|El pintor y su modelo|
by Anton Tchékhov
ALL Olga Ivanovna’s friends and acquaintances were at her wedding.
“Look at him; isn’t it true that there is something in him?” she said to her friends, with a nod towards her husband, as though she wanted to explain why she was marrying a simple, very ordinary, and in no way remarkable man.
Her husband, Osip Stepanitch Dymov, was a doctor, and only of the rank of a titular councillor. He was on the staff of two hospitals: in one a ward-surgeon and in the other a dissecting demonstrator. Every day from nine to twelve he saw patients and was busy in his ward, and after twelve o’clock he went by tram to the other hospital, where he dissected. His private practice was a small one, not worth more than five hundred roubles a year. That was all. What more could one say about him? Meanwhile, Olga Ivanovna and her friends and acquaintances were not quite ordinary people. Every one of them was remarkable in some way, and more or less famous; already had made a reputation and was looked upon as a celebrity; or if not yet a celebrity, gave brilliant promise of becoming one. There was an actor from the Dramatic Theatre, who was a great talent of established reputation, as well as an elegant, intelligent, and modest man, and a capital elocutionist, and who taught Olga Ivanovna to recite; there was a singer from the opera, a good-natured, fat man who assured Olga Ivanovna, with a sigh, that she was ruining herself, that if she would take herself in hand and not be lazy she might make a remarkable singer; then there were several artists, and chief among them Ryabovsky, a very handsome, fair young man of five-and-twenty who painted genre pieces, animal studies, and landscapes, was successful at exhibitions, and had sold his last picture for five hundred roubles. He touched up Olga Ivanovna’s sketches, and used to say she might do something. Then a violoncellist, whose instrument used to sob, and who openly declared that of all the ladies of his acquaintance the only one who could accompany him was Olga Ivanovna; then there was a literary man, young but already well known, who had written stories, novels, and plays. Who else? Why, Vassily Vassilyitch, a landowner and amateur illustrator and vignettist, with a great feeling for the old Russian style, the old ballad and epic. On paper, on china, and on smoked plates, he produced literally marvels. In the midst of this free artistic company, spoiled by fortune, though refined and modest, who recalled the existence of doctors only in times of illness, and to whom the name of Dymov sounded in no way different from Sidorov or Tarasov — in the midst of this company Dymov seemed strange, not wanted, and small, though he was tall and broad-shouldered. He looked as though he had on somebody else’s coat, and his beard was like a shopman’s. Though if he had been a writer or an artist, they would have said that his beard reminded them of Zola.
An artist said to Olga Ivanovna that with her flaxen hair and in her wedding-dress she was very much like a graceful cherry-tree when it is covered all over with delicate white blossoms in spring.
“Oh, let me tell you,” said Olga Ivanovna, taking his arm, “how it was it all came to pass so suddenly. Listen, listen!. .. I must tell you that my father was on the same staff at the hospital as Dymov. When my poor father was taken ill, Dymov watched for days and nights together at his bedside. Such self-sacrifice! Listen, Ryabovsky! You, my writer, listen; it is very interesting! Come nearer. Such self-sacrifice, such genuine sympathy! I sat up with my father, and did not sleep for nights, either. And all at once — the princess had won the hero’s heart — my Dymov fell head over ears in love. Really, fate is so strange at times! Well, after my father’s death he came to see me sometimes, met me in the street, and one fine evening, all at once he made me an offer . . . like snow upon my head. . . . I lay awake all night, crying, and fell hellishly in love myself. And here, as you see, I am his wife. There really is something strong, powerful, bearlike about him, isn’t there? Now his face is turned three-quarters towards us in a bad light, but when he turns round look at his forehead. Ryabovsky, what do you say to that forehead? Dymov, we are talking about you!” she called to her husband. “Come here; hold out your honest hand to Ryabovsky. . . . That’s right, be friends.”
Dymov, with a naive and good-natured smile, held out his hand to Ryabovsky, and said:
“Very glad to meet you. There was a Ryabovsky in my year at the medical school. Was he a relation of yours?”
Olga Ivanovna was twenty-two, Dymov was thirty-one. They got on splendidly together when they were married. Olga Ivanovna hung all her drawing-room walls with her own and other people’s sketches, in frames and without frames, and near the piano and furniture arranged picturesque corners with Japanese parasols, easels, daggers, busts, photographs, and rags of many colours. . . . In the dining-room she papered the walls with peasant woodcuts, hung up bark shoes and sickles, stood in a corner a scythe and a rake, and so achieved a dining-room in the Russian style. In her bedroom she draped the ceiling and the walls with dark cloths to make it like a cavern, hung a Venetian lantern over the beds, and at the door set a figure with a halberd. And every one thought that the young people had a very charming little home.
When she got up at eleven o’clock every morning, Olga Ivanovna played the piano or, if it were sunny, painted something in oils. Then between twelve and one she drove to her dressmaker’s. As Dymov and she had very little money, only just enough, she and her dressmaker were often put to clever shifts to enable her to appear constantly in new dresses and make a sensation with them. Very often out of an old dyed dress, out of bits of tulle, lace, plush, and silk, costing nothing, perfect marvels were created, something bewitching — not a dress, but a dream. From the dressmaker’s Olga Ivanovna usually drove to some actress of her acquaintance to hear the latest theatrical gossip, and incidentally to try and get hold of tickets for the first night of some new play or for a benefit performance. From the actress’s she had to go to some artist’s studio or to some exhibition or to see some celebrity — either to pay a visit or to give an invitation or simply to have a chat. And everywhere she met with a gay and friendly welcome, and was assured that she was good, that she was sweet, that she was rare. . . . Those whom she called great and famous received her as one of themselves, as an equal, and predicted with one voice that, with her talents, her taste, and her intelligence, she would do great things if she concentrated herself. She sang, she played the piano, she painted in oils, she carved, she took part in amateur performances; and all this not just anyhow, but all with talent, whether she made lanterns for an illumination or dressed up or tied somebody’s cravat — everything she did was exceptionally graceful, artistic, and charming. But her talents showed themselves in nothing so clearly as in her faculty for quickly becoming acquainted and on intimate terms with celebrated people. No sooner did any one become ever so little celebrated, and set people talking about him, than she made his acquaintance, got on friendly terms the same day, and invited him to her house. Every new acquaintance she made was a veritable fete for her. She adored celebrated people, was proud of them, dreamed of them every night. She craved for them, and never could satisfy her craving. The old ones departed and were forgotten, new ones came to replace them, but to these, too, she soon grew accustomed or was disappointed in them, and began eagerly seeking for fresh great men, finding them and seeking for them again. What for?
Between four and five she dined at home with her husband. His simplicity, good sense, and kind-heartedness touched her and moved her up to enthusiasm. She was constantly jumping up, impulsively hugging his head and showering kisses on it.
“You are a clever, generous man, Dymov,” she used to say, “but you have one very serious defect. You take absolutely no interest in art. You don’t believe in music or painting.”
“I don’t understand them,” he would say mildly. “I have spent all my life in working at natural science and medicine, and I have never had time to take an interest in the arts.”
“But, you know, that’s awful, Dymov!”
“Why so? Your friends don’t know a nything of science or medicine, but you don’t reproach them with it. Every one has his own line. I don’t understand landscapes and operas, but the way I look at it is that if one set of sensible people devote their whole lives to them, and other sensible people pay immense sums for them, they must be of use. I don’t understand them, but not understanding does not imply disbelieving in them.”
“Let me shake your honest hand!”
After dinner Olga Ivanovna would drive off to see her friends, then to a theatre or to a concert, and she returned home after midnight. So it was every day.
On Wednesdays she had “At Homes.” At these “At Homes” the hostess and her guests did not play cards and did not dance, but entertained themselves with various arts. An actor from the Dramatic Theatre recited, a singer sang, artists sketched in the albums of which Olga Ivanovna had a great number, the violoncellist played, and the hostess herself sketched, carved, sang, and played accompaniments. In the intervals between the recitations, music, and singing, they talked and argued about literature, the theatre, and painting. There were no ladies, for Olga Ivanovna considered all ladies wearisome and vulgar except actresses and her dressmaker. Not one of these entertainments passed without the hostess starting at every ring at the bell, and saying, with a triumphant expression, “It is he,” meaning by “he,” of course, some new celebrity. Dymov was not in the drawing-room, and no one remembered his existence. But exactly at half-past eleven the door leading into the dining-room opened, and Dymov would appear with his good-natured, gentle smile and say, rubbing his hands:
“Come to supper, gentlemen.”
They all went into the dining-room, and every time found on the table exactly the same things: a dish of oysters, a piece of ham or veal, sardines, cheese, caviare, mushrooms, vodka, and two decanters of wine.
My dear maitre d’ hotel!“ Olga Ivanovna would say, clasping her hands with enthusiasm, “you are simply fascinating! My friends, look at his forehead! Dymov, turn your profile. Look! he has the face of a Bengal tiger and an expression as kind and sweet as a gazelle. Ah, the darling!”
The visitors ate, and, looking at Dymov, thought, “He really is a nice fellow”; but they soon forgot about him, and went on talking about the theatre, music, and painting.
The young people were happy, and their life flowed on without a hitch.
The third week of their honeymoon was spent, however, not quite happily — sadly, indeed. Dymov caught erysipelas in the hospital, was in bed for six days, and had to have his beautiful black hair cropped. Olga Ivanovna sat beside him and wept bitterly, but when he was better she put a white handkerchief on his shaven head and began to paint him as a Bedouin. And they were both in good spirits. Three days after he had begun to go back to the hospital he had another mischance.
“I have no luck, little mother,” he said one day at dinner. “I had four dissections to do today, and I cut two of my fingers at one. And I did not notice it till I got home.”
Olga Ivanovna was alarmed. He smiled, and told her that it did not matter, and that he often cut his hands when he was dissecting.
“I get absorbed, little mother, and grow careless.”
Olga Ivanovna dreaded symptoms of blood-poisoning, and prayed about it every night, but all went well. And again life flowed on peaceful and happy, free from grief and anxiety. The present was happy, and to follow it spring was at hand, already smiling in the distance, and promising a thousand delights. There would be no end to their happiness. In April, May and June a summer villa a good distance out of town; walks, sketching, fishing, nightingales; and then from July right on to autumn an artist’s tour on the Volga, and in this tour Olga Ivanovna would take part as an indispensable member of the society. She had already had made for her two travelling dresses of linen, had bought paints, brushes, canvases, and a new palette for the journey. Almost every day Ryabovsky visited her to see what progress she was making in her painting; when she showed him her painting, he used to thrust his hands deep into his pockets, compress his lips, sniff, and say:
“Ye — es . . .! That cloud of yours is screaming: it’s not in the evening light. The foreground is somehow chewed up, and there is something, you know, not the thing. . . . And your cottage is weighed down and whines pitifully. That corner ought to have been taken more in shadow, but on the whole it is not bad; I like it.”
And the more incomprehensible he talked, the more readily Olga Ivanovna understood him.
After dinner on the second day of Trinity week, Dymov bought some sweets and some savouries and went down to the villa to see his wife. He had not seen her for a fortnight, and missed her terribly. As he sat in the train and afterwards as he looked for his villa in a big wood, he felt all the while hungry and weary, and dreamed of how he would have supper in freedom with his wife, then tumble into bed and to sleep. And he was delighted as he looked at his parcel, in which there was caviare, cheese, and white salmon.
The sun was setting by the time he found his villa and recognized it. The old servant told him that her mistress was not at home, but that most likely she would soon be in. The villa, very uninviting in appearance, with low ceilings papered with writing-paper and with uneven floors full of crevices, consisted only of three rooms. In one there was a bed, in the second there were canvases, brushes, greasy papers, and men’s overcoats and hats lying about on the chairs and in the windows, while in the third Dymov found three unknown men; two were dark-haired and had beards, the other was clean-shaven and fat, apparently an actor. There was a samovar boiling on the table.
“What do you want?” asked the actor in a bass voice, looking at Dymov ungraciously. “Do you want Olga Ivanovna? Wait a minute; she will be here directly.”
Dymov sat down and waited. One of the dark-haired men, looking sleepily and listlessly at him, poured himself out a glass of tea, and asked:
“Perhaps you would like some tea?”
Dymov was both hungry and thirsty, but he refused tea for fear of spoiling his supper. Soon he heard footsteps and a familiar laugh; a door slammed, and Olga Ivanovna ran into the room, wearing a wide-brimmed hat and carrying a box in her hand; she was followed by Ryabovsky, rosy and good-humoured, carrying a big umbrella and a camp-stool.
“Dymov!” cried Olga Ivanovna, and she flushed crimson with pleasure. “Dymov!” she repeated, laying her head and both arms on his bosom. “Is that you? Why haven’t you come for so long? Why? Why?”
“When could I, little mother? I am always busy, and whenever I am free it always happens somehow that the train does not fit.”
“But how glad I am to see you! I have been dreaming about you the whole night, the whole night, and I was afraid you must be ill. Ah! if you only knew how sweet you are! You have come in the nick of time! You will be my salvation! You are the only person who can save me! There is to be a most original wedding here tomorrow,” she went on, laughing, and tying her husband’s cravat. “A young telegraph clerk at the station, called Tchikeldyeev, is going to be married. He is a handsome young man and — well, not stupid, and you know there is something strong, bearlike in his face . . . you might paint him as a young Norman. We summer visitors take a great interest in him, and have promised to be at his wedding. . . . He is a lonely, timid man, not well off, and of course it would be a shame not to be sympathetic to him. Fancy! the wedding will be after the service; then we shall all walk from the church to the bride’s lodgings . . . you see the wood, the birds singing, patches of sunlight on the grass, and all of us spots of different colours against the bright green background — very original, in the style of the French impressionists. But, Dymov, what am I to go to the church in?” said Olga Ivanovna, and she looked as though she were going to cry. “I have nothing here, literally nothing! no dress, no flowers, no gloves . . . you must save me. Since you have come, fate itself bids you save me. Take the keys, my precious, go home and get my pink dress from the wardrobe. You remember it; it hangs in front. . . . Then, in the storeroom, on the floor, on the right side, you will see two cardboard boxes. When you open the top one you will see tulle, heaps of tulle and rags of all sorts, and under them flowers. Take out all the flowers carefully, try not to crush them, darling; I will choose among them later . . . . And buy me some gloves.”
“Very well,” said Dymov; “I will go tomorrow and send them to you.”
“Tomorrow?” asked Olga Ivanovna, and she looked at him surprised. “You won’t have time tomorrow. The first train goes tomorrow at nine, and the wedding’s at eleven. No, darling, it must be today; it absolutely must be today. If you won’t be able to come tomorrow, send them by a messenger. Come, you must run along. . . . The passenger train will be in directly; don’t miss it, darling.”
“Oh, how sorry I am to let you go!” said Olga Ivanovna, and tears came into her eyes. “And why did I promise that telegraph clerk, like a silly?”
Dymov hurriedly drank a glass of tea, took a cracknel, and, smiling gently, went to the station. And the caviare, the cheese, and the white salmon were eaten by the two dark gentlemen and the fat actor.
On a still moonlight night in July Olga Ivanovna was standing on the deck of a Volga steamer and looking alternately at the water and at the picturesque banks. Beside her was standing Ryabovsky, telling her the black shadows on the water were not shadows, but a dream, that it would be sweet to sink into forgetfulness, to die, to become a memory in the sight of that enchanted water with the fantastic glimmer, in sight of the fathomless sky and the mournful, dreamy shores that told of the vanity of our life and of the existence of something higher, blessed, and eternal. The past was vulgar and uninteresting, the future was trivial, and that marvellous night, unique in a lifetime, would soon be over, would blend with eternity; then, why live?
And Olga Ivanovna listened alternately to Ryabovsky’s voice and the silence of the night, and thought of her being immortal and never dying. The turquoise colour of the water, such as she had never seen before, the sky, the river-banks, the black shadows, and the unaccountable joy that flooded her soul, all told her that she would make a great artist, and that somewhere in the distance, in the infinite space beyond the moonlight, success, glory, the love of the people, lay awaiting her. . . . When she gazed steadily without blinking into the distance, she seemed to see crowds of people, lights, triumphant strains of music, cries of enthusiasm, she herself in a white dress, and flowers showered upon her from all sides. She thought, too, that beside her, leaning with his elbows on the rail of the steamer, there was standing a real great man, a genius, one of God’s elect. . . . All that he had created up to the present was fine, new, and extraordinary, but what he would create in time, when with maturity his rare talent reached its full development, would be astounding, immeasurably sublime; and that could be seen by his face, by his manner of expressing himself and his attitude to nature. He talked of shadows, of the tones of evening, of the moonlight, in a special way, in a language of his own, so that one could not help feeling the fascination of his power over nature. He was very handsome, original, and his life, free, independent, aloof from all common cares, was like the life of a bird.
“It’s growing cooler,” said Olga Ivanovna, and she gave a shudder.
Ryabovsky wrapped her in his cloak, and said mournfully:
“I feel that I am in your power; I am a slave. Why are you so enchanting today?”
He kept staring intently at her, and his eyes were terrible. And she was afraid to look at him.
“I love you madly,” he whispered, breathing on her cheek. “Say one word to me and I will not go on living; I will give up art . . . ” he muttered in violent emotion. “Love me, love. . . . ”
“Don’t talk like that,” said Olga Ivanovna, covering her eyes. “It’s dreadful! How about Dymov?”
“What of Dymov? Why Dymov? What have I to do with Dymov? The Volga, the moon, beauty, my love, ecstasy, and there is no such thing as Dymov. . . . Ah! I don’t know . . . I don’t care about the past; give me one moment, one instant!”
Olga Ivanovna’s heart began to throb. She tried to think about her husband, but all her past, with her wedding, with Dymov, and with her “At Homes,” seemed to her petty, trivial, dingy, unnecessary, and far, far away. . . . Yes, really, what of Dymov? Why Dymov? What had she to do with Dymov? Had he any existence in nature, or was he only a dream?
“For him, a simple and ordinary man the happiness he has had already is enough,” she thought, covering her face with her hands. “Let them condemn me, let them curse me, but in spite of them all I will go to my ruin; I will go to my ruin! . . . One must experience everything in life. My God! how terrible and how glorious!”
“Well? Well?” muttered the artist, embracing her, and greedily kissing the hands with which she feebly tried to thrust him from her. “You love me? Yes? Yes? Oh, what a night! marvellous night!”
“Yes, what a night!” she whispered, looking into his eyes, which were bright with tears.
Then she looked round quickly, put her arms round him, and kissed him on the lips.
“We are nearing Kineshmo!” said some one on the other side of the deck.
They heard heavy footsteps; it was a waiter from the refreshment-bar.
“Waiter,” said Olga Ivanovna, laughing and crying with happiness, “bring us some wine.”
The artist, pale with emotion, sat on the seat, looking at Olga Ivanovna with adoring, grateful eyes; then he closed his eyes, and said, smiling languidly:
“I am tired.”
And he leaned his head against the rail.
On the second of September the day was warm and still, but overcast. In the early morning a light mist had hung over the Volga, and after nine o’clock it had begun to spout with rain. And there seemed no hope of the sky clearing. Over their morning tea Ryabovsky told Olga Ivanovna that painting was the most ungrateful and boring art, that he was not an artist, that none but fools thought that he had any talent, and all at once, for no rhyme or reason, he snatched up a knife and with it scraped over his very best sketch. After his tea he sat plunged in gloom at the window and gazed at the Volga. And now the Volga was dingy, all of one even colour without a gleam of light, cold-looking. Everything, everything recalled the approach of dreary, gloomy autumn. And it seemed as though nature had removed now from the Volga the sumptuous green covers from the banks, the brilliant reflections of the sunbeams, the transparent blue distance, and all its smart gala array, and had packed it away in boxes till the coming spring, and the crows were flying above the Volga and crying tauntingly, “Bare, bare!”
Ryabovsky heard their cawing, and thought he had already gone off and lost his talent, that everything in this world was relative, conditional, and stupid, and that he ought not to have taken up with this woman. . . . In short, he was out of humour and depressed.
Olga Ivanovna sat behind the screen on the bed, and, passing her fingers through her lovely flaxen hair, pictured herself first in the drawing-room, then in the bedroom, then in her husband’s study; her imagination carried her to the theatre, to the dress-maker, to her distinguished friends. Were they getting something up now? Did they think of her? The season had begun by now, and it would be time to think about her “At Homes.” And Dymov? Dear Dymov! with what gentleness and childlike pathos he kept begging her in his letters to make haste and come home! Every month he sent her seventy-five roubles, and when she wrote him that she had lent the artists a hundred roubles, he sent that hundred too. What a kind, generous-hearted man! The travelling wearied Olga Ivanovna; she was bored; and she longed to get away from the peasants, from the damp smell of the river, and to cast off the feeling of physical uncleanliness of which she was conscious all the time, living in the peasants’ huts and wandering from village to village. If Ryabovsky had not given his word to the artists that he would stay with them till the twentieth of September, they might have gone away that very day. And how nice that would have been!
“My God!” moaned Ryabovsky. “Will the sun ever come out? I can’t go on with a sunny landscape without the sun. . . . ”
“But you have a sketch with a cloudy sky,” said Olga Ivanovna, coming from behind the screen. “Do you remember, in the right foreground forest trees, on the left a herd of cows and geese? You might finish it now.”
“Aie!” the artist scowled. “Finish it! Can you imagine I am such a fool that I don’t know what I want to do?”
“How you have changed to me!” sighed Olga Ivanovna.
“Well, a good thing too!”
Olga Ivanovna’s face quivered; she moved away to the stove and began to cry.
“Well, that’s the last straw — crying! Give over! I have a thousand reasons for tears, but I am not crying.”
“A thousand reasons!” cried Olga Ivanovna. “The chief one is that you are weary of me. Yes!” she said, and broke into sobs. “If one is to tell the truth, you are ashamed of our love. You keep trying to prevent the artists from noticing it, though it is impossible to conceal it, and they have known all about it for ever so long.”
“Olga, one thing I beg you,” said the artist in an imploring voice, laying his hand on his heart — “one thing; don’t worry me! I want nothing else from you!”
“But swear that you love me still!”
“This is agony!” the artist hissed through his teeth, and he jumped up. “It will end by my throwing myself in the Volga or going out of my mind! Let me alone!”
“Come, kill me, kill me!” cried Olga Ivanovna. “Kill me!”
She sobbed again, and went behind the screen. There was a swish of rain on the straw thatch of the hut. Ryabovsky clutched his head and strode up and down the hut; then with a resolute face, as though bent on proving something to somebody, put on his cap, slung his gun over his shoulder, and went out of the hut.
After he had gone, Olga Ivanovna lay a long time on the bed, crying. At first she thought it would be a good thing to poison herself, so that when Ryabovsky came back he would find her dead; then her imagination carried her to her drawing-room, to her husband’s study, and she imagined herself sitting motionless beside Dymov and enjoying the physical peace and cleanliness, and in the evening sitting in the theatre, listening to Mazini. And a yearning for civilization, for the noise and bustle of the town, for celebrated people sent a pang to her heart. A peasant woman came into the hut and began in a leisurely way lighting the stove to get the dinner. There was a smell of charcoal fumes, and the air was filled with bluish smoke. The artists came in, in muddy high boots and with faces wet with rain, examined their sketches, and comforted themselves by saying that the Volga had its charms even in bad weather. On the wall the cheap clock went “tic-tic-tic.” . . . The flies, feeling chilled, crowded round the ikon in the corner, buzzing, and one could hear the cockroaches scurrying about among the thick portfolios under the seats. . . .
Ryabovsky came home as the sun was setting. He flung his cap on the table, and, without removing his muddy boots, sank pale and exhausted on the bench and closed his eyes.
“I am tired . . . ” he said, and twitched his eyebrows, trying to raise his eyelids.
To be nice to him and to show she was not cross, Olga Ivanovna went up to him, gave him a silent kiss, and passed the comb through his fair hair. She meant to comb it for him.
“What’s that?” he said, starting as though something cold had touched him, and he opened his eyes. “What is it? Please let me alone.”
He thrust her off, and moved away. And it seemed to her that there was a look of aversion and annoyance on his face.
At that time the peasant woman cautiously carried him, in both hands, a plate of cabbage-soup. And Olga Ivanovna saw how she wetted her fat fingers in it. And the dirty peasant woman, standing with her body thrust forward, and the cabbage-soup which Ryabovsky began eating greedily, and the hut, and their whole way of life, which she at first had so loved for its simplicity and artistic disorder, seemed horrible to her now. She suddenly felt insulted, and said coldly:
“We must part for a time, or else from boredom we shall quarrel in earnest. I am sick of this; I am going today.”
“Going how? Astride on a broomstick?”
“Today is Thursday, so the steamer will be here at half-past nine.”
“Eh? Yes, yes. . . . Well, go, then . . . ” Ryabovsky said softly, wiping his mouth with a towel instead of a dinner napkin. “You are dull and have nothing to do here, and one would have to be a great egoist to try and keep you. Go home, and we shall meet again after the twentieth.”
Olga Ivanovna packed in good spirits. Her cheeks positively glowed with pleasure. Could it really be true, she asked herself, that she would soon be writing in her drawing-room and sleeping in her bedroom, and dining with a cloth on the table? A weight was lifted from her heart, and she no longer felt angry with the artist.
“My paints and brushes I will leave with you, Ryabovsky,” she said. “You can bring what’s left. . . . Mind, now, don’t be lazy here when I am gone; don’t mope, but work. You are such a splendid fellow, Ryabovsky!”
At ten o’clock Ryabovsky gave her a farewell kiss, in order, as she thought, to avoid kissing her on the steamer before the artists, and went with her to the landing-stage. The steamer soon came up and carried her away.
She arrived home two and a half days later. Breathless with excitement, she went, without taking off her hat or waterproof, into the drawing-room and thence into the dining-room. Dymov, with his waistcoat unbuttoned and no coat, was sitting at the table sharpening a knife on a fork; before him lay a grouse on a plate. As Olga Ivanovna went into the flat she was convinced that it was essential to hide everything from her husband, and that she would have the strength and skill to do so; but now, when she saw his broad, mild, happy smile, and shining, joyful eyes, she felt that to deceive this man was as vile, as revolting, and as impossible and out of her power as to bear false witness, to steal, or to kill, and in a flash she resolved to tell him all that had happened. Letting him kiss and embrace her, she sank down on her knees before him and hid her face.
“What is it, what is it, little mother?” he asked tenderly. “Were you homesick?”
She raised her face, red with shame, and gazed at him with a guilty and imploring look, but fear and shame prevented her from telling him the truth.
“Nothing,” she said; “it’s just nothing. . . . ”
“Let us sit down,” he said, raising her and seating her at the table. “That’s right, eat the grouse. You are starving, poor darling.”
She eagerly breathed in the atmosphere of home and ate the grouse, while he watched her with tenderness and laughed with delight.
Apparently, by the middle of the winter Dymov began to suspect that he was being deceived. As though his conscience was not clear, he could not look his wife straight in the face, did not smile with delight when he met her, and to avoid being left alone with her, he often brought in to dinner his colleague, Korostelev, a little close-cropped man with a wrinkled face, who kept buttoning and unbuttoning his reefer jacket with embarrassment when he talked with Olga Ivanovna, and then with his right hand nipped his left moustache. At dinner the two doctors talked about the fact that a displacement of the diaphragm was sometimes accompanied by irregularities of the heart, or that a great number of neurotic complaints were met with of late, or that Dymov had the day before found a cancer of the lower abdomen while dissecting a corpse with the diagnosis of pernicious anaemia. And it seemed as though they were talking of medicine to give Olga Ivanovna a chance of being silent — that is, of not lying. After dinner Korostelev sat down to the piano, while Dymov sighed and said to him:
“Ech, brother — well, well! Play something melancholy.”
Hunching up his shoulders and stretching his fingers wide apart, Korostelev played some chords and began singing in a tenor voice, “Show me the abode where the Russian peasant would not groan,” while Dymov sighed once more, propped his head on his fist, and sank into thought.
Olga Ivanovna had been extremely imprudent in her conduct of late. Every morning she woke up in a very bad humour and with the thought that she no longer cared for Ryabovsky, and that, thank God, it was all over now. But as she drank her coffee she reflected that Ryabovsky had robbed her of her husband, and that now she was left with neither her husband nor Ryabovsky; then she remembered talks she had heard among her acquaintances of a picture Ryabovsky was preparing for the exhibition, something striking, a mixture of genre and landscape, in the style of Polyenov, about which every one who had been into his studio went into raptures; and this, of course, she mused, he had created under her influence, and altogether, thanks to her influence, he had greatly changed for the better. Her influence was so beneficent and essential that if she were to leave him he might perhaps go to ruin. And she remembered, too, that the last time he had come to see her in a great-coat with flecks on it and a new tie, he had asked her languidly:
“Am I beautiful?”
And with his elegance, his long curls, and his blue eyes, he really was very beautiful (or perhaps it only seemed so), and he had been affectionate to her.
Considering and remembering many things Olga Ivanovna dressed and in great agitation drove to Ryabovsky’s studio. She found him in high spirits, and enchanted with his really magnificent picture. He was dancing about and playing the fool and answering serious questions with jokes. Olga Ivanovna was jealous of the picture and hated it, but from politeness she stood before the picture for five minutes in silence, and, heaving a sigh, as though before a holy shrine, said softly:
“Yes, you have never painted anything like it before. Do you know, it is positively awe-inspiring?”
And then she began beseeching him to love her and not to cast her off, to have pity on her in her misery and her wretchedness. She shed tears, kissed his hands, insisted on his swearing that he loved her, told him that without her good influence he would go astray and be ruined. And, when she had spoilt his good-humour, feeling herself humiliated, she would drive off to her dressmaker or to an actress of her acquaintance to try and get theatre tickets.
If she did not find him at his studio she left a letter in which she swore that if he did not come to see her that day she would poison herself. He was scared, came to see her, and stayed to dinner. Regardless of her husband’s presence, he would say rude things to her, and she would answer him in the same way. Both felt they were a burden to each other, that they were tyrants and enemies, and were wrathful, and in their wrath did not notice that their behaviour was unseemly, and that even Korostelev, with his close-cropped head, saw it all. After dinner Ryabovsky made haste to say good-bye and get away.
“Where are you off to?” Olga Ivanovna would ask him in the hall, looking at him with hatred.
Scowling and screwing up his eyes, he mentioned some lady of their acquaintance, and it was evident that he was laughing at her jealousy and wanted to annoy her. She went to her bedroom and lay down on her bed; from jealousy, anger, a sense of humiliation and shame, she bit the pillow and began sobbing aloud. Dymov left Korostelev in the drawing-room, went into the bedroom, and with a desperate and embarrassed face said softly:
“Don’t cry so loud, little mother; there’s no need. You must be quiet about it. You must not let people see. . . . You know what is done is done, and can’t be mended.”
Not knowing how to ease the burden of her jealousy, which actually set her temples throbbing with pain, and thinking still that things might be set right, she would wash, powder her tear-stained face, and fly off to the lady mentioned.
Not finding Ryabovsky with her, she would drive off to a second, then to a third. At first she was ashamed to go about like this, but afterwards she got used to it, and it would happen that in one evening she would make the round of all her female acquaintances in search of Ryabovsky, and they all understood it.
One day she said to Ryabovsky of her husband:
“That man crushes me with his magnanimity.”
This phrase pleased her so much that when she met the artists who knew of her affair with Ryabovsky she said every time of her husband, with a vigorous movement of her arm:
“That man crushes me with his magnanimity.”
Their manner of life was the same as it had been the year before. On Wednesdays they were “At Home”; an actor recited, the artists sketched. The violoncellist played, a singer sang, and invariably at half-past eleven the door leading to the dining-room opened and Dymov, smiling, said:
“Come to supper, gentlemen.”
As before, Olga Ivanovna hunted celebrities, found them, was not satisfied, and went in pursuit of fresh ones. As before, she came back late every night; but now Dymov was not, as last year, asleep, but sitting in his study at work of some sort. He went to bed at three o’clock and got up at eight.
One evening when she was getting ready to go to the theatre and standing before the pier glass, Dymov came into her bedroom, wearing his dress-coat and a white tie. He was smiling gently and looked into his wife’s face joyfully, as in old days; his face was radiant.
“I have just been defending my thesis,” he said, sitting down and smoothing his knees.
“Defending?” asked Olga Ivanovna.
“Oh, oh!” he laughed, and he craned his neck to see his wife’s face in the mirror, for she was still standing with her back to him, doing up her hair. “Oh, oh,” he repeated, “do you know it’s very possible they may offer me the Readership in General Pathology? It seems like it.”
It was evident from his beaming, blissful face that if Olga Ivanovna had shared with him his joy and triumph he would have forgiven her everything, both the present and the future, and would have forgotten everything, but she did not understand what was meant by a “readership” or by “general pathology”; besides, she was afraid of being late for the theatre, and she said nothing.
He sat there another two minutes, and with a guilty smile went away.
It had been a very troubled day.
Dymov had a very bad headache; he had no breakfast, and did not go to the hospital, but spent the whole time lying on his sofa in the study. Olga Ivanovna went as usual at midday to see Ryabovsky, to show him her still-life sketch, and to ask him why he had not been to see her the evening before. The sketch seemed to her worthless, and she had painted it only in order to have an additional reason for going to the artist.
She went in to him without ringing, and as she was taking off her goloshes in the entry she heard a sound as of something running softly in the studio, with a feminine rustle of skirts; and as she hastened to peep in she caught a momentary glimpse of a bit of brown petticoat, which vanished behind a big picture draped, together with the easel, with black calico, to the floor. There could be no doubt that a woman was hiding there. How often Olga Ivanovna herself had taken refuge behind that picture!
Ryabovsky, evidently much embarrassed, held out both hands to her, as though surprised at her arrival, and said with a forced smile:
“Aha! Very glad to see you! Anything nice to tell me?”
Olga Ivanovna’s eyes filled with tears. She felt ashamed and bitter, and would not for a million roubles have consented to speak in the presence of the outsider, the rival, the deceitful woman who was standing now behind the picture, and probably giggling malignantly.
“I have brought you a sketch,” she said timidly in a thin voice, and her lips quivered. “Nature morte.”
“Ah — ah! . . . A sketch?”
The artist took the sketch in his hands, and as he examined it w alked, as it were mechanically, into the other room.
Olga Ivanovna followed him humbly.
“Nature morte . . . first-rate sort,” he muttered, falling into rhyme. “Kurort . . . sport . . . port . . . ”
From the studio came the sound of hurried footsteps and the rustle of a skirt.
So she had gone. Olga Ivanovna wanted to scream aloud, to hit the artist on the head with something heavy, but she could see nothing through her tears, was crushed by her shame, and felt herself, not Olga Ivanovna, not an artist, but a little insect.
“I am tired . . . ” said the artist languidly, looking at the sketch and tossing his head as though struggling with drowsiness. “It’s very nice, of course, but here a sketch today, a sketch last year, another sketch in a month . . . I wonder you are not bored with them. If I were you I should give up painting and work seriously at music or something. You’re not an artist, you know, but a musician. But you can’t think how tired I am! I’ll tell them to bring us some tea, shall I?”
He went out of the room, and Olga Ivanovna heard him give some order to his footman. To avoid farewells and explanations, and above all to avoid bursting into sobs, she ran as fast as she could, before Ryabovsky came back, to the entry, put on her goloshes, and went out into the street; then she breathed easily, and felt she was free for ever from Ryabovsky and from painting and from the burden of shame which had so crushed her in the studio. It was all over!
She drove to her dressmaker’s; then to see Barnay, who had only arrived the day before; from Barnay to a music-shop, and all the time she was thinking how she would write Ryabovsky a cold, cruel letter full of personal dignity, and how in the spring or the summer she would go with Dymov to the Crimea, free herself finally from the past there, and begin a new life.
On getting home late in the evening she sat down in the drawing-room, without taking off her things, to begin the letter. Ryabovsky had told her she was not an artist, and to pay him out she wrote to him now that he painted the same thing every year, and said exactly the same thing every day; that he was at a standstill, and that nothing more would come of him than had come already. She wanted to write, too, that he owed a great deal to her good influence, and that if he was going wrong it was only because her influence was paralysed by various dubious persons like the one who had been hiding behind the picture that day.
“Little mother!” Dymov called from the study, without opening the door.
“What is it?”
“Don’t come in to me, but only come to the door — that’s right. . . . The day before yesterday I must have caught diphtheria at the hospital, and now . . . I am ill. Make haste and send for Korostelev.”
Olga Ivanovna always called her husband by his surname, as she did all the men of her acquaintance; she disliked his Christian name, Osip, because it reminded her of the Osip in Gogol and the silly pun on his name. But now she cried:
“Osip, it cannot be!”
“Send for him; I feel ill,” Dymov said behind the door, and she could hear him go back to the sofa and lie down. “Send!” she heard his voice faintly.
“Good Heavens!” thought Olga Ivanovna, turning chill with horror. “Why, it’s dangerous!”
For no reason she took the candle and went into the bedroom, and there, reflecting what she must do, glanced casually at herself in the pier glass. With her pale, frightened face, in a jacket with sleeves high on the shoulders, with yellow ruches on her bosom, and with stripes running in unusual directions on her skirt, she seemed to herself horrible and disgusting. She suddenly felt poignantly sorry for Dymov, for his boundless love for her, for his young life, and even for the desolate little bed in which he had not slept for so long; and she remembered his habitual, gentle, submissive smile. She wept bitterly, and wrote an imploring letter to Korostelev. It was two o’clock in the night.
When towards eight o’clock in the morning Olga Ivanovna, her head heavy from want of sleep and her hair unbrushed, came out of her bedroom, looking unattractive and with a guilty expression on her face, a gentleman with a black beard, apparently the doctor, passed by her into the entry. There was a smell of drugs. Korostelev was standing near the study door, twisting his left moustache with his right hand.
“Excuse me, I can’t let you go in,” he said surlily to Olga Ivanovna; “it’s catching. Besides, it’s no use, really; he is delirious, anyway.”
“Has he really got diphtheria?” Olga Ivanovna asked in a whisper.
“People who wantonly risk infection ought to be hauled up and punished for it,” muttered Korostelev, not answering Olga Ivanovna’s question. “Do you know why he caught it? On Tuesday he was sucking up the mucus through a pipette from a boy with diphtheria. And what for? It was stupid. . . . Just from folly. . . . ”
“Is it dangerous, very?” asked Olga Ivanovna.
“Yes; they say it is the malignant form. We ought to send for Shrek really.”
A little red-haired man with a long nose and a Jewish accent arrived; then a tall, stooping, shaggy individual, who looked like a head deacon; then a stout young man with a red face and spectacles. These were doctors who came to watch by turns beside their colleague. Korostelev did not go home when his turn was over, but remained and wandered about the rooms like an uneasy spirit. The maid kept getting tea for the various doctors, and was constantly running to the chemist, and there was no one to do the rooms. There was a dismal stillness in the flat.
Olga Ivanovna sat in her bedroom and thought that God was punishing her for having deceived her husband. That silent, unrepining, uncomprehended creature, robbed by his mildness of all personality and will, weak from excessive kindness, had been suffering in obscurity somewhere on his sofa, and had not complained. And if he were to complain even in delirium, the doctors watching by his bedside would learn that diphtheria was not the only cause of his sufferings. They would ask Korostelev. He knew all about it, and it was not for nothing that he looked at his friend’s wife with eyes that seemed to say that she was the real chief criminal and diphtheria was only her accomplice. She did not think now of the moonlight evening on the Volga, nor the words of love, nor their poetical life in the peasant’s hut. She thought only that from an idle whim, from self-indulgence, she had sullied herself all over from head to foot in something filthy, sticky, which one could never wash off. . . .
“Oh, how fearfully false I’ve been!” she thought, recalling the troubled passion she had known with Ryabovsky. “Curse it all! . . . ”
At four o’clock she dined with Korostelev. He did nothing but scowl and drink red wine, and did not eat a morsel. She ate nothing, either. At one minute she was praying inwardly and vowing to God that if Dymov recovered she would love him again and be a faithful wife to him. Then, forgetting herself for a minute, she would look at Korostelev, and think: “Surely it must be dull to be a humble, obscure person, not remarkable in any way, especially with such a wrinkled face and bad manners!”
Then it seemed to her that God would strike her dead that minute for not having once been in her husband’s study, for fear of infection. And altogether she had a dull, despondent feeling and a conviction that her life was spoilt, and that there was no setting it right anyhow. . . .
After dinner darkness came on. When Olga Ivanovna went into the drawing-room Korostelev was asleep on the sofa, with a gold-embroidered silk cushion under his head.
“Khee-poo-ah,” he snored — “khee-poo-ah.”
And the doctors as they came to sit up and went away again did not notice this disorder. The fact that a strange man was asleep and snoring in the drawing-room, and the sketches on the walls and the exquisite decoration of the room, and the fact that the lady of the house was dishevelled and untidy — all that aroused not the slightest interest now. One of the doctors chanced to laugh at something, and the laugh had a strange and timid sound that made one’s heart ac he.
When Olga Ivanovna went into the drawing-room next time, Korostelev was not asleep, but sitting up and smoking.
“He has diphtheria of the nasal cavity,” he said in a low voice, “and the heart is not working properly now. Things are in a bad way, really.”
“But you will send for Shrek?” said Olga Ivanovna.
“He has been already. It was he noticed that the diphtheria had passed into the nose. What’s the use of Shrek! Shrek’s no use at all, really. He is Shrek, I am Korostelev, and nothing more.”
The time dragged on fearfully slowly. Olga Ivanovna lay down in her clothes on her bed, that had not been made all day, and sank into a doze. She dreamed that the whole flat was filled up from floor to ceiling with a huge piece of iron, and that if they could only get the iron out they would all be light-hearted and happy. Waking, she realized that it was not the iron but Dymov’s illness that was weighing on her.
“Nature morte, port . . . ” she thought, sinking into forgetfulness again. “Sport . . . Kurort . . . and what of Shrek? Shrek . . . trek . . . wreck. . . . And where are my friends now? Do they know that we are in trouble? Lord, save . . . spare! Shrek . . . trek . . . ”
And again the iron was there. . . . The time dragged on slowly, though the clock on the lower storey struck frequently. And bells were continually ringing as the doctors arrived. . . . The house-maid came in with an empty glass on a tray, and asked, “Shall I make the bed, madam?” and getting no answer, went away.
The clock below struck the hour. She dreamed of the rain on the Volga; and again some one came into her bedroom, she thought a stranger. Olga Ivanovna jumped up, and recognized Korostelev.
“What time is it?” she asked.
“Well, what is it?”
“What, indeed! . . . I’ve come to tell you he is passing. . . . ”
He gave a sob, sat down on the bed beside her, and wiped away the tears with his sleeve. She could not grasp it at once, but turned cold all over and began slowly crossing herself.
“He is passing,” he repeated in a shrill voice, and again he gave a sob. “He is dying because he sacrificed himself. What a loss for science!” he said bitterly. “Compare him with all of us. He was a great man, an extraordinary man! What gifts! What hopes we all had of him!” Korostelev went on, wringing his hands: “Merciful God, he was a man of science; we shall never look on his like again. Osip Dymov, what have you done — aie, aie, my God!”
Korostelev covered his face with both hands in despair, and shook his head.
“And his moral force,” he went on, seeming to grow more and more exasperated against some one. “Not a man, but a pure, good, loving soul, and clean as crystal. He served science and died for science. And he worked like an ox night and day — no one spared him — and with his youth and his learning he had to take a private practice and work at translations at night to pay for these . . . vile rags!”
Korostelev looked with hatred at Olga Ivanovna, snatched at the sheet with both hands and angrily tore it, as though it were to blame.
“He did not spare himself, and others did not spare him. Oh, what’s the use of talking!”
“Yes, he was a rare man,” said a bass voice in the drawing-room.
Olga Ivanovna remembered her whole life with him from the beginning to the end, with all its details, and suddenly she understood that he really was an extraordinary, rare, and, compared with every one else she knew, a great man. And remembering how her father, now dead, and all the other doctors had behaved to him, she realized that they really had seen in him a future celebrity. The walls, the ceiling, the lamp, and the carpet on the floor, seemed to be winking at her sarcastically, as though they would say, “You were blind! you were blind!” With a wail she flung herself out of the bedroom, dashed by some unknown man in the drawing-room, and ran into her husband’s study. He was lying motionless on the sofa, covered to the waist with a quilt. His face was fearfully thin and sunken, and was of a greyish-yellow colour such as is never seen in the living; only from the forehead, from the black eyebrows and from the familiar smile, could he be recognized as Dymov. Olga Ivanovna hurriedly felt his chest, his forehead, and his hands. The chest was still warm, but the forehead and hands were unpleasantly cold, and the half-open eyes looked, not at Olga Ivanovna, but at the quilt.
“Dymov!” she called aloud, “Dymov!” She wanted to explain to him that it had been a mistake, that all was not lost, that life might still be beautiful and happy, that he was an extraordinary, rare, great man, and that she would all her life worship him and bow down in homage and holy awe before him. . . .
“Dymov!” she called him, patting him on the shoulder, unable to believe that he would never wake again. “Dymov! Dymov!”
In the drawing-room Korostelev was saying to the housemaid:
“Why keep asking? Go to the church beadle and enquire where they live. They’ll wash the body and lay it out, and do everything that is necessary.”