I was only a year and some odd months
younger than Woloda, and from the first we had grown
up and studied and played together. Hitherto,
the difference between elder and younger brother had
never been felt between us, but at the period of which
I am speaking, I began to have a notion that I was
not Woloda’s equal either in years, in tastes,
or in capabilities. I even began to fancy that
Woloda himself was aware of his superiority and that
he was proud of it, and, though, perhaps, I was wrong,
the idea wounded my conceit already suffering
from frequent comparison with him. He was my
superior in everything in games, in studies,
in quarrels, and in deportment. All this brought
about an estrangement between us and occasioned me
moral sufferings which I had never hitherto experienced.
When for the first time Woloda wore
Dutch pleated shirts, I at once said that I was greatly
put out at not being given similar ones, and each
time that he arranged his collar, I felt that he was
doing so on purpose to offend me. But, what tormented
me most of all was the idea that Woloda could see
through me, yet did not choose to show it.
Who has not known those secret, wordless
communications which spring from some barely perceptible
smile or movement from a casual glance
between two persons who live as constantly together
as do brothers, friends, man and wife, or master and
servant particularly if those two persons
do not in all things cultivate mutual frankness?
How many half-expressed wishes, thoughts, and meanings
which one shrinks from revealing are made plain by
a single accidental glance which timidly and irresolutely
meets the eye!
However, in my own case I may have
been deceived by my excessive capacity for, and love
of, analysis. Possibly Woloda did not feel at
all as I did. Passionate and frank, but unstable
in his likings, he was attracted by the most diverse
things, and always surrendered himself wholly to such
attraction. For instance, he suddenly conceived
a passion for pictures, spent all his money on their
purchase, begged Papa, Grandmamma, and his drawing
master to add to their number, and applied himself
with enthusiasm to art. Next came a sudden rage
for curios, with which he covered his table, and for
which he ransacked the whole house. Following
upon that, he took to violent novel-reading procuring
such works by stealth, and devouring them day and
night. Involuntarily I was influenced by his
whims, for, though too proud to imitate him, I was
also too young and too lacking in independence to choose
my own way. Above all, I envied Woloda his happy,
nobly frank character, which showed itself most strikingly
when we quarrelled. I always felt that he was
in the right, yet could not imitate him. For instance,
on one occasion when his passion for curios was at
its height, I went to his table and accidentally broke
an empty many-coloured smelling-bottle.
“Who gave you leave to touch
my things?” asked Woloda, chancing to enter
the room at that moment and at once perceiving the
disorder which I had occasioned in the orderly arrangement
of the treasures on his table. “And where
is that smelling bottle? Perhaps you ?”
“I let it fall, and it smashed
to pieces; but what does that matter?”
“Well, please do me the favour
never to dare to touch my things again,”
he said as he gathered up the broken fragments and
looked at them vexedly.
“And will you please do
me the favour never to order me to do anything
whatever,” I retorted. “When a thing’s
broken, it’s broken, and there is no more to
be said.” Then I smiled, though I hardly
felt like smiling.
“Oh, it may mean nothing to
you, but to me it means a good deal,” said Woloda,
shrugging his shoulders (a habit he had caught from
Papa). “First of all you go and break my
things, and then you laugh. What a nuisance a
little boy can be!”
“Little boy, indeed?
Then you, I suppose, are a man, and ever so wise?”
“I do not intend to quarrel
with you,” said Woloda, giving me a slight push.
“Don’t you push me!”
“I say again don’t you push
Woloda took me by the hand and tried
to drag me away from the table, but I was excited
to the last degree, and gave the table such a push
with my foot that I upset the whole concern, and brought
china and crystal ornaments and everything else with
a crash to the floor.
“You disgusting little brute!”
exclaimed Woloda, trying to save some of his falling
“At last all is over between
us,” I thought to myself as I strode from the
room. “We are separated now for ever.”
It was not until evening that we again
exchanged a word. Yet I felt guilty, and was
afraid to look at him, and remained at a loose end
Woloda, on the contrary, did his lessons
as diligently as ever, and passed the time after luncheon
in talking and laughing with the girls. As soon,
again, as afternoon lessons were over I left the room,
for it would have been terribly embarrassing for me
to be alone with my brother. When, too, the evening
class in history was ended I took my notebook and
moved towards the door. Just as I passed Woloda,
I pouted and pulled an angry face, though in reality
I should have liked to have made my peace with him.
At the same moment he lifted his head, and with a
barely perceptible and good-humouredly satirical smile
looked me full in the face. Our eyes met, and
I saw that he understood me, while he, for his part,
saw that I knew that he understood me; yet a feeling
stronger than myself obliged me to turn away from him.
“Nicolinka,” he said in
a perfectly simple and anything but mock-pathetic
way, “you have been angry with me long enough.
I am sorry if I offended you,” and he tendered
me his hand.
It was as though something welled
up from my heart and nearly choked me. Presently
it passed away, the tears rushed to my eyes, and I
felt immensely relieved.
“I too am so-rry, Wo-lo-da,”
I said, taking his hand. Yet he only looked at
me with an expression as though he could not understand
why there should be tears in my eyes.