The day had ended with a catastrophe, there remained the night, and this is what I remember of that night.
I believe it was one o’clock when I found myself in the street. It was a clear, still and frosty night, I was almost running and in horrible haste, but — not towards home.
“Why home? Can there be a home now? Home is where one lives, I shall wake up to-morrow to live — but is that possible now? Life is over, it is utterly impossible to live now,” I thought.
And as I wandered about the streets, not noticing where I was going, and indeed I don’t know whether I meant to run anywhere in particular, I was very hot and I was continually flinging open my heavy raccoon-lined coat. “No sort of action can have any object for me now” was what I felt at that moment. And strange to say, it seemed to me that everything about me, even the air I breathed, was from another planet, as though I had suddenly found myself in the moon. Everything — the town, the passers-by, the pavement I was running on — all of these were NOT MINE. “This is the Palace Square, and here is St. Isaak’s,” floated across my mind. “But now I have nothing to do with them.” Everything had become suddenly remote, it had all suddenly become NOT MINE. “I have mother and Liza — but what are mother and Liza to me now? Everything is over, everything is over at one blow, except one thing: that I am a thief for ever.”
“How can I prove that I’m not a thief? Is it possible now? Shall I go to America? What should I prove by that? Versilov will be the first to believe I stole it! My ‘idea’? What idea? What is my ‘idea’ now? If I go on for fifty years, for a hundred years, some one will always turn up, to point at me and say: ‘He’s a thief, he began, “his idea” by stealing money at roulette.’”
Was there resentment in my heart? I don’t know, perhaps there was. Strange to say, I always had, perhaps from my earliest childhood, one characteristic: if I were ill-treated, absolutely wronged and insulted to the last degree, I always showed at once an irresistible desire to submit passively to the insult, and even to accept more than my assailant wanted to inflict upon me, as though I would say: “All right, you have humiliated me, so I will humiliate myself even more; look, and enjoy it!” Touchard beat me and tried to show I was a lackey, and not the son of a senator, and so I promptly took up the rôle of a lackey. I not only handed him his clothes, but of my own accord I snatched up the brush and began brushing off every speck of dust, without any request or order from him, and ran after him brush in hand, in a glow of menial devotion, to remove some particle of dirt from his dress-coat, so much so that he would sometimes check me himself and say, “That’s enough, Arkady, that’s enough.” He would come and take off his overcoat, and I would brush it, fold it carefully, and cover it with a check silk handkerchief. I knew that my school-fellows used to laugh at me and despise me for it, I knew it perfectly well, but that was just what gratified me: “Since they want me to be a lackey, well, I am a lackey then; if I’m to be a cad, well, I will be a cad.” I could keep up a passive hatred and underground resentment in that way for years.
Well, at Zerstchikov’s I had shouted to the whole room in an absolute frenzy:
“I will inform against you all — roulette is forbidden by the police!” And I swear that in that case, too, there was something of the same sort: I was humiliated, searched, publicly proclaimed a thief, crushed. “Well then I can tell you, you have guessed right, I am worse than a thief, I am an informer.” Recalling it now, that is how I explain it; at the time I was incapable of analysis; I shouted that at the time unintentionally, I did not know indeed a second before that I should say it: it shouted itself — the CHARACTERISTIC was there already in my heart.
There is no doubt that I had begun to be delirious while I was running in the streets, but I remember quite well that I knew what I was doing; and yet I can confidently assert that a whole cycle of ideas and conclusions were impossible for me at that time; I felt in myself even at those moments that “some thoughts I was able to think, but others I was incapable of.” In the same way some of my decisions, though they were formed with perfect consciousness, were utterly devoid of logic. What is more, I remember very well that at some moments I could recognize fully the absurdity of some conclusion and at the same time with complete consciousness proceed to act upon it. Yes, crime was hovering about me that night, and only by chance was not committed.
I suddenly recalled Tatyana Pavlovna’s saying about Versilov: “He’d better have gone at night to the Nikolaevsky Railway and have laid his head on the rails — they’d have cut it off for him.”
For a moment that idea took possession of all my feelings, but I instantly drove it away with a pang at my heart: “If I lay my head on the rails and die, they’ll say to-morrow he did it because he stole the money, he did it from shame — no, for nothing in the world!” And at that instant I remember I experienced a sudden flash of fearful anger. “To clear my character is impossible,” floated through my mind, “to begin a new life is impossible too, and so I must submit, become a lackey, a dog, an insect, an informer, a real informer, while I secretly prepare myself, and one day suddenly blow it all up into the air, annihilate everything and every one, guilty and innocent alike, so that they will all know that this was the man they had all called a thief . . . and then kill myself.”
I don’t remember how I ran into a lane somewhere near Konnogvardeysky Boulevard. For about a hundred paces on both sides of this lane there were high stone walls enclosing backyards. Behind the wall on the left I saw a huge stack of wood, a long stack such as one sees in timber-yards, and more than seven feet higher than the wall. I stopped and began pondering.
In my pocket I had wax matches in a little silver matchbox. I repeat, I realized quite distinctly at that time what I was thinking about and what I meant to do, and so I remember it even now, but why I meant to do it I don’t know, I don’t know at all. I only know that I suddenly felt a great longing to do it. “To climb over the wall is quite possible,” I reflected; at that moment I caught sight of a gate in the wall not two paces away, probably barred up for months together. “Standing on the projection below, and taking hold of the top of the gate I could easily climb on to the wall,” I reflected, “and no one will notice me, there’s no one about, everything’s still! And there I can sit on the wall and easily set fire to the woodstack. I can do it without getting down, for the wood almost touches the wall. The frost will make it burn all the better, I have only to take hold of a birch-log with my hand. . . . And indeed there’s no need to reach a log at all: I can simply strip the bark off with my hand, while I sit on the wall, set light to it with a match and thrust it into the stack — and there will be a blaze. And I will jump down and walk away; there will be no need to run, for it won’t be noticed for a long while . . . .” That was how I reasoned at the time, and all at once I made up my mind.
I felt an extraordinary satisfaction and enjoyment, and I climbed up. I was very good at climbing: gymnastics had been my speciality at school, but I had my overboots on and it turned out to be a difficult task. I succeeded somehow in catching hold of one very slight projection above, and raised myself; I lifted my other hand to clutch the top of the wall, but at that instant I slipped and went flying backwards.
I suppose I must have struck the ground with the back of my head, and must have lain for two or three minutes unconscious. When I came to myself I mechanically wrapped my fur coat about me, feeling all at once unbearably cold, and scarcely conscious of what I was doing, I crept into the corner of the gateway and sat crouching and huddled up in the recess between the gate and the wall. My ideas were in confusion, and most likely I soon fell into a doze. I remember now, as it were in a dream, that there suddenly sounded in my ears the deep heavy clang of a bell, and I began listening to it with pleasure.
The bell rang steadily and distinctly, once every two or three seconds; it was not an alarm bell, however, but a pleasant and melodious chime, and I suddenly recognized that it was a familiar chime; that it was the bell of St. Nikolay’s, the red church opposite Touchard’s, the old-fashioned Moscow church which I remembered so well, built in the reign of Tsar Alexey Mihalovitch, full of tracery, and with many domes and columns, and that Easter was only just over, and the new-born little green leaves were trembling on the meagre birches in Touchard’s front garden. The brilliant evening sun was pouring its slanting rays into our classroom, and in my little room on the left, where a year before Touchard had put me apart that I might not mix with “counts’ and senators’ children,” there was sitting a visitor. Yes, I, who had no relations, had suddenly got a visitor for the first time since I had been at Touchard’s. I recognized this visitor as soon as she came in: it was mother, though I had not seen her once since she had taken me to the village church and the dove had flown across the cupola. We were sitting alone together and I watched her strangely. Many years afterwards I learned that being left by Versilov, who had suddenly gone abroad, she had come on her own account to Moscow, paying for the journey out of her small means, and almost by stealth, without the knowledge of the people who had been commissioned to look after her, and she had done this solely to see me. It was strange, too, that when she came in and talked to Touchard, she did not say one word to me of being my mother. She sat beside me, and I remember I wondered at her talking so little. She had a parcel with her and she undid it: in it there turned out to be six oranges, several gingerbread cakes, and two ordinary loaves of French bread. I was offended at the sight of the bread, and with a constrained air I announced that our ‘food’ was excellent, and that they gave us a whole French loaf for our tea every day.
“Never mind, darling, in my foolishness I thought ‘maybe they don’t feed them properly at school,’ don’t be vexed, my own.”
“And Antonina Vassilyevna (Touchard’s wife) will be offended. My schoolfellows will laugh at me too . . . .”
“Won’t you have them; perhaps you’ll eat them up?”
“Please, don’t . . . .”
And I did not even touch her presents; the oranges and gingerbread cakes lay on the little table before me, while I sat with my eyes cast down, but with a great air of dignity. Who knows, perhaps I had a great desire to let her see that her visit made me feel ashamed to meet my schoolfellows, to let her have at least a glimpse that she might understand, as though to say, “See, you are disgracing me, and you don’t understand what you are doing.” Oh, by that time I was running after Touchard with a brush to flick off every speck of dust! I was picturing to myself, too, what taunts I should have to endure as soon as she was gone, from my schoolfellows and perhaps from Touchard himself; and there was not the least friendly feeling for her in my heart. I only looked sideways at her dark-coloured old dress, at her rather coarse, almost working-class hands, at her quite coarse shoes, and her terribly thin face; there were already furrows on her forehead, though Antonina Vassilyevna did say that evening after she had gone: “Your mamma must have been very pretty.”
So we sat, and suddenly Agafya came in with a cup of coffee on a tray. It was just after dinner, and at that time Touchard always drank a cup of coffee in his drawing-room. But mother thanked her and did not take the cup: as I learned afterwards she never drank coffee in those days, as it brought on palpitations of the heart. The fact was that Touchard inwardly considered her visit, and his permitting me to see her, an act of great condescension on his part, so that the cup of coffee sent her was, comparatively speaking, a signal proof of humanity which did the utmost credit to his civilization, feelings, and European ideas. And as though on purpose, mother refused it.
I was summoned to Touchard, and he told me to take all my lesson books and exercise books to show my mother: “That she may see what you have succeeded in attaining in my establishment.” At that point Antonina Vassilyevna, pursing up her lips, minced out to me in a jeering and insulting way:
“Your mamma does not seem to like our coffee.”
I collected my exercise books and carried them to my waiting mother, passing through the crowd of “counts’ and senators’ children” in the classroom who were staring at mother and me. And it actually pleased me to carry out Touchard’s behests with literal exactitude. “Here are my lessons in French grammar, here are my dictation exercises, here are the conjugations of the auxiliary verbs avoir and être, here is the geography, descriptions of the principal towns of Europe, and all parts of the world,” and so on. For half an hour or more I went on explaining in a monotonous little voice, keeping my eyes sedately cast down. I knew that my mother knew nothing of these learned subjects, could not perhaps even write, but in this too I was pleased with my part. But I did not succeed in wearying her: she listened all the time without interrupting me, with extraordinary and even reverent attention, so that at last I got tired of it myself and left off; her expression was sad, however, and there was something pitiful in her face.
She got up to go at last; Touchard suddenly walked in, and with an air of foolish importance asked her: “Whether she was satisfied with her son’s progress? Mother began muttering incoherent thanks; Antonina Vassilyevna came up too. Mother began begging them both “not to abandon the orphan, who was as good as an orphan now, but to treat him with kindness.” . . . And with tears in her eyes she bowed to them both, each separately, and to each with a deep bow, exactly as “simple people” bow down when they ask a favour of the gentry. The Touchards had not expected this, and Antonina Vassilyevna was evidently softened, and revised her opinion about the cup of coffee. Touchard humanely responded with even greater dignity “that he made no distinction between the children, that here all were his children, and he was their father, that I was almost on an equal footing with the sons of senators and counts, and that she ought to appreciate that,” and so on, and so on. Mother only bowed down, but was much embarrassed. At last she turned to me, and with tears shining in her eyes said: “Good-bye, darling.”
She kissed me, that is I allowed myself to be kissed. She evidently wanted to go on kissing, embracing and hugging me, but either she herself felt ashamed before company, or felt hurt by something else, or guessed that I was ashamed of her, for she hurriedly went out, bowing once more to the Touchards. I stood still.
“Mais suivez donc votre mère,” said Antonina Vassilyevna: “il n’a pas de coeur, cet enfant!”
Touchard responded by shrugging his shoulders, which meant, of course, “it’s not without reason that I treat him as a lackey.”
I obediently followed my mother; we went out on to the steps. I knew that they were all looking at me out of the window. Mother turned towards the church and crossed herself three times; her lips were trembling, the deep bell chimed musically and regularly from the belfry. She turned to me and could not restrain herself, she laid both hands on my head and began crying over it.
“Mother, stop . . . I’m ashamed . . . they can see from the window . . . .”
She broke out hurriedly:
“Well God . . . God be with you. . . . The heavenly angels keep you. Holy Mother, Saint Nikolay. . . . My God, my God!” she repeated, speaking rapidly and making as many signs of the cross over me as she possibly could. “My darling, my darling! Stay, my darling . . . .”
She hurriedly put her hand in her pocket and drew out a handkerchief, a blue checked handkerchief, with a tightly fastened knot at the corner, and began untying the knot . . . but it would not come untied . . . .
“Well never mind, take it with the handkerchief: it’s clean, it may be of use perhaps. There are four fourpenny-bits in it, perhaps you’ll need the money; forgive me, darling, I have not got any more just now . . . forgive me, darling.”
I took the handkerchief. I wanted to observe that we were allowed very liberal diet by M. Touchard and Antonina Vassilyevna, and were not in need of anything, but I restrained myself and took the handkerchief.
Once more she made the sign of the cross over me, once more she whispered a prayer, and suddenly — suddenly bowed to me exactly as she had done to the Touchards upstairs — a prolonged low bow — I shall never forget it! Then I shuddered, I don’t know why. What had she meant by that bow? “Was she confessing the wrong she had done me?” as I fancied once long afterwards — I don’t know. But at the time it made me more ashamed than ever that they “were looking out of window and that Lambert would, most likely, begin beating me.”
At last she went away. The apples and oranges had been devoured by the sons of counts and senators, and the four fourpenny-bits were promptly taken from me by Lambert and spent at the confectioner’s on tarts and chocolates, of which I was not offered a taste.
Fully six months had passed and it was a wet and windy October. I had quite forgotten about mother. Oh, by then hate, a blind hatred of everything had crept into my heart, and was its sustenance, though I still brushed Touchard as before; but I hated him with all my might, and every day hated him more and more. It was then that in the melancholy dusk of one evening I began rummaging for something in my little box, and suddenly in the corner I saw her blue cotton handkerchief; it had been lying there ever since I had thrust it away. I took it out and even looked at it with some interest. The corner of the handkerchief still retained the creases made by the knot, and even the round impress of the money was distinctly visible; I put the handkerchief in again, however, and pushed the box back. It was the eve of a holiday, and the bells were ringing for the all-night service. The pupils had all gone to their homes after dinner, but this time Lambert had stayed for Sunday. I don’t know why he hadn’t been fetched. Though he used still to beat me, as before, he used to talk to me a great deal, and often needed me. We talked the whole evening about Lepage’s pistols, which neither of us had seen, and Circassian swords and how they cut, how splendid it would be to establish a band of brigands, and finally Lambert passed to the familiar obscene subjects which were his favourite topics, and though I wondered at myself, I remember I liked listening. Suddenly I felt it unbearable, and I told him I had a headache. At ten o’clock we went to bed; I turned away with my head under the quilt and took the blue handkerchief from under my pillow: I had for some reason fetched it from the box an hour before, and as soon as our beds were made I put it under the pillow. I put it to my face and suddenly began kissing it: “Mother, mother,” I whispered, and my whole chest contracted as though in a vice. I closed my eyes, and saw her face with the quivering lips when she crossed herself facing the church, and afterwards made the sign of the cross over me, and I said to her, “I’m ashamed, they are looking at us.” “Mother darling, mother, were you really with me once? . . . Mother darling, where are you now, my far-away visitor? Do you remember your poor boy, whom you came to see? . . . Show yourself to me just this once, come to me if only in a dream, just that I may tell you how I love you, may hug you and kiss your blue eyes, and tell you that I’m not ashamed of you now, and tell you that I loved you even then, and that my heart was aching then, though I simply sat like a lackey. You will never know, mother, how I loved you then! Mother, where are you now? Do you hear me? Mother, mother, do you remember the dove in the country? . . .”
“Confound him. . . . What’s the matter with him!” Lambert grumbled from his bed. “Stop it, I’ll give it you! You won’t let me sleep . . . .” He jumped out of bed at last, ran to me, and began pulling off the bedclothes, but I kept tight hold of the quilt, which I had wrapped round my head.
“You are blubbering; what are you blubbering about, you fool? I’ll give it you!” and he thumped me, he thumped me hard on my back, on my side, hurting me more and more and . . . and I suddenly opened my eyes . . . .
It was bright daylight, and the snow on the wall was glistening with hoarfrost. . . . I was sitting huddled up, almost frozen, and almost numb in my fur coat, and some one was standing over me, waking me up, abusing me loudly, and kicking me in the ribs with his right foot. I raised myself and looked: I saw a man wearing a splendid bear-lined coat, and a sable cap. He had black eyes, foppish pitch-black whiskers, a hook nose, white teeth grinning at me, a face white and red like a mask. . . . He bent down over me very close, and a frosty vapour came from his lips at each breath.
“Frozen, the drunken fool! You’ll freeze like a dog; get up! Getup!”
“Lambert,” I cried.
“Whoever are you?”
“Who the devil’s Dolgoruky?”
“SIMPLY Dolgoruky! . . . Touchard. . . . The one you stuck a fork into, in the restaurant! . . .”
“Ha-a-a!” he cried, with a slow smile of recollection (could he possibly have forgotten me?), “ha! So it’s you, it’s you!”
He lifted me up and put me on my legs; I could hardly stand, could hardly walk; he led me, supporting me with his arm. He looked into my eyes as though considering and recalling, and listening to me intently, and I babbled on continuously without pause, and I was delighted, so delighted to be talking, and so delighted too that it was Lambert. Whether for some reason I looked on him as my “salvation,” or whether I pounced on him at that moment because I took him for some one of another world, I don’t know — I did not consider it then — but I pounced on him without considering. What I said then, I don’t remember at all, and I doubt whether any of it was coherent, I doubt whether I even pronounced a word clearly; but he listened very attentively. He took the first sledge we came upon, and within a few minutes I was sitting in his room in the warmth.
Every man, whoever he may be, must certainly preserve a recollection of something which has happened to him, upon which he looks, or is inclined to look, as something fantastic, exceptional, outside the common order of things, almost miraculous, whether it be a dream, a meeting, a divination, a presentiment or anything of that kind. I am to this day inclined to look upon this meeting with Lambert as something almost supernatural . . . judging, that is, from the circumstances and consequences of that meeting. It all happened from one point of view, however, perfectly naturally; he was simply returning from one of his nocturnal pursuits (the nature of it will be explained later on) half-drunk, and stopping at the gate for a moment, caught sight of me. He had only been in Petersburg a few days.
The room in which I found myself was small and furnished in an unsophisticated style, a typical example of the ordinary Petersburg furnished lodgings of the middling sort. Lambert himself, however, was very well and expensively dressed. On the floor there lay two trunks, only half unpacked. A corner of the room was shut off by a screen which concealed the bed.
“Alphonsine!” cried Lambert.
“Présente!” responded from behind the screen a cracked female voice with a Parisian accent, and two minutes later Mlle. Alphonsine emerged, just out of bed, hurriedly dressed in a loose wrapper, a queer creature, tall and as lean as a rake, a brunette with a long waist and a long face, with dancing eyes and sunken cheeks, who looked terribly the worse for wear.
“Make haste” (he spoke to her in French, I translate), “they must have got a samovar; hot water quick, red wine and sugar, a glass here, look sharp, he’s frozen, it’s a friend of mine . . . he’s been sleeping the night in the snow . . . .”
“Malheureux!” she exclaimed with a theatrical air, clasping her hands.
“Now then!” he shouted, holding up his finger and speaking exactly as though to a dog; she at once desisted and ran to carry out his orders.
He examined me and felt me over; tried my pulse, touched my forehead and my temple. “It’s strange,” he muttered, “that you did not freeze. . . . However, you were entirely covered with your fur coat, head and all, so that you were sitting in a sort of nest of fur . . . .”
A glass of something hot arrived, I sipped it greedily and it revived me at once; I began babbling again; I was half lying on the sofa in a corner and was talking all the time, I talked even as I sipped — but what I said, again I scarcely remember; moments and even whole intervals of time I’ve completely forgotten. I repeat: whether he understood anything of what I said, I don’t know; but one thing I distinctly gathered afterwards, and that was that he succeeded in understanding me sufficiently to deduce that he must not take his meeting with me lightly. . . . I will explain later in its proper place how he came to make this calculation.
I was not only extremely lively, but at moments, I believe, cheerful. I remember the sun suddenly flooding the room with light when the blinds were drawn up, and the crackling stove which some one was lighting, who and how I forget. I remember, too, the tiny black lap-dog which Mlle. Alphonsine held in her arms, coquettishly pressing it to her heart. This lap-dog attracted me so much that I left off talking and twice stretched out towards it, but Lambert waved his hand, and Alphonsine with her lap-dog instantly vanished behind the screen.
He was very silent himself, he sat facing me and bending close down to me, listened without moving; at times he smiled, a broad slow smile, showing his teeth, and screwing up his eyes as though reflecting intensely and trying to guess something. I have a clear recollection only of the fact that when I told him about the “document,” I could not express myself intelligibly and tell the story consecutively, and from his face I quite saw that he could not understand me, but that he would very much have liked to understand, so much so that he even ventured to stop me with a question, which was risky, as at the slightest interruption I broke off and forgot what I was talking of. How long we sat and talked like this I don’t know and cannot even imagine. He suddenly got up and called to Alphonsine.
“He needs rest; he may have to have the doctor. Do everything he asks, that is . . . vous comprenez, ma fille? Vous avez l’argent, no? here!” and he drew out a ten-rouble note. He began whispering with her: “Vous comprenez? vous comprenez?” he repeated to her, holding up his finger menacingly to her, and frowning sternly. I saw that she was dreadfully afraid of him.
“I’ll come back, and you had better go to sleep,” he said, smiling to me, and took his cap. “Mais vous n’avez pas dormi de tout, Maurice!” Alphonsine began pathetically. “Taisez-vous je dormirai après,” and he went out.
“Sauvée,” she murmured, pathetically pointing after him.
“Monsieur, Monsieur,” she began declaiming at once, taking up an attitude in the middle of the room, “jamais homme ne fut si cruel, si Bismarck que cet être, qui regarde une femme, comme une saleté de hazard. Une femme, qu’est-ce que ça dans notre époque? Tue-la! voilà le dernier mot de l’Académie française!”
I stared at her open-eyed; I saw everything double, I had a vision of two Alphonsines. . . . I suddenly noticed that she was crying, I started and realized that she had been talking to me for a long time, and that I must have been asleep or unconscious.
“ . . . Hélas! de quoi m’aurait servi de le découvrir plutôt,” she exclaimed, “et n’aurais-je pas autant gagné à tenir ma honte cachée toute ma vie? Peut-être n’est-il pas honnête à une demoiselle de s’expliquer si librement devant monsieur, mais enfin je vous avoue que s’il m’était permis de vouloir quelque chose, oh, ce serait de lui plonger au coeur mon couteau, mais en détournant les yeux, de peur que son regard exécrable ne fit trembler mon bras et ne glaçât mon courage! Il a assassiné ce pape russe, monsieur, il lui arracha sa barbe rousse pour la vendre à un artiste en cheveux au pont de Maréchaux, tout près de la maison de Monsieur Andrieux — hautes nouveautés, articles de Paris, linge, chemises, vous savez, n’est-ce pas? . . . Oh, monsieur, quand l’amitié rassemble à table épouse, enfants, soeurs, amis, quand une vive allégresse enflamme mon coeur, je vous le demande, monsieur: est-il bonheur préférable à celui dont tout jouit? Mais il rit, monsieur, ce monstre exécrable et inconcévable, et si ce n’était pas par l’entremise de Monsieur Andrieux, jamais, oh, jamais je ne serais . . . Mais quoi, monsieur, qu’avez vous, monsieur?”
She rushed up to me. I believe I had an attack of shivering, perhaps a fainting fit. I cannot express what a painful and miserable impression this half-crazy creature made upon me. She imagined perhaps that she had been commanded to entertain me: at any rate she did not leave my side for one instant. She had perhaps at one time or another been on the stage; she declaimed in a terrible way, pirouetted, talked incessantly, while I had long been silent. All I could understand from her story was that she had been closely connected with “la maison de M. Andrieux — hautes nouveautés, articles de Paris, etc.,” and perhaps was one of the family of la Maison de M. Andrieux; but she had somehow been torn for ever from M. Andrieux, par ce monstre furieux et inconcévable, and that was the point of the tragedy. . . . She sobbed, but I fancied that this was all part of the performance, and that she was not really crying at all; sometimes I fancied that she would suddenly drop to pieces, like a skeleton; she articulated her words in a jangling, broken voice; the word préferable, for instance, she pronounced préfér-a-able, and on the syllable A positively baa-ed like a sheep. Coming to myself on one occasion I found her executing a pirouette in the middle of the room, but she was not actually dancing, the pirouette had some connection with her story, and she was simply impersonating some figure in it. Suddenly she rushed and opened a little, old, out-of-tune piano that was in the room, and began strumming on it and singing. I believe that for ten minutes or more I lost consciousness completely, I fell asleep, but the lap-dog yelped and I waked up again; for a moment consciousness returned completely and suddenly flooded my mind with light; I jumped up in horror:
“Lambert, I am at Lambert’s!” I thought, and snatching up my hat, I rushed to my fur coat.
“Où allez-vous, monsieur?” cried the vigilant Alphonsine.
“I want to get out, I want to go away! Let me out, don’t keep me . . . .”
“Oui, monsieur!” Alphonsine assented vigorously, and she rushed to open the door into the corridor herself. “Mais ce n’est pas loin, monsieur, c’est pas loin du tout, ça ne vaut pas la peine de mettre votre chouba, c’est ici près, monsieur!” she shouted for the benefit of the whole corridor. Running out of the room I turned to the right.
“Par ici, monsieur, c’est par ici!” she shouted at the top of her voice, clutching at my coat with her long bony fingers, and with the other hand pointing to the left of the corridor, where I did not at all want to go. I broke away and ran to the outer door opening on to the stairs.
“Il s’en va, il s’en va!” Alphonsine ran after me shouting in her cracked voice; “mais il me tuera, monsieur, ii me tuera!” But I was already on the stairs and, though she ran after me down stairs, I succeeded in opening the front door, dashing out into the street, and jumping into the first sledge I met. I gave the driver my mother’s address . . . .
But the clear consciousness that had flickered up for one moment was soon dimmed. I still have a faint recollection of the drive and being taken up to my mother’s, but there I sank almost at once into complete unconsciousness. Next day, as they told me afterwards, and indeed I remember it myself, I had a moment of lucidity again. I found myself in Versilov’s room and on his sofa. I remember around me the faces of Versilov, my mother, Liza; I remember particularly Versilov’s speaking to me about Zerstchikov, and about Prince Sergay, and showing me some letter to soothe me. They told me afterwards that I kept asking with horror about someone called Lambert, and kept hearing the barking of some lap-dog. But the faint light of consciousness was soon quenched again: by the evening of the second day I was completely prostrate with brainfever. But I will anticipate events, and explain what had happened.
When I had run out in the street from Zerstchikov’s that evening, and when calm had been restored there, Zerstchikov, who had returned to the table, proclaimed aloud that a regrettable mistake had been made: the missing money, four hundred roubles, had been found in a pile of other money, and the bank account turned out to be quite correct. Then Prince Sergay, who had remained in the room, went up to Zerstchikov and insisted that he should make a public declaration of my innocence and should, moreover, send me an apology in the form of a letter. Zerstchikov on his side accepted this suggestion as a very proper one, and promised, in the presence of all, to send me next day a letter of explanation and apology. Prince Sergay gave him Versilov’s address. And Versilov did in fact receive next day a letter addressed to me in Zerstchikov’s hand, and more than thirteen hundred roubles belonging to me, which I had left on the roulette table. And so the affair with Zerstchikov ended: this joyful news did much to hasten my recovery, when I regained consciousness.
When Prince Sergay returned from the gambling saloon that night he wrote two letters — one to me, and the other to his old regiment, in which he had behaved so scandalously to Cornet Stepanov. He dispatched both letters next morning. After that, he wrote a report for the authorities, and with that report in his hand he went early in the morning to the officer in command of his regiment and announced to him that he, “a common criminal, who had taken part in the forging of the X—— railway shares, surrendered to justice and asked to be tried.” Therewith he handed him the report in which all this was set out in writing. He was arrested.
Here is the letter he wrote to me that night, word for word:
“PRECIOUS ARKADY MAKAROVITCH,
“Having tried the lackey’s way of escape, I have lost the right to comfort my soul a little with the thought that I was able in the end to dare to do what was just and fine. I have sinned against my fatherland and against my family, and for this I, the last of my family, am punishing myself. I don’t know how I could have caught at the bare idea of self-preservation, and for a time have dreamed of buying them off with money! I should have still remained to all eternity a criminal in my conscience! Even if those people had given back the notes that compromised me, they would never have been induced to let me alone as long as I lived! What remained? To live with them, to be on a level with them all my life — that was the fate awaiting me! I could not accept it, and have at last found in myself strength enough, or perhaps only despair enough, to act as I am acting now.
“I have written a letter to my old regiment, to my fellow officers, clearing Stepanov’s character. This is not and cannot be an atonement: it is only the last will and testament of a man who will be dead to-morrow. That is how one must look at it.
“Forgive me for turning away from you in the gambling saloon; it was because at the moment I was not sure of you. Now that I am a dead man I can make this confession . . . from the other world.
“Poor Liza! she knows nothing of this decision; let her not curse me, but judge of it herself. I cannot defend myself and cannot even find the words to explain anything to her. I must tell you, too, Arkady Makarovitch, that when she came to me yesterday morning for the last time, I confessed that I had deceived her, and owned that I had been to Anna Andreyevna with the intention of making her an offer. I could not, seeing her love, keep this upon my conscience in face of my last determination, and I told her. She forgave me, she forgave everything, but I could not believe her; it is not forgiveness; in her place I could not forgive.
“Remember me a little.
“Your unhappy friend,
“THE LAST PRINCE SOKOLSKY.”
I lay unconscious for exactly nine days.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:07