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The Darling and Other Stories

An Artist's Story
I
IT was six or seven years ago when I was living in one of the districts of the province of
T----, on the estate of a young landowner called Byelokurov, who used to get up very
early, wear a peasant tunic, drink beer in the evenings, and continually complain to me
that he never met with sympathy from any one. He lived in the lodge in the garden, and I
in the old seigniorial house, in a big room with columns, where there was no furniture
except a wide sofa on which I used to sleep, and a table on which I used to lay out
patience. There was always, even in still weather, a droning noise in the old Amos stoves,
and in thunder-storms the whole house shook and seemed to be cracking into pieces; and
it was rather terrifying, especially at night, when all the ten big windows were suddenly
lit up by lightning.
Condemned by destiny to perpetual idleness, I did absolutely nothing. For hours together
I gazed out of window at the sky, at the birds, at the avenue, read everything that was
brought me by post, slept. Sometimes I went out of the house and wandered about till late
in the evening.
One day as I was returning home, I accidentally strayed into a place I did not know. The
sun was already sinking, and the shades of evening lay across the flowering rye. Two
rows of old, closely planted, very tall fir-trees stood like two dense walls forming a
picturesque, gloomy avenue. I easily climbed over the fence and walked along the
avenue, slipping over the fir-needles which lay two inches deep on the ground. It was still
and dark, and only here and there on the high tree-tops the vivid golden light quivered
and made rainbows in the spiders' webs. There was a strong, almost stifling smell of
resin. Then I turned into a long avenue of limes. Here, too, all was desolation and age;
last year's leaves rusted mournfully under my feet and in the twilight shadows lurked
between the trees. From the old orchard on the right came the faint, reluctant note of the
golden oriole, who must have been old too. But at last the limes ended. I walked by an
old white house of two storeys with a terrace, and there suddenly opened before me a
view of a courtyard, a large pond with a bathing-house, a group of green willows, and a
village on the further bank, with a high, narrow belfry on which there glittered a cross
reflecting the setting sun.
For a moment it breathed upon me the fascination of something near and very familiar, as
though I had seen that landscape at some time in my childhood.
At the white stone gates which led from the yard to the fields, old-fashioned solid gates
with lions on them, were standing two girls. One of them, the elder, a slim, pale, very
handsome girl with a perfect haystack of chestnut hair and a little obstinate mouth, had a
severe expression and scarcely took notice of me, while the other, who was still very
young, not more than seventeen or eighteen, and was also slim and pale, with a large
mouth and large eyes, looked at me with astonishment as I passed by, said something in
 
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