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Гончаров Иван Александрович - The Precipice, Страница 9

Гончаров Иван Александрович - The Precipice

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the bottom of the matter," said Mark dully, "and I leave the decision in your hands." He went to the other side of the arbour, keeping his eyes fixed upon her. "I am not deceiving you even now, in this decisive moment, when my head is giddy-I cannot. I do not promise you an unending love, because I do not believe in such a thing. I will not be your betrothed. But I love you more than anything else in the world. If, after all I have told you, you come to my arms, it means that you love me, that you are mine." She looked across at him with wide open eyes, and felt that her whole body was trembling. A doubt shot through her mind. Was he a Jesuit, or was the man who brought her into this dangerous dilemma in reality of unbending honour? "Yours for ever?" she said in a low voice. If he said, "yes," it would, she knew, be a bridge for the moment to help her over the abyss that divided them, but that afterwards she would be plunged into the abyss. She was afraid of him. Mark was painfully agitated, but he answered in a subdued tone, "I do not know. I only know what I am doing now, and do not see even into the near future. Neither can you. Let us give love for love, and I remain here, quieter than the waters of the pool, humbler than grass. I will do what you will, and what do you ask more. Or," he added suddenly, coming nearer, "we will leave this place altogether...." In a lightning flash the wide world seemed to smile before her, as if the gates of Paradise were open. She threw herself in Mark's arms and laid her hand on his shoulder. If she went away into the far distance with him, she thought, he could not tear himself from her, and once alone with her he must realise that life was only life in her presence. "Will you decide!" he asked seriously. She said nothing, but bowed her head. "Or do you fear your Grandmother?" The last words brought her to her senses, and she stepped back. "If I do not decide," she whispered, "it is only because I fear her." "The old lady would not let you go." "She would let me go, and would give me her blessing, but she herself would die of grief. That is what I fear. To go away together," she said dreamily, "and what then?" She looked up at him searchingly. "And then? How can I know, Vera?" "You will suddenly be driven from me; you will go and leave me, as if I were merely a log?" "Why a log? We could separate as friends." "Separation! Do the ideas of love and separation exist side by side in your mind? They are extremes which should never meet. Separation must only come with death. Farewell, Mark! You can never promise me the happiness that I seek. All is at an end. Farewell!" "Farewell, Vera!" he said in a voice quite unlike his own. Both were pale, and avoided one another's eyes. In the white moonlight that gleamed through the trees Vera sought her mantilla, and grasped the gun instead. At last she found the mantilla, but could not put it on her shoulders. Mark helped her mechanically, but left his own belongings behind. They went silently up the path, with slow and hesitating steps, as if each expected something from the other, both of them occupied with the same mental effort to find a pretext for delay. They came at last to the spot where Mark's way lay across a low fence, and hers by the winding path through the bushes up to the park. Vera stood still. She seemed to see the events of her whole life pass before her in quick succession, but saw none filled with bitterness like the present. Her eyes filled with tears. She felt a violent impulse to look round once more, to see him once more, to measure with her eyes the extent of her loss, and then to hurry on again. But however great her sorrow for her wrecked happiness she dare not look round, for she knew it would be equivalent to saying Yes to destiny. She took a few steps up the path. Mark strode fiercely away towards the hedge, like a wild beast baulked of his prey. He had not lied when he said that he esteemed Vera, but it was an esteem wrung from him against his will, the esteem of the soldier for a brave enemy. He cursed the old-fashioned ideas which had enchained her free and vivacious spirit. His suffering was the suffering of despair; he was in the mood of a madman who would shatter a treasure of which the possession was denied him, in order that no one else might possess it. He was ready to spring, and could hardly restrain himself from laying violent hands on Vera. By his own confession to her he would have treated any other woman so, but not Vera. Then the conviction gnawed at his heart that for the sake of the woman who was now escaping him he was neglecting his "mission." His pride suffered unspeakably by the confession of his own powerlessness. He admitted that the beautiful statue filled with the breath of life had character; she acted in accordance with her own proud will, not by the influence of outside suggestion. His new conception of truth did not subdue her strong, healthy temperament; it rather induced her to submit it to a minute analysis and to stick closer to her own conception of the truth. And now she was going, and as the traces of her footsteps would vanish, so all that had passed between them would be lost. And with her went all the charm and glory of life, never to return. He stamped his feet with rage and swung himself on to the fence. He would cast one glance in her direction to see if the haughty creature was really going. "One more glance," thought Vera. She turned, and shuddered to see Mark sitting on the fence and gazing at her. "Farewell, Mark," she cried, in a voice trembling with despair. From his throat there issued a low, wild cry of triumph. In a moment he was by her side, with victory and the conviction of her surrender in his heart. "Vera!" "You have come back, for always? You have at last understood. What happiness! God forgive...." She did not complete her sentence, for she lay wrapt in his embrace, her sobs quenched by his kisses. He raised her in his arms, and like a wild animal carrying off his prey, ran with her back to the arbour. God forgive her for having turned back. CHAPTER XXIV Raisky lay on the grass at the top of the cliff for a long time in gloomy meditation, groaning over the penalty he must pay for his generosity, suffering alike for himself and Vera. "Perhaps she is laughing at my folly, down there with him. Who is there?" he cried aloud, stung with rage. "I will have his name." He saw himself merely as a shield to cover her passion. He sprang up wildly, and hurried down the precipice, tearing his clothes in the bushes and listening in vain for a suspicious rustling. He told himself that it was an evil thing to pry into another's secret; it was robbery. He stood still a moment to wipe the sweat from his brow, but his sufferings overcame his scruples. He felt his way stealthily forward, cursing every broken branch that cracked under his feet, and unconscious of the blows he received on his face from the rebounding branches as he forced his way through. He threw himself on the ground to regain his breath, then in order not to betray his presence crept along, digging his nails into the ground as he went. When he reached the suicide's grave he halted, uncertain which way to follow, and at length made for the arbour, listening and searching the ground as he went. Meanwhile everything was going on as usual in Tatiana Markovna's household. After supper the company sat yawning in the hall, Tiet Nikonich alone being indefatigable in his attentions, shuffling his foot when he made a polite remark, and looking at each lady as if he were ready to sacrifice everything for her sake. "Where is Monsieur Boris?" inquired Paulina Karpovna, addressing Tatiana Markovna. "Probably he is paying a visit in the town. He never says where he spends his time, so that I never know where to send the carriage for him." Inquiries made of Yakob revealed the fact that he had been in the garden up to a late hour. Vera was not in the house when she was summoned to tea. She had left word that they were not to keep supper for her, and that she would send across for some if she were hungry. No one but Raisky had seen her go. Tatiana Markovna sighed over their perversity, to be wandering about at such hours, in such cold weather. "I will go into the garden," said Paulina Karpovna. "Perhaps Monsieur Boris is not far away. He will be delighted to see me. I noticed," she continued confidentially, "that he had something to say to me. He could not have known I was here." Marfinka whispered to Vikentev that he did know, and had gone out on that account. "I will go, Marfa Vassilievna, and hide behind a bush, imitate Boris Pavlovich's voice and make her a declaration," suggested Vikentev. "Stay here, Nikolai Andreevich. Paulina Karpovna might be frightened and faint. Then you would have to reckon with Grandmother." "I am going into the garden for a moment to fetch the fugitive," said Paulina Karpovna. "God be with you, Paulina Karpovna," said Tatiana Markovna. "Don't put your nose outside in the darkness, or at any rate take Egorka with you to carry a lantern." "No, I will go alone. It is not necessary for anyone to disturb us." "You ought not," intervened Tiet Nikonich politely, "to go out after eight o'clock on these damp nights. I would not have ventured to detain you, but a physician from DЭsseldorf on the Rhine, whose book I am now reading and can lend you if you like, and who gives excellent advice, says...." Paulina Karpovna interrupted him by asking him if he would see her home, and then went into the garden before he could resume his remarks. He agreed to her request and shut the door after her. Soon after Paulina Karpovna's exit there was a rustling and crackling on the precipice, and Raisky wearing the aspect of a restless, wounded animal, appeared out of the darkness. He sat for several minutes motionless on Vera's favourite bench, covering his eyes with his hands. Was it dream or reality, he asked himself. He must have been mistaken. Such a thing could not be. He stood up, then sat down again to listen. With his hands lying listlessly on his knees, he broke into laughter over his doubts, his questionings, his secret. Again he had an access of terrible laughter. Vera-and _he_. The cloak which he himself had sent to the "exile" lay near the arbour. The rogue had been clever enough to get two hundred and twenty roubles for the settlement of his wager, and the earlier eighty in addition. Sekleteia Burdalakov! Again he laughed with a laugh very near a groan. Suddenly he stopped, and put his hand to his side, seized with a sudden consciousness of pain. Vera was free, but he told himself she had dared to mock another fellow human being who had been rash enough to love her; she had mocked her friend. His soul cried for revenge. He sprang up intent on revenge, but was checked by the question of how to avenge himself. To bring Tatiana Markovna, with lanterns, and a crowd of servants and to expose the scandal in a glare of light; to say to her, "Here is the serpent you have carried for two and twenty years in your bosom"-that would be a vulgar revenge of which he knew himself to be incapable. Such a revenge would hit, not Vera, but his aunt, who was to him like his mother. His head drooped for a moment; then he rose and hurried like a madman down the precipice once more. There in the depths passion was holding her festival, night drew her curtain over the song of love, love ... with Mark. If she had surrendered to another lover, to the tall, handsome Tushin, the owner of land, lake, and forest, and the Olympian tamer of horses.... He could hardly breathe. Against his will there rose before him, from the depths of the precipice, the vision of Vera's figure, glorified with a seductive beauty that he had never yet seen in her, and though he was devoured by agony he could not take his eyes from the vision. At her feet, like a lion at rest, lay Mark, with triumph on his face. Her foot rested on his head. Horror seized him, and drove him onward, to destroy and mar the vision. He seemed to hear in the air the flattering words, the songs and the sighs of passion; the vision became fainter, mist-enshrouded, and finally vanished into air, but the rage for revenge remained. Everywhere was stillness and darkness, as he climbed the hill once more, but when he reached Vera's bench he saw a human shadow. "Who is there?" he cried. "Monsieur Boris, it is I, Paulina." "You, what are you doing here?" "I came, because I knew, I knew that you have long had something to say to me, but have hesitated. Du courage. There is no one to see or hear us. _EspИrez tout...._" "What do you want? Speak out." _"Que vous m'aimez._ I have known it for a long time. _Vous m'avez fui, mais la passion vous a ramenИ ici...._" He seized her roughly by the hand, and pushed her to the edge of the precipice. "Ah, _de grАce. Mais pas si brusquement ... qu'est-ce que vous faites ... mais laissez donc,_" she groaned. Her anxiety was not altogether groundless, for she stood on the edge of an abrupt fall of the ground, and he grasped her hand more determinedly. "You want love," he cried to the terrified woman. "Listen, to-night is love's night. Do you hear the sighs, the kisses, the breath of passion?" "Let me go! Let me go! I shall fall." "Away from here," he cried, loosening his grasp and drawing a deep breath. Like a madman he ran across the garden and the flower garden into the yard, where Egorka was washing his hands and face at the spring. "Bring my trunk," he cried. "I am going to St. Petersburg in the morning." He ran water over his hands and washed his face and eyes before he turned to go to his room. He could not stay within the four walls of his chamber. He went out again and again, unprotected against the cold, to look at Vera's window. It was hardly possible to see ten paces ahead in the darkness. He went to the acacia arbour to watch for Vera's return, and was furious because he could not conceal himself there, now that the leaves had fallen. He sat there in torture until morning dawned, not from passion, which had been drowned in that night's experiences. What passion would stand such a shock as this? But he had an unconquerable desire to look Vera in the face, this new Vera, and with one glance of scorn to show her the shame, the affront she had put on him, on their aunt, on the whole household, on their society, on womanhood itself. He awaited her return in a fever of impatience. Suddenly he sprang up with an evil look of triumph on his face. "Fate has given me the idea," he thought. He found the gates still locked, but there was a lamp before the ikon in Savili's room, and he ordered him to let him out and to leave the gates unlocked. He took from his room the bouquet holder and hastened to the orangery to the gardener. He had to wait a long time before it opened. The light grew stronger. When he looked over at the trees in the orangery, an evil smile again crossed his face. The gardener was arranging Marfinka's bouquet. "I want another bouquet," said Raisky unsteadily. "One like this?" "No, only orange blossoms," he whispered, turning paler as he spoke. "Right, Sir," said the gardener, recalling that one of Tatiana Markovna's young ladies was betrothed. "I am thirsty," said Raisky. "Give me a glass of water." He drank the water greedily, and hurried the gardener on. When the second bouquet was ready he paid lavishly. He returned to the house cautiously, carrying the two bouquets. As he did not know whether Vera had returned in his absence, he had Marina called, and sent her to see if her mistress was at home or had already gone out walking. On hearing she was out he ordered Marfinka's bouquet to be put on Vera's table and the window to be opened. Then he dismissed Marina, and returned to the acacia arbour. Passion and jealousy set loose raged unchecked, and when pity raised her head she was quenched by the torturing, overmastering feeling of outrage. He suppressed the low voice of sympathy, and his better self was silent. He was shuddering, conscious that poison flowed in his veins, the poison of lies and deception. "I must either shoot this dog Mark, or myself," he thought. He held the bouquet of orange-blossoms in his two hands, like a sacred thing, and drank in its beauty with a wild delight. Then he fixed his eyes on the dark avenue, but she did not come. Broad daylight came, a fine rain began to fall and made the paths sodden. At last Vera appeared in the distance. His heart beat faster, and his knees trembled so that he had to steady himself by the bench to keep from falling. She came slowly nearer, with her bowed head wrapped in a dark mantilla, held in place over her breast by her pale hands, and walked into the porch without seeing him. Raisky sprang from his place of observation, and hid himself under her window. She entered her room in a dream, without noticing that her clothes which she had flung on the floor when she went out had been put back again, and without observing the bouquet on the table or the opened window. Mechanically she threw aside her mantilla, and changed her muddy shoes for satin slippers; then she sank down on the divan, and closed her eyes. After a brief minute she was awakened from her dream by the thud of something falling on the floor. She opened her eyes and saw on the floor a great sheaf of orange blossoms, which had plainly been thrown through the window. Pale as death, and without picking up the flowers, she hurried to the window. She saw Raisky, as he went away, and stood transfixed. He looked round, and their eyes met. She was seized by pain so sharp that she could hardly breathe, and stepped back. Then she saw the bouquet intended for Marfinka on the table. She picked it up, half unconsciously, to press it to her face, but it slipped from her hands, and she herself fell unconscious on the floor. CHAPTER XXV At ten o'clock the big bell in the village church began to sound for Mass. Tatiana Markovna's household was full of stir and bustle. The horses were being harnessed to the calХche and to an old fashioned carriage. The coachmen, already drunk, donned their new dark blue caftans, and their hair shone with grease. The women servants made a gay picture in their many coloured cotton dresses, head and neck kerchiefs, and the maids employed in the house diffused a scent of cloves within a ten yards radius. The cooks had donned their white caps in the early morning, and had been incessantly busy in the preparation of the breakfast, dinner and supper to be served to the family and their guests, the kitchen, and the servants the visitors brought with them. Tatiana Markovna had begun to make her toilet at eight o'clock, as soon as she had given her orders; she descended to the hall to greet her guests with the reserved dignity of a great lady, and the gentle smile of a happy mother and a hospitable hostess. She had set a small simple cap on her grey hair; the light brown silk dress that Raisky had brought from St. Petersburg suited her well, and round her neck she wore beautiful old lace; the Turkish shawl lay on the arm-chair in her room. Now she was preparing to drive to Mass, and walked slowly up and down the hall with crossed hands, awaiting the assembly of the household. She hardly noticed the bustle around her, as the servants went hither and thither, sweeping the carpets, cleaning the lamps, dusting the mirrors, and taking the covers from the furniture. She went first to one window and then to the other, looking out meditatively on the road, the garden and the courtyards. Vikentev's mother was dressed in pearl grey with dark lace trimmings. Vikentev himself had been in his dress coat and white gloves from eight o'clock onwards. Tatiana Markovna's pride and joy knew no bounds when Marfinka appeared, radiating gaiety from her bright eyes. While she slept the walls of her two rooms had been decorated with flowers and garlands. She was going to put on her simple blouse when she woke, but instead there lay on the chair by her bed a morning gown of lace and muslin with pink ribbons. She had not had time to give vent to her admiration when she saw on two other chairs two lovely dresses, one pink and one blue, for her to make her choice for the gala day. She jumped up, and threw on her new morning gown without waiting to put on her stockings, and when she approached her mirror she found a new surprise in the gifts that lay on her toilet table. She did not know which to look at, or which to take up. First she opened a lovely rosewood casket which contained a complete dressing set, flasks, combs, brushes and endless trifles in glass and silver, with a card bearing the name of her future Mama. Beside it lay cases of different sizes. She threw a quick glance in the mirror, smoothed back her abundant hair from her eyes, seized all the cases in a heap, and sat down on the bed to look at them. She hesitated to open them, and finally began with the smallest, which contained an emerald ring, which she hastily put on her finger. A larger case held earrings which she inserted in her ears and admired in the glass from the bed. There were massive gold bracelets, set with rubies and diamonds, which she also put on. Last of all she opened the largest case, and looked astonished and dazzled at its splendid contents: a chain of strung diamonds, twenty-one to match her years. The accompanying card said: "With this gift I confide to you another, a costly one, my best of friends-myself. Take care of him. Your lover, Vikentev." She laughed, looked round, kissed the card, blushed, sprang from the bed and laid the case in her cupboard, in the box where she kept her bonbons. There was still another case on the table, containing Raisky's gift of a watch, whose enamel cover bore her monogram, and its chain. She looked at it with wide eyes, threw another glance at the other gifts and the garlanded walls, then threw herself on a chair and wept hot tears of joy. "Oh, God!" she sobbed happily. "Why does everyone love me so. I do no good to anyone, and never shall." And so, undressed, without shoes and stockings, but adorned with rings, bracelets, diamond earrings, she tearfully sought her aunt, who caressed and kissed her darling when she heard the cause of her tears. "God loves you, Marfinka, because you love others, because all who see you are infected by your happiness." Marfinka dried her tears. "Nikolai Andreevich loves me, but he is my fiancИ; so does his Mama, but so does my cousin, Boris Pavlovich, and what am I to him?" "The same as you are to everyone. No one can look at you and not be happy; you are modest, pure and good, obedient to your Grandmother. Spendthrift," she murmured in an aside, to hide her pleasure. "Such a costly gift! You shall hear of this, Borushka!" "Grandmother! As if Boris Pavlovich could have guessed it. I have wanted a little enamelled watch like this for a long time." "You haven't asked your Grandmother why she gives you nothing?" Marfinka shut her mouth with a kiss. "Grandmother," she said, "love me always, if you want to make me happy." "With my love I will give you my enduring gift," she said, making the sign of the cross over Marfinka. "So that you shall not forget my blessing," she went on, feeling in her pocket-"You have given me two dresses, Grandmother, but who decorated my room so magnificently?" "Your fiancИ and Paulina Karpovna sent the things yesterday, and kept them out of your sight. Vassilissa and Pashutka hung the garlands up at daybreak. The dresses are part of your trousseau, and there are more to follow." Then taking from its case a gold cross with four large diamonds she hung it round the girl's neck, and gave her a plain, simple bracelet with the inscription: "From Grandmother to her Grandchild," and with the name and the date. Marfinka kissed her aunt's hand, and nearly wept once more. "All that Grandmother has, and she has many things, will be divided between you and Veroshka. Now make haste." "How lovely you are to-day, Grandmother. Cousin is right. Tiet Nikonich will fall in love with you." "Nonsense, chatterbox. Go to Veroshka, and tell her not to be late for Mass. I would have gone myself, but am afraid of the steps." "Directly, Grandmother," cried Marfinka, and hastened to change her dress. Vera lay unconscious for half an hour before she came to herself. The cold wind that streamed through the open window fell on her face, and she sat up to look around her. Then she rose, shut the window, walked unsteadily to the bed, sank down on it, and drawing the cover over herself, lay motionless. Overpowered with weakness she fell into a deep sleep, with her hair loose over the pillow. She slept heavily for about three hours until she was awakened by the noise in the courtyard, the many voices, the creaking of wheels and the sound of bells. She opened her eyes, looked round, and listened. There was a light knock at the door, but Vera did not stir. There was a louder knock, but she remained motionless. At the third she got up, glanced in the glass, and was terrified by the sight of her own face. She pushed her hair into order, threw a shawl over her shoulders, picked up Marfinka's bouquet from the floor, and laid it on the table. There was another knock and she opened the door. Marfinka, gay and lovely, gleaming like a rainbow in her pretty clothes, flew into the room. When she saw her sister she stood still in amazement. "What is the matter with you, Veroshka? Aren't you well?" "Not quite. I offer you my congratulations." The sisters kissed one another. "How lovely you are, and how beautifully dressed!" said Vera, making a faint attempt to smile. Her lips framed one, but her eyes were like the eyes of a corpse that no one has remembered to close. But she felt she must control herself, and hastened to present Marfinka with the bouquet. "What a lovely bouquet! And what is this?" asked Marfinka as she felt a hard substance, and discovered the holder set with her name and the pearls. "You, too, Veroshka! How is it you all love me so? I love you all, how I love you! But how and when you found out that I did, I cannot think." Vera was not capable of answering, but she caressed Marfinka's shoulder affectionately. "I must sit down," she said. "I have slept badly through the night." "Grandmother calls you to Mass." "I cannot, darling. Tell her I am unwell, and cannot leave the house to-day." "What! you are not coming?" "I shall stay in bed. Perhaps I caught cold yesterday. Tell Grandmother." "We will come to you." "You would only disturb me." "Then we shall send everything over. Ah, Veroshka, people have sent me so many presents, and flowers and bonbons. I must show them to you," and she ran over a list of them. "Yes, show me everything; perhaps I will come later," said Vera absently. "Another bouquet?" asked Marfinka, pointing to the one that lay on the floor. "For whom? How lovely!" "For you too," said Vera, turning paler. She picked a ribbon hastily from a drawer and fastened the bouquet with it. Then she kissed her sister, and sank down on the divan. "You are really ill. How pale you are! Shall I tell Grandmother, and let her send for the doctor? How sad that it should be on my birthday. The day is spoiled for me!" "It will pass. Don't say a word to Grandmother. Don't frighten her. Leave me now, for I must rest." At last Marfinka went. Vera shut the door after her, and lay down on the divan. CHAPTER XXVI When Raisky returned to his room at daybreak and looked in the mirror, he hardly recognised himself. He felt chilly, and sent Marina for a glass of wine which he drank before he threw himself on his bed. Overcome by moral and physical exhaustion he slept as if he had thrown himself into the arms of a friend and had confided his trouble to him. Sleep did him the service of a friend, for it carried him far from Vera, from Malinovka, from the precipice, from the fantastic vision of last night. When the ringing of many bells awoke him he lay for several minutes under the soothing influence of the physical rest, which built a rampart between him and yesterday. There was no agony in his awakening moments. But soon memory revived, and his face wore an expression more terrible than in the worst moments of yesterday. A pain different from yesterday's, a new devil had hurled itself upon him. He seized one piece of clothing after another and dressed as hastily and nervously as Vera had done as she prepared to go to the precipice. He rang for Egorka, from whom he learnt that everybody except Vera, who was not well, had driven to Mass. In wild agitation he dashed across to the old house. There was no response when he knocked at Vera's door. He opened it cautiously, and stole in like a man with murderous intent, with horror imprinted on his features, and advanced on tiptoe, trembling, deadly pale, with swaying steps as if he might fall at any minute. Vera lay on the divan, with her face turned away, her hair falling down almost to the floor, and her slipper-clad feet hardly covered by her grey skirt. She tried to turn round when she heard the noise of the opening door, but could not. He approached, knelt at her feet, and pressed his lips to the slipper she wore. Suddenly she turned, and stared at him in astonishment. "Is it comedy or romance, Boris Pavlovich," she asked brusquely, turned in annoyance, and hid her foot under the skirt which she straightened quickly. "No, Vera, tragedy," he whispered in a lifeless voice, and sat down on the chair near the divan. The tone of his voice moved her to turn and look keenly at him, and her eyes opened wide with astonishment. She threw aside her shawl, and rose, she had divined in Raisky's face the presence of the same deadly suffering that she herself endured. "What is your trouble? Are _you_ unhappy?" she said, laying her hand on his shoulder. In the simple word and in the tone of her voice there were revealed the generous qualities of a woman, sympathy, selflessness, and love. Keenly touched by the kindness and tenderness in her voice he looked at her with the same rapturous gratitude which she had worn on her face yesterday when in self-forgetfulness he had helped her down the precipice. She returned generosity with generosity, just as yesterday there had streamed from him a gleam of one of the highest qualities of the human mind. He was all the more in despair over what he had done, and wept hot tears. He hid his face in his hands like a man for whom all is lost. "What have I done? I have insulted you, woman and sister." "Do not make us both suffer," she said in a gentle, friendly tone. "Spare me; you see how I am." He tried not to meet her eyes, and she again lay down on the divan. "What a blow I dealt you," he whispered in horror. "You see my punishment, Vera!" "Your blow gave me a minute's pain, and then I understood that it was not delivered with an indifferent hand, that you loved me. And it became clear to me how you must have suffered ... yesterday." "Don't justify my crime, Vera. A knife is a knife, and I aimed a knife at you." "You brought me to myself. I was as if I slept, and you, Grandmother, Marfinka and the whole house I saw as if in a dream." "What am I to do, Vera? Fly from here? In what a state of mind I should leave! Let me endure my penance here, and be reconciled, as far as is possible, with myself, with all that has happened here." "Your imagination paints what was only a fault as a crime. Remember your condition when you did it, your agitation!" She gave him her hand, and continued, "I know now what one is capable of doing in the fever of emotion." She set herself to calm him in spite of her own weariness. "You are good, Vera, and, womanlike, judge not with your brain, but with your heart." "You are too severe with yourself. Another would have thought himself justified after all the jesting.... You remember those letters. With whatever good intention of calming your agitation, of answering your jest with jests, it was malicious mockery. You suffered more from those letters than I did yesterday." "Oh, dear, no! I have often laughed over them, especially when you asked for a cloak, a rug, and money for the exile." "What money? what cloak? what exile?" she exclaimed in astonishment. "I don't understand." "I myself had suspicions," he said, his face clearing a little. "I could not believe that that was your idea." And in a few words he told her the contents of the two letters. Her lips turned white. "Natasha and I wrote to you turn and turn about in the same handwriting, amusing little letters in which we tried to imitate yours; that is all. I didn't know anything about the other letters," she whispered, turning her face to the wall. Raisky strode up and down in thought, while Vera appeared to be resting, exhausted by the conversation. "Cousin," she said suddenly, "I ask your help in a very important matter, and I know you will not refuse me." A glance at his face told her that there was nothing she could not ask of him. "While I still have strength, I want to tell you the whole history of this year." "Why should you do that? I will not and I ought not to know." "Do not disturb me, Boris. I can hardly breathe and time is precious. I will tell you the whole story, and you must repeat it to our Grandmother. I could not do it," she said. "My tongue would not say the words-I would rather die." He looked at her with an expression of blank terror. "But why should Grandmother be told? Think of the consequences. Would it not be better to keep her in ignorance?" "No, the burden must be borne. It is possible that Grandmother and I will both die of it, or we shall lose our senses, but I will not deceive her. She ought to have known it long ago, but I hoped to be able to tell her another story, and therefore was silent." "To tell her everything, even of yesterday evening," he asked in a low tone. "And the name also?" She nodded almost imperceptibly in assent. Then she made him sit down on the divan beside her, and in low, broken sentences told the story of her relations with Mark. When she had finished she wrapped herself, shivering with cold, in her shawl. He rose from his seat. Both were silent, each of them in terror, she as she thought of her grandmother, he as he thought of them both. Before him lay the prospect of having to deal Tatiana Markovna one thrust after another, and that not in the heat of passion, or in an access of blind revenge, but in the consciousness of a most painful duty. It might be as she said an important service, but it was certainly a terrible commission. "When shall I tell her?" he asked. "As soon as possible, for I shall suffer so long as I know she is in ignorance, and now, give me the eau-de-Cologne from the dressing-table, and leave me alone." "It would not do to tell Grandmother to-day when the house is full of guests, but to-morrow...." said Raisky. "How shall I survive it? But till to-morrow, calm her by some means or other, so that she has no suspicion and sends no one here." She closed her eyes in a longing for impenetrable night, for rest without an awakening; she would like to have been turned into a thing of stone so that she could neither think nor feel. When he left her he was weighed down with a greater weight of fear than that which he had brought to the interview. Vera rose as soon as he left her, closed the door, and lay down again. She had found consolation and help in Raisky's friendship, his sympathy and devotion, as a drowning man rises to the surface for a moment, but as soon as he was gone she fell back deeper into the depths. She told herself in despair that life was over. Before her there stretched the bare steppe; there was no longer for her a family, nor anything on which a woman's life depends. She would have to stand before her aunt, to look her in the eyes, and to tell her how she had recompensed her love and care. Suddenly she heard steps and her aunt's voice. Pale and motionless, as if she had lost the use of hands and feet, she listened to the light tap at the door. I will not get up, I cannot, she thought. But when the knock was repeated, she sprang up with a strength which astonished herself, dried her eyes and went smiling to meet her aunt. When Tatiana Markovna had heard from Marfinka that Vera was ill, and would remain in her room all day, she had come herself to inquire; she glanced at Vera and sat down on the divan. "The service has tired me so that I could hardly walk up the steps. What's the matter with you, Vera?" she continued, looking keenly at her. "I congratulate Marfinka on her birthday," said Vera, in the voice of a little girl who has learnt her speech by heart. She kissed her grandmother's hand and wondered how she had managed to bring the words over her lips. "I got wet feet yesterday, and have a headache." She tried to smile, but there was no smile on her lips. "You must rub your feet with spirit," remarked Tatiana Markovna, who had noticed the strained voice and the unnatural smile, and guessed a lack of frankness. "Are you coming to be with us, Vera? Don't force yourself to do so, and so make yourself worse," she continued, seeing that Vera was incapable of answering. Vera was all the more frightened by her aunt's consideration for her. Her conscience stirred, and she felt that Tatiana Markovna must already know all, and that her confession would come too late. She was on the point of falling on her breast, and making her confession there and then, but her strength failed her. "Excuse me, Grandmother, from dinner; perhaps I will come over in the afternoon." "As you like. I will send your dinner across." "Thank you, I am already quite hungry," said Vera quickly, without knowing what she said. Tatiana Markovna kissed her, and stroked her hair, remarking casually that one of the maids should come and do her room, as she might have a visitor. Tatiana Markovna returned sadly to the house. She was, indeed, politely attentive to her guests as she always was, but Raisky noticed immediately that something was wrong with her after her visit to Vera. She found it hard to restrain her emotion, hardly touched the food, did not even look round when Petrushka smashed a pile of plates, and more than once broke off in the middle of a sentence. In the afternoon as the guests took coffee on the broad terrace in the mild September sunshine, Tatiana Markovna moved among her guests as if she were hardly aware of them. Raisky wore a gloomy air and had eyes for no one but his aunt. "Something is wrong with Vera," she whispered to him. "She is in trouble. Have you seen her?" "No," he said. But his aunt looked at him as if she doubted what he said. Paulina Karpovna had not come. She had sent word that she was ill, and the messenger brought flowers and plants for Marfinka. In order to explain the scene of the day before, and to find out whether she had guessed anything, Raisky had paid a visit in the morning to Paulina Karpovna. She received him with a pretence of being offended, but with hardly disguised satisfaction. His excuse was that he had dined with friends that night and had had a glass too much. He begged for forgiveness which was accorded with a smile, all which did not prevent Paulina Karpovna from recounting to all her acquaintance her love scene. Tushin came to dinner, and brought Marfinka a lovely pony to ride. He asked for Vera, and was plainly disturbed when he heard of the indisposition which prevented her from coming to dinner. Tatiana Markovna observed him, wondering why Vera's absence had such a remarkable effect on him, though this had often been the case before without exciting any surprise on her part. She could not keep out of her head anxiety as to what change had come over Vera since yesterday evening. She had had a little quarrel with Tiet Nikonich, and had scolded him for having brought Marfinka the SХvres mirror. Afterwards she was closeted with him for a quarter of an hour in her sitting-room, and he emerged from the interview looking serious. He shifted his foot less, and even when he was talking to ladies his serous inquiring glance would wander to Raisky or Tushin. Up till this time Tatiana Markovna had been so gay. Her one anxiety, and at the moment the only one perhaps, had been the celebration of Vera's nameday a fortnight ahead, she would have liked to have celebrated it with the same magnificence as Marfinka's birthday, although Vera had roundly declared that on that day she meant to go on a visit to Anna Ivanovna Tushin, or to her friend Natasha. But how Tatiana Markovna had changed since Mass. As she talked with her guests she was thinking only of Vera, and gave absent-minded answers. The excuse of a cold had not deceived her, and as she had touched Vera's brow on leaving her, she had realised that a cold could be nothing but a pretext. She remembered that Vera and Raisky had vanished in the afternoon and that neither had appeared at supper. She was constantly watching Raisky, who sought to avoid her glance, thereby only arousing her suspicions the more. Then Vera herself unexpectedly appeared amongst the guests, wearing a warm mantilla over her light dress and a wrap round her throat. Raisky was so astonished that he looked at her as if she were an apparition. A few hours ago she had been almost too exhausted to speak, and now here she was in person. He wondered where women found their strength. Vera went round speaking to the guests, looked at Marfinka's presents, and ate, to quench her thirst, as she said, a slice of water melon. Tatiana Markovna was to some extent relieved to see Vera, but it disturbed her to notice that Raisky's face had changed. For the first time in her life she cursed her guests; they were just sitting down to cards, then there would be tea, and then supper, and Vikentev was not going until to-morrow morning. CHAPTER XXVII Raisky found himself between two fires. On the one hand, Tatiana Markovna looked at him as much as to say that he probably knew what was the matter with Vera, while Vera's despairing glance betrayed her anxiety for the moment of her confession. He himself would have liked to have sunk into the earth. Tushin looked in an extraordinary manner at Vera, as both Tatiana Markovna and Raisky, but most of all Vera herself, noticed. She was terrified, and asked herself whether he had heard any rumour. He esteemed her so highly, thought her the noblest woman in the world, and, if she were silent, she would be accepting his esteem on false premisses. He, too, would have to be told, she thought. She exchanged greetings with him without meeting his eyes; and he looked strangely at her, timidly and sympathetically. Vera told herself that she must know what was in his mind, that if he looked at her again like that she would collapse. He did look at her again, and she could endure no more and left the company. Before she went she signed secretly to Tushin to follow her. "I cannot receive you in the old house," she said, "Come into the avenue." "Is it not too damp, as you are not well?" "That does not matter," she said. He looked at his watch and said that he would be going in an hour. After giving orders to have his horses taken out of the stable and brought into the yard, he picked up his silver-handled whip and with his cloak on his arm followed Vera into the avenue. "I will not beat about the bush," he said. "What is the matter with you to-day? You have something on your mind." She wrapped her face in her mantilla as she spoke, and her shoulders shivered as if with cold. She dare not raise her eyes to him as he strode silently beside her. "But you are ill, Vera Vassilievna. I had better talk to you another time. You were not wrong in thinking I had something to say to you." "No, Ivan Ivanovich, let it be to-day. I want to know what you have to say to me. I myself wanted to talk to you, but perhaps it is too late for what I have to say. Do you speak," she said, wondering painfully how and where he could have learnt her secret. "I came here to-day...." he said as they sat down on the bench. "What have you to say to me? Speak!" she interrupted. "How can I say it to you now, Vera Vassilievna?" said Tushin springing to his feet. "Do not make me suffer," she murmured. "I love you...." "Yes, I know it," she interrupted. "But what have you heard?" "I have heard nothing," he said, looking round in amazement. He was now for the first time aware of her agitation, and his heart stood still with delight. She has guessed my secret and shares my feelings, he thought, and what she is asking, is for a frank, brief avowal. "You are so noble, so beautiful, Vera Vassilievna, so pure...." An exclamation was wrung from her, and she would have risen, but could not. "You mock me, you mock me," she said, raising her hands beseechingly. "You are ill, Vera Vassilievna," he said, looking at her in terror. "Forgive me for having spoken to you at such a time." "A day earlier or later makes no difference. Say what you have to say, for I also desire to tell you why I have brought you here." "Is it really true?" he cried, hardly knowing how to contain his delight. "What is true? You want to say something else, not what I expected," she said. "Speak, and do not prolong my sufferings." "I love you," he repeated. "If you can grant what I have confessed to you (and I am not worthy of it), if your love is not given elsewhere, then be my forest queen, my wife, and there will be no happier man on earth than I. That is what I have long wished to say to you and have not dared. I should have done it on your nameday but I could no longer endure the suspense, and have come to-day, on the family festival, on your sister's birthday." "Ivan Ivanovich," she moaned. The thought flashed through his head like lightning that this was no expression of joy, and he felt his hair was beginning to stand on end. He sat down beside her and said, "What is wrong with you, Vera Vassilievna? You are either ill, or are bearing a great sorrow." "Yes, Ivan Ivanovich! I feel that I shall die." "What is your trouble? For God's sake, tell me. You said that you had something to confide in me, which means that I must be necessary to you; there is nothing I would not do for you. You have only to command me. Forgive me my too hasty speech." "You, too, my poor Ivan Ivanovich! I can find neither prayers nor tears, nor is there any guidance or help for me anywhere." "What words of despair are these, Vera Vassilievna?" "Do you know _whom_ you love?" He threw his cloak on the bench, and wiped the sweat from his brow. Her words told him that his hopes were ruined, that her love was given elsewhere. He drew a deep breath, and sat motionless, awaiting her further explanations. "My poor friend," she said, taking his hand. The simple words filled him with new sorrow; he knew that he was in fact to be pitied. "Thank you," he whispered. "Forgive me ... I did not know, Vera Vassilievna ... I am a fool.... Please forget my declaration. But I should like to help you, since you say yourself you rely on me for a service. I thank you for holding me worthy of that. You stand so high above me; I always feel that you stand so high, Vera Vassilievna." "My poor Ivan Ivanovich, I have fallen from those heights, and no human power can reinstate me," she said, as she led him to the edge of the precipice. "Do you know this place?" she asked. "Yes, a suicide is buried there." "There, in the depths below the precipice, your 'pure' Vera also lies buried," she said with the decision of despair. "What are you saying? I don't understand. Enlighten me, Vera Vassilievna." Summoning all her strength she bent her head and whispered a few words to him, then returned, and sank down on the bench. Tushin turned pale, swayed, lost his balance, and sat down beside her. Even in the dim light Vera noticed his pallor. "And I thought," he said, with a strange smile, as if he were ashamed of his weakness, rising to his feet with difficulty, "that only a bear was strong enough to knock me over." Then he stooped to her and whispered, "Who?" The question sent a shudder through her, but she answered quickly: "Mark Volokov." His face twitched ominously. Then he pressed his whip over his knee so that it split in pieces, which he hurled away from him. "So it will end with him too," he shouted. As he stood trembling before her, stooping forward, with wild eyes, he was like an animal ready to spring on the enemy. "Is he there now?" he cried, pointing with a violent gesture in the direction of the precipice. She look

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