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Гончаров Иван Александрович - The Precipice, Страница 5

Гончаров Иван Александрович - The Precipice

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wearing a muslin dress with wide sleeves so that her white arms were visible almost to the shoulder. She was followed by a cadet. "What heat! _Bonjour, Bonjour_," she cried, nodding in all directions, and then sat down on the divan beside Raisky. "There is not room here," he said, and sat down on a chair beside her. "Ah, Dalila Karpovna," remarked Niel Andreevich. "Good-day. How are you?" "Good-day," she answered drily, turning away. "Why don't you bestow a kind glance on me, and let me admire your swanlike neck!" The young officials in the corner giggled, the ladies smiled, and Paulina Karpovna whispered to Raisky: "The rude creature. The first word he speaks is folly." "Ah, you despise an old man. But if I were to seek for your hand? Do I look like a bridegroom, or am I too old for you?" "I decline the honour. _Bonjour_, Natalie Ivanovna, where did you buy that pretty hat, at Madame Pichet's?" "My husband ordered it from Moscow, as a surprise for me." "Very pretty." "But listen seriously," cried Niel Andreevich insistently. "I am going to woo you in earnest. I need a housekeeper, a modest woman, who is no coquette, and has no taste for finery, who never glances at another man, and you are an example." Paulina Karpovna pretended not to hear, but fanned herself and attempted to draw Raisky into a conversation. "In our esteem," went on Niel Andreevich, pitilessly, "you are a model for our mothers and daughters. At church your eyes remain fixed on the sacred picture without a moment's diversion, and never even perceive the presence of young men...." The giggling in the corner increased, the ladies made faces in their efforts to restrain their laughter, and Tatiana Markovna tried to divert Niel Andreevich's attention from her guest, by herself addressing her, but he returned to the attack. "You are as retiring as a nun," he went on, "never display your arms and shoulders, but bear yourself in accordance with your years." "Why don't you leave me alone?" returned Paulina Karpovna, and turning to Raisky she added: "_Est-il bЙte, grossier_." "Because I wish to marry you, we are a suitable pair." "It will be difficult to find a wife for you." "We are well matched. I was still an assessor when you married the late Ivan Egorovich. And that must be-" "How hot it is! Stifling! Let us go into the garden. Please give me my mantilla, Michel," she said turning to the cadet who had come with her. At this moment Vera appeared, and the company rose and crowded round her, so that the conversation took another turn. Raisky was bored by the guests, and by the exhibition he had just witnessed. He would have left the room, but that Vera's presence provided a strong incentive to remain. Vera looked quickly round at the guests, said a few words here and there, shook hands with the young girls, smiled at the ladies, and sat down on a chair by the stove. The young officials smoothed their coats, Niel Andreevich kissed her hand with evident pleasure, and the girls fixed their eyes on her. Meanwhile Marfinka was busily employed in pouring out time, handing dishes and particularly in entertaining her friends. "Vera Vassilievna, my dear, do take my part," cried Niel Andreevich. "Is any one offending you?" "Indeed there is. There is Dalila, no, Pelageia Karpovna-" "Impertinent creature," said that lady aloud, as she rose and went quickly towards the door. Tatiana Markovna also rose. "Where are you going, Paulina Karpovna?" she cried. "Marfinka, do not let her go." "No, no, Tatiana Markovna," came Paulina Karpovna's voice from the hall, "I am always grateful to you, but I do not wish to meet such a loon. If my husband were alive, no man would dare...." "Do not be vexed; he means nothing by it, but is in reality a decent old gentleman." "Please let me go. I will come again and see you when he is not here," she said as she left the house in tears. In the room she had left everyone was in gay humour, and Niel Andreevich condescended to share the general laughter, in which however, neither Raisky nor Vera joined. Paulina Karpovna might be eccentric, but that did not excuse either the loonish amusement of the people assembled or the old man's attacks. Raisky remained gloomily silent, and shifted his feet ominously. "She is offended and has departed," remarked Niel Andreevich, as Tatiana Markovna, visibly agitated returned, and resumed her seat in silence. "It won't do her any harm, but will be good for her health. She shouldn't appear naked in society. This is not a bathing establishment." At this point the ladies lowered their eyes, and the young girls grew crimson, and pressed their hands nervously together. "Neither should she stare about her in church and have young men following her footsteps. Come, Ivan Ivanovich, you were once her indefatigable cavalier. Do you still visit her?" he asked a young man severely. "Not for a long time, your Excellency. I got tired of forever exchanging compliments." "It's a good thing you have given it up. What an example she sets to women and young girls, going about dressed in pink with ribbons and frills, when she is over forty. How can anybody help reading her a lecture? You see," he added turning to Raisky. "that I am only a terror to evildoers. Who has made you fear me?" "Mark," answered Raisky, to the excitement of all present. "What Mark?" asked Niel Andreevich, frowning. "Mark Volokov, who is in exile here." "Ah! that thief. Do you know him?" "We are friends." "Friends!" hissed the old man. "Tatiana Markovna, what do I hear?" "Don't believe him, Niel Andreevich. He does not know what he is talking about. What sort of a friend of yours is he?" "Why, Grandmother, did he not sup here with me and spend the night? Didn't you yourself give orders to have a soft bed made up for him?" "Boris Pavlovich, for pity's sake, be silent," whispered his aunt angrily. But Tychkov was already looking at her with amazement, the ladies with sympathy, while the men stared and the young girls drew closer to one another. Vera looked round the company, thanking Raisky by a friendly glance, and Marfinka hid behind her aunt. "What a confession! You admitted this Barabbas under your roof," said Niel Andreevich. "Not I, Niel Andreevich. Borushka brought him in at night, and I did not even know who was sleeping in his room." "You go round with him at night? Don't you know that he is a suspicious character, an enemy of the administration, a renegade from Church and Society. So he has been telling you about me?" "Yes," Raisky said. "By his description I am a wild beast, a devourer of men." "No, you do not devour them, but you allow yourself, by what right God only knows, to insult them." "And did you believe that?" "Until to-day, no." "And to-day?" "To-day, I believe it," agreed Raisky to the terror and agitation of the company. Most of the officials present escaped to the hall, and stood near the door listening. "How so," asked Niel Andreevich haughtily. "Because you have just insulted a lady." "You hear, Tatiana Markovna." "Boris Pavlovich, Borushka," she said, seeking to restrain him. "That old fashion-plate, that frivolous, dangerous woman!" "What do her faults matter to you. Who gave you the right to judge other people?" "Who gave you the right, young man, to reproach me? Do you know that I have been in the service for forty years, and that no minister has ever made the slightest criticism to me." "My right is that you have insulted a lady in my house. I should be a miserable creature to permit that. If you don't understand that, the worse for you." "If you receive a person who is, to the knowledge of the whole town, a frivolous butterfly, dressing in a way unsuited to her age, and leaving unfulfilled her duties to her family...." "Well, what then?" "Then both you and Tatiana Markovna deserve to hear the truth. Yes, I have been meaning to tell you for a long time, Matushka." "Frivolity, flightiness and the desire to please are not such terrible crimes. But the whole town knows that you have accumulated money through bribery that you robbed your own nieces and had them locked up in an asylum. Yet my Grandmother and I have received you in our house, and you take it upon yourself to lecture us." The guests who heard this indictment were horror-stricken. The ladies hurried out into the hall without taking leave of their hostess, the rest followed them like sheep, and soon all were gone. Tatiana Markovna motioned Marfinka and Vera to the door, but Marfinka alone obeyed the indication. As for Niel Andreevich he had become deadly pale. "Who," he cried, "who has brought you these tales? Speak! That brigand Mark? I am going straight to the Governor. Tatiana Markovna, if this young man again sets foot in your house, you and I are strangers. Otherwise within twenty four hours, both he and you and your whole household shall be transferred to a place where not even a raven can penetrate with food. Who? Who told him? I will know. Who? Speak," he hissed, gasping for breath, and hardly knowing what he said. "Stop talking rubbish, Niel Andreevich," commanded Tatiana Markovna, rising suddenly from her place. "You will explode with fury. Better drink some water. You ask who has said it. There is no secret about it, for I have said it, and it is common knowledge in the town." "Tatiana Markovna!" shrieked Niel Andreevich. "You have your deserts. Why make so much noise about it? In another person's house you attack a woman, and that is not the action of a gentleman." "How dare you speak like that to me?" Raisky would have thrown himself on him if his aunt had not waved him aside. Then with the commanding dignity she knew how to assume, she put on her cap, wrapt herself in her shawl, and went right up to Niel Andreevich, while Raisky looked on in amazement, with a sense of his own smallness in her majestic presence. "Who are you?" she began. "A clerk in the chancellery, an upstart. And yet you dare to address a noblewoman with violence. You have too good an opinion of yourself, and have asked for your lesson, which you shall have from me once and for all. Have you forgotten the days when you used to bring documents from the office to my father, and did not dare to sit down in my presence, when you used to receive gifts from my hand on feast-days? If you were an honest man no one would reproach you. But you have, as my nephew says, accumulated stolen wealth, and it has been endured out of weakness. You should hold your tongue, and repent in your old age of your evil life. But you are bursting, intoxicated with pride. Sober yourself and bow your head. Before you stands Tatiana Markovna Berezhkov, and also my nephew Boris Pavlovich Raisky. If I had not restrained him he would have thrown you out of the house, but I prefer that he should not soil his hands with you; the lackeys are good enough." As she stood there with blazing eyes, she bore a close resemblance to a portrait of one of her ancestors that hung on the wall. Tychkov turned his eyes this way and that seemingly beside himself with rage. "I shall write to St. Petersburg," he gasped, "the town is in danger." Then he slunk out, so agitated by her furious aspect that he dared not raise his eyes to her face. Tatiana Markovna maintained her proud bearing, though her fingers grasped nervously at her shawl. Raisky approached her hesitatingly, seeing in her, not his aunt, but another, and to him an almost unknown woman. "I did not understand the majesty of your temperament. But I make my bow, not as a grandson before to an honoured grandmother, but as man to woman. I offer you my admiration and respect, Tatiana Markovna, best of women," he said, kissing her hand. "I accept your courtesy, Boris Pavlovich, as an honour which I have deserved. Do you accept for your honourable championship the kiss, not of a grandmother, but of a woman." As she kissed him on the cheek, he received another kiss from the other side. "This kiss is from another woman," said Vera in a low voice as she left the room, before Raisky's outstretched arms could reach her. "Vera and I have not spoken to one another, but we have both understood you. We do, in fact, talk very little, but we resemble one another," said Tatiana Markovna. "Granny, you are an extraordinary woman!" cried Raisky, looking at her with as much enthusiasm as if he saw her for the first time. "Drive to the Governor's, Borushka, and tell him exactly what has happened so that the other party may not be first with his lying nonsense. I am going to beg Paulina Karpovna's pardon." CHAPTER XIII For three days the impression of this Sunday morning breakfast remained with Raisky. He had been surprised by this sudden transformation of Tatiana Markovna from grandmother and kindly hostess into a lioness, but he had been still more agitated by Vera's kiss. He could have wept for emotion, and would like to have built new hopes on it, but it was a kiss that led no further, a flash of lightning immediately extinguished. Raisky kept his promise, and neither went to Vera's room, nor followed her; he saw her only at meals and then rarely talked to her. He succeeded in hiding from her the fact that she still occupied his thoughts; he would like to have wiped out of her recollection his hasty revelation of himself to her. Then he began a portrait of Tatiana Markovna, and occupied himself seriously with the plan of his novel. With Vera as the central figure, and the scene his own estate and the bank of the Volga his fancy took shape and the secret of artistic creation became clear to him. It chanced once or twice that he found himself walking with Vera. Gaily and almost indifferently he poured out for her his store of thought and knowledge, even of anecdote, as he might do to any amiable, clever stranger, without second thoughts or any wish to reap an advantage. He led in fact a peaceful, pleasant life, demanding nothing and regretting nothing. He perceived with satisfaction that Vera no longer avoided him, that she confided in him and drew closer to him; she would herself come to his room to fetch books, and he made no effort to retain her. They often spent the afternoon with Tatiana Markovna. Vera apparently liked to hear him talk, and smiled at his jokes, though from time to time she would get up suddenly in the middle of a sentence when he was reading aloud or talking, and with some slight excuse, go out and not appear again for hours. He made no effort to follow her. He found recreation with friends in the town, driving occasionally with the Governor or taking part with Marfinka and Vera in some rural entertainment. The month which Mark had set as a limit for their wager, was nearly over, and Raisky felt himself free from passion. At least he thought so, and put down all his symptoms to the working of his imagination and to curiosity. On some days even Vera appeared to him in the same light as Marfinka. He saw in them two charming young girls, only late left school with all the ideas and adorations of the schoolgirl, with the schoolgirl's dream-theory of life, which is only shattered by experience. He told himself that he was absolutely cold and indifferent, and in a position truthfully to call himself her friend. He would shortly leave the place, but before that he must visit "Barabbas," take his last pair of trousers, and warn him against making a wager. He went to Leonti to ask where Mark was to be found and discovered them both at breakfast. "You might develop into a decent individual," cried Mark to him, "if you were a little bolder." "You mean if I had the boldness to shoot my neighbour or to storm an inn by night." "How will you take an inn by storm? Besides, there is no need, since your aunt has her own guesthouse. Many thanks for having chased that old swine from your house, I am told in conjunction with Tatiana Markovna. Splendid!" "Where did you hear that?" "The whole town is talking of it. I wanted to come and show my respect to you, when I suddenly heard that you were on friendly terms with the Governor, had invited him to your house, and that you and your aunt had stood on your hind paws before him. That is abominable, when I thought you had only invited him to show him the door." "That is what is called bourgeois courage, I believe." "I don't know what it is called, but I can best give you an example of the kind of courage. For some time the police inspector has been sniffing round our vegetable garden, so probably his Excellency has been kind enough to show an interest in me, and to enquire after my health and amusements. Well, I am training a couple of bull-dogs, and I hadn't had them a week before the garden was clear of cats. I have them ready at dark, and if the Colonel or his suite arrive, I shall let my beasts loose. Of course it will happen by accident." "I have come to say goodbye, for I am leaving here shortly." "You are going away?" asked Mark in astonishment, then added in a low, serious voice, "I should like to have a word with you." "Speak, by all means. Is it a question of money again?" "Money as far as I am concerned, but it is not of that I wish to speak to you. I will come to you later. I cannot speak of that now," he said looking significantly at Koslov's wife to indicate that he could not explain himself in her presence. "No one will let you go?" whispered Juliana Andreevna. "I have not once spoken to you out of hearing of my husband." "Have you brought the money with you," asked Mark suddenly, "the three hundred roubles for the wager?" "Where is the pair of trousers?" asked Raisky ironically. "I am not joking; you must pay me my three hundred roubles." "Why? I am not in love as you see." "I see that you are head over ears in love." "How do you see that." "In your face." "The month is past, and with it the wager at an end. As I don't need the trousers I will make you a present of them to go with the coat." "How can you go away?" complained Leonti. "And the books-" "What books?" "Your books. See for yourself by the catalogue that they are all right." "I have made you a present of them." "Be serious for a moment. Where shall I send them?" "Goodbye. I have no time to spare. Don't come to me with the books, or I will burn them. And you, wise man, who can tell a lover by his face, farewell. I don't know whether we shall meet again." "Where is the money? It isn't honest not to surrender it. I see the presence of love, which like measles has not yet come out, but soon will. Your face is already red. How tiresome that I fixed a limit, and so lose three hundred roubles by my own stupidity." "Goodbye." "You will not go," said Mark with decision. "I shall have another opportunity of seeing you, Koslov. I am not starting until next week." "You will not go," repeated Mark. "What about your novel?" asked Leonti. "You intended to finish it here." "I am already near the end of it, though there is still some arranging to be done, which I can do in St. Petersburg." "You will not end your romance either, neither the paper one nor the real one." said Mark. Raisky was about to answer, but thought better of it, and was quickly gone. "Why do you think he won't finish the novel?" asked Leonti. "He is only half a man," replied Mark with a scornful, bitter laugh. Raisky walked in the direction of home. His victory over himself seemed so assured that he was ashamed of his earlier weakness. He pictured to himself how he would now appear to her in a new and surprising guise, bold, deliberately scornful, with neither eyes nor desire for her beauty; and he pictured her astonishment and sorrow. In his impatience to see the effect of this new development in himself he stole into her room and crossed the carpet without betraying his presence. She sat with her elbows on the table, reading a letter, written as he noticed on blue paper in irregular lines and sealed with common blackish-brown sealing wax. "Vera!" he said in a low voice. She shrank back with such obvious terror that he too trembled, then quickly put the letter in her pocket. They looked at one another without stirring. "You are busy. Excuse my coming," he said, and took a step backward, as if to leave her. She made no answer, but, gradually recovering her self-possession, and without removing her eyes from his face she advanced towards him with her hand still in her pocket. "It must be a very interesting letter and a great secret," he said with a forced laugh, "since you conceal it so quickly." With her eyes still upon him she sat down on the divan. "Show me the letter," he laughed, betraying his agitation by a tremor of the voice. "You will not show it?" he went on as she looked at him in amazement and pressed her hand tighter in her pocket. She shook her head. "I don't need to read it. What possible interest could I have in another person's letter? I only wanted a proof of your confidence, of your friendly disposition towards me. You see my indifference. See, I am not as I was," he said, telling himself at the same time that the letter obsessed him. She tried, to read in his face the indifference in which he was insisting. His face indeed wore an aspect of indifference, but his voice sounded as if he were pleading for alms. "You will not show it," he said. "Then God be with you," and he turned to the door. "Wait," she said, putting her hand in her pocket and drawing out a letter which she showed him. He looked at both sides, and glanced at the signature, Pauline Kritzki. "That is not the letter," he said, returning it. "Do you see another?" she asked drily. He replied that he had not, fearing that she might accuse him of spying, and at her request began to read: "Ma belle chamante divine Vera Vassilievna! I am enraptured and fall on my knees before your dear, noble, handsome cousin; he has avenged me, and I am triumphant and weep for joy. He was great. Tell him that he is ever my knight, that I am his devoted slave. Ah, how I admire him, I would say-the word is on the tip of my tongue-but I dare not. Yet why should I not? Yes, I love him, I adore him. Everyone must adore him...." Here Raisky attempted to return the letter, but Vera bade him continue, as there was a request for him. He skipped a few lines and proceeded:- "Implore your cousin (he adores you. Do not deny it, for I have seen his passionate glances. What would I not give to be in your place). "Implore your cousin, darling Vera Vassilievna, to paint my portrait. I don't really care about the portrait, but to be with an artist to admire him, to speak to him, to breathe the same air with him! _Ma pauvre tЙte, je deviens folle. Je compte sur vous, ma belle et bonne amie, et j'attends la rИponse_." "What answer shall I give her?" asked Vera, as Raisky laid the letter on the table. He was thinking of the other letter, wondering why she had hidden it, and did not hear her question. "May I write that you agree?" "God forbid! on no account." "How is it to be done then? She wants to breathe the same air as you." "I should stifle in that atmosphere." "But if I ask you to do it?" whispered Vera. "You, what difference can it make to you?" he asked trembling. "I should like to say something pleasant to her," she returned, but did not add that she seized this means of detaching him from herself. Paulina Karpovna would not lightly let him out of her hands. "Should you accept it as a sign of friendship if I fulfilled your wish? Well, then," as she nodded, "I make two conditions, one that you should be present at the sittings. Otherwise I should be clearing out at the first sitting. Do you agree?" Then, as she nodded unwillingly, "the second is that you show me the other letter." "Which letter?" "The one you hid so quickly in your pocket." "There isn't another." "You would not have hidden this letter in terror; will you show the other?" "You are beginning again," she said reproachfully. "You need not trouble. I was only jesting. But for God's sake do not look on me as a despТt or a spy; it was mere curiosity. God be with you and your secrets." "I have no secrets," she returned drily as he rose to go. "Do you know that I am soon leaving?" he asked suddenly. "I heard so; is it true?" "Why do you doubt?" She dropped her eyes and said nothing. "You will be glad for me to go?" "Yes," she answered in a whisper. "Why," he said sadly, and came nearer. She thought for a moment, drew out another letter, glanced through it, carefully scratching out a word or a line here and there, and handed it to him. "Read that letter," she said, again slipping her hand into her pocket. He began to read the delicate handwriting: "I am sorry, dear Natasha," and then asked, "Who is Natasha?" "The priest's wife, my school friend." "Ah! the pope's wife. It is your own letter. That is interesting," and he became absorbed in the reading. "I am sorry, dear Natasha," the letter ran, "that I have not written to you since my return. As usual I have been idle, but I had other reasons, which you shall learn. The chief reason you already know (here some words were scratched out), which agitates me very much. But of that we will speak when we meet. "The other reason is the arrival of our relative, Boris Pavlovich Raisky. For my misfortune he scarcely ever leaves the house, so that for a fortnight I did hardly anything except hide from him. What an abundance of reason, of different kinds of knowledge, of brilliance, of talent he brought with him, and with it all what unrest. He upsets the whole household. He had hardly arrived before he was seized with the firm conviction that not only the estate, but all that lived on it, were his property. Taking his stand on a relationship, which hardly deserves the name, and on the fact that he knew us when we were little, he treated us as if we were children or schoolgirls. Although I have hidden myself from him, I have only just succeeded in preventing him from seeing how I sleep and dream, and what I hope and wait for. "This pursuit has almost made me ill, and I have seen no one, written to no one. I feel like a prisoner. It is as if he were playing with me, perhaps quite against his own will. One day he is cold and indifferent, the next his eyes are ablaze, and I fear him as I would a madman. The worst of all seems to me to be that he does not know himself, so that no reliance can be placed on his plans and promises; he decides on one course, and the next day takes another. He himself says he is nervous, susceptible and passionate, and he may be right. He is no play actor, and does not disguise himself; he is, I think, too sensible and well-bred, indeed, too honest, for that. "He is by way of being an artist, draws, writes, improvises very nicely on the piano, and dreams of art. Yet it seems to me that he does substantially nothing, but is spending his life, as he says, in the adoration of beauty; he is a lover by temperament, like (do you remember?) Dashenka Sfemechkin, who fell in love with a Spanish prince, whose portrait she had seen in a German calendar, and would admit no one, not even the piano-tuner, Kish. But Boris Pavlovich is full of kindness and honour, is upright, gay, original, but all these qualities are so disconnected and uncertain in their expression that we don't know what to make of them. Now he seeks my friendship, but I am afraid of him, am afraid he may do anything, am afraid (here some lines were crossed out). Ah, if only he would go away. It is terrible to think he may one day (here again words were crossed out). "And I need one thing-rest. The doctor says I am nervous, must spare myself, and avoid all agitation. Thank God, he is also attached to Grandmother, and I am left in peace. I do not want to step out of the circle I have drawn for myself; and nobody else should cross the line. In its sanctity lies my peace and my whole happiness. "If Raisky oversteps this line, the only course that remains to me is to fly from here. That is easy to say, but where? And then I have some conscience about it, because he is so good, so kind to me and my sister, and means to make a gift to us of this place, this Paradise, where I have learned to live and not to vegetate. It lies on my conscience that he should squander these undeserved tokens of affection, that he tries to be brilliant for my sake, and to awaken in me some affection, although I have denied him every hope. Ah, if he only knew how vain his efforts are. "Now I will tell you about _him_...." The letter went no further, and Raisky looked at the lines as if he were trying to read behind them. Vera had said practically nothing about herself; she remained in the shadow, while the whole garish light fell on him. "There was another letter," he said sharply, "written on blue paper." Vera had not left the room, but someone's hand was on the lock. "Who is there?" asked Raisky with a start. In the doorway appeared Vassilissa's anxious face. "It's I," she said in a low voice. "It's a good thing you are here, Boris Pavlovich; they are asking for you. Please make haste. There is nobody in the hall. Yakob is at church. Egorka has been sent to the Volga for some fish, and I am alone with Pashutka." "Who is asking for me?" "A gendarme from the Governor. The Governor asks you to go to see him, at once, if possible, if not to-morrow morning. The business is pressing." "Very well. I will go." "Please, as quickly as possible. Then _he_ has also come." "Who?" "The man they would like to horsewhip. He has made himself at home in the hall, and is waiting for you. The Mistress and Marfa Vassilievna have not yet returned from the town." "Didn't you ask his name?" "He gave his name, but I have forgotten. He is the man who stayed the night with you when you were drinking. Please, Boris Pavlovich, be quick. Pashutka and I have locked ourselves in." "Why?" "Because we were afraid. I climbed out of the window into the yard to come and tell you. If only he does not nose anything out." Raisky went with her, laughing. He sent a message by the gendarme that he would be with the Governor in an hour. Then he sought out Mark and led him into his room. "Do you wish to spend the night with me?" he asked ironically. "I am indeed a nightbird," answered Mark, who looked anxious. "I receive too much attention in the daytime, and it puts less shame on your Aunt's house. The magnificent old lady, to show Tychkov the door. But I have come to you on important business," he said, looking serious. "You have business! That is interesting." "Yes, more serious than yours. To-day I was at the police-station, not exactly paying a call. The police inspector had invited me, and I was politely fetched with a pair of grey horses." "What has happened?" "A trifling thing. I had lent books to one or two people...." "Perhaps mine, that you had taken from Leonti?" "Those and others-here is the list," he said, handing him a slip of paper. "To whom did you give the books?" "To many people, mostly young people. One fool, the son of an advocate, did not understand some French phrases, and showed the book to his mother, who handed it on to the father, and he in his turn to the magistrate. The magistrate, having heard of the name of the author, made a great commotion and informed the Governor. At first the lad would not give me away, but when they applied the rod to him he gave my name, and to-day they summoned me to court." "And what line did you adopt?" "What line?" said Mark laughing, as he looked at Raisky. "They asked me whose books they were, and where I had got them, and I said from you; some you had brought with you; others, Voltaire, for instance, I had found in your library." "I'm much obliged. Why did you put this honour on me?" "Nobody will meddle with you, since you are in his Excellency's favour. Then you are not living here under official compulsion. But I shall be sent off to a third place of exile; this is already the second. At any other time this would be a matter of indifference to me, but just now, for the time being, at least, I should like to stay here." "And what else?" "Nothing. I only wanted to tell you what I have done, and to ask whether you will take it on yourself or not." "But what if I won't, and I don't intend to." "Then instead of your name I will give Koslov's. He is growing mouldy here. Let him go to prison. He can take up his Greeks again later." "No, he will never take them up again if he is robbed of his position, and of his bread and butter." "There you are right, my conclusions were illogical. It would be better for you to take it on yourself." "What are you to me that I should do so?" "On the former occasion I needed money, and you had what I lacked. This is the same case. No one will touch you, while I should be sent off. I am now logical enough." "You ask a remarkable service. I am just going to the Governor, who has sent for me. Good-bye." "He has sent for you, then?" "What am I to do? What should I say?" "Say that you are the hero of the piece, and the Governor will quash the whole matter, for he does not like sending special reports to St. Petersburg. With me it is quite different. I am under police supervision, and it is his duty to return a report every month as to my circumstances and my mode of life. However," he added with apparent indifference, "do as you like. And now come, for I have no more time either. Let us go as far as the wood together, and I will climb down the precipice. I will wait at the fisherman's on the island to see how the matter ends." At the edge of the precipice Mark vanished into the bushes. Raisky drove to the Governor's, and returned home about two o'clock in the morning. Although he had gone so late to bed, he rose early. The windows of Vera's room were still darkened. She is still sleeping, he thought, and he went into the garden, where he walked up and down for an hour, waiting for the drawing back of the lilac curtain. He hoped Marina would cross the yard, but she did not come. Then Tatiana Markovna's window was opened, the pigeons and the sparrows began to gather on the spot were they were wont to receive crumbs from Marfinka, doors opened and shut, the grooms and the servants crossed the yard, but the lilac curtain remained untouched. The gloomy Savili came out of his room and looked silently round the yard. When Raisky called him he came towards him with slow steps. "Tell Marina to let me know when Vera Vassilievna is dressed." "Marina is not here." "Where is she?" "She started at dawn to accompany the young lady over the Volga." "What young lady, Vera Vassilievna?" "Yes." "How did they go, and with whom?" "In the _brichka_, with the dun horse. They will return in the evening," he added. "Do you think they will return to-day?" asked Raisky with interest. "Assuredly. Prokor with the horse, and Marina too. They will see the young lady safely there, and return immediately." Raisky looked at Savili without seeing him, and they stood opposite one another for some time speechless. "Have you any further orders?" Savili asked at length. Raisky recovered himself, and inquired whether Savili was awaiting Marina. Savili replied by a curse on his wife. "Why do you beat her?" asked Raisky. "I have been intending for a long time to advise you to leave her alone." "I don't beat her any more." "Since when?" "For the last week, since she has stayed quietly at home." "Go, I have no orders. But do not beat Marina. It will be better both for you and her if you give her complete liberty." Raisky passed on his way with bent head, glancing sadly at Vera's window. Savili's eyes too were on the ground, and he had forgotten to put his cap on again in his amazement at Raisky's last words. "Passion once more!" thought Raisky. "Alas, for Savili, and for me!" CHAPTER XIV Since Vera's departure Raisky had experienced the meaning of unmitigated solitude. He felt as if he were surrounded by a desert, now that he was deprived of the sight of her, although nature around him was radiant and smiling. Tatiana Markovna's anxious solicitude, Marfinka's charming rule, her songs, her lively chatter with the gay and youthful Vikentev, the arrival and departure of guests, the eccentricities of the freakish Paulina Karpovna-none of these things existed for him. He only saw that the lilac curtain was motionless, the blinds had been drawn down, and that Vera's favourite bench remained empty. He did not want to love Vera, and if he had wished it he ought still to resist, for Vera had denied him every hope; indeed her beauty seemed to have lost its power over him, and he was now drawn to her by a different attraction. "What is Vera's real nature?" he asked his aunt one day. "You see for yourself. She recognises only her own understanding and her own will. She was born in my arms, and has spent her whole life with me, yet I do not know what is in her mind, what are her likes and dislikes. I do not force her, or worry her, so that she can hardly think herself unfortunate. You see for yourself that my girls live with me as free as the birds of the air." "You are right, Grandmother. It is not fear, or anxiety, or the power of authority that binds you to them, but the tenderest of home ties. They adore you, and so they ought to do, but it is the fruit of their upbringing. Why should worn-out conceptions of duty be pressed upon them, and why should they live like caged birds? Let them dip into the reservoir of life itself. A bird imprisoned in a cage loses the capacity for freedom, and, even if the door of his cage is opened, he will not take flight." "I have never tried to exercise restraint on Marfinka or Vera. Supposing a respectable, rich man of old and blameless family were to ask for Marfinka's hand, and she refused it, do you think I should persuade her?" "Well, Granny, I leave Marfinka to you, but do not attempt to do anything with Vera. You must not restrain her in any way, must leave her her freedom. One bird is born for the cage, another for freedom. Vera will be able to direct her own life." "Do I restrain or repress her? I am like the police inspector who only sees that there is an outward semblance of order; I do not penetrate below the surface unless my assistance is invited." "Tell me, Grandmother, what sort of a woman is this priest's wife, and what are the links that bind her to Vera?" "Natalie Ivanovna and Vera made friends at a boarding school. She is a good, modest woman." "Is she sensible? Possibly a woman of weight and character?" "Oh no! She is not stupid, is fairly educated, a great reader, and fond of dress. The pope, who is much liked by the local landowner, is not poor, and lives in comfort on his own land. He is a sensible man, belongs to the younger generation, but he leads too worldly a life for the priesthood, as is the custom in landed society. He reads French books, and smokes, for instance; things that are unsuited to the priestly garb. Every glance of Veroshka's, every mood of hers is sacred to Natalie Ivanovna; whatever she may say is wise and good. This suits Vera, who does not want a friend, but an obedient servant; that is why she loves the pope's wife." "And Vera loves you too?" asked Raisky, who wanted to know if Vera loved anybody else except the pope's wife. "Yes, she loves me," answered Tatiana Markovna with conviction, "but in her own fashion. She never shows it, and never will, though she loves me and would be ready to die for me." "And you love Vera?" "Ah, how I love her!" she sighed, and tears stood in her eyes. "She does not know, but perhaps one day she may learn." "Have you noticed how thoughtful she has been for some time. Is she not in love?" he added in a half-whisper, but immediately regretted the question, which it was too late to withdraw. His aunt started back as if a stone had hit her. "God forbid!" she cried, making the sign of the Cross. "This sorrow has been spared us. Do not disturb my peace, but confess, as you would to the priest, if you know anything." Raisky was annoyed with himself, and made an effort, partially successful, to pacify his aunt. "I have not noticed anything more than you have. She would hardly be likely to say anything to me that she kept secret from you." "Yes, yes, it is true she will say nothing. The pope's wife knows everything, but she would rather die than betray Vera's secrets. Her own secrets she scatters for anyone to pick up, but not Vera's." "With whom could she fall in love?" remarked Tatiana Markovna after a silence. "There is no one here." "No one?" interrupted Raisky quickly. Tatiana Markovna shook her head, then went on after a while:- "There might be the Forester. He is an excellent individual, and has shown an inclination, I notice. He would be certainly an admirable match for Vera, but...." "Well?" "She is so strange. Heaven knows how any one would dare, how any man would woo her. He is splendid-well-established and rich. The wood alone yields thousands." "Is the Forester young, educated, a man that counts?" Vassilissa entered and announced Paulina Karpovna. "The evil one himself has brought her," grumbled Tatiana Markovna. "Show her in, and be quick with breakfast." CHAPTER XV One evening a thunderstorm was brewing. The black clouds lay entrenched beyond the Volga, and the air was as hot and moist as in a bath-house. Here and there over the fields and roads rose pillars of dust. In the house Tatiana Markovna sent her household hurrying to close the stove pipes, the doors and the windows. She was not only afraid of a thunderstorm herself, but she was not pleased if her fear was not shared by everybody else-that would be freethinking. So at each flash of lightning everyone must make the sign of the Cross, on pain of being thought a blockhead. She chased Egorka from the ante-room into the servants' room, because during the approach of the storm he would not stop giggling with the maids. The storm approached majestically, with the dull distant noise of the thunder, with a storm of sand, when suddenly there was a flash of lightning over the village and a sharp clap of thunder. Disregarding the passionate warnings of his aunt, Raisky took his cap and umbrella and hurried into the park, anxious to see the landscape under the shadow of the storm, to find new ideas for his drawings, and to observe his own emotions. He descended the cliff, and passed through the undergrowth by a winding, hardly perceptible path. The rain fell by bucketfuls, one flash of lightning followed another, the thunder rolled, and the whole prospect was veiled in mist and cloud. He soon regretted his intention. His soaked umbrella did not protect him from the rain, which whipped his face and poured down on his clothes, and his feet sank ankle-deep in the muddy ground. He was continually knocking against and stumbling over unevennesses in the ground or tree stumps, treading in holes and pools. He was obliged to stand still until a flash of lightning lighted up a few yards of the path. He knew that not far away lay a ruined arbour, dating from the time when the precipice formed part of the garden. Not long before he had seen it in the thicket, but now it was indiscoverable, however much he would have preferred to observe the storm from its shelter. And since he did not wish to retrace the horrible path by which he had come, he resolved to make his way to the nearest carriage road, to climb over the twisted hedge and to reach the village. He could hardly drag his soaked boots free of the mud and weeds, and he was dazzled by the lightning and nearly deafened by the noise. He confessed that he might as well have admired the storm from the shelter of the house. In the end he struck the fence, but when he tried to leap over it he slipped and fell in the ditch. With difficulty he dragged himself out and clambered over. There was little traffic on the steep and dangerous ridge, used for the most part as a short cut by empty one-horse carriages with their quiet beasts. He closed his dripping umbrella, and put it under his arm. Dazzled by the lightning, slipping every minute, he toiled painfully up the slope, and when he reached the summit he heard close by the noise of wheels, the neighing of horses and the cry of the coachman. He stood on one side and pressed himself against the fence to allow the passage of the carriage, since the road was very narrow. In a flash of lightning Raisky saw before him a char-Ю-banc with several persons in it, drawn by two well-kept, apparently magnificent horses. In the light of another flash he was amazed to recognise Vera. "Vera," he cried loudly. The carriage stood still. "Who is there? Is it you, cousin, in this weather?" "And you?" "I am hurrying home." "So do I want to. I came down the precipice, and lost my way in the bushes. "Who is driving you? Is there room for me." "Plenty of room," said a masculine voice. "Give me your hand to get up." Raisky gave his hand, and was hauled up by a strong arm. Next to Vera sat Marina, and the two, huddled together like wet chickens, were trying to protect themselves from the drenching rain by the leather covering. "Who is with you?" asked Raisky in a low voice. "Whose horses are these, and who is driving?" "Ivan Ivanovich." "I don't know him." "The Forester," whispered Vera, and he would have repeated her words if she had not nudged him to keep silence. "Later," she said. He remembered the talk with his aunt, her praises of the Forester, her hints of his being a good match. This then was the hero of the romance, the Forester. He tried to get a look at him, but only saw an ordinary hat with a wide brim, and a tall, broad-shouldered figure wrapped in a rain coat. The Forester handled the reins skilfully as he drove up the steep hill, cracked his whip, whistled, held the horses' heads with a firm hand when they threatened to shy at a flash of lightning, and turned round to those sheltered in the body of the vehicle. "How do you feel, Vera Vassilievna," he inquired anxiously. "Are you very cold and wet?" "I am quite comfortable, Ivan Ivanovich; the rain does not catch me." "You must take my raincoat. God forbid that you should take cold. I should never forgive myself all my life for having driven you." "You weary me with your friendly anxiety. Don't bother about anything but your horses." "As you please," replied Ivan Ivanovich with hasty obedience, turning to his horses, and he cast only an occasional anxious glance towards Vera. They drove past the village to the door of the new house. Ivan Ivanovich jumped down and hammered on the door with his riding whip. Handing over the care of his horses to Prokor, Tarasska and Egorka, who hurried up for the purpose, he stood by the steps, took Vera in his arms, and carried her carefully and respectfully, like a precious burden, through the ranks of wide-eyed lackeys and maid-servants bearing lights, to the divan in the hall. Raisky followed, wet and dirty, without once removing his eyes from them. The Forester went back into the ante-room, made himself as respectable as he could, shook himself, pushed his fingers through his hair, and demanded a brush. Meanwhile Tatiana Markovna bade Vera welcome and reproached her for venturing on such a journey; she must change her clothes throughout and in a few moments the samovar would be brought in, and supper served. "Quick, quick, Grandmother!" said Vera, rubbing herself affectionately against her. "Let us have tea, soup, roast and wine. Ivan Ivanovich is hungry." She knew how to quiet her aunt's anxiety. "That's splendid. It shall be served in a minute. Where is Ivan Ivanovich?" "I am making myself a bit decent," cried a voice from the ante-room. Egor, Yakob and Stepan hummed round the Forester as if he had been a good horse. Then he entered the hall and respectfully kissed the hands of Tatiana Markovna, and of Marfinka, who had only just decided to get out of bed, where she had hidden herself for fear of the storm. "It is not necessary, Marfinka," said her aunt, "to hide from the storm. You should pray to God, and will not then be struck." "I am not afraid of thunder and lightning, of which the peasants are usually the victims, but it makes me nervous," replied Marfinka. Raisky, with the water still dripping off him, stood in the window watching the guest. Ivan Ivanovich Tushin was a tall, broad-shouldered man of thirty-eight, with strongly-marked features, a dark, thick beard, and large grey rather timid eyes, and hands disproportionately large, with broad nails.

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