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Dream Tales and Prose Poems   By: (1818-1883)

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Translated from the Russian by CONSTANCE GARNETT









In the spring of 1878 there was living in Moscow, in a small wooden house in Shabolovka, a young man of five and twenty, called Yakov Aratov. With him lived his father's sister, an elderly maiden lady, over fifty, Platonida Ivanovna. She took charge of his house, and looked after his household expenditure, a task for which Aratov was utterly unfit. Other relations he had none. A few years previously, his father, a provincial gentleman of small property, had moved to Moscow together with him and Platonida Ivanovna, whom he always, however, called Platosha; her nephew, too, used the same name. On leaving the country place where they had always lived up till then, the elder Aratov settled in the old capital, with the object of putting his son to the university, for which he had himself prepared him; he bought for a trifle a little house in one of the outlying streets, and established himself in it, with all his books and scientific odds and ends. And of books and odds and ends he had many for he was a man of some considerable learning ... 'an out and out eccentric,' as his neighbours said of him. He positively passed among them for a sorcerer; he had even been given the title of an 'insectivist.' He studied chemistry, mineralogy, entomology, botany, and medicine; he doctored patients gratis with herbs and metallic powders of his own invention, after the method of Paracelsus. These same powders were the means of his bringing to the grave his pretty, young, too delicate wife, whom he passionately loved, and by whom he had an only son. With the same powders he fairly ruined his son's health too, in the hope and intention of strengthening it, as he detected anæmia and a tendency to consumption in his constitution inherited from his mother. The name of 'sorcerer' had been given him partly because he regarded himself as a descendant not in the direct line, of course of the great Bruce, in honour of whom he had called his son Yakov, the Russian form of James.

He was what is called a most good natured man, but of melancholy temperament, pottering, and timid, with a bent for everything mysterious and occult.... A half whispered ah! was his habitual exclamation; he even died with this exclamation on his lips, two years after his removal to Moscow.

His son, Yakov, was in appearance unlike his father, who had been plain, clumsy, and awkward; he took more after his mother. He had the same delicate pretty features, the same soft ash coloured hair, the same little aquiline nose, the same pouting childish lips, and great greenish grey languishing eyes, with soft eyelashes. But in character he was like his father; and the face, so unlike the father's face, wore the father's expression; and he had the triangular shaped hands and hollow chest of the old Aratov, who ought, however, hardly to be called old, since he never reached his fiftieth year. Before his death, Yakov had already entered the university in the faculty of physics and mathematics; he did not, however, complete his course; not through laziness, but because, according to his notions, you could learn no more in the university than you could studying alone at home; and he did not go in for a diploma because he had no idea of entering the government service. He was shy with his fellow students, made friends with scarcely any one, especially held aloof from women, and lived in great solitude, buried in books. He held aloof from women, though he had a heart of the tenderest, and was fascinated by beauty.... He had even obtained a sumptuous English keepsake, and (oh shame!) gloated adoringly over its 'elegantly engraved' representations of the various ravishing Gulnaras and Medoras.... But his innate modesty always kept him in check. In the house he used to work in what had been his father's study, it was also his bedroom, and his bed was the very one in which his father had breathed his last... Continue reading book >>

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