The one important fact of these weeks, however, and the one having most to do with the young man's subsequent career, was the time which he spent, in his solitary evenings, over his musical note-books. The absence of a piano sharpened his faculties amazingly; till, by the time of his return to civilization, an instrument was no longer necessary to him in composing. Ivan was beginning, at last, to know the faces of his secret gods; and to be not a little troubled at the anomalous position of an army officer, whose dreams and ambitions were all towards the arts of peace. How, indeed, was he now to reach the realm of these heavenly beings? For always, in the midst of his highest flights, there lowered above him, blotting out the gleaming spires of his Parnassus, the dark forms of those demi-gods into whose service he had been forced. And more than once, in his high solitude, Ivan heard, in the secret chamber of his soul, a strong voice of command bidding him leave this present life, drop every vanity of his existence, and set out boldly along that steep path that should lead him at last, through hardship and labor, to summits of the highest joy that can be known to human heart and brain. Then, puzzled and disturbed by his sense of the responsibility of his solitude, Ivan would perform by day his mechanical duties, and then hurry away, at evening, to labor undisturbed through the strange northern twilights, at his chosen task.
Ivan made no mistake in these personal equations of his; but he managed one very bad one when, in his heart, he thought of fate, or destiny, or circumstance, as leaving all responsibility of decision to him, thus shirking its generally acknowledged business. Had this chosen son harbored no such audacity, perhaps the rearrangement of Ivan's life, necessary though it had now become, might have been gradually wrought. As it was, the fellow must be given a double lesson, and forced to learn it well:—by heart, in all probability. Nor must it fail to stretch his powers of apprehension to their fullest extent. Wherefore, in the early autumn, the giant wheel that is not turned by chance, began to revolve for Ivan, very slowly, without apparent aim in its pristine movements.
Summer was gone. The five great camps in the Empire had been broken a fortnight before; and officers and men alike began to let their backs relax a little, and were taking less notice of dust-flecks on their uniforms. In the suburbs, at Tsarskoe-Selo, for instance, there were now many villas whose eyes had closed for the night of winter—their recently open windows and doors being dismally boarded over; while their aristocratic owners were indulging in a last informal holiday at some one of the foreign Spas, before the serious business of winter sleighing and court balls should recommence. This year there was, however, less flitting than usual; for men in high places had been made to understand the full significance of an imperial whisper that the ministers and their aides remain in close touch with Peterhof and the Hermitage. Europe was under a tension of hope—and fear. And the Bear and the Lion crouched face to face, every muscle rigid, eyes glued upon each other, ears strained to catch every faintest echo from the booming of northern guns in that far-off land where America lay, already torn and bleeding with the first lacerations of her terrible inward strife.
In the first week of September, Lieutenant Gregoriev, returning from a visit to his father in Moscow, rejoined Captain de Windt in their apartment in the little Pereolouk.—Thus the court journal: whereby the young man should have perceived himself to have ascended at least one more round of the social ladder. If he did not realize this, however, Ivan was still in a very excellent frame of mind. His stay with his father had been pleasanter than he had hoped; for Prince Michael, who began to see his every ambition realized in the probable future of his son, had been more agreeable to him than ever before, and absolutely magnificent in his generosity. Ivan felt a little thrill of amazement every time he recalled the amount of money at his command. Moreover, here was a new season coming on; and one that promised him delight untold. For was it not to bring the debut of his cousin Nathalie? She, light of his dreams, no longer to be shut away from his eyes, or voice, or even—speak of it reverently!—arms, perhaps—stood where he had stood a year before: on the threshold of the ballroom of youth. The world was to know her well; for her mother, always advocate of the dernier cri de la mode, had decided, months before, that she, like a dozen ladies of the highest Russian world, would adopt, for her daughter, the English fashion; and actually allow her, before her marriage, to face the living world of men and things. At the first court ball of the season she should be presented to her sovereigns; after which it would be understood that the charming child was in the matrimonial market, ready to be knocked down to the highest bidder.
Had her cousin Ivan, who scarcely regarded her presentation in this harsh and vulgar light, thrilled at the prospect of her first appearance there, how much more must it mean to the damsel herself, who, in all her girlish dreams of the freedom of womanhood, had never dared picture the possibility of such liberty before the event of marriage? During the coming season there were to be introduced half a dozen other young girls of her own station, who had even been in her own class at the Institute. And more than once this true daughter of the world had laughingly reviewed her possible rivals, either to herself, or to her interested maid. There were Mademoiselle Cherneskovsky, with her long, skinny neck; and Alexandra Nikitenko, whose red face and fat figure could not possibly be forgotten in the good-nature of her disposition, any more than the immense wealth of the only daughter of the Shulka-Mirskies could compensate for her thin, colorless hair, and pale, red-rimmed eyes with their invisible white lashes. Finally, there was Olga Tarentino, whose blonde stateliness might prove dangerous, so long as she could keep from a betrayal of her vixenish temper. But pretty Nathalie, remembering the furious recklessness of this, laughed as she lifted her golden-framed hand-glass, and accepted, complacently, the ready flattery of smooth-tongued Antoinette.
Nor, seeing this young girl as she stood, surrounded by her mother, two maids, and half a dozen adoring serfs, on the evening of November 12th, in the year 1862, could any one have blamed her, very strongly, for her gay vanity. Lovelier vision than this surely never graced the somewhat bare corridors of the labyrinthine Hermitage! For this was the night of her debut, when Nathalie was to make her first courtesies to royalty.
She was dressed in the prescribed court costume—which was to prove so trying to the objects of her naughty ridicule. Upon her, the high kakoshnik, with its jewelled rim, and the floating veil that softened so beautifully the great weight of her braids, proved startlingly beautiful. And, with a neck like hers, what more desirable than the daring decolletage of her white tulle gown, from the billowing skirts of which her tiny waist sprang like the slender stem of a huge, white rose. About her throat was clasped a double row of pearls—her father's gift to her for the great occasion. And, in her arms,—last, daring touch of her Countess-mother, who, in the matter of dress, was a consummate artist,—Nathalie carried a great cluster of vivid crimson camellias, that gave a perfect finish to a costume now relieved from any suspicion of monotony, or too conventional simplicity. The red of the waxen camellia, vividly transparent as it was, was scarce redder than the unroughed cheeks and lips of their bearer. Nor was the brilliant sparkling of the diamonds in the kakoshnik inadequately reproduced in the light of those changing eyes, which, to-night, glowed large and dark with steady, living fire.
Caroline, Countess Dravikine, gazing critically at her daughter's finished figure, felt her heart glow within her. Who could reproach her for exploiting such beauty before marriage? For at sight of Nathalie to-night, an Emperor himself could scarce have reproached his son for desiring the hand of so exquisite a creature. And, with her own great skill as a firm basis for the girl's charming ingenuousness, reflected her mother, what alliance would prove impossible to her now? For, even in her mother-love, this odd woman was filled with the selfishness of a very empty vanity. And it seemed now as if, with the death of her unhappy sister, there had also died in Madame Dravikine the last vestige of unworldliness.
The Hermitage that night proved a fitting field for her generalship. The event so long dreaded by her as the seeming end of her own youth, was suddenly turned into a double triumph. For, as Nathalie passed through the long salons, she was followed by such a trail of whispers, envious, malicious, amazed, from the women, universally applausive from the men, that the Countess suddenly realized that she held in her hands a new instrument of power; one greater than she had ever wielded before. Moreover, before an hour was gone, she knew well that she had been vindicated of any suggestion of mistake in having adopted the English rather than the French form in introducing her daughter. For his Majesty exclaimed, delightedly, as he personally lifted the debutante from her third low and graceful courtesy; and the Empress, most charming, most gentle, most refined of women, kissed the young girl on the cheek with a compliment that made Princess Shulka-Mirski scowl with displeasure—her own daughter having received no more than the conventional acknowledgment. Later, as Nathalie, her cheeks burning, her big eyes cast down, backed slowly from the room, still prostrating herself at intervals, every woman present felt that little, insensible murmur of applause that came from every member of the royal circle—the grand-dukes indeed attempting no concealment of their admiration.
The great formality over, Mademoiselle Nathalie was bestowed upon her own, voluntary subjects: a throng of brilliantly uniformed men, among whom already—oh remarkable girlhood!—Nathalie's eyes were eagerly searching, for a certain one. He was there; and presently, catching that look, he came to her: the handsome, black-eyed cousin, whose heart was throbbing for and with her. And her triumphant mother would have been dismayed indeed had she known that all that evening, throughout her unprecedented success, Nathalie had moved and spoken and blushed and been still for one alone, whose eyes, from the moment of her entry into the royal presence, she had felt upon her!
How this feeling had come, whence it sprang, whereon been nourished, grown, who could say? Certainly not the maiden herself. Indeed, until this night, she had not given Ivan his rightful place with her. But henceforth she was to hold his image in her heart, and, sleeping and waking, it was to be with her, her delight, her anguish, her wonderment.
Already she had given all that was in her to give. She was totally inexperienced. But he had at last, and recently, tasted the forbidden apple. And already there had risen in him such a host of fierce, conflicting passions as left him half frightened at the forbidden possibilities now thronging his heart. To-night, as he looked into the eyes of this pure and exquisite girl, there rushed upon him all suddenly, the real meaning of man-love; the fulness thereof; the fury of perfected passion: the union of love and of desire.
Poor Ivan! The evening held things other than delight for him. As he sat beside his cousin, talked to her, held her in his arms during one of the wild, Russian mazurkas, he felt his body tremble with the terrible force within him. And once the little form he held twisted, suddenly, in his embrace. Nathalie cried out, and looked up at him; and he realized that his strong clasp had hurt her. His look answered hers. Then the child lowered her eyes, while a furious color dyed her cheeks and neck; and Ivan could have shouted aloud at what he saw and knew. Confidently he demanded of her more dances, and more and more. And she granted them mechanically, neither thinking nor caring for appearances, nor for any other person in those rooms. She was like one in a dream. Vladimir de Windt, marvelling at the recklessness of the affair, came once to the twain, thinking to expostulate with Ivan. But what he saw in the two faces turned blankly upon him, filled him with such sudden perception that he stumbled through an excuse, and went off to seek some spot where he could think; saying to himself, as he went:
"Good God! Who would have believed he could love like that!—and she also!"
But there were others in those rooms who had not his insight. And it came finally to the remembrance of Madame Dravikine, in the midst of a most amusing tete-a-tete, that she was no longer a free agent at balls: that she was chaperoning a daughter who appeared to be alarmingly unconventional. Leaning upon the arm of her titled companion, Madame Dravikine went forth to fulfil the first scheme of Ivan's relentless destiny.
Lieutenant Gregoriev and his cousin had finally retreated to a small and empty antechamber, where the strains of the distant band came in a soft echo to their ears. Ivan was leaning forward, in front of the girl, whose eyes were lowered. A moment before his right hand had closed, gently, over her own unresisting one; and the words he was speaking would have been inaudible to any one two yards away. Nathalie was with him in another world. At her feet, forgotten, lay the camellias, looking like a splash of blood upon the slippery floor. Ivan's head was swimming as he talked. But, in the midst of a sentence, he saw his companion give a great start. Then she snatched her hand from his, pushed him aside, and rose, unsteadily, her face deathly white. Ivan, noting the flowers, stooped for them, and, ere he returned them to her, detached one, and thrust it into the pocket of his uniform. Then he lifted his look to meet the blazing eyes of his aunt, and the cynical smile of a tall, gold-laced man, whose breast was covered with orders, and whose mustache and imperial were known to and hated by all Petersburg; for Prince Feodoreff was a person whose penchant for feminine youth and beauty had carried him into many walks of life.
The present little scene was interesting, but brief. Ivan never knew how it was that Nathalie was presently disappearing through a doorway on the arm of this man; her much-abused bouquet, held by one ribbon in her listless right hand, trailing eloquently upon the ground; while he, furious, but still dizzy from unwonted emotion, stood facing his aunt. When her cold look had become intolerable to him, she added to it her voice; saying, in a tone he had never heard from her:
"It is a pity I am forced to understand that my daughter is not to be trusted with her cousin, even for one hour,—in a royal palace!"
With this she would have turned away. But something in Ivan's eyes stopped her, despite her justified anger.
"Mademoiselle Nathalie Alexeiovna is to be trusted with any one, anywhere, for any length of time. But with no one could she ever be safer than with me, madame!" he said, passionately.
"Ah! And your method of taking care of her, is to manage so that she shall be criticised, commented on, laughed at by the entire court during the first hour of the first evening of her appearance in the world!—Were you not a baby, Ivan, I should think you either mad or dishonorable!—As it is, I am glad to have discovered what you are so soon; though it will take months to regain for my unfortunate daughter the position she has lost through your preposterous behavior. I shall take good care, however, that she never again endangers her reputation by receiving any sort of attention from you, in any place, at home or abroad.—You will do well not to offer it, Ivan Mikhailovitch; for I cannot have my daughter's name linked with that of a Gregoriev!" With which brutal thrust this great lady turned coolly away, leaving Ivan, stuttering with rage, behind her.
* * * * *
Thus, upon the first possible occasion, did Ivan ruin his winter. Nor can it be said that he had not brought his punishment upon his own head, by conduct so recklessly inconsiderate, that, considering the custom of his country, it could scarcely be called that of a gentleman. Madame Dravikine had been justified in the first part of her reproof; though nothing, probably, could have excused the bitter insult of her final taunt. For that, indeed, holding, as it did, a reproof of her dead sister, her conscience pricked her more than once. But it had no effect on the chaperonage now imposed by her upon her hapless daughter. Never, perhaps, was heavier price paid by two offenders for the folly of a single hour.
After the night of November 12th, any man in Petersburg could gain audience of Mademoiselle Dravikine more easily than the one man whom Mademoiselle Dravikine cared to see. Nathalie, indeed, made herself miserable enough over the situation to have warmed Ivan's heart, could he have known the fact. Her longed-for world—that wonder-land of which she had dreamed so long, for which she had been so assiduously prepared, was not wonderful to her now. To her eyes, the gilding over the iron bars was very thin: the perfumed padding on the stone walls but a poor disguise of their chill impenetrability. Nor could she find in her guide and mentor—that mother, whom she so little knew,—either comfort or refuge in her unhappiness. Madame Dravikine, indeed, was disgusted and disappointed. The tale of Ivan's mad devotion and of her daughter's imprudence, had spread through the city, losing nothing in the telling. And Nathalie's open stubbornness and rebellion confirmed it only too clearly. To her mother's mind, Nathalie was behaving in an imbecile fashion. Suppose she had acted in such a way, when, as Mademoiselle Blashkov of Moscow, she had been besieged by a handsome, impecunious young officer; and, instead of throwing him over for the wealthy young Count Dravikine, had capped her sister's black marriage by one wildly improvident? Besides, she was not without serious plans with regard to her daughter, even in these first weeks of her first season. But no plan seemed possible of fulfilment when, night after night, Nathalie would make a dutiful, dejected appearance in some fashionable salon, and would sit, drooping and visibly wretched, wherever she was put, unless, by some unlucky chance, she caught a glimpse of the white and gold of Ivan's uniform. Then her sudden wild vivacity would fill her mother with helpless rage; and she would wait and watch, while a roomful smiled, and the rows of diamond-laden dowagers shook their heads and lifted their eyebrows solemnly towards the oblivious girl, whom no sarcastic comment, no openly insulting interpretation of her open preference, could, apparently, make her understand the importance of a union of family and fortune in the bridegroom of Mademoiselle Dravikine. Moreover, it would sound really incredible were one to make a positive statement of the number of nights throughout which this silly child lay sobbing, in the kindly darkness of her bedchamber, till the approach of late-rising dawn brought a brief forgetfulness of her unquestionably ridiculous little trial.
Perhaps, after all, it is rather pitiful that this calf-love, confidently derided by omniscient, sensible middle-age, should be so tender and so beautiful a thing. Once it is crushed out of us, we are not likely ever again to be burdened with a feeling at all similar to it. Nor is it often tough-fibred enough to weather the stress of the first years of married life; and come through the equinoctials of the inevitable adjustment unshattered and unwrecked. And yet—how much would not most women give to feel once more the fine, ecstatic shiver of that first, foolish kiss? And the dreams of this period—how fair, how delicate, how fragile—how utterly impractical they are! What beauties are not conjured up by the imagination, during those delicious, sleepless nights; only to be dissipated into chilling mist by the stern realities of the relentless morning?
There is a very old, very trite philosophy that can be made to replace such a state of mind. Most young men of twenty-five are gloating over it: feeling themselves sad cynics, suffering from a tragic past. Unbearable to others this stage may be. But it is a pleasant haven to the individual anchored there, safe from the recent storms of disillusionment. By January, poor Vladimir de Windt began to long for the first signs of this state in his companion. Ivan was, certainly, in a preposterous mood; and had not even grace enough to appreciate the long-suffering patience of his friend, who listened, with unfailing courtesy, to his eternal ravings over the nameless but perfectly well-known object of his undying adoration. There did, however, finally come a day when Vladimir's despairing wishes met with a kind of fulfilment.
About noon on January 16th, Ivan, returning from a morning at the riding-school, passed the church of St. Simeon. Noting the effect of the candle-flames on the velvet darkness of that part of the interior visible through the open portals, and remembering that it was an especial saint's day, he entered, thinking to kneel for a moment behind the throng of men and women by whom the church was nearly filled. Suddenly, before he had chosen his place, he was aware of an intense emotion. Ere he had time to analyze it, there came a light touch on his arm, and he turned to face his cousin, Nathalie, wrapped in the soft sables that matched the momentary shade of her eyes. Behind her a young serf, Anitchka, a foolish and romantic creature, bobbed and grinned with pleased excitement.
Instantly Ivan saw his opportunity. A moment later Nathalie's attendant, with a piece of gold in her hand, was forcing her way to a place near the altar, whence prayers for her benefactor would presently rise. Meantime Ivan had turned, eagerly, tremulously, to the young girl.
"Natusha!—The saints have heard me at last!—Oh Natusha,—Natusha!" It seemed as if that endearing diminutive could not leave his lips, so did he linger over it, while he pressed her small, gloved hands passionately between his bare ones.
"Oh Ivan—I am glad!—But I am afraid, too! I must tell you—everything. And then we will say good-bye!"
"No!" She started at the fierceness of that monosyllable. "Not 'good-bye.'—Not yet!—Not yet!"
"Yes, Ivan. I am too unhappy. I must—I have got to stop thinking about you.—It is too hard, too miserable, the other way.—And I know they will never let you see me again."
Ivan's reply was a tightening of his clasp on her hands. Then he bent his head, while his brows were knitted, anxiously. It seemed as if he could not speak. And she had opened her lips to comfort him a little when he burst forth, huskily:
"Nathalie, I love you better than life! Will you marry me?"
"Oh!—Ivan!" The child trembled. She would have drawn away, but that he held her tightly and strove to look into her face. Then, suddenly, she grew braver, and let her eyes meet his. In the rose-red of her fair face he read, ecstatically, his answer. But he was to have yet more. Unknowing that he had read her thought, she found her voice and whispered: "Yes!"
And then, in a second, he had kissed her, upon the mouth, there in the dusk of the little, empty chapel. Whereafter, indeed, she would have torn herself from him, had he not drawn her arm through his, and started forward, saying, in her ear:
"Come, my dear! We are betrothed. You belong to me, henceforth. And we are in a church. Let us go and see if they will marry us, here, now.—I believe God gave you to me just now for this very thing. And—"
But Ivan had at last got beyond her courage. It was a daring thing he had proposed; and he had not paused to reflect that, considering the laws of their stern faith, so hasty an affair would be impossible. Perhaps, then, Ivan had some right to be bitterly disappointed at her vehement protests. How could he understand that, even with her, the signs and formalities, the insignia and paraphernalia of a fashionable marriage, even more than marriage itself, form, in the mind of a young girl, the grand aim, centre, end, even, of all life. And he was asking her to forget all these!—Preposterous—love him though she did! No. They were engaged. That she allowed. And was not that enough for one day?—Ivan could not gainsay her.—Well, then, let him come at once to her father. And perhaps on the morrow—the wonderful morrow—the court journal would make formal announcement of their betrothal, and she would be that most interesting (?) of feminine creatures, a girl engaged!
Thus she talked: thus dreamed. And Ivan, in a little paradise of his own, was drawn, in spite of himself, into her spirit of enthusiasm. He promised to go, that very evening, to his uncle. And so, at length, he left her, half a block from the Dravikine house, and went his way towards his apartment, already beginning on the fourth year of his married life.
* * * * *
It was half-past eight o'clock that evening when Lieutenant Gregoriev, shivering with something more than cold, stood at the door of the Dravikine house. When it opened, he was informed at once that Monsieur le Comte was at home; and the impenetrable butler, bursting with interest, showed him solemnly to the library, on the threshold of which stood Ivan's shadowy fate, black-robed. For five minutes the Lieutenant waited, his heart in his mouth, his dry tongue vainly trying to repeat that careful little speech, the original of which he had unfortunately left on the bureau of his room in his own apartment.
In the small salon of that apartment, meantime, sat Vladimir de Windt, waiting, uneasily, and making futile attempts to read. For Ivan's sake he was neglecting all his engagements for the evening and the night, that he might be the first to congratulate his chum on his engagement. The minutes passed. More than an hour, now, since Ivan had bidden him a shaky good-night! And the longer the wait, the more hopeful things must naturally look. An accepted man sits late with his fiancee, discussing the most important question in the world, while the serfs group themselves intelligently round the key-hole. And yet, as the clock ticked off second after second, the faithful Vladimir grew unaccountably fretful and restless. Time was, indeed, when the circumstances of this wait had been more painful than now. For, in the early half of the winter, the ingenuous Nathalie had made some little havoc with the usually well-ordered mind and heart of Monsieur de Windt. But from the first Ivan had confided in his friend. And that friend was an honorable man. As the days of poor Ivan's exile passed, and his misery had grown, de Windt found his sympathy gradually overcoming his sentiment. Moreover, Nathalie's drooping young face, familiar to him through many balls and receptions, showed the mind of the young girl too plainly for mistake. In so far as in her lay, she returned her cousin's love. By December, Captain de Windt had set himself seriously to subdue his little penchant; and such was his success that, as he sat waiting here to-night, his heart was sincerely with Ivan. Yet it was not so unremarkable that when, at a little before eleven, he watched a sleigh pull up at the door below and saw Ivan alight from it, Monsieur de Windt should be glad of the three flights of stairs that would assure perfect steadiness in the voice that must cry out the heartiest of congratulations.
Even to de Windt, however, Ivan was a long time ascending those stairs. Was this the manner of a man triumphant? Was the step, now audible—that heavy, dragging step,—the pace of a happy man? De Windt's heart beat slower. His face grew grave. And then,—the door opened; and Ivan came into the room.
He walked very slowly to a sofa in the corner, and removed his outer wrappings, piece by piece, flinging them down on floor or furniture. Then he turned and came back to the hot porcelain stove by which de Windt had been sitting, dropped into a chair, drooped his head for a moment to his breast, but finally lifted his face and looked squarely at his friend. Good Heaven!—Could calf-love do that to a boyish face?—Was it really Ivan, this gray-hued, inexpressibly weary man, with the dull, expressionless eyes, and the mouth drawn into so ugly a line?—Calf-love?—Impossible!
The oppressive silence grew heavier and more heavy. Ivan continued to stare; but it was into vacancy now. He was greatly startled when he felt a hand touch his shoulder: a hand whose gentleness bespoke a sympathy that was very deep. De Windt had certainly not foreseen the effect of his involuntary act. At the gesture, Ivan started, as if he had been shot. Then he drew himself away, violently, and sprang to his feet, turning on his friend:
"Don't!—My God! Are you going to show me your pity?—Me?—A Gregoriev?—Humph!" He broke into an abominable little laugh. "They didn't give me much, Vladimir Vassilyitch! I heard from them all—Monsieur le Comte first; then my remarkable aunt; finally—finally from Mademoiselle Dravikine herself. Yes. At the end she came:—not alone! They led her in, you understand. She didn't look especially pretty. Her eyes were ridiculously red. Her voice was very husky; but she had got her part well, and she spoke it to me. Her expression might have been better; but she'll improve with practice.—There may be other fools in the world, you know, who haven't realized what a crime it is not to have ten irreproachably noble grandfathers.
"She—Mademoiselle Dravikine—asked my pardon for her shocking behavior of the morning. She had made a great mistake, she said. Upon due consideration, she perceived how impossible it would be to avail herself of my offer; because, to mention one of many reasons, of our near relationship. Nevertheless, she thanked me for my generosity in countenancing her most unwise action; trusted that the reversal of her reply would cause me no inconvenience; inconvenience, Vladimir, do you hear!—and so wished me good-night!—That was my final answer!—Afterwards, I had a few more words with the others; but I've forgotten what they were.—She, who let me kiss her, this morning, twice,—she spoke like that, to me!"
"Oh but Ivan,—my dear fellow, they evidently discovered your meeting this morning, and made her do this—little fool!"
"Oh, they found out about it, certainly.—My aunt saw her come in alone—without the serf. And it was she, of course—my aunt is a very strong person, Vladimir—who arranged my charming reception. Dravikine himself was quite civil to me. I could have stood his refusal of my offer.—And he looked uncomfortable, too, afterwards, when—his wife—came down and began to talk. It took her nearly an hour, I believe, to explain the immensity of my presumption.—I'm so beneath her, you know, her father being only my grandfather.—And, last of all, she had the pleasure of showing me what she could do with my—with her daughter."
"But—but—tell me, have they forbidden you the house?"
"She didn't say so."
"Oh well, then—it'll be easy! You must carry the girl off!"
Ivan gave a violent start; and, for one instant, the cruel mask dropped from his face, leaving an expression wonderfully different. Then all the gray bitterness closed in again. "That would be quite impossible.—Why man, consider! She herself refused me!"
"Nothing of the sort! This morning she was herself. To-night, she was repeating to you her mother's thoughts. They coerced her.—Be a man, my boy; and I'll help you! You two love each other; and you've got to marry. Do you think you owe her nothing?"
"Vladimir—Vladimir—you want to be kind to me. But you don't understand. You didn't hear—how that woman—insulted my race; my blood; yes—even her own sister, my mother!—You can't ask me to overlook that—even—for—Nathalie!"
And Ivan's deep groan touched the heart of the man that heard it.
Nevertheless, de Windt had been struck by the sudden thought he had as suddenly expressed. Marriage with her daughter, would certainly be as sure a thrust as could be given to the proud woman who had so causelessly hurt her nephew. After a time the friend pressed this view upon his companion, till Ivan, in spite of himself, joined in the working out of a strange idea: an idea of the seventeenth, rather than the nineteenth, century; but possible, feasible, for all that. So, in the end, young Gregoriev sought his bed that night not in black depression, but with his brain once more on fire with hope:—hope of an incredibly swift fulfilment of his lately despaired-of heart's desire.
This sudden frame of mind lasted for three days. And during that length of time Ivan went cheerfully about his daily tasks, meantime, in company with de Windt, working out the details of their secret plan. It was in pursuit of one of these that, on the afternoon of the fourth day, Ivan stood once again on the door-step of the Dravikine house.
Even in his nervousness Ivan noticed, as he waited, the unusual fact that the shades of the drawing-room were all pulled down. And it seemed to him, too, that there was about the house an air of unwonted desolation, which, as the minutes passed, certainly became intensified in his mind. Once more he sounded the huge knocker; and yet again: this time so vigorously that the door shook. His sense of calamity had grown till it was a presentiment. Yet his heart rose as, after a long five minutes, there came the sounds of fumbling key and grating lock; and then the door swung open before him, and he stood facing—not the trimly liveried butler, but the gaunt and stooping figure of Ekaterina, the old serf, garbed in a soiled working-dress.
"Madame Dravikine—does she receive to-day?"
"Saints behold us, Lieutenant, she may, for all I know! She and my little Natusha—who cried without ceasing for three days and three nights—went away this morning, with all their luggage, to the foreign land by the sea: to Germany, where it's warm, and where they will stay, my lady said, till summer comes again, and they can all go to Tsarskoe.—Saints!—You are sick too, young sir!"
But Ivan, refusing her suggestion of a glass of wine, made a few more inquiries, found that the old woman had no idea of her mistress's real destination (to the Russian poor all the world west of Russia is "Germany"); and at last turned blindly away and began to walk in the direction of the nearest "tea-house," where he could think, unmolested.
His aunt had, at least, paid him a compliment in this flight. Evidently she was afraid of him—of his poor power!—And little Natusha had cried for three days and three nights! At thought of this, all the love and all the chivalry in him rose.—That she should be abused because of an act of his!—He ground his heels into the rough, wooden floor of the little traktir, and began to think more rapidly.—Yes, they should have cause to fear him! Nathalie must be his, since she cared for him as he for her. It was all very simple. He could find out, without great difficulty, where they had gone. Then, at once, he would follow them, and—people had eloped before now!—His father, he knew, would, not be displeased with the marriage; for he knew Dravikine to be his superior in rank. At least, there should be money enough, then, always, for his wife.
"Wife!" The word made his pulses throb. There remained only to discover his destination, and to get leave of absence from his Colonel. The latter was a mere form, given daily to officers at this season. He might as well obtain it at once.—So, paying his small score, he rose, leaving his drink untouched, and started off in the direction of Colonel Brodsky's dwelling.
It was a strange thing that Ivan, in his confidence of getting away immediately, forgot that old, unpaid grudge of his superior officer. Unhappily for him, when he made his request, eagerness was written in every line of his face. Brodsky listened and looked; paused, smiled maliciously, and then, with June in his memory, refused the leave as curtly as possible. Ivan started with amazement. But it was in vain that he argued, pleaded, raged, finally—imprudence of imprudence! even hinted at possible recompense. Brodsky, delighting in the pain he knew himself to be inflicting, became more and more inexorable, more and more insulting, till Ivan, angered beyond control, hurled out one furious epithet, and left the little room—heart-broken.
The ensuing weeks were ones that Vladimir de Windt, certainly, never forgot. For forty-nine endless days, until April had once more broken Russia's icy chains, no word came from the Dravikines; who were employing their time in a highly interesting fashion at Nice and Monaco with a party of friends; while Ivan dragged himself about Petersburg, madly seeking some distraction, finding it never. Daily his companions marvelled anew at the duration of what was, to them, the pettiest of "affairs." But Ivan's nature was ridiculously intense; and calf-love had become, in his eyes, the most serious thing in life. At last, when he had borne all that it seemed to him he could endure, fate offered him the relief of a sharp stab in the spot where the monotony of a continuous, dull ache had become intolerable.
On the morning of April 7th the court journal—and several other papers—contained the announcement that "a marriage had been arranged and would immediately take place between Mademoiselle Nathalie Dravikine, daughter of,—etc., and S. A. Alexander Gregory Boris, Prince Feodoreff, sometime Gentleman of the Bedchamber to his Imperial Majesty Nicholas I." Further down the column came another statement that, owing to the delicate health of the bride-elect, the wedding would be a quiet one, celebrated at Nice within the month; whereafter, during the summer, the Prince and Princess Feodoreff would return to Russia by easy stages, probably spending August at Tsarskoe-Selo with the parents of the bride, where the Prince would have time to settle into the new relationship between himself and a lady who had hitherto occupied towards him a position very different from that of mother-in-law. The beginning of the winter season would, however, see the Feodoreff residence in the Fourchstadskaia open for the occupation of the young Princess.
Ivan himself discovered these somewhat startling items of intelligence. Later he pursued all the feminine details that appeared concerning the bride's beauty, the magnificence of her trousseau, the wealth and station of the groom, and even a hint or two of the romantic affair of the recent debutante with a cousin, during the past winter. For one week Ivan endured his pain in silence. Then, upon a certain Saturday, he went to Brodsky again, asking him for leave and a double passport. This time the Colonel, studying his Lieutenant's face, saw fit to grant both the leave and the second request. Ten minutes after he had entered the official room, Ivan left it again, bearing with him the death-warrant of his military career.
Returning to his apartment, the young man held a brief interview with de Windt, who said little, but studied the boy's face anxiously; and, though he attempted neither advice nor remonstrance, finally made a tentative suggestion about accompanying his friend. He was not astonished at the rejection of the proposition. But Ivan's ensuing remark afterwards troubled him not a little.
"Don't worry, Vladimir Vassilyitch. I'm not going alone. There will be some one who will take excellent care of me."
By an effort, de Windt refrained from questions. But as he watched his comrade depart, an hour later, his light luggage strapped on the droschky behind him, Vladimir's heart was heavy with foreboding. Could he have seen Ivan's first destination he might, at last, have attempted some active remonstrance; though it is doubtful if he could have made any impression on Ivan's present mood. Lieutenant Gregoriev drove straight to a house on Vassily Island: held there a brief but interesting interview with a certain young woman; and, three hours later, any one who cared to look might have seen Ivan Gregoriev and Irina Petrovna, with luggage and passports which attempted no deception, leaving Petersburg together on the evening train for Baden-Baden!
* * * * *
Just what Ivan's intention had been when, in his hour of madness, he committed this irreparable and terrible mistake, no one, least of all himself, could have said. Despair had driven him, for the moment, out of his senses. He cared nothing whatever for himself or his reputation, little for that of the woman he would have dragged down with him. In his mind he had some dreary hope that Nathalie, the weak and faithless, would learn of his wretched action and be hurt by it—a little as he had been hurt by her.
Before the reckless twain had arrived at their all too public destination, however, Ivan was in a fever of misery and shame. Well enough to laugh and say that the thing he proposed to do was so common as scarce to cause notice in the gay watering-place, always a rendezvous for the high half-world. But Ivan was, even now, by no means of this kind: the military members of the Yacht club, to whom such escapades were afterwards proudly exploited among their friends. All night long, as he sat upright in his place in the reserved carriage, sleepless, watching the young woman who was reclining opposite him trustfully unconscious, Ivan was aware of his mother's reproachful presence: and heard again the voice that had rung so dreadfully in his boyish ears: "Remember, Ivan, what I have suffered, through a man! Will you remember?—Will you break the Gregoriev tradition towards women?"
Once again Sophia, gentle woman, did her work. Irina Petrovna opened her eyes, next day, upon a different man.
Whether the girl were astonished, or pleased, or disappointed, by the strangeness of her situation during the fortnight in Baden, Ivan could not tell. He was perfectly well aware that it would be of no use to explain their true position to any one he knew. Mockery at his faith in their credulity at so preposterous a statement, would have been his only reward. But it was none the less true that, so long as Irina remained with him, she was treated with the punctilious courtesy that he should have used towards her had she been what they pretended her to be: his sister. He had taken three rooms—two bedrooms and a little salon—at the hotel. And the very waiters winked, solemnly, outside the salon door, as they served early coffee and, later, an elaborate dejeuner, to the two within. But Ivan could meet any eye calmly. And if Irina marvelled, she said nothing. Only, from this time forth, Ivan occupied, in her secret soul, a niche of his own, far above that of any other man. In later years, many candles burned before her shrine; and it served to keep within her heart one spot inviolate. The thoughts, the prayers, expended here without sense of conscious virtue, perhaps served her unexpectedly in the end, when before her, hopeless one, a golden gate swung slowly open, and she entered that land where the wretched deeds of her later life could blacken her thoughts no more.—At the time, certainly, she might have been impatient at the formality of her companion's manner, his unfailing deference to her faintest wish. And yet she was conscious that the days spent in this gay resort were happy: happier than any she had ever known. And even Ivan, in the great anxiety of his soul, found that a conscience unexpectedly clear can bring a species of content less fleeting than any causeless light-heartedness. He was giving little thought to others' thought of him. But Petersburg was dull just now; and his behavior had been a godsend to the salons.—Good Heavens—how they were using his name—and hers!
* * * * *
On the morning of April 30th, Petersburg was still a sea of mud: the atmosphere still thick with rain. Spring was opening slowly. But the ice had gone out of the Neva. Boats plied along the canals. And all the world was packing away its furs. The day was intensely dreary. But the heart of Vladimir de Windt, who was lounging idly about his desolate apartment, was drearier still. How he missed that foolish Ivan, still lost in the great unknown! How he railed at him, in secret, the while he bravely defended him, single-handed, against the world; till the day when he learned Ivan's prospect of utter calamity and took the knowledge home with him to bear in solitude. It was a week, now, since the day of his own interview with Brodsky. By this time the whole city knew all!—Gregoriev's heart-history had been dragged gayly through the mud of Petersburg society; and at last the curious world might write finis upon a completed story—in which the lady was now safely married to another; the man disgraced and degraded.—But the cause of this disgrace, and its injustice, only de Windt knew or cared to know.
Even he could not guess, however, how Brodsky had discovered the identity of Ivan's companion. But de Windt had borne the brunt of the Colonel's rage when he learned it; and de Windt had endeavored to obtain some sort of softening of the sentence pronounced upon the unhappy boy.—It was vain. And even Vladimir, as he lay once more going over the rapid events of the past weeks, never dreamed, in his heart, that Ivan was not guilty in a certain way. Men must judge one another by their own standards. De Windt had never thought Ivan effeminate—a milk-sop; but, had he been made to believe the truth, it is probable that one or the other of these epithets would then have expressed his opinion of his friend.
The first charge made by Brodsky against his Lieutenant was that of overstaying his leave—already for the length of seven days, and still no prospect of return. The second charge, a far more serious one, was that of conduct unbecoming an officer of the guard: conduct which, though it might be laid to the door of almost any unmarried officer in the service, nobody had ever before dreamed of forcing home for judgment. But at last, it seemed, there was a man willing and ready, for the sake of an old spite, to risk shattering his own glass house to splinters for the sake of a revenge. Brodsky was determined, immediately upon Ivan's return, to summon him to a court-martial; and, since he was not a man to keep silence with regard to his plans, the tale, with its piquant references to Brodsky's private malice, was in everybody's mouth, and was found spicy enough to sting the palate of the most jaded scandal-monger in the army—in comparison with which that of a woman of fifty years' residence in India, is not to be compared. But by the end of April even this affair had been served up often enough to have grown slightly stale; and Petersburg was now on the qui vive for a denouement.
It came, that denouement—well-timed: just when the clubs were full to the brim, the barracks crowded, the city overflowing with ennuyee men and women who were preparing for their summer flight. But the first scene of the last act was not watched by the outer world.
It was eleven o'clock on the morning of the 30th. De Windt, grown desperate under the weight of his thoughts, flung his yellow novel into the empty stove, and had just lounged back to the sofa when—the door opened, quietly, and Ivan came in: Ivan, rather pale, but very dignified: his head held high.
Vladimir turned on him, opened his lips, closed them again and gazed, silently, at his comrade. Ivan returned the look for a few seconds,—stared—read—possibly understood. At all events his face suddenly quivered, and then—he began to laugh! He passed from one paroxysm to another, till de Windt, in a blind rage, took him by the shoulders and shook him, violently, to silence. Then, under a swift reaction, he stood before the prodigal drooping like a school-boy under his master's frown. But Ivan felt, apparently, no resentment. Presently he went to the side-table, poured himself out three fingers of cognac, drank it, and then, as he began to remove his dripping outer garments, asked, rather briskly than otherwise:
"Well, Vladimir—out with it! What are they going to do about me?"
And Vladimir, half-irritated, but driven, in any case, to speech, told, briefly and baldly, all he had to tell. In ten minutes, Ivan stood looking down upon the hopeless, crumbling ruin of his life.
* * * * *
In these sudden crises, there are few men philosophic enough, or wise enough, to look, broadly, back, inward, and ahead, in a calm analysis of cause, effect and reason. At this time, Ivan certainly knew—had known, for months if not for years, that he was leading a life for which nature had not fitted him: neglecting a career bestowed upon him by a higher hand than often interferes in the destinies of man. There had been many times when, his whole soul yearning over the work to which he could devote so little of his best self, he had cried aloud to Heaven to change his lot—to banish these half-gods that kept his true lord at bay. And now these inarticulate prayers were fully answered:—and Ivan's soul was writhing in rebellion at the injustice of that which had been put upon him: the malicious revenge of a scoundrelly officer who, for private reasons, had seen fit to punish him for an offence which was daily winked at by the entire army! Indeed, Brodsky's action, which was certainly justified by the letter but never by the spirit of the military code, had caused the military world a quiver of apprehension. They looked on, aghast, at proceedings which they were powerless to stop. But it is safe to say that there was not a man in the court-martial who did not blush as he admitted the justice of the sentence finally passed upon the luckless prisoner. The proceedings lasted, altogether, a fortnight; during which time all of Russia and a great part of Europe rang with the scandal.—Ivan did not even attempt a defence; though Irina, coming to him on the first evening, went down on her knees in her plea to be allowed to save him. Even Ivan's lawyer foresaw the reception of her unsupported statement as against the testimony of the hotel clerks, boys and waiters brought from Baden by Brodsky himself. In the end, Mademoiselle Petrovna was not permitted to appear at all in court. Ivan's money kept her safely out of Russia, after the second day of the trial. And, while the girl mourned for him, she knew well that her own fortune in the half-world was made.—Such advertising as this!—Who could compete with her? Had not the papers in Europe published, twenty times, the picture of the beautiful heroine of this unsavory romance?
In the mean time, in Moscow, the chief of the Third Section was aging a year a day as he raved, helpless and mad with fury, at the folly of his son and the treacherous villany of Brodsky. Privately, Russian officialdom was shaken to its depths. But daily the masks were adjusted, and the farce of virtue, within and without that court, went on; while the people, even to the peasants, laughed at the mockery of it all. Some sort of compensation, later on, Michael Gregoriev did obtain. In the autumn of that year Foma Vassilyitch Brodsky went to Siberia, as the result of an examination of certain peculations, the charge of which, together with overwhelming proof, was brought by Prince Gregoriev of Moscow.
But that was a sorry triumph: the victor a broken man. For Michael Gregoriev had lost his son; and, with him, all those great ambitions for which he had toiled and cheated and blackmailed throughout a lifetime.
Finally, on the morning of May 17th, Ivan Gregoriev, degraded from his rank, driven in disgrace from the army, sat alone in his bedroom conning over the words of the telegram clutched in his listless hand: words whereby he understood that he was no longer the son of his father, but sat, a penniless outcast, alone in a pitiless, jeering world.
Ivan had begun to pay his price—not for a foolish escapade, but for his sonship among the Great that labor and may not rest. It was, perhaps, a tardy beginning for a career such as his must be: but it was a complete one, at least. The world lay all before him where to choose:—a blessing which he, however, at this moment, appreciated not at all.
During the past hideous days, it had seemed to Ivan that he was living wholly in the memory of his cousin. It was the picture of her that had borne him through the time of dreadful notoriety. But now, on the morning after the receipt of that harsh telegram, Nathalie and all her history with him, had passed completely from his mind, as something belonging to a forgotten existence. He rose early, after a restless, feverish night. During the fumbling toilet that followed, he stopped short, more than once, to throw himself into the nearest chair appalled and overcome by some fresh view of the situation which he was beginning, only now, fully to realize. Moreover, he was suffering physically. All through the late afternoon and evening of the day before he had sat alone with de Windt, in the next room, drinking steadily, till, for perhaps the first time in his life, he had lost consciousness, and could remember nothing of Vladimir's putting him to bed.
By the time he entered the little dining-room, where the samovar already hissed upon that cosey table, to which he had sat down upon so many joyous, care-free mornings, the light in his eyes was softer, the new lines in his face less rigidly fixed. He was remembering, bit by bit, the details of his recent talk with de Windt, who, heart-broken over Ivan's double ruin, and showing far more emotion than Michael's son himself, had fairly gone upon his knees to his friend, begging him to share his private fortune, and swearing that he should challenge every officer in the army who uttered one word against their recent comrade. Ivan remembered with relief how, even under the influence of nearly a quart of vodka, he had gently refused Vladimir's generosity. From the very beginning, when, in his numbness, the future had been still unimaginable, Ivan's course had appeared perfectly clear to him. Cast out on all sides, by friends and family alike, he would be beholden to no one in the world. Starve he could, without a murmur, if he did not find work. But charity—to the amount of one kopeck, one meal, even so much as a cup of water!—he would accept from no man: no, not from Vladimir de Windt, though he felt towards him as towards a brother. Moreover, he had spent his last night in these dearly familiar rooms; and he had accomplished the difficult task of putting his friend away from him without rousing that friend's antagonism. So much Ivan had decided, before, as he sat sipping his first cup of tea, de Windt appeared, starting to see his comrade in civilian's dress. Ivan saw that start, and understood it; but his voice betrayed no emotion as the customary good-mornings passed between them, and de Windt, seating himself and beginning to prepare his tea, said, quietly:
"Ivan Mikhailovitch, you have not told me how you are going to begin in the work you were talking of last night. How are you to get a start?—It's not very paying at best: the least lucrative of all the arts—because it's the highest, I suppose. Now, old fellow, I understand your general stand; but, for Heaven's sake, don't hurt me by refusing to let me lend you a rouble or two, till you get started—have made a little headway, you know!"
Ivan looked up, seriously: "Thank you, my friend. I'm sorry, but even that I can't take. It'll be no easier, starting in three months hence, and with a debt on my hands, than now—will it? I've been so pampered all my life, that I declare it's going to be absolutely a pleasure to appreciate the value of a kopeck I have earned. Don't you know, Vladimir Vassilyitch, that most of us would be infinitely stronger men if we had to act men's parts?—Bah! How many thousands are in just my state to-day, except that, besides themselves, they have a wife and children to feed, clothe and shelter?—That might come hard! But if I can't earn my own living, I have no right to live at all. Why the devil should I pity myself?" And he gave a short, rather hard, laugh.
"You might pity yourself, Ivan Mikhailovitch, because you have just had three blows about as big as the average man is called upon to bear throughout his lifetime. The mere fact that you haven't gone under altogether, says a good deal for your manliness.
"I've been thinking, half the night, about your future: trying to put myself in your place. And I swear, Ivan, by the Holy Synod, that, if I were you, I should not do what you intend about that money. A few weeks more, and your semiannual allowance is due. The five thousand roubles that you've saved and tumbled into a bank, don't belong to Prince Gregoriev. He hasn't asked you for anything that he gave you while you were—in your rightful place. And good Heavens! Haven't you surrendered enough, without the quixotism of returning to him what he doesn't either want or expect?—You might as well try to return him your baby-clothes!—So, if not for your own sake, then for me—for us—for the sake of those that care for you, give yourself, at least, this one little chance!"—De Windt's voice, as he stopped, was shaking; and he turned his red face away that Ivan might not notice what was happening to his eyes. Nevertheless Ivan had seen, and had been touched to the quick. His hand shot out, impetuously: and his voice was nearly as gruff as de Windt's as he began:
"Old fellow, I am giving myself a chance. I've a lot of expensive trash in these rooms that I sha'n't need now. I shall sell the greater part of that and make use of the proceeds. Most of the furniture here belonged to my mother. My own stuff was bought with the little money she left me.—As for the other affair,—if I had anything else in the world for which—my father paid, I should certainly return it to him, as I am returning this money.—You can't possibly understand my feeling; because you don't know—the man."
"Well, well! You see, Vladimir, that I should have some hundreds of roubles, in spite of everything. And that will be enough to keep me for six months, with economy. By that time I shall prove my manhood.—Meantime, I intend that one week shall see me settled in my new world."
Thus ended their conversation—and with it de Windt's last effort to prevent his friend from, as he considered, deliberately ruining himself. Yet, in the end, he did help Ivan, much to that young man's secret chagrin. And the little affair was managed so adroitly, that it was impossible to refuse the presentation of two hundred and fifty roubles which had been obtained in a perfectly business-like way. The rent of the young men's apartment, which was by no means low, had always been divided evenly between them, and payed, quarterly, to their landlord. Immediately upon the decision that Ivan was to leave this fashionable quarter of the city, a young ensign of the Second Grenadiers, one to whom both young men had taken a great fancy during the winter, offered to take Ivan's share of the apartment off his hands. As he entered before the 1st of June, he naturally insisted upon paying the two months' rent, which, however, Vladimir did not send Ivan until twenty-four hours after that quixotic youth had mailed his father a check for every kopeck of money saved by him from his large allowance. The rent-money, added to that accruing from the sale of his personal effects, which were extravagantly rich, was certainly acceptable to him, in his otherwise penniless situation; and, stiffly as he acknowledged the receipt of young Frol's check, de Windt perceived that he was deeply sensible of the kindliness and friendly feeling that had inspired the act. This was at least a crumb of comfort to the unhappy Vladimir; who had been overwhelmed by bitter regret at the series of misfortunes which now ended forever his friendship with the one intimate companion of his life. For de Windt, so speedily and so easily attracted to Gregoriev, was the most difficult officer in the regiment to know. This peculiarity, indeed, he carried with him through life: for from boyhood to death, he was always unhappily swift to read the meaner faults of men; and pettiness, hypocrisy, selfishness and vanity, were stamped, to his piercing eyes, upon the faces of ninety out of every hundred with whom he came in contact. By the time he had reached twenty-five, his inbred pessimism was so deeply rooted within him, that mankind, always interesting and to be studied as a theme, was to be fenced with, and generally avoided as a living entity. He rose in his time, did Vladimir de Windt, to be the Premier of Russia. But never again, throughout his magnificent career, did he find in the eyes of any man the clear truthfulness, the unselfishness, and the pathetic faith that he had known and so loved in his lost friend, Ivan Gregoriev.
The end of Ivan's brief and brilliant career was like its beginning: meteoric. On the 20th of April, a whisper against him whirled through the salons. On the 30th it had become a murmur. From May 5th to May 19th, Petersburg had stood, with open mouth, craning its neck to catch a glimpse of this monster of vice and crime. On May 21st, as Ivan walked from the court-room, every eye had been averted from him, every skirt drawn back from possible contact with that uniform which he had no longer the right to wear. By the first of June, occasional furtive eyes were seeking the chance to look through him once again; and their owners wondered what signs of shame and misery they should have the joy of reading upon his face. But, none of these eyes perceiving him, whispers began once more to creep slowly round: in a weak-voiced inquiry about the criminal. But, among all of those that asked, there was not one who received an answer; though it was not till the middle of the month that society, on the eve of departing to defile the country-side, paused for a moment to lift its brows over the discovery that Ivan Gregoriev would never be snubbed again. He had disappeared, absolutely, completely, out of the ken of his former world; though it took infinite repetition to convince everybody that even Vladimir de Windt did not know his address. Certainly Ivan had accomplished a very unusual thing. Living still in the midst of the world, he was lost to mankind; had vanished utterly from sight or hearing.
Yet poor Ivan's decisive action might have been more difficult had he known that, though his romance was over, there was yet to be a postscript to society from Nice—an epilogue, as it were, to the finished romance that had so inconsiderately turned itself into a tragedy. Princess Shulka-Mirski, the intimate friend of the Countess Dravikine, had received a letter, written in the first heat of the news of the court-martial's verdict. To be sure, she tried to hide her real motive, by giving a brief description of Nathalie's wedding, and then introducing the delicate topic by uttering fervent thanks that her princess-daughter should have been preserved from marriage with that infamous creature—Sophia's son!
Old Princess Shulka-Mirski had lived long in the world; and reading between lines becomes to some women as much second-nature as calculating the cost of a neighbor's gown. Madame Dravikine, then, had been shaken by the news. Although it was plain that she should always resent any accusation of him: probably even references to his name, in her presence, she had still not been able to refrain from inquiring after his physical health. And the reader guessed how she longed for full news of him; his reception of his disgrace; his attitude towards the world; his present whereabouts; and his plans for the future. In her own mind, the old noblewoman wondered how much of Caroline's odd letter had been prompted by the mental condition of Caroline's daughter. But she had the grace not to repeat this mental query aloud, in her world. As for others' thoughts—well, why should the ecstatic young bride, full of the delight of her title and the Feodoreff sapphires, take the least interest in the fate of a miscreant with whom, in the period of his success, she had indulged in an ephemeral flirtation?
Thus for nine days more they chattered. And then, as Tsarskoe-Selo filled, and the Nikitenko divorce proceedings came thundering down the broad corridor of scandal, Ivan Gregoriev, his youth, success, trial, disgrace and disinheritance, melted away into the utter oblivion of the twice-told, the old, and the stale.
Ah! Could Ivan himself have gained something of indifference! Could his senses, his jangled, shattered nerves, his bruised and bleeding pride, have acquired that callousness of stupidity, how well would it have been with him! But Ivan was Ivan still: high-strung, keenly apperceptive and receptive; his spiritual, like his physical, nerves, alive to every emotion, every pain or pleasure that rose up into his present. Only to a certain natural extent had he changed. The sudden violent revolutions of his wheel of life, had strengthened his character, though they had temporarily shocked both mind and body. His mental state, during the weeks immediately succeeding his change of residence, was one of blank depression. The hand of inheritance lay heavy on him now. The hypersensitiveness of Sophia Blashkov, during the months before his birth, reproduced itself, with startling similarity, in the youth whose sensibilities had been so sharpened by long pampering in the hot-house atmosphere of luxurious idleness; and an attitude of constant flattery and suavity from the men and women in whose eyes he was always haloed by a crown of thousand-rouble pieces. To-day, how different his estate! He saw his world now with the eyes of the outsider. And what a thing it was!—This stolid dummy, from which both tinsel robe and leering mask had now been stripped for him, exposing the brutal, heartless machine that had taken such delight in crushing a fallen man!
Metaphors such as these are stale enough: yet Ivan, in his soreness, concocted many an unlovely allegory, during those first days of his lonely exile. He had been at this useless occupation for some time on a certain afternoon in June, when all his soul seemed crying to him for a breath of country air. He was sitting in his single rocking-chair, by the open dormer of his attic-room, in one of the narrow dwelling streets on Vassily Island—the poorest quarter of Petersburg. Day after day had he sat thus, coming, by slow, rather timorous degrees, face to face with himself and his new surroundings. Just now his eyes were closed; but the noise of the street, in which most of the inhabitants passed the greater part of their time at this season, and the fetid smells of the baking city, came up to him from below, reminding him constantly of his neighborhood.—Ay, he had got his wish!—The half-gods had gone, indeed. But the gods—how should they honor such a spot as this by their divine presence? Nay; he was alone in a strange land. Alone, yet known to many, all too well! Deserted by his own class, how should the poverty-stricken creatures who must henceforth be his neighbors welcome among them one repudiated by his father and his nearest relatives?—Ah! In this last thought lay, indeed, the keynote to poor Ivan's mental state. All through the recent, dreadful weeks, he had held in his heart a hope, however faint, that there would reach him some message, some word, some hint, even, that she—Nathalie, did not utterly condemn him: had still for him a thought of sympathy and understanding of his reckless deed. But day after day had come and gone. The trial had ended. He had left his old haunts: had severed himself completely from all former associations; and without knowing whether the woman he loved—she for whom he had virtually ruined himself,—was a happy wife, a wretched bride, or—dead. Nathalie, like all the rest, had passed out of his life. And night by night he laid him down, clasping in his arms the gaunt figure of despair, before whose dread embrace courage and manhood alike fell back, wavered, and seemed to fade from him forever.
* * * * *
The chronicle of a human life can never do justice to nature; for the reason that, for every man and woman, there come long periods of quiet labor or inaction when for months, perhaps years, scarce one untoward incident comes to break the slow routine of existence. The doings of one day repeat those of the day before, anticipate those of the morrow. What shall the chronicler do? Send his reader yawning to bed over the unfinishable tale? Or pass over, in a word, some period in which his subject is growing and changing, day by day, for better or for worse, till he emerges from that long, monotonous stretch, a creature startlingly different from that of the last chapter?—It is to such an impasse as this that we have arrived with our penniless Ivan. For four years we find scarce a single mile-stone of event along his highway. And yet the development of Ivan's secret self was swift; unusual; tremendous. During this period he grappled frequently with mighty, rising passions; crushed rebellions; bowed to revolutions carried on within the kingdom of his soul. Yet he was no weakling, to keep a diary of moods. And our only testimony of him, is from—let us say—his landlady, the excellent Elizabeth Stepniak:
A tall fellow, growing a little stooped: silent, unobliging, unsociable; yet a good lodger in his way, in that he paid his rent, and never disturbed families below him with the carousals and other performances common to young bachelors. When he had first come, he had, indeed, spent an entire summer in shocking idleness; and she, Frau Gemaelin, had worried, from time to time, about her money; and again sometimes, when he had paid it without a word, felt inclined, by boldly raising it, to discover what were really his means. However, in the autumn she did find out his work. He was a kind of musiker; and not only played one or two simple instruments in the orchestra of a small, third-class theatre near by, but also copied orchestra parts from original scores, corrected music proofs, and orchestrated many an ambitious attempt at composition sent him by over-enthusiastic students of the Conservatoire. Moreover, towards the end of his first winter, the recluse began to have an occasional caller; and at such times was wont to make disagreeable demands that he get the amount of wood and peat for his fire that he paid for: not those customary odd scraps of fuel which she usually found him willing enough to accept. It was not as if his visitors had been worth anything!—They were simply musical fellows like himself; and dressed as such—without even so much as a touch of gold on cuff or lapel!
The second summer proved a trying one to the good landlady. If her lodger had not been with her so long, she vowed she could not have borne with his actions—bringing home a new musical instrument every week; from most of which he drew forth noises that either set one's teeth on edge, or made her so mournful that she would be forced to ease her feelings by a visit to the cemetery; where her faithful Makar lay sleeping his last sleep. And yet, for all his preposterous caterwaulings, on not one of these various instruments did Ivan really learn to play! Long before he attained any proficiency upon one, he would take that back to wherever it came from, and bring home another; till at last she felt it a duty to remonstrate with the fellow upon the fatuity of not getting something one wanted at first and then sticking to it. Not that she wasn't well aware how little real liveliness was to be got out of any of his instruments! She could understand his disgust with them. But let him get something really musical, and he would see. She was musical herself, and liked a tune as well as anybody. Now, "In Berlin Sagt Er," on a concertina, say;—ah! There was something possible, to be sure!
But all her advice to the silly fellow was soon seen to be completely wasted. The idiot thanked her, solemnly, and with an air; but immediately spoiled it all by explaining that he did not want to learn to play any instrument; but was finding out the kind of sounds made by each one.—As if any but a person born silly could care to learn that!—And she did not think Mr. Gregoriev exactly a fool—or, at least, weak-brained.
Well, he had gone on, and lived with her till four years rolled round, and it was May again—the May of 1866; when Ivan, who looked thirty and more, was not yet at his twenty-sixth birthday.
So much for Madame Stepniak, and her account of her lodger's simple existence: one which furnishes us no little insight into the process and progress of that inner impetus towards a career so far from his inherited position: a yearning, from which he had suffered acutely up to the time of his sudden freedom. It is, then, somewhat curious that, throughout his former life, through his boyhood, his years in the Corps, and the brief period of his society life, Ivan should have been on terms of genuine intimacy with himself; whereas, after the dissolution of all artificiality in his surroundings, when at last he stood before himself, face to face with his naked soul, he became suddenly disturbed, uncertain, afraid of that self-confidence on which he had hitherto so prided himself. For many months he had turned from the self-analysis which would finally have developed into morbidness. And his act had met its reward. Slowly, at length, there emerged, out of its veiling mists, that long-neglected animus, which, bearing no malice for neglect, came to Ivan, and took him by the hand, saying:
"We meet again. Henceforth let us traverse together the appointed road."
In that hour it seemed as if a great wave of understanding and of welcome overswept Ivan; and when it had passed, he knew that the soul of him had undergone a change: the great change for which he had not dared to hope. The evil consequences of his long months of pampering disappeared. Regret for what had been grew faint. He was glad of the present: he held out glad arms to the future—that future of labor, possibly thankless, which he was to dread no more. In fact, he was become a man, honest and clean and strong; and, for a time, he dwelt in peace with his best self, and believed his struggle finally ended.
The belief was premature. Evil habit dies not in a day. A few weeks, and lo! it was upon him again: his coward self, with all its black legion of habit, laziness, love of ease, gluttony, and petty vice. Thenceforth his spirit was become a battle-field, whereon, long and long, the two leaders, angel and devil, manipulated their forces, and held conflict upon conflict, not one of which appeared decisive. Yet, gradually, it seemed to him who waited, the standard of intellect rose high and shining over the white, luminous lines; while that of the animal grew frayed and faded, beginning to betray the rottenness of its material beneath the gaudy ornaments. Victory was finally acknowledged when, upon a November day of his year of disgrace,—1862, Ivan, braving scorn, rejection, even deliberate non-recognition, entered the doors of the Conservatoire over the dead body of his false pride, and asked to see the director, Monsieur Zaremba.
He emerged from that building, a little later, with a radiant face, and a heart throbbing with gratitude. Not only Zaremba, but both Rubinsteins had come from their classes to greet him; showing in their manner respect, interest, nay, almost, he believed, pleasure! And, before he had made his simple request, more than he had dreamed of asking had been suggested—proffered to him: so generously, moreover, that he could not possibly take it as patronage. He had now, under his arm, a roll of manuscript music to be copied into parts—for which work the pay was good. Such tasks, he was assured, could be promised regularly. But there were already other plans in his brain—plans suggested by Nicholas Rubinstein and developed by the others. Ivan must re-enter the harmony classes; and there would be no charge, during the winter, since he could surely, by a little exertion, win one of the scholarships given after the annual competitions in June. With one of these—or the money he should earn in later years, all obligations might be cancelled—if he chose. For these musicians recognized their kind: and, since that long-past evening of the barcarolle, had marked Ivan for a future, according to their lights. As for the events of the past May—what was the army, what was a pretty woman, to them? To their minds, the whole episode had been singularly fortunate; since it delivered Ivan from a useless and foolish life; and gave them an opportunity to push the youth, willy-nilly, into revealing the final quality of his undoubted talent.—And they were to discover it, indeed. After which, according to their inconsistent consistency, Ivan having attained some slight reputation, they might turn upon him, one and all, and score him, bitterly, in their jealousy.—Which fact, with many another equally sure and equally unpleasant, remained unsuspected by the happy man who ascended his four flights of stairs that snowy night to light a sacrificial fire to the arbiter of his soul, the first of the promised gods, who had stolen in upon him unawares, and now cast off his whole disguise: the god of labor loved.
At last Ivan's days began to be full: full of a dry work that contained many sources of keen interest to him. Certainly the greater part of it was the merest drudgery. Each afternoon he bent over a desk, laboriously copying manuscript music; meditating upon his morning of study at the Conservatoire; or seeking to hear the music the notes and signs of which he had been writing down. And this last exercise, idle though he thought it, in time bore excellent results. In the evening he still played in the orchestra of the Panaievsky Theatre—though he had now risen from "all-round man" to the sole charge of the kettle-drums. Even the performances on the shallow stage above him held for him keen interest; and, without other tuition, he gained here a knowledge of dramatic construction that served him well later, during the creation of his few operas. For, in Ivan, great talent found itself mated to love of earnest work:—a union to which the world has, through all time, owed its greatest masters of art and science.
During eighteen months—until the autumn of 1864, Ivan's working-day averaged fourteen hours. He studied constantly under Anton Rubinstein; and had the privilege, during that time, of many a private lesson under the master who at that time looked upon him as his special discovery. During the summer, he took a few pupils from the poorer ranks of the Conservatoire: students, who, by means of coaching during the summer, and double work in the winter months, managed to shorten their years of study, that wage-earning might begin as soon as possible.
At the beginning of the new winter season, Ivan passed through an experience deeply dreaded, and found himself the recipient of a happiness greater than he had dreamed possible. At the earnest solicitation of his master, he once more made his appearance in the salon of the Grand-Duchess Helena: this time as a paid accompanist. The moment in which he crossed the once familiar threshold, seemed to him the most difficult of his lonely years. And then, in another instant, he was in a new country! Her Imperial Highness greeted him with a cordiality such as she had never before shown; and the assembled company only waited for the royal greeting to crowd about him, hands out-stretched, with a welcome that brought a lump to his throat. If his playing was very bad that night: if his cold, damp fingers could scarcely move across the keys, no one noticed it save, perhaps, his hostess, who surely, in her beautiful wisdom, understood it well.
Years of hard study and constant mechanical training had kept Ivan safe for a long time from immature and damaging attempts at creative work. But with the ending of this winter of 1864-65, the spring began to bring him a renewal of dreams and aspirations too vivid and too strong to be written off by any fury of exercise, work, or self-deprecation. Melodies of long ago began to ring again in his ears. Old bits of harmonization, half forgotten, returned upon him with new meaning in their crude successions. Vague ideas grew clear. And there was a turmoil within him which he recognized, instinctively, as the creator's imperative summons. Still he held off, remembering the warnings of attempting work without tools—of production before the acquirement of sufficient technique. No use! The more he fought, the more did his brain seethe—fired by the events of his dead life, its incidents, its dramatic climaxes, its final tragedy, all of them turned into a new form, a new meaning: resolving themselves persistently into his one means of expression. Thus it was that, before he understood the significance of the change in him, he realized at last the great fact that his first great work had risen to completion, as it were, in a night, and lay now awaiting only the mechanical transcription to paper. It was ambitious, this first work—the "Symphony of Youth." Its first movement was allegro agitato, adagio, and allegretto scherzando, picturing each vivid phase of early boyhood; next came the requisite andante,—a dreaming melody, expressing all the yearning, the vague melancholy of pre-adolescence; then the third: a rippling scherzo of youthful pleasures, gayety, young loves and joyous dances; finally a tempestuous finale: allegretto sforzando e appassionato—the rising of the burdens of manhood, of new ambitions; the descending of the sadness of man's responsibility, the reluctant passing of the careless, heart-free joys of youth.
The idea and its possibilities took possession of Ivan so much to the exclusion of all else that by mid-May he capitulated to it, announced his intention of taking a holiday for the summer, and secreted himself in his old room, confiding in no one, instinctively afraid of discouragement from his master and benefactor. But it was a reckless business, this resignation of all means of livelihood. He had very little money saved; and, do what he would, he could not hope, if he was to keep out of debt, to buy much nourishing food. Through stifling days and pitiless, white nights, he labored, alone, incessantly; sparing himself in no way; foolishly refraining from exercise and out-door air, because both of them sharpened his constantly unsatisfied appetite. What more natural, then, than that September should bring with it fever, delirium, bad nursing, heavy bills; and October a convalescence rendered doubly slow because of persistent malnutrition. From this he passed, at the end of this month, into a haggard semblance of health, accompanied by that black depression which cries aloud for rest and complete change of scene.
Neither of these, however, could Ivan get. Doggedly he returned to his duties, and began, bit by bit, to pay off his debts: those debts which, five years ago, would have appeared so absurd; and which were now the nightmare of his existence! But, though he managed to accomplish the usual amount of work, and had even occasional snatches of a brilliance which astonished himself, it was not difficult to read in his face the signs of approaching breakdown. He had lived too long upon his nerves. The Rubinsteins, consulting together, shook their heads over him, wondered how his pride was to be circumvented, and finally hit on a scheme which was, for them, more than usually tactful. Anton created a new medal and scholarship, to be presented thereafter annually for the best musical setting of a classic poem which was to be the same for all. It was an exercise in which Ivan delighted; and there was little doubt as to the destination of the prize of the first year. Fate treated him kindly, at last; for he managed to keep up till after the contest. His setting of Schiller's "Ode to Joy" was incomparably the best of the sixty efforts. So, with five hundred roubles, he paid the remainder of his debts, and found himself, one week later, in Vevey, a nervous wreck, truly; but free at last from mental worry, and drawing in hope and life with every breath.
It was September before Petersburg saw him again—penniless, but full of such vigor and energy as were equal to a fair-sized capital. And he had not been in the city more than a fortnight, before he discovered that one more stage upon his rough road was over; and that the bend beyond the half-way house hid tremendous possibilities.
It was the afternoon of the 16th of the month. Ivan was at his table, bending over some half-finished parts for an orchestra overture, when the door of his old attic opened, unceremoniously, and Nicholas Rubinstein strode in.
THE MOSCOW CONSERVATOIRE
Ivan rose from his place, smiling a welcome. In spite of himself he had always liked Anton less than the unfamed brother whom Petersburg supposed just now to be in Vienna, attending Anton in his new series of electrifying recitals. But the rough, strong, kindly face, short, muscular figure and genial smile of Ivan's visitor were unmistakable. He, then, after shaking hands with the younger man, put down the huge water-proof portfolio that he bore under his arm, shuffled out of the alpaca overcoat that he persistently wore, summer after summer, threw his hat upon the bed, and, with a face more than usually serious, drew a chair to the other side of the work-table, and sat down.
"I'm interrupting your work," he remarked, as Ivan shoved his copy to one side and seated himself also. "Yes, I'm interrupting; but you can spare the time, I believe, considering my errand."
"I've plenty of time.—But—there's no trouble in Vienna,—no accident, I hope?" Ivan's tone took on a shade of anxiety.
Nicholas, who was engaged in lighting a very black cigar, did not answer till the blue smoke was rolling up satisfactorily. Then he replied: "No, I left there a week ago. Anton is with Bruckner and one or two others, and didn't need me. But I—well, there's a most annoying business about this Moscow affair!"
"What? The new Conservatoire?"
"Yes. You know Serov signed a contract to take the intermediate classes: theory and orchestration, you understand."
Ivan nodded. "In June, before I left, he was full of it."
"Um—yes. And he signed the contract, remember!—But that was before they began to fill his pockets and his head with the success of 'Reseda'—that new opera of his—very mixed style, and too light.—No depth at all.—No classic restraint. Bald melody—thin little tum-ti-tums, pizzicato, for accompaniment! But he found a new theme, the other day, and has gone mad about it. Now there's nothing to be done with him. Wrote me ten days ago to say that he absolutely must stay here this winter to keep his proper musical 'atmosphere.'—Oh these musicians! Not an ounce of business integrity in the lot of 'em!—Of course, we could hold him to the contract. But do we want a teacher that hasn't a thought for his classes?—Anton says, make him go to Moscow! I say, let him stay here. But I'm worried to death over it. I'd do his work myself, only I'm up to my ears in classes and lectures as it is.—And the thing opens in November!—Who is to take the main body of the students, for Heaven's sake?"
"Laroche!" shouted Ivan.
"Irresponsible; and—too much money."
"Um—a—oh—this new man we hear of—Monsieur Kashkine, of Moscow."
"He's literary, rather than musical. No real time for classes."
"By nature a virtuoso. It would be rather a pity to waste his technique and pin him down to a teacher's life. With a composer, the thing's different. One can always find time for composition, even while teaching. But practice knocks any possibility of other work on the head at once."
There was a pause. Ivan, at the end of his suggestions, began to feel puzzled at Rubinstein's coming to him with such questions at all. Presently, however, he decided that this was not the real object of the visit; and asked, with a change of tone: "Well, have you some new work for me?—Some copying?"
"I've got some new work for you, certainly. But not copying."
"Well—this. I want you to leave here for Moscow, with me, in five days; and prepare to take Serov's place in the new Conservatoire."
"What!" The exclamation was low, and absolutely incredulous.
"You heard me. Aren't you perfectly well fitted to teach theory and harmony laws, and the principles of composition, to a lot of ignoramuses, at one hundred roubles a month?"
Before Nicholas had finished, Ivan jumped to his feet and began to pace up and down the attic-room. In his cheeks there appeared two vivid spots of red; and his eyes shone, peculiarly. Rubinstein sat puffing at the pipe for which he had just exchanged his cigar; while he stared about the bare room, and waited, patiently, for his sudden proposition to sink home. He was unprepared, however, for what came. Ivan presently stopped in front of him, saying, hurriedly:
"You know I was born in Moscow?"
"I have heard it."
"My father lives there."
"That will be fortunate for you."
"Oh! but—he—I'm disinherited, you know! And—where should I live, there, on my hundred roubles a month?"
"Well, it is not a large sum; but it can be done. Besides, as soon as we prove the thing a success, we'll increase the salaries. Also, you shall have time to work on your own little ideas.—Ah! I have it!—I've an apartment, close to the Conservatoire. It's furnished, and Shradik—violin, you know—is living there already. He has one room, I another. Will you take the third? We'll share the parlor."
"Oh—oh Nicholas Ivanovitch, stop! You misunderstand!—The pay is double what I live on now.—I mean, only, that—for me—there are memories in Moscow: bitter ones.—I'm used to ostracism here; but in Moscow—where my mother's family has always been—Oh! I don't see my way to it!"
"Then I'll see it for you. Look here: this offer is going to help you up the ladder. It will prepare the way for your new place in the world:—the one you want to gain for yourself, which is far better than anything inherited. You've more promise in you than any of these other lumbering creatures—even Serov himself. And now—you refuse your great chance because you'll be living in a city where your father is!—Bah, Ivan! I never thought you a school-girl before!—Must it be Laroche, then?"
"By Heavens—no!" The words leaped from him involuntarily; but Ivan let them stay.
Two minutes afterwards the pipe was once more going, placidly; and by the time the room was hazy with smoke, Nicholas had explained the details of his plan, and had departed, leaving Ivan alone, dizzy with the prospects of his new life. Within a fortnight, he could turn his back on Petersburg, the hated city.—Small time now for the long-delayed placing of his symphony: for the completion of the concert overture and the tone-poem already forming in his active brain! Better to wait, and take his chances in the musical world of Moscow.—His work! His profession!—Did this unexpected offer leave him free enough to develop the future of his dreams? Ah well! No use pondering that. The affair was settled; and circumstance must take care of the rest. Destiny is probably foreordained. What reason, then, in struggling over and doubting one's actions? Meantime, a new theme was taking possession of his mind. Moscow, and the idea of seeing it again, had brought old memories down on him; and he wondered if he might not gratify his sudden longing, and let his father know at least that he was alive, and well? The second wish was graver; touching his hidden self more nearly. Could he, should he—would it be humbling his pride too much, if he went to see his aunt—who had just returned to town for the winter?—Would she let him come to say good-bye to her, give him some faint echo of the by-gone friendliness?—Time certainly had drawn the poison from Ivan's wound, since he could debate this question, which, after all, was only the cloak to another: that of the possibility of learning how his cousin fared. For of her, the young Princess, he had learned practically nothing since the time of her hasty marriage in a distant land. That she spent her life in and around Petersburg, he was aware. But he had never once seen her in the city; and had never been sure of her immediate whereabouts. That her place in his heart had never been usurped, nor her image grown dim with the passing years, was all he realized to-day.
Ivan's inheritance from his mother was a temperament sensitive to the point of morbidness. This unhappy characteristic had been fostered only during his early years. But he had not attempted to change it till the period of his disgrace plainly offered a choice between a resolute stifling of his pain or downright madness. Being the son of his father, he made the practical selection. And he saw now that the years of his independent poverty had done much towards the development of common-sense, and the extinction of that hypersensibility which had so marred his otherwise fine nature. Moreover, just the regular, daily routine of work, and the friendly rivalry with his fellow-students, had imbued him with the manly courage with which he faced the world. Yet not one of us can permanently alter his temperament; and, to the end of his life, Ivan was destined to suffer periodic torments from shyness, natural reticence, and a never-dying sense of shame at the memory of that unjust disgrace which by this time many interpreted rightly, and many others had completely forgotten.
For some years, in fact since his boyhood, Ivan's mental attitude towards his father had been as to a black shadow which had lain across the whole of his mother's existence and the greater part of his own. When his change of feeling began, or how, he did not know. Possibly it was as far back as the trial and conviction, through his father's indictment and evidence, of Brodsky, his own bitterest enemy. Certainly its development had certainly been unconscious. And to-day Ivan was himself surprised at his secret feeling of tenderness towards Prince Michael, as for one aged and broken with grief. After the absolute silence of four years, he found it almost a pleasure to write the lonely man, telling him of his little success, his sudden change of residence, something of his ambitions for the future; but not a word of his long struggle with poverty, and the lonely austerity of his life. In the letter he enclosed an address—that of Rubinstein's Moscow apartment; where, even should it not be his own abode, communications at least would always reach him. And if his excellency would but send some word, however brief, Ivan would gladly come to see him—not as a son, necessarily, but as one to whom Prince Gregoriev's welfare could not but be a matter of supreme interest and concern.
The writer of this missive spent time and pains upon its composition; and succeeded in expressing himself with clearness and considerable delicacy, though making very evident the fact that he neither desired nor would accept the slightest pecuniary assistance from one who had so furiously disowned and deserted him in his hour of sore need.
It may have been this final implication, or, more probably, the one other unfortunate suggestion in the letter, relating to the importance to the writer of Michael's welfare—(interpreted health)—which the father angrily deduced as a desire for his death and the hope of speedy inheritance, which once more undid Ivan with the desolate, stubborn, remorsefully remorseless old man, to whom, in his secret soul, the boy was still the apple of his eye, the greatest and final disappointment of his harsh life. Certainly Ivan waited in vain for the requested message. But before this disappointment came, he had passed through another anxiously waited experience. For, on the same day that he posted the letter to Moscow, he took his courage into his hands and went, for the first time since the February of nearly five years ago, to the house in the Serghievskaia, where a brisk young footman informed him suavely that Madame la Comtesse received.
It was forty minutes later when Ivan emerged from the house, his brain whirling in as great a tumult of emotions as were the hearts of two women whom he left behind him. Yet the idea of emotion on his aunt's part would never have occurred to him; and of the other, he knew nothing. Countess Caroline was past mistress in the worldling's art of subtle, refined, undiscoverable patronage, snobbery, indifference—insult if you will. With apparently exactly the same quiet voice and manner, she could warm the soul of a Royal Duchess with the delightfulest flattery; while, in the intervals between phrases, she would shrivel an undesirable caller into a state of quivering apology for the presumption of invading the house of so lofty a personage as Madame Dravikine.
Thus, when her nephew presented himself before her, Countess Caroline's heart gave a great throb of welcome and of pity; but her impassive face grew only a little colder, and, though in the first seconds of looking into the eyes of Sophia's son, hearing the familiar, inherited tricks of her sister's speech, she was betrayed into the suggestion of a genuine frankness, she soon bethought herself of an imminent danger which both were in; and she instantly set herself to drive him from the house at the earliest moment. For the Countess had been momentarily expecting her daughter, who was to come to tea this afternoon; and for many reasons she dared not permit those two to meet again. Therefore poor Ivan found himself treated to a succession of monosyllables so chilling that there rose up in him, first, a great wave of bitter disappointment and grief; and then a hot anger that held him immovable in his seat, in the face of a now open attack of rudeness such as few women and no man had ever before endured from this experienced mondaine. At last, seeing that, while he gained nothing, he was probably losing much by his persistence, he rose, restrained, by an effort, any expression of the fury that his aunt read plainly in his eyes, and left her. Nor did he ever know that during the last fifteen minutes of his stay Nathalie,—Nathalie, her dear face lined with grief and care, her beautiful eyes faded and dull from long bodily pain and the mental anguish that has passed the bounds of tears,—Nathalie, big with child for the third successive autumn of her wretched married life—had sat not twelve feet from him, overhead, in her mother's boudoir. For there she had retreated, on learning that madame was entertaining a young man who was not an habitue of the house, and whose name had not been given for announcement.