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The Death of Ivan Ilych
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Chapter 1

During an interval in the Melvinski trial in the large

building of the Law Courts the members and public prosecutor met in

Ivan Egorovich Shebek's private room, where the conversation turned

on the celebrated Krasovski case. Fedor Vasilievich warmly

maintained that it was not subject to their jurisdiction, Ivan

Egorovich maintained the contrary, while Peter Ivanovich, not

having entered into the discussion at the start, took no part in it

but looked through the *Gazette* which had just been handed in.

"Gentlemen," he said, "Ivan Ilych has died!"

"You don't say so!"

"Here, read it yourself," replied Peter Ivanovich, handing

Fedor Vasilievich the paper still damp from the press. Surrounded

by a black border were the words: "Praskovya Fedorovna Golovina,

with profound sorrow, informs relatives and friends of the demise

of her beloved husband Ivan Ilych Golovin, Member of the Court of

Justice, which occurred on February the 4th of this year 1882. the

funeral will take place on Friday at one o'clock in the afternoon."

Ivan Ilych had been a colleague of the gentlemen present and

was liked by them all. He had been ill for some weeks with an

illness said to be incurable. His post had been kept open for him,

but there had been conjectures that in case of his death Alexeev

might receive his appointment, and that either Vinnikov or Shtabel

would succeed Alexeev. So on receiving the news of Ivan Ilych's

death the first thought of each of the gentlemen in that private

room was of the changes and promotions it might occasion among

themselves or their acquaintances.

"I shall be sure to get Shtabel's place or Vinnikov's,"

thought Fedor Vasilievich. "I was promised that long ago, and the

promotion means an extra eight hundred rubles a year for me besides

the allowance."

"Now I must apply for my brother-in-law's transfer from

Kaluga," thought Peter Ivanovich. "My wife will be very glad, and

then she won't be able to say that I never do anything for her


"I thought he would never leave his bed again," said Peter

Ivanovich aloud. "It's very sad."

"But what really was the matter with him?"

"The doctors couldn't say—at least they could, but each of

them said something different. When last I saw him I though he was

getting better."

"And I haven't been to see him since the holidays. I always

meant to go."

"Had he any property?"

"I think his wife had a little—but something quiet


"We shall have to go to see her, but they live so terribly far


"Far away from you, you mean. Everything's far away from your


"You see, he never can forgive my living on the other side of

the river," said Peter Ivanovich, smiling at Shebek. Then, still

talking of the distances between different parts of the city, they

returned to the Court.

Besides considerations as to the possible transfers and

promotions likely to result from Ivan Ilych's death, the mere fact

of the death of a near acquaintance aroused, as usual, in all who

heard of it the complacent feeling that, "it is he who is dead and

not I."

Each one thought or felt, "Well, he's dead but I'm alive!"

But the more intimate of Ivan Ilych's acquaintances, his so-called

friends, could not help thinking also that they would now have to

fulfil the very tiresome demands of propriety by attending the

funeral service and paying a visit of condolence to the widow.

Fedor Vasilievich and Peter Ivanovich had been his nearest

acquaintances. Peter Ivanovich had studied law with Ivan Ilych and

had considered himself to be under obligations to him.

Having told his wife at dinner-time of Ivan Ilych's death, and

of his conjecture that it might be possible to get her brother

transferred to their circuit, Peter Ivanovich sacrificed his usual

nap, put on his evening clothes and drove to Ivan Ilych's house.

At the entrance stood a carriage and two cabs. Leaning

against the wall in the hall downstairs near the cloakstand was a

coffin-lid covered with cloth of gold, ornamented with gold cord

and tassels, that had been polished up with metal powder. Two

ladies in black were taking off their fur cloaks. Peter Ivanovich

recognized one of them as Ivan Ilych's sister, but the other was a

stranger to him. His colleague Schwartz was just coming

downstairs, but on seeing Peter Ivanovich enter he stopped and

winked at him, as if to say: "Ivan Ilych has made a mess of things

—not like you and me."

Schwartz's face with his Piccadilly whiskers, and his slim

figure in evening dress, had as usual an air of elegant solemnity

which contrasted with the playfulness of his character and had a

special piquancy here, or so it seemed to Peter Ivanovich.

Peter Ivanovich allowed the ladies to precede him and slowly

followed them upstairs. Schwartz did not come down but remained

where he was, and Peter Ivanovich understood that he wanted to

arrange where they should play bridge that evening. The ladies

went upstairs to the widow's room, and Schwartz with seriously

compressed lips but a playful looking his eyes, indicated by a

twist of his eyebrows the room to the right where the body lay.

Peter Ivanovich, like everyone else on such occasions, entered

feeling uncertain what he would have to do. All he knew was that

at such times it is always safe to cross oneself. But he was not

quite sure whether one should make obseisances while doing so. He

therefore adopted a middle course. On entering the room he began

crossing himself and made a slight movement resembling a bow. At

the same time, as far as the motion of his head and arm allowed, he

surveyed the room. Two young men—apparently nephews, one of

whom was a high-school pupil—were leaving the room, crossing

themselves as they did so. An old woman was standing motionless,

and a lady with strangely arched eyebrows was saying something to

her in a whisper. A vigorous, resolute Church Reader, in a frock-

coat, was reading something in a loud voice with an expression that

precluded any contradiction. The butler's assistant, Gerasim,

stepping lightly in front of Peter Ivanovich, was strewing

something on the floor. Noticing this, Peter Ivanovich was

immediately aware of a faint odour of a decomposing body.

The last time he had called on Ivan Ilych, Peter Ivanovich had

seen Gerasim in the study. Ivan Ilych had been particularly fond of

him and he was performing the duty of a sick nurse.

Peter Ivanovich continued to make the sign of the cross

slightly inclining his head in an intermediate direction between

the coffin, the Reader, and the icons on the table in a corner of

the room. Afterwards, when it seemed to him that this movement of

his arm in crossing himself had gone on too long, he stopped and

began to look at the corpse.

The dead man lay, as dead men always lie, in a specially heavy

way, his rigid limbs sunk in the soft cushions of the coffin, with

the head forever bowed on the pillow. His yellow waxen brow with

bald patches over his sunken temples was thrust up in the way

peculiar to the dead, the protruding nose seeming to press on the

upper lip. He was much changed and grown even thinner since Peter

Ivanovich had last seen him, but, as is always the case with the

dead, his face was handsomer and above all more dignified than when

he was alive. the expression on the face said that what was

necessary had been accomplished, and accomplished rightly. Besides

this there was in that expression a reproach and a warning to the

living. This warning seemed to Peter Ivanovich out of place, or at

least not applicable to him. He felt a certain discomfort and so

he hurriedly crossed himself once more and turned and went out of

the door—too hurriedly and too regardless of propriety, as he

himself was aware.

Schwartz was waiting for him in the adjoining room with legs

spread wide apart and both hands toying with his top-hat behind his

back. The mere sight of that playful, well-groomed, and elegant

figure refreshed Peter Ivanovich. He felt that Schwartz was above

all these happenings and would not surrender to any depressing

influences. His very look said that this incident of a church

service for Ivan Ilych could not be a sufficient reason for

infringing the order of the session—in other words, that it

would certainly not prevent his unwrapping a new pack of cards and

shuffling them that evening while a footman placed fresh candles on

the table: in fact, that there was no reason for supposing that

this incident would hinder their spending the evening agreeably.

Indeed he said this in a whisper as Peter Ivanovich passed him,

proposing that they should meet for a game at Fedor Vasilievich's.

But apparently Peter Ivanovich was not destined to play bridge that

evening. Praskovya Fedorovna (a short, fat woman who despite all

efforts to the contrary had continued to broaden steadily from her

shoulders downwards and who had the same extraordinarily arched

eyebrows as the lady who had been standing by the coffin), dressed

all in black, her head covered with lace, came out of her own room

with some other ladies, conducted them to the room where the dead

body lay, and said: "The service will begin immediately. Please

go in."

Schwartz, making an indefinite bow, stood still, evidently

neither accepting nor declining this invitation. Praskovya

Fedorovna recognizing Peter Ivanovich, sighed, went close up to

him, took his hand, and said: "I know you were a true friend to

Ivan Ilych..." and looked at him awaiting some suitable response.

And Peter Ivanovich knew that, just as it had been the right thing

to cross himself in that room, so what he had to do here was to

press her hand, sigh, and say, "Believe me..." So he did all this

and as he did it felt that the desired result had been achieved:

that both he and she were touched.

"Come with me. I want to speak to you before it begins," said

the widow. "Give me your arm."

Peter Ivanovich gave her his arm and they went to the inner

rooms, passing Schwartz who winked at Peter Ivanovich


"That does for our bridge! Don's object if we find another

player. Perhaps you can cut in when you do escape," said his

playful look.

Peter Ivanovich sighed still more deeply and despondently, and

Praskovya Fedorovna pressed his arm gratefully. When they reached

the drawing-room, upholstered in pink cretonne and lighted by a dim

lamp, they sat down at the table—she on a sofa and Peter

Ivanovich on a low pouffe, the springs of which yielded

spasmodically under his weight. Praskovya Fedorovna had been on

the point of warning him to take another seat, but felt that such

a warning was out of keeping with her present condition and so

changed her mind. As he sat down on the pouffe Peter Ivanovich

recalled how Ivan Ilych had arranged this room and had consulted

him regarding this pink cretonne with green leaves. The whole room

was full of furniture and knick-knacks, and on her way to the sofa

the lace of the widow's black shawl caught on the edge of the

table. Peter Ivanovich rose to detach it, and the springs of the

pouffe, relieved of his weight, rose also and gave him a push. The

widow began detaching her shawl herself, and Peter Ivanovich again

sat down, suppressing the rebellious springs of the pouffe under

him. But the widow had not quite freed herself and Peter Ivanovich

got up again, and again the pouffe rebelled and even creaked. When

this was all over she took out a clean cambric handkerchief and

began to weep. The episode with the shawl and the struggle with

the pouffe had cooled Peter Ivanovich's emotions and he sat there

with a sullen look on his face. This awkward situation was

interrupted by Sokolov, Ivan Ilych's butler, who came to report

that the plot in the cemetery that Praskovya Fedorovna had chosen

would cost tow hundred rubles. She stopped weeping and, looking at

Peter Ivanovich with the air of a victim, remarked in French that

it was very hard for her. Peter Ivanovich made a silent gesture

signifying his full conviction that it must indeed be so.

"Please smoke," she said in a magnanimous yet crushed voice,

and turned to discuss with Sokolov the price of the plot for the


Peter Ivanovich while lighting his cigarette heard her

inquiring very circumstantially into the prices of different plots

in the cemetery and finally decide which she would take. when that

was done she gave instructions about engaging the choir. Sokolov

then left the room.

"I look after everything myself," she told Peter Ivanovich,

shifting the albums that lay on the table; and noticing that the

table was endangered by his cigarette-ash, she immediately passed

him an ash-tray, saying as she did so: "I consider it an

affectation to say that my grief prevents my attending to practical

affairs. On the contrary, if anything can—I won't say console

me, but—distract me, it is seeing to everything concerning him."

She again took out her handkerchief as if preparing to cry, but

suddenly, as if mastering her feeling, she shook herself and began

to speak calmly. "But there is something I want to talk to you


Peter Ivanovich bowed, keeping control of the springs of the

pouffe, which immediately began quivering under him.

"He suffered terribly the last few days."

"Did he?" said Peter Ivanovich.

"Oh, terribly! He screamed unceasingly, not for minutes but

for hours. for the last three days he screamed incessantly. It

was unendurable. I cannot understand how I bore it; you could hear

him three rooms off. Oh, what I have suffered!"

"Is it possible that he was conscious all that time?" asked

Peter Ivanovich.

"Yes," she whispered. "To the last moment. He took leave of

us a quarter of an hour before he died, and asked us to take

Volodya away."

The thought of the suffering of this man he had known so

intimately, first as a merry little boy, then as a schoolmate, and

later as a grown-up colleague, suddenly struck Peter Ivanovich with

horror, despite an unpleasant consciousness of his own and this

woman's dissimulation. He again saw that brow, and that nose

pressing down on the lip, and felt afraid for himself.

"Three days of frightful suffering and the death! Why, that

might suddenly, at any time, happen to me," he thought, and for a

moment felt terrified. But—he did not himself know how—the

customary reflection at once occurred to him that this had happened

to Ivan Ilych and not to him, and that it should not and could not

happen to him, and that to think that it could would be yielding to

depressing which he ought not to do, as Schwartz's expression

plainly showed. After which reflection Peter Ivanovich felt

reassured, and began to ask with interest about the details of Ivan

Ilych's death, as though death was an accident natural to Ivan

Ilych but certainly not to himself.

After many details of the really dreadful physical sufferings

Ivan Ilych had endured (which details he learnt only from the

effect those sufferings had produced on Praskovya Fedorovna's

nerves) the widow apparently found it necessary to get to business.

"Oh, Peter Ivanovich, how hard it is! How terribly, terribly

hard!" and she again began to weep.

Peter Ivanovich sighed and waited for her to finish blowing

her nose. When she had don so he said, "Believe me..." and she

again began talking and brought out what was evidently her chief

concern with him—namely, to question him as to how she could

obtain a grant of money from the government on the occasion of her

husband's death. She made it appear that she was asking Peter

Ivanovich's advice about her pension, but he soon saw that she

already knew about that to the minutest detail, more even than he

did himself. She knew how much could be got out of the government

in consequence of her husband's death, but wanted to find out

whether she could not possibly extract something more. Peter

Ivanovich tried to think of some means of doing so, but after

reflecting for a while and, out of propriety, condemning the

government for its niggardliness, he said he thought that nothing

more could be got. Then she sighed and evidently began to devise

means of getting rid of her visitor. Noticing this, he put out his

cigarette, rose, pressed her hand, and went out into the anteroom.

In the dining-room where the clock stood that Ivan Ilych had

liked so much and had bought at an antique shop, Peter Ivanovich

met a priest and a few acquaintances who had come to attend the

service, and he recognized Ivan Ilych's daughter, a handsome young

woman. She was in black and her slim figure appeared slimmer than

ever. She had a gloomy, determined, almost angry expression, and

bowed to Peter Ivanovich as though he were in some way to blame.

Behind her, with the same offended look, stood a wealthy young man,

and examining magistrate, whom Peter Ivanovich also knew and who

was her fiance, as he had heard. He bowed mournfully to them and

was about to pass into the death-chamber, when from under the

stairs appeared the figure of Ivan Ilych's schoolboy son, who was

extremely like his father. He seemed a little Ivan Ilych, such as

Peter Ivanovich remembered when they studied law together. His

tear-stained eyes had in them the look that is seen in the eyes of

boys of thirteen or fourteen who are not pure-minded. When he saw

Peter Ivanovich he scowled morosely and shamefacedly. Peter

Ivanovich nodded to him and entered the death-chamber. The service

began: candles, groans, incense, tears, and sobs. Peter Ivanovich

stood looking gloomily down at his feet. He did not look once at

the dead man, did not yield to any depressing influence, and was

one of the first to leave the room. There was no one in the

anteroom, but Gerasim darted out of the dead man's room, rummaged

with his strong hands among the fur coats to find Peter Ivanovich's

and helped him on with it.

"Well, friend Gerasim," said Peter Ivanovich, so as to say

something. "It's a sad affair, isn't it?"

"It's God will. We shall all come to it some day," said

Gerasim, displaying his teeth—the even white teeth of a healthy

peasant—and, like a man in the thick of urgent work, he briskly

opened the front door, called the coachman, helped Peter Ivanovich

into the sledge, and sprang back to the porch as if in readiness

for what he had to do next.

Peter Ivanovich found the fresh air particularly pleasant

after the smell of incense, the dead body, and carbolic acid.

"Where to sir?" asked the coachman.

"It's not too late even now....I'll call round on Fedor


He accordingly drove there and found them just finishing the

first rubber, so that it was quite convenient for him to cut in.

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