PART ONECHAPTER 1 PART I
"How can anyone sleep so long?"
"Is it really so late?"
"It's almost two. I've brought some cherries."
"You've been out already, Orest?"
"Obviously. Even better: I've already been working."
"That's horrible, Orest. You're always like a pang of conscience. But I always wake up. Well, starting tomorrow I'll begin a new life; tomorrow's what? Wednesday? Well, that'll be just perfect... those were funny poems that Moscow type recited at
'the Owl' , yesterday,though. I have to admit I didn't understand a one of them. And I think Lyolechka was totally smashed. She's an amusing little creature. And your Iraida- thanks, but no thanks!"
"She's a very worthy woman, Iraida Lvovna."
"I don't deny it. But she's rather too ponderous for any normal pastime and at times,forgive me, she really reminds me of Polina. You shouldn't go around making catastrophes and questions of earthshaking importance out of every little thing. If you ask her for ten rubles,she gives them to you looking and feeling as if she were saving a starving village."
"Are you getting dressed or just running on?"
"I've just about become up. Once my head leaves the pillow the job's almost done." And in the doorway there appeared an almost adolescent head, with tangled light brown hair, slightly puffy eyes, an open mouth which looked as if it still hadn't slept enough, and very rosy cheeks.
"Well, hello there, Lavrik?"
"I haven't washed up yet," he said and again disappeared through the door. Orest Germanovich unwrapped his purchases himself and went to the table, where a large grey envelope labelled
"To Orest Germanovich Pekarsky, to be hand-delivered" was lying.
"From irrepressible Iraida ". Pekarsky remembered Lavrik's expression, and began to read the lengthy missive...
"Besides, I'm tied by vows of love to someone else, to someone else".
Lavrik came in, humming, kissed him silently and attacked the cherries.
"How boring of people to write such long letters. And it's still more boring when people read them in your presence, and it's already totally unamusing when you know the letter was written by a woman who can't bear the sight of you."
"How do you know that?
She's only feeling you out, as she does with everyone."
"I will never believe that Iraidais capable not only of passing judgment on people but of evaluating them first; she has too stifling a temperament and too eager a desire to save people from nonexistent catastrophes."
"Iraida Lvovnais my very good friend, and I repeat once again: she's a very worthy woman - so I think your jokes are a bit out of place."
"Ooh, forgive me please, Uncle Orest Germanovich ," said Lavrik, holding a cherry in his mouth,
"I didn't know it was taboo."
"Yes, it's taboo."
Orest Germanovich really was an uncle of Lavrik's, who bore the same name ofPekarsky. Not only was he an uncle, he was the only living relative of his nephew, and so the care and responsibility for him lay on him, Orest Germanovich. And the care and responsibility were no small matters, since Lavrik, who had been expelled from his public school, was a lively, careless, bright lad, who wanted to do nothing but write poems and roam the streets of the city. To tell the truth, this was not very burdensome for Orest Germanovich, since he himself was rather a careless person and didn't think about the future, partly because, sinceLavrik had moved into his three rooms, the spirit of youth and gay abandon had appeared in them. Perhaps the younger Pekarsky was right, thinking that the author of the letter which Orest Germanovich had received was not particularly fond of him, Lavrik. Of course, the letter was not about that, and it was nowhere clearly stated, but behind the affectionate phrases one felt a hidden worry about whether Orest's work and his life in general were going well; did he have enough quiet, and somehow it all came down to the implication that whatever worry,unhappiness, or inconvenience might trouble Pekarsky was mainly caused by his nephew.
Actually, the letter was about nothing, but that did not particularly surprise Orest Germanovich, because he had become accustomed to such demonstrations of the genuine though somewhat troubled friendship felt by Iraida Lvovna Verbina . The guilty party in the lady's worries silently and capriciously drank his coffee, tapping out the same Offenbach motif with his free hand on the table. Dressed, he didn't seem so much a boy, but at any rate an extremely young man. Only after he had poured his nephew a second cup did Orest say:
"Would you like to go with me to the Fontanka? I wouldn't mind having company."
Lavrik grimaced and remained silent.
"I know it bores you, but you more than anyone should try to maintain proper acquaintanceships. Of course Bohemia and various unknown boys are all very well and good,but if you're thinking seriously about literature, about your career, then you need to frequent other circles - I won't argue: they're boring, but respectable and useful, - and patch up your reputation."
"Oh, for God's sake, Orest! You talk as if you really were my uncle and fifty years old. It's so unbearably boring, and whatever I might have would not only fail to develop, it would dry up for good!"
"Yes, but even if I'm not fifty, only thirty-two, I'm still your uncle."
"No, no, no! You're just making things up. You say everything officially and just as various stupid ladies like your Iraidawant you to. I know you're the same age as I am and not an uncle at all.. Why do you want to replace our relationship with some sort of ordinary differences between elders and youngsters? There's a huge difference between us, but it's light and imperceptible, a joy for those who love. Even if you wanted to turn our relationship into the corrective influences of a peevish and virtuous elder relative you wouldn't be able to,because I'm too dear to you."
Lavrik jumped up in agitation, threw his cigarette butt on the floor and suddenly blushed so fiercely that he turned pinker than the pink upholstery of the chair he had settled in,immediately lighting up another cigarette. Orest Germanovich shifted the butt from the floor to the ashtray and, approaching the chair where Lavrik was sitting, began in a somewhat muffled and apparently calm voice:
"Dear Lavrik, you're right of course. Of course everything I'm saying goes against my heart, which wants only good for you."
"Ah, my good lies exclusively in your being near me, otherwise I would perish."
"Yes, but that's not all. If we're not sensible we may both perish."
"While we're together we can't both perish. Well, what could happen to us? I take the worst case: we both become destitute, land in prison, die, and they hang us. Is that really destruction? But if you drive me away, it won't just be my destruction, it'll be yours, too!"
And Lavrik began to run around the room until Orest stopped him by grabbing his arm.
"Don't be silly, Lavrik! No one wants you and me to part; everything you say is true,of course. I'm a little quarrelsome today because I have to pay for various things and the money from Moscow is being held up for some reason."
Lavrik suddenly asked unexpectedly simply, as if it weren't him at all who had been orating with such heat a moment ago:
"Then you don't have any money at all"
"There's some change"
His nephew frowned.
"Did you need something?"
"Yes... but it doesn't matter. I'll manage somehow"
And as if to divert the conversation he asked:
"Did you work a lot today?"
"A respectable amount. I was writing quite gaily since this morning. Then this letter upset me a bit"
Lavrik smiled imperceptibly and continued as though he hadn't heard his uncle's last phrase:
"Are you going to be writing some more? Please go ahead and write for the time being. I have to go some place on a bit of business, but I'll meet you at the Fontanka later"
They went up to the table, which was not too loaded down with papers and whose polished sheen the small white sheets of the half-finished story chilled still more. From the bright frame Lavrik's eyes peered slyly at the torn grey envelope, and Lavrik himself could not keep from remarking, after he said goodbye to Orest:
CHAPTER 2 PART I
"But all the troubles and friendship and crowding that Iraida Lvovna subjects you to can be explained very simply: she's in love with you, that's all"
One entered Verbina's apartment from the courtyard; indeed that ancient building had no entrance from the street. But if it was unpleasant for Iraida Lvovna in any weather to cross the yard - surrounded in the manner of Italian monasteries or old bazaars by low arcades - this inconvenience was completely compensated for by the internal arrangement of the apartment,where the unusual distribution of the rooms, the plethora of corridors, cupboards, servants halls,interior staircases and mezzanines preserved the authentic flavour of the 1830s, which greatly cheered the mistress, who had accented her rooms with antique furniture, brought in part from her estate and in part discovered at the Madame Verbina in both her surroundings and her costumes tried to preserve that antique character, which suited her tall, full figure very well, reminding one of Briullov's portraits: sloping shoulders, a high forehead with hair parted down the middle, large dark expressionless eyes, a long oval face and a mouth like a bow, all making one wish that her head were topped by a yellow turkish turban,and that one could see Iraida Lvovna herself either in a masquerade costume escorted by little blackamoors or in a top hat and riding habit, ready to sit on a dappled grey stallion hitched to the balcony, which had a wide stair down to the garden. She was doubtless aware of this resemblance and often assumed poses, sitting on the divan piled with embroidered pillows,allowing her narrow hand with its long fingers to droop freely, and extending the tip of a lacquered slipper. To complete the impression she often wore a decollete, swathing it with delicate multi-coloured fabrics, and held in her hand a round fan made of white feathers with a small mirror in the middle, in which her solemn, luxuriant beauty, not without a touch of the harem, was reflected so seductively. Today, though, the impression of a Briullov portrait was somewhat hindered by the fact that on the couch next to Iraida Lvovna was seated her belle-soeur Lyolechka Tsarevsky, also a very attractive lady, but not at all in the same style of Iraida Lvovna. She did not bring to mind anyone's portraits, but was simply a nice little blond, like thousands of others, who nonetheless find their share of admirers. Apparently in spite of their kinship,both ladies differed in their views, at least in their present conversation, for the inexpressive face of the elder bore a hint of displeasure, while Lyolechka, red all over, was excited and heatedly trying to make some point.
The hostess's brother, Leonid Lvovich, sat silently by the window leafing through a book.
"I don't understand - what did you expect? If you're against Bohemianism, against freedom, against the artistic, why did you go there? If you went out of curiosity then why are you angry? Well, you took a look and didn't like it... so don't go there anymore.... Let everyone amuse himself as he likes."
Iraida Lvovna's low, somewhat languid voice replied:
"You say it's amusement. But after all the art people do frequent the place. It makes them petty, dissipates them, and drags then down into vulgarity... They become, if only for two hours, dissolute people, which can't help but reflect on their art"
"You're looking at it too fast gloomily and seriously. But I become dissolute in a positive fashion; I flourish there and somehow come into direct contact with the art which at any other time stands to one side. Here it enters life, do you understand?"
"Life!..." Iraida drew the word out meditatively.
Elena Aleksandrovna, as if at last understanding something, quickly and somewhat inopportunely asked in a merry tone:
"Are you thinking of?"
"About him, too"
"Believe me, he's not interested in the least. It's Lavrik who drags him there"
"So much the worse"
"And look: you said it influences art. Does Orest Germanovich really write less or worse than before? I don't think so"
"Yes... but he's not writing what he ought to or what I'm sure he himself would like to.."
"It's very difficult to show people what they want, especially such capricious characters as poets"
This was said by Leonid Lvovich, who did not move from his window. Iraida Lvovnatrained her eyes on him and answered slowly:
"I've known for a long time that you're no Christian, with your theory of non-interference"
"I don't understand; - what has my Christianity to do with it?"
Elena Aleksandrovna, displeased that the conversation was turning from impressions of last evening to abstract considerations of Christianity, was about to begin quickly:
"And as to Lavrik.." but was interrupted by the ring of the telephone which hung directly about the couch. Iraida Lvovna lifted the receiver with a fluid motion, and her first words preserved a calm melodiousness, but in a few seconds her eyes grew round, her hand fluttered the mirrored fan,and undisguised anxiety could be heard in her replies.
"What are you saying, dear?... No, I don't know... He himself... I don't know anything"
"Everything is possible... But that's horrible... At once... This very day... I'm expecting him... But if he doesn't come I'll go myself... Goodbye.."
"Is it Polina?" Elena Aleksandrovna asked in a whisper and took the receiver from Iraida's hands. Now Lyolechka's voice began to trill without any anxiety.
"Dear Polina Arkadievna! Hello. Did you get enough sleep? Eh? What? I'm listening... Well, of course with my husband... I only leave him behind when I go to reprehensible places. On horseback? Why?... Are you?... But why should you have to ride on horseback?... What nonsense... Of course, of course I'll wait... Well, here's a kiss!."
Putting down the receiver, Elena Aleksandrovna burst out laughing and said
"That Polinais inimitable. Some acquaintance of hers, a general, is getting married - not to her at all, but she's riding in the manege in honour of the occasion... I don't understand anything... As the Poles say, she's positively got `a hare in her head.' But oh, what a nice person!"
"Only it's a mistake for her to keep pretending to be an indecent woman," her husband remarked.
"You're always unjust to her. She's an utterly charming and gay creature"
"She is an unhappy and very good person," concluded Iraida.
Elena exchanged a surprised glance with her husband, but did not object. Then after asking where Iraidahad obtained the material for her dress, she added with an innocent look:
"Are you expecting Orest today? I'd love to see him, but I have a thousand things to do. Tell him I love him dearly and that I'll be waiting for him to visit me in a few days... If he won't move of his own accord, he can bring Lavrik along. So Leonid and I will vanish for now... See you soon.."
Coming out on the street, Elena Aleksandrovna gaily informed her husband:
"I quite understand that Polina is capable of starting all kinds of incidents and of poking her nose into other people's business, but how Iraidacan believe her is beyond my comprehension. One would have to be a complete idiot not to see that Polina lies at every step. And moreover, she lies maliciously. She just spends the time she isn't meeting people in sitting and thinking up all sorts of silly news items about her friends. And now your sister's plopped in with her Christianity! Of course, she's a wonderful woman, but her high style is depressing, at least for me," and changing her tone a bit, Elena Aleksandrovna began to bargain with the cabby.
Meanwhile, the wonderful woman whose high style depressed Lyolechka Tsarevsky was no longer lying on the couch in a Briullov portrait pose but was pacing about the room, thinking loftily and passionately about how to arrange things for her friend Orest Germanovich, the man whom she so valued, loved and respected, how to aid him, save him.
Immediately following the first greetings and apologies on Pekarsky's part for being late,as he had had urgent work, Iraida Lvovna led her guest to her beloved couch and began mysteriously:
"Dear friend, I must warn you that great unpleasantness awaits you."
"No one is insured against unpleasantness," her companion noted rather indifferently.
"Yes, but one may prevent it... If you don't want to do so yourself, then your friends will have to do it for you"
"I'm very grateful to you, Iraida Lvovna, but you're doubtless exaggerating things greatly... You know how even good people enjoy putting about gossip"
"This isn't gossip... I have it from a reliable source.."
"From whom? Not from Polina Arkadievna, is it?
"And if it were?"
"She's an utterly insane person"
"You don't know her. Unhappy - yes. But why insane? And besides, she is so well disposed towards you that she may be considered your friend, and you have all too many enemies"
Iraida Lvovna fell silent, and Orest, thinking that his companion might have taken offense at this last remark, continued the same conversation somewhat lazily, as it did not, apparently,especially interest him.
"So my enemies want to cause me some unpleasantness?"
"Unpleasantness threatens you not from enemies, but from people you consider very close to you," said Iraida Lvovna more distinctly and slowly than usual.
Orest Germanovich was lost in thought for a moment, then reddened and asked with a certain anger:
"I hope you're not talking about my nephew?"
A frightened expression slipped over Verbina's face and disappeared, but she did not manage to answer, because at that very minute Lavrik himself, blushing and smiling, entered the room.CHAPTER 3 PART I
Polina Arkadievna Dobroliubova-Chernikova was no artiste, as one might suppose from her hyphenated last name. Perhaps she was even an artiste, but we wish only to say that she did not act or sing or dance on any stage. In
"All of Petersburg" her name was accompanied by , which gave no small grounds for various mocking guesses. Actually it was not the fact that her maiden name was Kosciuszko which was surprising, but that Polina could in any way have been nee. One would think that such an original and absurd person could only come about by some means of self-generation, or if she did have parents, then they must have been an insane detective and a depraved nun. We have called Polina original, but of course, as always, if one were to dig around a bit, one could find certain types, ideals, if you will, to which she naturally or intentionally aspired. Saintly courtesans, holy prostitutes,incomprehensible fatal women, extravagant Americans, orgiastic poetesses - all joined up in her,but so awkwardly and mal a propos, that in such a form they could, no doubt, be considered original. If Polina had been a billionairess, she might have given such scope to her incongruous escapades that they would have seemed imposing, but in her present station they produced a rather wretched and intolerable impression. One thing alone was characteristic and even apropos - that with her pair of ankle-bracelets and a beryl the size of a cobblestone swinging a little lower than her waist on a chain, she had settled on Podyacheskaya street in three huge, very dark rooms, which seemed even darker due to the various rags and rubbish which Polina Arkadievna paved, draped, and caulked her nest. And yet despite all this she was a good woman, sincere and not excessively stupid. But she was officially considered and considered herself to be
"daughter of court counsellor," but her calling cards bore the unchanging adornment
"mad" and hence willy-nilly
"behaved madly" She was raving even now, sitting on the soft carpet at the feet of Iraida Lvovna and passionately whispering with her large painted mouth:
"You must do it immediately - it's your mission, your cross. At least, that's how I understand you. I myself love Orest Germanovich. I neither seek nor want anything from him, I simply love him, elementally. I've had fifty-six lovers, my book's over there. They're all recorded" And without getting up from the carpet she crawled to the tiny table where there lay a notebook bound in dark purple calico and with the head of Adam embossed in gold. Polina rummaged in it a bit and, whispering:
"Two months ago the fifty-fifth shot himself," - slammed it shut again. Having completed her gloomy intermezzo she again continued:
"But Orest Germanovich I love elementally. I demanded nothing... You don't know,Iraida Lvovna, what happiness it is to sit and look into someone's eyes and not demand anything... Now, you treat me like a person, I value that so, because otherwise everybody - both men and women - look at me with lust in their hearts. I'm not guilty... When I was young we lived in the province of Vilna. We had a pond... On moonlit nights I used to go down to it, dip my feet into the water and dream... When I talk with you, I always recall that. But you know, this General Perevyortnikov, he's really going to marry Cuff.."
In spite of its inexpressiveness, Iraida Lvovna's face revealed her bewilderment more and more obviously, but when the talk turned to Cuff, the guest could bear no more and asked in some terror:
"Just a minute, dear Polina! What Cuff? And what does this have to do with our problem?"
"Cuff? That's Katya Dobrokhotovka. All my acquaintances have some sort of nickname. You know: Ivan Ivanych, Pyotr Petrovich, that's so banal, so bourgeois. Instead I have Cuff, Ash, Fourbits, Urchin, Orchid and Accidentally"
"But dear Polina, such nicknames are used by petty thieves and... fallen women"
"Yes? Perhaps. I don't care. I have no prejudices. And how are fallen women any worse than we are?"
Iraida Lvovna obviously did not much agree with Polina's opinion, for she asked without answering her question:
"How did you find out what you informed me of on the telephone, dear Polina?"
"Oh, that's a long story!" Polina Arkadievna was about to begin, but was interrupted by a doorbell which, apparently, no one was going to answer.
"This is awful! No one lets you talk around here. Are they still ringing? Pasha! Pasha!Say that I'm not home, that I'm dead, whatever you like!"
And Polina Arkadievna rushed to the entrance, but it was already too late, since three young men were coming through the door.
"Why have you come? Pasha told you I was dead"
"So we've come to pay our respects to the dear departed," answered the tallest of the young men, smiling and putting his uniform jacket on the floor.
"Hoar-frost, Tip-cat and Urchin!" the hostess presented the new arrivals to Iraida.
They muttered their real names and at once took various chairs, occupying the whole floor with their legs. Polina was already speaking gaily and loudly, having succeeded in whispering to Iraida:
"Hoar-frost is the forty-ninth"
"Well over there, from my book... He also shot himself, but recovered"
"But my dear, he doesn't look more than fifteen"
"He's seventeen... And then, what of it? I love the young ones more"
"That's not what I'm talking about... When on earth did you have time? It must have been long ago if you're already on fifty-six?"
Apparently the ladies' whispers did not escape the ears of the young men,because Tip-cat remarked in a bass voice:
"Polina manages it quickly. Apparently you don't know her very well" And then turning to Hoar-frost, he continued:
"Hey you... suicide number forty-nine, give me a cigarette!"
The pale youngster drew out a cigarette case covered with monograms, and Iraida Lvovna rose to depart. Her hostess tried to detain her and to drive away her new guests, but they replied that they wouldn't leave until Polina had served them coffee, and Iraida Lvovna had to hurry to Pekarsky's, although there was no reason to hurry, since she had not ferreted out all the circumstances threatening him.
Polina Arkadievna for some reason attacked Urchin, reproaching him for being the one who had brought the whole company down upon her and hindering a business conversation.
"So I'm guilty, I'm guilty! I didn't know you wanted to ask her for money"
The lady hurled Tip-cat's cigarette case at him, missed, and quickly kicking a slipper off her stockingless foot, yelled in a voice not her own
"Kiss my foot, monster"
Urchin hemmed and hawed, the two other young men tried to hold back their laughter,and Polina, suddenly lowering her voice to a fierce whisper, repeated:
"Kiss my foot this instant or I'll cut your throat!"
Hoar-frost had already burst out laughing and together with Tip-cat began to persuadeUrchin to fulfil his hostess' wish.
Urchin got down on his knees, caught a spur on the table whereon lay the purple book of Polina's lovers, and silently touched his lips to the dry, blue-veined foot. Quickly, like an eccentric, donning again her gilded slipper, the calmed Polina gaily asked:
"Have you any money, Tip-cat?"
"I've got about a hundred rubles"
"Then we're all going out to eat and then driving, driving!"
Afterwards, as if a little cloud had passed over Polina's tiny brow, she said thoughtfully,toying with her beryl, which she never parted with even at night:
"Urchin still owes me something! For his ignorance and disobedience he must.."
"Take you to the races and feed you supper?"
"Nothing of the sort. He must introduce me to.."
Here she took a scrap of paper from her purse which had fallen some place on the floor,and continued:
"He must introduce me to Zoya Mikhailovna Lilienfeld and also to Andrei Stock"
"I don't know them," answered Urchin.
"If you knew them it wouldn't be at all difficult to fulfil my request"
"That is, I know Lilienfeld is a famous actress, but I haven't been introduced to her, and I haven't the vaguest idea who Andrei Stock"is"
"I know Mister Stock slightly, but I can't imagine how he could possibly be of interest to Polina," said Hoar-frost, blushing to the ears.
Generally speaking, he blushed quite frequently; he had a very rosy face with dark hair,so God only knew why he was called Hoar-frost. Tip-cat was a huge, pockmarked child with a deep bass voice, while Urchin was a very fat student who always wore spurs.
Polina had already moistened her cheeks with a liquid which produced a blush which could not be washed off and looked as if one had slept half a day on nettles. The chastened Urchin held her mirror before her and almost dropped it when his hostess jumped up fitfully,having rouged only her left cheek. She was incensed by the words of Tip-cat, who had just rumbled:
Polina did not yell that she would cut his throat, did not call him an idiot, a good-for-nothing, or a piece of rubbish; indignation seemed to have deprived her of the gift of speech. Thus she stood for several minutes in silence, clenching her tiny fists and finally, said firmly:
"I don't know the Englishman, but Zoya Lilienfeld is hardly likely to want to get to know you"
CHAPTER 4 PART I
"Everything will be as I want it," and began to rouge her right cheek.
Apparently fate was aiding Polina, for not three days passed before she met Zoya Lilienfeld and even became acquainted with her.
This happened in the same
'the Owl' which Lyolechka Tsarevsky and defended so fiercely, and in which, despite the warm May evening which might seem to have destroyed any willingness to get cooped up not merely in a cellar but in any enclosed space, there had gathered many regular visitors and infrequent guests. The sky was light and attentive; the empty solemnity of the Petersburg streets was replaced by colourfully painted walls, the dim light of lamps and the stuffy air of two small rooms which, if one did not count the microscopic buffet,made up
'the Owl' Polina Arkadievna had come for the third period of
"the Owl's night"
Despite the atmosphere of improvisation which the management wished to impart to the tavern, a certain sequence of moods and pastimes had nonetheless taken shape, as in all phenomena which repeat themselves. When this sequence was violated by real improvisations, it was always a not especially pleasant surprise, inevitably resembling the commonest scandal. The improvisations which were produced by chance visitors boiled down to some guest always taking off a shoe and throwing it on the stage, or asking a lady sitting with her husband how much she would take to go with him some place, or a fat police officer would begin singing with the guitar:
"I fade with every passing day but blame you not in any way.."
Or a plump lady unknown to anyone would slither out and declaim to the sounds of a harp in a thick Armenian accent:
"The flowers are blooming. - Oh don't, don't!" or the artists of a certain theatre, who always went about in a herd, would pick a fight with the artists of another theatre, on grounds of artistic patriotism. In general, improvisation is a dangerous thing, and therefore the management of the tavern, although it did not cease to speak about free creativity,was nonetheless glad in part when a certain logical progression established itself of its own accord. The sequence was as follows. First outsiders would arrive and a few of those
"entire nous" who happened to be free. Here they eyed one another, conversed in an undertone,wandered aimlessly, were bored, yawned, waited. Then, so to speak, the
"official portion" of the evening took place; sometimes consisting of one or two numbers, and sometimes not consisting of anything. Here not only improvisation but even the simplest unforeseen occurrence was eliminated, and all the real devotees of
'the Owl' viewed this second period as a preparation for the third, which they found the most interesting. When, from the wine consumed, the crowd, the stuffy air, prior intention, or genuine impression that here at
'the Owl' there was no reason to be shy, everyone's eyes were opened, their souls, tongues and hands were freed - then the real part began. Artistic considerations, suddenly flaring flirtations, family histories, betrayals, jealousies, ecstasies, tears, kisses - everything came out, spread and infected. It was a mass lyric, now sad, now joyful, now spiteful, but always half-drunk, if not from the wine, then from itself. Three-quarters of what was spoken, of course, did not survive in the memory to the next day, but even one quarter was sufficient to stagger the imagination or become the source of innumerable reports and gossip. After this the fourth period ensued,when the flirtations, betrayals and hostilities were somehow resolved, if only for the night. Some would leave in very strange combinations, someone would demand satisfaction; sitting on an elevated place and understanding nothing, someone would howl at the top of his voice. Finally the last period began, when two or three people would be snoring in corners, some visitors, always there by chance and sometime barely acquainted, would inform one another of brilliant plans forgotten five minutes later and a black cat, which had crawled out from somewhere, would either arch its back at the sight of the sleeping guests or would try to catch a ray of sunlight which came in through the shutters and tried in vain to ignite the already dormant fireplace. Of course, Polina Arkadievna was most appropriate and irreplaceable, in the third period of
"the Owl's" night, for which she always arrived punctually. And since she was always ready to descend into the open trenches of the human soul, a stranger's well as her own, she had no need of the preparatory second portion.
Polina's circle of acquaintanceship, like that of Leskov's Amazon, was immense and of the most various calibre; and she dragged almost all her acquaintances to
"the Owl," beginning with retired generals on crutches and ending with some fourth grade gymnasium students, whom she made powder and rouge themselves and cut their forelocks. They were always carrying things; one her purse, another her umbrella, a third her muff, a fourth yet another of Polina's personal belongings. Most remarkable of all was Polina's purse: it was a rather roomy travelling bag, of the sort which people take to baths and are carried by midwives. In it were: a handkerchief, a cigarette case, a billfold, a bunch of keys, the purple book of Polina's lovers,a packet of letters from famous people, a rosary, a dried leaf from her mother's grave, the latest book of verse and a Spanish dagger, on the edge of which was engraved
"Zavyalov in Vorsma". She laid out a portion of these things before herself and was constantly forgetting them, because despite the fact that Polina Arkadievna usually sat as if she had been sitting there for three years,i.e. surrounded herself with pillows, sat with her feet on the divan and took her neighbour by the arm, if he were a man, or if she were a lady, hugged her, - despite all this, she often changed places, because she thought she was everywhere indispensable, like a good confessor, and that all these disturbed souls were waiting with bated breath to pour out everything into her sensitive soul, which reverberated with the smallest breeze like an Aeolian harp. At the same time she would pass along any secrets just entrusted to her and move on, so that by the end of the night she amassed an entire collection of amiable secrets, which she almost always found insufficient and supplemented with her own romantic and erotic imagination, imparting them all with a rather monotonous but nonetheless lofty, tragic gloss.
Already the tall singer was singing a duet without moving from her place to the piano,with her partner situated at the other end of the room; they were singing over the heads of seated and standing people, accompanied by the noise of knives, forks and, at a distance, in the kitchen, breaking crockery, when Polina Arkadievna, dressed in a yellow dress edged with black lace, embroidered like a Polish kuntush or a poddyovka, stopped at the threshold of the entrance door. She rapidly and penetratingly surveyed the first room, nodding her tiny head with its cropped black hair to the right and to the left; seeing no trace of Iraida's tall figure among those present, Polina Arkadievna began to pick her way cautiously to the second room, where,apparently, the third period had begun. There were few outsiders there, but even among her acquaintances Polina Arkadievna found no sign of Iraida.
She even glanced at the tall screens, where several people were seated close together. They silently raised their eyes, glistening in the semidarkness, towards her, and Polina, calmed,tossed out to them as she passed:
"Never mind, never mind, I was just.." and went to the little table occupied by the Tsarevskys, both Pekarskys and some tall marksman. Polina was met with jocular greetings, and she quickly climbed up on the bench between Lyolechka and Lavrik and folded her legs, never ceasing to scan the room with anxious gaze, as if searching out possible new combinations in the distribution and union of the guests into groups. Apparently everything was as it had been of old, for Polina very quickly occupied herself with her immediate neighbours. Soon Hoar-frost joined their table, along with Urchin and two gymnasium students with forelocks, who deposited near Polina her famous handbag, muff, boa and some other belongings as well, of which there always seemed to be an inordinate number. Arranging herself on the bench, Polina Arkadievna somehow never stopped talking with everyone about her:
"Ah, Lyolechka, my idol! Give me your lips! What could be better than pink lips! Isn't that right, Lavrik? I know you understand! And Orest too! He's such a sensitive fine artist.Isn't Iraida Lvovna here? She's not coming? And I have such a lot I need to tell her! I suffered so in the manege today. I rode on horseback for three straight hours! Are you a marksman? Have you always lived in Tsarskoe Selo? I adore that place. One can sense the spirit ofCatherine there. I spent a winter once in Pavlovsk. It was a time of great suffering for me... Life... it's such a fantasy! And I have a lot to tell you too, Orest. But only you, so later I'll ask you to go with me behind a screen. The beauty spot? It was Hoar-frost who advised me to put it under my left eye. So what, I don't think it looks so bad there... I love Somov so.."
At this point Polina Arkadievna temporarily stopped talking and occupied herself with a pork chop. The officer, who was visiting
'the Owl' for the first time, politely and unobtrusively courted Lyolechka, telling how he would go hunting at this estate, what had happened at the races and what latest books he had read, feeling a trifle ill-at-ease and even ashamed of his backwardness and the dullness of his reading-matter, faced with this artistic and apparently modernistic blonde whom he liked very much. Polina pushed her plate away with a clatter, knocking over a glass; and, seizing Lyolechka by both hands, begun enthusiastically:
"Lyolechka! Give me your eyes! I will drink them dry, like a vampire... What happiness! What a delight to drink a woman's eyes, pure, shining... Isn't that right, Lavrentiev; isn't our Lyolechka a delight?"
The officer, who had been about to turn away from the enthusiastic scene, blushed in patches and said with a hesitation:
"Elena Aleksandrovna is one of the most beautiful women I have ever met".
"Phew, what a disgusting misanthrope! How formally you talk! - exclaimed Polina,glowering from under her brows at him and slapping the officer on the hand.
He uttered, still more confused:
"I'm here for the first time, Polina.."
"Arkadievna," she prompted him,
"but better just call me Polina, we aren't shy around here, and it would be gauche, even, to be shy with me"
The three of them clinked their glasses, and Polina's boys stamped their feet together. Leonid Lvovich, sitting on the edge of the table, was raking the room with his eyes, bored and not knowing precisely what to do, when suddenly his attention was attracted to a conversation at a neighbouring table, where three clean-shaven men and an old man in glasses were sitting. They spoke so loudly that they attracted the attention of yet others around them, especially Lavrik and Pekarsky, because apparently, they were the subject of the conversation.
Pekarsky stood and, searching out the master of ceremonies, began a long and heated explanation to him. The manager crossed hastily to the table with the old man and, bowing with his thick locks of hair tumbling, began in turn to persuade them, waving a hand and pointing in the direction of the Pekarskys.
"Shall we both come to you together? Would you like that?" Polina sang in a whisper,staring at Lavrentiev, who was getting redder and redder.
"We'll go to the park, the three of us, on horseback... a horseback ride... do you know how that's described in Theophile Gautier?"
"If you will permit me, I'll drive over tomorrow afternoon and pay you a visit"
"If you want to catch my husband at home, then come between twelve and two"
"Unfortunately I can come only around three"
Polina sighed heavily and suddenly glanced with widened eyes in the other direction: Lavrik, Pekarsky, Tsarevsky and almost all the men in the company were at the neighbouring table in a dense crowd, from which resounded hysterical, angry, insulted and threatening exclamations:
"Lyolechka, dear Lyolechka, what a delight you are!"
"How dare you speak that way!"
"I am always prepared to answer for my words"
"Kick them out of here"
"Let me hear them out! Maybe they're right!"
"It doesn't matter, this is no court of law!"
"Louts! Pharmacists! You'll hear from us again! Move, Urchin! Oh, so that's how it is, huh? So that's it!... And who lets all these swine in here anyway!"
Finally all the yells merged into one general uproar!
Dishes crashed from an upturned table... In a corner a scuffle had begun. The dishevelled master of ceremonies had rushed headlong into the neighbouring room, where the frightened visitors had pressed into a timid herd, when suddenly the whole roar was blanketed by a very loud voice with a light accent, which said:
"Gentlemen! Aren't you ashamed of yourselves: You are artists, not factory hands!"and in the centre of the parting crowd there appeared a tall, very slender woman with the face of an Egyptian queen, in a white dress embroidered with gold. In silence she approached the quarrelling parties directly and said just as calmly:
"There will be no quarrels and no duels. You would be insulting me, an artiste and a woman, who has come here to relax amiably. You can start your scuffles on the street or anywhere you like, only not here"
And then, turning to the dishevelled Lavrik, she asked
"Was it you they were offending,dear boy! Come sit with us, our room is spacious and quiet.."
And, taking him by the arm, she slowly made her way into the first room.
"Who is that?" Polina asked Urchin in a whisper.
CHAPTER 5 PART I
"Aren't you ashamed of yourself, Polina? That's Zoya Lilienfeld.
All through lunch Elena Aleksandrovna was in a somewhat nervous state. She spoke more than usual, laughed, and with sly coquetry tried to hide her inner trembling. Leonid Lvovich seemed not to notice anything, but it only seemed so, for when he pushed back his plate and finished the so to speak "official" portion of the meal, he leaned back in his chair and addressed his wife:
"Are you in a very good mood today, Lyolechka?"
"Me? Not particularly," she answered, blushing, and looked at the hand of the clock moving to half past one.
"I'll take a leave of absence and we'll go to Iraidain . I know you'd like to travel abroad, but it's not likely we'll be able to. And then soon it'll be quite hot. But in , in so far as I can recollect from my childhood, it's very beautiful. And then too, my sister will be there. Perhaps some others will come too. You won't find it boring. That Lavrentiev from yesterday, now... I think he said something about having an estate in province. Maybe in a distant part, but perhaps he's our neighbour. He seems a capital fellow...very reserved"
"Yes, he's quite all right," answered Lyolechka, and suddenly all the previous evening floated into her head, but in the opposite order, from the end to the beginning; and she felt more bored than usual...why was a strange young man coming to visit her in his raspberry--coloured piping, apparently with his sights set on her. Why had Polina become mixed up in it... Why did everything exist this way, and not some other way. In what other way she didn't know herself. She looked at her husband, who was continuing to say something. He seemed tired, and his eyes, large, dark resembling Iraida's eyes, were surrounded by grey circles. Elena Aleksandrovna felt especially bad to see that he was not completely well-shaven.
"Stay home today, Leonid! You're tired, and I don't think you're feeling well"
Leonid Lvovich smiled in surprise.
"What strange whim is this? Maybe you're not feeling too well yourself? It's bad for you to sit so much"
"Maybe I am ill, I do feel a chill. But that's not why I want you to stay...I'd just like you too, that's all... You miss work so seldom that it won't get you into any trouble, and anyway I beg you to do as I ask"
"You don't have any reasons?"
"None," answered Elena Aleksandrovna, and at that very moment the bell sounded.
"You'll stay, won't you," whispered Lyolechka, already crossing to the drawing room,where the tall marksman stood uneasily in the centre of the room.
Lavrentiev spent almost the whole ten minutes of his visit talking with Leonid Lvovich,and it seemed funny and improbable to Lyolechka that just the day before she had been sitting so close, next to, elbow to elbow with this boy in uniform and that Polina had been filling them with amusing and romantic nonsense. This seemed so strange to her that if someone had reminded her of yesterday's events she would have denied them indignantly...But in fact it had all really happened, in spite of the fact that Elena Aleksandrovna did not drink, was in a normal state of mind, and was definitely not in love with anyone in the slightest. She thought all this while listening absentmindedly to the conversation of her husband with their guest, until at last the latter began to make his farewells.
"Did you ask me to stay because of him? Is he really so dangerous?"
Elena Aleksandrovna did not reply to this, but continued to leaf through the album ofCrimean views which Lavrentiev had just been leafing through. All her gaiety had disappeared somewhere and she began in a quiet, somewhat piteous voice:
"Both because of him and because of me. You were quite right. I shouldn't go to bed so late, and it's especially bad for me to visit
'the Owl' so often. I've always defended it and do so now as well, but I'm just not cut out for it myself, I won't be liberated through it...There's no reason to let oneself get out of hand...and then I feel wild and out of place. I love you and love very simply. I don't need any make-believe sufferings and anyway just look how strange it is: I see there's nothing delightful in
'the Owl' It's dissipated and awkward and besides it deprives us of all delight, takes it out of my usual life with you. I love you, but I've grown deathly tired of all this. There's something wrong with
'the Owl' . But there must be a brilliant, gay, joyful life some place...without intoxication...without wildness!"
She fell silent, not, it seemed, from having said everything, but because she had grown tired of speaking or a unaccountable lethargy had descended upon her.
"I'm very sorry, Lyolechka, that I cannot...that I have not succeeded in providing you the brilliant life you speak of. Perhaps if we were rich it would be different...Of course you're weighed down by a certain bourgeois quality in our life, but I think that even the most brilliant external life, if it isn't animated by spiritual interests, interests of art, is just such an only slightly enhanced. Perhaps you wouldn't be so bored if we had children"
"That's all beside the point. Wealth, children, that's not what I wanted to say. I would like to have enthusiastic eyes for everything, enthusiastic feelings, and not feel ashamed of them half an hour later.."
"Of course we don't love each other as we did three years ago, when we were in love,but to be continuously in love would mean continually changing lovers, like gloves; you don't want that...And is that what you call `a brilliant life'?"
"I don't know...I don't know anything... You're just saying some lifeless words!"
Leonid Lvovich paced up and down the room, and in a cheerful loud voice, the voice of a doctor speaking with patients, he said:
"You've just grown tired toward the end of winter... Really, this absurd life grates one's nerves so... when you get some rest in the country, you'll calm down and begin, if not an enthusiastic life, then a quite joyful, loving one life we've lived until now"
"Yes, you're probably right... You're a very good person, Leonid. I am very grateful to you and I love no one but you"
But Elena Aleksandrovna said this in such a tired, indifferent voice that it seemed she believed neither her husband's assurances nor her own hopes in the slightest.
They had hardly finished stoking the fireplace when Polina Arkadievna swept into the room like a cyclone with all its attributes, filling the air with a thousand exclamations and the odour of a most powerful perfume. Just as Leonid Lvovich departed for his room Polina folded her legs beneath her on the divan and, drawing the blond head of her hostess to her, began in an agitated whisper:
"Well, what? Was he here?"
"And what about your husband? Why is he here?"
"I asked him to stay myself.."
Polina caught on quickly:
"Then you've already fallen in love with him? When will you see each other again?"
"I really don't know, Polina, he just paid a short call"
"Today's what? Wednesday? On Friday I'll invite him over, drive away all the boys and you come...Dear Lyolechka! Think how beautiful life will be! It will be a hymn to love!.."
"But God only knows what he'll think!"
"He'll be blinded! It'll be a phantasmagoria of ecstasy! He's a sensitive person, after all! His grandmother is received at the palace!... It's too bad you're leaving so soon. But I guarantee you that these two weeks will be one orgy of beauty"
Polina was even prancing with excitement. In spite of the daylight hour she was wearing heavy makeup; to go with her bright green dress she had a broad pink band embroidered with Crimean stones around her head with two artificial flowers the size of those roses which are used on the top of kuliches.
"Remember how it's said in Briusov?" and without saying how it was said in Briusov,Polina again began to rumple and kiss Elena Aleksandrovna. She bore the torrent of Polina's caresses stoically, then calmly remarked:
"All this is wonderful, Polina, except I won't be coming to see you on Friday,"
"I understand, you want to amaze him, but just be careful not to amaze yourself. There's no little time"
"You don't quite understand me, Polina"
Polina widened her eyes in surprise but said just in case:
"Oh, you just don't know how well I understand you"
"But I love my husband"
Polina Arkadievna laughed out loud and then said in an unusually serious tone:
"Can that really hinder anything"
Elena Aleksandrovna could not repress a smile and answered reluctantly:
"There are still two days left until Friday...Maybe I'll come to see you.."
CHAPTER 6 PART I
"Ah, my dear, I understand you so well!" exclaimed her guest, who again commenced squeezing her hostess in her embrace.
On Friday Elena Aleksandrovna decided nonetheless to see Polina. This was not a decision which was undertaken firmly, but when that morning, without from her bed, she saw the blue sky in which long white clouds seemed to be growing numb, she thought
"but maybe I should really go to Polina's today? After all, how I behave there depends on me and on me alone, and today, on such a day, everything simply must go lightly, romantically,beautifully. Especially beautifully.." and Elena Aleksandrovna gaily lowered her feet to the floor and gaily splashed herself with water. When she looked at her leg with its slender ankle, in its black openwork stocking which her body shining through made to look like a thing of ebony inlaid with pink mother-of-pearl, it seemed to her to be very beautiful also, and made her even more happy. The sound of rugs being beaten made its way through the window and Lyolechka, without knowing why, sighed and said out loud:
"No, nevertheless one can still live"
The coffee, the news from the paper, her husband's stories over breakfast, some purchases, briefly encountered faces - all seemed amusing, nice, and appetizing. She did not know whether this state of mind was a property of those
"enthusiastic eyes" she had spoken of so elevatedly and wearily to her husband. She simply felt good. And she seemed to be gulping down every minute. But this did not continue for long: just as a sound weakens as it spreads,so Elena Aleksandrovna grew more and more quiet; and became not precisely sad, but dreamily quiet by the time (about seven) when Lavrik unexpectedly dropped in on them after dinner. He was looking for Pekarsky, thinking that he was here. Elena Aleksandrovna asked him to sit awhile. She neither loved nor hated Lavrik, she did not relate to him at all, and was even almost unaware of what he looked like. But on this evening she had delayed the young man in all sincerity, because she would have been glad of the company of anyone who was not too noisy,so as not to die away completely herself. And Lavrik, she knew, would be quiet and calm, at least with her.
Elena Aleksandrovna did not read or sew but simply sat with her arms folded by the bright window. She seated Lavrik opposite herself. She almost forgot that he was a guest and looked at him as if these rosy cheeks, light unparted hair and gay bright eyes were not living but had been drawn sometime before in pastels. She trembled when Lavrik began to speak. He quietly said the most ordinary things, where he had been, what he had seen, that Orest Germanovich was working, so that Lyolechka did not tremble because of some news but simply from the sound of his voice.
"It's so nice today!" She remarked unexpectedly.
"Yes, it's a marvellous evening"
"The evening's marvellous, and it's just nice today in general! Where are you going this summer, Lavrik?"
"I don't know. Wherever Orest Germanovich goes. I think he's planning to visit Iraida Lvovna"
"Wouldn't it be nice to go to Italy, not to the big cities, but they have tiny, scattered ones. No one would see you... to live for a long, long time by an ancient church or some Roman ruin, and know all the people living there...it's not really being acquainted... In the evenings they drive the herds past, the road with its low stone walls is clouded with dust, and the hills are covered with olives and chestnuts. Or to go by ship and see the sea both waking and going to sleep, always the same but always different. You aren't in love with anyone, are you, Lavrik?"
"I said, you aren't in love with anyone, are you, Lavrik?"
"I was just asking. You know, I've never really taken a good look at you... You're so good-looking that it would be a pity if you fell in love with anybody. For the time being it's more natural for people to fall in love with you"
"I don't understand what you're talking about, Elena Aleksandrovna"
"If you don't understand, all the better. I've let my tongue run away from me and I'm saying silly things just like Polina. It's a good thing I thought of her, she's expecting me!" These last words Elena Aleksandrovna pronounced in a completely different voice, as if shaking off her melancholy lethargy, but without rising from her chair.
"This morning I was very gay and energetic, but now I've grown weak somehow"
"It's from me boring you. I just don't seem to know how to talk with ladies"
"No Lavrik, I would have felt worse if you hadn't been here. By talking with you I've freed myself somewhat from the poetic mush that was inside me and that I would have dragged around with me if we hadn't talked. And now excuse me, I must go change. Wait for me and we'll leave together"
And she left the room. Lavrik got up and went to the window, from which one could see the round bend of the Ekaterina canal, in the water of which shone gold the cross of a church that could not possibly, it seemed, be reflected in it. The conversations about travel upset him, although he pictured distant wanderings rather differently than Lyolechka dreamed of them: noisier, gayer, more mischievous.
Elena Aleksandrovna returned in about two minutes and, placing her already gloved hand on Lavrik's shoulder, said:
"Well, I'm ready... Don't be angry at me and don't pay any attention to what I've told you today. Believe me, I have the greatest regard for you and I'm also a great friend of Orest Germanovich"
"What has Orest Germanovich got to do with it?" said Lavrik in an unexpected bass.
"He has a lot to do with it. Don't go snorting now, but see me to Polina's - she lives only a few steps from here, and I'd like to go on foot"
Lyolechka took her escort by the arm and they walked in silence, as if they were lovers,for the several blocks that divided the Tsarevsky home from Podyacheskaya street.
"Perhaps I could drop in on Polina Arkadievna? She has invited me.." said Lavrik,kissing Lyolechka's hand in farewell.
"It would be better to drop by some other time. Today she won't be having anyone but me and we have our little secrets, and besides, you didn't warn Orest Germanovich and he's probably worried"
Elena Aleksandrovna seemed to have forgotten that she was headed nevertheless for an assignation. She had no decisions, no prior plans, words, or actions, and the only thought which revolved in her head was trivial and not at all suited to the time; and it was as she compared Lavrik's face which she had just seen with the one which she was to see - Lavrentiev in love,while Lavrik she could only love herself, look at him, kiss him, care for him, tend him. Once could do a lot for him; but from the other, the officer, one felt like demanding exploits and sacrifices. Of course, she would demand no exploits or sacrifices; they would simply sit, the three of them, in the semidarkness on the soft divan, would listen to Polina's dreams, would themselves dream quietly and chastely. Perhaps he would kiss her hand, no more... There would be no aesthetic frenzies.
The door banged and Elena Aleksandrovna almost tripped a man who was rushing headlong down the stairs. A coat, a bowler hat and a walking stick were thrown after him from the same door. Elena Aleksandrovna looked at the called card in terror, thinking that she might have picked the wrong door, although it was not the first time she had been to Polina Arkadievna's . Behind the door male voices continued; there was noisy yelling, and when Elena Aleksandrovna entered the foyer, she was confronted by about six men who, paying no attention to the new arrival, continued to argue and curse. A servant-girl came in with a carton of beer under her arm, and screams reverberated from the neighbouring room; --
"You have no right! You're insulting the mistress of the house! Polina! Come here! Oh, more beer! Hurray!" As if from the centre of a storm Polina's voice wafted through barely audible, although she was practically screaming.
"Quiet, quiet! I'm going to dance now... I hope you will pay no attention to my being almost naked.."
Lavrentiev rushed out into the foyer upset and red and, seeing Elena Aleksandrovnapressed against the door, ran to her with the words:
CHAPTER 7 PART I
"For God's sake! What have I become into? And why are you here?"
Behind a large table engulfed in papers and dictionaries, not covering the white paper with his fine script but lifting the pen to his mouth, sat Mister Stock. Apparently dreaming did not fit his rules of conduct, or at any rate resting at one's work, because, after a quick glance at the window, through which the Smolny cathedral could be seen, he at once turned his eyes to the tiny clock which stood before him and again began to write. So we wrote without getting up, until a servant called him to supper; even at the table he scanned endless columns of English newspapers and probably would have started to write once more when he got up from table had not an unexpected guest come to see him. This guest was our acquaintance, the marksman Lavrentiev. Apparently something had happened to him, or he was troubled by something, for in the first place this was evidenced by the uneven flush which covered his clean-shaven cheeks,and in the second place, although he was quite friendly with Mister Stock, the officer dropped in on him only when he needed help, advice, or consolation. The Englishman was not angered by the somewhat mercenary overtones of these visits, seeing in them a certain reticence which would not allow one to interrupt the affairs of a busy man without important reasons, and knowing that lengthy intervals between visits do not at all influence friendship, as opposed to romantic relationships. For this reason, setting aside the paper, he asked straight out:
"Well, what's happened, Lavrentiev?"
"Nothing in particular. I've come to see you that's all. I've missed you a lot"
"Of course, that goes without saying, but I hope that we aren't going to talk about things we know without speaking. At any rate I think I know you too well to suppose that you've come to me without reason, out of friendly feeling alone. I don't reproach you in this, on the contrary, I value this trait of yours very highly; time is so short, and we are not idlers or men in love who must spend time on empty chatter. Here's the coffee and the cognac - have a drink and tell me what's the matter"
"If you're occupied and not in love, Mister Stock, I can't say the same about myself. I do absolutely nothing; I even disgust myself"
"And you're in love as well?"
"Yes, Mister Stock"
"Apparently this is no casual flirtation, or you wouldn't have turned to me"
Lavrentiev blushed still more fiercely and began to speak rapidly, as if there really were very little time and they were talking at the station waiting for a train which was coming at any minute and would part them for a long time.
"This is terribly difficult...terribly complicated... Some flirtation!I'm beside myself... And she's not free, she's married. Her husband is not a worthless fellow, but a very worthy man; they're happy and she is completely different from me, from a different society, with different views, a different character, perhaps better than me, even certainly better,but different...And you know what a blow this will be for my mother; I was always a good little boy as they say, I'm not a hard drinker, no ladies' man, you know yourself, and probably that's how it would continue, I would live quietly and simply with my mother until I married a good girl from our own circle, but now...you can't imagine where I go, what I do, what I say! I seem deprived of all reason, even to myself. Think how it is to break everything, everything, it's horrible"
"Concerning the breaking you are, of course, looking at only one side of it: you're looking only at what you're giving up and paying no attention to what you're moving towards... One person might consider this a breaking and betrayal of sorts, while other would call it a beginning and a new life. Why should you be so afraid of beginnings? Perhaps a man is only alive because he is always beginning... Why should we carry our dead with us on our journey? No matter how dear the graves might be, we must go further, and not sit on them in weakness. A certain stagnancy has always threatened you, but I thought you would wake up. Perhaps you're already waking up? If this is not a genuine feeling it will be cast off of itself and another will come...Now, I'm speaking totally abstractly, not with regard to this particular incident; as to practical conclusions, for what I would have to know all the circumstances in somewhat greater detail. Tell me about them, if you don't find it difficult...I don't doubt the sincerity of your feelings"
Seeing that his guest remained silent and had even covered his face with his hands, the Englishman began making inquiries himself:
"First of all, how far has your affair proceeded? Does this lady belong to you?"
"No! But it may happen at any moment," answered Lavrentiev, not without a certain degree of boastfulness.
"Does she have children? Children, i.e. childs?"
"No, she has no childs,"Lavrentiev repeated the Englishman's error without noticing it himself.
"She's already middle-aged?"
"No, I think she's about my age"
"What sort of society is she from if she's not from your circle? Is she a merchant's wife or what?"
"Her husband has a position some place... A civil servant, I think, but she's closest to the artistic set. Artists, writers, actors... There's a tavern called `
'the Owl' , I met her there"
"Yes, yes, I've heard of it," answered Stock and after a pause added:
"You say that she doesn't share your character or views; I know you have a peaceful character and respectable views. Does that mean that she's the opposite?"
"Oh, I don't know. She is very delicate, tender and so kind, so kind... She doesn't belong there; she's tired and bored there I think"
"This is really quite bad. Nothing good can come of a man beginning something even while in a state of fatigue and boredom, to say nothing of starting it because of boredom. The beginner must burn when in love, and not just be depressed thinking about what he is leaving behind.."
"She loves me", the officer answered simply, not entirely understanding what his host was telling him.
"That's not precisely what I'm talking about," remarked Mister Stock.
"After all, in point of fact what matters are the practical conclusions, not the theoretical discussions. All the more so since the theory doesn't apply to everyone. If you could give me the opportunity to see your lady some place, it would help me to give you better advice, if you need it"
"Perhaps you'd just like to become acquainted with her? That wouldn't be hard to do"
"That's also possible, but for now I'll say only one thing: for the time being try not to annoy your mother, but don't be afraid of any beginnings. We are always only beginning...And if anyone feels that he has accomplished something, finished it, with that he dies, because nothing remains for him to do"
Of course Lavrentiev knew Mister Stock very well, and could have expected other speeches from him, but love had turned everything so topsy-turvy in his head that he was almost hurt that his host had spoken with him so dryly and lifelessly about what was so tremulous and alive. He would have liked him to sit with him on the couch in a half-dark corner and begin to CHAPTER 8 PART I
"aah" over his feelings, ask him about Lyolechka's eyes and hair, although for such exercises it would have been more natural to turn to Polina Arkadievna, whose entourage had put or marksman, who had recommended himself as a
"good little boy," into such a panic.
That morning Elena Aleksandrovna awoke not quite so joyfully as she had when she was expecting Lavrentiev's first visit.
There had been an evening at
'the Owl' the previous night just as before; just as before Lyolechka was drunk almost without drinking anything, the marksman sat just as close to her while Polina spouted various nonsense; she got up just as late, but the unfounded joy and exultation which would have given her a semblance of
"enthusiastic eyes" were absent.
In her recollections, heart, and soul, if you will, there was a weary and troubling ripple which crumpled everything into tiny pieces and carried them off God knows where, against the will of Elena Aleksandrovna herself. There was a huge sensation of
"who cares?" and along with that, a certain freedom, as if her entire life had been encompassed in that single night at
'the Owl' Why should there be restraints, promises, obligations, when there was only a night,drunk without wine, a bit ridiculous - and anyway in the morning we awaken transformed,barely remembering ourselves what we said. She remembered only that the previous evening she had promised Lavrentiev to meet him in the Summer Garden and go with him somewhere. She remembered this alone as the result of long explanations and conversations.
And for some reason she also remembered that he said this in the foyer, handing her coat, so that no one knew of it, not even Polina Arkadievna. One thought hovered in her head: What was his name? Perhaps Dmitry... either Alekseevich or Vladimirovich, but in any event she could call him Dima.
So, a fairly pretty picture... It remained one a bit of the noble romances of the good old days of yore. And she would call him Mitenka like his old nursemaids must have, and would never, never speak with him on intimate terms, no matter what happened!
Elena Aleksandrovna for some reason approached the Summer Garden from the embankment; it was windy and the Neva, as if in concert with Lyolechka's mood and thoughts,was covered with fine blue ripples. No sooner had Elena Aleksandrovna entered the gates,crossing herself at the chapel with a tiny gesture, than she met Lavrik, who was already going about in a straw hat. He kissed her hand, and she began to speak rapidly and gaily:
"Come with me and don't tell anyone you met me. I am spending the whole day in Pavlovsk, understand? Or are you also waiting for someone? Oh, how I do run on scandalously! But you won't give me away, will you? But what are you making such a sad face for? It'll be loads of fun, I assure you!"
Lavrik's pink face was in point of fact sad and even seemed less rounded, especially when he said:
"I'm not waiting for anyone, Elena Aleksandrovna, but Lavrentiev's been waiting for you about twenty minutes now. Only I don't understand what you need me for. What am I supposed to do?"
"Tell me, Lavrik, what is his name?"
"Then I wasn't mistaken. I thought so. As to what you have to do, that will be clear there. I'd really like you to come with me... I'll have a better time"
"Yes, here's what we'll do... you sit here, no one ever takes this path, and I'll go to Dmitry Alekseevich and bring him to you, because some of our acquaintances are in the garden. I won't give you away, but if Kolya sees you he won't keep quiet"
"Your own brother"
"Yes, of course, that would be awkward. How is it you're so smart, Lavrik? You're probably used to deceiving people? Well, do and bring Lavrentiev, only see to it you come back with him yourself; don't go disappearing now"
"No, I won't disappear"
And Lavrik went, swinging a stick. Elena Aleksandrovna sat down, shading her eyes with a hand, either to protect herself from the sun or to keep from being recognized. It seemed so funny to her that she laughed out loud, so that a passing gentleman even paused in surprise. Then Lyolechka covered her whole face with both hands and continued laughing. When she removed her hands Lavrik and Dmitry Alekseevich were already standing before her. The face of the latter expressed love and incomprehension.
"Are you very gay today?" he said after greeting her.
"Forgive me, it was involuntary. I remembered a very funny thing. But you know,Lavrik is quite right, we must leave here and some place immediately, or someone may see us. Of course it's not important, but I'd like it to be kept a secret. It's just not interesting when everything comes about simply"
"I'll go, Elena Aleksandrovna," said Lavrik, tipping his hat.
"No, no! Don't you dare even think of leaving! For today you are our captive. Isn't it so, Dmitry Alekseevich, that we need Lavrik to come along with us?"
"As you wish," he answered a bit dryly.
"We'll go to dinner. But where? I want a decent place, not ostentatious, gay, where no one will see us. Do you know such a restaurant? I don't care if it's not in town, just so long as we won't need to go too far"
"I really don't know where we should go"
"Perhaps we could go to Slavianka," Lavrik proposed.
"Well of course, to Slavianka!" Lyolechka enthused.
"It's right by the water and there'll be Germans drinking beer. How is it you're so smart, Lavrik? I thought you were quite little yet. You must tell me who is in love with you. You'll tell me, won't you? Why should you be shy with me? I feel so gay today that I'm ready to cry. You see, I've put on a green veil. I was sure that we'd go by car"
Elena Aleksandrovna never ceased chattering all the way there, leaving the impression that the company was having a fine time, although her companions were pensive and distracted. They arrived early, so that even the Germans with their beer had yet to put in an appearance. Some young people were already driving along the river in racing jerseys. As soon as dinner was served Lyolechka immediately cut off her merry monologue, as if she were tired, and a cloud passed over her ordinary blonde's face.
"I felt as though
'the Owl' were still going on, but I'm really acting very badly. Why am I here with you? I'm married, I'm friendly with my husband, but you, admit it, you almost court me and I name you a rendezvous, eat with you in secret. But it doesn't mean anything, and I'm not giving you any hopes or any rights"
"I was far from thinking of having any rights or hopes. I'm simply endlessly grateful to you for giving me the opportunity to be so happy for even three hours. You have no reason to reproach yourself, especially since we're not alone"
"What do you mean, not alone. Oh, you mean Lavrik! But can you really count him?"
"Why shouldn't he be counted? He's an altogether grownup young man"
Here Lavrik came in:
"Elena Aleksandrovna meant to say that I'm not dangerous in the least. I'm not crazy enough to court her myself, and in general she knows my way of thinking and my life's circumstances too well to consider me a young man who ought to be reckoned with from a certain point of view"
Lyolechka gave the speaker a sidelong glance and said, laughing:
"Well that's excellent. You see how rationally Lavrik himself put it. But although he seems to be the most intelligent of the three of us, I don't put much store in his good sense. All that's only for the time being. I'm not talking about the present case, of course. But now let's eat. I seem to have worked up an appetite"
"God, how I love you! And I don't know where it will all lead to. I don't want to know," whispered Lavrentiev when Lavrik had gone off somewhere.
Elena Aleksandrovna answered unhurriedly, without taking her eyes from the water:
"Why think about that? It's so nice now! Don't pay any attention to my silences, I'm having a good time, really I am" Then, after a pause, she began again, -
"Dmitry.." and stopped.
"Alekseevich," the officer prompted her and quickly added
"but please, do me the pleasure of calling me Dima"
"Dima," Elena Aleksandrovna repeated indifferently, forgetting how she had joyfully planned to call him Mitenka.
"I have a request to make of you"
"Name it! I'm ready to do anything you want!"
"Wait, I'll remember,... yes, whatever happens let's never use
'tu' with each other"
"All right," answered Lavrentiev, expecting a continuation. But Lyolechka added nothing and so they remained silent until Lavrik returned. Lyolechka began again:
"Look how nice it is, how clear! Gardens over on the other side, boats floating by;they're floating to the seashore; they could go all the way to Stockholm that way. I always think of that place as bright and cold. Always morning... People there are blonde and well-washed. They go rowing or skiing. Their rooms are by stoves and filled with blonde furniture"
But no matter how hard Elena Aleksandrovna tried to recapture her enthusiastic eyes, her mood was gradually fading away, perhaps because it met with no sympathy from her companions. Lavrentiev squeezed her hand imperceptibly and whispered
"My dear!" But Lavrik, twisting the pepper mill in his hands and sprinkling pepper on the tablecloth, remarked seriously:
"We'll have to ask Rayev for a steam lunch, then we'll be able to go to Stockholm"
Elena Aleksandrovna looked at both despairingly and stopped troubling herself trying to think up some poetic conversations.
Yawning slightly, she remarked:
"Shall we see each other the day after tomorrow at
"absolutely, absolutely," whispered Lavrentiev passionately.
"I don't know how I'll live until tomorrow"
And Lyolechka thought sadly:
" I was counting so much on this dinner, and isn't it just the same as being home with my husband? Perhaps because Lavrik's here. No, if he wasn't it would be even worse. Lavrentiev would try to get some place then. The only difference is that he has different eyes and a different face."
And she looked attentively at his pink face and hazel eyes as if she were looking not at a person but at no object.
But it would be engaging to see how that face would change if Lyolechka agreed. More than anything he resembled a setter puppy.
"Why are you looking at me like that?" asked Lavrik, without having finished chewing his pastry.
"Why shouldn't I look at you? After all, it's been established that you don't count. So I look at you just because I have to look somewhere"
Elena Aleksandrovna was already buttoning up her gloves when StockholmLavrentiev whispered to her again:
"Will we really have to wait until the day after tomorrow to see each other again?! You said at home that you would be out of town until evening. It's only seven o'clock now. Maybe we'll go for a drive somewhere, to Pavlovsk for example. I can't bear to part with you. It seems like I didn't even see you today, since there were three of us"
Elena Aleksandrovna answered coldly, almost angrily:
CHAPTER 9 PART I
"No, I've become a headache. We will see each other on Friday, and don't escort me. Someone might see you. Lavrik can escort me, after all, he doesn't count"
'the Owl' was more crowded than usual. On the stage the techniques of rhythmic gymnastics were being demonstrated by a nearly naked young man, a bit broad-shouldered, with long arms and an ordinary French face, while a tall gentleman with a black beard modestly played musical selections in two-four, three-four, and six-eight time. Sometimes these pieces joined to form more or less of a whole, and the boy would depict now the return of a warrior from battle, now the death of Narcissus. During his high leaps, waving his arms, he almost touched the low ceiling of the building, and drops of sweat could be seen covering his swarthy, somewhat rounded back. It was strange to watch the simple face of an ordinary Frenchman with a nice, sly smile suddenly wrinkle tragically, or freeze in an expression of romantic ecstasy in accordance with whether the pianist was playing a selection in two-four or six-eight. Young people enviously criticized him, assuring one another that this was not ballet; ladies tried to introduce themselves to the imported artist, and male dancers at once began some sort of vigorous matlot or fricasse, with practiced grace demonstrating the charm of traditional art. Jean Joubert, dressed in a blue unslit jacket, was standing in confusion at the table where sat his accompanist and several gentlemen in starched white shirt fronts, when Polina, biting the corner of her unpainted table, sighed out
"I want to get to know you. I want you"
The young man understood nothing, since he spoke no Russian, but saw the obvious excitement of his neighbour.
"May I help the lady?" he asked, smiling and bowing. Translating the conversation into French vernacular, Polina answered:
"I applaud you. Give me your hand. You gave us some resplendent moments. I'm called Polina".
"How stupid for us to wear these rags!"
"Mademoiselle is a devotee of rhythmic gymnastics?"
"I don't know. I've seen only you"
"Still, he has overdeveloped calves and a rounded back" - said a blonde man with watery eyes in a lilac waistcoat, addressing a well-known mimic, who stood with stick in hand dressed in a white brocade waistcoat buttoned by a single indecent cameo. They were not, seemingly,hindered by rags as was Polina Arkadievna, and they exhibited no inclination to remove their clothes, at any rate here. The tables were moved back so as to make room for the French guest along with his company as well as Polina's group. This latter consisted Lyolechka, Lavrentiev,Hoar-frost, Lavrik and some short-cropped girl with an extravagant bust, who was known officially as Sofia Georgievna Polikarpova, but was more commonly referred to as
"Sonka the Pistol" The black-bearded gentlemen limply and dully led a discussion on art; the Frenchdancer was simply silent, smiling slightly at Polina, who whispered to him from the other side:
"Are you going to be here long? You must promise to come and see me. I live on Podyacheskaya. I have some lovely materials. I'll recite Kuzmin's
`Alexandrian Songs' and you can dance or simply lay there posing. There'll be lots and lots of flowers. We'll smother from them, and our friends, only our closest friends will understand how wonderful it is. My acquaintances have a leopard skin rug; I'll get it and it will serve as my costume. Imagine - just a leopard skin and nothing else. It will be held up by a garland of roses"
She spoke in an undertone, with mistakes, and the Frenchman, smiling slightly, wondered with longing why his companion hadn't taken him to a restaurant to have supper. He was hungry, and `the
"the Owl's" cutlets, made from stray cats, did not particularly tempt him.
Besides, he found Polina's ecstasies boring; he did not completely understand them and considered them wide of the mark, since he was a gay, simple, and very practical man. Lyolechka sat, now blushing, now growing pale, looking from time to time at the small purse in which lay a letter to Lavrentiev.
She had not yet passed it to him, although it would not have been at all difficult to do so, since the marksman had been sitting next to her the whole time and the people around them did not seem to be paying them any particular attention; from time to time he squeezed Lyolechka's hand and whispered enamoured words, while she looked absentminded and pensive.
"It's horribly stuffy. And besides I can't eat anything here. It would be much better to go to a restaurant, isn't that right? - Lyolechka said loudly, as if reading the thoughts of Joubert, who was seated opposite.
He joyfully nodded his head and clinked glasses with Elena Aleksandrovna. The rest of the company protested, saying that it was much freer and more poetic at
'the Owl' , that they could move to the other room or dim the lights, and one could drop by the nearest restaurant for food.
Hoar-frost and Lavrentiev were drafted for the task. The Frenchman and his companion soon took their leave also, and the remaining company moved to the other room, taking no particular interest in the cinematograph of faces which was noisily and fussily beginning to be shown on the stage.
"Why are you so boring, Lavrik? You shouldn't get sad," said Lyolechka crossing the room on Lavrik's arm.
"I'm not sad. But why should I be making merry? What do I signify? Even if people treat me well and pay some attention to me, it's only because of Orest Germanovich, but on my own what am I?"
"On your own you're an enchanting creature. You can be talented; you have your whole life before you; and what on earth would you like to be at age eighteen?"
"Well, take that Frenchman, he's not any older than I am, but he dances, and not badly... He has his own meaning; everyone looks at him"
"That's because they're all blind, if they understood anything, they would look at you and turn their back on the stage"
"You're only saying that to make me feel better. I know I'm not at all good-looking,and besides, even if I were handsome as you say, what's the use of it, if I don't count?"
"You have a good memory... you remember the words I spoke at the
'Slavianka.' But if you don't count it's your own doing"
"Then you think it can be corrected?"
"There's nothing in the world that can't be corrected"
Lavrik bent to kiss Lyolechka's hand, but Lyolechka herself without taking her hand away,gently drew the letter to Lavrentiev out of her purse with the other, and passing it to Lavrik,said
"Here, read this when you get home"
"What is it? A letter? To me?"
"As you see"
"And it was you who wrote it?"
"Yes it was I. What's so strange in that?"
"Elena Aleksandrovna!" Lavrik was about to exclaim, but at this point, laughing and rumbling, Hoar-frost and Lavrentiev returned, carrying bundles of sandwiches and other provisions.
Although the vague bluish light of the lamps did not seem to inspire one particularly to noisy carousing, nonetheless loud voices, laughter and frivolous screams scattered in all directions.
Only Polina Arkadievna's voice could not be heard, as she had long since secreted herself behind the screens and was engaged in intimate discussion, half-prone across Hoar-frost's knees.
Lavrentiev, sitting next to Lyolechka, continued to whisper amorously:
"You can't imagine how awful yesterday was for me. I was positively fidgeting over not seeing you. But even when I thought I would see you today, I began worrying again. I've never felt anything like it"
"You say you love me, Dmitry Alekseevich; haven't you ever loved anyone until now?"
"No," answered the officer simply. Lyolechka laughed quietly, put her hand on his sleeve and said softly:
"How nice you are!"
"Why are you laughing?"
"Don't be offended, but it's always a trifle amusing when a grown man, especially a military man, confesses that he has never loved. I like your directness very much"
"I'm telling the truth"
"I believe you and am very grateful for it"
And Elena Aleksandrovna felt a sudden and irresistible desire to console him, to reward him, to do something pleasant for this nice young boy, who had so openly and naively confessed his love for her.
"Dmitry Alekseevich," she said.
"It's not yet two; let's disappear unnoticed and go fora drive!"
Lavrentiev, not saying anything in reply, had time only to squeeze Lyolechka's hand,because Lavrik approached them and asked to have a few words with Elena Aleksandrovna.
"Well, what is this, Lavrik! So now you're going to hold audiences! But I thought it had been established that you don't count. Why should you need a few words with me?"
"Elena Aleksandrovna, I beg you," Lavrik continued to insist,
"Will you allow me to do now what I'm supposed to do at home?"
"I don't think I understand what you're saying"
"Well, to read the letter"
"Oh, you've already forgotten! Well, the one you gave me, the one I'm supposed to read at home. Does it mean so little, then? I thought... for me it was worth my whole life"
"You were not mistaken, it has, of course, great significance," answered Lyolechkaabsentmindedly, and suddenly, glancing at her watch, she finished slyly:
"You can read it at two-thirty. But don't follow me now and don't be surprised at anything"
Waiting for a moment when everyone was especially in their own affairs, Lyolechka and Lavrentiev left unnoticed. They put on their wraps behind the coat rack, gaily rushing and laughing, as if they were planning to steal apples. They ran quickly up the stairs and came out on the street quickly as well; only when they had reached the first corner did Lyolechka stop, as if from joy she could go no further.
"My God!" she whispered.
"How good that was. Here they are,
And Lavrentiev understood from his lady's face that she could be and indeed must be kissed.
When the clock struck half past two, Lavrik hurriedly went behind the same coat rack where Lyolechka and Lavrentiev had just become bundled up, took out the crumpled paper which had been rustling constantly in his pocket and read:
"My dear, my dear! I have thought much, and must tell you that I love you. Tomorrow at four o'clock let us meet at Gostiny Dvor. I will tell you everything, everything. I kiss you very hard. Tear up the letter"
But Lavrik did not tear up the letter, rather he sat on a low bench and began to cover the scrap of paper with kisses, as if he were kissing the tender cheeks of Lyolechka herself.CHAPTER 10 PART I
All these days Lavrik was beside himself with joy: what else could be expected - it was his first romance! Not a mere love affair, to which the more significance one attached the worse it was, but a real romance! And with whom? With a charming real lady, who had a respectable husband and whose attentions many tried to attain, - just take Lavrentiev as an example. Of course, for the time being this romance had a somewhat childlike character, but what would you want? After all, Lyolechka Tsarevsky was not Sonka the Pistol, whom one could invite to the mezzanine after two kisses. But she loved him and had set up a rendezvous with him; she had let him kiss her! And it already seemed to Lavrik that the final accomplishment depended solely on him. Of course, it would be a gift on Lyolechka's part, a great queenly gift, but one which he could receive at any moment, as soon as he asked. And Lavrik purposely delayed this moment, so as to prolong the sweet minutes, as children wait locked in the nursery on Christmas eve while the grown ups decorate the tree in the drawing room and the light through the crack in the door tells of the brilliance, exultation, and joy which will momentarily ensue. But meanwhile he seemed to be walking on clouds or on downy feather mattresses, and didn't hear the assertions of Lyolechka's brother, Kolya Zuyev, who was walking beside him.
He really was Elena Aleksandrovna's brother, although he never visited her and no one knew where, how, or on what he lived; and in general the family considered him a cross it would prefer not to talk about.
The job of family cross had not deprived this young man of his carefree ways and pleasant frame of mind, but on the contrary had only lent greater sharpness to his sarcasms,which were directed toward his family and sundry other fundamentals, in particular, for some reason against the female estate, which he considered the primary preserver of all sorts of hypocritical and stuffy traditions. Perhaps in him we were losing a Swift or a Shchedrin, but for the time being he was more reminiscent of a not unintelligent hooligan.
Lavrik most commonly sought his company after receiving a reprimand from Orest Germanovich or, on the other hand, when Planning an escapade which would inevitably result in such a reprimand, and was frank with him about the most reprehensible things, which seemed rather dirty even to him.
So Kolya Zuyev was for Lavrik something like a cesspit or a basket for unwanted papers. He threw all the worst into him in becoming free of it, and of course he would never take it into his head to admit Kolya to his elevated or poetic aspirations. Now he had met him by chance and, of course, said nothing to him about his romance, about his being in love, so that he was mildly surprised when his companion remarked as if inspired:
"Don't try to hide it, I know that you and Lyolechka are up to some hanky-panky. I'm surprised you need such a sour puss. After all, I know you, - you're only putting things off and she's nothing much to look at... rubbish like all of them...she keeps trying to find someone to make a deal with... Maybe she won't betray her husband, but only because she's afraid of a scandal; otherwise do you think she'd take a second look at him? And you think that she's in love with you? She doesn't care if it's that officer or you or an old yardman - whoever turns up.."
He might have continued his speech further had not his cap, made to look like a student's, flown into the centre of the street, knocked off by Lavrik's fist.
"What was that for?"
Lavrik hit him again on the back of his head without his cap and then answered:
"You go to hell! And if you ever meet me again cross to the other side of the street. I'll beat your brains out every time... So just remember!"
Kolya collected his cap and wanted to knock off Lavrik's straw hat with a stick, but seeing that Lavrik was agilely parrying his blows with his cane and that a local gendarme was slowly approaching them, turned into an alley, muttering in farewell -
"We'll see what tune you're singing in a week, you poor little snot!"
Lavrik wanted to see Elena Aleksandrovna that very instant, to fall to his knees before her, to kiss her hem, to weep over her somehow, to cleanse her of the words which her own brother had sullied her with. He almost ran to the Ekaterina canal to fulfil his desire as quickly as possible - flew up the stairs like an arrow, rushed like a hurricane into the foyer, and stopped,seeing a uniform jacket with raspberry piping hanging on the coat rack. Lavrentiev was not Elena Aleksandrovna's only guest, which somewhat mollified Lavrik's jealousy. Orest Germanovich and Iraida Lvovna were there; Leonid Lvovich was also at home. They were all sitting in a semicircle around the table set for tea and resembled a session of the Areopagus.
When Lavrik stopped at the threshold, Lyolechka exclaimed in an unnaturally loud voice:
"Lavrik was the only one we lacked for a family council!"
"Why a family council?" asked her disgruntled husband.
"Well, how else, we're all family here. We're sitting in a circle as if we were about to judge a criminal wife. Only Dmitry Alekseevich is an outsider.."
"Orest Germanovich isn't family, even though he's very close to us"
"Orest Germanovich is related to us through Lavrik"
Not noticing the awkwardness of Lyolechka's reply or, on the contrary, underlining it,Iraida Lvovna slowly but distinctly asked:
"And how is Lavrik related to you?"
"Lavrik? Lavrik is just... We've all become such friends that it's impossible to tell who's related and who isn't... Let's all have our tea instead"
Then Lavrik remarked:
"In that case you'd do better count Dmitry Alekseevich as kin"
"I'd be happy!" answered the marksman, but everyone had grown dull and started stirring their spoons in their cups.
Again it was Lavrik who renewed the conversation. He was not especially original in his opening gambit, repeating the same phrase:
"Yes, in my opinion if Elena Aleksandrovna can consider any of the outsiders here her kin, it would be Dmitry Alekseevich more than any one else"
"Why?" asked Lyolechka, looking directly into the speaker's eyes.
"I know you and Orest Germanovich much better"
"But you treat Dmitry Alekseevich much more like a relative than us"
"Even if that were so, what would be wrong with it?"
"I'm not saying there's anything wrong with it"
"One would think you're in love with my wife, Lavrik, and are talking like that out of jealousy"
"Whether I'm in love with Elena Aleksandrovna or not means little, but the fact that your wife is too kind to gospodin Lavrentiev is not without interest"
"But what do you mean by talking about me as if I were dead or not here? You'll agree that it's inconsiderate, to say the least, to discuss a person's affairs that way in his presence"
"In general I would ask that my name not be mentioned with that of Elena Aleksandrovna. Remember that, young man, or you'll regret it"
"It's interesting that it's not Leonid Lvovich, as Elena Aleksandrovna's spouse, who's defending her, but a total bystander, not even a friend"
"Lavrik, Lavrik, what's come over you?" said Orest Germanovich, approaching the boy, who was red as a crab.
"I'm sick of it... such hypocrisy, this double dealing! Leave me alone!"
"Oh so you're sick of it?" exclaimed Lyolechka,
"and you think I'm not sick of you? You're an impertinent, impudent Urchin! What do you imagine yourself to be? You're sick of it? Well then listen to this! Yes, I love Dmitry Alekseevich, if you like, I'm his lover! If you only knew how tired I am of you all! What do you want from me?"
"Lyolechka! Lyolechka! Elena Aleksandrovna!" exclamations resounded, and Lavrik,covering his face with one hand and flailing the air with the other as if being pursued by wasps, rushed out into the foyer.
Lyolechka caught up with him on the stairs as he was descending, one arm stuck through his coat.
"Lavrik, dearest! Don't believe it! It was all a lie... I love only you, but why do you keep pressing me?"
But Lavrik continued to go down without stopping, and seemed to be crying.
When Elena Aleksandrovna returned to the room everyone was where they were before and confusedly silent. Finally Leonid Lvovich said in a hoarse voice:
"What is the meaning of this? Explain it to me, Lyolechka, if you can. Is this really all true?"
"Oh, I don't know... just leave me alone"
"What do you mean you don't know? Who else would know?"
"I assure you," interposed Lavrentiev,
"I give you my word of honour as an officer that Elena Aleksandrovna was upset and said things that were not only ill-conceived but had no relation to reality. You may believe me that in reality, nothing of the sort has happened. Moreover I swear to you, I guarantee that such wild scenes will not be repeated"
"I'm sure that we will never again be mutual witnesses of such scenes, because, and I hope you understand, further visits of our home by you would be very undesirable to me"
"How stupid this is!" whispered Lyolechka, but Lavrentiev left the room with a silent farewell.
Then Leonid Lvovich, despite the presence of his sister and Orest Germanovich, got down on his knees before his wife and, kissing her hands, said over and over:
"Well, tell me, tell me, what does all this mean?"
CHAPTER 11 PART I
"Oh, how should I know? Leave me alone! I'm sick of you all!.." she answered without turning her head.
Against his want Lavrik spent whole days at home, which greatly surprised his uncle Orest Germanovich. He was not melancholy or gloomy; on the contrary, he seemed to be more than usually occupied, and to questions about why he was sitting around he would answer gaily and carelessly:
"I'm just so tired of gadding about!" Didn't you think I was capable of staying at home a while?"
He became neater and even seemed to take an interest in their uncomplicated housekeeping, and kept urging Orest Germanovich to go the country as soon as possible. He did not resemble a repentant sinner, he was so gay, simple and active; so that Orest Germanovich was somewhat surprised when once upon returning home he found Lavrik standing at the window, from which could be seen an uneven clot of ships and steamers crowded around the tall winch. Putting a hand on his nephew's shoulder, Pekarsky was silent, thinking that Lavrik was dreaming of their coming travels. Lavrik squeezed Pekarsky's other hand and continued to stand there silently, finally exclaiming:
"Is everyone really so false?" and, since he did not know what this exclamation referred to, his uncle kept silent.
Then the younger, pressing his cheek to the other's shoulder, continued:
"But believe me, it's all over with now, once and for all! It's even partly good that it happened this way! I've been cured, once and for all, you understand. And it's good that you didıt know anything, that it all went past you. I think that if it were possible to become closer and more attached to you, then the time has come now to do it"
"I didn't know anything and didn't think anything. You yourself say it's good that I don't know anything. But I only know and see that you've become different and much better,much dearer and kinder than before. If everything's really over, so much the better. Let what has passed pass in silence. Someday you'll tell me"
"Yes, yes, let what has passed pass in silence! It's over, over for and not unsealing the envelope he tore it into tiny pieces, glanced at Orest Germanovich gaily, kissed him and said:
"Let it be so"
From that day forward Lavrik began to go out, but always with Orest Germanovich; it seemed that their friendship had never been so shining and joyful. But meanwhile the conversations of those around them were the same as always; Polina Arkadievna continued fussing, acting crazy and starting all sorts of awkward situations; Iraida Lvovna mourned her soul in the pose of a Briullov portrait; the young marksman blushed just as amorously and his lady didn't know herself what she wanted; the same monotonous and impromptu freedom reigned at
"the Owl," which was visited as before by everyone, and the same weight, undefined as previously, lay on Lyolechka's husband, Leonid Lvovich. He could not explain to himself his wife's unfaithfulness or her behaviour, because he did not believe in the first, and Elena Aleksandrovna had no behaviour per se: she was different every day and behaved differently. And this was no news to him, because Lyolechka Tsarevsky had always been that way from the very first day of their acquaintanceship; perhaps it was this very fickleness and variety which had first attracted him to the girl, whom he wanted to understand and fathom. Leonid Lvovichdid not understand or fathom anything, perhaps because he was not too astute, or perhaps because there was nothing to fathom. He simply lived quietly and secretly, knowing that one could never predict what mood his wife would get up in. This variety had already lost for him the charm of novelty, but did not trouble him particularly, so that it was quite impossible to seek the reasons for Leonid Lvovich's distress within himself. He thought about this often, and now,as he walked along the embankment, this same undefined despair did not allow him to look as he ought at the passers-by on foot or riding, who had come out in spring sunlight which invigorated more than it warmed. Least of all did he think about Lavrentiev or about any other of his wife's acquaintances with whom she might be having an affair. Affairs in general did not seem absolute necessities to Leonid Lvovich and, loving Elena Aleksandrovna quietly and even a bit dully, he could not imagine, even harnessing his entire imagination, how one could even think of having an affair with another woman.
A small completely naked dog in a piteous horse-cloth and with a long leash tied to its collar, apparently escaped from its master, ran under Tsarevsky's legs, yapped maliciously in umbrage and quickly ran down the steps to the Neva.
Leonid Lvovich had already succeeded in stepping on the trailing leash and then grabbed the dog, which squealed and tried to nip him, wriggling its tiny naked legs and stomach like a maleficent rat, when he heard a woman's voice raised about him:
"Tutu! Aren't you ashamed of yourself! Making me worry and yell like a slut... I'm sorry I've caused you so much trouble; she didn't want to drown herself at all, but she's very mean and could run away altogether out of pure spite... Isn't it awful to have to deal with such capricious and stubborn creatures? She didn't bite you? Well, you can be thankful for that, at any rate. Yes, but I've completely forgotten to thank you; you've saved me a lot of trouble... Thank you... My God! But where have I seen you before?"
In front of Tsarevsky stood a tall, very thin woman with narrow lengthened eyes, dressed stylishly but fancifully.
"Perhaps you have a good memory for faces?"
"Yes, I remember faces well, but I've almost spoken with you"
"Yes, you almost spoke with me. It was at "
"That's it!... You're absolutely right... it was at
'the Owl' I still don't know you. It's quite vulgar there, but engaging"
"Without knowing it you did me a great service. My name is Tsarevsky"
"I'm very glad that I could be of service to you. Then we're even? You've returned this evil creature that wanted to run away from me... and was my service of a similar sort?"
"Don't think I'm looking for confidences. It's enough for me to know that I've helped someone without knowing it. My name is Lilienfeld"
"Who doesn't know it!"
"You see what fame means. One can get along without calling cards. I don't know any singers who haven't had the anecdote about singing some aria in place of a passport told about them. Not long ago, Chaliapin revived that dear, famous old chestnut... What should I do? Read a soliloquy from Phaedra here, in front of the constable?"
"You don't need any soliloquies. Your eyes, your smile and your figure are enough to give you away, even among a thousand other people"
"You compliment me. After all, what you said is the greatest flattery there is for a woman, or perhaps for anyone. From time to time one needs so to hear it. That's why I don't want to say goodbye to you. I'll say
She had already moved away some three steps holding the dog under her arm and revealing fleeting glimpses of white gaiters as she walked in the direction of a small carriage with a groom, when suddenly, turning, she waited for Tsarevsky and said almost gaily:
"Now I remember everything perfectly... You were at
'the Owl' with a tall blond boy, he was insulted by something, there was an uproar, and I took him to our table. You approached us a time or two. And some strange woman and the boy's sister, quite pale, were with you as well"
"She's not his sister at all; that was my wife"
CHAPTER 12 PART I
"Oh, then you're married as well? You see how nicely things worked out. Well, I must run. My fencing instructor must be getting tired of waiting... he's a very amusing Italian."
Elena Aleksandrovna had told the truth when she said she was sick to death of everything. She had told the truth as well when she announced Lavrentiev as her lover; she had not lied even to Lavrik, assuring him that she loved him alone; and she was tormented more than anything by the impossibility of uniting all these irreconcilable things. She did not for an instant cease to love her husband, Lavrentiev was not a bit less dear to her, and she would have been unpleasantly surprised if Lavrik had demanded from her more tangible demonstrations of her love. Moreover she rarely spoke all three of these truths at once and never mistook an address, so that all three of those enamoured of her, even if they might have some suspicions,never heard them confirmed from Lyolechka's lips. The marksman had the fewest suspicions of all. Of course, this confidence was the result of a naive and somewhat primitive logic. In his spiritual innocence he supposed that once a woman belonged to him and behaved as an ardent although capricious lover, this meant that she loved him. In this sense he planned to make his report on the events that had occurred, walking on the far edge of the city to Smolny Cathedral. Mister Stock, of course, was working, buried in botanical books, when his infrequent visitor rang to be admitted.
"Well, what will you say now, my friend?"
"Now I'm as happy as a man can be"
"Does your mother know of this?"
"For the time being no; there hasn't been any pressing necessity"
"Well, will this lady abandon her husband? After all I imagine such an uncertain situation must be very difficult for you both"
"Yes, of course it's awkward; but I think it's a matter of two or three days, a week at the most"
Mister Stock scratched behind his ear with a letter opener and, after a silence, asked:
"Well, then, is this a serious matter, one for life? Otherwise such a step would be unforgivably simpleminded"
"Yes, I shall love Elena Aleksandrovna for the rest of my life"
"And she you, of course?"
"I think so, I can speak for her almost as for myself"
"For a lifetime! How many times we say that phrase to ourselves and others, and we don't lie, although we know we've said the same thing ten times before in completely different circumstances. Of course you're still too young, perhaps you're saying
'forever' for the first time. I don't at all want to disillusion you, but later you will see that I was right. And it's the most amazing thing of all that the repetitiveness of this awareness does not in any way interfere with its freshness, but, on the contrary, even seems to add to it. This is the token of our aliveness, our ability to live; even when you say
'for always' the twentieth time you believe in its sincerity even more strongly and sharply than when you said it for the first time. Without this life would be unthinkable... And this has to do not only with love... Each time after a fire we build a new house and think: it will stand until our death, knowing definitely that it will perish with the first new fire. We are eternal carpenters and constant travellers... Who could have said a week ago that I would be studying botany and studying it as though I would be engrossed by it the rest of my life. Although I know quite well that these studies will last no more than a year. Without this consciousness of
'forever' one can't devote one's soul to anything, because all that will come of it is simpleminded indifference and disenchantment"
When Mister Stock fell silent, Lavrentiev said, as if this whole speech had not been said for his benefit and had nothing to do with him:
"Mister Stock! I'd like to do something not entirely good. You said that you'd like to see Elena Aleksandrovna. If you're not too busy it could be done today"
"I can put off my studies, but why do you think it would be a bad thing to do?"
"I'll explain. Elena Aleksandrovna will be going to the islands today and has asked me to escort her. There's nothing that might arouse suspicion in that, it's just a whim, but I'd have to satisfy it"
"Yes, of course. Even if something were being hidden from you... You shouldn't take notice of it"
Lavrentiev grew worried.
"What could she have to hide from me? Nothing important. but she has her quirks. Of course it's bad, I realize, but I'd really like you to see her today. It would be very useful to me,to us. You would see that the only way to act with this woman is
"I don't know what to advise you. Of course, if it's so important that I see her today.."
"Yes, it's very important. And today is a very convenient opportunity"
"Then we can set off. I imagine she will forgive you this small disobedience"
Mister Stock looked to the right and Lavrentiev to the left, so as not to miss Lyolechka. Although the Englishman did not know Elena Aleksandrovna by sight, Lavrentiev had described the suit in which she usually took her drives in such detail that he was hardly likely to mistake her for someone else.
They reached the Strelka without meeting her. Once the marksman yelled
"There she is!" but some unfamiliar lady with an old woman rode past, staring in amazement at the officer's excitement. On the Strelka Madame Tsarevsky was also not to be found among the drivers of pedestrians.
"In no other capital are there such environs almost in the city as there are in Petersburg"remarked Mister Stock pointing at the wide opening through the trees, at the end of which a white palace could be seen; but Lavrentiev kept urging the coachman on, having given him the Tsarevsky's' city address. Elena Aleksandrovna was not at home and the doorman informed them that she had hired a car to go to
'the Bouffe' She had gone alone.
"But that's indecent! How can you go to
'the Bouffe' by yourself?"
"Perhaps in the world of art you can, and as you said yourself, your lady has her whims. I'm sure there's nothing to condemn in this, or even any secret. It's just coquetry, the little mystery which always decorates love affairs.."
When he heard Lavrentiev order the coach to carry them to
'the Bouffe,' Mister Stock told him, insistently but mildly:
"I wouldn't advise you to do that; put it off for another time"
"No. It's already too late. I want to know what all this means"
"Then go by yourself"
"Dear Mister Stock, don't leave me. It will be very bad if you abandon me.I want you to see either my pride or my disgrace"
"Why such loud words? Well, what disgrace is it if Elena Aleksandrovna went with some lady acquaintance or even with a man to the theatre without telling you? It probably happened on the spur of the moment. I'm even sure that you were called, but after all, you weren't home.."
Although it was not intermission, Lyolechka and Lavrik slowly moved directly towards them along the road illuminated by multi-coloured lanterns.
"You're perfectly right, I'm acting stupidly. It's ridiculous to search for a woman when she's asked you for a free evening" whispered Lavrentiev, seizing his companion's arm. But it was already too late. Lyolechka saw them herself and, coming up close to Lavrentiev said gaily:
"Well, I certainly didn't expect to meet you here. Lavrik happened to get two tickets and dragged me here. But it was so boring I preferred to take a stroll out here. Do you have seats?"
Lavrentiev spoke hoarsely.
"No, we don't have seats, we just came for a minute on business and are leaving right away. May I present my friend Mister Stock, Andrei Ivanovich"
"Dmitry Alekseevich has told me a lot about you" said Lyolechka as if nothing had happened.
They said farewell almost immediately; by the box office they met Orest Germanovich. Lavrentiev, totally red, said to him in the same hoarse voice:
"But you're late! Your nephew has been waiting for you for a long time"
"Is he here?" asked Pekarsky calmly.
"My God! Why is everyone acting as if nothing has happened? What is it" heartlessness, stupidity or hypocrisy?"
CHAPTER 13 PART I
"But dear friend, perhaps nothing has really happened, or, if something has happened,maybe it isn't worth getting particularly excited about"
Dmitry Alekseevich Lavrentiev did not visit Lyolechka's house in deference to the wishes of her husband; he always saw Elena Aleksandrovna some place out of the way. If for Madame Tsarevsky this circumstance lent especial charm to their romance, the simple marksman found it a bit awkward and uncomfortable always to be meeting in fits and starts and in somebody'sway. Of course, if he had visited the Tsarevsky's, it would not always have been completely calm, because her husband might enter at any minute, or one of her acquaintances, while he,Dmitry Alekseevich, would have preferred to whisk his treasure far away, to hide her from other people, to spend morning after morning together, to stroll together, and to eat, to tell quietly and trustingly about his childhood: how he lived before he met her and how he loved her now. That would be tender, unhurried and durable bliss. And he understood perfectly that his friend, Mister Stock, was right, that of course Lyolechka should abandon her husband and marry him, Lavrentiev. And his mother would consent: she was good and loved him so much. And strange as it might seem, this solution seemed essential to him now with a particularly insistent clarity after his last meeting at
'the Bouffe' Of course, this had to be the last meeting. He would speak with his mother, speak with Elena Aleksandrovna and than at once, tomorrow, this evening, they would never part for an instant, no husbands, no Lavriks, no one... God, how wonderful it would be! And now he would go to his mother's room... He rang, and another distant bell rang faintly, merging with his.
"Is the mistress home?" he asked the watch officer who came out.
"No sir" and lowering his voice, the soldier added
"so a young lady has come to see you your excellency. Who she is one isn't to say"
"To see me? Who could it be?"
But really, who could actually come to see him, other than she of whom he dreamed? He almost shouted with joy, seeing her sweet familiar hat in his foyer. He restrained himself before the watch officer, clicked his heels and even said
"How may I be of service? Please come in" But no sooner had the doors of his room closed behind him than Lavrentiev, without even inviting her to take off her wraps, got down on his knees and began to kiss her gloves, her coat, her umbrella, saying over and over only
"Lyolechka, Lyolechka, Lyolechka"
She passed her gloved hand affectionately and somewhat sadly over his head and said:
"How funny you are! At least let me take off my gloves! You probably weren't expecting it to be me? What a nice place you have! Have you lived here long? No doubt this same room was yours when you were a Junker or perhaps even a cadet?"
She walked slowly about the room, examining its ordinary furnishings, the poor friends' cards, the unpretentious books, and he quietly followed at her heels, kissing now her shoulder,now her neck, and whispering only
"My God, my God!" Finally Elena Aleksandrovna sat in an armchair with her back to the window and began:
"Of course, no matter how pleasant it is to be with you, I've still come to you on business, if one can consider a conversation business. I've even come not so much to talk as to explain to you some things which might seem strange in my actions, if not perhaps a bit unattractive"
"I don't need any explanations. I understand everything, and so well, so gloriously!"
Elena Aleksandrovna looked at him swiftly, displeased, and remarked:
"How can you understand if I myself barely comprehend what I'm doing, what I'm feeling? You know, at
'the Bouffe' I didn't want to show anything in front of your friend but I was displeased with you. Why all this spying? Can you really think that boy could possibly interest me?"
"I'm not thinking anything of the sort and nothing like that will happen, because tomorrow you will speak with your husband and leave him"
"What? How could I leave my husband?"
"But why would I do such a thing?"
"Just so there won't be any need for explanations of every little trifle, so that there won't be anything hidden, so that we will never be parted for a second"
A barely perceptible smile fleeted across Elena Aleksandrovna's face as she asked:
"You seem to want me to become your official mistress?"
"How could you think such a thing? Until you are divorced and marry me, we can't even be seen together"
It seemed that Elena Aleksandrovna could not believe her ears, because she asked again:
"Until I marry you?"
"Well yes, of course. How could it be otherwise?"
"But listen, what would be the difference in my position from what it is now?"
"I just don't understand what you're saying! What differences do you mean?"
"Well after all, I'm married now... Why should I set such an affair into motion, divorce my husband? Just to acquire a new one?"
"So as never to be parted from the one you love and for whom you are the only happiness"
"But dear Dima! That's what's said in all the novels,... it's as worn out as an old quarter. Why should we be parties to such a farce"
"I don't care: worn out or not, banal, bourgeois - my feelings are quite ordinary and so they expressed themselves in an ordinary fashion. This is the only happy and dignified way out"
"Oh, you're bored, are you? Is that all you need me for, to titillate your nerves and create an unusual situation?"
Lyolechka suddenly became affectionate.
"Not at all! But you're oversimplifying and being too hard on yourself. It's not as simple as it seems to you, and believe me, if I weren't married, if my husband weren't so wonderful and didn't love me so much, if I didn't respect him and never wish to leave him, if the first real love of that boy weren't mixed up in it. You wouldn't pay any attention to me and our relationship would seem stale to both you and me. Well, admit it yourself, would you really have come to love me as you do now if we had not met in
'the Owl' and I were just a society lady your mother was preparing to make your bride?"
"I would love you the same in any circumstances. You can tell this is so because I love you even in spite of the circumstances which now exist"
"Once again you're inventing things yourself. All the charm, all the meaning of our lovelies in these very circumstances. If it weren't for that boy.."
"I would be only grateful to fate... I'm even surprised by your insensitivity, Elena Aleksandrovna. I don't want you to keep rubbing my nose in this young man of yours"
"But it was him I wanted to speak with you about today"
"I would ask you to spare me from such conversation"
Lyolechka seemed sincerely surprised.
"Are you jealous, dear friend? Are you simply jealous like any other man, like Ivan Ivanovich, like an old yardman?"
"Yes, if you like, like an old yardman, because, I repeat, my feelings are quite ordinary and I find all these amorous complications incomprehensible and repugnant... I love you, you love me, what else do you need? Why do we need a whole pile of intermediary people? Are we acting out a farce like
'To the Music of Chopin'? And can't you love me without the presence of your husband and this young man? How disgusting!"
"Dmitry Alekseevich, have you forgotten I'm a lady and a guest in your home? What have I done to deserve your insults?"
Lavrentiev stopped running about the room and got down on his knees once more before the armchair in which Elena Aleksandrovna was sitting, hugged her tightly and began to speak distinctly, raising his face close to Lyolechka's, eye to eye:
"But can't you understand? I'm going out of my mind with love for you. I want to be the only one for you, as you are the only one for me. I don't want any complications of a disturbed imagination... I have loved no one, and I love you purely and coarsely... Yes,exactly like an old yardman. I don't want any circuses or shades of meaning, and I forbid you to speak of them. I want you to become my wife: since it's always necessary for a person to say `yes' or `no' and not be evasive... What will you say to me?"
Lyolechka replied, malicious and pale:
"First I must ask you to let go of my hands.."
"I won't let you go until you answer me"
"And I won't answer you until you let me go... Well, we'll wait then and see who out-waits who"
Lavrentiev released Elena Aleksandrovna at once and got up red, breathing heavily. Elena Aleksandrovna straightened her dress, silently, and finally began distinctly and sharply:
"You can get the thought that I would marry you right out of your head. The husband I have is quite enough for me. You're a crude and ill-mannered man, I hate you!... You've broken and stamped into the ground the whole tender edifice I was building, and you don't love me at all, because an old yardman cannot love. That's all I have to say to you. Give me my coat, I'm leaving... You'll never see me again!"
Lavrentiev silently handed Elena Aleksandrovna her coat without looking at her; his guest was silent too and did not raise her eyes. But when she had begun to button her gloves, the officer, still not looking at her whispered hoarsely:
"Elena Aleksandrovna, forgive me, don't go... I'm not myself; let it be as you wish.."
Lyolechka raised her eyes to him, bright grey, and said simply:
"Elena Aleksandrovna, I beg you not to go... Forget what I said. I love you too much and perhaps I said a lot of nonsense. Maybe I'll learn to understand you as you do"
Lyolechka had already buttoned her gloves and went silently to the door. Then Lavrentievran past her, locked the door and stood with his back to it.
"Very nice," said Lyolechka, barely audibly.
"Yes, very nice... You think you'll just leave calmly to go kiss with that little boy of yours or with your husband after having tortured me to death. No, you won't leave here until you agree to marry me"
"Have you gone out of your mind? I won't even be an acquaintance of yours, much less marry you"
Lyolechka was still saying these last words rather bravely, when suddenly Lavrentiev tore away from the door and took three steps. Lyolechka had not taken in what was happening when she felt herself thrown into the armchair where she had just been sitting and felt the strong blows of a fist at her back.
Lavrentiev stood helpless in the middle of the room as if unable to comprehend what he had done.
Lyolechka lay motionless on her back. Lavrentiev said from his place:
"Elena Aleksandrovna, oh, Elena Aleksandrovna"
Lyolechka raised her frightened and red but tearless face and said quietly:
CHAPTER 14 PART I
"Dima, I didn't know you before now, and I didn't know myself before now...this is no fancy; you really do love me, and not like an old yardman but like a real man loves a woman.Now I understand that I love only you. If you want, I'll be your wife"
The large meadow with fresh green grass, covered with groups of lounging and strolling people, the carefree sky, not yet as tranquil as it would be in the summer, military music wafting from afar, the ragged white dog tracing circles in inscrutable excitement, the ladies' motley dresses and hats, the sparkle of bicycle spokes, the light blue box of the ice-cream vendor, the barge's white smoke rising from behind the trees and flying across the sky like a single white tender cloud - all had the aspect of a careless country route, the sort we see in the antique engravings made by city dwellers when it seemed that people had at last found their calling and their appointed way - to be carefree, gay, empty and in love.
Even the company of our acquaintances, which did not at all resemble an Eighteenth century society, reflected this directly natural and literary, poetic exultation. The first green of the trees willy-nilly forces one to be tactful, so that even Polina Arkadievna did not carry on about fatal passions and the beauty of insanity, but walked as lightly as a young girl, in a pink dress, and only her fantastic and ridiculous makeup was pathetically out of place in the gay, free sunshine. Students in freshly-washed high-collared jackets seemed to be surprised themselves that they weren't sitting in
"the Bar," weren't at the races, weren't on Polina Arkadievna's well-worn divan, but were strolling across the hard and not completely thawed out earth. From their faces bare of makeup one could see that this noontime outing was not taking place because they had risen early, but because of the whim of their lady, who after a drunken and sleepless night,after an omelet at a station somewhere at seven o'clock in the morning, wished to go to Pavlovsk and the bosom of nature so as not to miss the opening of music that evening. They walked quickly to a farm to have breakfast, since they felt they wanted to eat. Not finding any real, simple words, they were about to begin a quizzical silence; finally Polina thought something up:
"Why are you so sour? Is missing a night's sleep really so important? On the contrary,I seem to have become more energetic... Ah, life, life! It flies past and you don't even see it! Well, Hoarfrost, try and catch me... I'm off!"
And she ran in awkward zigzags on her high gilded heels. Hoarfrost and Urchin, who had not parted with his spurs, rushed after her like two mastiffs, almost knocking over a cyclist. Tip-cat strode along bringing up the rear and whistling the
"March of the Shadows" But this diversion was also exhausted; they began to dream out loud about milk, about the farm and the fantastic Ukrainians who worked there. Polina Arkadievna felt that she would begin to tire in another minute. Having looked wistfully about her for someone interesting to occupy the remainder of the road, she began to sort mentally through her friends and work out what they were doing, what they might do and how they ought to act. This last prescription always turned out to be the most unexpected and wild for the unprejudiced observer.
Sometimes she shared her conclusions with her companions, not expecting any reply or sympathy but just to be talking.
"I think Iraida Lvovna ought to start rhythmic gymnastics and then demonstrate group poses, I don't know where... in the 'Aquarium' perhaps.."
"But how will she demonstrate group poses by herself?"
"You're just making trouble. One can always find a partner. Otherwise she'll just get sour. And I don't know either - why are the Pekarskys sitting around in Petersburg? They have enough money, they're both young fellows... if I were them I would have started discovering unknown countries long ago. Ah, how I'd like to be a missionary! You know! I think the anchovies weren't fresh yesterday... I think that's outrageous! An excellent restaurant,it charges a fortune... And who was the hussar? Just a dear! And Lyolechka annoys me, sitting with her husband! Who need it? If I had Cavalier's looks, her voice, I'd turn the whole world upside down... she's just stupid"
"But even so, you turn a lot upside down, if not the whole world... and first of all your own brains and imagination.."
"Oh, Urchin, do you really think it's smart to be so saucy? You're all ungrateful and I'm sick of you... Watch out or I'll drive you all away and then you'll be sorry, because you'll never find yourselves another companion like me again"
They were crammed into the slatted summer house at a big table where two elderly ladies and a little girl and boy were sitting. Polina began to complain that she couldn't see anything,that it was stuffy, and sent Urchin to buy her some roses, but then occupied herself with the neighbouring children, playing hide and seek with them and talking in the same tone she used with her young men.
The frightened ladies left hurriedly and Polina began to pester everyone:
"Where is Urchin?"
"Oh, pooh, Polina, you sent him yourself for roses"
"Yes, yes! I forgot. I didn't think he would be foolish enough to actually go and look for them"
"But if he hadn't gone wouldn't you have started burning him with your cigarettes?"
"Of course", Polina agreed curtly. Everyone had been affected by a sleepy stupor. It was till only two o'clock. After four one would have to begin worrying about a table for dinner. Finally Urchin appeared with three roses.
Polina threw herself at him, tore up the roses at once and was about to try feeding their petals to the pigeons, but since the pigeons didn't peck at the flowers, Polina sprinkled the remaining petals in her mug with milk and begun to urge her companions to look at what a pretty composition resulted and finally announced unexpectedly that she had never had so much fun.
They began to walk about the temples of
"friendship," the mausoleums and graves. Polina Arkadievna sighed about Greece and said, pointing to a figure drawing close to them:
"Here comes a man who understands more than anyone all the charm of youthful, morning Greece... It's Count Pechatkin.."
A plump pink shaven man came towards them, about twenty-five or perhaps even thirty,in a checked Scottish suit and a small cap with ribbons, with bare arms and knees.
"Is he crazy?" asked Hoarfrost.
"Why is he dressed like such a scarecrow"
"Because you're a fool and don't understand anything: he is a free person and wears whatever he thinks is beautiful. And as to the knees and arms, so what? He has a good body. They say that in the morning after bathing he lies on the grass completely, completely undressed, and naked boys sprinkle him with flowers; he likes it and so he does it"
"But the point's not what he does, but that its tawdry and tasteless"
"I don't think so. I'm very sorry I don't do it myself.."
"Why don't you? And you could do it to music, undress and lie down on the table, and we'll buy flowers, we'll commandeer Urchin and undress him; we'll leave him only his spurs; and then go on to your heart's content. The beauty will turn out even more earthshaking"
"You're just dull bourgeois... and I don't want to talk with you. You don't understand any subtle movement of the soul"
Since the sleepy stupor grew stronger and stronger, our public actually remained silent until the time came to do something about dinner. Here Polina Arkadievna was distracted by a hussar company, whom she no longer wished to undress but on the contrary would have forced to preserve all their ammunition even in the most critical moments of love. But even this entertainment passed somehow in a semi-dream and Polina's eyes lit up with real life only when she saw Iraida Lvovna and her brother not far from her.
"But where could Lyolechka be?" Polina wondered out loud,
"She's probably stayed in the city and is seeing Lavrentiev"
Strange as it may seem, Polina Arkadievna knew nothing about Lavrentiev's intention to marry Elena Aleksandrovna or about Lavrik's complicity in the affair, and by some lucky chance had not yet invented the details either. Marriage seemed too ordinary to her and her fantasies about Lavrik tended in a somewhat different direction. Iraida Lvovna and Leonid Lvovich were by themselves, and seemed to be concentrating on something and paying little attention to what was going on around them. This did not escape Polina Arkadievna's notice,and she pushed aside dessert and said:
"You order coffee for now while I go and talk. I'll be back right away, so don't follow me"
Her neighbours did not seem particularly surprised when Polina approached them and even seemed to take very little interest in what had happened to her, although they hadn't seen her for about two weeks; so it was Polina who made inquiries, to which the two gave her vague replies or talked on matters of indifference.
"Lyolechka has a migraine, she stayed in the city,Lavrentiev has gone off somewhere, Iraidais leaving in two days for , Pekarsky is fine; he seems to be writing a lot; everything is the way it was, there don't seem to be any catastrophes in sight"
Polina Arkadievna looked on in disappointment and despair. How dull the world was,how dull people were! One couldn't help feeling sorry that
'the Owl' had closed. At least there was always an atmosphere there, if not catastrophes and powerful passion, then at any rate all sorts of intrigues and complications. So as not to become disenchanted with life completely,Polina Arkadievna told Iraidajust in case:
"I need to talk with you a bit more, dear," although she had no definite idea what she would say.
It didn't matter: the old
"ahs" could combine with Iraida, for otherwise life was unthinkable the way it was: they worked, wrote, went to the country - there was no sheen of blood. If only someone would change apartments, even. Iraidabent her head slightly and asked indifferently:
"Are there any new circumstances?"
Polina Arkadievna, placing her small hand on Iraida's white one, was slowly drawling out
"Yes," when she noticed suddenly that Leonid Lvovich had lit up, begun to smile and nod his head in greeting off somewhere into the distance.
"Yes" Polina Arkadievna repeated once again with more assurance:
"Of course, you must know about this yourself already.." she did not finish the phrase,as she had not yet searched out who Tsarevsky was bowing to.
Iraida Lvovna, drawn out of her indifference somewhat by the unaccustomed slowness of Polina's speech and turning her attention finally on her brother's miming, directed her gaze into the distance, where two tall figures stood lonely among the seated crowd, easily identifiable as Zoya Lilienfield and Mister Stock. Polina's eyes lit up in victory, and her small hand seized Iraida's with certainty, and she began to whisper as quickly, excitedly and incoherently as always:
"Don't give away anything, don't give away anything... I'll explain everything to you later. First we have to find out who that gentleman is"
But no one knew, so that nothing remained but to talk again about the weather, music,and upcoming trips; but now these conversations were interesting and seemed significant, sincePolina saw the excitement of the brother and the distress of the sister, could observe Zoya, and was consumed by curiosity about her companion. No, it was still possible to live.
"We're expecting the Pekarskys to come here too, but Orest Germanovich warned that they might be a little late"
As if in confirmation of Iraida's words, Lavrik appeared in the distance.
One could see how, when he passed Zoya, Lavrik stopped, kissed her hand and began to say something. Polina's ecstatic amazement grew stronger and she began to signal Lavrikwith her pink umbrella to go faster, as if he was bearing news which she, Polina, could not wait for.
"But where is Orest Germanovich and how is it you know Lilienfield?"
"Orest Germanovich will be coming in about an hour and a half, he sent me ahead on purpose so no one would get worried; I got acquainted with Zoya Mikhailovna at
'the Owl' .Have you eaten already? I'm as hungry as I don't know what"
Meanwhile Lilienfield and her companion had disappeared somewhere. The orchestra was already playing an Italian capriccio when Leonid Lvovich rose and said:
"Now you have a young man, so I'll go and say hello to Zoya Mikhailovna"
"Go, go!" Polina called after him enthusiastically.
"What did you want to talk with me about?" asked Iraida Lvovna as soon as her brother had left and Lavrik had started dinner.
"I'll tell you later," Polina answered softly.
"I have some new considerations for you"
And they proceeded to occupy themselves with criticizing the passing ladies. Lavrik also seemed morose and restless and, as soon as the elder Pekarsky arrived, went out on the little square where, despite the light of the white night, occasional couples were making merry. He didn't know himself why he thought that Elena Aleksandrovna's husband would go out there as well.
He was not mistaken, because soon afterward at the door of the hall, from which the sounds of the orchestra issued suddenly clearer, Tsarevsky's figure appeared and made its way to the very bench where Lavrik was sitting.
"I was waiting for you, Leonid Lvovich"
"Oh, is that you, Lavrik? I don't know why you would be waiting for me"
"Orest Germanovich has come and our presence there isn't so vital. Give me a minute,I have something to say"
Leonid Lvovich seemed pale and kept rubbing his forehead as if trying to drive out thoughts or memories.
Lavrik, stammering, said piteously:
"Leonid Lvovich, you may consider me a blackguard... maybe that's what I really am... I don't know myself why I'm doing this, but I must tell you.."
"Let's move away from her, someone might hear us"
They turned left into a darker corner where no one was, by the lawn tennis court.
"You want to tell me something about my wife?" Leonid Lvovich asked straight out.
"Yes. Maybe I shouldn't say it"
"Maybe you shouldn't have started to either, but since you did, I not only request, I demand that you tell me everything!"
"Elena Aleksandrovna loves that office Lavrentiev very much: you forbade him to visit you but they are seeing each other... they are seeing each other... I'll say even more: Elena Aleksandrovna wants to leave you.."
"How do you know?"
"Elena Aleksandrovna told me herself"
Leonid Lvovich's face was almost invisible in the semidarkness but his voice sounded strange, caressing and threatening.
"But you love my wife yourself, don't you, Lavrik?"
"Yes," Lavrik answered simply from the darkness.
"What I'm going to say may seem strange to you, you may even be offended, but your love for Elena Aleksandrovna will soon pass... it's not like this other... its funny, isn't it? The deceived husband talking so calmly with a young man in love with his wife, but it's so necessary... And here's what else I'd like to ask of you, Lavrik: help me make everything turn out right, because it's hard to do by myself, and then.."
CHAPTER 15 PART I
"And then... I don't have the right to judge Elena Aleksandrovna"
From the moment Elena Aleksandrovna gave her consent to marry Lavrentiev no further talk about the marriage was raised, because the officer considered it indelicate to insist, and Elena Aleksandrovna was happy that the question was being put off indefinitely. She had not yet spoken with her husband, just as Lavrentiev had not confessed to his mother. When after about four days Lavrentiev again began speaking about it. Elena Aleksandrovna said that she had to go to Riga for a week, that as soon as she returned she would talk it over with her husband and announce to everyone officially that she was marrying Dmitry Alekseevich.
"Why must you go to Lavrik himself act? Ah, my wife's betraying me with another and told you to tell me, but I thank you. However, I believe you yourself are having some sort of affair with my wife? Yes?
"Yes". You're very frank! Bam! Right on the ear!
This Lavrik would have understood. But to conduct, as now, some sort of boring drawn-out proceeding was for him incomprehensible and frustrating, I think?"
Elena Aleksandrovna explained to him as well that she was very tired, wished to rest and to visit her sister Tata.
"After all a week's not so long, we won't even notice the time passing, all the more so now that you're hardly ever home.."
Leonid Lvovich was somewhat abashed and left the house without saying anything since he knew that Lavrik was coming soon.
Lavrik did not go to the Tsarevsky's especially willingly, in the first place because Leonid Lvovich's frankness seemed to make him an accessory in a conspiracy against the woman he had not ceased to love, and in the second place because of the frankness of Lyolechka herself,who for some reason informed him of Lavrentiev's persistence and of her plans, wounding him cruelly but not reducing his feelings in the slightest. Yes, he had really revealed everything to her husband, had betrayed Lyolechka, if you like, but he did not at all expect the consequences which resulted. He thought that Leonid Lvovich would come down on him, Lavrik, so that he would have to suffer because of his feelings and be the insulted hero; along with that he had hoped that the injured husband would find a means to bring an end to Lyolechka's love affair,which was so hateful for Lavrik. So all unpleasantness would pass Lavrik by and he would remain the innocent but loving martyr. Of course he did not understand all these prospects so precisely, but acted, so to speak, by inspiration, as God directed his soul; but all his unconscious acts and words had or lacked a connection such as could only be explained by the plan indicated above, which he possessed, however hazily. And so? Everything turned out quite differently: Leonid Lvovich had amicably proposed that he be an ally in the destruction of the love affair which was so frustrating to Lavrik. But how was Lavrik to behave with Elena Aleksandrovna?
And what had he turned out to be in her eyes? A love-struck little boy, who out of jealousy and disappointment had betrayed her to her husband. It was very hard to find a noble facade for this act. Moreover, the innocence of their relationship, which had made their romance safe, now seemed irritating and insulting to him. Again everyone considered him a nothing; even this simpleton of a husband, who had turned to him, Lavrik, to bring an end to the affair with Lavrentiev, considered him to be utterly harmless to his reputation. Lyolechka just led him on, playing at ideal love with him and living with the marksman. Would deceived husbands talk that way with people they respected? How would Lavrik himself act? Ah, my wife's betraying me with another and told you to tell me, but I thank you. However, I believe you yourself are having some sort of affair with my wife? Yes?
"Yes". You're very frank! Bam! Right on the ear!
This Lavrik would have understood. But to conduct, as now, some sort of boring drawn-out proceeding was for him incomprehensible and frustrating. Besides, he has not stopped loving Elena Aleksandrovna or, at least being in love with her. And so with a troubled heart and soul he had to enter into explanations with Elena Aleksandrovna on the even of her decisive departure; moreover Leonid Lvovich for some reason considered this explanation to be very important. He himself felt confused to the point of repugnance. Suddenly a thought came to him which seemed to bring order to this whole untidy mess.
"I will tell Elena Aleksandrovnaeverything frankly: and then I shall leave; let them settle it as best they can."
Elena Aleksandrovna was lying on the couch, which was not at all according to her habit, when Lavrik came to her. She did not seem at all like a person who was facing a big decision. She seemed merely to be bored, as might happen with anyone. That same commonplace boredom was audible in her words, which she, without getting up from her place, directed toward Lavrik.
"Well, tomorrow I'm going..."
"What will you be like when you return to us? Or will you return at all?"
"How not? What are you thinking, Lavrik?"
"You know quite well what I'm thinking. Just as I know what your departure means."
"How do you know Lavrik? Maybe you're a prophet or a clairvoyant?"
"You told me everything yourself, Elena Aleksandrovna; why should I need to be a prophet?"
"Yes, of course... I forgot."
After a silence, Elena Aleksandrovna began:
"It's so sunny today that I'd like to go some place farther away than Riga ... by sea" And she fell dreamily silent. Then Lavrik cleared his throat and said:
"What, my dear?"
"I must tell you..."
"You shouldn't talk today. It's so nice and peaceful today... Maybe because I'm tired...I don't want to hear anything today."
"Elena Aleksandrovna!" repeated Lavrik once more. And suddenly he went up to the coach, sank to his knees, and began to cry.
Lyolechka grew a bit excited, although some lethargy still remained in her.
"Well what's the matter, my friend?" What's happened to you! Are you sorry I'm going and do you want to ask me to stay? You know yourself it's impossible..."
"No, it's not that at all."
"What then? Well, I'm listening. Why should you get upset? Is it worth getting upset about it?"
"Elena Aleksandrovna... I'm an incredible good-for-nothing... I told your husband everything..."
Elena Aleksandrovna widened her eyes a trifle as if she didn't understand what he was talking about.
"What did you tell my husband about?"
"Well, about you... everything, everything that I knew. I gave you away, I betrayed you!"
Elena Aleksandrovna, apparently, was not angry or upset, she did not faint; on the contrary, her eyes lit up with a semblance of interest.
Letting her feet down from the coach she said quickly and dryly:
"How could you be so careless? Well, tell me the details; -- just what did you say, and what did my husband say?"
Lavrik told her everything, inconsistently and confusedly. When he finished, Elena Aleksandrovna began pacing the room rapidly, without saying anything. Lavrik waited by the coach more dead than alive.
"Where were my eyes? Where was my heart, where was my taste, my imagination, how could I be so primitive? Why this only comes once in a lifetime - this love and this betrayal,this loyalty and weakness, this cruelty, this innocence and corruption and finally, ah!This beauty! I behaved like the worst sort of fool! Only now do I know myself...Lavrik, don't blame me for this!"
She sat on the floor next to Lavrik, who was on his knees, and hugged his neck. Lavrik seemed not to understand where he was and what was being done to him, but Lyolechka said to him without stopping.
"You can't imagine, Lavrik, what a delight this is, what complication and what subtlety. Such poisoners as you were found only in the sixteenth century Italy. Everything's decided -tomorrow you'll slip away with me to Riga.
"What a holiday it will be! And there you will tell me everything, everything about Orest Germanovich."
Lavrik said barely audibly but quite firmly:
"Yes, and in Riga you will become mine completely."
"There, Lavrik, finally you've become a man! Through love, through betrayal - you've been tempered. Yes, yes! I will be yours completely there... We will stay at an old hotel. I will kiss you, kiss you as I am now."
Lavrik, drawing away a bit from her knees, asked in a businesslike tone:
"And what will happen in a week, when we return?"
"In a week? What could happen? The same as now, only we will be happy."
"No, about your divorce and Mister Lavrentiev."
"How silly you are! What does it matter to you whom I'm married to, once I'm yours completely. Now don't be surly. Look how sunny it is. Let me kiss you a last time and then go and pack. Be careful Orest Germanovich doesn't matter notice.."
Lyolechka lowered her eyes in thought:
CHAPTER 16 PART I
"He's a great and wonderful man! Maybe we're acting badly? I don't know. When I see you I don't know anything except your lips, your eyes, your most subtle complex soul and your love, fantastic, like the sun! Sheets - well, and a towel - you needn't bring with you, I'll take enough for both of us.."
The trip to Riga was far from what the travellers hoped it would be. They did not go together, since Lavrik set off only the following day in order not to excite needless conversations and suspicions. He thought up some unsuccessful excuse, the nonsensical character of which could have been discovered at will, and set off at night, without closing his eyes the whole journey and thinking not so much with joyful trepidation as with worried wonderment about the meeting which awaited him.
Every other minute rain would begin, alternating with windswept clear moments; the pavements and umbrellas glistened with black wetness, and Lavrik thought as he glanced at one of the lady's umbrellas raised higher than the others:
"That must be Lyolechka! She's become on tiptoe to see better, and that's why she's raised her umbrella."
However it was not Elena Aleksandrovna, but a tall blonde German woman; she met an old lame gentleman and went off with him, animatedly but somehow joylessly speaking in German.
Lavrik soon found the hotel. Elena Aleksandrovna, in spite of the early hour, had already risen but had not yet had her coffee, apparently waiting for Lavrik. Two cups and a double portion of buns and ham slices stood nearby. From the open window near which an elevated place like a pulpit had been made, voices wafted in, along with the wet clip-clop of the horse-teams and the warm scent of boulevard leaves. Elena Aleksandrovna looked out the window when Lavrik was driving up with his small bag, without linen or towels, but Lavrikdidn't notice this, too busy with explanations in German with the doorman.
"They didn't have an adjacent room, they promised to move me by this evening."
"It's too bad it's raining.... I was counting so on this week... You'd better rest now,probably you didn't get any sleep? You can get up for breakfast... I'll lie down for a bit too."
"For some reason I thought you'd be meeting me... Of course, it's much better this way."
"Eat, eat, don't be shy! After breakfast we'll go to the old city... There used to be some family with a little boy next door, but now you'll live there: kind of a little boy, too."
Strange as it might seem, Lavrik felt much more ill at ease and timid than in Petersburg. They hadn't even kissed upon meeting, it seemed, and Elena Aleksandrovna also seemed tired or absentminded. Apparently she was conscious of this herself and tried to be tender with a somehow apologetic tenderness.
"Well that's enough chatter! Take a bath and sleep three hours or so. I'll lie down myself... How good it is, my dear, that you've come!"
She spoke as if they had already talked over everything, but in fact they had said almost nothing to each other about what should have been interesting to them. And it was as if Elena Aleksandrovna was aware of this and for that very reason smiled so fondly and pityingly.
The narrow streets which were filled even in the middle with pedestrians, the long poles of the signs, which stuck out almost to the middle of the way, the multitude of old houses, rathskellers and open air cafes lent a somewhat un-Russian character to the city but in spite of the animation, the impression was not a gay one.
But perhaps this was because the rain never ceased pouring down, and only for a few minutes at a time did the wet stones glisten in unexpected sunshine.
Our wayfarers returned already that evening, after dinner, but they felt as if they had absolutely nothing else to do. Elena Aleksandrovna took off her hat and sat down at the table without speaking, Lavrik was also silent by the door; finally Lyolechka turned on the light and rang.
"This disgusting rain brings on the boredom: when it's light it's gayer; anyway, let'shave some tea at least."
When the lackey left after providing the nickel-plated tea service, Lavrik moved to the divan next to Elena Aleksandrovna and silently embraced her.
"Dear, dear Lavrik!" said Elena Aleksandrovna without moving.
"We're such poor travellers, you and I! I'm sure that now you're thinking: what is Orest Germanovich doing?"
"No, I'm thinking about something entirely different; I'm thinking about your promise!"
"When we... when you... decided that I should come with you, you told me that it would be completely different here."
Elena Aleksandrovna blushed and said quickly:
"Yes, yes... of course... I remember, and I don't take back by words. Only my darling,not today... All right?"
"Why not today?"
"Well, because I ask you? You needn't be rude, Lavrik... After all, you know I love you."
"I don't know if I know anything any more... You say you love me; I believe you of course... But how can I be sure of it?"
"Lavrik, don't be like all men... It's so tiresome."
"I am what I am. Perhaps I'm like all the others. You've seen me; I haven't tried to pass myself off as anything I'm not."
"Yes, I've seen you and know that you're a subtle, tender, delightful boy, now you're making things up yourself, you're just in a rotten state of mind, can't you tell? It's because of the rain, but tomorrow everything will have passed."
"No, forgive me, Elena Aleksandrovna, but my love, my desires are not due to the rain and it's doubtful that they will have passed tomorrow... I think you wouldn't find that very desirable yourself. But maybe your whim will pass tomorrow... That's a different matter."
"My whim! What could be easier, more charming or more wonderful than a whim?"
"I don't like capriciousness."
"Listen, Lavrik, who taught you to speak like that? It's as if you had already been thirty years my husband. Is it possible people are nice only while they are in love and courting, and that as soon as they get what they want they all become like one another - boring ordinary grumblers?"
"You can't tell what I'll become, because in fact I still haven't become anything from you."
Elena Aleksandrovna jumped up from the divan and involuntarily raised her voice:
"What? You haven't become anything from me? And so the fact that I've given you my heart, my honour, that I've abandoned my husband for you, means nothing to you? And your own feeling, which you nevertheless owe to me? That's nothing? And all the hours and minutes we've spent together, they don't count either?"
Lavrik stopped Elena Aleksandrovna's pacing and began calmly, as if he were the elder.
"Calm down, Elena Aleksandrovna! I said nothing of the kind or thought it either... Although it wasn't me you abandoned your husband for, I'm beholden to you nonetheless... But you said people change when they get what they've been searching for... And you had a very definite and quite simple thought, that possession acts destructively on people. Well, I wanted to say that I have nothing to change from, because you don't belong to me at all, that's all!"
"No, you said that I don't give you anything, and besides that you say that I don't belong to you... How can you reckon so crudely! As if belonging meant just what you're thinking...but in my soul and my heart I belong only to you; you're horribly ungrateful... I abandoned my husband and went to Riga on purpose for you..."
"But you've come to Riga to visit your sister."
"Well, yes... but nevertheless I came for you."
"And you wanted to divorce your husband to marry Lavrentiev."
"It's very tactless on your part to remind me of Lavrentiev, and then, why should you care who my husband is, Lavrentiev or Leonid Lvovich? I am compromising myself for you,and you're grumbling, yet... What, do you think it's quite decent to run off with a young man for a whole week and live with him in the same hotel?"
"But no one knows we're here together, after all... No one thinks I'm in Riga, and you've gone to your sister's... How then are you compromising yourself?"
"Yes, of course you'd like everyone to know... You'd like to shout about your victory,about my shame! Well then, go ahead and write a letter to Orest Germanovich, to my husband - you're such a friend of his now! Only I warn you that if you do, I'll tell everyone, even if you're there I'll tell you to your face, that you're a barefaced liar... Men are all alike!"
"I don't know how other men are... I'm no expert on them..."
"You're being impudent... You're insulting me and you're making it all up! Get out! I don't want to see you!"
And Lyolechka began to sob loudly. Lavrik took her by the hand and was about to comfort her, but Elena Aleksandrovna tore her hand away and would not be calmed, weeping louder and louder.
"Elena Aleksandrovna! Stop it! Well, I'll go, if you don't want to see me. If you will just think, you'll see that I'm not making it up, but you're attributing God knows what to me. I'm sure that later on, tomorrow, you'll see calmly what I am really and how much I love you. And now calm down... drink some water... they can hear everything in the adjoining rooms."
Lyolechka took a drink of water, her teeth chattering on the rim of the glass, and said through tears:
"Your room's one the right, and there's no one on the left... Who will hear me? But now, really, go away... I'm probably as ragged as a scarecrow... My eyes are red and my nose is swollen... I don't want my boy to see me like this," and she smiled.
Lavrik wanted to say:
"but really, you're so insistent, you've become your own way and become me out of here for today," but then he thought again, understanding that tomorrow,perhaps, Lyolechka's caprices might indeed pass and everything would be different. Lyolechka,apparently, also supposed that Lavrik might say this, for she looked at him in grateful surprise when Lavrik simply kissed her hand and said:
"Well, good night! Sleep well... morning is wiser than evening, as nannies say. And I'm not at all as bad as you might suppose me to be."
"You're my delight, Lavrik!"
"I don't know if I'm a delight, but it's true that I'm yours!"
And in fact the rain did stop the next day, and Lyolechka's whims disappeared with it. But this did little to improve the situation, because our lovers found themselves faced by an utterly unexpected obstacle. Elena Aleksandrovna had already donned her hat and was looking gaily out the window at the street which had been transformed by the sun, when suddenly she saw an officer in a marksman's uniform approaching the entrance of their hotel. He entered so quickly that Elena Aleksandrovna had no chance to make out his face, but she was obscurely troubled, and thought:
"How inconvenient. Now some comrade of Dmitry Alekseevich will see that I'm here with Lavrik and will tell him" She was worrying in this fashion, not knowing herself why she should need Lavrentiev, when someone knocked softly at the door. SinceLavrik was changing clothes in his room to go out wondering through out the city again, Elena Aleksandrovna/name> was not very surprised by his knock. She said calmly:
"Come in!", thinking judiciously that now they could go out for the whole day, the officer who had arrived wouldn't notice them, and it might turn out that this evening or tomorrow morning he would go off somewhere. And really, why should he stay in Riga anyway? But it was not Lavrik's voice at all which called her.
"Hello, Elena Aleksandrovna! You're not angry at my arrival?" She turned and saw the marksman, who was not a comrade of Dmitry Alekseevich but Lavrentiev himself.
Elena Aleksandrovna could not imagine what might come from this coalescence of circumstances, but clearly felt that the main thing at the moment was to remain calm, that more than anything else she should not register surprise. All these considerations flashed through her head very rapidly, so that she answered Lavrentiev's words without hesitation, quickly and joyfully, as if she had nothing to hide from him:
"Dmitry Alekseevich, how did you end up here? I certainly never expected it! I hope that nothing dangerous or unpleasant has happened?"
"No, nothing's happened. I just got bored; I wanted to see you... I hope you're not mad that I didn't let you know I was coming?"
"No, no... it was a wonderful thing to do. To tell the truth, I thought that you might come. We've had nothing but rain here, you brought the sun with you... Well, how are things in Petersburg? How is your mother? How is Mister Stock? You'll have some coffee, won't you? I don't know what I'm saying... it's so unexpected, please don't pay any attention."
And indeed it's hardly likely that Elena Aleksandrovna understood what she was saying. One thought circled in her head: Lavrik would be knocking any minute. What would they do? Send a man with a note that Lavrik was not to go out, but should wait for her some place in the city?" She would explain everything there... She would think up something... Yes, yes, of course; there was no other way... But she'd have to do it as quickly as possible.
"Please excuse me, but I must write a note to my sister so that she won't expect me for breakfast... We'll have breakfast together, won't we?"
"Of course, I'd be very happy to. But don't break your day up because of me."
"No, no!" answered Lyolechka from behind the tiny desk.
Someone knocked softly at the door; Lyolechka blushed, but continued to write in silence. The knock came again. Lavrentiev, who had been pacing about the room, stopped.
"I didn't hear anything... you probably imagined it. Who could have knocked?"
"A girl or a servant... perhaps the boy's brought the mail."
"I didn't ring... no one comes here unless you ring. You imagined it."
Again someone knocked.
"Come in!" said Lavrentiev.
"Don't, Dima. I haven't finished the letter yet."
"I'll go see who it is."
"No, don't go out. Stay here."
But the knocker apparently had heard Lavrentiev's reply, for the door opened softly and Lavrik came in.
Elena Aleksandrovna began to speak very loudly:
"Lavrik! How did you get here? Today's becoming a positive congress! Dmitry Alekseevich just arrived... How is it you didn't meet on the train? All that's left is for my husband, or Iraida Lvovna, or better yet dear Polina to appear... then it would really be like a vaudeville act!"
"But even without her it's like a vaudeville act, and a pretty nasty one at that," remarked the officer.
Elena Aleksandrovna chose not to hear this remark of Lavrentiev's and, turning to the lackey who had entered the room, said only:
"Bring another cup."
"You wanted to send a letter to your sister," Lavrentiev reminded her.
"Yes, yes!" - said Lyolechka and tore the note into tiny pieces.
"I completely forgot that my sister and her family are going to the strand today for two days, so I'm completely free!"
And having written on a small scrap:
"Leave me alone with him: I'll explain everything to you," she gave it to Lavrik. Both young men silently drank their coffee, only Lyolechka tried to chirp something carelessly from time to time, as if the two were gentlemen who had met by chance in her drawing room. Finally Lavrik said:
"I'll be going now... If you need me, I'm in No. 71."
Elena Aleksandrovna nodded to him gratefully, while the officer continued to sit silently over his coffee cup. Lyolechka was silent too. Finally Dmitry Alekseevich said
"What does this mean?"
"What do you mean, what does this mean?"
"Why is that young man here?"
"How should I know? He took it into his head to come and he came; didn't you come too?"
"You think he had the same motives for coming as I did?"
"I don't think anything... what his motives were... Really, I find it interests me very little. Of course, it's rather inconvenient from the practical point of view... He could let the cat out of the bag... but it's always easy to be rid of him, by the easiest of means, even by moving to a different hotel or a different city."
Suddenly Lavrentiev rose swiftly, noisily moving his chair back.
"Why this hide and seek, Elena Aleksandrovna? What do you take us for, little children? After all, I understand perfectly well that this young man was summoned here by you, if you didn't come here together. He'd never do it on his own."
"Yes, of course I summoned him. I begged him, I got down on my knees so he'd come,I can't live without him! He's my lover... it's been ten years already... since he was seven years old... is there anything else?"
"Elena Aleksandrovna, why do you talk and behave like trash?"
"Because in your opinion I am trash..."
"No, I think you're the woman whom I plan to make my wife."
"A great honour, no doubt."
"I don't know if you're the woman whom I plan to make my wife."
"A great honour, no doubt."
"I don't know if it's an honour, but in any case I consider this proof of my respect and love for you."
"You know, Dmitry Alekseevich, in the final analysis I'm sick of all these scenes."
"And you think I'm not?"
Lavrentiev paced for a time in silence, then stopped suddenly before Lyolechka and screamed at the top of his voice:
"Get it through your head that all these complications, subtleties and nonsense should be sent to the devil! I feel like beating my head against the wall when I see you... or like shaking you so hard that all the nonsense would be knocked out of you and you'd stand firmly on your own two feet with a direct and firm heart and a clear, tender soul... You have this in you, after all; you must, you must! Why, everything you consider to be so subtle is nothing more than Polina's rags, bought at the Gostiny Dvor."
Lyolechka answered quietly and simply:
"You need a simple, straightforward woman...almost a country girl... I can't be like that... and I'll tell you more: if I were like that, you wouldn't love me!"
"I've always thought that I knew quite well what I wanted... Now I seem to be losing even that awareness."
Lyolechka took Lavrentiev's hand tenderly and spoke like an older sister:
"That's because you're in love... it's always like that... you couldn't stop loving me no matter what I'd do."
"Oh? You think so? I'm afraid you're mistaken. Even if it costs me my life, I'll tear this feeling out of myself, this feeling that makes me laughable and repulsive even to myself. I love you, but you repulse me, do you understand? I'm ready to beat you for three days without stopping, do you understand that?"
"Really, if you have such a love right out of the Domostroy, than it would be better to be rid of it, if you have the strength to do it, of course... but I strongly doubt that."
"What happens to me will have nothing to do with you."
"Of course, of course."
Lavrentiev was still pacing; finally he asked, completely without warning:
"Elena Aleksandrovna, do you really love that spoiled brat more than me?"
Lyolechka looked away and did not answer.
"Are you really sacrificing the happiness of an entire lifetime, yours and mine, to a momentary and strange caprice? After all, it is a caprice, you admit that? Maybe I'll be able to understand; to wait, perhaps!" and he kissed her hand.
Lyolechka, without withdrawing her hands, said with a mournful chuckle:
"Does it matter what such repulsive trash as I am prefers, what caprices it has?" Lavrentiev looked into her bright eyes which had not turned blue in excitement for a longtime, sighed, and said without anger:
"You have no heart at all... how can you talk of love?..Goodbye!"
Since Lyolechka did not reply, he said again:
"don't think when I say `goodbye!' that it will only be for two minutes like it is with you and your friends. I say it simply and forever..."
"Dmitry Alekseevich, if simple and loving people didn't beat me and my friends into taking back our words, my decisions would be just as firm as yours."
"Then I acted foolishly."
"I'm afraid it wasn't the only time."
Lavrentiev bent a bit, took his cap and said uncertainly:
"Well then, goodbye, Elena Aleksandrovna."
"Goodbye, Dmitry Alekseevich, don't think badly of me!" Lyolechka answered, without even getting up. But the door had hardly closed behind Lavrentiev when Lyolechka jumped up quickly and ran to the window from which one could see the entrance to the hotel; perhaps she wanted to call to the departing man, to find real and sincere words, when suddenly she felt that her waist was being seized by someone's trembling hands.
"He's come back!" she exclaimed, turning to find Lavrik, whose red face was smeared with tears.
"Why are you doing this? What do you need me for, well tell me, tell me, when you love someone else entirely? Why are you toying with me? You yourself are destroying what you so carefully built.²
Lyolechka suddenly began to yell exactly as Lavrentiev had just been yelling:
²well, yes, yes! Iım repulsive trash! I toyed with you, I led you on! What do you want? How is it, Lavrik, that you donıt have the delicacy not to pester me with every sort of nonsense? Why did you come here, who invited you? Youıre all half-wits!.. Another two days of this and I'll go crazy with you!"
"Why are you angry, Elena Aleksandrovna? I told the truth."
"Oh God! He's found something to brag about: he told the truth! Who needs it? You know I'm tired! I want a simple, quiet, peaceful love! I thought that in your innocent heart,in your subtle, soul I would be able to cultivate what I had been waiting for so long, but you're like all the rest," and she began to cry. Lavrik repeated in distress:
"I love you very much, Elena Aleksandrovna, but I love you the only way I can."
"No, Lavrik! I'm older than you and must tell you the truth as well: I won't torment you and make you unhappy... I can't love you as you need to be loved. That's the truth. Of course that's a very bitter pill for you, but you're so young that it will soon be forgotten... I wanted to build a wonderful life, but you see what the point is: one of the two has to be strong,and we're both so weak, so weak!"
"The other one should be like him, like Lavrentiev."
Elena Aleksandrovna spoke dreamily, as if without noticing Lavrik:
"Yes, Lavrentiev is strong and definite... but you're a tender flower. You need to be cared for by someone with a different heart and soul than I. I'm too dusty and broken for you."
Elena Aleksandrovna swiftly glanced in the mirror, which reflected the bowed figure ofLavrik and herself, tearstained, with a lace kerchief in her hands, as if it were some
"final meeting" Then she bent still more beautifully and whispered, stroking Lavrik's hair.
"Now, dear friend, go! It's as hard for me as if I were burying my fondest dream... but it must be done now, before it's too late. I'm not just doing it for you, but for me as well. How unhappy you and I are, Lavrik! Well then, I'll kiss you for the last time... leave today!"
Lavrik looked into the bright eyes which hadıt even turned blue from excitement for along time, and said finally:
"You're crying, Elena Aleksandrovna, but you have no heart whatsoever!"
"Perhaps, dear friend, perhaps; I don't know anything... Later, soon probably, you will understand everything. I'm doing this not just for myself and you, but for another person who is equally dear to me and to you... I'm doing this for Orest Germanovich."
When the tear stained Lavrik left stumbling, Elena Aleksandrovna did not rush to the window, but ordered her check to be brought, saying that she would be leaving early tomorrow morning, and sat behind the little desk and wrote the telegram on the light blue form:PART TWOCHAPTER 1 PART II
"Petersburg. Ekaterina canal. To Tsarevsky. Bored. Successful. Arrive tomorrow. Kisses. Love", and it had been a long time since Elena Aleksandrovna had slept as soundly as she did that night. She slept like children who have run themselves ragged in the course of an endless day.
One had to cover twenty versts, now open meadows, now not very thick forest, now uphill, now down again, to get from Smolensk to Iraida Lvovna's estate, called
"the Backwaters." The team was quite well-behaved by country standards, so that it was famous even among her neighbours; the road was rolled flat and dustless after yesterday's rain, but the journey seemed very risky and dangerous to Polina Arkadievna, so that in her imagination it differed very little from exploring unknown countries, where she had dreamed of being a missionary then in Pavlovsk. For about the first five versts she didn't even speak and only looked in terror at the back of Dasha, who was seated next to the driver on the coach box, as if she were afraid of being seasick, or were riding on a carousel. Then, seeing that the road changed little and that no adventures could be anticipated, she began to question Iraida Lvovna about who such and such a manor shining white in the distance belonged to and what were the names of various wild flowers, streams and brooks encountered on the way. Yellow jackets threw her into a panicky horror. She gathered all this information as seriously as if she planned to preserve them for life or write an investigation of the province of Smolensk. Women in the blue men's poddyovkas occasionally bowed to the passing gentle folk, but interested her not in the least. Thus about another three versts passed; finally curiosity dried up and Polina Arkadievna tried to doze off. But since she nonetheless feared she might miss something interesting, perhaps dangers of the road or just flies and yellow jackets, her effort at falling asleep was all in vain. The countryside disappointed her. She thought that the thickets were wandered by young noblewomen in white dresses with book in hand, like operatic Tatianas; a rusty dog would jump out from behind a bush pointing and the noblewoman would scream; than a broad-shouldered young neighbour in a hunting jacket or the some of the overseer with his gun slung over his shoulder would come out and carry Tatiana through the swamp, or would gather forget-me-nots for her; she thought that everywhere mothers in caps would be making jam as passers-by looked on and would be singing Tchaikovsky's quartet "The habit given us from on high" and girls would be returning with rakes over their shoulders. Or else she would imagine just the opposite, that all the estates were in flames and a crowd of peasant lads were waiting behind every corner to rape her, Polina. In general she remembered now the opera Evgeny Onegin, now the short stories of certain belletrists. But other than the occasional peasant she saw almost no one; only by one of the manors did they notice a portly retired colonel who, jacketless in the heat, was tying up hollyhocks. Despairing of finding anything interesting, Polina Arkadievna turned her thoughts to the Petersburg she had left behind, and her spirits rose somewhat.
"Now you've been saying, dear Iraida Lvovna, that I'm always scatterbrained and far too curious, but just consider: I've left the city right when something interesting was beginning to happen there...."
"What could be starting there that's interesting? Of course, the life of mankind is always worthy of interest, but after all now everyone will be starting to leave the city, and moreover almost all our friends will be coming here... what have you missed?"
"Frankly, I'm most interested in this: how did Elena Aleksandrovna go to Riga?"
"Well, so? She seemed to have a successful trip. She came back a bit early; she'd become bored, that's all. In three days she'll probably be coming to visit.."
"Will the Pekarskys be staying with you this summer too?"
"Probably. I invited them, at least, and Orest Germanovich said he would come.."
"And Lavrik too?"
"Yes, probably. After all, they're always together.."
"After all, I think Lavrentiev is your neighbour?"
"Not a very close one, about fifteen versts from here. And he rarely visits our parts, but he's a neighbour, if you like.."
"How interesting this all may be!" said Polina, smiling in contemplation.
"Perhaps, only you know - if you want to rest and recover your strength, you'd better not get too interested in other people's affairs, or else there won't be any difference between
'the Backwaters' and
"But you say Lyolechka is coming soon?"
"In about three days, if no one delays her. We all need peace for a while, and I think all you have to do is go out to the meadow where it smells of honey and mint and look at the lazy clouds, and everything urban will seem so insignificant that you'll calm down in spite of yourself.."
"You're very happy, Iraida Lvovna; you're calm and well-defined.."
"And I think, Polina, that your trouble is not that you worry and search for something, but that you don't know yourself what you want and all this is only somewhere on the surface, and it's not desires or searchings but just goose bumps. And I'll say it again: if you'll just live here awhile, you'll see for yourself how you'll change.."
"I don't want to calm down and change too much, Iraida Lvovna, for fear of losing myself altogether.."
"What foolishness! How could you lose yourself? Just look what a beautiful house we have!" The house stood on a rise; it was white, with columns, and topped by a low cupola. Amidst the glade a straight road descended to an unseen pond, and above the house itself a lone white cloud stood motionless, as if it also served as an architectural accessory. The rooms were not wallpapered, and portraits by home-grown artists shone sharply black on the plastered walls. The mistress went up to one of them where was depicted a lady who resembled Iraida Lvovna quite strongly, in a suit from the time of Pavel and holding a rose naively and awkwardly with two fingers, and said:
"The story of this woman will probably appeal to you. She was the wife of my great-uncle, a Rumanian. He killed her out of jealousy, and what a way he picked: he took an axe to her. Someday I'll tell you the story.."
"My dear! She looks so much like you!"
"So they say.."
"Be careful you don't meet the same fate.."
"Well, who's going to take an axe to me, and out of jealousy yet? Who needs that sort of nonsense?"
Having become settled in her room, Polina Arkadievna first of all unpacked her toilet things and sat down to write a letter, apparently really fearing that she might calm down too much and lose herself altogether. CHAPTER 2 PART II
Polina Arkadievna spent the first three days waiting for Lyolechka, from whom she hoped to hear engrossing news. But when instead of Elena Aleksandrovna there came a short letter with the news that she was not entirely well and didıt know when she would leave Petersburg, Polina calmly gave herself over to the flow of country life, if of course, one didn't count her letters, infinite in numbers and in length, which she sent off in all directions, filled with worry and excitement, passionately arousing her friends and acquaintances to bravery, exaltation, the beauty of suffering and catastrophes. Yet one other circumstance was not completely in keeping with normal concepts of village life: Polina Arkadievna got up relatively late. However, even the mistress of the household loved to lounge about, since she was not very competent in rural tasks. Sometimes the old forte piano took life beneath inexperienced fingers, and Polina would play fashionable dance tunes from memory, or Iraida Lvovna slowly but surely worked out Schubert, Mendelssohn, or, finally, both together, stopping and counting out loud, would play antediluvian overtures for four hands. Polina Arkadievna apparently had begun to be bored, because even her slender little face filled out, and her eyes lost their worried gleam. In accordance with her custom in the city she spent much time before her mirror and her outfits resembled now tight multi-coloured butterflies with wings slightly aglow, now tatar robes. She almost always went barefoot, which made an irresistible impression on the local peasants. For when once, in the presence of some girls who had come to sell strawberries, she began to declaim Balmont and dance like Isadora Duncan in a forest glade, her reputation as saint or jester was secure. And neighbours had not descended upon them one after the other from all directions only because some of them had not yet arrived on holiday and since Iraida Lvovna's circle of acquaintances was limited. Polina Arkadievna did not stroll in the woods, but spent the whole day sitting, either on the steps of the terrace, which could be seen from the large entrance, or in the birch wood gazebo facing that same road, as if she were waiting for someone. For the time being she could expect only letters, and Polina threw herself on them like a hungry wolf, because the road was as little animated as the day that she and Iraida had arrived from the city. Having reread the three books of poetry she had brought with her, having learned almost by heart all the letters of famous people she kept in her purse, and having told Iraida Lvovna in detail the biographies and psychological and anatomical characteristics of her fifty lovers, Polina Arkadievna undertook to peruse the local library, but since it contained all old books, giving no particular nourishment to amorous exaltations, and moreover, books which one had to read attentively and which were impossible to understand if one skipped a few chapters here and there, Polina Arkadievna continually dragged about with her the first volume of Gil BlasPolina even risked diving, her cheeks continued to bloom like poppies, arousing the envy of the country girls and sometimes the enthusiastic swearing of peasant men carting logs. And so, her slightly filled-out cheeks aglow, with the volume of Gil Blas ever in hand, dressed in a night shirt tightly gathered by a light blue kerchief about her rump, Polina Arkadievna was making her way calmly from the gazebo to the terrace with the not particularly romantic thought that breakfast was not far off when suddenly she saw a man by the stacked logs who did not at all resemble the usual haulers. It was a quite tall young man with long hair and a straight nose, in a wide brimmed hat, black shirt and high boots. Coming closer, Polina Arkadievna began listening silently to what the men were saying. But they were talking about board feet and knots so she didn't understand anything.
"Can you really understand what you're saying?"
"What do you mean?"
"I mean, are you an expert?"
"I'm just hiring carts. What kind of expert?"
"Are you the overseer?"
"No. We have an estate here. I'm Pankraty Polauzov.."
"Well! I've never had a Pankratyyet.."
"Yes, it's a very rare name," her companion agreed.
"And they'll be hauling the same sort of logs to you, too?"
"Yes, we're putting up a new bathhouse.."
"What a horrible thing?"
"In the city if you suddenly say bathhouse it's always somehow indecent.."
"I don't know, I've been to the bathhouse several times in Petersburg; there's nothing indecent about it. You have a spoiled imagination.."
"Are you really from Petersburg?"
"Yes, I'm studying at the University.."
"That's strange! I've never seen you before.."
"It's quite possible! There are lots of people in Petersburg.."
"And you're called Pankraty?"
"Yes. I take it you think that's horrible, too?"
"No, it's just funny! Well, but what do your lovers call you? Pankrasha? You know, I think I'll call you Kratic.."
"As you like.."
The young man fell silent and continued to examine the logs. Then, as if only just now remembering, he asked gaily:
"Are you a guest of Iraida Lvovna?"
"What guest! I'm not being a guest, but dying of boredom!"
"Yes, if you don't have something to do, it can be boring in the country.."
"Well, if I loved someone, I could understand...."
"Yes, of course, if a person is caught up in a feeling, life seems full to him no matter what the circumstances... but it can't be done to order.."
"And then it turns out that it just isn't done," answered Polina simply, then added:
"You know, I think you ought to start wearing chaps instead of boots, and a felt jacket... then you'd look like a cowboy...."
"Around our parts that's not practical... this isn't America, and I wouldn't look like a cowboy but like a fool or a scarecrow.."
"Your family is feuding with the Tsarevskys, isn't it?"
"No, pardon me, but why... we have very friendly relations.."
"Why don't you come visit then?"
"We just haven't become around to it... we only arrived a week ago, and my mother and sister are a little tired.."
"An! You have a sister as well! How delightful! What is her name?"
"Well that's funny! Here you're Pankraty, and she's simply Sonya. She should have been called Perpetua or Malania...."
"Well, but she's just Sonya ... what can I do?"
"However, you're probably busy and here I am chatting with you... Tell your sister that Polina Arkadievna Dobroliubova-Chernikova sends her respects.."
"Are you an actress?"
"No, I'm just me, Polina... but actors! Maybe we're all actors...."
"Yes, of course it depends on how you look at it.."
Polina Arkadievna, of course, did not fail to question Iraida that very day about the Polauzovs. She learned from her that the family consisted of a widow and two children; that they really were one of their closest neighbours, and more over maintained the friendliest of relations with them.
"I simply don't know why I seem to have forgotten about them... They drop by occasionally in Petersburg, too, and now of course since they've arrived they'll be visiting us in a few days. It'll be a little diversion for you. Unfortunately they really aren't quite your sort of people; well, but after all in the country you can hardly expect to find the sort of madmen you're used to associating with in Petersburg.."
"What do you mean, dear Iraida Lvovna! As if I'd already lost the ability to get on with simple people? Anyway, it often happens that people contain certain riddles which just haven't had the chance to show themselves.."
"Well you won't find these riddles of yours in the Polauzovs , I don't think, and don't think that they're sort of boors... They're not so much simple people as people very firmly established, earnest and proper... Although Sonechka does have a few deplorable traits...."
"Why should I tell you everything? When you meet them you'll see for yourself; it'll keep you busy. After all I'm still your hostess and have to think about your entertainment, so I won't say anything more. And then, perhaps I'm imagining everything... I haven't any hard evidence.."
"Is she young, this Sonechka?"
"Yes. That is, fairly: she's about twenty. Pankratyis younger.."
"And she's pretty?"
CHAPTER 3 PART II
"That depends on the moment... Sometimes she's almost a beauty, sometimes quite homely... If it weren't for the traits that I won't tell you about, she'd be a young lady like any other.."
On the balcony stood a tiny, merry old lady. She shaded her eyes as she looked at the road along which a team of horses with bells approached in a cloud of dust. Near her stood the very Sonya Polauzov who, according to the words of Iraida Lvovna, had certain traits. But these traits really did not strike one on first glance, and even the statement that she was at times a beauty and at times quite homely would have seemed exaggerated to anyone, since she impressed one as neither beautiful nor plain, neither short nor excessively tall, neither thin nor fat, neither rosy nor pale. She seemed quite disappointingly ordinary. More a college student than anything else, or perhaps a telephone operator. She was already in her fifth year of taking some courses or other. Pankraty Semyonovich, still in boots, had donned a white high-collared jacket and had on his school cap, so he had, apparently, been forewarned of the arrival of guests. And Polina Arkadievna was encased in a dress which resembled more what is called a dress than an outfit from a forest tale, and moreover, had shoes on. This seemed to inhibit her and even lessened the animation of her speech. In the course of the past two weeks she had become quite accustomed to going about like a profligate or, as she put it,
"like a backwater fairy". But to the Polauzovs, who were unaware of her usual volubility, she seemed very talkative even in such an abbreviated form. Apparently the hosts had already decided earlier who would entertain whom, so Iraida Lvovna, as a woman with whom one could discuss farming as well, was assigned Pankraty semyonovich, while Polina was presented with Sonechka. The mother joined now one pair, now the other in those minutes when she was not in the kitchen. But the guests themselves often altered this distribution, since Polina Arkadievna, in spite of the lure of discovering the mysterious traits of Sonechka Polauzov, naturally found the bachelor, even such as he was, more interesting. Pankraty semyonovich attracted Polina because he was not much like the young people who usually surrounded her. His simplicity and a certain earnestness sometimes amused but at times provoked his companion. Of course, after Iraida's recommendation Polina did not ignore Sonechka either, but her power of observation was somewhat paralyzed, since the notorious traits of the young Polauzov lady were not of an erotic nature at all. But even so, one could note something unusual in the very furnishing of the young lady's chamber: an abundance of upholstered pieces covered in bright cretonne, the absence of knickknacks and pictures, except for two portraits of some English lady with a puffy face and an exotic man with a long black beard; Russian and English books with a philosophical- moralistic content, a mother-of-pearl crucifix in front of which stood a tall glass containing a bunch of garden flowers, an odour which was either wormwood or freshly- ironed linen, and blue venetian blinds lowered over windows which were closed even though it was summer -- all this lent the room an air of comfortable divine contemplation and faith in the corner of a divan. Polina Arkadievna, of course, looked all this over and found the room to be a typical rural boudoir, and was surprised to see that Sonechka had no lip rouge. Having finished her inspection, she occupied herself entirely with Pankraty in his tall boots, who took her to look over the livestock yard. It was hot; Polina Arkadievna was bored with wearing shoes, as she had become out of the habit: the cows mooed and it smelled from the calves and she kept trying to think of some way to return to Sonechka's boudoir as quickly as possible and take her host with her. The old woman, bending towards Iraida Lvovna, whispered crushingly, pointing at Polina Arkadievna:
"The poor girl! Why has she painted herself that way?"
"Everyone has their weaknesses... She's a very good person.."
"Well, I'm not saying anything and of course I believe you completely... but you have to know what's done... which of us does she want to shock?"
"She's probably not thinking about shocking anyone, she just gets pleasure out of it herself.."
Polina, having discovered that there were no swings, sat at the old piano and began to play the two or three dances she knew by heart.
"Don't you play?" she asked Sonechka.
"No, none of us do... the instrument was left by my grandmother, and we just couldn't part with it.."
"But how can you live without music?"
"Well, what can be done? If I thought myself unhappy because I live without music it wouldn't help matters any.."
"You could learn.."
"It would take too much time.."
"Are you very busy?"
"But what do you live by?"
Sonechka smiled and answered:
"I don't know exactly what you want me to say I live by. I think I live by what all people do or ought to: I study, read, try to better myself -- I think that's quite sufficient.."
"That's all too rational; life has to contain some madness. Can it be you don't love art and aren't in love with anyone?"
"I love art, of course, how could one not love it? But even here my tastes would seem too rational to you. As to whether I'm in love with anyone as you say, I hope you will permit me not to answer that question for the time being.."
The young people went to see their guests off, since the beginning of the road went through a broad, even, birch-lined avenue which it would have been a sin not to have taken advantage of. The team rode quietly behind and the moon on the right now showed itself, now was lost among the transparent green twigs. The late evening was not conducive to conversation, but Polina Arkadievna could not contain herself, and as soon as she was left alone in the carriage with Verbina, she undertook to share her impressions and voice her criticism of the neighbours. she did not especially like them, and found them to be desultory, boring and uninteresting.
"The old lady's all right, but the children are some sort of Quaker fossils... one can't imagine them living in Petersburg... it's as if they stayed in the country all the time or had come from Switzerland...."
"Why from Switzerland?"
"Oh, I just imagine only chocolate-makers and governesses live in Switzerland... the first group just makes chocolate all the time, and the others teach Russian children bad french. It's boring, dearie... You can't live that way... if only Lyolechka would come soon.."
"Well, so then you didn't notice anything peculiar about Sonechka Polauzov?"
"Yes; by the way, I wanted to tell you myself that I think you're mistaken... What traits could such a sour prune have!"
"You're not being just to her... Sonya isn't at all the apathetic creature you imagine her to be. She's a girl with a very strong will... very strong. Perhaps her peculiarities aren't inclined in a way you would find interesting, but that doesn't mean she doesn't have them.."
"I don't know; I didn't notice anything.."
"And I'm not making any claims... Today I thought to myself that I might be mistaken.."
"No, the best thing will be for all our people to come... especially Lyolechka. I've even surprised myself by how much I miss her. Don't be offended, Iraida Lvovna, but you know... all this: the quiet, nature, simple people -- it's all wonderful, but it's all dead, and oh, how boring!"
"And he, rebellious, looks for tempests as though in tempests there were peace.'" declaimed Iraida Lvovna jokingly.
"Not true at all. I'm not searching for tempests because there's some sort of peace in them, but because there can't be any peace in them. I love the tempest because it's a tempest.."
"That's enough, Polina, what tempests do you have? You create them yourself... you blow on a saucer of water and think it's a full-fledged storm... Of course in essence it's not important as long as you like it so much: anything to keep the child quiet, as they say... Only you shouldn't deceive yourself.
"Ah, my dear, what should one live by if not deception; what would our life be without it? Love, art... are these not a deception?"
"No, not a deception... It's not worthwhile to deceive because you can easily bring harm upon others and make a fool of yourself as well.."
"Does it really matter, if only for a day, for an hour one lives fully, interestingly, beautifully! That's the main thing - to live beautifully and tremulously.."
"But it can all be done much more simply without any deception, Polina, or else a person can easily become ridiculous, and then where's your beauty?"
"How old are you, Iraida Lvovna?" asked Polina completely unexpectedly.
"Where do you get such calm, such prudence? Elena Aleksandrovna understands me much better.."
"I think the point's not age but simply that Lyolechka is essentially just as much a waif as you are; and as to my clam, you're just flattering me... how can I be calm? Now those Polauzovs are really calm people and even they aren't so completely. If they were perfectly calm they would be much gayer and more joyful, but you're right, they still have lenten countenances, and if a calm or saintly person has a lenten countenance it means there's some flaw in his calm and saintliness. A saintly person must rejoice and make merry moment, and must look upon everything with joyful and peaceful eyes.."
"You know what, Iraida Lvovna? I think you may enter a nunnery in your old age.."
"Is that because I got to talking about saintliness? No, my dear, I'm not that sort of person.."
"Oh, don't say that; it could happen to anyone... after all, I'm also very religious. If a disaster were to occur in my life, and there were nothing left, nothing at all, I'd enter a nunnery too; it's so beautiful! Candles, a black veil... ecstasies.."
"Beauty is as beauty does, but you'd make a very bad nun... One ought to enter a nunnery at the peak of one's strength, and not drag some broken shards there that haven't anything else to do."
"No, no! You've given me an idea. This fall I'll go directly to Novodevichy.."
At home a letter from Leonid Lvovich awaited them, in which he wrote that Elena Aleksandrovna was still ailing and that it still wasn't known when she would be able to go out, that he kept having trouble getting leave from his work and was not in any particular hurry to do so, as he was waiting for his wife to recover fully, that everything was fine and that sooner or later they would be sure to come to
Iraida Lvovna didn't like something in the letter.
"God knows what my brother is writing. He's scrawled something about Lyolechka being sick... but she couldn't be too sick to travel, and if she is a bit under the weather, that is just a further reason to come to the country as quickly as possible. He mentions something vague about himself too. You can't help but think of the Polauzovs.."
Polina Arkadievna remarked mysteriously:
"Iraida Lvovna, I think there's a big drama going on there.."
"What sort of drama could there possibly be?"
"No, just believe me! Even when we were leaving, everything was so tangled up there that I'm afraid there may be some misfortune.."
"You know what, Polina, don't talk that way. Who knows? Maybe you have an evil tongue... you'll babble something about misfortune and there'll be misfortune.."
"Is that really possible?" Polina asked, suddenly taking an inordinate interest.
CHAPTER 4 PART II
"Well, of course! Never call woes down upon yourself.."
In fact both Polina Arkadievna and Iraida Lvovna were mistaken in their suppositions. Of course Leonid Lvovich had given some inaccurate information too: Elena Aleksandrovna was not ill at all, and moreover there was no drama, although it would be wrong to say that everything was in good shape.
When she returned from Riga Elena Aleksandrovna saw that her husband believed her in everything, or pretended he did, and regarded everything trustingly and simply. Yes, Lyolechka had gone to Riga to see her sister Tanya, got homesick and came back ahead of time. That was how it was supposed to seem and that is how Leonid Lvovich himself chose to see it, or perhaps he only submitted to the general impression which was supposed to be produced, but he did so voluntarily and freely, almost gaily; and therefore it was impossible to attribute the change which could be observed in him to Lyolechka's journey or to her unexpected return. But the change was so noticeable that it struck one's eyes at once. As soon as Elena Aleksandrovna arrived she asked:
"What's the matter with you, Leonid! Has anything happened?"
"What do you mean, nothing... do you think I can't see that you're not yourself? Have you fallen in love here without me?"
"What foolishness! Why would I fall in love?"
"Well, you know, it's almost always hard to answer why people do it.."
Leonid Lvovich was silent and continued to be very taciturn until breakfast was over, when Lyolechka announced:
"but no, you know, Leonid, one would think you weren't glad that I've come, you're in such a strange mood today: you don't ask anything; you won't tell anything. Really, if I were jealous, I could think God knows what. But I think that would even be better. Then there'd at least be a definite unpleasantness, but as it is I don't know what to worry about. Maybe you're ill?"
"No... I'm healthy. I don't think there have been any changes in me. But what would you think if you were jealous?"
"That you had fallen in love with Zoya Lilienfield."
"Why with her?"
"Yes, but often it opens the eyes even of the one who is being talked about. But this is all only a hypothetical conversation... since I'm not jealous I don't think any such thing and I'm as certain of your faithfulness as I believe you are of mine.."
Lyolechka was right in saying that inspired guesses open people's eyes and explain much to those about whom they are made.
It had never been clearer and more obvious to Leonid Lvovich that he was in love, really in love with Zoya Mikhailovna. How was it this had not come into his head before now? He thought it was simple interest, aesthetic and observant, that it was an artistic friendship, a pleasant acquaintanceship. However, such an explanation left many of his psychological twists and movements incomprehensible. But now with this new explanation added in, everything became so clear, simple, and unalterable that Leonid Lvovich was himself surprised that it hadn't struck him at once.
"Yes, yes! In love..." And these impatient expectations, this excitement when they met, some sort of sudden exhausting languor at a single glance - all this was evidence that there could be no doubt. He had supposed before that this tall, slender figure, these elongated Egyptian eyes pleased him, that he was attracted by her faultless taste, her fondness of literature and free, personalized view of things, that he was irresistibly drawn by the fine definition of her opinions, feelings and actions, this woman who was so unlike all others. But now he understood that he had simply fallen in love with Zoyaand that it was only because of this that he liked everything about her. Everything became simple and joyful for him; perhaps he was sorry for a few of those troubled semi-feelings by which he had only the previous evening explained his relationship with Lilienfeld. Now he knew definitely that he was in love with her and everything became coarse, joyful and simple. Simple in spite of the existence of Lyolechka and the inevitable complications. With an utterly new feeling he crossed the drawing room carpet to get to the small room where the mistress of the household was trying to work out some new, difficult piece at the glowing piano. She nodded to him, not wishing to interrupt her work, and he kissed her hand, which did not pause, and said softly but assuredly:
"I love you, Zoya Mikhailovna!"
"Are you declaring your love for me?"
"But yesterday you hadn't thought of this yet?"
"Yesterday I wasn't so clearly aware of it.."
"And today it suddenly became clear to you that you love me? Who or what made it clear?!"
Zoya said nothing in reply; only when she had played the piece to the end and struck the final piercing chord did she address Leonid Lvovich:
"No one told me, but I knew myself long ago that you love me... I'll say even more: that I myself love you... it would be ridiculous for us to start a flirtation... I don't think that was what you had in mind when you professed your love for me. So know that I also love you, and go... I will be waiting for you tomorrow.."
Leonid Lvovich could barely remember how he got home; his feelings seemed to have become more definite by his admitting to them. Now there was not only no doubt, but it seemed as if any retreat would be impossible. Besides, had not Zoya Mikhailovna said herself that she loved him? Why then had she sent him home so strangely? Or perhaps this happened precisely because of her excessive definiteness. Apparently she wanted both her feelings and excitement and his to subside so that at subsequent meetings they could deal with what was unchangeable, constant, and clear. Or perhaps she wanted to give him time to speak with his wife. Leonid Lvovich was not one of those people who under the guise of frankness and the desire to confess at once rush to expound the tiniest hostile feeling or bad deed to the very person before whom they are guilty instead of correcting the deeds and the relationship in secret, but at the same time he was no keeper of secrets, and to hide anything from his wife, especially something like this, was very hard for him.
Lyolechka paced the room in her best dress.
"Are you planning on going somewhere or going out?"
"No, I'm not planning to go any place in particular, why?"
"No, I just thought you were dressed like you were going somewhere.."
"Yes, I was going to go, but then I didn't feel like it.."
Knowing Lyolechka to be changeable and flighty, Leonid Lvovich did not consider this proof of any special nervousness on her part.
But in fact Elena Aleksandrovna did appear to be excited. She paced ever more quickly about the drawing room, now looking out the window at the empty embankment of the canal, now paging through the albums on the table without seeming to see anything.
Leonid Lvovich had only one thought: how to prepare Lyolechka somehow for the approaching conversation. Not knowing where to start he was silent; his wife was silent too, pacing faster and faster. Finally, as if tiring, she sank into the armchair, but the conversation did not begin. At least, as if to herself, she said
"Pooh! How stupid!"
"What in particular?" responded her husband. Since Elena Aleksandrovna did not answer he repeated once more:
"you said something was stupid... what did you have in mind?"
"Just that... I was saying it to my own personal thought. I can't, Leonid... you understand, I can't...."
"What can't you?"
"Nothing! I can't live this way... I don't want to feel or think like this!"
"What can I do? I know a little about how you live, but as to what you think and feel I don't know anything.."
"That's just the trouble: you don't know anything... Why don't you? Who would know if you don't?"
"Because you didn't tell me anything, how could I piece it together?"
"Why don't you ask? Why won't you find out or advise me or scold me? I'm completely at my wits' end and you don't seem to care.."
"Dear Lyolechka! Why should I scold you!? What for? Has anything happened?"
"That's just the point: nothing's happened yet... but even so I'm trembling as if a misfortune were on the way...."
"In a week, I think, we can go to the country..." said Leonid Lvovich soothingly.
"You think this will go away just because of that? I'll go out of my mind there in the country!"
"But you wanted to go there so much... The Pekarskys will be there, Lavrentiev, Polina's already there...."
Elena Aleksandrovna jumped up again and said, raising her voice:
"Not for anything! I got sick of her this winter already.."
"You're simply in a bad mood today; I'm sure that in a minute you'll be sorry you're talking this way... I don't mean you can't tire of your friends, but where did this viciousness come from?"
"I don't need anyone! I don't need anyone! And don't talk to me about acquaintances... just looking at your sister affects my nerves.."
"Of course, if we're going to visit Iraida, it'll be hard not to see her. Well, if you'd like to, let's go to a cottage some place where there isn't anybody around, in Finland, perhaps...."
"Is this really worth talking about? Who cares where we live?"
"Of course, we care?" answered Leonid Lvovich, thinking about Lilienfeld.
He answered so simply and seriously that he seemed to surprise his wife. She suddenly halted her pacing and sat down affectionately by her husband on the divan.
"Why won't you ask me anything? Maybe I'm guilty before you, you could scold me and I'd feel better.."
"Well, why should we sift through each other's guilts. Maybe you're guilty and maybe I'm guilty...."
"No, I alone am guilty! I alone! What are you guilty of? Of being too good and believing me?"
"I'm guilty of falling in love with someone else...."
Lyolechka seemed not to understand and repeated her husband's words:
"You've fallen in love with someone else?"
"Yes," Leonid Lvovich answered barely audibly.
"I thought so! I thought so! I understand that hussy from the first time I laid eyes on her! And what do people see in her? A dried-up fish! Of course she dresses all right, but tastelessly; with her money anyone could dress well.."
After a silence she asked almost calmly:
"so, has this affair been going on for a long time? What trash you all are! I can imagine how she batted her eyes when she was talking it out with you!.. You'd think she was Queen Cleopatra! It wasn't for nothing that she wore such a decollete at 'the Owl'! Only you'd better advise her not to do it from now on... it doesn't suit her figure at all...."
"Lyolechka, I love this woman and I don't enjoy hearing you speak of her in that fashion.."
Elena Aleksandrovna burst out in loud laughter.
"Have you gone out of your mind? Do you expect me, your wife, to speak about your lover with respect? I'm afraid that's asking a bit too much... would you like me to pay a call on her too?"
"I don't want you to do anything... I can make everything come out the way I want it.."
"I can make everything come out the way I'd like it, too... and first of all I don't like the tone you're using with me.."
"After all, if I wanted to I could blame you for some things too: in the first place you were hinting yourself and in the second the story of your affair with Lavrentiev is quite well-known in the city.."
"I don't have any affair with Lavrentiev. Yes, if you like, he courted me... he even came to Riga, you can find out, but I firmly refused all his advances. And then if I were having an affair it would be another matter entirely, because I'm a woman... Yes, take the sun, it lights up many, everyone, but there's only one for you, even though others love me... I can't explain it... we should be light and beauty for you, and you shouldn't see any other beauty or light. But you...."
"Well, you just love me!"
"So it can never be mutual?"
"Well, listen! What a ridiculous pretension! Do you really want to be beauty too? That's stupid. Maybe your Zoya sings to you that you're her light? Then don't believe her, because no matter what she's like she's still a woman!"
"At least it's frank.."
After a silence Elena Aleksandrovna seemed to calm down and said:
"I won't take any measures myself, you'll come to your sense soon enough I hope, - but really, you and I are tired and we ought to go to Smolensk as soon as possible, I'll write a letter to Iraida Lvovna today.."
"That's what you call not taking any measures?"
CHAPTER 5 PART II
"It was your wish and I'm submitting to it like a faithful wife. And then, you know what I'll tell you, Leonid? You were made from too good and sour a dough for your escapades to be dangerous to me.."
From that day forward the Tsarevskys began a new life. Usually this word is connected with the concept of something good, joyful and elevated, but in the present situation this was far from being the case.
Their life, perhaps not distinguished by sincere friendship but nonetheless tolerable and peaceful, had simply been violated and a sort of armed peace had begun, which could be interrupted at any moment by clashes. It turned out, completely unexpectedly for Leonid Lvovich, that Lyolechka was able to poison their existence if she chose. One would have thought they had equal rights and should have been forbearing with each other, but by some trait of her character or some quality of the sun which had to shine on everyone but remain unique itself, Elena Aleksandrovna proved to be inexhaustible in the invention of hints, irony, sarcasm and simple nitpicking, sometimes quite crude but always producing the needed effect on the more straightforward and perhaps lazier Leonid Lvovich, who was head over heels in love; and it seemed to him that he really was truly in love. Now that Lyolechka had become so unpleasantly unlike herself, the difference between the woman he was in love with and his wife was all the more striking, and therefore it was not surprising that he tried to spend as little time as possible at home and was constantly striving to see Zoya Mikhailovna. There he found affection, peace and some feeling which, if not elevated, was nonetheless quite inspired. The awareness that an unpleasant, antagonistic woman was sitting at home, whom he had once loved and who was now experiencing, if not sorrow, then great disappointment and hurt because of him, gave to his new relationship a certain solemn sadness and a great restraint; but perhaps this solemnity and certain mournfulness was dictated by the very figure of Madame Lilienfield.
Not only the modest and enamoured Leonid Lvovich but even the most fiery Don Juan and homme sans facon would never think of treating this woman lightly or of taking liberties with her.
Perhaps it was an optical illusion but at any rate it existed and was effective. It seemed unthinkable to grope this Egyptian queen as if she were some merry fat woman or to speak of the beauty of sin while stealthily placing one's hand where it shouldn't be, as was the practice with Polina, and in general it would seem awkward to propose that she should go off with him to the canopy of the waters.
I repeat: perhaps it was only an optical illusion and Zoya Mikhailovna would not have been averse to someone rumpling her a bit in a dark corner, but knowing the impression she created, she kept to fashion and behaved with haughty affection and slightly sardonically, appearing to be an intelligent woman of elevated thoughts, slightly dry and very definite. Leonid Lvovich was all the happier to notice that upon closer acquaintance and in the presence of love she seemed not at all dry or imperious, without losing for an instant her definiteness of nobility and a certain sad grandezza, so that Lyolechka, with her daily changes of mood, whims, carping, and small blonde face suddenly seemed to him to be an unbearable, vulgar little animal, neither kind nor amusing. Probably he would not have recognized himself and a month ago would not have believed that this was he, Leonid Lvovich Tsarevsky, who read old French authors aloud for hours; now listening as Zoya distinctly, dryly, coldly, glittering with a cold fire and fever, played Liszt, rehearsed dances or learned roles, kissing him only rarely, like a queen, while her narrow, elongated eyes burned with a strange and dark inspiration. He did not seem to be a conqueror himself, but lived in a kind of captivity to a new, powerful Armida. Since he was no Don Juan, his male pride did not suffer from the fact that he did not take this woman and that his captivity was not the joking and voluntary deviousness which all suitors speak of, but was a genuine and complete bewitchment.
Yes, Zoya seemed to him both a sorceress and a sibyl, both a queen and a directress, in general the strongest sort of creature, into whose hands one could deliver oneself trustingly and sweetly. When he didn't see Elena Aleksandrovna he was infinitely sorry for that creature who wept and was joyful somewhere below without knowing what he knew now, - and often as he hurried homeward he thought with magnanimity and proud sympathy of how he could comfort, forgive and caress her. But in his absence his wife was not dozing either, probably, and she met him with such an arsenal of previously prepared carping that his tongue deserted him and he simply began to scold her in return and ceased to resemble a lofty knight, but turned into an ordinary Petersburg civil servant, or the faithless husband of a faithless wife. He left slamming the door vulgarly behind him, angry at himself and at her, and hurried once again to the place where, as it seemed to him, he forgot himself and was elevated, and cleansed of his petty life. He tried consciously not to think about the trip to
"the Backwaters," not having the strength to put it off indefinitely. Engrossed in the daily war with her husband, Elena Aleksandrovna also seemed to forget about the country. She seemed to be living in a dream, surprisingly malicious and bored.
At times she could barely keep herself from going and arranging the simplest and most vulgar scandal, from going to Zoya Mikhailovna and saying everything that boiled inside her. And the things that boiled inside her were not very pleasant, just or elegant. Or she might go and beat her with an umbrella, or as she said intentionally, repeating the cynical expression to herself consolingly:
"fix her wagon.."
"Fight! Like girls over a cat, I'll unmask her... we'll see then what'll be left of his Egyptian queen! He'll see then that this poseur is just like everyone else!"
So Lyolechka would think, without noticing that by such reasoning she was destroying not so much her hated rival as all women and herself in particular. Of course Elena Aleksandrovna did not actually carry any of this out and moreover such plans and scenes with her husband could not fully occupy her life, thoughts, or heart. To her sorrow hardly any of her acquaintances were in Petersburg, so her sufferings were even deprived of witnesses. For some reason she did not reveal herself to Iraida Lvovna and Polina in her letters, as if she were cooking up another plan which it would be better that Iraida Lvovna remain in ignorance of. Enmity and spleen cannot make up the exclusive and sole purpose of life, and a person inevitably begins to pine. Elena Aleksandrovna pined, all the more so because her enmity and spleen were rather unreal, and it was doubtful whether even the feelings which incensed her could be given such loud names. Punctured self-esteem, a petty jealousy, disappointment - that was all there was to it. Such feelings will not take you far, no matter how you try to exaggerate them. And besides, Leonid Lvovich was very discreet in exhibiting his new connection, and if he had not confessed himself and his attitude towards his wife had not changed because of her herself, Lyolechka would probably not have even guessed anything. He even avoided being seen on the street with Zoya Mikhailovna. This however, was the latter's desire. Lyolechka had not seen anyone for such a long time that when she happened to meet the master of ceremonies of
'the Owl' on the street one day she was as overjoyed as if he had been her own father. He was just the same, preoccupied and enthusiastic, so that listening to him Lyolechka thought with envious wonder:
"Just how is it possible for people to be enthusiastic or preoccupied about something when the world seems to be coming to an end?"
In the course of their talk he informed her that tonight would be the last gathering at
'the Owl' before summer and that she, Lyolechka, simply had to be present. He said this with mechanical enthusiasm to everyone he met, but Elena Aleksandrovna was happy to take the bait and think that at any rate she was needed somewhere, if only at
'the Owl' , and that somewhere there was a place which without her would know neither gaiety nor joy. Of course, the master of ceremonies was just batting the breeze and immediately forgot his words, so that when Lyolechka descended into the decorated cellar that evening he met her with the greeting:
"who do I see here? Elena Aleksandrovna! We certainly weren't expecting you!" and went off at once, leaving Lyolechka to her fate. Lyolechka was no longer used to
'the Owl' , all its habitues seemed strangers to her and of little interest, so that the only thing that remained for her was to drink tea and listen to the musicians who for no apparent reason were playing a Beethoven quartet, which was neither especially novel nor particularly merry. She was already considering leaving, thinking that no one needed her here either, that she somehow upset everyone and ought to leave for Smolensk as soon as possible, when suddenly she heard a very familiar voice in the foyer. Lavrik came in with two students and a boy who was not wearing a school uniform.
"So Lavrik's left me, too!" thought Lyolechka and at once grew angry with herself.
"No, that one didn't get away! That one I could get anytime I cared to lift my finger... it's my fault; I've grown sour and weak... how disgusting!" And thinking that her husband was sitting now at Lilienfield's, she quickly went up to Lavrik and greeted him.
"I haven't seen you in such a long time, Lavrik! Hello! and I was just planning on leaving.."
"Why leave, Elena Aleksandrovna? I just arrived and you're leaving... Can't you stand to be in the same room with me?"
"How self-assured you are, Lavrik! ... I was simply bored, but now I think I'll stay and sit with you if you like.."
Lavrik bowed silently; he seemed upset, embarrassed and a bit drunk. People continued to accumulate, the musicians stopped playing Beethoven and on the stage more usual things were danced and sung, familiar yet from winter. Lavrik poured himself glass after glass and Elena Aleksandrovna remarked in surprise:
"You've started drinking, Lavrik, that's something new... and in general you seem to have changed somehow.."
"Yes, I've changed, but not yet as much as I should.."
"But why should you change, and how?"
"I really should," repeated Lavrik and then fell silent. After a pause Elena Aleksandrovna began again
"Well, but how are you getting on, Lavrik?"
"For the time being, I'm not, but I'll get along just fine, just fine... I hope.."
"You're still very young; that's why you hope...."
"I'm not so much young as stupid... but now I'm going to be smarter.."
"And until you are what will you do?"
"Don't ask... I'm so bad, so bad... but I feel like the worse I become the sooner I'll get over it.."
"You're suffering a lot... are you very sad, poor Lavrik?"
"Very" he answered quite simply.
"You poor, poor thing... I fell so guilty... I was stupid too, but I'm getting smarter... If I could do things over it would all be quite different... oh, so different... everything would work out fine. I'm so guilty: can you forgive me and not hate me?..."
"I don't have anything to forgive you for, Elena Aleksandrovna; on the contrary, I'd be very grateful to you...."
"Yes..." Lyolechka caught up the thought animatedly,
"the minutes that we spent will never be forgotten, at any rate. Those minutes of true love... they're like beacons in life, and what would our life be like without them?"
"You misunderstood me... I'm not thankful to you for the minutes you call the minutes of love, but for showing me so clearly and precisely all the insignificance, falseness and vanity of those minutes. Now, the worse the better, and you laid the foundation for the `worse' and laid it brilliantly; now I try more and more to free my heart from ephemeral feelings... I don't belittle them, these feelings, I don't turn away from them, but one shouldn't attach any more significance to them than to a passing butterfly... for the time being I'm still having a hard time.."
Suddenly Lyolechka seized Lavrik's hand and exclaimed in excitement:
"Lavrik! You're slandering yourself... do you really want to become a heartless playboy? And how can I not blame myself for bringing you to this despair and disillusionment?!"
"Soon I won't have despair or disillusionment... but I saw that one can't give one's heart and soul to what I gave them to.."
"What can you give your heart and soul to, if not love and art?"
"Yes, of course... love. But I don't have it yet and haven't had it... even worse... what love I did have I put in the wrong place entirely... I'm using holy water to wash floors.."
Lyolechka released Lavrik's hand and squinting her eyes, asked:
"And you think the place where you want to put your soul is real and lofty, and that you won't be washing the floor with holy water?"
"Yes, I think so. But the point is I'm talking about something completely different than what you suppose... but even if we were talking about what you're thinking of, even that might be better.."
Elena Aleksandrovna asked entirely unexpectedly:
"Do you know Mister Stock, Lavrik?"
"No. But do you know him?"
"I saw him once fleetingly... but you were there with me... remember, at
"I don't remember... I don't remember that evening at all.."
"Your wine is a sad one... do you always philosophize in disillusionment when you get drunk?"
"I philosophize the same way when I drink and when I don't drink. But I'm drinking on purpose now.."
"And later you won't drink at all, when you get over it? Maybe you'll become a vegetarian?"
"Why? I don't think that's essential; I drink and eat like everyone else.."
"Like everyone else! That's horrible, Lavrik - all our charm lies in the fact that we're not like everyone else... We all strive to get out of that, and you say like everyone else!"
"I don't know... I'm only striving to get out of the pit I crawled into... that's my task.."
"And you strive by crawling deeper into the same pit?"
"Yes... Like Dante, I want to crawl through the globe and emerge on the other side.."
"And you don't find this to be pretentious, Lavrik? One would think you'd passed through hell and purgatory.."
"Every act has its hell and its purgatory... But perhaps I really have taken on too much... well, I'll say this: I'm like the boy from the candy shop who's allowed to eat as many sweets as he'd like so that when he has his fill he won't steal and won't attach to pastry the significance of the highest human happiness.."
"Well, and so? Haven't you had your fill yet?"
"Not yet, but almost... I see the meaning of similar things more clearly.."
"Who are you running around with now, Lavrik?"
"I introduced my comrades to you... the others are the same sort...."
"But they seem rather stupid to me.. why have you become wiser?"
"I don't know... perhaps I'm smarter because they're stupid... in my opinion you can turn the most depraved person into a virtuous one if you settle him for a week in a house of ill-repute.."
Elena Aleksandrovna exploded and said hotly:
"You know, Lavrik, you've become unimaginably coarser, - and I'll tell you something else: along with being very boring, our deliberations have been excruciatingly ordinary.."
"Maybe... I think they're just, so who cares if they're ordinary?"
"You sound as if you're not one of us at all; well, do you understand what I mean? All your flight, all your poetry has disappeared... you've lost all your idealism; you've become some sort of cynic!"
"I haven't become one yet, but I'm getting there, or better, I'm trying to become what I think is needed.."
CHAPTER 6 PART II
"How boring!" concluded Lyolechka, though in her voice one heard not boredom, but irritation and hurt.
Zoya Mikhailovna let go of Tsarevsky's hand while he was reading aloud and said:
"I'm inattentive today... enough, my dear!"
"Your thoughts are busy with something else. You think you'll have to be going soon.."
"Why think about it? That's the way it usually is... such is my fate... today here, tomorrow there... now Paris, now America, now Italy... but I still consider that I live in Petersburg.."
"But I can't... I don't want to think about your leaving... I can't imagine how I'll live without you!"
"Why should you live without me... we'll always live together.."
"But you know I can't leave... that is I could, but that would bring too great a cataclysm with it.."
"But you needn't do that at all, you misunderstand me. I wanted to say that no matter how far away from each other we may be, we will always be together inseparably... because we love.."
"Of course, of course... but I'll simply have to do without your eyes, your hands... When I touch you I seem to be filled with a kind of certainty, a kind of wonderful harmoniousness.."
Zoya Mikhailovna embraced him and said, smiling slightly:
"A child... It's because you're too much a child. As long as you're sure of my love (and you are sure of it, aren't you?), won't the realization that even in Florence I'll be loving you, remembering you, helping you -- won't that console you all the more sweetly and strongly?"
"You're right as always, but won't your art and in general the art that you love so much and understand so well take you away from me?"
"No more than here.."
"But now you're going directly to Florence?"
"You're such a free bird; you fly wherever you like!"
"Let's admit that I'm not all that free a bird... and then, I always know where I want to go, and my desires depend completely on my will.."
"God! How well you said that! If only I could act the same way.."
"You will... I'm sure of it.."
"Hug me again... kiss me, so that the clarity and certainty which I lack so much can be transmitted to me more faithfully and strongly!"
Zoya Mikhailovna tenderly and seriously drew him to her bosom and then kissed him without taking her lips away for a long time or closing her eyes, while Leonid Lvovich, eyes closed, pressed against her affectionately and helplessly like a calf.
Finally she broke away and, pushing Tsarevsky back a bit, said as though to herself:
"I'm very frightened.."
"Of what?" asked Leonid Lvovich barely audibly.
"Of what? I'm afraid I haven't given you what you need... but I can't give you that.."
Zoya Mikhailovna looked at him a long time thoughtfully, and finally began softly:
"You can give me your certainty, your way of always knowing what you need to do.."
"Certainty... yes, I know where I should go: to Paris or to Florence... I can schedule my day, I can impart the necessary intonation and gestures to a role without error; I have a definite taste in art, I love everything that's worthy of love in both the old and the new, but is that really enough?"
"What else do you need? Acts...."
"I'm sure in my actions as well, and if a step must be taken I take it, no matter how wearisome it may be. But there's still something I don't know and which, perhaps, I'm incapable of; something without which my certainty is a dead spectre.."
"It's love, love!" Leonid Lvovich prompted her.
"Perhaps one could even call it love," said Lilienfield rather strangely, standing,
"and I'm saying here what I don't know.."
Leonid Lvovich began to speak quickly and with an aggrieved air:
"But now you have the most genuine, wonderful love... Of course, what am I to you? But I ought to get down on my knees for days and thank you for what you so undeservedly thanked me with... and doesn't it give you pleasure that you are the whole reason, will, and life of another person, whom you also love?"
"Of course you're right... everything is wonderful; it was love I had in mind; don't pay any attention to some of my phrases -- I shouldn't have said them. It'll be a week yet before I leave, and I'll write you often, and when I don't write, know what I am thinking of you always and will never leave you.."
When Leonid Lvovich kissed her hand in parting, Zoya asked, narrowing her eyes:
"But tell me, do you know Mister Stock?"
"Very slightly, so?"
"No... it's nothing... perhaps it's just a fancy... perhaps you have no need of him."
Even though Zoya Mikhailovna was somehow unusual and weak that day, in so far as she could be weak, nevertheless the contrast between her slightly sad nobility and the impotent, wildly oscillating sufferings of Lyolechka was so striking that Leonid Lvovich walked home almost in despair, even physically slowing his pace; and the prospect of entering into explanations now, perhaps with a weeping or maliciously attacking wife, affected him so strongly that his calm began to waver as well, ready at any moment to become a nerve-wracked shapelessness no better than Lyolechka's. Just from the way he slammed the door when he came in and missed the rack with his bowler it was apparent that he was ready to begin a defensive or aggressive war. Lyolechka stood in the twilight shadows at the window and said nothing. Taking this silence for a new tactic of his enemy, Leonid Lvovich began the attack himself:
"Why are you standing in the dark like that? At least you could busy yourself with something! You do nothing all day and so naturally all sorts of silliness crawls into your head. After all, whether everything becomes, if not fine, then at least bear, depends in part on you, and believe me, the part of the saintly beaten wife doesn't suit you at all, first of all because you're malicious and don't even bother to conceal it...."
The woman, still silent, turned towards him, and when he turned on the light he saw that she was not Lyolechka at all, but his sister, Iraida Lvovna.
"Iraida! How did you get here?"
But she answered with a question of her own:
"Do you always talk with your wife like that? Then I'm not surprised she sent for me... At first I thought it was all trifles and raving, but now I see there was something of the truth in it.."
"That's all I needed! To have you mixed up in this, to arrange some sort of family court... Bah! How could you believe her? If only you knew how composed I am, how ennobled.."
"Somehow it's not very noticeable... but what about this? We'll talk later... don't be angry at your wife, I didn't come just for your sake and besides I'll only be here three days. Lyolechka will be leaving with me; perhaps without her you'll become even more ennobled and then will come to see us.."
"If you were leaving in a week I'd come with you.."
"Then Zoya Mikhailovna is leaving in a week? Well then, we can wait... I've only heard Lyolechka so far, so I can't pass judgement, but even if she were more in the right than you, I still love you more, after all...."
After a pause Leonid Lvovich asked:
"But what other matter brings you here?"
"A matter no less unpleasant than yours... I'm worried about Orest Germanovich... but there I'm not at all sure how useful I can be. For you, of course, practically and psychologically reasonable conclusions will be quite sufficient, but there something more will probably be needed.."
"But you know, you've changed somehow too... you've become less composed yourself.."
CHAPTER 7 PART II
"God forbid! Right now calm is what's needed more than anything else. At least we can be thankful Polina isn't here.."
If Iraida Lvovna had been able to know of Elena Aleksandrovna's difficult and sad situation from her letters, her awareness that all was not well with the Pekarskys could only be ascribed to an inspiration, or perhaps it was simple perceptiveness. Even that winter it had seemed to her that not everything there on Vasilievsky Island was going as it should, for, not possessing Polina Arkadievna's passion for fantasizing to suit herself about the fate of those close to her, Iraida Lvovna was nonetheless not entirely deprived of imagination in this regard; she knew that if something new had been happening with the Pekarskys since winter, it could not be anything which might soothe her concerns. In such a vague state of disquiet, then, she rode to Vasilievsky Island, where, in spite of weather which was already quite hot, the Pekarskys continued to live. Orest Germanovich was alone in the house and even opened the door himself. He did not seem particularly surprised to see Iraida Lvovna, although it was not her habit to visit the city once she had left for the country. He did not seem distraught or incensed; he had even put on a little weight. Only the eyes, peering out with an indifferent weariness, could give one cause to suspect that not everything was well with him. Iraida Lvovna began energetically, so as not to display the misgivings which gripped her:
"How incurious you've become, Orest Germanovich... you haven't even asked what brings me to Petersburg in such weather?"
"I'm always glad to see you... and I'm partly grateful to the business which has given me the opportunity to talk with you again; after all, now the weather is such that only business could have brought you here.."
"Yes, and very important business, you might well add.."
"Well, then, so tell me what it is, if it's not a secret... although you were right when you said I wasn't curious.."
"Before, you weren't just incurious, but sometimes simply didn't see what was clear to everyone... now, I hope, you're convinced of what sad results that leads to.."
Frowning slightly, Pekarsky remarked:
"I have no idea what you're hinting at.."
"Really... Well, enough, enough, don't be angry... if you don't want me to talk about it... although, frankly speaking, it was just these questions that you avoid so which I intended to ask you about. What are you doing now? What are you writing? Where are you going?"
"Imagine, I'm not writing anything at all.."
"Humph, there's precious little good in that...."
"Not just little good; it's horrible... all the more so since such inaction affects both the soul and the consciousness very destructively... This winter you reproached me for writing little, or not as you would like, and ascribed it to my dissipated way of life and the bad influence of Lavrik... Now that influence has been destroyed and along with it, strangely enough, any sort of life, dissipated or not... you could hardly have wanted that, because I know you wish me only good.."
"But it just happened by itself; you didn't make any effort to follow my advice.."
"On the outside it happened by itself, but when you want something too much, it sometimes happens that what appears to be the most purposeless acts have their purposes after all.."
"Orest Germanovich, are you trying to say that I had something to do with this affair, that I arranged a few convenient facts, as the saying goes? I assure you that isn't the case.."
" I didn't think that at all and don't think it now, but after all, you can hardly deny that you find everything that's happened pleasant, that it all serves your purpose?"
"I won't deny it... I like everything definite and done openly but my main desire was for everything to be well with you.."
"And now you see where it's all led to.."
"Is it really so bad?"
"It couldn't be worse.."
"Orest Germanovich! After all, this unpleasantness, or sorrow if you like, is very temporary!"
"I don't want even temporary sufferings.."
"But sometimes they're necessary for things to get better later on... you really are like a child... be strong, be what you should be!"
Since Orest Germanovich was silent, Iraida Lvovna continued herself:
"Of course I was wrong to take a stranger's feeling to heart, to interfere in something that was none of my concern, but I wouldn't have done it if everyone around me hadn't been talking about it.."
"Oh, God! Are we really going to start paying attention to what people say?"
"But it's intolerable when all sorts of trash is spoken about the person dearest to you.."
"Iraida Lvovna! Didn't you act that way yourself?.. and now you feel it's intolerable...."
"Maybe all those gossips you considered intolerable wished you well, too! There is no more hateful person than the one who makes you see what you don't want to...."
"I didn't know you attached such significance to it...."
"On the contrary, I think you're attaching too great a significance to it... there are intermediate things which it's dangerous to deny significance to but even more dangerous to give greater meaning than they have, and I think that these things belong precisely to the realm of feelings."
"But you said yourself that you're suffering... doesn't that mean anything?"
"Very little. That's just why I'm mad at these unpleasantnesses, because no matter how insignificant they are in reality, they still rob one of the strength vital for real trials.."
"May be the reason for this unexpected philosophy is that you're upset?"
"Maybe, but I don't think so. I think I'm speaking fairly.."
"I can't stand to see you suffer even to this extent... now I understand how wrong I was... essentially this is all such nonsense, or no -- not nonsense, but so external, influencing our real life so little, that I'd really have to sit in this nonsense myself in order to show other people the ways out in this regard. Now my only wish is for everything to be the way it was before, when you thought yourself happy.."
After a pause she asked:
"Does your nephew still live with you?"
"Theoretically he lives in this apartment, but he's almost never here, and for the last week he hasn't even spent the night at home.."
"He will come... he will come... everything will be even better than it was before... he will return; I want it to be so.."
As if in confirmation of Iraida Lvovna's words the doorbell rang in the foyer. Both of them fell silent and remained where they were until the bell rang a second time, the soft thud of a door opening was heard, and Lavrik appeared at the threshold in a hat, with his coat in his hands. Stopping at the threshold, he too was silent. Finally, seeing that no one was going to speak to him, he said quietly:
"I'm very much to blame, Orest Germanovich...."
Hurriedly, as if not wishing to let him finish, the elder Pekarsky answered:
"Yes, Lavrik, I was already beginning to get worried... I wanted to notify the police. You can't just disappear like that without warning.."
But he couldn't manage a calm and merry tone, and his voice broke somehow as well.
"I'm very much to blame, Orest Germanovich..." Lavrik repeated insistently.
This time his uncle said nothing in reply, so that Lavrik repeated yet a third time without moving from the door:
"I'm very much to blame, Orest Germanovich, but I assure you that I've become completely different...."
"I believe you, but a month ago you also became completely different.."
"Neither of you is saying what needs to be said... that is, you're saying what needs to be said but not the way it ought to be said... if you've really become completely different, then don't remind anyone of your guilt, Lavrik; and you should believe more simply, Orest Germanovich... If you don't believe him because he's so young, then believe me... I will vouch for him to you.."
"You?" asked Lavrik in surprise, still not moving from his place.
"Yes, me, me! Don't look at me as if we had just fallen from the moon... What is there to hide now? I admit I didn't care very much for you... I was mistaken. Now maybe you've changed for the better, and if you haven't, you will, because I will see to you... don't forget, I've vouched for you; I don't like to waste my breath... Once I undertake something, I do it... and I will preserve you.."
"Are you doing this out of love for Orest Germanovich again?"
With a heat which was completely unexpected, even to her, Iraida Lvovna exclaimed:
"Root out, root out this instant any arrogance and conceit! Do they have any place here? And are you anyone to talk? And then, I'm doing it for you as well, if you like. Don't stand there like a stump; if you've changed then act like it: go to Orest Germanovich, kiss, and tell him properly just what you were mumbling from the threshold...."
She took Lavrik by the hand and led him up to her host, who remained where he had been, and with obvious pleasure watched while Lavrik, after exchanging a kiss with him, again repeated:
"I'm very much to blame, Orest Germanovich, but I've become completely different.."
But now he said this almost smiling happily, like someone recovering from an illness.
"Well, thank God! We won't say anything more about it," answered Orest Germanovich, also brightening somehow.
"I'll go now... I still have a lot to do, and I don't feel much like sitting around in this Petersburg of yours.."
When Pekarsky went out to see Iraida Lvovna off, he asked quietly:
"You vouched for Lavrik, Iraida Lvovna, but who will vouch for me?"
CHAPTER 8 PART II
"You'll vouch for yourself before the Lord God... I have nothing to do with that.."
In a week, apparently, Madame Lilienfeld had left for Florence, because Leonid Lvovich, having warned his womenfolk the previous evening that he would be at their service the following day, announced upon his arrival late in the evening that he was prepared to go even right that moment. Both women stared at him intently, as if they wished to know the state of his spirit following Zoya Mikhailovna's departure. But Tsarevsky's face was composed and did not express any particular disquiet. He did not seem crushed when spoken to, nor were his phrases especially disjointed, which would have established the existence of a certain anxiety beyond a doubt; but he spoke very simply in his usual manner, so that Iraida Lvovnaeven thought to herself that perhaps her brother was not so far from the truth when he expounded on his elevated emotional state, which before she had been inclined to consider a lover's fanfare. It would be hard to say whether Leonid Lvovich noted the heightened scrutiny of his wife and his sister; in any event he did not give anything away, but continued to discuss tomorrow's departure perfectly calmly. It turned out his things were already packed. At any rate, Iraida Lvovna was far more troubled by Elena Aleksandrovna than by her husband. And not just because she spent all her time with the former while the latter was never home, but also because the unexpectedly discovered weakness of Leonid Lvovich was a definite one and the reasons for it were quite well known; moreover, lately it had crossed over into a sort of calm, also rather unexpected. But Elena Aleksandrovna's condition presented a danger in that she somehow didn't know herself what she was upset about or what she wanted. When Leonid Lvovich had withdrawn already to his room, Iraida Lvovna remained to help Elena Aleksandrovna a bit with the packing, so that tomorrow morning they wouldn't need to rush; and she noted in passing:
"Probably in about two days, in a week at the outside, the Pekarskys will be coming to visit me as well...."
"That's most unpleasant!" answered Lyolechka, frowning slightly. Looking at Lyolechka in surprise, Iraida Lvovna asked:
"Why should it be unpleasant?.. They're in complete agreement now, and no complications, I hope, are to be anticipated, so they'll probably turn out to be the most congenial of house guests... and then you know, when people have quarrelled and just been reconciled they always seem to be busier with each other, so they'll either pay us very little attention or will be the kindest and most accommodating of companions.."
Elena Aleksandrovna shrugged her shoulders and said tartly:
"If they are going to bring such a healthful climate, their presence will be all the more unpleasant for me.."
Iraida Lvovna thought a bit and began very gently:
"Of course, if you don't have everything in order yourself, then it's unpleasant to see someone else's good fortune, but that's really rather a petty feeling... It would be better if the good examples of others inspired us to follow them, not envy them. No matter what you may say, that's all it really is -- envy.."
Elena Aleksandrovna laughed slightly and said:
"Really, there is something to envy!"
"Why not envy it then? I'm sure that both their lives will go very well now. But I find that you exaggerate the bad side of your own affairs. You look at things too darkly... see how calm Leonid is, and now that that other woman has gone, things will be even better...."
"You know, Iraida Lvovna, I'm not at all frightened or worried by my situation... And I'm even less interested in the Pekarskys' domestic life... I'll just find it unpleasant to meet that boy... I was friendly with him at first, but then I saw what hooligan and trashy person he was... and then, he's infernally conceited... He was offended that I withdrew from him a bit, and so he began to say all sorts of silly things, not only silly, but really mean...."
"What, did you hear them from him yourself? Because if others passed it on to you, you can't believe everyone... I myself believed every rumour just like that and not only found myself in a ridiculous position but almost caused some real harm...."
"But I think you yourself were a witness to that ugly scene he made at our place...."
"Well, but you'll admit everyone was a bit tipsy then... you all seemed drunk from your affairs, but as I see it now, such behaviour would be most unlike Lavrik, that is, Lavrik as he is now...."
"You think so?" Lyolechka asked, narrowing her eyes.
"Well, we'll soon see how your renovated Lavrik is going to behave.."
"If I weren't so confident in you, Lyolechka, I would think you still had a taste for or an attraction to this young man whom you say you find to unpleasant.."
"See that you don't incite me to do something that you won't find particularly pleasant, Iraida Lvovna," said Elena Aleksandrovna challengingly.
"Heavens, Lyolechka, what could I be inciting you to?"
"Believe me, you have enough foolishness of your own; we'd do better to speak seriously. After all, you know quite well that the Pekarskys would be staying with us, so you should have thought about this earlier and warned me -- what can I do now? How was I to know that in these three weeks you'd come to find Lavrik to unpleasant that you wouldn't even be in a condition to live with him under the same roof. Or perhaps..." Iraida Lvovna fell silent.
"What perhaps?" prompted Lyolechka.
"Now that you've begun, finish it...."
Elena Aleksandrovna's remark seemed to confirm Iraida Lvovna's thought, because she continued in a not particularly benevolent vein:
"Or perhaps these rumours and fables about your affair with Lavrik have some foundation, and you're simply avoiding him?.. Then, of course, everything becomes perfectly clear, and in such circumstances of course three weeks would be enough to turn everything upside down, and for the one toward whom we strove yesterday with all our might to become absolutely unbearable for us today. Especially in light of your character.."
Elena Aleksandrovna was not abashed, but on the contrary seemed to brighten, seeing that the conversation was acquiring somewhat the character of an altercation.
"I hate to disappoint you, but because of my character nothing of the sort happened. I find your young man just about as interesting as last year's snow.."
"You know, Lyolechka, you'd better just drop these swank ways and little tiffs with me, because that certainly isn't why I started this conversation. I wasn't even asking you anything; from the practical point of view I just wanted to arrange everything so that everyone would be able to live at my place comfortably, and that's why I asked you how it could happen that even though you knew quite well two weeks ago that the Pekarskys would be visiting me, you agreed to come, and now you're balking? I have to take care of this not just as your relative or friend but simply as mistress of the house. But I think everything will turn out right. If, as you say, Lavrik is just last year's snow to you, then apparently you present even less interest for him.."
"You think so?" asked Lyolechka.
"But maybe you're mistaken?"
"Of course, I could be mistaken but I think not.."
"What then, did he tell you so himself? You did pay them a visit, I believe?"
"If he had told me so himself, I would doubtless be less certain of it.."
"What, you, how shall I say it, feel that he has become indifferent to me?"
"Yes, I feel it, if you like. And that's why for some reason I think I'm not mistaken.."
Elena Aleksandrovna paced the room and suddenly for no apparent reason asked:
"And will Dmitry Alekseevich Lavrentiev be living at his estate this year, do you know?"
"I don't know; probably... he hasn't arrived yet.."
After a silence Elena Aleksandrovna added carelessly and seemingly by accident:
"As to Lavrik, it's all nonsense of course. I couldn't care less whether he'll be there or not: it always depends on oneself to appear as one wishes. I assure you there will be no unpleasantness which might be undesirable to you as a hostess...."
Iraida Lvovna looked at the young woman piercingly and added softly:
"I would ask you for one thing: don't go starting any incidents; the ones that come by themselves are enough.."
"Why should I start them? What, do you think I'm Polina Arkadievna?"
"God forbid! I don't take you for Polina Arkadievna, but the same sort of harebrained ideas run through both your heads.."
CHAPTER 9 PART II
"Everyone has his own hare in his head," answered Elena Aleksandrovna, as if making sure that in this conversation she would have the last word, and then she left the room.
It is usually said that unpleasant events do not come alone but always in a whole company, and so there is even a proverb devoted to the subject:
"Woe has arrived, throw the gates open wide", but often indifferent phenomena seem to occur somehow in bunches as well. Thus, for example, Iraida had hardly returned to
'the Backwaters' with the Tsarevskys when the very next day the Pekarskys moved in too; in two days Dmitry Lavrentiev was announced to be in the neighbourhood, and in about three days a country carriage arrived, bringing to the hills of Smolensk a tall foreigner easily recognizable as Mister Stock, so that only Zoya Mikhailovna, Polina's boys, and Lyolechka's hooligan brother Kolya were lacking to make a complete collection. Kolya had vanished somewhere and not a word had been heard about him. Of course, the missing personages could be replaced by the Polauzov household, individual members of which had already succeeded in forming relationships, if not with all our heroes, then at any rate with Polina Arkadievna as the most accessible lady. However, none of the inhabitants of
'the Backwaters' knew yet about the arrival of Dmitry Alekseevich or Mister Stock, so it was to a certain extent news to them when once, sitting in a group on the terrace at the Polauzovs' and seeing their host arriving, in reply to the question
"where was he" they received the answer that he had been at gospodin Lavrentiev's. Iraida Lvovna exchanged glances with her brother, and Polina exclaimed:
"At Dmitry Alekseevich's?"
"Just so," answered Polauzov, reining in his horse.
"So you're acquainted with him, then?"
"Not especially; I rode over on business...."
"Now that's interesting!"
"You take an interest in far too much, Polina Arkadievna!"
"Well, so what? Not everyone can be a philosopher. I admit that perhaps I'm too responsive. But I certainly don't consider it a fault.."
"Pardon me, Polina Arkadievna, but what does your responsiveness have to do with it?" said Sonya.
"I think that Pankraty Semyonovich is just envious and jealous now that another man has put in his appearance with us. After all, up until now we've practically had a nunnery, so Pankraty Semyonovich could quote the Russian song and Polina gestured at Leonid Lvovich and the Pekarskys.
"Eight gals and me alone" quite successfully. But now you'll have to change your tune a bit -- now we have three men about the house, and what men no less: dashing fellows every one!"
She spoke carelessly and even coquettishly, discovering for some reason that such a tone was the most appropriate one in a rural setting and especially with the Polauzovs. Of course, she was often dislodged from this tone and would begin to prattle the most urbane nonsense about its being a Orest fairy tale, but just the fact that she had realized that every place requires its own manner of speaking could not be reckoned as other than progress on her part. Another sign of this progress was the fact that Polina Arkadievna now wore shoes occasionally; more precisely, she confined her barefootedness to the house and the domestic garden, donning flimsy sandals for greater distances. Elena Aleksandrovna really kept her word and did not incite any more incidents with Lavrik, and even spoke little of him, which was all the more convenient since Lavrik spent all his time either with his uncle or preparing for the exams he had decided to take in the fall. Iraida Lvovna appeared to grow calmer on this account, attaching perhaps greater significance to Elena Aleksandrovna's external composure than she ought to have done. Of course, it would not have escaped a more observant person that there was a sort of dissatisfied anxiety in Lyolechka's behaviour, nor would he have missed the new influx of warmth which she devoted to her friendship with Polina Arkadievna and to her constant whispering with her, which was made all the more convenient by the fact that both ladies had been assigned a single room at their own request. The remaining guests preserved a somewhat suspicious calm. It wasn't the first time Elena Aleksandrovna had seen the Polauzovs; mostly she stayed close to Sofia Semyonovna, and did not undertake any coquetry or flirtation with her brother. But Sonya Polauzov was as evenly cold and calmly cordial with her as with everyone else and did not affect any special friendship. Seeing that a general conversation had been struck up, Elena Aleksandrovna took Polina by the arm and went out unnoticed into the garden, where the grass gleamed with a yellow greenness after the recent rain.
"Polina! He's arrived... how will I meet with him?"
"Do you really think you'll have to meet?"
"Of course I think so... how could it be otherwise?"
"But you didn't meet in Petersburg, did you?"
"No. But I must clear the air with him!"
"Of course, of course... and anyway, it's not hard to do in the country.."
Lyolechka stopped, sighed and, putting her hand on Polina's shoulder, said:
"Dear Polina! Now I can confess that I didn't think you understood me before. I thought it was just words, but now I really see that no one could understand me as you do. And I'll tell you something: these few weeks, the last I spent in the city, were so murderously empty that they seemed like a year. As if I hadn't seen anyone for a whole year, hadn't felt anything, hadn't lived... I think another few days and I wouldn't have been able to stand it! And today this news about Lavrentiev arriving, about his being here, has affected me like the sound of a trumpet, like a new promise of life... Maybe full of afflictions, full of suffering, but life nonetheless!"
"Yes, we have to live! We have to experience joy, sorrow and always, always love!" Polina confirmed to her enthusiastically.
Elena Aleksandrovna looked beyond the wet glade where the Pekarskys and Pankraty were strolling quickly along another path, but Polina Arkadievna, thinking that sufficient time had already passed for an enthusiastic pause after her aphorism, continued in an utterly different tone:
"Well, and how do matters stand with you and Lavrik? For some reason you haven't said anything about that to me.."
Slowly and contemptuously smiling, as if returned from sweet daydreams to a piteous reality, Elena Aleksandrovna answered:
"Ah, with Lavrik! Well, it's a rather silly story! It was arranged partly for Lavrentiev's benefit. You know, so the feeling wouldn't doze off; it's never very useful for everything to roll too smoothly.."
"Dear Lyolechka, don't try your tricks on me! In the first place, I think you became interested in Lavrik before you even met Lavrentiev, and in the second place, it could have been quite poetic, because when you awaken the first passion, the first love in a man, it makes your own feeling somehow younger.."
"I don't consider myself an old lady," Elena Aleksandrovna replied in dissatisfaction.
"Of course, of course!" the other hurried to agree. "I didn't mean to say that, but personally, I find such boys terribly interesting. And you know what? I even prefer the ones who are a bit afraid of women... It can be quite piquant! I've had cases with the most inveterate ones and no one could hold out... it's very interesting! He flees them all, admits no one, you barely wink and he's at your feet. Maybe my figure helped me in this respect. Sometimes they're made shy by female forms which are too sharply delineated.
Polina Arkadievna slyly fell into thought, no doubt about her figure, but if she did not possess an extravagant bust, she had nonetheless apparently gone astray with regard to the sharp delineation of female forms, for even if one were to dress her in a jockey's riding silks, no one would hesitate to pronounce her a full-fledged woman even after the most cursory glance. Elena Aleksandrovna seemed to be thinking about something else entirely, because she answered rather indifferently:
"Of course, perhaps you're right.."
Taking no notice of her audience's indifference, Polina continued heatedly:
"Not 'perhaps'; I'm right beyond a doubt, and I repeat: it can be quite piquant... As for me, I love the first steps most of all... the confusion, the utterly different approaches, the game, the game most of all -- it intoxicates me like champagne. You know how one poetess put it:
'I love not love but being in love'.."
"But Lavrik can't do anything," noted Lyolechka with a smile.
Polina even jumped up from the bench where they were sitting and exclaimed in agitation:
"Well, now I won't believe that for anything! What do you mean 'he can't do anything'?"
"Well, just that... it's very simple. He doesn't even know how to talk about love!"
"Well now, this is really an incredible nastiness! But somehow I can't believe it, anyway.."
"What's that?" Lyolechka asked, frowning.
"Well, yes! You couldn't awaken all that music in his heart, tender and sweet, which is called being in love.."
"I don't know. I think he's an ill-bred and heartless urchin who thinks God knows what about himself and along with that is always analyzing... Yes, you say such subjects interest you -- so go ahead, take him on; it's good your figure makes you irresistible.."
"So you don't need him now at all?"
"I have to admit I don't feel any particular craving.."
""This is no tiff, I hope?"
"Well, between us.."
"How can you take such nonsense into your head! I've become completely different now and I'm not about to argue with you over some Lavrik or other. My own simplemindedness has ruined enough for me. But now I've thought better of it and I'll create a wonderful life for myself, full of passion and joy. I swear it to you.."
And Lyolechka even stretched her hand toward the slender moon which had only just risen over the rolling meadow. Polina Arkadievna suddenly became very serious, picked a blade of grass and began to chew on it slowly, assuming a grandiose meditative pose. But one couldn't tell whether this change had occurred as a consequence of the solemnity of Lyolechka's oath or because a few steps away from them, from behind a bend in the road, both Pekarskys and Pankraty Polauzov had appeared. CHAPTER 10 PART II
Polina Arkadievna was slightly mistaken in her calculations, thinking that with the arrival of guests, life at
'Lyolechka did seem to be making her, Polina, more of a confidant, but all the old acquaintances gathered together once again were too definitely settled, in so far as they could be definite and settled, to suit the taste of Polina, who had tired of tranquility.
Although she did not approve of the Pekarskys' situation, she could to some extent understand its lucidity, but she simply could not grasp why the Pekarskys seemed to have reached some sort of impasse. With regard to Lavrentiev she knew nothing, and didn't even guess about what direction her hypotheses should take. About the arrival of Andrei Stock, Polina Arkadievna had not the slightest notion, nor did the remaining country folk. She felt qualms in her stomach like a drunken woman when no one got upset or pestered people or held explanations, or in general did not distinguish themselves in any way, so that all that remained for her was to follow the advice of the French philosopher and make scenes herself if there were no others to be had. She thought that a flirtation with Lavrik would be a reliable stimulus to some sort of suffering, all the more so since, not without grounds, she supposed that like any other phenomena this intrigue would have a ricocheting effect on other personages, on the one hand through Orest Germanovich on Iraida, on the other through Elena Aleksandrovna on her husband, and perhaps, if all went well, even on Lavrentiev and Lilienfeld. One could hardly say that Polina Arkadievna was devoid of all psychological foresight, although she fell into an error shared by many -- measuring everyone by her own yardstick and supposing that everyone was as tired of peace, armed or not, as she was, and was just waiting to revive in a catastrophic atmosphere. For that reason the ardour with which Polina Arkadievna undertook her enterprise was completely understandable and natural, and its attractiveness was increased by the fact that nothing obviously indicated its reasonableness, so that the first steps, chance, and fate all had to be portrayed by Polina herself. Anyway, it is never difficult to portray first steps, and given sufficient talent it can always be done so expertly that it can pass for an accident; from chance to fate is a small step, and once fate is mixed up in it, no great skill is needed to derive whatever fateful reasonablenesses one likes. And so she sat in a decent pose and was thoughtfully chewing the blade of grass when from around the bend in the avenue appeared both of the Pekarskys and Pankraty.
"We were looking for you, at least in part," said Orest Germanovich.
"For some reason Iraida Lvovna has decided to get home while it's still light, and the horses are already harnessed.
"I knew that Iraida was in a hurry, but I didn't think it was so late... I was talking a bit with Polina Arkadievna and didn't notice how the time flew by," said Lyolechka, still not completely recovered from her excitement.
"But aren't you going to go?" Lavrik addressed Polina when everyone had become up while she continued to sit and worry at her blade of grass.
"Eh? What?" asked Polina as if she had been woken up.
"Go? Yes, of course! Give me your hand... I'm very tired today.
The first troika was already about twenty paces from them; Polina slowly slipped off the bench and, leaning on Lavrik's arm, repeated:
"I'm very tired today.."
When she did not receive the expected question this time either, she began, crushed and sad:
"How fine the young moon is... and every four weeks it's just as inevitably fine... it's horrible-- inevitability! What's the sense of it then, what is it then? There are only the minutes that you pluck like flowers, wonderful, sharp, bold minutes... and without love everything is dead...."
Seeing that Lavrik said nothing in reply but only quickened his steps, Polina Arkadievna continued more simply:
"Lavrik, did you know Dmitry Alekseevich has arrived?"
"Yes, I heard.."
"Well, and what do you...?"
"What do I what?"
"What do you think about it?"
"What everybody else does -- nothing. If he's arrived he's arrived. And then, I think that my attitude toward the fact isn't going to change anything in particular. Why should I trouble myself with useless relationships? I don't have the time for it.."
"You're thinking like an old man, Lavrik, and I think you must be repeating someone else's words.."
"Maybe, I don't know... I say what I think and what I think is right, and whether the words have been said before doesn't concern me. I have no pretensions of continuous innovations. If my considerations are true and good I don't care if they're old or new.."
"Words, words, words! Yes, you consider them just, but you're thinking wrong yourself. You can't think like that! Do you hear? You can't! You're too young and handsome to!"
"What, do you know what I think better than I do?"
"Then there's no reason to ask me what I think, if you know it by yourself!.."
"Yes, I know this is all the influence of Iraida Lvovna, and that you're not like this at all, and that your exams are all nonsense, and that Lavrentiev's arrival can't be a matter of indifference to you because it has a direct pertinence to Elena Aleksandrovna and that isn't all the same to you. There, you see what a good guesser I am...."
"Yes, you've figured me out so well that I don't even recognize myself.."
"That's all nonsense too! You recognize yourself all too well; you just don't want to admit it out of boyish pride, and in vain, too, because you have nothing at all to be shy about with me because I understand you perhaps better than anyone here and I don't like you at all, especially when you play the part of some sort of greybeard philosopher. I'm surprised you don't bore yourself!"
"And just what would bore me?"
Polina Arkadievna stopped suddenly, and raising her skirt above her knee began to look for a bit of clover which hadn't fallen there at all.
"What would bore you?" she repeated without raising her head.
"Yes!" answered Lavrik, waiting while Polina put herself to rights.
"You know what quite well yourself!" she said, straightening.
"No, I don't know something.."
"But you should think about things and behave as you are now.."
"And how am I behaving?!"
"How! You're trying to look as though you were what you really don't want to and are unable to be.."
"Yes, charades," answered Polina Arkadievna and ended the conversation because they had already reached the terrace. On the steps she held back a bit and said as if to herself:
Charades! Charades! But what in the world isn't charades? This woods, and the moon, and the sky, and the human heart... but mainly people's feelings.."
"What are you declaiming, dear Polina Arkadievna?" asked Iraida Lvovna loudly, already wearing her hat and manteau to protect her from dust.
"I was just remembering a poem...."
"Well, you can remember it on the road, but for now get dressed quickly; I'm afraid it will be dark soon.."
"But my advice," said Pankraty,
"is not to think about it on the road, because judging by the beginning this poem doesn't bode anything good. It's some sort of mysterious nonsense which doesn't obligate anyone to anything.."
Polina said nothing in reply, but bade farewell to her hosts and began to sit in the carriage next to Iraida Lvovna.
In the general confusion she managed to squeeze Lavrik's hand and whisper:
But what he was supposed to remember remained unknown, both to Lavrik and, no doubt, to Polina Arkadievna herself.
No matter how upset Elena Aleksandrovna was, Polina's separate conversation with Lavrik did not escape her notice, for as she was going to bed she addressed her with a question:
"And so you already seem to have started realizing your plan?"
"Oh, that one. Yes, I have.."
"So, was the beginning successful?"
"I don't know how to tell you... I really prefer to begin in rooms. But essentially I didn't undertake anything... I conversed utterly simply and sincerely. He's not very foolish.."
Slowing a bit, Lyolechka remarked:
"At that age everyone is foolish enough, and I think the path of sincerity is the least successful one in such cases.."
"I think he's gathered some boring, extremely boring words, but all you have to do is look at him to understand that these words and he himself are like the pepper that's put on the table but isn't meant to be eaten... As to sincerity, I think you're mistaken; it always makes an impression. Of course, it is a fault, but I can't be any different.."
"Ah, Polina, Polina! Be careful you don't have some feelings aroused in yourself instead of just a merry game.."
"Well, so what! The game will be all the merrier for that.."
"Will it really?" asked Lyolechka, continuing to mock her.
"Without a doubt," Polina rejoined animatedly and added with a smile:
"There's another circumstance which gladdens me considerably.."
"And what circumstance is that?"
"The fact that our dear Elena Aleksandrovna is having her feelings aroused too.."
"Me?" asked Lyolechka in surprise:
"The feeling of jealousy," answered Polina, jumping nimbly onto the bed.
"The feeling of jealousy?" Elena Aleksandrovna asked again,
"Well, Polina, I think you've finally gone off the deep end!"
"Deep end or no deep end... Only the dog in the manger sits in all of us, it's quite strong: I don't need it, but I won't let you have any.."
"Yes, maybe that's true, but in this case you're absolutely raving... What should I have against you, be so kind as to tell me?"
"But why are you getting angry?"
"I'm not even thinking of getting angry; wherever did you get such an idea?"
"Well, if not angry, then excited... but don't worry: it's better to be a dog in the manger than an insensitive block of wood: the game will be all the merrier for it!. But what is our life, after all, if not a game?"
CHAPTER 11 PART II
"Well, that's just wonderful! So I'm a dog in the manger and I'm jealous of you, and our life is a game... but now let's go to sleep," and Elena Aleksandrovna blew out the candle.
Elena Aleksandrovna indignantly denied Polina's assumption that she could be jealous of Lavrik, but of course she did feel like a dog in the manger, and the feeling had been discovered quite unexpectedly. And so it was quite just for this to revive her somewhat, first by giving her the excuse to become a more attentive observer, second by scratching slightly that most sensitive of feminine feelings, self-esteem. Perhaps this revival had another reason as well, namely the news of Lavrentiev's arrival, because if a strong feeling or a strong passion stifles all others in us, mediocre feelings on the contrary sharpen them, so that people who are slightly in love always become still more pleasant for those around them, while impassioned maniacs either vanish completely for their friends or become utterly unbearable neighbours. But Lyolechka's feeling for Lavrentiev was, of course, quite mediocre, and again was more reminiscent of the feeling of a dog in the manger. Be that as it may, the revival which Polina Arkadievna found so desirable was under way. Lavrik was angry, Elena Aleksandrovna was angry, Orest Germanovich was nervous, Iraida had grown troubled, and even Leonid Lvovich had begun to sense a certain unrest, and Polina Arkadievna pranced with joy and blossomed forth, because that which she called life had begun. Lavrik was most angry of all, because Polina Arkadievna had hindered him in the simplest and most concrete manner, and he was fed up with her. He had only to situate himself at the window with his books when a bouquet of some rubbish or other would fly through the window and the low voice of Polina Arkadievna would declaim from the garden:
". If he went off to his room to sleep the same Polina would come knocking at his door for matches; she always grew tired on walks so that one had to take her by the arm, at giant steps one had to carry her, one had to drive her about the pond and go mushroom hunting with a single basket, so that all that remained was to go off for the whole day into the woods. But the most distressing thing was the heart-to-heart talk: what sort of person he was and what sort of person she was and what sort they were and how everything was in reality and how everything ought to be, and everything always led to the most improbable nonsense. One might be surprised, of course, that Polina Arkadievna resorted to such primitive coquetry, forgetting about leopard skins, but as I have already said, she considered that in the country one ought to behave in a special fashion -- countrified. And for some reason she pictured this countrified behaviour in the form of the manners of those eternally-blessed vice- governor's daughters of the eighties, who went about in Mordovian costumes with whips in hand and, smoking slender cigarettes, discussed women's emancipation in a circle of Army second lieutenants. And it was this dear form of social intercourse, partially enriched by Balmontisms, Dalcrozisms, leopard skins and piquant moods, which Polina Arkadievna set before herself as the model for country life. But of course this chemical compound was not hidden from those around her, and Polina Arkadievna seemed to live, think, and act purposefully, directly, and sincerely; for someone else's taste it might be tasteless and unendurable, but this is already a question of taste.
I have come to you with greetings to proclaim the sun has risen"
Putting his book aside on the grass, Lavrik listened to the cuckoo and thought calmly although not very joyfully about his future. Soon he would pass his examination, enroll in the university, write a lot preparing for some genuine and unknown life; he would be affectionate and good; perhaps he would soon go abroad. But today somehow everything was clearer that before and all of it seemed deprived of interest, since it was not animated by any feeling: it was a settled way of life, but there was no purpose in it; it wasn't coloured by anything, there were no unforeseen expenditures which always take more money than anything and which are harder to get along without than the most urgent necessities.
Life appeared bright and even but slightly joyless, like some sort of clear, industrious monastic life. Of course, Lavrik had a conception of feeling which differed somewhat from Polina's, but he felt the necessity of a sensuous and sensitive attachment.
Along with that he could not recall such ties without disappointment and hurt, and he could not forget his romance with Elena Aleksandrovna. He was sure to find the same sort of Lyolechka everywhere, nothing more than a Lyolechka. And was it really true that without Lyolechka life seemed unkind?
The soft snorting of the horses broke the thread of his thoughts, but when he came out on the road the country carriage had already passed and he could see only the backs of the passers-by.
One was a civilian, the other a soldier, both had an identical good build; the first seemed to be a middle- aged man, while the second, to judge by his figure and carriage, had barely reached full manhood. They drew away quickly, talking loudly in English and not turning around, so that Lavrik not only couldn't guess who they were but didn't even manage to get a look at their faces, although the civilian seemed somehow to resemble Mister Stock. But where would he have come from? We might suppose that this road seemed to lead to Lavrentiev's estate, but in light of rural omniscience such an event as the arrival of a foreigner to visit one of the neighbours would hardly have passed unnoticed. Besides which the officer who was riding with Mister Stock was not in a marksman's uniform. Lavrik, looking after them, thought:
"Now those men are probably going to their fiancees or loved ones, or have left them in Petersburg and write them letters every day, and their life has a gay significance." Lavrik hadn't left the park when he saw a lonely figure in a light summer dress slowly moving towards him.
Elena Aleksandrovna was lost in thought, and continual seriousness was expressed by her tightly clenched lips and unblinking stare. Even when Lavrik came up quite close to her, she didn't notice him, so he had to call to her.
"Lavrik, do you know who went by with Mister Stock?"
"Was that Mister Stock?. I didn't even recognize him...."
"Yes, it was him. But who went by with him? Such a familiar face, but I never saw him before... Such faces are seen in dreams.."
"I thought it was quite a young man...."
"Of course, of course, Lavrik... how could it be otherwise?"
"It's probably some friend of Mister Stock or an acquaintance of Dmitry Alekseevich; they were probably going to
"And are you out for a stroll? You don't do that very often, do you?"
"Yes, for some reason I just took it into my head today. I saw that the Polauzovs had come to visit us and so I went out the back way; I don't want to see any people.."
"They're very nice, those Polauzovs: simple and decent, I think.."
"Yes, but already too decent, decent to the point of boredom.."
"Are you upset today, Elena Aleksandrovna?"
"What nonsense! What could I have to get upset about particularly?"
"Not particularly, but aren't you upset nonetheless?"
"You're so curious, Lavrik! After all, I don't for example, ask you why you've been going off by yourself into the woods as of late?"
"You don't ask me because you hardly ever speak with me at all.."
"And of course you think I don't speak with you because I'm angry at you or have some feeling for you yet? But you're mistaken, I assure you. And I don't ask you about your strolls in the first place because I think that curiosity is sometimes indelicate, and in the second place because I know the reason for your strolls without any inquiries: you're hiding from Polina Arkadievna.."
"What nonsense! Why should I hide from her?"
"Yes, I don't think you have any grounds for doing so. And I'll tell you something else: you're just playing into her hands.."
"Does Polina Arkadievna have any plans?"
"Every person has his plans.."
"Well, I don't have any plans at all.."
"What do you mean you don't? Here you are preparing for your examinations, you want to enroll in the university and go abroad with your uncle.."
"Well, what kind of plans are those?"
"Of course, they're not particularly lofty and not even very gay, but that's a matter of taste.."
"Circumstances play more of a role here than my taste.."
"If not your taste then someone else's, and circumstances almost always depend on us.."
"And what plans do you have?"
"Once again, don't be so curious, Lavrik! I told you your plans myself and didn't pry, so you just go ahead and guess my plans yourself, if only to prove you're no less interested in me than I am in you.."
"But it's not hard to guess my plans, they're so uncomplicated and simple; there's always a sort of mysteriousness about you, however.."
CHAPTER 12 PART II
"In this case my plan is not at all mysterious. At the present moment my only effort is to find out who the officer is who came with Andrei Ivanovich to visit Lavrentiev.."
In fact, when they arrived home Elena Aleksandrovna and Lavrik found the entire company at tea on the balcony; only Polina Arkadievna sat by herself and was either dreaming as she looked at the pond beneath the hill or was dozing, although this last would hardly seem in keeping with her vivacious character.
The arrival of Lavrik together with Elena Aleksandrovna apparently made an impression, at least on the family. Polina Arkadievna woke from her revery and shouted loudly enough for everyone on the balcony to hear:
"Here's an unexpected appearance!" Leonid Lvovich was also not inattentive as he looked at the newly-returned pair, and Iraida Lvovna, who was situated next to Pekarsky, squeezed his hand under the table and whispered:
"Now you can rest easy.."
"Of course," he answered, not completely confidently.
Noting the general excitement Lavrik turned red, but Elena Aleksandrovna calmly ascended the steps of the terrace and announced:
"I've always thought that only the most foreseeable meetings were possible in the country, but I was mistaken, because today in the woods we met... whom would you guess? Andrei Stock.."
This communication prompted such lively interest in everyone that it seemed to draw attention away from Elena Aleksandrovna herself, although Polina, who had sat immediately next to Lavrik, told him:
"Mister Stock is all very well, but how did you join up in the woods, would you explain that to me, please?. or is it that the heart's not a stone and one old friend is better than two new ones?"
"God knows what you're saying, Polina Arkadievna! What have my heart and old friends to do with it? We simply met in the woods.."
"I know these simple meetings all too well!"
"I assure you it was nothing more than a coincidence.."
"I'm not asking you for any explanations, but why doesn't this simple coincidence ever lead you to me in the woods, say?"
"Simply because you're never in the woods.."
"Simply met, simply never in! Everything seems to come out all too simply with you.."
"Lavrik, don't you listen to her!" Iraida broke in.
"The last few days have been very hot and Polina Arkadievna is a bit nervous.."
"I don't deny I'm nervous, but I'm not at all sure it's due to the heat," and then, bending towards Lavrik, Polina whispered:
"You see, people are already keeping tabs on us.."
"I think you're just imagining it," answered Lavrik just as quietly, but then he moved away from Polina unnoticed.
The conversation turned to how nervous everyone had become and how no one knew what they wanted.
"Nervousness is, of course, a painful condition which is both possible and necessary to treat, but it is directly connected with the fact that a person doesn't know himself what he wants. Of course in this last case a person can fall victim not only to nervousness but to something still worse; however it sometimes happens that a person with nerves knows quite well what he wants.."
In answer to Pankraty Semyonovich, Iraida remarked:
"Sometimes what's called nerves is simply rotten character: he killed someone, it must be nerves! He couldn't get along with anyone -- the same thing, he filched a change purse from your pocket -- and once again it's nerves if you please. That's a very easy way to explain one's own debauchery, and sometimes one's will to evil.."
"And then, it seems to relieve one of the responsibility for one's actions. But a person is responsible to himself and often to others as well!" Sonechka put in a word of her own.
"But that's enough analyzing us, ladies and gentlemen!" Polina interjected.
"After all, who of those present isn't nervous or knows what he wants? Perhaps only Iraida Lvovna and Sonya, and look out you don't throw the baby out with the bath water, like in the German saying, and when you try to make everyone rational and calm be sure you don't destroy all the tremulousness, beauty, and poetry of life, or what will we live by then?"
"Personally I can't, I don't know how to tell you what to live by and where besides nerves to find the beauty of life, but I'm sure, I believe that there are people who know," said Iraida Lvovna unyieldingly.
"I know a person," Leonid Lvovich began slowly,
"a woman whose every glance, every movement of her little finger, is purest beauty, whose smallest act is genuine nobility and charm, who burns and inspires and who, by the way, is devoid of any painful sensibility and always knows better than anyone what she needs.."
After the short silence which ensued following Leonid Lvovich's speech, Lyolechka's voice rang out from where she stood at the balcony grillwork:
"We also know this perfection; if you like, I'll explain to you the secret of this sorcery: probably she's in love; then, of course, a person finds everything wonderful and definite, whether he's nervous or not; don't think that I'm trying to even any scores, I'm taking a totally detached view. When a person is governed by love he always knows what has to be done and always considers everything to be wonderful.."
"Perhaps you're right, and no doubt that's the way it is," Iraida Lvovna returned,
"but the point is that everyone has a totally different concept of love. After all, you can call dogs in heat 'love', and it dictates a certain definiteness, if you will, but is it the sort of definiteness you can build a life on?"
"Well, dear Iraida, who doesn't know what love is?"
Lyolechka continued as if she hadn't heard the objections.
"And we don't build anything to last forever... We're always journeying... We're always voyagers.."
"Yes, yes... but voyagers are those who have a helmsman, but if you rush over the sea clinging to a slimy log, what sort of voyaging is that?"
"Our helmsman is love and there can't be two opinions about that.."
Iraida Lvovna nodded her head doubtfully and, in order to cut short this all-too-heated conversation with a joke, said:
"We're talking like Platonic Greeks at a feast... but they didn't know about nerves then or quick tempers either... But now I think we ought to go into the drawing room and have somebody play the most romantic pages of music he knows." Soon the weak sounds of the Lavrik went up to Polina, who had remained on the terrace, and said quietly:
"How this conversation has coincided with what I've been thinking all day today... It's impossible to live without beauty, and beauty is given by love...."
Polina was silent and then without turning said simply, almost practically:
"Come to the woods tomorrow after breakfast and we'll talk there.."
But the next day they were not to meet, since the hot days were unexpectedly replaced by a rain which promised to continue at least a week.
Involuntarily confined to the house, the inhabitants of
'the Backwaters' did not grow any closer because of it, but on the contrary even seemed to grow slightly apart.
They almost never left their lodgings, seeing one another only at the common table and in the evenings sitting on the balcony and listening to the warm rain dripping from the wet trees.
Their pastimes were the same: Iraida Lvovna looked after the uncomplicated housekeeping, Lavrik prepared for his examinations, Orest Germanovich was writing a long novella, Leonid Lvovich received long letters every day which he answered rigorously, and Polina and Elena Aleksandrovna conducted uninterrupted conversations in their room, the subject matter of which was unknown but which in any event did not set their hearts to rest. Nothing spoke of peace and quiet, and yet it did not seem like a catastrophe to clear the air was in the offing. And everything seemed to be coming apart at the seams, sourly and flaccidly disintegrating.
And the slight tremor was not a tremor of excitement or foreboding, but the drowsy shudder of a trampled lizard. So one could really understand Polina, who pined for thunder and lightening; but if they could occur, then it would be from the other side entirely and not at all the sort which Polina Arkadievna supposed.
Passing through the drawing room, which was half dark in the twilight, Polina Arkadievna found Lavrik there, playing something despondent on the Erard.
"Are you bored, my friend? Can I listen, if it won't disturb you?"
"Go ahead... You won't bother me at all; frankly, there's nothing for me to mind... I'm just picking something out with one finger.."
"Why don't you take lessons?"
"Yes, I'll have to learn to play for myself, I have a lot of plans like that.."
"And what plans don't you have?"
Polina was silent in the darkness while Lavrik continued to animate the throbbing strings.
"It's the rain that's brought such despondence on everyone, but remember, Lavrik, we want to have a talk yet! I laughed at the circumstances then... Of course, if you want it badly enough they cease to exist, but we're weak, and our desires are fleeting: that's why the rain can serve as an obstacle for us... It's silly, of course, but that's the sort of imperfect people we are...."
"Why should we think about perfection! God grant that life be just a little bit like life.."
"That's a small-souled way to talk... All this lies within our power.."
And later, leaving the dark corner and putting her hands on Lavrik's shoulders, Polina somehow breathed in his ear:
"Do you still love Elena Aleksandrovna?"
"No," his answer was barely audible,
"but I don't love anyone.."
"Really?" Polina continued quietly but excitedly,
"but that will pass, that will pass... isn't that so? It can't be otherwise! I assure you of it, believe me!" and in the darkness she began to stroke his arms, neck, and shoulders, bending her face, which smelled of powder, close to him.
"No, Polina Arkadievna, it's just as impossible, just as unlikely as if it were suddenly hot tomorrow and if now the moon were shining... my sun won't rise for a long time yet.."
"My dear, my dear! Perhaps there won't be a sun and there is no moon now, but you'll fall in love soon!"
And bending still closer she kissed him herself. Lavrik did not manage to say anything, because at that moment Iraida Lvovna came into the room, carrying a lamp with a green shade in her hands. Stopping at the threshold and raising the lamp over her head, she said:
"Oh, it's Lavrik and Polina... I was wondering who was whispering in here.."
"Yes, it's us," answered Polina calmly.
"Were you looking for anyone?"
"No, no one in particular... it's time for tea," and, after a pause, Iraida Lvovna added in an indifferent tone:
"We can congratulate ourselves... tomorrow the weather will surely be good, it's not so windy today for nothing... The wind is scattering the rain clouds and you can already glimpse the moon from time to time... I'm very glad, because you were all turning sour with this rain.."
Polina Arkadievna gazed intently and victoriously on Lavrik and ran quickly up to the uncurtained window, through which one could see the large, tearstained moon sneaking as if ashamed through one side of the rents in the clouds. CHAPTER 13 PART II
The same rain kept the inhabitants of the neighbouring estate of
'the Lakes', which belonged to Dmitry Alekseevich Lavrentiev, at home. It did not produce such a disarray as among the dwellers of
'the Backwaters', but one must add that if there were no unpleasant excitements or sufferings there, neither could any particularly joyful animation be felt. The master was either sad or bored, and the guests, although they tried to drive away his gloomy thoughts with friendly affection, nonetheless considered it indelicate to indulge themselves in excessively noisy partying. Although, perhaps, it simply wasn't in their character to do so. Mister Stock, who in the opinion of those close to him possessed the soul of a child, was inclined to the noisy expression of joy only on rare occasions; the other guest, who had barely left his adolescence behind him, was a quiet as well as merry person, who didn't play at being a solid citizen and didn't wear gloomy, disenchanted, or businesslike masks. The Englishman lacked a businesslike mask too, in spite of the fact that he was always working and really was busy; but he worked insouciantly and merrily, apparently not attaching any greater significance to his work than it deserved. Dmitry Alekseevich hardly knew his new guest, since he wasn't acquainted with him even though they served in the same city. Mister Stock had brought him, informing Lavrentiev tersely that his friend had met with a bit of unpleasantness so that it would be helpful for them to be together, that Mister Stock did not want to abandon Lavrentiev, and so would it be possible to send for the young officer to come to
'the Backwaters' as well; he was, in Mister Stock's words, a quiet, pleasant, well-brought-up man.
"Of course, you needn't even ask... Sit down and compose a telegram to your friend right away," said Dmitry Alekseevich.
"I understand how important your presence is if a person has some sort of sorrow, and that's why I don't want to let you go. The only thing I'm afraid of is that I might be jealous of your new friend.."
"In the first place, it's not a new friend at all, I've known him from early youth, and in the second place it wouldn't be wise to be jealous, since such a feeling is inexhaustible.."
"Well, I thought you could tell I was joking... How can you take everything so seriously?" the host joked in reply and, glancing swiftly at the completed blank, exclaimed suddenly:
"Oh, so it's Viktor Pavlovich Fortov, is he the one who's going to visit us?"
"The very same... but do you know him?"
"No, unfortunately I haven't been introduced... Perhaps if I were acquainted with him I wouldn't be in such an absurd and lamentable situation as I am now.."
"It's quite possible," answered The Englishman without inquiring further, and then added half-jokingly:
"Perhaps this acquaintanceship, which in your words could have restrained you from acts that were not fully thought out, will now help you recover more rapidly from their consequences.."
There were no further conversations about Fortov; it was as if Andrei Ivanovich understood without need for words what role this new personage might play in the fate of gospodin Lavrentiev, and about five days later, as we have seen, a country carriage arrived bringing, along with The Englishman, an officer whom no one knew, with a face which, in the words of Lyolechka Tsarevsky, could be seen only in dreams. No pathetic or mysterious scenes took place at Lavrentiev's meeting with the new arrival. Both said what is always said, that they had heard about each other already, but the host looked at the guest with a certain curious hope, and the latter, catching this glance in surprise, continued to be reservedly affectionate and somehow indifferently polite, looking either a bit tired or else upset. But if the first meeting had the barely perceptible character of an encounter and an event, very soon, almost immediately, life returned to its groove and differed almost not at all from life before the arrival of Viktor Pavlovich, which seemed to hurt Lavrentiev. Although Mister Stock was less occupied than he was in the city, seemingly in order to leave more time for his friends, nevertheless the two of them spent almost half the day by themselves, affectionately and amicably conducting the most insignificant conversation. And on the same day that the heat returned, Dmitry Alekseevich, having walked with his young guest almost as far as the conservatory at the end of the long but very narrow garden, engaged as usual in the simplest talk, suddenly asked unexpectedly:
"Excuse me for my immodesty, Viktor Pavlovich, but I've been wanting to ask you for a long time: How and when did you become acquainted with Andrei Ivanovich?"
"I'm more than willing to satisfy your curiosity, although it would be easier to answer such a question by saying we met at such and such an acquaintance's, but you know as well as I do that it's impossible to meet and become close to Mister Stock in any simple fashion.."
"I agree with you completely, but please don't think that I'm asking out of idle curiosity, just to distract you with talk; I have various reasons for being interested, and they are not at all frivolous, I assure you.."
"I believe you without any assurances, but I think my acquaintance and closeness with Mister Stock happened just the way yours did and anyone's who approaches him... I became acquainted with him very simply, at the military school, where, as you know, he was an instructor while still in the army, and I became close to him at a very difficult and awkward moment of my life... You had already finished the school when we were struck by an epidemic wave of suicides... There wasn't a trifle but wouldn't serve as a reason to put a bullet through one's forehead... Although I'm ashamed to admit it, I did not succeed in avoiding this lamentable fad either.."
"Yes, I remember... I heard about it.."
"At that time such cases occurred to often that it's difficult to remember each one separately unless you were specially following the fate of the given person.."
"I was specially following you," answered Dmitry Alekseevich seriously.
Passing over his host's remark, Fortov continued:
"Well, so 'submissive to the general rule' I shot myself but muffed it. And in fact it caused a certain ruckus which might have attracted the attention even of fairly distant people... The reasons for this act, of course, might have seemed important and fundamental not only to a boy deprived of mental balance like I was, but even to a grown man, albeit one who, how shall I put it, might be too attached to peripatetic feelings and circumstances, but later I saw how insignificant and nonsensical they were, and that they were not only not worth a single throb of the nerves, but didn't deserve any attention at all. It was then that Mister Stock came to me... He had already retired... He came to me simply, like a brother, like a best friend, as a nurse, and first of all he helped restore my life and strength, the purpose and expedience of which he showed me in consequence, when I had already completely recovered. Since then I've become a totally different person... Of course, there wasn't any miracle, it's just that the qualities which were always there within me were awakened and developed, but it was done with Andrei Ivanovich's help. You can't imagine how my life here has become joyful and unburdened... I'm not even talking about my mental state, but even in the simplest matters this easy and joyful confidence and faith, if you like, can make a person successful in everything he undertakes... Of course, not if they're some sort of evil-minded, bad plans.."
"You tell it amazingly well, Viktor Pavlovich... so well that in speaking apparently frankly you communicate absolutely nothing.."
"You're interested in the circumstances which made me shoot myself?"
"No, of course not!.. Anyway, strange as it might seem, I already know them.."
"Well, then what? Do you want me to tell you in more detail?"
"You know what I was expecting from you... some confessions.."
"Yes, I know, that's why I'm keeping quiet... I'm not the person to say these words to you, but someone else is.."
"I don't know.."
"Perhaps Mister Stock?"
"Perhaps... I don't know... the right person always comes along at the right time.."
"But are there people to whom the necessary person never comes?"
"Oh, yes! And how many of them there are! But don't attach any mysterious significance to my words... I'm saying the simplest things. If you really, really want raspberries, an old lady will always come along to sell them to you... If you're in love and really want to receive a letter, the postman will already be ringing at your door. You just have to know how to want and how to do it... I'll say even more: someone more skilled and experienced than you can do your wanting for you.."
"Hasn't somebody wanted to see me too much, because some messenger is coming, do you see him?"
And in fact along the open road from the hotbeds a bareheaded stable boy in a pink shirt was running.
"What do you want, Fyodor?" Dmitry Alekseevich yelled to him before he had had time to cover the distance between them.
"You're being waited for there.."
"Who's waiting for me?"
"I'm not to say...."
"What sort of mystification is this? Is it one of my acquaintances?"
"I couldn't say, sir.."
"But where could he have come from and where is he waiting for me?"
"They came on horseback and are waiting for you in the drawing room.."
"Go ahead, go ahead, Dmitry Alekseevich!" said Fortov with a smile...
"Perhaps it's even the necessary person for the given moment.."
"Will you excuse me?"
"Well, of course.. need we even mention it?"
When Dmitry Alekseevich ran quickly into the drawing room, which seemed half-darkened after the sunny garden, he saw a small female figure in a long black dress and a veil just as black next to the round table with magazines on it. She was quietly shuffling through the magazines and didn't seem to have heard Lavrentiev come in, so that he was forced to clear his throat and begin loudly:
"With whom do I have the honour?"
CHAPTER 14 PART II
"It's me, Dmitry Alekseevich... I've come to you on a matter of business," answered his guest. Then she turned around unhurriedly and threw back her veil, and so Dmitry Alekseevich saw that his visitor was none other than Elena Aleksandrovna Tsarevsky.
Dmitry Alekseevich looked at his guest in silence while she murmured something about flowers from Lavrentiev's conservatories which she would like to obtain for Iraida Lvovna's approaching birthday, or else about some farm machine whose mechanism purportedly interested her greatly.
At last he spoke:
"Of course, I'm always happy to serve you in any way I can, but I'd like to know if that's all that has brought you here?"
"Do you really care?" answered Elena Aleksandrovna, smiling mournfully and leaning an arm on the table. Without waiting for a reply she continued herself:
"But then what am I saying? You wouldn't have asked if you weren't interested... Of course you're right: this is only a pretext and apparently not even a particularly clever one. I simply wanted to see you and if possible speak with you.."
"Please sit down," the host proposed, indication the nearest chair. But his guest, not taking him up on his invitation, remained standing:
"I don't think our conversation will last very long, but nevertheless it will take a certain amount of time... No one will bother us?"
Dmitry Alekseevich silently crossed to the door and locked it.
"What happened, Dmitry Alekseevich? What made you change so toward me? Of course, a feeling can fly away without any reason, but why is it done so cruelly, why is it love doesn't disappear in both of those who loved at the same time?"
"You know quite well what happened, Elena Aleksandrovna."
"Oh, you're talking about that silly incident in Riga? About that misfortunate boy who was so mad over me! Of course, I was at fault when I started all that unnecessary intrigue, but you can't punish someone so severely just for that.."
After a silence Dmitry Alekseevich replied:
"I didn't want to talk about this, but since you've opened the subject yourself I won't hide that the incident in Riga with that young man really made a very distressing impression on me, all the more so since you can't accuse me of taking a light-minded or simply a light attitude towards you... I loved you truly and seriously.."
"Don't, don't talk about that! And was all it took to disperse this true and serious feeling like a dandelion in the wind an empty encounter with a totally insignificant incident?"
"In the first place, I didn't consider that incident so empty, and in the second place the incident's not the point... the point is that this incident illuminated your attitude towards me and by horrifying me made me do some thinking.."
"My God! My God! Do people really think when they love? Do they decide things or weigh things when they love? No, I don't even want to think it! Maybe they act wildly, irreparably, but always guided by feeling, not thought... If you had loved me you could have killed me or beaten me at that moment, but not what you did!.."
"I did far more than if I had struck or killed you... I left you immediately and forever... guided by the strongest of feelings... I may be harder than you think.."
"But that's not true... You just left me, but you never stopped loving me. You wanted to act like a strong man with a definite will, and instead you acted like a hurt child... You went to a corner and pouted, that's all... At first I thought that everything was over, but something told me it wasn't so. Probably my heart. I wanted to see you in order to be convinced of it... And now I don't believe, do you hear me, I don't believe you've stopped loving me.."
"Nonetheless it's so.."
Under the black veil one could not see Elena Aleksandrovna's face wincing slightly when she rose, went up quite close to her host and took him by both arms... When she uncovered her faced, she was smiling calmly.
"Well, all right, well, I see you're a strong man... Are you satisfied? Now, I hope, we won't have to talk like children who have quarrelled or like a strong man and a weak but cunning woman but simply like people!"
"Like people who don't lie?"
"Well, let's just say like people who don't lie in so far as it's possible not to... All the more so since I've done so much thinking in this time, I've lived through so much that I've become much older, perhaps, and more serious... I've begun to see myself and others more clearly... you know, when you spend a certain time in isolation, all the details seem to fall away themselves, all the tawdry decorations, and a genuine, simple sketch of all that took place stands out... And now I see that you love me as before, if not more... Isn't that so?"
Elena Aleksandrovna stood quite close to the seated Dmitry Alekseevich, almost touching him... She kneaded his hand in her own, and her face, from which the veil was brushed aside, smiled with visible calm. Without raising his eyes, as if trying not to look at features which were once and perhaps even now dear to him, Dmitry Alekseevich began to speak slowly but somehow too indistinctly, which evidenced a certain agitation:
"Elena Aleksandrovna... I'm going to speak to you as one person to another... I believed you and loved you... Both of these feelings, if the first can be called a feeling, occur whether we will them or no; we can't summon them intentionally: one can't believe if one finds something unbelievable and if one feels no love then it's hard to love... but along with that, this involuntariness does not give these feeling any quality of chance or impermanence. There are reasons, circumstances which seem to subject them to testing, and I didn't pass the test... Of course, if I had believed and loved as one ought to, I would have done it 'not because of' this or that, and 'despite' this or that. And it was this 'despite' which I didn't pass. When the event which put my faith and love for you to the test occurred or seemed to me to occur, I lost both the one and the other. Of course, it's my fault, I didn't love and believe in you strongly enough to continue doing so in the face of graphic proof of the baselessness of those feelings... Of course, it's my fault...."
Lyolechka, not letting Dmitry Alekseevich's hand leave hers, said in a choked voice:
"My dear, it's my fault even more than yours... But what can we do? We have to forgive each other...."
And she bent over him as though she wished to kiss him.
"Elena Aleksandrovna! I don't think you understood me... Either you weren't listening or weren't hearing what I was saying at all... I don't have anything to forgive you for now.."
Elena Aleksandrovna began to speak as if totally oblivious:
"Maybe I didn't understand, I don't know, I don't care... I'm happy to see your eyes, hear you voice.. .I thought it was utterly impossible but now I don't need anything else... Even if you say you don't love me a thousand times I won't believe you, because I want it to be otherwise!"
And throwing herself on Lavrentiev's knees, she twined her arms about his neck. He freed himself, whispering:
"Why are you doing this, Elena Aleksandrovna; after all, you don't love me at all any more!"
Elena Aleksandrovna quickly lowered her veil, got up from Lavrentiev's knees and without saying a word went to the window overlooking the garden.
After standing there for perhaps two minutes she said quietly but distinctly without turning her face to her companion:
"Now I understand, it's a new course!. And do you think you'll manage it?"
"Well, you may understand, but I don't understand your hints."
Lyolechka continued without turning:
"That is, you don't want to understand them, but no matter how you deny it I see now...."
"Just what do you see?"
"The same thing you do," and Lyolechka indicated with a hand from which she had not taken her glove, through the open window.
There on the wide road sprinkled with red dust Mister Stock and Viktor Pavlovich were standing and conversing: the latter stood facing the house, his hat pushed back, while only the broad back of The Englishman was visible. Dmitry Alekseevich looked for several minutes in silence; finally turning a deep red, he whispered:
"I quite agree with you," Lyolechka answered quickly, and then suddenly, without drawing back from the window, seized Lavrentiev's hand in one of her own, twining the other about his neck and kissing him rapidly and fiercely, and said:
"Dearest, pay no mind... a woman in love may take all sorts of things into her head!"
"Elena Aleksandrovna, stop this playing about! I don't appreciate it at all, and I find it unpleasant!"
"Then I am right?"
"Think what you like. I really couldn't care less what you opinion is!" and Dmitry Alekseevich silently opened the door and rang for a servant.
"Has the lady's horse rested? She's going back at once.."
CHAPTER 15 PART II
"Leave me alone! Leave me alone!" exclaimed Lyolechka when Lavrentiev wanted to kiss her hand. She seemed to be on the verge of weeping, and Lavrentiev was ready to feel sorry for her, but he felt reassured as soon as her went up to the window: Elena Aleksandrovna was already mounting her horse; moreover it was Fortov who was helping her, and she smiled, looking at him with an affectionate sidelong glance.
Elena Aleksandrovna had no sooner ridden through the gate of the Lavrentiev estate than the smile slipped from her face. For the first miles she gave her horse its head, thinking to find consolation, if not a solution, in the nearly insane speed of the gallop. She herself didn't know what feelings gripped her or which of them dominated. She felt only an ever sharper disappointment at some failure, like the disappointment of a hunter who has missed his shot at some rare game; but perhaps the situation was even more serious and, mentally surveying all the prospects of her future life, Elena Aleksandrovna couldn't approve of any of them, so that this was not only a failure in the hunt, but a concrete disaster and, as such, could not but cast doubt on her powers. And as her thought grew calmer and more hopeless, she began reining in her horse, until at last they were proceeding at a walk. It was still early, and Elena Aleksandrovna, thinking that her absence would not be noticed for some time yet at home, jumped down from the horse and, tying it to a slender maple, made her way to a heavily overgrown clearing. Sitting on a stump and looking at the white and yellow flowers, which smelled rather like a roll sopped in milk, Elena Aleksandrovna not only had no definite idea of what to do, but didn't even know where to direct her thoughts. She didn't know how long she might have sat there, if she hadn't been startled from her revery by the dry crack of twigs breaking in the distance. She began to listen, motionless... The crackling grew nearer and nearer, then stopped, as Lavrik came out on the meadow with a book in his hand. Lyolechka recognized him immediately and he, it seemed, noticed her at once, for he immediately approached her. Elena Aleksandrovna felt too lazy to move a single muscle, and so didn't even smile in answer to Lavrik's greeting.
"So here you are, Elena Aleksandrovna! You're becoming a regular morning person: I certainly didn't expect to find you here. We had breakfast earlier than usual today and thought you were still sleeping. Iraida Lvovna was certain you were and Polina Arkadievna didn't protest, though I'd think she'd know if you were home or not.."
Lavrik had begun energetically and cheerfully, but since Elena Aleksandrovna said nothing, his voice grew lower and slower and finally seemed to get stuck altogether... He was silent for a time, then asked plaintively:
"Something's troubling you, Elena Aleksandrovna!"
"Me? No... I'm just tired, that's all.."
"Yes... It's quite far from home... this place.."
"That's nothing!.. But I rode a long way. I had my horse... I was at Dmitry Alekseevich's.."
"At Lavrentiev's?" exclaimed Lavrik.
"Well, of course. Who else could it be?"
"Why did you go there? But then I have no right to ask you such questions.."
"I wanted to find out the name of the officer who's come to visit them.."
"Well, and did you find out?"
"Oh, are you interested too?" then suddenly Lyolechka changed her tone and continued:
"No, I didn't find out, because I wasn't at Lavrentiev's at all, of course. I only said I was to see what impression it would make on you, and I see that you're jealous... Although now you don't have any right or basis for being so.."
"Of course I don't have any right.."
"But you could...."
"You shouldn't say that, Elena Aleksandrovna!" Lavrik said, for some reason very loudly.
"Well, now, you don't have and never will have the right to shout at me.."
"I'm not shouting, forgive me.."
Lyolechka was silent for a time, then began thoughtfully:
"Yes, it doesn't become you... After all, what brought our romance, our fairy tale to such a sad ending... You wanted to be a man... you wanted to be direct, coarse and insensitive, not guessing that it wasn't your role and that it wasn't what captivated me. You wanted to be Lavrentiev, although you're only attractive as Lavrik Pekarsky, and you couldn't understand that the soul and the heart have different needs which in no way exclude one another, that I might need Lavrentiev, but that it wouldn't mean I didn't love you...."
"But didn't you yourself want me to change, Elena Aleksandrovna?"
"No, I didn't want that... Perhaps I said I did, but I didn't. Words don't always mean what they say. You have to know, to guess, what a person is thinking or feeling, and not be limited to listening to his words and maybe carrying them out.."
"I don't know... I'm probably just too simple. I think you're trying to mix me up. Maybe even now you are thinking and wishing something totally different from what you're saying--how am I to know?"
"If you love someone, you always know.."
"Oh, Elena Aleksandrovna! Didn't I love you, and it turns out that I didn't know what you wanted.."
"Perhaps I didn't know then what I wanted.."
"And you know now?"
"I've become wiser now.."
Lavrik bowed and suddenly kissed Elena Aleksandrovna's hand, saying in a fond whisper:
"Only don't frighten me and don't deceive me! I believe everything!..."
Lyolechka suddenly shouted so loudly that the whole clearing echoed:
"Of course I confuse you? Of course I deceive! Of course I lie! I'm a creature of lies, like all women! I toyed with you... I advise you, Lavrik, to pay a visit to
'the Lakes'--perhaps there you'll be shown the simple and true road of life. Or even at home speak more often with Orest Germanovich and Iraida Lvovna, but don't you dare speak of love! Don't you dare speak or think about me either! And then we'll see what becomes of your simple and honourable life without love and who it will be any use to!.."
She rose quickly and went to her horse.
Lavrik followed her, saying over and over:
"Elena Aleksandrovna! Elena Aleksandrovna!" But she rushed on without turning, jumping into the saddle without his help, and disappeared at a gallop, just as she had ridden through the gates of Lavrentiev's estate.
Lavrik looked mechanically at his watch, although his gesture failed to remind him that he had agreed to meet Polina Arkadievna at this spot.
The rapidly-fading hoof beats of Lyolechka's horse mingled with the sound of others, drawing nearer from the opposite direction. Lavrik continued to stand by the same stump where Elena had just been sitting, and thought about how he would live without love. Not only Elena Aleksandrovna's words, but even more her feelings and desires seemed incomprehensible and quite hopeless in their vagueness.
Could it be that simple, bright, and joyous life was irreconcilable with everything that he, Lavrik, called love? Could it be that attractiveness was nothing more than a game, where complications arose from deceit and lack of openness, that the whole ensemble was only a combination of a slight excitement in the blood, a sort of amorous rash, undefined frets, heightened vanity and a huge, empty boredom? The sound of the horses grew nearer and nearer, and there appeared on the road two riders, one of whom Lavrik easily recognized as Stock; the other was apparently the officer who had passed by earlier with The Englishman in the carriage. The meadow where Lavrik stood seemed to be the riders' final destination, for when they came out on it they dismounted, tied their horses by its entrance, and walked slowly to the place where Lavrik was now hiding in the bushes. But perhaps this was only a stopover during an excursion, because the thickly overgrown clearing was nothing especially interesting. Lavrik slowly realized this, fearing mainly that they might interfere with his meeting with Polina Arkadievna, whom he suddenly remembered after almost forgetting. It seemed that the arrivals were not paying much attention to their surroundings, but carried on a continuous lively but muted conversation. Lavrik didn't hear their words, but then again he wasn't listening to them, as he was wrapped up in his own worries. At the same time, though, the faces of the two men astonished him; not so much the faces as their expressions; they were utterly calm but strained by a tenseness which was almost ecstatic. It was hard to imagine that at this moment these people might be touched not merely by such a tiresome and sluggish anxiety as that which possessed Lavrik, but by a genuine and at the same time heavy and essentially empty agitation which seemed to have invented itself, an example of which might be the recently departed Lyolechka (it would be laughable even to compare it with the nonsensical fluttering of Polina Arkadievna). And yet these were not he faces of people isolated from excitement and human feelings... On the contrary, they seemed to express the limit of striving and desire, but enlightened and somehow transfigured. Their hidden observer seemed petrified, and who knows how long this state might have continued, if a sudden turn, external, but no less surprising for that, had not further confused his thoughts. And, strange as it might seem, this external movement returned Lavrik's hearing. Just as he saw the younger of the two kneel and kiss the hand of the other, he heard what had to be his words:
"My God, My God! Will it really be tomorrow?"
To which the elder replied:
"Yes, they wrote me from Prague.."
Then the first, raising his hands to heaven in some joyous ecstasy said loudly:
"How can people live without knowing such torments?!"
Then they kissed and silently moved toward their horses. The fact that Mister Stock was in a riding costume, while his companion was in an ordinary officer's uniform, imparted an especially strange cast to the scene.
Perhaps ten minutes passed after they left, but Lavrik still sat motionless, unsure whether he was awake or sleeping. Finally he came out from behind the bush, approached the place where Fortov had just knelt, and saw the lightly bent stems of the flowers.
"What is this: a dream, a fairy tale?" he said aloud, and in answer to his words he heard:
"Yes, it's a dream; it's a fairy tale! And slender arms embraced his neck from behind.
Lavrik almost didn't recognize Polina Arkadievna, so a propos and inappropriate was her appearance. She was barefoot, in a rough white shift tightly belted by an unfurled blue kerchief; on her close-cropped curly head she wore a wreath of bachelor buttons. Obviously, she attributed the silence of her suitor to his excitement and decided to begin explaining with a monologue. Lowering Lavrik to the grass, she lay next to him on his shoulder and began without further preliminaries.
"So you see Lavrik, it's impossible to live without love, just as it's impossible to live without beauty. I know, you've suffered terribly, but could that make such a young heart grow stale? And then suffering from love- -isn't that marvellous? Perhaps we feel more strongly than in time of suffering!"
"Oh, I don't know. I'd bear any suffering, if only I weren't so pitiable and unnecessary!"
Polina Arkadievna began to speak rapidly:
"Why such words, why such thoughts? Who's pitiable and unnecessary? You? You're young, you're handsome, you're talented and you're loved... Lavrik, Lavrik! You and I will weave such a tale of happiness as the world has never seen... Don't cry. Why should you cry? Or, wait, no, go ahead and cry, even that's marvellous! Look how blue the sky is, what ecstasy! And tell me that you love me!"
Polina Arkadievna's eyes filled with tears which ran down her cheeks, leaving crooked stripe in her rouge; she shook Lavrik by the sleeve but he lay on his stomach weeping in the grass.
"Get up, get up!.. My pure, my precious boy, and don't be afraid to say what I, of course, already know without words.."
She dragged his head back from the ground and began to kiss his wet face, whispering:
"Dearest, dearest, my sun, my joy!" until, at last Lavrik, barely conscious of who he was with, responded to her kisses with his own.
Then Polina, remaining on her knees, in some sort of ecstasy raised her hands to heaven and exclaimed loudly:
"Oh, how can people live without knowing such moments?!"
"Get out of here!" screamed Lavrik in a voice not his own.
"What?" asked Polina.
"Get out of here! Now! Don't you dare say those words!"
"Lavrik, have you gone crazy? Why shouldn't I dare to do anything I like?!"
"Because don't you dare!" screamed Lavrik still more incomprehensibly and broke into a run.
Polina Arkadievna called to Lavrik once or twice, then gathered her parasol and shoes from behind a bush and set off for home, taking pleasure in the thought that, even if Lavrik hadn't lost his mind for good, life in the country was nonetheless not always totally devoid of interest. CHAPTER 16 PART II
It turned out that the interest of country life far exceeded Polina Arkadievna's expectations since, upon her arrival home, she discovered not only Lavrik had not returned but that Elena Aleksandrovna had disappeared as well, no one knew where. We may suppose they did not worry about the first, but the absence of the second deeply disturbed Iraida Lvovna, judging by the uncustomary nervous movements with which she now paced about the terrace, no leaned on the railing, peering into every cloud of dust which rose on the passing road.
"Where are all our people?" asked Polina with an innocent look, coming out onto the very same terrace, but already without bachelor buttons on her head.
"For God's sake, Polina, don't call Leonid out here... Lyolechka disappeared this morning and hasn't been seen since.."
"Where on earth could she have become to?"
"That's just what I wanted to ask you, while my brother still doesn't know anything... Do you have any idea?"
"No, no... how should I know?"
"Well, I don't know how... but you're friends with her, and Polina, please don't try to hide it... Maybe you think it's bad to give away someone else's secrets, but in this case any such consideration should be discarded, because it's a serious matter and God only knows what Lyolechka may take it into her head to do next.."
"No, truly, Iraida Lvovna, I don't know anything.."
"She left while you were still sleeping?"
"No, I saw here leaving... I was surprised she would get up so early. She said she wanted to take a stroll.."
"Very odd," pronounced Iraida Lvovna.
"But is Lavrik Pekarsky at home?" asked Polina seemingly quite innocently. Iraida abruptly stopped pacing and, looking silently for a second at her interrogator, suddenly asked quietly:
"Do you think they've hidden together?"
Although Polina Arkadievna knew quite well that Lyolechka and Lavrik could not possible have left together, the possibility of such an assumption so surprised and captivated her that in spite of all obviousness she exclaimed quite sincerely:
"I don't know! But it's quite possible.."
"No, no! It just can't be, Polina.."
"Why not? Don't you think they're daring enough? You shouldn't have such a petit bourgeois opinion about everyone... You can't judge everybody by yourself.."
"Let's not start talking about what's petit bourgeois and what isn't and who judges people by themselves; you'd be better off telling me frankly: do you know this for sure or are you merely pleasuring in the assumption?"
"I don't know anything and I'm not pleasuring in anything," said Polina with a look which would make anyone understand that she not only knew all this quite well, but was herself the chief inventor and inspiration of the poetic flight. Iraida Lvovna obviously drew this conclusion, for she remarked somewhat dryly:
"In that case of course it's useless to search for them, because they've had more than enough time to get to the station and hide wherever they like... but I can't hide the fact, Polina Arkadievna, that I feel your role in this whole affair, if not incomprehensible (oh no, I understand it quite well) is nonetheless a bit surprising.."
"I don't understand, Iraida Lvovna, what role, what affair?" prattled Polina Arkadievna, foretasting all the sweetness of explanations if not tragic events.
"I'm not going to explain your role to you, but at least you could have spared me all this happening in my own house.."
"What, do you consider me some sort of procuress?" pronounced Polina not without dignity.
"Call yourself whatever you like, it doesn't interest me in the least, because if the truth be told, the fate of the two who remain is more important to me.."
Then Polina began with her voice raised:
"Well, then, you've finally said it. Oh! I know these rescues and returns to virtue all too well... They always end up with some people being sacrificed to others, not even sacrificed, but tied up, made petty and dulled. All freedom that doesn't fit your idiotic measure is repugnant to you! I repeat: I did nothing in this case, but if I'd known, I could have, I would have, twenty times, right here in your own house, because I always stand for love, for freedom, for the absence of all prejudices! Just wait-- when we return to Petersburg I'll go to the all-night service at the Kazan Cathedral naked.."
"You can do that here in the village, too... it's even warmer, why wait for winter?"
"I'll go, I'll go! Who can forbid me to?"
"Well, first of all the constable, but that's not the point, it's your own business, but you shouldn't get mixed up in the affairs of others.."
"And I suppose you don't?"
"Perhaps I do it too, but only out of good withes, and not especially to cause suffering.."
"Well, I do it out of good wishes too, only we understand the good differently...."
"Who's talking about the good when the weather's so wonderful?" echoed the voice of Orest Germanovich, who had come out on this dispute.
"In the final analysis all concepts of good are like those of the savages... If you burn your neighbour, steal his cattle and his wife, that's good, but if your neighbour burns your house, steals your cattle and your wife, that's evil... some clever fellow has even redone the biblical saying: Do unto others what you don't want them to do unto you.."
"Of course you don't share these paradoxes?" asked Iraida Lvovna.
"Of course. If I shared them, I couldn't live a day on earth.."
Polina Arkadievna, finding that the conversation was losing its heroic character, considered it prudent to withdraw, but her soul longed for a scandal, if not an exploit. She was sure that Elena Aleksandrovna had left together with Lavrik, although she knew quite well that this was impossible. She was certain of this primarily because the existence of such a flight would carry its own romantic logic (quite muddleheaded but nonetheless comprehensible to Polina Arkadievna) into the affairs and relationships of those people whose fate really interested her.
Iraida Lvovna, considering that the news of the fugitives would trouble her brother less than it would Pekarsky, thought it more prudent to have it out with Leonid Lvovich first, drawing out the report of Lavrik's flight as long as possible.
"Why don't you go out into the garden on such a fine day?" she said, entering the room where her brother sat with a book.
"Is the weather really good? I'm so used to its being bad that I've almost lost hope for anything better.."
"How can anyone get so distracted?.. especially so sadly distracted. Look out the window if you haven't yet gone blind.."
"With me joy and sorrow don't depend on a cloudless sky.."
"What do they depend on, then?" asked Iraida a bit warily.
"I don't know... It lies somehow inside.."
"Of course you're right, but there must always be good inside.."
"What must be isn't always so.."
"But very often what we want does happen, and right now I want us to take a stroll in the garden.."
"Such innocent desires, of course, are easily fulfilled," answered Leonid, looking for his hat.
They had barely stepped onto the ground from the terrace when Iraida Lvovna began without hesitation:
"Lyolechka has gone to stay at the Polauzovs', did you know?"
"No, I know nothing about it. For long?"
"I don't know. She didn't say anything.."
"So what? Is she so fond of the Polauzovs, or was she uncomfortable with you?"
"As far as I know, she doesn't feel any particular friendship for the Polauzovs, and I did everything I could to make her feel comfortable. But your wife occasionally has her whims.."
"Yes, she sometimes has her whims," Leonid affirmed a bit absently.
"So it won't be surprising if, again without saying a word, she goes somewhere else yet from the Polauzovs'.."
"Perhaps she's already done so?"
"I don't know; I don't think so.."
"But you -- she told you she was going there?"
"No, Leonid, she didn't tell me that.."
"Then what? Is this only a suspicion?"
"It's a warning, not a suspicion.."
"And what suspicions do you have?" Iraida Lvovna was silent, then began somehow as if from far away:
"Oh, you see, Leonid, that anyone may suspect and suppose whatever he likes when he is in complete ignorance. I'm not at all inclined to think badly of people, especially those close to me.."
"Iraida, tell me straight out what you know... Perhaps Lyolechka didn't go to the Polauzovs' at all.."
"To tell the truth, I don't know where she's gone, your wife... Of course, I don't believe any of the foolishness Polina spouts, but after all, they're both madcaps, all the more so since yesterday, since today another person has disappeared from our house.."
Iraida Lvovna stopped, because at this moment the maid approached them quickly with an envelope in her hand. She gave the letter to Leonid Lvovich, who suddenly blushed fiercely; then she left, just as quickly and silently, and Tsarevsky, stealing a swift glance at the foreign stamp and blushing still more, spoke quickly, as if wishing to hide his confusion in rapidity of speech:
"You say another person? But who could it be? And what could he have to do with my wife?"
"It's Pekarsky's nephew.."
"I don't understand how you can connect the two departures -- Polina Arkadievna can take anything into her head. She is totally irresponsible for her words and thoughts; of course, Lyolechka has simply gone to the Polauzovs' and will return tomorrow, or the day after.."
"God grant that it may be so. I don't wish to play the raven.."
"Yes, that's how it is. Unhappiness, unpleasantness cannot visit people on such a marvellous day.."
"Why do you find the day so marvellous? Why, since this morning you haven't seen whether it was raining or the sun was shining.."
"Yet now I see and know that everything is marvellous and couldn't be otherwise," answered Leonid Lvovich, tapping his hand with the unopened envelope. Then he embraced his sister and said still more gaily:
"Believe me, nothing bad will happen.."
Iraida Lvovna nodded her head and said:
"You even seem glad that your wife has disappeared?"
"How silly! But I'm sure that everything'll be just fine. People need to satisfy their caprices every now and then. As to your ridiculous fears about Lavrik Pekarsky, I think he must already be home sitting by his window and studying. Everything is fine when the sun is out and there are wonderful people like you.."
"And when you receive marvellous letters from abroad?"
"So you know how to be catty, eh?" said Leonid Lvovich, again embracing his sister, and they turned for home.
Leonid Lvovich had gone slightly astray. Of course the sun was shining brightly and the sealed letter, perhaps, carried excellent news, but in the first place Lavrik was not home at all, and who can tell what window he was sitting by and what he was studying; and in the second place, the loud and excited talk wafting from the drawing room windows unquestionably demonstrated that even if all at "the Backwaters" was marvellous, it was not in any sense too peaceful, and that the passions which would graphically refute the name of Iraida's estate found their place there. Several women seemed to be arguing in the house, but a check showed that only Orest Germanovich, Polina, and the stable boy were in the Tsarevskys' drawing room. The lady was highly agitated and appeared to be finishing a long speech.
"Now do you see what tyranny and the absence of freedom lead to? And tyranny over what? Over what must be free as a flame, as the wind! Where is Elena Aleksandrovna now? Where is Lavrik? They aren't at the Polauzovs'? Who knows, perhaps they have already killed themselves. And what is to blame for all this? All your striving to arrange some sort of idiotic petit bourgeois arrangements!"
The clip-clop of hooves sounded, and an instant later a second stable boy came through the door, doffing his hat.
"Well what, well what?" Polina rushed at him.
"So they aren't there. The master was quite surprised I'd come. He is very sorry it happened like this and sends his regards to everyone.."
"Whom did he go to?" Iraida addressed Polina.
"To Dmitry Alekseevich Lavrentiev," the stable boy answered instead.
"To Lavrentiev?" repeated Iraida,
"Who sent you there?"
"I sent him to Lavrentiev," put in Polina Arkadievna.
Iraida Lvovna sent the servants out and again began questioning her guest, while the men remained silent.
"Explain to me, Polina, what possessed you to send to Lavrentiev, and whom you were looking for there. I hope not Elena Aleksandrovna?"
"Frankly, that's precisely whom I was looking for there.."
"And so you told the stable boy to ask Lavrentiev if Mrs. Tsarevsky was there?"
CHAPTER 17 PART II
"That's what I told him."
"But listen here, Polina, everything has its limits. This isn't freedom or anything, just silliness and thoughtlessness, to spread your own assumptions among the servants, which, even were they justified, would have to be hidden. And, finally, what will Lavrentiev think? He may think that this is slyness and quite unworthy on Lyolechka's part, that she hasn't gone anywhere, but is purposefully advertising their relationship in order to make some sort of advances.."
"But who cares what Lavrentiev thinks, all the more so since he is accustomed to considering Elena Aleksandrovna a free and fearless woman.."
"Well, I see you are much sillier than I supposed, Polina, and besides that, your silliness is positively harmful; wherever you are, whatever you interfere with, all that comes out of it is ridiculous and harmful nonsense. That is, of course I'm speaking from the point of view of a person still in possession of his senses."
"If only harm comes from my presence, then there's nothing for me to do but leave.."
"Don't be offended, Polina, but I'll tell you straight out: really, it's the best thing you could do, now.."
"Yes, I don't fit into your court," pronounced Polina, and she turned to the door. Turning the doorknob, she said: "Perhaps you won't refuse to provide me with horses to the station. The train leaves at eight. I need to pack.."
"Of course, of course," hurried Iraida,
"How could there be any question? But why are you in such a rush? You could leave tomorrow, or the day after. Forgive me, I spoke in anger. I don't take back my words, but nevertheless everything can be set right. And then, if you leave today, after this... after this misfortune, it might look a bit reprehensible...."
Then Polina, letting go of the doorknob, turned again to the room, speaking directly to Iraida, as if no one else were present.
"No, permit me this once to create a reprehensible appearance. I am leaving. I am abandoning your home, but my actions I will decide for myself, and I don't care how they appear. However, don't think that I'll leave Elena Aleksandrovna's fate unattended; I'm sincerely attached to her, and I don't know... won't it be worse if I help her from the sidelines?"
"What, are you making threats?"
"No, why should I threaten? Only I won't hide the fact that I shall act as I see fit; I don't have anything against you personally, but I hate, I hate," she squeezed her small fists tightly,
"all such people, all your gang, all dull, empty, self-satisfied do-gooders! And really, my place isn't with you, because I am always searching, while you sleep on peacefully. Well, sleep as much as you like, good night. And that's quite a propos, as I see that the horses are almost ready." Polina Arkadievna quickly glanced out the window and then, going up to Iraida, said in a lower voice:
"And now, farewell, without any resentments... Don't think ill of me, and live happily.."
And then she surveyed the room with her eyes, and as if noticing the men for the first time, Polina exclaimed:
"Ah, gentlemen, you're here as well! I'd even forgotten about you, and thought we were alone. One might have supposed you were sleeping, but where would you sleep during such yelling? This is really the height of politeness, to be so silent. Or perhaps for sir knights our tiff with Iraida Lvovna was an interesting spectacle, rather like a cock fight. I'm very glad to have provided you with this pleasure, but if you'll think even a bit further, you'll see that I was completely right. What's it to me? -- I've unburdened myself and I'm leaving with a light heart. Goodbye!"
Polina Arkadievna even performed a little pirouette as she disappeared through the door. The remaining trio was long silent. Finally Orest Germanovich noted:
"Polina Arkadievna is a rather venomous person, although quite utterly muddle-headed.."
Leonid Lvovich, not yet having let the sealed envelope with the foreign stamp leave his hand, answered softly:
"It's because she... None of you know the real and best example of a lofty, calm, and animated life, for which nothing is terrifying.."
"It is strange, nonetheless," said Iraida Lvovna,
"that Lyolechka didn't turn up at Lavrentiev's.."
At the very moment when Leonid Lvovich supposed that Lavrik was sitting at the windows studying, the younger Pekarsky was walking along the road leading to Dmitry Alekseevich's estate.
It's doubtful whether he was fully aware of why he was headed there; it was impossible to think up any logical reasons or explanations for his journey, and Lavrik wasn't looking for them: without any reason, as if bypassing his own will, his feet shifted one in front of the other, producing step after step and bringing him closer and closer to "the Lakes", or, more accurately, to the people who lived there. Of course, Lavrik was not bereft of consciousness; he knew quite well that he was going to Lavrentiev's manor, but the purposefulness of this act seemed to have slipped past him. One thing was clear to him: that before him awaited people whom he now, at the given moment, irresistibly wished to see. But at "the Backwaters", on the contrary, persons stayed and arrived from whom one could expect only unpleasant and aggravating complications. He even thought that the Englishman and his friend could help him discover something without which life was desolate and joyless, and only the ephemeral trepidations which he always fled and which always left behind a sad and bitter, mournful aftertaste could fill it, temporarily and superficially. He seemed somehow to forget that Lavrentiev was at one time his rival to a certain extent, and that he couldn't know how he would be received. Unconciously retaining the hope that the feelings with which a person comes can and must always, if they are sufficiently strong, affect the reception awaiting them, Lavrik approached the house after crossing the garden via the small conservatory gate, and found Dmitry Alekseevich sitting on the porch absently stroking a dog.
"I'm happy to find you by yourself," said Lavrik after some preliminary words.
"Do you need to tell me anything? But my guests are people very close to me and excellent people generally, so it would be out of place to have secrets from them.."
"I fully believe you when you say they are excellent people. Unfortunately, I don't know them. This of course wouldn't prevent me from being open with them, but it doesn't at all mean that, in general, no one would wish to keep secrets from them.."
Dmitry Alekseevich frowned slightly and, seemingly without any relation to the conversation, said:
"Elena Aleksandrovna was here herself today.."
"I know. I'm not acting as her emissary. I came by myself, and even, only please don't be angry, intended more to see your guests than you.."
"What's there to be offended at in that? I quite understand that Mister Stock and Fortov are far more interesting to everyone than I am. But you're contradicting yourself: if I'm not mistaken, you said it was I you were glad to find alone.."
"I wanted to ask your forgiveness.."
"Well, enough of that! What do you need forgiveness for? You were probably being completely sincere then, but when a man loves, one can hardly expect noble acts from him, especially at your age. Where did you leave your horse?"
"I don't have any horse. I came on foot.."
"What possessed you to come on foot, although it's not particularly far?"
"When I left the house I didn't think I'd be coming to you. That came into my head later, and I don't know whether it came into my head at all. Something simply led me to you.."
"Apparently you got lost, and recognized our conservatory.."
"Perhaps I did get lost, but not the way you think.."
Lavrentiev glanced at his guest and, instantly lowering his eyes once more, began to smooth out an already red maple leaf which had been blown from somewhere onto his knees. Then he started again:
"You know, I myself know my forest badly and could easily become lost in it, but Mister Stock and Fortov, although they've been living here only two months, know every little path perfectly. When I go walking with them I'm always calm.."
"Yes, with them one could be calm!"
"It seems you don't entirely understand what I'm saying.."
"No, I understand both what you're saying and what you want to say.."
"I don't want to say anything in particular," and Lavrentiev again looked at the boy. There was nothing special in his face, but it seemed to Lavrik that in the eyes and the smile of the officer there glimmered something similar to the faces of those horsemen in the flowering meadow, but distantly, as if a bright object viewed through deep water.
"Well, go on!"
"What are you saying, Lavrik?"
"Just one more effort, Dmitry Alekseevich, and you'll have a real face.."
"Lavrik, are you tired, do you feel well?"
"This is no delirium. I'd so much like you to be like Fortov.."
"I'd like it myself, for he's a very handsome man, but I'm not a bit like him.."
"You can't possibly have misunderstood me, Dmitry Alekseevich, you just don't want to say it.."
"Do you really understand what you're saying?"
"No, frankly speaking, I don't.."
"Then how can you want another person to understand words that you don't understand yourself?"
Lavrik bowed his head sadly. Then his host sat closer to him and, embracing him lightly, said:
"Don't get upset, I'll tell you the truth. I understand both why you came and what you are saying. I understand it more clearly than you do yourself, but nevertheless not well enough to explain it to you. And I don't at all know whether I could explain it to you.."
"Well, then, you see! I knew that you know more than I do, and that if you tried, if you became like him, you would know everything.."
"Well, what can be done if I still don't know! I am willing to promise you this: that I'll try, because I'd like it even more than you would.."
"Oh, I know why you won't tell me. Are you angry with me because of Lyolechka?"
"Lavrik, Lavrik, aren't you ashamed of yourself? How can you think of such trifles now? And you should be still more ashamed for thinking that I could think of them. I already told you that all that is past, and I'm not a bit angry with you, and at this present moment I don't even have any romantic thoughts.."
Lavrik suddenly jumped up:
"Wait! I saw people who said: 'How can people live without experiencing such moments?' Now I know that I can live, because I've had a small, tiny, very weak instant myself. And that won't perish, won't go out, will it?"
"I hope it won't perish or go out!" said Lavrentiev very seriously, and embraced his guest more firmly.
A white, shaggy dog came running from a distance, wagging its tail and barking, and a second later two figures appeared rounding the bend, who could be no one other than the Englishman and his friend.
Lavrik silently squeezed Lavrentiev's hand and then said:
"What's the date today?"
"The sixteenth of August.."
"Today two steps were taken.."
"Or perhaps even three, Lavrik.."
Dmitry Alekseevich fell silent, then continued:
"Of course you will stay as long as you like with us, but only on the condition that you are our guest not less than two weeks.."
CHAPTER 18 PART II
"Of course. But my God, my God! How good it is, not actually to feel, but to gain the hope that someday you will feel that life is worth living.."
If Lavrik had been brought to Lavrentiev's estate by some will other than his own, Elena Aleksandrovna had quite consciously and voluntarily landed at the Polauzovs'. Her thoughts were rather ridiculous: they encompassed disappointment, dismay, and, mainly, a passionate lack of desire to meet now, in the heat of the moment, any of the people who had witnessed her failure. She had gone to the Polauzovs' not because her hosts were in any way necessary to her, but because she had nowhere else to go. She would have willingly shared her impressions and vented her feelings to Polina Arkadievna, but in order to do so she would have had to go home, which she did not at all wish to do. In contrast to Lavrik, she arrived quite noticeably, directly at the front entrance, causing predictable turmoil, and when she entered the dining room she found all the inhabitants of the house together.
"Well, we had no idea it was you!" said the old lady Polauzova.
"We heard some rushing about and the dogs barking, but we certainly didn't think we had guests. But where are the rest of your people? Or are they coming by carriage?"
"I've come by myself, and at home they don't even know that I'm here.."
"How nice of you, Elena Aleksandrovna! How nice it is to see people who have some whim in mind.."
"I don't have some whim in mind. I really wanted to see you.."
"But won't they notice you're gone at home?" asked Pankraty.
"And what if they do notice, it'll be all the more interesting! Oh, yes, I keep forgetting you're such a positive and stalwart man. I'm sure the thought has never entered your head just to up and leave without telling anyone, even if you wanted to very much.."
"If I knew I'd worry anyone by leaving secretly, I'd stay.."
"But what's the point of talking with you, anyway! You're not a man, you're some sort of multiplication table," answered Lyolechka, sitting at the table. But in spite of her apparent vivacity, her eyes were worried, which might be attributed to that very vivacity. But as it turned out, Sonya understood this as it was meant, for no sooner was she alone with her guest than she said softly:
"Has anything happened, Elena Aleksandrovna?"
"I'll tell you everything later," answered Lyolechka just as softly and pressed her hand.
"Yes, and one other thing, ladies and gentlemen! I have a request to make of you, and especially of you, Pankraty Semyonovich," Lyolechka said more loudly.
"Let me stay with you a time, and tell no one I'm here, especially if a query should come from `the Backwaters'. I assure you I have no need to hide, I'm not mixed up in any political affairs, and I'm not planning on leaving my husband. It's simply a joke, a whim, if you like, and it won't cause you any unpleasantness or inconvenience to help me. Well, then, do you agree?"
"Yes, well, of course we can keep silent, but we can't make the servants and peasants who saw you not talk about it. And then, of course, we may find ourselves in an awkward situation with your husband and Iraida Lvovna.."
"My, how boring you are, ladies and gentlemen! And I was so glad it was going to be amusing," said Elena Aleksandrovna with a grimace.
"Ah, dear Elena Aleksandrovna, you are a perfect child! So much so that even an old lady like me would like to help you in this prank... I myself wasn't a mischief-maker even in my youth, but I had a few girl friends who... when a ball would be starting or simply if guests were gathering, especially if there were young men paying court to them, their primary pleasure was to gather in some distant room and hide there. you looked and looked for them, then everyone would go to them, drag them out, coax them: 'What's the matter... or are you annoyed at someone... let's go dance, why are you crowded into a corner here? We can't get along without you!' And that was all they needed.."
"Well, I'm just the same way. I want to hide at your place too, so Leonid will rush all over and look for me.."
Finally it was decided to grant Elena Aleksandrovna's request, and an order was given out to the servants not to speak even in the villages about the visit of the neighbouring young mistress.
Although Elena Aleksandrovna had promised Sonya to tell all, she had promised in the heat of the action, so to speak, and when they were left by themselves in the room, in the very room where to Polina's surprise there had not been any lip rouge, Elena Aleksandrovna felt as though she had nothing to tell. What could she tell, anyway? About her visit to Lavrentiev and her rendezvous with Lavrik? But to understand the entire significance of these events one would have to start from far afield, and then it might seem to the eyes of a bystander that nothing in particular had happened. She was herself a bit surprised now that she could become upset so easily and fall into a kind of despair. The crucial point, then, was her tendency to lose heart.
All these considerations were passing through her thoughts when Sonya Semyonovna said:
"Well then, what has happened, dear Elena Aleksandrovna? Of course, you needn't tell me, I don't wish to press myself on you as a confidant, but you yourself will feel better, all the more so since you can count on me and on all of us in this house for sympathy. I don't think you simply came to us to visit! If you thought you could get consolation and help at home you would have gone there, isn't that so? But I don't think your arrival was a mere caprice the way you made it seem to my mother and brother.."
Having regained her composure a bit, Lyolechka answered:
"But I don't know what to say myself I thought I had so much to tell you and it turns out it's all trifles, not worth anybody's paying attention to.."
"But they are making you unhappy, these trifles."
"Yes, they do distress me.."
"Well, we'll discuss how to arrange things so that such trifles won't happen, or else we'll remake you so that you won't get distressed anymore at trifles.."
"You see," said Lyolechka meditatively, "perhaps I didn't just come to you by chance. I think your whole household and especially you yourself have such and established, solid calm that one has to suspect you know something and that it's precisely that knowledge which makes you the way you are.."
"You're not mistake and yet you're not quite correct. We're just naturally very definite, it's our character, but neither my mother nor my brother belong to the society.."
"And you, Sonya, do you belong to the society?"
"And is it a secret society?"
"If you like.."
"Dear Sonya, take me there too! You see how unhappy I am. I never thought about it, and yet I'm sure that I have a great inclination towards mysticism. Tell me what is necessary--an ordeal, a test of some kind? Perhaps I'll be led along dark corridors, as I read the Masons do?"
Sonya smiled a bit.
"No, we don't have test. I'll simply note you down in a book and inform them in Petersburg."
"Yes, of course.."
"Then I'll give you a few brochures and talk with you myself. I you don't agree with something or don't understand something, that will come later. The main thing is to have a genuine desire to join.."
"Oh, I want to so much. I'm very unhappy, you know, Sofia Semyonovna.."
"You won't be so unhappy then. All members of the society will help you.."
"Oh, I don't think anyone can help me in what I need!" Lyolechka thought about her visit to Lavrentiev, about her meeting with Lavrik, and again the same feeling of disappointment and despair began to take possession of her.
"Oh, I don't think anyone can help me in what I need!" she repeated once more.
Sonya looked at her sharply and said:
"There is nothing that can't be helped!"
"But these are very earthy things, maybe sinful.."
"Dear child," said Sonya with a smile and added: "Let's pray together instead.."
She embraced Lyolechka and knelt with her, bowing her head on the edge of the table. Sonya did not speak any prayer and did not even cross herself, but just hugged Elena Aleksandrovna harder, who felt that somehow this warm hand imparted her with consolation, tenderness, and a certain somnolence. CHAPTER 19 PART II
Iraida Lvovna seemed to be totally occupied with contemplation of the slightly yellowed garden, but in fact she was worried and troubled, thinking of the two abandoned ones sitting at home, and of the other two who had abandoned them and were God knows where. It was already a week since Lyolechka and Lavrik had vanished, and a dense cloud seemed to have descended on 'the Backwaters'. It prevented them from conversing loudly and gaily, it made breathing difficult, and even seemed to make the entire landscape, already beginning to gleam in funereal gold, inaccessible to their gaze. There were no signs of trouble, messengers were not dispatched, those who had left were seldom even spoken of, but this calm was more burdensome than the most immoderate worry. Orest Germanovich wrote during his accustomed hours just as before, but more often and for longer periods just sat, looking not at the paper but through the window at the distant forest, which he also did not see. Leonid Lvovich continued to receive letters stamped abroad but they did not seem to gladden him as once they did. Iraida Lvovna was more energetic and even seemed to have a more animated appearance than before, but that was understandable. She knew quite well that both the day-to-day physical comfort as well as the spiritual condition of those close to her depended for the main part on her presence of mind. And only in those rare moments when she was alone did she give rein to her worried thoughts and misgivings, fearing each somehow violated this unnatural calm and brought everyone to like, albeit to one filled with trouble. Once at breakfast, in the midst of some desultory conversation, Iraida remarked:
"We'll have to go to the city soon."
"You have business in Smolensk?" asked Orest Germanovich.
"No, we must all go to Petersburg. Yes, of course...."
"But why?" Leonid Lvovich began, but Iraida interrupted:
"Here's why... it's very simple. August will be ending soon and we can't spend the winter here. And as to what you're worrying about, it really doesn't matter where you wait, in what place. And isn't that what we're doing, just waiting? If everyone returns to their usual occupations, it will be easier to wait."
"What are we waiting for? New afflictions? New sufferings?"
"If nothing else, that then."
"I don't know if I'm in any condition to repeat them."
"But I seem to recall that someone said how wonderful people are who always know what has to be done and are always blessedly at peace without any stagnancy.."
"Yes, but I'm not such a person and those who live with me are even less close to being so. Maybe I could attain such a state, but right now I'm not like that. I'm a very weak and uncertain person. So how can you put me into trouble and doubt again the way I am?"
Iraida Lvovna got up and, approaching her brother, said to him quietly:
"Insofar as I can I'll try to help you and then she whom you're thinking of will help you and set everything right for everyone, or if not everyone, then at any rate for you."
Leonid Lvovich kissed his sister's hand and said:
"Thank you for thinking so."
"Yes, I think so."
"And you believe she can do it?"
"I don't know her well enough, but I think she'll want to do it."
Orest Germanovich rose and went out unnoticed into the garden.
"How you have comforted me, dear Sister! Now I'll be able to wait once again, no matter what happens. I'll live calmly and I'll try to behave as is necessary, because I'll know that I have help. I think that now, after you've said this to me, her letters will act on me even more strongly, even better.."
"Yes, yes. But you shouldn't forget your wife. If it becomes necessary, whether for you or for her, you can of course separate, even for good, but now, for the time being, you shouldn't drive her from your heart or thoughts.."
"Yes, of course, dear Sister. Perhaps you'll find it strange, but I love her, Lyolechka, too. Of course you know how I loved her, but it hasn't stopped if she appeared now...."
"Well, what would you do if she appeared now?" A voice sounded behind Leonid Lvovich's back and, turning, he say Elena Aleksandrovna herself in the doorway, one arm leaning on the jamb. Since everyone was silent, she repeated her question less certainly:
"Well, I've appeared; what are you going to do?"
Leonid continued staring at her with wide-open eyes.
"Lyolechka, where did you come from?" asked Iraida Lvovna.
Elena Aleksandrovna drew away form the door and began quickly:
"My God, I hope you weren't worried by my little joke? I hid at the Polauzovs' and asked them not to tell I was there. Of course that was very simple-minded, maybe foolish, I wanted... I wanted... Well, I don't know myself what I wanted. Oh yes, I wanted everybody to be worried and to feel my absence, so that you would appreciate me more, Leonid, and would love me more. Well then, are you all such stuffed shirts? Are you angry with me? Of course what I did was childish, but don't be so surly. Well, judge for yourselves: I'm returning to my parents' house, to the family hearth, I'm so happy, so pleased to see you, and you're frowning. If you don't stop I'll put on a sour face too, and soon."
"Lyolechka, where were you?" asked Iraida Lvovna.
"I told you already, at the Polauzovs'... If you don't believe me send someone to them, ask. And you know, I wasn't being so silly. In the past few days I've become friends with Sonya; she's a wonderful girl."
"Sonya may be a wonderful girl, I know, but all the same it's bad to play such tricks."
"Well, and what about you, Leonid? Are you going to say nothing? Aren't you going to kiss me? Do you want me to think that instead of coming to love me more these past few days you've become completely unfeeling?" and Lyolechka herself approached her husband, embraced him, and pressed tightly against him. Leonid stroked her head softly, as if they had made peace after an argument. Finally Lyolechka asked:
"Why are you alone? Or did dearest Polina Arkadievna and the Pekarskys leave?"
"Orest Germanovich is in the garden," answered Iraida Lvovna.
"Polina Arkadievna has gone to the city.."
"Why so quickly?"
"I don't know, some business came up.."
"And why aren't you asking about Lavrik? Or do you think I might find it unpleasant?" said Leonid Lvovich.
"No, why should I think you'd find it unpleasant? I just didn't get a chance, because I was more interested in Polina. If you like, I'll ask. Well then, where's Lavrik?"
"The point is nobody knows where he is.."
Lyolechka laughed gaily:
"What do you mean, no one knows? It's too romantic. Where could he have gotten to?"
"Why are you laughing, Lyolechka? Lavrik has really disappeared. We've all been beating our heads together trying to figure out where he could have gone. We even thought...."
But Elena Aleksandrovna did not allow her husband to finish:
"But this is delightful! What, is 'the Backwaters' some mysterious castle, or is Lavrik repeating 'The Sufferings of Young Werther'? I have to admit I didn't expect this of him. I think you just want to catch my interest and made this mysterious disappearance up this very moment on the spot!"
"But why don't you believe it, Lyolechka? Or do you know something?"
"I don't know anything about Lavrik Pekarsky. What nonsense! How should I know anything?"
"After all, you vanished without a trace; it turns out you were sitting at the Polauzovs'... maybe he's also there?"
"Listen, Leonid, why don you have to have such a foul imagination? Am I really such an idiot that, even if Lavrik were my lover, I'd start hiding with him under the eyes of everyone in a respectable household?"
"In such cases you usually go to your sister in Riga.."
"You're absolutely right: in such cases I go to Riga.."
Leonid wanted to raise objection, but Iraida Lvovna came up quietly, put a hand on his shoulder, and said unhurriedly:
"Leonid, don't. Don't now. Remember that we not only give you help, but stop and think about the person thoughts of whom give you joyous powers.."
Leonid Lvovich silently kissed his sister's hand. Elena Aleksandrovna observed this scene with a sardonic smile and said finally:
"But I see you've had a lot of changes here, all in the direction of some sort of mysterious romanticism. A vanished youth, some mysterious woman, thoughts of whom give joy, swift departures of friends. All we need are vampires and a ritual murder. But my dears..."
Here Lyolechka suddenly looked through the open door and the sardonic smile became the most carefree laughter.
"But my dears, if you've invented all these stories in honour of my arrival, you should have timed the entrances of the characters better. You really shouldn't be such clumsy directors as to allow the young man whose murder is being discussed to appear in person at the some instant. By the way, our vanished Lavrik is walking through the garden here perfectly calmly along with Orest Germanovich.
"What? Lavrik?" exclaimed Iraida, turning to the door.
"He arrived with you?" said Tsarevsky, gasping somehow.
"Yes, yes!" answered Lyolechka quite gaily, and just pressed her husband's hand. And all six eyes turned toward the open door through which one could see both Pekarskys, who in fact were walking perfectly calmly in the fierce sunshine along a path directly toward the balcony.
"We're arranging a solemn meeting for you, and for this solemn occasion even I, the vanished wife, have been mobilized," said Elena Aleksandrovna jokingly.
"Elena Aleksandrovna! Have you come too?" said Orest Germanovich in surprise, glancing at his nephew. The latter only pressed his hand silently, just as Lyolechka had pressed her husband's hand.
"Well, where was Lavrik?" asked Iraida Lvovna.
"He's already told me everything," the uncle answered instead of the nephew, "and really, I can only thank heaven for his absence.."
"You see, Leonid Lvovich, how genuinely good people act towards those who are close to them: they thank heaven for their absence.."
But no one supported Lyolechka's joke and she left to change clothes. The Pekarskys also went to their rooms, and Leonid Lvovich, left alone with his sister, was ponderously silent in his confusion.
"Leonid, Leonid, you're acting badly. Why aren't you glad, why don't you believe? It's such happiness to have faith in people.."
"But I have no faith and I'm miserable.."
Iraida Lvovna hugged her brother and began to speak rapidly and convincingly:
"Take heart, take heart, Leonid. It doesn't matter that you're having a hard time now. Later things will become easier which each passing minute, each step. Don't forget that we're here, that both Zoya Mikhailovna and I will always help you. It might seem strange to you that as a friend of your wife I could take such and attitude to your loving someone else; that's because I understand that these are two very different things, and for the time being you need to think about Zoya; she will help us.."
Leonid Lvovich listened to this torrent of words and in fact it seemed as if the mere mention of Lilienfeld's name gave him active hope, if not faith.
"Yes, Iraida, only now do I see how good a sister you are to me. How good it is to think things through together! We'll hope together, together, together!"
"Yes, we'll be together, and we'll wait for our life to become as harmonious and wonderful as that one!"
Iraida Lvovna hugged her brother still harder and so they sat, until the maid again brought an envelope with a foreign stamp. Iraida glanced at Leonid Lvovich exultantly and said:
"There, you see: your help isn't napping.."
"If you like we'll read the letter together, it's really a letter to us both, now.."
"Thank you, but read it by yourself for now. Later you can tell me what Zoya writes or show me the letter. Go on now, go, my dear!"
She looked for a long time at the door behind which the now comforted Leonid Lvovich was hidden, and thought: could it be that her involuntary fears would soon come to an end? Everything pointed to an approaching tranquility, and Iraida Lvovna observed with pleasure how Lavrik and Orest Germanovich came to breakfast together, both looking as if they had just taken a merry and joyous bath; Elena Aleksandrovna, unsure of how to conduct herself, but nonetheless somehow reconciled and settled, waited with each passing moment for Leonid to come down, bearing the reflection of the heartening and well-composed letter. But Leonid Lvovich still wasn't there, which made her think that the message he had received was a rather long one and, consequently, all the more consoling. Finally there was a knock at the upper door and Iraida Lvovna, having waited several second, enough for her brother to have come down, shouted gaily without turning:
"Well, come on then, Leonid, quickly; where did you get stuck?"
There was no answer, although Leonid Lvovich entered the room.
"How slow you are!" continued Iraida Lvovna without turning: "We thought you were changing clothes in honour of Lyolechka's arrival.."
Tsarevsky silently passed his sister the letter which he held unsealed in his hand.
"What does this mean?" she asked.
"Read it yourself," her brother said.
"Yes, but not right now?"
"Right now, out loud: I want to convince myself that my eyes haven't deceived me.."
"What is this? It couldn't be a letter from Zoya Mikhailovna, could it?" said Lyolechka with a grin.
"It would be interesting to know what that nice woman has written, but it's very courteous on Leonid's part, I think, to be so frank. As for me, of course, I wouldn't be particularly pleased if my personal correspondence were read out loud, but that's their business. Read it, read it, Iraida. I won't be able to eat breakfast until I know what it says.."
Iraida Lvovna silently raised her eyes to her brother, as if asking him with her glance whether she should read it. He nodded his head and, sitting at her side, covered his face with his hands.
"'Dear friend! Dear, kind, beloved Leonid Lvovich, when you read this I will no longer be among the living...' What!? Zoya has died? Zoya Lilienfeld is dead? It can't be! Whatever will we do? Can it be she killed herself? She wasn't ill, was she?"
"Read on!" said Leonid without parting his hands.
"I cannot read this awful letter," said Iraida, pushing the pages away with her fingertips.
"'Yes, my dear,"' continued Lyolechka, taking the letter from the table,
"'I will shoot myself today and will do it just as precisely and definitely as I have done everything in my life. There can be no question of missing. You will be very surprised when you learn that this very definiteness will serve to cause my death. In my art and in everything, absolutely everything, I see and understand everything to the end, to that end beyond which begins that which I have found totally inaccessible, that which I don't believe and don't want to believe. Perhaps beyond the series of wonderful rooms is the entrance to a country which has no end, but the door into it is completely closed to me, and everything I know, everything I do is related only to these rooms that I know in every petty detail. Perhaps to those who have been in that country the rooms don't seem so wonderful; they may not even be able to see them so clearly, but to me, an earthly recluse, everything is so hopelessly familiar, each chambered perfection is so accessible that, really, one couldn't find a more accurate, subtle, definite expert. But my life, my soul is a harmonious wasteland; it is a perfection of inanimate objects, and I feel that with each year, sharpening and perfecting myself, I become more dead. Life has become more and more unbearable for me, and even almost unamusing. I thought that love might animate it, but it turns out to be not enough. I ask your forgiveness for the fact that you came to love me, and besides that I to my shame am a woman and can burn only with an earthly light, being animated but not animating, repeating but not whispering; but you, no matter how strange it might seem, also need a person who could animate you."'
"Dear, dear, poor Leonid! How I pity you! And how I understand you, understand her and everything! Oh God, of course I'm not what I should be, I'm very foolish and weak, but perhaps I can do something, something for you.."
Elena Aleksandrovna moved her chair back noisily, went to Leonid Lvovich and, standing at his back, began to cry, embracing him and kissing his head.
"'I ask forgiveness for the fact that you came to love me, but I can't lead you anywhere: I can't lead you into my sad and harmonious wasteland, whose inevitable end is death, sooner that the heart stops?! Of course, no one would think this about the most elegant artist, who could attain any art and any flight of earthly fancy; for many, perhaps for everyone, my life will seem wonderful and harmonious, but you can't imagine how fruitless and empty it is! I kiss you, hard harder than ever before, and ask you to remember what I have written. But now, faced with the end of my life and of this letter, it's as if they were one and the same thing. I feel a doubt: does the land beyond the series of wonderful rooms exist? If it does not, then of course I am providing everyone with an example, because I knew how to live and I will know how to die.'"
Only Elena Aleksandrovna's quiet exclamations could be heard in the room when Orest Germanovich finished reading. But despite these sobs, the quiet seemed so great that when Lavrik began to speak his voice was heard by everyone not as Lavrik's voice, but somehow different, unheard-of; coming from God knows where, it said:
"No, she didn't know how to live, and she didn't even know how to die.."