I must beg the reader to remember again that I had a slight giddiness in my head; if it had not been for that I should have acted and spoken differently. In the shop, in a back room, one could indeed have eaten oysters, and we sat down to a table covered with a filthy cloth. Lambert ordered champagne; a glass of cold wine of a golden colour was set before me and seemed looking at me invitingly; but I felt annoyed.
“You see, Lambert, what annoys me most is that you think you can order me about now as you used to do at Touchard’s, while you are cringing upon everybody here.”
“You fool! Aië, let’s clink glasses.”
“You don’t even deign to keep up appearances with me: you might at least disguise the fact that you want to make me drunk.”
“You are talking rot and you’re drunk. You must drink some more, and you’ll be more cheerful. Take your glass, take it!”
“Why do you keep on ‘take it’? I am going and that’s the end of it.”
And I really did get up. He was awfully vexed:
“It was Trishatov whispered that to you: I saw you whispering. You are a fool for that. Alphonsine is really disgusted if he goes near her. . . . He’s a dirty beast, I’ll tell you what he’s like.”
“You’ve told me already. You can talk of nothing but your Alphonsine, you’re frightfully limited.”
“Limited?” he did not understand. “They’ve gone over now to that pock-marked fellow. That’s what it is! That’s why I sent them about their business. They’re dishonest. That fellow’s a blackguard and he’s corrupting them. I insisted that they should always behave decently.”
I sat still and as it were mechanically took my glass and drank a draught.
“I’m ever so far ahead of you in education,” I said. But he was only too delighted that I went on sitting there, and at once filled up my glass.
“And you know you’re afraid of them!” I went on taunting him, and no doubt I was even nastier than he was at that moment. “Andreyev knocked your hat off, and you gave him twenty-five roubles for it.”
“I did give it him, but he’ll pay me back. They are rebellious, but I’ll be quits with them.”
“You are awfully upset by that pock-marked man. And do you know it strikes me that I’m the only one left you. All your hopes now are resting on me — aren’t they?”
“Yes, Arkasha, that is so: you are the only friend left me; you are right in saying that!” he slapped me on the shoulder.
What could be done with a man so crude; he was utterly obtuse, and took irony for serious praise.
“You could save me from bad things if you would be a good comrade, Arkady,” he went on, looking at me caressingly.
“In what way could I save you?”
“You know yourself what it is. Without me, like a fool, you will certainly be stupid; but I’d get you thirty thousand and we would go halves and you know how. Why, think who you are; you’re nothing — no name, no position, and here you’d win first prize straight off: and having such a fortune, you’ll know how to make a career!”
I was simply astounded at this attack. I had taken for granted that he would dissemble, but he had begun upon it with such bluntness, such schoolboyish bluntness. I resolved to listen to him from a desire to be open-minded and . . . from intense curiosity.
“Look here, Lambert, you won’t understand this, but I’m consenting to listen to you because I’m open-minded,” I declared firmly, and again I took a gulp at my glass. Lambert at once filled it up.
“I’ll tell you what, Arkady: if a fellow like Büring had dared to abuse me and strike me in the presence of a lady I adored, I don’t know what I should have done! But you put up with it, I’m ashamed of you: you’re a poor creature!”
“How dare you say that Büring struck me!” I shouted, turning crimson. “It was more I struck him than he me.”
“No, it was he struck you, not you struck him.”
“You’re lying, I trod on his foot too!”
“But he shoved you back, and told the footman to drag you away . . . and she sat and looked on from her carriage and laughed at you; she knows that you have no father and that you can be insulted.”
“I don’t understand this schoolboyish conversation, Lambert, and I’m ashamed of it. You are saying this to irritate me, and as crudely and as openly as though I were a boy of sixteen. You’ve been plotting with Anna Andreyevna!” I cried, trembling with anger, and still mechanically sipping my wine.
“Anna Andreyevna’s a sly jade! She’s humbugging you and me and all the world! I have been waiting for you, because you can best finish off with that woman.”
“With what woman?”
“With Madame Ahmakov. I know all about it. You told me yourself that she is afraid of that letter you’ve got . . .”
“What letter . . . you’re talking nonsense. . . . Have you seen her?” I muttered in confusion.
“Yes, I saw her. She’s beautiful. Très belle; and you’ve taste.”
“I know you’ve seen her but you did not dare speak to her, and I wish you did not dare to speak of her either.”
“You’re a boy, and she laughs at you — so there! We had a virtuous lady like that in Moscow. Ough, didn’t she turn up her nose! but she began to tremble when we threatened that we would tell all we knew and she knuckled under directly; and we got all we wanted both ways, money, and — you understand? Now she’s virtue unapproachable again in society — foo! my word, isn’t she high and mighty, and hasn’t she got a turn-out. Ah, you should have seen that little back room it happened in! You’ve not lived; if only you knew the little back rooms they don’t shrink from . . .”
“I’ve thought that,” I could not help muttering.
“They’re corrupt to their very finger-tips; you don’t know what they’re capable of! Alphonsine lived in a house like that, and she was disgusted.”
“I have thought of that,” I chimed in again.
“But they beat you, and you complain . . .”
“Lambert, you’re a blackguard, you’re a damned beast!” I cried, suddenly pulling myself together and beginning to tremble. “I have dreamed all this, you were in it and Anna Andreyevna. . . . Oh, you damned brute! Did you really think I was such a scoundrel? I dreamed it because I knew that you would say this. And besides, all this can’t be so simple that you can talk to me about it so simply and directly.”
“He is in a rage, tut, tut, tut!” Lambert drawled, laughing and triumphant. “Well, Arkasha, my boy, now I’ve found out all I wanted to know. That’s why I was so eager to see you. Listen, you love her I see, and want to revenge yourself on Büring. That’s what I wanted to find out. I’ve been suspecting it all this time while I’ve been waiting to see you. Ceci posé, celà change la question. And so much the better, for she loves you too. So you must marry her without a moment’s delay, that’s the best thing; you can’t do anything else, that’s your safest position. And then remember, Arkady, that you have a friend in me of whom you can make any use you like. And that friend will help you, and will marry you: I’ll move heaven and earth, Arkasha! And you can give your old friend thirty thousand for his trouble afterwards, eh? And I’ll help you, don’t doubt that. I know all the ins and outs of the business, and they shall give you the whole dowry, and you’ll be a wealthy man with a career before you!”
Though my head was in a whirl I looked at Lambert with wonder. He was in earnest, and not merely in earnest in what he said, but in believing in the possibility of my marrying; I could see that he thoroughly believed in it himself, and, in fact, caught at the idea with enthusiasm. I saw, of course, too, that he was entrapping me like a schoolboy (I certainly must have seen it even then); but the thought of marrying her so thrilled me that though I wondered how Lambert could believe in such a fantastic notion, yet, at the same time I tried violently to believe in it myself, though I did not for an instant lose consciousness of the fact that it could not possibly come to pass. All this was mingled together at the same time.
“But is it possible?” I faltered.
“Why not? you will show her the letter, she’ll be frightened and marry you to keep her money.”
I made up my mind not to stop Lambert in his vile suggestions, for he disclosed them to me with such simplicity and did not suspect that I might be revolted by them; I did mutter, however, that I should not like to marry her simply by force.
“I don’t want to use force for anything; how can you be so base as to think me capable of it!”
“Hoity-toity! Why, she’ll marry you of her own accord: it won’t be your doing, she’ll be frightened and marry you herself, and she’ll marry you because she loves you, too,” Lambert put in hastily.
“That’s a lie; you’re laughing at me. How do you know she loves me?”
“Of course she does. I know it. And Anna Andreyevna assumes it. It’s the truth in earnest. I’m telling you that Anna Andreyevna assumes it. And I’ll tell you something else when you come to me, and you’ll see that she does love you. Alphonsine has been at Tsarskoe; she found out there . . .”
“What could she find out there?”
“You come back with me; she’ll tell you herself, and it will please you. Why, aren’t you as good as anybody, you are handsome, you are well educated.”
“Yes, I am well educated,” I answered, hardly able to breathe; my heart was thumping and, of course, not only from the wine.
“You are handsome, you are well dressed.”
“Yes, I’m well dressed.”
“And you are good-natured . . . .”
“Yes, I’m good-natured.”
“Why shouldn’t she consent? Büring won’t take her without money anyway, and you can deprive her of her money — so she’ll be in a fright: you’ll marry her and punish Büring. Why, you told me yourself that night after you were frozen that she was in love with you.”
“Can I have told you that? I’m sure I did not tell you that.”
“Yes, you did.”
“I was delirious when I said that. I suppose I told you of the letter too?”
“Yes, you told me you had such a letter; I thought at the time: how can he let slip his luck if he has such a letter?”
“It’s all a mad idea, and I’m not so stupid as to believe it,” I muttered; “to begin with there’s a difference in our ages, and besides I’ve no surname.”
“But she’ll marry you though; she can’t help marrying you when it’s a question of so much money — I’ll arrange that. And, what’s more, she loves you. You know that old prince is very well disposed to you; through his protection, you know, you can form connections; and what does it matter if you have no name, nowadays nothing of that’s necessary: once you pocket the money you’ll get on and get on, and in ten years’ time you will be such a millionaire that all Russia will resound with your fame, so you won’t need a name then. Why, you can buy a title in Austria. And when you get married, keep her well in hand. They want a firm hand. If a woman’s in love, she likes to feel a man’s got a tight grip on her. Women like will in a man. When you frighten her with the letter, from that hour you will show her you have strength of will. ‘Ah,’ she’ll say ‘he’s so young, and yet he has will.’”
I sat, as it were, spell-bound. I should never with anyone else have sunk to such an idiotic conversation. But in this case a sort of voluptuous craving drew me on to continue it. Besides, Lambert was so stupid and so low that no one could feel ashamed of anything before him.
“No, do you know, Lambert,” I said suddenly: “you may say what you like, but a great deal of this is absurd; I have been talking to you because we were schoolfellows, and we need not be ashamed of saying anything to one another; but I would not have demeaned myself to it with anyone else for any consideration. And, first of all, tell me why you keep repeating so positively that she’s in love with me? That was quite good what you said just now about having capital; but you see, Lambert, you don’t know anything of good society: all this is still with them on the most patriarchal, family system, so to say, and, therefore, as so far she does not know my abilities and what a position I may achieve in the world, she’ll be ashamed of me. But I won’t conceal from you, Lambert, that there really is one point that might give one hope. You see: she might marry me from gratitude, because I might save her from a man she hates. And she is afraid of that man.”
“Ah, you mean your father? Why, is he so much in love with her?” Lambert said, pricking up his ears with peculiar curiosity.
“Oh no!” I cried: “and how horrid you are, and at the same time how stupid, Lambert! Why, if he were in love with her, how could I want to marry her? After all we are father and son, that would be shameful. He loves my mother, my mother, and I saw how he held her in his arms. I did think at one time he loved Katerina Nikolaevna, but now I know for certain that though he may once have loved her, he has hated her for a long time now . . . and wants to revenge himself on her, and she’s afraid of him, for I tell you, Lambert, he is very terrible when he begins to revenge himself. He becomes almost insane. When he’s in a rage with her, he doesn’t stick at anything. This is a feud in the old style on account of the loftiest principles. In our time we don’t care a hang for any general principles; nowadays there are no general principles but only special cases. Ah, Lambert, you don’t understand, you are as stupid as a post; I am talking to you about these principles, but I am sure you don’t understand. You are awfully uneducated. Do you remember you used to beat me! Now I’m stronger than you are — do you know that?”
“Arkasha, come home with me! We’ll spend the evening and drink another bottle, and Alphonsine will sing to the guitar.”
“No, I’m not coming. Listen, Lambert, I’ve got an ‘idea.’ If I don’t succeed and don’t marry, I shall fall back on the ‘idea’; but you haven’t an idea.”
“All right, all right, you shall tell me about it, come along.”
“I am not coming,” I said, getting up. “I don’t want to, and I’m not coming. I shall come and see you, but you are a blackguard. I’ll give you thirty thousand, but I am cleaner and better than you. . . . I see, you want to deceive me all round. But I forbid you even to think of her: she’s above every one, and your plan is so low that I really wonder at you, Lambert. I want to be married, that’s a different matter; but I don’t want money, I despise money. I wouldn’t take it if she begged me to on her knees . . . but marriage, marriage, that’s a different matter. But you know that was quite right what you said, that one ought to keep a tight hand on her. It’s a good thing to love, to love passionately, with all the generosity of which a man is capable, and which can never be found in a woman; but to be despotic is a good thing too. For, do you know, Lambert, a woman loves despotism. You understand woman, Lambert. But you are wonderfully stupid in everything else. And do you know, Lambert, you are not at all such a blackguard as you seem, you’re simple. I like you. Ah, Lambert, why are you such a rogue? What a jolly time we might have if you weren’t! You know Trishatov’s a dear.”
These last incoherent phrases I muttered in the street. Oh, I set all this down in every trivial detail, that the reader may see that with all my enthusiasm and my vows and promises to reform, and to strive for “seemliness,” I was capable then of falling so easily and into such filth. And I swear that if I were not fully convinced that I am no longer the same, but have gained strength of character by practical life, I should not have confessed all this to the reader.
We went out of the shop, and Lambert supported me slightly, putting his arm round me. Suddenly I looked at him, and saw in his fixed, terribly intent and perfectly sober eyes the very same expression as I had seen that morning when I was frozen and when he had led me to the cab with his arm round me in the same way, and listened, all eyes and ears, to my incoherent babble. Men who are drunk but not quite hopelessly drunk, sometimes have moments of absolute soberness.
“I’m not going home with you for anything,” I declared firmly and coherently, looking at him sarcastically and putting aside his arm.
“Come, nonsense. I’ll tell Alphonsine to make tea for us, come!”
He was horribly confident that I should not get away; he put his arm round me and held me with a sort of relish, as his prey, and the prey was what he needed of course, that evening and in that condition! It will be clear later why.
“I’m not coming!” I repeated. “Cab!”
At that instant a sledge drove up and I jumped into it.
“Where are you off to? What are you about!” yelled Lambert, clutching at my fur coat in extreme dismay.
“And don’t dare to follow me!” I cried, “don’t drive after me.” At that very instant the sledge started, and my coat was torn out of Lambert’s hands.
“You’ll come all the same!” he shouted after me in an angry voice.
“I shall come if I want to. I can do as I like!” I retorted, turning round in the sledge.
He did not follow me, of course, because there did not happen to be another sledge at hand, and I succeeded in getting out of his sight. I drove on as far as the Haymarket, and there I stopped and dismissed the sledge. I had a great desire to walk. I was not conscious of being tired or of being much intoxicated, I felt full of vigour; I was aware of a fresh flow of energy, of an exceptional readiness for any sort of enterprise, and of innumerable pleasant ideas in my brain.
My heart was thudding violently and loudly, I could hear every beat. And everything seemed so charming, so easy. When I passed the sentry at the Haymarket I felt inclined to go up and kiss him. There was a thaw, the market-place was dingy and evil-smelling, but I was delighted even with the marketplace.
“I am in the Obuhovsky Prospect,” I thought, “and afterwards I shall turn to the left and come out in the Semyonovsky Polk. I shall take a short cut, that’s delightful, it’s all delightful. My coat is unbuttoned, how is it no one snatches it off, where are the thieves? They say there are thieves in the Haymarket; let them come, I might give them my fur coat. What do I want with a fur coat? A fur coat is property. La propriété c’est le vol. But what nonsense, and how nice everything is! It’s nice that the snow is melting. Why frost? There’s no need of a frost at all. It’s nice to talk nonsense too. What was it I said to Lambert about principles? I said there were no general principles, but only special cases; that was stuff, utter stuff! And I said it on purpose, out of swagger. I am a little ashamed, but after all it doesn’t matter, I’ll make up for it. Don’t be ashamed, don’t distress yourself, Arkady Makarovitch. Arkady Makarovitch. I like you. I like you very much, in fact, my young friend. It’s a pity you’re a little rascal . . . and . . . and . . . ah, yes . . . ah!”
I suddenly stood still, and my heart began to ache with ecstasy again.
“Good God! what was it he said? He said that she loves me. Oh, he is a scoundrel, he told a lot of lies, that was to make me stay the night with him. But perhaps not. He said Anna Andreyevna thinks so too. . . . Ba! But Darya Onisimovna might have found out something about it for him; she pokes her nose into everything. And why didn’t I go to him? I should have found out everything! H’m! He has a plan, and I had a presentiment of it all, every bit of it. The dream. A bold scheme, M. Lambert, only let me tell you it won’t be so. Perhaps it will though, perhaps it will! And can he bring off my marriage? Perhaps he can. He is naïve and he believes it. He is stupid and impudent like all practical people. Stupidity and impudence combined are a great force. But confess, you were really afraid of Lambert, Arkady Makarovitch! And what does he want with honest people? He says so seriously: ‘There isn’t an honest man here!’ Why, what are you yourself? And what am I! Don’t scoundrels need honest men? In swindling honest men are more needed than anywhere. Ha! ha! You did not know that till now, Arkady Makarovitch, you were so innocent. Good God! What if he really were to bring about my marriage!”
I stood still again. Here I must confess something stupid (as it is all so long ago): I must confess that I had long before been wishing to be married — at least not wishing, and it would never have happened (and I can guarantee it never will in the future), but more than once — a great many times in fact — I had dreamed how splendid it would be to be married, especially as I was falling asleep at night. I began to dream of it when I was about sixteen. I had a schoolfellow of my own age at the high school, called Lavrovsky, such a quiet, sweet, pretty boy, not particularly distinguished in any other way, however. I hardly ever talked to him. One day we happened to be sitting side by side, and he was very dreamy, and suddenly he said to me: ‘Ah, Dolgoruky, what do you think, we ought to be married now; yes, really when should we be married if not now; now would be the very best time, and yet it’s impossible.’ And he said that so frankly. And I agreed with it at once entirely, for I already had visions of something of the sort. For several days afterwards we met and talked, as it were, in secret, only of that however. But afterwards, I don’t know how it happened, but we left off talking to each other and drifted apart. And from that time I began to dream of marriage. This, of course, would not have been worth mentioning, only I wanted to show how far back this feeling sometimes goes . . . .
“There is only one serious objection,” I mused, as I went on again. “Oh, of course, the trivial difference in our ages is no real obstacle, but she is such an aristocrat and I am simply Dolgoruky! It’s awfully horrid! H’m! Couldn’t Versilov marry mother and petition the government for me to be legitimatized as a reward for his services, so to say. . . . He’s been in the service, so must have rendered services; he was a mediator at the emancipation. . . . Oh, damn it all, how loathsome.”
I suddenly uttered this exclamation and stood still for the third time, but this time I felt as though I had been crushed to the earth. The agonizing feeling of humiliation from the consciousness that I could desire anything so shameful as the change of my surname by being legitimized, this treachery to my whole childhood, all this in one flash shattered my previous mood, and all my joyfulness was dissipated like smoke. “No, I’ll never tell that to anyone,” I thought, turning crimson: “I’ve sunk so low because I’m in love and stupid. . . . No, if Lambert is right in anything, it is that nowadays, in our age, the man is what matters, and afterwards his money. Or rather not his money, but rather his property. With a capital like that I would throw myself into the ‘idea,’ and all Russia would ring with my fame in ten years, and I would revenge myself on them all. And there’s no need to stand on ceremony with her. Lambert’s right there. She’ll be frightened and simply marry me. She’ll consent in the simplest and most abject way, and marry me.” “You don’t know, you don’t know in what little back room that happened!” I remembered Lambert’s words. “That’s true,” I went on musing: “Lambert’s right in everything, a thousand times more right than Versilov and I and all the idealists! He is a realist. She shall see that I have strength of will, and she will say: ‘He has will!’ Lambert’s a scoundrel, and all he wants is to get thirty thousand out of me, and yet he is the only friend I have. There is no other sort of friendship and there can be no other, that’s all been invented by unpractical people. And I shan’t be even degrading her; shall I be degrading her? Not in the least: all women are like that! Are there any women who are not abject? That’s why she must have a man over her; that’s why she’s created a subordinate creature. Woman is vice and temptation, and man is honour and generosity. So it will be to the end of time. And what if I do mean to use that ‘document’! That does not matter. That does not prevent honour or generosity. Pure, unadulterated Schillers don’t exist, they are invented. It does not matter if one has to pass through filth to get there, as long as the goal is magnificent. It will all be washed off, it will all be smoothed away afterwards. And now it’s only ‘breadth,’ it’s only life, it’s only vital truth — that’s what it is called nowadays.”
Oh, I repeat again: I must be forgiven for recording all my drunken ravings at the time. Of course this is only the essence of what I thought then, but I fancy I used those very words. I was bound to record them because I have sat down to write in order to condemn myself. And what is to be condemned, if not that? Can there be anything graver in my life? Wine is no justification. In vino veritas.
Entirely absorbed in such dreams I did not notice that I had reached home, that is, mother’s lodgings. I did not even notice going in, but as soon as I slipped into our tiny entrance, I realized at once that something unusual was happening.
There were loud voices and outcries in the room, and I could hear that mother was crying. In the doorway I almost fell over Lukerya, who was running from Makar Ivanovitch’s room to the kitchen. I flung down my fur coat and went in to Makar Ivanovitch, for they were all gathered together in his room.
There I found mother and Versilov. Mother was supported in his arms, and he was pressing her to his heart. Makar Ivanovitch was sitting as usual on his little bench, but he seemed overcome with weakness, and Liza had her arms round his shoulders and with an effort was holding him up; and it was evident that he was on the point of falling. I took a rapid step towards him and realized with a shudder that the old man was dead.
He had only just died, one minute before I arrived. Only ten minutes before he had felt just as usual. No one was with him then but Liza; she had been sitting with him, telling her grief, and he had been stroking her head just as he had done the day before. Suddenly he began to tremble (Liza told us), tried to stand up, tried to cry out, and began falling on his left side, and was silent. “Rupture of the heart!” said Versilov. Liza uttered a scream that could be heard all over the house, and they had all run in at once, and all that only the minute before I came in.
“Arkady,” Versilov cried, “run instantly to Tatyana Pavlovna. She’s sure to be at home. Ask her to come at once. Take a sledge. Make haste, I entreat you!”
His eyes were shining. I remember that clearly. I did not notice in his face anything like simple pity, anything like tears. The others, mother, Liza, and Lukerya, were crying. I was struck, on the contrary — and I remember this very well — by a look of unusual excitement almost of elation in his face. I ran for Tatyana Pavlovna.
It was not far to go, as the reader knows already. I did not take a sledge, but ran all the way without stopping. My mind was in confusion, and yet there was something almost like elation in my heart, too. I realized something momentous was happening. Every trace of drunkenness had disappeared completely, and with it every ignoble thought, by the time I was ringing at Tatyana Pavlovna’s door.
The Finnish cook opened the door: “Not at home!” she said and would have shut it at once.
“Not at home?” I cried, and rushed headlong into the passage. “Impossible! Makar Ivanovitch is dead!”
“Wha — at!” I heard Tatyana Pavlovna cry out in her drawing-room, through the closed door.
“He is dead! Makar Ivanovitch is dead! Andrey Petrovitch begs you to go this minute!”
“What nonsense you’re talking.”
The bolt clicked, but the door only opened an inch. “What has happened, tell me! . . .”
“I don’t know, he was dead when I arrived. Andrey Petrovitch says it’s rupture of the heart!”
“I’ll come at once, this minute. Run and tell them I’m coming, run along! run along! run along! What are you stopping for?”
But through the half-opened door I had distinctly seen some one come suddenly out from behind the curtain that screened Tatyana Pavlovna’s bed, and that some one was standing at the back of the room behind Tatyana Pavlovna. Mechanically and instinctively I clutched at the look and would not let the door be shut.
“Arkady Makarovitch, is it really true that he’s dead?” I heard a soft, smooth, ringing voice, a well-known voice that thrilled everything in my heart at once. In the question was a note of some emotion that deeply stirred HER heart.
“Oh, if that’s how it is,” cried Tatyana Pavlovna, abandoning the door, “if that’s how it is — you may settle it to please yourself. It’s your own doing!”
She ran full speed out of the flat, flinging on her kerchief and her fur coat as she went downstairs. We were left alone. I threw off my fur coat, took a step forward, and shut the door. She stood before me as she had done that time before, with a bright face, and just as she had done then, she held out both hands to me. As though I had been struck down I literally fell at her feet.
I was beginning to cry, I don’t know why; I don’t remember how she made me sit down beside her, I only remember, as one of my most precious memories, that we sat side by side, hand in hand, and talked eagerly: she was questioning me about the old man and his death, and I was telling her about him — so that it might have been supposed that I had been crying over Makar Ivanovitch, though that would have been the acme of absurdity; and I know that she could not possibly have suspected me of such childish banality. All at once I pulled myself together and felt ashamed. I imagine now that I cried simply from joy, and I believe she knew that perfectly well, so that my heart is quite at rest when I remember it.
It suddenly struck me as very strange that she should go on questioning me about Makar Ivanovitch.
“Why, did you know him?” I asked in surprise.
“Yes. I have never seen him, but he has played a part in my life, too. I was told a great deal about him at one time, by that man whom I fear. You know what man I mean.”
“All I know is that ‘that man’ has been in the past much nearer to your heart than you told me before,” I said. I don’t know what I meant to express by this, but I spoke as it were reproachfully and with a frown.
“You say he was kissing your mother just now? Holding her in his arms? You saw that yourself?” she did not hear what I said, but went on cross-examining me.
“Yes, I saw it; and, believe me,” I hastened to assure her, seeing her joy, “it was with true and generous feeling.”
“God grant it,” she said, crossing herself. “Now he is set free. That admirable old man simply held his life in bondage. His death will mean for him a renewal of duty . . . and dignity, as they were renewed once before. Oh, he is before all things generous, he will give peace of heart to your mother, whom he loves more than anything on earth, and will at last be at peace himself, and thank God — it’s high time.”
“He is dear to you?”
“Yes, very dear, though not in the way he would have liked to be and you mean by your question.”
“And is it for yourself or for him that you are afraid now?” I asked suddenly.
“Oh, these are deep questions, let us leave them.”
“Let us leave them, of course; but I knew nothing of this, nor of too much else perhaps; but may you be right, now everything will begin anew, and if anyone is to be renewed, it’s I first of all. I have been base in my thoughts in regard to you, Katerina Nikolaevna, and not more than an hour ago, perhaps, I was guilty of a low action in regard to you, but do you know I am sitting beside you and feel no pang of conscience. For everything now is over, and everything is beginning anew, and the man who was plotting vileness against you an hour ago I don’t know, and don’t want to know!”
“Come, calm yourself,” she smiled; “one would think you were a little delirious.”
“And how can one condemn oneself beside you, whether one is good or vile — you are as far beyond one as the sun . . . . Tell me, how could you come out to me after all that’s happened? Oh, if only you knew what happened only an hour ago! And what a dream has come true.”
“I expect I know all that,” she smiled softly: “you have just been wanting to punish me in some way, you swore to ruin me, and would certainly have killed, or at least have beaten, anyone who had dared to say one word against me.”
Oh, she smiled and jested: but this was only from her excessive kindness, for her heart at that moment, as I realized later, was full of such an immense anxiety of her own, such a violent over-mastering emotion, that she can only have talked to me and have answered my foolish irritating questions, she can only have done that as one sometimes answers the persistent prattle of a little child, simply to get rid of it. I understood that dully and felt ashamed, but I could not help persisting.
“No,” I cried, unable to control myself. “No, I did not kill the man who spoke ill of you, I encouraged him instead!”
“Oh, for goodness’ sake, please don’t; there’s no need to tell me anything,” she said, suddenly putting out her hand to stop me, with a look of compassion in her face; but I leapt up from my seat and was standing before her, to tell her everything, and if I had told her, nothing of what happened afterwards would have happened, for it would certainly have ended in my confessing everything and returning the document to her. But she suddenly laughed.
“There’s no need, there’s no need of anything, no facts at all! I know all your misdoings; I’m ready to bet that you meant to marry me or something of that sort, and you have only just been plotting about it with some one, with some accomplice, some old school friend. . . . Why I believe I’ve guessed right!” she cried, looking gravely at my face.
“What . . . how could you guess!” I faltered like a fool, tremendously impressed.
“Well, what next! But that’s enough, that’s enough! I forgive you, but no more about it,” she waved her hand again, with unmistakable impatience. “I am given to dreaming myself, and if you only knew what shifts I have recourse to in my dreams when I let myself go! That’s enough, you make me forget what I was going to say. I am very glad that Tatyana Pavlovna has gone away; I have been very anxious to see you, and we could not have talked as we are doing before her. I believe I was to blame for what happened. I was! Of course I was!”
“You to blame? But I had betrayed you to HIM, and — what can you have thought of me! I have been thinking of that all this time, all these days, I’ve been thinking and feeling about it every minute.” (It was not a lie.)
“There was no need for you to distress yourself so much, I quite understood at the time how it had all happened; you simply spoke too freely in your joy, and told him that you were in love with me and that I . . . well, that I listened to you. Just what you would do at twenty. You love him more than anyone in the world, don’t you, and look to him to be your friend, your ideal? I quite understood that, but it was too late. Oh yes, I was to blame: I ought to have sent for you at the time, and have set your mind at rest, but I felt annoyed; and I told them not to admit you; that’s what led to the scene at the entrance, and then that night. And do you know, like you, I’ve been dreaming all this time of meeting you secretly, only I did not know how to arrange it? And what do you suppose I dreaded more than anything? That you would believe what he said against me.”
“Never!” I cried.
“The memory of our meetings in the past is dear to me; the boy in you is very dear to me, and perhaps, too, that very sincerity . . . you know, I’m a very serious person, I am one of the most serious and gloomy characters among modern women, let me tell you . . . ha — ha — ha! We’ll have another talk some time, but now I’m not quite myself, I am upset and . . . I believe I’m a little hysterical. But, at last, at last, HE will let me, too, live in peace.”
This exclamation broke from her unconsciously; I understood it at once, and did not want to catch it up, but I trembled all over.
“He knows I’ve forgiven him!” she exclaimed suddenly again, as though to herself.
“Could you really forgive him that letter? And how could he tell that you forgave him?” I could not help exclaiming.
“How could he tell? Oh, he knows,” she went on answering me, yet she looked as though she had forgotten my existence and were talking to herself. “He has come to his senses now. And how could he not know that I forgave him, when he knows every secret of my soul by heart? Why, he knows that I am a little after his kind myself.”
“Why, yes, he knows that. Oh, I’m not passionate, I’m calm: but like him I should like all men to be fine. . . . Of course there was something made him love me.”
“How could he say that you had all the vices.”
“He only said that; he has another secret in his heart. And didn’t he write an awfully funny letter?”
“Funny?” (I was listening to her with strained attention. I imagined that she really was hysterical, and . . . was speaking, perhaps, not for my benefit; but I could not resist the question.)
“Oh yes, funny, and how I should have laughed, if . . . if I hadn’t been frightened. Though I’m not such a coward, don’t think it; but I didn’t sleep all night after that letter, it seemed written in blood and frenzy . . . and after such a letter what was left to come. I love life, I’m horribly afraid for my life, I’m horribly cowardly in that. . . . Ah, listen,” she cried, suddenly darting at me, “go to him, he’s alone now, he can’t be there still, most likely he’s gone off somewhere alone; make haste and find him, you must make haste, run to him, show him that you are his son and love him, prove that you are the dear kind boy, my student whom I . . . Oh, God give you happiness, I love nobody, and it is better so, but I want every one to be happy, every one, and him above all, and let him know that . . . at once . . . I should be very glad.”
She got up and suddenly disappeared behind the curtain. At that instant tears were shining on her face (hysterical after her laughter). I remained alone, agitated and confused. I was completely at a loss to what to ascribe such emotion in her, an emotion which I never should have suspected. Something seemed to be clutching at my heart.
I waited five minutes, ten; the profound silence suddenly struck me, and I ventured to peep out of the door, and to call. In answer to my call Marya appeared and informed me in the most stolid tone, that the lady had put on her things long, long ago and gone out by the back way.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:07