Cape Of Storms

Cape Of Storms


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In Cape of Storms, Nina Berberova portrays a very specific generation––one born in Russia, displaced by the Revolution, and trying to adapt to a new home, Paris. Three sisters––Dasha, Sonia, and Zai––share the same father, Tiagen, an attractive, weak-willed, womanizing White Russian, but each thinks differently about her inner world of beliefs and aspirations, and consequently each follows a different path. Dasha marries and leaves for a bourgeois expatriate life in colonial Africa. Zai, the youngest, and an appealing adolescent, flirts with becoming an actress or a poet. Sonia, the middle daughter, completes a university degree but falls victim to a shocking tragedy. Cape of Storms is a shattering book that opens with a hair-raising scene in which Dasha witnesses her mother’s murder at the hands of Bolshevik thugs, and ends with the Blitzkrieg sweeping toward Paris. It is unparalleled in Berberova’s work for its many shifts of mood and viewpoint and secures the author’s place as “Chekhov’s most vital inheritor” (Boston Review).

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780811217651
Publisher: New Directions Publishing Corporation
Publication date: 11/17/1999
Pages: 256
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.58(d)

About the Author

Nina Nikolaevena Berberova (1901-1993) was born in St. Petersburg. She left Russia after the revolution in 1922, eventually settling in Paris in 1925 with her lover Vladislav Khodasevich. She moved to the U.S. in 1950 and taught at Yale and Princeton. In France she was honored as a Chevalier of the French Order of Arts and Letters.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

It often seemed to Dasha that inside herself it was like a starry sky. And in fact, when she looked inward she seemed to be standing at the brink of a great chasm. There, at her very core, deep down, where her thoughts were anchored, reigned calm, quiet, and clarity. The Milky Way streamed across this familiar picture. The laws of mathematics and astronomy perhaps were valid in this imagined place, where everything was mysteriously beautiful and where, gazing inward, she saw her own equilibrium. Dasha was proud of this core, which had probably grown, as had she herself, in much the same way as the world around her, and which anchored all her contemplation, all her doubts, and all her sleepless nights. What had seemed far beyond her grasp turned out to be in her very blood. Sometimes Dasha felt as if she were sitting above a precipice with the stars beneath her; often she would linger with them for a long while. She was thrilled and astonished that no one knew or ever would know what counted most for her in life. This starry sky within was her link to the universe, and she sought no others.

    One dark August night she sat for a long time with her head thrown back, thinking about herself and her destiny, about what truly was her destiny, since by no means everything that had happened to her thus far was. She had always had an intimation of her destiny: all her senses would go on the alert, as if bracing her for a blow—a terrible, crushing, powerful blow—of luck, whether good or bad. She would feel an urgent need—not to know or guess or reason but simply to obey whatever response tothis oncoming destiny surfaced in her, in those moments, like music, by way of a warning or presentiment. Sometimes, as if dragged by a slender chain, her memories would file by, among which the most fateful would suddenly turn out to be the closest.

It was a long time ago, so long ago that what were really three lives she had lived since ought to have severed her connection to the memory permanently, rendering it just as bloodless as something she might have read in a book. But that hadn't happened. She had been standing on the staircase then, a few steps from her front door, which was cracking and breaking but would not give way because the bolt had been thrown. And then suddenly the glass on top came crashing in with a great tinkling, smashed by the butt of a rifle. A large, cautious hand appeared in the black hole. It was a terrible moment. The hand slipped through the opening, felt for the bolt, and wrenched it off. It threw the bolt down on the marble floor with a ringing clatter and then cautiously, to keep from cutting itself, retreated back through the hole. Only when it had disappeared was the door flung open and several men rushed forward, yelling.

    They were in full battle dress, cartridge belts across their chests and fur caps tilted to the side. One of them had his neck bound with a bloody rag; he had no nose and his chin was covered with foam. Two others dropped their rifles with an identical motion and threw Dasha's mother to the floor. Dasha heard an inhuman scream and a skull slamming against the bottom stair. At that moment she felt wings at her shoulders. She flew up the broad white staircase into someone's open apartment and through a round window on the back stairs that let out onto a neighboring courtyard. There she clung to a ledge and saw linens hanging out to dry on a line beneath her and a neat stack of firewood. Someone pulled her through the window by her legs and covered her mouth with his hand. "Hush! Hush, child!" said the stranger's voice, because she was screaming and water was pouring down her face and into her mouth. The water brought Dasha to her senses.

    Now the people around her were saying she had to put on boy's clothes, which she did, her teeth chattering. These were the trousers and shirt, the boots and jacket, of the fourth-form schoolboy, Alyosha Boiko, who lived here with his father and grandmother. Dasha had seen him outside many times coming home from school, and often he would catch up with her and make loud conversation on purpose to tease her: "I know a place where they cut off braids like that, cut them clean off and shave your head, and they do it for free!"

    That had been just half a year before, but when Dasha came out of the house, shaved, after a bout of typhus, he froze. His jaw dropped and he watched her for a long time, stunned, as if the joke were on him instead of her.

    And here she was now, dressed like him. When she saw herself in the mirror, she stopped trembling. For the first time in her life she was seeing herself in boy's clothing, in a cap of darkness that concealed her completely from strangers. Now she could go home, now nothing frightened her, and nothing ever could frighten her, because now she was like everyone else. But wait. What if the most terrible thing in her life had already happened? What if there could never be anything so terrible again?

    A strange sensation gripped her when she stood like that and looked inward: a sensation of freedom, self-confidence, self-containment, a sensation of being ready for anything, a sensation of her life just beginning.

    Cautiously, clutching an apple in her hand, she crossed the courtyard, skirted the building, and stopped at her front door. It was wide open. Someone ran out without looking at her; Dasha did not notice precisely who. The smashed door, the staircase, the dirty, bloody tracks on the floor—everything was special because the silence of the air, of the walls, of the light, of the furnishings was special. Her petrifaction was such that it was as if her blood had swollen her veins to the bursting point so that she couldn't breathe. A soft, even sound, like something dripping somewhere, underscored an icy silence, so uncharacteristic of this house. Dasha made an effort to take a few steps; the sound continued. Yes, it was something dripping, or a sobbing, so very steady, too steady.... And then Dasha saw her: she was sprawled out, her face and neck were covered with purple bruises, her legs were spread, her hair was loose and fanned out to one side. Medorka, their rusty setter (who harked back to Grandfather Tiagin), was sitting over her and licking her dead face with an even, sobbing sound. Now it didn't sound like water dripping any more. He was licking her eyes (one of which had been poked out). He didn't seem to recognize Dasha dressed up like Alyosha Boiko.

    There beyond the walls of the Tiagin home, a war was raging, a war in which no one could find the guilty party. Two truths were battling it out, because it turned out that there were many truths in the world. People had been trying to find in the history of this city, this corner of the country, the first cause of the hatred that had been prosecuting the war for two years. They had tried to figure out—or guess—precisely who, at what precise moment, had given birth to this force. Dasha stood there looking straight ahead as if only now becoming aware of this point: You had to pay and pay and pay for the fact that there were many truths in the world. There was no getting away from that.

    Swaying and holding on to the wall of the building, Dasha went out and began walking the streets. Passersby, of whom there were quite a few, did not see her but looked through her. In boy's clothes, like a beast in its hide ... camouflage ... I never knew you could hide this way ... my legs feel very free, but it's tight under the arms.... I'm in shock, though. I haven't had time to really realize ... She was fifteen years old. Thick dark hair already covered her head, but since the typhus her face had remained triangular. There was shooting in the town. It was a summer evening, dusty and stuffy, and there was something black in the air and on people's faces. At the corner of English Street, in a wine cellar, voices were clamoring, and the entire street was flooded with wine, and since the pavement there took a turn and went downhill, there was champagne running down the sidewalk, quietly gurgling and foaming slightly, and it smelled of vomit.

    Good or evil? Good luck or bad? How was the world supposed to divide up? Lengthwise or crosswise? Which should she choose? Right now people were slicing the world up crosswise: they were looking for good fortune but not thinking about good. They wanted to arrange the world their way. The day has come for me to make up my own mind, thought Dasha, and she looked around, to make sense of this day, this today, while I'm still a long way off from any tears. To make sense of my life. Something inside me is dead, though. Something was so alive, so keen and tender, but they hit it too hard. Could it really be dead? But then why am I alive?

    By the time she got back to the Boikos', it was night. The grandmother opened the door. Whispering and crossing herself, she led Dasha into the dining room (where they had dressed her that afternoon) and with a small dry hand began stroking her head. It must have felt like stroking Alyosha's head, for they were the exact same height. The grandmother had a slight tremor, due to old age. She had thrown a fur wrap over her dark-patterned, floor-length robe, and her gray hair was combed back smoothly on her head. The large dark eyes in her swarthy face cut deep. And suddenly something shook loose in Dasha: this was consolation, the very thing she had never needed before, that she was a tiny bit afraid of, and that actually, in the firm and steadfast future, should disappear from the world. Consolation was here, under the warmth of the grandmother's hand, in her old-fashioned customs, in the ugly sideboard, the samovar, the icons in the corner. This was Dasha's encounter with it, her first encounter, and maybe her last, because all this was coming to an end, it was no longer needed, it was over and done. But what about us? What about when we're sixty or seventy or eighty? What will we be like? she thought. What will we have to offer people? Without icons or a samovar, without a hand making the cross, without this whisper and this tear falling from our eyes? Without this memory of an intact, complete world, of a universe that stood so firmly, without this faith.... And for one brief instant she clearly pictured a world in which there would be nothing to fall back on.

    Imperceptibly, silently, the door opened, and the head of the household entered wearing a quasi-military tunic, Alexei Andreyevich Boiko. At the time he was a little over forty. The director of the municipal dramatic theater, he was often written up in the papers, especially of late, in connection with the suicide of the actress, Dumontelle. Now he was quite pale, pale blue, even. His whole face was utterly out of the ordinary. A blackness lay in the folds of his creased cheeks, his eyes were red, and he suddenly looked like a man who had aged. There was the trace of something brown on his dry lips. He sat right down on the chair by the door.

    Dasha knew him but had never given him a second thought. The actresses in the municipal theater interested her much more. She had seen Dumontelle three times, and also once in A Romance, but no one was supposed to know that. From time to time she ran into Boiko on the street. Sometimes he might bow to her, but the expression on his face, his cold, forbidding, rather haughty gaze, never changed. The most recent time she had seen him was one evening, right at her front door about five days ago, when she was coming home from her lessons. He walked past her quickly, his head averted. She hadn't given it a second thought.

    Boiko stood up, as if he had finally made up his mind, and said something very quietly to the grandmother, who stepped aside, letting them pass through the door. Dasha and Alexei Andreyevich went down to the courtyard. Once again she walked around the corner of her building and they entered through the front door. The moon was shining everywhere now, and the steps alternated: black, white, black, white. Boiko was silent. By the indifferent way Medorka walked out past them, Dasha thought they must have taken her mother away, and she began to tremble. Boiko still said nothing but he took her arm above the elbow, and squeezed it a little too hard. Was this for comfort or his idea of comfort? Maybe he was not one of "us" (thought Dasha) and so didn't know how to do any of this, or even want to? And did the split lie not between "us" and "them" but between him and the grandmother? And consequently he had no resources left for helping either himself or anyone else?

    Her mother was now lying in the middle of the parlor, on the table, covered with a muslin sheet. Two fat, placid women were sitting on either side of her and by the light of the three candles Dasha saw that they were sleeping soundly. It was the cook and her daughter, who had just been out carousing with some officers. Her mother was lying with a closed face, the face that Dasha loved so much, that had always been open; but her soul had never been open, and often she had shed tears. Her face was gone. It was hidden, and soon it would disappear altogether. By tomorrow morning it would be different than it had been; even now, actually, it was gone. Her voice was gone, too, everything was gone. All that was left were traces of her final humiliation and suffering.

    Boiko wanted to wake up the cook, but Dasha restrained him. She was holding on to him now with both hands, but for some reason she kept thinking that he was holding on to her, not vice versa.

    Not looking at Dasha, he said "Go to your room" so harshly that she felt that now, finally, her tears would gush. "In the morning, when you wake up, come back to our place."

    She had lost control of her voice, but she shook her head and clung to him even harder. Shame on you! You've thought about so much and learned so much. You used to despise a faint heart. Shame on you. You used to be so proud! she scolded herself. But the tears were already coming. She couldn't stop them; she gave in, trembling and weeping. "They'll come back!" she whispered, trying to hold back her sobs. "I don't think so," he said, none too confidently. But Dasha refused to stay. In silence she slowly walked out and back to Boiko's house.

    All was quiet. The grandmother was already sleeping. Alexei Andreyevich led Dasha to his room, got a bottle of port out from somewhere, and drank down a large glass. She sat on his bed and at that very moment, far away, across the river, a cannon fired over the city.

    "Poor girl! Poor little girl!" he said suddenly and turned to her a changed, again somehow new face. "How horrible this all is! You have to get some sleep."

    Dasha took off her boots and jacket and lay down on his bed. He sat down beside her, poured himself some more port, and drank it down, listening to the war continuing beyond the walls of his house. He downed another drink, took Dasha's hand and kissed it, but then let it go, and for a long time he looked at his own slender hands and the hair on his fingers. He could hear the shells exploding, flying across the city, and in the intervals of silence, right under the window, in the moonlight and the sweet fragrance of the flowering boulevard, a nightingale was singing, and the louder the cannons rambled, the louder the nightingale sang, trying to finish its sobbing trill between the rumble and the explosion, while the missile was flying over the streets and gardens.

    "Alexei Andreyevich," said Dasha, "give me some medicine, please, to help me stop shaking." He collected himself, stood up, and poured some port into his glass. His eyes were becoming more and more opaque to her.

    "Drink this," he said. "It's the best medicine. It's good for everything. Tried and true. Get drank and everything passes."

    Slowly and sweetly, the wine began to have a numbing, dulling effect on Dasha. She was looking at the ceiling now, tears streaming down her face. Horrid plaster cupids, with legs fat as sausages, were running their fat little hands through dead garlands. I choose good, but not good luck, and I slice the world lengthwise, she thought. But for now I just want to forget everything, block it out. And the sudden lightness with which she asked him an essentially completely new question that had never interested her before astonished even her: "Alexei Andreyevich, why did Dumontelle commit suicide?"

    He didn't understand her right away, or chose not to. "Who committed suicide?"

    "Dumontelle, the actress."

    He stood up. "Why did you think of her just now? I don't know anything about it. What they wrote in the papers was all untrue."

    He drank again and poured some more for her. But she pushed the glass away. She was satisfied: Yes this is better than any medicine.

    It's because of him, she thought.

    Rather a long time passed. He sat there but did not look at her. Perhaps he was waiting for her to fall asleep. The bottle was running out.

    "Poor kid," he said suddenly, looking at her. "What are you going to do now?" He moved over to the bed. "why aren't you crying?"

    He put his hand on her shoulder. And suddenly Dasha threw herself at him and wrapped her arms around his neck, and pressed her lips to his cheek. Sobs wracked her. It felt as if all that time something had been trying to push them out, and now they had finally burst through. He started back that first instant, but then quickly hugged her tight and pressed her close. "Unlucky kid! Poor kid!" he repeated, no longer conscious of what he was saying or what it meant. The pain intoxicated her more than the wine. Cautiously he laid Dasha back, himself lying down at her feet, and held her hand until she fell asleep. Then he put her sleepy hand on his face and fell asleep himself.

    But before falling asleep, it occurred to him that there were days in a man's life when everything suddenly breaks, changes, and emerges from confusion and despair into clarity. The answer to everything that had happened earlier thunders out like those weapons across the river, and like the nightingale, destiny threads out its melody. On such a day, like today, you felt in your own veins, saw with your own eyes that final last straw—the drop that overflows, the thread that breaks. Afterward there was supposed to be a pause for everything gradually to fall into place.

When Dasha woke up in the morning, Boiko had already left the room. The first thing she noticed were the plaster cupids playing in a ray of sunlight. Grief weighed on her, in her breast, crushing her, unbearable, such as she could never have imagined; it was so monstrous, it had no bounds, no limit. And that moment yesterday when she had thrown herself at Alexei Andreyevich to press close to him did not stand in her memory as anything shameful or weak. She thought perfectly calmly about the moment when he, no longer a stranger, laid her down so protectively and himself lay down at her feet and she fell asleep. But what kind of man was this? And what had happened between them yesterday? This was not entirely clear to her. And why had he stayed with her? And what was that face he had, that last one, the one she saw after the first glass? Who was this Boiko?

    Dasha looked at the clock. It was nine fifteen. Everything in the room was red. Light poured over the walls and floor and down Dasha's arms: the lumber storehouses were burning. A despondent bell rang a tocsin, and through it the whistle blew from the Fasovsky factories. Dasha jumped up, put on her own dress, which someone had laid out next to her, and opened the door into the dining room. At the breakfast table, in the red light of the storehouses burning across the river, between Alyosha and the grandmother and across from Alexei Andreyevich, sat Tiagin, Dasha's father, wearing an unbuttoned, crumpled but clean military tunic with a broken left epaulette: At dawn his side had taken the town.

    She hadn't seen him for more than a month. His unit had not been in the retreating army that had passed through the town. It was she who made the inquiries then to be certain. She had believed that if he was close enough he would come without fail—not because of her mother, whom he had divorced six years before, but because of her, Dasha. And see, he really could be believed, he was one of those people you could count on! He had entered the town at dawn, and by nine he was here.

    "Dasha," he said, and the skinny, dusty, still young face she loved so much turned toward her. "Dashenka, your mama ..." And covering the bottom half of his face with one hand, and pushing his chair back with the other, he stood up and went to her.

    But no one cried except the grandmother. Alyosha, his eyes lowered, was red-faced, as if what had happened shouldn't happen in front of other people. Alexei Andreyevich was perfectly calm, purposely calm somehow; he had his original, ordinary face back. And at that moment, in the joy of this reunion with her father, Dasha sensed at last what she had scarcely guessed at yesterday: there was between her father and Boiko, between this house and the Tiagin house, some kind of secret.

    The next day, when Dasha and her father returned from the funeral, the house had been cleaned. The doors that had been torn off their hinges were leaned up against cupboards, the broken drawers pushed back into the dressers. The pile of shattered glass and china had been swept up. The bullet marks in the wallpaper, the bayoneted picture, and the traces on the floor from the wiped up filth were all that was left to remind them of the pogrom that had taken place here. The emptiness of these rooms was both terrible and sad. Was this really the old Tiagin house? That night even the nightingale boulevard was not its usual self.

    Tiagin went to the window and for a long time looked out at the boulevard's splendid broad expanse, which soldiers were walking down, each on an errand of his own. Dasha was nearby and time was passing, but her weariness was such that she could have lain down and fallen asleep, although it was in fact time to go. A porter was busy at the truck and two old women, crying, passed right under the window. Time was passing. Someone had to say something. Four days earlier, Tiagin had had a horse killed under him and his knee ached since the fall. Dasha! he thought to say. But no, let's wait a while. It's already three now, and it's time, it's time to gather our things and go.

    "I'll be taking you with me, Dashenka. We'll travel together, we must! Arinushka will help you collect your things. Don't take too much. After all, we won't be staying here. This evening we'll probably have to leave. And you can't stay on alone. You understand, after all, we might never come back so that's out of the question. I can't, I simply can't consent to that." There was a passion and sorrow in his voice. She was standing quite close and did not take her eyes off him.

    "I'll try to send you along to the Crimea, I'll find a way. You'll get to meet your little sister there, and my wife." At that moment the clock began chiming and chiming, over and over. It was broken and always chimed like that.

    "You're a big girl now," Tiagin continued, "but there's still quite a lot you can't understand. You must have guessed a long time ago, of course. Boiko is terribly guilty before me. But your mama's death reconciles everything because death is reconciling in general.... Any death is awful, Dashenka. And I'm so tired now that I can't feel anything for Boiko but indifference and, yes—gratitude. Forgive me, I really don't want to talk to you about this, but thank God he was here; if it hadn't been for him, you probably would not have been saved. How can I be anything but grateful to him?"

    Now everything coalesced for Dasha, all her thoughts, all her feelings, in a single memory: Alexei Andreyevich emerging from their front door that evening a week ago (and she was coming home from lessons and it was as warm and dark and quiet as velvet). They had deceived her for so many years, she hadn't suspected anything, she hadn't noticed. Why was it all done in secret? Because of her perhaps? What had their intentions been? Her mother had loved him. And he had loved her. Oh, how she wished they could all be together now, all three of them, surrounding her. But that was impossible, impossible forever, for good.

    There was nothing she could say in reply. Arinushka came in bringing coffee and then Dasha had to pack. Meanwhile, Tiagin stretched out on the broad couch and fell asleep, still wearing his unbuttoned tunic, and in the slit of his shirt a small cross flashed but also something else attached to the cross. And probably whatever that was attached to it was the most important thing for him. And what is going to be the main thing for us one day? thought Dasha.

    Before their departure, that evening, Boiko came over. Yes, he knew this house well. Without asking anyone he walked straight into the room where Tiagin was lying.

    "Colonel, you and I will probably never see each other again," said Alexei Andreyevich. "I have something to tell you."

    Tiagin sat up on the sofa, smoothed his hair back with a comb, and in a habitual gesture passed his hand over his chin: Did he need a shave? "I really think, Alexei Andreyevich, that you and I would do better not to talk. My gratitude for Dasha's sake is unbounded, believe me. And beyond that, we really have nothing to say to each other."

    But Alexei Andreyevich sat down in the armchair and took a cigarette out of a green cigarette case with a large monogram. "You are a man who never denies himself the small pleasures of life," Boiko began, "but you could not forgive me a great love." Tiagin frowned. "You don't like the word? Are you shocked that I'm dotting the i? But after all, it did happen, it happened, Colonel, and since it did, why can't we talk about it?"

    "I'm counting on your delicacy. I trust you'll say all this briefly, as briefly—"

    "I'm a man of the old school, Colonel. Someone once said (Belinsky, I think), 'I'm not a son of my era, I'm just a son of a bitch.' But you see, when it comes to me, I'm a son of my era and never was or will be a son of a bitch. And my era—"

    "I don't understand, nor do I wish to understand, your crude insinuations."

    "And I love my era," Boiko continued, barely raising his voice, "I love it because, although I was born in the previous era, I have never known any other, nor will I."

    "And I detest it."

    "And you lay your life down for it though you detest it?"

    Tiagin had been about to clean his nails with the small file he kept in his left pocket, but he decided that would be overdoing it. Right then he hated Alexei Andreyevich.

    "This is why nothing will ever work out for you," Alexei Andreyevich began again. "Because you hate your own era, you don't understand it, you're a hundred years behind it, and you're still wrapped up in your reverse utopias. But that's not what I wanted to say to you, not that, nor have I come to tell you about my 'great love.' This is farewell, you might say, because you won't take the town back a second time, you know that. You'll leave for God knows where—the Caucasus maybe, or maybe the far side of the Urals. Or maybe even abroad. I don't pity you, Colonel. You're doing what you can. You can't do anything else."

    Tiagin stood and walked up to Boiko. "You're saying this to me? You're talking like this to me? You ruined my life, broke up my family—"

    "That's not true! You know the very first year after the wedding you broke up your family yourself. As for your life, it's positively flourishing."

    Tiagin fell silent.

    "But you continue to think that you can live any way you please. No, Colonel"—and suddenly Boiko's eyes flared—"you can't go on living any way you please. You must have a conscience!"

    This was another insinuation, and now Tiagin no longer had any doubt as to why Boiko had come or what he was about to say.

    "I'm guilty before you," Boiko said, lowering his voice again. "Yes, I'm guilty. But believe me, we both paid a high price for everything, both she and I. Everything worked out wrong, not the way we wanted. There was no family happiness, no life together, there was the constant anxiety—"

    "The whole town knew about your liaison."

    "But Dasha didn't know and Alyosha didn't know. We lived apart and loved each other in secret. My first wife wouldn't give me a divorce. We lived in this hell of wartime and revolutionary provincial life. Each of us had a child by someone else.... But we did have our love. We had our loyalty. And now my life is over."

    Who's going to check up on that? thought Tiagin, but he did not interrupt. He himself had never suffered over women, so he felt a little awkward. Alexei Andreyevich got on his nerves. And what he was leading up to disturbed him as well.

    "You and I have had occasion to clash not once but twice," Boiko began again. "This was fate—mine and yours. For you, Dumontelle was a diversion while you were on the march. For me she was a fine colleague. We worked together for a long time and were very attached to one another. For some reason my mother loved her, and she spent a lot of time with us.... Rumor ascribed her death to my cruelty, my coldness. You know what the reason was for her despair. Don't interrupt me! Colonel, that reason was you. You treated her like an abandoned, useless thing, after concealing the fact that you have a family in the Crimea that you would never part with."

    Tiagin frowned. All this was beginning to make him angry. "Alexei Andreyevich." He spoke in a voice that had become quite nasty. "Have you come here to lecture me? You're lecturing me? I don't need you to tell me that I'm partially to blame in this story, but I'm not a child. I take full responsibility. Are you hoping to challenge me to a duel perhaps? Be my guest, I'm ready. Although I must say you've chosen a rather inauspicious moment."

    "I didn't choose it!" Boiko shouted suddenly. "I didn't have a choice. You're here. That's enough. In an hour you'll be gone and I'll never see you again. Dumontelle had a child by you. That child is now six months old. And I'm adopting her."

    Tiagin staggered back. He'd had a presentiment of this. Yes, he had known that this was precisely what would be said. He recalled snatches of pathetic letters written during the burning heat that drove him on to Oryol, Kursk, and Poltava. He knew how to defend himself by being cold: "I'm very grateful to you, Alexei Andreyevich," he said with a barely perceptible hint of irony. "But are you so sure it's my child? Actually, though, you're doing a good deed."

    Boiko stood up. "Is that all?" he asked, looking at Tiagin with a certain distrust, as if he didn't believe that the person standing before him was still a man essentially like him. "First that cry about a duel, the vapid words; then the hackneyed question, which absolutely begged to be asked. And then a compliment. Lord, we really are crude in comparison with you. We really are artless and ingenuous! I had never thought that I was doing a good deed."

    He walked toward the door, stunned. Had there been any point in coming? Away from here, he had to get away from here. ... There had not been any point in coming. This was a different world, alien to him, incomprehensible, hostile even, a cold world of irony and mistrust. A world of empty formulas and outmoded loopholes. This man had different blood running in his veins. Once this meant chivalry and nobility, but now it was something not very well thought through, hastily understood, a touch dirty.

    Tiagin walked up to Alexei Andreyevich and shook his hand.

    "Don't think of me as a scoundrel," he said. "You're a marvelous man, I've always known that, and I thank you. It's not always so easy, you know. You can't make yourself over. Now other people are coming to take our place, people with a different psychology. Maybe people will live better. You and them together."

    "You're wrong, Colonel," said Boiko. "I'm no Bolshevik and I never will be."

    He walked out to the front door. Tiagin stopped in the doorway and, no longer contemptuously or maliciously but rather sorrowfully, looked straight ahead. And in that moment his handsome face, which women loved so much, was once again both youthful and sad. Boiko slowed his step.

    "It's a girl. I think you should be the one to name her. She hasn't been christened yet," he said.

    Tiagin raised his eyes. "Thank you for saying that. Call her Elizaveta.... How crazy this all is, Alexei Andreyevich."

    "Why? Life is full of all kinds of surprises. You see plenty more in our theatrical life."

    "We're about to move out, though!" Tiagin almost replied, but he stopped himself.

    "Farewell, Colonel," said Boiko rather too loudly. "I hope you survive."

    "Farewell. Thank you. For Dasha, thank you." He nearly said "for everything" but stopped himself in time. More than anything else in the world, he feared appearing ridiculous. This conversation, this whole horrible week, had drained him. For one instant the cause he had been serving seemed lost to him. But the habit of courage sat firmly in him, and in service—though not in life—he was strict with himself. Suddenly that inner delicacy vanished. Anyway, now he had to think in a completely different way, precisely the way he had been taught. He did not notice when Dasha appeared at the front door. All was set for departure. The signal had already come twice and the porter had finished taking out their things.

    The house Dasha had been born in seemed to her so sad and old, so long uninhabited, when she stepped across its threshold. It was a shell that had been shed for good, a stage set that had been moved out and had disappeared. Had this house really been her home? And what and where was "her home"?

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