'You're eloquent as Pythagoras,' remarked Shubin; 'but do you know what I would advise you?'
'When Augustina Christianovna comes back—you take my meaning?'
'Yes, yes; well, what?'
'When you see her again—you follow the line of my thought?'
'Yes, yes, to be sure.'
'Try beating her; see what that would do.'
Nikolai Artemyevitch turned away exasperated.
'I thought he was really going to give me some practical advice. But what can one expect from him! An artist, a man of no principles——'
'No principles! By the way, I'm told your favourite Mr. Kurnatovsky, the man of principle, cleaned you out of a hundred roubles last night. That was hardly delicate, you must own now.'
'What of it? We were playing high. Of course, I might expect—but they understand so little how to appreciate him in this house——'
'That he thought: get what I can!' put in Shubin: 'whether he's to be my father-in-law or not, is still on the knees of the gods, but a hundred roubles is worth something to a man who doesn't take bribes.'
'Father-in-law! How the devil am I his father-in-law? Vous revez, mon cher. Of course, any other girl would be delighted with such a suitor. Only consider: a man of spirit and intellect, who has gained a position in the world, served in two provinces——'
'Led the governor in one of them by the nose,' remarked Shubin.
'Very likely. To be sure, that's how it should be. Practical, a business man——'
'And a capital hand at cards,' Shubin remarked again.
'To be sure, and a capital hand at cards. But Elena Nikolaevna.... Is there any understanding her? I should be glad to know if there is any one who would undertake to make out what it is she wants. One day she's cheerful, another she's dull; all of a sudden she's so thin there's no looking at her, and then suddenly she's well again, and all without any apparent reason——'
A disagreeable-looking man-servant came in with a cup of coffee, cream and sugar on a tray.
'The father is pleased with a suitor,' pursued Nikolai Artemyevitch, breaking off a lump of sugar; 'but what is that to the daughter! That was all very well in the old patriarchal days, but now we have changed all that. Nous avons change tout ca. Nowadays a young girl talks to any one she thinks fit, reads what she thinks fit; she goes about Moscow alone without a groom or a maid, just as in Paris; and all that is permitted. The other day I asked, "Where is Elena Nikolaevna?" I'm told she has gone out. Where? No one knows. Is that—the proper thing?'
'Take your coffee, and let the man go,' said Shubin. 'You say yourself that one ought not devant les domestiques' he added in an undertone.
The servant gave Shubin a dubious look, while Nikolai Artemyevitch took the cup of coffee, added some cream, and seized some ten lumps of sugar.
'I was just going to say when the servant came in,' he began, 'that I count for nothing in this house. That's the long and short of the matter. For nowadays every one judges from appearances; one man's an empty-headed fool, but gives himself airs of importance, and he's respected; while another, very likely, has talents which might—which might gain him great distinction, but through modesty——'
'Aren't you a born statesman?' asked Shubin in a jeering voice.
'Give over playing the fool!' Nikolai Artemyevitch cried with heat. 'You forget yourself! Here you have another proof that I count for nothing in this house, nothing!'
'Anna Vassilyevna ill-uses you... poor fellow!' said Shubin, stretching. 'Ah, Nikolai Artemyevitch, we're a pair of sinners! You had much better be getting a little present ready for Anna Vassilyevna, It's her birthday in a day or two, and you know how she appreciates the least attention on your part.'
'Yes, yes,' answered Nikolai Artemyevitch hastily. 'I'm much obliged to you for reminding me. Of course, of course; to be sure. I have a little thing, a dressing-case, I bought it the other day at Rosenstrauch's; but I don't know really if it will do.'
'I suppose you bought it for her, the lady at Revel?'
'Why, certainly.—I had some idea.'
'Well, in that case, it will be sure to do.' Shubin got up from his seat.
'Are we going out this evening, Pavel Yakovlitch, eh?' Nikolai Artemyevitch asked with an amicable leer.
'Why yes, you are going to your club.'
'After the club... after the club.'
Shubin stretched himself again.
'No, Nikolai Artemyevitch, I want to work to-morrow. Another time.' And he walked off.
Nikolai Artemyevitch scowled, walked twice up and down the room, took a velvet box with the dressing-case out of the bureau and looked at it a long while, rubbing it with a silk handkerchief. Then he sat down before a looking-glass and began carefully arranging his thick black hair, turning his head to right and to left with a dignified countenance, his tongue pressed into his cheek, never taking his eyes off his parting. Some one coughed behind his back; he looked round and saw the manservant who had brought him in his coffee.
'What do you want?' he asked him.
'Nikolai Artemyevitch,' said the man with a certain solemnity, 'you are our master?'
'I know that; what next!'
'Nikolai Artemyevitch, graciously do not be angry with me; but I, having been in your honour's service from a boy, am bound in dutiful devotion to bring you——'
'Well what is it?'
The man shifted uneasily as he stood.
'You condescended to say, your honour,' he began, 'that your honour did not know where Elena Nikolaevna was pleased to go. I have information about that.'
'What lies are you telling, idiot?'
'That's as your honour likes, but T saw our young lady three days ago, as she was pleased to go into a house!'
'Where? what? what house?'
'In a house, near Povarsky. Not far from here. I even asked the doorkeeper who were the people living there.'
Nikolai Artemyevitch stamped with his feet.
'Silence, scoundrel! How dare you?... Elena Nikolaevna, in the goodness of her heart, goes to visit the poor and you... Be off, fool!'
The terrified servant was rushing to the door.
'Stop!' cried Nikolai Artemyevitch. 'What did the doorkeeper say to you?'
'Oh no—nothing—he said nothing—He told me—a stu—student——'
'Silence, scoundrel! Listen, you dirty beast; if you ever breathe a word in your dreams even——'
'Mercy on us——'
'Silence! if you blab—if any one—if I find out—you shall find no hiding-place even underground! Do you hear? You can go!'
The man vanished.
'Good Heavens, merciful powers! what does it mean?' thought Nikolai Artemyevitch when he was left alone. 'What did that idiot tell me? Eh? I shall have to find out, though, what house it is, and who lives there. I must go myself. Has it come to this!... Un laquais! Quelle humiliation!'
And repeating aloud: 'Un laquais!' Nikolai Artemyevitch shut the dressing-case up in the bureau, and went up to Anna Vassilyevna. He found her in bed with her face tied up. But the sight of her sufferings only irritated him, and he very soon reduced her to tears.
Meanwhile the storm gathering in the East was breaking. Turkey had declared war on Russia; the time fixed for the evacuation of the Principalities had already expired, the day of the disaster of Sinope was not far off. The last letters received by Insarov summoned him urgently to his country. His health was not yet restored; he coughed, suffered from weakness and slight attacks of fever, but he was scarcely ever at home. His heart was fired, he no longer thought of his illness. He was for ever rushing about Moscow, having secret interviews with various persons, writing for whole nights, disappearing for whole days; he had informed his landlord that he was going away shortly, and had presented him already with his scanty furniture. Elena too on her side was getting ready for departure. One wet evening she was sitting in her room, and listening with involuntary depression to the sighing of the wind, while she hemmed handkerchiefs. Her maid came in and told her that her father was in her mother's room and sent for her there. 'Your mamma is crying,' she whispered after the retreating Elena, 'and your papa is angry.'
Elena gave a slight shrug and went into Anna Vassflyevna's room. Nikolai Artemyevitch's kind-hearted spouse was half lying on a reclining chair, sniffing a handkerchief steeped in eau de Cologne; he himself was standing at the hearth, every button buttoned up, in a high, hard cravat, with a stiffly starched collar; his deportment had a vague suggestion of some parliamentary orator. With an orator's wave of the arm he motioned his daughter to a chair, and when she, not understanding his gesture, looked inquiringly at him, he brought out with dignity, without turning his head: 'I beg you to be seated.' Nikolai Artemyevitch always used the formal plural in addressing his wife, but only on extraordinary occasions in addressing his daughter.
Elena sat down.
Anna Vassilyevna blew her nose tearfully. Nikolai Artemyevitch thrust his fingers between his coat-buttons.
'I sent for you, Elena Nikolaevna,' he began after a protracted silence, 'in order to have an explanation with you, or rather in order to ask you for an explanation. I am displeased with you—or no—that is too little to say: your behaviour is a pain and an outrage to me—to me and to your mother—your mother whom you see here.'
Nikolai Artemyevitch was giving vent only to the few bass notes in his voice. Elena gazed in silence at him, then at Anna Vassilyevna and turned pale.
'There was a time,' Nikolai Artemyevitch resumed, 'when daughters did not allow themselves to look down on their parents—when the parental authority forced the disobedient to tremble. That time has passed, unhappily: so at least many persons imagine; but let me tell you, there are still laws which do not permit—do not permit—in fact there are still laws. I beg you to mark that: there are still laws——'
'But, papa,' Elena was beginning.
'I beg you not to interrupt me. Let us turn in thought to the past. I and Anna Vassilyevna have performed our duty. I and Anna Vassilyevna have spared nothing in your education: neither care nor expense. What you have gained from our care—is a different question; but I had the right to expect—I and Anna Vassilyevna had the right to expect that you would at least hold sacred the principles of morality which we have—que nous avons inculques, which we have instilled into you, our only daughter. We had the right to expect that no new "ideas" could touch that, so to speak, holy shrine. And what do we find? I am not now speaking of frivolities characteristic of your sex, and age, but who could have anticipated that you could so far forget yourself——'
'Papa,' said Elena, 'I know what you are going to say———'
'No, you don't know what I am going to say!' cried Nikolai Artemyevitch in a falsetto shriek, suddenly losing the majesty of his oratorical pose, the smooth dignity of his speech, and his bass notes. 'You don't know, vile hussy!'
'For mercy's sake, Nicolas,' murmured Anna Vassilyevna, 'vous me faites mourir?'
'Don't tell me que je vous fais mourir, Anna Vassilyevna! You can't conceive what you will hear directly! Prepare yourself for the worst, I warn you!'
Anna Vassilyevna seemed stupefied.
'No,' resumed Nikolai Artemyevitch, turning to Elena, 'you don't know what I am going to say!'
'I am to blame towards you——' she began.
'Ah, at last!'
'I am to blame towards you,' pursued Elena, 'for not having long ago confessed——'
'But do you know,' Nikolai Artemyevitch interrupted, 'that I can crush you with one word?'
Elena raised her eyes to look at him.
'Yes, madam, with one word! It's useless to look at me!' (He crossed his arms on his breast.) 'Allow me to ask you, do you know a certain house near Povarsky? Have you visited that house?' (He stamped.) 'Answer me, worthless girl, and don't try to hide the truth. People, people, servants, madam, de vils laquais have seen you, as you went in there, to your——'
Elena was crimson, her eyes were blazing.
'I have no need to hide anything,' she declared. 'Yes, I have visited that house.'
'Exactly! Do you hear, do you hear, Anna Vassilyevna? And you know, I presume, who lives there?'
'Yes, I know; my husband.'
Nikolai Artemyevitch's eyes were starting out of his head.
'My husband,' repeated Elena; 'I am married to Dmitri Nikanorovitch Insarov.'
'You?—married?'—was all Anna Vassilyevna could articulate.
'Yes, mamma.... Forgive me. A fortnight ago, we were secretly married.'
Anna Vassilyevna fell back in her chair; Nikolai Artemyevitch stepped two paces back.
'Married! To that vagrant, that Montenegrin! the daughter of Nikolai Stahov of the higher nobility married to a vagrant, a nobody, without her parents' sanction! And you imagine I shall let the matter rest, that I shall not make a complaint, that I will allow you—that you—that——To the nunnery with you, and he shall go to prison, to hard labour! Anna Vassilyevna, inform her at once that you will cut off her inheritance!'
'Nikolai Artemyevitch, for God's sake,' moaned Anna Vassilyevna.
'And when and how was this done? Who married you? where? how? Good God! what will all our friends think, what will the world say! And you, shameless hypocrite, could go on living under your parents' roof after such an act! Had you no fear of—the wrath of heaven?'
'Papa' said Elena (she was trembling from head to foot but her voice was steady), 'you are at liberty to do with me as you please, but you need not accuse me of shamelessness, and hypocrisy. I did not want—to give you pain before, but I should have had to tell you all myself in a few days, because we are going away—my husband and I—from here next week.'
'Going away? Where to?'
'To his own country, to Bulgaria.'
'To the Turks!' cried Anna Vassilyevna and fell into a swoon.
Elena ran to her mother.
'Away!' clamoured Nikolai Artemyevitch, seizing his daughter by the arm, 'away, unworthy girl!'
But at that instant the door of the room opened, and a pale face with glittering eyes appeared: it was the face of Shubin.
'Nikolai Artemyevitch!' he shouted at the top of his voice, 'Augustina Christianovna is here and is asking for you!'
Nikolai Artemyevitch turned round infuriated, threatening Shubin with his fist; he stood still a minute and rapidly went out of the room.
Elena fell at her mother's feet and embraced her knees.
Uvar Ivanovitch was lying on his bed. A shirt without a collar, fastened with a heavy stud enfolded his thick neck and fell in full flowing folds over the almost feminine contours of his chest, leaving visible a large cypress-wood cross and an amulet. His ample limbs were covered with the lightest bedclothes. On the little table by the bedside a candle was burning dimly beside a jug of kvas, and on the bed at Uvar ivanovitch's feet was sitting Shubin in a dejected pose.
'Yes,' he was saying meditatively, 'she is married and getting ready to go away. Your nephew was bawling and shouting for the benefit of the whole house; he had shut himself up for greater privacy in his wife's bedroom, but not merely the maids and the footmen, the coachman even could hear it all! Now he's just tearing and raving round; he all but gave me a thrashing, he's bringing a father's curse on the scene now, as cross as a bear with a sore head; but that's of no importance. Anna Vassilyevna's crushed, but she's much more brokenhearted at her daughter leaving her than at her marriage.'
Uvar Ivanovitch flourished his fingers.
'A mother,' he commented, 'to be sure.'
'Your nephew,' resumed Shubin, 'threatens to lodge a complaint with the Metropolitan and the General-Governor and the Minister, but it will end by her going. A happy thought to ruin his own daughter! He'll crow a little and then lower his colours.'
'They'd no right,' observed Uvar Ivanovitch, and he drank out of the jug.
'To be sure. But what a storm of criticism, gossip, and comments will be raised in Moscow! She's not afraid of them.... Besides she's above them. She's going away... and it's awful to think where she's going—to such a distance, such a wilderness! What future awaits her there? I seem to see her setting off from a posting station in a snow-storm with thirty degrees of frost. She's leaving her country, and her people; but I understand her doing it. Whom is she leaving here behind her? What people has she seen? Kurnatovsky and Bersenyev and our humble selves; and these are the best she's seen. What is there to regret about it? One thing's bad; I'm told her husband—the devil, how that word sticks in my throat!—Insarov, I'm told, is spitting blood; that's a bad lookout. I saw him the other day: his face—you could model Brutus from it straight off. Do you know who Brutus was, Uvar Ivanovitch?'
'What is there to know? a man to be sure.'
'Precisely so: he was a "man." Yes he's a wonderful face, but unhealthy, very unhealthy.'
'For fighting... it makes no difference,' observed Uvar Ivanovitch.
'For fighting it makes no difference, certainly; you are pleased to express yourself with great justice to-day; but for living it makes all the difference. And you see she wants to live with him a little while.'
'A youthful affair,' responded Uvar Ivanovitch.
'Yes, a youthful, glorious, bold affair. Death, life, conflict, defeat, triumph, love, freedom, country.... Good God, grant as much to all of us! That's a very different thing from sitting up to one's neck in a bog, and pretending it's all the same to you, when in fact it really is all the same. While there—the strings are tuned to the highest pitch, to play to all the world or to break!'
Shubin's head sank on to his breast.
'Yes,' he resumed, after a prolonged silence, 'Insarov deserves her. What nonsense, though! No one deserves her... Insarov... Insarov ... What's the use of pretended modesty? We'll own he's a fine fellow, he stands on his own feet, though up to the present he has done no more than we poor sinners; and are we such absolutely worthless dirt? Am I such dirt, Uvar Ivanovitch? Has God been hard on me in every way? Has He given me no talents, no abilities? Who knows, perhaps, the name of Pavel Shubin will in time be a great name? You see that bronze farthing there lying on your table. Who knows; some day, perhaps in a century, that bronze will go to a statue of Pavel Shubin, raised in his honour by a grateful posterity!'
Uvar Ivanovitch leaned on his elbow and stared at the enthusiastic artist.
'That's a long way off,' he said at last with his usual gesture; 'we're speaking of other people, why bring in yourself?'
'O great philosopher of the Russian world!' cried Shubin, 'every word of yours is worth its weight in gold, and it's not to me but to you a statue ought to be raised, and I would undertake it. There, as you are lying now, in that pose; one doesn't know which is uppermost in it, sloth or strength! That's how I would cast you in bronze. You aimed a just reproach at my egoism and vanity! Yes! yes! it's useless talking of one's-self; it's useless bragging. We have no one yet, no men, look where you will. Everywhere—either small fry, nibblers, Hamlets on a small scale, self-absorbed, or darkness and subterranean chaos, or idle babblers and wooden sticks. Or else they are like this: they study themselves to the most shameful detail, and are for ever feeling the pulse of every sensation and reporting to themselves: "That's what I feel, that's what I think." A useful, rational occupation! No, if we only had some sensible men among us, that girl, that delicate soul, would not have run away from us, would not have slipped off like a fish to the water! What's the meaning of it, Uvar Ivanovitch? When will our time come? When will men be born among us?'
'Give us time,' answered Uvar Ivanovitch; 'they will be——'
'They will be? soil of our country! force of the black earth! thou hast said: they will be. Look, I will write down your words. But why are you putting out the candle?'
'I'm going to sleep; good-bye.'
Shubin had spoken truly. The unexpected news of Elena's marriage nearly killed Anna Vassilyevna. She took to her bed. Nikolai Artemyevitch insisted on her not admitting her daughter to her presence; he seemed to be enjoying the opportunity of showing himself in the fullest sense the master of the house, with all the authority of the head of the family; he made an incessant uproar in the household, storming at the servants, and constantly saying: 'I will show you who I am, I will let you know—you wait a little!' While he was in the house, Anna Vassilyevna did not see Elena, and had to be content with Zoya, who waited on her very devotedly, but kept thinking to herself: 'Diesen Insarof vorziehen—und wem?' But directly Nikolai Artemyevitch went out—and that happened pretty often, Augustina Christianovna had come back in sober earnest—Elena went to her mother, and a long time her mother gazed at her in silence and in tears.
This dumb reproach, more deeply than any other, cut Elena to the heart; at such moments she felt, not remorse, but a deep, boundless pity akin to remorse.
'Mamma, dear mamma!' she would repeat, kissing her hands; 'what was I to do? I'm not to blame, I loved him, I could not have acted differently. Throw the blame on fate for throwing me with a man whom papa doesn't like, and who is taking me away from you.'
'Ah!' Anna Vassilyevna cut her short, 'don't remind me of that. When I think where you mean to go, my heart is ready to burst!'
'Dear mamma,' answered Elena, 'be comforted; at least, it might have been worse; I might have died.'
'But, as it is, I don't expect to see you again. Either you will end your days there in a tent somewhere'—Anna Vassilyevna pictured Bulgaria as something after the nature of the Siberian swamps,—'or I shall not survive the separation——'
'Don't say that, mamma dearest, we shall see each other again, please God. There are towns in Bulgaria just as there are here.'
'Fine towns there, indeed! There is war going on there now; wherever you go, I suppose they are firing cannons off all the while... Are you meaning to set off soon?'
'Soon... if only papa. He means to appeal to the authorities; he threatens to separate us.'
Anna Vassilyevna turned her eyes heavenwards.
'No, Lenotchka, he will not do that. I would not myself have consented to this marriage. I would have died first; but what's done can't be undone, and I will not let my daughter be disgraced.'
So passed a few days. At last Anna Vassilyevna plucked up her courage, and one evening she shut herself up alone with her husband in her room. The whole house was hushed to catch every sound. At first nothing was to be heard; then Nikolai Artemyevitch's voice began to tune up, then a quarrel broke out, shouts were raised, even groans were discerned.... Already Shubin was plotting with the maids and Zoya to rush in to the rescue; but the uproar in the bedroom began by degrees to grow less, passed into quiet talk, and ceased. Only from time to time a faint sob was to be heard, and then those, too, were still. There was the jingling of keys, the creak of a bureau being unfastened.... The door was opened, and Nikolai Artemyevitch appeared. He looked surlily at every one who met him, and went out to the club; while Anna Vassilyevna sent for Elena, embraced her warmly, and, with bitter tears flowing down her cheeks, she said:
'Everything is settled, he will not make a scandal, and there is nothing now to hinder you from going—from abandoning us.'
'You will let Dmitri come to thank you?' Elena begged her mother, as soon as the latter had been restored a little.
'Wait a little, my darling, I cannot bear yet to see the man who has come between us. We shall have time before you go.'
'Before we go,' repeated Elena mournfully.
Nikolai Artemyevitch had consented 'not to make a scandal,' but Anna Vassilyevna did not tell her daughter what a price he had put on his consent. She did not tell her that she had promised to pay all his debts, and had given him a thousand roubles down on the spot. Moreover, he had declared decisively to Anna Vassilyevna that he had no wish to meet Insarov, whom he persisted in calling 'the Montenegrin vagrant,' and when he got to the club, he began, quite without occasion, talking of Elena's marriage, to his partner at cards, a retired general of engineers. 'You have heard,' he observed with a show of carelessness, 'my daughter, through the higher education, has gone and married a student.' The general looked at him through his spectacles, muttered, 'H'm!' and asked him what stakes would he play for.
The day of departure drew near. November was already over; the latest date for starting had come. Insarov had long ago made his preparations, and was burning with anxiety to get out of Moscow as soon as possible. And the doctor was urging him on. 'You need a warm climate,' he told him; 'you will not get well here.' Elena, too, was fretting with impatience; she was worried by Insarov's pallor, and his emaciation. She often looked with involuntary terror at his changed face. Her position in her parents' house had become insupportable. Her mother mourned over her, as over the dead, while her father treated her with contemptuous coldness; the approaching separation secretly pained him too, but he regarded it as his duty—the duty of an offended father—to disguise his feelings, his weakness. Anna Vassilyevna at last expressed a wish to see Insarov. He was taken up to her secretly by the back stairs. After he had entered her room, for a long time she could not speak to him, she could not even bring herself to look at him; he sat down near her chair, and waited, with quiet respectfulness, for her first word. Elena sat down close, and held her mother's hand in hers. At last Anna Vassilyevna raised her eyes, saying: 'God is your judge, Dmitri Nikanorovitch'—she stopped short: the reproaches died away on her lips. 'Why, you are ill,' she cried: 'Elena, your husband's ill!'
'I have been unwell, Anna Vassilyevna,' answered Insarov; 'and even now I am not quite strong yet: but I hope my native air will make me perfectly well again.'
'Ah—Bulgaria!' murmured Anna Vassilyevna, and she thought: 'Good God, a Bulgarian, and dying; a voice as hollow as a drum; and eyes like saucers, a perfect skeleton; his coat hanging loose on his shoulders, his face as yellow as a guinea, and she's his wife—she loves him—it must be a bad dream. But——' she checked herself at once: 'Dmitri Nikanorovitch,' she said, 'are you absolutely, absolutely bound to go away?'
'Absolutely, Anna Vassilyevna.'
Anna Vassilyevna looked at him.
'Ah, Dmitri Nikanorovitch, God grant you never have to go through what I am going through now. But you will promise me to take care of her—to love her. You will not have to face poverty while I am living!'
Tears choked her voice. She opened her arms, and Elena and Insarov flung themselves into her embrace.
The fatal day had come at last. It had been arranged that Elena should say good-bye to her parents at home, and should start on the journey from Insarov's lodgings. The departure was fixed for twelve o'clock. About a quarter of an hour before the appointed time Bersenyev arrived. He had expected to find Insarov's compatriots at his lodgings, anxious to see him off; but they had already gone before; and with them the two mysterious persons known to the reader (they had been witnesses at Insarov's wedding). The tailor met the 'kind gentlemen' with a bow; he, presumably, to drown his grief, but possibly to celebrate his delight at getting the furniture, had been drinking heavily; his wife soon led him away. In the room everything was by this time ready; a trunk, tied up with cord, stood on the floor. Bersenyev sank into thought: many memories came rushing upon him.
Twelve o'clock had long ago struck; and the driver had already brought round the horses, but the 'young people' still did not appear. At last hurrying steps were heard on the stairs, and Elena came out escorted by Insarov and Shubin. Elena's eyes were red; she had left her mother lying unconscious; the parting had been terrible. Elena had not seen Bersenyev for more than a week: he had been seldom of late at the Stahovs'. She had not expected to meet him; and crying, 'You! thank you!' she threw herself on his neck; Insarov, too, embraced him. A painful silence followed. What could these three say to one another? what were they feeling in their hearts? Shubin realised the necessity of cutting short everything painful with light words.
'Our trio has come together again,' he began, 'for the last time. Let us submit to the decrees of fate; speak of the past with kindness; and in God's name go forward to the new life! In God's name, on our distant way,' he began to hum, and stopped short. He felt suddenly ashamed and awkward. It is a sin to sing where the dead are lying: and at that instant, in that room, the past of which he had spoken was dying, the past of the people met together in it. It was dying to be born again in a new life—doubtless—still it was death.
'Come, Elena,' began Insarov, turning to his wife, 'I think everything is done? Everything paid, and everything packed. There's nothing more except to take the box down.' He called his landlord.
The tailor came into the room, together with his wife and daughter. He listened, slightly reeling, to Insarov's instructions, dragged the box up on to his shoulders, and ran quickly down the staircases, tramping heavily with his boots.
'Now, after the Russian custom, we must sit down,' observed Insarov.
They all sat down; Bersenyev seated himself on the old sofa, Elena sat next him; the landlady and her daughter squatted in the doorway. All were silent; all smiled constrainedly, though no one knew why he was smiling; each of them wanted to say something at parting, and each (except, of course, the landlady and her daughter, they were simply rolling their eyes) felt that at such moments it is only permissible to utter common-places, that any word of importance, of sense, or even of deep feeling, would be somehow out of place, almost insincere. Insarov was the first to get up, and he began crossing himself. 'Farewell, our little room!' he cried.
Then came kisses, the sounding but cold kisses of leave-taking, good wishes—half expressed—for the journey, promises to write, the last, half-smothered words of farewell.
Elena, all in tears, had already taken her seat in the sledge; Insarov had carefully wrapped her feet up in a rug; Shubin, Bersenyev, the landlord, his wife, the little daughter, with the inevitable kerchief on her head, the doorkeeper, a workman in a striped bedgown, were all standing on the steps, when suddenly a splendid sledge, harnessed with spirited horses, flew into the courtyard, and from the sledge, shaking the snow off the collar of his cloak, leapt Nikolai Artemyevitch.
'I am not too late, thank God,' he cried, running up to their sledge. 'Here, Elena, is our last parental benediction,' he said, bending down under the hood, and taking from his pocket a little holy image, sewn in a velvet bag, he put it round her neck. She began to sob, and kiss his hands; and the coachman meantime pulled out of the forepart of the sledge a half bottle of champagne, and three glasses.
'Come!' said Nikolai Artemyevitch—and his own tears were trickling on to the beaver collar of his cloak—'we must drink to—good journey—good wishes——' He began pouring out the champagne: his hands were shaking, the foam rose over the edge and fell on to the snow. He took one glass, and gave the other two to Elena and Insarov, who by now was seated beside hen 'God give you——' began Nikolai Artemyevitch, and he could not go on: he drank off the wine; they, too, drank off their glasses. 'Now you should drink, gentlemen,' he added, turning to Shubin and Bersenyev, but at that instant the driver started the horses. Nikolai Artemyevitch ran beside the sledge. 'Mind and write to us,' he said in a broken voice. Elena put out her head, saying: 'Good-bye, papa, Andrei Petrovitch, Pavel Yakovlitch, good-bye all, good-bye, Russia!' and dropped back in her place. The driver flourished his whip, and gave a whistle; the sledge, its runners crunching on the snow, turned out of the gates to the right and disappeared.
It was a bright April day. On the broad lagoon which separates Venice from the narrow strip of accumulated sea sand, called the Lido, a gondola was gliding—swaying rhythmically at every push made by the gondolier as he leaned on the big pole. Under its low awning, on soft leather cushions, were sitting Elena and Insarov.
Elena's features had not changed much since the day of her departure from Moscow, but their expression was different; it was more thoughtful and more severe, and her eyes had a bolder look. Her whole figure had grown finer and more mature, and the hair seemed to lie in greater thickness and luxuriance along her white brow and her fresh cheeks. Only about her lips, when she was not smiling, a scarcely perceptible line showed the presence of a hidden constant anxiety. In Insarov's face, on the contrary, the expression had remained the same, but his features had undergone a cruel change. He had grown thin, old, pale and bent; he was constantly coughing a short dry cough, and his sunken eyes shone with a strange brilliance. On the way from Russia, Insarov had lain ill for almost two months at Vienna, and only at the end of March had he been able to come with his wife to Venice; from there he was hoping to make his way through Zara to Servia, to Bulgaria; the other roads were closed. The war was now at its height about the Danube; England and France had declared war on Russia, all the Slavonic countries were roused and were preparing for an uprising.
The gondola put in to the inner shore of the Lido. Elena and Insarov walked along the narrow sandy road planted with sickly trees (every year they plant them and every year they die) to the outer shore of the Lido, to the sea.
They walked along the beach. The Adriatic rolled its muddy-blue waves before them; they raced into the shore, foaming and hissing, and drew back again, leaving fine shells and fragments of seaweed on the beach.
'What a desolate place!' observed Elena 'I'm afraid it's too cold for you here, but I guess why you wanted to come here.'
'Cold!' rejoined Insarov with a rapid and bitter smile, 'I shall be a fine soldier, if I'm to be afraid of the cold. I came here... I will tell you why. I look across that sea, and I feel as though here, I am nearer my country. It is there, you know,' he added, stretching out his hand to the East, 'the wind blows from there.'
'Will not this wind bring the ship you are expecting?' said Elena. 'See, there is a white sail, is not that it?'
Insarov gazed seaward into the distance to where Elena was pointing.
'Renditch promised to arrange everything for us within a week,' he said, 'we can rely on him, I think.... Did you hear, Elena,' he added with sudden animation, 'they say the poor Dalmatian fishermen have sacrificed their dredging weights—you know the leads they weigh their nets with for letting them down to the bottom—to make bullets! They have no money, they only just live by fishing; but they have joyfully given up their last property, and now are starving. What a nation!'
'Aufgepasst!' shouted a haughty voice behind them. The heavy thud of horse's hoofs was heard, and an Austrian officer in a short grey tunic and a green cap galloped past them—they had scarcely time to get out of the way.
Insarov looked darkly after him.
'He was not to blame,' said Elena, 'you know, they have no other place where they can ride.'
'He was not to blame,' answered Insarov 'but he made my blood boil with his shout, his moustaches, his cap, his whole appearance. Let us go back.'
'Yes, let us go back, Dmitri. It's really cold here. You did not take care of yourself after your Moscow illness, and you had to pay for that at Vienna. Now you must be more cautious.'
Insarov did not answer, but the same bitter smile passed over his lips.
'If you like,' Elena went on, 'we will go along to the Canal Grande. We have not seen Venice properly, you know, all the while we have been here. And in the evening we are going to the theatre; I have two tickets for the stalls. They say there's a new opera being given. If you like, we will give up to-day to one another; we will forget politics and war and everything, we will forget everything but that we are alive, breathing, thinking together; that we are one for ever—would you like that?'
'If you would like it, Elena,' answered Insarov, 'it follows that I should like it too.'
'I knew that,' observed Elena with a smile, 'come, let us go.'
They went back to the gondola, took their seats, told the gondolier to take them without hurry along the Canal Grande.
No one who has not seen Venice in April knows all the unutterable fascinations of that magic town. The softness and mildness of spring harmonise with Venice, just as the glaring sun of summer suits the magnificence of Genoa, and as the gold and purple of autumn suits the grand antiquity of Rome. The beauty of Venice, like the spring, touches the soul and moves it to desire; it frets and tortures the inexperienced heart like the promise of a coming bliss, mysterious but not elusive. Everything in it is bright, and everything is wrapt in a drowsy, tangible mist, as it were, of the hush of love; everything in it is so silent, and everything in it is kindly; everything in it is feminine, from its name upwards. It has well been given the name of 'the fair city.' Its masses of palaces and churches stand out light and wonderful like the graceful dream of a young god; there is something magical, something strange and bewitching in the greenish-grey light and silken shimmer of the silent water of the canals, in the noiseless gliding of the gondolas, in the absence of the coarse din of a town, the coarse rattling, and crashing, and uproar. 'Venice is dead, Venice is deserted,' her citizens will tell you, but perhaps this last charm—the charm of decay—was not vouchsafed her in the very heyday of the flower and majesty of her beauty. He who has not seen her, knows her not; neither Canaletto nor Guardi (to say nothing of later painters) has been able to convey the silvery tenderness of the atmosphere, the horizon so close, yet so elusive, the divine harmony of exquisite lines and melting colours. One who has outlived his life, who has been crushed by it, should not visit Venice; she will be cruel to him as the memory of unfulfilled dreams of early days; but sweet to one whose strength is at its full, who is conscious of happiness; let him bring his bliss under her enchanted skies; and however bright it may be, Venice will make it more golden with her unfading splendour.
The gondola in which Insarov and Elena were sitting passed Riva dei Schiavoni, the palace of the Doges, and Piazzetta, and entered the Grand Canal. On both sides stretched marble palaces; they seemed to float softly by, scarcely letting the eye seize or absorb their beauty. Elena felt herself deeply happy; in the perfect blue of her heavens there was only one dark cloud—and it was in the far distance; Insarov was much better that day. They glided as far as the acute angle of the Rialto and turned back. Elena was afraid of the chill of the churches for Insarov; but she remembered the academy delle Belle Arti, and told the gondolier to go towards it. They quickly walked through all the rooms of that little museum. Being neither connoisseurs nor dilettantes, they did not stop before every picture; they put no constraint on themselves; a spirit of light-hearted gaiety came over them. Everything seemed suddenly very entertaining. (Children know this feeling very well.) To the great scandal of three English visitors, Elena laughed till she cried over the St Mark of Tintoretto, skipping down from the sky like a frog into the water, to deliver the tortured slave; Insarov in his turn fell into raptures over the back and legs of the sturdy man in the green cloak, who stands in the foreground of Titian's Ascension and holds his arms outstretched after the Madonna; but the Madonna—a splendid, powerful woman, calmly and majestically making her way towards the bosom of God the Father—impressed both Insarov and Elena; they liked, too, the austere and reverent painting of the elder Cima da Conegliano. As they were leaving the academy, they took another look at the Englishmen behind them—with their long rabbit-like teeth and drooping whiskers—and laughed; they glanced at their gondolier with his abbreviated jacket and short breeches—and laughed; they caught sight of a woman selling old clothes with a knob of grey hair on the very top of her head—and laughed more than ever; they looked into one another's face—and went off into peals of laughter, and directly they had sat down in the gondola, they clasped each other's hand in a close, close grip. They reached their hotel, ran into their room, and ordered dinner to be brought in. Their gaiety did not desert them at dinner. They pressed each other to eat, drank to the health of their friends in Moscow, clapped their hands at the waiter for a delicious dish of fish, and kept asking him for live frutti di mare; the waiter shrugged his shoulders and scraped with his feet, but when he had left them, he shook his head and once even muttered with a sigh, poveretti! (poor things!) After dinner they set off for the theatre.
They were giving an opera of Verdi's, which though, honestly speaking, rather vulgar, has already succeeded in making the round of all the European theatres, an opera, well-known among Russians, La Traviata. The season in Venice was over, and none of the singers rose above the level of mediocrity; every one shouted to the best of their abilities. The part of Violetta was performed by an artist, of no renown, and judging by the cool reception given her by the public, not a favourite, but she was not destitute of talent. She was a young, and not very pretty, black-eyed girl with an unequal and already overstrained voice. Her dress was ill-chosen and naively gaudy; her hair was hidden in a red net, her dress of faded blue satin was too tight for her, and thick Swedish gloves reached up to her sharp elbows. Indeed, how could she, the daughter of some Bergamese shepherd, know how Parisian dames aux camelias dress! And she did not understand how to move on the stage; but there was much truth and artless simplicity in her acting, and she sang with that passion of expression and rhythm which is only vouchsafed to Italians. Elena and Insarov were sitting alone together in a dark box close to the stage; the mirthful mood which had come upon them in the academy delle Belle Arti had not yet passed off. When the father of the unhappy young man who had fallen into the snares of the enchantress came on to the stage in a yellow frock-coat and a dishevelled white wig, opened his mouth awry, and losing his presence of mind before he had begun, only brought out a faint bass tremolo, they almost burst into laughter. ... But Violetta's acting impressed them.
'They hardly clap that poor girl at all,' said Elena, 'but I like her a thousand times better than some conceited second-rate celebrity who would grimace and attitudinise all the while for effect. This girl seems as though it were all in earnest; look, she pays no attention to the public.'
Insarov bent over the edge of the box, and looked attentively at Violetta.
'Yes,' he commented, 'she is in earnest; she's on the brink of the grave herself.'
Elena was mute.
The third act began. The curtain rose—Elena shuddered at the sight of the bed, the drawn curtains, the glass of medicine, the shaded lamps. She recalled the near past. 'What of the future? What of the present?' flashed across her mind. As though in response to her thought, the artist's mimic cough on the stage was answered in the box by the hoarse, terribly real cough of Insarov. Elena stole a glance at him, and at once gave her features a calm and untroubled expression; Insarov understood her, and he began himself to smile, and softly to hum the tune of the song.
But he was soon quiet. Violetta's acting became steadily better, and freer. She had thrown aside everything subsidiary, everything superfluous, and found herself; a rare, a lofty delight for an artist! She had suddenly crossed the limit, which it is impossible to define, beyond which is the abiding place of beauty. The audience was thrilled and astonished. The plain girl with the broken voice began to get a hold on it, to master it. And the singer's voice even did not sound broken now; it had gained mellowness and strength. Alfredo made his entrance; Violetta's cry of happiness almost raised that storm in the audience known as fanatisme, beside which all the applause of our northern audiences is nothing. A brief interval passed—and again the audience were in transports. The duet began, the best thing in the opera, in which the composer has succeeded in expressing all the pathos of the senseless waste of youth, the final struggle of despairing, helpless love. Caught up and carried along by the general sympathy, with tears of artistic delight and real suffering in her eyes, the singer let herself be borne along on the wave of passion within her; her face was transfigured, and in the presence of the threatening signs of fast approaching death, the words: 'Lascia mi vivero—morir si giovane' (let me live—to die so young!) burst from her in such a tempest of prayer rising to heaven, that the whole theatre shook with frenzied applause and shouts of delight.
Elena felt cold all over. Softly her hand sought Insarov's, found it, and clasped it tightly. He responded to its pressure; but she did not look at him, nor he at her. Very different was the clasp of hands with which they had greeted each other in the gondola a few hours before.
Again they glided along the Canal Grande towards their hotel. Night had set in now, a clear, soft night. The same palaces met them, but they seemed different. Those that were lighted up by the moon shone with pale gold, and in this pale light all details of ornaments and lines of windows and balconies seemed lost; they stood out more clearly in the buildings that were wrapped in a light veil of unbroken shadow. The gondolas, with their little red lamps, seemed to flit past more noiselessly and swiftly than ever; their steel beaks flashed mysteriously, mysteriously their oars rose and fell over the ripples stirred by little silvery fish; here and there was heard the brief, subdued call of a gondolier (they never sing now); scarcely another sound was to be heard. The hotel where Insarov and Elena were staying was on the Riva dei Schiavoni; before they reached it they left the gondola, and walked several times round the Square of St. Mark, under the arches, where numbers of holiday makers were gathered before the tiny cafes. There is a special sweetness in wandering alone with one you love, in a strange city among strangers; everything seems beautiful and full of meaning, you feel peace and goodwill to all men, you wish all the same happiness that fills your heart. But Elena could not now give herself up without a care to the sense of her happiness; her heart could not regain its calm after the emotions that had so lately shaken it; and Insarov, as he walked by the palace of the Doges, pointed without speaking to the mouths of the Austrian cannons, peeping out from the lower arches, and pulled his hat down over his eyes. By now he felt tired, and, with a last glance at the church of St. Mark, at its cupola, where on the bluish lead bright patches of phosphorescent light shone in the rays of the moon, they turned slowly homewards.
Their little room looked out on to the lagoon, which stretches from the Riva del Schiavoni to the Giudecca. Almost facing their hotel rose the slender tower of S. George; high against the sky on the right shone the golden ball of the Customs House; and, decked like a bride, stood the loveliest of the churches, the Redentore of Palladio; on the left were the black masts and rigging of ships, the funnels of steamers; a half-furled sail hung in one place like a great wing, and the flags scarcely stirred. Insarov sat down at the window, but Elena did not let him admire the view for long; he seemed suddenly feverish, he was overcome by consuming weakness. She put him to bed, and, waiting till he had fallen asleep, she returned to the window. Oh, how still and kindly was the night, what dovelike softness breathed in the deep-blue air! Every suffering, every sorrow surely must be soothed to slumber under that clear sky, under that pure, holy light! 'O God,' thought Elena, 'why must there be death, why is there separation, and disease and tears? or else, why this beauty, this sweet feeling of hope, this soothing sense of an abiding refuge, an unchanging support, an everlasting protection? What is the meaning of this smiling, blessing sky; this happy, sleeping earth? Can it be that all that is only in us, and that outside us is eternal cold and silence? Can it be that we are alone... alone... and there, on all sides, in all those unattainable depths and abysses—nothing is akin to us; all, all is strange and apart from us? Why, then, have we this desire for, this delight in prayer?' (Morir si giovane was echoing in her heart.)... 'Is it impossible, then, to propitiate, to avert, to save... O God! is it impossible to believe in miracle?' She dropped her head on to her clasped hands. 'Enough,' she whispered. 'Indeed enough! I have been happy not for moments only, not for hours, not for whole days even, but for whole weeks together. And what right had I to happiness?' She felt terror at the thought of her happiness. 'What, if that cannot be?' she thought. 'What, if it is not granted for nothing? Why, it has been heaven... and we are mortals, poor sinful mortals.... Morir si giovane. Oh, dark omen, away! It's not only for me his life is needed!
'But what, if it is a punishment,' she thought again; 'what, if we must now pay the penalty of our guilt in full? My conscience was silent, it is silent now, but is that a proof of innocence? O God, can we be so guilty! Canst Thou who hast created this night, this sky, wish to punish us for having loved each other? If it be so, if he has sinned, if I have sinned,' she added with involuntary force, 'grant that he, O God, grant that we both, may die at least a noble, glorious death—there, on the plains of his country, not here in this dark room.
'And the grief of my poor, lonely mother?' she asked herself, and was bewildered, and could find no answer to her question. Elena did not know that every man's happiness is built on the unhappiness of another, that even his advantage, his comfort, like a statue needs a pedestal, the disadvantage, the discomfort of others.
'Renditch!' muttered Insarov in his sleep.
Elena went up to him on tiptoe, bent over him, and wiped the perspiration from his face. He tossed a little on his pillow, and was still again.
She went back again to the window, and again her thoughts took possession of her. She began to argue with herself, to assure herself that there was no reason to be afraid. She even began to feel ashamed of her weakness. 'Is there any danger? isn't he better?' she murmured. 'Why, if we had not been at the theatre to-day, all this would never have entered my head.'
At that instant she saw high above the water a white sea-gull; some fisherman had scared it, it seemed, for it flew noiselessly with uncertain course, as though seeking a spot where it could alight. 'Come, if it flies here,' thought Elena, 'it will be a good omen.' ... The sea-gull flew round in a circle, folded its wings, and, as though it had been shot, dropped with a plaintive cry in the distance behind a dark ship. Elena shuddered; then she was ashamed of having shuddered, and, without undressing, she lay down on the bed beside Insarov, who was breathing quickly and heavily.
Insarov waked late with a dull pain in his head, and a feeling, as he expressed it, of disgusting weakness all over. He got up however.
'Renditch has not come?' was his first question.
'Not yet,' answered Elena, and she handed him the latest number of the Osservatore Triestino, in which there was much upon the war, the Slav Provinces, and the Principalities. Insarov began reading it; she busied herself in getting some coffee ready for him. Some one knocked at the door.
'Renditch,' both thought at once, but a voice said in Russian, 'May I come in?' Elena and Insarov looked at each other in astonishment; and without waiting for an answer, an elegantly dressed young man entered the room, with a small sharp-featured face, and bright little eyes. He was beaming all over, as though he had just won a fortune or heard a most delightful piece of news.
Insarov got up from his seat
'You don't recognise me,' began the stranger, going up to him with an easy air, and bowing politely to Elena, 'Lupoyarov, do you remember, we met at Moscow at the E——'s.'
'Yes, at the E——'s,' replied Insarov.
'To be sure, to be sure! I beg you to present me to your wife. Madam, I have always had the profoundest respect for Dmitri Vassilyevitch' (he corrected himself)—'for Nikanor Vassilyevitch, and am very happy to have the pleasure at last of making your acquaintance. Fancy,' he continued, turning to Insarov, 'I only heard yesterday evening that you were here. I am staying at this hotel too. What a city! Venice is poetry—that's the only word for it! But one thing's really awful: the cursed Austrians meeting one at every turn! ah, these Austrians! By the way, have you heard, there's been a decisive battle on the Danube: three hundred Turkish officers killed, Silistria taken; Servia has declared its independence. You, as a patriot, ought to be in transports, oughtn't you? Even my Slavonic blood's positively on fire! I advise you to be more careful, though; I'm convinced there's a watch kept on you. The spies here are something awful! A suspicious-looking man came up to me yesterday and asked: "Are you a Russian?" I told him I was a Dane. But you seem unwell, dear Nikanor Vassilyevitch. You ought to see a doctor; madam, you ought to make your husband see a doctor. Yesterday I ran through the palaces and churches, as though I were crazy. I suppose you've been in the palace of the Doges? What magnificence everywhere! Especially that great hall and Marino Faliero's place: there's an inscription: decapitati pro criminibus. I've been in the famous prisons too; that threw me into indignation, you may fancy. I've always, you remember perhaps, taken an interest in social questions, and taken sides against aristocracy—well, that's where I should like to send the champions of aristocracy—to those dungeons. How well Byron said: I stood in Venice on the Bridge of Sighs; though he was an aristocrat too. I was always for progress—the younger generation are all for progress. And what do you say to the Anglo-French business? We shall see whether they can do much, Boustrapa and Palmerston. You know Palmerston has been made Prime Minister. No, say what you like, the Russian fist is not to be despised. He's awfully deep that Boustrapa! If you like I will lend you Les Chatiments de Victor Hugo—it's marvellous—L'avenir, le gendarme de Dieu—rather boldly written, but what force in it, what force! That was a fine saying, too, of Prince Vyazemsky's: "Europe repeats: Bash-Kadik-Lar keeping an eye on Sinope." I adore poetry. I have Proudhon's last work, too—I have everything. I don't know how you feel, but I'm glad of the war; only as I'm not required at home, I'm going from here to Florence, and to Rome. France I can't go to—so I'm thinking of Spain—the women there, I'm told, are marvellous! only such poverty, and so many insects. I would be off to California—we Russians are ready to do anything—but I promised an editor to study the question of the commerce of the Mediterranean in detail. You will say that's an uninteresting, special subject, but that's just what we need, specialists; we have philosophised enough, now we need the practical, the practical. But you are very unwell, Nikanor Vassilyevitch, I am tiring you, perhaps, but still I must stay a little longer.'
And for a long time Lupoyarov still babbled on in the same way, and, as he went away, he promised to come again.
Worn out by the unexpected visit, Insarov lay down on the sofa. 'So this,' he said, mournfully looking at Elena, 'is your younger generation! There are plenty who show off, and give themselves airs, while at heart they are as empty chatterboxes as that worthy.'
Elena made no reply to her husband; at that instant she was far more concerned at Insarov's weakness than at the character of the whole younger generation in Russia. She sat down near him, and took up some work. He closed his eyes, and lay without moving, white and thin. Elena glanced at his sharp profile, at his emaciated hands, and felt a sudden pang of terror.
'Dmitri,' she began.
He started. 'Eh? Has Renditch come?'
'Not yet—but what do you think—you are in a fever, you are really not quite well, shouldn't we send for a doctor?'
'That wretched gossip has frightened you. There's no necessity. I will rest a little, and it will pass off. After dinner we will go out again—somewhere.'
Two hours passed. Insarov still lay on the sofa, but he could not sleep, though he did not open his eyes. Elena did not leave his side; she had dropped her work upon her knee, and did not stir.
'Why don't you go to sleep?' she asked at last.
'Wait a little.' He took her hand, and placed it under his head. 'There—that is nice. Wake me at once directly Renditch comes. If he says the ship is ready, we will start at once. We ought to pack everything.'
'Packing won't take long,' answered Elena.
'That fellow babbled something about a battle, about Servia,' said Insarov, after a short interval. 'I suppose he made it all up. But we must, we must start. We can't lose time. Be ready.'
He fell asleep, and everything was still in the room.
Elena let her head rest against the back of her chair, and gazed a long while out of the window. The weather had changed for the worse; the wind had risen. Great white clouds were scudding over the sky, a slender mast was swaying in the distance, a long streamer, with a red cross on it, kept fluttering, falling, and fluttering again. The pendulum of the old-fashioned clock ticked drearily, with a kind of melancholy whirr. Elena shut her eyes. She had slept badly all night; gradually she, too, fell asleep.
She had a strange dream. She thought sha was floating in a boat on the Tsaritsino lake with some unknown people. They did not speak, but sat motionless, no one was rowing; the boat was moving by itself. Elena was not afraid, but she felt dreary; she wanted to know who were these people, and why she was with them? She looked and the lake grew broader, the banks vanished—now it was not a lake but a stormy sea: immense blue silent waves rocked the boat majestically; something menacing, roaring was rising from the depths; her unknown companions jumped up, shrieking, wringing their hands... Elena recognised their faces; her father was among them. But a kind of white whirlwind came flying over the waves—everything was turning round, everything was confounded together.
Elena looked about her; as before, all around was white; but it was snow, snow, boundless plains of snow. And she was not now in a boat, but travelling, as she had come from Moscow, in a sledge; she was not alone; by her side was sitting a little creature muffled in an old cloak; Elena looked closely; it was Katya, her poor little friend. Elena was seized with terror. 'Why, isn't she dead?' she thought.
'Katya, where are we going together?' Katya did not answer, and nestled herself closer in her little cloak; she was freezing. Elena too was cold; she looked along the road into the distance; far away a town could be seen through the fine drifting snow. High white towers with silvery cupolas... 'Katya, Katya, is it Moscow? No,' thought Elena, 'it is Solovetsky Monastery; it's full of little narrow cells like a beehive; it's stifling, cramping there—and Dmitri's shut up there. I must rescue him.'... Suddenly a grey, yawning abyss opened before her. The sledge was falling, Katya was laughing. 'Elena, Elena!' came a voice from the abyss.
'Elena!' sounded distinctly in her ears. She raised her head quickly, turned round, and was stupefied: Insarov, white as snow, the snow of her dream, had half risen from the sofa, and was staring at her with large, bright, dreadful eyes. His hair hung in disorder on his forehead and his lips parted strangely. Horror, mingled with an anguish of tenderness, was expressed on his suddenly transfigured face.
'Elena!' he articulated, 'I am dying.'
She fell with a scream on her knees, and clung to his breast.
'It's all over,' repeated Insarov: 'I'm dying... Good-bye, my poor girl! good-bye, my country!' and he fell backwards on to the sofa.
Elena rushed out of the room, began calling for help; a waiter ran for a doctor. Elena clung to Insarov.
At that instant in the doorway appeared a broad-shouldered, sunburnt man, in a stout frieze coat and a low oil-skin hat. He stood still in bewilderment.
'Renditch!' cried Elena, 'it's you! Look, for God's sake, he's ill! What's wrong? Good God! He went out yesterday, he was talking to me just now.'
Renditch said nothing and only moved on one side. There slipped quickly past him a little figure in a wig and spectacles; it was a doctor living in the same hotel. He went up to Insarov.
'Signora,' he said, after the lapse of a few minutes, 'the foreign gentleman is dead—il Signore forestiere e morte—of aneurism in combination with disease of the lungs.'
The next day, in the same room, Renditch was standing at the window; before him, wrapped in a shawl, sat Elena. In the next room, Insarov lay in his coffin. Elena's face was both scared and lifeless; two lines could be seen on her forehead between her eyebrows; they gave a strained expression to her fixed eyes. In the window lay an open letter from Anna Vassilyevna. She begged her daughter to come to Moscow if only for a month, complained of her loneliness, and of Nikolai Artemyevitch, sent greetings to Insarov, inquired after his health, and begged him to spare his wife.
Renditch was a Dalmatian, a sailor, with whom Insarov had become acquainted during his wanderings in his own country, and whom he had sought out in Venice. He was a dry, gruff man, full of daring and devoted to the Slavonic cause. He despised the Turks and hated the Austrians.
'How long must you remain at Venice?' Elena asked him in Italian. And her voice was as lifeless as her face.
'One day for freighting and not to rouse suspicions, and then straight to Zara. I shall have sad news for our countrymen. They have long been expecting him; they rested their hopes on him.'
'They rested their hopes on him,' Elena repeated mechanically.
'When will you bury him?' asked Renditch.
Elena not at once replied, 'To-morrow.'
'To-morrow? I will stop; I should like to throw a handful of earth into his grave. And you will want help. But it would have been better for him to lie in Slavonic earth.'
Elena looked at Renditch.
'Captain,' she said, 'take me and him and carry us across to the other side of the sea, away from here. Isn't that possible?'
Renditch considered: 'Possible certainly, but difficult. We shall have to come into collision with the damned authorities here. But supposing we arrange all that and bury him there, how am I to bring you back?'
'You need not bring me back.'
'What? where will you stop?'
'I shall find some place for myself; only take us, take me.'
Renditch scratched the back of his head.
'You know best; but it's all very difficult. I will, I will try; and you expect me here in two hours' time.'
He went away. Elena passed into the next room, leaned against the wall, and for a long time stood there as though turned to stone. Then she dropped on her knees, but she could not pray. There was no reproach in her heart; she did not dare to question God's will, to ask why He had not spared, pitied, saved, why He had punished her beyond her guilt, if she were guilty. Each of us is guilty by the fact that he lives; and there is no one so great a thinker, so great a benefactor of mankind that he might hope to have a right to live for the service he has done.... Still Elena could not pray; she was a stone.
The same night a broad-bottomed boat put off from the hotel where the Insarovs lived. In the boat sat Elena with Renditch and beside them stood a long box covered with a black cloth. They rowed for about an hour, and at last reached a small two-masted ship, which was riding at anchor at the very entrance of the harbour. Elena and Renditch got into the ship; the sailors carried in the box. At midnight a storm had arisen, but early in the morning the ship had passed out of the Lido. During the day the storm raged with fearful violence, and experienced seamen in Lloyd's offices shook their heads and prophesied no good. The Adriatic Sea between Venice, Trieste, and the Dalmatian coast is particularly dangerous.
Three weeks after Elena's departure from Vienna, Anna Vassilyevna received the following letter in Moscow:—
'My DEAR PARENTS.—I am saying goodbye to you for ever. You will never see me again. Dmitri died yesterday. Everything is over for me. To-day I am setting off with his body to Zara. I will bury him, and what will become of me, I don't know. But now I have no country but Dmitri's country. There, they are preparing for revolution, they are getting ready for war. I will join the Sisters of Mercy; I will tend the sick and the wounded. I don't know what will become of me, but even after Dmitri's death, I will be faithful to his memory, to the work of his whole life. I have learnt Bulgarian and Servian. Very likely, I shall not have strength to live through it all for long—so much the better. I have been brought to the edge of the precipice and I must fall over. Fate did not bring us together for nothing; who knows?—perhaps I killed him; now it is his turn to draw me after him. I sought happiness, and I shall find—perhaps death. It seems it was to be thus: it seems it was a sin.... But death covers all and reconciles all; does it not? Forgive me all the suffering I have caused you; it was not under my control. But how could I return to Russia; What have I to do in Russia?
'Accept my last kisses and blessings, and do not condemn me.
* * *
Nearly five years have passed since then, and no further news of Elena has come. All letters and inquiries were fruitless; in vain did Nikolai Artemyevitch himself make a journey to Venice and to Zara after peace was concluded. In Venice he learnt what is already known to the reader, but in Zara no one could give him any positive information about Renditch and the ship he had taken. There were dark rumours that some years back, after a great storm, the sea had thrown up on shore a coffin in which had been found a man's body... But according to other more trustworthy accounts this coffin had not been thrown up by the sea at all, but had been carried over and buried near the shore by a foreign lady, coming from Venice; some added that they had seen this lady afterwards in Herzegovina, with the forces which were there assembled; they even described her dress, black from head to foot However it was, all trace of Elena had disappeared beyond recovery for ever; and no one knows whether she is still living, whether she is hidden away somewhere, or whether the petty drama of life is over—the little ferment of her existence is at an end; and she has found death in her turn. It happens at times that a man wakes up and asks himself with involuntary horror, 'Can I be already thirty ... forty... fifty? How is it life has passed so soon? How is it death has moved up so close?' Death is like a fisher who catches fish in his net and leaves them for a while in the water; the fish is still swimming but the net is round him, and the fisher will draw him up—when he thinks fit.
* * *
What became of the other characters of our story?
Anna Vassilyevna is still living; she has aged very much since the blow that has fallen on her; is less complaining, but far more wretched. Nikolai Artemyevitch, too, has grown older and greyer, and has parted from Augustina Christianovna.... He has taken now to abusing everything foreign. His housekeeper, a handsome woman of thirty, a Russian, wears silk dresses and gold rings and bracelets. Kurnatovsky, like every man of ardent temperament and dark complexion, a devoted admirer of pretty blondes, married Zoya; she is in complete subjection to him and has even given up thinking in German. Bersenyev is in Heidelberg; he has been sent abroad at the expense of government; he has visited Berlin and Paris and is not wasting his time; he has become a thoroughly efficient professor. The attention of the learned public has been caught by his two articles: 'On some peculiarities of ancient law as regards judicial sentences,' and 'On the significance of cities in civilisation.' It is only a pity that both articles are written in rather a heavy style, disfigured by foreign words. Shubin is in Rome; he is completely given up to his art and is reckoned one of the most remarkable and promising of young sculptors. Severe tourists consider that he has not sufficiently studied the antique, that he has 'no style,' and reckon him one of the French school; he has had a great many orders from the English and Americans. Of late, there has been much talk about a Bacchante of his; the Russian Count Boboshkin, the well-known millionaire, thought of buying it for one thousand scudi, but decided in preference to give three thousand to another sculptor, French pur sang, for a group entitled, 'A youthful shepherdess dying for love in the bosom of the Genius of Spring.' Shubin writes from time to time to Uvar Ivanovitch, who alone has remained quite unaltered in all respects. 'Do you remember,' he wrote to him lately, 'what you said to me that night, when poor Elena's marriage was made known, when I was sitting on your bed talking to you? Do you remember I asked you, "Will there ever be men among us?" and you answered "There will be." O primeval force! And now from here in "my poetic distance," I will ask you again: "What do you say, Uvar Ivanovitch, will there be?"'
Uvar Ivanovitch flourished his fingers and fixed his enigmatical stare into the far distance.