essible fear. "I am
worn out. Why do you deceive me? Why did you call me back to find you
still here? Was it to mock my sufferings?"
"So that we could suffer together," she answered. "Passion is beautiful,
as you yourself have said; it is life itself. You have taught me how to
love, have educated passion in me, and now you may admire the result of
your labour," she ended, drawing in a deep breath of the cool evening
"I warned you, Vera. I told you passion was a fierce wolf."
"No, worse, it is a tiger. I could not believe what you said, but I do
now. Do you know the picture in the old house which represents a tiger
showing his teeth at a seated Cupid? I never understood the picture,
which seemed meaningless, but now I understand it. Passion is a tiger,
lying there apparently so peaceful and inviting, until he begins to howl
and to whet his teeth."
Raisky pursued the comparison in the hope that he might learn the name
of Vera's lover.
"Your comparison is false, Vera. There are no tigers in our Northern
climate. I am nearer the mark when I compare passion to a wolf."
"You are right," she said with a nervous laugh. "A real wolf. However
carefully you feed him he looks always to the woods. You are all wolves,
and _he_, too, is a wolf."
"Who?" he asked in an expressionless voice. "Tushin is a bear, a genuine
Russian bear. You may lay your hand on his shaggy head, and sleep; your
rest is sure, for he will serve you all his life."
"Which of the animals am I?" he asked gaily, noting that Tushin was not
the man. "Don't beat about the bush, Vera, you may say I am an ass."
"No," she said scornfully. "You are a fox, a nice, cunning fox, with a
gift for deception. That's what you are. Why don't you say something?"
she went on, as he kept an embarrassed silence.
"Vera, there are weapons to be used against wolves, for me, to go away;
for you, not to go down there," he said, pointing to the precipice.
"Tell me how to prevent myself from going there. Teach me, since you are
my mentor, how not to go. You first set the house on fire, and then talk
of leaving it. You sing in praise of passion, and then...."
"I meant another kind of passion. Where both parties to it are
honourable, it means the supreme happiness in life, and its storms are
full of the glow of life...."
"And where there is no dishonour, no precipice yawns? I love, and am
loved, yet passion has me in its jaws. Tell me what I should do."
"Confess all to Grandmother," whispered Raisky, pale with terror, "or
permit me to talk to her."
"To shame me and ruin me? Who told me I need not obey her?"
"At one moment you are on the point of telling your secret, at another
you hide behind it. I am in the dark, and feel my way in uncertainty.
How can I, when I do not know the whole truth, diagnose the case?"
"You know what is wrong with me? Why do you say you are in the dark.
Come," she said, leading him into the moonlight. "See what is wrong with
He stood transfixed with terror and pity. Pale, haggard, with wild eyes
and tightly pressed lips, this was quite another Vera. Strands of hair
were loose from beneath her hood, and fell in gipsy-like confusion over
her forehead and temples, and covered her eyes and mouth with every
quick movement she made. Her shoulders were negligently clad in a satin
wrap trimmed with swansdown, held in place by a loosely tied knot of
"Well," she said, shaking her hair out of her eyes. "What has happened
to the beauty whose praise you sang?"
"Vera," he said, "I would die for you. Tell me how I may serve you."
"Die!" she exclaimed. "Help me to live. Give me that beautiful passion
which sheds its glorious light over the whole of life. I see no passion
but this drowning tiger passion. Give me back at least my old strength,
you, who talk of going to my Grandmother to place her and me on the same
bier. It is too late to tell me to go no more to the precipice."
She sat down on the bench and looked moodily straight before her.
"You yourself, Vera, dreamed of freedom, and you prided yourself on your
"My head burns. Have pity on your sister! I am ashamed to be so weak."
"What is it, dear Vera?"
"Nothing. Take me home, help me to mount the steps. I am afraid, and
would like to lie down. Pardon me for having disturbed you for nothing,
for having brought you here. You would have gone away and forgotten me.
I am only feverish. Are you angry with me?"
Too dejected to reply, he gave her his arm, took her as far as her room,
and struck a light.
"Send Marina or Masha to stay in my room, please. But say nothing to
Grandmother, lest she should be alarmed and come herself. Why are you
looking at me so strangely? God knows what I have been saying to you, to
plague you and to avenge myself of all my humiliations. Tell Grandmother
that I have gone to bed to be up early in the morning, and I pray you
bless me in your thoughts, do you hear?"
"I hear," he said absently, as he pressed her hand and went out in
search of Masha.
He looked forward with anxiety to Vera's awakening. He seemed to have
forgotten his own passion since his imagination had become absorbed in
the contemplation of her suffering.
"Something is wrong with Vera," said Tatiana Markovna, shaking her grey
head as she saw how grimly he avoided her questioning glance.
"What can it be?" asked Raisky negligently, with an effort to assume
"Something is wrong, Borushka. She looks so melancholy and is so silent,
and often seems to have tears in her eyes. I have spoken to the doctor,
but he only talks the old nonsense about nerves," she said, relapsing
into a gloomy silence.
Raisky looked anxiously for Vera's appearance next morning. She came at
last, accompanied by the maid, who carried a warm coat and her hat and
shoes. She said good morning to her aunt, asked for coffee, ate her roll
with appetite, and reminded Raisky that he had promised to go shopping
with her in the town and to take a walk in the park. It amazed him that
she should be once more transformed, but there was a certain audacity in
her gestures and a haste in her speech which seemed forced and alien
from her usual manner and reminded him of her behaviour the day before.
She was plainly making a great effort to conceal her real mood. She
chatted volubly with Paulina Karpovna, who had turned up unexpectedly
and was displaying the pattern of a dress intended for Marfinka's
trousseau. That lady's visit was really directed towards Raisky, of
whose return she had heard. She sought in vain an occasion to speak with
him alone, but seized a moment to sit down beside him, when she made
eyes at him and said in a low voice: _"Je comprends; dites tout, du
Raisky wished her anywhere, and moved away. Vera meanwhile put on her
coat and asked him to come with her. Paulina Karpovna wished to
accompany them, but Vera declined on the ground that they were walking
and had far to go, that the ground was damp, and that Paulina's elegant
dress with a long train was unsuited for the expedition.
"I want to have you this whole day for myself," she said to Raisky as
they went out together, "indeed every day until you go."
"But, Vera, how can I help you when I don't know what is making you
suffer. I only see that you have your own drama, that the catastrophe is
approaching, or is in process. What is it?" he asked anxiously, as she
"I don't feel well, and am far from gay. Autumn is beginning. Nature
grows dark and sinister, the birds are already deserting us, and my mood,
too, is autumnal. Do you see the black line high above the Volga? Those
are the cranes in flight. My thoughts, too, fly away into the distance."
She realised halfway that this strange explanation was unconvincing, and
only pursued it because she did not wish to tell the truth.
"I wanted to ask you, Vera, about the letters you wrote to me."
"I am ill and weak; you saw what an attack I had yesterday. I cannot
remember just now all that I wrote."
"Another time then!" he sighed. "But tell me, Vera, how I can help you.
Why do you keep me back, and why do you want to spend these days in my
society? I have a right to ask this, and it is your duty to give a plain
answer unless you want me to think you false."
"Don't let us talk of it now."
"No," he cried angrily. "You play with me as a cat does with a mouse. I
will endure it no longer. You can either reveal your own secrets or keep
them as you please, but in so far as it touches me, I demand an
immediate answer. What is my part in this drama?"
"Do not be angry! I did not keep you back to wound you. But don't talk
about it, don't agitate me so that I have another attack like
yesterday's. You see that I can hardly stand. I don't want my weakness
to be seen at home. Defend me from myself. Come to me at dusk, about six,
and I will tell you why I detained you."
"Pardon me, Vera. I am not myself either," he said, struck by her
suffering. "I don't know what lies on your heart, and I will not ask. I
will come later to fetch you."
"I will tell you if I have the strength," she said.
They went into the shops, where Vera made purchases for herself and
Marfinka, she talked eagerly to the acquaintances they met, and even
visited a poor godchild, for whom she took gifts. She assented readily
to Raisky's suggestion that they should visit Koslov.
When they reached the house, Mark walked out of the door. He was plainly
startled, made no answer to Raisky's inquiry after Leonti's health, and
walked quickly away. Vera was still more disconcerted but pulled herself
together, and followed Raisky into the house.
"What is the matter with him?" asked Raisky. "He did not answer a word,
but simply bolted. You were frightened, too, Vera. Is it Mark who
signalises his presence at the foot of the precipice by a shot? I have
seen him wandering round with a gun," he said joking.
She answered in the same tone: "Of course, Cousin," but she did not look
No, thought Raisky to himself, she could not have taken for her idol a
wandering, ragged gipsy like that. Then he wondered whether the
possibility could be entirely excluded, since passion wanders where he
lists, and not in obedience to the convictions and dictates of man. He
is invincible, and master of his own inexplicable moods. But Vera had
never had any opportunity of meeting Mark, he concluded, and was merely
afraid of him as every one else was.
Leonti's condition was unchanged. He wandered about like a drunken man,
silent and listening for the noise of any carriage in the street, when
he would rush to the window to look if it bore his fugitive wife.
He would come to them in a few weeks, he said, after Marfinka's wedding,
as Vera suggested. Then he became aware of Vera's presence.
"Vera Vassilievna!" he cried in surprise, staring at her as he addressed
Raisky. "Do you know, Boris Pavlovich, who else has read your books and
helped me to arrange them?"
"Who has been reading my books?" asked Raisky.
But Leonti had been distracted by the sound of a passing carriage and
did not hear the question. Vera whispered to Raisky that they should go.
"I wanted to say something, Boris Pavlovich," said Leonti thoughtfully,
raising his head, "but I can't remember what."
"You said some one else had been reading my books."
Leonti pointed to Vera, who was looking out of the window, but who now
pulled Raisky's sleeve "Come!" she said and they left the house.
When they reached home Vera made over some of her purchases to her aunt,
and had others taken to her room. She asked Raisky to go out with her
again in the park and down by the Volga.
"Why are you tiring yourself out, Vera?" he asked, as they went. "You
"Air, I must have air!" she exclaimed, turning her face to the wind.
She is collecting all her strength, he thought, as they entered the room
where the family was waiting for them for dinner. In the afternoon he
slept for weariness, and only awoke at twilight, when six o'clock had
already struck. He went to find Vera, but Marina told him she had gone
to vespers, she did not know whether in the village church on the hill
or in the church on the outskirts of the town. He went to the town
church first, and after studying the faces of all the old women
assembled there, he climbed the hill to the village church. Old people
stood in the corners and by the door, and by a pillar in a dark corner
knelt Vera, with a veil wrapped round her bowed head. He took his stand
near her, behind another pillar, and, engrossed in his thoughts of her
state of mind, watched her intently as she prayed motionless, with her
eyes fixed on the cross. He went sadly into the porch to wait for her,
and there she joined him, putting her hand in his arm without a word.
As they crossed the big meadow into the park he thought of nothing but
the promised explanation. His own intense desire to be freed from his
miserable uncertainty weighed with him less than his duty, as he
conceived it, of shielding her, of illuminating her path with his
experience, and of lending his undivided strength to keep her from
overstepping her moral precipice. Perhaps it was merely a remnant of
pride that prevented her from telling him why she had summoned him and
He could not, and, even if he could, he had not the right to share his
apprehensions with anyone else. Even if he might confide in Tatiana
Markovna, if he spoke to her of his suspicion and his surmises, he was
not clear that it would help matters, for he feared that their aunt's
practical, but old-fashioned wisdom would be shattered on Vera's
obstinacy. Vera possessed the bolder mind, the quicker will. She was
level with contemporary thought, and towered above the society in which
she moved. She must have derived her ideas and her knowledge from some
source accessible to her alone. Though she took pains to conceal her
knowledge, it was betrayed by a chance word, by the mention of a name or
an authority in this or that sphere of learning, and it was betrayed
also in her speech; in the remarkable aptness of the words in which she
clothed her thoughts and feelings. In this matter she held so great an
advantage over Tatiana Markovna that the old lady's efforts in argument
were more likely to be disastrous than not.
Undoubtedly Tatiana Markovna was a wise woman with a correct judgment of
the general phenomena of life. She was a famous housewife, ruling her
little tsardom magnificently; she knew the ways, the vices and the
virtues of mankind as they are set out in the Ten Commandments and the
Gospels, but she knew nothing of the life where the passions rage and
steep everything in their colours. And even if she had known such a
world in her youth it must have been passion divorced from experience,
an unshared passion, or one stifled in its development, not a stormy
drama of love, but rather a lyric tenderness which unfolded and perished
without leaving a trace on her pure life. How could she lend a rescuing
hand to snatch Vera from the precipice, she who had no faith in passion,
but had merely sought to understand facts?
The shots in the depths of the precipice, and Vera's expeditions were
indeed facts, against which Tatiana Markovna might be able to adopt
measures. She might double the watch kept on the property, set men to
watch for the lover, while Vera, shut up in the house, endured
humiliation and a fresh kind of suffering.
Vera would not endure any such rough constraint, and would make her
escape, just as she had fled across the Volga from Raisky. These would
be, in fact, no means at all, for she had outgrown Tatiana Markovna's
circle of experience and morals. No, authority might serve with Marfinka,
but not with the clear-headed, independent Vera.
Such were Raisky's thoughts as he walked silently by Vera's side, no
longer desiring full knowledge for his own sake, but for her salvation.
Perhaps, he thought, he would best gain his end by indirect efforts to
make her betray herself.
"Leonti said," he began, "that you have been reading books out of my
library. Did you read them with him?"
"Sometimes he told me of the contents of certain books; others I read
with the priest, Natasha's husband."
"What books did you read with the priest?"
"For the moment I don't remember, but he read the writings of the
Fathers, for instance, and explained them to Natasha and me, to my great
advantage. We also read with him Voltaire and Spinoza. Why do you
laugh?" she asked, looking at Raisky.
"There seems a remarkable gap between the Fathers and Spinoza and
Voltaire. The EncyclopФdists are also included in my library. Did you
"Nikolai Ivanovich read some to us, and talked about others."
"Did you also occupy yourselves with Feuerbach, with the Socialists and
"Yes, Natasha's husband asked us to copy out passages, which he
indicated by pencil marks."
"What was his object in this?"
"I think he was preparing to publish a refutation."
"Where did you obtain the newer books that are not in my library?
Not the exile," he suggested as she gave no answer, "who lives
here under police supervision, the same man about whom you wrote
to me? But you are not listening."
"Yes, I am. Who gave me the books? Sometimes one person, sometimes
another here in the town."
"Volokov borrowed these books."
"Perhaps so, I had them from professors."
The thought flashed through Raisky's head that there might be other
professors of the same kind as Monsieur Charles. But he merely asked
what were the views of Nikolai Ivanovich on Spinoza and these other
"He says." replied Vera, "that these writings are the efforts of bold
minds to evade the truth; they have beaten out for themselves side paths
which must in the end unite with the main road. He says too, that all
these attempts serve the cause of truth, in that the truth shines out
with greater splendour in the end."
"But he does not tell you where truth lies?"
By way of answer she pointed to the little chapel now in sight.
"And you think he is right?"
"I don't think, I believe. And don't you also believe he is right."
He agreed, and she asked him why, that being so, he had asked her.
"I wanted," he said, "to know your opinion."
"But you have often seen me at prayer," said Vera.
"Yes, but I do not overhear your prayers. Do you pray for the
alleviation of the restless sorrow that afflicts your mind?"
They had reached the chapel, and Vera stood still for a moment. She did
not appear to have heard his question, and she answered only with a deep
sigh. It was growing dark as they retraced their steps, Vera's growing
slower and more uncertain as they approached the old house, where she
stood still and glanced in the direction of the precipice.
"To still the storm I must not go near the precipice, you say-I beg of
you to stand by me, for I am sick and helpless."
"Will not Grandmother know better how to help you, Vera? Confide in her,
a woman, who will perhaps understand your pain."
She shook her head. "I will tell you, Grandmother and you, but not now;
now I cannot. And yet I beg of you not to leave me, not to allow me out
of your sight. If a shot summons me, keep me away from the precipice,
and, if necessary, hold me back by force. Things are as bad as that with
me. That is all you can do for me. That is why I asked you not to go
away, because I felt that my strength is failing, because except you I
have no one to help me, for Grandmother would not understand. Forgive
"You did right, Vera," he replied, deeply moved. "Depend on me. I am
willing to stay here for ever, if that will bring you peace."
"No, in a week's time the shots will cease."
She dried her eyes, and pressed his hand; then with slow, uneven steps,
supporting herself by the balustrade she passed up the steps and into
Two days had passed, and Raisky had had small opportunity of seeing
Vera alone, though she came to dinner and to tea, and spoke of ordinary
things. Raisky turned once more to his novel, or rather to the plan of
it. He visited Leonti, and did not neglect the Governor and other
friends. But in order to keep watch on Vera he wandered about the park
and the garden. Two days were now gone, he thought, since he sat on the
bench by the precipice, but there were still five days of danger.
Marfinka's birthday lay two days' ahead, and on that day Vera would
hardly leave the family circle. On the next Marfinka was to go with her
fiancИ and his mother to Kolchino, and Vera would not be likely to leave
Tatiana Markovna alone. By that time the week would be over and the
threatening clouds dispersed.
After dinner Vera asked him to come over to her in the evening, as she
wished him to undertake a commission for her. When he arrived she
suggested a walk, and, as she chose the direction of the fields he
realised that she wished to go to the chapel, and took the field path
As she crossed the threshold, she looked up at the thoughtful face of
"You have sought more powerful aid than mine," said Raisky. "Moreover,
you will not now go there without me."
She nodded in assent. She seemed to be seeking strength, sympathy and
support from the glance of the Crucified, but His eyes kept their
expression of quiet thought and detachment.
When she turned her eyes from the picture she reiterated, "I will not
go." Raisky read on her face neither prayer nor desire; it wore an
expression of weariness, indifference and submission.
He suggested that they should return, and reminded her that she had a
commission for him.
"Will you take the bouquet-holder that I chose the other week for
Marfinka's birthday to the goldsmith?" she said, handing him her purse.
"I gave him some pearls to set in it, and her name should be engraved.
And could you be up as early as eight o'clock on her birthday?"
"Of course. If necessary, I can stay up all night!"
"I have already spoken to the gardener, who owns the big orangery. Would
you choose me a nice bouquet and send it to me. I have confidence in
"Your confidence in me makes progress, Vera," he laughed. "You already
trust my taste and my honour."
"I would have seen to all this myself," she went on, "but I have not the
Next day Raisky took the bouquet holder, and discussed the arrangement
of the flowers with the gardener. He himself bought for Marfinka an
elegant watch and chain, with two hundred roubles which he borrowed from
Tiet Nikonich, for Tatiana Markovna would not have given him so much
money for the purpose, and would have betrayed the secret. In Tiet
Nikonich's room he found a dressing table decked with muslin and lace,
with a mirror encased in a china frame of flowers and Cupids, a
beautiful specimen of SХvres work.
"Where did you get this treasure?" cried Raisky, who could not take his
eyes from the thing. "What a lovely piece!"
"It is my gift for Marfa Vassilievna," said Tiet Nikonich with his kind
smile. "I am glad it pleases you, for you are a connoisseur. Your liking
for it assures me that the dear birthday child will appreciate it as a
wedding gift. She is a lovely girl, just like these roses. The Cupids
will smile when they see her charming face in the mirror. Please don't
tell Tatiana Markovna of my secret."
"This beautiful piece must have cost over two thousand roubles, and you
cannot possibly have bought it here."
"My Grandfather gave five thousand roubles for it, and it was part of my
Mother's house-furnishing and until now it stood in her bedroom, left
untouched in my birth-place. I had it brought here last month, and to
make sure it should not be broken, six men carried it in alternate
shifts for the whole hundred and fifty versts. I had a new muslin cover
made, but the lace is old; you will notice how yellow it is. Ladies like
these things, although they don't matter to us."
"What will Grandmother say?"
"There will be a storm. I do feel rather uneasy about it, but perhaps
she will forgive me. I may tell you, Boris Pavlovich, that I love both
the girls, as if they were my own daughters. I held them on my knee as
babies, and with Tatiana Markovna gave them their first lessons. I tell
you in confidence that I have also arranged a wedding present for Vera
Vassilievna which I hope she will like when the time comes." He showed
Raisky a magnificent antique silver dinner service of fine workmanship
for twelve persons. "I may confess to you, as you are her cousin, that
in agreement with Tatiana Markovna I have a splendid and a rich marriage
in view for her, for whom nothing can be too good. The finest
_partie_ in this neighbourhood," he said in a confidential tone,
"is Ivan Ivanovich Tushin, who is absolutely devoted to her, as he well
Raisky repressed a sigh and went home where he found Vikentev and his
mother, who had arrived for Marfinka's birthday, with Paulina Karpovna
and other guests from the town, who stayed until nearly seven o'clock.
Tatiana Markovna and Marfa Egorovna carried on an interminable
conversation about Marfinka's trousseau and house furnishing. The lovers
went into the garden, and from there to the village. Vikentev carrying a
parcel which he threw in the air and caught again as he walked. Marfinka
entered every house, said good-bye to the women, and caressed the
children. In two cases she washed the children's faces, she distributed
calico for shirts and dresses, and told two elder children to whom she
presented shoes that it was time they gave up paddling in the puddles.
"God reward you, our lovely mistress, Angel of God!" cried the women in
every yard as she bade them farewell for a fortnight.
In the evening the house was aglow with light. Tatiana Markovna could
not do enough in honour of her guest and future connexion. She had a
great bed put up in the guest-chamber, that nearly reached to the
ceiling and resembled a catafalque. Marfinka and Vikentev gave full rein
to their gay humour, as they played and sang. Only Raisky's windows were
dark. He had gone out immediately after dinner and had not returned to
The moon illuminated the new house but left the old house in shadow.
There was bustle in the yard, in the kitchen, and in the servants' rooms,
where Marfa Egorovna's coachman and servants were being entertained.
From seven o'clock onwards Vera had sat idle in the dusk by the feeble
light of a candle, her head supported on her hand, leaning over the
table, while with her other hand she turned over the leaves of a book at
which she hardly glanced. She was protected from the cold autumn air
from the open window, by a big white woollen shawl thrown round her
shoulders. She stood up after a time, laid the book on the table, and
went to the window. She looked towards the sky, and then at the
gaily-lighted house opposite. She shivered, and was about to shut the
window when the report of a gun rolled up from the park through the
She shuddered, and seemed to have lost the use of her limbs, then sank
into a chair and bowed her head. When she rose and looked wildly round,
her face had changed. Sheer fright and distress looked from her eyes.
Again and again she passed her hand over her forehead, and sat down at
the table, only to jump up again. She tore the shawl from her shoulders
and threw it on the bed; then with nervous haste she opened and shut the
cupboard; she looked on the divan, on the chairs, for something she
apparently could not find, and then collapsed wearily on her chair.
On the back of the chair hung a wrap, a gift from Tiet Nikonich. She
seized it and threw it over her head, rushed to the wardrobe, hunted in
it with feverish haste, taking out first one coat, then another, until
she had nearly emptied the cupboard and dresses and cloaks lay in a heap
on the floor. At last she found something warm and dark, put out the
light, and went noiselessly down the steps into the open. She crossed
the yard, hidden in the shadows, and took her way along the dark avenue.
She did not walk, she flew; and when she crossed the open light patches
her shadow was hardly visible for a moment, as if the moon had not time
to catch the flying figure.
When she reached the end of the avenue, by the ditch which divided the
garden from the park, she stopped a moment to get her breath. Then she
crossed the park, hurried through the bushes, past her favourite bench,
and reached the precipice. She picked up her skirts for the descent,
when suddenly, as if he had risen out of the ground, Raisky stood
between her and her goal.
"Where are you going, Vera?"
There was no answer.
"Go back," he said, offering his hand, but she tried to push past him.
"Vera, where are you going?"
"It is for the last time." she said in a pleading, shamed whisper. "I
must say good-bye. Make way for me, Cousin! I will return in a moment.
Wait for me here, on this bench."
Without replying, he took her firmly by the hand, and she struggled in
vain to free herself.
"Let me go! You are hurting me!"
But he did not give way, and the struggle proceeded.
"You will not hold me by force," she cried, and with unnatural strength
freed herself, and sought to dash past him.
But he put his arm round her waist, took her to the bench, and sat down
"How rough and rude!" she cried.
"I cannot hold you back by force, Vera. I may be saving you from ruin."
"Can I be ruined against my own will?"
"It is against your will; yet you go to your ruin."
"There is no question of ruin. We must see one another again in order to
"It is not necessary to see one another in order to separate."
"I must, and will. An hour or a day later, it is all the same. You may
call the servants, the whole town, a file of soldiers, but no power will
keep me back."
A second shot resounded.
She pulled herself up, but was pressed down on the bench with the weight
of Raisky's hands. She shook her head wildly in powerless rage.
"What reward do you hope from me for this virtuous deed?" she hissed.
He said nothing, but kept a watchful eye on her movements. After a time
she besought him gently: "Let me go, Cousin," but he refused.
"Cousin," she said, laying her hand gently on his shoulder. "Imagine
that you sat upon hot coals, and were dying every minute of terror, and
of wild impatience, that happiness rose before you, stretching out
enticing arms, only to vanish, that your whole being rose to meet it;
imagine that you saw before you a last hope, a last glimmer. That is how
it is with me at this moment. The moment will be lost, and with it
"Think, Vera, if in the hot thirst of fever you ask for ice, it is
denied you. In your soberer moments yesterday you pointed out to me the
practical means of rescue, you said I was not to let you go, and I will
She fell on her knees before him, and wrung her hands.
"I should curse you my whole life long for your violence. Give way.
Perhaps it is my destiny that calls me."
"I was a witness yesterday, Vera, of where you seek your fate. You
believe in a Providence, and there is no other destiny."
"Yes," she answered submissively. "I do believe. There before the sacred
picture I sought for a spark to lighten my path, but in vain. What shall
I do?" she said, rising.
"Do not go, Vera."
"Perhaps it is my destiny that sends me there, there where my presence
may be needed. Don't try any longer to keep me, for I have made up my
mind. My weakness is gone, and I have recovered control of myself and
feel I am strong. It is not my destiny alone, but the destiny of another
human being that is to be decided down there. Between me and him you are
digging an abyss, and the responsibility will rest upon you. I shall
never be consoled, and shall accuse you of having destroyed our
happiness. Do not hold me back. You can only do it out of egoism, out of
jealousy. You lied when you spoke to me of freedom."
"I hear the voice of passion, Vera, with all its sophistry and its
deviations. You are practising the arts of a Jesuit. Remember that you
yourself bade me, only yesterday, not to leave you. Will you curse me
for not yielding to you? On whom does the responsibility rest? Tell me
who the man is?"
"If I tell you will you promise not to keep me back?" she said quickly.
"I don't know. Perhaps."
"Give me your word not to keep me any longer, and I give the name."
Another shot rang out.
She sprang to one side, before he had time to take her by the hand.
"Go to Grandmother," he commanded, adding gently, "Tell her your
"For Christ's sake let me go. I ask for alms like a beggar. I must be
free! I take him to whom I prayed yesterday to witness that I am going
for the last time. Do you hear? I will not break my oath. Wait here for
me. I will return immediately, will only say farewell to the 'Wolf,'
will hear a word from him, and perhaps he will yield!" She rushed
forward, fell to the ground in her haste, and tried in vain to rise. Tom
by an unutterable pity, Raisky took no heed of his own suffering, but
raised her in his arms and bore her down the precipice.
"The path is so steep here that you would fall again," he whispered.
Presently he set her down on the path, and she stooped to kiss his hand.
"You are generous, Cousin. Vera will not forget."
With that she hurried into the thicket, jubilant as a bird set free from
Raisky heard the rustle of the bushes as she pushed them aside, and the
crackle of the dry twigs.
In the half-ruined arbour waited Mark, with gun and cap laid upon the
table. He walked up and down on the shaky floor, and whenever he trod on
one end of a board the other rose in the air, and then fell clattering
"The devil's music!" he murmured angrily, sat down on a bench near the
table, and pushed his hands through his thick hair. He smoked one
cigarette after another, the burning match lighting up his pale,
agitated face for a moment. After each shot he listened for a few
minutes, went out on the steps, and looked out into the bushes. When he
returned he walked up and down, raising the "devil's music" once more,
threw himself on the bench, and ran his hands through his hair. After
the third shot he listened long and earnestly. As he heard nothing he
was on the point of going away. To relieve his gloomy feelings he
murmured a curse between his teeth, took the gun and prepared to descend
the path. He hesitated a few moments longer, then walked off with
decision. Suddenly he met Vera.
She stood still, breathing with difficulty, and laid her hand on her
heart. As soon as he took her hand she was calm. Mark could not conceal
his joy, but his words of greeting did not betray it.
"You used to be punctual, Vera," he said, "and I used not to have to
waste three shots."
"A reproach instead of a welcome!" she said, drawing her hand away.
"It's only by way of beginning a conversation Happiness makes a fool of
me, like Raisky."
"If happiness gleamed before us, we should not be meeting in secret by
this precipice," she said, drawing a long breath.
"We should be sitting at your Grandmother's tea-table, and waiting till
someone arranged our betrothal. Why dream of these impossible things.
Your Grandmother would not give you to me."
"She would. She does what I wish. That is not the hindrance."
"You are starting on this endless polemic again, Vera. We are meeting
for the last time, as you determined we should. Let us make an end of
"I took an oath never to come here again."
"Meanwhile, the time is precious. We are parting for ever, if stupidity
commands, if your Grandmother's antiquated convictions separate us. I
leave here a week from now. As you know the document assuring my freedom
has arrived. Let us be together, and not be separated again."
"Never!" he repeated angrily, with a gesture of impatience. "What lying
words those are, 'never' and 'always.' Of course 'never.' Does not a
year, perhaps two, three years, mean never? You want a never ending
tenderness. Does such a thing exist?"
"Enough, Mark! I have heard enough of this temporary affection. Ah! I am
very unhappy. The separation from you is not the only cloud over my soul.
For a year now I have been hiding myself from my Grandmother, which
oppresses me, and her still more. I hoped that in these days my trouble
would end; we should put our thoughts, our hopes, our intentions on a
clear footing. Then I would go to Grandmother and say: 'This is what I
have chosen for my whole life.' But it is not to be, and we are to
part?" she asked sadly.
"If I conceived myself to be an angel," said Mark, "I might say 'for our
whole lives,' and you would be justified. That gray-headed dreamer,
Raisky, also thinks that women are created for a higher purpose."
"They are created above all for the family. They are not angels, neither
are they, most certainly, mere animals. I am no wolf's mate, Mark, but a
"For the family, yes. But is that any hindrance for us. You want
draperies, for fine feeling, sympathies and the rest of the stuff are
nothing but draperies, like those famous leaves with which, it is said,
human beings covered themselves in Paradise."
"Yes, Mark, human beings!"
Mark smiled sarcastically, and shrugged his shoulders.
"They may be draperies," continued Vera, "but they also, according to
your own teaching, are given by nature. What, I ask, is it that attaches
you to me? You say you love me. You have altered, grown thinner. Is it
not, by your conception of love, a matter of indifference whether you
choose a companion in me, or from the poor quarter of our town, or from
a village on the Volga. What has induced you to come down here for a
"Examine your own fallacy, Vera," he said, looking at her gloomily.
"Love is not a concept merely, but a driving force, a necessity, and
therefore is mostly blind. But I am not blindly chained to you. Your
extraordinary beauty, your intellect and your free outlook hold me
longer in thrall than would be possible with any other woman."
"Very flattering!" she said in a low, pained voice.
"These ideas of yours, Vera, will bring us to disaster. But for them we
should for long have been united and happy."
"Happy for a time. And then a new driving force will appear on the scene,
the stage will be cleared, and so on."
"The responsibility is not ours. Nature has ordered it so, and rightly.
Can we alter Nature, in order to live on concepts?"
"These concepts are essential principles. You have said yourself that
Nature has her laws, and human beings their principles."
"That is where the germ of disintegration lies, in that men want to
formulate principles from the driving force of Nature, and thus to
hamper themselves hand and foot. Love is happiness, which Nature has
conferred on man. That is my view."
"The happiness of which you speak," said Vera, rising, "has as its
complement, duty. That is my view."
"How fantastic! Forget your duty, Vera, and acquiesce in the fact that
love is a driving force of Nature, often an uncontrollable one." Then
standing up to her embraced her, saying, "Is that not so, you most
obstinate, beautiful and wisest of women?"
"Yes, duty," she said haughtily, disengaging herself. "For the years of
happiness retribution will be exacted."
"How? In making soup, nursing one another, looking at one another and
pretending, in harping on principles, as we ourselves fade? If one half
falls ill and retrogresses, shall the other who is strong, who hears the
call of life, allow himself to be held back by duty?"
"Yes. In that case he must not listen to the calls that come to him; he
must, to use Grandmother's expression, avoid the voice as he would the
brandy bottle. That is how I understand happiness."
"Your case must be a bad one if it has to be bolstered up by quotations
from your Grandmother's wisdom. Tell me how firmly your principles are
"I will go to her to-day direct from here."
"To tell her what?"
"To tell her what there is between us, all that she does not know," she
said, sitting down on the bench again.
"You don't understand, because you don't know what duty means. I have
been guilty before her for a long time."
"That is the morality which smothers life with mould and dulness. Vera,
Vera, you don't love, you do not know how!"
"You ought not to speak like that, unless you wish to drive me to
despair. Am I to think that there is deception in your past, that you
want to ruin me when you do not love me?"
"No, no, Vera," he said, rising hastily to his feet. "If I had wanted to
deceive you I could have done so long ago."
"What a desperate war you wage against yourself, Mark, and how you ruin
your own life!" she cried, wringing her hands.
"Let us cease to quarrel, Vera. Your Grandmother speaks through you, but
with another voice. That was all very well once, but now we are in the
flood of another life where neither authority nor preconceived ideas
will help us, where truth alone asserts her power."
"Where is truth?"
"In happiness, in the joy of love. And I love you. Why do you torture me.
Why do you fight against me and against yourself, and make two victims?"
"It is a strange reproach. Look at me. It is only a few days since we
saw one another, and have I not changed?"
"I see that you suffer, and that makes it the more senseless. Now, I too
ask what has induced you to come down here for all this time?"
"Because I had not earlier realised the horror of my position, you will
say," she said, with a look that was almost hostile. "We might have
asked one another this question, and made this reproach, long ago, and
might have ceased to meet here. Better late than never! To-day we must
answer the question, What is it that we wanted and expected from one
"Here is my irrefragable opinion-I want your love, and I give you mine.
In love I recognise solely the principle of reciprocation, as it obtains
in Nature. The law that I acknowledge is to follow unfettered our strong
impression, to exchange happiness for happiness. This answers your
question of why I came here. Is sacrifice necessary? Call it what you
will there is no sacrifice in my scheme of life. I will no longer wander
in this morass, and don't understand how I have wasted my strength so
long, certainly not for your sake, but essentially for my own. Here I
will stay so long as I am happy, so long as I love. If my love grows
cold, I shall tell you so, and go wherever Life leads me, without taking
any baggage of duties and privileges with me; those I leave here in the
depths below the precipice. You see, Vera, I don't deceive you, but
speak frankly. Naturally you possess the same rights as I. The mob above
there lies to itself and others, and calls these his principles. But in
secret and by cunning it acts in the same way, and only lays its ban on
the women. Between us there must be equality. Is that fair or not?"
"Sophistry!" she said, shaking her head. "You know my principles, Mark."
"To hang like stones round one another's necks."
"Love imposes duties, just as life demands them. If you had an old,
blind mother you would maintain and support her, would remain by her. An
honourable man holds it to be his duty and his pleasure too."
"You philosophise, Vera, but you do not love."
"You avoid my argument, Mark. I speak my opinion plainly, for I am a
woman, not an animal, or a machine."
"Your love is the fantastic, elaborate type described in novels. Is what
you ask of me honourable? Against my convictions I am to go into a
church, to submit to a ceremony which has no meaning for me. I don't
believe any of it and can't endure the parson. Should I be acting
logically or honourably?"
Vera hastily wrapped herself in her mantilla, and stood up to go.
"We met, Mark, to remove all the obstacles that stand in the way of our
happiness, but instead of that we are increasing them. You handle
roughly things that are sacred to me. Why did you call me here? I
thought you had surrendered, that we should take one another's hands for
ever. Every time I have taken the path down the cliff it has been in
this hope, and in the end I am disappointed. Do you know, Mark, where
true life lies?"
"In the heart of a loving woman. To be the friend of such a woman...."
Tears stifled her voice, but through her sobs she whispered: "I cannot,
Mark. Neither my intellect nor my strength are sufficient to dispute
with you. My weapon is weak, and has no value except that I have drawn
it from the armoury of a quiet life, not from books or hearsay. I had
thought to conquer you with other weapons. Do you remember how all this
began?" she said, sitting down once more. "At first I was sorry for you.
You were here alone, with no one to understand you, and everyone fled at
the sight of you. I was drawn to you by sympathy, and saw something
strange and undisciplined in you. You had no care for propriety, you
were incautious in speech, you played rashly with life, cared for no
human being, had no faith of your own, and sought to win disciples. From
curiosity I followed your steps, allowed you to meet me, took books from
you. I recognised in you intellect and strength, but strangely mixed and
directed away from life. Then, to my sorrow, I imagined that I could
teach you to value life, I wanted you to live so that you should be
higher and better than anyone else, I quarrelled with you over your
undisciplined way of living. You submitted to my influence, and I
submitted to yours, to your intellect, your audacity, and even adopted
part of your sophistry."
"But you soon," put in Mark, "retraced your steps, and were seized with
fear of your Grandmother. Why did you not leave me when you first became
aware of my sophistry? Sophistry!"
"It was too late, for I had already taken your fate too intimately to
heart. I believed with all possible ardour that you would for my sake
comprehend life, that you would cease to wander about to your own injury
and without advantage to anyone else, that you would accept a
substantial position of some kind...."
"Vice-governor, Councillor or something of the kind," he mocked.
"What's in the name? Yes, I thought that you would show yourself a man
of action in a wide sphere of influence."
"As a well-disposed subject and as jack of all trades, and what else?"
"My lifelong friend. I let my hopes of you take hold on me, and was
carried away by them, and what are my gains in the terrible conflict?
One only, that you flee from love, from happiness, from life, and from
your Vera." She drew closer to him and touched his shoulder. "Don't fly
from us, Mark. Look in my eyes, listen to my voice, which speaks with
the voice of truth. Let us go to-morrow up the hill into the garden, and
to-morrow there will be no happier pair than we are. You love me, Mark.
Mark, do you hear? Look at me."
She stooped, and looked into his eyes.
He got sharply to his feet, and shook his mass of hair.
Vera took up her black mantilla once more, but her hands refused to obey
her, and the mantilla fell on the floor. She took a step towards the
door, but sank down again on the bench. Where could she find strength to
hold him, when she had not even strength to leave the arbour, she
wondered. And even if she could hold him, what would be the consequences?
Not one life, but two separate lives, two prisons, divided by a grating.
"We are both brusque and strong, Vera; that is why we torture one
another, why we are separating."
"If I were strong, you would not leave Malinovka; you would ascend the
hill with me, not clandestinely, but boldly by my side. Come and share
life and happiness with me. It is impossible that you should not trust
me, impossible that you are insincere, for that would be a crime. What
shall I do? How shall I bring home to you the truth?"
"You would have to be stronger than I, but we are of equal strength.
That is why we dispute and are not of one mind. We must separate without
bringing our struggle to an issue, one must submit to the other. I could
take forcible possession of you as I could of any other woman. But what
in another woman is prudery, or petty fear, or stupidity, is in you
strength and womanly determination. The mist that divided us is
dispersed; we have made our position clear. Nature has endued you with a
powerful weapon, Vera. The antiquated ideas, morality, duty, principles,
and faiths that do not exist for me are firmly established with you. You
are not easily carried away, you put up a desperate fight and will only
confess yourself conquered under terms of equality with your opponent.
You are wrong, for it is a kind of theft. You ask to be conquered, and
to carry off all the spoils! I, Vera, cannot give everything, but I
Vera gave him a glance in which there was a trace of pride, but her
heart beat with the pain of parting. His words were a model of what a
farewell should be.
"We have gone to