IVAN YEGORITCH KRASNYHIN, a fourth-rate journalist, returns home late at night, grave and careworn, with a peculiar air of concentration. He looks like a man expecting a police-raid or contemplating suicide. Pacing about his rooms he halts abruptly, ruffles up his hair, and says in the tone in which Laertes announces his intention of avenging his sister:
“Shattered, soul-weary, a sick load of misery on the heart . . . and then to sit down and write. And this is called life! How is it nobody has described the agonizing discord in the soul of a writer who has to amuse the crowd when his heart is heavy or to shed tears at the word of command when his heart is light? I must be playful, coldly unconcerned, witty, but what if I am weighed down with misery, what if I am ill, or my child is dying or my wife in anguish!”
He says this, brandishing his fists and rolling his eyes. . . . Then he goes into the bedroom and wakes his wife.
“Nadya,” he says, “I am sitting down to write. . . . Please don’t let anyone interrupt me. I can’t write with children crying or cooks snoring. . . . See, too, that there’s tea and . . . steak or something. . . . You know that I can’t write without tea. . . . Tea is the one thing that gives me the energy for my work.”
Returning to his room he takes off his coat, waistcoat, and boots. He does this very slowly; then, assuming an expression of injured innocence, he sits down to his table.
There is nothing casual, nothing ordinary on his writing-table, down to the veriest trifle everything bears the stamp of a stern, deliberately planned programme. Little busts and photographs of distinguished writers, heaps of rough manuscripts, a volume of Byelinsky with a page turned down, part of a skull by way of an ash-tray, a sheet of newspaper folded carelessly, but so that a passage is uppermost, boldly marked in blue pencil with the word “disgraceful.” There are a dozen sharply-pointed pencils and several penholders fitted with new nibs, put in readiness that no accidental breaking of a pen may for a single second interrupt the flight of his creative fancy.
Ivan Yegoritch throws himself back in his chair, and closing his eyes concentrates himself on his subject. He hears his wife shuffling about in her slippers and splitting shavings to heat the samovar. She is hardly awake, that is apparent from the way the knife and the lid of the samovar keep dropping from her hands. Soon the hissing of the samovar and the spluttering of the frying meat reaches him. His wife is still splitting shavings and rattling with the doors and blowers of the stove.
All at once Ivan Yegoritch starts, opens frightened eyes, and begins to sniff the air.
“Heavens! the stove is smoking!” he groans, grimacing with a face of agony. “Smoking! That insufferable woman makes a point of trying to poison me! How, in God’s Name, am I to write in such surroundings, kindly tell me that?”