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Гончаров Иван Александрович - The Precipice, Страница 6

Гончаров Иван Александрович - The Precipice

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He wore a grey coat and a high-buttoned vest, with a broad turned-down home-spun collar. He was a fine man, but with marked simplicity, not to put a fine point on it in his glance and his manners. Raisky wondered jealously whether he was Vera's hero. Why not? Women like these tall men with open faces and highly developed muscular strength. But Vera- "And you, Borushka," cried Tatiana Markovna suddenly, clapping her hands. "Look at your clothes. Egorka and the rest of you! Where are you? There is a pool on the floor round you, Borushka. You will be ill. Vera was driving home, but there was no reason for you to go out into the storm. Go and change your clothes, Borushka, and have some rum in your tea. Ivan Ivanovich, you ought to go with him. Are you acquainted? My nephew Boris Raisky-Ivan Ivanovich Tushin." "We have already made acquaintance," said Tushin, with a bow. "We picked up your nephew on the way. Many thanks, I need nothing, but you, Boris Pavlovich, ought to change." "You must forgive an old woman for telling you you are all half mad. No animal leaves his hole in weather like this. Yakob, shut the shutters closer. Fancy crossing the Volga in weather like this." "My carriage is solid, and has a cover. Vera Vassilievna sat as dry as if she were in a room." "But in this terrible storm." "Only old women are afraid of a storm." "I'm much obliged." "I beg your pardon," said Tushin in embarrassment. "It slipped from my tongue. I meant ordinary women." "God will forgive you," laughed Tatiana Markovna. "It won't indeed hurt you, but Vera! Were you not afraid?" "One does not think of fear with Ivan Ivanovich." "If Ivan Ivanovich went bear-hunting, would you go with him?" "Yes, Grandmother. Take me with you sometimes, Ivan Ivanovich." "With pleasure, Vera Vassilievna, in winter. You have only to command." "That is just like her, not to mind what her Grandmother thinks." "I was joking, Grandmother." "I know you would be equal to it. Had you no scruples about hindering Ivan Ivanovich; this distance...." "It is my fault. As soon as I heard from Natalie Ivanovna that Vera Vassilievna wanted to come home, I asked for the pleasure," he said looking at Vera with a mixed air of modesty and respect. "A nice pleasure in this weather." "It was lighter while we were driving, and Vera Vassilievna was not afraid." "Is Anna Ivanovna well?" "Thank you. She sends her kindest regards, and has sent you some preserves, also some peaches out of the orangery, and mushrooms. They are in the char-Ю-banc." "It is very good of her. We have no peaches. I have put aside for her some of the tea that Borushka brought with him." "Many thanks." "How could you let your horses climb the hill in such weather? Were they terrified by the storm?" "My horses obey me like dogs. Should I have driven Vera Vassilievna if there were any danger?" "You are a good friend," interrupted Vera. "I have absolute trust both in you, and in your horses." At this moment Raisky returned, having changed his clothes. He had noticed the glance which Vera gave Tushin, and had heard her last remark. "Thank you, Vera Vassilievna," answered Tushin. "Don't forget what you have just said. If you ever need anything, if...." "If there is another such raging storm," said Tatiana Markovna. "Any storm," added Tushin firmly. "There are other storms in life," said Tatiana Markovna with a sigh. "Whatever they are, if they break on you, Vera Vassilievna, seek refuge in the forest over the Volga, where lives a bear who will serve you, as the fairytale tells." "I will remember," returned Vera laughing. "If a sorcerer wants to carry me off, as in the fairy-tale, I will take refuge in the wood." Raisky saw Tushin's glance of devotion and modest reserve, he heard his words, so quietly and modestly spoken, and thought the letter written on the blue paper could be from no one else. He looked at Vera to see if she were moved or would relapse into a stony silence, but she showed no sign. Vera appeared to him in a new light. In her manner and her words to Tushin he saw simplicity, trust, gentleness and affection such as she showed to no one else, not even to her aunt or to Marfinka. "She is on her guard with her Grandmother," he thought, "and takes no heed of Marfinka. But when she looks at Tushin, speaks to him, or gives her hand it is plain to see that they are friends." The Forester, who had business to do in the town, stayed for three days with Tatiana Markovna, and for three days Raisky sought for the key to this new character and to his place in Vera's heart. They called Ivan Ivanovich the "Forester," because he lived on his estate in the midst of the forest. He loved the forest, growing new timber on the one hand and on the other allowing it to be cut down and loaded up on the Volga for sale. The several thousand _dessiatins_ of surrounding forest were exceedingly well managed, and nothing was lacking; there was even a steam saw. He attended to everything himself, and in his spare time hunted and fished and amused himself with his bachelor neighbours. From time to time he sought a change of scene, and then arranged with his friends to drive in a three-horse carriage, drawn by fresh horses, forty versts away to the seat of a landed proprietor, where for three days the fun was fast enough. Then they returned, put up with Tushin, or waked the sleepy town. In these festivals all class distinctions were lost. After this dissipation he would again remain lost to the world for three months in his forest home, see after the wood cutting, and go hunting with two servants, and occasionally have to lie up with a wounded arm. The life suited him. He read works on agriculture and forestry, took counsel with his German assistant, an experienced forester, who was nevertheless not allowed to be the master. All orders must come from Tushin himself, and were carried out by the help of two foremen and a gang of hired labourers. In his spare time he liked to read French novels, the only distraction that he permitted himself. There was nothing extraordinary in a retired life like this in the wide district in which he lived. Raisky learnt that Tushin saw Vera at the pope's house, that he went there expressly when he heard that Vera was a visitor. Vera herself told him so. She and Natalie Ivanovna, too, visited Tushin's property, known as "Smoke," because far away from the hills could be seen the smoke rising from the chimneys of the house in the depth of the forest. Tushin lived with his spinster sister, Anna Ivanovna, to whom Tatiana Markovna was much attached. Tatiana Markovna was delighted when she came to town. There was no one with whom she liked more to drink coffee, no one to whom she gave her confidence in the same degree; they shared the same liking for household management, the same deep-rooted self-esteem and the same respect for family tradition. Of Tushin himself there was little more to say than was revealed on a first occasion; his character lay bare to the daylight, with no secret, no romantic side. He possessed more than plain good sense, for his understanding did not derive from the brain alone, but from the heart and will. Men of his type, especially when they care nothing for the superfluous things of life, but keep their eyes fixed undeviatingly on the necessary, do not make themselves noticed in the crowd and rarely reach the front of the world's stage. Raisky noticed in the Forester's behaviour towards Vera a constant adoration expressed by his glance and his voice, and sometimes by his timidity; on her side an equally constant confidence, frankness and affection, nothing more. He did not surprise in her a single sign or gesture, a single word or glance that might have betrayed her. Tushin showed pure esteem and a consistent readiness to serve her as her bear, and no more. Surely he was not the man who wrote the letter on the blue paper. After the Forester had taken his leave, the household fell back into its regular routine. Vera seemed untroubled and in possession of a quiet happiness, and showed herself kind and affectionate to her aunt and Marfinka. Yet there were days when unrest suddenly came upon her, when she went hastily to her room in the old house, or descended the precipice into the park, and displayed a gloomy resentment if Raisky or Marfinka ventured to disturb her solitude. After a short interval she resumed an even, sympathetic temper, helped in the household, looked over her aunt's accounts, and even paid visits to the ladies in the town. She discussed literary questions with Raisky, who realised from the opinions she expressed that her reading was wide and enticed her into thorough-going discussions. They read together, though not regularly. Sometimes a wild intoxication flared up in her, but it was a disconcerting merriment. One evening, when she suddenly left the room, Tatiana Markovna and Raisky exchanged a long questioning glance. "What do you think of Vera?" she began. "She seems to have recovered from her malady of the soul." "I think it is more serious than before." "What is the matter with you, Borushka? You can see how gay and friendly she has become." "Is she like the Vera you have known. I fear that this is not gladness, but rather agitation, even intoxication." "You are right. She is changed." "Don't you notice that she is ecstatic?" "Ecstatic?" repeated Tatiana Markovna anxiously. "Why do you say that, especially just at night? I shan't sleep. The ecstasy of a young girl spells disaster." CHAPTER XVI Not only Raisky, but Tatiana Markovna gave up her attitude of acquiescence, and secretly began to watch Vera narrowly. Tatiana Markovna became thoughtful, she even neglected the affairs of the house and farm, left the keys lying on the table, did not speak to Savili, kept no accounts, and did not drive out into the fields. She grew melancholy as she sought in vain how she might seek from Vera a frank avowal, or find means to avert misfortune. Vera in love, in an ecstasy! It seemed to her more than small-pox or measles, worse even than brain fever. And with whom was she in love? God grant that it were Ivan Ivanovich. If Vera were married to him, she herself would die in peace. But her feminine instinct told her that whatever deep affection the Forester cherished for Vera, it was reciprocated by nothing more than friendship. Who then was the man? Of the neighbouring landowners there was only Tushin whom she saw and knew anything of. The young men in the town, the officers and councillors, had long since given up any hope of being received into her favour. She looked keenly and suspiciously at Vera when she came to dinner or tea, and tried to follow her into the garden, but as soon as Vera was aware of her aunt's presence she quickened her steps and vanished into the distance. "Spirited away like a ghost!" said Tatiana Markovna to Raisky. "I wanted to follow her, but where, with my old limbs? She flits like a bird into the woods, into the bushes, over the precipice." Raisky went immediately into the park, where he met Yakob, and asked him if he had seen the young lady. "I saw Vera Vassilievna just now by the chapel." "What was she doing there?" "Praying." Raisky went to the chapel, wondering to himself how she had come to take refuge in prayer. On the left there lay in the meadow between the park and the road, a lonely, weather-beaten, half-ruined wooden chapel, adorned with a picture of the Christ, a Byzantine painting in a bronze frame. The ikon had grown dark with age, the paint had been cracked in many places, so that the Christ face was hardly recognisable, but the eyelids were still plainly discernible, and the eyes looked out dreamily on the worshippers; the folded hands were also preserved. Raisky advanced noiselessly over the grass. Vera was standing with her back to him, her face turned towards the ikon, unconscious of his approach. On the grass by the chapel lay her straw hat and sunshade. Her hands did not make the sign of the Cross, her lips uttered no prayers, her whole body appeared motionless, as if she hardly breathed; her whole being was at prayer. Involuntarily Raisky too held his breath. Is she begging for happiness, or is she confiding her sorrow to the Crucified? Suddenly she awoke from her prayer, turned and started when she caught sight of Raisky. "What are you doing here?" she said severely. Yakob met me and said you were here; so I came. Grandmother...." "Since you mention Grandmother, I will point out that she has been watching me for some time. Do you know the reason?" she asked, looking straight into his eyes. "I think she always does." "No, it was not her idea to watch me. Tell me without concealing anything, have you communicated to her your suppositions about love and a letter written on blue paper?" "I think not of the letter." "Then of love. I must know what you said?" "We were speaking of you. Grandmother has her own questionings as to why you are so serious one moment and so gay the next. I said (it is a long time ago) that perhaps you were in love." "And Grandmother?" "She was terrified." "Why?" "Chiefly because of your evident excitement." "Grandmother's peace of mind is dear to me; dearer, perhaps, than you think." "She told me herself that she believed in your boundless love for her." "Thank God! I am grateful to you for repeating this to me. Go to Grandmother and destroy this curiosity of hers about my being in love, in ecstasy. It cannot be difficult for you, and you will fulfil my wishes if you love me." "What would I not do to prove it to you. Later in the evening...." "No, this minute. When I come to dinner her eyes are to look on me as before, do you understand?" "Well, I will go!" promised Raisky, but did not stir. "Make haste!" "And you?" For answer she pointed in the direction of the house. "One word more," she said, detaining him. "You must never, never talk about me to Grandmother, do you understand?" "Agreed, sister." She motioned him to be gone, and when turning into an avenue he looked round for a moment, she had vanished. She had, as Grandmother said, disappeared like a ghost. A moment later there was the report of a gun from the precipice. Raisky wondered who was playing tricks there, and went towards the house. Vera appeared punctually at the midday meal. Keenly as he looked at her, Raisky could observe no change in her. Tatiana Markovna glanced at him once or twice in inquiry, but was visibly reassured when she saw no signs of anything unusual. Raisky had executed Vera's commission, and had alleviated her acutest anxiety, but it was impossible to reassure her completely. Tatiana Markovna was saddened and wounded by the lack of confidence shown her by Vera, her niece, her daughter, her dearest child, entrusted to her care by her mother. Terror overcame her. She lay awake anxiously through the night, she questioned Marina, sent Marfinka to find out what Vera was doing, but without result. Suddenly there occurred to her what seemed to her a good plan; as she put it to Raisky, she would make use of allegory. She remembered that she possessed a moral tale which she had read and wept over in her own youth. Its theme was the disastrous consequences which followed on passion and disobedience to parents. A young man and a girl loved one another, and met against the will of their parents. She stood on the balcony beckoning and talking to him, and they wrote one another long epistles. Others intervened, the young girl lost her reputation, and the young man was sent to some vague place in America by his father. Like many others Tatiana Markovna pinned her faith to the printed word, especially when the reading was of an edifying character. So she took her talisman from the shelf, where it lay hidden under a pile of rubbish, and laid it on the table near her work basket. At dinner she declared to the two sisters her desire that they should read aloud to her on alternate evenings, especially in bad weather, since she could not read very much on account of her eyes. Generally speaking, she was not an enthusiastic reader, and only liked to listen when Tiet Nikonich read aloud to her on agricultural matters or hygiene, or about distressing occurrences of murder or arson. Vera said nothing, but Marfinka asked immediately whether the book had a happy ending. "What sort of book is it?" inquired Raisky, picking up the book and glancing at a page here and there. "What old rubbish have you discovered, Grandmother. I expect you read it when you were in love with Tiet Nikonich." "Don't be foolish, Boris Pavlovich. You are not asked to read." Raisky took his departure, and the room was left to the reading party. Vera was unendurably bored, but she never refused assent to any definitely expressed wish of her aunt's. At last, after three or four evenings, the point was reached where the lovers exchanged their vows. The tale was faultlessly moral and horribly dull. Vera hardly listened. At each word of love her aunt looked at her to see whether she was touched, whether she blushed or turned pale, but Vera merely yawned. On the last evening when only a few chapters were left, Raisky stayed in the room when the table was cleared and the reading began. Vikentev, too, was present. He could not sit quiet, but jumped up from time to time, ran to Marfinka, and begged to be allowed to take his share in the reading. When they gave him the book he inserted long tirades of his own in the novel, or read with a different voice suited to each character. He made the heroine lisp in a mournful whisper, the hero speak with his own natural voice, so that Marfinka blushed and looked angrily at him, and the stern father spoke with the voice of Niel Andreevich. At last Tatiana Markovna took the book from him with an intimation to him to behave reasonably, whereupon he continued his studies in character-mimicry for Marfinka's benefit behind her back. When Marfinka betrayed him he was requested to go into the garden until supper time and the reading went on without him. The catastrophe of the tale approached at last, and when the last word was read and the book shut there was silence. "What stupid nonsense," said Raisky at length, and Marfinka wiped away a tear. "What do you think, Veroshka?" asked Tatiana Markovna. Vera made no reply, but Marfinka decided it was a horrid book because the lovers had suffered so cruelly. "If they had followed the advice of their parents, things would not have come to such a pass. What do you think, Veroshka?" Vera got up to go, but on the threshold she stopped. "Grandmother," she said, "why have you bothered me for a whole week with this stupid book?" And without waiting for an answer she glided away, but Tatiana Markovna called her back. "Why, Vera, I meant to give you pleasure." "No, you wanted to punish me for something. In future I would rather be put for a week on bread and water," and kneeling on the footstool at her aunt's feet she added, "Good-night, Grandmother." Tatiana Markovna stooped to kiss her and whispered. "I did not want to punish you, but to guard you against getting into trouble yourself." "And if I do," whispered Vera in reply, "will you have me put in a convent like Cunigunde?" "Do you think I am a monster like those bad parents? It's wicked, Vera, to think such things of me." "I know it would be wicked, Grandmother, and I don't think any such thing. But why warn me with such a silly book?" "How should I warn you and guard you, my dear. Tell me and set my mind at rest." "Make the sign of the Cross over me," she said after a moment's hesitation, and when her aunt had made the holy sign, Vera kissed her hand and left the room. "A wise book," laughed Raisky. "Well, has the beautiful Cunigunde's example done any good?" Tatiana Markovna was grieved and in no mood for joking, and sent for Pashutka to take the book to the servants' room. "You have brought Vera up in the right way," said Raisky. "Let Egorka and Marina read your allegory together, and the household will be impeccable."
  * Vikentev called Marfinka into the garden, Raisky went to his room, and Tatiana Markovna sat for a long time on the divan, absorbed in thought. She had lost all interest in the book, was herself sickened by its pious tone, and was really ashamed of having had recourse to so gross a method. Marina, Yakob and Vassilissa came one after another to say that supper was ready, but Tatiana Markovna wanted none, Vera declined, and to Marina's astonishment even Marfinka, who never went supperless to bed, was not hungry. Meanwhile Egorka had got wind of the universal loss of appetite. He helped himself to a considerable slice from the dish with his fingers to taste, as he told Yakob, whom he invited to share the feast. Yakob shook his head and crossed himself, but nevertheless did his share, so that when Marina came to clear the table the fish and the sweets were gone. The mistress's preparations for rest were made, and quiet reigned in the house. Tatiana Markovna rose from the divan and looked at the ikon. She crossed herself, but she was too restless for prayer, and did not kneel down as usual. Instead she sat down on the bed and began to go over her passage of arms with Vera. How could she learn what lay on the girl's heart. She remembered the proverb that wisdom comes with the morning, and lay down, but not that night to sleep, for there was a light tap on the door, and she heard Marfinka's voice, "Open the door. Grandmother. It's me." "What's the matter, my dear?" she said, as she opened the door. "Have you come to say good-night. God bless you! Where is Nikolai Andreevich?" But she was terrified when she saw Marfinka's face. "Sit down in the armchair," she said, but Marfinka clung to her. "Lie down, Grandmother, and I will sit on the bed beside you. I will tell you everything, but please put out the light." Then Marfinka began to relate how she had gone with Vikentev into the park to hear the nightingales sing, how she had first objected because it was so dark. "Are you afraid?" Vikentev had asked. "Not with you," and they had gone on hand in hand. "How dark it is! I won't go any farther. Don't take hold of my hand!" She went on involuntarily, although Vikentev had loosed her hand, her heart beating faster and faster. "I am afraid, I won't go a step farther." She drew closer to him all the same, terrified by the crackling of the twigs under her feet. "Here we will wait. Listen!" he whispered. The nightingale sang, and Marfinka felt herself enveloped in the warm breath of night. At intervals her hand sought Vikentev's, but when he touched hers she drew it back. "How lovely, Marfa Vassilievna! What an enchanted night!" She nudged him not to disturb the song. "Marfa Vassilievna," he whispered, "something so good, so wonderful is happening to me, something I have never felt before. It is as if everything in me was astir. At this moment," he went on as she remained silent, "I should like to fling myself on horseback, and ride, ride, till I had no breathe left, or fling myself into the Volga and swim to the opposite bank. Do you feel anything like that?" "Let us go away from here. Grandmother will be angry." "Just a minute more. How the nightingale does sing! What does he sing?" "I don't know." "Just what I should like to say to you, but don't know how to say." "How do you know what he sings? Can you speak nightingale language?" "He is singing of love, of my love for you," and startled by his own words he drew her hand to his lips and covered it with kisses. She drew it back, and ran at full speed down the avenue towards the house; on the steps she waited a moment to take breath. "Not a step farther," she cried breathlessly, clinging to the doorpost as he overtook her. "Go home." "Listen, Marfa Vassilievna, my angel," he cried, falling on his knees. "On my knees I swear...." "If you speak another word, I go straight to Grandmother." He rose, and led her by force into the avenue. "What are you doing? I will call, I won't listen to your nightingale." "You won't listen to it, but you will to me." "Let me go. I will tell Grandmother everything." "You must tell her to-night, Marfa Vassilievna. We have come too near to one another that if we were suddenly separated.... Should you like that, Marfa Vassilievna? If you like I will go away for good." She wept and seized his hand in panic, when he drew back a step. "You love me, you love me," he cried. "Does your mother know what you are saying to me?" "Not yet." "Ought you to say it then? Is it honourable?" "I shall tell her to-morrow." "What if she will not give her blessing?" "I won't obey." "But I will. I will take no step without your Mother's and Grandmother's consent," she said, turning to go. "As far as I am concerned, I am sure of my Mother's consent. I will hurry now to Kolchino, and my Mother will send you her consent to-morrow. Marfa Vassilievna, give me your hand." "What will Grandmother say? If she does not forgive me I shall die of shame," she said, and she hurried into the house. "Heavens, what will Grandmother say?" she wondered, shutting herself up in her room, and shaking with fever. How should she tell her grandmother, and should she tell Veroshka first. She decided in favour of her grandmother, and when the house was quiet slipped to her room like a mouse. The two talked low to one another for a long time. Tatiana Markovna made the sign of the cross over her darling many times, until she fell asleep on her shoulder. Then she carefully laid the girl's head on the pillow, rose, and prayed with many tears. But more heartily than for Marfinka's happiness she prayed for Vera, with her grey head bowed before the cross. CHAPTER XVII Vikentev kept his word, and on the very next day brought his mother to Tatiana Markovna, he himself taking refuge in his office, where he sat on pins and needles. His mother, still a young woman, not much over forty, as gay and full of life as he himself was, had plenty of practical sense. They kept up between themselves a constant comic war of words; they were for ever disputing about trifles, but when it came to serious matters, she proclaimed her authority to him with quite another voice and another manner. And though he indeed usually began by protesting, he submitted to her will, if her request was reasonable. An unseen harmony underlay their visible strife. That night, after Marfinka had left him, Vikentev had hurried to Kolchino. He rushed to his mother, threw his arms round her and kissed her. When, nearly smothered by his embrace, she thrust him from her, he fell on his knees and said solemnly: "Mother, strike me if you will, but listen. The supreme moment of my life has arrived. I have...." "Gone mad," she supplied, looking him up and down. "I am going to be married," he said, almost inaudibly. "What? Mavra, Anton, Ivan, Kusma! Come here, quick!" Mavra alone responded to the call. "Call everybody. Nikolai Andreevich has gone mad." "I am not joking, and I must have an answer tomorrow." "I will have you locked up," she said, seriously disturbed at last. Far into the night the servants heard heated arguments, the voices of the disputants now rising almost to a shout, then laughter, then outbursts of anger from the mistress, a gay retort from him, then dead silence, the sign of restored tranquillity. Vikentev had won the victory, which was indeed a foregone conclusion, for while Vikentev and Marfinka were still uncertain of their feelings, Tatiana Markovna and Marfa Egorovna had long before realised what was coming, and both, although they kept their own counsel, had weighed and considered the matter, and had concluded that the marriage was a suitable one. "What will Tatiana Markovna say?" cried Marfa Egorovna to her son the next morning as the horses were being put in. "If she does not agree, I will never forgive you for the disgrace it will bring on us, do you hear?" She herself, in a silk dress and a lace mantle, with yellow gloves and a coquettish fan, might have been a fiancИe. When Tatiana Markovna was informed of the arrival of Madame Vikentev, she had her shown into the reception room. Before she herself changed her dress to receive her, Vassilissa had to peer through the doorway to see what kind of toilette the guest had made. Then Tatiana Markovna donned a rustling silk dress with a silver sheen, over which she wore her Turkish shawl; she even tried to put on a pair of diamond earrings, but gave up the attempt impatiently, telling herself that the holes in her ears had grown together. Then she sent word to Vera and Marfinka to change their dresses. In passing she told Vassilissa to set out the best table linen, and the old silver and glass for the breakfast and the dinner table. The cook was ordered to serve chocolate in addition to the usual dishes, and sweets and champagne were ordered. With folded hands, adorned for the occasion with old and costly rings, she stepped solemnly into the reception room. But when she caught sight of her guest's pleasant face she all but forget the importance of the moment, but pulled herself together in time, and resumed her serious aspect. Marfa Egorovna rose in friendly haste to meet her hostess, and began: "What ideas my mad boy has!" but restrained herself when she saw Madame Berezhkov's attitude. They exchanged ceremonious greetings. Tatiana Markovna asked the visitor to sit on the divan, and seated herself stiffly beside her. "What is the weather like?" she asked. "Had you a windy crossing over the Volga?" "There was no wind." "Did you come by the ferry?" "In the boat. The calХche was brought over on the ferry." "Yakob, Egorovna, Petrushka? Where are you? Why don't you come when you are called? Take out the horses, give them fodder, and see that the coachman is well looked after." The servants, who had rushed in to answer the summons, hurried out. Of course the horses had been taken out while Tatiana Markovna was dressing, and the coachman was already sitting in the servants' room, doing full justice to the beer set before him. "No, no, Tatiana Markovna," protested the visitor, "I have come for half an hour on business." "Do you think you will be allowed to go?" asked Tatiana Markovna in a voice that permitted no reply. "You have come a long way from over the Volga. Is this the first year of our acquaintance? Do you want to insult me?" "Ah, Tatiana Markovna, I am so grateful to you, so grateful! You are just like a relative, and how you have spoilt my Nikolai!" "I feel sometimes as if he were my own son," burst from Tatiana Markovna, whose dignity could hold out no longer against these friendly advances. "Yes, you are so kind to him, Tatiana Markovna, that, presuming on your kindness, he has taken it into his head...." "Well?" "He begged me to come over to see you, and he asks for the hand of Marfa Vassilievna. Marfa Vassilievna agrees; she loves Nikolai." "Because Marfinka took upon herself to answer his declaration she is now shut up in her room, in her petticoat, without shoes," lied her aunt. Then in order to lay full stress on the importance of the moment, she added: "I have given orders not to admit your son, so that he may not play with a poor girl's affections." It was impossible for Marfa Egorovna not to recognise the provocation of these remarks. "If I had foreseen this," she said angrily, "I would have given him a different answer. He assured me-and I was so willing to believe him-of your affection for him, and for me. Pardon my mission, Tatiana Markovna, and pray let that poor child out of her room. The blame rests with my boy only, and he shall be punished. Have the kindness to order my carriage." She placed her hand on the bell, but Tatiana Markovna detained her. "Your horses are taken out. You will stay with me, Marfa Egorovna, to-day, to-morrow, all the week." "But since you are so angry with Marfa Vassilievna and my son, who does indeed deserve to be punished?" The wrinkles in Tatiana Markovna's face faded, and her eyes gleamed with joy. She threw her shawl and cap on the divan. "I can't keep it up any longer!" she exclaimed. "Take off your hat and mantilla. We are only teasing one another, Marfa Egorovna. I shall have a grandson, you a daughter. Kiss me, dear! I wanted to keep up the old customs, but there are cases which they don't fit. We knew what must be the upshot of this. If we hadn't wished it we should not have allowed them to go and listen to the nightingales." "How you frightened me!" cried Marfa Egorovna. "He had to be frightened. I will read him a lesson." Mother and aunt had gone a long way into the future, and when they were about as far as the christening of the third child, Marfa Egorovna noticed in the garden among the bushes a head which was now hidden, then again cautiously raised to reconnoitre. She recognised her son, and pointed him out to Tatiana Markovna. They called him, but when he at last decided to enter, he hung about in the ante-room, as if he were making himself presentable. "You are welcome, Nikolai Andreevich," said Tatiana Markovna pointedly, while his mother looked at him ironically. "Good morning, Tatiana Markovna," he stammered at last, and kissed the old lady's hand. "I have bought tickets for the charity concert, for you and Mama, for Vera Vassilievna and Marfa Vassilievna and for Boris Pavlovich. It's a splendid concert ... the first singer in Moscow...." "Why do we need to go to concerts?" interrupted Tatiana Markovna, looking at him sideways. "The nightingales sing so finely here. In the evening we go into the garden, and can hear them for nothing." Marfa Egorovna bit her lip, but Vikentev stood transfixed. "Sit down, Nikolai Andreevich," continued the old lady seriously and reproachfully, "and listen to what I have to say. What does your conscience tell you? How have you rewarded my confidence?" "Don't make fun of me ... it's unkind." "I am not joking. It wasn't right of you, my friend, to speak to Marfinka, and not to me. Supposing I had not consented?" "If you had not consented I would have...." "What?" "Oh, I would have gone away from here, joined the Hussars, have contracted debts, and gone to wrack and ruin." "Now he threatens! You should not be so bent on your own way, young man." "Give me Marfa Vassilievna, and I will be more tranquil than water, humbler than the grass." "Shall we give him Marfinka, Marfa Egorovna?" "He hasn't deserved it, Tatiana Markovna. And it is really too early. Perhaps in two years' time...." He flew to his mother and shut her mouth with a kiss. Then he received from Tatiana Markovna the sign of the cross, and a kiss on the forehead. "Where is Marfa Vassilievna?" he shouted joyfully. "You must have patience," admonished his grandmother, "we will fetch her." Tatiana Markovna and Marfa Egorovna found Marfinka hidden in the corner behind the curtains of her bed, close by the ikons. She covered her blushing face in her hands. Vera received the news from her aunt with quiet pleasure, saying that she had expected it for a long time. "God grant that you may follow her example," said Tatiana Markovna. "If you love me as I love you, Grandmother, you will bestow all your care and thought on Marfinka. Take no thought for me." "My heart aches for you, Veroshka." "I know, and that grieves me. Grandmother," she said with a despairing note, "it is killing me to think that your heart aches on my account." "What do you say, Veroshka? open your heart to me. Perhaps I can comprehend, and if you have grief, help to assuage it." "If trouble overtakes me, Grandmother, and I cannot conquer it myself, I will come to you and to none other, God only excepted. But do not make me suffer any more, or allow yourself to suffer." "Will it not be too late when trouble has once overtaken you?" whispered her aunt. Then she added aloud, "I know that you are not like Marfinka, and I will not disturb you." A long sigh escaped her as she left the room with quick steps and bent head. Vera's distress was the only cloud on her horizon, and she prayed earnestly that it might pass and not gather into a black storm cloud. Vera sought to calm her own agitation by walking up and down the garden, but only succeeded gradually. As soon as she caught sight of Marfinka and Vikentev in the arbour, she hurried to them, looked affectionately into her sister's face, kissed her eyes, her lips, her cheeks, and embraced her warmly. "You must be happy," she said with tears in her eyes. "How lovely you are Veroshka, and how good! We are not a bit like sisters. There is nobody in the neighbourhood fit to marry you, is there, Nikolai Andreevich?" Vera pressed her hand in silence. "Nikolai Andreevich, do you know what she is?" "An angel," answered Vikentev as promptly as a soldier answers his officer. "An angel," mimicked Vera laughing, and pointing to a butterfly hovering over a flower. "There is an angel. But if you even touch him the colour of his wings will be spoiled, and he will perhaps even lose a wing. You must spoil her, love and caress her, and God forbid that you ever wound her. If you ever do," she threatened, smiling, "you will have to reckon with me." Within a week of this happy occasion the house was restored to its ordinary routine. Marfa Egorovna drove back to Kolchino, but Vikentev became a daily visitor, and almost a member of the family. He and Marfinka no longer jumped and ran like children, though they occasionally had a lively dispute, half in jest, half in earnest. They sang and read together, and the pure, fresh poetry of youth, plain for all to read, welled up in their frank, unspoiled hearts. The wedding being fixed for the autumn, preparations for Marfinka's house-furnishing and trousseau were being gradually pushed forward. From the cupboards of the house were brought old lace, silver and gold plate, glass, linen, furs, pearls, diamonds and all sorts of treasures, to be divided by Tatiana Markovna with Jew-like exactness into two equal shares, with the aid of jewellers, workers in gold, and others. "That is yours, Vera, and there is Marfinka's share. You are not to receive a pearl or on ounce more than the other. See for yourselves." Vera pushed pearls and diamonds into a heap with a declaration that she needed very little. This only angered Tatiana Markovna, who began the work of division all over again. Raisky sent to his former guardian for the diamonds and silver that had been his mother's portion, and bestowed these also on the sisters, but his aunt hid the treasure in the depths of her coffers. "You will want them yourself." she said, "on the day when you take it into your head to marry." The estate with all that belonged to it he had made over in the names of the sisters, a gift for which each of them thanked him after her fashion. Tatiana Markovna wrinkled her forehead, and looked askance at him, but she could not long maintain this attitude, and ended by embracing him. In various rooms, in Tatiana Markovna's sitting room, in the servants' room, and even in the reception room, tables were covered with linen. The marriage bed, with its lace pillow-cases and cover was being prepared, and every morning there came dressmakers and seamstresses. Only Raisky and Vera remained untouched by the universal gay activity. Even when Raisky sought distraction in riding or visiting, there was in fact no one else in the world for him but Vera. He avoided too frequent visits to Koslov on account of Juliana Andreevna. He did not visit Paulina Karpovna, but she came the oftener, and bored him and Tatiana Markovna by her pose, retiring or audacious, as the case might be. Tatiana Markovna especially was annoyed by her unasked for criticisms of the wedding preparations, and by her views on marriage generally. Marriage, she declared, was the grave of love, elect souls were bound to meet in spite of all obstacles, even outside the marriage bond, and so forth. While she expounded these doctrines she cast languishing eyes on Raisky. Neither did the young people who now often came to the house to dance, awaken any interest in Raisky or Vera. These two were only happy under given circumstances; he-with her, she-when unseen by anyone she could flit like a ghost to the precipice to lose herself in the under-growth, or when she drove over the Volga to see the pope's wife. CHAPTER XVIII The weather was gloomy. Rain fell unintermittently, the sky was enshrouded in a thick cloud of fog, and on the ground lay banks of mist. No one had ventured out all day, and the family had already gone early to bed, when about ten o'clock the rain ceased, Raisky put on his overcoat to get a breath of air in the garden. The rustle of the bushes and the plants from which the rain was still dripping, alone broke the stillness of the night. After a few turns up and down he turned his steps to the vegetable garden, through which his way to the fields lay. Here and there a glimmering star hung above in the dense darkness, and before him the village lay like a dark spot on the dark background of the indistinguishable fields beyond. Suddenly he heard a slight noise from the old house, and saw that a window on the ground floor had been opened. Since the window looked out not into the garden, but on to the field, he hastened to reach the grove of acacias, leapt the fence and landed in a puddle of water, where he stood motionless. "Is it you?" said a low voice from the window. It was Vera's voice. Though his knees trembled under him, he was just able to answer in the same low tone, "Yes." "The rain has kept me in all day, but to-morrow morning at ten. Go quickly; some one is coming." The window was closed quietly, and Raisky cursed the approaching footsteps that had interrupted the conversation. It was then true, and the letter written on blue paper not a dream. Was there a rendezvous? He went in the direction of the steps. "Who is there?" cried a voice, and Raisky was seized from behind. "The devil," cried Raisky, pushing Savili away, "since when have you taken upon yourself to guard the house?" "I have the Mistress's orders. There are so many thieves and vagabonds in the neighbourhood, and the sailors from the Volga do a lot of mischief." "That is a lie. You are out after Marina, and you ought to be ashamed of yourself." He would have gone, but Savili detained him. "Allow me, Sir, to say a word or two about Marina. Exercise your merciful powers, and send the woman to Siberia." "Are you out of your senses?" "Or into a house of detention for the rest of her life." "I'm much more likely to send you, so that you cease to beat her. What are you doing, spying here in this abominable way?" said Raisky between his teeth, as he cast a glance at Vera's window. In another moment he was gone. Raisky hardly slept at all that night, and he appeared next morning in his aunt's sitting-room with dry, weary eyes. The whole family had assembled for tea on this particular bright morning. Vera greeted him gaily, as he pressed her hand feverishly and looked straight into her eyes. She returned his gaze calmly and quietly. "How elegant you are this morning," he said. "Do you call a simple straw-coloured blouse elegant?" she asked. "But the scarlet band on your hair, with the coils of hair drawn across it, the belt with the beautiful clasp, and the scarlet-embroidered shoes.... You have excellent taste, and I congratulate you." "I am glad that I meet with your approval, but your enthusiasm is rather strange. Tell me the reason of this extraordinary tone." "Good, I will tell you. Let us go for a stroll." He saw that she gave him a quick glance of suspicion as he proposed an appointment with her for ten o'clock. After a moment's thought she agreed, sat down in a corner, and was silent. About ten o'clock she picked up her work and her parasol, and signed to him to follow her as she left the house. She walked in silence through the garden, and they sat down on a bench at the top of the cliff. "It was by chance," said Raisky, who was hardly able to restrain his emotion, "that I have learnt a part of your secret." "So it seems," she answered coldly. "You were listening yesterday." "Accidentally, I swear." "I believe you." "Vera, there is no longer any doubt that you have a lover. Who is he?" "Don't ask." "Who is there in the world who could desire your happiness more ardently than I do? Why have you confidence in him and not in me?" "Because I love him." "The man you love is to be envied, but how is he going to repay you for the supreme happiness that you bring him? Be careful, my friend. To whom do you give your confidence?" "To myself." "Who is the man?" Instead of answering him she looked full in his face, and he thought that her eyes were as colourless as those of a watersprite, and there lay hidden in them a maddening riddle. From below in the bushes there came the sound of a shot. Vera rose immediately from the bench, and Raisky also rose. "HE?" he asked in a dull voice. "It is ten o'clock." She approached the precipice, Raisky following close at her heels. She motioned him to come no farther. "What is the meaning of the shot?" "He calls." "Who?" "The writer of the blue letter. Not a step further unless you wish that I leave here for ever." She rapidly descended the precipice, and in a few moments had vanished behind the brushwood and the trees. He called after her to take care, but in reply heard only the crackling of the dry twigs beneath her feet. Then all was still. He was left to torment himself with wondering who the object of her passion could be. It was none other than Mark Volokov, pariah, cynic, gipsy, who would ask the first likely man he met for money, who levelled his gun on his fellow-men, and, like Karl Moor, had declared war on mankind-Mark Volokov, the man under police supervision. It was to meet this dangerous and suspicious character that Vera stole to the rendezvous-Vera, the pearl of beauty in the whole neighbourhood, whose beauty made strong men weak; Vera, who had mastered even the tyrannical Tatiana Markovna; Vera, the pure maiden sheltered from all the winds of heaven. It would have seemed impossible for her to meet a man against whom all houses were barred. It had happened so simply, so easily, towards the end of the last summer, at the time that the apples were ripe. She was sitting one evening in the little acacia arbour by the fence near the old house, looking absently out into the field, and away to the Volga and the hills beyond, when she became aware that a few paces away the branches of the apple tree were swaying unnaturally over the fence. When she looked more closely she saw that a man was sitting comfortably on the top rail. He appeared by his face and dress to belong to the lower class; he was not a schoolboy, but he held in his hands several apples. "What are you doing here?" she asked, just as he was about to spring down from the fence. "I am eating," he said, after taking a look at her. "Will you try one?" he added, hitching himself along the fence towards her. She looked at him curiously, but without fear, as she drew back a little. "Who are you?" she said severely. "And why do you climb on to other people's fences." "What can it matter to you who I am. I can easily tell you why I climb on other people's fences. It is to eat apples." "Aren't you ashamed to take other people's apples?" she asked. "They are my apples, not theirs; they have been stolen from me. You certainly have not read Proudhon. But how beautiful you are!" he added in amazement. "Do you know what Proudhon says?" he concluded. "_La propriИtИ c'est le vol_." "Ah, you have read Proudhon." He stared at her, and as she shook her head, he continued, "Anyway, you have heard it. Indeed, this divine truth has gone all round the world nowadays. I have a copy of Proudhon, and will bring it to you." "You are not a boy, and yet you steal apples. You think it is not theft to do so because of that saying of Proudhon's." "You believe, then, everything that was told you at school? But please tell me who you are. This is the Berezhkovs' garden. They tell me the old lady has two beautiful nieces." "I too say what can it matter to you who I am?" "Then you believe what your Grandmother tells you?" "I believe in what convinces me

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