The scene is the same as in Act I. RAKITIN and SHPIGELSKY come in from the outer room.
SHPIGELSKY. Well, how about it, Mihail Alexandritch? For goodness sake do help me.
RAKITIN. In what way can I help you, Ignaty Ilyitch?
SHPIGELSKY. In what way? Why, put yourself in my place, Mihail Alexandritch. This is no concern of mine, really. Indeed, I've been acting chiefly from a wish to serve others. . . . My kind heart will be my ruin!
RAKITIN [laughing]. Well, ruin's a good way off still.
SHPIGELSKY [laughing too]. About that there's no knowing, but my position is certainly awkward. I brought Bolshintsov here at Natalya Petrovna's wish, and have given him her answer with her permission, and now on one side I get sulky looks as though I'd done something foolish, and on the other, Bolshintsov gives me no peace. They avoid him and won't say a word to me.. . .
RAKITIN. What possessed you to take up this business, Ignaty Ilyitch? Why, Bolshintsov, between ourselves . . . he's simply a fool.
SHPIGELSKY. Well, I declare! Between ourselves! That's a piece of news! And since when have sensible men been the only ones to marry? We must leave the fools free to get married, if nothing else. You say I've taken up this business. . . . Not at all, I'll tell you how it came about: a friend asks me to put in a word for him. Well, was I to refuse? I'm a good-natured man, I don't know how to refuse. I carry out my friend's commission: the answer I get is: 'Very much obliged; pray, don't trouble yourself further.' I understand and don't trouble myself further. Then they take it up themselves and encourage me, so to speak. I obey; and now they're indignant with me. And in what way am I to blame?
RAKITIN. Why, who says you are to blame? . . . The only thing that puzzles me is what induces you to take so much trouble.
SHPIGELSKY. What induces . . . what induces. . . . The man gives me no peace.
RAKITIN. Come, nonsense . . . .
SHPIGELSKY. Besides, he's an old friend.
RAKITIN [with an incredulous smile]. Is he? Oh, well, that's another matter.
SHPIGELSKY [smiling too]. I'll be open with you, though. . . . There's no deceiving you. . . . Oh well--he has promised me . . . one of my horses has gone lame, so you see he has promised me . . .
RAKITIN. A horse to replace it?
SHPIGELSKY. Well, since I must own up, three new ones.
RAKITIN. You should have said that before!
SHPIGELSKY [eagerly]. But please don't you imagine . . . I would never have consented to be a go-between in this affair, it would have been utterly unlike me [RAKITIN smiles], if I had not known Bolshintsov to be a thoroughly honest man. . . . Besides, all I want even now is a definite answer--yes or no.
RAKITIN. Surely, things haven't reached that stage yet?
SHPIGELSKY. But what are you imagining? . . . It's not a question of marriage, but of permission to come, to visit . . . .
RAKITIN. But whoever forbids it?
SHPIGELSKY. Forbids . . . what a thing to say! Of course, if it were anybody else . . . but Bolshintsov's a shy man, a blessed innocent, straight out of the Golden Age, scarcely weaned from the feeding bottle. . . . He has so little self-confidence, he needs some encouragement. While his intentions are most honourable.
RAKITIN. Yes, and his horses good.
SHPIGELSKY. And his horses are good. [Takes a pinch of snuff and offers the box to RAKITIN.] Won't you have some?
RAKITIN. No, thanks.
SHPIGELSKY. So that's how it is, Mihail Alexandritch. As you see, I don't want to deceive you. Indeed, why should I? The thing's perfectly clear and straightforward. A man of excellent principles, with property, quite harmless. . . . If he suits--good. If he doesn't--well, they should say so.
RAKITIN. That's all very well, no doubt, but how do I come in? I really don't see what I can do about it.
SHPIGELSKY. Oh, Mihail Alexandritch! As though we don't know that Natalya Petrovna has a very great respect for you and even sometimes follows your advice. . . . Now do, Mihail Alexandritch [Puts his arm round him], be a friend, put in a word . . . .
RAKITIN. And you think this is a good husband for little Vera?
SHPIGELSKY [assuming a serious air], I'm convinced of it. You don't believe it. . . . Well, you'll see. As you know, the great thing in marriage is solid character. And Bolshintsov is solidity itself. [Looking round.] And here I do believe is Natalya Petrovna herself coming in. . . . My dear good friend, my benefactor! The two chestnuts as trace-horses, and the bay in the shafts! You will do your best?
RAKITIN [smiling]. Oh, very well, very well . . . .
SHPIGELSKY. Mind now, I rely on you. . . . [Escapes into the outer room.]
RAKITIN [looking after him]. What a sly rogue that doctor is! Vera . . . and Bolshintsov! But there you are! There are marriages worse than that. I'll do as he asks me, and then--it's not my business! [Turns round. NATALYA PETROVNA, coming out of the study and seeing him, stops.]
NATALYA PETROVNA [irresolutely]. It's . . . you. . . . I thought you were in the garden.
RAKITIN. You seem sorry I'm not . . . .
NATALYA PETROVNA [interrupting]. Oh! nonsense. [Advancing to front of stage.] Are you alone here?
RAKITIN. Shpigelsky has just gone.
NATALYA PETROVNA [with a slight frown]. Oh, that local Talleyrand. . . . What has he been saying to you? Is he still hanging about?
RAKITIN. The local Talleyrand, as you call him, is evidently in disfavour to-day . . . but yesterday, I fancy . . .
NATALYA PETROVNA. He's funny; he's amusing, certainly, but . . . he meddles in what's not his business. . . . It's disagreeable. . . . Besides, for all his obsequiousness, he is very impudent and persistent. . . . He's a great cynic.
RAKITIN [going up to her]. You didn't speak of him like that yesterday . . . .
NATALYA PETROVNA. Perhaps not. [Eagerly.] So what was he talking about?
RAKITIN. He talked to me . . . about Bolshintsov.
NATALYA PETROVNA. Oh? About that stupid creature?
RAKITIN. Of him, too, you spoke very differently yesterday.
NATALYA PETROVNA [with a constrained smile]. Yesterday is not to-day.
RAKITIN. True, for others . . . but it seems not for me.
NATALYA PETROVNA [dropping her eyes]. How's that?
RAKITIN. For me to-day is the same as yesterday.
NATALYA PETROVNA [holding out her hand to him]. I understand your reproach, but you are mistaken. Yesterday I wouldn't admit that I was behaving badly to you. . . . [RAKITIN attempts to stop her.] Don't contradict me. . . . I know and you know what I mean . . . but to-day I admit it. I have been thinking things over to-day. . . . But believe me, Michel, whatever silly thoughts take hold of me, whatever I say, whatever I do, there is no one I depend upon as I do on you. [Dropping her voice.] There is no one . . . I love as I do you. . . . [A brief silence.] You don't believe me? RAKITIN. I believe you . . . but you seem depressed to-day, what's the matter?
NATALYA PETROVNA [goes on speaking without hearing him]. But I am convinced of one thing, Rakitin; one can never answer for oneself, one can never be sure of oneself. We often don't understand our past, how can we expect to answer for the future! There's no putting the future in fetters!
RAKITIN. That's true.
NATALYA PETROVNA [after a long silence]. Do you know, I want to tell you the truth. Perhaps I shall wound you a little, but I know you will be more hurt by my keeping things from you. I confess, Michel, this young student . . . this Beliayev, has made rather an impression on me., . . RAKITIN [in a low voice]. I know that. NATALYA PETROVNA. Oh? You have noticed it? For some time?
RAKITIN. Only yesterday. NATALYA PETROVNA. Ah!
RAKITIN. The day before yesterday, you remember, I spoke of the change in you. . . . I did not know then what to put it down to. But yesterday after our talk .. . and in the meadow, . . if you could have seen yourself! I didn't know you; you were like another woman. You laughed, you skipped and played about like a little girl; your eyes were shining, your cheeks were flushed, and with what confiding interest, with what joyful attention you gazed at him, how you smiled. [Glancing at her.] Why, even now your face glows at the memory of it! [Turns away.]
NATALYA PETROVNA. No, Rakitin, for God's sake, don't turn away from me. . . . Listen, why exaggerate? This man has infected me with his youth--that's all. I have never been young myself, Michel, from childhood up to now. You know what my life has been. . . . The novelty of it has gone to my head like wine, but I know it will pass as quickly as it has come. . . . It's not worth talking about . . . . [A pause.,] Only don't turn away from me, don't take your hand away. . . . Help me . . . .
RAKITIN [in a low voice]. Help you--a cruel saying! [Aloud.] You don't know what is happening to you, Natalya Petrovna. You are sure it's not worth talking about, and you ask for help. . . . Evidently you feel you are in need of it!
NATALYA PETROVNA. That is . . . yes. . . . I appeal to you as a friend.
RAKITIN [bitterly]. Quite so. . . . I hope to justify your confidence . . . but let me have a moment to try and face it.
NATALYA PETROVNA. Face it? Why, are you dreading . . . anything unpleasant? Is anything changed?
RAKITIN [bitterly]. Oh no! everything's the same.
NATALYA PETROVNA. What are you imagining, Michel? Surely you can't suppose . . . .
RAKITIN. I suppose nothing.
NATALYA PETROVNA. Surely you can't have such a contempt for me as . . .
RAKITIN. For God's sake, stop. We'd better talk about Bolshintsov. The doctor's expecting an answer from you about Vera, you know.
NATALYA PETROVNA [sadly]. You're angry with me.
RAKITIN. Me? Oh no! But I'm sorry for you.
NATALYA PETROVNA. Really, it's positively annoying, Michel, aren't you ashamed? . . . [RAKITIN is silent. She shrugs her shoulders, and goes on in a tone of vexation.'] You say the doctor is expecting an answer? But who asked him to interfere? . . .
RAKITIN. He assured me that you yourself. . .
NATALYA PETROVNA [interrupting]. Perhaps, perhaps. . . . Though I believe I said nothing definite. . . . Besides, I may have changed my mind. And, good gracious, what does it matter? Shpigelsky has a hand in all sorts of affairs; he can't expect to have everything his own way.
RAKITIN. He only wants to know what answer . . .
NATALYA PETROVNA. What answer. . . . [A pause.] Michel, don't! Give me your hand. . . . Why this indifferent expression, this cold politeness? ., . What have I done? Think a little, is it my fault? I came to you hoping for good advice, I didn't hesitate for one instant, I never thought of concealing things from you, and you . . . I see I was wrong to be open with you. . . . It would never have entered your head. You suspected nothing, you deceived me. And now, goodness knows what you're imagining.
RAKITIN Imagining? Not at all.
NATALYA PETROVNA. Give me your hand. . . . [He does not move; she goes on, somewhat offended.] You turn away from me? So much the worse for you, then. But I don't blame you. . . . [Bitterly.] You are jealous!
RAKITIN. I have no right to be jealous, Natalya Petrovna. . . . How could I be?
NATALYA PETROVNA [after a pause]. As you please. About Bolshintsov, I haven't yet spoken to Verotchka.
RAKITIN. I can send her to you at once.
NATALYA PETROVNA. Why at once? . . . But as you please.
RAKITIN [moving towards the study-door]. So you want me to fetch her?
NATALYA PETROVNA. Michel, for the last time. . . . You said just now that you were sorry for me. . . . Is this how you show it? Can you really . . .
RAKITIN [coldly]. Am I to send her?
NATALYA PETROVNA [with annoyance]. Yes. [RAKITIN goes into the study. NATALYA PETROVNA stands for some time motionless, sits down, takes a book from the talle, opens it, lets it fall on her lap.] He too! It's awful. He . . . he too! And I relied upon him. And Arkady? Good heavens! I have never even thought of him! [Drawing herself up.] I see it's high time to put a stop to all this. . . . [VERA comes in from the study.] Yes . . . high time.
VERA [timidly]. You sent for me, Natalya Petrovna?
NATALYA PETROVNA [looking round quickly]. Ah! Verotchka! Yes, I wanted you.
VERA [going up to her]. Are you unwell?
NATALYA PETROVNA. Me? Oh no, why?
VERA. I fancied . . .
NATALYA PETROVNA. No, it's nothing. I'm feeling the heat a little. . . . That's all. Sit down. [VERA sits down] Tell me, Vera, are you doing anything particular just now?
NATALYA PETROVNA. I ask you because I want to have a talk with you . . . a serious talk. You see, my dear, I've always looked on you as a child; but you are seventeen; you are a sensible girl. . . . It's time for you to think about your future. You know I love you as a daughter; my house will always be your home . . . but all the same, in other people's eyes, you are an orphan; you have no fortune. You may in time grow tired of always living with strangers; tell me would you like to be mistress in your own house, absolute mistress in it?
VERA [slowly]. I don't understand you, Natalya Petrovna.
NATALYA PETROVNA [after a pause]. I have received an offer of marriage for you. [VERA stares at her in amazement] You didn't expect that; I must own it seems strange to me too. You are so young. . . . I need not tell you that I do not mean to put pressure on you. . . . In my opinion you're too young to be married; but I thought it my duty to tell you. . . . [VERA suddenly hides her face in her hands] Vera . . . what is it? You're crying? [Takes her hand] You're trembling all over? . . . Surely you're not afraid of me, Vera?
VERA [in a toneless voice], I'm in your power, Natalya Petrovna.
NATALYA PETROVNA [taking VERA'S hands from her face]. Vera, aren't you ashamed to cry? Aren't you ashamed to say that you're in my power? What do you take me for? I am speaking to you as I would to a daughter, and you . . . [VERA kisses her hands.] What? You are in my power? Then please laugh at once! . . . I tell you to. . . . [VERA smiles through her tears.] That's right. [NATALYA PETROVNA puts one arm round her and draws her closer.] Vera, my child, treat me as though I were your mother, or no, imagine that I'm an elder sister and let us have a little talk together about all these wonderful things. . . . Will you? VERA. Oh, yes.
NATALYA PETROVNA. Well, listen then. . . . Come a little nearer. That's right. To begin with, as you're my sister, we suppose there's no need for me to assure you that this is your home; a girl with eyes like yours is at home everywhere. So it ought never to enter your head that you are a burden to anybody in the world or that anybody wants to get rid of you. . . . You hear? But now one fine day your sister comes to you and says: Just think, Vera, you have a suitor. . . . Well? What answer would you make? That you are too young, that you are not thinking of marriage? VERA. Yes, Natalya Petrovna.
NATALYA PETROVNA. But you wouldn't speak like that to your sister.
VERA [smiling]. Oh . . . yes, then. NATALYA PETROVNA. Your sister agrees with you, the suitor is refused and there's the end of it. But suppose the suitor is a good man, and well-to-do, and if he is willing to wait, if he only asks permission to see you occasionally in the hope of gaining your affections in time? VERA. Who is this suitor?
NATALYA PETROVNA. Ah! you would like to know! You don't guess?
NATALYA PETROVNA. You have seen him to-day. [VERA flushes crimson.] It is true he is not very handsome, and not very young. . . . Bolshintsov.
VERA. Afanasy Ivanitch?
NATALYA PETROVNA. Yes. . . . Afanasy Ivanitch.
VERA [gazes for some time at NATALYA PETROVNA, suddenly begins laughing, then stops]. You're not joking?
NATALYA PETROVNA [smiling]. No . . . but I see there's no hope for Bolshintsov. If you had cried at his name, he might have hoped, but you laugh; there's nothing for him but to go his way, bless him!
VERA. I'm sorry . . . but really I didn't expect . . . Surely people don't get married at his age?
NATALYA PETROVNA. What an idea! How old is he? He's not fifty. The very age to marry.
VERA. Perhaps .. . but he has such a queer face. .. .
NATALYA PETROVNA. Well, don't let us say any more about him. He's dead and buried . . . bless him! But it's only natural a child of your age cannot care for a man like Bolshintsov. . . . You all want to marry for love, not from prudence, don't you?
VERA. Yes, Natalya Petrovna, and you . . . didn't you marry Arkady Sergeyitch for love too?
NATALYA PETROVNA [after a pause]. Of course. [Another pause, squeezing VERA'S hands.] Yes, Vera. . I called you a child just now . . . but children are right. [VERA drops her eyes.] And so that business is settled. Bolshintsov is dismissed. I must own it wouldn't have been quite pleasant to me to see his puffy old countenance beside your fresh young face, though he is a very good man. Do you see now how little reason you had to be afraid of me? How quickly it's all settled! . . . [Reproachfully.] Really, you behaved to me as though I were your patroness! You know how I hate that word . . . .
VERA [embracing her]. Forgive me, Natalya Petrovna.
NATALYA PETROVNA. I should hope so. Really? You're not afraid of me?
VERA. No, I love you. I'm not afraid of you.
NATALYA PETROVNA. Thank you. So now we are great friends, and will have no secrets from each other. Well, suppose I were to ask you, Verotchka, whisper in my ear; is it only because Bolshintsov is much older than you, and not a beauty, that you don't want to marry him?
VERA. Surely that's reason enough, Natalya Petrovna?
NATALYA PETROVNA. I don't deny it . . . but is there no other reason?
VERA. I don't know him at all.
NATALYA PETROVNA. Quite so; but you don't answer my question.
VERA. There's no other reason.
NATALYA PETROVNA. Really? In that case, I should advise you to think it over. It wouldn't be easy to be in love with Bolshintsov, I know . . . but I say again, he's a good man. Of course, if you cared for anyone else . . . that would be a different matter. But your heart has told you nothing so far, has it?
VERA [timidly]. What do you mean?
NATALYA PETROVNA. You love no one else?
VERA. I love you . . . Kolya; I love Anna Semyonovna too.
NATALYA PETROVNA. I'm not speaking of that sort of love; you don't understand me. . . . Among the young men you may have seen here, for instance, or at parties, is there no one who attracts you?
VERA. No. . . . I like some of them, but . . .
NATALYA PETROVNA. I noticed, for instance, that at the Krinitsyns' you danced three times with that tall officer, what's his name?
VERA. An officer?
NATALYA PETROVNA. Yes, that man with a big moustache.
VERA. Oh! that man! . . . No; I don't like him.
NATALYA PETROVNA. Well, and Shalansky?
VERA. Shalansky is a nice man, but he . . . I don't think he cares about me.
NATALYA PETROVNA. Oh! why?
VERA. He . . . I fancy he thinks more of Liza Velsky.
NATALYA PETROVNA [glancing at her]. Ah! . . . you noticed that? [A pause.] Well . . . Rakitin?
VERA. I love Mihail Alexandritch very much indeed.
NATALYA PETROVNA. Yes, like a brother. And, by the way, there's Beliayev?
VERA [flushing], Alexey Nikolaitch? I like Alexey Nikolaitch.
NATALYA PETROVNA [watching her]. Yes, he's a nice fellow. But he's so shy with everybody . . . .
VERA [innocently]. No. . . . He's not shy with me.
NATALYA PETROVNA. Ah!
VERA. He talks to me. Perhaps you fancy that because he . . . he's afraid of you. He has not got to know you yet.
NATALYA PETROVNA. How do you know he's afraid of me?
VERA. He told me so.
NATALYA PETROVNA. Oh! he has told you. . . . So he is more unreserved with you than with other people?
VERA. I don't know how he is with other people, but with me . . . perhaps it's because we are both orphans. Besides . . . he looks on me . . . as a child.
NATALYA PETROVNA. Do you think so? But I like him very much too. He must have a very kind heart.
VERA. Oh! the kindest! If only you knew . . . everyone in the house likes him. He's so friendly. He talks to everybody, he's ready to help anyone. The day before yesterday he carried a poor old beggar-woman in his arms from the high road to the hospital. He gathered a flower for me one day from such a high crag that I shut my eyes in terror, I kept thinking he would fall and be hurt, but he's so clever! You saw yesterday in the meadow how clever he is at that sort of thing.
NATALVA PETROVNA. Yes, that's true.
VERA. Do you remember the great ditch he jumped over when he was running after the kite? It was nothing to him.
NATALYA PETROVNA. And did he really pick a flower for you from a dangerous place? He must be fond of you.
VERA [after a pause]. And he's always good-humoured . . . always in good spirits. . ..
NATALYA PETROVNA. It's strange, though. Why isn't he like that with me? . . .
VERA [interrupting her]. But I tell you he doesn't know you. Wait a little, I'll tell him. . . . I'll tell him there's no need to be afraid of you, shall I? That you're so kind . . . .
NATALYA PETROVNA [with a constrained laugh]. Thanks so much.
VERA. You'll see. . .. He does what I tell him though I am younger than he is.
NATALYA PETROVNA. I didn't know you were such friends. . . . But mind, Vera, be careful. Of course, he's an excellent young man . . . but you know, at your age. . . . It's not suitable, people may imagine things. . . . I mentioned that, you remember? . . . in the garden yesterday. [VERA looks down.] On the other hand, I don't want to check your inclinations either. I have too much confidence in you and in him . . . but still . . . you mustn't be angry with me for my scruples, my dear . . . its the duty of us old folks to worry young people with our lectures. Though I really need not say all this, you simply like him, don't you--and nothing more?
VERA [timidly raising her eyes]. He . . . .
NATALYA PETROVNA. Now there you are looking at me like that again! Is that the way to look at a sister? Vera, listen, and lean down to me. . . . [Caressing her.] What if a sister, a real sister whispered now in your ear: 'Verotchka, is it true, you don't love anyone, do you?' What would you answer? [VERA looks uncertainly at NATALYA PETROVNA.] Those eyes want to tell me something. . . . [VERA suddenly presses her face to NATALYA PETROVNA'S bosom. NATALYA PETROVNA turns pale--and after a pause goes on.] You do love him? Tell me, do you?
VERA [not raising her head]. Oh! I don't know what I feel . . . .
NATALYA PETROVNA. Poor child! You're in love. . . . [VERA huddles still more closely to NATALYA PETROVNA.] You're in love . ., and he? Vera, he?
VERA [still not raising her head]. Why do you ask me questions? . . . I don't know. . . . Perhaps . . . I don't know, I don't know. . . . [NATALYA PETROVNA shudders and sits motionless. VERA lifts her head and at once notices the change in her face.] Natalya Petrovna, what's the matter?
NATALYA PETROVNA [recovering herself]. The matter . . nothing. Why? Nothing.
VERA. You're so pale, Natalya Petrovna. . . . What's wrong? Let me ring. . . . [Gets up.]
NATALYA PETROVNA. No, no . . . don't ring. It's nothing. . . . It will pass. There, it's over now.
VERA. Let me fetch somebody, anyway.
NATALYA PETROVNA. No, don't, I . . . I want to be alone. Leave me alone, do you hear? We will finish our talk later. Run along.
VERA. You are not angry with me, Natalya Petrovna?
NATALYA PETROVNA. Angry? What for? Not at all. No, I'm grateful to you for your confidence. . . . Only leave me, please, j ust now.
[VERA is about to take her hand, but NATALYA PETROVNA turns away as though not noticing her movement.]
VERA [with tears in her eyes]. Natalya Petrovna . . . .
NATALYA PETROVNA. I ask you to leave me alone. [VERA slowly goes out of the study.]
NATALYA PETROVNA [alone, remains for some time motionless]. Now it's all clear to me. . . . These children love each other. . . . [Stops and passes her hand over her face.] Well? So much the better. . . . God give them happiness! [Laughing.] And I . . . I could imagine. . .. [Stops again.] She was not long blurting it out. . . . I must own I did not suspect it, I must own the news has startled me. . . . But wait a bit, it's not all settled yet. My God . . . what am I saying? What's wrong with me? I don't know myself. What am I coming to? [A pause.] What am I about? Trying to marry the poor girl to an old man! . . . I used the doctor as a go-between . . . he suspects, he drops hints . . . Arkady, Rakitin .. . while I . . . [Shudders and suddenly raises her head.] But what does this mean? Me jealous of Vera! Me in love with him! [A pause.] And you still doubt it, do you? You're in love to your misery! How it has come about . . . I don't know. It's as though I'd been poisoned. . . . All at once everything's destroyed, scattered, swept away. . . . He's afraid of me. They're all afraid of me! What could he see in me? . . . What use is a creature like me to him? He is young and she is young. While I! [Bitterly.] How could he think much of me? They are both foolish, as Rakitin says. . . . Oh! I hate that clever friend! And Arkady, my good trusting Arkady! My God! my God! It's killing me! [Gets up.] But I believe I'm going out of my mind! Why exaggerate? Yes . . . of course . . . I'm overwhelmed. . . . It's so strange to me . . . it's the first time . . . I . . . yes, the first time! I'm in love for the first time now! [She sits down again.] He must go away. Yes. And Rakitin too. It's time to come to my senses. I've allowed myself to take one step . . . and see! See what I've come to! And what is it in him attracts me? [Ponders.] So this is it, this dreadful feeling. . . . Arkady! Yes, I will fall into his arms, I will beg him to forgive me, to protect me, to save me. . . . He . . . and no one else! All the others are strangers to me and must remain strangers. . . . But can there be . . . can there be no other way out? That girl--she's a child. She may be mistaken. That's all childishness really. . . . Why should I. . . . I will talk to him myself, I will ask him. . . . [Reproachfully.] What? What? You are hoping? You still want to hope? And what am I hoping for? My God! don't make me despise myself! [Drops her head on her arms. RAKITIN comes in from the study, pale and agitated.]
RAKITIN [going up to NATALYA PETROVNA]. Natalya Petrovna. . . . [She does not stir.] [To himself.] What can have happened with Vera? [Aloud.] Natalya Petrovna. . . .
NATALYA PETROVNA [raising her head]. Who is it? Ah! you.
RAKITAN. Vera Alexandrovna told me you were unwell. . . . I . . .
NATALYA PETROVNA [turning away], I am quite well. . . . What made her?. ..
RAKITIN. No! Natalya Petrovna, you are not well, you should see yourself.
NATALYA PETROVNA. Well, perhaps not . . . but what's that to you? What do you want? What have you come for?
RAKITIN [in a voice of deep feeling]. I'll tell you what I have come for. I have come to ask your forgiveness. Half an hour ago I was unspeakably stupid and rude. . . . Forgive me. . . . You see, Natalya Petrovna, however modest a man's desires and . . . and hopes, it is hard, for a moment anyway, for him to keep his head, when they are suddenly snatched away from him; but I have come to my senses. I understand my position and my fault, and I want only one thing . . . your forgiveness. [He gently sits down beside her.] Look at me . . . don't you too turn away from me. Beside you is your old Rakitin, your friend, a man who asks nothing but to be allowed to serve you, as you said . . . to help you. Don't deprive me of your confidence, rely on me and forget that I ever. . . . Forget everything that may have wounded you . . . .
NATALYA PETROVNA [who has been all the while staring fixedly at the floor]. Yes, yes. . . . [Stopping.] Oh! I'm, sorry Rakitin, I haven't heard a word of what you've been saying.
RAKITIN [mournfully]. I said . . . I begged you to forgive me, Natalya Petrovna, I asked you whether you would let me be your friend still.
NATALYA PETROVNA [slowly turning to him and laying her hands on his shoulders]. Rakitin, tell me, what's the matter with me?
RAKITIN [After a pause]. You're in love.
NATALYA PETROVNA [slowly repeating it after him]. I'm in love.. .. But it's madness, Rakitin, it's impossible. Can such things happen all of a sudden. . . . You say I'm in love. . . . [Breaks off.]
RAKITIN. Yes, you're in love, poor dear woman. . . . Don't deceive yourself.
NATALYA PETROVNA [not looking at him.] What am I to do?
RAKITIN. I can tell you, Natalya Petrovna, if you promise . . .
NATALYA PETROVNA [interrupting, still without looking at him]. You know that girl, Vera, loves him . . . They are in love with each other. . . .
RAKITIN. If so, a reason the more . . .
NATALYA PETROVNA [interrupting again]. I've long suspected it, but she acknowledged it herself . . . just now.
RAKITIN [in a low voice, as though to himself]. Poor woman!
NATALYA PETROVNA [passing her hand over her face]. Come. . . . I must pull myself together. I believe you were going to say something. . . . For God's sake, Rakitin, advise me what to do. . . .
RAKITIN. I'm willing to advise you, Natalya Petrovna, only on one condition.
NATALYA PETROVNA. Tell me.
RAKITIN. Promise that you won't suspect my motives. Tell me that you believe in my disinterested desire to help you; do you help me too. Let your confidence give me strength, or else let me keep silence.
NATALYA PETROVNA. Speak, speak.
RAKITIN. You have no doubt of me?
NATALYA PETROVNA. Speak!
RAKITIN. Well then, listen, he must go away. [NATALYA PETROVNA looks at him in silence.'] Yes, he must go. I'm not going to speak to you of . . . your husband, your duty. On my lips, such words are . . . out of place. . . . But those children love each other. You told me so yourself just now, imagine yourself now between them. . . . Why, your position will be awful!
NATALYA PETROVNA. He must go. . . . [A pause.] And you? You remain?
RAKITIN [confused]. I? . . . I? . . . [Apause.] I must go too. For the sake of your peace, your happiness, Verotchka's happiness, both he . . . and I . . . we must both go away for ever.
NATALYA PETROVNA. Rakitin . . . I have sunk so low that I . . . was almost ready to sacrifice that poor girl, an orphan entrusted to me by my mother, to marry her to a stupid, absurd old man! I couldn't bring myself to it, Rakitin, the words died away on my lips when she burst out laughing at the suggestion . . . but I have been plotting with the doctor; I have put up with his meaning smiles, I have borne with his grins, his compliments, his hints. . . . Oh, I feel I am on the brink of a precipice; save me!
RAKITIN. Natalya Petrovna, you see that I am right. . . . [She is silent; he goes on hurriedly.] He ought to go . . . we ought both to go. . . . There is no other way to save you.
NATALYA PETROVNA [dejectedly]. But what to live for afterwards?
RAKITIN Good God, is it as bad as that? . . . Natalya Petrovna, you will get over it, believe me. . . . This will pass. What, nothing to live for!
NATALYA PETROVNA. Yes, yes, what have I to live for when all abandon me?
RAKITIN. But . . . your family. . . . [NATALYA PETROVNA looks down.] If you like, after he is gone, I might stay a few days j ust to . . .
NATALYA PETROVNA [gloomily]. Ah! I understand. You are reckoning on habit, on our old friendship. . . . You hope I shall come to myself, and turn to you again, don't you? I understand you.
RAKITIN [flushing]. Natalya Petrovna! Why do you insult me?
NATALYA PETROVNA [bitterly]. I understand you . . . but you are mistaken.
RAKITIN. What? After your promise, when simply for your sake, your sake only, for your happiness, for your position in society, in fact. . .
NATALYA PETROVNA. Oh! how long have you been concerned about that? Why is it you have never spoken of it before?
RAKITIN [getting up]. Natalya Petrovna, I will leave this place to-day, at once, and you shall never see me again. . . . [Is going.]
NATALYA PETROVNA [stretching out her hands to him]. Michel, forgive me; I don't know what I'm saying. . . . You see the state I'm in. Forgive me.
RAKITIN [turning rapidly to her and taking her by the hands]. Natalya Petrovna . . .
NATALYA PETROVNA. Oh, Michel, I'm unutterably miserable. . . . [Leans on his shoulder and presses her handkerchief to her eyes.] Help me, I am lost without you. [At that instant the door of the outer room is flung open, and ISLAYEV and ANNA SEMYONOVNA walk in.]
ISLAYEV [loudly]. I was always of that opinion. [Stops in amazement at the sight of RAKITIN and NATALYA PETROVNA. NATALYA PETROVNA looks round and goes out quickly. RAKITIN remains where he is, overwhelmed with confusion.]
ISLAYEV [to RAKITIN]. What's the meaning of this? What's this scene?
RAKITIN. Oh . . . nothing . . . it's . . .
ISLAYEV. Is Natalya Petrovna unwell?
RAKITIN. No . . . but. . .
ISLAYEV. And why has she run away so suddenly? What were you talking about? She seemed to be crying. . . . You were consoling her . . . . What's the matter?
RAKITIN. Nothing really.
ANNA SEMYONOVNA. How can there be nothing the matter, Mihail Alexandritch? [After a pause.] I'll go and see. . . . [Is about to go into the study.,]
RAKITIN [stopping her]. No, you had better leave her in peace, please.
ISLAYEV. But what does it all mean? Tell us.
RAKITIN. Nothing, I assure you. . . . I promise to explain it to you both to-day. I give you my word. But now, please, if you have any trust in me, don't ask me . . . and don't worry Natalya Petrovna.
ISLAYEV. Very well . . . but it is strange. This sort of thing has never happened with Natasha before. It's something quite out of the way.
ANNA SEMYONOVNA. What I want to know is what could make Natasha cry? And why has she gone away? . . . Are we strangers?
RAKITIN. Of course not. What an idea! But as a matter of fact, we had not finished our conversation . . ., I must ask you . . . both--to leave us alone for a little while.
ISLAYEV. Indeed? There's some secret between you, then?
RAKITIN. Yes . . . but you shall know it.
ISLAYEV [after a moment's thought]. Come along, Mamma. . . . Let us leave them. Let them finish their mysterious conversation.
ANNA SEMYONOVNA. But. . .
ISLAYEV. Come, let us go. You hear he promises to explain.
RAKITIN. You needn't worry. . .. ISLAYEV [coldly]. I'm not worrying. [To ANNA SEMYONOVNA.] Let us go. [They go out.]
RAKITIN [looks after them and goes quickly to the study door]. Natalya Petrovna, Natalya Petrovna, please come back.
NATALYA PETROVNA [comes out of the study. She is very pale]. What did they say?
RAKITIN. Nothing, don't worry yourself. . . . They were rather surprised, certainly. Arkady thought you were ill. . . . He noticed how upset you were. . . . Sit down, you can hardly stand. . . . [NATALYA PETROVNA sits downJ] I said . . . I begged him not to worry you . . . to leave us alone. NATALYA PETROVNA. And he agreed? RAKITIN. Yes. I had, I must say, to promise I'd explain it all to-morrow. Why did you go away?
NATALYA PETROVNA [bitterly]. Why indeed! What are you going to say?
RAKITIN. I'll . . . I'll think of something to say. But that's no matter just now. We must take advantage of this reprieve. You see that this can't go on. . . . These violent emotions are too much for you. . . . They are unworthy of you. . . . I myself. . But that's not the point. Only be firm and I'll manage. You agreed with me, you know. NATALYA PETROVNA. About what? RAKITIN. The necessity of . . . our going. You do agree? If that's so, it's no good to delay. If you'll let me, I'll talk to Beliayev at once. . . . He's a decent fellow, he'll understand.
NATALYA PETROVNA. You want to talk to him? You? But what can you say to him?
RAKITIN [in embarrassment], I'll . . .
NATALYA PETROVNA [after a brief pause]. Rakitin, listen, don't you think that we're both behaving like lunatics? . . . I was in a panic, I frightened you, and perhaps it's all about nothing that matters.
NATALYA PETROVNA. Really? What's the matter with us? It seems only a little while ago everything was so quiet and peaceful in this house . . . and all at once . . . goodness knows how! Really we've all gone out of our minds. Come, it's time to stop, we've been silly enough. . . . Let us go on as before. . . . And there'll be no need to explain anything to Arkady; I'll tell him about our antics myself and we'll laugh over them together. I need no one to intercede between my husband and me!
RAKITIN. Natalya Petrovna, you are frightening me now. You are smiling and you're as pale as death. . . . Do remember what you said to me only a quarter of an hour ago . . . .
NATALYA PETROVNA. I dare say! But I see what it is. . . . You're raising this storm . . . that you may not sink alone.
RAKITIN. Again, again suspicion, again reproaches, Natalya Petrovna. . . . God forgive you . . . but you torture me. Or do you regret having spoken so freely?
NATALYA PETROVNA. I regret nothing.
RAKITIN. Then how am I to understand you?
NATALYA PETROVNA [eagerly]. Rakitin, if you say a single word from me or about me to Beliayev, I will never forgive you.
RAKITIN. Oh! so that's it! . . . Don't worry, Natalya Petrovna. So far from telling Mr. Beliayev anything, I won't even say good-bye to him, when I take my departure. I don't mean to pester you with my services.
NATAYLA PETROVNA [with some embarrassment]. You imagine perhaps that I have changed my mind about . . . his going?
RAKITIN. I imagine nothing.
NATALYA PETROVNA. That's not so. I'm so convinced of the necessity, as you say, of his leaving that I mean to dismiss him myself. [A pause.] Yes, I will dismiss him myself.
NATALYA PETROVNA. Yes. And at once. I beg you to send him to me.
RAKITIN. What? This minute?
NATALYA PETROVNA. This very minute. I ask you to do so, Rakitin. You see I am composed now. Besides, I shan't be interrupted just now. I must seize the opportunity. . . . I shall be very much obliged to you. I'll question him.
RAKITIN. But he won't tell you anything. I can assure you. He admitted to me that he felt awkward with you.
NATALYA PETROVNA [suspiciously]. Ah! You've been talking to him about me. [RAKITIN shrugs his shoulders.] Oh, forgive me, forgive me, Michel, and send him to me. You'll see, I will dismiss him and all will be over. It will all pass and be forgotten, like a bad dream. Please fetch him. I absolutely must have a final conversation with him. You will be pleased with me. Pray do.
RAKITIN [who has not taken his eyes off her all this time, coldly and mournfully]. Certainly. Your wishes shall be obeyed. [Goes towards door of outer room.]
NATALYA PETROVNA [after him]. Thank you, Michel.
RAKITIN [turning]. Oh, spare me your thanks, at least. . . . [Goes out quickly,.]
NATALYA PETROVNA [alone, after a pause]. He's a good man. . . . But is it possible I ever loved him? [Stands up.] He is right. He must go. But how can I dismiss him? I only want to know whether he really cares for that girl. Perhaps it's all nonsense. . . . How could I be worked up into such a state? What was the object of all that outburst? Well, it can't be helped now. I want to know what he is going to say. But he must go. . . . He must . . . he must. . . . He may not be willing to answer. . . . He's afraid of me, of course. . . . Well? So much the better. There's no need for me to say much to him. . . . [Lays her hand on her forehead.] My head aches. Shall I put it off till to-morrow? Yes. I keep fancying they are all watching me to-day. . . . What am I coming to! No, better make an end of it at once. . . . Just one last effort and I am free. . . . Oh yes! I yearn for freedom and peace.
[BELIAYEV comes in from the outer room.] Here he is. . . .
BELIAYEV [Going up to her]. Natalya Petrovna, Mihail Alexandritch tells me you want to see me.
NATALYA PETROVNA [with some effort]. Yes, certainly . . I have to . . . speak to you . . . .
BELIAYEV. Speak to me?
NATALYA PETROVNA [without looking at him]. Yes . . . speak to you. [A pause.] I must tell you, Alexey Nikolaitch, I'm . . . I'm displeased with you.
BELIAYEV. May I ask on what ground?
NATALYA PETROVNA. Listen. . . . I . . . I really don't know how to begin. However, I must tell you first that my dissatisfaction is not due to any remissness in your work. On the contrary, I am pleased with your methods with Kolya.
BELIAYEV. Then what can it be?
NATALYA PETROVNA [glancing at him]. You need not be alarmed. . . . Your fault is not so serious. You are young, you have probably never before stayed with strangers, you could not foresee . . .
BELIAYEV. But, Natalya Petrovna . . . .
NATALYA PETROVNA. You want to know what is wrong? I understand your impatience. So I must tell you that Verotchka . . . [Glancing at him] Verotchka has confessed everything.
BELIAYEV [in amazement], Vera Alexandrovna? What can Vera Alexandrovna have confessed? And what have I to do with it?
NATALYA PETROVNA. So you really don't know what she can have confessed? You can't guess?
BELIAYEV. I? No, I can't.
NATALYA PETROVNA. If so, I beg your pardon. If you really can't guess, I must apologize. I supposed . . . I was mistaken. But allow me to say, I don't believe you. I understand what makes you say so. . . . I respect your discretion.
BELIAYEV I haven't the least idea what you mean, Natalya Petrovna.
NATALYA PETROVNA. Really? Do you expect to persuade me that you haven't noticed that child's feeling for you?
BELIAYEV. Vera Alexandrovna's feeling for me? I really don't know what to say to that. . . . Good gracious! I believe I have always behaved with Vera Alexandrovna as
NATALYA PETROVNA. As with everybody else, haven't you? [After a brief silence.] However that may be, whether you are really unaware of it, or are pretending to be, the fact is the girl loves you. She admitted it to me herself. Well, now I am asking you, what do you mean to do?
BELIAYEV [with embarrassment]. What do I mean to do?
NATALYA PETROVNA [folding her arms]. Yes.
BELIAYEV. All this is so unexpected, Natalya Petrovna . . . .
NATALYA PETROVNA [after a pause]. Alexey Nikolaitch, I see . . . I have not put the matter properly. You don't understand me. You think I'm angry with you . . . but I'm . . . only . . . a little upset. And that's very natural. Calm yourself. Let us sit down. [They sit down.] I will be frank with you, Alexey Nikolaitch, and you too be a little less reserved with me. You have really no need to be on your guard with me. Vera loves you. . . . Of course, that's not your fault, I am willing to assume that you are in no way responsible for it. . . . But you see, Alexey Nikolaitch, she is an orphan, she is my ward. I am responsible for her, for her future, for her happiness. She is very young, and I feel sure that the feeling you have inspired in her may soon pass off. . . . At her age, love does not last long. But you understand, it was my duty to warn you. It's always dangerous to play with fire . . . and I do not doubt that, knowing her feeling for you, you will adopt a different behaviour with her, will avoid seeing her alone, walking in the garden. . . . Won't you? I can rely on you. With another man I should be afraid to speak so plainly.
BELIAYEV. Natalya Petrovna, I assure you I appreciate . . . .
NATALYA PETROVNA. I tell you that I do not distrust. . . . Besides, all this will remain a secret between us.
BELIAYEV. I must own, Natalya Petrovna, all you have told me seems to me so strange . . . of course, I can't venture to disbelieve you, but. . .
NATALYA PETROVNA. Listen, Alexey Nikolaitch. All I said to you just now . . . I said it on the supposition that on your side there is nothing . .. [Breaks off] because if that's not so . . . of course I don't know you well, but I do know you well enough to see no reason to make serious objections. You have no fortune . . . but you are young, you have your future before you, and when two people love each other . . . I tell you again, I thought it my duty to warn you, as a man of honour, of the consequences of your friendship with Vera, but if you . . .
BELIAYEV [in perplexity], I really don't know what you mean, Natalya Petrovna.
NATALYA PETROVNA [hurriedly]. Oh! believe me, I'm not trying to wring out a confession, there's no need. . . . I shall see from your manner how it is. . . . [Glancing at him.] But I ought to tell you that Vera fancied that you were not quite indifferent to her.
BELIAYEV [after a brief silence, stands up]. Natalya Petrovna, I see that I can't go on living in your house.
NATALYA PETROVNA [firing up]. You might have waited for me to decide that. . . . [Stands up.]
BELIAYEV. You have been frank with me. Let me be frank with you. I don't love Vera Alexandrovna, at least, I don't love her in the way you suppose.
NATALYA PETROVNA. But I didn't . . . [Stops short].
BELIAYEV. And if Vera Alexandrovna cares for me, if she fancied, as you say, that I care for her, I don't want to deceive her; I will tell her the whole truth myself. But after such plain speaking, you must see, Natalya Petrovna, that it would be difficult for me to stay here, my position would be too awkward. I can't tell you how sorry I shall be to leave . . . but there's nothing else for me to do. I shall always think of you with gratitude. . . . May I go now? . . . I shall come to say good-bye properly later on.
NATALYA PETROVNA [with affected indifference]. As you please . . . but I own I did not expect this. That was not my object in wishing to speak to you. . . . I only wanted to warn you . . . Vera is still a child . . . I have perhaps taken it all too seriously. I don't see the necessity of your leaving us. However, as you please.
BELIAYEV. Natalya Petrovna . . . it's really impossible for me to go on staying here.
NATALYA PETROVNA. I see you are very ready to leave us!
BELIAYEV. No, Natalya Petrovna, I'm not.
NATALYA PETROVNA. I'm not in the habit of keeping people against their will, but I must own I don't like it at all.
BELIAYEV [after some indecision]. Natalya Petrovna, I shouldn't like to cause you the slightest annoyance. . . . I'll stay.
NATALYA PETROVNA [suspiciously]. Ah! [after a pause.] I didn't expect you would change your mind so quickly.' . . . I am grateful, but . . . Let me think it over. Perhaps you are right, perhaps you ought to go. I'll think it over. I'll let you know. . . . May I leave you in uncertainty till this evening?
BELIAYEV. I am willing to wait as long as you like. [Bows and is about to go.]
NATALYA PETROVNA. You promise me. . . . BEHAYEV [stopping]. What?
NATALYA PETROVNA. I believe you meant to speak to Vera. . . . I'm not sure that it's the right thing. But I'll let you know what I decide. I begin to think that you really ought to go away. Good-bye for now. [BELIAYEV bows again and goes off into the outer room. NATALYA PETROVNA looks after him.] My mind's at rest! He does not love her. . . . [Walks up and down the room.] And so instead of sending him away, I've myself prevented his going. . . . He'll stay. . . . But what shall I say to Rakitin? What have I done? [A pause.] And what right had I to publish abroad the poor girl's love? I trapped her into confessing it . . . a half-confession, and then I go . . . so ruthlessly, so brutally. . . . [Hides her face in her hands.] Perhaps he was beginning to care for her. . . . What right had I to trample on that flower in the bud? . . . But have I trampled on it? He may have deceived me. . . . I tried to deceive him! Oh! no! He's too good for that. . . . He's not like me! And why was I in such haste? Blurting it all out at once? [Sighing.] I needn't have done it! If I could have foreseen. . . . How sly I was, how I lied to him! And he! How boldly and independently he spoke! . . . I felt humbled by him. . . . He is a man! I didn't know him before. . . . He must go away. If he stays . . . I feel that I shall end by losing all self-respect. . . . He must go, or I am lost! I will write to him before he has had time to see Vera . . . . He must go! [Goes quickly into the study.]
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14