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Hide and Seek

Fiodor Sologub



Everything in Lelechka's nursery was bright, pretty, and cheerful.
Lelechka's sweet voice charmed her mother. Lelechka was a delightful
child. There was no other such child, there never had been, and there
never would be. Lelechka's mother, Serafima Aleksandrovna, was sure of
that. Lelechka's eyes were dark and large, her cheeks were rosy, her
lips were made for kisses and for laughter. But it was not these
charms in Lelechka that gave her mother the keenest joy. Lelechka was
her mother's only child. That was why every movement of Lelechka's
bewitched her mother. It was great bliss to hold Lelechka on her knees
and to fondle her; to feel the little girl in her arms—a thing as
lively and as bright as a little bird.

To tell the truth, Serafima Aleksandrovna felt happy only in the
nursery. She felt cold with her husband.

Perhaps it was because he himself loved the cold—he loved to drink
cold water, and to breathe cold air. He was always fresh and cool,
with a frigid smile, and wherever he passed cold currents seemed to
move in the air.

The Nesletyevs, Sergey Modestovich and Serafima Aleksandrovna, had
married without love or calculation, because it was the accepted
thing. He was a young man of thirty-five, she a young woman of
twenty-five; both were of the same circle and well brought up; he was
expected to take a wife, and the time had come for her to take a

It even seemed to Serafima Aleksandrovna that she was in love with her
future husband, and this made her happy. He looked handsome and
well-bred; his intelligent grey eyes always preserved a dignified
expression; and he fulfilled his obligations of a fiancÚ with
irreproachable gentleness.

The bride was also good-looking; she was a tall, dark-eyed,
dark-haired girl, somewhat timid but very tactful. He was not after
her dowry, though it pleased him to know that she had something. He
had connexions, and his wife came of good, influential people. This
might, at the proper opportunity, prove useful. Always irreproachable
and tactful, Nesletyev got on in his position not so fast that any one
should envy him, nor yet so slow that he should envy any one
else—everything came in the proper measure and at the proper time.

After their marriage there was nothing in the manner of Sergey
Modestovich to suggest anything wrong to his wife. Later, however,
when his wife was about to have a child, Sergey Modestovich
established connexions elsewhere of a light and temporary nature.
Serafima Aleksandrovna found this out, and, to her own astonishment,
was not particularly hurt; she awaited her infant with a restless
anticipation that swallowed every other feeling.

A little girl was born; Serafima Aleksandrovna gave herself up to her.
At the beginning she used to tell her husband, with rapture, of all
the joyous details of Lekchka's existence. But she soon found that he
listened to her without the slightest interest, and only from the
habit of politeness. Serafima Aleksandrovna drifted farther and
farther away from him. She loved her little girl with the ungratified
passion that other women, deceived in their husbands, show their
chance young lovers.

"Mamochka, let's play priatki" (hide and seek), cried Lelechka,
pronouncing the r like the l, so that the word sounded "pliatki."

This charming inability to speak always made, Serafima Aleksandrovna
smile with tender rapture. Lelechka then ran away, stamping with her
plump little legs over the carpets, and hid herself behind the
curtains near her bed.

"Tiu-tiu, mamochka!" she cried out in her sweet, laughing voice, as
she looked out with a single roguish eye.

"Where is my baby girl?" the mother asked, as she looked for Lelechka
and made believe that she did not see her.

And Lelechka poured out her rippling laughter in her hiding place.
Then she came out a little farther, and her mother, as though she had
only just caught sight of her, seized her by her little shoulders and
exclaimed joyously: "Here she is, my Lelechka!"

Lelechka laughed long and merrily, her head close to her mother's
knees, and all of her cuddled up between her mother's white hands. Her
mother's eyes glowed with passionate emotion.

"Now, mamochka, you hide," said Lelechka, as she ceased laughing.

Her mother went to hide. Lelechka turned away as though not to see,
but watched her mamochka stealthily all the time. Mamma hid behind
the cupboard, and exclaimed: "Tiu-tiu, baby girl!"

Lelechka ran round the room and looked into all the corners, making
believe, as her mother had done before, that she was seeking—though
she really knew all the time where her mamochka was standing.

"Where's my mamochka?" asked Lelechka. "She's not here, and she's
not here," she kept on repeating, as she ran from corner to corner.

Her mother stood, with suppressed breathing, her head pressed against
the wall, her hair somewhat disarranged. A smile of absolute bliss
played on her red lips.

The nurse, Fedosya, a good-natured and fine-looking, if somewhat
stupid woman, smiled as she looked at her mistress with her
characteristic expression, which seemed to say that it was not for her
to object to gentlewomen's caprices. She thought to herself: "The
mother is like a little child herself—look how excited she is."

Lelechka was getting nearer her mother's corner. Her mother was
growing more absorbed every moment by her interest in the game; her
heart beat with short quick strokes, and she pressed even closer to
the wall, disarranging her hair still more. Lelechka suddenly glanced
toward her mother's corner and screamed with joy.

"I've found 'oo," she cried out loudly and joyously, mispronouncing
her words in a way that again made her mother happy.

She pulled her mother by her hands to the middle of the room, they
were merry and they laughed; and Lelechka again hid her head against
her mother's knees, and went on lisping and lisping, without end, her
sweet little words, so fascinating yet so awkward.

Sergey Modestovich was coming at this moment toward the nursery.
Through the half-closed doors he heard the laughter, the joyous
outcries, the sound of romping. He entered the nursery, smiling his
genial cold smile; he was irreproachably dressed, and he looked fresh
and erect, and he spread round him an atmosphere of cleanliness,
freshness and coldness. He entered in the midst of the lively game,
and he confused them all by his radiant coldness. Even Fedosya felt
abashed, now for her mistress, now for herself. Serafima Aleksandrovna
at once became calm and apparently cold—and this mood communicated
itself to the little girl, who ceased to laugh, but looked instead,
silently and intently, at her father.

Sergey Modestovich gave a swift glance round the room. He liked coming
here, where everything was beautifully arranged; this was done by
Serafima Aleksandrovna, who wished to surround her little girl, from
her very infancy, only with the loveliest things. Serafima
Aleksandrovna dressed herself tastefully; this, too, she did for
Lelechka, with the same end in view. One thing Sergey Modestovich had
not become reconciled to, and this was his wife's almost continuous
presence in the nursery.

"It's just as I thought... I knew that I'd find you here," he said
with a derisive and condescending smile.

They left the nursery together. As he followed his wife through the
door Sergey Modestovich said rather indifferently, in an incidental
way, laying no stress on his words: "Don't you think that it would be
well for the little girl if she were sometimes without your company?
Merely, you see, that the child should feel its own individuality," he
explained in answer to Serafima Aleksandrovna's puzzled glance.

"She's still so little," said Serafima Aleksandrovna.

"In any case, this is but my humble opinion. I don't insist. It's your
kingdom there."

"I'll think it over," his wife answered, smiling, as he did, coldly
but genially.

Then they began to talk of something else.