The Horse-Stealers and Other Stories
An Enigmatic Nature
ON the red velvet seat of a first-class railway carriage a pretty lady sits half reclining. An
expensive fluffy fan trembles in her tightly closed fingers, a pince-nez keeps dropping off
her pretty little nose, the brooch heaves and falls on her bosom, like a boat on the ocean.
She is greatly agitated.
On the seat opposite sits the Provincial Secretary of Special Commissions, a budding
young author, who from time to time publishes long stories of high life, or "Novelli" as
he calls them, in the leading paper of the province. He is gazing into her face, gazing
intently, with the eyes of a connoisseur. He is watching, studying, catching every shade
of this exceptional, enigmatic nature. He understands it, he fathoms it. Her soul, her
whole psychology lies open before him.
"Oh, I understand, I understand you to your inmost depths!" says the Secretary of Special
Commissions, kissing her hand near the bracelet. "Your sensitive, responsive soul is
seeking to escape from the maze of ---- Yes, the struggle is terrific, titanic. But do not
lose heart, you will be triumphant! Yes!"
"Write about me, Voldemar!" says the pretty lady, with a mournful smile. "My life has
been so full, so varied, so chequered. Above all, I am unhappy. I am a suffering soul in
some page of Dostoevsky. Reveal my soul to the world, Voldemar. Reveal that hapless
soul. You are a psychologist. We have not been in the train an hour together, and you
have already fathomed my heart."
"Tell me! I beseech you, tell me!"
"Listen. My father was a poor clerk in the Service. He had a good heart and was not
without intelligence; but the spirit of the age --of his environment--vous comprenez?--I
do not blame my poor father. He drank, gambled, took bribes. My mother--but why say
more? Poverty, the struggle for daily bread, the consciousness of insignificance--ah, do
not force me to recall it! I had to make my own way. You know the monstrous education
at a boarding-school, foolish novel-reading, the errors of early youth, the first timid
flutter of love. It was awful! The vacillation! And the agonies of losing faith in life, in
oneself! Ah, you are an author. You know us women. You will understand. Unhappily I
have an intense nature. I looked for happiness--and what happiness! I longed to set my
soul free. Yes. In that I saw my happiness!"
"Exquisite creature!" murmured the author, kissing her hand close to the bracelet. "It's not
you I am kissing, but the suffering of humanity. Do you remember Raskolnikov and his
"Oh, Voldemar, I longed for glory, renown, success, like every-- why affect modesty?--
every nature above the commonplace. I yearned for something extraordinary, above the
common lot of woman! And then--and then--there crossed my path--an old general--very