This was enough for me. I snatched up my fur coat and, throwing it on as I went, rushed off with the thought: “She bade me go to him, but where shall I find him?”
But together with everything else I was struck by the question, “Why does she suppose that something has happened, and that now HE will leave her in peace? Of course, because he will marry mother, but what is she feeling? Is she glad that he will marry mother, or is she unhappy about it? And was that why she was hysterical? Why is it I can’t get to the bottom of it?
I note this second thought that flashed upon me, literally in order to record it: it is important. That evening was a momentous one. And really one is forced to believe in predestination: I had not gone a hundred steps in the direction of mother’s lodging when I came across the man I was looking for. He clutched me by the shoulder and stopped me.
“It’s you!” he cried joyfully, and at the same time with the greatest astonishment. “Only fancy, I’ve been at your lodgings,” he began quickly, “I have been looking for you, I’ve been asking for you, you are the one person I want in the whole universe! Your landlord told me some extraordinary tale; but you weren’t there, and I came away and even forgot to tell him to ask you to run round to me at once, and, would you believe it, I set off, nevertheless, with the positive conviction that fate could not fail to send you to me now when most I need you, and here you are the first person to meet me! Come home with me: you’ve never been to my rooms.”
In fact we had been looking for each other, and something of the same sort had happened to each of us. We walked very rapidly.
On the way he uttered only a few brief phrases, telling me he had left mother with Tatyana Pavlovna and so on. He walked holding my arm. His lodging was not far off and we soon arrived. I had, in fact, never been in these rooms of his. It was a small flat of three rooms, which he had taken or rather Tatyana Pavlovna had taken simply for that “tiny baby.” The flat had always been under Tatyana Pavlovna’s supervision, and in it had been installed a nurse with the baby (and now Darya Onisimovna, too), but there had always been a room there for Versilov, the outermost of the three, a fairly good and spacious room, snugly furnished, like a study for literary pursuits. On the table, on the shelves, and on a whatnot there were numbers of books (while at mother’s there were none at all); there were manuscripts and bundles of letters — in fact, it all looked snug and as though it had been long inhabited, and I know that in the past Versilov had sometimes, though not very often, moved into this flat altogether, and had stayed there even for weeks at a time. The first thing that caught my attention was a portrait of mother that hung over the writing table; a photograph in a magnificent carved frame of rare wood, obviously taken abroad and judging from its size a very expensive one. I had never heard of this portrait and knew nothing of it before, and what struck me most of all was the likeness which was remarkable in a photograph, the spiritual truth of it, so to say; in fact it looked more like a real portrait by the hand of an artist than a mere mechanical print. When I went in I could not help stopping before it at once.
“Isn’t it, isn’t it?” Versilov repeated behind me, meaning, “Isn’t it like?” I glanced at him and was struck by the expression of his face. He was rather pale, but there was a glowing and intense look in his eyes which seemed shining with happiness and strength. I had never seen such an expression on his face.
“I did not know that you loved mother so much!” I blurted out, suddenly delighted.
He smiled blissfully, though in his smile there was a suggestion of something like a martyr’s anguish, or rather something humane and lofty . . . I don’t know how to express it; but highly developed people, I fancy, can never have triumphantly and complacently happy faces. He did not answer, but taking the portrait from the rings with both hands brought it close to him, kissed it, and gently hung it back on the wall.
“Observe,” he said; “photographs very rarely turn out good likenesses, and that one can easily understand: the originals, that is all of us, are very rarely like ourselves. Only on rare occasions does a man’s face express his leading quality, his most characteristic thought. The artist studies the face and divines its characteristic meaning, though at the actual moment when he’s painting, it may not be in the face at all. Photography takes a man as he is, and it is extremely possible that at moments Napoleon would have turned out stupid, and Bismarck tender. Here, in this portrait, by good luck the sun caught Sonia in her characteristic moment of modest gentle love and rather wild shrinking chastity. And how happy she was when at last she was convinced that I was so eager to have her portrait. Though that photograph was taken not so long ago, still she was younger then and handsomer; yet even then she had those hollow cheeks, those lines on her forehead, that shrinking timidity in her eyes, which seems to gain upon her with the years, and increase as time goes on. Would you believe it, dear boy? I can scarcely picture her now with a different face, and yet you know she was once young and charming. Russian women go off quickly, their beauty is only a passing gleam, and this is not only due to racial peculiarity, but is because they are capable of unlimited love. The Russian woman gives everything at once when she loves — the moment and her whole destiny and the present and the future: she does not know how to be thrifty, she keeps nothing hidden in reserve; and their beauty is quickly consumed upon him whom they love. Those hollow cheeks, they too were once a beauty that has been consumed on me, on my brief amusement. You are glad that I love your mother, and perhaps you didn’t believe that I did love her? Yes, my dear, I did love her very much, but I’ve done her nothing but harm. . . . Here is another portrait — look at that, too.”
He took it from the table and handed it me. It, too, was a photograph, a great deal smaller, in a thin oval wooden frame — it was the face of a young girl, thin and consumptive, and at the same time very good-looking; dreamy and yet strangely lacking in thought. The features were regular, of the type suggesting the pampering of generations, but it left a painful impression: it looked as though some fixed idea had taken possession of this creature and was torturing her, just because it was too much for her strength.
“That . . . that is the girl you meant to marry and who died of consumption . . . HER step-daughter?” I said rather timidly.
“Yes, I meant to marry her, she died of consumption, HER step-daughter. I knew that you knew . . . all that gossip. Though you could have known nothing about it but the gossip. Put the portrait down, my boy, that was a poor, mad girl and nothing more.”
“Or imbecile; I think she was mad though. She had a child by Prince Sergay. It came about through madness not through love; it was one of Prince Sergay’s most scoundrelly actions. The child is here now in the next room, and I’ve long wanted to show it to you. Prince Sergay has never dared come here to look at the child; that was the compact I made with him abroad. I took the child to bring up with your mother’s permission. With your mother’s permission I meant at the time to marry that unhappy creature . . .”
“Could such permission have been possible?” I protested warmly.
“Oh yes, she allowed it: jealousy could only have been felt of a woman, and that was not a woman.”
“Not a woman to anyone but mother! I shall never in my life believe that mother was not jealous!” I cried.
“And you’re right. I guessed it was so when everything was over, that is when she had given her permission. But enough of that. It all came to nothing through Lidya’s death, and perhaps it wouldn’t have come off if she had lived, and even now I don’t let mother come to see the child. It was only an episode. My dear boy, I’ve been looking forward to having you here for ever so long. I’ve been dreaming of how we should get to know each other here. Do you know how long? — for the last two years.”
He looked at me sincerely and truthfully, and with a warmth of heart in which there was no reserve. I gripped his hand:
“Why have you put it off, why did you not invite me long ago? If only you knew all that has been . . . which would not have been if only you had sent for me earlier! . . .”
At that instant the samovar was brought in, and Darya Onisimovna suddenly brought in the baby asleep.
“Look at it,” said Versilov; “I am fond of it, and I told them to bring it in now that you might look at it. Well, take it away again, Darya Onisimovna. Sit down to the samovar. I shall imagine that we have always lived together like this, and that we’ve been meeting every evening with no parting before us. Let me look at you: there, sit like this, that I can see your face. How I love your face. How I used to imagine your face when I was expecting you from Moscow. You ask why I did not send for you long ago? Wait a little, perhaps you will understand that now.”
“Can it be that it’s only that old man’s death that has set your tongue free? That’s strange . . .”
But though I said that, I looked at him with love. We talked like two friends in the highest and fullest sense of the word. He had asked me to come here to make something clear to me, to tell me something, to justify himself; and yet everything was explained and justified before a word was said. Whatever I might hear from him now, the result was already attained, and we both knew that and were happy, and looked at each other knowing it.
“It’s not the death of that old man,” he answered: “it’s not his death alone, there is something else too, which has happened at the same time. . . . God bless this moment and our future for a long time to come! Let us talk, my dear boy. I keep wandering from the point and letting myself be drawn off. I want to speak about one thing, but I launch into a thousand side issues. It’s always like that when the heart is full. . . . But let us talk; the time has come and I’ve been in love with you, boy, for ever so long . . .”
He sank back in the armchair and looked at me once more.
“How strange it is to hear that, how strange it is,” I repeated in an ecstasy of delight. And then I remember there suddenly came into his face that habitual line, as it were, of sadness and mockery together, which I knew so well. He controlled himself and with a certain stiffness began.
“You see, Arkady, if I had asked you to come earlier what should I have said to you? That question is my whole answer.”
“You mean that now you are mother’s husband, and my father, while then. . . . You did not know what to say to me before about the social position? Is that it?”
“Not only about that, dear boy. I should not have known what to say to you: there was so much I should have had to be silent about. Much that was absurd, indeed, and humiliating, because it was like a mountebank performance — yes, a regular show at a fair. Come, how could we have understood each other before, when I’ve only understood myself to-day at five o’clock this afternoon, just two hours before Makar Ivanovitch’s death? You look at me with unpleasant perplexity. Don’t be uneasy: I will explain the facts, but what I have just said is absolutely true; my whole life has been lost in mazes and perplexity, and suddenly they are all solved on such a day, at five o’clock this afternoon! It’s quite mortifying, isn’t it? A little while ago I should really have felt mortified.”
I was listening indeed with painful wonder; that old expression of Versilov’s, which I should have liked not to meet that evening after what had been said, was strongly marked. Suddenly I exclaimed:
“My God! You’ve received something from her . . . at five o’clock this afternoon?”
He looked at me intently, and was evidently struck at my exclamation: and, perhaps, at my expression: “from her.”
“You shall know all about it,” he said, with a dreamy smile, “and, of course, I shall not conceal from you anything you ought to know; for that’s what I brought you here for; but let us put that off for a time. You see, my dear boy, I knew long ago that there are children who brood from their earliest years over their family through being humiliated by the unseemliness of their surroundings and of their parents’ lives. I noticed these brooding natures while I was still at school, and I concluded then that it all came from their being prematurely envious. Though I was myself a brooding child, yet . . . excuse me, my dear, I’m wonderfully absent-minded. I only meant to say that almost all this time I have been continually uneasy about you. I always imagined you one of those little creatures doomed to solitude, though conscious of being gifted. Like you, I was never fond of my schoolfellows. It is sad for those natures who are flung back on their own resources and dreams, especially when they have a passionate, premature and almost vindictive longing for ‘seemliness’— yes, ‘vindictive.’ But enough, dear boy, I’m wandering from the point. Before I had begun to love you, I was picturing you and your solitary wild dreams. . . . But enough; I’ve actually forgotten what I had begun to speak about. But all this had to be said, however. But what could I have said to you before? Now I see your eyes looking at me, and I feel it’s my SON looking at me. Why, even yesterday I could not have believed that I should ever be sitting and talking to my boy as I am to-day.”
He certainly did seem unable to concentrate his mind, and at the same time he seemed, as it were, softened.
“I have no need to dream and brood now; it’s enough for me, now, that I have you! I will follow you!” I said, dedicating myself to him with my whole heart.
“Follow me? But my wanderings are just over, they have ended to-day: you are too late, my dear boy. To-day is the end of the last act, and the curtain has gone down. This last act has dragged on long. It began very long ago — the last time I rushed off abroad. I threw up everything then, and you must know, my dear, I broke off all relations for good with your mother, and told her I was doing so myself. That you ought to know. I told her then I was going away for ever; that she would never see me again. What was worst of all, I even forgot to leave her any money. I did not think of you either, not for one minute. I went away meaning to remain in Europe and never to return home, my dear. I emigrated.”
“To Herzen? To take part in the revolutionary propaganda abroad? Probably all your life you have been taking part in political conspiracies?” I cried, unable to restrain myself.
“No, my dear, I’ve never taken part in any conspiracy. But how your eyes sparkle; I like your exclamations, my dear. No, I simply went away then from a sudden attack of melancholy. It was the typical melancholy of the Russian nobleman, I really don’t know how to describe it better. The melancholy of our upper class, and nothing else.”
“Of the serf-owner . . . the emancipation of the serfs,” I was beginning to mutter, breathless.
“Serf-owner? You think I was grieving for the loss of it? That I could not endure the emancipation of the serfs. Oh no, my boy; why, we were all for the emancipation. I emigrated with no resentful feeling. I had only just been a mediator, and exerted myself to the utmost, I exerted myself disinterestedly, and I did not even go away because I got very little for my liberalism. We none of us got anything in those days, that is to say again, not those that were like me. I went away more in pride than in penitence, and, believe me, I was far from imagining that the time had come for me to end my life as a modest shoemaker. Je suis gentilhomme avant tout et je mourrai gentilhomme! Yet all the same I was sad. There are, perhaps, a thousand of my sort in Russia, no more perhaps really, but you know that is quite enough to keep the idea alive. We are the bearers of the idea, my dear boy! . . . I am talking, my darling, in the strange hope that you may understand this rigmarole. I’ve brought you here acting on a caprice of the heart: I’ve long been dreaming of how I might tell you something . . . you, and no one else. However . . . however . . .”
“No, tell me,” I cried: “I see the look of sincerity in your face again. . . . Tell me, did Europe bring you back to life again? And what do you mean by the ‘melancholy of the nobleman!’ Forgive me, darling, I don’t understand yet.”
“Europe bring me back to life? Why, I went to bury Europe!”
“To bury?” I repeated in surprise.
“Arkady dear, my soul was weary then, and I was troubled in spirit. I shall never forget my first moments in Europe that time. I had stayed in Europe before, but this was a special time, and I had never gone there before with such desperate sadness, and . . . with such love, as on that occasion. I will tell you about one of my first impressions, one of the dreams I had in those days, a real dream. It was when I was in Germany, I had only just left Dresden, and in absence of mind I passed the station at which I ought to have got out, and went off on to another line. I had to get out at once to change, it was between two and three in the afternoon, a fine day. It was a little German town: I was directed to an hotel. I had to wait; the next train was at eleven o’clock at night. I was quite glad of the adventure, for I was in no particular haste to get anywhere, and was simply wandering from place to place, my dear. The hotel turned out to be small and poor, but all surrounded by green trees and flower-beds, as is always the case in Germany. They gave me a tiny room, and as I had been travelling all night I fell asleep, after dinner, at four o’clock in the afternoon.
“I dreamed a dream that was a complete surprise to me, for I had never had any dreams of the sort before. In the gallery at Dresden there is a picture by Claude Lorraine, called in the catalogue ‘Acis and Galatea,’ but I used to call it ‘The Golden Age,’ I don’t know why. I had seen it before, but I had noticed it again in passing three days earlier. I dreamed of this picture, but not as a picture, but, as it were, a reality. I don’t know exactly what I did dream though: it was just as in the picture, a corner of the Grecian Archipelago, and time seemed to have gone back three thousand years; blue smiling waves, isles and rocks, a flowery shore, a view like fairyland in the distance, a setting sun that seemed calling to me — there’s no putting it into words. It seemed a memory of the cradle of Europe, and that thought seemed to fill my soul, too, with a love as of kinship. Here was the earthly paradise of man: the gods came down from the skies, and were of one kin with men. . . . Oh, here lived a splendid race! they rose up and lay down to sleep happy and innocent; the woods and meadows were filled with their songs and merry voices. Their wealth of untouched strength was spent on simple-hearted joy and love. The sun bathed them in warmth and light, rejoicing in her splendid children . . . Marvellous dream, lofty error of mankind! The Golden Age is the most unlikely of all the dreams that have been, but for it men have given up their life and all their strength, for the sake of it prophets have died and been slain, without it the peoples will not live and cannot die, and the feeling of all this I lived through, as it were, in that dream; rocks and sea, and the slanting rays of the setting sun — all this I seemed still to see when I woke up and opened my eyes, literally wet with tears. I remembered that I was glad, a sensation of happiness I had never known before thrilled my heart till it ached; it was the love of all humanity. It was by then quite evening; through the green of the flowers that stood in the windows of my little room, broke slanting rays that flooded me with light. And then, my dear — that setting sun of the first day of European civilization which I had seen in my dream was transformed for me at once on waking, into the setting sun of the last day of civilization! One seemed to hear the death-knell ringing over Europe in those days. I am not speaking of the war and the Tuileries; apart from that, I knew that all would pass away, the whole face of the old world of Europe — sooner or later, but I, as a Russian European, could not accept it. Yes, they had only just burnt the Tuileries . . . .
“Oh, rest assured, I know it was logical; I quite understand the irresistible force of the idea, but as the bearer of the idea of the highest Russian culture, I could not accept it, for the highest Russian thought is the reconciliation of ideas, and who in the whole world could understand such a thought at that time; I was a solitary wanderer. I am not speaking of myself personally — it’s the Russian idea I’m speaking of. There all was strife and logic; there the Frenchman was nothing but a Frenchman, the German was nothing but a German, and this more intensely so than at any time in their whole history; consequently never had the Frenchman done so much harm to France, or the German to Germany, as just at that time! In those days in all Europe there was not one European: I alone among all the vitriol-throwers could have told them to their face that their Tuileries was a mistake. And I alone among the avenging reactionists could have told them that the Tuileries, although a crime, was none the less logical. And that, my boy, was because I, as a Russian, was the ONLY EUROPEAN in Russia. I am not talking of myself, I am talking of the whole Russian idea. I have been a wanderer, my boy. I was a wanderer, and I knew well that I must wander and be silent. But yet I was sad. I cannot help respecting my position as a Russian nobleman. My boy, I believe you are laughing?”
“No, I’m not laughing,” I said in a voice full of feeling, “I’m not laughing at all; you thrilled my heart by your vision of ‘The Golden Age,’ and, I assure you, I’m beginning to understand you. But, above all, I’m glad that you have such a respect for yourself. I hasten to tell you so. I never expected that of you!”
“I’ve told you already that I love your exclamations, dear boy,” he smiled again at my naïve exclamation, and getting up from his chair, began unconsciously walking up and down the room. I, too, got up. He went on talking in his strange language which was yet so deeply pregnant with thought.
“Yes, boy, I tell you again, I cannot help respecting my position as a Russian nobleman. Among us has been created by the ages, a type of the highest culture never seen before, and existing nowhere else in the world — the type of world-wide compassion for all. It is a Russian type, but since it is taken from the most highly cultured stratum of the Russian people, I have the honour of being a representative of it. That type is the custodian of the future of Russia. There are, perhaps, only a thousand of us in Russia, possibly more, possibly less — but all Russia has existed, so far, only to produce that thousand. I shall be told with indignation that the result is poor, if so many ages and so many millions of people have been spent to produce only this thousand. I don’t think it little.”
I listened with strained attention. A conviction, the guiding principle of a whole life, was emerging. That “thousand men” made his personality stand out in such strong relief!
I felt that his expansiveness with me was due to some external shock. He talked so warmly to me because he loved me; but the reason he had suddenly begun to talk, and the reason he so wanted to talk to me especially, I could not guess.
“I emigrated,” he went on; “and I regretted nothing I had left behind. I had served Russia to the utmost of my abilities as long as I was there; when I went away I went on serving her, too, but in a wider sense. But serving her in that way I served her far more than if I had remained only a Russian, just as the Frenchman at that time was a Frenchman, and a German only a German. In Europe they don’t understand that yet. Europe has created a noble type of Frenchman, of Englishman, and of German, but of the man of the future she scarcely knows at present. And, I fancy, so far she does not want to know. And that one can well imagine; they are not free and we are free. I, with my Russian melancholy, was the only one free in Europe . . . .
“Take note, my dear, of a strange fact: every Frenchman can serve not only his France, but humanity, only on condition that he remains French to the utmost possible degree, and it’s the same for the Englishman and the German. Only to the Russian, even in our day, has been vouchsafed the capacity to become most of all Russian only when he is most European, and this is true even in our day, that is, long before the millennium has been reached. That is the most essential difference between us Russians and all the rest, and in that respect the position in Russia is as nowhere else. I am in France a Frenchman, with a German I am a German, with the ancient Greeks I am a Greek, and by that very fact I am most typically a Russian. By that very fact I am a true Russian, and am most truly serving Russia, for I am bringing out her leading idea. I am a pioneer of that idea. I was an emigrant then, but had I forsaken Russia? No, I was still serving her. What though I did nothing in Europe, what if I only went there as a wanderer (indeed, I know that was so) it was enough that I went there with my thought and my consciousness. I carried thither my Russian melancholy. Oh, it was not only the bloodshed in those days that appalled me, and it was not the Tuileries, but all that was bound to follow it. They are doomed to strife for a long time yet, because they are still too German and too French, and have not yet finished struggling in those national characters. And I regret the destruction that must come before they have finished. To the Russian, Europe is as precious as Russia: every stone in her is cherished and dear. Europe is as much our fatherland as Russia. Oh, even more so. No one could love Russia more than I do, but I never reproached myself that Venice, Rome, Paris, the treasures of their arts and sciences, their whole history, are dearer to me than Russia. Oh, those old stones of foreign lands, those wonders of God’s ancient world, those fragments of holy marvels are dear to the Russian, and are even dearer to us than to the inhabitants of those lands themselves! They now have other thoughts and other feelings, and they have ceased to treasure the old stones. . . . There the conservative struggles only for existence; and the vitriol-thrower is only fighting for a crust of bread. Only Russia lives not for herself, but for an idea, and, you must admit, my dear, the remarkable fact that for almost the last hundred years Russia has lived absolutely not for herself, but only for the other States of Europe! And, what of them! Oh, they are doomed to pass though fearful agonies before they attain the Kingdom of God.”
I must confess I listened in great perplexity; the very tone of his talk alarmed me, though I could not help being impressed by his ideas. I was morbidly afraid of falsity. I suddenly observed in a stern voice:
“You spoke just now of the ‘Kingdom of God.’ I’ve heard that you used to preach, used to wear chains?”
“Let my chains alone,” he said with a smile: “that’s quite a different matter. I did not preach anything in those days, but that I grieved for their God, that is true. Atheism was proclaimed . . . only by one group of them, but that made no difference; it was only the hot-heads, but it was the first active step — that’s what mattered. In that, too, you have their logic; but there’s always melancholy in logic. I was the outcome of a different culture, and my heart could not accept it. The ingratitude with which they parted from the idea, the hisses and pelting with mud were intolerable to me. The brutality of the process shocked me. Reality always has a smack of the brutal about it, even when there’s an unmistakable striving towards the ideal, and, of course, I ought to have known that; but yet I was a man of another type; I was free to choose, and they were not, and I wept, I wept for them, I wept for the old idea. And I wept, perhaps, with real tears, with no figure of speech.”
“Did you believe so much in God?” I asked incredulously.
“My dear boy, that question, perhaps, is unnecessary. Supposing I did not believe very much, yet I could not help grieving for the idea. I could not help wondering, at times, how man could live without God, and whether that will ever be possible. My heart always decided that it was impossible; but at a certain period perhaps it is possible . . . I have no doubt that it is coming; but I always imagined a different picture . . . .”
It was true that he had told me before that he was happy; there was, of course, a great deal of enthusiasm in his words; that is how I take a great deal that he said. Respecting him as I do, I can’t bring myself to record here, on paper, all our conversation; but some points in the strange picture I succeeded in getting out of him I will quote. What had always worried me most was the thought of those “chains,” and I wanted to clear up the matter now, and so I persisted. Some fantastic and extremely strange ideas, to which he gave utterance then, have remained in my heart for ever.
“I picture to myself, my boy,” he said with a dreamy smile, “that war is at an end and strife has ceased. After curses, pelting with mud, and hisses, has come a lull, and men are left alone, according to their desire: the great idea of old has left them; the great source of strength that till then had nourished and fostered them was vanishing like the majestic sun setting in Claude Lorraine’s picture, but it was somehow the last day of humanity, and men suddenly understood that they were left quite alone, and at once felt terribly forlorn. I have never, my dear boy, been able to picture men ungrateful and grown stupid. Men left forlorn would begin to draw together more closely and more lovingly; they would clutch one another’s hands, realizing that they were all that was left for one another! The great idea of immortality would have vanished, and they would have to fill its place; and all the wealth of love lavished of old upon Him, who was immortal, would be turned upon the whole of nature, on the world, on men, on every blade of grass. They would inevitably grow to love the earth and life as they gradually became aware of their own transitory and finite nature, and with a special love, not as of old, they would begin to observe and would discover in nature phenomena and secrets which they had not suspected before, for they would look on nature with new eyes, as a lover looking on his beloved. On awakening they would hasten to kiss one another, eager to love, knowing that the days are short, and that is all that is left them. They would work for one another, and each would give up all that he had to all, and by that only would be happy. Every child would know and feel that every one on earth was for him like a father or mother. ‘To-morrow may be my last day,’ each one would think, looking at the setting sun; ‘but no matter, I shall die, but all they will remain and after them their children,’ and that thought that they will remain, always as loving and as anxious over each other, would replace the thought of meeting beyond the tomb. Oh, they would be in haste to love, to stifle the great sorrow in their hearts. They would be proud and brave for themselves, but would grow timid for one another; every one would tremble for the life and happiness of each; they would grow tender to one another, and would not be ashamed of it as now, and would be caressing as children. Meeting, they would look at one another with deep and thoughtful eyes, and in their eyes would be love and sorrow . . . .
“My dear boy,” he broke off with a smile, “this is a fantasy and a most improbable one; but I have pictured it to myself so often, for all my life I could not have lived without it, and the thought of it. I am not speaking of my belief: my faith is great, I am a deist, a philosophic deist, like all the thousand of us I imagine, but . . . but it’s noteworthy that I always complete my picture with Heine’s vision of ‘Christ on the Baltic Sea.’ I could not get on without Him, I could not help imagining Him, in fact, in the midst of His bereaved people. He comes to them, holds out His hands, and asks them, ‘How could they forget Him? And then, as it were, the scales would fall from their eyes and there would break forth the great rapturous hymn of the new and the last resurrection . . .
“Enough of that, my dear; but my ‘chains ‘ are all nonsense; don’t trouble your mind about them. And another thing: you know that I am modest and sober of speech; if I’m talking too freely now, it’s . . . due to various feelings, and it’s with you; to no one else shall I ever speak like this. I add this to set your mind at rest.”
But I was really touched; there was none of the falsity I had dreaded, and I was particularly delighted to see clearly that he really had been melancholy and suffering, and that he really, undoubtedly, had loved much, and that was more precious to me than anything. I told him this with impulsive eagerness.
“But do you know,” I added suddenly, “it seems to me that in spite of all your melancholy in those days you must have been very happy?”
He laughed gaily.
“You are particularly apt in your remarks to-day,” he said. “Well, yes, I was happy. How could I be unhappy with a melancholy like that? No one is freer and happier than a Russian wanderer in Europe, one of our thousand. I am not laughing when I say that, and there’s a great deal that’s serious in it. And I would not have given up my melancholy for any happiness. In that sense I’ve always been happy, my dear, all my life. And through being happy I began then, for the first time in my life, really to love your mother.”
“How do you mean for the first time in your life?”
“It was just that. Wandering and melancholy, I suddenly began to love her as I had never loved her before, and I sent for her at once.”
“Oh, tell me about that, too, tell me about mother.”
“Yes, that’s why I asked you here,” he smiled gaily. “And do you know I was afraid that you’d forgiven the way I treated your mother for the sake of Herzen, or some little conspiracy . . . .”
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:53