The Light Shines in Darkness
by Leo Tolstoy
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[ Transcriber's Note: This e-book belongs to Tolstoy's Plays (Complete Edition). The front matter, including the table of contents, can be found in e-book#26660; it lists the other plays in the collection.

Every effort has been made to replicate this text as faithfully as possible; changes (corrections of spelling and punctuation) made to the original text are listed at the end of this file. ]






LYBA. Their daughter.

STYPA. Their son.

VNYA. A younger son.

MISSY. Their daughter.



MITROFN ERMLYCH. Vnya's tutor.




LISA. Their daughter.


BORS. Her son.

TNYA. Her daughter.




IVN ZYBREV. A peasant.


MALSHKA. His daughter (carrying her baby-brother).

PETER. A peasant.

























The scene represents the verandah of a fine country-house, in front of which a croquet-lawn and tennis-court are shown, also a flower-bed. The children are playing croquet with their governess. Mary Ivnovna Sarntsova, a handsome elegant woman of forty; her sister, Alexndra Ivnovna Khovtseva, a stupid, determined woman of forty-five; and her husband, Peter Semynovich Khovtsef, a fat flabby man, dressed in a summer suit, with a pince-nez, are sitting on the verandah at a table with a samovr and coffee-pot. Mary Ivnovna Sarntsova, Alexndra Ivnovna Khovtseva, and Peter Semynovich Khovtsev are drinking coffee, and the latter is smoking.

ALEXNDRA IVNOVNA. If you were not my sister, but a stranger, and Nicholas Ivnovich not your husband, but merely an acquaintance, I should think all this very original, and perhaps I might even encourage him, J'aurais trouv tout a trs gentil;[1] but when I see that your husband is playing the fool—yes, simply playing the fool—then I can't help telling you what I think about it. And I shall tell your husband, Nicholas, too. Je lui dirai son fait, ma chre.[2] I am not afraid of anyone.

[1] I should have considered it all very pretty.

[2] I will tell him the plain fact, my dear.

MARY IVNOVNA. I don't feel the least bit hurt; don't I see it all myself? but I don't think it so very important.

ALEXNDRA IVNOVNA. No. You don't think so, but I tell you that, if you let it go on, you will be beggared. Du train que cela va...[3]

[3] At the rate things are going.

PETER SEMYNOVICH. Come! Beggared indeed! Not with an income like theirs.

ALEXNDRA IVNOVNA. Yes, beggared! And please don't interrupt me, my dear! Anything a man does always seems right to you!

PETER SEMYNOVICH. Oh! I don't know. I was saying——

ALEXNDRA IVNOVNA. But you never do know what you are saying, because when you men begin playing the fool, il n'y a pas de raison que a finisse.[4] I am only saying that if I were in your place, I should not allow it. J'aurais mis bon ordre toutes ces lubies.[5] What does it all mean? A husband, the head of a family, has no occupation, abandons everything, gives everything away, et fait le gnreux droite et gauche.[6] I know how it will end! Nous en savons quelque chose.[7]

[4] There is no reason for it to stop.

[5] I should put an end to all these fads.

[6] And plays the bountiful left and right.

[7] We know something about it.

PETER SEMYNOVICH [to Mary Ivnovna]. But do explain to me, Mary, what is this new movement? Of course I understand Liberalism, County Councils, the Constitution, schools, reading-rooms, and tout ce qui s'en suit;[8] as well as Socialism, strikes, and an eight-hour day; but what is this? Explain it to me.

[8] All the rest of it.

MARY IVNOVNA. But he told you about it yesterday.

PETER SEMYNOVICH. I confess I did not understand. The Gospels, the Sermon on the Mount—and that churches are unnecessary! But then how is one to pray, and all that?

MARY IVNOVNA. Yes. That is the worst of it. He would destroy everything, and give us nothing in its place.

PETER SEMYNOVICH. How did it begin?

MARY IVNOVNA. It began last year, after his sister died. He was very fond of her, and her death had a very great effect on him. He became quite morose, and was always talking about death; and then, you know, he fell ill himself with typhus. When he recovered, he was quite a changed man.

ALEXNDRA IVNOVNA. But, all the same, he came in spring to see us again in Moscow, and was very nice, and played bridge. Il tait trs gentil et comme tout le monde.[9]

[9] He was very nice, and like everybody else.

MARY IVNOVNA. But, all the same, he was then quite changed.


MARY IVNOVNA. He was completely indifferent to his family, and purely and simply had l'ide fixe. He read the Gospels for days on end, and did not sleep. He used to get up at night to read, made notes and extracts, and then began going to see bishops and hermits—consulting them about religion.

ALEXNDRA IVNOVNA. And did he fast, or prepare for communion?

MARY IVNOVNA. From the time of our marriage—that's twenty years ago—till then he had never fasted nor taken the sacrament, but at that time he did once take the sacrament in a monastery, and then immediately afterwards decided that one should neither take communion nor go to church.

ALEXNDRA IVNOVNA. That's what I say—thoroughly inconsistent!

MARY IVNOVNA. Yes, a month before, he would not miss a single service, and kept every fast-day; and then he suddenly decided that it was all unnecessary. What can one do with such a man?

ALEXNDRA IVNOVNA. I have spoken and will speak to him again.

PETER SEMYNOVICH. Yes! But the matter is of no great importance.

ALEXNDRA IVNOVNA. No? Not to you! Because you men have no religion.

PETER SEMYNOVICH. Do let me speak. I say that that is not the point. The point is this: if he denies the Church, what does he want the Gospels for?

MARY IVNOVNA. Well, so that we should live according to the Gospels and the Sermon on the Mount, and give everything away.

PETER SEMYNOVICH. But how is one to live if one gives everything away?

ALEXNDRA IVNOVNA. And where has he found in the Sermon on the Mount that we must shake hands with footmen? It says "Blessed are the meek," but it says nothing about shaking hands!

MARY IVNOVNA. Yes, of course, he gets carried away, as he always used to. At one time it was music, then shooting, then the school. But that doesn't make it any the easier for me!

PETER SEMYNOVICH. Why has he gone to town to-day?

MARY IVNOVNA. He did not tell me, but I know it is about some trees of ours that have been felled. The peasants have been cutting trees in our wood.

PETER SEMYNOVICH. In the pine-tree plantation?

MARY IVNOVNA. Yes, they will probably be sent to prison and ordered to pay for the trees. Their case was to be heard to-day, he told me of it, so I feel certain that is what he has gone about.

ALEXNDRA IVNOVNA. He will pardon them, and to-morrow they will come to take the trees in the park.

MARY IVNOVNA. Yes, that is what it leads to. As it is, they break our apple-trees and tread down the green cornfields, and he forgives them everything.

PETER SEMYNOVICH. Extraordinary!

ALEXNDRA IVNOVNA. That is just why I say that it must not be allowed to go on. Why, if it goes on like that, tout y passera.[10] I think it is your duty as a mother to prendre tes mesures.[11]

[10] Everything will be lost.

[11] To take measures.

MARY IVNOVNA. What can I do?

ALEXNDRA IVNOVNA. What indeed! Stop him! Explain to him that this cannot go on. You have your children! What sort of an example is it for them?

MARY IVNOVNA. Of course, it is hard; but I go on bearing it, and hoping it will pass, like his former infatuations.

ALEXNDRA IVNOVNA. Yes, but "Aide toi et Dieu t'aidera!"[12] You must make him feel that he has not only himself to think of, and that one can't live like that.

[12] God helps those who help themselves.

MARY IVNOVNA. The worst of all is that he no longer troubles about the children, and I have to decide everything myself. I have an unweaned baby, besides the older children: girls and boys, who have to be looked after, and need guidance. And I have to do it all single-handed. He used to be such an affectionate and attentive father, but now he seems no longer to care. Yesterday I told him that Vnya is not studying properly, and will not pass his exam., and he replied that it would be by far the best thing for him to leave school altogether.


MARY IVNOVNA. Nowhere! That's the most terrible thing about it; everything we do is wrong, but he does not say what would be right.


ALEXNDRA IVNOVNA. What is there odd about it? It is just your usual way. Condemn everything, and do nothing yourself!

MARY IVNOVNA. Stypa has now finished at the University, and ought to choose a career; but his father says nothing about it. He wanted to take a post in the Civil Service, but Nicholas Ivnovich says he ought not to do so. Then he thought of entering the Horse-Guards, but Nicholas Ivnovich quite disapproved. Then the lad asked his father: "What am I to do then—not go and plough after all?" and Nicholas Ivnovich said: "Why not plough? It is much better than being in a Government Office." So what was he to do? He comes to me and asks, and I have to decide everything, and yet the authority is all in his hands.

ALEXNDRA IVNOVNA. Well, you should tell him so straight out.

MARY IVNOVNA. So I must! I shall have to talk to him.

ALEXNDRA IVNOVNA. And tell him straight out that you can't go on like this. That you do your duty, and he must do his; or if not—let him hand everything over to you.

MARY IVNOVNA. It is all so unpleasant!

ALEXNDRA IVNOVNA. I will tell him, if you like. Je lui dirai son fait.[13]

[13] I'll tell him the truth.

Enter a young priest, confused and agitated. He carries a book, and shakes hands all round.

PRIEST. I have come to see Nicholas Ivnovich. I have, in fact, come to return a book.

MARY IVNOVNA. He has gone to town, but will be back soon.

ALEXNDRA IVNOVNA. What book are you returning?

PRIEST. Oh, it's Mr. Renan's Life of Jesus.

PETER SEMYNOVICH. Dear me! What books you read!

PRIEST [much agitated, lights a cigarette] It was Nicholas Ivnovich gave it to me to read.

ALEXNDRA IVNOVNA [contemptuously] Nicholas Ivnovich gave it you! And do you agree with Nicholas Ivnovich and Mr. Renan?

PRIEST. No, of course not. If I really did agree, I should not, in fact, be what is called a servant of the Church.

ALEXNDRA IVNOVNA. But if you are, as it is called, a faithful servant of the Church, why don't you convert Nicholas Ivnovich?

PRIEST. Everyone, in fact, has his own views on these matters, and Nicholas Ivnovich really maintains much that is quite true, only he goes astray, in fact, on the main point, the Church.

ALEXNDRA IVNOVNA [contemptuously] And what are the many things that Nicholas Ivnovich maintains that are quite true? Is it true that the Sermon on the Mount bids us give our property away to strangers and let our own families go begging?

PRIEST. The Church, in fact, sanctions the family, and the Holy Fathers of the Church, in fact, blessed the family; but the highest perfection really demands the renunciation of worldly advantages.

ALEXNDRA IVNOVNA. Of course the Anchorites acted so, but ordinary mortals, I should imagine, should act in an ordinary way, as befits all good Christians.

PRIEST. No one can tell unto what he may be called.

ALEXNDRA IVNOVNA. And, of course, you are married?

PRIEST. Oh yes.

ALEXNDRA IVNOVNA. And have you any children?


ALEXNDRA IVNOVNA. Then why don't you renounce worldly advantages, and not go about smoking a cigarette?

PRIEST. Because of my weakness, in fact, my unworthiness.

ALEXNDRA IVNOVNA. Ah! I see that instead of bringing Nicholas Ivnovich to reason, you support him. That, I tell you straight out, is wrong!

Enter Nurse.

NURSE. Don't you hear baby crying? Please come to nurse him.

MARY IVNOVNA. I'm coming, coming! [Rises and exit].

ALEXNDRA IVNOVNA. I'm dreadfully sorry for my sister. I see how she suffers. Seven children, one of them unweaned, and then all these fads to put up with. It seems to me quite plain that he has something wrong here [touching her forehead. To Priest] Now tell me, I ask you, what new religion is this you have discovered?

PRIEST. I don't understand, in fact...

ALEXNDRA IVNOVNA. Oh, please don't beat about the bush. You know very well what I am asking you about.

PRIEST. But allow me...

ALEXNDRA IVNOVNA. I ask you, what creed is it that bids us shake hands with every peasant and let them cut down the trees, and give them money for vdka, and abandon our own families?

PRIEST. I don't know that...

ALEXNDRA IVNOVNA. He says it is Christianity. You are a priest of the Orthodox Greek Church, and therefore you must know and must say whether Christianity bids us encourage robbery.

PRIEST. But I...

ALEXNDRA IVNOVNA. Or else, why are you a priest, and why do you wear long hair and a cassock?

PRIEST. But we are not asked...

ALEXNDRA IVNOVNA. Not asked, indeed! Why, I am asking you! He told me yesterday that the Gospels say, "Give to him that asketh of thee." But then in what sense is that meant?

PRIEST. In its plain sense, I suppose.

ALEXNDRA IVNOVNA. And I think not in the plain sense; we have always been taught that everybody's position is appointed by God.

PRIEST. Of course, but yet...

ALEXNDRA IVNOVNA. Oh, yes. It's just as I was told; you take his side, and that is wrong! I say so straight out. If some young school teacher, or some young lad, lickspittles to him, it's bad enough—but you, in your position, should remember the responsibility that rests on you.

PRIEST. I try to...

ALEXNDRA IVNOVNA. What sort of religion is it, when he does not go to church, and does not believe in the sacraments? And instead of bringing him to his senses, you read Renan with him, and interpret the Gospels in a way of your own.

PRIEST [excitedly] I cannot answer. I am, in fact, upset, and will hold my tongue.

ALEXNDRA IVNOVNA. Oh! If only I were your Bishop; I'd teach you to read Renan and smoke cigarettes.

PETER SEMYNOVICH. Mais cessez, au nom du ciel. De quel droit?[14]

[14] But do stop, for heaven's sake. What right have you?

ALEXNDRA IVNOVNA. Please don't teach me. I am sure the Reverend Father is not angry with me. What if I have spoken plainly. It would have been worse had I bottled up my anger. Isn't that so?

PRIEST. Forgive me if I have not expressed myself as I should. [Uncomfortable pause].

Enter Lyba and Lisa. Lyba, Mary Ivnovna's daughter, is a handsome energetic girl of twenty. Lisa, Alexndra Ivnovna's daughter, is a little older. Both have kerchiefs on their heads, and are carrying baskets, to go gathering mushrooms. They greet Alexndra Ivnovna, Peter Semynovich, and the priest.

LYBA. Where is Mamma?

ALEXNDRA IVNOVNA. Just gone to the baby.

PETER SEMYNOVICH. Now mind you bring back plenty of mushrooms. A little village girl brought some lovely white ones this morning. I'd go with you myself, but it's too hot.

LISA. Do come, Papa!

ALEXNDRA IVNOVNA. Yes, go, for you are getting too fat.

PETER SEMYNOVICH. Well, perhaps I will, but I must first fetch some cigarettes. [Exit].

ALEXNDRA IVNOVNA. Where are all the young ones?

LYBA. Stypa is cycling to the station, the tutor has gone to town with papa. The little ones are playing croquet, and Vnya is out there in the porch, playing with the dogs.

ALEXNDRA IVNOVNA. Well, has Stypa decided on anything?

LYBA. Yes. He has gone himself to hand in his application to enter the Horse-Guards. He was horribly rude to papa yesterday.

ALEXNDRA IVNOVNA. Of course, it's hard on him too.... Il n'y a pas de patience qui tienne.[15] The young man must begin to live, and he is told to go and plough!

[15] There are limits to human endurance.

LYBA. That's not what papa told him; he said...

ALEXNDRA IVNOVNA. Never mind. Still Stypa must begin life, and whatever he proposes, it's all objected to. But here he is himself.

The Priest steps aside, opens a book, and begins to read. Enter Stypa cycling towards the verandah.

ALEXNDRA IVNOVNA. Quand on parle du soleil on en voit les rayons.[16] We were just talking about you. Lyba says you were rude to your father.

[16] Speak of the sun and you see its rays.

STYPA. Not at all. There was nothing particular. He gave me his opinion, and I gave him mine. It is not my fault that our views differ. Lyba, you know, understands nothing, but must have her say about everything.

ALEXNDRA IVNOVNA. Well, and what have you decided on?

STYPA. I don't know what Papa has decided. I'm afraid he does not quite know himself; but as for me, I have decided to volunteer for the Horse-Guards. In our house some special objection is made to every step that is taken; but this is all quite simple. I have finished my studies, and must serve my time. To enter a line regiment and serve with tipsy low-class officers would be unpleasant, and so I'm entering the Horse-Guards, where I have friends.

ALEXNDRA IVNOVNA. Yes; but why won't your father agree to it?

STYPA. Papa! What is the good of talking about him? He is now possessed by his ide fixe.[17] He sees nothing but what he wants to see. He says military service is the basest kind of employment, and that therefore one should not serve, and so he won't give me any money.

[17] Fixed idea.

LISA. No! Stypa. He did not say that! You know I was present. He says that if you cannot avoid serving, you should go when you are called; but that to volunteer, is to choose that kind of service of your own free will.

STYPA. But it's I, not he, who is going to serve. He himself was in the army!

LISA. Yes, but he does not exactly say that he will not give you the money; but that he cannot take part in an affair that is contrary to his convictions.

STYPA. Convictions have nothing to do with it. One must serve—and that's all!

LISA. I only say what I heard.

STYPA. I know you always agree with Papa. Do you know, Aunt, that Lisa takes Papa's side entirely in everything?

LISA. What is true...

ALEXNDRA IVNOVNA. Don't I know that Lisa always takes up with any kind of nonsense. She scents nonsense. Elle flaire cela de loin.[18]

[18] She scents it from afar.

Enter Vnya running in with a telegram in his hand, followed by the dogs. He wears a red shirt.

VNYA [to Lyba]. Guess who is coming?

LYBA. What's the use of guessing? Give it here [stretching towards him. Vnya does not let her have the telegram].

VNYA. I'll not give it you, and I won't say who it is from. It's someone who makes you blush!

LYBA. Nonsense! Who is the telegram from?

VNYA. There, you're blushing! Aunty, she is blushing, isn't she?

LYBA. What nonsense! Who is it from? Aunty, who is it from?

ALEXNDRA IVNOVNA. The Cheremshnovs.


VNYA. There you are! Why are you blushing?

LYBA. Let me see the telegram, Aunt. [Reads] "Arriving all three by the mail train. Cheremshnovs." That means the Princess, Bors, and Tnya. Well, I am glad!

VNYA. There you are, you're glad! Stypa, look how she is blushing.

STYPA. That's enough—teasing over and over again.

VNYA. Of course, because you're sweet on Tnya! You'd better cast lots; for two men must not marry one another's sisters.[19]

[19] In Russia the relationships that are set up by marriage debar a marriage between a woman's brother-in-law and her sister.

STYPA. Don't humbug! Shut up! How often have you been told to?

LISA. If they are coming by the mail train, they will be here directly.

LYBA. That's true, so we can't go for mushrooms.

Enter Peter Semynovich with his cigarettes.

LYBA. Uncle Peter, we are not going!


LYBA. The Cheremshnovs are coming directly. Better let's play tennis till they come. Stypa, will you play?

STYPA. I may as well.

LYBA. Vnya and I against you and Lisa. Agreed? Then I'll get the balls and call the boys. [Exit].

PETER SEMYNOVICH. So I'm to stay here after all!

PRIEST [preparing to go]. My respects to you.

ALEXNDRA IVNOVNA. No, wait a bit, Father. I want to have a talk with you. Besides, Nicholas Ivnovich will be here directly.

PRIEST [sits down, and lights another cigarette]. He may be a long time.

ALEXNDRA IVNOVNA. There, someone is coming. I expect it's he.

PETER SEMYNOVICH. Which Cheremshnova is it? Can it be Golitzin's daughter?

ALEXNDRA IVNOVNA. Yes, of course. It's the Cheremshnova who lived in Rome with her aunt.

PETER SEMYNOVICH. Dear me, I shall be glad to see her. I have not met her since those days in Rome when she used to sing duets with me. She sang beautifully. She has two children, has she not?

ALEXNDRA IVNOVNA. Yes, they are coming too.

PETER SEMYNOVICH. I did not know that they were so intimate with the Sarntsovs.

ALEXNDRA IVNOVNA. Not intimate, but they lodged together abroad last year, and I believe that la princesse a des vues sur Lyba pour son fils. C'est une fine mouche, elle flaire une jolie dot.[20]

[20] The princess has her eye on Lyba for her son. She is a knowing one, and scents a nice dowry.

PETER SEMYNOVICH. But the Cheremshnovs themselves were rich.

ALEXNDRA IVNOVNA. They were. The prince is still living, but he has squandered everything, drinks, and has quite gone to the dogs. She petitioned the Emperor, left her husband, and so managed to save a few scraps. But she has given her children a splendid education. Il faut lui rendre cette justice.[21] The daughter is an admirable musician; and the son has finished the University, and is charming. Only I don't think Mary is quite pleased. Visitors are inconvenient just now. Ah! here comes Nicholas.

[21] One must do her that much justice.

Enter Nicholas Ivnovich.

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH. How d'you do, Alna;[22] and you, Peter Semynovich. [To the Priest] Ah! Vasly Nikanrych. [Shakes hands with them].

[22] Alna is an abbreviation, and a pet name, for Alexndra.

ALEXNDRA IVNOVNA. There is still some coffee left. Shall I give you a cup? It's rather cold, but can easily be warmed up. [Rings].

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH. No, thank you. I have had something. Where is Mary?


NICHOLAS IVNOVICH. Is she quite well?

ALEXNDRA IVNOVNA. Pretty well. Have you done your business?

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH. I have. Yes. If there is any tea or coffee left, I will have some. [To Priest] Ah! you've brought the book back. Have you read it? I've been thinking about you all the way home.

Enter man-servant, who bows. Nicholas Ivnovich shakes hands with him. Alexndra Ivnovna shrugs her shoulders, exchanging glances with her husband.

ALEXNDRA IVNOVNA. Re-heat the samovr, please.

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH. That's not necessary, Alna. I don't really want any, and I'll drink it as it is.

Missy, on seeing her father, leaves her croquet, runs to him, and hangs round his neck.

MISSY. Papa! Come with me.

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH [caressing her]. Yes, I'll come directly. Just let me eat something first. Go and play, and I'll soon come.

Exit Missy.

Nicholas Ivnovich sits down to the table, and eats and drinks eagerly.

ALEXNDRA IVNOVNA. Well, were they sentenced?

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH. Yes! They were. They themselves pleaded guilty. [To Priest] I thought you would not find Renan very convincing...

ALEXNDRA IVNOVNA. And you did not approve of the verdict?

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH [vexed]. Of course I don't approve of it. [To Priest] The main question for you is not Christ's divinity, or the history of Christianity, but the Church...

ALEXNDRA IVNOVNA. Then how was it? They confessed their guilt, et vous leur avez donn un dmenti?[23] They did not steal them—but only took the wood?

[23] And you contradicted them.

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH [who had begun talking to the priest, turns resolutely to Alexndra Ivnovna]. Alna, my dear, do not pursue me with pinpricks and insinuations.

ALEXNDRA IVNOVNA. But not at all...

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH. And if you really want to know why I can't prosecute the peasants about the wood they needed and cut down...

ALEXNDRA IVNOVNA. I should think they also need this samovr.

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH. Well, if you want me to tell you why I can't agree with those people being shut up in prison, and being totally ruined, because they cut down ten trees in a forest which is considered to be mine...

ALEXNDRA IVNOVNA. Considered so by everybody.

PETER SEMYNOVICH. Oh dear! Disputing again.

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH. Even if I considered that forest mine, which I cannot do, we have 3000 acres of forest, with about 150 trees to the acre. In all, about 450,000 trees—is that correct? Well, they have cut down ten trees—that is, one 45-thousandth part. Now is it worth while, and can one really decide, to tear a man away from his family and put him in prison for that?

STYPA. Ah! but if you don't hold on to this one 45-thousandth, all the other 44,990 trees will very soon be cut down also.

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH. But I only said that in answer to your aunt. In reality I have no right to this forest. Land belongs to everyone; or rather, it can't belong to anyone. We have never put any labour into this land.

STYPA. No, but you saved money and preserved this forest.

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH. How did I get my savings? What enabled me to save up? And I didn't preserve the forest myself! However, this is a matter which can't be proved to anyone who does not himself feel ashamed when he strikes at another man—

STYPA. But no one is striking anybody!

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH. Just as when a man feels no shame at taking toll from others' labour without doing any work himself, you cannot prove to him that he ought to be ashamed; and the object of all the Political Economy you learnt at the University is merely to justify the false position in which we live.

STYPA. On the contrary; science destroys all prejudices.

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH. However, all this is of no importance to me. What is important is that in Yefm's[24] place I should have acted as he did, and I should have been desperate had I been imprisoned. And as I wish to do to others as I wish them to do to me—I cannot condemn him, but do what I can to save him.

[24] Yefm was the peasant who had cut down the tree.

PETER SEMYNOVICH. But, if one goes on that line, one cannot possess anything.

Alexndra Ivnovna and Stypa—

Both speak together

{ ALEXNDRA IVNOVNA. Then it is much more profitable to steal than to { work. { { STYPA. You never reply to one's arguments. I say that a man who { saves, has a right to enjoy his savings.

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH [smiling] I don't know which I am to reply to. [To Peter Semynovich] It's true. One should not possess anything.

ALEXNDRA IVNOVNA. But if one should not possess anything, one can't have any clothes, nor even a crust of bread, but must give away everything, so that it's impossible to live.

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH. And it should be impossible to live as we do!

STYPA. In other words, we must die! Therefore, that teaching is unfit for life....

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH. No. It is given just that men may live. Yes. One should give everything away. Not only the forest we do not use and hardly ever see, but even our clothes and our bread.

ALEXNDRA IVNOVNA. What! And the children's too?

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH. Yes, the children's too. And not only our bread, but ourselves. Therein lies the whole teaching of Christ. One must strive with one's whole strength to give oneself away.

STYPA. That means to die.

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH. Yes, even if you gave your life for your friends, that would be splendid both for you and for others. But the fact is that man is not solely a spirit, but a spirit within a body; and the flesh draws him to live for itself, while the spirit of light draws him to live for God and for others: and the life in each of us is not solely animal, but is equipoised between the two. But the more it is a life for God, the better; and the animal will not fail to take care of itself.

STYPA. Why choose a middle course: an equipoise between the two? If it is right to do so—why not give away everything and die?

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH. That would be splendid. Try to do it, and it will be well both for you and for others.

ALEXNDRA IVNOVNA. No, that is not clear, not simple. C'est tir par les cheveux.[25]

[25] It's too fine spun.

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH. Well, I can't help it, and it can't be explained by argument. However, that is enough.

STYPA. Yes, quite enough, and I also don't understand it. [Exit].

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH [turns to Priest] Well, what impression did the book make on you?

PRIEST [agitated] How shall I put it? Well, the historic part is insufficiently worked out, and it is not fully convincing, or let us say, quite reliable; because the materials are, as a matter of fact, insufficient. Neither the Divinity of Christ, nor His lack of Divinity, can be proved historically; there is but one irrefragable proof....

During this conversation first the ladies and then Peter Semynovich go out.

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH. You mean the Church?

PRIEST. Well, of course, the Church, and the evidence, let's say, of reliable men—the Saints for instance.

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH. Of course, it would be excellent if there existed a set of infallible people to confide in. It would be very desirable; but its desirability does not prove that they exist!

PRIEST. And I believe that just that is the proof. The Lord could not in fact have exposed His law to the possibility of mutilation or misinterpretation, but must in fact have left a guardian of His truth to prevent that truth being mutilated.

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH. Very well; but we first tried to prove the truth itself, and now we are trying to prove the reliability of the guardian of the truth.

PRIEST. Well here, as a matter of fact, we require faith.

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH. Faith—yes, we need faith. We can't do without faith. Not, however, faith in what other people tell us, but faith in what we arrive at ourselves, by our own thought, our own reason ... faith in God, and in true and everlasting life.

PRIEST. Reason may deceive. Each of us has a different mind.

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH [hotly] There, that is the most terrible blasphemy! God has given us just one sacred tool for finding the truth—the only thing that can unite us all, and we do not trust it!

PRIEST. How can we trust in it, when there are contradictions?

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH. Where are the contradictions? That twice two are four; and that one should not do to others what one would not like oneself; and that everything has a cause? Truths of that kind we all acknowledge because they accord with all our reason. But that God appeared on Mount Sinai to Moses, or that Buddha flew up on a sunbeam, or that Mahomet went up into the sky, and that Christ flew there also—on matters of that kind we are all at variance.

PRIEST. No, we are not at variance, those of us who abide in the truth are all united in one faith in God, Christ.

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH. No, even there, you are not united, but have all gone asunder; so why should I believe you rather than I would believe a Buddhist Lama? Only because I happened to be born in your faith?

[The tennis players dispute] "Out!" "Not out!"

VNYA. I saw it...:

During the conversation, men-servants set the table again for tea and coffee.

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH. You say the Church unites. But, on the contrary, the worst dissensions have always been caused by the Church. "How often would I have gathered you as a hen gathers her chickens."...

PRIEST. That was until Christ. But Christ did gather them all together.

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH. Yes, Christ united; but we have divided: because we have understood him the wrong way round. He destroyed all Churches.

PRIEST. Did he not say: "Go, tell the Church."

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH. It is not a question of words! Besides those words don't refer to what we call "Church." It is the spirit of the teaching that matters. Christ's teaching is universal, and includes all religions, and does not admit of anything exclusive; neither of the Resurrection nor the Divinity of Christ, nor the Sacraments—nor of anything that divides.

PRIEST. That, as a matter of fact, if I may say so, is your own interpretation of Christ's teaching. But Christ's teaching is all founded on His Divinity and Resurrection.

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH. That's what is so dreadful about the Churches. They divide by declaring that they possess the full indubitable and infallible truth. They say: "It has pleased us and the Holy Ghost." That began at the time of the first Council of the Apostles. They then began to maintain that they had the full and exclusive truth. You see, if I say there is a God: the first cause of the Universe, everyone can agree with me; and such an acknowledgment of God will unite us; but if I say there is a God: Brahma, or Jehovah, or a Trinity, such a God divides us. Men wish to unite, and to that end devise all means of union, but neglect the one indubitable means of union—the search for truth! It is as if people in an enormous building, where the light from above shone down into the centre, tried to unite in groups around lamps in different corners, instead of going towards the central light, where they would naturally all be united.

PRIEST. And how are the people to be guided—without any really definite truth?

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH. That's what is terrible! Each one of us has to save his own soul, and has to do God's work himself, but instead of that we busy ourselves saving other people and teaching them. And what do we teach them? We teach them now, at the end of the nineteenth century, that God created the world in six days, then caused a flood, and put all the animals in an ark, and all the rest of the horrors and nonsense of the Old Testament. And then that Christ ordered everyone to be baptized with water; and we make them believe in all the absurdity and meanness of an Atonement essential to salvation; and then that he rose up into the heavens which do not really exist, and there sat down at the right hand of the Father. We have got used to all this, but really it is dreadful! A child, fresh and ready to receive all that is good and true, asks us what the world is, and what its laws are; and we, instead of revealing to him the teaching of love and truth that has been given to us, carefully ram into his head all sorts of horrible absurdities and meannesses, ascribing them all to God. Is that not terrible? It is as great a crime as man can commit. And we—you and your Church—do this! Forgive me!

PRIEST. Yes, if one looks at Christ's teaching from a rationalistic point of view, it is so.

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH. Whichever way one looks, it is so. [Pause].

Enter Alexndra Ivnovna. Priest bows to take his leave.

ALEXNDRA IVNOVNA. Good-bye, Father. He will lead you astray. Don't you listen to him.

PRIEST. No. Search the Scriptures! The matter is too important, as a matter of fact, to be—let's say—neglected. [Exit].

ALEXNDRA IVNOVNA. Really, Nicholas, you have no pity on him! Though he is a priest, he is still only a boy, and can have no firm convictions or settled views....

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH. Give him time to settle down and petrify in falsehood? No! Why should I? Besides, he is a good, sincere man.

ALEXNDRA IVNOVNA. But what will become of him if he believes you?

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH. He need not believe me. But if he saw the truth, it would be well for him and for everybody.

ALEXNDRA IVNOVNA. If it were really so good, everyone would be ready to believe you. As it is, no one believes you, and your wife least of all. She can't believe you.

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH. Who told you that?

ALEXNDRA IVNOVNA. Well, just you try and explain it to her! She will never understand, nor shall I, nor anyone else in the world, that one must care for other people and abandon one's own children. Go and try to explain that to Mary!

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH. Yes, and Mary will certainly understand. Forgive me, Alexndra, but if it were not for other people's influence, to which she is very susceptible, she would understand me and go with me.

ALEXNDRA IVNOVNA. To beggar your children for the sake of drunken Yefm and his sort? Never! But if I have made you angry, please forgive me. I can't help speaking out.

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH. I am not angry. On the contrary, I am even glad you have spoken out and given me the opportunity—challenged me—to explain to Mary my whole outlook on life. On my way home to-day I was thinking of doing so, and I will speak to her at once; and you will see that she will agree, because she is wise and good.

ALEXNDRA IVNOVNA. Well, as to that, allow me to have my doubts.

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH. But I have no doubts. For you know, this is not any invention of my own; it is only what we all of us know, and what Christ revealed to us.

ALEXNDRA IVNOVNA. Yes, you think Christ revealed this, but I think he revealed something else.

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH. It cannot be anything else.

Shouts from the tennis ground.

LYBA. Out!

VNYA. No, we saw it.

LISA. I know. It fell just here!

LYBA. Out! Out! Out!

VNYA. It's not true.

LYBA. For one thing, it's rude to say "It's not true."

VNYA. And it's rude to say what is not true!

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH. Just wait a bit, and don't argue, but listen. Isn't it true that at any moment we may die, and either cease to exist, or go to God who expects us to live according to His will?


NICHOLAS IVNOVICH. Well, what can I do in this life other than what the supreme judge in my soul, my conscience—God—requires of me? And my conscience—God—requires that I should regard everybody as equal, love everybody, serve everybody.

ALEXNDRA IVNOVNA. Your own children too?

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH. Naturally, my own too, but obeying all that my conscience demands. Above all, that I should understand that my life does not belong to me—nor yours to you—but to God, who sent us into the world and who requires that we should do His will. And His will is...

ALEXNDRA IVNOVNA. And you think that you will persuade Mary of this?


ALEXNDRA IVNOVNA. And that she will give up educating the children properly, and will abandon them? Never!

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH. Not only will she understand, but you too will understand that it is the only thing to do.


Enter Mary Ivnovna.

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH. Well, Mary! I didn't wake you this morning, did I?

MARY IVNOVNA. No, I was not asleep. And have you had a successful day?


MARY IVNOVNA. Why, your coffee is quite cold! Why do you drink it like that? By the way, we must prepare for our visitors. You know the Cheremshnovs are coming?

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH. Well, if you're glad to have them, I shall be very pleased.

MARY IVNOVNA. I like her and her children, but they have chosen a rather inconvenient time for their visit.

ALEXNDRA IVNOVNA [rising] Well, talk matters over with him, and I'll go and watch the tennis.

A pause, then Mary Ivnovna and Nicholas Ivnovich begin both talking at once.

MARY IVNOVNA. It's inconvenient, because we must have a talk.

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH. I was just saying to Aline...


NICHOLAS IVNOVICH. No, you speak first.

MARY IVNOVNA. Well, I wanted to have a talk with you about Stypa. After all, something must be decided. He, poor fellow, feels depressed, and does not know what awaits him. He came to me, but how can I decide?

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH. Why decide? He can decide for himself.

MARY IVNOVNA. But, you know, he wants to enter the Horse-Guards as a volunteer, and in order to do that he must get you to countersign his papers, and he must also be in a position to keep himself; and you don't give him anything. [Gets excited].

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH. Mary, for heaven's sake don't get excited, but listen to me. I don't give or withhold anything. To enter military service of one's own free will, I consider either a stupid, insensate action, suitable for a savage if the man does not understand the evil of his action, or despicable if he does it from an interested motive....

MARY IVNOVNA. But nowadays everything seems savage and stupid to you. After all, he must live; you lived!

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH [getting irritable] I lived when I did not understand; and when nobody gave me good advice. However, it does not depend on me but on him.

MARY IVNOVNA. How not on you? It's you who don't give him an allowance.

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH. I can't give what is not mine!

MARY IVNOVNA. Not yours? What do you mean?

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH. The labour of others does not belong to me. To give him money, I must first take it from others. I have no right to do that, and I cannot do it! As long as I manage the estate I must manage it as my conscience dictates; and I cannot give the fruits of the toil of the overworked peasants to be spent on the debaucheries of Life-Guardsmen. Take over my property, and then I shall not be responsible!

MARY IVNOVNA. You know very well that I don't want to take it, and moreover I can't. I have to bring up the children, besides nursing them and bearing them. It is cruel!

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH. Mary, dear one! That is not the main thing. When you began to speak I too began and wanted to talk to you quite frankly. We must not go on like this. We are living together, but don't understand one another. Sometimes we even seem to misunderstand one another on purpose.

MARY IVNOVNA. I want to understand, but I don't. No, I don't understand you. I do not know what has come to you.

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH. Well then, try and understand! This may not be a convenient time, but heaven knows when we shall find a convenient time. Understand not me—but yourself: the meaning of your own life! We can't go on living like this without knowing what we are living for.

MARY IVNOVNA. We have lived so, and lived very happily. [Noticing a look of vexation on his face] All right, all right, I am listening.

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH. Yes, I too lived so—that is to say, without thinking why I lived; but a time came when I was terror-struck. Well, here we are, living on other people's labour—making others work for us—bringing children into the world and bringing them up to do the same. Old age will come, and death, and I shall ask myself: "Why have I lived?" In order to breed more parasites like myself? And, above all, we do not even enjoy this life. It is only endurable, you know, while, like Vnya, you overflow with life's energy.

MARY IVNOVNA. But everybody lives like that.

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH. And they are all unhappy.

MARY IVNOVNA. Not at all.

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH. Anyhow, I saw that I was terribly unhappy, and that I made you and the children unhappy, and I asked myself: "Is it possible that God created us for this end?" And as soon as I thought of it, I felt at once that he had not. I asked myself: "What, then, has God created us for?"

Enter Man-servant.

MARY IVNOVNA [Not listening to her husband, turns to Servant] Bring some boiled cream.

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH. And in the Gospels I found the answer, that we certainly should not live for our own sake. That revealed itself to me very clearly once, when I was pondering over the parable of the labourers in the vineyard. You know?

MARY IVNOVNA. Yes, the labourers.

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH. That parable seemed to show me more clearly than anything else where my mistake had been. Like those labourers I had thought that the vineyard was my own, and that my life was my own, and everything seemed dreadful; but as soon as I had understood that my life is not my own, but that I am sent into the world to do the will of God...

MARY IVNOVNA. But what of it? We all know that!

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH. Well, if we know it we cannot go on living as we are doing, for our whole life—far from being a fulfilment of His will—is, on the contrary, a continual transgression of it.

MARY IVNOVNA. But how is it a transgression—when we live without doing harm to anyone?

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH. But are we doing no harm? Such an outlook on life is just like that of those labourers. Why we...

MARY IVNOVNA. Yes, I know the parable—and that he paid them all equally.

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH [after a pause] No, it's not that. But do, Mary, consider one thing—that we have only one life, and can live it well, or can waste it.

MARY IVNOVNA. I can't think and argue! I don't sleep at night; I am nursing. I have to manage the whole house, and instead of helping me, you say things to me that I don't understand.


MARY IVNOVNA. And now these visitors.

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH. No, let us come to an understanding. [Kisses her] Shan't we?

MARY IVNOVNA. Yes, only be like you used to be.

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH. I can't, but now listen.

The sound of bells and an approaching vehicle are heard.

MARY IVNOVNA. I can't now—they have arrived! I must go to meet them. [Exit behind corner of house. Stypa and Lyba follow her].

VNYA. We shan't abandon it; we must finish the game later. Well, Lyba, what now?

LYBA [seriously] No nonsense, please.

Alexndra Ivnovna, with her husband and Lisa, come out on to the verandah. Nicholas Ivnovich paces up and down wrapt in thought.

ALEXNDRA IVNOVNA. Well, have you convinced her?

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH. Alna, what is going on between us is very important. Jokes are out of place. It is not I who am convincing her, but life, truth, God: they are convincing her—therefore she cannot help being convinced, if not to-day then to-morrow, if not to-morrow ... It is awful that no one ever has time. Who is it that has just come?

PETER SEMYNOVICH. It's the Cheremshnovs. Catiche Cheremshnov, whom I have not met for eighteen years. The last time I saw her we sang together: "La ci darem la mano." [Sings].

ALEXNDRA IVNOVNA. Please don't interrupt us, and don't imagine that I shall quarrel with Nicholas. I am telling the truth. [To Nicholas Ivnovich] I am not joking at all, but it seemed to me strange that you wanted to convince Mary just when she had made up her mind to have it out with you!

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH. Very well, very well. They are coming. Please tell Mary I shall be in my room. [Exit].




In the same country-house, a week later. The scene represents a large dining-hall. The table is laid for tea and coffee, with a samovr. A grand piano and a music-stand are by the wall. Mary Ivnovna, the Princess and Peter Semynovich are seated at the table.

PETER SEMYNOVICH. Ah, Princess, it does not seem so long ago since you were singing Rosina's part, and I ... though nowadays I am not fit even for a Don Basilio.

PRINCESS. Our children might do the singing now, but times have changed.

PETER SEMYNOVICH. Yes, these are matter-of-fact times ... But your daughter plays really seriously and well. Where are the young folk? Not asleep still, surely?

MARY IVNOVNA. Yes, they went out riding by moonlight last night, and returned very late. I was nursing baby and heard them.

PETER SEMYNOVICH. And when will my better-half be back? Have you sent the coachman for her?

MARY IVNOVNA. Yes, they went for her quite early; I expect she will be here soon.

PRINCESS. Did Alexndra Ivnovna really go on purpose to fetch Father Gersim?

MARY IVNOVNA. Yes, the idea occurred to her yesterday, and she was off at once.

PRINCESS. Quelle nergie! Je l'admire.[26]

[26] What energy, I do admire her.

PETER SEMYNOVICH. Oh, pour ceci, ce n'est pas a qui nous manque.[27] [Takes out a cigar] But I will go and have a smoke and take a stroll through the park with the dogs till the young people are up. [Exit].

[27] Oh, as far as that goes, we are not lacking.

PRINCESS. I don't know, dear Mary Ivnovna, whether I am right, but it seems to me that you take it all too much to heart. I understand him. He is in a very exalted state of mind. Well, even supposing he does give to the poor? Don't we anyway think too much about ourselves?

MARY IVNOVNA. Yes, if that were all, but you don't know him; nor all he is after. It is not simply helping the poor, but a complete revolution, the destruction of everything.

PRINCESS. I do not wish to intrude into your family life, but if you will allow me...

MARY IVNOVNA. Not at all—I look upon you as one of the family—especially now.

PRINCESS. I should advise you to put your demands to him openly and frankly, and to come to an agreement as to the limits...

MARY IVNOVNA [excitedly] There are no limits! He wants to give away everything. He wishes me now, at my age, to become a cook and a washerwoman.

PRINCESS. No, is it possible! That is extraordinary.

MARY IVNOVNA [takes a letter out of her pocket] We are by ourselves and I am glad to tell you all about it. He wrote me this letter yesterday. I will read it to you.

PRINCESS. What? He lives in the same house with you, and writes you letters? How strange!

MARY IVNOVNA. No, I understand him there. He gets so excited when he speaks. I have for some time past felt anxious about his health.

PRINCESS. What did he write?

MARY IVNOVNA. This [reading] "You reproach me for upsetting our former way of life, and for not giving you anything new in exchange, and not saying how I should like to arrange our family affairs. When we begin to discuss it we both get excited, and that's why I am writing to you. I have often told you already why I cannot continue to live as we have been doing; and I cannot, in a letter, show you why that is so, nor why we must live in accord to Christ's teaching. You can do one of two things: either believe in the truth and voluntarily go with me, or believe in me and trusting yourself entirely to me—follow me." [Stops reading] I can do neither the one nor the other. I do not consider it necessary to live as he wishes us to. I have to consider the children, and I cannot rely on him. [Reads] "My plan is this: We shall give our land to the peasants, retaining only 135 acres besides the orchards and kitchen-garden and the meadow by the river. We will try to work ourselves, but will not force one another, nor the children. What we keep should still bring us in about 50 a year."

PRINCESS. Live on 50 a year—with seven children! Is it possible!

MARY IVNOVNA. Well, here follows his whole plan: to give up the house and have it turned into a school, and ourselves to live in the gardener's two-roomed cottage.

PRINCESS. Yes, now I begin to see that there is something abnormal about it. What did you answer?

MARY IVNOVNA. I told him I couldn't; that were I alone I would follow him anywhere, but I have the children.... Only think! I am still nursing little Nicholas. I tell him we can't break up everything like that. After all, was that what I agreed to when I married? And now I am no longer young or strong. Think what it has meant to bear and nurse nine children.

PRINCESS. I never dreamed that things had gone so far.

MARY IVNOVNA. That is how things are and I don't know what will happen. Yesterday he excused the Dmtrovka peasants their rent; and he wants to give the land to them altogether.

PRINCESS. I do not think you should allow it. It is your duty to protect your children. If he cannot deal with the estate, let him hand it over to you.

MARY IVNOVNA. But I don't want that.

PRINCESS. You ought to take it for the children's sake. Let him transfer the property to you.

MARY IVNOVNA. My sister Alexndra told him so; but he says he has no right to do it; and that the land belongs to those who work it, and that it is his duty to give it to the peasants.

PRINCESS. Yes, now I see that the matter is far more serious than I thought.

MARY IVNOVNA. And the Priest! The Priest takes his side, too.

PRINCESS. Yes, I noticed that yesterday.

MARY IVNOVNA. That's why my sister has gone to Moscow. She wanted to talk things over with a lawyer, but chiefly she went to fetch Father Gersim that he may bring his influence to bear.

PRINCESS. Yes, I do not think that Christianity calls upon us to ruin our families.

MARY IVNOVNA. But he will not believe even Father Gersim. He is so firm; and when he talks, you know, I can't answer him. That's what is so terrible, that it seems to me he is right.

PRINCESS. That is because you love him.

MARY IVNOVNA. I don't know, but it's terrible, and everything remains unsettled—and that is Christianity!

Enter Nurse.

NURSE. Will you please come. Little Nicholas has woke up and is crying for you.

MARY IVNOVNA. Directly! When I am excited he gets stomach ache. Coming, coming!

Nicholas Ivnovich enters by another door, with a paper in his hand.

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH. No, this is impossible!

MARY IVNOVNA. What has happened?

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH. Why, Peter is to be imprisoned on account of some wretched pine-trees of ours.

MARY IVNOVNA. How's that?

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH. Quite simply! He cut it down, and they informed the Justice of Peace, and he has sentenced him to three months' imprisonment. His wife has come about it.

MARY IVNOVNA. Well, and can't anything be done?

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH. Not now. The only way is not to possess any forest. And I will not possess any. What is one to do? I shall, however, go and see whether what we have done can be remedied. [Goes out on to the verandah and meets Bors and Lyba].

LYBA. Good morning, papa [kisses him], where are you going?

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH. I have just returned from the village and am going back again. They are just dragging a hungry man to prison because he...

LYBA. I suppose it's Peter?

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH. Yes, Peter. [Exit, followed by Mary Ivnovna].

LYBA [sits down in front of samovr] Will you have tea or coffee?

BORS. I don't mind.

LYBA. It's always the same, and I see no end to it!

BORS. I don't understand him. I know the people are poor and ignorant and must be helped, but not by encouraging thieves.

LYBA. But how?

BORS. By our whole activity. By using all our knowledge in their service, but not by sacrificing one's own life.

LYBA. And papa says, that that is just what is wanted.

BORS. I don't understand. One can serve the people without ruining one's own life. That is the way I want to arrange my life. If only you...

LYBA. I want what you want, and am not afraid of anything.

BORS. How about those earrings—that dress...

LYBA. The earrings can be sold and the dresses must be different, but one need not make oneself quite a guy.

BORS. I should like to have another talk with him. Do you think I should disturb him if I followed him to the village?

LYBA. Not at all. I see he has grown fond of you, and he addressed himself chiefly to you last night.

BORS [finishes his coffee] Well, I'll go then.

LYBA. Yes, do, and I'll go and wake Lisa and Tnya.



Village street. Ivn Zybrev, covered with a sheepskin coat, is lying near a hut.

IVN ZYBREV. Malshka!

A tiny girl comes out of the hut with a baby in her arms. The baby is crying.

IVN ZYBREV. Get me a drink of water.

Malshka goes back into the hut, from where the baby can be heard screaming. She brings a bowl of water.

IVN ZYBREV. Why do you always beat the youngster and make him howl? I'll tell mother.

MALSHKA. Tell her then. It's hunger makes him howl!

IVN ZYBREV [drinks] You should go and ask the Dmkins for some milk.

MALSHKA. I went, but there wasn't any. And there was no one at home.

IVN ZYBREV. Oh! if only I could die! Have they rung for dinner?

MALSHKA. They have. Here's the master coming.

Enter Nicholas Ivnovich.

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH. Why have you come out here?

IVN ZYBREV. Too many flies in there, and it's too hot.

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH. Then you're warm now?

IVN ZYBREV. Yes, now I'm burning all over.

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH. And where is Peter? Is he at home?

IVN ZYBREV. At home, at this time? Why, he's gone to the field to cart the corn.

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH. And I hear that they want to put him in prison.

IVN ZYBREV. That's so, the Policeman has gone to the field for him.

Enter a pregnant Woman, carrying a sheaf of oats and a rake. She immediately hits Malshka on the back of the head.

WOMAN. What d'you mean by leaving the baby? Don't you hear him howling! Running about the streets is all you know.

MALSHKA [howling] I've only just come out. Daddy wanted a drink.

WOMAN. I'll give it you. [She sees the land-owner, N. I. Sarntsov] Good-day, sir. Children are a trouble! I'm quite done up, everything on my shoulders, and now they're taking our only worker to prison, and this lout is sprawling about here.

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH. What are you saying? He's quite ill!

WOMAN. He's ill, and what about me? Am I not ill? When it's work, he's ill; but to merry-make or pull my hair out, he's not too ill. Let him die like a hound! What do I care?

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH. How can you say such wicked things?

WOMAN. I know it's a sin; but I can't subdue my heart. I'm expecting another child, and I have to work for two. Other people have their harvest in already, and we have not mowed a quarter of our oats yet. I ought to finish binding the sheaves, but can't. I had to come and see what the children were about.

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH. The oats shall be cut—I'll hire someone, and to bind the sheaves too.

WOMAN. Oh, binding's nothing. I can do that myself, if it's only mown down quick. What d'you think, Nicholas Ivnovich, will he die? He is very ill!

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH. I don't know. But he really is very ill. I think we must send him to the hospital.

WOMAN. Oh God! [Begins to cry] Don't take him away, let him die here.[28] [To her husband, who utters something] What's the matter?

[28] The woman, for all her roughness, is sorry to part from her husband.

IVN ZYBREV. I want to go to the hospital. Here I'm treated worse than a dog.

WOMAN. Well, I don't know. I've lost my head. Malshka, get dinner ready.

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH. What have you for dinner?

WOMAN. What? Why, potatoes and bread, and not enough of that. [Enters hut. A pig squeals, and children are crying inside].

IVN ZYBREV [groans] Oh Lord, if I could but die!

Enter Bors.

BORS. Can I be of any use?

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH. Here no one can be of use to another. The evil is too deeply rooted. Here we can only be of use to ourselves, by seeing on what we build our happiness. Here is a family: five children, the wife pregnant, the husband ill, nothing but potatoes to eat, and at this moment the question is being decided whether they are to have enough to eat next year or not. Help is not possible. How can one help? Suppose I hire a labourer; who will he be? Just such another man: one who has given up his farming, from drink or from want.

BORS. Excuse me, but if so, what are you doing here?

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH. I am learning my own position. Finding out who weeds our gardens, builds our houses, makes our garments, and feeds and clothes us. [Peasants with scythes and women with rakes pass by and bow. Nicholas Ivnovich, stopping one of the Peasants] Erml, won't you take on the job of carting for these people?

ERML [shakes his head] I would with all my heart, but I can't possibly do it. I haven't carted my own yet. We are off now to do some carting. But is Ivn dying?

ANOTHER PEASANT. Here's Sebastian, he may take on the job. I say, Daddy Sebastian! They want a man to get the oats in.

SEBASTIAN. Take the job on yourself. At this time of year one day's work brings a year's food. [The Peasants pass on].

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH. They are all half-starved; they have only bread and water, they are ill, and many of them are old. That old man, for instance, is ruptured and is suffering, and yet he works from four in the morning to ten at night, though he is only half alive. And we? Is it possible, realising all this, to live quietly and consider oneself a Christian? Or let alone a Christian—simply not a beast?

BORS. But what can one do?

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH. Not take part in this evil. Not own the land, nor devour the fruits of their labour. How this can be arranged, I don't yet know. The fact of the matter is—at any rate it was so with me—I lived and did not realise how I was living. I did not realise that I am a son of God and that we are all sons of God—and all brothers. But as soon as I realised it—realised that we have all an equal right to live—my whole life was turned upside down. But I cannot explain it to you now. I will only tell you this: I was blind, just as my people at home are, but now my eyes are opened and I cannot help seeing; and seeing it all, I can't continue to live in such a way. However, that will keep till later. Now we must see what can be done.

Enter Policeman, Peter, his wife, and boy.

PETER [falls at Nicholas Ivnovich's feet] Forgive me, for the Lord's sake, or I'm ruined. How can the woman get in the harvest? If at least I might be bailed out.

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH. I will go and write a petition for you. [To Policeman] Can't you let him remain here for the present?

POLICEMAN. Our orders are to take him to the police-station now.

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH [to Peter] Well then go, and I'll do what I can. This is evidently my doing. How can one go on living like this? [Exit].



In the same country-house. It is raining outside. A drawing-room with a grand piano. Tnya has just finished playing a sonata of Schumann's and is sitting at the piano. Stypa is standing by the piano. Bors is sitting. Lyba, Lisa, Mitrofn Ermlych and the young Priest are all stirred by the music.

LYBA. That andante! Isn't it lovely!

STYPA. No, the scherzo. Though really the whole of it is beautiful.

LISA. Very fine.

STYPA. But I had no idea you were such an artist. It is real masterly play. Evidently the difficulties no longer exist for you, and you think only of the feeling, and express it with wonderful delicacy.

LYBA. Yes, and with dignity.

TNYA. While I felt that it was not at all what I meant it to be. A great deal remained unexpressed.

LISA. What could be better? It was wonderful.

LYBA. Schumann is good, but all the same Chopin takes a stronger hold of one's heart.

STYPA. He is more lyrical.

TNYA. There is no comparison.

LYBA. Do you remember his prelude?

TNYA. Oh, the one called the George Sand prelude? [Plays the commencement].

LYBA. No, not that one. That is very fine, but so hackneyed. Do play this one. [Tnya plays what she can of it, and then breaks off].

TNYA. Oh, that is a lovely thing. There is something elemental about it—older than creation.

STYPA [laughs] Yes, yes. Do play it. But no, you are too tired. As it is, we have had a delightful morning, thanks to you.

TNYA [rises and looks out of window] There are some more peasants waiting outside.

LYBA. That is why music is so precious. I understand Saul. Though I'm not tormented by devils, I still understand him. No other art can make one so forget everything else as music does. [Approaches the window. To Peasants] Whom do you want?

PEASANTS. We have been sent to speak to Nicholas Ivnovich.

LYBA. He is not in. You must wait.

TNYA. And yet you are marrying Bors who understands nothing about music.

LYBA. Oh, surely not.

BORS [absently] Music? Oh no. I like music, or rather I don't dislike it. Only I prefer something simpler—I like songs.

TNYA. But is not this sonata lovely?

BORS. The chief thing is, that it is not important; and it rather hurts me, when I think of the lives men live, that so much importance is attached to music.

They all eat sweetmeats, which are standing on the table.

LISA. How nice it is to have a fianc here and sweetmeats provided!

BORS. Oh that is not my doing. It's mamma's.

TNYA. And quite right too.

LYBA. Music is precious because it seizes us, takes possession of us, and carries us away from reality. Everything seemed gloomy till you suddenly began to play, and really it has made everything brighter.

LISA. And Chopin's valses. They are hackneyed, but all the same...

TNYA. This... [plays].

Enter Nicholas Ivnovich. He greets Bors, Tnya, Stypa, Lisa, Mitrofn Ermlych and the Priest.


LYBA. I think she's in the nursery.

Stypa calls the Man-servant.

LYBA. Papa, how wonderfully Tnya plays! And where have you been?

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH. In the village.

Enter servant, Afansy.

STYPA. Bring another samovr.

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH [greets the Man-servant, and shakes hands with him[29]] Good-day. [Servant becomes confused. Exit Servant. Nicholas Ivnovich also goes off].

[29] People shake hands much more often in Russia than in England, but it is quite unusual to shake hands with a servant, and Nicholas Ivnovich does it in consequence of his belief that all men are brothers.

STYPA. Poor Afansy! He was terribly confused. I can't understand papa. It is as if we were guilty of something.

Enter Nicholas Ivnovich.

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH. I was going back to my room without having told you what I feel. [To Tnya] If what I say should offend you—who are our guest—forgive me, but I cannot help saying it. You, Lisa, say that Tnya plays well. All you here, seven or eight healthy young men and women, have slept till ten o'clock, have eaten and drunk and are still eating; and you play and discuss music: while there, where I have just been, they were all up at three in the morning, and those who pastured the horses at night have not slept at all; and old and young, the sick and the weak, children and nursing-mothers and pregnant women are working to the utmost limits of their strength, so that we here may consume the fruits of their labour. Nor is that all. At this very moment, one of them, the only breadwinner of a family, is being dragged to prison because he has cut down one of a hundred thousand pine-trees that grow in the forest that is called mine. And we here, washed and clothed, having left the slops in our bedrooms to be cleaned up by slaves, eat and drink and discuss Schumann and Chopin and which of them moves us most or best cures our ennui? That is what I was thinking when I passed you, so I have spoken. Consider, is it possible to go on living in this way? [Stands greatly agitated].

LISA. True, quite true!

LYBA. If one lets oneself think about it, one can't live.

STYPA. Why? I don't see why the fact that people are poor should prevent one talking about Schumann. The one does not exclude the other. If one...

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH [angrily] If one has no heart, if one is made of wood...

STYPA. Well, I'll hold my tongue.

TNYA. It is a terrible problem; it is the problem of our day; and we should not be afraid of it, but look it straight in the face, in order to solve it.

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH. We cannot wait for the problem to be solved by public measures. Every one of us must die—if not to-day, then to-morrow. How can I live without suffering from this internal discord?

BORS. Of course there is only one way; that is, not to take part in it at all.

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH. Well, forgive me if I have hurt you. I could not help saying what I felt. [Exit].

STYPA. Not take part in it? But our whole life is bound up with it.

BORS. That is why he says that the first step is to possess no property; to change our whole way of life and live so as not to be served by others but to serve others.

TNYA. Well, I see you have quite gone over to Nicholas Ivnovich's side.

BORS. Yes, I now understand it for the first time—after what I saw in the village.... You need only take off the spectacles through which we are accustomed to look at the life of the people, to realise at once the connection between their sufferings and our pleasures—that is enough!

MITROFN ERMLYCH. Yes, but the remedy does not consist in ruining one's own life.

STYPA. It is surprising how Mitrofn Ermlych and I, though we usually stand poles asunder, come to the same conclusion: those are my very words, "not ruin one's own life."

BORS. Naturally! You both of you wish to lead a pleasant life, and therefore want life arranged so as to ensure that pleasant life for you. [To Stypa] You wish to maintain the present system, while Mitrofn Ermlych wants to establish a new one.

Lyba and Tnya whisper together. Tnya goes to the piano and plays a nocturne by Chopin. General silence.

STYPA. That's splendid; that solves everything.

BORS. It obscures and postpones everything!

While Tnya is playing, Mary Ivnovna and the Princess enter quietly and sit down to listen.

Before the end of the nocturne carriage bells are heard outside.

LYBA. It is Aunt. [Goes to meet her].

The music continues. Enter Alexndra Ivnovna, Father Gersim (a priest with a cross round his neck) and a Notary. All rise.

FATHER GERSIM. Please go on, it is very pleasant.

The Princess approaches to receive his blessing, and the young Priest does the same.

ALEXNDRA IVNOVNA. I have done exactly what I said I would do. I found Father Gersim, and you see I have persuaded him to come—he was on his way to Koursk—so I have done my part; and here is the Notary. He has got the deed ready; it only needs signing.

MARY IVNOVNA. Won't you have some lunch?

Notary puts down his papers on the table, and exit.

MARY IVNOVNA. I am very grateful to Father Gersim.

FATHER GERSIM. What else could I do—though it was out of my way—yet as a Christian I considered it my duty to visit him.

Alexndra Ivnovna whispers to the young people. They consult together and go out on to the verandah, all except Bors. The young Priest also wants to go.

FATHER GERSIM.[30] No. You as a pastor and spiritual father must remain here! You may benefit by it yourself, and may be of use to others. Stay here, if Mary Ivnovna has no objection.

[30] Father Gersim is modelled on the lines of the celebrated Father John of Cronstadt.

MARY IVNOVNA. No, I am as fond of Father Vasly as if he were one of the family. I have even consulted him; but being so young he has not much authority.

FATHER GERSIM. Naturally, naturally.

ALEXNDRA IVNOVNA [approaching] Well, you see now, Father Gersim, that you are the only person who can help and can bring him to reason. He is a clever, well-read man, but learning, you know, can only do harm. He is suffering from some sort of delusion. He maintains that the Christian law forbids a man to own any property; but how is that possible?

FATHER GERSIM. Temptation, spiritual pride, self-will! The Fathers of the Church have answered the question satisfactorily. But how did this befall him?

MARY IVNOVNA. Well, to tell you everything ... when we married he was quite indifferent to religion, and we lived so, and lived happily, during our best years—the first twenty years. Then he began to reflect. Perhaps he was influenced by his sister, or by what he read. Anyhow, he began thinking and reading the Gospels, and then suddenly he grew extremely religious, began going to church and visiting the monks. Then all at once he gave all this up and changed his way of life completely. He began doing manual labour, would not let the servants wait on him, and above all he is now giving away his property. He yesterday gave away a forest—both the trees and land. It frightens me, for I have seven children. Do talk to him. I'll go and ask him whether he will see you. [Exit].

FATHER GERSIM. Nowadays many are falling away. And is the estate his or his wife's?

PRINCESS. His! That's what is so unfortunate.

FATHER GERSIM. And what is his official rank?

PRINCESS. His rank is not high. Only that of a cavalry captain, I believe. He was once in the army.

FATHER GERSIM. There are many who turn aside in that way. In Odessa there was a lady who was carried away by Spiritualism and began to do much harm. But all the same, God enabled us to lead her back to the Church.

PRINCESS. The chief thing, please understand, is that my son is about to marry his daughter. I have given my consent, but the girl is used to luxury and should therefore be provided for, and not have to depend entirely on my son. Though I admit he is a hard-working and an exceptional young man.

Enter Mary Ivnovna and Nicholas Ivnovich.

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH. How d'you do, Princess? How d'you do? [To Father Gersim] I beg your pardon. I don't know your name.[31]

[31] He knows that the priest is Father Gersim, but wishes to address him not as a priest, but by his Christian name and patronymic, as one gentleman would usually address another.

FATHER GERSIM. Do you not wish to receive my blessing?


FATHER GERSIM. My name is Gersim Sdorovitch. Very pleased to meet you.

Men-servants bring lunch and wine.

FATHER GERSIM. Pleasant weather, and good for the harvest.

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH. I suppose you came, at Alexndra Ivnovna's invitation, to divert me from my errors and direct me in the path of truth. If that is so, don't let us beat about the bush, but let us get to business at once. I do not deny that I disagree with the teaching of the Church. I used to agree with it, and then left off doing so. But with my whole heart I wish to be in the truth and will at once accept it if you show it to me.

FATHER GERSIM. How is it you say you don't believe the teaching of the Church? What is there to believe in, if not the Church?

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH. God and His law, given to us in the Gospels.

FATHER GERSIM. The Church teaches that very law.

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH. If it did so, I should believe in the Church, but unfortunately it teaches the contrary.

FATHER GERSIM. The Church cannot teach the contrary, because it was established by the Lord himself. It is written, "I give you power," and, "Upon this rock I will build my Church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it."

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH. That was not said in this connection at all, and proves nothing. But even if we were to admit that Christ established the Church, how do I know that it was your Church?

FATHER GERSIM. Because it is said, "Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them."

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH. That, too, was not said in this connection, and proves nothing.

FATHER GERSIM. How can one deny the Church? It alone provides salvation.

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH. I did not deny the Church until I found it supported everything that is contrary to Christianity.

FATHER GERSIM. It can make no mistakes, for it alone has the truth. Those who leave it go astray, but the Church is sacred.

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH. I have already told you that I do not accept that. I do not accept it because, as is said in the Gospels, "By their deeds shall ye know them, by their fruit shall ye know them." I have found out that the Church blesses oaths, murders and executions.

FATHER GERSIM. The Church acknowledges and sanctifies the Powers ordained by God.

During the conversation, Stypa, Lyba, Lisa and Tnya at different times enter the room and sit or stand listening.

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH. I know that the Gospels say, not only "Do not kill," but "Do not be angry," yet the Church blesses the army. The Gospel says, "Swear not at all," yet the Church administers oaths. The Gospel says...

FATHER GERSIM. Excuse me. When Pilate[32] said, "I adjure thee by the living God," Christ accepted his oath by replying "I am."

[32] Father Gersim attributes to Pilate what was said by Caiaphas the high priest.

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH. Dear me! What are you saying? That is really absurd.

FATHER GERSIM. That is why the Church does not permit everyone to interpret the Gospel, lest he should go astray, but like a mother caring for her child gives him an interpretation suitable to his strength. No, let me finish! The Church does not lay on its children burdens too heavy for them to bear, but demands that they should keep the Commandments: love, do no murder, do not steal, do not commit adultery.

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH. Yes! Do not kill me, do not steal from me my stolen goods. We have all robbed the people, we have stolen their land and have then made a law forbidding them to steal it back; and the Church sanctions all these things.

FATHER GERSIM. Heresy and spiritual pride are speaking through you. You ought to conquer your intellectual pride.

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH. It is not pride. I am only asking you what should I do according to Christ's law, when I have become conscious of the sin of robbing the people and enslaving them by means of the land. How am I to act? Continue to own land and to profit by the labour of starving men: putting them to this kind of work [points to Servant who is bringing in the lunch and some wine], or am I to return the land to those from whom my ancestors stole it?

FATHER GERSIM. You must act as behoves a son of the Church. You have a family and children, and you must keep and educate them in a way suitable to their position.


FATHER GERSIM. Because God has placed you in that position. If you wish to be charitable, be charitable by giving away part of your property and by visiting the poor.

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH. But how is it that the rich young man was told that the rich cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven?

FATHER GERSIM. It is said, "If thou wouldest be perfect."

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH. But I do wish to be perfect. The Gospels say, "Be ye perfect as your Father in Heaven..."

FATHER GERSIM. But we have to understand in what connection a thing is said.

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH. I do try to understand, and all that is said in the Sermon on the Mount is plain and comprehensible.

FATHER GERSIM. Spiritual pride.

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH. Where is the pride, since it is said that what is hidden from the wise is revealed to babes?

FATHER GERSIM. Revealed to the meek, but not to the proud.

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH. But who is proud? I, who consider myself a man like the rest of mankind, and one who therefore must live like the rest by his own labour and as poorly as his brother men, or those who consider themselves to be specially selected sacred people, knowing the whole truth and incapable of error; and who interpret Christ's words their own way?

FATHER GERSIM [offended] Pardon me, Nicholas Ivnovich, I did not come here to argue which of us is right, nor to receive an admonition, but I called, at Alexndra Ivnovna's request, to talk things over with you. But since you know everything better than I do, we had better end our conversation. Only, once again, I must entreat you in God's name to come to your senses. You have gone cruelly astray and are ruining yourself. [Rises].

MARY IVNOVNA. Won't you have something to eat?

FATHER GERSIM. No, I thank you. [Exit with Alexndra Ivnovna].

MARY IVNOVNA [to young Priest] And what now?

PRIEST. Well, in my opinion, Nicholas Ivnovich spoke the truth, and Father Gersim produced no argument on his side.

PRINCESS. He was not allowed to speak, and he did not like having a kind of debate with everybody listening. It was his modesty that made him withdraw.

BORS. It wasn't modesty at all. All he said was so false. It was evident that he had nothing to say.

PRINCESS. Yes, with your usual instability I see that you are beginning to agree with Nicholas Ivnovich about everything. If you believe such things you ought not to marry.

BORS. I only say that truth is truth, and I can't help saying it.

PRINCESS. You of all people should not talk like that.

BORS. Why not?

PRINCESS. Because you are poor, and have nothing to give away. However, all this is not our business. [Exit, followed by all except Nicholas Ivnovich and Mary Ivnovna].

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH [sits pondering, then smiles at his own thoughts] Mary! What is all this for? Why did you invite that wretched, erring man? Why do those noisy women and that priest come into our most intimate life? Can we not settle our own affairs?

MARY IVNOVNA. What am I to do, if you want to leave the children penniless? That is what I cannot quietly submit to. You know that I am not grasping, and that I want nothing for myself.

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH. I know, I know and believe it. But the misfortune is that you do not trust the truth. I know you see it, but you can't make up your mind to rely on it. You rely neither on the truth nor on me. Yet you trust the crowd—the Princess and the rest of them.

MARY IVNOVNA. I believe in you, I always did; but when you want to let the children go begging...

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH. That means that you do not rely on me. Do you think I have not struggled and have not feared! But afterwards I became convinced that this course is not only possible but obligatory, and that it is the one thing necessary and good for the children themselves. You always say that were it not for the children you would follow me, but I say that if we had no children we might live as we are doing; we should then only be injuring ourselves, but now we are injuring them too.

MARY IVNOVNA. But what am I to do, if I don't understand?

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH. And what am I to do? Don't I know why that wretched man—dressed up in his cassock and wearing that cross—was sent for, and why Alexndra Ivnovna brought the Notary? You want me to hand the estate over to you, but I can't. You know that I have loved you all the twenty years we have lived together. I love you and wish you well, and therefore cannot sign away the estate to you. If I sign it away at all, it can only be to give it back to those from whom it has been taken—the peasants. And I can't let things remain as they are, but must give it to them. I'm glad the Notary has come; and I will do it.

MARY IVNOVNA. No, that is dreadful! Why this cruelty? Though you think it a sin, still give it to me. [Weeps].

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH. You don't know what you are saying. If I give it to you, I cannot go on living with you; I shall have to go away. I cannot continue to live under these conditions. I shall not be able to look on while the life-blood is squeezed out of the peasants and they are imprisoned, in your name if not in mine. So choose!

MARY IVNOVNA. How cruel you are! Is this Christianity? It is harshness! I cannot, after all, live as you want me to. I cannot rob my own children and give everything away to other people; and that is why you want to desert me. Well—do so! I see you have ceased loving me, and I even know why.

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH. Very well then—I will sign; but, Mary, you demand the impossible of me. [Goes to writing-table and signs] You wished it, but I shall not be able to go on living like this.




The scene is laid in Moscow. A large room. In it a carpenter's bench; a table with papers on it; a book-cupboard; a looking-glass and pictures on the wall behind, with some planks leaning in front of them. A Carpenter and Nicholas Ivnovich wearing a carpenter's apron are working at the bench, planing.

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH [takes a board from the vice] Is that all right?

CARPENTER [setting a plane] Not quite, you must do it more boldly—like this.

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH. It is easy to say boldly, but I can't manage it.

CARPENTER. But why should your honour trouble to learn to be a carpenter? There are such a lot of us nowadays that we can hardly get a living as it is.

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH [at work again] I'm ashamed to lead an idle life.

CARPENTER. Yours is that kind of position. God has given you property.

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH. That's just where it is. I don't believe that God gave it, but that some of us have taken it, and taken it from our brother men.

CARPENTER [taken aback] That's so! But still you've no need to do this.

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH. I understand that it must seem strange to you that while living in this house where there is such superfluity, I should wish to earn something.

CARPENTER [laughs] No. Everybody knows that gentlefolk want to master everything. Well, now go over it again with the smoothing plane.

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH. You won't believe me and will laugh, but still I must tell you that formerly I was not ashamed to live in this way, but now that I believe in Christ's law, which tells us we are all brothers—I am ashamed to live so.

CARPENTER. If you are ashamed of it, give away your property.

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH. I wanted to, but failed, and gave it to my wife.

CARPENTER. But after all it would not be possible for you to do it—you are too used to comforts.

[Voice outside the door] Papa, may I come in?

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH. You may, you always may.

Enter Lyba.

LYBA. Good-day, Jacob!

CARPENTER. Good-day, Miss!

LYBA. Bors has gone to his regiment. I am afraid of what he may do or say there. What do you think?

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH. What can I think? He will do what is natural to him.

LYBA. It is awful. He has such a short time to serve[33] and may go and ruin his whole life.

[33] The period of compulsory service for a University graduate would be short in any case.

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH. He did well not to come to see me. He understands that I can't say anything to him but what he knows himself. He told me that he handed in his resignation because he sees that not only is there no more immoral, lawless, cruel and brutal occupation than this one, the object of which is to kill, but also that there is nothing more degrading and mean than to have to submit implicitly to any man of higher rank who happens to come along. He knows all that.

LYBA. That's just why I am afraid. He knows that, and may want to take some action.

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH. His conscience—the God that dwells within him—will decide that. Had he come to me I should have given him only one piece of advice: not to do anything in which he is guided by his reason alone—nothing is worse than that—but only to act when his whole being demands it. Now I, for instance, wished to act according to Christ's injunction: to leave father, wife and children and to follow Him, and I left home, but how did it end? It ended by my coming back and living with you in luxury in town. Because I was trying to do more than I had strength for, I have landed myself in this degrading and senseless position: I wish to live simply and to work with my hands, but in these surroundings, with lackeys and porters, it seems a kind of affectation. I see that, even now, Jacob Nikonrych is laughing at me.

CARPENTER. Why should I laugh? You pay me, and give me my tea. I am grateful to you.

LYBA. I wonder if I had not better go to him.

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH. My dear, my darling, I know you find it hard and are frightened, though you should not be so. After all, I am a man who understands life. Nothing evil can happen. All that appears evil really makes one's heart more joyful; only understand that a man who has started on that path will have to choose, and it sometimes happens that God's side and the Devil's weigh so equally that the scales oscillate, and it is then that the great choice has to be made. At that point any interference from outside is terribly dangerous and tormenting. It is as though a man were making such terrible efforts to draw a weight over a ridge that the slightest touch would cause him to break his back.

LYBA. Why should he suffer so?

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH. That is as though a mother were to ask why she should suffer. There can be no childbirth without suffering, and it is the same in spiritual life. One thing I can tell you. Bors is a true Christian, and consequently is free, and if you cannot as yet be like him, or believe in God as he does, then believe in God through him.

MARY IVNOVNA [behind door] May I come in?

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH. You may always come in. What a reception I'm having here to-day.

MARY IVNOVNA. Our priest, Vasly Nikonrovich, has come. He is going to the Bishop, and has resigned his living!


MARY IVNOVNA. He is here! Lyba, go and call him! He wants to see you. [Exit Lyba]. I had another reason for coming. I want to speak to you about Vnya. He behaves abominably, and does his lesson so badly that he can't possibly pass; and when I speak to him he is rude.

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH. Mary, you know I am out of sympathy with the whole manner of life you are all leading, and with the education you are giving to the children. It is a terrible question for me, whether I have a right to see them perishing before my very eyes...

MARY IVNOVNA. Then you should suggest something else, something definite. But what do you offer?

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH. I cannot say what. But can only say that first we should get rid of all this depraving luxury.

MARY IVNOVNA. So that they should become peasants! I cannot agree to that.

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH. Then don't consult me. The things that grieve you are natural and inevitable.

Enter Priest and Lyba. The Priest and Nicholas Ivnovich kiss[34] one another.

[34] It is not unusual among Russians for men-friends to kiss one another; but it is quite unusual for a man of position to kiss a village priest who calls as a visitor—and it indicates great intimacy or great emotion.

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH. Is it possible that you have thrown it all up?

PRIEST. I could stand it no longer.

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH. I did not expect it so soon.

PRIEST. But it was really impossible. In our calling we cannot be indifferent. We have to hear confessions, and to administer the Sacrament, and when once one has become convinced that it is all not true...

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH. Well, and what now?

PRIEST. Now I am going to the Bishop to be questioned. I am afraid he will exile me to the Solovtsk Monastery. At one time I thought of asking you to help me to escape abroad, but then I considered that it would seem cowardly. Only, there is my wife!


PRIEST. She has gone to her father's. My mother-in-law came and took our boy away. That hurt me very much. I should much like ... [pauses, restraining his tears].

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH. Well, may God help you! Are you staying with us?

PRINCESS [running into the room] There now, it has happened. He has refused to serve, and has been put under arrest. I have just been there but was not admitted. Nicholas Ivnovich, you must go.

LYBA. Has he refused? How do you know?

PRINCESS. I was there myself! Vasly Andrevich, who is a Member of the Council, told me all about it. Bors just walked in and told them he would serve no longer, would take no oath, and in fact said everything Nicholas Ivnovich has taught him.

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH. Princess! Can such things be taught?

PRINCESS. I don't know. Only this is not Christianity! What is your opinion, Father?

PRIEST. I am no longer "Father."

PRINCESS. Well, all the same. However, you are also one of them! No, I cannot leave things in this state. And what cursed Christianity it is that makes people suffer and perish. I hate this Christianity of yours. It's all right for you, who know you won't be touched; but I have only one son, and you have ruined him!

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH. Do be calm, Princess.

PRINCESS. Yes you, you have ruined him! And having ruined him, you must save him. Go and persuade him to abandon all this nonsense. It's all very well for rich people, but not for us.

LYBA [crying] Papa, what can be done?

NICHOLAS IVNOVICH. I will go. Perhaps I can be of some use. [Takes off his apron].

PRINCESS [helping him on with his coat] They would not let me in, but now we will go together and I shall get my way. [Exeunt].

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