AT ten o’clock next morning as I was coming out of my lodgings hurrying off to the Ichmenyevs in Vassilyevsky Island, and meaning to go from them to Natasha, I suddenly came upon my yesterday’s visitor, Smith’s grandchild, at the door. She was coming to see me. I don’t know why, but I remember I was awfully pleased to see her. I had hardly had time to get a good look at her the day before, and by daylight she surprised me more than ever. And, indeed, it would have been difficult to have found a stranger or more original creature — in appearance, anyway. With her flashing black eyes, which looked somehow foreign, her thick, dishevelled, black hair, and her mute, fixed, enigmatic gaze, the little creature might well have attracted the notice of anyone who passed her in the street. The expression in her eyes was particularly striking. There was the light of intelligence in them, and at the same time an inquisitorial mistrust, even suspicion. Her dirty old frock looked even more hopelessly tattered by daylight. She seemed to me to be suffering from some wasting, chronic disease that was gradually and relentlessly destroying her. Her pale, thin face had an unnatural sallow, bilious tinge. But in spite of all the ugliness of poverty and illness, she was positively pretty. Her eyebrows were strongly marked, delicate and beautiful. Her broad, rather low brow was particularly beautiful, and her lips were exquisitely formed with a peculiar proud bold line, but they were pale and colourless.
“Ah, you again!” I cried. “Well, I thought you’d come! Come in!”
She came in, stepping through the doorway slowly just as before, and looking about her mistrustfully. She looked carefully round the room where her grandfather had lived, as though noting how far it had been changed by another inmate.
“Well, the grandchild is just such another as the grandfather,” I thought. “Is she mad, perhaps?”
She still remained mute; I waited.
“For the books!” she whispered at last, dropping her eves.
“Oh yes, your books; here they are, take them! I’ve been keeping them on purpose for you.”
She looked at me inquisitively, and her mouth worked strangely as though she would venture on a mistrustful smile. But the effort at a smile passed and was replaced by the same severe and enigmatic expression.
“Grandfather didn’t speak to you of me, did he?” she asked, scanning me ironically from head to foot.
“No, he didn’t speak of you, but . . . ”
“Then how did you know I should come? Who told you?” she asked, quickly interrupting me.
“I thought your grandfather couldn’t live alone, abandoned by everyone. He was so old and feeble; I thought someone must be looking after him . . . Here are your books, take them. Are they your lesson-books?”
“What do you want with them, then?”
“Grandfather taught me when I used to see him.”
“Why did you leave off coming then?”
“Afterwards . . . I didn’t come. I was ill,” she added, as though defending herself.
“Tell me, have you a home, a father and mother?”
She frowned suddenly and looked at me, seeming almost scared. Then she looked down, turned in silence and walked softly out of the room without deigning to reply, just as she had done the day before. I looked after her in amazement. But she stood still in the doorway.
“What did he die of?” she asked me abruptly, turning slightly towards me with exactly the same movement and gesture as the day before, when she had asked after Azorka, stopping on her way out with her face to the door.
I went up to her and began rapidly telling her. She listened mutely and with curiosity, her head bowed and her back turned to me. I told her, too, how the old man had mentioned Sixth Street as he was dying.
“I imagine” I added, “that someone dear to him live there, and that’s why, I expected someone would come to inquire after him. He must have loved, you, since he thought of you at the last moment.”
“No,” she whispered, almost unconsciously it seemed; “he didn’t love me.”
She was strangely moved. As I told my story I bent down and looked into her face. I noticed that she was making great effort to suppress her emotion, as though too proud to let me see it. She turned paler and paler and bit her lower lip But what struck me especially was the strange thumping of her heart. It throbbed louder and louder, so that one could hear it two or three paces off, as in cases of aneurysm. I thought she would suddenly burst into tears as she had done the day before but she controlled herself.
“And where is the fence?”
“That he died under.”
“I will show you . . . when we go out. But, tell me, what do they call you?”
“No need to.”
“No need to-what?”
“Never mind . . . it doesn’t matter. . . . They don’t call me anything,” she brought out jerkily, seeming annoyed, an she moved to go away. I stopped her.
“Wait a minute, you queer little girl! Why, I only want to help you. I felt so sorry for you when I saw you crying in the corner yesterday. I can’t bear to think of it. Besides, your grandfather died in my arms, and no doubt he was thinking of you when he mentioned Sixth Street, so it’s almost as if he left you in my care. I dream of him. . . . Here, I’ve kept those books for you, but you’re such a wild little thing, as though you were afraid of me. You must be very poor and an orphan perhaps living among strangers; isn’t that so?”
I did my utmost to conciliate her, and I don’t know how it was she attracted me so much. There was something beside pity in my feeling for her. Whether it was the mysteriousness of the whole position, the impression made on me by Smith, or my own fantastic mood — I can’t say; but something drew me irresistibly to her. My words seemed to touch her. She bent on me a strange look, not severe now, but soft and deliberate, then looked down again as though pondering.
“Elena,” she brought out unexpectedly, and in an extremely low voice.
“That’s your name, Elena?”
“Well, will you come and see me?”
“I can’t. . . . I don’t know . . . . .I will,” she whispered, as though pondering and struggling with herself.
At that moment a clock somewhere struck.
She started, and with an indescribable look of heart-sick anguish she whispered:
“What time was that?”
“It must have been half-past ten.”
She gave a cry of alarm.
“Oh, dear!” she cried and was making away. But again I stopped her in the passage.
“I won’t let you go like that,” I said. “What are you afraid of? Are you late?”
“Yes, yes. I came out secretly. Let me go! She’ll beat me,” she cried out, evidently saying more than she meant to and breaking away from me.
“Listen, and don’t rush away; you’re going to Vassilyevsky Island, so am I, to Thirteenth Street. I’m late, too. I’m going to take a cab. Will you come with me? I’ll take you. You’ll get there quicker than on foot.
You can’t come back with me, you can’t!” she cried, even more panic-stricken. Her features positively worked with terror at the thought that I might come to the house where she was living.
“But I tell you I’m going to Thirteenth Street on business of my own. I’m not coming to your home! I won’t follow you. We shall get there sooner with a cab. Come along!”
We hurried downstairs. I hailed the first driver I met with a miserable droshky. It was evident Elena was in great haste, since she consented to get in with me. What was most baffling was that I positively did not dare to question her. She flung up her arms and almost leapt off the droshky when I asked her who it was at home she was so afraid of. “What is the mystery?” I thought.
It was very awkward for her to sit on the droshky. At every jolt to keep her balance she clutched at my coat with her left hand, a dirty, chapped little hand. In the other hand she held her books tightly. One could see that those books were very precious to her. As she recovered her balance she happened to show her leg, and to my immense astonishment I saw that she had no stockings, nothing but torn shoes. Though I had made up my mind not to question her, I could not restrain myself again.
“Have you really no stockings?” I asked. “How can you go about barefoot in such wet weather and when it’s so cold?”
“No,” she answered abruptly.
“Good heavens! But you must be living with someone! You ought to ask someone to lend you stockings when you go out.”
“I like it best . . . .”
“But you’ll get ill. You’ll die”
“Let me die.”
She evidently did not want to answer and was angry at my question.
“Look! this was where he died,” I said, pointing out the house where the old man had died.
She looked intently, and suddenly turning with an imploring look, said to me:
“For God’s sake don’t follow me. But I’ll come, I’ll come again! As soon as I’ve a chance I’ll come.”
“Very well. I’ve told you already I won’t follow you. But what are you afraid of? You must be unhappy in some way. It makes me sad to look at you.”
“I’m not afraid of anyone,” she replied, with a note of irritation in her voice.
“But you said just now ‘she’ll beat me’”
“Let her beat me!” she answered, and her eyes flashed. “Let her, let her!” she repeated bitterly, and her upper lip quivered and was lifted disdainfully.
At last we reached Vassilyevsky Island. She stopped the droshky at the beginning of Sixth Street, and jumped off, looking anxiously round.
“Drive away! I’ll come, I’ll come,” she repeated, terribly uneasy, imploring me not to follow her. “Get on, make haste, make haste!”
I drove on. But after driving a few yards further along the embankment I dismissed the cab, and going back to Sixth Street ran quickly across the road. I caught sight of her; she had not got far away yet, though she was walking quickly, and continually looking about her. She even stopped once or twice to look more carefully whether I were following her or not. But I hid in a handy gateway, and she did not see me. She walked on. I followed her, keeping on the other side of the street.
My curiosity was roused to the utmost. Though I did not intend to follow her in, I felt I must find which house she lived in, to be ready in case of emergency. I was overcome by a strange, oppressive sensation, not unlike the impression her grandfather had made on me when Azorka died in the restaurant.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:53