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Гончаров Иван Александрович - The Precipice, Страница 8

Гончаров Иван Александрович - The Precipice


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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 air. "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 me." 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 silk. "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 independence." "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 indifference. "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 courage."_ 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 shivered. "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 at him. 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 are weak." "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 detained him. 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 read them?" "Nikolai Ivanovich read some to us, and talked about others." "Did you also occupy yourselves with Feuerbach, with the Socialists and the Materialists?" "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 writers. "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 me." "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 the house. CHAPTER XXII 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 accordingly. As she crossed the threshold, she looked up at the thoughtful face of the Christ. "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 taste." "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 strength." 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 may be." 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. CHAPTER XXIII 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 tea. 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 quiet dusk. 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 beside her. "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 separate." "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 everything else." "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 not." 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 trouble." "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 his cage. 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 back again. "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 this torture." "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?" "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 woman." "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 whole year?" "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 rooted." "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. "Why?" "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 another?" "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?" "Where?" "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 respect you." 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

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