My God, how it has all ended! What it has all ended in! I arrived at nine o’clock. She was already there. I noticed her a good way off; she was standing as she had been that first time, with her elbows on the railing, and she did not hear me coming up to her.
“Nastenka!” I called to her, suppressing my agitation with an effort.
She turned to me quickly.
“Well?” she said. “Well? Make haste!”
I looked at her in perplexity.
“Well, where is the letter? Have you brought the letter?” she repeated clutching at the railing.
“No, there is no letter,” I said at last. “Hasn’t he been to you yet?” She turned fearfully pale and looked at me for a long time without moving. I had shattered her last hope.
“Well, God be with him,” she said at last in a breaking voice; “God be with him if he leaves me like that.”
She dropped her eyes, then tried to look at me and could not. For several minutes she was struggling with her emotion. All at once she turned away, leaning her elbows against the railing and burst into tears.
“Oh don’t, don’t!” I began; but looking at her I had not the heart to go on, and what was I to say to her?
“Don’t try and comfort me,” she said; “don’t talk about him; don’t tell me that he will come, that he has not cast me off so cruelly and so inhumanly as he has. What for — what for? Can there have been something in my letter, that unlucky letter?”
At that point sobs stifled her voice; my heart was torn as I looked at her.
“Oh, how inhumanly cruel it is!” she began again. “And not a line, not a line! He might at least have written that he does not want me, that he rejects me — but not a line for three days! How easy it is for him to wound, to insult a poor, defenceless girl, whose only fault is that she loves him! Oh, what I’ve suffered during these three days! Oh, dear! When I think that I was the first to go to him, that I humbled myself before him, cried, that I begged of him a little love! . . . and after that! Listen,” she said, turning to me, and her black eyes flashed, “it isn’t so! It can’t be so; it isn’t natural. Either you are mistaken or I; perhaps he has not received the letter? Perhaps he still knows nothing about it? How could any one — judge for yourself, tell me, for goodness’ sake explain it to me, I can’t understand it — how could any one behave with such barbarous coarseness as he has behaved to me? Not one word! Why, the lowest creature on earth is treated more compassionately. Perhaps he has heard something, perhaps some one has told him something about me,” she cried, turning to me inquiringly: “What do you think?”
“Listen, Nastenka, I shall go to him to-morrow in your name.”
“I will question him about everything; I will tell him everything.”
“You write a letter. Don’t say no, Nastenka, don’t say no! I will make him respect your action, he shall hear all about it, and if ——”
“No, my friend, no,” she interrupted. “Enough! Not another word, not another line from me — enough! I don’t know him; I don’t love him any more. I will . . . forget him.”
She could not go on.
“Calm yourself, calm yourself! Sit here, Nastenka,” I said, making her sit down on the seat.
“I am calm. Don’t trouble. It’s nothing! It’s only tears, they will soon dry. Why, do you imagine I shall do away with myself, that I shall throw myself into the river?”
My heart was full: I tried to speak, but I could not.
“Listen,” she said taking my hand. “Tell me: you wouldn’t have behaved like this, would you? You would not have abandoned a girl who had come to you of herself, you would not have thrown into her face a shameless taunt at her weak foolish heart? You would have taken care of her? You would have realized that she was alone, that she did not know how to look after herself, that she could not guard herself from loving you, that it was not her fault, not her fault — that she had done nothing. . . . Oh dear, oh dear!”
“Nastenka!” I cried at last, unable to control my emotion. “Nastenka, you torture me! You wound my heart, you are killing me, Nastenka! I cannot be silent! I must speak at last, give utterance to what is surging in my heart!”
As I said this I got up from the seat. She took my hand and looked at me in surprise.
“What is the matter with you?” she said at last.
“Listen,” I said resolutely. “Listen to me, Nastenka! What I am going to say to you now is all nonsense, all impossible, all stupid! I know that this can never be, but I cannot be silent. For the sake of what you are suffering now, I beg you beforehand to forgive me!”
“What is it? What is it?” she said drying her tears and looking at me intently, while a strange curiosity gleamed in her astonished eyes. “What is the matter?”
“It’s impossible, but I love you, Nastenka! There it is! Now everything is told,” I said with a wave of my hand. “Now you will see whether you can go on talking to me as you did just now, whether you can listen to what I am going to say to you.” . . .
“Well, what then?” Nastenka interrupted me. “What of it? I knew you loved me long ago, only I always thought that you simply liked me very much. . . . Oh dear, oh dear!”
“At first it was simply liking, Nastenka, but now, now! I am just in the same position as you were when you went to him with your bundle. In a worse position than you, Nastenka, because he cared for no one else as you do.”
“What are you saying to me! I don’t understand you in the least. But tell me, what’s this for; I don’t mean what for, but why are you . . . so suddenly. . . . Oh dear, I am talking nonsense! But you. . . . ”
And Nastenka broke off in confusion. Her cheeks flamed; she dropped her eyes.
“What’s to be done, Nastenka, what am I to do? I am to blame. I have abused your. . . . But no, no, I am not to blame, Nastenka; I feel that, I know that, because my heart tells me I am right, for I cannot hurt you in any way, I cannot wound you! I was your friend, but I am still your friend, I have betrayed no trust. Here my tears are falling, Nastenka. Let them flow, let them flow — they don’t hurt anybody. They will dry, Nastenka.”
“Sit down, sit down,” she said, making me sit down on the seat. “Oh, my God!”
“No, Nastenka, I won’t sit down; I cannot stay here any longer, you cannot see me again; I will tell you everything and go away. I only want to say that you would never have found out that I loved you. I should have kept my secret. I would not have worried you at such a moment with my egoism. No! But I could not resist it now; you spoke of it yourself, it is your fault, your fault and not mine. You cannot drive me away from you.” . . .
“No, no, I don’t drive you away, no!” said Nastenka, concealing her confusion as best she could, poor child.
“You don’t drive me away? No! But I meant to run from you myself. I will go away, but first I will tell you all, for when you were crying here I could not sit unmoved, when you wept, when you were in torture at being — at being — I will speak of it, Nastenka — at being forsaken, at your love being repulsed, I felt that in my heart there was so much love for you, Nastenka, so much love! And it seemed so bitter that I could not help you with my love, that my heart was breaking and I . . . I could not be silent, I had to speak, Nastenka, I had to speak!”
“Yes, yes! tell me, talk to me,” said Nastenka with an indescribable gesture. “Perhaps you think it strange that I talk to you like this, but . . . speak! I will tell you afterwards! I will tell you everything.”
“You are sorry for me, Nastenka, you are simply sorry for me, my dear little friend! What’s done can’t be mended. What is said cannot be taken back. Isn’t that so? Well, now you know. That’s the starting-point. Very well. Now it’s all right, only listen. When you were sitting crying I thought to myself (oh, let me tell you what I was thinking!), I thought, that (of course it cannot be, Nastenka), I thought that you . . . I thought that you somehow . . . quite apart from me, had ceased to love him. Then — I thought that yesterday and the day before yesterday, Nastenka — then I would — I certainly would — have succeeded in making you love me; you know, you said yourself, Nastenka, that you almost loved me. Well, what next? Well, that’s nearly all I wanted to tell you; all that is left to say is how it would be if you loved me, only that, nothing more! Listen, my friend — for any way you are my friend — I am, of course, a poor, humble man, of no great consequence; but that’s not the point (I don’t seem to be able to say what I mean, Nastenka, I am so confused), only I would love you, I would love you so, that even if you still loved him, even if you went on loving the man I don’t know, you would never feel that my love was a burden to you. You would only feel every minute that at your side was beating a grateful, grateful heart, a warm heart ready for your sake. . . . Oh Nastenka, Nastenka! What have you done to me?”
“Don’t cry; I don’t want you to cry,” said Nastenka getting up quickly from the seat. “Come along, get up, come with me, don’t cry, don’t cry,” she said, drying her tears with her handkerchief; “let us go now; maybe I will tell you something. . . . If he has forsaken me now, if he has forgotten me, though I still love him (I do not want to deceive you) . . . but listen, answer me. If I were to love you, for instance, that is, if I only. . . . Oh my friend, my friend! To think, to think how I wounded you, when I laughed at your love, when I praised you for not falling in love with me. Oh dear! How was it I did not foresee this, how was it I did not foresee this, how could I have been so stupid? But. . . . Well, I have made up my mind, I will tell you.”
“Look here, Nastenka, do you know what? I’ll go away, that’s what I’ll do. I am simply tormenting you. Here you are remorseful for having laughed at me, and I won’t have you . . . in addition to your sorrow. . . . Of course it is my fault, Nastenka, but good-bye!”
“Stay, listen to me: can you wait?”
“What for? How?”
“I love him; but I shall get over it, I must get over it, I cannot fail to get over it; I am getting over it, I feel that. . . . Who knows? Perhaps it will all end to-day, for I hate him, for he has been laughing at me, while you have been weeping here with me, for you have not repulsed me as he has, for you love me while he has never loved me, for in fact, I love you myself. . . . Yes, I love you! I love you as you love me; I have told you so before, you heard it yourself — I love you because you are better than he is, because you are nobler than he is, because, because he ——”
The poor girl’s emotion was so violent that she could not say more; she laid her head upon my shoulder, then upon my bosom, and wept bitterly. I comforted her, I persuaded her, but she could not stop crying; she kept pressing my hand, and saying between her sobs: “Wait, wait, it will be over in a minute! I want to tell you . . . you mustn’t think that these tears — it’s nothing, it’s weakness, wait till it’s over.” . . . At last she left off crying, dried her eyes and we walked on again. I wanted to speak, but she still begged me to wait. We were silent. . . . At last she plucked up courage and began to speak.
“It’s like this,” she began in a weak and quivering voice, in which, however, there was a note that pierced my heart with a sweet pang; “don’t think that I am so light and inconstant, don’t think that I can forget and change so quickly. I have loved him for a whole year, and I swear by God that I have never, never, even in thought, been unfaithful to him. . . . He has despised me, he has been laughing at me — God forgive him! But he has insulted me and wounded my heart. I . . . I do not love him, for I can only love what is magnanimous, what understands me, what is generous; for I am like that myself and he is not worthy of me — well, that’s enough of him. He has done better than if he had deceived my expectations later, and shown me later what he was. . . . Well, it’s over! But who knows, my dear friend,” she went on pressing my hand, “who knows, perhaps my whole love was a mistaken feeling, a delusion — perhaps it began in mischief, in nonsense, because I was kept so strictly by grandmother? Perhaps I ought to love another man, not him, a different man, who would have pity on me and . . . and. . . . But don’t let us say any more about that,” Nastenka broke off, breathless with emotion, “I only wanted to tell you . . . I wanted to tell you that if, although I love him (no, did love him), if, in spite of this you still say. . . . If you feel that your love is so great that it may at last drive from my heart my old feeling — if you will have pity on me — if you do not want to leave me alone to my fate, without hope, without consolation — if you are ready to love me always as you do now — I swear to you that gratitude . . . that my love will be at last worthy of your love. . . . Will you take my hand?”
“Nastenka!” I cried breathless with sobs. “Nastenka, oh Nastenka!”
“Enough, enough! Well, now it’s quite enough,” she said, hardly able to control herself. “Well, now all has been said, hasn’t it! Hasn’t it? You are happy — I am happy too. Not another word about it, wait; spare me . . . talk of something else, for God’s sake.”
“Yes, Nastenka, yes! Enough about that, now I am happy. I—— Yes, Nastenka, yes, let us talk of other things, let us make haste and talk. Yes! I am ready.”
And we did not know what to say: we laughed, we wept, we said thousands of things meaningless and incoherent; at one moment we walked along the pavement, then suddenly turned back and crossed the road; then we stopped and went back again to the embankment; we were like children.
“I am living alone now, Nastenka,” I began, “but to-morrow! Of course you know, Nastenka, I am poor, I have only got twelve hundred roubles, but that doesn’t matter.”
“Of course not, and granny has her pension, so she will be no burden. We must take granny.”
“Of course we must take granny. But there’s Matrona.”
“Yes, and we’ve got Fyokla too!”
“Matrona is a good woman, but she has one fault: she has no imagination, Nastenka, absolutely none; but that doesn’t matter.”
“That’s all right — they can live together; only you must move to us to-morrow.”
“To you? How so? All right, I am ready.”
“Yes, hire a room from us. We have a top floor, it’s empty. We had an old lady lodging there, but she has gone away; and I know granny would like to have a young man. I said to her, ‘Why a young man?’ And she said, ‘Oh, because I am old; only don’t you fancy, Nastenka, that I want him as a husband for you.’ So I guessed it was with that idea.”
And we both laughed.
“Come, that’s enough, that’s enough. But where do you live? I’ve forgotten.”
“Over that way, near X bridge, Barannikov’s Buildings.”
“It’s that big house?”
“Yes, that big house.”
“Oh, I know, a nice house; only you know you had better give it up and come to us as soon as possible.”
“To-morrow, Nastenka, to-morrow; I owe a little for my rent there but that doesn’t matter. I shall soon get my salary.”
“And do you know I will perhaps give lessons; I will learn something myself and then give lessons.”
“Capital! And I shall soon get a bonus.”
“So by to-morrow you will be my lodger.”
“And we will go to The Barber of Seville, for they are soon going to give it again.”
“Yes, we’ll go,” said Nastenka, “but better see something else and not The Barber of Seville.”
“Very well, something else. Of course that will be better, I did not think ——”
As we talked like this we walked along in a sort of delirium, a sort of intoxication, as though we did not know what was happening to us. At one moment we stopped and talked for a long time at the same place; then we went on again, and goodness knows where we went; and again tears and again laughter. All of a sudden Nastenka would want to go home, and I would not dare to detain her but would want to see her to the house; we set off, and in a quarter of an hour found ourselves at the embankment by our seat. Then she would sigh, and tears would come into her eyes again; I would turn chill with dismay. . . . But she would press my hand and force me to walk, to talk, to chatter as before.
“It’s time I was home at last; I think it must be very late,” Nastenka said at last. “We must give over being childish.”
“Yes, Nastenka, only I shan’t sleep to-night; I am not going home.”
“I don’t think I shall sleep either; only see me home.”
“I should think so!”
“Only this time we really must get to the house.”
“We must, we must.”
“Honour bright? For you know one must go home some time!”
“Honour bright,” I answered laughing.
“Well, come along!”
“Come along! Look at the sky, Nastenka. Look! To-morrow it will be a lovely day; what a blue sky, what a moon! Look; that yellow cloud is covering it now, look, look! No, it has passed by. Look, look!”
But Nastenka did not look at the cloud; she stood mute as though turned to stone; a minute later she huddled timidly close up to me. Her hand trembled in my hand; I looked at her. She pressed still more closely to me.
At that moment a young man passed by us. He suddenly stopped, looked at us intently, and then again took a few steps on. My heart began throbbing.
“Who is it, Nastenka?” I said in an undertone.
“It’s he,” she answered in a whisper, huddling up to me, still more closely, still more tremulously. . . . I could hardly stand on my feet.
“Nastenka, Nastenka! It’s you!” I heard a voice behind us and at the same moment the young man took several steps towards us.
My God, how she cried out! How she started! How she tore herself out of my arms and rushed to meet him! I stood and looked at them, utterly crushed. But she had hardly given him her hand, had hardly flung herself into his arms, when she turned to me again, was beside me again in a flash, and before I knew where I was she threw both arms round my neck and gave me a warm, tender kiss. Then, without saying a word to me, she rushed back to him again, took his hand, and drew him after her.
I stood a long time looking after them. At last the two vanished from my sight.
My night ended with the morning. It was a wet day. The rain was falling and beating disconsolately upon my window pane; it was dark in the room and grey outside. My head ached and I was giddy; fever was stealing over my limbs.
“There’s a letter for you, sir; the postman brought it,” Matrona said stooping over me.
“A letter? From whom?” I cried jumping up from my chair.
“I don’t know, sir, better look — maybe it is written there whom it is from.”
I broke the seal. It was from her!
“Oh, forgive me, forgive me! I beg you on my knees to forgive me! I deceived you and myself. It was a dream, a mirage. . . . My heart aches for you to-day; forgive me, forgive me!
“Don’t blame me, for I have not changed to you in the least. I told you that I would love you, I love you now, I more than love you. Oh, my God! If only I could love you both at once! Oh, if only you were he!”
[“Oh, if only he were you,” echoed in my mind. I remembered your words, Nastenka!]
“God knows what I would do for you now! I know that you are sad and dreary. I have wounded you, but you know when one loves a wrong is soon forgotten. And you love me.
“Thank you, yes, thank you for that love! For it will live in my memory like a sweet dream which lingers long after awakening; for I shall remember for ever that instant when you opened your heart to me like a brother and so generously accepted the gift of my shattered heart to care for it, nurse it, and heal it. . . . If you forgive me, the memory of you will be exalted by a feeling of everlasting gratitude which will never be effaced from my soul. . . . I will treasure that memory: I will be true to it, I will not betray it, I will not betray my heart: it is too constant. It returned so quickly yesterday to him to whom it has always belonged.
“We shall meet, you will come to us, you will not leave us, you will be for ever a friend, a brother to me. And when you see me you will give me your hand . . . yes? You will give it to me, you have forgiven me, haven’t you? You love me as before?
“Oh, love me, do not forsake me, because I love you so at this moment, because I am worthy of your love, because I will deserve it . . . my dear! Next week I am to be married to him. He has come back in love, he has never forgotten me. You will not be angry at my writing about him. But I want to come and see you with him; you will like him, won’t you?
“Forgive me, remember and love your
I read that letter over and over again for a long time; tears gushed to my eyes. At last it fell from my hands and I hid my face.
“Dearie! I say, dearie ——” Matrona began.
“What is it, Matrona?”
“I have taken all the cobwebs off the ceiling; you can have a wedding or give a party.”
I looked at Matrona. She was still a hearty, youngish old woman, but I don’t know why all at once I suddenly pictured her with lustreless eyes, a wrinkled face, bent, decrepit. . . . I don’t know why I suddenly pictured my room grown old like Matrona. The walls and the floors looked discoloured, everything seemed dingy; the spiders’ webs were thicker than ever. I don’t know why, but when I looked out of the window it seemed to me that the house opposite had grown old and dingy too, that the stucco on the columns was peeling off and crumbling, that the cornices were cracked and blackened, and that the walls, of a vivid deep yellow, were patchy.
Either the sunbeams suddenly peeping out from the clouds for a moment were hidden again behind a veil of rain, and everything had grown dingy again before my eyes; or perhaps the whole vista of my future flashed before me so sad and forbidding, and I saw myself just as I was now, fifteen years hence, older, in the same room, just as solitary, with the same Matrona grown no cleverer for those fifteen years.
But to imagine that I should bear you a grudge, Nastenka! That I should cast a dark cloud over your serene, untroubled happiness; that by my bitter reproaches I should cause distress to your heart, should poison it with secret remorse and should force it to throb with anguish at the moment of bliss; that I should crush a single one of those tender blossoms which you have twined in your dark tresses when you go with him to the altar. . . . Oh never, never! May your sky be clear, may your sweet smile be bright and untroubled, and may you be blessed for that moment of blissful happiness which you gave to another, lonely and grateful heart!
My God, a whole moment of happiness! Is that too little for the whole of a man’s life?
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University of Adelaide
South Australia 5005
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:07