Orpheus in Mayfair and Other Short Stories
"What Is Truth?"
To E. I. Huber
Sitting opposite me in the second-class carriage of the express train which was
crawling at a leisurely pace from Moscow to the south was a little girl who looked
as if she were about twelve years old, with her mother. The mother was a large
fair-haired person, with a good-natured expression. They had a dog with them,
and the little girl, whose whole face twitched every now and then from St. Vitus'
dance, got out at nearly every station to buy food for the dog. On the same side
of the carriage, in the opposite corner, another lady (thin, fair, and wearing a
pince-nez) was reading the newspaper. She and the mother of the child soon
made friends over the dog. That is to say, the dog made friends with the strange
lady and was reproved by its mistress, and the strange lady said: "Please don't
scold him. He is not in the least in my way, and I like dogs." They then began to
The large lady was going to the country. She and her daughter had been ordered
to go there by the doctor. She had spent six weeks in Moscow under medical
treatment, and they had now been told to finish this cure with a thorough rest in
the country air. The thin lady asked her the name of her doctor, and before
ascertaining what was the disease in question, recommended another doctor
who had cured a friend of hers, almost as though by miracle, of heart disease.
The large lady seemed interested and wrote down the direction of the marvellous
physician. She was herself suffering, she said, from a nervous illness, and her
daughter had St. Vitus' dance. They were so far quite satisfied with their doctor.
They talked for some time exclusively about medical matters, comparing notes
about doctors, diseases, and remedies. The thin lady said she had been cured of
all her ills by aspirin and cinnamon.
In the course of the conversation the stout lady mentioned her husband, who, it
turned out, was the head of the gendarmerie in a town in Siberia, not far from
Irkutsk. This seemed to interest the thin lady immensely. She at once asked what
were his political views, and what she herself thought about politics.
The large lady seemed to be reluctant to talk politics and evaded the questions
for some time, but after much desultory conversation, which always came back to
the same point, she said:--
"My husband is a Conservative; they call him a 'Black Hundred,' but it's most
unfair and untrue, because he is a very good man and very just. He has his own
opinions and he is sincere. He does not believe in the revolution or in the
revolutionaries. He took the oath to serve the Emperor when everything went
quietly and well, and now, although I have often begged him to leave the Service,
he says it would be very wrong to leave just because it is dangerous. 'I have
taken the oath,' he says, 'and I must keep it.' "
Here she stopped, but after some further questions on the part of the thin lady,
she said: "I never had time or leisure to think of these questions. I was married
when I was sixteen. I have had eight children, and they all died one after the
other except this one, who was the eldest. I used to see political exiles and