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Гончаров Иван Александрович - The Precipice, Страница 2

Гончаров Иван Александрович - The Precipice


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y heart the names of all the ministers and the men in high commands and their past history; he could tell why one sea lay at a higher tide than another; he was the first to know what the English or the French had invented, and whether the inventions were useful or not. If there was any business to be arranged in the law courts, Tiet Nikonich arranged it, and sometimes concealed the sums that he spent in so doing. If he was found out, she scolded him; he could not conceal his confusion, begged her pardon, kissed her hand, and took his leave. Tatiana Markovna was always at loggerheads with the bureaucracy of the neighbourhood. If soldiers were to be billeted on her, the roads to be improved, or the taxes collected, she complained of outrage, argued and refused to pay. She would hear nothing about the public interest. In her opinion everyone had his own business to mind. She strongly objected to the police, and especially to the Superintendent, who was in her view a robber. More than once Tiet Nikonich tried, without success, to reconcile her to the doctrine of the public interest; he had to be content if she was reconciled with the officials and the police. This was the patriarchal, peaceful atmosphere which young Raisky absorbed. Grandmother and the little girls were mother and sisters to him, and Tiet Nikonich the ideal uncle. CHAPTER IV Boris's aunt had only just begun to give him an idea of her methods of conducting the estate when he began to yawn. "Listen, these are all your affairs; I am only your Starost," she said. But he could not suppress a yawn, watched the birds, the dragon-flies, picked the cornflowers, looked curiously at the peasants, and gazed up at the sky over-arching the wide horizon. Then his aunt began to talk to one of the peasants, and he hurried off to the garden, ran down to the edge of the precipice, and made his way through the undergrowth to the steep bank of the Volga. "He is still too young, only a child, does not understand serious matters," thought his aunt, as she followed him with her eyes. "What will become of him?" The Volga glided quietly between its overgrown banks, with here and there a sandbank or an island thickly covered with bushes. In the distance lay the sandhills and the darkening forest. Here and there shimmered a sail; gulls, with an even balancing of their wings, skimmed the water, and then rose with a more strenuous movement, while over the gardens, high in the air, the goshawks hovered. Boris stood still for a long time, recalling his childhood. He remembered that he had sat on this spot with his mother, looking thoughtfully out at this same landscape. Then he went slowly back to the house, and climbed the precipice, with the picture of her vividly before his mind's eye. In Malinovka and the neighbourhood there were tragic memories connected with this precipice. In the lifetime of Boris's parents a man wild with jealousy, a tailor from the town, had killed his wife and her lover there in the midst of the thicket, and had then cut his own throat. The suicide had been buried on the spot where he had committed the crime. Among the common people, as always happens in cases of this sort, there were rumours that the murderer, all dressed in white, wandered about the wood, climbed the precipice, and looked down on town and village before he vanished into air. And for superstitious reasons this part of the grounds had been left neglected. None of the servants went down the precipice, and the peasants from the outskirts of the town and from Malinovka made a dИtour to avoid it. The fence that divided the Raiskys' park from the woods had long since fallen into disrepair. Pines and bushes of hawthorn and dwarf-cherry had woven themselves together into a dense growth in the midst of which was concealed a neglected arbour. Boris vividly imagined the scene, how the jealous husband, trembling with agitation, stole through the bushes, threw himself on his rival, and struck him with his knife; how the woman flung herself at his feet and begged his forgiveness. But he, with the foam of madness on his lips, struck her again and again, and then, in the presence of the two corpses, cut his own throat. Boris shuddered. Agitated and gloomy he turned from the accursed spot. Yet he was attracted by the mysterious darkness of the tangled wood to the precipice, to the lovely view over the Volga and its banks. He closed his eyes, abandoning himself to the contemplation of the picture; his thoughts swept over him like the waves of the Volga; the lovely landscape was ever before his eyes, mirrored in his consciousness. Veroshka and Marfinka provided him with amusement. Veroshka was a little girl of six, with dark, brilliant eyes and dark complexion, who was beginning to be serious and to be ashamed of her baby ways. She would hop, skip and jump, then stand still, look shyly round and walk sedately along; then she would dart on again like a bird, pick a handful of currants and stuff them into her mouth. If Boris patted her hair, she smoothed it rapidly; if he gave her a kiss, she wiped it away. She was self-willed too. When she was sent on an errand she would shake her head, then run off to do it. She never asked Boris to draw for her, but if Marfinka asked him she watched silently and more intently than her sister. She did not, like Marfinka, beg either drawings or pencils. Marfinka, a rosy little girl of four, was often self-willed, and often cried, but before the tears were dry she was laughing and shouting again. Veroshka rarely wept, and then quietly. She soon recovered, but she did not like to be told to beg pardon. Boris's aunt wondered, as she saw him gay and serious by turns, what occupied his mind; she wondered what he did all day long. In answer Boris showed his sketching folio; then he would play her quadrilles, mazurkas, excerpts from opera, and finally his own improvisations. Tatiana Markovna's astonishment remained. "Just like your mother," she said. "She was just as restless, always sighing as if she expected something to happen. Then she would begin to play and was gay again. See, Vassilissa, he has sketched you and me, like life! When Tiet Nikonich comes, hide yourself and make a sketch of him, and next day we will send it him, and it can hang on the study wall. What a boy you are! And you play as well as the French emigrИ who used to live with your Aunt. Only it is impossible to talk to you about the farm; you are still too young." She always wished to go through the accounts with him. "The accounts for Veroshka and Marfinka are separate, you see," she said. "You need not think that a penny of your money goes to them. See...." But he never listened. He merely watched how his aunt wrote, how she looked at him over her spectacles, observed the wrinkles in her face, her birthmark, her eyes, her smile, and then burst out laughing, and, throwing himself into her arms, kissed her, and begged to go and look at the old house. She could refuse him nothing; so she unwillingly gave him the keys and he went to look at the rooms where he was born and had spent his childhood, of which he retained only a confused memory. "I am going with Cousin Boris," said Marfinka. "Where, my darling? It is uncanny over there," said Tatiana Markovna. Marfinka was frightened. Veroshka said nothing, but when Boris reached the old house, she was already standing at the door, with her hand on the latch, as if she feared she might be driven away. Boris shuddered as he entered the ante-room, and cast an anxious glance into the neighbouring hall, supported by pillars. Veroshka had run on in front. "Where are you off to, Veroshka?" She stood still a moment, her hand on the latch of the nearest door, and he had only just time to follow her before she vanished. Dark, smoke-stained reception rooms adjoined the hall. In one were two ghostly figures of shrouded statues and shrouded candelabra; by the walls were ranged dark stained oak pieces of furniture with brass decorations and inlaid work; there were huge Chinese vases, a clock representing Bacchus with a barrel, and great oval mirrors in elaborate gilded frames. In the bedroom stood an enormous bed, like a magnificent bier, with a brocade cover. Boris could not imagine how any human being could sleep in such a catafalque. Under the baldachin hovered a gilded Cupid, spotted and faded, with his arrow aimed at the bed. In the corners stood carved cupboards, damascened with ebony and mother-of-pearl. Veroshka opened a press and put her little face inside, and a musty, dusty smell came from the shelves, laden with old-fashioned caftans and embroidered uniforms with big buttons. Raisky shivered. "Granny was right!" he laughed. "It is uncanny here." "But everything here is so beautiful!" cried Vera, "the great pictures and the books!" "Pictures? Books? Where? I don't remember. Bravo, little Veroshka." He kissed her. She wiped her lips, and ran on in front to show him the books. He found some two thousand volumes, and was soon absorbed in reading the titles; many of the books were still uncut. From this time he was not often to be seen in the wooden house. He did not even go down to the Volga, but devoured one volume after another. Then he wrote verses, read them aloud, and intoxicated himself with the sound of them; then gave all his time to drawing. He expected something, he knew not what, from the future. He was filled with passion, with the foretaste of pleasure; there rose before him a world of wonderful music, marvellous pictures, and the murmur of enchanting life. "I have been wanting to ask you," said Tatiana Markovna, "why you have entered yourself for school again." "Not the school, the University!" "It's the same thing. You studied at your guardian's, and at the High School, you can draw, play the piano. What more do you want to learn? The students will only teach you to smoke a pipe, and in the end-which God forbid-to drink wine. You should go into the Guards." "Uncle says my means are not sufficient...." "Not sufficient! What next?" She pointed to the fields and the village. She counted out his resources in hundreds and thousands of roubles. She had had no experience of army circles, had never lived in the capital, and did not know how much money was needed. "Your means insufficient! Why, I can send provision alone for a whole regiment. No means! What does your Uncle do with the revenues?" "I intend to be an artist, Granny." "What! An artist!" "When I leave the University, I intend to enter the Academy." "What's the matter with you, Borushka? Make the sign of the cross! Do you want to be a teacher!" "All artists are not teachers. Among artists there are great geniuses, who are famous and receive large sums for pictures or music." "And do you intend to sell your pictures for money, or to play the piano for money in the evenings? What a disgrace!" "No, Grandmother, an artist...." "No, Borushka, don't anger your Grandmother; let her have the joy of seeing you in your Guard's uniform." "Uncle says I ought to go into the Civil Service." "A clerk! Good heavens! To stoop over a desk all day, bathed in ink, run in and out of the courts! Who would marry you then? No, no; come home to me as an officer, and marry a rich woman!" Although Boris shared neither his uncle's nor his aunt's views, yet for a moment there shimmered before his eyes a vision of his own figure in a hussar's or a court uniform. He saw how well he sat his horse, how well he danced. That day he made a sketch of himself, negligently seated in the saddle, with a cloak over his shoulders. CHAPTER V In Moscow Raisky spent his time partly in the University, partly in the Kremlin gardens. In the evening he sat in the club with his friends, hot-headed, good-hearted individuals. Every one of them made a great to-do, and confidently expected a great future. At the University, as at school, Raisky paid little attention to the rules of grammar, but observed intently the professor and the students. But as soon as the lecture touched actual life and brought living men, Romans, Germans or Russians on the scene, whether in history or literature, he involuntarily gave the lecturer his attention, and the personages and their doings became real to him. In his second year he made friends with a poor student named Koslov, the son of a deacon, who had been sent first of all to a seminary, but had taught himself Latin and Greek at home, and thus gained admission to the Gymnasium. He zealously studied the life of antiquity, but understood nothing of the life going on around him. Raisky felt himself drawn to this young man, at first because of his loneliness, his reserve, simplicity and kindness; later he discovered in him passion, the sacred fire, profundity of comprehension and austerity of thought and delicacy of perception-in all that pertained to antiquity. Koslov on his side was devoted to Raisky, whose vivacious temperament could not be permanently bound by anything. The outcome was the great gift of an intimate friendship. In summer Raisky liked to explore the neighbourhood of Moscow. He explored old convents, examined their dark recesses, the blackened pictures of the saints and martyrs; his imagination interpreted old Russia for him better than the lectures of his professors. The tsars, monks, warriors and statesmen of the past filed before him as they lived and moved. Moscow seemed to him to be a miniature tsardom. Here was conflict, here the death punishment was carried out; he saw Tatars, Cossacks of the Don. The varied life attracted him. In spite of obstacles he passed from one course to another at the University. He was helped by the reputation for talent he had won by certain poems and essays, the subjects of which were drawn from Russian history. "Which service do you mean to enter?" the Dean asked him one day. "In a week's time you will be leaving the University. What are you going to do?" Raisky was silent. "What profession have you selected?" Raisky almost answered that he meant to be an artist, but he remembered in time the reception that this proposition had received from his guardian and his aunt. "I shall write verses," he answered in a low tone. "But that is not a profession. You may write verses and yet...." "Stories too." "Naturally, you can write stories as well. You have talent and means to develop it. But what profession-profession, I asked." "For the moment I shall enter the Guards, later on the Civil Service-I mean to be a barrister, a governor...." The Dean smiled. "You begin by being an ensign, that is comprehensible. You and Leonid Koslov are exceptions; every other man has made his decision." When Koslov was asked his intentions he replied that he would like to be a schoolmaster somewhere in the interior, and from this intention he refused to be turned aside. Raisky moved among the golden youth of St. Petersburg society, first as young officer, then as bureaucrat, fulfilled his duties in devotion to the beauty of many an Armide, suffering to some degree, and gaining some experience in the process. After a time his dreams and his artistic consciousness revived. He seemed to see the Volga flowing between its steep banks, the shady garden, and the wooded precipice. He abandoned the Civil Service in its turn to enter the Academy of Arts. His education would never be finished, but he was determined to be a creative artist. His aunt scolded him by letter for having left the Guards; his guardian advised him to seek a position in the Senate, and sent him letters of recommendation. But Raisky did not enter the Senate, but indolently pursued his artistic studies, read a great deal, wrote poems and prose, danced, went into society and to the theatre, indulged in wild dissipation, and at the same time did some musical composition, and drew a portrait of a lady. He would spend one week in dissipation and the next in diligent study at the Academy. Life knocked at the door and tore him from his artist's dreams to a dissolute existence of alternating pleasure and boredom. The universal summer exodus from the capital had driven him abroad. But one day when he came home he found two letters awaiting him, one from Tatiana Markovna, the other from his comrade at the University, Leonid Koslov, who had been installed in Raisky's native place as a master in the Gymnasium. During all these years his aunt had often written to him, and sent him statements of accounts. His answers were short but affectionate; the accounts he tore up without having even looked at them. "Is it not a sin," she wrote, "to forget an old woman like me, when I am all the family you have? But in these days it seems that old people have, in the judgment of youth, become superfluous. But I have not even leisure to die; I have two grown-up nieces, and until their future is settled to my satisfaction, I shall pray God to spare my life-and then His will be done. I do not complain that you forget me. But if I were not here my little girls, your sisters, would be alone. You are their next of kin and their natural protector. Think, too, of the estate. I am old, and can no longer be your bailiff. To whom do you intend to entrust the estate? The place will be ruined and the estate dissipated. It breaks my heart to think that your family silver, bronzes, pictures, diamonds, lace, china and glass will come into the hands of the servants, or the Jews, or the usurers. So long as your Grandmother lives, you may be sure that not a thread goes astray, but after that I can give no guarantee. And my two nieces, what is to become of them? Vera is a good, sensible, but retiring girl, and does not concern herself with domestic matters at all. Marfinka will be a splendid manager, but she is still young; although she ought to have been married before now, she is still such a child in her ideas, thank God! She will mature with experience, and meantime I shelter her. She appreciates this and does nothing against her Grandmother's will, for which may God reward her. In the house she is a great help, but I do not let her do anything on the estate; that is no work for a young girl. "Do not defer your coming, but gladden your Grandmother's heart. She is devoted to you, not merely because of the relationship, but from her heart. You were conscious of the sympathy between us when you were a child. I don't know what you are in manhood, but you were then a good nephew. Come, if only to see your sisters, and perhaps happiness will reward your coming. If God grants me the joy of seeing you married and laying the estate in your hands I shall die happy. Marry, Borushka; you are long since of an age to do so. Then my little girls will still have a home. So long as you remain unmarried they cannot live in your house. Marry, please your Grandmother, and God will not forsake you. I wait your coming; let me know when to expect you. "Tiet Nikonich desires to be remembered to you. He has aged, but is still hale and hearty, he has the same smile, still talks well and has such pleasant manners that none of the young dandies can hold a candle to him. Bring him, please, a vest and hose of Samian leather; it is worn now, I hear, as a specific against rheumatism. It will be a surprise for him. I enclose the account for the last two years. Accept my blessing." CHAPTER VI In a _kibitka_ covered with bast, drawn by three lean and sleepy nags, Raisky drove slowly to his estate. It was not without agitation that he saw the smoke curling up from the chimneys of his own roof, the fresh, delicate green of the birches and the limes which overshadowed this place of refuge, the gables of the old house and the pale line of the Volga now gleaming between the trees and now hidden from view. He approached nearer and nearer; now he could see the shimmer of the flowers in the garden, the avenues of lime and acacia became visible, the old elm emerged, and there, more to the left, lay the orchard. There were dogs in the yard, cats sunning themselves, on the roof of the new house flocked the pigeon and the swallows flitted around the eaves. Behind the house, on the side towards the village, linen lay out to bleach. One woman was rolling a cask, the coachman was chopping wood, a peasant got into the _telega_ and gathered up the reins-Boris saw only unfamiliar faces. But Yakob was there and looked sleepily round. One familiar face, but how aged! Raisky observed the scene intently. He alighted from the _kibitka_, and walked along the fence which divided house, yard, garden and park from the road, feasting his eyes on the well-remembered prospect, when suddenly his eye was caught by an unexpected apparition. On the verandah, which led down to the garden and was decorated by lemon and pomegranate trees in tubs, and with cactus and aloe and flowering plants, stood a young girl of about twenty, scattering millet from two plates held by a barefooted child of twelve. At her feet were assembled hens, turkeys, ducks, pigeons, sparrows and daws. She called to the birds to come to breakfast, and cocks, hens and pigeons fell to, looking round every moment as if they feared treason, and then again falling to. As the morning sun shed a fierce light on the busy group of birds and on the young girl herself, Raisky saw her large, dark grey eyes, her round, healthy cheeks, her narrow white teeth, her long light-brown tresses wound twice round her head, and the strong young breasts rising and sinking underneath her white blouse. Her white, slightly tanned neck was innocent of collar or scarf. A hasty movement loosened one plait of hair over her head and back, but she took no notice, but continued to scatter the corn, taking care that all received their share and that sparrows and daws did not obtrude too much, and looking as fresh and happy as the morning itself. "Didn't you see the goose?" she asked the little girl in a loud clear voice. "No," answered the child, "it is the cat's fault. Afimua says it will die." "I shall look after it myself. Afimua has no pity." Motionless, Raisky watched the scene without his presence being suspected. This must be his cousin, and how charming! But which one, Veroshka or Marfinka? Without waiting for the _kibitka_ to turn in through the gate, he ran forward, and stood before the young girl. "Cousin," he cried, extending his arms. In a moment both girls had vanished as if by magic, the sparrows were away on the roof, and the pigeons in flight. The servants in the yard stopped their work. Raisky looked in amazement on the emptiness and at the corn scattered at his feet. Then he heard in the house bustle, murmurs, movement, the clatter of keys, and his aunt's voice, "Where is he?" Her face lighted up when she saw Raisky and she opened her arms, to press him to her breast. She had aged, but in so even, so healthy a fashion, that there were no unwholesome patches, no deep hanging pockets about the eyes and mouth, no sadness or gloom in her eyes. Life had not conquered her; she conquered life, and only slowly laid down her weapons in the combat. Her voice was not so clear as of old, and she leaned on a stick, but she made no complaint. She still wore no cap on her short hair. Health and kindliness shone from her eyes, and not only from her eyes, from her whole figure. "Borushka, my friend!" Three times she embraced him. Tears stood in her eyes. In her embrace, her voice, in the sudden grip of joy, there was tenderness, affection, and ardour. He felt that he was almost a criminal, that he had been playing with his emotions and seeking forbidden fruit, wandering homelessly in the world, while Nature himself had been preparing for him a nest where sympathy and happiness awaited him. "Marfinka, where are you, come here," cried her grandmother. "She was so terrified when she saw you, and terrified me too. Let me look at you, Borushka." She led him to the light and looked at him long and earnestly. "How ill you look," she said. "But no, you are sunburnt. The moustache suits you, why do you grow a beard? Shave it off, Borushka, I can't endure it. Ah! grey hairs here and there already. You are beginning to age too soon." "It's not with age, Granny." "Why then? Are you in good health?" "I'm well enough. Let us talk of something else. You, thank God, are always the same." "What do you mean?" "You don't alter a bit, are still as beautiful as ever. I never saw an old lady whose age adorned her so." "Thanks for the compliment, my child. It would be better for you to spend your admiration on your sisters. I will whisper the truth to you. Two such beauties you will not find in the town, especially the other...." "Where is my other sister?" "On a visit to the pope's wife on the other side of the Volga. It is a pity. The pope's wife has been ill and sent for her, of course just now. A messenger shall go." "No! No! Why should anyone be disturbed on my account?" "And you have come on your Grandmother so suddenly. We waited, waited, in vain. The peasants sat up for you at night, I have just sent Egorka on to the highway to look for you and Savili into the town. Now you must have your breakfast. Why is it so long in coming? The master has come, and there is nothing ready, just as if the house was nothing better than a station. Serve what is ready." "I need nothing, Granny. I am stuffed with food. At one station I drank tea, milk at another, and at the third there was a wedding, and I was treated to wine, meat and gingerbread." "You are on your way home to your Grandmother, and are not ashamed to eat and drink all sorts of things. Gingerbread in the morning! Marfinka ought to have been there; she loves weddings and gingerbread. Come in. Marfinka, don't be so shy. She is ashamed because you caught her in her morning gown. Come here, darling; he is your brother." Tea and coffee appeared, and finally breakfast. However much he protested Raisky had to eat, for otherwise his aunt's morning would have been spoiled. "Marfinka, come here and entertain us." After about five minutes the door opened slowly and quietly, and Marfinka entered, blushing with confusion and with downcast eyes. At her heels followed Vassilissa with a tea-tray full of sweets, preserves, cakes, etc. Marfinka stood still, betraying in her confusion a certain curiosity. She wore lace at her neck and wrists; her hair was plaited firmly around her head and the waist of her barХge dress encircled by a blue ribbon. Raisky threw down his napkin, and jumped up, to stand before her in admiration. "How lovely," he cried. "This is my little sister, Marfa Vassilievna. And is the goose still alive?" Marfinka became still more embarrassed, returned his greeting awkwardly, and retired to a corner. "You have both gone mad," interrupted their aunt. "Is that the way to greet one another?" "Marfa Vassilievna," said Raisky, as he sought to kiss Marfinka's hand. "Vassilievna!" cried Tatiana Markovna. "Don't you love her any more? Marfinka, not Marfa Vassilievna! You will be addressing me as Tatiana Markovna next! Kiss one another. Are you not brother and sister?" "I won't, Grandmama. He is teasing me about the goose. It is not polite to spy on people," she said severely. Everybody laughed. Raisky kissed her on both cheeks, embraced her, and overcame her confusion. She kissed him in return, and her shyness vanished. "Do you remember, Marfinka, how we used to run about and draw, and how you cried?" "No ... but yes. I do remember as if in a dream." "How should she remember, when she was only five?" interrupted her aunt. "But I do, Grandmama, as in a dream." Raisky had hardly captured his old memories when Marfinka disappeared. Soon she returned with sketch books, drawings and toys, and sitting down by Raisky in friendly fashion began, "Granny says that I don't remember. I remember how you used to draw, and how I sat on your knee. Granny has all your drawings, portraits and sketch books. She has kept them all in the dark room where the silver, the diamonds and the lace are. She got them out, and gave them to me a little time ago, when she heard you were coming. Here is my portrait. How funny I looked! And here is Veroshka, and Granny, and Vassilissa. Do you remember how you held me, and Veroshka sat on your shoulder, and you carried us over the water?" "Do you remember that too?" asked her aunt. "Boastful child! Veroshka said the other day...." "This is how I draw now," said Marfinka, handing him a drawing of a bunch of flowers. "Splendid, little sister! Is it done from nature?" "Yes, from nature. I can make wax-flowers, too." "And do you play or sing?" "I play the piano." "And does Veroshka draw and play?" Marfinka shook her head. "Does she like needlework? No? Then is she fond of reading?" "Yes, she reads a great deal. But she does not tell us what she reads, nor show us the book, nor even say where she got it." "She hides herself from everybody, does my strange child," sighed Tatiana Markovna. "God only knows what will become of her. Now, Marfinka, don't waste your brother's time any longer with your chatter about trifles. We will talk about serious matters, about the estate." The old lady had worn a serious expression while she watched Boris as he talked to Marfinka. She recognised his mother's features, but the changes in his face did not escape her-the indications of vanishing youth, the premature furrows; and she was baffled by the original expression of his eyes. Formerly she had always been able to read his face, but now there was much inscribed on it that was undecipherable for her. Yet his temperament was open and affectionate and his words frankly interpreted his thoughts. Now his aunt stood before him wearing a most business-like expression; in her hand were accounts and a ledger. "Are you not weary with your journey?" she said. "You are yawning and perhaps you would like a little sleep. Business can wait till to-morrow." "I slept a good deal on the journey. But you are giving yourself useless trouble, Grandmother, for I am not going to look at your accounts." "What? You have surely come to take over the estate and to ask for an account of my stewardship. The accounts and statements that I sent you-" "I have never even read, Grandmother." "You haven't read them. I have sent you precise information about your income and you don't even know how your money is spent." "And I don't want to know," answered Raisky, looking out of the window away towards the banks of the Volga. "Imagine, Marfinka," he said, "I remember a verse I learnt as a child- "'Oh Volga, proudest of rivers,
  Stem thy hurrying flood;
  Oh Volga, hearken, hearken,
  To the ringing song of the poet,
  The unknown, whose life thou hast spared.'" "Don't be vexed with me, Borushka," cried Tatiana Markovna, "but I think you are mad. What have you done with the papers I sent you? Have you brought them?" "Where are they?" she continued, as he shook his head. "Granny, I tore up all the accounts, and I swear I will do the same with these if you worry me with them." He seized the paper, but she snatched them away, exclaiming, "You dare to tear up my accounts." He laughed, suddenly embraced her, and kissed her lips as he had done when he was a child. She shook herself free and wiped her mouth. "I toil till midnight, adding up and writing down every kopek, and he tears up my work. That is why you never wrote about money matters, gave any orders, made any preparations, or did anything of the kind. Did you never think of your estate?" "Not at all, Granny. I forgot all about it. If I thought at all I thought of these rooms in which lives the only woman who loves me and is loved by me, you alone in the whole world. And now," he said, turning to Marfinka, "I want to win my sisters too." His aunt took off her spectacles and gazed at him. "In all my days I have never seen anything like it," she said. "Here the only person with no roots like that is Markushka." "What sort of person is this Markushka. Leonti Koslov writes about him. How is Leonti, Granny? I must look him up." "How should he be? He crouches in one spot with a book, and his wife in another. But he does not even see what goes on under his nose, and can any good come from his friendship with this Markushka. Only the other day your friend came here to complain that that Markushka was destroying books from your library. You know, don't you, that the library from the old house has been installed in Koslov's house?" Raisky hummed an air from _"Il Barbiere."_ "You are an extraordinary man," cried his aunt angrily. "Why did you come at all? Do talk sensibly." "I came to see you, Granny, to live here for a little while, to breathe freely, to look out over the Volga, to write, to draw...." "But the estate? If you are not tired we will drive out into the field, to look at the sowing of the winter-corn." "Later on, Granny." "Will you take over the management of the estate?" "No, Granny, I will not." "Who then is to look after it? I am old and can no longer do all the work. Do you wish me to put the estate into strange hands?" "Farm it yourself, Granny, so long as you take any pleasure in it." "And if I die?" "Then leave everything as it is." Tatiana Markovna looked at the portrait of Raisky's mother, for a long time she looked at the languishing eyes, the melancholy smile. "Yes," she whispered. "I honour the memory of the departed, but hers is the fault. She kept you by her side, talked to you, played the piano, read out of books and wept as she did so. And this is the result. Singing and painting. Now tell me, Borushka," she went on in her ordinary tone, "what is to become of the house, of the linen, the silver, the diamonds? Shall you order them to be given to the peasants?" "Do I possess diamonds and silver?" "How often have I told you so? From your mother you have inherited all these things; what is to be done with them. I will show you the inventory of them." "Don't do that, for Heaven's sake. I can believe they are mine. And so I can dispose of them as I please?" "Of course; you are the proprietor. We live here as your guests, though we do not eat your bread. See here are my receipts and expenditure," she said, thrusting towards another big ledger which he waved away. "But I believe all you say, Granny," he said. "Send for a clerk and tell him to make out a deed, by which I give the house, the land, and all that belongs to it to my dear cousins, Veroshka and Marfinka, as dowry." The old lady wrinkled her brow, and waited impatiently till he should finish speaking. "So long as you live, dear Granny," he continued, "the estate naturally remains under your control; the peasants must have their freedom...." "Never," interrupted his aunt, "Veroshka and Marfinka are not beggars-each of them has her fifty thousand roubles-and after my death three times that sum, perhaps more. All I have is for my little girls, and, thank God, I am not a pauper. I have a corner of my own, a bit of land, and a roof to cover them. One would think you were a millionaire. You make gifts; you will have this, and you won't have that. Here, Marfinka! where have you hidden yourself?" "Directly!" cried Marfinka's clear voice from a neighbouring room. Happy, gay, smiling and frank, she fluttered into the room, looked hesitatingly, first at Raisky, then at her aunt, who was nearly beside herself. "Your cousin, Marfinka, is pleased to present you with a house, silver, and lace. You are, he thinks, a beggared, dowerless girl. Make a curtsey, thank your benefactor, kiss his hand-Well?" Marfinka, who did not know what to say, squeezed herself flat against the stove and looked at her two relatives. Her aunt pushed papers and books on one side, crossed her hands over her breast, and looked out of the window, while Raisky sat down beside Marfinka, and took her hand. "Would you like to go away from here, Marfinka, into a strange house, perhaps in an altogether different district?" "God forbid! How could such a thing happen. Who ever imagined such nonsense?" "Granny," laughed Raisky. Happily "Granny" had not heard the words. Marfinka was embarrassed, and looked out of the window. "Here I have everything I want, the lovely flowers in the garden, the birds. Who would look after the birds? I will never go away from here, never!" "But Granny wants to go and take you with her." "Granny! Where? Why?" she asked her aunt in her caressing, coaxing way. "Don't tease me," said Tatiana Markovna. "Marfinka, you don't want to leave home?" asked Boris. "Not for anything in the world. How could such a thing be?" "What would Veroshka say about it?" "She would never be separated from the old house." "She loves the old house?" "Yes. She is only happy when she is here. If she were taken away from it she would die. We both should." "That matter is settled then, little sister. You two, Veroshka and you, will accept the gift from me, won't you?" "I will if Veroshka agrees." "Agreed, dear sister. You are not so proud as Granny," he said, as he kissed her forehead. "What is agreed?" suddenly grumbled Tatiana Markovna. "You have accepted? Who told you you might accept? Grandmother will never permit you to live at a stranger's expense. Be so kind, Boris Pavlovich, as to take over books, accounts, inventories and sales. I am not your paid servant." She pushed papers and books towards him. "Granny!" "Granny! My name is Tatiana Markovna Berezhkov." She stood up, and opened the door into the servants' room. "Send Savili here." A quarter of an hour later, a peasant of almost forty-five years of age opened the door with a casual greeting. He was strongly-built, big boned, and was robust, without being fat. His eyes with their overhanging brows and wide heavy lids, wasted no idle glances; he neither spoke an unnecessary word, nor made a superfluous gesture. "The proprietor is here," said Tatiana Markovna, indicating Raisky. "You must now make your reports to him. He intends to administer the estate himself." Savili looked askance at Raisky. "At your orders," he said stiffly, slowly raising his eyes. "What orders are you pleased to give?" he asked, lowering his eyes again. Raisky thought for a moment before he replied: "Do you know an official who could draw up a document for the transfer of the estate?" "Gavril Ivanov Meshetshnikov draws up the papers we require," he said. "Send for him." As Savili bowed, and slowly retired, Raisky followed him with his eyes. "An anxious rascal," was his comment. "How should he be other than anxious," said his aunt, "when he is tied to a wife like Marina Antipovna? Do you remember Antip? Well, she is his daughter. But for his marriage he is a treasure. He does my important business, sells the corn, and collects the money. He is honest and practical, but fate deals her blows where she will, and every man must bear his own burden. But what idea have you in your head now? Are you beside yourself?" "Something must be done. I am going away, and you will not administer the estate, so some arrangement must be made." "And is that your reason for going? I thought you were now going to take over the management of your estate. You have done enough gadding about. Why not marry and settle here?" She was visibly struggling with herself. It had never entered her head to give up the administration; she would not have known what to do with herself. Her idea had been to alarm Raisky, and he was taking her seriously. "What is to be done?" she said. "I will see after the estate as long as I have the strength to do so. How else should you live, you strange creature?" "I receive two thousand roubles from my other estate, and that is a sufficient income. I want to work, to draw, to write, to travel for a little; and for that purpose I might mortgage or sell the other estate." "God bless you, Borushka, what next? Are you so near beggary? You talk of drawing, writing, alienating your land; next it will be giving lessons or school teaching. Instead of arriving with four horses and a travelling carriage you sneak in, without a servant, in a miserable _kibitka_, you, a Raisky. Look at the old house, at the portraits of your ancestors, and take shame to yourself. Shame, Borushka! How splendid it would have been if you had come epauletted like Sergei Ivanovich, and had married a wife with a dowry of three thousand souls." Raisky burst out laughing. "Why laugh? I am speaking seriously when I tell you what a joy it would have been for your Grandmother. Then you would have wanted the lace and the silver, and not be flinging it away." "But as I am not marrying, I don't need these things. Therefore it is settled that Veroshka and Marfinka shall have them." "Your decision is final?" "It is final. And it is further settled that if you do not like this arrangement, everything passes into the hands of strangers. You have my word for it." "Your word for it," cried his aunt. "You are a lost man. Where have you lived, and what have you done. Tell me, for Heaven's sake, what your purpose in life is, and what you really are?" "What I am, Grandmother? The unhappiest of men!" He leaned his head back on the cushion as he spoke. "Never say such a thing," she interrupted. "Fate hears and exacts the penalty, and you will one day be unhappy. Either be content or feign content." She looked anxiously round, as if Fate were already standing at her shoulder. Raisky rose from the divan. "Let us be reconciled," he said. "Agree to keep this little corner of God's earth under your protection." "It is an estate, not a 'corner.'" "Resign yourself to my gift of this old stuff to the dear girls. A lonely man like me has no use for it, but they will be mistresses of a house. If you don't agree, I will present it to the school...." "The school-children! Those rascals who steal our apples, shall not have it." "Come to the point, Granny! You don't really want to leave this nest in your old age." "We'll see, we'll see. Give them the lace on their wedding-day. I can do nothing with you; talk to Tiet Nikonich who is coming to dinner." And she wondered what would come of such strangeness. Raisky took his cap to go out, and Marfinka went with him. She showed him the park, her own garden, the vegetable and flower gardens, and the arbours. When they came to the precipice she looked anxiously over the edge, and drew back with a shudder. Raisky looked down on the Volga, which was in flood, and had overflowed into the meadows. In the distance were ships which appeared to be motionless, and above hung heaped banks of cloud. Marfinka drew closer to Raisky, and looked down indifferently on the familiar picture. "Come down!" he said suddenly, and seized her hand. "No, I am afraid," she answered trembling, and drew back. "I won't let you fall. Do you think I can't take care of you?" "Not at all, but I am afraid. Veroshka has no fear, but goes down alone, even in the dusk. Although a murderer lies buried there, she is not afraid." "Try, shut your eyes, and give me your hand. You will see how carefully I take you down." Marfinka half closed her eyes, but she had hardly taken his hand and made one step, when she found herself standing on the edge of the precipice. Shuddering she withdrew her hand. "I would not go down for anything in the world," she cried as she ran back. "Where are you going to!" No answer reached her. She approached the edge and looked timidly over. She saw how the bushes were bent noisily aside, as Raisky sprang down, step by step. How horrible! she thought as she returned to the house. CHAPTER VII Raisky went nearly all round the town, and when he climbed the cliffs once more, he was on the extreme boundary of his estate. A steep path led down to the suburbs, and the town lay before him as in the palm of a hand. Stirred with the passion aroused by his memories of childhood, he looked at the rows of houses, cottages and huts. It was not a town, but, like other towns, a cemetery. Going from street to street, Raisky saw through the windows, how in one house the family sat at dinner, and in another the amovar had already been brought in. In the empty streets, every conversation could be heard a _verst_ away; voices and footsteps re-echoed on the wooden pavement. It seemed to Raisky a picture of dreamy peace, the tranquillity of the grave. What a frame for a novel, if only he knew what to put in the novel. The houses fell into their places in the picture that filled his mind, he drew in the faces of the towns-people, grouped the servants with his aunt, the whole composition centring in Marfinka. The figures stood sharply outlined in his mind; they lived and breathed. If the image of passion should float over this motionless sleeping little world, the picture would glow with the enchanting colour of life. Where was he to find the passion, the colour? "Passion!" he repeated to himself. If her burning fire could but be poured out upon him, and engulf the artist in her destroying waves. As he moved forward he remembered that his stroll had an aim. He wondered how Leonid Koslov was, whether he had changed, or whether he had remained what he had been before, a child for all his learning. He too was a good subject for an artist. Raisky thought of Leonti's beautiful wife, whose acquaintance he had made during his student days in Moscow, when she was a young girl. She used to call Leonti her fiancИ, without any denial on his part, and five years after he had left the University he made the journey to Moscow, and married her. He loved his wife as a man loves air and warmth; absorbed in the life and art of the ancients, his lover's eyes saw in her the antique ideal of beauty. The lines of her neck and bosom charmed him, and her head recalled to him Roman heads seen on bas-reliefs and cameos. Leonti did not recognise Raisky, when his friend suddenly entered his study. "I have not the honour," he began. But when Boris Pavlovich opened his lips he embraced him. "Wife! Ulinka!" he cried into the garden. "Come quickly, and see who has come to see us." She came hastily, and kissed Raisky. "What a man you have grown, and how much more handsome you are!" she said, her eyes flashing. Her eyes, her mien, her whole figure betrayed audacity. Just over thirty years old, she gave the impression of a splendidly developed specimen of blooming womanhood. "Have you forgotten me?" she asked. "How should he forget you?" broke in Leonti. "But Ulinka is right. You have altered, and are hardly recognisable with your beard. How delighted your Aunt must have been to see you." "Ah! his Aunt!" remarked Juliana Andreevna in a tone of displeasure. "I don't like her." "Why not?" "She is despotic and censorious." "Yes, she is a despot," answered Raisky. "That comes from intercourse with serfs. Old customs!" "According to Tatiana Markovna," continued Juliana Andreevna, "everybody should stay on one spot, turn his head neither to right nor left, and never exchange a word with his neighbours. She is a past mistress in fault-finding; nevertheless she and Tiet Nikonich are inseparable, he spends his days and nights with her." Raisky laughed and said, "She is a saint nevertheless, whatever you may find to say about her." "A saint perhaps, but nothing is right for her. Her world is in her two nieces, and who knows how they will turn out? Marfinka plays with her canaries and her flowers, and the other sits in the corner like the family ghost, and not a word can be got from her. We shall see what will become of her." "Veroshka? I haven't seen her yet. She is away on a visit on the other side of the Volga." "And who knows what her business is there?" "I love my Aunt as if she were my Mother," said Raisky emphatically. "She is wise, honourable, just! She has strength and individuality, and there is nothing commonplace about her." "You will believe everything she says?" asked Juliana Andreevna, drawing him away to the window, while Leonti collected the scattered papers, laid them in cupboards and put the books on the shelves. "Yes, everything," she said. "Don't believe her. I know she will tell you all sorts of nonsense-about Monsieur Charles." "Who is he?" "A Frenchman, a teacher, and a colleague of my husband's. They sit there reading till all hours. How can I help it? Yet God knows what they make out of it in the town, as if I.... Don't believe it," she went on, as she saw Raisky was silent. "It is idle talk, there is nothing," she concluded, with a false s

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