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Гончаров Иван Александрович - The Precipice, Страница 11

Гончаров Иван Александрович - The Precipice


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f life. "My whole life can never repay what you have done for me, Grandmother. Let this be the end of your penance, and tell me no more. If you are determined that Boris shall know, I will whisper a word about your past to him. Since I have seen your anguish, why should you suffer a longer martyrdom? I will not listen. It is not my place to sit in judgment on you. Let me hold your grey hairs sacred." Tatiana Markovna sighed, and embraced Vera. "As you will. Your will is like God's forgiveness to me, and I am grateful to you for sparing my grey hairs." "Now," said Vera, "let us go across to your house, where we can both rest." Tatiana Markovna almost carried her across to the new house, laid her on her own bed, and lay down beside her. When Vera had fallen peacefully asleep, her aunt rose cautiously, and, in the light of the lamp, watched the marble beauty of her forehead, her closed eyes, all sculptured pure and delicate as if by a master hand, and at the expression of deep peace that lay on her face. She made the sign of the cross over Vera as she slept, touched her forehead with her lips, and sank on her knees in prayer. "Have mercy on her!" she breathed. "If Thy anger is not yet appeased, turn it from her and strike my grey head." Presently she lay down beside Vera, with her arm around her neck. Vera woke occasionally, opened her eyes, and closed them again. She pressed closer and closer to Tatiana Markovna as if no harm could befall her within the circle of those faithful arms. CHAPTER XXXI As the days went by Malinovka assumed its wonted calm. The quiet life which had been brought to a pause by the catastrophe, flowed evenly on. The peaceful atmosphere was not undisturbed by anxiety. Autumn had laid her hand on men as well as on nature. The household was thoughtful, silent, and cold; smiles, laughter, and joy had vanished like the falling leaves, and even though the worst crisis was passed, it had left behind it an atmosphere of gloom. Tatiana Markovna ruled her little kingdom once more. Vera was busily engaged in the house, and devoted much care and taste to the choice of Marfinka's trousseau. She had determined not to avoid any task, however simple and trivial it might be, while she awaited the opportunity of some serious work that life might offer her; she recognised that with most people avoidance of the trivial and the hope of something extraordinary and unprecedented were dictated either by idleness and incompetence, or by morbid self-love and vanity. She was paler than before, her eyes were less sparkling, and she had lost some of her vivacity of gesture; but these changes were put down by everyone to her narrow escape from nervous fever. In fulfilment of Tatiana Markovna's insistently expressed wish, Vera had spoken to Raisky of their aunt's passion, of which Tiet Nikonich had been the object, but she said nothing of the sin. Even this partial confidence explained to Raisky the riddle, how Tatiana Markovna, who in his eyes was an old maid, could find the strength, not only to bear the brunt of Vera's misfortune, but to soothe her, and to rescue her from moral collapse and despair. He showed in his intercourse with her, more clearly than before, a deep and affectionate esteem, and an unbounded devotion. He now no longer contradicted her, so that an end was put to the earlier semi-comic warfare he had waged against her; even in his gestures there was a certain reserve. She inspired him with the astonishment and admiration which are called forth by women of exceptional moral strength. The servants, too, were different, even though the cloud had passed. There was no sound of quarrelling, abuse or laughter. Vassilissa found herself in an exceptionally difficult position, since, now that her mistress was restored to health, she was called on to fulfil her vow. One morning Yakob vanished from the yard. He had taken money from the box where the cash was kept for buying the oil for the lamps kept burning in front of the ikons, which were in his charge, and had bought the promised candle, which he set up before the sacred picture in the village church at early Mass. As there was a small surplus he crossed himself piously, then betook himself to the poorer quarter of the town, where he spent his riches, and then reeled home again on his unsteady legs, displaying a slight redness on his nose and his cheeks. Tatiana Markovna happened to meet him. She immediately smelt the brandy, and asked in surprise what he had been doing. He replied that he had been to church, bowed his head devoutly, and folded his arms on his breast. He explained to Vassilissa that he had done his duty in fulfilling his vow. She looked at him in perturbation, for in her anxieties about her mistress and in the preparations for the wedding she had not thought of her own vow. Here was Yakob who had fulfilled his and was going about with a pious jubilant air, and reminding her of her promised pilgrimage to Kiev. "I don't feel strong enough," she complained. "I have hardly any bones in me, only flesh. Lord, have mercy on me!" For thirty years she had been steadily putting on flesh; she lived on coffee, tea, bread, potatoes and gherkins, and often fish, even at those times of the year when meat was permitted. In her distress she went to Father Vassili, to ask him to set her doubts at rest. She had heard that kind priests were willing to release people from their vows or to allow substituted vows, where weakness of body hindered the performance of the original. "As you agreed to go, you must go," said Father Vassili. "I agreed because I was frightened, Little Father. I thought that Mistress would die, but she was well again in three days; why then should I make the long journey?" "Yes, there is no short road to Kiev. If you had no inclination to go you should not have registered the vow." "The inclination is there, but strength fails me. I suffer from want of breath even when I go to church. I am already in my seventh decade, Father. It would be different if Mistress had been three months in bed, if she had received the sacraments and the last unction, and then had been restored to health by God in answer to my prayer; then I would have gone to Kiev on my hands and knees." "Well, what is to be done?" asked Father Vassili, smiling. "Now I should like to promise something different. I will lay a fast on myself, never to eat another bit of meat until I die." "Do you like meat?" "I can't bear the sight of it, and have weaned myself from eating it." "A difficult vow," said Father Vassili with another smile, "must be replaced by something as difficult or more difficult, but you have chosen the easiest. Isn't there anything that it would be hard for you to carry out? Think again!" Vassilissa thought, and said there was nothing. "Very well then, you must go to Kiev." "I would gladly go, if I were not so stout." "How can your vow be eased?" said Father Vassili, thinking aloud. "What do you live on?" "On tea, coffee, mushroom soup, potatoes...." "Do you like coffee?" "Yes, Little Father." "Abstain from coffee." "That is nearly as bad," she sighed, "as going to Kiev. What am I to live on?" "On meat." It seemed to her that he was laughing, and indeed he did laugh when he saw her face. "You don't like it," he said. "But make the sacrifice." "What good does it do me, and to eat meat is not fasting, Father." "Eat it on the days when it may be eaten. The good it will do is that you will lay on less fat. In six months you are absolved of your vow." She went away in some distress, and began to execute the priest's instructions the next day, turning her nose sadly away from the steaming coffee that she brought her mistress in the morning. In about ten days Marfinka returned in company with her fiancИ and his mother. Vikentev and she brought their laughter, their gaiety and their merry talk into the quiet house. But within a couple of hours after their arrival they had become quiet and timid, for their gaiety had aroused a melancholy echo, as in an empty house. A mist lay on everything. Even the birds had ceased to fly to the spot where Marfinka fed them; swallows, starlings and all the feathered inhabitants of the park were gone, and not a stork was to be seen flying over the Volga. The gardener had thrown away the withered flowers; the space in front of the house, usually radiant and sweet with flowers, now showed black rings of newly-dug earth framed in yellowish grass. The branches of some of the trees had been enveloped in bast, and the trees in the park became barer with every day. The Volga grew darker and darker, as if the river were preparing for its icy winter sleep. Nature does not create, but it does emphasise human melancholy. Marfinka asked herself what had happened to everybody in the house, as she looked doubtfully round her. Even her own pretty little room did not look so gay; it was as if Vera's nervous silence had invaded it. Her eyes filled with tears. Why was everything so different? Why had Veroshka come over from the other house, and why did she walk no more in the field or in the thicket? Where was Tiet Nikonich? They all looked worried, and hardly spoke to one another; they did not even tease Marfinka and her fiancИ. Vera and grandmother were silent. What had happened to the whole house? It was the first trouble that Marfinka had encountered in her happy life, and she fell in unconsciously with the serious, dull tone that obtained in Malinovka. Silence, reserve and melancholy were equally foreign to Vikentev's nature. He urged his mother to persuade Tatiana Markovna to allow Marfinka to go back with them to Kolchino until the wedding at the end of October. To his surprise permission was given easily and quickly, and the young people flew like swallows from autumn to the warmth, light, and brightness of their future home. Raisky drove over to fetch Tiet Nikonich. He was haggard and yellow, and hardly stirred from his place, and he only gradually recovered, like a child whose toys have been restored to him, when he saw Tatiana Markovna in her usual surroundings and found himself in the middle of the picture, either at table with his serviette tucked in his collar, or in the window on the stool near her chair, with a cup of tea before him poured out by her hands. Another member was added to the family circle at Malinovka, for Raisky brought Koslov to dinner one day, to receive the heartiest of welcomes. Tatiana Markovna had the tact not to let the poor forsaken man see that she was aware of his trouble. She greeted him with a jest. "Why have you not been near us for so long, Leonti Ivanovich? Borushka says that I don't know how to entertain you, and that you don't like my table. Did you tell him so?" "How should I not like it? When did I say such a thing?" he asked Raisky severely. "You are joking!" he went on, as everybody laughed, and he himself had to smile. He had had time to find his own bearings, and had begun to realise the necessity of hiding his grief from others. "Yes, it is a long time since I was here. My wife has gone to Moscow to visit her relations, so that I could not...." "You ought to have come straight to us," observed Tatiana Markovna, "when it was so dull by yourself at home." "I expect her, and am always afraid she may come when I am not at home." "You would soon hear of her arrival, and she must pass our house. From the windows of the old house we can see who comes along the road, and we will stop her." "It is true that the road to Moscow can be seen from there," said Koslov, looking quickly, and almost happily, at his hostess. "Come and stay with us," she said. "I simply will not let you go to-day," said Raisky. "I am bored by myself, and we will move over into the old house. After Marfinka's wedding I am going away, and you will be Grandmother's and Vera's first minister, friend and protector." "Thank you. If I am not in the way...." "How can you talk like that. You ought to be ashamed of yourself." "Forgive me, Tatiana Markovna." "Better eat your dinner; the soup is getting cold." "I am hungry too," he said suddenly, seizing his spoon. He ate his soup silently, looking round him as if he were seeking the road to Moscow, and he preserved the same demeanour all through the meal. "It is so quiet here," he said after dinner, as he looked out of the window. "There is still some green left, and the air is so fresh. Listen, Boris Pavlovich, I should like to bring the library here." "As you like. To-morrow, as far as I am concerned. It is your possession to do as you please with." "What should I do with it now? I will have it brought over, so that I can take care of it; else in the end that man Mark will...." Raisky strode about the room, Vera's eyes were fixed on her needlework, and Tatiana Markovna went to the window. Shortly after this Raisky took Leonti to the old house, to show him the room that Tatiana Markovna had arranged for him. Leonti went from one window to another to see which of them commanded a view of the Moscow road. CHAPTER XXXII On a misty autumn day, as Vera sat at work in her room, Yakob brought her a letter written on blue paper, which had been brought by a lad who had instructions to wait for an answer. When she had recovered from the first shock at the sight of the letter, she took it, laid it on the table, and dismissed Yakob. She tried to go on with her work but her hands fell helplessly on her lap. "When will there be an end of this torture?" she whispered, nervously. Then she took from her bureau the earlier unopened blue letter, laid it by the side of the other, and covered her face with her hands. What answer could he expect from her, she asked herself, when they had parted for ever? Surely he dare not call her once more. If so, an answer must be given, for the messenger was waiting. She opened the letters and read the earlier one:- "Are we really not to meet again, Vera? That would be incredible. A few days ago there would have been reason in our separation, now it is a useless sacrifice, hard for both of us. We have striven obstinately with one another for a whole year for the prize of happiness; and now that the goal is attained you run away. Yet it is you who spoke of an eternal love. Is that logical?" "Logical!" she repeated, but she collected her courage and read on. "I am now permitted to choose another place of residence. But now I cannot leave you, for it would be dishonourable. You cannot think that I am proud of my victory, and that it is easy for me to go away. I cannot allow you to harbour such an idea. I cannot leave you, because you love me." Once more she interrupted her reading, but resumed it with an effort- "And because my whole being is in a fever. Let us be happy, Vera. Be convinced that our conflict, our quarrelling was nothing but the mask of passion. The mask has fallen, and we have no other ground of dispute. In reality we have long been one. You ask for a love which shall be eternal; many desire that, but it is an impossibility." She stopped her reading to tell herself with a pitying smile that his conception of love was of a perpetual fever. "My mistake was in openly asserting this truth, which life itself would have revealed in due course. From this time onwards, I will not assail your convictions, for it is not they, but passion, which is the essential factor in our situation. Let us enjoy our happiness in silence. I hope that you will agree to this logical solution." Vera smiled bitterly as she continued to read. "They would hardly allow you to go away with me, and indeed that is hardly possible. Nothing but a wild passion could lead you to do such a thing, and I do not expect it. Other convictions, indifferent to me, would be needed to impel you to this course; you would be faced with a future which fulfils neither your own wishes nor the demands of your relations, for mine is an uncertain existence, without home, hearth or possessions. But if you think you can persuade your Grandmother, we will be betrothed, and I will remain here until-for an indefinite time. A separation now would be like a bad comedy, in which the unprofitable role is yours, at which Raisky, when he hears of it, will be the first to laugh. I warn you again now, as I did before. Send your reply to the address of my landlady, Sekletaia Burdalakov." In spite of her exhaustion after reading this epistle Vera took up the one which Yakob had just brought. It was hastily written in pencil. "Every day I have been wandering about by the precipice, hoping to see you in answer to my earlier letter. I have only just heard by chance of your indisposition. Come, Vera. If you are ill, write two words, and I will come myself to the old house. If I receive no answer to-day, I will expect you to-morrow at five o'clock in the arbour. I must know quickly whether I should go or stay. But I do not think we shall part. In any case, I expect either you or an answer. If you are ill, I will make my way into your house." Terrified by his threat of coming, she seized pen and paper, but her hands trembled too much to allow her to write. "I cannot," she exclaimed. "I have no strength, I am stifled! How shall I begin, and what can I write? I have forgotten how I used to write to him, to speak to him." She sent for Yakob, and told him to dismiss the messenger and to say that an answer would follow later. She wondered as she walked slowly back to her room, when she would find strength that day to write to him; what she should say. She could only repeat that she could not, and would not, and to-morrow she told herself, he would wait for her in the arbour, he would be wild with disappointment, and if he repeats his signals with the rifle he will come into conflict with the servants, and eventually with grandmother herself. She tried to write, but threw the pen aside; then she thought she would go to him herself, tell him all she had to say, and then leave him. As once before her hands sought in vain her mantilla, her scarf, and without knowing what she did, she sank helplessly down on the divan. If she told her grandmother the necessary steps would be taken, but otherwise the letters would begin again. Or should she send her cousin, who was after all her natural and nearest friend and protector, to convince Mark that there was no hope for him? But she considered that he also was in the toils of passion, and that it would be hard for him to execute the mission, that he might be involved in a heated dispute, which might develop into a dangerous situation. She turned to Tushin, whom she could trust to accomplish the errand effectively without blundering. But it seemed impossible to set Tushin face to face with the rival who had robbed him of his desires. Yet she saw no alternative. No delay was possible; to-morrow would bring another letter, and then, failing an answer, Mark himself. After brief consideration, she wrote a note to Tushin, and this time the same pen covered easily and quickly the same paper that had been so impracticable half an hour before. She asked him to come and see her the next morning. Until now Vera had been accustomed to guard her own secrets, and to exercise an undivided rule in the world of her thoughts. If she had given her confidence to the priest's wife, it was out of charity. She had confided to her the calendar of her everyday life, its events, its emotions and impressions; she had told her of her secret meetings with Mark, but concealed from her the catastrophe, telling her simply that all was over between them. As the priest's wife was ignorant of the dИnouement of the story at the foot of the precipice, she put down Vera's illness to grief at their parting. Vera loved Marfinka as she loved Natalie Ivanovna, not as a comrade, but as a child. In more peaceful times she would again confide the details of her life to Natalie Ivanovna as before; but in a crisis she went to Tatiana Markovna, sent for Tushin, or sought help from her cousin Boris. Now she put the letters in her pocket, found her aunt, and sat down beside her. "What has happened, Vera? You are upset." "Not upset, but worried. I have received letters, from _there_." "From _there_!" repeated Tatiana Markovna, turning pale. "The first was written some time ago, but I have only just opened it, and the second was brought to me to-day," she said, laying them both on the table. "You want me to know what is in them?" "Read them, Grandmother." Tatiana Markovna put on her glasses, and tried to read them, but she found that she could not decipher them, and eventually Vera had to read them. She read in a whisper, suppressing a phrase here and there; then she crumpled them up and put them back in her pocket. "What do you think, Veroshka?" asked Tatiana Markovna, uncertainly. "He is willing to be betrothed and to remain here. Perhaps if he is prepared to live like other people, if he loves you, and if you think you could be happy-" "He calls betrothal a comedy, and yet suggests it. He thinks that only that is needed to make me happy. Grandmother, you know my frame of mind; so why do you ask me?" "You came to me to ask me what you should decide," began Tatiana Markovna with some hesitation, as she did not yet understand why Vera had read her the letters. She was incensed at Mark's audacity, and feared that Vera herself might be seized with a return of her passion. For these reasons she concealed her anxiety. "It was not for that that I came to you, Grandmother. You know that my mind has long been made up. I will have no more to do with him. And if I am to breathe freely again, and to hope to be able to live once more, it is under the condition that I hear nothing of him, that I can forget everything. He reminds me of what has happened, calls me down there, seeks to allure me with talk of happiness, will marry me.... Gracious Heaven! Understand, Grandmother," she went on, as Tatiana Markovna's anxiety could no longer be concealed, "that if by a miracle he now became the man I hoped he would be, if he now were to believe all that I believe, and loved me as I desired to love him, even if all this happened I would not turn aside from my path at his call." No song could have been sweeter to the ears of Tatiana Markovna. "I should not be happy with him," Vera continued. "I could never forget what he had been, or believe in the new Mark. I have endured more than enough to kill any passion. There is nothing left in my heart but a cold emptiness, and but for you, Grandmother, I should despair." She wept convulsively, her head pressed against her aunt's shoulder. "Do not recall your sufferings, Veroshka, and do not distress yourself unnecessarily. We agreed never to speak of it again." "But for the letters I should not have spoken, for I need peace. Take me away, Grandmother, hide me, or I shall die. He calls me-to that place." Tatiana Markovna rose and drew Vera into the armchair, while she drew herself to her full height. "If that is so," she said, "if he thinks he can continue to annoy you, he will have to reckon with me. I will shield and protect you. Console yourself, child, you will hear no more of him." "What will you do?" she asked in amazement, springing from her chair. "He summons you. Well, I will go to the rendezvous in your place, and we will see if he calls you any more, or comes here, or writes to you." She strode up and down the room trembling with anger. "At what time does he go to the arbour to-morrow. At five, I think?" she asked sharply. "Grandmother, you don't understand," said Vera gently, taking her hand. "Calm yourself. I make no accusation against him. Never forget that I alone am guilty. He does not know what has happened to me during these days, and therefore he writes. Now it is necessary to explain to him how ill and spiritless I am, and you want to fight. I don't wish that. I would have written to him, but could not; and I have not the strength to see him. I would have asked Ivan Ivanovich, but you know how he cares for me and what hopes he cherishes. To bring him into contact with a man who has destroyed those hopes is impossible." "Impossible," agreed Tatiana Markovna. "God knows what might happen between them. You have a near relation, who knows all and loves you like a sister, Borushka." "If that were how he loved me," thought Vera. She did not mean to reveal Raisky's passion for her, which remained her secret. "Perhaps I will ask my cousin," she said. "Or I will collect my strength, and answer the letter myself, so as to make him understand my position and renounce all hope. But in the mean time, I must let him know so that he does not come to the arbour to wait in vain for me." "I will do that," struck in Tatiana Markovna. "But you will not go yourself?" asked Vera, looking direct into her eyes. "Remember that I make no complaint against him, and wish him no evil." "Nor do I," returned her aunt, looking away. "You may be assured I will not go myself, but I will arrange it so that he does not await you in the arbour." "Forgive me, Grandmother, for this fresh disturbance." Tatiana Markovna sighed, and kissed her niece. Vera left the room in a calmer frame of mind, wondering what means her aunt proposed to take to prevent Mark from coming next day to the arbour. Next day at noon Vera heard horse's hoofs at the gate. When she looked out of the window her eyes shone with pleasure for a moment, as she saw Tushin ride into the courtyard. She went to meet him. "I saw you from the window," she said, adding, as she looked at him, "Are you well?" "What else should I be?" he answered with embarrassment, turning his head away so that she should not notice the signs of suffering on his face. "And you?" "I fell ill, and my illness might have taken an ill turn, but now it is over. Where is Grandmother?" she asked, turning to Vassilissa. "The Mistress went out after tea, and took Savili with her." Vera invited Tushin to her room, but for the moment both were embarrassed. "Have you forgiven me?" asked Vera after a pause, without looking at him. "Forgiven you?" "For all you have endured. Ivan Ivanovich, you have changed. I can see that you carry a heavy heart. Your suffering and Grandmother's is a hard penance for me. But for you three, Grandmother, you, and Cousin Boris, I could not survive." "And yet you say that you give us pain. Look at me; I think I am better already. If you would only recover your own peace of mind it will all be over and forgotten." "I had begun to recover, and to forget. Marfinka's marriage is close at hand, there was a great deal to do and my attention was distracted, but yesterday I was violently excited, and am not quite calm now." "What has happened? Can I serve you, Vera Vassilievna?" "I cannot accept your service." "Because you do not think me able...." "Not that. You know all that has happened; read what I have received," she said, taking the letters from a box, and handing them to him. Tushin read, and turned as pale as he had been when he arrived. "You are right. In this matter my assistance is superfluous. You alone can...." "I cannot, Ivan Ivanovich," she said, while he looked at her interrogatively. "I can neither write a word to him, nor see him; yet I must give him an answer. He will wait there in the arbour, or if I leave him without an answer he will come here, and I can do nothing." "What kind of answer?" "You ask the same question as Grandmother. Yet you have read the letter! He promises me happiness, will submit to a betrothal. Yesterday I tried to write to him to tell him that I was not happy, and should not be happy after betrothal, and to bid him farewell. But I cannot put these lines on paper, and I cannot commission anyone to deliver my answer. Grandmother flared up when she read the letter, and I fear she would not be able to restrain her feelings. So I...." "You thought of me," said Tushin, standing up. "Tushin, you thought, would do you this service, and then you sent for me." Pride, joy, and affection shone in his eyes. "No, Ivan Ivanovich. I sent for you, so that you might be at my side in these difficult hours. I am calmer when you are here. But I will not send you-down there, I will not inflict on you this last insult, will not set you face to face with a man, who cannot be an object of indifference to you-no, no." Tushin was about to speak, but instead he stretched out his hands in silence, and Vera looked at him with mixed feelings of gratitude and sorrow, as she realised with what small things he was made happy. "Insult!" he said. "It would have been hard to bear if you were to send me to him with an olive branch, to bring him up here from the depths of the precipice. But even though that dove-like errand would not suit me, I would still undertake it to give you peace, if I thought it would make you happy." "Ivan Ivanovich," replied Vera, hardly restraining her tears, "I believe you would have done it, but I would never send you." "But now I am not asked to go outside my rТle of Bear; to tell him what you cannot write to him, Vera Vassilievna, would give me happiness." She reflected that this was all the happiness with which she had to reward him, and dropped her eyes. His mood changed when he noticed her thoughtful, melancholy air; his proud bearing, the gleam in his eyes, and the colour in his face disappeared. He regretted his incautious display of pleasure. It seemed to him that his delight and his mention of the word "happiness!" had been tantamount to a renewal of his profession of love and the offer of his hand, and had betrayed to her the fact that he rejoiced selfishly at her breach with Mark. Vera guessed that he was deceiving himself once more. Her heart, her feminine instinct, her friendship, these things prevented Tushin from abandoning his hope; she gave what she could, an unconditional trust and a boundless esteem. "Yes, Ivan Ivanovich, I see now that I have placed my hopes on you, though I did not confess it to myself, and no one would have persuaded me to ask this service of you. But since you make the generous offer yourself, I am delighted, and thank you with all my heart. No one can help me as you do, because no one else loves me as you do." "You spoil me, Vera Vassilievna, when you talk like that. But it is true; you read my very soul." "Will it not be hard for you to see him." "No, I shan't faint," he smiled. "Go at five o'clock to the arbour and tell him...." She considered a moment, then scribbled with a pencil what she had said she wished to say without adding a word. "Here is my answer," she said, handing him the open envelope. "You may add anything you think necessary, for you know all. And don't forget, Ivan Ivanovich, that I blame him for nothing, and consequently," she added, looking away, "you may leave your whip behind." "Very well," he said between his teeth. "Forgive me," said Vera, offering her hand. "I do not say it as a reproach. I breathe more freely now that I have told you what I wish, and what I don't wish in your interview." "And you thought I needed the hint?" "Pardon a sick woman," she said, and he pressed her hand again. CHAPTER XXXIII A little later Tatiana Markovna and Raisky returned to the house. Raisky and Tushin were embarrassed in one another's presence, and found it difficult to talk naturally about the simplest things. But at the dinner-table the real sympathy between them conquered the awkwardness of the situation. They looked one another straight in the eyes and read there a mutual confidence. After dinner Raisky went to his room, and Tushin excused himself on the ground of business. Vera's thoughts followed him. It was nearly five o'clock when he was trying to find his direction in the thicket. Although he was no stranger there he seemed not to be able to find what he sought; he looked from side to side where the bushes grew more thickly, certain that he must be in the neighbourhood of the arbour. He stood still and looked impatiently at his watch. It was nearly five o'clock, and neither the arbour nor Mark were visible. Suddenly he heard a rustle in the distance, and among the young pines a figure appeared and disappeared alternately. Mark was approaching, and reached the place where Tushin was standing. They looked at one another a full minute when they met. "Where is the arbour?" said Mark at last. "I don't exactly know in which direction...." "In which direction? We are standing on the spot where it was still standing yesterday morning." The arbour had vanished to allow of the literal carrying out of Tatiana Markovna's promise that Mark should not wait for Vera in the arbour. An hour after her conversation with Vera she had descended the precipice, accompanied by Savili and five peasants with axes, and within two hours the arbour had been carried away, the peasant women and children helping to remove beams and boards. Next day the site of the arbour was levelled, covered with turf, and planted with young fir trees. "If I had had the arbour removed before," thought Tatiana Markovna regretfully, "the rascal would have noticed it, and would not have written her the letters." The situation was clear enough to the "rascal" now. "That is the old lady's handiwork," he thought, when he saw the young fir trees. "Her Vera, like a well-bred young woman, has told her the whole story." He nodded to Tushin, and was turning away, when he saw his rival's eyes were fixed on him. "Are you out for a stroll?" said Mark. "Why do you look at me in that extraordinary fashion? I suppose you are visiting at Malinovka." Tushin replied drily and politely that he was a visitor at the house, and had come down especially to see Mark. "To see me?" asked Mark quickly with a look of inquiry. Has he heard too? he wondered. He remembered that Tushin admired Vera and wondered whether the "Forest Othello" was meditating tragedy and murder on the green. "I have a commission for you," said Tushin, handing him the letter. Without betraying any sense of discomfort, or any sign of pain or rage Mark read it rapidly. "Do you know the whole story?" he asked. "Allow me to leave that question unanswered, and instead to ask you whether you have any answer to give," said Tushin. Mark shook his head. "I take it for granted, that, in accordance with her wish, you will leave her in peace in the future, that you will not remind her of your existence in any way, will not write to her, nor visit this place...." "What business is it of yours?" asked Mark. "Are you her declared lover, that you make these demands?" "One does not need to be her fiancИ to execute a commission; it is sufficient to be a friend." "And if I do write, or do come here, what then?" cried Mark angrily. "I cannot say how Vera Vassilievna would take it, but if she gives me another commission, I will undertake it," said Tushin. "You are an obedient friend," observed Mark maliciously. "Yes, I am her friend," replied Tushin seriously. "I thought her wish would be law to you too. She is just beginning to recover from a serious illness." "What is the matter with her?" said Mark, gently for him. As he received no answer he went on, "Excuse my outburst, but you see my agitation." "Calmness is desirable for you too. Is there any answer to this letter?" "I do not need your assistance for that. I will write." "She will not receive your letter. Her state of health necessitates quiet, which she cannot have if you force yourself on her. I tell you what was told me, and what I have seen for myself." "Do you wish her well?" asked Mark. "I do." "You see that she loves me. She has told you so." "She has not said so to me; indeed she never spoke of love. She gave me the letter I handed you, and asked me to make it clear that she did not wish, and was not indeed in a condition to see you or to receive any letter from you." "How ridiculous to make herself and other people suffer. If you are her friend you can relieve her of her misery, her illness, and her collapse of strength. The old lady has broken down the arbour, but she has not destroyed passion, and passion will break Vera. You say yourself she is ill." "I did not say that passion was the cause of her illness." "What can have made her ill?" asked Mark. "Your letters. You expect her in the arbour, and threaten to come to her yourself. That she cannot endure, and has asked me to tell you so." "She says that, but in reality...." "She always speaks the truth." "Why did she give you this commission?" Receiving no answer, Mark continued: "You have her confidence, and can therefore tell her how strange it is to refuse happiness. Advise her to put an end to the wretched situation, to renounce her Grandmother's morality, and then I propose...." "If you understood Vera Vassilievna, you would know that hers is one of those natures that declines explanations and advice." "You execute your errands most brilliantly and diplomatically," said Mark angrily. Tushin looked at him without replying, and his calm silence enraged Mark. He saw in the disappearance of the arbour and the appearance on the scene of Tushin as a mediator, the certain end of his hopes. Vera's hesitation was over, and she was now firmly determined on separation. He was enraged by his consciousness that Vera's illness was really not the result of her infatuation for him, which she would not have confessed to her aunt, much less to Tushin. Mark knew her obstinacy, which resisted even the flame of passion, and on that very account he had, almost in despair, resigned himself to submit to a formal betrothal, and had communicated his decision to her, had consented to remain in the town indefinitely, that is, so long as the tie between them held. Convinced of the truth of his conception of love, he foresaw that in the course of time passion would grow cool and disappear, that they would not for ever be held by it, and then.... Then, he was convinced, Vera would herself recognise the situation, and acquiesce in the consequences. And now his offer had become superfluous; no one was prepared to accept it, and he was simply to be dismissed. "I do not know what to do," he said proudly. "I cannot find any answer to your diplomatic mission. Naturally, I shall not again visit the arbour, as it has ceased to exist." "And you will write no more letters either," added Tushin, "as they would not in any case reach her. Neither will you come to the house, where you would not be admitted." "Are you her guardian?" "That would depend on Vera Vassilievna's wishes. There is a mistress of the house who commands her servants. I take it that you accept the facts." "The devil knows," cried Mark, "how ridiculous all this is. Mankind have forged chains for themselves, and make martyrs of themselves." Although he still justified himself in making no reply, he felt that his position was untenable. "I am leaving the place shortly," he said, "in about a week's time. Can I not see Vera-Vassilievna for a minute?" "That cannot be arranged, because she is ill." "Is any pressure being put upon her?" "She requires only one medicine-not to be reminded of you." "I do not place entire confidence in you, because you do not appear to me to be an indifferent party." Tushin did not answer in the same tone. He understood Mark's feeling of bitter disillusion, and made another attempt at conciliation. "If you do not trust me," he said, "you hold the evidence in your hand." "A dismissal. Yes, but that proves nothing. Passion is a sea, where storm reigns to-day, and tomorrow dead calm. Perhaps she already repents having sent this." "I think not. She takes counsel with herself before acting. It is plain from your last words that you don't understand Vera Vassilievna. You will, of course, act in accordance with her wishes. I will not insist any more on an answer." "There is no answer to give. I am going away." "That is an answer." "It is not she who needs an answer, but you, the romantic Raisky, and the old lady." "Why not include the whole town! But I will take on myself to assure Vera Vassilievna that your answer will be literally carried out. Farewell." "Farewell ... Sir Knight." Tushin frowned slightly, touched his cap, and was gone. Mark's face was very pale. He recognised bitterly that he was beaten, that his romance ended here at the foot of the precipice, which he must leave without once turning round, with no pity, no word of farewell to speed him; he was bidden to go as if he were a contemptible enemy. Why had all this come about? He was not conscious of any fault. Why should he part from her like this. She could not pretend that he had been the cause of what old-fashioned people would call her "fall." He had gone so far as to belie his own convictions, to neglect his mission, and was even prepared to contemplate marriage. Yet he received a laconic note instead of a friendly letter, a go-between instead of herself. It was as if he had been struck with a knife, and a cold shiver ran through his body. It was not the old lady who had invented these measures, for Vera did not allow others to dictate to her. It must have been she herself. What had he done, and why should she act with such severity? He went slowly away. When he reached the fence he swung himself on to the top and sat there, asking himself again where his fault lay. He remembered that at their last meeting he had fairly warned her. He had said in effect: "Remember that I have warned you. If you stretch out your hand to me you are mine, and the responsibility for the consequences rests with you; I am innocent." That was surely logical, he thought. Suddenly he sprang down on to the road, and went without looking back. He remembered how at this very spot he had prepared to leave her. But he heard her nervous, despairing cry of farewell, and had then looked round and rushed to her. As he answered these questions his blood hammered in his veins. He strode up the hill. The knife had done its work; it bored deeper and deeper. Memory pitilessly revived a series of fleeting pictures. The inner voice told him that he had not acted honourably, and spared her when her strength had failed. She used to call you a "Wolf" in jest, but the name will be no jest in her memory, for you joined to the fierceness of a wolf a fox's cunning and the malice of a yapping dog; there was nothing human about you. She took with her from the depths of the precipice nothing but a bitter memory and a lifelong sorrow. How could she be so blind as to be led astray, to let herself be dazzled, to forget herself? You may triumph, for she will never forget you. He understood now the laconic note, her illness and the appearance of Tushin instead of herself at the foot of the precipice. Leonti told Raisky that Mark had informed him that he was going to spend some time with his old aunt in the government of Novgorod; he intended to enter the army once more as an ensign, in the hope of being sent to the Caucasus. CHAPTER XXXIV Raisky and Tushin had been talking all the evening, and for the first time in their lives observed one another closely, with the result that both felt a desire for a closer acquaintance. Tushin asked Raisky to be his guest for a week, to have a look at the forest, the steam-saw, and the timber industry. Raisky accepted, and the next day they crossed the river together in Tushin's boat. Vera's name did not cross their lips. Each was conscious that the other knew his secret. Raisky in any case had learned of Tushin's offer, of his behaviour on that occasion, and of his part in the whole drama from Vera herself. His jealous prejudices had instantly vanished, and he felt nothing but esteem and sympathy for Tushin. As he studied the personality of Vera's friend, as his fancy did him its usual service of putting the object, not in itself a romantic one, in the best light, he admired Tushin's simplicity and frankness. After a week spent at "Smoke," after seeing him at home, in the factory, in field and forest, after talking through the night with him by the flickering light of the fire, he understood how Vera's eye and heart should have recognised the simple completeness of the man and placed Tushin side by side with Tatiana Markovna and her sister in her affections. Raisky himself was attracted to this simple, gentle and yet strong personality, and would like to have stayed longer at "Smoke," but Tatiana Markovna wrote asking him to return without delay as his presence was necessary at Malinovka. Tushin offered to drive with him, for company's sake, as he said; in reality he wanted to know why Tatiana Markovna had sent for Raisky, whether there was a new turn in Vera's affairs, or any service to be rendered her. He remembered uncomfortably his meeting with Mark, and how unwillingly he had said that he was going away. Tushin wondered anxiously whether he had kept his promise, whether he was annoying Vera in any way. When Raisky reached Malinovka he hurried straight to Vera. While his impressions were still fresh, he drew in vivid colours a full length portrait of Tushin, describing his surroundings and his activities with sympathetic appreciation. Vera sighed, perhaps for sorrow that she did not love Tushin more and differently. Raisky would have gone on talking about his visit if he had not had a message from his aunt that she would like to see him immediately. He asked Vera if she knew why he had been sent for. "I know something is wrong, but she has not told me, and I don't like to ask. Indeed, I fear...." She broke off, and at that moment Tushin sent in word to know if she would receive him. She assented. When Raisky entered her room, Tatiana Markovna dismissed Pashutka and locked the door. She looked worried and old, and her appearance terrified Raisky. "Has something disagreeable happened?" he asked, sitting down opposite her. "What is done is done," she said sadly. "I am sitting on needles, Grandmother. Tell me quickly." "That old thief Tychkov has had his revenge on us both. He wormed out a tale about me from a crazy old woman, but this has had no special results, for people are indifferent to the past, and in any case I stand with one foot in the grave, and don't care about myself, but Vera-" "What about Vera, Grandmother?" "Her secret has ceased to be a secret. Rumours are going about the town. At first I did not understand why on Sunday at church, the Vice-governor's wife asked me twice after Vera's health, and why two other ladies listened curiously for my answers. I looked round, and read on every face the same question, what was the matter with Vera? I said she had been ill, but was better again. Then there were further questions, and I extricated myself with difficulty. The real misfortune, thank God, is concealed. I learned from Tiet Nikonich yesterday, that the gossip is on the wrong track. Ivan Ivanovich is suspected. Do you remember that on Marfinka's birthday he said not a word, but sat there like a mute, until Vera came in, when he suddenly woke up. The guests, of course, noticed it. In any case it has long been no secret that he loves Vera, and he has no arts of concealment. People said that they vanished into the garden, that Vera went later to the old house and Tushin drove away. Do you know what he came for?" Raisky nodded. "Vera and Tushin are coupled together in everybody's mouth." "You said that Tychkov had dragged me in too." "Paulina Karpovna did that. She went out to find you in the evening when you were out late with Vera. You said something to her, apparently in jest, which she understood in her own way, and she has involved you. They say she had alienated you from Vera, with whom you were supposed to be in love, and she keeps on repeating that she dragged you from the precipice. What had you to do with her, and what is the tale about Vera? Perhaps you had been in her confidence for a long time, and you both kept silence with me-this is what your freedom has brought you to." She sighed. "That silly old bird got off too easily," said Raisky, clenching his fists. "To-morrow I will have it out with her." "You have found someone whom you can call to account. What is the use of reproaching her? She is ridiculous, and no one cares what she says. But the old chatterbox Tychkov has established that on Marfinka's birthday, Vera and Tushin had a long conversation in the avenue, that the day before she stayed out far into the night, and was subsequently ill, and he has put his own construction on Paulina Karpovna's tale. He is trumpeting it in the town that it was not with you, but with Tushin that she was walking about at night. Th

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