I woke about half-past ten, and for a long time I could not
believe my eyes: on the sofa on which I had slept the previous
night was sitting my mother, and beside her—the unhappy mother of
the dead girl. They were holding each other's hands, they were
talking in whispers, I suppose, that they might not wake me, and
both were crying. I got up from the bed, and flew straight to kiss
my mother. She positively beamed all over, kissed me and make the
sign of the cross over me three times with the right hand. Before
we had time to say a word the door opened, and Versilov and Vassin
came in. My mother at once got up and led the bereaved woman away.
Vassin gave me his hand, while Versilov sank into an armchair
without saying a word to me. Mother and he had evidently been here
for some time. His face looked overcast and careworn.
"What I regret most of all," he began saying slowly to Vassin,
evidently in continuation of what they had been discussing outside,
"is that I had no time to set it all right yesterday evening; then
probably this terrible thing would not have happened! And indeed
there was time, it was hardly eight o'clock. As soon as she ran
away from us last night, I inwardly resolved to follow her and to
reassure her, but this unforeseen and urgent business, though of
course I might quite well have put it off till to-day … or
even for a week—this vexatious turn of affairs has hindered and
ruined everything. That's just how things do happen!"
"Perhaps you would not have succeeded in reassuring her; things
had gone too far already, apart from you," Vassin put in.
"No, I should have succeeded, I certainly should have succeeded.
And the idea did occur to me to send Sofia Andreyevna in my place.
It flashed across my mind, but nothing more. Sofia Andreyevna alone
would have convinced her, and the unhappy girl would have been
alive. No, never again will I meddle … in 'good works' …
and it is the only time in my life I have done it! And I imagined
that I had kept up with the times and understood the younger
generation. But we elders grow old almost before we grow ripe. And,
by the way, there are a terrible number of modern people who go on
considering themselves the younger generation from habit, because
only yesterday they were such, and meantime they don't notice that
they are no longer under the ban of the orthodox."
"There has been a misunderstanding, and the misunderstanding is
quite evident," Vassin observed reasonably. "Her mother maintains
that after the cruel way she was insulted in that infamous house,
she seemed to lose her reason. Add to that her circumstances, the
insult in the first place from the merchant … all this might
have happened in the past, and, to my mind, is in no way
particularly characteristic of the younger generation of
"It's impatient, the present generation, and has little
understanding of reality; and, although that's true of all young
people in all ages, it's particularly so in this … tell me,
what part had Mr. Stebelkov in the trouble?"
"Mr. Stebelkov," I put in suddenly, "was the cause of it all. If
it hadn't been for him nothing would have happened. He poured oil
on the flames."
Versilov listened, but he did not glance at me. Vassin
"I blame myself for one ridiculous circumstance," Versilov went
on deliberately, dwelling on each syllable as before, "I believe
that in my usual stupid way I allowed myself to be lively after a
fashion—this frivolous little laugh—in fact, I was not sufficiently
abrupt, dry and gloomy, three characteristics which seem to be
greatly prized by the young generation. In fact, I gave her grounds
for suspecting me of being a gay deceiver."
"Quite the opposite," I put in abruptly again, "the mother lays
particular stress on your having made the best possible impression
through your gravity, severity even, and sincerity—those were her
very words. The dead girl herself praised you on the same grounds
directly after you'd gone."
"Y-yes?" Versilov mumbled with a cursory glance in my direction
at last. "Take this scrap of paper, it's essential to the
business"— he held out a tiny sheet to Vassin. Vassin took it, and
seeing I was looking at him with curiosity, gave it to me to read.
It was a note of two straggling lines scrawled in pencil, and
perhaps in the dark:
"Mother darling, forgive me for cutting short my début into
life. Your Olya who is causing you such grief."
"That was only found this morning," Vassin explained
"What a strange letter!" I cried in astonishment.
"Why strange?" asked Vassin.
"How can anyone use humorous expressions at such a minute?"
Vassin looked at me inquiringly.
"And the humour is strange too," I went on. "It's the
conventional school jargon that schoolfellows use with one another.
Who could write 'cut short my début into life' at such a moment, in
such a letter to her unhappy mother—and she seems to have loved her
"Why not write it?" said Vassin, still not understanding.
"There's absolutely no humour about it," observed Versilov at
last, "the expression, of course, is inappropriate, and quite
incongruous, and may, as you say, have been picked up from some
high-school slang or from some journalistic stuff; but the dead
girl used it in that awful letter quite simply and earnestly"
"That's impossible; she had completed her studies and won the
"A silver medal has nothing to do with it. Lots of them complete
their studies as brilliantly nowadays."
"The younger generation again," said Vassin, smiling.
"Not at all," said Versilov, getting up and taking his hat. If
the present generation is deficient on the literary side there's no
doubt that it possesses other qualifications," he added with
unusual gravity. "At the same time 'many' does not mean 'all': you,
for instance, I don't accuse of being badly educated on the
literary side, and you're a young man too."
"Vassin saw nothing wrong in the use of 'début' either," I could
not resist saying.
Versilov held out his hand to Vassin without speaking. The
latter took up his cap to go with him, calling out to me: "Goodbye
for now." Versilov went out without noticing me. I too had no time
to lose. Come what might, I had to run and find a lodging—now more
necessary than ever. My mother was not with the landlady. She had
gone out, taking the bereaved woman with her. I went out into the
street, feeling particularly cheerful and confident. A new and
mighty feeling had sprung up in my soul. As luck would have it,
everything helped to maintain this mood. I was exceptionally
fortunate and quickly found a lodging in every way suitable. Of
this lodging later, but for the moment I will continue with what is
It was past one when I went back to Vassin's to fetch my trunk,
and again found him at home. When he saw me he cried with a sincere
and good-humoured air:
"How glad I am you've caught me! I was just going out. I can
tell you a piece of news that I think will interest you
"I'm sure of that," I cried.
"I say, you do look cheerful! Tell me, did you know anything
about a letter that was preserved by Kraft, and came into
Versilov's hands yesterday, something concerning the lawsuit he has
just won? In this letter, the testator declares intentions contrary
to the decision in the lawcourts yesterday. The letter was written
long ago. I know nothing definite about it in fact, but don't you
"To be sure I do. The day before yesterday Kraft took me home
with him from those people on purpose to give me the letter, and I
gave it to Versilov yesterday."
"Yes? That's just what I thought. Only fancy, that's just the
business Versilov was speaking of just now, that prevented him from
coming yesterday evening to see that girl—-it was owing to that
letter. Versilov went straight yesterday evening to Prince
Sokolsky's lawyer, handed in the letter, and refused to take the
fortune he had won. By now this refusal has been put into legal
form. Versilov is not making Prince Sokolsky a present of the
money, but declares that he acknowledges his claim to it."
I was dumbfoundered, but ecstatic. I had in reality been
convinced that Versilov would destroy the letter, and, what is
more, though I had told Kraft that this would be dishonourable, and
although I had repeated this to myself in the restaurant, and had
told myself that "it was to find a true man, not a man like this
that I had come"— yet deeper down, that is, in my inmost soul, I
felt that there was nothing to be done but to destroy the letter,
that is to say, I looked upon this as quite a natural thing to do.
If I blamed Versilov for it afterwards I simply blamed him on
purpose, to keep up appearances, and to maintain my moral
superiority. But hearing now of Versilov's noble action I was moved
to genuine and whole- hearted enthusiasm, blaming myself with shame
and remorse for my cynicism and indifference to principle, and
instantly exalting Versilov to heights far above me. I almost
"What a man! What a man!" I exclaimed, rapturously. "Who else
would have done it?"
"I quite agree with you that very many people would not have
done it … and that it was undoubtedly an extremely
disinterested action… ."
"But … ? Finish, Vassin. You have a 'but'?"
"Yes, of course there is a 'but'; Versilov's action, to my mind,
is a little too hasty, and not quite ingenuous," said Vassin with a
"Yes. There's too much of the 'hero on the pedestal' about it.
For in any case he might have done the same thing without injuring
himself. Some part of the inheritance, if not half of it, might
well have remained with him, even from the most scrupulous
standpoint, especially as the letter has no legal significance, and
he has already won the case. The lawyer on the other side shares my
opinion. I've just been talking to him. His conduct would have been
no less handsome; but simply through a whim due to pride, things
have turned out differently. What's more, Mr. Versilov let himself
be carried away by his feelings, and acted too precipitately. He
said himself yesterday that he might have put it off for a whole
"Do you know, Vassin, I can't help agreeing with you, but …
I like it better so, it pleases me more!"
"However, it's a matter of taste! You asked for my opinion or I
should have held my tongue."
"Even if there is something of the 'pedestal' about it, so much
the better," I said. "A pedestal may be a pedestal but in itself
it's a very precious thing. This 'pedestal' is, anyway, an 'ideal'
of a sort, and it's by no means an improvement that some modern
souls are without it: it's better to have it even in a slightly
distorted form! And I'm sure you think so yourself, Vassin darling,
Vassin, my dear Vassin! I am raving but of course you understand
me. That's what you're for, Vassin. In any case I embrace and kiss
"Yes, awfully pleased. For the man 'was dead and liveth, he was
lost and is found'! Vassin, I'm a miserable wretch of a boy, I'm
not as good as you. I recognize it just because at some moments I'm
different, deeper and loftier. I say this because the day before
yesterday I flattered you to your face (and I did that because I
had been humiliated and crushed)—I hated you for it for two whole
days. I swore the same night that I would never come and see you,
and I came to you yesterday morning simply from spite, do you
understand, FROM SPITE. I sat here alone criticizing your room and
you, and every one of your books and your landlady. I tried to
humble you and laugh at you."
"You shouldn't say that… ."
"Yesterday evening, when I concluded from some phrase of yours
that you did not understand women, I felt glad that I was able to
detect you in it. This morning, when I scored off you over the
'début,' I was awfully pleased again, and all because I had praised
you up so before."
"I should think so indeed!" Vassin cried at last (he still went
on smiling, not in the least surprised at me). "Why, that happens
with almost every one, only no one admits it, and one ought not to
confess it at all, because in any case it passes, and leads to
"Is it really the same with every one? Is every one the same?
And you say that quite calmly? Why, one can't go on living with
"You think then that:
To me more dear the lie ennobling Than Truth's dark infamy
"But that's true, you know," I cried. "There's a sacred axiom in
those two lines!"
"I don't know. I can't undertake to decide whether those lines
are true or not. Perhaps, as always, the truth lies in the mean:
that is, that in one case truth is sacred and in another falsehood.
The only thing I know for certain is that that idea will long
remain one of the questions most disputed among men. In any case I
observe that at the moment you're longing to dance. Well, dance
away then, exercise is wholesome; but I have a mass of work to get
through this morning … and I've lingered on with you till I'm
"I'm going! I'm going! I'm just off! One word only," I cried,
after seizing my trunk, "my 'throwing myself on your neck' again;
it's simply because when I came in you told me this news with such
genuine pleasure and were 'so glad' I had found you, and after the
'début' incident this morning; that real gladness of yours turned
my 'youthful ardent soul' to you again. Well, good-bye, good-bye,
I'll do my best not to come in the future, and I know that that
will please you very much, as I see from your eyes, and it will be
an advantage to both of us."
Chattering like this, and almost spluttering in my joyful
babble, I hauled up my trunk and set off with it to my lodging.
What delighted me most of all was that Versilov had been so
unmistakably angry with me, and had been unwilling to speak to me
or look at me. As soon as I had deposited my trunk, I at once flew
off to my old prince. I must confess that I had rather felt not
seeing him those two days. Besides, he would no doubt have heard
already about Versilov.