- The Grasshopper
It had been a very troubled day.
Dymov had a very bad headache; he had no breakfast, and did not
go to the hospital, but spent the whole time lying on his sofa
in the study. Olga Ivanovna went as usual at midday to see
Ryabovsky, to show him her still-life sketch, and to ask him why
he had not been to see her the evening before. The sketch seemed
to her worthless, and she had painted it only in order to have
an additional reason for going to the artist.
She went in to him without ringing, and as she was taking off
her goloshes in the entry she heard a sound as of something
running softly in the studio, with a feminine rustle of skirts;
and as she hastened to peep in she caught a momentary glimpse of
a bit of brown petticoat, which vanished behind a big picture
draped, together with the easel, with black calico, to the
floor. There could be no doubt that a woman was hiding there.
How often Olga Ivanovna herself had taken refuge behind that
Ryabovsky, evidently much embarrassed, held out both hands to
her, as though surprised at her arrival, and said with a forced
"Aha! Very glad to see you! Anything nice to tell me?"
Olga Ivanovna's eyes filled with tears. She felt ashamed and
bitter, and would not for a million roubles have consented to
speak in the presence of the outsider, the rival, the deceitful
woman who was standing now behind the picture, and probably
"I have brought you a sketch," she said timidly in a thin voice,
and her lips quivered. "Nature morte."
"Ah -- ah! . . . A sketch?"
The artist took the sketch in his hands, and as he examined it
walked, as it were mechanically, into the other room.
Olga Ivanovna followed him humbly.
"Nature morte . . . first-rate sort," he muttered, falling into
rhyme. "Kurort . . . sport . . . port . . ."
From the studio came the sound of hurried footsteps and the
rustle of a skirt.
So she had gone. Olga Ivanovna wanted to scream aloud, to hit
the artist on the head with something heavy, but she could see
nothing through her tears, was crushed by her shame, and felt
herself, not Olga Ivanovna, not an artist, but a little insect.
"I am tired . . ." said the artist languidly, looking at the
sketch and tossing his head as though struggling with
drowsiness. "It's very nice, of course, but here a sketch today,
a sketch last year, another sketch in a month . . . I wonder you
are not bored with them. If I were you I should give up painting
and work seriously at music or something. You're not an artist,
you know, but a musician. But you can't think how tired I am!
I'll tell them to bring us some tea, shall I?"
He went out of the room, and Olga Ivanovna heard him give some
order to his footman. To avoid farewells and explanations, and
above all to avoid bursting into sobs, she ran as fast as she
could, before Ryabovsky came back, to the entry, put on her
goloshes, and went out into the street; then she breathed
easily, and felt she was free for ever from Ryabovsky and from
painting and from the burden of shame which had so crushed her
in the studio. It was all over!
She drove to her dressmaker's; then to see Barnay, who had only
arrived the day before; from Barnay to a music-shop, and all the
time she was thinking how she would write Ryabovsky a cold,
cruel letter full of personal dignity, and how in the spring or
the summer she would go with Dymov to the Crimea, free herself
finally from the past there, and begin a new life.
On getting home late in the evening she sat down in the
drawing-room, without taking off her things, to begin the
letter. Ryabovsky had told her she was not an artist, and to pay
him out she wrote to him now that he painted the same thing
every year, and said exactly the same thing every day; that he
was at a standstill, and that nothing more would come of him
than had come already. She wanted to write, too, that he owed a
great deal to her good influence, and that if he was going wrong
it was only because her influence was paralysed by various
dubious persons like the one who had been hiding behind the
picture that day.
"Little mother!" Dymov called from the study, without opening
"What is it?"
"Don't come in to me, but only come to the door -- that's right.
. . . The day before yesterday I must have caught diphtheria at
the hospital, and now . . . I am ill. Make haste and send for
Olga Ivanovna always called her husband by his surname, as she
did all the men of her acquaintance; she disliked his Christian
name, Osip, because it reminded her of the Osip in Gogol and the
silly pun on his name. But now she cried:
"Osip, it cannot be!"
"Send for him; I feel ill," Dymov said behind the door, and she
could hear him go back to the sofa and lie down. "Send!" she
heard his voice faintly.
"Good Heavens!" thought Olga Ivanovna, turning chill with
horror. "Why, it's dangerous!"
For no reason she took the candle and went into the bedroom, and
there, reflecting what she must do, glanced casually at herself
in the pier glass. With her pale, frightened face, in a jacket
with sleeves high on the shoulders, with yellow ruches on her
bosom, and with stripes running in unusual directions on her
skirt, she seemed to herself horrible and disgusting. She
suddenly felt poignantly sorry for Dymov, for his boundless love
for her, for his young life, and even for the desolate little
bed in which he had not slept for so long; and she remembered
his habitual, gentle, submissive smile. She wept bitterly, and
wrote an imploring letter to Korostelev. It was two o'clock in
When towards eight o'clock in the morning Olga Ivanovna, her
head heavy from want of sleep and her hair unbrushed, came out
of her bedroom, looking unattractive and with a guilty
expression on her face, a gentleman with a black beard,
apparently the doctor, passed by her into the entry. There was a
smell of drugs. Korostelev was standing near the study door,
twisting his left moustache with his right hand.
"Excuse me, I can't let you go in," he said surlily to Olga
Ivanovna; "it's catching. Besides, it's no use, really; he is
"Has he really got diphtheria?" Olga Ivanovna asked in a
"People who wantonly risk infection ought to be hauled up and
punished for it," muttered Korostelev, not answering Olga
Ivanovna's question. "Do you know why he caught it? On Tuesday
he was sucking up the mucus through a pipette from a boy with
diphtheria. And what for? It was stupid. . . . Just from folly.
. . ."
"Is it dangerous, very?" asked Olga Ivanovna.
"Yes; they say it is the malignant form. We ought to send for
A little red-haired man with a long nose and a Jewish accent
arrived; then a tall, stooping, shaggy individual, who looked
like a head deacon; then a stout young man with a red face and
spectacles. These were doctors who came to watch by turns beside
their colleague. Korostelev did not go home when his turn was
over, but remained and wandered about the rooms like an uneasy
spirit. The maid kept getting tea for the various doctors, and
was constantly running to the chemist, and there was no one to
do the rooms. There was a dismal stillness in the flat.
Olga Ivanovna sat in her bedroom and thought that God was
punishing her for having deceived her husband. That silent,
unrepining, uncomprehended creature, robbed by his mildness of
all personality and will, weak from excessive kindness, had been
suffering in obscurity somewhere on his sofa, and had not
complained. And if he were to complain even in delirium, the
doctors watching by his bedside would learn that diphtheria was
not the only cause of his sufferings. They would ask Korostelev.
He knew all about it, and it was not for nothing that he looked
at his friend's wife with eyes that seemed to say that she was
the real chief criminal and diphtheria was only her accomplice.
She did not think now of the moonlight evening on the Volga, nor
the words of love, nor their poetical life in the peasant's hut.
She thought only that from an idle whim, from self-indulgence,
she had sullied herself all over from head to foot in something
filthy, sticky, which one could never wash off. . . .
"Oh, how fearfully false I've been!" she thought, recalling the
troubled passion she had known with Ryabovsky. "Curse it all! .
At four o'clock she dined with Korostelev. He did nothing but
scowl and drink red wine, and did not eat a morsel. She ate
nothing, either. At one minute she was praying inwardly and
vowing to God that if Dymov recovered she would love him again
and be a faithful wife to him. Then, forgetting herself for a
minute, she would look at Korostelev, and think: "Surely it must
be dull to be a humble, obscure person, not remarkable in any
way, especially with such a wrinkled face and bad manners!" Then
it seemed to her that God would strike her dead that minute for
not having once been in her husband's study, for fear of
infection. And altogether she had a dull, despondent feeling and
a conviction that her life was spoilt, and that there was no
setting it right anyhow. . . .
After dinner darkness came on. When Olga Ivanovna went into the
drawing-room Korostelev was asleep on the sofa, with a
gold-embroidered silk cushion under his head.
"Khee-poo-ah," he snored -- "khee-poo-ah."
And the doctors as they came to sit up and went away again did
not notice this disorder. The fact that a strange man was asleep
and snoring in the drawing-room, and the sketches on the walls
and the exquisite decoration of the room, and the fact that the
lady of the house was dishevelled and untidy -- all that aroused
not the slightest interest now. One of the doctors chanced to
laugh at something, and the laugh had a strange and timid sound
that made one's heart ache.
When Olga Ivanovna went into the drawing-room next time,
Korostelev was not asleep, but sitting up and smoking.
"He has diphtheria of the nasal cavity," he said in a low voice,
"and the heart is not working properly now. Things are in a bad
"But you will send for Shrek?" said Olga Ivanovna.
"He has been already. It was he noticed that the diphtheria had
passed into the nose. What's the use of Shrek! Shrek's no use at
all, really. He is Shrek, I am Korostelev, and nothing more."
The time dragged on fearfully slowly. Olga Ivanovna lay down in
her clothes on her bed, that had not been made all day, and sank
into a doze. She dreamed that the whole flat was filled up from
floor to ceiling with a huge piece of iron, and that if they
could only get the iron out they would all be light-hearted and
happy. Waking, she realized that it was not the iron but Dymov's
illness that was weighing on her.
"Nature morte, port . . ." she thought, sinking into
forgetfulness again. "Sport . . . Kurort . . . and what of
Shrek? Shrek . . . trek . . . wreck. . . . And where are my
friends now? Do they know that we are in trouble? Lord, save . .
. spare! Shrek . . . trek . . ."
And again the iron was there. . . . The time dragged on slowly,
though the clock on the lower storey struck frequently. And
bells were continually ringing as the doctors arrived. . . . The
house-maid came in with an empty glass on a tray, and asked,
"Shall I make the bed, madam?" and getting no answer, went away.
The clock below struck the hour. She dreamed of the rain on the
Volga; and again some one came into her bedroom, she thought a
stranger. Olga Ivanovna jumped up, and recognized Korostelev.
"What time is it?" she asked.
"Well, what is it?"
"What, indeed! . . . I've come to tell you he is passing. . . ."
He gave a sob, sat down on the bed beside her, and wiped away
the tears with his sleeve. She could not grasp it at once, but
turned cold all over and began slowly crossing herself.
"He is passing," he repeated in a shrill voice, and again he
gave a sob. "He is dying because he sacrificed himself. What a
loss for science!" he said bitterly. "Compare him with all of
us. He was a great man, an extraordinary man! What gifts! What
hopes we all had of him!" Korostelev went on, wringing his
hands: "Merciful God, he was a man of science; we shall never
look on his like again. Osip Dymov, what have you done -- aie,
aie, my God!"
Korostelev covered his face with both hands in despair, and
shook his head.
"And his moral force," he went on, seeming to grow more and more
exasperated against some one. "Not a man, but a pure, good,
loving soul, and clean as crystal. He served science and died
for science. And he worked like an ox night and day -- no one
spared him -- and with his youth and his learning he had to take
a private practice and work at translations at night to pay for
these . . . vile rags!"
Korostelev looked with hatred at Olga Ivanovna, snatched at the
sheet with both hands and angrily tore it, as though it were to
"He did not spare himself, and others did not spare him. Oh,
what's the use of talking!"
"Yes, he was a rare man," said a bass voice in the drawing-room.
Olga Ivanovna remembered her whole life with him from the
beginning to the end, with all its details, and suddenly she
understood that he really was an extraordinary, rare, and,
compared with every one else she knew, a great man. And
remembering how her father, now dead, and all the other doctors
had behaved to him, she realized that they really had seen in
him a future celebrity. The walls, the ceiling, the lamp, and
the carpet on the floor, seemed to be winking at her
sarcastically, as though they would say, "You were blind! you
were blind!" With a wail she flung herself out of the bedroom,
dashed by some unknown man in the drawing-room, and ran into her
husband's study. He was lying motionless on the sofa, covered to
the waist with a quilt. His face was fearfully thin and sunken,
and was of a grayish-yellow colour such as is never seen in the
living; only from the forehead, from the black eyebrows and from
the familiar smile, could he be recognized as Dymov. Olga
Ivanovna hurriedly felt his chest, his forehead, and his hands.
The chest was still warm, but the forehead and hands were
unpleasantly cold, and the half-open eyes looked, not at Olga
Ivanovna, but at the quilt.
"Dymov!" she called aloud, "Dymov!" She wanted to explain to him
that it had been a mistake, that all was not lost, that life
might still be beautiful and happy, that he was an
extraordinary, rare, great man, and that she would all her life
worship him and bow down in homage and holy awe before him. . .
"Dymov!" she called him, patting him on the shoulder, unable to
believe that he would never wake again. "Dymov! Dymov!"
In the drawing-room Korostelev was saying to the housemaid:
"Why keep asking? Go to the church beadle and enquire where they
live. They'll wash the body and lay it out, and do everything
that is necessary."
titular counselor: a low grade in the civil service, with a low
Sidorov or Tarasov: ordinary surnames; the English equivalent
would be "Smith or Jones"
Zola: Emile Zola (1840-1902) French novelist of the naturalist
erysipelas: a serious skin infection
second day of Trinity week: the sixteenth day after Easter,
counting Easter itself
Mazini: Antonio Masini (1844-1926), Italian tenor and opera
star, toured Russia in 1877-1878
groan: a paraphrase of lines from an 1858 poem by N. A. Nekrasov
Polyenov: V. D. Polenov (1844-1927)
pier glass: large mirror
nature morte: still-life
Kurort: health spa
Barnay: Ludwig B. Barnay (1842-1924), German actor who toured
Russia in 1890
the Osip in Gogol and the silly pun on his name: the pun in
Nikolay V. Gogol's (1809-1852) novel Dead Souls (1842) is