Some years had passed by.
It was a cold autumn day. A travelling carriage drew up at the steps of the principal hotel of the government town of C——; a gentleman yawning and stretching stepped out of it. He was not elderly, but had had time to acquire that fulness of figure which habitually commands respect. He went up the staircase to the second story, and stopped at the entrance to a wide corridor. Seeing no one before him he called out in a loud voice asking for a room. A door creaked somewhere, and a long waiter jumped up from behind a low screen, and came forward with a quick flank movement, an apparition of a glossy back and tucked-up sleeves in the half-dark corridor. The traveller went into the room and at once throwing off his cloak and scarf, sat down on the sofa, and with his fists propped on his knees, he first looked round as though he were hardly awake yet, and then gave the order to send up his servant. The hotel waiter made a bow and disappeared. The traveller was no other than Lezhnyov. He had come from the country to C—— about some conscription business.
Lezhnyov’s servant, a curly-headed, rosy-cheeked youth in a grey cloak, with a blue sash round the waist, and soft felt shoes, came into the room.
‘Well, my boy, here we are,’ Lezhnyov said, ‘and you were afraid all the while that a wheel would come off.’
‘We are here,’ replied the boy, trying to smile above the high collar of his cloak, ‘but the reason why the wheel did not come off——’
‘Is there no one in here?’ sounded a voice in the corridor.
Lezhnyov started and listened.
‘Eh? who is there?’ repeated the voice.
Lezhnyov got up, walked to the door, and quickly threw it open.
Before him stood a tall man, bent and almost completely grey, in an old frieze coat with bronze buttons.
‘Rudin!’ he cried in an excited voice.
Rudin turned round. He could not distinguish Lezhnyov’s features, as he stood with his back to the light, and he looked at him in bewilderment.
‘You don’t know me?’ said Lezhnyov.
‘Mihailo Mihailitch!’ cried Rudin, and held out his hand, but drew it back again in confusion. Lezhnyov made haste to snatch it in both of his.
‘Come, come in!’ he said to Rudin, and drew him into the room.
‘How you have changed!’ exclaimed Lezhnyov after a brief silence, involuntarily dropping his voice.
‘Yes, they say so!’ replied Rudin, his eyes straying about the room. ‘The years . . . and you not much. How is Alexandra—your wife?’
‘She is very well, thank you. But what fate brought you here?’
‘It is too long a story. Strictly speaking, I came here by chance. I was looking for a friend. But I am very glad . . .’
‘Where are you going to dine?’
‘Oh, I don’t know. At some restaurant. I must go away from here to-day.’
Rudin smiled significantly.
‘Yes, I must. They are sending me off to my own place, to my home.’
‘Dine with me.’
Rudin for the first time looked Lezhnyov straight in the face.
‘You invite me to dine with you?’ he said.
‘Yes, Rudin, for the sake of old times and old comradeship. Will you? I did not expect to meet you, and God only knows when we shall see each other again. I cannot part from you like this!’
‘Very well, I agree!’
Lezhnyov pressed Rudin’s hand, and calling his servant, ordered dinner, and told him to have a bottle of champagne put in ice.
In the course of dinner, Lezhnyov and Rudin, as though by agreement, kept talking of their student days, recalling many things and many friends—dead and living. At first Rudin spoke with little interest, but when he had drunk a few glasses of wine his blood grew warmer. At last the waiter took away the last dish, Lezhnyov got up, closed the door, and coming back to the table, sat down facing Rudin, and quietly rested his chin on his hands.
‘Now, then,’ he began, ‘tell me all that has happened to you since I saw you last’
Rudin looked at Lezhnyov.
‘Good God!’ thought Lezhnyov, ‘how he has changed, poor fellow!’
Rudin’s features had undergone little change since we saw him last at the posting-station, though approaching old age had had time to set its mark upon them; but their expression had become different. His eyes had a changed look; his whole being, his movements, which were at one time slow, at another abrupt and disconnected, his crushed, benumbed manner of speaking, all showed an utter exhaustion, a quiet and secret dejection, very different from the half-assumed melancholy which he had affected once, as it is generally affected by youth, when full of hopes and confident vanity.
‘Tell you all that has happened to me?’ he said; ‘I could not tell you all, and it is not worth while. I am worn out; I have wandered far—in spirit as well as in flesh. What friends I have made—good God! How many things, how many men I have lost faith in! Yes, how many!’ repeated Rudin, noticing that Lezhnyov was looking in his face with a kind of special sympathy. ‘How many times have my own words grown hateful to me! I don’t mean now on my own lips, but on the lips of those who had adopted my opinions! How many times have I passed from the petulance of a child to the dull insensibility of a horse who does not lash his tail when the whip cuts him! . . . How many times I have been happy and hopeful, and have made enemies and humbled myself for nothing! How many times I have taken flight like an eagle—and returned crawling like a snail whose shell has been crushed! . . . Where have I not been! What roads have I not travelled! . . . And the roads are often dirty,’ added Rudin, slightly turning away. ‘You know . . .’ he was continuing. . . . ‘Listen,’ interrupted Lezhnyov. ‘We used once to say “Dmitri and Mihail” to one another. Let us revive the old habit, . . . will you? Let us drink to those days!’
Rudin started and drew himself up a little, and there was a gleam in his eyes of something no word can express.
‘Let us drink to them,’ he said. ‘I thank you, brother, we will drink to them!’
Lezhnyov and Rudin drained their glasses.
‘You know, Mihail,’ Rudin began again with a smile and a stress on the name, ‘there is a worm in me which gnaws and worries me and never lets me be at peace till the end. It brings me into collision with people,—at first they fall under my influence, but afterwards . . .’
Rudin waved his hand in the air.
‘Since I parted from you, Mihail, I have seen much, have experienced many changes. . . . I have begun life, have started on something new twenty times—and here—you see!’
‘You had no stability,’ said Lezhnyov, as though to himself.
‘As you say, I had no stability. I never was able to construct anything; and it’s a difficult thing, brother, to construct when one has to create the very ground under one’s feet, to make one’s own foundation for one’s self! All my adventures—that is, speaking accurately, all my failures, I will not describe. I will tell of two or three incidents—those incidents of my life when it seemed as if success were smiling on me, or rather when I began to hope for success—which is not altogether the same thing . . .’
Rudin pushed back his grey and already sparse locks with the same gesture which he used once to toss back his thick, dark curls.
‘Well, I will tell you, Mihail,’ he began. ‘In Moscow I came across a rather strange man. He was very wealthy and was the owner of extensive estates. His chief and only passion was love of science, universal science. I have never yet been able to arrive at how this passion arose in him! It fitted him about as well as a saddle on a cow. He managed with difficulty to maintain himself at his mental elevation, he was almost without the power of speech, he only rolled his eyes with expression and shook his head significantly. I never met, brother, a poorer and less gifted nature than his. . . . In the Smolensk province there are places like that—nothing but sand and a few tufts of grass which no animal can eat. Nothing succeeded in his hands; everything seemed to slip away from him; but he was still mad on making everything plain complicated. If it had depended on his arrangements, his people would have eaten standing on their heads. He worked, and wrote, and read indefatigably. He devoted himself to science with a kind of stubborn perseverance, a terrible patience; his vanity was immense, and he had a will of iron. He lived alone, and had the reputation of an eccentric. I made friends with him . . . and he liked me. I quickly, I must own, saw through him; but his zeal attracted me. Besides, he was the master of such resources; so much good might be done, so much real usefulness through him. . . . I was installed in his house and went with him to the country. My plans, brother, were on a vast scale; I dreamed of various reforms, innovations . . .’
‘Just as at the Lasunsky’s, do you remember, Dmitri?’ responded Lezhnyov, with an indulgent smile.
‘Ah, but then I knew in my heart that nothing would come of my words; but this time . . . an altogether different field of activity lay open before me. . . . I took with me books on agriculture . . . to tell the truth, I did not read one of them through. . . . Well, I set to work. At first it did not progress as I had expected; but afterwards it did get on in a way. My new friend looked on and said nothing; he did not interfere with me, at least not to any noticeable extent. He accepted my suggestions, and carried them out, but with a stubborn sullenness, a secret want of faith; and he bent everything his own way. He prized extremely every idea of his own. He got to it with difficulty, like a ladybird on a blade of grass, and he would sit and sit upon it, as though pluming his wings and getting ready for a flight, and suddenly he would fall off and begin crawling again. . . . Don’t be surprised at these comparisons; at that time they were always crowding on my imagination. So I struggled on there for two years. The work did not progress much in spite of all my efforts. I began to be tired of it, my friend bored me; I had come to sneer at him, and he stifled me like a featherbed; his want of faith had changed into a dumb resentment; a feeling of hostility had laid hold of both of us; we could scarcely now speak of anything; he quietly but incessantly tried to show me that he was not under my influence; my arrangements were either set aside or altogether transformed. I realised, at last, that I was playing the part of a toady in the noble landowner’s house by providing him with intellectual amusement. It was very bitter to me to have wasted my time and strength for nothing, most bitter to feel that I had again and again been deceived in my expectations. I knew very well what I was losing if I went away; but I could not control myself, and one day after a painful and revolting scene of which I was a witness, and which showed my friend in a most disadvantageous light, I quarrelled with him finally, went away, and threw up this newfangled pedant, made of a queer compound of our native flour kneaded up with German treacle.’
‘That is, you threw up your daily bread, Dmitri,’ said Lezhnyov, laying both hands on Rudin’s shoulders.
‘Yes, and again I was turned adrift, empty-handed and penniless, to fly whither I listed. Ah! let us drink!’
‘To your health!’ said Lezhnyov, getting up and kissing Rudin on the forehead. ‘To your health and to the memory of Pokorsky. He, too, knew how to be poor.’
‘Well, that was number one of my adventures,’ began Rudin, after a short pause. ‘Shall I go on?’
‘Go on, please.’
‘Ah! I have no wish for talking. I am tired of talking, brother. . . . However, so be it. After knocking about in various parts—by the way, I might tell you how I became the secretary of a benevolent dignitary, and what came of that; but that would take me too long. . . . After knocking about in various parts, I resolved to become at last—don’t smile, please—a practical business man. The opportunity came in this way. I became friendly with—he was much talked of at one time—a man called Kurbyev.’
‘Oh, I never heard of him. But, really, Dmitri, with your intelligence, how was it you did not suspect that to be a business man was not the business for you?’
‘I know, brother, that it was not; but, then, what is the business for me? But if you had seen Kurbyev! Do not, pray, fancy him as some empty-headed chatterer. They say I was eloquent once. I was simply nothing beside him. He was a man of wonderful learning and knowledge,—an intellect, brother, a creative intellect, for business and commercial enterprises. His brain seemed seething with the boldest, the most unexpected schemes. I joined him and we decided to turn our powers to a work of public utility.’
‘What was it, may I know?’
Rudin dropped his eyes.
‘You will laugh at it, Mihail.
‘Why should I? No, I will not laugh.’
‘We resolved to make a river in the K—— province fit for navigation,’ said Rudin with an embarrassed smile.
‘Really! This Kurbyev was a capitalist, then?’
‘He was poorer than I,’ responded Rudin, and his grey head sank on his breast.
Lezhnyov began to laugh, but he stopped suddenly and took Rudin by the hand.
‘Pardon me, brother, I beg,’ he said, ‘but I did not expect that. Well, so I suppose your enterprise did not get further than paper?’
‘Not so. A beginning was made. We hired workmen, and set to work. But then we were met by various obstacles. In the first place the millowners would not meet us favourably at all; and more than that, we could not turn the water out of its course without machinery, and we had not money enough for machinery. For six months we lived in mud huts. Kurbyev lived on dry bread, and I, too, had not much to eat. However, I don’t complain of that; the scenery there is something magnificent. We struggled and struggled on, appealing to merchants, writing letters and circulars. It ended in my spending my last farthing on the project.’
‘Well!’ observed Lezhnyov, ‘I imagine to spend your last farthing, Dmitri, was not a difficult matter?’
‘It was not difficult, certainly.’
Rudin looked out of the window.
‘But the project really was not a bad one, and it might have been of immense service.’
‘And where did Kurbyev go to?’ asked Lezhnyov.
‘Oh, he is now in Siberia, he has become a gold-digger. And you will see he will make himself a position; he will get on.’
‘Perhaps; but then you will not be likely to make a position for yourself, it seems.’
‘Well, that can’t be helped! But I know I was always a frivolous creature in your eyes.’
‘Hush, brother; there was a time, certainly, when I saw your weak side; but now, believe me, I have learnt to value you. You will not make yourself a position. And I love you, Dmitri, for that, indeed I do!’
Rudin smiled faintly.
‘I respect you for it!’ repeated Lezhnyov. ‘Do you understand me?’
Both were silent for a little.
‘Well, shall I proceed to number three?’ asked Rudin.
‘Very well. The third and last. I have only now got clear of number three. But am I not boring you, Mihail?’
‘Go on, go on.’
‘Well,’ began Rudin, ‘once the idea occurred to me at some leisure moment—I always had plenty of leisure moments—the idea occurred to me; I have knowledge enough, my intentions are good. I suppose even you will not deny me good intentions?’
‘I should think not!’
‘In all other directions I had failed more or less . . . why should I not become an instructor, or speaking simply a teacher . . . rather than waste my life?’
Rudin stopped and sighed.
‘Rather than waste my life, would it not be better to try to pass on to others what I know; perhaps they may extract at least some use from my knowledge. My abilities are above the ordinary anyway, I am a master of language. So I resolved to devote myself to this new work. I had difficulty in obtaining a post; I did not want to give private lessons; there was nothing I could do in the lower schools. At last I succeeded in getting an appointment as professor in the gymnasium here.’
‘As professor of what?’ asked Lezhnyov.
‘Professor of literature. I can tell you I never started on any work with such zest as I did on this. The thought of producing an effect upon the young inspired me. I spent three weeks over the composition of my opening lecture.’
‘Have you got it, Dmitri?’ interrupted Lezhnyov.
‘No! I lost it somewhere. It went off fairly well, and was liked. I can see now the faces of my listeners—good young faces, with an expression of pure-souled attention and sympathy, and even of amazement. I mounted the platform and read my lecture in a fever; I thought it would fill more than an hour, but I had finished it in twenty minutes. The inspector was sitting there—a dry old man in silver spectacles and a short wig—he sometimes turned his head in my direction. When I had finished, he jumped up from his seat and said to me, “Good, but rather over their heads, obscure, and too little said about the subject.” But the pupils followed me with appreciation in their looks—indeed they did. Ah, that is how youth is so precious! I gave a second written lecture, and a third. After that I began to lecture extempore.’
‘And you had success?’ asked Lezhnyov.
‘I had a great success. I gave my audience all that was in my soul. Among them were two or three really remarkable boys; the rest did not understand me much. I must confess though that even those who did understand me sometimes embarrassed me by their questions. But I did not lose heart. They all loved me; I gave them all full marks in examinations. But then an intrigue was started against me—or no! it was not an intrigue at all; it simply was, that I was not in my proper place. I was a hindrance to the others, and they were a hindrance to me. I lectured to the gymnasium pupils in a way lectures are not given every day, even to students; they carried away very little from my lectures. . . . I myself did not know the facts enough. Besides, I was not satisfied with the limited sphere assigned to me—you know that is always my weakness. I wanted radical reforms, and I swear to you that these reforms were both sensible and easy to carry out. I hoped to carry them through the director, a good and honest man, over whom I had at first some influence. His wife aided me. I have not, brother, met many women like her in my life. She was about forty; but she believed in goodness, and loved everything fine with the enthusiasm of a girl of fifteen, and was not afraid to give utterance to her convictions before any one whatever. I shall never forget her generous enthusiasm and goodness. By her advice I drew up a plan. . . . But then my influence was undermined, I was misrepresented to her. My chief enemy was the professor of mathematics, a little sour, bilious man who believed in nothing, a character like Pigasov, but far more able than he was . . . . By the way, how is Pigasov, is he living?’
‘Oh, yes; and only fancy, he is married to a peasant woman, who, they say, beats him.’
‘Serve him right! And Natalya Alexyevna—is she well?’
‘Is she happy?’
Rudin was silent for a little.
‘What was I talking about? . . . Oh yes! about the professor of mathematics. He perfectly hated me; he compared my lectures to fireworks, pounced upon every expression of mine that was not altogether clear, once even put me to confusion over some monument of the sixteenth century. . . . But the most important thing was, he suspected my intentions; my last soap-bubble struck on him as on a spike, and burst. The inspector, whom I had not got on with from the first, set the director against me. A scene followed. I was not ready to give in; I got hot; the matter came to the knowledge of the authorities; I was forced to resign. I did not stop there; I wanted to prove that they could not treat me like that. . . . But they could treat me as they liked. . . . Now I am forced to leave the town.’
A silence followed. Both the friends sat with bowed heads.
Rudin was the first to speak.
‘Yes, brother,’ he began, ‘I can say now, in the words of Koltsov, “Thou hast led me astray, my youth, till there is nowhere I can turn my steps.” . . . And yet can it be that I was fit for nothing, that for me there was, as it were, no work on earth to do? I have often put myself this question, and, however much I tried to humble myself in my own eyes, I could not but feel the existence of faculties within me which are not given to every one! Why have these faculties remained fruitless? And let me say more; you know, when I was with you abroad, Mihail, I was conceited and full of erroneous ideas. . . . Certainly I did not then realise clearly what I wanted; I lived upon words, and believed in phantoms. But now, I swear to you, I could speak out before all men every desire I feel. I have absolutely nothing to hide; I am absolutely, in the fullest meaning of the word, a well-intentioned man. I am humble, I am ready to adapt myself to circumstances; I want little; I want to do the good that lies nearest, to be even a little use. But no! I never succeed. What does it mean? What hinders me from living and working like others? . . . I am only dreaming of it now. But no sooner do I get into any definite position when fate throws the dice from me. I have come to dread it—my destiny. . . . Why is it so? Explain this enigma to me!’
‘An enigma!’ repeated Lezhnyov. ‘Yes, that’s true; you have always been an enigma for me. Even in our young days, when, after some trifling prank, you would suddenly speak as though you were pierced to the heart, and then you would begin again . . . well you know what I mean . . . even then I did not understand. That is why I grew apart from you. . . . You have so much power, such unwearying striving after the ideal.’
‘Words, all words! There was nothing done!’ Rudin broke in.
‘Nothing done! What is there to do?’
‘What is there to do! To keep an old blind woman and all her family by one’s work, as, do you remember, Mihail, Pryazhentsov did. . . That’s doing something.’
‘Yes, but a good word—is also something done.’
Rudin looked at Lezhnyov without speaking and faintly shook his head.
Lezhnyov wanted to say something, and he passed his hand over his face.
‘And so you are going to your country place?’ he asked at last
‘There you have some property left?’
‘Something is left me there. Two souls and a half. It is a corner to die in. You are thinking perhaps at this moment: “Even now he cannot do without fine words!” Words indeed have been my ruin; they have consumed me, and to the end I cannot be free of them. But what I have said was not mere words. These white hairs, brother, these wrinkles, these ragged elbows—they are not mere words. You have always been hard on me, Mihail, and you were right; but now is not a time to be hard, when all is over, when there’s no oil left in the lamp, and the lamp itself is broken, and the wick is just smouldering out. Death, brother, should reconcile at last . . .’
Lezhnyov jumped up.
‘Rudin!’ he cried, ‘why do you speak like that to me? How have I deserved it from you? Am I such a judge, and what kind of a man should I be, if at the sight of your hollow cheeks and wrinkles, “mere words” could occur to my mind? Do you want to know what I think of you, Dmitri? Well! I think: here is a man—with his abilities, what might he not have attained to, what worldly advantages might he not have possessed by now, if he had liked! . . . and I meet him hungry and homeless . . . .’
‘I rouse your compassion,’ Rudin murmured in a choked voice.
‘No, you are wrong. You inspire respect in me—that is what I feel. Who prevented you from spending year after year at that landowner’s, who was your friend, and who would, I am fully persuaded, have made provision for you, if you had only been willing to humour him? Why could you not live harmoniously at the gymnasium, why have you—strange man!—with whatever ideas you have entered upon an undertaking, infallibly every time ended by sacrificing your personal interests, ever refusing to take root in any but good ground, however profitable it might be?’
‘I was born a rolling stone,’ Rudin said, with a weary smile. ‘I cannot stop myself.’
‘That is true; but you cannot stop, not because there is a worm gnawing you, as you said to me at first. . . . It is not a worm, not the spirit of idle restlessness—it is the fire of the love of truth that burns in you, and clearly, in spite of your failings; it burns in you more hotly than in many who do not consider themselves egoists and dare to call you a humbug perhaps. I, for one, in your place should long ago have succeeded in silencing that worm in me, and should have given in to everything; and you have not even been embittered by it, Dmitri. You are ready, I am sure, to-day, to set to some new work again like a boy.’
‘No, brother, I am tired now,’ said Rudin. ‘I have had enough.’
‘Tired! Any other man would have been dead long ago. You say that death reconciles; but does not life, don’t you think, reconcile? A man who has lived and has not grown tolerant towards others does not deserve to meet with tolerance himself. And who can say he does not need tolerance? You have done what you could, Dmitri . . . you have struggled so long as you could . . . what more? Our paths lay apart,’ . . .
‘You were utterly different from me,’ Rudin put in with a sigh.
‘Our paths lay apart,’ continued Lezhnyov, ‘perhaps exactly because, thanks to my position, my cool blood, and other fortunate circumstances, nothing hindered me from being a stay-at-home, and remaining a spectator with folded hands; but you had to go out into the world, to turn up your shirt-sleeves, to toil and labour. Our paths lay apart—but see how near one another we are. We speak almost the same language, with half a hint we understand one another, we grew up on the same ideas. There is little left us now, brother; we are the last of the Mohicans! We might differ and even quarrel in old days, when so much life still remained before us; but now, when the ranks are thinned about us, when the younger generation is coming upon us with other aims than ours, we ought to keep close to one another! Let us clink glasses, Dmitri, and sing as of old, Gaudeamus igitur!’
The friends clinked their glasses, and sang the old student song in strained voices, all out of tune, in the true Russian style.
‘So you are going now to your country place,’ Lezhnyov began again. ‘I don’t think you will stay there long, and I cannot imagine where and how you will end. . . . But remember, whatever happens to you, you have always a place, a nest where you can hide yourself. That is my home,—do you hear, old fellow? Thought, too, has its veterans; they, too, ought to have their home.’
Rudin got up.
‘Thanks, brother,’ he said, ‘thanks! I will not forget this in you. Only I do not deserve a home. I have wasted my life, and have not served thought, as I ought.’
‘Hush!’ said Lezhnyov. ‘Every man remains what Nature has made him, and one cannot ask more of him! You have called yourself the Wandering Jew. . . . But how do you know,—perhaps it was right for you to be ever wandering, perhaps in that way you are fulfilling a higher calling than you know; popular wisdom says truly that we are all in God’s hands. You are going, Dmitri,’ continued Lezhnyov, seeing that Rudin was taking his hat ‘You will not stop the night?’
‘Yes, I am going! Good-bye. Thanks. . . . I shall come to a bad end.’
‘God only knows. . . . You are resolved to go?’
‘Yes, I am going. Good-bye. Do not remember evil against me.’
‘Well, do not remember evil against me either,—and don’t forget what I said to you. Good-bye.’ . . .
The friends embraced one another. Rudin went quickly away.
Lezhnyov walked up and down the room a long while, stopped before the window thinking, and murmured half aloud, ‘Poor fellow!’ Then sitting down to the table, he began to write a letter to his wife.
But outside a wind had risen, and was howling with ill-omened moans, and wrathfully shaking the rattling window-panes. The long autumn night came on. Well for the man on such a night who sits under the shelter of home, who has a warm corner in safety. . . . And the Lord help all homeless wanderers!
On a sultry afternoon on the 26th of July in 1848 in Paris, when the Revolution of the ateliers nationaux had already been almost suppressed, a line battalion was taking a barricade in one of the narrow alleys of the Faubourg St Antoine. A few gunshots had already broken it; its surviving defenders abandoned it, and were only thinking of their own safety, when suddenly on the very top of the barricade, on the frame of an overturned omnibus, appeared a tall man in an old overcoat, with a red sash, and a straw hat on his grey dishevelled hair. In one hand he held a red flag, in the other a blunt curved sabre, and as he scrambled up, he shouted something in a shrill strained voice, waving his flag and sabre. A Vincennes tirailleur took aim at him—fired. The tall man dropped the flag—and like a sack he toppled over face downwards, as though he were falling at some one’s feet. The bullet had passed through his heart.
‘Tiens!’ said one of the escaping revolutionists to another, ‘on vient de tuer le Polonais!
‘Bigre!’ answered the other, and both ran into the cellar of a house, the shutters of which were all closed, and its wall streaked with traces of powder and shot.
This ‘Polonais’ was Dmitri Rudin.