Part 1 of 2Chapter 4: The Cripple
SHATOV WAS NOT PERVERSE but acted on my note, and called at midday on Lizaveta Nikolaevna. We went in almost together; I was also going to make my first call. They were all, that is Liza, her mother, and Mavriky Nikolaevitch, sitting in the big drawing-room, arguing. The mother was asking Liza to play some waltz on the piano, and as soon as Liza began to play the piece asked for, declared it was not the right one. Mavriky Nikolaevitch in the simplicity of his heart took Liza's part, maintaining that it was the right waltz. The elder lady was so angry that she began to cry. She was ill and walked with difficulty. Her legs were swollen, and for the last few days she had been continually fractious, quarrelling with every one, though she always stood rather in awe of Liza. They were pleased to see us. Liza flushed with pleasure, and saying "merci" to me, on Shatov's account of course, went to meet him, looking at him with interest.
Shatov stopped awkwardly in the doorway. Thanking him for coming she led him up to her mother.
"This is Mr. Shatov, of whom I have told you, and this is Mr. G——v, a great friend of mine and of Stepan Trofimovitch's. Mavriky Nikolaevitch made his acquaintance yesterday, too."
"And which is the professor?"
"There's no professor at all, maman."
"But there is. You said yourself that there'd be a professor. It's this one, probably." She disdainfully indicated Shatov.
"I didn't tell you that there'd be a professor. Mr. G——v is in the service, and Mr. Shatov is a former student."
"A student or professor, they all come from the university just the same. You only want to argue. But the Swiss one had moustaches and a beard."
"It's the son of Stepan Trofimovitch that maman always calls the professor," said Liza, and she took Shatov away to the sofa at the other end of the drawing-room.
"When her legs swell, she's always like this, you understand she's ill," she whispered to Shatov, still with the same marked curiosity, scrutinising him, especially his shock of hair.
"Are you an officer?" the old lady inquired of me. Liza had mercilessly abandoned me to her.
"N-no.—I'm in the service...."
"Mr. G——v is a great friend of Stepan Trofimovitch's," Liza chimed in immediately.
"Are you in Stepan Trofimovitch's service? Yes, and he's a professor, too, isn't he?"
"Ah, maman, you must dream at night of professors," cried Liza with annoyance.
"I see too many when I'm awake. But you always will contradict your mother. Were you here four years ago when Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch was in the neighbourhood?"
I answered that I was.
"And there was some Englishman with you?"
"No, there was not."
"Well, you see there was no Englishman, so it must have been idle gossip. And Varvara Petrovna and Stepan Trofimovitch both tell lies. And they all tell lies."
"Auntie and Stepan Trofimovitch yesterday thought there was a resemblance between Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch and Prince Harry in Shakespeare's Henry IV, and in answer to that maman says that there was no Englishman here," Liza explained to us.
"If Harry wasn't here, there was no Englishman. It was no one else but Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch at his tricks."
"I assure you that maman's doing it on purpose," Liza thought necessary to explain to Shatov. "She's really heard of Shakespeare. I read her the first act of Othello myself. But she's in great pain now. Maman, listen, it's striking twelve, it's time you took your medicine."
"The doctor's come," a maid-servant announced at the door.
The old lady got up and began calling her dog: "Zemirka, Zemirka, you come with me at least."
Zemirka, a horrid little old dog, instead of obeying, crept under the sofa where Liza was sitting.
"Don't you want to? Then I don't want you. Good-bye, my good sir, I don't know your name or your father's," she said, addressing me.
"Well, it doesn't matter, with me it goes in at one ear and out of the other. Don't you come with me, Mavriky Nikolaevitch, it was Zemirka I called. Thank God I can still walk without help and to-morrow I shall go for a drive."
She walked angrily out of the drawing-room.
"Anton Lavrentyevitch, will you talk meanwhile to Mavriky Nikolaevitch; I assure you you'll both be gainers by getting to know one another better," said Liza, and she gave a friendly smile to Mavriky Nikolaevitch, who beamed all over as she looked at him. There was no help for it, I remained to talk to Mavriky Nikolaevitch.
Lizaveta Nikolaevna's business with Shatov turned out, to my surprise, to be really only concerned with literature. I had imagined, I don't know why, that she had asked him to come with some other object. We, Mavriky Nikolaevitch and I that is, seeing that they were talking aloud and not trying to hide anything from us, began to listen, and at last they asked our advice. It turned out that Lizaveta Nikolaevna was thinking of bringing out a book which she thought would be of use, but being quite inexperienced she needed some one to help her. The earnestness with which she began to explain her plan to Shatov quite surprised me.
"She must be one of the new people," I thought. "She has not been to Switzerland for nothing."
Shatov listened with attention, his eyes fixed on the ground, showing not the slightest surprise that a giddy young lady in society should take up work that seemed so out of keeping with her.
Her literary scheme was as follows. Numbers of papers and journals are published in the capitals and the provinces of Russia, and every day a number of events are reported in them. The year passes, the newspapers are everywhere folded up and put away in cupboards, or are torn up and become litter, or are used for making parcels or wrapping things. Numbers of these facts make an impression and are remembered by the public, but in the course of years they are forgotten. Many people would like to look them up, but it is a labour for them to embark upon this sea of paper, often knowing nothing of the day or place or even year in which the incident occurred. Yet if all the facts for a whole year were brought together into one book, on a definite plan, and with a definite object, under headings with references, arranged according to months and days, such a compilation might reflect the characteristics of Russian life for the whole year, even though the facts published are only a small fraction of the events that take place.
"Instead of a number of newspapers there would be a few fat books, that's all," observed Shatov.
But Lizaveta Nikolaevna clung to her idea, in spite of the difficulty of carrying it out and her inability to describe it. "It ought to be one book, and not even a very thick one," she maintained. But even if it were thick it would be clear, for the great point would be the plan and the character of the presentation of facts. Of course not all would be collected and reprinted. The decrees and acts of government, local regulations, laws—all such facts, however important, might be altogether omitted from the proposed publication. They could leave out a great deal and confine themselves to a selection of events more or less characteristic of the moral life of the people, of the personal character of the Russian people at the present moment. Of course everything might be put in: strange incidents, fires, public subscriptions, anything good or bad, every speech or word, perhaps even floodings of the rivers, perhaps even some government decrees, but only such things to be selected as are characteristic of the period; everything would be put in with a certain view, a special significance and intention, with an idea which would illuminate the facts looked at in the aggregate, as a whole. And finally the book ought to be interesting even for light reading, apart from its value as a work of reference. It would be, so to say, a presentation of the spiritual, moral, inner life of Russia for a whole year.
"We want every one to buy it, we want it to be a book that will be found on every table," Liza declared. "I understand that all lies in the plan, and that's why I apply to you," she concluded. She grew very warm over it, and although her explanation was obscure and incomplete, Shatov began to understand.
"So it would amount to something with a political tendency, a selection of facts with a special tendency," he muttered, still not raising his head.
"Not at all, we must not select with a particular bias, and we ought not to have any political tendency in it. Nothing but impartiality—that will be the only tendency."
"But a tendency would be no harm," said Shatov, with a slight movement, "and one can hardly avoid it if there is any selection at all. The very selection of facts will suggest how they are to be understood. Your idea is not a bad one."
"Then such a book is possible?" cried Liza delightedly.
"We must look into it and consider. It's an immense undertaking. One can't work it out on the spur of the moment. We need experience. And when we do publish the book I doubt whether we shall find out how to do it. Possibly after many trials; but the thought is alluring. It's a useful idea."
He raised his eyes at last, and they were positively sparkling with pleasure, he was so interested.
"Was it your own idea?" he asked Liza, in a friendly and, as it were, bashful way.
"The idea's no trouble, you know, it's the plan is the trouble," Liza smiled. "I understand very little. I am not very clever, and I only pursue what is clear to me, myself...."
"Perhaps that's not the right word?" Liza inquired quickly.
"The word is all right; I meant nothing."
"I thought while I was abroad that even I might be of some use. I have money of my own lying idle. Why shouldn't I—even I—work for the common cause? Besides, the idea somehow occurred to me all at once of itself. I didn't invent it at all, and was delighted with it. But I saw at once that I couldn't get on without some one to help, because I am not competent to do anything of myself. My helper, of course, would be the co-editor of the book. We would go halves. You would give the plan and the work. Mine would be the original idea and the means for publishing it. Would the book pay its expenses, do you think?"
"If we hit on a good plan the book will go."
"I warn you that I am not doing it for profit; but I am very anxious that the book should circulate and should be very proud of making a profit."
"Well, but how do I come in?"
"Why, I invite you to be my fellow-worker, to go halves. You will think out the plan."
"How do you know that I am capable of thinking out the plan?"
"People have talked about you to me, and here I've heard ... I know that you are very clever and... are working for the cause ... and think a great deal. Pyotr Stepanovitch Verhovensky spoke about you in Switzerland," she added hurriedly. "He's a very clever man, isn't he?"
Shatov stole a fleeting, momentary glance at her, but dropped his eyes again.
"Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch told me a great deal about you, too."
Shatov suddenly turned red.
"But here are the newspapers." Liza hurriedly picked up from a chair a bundle of newspapers that lay tied up ready. "I've tried to mark the facts here for selection, to sort them, and I have put the papers together... you will see."
Shatov took the bundle.
"Take them home and look at them. Where do you live?"
"In Bogoyavlensky Street, Filipov's house."
"I know. I think it's there, too, I've been told, a captain lives, beside you, Mr. Lebyadkin," said Liza in the same hurried manner.
Shatov sat for a full minute with the bundle in his outstretched hand, making no answer and staring at the floor.
"You'd better find some one else for these jobs. I shouldn't suit you at all," he brought out at last, dropping his voice in an awfully strange way, almost to a whisper.
Liza flushed crimson.
"What jobs are you speaking of? Mavriky Nikolaevitch," she cried, "please bring that letter here."
I too followed Mavriky Nikolaevitch to the table.
"Look at this," she turned suddenly to me, unfolding the letter in great excitement. "Have you ever seen anything like it. Please read it aloud. I want Mr. Shatov to hear it too."
With no little astonishment I read aloud the following missive:
"To the Perfection, Miss Tushin.
"Oh, she's a sweet queen,
When on side-saddle she gallops by,
And in the breeze her fair tresses fly!
Or when with her mother in church she bows low
And on devout faces a red flush doth flow!
Then for the joys of lawful wedlock I aspire,
And follow her and her mother with tears of desire.
"Composed by an unlearned man in the midst of a discussion.
"I pity myself above all men that I did not lose my arm at Sevastopol, not having been there at all, but served all the campaign delivering paltry provisions, which I look on as a degradation. You are a goddess of antiquity, and I am nothing, but have had a glimpse of infinity. Look on it as a poem and no more, for, after all, poetry is nonsense and justifies what would be considered impudence in prose. Can the sun be angry with the infusoria if the latter composes verses to her from the drop of water, where there is a multitude of them if you look through the microscope? Even the club for promoting humanity to the larger animals in tip-top society in Petersburg, which rightly feels compassion for dogs and horses, despises the brief infusoria making no reference to it whatever, because it is not big enough. I'm not big enough either. The idea of marriage might seem droll, but soon I shall have property worth two hundred souls through a misanthropist whom you ought to despise. I can tell a lot and I can undertake to produce documents that would mean Siberia. Don't despise my proposal. A letter from an infusoria is of course in verse.
"Captain Lebyadkin your most humble friend.
"And he has time no end."
"That was written by a man in a drunken condition, a worthless fellow," I cried indignantly. "I know him."
"That letter I received yesterday," Liza began to explain, flushing and speaking hurriedly. "I saw myself, at once, that it came from some foolish creature, and I haven't yet shown it to maman, for fear of upsetting her more. But if he is going to keep on like that, I don't know how to act. Mavriky Nikolaevitch wants to go out and forbid him to do it. As I have looked upon you as a colleague," she turned to Shatov, "and as you live there, I wanted to question you so as to judge what more is to be expected of him."
"He's a drunkard and a worthless fellow," Shatov muttered with apparent reluctance.
"Is he always so stupid?"
"No, he's not stupid at all when he's not drunk."
"I used to know a general who wrote verses exactly like that," I observed, laughing.
"One can see from the letter that he is clever enough for his own purposes," Mavriky Nikolaevitch, who had till then been silent, put in unexpectedly.
"He lives with some sister?" Liza queried.
"Yes, with his sister."
"They say he tyrannises over her, is that true?"
Shatov looked at Liza again, scowled, and muttering, "What business is it of mine?" moved towards the door.
"Ah, stay!" cried Liza, in a flutter. "Where are you going? We have so much still to talk over...."
"What is there to talk over? I'll let you know to-morrow."
"Why, the most important thing of all—the printing-press! Do believe me that I am not in jest, that I really want to work in good earnest!" Liza assured him in growing agitation. "If we decide to publish it, where is it to be printed? You know it's a most important question, for we shan't go to Moscow for it, and the printing-press here is out of the question for such a publication. I made up my mind long ago to set up a printing-press of my own, in your name perhaps—and I know maman will allow it so long as it is in your name...."
"How do you know that I could be a printer?" Shatov asked sullenly.
"Why, Pyotr Stepanovitch told me of you in Switzerland, and referred me to you as one who knows the business and able to set up a printing-press. He even meant to give me a note to you from himself, but I forgot it."
Shatov's face changed, as I recollect now. He stood for a few seconds longer, then went out of the room.
Liza was angry.
"Does he always go out like that?" she asked, turning to me.
I was just shrugging my shoulders when Shatov suddenly came back, went straight up to the table and put down the roll of papers he had taken.
"I'm not going to be your helper, I haven't the time...."
"Why? Why? I think you are angry!" Liza asked him in a grieved and imploring voice.
The sound of her voice seemed to strike him; for some moments he looked at her intently, as though trying to penetrate to her very soul.
"No matter," he muttered, softly, "I don't want to...."
And he went away altogether.
Liza was completely overwhelmed, quite disproportionately in fact, so it seemed to me.
"Wonderfully queer man," Mavriky Nikolaevitch observed aloud.
He certainly was queer, but in all this there was a very great deal not clear to me. There was something underlying it all. I simply did not believe in this publication; then that stupid letter, in which there was an offer, only too barefaced, to give information and produce "documents," though they were all silent about that, and talked of something quite different; finally that printing-press and Shatov's sudden exit, just because they spoke of a printing-press. All this led me to imagine that something had happened before I came in of which I knew nothing; and, consequently, that it was no business of mine and that I was in the way. And, indeed, it was time to take leave, I had stayed long enough for the first call. I went up to say good-bye to Lizaveta Nikolaevna.
She seemed to have forgotten that I was in the room, and was still standing in the same place by the table with her head bowed, plunged in thought, gazing fixedly at one spot on the carpet.
"Ah, you, too, are going, good-bye," she murmured in an ordinary friendly tone. "Give my greetings to Stepan Trofimovitch, and persuade him to come and see me as soon as he can. Mavriky Nikolaevitch, Anton Lavrentyevitch is going. Excuse maman's not being able to come out and say good-bye to you...."
I went out and had reached the bottom of the stairs when a footman suddenly overtook me at the street door.
"My lady begs you to come back...."
"The mistress, or Lizaveta Nikolaevna?"
"The young lady."
I found Liza not in the big room where we had been sitting, but in the reception-room next to it. The door between it and the drawing-room, where Mavriky Nikolaevitch was left alone, was closed.
Liza smiled to me but was pale. She was standing in the middle of the room in evident indecision, visibly struggling with herself; but she suddenly took me by the hand, and led me quickly to the window.
"I want to see her at once," she whispered, bending upon me a burning, passionate, impatient glance, which would not admit a hint of opposition. "I must see her with my own eyes, and I beg you to help me."
She was in a perfect frenzy, and—in despair.
"Who is it you want to see, Lizaveta Nikolaevna?" I inquired in dismay.
"That Lebyadkin's sister, that lame girl.... Is it true that she's lame?"
I was astounded.
"I have never seen her, but I've heard that she's lame. I heard it yesterday," I said with hurried readiness, and also in a whisper.
"I must see her, absolutely. Could you arrange it to-day?"
I felt dreadfully sorry for her.
"That's utterly impossible, and, besides, I should not know at all how to set about it," I began persuading her. "I'll go to Shatov...."
"If you don't arrange it by to-morrow I'll go to her by myself, alone, for Mavriky Nikolaevitch has refused. I rest all my hopes on you and I've no one else; I spoke stupidly to Shatov.... I'm sure that you are perfectly honest and perhaps ready to do anything for me, only arrange it."
I felt a passionate desire to help her in every way.
"This is what I'll do," I said, after a moment's thought. "I'll go myself to-day and will see her for sure, for sure. I will manage so as to see her. I give you my word of honour. Only let me confide in Shatov."
"Tell him that I do desire it, and that I can't wait any longer, but that I wasn't deceiving him just now. He went away perhaps because he's very honest and he didn't like my seeming to deceive him. I wasn't deceiving him, I really do want to edit books and found a printing-press...."
"He is honest, very honest," I assented warmly.
"If it's not arranged by to-morrow, though, I shall go myself whatever happens, and even if every one were to know."
"I can't be with you before three o'clock to-morrow," I observed, after a moment's deliberation.
"At three o'clock then. Then it was true what I imagined yesterday at Stepan Trofimovitch's, that you—are rather devoted to me?" she said with a smile, hurriedly pressing my hand to say good-bye, and hurrying back to the forsaken Mavriky Nikolaevitch.
I went out weighed down by my promise, and unable to understand what had happened. I had seen a woman in real despair, not hesitating to compromise herself by confiding in a man she hardly knew. Her womanly smile at a moment so terrible for her and her hint that she had noticed my feelings the day before sent a pang to my heart; but I felt sorry for her, very sorry—that was all! Her secrets became at once something sacred for me, and if anyone had begun to reveal them to me now, I think I should have covered my ears, and should have refused to hear anything more. I only had a presentiment of something... yet I was utterly at a loss to see how I could do anything. What's more I did not even yet understand exactly what I had to arrange; an interview, but what sort of an interview? And how could I bring them together? My only hope was Shatov, though I could be sure that he wouldn't help me in any way. But all the same, I hurried to him.
I did not find him at home till past seven o'clock that evening. To my surprise he had visitors with him—Alexey Nilitch, and another gentleman I hardly knew, one Shigalov, the brother of Virginsky's wife.
This gentleman must, I think, have been staying about two months in the town; I don't know where he came from. I had only heard that he had written some sort of article in a progressive Petersburg magazine. Virginsky had introduced me casually to him in the street. I had never in my life seen in a man's face so much despondency, gloom, and moroseness. He looked as though he were expecting the destruction of the world, and not at some indefinite time in accordance with prophecies, which might never be fulfilled, but quite definitely, as though it were to be the day after to-morrow at twenty-five minutes past ten. We hardly said a word to one another on that occasion, but had simply shaken hands like two conspirators. I was most struck by his ears, which were of unnatural size, long, broad, and thick, sticking out in a peculiar way. His gestures were slow and awkward.
If Liputin had imagined that a phalanstery might be established in our province, this gentleman certainly knew the day and the hour when it would be founded. He made a sinister impression on me. I was the more surprised at finding him here, as Shatov was not fond of visitors.
I could hear from the stairs that they were talking very loud, all three at once, and I fancy they were disputing; but as soon as I went in, they all ceased speaking. They were arguing, standing up, but now they all suddenly sat down, so that I had to sit down too. There was a stupid silence that was not broken for fully three minutes. Though Shigalov knew me, he affected not to know me, probably not from hostile feelings, but for no particular reason. Alexey Nilitch and I bowed to one another in silence, and for some reason did not shake hands. Shigalov began at last looking at me sternly and frowningly, with the most naïve assurance that I should immediately get up and go away. At last Shatov got up from his chair and the others jumped up at once. They went out without saying good-bye. Shigalov only said in the doorway to Shatov, who was seeing him out:
"Remember that you are bound to give an explanation."
"Hang your explanation, and who the devil am I bound to?" said Shatov. He showed them out and fastened the door with the latch.
"Snipes!" he said, looking at me, with a sort of wry smile.
His face looked angry, and it seemed strange to me that he spoke first. When I had been to see him before (which was not often) it had usually happened that he sat scowling in a corner, answered ill-humouredly and only completely thawed and began to talk with pleasure after a considerable time. Even so, when he was saying good-bye he always scowled, and let one out as though he were getting rid of a personal enemy.
"I had tea yesterday with that Alexey Nilitch," I observed. "I think he's mad on atheism."
"Russian atheism has never gone further than making a joke," growled Shatov, putting up a new candle in place of an end that had burnt out.
"No, this one doesn't seem to me a joker, I think he doesn't know how to talk, let alone trying to make jokes."
"Men made of paper! It all comes from flunkeyism of thought," Shatov observed calmly, sitting down on a chair in the corner, and pressing the palms of both hands on his knees.
"There's hatred in it, too," he went on, after a minute's pause. "They'd be the first to be terribly unhappy if Russia could be suddenly reformed, even to suit their own ideas, and became extraordinarily prosperous and happy. They'd have no one to hate then, no one to curse, nothing to find fault with. There is nothing in it but an immense animal hatred for Russia which has eaten into their organism.... And it isn't a case of tears unseen by the world under cover of a smile! There has never been a falser word said in Russia than about those unseen tears," he cried, almost with fury.
"Goodness only knows what you're saying," I laughed.
"Oh, you're a 'moderate liberal,'" said Shatov, smiling too. "Do you know," he went on suddenly, "I may have been talking nonsense about the 'flunkeyism of thought.' You will say to me no doubt directly, 'it's you who are the son of a flunkey, but I'm not a flunkey.'"
"I wasn't dreaming of such a thing.... What are you saying!"
"You need not apologise. I'm not afraid of you. Once I was only the son of a flunkey, but now I've become a flunkey myself, like you. Our Russian liberal is a flunkey before everything, and is only looking for some one whose boots he can clean."
"What boots? What allegory is this?"
"Allegory, indeed! You are laughing, I see.... Stepan Trofimovitch said truly that I lie under a stone, crushed but not killed, and do nothing but wriggle. It was a good comparison of his."
"Stepan Trofimovitch declares that you are mad over the Germans," I laughed. "We've borrowed something from them anyway."
"We took twenty kopecks, but we gave up a hundred roubles of our own."
We were silent a minute.
"He got that sore lying in America."
"Who? What sore?"
"I mean Kirillov. I spent four months with him lying on the floor of a hut."
"Why, have you been in America?" I asked, surprised. "You never told me about it."
"What is there to tell? The year before last we spent our last farthing, three of us, going to America in an emigrant steamer, to test the life of the American workman on ourselves, and to verify by personal experiment the state of a man in the hardest social conditions. That was our object in going there."
"Good Lord!" I laughed. "You'd much better have gone somewhere in our province at harvest-time if you wanted to 'make a personal experiment' instead of bolting to America."
"We hired ourselves out as workmen to an exploiter; there were six of us Russians working for him—students, even landowners coming from their estates, some officers, too, and all with the same grand object. Well, so we worked, sweated, wore ourselves out; Kirillov and I were exhausted at last; fell ill—went away—we couldn't stand it. Our employer cheated us when he paid us off; instead of thirty dollars, as he had agreed, he paid me eight and Kirillov fifteen; he beat us, too, more than once. So then we were left without work, Kirillov and I, and we spent four months lying on the floor in that little town. He thought of one thing and I thought of another."
"You don't mean to say your employer beat you? In America? How you must have sworn at him!"
"Not a bit of it. On the contrary, Kirillov and I made up our minds from the first that we Russians were like little children beside the Americans, and that one must be born in America, or at least live for many years with Americans to be on a level with them. And do you know, if we were asked a dollar for a thing worth a farthing, we used to pay it with pleasure, in fact with enthusiasm. We approved of everything: spiritualism, lynch-law, revolvers, tramps. Once when we were travelling a fellow slipped his hand into my pocket, took my brush, and began brushing his hair with it. Kirillov and I only looked at one another, and made up our minds that that was the right thing and that we liked it very much...."
"The strange thing is that with us all this is not only in the brain but is carried out in practice," I observed.
"Men made of paper," Shatov repeated.