Thursday, May 9, 2019

ET: Almanac

Andrei Vassilyich Kovrin, master of arts, was overworked and his nerves were upset. He was not being treated, but once in passing, over a bottle of wine, he talked about it with a doctor friend, who advised him to spend the spring and summer in the country. Quite opportunely, a long letter also came from TanyaPesotsky, inviting him to come to Borisovka and stay for a while. And he decided that he did in fact need to get away.

First--this was April--he went to his own place, his family estate Kovrinka, and there spent three weeks in solitude; then, having waited for good roads, he set out by carriage to visit his former guardian and tutor Pesosky, a horticulturist well known in Russia. From Kovrinka to Borisovka, where the Pesotskys lived, was no more than fifty miles, and driving on a soft springtime road in a comfortable, well-sprung carriage was a true pleasure.

Pesotsky's house was enormous, with columns, with lions whose plaster was peeling off, and with a tailgated lackey at the entrance. The old park, gloomy and severe, laid out in the English manner, spread over more than half a mile from the house to the river and ended at a sheer, steep, clayey bank on which pine trees grew, their bated roots looking like shaggy paws; water glistened desolately below, snipe flitted about with a painful peeping, and the mood there always made you want to sit down and write a ballad. But near the house, in the yard and gardens, which together with the nursery took up some eighty acres, it was cheerful and exhilarating even in bad weather. Kovrin had never seen anywhere else such amazing roses, lilies, camellias, such tulips of every possible color, beginning with bright white and ending with sooty black, nor such a wealth of flowers in general, as in Pesotsky's garden. Spring was only just beginning, and the real luxuriance of flowers was still hidden in the hothouse, yet what blossomed along the walks and here and there in the flower beds was enough so that, strolling in the garden, you felt yourself in a kingdom of tender colors, especially in the early hours when dew sparkled on every petal.

What formed the decorative part of the gardens, and which Pesotsky himself scornfully referred to as trifles, had made a fairy-tale impression on Kovrin when he was a child. What whims, refined monstrosities, and mockeries of nature there were here! There were espaliered fruit trees, a pear tree that had the form of a Lombardy poplar, spherical oaks and lindens, an umbrella shaped apple tree, arches, monograms, candelabras, and even an 1862 of plum trees--representing the year in which Pesotsky first took up horticulture. You would meet beautiful, shapely trees, their trunks straight and strong as palms, and only on closer inspection would you discover that they were gooseberry or currant busses. but what was most cheerful about the gardens and gave them an animated look, was the constant movement. From early morning till evening people with wheelbarrows, hoes, and watering cans were milling around the trees, the bushes, the walks and flower beds . . .

Kovrin arrived at the Pesotskys in the evening, past nine o'clock. He found Tanya and her father, Yegor Semyonych, greatly alarmed. The thermometer and the clear, starry sky foretold frost by morning, and meanwhile the gardener, Ivan Karlych, had gone to town, and there was no one they could count on. Over supper they talked only of the morning frost, and it was decided that Tanya would not go to bed and after midnight would make the rounds of the gardens to see if all was in order, and that Yegor Semyonych would get up at three or even earlier.

Kovrin sat with Tanya all evening and after midnight went to the gardens with her. It was cold. Outside there was already a strong smell of smoke. in the big orchard, which was called commercial and which brought Yegor Semyonych several thousand a year in net income, thick, black, pungent smoke covered the ground and, enveloping the trees, saved those thousands from the frost. The trees here stood in a checkerboard pattern, their rows straight and regular as tanks of soldiers, and this strict, pedantic regularity and the fact that all the trees were of the same height and had perfectly uniform crowns and trunks, made the picture monotonous and even dull. Kovrin and Tanya walked along the rows, where fires of dung, straw, and assorted refuse smoldered, and occasionally met workers, who wandered through the smoke like shades. Only the cherries, plums, and some varieties of apple were in bloom, yet the entire orchard was drowned in smoke, and it was only near the nursery that Kovrin could draw a deep breath.

"When I was still a child I used to sneeze from the smoke here," he said, shrugging his shoulders, "but to this day I don't understand why smoke protects against frost."

"Smoke takes the place of clouds, when there aren't any . . ." replied Tanya.

"And what are clouds needed for?"

"When the weather's gray and overcast, there are no morning frosts."

"So that's it!"

He laughed and took her by the hand. Her broad, very serious, chilled face, with its narrow, dark eyebrows, the upturned collar of her coat, which prevented her from moving her head freely, and she herself, lean, trim, her dress tucked up on account of the dew, moved him to tenderness.

"Lord, she's already grown up!" he said. "When I left here the last time, five years ago, you were still a child. You were so skinny and long-legged, you went bare-headed, dressed in short skirts, and to tease you I called you a stork . . . What time can do!"

"Yes, five years!" Tanya sighed. "A lot of water has flowed under the bridge. Tell me, Andryusha, in all conscience," she began animatedly, looking into his face, "have you grown unaccustomed to us? Though why do I ask? You're a man, you live your own interesting life, you're important . . . Estrangement is so natural! But, however it may be, Andryusha, I'd like you to consider us your own. We have a right to that."

"I do, Tanya."

"Word of honor?"

"Yes, word of honor."

"You were surprised today that we have so many photographs of you. But you know my father adores you. I sometimes think he loves you more than he does me. He's proud of you. YOu're a learned, extraordinary man, you've made a brilliant career, and he's sure you've turned out like this because he brought you up. I don't prevent him from thinking so. Let him."

Dawn was already breaking, and this was especially noticeable from the distinctness with which the billows of smoke and the crowns of the trees stood out in the air. Nightingales were singing, and the calling of quails came from the fields.

"Anyhow, it's time for bed," said Tanya. "And it's cold." She took him under the arm. "Thank you for coming, Andryusha. We have uninteresting acquaintances, and few of them at that. All we have is orchard, orchard, orchard--and nothing more. Full-stock, half-stock," she laughed, "pippin, tenet, borovinka, budding grafting . . . All, all our life has gone into the orchard, I never even dream of anything but apple and pear trees. Of course, it's good and useful, but sometimes one wants something else for diversity. I remember how you used to come to us for vacations, or just so, and the house felt somehow more fresh and bright, as if the dust covers had been taken off the furniture and lamps. I was a little girl then and yet I understood."

She spoke for a long time and with great feeling. Fro some reason it occurred to him that he might become attached to this small, weak, loquacious being, get carried away, and fall in love--in their situation it was so possible and natural! This thought moved and amused him, he bent down to the sweet, preoccupied face and sang softly:

Onegin, I will not conceal it,
Madly do I love Tatiana . . .

When they came home, Yegor Semyonych was already up. Kovrin was not sleepy, he got to talking with the old man and went back to the gardens with him. Yegor Semyonych was tall, big-shouldered, big-bellied, and suffered from shortness of breath, but he always walked so quickly that it was hard to keep up with him. He had an extremely preoccupied air, was always hurrying somewhere, and with a look implying that if he were even one minute late, all would be lost!

"Here's something, my boy . . ." he began, pausing too catch his breath. "on the surface of the ground, as you see, it's freezing, but if you raise the thermometer on a stick four yards above ground, it's warm . . . Why is that?"

"I really don't know," Kovrin said, laughing.

"Hm . . . One can't know everything, of course . . . However vast the mind, not everything will find room in it. Philosophy is more in your line?"

"Yes, I teach psychology, but I'm generally concerned with philosophy."

"And it doesn't bore you?"

"On the contrary, it's all I live for."

"Well, God be with you . . ." Yegor Semyonych said, stroking his side-whiskers thoughtfully. "God be with you . . . I'm very glad . . . very glad for you my boy . . ."

But suddenly he cocked an ear and making a terrible face, ran off and soon disappeared behind the trees into the clouds of smoke.

"Who tied a horse to that apple tree?" his desperate, heartrending cry was heard. "What scoundrel and villain dared to tie a horse to that apple tree? My God, my God. Befouled, begrimed, besmutted, bedeviled! The orchard's lost!The orchard's ruined! My God!"

When he came back to Kovrin, his face was exhausted, offended.

"What can you do with these confounded people?" he said in a tearful voice, spreading his arms. "Styopka brought a load of manure during the night and tied his horse to an apple tree! The scoundrel wrapped the reins so tightly around it that the bark wore through in three places. Imagine! I tell him, and the dimwit just stands there blinking his eyes! Hanging's too good for him!"

Having calmed down, he embraced Kovrin and kissed him on the cheek.

"Well, God be with you . . . God be with you . . ." he muttered. "I'm very glad you've come. I can't tell you how glad . . . Thank you."

Then at the same quick pace and with a preoccupied air he went around all the gardens and showed his former ward the conservatories, hothouses, potting sheds, and his two apiaries, which he called the wonder of our century.

As they walked about, the sun rose and brightly lit up the gardens. It became warm. Anticipating a clear, long, happy day, Kovrin remembered that it was still only the beginning of May and the whole summer still lay ahead, just as clear, long, and happy, and suddenly a joyful young feeling stirred in his breast, such as he had experienced in childhood running about in these gardens. And he embraced the old man and kissed him tenderly. They were both moved. They went in and sat down to tea from old porcelain-cups, with cream, with rich, buttery rolls--and these small things again reminded Kovrin of his childhood and youth. The beautiful present and the awakening impressions of the past flowed together in him; they made his soul feel crowded but good.

He waited till Tanya woke up and had his coffee with her, strolled a little, then went to his room and sat down to work. He read attentively, took notes, and occasionally raised his eyes to look at the open windows or the fresh flowers, still wet with dew, that stood in vases on the table, then lowered them to the book again, and it seemed to him that every fiber of him was thrilling and frolicking with pleasure.

 In the country he went on leading the same nervous and restless life as in the city. He read and wrote a great deal, studied Italian, and while strolling thought with pleasure that he would soon sit down to work again. He slept so little that everyone was amazed; if he inadvertently dozed off for half an hour in the afternoon, he would not sleep all night afterwards, and following the sleepless night would feel himself as brisk and cheerful as if nothing had happened.

He talked a lot, drank wine, and smoked expensive cigars. Often, if not every day, neighboring young ladies visited the Pesotskys, sang and played the piano with Tanya; occasionally a young man came, a neighbor, who was a good violinist. Kovrin listened eagerly to the music and singing, and it filled him with languor, which manifested itself physically in the closing of his eyes and the drooping of his head to one side.

Once after evening tea he was sitting on the balcony reading. In the drawing room, just then, Tanya--a soprano, one of her friends--a contralto, and the young man with the violin were rehearsing the famous serenade of Braga. Kovrin listened to the words--they were in Russian--and was quite unable to understand their meaning. Finally he put his book down and, listening attentively, understood: a girl with a morbid imagination heard some sort of mysterious sounds in the garden at night, so beautiful and strange that she could only take them for a sacred harmony, which we mortals were unable to understand which therefore flew back to heaven. Kovrin's eyes began to close. He got up and strolled languidly through the drawing room, then through the reception hall. When the singing stopped, he took Tanya under the arm and walked out to the balcony with her.

"Ever since this morning I've been thinking about a certain legend," he said. "I don't remember whether I read it or heard it somewhere, but the legend is somehow strange, incongruous. In the first place, it's not distinguished by its clarity. A thousand years ago a monk, dressed in black, was walking in the desert somewhere in Syria or Arabia . . . Several miles from the place where he was walking, some fishermen saw another black monk moving slowly over the surface of a lake. The second monk was a mirage. Now forget all the laws of optics, which the legend seems not to recognize, and listen further. The mirage produced another mirage, and that one a third, so that the image of the black monk began to be transmitted endlessly from one layer of the atmosphere to another. He was seen now in Africa, now in Spain, now in India, now in the Far North . . . Finally he left the limits of the earth's atmosphere and is now wandering all over the universe, never getting into conditions that might enable him to fade away. Perhaps he can now be seen somewhere on Mars or on some star in the Southern Cross. But, my dear, the very essence, the crux, of the legend is that exactly a thousand years after the monk walked in the desert, the mirage will enter the earth's atmosphere and show itself to people. And the thousand years are now supposedly at an end . . . According to the legend, we ought to expect the black monk any day now."

"A strange mirage," said Tanya, who did not like the legend.

"But the most amazing thing, laughed Kovrin, "is that I'm quite unable to remember how this legend came into my head. Did I read it? Hear it? Or maybe I dreamed of the black monk? I swear to God. I don't remember. But I'm taken by this legend. I've been thinking about it all day today."

Letting Tanya go back to her guests, he left the house and strolled pensively among the flower beds. The sun was setting. The flowers had just been watered and gave off a damp, irritating smell. There was singing in the house again, and from a distance the violin gave the impression of a human voice. Straining his mind to recall where he had heard or read the legend, Kovrin went unhurriedly towards the park and without noticing it came to the river.

Following the path that ran down the steep ban past the bared roots, he descended to the water, disturbing some snipe and scaring away two ducks. The last rays of the setting sun still glowed on the river. Kovrin crossed the river on some planks. Before him now lay a wide field covered with young, not yet flowering rye. No human dwelling, no living soul in the distance, and it seemed that the path, if one followed it, would lead you to that unknown, mysterious place where the sun had just gone down, and where the sunset flamed so vastly and majestically.

"How spacious, free, and quiet it is here!" thought Kovrin, walking along the path. "It seems the whole world is looking at me, hiding and waiting for me to understand it . . ."

But now waves passed over the rye, and a light evening breeze gently touched his bare head. A moment later there was another gust of wind, stronger now--the rye rustled, and the muted murmur of the pines came from behind him. Kovrin stopped in amazement. On the horizon, looking like a whirlwind or a tornado, a tall black pillar rose from the earth to the sky. Its contours were indistinct, but from the very first moment it was evident that it was not standing in place but moving at terrific speed, moving precisely there, straight at Kovrin, and the nearer it drew, the smaller and clearer it became. Kovrin rushed to one side, into the rye, to make way for it, and he barely had time to do so . . .

A monk dressed in black, with gray hair and black eyebrows, his arms crossed on his chest, raced past . . . His bare feet did not touch the ground. He was already some twenty feet past Kovrin when he looked back at him, nodded and smiled at him tenderly and at the same time slyly. But what a pale, terribly pale, thin face! Beginning to grow again, he flew across the river, noiselessly struck against the clayey ban and the pines, and, passing through them, vanished like smoke.

"Well, so you see . . ." Kovrin muttered, "It means the legend is true."

Without trying to explain the strange event to himself, pleased merely at having seen not only the black clothes but even the face and eyes of the monk so closely and clearly, feeling pleasantly excited, he returned home.

In the park and garden people were calmly walking, there was music in the house--it meant that he alone had seen the onk. He had a great desire to tell Tanya and Yegor Semyonych everything, but he realized that they would probably consider his words raving, and that would frighten them; it was better to keep quiet. He laughed loudly, sang danced a mazurka, had a merry time, and everybody, the guests and Tanya, found that his face was somehow especially radiant and inspired that day, and that he was very interesting.

After supper, when the guests had gone, he went to his room and lay down on the sofa: he wanted to thin about that monk. but a moment later Tanya came in.

"Here, Andryusha, read my father's articles," she said, handing him a stack of booklets and offprints. "Wonderful articles. He's an excellent writer."

"Excellent, really!" said Yegor Semyonych, coming in after her and laughing forcedly; he was embarrassed, "Don't listen to her, please, don't read them! However, if you want to fall asleep, then by all means read them: a wonderful soporific."

"In my opinion they are splendid articles," Tanya said with great conviction. "Read them, Andryusha, and persuade papa to write more often. He could write a complete course in horticulture."

Yegor Semyonych gave a strained chuckle, blushed, and began repeating the phrases that bashful authors usually say. Finally he began to give in.

"In that case, read the articles by Gaucher first, and then these little Russian articles," he murmured, fumbling over the booklets and trembling hands, "otherwise you won't understand. Before reading my objections, you should know what I'm objecting to. It's nonsense, however . . . boring. Anyway, I believe it's time for bed."

Tanya left, Yegor Semyonych sat next to Kovrin on the sofa and sighed deeply.

"Yes, my dear boy . . ." he began, after some silence. "Yes, my gentle master of arts. So I, too, write articles and take part in exhibitions and win medals . . . They say Pesotsky's apples are as big as your head, and Pesotsky, they say, has made a fortune on his orchard. In short, Kochubey is rich and famous. But, you may ask, why all this? The orchard is indeed beautiful, exemplary . . . It's not an orchard, it's a whole institution of great national significance, because it is, so to speak, a step into a new era of the Russian economy and Russian industry. but why? With what aim?"

"The world speaks for itself."

"That's not what I mean. I want to ask: what will happen to the orchard when I die? Without me it won't hold out the wa it is now for even a month. The whole secret of success is not that it's a big orchard and there are lots of workers, but that I love doing it--you understand?--love it maybe more than my own self. Look at me: I do everything myself. I work from morning till night. I do all the budding myself, all the tuning, all the planting. I do everything my self. When somebody helps me, I get jealous and irritated to the point of rudeness. The whole secret is in love, that is, in the master's keen eye, and the master's hands, and in that feeling when you go for an hour's visit somewhere, and you sit there, but your heart is uneasy, you're not yourself: you're afraid something may happen in the orchard. And when I die, who will look after it? Who'll do the work? The gardener? The hired hands? Yes? I'll tell you this, my gentle friend: the first enemy in our work ins't the hare, or the cockchafer, or the frost, but the outsider."

"And Tanya?" asked Kovrin, laughing. "It can't be that she's worse than a hare. She loves and understands the work."

"Yes, she loves and understands it. If she gets the orchard after my death and becomes its manager, then one certainly would wish for nothing better. Well, but if, God forbid, she should marry?" Yegor Semyonych whispered and looked fearfully at Kovrin. "There's the thing! She'll marry, start having children, there'll be no time to think about the orchard. What I fear most is that she'll marry some fine fellow, and he'll turn greedy and lease the orchard to some market woman, and everything will go to hell in the very first year! In our work, women are the scourge of God!"

Yegor Semyonych sighed and was silent for a time.

"Maybe it's egoism, but I'll tell you frankly: I don't want Tanya to get married. I'm afraid! There's a fop with a fiddle who comes here and scrapes away; I know Tanya won't marry him, I know it very well but I hate the sight of him! Generally, my boy, I'm a great eccentric, I admit it."

Yegor Semyonych got up and paced the room in agitation, and it was evident that he wanted to say something very important, but could not decide to do it.

"I love you dearly and I'll speak frankly with you," he finally decided, thrusting his hands into his pockets. "My attitude to certain ticklish questions is simple, I say straight out what I think, and I can't stand so-called hidden thoughts. I'll say straight-out: you are the only man to whom I would not be afraid to marry my daughter. You're intelligent, and a man of heart, and you wouldn't let my beloved work perish. And the main reason is--I love you like a son . . . and I'm proud of you. If you and Tanya should somehow have a romance, then--why, I'd be very glad and even happy. I say it straight out, without mincing, as an honest man."

Kovrin laughed. Yegor Semyonych opened the door to go out, but stopped on the threshold.

"If you and Tanya had a son, I'd make a horitculturist of him," he said, pondering. "However, that is but vain dreaming . . . Good night."

Left alone, Kovrin lay down more comfortably and began on the articles. One was entitled "On intermediate Crops," another "A Few Words Concerning the Note by Mr. Z. on Turning Over the Soil for a New Garden," a third "More on Building, with Dormant Eyes," and the rest were in the same vein. But what an uneasy, uneven tone, what nervous, almost morbid defiance! Here was an article with what one would think was the most peaceable title and indifferent content: the subject was the Russian Antonov apple tree. Yet Yegor Semyonych began it with audiatur later pars and ended with sapient sat, and between these two pronouncements there was a whole fountain of venomous words of all sorts addressed to "the learned ignorance of our patented Messers the Horticulturists who observe nature from the height of their lecterns," or to M. Gaucher, "whose success was created by amateurs and dilettantes," followed by an in appropriately forced and insincere regret that its was no longer possible to give peasants a birching for stealing fruit and breaking the trees while they are at it.

"This is beautiful, sweet, and healthy work, but here, too, there are passions and war," thought Kovrin. "It must be that everywhere and in all occupations, people with ideas are nervous and marked by high sensitivity. It probably has to be that way."

He thought of Tanya, who loved Yegor Semyonych's articles so much. Small of stature, pale, so skinny that you could see her eyes wide open, dark, intelligent, always peering somewhere and seeking something, her gait like her father's--small, hurried steps. She talks a lot, likes to argue, and accompanies every phrase, even the most insignificant, with expressive looks and gestures. She must be nervous in the highest degree.

Kovrin began to read further, but understood nothing and dropped it. The pleasant excitement, the same with which he had danced the mazurka and listened to the music earlier, now oppressed him and evoked a great many thoughts. He got up and began pacing the room, thinking about the black monk. It occurred to him that if he alone had seen this strange, supernatural monk, it meant that he was ill and gone as far as hallucinations This thought alarmed him, but not for long.

"But I'm quite well, and I do no one any harm, so there's nothing bad in my hallucination," he thought and felt good again.

He sat down on the sofa and put his head in his hands, holding back the incomprehensible joy that filled his whole ring, then he paced about again and sat down to work. But the thoughts he read in the book did not satisfy him. He wanted something gigantic, boundless, staggering. Towards morning he undressed and reluctantly went to be; he did have to sleep!

When he heard the footsteps of Yegor Semyonych leaving for the gardens, Kovrin rang the bell and told the servant to bring some wine. He drank several glasses of Lafite with pleasure, then pulled the blanket over his head; his consciousness went dim, and he fell asleep.

Yegor Semyonych and Tanya often quarreled and said unpleasant things to each other.

One morning they had a squabble over something. Tanya began to cry and went to her room. she did not come out for dinner or for tea. Yegor Semyyonych first went about all pompous, puffed up, as if wishing to make it known that for him the interests of justice and order were higher than anything in the world, ut soon his character failed him and he lost his spirits. He wandered sadly through the park and kept sighing:  "Ah, my God, my God!"--and did not eat a single crumb at dinner. Finally, guiltily, suffering remorse, he knocked on the locked door and timidly called:

"Tanya! Tanya!"

And in answer to him a weak voice, exhausted from tears and at the same time resolute, came from behind the door:

"Leave me alone, I beg you."

The suffering of the masters affected the entire household, even the people who worked in the garden. Kovrin was immersed in his interesting work, but in the end he, too, felt dull and awkward. To disperse the general bad mood somehow, he decided to intervene and before evening knocked on Tanya's door. He was admitted.

"Aie, aie, what a shame!" he began jokingl, looking in surprise at Tanya's tear-stained, mournful face, covered with red spots. "Can it be so serious? Aie, aie!"

"But if you only knew how he torments me!" she said, and tears, bitter, abundant tears, poured from her big eyes. "He wears me out!" she went on, wringing her hands. "I didn't say anything to him . . . not anything . . . I just said there was no need to keep . . . extra workers, if . . . if it's possible to hire day laborers whenever we like. The . . . the workers have already spent a whole week doing nothing . . . I . . . I just said it, and he began to shout and said . . . a lot of insulting . . . deeply offensive things t me. What for?"

"Come, come," said Kovrin, straightening her hair. "You've quarreled, cried, and enough. You mustn't be angry for so long, it's not nice . . . especially since he loves you no end."

"He's ruined my . . . my whole life," Tanya went on, sobbing. "All I hear is insults and offense. He considers me useless in his house. So, then?" He's right. I'll leave here tomorrow, get hired as a telegraph girl . . . Let him . . ."

"Well, well, well . . . Don't cry, Tanya. Don't cry, my dear . . . You're both hot-tempered, irritable, you're both to blame. Come, I'll make peace between you."

Kovrin spoke tenderlyand persuasively, and she went on crying, her shoulders shaking and her hands clenched, as if some terrible misfortune had actually befallen her. He felt more sorry for her because, though her grief was not serious, she suffered deeply. What trifles sufficed to make this being unhappy for a whole days nd perhaps even all her life! As he comforted Tanya, Kovrin was thinking that, apart from this girl and her father, there were no people to be found in the whole world wh loved him like their own, like family; that if it were not for these two persons, he, who had lost his father and mother in early childhood, might have died without knowing genuine tenderness and that naive, unreasoning love which one feels only for very close blood relations. And he felt that the nerves of this crying, shaking girl responded, like iron to a magnet, to his own half-sick, frayed nerves. He never could have loved a healthy, strong, red-cheeked woman, but pale, weak, unhappy Tanya he liked very much.

And he gladly stroked her hair and shoulders, pressed her hands and wiped her tears . . . Finally she stopped crying. She went on for a long time complaining about her father and her difficult, unbearable life in this house, imploring Kovrin to put himself in her place, then she gradually began to smile and sigh about God having given her such a bad character, in the end burst into loud laughter, called herself a fool, and ran out of the room.

When Kovrin went out to the garden, a little later, Yegor Semyonych and Tanya were strolling side by side along the walk, as if nothing had happened, and they were both eating black bread and salt, because they were both hungry.

 Pleased that he had succeeded so well in the role of peacemaker, Kovrin went into the park. As he sat on a bench and reflected, he heard the rattle of carriages and women's laughter--that as guests arriving. When the evening shadows began to lengthen in the garden, he vaguely heard the sounds of a violin and voices singing, and that reminded him of the black monk. Where, in what country or on what planet, was that optical incongruity racing about now?

No sooner had he remembered the legend and pictured in his imagination the dark phantom he had seen in the rye field, than there stopped from behind a pine tree just opposite him, inaudibly, without the slightest rustle, a man of average height, with a bare, gray head, all in dark clothes and barefoot, looking like a beggar, and his black eyebrows stood out sharply on his pale, deathly face. Nodding his head affably, this beggar or wanderer noiselessly approached the bench and sat down, and Kovrin recognized him as the black monk. For a moment the two looked at each other--Kovrin with amazement, and the monk tenderly and, as before, a little slyly, with the expression of one who keeps his own counsel.

"But you are a mirage," said Kovrin. "Why are you here and sitting in one place? It doesn't agree with the legend."

"That makes no difference," the monk answered after a moment, in a low voice, turning his face to him. "The legend, the mirage, and I--it is all a product of your excited imagination, I am a phantom."

"So you don't exist?" asked Kovrin.

"Think as you like," said the monk, and he smiled faintly. "I exist in your imagination, and your imagination is part of nature, which means that I, too, exist in nature."

"You have a very old, intelligent, and highly expressive face, as if you really have lived more than a thousand years," said Kovrin. "I didn't know that my imagination was capable for creating such phenomena. But why are you looking at me with such rapture? Do you like me?"

"Yes. You are one of the few who are justly called the chosen of God. You serve the eternal truth. Your thoughts and intentions, your astonishing science and your whole life bear a divine, heavenly imprint, because they are devoted to the reasonable and the beautiful--that is, to what is eternal."

"You said: the eternal truth . . . But can people attain to eternal truth and do they need it, if there is no eternal life?"

"There is eternal life," said the monk.

"You believe in people's immortality?"

"Yes, of course. A great, magnificent future awaits you people. And the more like you there are on earth, the sooner that future will be realized. Without you servants of the higher principle, who live consciously and freely, mankind would be insignificant; developing in natural order, it would wait a long time for the end of its earthly history. But you will lead it into the kingdom of eternal truth several thousand years earlier--and in that lies your high worth. You incarnate in yourselves the blessing of God that rests upon people."

"And what is the goal of eternal life?" asked Kovrin.

"The same as any life--enjoyment. True enjoyment is in knowledge, and eternal life will provide countless and inexhaustible sources for knowledge, and in that sense it is said: 'In my Father's house are many mansions.'"

"If you only know-how nice it is to listen to you!" said Kovrin, rubbing his hands with pleasure.

"I'm very glad."

"But I know: when you leave, I'll be troubled by the question of your essence. You're a phantom, a hallucination. Meaning that I'm mentally ill, abnormal?"

"Suppose you are. What is so troubling? You're ill because you worked beyond your strength and got tired, and that means you sacrificed your health to an idea, and the time is near when you will also give your life to it. What could be better? That is generally what all noble natures, endowed from on high, strive for."

"If I know that I am mentally ill, then can I believe myself?"

"And how do you know that people of genius, whom the whole world believes, did not also see phantoms? Learned men now say genius is akin to madness. My friend, only the ordinary herd people are healthy and normal. Reflections on this nervous age, fatigue, degeneracy, and so on, can seriously worry only those who see the goal of life in the present, that is, herd people."

"The Romans said: mens sane in corpora sano."

"Not everything that the Romans or Greeks said was true. An exalted state, excitement, ecstasy--all that distinguishes the prophets, the poets, the martyrs for an idea, from ordinary people--runs counter to the animal side of man, that is, to his physical health. I repeat: if you want to be healthy and normal, join the herd."

"Strange, you're repeating what often goes through my own head," said Kovrin. "It's as if you had spied and eavesdropped on my inmost thoughts. But let's not talk about me. What do you mean by eternal truth?"

The monk did not reply. Kovrin looked at him and could not make out his face: his features were dim and blurred. Then the monk's head and hands bean to disappear; his body mingled with the bench and the evening twilight, and he vanished completely.

"The hallucination is over!" said Kovrin, and he laughed. "Too bad."

He went back to the house cheerful and happy. The little that the black monk had said to him had flattered not his vanity but his whole soul, his whole being. Too e a chosen one, to serve eternal truth, to stand in the ranks of those who ill make mankind worthy of the Kingdom of God several thousand years earlier, that is, deliver people from several thousand extra years of struggle, sin, and suffering, to give everything to that idea--youth, strength, health, to be ready to die for the common good--what a lofty, what a happy fate! His past, pure, chaste, filled with toil, raced through his memory, he remembered all that he had studied and what he taught others, and he decided that there was no exaggeration in the monk's words.

Tanya came walking towards him through the park. She was wearing a different dress.

"You're here?" she said. "And we've been looking and looking for you . . . But what's the matter?" she said in surprise, seeing his rapturous, radiant face and his eyes brimming with tears. "You're so strange, Andryusha."

"I'm contented, Tanya," said Kovrin, placing his hands on her shoulders. "I'm more than contented, I'm happy! Tanya, dear Tanya, you're an extremely sympathetic being. dear Tanya, I'm so glad, so glad!"

He warmly kissed both her hands and went on.

"I've just lived through some bright, wondrous, unearthly moments. But I can't tell you everything, because you'll call me mad or you won't believe me. Let's talk about you. Dear, nice Tanya! I love you and I'm used to loving you. To have you near, to meet you a dozen times a day, has become a necessity for my soul. I don't know how I'll do without you when I go back home."

"Well!" Tanya laughed. "You'll forget us in two days. We're little people, and you're a great man."

"No, let's talk seriously!" he said. "I'll take you with me, Tanya. Yes? Will you go with me? Do you want to be mine?"

"Well!" said Tanya, and again she wanted to laugh, but the laughter did not come out, and red spots appeared on her face.

She started breathing fast, and quickly went, not towards the house, but further in the park.

"I wasn't thinking of that . . . I wasn't!" she said, clasping her hands as if in despair.

And Kovrin followed her, saying with the same radiant, rapturous face:

"I want a love that will capture the whole of me, and only you, Tanya, can give me that love. I'm happy! Happy!"

She was stunned, she bent, shrank, and seemed to grow ten years older, but he found her lovely, and expressed his rapture aloud:

"How beautiful she is!"

 On learning from Kovrin not only that the romance was under way, but that there was even to be a wedding, Yegor Semyonych paced up and down for a long time, trying to conceal his agitation. HIs hands began to tremble, his neck swelled and turned purple, he ordered his racing droshky harnessed and rove off somewhere. Tanya, seeing how he whipped up the horse and how far down almost to the ears, he had pulled his cap, understood his mood, locked herself in her room, and cried all day.

The peaches and plums were already ripe in the conservatory; the packing and sending of these delicate and capricious goods to Moscow called for much attention, work, and trouble. The summer being very hot and dry, it was necessary to water every tree, which took a lot of time and labor, and besides that multitudes of caterpillars appeared, which the workers, and even Yegor Semyonych and Tanya, squashed in their fingers, to Kovrin's great disgust. With all that it was necessary to receive the fall orders for fruit and trees and carry on a vast correspondence. And at the busiest time, when nobody seemed to have a single free moment, the time came for work in the fields, which took half the workers from the gardens; Yegor Semyonych, deeply tanned, worn out, angry, galloped off now to the gardens, now to the fields, and shouted that he was being torn to pieces and that he was going to put a ballet through his head.

And on top of that there were the bustling over the trousseau, something to which the Pesotskys attached great importance; the snick of scissors, the rattle of sewing machines, the burning smell of irons, the fussiness of the dressmaker, a nervous, easily offended lady, made everyone in the house dizzy. And, as if by design, guests came every day, who had to be entertained, fed, and even put up overnight. But all this hard labor passed unobserved, as in a fog. Tanya felt as if love and happiness had caught her unawares, though for some reason she had been certain since the age of fourteen that Kovrin would marry precisely her. She was amazed, perplexed, did not believe herself . . . Sometimes she would be flooded with such joy that she wanted to fly up to the clouds and there pray to God, but then she would suddenly remember that in August she had to part with her own nest and leave her father, or else the thought would come, God knows from where, that she was insignificant, small, and unworthy of such a great man as Kovrin--and she would go to her room, lock herself in, and weep bitterly for several hours. When guests came, she would suddenly think thet Kovrin was remarkably handsome and that all the women were in love with him and envied her, and her soul would be filled with rapture and pride, as if she had conquered the whole world, but he had only to smile affably to some young lady, and she would tremble with jealousy, go to her room, and--tears again. These new feelings took complete possession of her, she helped her father mechanically, and did not notice the peaches, or the caterpillars, or the workers, or how quickly the time raced by.

Almost the same thing happened with Yegor Semyonych. He worked from morning till night, was always hurrying somewhere, lost patience, became irritated, but all as if in some magical half dream. It was now as if two persons were sitting in him: one was the real Yegor Semyonych, who, listening to the gardener, Ivan Karlych, reporting some disorders to him, became indignant and clutched his head in despair, and on the other not the real one, as if half drunk, who would suddenly break off the business conversation in mid-sentence, touch the gardener's shoulder, and begin to murmur:

"Whatever you say, blood means a lot. His mother was a most amazing, noble, intelligent woman. It was a pleasure to look t her face, as kind, bright, and pure as an angel's. She made wonderful drawings, wrote versus, spoke five foreign languages, sang . . . The poor thing died of consumption, may she rest in peace."

The unreal Yegor Semyonych sighed and, after a pause, went on: the same angelic face, bright and good. His eyes, his movements, and his conversation were gentle and graceful, like his mother's. And his intelligence? He always amazed us with his intelligence. Let me tell you, he's not a master of arts for nothing. Not for nothing. Wait and see, Ivan Karlych, what becomes of him in ten years. He'll be unapproachable!"

But here the real Yegor Semyonych would recollect himself, make a terrible face, clutch his head, and shout:

"Devils! Besmutted, be mangled, begrimed! The orchard's lost! The orchard's ruined!"

And Kovrin worked with his former zeal and did not notice the turmoil. Love only added fuel to the fire. After each meeting with Tanya, he went to his room, happy, rapturous, and with the same passion with which he had just kissed Tanya and declared his love to her, got down to his book or manuscript. What the black monk had said about the chosen of God, the eternal truth, the magnificent future of mankind, and so on, endowed his work with a special, extraordinary importance and filled his soul with pride, with an awareness of his own loftiness. He met the black monk once or twice a week, in the park or in the houses nd had long talks with him, but that did not alarm him; on the contrary, it delighted him, because he was now firmly convinced that such visions came only to chosen, outstanding people who devoted themselves to the service of the idea.

Once the monk came during dinner and sat by the window in the dining room. Kovrin was glad and very adroitly started a conversation with Yegor Semyonych and Tanya about something that would interest the monk: the black visitor listened and nodded affably, and Yegor Semyonych and Tanya also listened and smiled cheerfully, not suspecting that Kovrin was not talking to them but to his hallucination.

The Dormition fast arrived unnoticed, and soon after it the day of the wedding, which, at the insistence of Yegor Semonych, was celebrated "with a smash," that is, with senseless revelry that went on for two days and nights. The eating and drinking ran to about three thousand roubles, but the bad hired music, the loud toasting and the rushing about of servants made it impossible to appreciate the taste of the expensive wines and the extraordinary delicacies ordered from Moscow.


Once on one of the long winter nights Kovrin was lying in bed reading a French novel. Poor Tanya, who had headaches in the evenings from being unused to city life, had long been asleep and occasionally in her sleep murmured some incoherent phrases.

The clock struck three. Kovrin put out the candle and lay down; for a long time he lay with closed eyes but could not sleep, because, as it seemed to him, the room was very hot and Tonya was murmuring. At four-thirty he lit the candle again and this time saw the black monk, who was sitting in the armchair near the bed.

"hello," said the monk and, after some silence, he asked: "What are you thinking about now?"

"About fame," replied Kovrin. "In the French novel I've just been reading, there is a man, a young scholar, w ho does foolish things and pines away from a longing for fame. This longing for fame is incomprehensible to me."

"Because you're intelligent. You look upon fame with indifference, as upon a plaything that does not interest you."

"Yes, that's true."

"Celebrity has no charm for you. Is it flattering, or amusing, or instructive to have your name carved on a tombstone and then have time erase the inscription along with the gilding? Fortunately, though, there are too many of you for weak human memory to be able to preserve your names."

"Agreed," said Kovrin. "And why remember them? But let's talk about something else. About happiness, for instance. What is happiness?"

"When the clock struck five, he was sitting on his bed, his feet hanging down on the rug, and, addressing the monk, was saying:

"In ancient times one happy man finally became frightened of his happiness--so great it was!--and, to appease the gods, sacrifices his favorite ring to them. You know? I, too, like Polycrates, am beginning to worry a little about my happiness. It seems strange to me that Iexperience nothing but joy from morning till evening. it fills the whole of me and stifles all my other feelings. I don't know what sadness, sorrow, or boredom is. I'm not asleep now, I have insomnia, but I'm not bored. I say it seriously: I'm beginning to be puzzled."

"But why?" The monk was amazed. "Is joy a supernatural feeling? Should it not be the normal state of man? The higher man is in his mental and moral development, the freer he is, the greater the pleasure that life affords him. Socrates, Diogenes, and Marcus Aurelius experienced joy, not sorrow. And the Apostle says: 'Rejoice evermore.' Rejoice, then, and be happy."

"And what if the gods suddenly get angry?" Kovrin joked and laughed. "If they take my comfort from me and make me suffer cold and hunger, it will hardly be to my liking."

Tanya had awakened meanwhile and was looking at her husband with amazement and horror. He was addressing the armchair, gesticulating and laughing: his eyes shone, and there was something strange in his laughter.

"Andryusha, who are you talking to?" she asked, seizing the arm he had stretched out to the monk. "Andryusha! Who?"

"Eh? Who/" Kovrin was embarrassed. "To him . . . He's sitting there," he said, pointing to the black monk.

"No one is there . . . no one! Andrusha, you're ill!"

Tanya embraced her husband and pressed herself to him, as if protecting him from visions, and she covered his eyes with her hand.

"You're ill!" she began to sob, trembling all over. "Forgive me, my sweet, my dear, but I've long noticed that your soul is troubled by something . . . You're mentally ill, Andryusha . . ."

Her trembling communicated itself to him. He glanced once more at the chair, w which was now empty, suddenly felt a weakness in his arms and legs, became frightened, and began to dress.

"It's nothing, Tanya, nothing . . ." he murmured, trembling. "In fact, I am a bit unwell . . . it's time I admitted it."

"I've long noticed it . . . and papa has noticed it," she said, trying to hold back her sobs. "You talk to yourself, smile somehow strangely . . . don't sleep. Oh, my god, my god, save us!" she said in horror. "But don't be afraid, Adryusha, don't be afraid, for God's sake, don't be afraid . . ."

She, too, began to dress. Only now, looking at her, did Kovrin realize all the danger of his situation, realize what the black monk and his conversations with him meant. It was clear to him now that he was mad.

They both got dressed, not knowing why themselves, and went to the drawing room: she first, and he after her. There, already awakened by the sobbing, in a dressing gown and with a candle in his hand, stood Yegor Semyonych, who was visiting them.

"Don't be afraid, Andryusha," Tanya was saying, trembling as in fever, "don't be afraid . . . Papa, it will go away . . . it will all go away . . ."

Kovrin was too agitated to speak. He wanted to say to his father-in-law, in a jocular tone: "Congratulate me, I think I've lost my mind," but he only moved his lips and smiled bitterly.

At nine o'clock in the morning they put a coat on him, then a fur coat, then wrapped him in a shawl, and drove him in a carriage to the doctor's. He started treatment.

Summer came again, and the doctor ordered him to go to the country. Kovrin was well by then, had stopped seeing the black monk, and it only remained for him to restore his physical strength. Living with his father-in-law in the country, he drank a lot of milk, worked only two hours a day, did not drink wine and did not smoke.

 On the eve of St. Elijah's day, the vigil was served at home. When the subdeacon handed the censer to the priest, the vast old hall began to smell like a cemetery, and Kovrin felt bored. He went out to the garden. Not noticing the luxuriant flowers, he strolled through the garden, sat on a bench for a while, then wandered into the park; coming to the river, he went down and stood lost in thought, gazing at the water. The gloomy pines with their shaggy roots, which had seen him there last year so young, joyful and lively, now did not whisper but stood motionless, mute, as if they did not recognize him. And indeed his head was cropped, his leg, beautiful hair was gone, his pace was sluggish, his face, compared to last year, had grown fuller and more pale.

He crossed the planks to the other side. Where there had been rye the previous year, reaped oats now lay in rows. The sun had already set, and a broad red glow blazed on the horizon, forecasting windy weather for the next day. It was still. Peering in the direction where the black monk had first appeared the day before, Kovrin stood for some twenty minutes till the sunset began to fade . . .

When he returned home, sluggish, dissatisfied, the vigil was over. Yegor Semyonych and Tanya were sitting on the steps of the terrace having tea. They were talking about something, but on seeing Kovrin they suddenly fell silent, and by their faces he concluded the talk had been about him.

"I think it's time for your milk," Tanya said to her husband.

"No, it's not . . ." he said, sitting on the lowest step. "Drink it yourself. I don't want to."

Tanya exchanged worried glances with her father and said in a guilty voice:

"You've noticed yourself that milk is good for you."

"Yes, very good!" Kovrin grinned. "My congratulations: since Friday I've gained another pound." He clutched his head tightly with his hands and said in anguish: "Why, why did you have me treated? Bromides, inactivity, warm baths, supervision, fainthearted fear over every mouthful, every step--it will finally drive me to idiocy. I was losing my mind, I had megalomania, but I was gay, lively, and even happy, I was interesting and original. now I've become more solid and reasonable, but as a result I'm just like everybody else: I'm a mediocrity, I'm bored with life . . . Oh, how cruel you've been to me! I had hallucinations, but did that harm anybody? I ask you, did it harm anybody?"

"God knows what you're saying!" Yegor Semyonych sighed. "It's even boring to listen."

"Don't listen, then."

The presence of people, especially of Yegor Semyonych, now irritated Kovrin, and he answered him drily, coldly, and even rudely, and never looked at him otherwise than with mockery and hatred, and Yegor Semyonych felt embarrassed and coughed guiltily, though he did not feel guilty of anything. Not understanding why their sweet, cordial relations had changed so abruptly, Tanya pressed herself to her father and peered anxiously into his eyes; she wanted to understand and could not, and it was only clear to her that their relations were getting worse and worse each day, that her father had aged very much recently, and her husband had become irritable, capricious, cranky, and uninteresting. She could no longer laugh and sing, ate nothing at dinner, did not sleep all night, expecting something terrible, and was so worn out that she once lay in a faint from dinner till evening. During the vigil it had seemed to her that her father wept, and now, as the three of them sat on the terrace, she tried not to think about it.

"How lucky Buddha and Mohammed and Shakespeare were that their kind relations and doctors did not treat them for ecstasy and inspiration!" said Kovrin. "If Mohammed had taken potassium bromide for his nerves, worked only two hours a day, and drunk milk, there would have been as little left after this remarkable man as after his dog. Doctors and kind relations will make it so that mankind will grow dull, mediocrity will be considered genius, and civilization will die out. If you only knew," Kovrin said with vexation, "how grateful I am to you!"

He felt extremely irritated and, to avoid saying something excessive, quickly got up and went into the house. It was quiet, and the scent of nicotiana and jalap came through the open windows from the garden. Midnight lay in green patches on the floor and on the grand piano in the vast dark hall. Kovrin recalled the raptures of last summer, when there had been the same smell of jalap and moonlight shining in the windows. To bring back last year's mood, he went quickly to his study, lit a strong cigarette, and told the servant to bring wine. But the cigar was bitter and disgusting in his mouth, and the wine did not taste the same as last year. That was what it meant to lose the habit! the cigar and two sips of wine made him dizzy, a dn his heart started pounding so that he had to take potassium bromide.

Before going to bed, Tanya said to him:

"My father adores you. You're angry with him for something, and it's killing him. Look: he's not aging by the day but by the hour. I beg you, Andryusha, for God's sake, for the sake of your late father, for the sake of my own peace, be nice to him."

"I can't and won't."

"But why?" asked Tanya, beginning to tremble all over. "Explain to me, why?"

"Because I find him unsympathetic, that's all," Kovrin said carelessly and shrugged his shoulders. "But let's not talk about him, he's your father."

"I can't, I can't understand!" said Tanya, pressing her temples and staring at a single point. "Something inconceivable, something terrible is happening in our home. You've changed, you're no longer yourself . . . You, an intelligent, extraordinary man, b come irritated over trifles, get into squabbles . . . You become upset over such small things that I'm sometimes astonished and can't believe it's really you. Well, well, don't be angry, don't be angry, she went on, frightened at her own words and kissing his hands. "You're intelligent, kind, noble. You'll be fair to my father. He's so good!"

"He's not good, he's good nature. Vaudeville uncles like your father, with well-fed, good-natured physiognomies, extremely hospitable and whimsical, used to touch me and make me laugh in stories and vaudevilles, and in life, but now I find them repulsive. They're egoists to the marrow of their bones. What I find most repulsive is their well-fed look and that visceral, purely bullish or boarish optimism."

Tanya sat down on the bed and lay her head on the pillow.

"This is torture," she said, and it was clear from her voice that she was extremely tired and had difficulty speaking. "Not one peaceful moment since winter . . . My God, this is terrible! I'm suffering . . ."

"Yes, of course, I'm Herod and you and your dear papa are Egyptian infants. Of course!"

His face seemed ugly and unpleasant to Tanya. Hatred and even a mocking expression did not become him. She had noticed even earlier that his face now lacked somethings s if, since he cut his hair, his face had also changed. She wanted to say something offensive to him, but she caught herself at once feeling animosity, became frightened, and left the bedroom.


Kovrin was awarded his own chair. The inaugural lecture was scheduled for the second of December, and the announcement was posted int he university corridor. But on the scheduled day he informed the director of studies that the lecture would not be delivered on account of illness.

He was bleeding from the throat. He had been spitting blood, but about twice a month he bled profusely, and then he became extremely weak and fell into somnolence. The illness did not frighten him very much, because he knew that his late mother had lived for ten years or even longer with the same illness; and the doctors assured him that it was not dangerous and merely advised him not to worry, to lead a regular life, and to talk less.

In January the lecture failed to take place for the same reason, and in February it was too late to begin the course. I thad to be postponed until the next year.

He now lived not with Tanya but with another woman, who was two years older than he and looked after him like a child. His state of mind was placid, submissive; he willingly obeyed, and when Varvara Nikolaevna--that was his friend's name--decided to take him to the Crimea, he agreed, though he had a presentiment that nothing good would come of this trip.

They arrived in Sebastopol in the evening and stayed at a hotel to get some rest and go on to Yalta the following day. They were both weary from traveling. Varvara Nikolaevna had tea, went to bed, and soon fell asleep. But Kovrin did not goo to bed. At home, an hour before they left for the station, he had received a letter from Tanya and had been unable to bring himself to open it. It was now lying in his side pocket, and the thought of it troubled him unpleasantly. Frankly, at the bottom of his heart, he now considered his marriage to Tanya a mistake, was content to be finally separated from her, and the memory of this woman who in the end had turned into a living skeleton and in whom everything seemed to have died except for the big, intently peering, intelligent eyes, the memory of her called up in him only pity and vexation with himself. The handwriting on the envelope reminded him of how cruel and unfair he had been two years ago, how he had vented his inner emptiness, boredom, solitude, and dissatisfaction with life on totally blameless people. He incidentally remembered how one day he had torn his dissertation and all the articles he had written during his illness into little pieces and thrown them out the window, and how the scraps, flying with the wind, had caught on trees and flowers; in every line he had seen strange, totally unfounded claims, light-minded defiance, impudence, metalomania, and it had made the same impression on him as if he were reading a description of his own vices; but when the last notebook had been torn up and sent flying out the window, he had suddenly felt bitter and vexed for some reason, had gone to his wife and told her a lot of unpleasant things. My God, how he had tormented her! Once, wishing to cause her pain, he had told her that her father had played an unflattering role in their romance, because he had asked him to marry her; Yegor Semyonych had accidentally overheard it, rushed into the room, and, unable to utter a single word from despair, only shifted from one foot to the other and moaned somehow strangely, as if he had lost the power of speech, and Tanya, looking at her father, had cried out in a heartrending voice and fainted. It was hideous.

All this rose up in his memory as he looked at the familiar handwriting. Kovrin went out on the balcony; the weather was still and warm, and there was a smell of the sea. The beautiful bay reflected the moon and the lights and had a color for which it was difficult to find a name. It was a gentle and soft combination of blue and green; in places the water resembled blue vitriol in color, and in places the bay seemed filled with condensed moonlight instead of water, and overall what a harmony of colors, what a peaceful, calm, and lofty feeling!

On the lower floor, under the balcony, the windows were probably open, because women's voices and laughter could be heard distinctly. A party was evidently going on there.

Kovrin forced himself to open the letter and, going into his room, read:

"My father has just died. I owe that to you, because you killed him. Our orchard is perishing, strangers have already taken it over, which is precisely what my poor father feared would happen. I owe that to you as well. I hate you with all my heart and wish you to perish soon. Oh, how I suffer! My soul burns with unbearable pain . . . May you be cursed! I took you for an extraordinary man, a genius, I loved you, but you turned out to be mad . . ."

Kovrin could read no further, tore up the letter, and dropped it. An anxiety that resembled fear came over him. Behind the screen Varvara Nikolaevna lay asleep, and he could hear her breathing; from the lower floor came women's voices and laughter, yet he had the feeling that apart from him there was not a single living soul in the whole hotel. That the unfortunate, grief-stricken Tanya had cursed him in the letter and wished him to perish, gave him an eerie feeling, and he kept glancing at the door, as if fearing that the unknown power which in some two years had wrought such destruction in his life and the lives of his relations, might come into the room and again take control of him.

He knew from experience that when his nerves acted up, the best remedy for it was work. He had to sit down at the table and make himself concentrate on some thought, whatever the cost. He took a notebook from his red briefcase in which he had jotted down the synopsis of a small compilatory work he had thought up in case he found it boring in the Crimea with nothing to do. He sat down at the table and began working on this synopsis, and it seemed to him that his peaceful, submissive, indifferent mood was returning. The notebook with the synopsis even led him to reflect on worldly vanity. He thought of the high toll life takes for the insignificant or very ordinary blessings it bestows on man. For instance, to have a chair by the time you are forty, to be an ordinary professor, to explain ordinary thoughts, and other people's at that, in sluggish, boring, heavy language--in short, to attain the position of a mediocre scholar--he, Kovrin, had to study for fifteen years, to work day and night, to suffer a grave mental illness, to live through an unsuccessful marriage, and to do all sorts of stupid and unfair things, which it would be more pleasant not to remember. Kovrin clearly recognized now that he was a mediocrity, and he willingly accepted it, because, in his opinion, each man should be content with what he is.

The synopsis might have calmed him down completely, but the torn-up letter lay white on the floor and disturbed his concentrationHe got up from the table, picked up the scraps of the letter, and threw them out the window, but a light breeze was blowing from the sea, and the scraps scattered over the window sill. Again an anxiety that resembled fear came over him, and it began to seem as if, apart from him, there was not a single soul int he whole hotel . . . He went out on the balcony. the bay, as if alive, looked at him with a multitude of blue, aquamarine, turquoise, and fiery eyes and beckoned to him. It was indeed hot and stifling, and it would have done no harm to go for a swim.

Suddenly on the lower floor, under the balcony, a violin started playing and two tender women's voices began to sing. It was something familiar. The romance they were singing below spoke of some girl with a morbid imagination, who heard mysterious sounds in the garden at night and decided that it was a sacred harmony incomprehensible to us mortals . . . Kovrin's breath was taken away, and his heart was wrung with sorrow, and a wonderful, sweet joy, such as he had long forgotten, trembled in his breast.

A black, tall pillar, resembling a whirlwind or a tornado, appeared on the far shore of the bay. With terrific speed it moved across the bay int he direction of the hotel, growing ever smaller and darker, and Kovrin barely had time to step aside and let it pass . . . A monk with a bare, gray head and black eyebrows, barefoot, his arms crossed on his chest, raced by and stopped in the middle of the room.

"Why didn't you believe me?" he asked reproachfully, looking tenderly at Kovrin. "If you had believed me then, when I said you were a genius, you would not have spent these two years so sadly and meagerly."

Kovrin now believed that he was chosen of God and a genius, he vividly recalled all his old conversations with the black monk and wanted to speak, but blood flowed from his throat straight on to his chest, and he, not knowing what to do, moved his hands over his chest, and his cuffs became wet with blood. He wanted to call Varvara Nikolaevna, who was sleeping behind the screen, made an effort and said:


He fell to the floor and, propping himself on his arms, again called:


He called out to Tanya, called out to the big garden with its luxuriant flowers sprinkled with dew, called out to the park, the pines with their shaggy roots, the field of rye, his wonderful science, his youth, courage, joy, called out to life that was so beautiful. He saw a big pool of blood on the floor by his face, and could no longer utter a single word from weakness, but an inexpressible, boundless happiness filled his whole being. Below, under the balcony, they were playing the serenade, and the black monk was whispering to him that he was a genius and was dying only because his weak human body had lost its equilibrium and could no longer serve as a container for genius.

When Varvara Nikolaevna woke up and came from behind the screen, Kovrin was already dead, and a blissful smile was frozen on his face.

Anton Chekhov - The Black Monk

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