Story: THE DARLING
OLENKA, the daughter of the retired collegiate assessor,
Plemyanniakov, was sitting in her back porch, lost in thought. It was
hot, the flies were persistent and teasing, and it was pleasant to
reflect that it would soon be evening.
Dark rainclouds were gathering from the east, and bringing from time
to time a breath of moisture in the air. Kukin, who was the manager of
an open-air theatre called the Tivoli, and who lived in the lodge, was
standing in the middle of the garden looking at the sky. "Again!" he
"It's going to rain again! Rain every day, as though to spite me. I
might as well hang myself! It's ruin! Fearful losses every day." He
flung up his hands, and went on, addressing Olenka: "There! that's the
life we lead, Olga Semyonovna. It's enough to make one cry. One works
and does one's utmost, one wears oneself out, getting no sleep at night,
and racks one's brain what to do for the best. And then what happens? To
begin with, one's public is ignorant, boorish.
I give them the very best operetta, a dainty masque, first rate
music-hall artists. But do you suppose that's what they want! They don't
understand anything of that sort. They want a clown; what they ask for
is vulgarity. And then look at the weather! Almost every evening it
It started on the tenth of May, and it's kept it up all May and June.
It's simply awful! The public doesn't come, but I've to pay the rent
just the same, and pay the artists." The next evening the clouds would
gather again, and Kukin would say with an hysterical laugh: "Well, rain
away, then! Flood the garden, drown me! Damn my luck in this world and
Let the artists have me up! Send me to prison! -- to Siberia! -- the
scaffold! Ha, ha, ha!" And next day the same thing. Olenka listened to
Kukin with silent gravity, and sometimes tears came into her eyes. In
the end his misfortunes touched her; she grew to love him. He was a
small thin man, with a yellow face, and curls combed forward on his
He spoke in a thin tenor; as he talked his mouth worked on one side,
and there was always an expression of despair on his face; yet he
aroused a deep and genuine affection in her. She was always fond of some
one, and could not exist without loving.
In earlier days she had loved her papa, who now sat in a darkened
room, breathing with difficulty; she had loved her aunt who used to come
every other year from Bryansk; and before that, when she was at school,
she had loved her French master. She was a gentle, soft-hearted,
compassionate girl, with mild, tender eyes and very good health.
At the sight of her full rosy cheeks, her soft white neck with a
little dark mole on it, and the kind, naIn
the evenings and at night she could head the band playing, and the
crackling and banging of fireworks, and it seemed to her that it was
Kukin struggling with his destiny, storming the entrenchments of his
chief foe, the indifferent public; there was a sweet thrill at her
heart, she had no desire to sleep, and when he returned home at
day-break, she tapped softly at her bedroom window, and showing him only
her face and one shoulder through the curtain, she gave him a friendly
He proposed to her, and they were married. And when he had a closer
view of her neck and her plump, fine shoulders, he threw up his hands,
and said: "You darling!" He was happy, but as it rained on the day and
night of his wedding, his face still retained an expression of despair.
They got on very well together. She used to sit in his office, to
look after things in the Tivoli, to put down the accounts and pay the
wages. And her rosy cheeks, her sweet, nave, radiant smile, were to be
seen now at the office window, now in the refreshment bar or behind the
scenes of the theatre.
And already she used to say to her acquaintances that the theatre was
the chief and most important thing in life and that it was only through
the drama that one could derive true enjoyment and become cultivated and
"But do you suppose the public understands that?" she used to say.
"What they want is a clown. Yesterday we gave 'Faust Inside Out,' and
almost all the boxes were empty; but if Vanitchka and I had been
producing some vulgar thing, I assure you the theatre would have been
packed. Tomorrow Vanitchka and I are doing 'Orpheus in Hell.' Do come."
And what Kukin said about the theatre and the actors she repeated.
Like him she despised the public for their ignorance and their
indifference to art; she took part in the rehearsals, she corrected the
actors, she kept an eye on the behaviour of the musicians, and when
there was an unfavourable notice in the local paper, she shed tears, and
then went to the editor's office to set things right.
The actors were fond of her and used to call her "Vanitchka and I,"
and "the darling"; she was sorry for them and used to lend them small
sums of money, and if they deceived her, she used to shed a few tears in
private, but did not complain to her husband. They got on well in the
They took the theatre in the town for the whole winter, and let it
for short terms to a Little Russian company, or to a conjurer, or to a
local dramatic society. Olenka grew stouter, and was always beaming with
satisfaction, while Kukin grew thinner and yellower, and continually
complained of their terrible losses, although he had not done badly all
the winter. He used to cough at night, and she used to give him hot
raspberry tea or lime-flower water, to rub him with eau-de-Cologne and
to wrap him in her warm shawls.
"You're such a sweet pet!" she used to say with perfect sincerity,
stroking his hair. "You're such a pretty dear!" Towards Lent he went to
Moscow to collect a new troupe, and without him she could not sleep, but
sat all night at her window, looking at the stars, and she compared
herself with the hens, who are awake all night and uneasy when the cock
is not in the hen-house.
Kukin was detained in Moscow, and wrote that he would be back at
Easter, adding some instructions about the Tivoli. But on the Sunday
before Easter, late in the evening, came a sudden ominous knock at the
gate; some one was hammering on the gate as though on a barrel -- boom,
The drowsy cook went flopping with her bare feet through the puddles,
as she ran to open the gate. "Please open," said some one outside in a
thick bass. "There is a telegram for you." Olenka had received telegrams
from her husband before, but this time for some reason she felt numb
With shaking hands she opened the telegram and read as follows: "IVAN
PETROVITCH DIED SUDDENLY TO-DAY. AWAITING IMMATE INSTRUCTIONS FUFUNERAL
TUESDAY." That was how it was written in the telegram -- "fufuneral,"
and the utterly incomprehensible word "immate." It was signed by the
stage manager of the operatic company. "My darling!" sobbed Olenka. "Vanka,
my precious, my darling!
Why did I ever meet you! Why did I know you and love you! Your poor
heart-broken Olenka is alone without you!" Kukin's funeral took place on
Tuesday in Moscow, Olenka returned home on Wednesday, and as soon as she
got indoors, she threw herself on her bed and sobbed so loudly that it
could be heard next door, and in the street. "Poor darling!" the
neighbours said, as they crossed themselves.
"Olga Semyonovna, poor darling! How she does take on!" Three months
later Olenka was coming home from mass, melancholy and in deep mourning.
It happened that one of her neighbours, Vassily Andreitch Pustovalov,
returning home from church, walked back beside her. He was the manager
at Babakayev's, the timber merchant's.
He wore a straw hat, a white waistcoat, and a gold watch-chain, and
looked more a country gentleman than a man in trade. "Everything happens
as it is ordained, Olga Semyonovna," he said gravely, with a sympathetic
note in his voice; "and if any of our dear ones die, it must be because
it is the will of God, so we ought have fortitude and bear it
After seeing Olenka to her gate, he said good-bye and went on. All
day afterwards she heard his sedately dignified voice, and whenever she
shut her eyes she saw his dark beard. She liked him very much. And
apparently she had made an impression on him too, for not long
afterwards an elderly lady, with whom she was only slightly acquainted,
came to drink coffee with her, and as soon as she was seated at table
began to talk about Pustovalov, saying that he was an excellent man whom
one could thoroughly depend upon, and that any girl would be glad to
marry him. Three days later Pustovalov came himself.
He did not stay long, only about ten minutes, and he did not say
much, but when he left, Olenka loved him -- loved him so much that she
lay awake all night in a perfect fever, and in the morning she sent for
the elderly lady. The match was quickly arranged, and then came the
Pustovalov and Olenka got on very well together when they were
married. Usually he sat in the office till dinner-time, then he went out
on business, while Olenka took his place, and sat in the office till
evening, making up accounts and booking orders.
"Timber gets dearer every year; the price rises twenty per cent," she
would say to her customers and friends. "Only fancy we used to sell
local timber, and now Vassitchka always has to go for wood to the
Mogilev district. And the freight!" she would add, covering her cheeks
with her hands in horror.
"The freight!" It seemed to her that she had been in the timber trade
for ages and ages, and that the most important and necessary thing in
life was timber; and there was something intimate and touching to her in
the very sound of words such as "baulk," "post," "beam," "pole,"
"scantling," "batten," "lath," "plank," etc.
At night when she was asleep she dreamed of perfect mountains of
planks and boards, and long strings of wagons, carting timber somewhere
far away. She dreamed that a whole regiment of six-inch beams forty feet
high, standing on end, was marching upon the timber-yard; that logs,
beams, and boards knocked together with the resounding crash of dry
wood, kept falling and getting up again, piling themselves on each
other. Olenka cried out in her sleep, and Pustovalov said to her
tenderly: "Olenka, what's the matter, darling? Cross yourself!" Her
husband's ideas were hers. If he thought the room was too hot, or that
business was slack, she thought the same.
Her husband did not care for entertainments, and on holidays he
stayed at home. She did likewise. "You are always at home or in the
office," her friends said to her. "You should go to the theatre,
darling, or to the circus." "Vassitchka and I have no time to go to
theatres," she would answer sedately.
"We have no time for nonsense. What's the use of these theatres?" On
Saturdays Pustovalov and she used to go to the evening service; on
holidays to early mass, and they walked side by side with softened faces
as they came home from church.