I woke about half-past ten, and for a long time I could not believe my eyes: on the sofa on which I had slept the previous night was sitting my mother, and beside her — the unhappy mother of the dead girl. They were holding each other’s hands, they were talking in whispers, I suppose, that they might not wake me, and both were crying. I got up from the bed, and flew straight to kiss my mother. She positively beamed all over, kissed me and make the sign of the cross over me three times with the right hand. Before we had time to say a word the door opened, and Versilov and Vassin came in. My mother at once got up and led the bereaved woman away. Vassin gave me his hand, while Versilov sank into an armchair without saying a word to me. Mother and he had evidently been here for some time. His face looked overcast and careworn.
“What I regret most of all,” he began saying slowly to Vassin, evidently in continuation of what they had been discussing outside, “is that I had no time to set it all right yesterday evening; then probably this terrible thing would not have happened! And indeed there was time, it was hardly eight o’clock. As soon as she ran away from us last night, I inwardly resolved to follow her and to reassure her, but this unforeseen and urgent business, though of course I might quite well have put it off till to-day . . . or even for a week — this vexatious turn of affairs has hindered and ruined everything. That’s just how things do happen!”
“Perhaps you would not have succeeded in reassuring her; things had gone too far already, apart from you,” Vassin put in.
“No, I should have succeeded, I certainly should have succeeded. And the idea did occur to me to send Sofia Andreyevna in my place. It flashed across my mind, but nothing more. Sofia Andreyevna alone would have convinced her, and the unhappy girl would have been alive. No, never again will I meddle . . . in ‘good works’ . . . and it is the only time in my life I have done it! And I imagined that I had kept up with the times and understood the younger generation. But we elders grow old almost before we grow ripe. And, by the way, there are a terrible number of modern people who go on considering themselves the younger generation from habit, because only yesterday they were such, and meantime they don’t notice that they are no longer under the ban of the orthodox.”
“There has been a misunderstanding, and the misunderstanding is quite evident,” Vassin observed reasonably. “Her mother maintains that after the cruel way she was insulted in that infamous house, she seemed to lose her reason. Add to that her circumstances, the insult in the first place from the merchant . . . all this might have happened in the past, and, to my mind, is in no way particularly characteristic of the younger generation of to-day.”
“It’s impatient, the present generation, and has little understanding of reality; and, although that’s true of all young people in all ages, it’s particularly so in this . . . tell me, what part had Mr. Stebelkov in the trouble?”
“Mr. Stebelkov,” I put in suddenly, “was the cause of it all. If it hadn’t been for him nothing would have happened. He poured oil on the flames.”
Versilov listened, but he did not glance at me. Vassin frowned.
“I blame myself for one ridiculous circumstance,” Versilov went on deliberately, dwelling on each syllable as before, “I believe that in my usual stupid way I allowed myself to be lively after a fashion — this frivolous little laugh — in fact, I was not sufficiently abrupt, dry and gloomy, three characteristics which seem to be greatly prized by the young generation. In fact, I gave her grounds for suspecting me of being a gay deceiver.”
“Quite the opposite,” I put in abruptly again, “the mother lays particular stress on your having made the best possible impression through your gravity, severity even, and sincerity — those were her very words. The dead girl herself praised you on the same grounds directly after you’d gone.”
“Y-yes?” Versilov mumbled with a cursory glance in my direction at last. “Take this scrap of paper, it’s essential to the business”— he held out a tiny sheet to Vassin. Vassin took it, and seeing I was looking at him with curiosity, gave it to me to read. It was a note of two straggling lines scrawled in pencil, and perhaps in the dark:
“Mother darling, forgive me for cutting short my début into life. Your Olya who is causing you such grief.”
“That was only found this morning,” Vassin explained
“What a strange letter!” I cried in astonishment.
“Why strange?” asked Vassin.
“How can anyone use humorous expressions at such a minute?”
Vassin looked at me inquiringly.
“And the humour is strange too,” I went on. “It’s the conventional school jargon that schoolfellows use with one another. Who could write ‘cut short my début into life’ at such a moment, in such a letter to her unhappy mother — and she seems to have loved her mother too.”
“Why not write it?” said Vassin, still not understanding.
“There’s absolutely no humour about it,” observed Versilov at last, “the expression, of course, is inappropriate, and quite incongruous, and may, as you say, have been picked up from some high-school slang or from some journalistic stuff; but the dead girl used it in that awful letter quite simply and earnestly”
“That’s impossible; she had completed her studies and won the silver medal.”
“A silver medal has nothing to do with it. Lots of them complete their studies as brilliantly nowadays.”
“The younger generation again,” said Vassin, smiling.
“Not at all,” said Versilov, getting up and taking his hat. If the present generation is deficient on the literary side there’s no doubt that it possesses other qualifications,” he added with unusual gravity. “At the same time ‘many’ does not mean ‘all’: you, for instance, I don’t accuse of being badly educated on the literary side, and you’re a young man too.”
“Vassin saw nothing wrong in the use of ‘début’ either,” I could not resist saying.
Versilov held out his hand to Vassin without speaking. The latter took up his cap to go with him, calling out to me: “Goodbye for now.” Versilov went out without noticing me. I too had no time to lose. Come what might, I had to run and find a lodging — now more necessary than ever. My mother was not with the landlady. She had gone out, taking the bereaved woman with her. I went out into the street, feeling particularly cheerful and confident. A new and mighty feeling had sprung up in my soul. As luck would have it, everything helped to maintain this mood. I was exceptionally fortunate and quickly found a lodging in every way suitable. Of this lodging later, but for the moment I will continue with what is more important.
It was past one when I went back to Vassin’s to fetch my trunk, and again found him at home. When he saw me he cried with a sincere and good-humoured air:
“How glad I am you’ve caught me! I was just going out. I can tell you a piece of news that I think will interest you particularly.”
“I’m sure of that,” I cried.
“I say, you do look cheerful! Tell me, did you know anything about a letter that was preserved by Kraft, and came into Versilov’s hands yesterday, something concerning the lawsuit he has just won? In this letter, the testator declares intentions contrary to the decision in the lawcourts yesterday. The letter was written long ago. I know nothing definite about it in fact, but don’t you know something?”
“To be sure I do. The day before yesterday Kraft took me home with him from those people on purpose to give me the letter, and I gave it to Versilov yesterday.”
“Yes? That’s just what I thought. Only fancy, that’s just the business Versilov was speaking of just now, that prevented him from coming yesterday evening to see that girl —-it was owing to that letter. Versilov went straight yesterday evening to Prince Sokolsky’s lawyer, handed in the letter, and refused to take the fortune he had won. By now this refusal has been put into legal form. Versilov is not making Prince Sokolsky a present of the money, but declares that he acknowledges his claim to it.”
I was dumbfoundered, but ecstatic. I had in reality been convinced that Versilov would destroy the letter, and, what is more, though I had told Kraft that this would be dishonourable, and although I had repeated this to myself in the restaurant, and had told myself that “it was to find a true man, not a man like this that I had come”— yet deeper down, that is, in my inmost soul, I felt that there was nothing to be done but to destroy the letter, that is to say, I looked upon this as quite a natural thing to do. If I blamed Versilov for it afterwards I simply blamed him on purpose, to keep up appearances, and to maintain my moral superiority. But hearing now of Versilov’s noble action I was moved to genuine and whole-hearted enthusiasm, blaming myself with shame and remorse for my cynicism and indifference to principle, and instantly exalting Versilov to heights far above me. I almost embraced Vassin.
“What a man! What a man!” I exclaimed, rapturously. “Who else would have done it?”
“I quite agree with you that very many people would not have done it . . . and that it was undoubtedly an extremely disinterested action . . . .”
“But . . .? Finish, Vassin. You have a ‘but’?”
“Yes, of course there is a ‘but’; Versilov’s action, to my mind, is a little too hasty, and not quite ingenuous,” said Vassin with a smile.
“Yes. There’s too much of the ‘hero on the pedestal’ about it. For in any case he might have done the same thing without injuring himself. Some part of the inheritance, if not half of it, might well have remained with him, even from the most scrupulous standpoint, especially as the letter has no legal significance, and he has already won the case. The lawyer on the other side shares my opinion. I’ve just been talking to him. His conduct would have been no less handsome; but simply through a whim due to pride, things have turned out differently. What’s more, Mr. Versilov let himself be carried away by his feelings, and acted too precipitately. He said himself yesterday that he might have put it off for a whole week . . . .”
“Do you know, Vassin, I can’t help agreeing with you, but . . . I like it better so, it pleases me more!”
“However, it’s a matter of taste! You asked for my opinion or I should have held my tongue.”
“Even if there is something of the ‘pedestal’ about it, so much the better,” I said. “A pedestal may be a pedestal but in itself it’s a very precious thing. This ‘pedestal’ is, anyway, an ‘ideal’ of a sort, and it’s by no means an improvement that some modern souls are without it: it’s better to have it even in a slightly distorted form! And I’m sure you think so yourself, Vassin darling, Vassin, my dear Vassin! I am raving but of course you understand me. That’s what you’re for, Vassin. In any case I embrace and kiss you, Vassin!”
“Yes, awfully pleased. For the man ‘was dead and liveth, he was lost and is found’! Vassin, I’m a miserable wretch of a boy, I’m not as good as you. I recognize it just because at some moments I’m different, deeper and loftier. I say this because the day before yesterday I flattered you to your face (and I did that because I had been humiliated and crushed)— I hated you for it for two whole days. I swore the same night that I would never come and see you, and I came to you yesterday morning simply from spite, do you understand, FROM SPITE. I sat here alone criticizing your room and you, and every one of your books and your landlady. I tried to humble you and laugh at you.”
“You shouldn’t say that . . . .”
“Yesterday evening, when I concluded from some phrase of yours that you did not understand women, I felt glad that I was able to detect you in it. This morning, when I scored off you over the ‘début,’ I was awfully pleased again, and all because I had praised you up so before.”
“I should think so indeed!” Vassin cried at last (he still went on smiling, not in the least surprised at me). “Why, that happens with almost every one, only no one admits it, and one ought not to confess it at all, because in any case it passes, and leads to nothing.”
“Is it really the same with every one? Is every one the same? And you say that quite calmly? Why, one can’t go on living with such views!”
“You think then that:
To me more dear the lie ennobling
Than Truth’s dark infamy revealed!”
“But that’s true, you know,” I cried. “There’s a sacred axiom in those two lines!”
“I don’t know. I can’t undertake to decide whether those lines are true or not. Perhaps, as always, the truth lies in the mean: that is, that in one case truth is sacred and in another falsehood. The only thing I know for certain is that that idea will long remain one of the questions most disputed among men. In any case I observe that at the moment you’re longing to dance. Well, dance away then, exercise is wholesome; but I have a mass of work to get through this morning . . . and I’ve lingered on with you till I’m late!”
“I’m going! I’m going! I’m just off! One word only,” I cried, after seizing my trunk, “my ‘throwing myself on your neck’ again; it’s simply because when I came in you told me this news with such genuine pleasure and were ‘so glad’ I had found you, and after the ‘début’ incident this morning; that real gladness of yours turned my ‘youthful ardent soul’ to you again. Well, good-bye, good-bye, I’ll do my best not to come in the future, and I know that that will please you very much, as I see from your eyes, and it will be an advantage to both of us.”
Chattering like this, and almost spluttering in my joyful babble, I hauled up my trunk and set off with it to my lodging. What delighted me most of all was that Versilov had been so unmistakably angry with me, and had been unwilling to speak to me or look at me. As soon as I had deposited my trunk, I at once flew off to my old prince. I must confess that I had rather felt not seeing him those two days. Besides, he would no doubt have heard already about Versilov.
I knew he would be delighted to see me, and I protest that I should have gone, apart from Versilov altogether. What had alarmed me yesterday and that morning was the thought that I might meet Katerina Nikolaevna; but now I was afraid of nothing.
He embraced me joyfully.
“About Versilov! Have you heard?” I began forthwith on the great news.
“Cher enfant, my dear boy, it’s so magnanimous, so noble — in fact it made an overwhelming impression even on Kilyan” (this was the clerk downstairs). “It’s injudicious on his part, but it’s magnificent, it’s heroic! One must cherish the ideal!”
“Yes, one must, mustn’t one? We were always agreed about that.”
“My dear boy, we always have agreed. Where have you been? I wanted very much to come and see you but I didn’t know where to find you . . . for I couldn’t go to Versilov’s anyway. . . . Though now, after all this . . . you know, my boy, I believe it’s by this he has always conquered the women’s hearts, by these qualities, no doubt of it . . . .”
“By the way, for fear I forget it, I’ve been saving this up for you. A very low fellow, a ridiculous fool, abusing Versilov to my face yesterday, used the expression that he was a ‘petticoat prophet’; what an expression — was it his own expression? I have been treasuring it up for you . . . .”
“A ‘petticoat prophet’? Mais . . . c’est charmant! Ha-ha! But that fits him so well, or rather it doesn’t — foo! . . . But it’s so apt . . . at least it’s not apt at all but . . . .”
“Never mind, never mind, don’t worry yourself, look upon it simply as a bon mot!”
“It’s a capital bon mot, and do you know, it has a deep significance . . . There’s a perfectly true idea in it. That is, would you believe it. . . . In fact, I’ll tell you a tiny little secret. Have you noticed that girl Olympiada? Would you believe it, she’s got a little heartache for Andrey Petrovitch; in fact it goes so far as cherishing a . . .”
“Cherishing! What doesn’t she deserve?” I cried with a gesture of contempt.
“Mon cher, don’t shout, it’s all nonsense, it may be you’re right from your point of view. By the way, what was the matter with you last time you were here and Katerina Nikolaevna arrived? . . . You staggered; I thought you were going to fall down, and was on the point of rushing to support you.”
“Never mind that now. The fact is I was simply confused for a special reason . . . .”
“You’re blushing now.”
“And you must rub it in of course. You know that she’s on bad terms with Versilov . . . and then all this; so it upset me. Ech, leave that; later!”
“Yes, let’s leave it! I’m delighted to. . . . In fact, I’ve been very much to blame in regard to her and I remember I grumbled about her to you. . . . Forget it, my dear; she will change her opinion of you, too. I quite foresee that . . . . Ah, here’s Prince Sergay!”
A handsome young officer walked in. I looked at him eagerly, I had never seen him before. I call him handsome for every one called him so, but there was something not altogether attractive in that handsome young face. I note this as the impression made the first instant, my first view of him, which remained with me always.
He was thin and finely built, with brown hair, a fresh but somewhat sallow skin and an expression of determination. There was a rather hard look in his beautiful dark eyes even when he was perfectly calm. But his resolute expression repelled one just because one felt that its resoluteness cost him little. But I cannot put it into words. . . . It is true that his face was able to change suddenly from hardness to a wonderfully friendly, gentle and tender expression, and, what is more, with unmistakable frankness. It was just that frankness which was attractive. I will note another characteristic: in spite of its friendliness and frankness his face never looked gay; oven when he laughed with whole-hearted mirth there was always a feeling that there was no trace in his heart of genuine, serene, lighthearted gaiety. . . . But it is extremely difficult to describe a face like this. I’m utterly incapable of it. In his usual stupid way the old prince hastened to introduce us.
“This is my young friend Arkady Andreyevitch Dolgoruky” (again “Andreyovitch!”).
The young man turned to me with redoubled courtesy, but it was evident that my name was quite unknown to him.
“He’s . . . a relation of Andrey Petrovitch’s,” murmured my vexatious old prince. (How tiresome these old men sometimes are with their little ways!) The young man at once realized who I was.
“Ach! I heard of you long ago . . . .” he said quickly. “I had the very great pleasure of making the acquaintance of your sister Lizaveta Makarovna last year at Luga. . . . She talked to me about you too.”
I was surprised; there was a glow of real pleasure in his face.
“Excuse me, prince,” I answered, drawing back both my hands, “I ought to tell you frankly, and I’m glad to be speaking in the presence of our dear prince, that I was actually desirous of meeting you, and quite recently, only yesterday, desired it with very different motives. I tell you this directly although it may surprise you. In short, I wanted to challenge you for the insult you offered to Versilov a year and a half ago in Ems. And though perhaps you would not have accepted my challenge, as I’m only a schoolboy, and not of age, yet I should have sent you the challenge, however you might have taken it or whatever you might have done, and I confess I have the same intention still.”
The old prince told me afterwards that I succeeded in pronouncing these words with great dignity.
There was a look of genuine distress on the young man’s face.
“You didn’t let me finish,” he answered earnestly. “The real cordiality with which I greeted you is due to my present feeling for Andrey Petrovitch. I’m sorry I cannot at once tell you all the circumstances. But I assure you on my honour that I have long regarded my unfortunate conduct at Ems with the greatest regret. I resolved on my return to Petersburg to make every reparation within my power, that is, literally to make him an apology in any form he might select. The highest and weightiest considerations have caused this change in my views. The fact that we were at law with one another would not have affected my determination in the least. His action in regard to me yesterday has, so to speak, moved me to the depths of my soul, and even now, would you believe it, I can’t get over it. And now, I must tell you, I’ve come to the prince to inform him of an astounding circumstance. Three hours ago, that is, just at the time when he was drawing up the deed with the lawyer, a friend of Andrey Petrovitch’s came to me bringing a challenge from him to a duel . . . a formal challenge for the affair at Ems . . . .”
“He challenged you?” I cried, and I felt that my eyes glowed and the blood rushed into my face.
“Yes, challenged me. I at once accepted the challenge, but resolved before our meeting to send him a letter in which I explain my view of my conduct, and my deep regret for my horrible blunder . . . for it was only a blunder, an unlucky, fatal blunder! I may observe that my position in the regiment forced me to run the risk of this duel, and that by sending such a letter before our meeting I have exposed myself to public censure . . . do you understand? But in spite of that, I made up my mind to send it, and I’ve only not done so because an hour after the challenge I received another letter from him in which he apologizes for having troubled me, asks me to forget the challenge, and adds that he regrets his ‘momentary outburst of cowardice and egoism’— his own words. So that he relieves me from all obligation to send the letter. I had not yet dispatched it, but I have come to say something about this to the prince. . . . And I assure you I have suffered far more from the reproaches of my conscience than anyone. . . . Is this sufficient explanation for you, Arkady Makarovitch, for the time at any rate? Will you do me the honour to believe in my complete sincerity?”
I was completely conquered. I found a perfect frankness, which was the last thing I had expected. Indeed, I had expected nothing of this kind. I muttered something in reply and forthwith held out both hands. He shook both of them in his delightedly. Then he drew the old prince away and talked to him for five minutes in the latter’s bedroom.
“If you want to do me particular pleasure,” he said frankly in a loud voice, addressing me as he came out of the prince’s room, “come back straight with me and I will show you the letter I am just sending to Andrey Petrovitch and with it his letter to me.”
I consented with the utmost readiness. My old prince made a great bustle at seeing us off and called me, too, apart into his room for a minute.
“Mon ami, how glad I am, how glad I am. . . . We’ll talk of it all later. By the way, I’ve two letters here in my portfolio. One has to be delivered with a personal explanation and the other must go to the bank — and there too . . . .”
And he at once gave me two commissions which he pretended were urgent and required exceptional effort and attention. I should have to go, deliver them myself, give a receipt and so on.
“Ha, you are cunning!” I cried as I took the letters, “I swear all this is nonsense and you’ve no work for me to do at all. You’ve invented these two jobs on purpose to make me believe that I am of use and not taking money for nothing.”
“Mon enfant, I protest that you are mistaken. They are both urgent matters. Cher enfant!” he cried, suddenly overcome by a rush of emotion, “my dear young friend” (he put both hands on my head), “I bless you and your destiny. Let us always be as true-hearted as to-day . . . as kind-hearted and good as possible, let us love all that is fair and good . . . in all its varied forms. . . . Well, enfin . . . enfin rendons grâce . . . et je te benis!”
He could not go on, but whimpered over my head. I must confess I was almost in tears too; anyway I embraced my queer old friend with sincere and delighted feeling. We kissed each other warmly.
Prince Sergay as I shall call him (that is Prince Sergay Petrovitch Sokolsky) drove me in a smart victoria to his flat, and my first impression was one of surprise at its magnificence. Not that it was really magnificent, but it was a flat such as “well-to-do people” live in, light, large, lofty rooms (I saw two of them) and the furniture well padded, comfortable, abundant and of the best — though I’ve no idea whether it was in the Versailles or Renaissance style. There were rugs, carvings, and statuettes, though everybody said that the Sokolskys were beggars, and had absolutely nothing. I had heard, however, that Prince Sergay had cut a dash wherever he could, here, in Moscow, in his old regiment and in Paris, that he was a gambler and that he had debts. My coat was crumpled and covered with fluff, too, because I had slept in it without undressing, and this was the fourth day I had worn my shirt. My coat was not really shabby but when I went into Prince Sergay’s, I recalled Versilov’s suggestion that I should have a new suit.
“Only fancy, owing to a case of suicide, I slept all night without undressing,” I observed with a casual air, and as he immediately looked attentive I briefly told the story. But what interested him most was evidently his letter. What seemed strangest to me was that he had not smiled nor betrayed the slightest symptom of amusement when I had told him I meant to challenge him to a duel. Though I should have been able to prevent his laughing, his gravity was strange in a man of his class. We sat opposite one another in the middle of the room, at his immense writing table, and he handed me for my inspection the fair copy of his letter to Versilov. The letter was very much like all that he had just told me at the old prince’s; it was written with warmth, indeed. I really did not know at first what to make of his evident frankness and his apparent leaning towards what was good and right, but I was already beginning to be conquered by it, for after all what reason had I for disbelieving it? Whatever he was like, and whatever stories were told of him, he yet might have good impulses. I looked, too, at Versilov’s second note, which consisted of seven lines — his withdrawal of his challenge. Though he did, it is true, speak of his own cowardice and egoism, yet on the whole the note was suggestive of a sort of disdain . . . or rather there was apparent in the whole episode a superlative nonchalance. I did not, however, utter this thought aloud.
“What do you think of this withdrawal, though?” I asked, “you don’t suppose he acted from cowardice, do you?”
“Of course not,” said Prince Sergay with a smile, though a very grave one, and in fact he was becoming more and more preoccupied. “I know quite well how manly he is. It’s a special point of view . . . his peculiar turn of ideas.”
“No doubt,” I broke in warmly. “A fellow called Vassin says that there’s too much of the ‘pedestal’ about the line he has taken with this letter and his refusing to take the fortune. . . . But to my mind things like that aren’t done for effect but correspond with something fundamental within.”
“I know Mr. Vassin very well,” observed Prince Sergay.
“Oh, yes, you must have seen him in Luga.”
We suddenly glanced at one another, and, I remember, I flushed a little. Anyway he changed the subject. I had a great longing to talk, however. The thought of one person I had met the day before tempted me to ask him certain questions, but I did not know how to approach the subject. And altogether I felt ill at ease. I was impressed, too, by his perfect breeding, his courtesy, his manner, his absence of constraint, in fact by the polish which these aristocrats acquire almost from the cradle. I saw two glaring mistakes in grammar in his letter. And as a rule, when I meet such people I’m not at all overawed and only become more abrupt, which is sometimes, perhaps, a mistake. But on this occasion the thought that I was covered with fluff contributed to my discomfiture so that, in fact, I floundered a little and dropped into being over-familar. I caught Prince Sergay eyeing me very intently at times.
“Tell me, prince,” I blurted out suddenly, “don’t you secretly think it absurd that a youngster like me should think of challenging you, especially for an affront to some one else?”
“An affront to a father may well be resented. No, I don’t think it’s absurd.”
“It seems to me that it’s dreadfully absurd . . . from one point of view, not of course from my own. Especially as my name is Dolgoruky and not Versilov. And if you’re telling me a falsehood, or are trying to smooth things over simply from worldly politeness, it stands to reason that you are deceiving me in everything else.”
“No, I don’t think it’s absurd,” he repeated with great seriousness. “How could you help feeling like a son to your father? It’s true, you’re young . . . because . . . I don’t know . . . I believe that a youth not of age can’t fight a duel . . . and a challenge can’t be accepted from him . . . by the rules. . . . But there is, if you like, one serious objection to be made: if you send a challenge without the knowledge of the offended party on whose behalf you are acting, you seem to be guilty of a certain lack of respect to him, don’t you? . . .”
Our conversation was interrupted by a footman who came in to make some announcement. Prince Sergay, who seemed to have been expecting him, went at once to meet him without finishing what he was saying. So the announcement was made in an undertone and I did not hear it.
“Excuse me,” said Prince Sergay, turning to me, “I’ll be back in a moment.”
And he went out. I was left alone; I walked up and down the room, thinking. Strange to say, he attracted me and at the same time repelled me intensely. There was something in him for which I could not find a name, though it was very repellent. “If he isn’t laughing at me he certainly must be very guileless, but if he has been laughing at me then . . . perhaps I should think him cleverer . . . .” I thought rather oddly. I went up to the table, and read the letter to Versilov once more. In my abstraction I didn’t notice the time, but when I roused myself I found that the prince’s minute had lasted at least a quarter of an hour. This disturbed me a little; I walked up and down once more, at last I took my hat and decided, I remember, to go out to try and find some one to send to Prince Sergay, and when he came, to say good-bye to him at once, declaring that I had work to do and could stay no longer. I fancied that that would be the most suitable thing to do, for I was rather tormented by the idea that he was treating me very casually in leaving me so long.
There were two doors in the room, both shut, and on the same side, one at each end of it. Forgetting which door I had come in by, or rather lost in thought, I opened one of them, and suddenly, in a long narrow room, I saw, sitting on the sofa, my sister Liza. There was no one else in the room and she was certainly waiting for some one. But before I had time even to feel surprised, I heard the voice of Prince Sergay speaking loudly to some one, and returning to the study. I hurriedly closed the door and Prince Sergay, coming in at the other, noticed nothing. I remember he began to apologize and said something about “Anna Fyodorovna.” But I was so amazed and confused that I hardly took in what he said, and could only mutter that I simply must go home, and stubbornly persisting in this, I beat a hasty retreat. The well-bred prince must have looked with curiosity at my manners. He came with me right into the hall, still talking, and I neither answered nor looked at him.
I turned to the left when I got into the street and walked away at random. There was nothing coherent in my mind. I walked along slowly and I believe I had walked a good way, some five hundred paces, when I felt a light tap on my shoulder. I turned and saw Liza; she had overtaken me and tapped me on the shoulder with her umbrella. There was a wonderful gaiety and a touch of roguishness in her beaming eyes.
“How glad I am you came this way, or I shouldn’t have met you to-day!” She was a little out of breath from walking fast.
“How breathless you are.”
“I’ve been running so as to catch you up.”
“Liza, was it you I saw just now?”
“At the prince’s. . . . At Prince Sokolsky’s.”
“No, it wasn’t me. You didn’t see me . . . .”
I made no answer and we walked on for ten paces. Liza burst into a fit of laughter.
“It was me, of course it was! Why, you saw me yourself, you looked into my eyes, and I looked into yours, so how can you ask whether you saw me? What a character! And do you know I dreadfully wanted to laugh when you looked at me then. You looked so awfully funny.”
She laughed violently. I felt all the anguish in my heart fade away at once.
“But tell me how did you come to be there?”
“To see Anna Fyodorovna.”
“What Anna Fyodorovna?”
“Mme. Stolbyeev. When we were staying in Luga I used to spend whole days with her. She used to receive mother, too, and used even to come and see us, though she visited scarcely anyone else there. She is a distant relation of Andrey Petrovitch’s, and a relation of Prince Sokolsky’s too: she’s a sort of old aunt of his.”
“Then she lives at Prince Sokolsky’s?”
“No, he lives with her.”
“Then whose flat is it?”
“It’s her flat. The whole flat has been hers for the last year. Prince Sokolsky has only just arrived and is staying with her. Yes, and she’s only been in Petersburg four days herself.”
“I say, Liza, bother her flat and her too!”
“No, she’s splendid.”
“Well, let her be, that’s her affair. We’re splendid too! See what a day it is, see how jolly! How pretty you are to-day, Liza. But you’re an awful baby though.”
“Arkady, tell me, that girl, the one who came yesterday . . . .”
“Oh, the pity of it, Liza! The pity of it!”
“Ach, what a pity! What a fate! Do you know it’s a sin for us to be walking here so happily while her soul is hovering somewhere in darkness, in some unfathomable darkness, after her sin and the wrong done her. . . . Arkady, who was responsible for her suicide? Oh, how terrible it is! Do you ever think of that outer darkness? Ach, how I fear death, and how sinful it is. I don’t like the dark, what a glorious thing the sun is! Mother says it’s a sin to be afraid . . . . Arkady, do you know mother well?
“Very little, Liza. Very little so far.”
“Ah, what a wonderful person she is; and you ought to get to know her! She needs understanding . . . .”
“Yes, but you see, I didn’t know you either; but I know you now, thoroughly. I’ve found you out altogether in one minute. Though you are afraid of death, Liza, you must be proud, bold, plucky. Better than I am, ever so much better! I like you awfully, Liza. Ach, Liza! let death come when it must, but meantime let us live — let us live! Oh, let us pity that poor girl, but let us bless life all the same! Don’t you think so? I have an ‘idea,’ Liza. Liza, you know, of course, that Versilov has refused to take the fortune? You don’t know my soul, Liza, you don’t know what that man has meant to me . . . .”
“Not know indeed! I know all that.”
“You know all about it? But, of course, you would! You’re clever, cleverer than Vassin. Mother and you have eyes that are penetrating and humane, I mean a point of view that is. I’m talking nonsense. . . . Liza, I’m not good for much, in lots of ways.”
“You want taking in hand, that’s all.”
“Take me in hand, Liza. How nice it is to look at you to-day. Do you know that you are very pretty? I have never seen your eyes before. . . . I’ve only seen them for the first time to-day . . . where did you get them to-day, Liza? Where have you bought them? What price have you paid for them? Liza, I’ve never had a friend, and I’ve thought the idea of friendship nonsense; but it’s not nonsense with you. . . . Shall we be friends! You understand what I mean?”
“I quite understand.”
“And you know — we’ll simply be friends, no conditions, no contract.”
“Yes, simply, simply, with only one condition: that if we ever blame one another, if we’re displeased about anything, if we become nasty and horrid, even if we forget all this — we will never forget this day, and this hour! Let’s vow that to ourselves. Let us vow that we will always remember this day and how we walked arm in arm together, and how we laughed and were gay. . . . Yes? Shall we?”
“Yes, Liza, yes, I swear. But, Liza, I feel as though I’m hearing you talk for the first time. . . . Liza, have you read much?”
“He has never asked till now! Only yesterday for the first time, when I said something, you deigned to notice me, honoured sir, Mr. Wiseacre.”
“But why didn’t you begin to talk to me if I’ve been such a fool?”
“I kept expecting you’d grow wiser. I’ve been watching you from the very first, Arkady Makarovitch, and as I watched you I said to myself ‘he’ll come to me, it’s bound to end in his coming’— and I made up my mind I’d better leave you the honour of taking the first step. ‘No,’ I said to myself, ‘you can run after me.’”
“Ah, you coquette! Come, Liza, tell me honestly, have you been laughing at me for the last month?”
“Oh, you are funny, you’re awfully funny, Arkady! And do you know, what I’ve been loving you for most all this month is your being so queer. But in some ways you’re a horrid boy too — I say that for fear you should grow conceited. And do you know who else has been laughing at you? Mother’s been laughing at you, mother and I together. ‘Oh my,’ we whispered, ‘what a queer boy! My goodness, what a queer boy!’ And you sat all the while imagining that we were trembling before you.”
“Liza, what do you think about Versilov?”
“I think a great deal about him; but we won’t talk about him just now, you know. There’s no need to talk of him to-day, is there?”
“Quite so! Yes, you’re awfully clever, Liza! You are certainly cleverer than I am. You wait a bit, Liza, I’ll make an end of all this, and then I shall have something to tell you . . . .”
“What are you frowning at?”
“I’m not frowning, Liza, it’s nothing. . . . You see, Liza, it’s best to be open: it’s a peculiarity of mine that I don’t like some tender spots on my soul being touched upon . . . or rather, it’s shameful to be often displaying certain feelings for the admiration of all, isn’t it? So that I sometimes prefer to frown and hold my tongue. You’re clever, you must understand.”
“Yes, and what’s more, I’m the same myself; I understand you in everything. Do you know that mother’s the same too?”
“Ah, Liza! Oh, to live a long while on this earth! Ah? What did you say?”
“I said nothing.”
“Yes, and so are you. I look at you and love you.”
I went with her almost all the way home and gave her my address. As we parted, for the first time in my life I kissed her . . . .
And all this would have been very nice but there was one thing that was not nice: one painful thought had been throbbing in my mind all night and I could not shake it off. This was, that when I had met that unhappy girl at the gate I told her I was leaving the house myself, leaving home, that one left bad people and made a home for oneself, and that Versilov had a lot of illegitimate children. Such words from a son about his father must, of course, have confirmed all her suspicions of Versilov’s character and of his having insulted her. I had blamed Stebelkov, but perhaps I had been the chief one to pour oil on the flames. That thought was awful, it is awful even now. . . . But then, that morning, though I’d begun to be uneasy, I told myself it was all nonsense. “Oh, ‘things had gone too far already’ apart from me,” I repeated from time to time, “it’s nothing; it will pass! I shall get over it. I shall make up for this somehow, I’ve fifty years before me!”
But yet the idea haunted me.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:07