The Grasshopper - V
On the second of September the day was warm and still, but overcast. In the early morning a light mist had hung over the Volga, and after nine o’clock it had begun to spout with rain. And there seemed no hope of the sky clearing. Over their morning tea Ryabovsky told Olga Ivanovna that painting was the most ungrateful and boring art, that he was not an artist, that none but fools thought that he had any talent, and all at once, for no rhyme or reason, he snatched up a knife and with it scraped over his very best sketch. After his tea he sat plunged in gloom at the window and gazed at the Volga. And now the Volga was dingy, all of one even colour without a gleam of light, cold-looking. Everything, everything recalled the approach of dreary, gloomy autumn. And it seemed as though nature had removed now from the Volga the sumptuous green covers from the banks, the brilliant reflections of the sunbeams, the transparent blue distance, and all its smart gala array, and had packed it away in boxes till the coming spring, and the crows were flying above the Volga and crying tauntingly, “Bare, bare!”
Ryabovsky heard their cawing, and thought he had already gone off and lost his talent, that everything in this world was relative, conditional, and stupid, and that he ought not to have taken up with this woman.... In short, he was out of humour and depressed.
Olga Ivanovna sat behind the screen on the bed, and, passing her fingers through her lovely flaxen hair, pictured herself first in the drawing-room, then in the bedroom, then in her husband’s study; her imagination carried her to the theatre, to the dress-maker, to her distinguished friends. Were they getting something up now? Did they think of her? The season had begun by now, and it would be time to think about her “At Homes.” And Dymov? Dear Dymov! with what gentleness and childlike pathos he kept begging her in his letters to make haste and come home! Every month he sent her seventy-five roubles, and when she wrote him that she had lent the artists a hundred roubles, he sent that hundred too. What a kind, generous-hearted man! The travelling wearied Olga Ivanovna; she was bored; and she longed to get away from the peasants, from the damp smell of the river, and to cast off the feeling of physical uncleanliness of which she was conscious all the time, living in the peasants’ huts and wandering from village to village. If Ryabovsky had not given his word to the artists that he would stay with them till the twentieth of September, they might have gone away that very day. And how nice that would have been!
“My God!” moaned Ryabovsky. “Will the sun ever come out? I can’t go on with a sunny landscape without the sun....”
“But you have a sketch with a cloudy sky,” said Olga Ivanovna, coming from behind the screen. “Do you remember, in the right foreground forest trees, on the left a herd of cows and geese? You might finish it now.”
“Aie!” the artist scowled. “Finish it! Can you imagine I am such a fool that I don’t know what I want to do?”
“How you have changed to me!” sighed Olga Ivanovna.
“Well, a good thing too!”
Olga Ivanovna’s face quivered; she moved away to the stove and began to cry.
“Well, that’s the last straw—crying! Give over! I have a thousand reasons for tears, but I am not crying.”
“A thousand reasons!” cried Olga Ivanovna. “The chief one is that you are weary of me. Yes!” she said, and broke into sobs. “If one is to tell the truth, you are ashamed of our love. You keep trying to prevent the artists from noticing it, though it is impossible to conceal it, and they have known all about it for ever so long.”
“Olga, one thing I beg you,” said the artist in an imploring voice, laying his hand on his heart—“one thing; don’t worry me! I want nothing else from you!”
“But swear that you love me still!”
“This is agony!” the artist hissed through his teeth, and he jumped up. “It will end by my throwing myself in the Volga or going out of my mind! Let me alone!”
“Come, kill me, kill me!” cried Olga Ivanovna. “Kill me!”
She sobbed again, and went behind the screen. There was a swish of rain on the straw thatch of the hut. Ryabovsky clutched his head and strode up and down the hut; then with a resolute face, as though bent on proving something to somebody, put on his cap, slung his gun over his shoulder, and went out of the hut.
After he had gone, Olga Ivanovna lay a long time on the bed, crying. At first she thought it would be a good thing to poison herself, so that when Ryabovsky came back he would find her dead; then her imagination carried her to her drawing-room, to her husband’s study, and she imagined herself sitting motionless beside Dymov and enjoying the physical peace and cleanliness, and in the evening sitting in the theatre, listening to Mazini. And a yearning for civilization, for the noise and bustle of the town, for celebrated people sent a pang to her heart. A peasant woman came into the hut and began in a leisurely way lighting the stove to get the dinner. There was a smell of charcoal fumes, and the air was filled with bluish smoke. The artists came in, in muddy high boots and with faces wet with rain, examined their sketches, and comforted themselves by saying that the Volga had its charms even in bad weather. On the wall the cheap clock went “tic-tic-tic.”... The flies, feeling chilled, crowded round the ikon in the corner, buzzing, and one could hear the cockroaches scurrying about among the thick portfolios under the seats....
Ryabovsky came home as the sun was setting. He flung his cap on the table, and, without removing his muddy boots, sank pale and exhausted on the bench and closed his eyes.
“I am tired...” he said, and twitched his eyebrows, trying to raise his eyelids.
To be nice to him and to show she was not cross, Olga Ivanovna went up to him, gave him a silent kiss, and passed the comb through his fair hair. She meant to comb it for him.
“What’s that?” he said, starting as though something cold had touched him, and he opened his eyes. “What is it? Please let me alone.”
He thrust her off, and moved away. And it seemed to her that there was a look of aversion and annoyance on his face.
At that time the peasant woman cautiously carried him, in both hands, a plate of cabbage-soup. And Olga Ivanovna saw how she wetted her fat fingers in it. And the dirty peasant woman, standing with her body thrust forward, and the cabbage-soup which Ryabovsky began eating greedily, and the hut, and their whole way of life, which she at first had so loved for its simplicity and artistic disorder, seemed horrible to her now. She suddenly felt insulted, and said coldly:
“We must part for a time, or else from boredom we shall quarrel in earnest. I am sick of this; I am going today.”
“Going how? Astride on a broomstick?”
“Today is Thursday, so the steamer will be here at half-past nine.”
“Eh? Yes, yes.... Well, go, then...” Ryabovsky said softly, wiping his mouth with a towel instead of a dinner napkin. “You are dull and have nothing to do here, and one would have to be a great egoist to try and keep you. Go home, and we shall meet again after the twentieth.”
Olga Ivanovna packed in good spirits. Her cheeks positively glowed with pleasure. Could it really be true, she asked herself, that she would soon be writing in her drawing-room and sleeping in her bedroom, and dining with a cloth on the table? A weight was lifted from her heart, and she no longer felt angry with the artist.
“My paints and brushes I will leave with you, Ryabovsky,” she said. “You can bring what’s left.... Mind, now, don’t be lazy here when I am gone; don’t mope, but work. You are such a splendid fellow, Ryabovsky!”
At ten o’clock Ryabovsky gave her a farewell kiss, in order, as she thought, to avoid kissing her on the steamer before the artists, and went with her to the landing-stage. The steamer soon came up and carried her away.
She arrived home two and a half days later. Breathless with excitement, she went, without taking off her hat or waterproof, into the drawing-room and thence into the dining-room. Dymov, with his waistcoat unbuttoned and no coat, was sitting at the table sharpening a knife on a fork; before him lay a grouse on a plate. As Olga Ivanovna went into the flat she was convinced that it was essential to hide everything from her husband, and that she would have the strength and skill to do so; but now, when she saw his broad, mild, happy smile, and shining, joyful eyes, she felt that to deceive this man was as vile, as revolting, and as impossible and out of her power as to bear false witness, to steal, or to kill, and in a flash she resolved to tell him all that had happened. Letting him kiss and embrace her, she sank down on her knees before him and hid her face.
“What is it, what is it, little mother?” he asked tenderly. “Were you homesick?”
She raised her face, red with shame, and gazed at him with a guilty and imploring look, but fear and shame prevented her from telling him the truth.
“Nothing,” she said; “it’s just nothing....”
“Let us sit down,” he said, raising her and seating her at the table. “That’s right, eat the grouse. You are starving, poor darling.”
She eagerly breathed in the atmosphere of home and ate the grouse, while he watched her with tenderness and laughed with delight.