I took the money because I loved him. If anyone disbelieves this I must inform him that at the moment when I took the money I was firmly convinced that I could have obtained it from another source. And so I really took it, not because I was in desperate straits, but from delicacy, not to hurt his feelings. Alas, that was how I reasoned at the time! But yet my heart was very heavy as I went out from him. I had seen that morning an extraordinary change in his attitude to me; he had never taken such a tone before, and, as regards Versilov, it was a case of positive mutiny. Stebelkov had no doubt annoyed him very much that morning, but he had begun to be the same before seeing Stebelkov. I repeat once more; the change from his original manner might indeed have been noticed for some days past, but not in the same way, not in the same degree, that was the point.
The stupid gossip about that major, Baron Büring, might have some effect on him. . . . I too had been disturbed by it, but . . . the fact is, I had something else in my heart at that time that shone so resplendent that I heedlessly let many things pass unnoticed, made haste to let them pass, to get rid of them, and to go back to that resplendence . . . .
It was not yet one o’clock. From Prince Sergay’s I drove with my Matvey straight off to — it will hardly be believed to whom — to Stebelkov! The fact is that he had surprised me that morning, not so much by turning up at Prince Sergay’s (for he had promised to be there) as by the way he had winked at me; he had a stupid habit of doing so, but that morning it had been apropos of a different subject from what I had expected. The evening before, a note had come from him by post, which had rather puzzled me. In it he begged me to go to him between two and three to-day, and that “he might inform me of facts that would be a surprise to me.”
And in reference to that letter he had that morning, at Prince Sergay’s, made no sign whatever. What sort of secrets could there be between Stebelkov and me? Such an idea was positively ridiculous; but, after all that had happened, I felt a slight excitement as I drove off to him. I had, of course, a fortnight before applied to him for money, and he was ready to lend it, but for some reason we did not come to terms, and I did not take the money: on that occasion, too, he had muttered something vague, as his habit was, and I had fancied he wanted to make me some offer, to suggest some special conditions; and as I had treated him disdainfully every time I had met him at Prince Sergay’s, I proudly cut short any idea of special terms, though he pursued me to the door. I borrowed the money afterwards from Prince Sergay.
Stebelkov lived in a very comfortable style. He had his own establishment, a flat of four rooms, with handsome furniture, men and women servants, and a housekeeper, who was, however, by no means young. I went in angrily.
“Listen, my good man,” I began from the door; “to begin with, what’s the meaning of that letter? I don’t care for letters to be passing between us. And why did you not make any statement you wanted to make at Prince Sergay’s this morning? I was at your service.”
“And why did you hold your tongue, too, this morning, instead of questioning me?” he said with a broad grin of intense self-satisfaction.
“Because it’s not I want something of you, but you want something of me,” I cried, suddenly growing hot.
“Why have you come to see me, if that’s so?” he cried, almost jumping out of his chair with glee. I turned instantly, and would have gone out, but he seized me by the shoulder.
“No, no, I was joking, it’s a matter of importance, as you’ll see for yourself.”
I sat down, I must admit I was inquisitive. We were seated facing one another at the end of a big writing table. He smiled slyly, and was just holding up his finger.
“None of your slyness, please, and no fingers either, and above all, none of your allegories! Come straight to the point, or I’ll go away at once,” I cried angrily again.
“You . . . are proud!” he pronounced in a tone of stupid reproach, rocking in his easy-chair and turning his wrinkled forehead towards the ceiling.
“One has to be with you!”
“You . . . took money from Prince Sergay to-day, three hundred roubles; I have money too, my money is better than his.”
“How do you know I took it?” I asked, greatly astonished. “Can he have told you that himself?”
“He told me; don’t worry yourself, in the course of conversation it happened to come up, it just happened to come up, it was not on purpose. He told me. And you need not have taken it. Is that so, or not?”
“But I hear that you squeeze out an exorbitant interest.”
“I have a mont-de-piété, but I don’t squeeze. I only lend to friends, and not to other people, the mont-de-piété is for them . . . .”
This mont-de-piété was an ordinary pawnbroker’s shop, which flourished under another name, in a different quarter of the town.
“But I lend large sums to friends.”
“Why, is Prince Sergay such a friend of yours?”
“A fri-iend; but . . . he plays the fool, and he’d better not dare to play the fool.”
“Why is he so much in your power? Does he owe you a great deal?”
“He . . . does owe a great deal.”
“He’ll pay you; he has come into a fortune . . .”
“That is not his fortune; he owes money, and owes something else, too. The fortune’s not enough. I’ll lend to you without interest.”
“As though I were a ‘friend’ too? How have I earned that?” I laughed.
“You will earn it.” Again he rocked his whole person forward on a level with me, and was again holding up his fingers.
“Stebelkov! Speak without flourishing your fingers or I go.”
“I say, he may marry Anna Andreyevna!” and he screwed up his left eye fiendishly.
“Listen, Stebelkov, your conversation is taking such a scandalous turn. . . . How dare you utter the name of Anna Andreyevna!”
“Don’t lose your temper.”
“I am listening, though it’s against the grain, for I see clearly you have something up your sleeve, and I want to find out what it is . . . but you may try my patience too far, Stebelkov!”
“Don’t be angry, don’t be proud. Humble your pride a little and listen; and then you’ll be proud again. You know, of course, about Anna Andreyevna. The prince may make a match . . . you know, of course . . .”
“I have heard of the idea, of course, I know all about it, but I have never spoken to Prince Sergay about it, I only know that the idea originated with old Prince Sokolsky, who is ill now; but I have never talked to him about it and I have had nothing to do with it. I tell you this, simply to make things clear. I will ask you in the first place: what is your object in mentioning it to me? And secondly, can Prince Sergay possibly discuss such subjects with YOU?”
“He does not discuss them with me; he does not want to discuss them with me, but I mention them to him, and he does not want to listen. He shouted at me this morning.”
“I should think so! I commend him.”
“Old Prince Sokolsky will give Anna Andreyevna a good dowry; she’s a favourite. Then when the prince marries her, he’ll repay me all the money he owes. And he will pay other debts as well. He’ll certainly pay them! But now he has nothing to pay with.”
“What do you want of me?”
“To answer the great question: you are known everywhere, you go everywhere, you can find out anything.”
“Oh, damnation . . . find out what?”
“Whether Prince Sergay wishes it, whether Anna Andreyevna wishes it, whether the old prince wishes it.”
“And you dare to propose that I should be your spy, and — for money!” I burst out indignantly.
“Don’t be too proud, don’t be too proud, humble your pride only a little, only for five minutes.” He made me sit down again. He was evidently not intimidated by my words or gestures; but I made up my mind to hear him out.
“I must find out quickly, find out quickly, because . . . because it will soon be too late. You saw how he swallowed the pill this morning, when the officer mentioned the baron for Mme. Ahmakov.”
I certainly demeaned myself by listening further, but my curiosity was irresistibly aroused.
“Listen, you worthless fellow!” I said resolutely. “Though I’m sitting here listening, and allow you to speak of such persons . . . and even answer you, it’s not in the least that I admit your right to do so. I simply see in it some piece of rascality. . . . And in the first place, what hopes can Prince Sergay have in reference to Katerina Nikolaevna?”
“None whatever, yet he is furious.”
“Yes, he is. Mme. Ahmakov is no go, then, now. He has lost that stake. Now he has only Anna Andreyevna to fall back on. I will give you two thousand . . . without interest and without an IOU.”
Having delivered himself of this, he sat back in his chair, with a determined and important expression, and stared goggle-eyed at me. I too stared.
“You’ve a suit from Bolshaya Milliona; you need money, you want money; my money’s better than his. I will give you more than two thousand . . .”
“But what for? what for? damn it all!” I stamped my foot. He bent towards me and brought out impressively:
“For you not to hinder.”
“But I’m not interfering as it is,” I shouted.
“I know that you are holding your tongue, that’s excellent.”
“I don’t want your approbation. For my part I am very anxious for it myself, but I consider it’s not my business, and in fact that it would be unseemly for me to meddle.”
“There, you see, you see, unseemly!” he held up his finger.
“What do you see?”
“Unseemly . . . Ha!” and he suddenly laughed. “I understand, I understand, that it would be unseemly of you, but you won’t interfere?” he winked; but in that wink there was something so insolent, so low and even jeering: evidently he was assuming some meanness on my part and was reckoning upon it; that was clear, but I hadn’t a notion what was meant.
“Anna Andreyevna is your sister, too,” he pronounced insinuatingly.
“Don’t you dare to speak of that. And in fact don’t dare to speak of Anna Andreyevna at all.”
“Don’t be too proud, only one more minute! Listen! he will get the money and provide for every one,” Stebelkov said impressively, “every one, EVERY ONE, you follow?”
“So you think I’ll take money from him?”
“You are taking it now.”
“I am taking my own.”
“How is it your own?”
“It’s Versilov’s money, he owes Versilov twenty thousand.”
“Versilov then, not you.”
“Versilov is my father.”
“No, you are a Dolgoruky, not a Versilov.”
“It’s all the same.” Yes, indeed, I was able to argue like that then! I knew it was not the same, I was not so stupid as all that, but again it was from “delicacy” that I reasoned so.
“Enough!” I cried. “I can’t make out what you are talking about, and how dare you ask me to come for such nonsense.”
“Can you really not understand? Is it on purpose or not?” Stebelkov brought out slowly, looking at me with a penetrating and incredulous smile.
“I swear I don’t understand.”
“I tell you he’ll be able to provide for every one, EVERY ONE; you’ve only not to interfere, and don’t try to persuade him.”
“You must have gone out of your mind. Why do you keep trotting out that ‘every one.’ Do you mean he’ll provide for Versilov?”
“You’re not the only one, nor Versilov either . . . there is some one else, too, and Anna Andreyevna is just as much your sister AS LIZAVETA MAKAROVNA!”
I gazed at him open-eyed. There was a sudden glimpse of something like compassion for me in his loathsome eyes:
“You don’t understand, so much the better! That’s good, very good, that you don’t understand. It’s very laudable . . . if you really don’t understand.”
I was absolutely furious.
“Go to hell with your silly nonsense, you madman!” I shouted, taking up my hat.
“It’s not silly nonsense! So you are going, but you’ll come again, you know.”
“No,” I rapped out in the doorway.
“You’ll come, and then we shall have another talk. That will be the real talk. Two thousand, remember!”
He made such a filthy and confused impression on me, that when I got out I tried not to think of it at all, but dismissed it with a curse. The idea that Prince Sergay was capable of talking to him of me and of that money stabbed me like a pin. “I’ll win and pay him back to-day,” I thought resolutely. Stupid and inarticulate as Stebelkov was, I had seen the full-blown scoundrel in all his glory. And what mattered most to me, it was impossible to avoid intrigue in this business. Only I had not the time just then to go into any sort of intrigues, and that may have been the chief reason why I was as blind as a hen! I looked anxiously at my watch, but it was not yet two o’clock; so it was still possible to pay a call; otherwise I should have been worn out with excitement before three o’clock. I went to Anna Andreyevna Versilov, my sister. I had got to know her some time before at my old prince’s, during his illness. He thought that I had not seen him for three or four days fretted my conscience, but I was reckoning on Anna Andreyevna: the old prince had become extremely attached to her of late, and even spoke of her to me as his guardian angel. And by the way, the idea of marrying her to Prince Sergay really had occurred to the old prince, and he had even expressed it more than once to me, in secret of course. I had mentioned this suggestion to Versilov, for I had noticed that though he was so indifferent to all the practical affairs of life, he seemed particularly interested whenever I told him of my meeting Anna Andreyevna. When I mentioned the old prince’s idea, Versilov muttered that Anna Andreyevna had plenty of sense, and was quite capable of getting out of a delicate position without the advice of outsiders. Stebelkov was right, of course, in saying that the old man meant to give her a dowry, but how could he dare to reckon on getting anything out of it! Prince Sergay had shouted after him that morning that he was not in the least afraid of him: surely Stebelkov had not actually spoken to him of Anna Andreyevna in the study? I could fancy how furious I should have been in Prince Sergay’s place.
I had been to see Anna Andreyevna pretty often of late. But there was one queer thing about my visits: it always happened that she arranged for me to come, and certainly expected me, but when I went in she always made a pretence of my having come unexpectedly and by chance; I noticed this peculiarity in her, but I became much attached to her nevertheless. She lived with Mme. Fanariotov, her grandmother, as an adopted child, of course (Versilov had never contributed anything for her keep), but she was very far from being in the position in which the protégées of illustrious ladies are usually described as being; for instance, the one in the house of the old countess, in Pushkin’s “Queen of Spades.”
Anna Andreyevna was more in the position of the countess herself. She lived quite independently in the house, that is to say, though on the same storey and in the same flat as the Fanariotovs she had two rooms completely apart, so that I, for instance, never once met any of the family as I went in or came out. She was free to receive any visitors she liked, and to employ her time as she chose. It is true that she was in her twenty-third year. She had almost given up going out into society of late, though Mme. Fanariotov spared no expense for her granddaughter, of whom I was told she was very fond. Yet what I particularly liked about Anna Andreyevna was that I always found her so quietly dressed and always occupied with something, a book or needlework. There was something of the convent, even of the nun about her, and I liked it very much. She was not very talkative, but she always spoke with judgment and knew how to listen, which I never did. When I told her that she reminded me of Versilov, though they had not a feature in common, she always flushed a little. She often blushed and always quickly, invariably with a faint flush, and I particularly liked this peculiarity in her face. In her presence I never spoke of Versilov by his surname, but always called him Andrey Petrovitch, and this had somehow come to pass of itself. I gathered indeed that the Fanariotovs must have been ashamed of Versilov, though indeed I only drew this conclusion from Anna Andreyevna, and again I’m not sure that the word “ashamed” is appropriate in this connection; but there was some feeling of that sort. I talked to her too about Prince Sergay, and she listened eagerly, and was, I fancy, interested in what I told her of him; but it somehow happened that I always spoke of him of my own accord, and she never questioned me about him. Of the possibility of a marriage between them I had never dared to speak, though I often felt inclined to, for the idea was not without attraction for me. But there were very many things of which, in her room, I could not have ventured to speak, yet on the other hand I felt very much at home there. Another thing I liked was that she was so well educated, and had read so much — real books too; she had read far more than I had.
She had invited me the first time of her own accord. I realized even at the time that she might be reckoning on getting some information out of me at one time or another. Oh, lots of people were able to get information of all sorts out of me in those days! “But what of it,” I thought, “it’s not only for that that she’s asking me.” In fact I was positively glad to think I might be of use to her . . . and when I sat with her I always felt that I had a sister sitting beside me, though we never once spoke of our relationship by so much as a word or a hint, but behaved as though it did not exist at all. When I was with her it was absolutely unthinkable to speak of it, and indeed looking at her I was struck with the absurd notion that she might perhaps know nothing of our relationship — so completely did she ignore it in her manner to me.
When I went in I found Liza with her. This almost astonished me. I knew very well that they had seen each other before; they had met over the “baby.” I will perhaps later on, if I have space, tell how Anna Andreyevna, always so proud and so delicate, was possessed by the fantastic desire to see that baby, and how she had there met Liza. But yet I had not expected that Anna Andreyevna would ever have invited Liza to come to see her. It was a pleasant surprise to me. Giving no sign of this, of course, I greeted Anna Andreyevna, and warmly pressing Liza’s hand sat down beside her. Both were busily occupied: spread out on the table and on their knees was an evening dress of Anna Andreyevna’s, expensive but “old,” that is, worn three times; and Anna Andreyevna wanted to alter it. Liza was “a master-hand” at such work, and had real taste, and so a “solemn council of wise women” was being held. I recalled Versilov’s words and laughed; and indeed I was in a radiantly happy state of mind.
“You are in very good spirits to-day and that’s very pleasant,” observed Anna Andreyevna, uttering her words gravely and distinctly. Her voice was a rich mellow contralto, and she always spoke quietly and gently, with a droop of her long eyelashes, and a faint smile on her pale face.
“Liza knows how disagreeable I am when I am not in good spirits,” I answered gaily.
“Perhaps Anna Andreyevna knows that too,” mischievous Liza gibed at me. My darling! If I had known what was on her mind at that time!
“What are you doing now?” asked Anna Andreyevna. (I may remark that she had asked me to come and see her that day.)
“I am sitting here wondering why I always prefer to find you reading rather than with needlework. Yes, really needlework doesn’t suit you, somehow. I agree with Andrey Petrovitch about that.”
“You have still not made up your mind to enter the university, then?”
“I am very grateful to you for not having forgotten our conversation: it shows you think of me sometimes, but . . . about the university my ideas are not quite definite . . . besides, I have plans of my own.”
“That means he has a secret,” observed Liza.
“Leave off joking, Liza. Some clever person said the other day that by our progressive movement of the last twenty years, we had proved above everything that we are filthily uneducated. That was meant for our university men, too.”
“No doubt father said that,” remarked Liza, “you very often repeat his ideas.”
“Liza, you seem to think I’ve no mind of my own.”
“In these days it’s a good thing to listen to intelligent men, and repeat their words,” said Anna Andreyevna, taking my part a little.
“Just so, Anna Andreyevna,” I assented warmly. “The man who doesn’t think of the position of Russia to-day is no patriot! I look at Russia perhaps from a strange point of view: we lived through the Tatar invasion, and afterwards two centuries of slavery, no doubt because they both suited our tastes. Now freedom has been given us, and we have to put up with freedom: shall we know how to? Will freedom, too, turn out to suit our taste? That’s the question.”
Liza glanced quickly at Anna Andreyevna, and the latter immediately cast down her eyes and began looking about for something; I saw that Liza was doing her utmost to control herself but all at once our eyes chanced to meet, and she burst into a fit of laughter; I flared up.
“Liza, you are insupportable!”
“Forgive me!” she said suddenly, leaving off laughing and speaking almost sadly. “Goodness knows what I can be thinking about . . .”
And there was a tremor almost as of tears in her voice. I felt horribly ashamed; I took her hand and kissed it warmly.
“You are very good,” Anna Andreyevna said softly, seeing me kiss Liza’s hand.
“I am awfully glad that I have found you laughing this time, Liza,” I said. “Would you believe it, Anna Andreyevna, every time I have met her lately she has greeted me with a strange look, and that look seemed to ask, ‘has he found out something? is everything all right?’ Really, there has been something like that about her.”
Anna Andreyevna looked keenly and deliberately at her. Liza dropped her eyes. I could see very clearly, however, that they were on much closer and more intimate terms than I could have possibly imagined; the thought was pleasant.
“You told me just now that I am good; you would not believe, Anna Andreyevna, how much I change for the better when I’m with you, and how much I like being with you,” I said with warmth.
“I am awfully glad that you say that just now,” she answered with peculiar significance. I must mention that she never spoke to me of the reckless way I was living, and the depths to which I was sinking, although (I knew it) she was not only aware of all this, but even made inquiries about it indirectly.
So that this now was something like the first hint on the subject, and my heart turned to her more warmly than ever.
“How is our patient?” I asked.
“Oh, he is much better; he is up, and he went for a drive yesterday and again to-day. You don’t mean to say you have not been to see him to-day? He is eagerly expecting you.”
“I have behaved very badly to him, but now you’re looking after him, and have quite taken my place; he is a gay deceiver, and has thrown me over for you.”
A serious look came into her face, very possibly because my tone was rather too flippant.
“I have just been at Prince Sergay’s,” I muttered, “and I . . . by the way, Liza, you went to see Darya Onisimovna this morning, didn’t you?”
“Yes,” she answered briefly, without raising her head. “But you do go to see the invalid every day, I believe, don’t you?” she asked suddenly, probably in order to say something.
“Yes, I go to see him, but I don’t get there,” I said laughing. “I go in and turn to the left.”
“Even the prince has noticed that you go to see Katerina Nikolaevna very often. He was speaking of it yesterday and laughing,” said Anna Andreyevna.
“What, what did he laugh at?”
“He was joking, you know his way. He said that, on the contrary, the only impression that a young and beautiful woman makes on a young man of your age is one of anger and indignation,” Anne Andreyevna broke into sudden laughter.
“Listen . . . that was a very shrewd saying of his,” I cried. “Most likely it was not he said it, but you said it to him.”
“Why so? No, it was he said it.”
“Well, but suppose the beautiful lady takes notice of him, in spite of his being so insignificant, of his standing in the corner and fuming at the thought that he is ‘only a boy’; suppose she suddenly prefers him to the whole crowd of admirers surrounding her, what then?” I asked with a bold and defiant air. My head was throbbing.
“Then you are completely done for,” laughed Liza.
“Done for,” I cried. “No, I’m not done for. I believe that’s false. If a woman stands across my path she must follow me. I am not going to be turned aside from my path with impunity . . . .”
I remember Liza once happened to mention long afterwards that I pronounced this phrase very strangely, earnestly, and as though reflecting deeply; and at the same time it was “so absurd, it was impossible to keep from laughing”; Anna Andreyevna did, in fact, laugh again.
“Laugh at me, laugh away,” I cried in exultation, for I was delighted with the whole conversation and the tone of it; “from you it’s a pleasure to me. I love your laugh, Anne Andreyevna! It’s a peculiarity of yours to keep perfectly quiet, and then suddenly laugh, all in one minute, so that an instant before one could not guess what was coming from your face. I used to know a lady in Moscow, I used to sit in a corner and watch her from a distance. She was almost as handsome as you are, but she did not know how to laugh like you; her face was as attractive as yours, but it lost all its attractiveness when she laughed; what’s so particularly attractive in you . . . is just that faculty. . . . I have been meaning to tell you so for a long time.”
When I said of this Moscow lady that “she was as handsome as you” I was not quite ingenuous. I pretended that the phrase had dropped from me unawares, without my noticing it: I knew very well that such “unconscious” praise is more highly valued by a woman than the most polished compliment. And though Anna Andreyevna might flush, I knew that it pleased her. And indeed I invented the lady: I had known no such lady in Moscow; I had said so simply to compliment Anna Andreyevna, and give her pleasure.
“One really might imagine,” she said with a charming laugh, “that you had come under the influence of some fair lady during the last few days.”
I felt I was being carried away . . . I longed indeed to tell them something . . . but I refrained.
“By the way, only lately you spoke of Katerina Nikolaevna with very hostile feelings.”
“If I did speak ill of her in any way,” I cried with flashing eyes, “what’s to blame for it is the monstrous slander — that she is an enemy of Andrey Petrovitch’s; there’s a libelous story about him, too, that he was in love with her, made her an offer and other absurdities of the sort. The notion is as grotesque as the other scandalous story, that during her husband’s lifetime she promised Prince Sergay to marry him as soon as she should be a widow, and afterwards would not keep her word. But I have it first hand that it was not so at all, and that it was all only a joke. I know it first hand. She did, in fact, when she was abroad, say to him in a playful moment: ‘Perhaps in the future’; but what did that amount to beyond an idle word? I know very well that the prince on his side can attach no sort of consequence to such a promise; and indeed he has no intention of doing so,” I added on second thoughts. “I fancy he has very different ideas in his head,” I put in slily. “Nastchokin said this morning at Prince Sergay’s that Katerina Nikolaevna was to be married to Baron Büring. I assure you he received the news with the greatest equanimity, you can take my word for it.”
“Has Nastchokin been at Prince Sergay’s?” Anna Andreyevna asked with grave emphasis, apparently surprised.
“Oh yes; he seems to be one of those highly respectable people . . .”
“And did Nastchokin speak to him of this match with Büring?” asked Anna Andreyevna, showing sudden interest.
“Not of the match, but of the possibility of one — he spoke of it as a rumour; he said there was such a rumour going the round of the drawing-rooms; for my part I am certain it’s nonsense.”
Anna Andreyevna pondered a moment and bent over her sewing.
“I love Prince Sergay,” I added suddenly with warmth. “He has his failings, no doubt; I have told you so already, especially a certain tendency to be obsessed by one idea . . . and, indeed, his faults are a proof of the generosity of his heart, aren’t they? But we almost had a quarrel with him to-day about an idea; it’s his conviction that one must be honourable if one talks of what’s honourable, if not, all that you say is a lie. Now, is that logical? Yet it shows the high standard of honesty, duty, and truth in his soul, doesn’t it? . . . Oh, good heavens, what time is it,” I cried, suddenly happening to glance at the clock on the wall.
“Ten minutes to three,” she responded tranquilly, looking at the clock. All the time I had talked of Prince Sergay she listened to me with her eyes cast down, with a rather sly but charming smile: she knew why I was praising him. Liza listened with her head bent over her work. For some time past she had taken no part in the conversation.
I jumped up as though I were scalded.
“Are you late for some appointment?”
“Yes . . . No . . . I am late though, but I am just off. One word only, Anna Andreyevna,” I began with feeling; “I can’t help telling you to-day! I want to confess that I have often blessed your kindness, and the delicacy with which you have invited me to see you. . . . My acquaintance with you has made the strongest impression on me. . . . In your room I am, as it were, spiritually purified, and I leave you better than when I came. That’s true. When I sit beside you I am not only unable to speak of anything evil, I am incapable even of evil thoughts; they vanish away in your presence and, if I recall anything evil after seeing you, I feel ashamed of it at once, I am cast down and blush inwardly. And do you know, it pleased me particularly to find my sister with you to-day. . . . It’s a proof of your generosity . . . of such a fine attitude. . . . In one word, you have shown something so SISTERLY, if I may be allowed to break the ice, to . . .”
As I spoke she got up from her seat, and turned more and more crimson; but suddenly she seemed in alarm at something, at the overstepping of some line which should not have been crossed and she quickly interrupted me.
“I assure you I appreciate your feelings with all my heart. . . . I have understood them without words for a long time past . . . .”
She paused in confusion, pressing my hand. Liza, unseen by her, suddenly pulled at my sleeve. I said good-bye and went out, but Liza overtook me in the next room.
“Liza, why did you tug at my sleeve?” I asked her.
“She is horrid, she is cunning, she is not worth it. . . . She keeps hold of you to get something out of you,” she murmured in a rapid, angry whisper. I had never before seen such a look on her face.
“For goodness’ sake, Liza! she is such a delightful girl!”
“Well, then, I’m horrid.”
“What’s the matter with you?”
“I am very nasty. She may be the most delightful girl, and I am nasty. That’s enough, let me alone. Listen: mother implores you about something ‘of which she does not dare to speak,’ so she said, Arkady darling! Give up gambling, dear one, I entreat you . . . and so does mother . . . .”
“Liza, I know, but . . . I know that it’s pitiful cowardice, but . . . but it’s all of no consequence, really! You see I’ve got into debt like a fool, and I want to win simply to pay it off. I can win, for till now I’ve been playing at random, for the fun of the thing, like a fool, but now I shall tremble over every rouble. . . . It won’t be me if I don’t win! I have not got a passion for it; it’s not important, it’s simply a passing thing; I assure you I am too strong to be unable to stop when I like. I’ll pay back the money and then I shall be altogether yours, and tell mother that I shall stay with you always . . . .”
“That three hundred roubles cost you something this morning!”
“How do you know?” I asked, startled.
“Darya Onisimovna heard it all this morning . . .”
But at that moment Liza pushed me behind the curtain, and we found ourselves in the so-called “lantern,” that is a little circular room with windows all round it. Before I knew where we were I caught the sound of a voice I knew, and the clang of spurs, and recognized a familiar footstep.
“Prince Sergay,” I whispered.
“Yes,” she whispered.
“Why are you so frightened?”
“It’s nothing; I don’t want him to meet me.”
“Tiens, you don’t mean to say he’s trying to flirt with you?” I said smiling. “I’d give it to him if he did. Where are you going?”
“Let us go, I will come with you.”
“Have you said good-bye?”
“Yes, my coat’s in the hall.”
We went out; on the stairs I was struck by an idea.
“Do you know, Liza, he may have come to make her an offer!”
“N-n-no . . . he won’t make her an offer . . .” she said firmly and deliberately, in a low voice.
“You don’t know, Liza, though I quarrelled with him this morning — since you’ve been told of it already — yet on my honour I really love him and wish him success. We made it up this morning. When we are happy we are so good-natured . . . . One sees in him many fine tendencies . . . and he has humane feelings too. . . . The rudiments anyway . . . and in the hands of such a strong and clever girl as Anna Andreyevna, he would rise to her level and be happy. I am sorry I’ve no time to spare . . . but let us go a little way together, I should like to tell you something . . . .”
“No, you go on, I’m not going that way. Are you coming to dinner?”
“I am coming, I am coming as I promised. Listen, Liza, a low brute, a loathsome creature in fact, called Stebelkov, has a strange influence over his doings . . . an IOU. . . . In short he has him in his power, and he has pressed him so hard, and Prince Sergay has humiliated himself so far that neither of them see any way out of it except an offer to Anna Andreyevna. And really she ought to be warned, though that’s nonsense; she will set it all to rights later. But what do you think, will she refuse him?”
“Good-bye, I am late,” Liza muttered, and in the momentary look on her face I saw such hatred that I cried out in horror:
“Liza, darling, what is it?”
“I am not angry with you; only don’t gamble . . . .”
“Oh, you are talking of that; I’m not going to.”
“You said just now: ‘when we are happy.’ Are you very happy then?”
“Awfully, Liza, awfully! Good heavens, why it’s past three o’clock! . . . Good-bye, Liza. Lizotchka darling, tell me: can one keep a woman waiting? Isn’t it inexcusable?”
“Waiting to meet you, do you mean?” said Liza faintly smiling, with a sort of lifeless, trembling smile.
“Give me your hand for luck.”
“For luck? my hand? I won’t, not for anything.”
She walked away quickly. And she had exclaimed it so earnestly! I jumped into my sledge.
Yes, yes, this was “happiness,” and it was the chief reason why I was as blind as a mole, and had no eyes or understanding, except for myself.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:07