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Гончаров Иван Александрович - The Precipice, Страница 10

Гончаров Иван Александрович - The Precipice

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ed at him as if he were a dangerous animal, as he stood there, breathing heavily; then she rose and took refuge behind the bench. "I am afraid, Ivan Ivanovich! Spare me! Go!" she exclaimed, warding him off with her arms. "First I will kill him, and then I will go." "Are you going to do this for my sake, for my peace of mind or for your own sake?" He kept silence, his eyes fixed on the ground, and then began to walk about in great strides. "What should I do?" he said, still trembling with agitation. "Tell me, Vera Vassilievna." "First of all, calm yourself, and explain to me why you wish to kill him and whether I desire it." "He is your enemy, consequently also mine." "Does one kill one's enemies?" He bent his head and seeing the pieces of the whip lying on the ground he picked them up as if he were ashamed, and put them in his pocket. "I do not accuse him. I alone bear the blame, and he has justification," she said with such bitter misery that Tushin took her hand. "Vera Vassilievna," he said, "you are suffering horribly. I do not understand," he went on, looking at her with sympathy and admiration, "what you mean by saying that he has justification, and that you bring no accusation against him. If that's the case, why did you wish to speak to me and call me here into the avenue?" "Because I wanted you to know the whole truth." "Don't leave me in the dark, Vera Vassilievna. You must have had some reason for confiding your secret to me." "You looked at me so strangely to-day that I could not understand your meaning, and thought you must already be informed of all that had happened and could not rest until I knew what was in your mind. I was too hasty, but it comes to the same thing, for sooner or later I should have told you. Sit down, and hear what I have to say, and then have done with me." She explained the situation to him in a few words. "So you forgive him," he asked, after a moment's thought. "Forgive him, of course. I tell you that I alone am guilty." "Have you separated from him, or do you hope for his return?" "There is nothing whatever in common between us, and we shall never see one another again." "Now, I understand a little, for the first time, but still not everything," said Tushin, sighing bitterly. "I thought you had been vulgarly betrayed, and, since you called me to your help, I imagined that the time had come for the Bear to do his duty. I was on the point of rendering you the service of a Bear, and it was for that reason that I permitted myself to ask boldly for the man's name. Forgive me, and now tell me why you have revealed the story to me." "Because I was not willing that you should think better of me than I deserve, and esteem me...." "But how would you accomplish that? I shall not cease to think of you as I have always thought of you, and I cannot do otherwise than respect you." A gleam of pleasure lighted her eyes, only to be immediately extinguished. "You want to restore my self-esteem," she said, "because you are good and generous. You are sorry for a poor unfortunate girl and want to raise her up again. I understand your generosity, Ivan Ivanovich, but I will have none of it." "Vera Vassilievna," he said, kissing her hand. "I could not esteem anybody under compulsion. If I give anyone a greeting in the street, he has my esteem; if he has not my esteem, I pass him by. I greet you as before, and because you are unhappy my love for you is greater than before. You are enduring a great sorrow, as I am. You have lost your hopes of happiness," he added in a low, melancholy tone. "If you had kept your secret from me and I had heard it by chance, even so my esteem for you could not have been diminished. For there is no duty laid on you to reveal a secret which belongs to you alone. No one has the right to judge you." The last words were spoken in a trembling voice which made it clear that he also was oppressed by the secret, the weight of which he desired to lighten for Vera. "I had to tell you to-day when you made your declaration to me. I felt it was impossible to leave you in ignorance." "You might very well have answered me with a categorical 'No.' But since you do me the honour, Vera Vassilievna, of bestowing your particular friendship on me, you might have gilded your 'No' by saying that you loved another. That would have been sufficient for me, for I should never have asked you who, and your secret would, without doubt, have remained your own." He pointed to the precipice, and collecting his whole strength whispered, "A misfortune...." Although he tried with all his might not to let her see how disturbed he was, he was hardly able to speak clearly. "A misfortune," he repeated. "You say that he has justification, that the guilt is yours; if that is so, where does justice lie?" "I told you, Ivan Ivanovich, that my confession was not necessary for your sake, but for mine. You know how I esteem your friendship, and it would have caused me unspeakable pain to deceive you. Even now, when I have hidden nothing from you, I cannot look you in the eyes." Tears stifled her voice, and it was with difficulty that Tushin held back his own tears; he stooped and kissed her hand once more. "Thanks, a thousand thanks, Vera Vassilievna. I see that an affection for another has no power to lessen your friendship for me, and that is a wonderful consolation." "Ivan Ivanovich, if I could only cut this year out of my life." "A speedy forgetfulness," he said, "comes to the same thing." "How can I forget, and where can I find the strength to endure its memory?" "You will find strength in friendship, and I am one of your friends." She breathed another air for the moment, conscious that there was beside her a tower of strength, under whose shadow her passion and her pain were alleviated. "I believe in your friendship, Ivan Ivanovich, and thank you for it," she said, drying her tears. "I already feel calmer, and should feel still calmer if Grandmother...." "She does not yet know anything of this?" he asked, but broke off immediately in the consciousness that his question involved a reproach. "She has guests to-day and could not possibly be told, but to-morrow she shall learn all. Farewell, Ivan Ivanovich, my head aches, and I am going back to the house to lie down." Tushin looked at Vera, asking himself how any man could be such a blind fool as Volokov. Or is he merely a beast, he thought to himself in impotent rage. He pulled himself together, however, and asked her if she had any instructions for him. "Please ask Natasha," she said, "to come over to me to-morrow or the next day." "And may I come one day next week to inquire whether you are better?" "Do not be anxious, Ivan Ivanovich. And now good-bye, for I can hardly stand." When he left her, he drove his horses so wildly down the steep hill that he himself was in danger of being hurled to the bottom of the precipice. When he put his hand out as usual for his whip, it was not there, and he remembered that he had broken it, and threw away the useless pieces on the road. In spite of his mad haste he reached the Volga too late for the ferry. He had to stay in the town with a friend, and drove next morning to his home in the forest. CHAPTER XXVIII In Tatiana Markovna's house, servants, cooks and coachmen were all astir, and at a very early hour in the morning were already drunk. The mistress of the house herself was unusually silent and sad when she let Marfinka go with her future mother-in-law. She had no instructions or advice to give, and hardly listened to Marfinka's questions about what she ought to take with her. "What you like," she said absently, and gave orders to Vassilissa and the maid who was going with Marfinka to Kolchino to put everything in order and pack up what was necessary. She handed over her dear child to Marfa Egorovna's charge, at the same time pointing out to Marfinka's fiancИ that he must take the greatest care of her, and that in order not to give strangers a wrong impression, he must be more dignified and must not chase about the garden and the woods with her as he did in Malinovka. When she saw that Vikentev coloured at this advice, which indicated doubt of his tactfulness, and that Marfa Egorovna bit her underlip, Tatiana Markovna changed her tone; she laid her hand on his shoulder calling him "Dear Nikolinka," and telling him that she knew herself how unnecessary her words were, but that old women liked to preach. Then she sighed, and said not another word to her guests before their departure. Vera too came to breakfast; she looked pale, and it was clear that she had had a sleepless night. She said she still had a headache, but felt better than she did yesterday. There was no change in Tatiana Markovna's affectionate manner to her. Now and then Marfa Egorovna cast questioning glances in Vera's direction. What was the meaning of pain without any definite illness? Why did she not appear yesterday until after dinner, and then only for a moment, to go out followed by Tushin. What had they found to say to one another for an hour in the twilight? Being a sensible woman she did not pursue these inquiries, though they flashed for a moment in her eyes; nevertheless Vera saw them, although they were quickly exchanged for looks of sympathy. Neither did Marfa Egorovna's questioning glances escape Tatiana Markovna, who kept her eyes on the ground, while Vera maintained her indifferent manner. Already people are wondering what had happened, thought Tatiana Markovna sadly; on my arms she came into the world, she is my child and yet I do not know what her trouble is. Raisky had been out for a walk before breakfast, and wore on his face a look as if he had just come to a decision on a momentous question. He looked at Vera as calmly as at the others, and did not avoid Tatiana Markovna's eyes. He promised Vikentev to come over to see him in a day or two, and listened attentively to his guest's conversation about hunting and fishing. At last everything was ready for their departure. Tatiana Markovna and Raisky went with their guests as far as the Volga, leaving Vera at home. Vera's world had always been a small one, and its boundaries were now drawn more narrowly than ever. She had been contented during the long years with the observation and experience which were accessible to her in her immediate environment. Her small circle represented to her the crowd; she made her own in a short time what it took others many years in many places to learn. Unlike Marfinka she was cautious in her sympathies, granting her friendship only to the priest's wife and to Tushin, whom she openly called her friend. The simple things and the simple people who surrounded her did not serve only trivial purposes. She understood how to embroider on this ordinary canvas the bold pattern of a richer life with other needs, thoughts and feelings; she guessed at these by reading between the lines of everyday life other lines which expressed the desires of her mind and heart. If she was cautious in her sympathies she was excessively so in the sphere of thought and knowledge. She read books from the library in the old house, taking from the shelves at first without choice or system as a pastime whatever came into her hands; then she began to experience curiosity, and finally a definite desire for knowledge. She was keen-sighted enough to understand how aimless and unfruitful it was to wander among these other minds without any guiding thread. Without making direct inquiries she procured some explanations from Koslov, and although she understood many things at a bound, she never let it be seen that she had any knowledge of things beyond her immediate circle. Without losing sight of Koslov's instructions she read the books once more, to find that they meant much more to her and that her interest in them was steadily increasing. At the request of the young priest, Natasha's husband, she brought him books too, and listened when he expressed his views on this or that author, without herself adopting the seminarist view. Later on she came into contact with Mark, who brought a new light to bear on all that she had read and heard and known; his attitude was one of blank denial. No authority in heaven or earth weighed with him, he despised science as it had hitherto developed, and made no distinction between virtue and crime. If he thought that he would soon be able to triumph over Vera's convictions he was mistaken. She regarded these bold and often alluring ideas with shy admiration, without giving herself up blindly to their influence; she listened cautiously to the preaching of the apostle, but found in it neither a new life, nor happiness, nor truth, and, though she followed attentively what he had to say, it was only because she was drawn on by the ardent desire to find the reality that lay behind Mark's extraordinary and audacious personality. Mark displayed his unsparing negation, enmity and scorn against all that men believe, love and hope for; Vera did not agree with all she heard, because she observed the malady that lay concealed behind the teaching, even if she could not discover where it lay. Her Columbus could show her nothing but a row of open graves standing ready to receive all that by which society had hitherto existed. Vera remembered the story of Pharaoh's lean kine, which without themselves becoming fatter devoured the fat kine. Mark would have despoiled mankind of his crown in the name of wisdom; he would acknowledge in him nothing but an animal organism. And while he denied man in man, denied him the possession of a soul and the right to immortality, he yet spoke of his strivings to introduce a better order of things, neglecting to observe that in accordance with his own theory of the chance arrangement of existence, by which men herd together like flies in the hot weather; such efforts were useless. Granting the correctness of his ideas as a premiss, thought Vera, there can be no sense in striving to be better, kinder, truer and purer, if this life enduring only for a few decades is the end of all things. When she looked deeper into the matter and examined the new truth taught by the young apostle, the new conception of good and the new revelation, she saw with astonishment that what in his talk was good and incontrovertible was not new, that it was derived from sources from which others also drew, who certainly did not belong to the new society; she recognised that the seed of the new civilisation which he preached with so much boastfulness and such a parade of mystery lay in the old-fashioned doctrine, and for this reason she believed more firmly than ever in the older philosophy of life. She looked on Mark's personality with such suspicion that she gradually withdrew herself from his influence. Hideously disturbed by his audacity of thought, she had even gone so far as to tell Tatiana Markovna of this accidental acquaintance, with the result that the old lady told the servants to keep a watch on the garden, but Volokov came from the direction of the precipice, from which the watchmen were effectually kept away by their superstitious fears. Mark himself had noted Vera's distrust, and he set himself to overcome it. He was the more easily able to accomplish this because, when her interest was once awakened, she met him halfway, imperceptibly to herself. She meditated carefully on the facts that made up her life; her mind was occupied by new questionings, and for that reason she listened more attentively to his words when she met him in the fields. Often they went out walking on the banks of the Volga, and eventually found a meeting-place in the arbour at the bottom of the precipice. Gradually Vera adopted a more active role in their intercourse. She wanted to convert him, to lead him back to the acceptance of proved truth, the truth of love, of human as opposed to animal happiness, of faith and hope. Mark gave way in some things, though only gradually; his manners became less eccentric, he was less provocative in his behaviour to the police than before, he lived in a more orderly fashion, and ceased to stud his conversation with cynical remarks. The change pleased Vera, and this was the cause of the happy excitement that Tatiana Markovna and Raisky had remarked in her. Since her influence was effective even if only in what affected his external life, she hoped by incessant effort and sacrifice gradually to produce a miracle; her reward was to be the happiness of being loved by the man of her heart's choice. She flattered herself that she would be introducing a new strong man into society. If he were to show himself in wisdom and strength of will, simply and reliable, as Tushin was, her life was mapped out for her. While she was engaged in these efforts she allowed her passionate nature to be carried away by his personality; she fell in love, not with his doctrine, which she refused to accept, but with himself. He called to new activity, but she saw in his appeal nothing more than the lending of forbidden books. She agreed with him that work was necessary, and herself avoided idleness; she drew up for herself a picture of simple genuine activity for the future, and envied Marfinka because she understood how to make herself useful in the house and the village. She intended to share these labours with her sister when once the stiff battle with Mark had been brought to a conclusion; but the struggle was not to end with a victory for either one or the other, but with mutual overthrow and a permanent separation. These were the thoughts that passed through Vera's mind while Tatiana Markovna and Raisky were accompanying their guests and Marfinka as far as the Volga. What was the Wolf doing now? was he enjoying his triumph? She took from her letter case a sealed letter on blue paper which she had received early that morning and looked at it thoughtfully for a minute before she threw it down with its seals unbroken on the table. All her troubles were submerged in the painful question, what would become of her Grandmother. Raisky had already whispered to Vera that he would speak to Tatiana Markovna that evening if she were alone, and that he would take care that none of the servants should have the opportunity of seeing the impression which the news was bound to make on her. Vera shivered with foreboding when he spoke of these precautions; she would have liked to have died before evening came. After her talk of past events with Raisky and Tushin she recovered something of her usual calmness; a part of her burden was gone now that, like a sailor in a storm, she had lightened the ship of some of its ballast, but she felt that the heaviest load of all still lay on her conscience. It is impossible to go on living like this, she told herself, as she made her way to the chapel. There, on her knees, she looked anxiously up at the holy picture as if she expected a sign, but the sign she longed for was not granted, and she passed out of the chapel in despair as one who lay under the ban of God. CHAPTER XXIX When Tatiana Markovna returned from the ferry she sat down to work at her accounts, but soon laid them aside, and dismissed the servants. She asked for Raisky, who had gone over to see Koslov because he did not want to be left alone with his aunt. She sent across to ask Vera whether she was coming to dinner. Vera said that she would rather stay in her room and go to bed early. In the courtyard a scene by no means unusual was being enacted. Savili had nearly broken Marina's back with a severe beating because he had seen her slipping out at dawn from the room in which Vikentev's servant was quartered. She hid herself in the fields and the vegetable garden, but at last she emerged, thinking that he would have forgotten. He struck her with the whip while she sought refuge in one corner after another, swearing by all that was sacred that the devil had taken on her figure and had made a fool of him. But when he exchanged the whip for the stick she cried out aloud at the first blow and fell at his feet. "I am guilty," she cried, begging for mercy. She promised not to transgress again, calling God to witness of her sincerity. Thereupon Savili threw away the stick and wiped his face with his sleeve. "You may go this time," he said, "since you have confessed, and since you call God to witness." Tatiana Markovna was informed of this proceeding, but she only wrinkled her forehead, and made a sign to Vassilissa not to be too severe with Marina. There were visitors to dinner who had heard of Vera's indisposition and had come to inquire. Tatiana Markovna spoke of a chill, suffering all the time from her insincerity, since she did not know what was the truth that lay behind this feigned illness. She had not dared to send for the doctor, who would have immediately seen that it was a moral, not a physical malady. She ate no supper; Tiet Nikonich politely said that he had no appetite either. Then came Raisky, who also wanted no supper, but sat silently at table pretending not to notice the glances which Tatiana Markovna directed towards him from time to time. When Tiet Nikonich had made his bow and departed, Tatiana Markovna prepared to retire. She hardly looked at Raisky when she bade him good-night, because her affections and her self-esteem were both too deeply wounded. A secret and serious misfortune had befallen the family, but she was left on one side like a stranger, as if she were a useless, incapable woman. Raisky said in a low voice that he must speak with her. "Bad news?" she whispered, shivering and looking fixedly at him before she passed with him into her own room. She dropped into her old chair and pushed the lamp farther away, first covering it with a shade, so that the room was dimly lighted. Raisky began his tale as cautiously as possible, but his lips trembled and now and again his tongue refused its office, but he collected all his strength and went on, although towards the end of his story his voice was hardly audible. Dawn had come, but throughout the long hours Tatiana Markovna had sat motionless and speechless with bowed head, giving vent now and then to a low moan. Raisky fell on his knees before her and implored her, "Go to Vera's help." "She has sent too late for Grandmother. God will go to her help. Spare her and console her as you know how to do. She no longer has a Grandmother," she said, going towards the door. "Grandmother, what is the matter with you?" cried Raisky barring her way. "You have no longer a Grandmother," she said absently. "Go, go." As he did not obey, she cried angrily, "Don't come here. I will see no one. You must all of you leave me in peace." He would have replied, but she made an impatient gesture with her hand. "Go to her," she continued. "Help her as far as you can. Grandmother can do nothing: you have no longer a Grandmother." She made another gesture with her hand, so imperious this time that he went without further parley, but he concealed himself in the yard and watched her window. Tatiana Markovna sank back in her chair and closed her eyes, and for a long time she remained there, cold and stiff as if she were a dead woman. Raisky, who had not gone to bed, and Vassilissa and Yakob as well, saw Tatiana Markovna with her head uncovered and her Turkish shawl thrown round her shoulders leave the house in the early morning and go out into the garden. It was as if a bronze figure had descended from its pedestal and had begun to walk. She passed through the flower garden and then through the avenue to the precipice; then, striding slowly along, with her head held high and without looking round, she went down the face of the cliff, and disappeared. Concealing his presence in the trees, Raisky hurried after her, following her as she passed deeper and deeper down the precipice and until she reached the arbour, where she paused. Raisky came closer, and held his breath as he listened to Tatiana Markovna's heavy sighs, and then heard her whisper, "My sin." With her hands above her head she walked hastily on, until she came to the bank of the river and stood still. The wind wound her dress round her ankles, disordered her hair, and tugged at her shawl, but she noticed nothing. A terrible idea dawned on Raisky that she intended to drown herself. But his aunt turned back as she had come, with slow strides which left deep prints in the damp sand. Raisky breathed more freely; but when, following her track in a parallel direction, he caught sight of her face, he held his breath in horror at the agony he saw written there. She had spoken truly, their grandmother existed no longer. This was not grandmother, not Tatiana Markovna, the warm-hearted mistress of Malinovka, where the life and prosperity of the whole place depended on her, the wise and happy ruler of her little kingdom. It was as if she were not walking of her own accord but was driven on by an impulse exterior to herself, as unconscious of her movements she climbed the steep hill through the brushwood, with her shawl hanging down from her shoulders dragging its corners in the dust; her eyes, from which stony horror looked forth, were unwinking; her manner was that of a moonstruck woman. Raisky found it difficult to follow her. She paused once, leaning both hands on a tree. "My sin," she exclaimed again. "How heavy is the burden! If it is not lightened, I can bear it no longer." She began again to climb quickly up the hill, surmounting the difficulties of the steep path with unnatural strength and leaving tags of her dress and her shawl behind her in the bushes. Overcome with amazement and horror, Raisky watched this new strange woman. He knew that only great souls conquer heavy trouble with strength like hers. They have wings like eagles to soar into the clouds and eagle eyes to gaze into the abyss. This was not his grandmother; she seemed to him to be one of those feminine figures which emerge from the family circle in the supreme moments of life under the heavy blows of fate, who bear great misfortunes majestically and are not overwhelmed. He saw in her a Jewess of the olden days, a noble woman of Jerusalem, who scorns the prophecy that her people will lose their fame and their honour to the Romans, but when the hour of fate has arrived, when the men of Jerusalem are watering its walls with their tears and beating their heads against the stones, then she takes the ornaments from her hair, puts on mourning garments, and goes on her pilgrimage wherever the hand of Jehovah leads. His mind went back to another queen of misfortune, to the Russian Marfa, the enemy of the city of Moscow, who maintained her defiance even in her chains, and, dying, directed the destiny of free Novgorod. Before his imagination there passed a procession of other suffering women, Russian Tsaritsas, who, at the wish of their husbands, had adopted the dress of the nun and had maintained their intellect and their strength of character in the cloister.... Raisky diverted his attention from these unsummoned apparitions, and looked attentively at the suffering woman before him. Tatiana Markovna's kingdom was perishing. Her house was left desolate; her dearest treasure, her pride, her pearl, had been taken from her, and she wandered lonely among the ruins. When she paused in her walk in order to collect her strength, she tottered and would have fallen but for an inner whisper which assured her she would yet reach her goal. She pulled herself together, and wandered on until evening. Half asleep, terrified by her crowding fancies, she spent the night on the sofa. At dawn she rose, and went once more to the precipice. With her head resting on the bare boards she sat for a long time on the crumbling threshold of the arbour, then she went through the fields, and was lost in the thicket on the bank of the river. By chance her steps led her to the chapel, where new terror seized her at the sight of the picture of the Christ. She fell on her knees like a wounded animal, covered her face with her shawl, and moaned, "My sin! my sin!" Tatiana Markovna's servants had lost their heads in terror. Vassilissa and Yakob hardly stirred from the church. She intended, if her mistress recovered, to make her pilgrimage on foot to Kiev in order to venerate the miracle worker; he promised to the patron saint of the village a thick wax candle ornamented with gold. The rest of the servants hid themselves, and only looked shyly out after their mistress as she wandered distraught through the fields and the woods. For two days already Tatiana Markovna had eaten nothing. Raisky indeed tried to restrain her from leaving the house again, but she waved him imperiously away. Then with decision he took a jug of water, came up to her, and took her hand. She looked at him as if she did not know who he was, then mechanically seized the jug in her trembling hand, and drank greedily in big mouthfuls. "Grandmother, come home again, and do not make both yourself and us wretched," he begged. "You will kill yourself." "It is God's will; I shall not lose my reason, for I am upheld by His strength. I must endure to the end. Do you raise me if I fall. My sin!" she murmured and went on her way. After she had gone a few steps, she turned round and he ran to her. "If I do not survive," she began, signing to him to bow his head. Raisky knelt down, and she pressed his head to her breast, laid her hands on it and kissed him. "Accept my blessing, deliver it to Marfinka, and to her, to my poor Vera. Do you understand, to her also." "Grandmother!" he cried, kissing her hand. She tore her hand away, and set out to wander once more through the thicket, by the river bank, and in the fields. A devout soul obeys its own laws, thought Raisky, as he dried his tears; only a saint could suffer like this for the object of her love. Things were not going any better with Vera. Raisky made haste to tell her of his conversation with their aunt; when she sent for him early next morning, in her anxiety to have news of Tatiana Markovna, he pointed out of the window, and Vera saw how Tatiana Markovna was drifting, urged on by the heavy hand of misfortune. For a moment she caught sight of her expression, and sank horrified on the floor, but she pulled herself up again, ran from one window to the other, and stretched her hands out towards her grandmother. Then she rushed through the wide empty hall of the old house in a wild desire to follow Tatiana Markovna, but she realised in time that it would have killed her aunt if she approached her just now. Vera was conscious now how deeply she had wounded another life so close to her own, as she saw the tragic figure of her aunt, so happy until recently and now bearing the punishment of another's sin. Raisky brought her Tatiana Markovna's blessing, and Vera fell on his neck and wept for a long time. On the evening of the second day, Vera was found sitting in a corner of the great hall, half dressed. Raisky and the priest's wife, who had just arrived, led her almost by force into her room and laid her down on the bed. Raisky sent for the doctor, to whom he tried to explain her indisposition. The doctor prescribed a sedative, which Vera drank without being any calmer for it; she often waked in her sleep to ask after her grandmother. "Give me something to drink ... don't say a word. Do not let anyone come to see me. Find out what Grandmother is doing." It was just the same in the night. When she awoke, she would whisper, "Grandmother doesn't come, Grandmother doesn't love me any more. She has not forgiven me." On the third day Tatiana Markovna left the house without being observed. After two sleepless nights, Raisky had lain down and had given instructions to wake him if she left the house, but Yakob and Vassilissa had gone to early Mass, and the other servants had paid no attention. Later on Savili saw that his mistress, catching hold of the trees as she went, was making her way from the precipice to the fields. Raisky hurried after her and watched her slow return to the house; she stood still, looked round as if she were saying goodbye to the group of houses, groped with her hands, and swayed violently. Then he rushed up to her, brought her back to the house with Vassilissa's help, put her in her armchair and sent for the doctor. Vassilissa fell on her knees before her mistress. "Little mother! Tatiana Markovna," she begged, "come back to us. Make the sign of the Cross." Tatiana Markovna crossed herself, sighed, and signed that she could not speak and wanted something to drink. Vassilissa undressed her, wrapped her in warm sheets, rubbed her hands and feet with spirit, and then gave her some warm wine to drink. The doctor prescribed for her, but said that it was most important of all that she should not be disturbed, but should be allowed to sleep. An incautious word that Tatiana Markovna was ill reached Vera's ears. She pushed past Natalie Ivanovna, and wanted to go over to the new house; Raisky had great difficulty in persuading her to abandon her intention as Tatiana Markovna lay in a deep sleep. In the evening Vera was worse, she had fever and was delirious, and during the night she flung herself from one side to another, calling on her grandmother in her sleep, and weeping. Raisky wanted to call the old doctor; he waited impatiently till the morning and spent his time in going from Vera to Tatiana Markovna, and from Tatiana Markovna back to Vera. As Vera's condition had not improved next morning, Raisky went with Vassilissa into Tatiana Markovna's bedroom, where they found the old lady in the same state as she had been in the whole of the day before. "I am afraid of going near her in case I alarm her," he whispered. "Should I awaken the mistress?" "She must be awakened. Vera Vassilievna is ill, and I don't know whether I ought to send for the old doctor." The words were hardly out of his mouth when Tatiana Markovna sat up. "Is Vera ill?" she said in a low voice. Raisky breathed more freely, for his aunt, in her present anxiety, had lost the stony expression of yesterday. She signed to him to leave the room. Half an hour later she was walking across the courtyard to the old house with trouble plainly depicted on her face, but apparently without a trace of weariness. She entered Vera's room cautiously, and when she saw the pale sleeping face, whispered to Raisky, "Send for the old doctor." She now noticed for the first time the priest's wife and her weary eyes; she embraced Natalie Ivanovna, and advised her kindly to go and get a whole day's rest. When the doctor arrived, Tatiana Markovna gave him an ingenious explanation of Vera's indisposition. He discovered symptoms of a nervous fever and prescribed medicine; but on the whole he did not think that serious consequences need be expected if the patient could be kept quiet. Vera was half asleep when she took the medicine and towards evening fell fast asleep. Tatiana Markovna sat down at the head of the bed, watching her movements and listening to her breathing. Presently Vera woke up and asked, "Are you asleep, Natasha?" As she received no answer she closed her eyes, but she could not go to sleep again, and the darkness seemed to her to be a dark and terrible prison. After a time she asked for something to drink. Someone handed her a cup. "How is Grandmother?" asked Vera, opening her eyes only to close them again immediately. "Natasha, where are you? Come here. Why are you hiding?" she sighed and fell asleep again. Presently she woke again and whispered pitifully, "Grandmother doesn't come. Grandmother loves me no longer, and has not forgiven me." "Grandmother is here. She loves you and has forgiven you." Vera sprang from the bed and rushed up to Tatiana Markovna. "Grandmother," she cried, half fainting and hiding her head on her breast. Tatiana Markovna put her to bed again, leaned her grey head by Vera's white suffering face, while the girl in a low voice, with sighs and tears, made her confession on her breast. Her aunt listened without speaking, and presently wiped away Vera's tears with her handkerchief, and kissed her warmly and affectionately. "Do not waste your caresses on me, Grandmother; only do not leave me. I do not deserve your caresses. Keep your kisses for my sister." "Your sister is no longer in need of my caresses. But I need your love. If you forsake me, Vera, I shall be a desolate old woman." Tatiana Markovna wept. "Mother, forgive me," whispered Vera, embracing her with her whole strength. "I have not been obedient to you, and God has punished me," she went on, but Tatiana Markovna shut her mouth with a kiss. "Do not talk like that, Vera," interrupted her grandmother, who had turned pale with horror and once more wore the aspect of the old woman who had been wandering about in the thicket by the precipice. "Yes, I thought that my own brain and will were self-sufficing, that I was wiser than you all." "You are wiser than I and have more learning," said Tatiana Markovna, breathing more freely. "God has given you a clear understanding, but you have not my experience." Vera thought that she had more experience also, but she merely said, "Take me away from here. There is no Vera any longer. I want to be your Marfinka. Take me away from this old house over there to you." The two heads rested side by side on the pillow. They lay in a close embrace and fell asleep. CHAPTER XXX Vera rose the next morning pale and exhausted, but without any fever. She had wept out her malady on her grandmother's breast. The doctor professed himself satisfied, and said she should stay in her room for a few days. Everything in the house went on as before. There were no festivities in honour of Vera's name day, as she had expressed a wish that there should be none. Neither Marfinka nor the Vikentevs came; a messenger was sent to Kolchino with the announcement that Vera Vassilievna was unwell and was keeping her room. Tushin sent his congratulations in a respectful note, asking for permission to come and see her. Her reply was that he should wait a little until she was better. Under the pretext of Vera's illness, callers who came from the town to present their congratulations were not admitted. Only the servants celebrated the occasion in their own way; the maids appeared in their gay dresses, and the coachmen and the lackeys got drunk. Vera and her aunt developed a new relationship. Tatiana Markovna's consideration for Vera was by no means assumed, but her kindness did not make Vera's heart lighter. What she had expected and wished was severe judgment, a penance, perhaps exile for half a year or a year to Tatiana Markovna's distant estate, where she would gradually win back her peace of mind or at any rate forget, if it was true, as Raisky said, that time extinguishes all impressions. "I see," thought Vera, "that Grandmother suffers inexpressibly. Grief has changed her altogether; her figure is bowed and her face more deeply furrowed. Perhaps she is only sparing me now because her heart has opened itself to pity. She cannot bear to punish me, now that I am ill and repentant." Vera had lost her pride, her self-respect and her dignity, and if once these flowers are taken out of the crown which adorns the head of man, his doom is at hand. She tried to pray and could not, for she had nothing to pray for, and could only bow her head in humility. Raisky came into much closer relation with his aunt and Vera. His naturalness and genuine affection, the friendly intimacy of his conversation, his straightforwardness, his talkative humour, and the gleaming play of his fancy were a distraction and a consolation to both of them. He often drew a laugh from them, but he tried in vain to distract them from the grief which hung like a cloud over them both and over the whole house. He himself was sad when he saw that neither his esteem nor Tatiana Markovna's kindness could give back to poor Vera her courage, her pride, her confidence and her strength of will. Tatiana Markovna spent the nights in the old house on the divan opposite Vera's bed and watched her sleep. But it nearly always happened that they were both observing one another, so that neither of them found refreshing sleep. On the morning after a sleepless night of this kind, Tatiana Markovna sent for Tiet Nikonich. He came gladly, plainly delighted that the illness which threatened Vera Vassilievna had blown over, and bringing with him a water melon of extraordinary size and a pineapple for a present. But a glance at his old friend was enough to make him change colour. Tatiana Markovna hastily put on her fur-trimmed cloak, threw a scarf over her head, and signed to him to follow her as she led the way into the garden. They sat for two hours on Vera's bench. Then she went back to the house with bowed head, while he drove home, overcome with grief, ordered his servants to pack, sent for post horses, and drove to his estate, to which he had not been for many years. Raisky, who had gone to see him, heard the news with astonishment. He questioned his aunt, who told him that some disturbance had broken out on Tiet Nikonich's estate. Vera was sadder than ever. Lines began to appear on her forehead, which would one day become furrows. Sometimes she would approach the table on which the unopened blue letter lay and then turn away. Where should she flee, where conceal herself from the world? When night fell, she lay down, put out the light, and stared wide-eyed in front of her. She wanted to forget, to sleep, but sleep would not come. Dark spots, blacker than night, danced before her eyes, shadows moved up and down with a wave-like motion in the glimmer of light that lay around the window. But she felt no fear, she would not have died of terror if there had risen suddenly out of the corner a ghost, a thief or a murderer; she would not have felt any fear if she had been told that her last hour was come. She looked out unceasingly into the darkness, at the waving shadows, at the flitting specks which stood out the more clearly in the blackness of the night, at the rings of changing colour which whirled shimmering round her. Slowly and quietly the door opened. Vera propped herself on her elbow and saw a hand carrying a lamp carefully shaded. Tatiana Markovna dropped her cloak from her shoulder on to a chair and approached the bed, looking not unlike a ghost in her white dressing-gown. Vera had laid her head back on the pillow and pretended to sleep. Tatiana Markovna put the lamp on the table behind the bed-head, and sat down carefully and quietly on the divan with her head leaning on her hand. She did not take her eyes from Vera, and when Vera opened her own an hour later Tatiana Markovna was still looking fixedly at her. "Can't you sleep, Vera?" "No." "Why?" "Why do you punish me in the night too, Grandmother?" asked Vera in a low tone. The two women looked at one another and both seemed to understand the speech in their eyes. "You are killing me with sympathy, Grandmother," Vera went on. "It would be better to drive me from your sight. But it is very hard for me to bear when you measure out your scorn drop by drop. Either forgive me or, if that is impossible, bury me alive. Why are you silent? What is in your mind? Your silence tortures me; it seems to say something, and yet never says it." "It is so hard, Vera, to speak. Pray, and understand your Grandmother even when she is silent." "I have tried to pray, and cannot. What have I to pray for, except that I should die the sooner. I shall die I know; only let it come quickly, for like this it is impossible to live." "It is possible," said Tatiana Markovna, drawing a deep sigh. "After ... that?" "After _that_," replied her grandmother. "You don't know, Grandmother," said Vera with a hopeless sigh. "You have not been a woman like me." Tatiana Markovna stooped down to Vera, and whispered in a hardy audible voice, "A woman like you." Vera looked at her in amazement, then let her head fall back on the pillow and said wearily, "You were never in my position. You are a saint." "A sinner," rejoined Tatiana Markovna. "We are all sinners, but not a sinner of that kind." "Of that kind." Vera seized Tatiana Markovna's dress with both hands, and pressed her face to hers. The words that came from her troubled breast sounded like hisses. "Why do you slander yourself? Is it in order to calm and help me? Grandmother, do not lie!" "I never lie and you know it, and how should I begin to do so now. I am a sinner, and myself need forgiveness," she said, throwing herself on her knees and bowing her grey head. "Why do you say these things to me?" said Vera, staring at the kneeling woman, and pressing her head to her breast. "Take your words back again. I have not heard them or will forget them; will regard them as the product of a dream. Do not torture yourself for my sake. Rise, Grandmother." Tatiana Markovna lay on her breast, sobbing like a child. "Why did you tell me this?" said Vera. "It was God's wish that I should humble myself to ask you, my child, for forgiveness. If you grant me your forgiveness, Vera, I, too, can forgive you. I had hoped to keep my secret until I died, and now my sin has plunged you into ruin." "You rescue me, Grandmother, from despair." "And myself, Vera. God forgives, but he demands cleansing. I thought my sin was forgotten and forgiven. Because of my silence I seemed to men to be virtuous, but my virtue was a lie. God has punished my sin. Forgive me from your heart." "Does one forgive one's Mother? You are a saint, a Mother without a peer in the whole wide world. If I had known you, as you really are, how could I have acted contrary to your will?" "That is my second terrible sin. I was silent, and did not tell you to beware of the precipice. Your dead Mother will call me to account for my failure, I know. She comes to me in my dreams, and is now here between us. Do you also forgive me, Departed One," she cried wildly, stretching out her arms in supplication. Vera shuddered. "Forgive me, Vera. I ask forgiveness of you both. We will pray." Vera tried to raise her to her feet, and Tatiana Markovna raised herself with difficulty, and sat down on the divan. Vera bathed her temples with eau de Cologne, and gave her a sedative; then she kneeled down before her and covered her hand with kisses. "What is hidden must be revealed," began Tatiana Markovna, when she had recovered a little. "For forty-five years only two human beings beside myself have known it, _he_ and Vassilissa, and I thought the secret would die with me. And now it is made public. My God!" she cried, wildly, stretching her folded arms to the picture of the Christ. "Had I known that this stroke would ever fall on another, on _my_ child, I would have confessed my sin there and then to the all world in the Cathedral square." Vera still hesitated to believe what she heard. Was it a heroic measure, a generous invention to rescue and restore her own self-respect? But her aunt's prayers, her tears, her appeal to Vera's dead mother, no actress would have dared to use such devices, and her aunt was the soul of truth and honour. Warm life pulsed in Vera's heart, and her heart was lightened. She felt as if life was streaming through her veins after an evil dream. Peace tapped at the door of her soul, the dark forsaken temple, which was now gaily lighted once more and a home of prayer. She felt that Tatiana Markovna and she were inseparable sisters, and she even began involuntarily to address her as "thou," as she had done Raisky when her heart responded to his kindness. As these thoughts whirled in her head, she had a sensation of lightness and freedom, like a prisoner whose fetters have been removed. "Grandmother," she said, rising, "you have forgiven me, and you love me more than you do any of the others, more than Marfinka, that I realise. But do you know and understand my love for you? I should not have suffered as I did, but for my love for you. How long we have been strangers!" "I will tell you all, Vera, and you must hear my confession. Judge me severely, but pardon me, and God will pardon us both." "I will not, I ought not, I may not," cried Vera. "To what end should I hear it?" "So that I may suffer once more, as I suffered five-and-forty years ago. You know my sin, and Boris shall know it. He may laugh at the grey hairs of old Kunigunde." As she strode up and down, shaking her head in her fanatical seriousness, with sorrow and triumphant dignity in her face, her resemblance to the old family portrait in the gallery was very marked. Beside her Vera felt like a small and pitiful child as she gazed timidly into her aunt's eyes; she measured her own young strength by the strength of this old woman who had ripened and remained unbroken in the long struggle o

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