Now I am really afraid to tell my story. It all happened long ago; and it is all like a mirage to me now. How could such a woman possibly have arranged a rendezvous with such a contemptible urchin as I was then? Yet so it seemed at first sight! When, leaving Liza, I raced along with my heart throbbing, I really thought that I had gone out of my mind: the idea that she had granted me this interview suddenly appeared to me such an obvious absurdity, that it was impossible for me to believe in it. And yet I had not the faintest doubt of it; the more obviously absurd it seemed, the more implicitly I believed in it.
The fact that it had already struck three troubled me: “If an interview has been granted me, how can I possibly be late for it,” I thought. Foolish questions crossed my mind, too, such as: “Which was my better course now, boldness or timidity?” But all this only flashed through my mind because I had something of real value in my heart, which I could not have defined. What had been said the evening before was this: “To-morrow at three o’clock I shall be at Tatyana Pavlovna’s,” that was all. But in the first place, she always received me alone in her own room, and she could have said anything she liked to me there, without going to Tatyana Pavlovna’s for the purpose; so why have appointed another place of meeting? And another question was: would Tatyana Pavlovna be at home or not? If it were a tryst then Tatyana Pavlovna would not be at home. And how could this have been arranged without telling Tatyana Pavlovna beforehand? Then was Tatyana Pavlovna in the secret? This idea seemed to me wild, and in a way indelicate, almost coarse.
And, in fact, she might simply have been going to see Tatyana Pavlovna, and have mentioned the fact to me the previous evening with no object in view, but I had misunderstood her. And, indeed, it had been said so casually, so quickly, and after a very tedious visit. I was for some reason overcome with stupidity the whole evening: I sat and mumbled, and did not know what to say, raged inwardly, and was horribly shy, and she was going out somewhere, as I learnt later, and was evidently relieved when I got up to go. All these reflections surged into my mind. I made up my mind at last that when I arrived I would ring the bell. “The cook will open the door,” I thought, “and I shall ask whether Tatyana Pavlovna is at home. If she is not then it’s a tryst.” But I had no doubt of it, no doubt of it!
I ran up the stairs and when I was at the door all my fears vanished. “Come what may,” I thought, “if only it’s quickly!” The cook opened the door and with revolting apathy snuffled out that Tatyana Pavlovna was not at home. “But isn’t there some one else? Isn’t there some one waiting for her?” I wanted to ask, but I did not ask, “I’d better see for myself,” and muttering to the cook that I would wait, I took off my fur coat and opened the door . . . .
Katerina Nikolaevna was sitting at the window “waiting for Tatyana Pavlovna.”
“Isn’t she at home?” she suddenly asked me, in a tone of anxiety and annoyance as soon as she saw me. And her face and her voice were so utterly incongruous with what I had expected that I came to a full stop in the doorway.
“Who’s not at home?” I muttered.
“Tatyana Pavlovna! Why, I asked you yesterday to tell her that I would be with her at three o’clock.”
“I . . . I have not seen her at all.”
“Did you forget?”
I sat completely overwhelmed. So this was all it meant! And the worst of it was it was all as clear as twice two makes four, and I— I had all this while persisted in believing it.
“I don’t remember your asking me to tell her. And in fact you didn’t ask me: you simply said you would be here at three o’clock,” I burst out impatiently, I did not look at her.
“Oh!” she cried suddenly; “but if you forgot to tell her, though you knew I should be here, what has brought you here?”
I raised my head; there was no trace of mockery or anger in her face, there was only her bright, gay smile, and a look more mischievous than usual. Though, indeed, her face always had an expression of almost childish mischief.
“There, you see I’ve caught you; well, what are you going to say now?” her whole face seemed to be saying.
I did not want to answer and looked down again. The silence lasted half a minute.
“Have you just come from papa?” she asked.
“I have come from Anna Andreyevna’s, I haven’t been to see Prince Nikolay Ivanitch at all . . . and you know that,” I added suddenly.
“Did anything happen to you at Anna Andreyevna’s?”
“You mean that I look as though I were crazy? But I looked crazy before I went to Anna Andreyevna.”
“And you didn’t recover your wits there?”
“No, I didn’t. And what’s more I heard that you were going to marry Baron Büring.”
“Did she tell you that?” she asked with sudden interest.
“No, it was I told her; I heard Nastchokin tell Prince Sergay so this morning.”
I still kept my eyes cast down and did not look at her; to look at her meant to be flooded with radiance, joy, and happiness, and I did not want to be happy. Indignation had stung me to the heart, and in one instant I had taken a tremendous resolution. Then I began to speak, I hardly knew what about. I was breathless, and spoke indistinctly, but I looked at her boldly. My heart was throbbing. I began talking of something quite irrelevant, though perhaps not incoherently. At first she listened with a serene, patient smile, which never left her face, but little by little signs of surprise and then of alarm passed over her countenance. The smile still persisted, but from time to time it seemed tremulous. “What’s the matter?” I asked her, noticing that she shuddered all over.
“I am afraid of you,” she answered, almost in trepidation.
“Why don’t you go away?” I said. “As Tatyana Pavlovna is not at home, and you know she won’t be, you ought to get up and go.”
“I meant to wait for her, but now . . . really . . . .”
She made a movement to get up.
“No, no, sit down,” I said, stopping her; “there, you shuddered again, but you smile even when you’re frightened . . . . You always have a smile. There, now you are smiling all over . . . .”
“You are raving.”
“Yes, I am.”
“I am frightened . . .” she whispered again.
“Frightened of what?”
“That you’ll begin knocking down the walls . . .” she smiled again, though she really was scared.
“I can’t endure your smile . . .!”
And I talked away again. I plunged headlong. It was as though something had given me a shove. I had never, never talked to her like that, I had always been shy. I was fearfully shy now, but I talked; I remember I talked about her face.
“I can’t endure your smile any longer!” I cried suddenly. “Why did I even in Moscow picture you as menacing, magnificent, using venomous drawing-room phrases? Yes, even before I left Moscow, I used to talk with Marie Ivanovna about you, and imagined what you must be like. . . . Do you remember Marie Ivanovna? You’ve been in her house. When I was coming here I dreamed of you all night in the train. For a whole month before you came I gazed at your portrait, in your father’s study, and could make nothing of it. The expression of your face is childish mischief and boundless good-nature — there! I have been marvelling at it all the time I’ve been coming to see you. Oh, and you know how to look haughty and to crush one with a glance. I remember how you looked at me at your father’s that day when you had arrived from Moscow . . . I saw you then, but if you were to ask me how I went out of the room or what you were like, I could not tell you — I could not even have told whether you were tall or short. As soon as I saw you I was blinded. Your portrait is not in the least like you: your eyes are not dark, but light, it’s only the long eyelashes that make them look dark. You are plump, you are neither tall nor short, you have a buxom fullness, the light full figure of a healthy peasant girl. And your face is quite countrified, too, it’s the face of a village beauty — don’t be offended. Why, it’s fine, it’s better so — a round, rosy, clear, bold, laughing, and . . . bashful face! Really, bashful. Bashful! of Katerina Nikolaevna Ahmakov! Bashful and chaste, I swear! More than chaste — childlike! — that’s your face! I have been astounded by it all this time, and have been asking myself, is the woman so, too? I know now that you are very clever, but do you know, at first I thought you were a simpleton? You have a bright and lively mind, but without embellishments of any sort. . . . Another thing I like is that your smile never deserts you; that’s my paradise! I love your calmness, too, your quietness, and your uttering your words so smoothly, so calmly and almost lazily, it’s just that laziness I like. I believe if a bridge were to break down under you, you would say something in a smooth and even voice. . . . I imagined you as the acme of pride and passion, and for the last two months you’ve been talking to me as one student talks to another. I never imagined that you had such a brow; it’s rather low, like the foreheads of statues, but soft and as white as marble, under your glorious hair. Your bosom is high, your movements are light. You are extraordinarily beautiful, but there’s no pride about you. It’s only now I’ve come to believe it, I’ve disbelieved in it all this time!”
She listened to this wild tirade with large wide-open eyes, she saw that I was trembling. Several times she lifted her gloved hand with a charming apprehensive gesture to stop me, but every time she drew it back in dismay and perplexity. Sometimes she even stepped back a little. Two or three times the smile lighted up her face again; at one time she flushed very red, but in the end was really frightened and turned pale. As soon as I stopped she held out her hand, and in a voice that was still even, though it had a note of entreaty, said:
“You must not say that . . . you can’t talk like that . . . .”
And suddenly she got up from her place, deliberately gathering up her scarf and sable muff.
“Are you going?” I cried.
“I’m really afraid of you . . . you are abusing . . .” she articulated slowly and as it were with compassion and reproach.
“Listen, on my honour I won’t knock down the walls.”
“But you’ve begun already,” she could not refrain from smiling. “I don’t even know if you will allow me to pass.” And she seemed to be actually afraid I would not let her go.
“I will open the door myself, but let me tell you I’ve taken a tremendous resolution; and if you care to give light to my soul, come back, sit down, and listen to just two words. But if you won’t, then go away, and I will open the door to you myself!”
She looked at me and sat down again.
“Some women would have gone out with a show of indignation, but you sit down!” I cried in exaltation.
“You have never allowed yourself to talk like this before.”
“I was always afraid before, I came in now not knowing what I should say. You imagine I’m not afraid now: I am. But I’ve just taken a tremendous resolution, and I feel I shall carry it out. And as soon as I took that resolution I went out of my mind and began saying all this. . . . Listen, this is what I have to say, am I your spy or not? Answer me that question!”
The colour rushed into her face.
“Don’t answer yet, Katerina Nikolaevna, but listen to every thing and then tell the whole truth.”
I had broken down all barriers at once and plunged headlong into space.
“Two months ago I was standing here behind the curtain . . . you know . . . and you talked to Tatyana Pavlovna about the letter. I rushed out, and beside myself, I blurted out the truth. You saw at once that I knew something . . . you could not help seeing it . . . you were trying to find an important document, and were uneasy about it. . . . Wait a bit, Katerina Nikolaevna, don’t speak yet. I must tell you that your suspicion was well founded: that document does exist . . . that is to say it did. . . . I have seen it — your letter to Andronikov, that’s it, isn’t it?”
“You’ve seen that letter?” she asked quickly, in embarrassment and agitation. “When did you see it?”
“I saw it . . . I saw it at Kraft’s . . . you know, the man that shot himself . . . .”
“Really? You saw it yourself? What became of it?”
“Kraft tore it up.”
“In your presence, did you see him?”
“Yes, he tore it up, probably because he was going to die. . . . I did not know then, of course, that he was going to shoot himself . . . .”
“So it has been destroyed, thank God!” she commented slowly with a deep sigh, and she crossed herself.
I was not lying to her, that is to say I was lying because the letter in question was in my hands and had never been in Kraft’s, but that was a mere detail; in what really mattered I did not lie, because at the instant I told the lie I nerved myself to burn the letter that very evening. I swear that if it had been in my pocket that moment I would have taken it out and given it her; but I hadn’t it with me, it was at my lodging. Perhaps though I should not have given it her because I should have felt horribly ashamed to confess to her then that I had it, and had been keeping it and waiting so long before I gave it back. It made no difference, I should have burnt it at home in any case, and I was not lying! I swear that at that moment my heart was pure.
“And since that’s how it is,” I went on, almost beside myself, “tell me, have you been attracting me, have you been welcoming me in your drawing-room because you suspected that I knew of the letter? Stay, Katerina Nikolaevna, one minute more, don’t speak, but let me finish: all the time I’ve been coming to see you, all this time I’ve been suspecting that it was only because of that that you made much of me, to get that letter out of me, to lead me on to telling you about it. . . . Wait one more minute: I suspected it, but I suffered. Your duplicity was more than I could bear, for I found you a noble creature! I tell you plainly; I was your enemy, but I found you a noble creature! I was utterly vanquished. But your duplicity, that is the suspicion of your duplicity, was anguish. . . . Now everything must be settled, everything must be explained, the time has come for it; but wait yet a little longer, don’t speak, let me tell you how I look at it myself, just now at this moment; I tell you plainly, if it has been so I don’t resent it . . . that is, I mean, I’m not offended, for it’s so natural; I understand, you see. What is there unnatural or wrong about it? You were worried about a letter, you suspected that So-and-so knew all about it; well, you might very naturally desire So-and-so to speak out. . . . There’s no harm in that, none at all. I am speaking sincerely. Yet now you must tell me something . . . you must confess (forgive the word), I must have the truth. I want it for a reason! And so tell me, why did you make much of me? Was it to get that letter out of me . . . Katerina Nikolaevna?”
I spoke as though I were falling from a height, and my forehead was burning. She was listening to me now without apprehension; on the contrary, her face was full of feeling; but she looked somehow abashed, as though she were ashamed.
“It was for that,” she said slowly and in a low voice. “Forgive me, I did wrong,” she added suddenly, with a faint movement of her hands towards me. I had never expected this . . . had expected anything rather that those two words — even from her whom I knew already.
“And you tell me you did wrong! so simply: ‘I did wrong,’” I cried.
“Oh, for a long time I’ve been feeling that I was not treating you fairly . . . and, indeed, I’m glad to be able to speak of it . . . .”
“For a long time you’ve been feeling that? Why did you not speak of it before?”
“Oh, I did not know how to say it,” she smiled; “that is, I should have known how,” she smiled again, “but I always felt ashamed . . . because at first it really was only on that account that I ‘attracted’ you, as you expressed it; but very soon afterwards I felt disgusted and sick of all this deception, I assure you!” she added with bitter feeling; “and of all this troublesome business!”
“And why — why couldn’t you have asked me then straightforwardly? You should have said: ‘you know about the letter, why do you pretend?’ And I should have told you at once, I should have confessed at once!”
“Oh, I was . . . a little afraid of you. I must admit I did not trust you either. And after all, if I dissembled, you did the same,” she added with a laugh.
“Yes, yes, I have been contemptible!” I cried, overwhelmed. “Oh, you don’t know yet the abyss into which I have fallen.”
“An abyss already! I recognize your style,” she smiled softly. “That letter,” she added mournfully, “was the saddest and most indiscreet thing I ever did. The consciousness of it was a continual reproach. Moved by circumstances and apprehension, I had doubts of my dear generous-hearted father. Knowing that that letter might fall . . . into the hands of malicious people . . . and I had good reasons for fearing this” (she added hotly), “I trembled that they might use it, might show my father . . . and it might make a tremendous impression on him . . . in his condition . . . on his health . . . and he might be estranged from me. . . . Yes,” she added, looking me candidly in the face, and probably catching some shade in my expression; “yes, and I was afraid for my future too; I was afraid that he . . . under the influence of his illness . . . might deprive me of his favour. . . . That feeling came in too; no doubt I did him an injustice; he is so kind and generous, that no doubt he would have forgiven me. That’s all. But I ought not to have treated you as I did,” she concluded, again seeming suddenly abashed. “You have made me feel ashamed.”
“No, you have nothing to be ashamed of,” I cried.
“I certainly did reckon . . . on your impulsiveness . . . and I recognize it,” she brought out, looking down.
“Katerina Nikolaevna! Who forces you to make such confessions to me, tell me that?” I cried, as though I were drunk. “Wouldn’t it have been easy for you to get up, and in the most exquisite phrases to prove to me subtly and as clearly as twice two make four that though it was so, yet it was nothing of the sort — you understand, as people of your world know how to deal with the truth? I am crude and foolish, you know, I should have believed you at once, I should have believed anything from you, whatever you said! It would have cost you nothing to behave like that, of course! You are not really afraid of me, you know! How could you be so willing to humiliate yourself like this before an impudent puppy, a wretched raw youth?”
“In this anyway I’ve not humiliated myself before you,” she enunciated with immense dignity, apparently not understanding my exclamation.
“No, indeed, quite the contrary, that’s just what I am saying . . . .”
“Oh, it was so wrong, so thoughtless of me!” she exclaimed, putting her hand to her face, as though to hide it. “I felt ashamed yesterday, that’s why I was not myself when I was with you. . . . The fact is,” she added, “that circumstances have made it absolutely essential for me at last to find out the truth about that unlucky letter, or else I should have begun to forget about it . . . for I have not let you come to see me simply on account of that,” she added suddenly.
There was a tremor at my heart.
“Of course not,” she went on with a subtle smile, “of course not! I . . . You very aptly remarked, Arkady Makarovitch, that we have often talked together as one student to another. I assure you I am sometimes very much bored in company; I have felt so particularly since my time abroad and all these family troubles . . . I very rarely go anywhere, in fact, and not simply from laziness. I often long to go into the country. There I could read over again my favourite books, which I have laid aside for so long, and have never been able to bring myself to read again. I have spoken to you of that already. Do you remember, you laughed at my reading the Russian newspapers at the rate of two a day.”
“I didn’t laugh . . . .”
“Of course not, for you, too, were excited over them, and I confessed, too, long ago, that I am Russian, and love Russia. You remember we always read ‘facts’ as you called them” (she smiled). “Though you are at times somewhat . . . strange, yet sometimes you grew so eager and would say such good things, and you were interested just in what I was interested in. When you are a ‘student’ you are charming and original. Nothing else suits you so well,” she added, with a sly and charming smile. “Do you remember we sometimes talked for hours about nothing but figures, reckoned and compared, and took trouble to find out how many schools there are in Russia, and in what direction progress is being made? We reckoned up the murders and serious crimes and set them off against the cheering items. . . . We wanted to find out in what direction we were moving, and what would happen to us in the end. In you I found sincerity. In our world men never talk like that to us, to women. Last week I was talking to Prince X. about Bismarck, for I was very much interested, and could not make up my mind about him, and only fancy, he sat down beside me and began telling me about him very fully, indeed, but always with a sort of irony, and that patronizing condescension which I always find so insufferable, and which is so common in ‘great men’ when they talk to us women if we meddle with ‘subjects beyond our sphere.’ . . . Do you remember that we almost had a quarrel, you and I, over Bismarck? You showed me that you had ideas of your own ‘far more definite’ than Bismarck’s,” she laughed suddenly. “I have only met two people in my whole life who talked to me quite seriously; my husband, a very, very intelligent and hon-our-able man,” she pronounced the words impressively, “and you know whom . . . .”
“Versilov!” I cried; I hung breathless on every word she uttered.
“Yes, I was very fond of listening to him, I became at last absolutely open . . . perhaps too open with him, but even then he did not believe in me!”
“Did not believe in you?”
“No, no one has ever believed in me.”
“But Versilov, Versilov!”
“He did not simply disbelieve in me,” she pronounced, dropping her eyes, and smiling strangely, “but considered that I had all the vices.”
“Of which you have not one!”
“No, even I have some.”
“Versilov did not love you, so he did not understand you,” I cried with flashing eyes.
Her face twitched.
“Say no more of that and never speak to me of . . . of that man,” she added hotly, with vehement emphasis. “But that’s enough: I must be going”— she got up to go. “Well, do you forgive me or not?” she added, looking at me brightly.
“Me . . . forgive you. . . . Listen, Katerina Nikolaevna, and don’t be angry; is it true that you are going to be married?”
“That’s not settled,” she said in confusion, seeming frightened of something.
“Is he a good man? Forgive me, forgive me that question!”
“Don’t answer further, don’t vouchsafe me an answer! I know that such questions from me are impossible! I only wanted to know whether he is worthy of you or not, but I will find out for myself.”
“Ah, listen!” she said in dismay.
“No, I won’t, I won’t. I’ll step aside. . . . Only this one thing I want to say: God grant you every happiness according to your choice . . . for having given me so much happiness in this one hour! Your image is imprinted on my heart for ever now. I have gained a treasure: the thought of your perfection. I expected duplicity and coarse coquetry and was wretched because I could not connect that idea with you. I’ve been thinking day and night lately, and suddenly everything has become clear as daylight! As I was coming here I thought I should bear away an image of jesuitical cunning, of deception, of an inquisitorial serpent, and I found honour, magnificence, a student. You laugh. Laugh away! You are holy, you know, you cannot laugh at what is sacred . . . .”
“Oh no, I’m only laughing because you use such wonderful expressions. . . . But what is an ‘inquisitorial serpent’?” she laughed.
“You let slip to-day a priceless sentence,” I went on ecstatically. “How could you to my face utter the words; ‘I reckoned on your impulsiveness’? Well, granted you are a saint, and confess even that, because you imagined yourself guilty in some way and want to punish yourself . . . though there was no fault of any sort, for, if there had been, from you everything is holy! But yet you need not have uttered just that word, that expression! . . . Such unnatural candour only shows your lofty purity, your respect for me, your faith in me!” I cried incoherently. “Oh, do not blush, do not blush! . . . And how, how could anyone slander you, and say that you are a woman of violent passions? Oh, forgive me: I see a look of anguish on your face; forgive a frenzied boy his clumsy words! Besides, do words matter now? Are you not above all words? . . . Versilov said once that Othello did not kill Desdemona and afterwards himself because he was jealous, but because he had been robbed of his ideal. . . . I understand that, because to-day my ideal has been restored to me!”
“You praise me too much: I don’t deserve this,” she pronounced with feeling. “Do you remember what I told you about your eyes?” she added playfully.
“That I have microscopes for eyes, and that I exaggerate every fly into a camel! No, this time it’s not a camel . . . . What, you are going?”
She was standing in the middle of the room with her muff and her shawl in her hands.
“No, I shall wait till you’re gone, and then I shall go afterwards. I must write a couple of words to Tatyana Pavlovna.”
“I’m going directly, directly, but once more: may you be happy alone, or with the man of your choice, and God bless you! All that I need is my ideal!”
“Dear, good Arkady Makarovitch, believe me I . . . My father always says of you ‘the dear, good boy!’ Believe me I shall always remember what you have told me of your lonely childhood, abandoned amongst strangers, and your solitary dreams . . . . I understand only too well how your mind has been formed . . . but now though we are students,” she added, with a deprecating and shamefaced smile, pressing my hand, “we can’t go on seeing each other as before and, and . . . no doubt you will understand that?”
“No, we cannot, for a long time, we cannot . . . it’s my fault. . . . I see now that it’s quite out of the question. . . . We shall meet sometimes at my father’s.”
“You are afraid of my ‘impulsiveness,’ my feelings, you don’t believe in me!” I would have exclaimed, but she was so overcome with shame that my words refused to be uttered.
“Tell me,” she said, stopping me all at once in the doorway, “did you see yourself that . . . that letter was torn up? You are sure you remember it? How did you know at the time that it was the letter to Andronikov?”
“Kraft told me what was in it, and even showed it to me. . . . Good-bye! When I am with you in your study I am shy of you, but when you go away I am ready to fall down and kiss the spot where your foot has touched the floor . . . .” I brought out all at once, unconsciously, not knowing how or why I said it. And without looking at her I went quickly out of the room.
I set off for home; there was rapture in my soul. My brain was in a whirl, my heart was full. As I drew near my mother’s house I recalled Liza’s ingratitude to Anna Andreyevna, her cruel and monstrous saying that morning, and my heart suddenly ached for them all!
“How hard their hearts are! And Liza too, what’s the matter with her?” I thought as I stood on the steps.
I dismissed Matvey and told him to come to my lodging for me at nine o’clock.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:07