Under Western Eyes, by Joseph Conrad

2

The Egeria of the “Russian Mazzini” produced, at first view, a strong effect by the death-like immobility of an obviously painted face. The eyes appeared extraordinarily brilliant. The figure, in a close-fitting dress, admirably made, but by no means fresh, had an elegant stiffness. The rasping voice inviting him to sit down; the rigidity of the upright attitude with one arm extended along the back of the sofa, the white gleam of the big eyeballs setting off the black, fathomless stare of the enlarged pupils, impressed Razumov more than anything he had seen since his hasty and secret departure from St. Petersburg. A witch in Parisian clothes, he thought. A portent! He actually hesitated in his advance, and did not even comprehend, at first, what the rasping voice was saying.

“Sit down. Draw your chair nearer me. There —”

He sat down. At close quarters the rouged cheekbones, the wrinkles, the fine lines on each side of the vivid lips, astounded him. He was being received graciously, with a smile which made him think of a grinning skull.

“We have been hearing about you for some time.”

He did not know what to say, and murmured some disconnected words. The grinning skull effect vanished.

“And do you know that the general complaint is that you have shown yourself very reserved everywhere?”

Razumov remained silent for a time, thinking of his answer.

“I, don’t you see, am a man of action,” he said huskily, glancing upwards.

Peter Ivanovitch stood in portentous expectant silence by the side of his chair. A slight feeling of nausea came over Razumov. What could be the relations of these two people to each other? She like a galvanized corpse out of some Hoffman’s Tale — he the preacher of feminist gospel for all the world, and a super- revolutionist besides! This ancient, painted mummy with unfathomable eyes, and this burly, bull-necked, deferential. . .what was it? Witchcraft, fascination. . . . “It’s for her money,” he thought. “She has millions!”

The walls, the floor of the room were bare like a barn. The few pieces of furniture had been discovered in the garrets and dragged down into service without having been properly dusted, even. It was the refuse the banker’s widow had left behind her. The windows without curtains had an indigent, sleepless look. In two of them the dirty yellowy-white blinds had been pulled down. All this spoke, not of poverty, but of sordid penuriousness.

The hoarse voice on the sofa uttered angrily-

“You are looking round, Kirylo Sidorovitch. I have been shamefully robbed, positively ruined.”

A rattling laugh, which seemed beyond her control, interrupted her for a moment.

“A slavish nature would find consolation in the fact that the principal robber was an exalted and almost a sacrosanct person — a Grand Duke, in fact. Do you understand, Mr. Razumov? A Grand Duke — No! You have no idea what thieves those people are! Downright thieves!”

Her bosom heaved, but her left arm remained rigidly extended along the back of the couch.

“You will only upset yourself,” breathed out a deep voice, which, to Razumov’s startled glance, seemed to proceed from under the steady spectacles of Peter Ivanovitch, rather than from his lips, which had hardly moved.

“What of hat? I say thieves! Voleurs! Voleurs!

Razumov was quite confounded by this unexpected clamour, which had in it something of wailing and croaking, and more than a suspicion of hysteria.

Voleurs! Voleurs! Vol . . . .”

“No power on earth can rob you of your genius,” shouted Peter Ivanovitch in an overpowering bass, but without stirring, without a gesture of any kind. A profound silence fell.

Razumov remained outwardly impassive. “What is the meaning of this performance?” he was asking himself. But with a preliminary sound of bumping outside some door behind him, the lady companion, in a threadbare black skirt and frayed blouse, came in rapidly, walking on her heels, and carrying in both hands a big Russian samovar, obviously too heavy for her. Razumov made an instinctive movement to help, which startled her so much that she nearly dropped her hissing burden. She managed, however, to land it on the table, and looked so frightened that Razumov hastened to sit down. She produced then, from an adjacent room, four glass tumblers, a teapot, and a sugar-basin, on a black iron tray.

The rasping voice asked from the sofa abruptly —

Les gateaux? Have you remembered to bring the cakes?”

Peter Ivanovitch, without a word, marched out on to the landing, and returned instantly with a parcel wrapped up in white glazed paper, which he must have extracted from the interior of his hat. With imperturbable gravity he undid the string and smoothed the paper open on a part of the table within reach of Madame de S——‘s hand. The lady companion poured out the tea, then retired into a distant corner out of everybody’s sight. From time to time Madame de S—— extended a claw-like hand, glittering with costly rings, towards the paper of cakes, took up one and devoured it, displaying her big false teeth ghoulishly. Meantime she talked in a hoarse tone of the political situation in the Balkans. She built great hopes on some complication in the peninsula for arousing a great movement of national indignation in Russia against “these thieves — thieves thieves.”

“You will only upset yourself,” Peter Ivanovitch interposed, raising his glassy gaze. He smoked cigarettes and drank tea in silence, continuously. When he had finished a glass, he flourished his hand above his shoulder. At that signal the lady companion, ensconced in her corner, with round eyes like a watchful animal, would dart out to the table and pour him out another tumblerful.

Razumov looked at her once or twice. She was anxious, tremulous, though neither Madame de S—— nor Peter Ivanovitch paid the slightest attention to her. “What have they done between them to that forlorn creature?” Razumov asked himself. “Have they terrified her out of her senses with ghosts, or simply have they only been beating her?” When she gave him his second glass of tea, he noticed that her lips trembled in the manner of a scared person about to burst into speech. But of course she said nothing, and retired into her corner, as if hugging to herself the smile of thanks he gave her.

“She may be worth cultivating,” thought Razumov suddenly.

He was calming down, getting hold of the actuality into which he had been thrown — for the first time perhaps since Victor Haldin had entered his room. . .and had gone out again. He was distinctly aware of being the object of the famous — or notorious — Madame de S——‘s ghastly graciousness.

Madame de S—— was pleased to discover that this young man was different from the other types of revolutionist members of committees, secret emissaries, vulgar and unmannerly fugitive professors, rough students, ex-cobblers with apostolic faces, consumptive and ragged enthusiasts, Hebrew youths, common fellows of all sorts that used to come and go around Peter Ivanovitch — fanatics, pedants, proletarians all. It was pleasant to talk to this young man of notably good appearance — for Madame de S—— was not always in a mystical state of mind. Razumov’s taciturnity only excited her to a quicker, more voluble utterance. It still dealt with the Balkans. She knew all the statesmen of that region, Turks, Bulgarians, Montenegrins, Roumanians, Greeks, Armenians, and nondescripts, young and old, the living and the dead. With some money an intrigue could be started which would set the Peninsula in a blaze and outrage the sentiment of the Russian people. A cry of abandoned brothers could be raised, and then, with the nation seething with indignation, a couple of regiments or so would be enough to begin a military revolution in St. Petersburg and make an end of these thieves . . . .

“Apparently I’ve got only to sit still and listen,” the silent Razumov thought to himself. “As to that hairy and obscene brute” (in such terms did Mr. Razumov refer mentally to the popular expounder of a feministic conception of social state), “as to him, for all his cunning he too shall speak out some day.”

Razumov ceased to think for a moment. Then a sombre-toned reflection formulated itself in his mind, ironical and bitter. “I have the gift of inspiring confidence.” He heard himself laughing aloud. It was like a goad to the painted, shiny-eyed harridan on the sofa.

“You may well laugh!” she cried hoarsely. “What else can one do! Perfect swindlers — and what base swindlers at that! Cheap Germans — Holstein- Gottorps! Though, indeed, it’s hardly safe to say who and what they are. A family that counts a creature like Catherine the Great in its ancestry — you understand!”

“You are only upsetting yourself,” said Peter Ivanovitch, patiently but in a firm tone. This admonition had its usual effect on the Egeria. She dropped her thick, discoloured eyelids and changed her position on the sofa. All her angular and lifeless movements seemed completely automatic now that her eyes were closed. Presently she opened them very full. Peter Ivanovitch drank tea steadily, without haste.

“Well, I declare!” She addressed Razumov directly. “The people who have seen you on your way here are right. You are very reserved. You haven’t said twenty words altogether since you came in. You let nothing of your thoughts be seen in your face either.”

“I have been listening, Madame,” said Razumov, using French for the first time, hesitatingly, not being certain of his accent. But it seemed to produce an excellent impression. Madame de S- — looked meaningly into Peter Ivanovitch’s spectacles, as if to convey her conviction of this young man’s merit. She even nodded the least bit in his direction, and Razumov heard her murmur under her breath the words, “ Later on in the diplomatic service,” which could not but refer to the favourable impression he had made. The fantastic absurdity of it revolted him because it seemed to outrage his ruined hopes with the vision of a mock-career. Peter Ivanovitch, impassive as though he were deaf, drank some more tea. Razumov felt that he must say something.

“Yes,” he began deliberately, as if uttering a meditated opinion. “Clearly. Even in planning a purely military revolution the temper of the people should be taken into account.”

“You have understood me perfectly. The discontent should be spiritualized. That is what the ordinary heads of revolutionary committees will not understand. They aren’t capable of it. For instance, Mordatiev was in Geneva last month. Peter Ivanovitch brought him here. You know Mordatiev? Well, yes — you have heard of him. They call him an eagle — a hero! He has never done half as much as you have. Never attempted — not half . . . .”

Madame de S—— agitated herself angularly on the sofa.

“We, of course, talked to him. And do you know what he said to me? ‘What have we to do with Balkan intrigues? We must simply extirpate the scoundrels.’ Extirpate is all very well — but what then? The imbecile! I screamed at him, ‘But you must spiritualize — don’t you understand? — spiritualize the discontent.’. . .”

She felt nervously in her pocket for a handkerchief; she pressed it to her lips.

“Spiritualize?” said Razumov interrogatively, watching her heaving breast. The long ends of an old black lace scarf she wore over her head slipped off her shoulders and hung down on each side of her ghastly rosy cheeks.

“An odious creature,” she burst out again. “Imagine a man who takes five lumps of sugar in his tea. . . . Yes, I said spiritualize! How else can you make discontent effective and universal?”

“Listen to this, young man.” Peter Ivanovitch made himself heard solemnly. “Effective and universal.”

Razumov looked at him suspiciously.

“Some say hunger will do that,” he remarked.

“Yes. I know. Our people are starving in heaps. But you can’t make famine universal. And it is not despair that we want to create. There is no moral support to be got out of that. It is indignation . . . .”

Madame de S—— let her thin, extended arm sink on her knees.

“I am not a Mordatiev,” began Razumov.

“Bien sur!” murmured Madame de S——.

“Though I too am ready to say extirpate, extirpate! But in my ignorance of political work, permit me to ask: A Balkan — well — intrigue, wouldn’t that take a very long time?”

Peter Ivanovitch got up and moved off quietly, to stand with his face to the window. Razumov heard a door close; he turned his head and perceived that the lady companion had scuttled out of the room.

“In matters of politics I am a supernaturalist.” Madame de S—— broke the silence harshly.

Peter Ivanovitch moved away from the window and struck Razumov lightly on the shoulder. This was a signal for leaving, but at the same time he addressed Madame de S—— in a peculiar reminding tone —

“Eleanor!”

Whatever it meant, she did not seem to hear him. She leaned back in the corner of the sofa like a wooden figure. The immovable peevishness of the face, framed in the limp, rusty lace, had a character of cruelty.

“As to extirpating,” she croaked at the attentive Razumov, “there is only one class in Russia which must be extirpated. Only one. And that class consists of only one family. You understand me? That one family must be extirpated.”

Her rigidity was frightful, like the rigor of a corpse galvanized into harsh speech and glittering stare by the force of murderous hate. The sight fascinated Razumov — yet he felt more self-possessed than at any other time since he had entered this weirdly bare room. He was interested. But the great feminist by his side again uttered his appeal —

“Eleanor!”

She disregarded it. Her carmine lips vaticinated with an extraordinary rapidity. The liberating spirit would use arms before which rivers would part like Jordan, and ramparts fall down like the walls of Jericho. The deliverance from bondage would be effected by plagues and by signs, by wonders and by war. The women . . . .

“Eleanor!”

She ceased; she had heard him at last. She pressed her hand to her forehead.

“What is it? Ah yes! That girl — the sister of . . . .”

It was Miss Haldin that she meant. That young girl and her mother had been leading a very retired life. They were provincial ladies — were they not? The mother had been very beautiful — traces were left yet. Peter Ivanovitch, when he called there for the first time, was greatly struck. . . . But the cold way they received him was really surprising.

“He is one of our national glories,” Madams de S- — cried out, with sudden vehemence. “All the world listens to him.”

“I don’t know these ladies,” said Razumov loudly rising from his chair.

“What are you saying, Kirylo Sidorovitch? I understand that she was talking to you here, in the garden, the other day.”

“Yes, in the garden,” said Razumov gloomily. Then, with an effort, “She made herself known to me.”

“And then ran away from us all,” Madame de S—— continued, with ghastly vivacity. “After coming to the very door! What a peculiar proceeding! Well, I have been a shy little provincial girl at one time. Yes, Razumov” (she fell into this familiarity intentionally, with an appalling grimace of graciousness. Razumov gave a perceptible start), “yes, that’s my origin. A simple provincial family

“You are a marvel,” Peter Ivanovich uttered in his

But it was to Razumov that she gave her death’s- head smile. Her tone was quite imperious.

“You must bring the wild young thing here. She is wanted. I reckon upon your success — mind!”

“She is not a wild young thing,” muttered Razumov, in a surly voice.

“Well, then — that’s all the same. She may be one of these young conceited democrats. Do you know what I think? I think she is very much like you in character. There is a smouldering fire of scorn in you. You are darkly self- sufficient, but I can see your very soul.”

Her shiny eyes had a dry, intense stare, which, missing Razumov, gave him an absurd notion that she was looking at something which was visible to her behind him. He cursed himself for an impressionable fool, and asked with forced calmness —

“What is it you see? Anything resembling me?”

She moved her rigidly set face from left to right, negatively.

“Some sort of phantom in my image?” pursued Razumov slowly. “For, I suppose, a soul when it is seen is just that. A vain thing. There are phantoms of the living as well as of the dead.”

The tenseness of Madame de S——‘s stare had relaxed, and now she looked at Razumov in a silence that became disconcerting.

“I myself have had an experience,” he stammered out, as if compelled. “ I’ve seen a phantom once.” The unnaturally red lips moved to frame a question harshly.

“Of a dead person?”

“No. Living.”

“A friend?”

“No.”

“An enemy?”

“I hated him.”

“Ah! It was not a woman, then?”

“A woman!” repeated Razumov, his eyes looking straight into the eyes of Madame de S——. “Why should it have been a woman? And why this conclusion? Why should I not have been able to hate a woman?”

As a matter of fact, the idea of hating a woman was new to him. At that moment he hated Madame de S——. But it was not exactly hate. It was more like the abhorrence that may be caused by a wooden or plaster figure of a repulsive kind. She moved no more than if she were such a figure; even her eyes, whose unwinking stare plunged into his own, though shining, were lifeless, as though they were as artificial as her teeth. For the first time Razumov became aware of a faint perfume, but faint as it was it nauseated him exceedingly. Again Peter Ivanovitch tapped him slightly on the shoulder. Thereupon he bowed, and was about to turn away when he received the unexpected favour of a bony, inanimate hand extended to him, with the two words in hoarse French —

Au revoir!

He bowed over the skeleton hand and left the room, escorted by the great man, who made him go out first. The voice from the sofa cried after them-

“You remain here, Pierre.”

“Certainly, ma chere amie.”

But he left the room with Razumov, shutting the door behind him. The landing was prolonged into a bare corridor, right and left, desolate perspectives of white and gold decoration without a strip of carpet. The very light, pouring through a large window at the end, seemed dusty; and a solitary speck reposing on the balustrade of white marble — the silk top-hat of the great feminist — asserted itself extremely, black and glossy in all that crude whiteness.

Peter Ivanovitch escorted the visitor without opening his lips. Even when they had reached the head of the stairs Peter Ivanovitch did not break the silence. Razumov’s impulse to continue down the flight and out of the house without as much as a nod abandoned him suddenly. He stopped on the first step and leaned his back against the wall. Below him the great hall with its chequered floor of black and white seemed absurdly large and like some public place where a great power of resonance awaits the provocation of footfalls and voices. As if afraid of awakening the loud echoes of that empty house, Razumov adopted a low tone.

“I really have no mind to turn into a dilettante spiritualist.”

Peter Ivanovitch shook his head slightly, very serious.

“Or spend my time in spiritual ecstasies or sublime meditations upon the gospel of feminism,” continued Razumov. “I made my way here for my share of action — action, most respected Peter Ivanovitch! It was not the great European writer who attracted me, here, to this odious town of liberty. It was somebody much greater. It was the idea of the chief which attracted me. There are starving young men in Russia who believe in you so much that it seems the only thing that keeps them alive in their misery. Think of that, Peter Ivanovitch! No! But only think of that!”

The great man, thus entreated, perfectly motionless and silent, was the very image of patient, placid respectability.

“Of course I don’t speak of the people. They are brutes,” added Razumov, in the same subdued but forcible tone. At this, a protesting murmur issued from the “heroic fugitive’s” beard. A murmur of authority.

“Say — children.”

“No! Brutes!” Razumov insisted bluntly.

“But they are sound, they are innocent,” the great man pleaded in a whisper.

“As far as that goes, a brute is sound enough.” Razumov raised his voice at last. “And you can’t deny the natural innocence of a brute. But what’s the use of disputing about names? You just try to give these children the power and stature of men and see what they will be like. You just give it to them and see. . . . But never mind. I tell you, Peter Ivanovitch, that half a dozen young men do not come together nowadays in a shabby student’s room without your name being whispered, not as a leader of thought, but as a centre of revolutionary energies — the centre of action. What else has drawn me near you, do you think? It is not what all the world knows of you, surely. It’s precisely what the world at large does not know. I was irresistibly drawn-let us say impelled, yes, impelled; or, rather, compelled, driven — driven,’’ repented Razumov loudly, and ceased, as if startled by the hollow reverberation of the word “driven” along two bare corridors and in the great empty hall.

Peter Ivanovitch did not seem startled in the least. The young man could not control a dry, uneasy laugh. The great revolutionist remained unmoved with an effect of commonplace, homely superiority.

“Curse him,” said Razumov to himself, “he is waiting behind his spectacles for me to give myself away.” Then aloud, with a satanic enjoyment of the scorn prompting him to play with the greatness of the great man —

“Ah, Peter Ivanovitch, if you only knew the force which drew — no, which drove me towards you! The irresistible force.”

He did not feel any desire to laugh now. This time Peter Ivanovitch moved his head sideways, knowingly, as much as to say, “Don’t I?” This expressive movement was almost imperceptible. Razumov went on in secret derision —

“All these days you have been trying to read me, Peter Ivanovitch. That is natural. I have perceived it and I have been frank. Perhaps you may think I have not been very expansive? But with a man like you it was not needed; it would have looked like an impertinence, perhaps. And besides, we Russians are prone to talk too much as a rule. I have always felt that. And yet, as a nation, we are dumb. I assure you that I am not likely to talk to you so much again — ha! ha! —”

Razumov, still keeping on the lower step, came a little nearer to the great man.

“You have been condescending enough. I quite understood it was to lead me on. You must render me the justice that I have not tried to please. I have been impelled, compelled, or rather sent — let us say sent — towards you for a work that no one but myself can do. You would call it a harmless delusion: a ridiculous delusion at which you don’t even smile. It is absurd of me to talk like this, yet some day you shall remember these words, I hope. Enough of this. Here I stand before you-confessed! But one thing more I must add to complete it: a mere blind tool I can never consent to be.”

Whatever acknowledgment Razumov was prepared for, he was not prepared to have both his hands seized in the great man’s grasp. The swiftness of the movement was aggressive enough to startle. The burly feminist could not have been quicker had his purpose been to jerk Razumov treacherously up on the landing and bundle him behind one of the numerous closed doors near by. This idea actually occurred to Razumov; his hands being released after a darkly eloquent squeeze, he smiled, with a beating heart, straight at the beard and the spectacles hiding that impenetrable man.

He thought to himself (it stands confessed in his handwriting), “I won’t move from here till he either speaks or turns away. This is a duel.” Many seconds passed without a sign or sound.

“Yes, yes,” the great man said hurriedly, in subdued tones, as if the whole thing had been a stolen, breathless interview. “Exactly. Come to see us here in a few days. This must be gone into deeply — deeply, between you and me. Quite to the bottom. To the. . . . And, by the by, you must bring along Natalia Victorovna — you know, the Haldin girl . . . .

“Am I to take this as my first instruction from you?” inquired Razumov stiffly.

Peter Ivanovitch seemed perplexed by this new attitude.

“Ah! h’m! You are naturally the proper person — la personne indiquee. Every one shall be wanted presently. Every one.”

He bent down from the landing over Razumov, who had lowered his eyes.

“The moment of action approaches,’’ he murmured.

Razumov did not look up. He did not move till he heard the door of the drawing-room close behind the greatest of feminists returning to his painted Egeria. Then he walked down slowly into the hall. The door stood open, and the shadow of the house was lying aslant over the greatest part of the terrace. While crossing it slowly, he lifted his hat and wiped his damp forehead, expelling his breath with force to get rid of the last vestiges of the air he had been breathing inside. He looked at the palms of his hands, and rubbed them gently against his thighs.

He felt, bizarre as it may seem, as though another self, an independent sharer of his mind, had been able to view his whole person very distinctly indeed. “This is curious,” he thought. After a while he formulated his opinion of it in the mental ejaculation: “Beastly!” This disgust vanished before a marked uneasiness. “This is an effect of nervous exhaustion,” he reflected with weary sagacity. “How am I to go on day after day if I have no more power of resistance — moral resistance?”

He followed the path at the foot of the terrace. “Moral resistance, moral resistance;” he kept on repeating these words mentally. Moral endurance. Yes, that was the necessity of the situation. An immense longing to make his way out of these grounds and to the other end of the town, of throwing himself on his bed and going to sleep for hours, swept everything clean out of his mind for a moment. “Is it possible that I am but a weak creature after all?” he asked himself, in sudden alarm. “Eh! What’s that?”

He gave a start as if awakened from a dream. He even swayed a little before recovering himself.

“Ah! You stole away from us quietly to walk about here,” he said.

The lady companion stood before him, but how she came there he had not the slightest idea. Her folded arms were closely cherishing the cat.

“I have been unconscious as I walked, it’s a positive fact,” said Razumov to himself in wonder. He raised his hat with marked civility.

The sallow woman blushed duskily. She had her invariably scared expression, as if somebody had just disclosed to her some terrible news. But she held her ground, Razumov noticed, without timidity. “She is incredibly shabby,” he thought. In the sunlight her black costume looked greenish, with here and there threadbare patches where the stuff seemed decomposed by age into a velvety, black, furry state. Her very hair and eyebrows looked shabby. Razumov wondered whether she were sixty years old. Her figure, though, was young enough. He observed that she did not appear starved, but rather as if she had been fed on unwholesome scraps and leavings of plates.

Razumov smiled amiably and moved out of her way. She turned her head to keep her scared eyes on him.

“I know what you have been told in there,” she affirmed, without preliminaries. Her tone, in contrast with her manner, had an unexpectedly assured character which put Razumov at his ease.

“Do you? You must have heard all sorts of talk on many occasions in there.”

She varied her phrase, with the same incongruous effect of positiveness.

“I know to a certainty what you have been told to do.”

“Really?” Razumov shrugged his shoulders a little. He was about to pass on with a bow, when a sudden thought struck him. “Yes. To be sure! In your confidential position you are aware of many things,” he murmured, looking at the cat.

That animal got a momentary convulsive hug from the lady companion.

“Everything was disclosed to me a long time ago,” she said.

“Everything,” Razumov repeated absently.

“Peter Ivanovitch is an awful despot,” she jerked out.

Razumov went on studying the stripes on the grey fur of the cat.

“An iron will is an integral part of such a temperament. How else could he be a leader? And I think that you are mistaken in —”

“There!” she cried. “ You tell me that I am mistaken. But I tell you all the same that he cares for no one.” She jerked her head up. “Don’t you bring that girl here. That’s what you have been told to do — to bring that girl here. Listen to me; you had better tie a stone round her neck and throw her into the lake.”

Razumov had a sensation of chill and gloom, as if a heavy cloud had passed over the sun.

“The girl?” he said. “What have I to do with her?”

“But you have been told to bring Nathalie Haldin here. Am I not right? Of course I am right. I was not in the room, but I know. I know Peter Ivanovitch sufficiently well. He is a great man. Great men are horrible. Well, that’s it. Have nothing to do with her. That’s the best you can do, unless you want her to become like me — disillusioned! Disillusioned!”

“Like you,” repeated Razumov, glaring at her face, as devoid of all comeliness of feature and complexion as the most miserable beggar is of money. He smiled, still feeling chilly: a peculiar sensation which annoyed him.” Disillusioned as to Peter Ivanovitch! Is that all you have lost?”

She declared, looking frightened, but with immense conviction, “Peter Ivanovitch stands for everything.” Then she added, in another tone, “Keep the girl away from this house.”

“And are you absolutely inciting me to disobey Peter Ivanovitch just because — because you are disillusioned?”

She began to blink.

“Directly I saw you for the first time I was comforted. You took your hat off to me. You looked as if one could trust you. Oh!”

She shrank before Razumov’s savage snarl of, “I have heard something like this before.”

She was so confounded that she could do nothing but blink for a long time.

“It was your humane manner,” she explained plaintively. “I have been starving for, I won’t say kindness, but just for a little civility, for I don’t know how long. And now you are angry . . . .”

“But no, on the contrary,” he protested. “ I am very glad you trust me. It’s possible that later on I may . . . .”

“Yes, if you were to get ill,” she interrupted eagerly, “ or meet some bitter trouble, you would find I am not a useless fool. You have only to let me know. I will come to you. I will indeed. And I will stick to you. Misery and I are old acquaintances — but this life here is worse than starving.”

She paused anxiously, then in a voice for the first time sounding really timid, she added —

“Or if you were engaged in some dangerous work. Sometimes a humble companion — I would not want to know anything. I would follow you with joy. I could carry out orders. I have the courage.”

Razumov looked attentively at the scared round eyes, at the withered, sallow, round cheeks. They were quivering about the corners of the mouth.

“She wants to escape from here,” he thought.

“Suppose I were to tell you that I am engaged in dangerous work?” he uttered slowly.

She pressed the cat to her threadbare bosom with a breathless exclamation. “Ah!” Then not much above a whisper: “Under Peter Ivanovitch?”

“No, not under Peter Ivanovitch.”

He read admiration in her eyes, and made an effort to smile.

“Then — alone?”

He held up his closed hand with the index raised. “Like this finger,” he said.

She was trembling slightly. But it occurred to Razumov that they might have been observed from the house, and he became anxious to be gone. She blinked, raising up to him her puckered face, and seemed to beg mutely to be told something more, to be given a word of encouragement for her starving, grotesque, and pathetic devotion.

“Can we be seen from the house?” asked Razumov confidentially.

She answered, without showing the slightest surprise at the question —

“No, we can’t, on account of this end of the stables.” And she added, with an acuteness which surprised Razumov,” But anybody looking out of an upstairs window would know that you have not passed through the gates yet.”

“Who’s likely to spy out of the window?” queried Razumov. “Peter Ivanovitch?”

She nodded.

“Why should he trouble his head?”

“He expects somebody this afternoon.”

“You know the person?”

“There’s more than one.”

She had lowered her eyelids. Razumov looked at her curiously.

“Of course. You hear everything they say.”

She murmured without any animosity —

“So do the tables and chairs.”

He understood that the bitterness accumulated in the heart of that helpless creature had got into her veins, and, like some subtle poison, had decomposed her fidelity to that hateful pair. It was a great piece of luck for him, he reflected; because women are seldom venal after the manner of men, who can be bought for material considerations. She would be a good ally, though it was not likely that she was allowed to hear as much as the tables and chairs of the Chateau Borel. That could not be expected. But still. . . . And, at any rate, she could be made to talk.

When she looked up her eyes met the fixed stare of Razumov, who began to speak at once.

“Well, well, dear. . .but upon my word, I haven’t the pleasure of knowing your name yet. Isn’t it strange?”

For the first time she made a movement of the shoulders.

“Is it strange? No one is told my name. No one cares. No one talks to me, no one writes to me. My parents don’t even know if I’m alive. I have no use for a name, and I have almost forgotten it myself.”

Razumov murmured gravely, “Yes, but still. . .”

She went on much slower, with indifference —

“You may call me Tekla, then. My poor Andrei called me so. I was devoted to him. He lived in wretchedness and suffering, and died in misery. That is the lot of all us Russians, nameless Russians. There is nothing else for us, and no hope anywhere, unless. . .”

“Unless what?”

“Unless all these people with names are done away with,” she finished, blinking and pursing up her lips.

“It will be easier to call you Tekla, as you direct me,” said Razumov, “if you consent to call me Kirylo, when we are talking like this — quietly — only you and me.”

And he said to himself, “Here’s a being who must be terribly afraid of the world, else she would have run away from this situation before.” Then he reflected that the mere fact of leaving the great man abruptly would make her a suspect. She could expect no support or countenance from anyone. This revolutionist was not fit for an independent existence.

She moved with him a few steps, blinking and nursing the cat with a small balancing movement of her arms.

“Yes — only you and I. That’s how I was with my poor Andrei, only he was dying, killed by these official brutes — while you! You are strong. You kill the monsters. You have done a great deed. Peter Ivanovitch himself must consider you. Well — don’t forget me — especially if you are going back to work in Russia. I could follow you, carrying anything that was wanted — at a distance, you know. Or I could watch for hours at the corner of a street if necessary — in wet or snow — yes, I could — all day long. Or I could write for you dangerous documents, lists of names or instructions, so that in case of mischance the handwriting could not compromise you. And you need not be afraid if they were to catch me. I would know how to keep dumb. We women are not so easily daunted by pain. I heard Peter Ivanovitch say it is our blunt nerves or something. We can stand it better. And it’s true; I would just as soon bite my tongue out and throw it at them as not. What’s the good of speech to me? Who would ever want to hear what I could say? Ever since I closed the eyes of my poor Andrei I haven’t met a man who seemed to care for the sound of my voice. I should never have spoken to you if the very first time you appeared here you had not taken notice of me so nicely. I could not help speaking of you to that charming dear girl. Oh, the sweet creature! And strong! One can see that at once. If you have a heart don’t let her set her foot in here. Good-bye!”

Razumov caught her by the arm. Her emotion at being thus seized manifested itself by a short struggle, after which she stood still, not looking at him.

“But you can tell me,” he spoke in her ear, “why they — these people in that house there — are so anxious to get hold of her?”

She freed herself to turn upon him, as if made angry by the question.

“Don’t you understand that Peter Ivanovitch must direct, inspire, influence? It is the breath of his life. There can never be too many disciples. He can’t bear thinking of anyone escaping him. And a woman, too! There is nothing to be done without women, he says. He has written it. He —”

The young man was staring at her passion when she broke off suddenly and ran away behind the stable.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/c/conrad/joseph/c75u/part11.html

Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 13:06