Главная » Книги

Гончаров Иван Александрович - The Precipice, Страница 7

Гончаров Иван Александрович - The Precipice

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13

." "Exactly like me," he said, taking off his cap. "Is it criminal in your eyes to take apples?" "Not criminal, perhaps, but not good manners." "I make you a present of them," he said, handing her the remaining four apples and taking another bite out of his own. He raised his cap once more and bid her an ironic good-day. "You have a double beauty, you are beautiful to look at and sensible into the bargain. It is a pity that you are destined to adorn the life of an idiot. You will be given away, poor girl." "No pity, if you please. I shall not be given away like an apple." "You remember the apples; many thanks for the gift. I will bring you books in exchange, as you like books." "Proudhon?" "Yes, Proudhon and others. I have all the new ones. Only you must not tell your Grandmother and her stupid visitors, for although I do not know who they are, I don't think they would have anything to do with me." "How do you know? You have only seen me for five minutes." "The stag's breed is never hidden, one sees at once that you belong to the living, not to the dead-alive, and that is the main point. The rest comes with opportunity...." "I have a free mind, as you yourself say, and you immediately want to overpower it. Who are you that you should take upon yourself to instruct me?" He looked at her in amazement. "You are neither to bring me books, nor to come here again yourself," she said, rising to go. "There is a watchman here, and he will seize you." "That is like the Grandmother again. It smells of the town and the Lenten oil, and I thought that you loved the wide world and freedom. Are you afraid of me, and who do you think I am?" "A seminarist, perhaps," she said laconically. "What makes you think that?" "Well, seminarists are unconventional, badly dressed, and always hungry. Go into the kitchen, and I will tell them to give you something to eat." "That's very kind. Did anything else about the seminarists strike you?" "I am not acquainted with any of them, and have seen very little of them at all; they are so unpolished, and talk so queerly...." "They are our real missionaries, and what does it matter if they talk queerly? While we laugh at them they attack the enemy, blindly perhaps, but at any rate with enthusiasm." "What enemy?" "The world; they fight for the new knowledge, the new life. Healthy, virile youth needs air and food, and we need such men." "We? Who?" "The new-born strength of the world." "Do you then represent the 'new-born strength of the world,'" she said, looking at him with observant, curious eyes, but without irony, "or is your name a secret?" "Would it frighten you if I named it?" "What could it mean to me if you did disclose it? What is it?" "Mark Volokov. In this silly place my name is heard with nearly as much terror as if it were Pugachev or Stenka Razin." "You are that man?" she said, looking at him with rising curiosity. "You boast of your name, which I have heard before. You shot at Niel Andreevich, and let a couple of dogs loose on an old lady. There are the manifestations of your 'new strength.' Go, and don't be seen here again." "Otherwise you will complain to Grandmama?" "I certainly shall. Good-bye." She left the arbour and walked away without listening to his rejoinder. He followed her covetously with his eyes, murmuring as he sprang to the ground a wish that those apples also could be stolen. Vera, for her part, said not a word to her aunt of this meeting, but she confided nevertheless in her friend Natalie Ivanovna after exacting a promise of secrecy. CHAPTER XIX After leaving Raisky, Vera listened for a while to make sure he was not following her, and then, pushing the branches of the undergrowth aside with her parasol, made her way by the familiar path to the ruined arbour, whose battered doorway was almost barricaded by the fallen timbers. The steps of the arbour and the planks of the floor had sunk, and rotten planks cracked under her feet. Of its original furniture there was nothing left but two moss-grown benches and a crooked table. Mark was already in the arbour, and his rifle and huntsman's bag lay on the table. He held out his hand to Vera, and almost lifted her in over the shattered steps. By way of welcome he merely commented on her lateness. "The weather detained me," she said. "Have you any news?" "Did you expect any?" "I expect every day that you will be sent for by the military or the police." "I have been more careful since Raisky played at magnanimity and took upon himself the fuss about the books." "I don't like that about you, Mark, your callousness and malice towards everyone except yourself. My cousin made no parade of what he had done; he did not even mention it to me. You are incapable of appreciating a kindness." "I do appreciate it in my own way." "Just as the wolf in the fable appreciated the kindness of the crane. Why not thank him with the same simplicity with which he served you. You are a real wolf; you are for ever disparaging, detracting, or blaming someone, either from pride or...." "Or what?" "Or by way of cultivating the 'new strength.'" "Scoffer!" he laughed, as he sat down beside her. "You are young, and still too inexperienced to be disillusioned of all the charm of the good old times. How can I instruct you in the rights of mankind?" "And how am I to cure you of the slandering of mankind?" "You have always a retort handy, and nobody could complain of dullness with you, but," he said, clutching meditatively at his head, "if I...." "Am locked up by the police," she finished. "That seems to be all that your fate still lacks." "But for you, I should long ago have been sent off somewhere. You are a disturbing element." "Are you tired of living peaceably, and already craving for a storm? You promised me to lead a different life. What have you not promised me? And I was so happy that they even noticed my delight at home. And now you have relapsed into your old mood," she protested, as he seized her hand. "Pretty hand!" he said, kissing it again and again without any objection from her, but when he sought to kiss her cheek she drew back. "You refuse again. Is your reserve never to end? Perhaps you keep your caresses for...." She drew her hand away hastily. "You know I do not like jests of that kind. You must break yourself of this tone, and of wolfish manners generally; that would be the first step towards unaffected manhood." "Tone and manners! You are a child still occupied with your ABC. Before you lie freedom, life, love, happiness, and you talk of tone and manners. Where is the human soul, the woman in you? What is natural and genuine in you?" "Now you are talking like Raisky." "Ah, Raisky! Is he still so desperate?" "More than ever, so that I really don't know how to treat him." "Lead him by the nose." "How hideous! It would be best to tell him the truth about myself. If he knew all he would be reconciled and would go away, as he said he intended to do long ago." "He will hate you, read you a lecture, and perhaps tell your Aunt." "God forbid that she should hear the truth except from ourselves. Should I go away for a time?" "Why? It could not be arranged for you to be away long, and if your absence was short he would be only the more agitated. When you were away what good did it do. There is only one way and that is to conceal the truth from him, to put him on a wrong track. Let him cherish his passion, read verses, and gape at the moon, since he is an incurable Romanticist. Later on he will sober down and travel once more." "He is not a Romanticist in the sense you mean," sighed Vera. "You may fairly call him poet, artist. I at least begin to believe in him, in his delicacy and his truthfulness. I would hide nothing from him if he did not betray his passion for me. If he subdues that, I will be the first to tell him the whole truth." "We did not meet," interrupted Mark, "to talk so much about him." "Well, what have you done since we last met?" she asked gaily. "Whom have you met? Have you been discoursing on the 'new strength' or the 'dawn of the future,' or 'young hopes?' Every day I live in anxious expectation." "No, no," laughed Mark. "I have ceased to bother about the people here; it is not worth while to tackle them." "God grant it were so. You would have done well if you had acted up to what you say. But I cannot be happy about you. At the Sfogins, the youngest son, Volodya, who is fourteen, declared to his mother that he was not going any more to Mass. When he was whipped, and questioned, he pointed to his eldest brother, who had sneaked into the servants' room and there preached to the maids the whole evening that it was stupid to observe the fasts of the Church, to go through the ceremony of marriage, that there was no God...." Mark looked at her in horror. "In the servants' room! And yet I talked to him for a whole evening as if he were a man capable of reason, and gave him books...." "Which he took straight to the bookseller. 'These are the books you ought to put on sale,' he said. Did you not give me your promise," she said reproachfully, "when we parted and you begged to see me again?" "All that is long past. I have had nothing more to do with those people since I gave you that promise. Don't be angry, Vera. But for you I would escape from this neighbourhood to-morrow." "Escape-where? Everywhere there are the same opportunities; boys who would like to see their moustaches grow quicker, servants' rooms, if independent men and women will not listen to your talk. Are you not ashamed of the part you play?" she asked after a brief pause. "Do you look on it as your mission?" She stroked his bent head affectionately as she spoke. At her last words he raised his head quickly. "What part do I play? I give a baptism of pure water." "Are you convinced of the pureness of the water?" "Listen, Vera. I am not Raisky," said Mark, rising. "You are a woman, or rather one should say a bud which has yet to unfold into womanhood. When that unfolding comes many secrets will be clear to you that have no part in a girl's dreams and that cannot be explained; experience is the sole key to these secrets. I call you to your initiation, Vera; I show you the path of life. But you stand hesitating on the threshold, and your advance is slow. The serious thing is that you don't even believe me." "Do not be vexed," begged Vera affectionately. "I agree with you in everything that I recognise as right and honourable. If I cannot always follow you in life and in experience it is because I desire to know and see for myself the goal for which I am making." "That is to say, that you wish to judge for yourself." "And do you desire that I should not judge for myself?" "I love you, Vera. Put your trust in me, and obey. Does the flame of passion burn in me less strongly than in your Raisky, for all his poetry. Passion is chary of words. But you will neither trust nor obey me." "Would you have me not stand at the level of my personality? You yourself preached freedom to me, and now the tyrant in you appears because I do not show a slavish submission." "Let us part, Vera, if doubt is uppermost with you and you have no confidence in me, for in that fashion we cannot continue our meetings." "Yes, let us part rather than that you should exact a blind trust in you. In my waking hours and in my dreams I imagine that there lies between us no disturbance, no doubt. But I don't understand you, and therefore cannot trust you." "You hide under your Aunt's skirts like a chicken under a hen, and you have absorbed her ideas and her system of morals. You, like Raisky, inshroud passion in fantastic draperies. Let us put aside all the other questions untouched. The one that lies before us is simple and straightforward. We love one another. Is that so or not?" "What does that lead to, Mark!" "If you don't believe me, look around you. You have spent your whole life in the woods and fields, and do you learn nothing from what you see in all directions?" he asked, pointing to a swarm of flying pigeons, and to the nesting swallows. "Learn from them; they deal in no subtleties!" "Yes, they circle round their nests. One has flown away, probably in search of food." "When winter comes they will all separate." "And return in spring to the same nest." "I believe you when you talk reasonably, Vera. You felt injured by my rough manners, and I am making every effort. I have transformed myself to the old-fashioned pattern, and shall soon shift my feet and smile when I make my bow like Tiet Nikonich. I don't give way to the desire to abuse or to quarrel with anybody, and draw no attention to my doings. I shall next be making up my mind to attend Mass, what else should I do?" "You are in the mood for joking, but joking is not what I wanted," sighed Vera. "What do you want me to do?" "So far I have not even been able to persuade you to spare yourself for my sake, to cease your baptisms, to live like other people." "But if I act in accordance with my convictions?" "What is your aim? What do you hope to do?" "I teach fools." "Do you even know yourself what you teach, for what you have been struggling for a whole year? To live the life that you prescribe is not within the bounds of possibility. It is all very new and bold, but...." "There we are again at the same old point. I can hear the old lady piping," he laughed scornfully, pointing in the direction of the house. "You speak with her voice." "Is that your whole answer, Mark? Everything is a lie; therefore, away with it! But the absence of any notion of what truth is to supersede the lies makes me distrustful." "You set reflexion above nature and passion. You are noble, and you naturally desire marriage. But that has nothing to do with love, and it is love and happiness that I seek." Vera rose and looked at him with blazing eyes. "If I wished only for marriage, Mark, I should naturally make another choice." "Pardon me, I was rude," he said in real embarrassment, and kissed her hand. "But, Vera, you repress your love, you are afraid, and instead of giving yourself up to the pleasure of it you are for ever analysing." "I try to find out who and what you are, because love is not a passing pleasure to me, but you look on it as a distraction." "No, as a daily need of life, which is no matter for jesting. Like Raisky, I cannot sleep through the long nights, and I suffer nervous torture that I could not have believed possible. You say you love me; that I love you is plain? But I call you to happiness and you are afraid...." "I do not want happiness for a month, for six months-" "For your life long, and even after death?" asked Mark, scornfully. "For life! I do not want to foresee an ultimate limit. I do not and will not believe in happiness with a term. But I do believe in another kind of intimate happiness, and I want...." "To make me embrace the same belief." "Yes, I know no other happiness, and I would scorn it if I knew it." "Good-bye, Vera. You do not love me, but are for ever disputing, analysing either my character or the nature of happiness. We always get back to the point from which we started. I think it is your destiny to love Raisky. You can make what you will of him, can deck him out with all your Aunt's tags, and evolve a new hero of romance every day, for ever and ever. I haven't the time for that kind of thing. I have work to do." "Ah work, and love, with happiness as an afterthought, a trifle...." "Do you wish to build a life out of love after the old fashion, a life such as that lived by the swallows who leave their nest only to seek food." "You would fly for a moment into a strange nest, and then forget." "Yes, if forgetting is so easy; but if one cannot forget, one returns. But must I return if I don't want to? Is that compatible with freedom? Would you ask that?" "I cannot understand a bird's life of that kind." "Farewell, Vera. We were mistaken. I want a comrade, not a school girl." "Yes, Mark, a comrade, strong like yourself, I agree. A comrade for the whole of life, is that not so?" "I thought," said Mark as if he had not heard her last question, "that we should soon be united, and that whether we separated again must depend on temperament and circumstances. You make your analysis in advance, so that your judgment is as crooked and twisted as an old maid's could be. You don't look to the quarter whence truth and light must come. Sleep, my child. I was mistaken. Farewell once more. We will try to avoid one another in the future." "We will try. But can we really not find happiness together? What is the hindrance?" she asked, in a low, agitated tone, touching his hand. Mark shouldered his gun in silence, and walked out of the arbour into the brushwood. Vera stood motionless as if she were in a deep sleep. Overcome by grief and amazement, she could not believe he was really leaving her. Where there is no trust there is no love, she thought. She did not trust him, and yet, if she did not love him, why was her grief and pain at his going so great. Why did she feel that death itself would be welcome? "Mark!" she cried in a low voice. He did not look round, and although she repeated the cry he strode forward. "Mark!" she cried breathlessly a third time, but he still pursued his path. Her face faded, but mechanically she picked up her handkerchief and her parasol and mounted the cliff. Were truth and love to be found there where her heart called her? Or did truth lie in the little chapel that she was now approaching? For four days Vera wandered in the park, and waited in the arbour, but Mark did not come. There was no reply to the call of her heart. She no longer hid her movements from Raisky, who came upon her from time to time in the chapel. She allowed him to accompany her to the little village church on the hill where she usually went alone. She remained on her knees with bowed head for a long time, while he stood motionless behind her. Then without a word or a glance, she took his arm, to return wearily to the old house, where they parted. Vera knew nothing of his secret suffering, of the passionate love which attracted him to her, the double love of a man for a woman, and of an artist for his ideal. Raisky wondered what the shots meant. It need not necessarily be love that drove her to the rendezvous. There might be a secret of another kind, but the key to the mystery lay in her heart. There was no salvation for her except in love, and he longed to give her protection and freedom. Again he found her at twilight praying in the chapel, but this time she was calm and her eyes clear. She gave him her hand, and was plainly pleased to see him. "You cannot imagine, Vera," he said, "how happy it makes me to see you calmer. What has given you peace?" She glanced towards the chapel. "You don't go down there any more?" he said, pointing to the precipice. She shook her head. "Thank God!" he cried. "If you are going home now, take my arm," he said, and they walked together along the path leading across the meadow. "You have been fighting a hard and despairing battle, Vera. So much you do not conceal. Are you going to conquer this agonising and dangerous passion?" "And if I do, Cousin?" she asked despondently. "The richer for a great experience, strengthened against future storms, your portion will be a great happiness, sufficient to fill your whole life." "I cannot comprehend any other happiness," she said, thoughtfully. She stood still, leaning her head on his shoulder, and her eyes filled with tears. He did not know that he had probed her wound by touching on the very point that had caused her separation from Mark. At that moment there was the report of a shot in the depths below the precipice, and the sound was re-echoed from the hills. Raisky and Vera both started. She stood listening for a moment. Her eyes, still wet with tears, were wide and staring now. Then she loosed her hold of his arm, and hurried in the direction of the precipice, with Raisky hurrying at her heels. When she had gone half way, she stopped, laid her hand on her heart, and listened once more. "A few minutes ago your mind was made up, Vera!" Raisky's face was pale, and his agitation nearly as great as hers. She did not hear his words, and she looked at him without seeing him. Then she took a few steps in the direction of the precipice, but suddenly turned to go slowly towards the chapel. "I am not going," she whispered. "Why does he call me? It cannot be that he has changed his attitude in the last few days." She sank down on her knees before the sacred picture, and covered her face with her hands. Raisky came up to her, and implored her not to go. She herself gazed at the picture with expressionless, hopeless eyes. When she rose she shuddered, and seemed unaware of Raisky's presence. A shot sounded once more. With a cry Vera ran over the meadow towards the cliff. Perhaps my conviction has conquered, she thought. Why else should he call her? Her feet hardly seemed to touch the grass as she ran into the avenue that led to the precipice. CHAPTER XX Vera came that night to supper with a gloomy face. She eagerly drank a glass of milk, but offered no remark to anyone. "Why are you so unhappy, Veroshka?" asked her aunt. "Don't you feel well." "I was afraid to ask," interposed Tiet Nikonich politely. "I could not help noticing, Vera Vassilievna, that you have been altered for some time; you seem to have grown thinner and paler. The change becomes your looks, but the symptoms ought not to be overlooked, as they might indicate the approach of illness." "I have a little tooth-ache, but it will soon pass," answered Vera unwillingly. Tatiana Markovna looked away sadly enough, but said nothing, while Raisky tapped his plate absently with a fork, but ate nothing, and maintained a gloomy silence. Only Marfinka and Vikentev took every dish that was offered them, and chattered without intermission. Vera soon took her leave, followed by Raisky. She went into the park, and stood at the top of the cliff looking down into the dark wood below her; then she wrapped herself in her mantilla, and sat down on the bench. Silently she acceded to Raisky's request to be allowed to sit down beside her. "You are in trouble, and are suffering, Vera." "I have tooth-ache." "It is your heart that aches, Vera. Share your trouble with me." "I make no complaint." "You have an unhappy love affair, with whom?" She did not answer. She knew that her hopes were still not dead, mad though they might be. What if she went away for a week or two to breathe, to conjure up her strength. "Cousin," she said at last, "to-morrow at daybreak I am going across the Volga, and may stay away longer than usual. I have not said good-bye to Grandmother. Please say it for me." "I will go away too." "Wait, Cousin, until I am a little calmer. Perhaps then I can confide in you, and we can part like brother and sister, but now it is impossible. Still, in case you do go away, let us say good-bye now. Forgive me my strange ways, and let me give you a sister's kiss." She kissed him on the forehead and walked quickly away, but she had only taken a few steps before she paused to say: "Thank you for all you have done for me. I have not the strength to tell you how grateful I am for your friendship, and above all for this place. Farewell, and forgive me." "Vera," he cried in painful haste. "Let me stay as long as you are here or are in the neighbourhood. Even if we don't see one another, I yet know where you are. I will wait till you are calmer, till you fulfil your promise, and confide in me, as you have said you would. You won't be far away, and we can at least write to one another. Give me at least this consolation, for God's sake," he murmured passionately. "Leave me at least that Paradise which is next door to Hell." She looked at him with a distraught air, and bent her head in assent. But she saw the glow of delight which swept over his agitated face, and wondered sorrowfully why _he_ did not speak like that. "I will put off my journey till the day after tomorrow. Good-night!" she said, and gave him her hand to kiss before they separated. Early next day Vera gave Marina a note with instructions to deliver it and to wait for the answer. After the receipt of the answer she grew more cheerful and went out for a walk along the riverside. That evening she told her aunt that she was going on a visit to Natalie Ivanovna, and took leave of them all, promising Raisky not to forget him. The next day a fisherman from the Volga brought him a letter from Vera, in which she called him "dear cousin," and seemed to look forward to a happier future. Into the friendly tone of the letter he contrived to read tender feeling, and he forgot, in his delight, his doubts, his anxiety, the blue letters, and the precipice. He wrote and dispatched immediately a brief, affectionate reply. Vera's letter aroused in him the artist sense, and drove him to set out his chaotic emotions in defined form. He sought to crystallise his thoughts and affections; his very passion took artistic shape, and assumed in the clear light Vera's charming features. "What are you scribbling day and night?" inquired Tatiana Markovna. "Is it a play or another novel?" "I write and write, Granny, and don't know myself how it will end." "It doesn't matter what the child does so long as he is amused," she remarked, not altogether missing the character of Raisky's occupation. "But why do you write at night, when I am so afraid of fire, and you might fall asleep over your drama. You will make yourself ill, and you often look as yellow as an over-ripe gherkin as it is." He looked in the glass, and was struck with his own appearance. Yellow patches were visible on the nose and temples, and there were grey threads in his thick, black hair. "If I were fair," he grumbled, "I should not age so quickly. Don't bother about me, Granny, but leave me my freedom. I can't sleep." "You too ask me for freedom, like Vera. It is as if I held you both in chains," she added with an anxious sigh. "Go on writing, Borushka, but not at night. I cannot sleep in peace, for when I look at your window the light is always burning." "I will answer for it, Grandmother, that there shall be no fire, and if I myself were to be burnt...." "Touch wood! Do not tempt fate. Remember the saying that 'my tongue is my enemy.'" Suddenly Raisky sprang from the divan and ran to the window. "There is a peasant bringing a letter from Vera," he cried, as he hurried out of the room. "One might think it was his father in person," said Tatiana Markovna to herself. "How many candles he burns with his novels and plays, as many as four in a night!" Again Raisky received a few lines from Vera. She wrote that she was longing to see him again, and that she wanted to ask for his services. She added the following postscript:- "Dear Friend and Cousin, you taught me to love and to suffer, and poured the strength of your love into my soul. This it is that gives me courage to ask you to do a good deed. There is here an unhappy man who has been driven from his home and lies under the suspicion of the Government. He has no place to lay his head, and everyone, either from indifference or fear, avoids him. But you are kind and generous, and cannot be indifferent; still less will you hesitate to do a deed of pure charity. The wretched man has not a kopek, has no clothes, and autumn is coming on. "If your heart tells you, as I don't doubt it will, what to do, address the wife of the acolyte, Sekleteia Burdalakov, but arrange it so that neither Grandmother, nor anyone at home, knows anything of it. A sum of three hundred roubles will be sufficient, I think, to provide for him for a whole year, perhaps two hundred and fifty would suffice. Will you put in a cloak and a warm vest (in my firm belief in your kind heart and your love to me, I enclose the measures taken by the village tailor) to protect him from the cold. "I don't like to ask you for a rug for him; that would be to make an unfair use of kindness. In the winter the poor exile will probably leave the place, and will bless you, and to some degree me as well. I would not have troubled you, but you know that my Grandmother has all my money, which is therefore inaccessible." "What on earth is the meaning of this postscript?" cried Raisky. "The whole note is certainly not from her hand; she could not have written like this." He threw himself on the divan in a fit of nervous laughter. He was in Tatiana Markovna's sitting-room, with Vikentev and Marfinka. At first the lovers laughed, but stopped when they saw the violent character of his mirth. Tatiana Markovna, who came in at this moment, offered him some drops of cordial in a teaspoon. "No, Grandmother," he cried, still laughing violently. "Don't give me drops, but three hundred roubles." "What do you want the money for?" said Tatiana Markovna hesitating. "Is it for Markushka again. You had much better ask him to return the eighty roubles he has had." He entered into the spirit of the bargain, and eventually had to content himself with two hundred and fifty roubles, which he dispatched next day to the address given. He also ordered the cloak and vest, and bought a warm rug, to be sent in a few days. "I thank you heartily, and with tears, dear Cousin," ran the letter he received in return for his gifts. "I cannot express in writing the gratitude I feel. Heaven, not I, will reward you. How delighted the poor exile was with your gift. He laughed for joy, and is wearing the new things. He immediately paid his landlord his three months' arrears of rent, and a month in advance. He only allowed himself to spend three roubles in cigars, which he has not smoked for a long time, and smoking is his only passion." Although the apocryphal nature of this remarkable missive was quite clear to Raisky, he did not hesitate to add a box of cigars to his gift for the "poor exile." It was enough for him that Vera's name was attached to this pressing request. He observed the course of his own passion as a physician does disease. As he watched the clouds driven before the wind, or looked at the green carpet of the earth, now taking on sad autumnal hues, he realised that Nature was marching on her way through never ending change, with not a moment's stagnation. He alone brooded idly with no prize in view. He asked himself anxiously what his duty was, and begged that Reason would shed some light on his way, give him boldness to leap over the funeral pyre of his hopes. Reason told him to seek safety in flight. He drove into the town to buy some necessities for the journey, and there met the Governor who reproached him with having hidden himself for so long. Raisky excused himself on the ground of ill-health, and spoke of his approaching departure. "Where are you going?" "It is all one to me," returned Raisky gloomily. "Here I am so bored that I must seek some distraction. I intend going to St. Petersburg, then to my estate in the government of R-- and then perhaps abroad." "I don't wonder that you are bored with staying in the same spot, since you avoid society, and must need distraction. Will you make an expedition with me? I am starting on a tour of the district to-morrow, why not come with me? You will see much that is beautiful, and, being a poet, you will collect new impressions. We will travel for a hundred versts by river. Don't forget your sketch-book." Raisky shook the Governor's proffered hand, and accepted. The Governor showed him his well-equipped travelling carriage, declared that his kitchen would travel with him, and cards should not be forgotten, and promised himself a gayer journey than would have been possible in the sole society of a busy secretary. Raisky felt a relief in the firm determination he now made to conquer his passion, and decided not to return from this journey, but to have his effects sent after him. While he was away he wrote in this sense to Vera, telling her that his life in Malinovka had been like an evil dream full of suffering, and that if he ever saw the place again it would be at some distant date. A day or two later he received a short answer from Vera dated from Malinovka. Marfinka's birthday fell during the next week, and when the festival was over she was to go on a long visit to her future mother-in-law. If Raisky did not make some sacrifice and return, a sacrifice to her grandmother and herself, Tatiana Markovna would be terribly lonely. Next evening he had a letter from Vera acquiescing in his intention of leaving Malinovka without seeing her again, and saying that immediately after the dispatch of this letter she would go over to her friend on the other side of the Volga, but she hoped that he would go to say good-bye to Tatiana Markovna and the rest of the household, as his departure without any farewell must necessarily cause surprise in the town, and would hurt Tatiana Markovna's feelings. This answer relieved him enormously. On the afternoon of the next day, when he alighted from the carriage in the outskirts of the town and bade his travelling host good-bye, he was in good enough spirits as he picked up his bag and made his way to the house. Marfinka and Vikentev were the first to meet him, the dogs leaped to welcome him, the servants hurried up, and the whole household showed such genuine pleasure at his return that he was moved almost to tears. He looked anxiously round to see if Vera was there, but one and another hastened to tell him that Vera had gone away. He ought to have been glad to hear this news, but he heard it with a spasm of pain. When he entered his aunt's room she sent Pashutka out and locked the door. "How anxiously I have been expecting you!" she said. "I wanted to send a messenger for you." "What is the matter?" he exclaimed, pale with terror in fear of bad news of Vera. "Your friend Leonti Ivanovich is ill." "Poor fellow! What is wrong? Is it dangerous? I will go to him at once." "I will have the horses put in. In the meantime I may as well tell you what is known all over the town. I have kept it secret from Marfinka only, and Vera already knows it. His wife has left him, and he has fallen ill. Yesterday and the day before the Koslovs' cook came to fetch you." "Where has she gone?" "Away with the Frenchman, Charles, who was suddenly called to St. Petersburg. She pretended she was going to stay with her relations in Moscow and said that Monsieur Charles would accompany her so far. She extracted from Koslov a pass giving her permission to live alone, and is now with Charles in St. Petersburg." "Her relations with Charles," replied Raisky, "were no secret to anybody except her husband. Everyone will laugh at him, but he will understand nothing, and his wife will return." "You have not heard the end. On her way she wrote to her husband telling him to forget her, not to expect her return, because she could no longer endure living with him." "The fool! Just as if she had not made scandal enough. Poor Leonti! I will go to him, how sorry I am for him." "Yes, Borushka, I am sorry for him too, and should like to have gone to see him. He has the simple honesty of a child. God has given him learning, but no common sense, and he is buried in his books. I wonder who is looking after him now. If you find he is not being properly cared for, bring him here. The old house is empty, and we can establish him there for the time being. I will have two rooms got ready for him." "What a woman you are, Grandmother. While I am thinking, you have acted." When he reached Koslov's house he found the shutters of the grey house were closed, and he had to knock repeatedly before he was admitted. He passed through the ante-room into the dining-room and stood uncertain before the study door, hesitating whether he should knock or go straight in. Suddenly the door opened, and there stood before him, dressed in a woman's dressing-gown and slippers, Mark Volokov, unbrushed, sleepy, pale, thin and sinister. "The evil one has brought you at last," he grumbled half in surprise and half in vexation. "Where have you been all this time? I have hardly slept for two nights. His pupils are about in the day time, but at night he is alone." "What is the matter with him?" "Has no one told you. That she-goat has gone. I was pleased to hear it, and came at once to congratulate him, but I found him with not a drop of blood in his face, with dazed eyes, and unable to recognise anyone. He just escaped brain fever. Instead of weeping for joy, the man has nearly died of sorrow. I fetched the doctor, but Koslov sent him away, and walked up and down the room like one demented. Now he is sleeping, so we will not disturb him. I will go, and you must stay, and see that he does not do himself some injury in a fit of melancholy. He listens to no one, and I have been tempted to smack him." Mark spit with vexation. "You can't depend on his idiot of a cook. Yesterday the woman gave him some tooth powder instead of his proper powder. I am going to dismiss her to-morrow." Raisky watched him in amazement, and offered his hand. "What favour is this?" said Mark bitterly, and without taking the proffered hand. "I thank you for having stood by my old friend." Mark seized Raisky's hand and shook it. "I have been looking for some means of serving you for a long time." "Why, Volokov, are you for ever executing quick changes like a clown in a circus?" "What the devil have I to do with your gratitude? I am not here for that, but on Koslov's account." "God be with you and your manners, Mark Ivanovich!" replied Raisky. "In any case, you have done a good deed." "More praise. You can be as sentimental as you like for all I care...." "I will take Leonti home with me," resumed Raisky. "He will be absolutely at home there, and if his troubles do not blow over he will have his own quiet corner all his life." "Bravo! that is deeds, not words. Koslov would wither without a home and without care. It is an excellent idea you have taken into your head." "It comes not from me, but from a woman, and not from her head, but from her heart. My Aunt...." "The old lady has a sound heart. I must go and breakfast with her one day. It is a pity she has amassed so many foolish ideas. Now I am going. Look after Koslov, if not personally, through some one else. The day before yesterday his head had to be cooled all day, and at night cabbage leaves should be laid on it. I was a little disturbed, because in his dazed state he got the cabbage and began to eat it. Good-bye! I have neither slept nor eaten, though Avdotya has treated me to a horrible brew of coffee...." "Allow me to send the coachman home to fetch some supper," said Raisky. "I would rather eat at home." "Perhaps you have no money," said Raisky nervously drawing out his pocket book. "I have money," said Mark enigmatically, hardly able to restrain a callous laugh, "I am going to the bath-house before I have my supper, as I haven't been able to undress here. I have changed my quarters, and now live with a clerical personage." "You look ill, thin, and your eyes...." Mark's face grew more evil and sinister than before. "You too look worse," he said. "If you look in the glass you will see yellow patches and hollow eyes." "I have many causes of anxiety." "So have I. Good-bye," said Mark, and was gone. Raisky went into the study and walked up to the bed on tiptoe. "Who is there?" asked Leonti feebly. When Leonti recognised Raisky he pushed his feet out of bed, and sat up. "Is he gone?" he asked weakly. "I pretended to be asleep. You have not been for so long, and I have been expecting you all the time. The face of an old comrade is the only one that I can bear to see." "I have been away, and heard when I returned of your illness." "It is gossip. There is a conspiracy to say I am ill, which is all foolish talk. Mark, who even fetched a doctor, has been hanging about here as if he were afraid I should do myself an injury," said Leonti and paced up and down the room. "You are weak, and walk with difficulty," said Raisky. "It would be better for you to lie down." "I am weak, that is true," admitted Leonti. He bent over the chair-back to Raisky, embraced him, and laid his face against his hair. Raisky felt hot tears on his forehead and cheeks. "It is weakness," sobbed Leonti. "But I am not ill, and have not brain fever. They talk, but don't understand. And I understood nothing either, but now that I see you, I cannot keep back my tears. Don't abuse me like Mark, or laugh at me, as they all do, my colleagues and my sympathetic visitors. I can discern malicious laughter on all their faces." "I respect and understand your tears and your sorrow," said Raisky, stifling his own tears. "You are my kind old comrade. Even at school you never laughed at me, and do you know why I weep?" Leonti took a letter from his desk and handed it to Raisky. It was the letter from Juliana Andreevna of which Tatiana Markovna had spoken. Raisky glanced through it. "Destroy it," he said. "You will have no peace while it is in your possession." "Destroy it!" said Leonti, seizing the letter, and replacing it in the desk. "How is it possible to think of such a thing, when these are the only lines she has written me, and these are all that I have as a souvenir?" "Leonti! Think of all this as a malady, a terrible misfortune, and don't succumb to it. You are not an old man, and have a long life before you." "My life is over, unless she returns to me," he whispered. "What! You could, you would take her back!" "You, too, Boris, fail to understand me!" cried Leonti in despair, as he thrust his hands into his hair and strode up and down. "People keep on saying I am ill, they offer sympathy, bring a doctor, sit all night by my bedside, and yet don't guess why I suffer so wildly, don't even guess at the only remedy there is for me. She is not here," he whispered wildly, seizing Raisky by the shoulders and shaking him violently. "She is not here, and that is what constitutes my illness. Besides, I am not ill, I am dead. Take me to her, and I shall rise again. And you ask whether I will take her back again! You, a novelist, don't understand simple things like that!" "I did not know that you loved her like that," said Raisky tenderly. "You used to laugh and say that you had got so used to her that you were becoming faithless to your Greeks and Romans." "I chattered, I boasted," laughed Leonti bitterly, "and was without understanding. But for this I never should have understood. I thought I loved the ancients, while my whole love was given to the living woman. Yes, Boris, I loved books and my gymnasium, the ancients and the moderns, my scholars, and you, Boris; I loved the street, this hedge, the service tree there, only through my love for her. Now, nothing of all this matters. I knew that as I lay on the floor reading her letter. And you ask whether I would receive her. God in Heaven! If she came, how she should be cherished!" he concluded, his tears flowing once more. "Leonti, I come to you with a request from Tatiana Markovna, who asks you," he went on, though Leonti walked ceaselessly up and down, dragging his slippers and appeared not to listen, "to come over to us. Here you will die of misery." "Thank you," said Leonti, shaking his head. "She is a saint. But how can a desolate man carry his sorrow into a strange house?" "Not a strange house, Leonti, we are brothers, and our relation is closer than the ties of blood." Leonti lay down on the bed, and took Raisky's hand. "Pardon my egoism," he said. "Later, later, I will come of my own accord, will ask permission to look after your library, if no hope is left me." "Have you any hope?" "What! Do you think there is no hope?" Raisky, who did not wish to deprive his friend of the last straw, nor to stir useless hope in him, hesitated, before he answered after a pause: "I don't know what to say to you exactly, Leonti. I know so little of your wife that I cannot judge her character." "You know her," said Leonti in a dull voice. "It was you who directed my attention to the Frenchman, but then I did not understand you, because nothing of the kind had entered my head. But if he leaves her," he said, with a gleam of hope in his eyes, "she will perhaps remember me." "Perhaps," said Raisky. "To-morrow I will come to fetch you. Good-bye for the present. To-night I will either come myself or send someone who will stay with you." Leonti did not hear, and did not even see Raisky go. When he reached home, Raisky gave his aunt an account of Leonti's condition, telling her that there was no danger, but that no sympathy would help matters. Yakob was sent to look after the sick man and Tatiana Markovna did not forget to send an abundant supper, with tea, rum, wine and all sorts of other things. "What are these things for, Grandmother?" asked Raisky. "He doesn't eat anything." "But the other one, if he returns?" "What other one?" "Who but Markushka? He will want something to eat. You found him with our invalid." "I will go to Mark, Granny, and tell him what you say." "For goodness' sake don't do that, Borushka. Mark will laugh at me." "No, he will be grateful and respectful, for he understands you. He is not like Niel Andreevich." "I don't want his gratitude and respect. Let him eat, and be satisfied, and God be with him. He is a ruined man. Has he remembered the eighty roubles?" CHAPTER XXI Raisky laughed as he went out into the garden. He looked sadly at the closed shutters of the old house, and stood for a long time on the edge of the precipice, looking down thoughtfully into the depths of the thicket and the trees rustling and cracking in the wind. Then he turned to look at the long avenues, here forming gloomy corridors, and then opening out into open stately spaces, at the flower gardens now fading under the approach of autumn, at the kitchen garden, and at the distant glimmer of the rising moon, and at the stars. He looked out over the Volga, gleaming like steel in the distance. The evening was fresh and cool, and the withered leaves were falling with a gentle rustle around him. He could not take his eyes from the river, now silvered by the moon, which separated him from Vera. She had gone without leaving a word for him. A word from her would have brought tenderness and would have drowned all bitterness, he thought. But she was gone without leaving a trace or any kind remembrance. With bent head and full of anxious thought he made his way along the dark avenues. Suddenly delicate fingers seized his shoulders, and he heard a low laugh. "Vera!" he cried, seizing her hand violently. "You here, and not away over the Volga!" "Yes, here, not over there." She put her arm in his and asked him, laughing, whether he thought she would let him go without saying good-bye. "Witch!" he said, not knowing whether fear or joy was uppermost. "I was this very moment complaining that you had not left a line for me, and now I can't understand, as everyone in the house told me you had gone away yesterday." "And you believed it," she said laughing. "I told them to say so, to surprise you. They were humbugging.... To go away without two words," she asked triumphantly, "or to stay, which is better?" Her gay talk, her quick gestures, the mockery in her voice, all these things seemed unnatural, and he recognised beneath it all weariness, strain, an effort to conceal the collapse of her strength. When they reached the end of the avenue he tried to lead her to an open spot, where he could see her face. "Let me look at you! How gay and merry you are, Vera!" he said timidly. "What is there to see?" she interrupted impatiently, and tried to draw him into the shadow again. He felt that her hands were trembling, and for the moment his own passion was stilled, and he shared her suffering. "Why do you look at me like that? I am not crazy," she said, turning her face away. He was stricken with horror. The insane are always assuring everyone of their sanity. What was wrong with Vera? She did not confide in him, she would not speak out, she was determined to fight her own battles. Who could support and shelter her? An inner voice told him that Tatiana Markovna alone could do it. "Vera, you are ill," he said earnestly. "Give Grandmother your confidence." "Silence! Not a word of Grandmother! Goodbye! To-morrow we will go for a stroll, do some shopping, go down by the river, anything you like." "I will go away, Vera," he cried, filled with inexpr

Категория: Книги | Добавил: Armush (27.11.2012)
Просмотров: 428 | Рейтинг: 0.0/0
Всего комментариев: 0
Имя *:
Email *:
Код *:
Форма входа