and absorbed face and hummed softly:
"'Oniegin, I can't conceal it!
I love Tatiana to distraction . . .'"
When they returned to the house, Yegor Semionich had risen. Kovrin was not drowsy. He talked to the old man and went out with him into the garden. Yegor Semionich was a tall, stout, broad-shouldered man who suffered from asthma, yet he walked so fast that it was hard to keep up with him. He was always preoccupied, always hurrying off somewhere, looking as if he would be ruined if he were a minute late.
"Look here, brother . . ." he began, halting for breath. "You see there is frost on the ground, but if you lift this thermometer on a pole fourteen feet, it is warm. Why is that?"
"I am sure I don't know," said Kovrin, and he laughed.
"Of course, you can't be expected to know everything. You can't crowd everything into your brain, however large it may be. You still go in for philosophy, I suppose?"
"Yes, I lecture on psychology. My general field is philosophy."
"Doesn't it bore you?"
"By no means! I live for philosophy."
"Well, God bless you!" said Yegor Semionich, thoughtfully stroking his grey whiskers. "God bless you! . . . I'm delighted about you . . . delighted, my boy . . . !"
Suddenly he listened, and ran off with his face terribly transformed, disappearing quickly behind the trees in a cloud of smoke.
"Who tied this horse to an apple tree?" Korvin heard his desperate, heart-rending cry. "What villain dared to tie this horse to an apple tree? My God, my God! they've ruined everything! They've spoilt everything! They've done everything filthy, indecent, and horrible! The orchard's ruined, the orchard's ruined! My God!"
When he returned to Kovrin, he looked worn-out and mortified.
"What am I to do with these damned people?" he exclaimed in a strangled voice, flinging up his arms. "Stiopka was hauling dung to-night, and hitched the horse to an apple tree! The wretch wound the reins around the tree as tightly as he could. The bark is peeled in three places. What do you think of that? I gave him a piece of my mind and he stands there like a blinking post. Hanging is too good for him!"
He grew calmer, embraced Kovrin, and kissed him on the cheek.
"Well, God bless you! . . . God bless you!" he murmured. "I'm very glad you came, unspeakably glad. . . . Thank you."
Then, walking rapidly in the same preoccupied manner, he went round the whole garden, showing his former ward all his green-houses and hothouses, his shut-in garden, and two apiaries which he called the wonder of the age.
As they went round, the sun rose, suffusing the garden with brilliant light. It grew warm. Looking forward to a long, bright, happy day, Kovrin remembered that May was just beginning, and that a whole summer stretched before him equally bright, happy, and long. All at once a joyous feeling of youth crept through his heart, such as he used to feel as a boy scampering about that garden. He embraced the old man and kissed him heartily. They were both much moved. They went inside and drank tea out of old-fashioned china with cream and pleasant cakes made of milk and eggs. These cakes reminded Kovrin again of his childhood and early youth. The charm of the day mingled with memories of the past now stirring in him. His heart ached, yet he was happy.
He waited till Tania rose and had coffee with her. He went for a walk, then retired to his bedroom and sat down to work. He read carefully and made notes. Now and then his eyes lifted to look out of the open window or at the fresh still dewy flowers in the jars on the table. Then his eyes returned to his book, and it seemed to him as if every vein in his body was pulsing and quivering with delight.
His life in the country was as restless and nervous as his life in town. He read and wrote a great deal, studied Italian, and whenever he went out for a walk, looked forward with pleasure to his return to work. Everyone marveled at how little he slept. If he dozed off for half an hour in daylight, he would lie awake all night, and yet feel as lively and brisk as if he had had a good night's sleep.
He chattered a great deal, drank wine, and smoked expensive cigars. Hardly a day passed but young ladies from houses near by came to the Pesotskis and sang and played the piano with Tania. Now and then they were visited by a young neighbour who played the violin well. Kovrin listened eagerly to the music which exhausted him, so that his eyes closed and his head nodded on his shoulder.
One day he sat reading on the balcony after tea. Tania was singing soprano in the drawing-room. One of the young ladies accompanied her as a contralto, and the young violinist joined with her in practising Braga's well-known Serenade. Kovrin was listening to the words which were Russian, but he could not understand them. At last, setting his book aside, and listening with all his ears, he understood them. A maiden, full of morbid fancies, heard one night in her garden mysterious sounds, so unearthly and lovely that she knew them to be a holy music which no mortal can understand and which therefore returns to heaven. Kovrin's eyes began to close. He rose and strode up and down the drawing-room in his exhaustion. Then he went into the dining-room. When the serenade was over, he took Tania by the arm and led her out on the balcony.
"My mind has been running on a legend all day long," he said. "I can't remember whether I have read it somewhere, or whether it was told to me, but it is a strange grotesque legend. A thousand years ago a monk in a black robe wandered across the desert, somewhere in Syria or Arabia. . . . A few miles from where he was, a fisherman saw another black monk walking slowly over the waters of a lake. This monk was a mirage. Now dismiss all the laws of optics from your mind, because the legend does not admit them, and listen to the story. Another mirage was reflected from that mirage, then from that a third, until the black monk's image was reproduced endlessly from layer to layer of the atmosphere. Once he was seen in Africa, later in Spain, then in Italy, then in the far north. . . . At last he passed out of the earth's atmosphere, and now wanders over the universe, never encountering conditions in which he may disappear. It may be that he has been seen in Mars lately, or in some star of the Southern Cross. But the real point on which the whole story hinges, my dear, is that, a thousand years from the day when that monk walked across the desert, the mirage will return once more to the earth's atmosphere and appear to man. Apparently the thousand years is almost up. . . . The legend tells us that the black monk is due to-day or to-morrow."
"What a strange mirage!" said Tania, who was not pleased with the legend.
"But the most extraordinary part of it," laughed Kovrin, "is that I cannot remember for the life of me how I came across this legend. Did I read it somewhere? Did I hear it? Or did I dream of the black monk? I simply can't remember. But the story interests me. It has been running through my mind all day."
Tania went back to her guests, while Kovrin went out of doors and walked by the flower-beds, sunk in meditation. The sun was setting. The flowers had just been watered and gave forth a wet, irritating odour. Now they were singing again in the house, and from the distance the violin sounded like a human voice. Kovrin racked his brains trying to recall where he had read or heard the story. He turned slowly in the direction of the park and unconsciously went as far as the river. He went down to the water along a little path which ran along the deep bank between the bare roots of the trees. He disturbed the peewits and startled two ducks. The expiring rays of the setting sun still shot a little light on the mournful pines, but it was quite dark on the surface of the stream. Kovrin crossed the river by the narrow bridge. Before him stretched a wide field of young unripened rye. There was not a house in sight, not a living soul. You would think the little path, if you went along far enough, was going to take you to the unknown, mysterious place where the sun had just set, and where the afterglow was blazing in splendid glory.
"How wide and free and still it is here!" thought Kovrin as he walked along the path. "I feel as if the whole world were watching me, hiding and waiting for me to recognise it as it really is. . . ."
Then ripples of air began to run across the rye, and a gentle evening zephyr softly caressed his bare head. A moment later came a gust of wind which was stronger. The rye began to rustle, and he heard behind him the hollow murmur of the pines. He stood still in wonder. A tall black pillar rose from the horizon to the sky like a whirlwind or a waterspout. The outline was indistinct, but Kovrin saw at once that it was not standing still. It moved straight toward him with terrific instancy of speed. The nearer it came, the smaller and more distinct it was. Kovrin darted aside into the rye to give way to it, and only just in time.
A monk, dressed in black, with a grey head and dark eyebrows, with his arms crossed on his breast, floated by him . . . his bare feet did not touch the ground. After he had floated by twenty feet or so, he looked round at Kovrin, and bowed to him with a cheerful, but cunning, smile. How fearfully pale and thin his face was! Then he began to grow larger and floated across the river, bumping silently into the river bluff and the pine trees, gliding through them, finally vanishing like smoke.
"Why," murmured Kovrin to himself, "the legend must have some truth in it, after all!"
He did not try to explain the strange mirage. He was glad that he had seen so near at hand, and so distinctly, not only the monk's black robe, but even his face and eyes. He returned to the house in a state of pleasurable excitement.
Everyone was moving quietly about the park and the garden. They were still playing music in the house. Evidently no one else had seen the monk. He was eager to tell Tania and Yegor Semionich what he had seen, but after reflection he decided that they would certainly think he was raving in delirium. They would be alarmed and concerned for him. He had better say nothing.
He laughed aloud, sang a song, and danced the mazurka. He was full of good spirits, and every one, the guests as well as Tania, thought that he had a striking look, radiant and inspired, and that he was a most interesting man.
After supper, when all the guests had gone, he went up to his room and lay down on the sofa. He wanted to think about the monk. But just then Tania came in.
"Here, Andriusha, are father's articles," she said, as she gave him a bundle of pamphlets and proof-sheets. "Do read them! They are splendid. He is a fine writer."
"Fine, to be sure!" said Yegor Semionich, who had followed her into the room and was smiling awkwardly. He was bashful. "Please don't listen to her; don't read them! Of course, if you want to go to sleep, that's different! Read them by all means. They make an admirable sleeping draught."
"I think they are splendid," repeated Tania with conviction. "Please read them, Andriusha, and coax father to write more than he does. He ought to write a complete handbook of horticulture."
Yegor Semionich gave a forced laugh, blushed, and began saying what you might expect any embarrassed author to say. At last he began to yield.
"Well, if you must, you had better begin with Gaucher's article and these Russian articles," he stammered, trembling as he turned over the pages. "Otherwise you won't understand what I mean. Before you read my criticisms, you must understand what I am criticising. But it's all rubbish . . . useless nonsense. Anyhow, I'm sure it's bedtime."
Tania went away. Yegor Semionich sat down beside Kovrin on the sofa and sighed deeply.
"Yes, my boy . . ." he began after a moment's silence. "That's the way it is, my dear professor. Here I write articles, send things to exhibitions, and win medals. . . . Pesotski, every one says, has apples as big as his head, and Pesotski, they say, has made a fortune out of his garden. In a word, 'Kochebi is rich and glorious.' But you ask yourself after all: what is it all for? to be sure, my garden is perfect, a model garden. In fact, it is become an institution of the greatest public service, marking, as it does, an important milestone in Russian agriculture and Russian industry. But what is it for? What is it all about?"
"It speaks for itself."
"That's not what I mean. What I want to ask is this. What will happen to this garden when I die? As you see it now, it wouldn't last a month without me. The whole secret of its success is not that it is a big garden, or that a great many gardeners are busy on it, but that I love my work. Do you understand? I love it more than myself, I suppose. Look at me! I do everything myself. I work from morning till night. I do all the grafting myself, all the pruning myself, all the planting myself. I do everything myself. If anyone helps me, I am so jealous and irritable that I am rude. The whole secret lies in the fact that I love it. It lies in the master's sharp eyes, and in the master's hands, and in the feeling I communicate, that if I go anywhere for an hour's visit, I sit restlessly with my heart away in my garden, afraid that something may happen in my absence. But who will look after it when I die? Who will work? The head gardener? The under gardeners? No doubt! But I must tell you, my dear fellow, the worst enemy in the garden is not a rabbit, not a cockchafer, not the frost, but any outsider."
"And what about Tania?" asked Kovrin with a laugh. "Is she a worse enemy to your garden than a rabbit? She loves the work and understands it."
"Yes, she loves the garden and understands it. If the garden goes to her when I die and she has control of it, I could wish for nothing better. But suppose she married, though God forbid," muttered Yegor Semionich, as he gave Kovrin a startled glance, "what is to be done? Suppose she marries and has children. She would have no time then to think about the garden. That is what I am most afraid of. She will marry some precious fellow who will be greedy, and he will let the garden to folk who will run it on business principles. Then everything will go to hell the first year. In gardening women are the scourge of God!"
Yegor Semionich sighed and paused for a few moments.
"Perhaps it is selfish, but I honestly tell you: I don't want Tania to get married. I am afraid of it! One young buck comes to see us now, who brings his violin and scrapes on it for her. I know Tania won't marry him. I know that perfectly well, but I can't endure the sight of him. Yes, my boy, I'm an odd stick. I know that very well."
Yegor Semionich rose and walked up and down the room in his excitement. You could see that he wanted to say something very important, but couldn't screw up his courage to the sticking point.
"I'm very fond of you, and so I'm going to come straight to the point," he decided at last, thrusting his hands into his pockets. "I deal straightforwardly with a delicate matter. I say precisely what I think, and I have no use for concealing one's thoughts. I must speak plainly. You are the only man to whom I should dare to marry my daughter. You are clever, you are good-hearted, and you would never let my cherished labours go to rack and ruin. But the chief reason for what I say is that I love you as if you were my own son, and I'm proud of you. If you and Tania should work up some sort of a romance, well! I should be very glad, indeed, happy! I tell you straight, no beating about the bush, I'm an honest man!"
Kovrin laughed. Yegor Semionich opened the door and stood on the threshold.
"If you and Tania had a son, I would make a horticulturist out of him," he said, after meditating a moment. "However, I'm day-dreaming. Good-night!"
As soon as he was alone, Kovrin curled up on the sofa and glanced at the articles. One was called: "On Intercropping"; another, "A Few Remarks on the Observations of Mr. Z. Concerning Trenching the Soil for a New Garden," a third, "Further Instructions on Grafting with a Dormant Bud"; and the rest were all the same. But how restless and jumpy they were! What nervous, almost hysterical passion! Now here, for example, was an article which, you would suppose, would be thoroughly peaceful and impersonal: it was about the Russian Antonovsky Apple. But Yegor Semionich started off with "Audiatur altera pars," and wound up with "Sapienti sat." Between these two quotations there was an absolute flood of cantankerous phrases hurled at "The learned ignorance of our acknowledged horticultural authorities, who study nature from the pinnacle of their university chairs," or at Monsieur Gaucher, "whose success has been the work of the vulgar and the cultured amateur." After all this came an unsuitable, affected, and insincere statement of regret that peasants who stole fruit and broke off branches might not nowadays be flogged.
"Yegor Semionich's work is beautiful, delightful, and healthy, but even here there is conflict and passion," thought Kovrin. "I suppose men everywhere and in any career are nervous, if they are men of ideas and unduly sensitive. I'm sure such must be the case."
He thought of Tania, who seemed to be so pleased with these articles. Small, pale, and so thin that her shoulder-blades stuck out, her wide open eyes, so dark and intelligent, gazed intently as if she were looking for something too. She walked just like her father with a little hurried step. She chattered a great deal and was fond of argument, filling out her words, however trifling they might be, with expressive mimicry and gesture. He was sure that she must be extremely nervous.
Kovrin went on reading the articles, but he could make nothing out of them and at last flung them aside. He was now possessed by the same pleasant restlessness which had made him dance the mazurka and listen to the music earlier that evening. Many thoughts kept crowding into his mind. He got up and began to walk up and down the room, thinking about the black monk. The thought crossed his mind that if this strange, supernatural monk had appeared only to him, he must be ill and beginning to have hallucinations. This frightened him, but only for a moment.
"No, I'm all right, and I'm harming nobody. So there's no harm in my hallucinations," he thought. He felt happy again.
He sat down on the sofa and buried his head in his hands. Restraining the inexplicable joy which possessed him, he began to walk up and down the room again. Then he sat down to his work. But what he read in his book did not satisfy his longings. He was looking for something tremendous, unfathomable, overwhelming. Towards morning he undressed and went to bed against his will. He must try to sleep.
As soon as he heard Yegor Semionich's footsteps going out into the garden, Kovrin rang the bell and asked a servant to bring him some wine. He drank several glasses of Lafitte, then wrapped himself up in the bedclothes till they covered his head. He grew drowsy and presently fell asleep.
Yegor Semionich and Tania frequently quarrelled and said cutting things to each other.
They were quarrelling about something that very morning. Tania burst into tears and rushed off to her room. She would not come to dinner nor to tea. At first Yegor Semionich went about in sulky dignity, as if he wished people to have the impression that justice and order were valued by him more than anything on earth, but he was unable to keep this attitude up very long, and soon became dejected. He walked about the park sighing to himself: "Oh, my God! My God!" At dinner, he could not eat a morsel. At last, with a guilty hangdog look, he knocked at the locked door and called out timidly:
"Tania! Tania!" and a faint voice came from behind the door, weak from crying but full of determination:
"Please leave me alone."
The glum mood of master and mistress was communicated to the whole household, even to the under gardeners. Kovrin was wrapped up in his work, but even he began to feel dreary and restless. He made up his mind to do what he could to relieve the general situation, and towards evening he knocked at Tania's door. She let him in.
"Shame on you!" he began playfully, surprised at Tania's forlorn tear-stained face, flushed with weeping. "It can't be as bad as all that. Aren't you ashamed of yourself?"
"If you only knew how he tortures me!" she cried, as floods of hot tears streamed from her big eyes. "He plagues me to distraction," she continued, wringing her hands. "I said nothing to him . . . not a word . . . I only said that he need not keep . . . too many workmen . . . we could hire them by the day as we needed them. You know . . . you know the gardeners have been doing nothing for a week now . . . I . . . I . . . said only that, and he shouted and . . . said . . . all kinds of nasty and insulting things to me. Why should he do that?"
"Come, now," said Kovrin, as he stroked her hair. "You've had your quarrel, you've been weeping, and that's enough. You mustn't be angry so long -- that's wrong . . . especially as he loves you more than anything."
"He has . . . has ruined my life," Tania went on, sobbing. "He does nothing but abuse me and . . . insult me. He thinks I'm not worth a straw in this house. Very well! He is quite right. I shall run away to-morrow. I shall become a telegraph clerk . . . I don't care . . ."
"Come now, this won't do at all . . . You mustn't cry, Tania. You really mustn't, dear . . . You and your father are both hottempered and touchy. You are both to blame. Come on now. I shall see that you make it up with each other."
Kovrin went on talking kindly and coaxingly while she wept, twitching her shoulders and wringing her hands, as if some frightful disaster had really befallen her. Kovrin was all the more touched because her trouble was not serious, yet she was suffering greatly. What a little thing was enough to make this poor little girl wretched all day, perhaps for her whole life! While he comforted Tania, he thought that he might seek the world over and find no other people to love him as one of themselves, as one of their kindred, except this girl and her father. Had it not been for these two, no doubt he should never have known what genuine affection meant and that simple trusting love which is only bestowed upon the closest of kin, for he had lost his father and mother when he was a tiny boy. Now it seemed to him that the nerves of this weeping trembling girl responded to his own morbid overstrained nerves like steel to a magnet. He never could have loved a strong, healthy, rosy-cheeked woman, but pale, weak, unhappy Tania attracted him.
He liked to stroke her hair and shoulders, to press her hand and wipe away her tears . . . At last she stopped weeping. She went on complaining of her father for a long time, and of her hard unbearable life in that household. She begged Kovrin to put himself in her place. Soon she began to smile and regret with a sigh that God had given her such a nasty temper. At last she laughed out loud, called herself a fool, and ran out of the room.
When Kovrin went into the garden a little later, he saw Yegor Semionich and Tania walking together down a path as though nothing had happened. They were both eating rye bread with salt on it as if they were happy.
Pleased to have been so successful at making up their quarrel Kovrin went out into the park. As he sat thinking on a seat in the garden, he heard a carriage approaching and a feminine laugh. Guests must be coming. As the evening shadows crept over the garden, he could hear the sounds of violin and song faintly in the distance, and that recalled to him the vision of the black monk. In what land, in what planet was that optical illusion floating now?
Scarcely had he begun to recall the legend and picture the dark phantom he had seen in the field of rye, when, from behind a pine tree, straight in front of him, came out softly, without the faintest sound, a man of medium height with bare grey head, clad in black and barefooted like a beggar, whose dark eyebrows stood out prominently on his pale, deathly countenance. Bowing his head graciously, this beggar or pilgrim glided without a sound to the seat and sat down. Kovrin recognised the black monk.
They gazed at one another for a moment, Kovrin with amazement, and the monk with friendliness, and, as before, with a little cunning, as though he had some private thoughts of his own.
"But surely you are a mirage," said Kovrin. "Why are you here and why are you sitting still? That is not part of the legend."
"Never mind," the monk replied softly, not turning towards him for a moment. "The legend, the mirage, and I are all the products of your heated fancy. I am a phantom."
"Then don't you exist?" asked Kovrin.
"You can make up your own mind about that," said the monk, smiling faintly. "I exist in your fancy, and your fancy is part of your nature, therefore I exist in nature."
"You have an ancient, wise, and very mobile face, as if you had really lived for more than a thousand years," said Kovrin. "I had no idea that my fancy could create such a phenomenon. But why are you looking at me with such eagerness? Do you like me?"
"Yes, you are one of the very few who justly belong to God's chosen people. You are enrolled in the service of eternal truth. Your thoughts, your plans, the wonderful studies you pursue, and your whole life bear the divine, the heavenly seal, for they are dedicated to the rational and the beautiful -- in other words, to eternity."
"You said 'eternal truth.' . . . But is eternal truth useful to man and within his reach, if there is no eternal life?"
"There is eternal life," answered the monk.
"Do you believe in man's immortality?"
"Certainly. There is a magnificent future in store for man. And, moreover, the more men there are like you on earth, the sooner will this future come to pass. Mankind would be of little moment were it not for men like you who serve the higher laws and live in full understanding and freedom. If men were to develop naturally, they would have a long time to wait before they came to the end of their history on earth. You will lead men into the kingdom of everlasting truth some thousands of years earlier, and that is your overwhelming service to humanity. You are God's blessing made flesh to rest upon man."
"But what is the object of everlasting life?" asked Kovrin.
"The same as the object of all life -- enjoyment. Real enjoyment lies in knowledge, and everlasting life offers countless and unending springs of knowledge, so that it has been said: 'In My Father's house there are many mansions.'"
"You have no idea how happy your words make me," exclaimed Kovrin, as he rubbed his hands with pleasure.
"I am delighted."
"All the same, I know that when you go away I shall be troubled by doubts of your reality. You are a wraith, an hallucination. Therefore I must be mentally unbalanced, abnormal?"
"Suppose that you are? Why worry about it? You are ill because you have overworked and worn yourself out. That shows that you have sacrificed your health to your idea, and that the time is night when you will give up your life for it. What more do you want? That is the end for which all divinely appointed, noble beings strive."
"But if I know that I am mentally unbalanced, how can I trust myself?"
"Are you so sure that the geniuses whom all men pin their faith upon did not have hallucinations also? Science tells us that genius is closely allied to insanity. My friend, normal healthy men and women are merely the common herd. To meditate upon the neurasthenia of the age, its nervous fatigue and degeneracy, can only trouble seriously those who live for the present moment, in other words, the common herd."
"But the Romans used to say: Mens sana in corpore sano?"
"The Greeks and Romans sometimes made mistakes. Exaltation, enthusiasm, ecstasy, everything that separates prophets, poets, martyrs, from the common herd -- is distasteful to man's animal nature, in other words, his physical health. I say again, if you want to be healthy and normal, join the common herd."
"It is odd that you repeat what often comes into my thoughts," said Kovrin. "One would think that you had seen and overheard them. But never mind about me. What do you mean by everlasting truth?"
The monk made no reply. Kovrin looked up at him, but could not distinguish his face. His features had grown blurred and shadowy. Then his head and arms disappeared. The monk's body seemed to melt into the sea and the twilight. He vanished completely.
"That's the end of my hallucination," thought Kovrin, and he laughed. "What a pity!"
He went back to the house, light-hearted and happy. The monk's few words had flattered, not his vanity, but his whole soul, his utter being. To be one of God's chosen people, to be a servant of everlasting truth, to stand in the ranks of those who were making mankind worthy of God's kingdom thousands of years earlier, to be freeing mankind from thousands of years of unnecessary conflict, sin, and unhappiness, to sacrifice everything to his idea -- youth and strength and health, to be ready and glad to die for the human lot: what a noble and what a happy fate! He looked back over his past, and saw it to be pure and chaste and faithful. He remembered all that he had learned and all that he had taught others, and came to the conclusion that the monk had not exaggerated in the least.
Tania came out to meet him in the park. She was wearing a different gown.
"Is this where you are?" she cried. "We have been looking for you everywhere . . . but what has happened to you?" she asked wonderingly, as she gazed at his radiant ecstatic face and his eyes which were full of tears. "How strange you seem, Andriusha!"
"I am glad, Tania," answered Kovrin, as he laid his hand on her shoulder. "I am more than glad: I am happy. Tania, dearest Tania, you are an extremely nice creature. Darling Tania, I am so happy, I am so happy!"
He kissed both her hands ardently, and continued:
"I have just undergone an exalted, marvellous, unearthly experience. But I don't dare tell you about it, for you would say that I was mad and you would not believe me. Let us talk about you instead. Dear, beautiful Tania! I love you, and am used to loving you. I need to have you near me, to meet you a dozen times a day. How on earth shall I get on without you when I go home!"
"Oh," Tania laughed, "you will forget all about us in a couple of days. We are simple people, and you are a great man."
"No, be serious!" Kovrin exclaimed. "I must take you with me, Tania. Say yes! Will you come with me? Will you be my wife?"
"Come," said Tania, and tried to laugh again. But the laugh would not come, and she flushed.
She began to breathe quickly and walked on rapidly, but not toward the house. She went on further into the park.
"I was not thinking of that . . . I never thought of that," she said, wringing her hands in her despair.
And Kovrin went on talking, as he followed her, with the same radiant, joyous countenance:
"I need a love that will rule over me completely, and only you, Tania, can give me such love. I am so happy! So happy!"
She seemed overwhelmed and bowed and huddled. Suddenly she appeared ten years older. He thought her beautiful, and exclaimed rapturously aloud: "How lovely she is!"
As soon as Yegor Semionich heard from Kovrin that there was not only a romance but every prospect of a wedding, he strode up and down the room for a long time, endeavouring to conceal his agitation. His hands trembled, his neck was swollen purple, he ordered his racing droshky and drove off furiously nobody knew where. When Tania saw how he lashed the horse and pulled his cap over his ears, she understood what he must be feeling. She locked herself into her room and wept all day.
The peaches and plums were already ripe in the hothouses. Packing these fragile wares and sending them off to Moscow called for a great deal of labor, time, and trouble. As the summer was very hot and dry, they had to water every tree. There was a plague of caterpillars which, to Kovrin's disgust, the laborers and even Yegor Semionich and Tania squashed in their hands. As if all this were not enough, they had to book autumn orders for fruit and trees and to deal with the heavy correspondence. Just at the busiest time, when no one had a moment's freedom, the harvest diverted half the gardeners from the garden. Yegor Semionich, sunburnt and tired and cross, galloped to and fro between the harvest-field and his garden. He complained that he was being torn to pieces, and that he would put a bullet through his brain.
Then there had to be a great deal of fuss about the trousseau, which the Pesotskis considered a very important matter. Everybody's head whirled with the slashing of scissors, the rattle of sewing machines, the scorched smell of flatirons, and the moodiness of the dressmaker, who was nervous and touchy. And, to cap the climax, there were guests every day to be entertained, fed, and often put up over night. Nevertheless, all this toil was as unregarded as if they were all in a fog. It seemed to Tania that she had been suddenly surprised by love and happiness, though, to tell the truth, ever since she was fourteen, she had felt that Kovrin would marry her and nobody else. She was confused, could not grasp her good fortune, could not believe it was true. . . . At one time she would be so possessed with joy that she longed to fly off into the clouds and pray to God, and then she would remember that in August she would have to leave home and say good-bye to her father. Then suddenly, for no reason whatever, she would feel that she was worthless, insignificant, and quite unworthy of so great a man as Kovrin. At this thought she would lock herself into her room and weep for hours as if her heart would break. Should there be guests in the house, it would suddenly occur to her that Kovrin was remarkably handsome, and that all the women were infatuated with him and envying her. Then her heart would be filled with pride and rapture, as if she had conquered the world, but should he smile politely at a young lady, she would shake with jealousy and rush off to her room to weep again. She was the prey of every new sensation. She helped her father mechanically, but did not notice peaches, caterpillars, or gardeners, nor did she realise how fast time was going.
It was much the same with Yegor Semionich. He worked from morning till night, kept rushing about, was irritable, and flew into a passion frequently, but nevertheless he seemed to be moving in an unreal dream. You would say that there were two men inside him. One was the real Yegor Semionich, who became indignant easily, and pulled his hair in despair when he heard of anything irregular from Ivan Karlovich, the head gardener. The other man, who was not real, seemed half intoxicated, would suddenly interrupt a business talk, tap the head gardener on the shoulder, and start to mutter:
"I don't care what you say: blood tells. His mother was a marvellous woman, lofty and intelligent. It was a pleasure to look at her good, honest, pure face. She had the face of an angel. She drew beautifully, wrote poetry, spoke five foreign languages, and sang . . . Poor soul! she died of consumption. May she rest in peace!"
The unreal Yegor Semionich would then sigh and proceed after a moment's silence:
"When he was a lad growing up in my household, he had the same angelic face, good and honest. He looks and moves and talks as gently and elegantly as his mother did. And his mind! His mind always struck us. He's not a Master of Arts for nothing! Not for nothing! You wait a bit, Ivan Karlovich, and see what he is ten years from now. He will be far above us by that time!"
And then the real Yegor Semionich, suddenly coming to his senses, would make a horrible face, clutch his head, and shout:
"The devil! They've destroyed everything! They've ruined everything! They've ruined everything! The garden's ruined! The garden's ruined!"
Meanwhile Kovrin worked on as ardently as ever and did not seem to perceive all the excitement around him. Love only added fuel to the fire. After every talk he had with Tania he went to his room, exultantly happy, and picked up his book or whatever he was writing with the same passion with which he had just kissed Tania and sworn his undying love. All that the black monk had said to him about God's chosen people, about everlasting truth, about mankind's wonderful future and so on, informed his work with special extraordinary meaning, while it filled his soul with pride and a sense of his own exalted importance. Once or twice a week, in the park or in the house, he met the black monk and had long talks with him, but this caused him no alarm. In fact, he was delighted, because he was now firmly convinced that such phantoms only visited the chosen few who tower among their fellows and dedicate themselves to the service of the idea.
One day the monk appeared at dinner time and sat in the dining room window. Kovrin was delighted, and cleverly began to talk with Yegor Semionich and Tania about whatever he thought might interest the monk. His black visitor listened and bowed his head graciously. Yegor Semionich and Tania also listened. They smiled happily, but had no idea that Kovrin was not talking to them but to his phantom.
The feast of the Assumption insensibly drew near. Soon came the wedding which, at Yegor Semionich's urgent request, was celebrated with pomp and circumstance, that is to say, with foolish festivities that lasted two days and nights. The guests consumed three thousand rubles' worth of food and drink, but the music of the wretched hired orchestra, the loud toasts, the rushing about of the servants, the hullabaloo and crowding, prevented them from enjoying the flavour of the expensive wines and sumptuous delicacies brought from Moscow.
One long winter night Kovrin lay in bed reading a French novel. Poor Tania, who suffered from headaches at night, as a result of the town life to which she was unaccustomed, had fallen asleep some time ago. Now and then, in her restlessness, she murmured some words in her sleep.
It struck three. Kovrin turned the light out and retired to rest. He lay for a long time with his eyes closed, but he could not drop off to sleep because the room seemed to him very hot and Tania kept talking in her dreams. At half past four he lit a candle and saw the black monk sitting in an armchair near his bed.
"Good morning," said the monk. He paused for a moment and then asked: "What are you thinking about now?"
"About fame," replied Kovrin. "I have just been reading a French novel which described a young scholar who did foolish things and pined away because he was always worrying about fame. I can't understand such folly."
"That is because you are wise. You are indifferent to fame, as if it were a toy which you had outgrown."
"Yes, that is so."
"Fame does not tempt you now. Why should you be flattered, amused, or edified if they carve your name on a tombstone? Time will erase the legend and all its gilding. Besides, it is a fortunate thing that there are too many of you for mankind's poor memory to retain your names."
"That is so," agreed Kovrin. "And why should they be remembered? Let us choose another subject. Happiness, for example. What is happiness?"
As the clock struck five, Kovrin was sitting on his bed, trailing his feet on the carpet, and talking to the monk.
"In ancient times the happy man came to be afraid of his happiness at last because it was so great, and he gave the gods his favorite ring to propitiate them. Well, I am like Polycrates, for I begin to fear my happiness. I cannot understand why I am filled with joy from morning till night. It possesses my whole being and excludes all other feelings. I have forgotten what sadness, grief, and ennui are. I do not sleep. I am supposed to suffer from sleeplessness, but I am not stupid. I honestly tell you that I am puzzled."
"But what for?" asked the monk wonderingly. "Is joy supernatural? Is it not man's natural state? The more highly a man is developed intellectually and spiritually, the more free he should be, the more happiness he should find in life. Socrates, Diogenes, and Marcus Aurelius were joyful, not sorrowful. Does not the Apostle tell us: 'Rejoice continually': 'Rejoice and be glad.'"
"But suppose God is suddenly moved to wrath?" laughed Kovrin. "Suppose he takes away my comfort and lets me go cold and hungry. That won't please me very much."
Just then Tania awoke and gazed at her husband in horrified amazement. He was talking at the armchair, laughing and gesticulating. His eyes shone and his laughter was curious.
"Andriusha, to whom are you speaking?" she asked, clutching the hand he was stretching out to the monk. "Andriusha! to whom are you speaking?"
"What!" muttered Kovrin in confusion. "To him, of course . . . He is sitting there," and he pointed to the black monk.
"There is nobody there . . . nobody! Andriusha, you are ill!"
Tania put her arm round her husband and clasped him tightly, as if to shelter him from the phantom. She put her hand over his eyes.
"You are ill!" she sobbed, trembling all over. "Forgive me, my darling, but I have noticed for a long time that something is the matter with your mind . . . Your mind is ill, Andriusha . . ."
Her trembling shook him. He looked at the armchair again, but it was empty. His arms and legs felt weak suddenly. He was frightened and began to dress.
"It doesn't matter, Tania. It's really nothing," he whispered with a tremulous voice. "I am not very well, that's true . . . I must admit it."
"I have noticed it for a long time . . . Father has noticed it also," she said, and she tried to stifle her sobbing. "You keep talking to yourself, and you smile oddly . . . and you can't sleep. Oh, my God! God preserve us!" she cried out in terror. "But don't be alarmed, Andriusha. For God's sake, don't be alarmed . . . !"
Now she began to dress. And now, as he watched her, Kovrin realised his danger. He realised what the black monk meant and what his conversations with him meant. He knew that he was mad.
Neither he nor Tania knew why they got up and dressed and went down to the dining room. She led and he followed. They found Yegor Semionich in his dressing gown standing there with a candle in his hand. He was staying with them, and Tania's sobs had awakened him.
"Don't be alarmed, Andriusha," Tania kept repeating, and she shivered as though she were in a fever. "Don't be alarmed . . . It won't last, father . . . It won't last . . ."
Kovrin could not speak for agitation. He wanted to say lightly to his father-in-law: "Congratulate me; I seem to have lost my wits"; but he could only move his lips and smile bitterly.
At nine o'clock next morning they put on his jacket and fur overcoat, bundled him up in a shawl, and took him off in a carriage to see a doctor.
Now summer had come round again and the doctor advised them to go to the country. Kovrin had recovered. He did not see the black monk any more, but he had to regain his strength. He stayed with his father-in-law, drank plenty of milk, worked only two hours a day, smoked no cigars, and drank no wine.
On the night before the feast of St. Elijah there was an evening service in the house. The vast old room smelt like a graveyard as the deacon passed the censer to the priest. Kovrin was bored. He went out into the garden. He did not see the beautiful flowers but strolled about the garden, sat down on a seat, and then wandered around the park. When he came to the river, he went down and stood gazing at the water, lost in thought. The sullen pines with their shaggy roots, which had beheld him in all his joyous and trusting youth a year ago, whispered no longer, but stood silent and still, as though they knew him no longer. To be sure, his head was close-shaven, he had lost his beautiful long hair, his steps dragged, his face was fuller and paler than the summer before.
He crossed over the river by the footbridge. Last year there had been rye, but now oats stood there harvested in long rows. The sun had set and there was a broad band of smouldering crimson on the horizon, which promised windy weather on the morrow. All was still. Looking in the direction from which he had seen the black monk coming for the first time a year ago, Kovrin stood there for twenty minutes until the evening glow began to fade . . .
He came home listless and dissatisfied to find that the service was over. Yegor Semionich and Tania were sitting on the porch steps drinking tea. They were talking about something, but stopped as soon as they saw Kovrin. He decided from the expression on their faces that they had been talking about him.
"It's time for your milk," said Tania to her husband.
"No, not yet . . . ," he replied, as he sat down on the lowest step. "Drink it yourself. I don't want it."
Tania gave her father a disturbed glance and said in a guilty tone of voice:
"You can see for yourself that the milk is doing you good."
"Yes, lots of good!" laughed Kovrin. "I congratulate you. I have gained a pound since Friday." He clutched his head tightly and said forlornly: "Why, why did you cure me? Bromide, idleness, warm baths, watchful care, cowardly funk at every morsel I eat, and every step I take -- all this will make an idiot out of me. No doubt I lost my senses and had delusions of greatness, but I was cheerful, confident, and even happy. I was attractive and original. Now I am more stolid and matter of fact, but I am just like everybody else. I am incarnate mediocrity. I am tired of life . . . Oh, it was cruel to treat me so! . . . I had hallucinations, but did they harm any one? I ask you, what harm did they do to anybody?"
"Lord knows what you are talking about!" sighed Yegor Semionich. "It's tiresome to listen to you."
"Then don't listen."
Other people, especially Yegor Semionich, irritated Kovrin now. He answered him shortly, coldly, and even rudely, never looked at him except with sardonic dislike, and Yegor Semionich was plunged into confusion and cleared his throat guiltily, although he did not know what crime he had committed. Puzzled to comprehend why their delightful and loving relations with each other had altered so suddenly, Tania crept up to her father and looked anxiously in his face. She longed to understand, but could not understand. All she knew was that their relation to each other was growing worse and worse every day, that her father was beginning to look much older lately, and that her husband was becoming irritable, moody, quarrelsome, and uninteresting. She could neither laugh nor sing; she ate nothing; she did not sleep for nights at a time in her forebodings of disaster, and was so completely exhausted that once she lay in a dead faint the whole afternoon. During the service it seemed to her that her father was weeping, and now as they sat on the porch she tried to dismiss this from her mind.
"How lucky Buddha, Mahomet, and Shakespeare were that their kind relatives and physicians did not cure them of their ecstasy and their inspiration!" exclaimed Kovrin. "If Mahomet had taken bromide for his nerves, had worked only two hours a day, had drunk quarts of milk, he would have left no more traces behind him than his dog. Physicians and kind relatives will succeed in stupefying mankind, in making mediocrity seem genius, and in destroying all civilisation. You have no idea how grateful I am to you all," Kovrin exclaimed in his annoyance.
He felt extremely irritable and, so as not to go too far, he rose quickly and went into the house. It was quite still, and the odour of the tobacco plant and the Marvel of Peru stole in through the open window. The moonlight lay in green patches on the floor and on the piano in the big shadowy dining room. Kovrin recalled his rapture last summer at the same fragrant Marvel of Peru, as the moon had shone in at the window. To recall his mood he went quickly up to his room, lit a strong cigar, and ordered a servant to bring him some wine, but the cigar left an acrid unpleasant taste in his mouth, and the wine did not seem to have the same flavour. Such is the effect of giving up a habit that the cigar and the few swallows of wine made him reel and brought on palpitation, so that he had to take bromide.
Before he went to bed, Tania said to him:
"Father worships you. You are cross with him about something, and it is killing him. Look at him. He is growing old, not from day to day, but from hour to hour. I beg of you, Andriusha, for God's sake, for the sake of your dead father, for my sake, be kind to him!"
"I can't. I don't want to."
"But why?" asked Tania, and she began to tremble all over. "Tell me why?"
"Because I don't like him, that's all," said Kovrin carelessly. He shrugged his shoulders. "But don't let us talk about him. He is your father."
"I can't understand it, no, I can't," said Tania, pressing her hands to her forehead and staring fixedly. "Something strange and terrible is going on in this house. You have quite changed, you are not like yourself at all . . . You, who are an extremely clever man, are annoyed by trifles, interfere in trivial nonsense. Such little things rouse you that sometimes I am absolutely astonished and cannot believe that it is you. Now, now, don't be angry, don't be angry," she continued, kissing his hands, alarmed at what she had said. "You are clever, kind, and noble. You must be fair to father. He is such a good man."
"He is not a good man. He is merely good-natured. Silly old chaps like your father, with well-fed, good-natured faces, very hospitable and eccentric, used to touch and please me once in novels and farces and even in life. Now I find them distasteful. They are egotists in the cream of their bones. What specially disgusts me is their fattened look, that cowy, hoggish optimism of a satisfied belly."
Tania sat down on the bed and laid her head down on the pillow.
"This is torture," she exclaimed, and you could tell from her voice that she was absolutely worn out and could scarcely speak. "Not a moment's peace since the winter . . . it's terrible! Oh, my God, how wretched I am!"
"Oh, I'm Herod, of course, and you and your father are the massacred innocents! Of course!"
Tania thought his face ugly and unpleasant. Irony and hatred did not become him. Yes, she had noticed before that there was something missing in his face, as if it too had changed since his hair had been cut. She wanted to say something sharp to him, but as soon as she surprised this hostile feeling in herself, it frightened her, and she ran out of the bedroom.
They made Kovrin professor at the University. His opening lecture was appointed for the second of December. And a bulletin to that effect was posted in the hall at the University. But when the day came round, he telegraphed to the inspector of students to say his illness prevented him from coming.
He had a hemorrhage in the throat. He often spat blood. Two or three times a month he lost a great deal of blood. Then he became very weak and drowsy. He was not greatly alarmed by his illness, for he knew that his mother had lived for more than ten years while suffering from the same disease. His physician told him that he was in no danger, but advised him to avoid all excitement, to lead a regular life, and to talk as little as possible.
In January, his lecture was postponed for the same reason. By February, it was too late to begin his course. He had to postpone it till the following year.
By this time he was no longer living with Tania, but with another woman, two years older than he, who minded him as if he were an infant. He was calm and tranquil, and readily yielded to her, so that when Varvara Nikolaevna, for that was her name, decided that he must go with her to the Crimea, he consented, though he had a presentiment that no good would come of it.
They reached Sebastopol in the evening and stopped at a hotel to rest before going on next day to Yalta. They were both worn out by their journey. Varvara Nikolaevna had some tea, went to bed, and soon fell fast asleep. But Kovrin did not go to bed. An hour before they had started for the station, he had received a letter from Tania which he could not bring himself to open. It was lying in his coat pocket now, and the thought of it caused him unpleasant excitement. Deep down in his heart he honestly believed now that his marriage to Tania had been a mistake. He was glad now that their separation was final, and the memory of that woman who had finally turned him into a walking relic, still moving about, although she seemed dead except for her great, staring, intelligent eyes, the memory of her caused him nothing but self-pity and disgust. The handwriting on the envelope caused him to remember how cruel and unjust he had been two years ago, how he had worked off his fury at his own spiritual emptiness, his boredom, his loneliness, and his grudge against life by wreaking vengeance on innocent people. Then he remembered too how he had torn up his book and all the articles he had written while he was ill, how he had thrown them out of the window, and how the scraps of paper had fluttered in the air and caught among the trees and flowers. He saw strange, unwarrantable pretension in every line he had written, empty defiance, arrogance, megalomania. He felt as if he were reading a catalogue of his vices. But when he had torn up the last manuscript and flung it out of the window, for some reason or other, he suddenly felt bitter and angry. He had gone to his wife and said a great many nasty things to her. Good God, how he had tortured her! One day, when he had wanted to wound her, he told her that her father had played a very unromantic part in their marriage. He had asked him to marry her. Yegor Semionich overheard this by accident, rushed into the room, and, in his despair, was unable to utter a word. He could only stamp his feet and make a strange roaring noise, as if he had lost all power of speech. Tania had looked at her father, given a heart-rending shriek, and fallen in a dead faint. It had been hideous.
All this came to his mind as he looked at the familiar handwriting. Kovrin went out on to the balcony. The weather was still warm, and a salt fragrance drifted in from the sea. The marvellous harbour reflected the moon and the lights of the shore, and was of a colour which it was difficult to analyse. Dark blue and green were blended together softly and tenderly. Here and there the water was like blue vitriol. Elsewhere it seemed as if the harbour were liquid moonlight. How harmonious the scene was, how peaceful, how calm, how sublime! The windows below his balcony seemed to be open, for he could hear the voices and laughter of women. They seemed to be having a party.
Kovrin made an effort, tore open the envelope, and went back into his room. This is what he read:
"My father has just died. I thank you for that, because you killed him. Our garden is being ruined. It is being managed by strangers already, which is just what my poor father dreaded. I thank you for that, too. I hate you from the bottom of my soul, and I hope you will soon perish. Oh, how wretched I am! Terrible agony is burning out my soul . . . Curse you! I thought you were a wonderful man, a genius. I loved you, and you have turned out a madman . . ."
Kovrin could not read anymore. He tore up the letter and threw it away. He was overwhelmed with terrified uneasiness. Varvara Nikolaevna was sleeping behind the screen, and he could hear her breathing. The sound of laughter and women's voices came up from below, but he felt as if he were the only living soul in the whole hotel. Because Tania, wretched and destroyed by unhappiness, had cursed him in her letter and wished for his damnation, he felt creepy, and kept looking hastily at the door, as if he were afraid that the mysterious force, which, two years ago, had brought such destruction into his life and into the life of all those around him, might slip into the room and conquer him once more.
He knew from past experience that when his nerves were unstrung, the best thing he could do was to work. He must sit down at his table and compel himself at all costs to concentrate on something. He took from his red portfolio a manuscript, which outlined a small handbook he had planned to write, in case he found life too dull in the Crimea without some occupation. He sat down to work at this manuscript, and somehow it seemed to him that his calm, peaceful, dispassionate mood was returning. The manuscript outline even induced him to meditate upon the vanity of this world. He considered how much life demands for the trumpery commonplace rewards it can give a man. For example, in order that he might gain before he was forty a university chair, in order that he might be a mere professor expounding ordinary, second-hand thoughts in dull, stupid, colourless words, in order to be a mediocre learned man, he, Kovrin, had been compelled to study for fifteen years, to toil day and night, to suffer a frightful mental illness, to endure an unhappy marriage, and to do all sorts of stupid, unjust things which he would much rather put entirely out of his mind. Kovrin saw clearly now that he was a mediocrity, and resigned himself quietly to his fate, since he believed that every man ought to be satisfied with what he is.
His projected book would have soothed him completely had not the torn letter gleamed white on the floor and kept him from concentrating on his work. He rose from the table, picked up the scraps of paper, and threw them all out of the window. But there was a light breeze blowing from the sea, and fragments of the letter fell back on the window sill. Again he was overwhelmed with terrified uneasiness, and felt as if he were the only living soul in the great hotel . . . He went out on the balcony. The harbour, like a living creature, gazed at him with its crowd of light and dark blue, turquoise, and flaming eyes. It seemed to beckon him. Yes, it was hot and stifling, and it would do no harm to have a bath.
Suddenly a violin began to play in the room under his balcony, and two soft voices of women began to sing. The song was familiar. It was all about a maiden, full of morbid fancies, who heard one night in her garden mysterious sounds, so unearthly and lovely that she knew them to be a holy music which no mortal can understand and which therefore returns to heaven . . . Kovrin caught his breath, and a pang of grief shot through his heart, mingled with a thrill of the sweet, exquisite delight he had so long forgotten.
A tall black column, like a whirlwind or a waterspout, appeared across the harbour. It crossed the harbour with awful speed, came towards the hotel, became smaller and darker as it came, and Kovrin just had time to step aside so that it might pass . . . The monk with bare grey head, dark eyebrows, barefooted, his arms crossed on his breast, floated by him and stood still in the middle of the room.
"Why did you not believe in me?" he asked reproachfully, as he looked with affection at Kovrin. "Had you believed in me then, had you believed that you were a genius, you would not have spent these two years in such gloom and misery."
Now Kovrin believed that he was one of God's chosen people, that he was a genius. He vividly recalled his past conversations with the monk. He tried to speak, but the blood flowed from his mouth onto his breast. He did not know what he was doing. He passed his hands over his breast, and his cuffs were soaked with blood. He tried to call Varvara Nikolaevna, who was asleep behind the screen. He made an effort and called:
He fell on the floor and raising himself up on his arms, called again:
He called Tania, called out to the great garden with the splendid flowers dabbled with dew, called out to the park, to the pines with their shaggy roots, to the field of rye, to his wonderful learning, to his youth, his courage, his joy -- he called out to life, because it was so lovely. He saw a great pool of blood on the floor close to his face. He was too weak to whisper a word, but an unutterable, infinite joy flooded his whole being. Underneath his balcony they were playing the serenade, and the black monk whispered to him that he was a genius, and that he was dying only because his frail human body had lost control, and could no longer serve as the mortal cloak of genius.
When Varvara Nikolaevna awoke, and came out from behind her screen, Kovrin was dead, and a smile of bliss shone upon his face.