Elena clasped his hand still tighter, and her head drooped still lower, as if she would hide from other eyes the flush of shame which suddenly blazed over her face and neck.
'Andrei Petrovitch, you are kind as an angel,' she said, 'but will he come to say goodbye?'
'Yes, I imagine so; he will be sure to come. He wouldn't like to go away——'
'Tell him, tell him——'
But here the poor girl broke down; tears rushed streaming from her eyes, and she ran out of the room.
'So that's how she loves him,' thought Bersenyev, as he walked slowly home. 'I didn't expect that; I didn't think she felt so strongly. I am kind, she says:' he pursued his reflections:... 'Who can tell what feelings, what impulse drove me to tell Elena all that? It was not kindness; no, not kindness. It was all the accursed desire to make sure whether the dagger is really in the wound. I ought to be content. They love each other, and I have been of use to them.... The future go-between between science and the Russian public Shubin calls me; it seems as though it had been decreed at my birth that I should be a go-between. But if I'm mistaken? No, I'm not mistaken——'
It was bitter for Andrei Petrovitch, and he could not turn his mind to Raumer.
The next day at two o'clock Insarov arrived at the Stahovs'. As though by express design, there was a visitor in Anna Vassilyevna's drawing-room at the time, the wife of a neighbouring chief-priest, an excellent and worthy woman, though she had had a little unpleasantness with the police, because she thought fit, in the hottest part of the day, to bathe in a lake near the road, along which a certain dignified general's family used often to be passing. The presence of an outside person was at first even a relief to Elena, from whose face every trace of colour vanished, directly she heard Insarov's step; but her heart sank at the thought that he might go without a word with her alone. He, too, seemed confused, and avoided meeting her eyes. 'Surely he will not go directly,' thought Elena. Insarov was, in fact, turning to take leave of Anna Vassilyevna; Elena hastily rose and called him aside to the window. The priest's wife was surprised, and tried to turn round; but she was so tightly laced that her stays creaked at every movement, and she stayed where she was.
'Listen,' said Elena hurriedly; 'I know what you have come for; Andrei Petrovitch told me of your intention, but I beg, I entreat you, do not say good-bye to us to-day, but come here to-morrow rather earlier, at eleven. I must have a few words with you.'
Insarov bent his head without speaking.
'I will not keep you.... You promise me?'
Again Insarov bowed, but said nothing.
'Lenotchka, come here,' said Anna Vassilyevna, 'look, what a charming reticule.'
'I worked it myself,' observed the priest's wife.
Elena came away from the window.
Insarov did not stay more than a quarter of an hour at the Stahovs'. Elena watched him secretly. He was restless and ill at ease. As before, he did not know where to look, and he went away strangely and suddenly; he seemed to vanish.
Slowly passed that day for Elena; still more slowly dragged on the long, long night. Elena sat on her bed, her arms clasping her knees, and her head laid on them; then she walked to the window, pressed her burning forehead against the cold glass, and thought and thought, going over and over the same thoughts till she was exhausted. Her heart seemed turned to stone, she did not feel it, but the veins in her head throbbed painfully, her hair stifled her, and her lips were dry. 'He will come... he did not say good-bye to mamma... he will not deceive me... Can Andrei Petrovitch have been right? It cannot be... He didn't promise to come in words... Can I have parted from him for ever——?' Those were the thoughts that never left her, literally never left her; they did not come and come again; they were for ever turning like a mist moving about in her brain. 'He loves me!' suddenly flashed through her, setting her whole nature on fire, and she gazed fixedly into the darkness; a secret smile parted her lips, seen by none, but she quickly shook her head, and clasped her hands behind her neck, and again her former thought hung like a mist about her. Before morning she undressed and went to bed, but she could not sleep. The first fiery ray of sunlight fell upon her room... 'Oh, if he loves me!' she cried suddenly, and unabashed by the light shining on her, she opened wide her arms... She got up, dressed, and went down. No one in the house was awake yet. She went into the garden, but in the garden it was peaceful, green, and fresh; the birds chirped so confidingly, and the flowers peeped out so gaily that she could not bear it. 'Oh!' she thought, 'if it is true, no blade of grass is happy as I. But is it true?' She went back to her room and, to kill time, she began changing her dress. But everything slipped out of her hands, and she was still sitting half-dressed before her looking-glass when she was summoned to morning tea. She went down; her mother noticed her pallor, but only said: 'How interesting you are to-day,' and taking her in in a glance, she added: 'How well that dress suits you; you should always put it on when you want to make an impression on any one.' Elena made no reply, and sat down in a corner. Meanwhile it struck nine o'clock; there were only two haurs now till eleven. Elena tried to read, then to sew, then to read again, then she vowed to herself to walk a hundred times up and down one alley, and paced it a hundred times; then for a long time she watched Anna Vassilyevna laying out the cards for patience... and looked at the clock; it was not yet ten. Shubin came into the drawing-room. She tried to talk to him, and begged his pardon, what for she did not know herself.... Every word she uttered did not cost her effort exactly, but roused a kind of amazement in herself. Shubin bent over her. She expected ridicule, raised her eyes, and saw before her a sorrowful and sympathetic face.... She smiled at this face. Shubin, too, smiled at her without speaking, and gently left her. She tried to keep him, but could not at once remember what to call him. At last it struck eleven. Then she began to wait, to wait, and to listen. She could do nothing now; she ceased even to think. Her heart was stirred into life again, and began beating louder and louder, and strange, to say, the time seemed flying by. A quarter of an hour passed, then half an hour; a few minutes more, as Elena thought, had passed, when suddenly she started; the clock had struck not twelve, but one. 'He is not coming; he is going away without saying good-bye.'... The blood rushed to her head with this thought. She felt that she was gasping for breath, that she was on the point of sobbing.... She ran to her own room, and fell with her face in her clasped hands on to the bed.
For half an hour she lay motionless; the tears flowed through her fingers on to the pillow. Suddenly she raised herself and sat up, something strange was passing in her, her face changed, her wet eyes grew dry and shining, her brows were bent and her lips compressed. Another half-hour passed. Elena, for the last time, strained her ears to listen: was not that the familiar voice floating up to her? She got up, put on her hat and gloves, threw a cape over her shoulders, and, slipping unnoticed out of the house, she went with swift steps along the road leading to Bersenyev's lodging.
Elena walked with her head bent and her eyes fixed straight before her. She feared nothing, she considered nothing; she wanted to see Insarov once more. She went on, not noticing that the sun had long ago disappeared behind heavy black clouds, that the wind was roaring by gusts in the trees and blowing her dress about her, that the dust had suddenly risen and was flying in a cloud along the road.... Large drops of rain were falling, she did not even notice it; but it fell faster and heavier, there were flashes of lightning and peals of thunder. Elena stood still looking round.... Fortunately for her, there was a little old broken-down chapel that had been built over a disused well not far from the place where she was overtaken by the storm. She ran to it and got under the low roof. The rain fell in torrents; the sky was completely overcast. In dumb despair Elena stared at the thick network of fast-falling drops. Her last hope of getting a sight of Insarov was vanishing. A little old beggar-woman came into the chapel, shook herself, said with a curtsy: 'Out of the rain, good lady,' and with many sighs and groans sat down on a ledge near the well. Elena put her hand into her pocket; the old woman noticed this action and a light came into her face, yellow and wrinkled now, though once handsome. 'Thank you, dear gracious lady,' she was beginning. There happened to be no purse in Elena's pocket, but the old woman was still holding out her hand.
'I have no money, grannie,' said Elena, 'but here, take this, it will be of use for something.'
She gave her her handkerchief.
'O-oh, my pretty lady,' said the beggar, 'what do you give your handkerchief to me for? For a wedding-present to my grandchild when she's married? God reward you for your goodness!'
A peal of thunder was heard.
'Lord Jesus Christ,' muttered the beggar-woman, and she crossed herself three times. 'Why, haven't I seen you before,' she added after a brief pause. 'Didn't you give me alms in Christ's name?'
Elena looked more attentively at the old woman and recognised her.
'Yes, grannie,' she answered, 'wasn't it you asked me why I was so sorrowful?'
'Yes, darling, yes. I fancied I knew you. And I think you've a heart-ache still. You seem in trouble now. Here's your handkerchief, too, wet from tears to be sure. Oh, you young people, you all have the same sorrow, a terrible woe it is!'
'What sorrow, grannie?'
'Ah, my good young lady, you can't deceive an old woman like me. I know what your heart is heavy over; your sorrow's not an uncommon one. Sure, I have been young too, darling. I have been through that trouble too. Yes. And I'll tell you something, for your goodness to me; you've won a good man, not a light of love, you cling to him alone; cling to him stronger than death. If it comes off, it comes off,—if not, it's in God's hands. Yes. Why are you wondering at me? I'm a fortune-teller. There, I'll carry away your sorrow with your handkerchief. I'll carry it away, and it's over. See the rain's less; you wait a little longer. It's not the first time I've been wet. Remember, darling; you had a sorrow, the sorrow has flown, and there's no memory of it. Good Lord, have mercy on us!'
The beggar-woman got up from the edge of the well, went out of the chapel, and stole off on her way. Elena stared after her in bewilderment. 'What does this mean?' she murmured involuntarily.
The rain grew less and less, the sun peeped out for an instant. Elena was just preparing to leave her shelter.... Suddenly, ten paces from the chapel, she saw Insarov. Wrapt in a cloak he was walking along the very road by which Elena had come; he seemed to be hurrying home.
She clasped the old rail of the steps for support, and tried to call to him, but her voice failed her... Insarov had already passed by without raising his head.
'Dmitri Nikanorovitch!' she said at last.
Insarov stopped abruptly, looked round.... For the first minute he did not know Elena, but he went up to her at once. 'You! you here!' he cried.
She walked back in silence into the chapel. Insarov followed Elena. 'You here?' he repeated.
She was still silent, and only gazed upon him with a strange, slow, tender look. He dropped his eyes.
'You have come from our house?' she asked.
'No... not from your house.'
'No?' repeated Elena, and she tried to smile. 'Is that how you keep your promises? I have been expecting you ever since the morning.'
'I made no promise yesterday, if you remember, Elena Nikolaevna.'
Again Elena faintly smiled, and she passed her hand over her face. Both face and hands were very white.
'You meant, then, to go away without saying good-bye to us?'
'Yes,' replied Insarov in a surly, thick voice.
'What? After our friendship, after the talks, after everything.... Then if I had not met you here by chance.' (Elena's voice began to break, and she paused an instant)... 'you would have gone away like that, without even shaking hands for the last time, and you would not have cared?'
Insarov turned away. 'Elena Nikolaevnas don't talk like that, please. I'm not over happy as it is. Believe me, my decision has cost me great effort. If you knew——'
'I don't want to know,' Elena interposed with dismay, 'why you are going.... It seems it's necessary. It seems we must part. You would not wound your friends without good reason. But, can friends part like this? And we are friends, aren't we?'
'No,' said Insarov.
'What?' murmured Elena. Her cheeks were overspread with a faint flush.
'That's just why I am going away—because we are not friends. Don't force me into saying what I don't want to say, and what I won't say.'
'You used to be so open with me,' said Elena rather reproachfully. 'Do you remember?'
'I used to be able to be open, then I had nothing to conceal; but now——'
'But now?' queried Elena.
'But now... now I must go away. Goodbye.'
If, at that instant, Insarov had lifted his eyes to Elena, he would have seen that her face grew brighter and brighter as he frowned and looked gloomy; but he kept his eyes obstinately fixed on the ground.
'Well, good-bye, Dmitri Nikanorovitch,' she began. 'But at least, since we have met, give me your hand now.'
Insarov was stretching out his hand. 'No, I can't even do that,' he said, and turned away again.
'No, I can't. Good-bye.' And he moved away to the entrance of the chapel.
'Wait a little longer,' said Elena. 'You seem afraid of me. But I am braver than you,' she added, a faint tremor passing suddenly over her whole body. 'I can tell you... shall I?... how it was you found me here? Do you know where I was going?'
Insarov looked in bewilderment at Elena,
'I was going to you.'
Elena hid her face. 'You mean to force me to say that I love you,' she whispered. 'There, I have said it.'
'Elena!' cried Insarov.
She took his hands, looked at him, and fell on his breast.
He held her close to him, and said nothing. There was no need for him to tell her he loved her. From that cry alone, from the instant transformation of the whole man, from the heaving of the breast to which she clung so confidingly, from the touch of his finger tips in her hair, Elena could feel that she was loved. He did not speak, and she needed no words. 'He is here, he loves me... what need of more?' The peace of perfect bliss, the peace of the harbour reached after storm, of the end attained, that heavenly peace which gives significance and beauty even to death, filled her with its divine flood. She desired nothing, for she had gained all. 'O my brother, my friend, my dear one!' her lips were whispering, while she did not know whose was this heart, his or her own, which beat so blissfully, and melted against her bosom.
He stood motionless, folding in his strong embrace the young life surrendered to him; he felt against his heart this new, infinitely precious burden; a passion of tenderness, of gratitude unutterable, was crumbling his hard will to dust, and tears unknown till now stood in his eyes.
She did not weep; she could only repeat, 'O my friend, my brother!'
'So you will follow me everywhere?' he said to her, a quarter of an hour later, still enfolding her and keeping her close to him in his arms.
'Everywhere, to the ends of the earth. Where you are, I will be.'
'And you are not deceiving yourself, you know your parents will never consent to our marriage?'
'I don't deceive myself; I know that.'
'You know that I'm poor—almost a beggar.'
'That I'm not a Russian, that it won't be my fate to live in Russia, that you will have to break all your ties with your country, with your people.'
'I know, I know.'
'Do you know, too, that I have given myself up to a difficult, thankless cause, that I... that we shall have to expose ourselves not to dangers only, but to privation, humiliation, perhaps——'
'I know, I know all—I love you——'
'That you will have to give up all you are accustomed to, that out there alone among strangers, you will be forced perhaps to work——'
She laid her hand on his lips. 'I love you, my dear one.'
He began hotly kissing her slender, rosy hand. Elena did not draw it away from his lips, and with a kind of childish delight, with smiling curiosity, watched how he covered with kisses, first the palm, then the fingers....
All at once she blushed and hid her face upon his breast.
He lifted her head tenderly and looked steadily into her eyes. 'Welcome, then, my wife, before God and men!'
An hour later, Elena, with her hat in one hand, her cape in the other, walked slowly into the drawing-room of the villa. Her hair was in slight disorder; on each cheek was to be seen a small bright spot of colour, the smile would not leave her lips, her eyes were nearly shutting and half hidden under the lids; they, too, were smiling. She could scarcely move for weariness, and this weariness was pleasant to her; everything, indeed, was pleasant to her. Everything seemed sweet and friendly to her. Uvar Ivanovitch was sitting at the window; she went up to him, laid her hand on his shoulder, stretched a little, and involuntarily, as it seemed, she laughed.
'What is it?' he inquired, astonished.
She did not know what to say. She felt inclined to kiss Uvar Ivanovitch.
'How he splashed!' she explained at last.
But Uvar Ivanovitch did not stir a muscle, and continued to look with amazement at Elena. She dropped her hat and cape on to him.
'Dear Uvar Ivanovitch,' she said, 'I am sleepy and tired,' and again she laughed and sank into a low chair near him.
'H'm,' grunted Uvar Ivanovitch, flourishing his fingers, 'then you ought—yes——'
Elena was looking round her and thinking, 'From all this I soon must part... and strange—I have no dread, no doubt, no regret.... No, I am sorry for mamma.' Then the little chapel rose again before her mind, again her voice was echoing in it, and she felt his arms about her. Joyously, though faintly, her heart fluttered; weighed down by the languor of happiness. The old beggar-woman recurred to her mind. 'She did really bear away my sorrow,' she thought. 'Oh, how happy I am! how undeservedly! how soon!' If she had let herself go in the least she would have melted into sweet, endless tears. She could only restrain them by laughing. Whatever attitude she fell into seemed to her the easiest, most comfortable possible; she felt as if she were being rocked to sleep. All her movements were slow and soft; what had become of her awkwardness, her haste? Zoya came in; Elena decided that she had never seen a more charming little face; Anna Vassilyevna came in; Elena felt a pang—but with what tenderness she embraced her mother and kissed her on the forehead near the hair, already slightly grey! Then she went away to her own room; how everything smiled upon her there! With what a sense of shamefaced triumph and tranquillity she sat down on her bed—the very bed on which, only three hours ago, she had spent such bitter moments! 'And yet, even then, I knew he loved me,' she thought, 'even before... Ah, no! it's a sin. You are my wife,' she whispered, hiding her face in her hands and falling on her knees.
Towards the evening, she grew more thoughtful. Sadness came upon her at the thought that she would not soon see Insarov. He could not without awakening suspicion remain at Bersenyev's, and so this was what he and Elena had resolved on. Insarov was to return to Moscow and to come over to visit them twice before the autumn; on her side she promised to write him letters, and, if it were possible, to arrange a meeting with him somewhere near Kuntsov. She went down to the drawing-room to tea, and found there all the household and Shubin, who looked at her sharply directly she came in; she tried to talk to him in a friendly way as of old, but she dreaded his penetration, she was afraid of herself. She felt sure that there was good reason for his having left her alone for more than a fortnight. Soon Bersenyev arrived, and gave Insarov's respects to Anna Vassilyevna with an apology for having gone back to Moscow without calling to take leave of her. Insarov's name was for the first time during the day pronounced before Elena. She felt that she reddened; she realised at the same time that she ought to express regret at the sudden departure of such a pleasant acquaintance; but she could not force herself to hypocrisy, and continued to sit without stirring or speaking, while Anna Vassilyevna sighed and lamented. Elena tried to keep near Bersenyev; she was not afraid of him, though he even knew part of her secret; she was safe under his wing from Shubin, who still persisted in staring at her—not mockingly but attentively. Bersenyev, too, was thrown into perplexity during the evening: he had expected to see Elena more gloomy. Happily for her, an argument sprang up about art between him and Shubin; she moved apart and heard their voices as it were through a dream. By degrees, not only they, but the whole room, everything surrounding her, seemed like a dream—everything: the samovar on the table, and Uvar Ivanovitch's short waistcoat, and Zoya's polished finger-nails, and the portrait in oils of the Grand Duke Constantine Pavlovitch on the wall; everything retreated, everything was wrapped in mist, everything ceased to exist. Only she felt sorry for them all. 'What are they living for?' she thought.
'Are you sleepy, Lenotchka?' her mother asked her. She did not hear the question.
'A half untrue insinuation, do you say?' These words, sharply uttered by Shubin, suddenly awakened Elena's attention. 'Why,' he continued, 'the whole sting lies in that. A true insinuation makes one wretched—that's unchristian—and to an untrue insinuation a man is indifferent—that's stupid, but at a half true one he feels vexed and impatient. For instance, if I say that Elena Nikolaevna is in love with one of us, what sort of insinuation would that be, eh?'
'Ah, Monsieur Paul,' said Elena, 'I should like to show myself vexed, but really I can't. I am so tired.'
'Why don't you go to bed?' observed Anna Vassilyevna, who was always drowsy in the evening herself, and consequently always eager to send the others to bed. 'Say good-night to me, and go in God's name; Andrei Petrovitch will excuse you.'
Elena kissed her mother, bowed to all and went away. Shubin accompanied her to the door. 'Elena Nikolaevna,' he whispered to her in the doorway, 'you trample on Monsieur Paul, you mercilessly walk over him, but Monsieur Paul blesses you and your little feet, and the slippers on your little feet, and the soles of your little slippers.'
Elena shrugged her shoulders, reluctantly held out her hand to him—not the one Insarov had kissed—and going up to her room, at once undressed, got into bed, and fell asleep. She slept a deep, unstirring sleep, as even children rarely sleep—the sleep of a child convalescent after sickness, when its mother sits near its cradle and watches it, and listens to its breathing.
'Come to my room for a minute,' Shubin said to Bersenyev, directly the latter had taken leave of Anna Vassilyevna: 'I have something to show you.'
Bersenyev followed him to his attic. He was surprised to see a number of studies, statuettes, and busts, covered with damp cloths, set about in all the corners of the room.
'Well I see you have been at work in earnest,' he observed to Shubin.
'One must do something,' he answered. 'If one thing doesn't do, one must try another. However, like a true Corsican, I am more concerned with revenge than with pure art. Trema, Bisanzia!'
'I don't understand you,' said Bersenyev.
'Well, wait a minute. Deign to look this way, gracious friend and benefactor, my vengeance number one.'
Shubin uncovered one figure, and Bersenyev saw a capital bust of Insarov, an excellent likeness. The features of the face had been correctly caught by Shubin to the minutest detail, and he had given him a fine expression, honest, generous, and bold.
Bersenyev went into raptures over it.
'That's simply exquisite!' he cried. 'I congratulate you. You must send it to the exhibition! Why do you call that magnificent work your vengeance?'
'Because, sir, I intended to offer this magnificent work as you call it to Elena Nikolaevna on her name day. Do you see the allegory? We are not blind, we see what goes on about us, but we are gentlemen, my dear sir, and we take our revenge like gentlemen.... But here,' added Shubin, uncovering another figure, 'as the artist according to modern aesthetic principles enjoys the enviable privilege of embodying in himself every sort of baseness which he can turn into a gem of creative art, we in the production of this gem, number two, have taken vengeance not as gentlemen, but simply en canaille.'
He deftly drew off the cloth, and displayed to Bersenyev's eyes a statuette in Dantan's style, also of Insarov. Anything cleverer and more spiteful could not be imagined. The young Bulgarian was represented as a ram standing on his hind-legs, butting forward with his horns. Dull solemnity and aggressiveness, obstinacy, clumsiness and narrowness were simply printed on the visage of the 'sire of the woolly flock,' and yet the likeness to Insarov was so striking that Bersenyev could not help laughing.
'Eh? is it amusing?' said Shubin. 'Do you recognise the hero? Do you advise me to send it too to the exhibition? That, my dear fellow, I intend as a present for myself on my own name day.... Your honour will permit me to play the fool.'
And Shubin gave three little leaps, kicking himself behind with his heels.
Bersenyev picked up the cloth off the floor—and threw it over the statuette.
'Ah, you, magnanimous'—began Shubin. 'Who the devil was it in history was so particularly magnanimous? Well, never mind! And now,' he continued, with melancholy triumph, uncovering a third rather large mass of clay, 'you shall behold something which will show you the humility and discernment of your friend. You will realise that he, like a true artist again, feels the need and the use of self-castigation. Behold!'
The cloth was lifted and Bersenyev saw two heads, modelled side by side and close as though growing together.... He did not at once know what was the subject, but looking closer, he recognised in one of them Annushka, in the other Shubin himself. They were, however, rather caricatures than portraits. Annushka was represented as a handsome fat girl with a low forehead, eyes lost in layers of fat, and a saucily turned-up nose. Her thick lips had an insolent curve; her whole face expressed sensuality, carelessness, and boldness, not without goodnature. Himself Shubin had modelled as a lean emaciated rake, with sunken cheeks, his thin hair hanging in weak wisps about his face, a meaningless expression in his dim eyes, and his nose sharp and thin as a dead man's.
Bersenyev turned away with disgust. 'A nice pair, aren't they, my dear fellow?' said Shubin; 'won't you graciously compose a suitable title? For the first two I have already thought of titles. On the bust shall be inscribed: "A hero resolving to liberate his country." On the statuette: "Look out, sausage-eating Germans!" And for this work what do you think of "The future of the artist Pavel Yakovlitch Shubin?" Will that do?'
'Leave off,' replied Bersenyev. 'Was it worth while to waste your time on such a ——' He could not at once fix on a suitable word.
'Disgusting thing, you mean? No, my dear fellow, excuse me, if anything ought to go to the exhibition, it's that group.'
'It's simply disgusting,' repeated Bersenyev. 'And besides, it's nonsense. You have absolutely no such degrading tendencies to which, unhappily, our artists have such a frequent bent. You have simply libelled yourself.'
'Do you think so?' said Shubin gloomily. 'I have none of them, and if they come upon me, the fault is all one person's. Do you know,' he added, tragically knitting his brows, 'that I have been trying drinking?'
'Yes, I have, by God,' rejoined Shubin; and suddenly grinning and brightening,—'but I didn't like it, my dear boy, the stuff sticks in my throat, and my head afterwards is a perfect drum. The great Lushtchihin himself—Harlampy Lushtchihin—the greatest drunkard in Moscow, and a Great Russian drunkard too, declared there was nothing to be made of me. In his words, the bottle does not speak to me.'
Bersenyev was just going to knock the group over but Shubin stopped him.
'That'll do, my dear boy, don't smash it; it will serve as a lesson, a scare-crow.'
'If that's what it is, I will spare your scarecrow then,' he said. And now, 'Long live eternal true art!'
'Long live true art!' put in Shubin. 'By art the good is better and the bad is not all loss!'
The friends shook hands warmly and parted.
Elena's first sensation on awakening was one of happy consternation. 'Is it possible? Is it possible?' she asked herself, and her heart grew faint with happiness. Recollections came rushing on her... she was overwhelmed by them. Then again she was enfolded by the blissful peace of triumph. But in the course of the morning, Elena gradually became possessed by a spirit of unrest, and for the remainder of the day she felt listless and weary. It was true she knew now what she wanted, but that made it no easier for her. That never-to-be forgotten meeting had cast her for ever out of the old groove; she was no longer at the same standpoint, she was far away, and yet everything went on about her in its accustomed order, everything pursued its own course as though nothing were changed; the old life moved on its old way, reckoning on Elena's interest and co-operation as of old. She tried to begin a letter to Insarov, but that too was a failure; the words came on to paper either lifeless or false. Her diary she had put an end to by drawing a thick stroke under the last line. That was the past, and every thought, all her soul, was turned now to the future. Her heart was heavy. To sit with her mother who suspected nothing, to listen to her, answer her and talk to her, seemed to Elena something wicked; she felt the presence of a kind of falseness in her, she suffered though she had nothing to blush for; more than once an almost irresistible desire sprang up in her heart to tell everything without reserve, whatever might come of it afterwards. 'Why,' she thought, 'did not Dmitri take me away then, from that little chapel, wherever he wanted to go? Didn't he tell me I was his wife before God? What am I here for?' She suddenly began to feel shy of every one, even of Uvar Ivanovitch, who was flourishing his fingers in more perplexity than ever. Now everything about her seemed neither sweet nor friendly, nor even a dream, but, like a nightmare, lay, an immovable dead load, on her heart; seeming to reproach her and be indignant with her, and not to care to know about her....'You are ours in spite of everything,' she seemed to hear. Even her poor pets, her ill-used birds and animals looked at her—so at least she fancied—with suspicion and hostility. She felt conscience-stricken and ashamed of her feelings. 'This is my home after all,' she thought, 'my family, my country.'... 'No, it's no longer your country, nor your family,' another voice affirmed within her. Terror was overmastering her, and she was vexed with her own feebleness. The trial was only beginning and she was losing patience already... Was this what she had promised?
She did not soon gain control of herself. But a week passed and then another.... Elena became a little calmer, and grew used to her new position. She wrote two little notes to Insarov, and carried them herself to the post: she could not for anything—through shame and through pride—have brought herself to confide in a maid. She was already beginning to expect him in person.... But instead of Insarov, one fine morning Nikolai Artemyevitch made his appearance.
No one in the house of the retired lieutenant of guards, Stahov, had ever seen him so sour, and at the same time so self-confident and important as on that day. He walked into the drawing-room in his overcoat and hat, with long deliberate stride, stamping with his heels; he approached the looking-glass and took a long look at himself, shaking his head and biting his lips with imperturbable severity. Anna Vassilyevna met him with obvious agitation and secret delight (she never met him otherwise); he did not even take off his hat, nor greet her, and in silence gave Elena his doe-skin glove to kiss. Anna Vassilyevna began questioning him about the progress of his cure; he made her no reply. Uvar Ivanovitch made his appearance; he glanced at him and said, 'bah!' He usually behaved coldly and haughtily to Uvar Ivanovitch, though he acknowledged in him 'traces of the true Stahov blood.' Almost all Russian families of the nobility are convinced, as is well known, of the existence of exceptional hereditary characteristics, peculiar to them alone; we have more than once heard discussions 'among ourselves' of the Podsalaskinsky 'noses,' and the 'Perepreyevsky' necks. Zoya came in and sat down facing Nikolai Artemyevitch. He grunted, sank into an armchair, asked for coffee, and only then took off his hat. Coffee was brought him; he drank a cup, and looking at everybody in turn, he growled between his teeth, 'Sortes, s'il vous plait,' and turning to his wife he added, 'et vous, madame, restez, je vous prie.'
They all left the room, except Anna Vassilyevna. Her head was trembling with agitation. The solemnity of Nikolai Artemyevitch's preparations impressed her. She was expecting something extraordinary.
'What is it?' she cried, directly the door was closed.
Nikolai Artemyevitch flung an indifferent glance at Anna Vassilyevna.
'Nothing special; what a way you have of assuming the air of a victim at once!' he began, quite needlessly dropping the corners of his mouth at every word. 'I only want to forewarn you that we shall have a new guest dining here to-day.'
'Who is it?'
'Kurnatovsky, Yegor Andreyevitch. You don't know him. The head secretary in the senate.'
'He is to dine with us to-day?'
'And was it only to tell me this that you made every one go away?'
Nikolai Artemyevitch again flung a glance—this time one of irony—at Anna Vassilyevna.
'Does that surprise you? Defer your surprise a little.'
He ceased speaking. Anna Vassilyevna too was silent for a little time.
'I could have wished——' she was beginning.
'I know you have always looked on me as an "immoral" man,' began Nikolai Artemyevitch suddenly.
'I!' muttered Anna Vassilyevna, astounded.
'And very likely you are right. I don't wish to deny that I have in fact sometimes given you just grounds for dissatisfaction' ("my greys!" flashed through Anna Vassilyevna's head), 'though you must yourself allow, that in the condition, as you are aware, of your constitution——'
'And I make no complaint against you, Nikolai Artemyevitch.'
'C'est possible. In any case, I have no intention of justifying myself. Time will justify me. But I regard it as my duty to prove to you that I understand my duties, and know how to care for—for the welfare of the family entrusted—entrusted to me.'
'What's the meaning of all this?' Anna Vassilyevna was thinking. (She could not guess that the preceding evening at the English club a discussion had arisen in a corner of the smoking-room as to the incapacity of Russians to make speeches. 'Which of us can speak? Mention any one!' one of the disputants had exclaimed. 'Well, Stahov, for instance,' had answered the other, pointing to Nikolai Artemyevitch, who stood up on the spot almost squealing with delight.)
'For instance,' pursued Nikolai Artemyevitch, 'my daughter Elena. Don't you consider that the time has come for her to take a decisive step along the path—to be married, I mean to say. All these intellectual and philanthropic pursuits are all very well, but only up to a certain point, up to a certain age. It's time for her to drop her mistiness, to get out of the society of all these artists, scholars, and Montenegrins, and do like everybody else.'
'How am I to understand you?' asked Anna Vassilyevna.
'Well, if you will kindly listen,' answered Nikolai Artemyevitch, still with the same dropping of the corners of his lips, 'I will tell you plainly, without beating about the bush. I have made acquaintance, I have become intimate with this young man, Mr. Kurnatovsky, in the hope of having him for a son-in-law. I venture to think that when you see him, you will not accuse me of partiality or precipitate judgment.' (Nikolai Artemyevitch was admiring his own eloquence as he talked.) 'Of excellent education—educated in the highest legal college—excellent manners, thirty-three years old, and upper-secretary, a councillor, and a Stanislas cross on his neck. You, I hope, will do me the justice to allow that I do not belong to the number of those peres de famille who are mad for position; but you yourself told me that Elena Nikolaevna likes practical business men; Yegor Andreyevitch is in the first place a business man; now on the other side, my daughter has a weakness for generous actions; so let me tell you that Yegor Andreyevitch, directly he had attained the possibility—you understand me—the possibility of living without privation on his salary, at once gave up the yearly income assigned him by his father, for the benefit of his brothers.'
'Who is his father?' inquired Anna Vassilyevna.
'His father? His father is a man well-known in his own line, of the highest moral character, un vrai stoicien, a retired major, I think, overseer of all the estates of the Count B——'
'Ah!' observed Anna Vassilyevna.
'Ah! why ah?' interposed Nikolai Artemyevitch. 'Can you be infected with prejudice?'
'Why, I said nothing——' Anna Vassilyevna was beginning.
'No, you said, ah!—However that may be, I have thought it well to acquaint you with my way of thinking; and I venture to think—I venture to hope Mr. Kurnatovsky will be received a bras ouverts. He is no Montenegrin vagrant.'
'Of course; I need only call Vanka the cook and order a few extra dishes.'
'You are aware that I will not enter into that,' said Nikolai Artemyevitch; and he got up, put on his hat, and whistling (he had heard some one say that whistling was only permissible in a country villa and a riding court) went out for a stroll in the garden. Shubin watched him out of the little window of his lodge, and in silence put out his tongue at him.
At ten minutes to four, a hackney-carriage drove up to the steps of the Stahovs's villa, and a man, still young, of prepossessing appearance, simply and elegantly dressed, stepped out of it and sent up his name. This was Yegor Andreyevitch Kurnatovsky.
This was what, among other things, Elena wrote next day to Insarov:
'Congratulate me, dear Dmitri, I have a suitor. He dined with us yesterday: papa made his acquaintance at the English club, I fancy, and invited him. Of course he did not come yesterday as a suitor. But good mamma, to whom papa had made known his hopes, whispered in my ear what this guest was. His name is Yegor Andreyevitch Kurnatovsky; he is upper-secretary to the Senate. I will first describe to you his appearance. He is of medium height, shorter than you, and a good figure; his features are regular, he is close-cropped, and wears large whiskers. His eyes are rather small (like yours), brown, and quick; he has a flat wide mouth; in his eyes and on his lips there is a perpetual sort of official smile; it seems to be always on duty there. He behaves very simply and speaks precisely, and everything about him is precise; he moves, laughs, and eats as though he were doing a duty. "How carefully she has studied him!" you are thinking, perhaps, at this minute. Yes; so as to be able to describe him to you. And besides, who wouldn't study her suitor! There's something of iron in him—and dull and empty at the same time—and honest; they say he is really very honest. You, too, are made of iron; but not like this man. At dinner he sat next me, and facing us sat Shubin. At first the conversation turned on commercial undertakings; they say he is very clever in business matters, and was almost throwing up his government post to take charge of a large manufacturing business. Pity he didn't do it! Then Shubin began to talk about the theatre; Mr. Kurnatovsky declared and—I must confess—without false modesty, that he has no ideas about art. That reminded me of you—but I thought; no, Dmitri and I are ignorant of art in a very different way though. This man seemed to mean, "I know nothing of it, and it's quite superfluous, still it may be admitted in a well-ordered state." He seems, however, to think very little about Petersburg and comme il faut: he once even called himself one of the proletariat. 'We are working people,' he said; I thought if Dmitri had said that, I shouldn't have liked it; but he may talk about himself, he may boast if he likes. With me he is very attentive; but I kept feeling that a very, very condescending superior was talking with me. When he means to praise any one, he says So-and-so is a man of principle—that's his favourite word. He seems to be self-confident, hardworking, capable of self-sacrifice (you see, I am impartial), that's to say, of sacrificing his own interest; but he is a great despot. It would be woeful to fall into his power! At dinner they began talking about bribes.
'"I know," he said, "that in many cases the man who accepts a bribe is not to blame; he cannot do otherwise. Still, if he is found out, he must be punished without mercy."' I cried, "Punish an innocent man!" '"Yes; for the sake of principle." '"What principle?" asked Shubin. Kurnatovsky seemed annoyed or surprised, and said, "That needs no explanation."
'Papa, who seems to worship him, put in "of course not"; and to my vexation the conversation stopped there. In the evening Bersenyev came and got into a terrific argument with him. I have never seen our good Andrei Petrovitch so excited. Mr. Kurnatovsky did not at all deny the utility of science, universities, and so on, but still I understood Andrei Petrovitch's indignation. The man looks at it all as a sort of gymnastics. Shubin came up to me after dinner, and said, "This fellow here and some one else (he can never bring himself to utter your name) are both practical men, but see what a difference; there's the real living ideal given to life; and here there's not even a feeling of duty, simply official honesty and activity without anything inside it." Shubin is clever, and I remembered his words to tell you; but to my mind there is nothing in common between you. You have faith, and he has not; for a man cannot have faith in himself only.
'He did not go away till late; but mamma had time to inform me that he was pleased with me, and papa is in ecstasies. Did he say, I wonder, that I was a woman of principle? I was almost telling mamma that I was very sorry, but I had a husband already. Why is it papa dislikes you so? Mamma, we could soon manage to bring round.
'Oh, my dear one! I have described this gentleman in such detail to deaden my heartache. I don't live without you; I am constantly seeing you, hearing you. I look forward to seeing you—only not at our house, as you intended—fancy how wretched and ill at ease we should be!—but you know where I wrote to you—in that wood. Oh, my dear one! How I love you!'
Three weeks after Kurnatovsky's first visit, Anna Vassilyevna, to Elena's great delight, returned to Moscow, to her large wooden house near Prechistenka; a house with columns, white lyres and wreaths over every window, with an attic, offices, a palisade, a huge green court, a well in the court and a dog's kennel near the well. Anna Vassilyevna had never left her country villa so early, but this year with the first autumn chills her face swelled; Nikolai Artemyevitch for his part, having finished his cure, began to want his wife; besides, Augustina Christianovna had gone away on a visit to her cousin in Revel; a family of foreigners, known as 'living statues,' des poses plastiques, had come to Moscow, and the description of them in the Moscow Gazette had aroused Anna Vassilyevna's liveliest curiosity. In short, to stay longer at the villa seemed inconvenient, and even, in Nikolai Artemyevitch's words, incompatible with the fulfilment of his 'cherished projects.' The last fortnight seemed very long to Elena. Kurnatovsky came over twice on Sundays; on other days he was busy. He came really to see Elena, but talked more to Zoya, who was much pleased with him. 'Das ist ein Mann!' she thought to herself, as she looked at his full manly face and listened to his self-confident, condescending talk. To her mind, no one had such a wonderful voice, no one could pronounce so nicely, 'I had the hon-our,' or, 'I am most de-lighted.' Insarov did not come to the Stahovs, but Elena saw him once in secret in a little copse by the Moskva river, where she arranged to meet him. They hardly had time to say more than a few words to each other. Shubin returned to Moscow with Anna Vassilyevna; Bersenyev, a few days later.
Insarov was sitting in his room, and for the third time looking through the letters brought him from Bulgaria by hand; they were afraid to send them by post. He was much disturbed by them. Events were developing rapidly in the East; the occupation of the Principalities by Russian troops had thrown all men's minds into a ferment; the storm was growing—already could be felt the breath of approaching inevitable war. The fire was kindling all round, and no one could foresee how far it would go—where it would stop. Old wrongs, long cherished hopes—all were astir again. Insarov's heart throbbed eagerly; his hopes too were being realised. 'But is it not too soon, will it not be in vain?' he thought, tightly clasping his hands. 'We are not ready, but so be it! I must go.'
Something rustled lightly at the door, it flew quickly open, and into the room ran Elena.
Insarov, all in a tremor, rushed to her, fell on his knees before her, clasped her waist and pressed it close against his head.
'You didn't expect me?' she said, hardly able to draw her breath, she had run quickly up the stairs. 'Dear one! dear one!—so this is where you live? I've quickly found you. The daughter of your landlord conducted me. We arrived the day before yesterday. I meant to write to you, but I thought I had better come myself. I have come for a quarter of an hour. Get up, shut the door.'
He got up, quickly shut the door, returned to her and took her by the hands. He could not speak; he was choking with delight. She looked with a smile into his eyes... there was such rapture in them... she felt shy.
'Stay,' she said, fondly taking her hand away from him, 'let me take off my hat.'
She untied the strings of her hat, flung it down, slipped the cape off her shoulders, tidied her hair, and sat down on the little old sofa. Insarov gazed at her, without stirring, like one enchanted.
'Sit down,' she said, not lifting her eyes to him and motioning him to a place beside her.
Insarov sat down, not on the sofa, but on the floor at her feet.
'Come, take off my gloves,' she said in an uncertain voice. She felt afraid.
He began first to unbutton and then to draw off one glove; he drew it half off and greedily pressed his lips to the slender, soft wrist, which was white under it.
Elena shuddered, and would have pushed him back with the other hand; he began kissing the other hand too. Elena drew it away, he threw back his head, she looked into his face, bent above him, and their lips touched.
An instant passed... she broke away, got up, whispered 'No, no,' and went quickly up to the writing-table.
'I am mistress here, you know, so you ought not to have any secrets from me,' she said, trying to seem at ease, and standing with her back to him. 'What a lot of papers! what are these letters?'
Insarov knitted his brows. 'Those letters?' he said, getting up, 'you can read them.'
Elena turned them over in her hand. 'There are so many of them, and the writing is so fine, and I have to go directly... let them be. They're not from a rival, eh?... and they're not in Russian,' she added, turning over the thin sheets.
Insarov came close to her and fondly touched her waist. She turned suddenly to him, smiled brightly at him and leant against his shoulder.
'Those letters are from Bulgaria, Elena; my friends write to me, they want me to come.'
'Now? To them?'
'Yes... now, while there is still time, while it is still possible to come.'
All at once she flung both arms round his neck, 'You will take me with you, yes?'
He pressed her to his heart. 'O my sweet girl, O my heroine, how you said that! But isn't it wicked, isn't it mad for me, a homeless, solitary man, to drag you with me... and out there too!'
She shut his mouth.... 'Sh—or I shall be angry, and never come to see you again. Why isn't it all decided, all settled between us? Am I not your wife? Can a wife be parted from her husband?'
'Wives don't go into war,' he said with a half-mournful smile.
'Oh yes, when they can't stay behind, and I cannot stay here?'
'Elena, my angel!.. but think, I have, perhaps, to leave Moscow in a fortnight. I can't think of university lectures, or finishing my work.'
'What!' interrupted Elena, 'you have to go soon? If you like, I will stop at once this minute with you for ever, and not go home, shall I? Shall we go at once?'
Insarov clasped her in his arms with redoubled warmth. 'May God so reward me then,' he cried, 'if I am doing wrong! From to-day, we are one for ever!'
'Am I to stay?' asked Elena.
'No, my pure girl; no, my treasure. You shall go back home to-day, only keep yourself in readiness. This is a matter we can't manage straight off; we must plan it out well. We want money, a passport——'
'I have money,' put in Elena. 'Eighty roubles.'
'Well, that's not much,' observed Insarov; 'but everything's a help.'
'But I can get more. I will borrow. I will ask mamma.... No, I won't ask mamma for any.... But I can sell my watch.... I have earrings, too, and two bracelets... and lace.'
'Money's not the chief difficulty, Elena; the passport; your passport, how about that?'
'Yes, how about it? Is a passport absolutely necessary?'
Elena laughed. 'What a queer idea! I remember when I was little... a maid of ours ran away. She was caught, and forgiven, and lived with us a long while... but still every one used to call her Tatyana, the runaway. I never thought then that I too might perhaps be a runaway like her.'
'Elena, aren't you ashamed?'
'Why? Of course it's better to go with a passport. But if we can't——'
'We will settle all that later, later, wait a little,' said Insarov. 'Let me look about; let me think a little. We will talk over everything together thoroughly. I too have money.'
Elena pushed back the hair that fell over on his forehead.
'O Dmitri! how glorious it will be for us two to set off together!'
'Yes,' said Insarov, 'but there, when we get there——'
'Well?' put in Elena, 'and won't it be glorious to die together too? but no, why should we die? We will live, we are young. How old are you? Twenty-six?'
'And I am twenty. There is plenty of time before us. Ah, you tried to run away from me? You did not want a Russian's love, you Bulgarian! Let me see you trying to escape from me now! What would have become of us, if I hadn't come to you then!'
'Elena, you know what forced me to go away.'
'I know; you were in love, and you were afraid. But surely you must have suspected that you were loved?'
'I swear on my honour, Elena, I didn't.'
She gave him a quick unexpected kiss. 'There, I love you for that too. And goodbye.'
'You can't stop longer?' asked Insarov.
'No, dearest. Do you think it's easy for me to get out alone? The quarter of an hour was over long ago.' She put on her cape and hat. 'And you come to us to-morrow evening. No, the day after to-morrow. We shall be constrained and dreary, but we can't help that; at least we shall see each other. Good-bye. Let me go.'
He embraced her for the last time. 'Ah, take care, you have broken my watch-chain. Oh, what a clumsy boy! There, never mind. It's all the better. I will go to Kuznetsky bridge, and leave it to be mended. If I am asked, I can say I have been to Kuznetsky bridge.' She held the door-handle. 'By-the-way, I forgot to tell you, Monsieur Kurnatovsky will certainly make me an offer in a day or two. But the answer I shall make him—will be this——' She put the thumb of her left hand to the tip of her nose and flourished the other fingers in the air. 'Good-bye till we see each other again. Now, I know the way... And don't lose any time.'
Elena opened the door a little, listened, turned round to Insarov, nodded her head, and glided out of the room.
For a minute Insarov stood before the closed door, and he too listened. The door downstairs into the court slammed. He went up to the sofa, sat down, and covered his eyes with his hands. Never before had anything like this happened to him. 'What have I done to deserve such love?' he thought. 'Is it a dream?'
But the delicate scent of mignonette left by Elena in his poor dark little room told of her visit. And with it, it seemed that the air was still full of the notes of a young voice, and the sound of a light young tread, and the warmth and freshness of a young girlish body.
Insarov decided to await more positive news, and began to make preparations for departure. The difficulty was a serious one. For him personally there were no obstacles. He had only to ask for a passport—but how would it be with Elena? To get her a passport in the legal way was impossible. Should he marry her secretly, and should they then go and present themselves to the parents?... 'They would let us go then,' he thought 'But if they did not? We would go all the same. But suppose they were to make a complaint... if... No, better try to get a passport somehow.'
He decided to consult (of course mentioning no names) one of his acquaintances, an attorney, retired from practice, or perhaps struck off the rolls, an old and experienced hand at all sorts of clandestine business. This worthy person did not live near; Insarov was a whole hour in getting to him in a very sorry droshky, and, to make matters worse, he did not find him at home; and on his way back got soaked to the skin by a sudden downpour of rain. The next morning, in spite of a rather severe headache, Insarov set off a second time to call on the retired attorney. The retired attorney listened to him attentively, taking snuff from a snuff-box decorated with a picture of a full-bosomed nymph, and glancing stealthily at his visitor with his sly, and also snuff-coloured little eyes; he heard him to the end, and then demanded 'greater definiteness in the statement of the facts of the case'; and observing that Insarov was unwilling to launch into particulars (it was against the grain that he had come to him at all) he confined himself to the advice to provide himself above all things with 'the needful,' and asked him to come to him again, 'when you have,' he added, sniffing at the snuff in the open snuff-box, 'augmented your confidence and decreased your diffidence' (he talked with a broad accent). 'A passport,' he added, as though to himself, 'is a thing that can be arranged; you go a journey, for instance; who's to tell whether you're Marya Bredihin or Karolina Vogel-meier?' A feeling of nausea came over Insarov, but he thanked the attorney, and promised to come to him again in a day or two.
The same evening he went to the Stahovs. Anna Vassilyevna met him cordially, reproached him a little for having quite forgotten them, and, finding him pale, inquired especially after his health. Nikolai Artemyevitch did not say a single word to him; he only stared at him with elaborately careless curiosity; Shubin treated him coldly; but Elena astounded him. She was expecting him; she had put on for him the very dress she wore on the day of their first interview in the chapel; but she welcomed him so calmly, and was so polite and carelessly gay, that no one looking at her could have believed that this girl's fate was already decided, and that it was only the secret consciousness of happy love that gave fire to her features, lightness and charm to all her gestures. She poured out tea in Zoya's place, jested, chattered; she knew Shubin would be watching her, that Insarov was incapable of wearing a mask, and incapable of appearing indifferent, and she had prepared herself beforehand. She was not mistaken; Shubin never took his eyes off her, and Insarov was very silent and gloomy the whole evening. Elena was so happy that she even felt an inclination to tease him.
'Oh, by the way,' she said to him suddenly, 'is your plan getting on at all?'
Insarov was taken aback.
'What plan?' he said.
'Why, have you forgotten?' she rejoined, laughing in his face; he alone could tell the meaning of that happy laugh: 'Your Bulgarian selections for Russian readers?'
'Quelle bourde!' muttered Nikolai Artemyevitch between his teeth.
Zoya sat down to the piano. Elena gave a just perceptible shrug of the shoulders, and with her eyes motioned Insarov to the door. Then she twice slowly touched the table with her finger, and looked at him. He understood that she was promising to see him in two days, and she gave him a quick smile when she saw he understood her. Insarov got up and began to take leave; he felt unwell. Kurnatovsky arrived. Nikolai Artemyevitch jumped up, raised his right hand higher than his head, and softly dropped it into the palm of the chief secretary. Insarov would have remained a few minutes longer, to have a look at his rival. Elena shook her head unseen; the host did not think it necessary to introduce them to one another, and Insarov departed, exchanging one last look with Elena. Shubin pondered and pondered, and threw himself into a fierce argument with Kurnatovsky on a legislative question, about which he had not a single idea.
Insarov did not sleep all night, and in the morning he felt very ill; he set to work, however, putting his papers into order and writing letters, but his head was heavy and confused. At dinner time he began to be in a fever; he could eat nothing. The fever grew rapidly worse towards evening; he had aching pains in all his limbs, and a terrible headache. Insarov lay down on the very little sofa on which Elena had lately sat; he thought: 'It serves me right for going to that old rascal,' and he tried to sleep.... But the illness had by now complete mastery of him. His veins were throbbing violently, his blood was on fire, his thoughts were flying round like birds. He sank into forgetfulness. He lay like a man felled by a blow on his face, and suddenly, it seemed to him, some one was softly laughing and whispering over him: he opened his eyes with an effort, the light of the flaring candle smote him like a knife.... What was it? the old attorney was before him in an Oriental silk gown belted with a silk handkerchief, as he had seen him the evening before.... 'Karolina Vogelmeier,' muttered his toothless mouth. Insarov stared, and the old man grew wide and thick and tall, he was no longer a man, he was a tree.... Insarov had to climb along its gnarled branches. He clung, and fell with his breast on a sharp stone, and Karolina Vogelmeier was sitting on her heels, looking like a pedlar-woman, and lisping: 'Pies, pies, pies for sale'; and there were streams of blood and swords flashing incessantly.... Elena! And everything vanished is a crimson chaos.
'There's some one here looks like a locksmith or something of the sort,' Bersenyev was informed the following evening by his servant, who was distinguished by a severe deportment and sceptical turn of mind towards his master; 'he wants to see you.'
'Ask him in,' said Bersenyev.
The 'locksmith' entered. Bersenyev recognised in him the tailor, the landlord of Insarov's lodgings.
'What do you want?' he asked him.
'I came to your honour,' began the tailor, shifting from one foot to the other, and at times waving his right hand with his cuff clutched in his three last fingers. 'Our lodger, seemingly, is very ill.'
'Yes, our lodger, to be sure; yesterday morning he was still on his legs, in the evening he asked for nothing but drink; the missis took him some water, and at night he began talking away; we could hear him through the partition-wall; and this morning he lies without a word like a log, and the fever he's in, Lord have mercy on us! I thought, upon my word, he'll die for sure; I ought to send word to the police station, I thought. For he's so alone; but the missis said: "Go to that gentleman," she says, "at whose country place our lodger stayed; maybe he'll tell you what to do, or come himself." So I've come to your honour, for we can't, so to say——'
Bersenyev snatched up his cap, thrust a rouble into the tailor's hand, and at once set off with him post haste to Insarov's lodgings.
He found him lying on the sofa, unconscious and not undressed. His face was terribly changed. Bersenyev at once ordered the people of the house to undress him and put him to bed, while he rushed off himself and returned with a doctor. The doctor prescribed leeches, mustard-poultices, and calomel, and ordered him to be bled.
'Is he dangerously ill?' asked Bersenyev.
'Yes, very dangerously,' answered the doctor. 'Severe inflammation of the lungs; peripneumonia fully developed, and the brain perhaps affected, but the patient is young. His very strength is something against him now. I was sent for too late; still we will do all that science dictates.'
The doctor was young himself, and still believed in science.
Bersenyev stayed the night. The people of the house seemed kind, and even prompt directly there was some one to tell them what was to be done. An assistant arrived, and began to carry out the medical measures.
Towards morning Insarov revived for a few minutes, recognised Bersenyev, asked: 'Am I ill, then?' looked about him with the vague, listless bewilderment of a man dangerously ill, and again relapsed into unconsciousness. Bersenyev went home, changed his clothes, and, taking a few books along with him, he returned to Insarov's lodgings. He made up his mind to stay there, at least for a time. He shut in Insarov's bed with screens, and arranged a little place for himself by the sofa. The day passed slowly and drearily. Bersenyev did not leave the room except to get his dinner. The evening came. He lighted a candle with a shade, and settled down to a book. Everything was still around. Through the partition wall could be heard suppressed whispering in the landlord's room, then a yawn, and a sigh. Some one sneezed, and was scolded in a whisper; behind the screen was heard the patient's heavy, uneven breathing, sometimes broken by a short groan, and the uneasy tossing of his head on the pillow.... Strange fancies came over Bersenyev. He found himself in the room of a man whose life was hanging on a thread, the man whom, as he knew, Elena loved.... He remembered that night when Shubin had overtaken him and declared that she loved him, him, Bersenyev! And now.... 'What am I to do now?' he asked himself. 'Let Elena know of his illness? Wait a little? This would be worse news for her than what I told her once before; strange how fate makes me the go-between between them!' He made up his mind that it was better to wait a little. His eyes fell on the table covered with heaps of papers... 'Will he carry out his dreams?' thought Bersenyev. 'Can it be that all will come to nothing?' And he was filled with pity for the young life struck down, and he vowed to himself to save it.
The night was an uneasy one. The sick man was very delirious. Several times Bersenyev got up from his little sofa, approached the bed on tip-toe, and listened with a heavy heart to his disconnected muttering. Only once Insarov spoke with sudden distinctness: 'I won't, I won't, she mustn't....' Bersenyev started and looked at Insarov; his face, suffering and death-like at the same time, was immovable, and his hands lay powerless. 'I won't,' he repeated, scarcely audibly.
The doctor came in the morning, shook his head and wrote fresh prescriptions. 'The crisis is a long way off still,' he said, putting on his hat.
'And after the crisis?' asked Bersenyev.
'The crisis may end in two ways, aut Caesar aut nihil.
The doctor went away. Bersenyev walked a few times up and down the street; he felt in need of fresh air. He went back and took up a book again. Raumer he had finished long ago; he was now making a study of Grote.
Suddenly the door softly creaked, and the head of the landlord's daughter, covered as usual with a heavy kerchief, was cautiously thrust into the room.
'Here is the lady,' she whispered, 'who gave me a silver piece.'
The child's head vanished quickly, and in its place appeared Elena.
Bersenyev jumped up as if he had been stung; but Elena did not stir, nor cry out. It seemed as if she understood everything in a single instant. A terrible pallor overspread her face, she went up to the screen, looked behind it, threw up her arms, and seemed turned to stone.
A moment more and she would have flung herself on Insarov, but Bersenyev stopped her. 'What are you doing?' he said in a trembling whisper, 'you might be the death of him!'
She was reeling. He led her to the sofa, and made her sit down.
She looked into his face, then her eyes ran over him from head to foot, then stared at the floor.
'Will he die?' she asked so coldly and quietly that Bersenyev was frightened.
'For God's sake, Elena Nikolaevna,' he began, 'what are you saying? He is ill certainly—and rather seriously—but we will save him; I promise you that.'
'He is unconscious?' she asked in the same tone of voice as before.
'Yes, he is unconscious at present. That's always the case at the early stage of these illnesses, but it means nothing, nothing—I assure you. Drink some water.'
She raised her eyes to his, and he saw she had not heard his answer.
'If he dies,' she said in the same voice,' I will die too.'
At that instant Insarov uttered a slight moan; she trembled all over, clutched at her head, then began untying the strings of her hat.
'What are you doing?' Bersenyev asked her.
'I will stay here.'
'You will stay—for long?'
'I don't know, perhaps all day, the night, always—I don't know.'
'For God's sake, Elena Nikolaevna, control yourself. I could not of course have any expectation of seeing you here; but still I—assume you have come for a short time. Remember they may miss you at home.'
'They will look for you—find you——'
'Elena Nikolaevna! You see. He cannot now protect you.'
She dropped her head, seemed lost in thought, raised a handkerchief to her lips, and convulsive sobs, tearing her by their violence, were suddenly wrung from her breast. She threw herself, face downwards, on the sofa, trying to stifle them, but still her body heaved and throbbed like a captured bird.
'Elena Nikolaevna—for God's sake,' Bersenyev was repeating over her.
'Ah! What is it?' suddenly sounded the voice of Insarov.
Elena started up, and Bersenyev felt rooted to the spot. After waiting a little, he went up to the bed. Insarov's head lay on the pillow helpless as before; his eyes were closed.
'Is he delirious?' whispered Elena.
'It seems so,' answered Bersenyev, 'but that's nothing; it's always so, especially if——'
'When was he taken ill?' Elena broke in.
'The day before yesterday; I have been here since yesterday. Rely on me, Elena Nikolaevna. I will not leave him; everything shall be done. If necessary, we will have a consultation.'
'He will die without me,' she cried, wringing her hands.
'I give you my word I will let you hear every day how his illness goes on, and if there should be immediate danger——'
'Swear you will send for me at once whenever it may be, day or night, write a note straight to me—I care for nothing now. Do you hear? you promise you will do that?'
'I promise before God'
She suddenly snatched his hand, and before he had time to pull it away, she had bent and pressed her lips to it.
'Elena Nikolaevna, what are you——' he stammered.
'No—no—I won't have it——' Insarov muttered indistinctly, and sighed painfully.
Elena went up to the screen, her handkerchief pressed between her teeth, and bent a long, long look on the sick man. Silent tears rolled down her cheeks.
'Elena Nikolaevna,' Bersenyev said to her, 'he might come to himself and recognise you; there's no knowing if that wouldn't do harm. Besides, from hour to hour I expect the doctor.'
Elena took her hat from the sofa, put it on and stood still. Her eyes strayed mournfully over the room. She seemed to be remembering....
'I cannot go away,' she whispered at last.
Bersenyev pressed her hand: 'Try to pull yourself together,' he said, 'calm yourself; you are leaving him in my care. I will come to you this very evening.'
Elena looked at him, said: 'Oh, my good, kind friend!' broke into sobs and rushed away.
Bersenyev leaned against the door. A feeling of sorrow and bitterness, not without a kind of strange consolation, overcame him. 'My good, kind friend!' he thought and shrugged his shoulders.
'Who is here?' he heard Insarov's voice.
Bersenyev went up to him. 'I am here, Dmitri Nikanorovitch. How are you? How do you feel?'
'Are you alone?' asked the sick man.
'Whom do you mean?' Bersenyev asked almost in dismay.
Insarov was silent. 'Mignonette,' he murmured, and his eyes closed again.
For eight whole days Insarov lay between life and death. The doctor was incessantly visiting him, interested as a young man in a difficult case. Shubin heard of Insarov's critical position, and made inquiries after him. His compatriots—Bulgarians—came; among them Bersenyev recognised the two strange figures, who had puzzled him by their unexpected visit to the cottage; they all showed genuine sympathy, some offered to take Bersenyev's place by the patient's bed-side; but he would not consent to that, remembering his promise to Elena. He saw her every day and secretly reported to her—sometimes by word of mouth, sometimes in a brief note—every detail of the illness. With what sinkings of the heart she awaited him, how she listened and questioned him! She was always on the point of hastening to Insarov herself; but Bersenyev begged her not to do this: Insarov was seldom alone. On the first day she knew of his illness she herself had almost fallen ill; directly she got home, she shut herself up in her room; but she was summoned to dinner, and appeared in the dining-room with such a face that Anna Vassilyevna was alarmed, and was anxious to put her to bed. Elena succeeded, however, in controlling herself. 'If he dies,' she repeated, 'it will be the end of me too.' This thought tranquillised her, and enabled her to seem indifferent. Besides no one troubled her much; Anna Vassilyevna was taken up with her swollen face; Shubin was working furiously; Zoya was given up to pensiveness, and disposed to read Werther; Nikolai Artemyevitch was much displeased at the frequent visits of 'the scholar,' especially as his 'cherished projects' in regard to Kurnatovsky were making no way; the practical chief secretary was puzzled and biding his time. Elena did not even thank Bersenyev; there are services for which thanks are cruel and shameful. Only once at her fourth interview with him—Insarov had passed a very bad night, the doctor had hinted at a consultation—only then she reminded him of his promise. 'Very well, then let us go,' he said to her. She got up and was going to get ready. 'No,' he decided, 'let us wait till to-morrow.' Towards evening Insarov was rather better.
For eight days this torture was prolonged. Elena appeared calm; but she could eat nothing, and did not sleep at night. There was a dull ache in all her limbs; her head seemed full of a sort of dry burning smoke. 'Our young lady's wasting like a candle,' her maid said of her.
At last by the ninth day the crisis was passing over. Elena was sitting in the drawing-room near Anna Vassilyevna, and, without knowing herself what she was doing, was reading her the Moscow Gazette; Bersenyev came in. Elena glanced at him—how rapid, and fearful, and penetrating, and tremulous, was the first glance she turned on him every time—and at once she guessed that he brought good news. He was smiling; he nodded slightly to her, she got up to go and meet him.
'He has regained consciousness, he is saved, he will be quite well again in a week,' he whispered to her.
Elena had stretched out her arm as though to ward off a blow, and she said nothing, only her lips trembled and a flush of crimson overspread her whole face. Bersenyev began to talk to Anna Vassilyevna, and Elena went off to her own room, dropped on her knees and fell to praying, to thanking God. Light, shining tears trickled down her cheeks. Suddenly she was conscious of intense weariness, laid her head down on the pillow, whispered 'poor Andrei Petrovitch!' and at once fell asleep with wet eheeks and eyelashes. It was long since she had slept or wept.
Bersenyev's words turned out only partly true; the danger was over, but Insarov gained strength slowly, and the doctor talked of a complete undermining of the whole system. The patient left his bed for all that, and began to walk about the room; Bersenyev went home to his own lodging, but he came every day to his still feeble friend; and every day as before he informed Elena of the state of his health. Insarov did not dare to write to her, and only indirectly in his conversations with Bersenyev referred to her; but Bersenyev, with assumed carelessness, told him about his visits to the Stahovs, trying, however, to give him to understand that Elena had been deeply distressed, and that now she was calmer. Elena too did not write to Insarov; she had a plan in her head.
One day Bersenyev had just informed her with a cheerful face that the doctor had already allowed Insarov to eat a cutlet, and that he would probably soon go out; she seemed absorbed, dropped her eyes.
'Guess, what I want to say to you,' she said. Bersenyev was confused. He understood her.
'I suppose,' he answered, looking away, 'you want to say that you wish to see him.'
Elena crimsoned, and scarcely audibly, she breathed, 'Yes.'
'Well, what then? That, I imagine, you can easily do.'—'Ugh!' he thought, 'what a loath-some feeling there is in my heart!'
'You mean that I have already before...' said Elena. 'But I am afraid—now he is, you say, seldom alone.'
'That's not difficult to get over,' replied Bersenyev, still not looking at her. 'I, of course, cannot prepare him; but give me a note. Who can hinder your writing to him as a good friend, in whom you take an interest? There's no harm in that. Appoint—I mean, write to him when you will come.
'I am ashamed,' whispered Elena.
'Give me the note, I will take it.'
'There's no need of that, but I wanted to ask you—don't be angry with me, Andrei Petrovitch—don't go to him to-morrow!'
Bersenyev bit his lip.
'Ah! yes, I understand; very well, very well,' and, adding two or three words more, he quickly took leave.
'So much the better, so much the better,' he thought, as he hurried home. 'I have learnt nothing new, but so much the better. What possessed me to go hanging on to the edge of another man's happiness? I regret nothing; I have done what my conscience told me; but now it is over. Let them be! My father was right when he used to say to me: "You and I, my dear boy, are not Sybarites, we are not aristocrats, we're not the spoilt darlings of fortune and nature, we are not even martyrs—we are workmen and nothing more. Put on your leather apron, workman, and take your place at your workman's bench, in your dark workshop, and let the sun shine on other men! Even our dull life has its own pride, its own happiness!"'
The next morning Insarov got a brief note by the post. 'Expect me,' Elena wrote to him, 'and give orders for no one to see you. A. P. will not come.'
Insarov read Elena's note, and at once began to set his room to rights; asked his landlady to take away the medicine-glasses, took off his dressing-gown and put on his coat. His head was swimming and his heart throbbing from weakness and delight. His knees were shaking; he dropped on to the sofa, and began to look at his watch. 'It's now a quarter to twelve,' he said to himself. 'She can never come before twelve: I will think of something else for a quarter of an hour, or I shall break down altogether. Before twelve she cannot possibly come.'
The door was opened, and in a light silk gown, all pale, all fresh, young and joyful, Elena came in, and with a faint cry of delight she fell on his breast.
'You are alive, you are mine,' she repeated, embracing and stroking his head. He was almost swooning, breathless at such closeness, such caresses, such bliss.
She sat down near him, holding him fast, and began to gaze at him with that smiling, and caressing, and tender look, only to be seen shining in the eyes of a loving woman.
Her face suddenly clouded over.
'How thin you have grown, my poor Dmitri,' she said, passing her hand over his neck; 'what a beard you have.'
'And you have grown thin, my poor Elena,' he answered, catching her fingers with his lips.
She shook her curls gaily.
'That's nothing. You shall see how soon we'll be strong again! The storm has blown over, just as it blew over and passed away that day when we met in the chapel. Now we are going to live.'
He answered her with a smile only.
'Ah, what a time we have had, Dmitri, what a cruel time! How can people outlive those they love? I knew beforehand what Andrei Petrovitch would say to me every day, I did really; my life seemed to ebb and flow with yours. Welcome back, my Dmitri!'
He did not know what to say to her. He was longing to throw himself at her feet.
'Another thing I observed,' she went on, pushing back his hair—'I made so many observations all this time in my leisure—when any one is very, very miserable, with what stupid attention he follows everything that's going on about him! I really sometimes lost myself in gazing at a fly, and all the while such chill and terror in my heart! But that's all past, all past, isn't it? Everything's bright in the future, isn't it?'
'You are for me in the future,' answered Insarov, 'so it is bright for me.'
'And for me too! But do you remember, when I was here, not the last time—no, not the last time,' she repeated with an involuntary shudder, 'when we were talking, I spoke of death, I don't know why; I never suspected then that it was keeping watch on us. But you are well now, aren't you?'
'I'm much better, I'm nearly well.'
'You are well, you are not dead. Oh, how happy I am!'
A short silence followed.
'Elena?' said Insarov.
'Well, my dearest?'
'Tell me, did it never occur to you that this illness was sent us as a punishment?'
Elena looked seriously at him.
'That idea did come into my head, Dmitri. But I thought: what am I to be punished for? What duty have I transgressed, against whom have I sinned? Perhaps my conscience is not like other people's, but it was silent; or perhaps I am guilty towards you? I hinder you, I stop you.'
'You don't stop me, Elena; we will go together.'
'Yes, Dmitri, let us go together; I will follow you.... That is my duty. I love you.... I know no other duty.'
'O Elena!' said Insarov, 'what chains every word of yours fastens on me!'
'Why talk of chains?' she interposed. 'We are free people, you and I. Yes,' she went on, looking musingly on the floor, while with one hand she still stroked his hair, 'I experienced much lately of which I had never had any idea! If any one had told me beforehand that I, a young lady, well brought up, should go out from home alone on all sorts of made-up excuses, and to go where? to a young man's lodgings—how indignant I should have been! And that has all come about, and I feel no indignation whatever. Really!' she added, and turned to Insarov.
He looked at her with such an expression of adoration, that she softly dropped her hand from his hair over his eyes.
'Dmitri!' she began again, 'you don't know of course, I saw you there in that dreadful bed, I saw you in the clutches of death, unconscious.'
'You saw me?'
He was silent for a little. 'And Bersenyev was here?'
Insarov bowed down before her. 'O Elena!' he whispered, 'I don't dare to look at you.'
'Why? Andrei Petrovitch is so good. I was not ashamed before him. And what have I to be ashamed of? I am ready to tell all the world that I am yours.... And Andrei Petrovitch I trust like a brother.'
'He saved me!' cried Insarov. 'He is the noblest, kindest of men!'
'Yes... And do you know I owe everything to him? Do you know that it was he who first told me that you loved me? And if I could tell you everything.... Yes, he is a noble man.'
Insarov looked steadily at Elena. 'He is in love with you, isn't he?'
Elena dropped her eyes. 'He did love me,' she said in an undertone.
Insarov pressed her hand warmly. 'Oh you Russians,' he said, 'you have hearts of pure gold! And he, he has been waiting on me, he has not slept at night. And you, you, my angel.... No reproaches, no hesitations... and all this for me, for me——'
'Yes, yes, all for you, because they love you, Ah, Dmitri! How strange it is! I think I have talked to you of it before, but it doesn't matter, I like to repeat it, and you will like to hear it. When I saw you the first time——'
'Why are there tears in your eyes?' Insarov interrupted her.
'Tears? Are there?' She wiped her eyes with her handkerchief. 'Oh, what a silly boy! He doesn't know yet that people weep from happiness. I wanted to tell you: when I saw you the first time, I saw nothing special in you, really. I remember, Shubin struck me much more at first, though I never loved him, and as for Andrei Petrovitch—oh, there was a moment when I thought: isn't this he? And with you there was nothing of that sort; but afterwards—afterwards—you took my heart by storm!'
'Have pity on me,' began Insarov. He tried to get up, but dropped down on to the sofa again at once.
'What's the matter with you?' inquired Elena anxiously.
'Nothing.... I am still rather weak. I am not strong enough yet for such happiness.'
'Then sit quietly. Don't dare to move, don't get excited,' she added, threatening him with her finger. 'And why have you left off your dressing-gown? It's too soon to begin to be a dandy! Sit down and I will tell you stories. Listen and be quiet. To talk much is bad for you after your illness.'
She began to talk to him about Shubin, about Kurnatovsky, and what she had been doing for the last fortnight, of how war seemed, judging from the newspapers, inevitable, and so directly he was perfectly well again, he must, without losing a minute, make arrangements for them to start. All this she told him sitting beside him, leaning on his shoulder....
He listened to her, listened, turning pale and red. Sometimes he tried to stop her; suddenly he drew himself up.
'Elena,' he said to her in a strange, hard voice 'leave me, go away.'
'What?' she replied in bewilderment 'You feel ill?' she added quickly.
'No... I'm all right... but, please, leave me now.'
'I don't understand you. You drive me away?.. What are you doing?' she said suddenly; he had bent over from the sofa almost to the ground, and was pressing her feet to his lips. 'Don't do that, Dmitri.... Dmitri——'
He got up.
'Then leave me! You see, Elena, when I was taken ill, I did not lose consciousness at first; I knew I was on the edge of the abyss; even in the fever, in delirium I knew, I felt vaguely that it was death coming to me, I took leave of life, of you, of everything; I gave up hope.... And this return to life so suddenly; this light after the darkness, you—you—near me, with me—your voice, your breath.... It's more than I can stand! I feel I love you passionately, I hear you call yourself mine, I cannot answer for myself... You must go!'
'Dmitri,' whispered Elena, and she nestled her head on his shoulder. Only now she understood him.
'Elena,' he went on, 'I love you, you know that; I am ready to give my life for you.... Why have you come to me now, when I am weak, when I can't control myself, when all my blood's on fire... you are mine, you say... you love me———'
'Dmitri,' she repeated; she flushed all over, and pressed still closer to him.
'Elena, have pity on me; go away, I feel as if I should die.... I can't stand these violent emotions... my whole soul yearns for you ... think, death was almost parting us.. and now you are here, you are in my arms... Elena——'
She was trembling all over. 'Take me, then,' she whispered scarcely above her breath.
Nikolai Artemyevitch was walking up and down in his study with a scowl on his face. Shubin was sitting at the window with his legs crossed, tranquilly smoking a cigar.
'Leave off tramping from corner to corner, please,' he observed, knocking the ash off his cigar. 'I keep expecting you to speak; there's a rick in my neck from watching you. Besides, there's something artificial, melodramatic in your striding.'
'You can never do anything but joke,' responded Nikolai Artemyevitch. 'You won't enter into my position, you refuse to realise that I am used to that woman, that I am attached to her in fact, that her absence is bound to distress me. Here it's October, winter is upon us. ... What can she be doing in Revel?'
'She must be knitting stockings—for herself; for herself—not for you.'
'You may laugh, you may laugh; but I tell you I know no woman like her. Such honesty; such disinterestedness.'
'Has she cashed that bill yet?' inquired Shubin.
'Such disinterestedness,' repeated Nikolai Artemyevitch; 'it's astonishing. They tell me there are a million other women in the world, but I say, show me the million; show me the million, I say; ces femmes, qu'on me les montre! And she doesn't write—that's what's killing me!'