The year of mourning over, Grandmamma
recovered a little from her grief, and once more took
to receiving occasional guests, especially children
of the same age as ourselves.
On the 13th of December Lubotshka’s
birthday the Princess Kornakoff and her
daughters, with Madame Valakhin, Sonetchka, Ilinka
Grap, and the two younger Iwins, arrived at our house
Though we could hear the sounds of
talking, laughter, and movements going on in the drawing-room,
we could not join the party until our morning lessons
were finished. The table of studies in the schoolroom
said, “Lundi, de 2 a 3, maitre d’Histoire
et de Geographie,” and this infernal
maitre d’Histoire we must await, listen to, and
see the back of before we could gain our liberty.
Already it was twenty minutes past two, and nothing
was to be heard of the tutor, nor yet anything to be
seen of him in the street, although I kept looking
up and down it with the greatest impatience and with
an emphatic longing never to see the maitre again.
“I believe he is not coming
to-day,” said Woloda, looking up for a moment
from his lesson-book.
“I hope he is not, please the
Lord!” I answered, but in a despondent tone.
“Yet there he does come, I believe, all
“Not he! Why, that is a
Gentleman,” said Woloda, likewise looking
out of the window, “Let us wait till half-past
two, and then ask St. Jerome if we may put away our
“Yes, and wish them au
revoir,” I added, stretching my arms, with the
book clasped in my hands, over my head. Having
hitherto idled away my time, I now opened the book
at the place where the lesson was to begin, and started
to learn it. It was long and difficult, and, moreover,
I was in the mood when one’s thoughts refuse
to be arrested by anything at all. Consequently
I made no progress. After our last lesson in history
(which always seemed to me a peculiarly arduous and
wearisome subject) the history master had complained
to St. Jerome of me because only two good marks stood
to my credit in the register a very small
total. St. Jerome had then told me that if I
failed to gain less than three marks at the next
lesson I should be severely punished. The next
lesson was now imminent, and I confess that I felt
a little nervous.
So absorbed, however, did I become
in my reading that the sound of goloshes being taken
off in the ante-room came upon me almost as a shock.
I had just time to look up when there appeared in the
doorway the servile and (to me) very disgusting face
and form of the master, clad in a blue frockcoat with
Slowly he set down his hat and books
and adjusted the folds of his coat (as though such
a thing were necessary!), and seated himself in his
“Well, gentlemen,” he
said, rubbing his hands, “let us first of all
repeat the general contents of the last lesson:
after which I will proceed to narrate the succeeding
events of the middle ages.”
This meant “Say over the last
lesson.” While Woloda was answering the
master with the entire ease and confidence which come
of knowing a subject well, I went aimlessly out on
to the landing, and, since I was not allowed to go
downstairs, what more natural than that I should involuntarily
turn towards the alcove on the landing? Yet before
I had time to establish myself in my usual coign of
vantage behind the door I found myself pounced upon
by Mimi always the cause of my misfortunes!
“You here?” she said,
looking severely, first at myself, and then at the
maidservants’ door, and then at myself again.
I felt thoroughly guilty, firstly,
because I was not in the schoolroom, and secondly,
because I was in a forbidden place. So I remained
silent, and, dropping my head, assumed a touching
expression of contrition.
“Indeed, this is too bad!”
Mimi went on, “What are you doing here?”
Still I said nothing.
“Well, it shall not rest where
it is,” she added, tapping the banister with
her yellow fingers. “I shall inform the
It was five minutes to three when
I re-entered the schoolroom. The master, as though
oblivious of my presence or absence, was explaining
the new lesson to Woloda. When he had finished
doing this, and had put his books together (while
Woloda went into the other room to fetch his ticket),
the comforting idea occurred to me that perhaps the
whole thing was over now, and that the master had
But suddenly he turned in my direction
with a malicious smile, and said as he rubbed his
hands anew, “I hope you have learnt your lesson?”
“Yes,” I replied.
“Would you be so kind, then,
as to tell me something about St. Louis’ Crusade?”
he went on, balancing himself on his chair and looking
gravely at his feet. “Firstly, tell me
something about the reasons which induced the French
king to assume the cross” (here he raised his
eyebrows and pointed to the inkstand); “then
explain to me the general characteristics of the Crusade”
(here he made a sweeping gesture with his hand, as
though to seize hold of something with it); “and
lastly, expound to me the influence of this Crusade
upon the European states in general” (drawing
the copy books to the left side of the table) “and
upon the French state in particular” (drawing
one of them to the right, and inclining his head in
the same direction).
I swallowed a few times, coughed,
bent forward, and was silent. Then, taking a
pen from the table, I began to pick it to pieces, yet
still said nothing.
“Allow me the pen I
shall want it,” said the master. “Well?”
“Louis the-er-Saint was-was-a very good and
“King, He took it into his head
to go to Jerusalem, and handed over the reins of government
to his mother.”
“What was her name?
I laughed in a rather forced manner.
“Well, is that all you know?” he asked
I had nothing to lose now, so I began
chattering the first thing that came into my head.
The master remained silent as he gathered together
the remains of the pen which I had left strewn about
the table, looked gravely past my ear at the wall,
and repeated from time to time, “Very well,
very well.” Though I was conscious that
I knew nothing whatever and was expressing myself
all wrong, I felt much hurt at the fact that he never
either corrected or interrupted me.
“What made him think of going
to Jerusalem?” he asked at last, repeating some
words of my own.
“Because because that
is to say ”
My confusion was complete, and I relapsed
into silence, I felt that, even if this disgusting
history master were to go on putting questions to
me, and gazing inquiringly into my face, for a year,
I should never be able to enunciate another syllable.
After staring at me for some three minutes, he suddenly
assumed a mournful cast of countenance, and said in
an agitated voice to Woloda (who was just re-entering
“Allow me the register. I will write my
He opened the book thoughtfully, and
in his fine caligraphy marked five for Woloda
for diligence, and the same for good behaviour.
Then, resting his pen on the line where my report
was to go, he looked at me and reflected. Suddenly
his hand made a decisive movement and, behold, against
my name stood a clearly-marked one, with a full
stop after it! Another movement and in the behaviour
column there stood another one and another full stop!
Quietly closing the book, the master then rose, and
moved towards the door as though unconscious of my
look of entreaty, despair, and reproach.
“Michael Lavionitch!” I said.
“No!” he replied, as though
knowing beforehand what I was about to say. “It
is impossible for you to learn in that way. I
am not going to earn my money for nothing.”
He put on his goloshes and cloak,
and then slowly tied a scarf about his neck.
To think that he could care about such trifles after
what had just happened to me! To him it was all
a mere stroke of the pen, but to me it meant the direst
“Is the lesson over?” asked St. Jerome,
“And was the master pleased with you?”
“How many marks did he give you?”
“And to Nicholas?”
I was silent.
“I think four,” said Woloda.
His idea was to save me for at least today. If
punishment there must be, it need not be awarded while
we had guests.
“Voyons, Messieurs!” (St.
Jerome was forever saying “Voyons!”) “Faîtes
vôtre toilette, et descendons.”