The Darling and Other Stories
ON the deck of a steamer sailing from Odessa to Sevastopol, a rather good-looking
gentleman, with a little round beard, came up to me to smoke, and said:
"Notice those Germans sitting near the shelter? Whenever Germans or Englishmen get
together, they talk about the crops, the price of wool, or their personal affairs. But for
some reason or other when we Russians get together we never discuss anything but
women and abstract subjects--but especially women."
This gentleman's face was familiar to me already. We had returned from abroad the
evening before in the same train, and at Volotchisk when the luggage was being
examined by the Customs, I saw him standing with a lady, his travelling companion,
before a perfect mountain of trunks and baskets filled with ladies' clothes, and I noticed
how embarrassed and downcast he was when he had to pay duty on some piece of silk
frippery, and his companion protested and threatened to make a complaint. Afterwards,
on the way to Odessa, I saw him carrying little pies and oranges to the ladies'
It was rather damp; the vessel swayed a little, and the ladies had retired to their cabins.
The gentleman with the little round beard sat down beside me and continued:
"Yes, when Russians come together they discuss nothing but abstract subjects and
women. We are so intellectual, so solemn, that we utter nothing but truths and can discuss
only questions of a lofty order. The Russian actor does not know how to be funny; he acts
with profundity even in a farce. We're just the same: when we have got to talk of trifles
we treat them only from an exalted point of view. It comes from a lack of boldness,
sincerity, and simplicity. We talk so often about women, I fancy, because we are
dissatisfied. We take too ideal a view of women, and make demands out of all proportion
with what reality can give us; we get something utterly different from what we want, and
the result is dissatisfaction, shattered hopes, and inward suffering, and if any one is
suffering, he's bound to talk of it. It does not bore you to go on with this conversation?
"No, not in the least."
"In that case, allow me to introduce myself," said my companion, rising from his seat a
"Ivan Ilyitch Shamohin, a Moscow landowner of a sort. . . . You I know very well."
He sat down and went on, looking at me with a genuine and friendly expression:
"A mediocre philosopher, like Max Nordau, would explain these incessant conversations
about women as a form of erotic madness, or would put it down to our having been slave-