- The Black Monk
ANDREY VASSILITCH KOVRIN, who held a master's
degree at the University, had exhausted himself, and had upset
his nerves. He did not send for a doctor, but casually, over a
bottle of wine, he spoke to a friend who was a doctor, and the
latter advised him to spend the spring and summer in the
country. Very opportunely a long letter came from Tanya Pesotsky,
who asked him to come and stay with them at Borissovka. And he
made up his mind that he really must go.
To begin with -- that was in April -- he went to his own home,
Kovrinka, and there spent three weeks in solitude; then, as soon
as the roads were in good condition, he set off, driving in a
carriage, to visit Pesotsky, his former guardian, who had
brought him up, and was a horticulturist well known all over
Russia. The distance from Kovrinka to Borissovka was reckoned
only a little over fifty miles. To drive along a soft road in
May in a comfortable carriage with springs was a real pleasure.
Pesotsky had an immense house with columns and lions, off which
the stucco was peeling, and with a footman in swallow-tails at
the entrance. The old park, laid out in the English style,
gloomy and severe, stretched for almost three-quarters of a mile
to the river, and there ended in a steep, precipitous clay bank,
where pines grew with bare roots that looked like shaggy paws;
the water shone below with an unfriendly gleam, and the peewits
flew up with a plaintive cry, and there one always felt that one
must sit down and write a ballad. But near the house itself, in
the courtyard and orchard, which together with the nurseries
covered ninety acres, it was all life and gaiety even in bad
weather. Such marvellous roses, lilies, camellias; such tulips
of all possible shades, from glistening white to sooty black --
such a wealth of flowers, in fact, Kovrin had never seen
anywhere as at Pesotsky's. It was only the beginning of spring,
and the real glory of the flower-beds was still hidden away in
the hot-houses. But even the flowers along the avenues, and here
and there in the flower-beds, were enough to make one feel, as
one walked about the garden, as though one were in a realm of
tender colours, especially in the early morning when the dew was
glistening on every petal.
What was the decorative part of the garden, and what Pesotsky
contemptuously spoke of as rubbish, had at one time in his
childhood given Kovrin an impression of fairyland.
Every sort of caprice, of elaborate monstrosity and mockery at
Nature was here. There were espaliers of fruit-trees, a
pear-tree in the shape of a pyramidal poplar, spherical oaks and
lime-trees, an apple-tree in the shape of an umbrella,
plum-trees trained into arches, crests, candelabra, and even
into the number 1862 -- the year when Pesotsky first took up
horticulture. One came across, too, lovely, graceful trees with
strong, straight stems like palms, and it was only by looking
intently that one could recognise these trees as gooseberries or
currants. But what made the garden most cheerful and gave it a
lively air, was the continual coming and going in it, from early
morning till evening; people with wheelbarrows, shovels, and
watering-cans swarmed round the trees and bushes, in the avenues
and the flower-beds, like ants. . . .
Kovrin arrived at Pesotsky's at ten o'clock in the evening. He
found Tanya and her father, Yegor Semyonitch, in great anxiety.
The clear starlight sky and the thermometer foretold a frost
towards morning, and meanwhile Ivan Karlovitch, the gardener,
had gone to the town, and they had no one to rely upon. At
supper they talked of nothing but the morning frost, and it was
settled that Tanya should not go to bed, and between twelve and
one should walk through the garden, and see that everything was
done properly, and Yegor Semyonitch should get up at three
o'clock or even earlier.
Kovrin sat with Tanya all the evening, and after midnight went
out with her into the garden. It was cold. There was a strong
smell of burning already in the garden. In the big orchard,
which was called the commercial garden, and which brought Yegor
Semyonitch several thousand clear profit, a thick, black, acrid
smoke was creeping over the ground and, curling around the
trees, was saving those thousands from the frost. Here the trees
were arranged as on a chessboard, in straight and regular rows
like ranks of soldiers, and this severe pedantic regularity, and
the fact that all the trees were of the same size, and had tops
and trunks all exactly alike, made them look monotonous and even
dreary. Kovrin and Tanya walked along the rows where fires of
dung, straw, and all sorts of refuse were smouldering, and from
time to time they were met by labourers who wandered in the
smoke like shadows. The only trees in flower were the cherries,
plums, and certain sorts of apples, but the whole garden was
plunged in smoke, and it was only near the nurseries that Kovrin
could breathe freely.
"Even as a child I used to sneeze from the smoke here," he said,
shrugging his shoulders, "but to this day I don't understand how
smoke can keep off frost."
"Smoke takes the place of clouds when there are none . . ."
"And what do you want clouds for?"
"In overcast and cloudy weather there is no frost."
"You don't say so."
He laughed and took her arm. Her broad, very earnest face,
chilled with the frost, with her delicate black eyebrows, the
turned-up collar of her coat, which prevented her moving her
head freely, and the whole of her thin, graceful figure, with
her skirts tucked up on account of the dew, touched him.
"Good heavens! she is grown up," he said. "When I went away from
here last, five years ago, you were still a child. You were such
a thin, longlegged creature, with your hair hanging on your
shoulders; you used to wear short frocks, and I used to tease
you, calling you a heron. . . . What time does!"
"Yes, five years!" sighed Tanya. "Much water has flowed since
then. Tell me, Andryusha, honestly," she began eagerly, looking
him in the face: "do you feel strange with us now? But why do I
ask you? You are a man, you live your own interesting life, you
are somebody. . . . To grow apart is so natural! But however
that may be, Andryusha, I want you to think of us as your
people. We have a right to that."
"I do, Tanya."
"On your word of honour?"
"Yes, on my word of honour."
"You were surprised this evening that we have so many of your
photographs. You know my father adores you. Sometimes it seems
to me that he loves you more than he does me. He is proud of
you. You are a clever, extraordinary man, you have made a
brilliant career for yourself, and he is persuaded that you have
turned out like this because he brought you up. I don't try to
prevent him from thinking so. Let him."
Dawn was already beginning, and that was especially perceptible
from the distinctness with which the coils of smoke and the tops
of the trees began to stand out in the air.
"It's time we were asleep, though," said Tanya, "and it's cold,
too." She took his arm. "Thank you for coming, Andryusha. We
have only uninteresting acquaintances, and not many of them. We
have only the garden, the garden, the garden, and nothing else.
Standards, half-standards," she laughed. "Aports, Reinettes,
Borovinkas, budded stocks, grafted stocks. . . . All, all our
life has gone into the garden. I never even dream of anything
but apples and pears. Of course, it is very nice and useful, but
sometimes one longs for something else for variety. I remember
that when you used to come to us for the summer holidays, or
simply a visit, it always seemed to be fresher and brighter in
the house, as though the covers had been taken off the lustres
and the furniture. I was only a little girl then, but yet I
She talked a long while and with great feeling. For some reason
the idea came into his head that in the course of the summer he
might grow fond of this little, weak, talkative creature, might
be carried away and fall in love; in their position it was so
possible and natural! This thought touched and amused him; he
bent down to her sweet, preoccupied face and hummed softly:
" 'Onyegin, I won't conceal it;
I madly love Tatiana. . . .' "
By the time they reached the house, Yegor Semyonitch had got up.
Kovrin did not feel sleepy; he talked to the old man and went to
the garden with him. Yegor Semyonitch was a tall,
broad-shouldered, corpulent man, and he suffered from asthma,
yet he walked so fast that it was hard work to hurry after him.
He had an extremely preoccupied air; he was always hurrying
somewhere, with an expression that suggested that if he were one
minute late all would be ruined!
"Here is a business, brother . . ." he began, standing still to
take breath. "On the surface of the ground, as you see, is
frost; but if you raise the thermometer on a stick fourteen feet
above the ground, there it is warm. . . . Why is that?"
"I really don't know," said Kovrin, and he laughed.
"H'm! . . . One can't know everything, of course. . . . However
large the intellect may be, you can't find room for everything
in it. I suppose you still go in chiefly for philosophy?"
"Yes, I lecture in psychology; I am working at philosophy in
"And it does not bore you?"
"On the contrary, it's all I live for."
"Well, God bless you! . . ." said Yegor Semyonitch, meditatively
stroking his grey whiskers. "God bless you! . . . I am delighted
about you . . . delighted, my boy. . . ."
But suddenly he listened, and, with a terrible face, ran off and
quickly disappeared behind the trees in a cloud of smoke.
"Who tied this horse to an apple-tree?" Kovrin heard his
despairing, heart-rending cry. "Who is the low scoundrel who has
dared to tie this horse to an apple-tree? My God, my God! They
have ruined everything; they have spoilt everything; they have
done everything filthy, horrible, and abominable. The orchard's
done for, the orchard's ruined. My God!"
When he came back to Kovrin, his face looked exhausted and
"What is one to do with these accursed people?" he said in a
tearful voice, flinging up his hands. "Styopka was carting dung
at night, and tied the horse to an apple-tree! He twisted the
reins round it, the rascal, as tightly as he could, so that the
bark is rubbed off in three places. What do you think of that! I
spoke to him and he stands like a post and only blinks his eyes.
Hanging is too good for him."
Growing calmer, he embraced Kovrin and kissed him on the cheek.
"Well, God bless you! . . . God bless you! . . ." he muttered.
"I am very glad you have come. Unutterably glad. . . . Thank
Then, with the same rapid step and preoccupied face, he made the
round of the whole garden, and showed his former ward all his
greenhouses and hot-houses, his covered-in garden, and two
apiaries which he called the marvel of our century.
While they were walking the sun rose, flooding the garden with
brilliant light. It grew warm. Foreseeing a long, bright,
cheerful day, Kovrin recollected that it was only the beginning
of May, and that he had before him a whole summer as bright,
cheerful, and long; and suddenly there stirred in his bosom a
joyous, youthful feeling, such as he used to experience in his
childhood, running about in that garden. And he hugged the old
man and kissed him affectionately. Both of them, feeling
touched, went indoors and drank tea out of old-fashioned china
cups, with cream and satisfying krendels made with milk and
eggs; and these trifles reminded Kovrin again of his childhood
and boyhood. The delightful present was blended with the
impressions of the past that stirred within him; there was a
tightness at his heart; yet he was happy.
He waited till Tanya was awake and had coffee with her, went for
a walk, then went to his room and sat down to work. He read
attentively, making notes, and from time to time raised his eyes
to look out at the open windows or at the fresh, still dewy
flowers in the vases on the table; and again he dropped his eyes
to his book, and it seemed to him as though every vein in his
body was quivering and fluttering with pleasure.