An Unhappy Girl
AN UNHAPPY GIRL
Yes, yes, began Piotr Gavrilovitch; those were painful days... and I would rather not recall them.... But I have made you a promise; I shall have to tell you the whole story. Listen.
I was living at that time (the winter of 1835) in Moscow, in the house of my aunt, the sister of my dead mother. I was eighteen; I had only just passed from the second into the third course in the faculty 'of Language' (that was what it was called in those days) in the Moscow University. My aunt was a gentle, quiet woman — a widow. She lived in a big, wooden house in Ostozhonka, one of those warm, cosy houses such as, I fancy, one can find nowhere else but in Moscow. She saw hardly any one, sat from morning till night in the drawing-room with two companions, drank the choicest tea, a, played patience, and was continually requesting that the room should be fumigated. Thereupon her companions ran into the hall; a few minutes later an old servant in livery would bring in a copper pan with a bunch of mint on a hot brick, and stepping hurriedly upon the narrow strips of carpet, he would sprinkle the mint with vinegar. White fumes always puffed up about his wrinkled face, and he frowned and turned away, while the canaries in the dining-room chirped their hardest, exasperated by the hissing of the smouldering mint.
I was fatherless and motherless, and my aunt spoiled me. She placed the whole of the ground floor at my complete disposal. My rooms were furnished very elegantly, not at all like a student's rooms in fact: there were pink curtains in the bedroom, and a muslin canopy, adorned with blue rosettes, towered over my bed. Those rosettes were, I'll own, rather an annoyance to me; to my thinking, such 'effeminacies' were calculated to lower me in the eyes of my companions. As it was, they nicknamed me 'the boarding-school miss.' I could never succeed in forcing myself to smoke. I studied—why conceal my shortcomings?—very lazily, especially at the beginning of the course. I went out a great deal. My aunt had bestowed on me a wide sledge, fit for a general, with a pair of sleek horses. At the houses of 'the gentry' my visits were rare, but at the theatre I was quite at home, and I consumed masses of tarts at the restaurants. For all that, I permitted myself no breach of decorum, and behaved very discreetly, en jeune homme de bonne maison. I would not for anything in the world have pained my kind aunt; and besides I was naturally of a rather cool temperament. II
From my earliest years I had been fond of chess; I had no idea of the science of the game, but I didn't play badly. One day in a café, I was the spectator of a prolonged contest at chess, between two players, of whom one, a fair-haired young man of about five-and-twenty, struck me as playing well. The game ended in his favour; I offered to play a match with him. He agreed,... and in the course of an hour, beat me easily, three times running.
'You have a natural gift for the game,' he pronounced in a courteous tone, noticing probably that my vanity was suffering; 'but you don't know the openings. You ought to study a chess-book—Allgacir or Petrov.'
'Do you think so? But where can I get such a book?'
'Come to me; I will give you one.'
He gave me his name, and told me where he was living. Next day I went to see him, and a week later we were almost inseparable. III
My new acquaintance was called Alexander Davidovitch Fustov. He lived with his mother, a rather wealthy woman, the widow of a privy councillor, but he occupied a little lodge apart and lived quite independently, just as I did at my aunt's. He had a post in the department of Court affairs. I became genuinely attached to him. I had never in my life met a young man more 'sympathetic.' Everything about him was charming and attractive: his graceful figure, his bearing, his voice, and especially his small, delicate face with the golden-blue eyes, the elegant, as it were coquettishly moulded little nose, the unchanging amiable smile on the crimson lips, the light curls of soft hair over the rather narrow, snow-white brow. Fustov's character was remarkable for exceptional serenity, and a sort of amiable, restrained affability; he was never pre-occupied, and was always satisfied with everything; but on the other hand he was never ecstatic over anyth ing. Every excess, even in a good feeling, jarred upon him; 'that's savage, savage,' he would say with a faint shrug, half closing his golden eyes. Marvellous were those eyes of Fustov's! They invariably expressed sympathy, good-will, even devotion. It was only at a later period that I noticed that the expression of his eyes resulted solely from their setting, that it never changed, even when he was sipping his soup or smoking a cigar. His preciseness became a byword between us. His grandmother, indeed, had been a German. Nature had endowed him with all sorts of talents. He danced capitally, was a dashing horseman, and a first-rate swimmer; did carpentering, carving and joinery, bound books and cut out silhouettes, painted in watercolours nosegays of flowers or Napoleon in profile in a blue uniform; played the zither with feeling; knew a number of tricks, with cards and without; and had a fair knowledge of mechanics, physics, and chemistry; but everything only up to a certain point. Only for languages he had no great facility: even French he spoke rather badly. He spoke in general little, and his share in our students' discussions was mostly limited to the bright sympathy of his glance and smile. To the fair sex Fustov was attractive, undoubtedly, but on this subject, of such importance among young people, he did not care to enlarge, and fully deserved the nickname given him by his comrades, 'the discreet Don Juan.' I was not dazzled by Fustov; there was nothing in him to dazzle, but I prized his affection, though in reality it was only manifested by his never refusing to see me when I called. To my mind Fustov was the happiest man in the world. His life ran so very smoothly. His mother, brothers, sisters, aunts, and uncles all adored him, he was on exceptionally good terms with all of them, and enjoyed the reputation of a paragon in his family. IV
One day I went round to him rather early and did not find him in his study. He called to me from the next room; sounds of panting and splashing reached me from there. Every morning Fustov took a cold shower-bath and afterwards for a quarter of an hour practised gymnastic exercises, in which he had attained remarkable proficiency. Excessive anxiety about one's physical health he did not approve of, but he did not neglect necessary care. ('Don't neglect yourself, don't over-excite yourself, work in moderation,' was his precept.) Fustov had not yet made his appearan ce, when the outer door of the room where I was waiting flew wide open, and there walked in a man about fifty, wearing a bluish uniform. He was a stout, squarely-built man with milky-whitish eyes in a dark-red face and a perfect cap of thick, grey, curly hair. This person stopped short, looked at me, opened his mouth wide, and with a metallic chuckle, he gave himself a smart slap on his haunch, kicking his leg up in front as he did so.
'Ivan Demianitch?' my friend inquired through the door.
'The same, at your service,' the new comer responded. 'What are you up to? At your toilette? That's right! that's right!' (The voice of the man addressed as Ivan Demianitch had the same harsh, metallic note as his laugh.) 'I've trudged all this way to give your little brother his lesson; and he's got a cold, you know, and does nothing but sneeze. He can't do his work. So I've looked in on you for a bit to warm myself.'
Ivan Demianitch laughed again the same strange guffaw, again dealt himself a sounding smack on the leg, and pulling a check handkerchief out of his pocket, blew his nose noisily, ferociously rolling his eyes, spat into the handkerchief, and ejaculated with the whole force of his lungs: 'Tfoo-o-o!'
Fustov came into the room, and shaking hands with both of us, asked us if we were acquainted.
'Not a bit of it!' Ivan Demianitch boomed at once: 'the veteran of the year twelve has not that honour!'
Fustov mentioned my name first, then, indicating the 'veteran of the year twelve,' he pronounced: 'Ivan Demianitch Ratsch, professor of... various subjects.'
'Precisely so, various they are, precisely,' Mr. Ratsch chimed in. 'Come to think of it, what is there I haven't taught, and that I'm not teaching now, for that matter! Mathematics and geography and statistics and Italian book-keeping, ha-ha ha-ha! and music! You doubt it, my dear sir?'—he pounced suddenly upon me—'ask Alexander Daviditch if I'm not first-rate on the bassoon. I should be a poor sort of Bohemian—Czech, I should say—if I weren't! Yes, sir, I'm a Czech, and my native place is ancient Prague! By the way, Alexander Daviditch, why haven't we seen you for so long! We ought to have a little duet... ha-ha! Really!'
'I was at your place the day before yesterday, Ivan Demianitch,' replied Fustov.
'But I call that a long while, ha-ha!'
When Mr. Ratsch laughed, his white eyes shifted from side to side in a strange, restless way.
'You're surprised, young man, I see, at my behaviour,' he addressed me again. 'But that's because you don't understand my temperament. You must just ask our good friend here, Alexander Daviditch, to tell you about me. What'll he tell you? He'll tell you old Ratsch is a simple, good-hearted chap, a regular Russian, in heart, if not in origin, ha-ha! At his christening named Johann Dietrich, but always called Ivan Demianitch! What's in my mind pops out on my tongue; I wear my heart, as they say, on my sleeve. Ceremony of all sorts I know naught about and don't want to neither! Can't bear it! You drop in on me one day of an evening, and you'll see for yourself. My good woman—my wife, that is—has no nonsense about her either; she'll cook and bake you... something wonderful! Alexander Daviditch, isn't it the truth I'm telling?'
Fustov only smiled, and I remained silent.
'Don't look down on the old fellow, but come round,' pursued Mr. Ratsch. 'But now...' (he pulled a fat silver watch out of his pocket and put it up to one of his goggle eyes)'I'd better be toddling on, I suppose. I've another chick expecting me.... Devil knows what I'm teaching him,... mythology, by God! And he lives a long way off, the rascal, at the Red Gate! No matter; I'll toddle off on foot. Thanks to your brother's cutting his lesson, I shall be the fifteen kopecks for sledge hire to the good! Ha-ha! A very good day to you, gentlemen, till we meet again!... Eh?... We must have a little duet!' Mr. Ratsch bawled from the passage putting on his goloshes noisily, and for the last time we heard his metallic laugh. V
'What a strange man!' I said, turning to Fustov, who had already set to work at his turning-lathe. 'Can he be a foreigner? He speaks Russian so fluently.'
'He is a foreigner; only he's been thirty years in Russia. As long ago as 1802, some prince or other brought him from abroad... in the capacity of secretary... more likely, valet, one would suppose. He does speak Russian fluently, certainly.'
'With such go, such far-fetched turns and phrases,' I put in.
'Well, yes. Only very unnaturally too. They're all like that, these Russianised Germans.'
'But he's a Czech, isn't he?'
'I don't know; may be. He talks German with his wife.'
'And why does he call himself a veteran of the year twelve? Was he in the militia, or what?'
'In the militia! indeed! At the time of the fire he remained in Moscow and lost all his property.... That was all he did.'
'But what did he stay in Moscow for?'
Fustov still went on with his turning.
'The Lord knows. I have heard that he was a spy on our side; but that must be nonsense. But it's a fact that he received compensation from the treasury for his losses.'
'He wears some sort of uniform.... I suppose he's in government service then?'
'Yes. Professor in the cadet's corps. He has the rank of a petty councillor.'
'What's his wife like?'
'A German settled here, daughter of a sausagemaker... or butcher....'
'And do you often go to see him?'
'What, is it pleasant there?'
'Has he any children?'
'Yes. Three by the German, and a son and daughter by his first wife.'
'And how old is the eldest daughter?'
I fancied Fustov bent lower over his lathe, and the wheel turned more rapidly, and hummed under the even strokes of his feet.
'Is she good-looking?'
'That's a matter of taste. She has a remarkable face, and she's altogether... a remarkable person.'
'Aha!' thought I. Fustov continued his work with special earnestness, and to my next question he only responded by a grunt.
'I must make her acquaintance,' I decided. VI
A few days later, Fustov and I set off to Mr. Ratsch's to spend the evening. He lived in a wooden house with a big yard and garden, in Krivoy Place near the Pretchistensky boulevard. He came out into the passage, and meeting us with his characteristic jarring guffaw and noise, led us at once into the drawing-room, where he presented me to a stout lady in a skimpy canvas gown, Eleonora Karpovna, his wife. Eleonora Karpovna had most likely in her first youth been possessed of what the French for some unknown reason call beauté du diable, that is to say, freshness; but when I made her acquaintance, she suggested involuntarily to the mind a good-sized piece of meat, freshly laid by the butcher on a clean marble table. Designedly I used the word 'clean'; not only our hostess herself seemed a model of cleanline ss, but everything about her, everything in the house positively shone, and glittered; everything had been scoured, and polished, and washed: the samovar on the round table flashed like fire; the curtains before the windows, the table-napkins were crisp with starch, as were also the little frocks and shirts of Mr. Ratsch's four children sitting there, stout, chubby little creatures, exceedingly like their mother, with coarsely moulded, sturdy faces, curls on their foreheads, and red, shapeless fingers. All the four of them had rather flat noses, large, swollen-looking lips, and tiny, light-grey eyes.
'Here's my squadron!' cried Mr. Ratsch, laying his heavy hand on the children's heads one after another. 'Kolia, Olga, Sashka and Mashka! This one's eight, this one's seven, that one's four, and this one's only two! Ha! ha! ha! As you can see, my wife and I haven't wasted our time! Eh, Eleonora Karpovna?'
'You always say things like that,' observed Eleonora Karpovna and she turned away.
'And she's bestowed such Russian names on her squallers!' Mr. Ratsch pursued. 'The next thing, she'll have them all baptized into the Orthodox Church! Yes, by Jove! She's so Slavonic in her sympathies, 'pon my soul, she is, though she is of German blood! Eleonora Karpovna, are you Slavonic?'
Eleonora Karpovna lost her temper.
'I'm a petty councillor's wife, that's what I am! And so I'm a Russian lady and all you may say....'
'There, the way she loves Russia, it's simply awful!' broke in Ivan Demianitch. 'A perfect volcano, ho, ho!'
'Well, and what of it?' pursued Eleonora Karpovna. 'To be sure I love Russia, for where else could I obtain noble rank? And my children too are nobly born, you know. Kolia, sitze ruhig mit den Füssen!'
Ratsch waved his hand to her.
'There, there, princess, don't excite yourself! But where's the nobly born Viktor? To be sure, he's always gadding about! He'll come across the inspector one of these fine days! He'll give him a talking-to! Das ist ein Bummler, Fiktor!'
'Dem Fiktov kann ich nicht kommandiren, Ivan Demianitch. Sie wissen wohl!' grumbled Eleonora Karpovna.
I looked at Fustov, as though wishing finally to arrive at what induced him to visit such people... but at that instant there came into the room a tall girl in a black dress, the elder daughter of Mr. Ratsch, to whom Fustov had referred.... I perceived the explanation of my friend's frequent visits. VII
There is somewhere, I remember, in Shakespeare, something about 'a white dove in a flock of black crows'; that was just the impression made on me by the girl, who entered the room. Between the world surrounding her and herself there seemed to be too little in common; she herself seemed secretly bewildered and wondering how she had come there. All the members of Mr. Ratsch's family looked self-satisfied, simple-hearted, healthy creatures; her beautiful, but already careworn, face bore the traces of depression, pride and morbidity. The others, unmistakable plebeians, were unconstrained in their manners, coarse perhaps, but simple; but a painful uneasiness was manifest in all her indubitably aristocratic nature. In her very exterior there was no trace of the type characteristic of the German race; she recalled rather the children of the south. The excessively thick, lustreless black hair, the hollow, black, lifeless but beautiful eyes, the low, prominent brow, the aquiline nose, the livid pallor of the smooth skin, a certain tragic line near the delicate lips, and in the slightly sunken cheeks, something abrupt, and at the same time helpless in the movements, elegance without gracefulness... in Italy all this w ould not have struck me as exceptional, but in Moscow, near the Pretchistensky boulevard, it simply astonished me! I got up from my seat on her entrance; she flung me a swift, uneasy glance, and dropping her black eyelashes, sat down near the window 'like Tatiana.' (Pushkin's Oniegin was then fresh in every one's mind.) I glanced at Fustov, but my friend was standing with his back to me, taking a cup of tea from the plump hands of Eleonora Karpovna. I noticed further that the girl as she came in seemed to bring with her a breath of slight physical chillness.... 'What a statue!' was my thought. VIII
'Piotr Gavrilitch,' thundered Mr. Ratsch, turning to me, 'let me introduce you to my... to my... my number one, ha, ha, ha! to Susanna Ivanovna!'
I bowed in silence, and thought at once: 'Why, the name too is not the same sort as the others,' while Susanna rose slightly, without smiling or loosening her tightly clasped hands.
'And how about the duet?' Ivan Demianitch pursued: 'Alexander Daviditch? eh? benefactor! Your zither was left with us, and I've got the bassoon out of its case already. Let us make sweet music for the honourable company!' (Mr. Ratsch liked to display his Russian; he was continually bursting out with expressions, such as those which are strewn broadcast about the ultra-national poems of Prince Viazemsky.) 'What do you say? Carried?' cried Ivan Demianitch, seeing Fustov made no objection. 'Kolka, march into the study, and look sharp with the music-stand! Olga, this way with the zither! And oblige us with candles for the stands, better-half!' (Mr. Ratsch turned round and round in the room like a top.) 'Piotr Gavrilitch, you like music, hey? If you don't care for it, you must amuse yourself with conversation, only mind, not above a whisper! Ha, ha ha! But what ever's become of that silly chap, Viktor? He ought to be here to listen too! You spoil him completely, Eleonora Karpovna.'
Eleonora Karpovna fired up angrily.
'Aber was kann ich denn, Ivan Demianitch...'
'All right, all right, don't squabble! Bleibe ruhig, hast verstanden? Alexander Daviditch! at your service, sir!'
The children had promptly done as their father had told them. The music-stands were set up, the music began. I have already mentioned that Fustov played the zither extremely well, but that instrument has always produced the most distressing impression upon me. I have always fancied, and I fancy still, that there is imprisoned in the zither the soul of a decrepit Jew money-lender, and that it emits nasal whines and complaints against the merciless musician who forces it to utter sounds. Mr. Ratsch's performance, too, was not calculated to give me much pleasure; moreover, his face became suddenly purple, and assumed a malignant expression, while his whitish eyes rolled viciously, as though he were just about to murder some one with his bassoon, and were swearing and threatening by way of preliminary, puffing out chokingly husky, coarse notes one after another. I placed myself near Susanna, and waiting for a momentary pause, I asked her if she were as fond of music as her papa.
She turned away, as though I had given her a shove, and pronounced abruptly, 'Who?'
'Your father,' I repeated,'Mr. Ratsch.'
'Mr. Ratsch is not my father.'
'Not your father! I beg your pardon... I must have misunderstood... But I remember, Alexander Daviditch...'
Susanna looked at me intently and shyly.
'You misunderstood Mr. Fustov. Mr. Ratsch is my stepfather.'
I was silent for a while.
'And you don't care for music?' I began again.
Susanna glanced at me again. Undoubtedly there was something suggesting a wild creature in her eyes. She obviously had not expected nor desired the continuation of our conversation.
'I did not say that,' she brought out slowly. 'Troo-too-too-too-too-oo-oo...' the bassoon growled with startling fury, executing the final flourishes. I turned round, caught sight of the red neck of Mr. Ratsch, swollen like a boa-constrictor's, beneath his projecting ears, and very disgusting I thought him.
'But that... instrument you surely do not care for,' I said in an undertone.
'No... I don't care for it,' she responded, as though catching my secret hint.
'Oho!' thought I, and felt, as it were, delighted at something.
'Susanna Ivanovna,' Eleonora Karpovna announced suddenly in her German Russian, 'music greatly loves, and herself very beautifully plays the piano, only she likes not to play the piano when she is greatly pressed to play.'
Susanna made Eleonora Karpovna no reply—she did not even look at her—only there was a faint movement of her eyes, under their dropped lids, in her direction. From this movement alone—this movement of her pupils—I could perceive what was the nature of the feeling Susanna cherished for the second wife of her stepfather.... And again I was delighted at something.
Meanwhile the duet was over. Fustov got up and with hesitating footsteps approached the window, near which Susanna and I were sitting, and asked her if she had received from Lengold's the music that he had promised to order her from Petersburg.
'Selections from Robert le Diable,' he added, turning to me, 'from that new opera that every one's making such a fuss about.'
'No, I haven't got it yet,' answered Susanna, and turning round with her face to the window she whispered hurriedly. 'Please, Alexander Daviditch, I entreat you, don't make me play to-day. I don't feel in the mood a bit.'
'What's that? Robert le Diable of Meyer-beer?' bellowed Ivan Demianitch, coming up to us: 'I don't mind betting it's a first-class article! He's a Jew, and all Jews, like all Czechs, are born musicians. Especially Jews. That's right, isn't it, Susanna Ivanovna? Hey? Ha, ha, ha, ha!'
In Mr. Ratsch's last words, and this time even in his guffaw, there could be heard something more than his usual bantering tone—the desire to wound was evident. So, at least, I fancied, and so Susanna understood him. She started instinctively, flushed red, and bit her lower lip. A spot of light, like the gleam of a tear, flashed on her eyelash, and rising quickly, she went out of the room.
'Where are you off to, Susanna Ivanovna?' Mr. Ratsch bawled after her.
'Let her be, Ivan Demianitch, 'put in Eleonora Karpovna. 'Wenn sie einmal so et was im Kopfe hat...'
'A nervous temperament,'Ratsch pronounced, rotating on his heels, and slapping himself on the haunch, 'suffers with the plexus solaris. Oh! you needn't look at me like that, Piotr Gavrilitch! I've had a go at anatomy too, ha, ha! I'm even a bit of a doctor! You ask Eleonora Karpovna... I cure all her little ailments! Oh, I'm a famous hand at that!'
'You must for ever be joking, Ivan Demianitch,' the latter responded with displeasure, while Fustov, laughing and gracefully swaying to and fro, looked at the husband and wife.
'And why not be joking, mein Mütterchen?' retorted Ivan Demianitch. 'Life's given us for use, and still more for beauty, as some celebrated poet has observed. Kolka, wipe your nose, little savage!' IX
'I was put in a very awkward position this evening through your doing,' I said the same evening to Fustov, on the way home with him. 'You told me that that girl—what's her name?—Susanna, was the daughter of Mr. Ratsch, but she's his stepdaughter.'
'Really! Did I tell you she was his daughter? But... isn't it all the same?'
'That Ratsch,' I went on.... 'O Alexander, how I detest him! Did you notice the peculiar sneer with which he spoke of Jews before her? Is she... a Jewess?'
Fustov walked ahead, swinging his arms; it was cold, the snow was crisp, like salt, under our feet.
'Yes, I recollect, I did hear something of the sort,' he observed at last.... 'Her mother, I fancy, was of Jewish extraction.'
'Then Mr. Ratsch must have married a widow the first time?'
'H'm!... And that Viktor, who didn't come in this evening, is his stepson too?'
'No... he's his real son. But, as you know, I don't enter into other people's affairs, and I don't like asking questions. I'm not inquisitiv e.'
I bit my tongue. Fustov still pushed on ahead. As we got near home, I overtook him and peeped into his face.
'Oh!' I queried, 'is Susanna really so musical?'
'She plays the piano well, 'he said between his teeth. 'Only she's very shy, I warn you!' he added with a slight grimace. He seemed to be regretting having made me acquainted with her.
I said nothing and we parted. X
Next morning I set off again to Fustov's. To spend my mornings at his rooms had become a necessity for me. He received me cordially, as usual, but of our visit of the previous evening—not a word! As though he had taken water into his mouth, as they say. I began turning over the pages of the last number of the Telescope.
A person, unknown to me, came into the room. It turned out to be Mr. Ratsch's son, the Viktor whose absence had been censured by his father the evening before.
He was a young man, about eighteen, but already looked dissipated and unhealthy, wi th a mawkishly insolent grin on his unclean face, and an expression of fatigue in his swollen eyes. He was like his father, only his features were smaller and not without a certain prettiness. But in this very prettiness there was something offensive. He was dressed in a very slovenly way; there were buttons off his undergraduate's coat, one of his boots had a hole in it, and he fairly reeked of tobacco.
'How d'ye do,' he said in a sleepy voice, with those peculiar twitchings of the head and shoulders which I have always noticed in spoilt and conceited young men. 'I meant to go to the University, but here I am. Sort of oppression on my chest. Give us a cigar.' He walked right across the room, listlessly dragging his feet, and keeping his hands in his trouser-pockets, and sank heavily upon the sofa.
'Have you caught cold?' asked Fustov, and he introduced us to each other. We were both students, but were in different faculties.
'No!... Likely! Yesterday, I must own...' (here Ratsch junior smiled, again not without a certain prettiness, though he showed a set of bad teeth) 'I was drunk, awfully drunk. Yes'—he lighted a cigar and cleared his throat—'Obihodov's farewell supper.'
'Where's he going?'
'To the Caucasus, and taking his young lady with him. You know the black-eyed girl, with the freckles. Silly fool!'
'Your father was asking after you yesterday,' observed Fustov.
Viktor spat aside. 'Yes, I heard about it. You were at our den yesterday. Well, music, eh?'
'And she... with a new visitor' (here he pointed with his head in my direction) 'she gave herself airs, I'll be bound. Wouldn't play, eh?'
'Of whom are you speaking?' Fustov asked.
'Why, of the most honoured Susanna Ivanovna, of course!'
Viktor lolled still more comfortably, put his arm up round his head, gazed at his own hand, and cleared his throat hoarsely.
I glanced at Fustov. He merely shrugged his shoulders, as though giving me to understand that it was no use talking to such a dolt. XI
Viktor, staring at the ceiling, fell to talking, deliberately and through his nose, of the theatre, of two actors he knew, of a certain Serafrina Serafrinovna, who had 'made a fool' of him, of the new professor, R., whom he called a brute. 'Because, only fancy, what a monstrous notion! Every lecture he begins with calling over the students' names, and he's reckoned a liberal too! I'd have all your liberals locked up in custody!' and turning at last his full face and whole body towards Fustov, he brought out in a half-plaintive, half-ironical voice: 'I wanted to ask you something, Alexander Daviditch.... Couldn't you talk my governor round somehow?... You play duets with him, you know.... Here he gives me five miserable blue notes a month.... What's the use of that! Not enough for tobacco. And then he goes on about my not making debts! I should like to put him in my place, and then we should see! I don't come in for pensions, not like some people.' (Viktor pronounced these last words with peculiar emphasis.) 'But he's got a lot of tin, I know! It's no use his whining about hard times, there's no taking me in. No fear! He's made a snug little pile!'
Fustov looked dubiously at Victor.
'If you like,' he began, 'I'll speak to your father. Or, if you like... meanwhile... a trifling sum....'
'Oh, no! Better get round the governor... Though,' added Viktor, scratching his nose with all his fingers at once, 'you might hand over five-and-twenty roubles, if it's the same to you.... What's the blessed total I owe you?'
'You've borrowed eighty-five roubles of me.'
'Yes.... Well, that's all right, then... make it a hundred and ten. I'll pay it all in a lump.'
Fustov went into the next room, brought back a twenty-five-rouble note and handed it in silence to Viktor. The latter took it, yawned with his mouth wide open, grumbled thanks, and, shrugging and stretching, got up from the sofa.
'Foo! though... I'm bored,' he muttered, 'might as well turn in to the "Italie."'
He moved towards the door.
Fustov looked after him. He seemed to be struggling with himself.
'What pension were you alluding to just now, Viktor Ivanitch?' he asked at last.
Viktor stopped in the doorway and put on his cap.
'Oh, don't you know? Susanna Ivanovna's pension.... She gets one. An awfully curious story, I can tell you! I'll tell it you one of these days. Quite an affair, 'pon my soul, a queer affair. But, I say, the governor, you won't forget about the governor, please! His hide is thick, of course—German, and it's had a Russian tanning too, still you can get through it. Only, mind my step-mother Elenorka's nowhere about! Dad's afraid of her, and she wants to keep everything for her brats! But there, you know your way about! Good-bye!'
'Ugh, what a low beast that boy is!' cried Fustov, as soon as the door had slammed-to.
His face was burning, as though from the fire, and he turned away from me. I did not question him, and soon retired. XII
All that day I spent in speculating about Fustov, about Susanna, and about her relations. I had a vague feeling of something like a family drama. As far as I could judge, my friend was not indifferent to Susanna. But she? Did she care for him? Why did she seem so unhappy? And altogether, what sort of creature was she? These questions were continually recurring to my mind. An obscure but strong conviction told me that it would be no use to apply to Fustov for the solution of them. It ended in my setting off the next day alone to Mr. Ratsch's house.
I felt all at once very uncomfortable and confused directly I found myself in the dark little passage. 'She won't appear even, very likely,' flashed into my mind. 'I shall have to stop with the repulsive veteran and his cook of a wife.... And indeed, even if she does show herself, what of it? She won't even take part in the conversation.... She was anything but warm in her manner to me the other day. Why ever did I come?' While I was making these reflections, the little page ran to announce my presence, and in the adjoining room, after two or three wondering 'Who is it? Who, do you say?' I heard the heavy shuffling of slippers, the folding-door was slightly opened, and in the crack between its two halves was thrust the face of Ivan Demianitch, an unkempt and grim-looking face. It stared at me and its expression did not immediately change.... Evidently, Mr. Ratsch did not at once recognise me; but suddenly his cheeks grew rounder, his eyes narrower, and from his opening mouth, there burst, together with a guffaw, the exclamation: 'Ah! my dear sir! Is it you? Pray walk in!'
I followed him all the more unwillingly, because it seemed to me that this affable, goodhumoured Mr. Ratsch was inwardly wishing me at the devil. There was nothing to be done, however. He led me into the drawing-room, and in the drawing-room who should be sitting but Susanna, bending over an account-book? She glanced at me with her melancholy eyes, and very slightly bit the finger-nails of her left hand.... It was a habit of hers, I noticed, a habit peculiar to nervous people. There was no one else in the room.
'You see, sir,' began Mr. Ratsch, dealing himself a smack on the haunch, 'what you've found Susanna Ivanovna and me busy upon: we're at our accounts. My spouse has no great head for arithmetic, and I, I must own, try to spare my eyes. I can't read without spectacles, what am I to do? Let the young people exert themselves, ha-ha! That's the proper thing. But there's no need of haste.... More haste, worse speed in catching fleas, he-he!'
Susanna closed the book, and was about to leave the room.
'Wait a bit, wait a bit,' began Mr. Ratsch. 'It's no great matter if you're not in your best dress....' (Susanna was wearing a very old, almost childish, frock with short sleeves.) 'Our dear guest is not a stickler for ceremony, and I should like just to clear up last week.... You don't mind?'—he addressed me. 'We needn't stand on ceremony with you, eh?'
'Please don't put yourself out on my account!' I cried.
'To be sure, my good friend. As you're aware, the late Tsar Alexey Nikolavitch Romanoff used to say, "Time is for business, but a minute for recreation!" We'll devote one minute only to that same business... ha-ha! What about that thirteen roubles and thirty kopecks?' he added in a low voice, turning his back on me.
'Viktor took it from Eleonora Karpovna; he said that it was with your leave,' Susanna replied, also in a low voice.
'He said... he said... my leave...' growled Ivan Demianitch. 'I'm on the spot myself, I fancy. Might be asked. And who's had that seventeen roubles?'
'Oh... the upholsterer. What's that for?' 'His bill.'
'His bill. Show me!' He pulled the book away from Susanna, and planting a pair of round spectacles with silver rims on his nose, he began passing his finger along the lines. 'The upholsterer,.. the upholsterer... You'd chuck all the money out of doors! Nothing pleases you better!... Wie die Croaten! A bill indeed! But, after all,' he added aloud, and he turned round facing me again, and pulled the spectacles off his nose, 'why do this now? I can go into these wretched details later. Susanna Ivanovna, be so good as to put away that account-book, and come back to us and enchant our kind guest's ears with your musical accomplishments, to wit, playing on the pianoforte... Eh?'
Susanna turned away her head.
'I should be very happy,' I hastily observed; 'it would be a great pleasure for me to hear Susanna Ivanovna play. But I would not for anything in the world be a trouble...'
'Trouble, indeed, what nonsense! Now then, Susanna Ivanovna, eins, zwei, drei!'
Susanna made no response, and went out. XIII
I had not expected her to come back; but she quickly reappeared. She had not even changed her dress, and sitting down in a corner, she looked twice intently at me. Whether it was that she was conscious in my manner to her of the involuntary respect, inexplicable to myself, which, more than curiosity, more even than sympathy, she aroused in me, or whether she was in a softened frame of mind that day, any way, she suddenly went t o the piano, and laying her hand irresolutely on the keys, and turning her head a little over her shoulder towards me, she asked what I would like her to play. Before I had time to answer she had seated herself, taken up some music, hurriedly opened it, and begun to play. I loved music from childhood, but at that time I had but little comprehension of it, and very slight knowledge of the works of the great masters, and if Mr. Ratsch had not grumbled with some dissatisfaction, 'Aha! wieder dieser Beethoven!' I should not have guessed what Susanna had chosen. It was, as I found out afterwards, the celebrated sonata in F minor, opus 57. Susanna's playing impressed me more than I can say; I had not expected such force, such fire, such bold execution. At the very first bars of the intensely passionate allegro, the beginning of the sonata, I felt that numbness, that chill and sweet terror of ecstasy, which instantaneously enwrap the soul when beauty bursts with sudden flight upon it. I did not stir a limb till the very end. I kept, wanting—and not daring—to sigh. I was sitting behind Susanna; I could not see her face; I saw only from time to time her long dark hair tossed up and down on her shoulders, her figure swaying impulsively, and her delicate arms and bare elbows swiftly, and rather angularly, moving. The last notes died away. I sighed at last. Susanna still sat before the piano.
'Ja, ja,' observed Mr. Ratsch, who had also, however, listened with attention; 'romantische Musik! That's all the fashion nowadays. Only, why not play correctly? Eh? Put your finger on two notes at once—what's that for? Eh? To be sure, all we care for is to go quickly, quickly! Turns it out hotter, eh? Hot pancakes!' he bawled like a street seller.
Susanna turned slightly towards Mr. Ratsch. I caught sight of her face in profile. The delicate eyebrow rose high above the downcast eyelid, an unsteady flush overspread the cheek, the little ear was red under the lock pushed behind it.
'I have heard all the best performers with my own ears,' pursued Mr. Ratsch, suddenly frowning, 'and compared with the late Field they were all—tfoo! nil! zero!! Das war ein Kerl! Und ein so reines Spiel! And his own compositions the finest things! But all those now "tloo-too-too," and "tra-ta-ta," are written, I suppose, more for beginners. Da braucht man keine Delicatesse! Bang the keys anyhow... no matter! It'll turn out some how! Janitscharen Musik! Pugh!' (Ivan Demianitch wiped his forehead with his handkerchief.) 'But I don't say that for you, Susanna Ivanovna; you played well, and oughtn't to be hurt by my remarks.'
'Every one has his own taste,' Susanna said in a low voice, and her lips were trembling; 'but your remarks, Ivan Demianitch, you know, cannot hurt me.'
'Oh! of course not! Only don't you imagine'—Mr. Ratsch turned to me—'don't you imagine, my young friend, that that comes from our excessive good-nature and meekness of spirit; it's simply that we fancy ourselves so highly exalted that—oo-oo!—we can't keep our cap on our head, as the Russian proverb says, and, of course, no criticism can touch us. The conceit, my dear sir, the conceit!'
I listened in surprise to Mr. Ratsch. Spite, the bitterest spite, seemed as it were boiling over in every word he uttered.... And long it must have been rankling! It choked him. He tried to conclude his tirade with his usual laugh, and fell into a husky, broken cough instead. Susanna did not let drop a syllable in reply to him, only she shook her head, raised her face, and clasping her elbows with her hands, stared straight at him. In the depths of her fixed, wide-open eyes the hatred of long years lay smouldering with dim, unquenchable fire. I felt ill at ease.
'You belong to two different musical generations,' I began, with an effort at lightness, wishing by this lightness to suggest that I noticed nothing, 'and so it is not surprising that you do not agree in your opinions.... But, Ivan Demianitch, you must allow me to take rather... the side of the younger generation. I'm an outsider, of course; but I must confess nothing in music has ever made such an impression on me as the... as what Susanna Ivanovna has just played us.'
Ratsch pounced at once upon me.
'And what makes you suppose,' he roared, still purple from the fit of coughing, 'that we want to enlist you on our side? We don't want that at all! Freedom for the free, salvation for the saved! But as to the two generations, that's right enough; we old folks find it hard to get on with you young people, very hard! Our ideas don't agree in anything: neither in art, nor in life, nor even in morals; do they, Susanna Ivanovna?'
Susanna smiled a contemptuous smile.
'Especially in regard to morals, as you say, our ideas do not agree, and cannot agree,' she responded, and something menacing seemed to flit over her brows, while her lips were faintly trembling as before.
'Of course! of course!' Ratsch broke in, 'I'm not a philosopher! I'm not capable of... rising so superior! I'm a plain man, swayed by prejudices—oh yes!'
Susanna smiled again.
'I think, Ivan Demianitch, you too have sometimes been able to place yourself above what are called prejudices.'
'Wie so? How so, I mean? I don't know what you mean.'
'You don't know what I mean? Your memory's so bad!'
Mr. Ratsch seemed utterly taken aback.
'I... I...' he repeated, 'I...'
'Yes, you, Mr. Ratsch.'
There followed a brief silence.
'Really, upon my word...' Mr. Ratsch was beginning; 'how dare you... such insolence...'
Susanna all at once drew herself up to her full height, and still holding her elbows, squeezing them tight, drumming on them with her fingers, she stood still facing Ratsch. She seemed to challenge him to conflict, to stand up to meet him. Her face was changed; it became suddenly, in one instant, extraordinarily beautiful, and terrible too; a sort of bright, cold brilliance—the brilliance of steel—gleamed in her lustreless eyes; the lips that had been quivering were compressed in one straight, mercilessly stern line. Susanna challenged Ratsch, but he gazed blankly, and suddenly subsiding into silence, all of a heap, so to say, drew his head in, even stepped back a pace. The veteran of the year twelve was afraid; there could be no mistake about that.
Susanna slowly turned her eyes from him to me, as though calling upon me to witness her victory, and the humiliation of her foe, and, smiling once more, she walked out of the room.
The veteran remained a little while motionless in his arm-chair; at last, as though recollecting a forgotten part, he roused himself, got up, and, slapping me on the shoulder, laughed his noisy guffaw.
'There, 'pon my soul! fancy now, it's over ten years I've been living with that young lady, and yet she never can see when I'm joking, and when I'm in earnest! And you too, my young friend, are a little puzzled, I do believe.... Ha-ha-ha! That's because you don't know old Ratsch!'
'No.... I do know you now,' I thought, not without a feeling of some alarm and disgust.
'You don't know the old fellow, you don't know him,' he repeated, stroking himself on the stomach, as he accompanied me into the passage. 'I may be a tiresome person, knocked about by life, ha-ha! But I'm a good-hearted fellow, 'pon my soul, I am!'
I rushed headlong from the stairs into the street. I longed with all speed to get away from that good-hearted fellow. XIV
'They hate one another, that's clear,' I thought, as I returned homewards; 'there's no doubt either that he's a wretch of a man, and she's a good girl. But what has there been between them? What is the reason of this continual exasperation? What was the meaning of those hints? And how suddenly it broke out! On such a trivial pretext!'
Next day Fustov and I had arranged to go to the theatre, to see Shtchepkin in 'Woe from Wit.' Griboyedov's comedy had only just been licensed for performance after being first disfigured by the censors' mutilations. We warmly applauded Famusov and Skalozub. I don't remember what actor took the part of Tchatsky, but I well remember that he was indescribably bad. He made his first appearance in a Hungarian jacket, and boots with tassels, and came on later in a frockcoat of the colour 'flamme du punch,' then in fashion, and the frockcoat looked about as suitable as it would have done on our old butler. I recollect too that we were all in ecstasies over the ball in the third act. Though, probably, no one ever executed such steps in reality, it was accepted as correct and I believe it is acted in just the same way to-day. One of the gu ests hopped excessively high, while his wig flew from side to side, and the public roared with laughter. As we were coming out of the theatre, we jostled against Viktor in a corridor.
'You were in the theatre!' he cried, flinging his arms about. 'How was it I didn't see you? I'm awfully glad I met you. You must come and have supper with me. Come on; I'll stand the supper!'
Young Ratsch seemed in an excited, almost ecstatic, frame of mind. His little eyes darted to and fro; he was grinning, and there were spots of red on his face.
'Why this gleefulness?' asked Fustov.
'Why? Wouldn't you like to know, eh?' Viktor drew us a little aside, and pulling out of his trouser-pocket a whole bundle of the red and blue notes then in use waved them in the air.
Fustov was surprised.
'Has your governor been so liberal?'
'He liberal! You just try it on!... This morning, relying on your intercession, I asked him for cash. What do you suppose the old skinflint answered? "I'll pay your debts," says he, "if you like. Up to twenty-five roubles inclusive!" Do you hear, inclusive! No, sir, this was a gift from God in my destitution. A lucky chance.'
'Been robbing someone?' Fustov hazarded carelessly.
'Robbing, no indeed! I won it, won it from an officer, a guardsman. He only arrived from Petersburg yesterday. Such a chain of circumstances! It's worth telling... only this isn't the place. Come along to Yar's; not a couple of steps. I'll stand the show, as I said!'
We ought, perhaps, to have refused; but we followed without making any objection. XV
At Yar's we were shown into a private room; supper was served, champagne was brought. Viktor related to us, omitting no detail, how he had in a certain 'gay' house met this officer of the guards, a very nice chap and of good family, only without a hap'orth of brains; how they had made friends, how he, the officer that is, had suggested as a joke a game of 'fools' with Viktor with some old cards, for next to nothing, and with the condition that the officer's winnings should go to the benefit of Wilhelmina, but Viktor's to his own benefit; how afterwards they had got on to betting on the games.
'And I, and I,' cried Viktor, and he jumped up and clapped his hands, 'I hadn't more than six roubles in my pocket all the while. Fancy! And at first I was completely cleaned out.... A nice position! Only then—in answer to whose prayers I can't say—fortune smiled. The other fellow began to get hot and kept showing all his cards.... In no time he'd lost seven hundred and fifty roubles! He began begging me to go on playing, but I'm not quite a fool, I fancy; no, one mustn't abuse such luck; I popped on my hat and cut away. So now I've no need to eat humble pie with the governor, and can treat my friends.... Hi waiter! Another bottle! Gentlemen, let's clink glasses!'
We did clink glasses with Viktor, and continued drinking and laughing with him, though his story was by no means to our liking, nor was his society a source of any great satisfaction to us either. He began being very affable, playing the buffoon, unbending, in fact, and was more loathsome than ever. Viktor noticed at last the impression he was making on us, and began to get sulky; his remarks became more disconnected and his looks gloomier. He began yawning, announced that he was sleepy, and after swearing with his characteristic coarseness at the waiter for a badly cleaned pipe, he suddenly accosted Fustov, with a challenging expression on his distorted face.
'I say, Alexander Daviditch,' said he, 'you tell me, if you please, what do you look down on me for?'
'How so?' My friend was momentarily at a loss for a reply.
'I'll tell you how.... I'm very well aware that you look down on me, and that person does too' (he pointed at me with his finger), 'so there! As though you were yourself remarkable for such high and exalted principles, and weren't just as much a sinner as the rest of us. Worse even. Still waters... you know the proverb?'
Fustov turned rather red.
'What do you mean by that?' he asked.
'Why, I mean that I'm not blind yet, and I see very clearly everything that's going on under my nose.... And I have nothing against it: first it's not my principle to interfere, and secondly, my sister Susanna Ivanovna hasn't always been so exemplary herself.... Only, why look down on me?'
'You don't understand what you're babbling there yourself! You're drunk,' said Fustov, taking his overcoat from the wall. 'He's swindled some fool of his money, and now he's telling all sorts of lies!'
Viktor continued reclining on the sofa, and merely swung his legs, which were hanging over its arm.
'Swindled! Why did you drink the wine, then? It was paid for with the money I won, you know. As for lies, I've no need for lying. It's not my fault that in her past Susanna Ivanovna...'
'Hold your tongue!' Fustov shouted at him, 'hold your tongue... or...'
'You'll find out what. Come along, Piotr.'
'Aha!' pursued Viktor; 'our noble-hearted knight takes refuge in flight. He doesn't care to hear the truth, that's evident! It stings—the truth does, it seems!'
'Come along, Piotr,' Fustov repeated, completely losing his habitual coolness and self-possession.
'Let's leave this wretch of a boy!'
'The boy's not afraid of you, do you hear,' Viktor shouted after us, 'he despises you, the boy does! Do you hear!'
Fustov walked so quickly along the street that I had difficulty in keeping up with him. All at once he stopped short and turned sharply back.
'Where are you going?' I asked.
'Oh, I must find out what the idiot.... He's drunk, no doubt, God knows what.... Only don't you follow me... we shall see each other to-morrow. Good-bye!'
And hurriedly pressing my hand, Fustov set off towards Yar's hotel.
Next day I missed seeing Fustov; and on the day after that, on going to his rooms, I learned that he had gone into the country to his uncle's, near Moscow. I inquired if he had left no note for me, but no note was forth-coming. Then I asked the servant whether he knew how long Alexander Daviditch would be away in the country. 'A fortnight, or a little more, probably,' replied the man. I took at any rate Fustov's exact address, and sauntered home, meditating deeply. This unexpected absence from Moscow, in the winter, completed my utter perplexity. My good aunt observed to me at dinner that I seemed continually expecting something, and gazed at the cabbage pie as though I were beholding it for the first time in my life. 'Pierre, vous n'êtes pas amoureux?' she cried at last, having previously got rid of her companions. But I reassured her: no, I was not in love. XVI
Three days passed. I had a secret prompting to go to the Ratschs'. I fancied that in their house I should be sure to find a solution of all that absorbed my mind, that I could not make out.... But I should have had to meet the veteran.... That thought pulled me up. One tempestuous evening—the February wind was howling angrily outside, the frozen snow tapped at the window from time to time like coarse sand flung by a mighty hand—I was sitting in my room, trying to read. My servant came, and, with a mysterious air, announced that a lady wished to see me. I was surprised... ladies did not visit me, especially at such a late hour; however, I told him to show her in. The door opened and with swift step there walked in a woman, muffled up in a light summer cloak and a yellow shawl. Abruptly she cast off the cloak and the shawl, which were covered with snow, and I saw standing before me Susanna. I was so astonished that I did not utter a word, while she went up to the window, and leaning her shoulder against the wall, remained motionless; only her bosom heaved convulsively and her eyes moved restlessly, and the breath came with a faint moan from her white lips. I realised that it was no slight trouble that had brought her to me; I realised, for all my youth and shallowness, that at that instant before my eyes the fate of a whole life was being decided—a bitter and terrible fate.
'Susanna Ivanovna,' I began, 'how...'
She suddenly clutched my hand in her icy fingers, but her voice failed her. She gave a broken sigh and looked down. Her heavy coils of black hair fell about her face.... The snow had not melted from off it.
'Please, calm yourself, sit down,' I began again, 'see here, on the sofa. What has happened? Sit down, I entreat you.'
'No,' she articulated, scarcely audibly, and she sank on to the window-seat. 'I am all right here.... Let me be.... You could not expect... but if you knew... if I could... if...'
She tried to control herself, but the tears flowed from her eyes with a violence that shook her, and sobs, hurried, devouring sobs, filled the room. I felt a tightness at my heart.... I was utterly stupefied. I had seen Susanna only twice; I had conjectured that she had a hard life, but I had regarded her as a proud girl, of strong character, and all at once these violent, despairing tears.... Mercy! Why, one only weeps like that in the presence of death!
I stood like one condemned to death myself.
'Excuse me,' she said at last, several times, almost angrily, wiping first one eye, then the other. 'It'll soon be over. I've come to you....' She was still sobbing, but without tears. 'I've come.... You know that Alexander Daviditch has gone away?'
In this single question Susanna revealed everything, and she glanced at me, as though she would say: 'You understand, of course, you will have pity, won't you?' Unhappy girl! There was no other course left her then!
I did not know what answer to make....
'He has gone away, he has gone away... he believed him!' Susanna was saying meanwhile. 'He did not care even to question me; he thought I should not tell him all the truth, he could think that of me! As though I had ever deceived him!'
She bit her lower lip, and bending a little, began to scratch with her nail the patterns of ice that covered the window-pane. I went hastily into the next room, and sending my servant away, came back at once and lighted another candle. I had no clear idea why I was doing all this.... I was greatly overcome. Susanna was sitting as before on the window-seat, and it was at this moment that I noticed how lightly she was dressed: a grey gown with white buttons and a broad leather belt, that was all. I went up to her, but she did not take any notice of me.
'He believed it,... he believed it,' she whispered, swaying softly from side to side. 'He did not hesitate, he dealt me this last... last blow!' She turned suddenly to me. 'You know his address?'
'Yes, Susanna Ivanovna.. I learnt it from his servants... at his house. He told me nothing of his intention; I had not seen him for two days—went to inquire and he had already left Moscow.'
'You know his address?' she repeated. 'Well, write to him then that he has killed me. You are a good man, I know. He did not talk to you of me, I dare say, but he talked to me about you. Write... ah, write to him to come back quickly, if he wants to find me alive!... No! He will not find me!...'
Susanna's voice grew quieter at each word, and she was quieter altogether. But this calm seemed to me more awful than the previous sobs.
'He believed him,...' she said again, and rested her chin on her clasped hands.
A sudden squall of wind beat upon the window with a sharp whistle and a thud of snow. A cold draught passed over the room.... The candles flickered.... Susanna shivered. Again I begged her to sit on the sofa.
'No, no, let me be,' she answered, 'I am all right here. Please.' She huddled up to the frozen pane, as though she had found herself a refuge in the recesses of the window. 'Please.'
'But you're shivering, you're frozen,' I cried, 'Look, your shoes are soaked.'
'Let me be... please...' she whispered,. and closed her eyes.
A panic seized me.
'Susanna Ivanovna!' I almost screamed: 'do rouse yourself, I entreat you! What is the matter with you? Why such despair? You will see, every thing will be cleared up, some misunderstanding... some unlooked-for chance.... You will see, he will soon be back. I will let him know.... I will write to him to-day.... But I will not repeat your words.... Is it possible!'
'He will not find me,' Susanna murmured, still in the same subdued voice. 'Do you suppose I would have come here, to you, to a stranger, if I had not known I should not long be living? Ah, all my past has been swept away beyond return! You see, I could not bear to die so, in solitude, in silence, without saying to some one, "I've lost every thing... and I'm dying.... Look!"'
She drew back into her cold little corner.... Never shall I forget that head, those fixed eyes with their deep, burnt-out look, those dark, disordered tresses against the pale window-pane, even the grey, narrow gown, under every fold of which throbbed such young, passionate life!
Unconsciously I flung up my hands.
'You... you die, Susanna Ivanovna! You have only to live.... You must live!'
She looked at me.... My words seemed to surprise her.
'Ah, you don't know,' she began, and she softly dropped both her hands. 'I cannot live, Too much, too much I have had to suffer, too much! I lived through it.... I hoped... but now... when even this is shattered... when...'
She raised her eyes to the ceiling and seemed to sink into thought. The tragic line, which I had once noticed about her lips, came out now still more clearly; it seemed to spread across her whole face. It seemed as though some relentless hand had drawn it immutably, had set a mark for ever on this lost soul.
She was still silent.
'Susanna Ivanovna,' I said, to break that awful silence with anything; 'he will come back, I assure you!'
Susanna looked at me again.
'What do you say?' she enunciated with visible effort.
'He will come back, Susanna Ivanovna, Alexander will come back!'
'He will come back?' she repeated. 'But even if he did come back, I cannot forgive him this humiliation, this lack of faith....'
She clutched at her head.
'My God! my God! what am I saying, and why am I here? What is it all? What... what did I come to ask... and whom? Ah, I am going mad!...'
Her eyes came to a rest.
'You wanted to ask me to write to Alexander,' I made haste to remind her.
'Yes, write, write to him... what you like.... And here...' She hurriedly fumbled in her pocket and brought out a little manuscript book. 'This I was writing for him... before he ran away.... But he believed... he believed him!'
I understood that her words referred to Viktor; Susanna would not mention him, would not utter his detested name.
'But, Susanna Ivanovna, excuse me,' I began, 'what makes you suppose that Alexander Daviditch had any conversation... with that person?'
'What? Why, he himself came to me and told me all about it, and bragged of it... and laughed just as his father laughs! Here, here, take it,' she went on, thrusting the manuscript into my hand, 'read it, send it to him, burn it, throw it away, do what you like, as you please.... But I can't die like this with no one knowing.... Now it is time.... I must go.'
She got up from the window-seat.... I stopped her.
'Where are you going, Susanna Ivanovna, mercy on us! Listen, what a storm is raging! You are so lightly dressed.... And your home is not near here. Let me at least go for a carriage, for a sledge....'
'No, no, I want nothing,' she said resolutely, repelling me and taking up her cloak and shawl. 'Don't keep me, for God's sake! or... I can't answer for anything! I feel an abyss, a dark abyss under my feet.... Don't come near me, don't touch me!' With feverish haste she put on her cloak, arranged her shawl.... 'Good-bye... good-bye.... Oh, my unhappy people, for ever strangers, a curse lies upon us! No one has ever cared for me, was it likely he...' She suddenly ceased. 'No; one man loved me,' she began again, wringing her hands, 'but death is all about me, death and no escape! Now it is my turn.... Don't come after me,' she cried shrilly. 'Don't come! don't come!'
I was petrified, while she rushed out; and an instant later, I heard the slam downstairs of the heavy street door, and the window panes shook again under the violent onslaught of the blast.
I could not quickly recover myself. I was only beginning life in those days: I had had no experience of passion nor of suffering, and had rarely witnessed any manifestation of strong feeling in others.... But the sincerity of this suffering, of this passion, impressed me. If it had not been for the manuscript in my hands, I might have thought that I had dreamed it all—it was all so unlikely, and swooped by like a passing storm. I was till midnight reading the manuscript. It consisted of several sheets of letter-paper, closely covered with a large, irregular writing, almost without an erasure. Not a single line was quite straight, and one seemed in every one of them to feel the excited trembling of the hand that held the pen. Here follows what was in the manuscript. I have kept it to this day. XVII MY STORY
I am this year twenty-eight years old. Here are my earliest recollections; I was living in the Tambov province, in the country house of a rich landowner, Ivan Matveitch Koltovsky, in a small room on the second storey. With me lived my mother, a Jewess, daughter of a dead painter, who had come from abroad, a woman always ailing, with an extraordinarily beautiful face, pale as wax, and such mournful eyes, that sometimes when she gazed long at me, even without looking at her, I was aware of her sorrowful, sorrowful eyes, and I would b urst into tears and rush to embrace her. I had tutors come to me; I had music lessons, and was called 'miss.' I dined at the master's table together with my mother. Mr. Koltovsky was a tall, handsome old man with a stately manner; he always smelt of ambre. I stood in mortal terror of him, though he called me Suzon and gave me his dry, sinewy hand to kiss under its lace-ruffles. With my mother he was elaborately courteous, but he talked little even with her. He would say two or three affable words, to which she promptly made a hurried answer; and he would be silent and sit looking about him with dignity, and slowly picking up a pinch of Spanish snuff from his round, golden snuff-box with the arms of the Empress Catherine on it.
My ninth year has always remained vivid in my memory.... I learnt then, from the maids in the servants' room, that Ivan Matveitch Koltovsky was my father, and almost on the same day, my mother, by his command, was married to Mr. Ratsch, who was something like a steward to him. I was utterly unable to comprehend the possibility of such a thing, I was bewildered, I was almost ill, my brain suffered under the strain, my mind was overclouded. 'Is it true, is it true, mamma,' I asked her, 'that scented bogey' (that was my name for Ivan Matveitch) 'is my father?' My mother was terribly scared, she shut my mouth.... 'Never speak to any one of that, do you hear, Susanna, do you hear, not a word!'... she repeated in a shaking voice, pressing my head to her bosom.... And I never did speak to any one of it.... That prohibition of my mother's I understood.... I understood that I must be silent, that my mother begged my forgiveness!
My unhappiness began from that day. Mr. Ratsch did not love my mother, and she did not love him. He married her for money, and she was obliged to submit. Mr. Koltovsky probably considered that in this way everything had been arranged for the best, la position était régularisée. I remember the day before the marriage my mother and I—both locked in each other's arms—wept almost the whole morning—bitterly, bitterly—and silently. It is not strange that she was silent.... What could she say to me? But that I did not question her shows that unhappy children learn wisdom sooner than happy ones... to their cost.
Mr. Koltovsky continued to interest himself in my education, and even by degrees put me on a more intimate footing. He did not talk to me... but morning and evening, after flicking the snuff from his jabot with two fingers, he would with the same two fingers—always icy cold—pat me on the cheek and give me some sort of dark-coloured sweetmeats, also smelling of ambre, which I never ate. At twelve years old I became his reader—-sa petite lectrice. I read him French books of the last century, the memoirs of Saint Simon, of Mably, Renal, Helvetius, Voltaire's correspondence, the encyclopedists, of course without understanding a word, even when, with a smile and a grimace, he ordered me, 'relire ce dernier paragraphe, qui est bien remarquable!' Ivan Matveitch was completely a Frenchman. He had lived in Paris till the Revolution, remembered Marie Antoinette, and had received an invitation to Trianon to see her. He had also seen Mirabeau, who, according to his account, wore very large buttons—exagéré en tout, and was altogether a man of mauvais ton, en dépit de sa naissance! Ivan Matveitch, however, rarely talked of that time; but two or three times a year, addressing himself to the crooked old emigrant whom he had taken into his house, and called for some unknown reason 'M. le Commandeur,' he recited in his deliberate, nasal voice, the impromptu he had once delivered at a soiree of the Duchesse de Polignac. I remember only the first two lines.... It had reference to a comparison between the Russians and the French:
'L'aigle se plait aux regions austères Ou le ramier ne saurait habiter...'
'Digne de M. de Saint Aulaire!' M. le Commandeur would every time exclaim.
Ivan Matveitch looked youngish up to the time of his death: his cheeks were rosy, his teeth white, his eyebrows thick and immobile, his eyes agreeable and expressive, clear, black eyes, perfect agate. He was not at all unreasonable, and was very courteous with every one, even with the servants.... But, my God! how wretched I was with him, with what joy I always left him, what evil thoughts confounded me in his presence! Ah, I was not to blame for them!... I was not to blame for what they had made of me....
Mr. Ratsch was, after his marriage, assigned a lodge not far from the big house. I lived there with my mother. It was a cheerless life I led there. She soon gave birth to a son, Viktor, this same Viktor whom I have every right to think and to call my enemy. From the time of his birth my mother never regained her health, which had always been weak. Mr. Ratsch did not think fit in those days to keep up such a show of good spirits as he maintains now: he always wore a morose air and tried to pass for a busy, hard-working person. To me he was cruel and rude. I felt relief when I retired from Ivan Matveitch's presence; but my own home too I was glad to leave.... Unhappy was my youth! For ever tossed from one shore to the other, with no desire to anchor at either! I would run across the courtyard in winter, through the deep snow, in a thin frock—run to the big house to read to Ivan Matveitch, and as it were be glad to go.... But when I was there, when I saw those great cheerless rooms, the bright-coloured, upholstered furniture, that courteous and heartless old man in the open silk wadded jacket, in the white jabot and white cravat, with lace ruffles falling over his fingers, with a soupçon of powder (so his valet expressed it) on his combed-back hair, I felt choked by the stifling scent of ambre, and my heart sank. Ivan Matveitch usually sat in a large low chair; on the wall behind his head hung a picture, representing a young woman, with a bright and bold expression of face, dressed in a sumptuous Hebrew costume, and simply covered with precious stones, with diamonds.... I often stole a glance at this picture, but only later on I learned that it was the portrait of my mother, painted by her father at Ivan Matveitch's request. She had changed indeed since those days! Well had he succeeded in subduing and crushing her! 'And she loved him! Loved that old man!' was my thought.... 'How could it be! Love him!' And yet, when I recalled some of my mother's glances, some half-uttered phrases and unconscious gestures.... 'Yes, yes, she did love him!' I repeated with horror. Ah, God, spare others from knowing aught of such feelings!
Every day I read to Ivan Matveitch, sometimes for three or four hours together.... So much reading in such a loud voice was harmful to me. Our doctor was anxious about my lungs and even once communicated his fears to Ivan Matveitch. But the old man only smiled—no; he never smiled, but somehow sharpened and moved forward his lips—and told him: 'Vous ne savez pas ce qu'il y a de ressources dans cette jeunesse.' 'In former years, however, M. le Commandeur,'... the doctor ventured to observe. Ivan Matveitch smiled as before. 'Vous rêvez, mon cher,' he interposed: 'le commandeur n'a plus de dents, et il crache à chaque mot. J'aime les voix jeunes.'
And I still went on reading, though my cough was very troublesome in the mornings and at night.... Sometimes Ivan Matveitch made me play the piano. But music always had a soporific influence on his nerves. His eyes closed at once, his head nodded in time, and only rarely I heard, 'C'est du Steibelt, n'est-ce pas? Jouez-moi du Steibelt!' Ivan Matveitch looked upon Steibelt as a great genius, who had succeeded in overcoming in himself 'la grossière lourdeur des Allemands,' and only found fault with him for one thing: 'trop de fougue! trop d'imagination!'... When Ivan Matveitch noticed that I was tired from playing he would offer me 'du cachou de Bologne.' So day after day slipped by....
And then one night—a night never to be forgotten!—a terrible calamity fell upon me. My mother died almost suddenly. I was only just fifteen. Oh, what a sorrow that was, with what cruel violence it swooped down upon me! How terrified I was at that first meeting with death! My poor mother! Strange were our relations; we passionately loved each other... passionately and hopelessly; we both as it were treasured up and hid from each other our common secret, kept obstinately silent about it, though we knew all that was passing at the bottom of our hearts! Even of the past, of her own early past, my mother never spoke to me, and she never complained in words, though her whole being was nothing but one dumb complaint. We avoided all conversation of any seriousness. Alas! I kept hoping that the hour would come, and she would open her heart at last, and I too should speak out, and both of us would be more at ease.... But the daily little cares, her irresolute, shrinking temper, illnesses, the presence of Mr. Ratsch, and most of all the eternal question,—what is the use? and the relentless, unbroken flowing away of time, of life.... All was ended as though by a clap of thunder, and the words which would have loosed us from the burden of our secret—even the last dying words of leave-taking—I was not destined to hear from my mother! All that is left in my memory is Mr. Ratsch's calling, 'Susanna Ivanovna, go, please, your mother wishes to give you her blessing!' and then the pale hand stretched out from the heavy counterpane, the agonised breathing, the dying eyes.... Oh, enough! enough!
With what horror, with what indignation and piteous curiosity I looked next day, and on the day of the funeral, into the face of my father... yes, my father! In my dead mother's writing-case were found his letters. I fancied he looked a little pale and drawn... but no! Nothing was stirring in that heart of stone. Exactly as before, he summoned me to his room, a week later; exactly in the same voice he asked me to read: 'Si vous le voulez bien, les observations sur l'histoire de France de Mably, à la page 74... là où nous avons ètè interrompus.' And he had not even had my mother's portrait moved! On dismissing me, he did indeed call me to him, and giving me his hand to kiss a second time, he observed: 'Suzanne, la mort de votre mère vous a privée de votre appui naturel; mais vous pourrez toujours compter sur ma protection,' but with the other hand he gave me at once a slight push on the shoulder, and, with the sharpening of the corners of the mouth habitual with him, he added, 'Allez, mon enfant.' I longed to shriek at him: 'Why, but you know you're my father!' but I said nothing and left the room.
Next morning, early, I went to the graveyard. May had come in all its glory of flowers and leaves, and a long while I sat on the new grave. I did not weep, nor grieve; one thought was filling my brain: 'Do you hear, mother? He means to extend his protection to me, too!' And it seemed to me that my mother ought not to be wounded by the smile which it instinctively called up on my lips.
At times I wonder what made me so persistently desire to wring—not a confession... no, indeed! but, at least, one warm word of kinship from Ivan Matveitch? Didn't I know what he was, and how little he was like all that I pictured in my dreams as a father!... But I was so lonely, so alone on earth! And then, that thought, ever recurring, gave me no rest: 'Did not she love him? She must have loved him for something?'
Three years more slipped by. Nothing changed in the monotonous round of life, marked out and arranged for us. Viktor was growing into a boy. I was eight years older and would gladly have looked after him, but Mr. Ratsch opposed my doing so. He gave him a nurse, who had orders to keep strict watch that the child was not 'spoilt,' that is, not to allow me to go near him. And Viktor himself fought shy of me. One day Mr. Ratsch came into my room, perturbed, excited, and angry. On the previous evening unpleasant rumours had reached me about my stepfather; the servants were talking of his having been caught embezzling a considerable sum of money, and taking bribes from a merchant.
'You can assist me,' he began, tapping impatiently on the table with his fingers. 'Go and speak for me to Ivan Matveitch.'
'Speak for you? On what ground? What about?'
'Intercede for me.... I'm not like a stranger any way... I'm accused... well, the fact is, I may be left without bread to eat, and you, too.'
'But how can I go to him? How can I disturb him?'
'What next! You have a right to disturb him!'
'What right, Ivan Demianitch?'
'Come, no humbug.... He cannot refuse you, for many reasons. Do you mean to tell me you don't understand that?'
He looked insolently into my eyes, and I felt my cheeks simply burning. Hatred, contempt, rose up within me, surged in a rush upon me, drowning me.
'Yes, I understand you, Ivan Demianitch,' I answered at last—my own voice seemed strange to me—'and I am not going to Ivan Matveitch, and I will not ask him for anything. Bread, or no bread!'
Mr. Ratsch shivered, ground his teeth, and clenched his fists.
'All right, wait a bit, your highness!' he muttered huskily. 'I won't forget it!'
That same day, Ivan Matveitch sent for him, and, I was told, shook his cane at him, the very cane which he had once exchanged with the Duc de la Rochefoucauld, and cried, 'You be a scoundrel and extortioner! I put you outside!' Ivan Matveitch could hardly speak Russian at all, and despised our 'coarse jargon,' ce jargon vulgaire et rude. Some one once said before him, 'That same's self-understood.' Ivan Matveitch was quite indignant, and often afterwards quoted the phrase as an example of the senselessness and absurdity of the Russian tongue. 'What does it mean, that same's self-understood?' he would ask in Russian, with emphasis on each syllable. 'Why not simply that's understood, and why same and self?'
Ivan Matveitch did not, however, dismiss Mr. Ratsch, he did not even deprive him of his position. But my stepfather kept his word: he never forgot it.
I began to notice a change in Ivan Matveitch. He was low-spirited, depressed, his health broke down a little. His fresh, rosy face grew yellow and wrinkled; he lost a front tooth. He quite ceased going out, and gave up the reception-days he had established for the peasants, without the assistance of the priest, sans le concours du clergé. On such days Ivan Matveitch had been in the habit of going in to the peasants in the hall or on the balcony, with a rose in his buttonhole, and putting his lips to a silver goblet of vodka, he would make them a speech something like this: 'You are content with my actions, even as I am content with your zeal, whereat I rejoice truly. We are all brothers; at our birth we are equal; I drink your health!' He bowed to them, and the peasants bowed to him, but only from the waist, no prostrating themselves to the ground, that was strictly forbidden. The peasants were entertained with good cheer as before, but Ivan Matveitch no longer showed himself to his subjects. Sometimes he interrupted my reading with exclamations: 'La machine se détraque! Cela se gâte!' Even his eyes—those bright, stony eyes—began to grow dim and, as it were, smaller; he dozed oftener than ever and breathed hard in his sleep. His manner with me was unchanged; only a shade of chivalrous deference began to be perceptible in it. He never failed to get up—though with difficulty—from his chair when I came in, conducted me to the door, supporting me with his hand under my elbow, and instead of Suzon began to call me sometimes, 'ma chère demoiselle,' sometimes, 'mon Antigone.' M. le Commandeur died two years after my mother's death; his death seemed to affect Ivan Matveitch far more deeply. A contemporary had disappeared: that was what distressed him. And yet in later years M. le Commandeur's sole service had consisted in crying, 'Bien joué, mal réussi!' every time Ivan Matveitch missed a stroke, playing billiards with Mr. Ratsch; though, indeed, too, when Ivan Matveitch addressed him at table with some such question as: 'N'est-ce pas, M. le Commandeur, c'est Montesquieu qui a dit cela dans ses Lettres Persanes?' he had still, sometimes dropping a spoonful of soup on his ruffle, responded profoundly: 'Ah, Monsieur de Montesquieu? Un grand écrivain, monsieur, un grand écrivain!' Only once, when Ivan Matveitch told him that 'les théophilanthropes ont eu pourtant du bon!' the old man cried in an excited voice, 'Monsieur de Kolontouskoi' (he hadn't succeeded in the course of twenty years in learning to pronounce his patron's name correctly), 'Monsieur de Kolontouskoi! Leur fondateur, l'instigateur de cette secte, ce La Reveillère Lepeaux était un bonnet rouge!' 'Non, non,' said Ivan Matveitch, smiling and rolling together a pinch of snuff: 'des fleurs, des jeunes vierges, le culte de la Nature... ils out eu du bon, ils out eu du bon!'...I was always surprised at the extent of Ivan Matveitch's knowledge, and at the uselessness of his knowledge to himself.
Ivan Matveitch was perceptibly failing, but he still put a good face on it. One day, three weeks before his death, he had a violent attack of giddiness just after dinner. He sank into thought, said, 'C'est la fin,' and pulling himself together with a sigh, he wrote a letter to Petersburg to his sole heir, a brother with whom he had had no intercourse for twenty years. Hearing that Ivan Matveitch was unwell, a neighbour paid him a visit—a German, a Catholic—once a distinguished physician, who was living in retirement in his little place in the country. He was very rarely at Ivan Matveitch's, but the latter always received him with special deference, and in fact had a great respect for him. He was almost the only person in the world he did respect. The old man advised Ivan Matveitch to send for a priest, but Ivan Matveitch responded that 'ces messieurs et moi, nous n'avons rien à nous dire,' and begged him to change the subject. On the neighbour's departure, he gave his valet orders to admit no one in future.
Then he sent for me. I was frightened when I saw him; there were blue patches under his eyes, his face looked drawn and stiff, his jaw hung down. 'Vous voila grande, Suzon,' he said, with difficulty articulating the consonants, but still trying to smile (I was then nineteen), 'vous allez peut-être bientót rester seule. Soyez toujours sage et vertueuse. C'est la dernière récommandation d'un'—he coughed—'d'un vieillard qui vous veut du bien. Je vous ai recommandé à mon frère et je ne doute pas qu'il ne respecte mes volontés....' He coughed again, and anxiously felt his chest. 'Du reste, j'esèpre encore pouvoir faire quelque chose pour vous... dans mon testament.' This last phrase cut me to the heart, like a knife. Ah, it was really too... too contemptuous and insulting! Ivan Matveitch probably ascribed to some other feeling—to a feeling of grief or gratitude—what was expressed in my face, and as though wishing to comfort me, he patted me on the shoulder, at the same time, as usual, gently repelling me, and observed: 'Voyons, mon enfant, du courage! Nous sommes tous mortels! Et puis il n'y a pas encore de danger. Ce n'est qu'une précaution que j'ai cru devoir prendre.... Allez!'
Again, just as when he had summoned me after my mother's death, I longed to shriek at him, 'But I'm your daughter! your daughter!' But I thought in those words, in that cry of the heart, he would doubtless hear nothing but a desire to assert my rights, my claims on his property, on his money.... Oh, no, for nothing in the world would I say a word to this man, who had not once mentioned my mother's name to me, in whose eyes I was of so little account that he did not even trouble himself to ascertain whether I was aware of my parentage! Or, perhaps, he suspected, even knew it, and did not wish 'to raise a dust' (a favourite saying of his, almost the only Russian expression he ever used), did not care to deprive himself of a good reader with a young voice! No! no! Let him go on wronging his daughter, as he had wronged her mother! Let him carry both sins to the grave! I swore it, I swore he should not hear from my lips the word which must have something of a sweet and holy sound in every ear! I would not say to him father! I would not forgive him for my mother and myself! He felt no need of that forgiveness, of that name.... It could not be, it could not be that he felt no need of it! But he should not have forgiveness, he should not, he should not!
God knows whether I should have kept my vow, and whether my heart would not have softened, whether I should not have overcome my shyness, my shame, and my pride... but it happened with Ivan Matveitch just as with my mother. Death carried him off suddenly, and also in the night. It was again Mr. Ratsch who waked me, and ran with me to the big house, to Ivan Matveitch's bedroom.... But I found not even the last dying gestures, which had left such a vivid impression on my memory at my mother's bedside. On the embroidered, lace-edged pillows lay a sort of withered, dark-coloured doll, with sharp nose and ruffled grey eyebrows.... I shrieked with horror, with loathing, rushed away, stumbled in doorways against bearded peasants in smocks with holiday red sashes, and found myself, I don't remember how, in the fresh air....
I was told afterwards that when the valet ran into the bedroom, at a violent ring of the bell, he found Ivan Matveitch not in the bed, but a few feet from it. And that he was sitting huddled up on the floor, and that twice over he repeated, 'Well, granny, here's a pretty holiday for you!' And that these were his last words. But I cannot believe that. Was it likely he would speak Russian at such a moment, and such a homely old Russian saying too!
For a whole fortnight afterwards we were awaiting the arrival of the new master, Semyon Matveitch Koltovsky. He sent orders that nothing was to be touched, no one was to be discharged, till he had looked into everything in person. All the doors, all the furniture, drawers, tables—all were locked and sealed up. All the servants were downcast and apprehensive. I became suddenly one of the most important persons in the house, perhaps the most important. I had been spoken of as 'the young lady' before; but now this expression seemed to take a new significance, and was pronounced with a peculiar emphasis. It began to be whispered that 'the old master had died suddenly, and hadn't time to send for a priest, indeed and he hadn't been at confession for many a long day; but still, a will doesn't take long to make.'
Mr. Ratsch, too, thought well to change his mode of action. He did not affect good-nature and friendliness; he knew he would not impose upon me, but his face wore an expression of sulky resignation. 'You see, I give in,' he seemed to say. Every one showed me deference, and tried to please me... while I did not know what to do or how to behave, and could only marvel that people failed to perceive how they were hurting me. At last Semyon Matveitch arrived.
Semyon Matveitch was ten years younger than Ivan Matveitch, and his whole life had taken a completely different turn. He was a government official in Petersburg, filling an important position.... He had married and been left early a widower; he had one son. In face Semyon Matveitch was like his brother, only he was shorter and stouter, and had a round bald head, bright black eyes, like Ivan Matveitch's, only more prominent, and full red lips. Unlike his brother, whom he spoke of even after his death as a French philosopher, and sometimes bluntly as a queer fish, Semyon Matveitch almost invariably talked Russian, loudly and fluently, and he was constantly laughing, completely closing his eyes as he did so and shaking all over in an unpleasant way, as though he were shaking with rage. He looked after things very sharply, went into everything himself, exacted the strictest account from every one. The very first day of his arrival he ordered a service with holy water, and sprinkled everything with water, all the rooms in the house, even the lofts and the cellars, in order, as he put it, 'radically to expel the Voltairean and Jacobin spirit.' In the first week several of Ivan Matveitch's favourites were sent to the right-about, one was even banished to a settlement, corporal punishment was inflicted on others; the old valet—he was a Turk, knew French, and had been given to Ivan Matveitch by the late field-marshal Kamensky—received his freedom, indeed, but with it a command to be gone within twenty-four hours, 'as an example to others.' Semyon Matveitch turned out to be a harsh master; many probably regretted the late owner.
'With the old master, Ivan Matveitch,' a butler, decrepit with age, wailed in my presence, 'our only trouble was to see that the linen put out was clean, and that the rooms smelt sweet, and that the servants' voices weren't heard in the passages—God forbid! For the rest, you might do as you pleased. The old master never hurt a fly in his life! Ah, it's hard times now! It's time to die!'
Rapid, too, was the change in my position, that is to say in the position in which I had been placed for a few days against my own will.... No sort of will was found among Ivan Matveitch's papers, not a line written for my benefit. At once every one seemed in haste to avoid me.... I am not speaking of Mr. Ratsch... every one else, too, was angry with me, and tried to show their anger, as though I had deceived them.
One Sunday after matins, in which he invariably officiated at the altar, Semyon Matveitch sent for me. Till that day I had seen him by glimpses, and he seemed not to have noticed me. He received me in his study, standing at the window. He was wearing an official uniform with two stars. I stood still, near the door; my heart was beating violently from fear and from another feeling, vague as yet, but still oppressive. 'I wish to see you, young lady,' began Semyon Matveitch, glancing first at my feet, and then suddenly into my eyes. The look was like a slap in the face. 'I wished to see you to inform you of my decision, and to assure you of my unhesitating inclination to be of service to you.' He raised his voice. 'Claims, of course, you have none, but as... my brother's reader you may always reckon on my... my consideration. I am... of course convinced of your good sense and of your principles. Mr. Ratsch, your stepfather, has already received from me the necessary instructions. To which I must add that your attractive exterior seems to me a pledge of the excellence of your sentiments.' Semyon Matveitch went off into a thin chuckle, while I... I was not offended exactly... but I suddenly felt very sorry for myself... and at that moment I fully realised how utterly forsaken and alone I was. Semyon Matveitch went with short, firm steps to the table, took a roll of notes out of the drawer, and putting it in my hand, he added: 'Here is a small sum from me for pocket-money. I won't forget you in future, my pretty; but good-bye for the present, and be a good girl.' I took the roll mechanically: I should have taken anything he had offered me, and going back to my own room, a long while I wept, sitting on my bed. I did not notice that I had dropped the roll of notes on the floor. Mr. Ratsch found it and picked it up, and, asking me what I meant to do with it, kept it for himself.
An important change had taken place in his fortunes too in those days. After a few conversations with Semyon Matveitch, he became a great favourite, and soon after received the position of head steward. From that time dates his cheerfulness, that eternal laugh of his; at first it was an effort to adapt himself to his patron... in the end it became a habit. It was then, too, that he became a Russian patriot. Semyon Matveitch was an admirer of everything national, he called himself 'a true Russian bear,' and ridiculed the European dress, which he wore however. He sent away to a remote village a cook, on whose training Ivan Matveitch had spent vast sums: he sent him away because he had not known how to prepare pickled giblets.
Semyon Matveitch used to stand at the altar and join in the responses with the deacons, and when the serf-girls were brought together to dance and sing choruses, he would join in their songs too, and beat time with his feet, and pinch their cheeks.... But he soon went back to Petersburg, leaving my stepfather practically in complete control of the whole property.
Bitter days began for me.... My one consolation was music, and I gave myself up to it with my whole soul. Fortunately Mr. Ratsch was very fully occupied, but he took every opportunity to make me feel his hostility; as he had promised, he 'did not forget' my refusal. He ill-treated me, made me copy his long and lying reports to Semyon Matveitch, and correct for him the mistakes in spelling. I was forced to obey him absolutely, and I did obey him. He announced that he meant to tame me, to make me as soft as silk. 'What do you mean by those mutinous eyes?' he shouted sometimes at dinner, drinking his beer, and slapping the table with his hand. 'You think, maybe, you're as silent as a sheep, so you must be all right.... Oh, no! You'll please look at me like a sheep too!' My position became a torture, insufferable,... my heart was growing bitter. Something dangerous began more and more frequently to stir within it. I passed nights without sleep and without a light, thinking, thinking incessantly; and in the darkness without and the gloom within, a fearful determination began to shape itself. The arrival of Semyon Matveitch gave another turn to my thoughts.
No one had expected him. It turned out that he was retiring in unpleasant circumstances; he had hoped to receive the Alexander ribbon, and they had presented him with a snuff-box. Discontented with the government, which had failed to appreciate his talents, and with Petersburg society, which had shown him little sympathy, and did not share his indignation, he determined to settle in the country, and devote himself to the management of his property. He arrived alone. His son, Mihail Semyonitch, arrived later, in the holidays for the New Year. My stepfather was scarcely ever out of Semyon Matveitch's room; he still stood high in his good graces. He left me in peace; he had no time for me then... Semyon Matveitch had taken it into his head to start a paper factory. Mr. Ratsch had no knowledge whatever of manufacturing work, and Semyon Matveitch was aware of the fact; but then my stepfather was an active man (the favourite expression just then), an 'Araktcheev!' That was just what Semyon Matveitch used to call him—'my Araktcheev!' 'That's all I want,' Semyon Matveitch maintained; 'if there is zeal, I myself will direct it.' In the midst of his numerous occupations—he had to superintend the factory, the estate, the foundation of a counting-house, the drawing up of counting-house regulations, the creation of new offices and duties—Semyon Matveitch still had time to attend to me.
I was summoned one evening to the drawingroom, and set to play the piano. Semyon Matveitch cared for music even less than his brother; he praised and thanked me, however, and next day I was invited to dine at the master's table. After dinner Semyon Matveitch had rather a long conversation with me, asked me questions, laughed at some of my replies, though there was, I remember, nothing amusing in them, and stared at me so strangely... I felt uncomfortable. I did not like his eyes, I did not like their open expression, their clear glance.... It always seemed to me that this very openness concealed something evil, that under that clear brilliance it was dark within in his soul. 'You shall not be my reader,' Semyon Matveitch announced to me at last, prinking and setting himself to rights in a repulsive way. 'I am, thank God, not blind yet, and can read myself; but coffee will taste better to me from your little hands, and I shall listen to your playing with pleasure.' From that day I always went over to the big house to dinner, and sometimes remained in the drawing-room till evening. I too, like my stepfather, was in favour: it was not a source of joy for me. Semyon Matveitch, I am bound to own, showed me a certain respect, but in the man there was, I felt it, something that repelled and alarmed me. And that 'something' showed itself not in words, but in his eyes, in those wicked eyes, and in his laugh. He never spoke to me of my father, of his brother, and it seemed to me that he avoided the subject, not because he did not want to excite ambitious ideas or pretensions in me, but from another cause, to which I could not give a definite shape, but which made me blush and feel bewildered.... Towards Christmas came his son, Mihail Semyonitch.
Ah, I feel I cannot go on as I have begun; these memories are too painful. Especially now I cannot tell my story calmly.... But what is the use of concealment? I loved Michel, and he loved me.
How it came to pass—I am not going to describe that either. From the very evening when he came into the drawing-room—I was at the piano, playing a sonata of Weber's when he came in—handsome and slender, in a velvet coat lined with sheepskin and high gaiters, just as he was, straight from the frost outside, and shaking his snow-sprinkled, sable cap, before he had greeted his father, glanced swiftly at me, and wondered—I knew that from that evening I could never forget him—I could never forget that good, young face. He began to speak... and his voice went straight to my heart.... A manly and soft voice, and in every sound such a true, honest nature!
Semyon Matveitch was delighted at his son's arrival, embraced him, but at once asked, 'For a fortnight, eh? On leave, eh?' and sent me away.
I sat a long while at my window, and gazed at the lights flitting to and fro in the rooms of the big house. I watched them, I listened to the new, unfamiliar voices; I was attracted by the cheerful commotion, and something new, unfamiliar, bright, flitted into my soul too.... The next day before dinner I had my first conversation with him. He had come across to see my stepfather with some message from Semyon Matveitch, and he found me in our little sitting-room. I was getting up to go; he detained me. He was very lively and unconstrained in all his movements and words, but of superciliousness or arrogance, of the tone of Petersburg superiority, there was not a trace in him, and nothing of the officer, of the guardsman.... On the contrary, in the very freedom of his manner there was something appealing, almost shamefaced, as though he were begging you to overlook something. Some people's eyes are never laughing, even at the moment of laughter; with him it was the lips that almost never changed their beautiful line, while his eyes were almost always smiling. So we chatted for about an hour... what about I don't remember; I remember only that I looked him straight in the face all the while, and oh, how delightfully at ease I felt with him!
In the evening I played on the piano. He was very fond of music, and he sat down in a low chair, and laying his curly head on his arm, he listened intently. He did not once praise me, but I felt that he liked my playing, and I played with ardour. Semyon Matveitch, who was sitting near his son, looking through some plans, suddenly frowned. 'Come, madam,' he said, smoothing himself down and buttoning himself up, as his manner was, 'that's enough; why are you trilling away like a canary? It's enough to make one's head ache. For us old folks you wouldn't exert yourself so, no fear...' he added in an undertone, and again he sent me away. Michel followed me to the door with his eyes, and got up from his seat. 'Where are you off to? Where are you off to?' cried Semyon Matveitch, and he suddenly laughed, and then said something more... I could not catch his words; but Mr. Ratsch, who was present, sitting in a corner of the drawing-room (he was always 'present,' and that time he had brought in the plans), laughed, and his laugh reached my ears.... The same thing, or almost the same thing, was repeated the following evening... Semyon Matveitch grew suddenly cooler to me.
Four days later I met Michel in the corridor that divided the big house in two. He took me by the hand, and led me to a room near the dining-room, which was called the portrait gallery. I followed him, not without emotion, but with perfect confidence. Even then, I believe, I would have followed him to the end of the world, though I had as yet no suspicion of all that he was to me. Alas, I loved him with all the passion, all the despair of a young creature who not only has no one to love, but feels herself an uninvited and unnecessary guest among strangers, among enemies!... Michel said to me—and it was strange! I looked boldly, directly in his face, while he did not look at me, and flushed slightly—he said to me that he understood my position, and sympathised with me, and begged me to forgive his father.... 'As far as I'm concerned,' he added, 'I beseech you always to trust me, and believe me, to me you 're a sister—yes, a sister.' Here he pressed my hand warmly. I was confused, it was my turn to look down; I had somehow expected something else, some other word. I began to thank him. 'No, please,'—he cut me short—'don't talk like that.... But remember, it's a brother's duty to defend his sister, and if you ever need protection, against any one whatever, rely upon me. I have not been here long, but I have seen a good deal already... and among other things, I see through your stepfather.' He squeezed my hand again, and left me.
I found out later that Michel had felt an aversion for Mr. Ratsch from his very first meeting with him. Mr. Ratsch tried to ingratiate himself with him too, but becoming convinced of the uselessness of his efforts, promptly took up himself an attitude of hostility to him, and not only did not disguise it from Semyon Matveitch, but, on the contrary, lost no opportunity of showing it, expressing, at the same time, his regret that he had been so unlucky as to displease the young heir. Mr. Ratsch had carefully studied Semyon Matveitch's character; his calculations did not lead him astray. 'This man's devotion to me admits of no doubt, for the very reason that after I am gone he will be ruined; my heir cannot endure him.'... This idea grew and strengthened in the old man's head. They say all persons in power, as they grow old, are readily caught by that bait, the bait of exclusive personal devotion....
Semyon Matveitch had good reason to call Mr. Ratsch his Araktcheev.... He might well have called him another name too. 'You're not one to make difficulties,' he used to say to him. He had begun in this condescendingly familiar tone with him from the very first, and my stepfather would gaze fondly at Semyon Matveitch, let his head droop deprecatingly on one side, and laugh with good-humoured simplicity, as though to say, 'Here I am, entirely in your hands.'
Ah, I feel my hands shaking, and my heart's thumping against the table on which I write at this moment. It's terrible for me to recall those days, and my blood boils.... But I will tell everything to the end... to the end!
A new element had come into Mr. Ratsch's treatment of me during my brief period of favour. He began to be deferential to me, to be respectfully familiar with me, as though I had grown sensible, and become more on a level with him. 'You've done with your airs and graces,' he said to me one day, as we were going back from the big house to the lodge. 'Quite right too! All those fine principles and delicate sentiments—moral precepts in fact—are not for us, young lady, they're not for poor folks.'
When I had fallen out of favour, and Michel did not think it necessary to disguise his contempt for Mr. Ratsch and his sympathy with me, the latter suddenly redoubled his severity with me; he was continually following me about, as though I were capable of any crime, and must be sharply looked after. 'You mind what I say,' he shouted, bursting without knocking into my room, in muddy boots and with his cap on his head; 'I won't put up with such goings on! I won't stand your stuck-up airs! You're not going to impose on me. I'll break your proud spirit.'
And accordingly, one morning he informed me that the decree had gone forth from Semyon Matveitch that I was not to appear at the dinner-table for the future without special invitation.... I don't know how all this would have ended if it had not been for an event which was the final turning-point of my destiny....
Michel was passionately fond of horses. He took it into his head to break in a young horse, which went well for a while, then began kicking and flung him out of the sledge.... He was brought home unconscious, with a broken arm and bruises on his chest. His father was panic-stricken; he sent for the best doctors from the town. They did a great deal for Michel; but he had to lie down for a month. He did not play cards, the doctor forbade him to talk, and it was awkward for him to read, holding the book up in one hand all the while. It ended by Semyon Matveitch sending me in to his son, in my old capacity of reader.
Then followed hours I can never forget! I used to go in to Michel directly after dinner, and sit at a little round table in the half-darkened window. He used to be lying down in a little room out of the drawing-room, at the further end, on a broad leather sofa in the Empire style, with a gold bas-relief on its high, straight back. The bas-relief represented a marriage procession among the ancients. Michel's head, thrown a little back on the pillow, always moved at once, and his pale face turned towards me: he smiled, his whole face brightened, he flung back his soft, damp curls, and said to me softly, 'Good-morning, my kind sweet girl.' I took up the book—Walter Scott's novels were at the height of their fame in those days—the reading of Ivanhoe has left a particularly vivid recollection in my mind.... I could not help my voice thrilling and quivering as I gave utterance to Rebecca's speeches. I, too, had Jewish blood, and was not my lot like hers? Was I not, like Rebecca, waiting on a sick man, dear to me? Every time I removed my eyes from the page and lifted them to him, I met his eyes with the same soft, bright smile over all his face. We talked very little; the door into the drawing-room was invariably open and some one was always sitting there; but whenever it was quiet there, I used, I don't know why, to cease reading and look intently at Michel, and he looked at me, and we both felt happy then and, as it were, glad and shamefaced, and everything, everything we told each other then without a gesture or a word! Alas! our hearts came together, ran to meet each other, as underground streams flow together, unseen, unheard... and irresistibly.
'Can you play chess or draughts?' he asked me one day.
'I can play chess a little,' I answered.
'That's good. Tell them to bring a chess-board and push up the table.'
I sat down beside the sofa, my heart was throbbing, I did not dare glance at Michel,... Yet from the window, across the room, how freely I had gazed at him!
I began to set the chessmen... My fingers shook.
'I suggested it... not for the game,'... Michel said in an undertone, also setting the pieces, 'but to have you nearer me.'
I made no answer, but, without asking which should begin, moved a pawn... Michel did not move in reply... I looked at him. His head was stretched a little forward; pale all over, with imploring eyes he signed towards my hand...
Whether I understood him... I don't remember, but something instantaneously whirled into my head.... Hesitating, scarcely breathing, I took up the knight and moved it right across the board. Michel bent down swiftly, and catching my fingers with his lips, and pressing them against the board, he began noiselessly and passionately kissing them.... I had no power, I had no wish to draw them back; with my other hand I hid my face, and tears, as I remember now, cold but blissful... oh, what blissful tears!... dropped one by one on the table. Ah, I knew, with my whole heart I felt at that moment, all that he was who held my hand in his power! I knew that he was not a boy, carried away by a momentary impulse, not a Don Juan, not a military Lovelace, but one of the noblest, the best of men... and he loved me!
'Oh, my Susanna!' I heard Michel whisper, 'I will never make you shed other tears than these.'
He was wrong... he did.
But what use is there in dwelling on such memories... especially, especially now?
Michel and I swore to belong to each other. He knew that Semyon Matveitch would never let him marry me, and he did not conceal it from me. I had no doubt about it myself and I rejoiced, not that he did not deceive me—he could not deceive—but that he did not try to delude himself. For myself I asked for nothing, and would have followed where and how he chose. 'You shall be my wife,' he repeated to me. 'I am not Ivanhoe; I know that happiness is not with Lady Rowena.'
Michel soon regained his health. I could not continue going to see him, but everything was decided between us. I was already entirely absorbed in the future; I saw nothing of what was passing around me, as though I were floating on a glorious, calm, but rushing river, hidden in mist. But we were watched, we were being spied upon. Once or twice I noticed my stepfather's malignant eyes, and heard his loathsome laugh.... But that laugh, those eyes as it were emerged for an instant from the mist... I shuddered, but forgot it directly, and surrendered myself again to the glorious, swift river...
On the day before the departure of Michel—we had planned together that he was to turn back secretly on the way and fetch me—I received from him through his trusted valet a note, in which he asked me to meet him at half-past nine in the summer billiard-room, a large, low-pitched room, built on to the big house in the garden. He wrote to me that he absolutely must speak with me and arrange things. I had twice already met Michel in the billiard-room... I had the key of the outer door. As soon as it struck half-past nine I threw a warm wrap over my shoulders, stepped quietly out of the lodge, and made my way successfully over the crackling snow to the billiard-room. The moon, wrapped in vapour, stood a dim blur just over the ridge of the roof, and the wind whistled shrilly round the corner of the wall. A shiver passed over me, but I put the key into the lock, went into the room, closed the door behind me, turned round... A dark figure became visible against one of the walls, took a couple of steps forward, stopped...
'Michel,' I whispered.
'Michel is locked up by my orders, and this is I!' answered a voice, which seemed to rend my heart...
Before me stood Semyon Matveitch!
I was rushing to escape, but he clutched at my arm.
'Where are you off to, vile hussy?' he hissed. 'You 're quite equal to stolen interviews with young fools, so you'll have to be equal to the consequences.'
I was numb with horror, but still struggled towards the door... In vain! Like iron hooks the ringers of Semyon Matveitch held me tight.
'Let me go, let me go,' I implored at last.
'I tell you you shan't stir!'
Semyon Matveitch forced me to sit down. In the half-darkness I could not distinguish his face. I had turned away from him too, but I heard him breathing hard and grinding his teeth. I felt neither fear nor despair, but a sort of senseless amazement... A captured bird, I suppose, is numb like that in the claws of the kite... and Semyon Matveitch's hand, which still held me as fast, crushed me like some wild, ferocious claw....
'Aha!' he repeated; 'aha! So this is how it is... so it's come to this... Ah, wait a bit!'
I tried to get up, but he shook me with such violence that I almost shrieked with pain, and a stream of abuse, insult, and menace burst upon me...
'Michel, Michel, where are you? save me,' I moaned.
Semyon Matveitch shook me again... That time I could not control myself... I screamed.
That seemed to have some effect on him. He became a little quieter, let go my arm, but remained where he was, two steps from me, between me and the door.
A few minutes passed... I did not stir; he breathed heavily as before.
'Sit still,' he began at last, 'and answer me. Let me see that your morals are not yet utterly corrupt, and that you are still capable of listening to the voice of reason. Impulsive folly I can overlook, but stubborn obstinacy—never! My son...' there was a catch in his breath... 'Mihail Semyonitch has promised to marry you? Hasn't he? Answer me! Has he promised, eh?'
I answered, of course, nothing. Semyon Matveitch was almost flying into fury again.
'I take your silence as a sign of assent,' he went on, after a brief pause. 'And so you were plotting to be my daughter-in-law? A pretty notion! But you're not a child of four years old, and you must be fully aware that young boobies are never sparing of the wildest promises, if only they can gain their ends... but to say nothing of that, could you suppose that I—a noble gentleman of ancient family, Semyon Matveitch Koltovsky—would ever give my consent to such a marriage? Or did you mean to dispense with the parental blessing?... Did you mean to run away, get married in secret, and then come back, go through a nice little farce, throw yourself at my feet, in the hope that the old man will be touched.... Answer me, damn you!'
I only bent my head. He could kill me, but to force me to speak—that was not in his power.
He walked up and down a little.
'Come, listen to me,' he began in a calmer voice. 'You mustn't think... don't imagine... I see one must talk to you in a different manner. Listen; I understand your position. You are frightened, upset.... Pull yourself together. At this moment I must seem to you a monster... a despot. But put yourself in my position too; how could I help being indignant, saying too much? And for all that I have shown you that I am not a monster, that I too have a heart. Remember how I treated you on my arrival here and afterwards till... till lately... till the illness of Mihail Semyonitch. I don't wish to boast of my beneficence, but I should have thought simple gratitude ought to have held you back from the slippery path on which you were determined to enter!'
Semyon Matveitch walked to and fro again, and standing still patted me lightly on the arm, on the very arm which still ached from his violence, and was for long after marked with blue bruises.
'To be sure,' he began again, 'we're headstrong... just a little headstrong! We don't care to take the trouble to think, we don't care to consider what our advantage consists in and where we ought to seek it. You ask me: where that advantage lies? You've no need to look far.... It's, maybe, close at hand.... Here am I now. As a father, as head of the family I am bound to be particular.... It's my duty. But I'm a man at the same time, and you know that very well. Undoubtedly I'm a practical person and of course cannot tolerate any sentimental nonsense; expectations that are quite inconsistent with everything, you must of course dismiss from your mind for really what sense is there in them?—not to speak of the immorality of such a proceeding.... You will assuredly realise all this yourself, when you have thought it over a little. And I say, simply and straightforwardly, I wouldn't confine myself to what I have done for you. I have always been prepared—and I am still prepared—to put your welfare on a sound footing, to guarantee you a secure position, because I know your value, I do justice to your talents, and your intelligence, and in fact... (here Semyon Matveitch stooped down to me a little)... you have such eyes that, I confess... though I am not a young man, yet to see them quite unmoved... I understand... is not an easy matter, not at all an easy matter.'
These words sent a chill through me. I could scarcely believe my ears. For the first minute I fancied that Semyon Matveitch meant to bribe me to break with Michel, to pay me 'compensation.'... But what was he saying? My eyes had begun to get used to the darkness and I could make out Semyon Matveitch's face. It was smiling, that old face, and he was walking to and fro with little steps, fidgeting restlessly before me....
'Well, what do you say,' he asked at last, 'does my offer please you?'
'Offer?'... I repeated unconsciously,... I simply did not understand a word.
Semyon Matveitch laughed... actually laughed his revolting thin laugh.
'To be sure,' he cried, 'you're all alike you young women'—he corrected himself—'young ladies... young ladies... you all dream of nothing else... you must have young men! You can't live without love! Of course not. Well, well! Youth's all very well! But do you suppose that it's only young men that can love?... There are some older men, whose hearts are warmer... and when once an old man does take a fancy to any one, well—he's simply like a rock! It's for ever! Not like these beardless, feather-brained young fools! Yes, yes; you mustn't look down on old men! They can do so much! You've only to take them the right way! Yes... yes! And as for kissing, old men know all about that too, he-he-he...' Semyon Matveitch laughed again. 'Come, please... your little hand... just as a proof... that's all....'
I jumped up from the chair, and with all my force I gave him a blow in the chest. He tottered, he uttered a sort of decrepit, scared sound, he almost fell down. There are no words in human language to express how loathsome and infinitely vile he seemed to me. Every vestige of fear had left me.
'Get away, despicable old man,' broke from my lips; 'get away, Mr. Koltovsky, you noble gentleman of ancient family! I, too, am of your blood, the blood of the Koltovskys, and I curse the day and the hour when I was born of that ancient family!'
'What!... What are you saying!... What!' stammered Semyon Matveitch, gasping for breath. 'You dare... at the very minute when I've caught you... when you came to meet Misha... eh? eh? eh?'
But I could not stop myself.... Something relentless, desperate was roused up within me.
'And you, you, the brother... of your brother, you had the insolence, you dared... What did you take me for? Can you be so blind as not to have seen long ago the loathing you arouse in me?... You dare use the word offer!... Let me out at once, this instant!'
I moved towards the door.
'Oh, indeed! oh, oh! so this is what she says!' Semyon Matveitch piped shrilly, in a fit of violent fury, but obviously not able to make up his mind to come near me.... 'Wait a bit, Mr. Ratsch, Ivan Demianitch, come here!'
The door of the billiard-room opposite the one I was near flew wide open, and my stepfather appeared, with a lighted candelabrum in each hand. His round, red face, lighted up on both sides, was beaming with the triumph of satisfied revenge, and slavish delight at having rendered valuable service.... Oh, those loathsome white eyes! when shall I cease to behold them?
'Be so good as to take this girl at once,' cried Semyon Matveitch, turning to my stepfather and imperiously pointing to me with a shaking hand. 'Be so good as to take her home and put her under lock and key... so that she... can't stir a finger, so that not a fly can get in to her! Till further orders from me! Board up the windows if need be! You'll answer for her with your head!'
Mr. Ratsch set the candelabra on the billiard-table, made Semyon Matveitch a low bow, and with a slight swagger and a malignant smile, moved towards me. A cat, I imagine, approaches a mouse who has no chance of escape in that way. All my daring left me in an instant. I knew the man was capable of... beating me. I began to tremble; yes; oh, shame! oh ignominy! I shivered.
'Now, then, madam,' said Mr. Ratsch, 'kindly come along.'
He took me, without haste, by the arm above the elbow.... He saw that I should not resist. Of my own accord I pushed forward towards the door; at that instant I had but one thought in my mind, to escape as quickly as possible from the presence of Semyon Matveitch.
But the loathsome old man darted up to us from behind, and Ratsch stopped me and turned me round face to face with his patron.
'Ah!' the latter shouted, shaking his fist; 'ah! So I'm the brother... of my brother, am I? Ties of blood! eh? But a cousin, a first cousin you could marry? You could? eh? Take her, you!' he turned to my stepfather. 'And remember, keep a sharp look-out! The slightest communication with her—and no punishment will be too severe.... Take her!'
Mr. Ratsch conducted me to my room. Crossing the courtyard, he said nothing, but kept laughing noiselessly to himself. He closed the shutters and the doors, and then, as he was finally returning, he bowed low to me as he had to Semyon Matveitch, and went off into a ponderous, triumphant guffaw!
'Good-night to your highness,' he gasped out, choking: 'she didn't catch her fairy prince! What a pity! It wasn't a bad idea in its way! It's a lesson for the future: not to keep up correspondence! Ho-ho-ho! How capitally it has all turned out though!' He went out, and all of a sudden poked his head in at the door. 'Well? I didn't forget you, did I? Hey? I kept my promise, didn't I? Ho-ho!' The key creaked in the lock. I breathed freely. I had been afraid he would tie my hands... but they were my own, they were free! I instantly wrenched the silken cord off my dressing-gown, made a noose, and was putting it on my neck, but I flung the cord aside again at once. 'I won't please you!' I said aloud. 'What madness, really! Can I dispose of my life without Michel's leave, my life, which I have surrendered into his keeping? No, cruel wretches! No! You have not won your game yet! He will save me, he will tear me out of this hell, he... my Michel!'
But then I remembered that he was shut up just as I was, and I flung myself, face downwards, on my bed, and sobbed... and sobbed.... And only the thought that my tormentor was perhaps at the door, listening and triumphing, only that thought forced me to swallow my tears....
I am worn out. I have been writing since morning, and now it is evening; if once I tear myself from this sheet of paper, I shall not be capable of taking up the pen again.... I must hasten, hasten to the finish! And besides, to dwell on the hideous things that followed that dreadful day is beyond my strength!
Twenty-four hours later I was taken in a closed cart to an isolated hut, surrounded by peasants, who were to watch me, and kept shut up for six whole weeks! I was not for one instant alone.... Later on I learnt that my stepfather had set spies to watch both Michel and me ever since his arrival, that he had bribed the servant, who had given me Michel's note. I ascertained too that an awful, heart-rending scene had taken place the next morning between the son and the father.... The father had cursed him. Michel for his part had sworn he would never set foot in his father's house again, and had set off to Petersburg. But the blow aimed at me by my stepfather rebounded upon himself. Semyon Matveitch announced that he could not have him remaining there, and managing the estate any longer. Awkward service, it seems, is an unpardonable offence, and some one must be fixed upon to bear the brunt of the scandal. Semyon Matveitch recompensed Mr. Ratsch liberally, however: he gave him the necessary means to move to Moscow and to establish himself there. Before the departure for Moscow, I was brought back to the lodge, but kept as before under the strictest guard. The loss of the 'snug little berth,' of which he was being deprived 'thanks to me,' increased my stepfather's vindictive rage against me more than ever.
'Why did you make such a fuss?' he would say, almost snorting with indignation; 'upon my word! The old chap, of course, got a little too hot, was a little too much in a hurry, and so he made a mess of it; now, of course, his vanity's hurt, there's no setting the mischief right again now! If you'd only waited a day or two, it'd all have been right as a trivet; you wouldn't have been kept on dry bread, and I should have stayed what I was! Ah, well, women's hair is long... but their wit is short! Never mind; I'll be even with you yet, and that pretty young gentleman shall smart for it too!'
I had, of course, to bear all these insults in silence. Semyon Matveitch I did not once see again. The separation from his son had been a shock to him too. Whether he felt remorse or—which is far more likely—wished to bind me for ever to my home, to my family—my family!—anyway, he assigned me a pension, which was to be paid into my stepfather's hands, and to be given to me till I married.... This humiliating alms, this pension I still receive... that is to say, Mr. Ratsch receives it for me....
We settled in Moscow. I swear by the memory of my poor mother, I would not have remained two days, not two hours, with my stepfather, after once reaching the town... I would have gone away, not knowing where... to the police; I would have flung myself at the feet of the governor-general, of the senators; I don't know what I would have done, if it had not happened, at the very moment of our starting from the country, that the girl who had been our maid managed to give me a letter from Michel! Oh, that letter! How many times I read over each line, how many times I covered it with kisses! Michel besought me not to lose heart, to go on hoping, to believe in his unchanging love; he swore that he would never belong to any one but me; he called me his wife, he promised to overcome all hindrances, he drew a picture of our future, he asked of me only one thing, to be patient, to wait a little....
And I resolved to wait and be patient. Alas! what would I not have agreed to, what would I not have borne, simply to do his will! That letter became my holy thing, my guiding star, my anchor. Sometimes when my stepfather would begin abusing and insulting me, I would softly lay my hand on my bosom (I wore Michel's letter sewed into an amulet) and only smile. And the more violent and abusive was Mr. Ratsch, the easier, lighter, and sweeter was the heart within me.... I used to see, at last, by his eyes, that he began to wonder whether I was going out of my mind.... Following on this first letter came a second, still more full of hope.... It spoke of our meeting soon.
Alas! instead of that meeting there came a morning... I can see Mr. Ratsch coming in—and triumph again, malignant triumph, in his face—and in his hands a page of the Invalid, and there the announcement of the death of the Captain of the Guards—Mihail Koltovsky.
What can I add? I remained alive, and went on living in Mr. Ratsch's house. He hated me as before—more than before—he had unmasked his black soul too much before me, he could not pardon me that. But that was of no consequence to me. I became, as it were, without feeling; my own fate no longer interested me. To think of him, to think of him! I had no interest, no joy, but that. My poor Michel died with my name on his lips.... I was told so by a servant, devoted to him, who had been with him when he came into the country. The same year my stepfather married Eleonora Karpovna. Semyon Matveitch died shortly after. In his will he secured to me and increased the pension he had allowed me.... In the event of my death, it was to pass to Mr. Ratsch....
Two—three—years passed... six years, seven years.... Life has been passing, ebbing away... while I merely watched how it was ebbing. As in childhood, on some river's edge one makes a little pond and dams it up, and tries in all sorts of ways to keep the water from soaking through, from breaking in. But at last the water breaks in, and then you abandon all your vain efforts, and you are glad instead to watch all that you had guarded ebbing away to the last drop....
So I lived, so I existed, till at last a new, unhoped-for ray of warmth and light....'
The manuscript broke off at this word; the following leaves had been torn off, and several lines completing the sentence had been crossed through and blotted out. XVIII
The reading of this manuscript so upset me, the impression made by Susanna's visit was so great, that I could not sleep all night, and early in the morning I sent an express messenger to Fustov with a letter, in which I besought him to come to Moscow as soon as possible, as his absence might have the most terrible results. I mentioned also my interview with Susanna, and the manuscript she had left in my hands. After having sent off the letter, I did not go out of the house all day, and pondered all the time on what might be happening at the Ratsches'. I could not make up my mind to go there myself. I could not help noticing though that my aunt was in a continual fidget; she ordered pastilles to be burnt every minute, and dealt the game of patience, known a s 'the traveller,' which is noted as a game in which one can never succeed. The visit of an unknown lady, and at such a late hour, had not been kept secret from her: her imagination at once pictured a yawning abyss on the edge of which I was standing, and she was continually sighing and moaning and murmuring French sentences, quoted from a little manuscript book entitled Extraits de Lecture. In the evening I found on the little table at my bedside the treatise of De Girando, laid open at the chapter: On the evil influence of the passions. This book had been put in my room, at my aunt's instigation of course, by the elder of her companions, who was called in the household Amishka, from her resemblance to a little poodle of that name, and was a very sentimental, not to say romantic, though elderly, maiden lady. All the following day was spent in anxious expectation of Fustov's coming, of a letter from him, of news from the Ratsches' house... though on what ground could they have sent to me? Susanna would be more likely to expect me to visit her.... But I positively could not pluck up courage to see her without first talking to Fustov. I recalled every expression in my letter to him.... I thought it was strong enough; at last, late in the evening, he appeared. XIX
He came into my room with his habitual, rapid, but deliberate step. His face struck me as pale, and though it showed traces of the fatigue of the journey, there was an expression of astonishment, curiosity, and dissatisfaction—emotions of which he had little experience as a rule. I rushed up to him, embraced him, warmly thanked him for obeying me, and after briefly describing my conversation with Susanna, handed him the manuscript. He went off to the window, to the very window in which Susanna had sat two days before, and without a word to me, he fell to reading it. I at once retired to the opposite corner of the room, and for appearance' sake took up a book; but I must own I was stealthily looking over the edge of the cover all the while at Fustov. At first he read rather calmly, and kept pulling with his left hand at the down on his lip; then he let his hand drop, bent forward and did not stir again. His eyes seemed to fly along the lines and his mouth slightly opened. At last he finished the manuscript, turned it over, looked round, thought a little, and began reading it all through a second time from beginning to end. Then he got up, put the manuscript in his pocket and moved towards the d oor; but he turned round and stopped in the middle of the room.
'Well, what do you think?' I began, not waiting for him to speak.
'I have acted wrongly towards her,' Fustov declared thickly. 'I have behaved... rashly, unpardonably, cruelly. I believed that... Viktor—'
'What!' I cried; 'that Viktor whom you despise so! But what could he say to you?'
Fustov crossed his arms and stood obliquely to me. He was ashamed, I saw that.
'Do you remember,' he said with some effort, 'that... Viktor alluded to... a pension. That unfortunate word stuck in my head. It's the cause of everything. I began questioning him.... Well, and he—'
'What did he say?'
'He told me that the old man... what's his name?... Koltovsky, had allowed Susanna that pension because... on account of... well, in fact, by way of damages.'
I flung up my hands.
'And you believed him?'
'Yes! I believed him.... He said, too, that with the young one... In fact, my behaviour is unjustifiable.'
'And you went away so as to break everything off?'
'Yes; that's the best way... in such cases. I acted savagely, savagely,' he repeated.
We were both silent. Each of us felt that the other was ashamed; but it was easier for me; I was not ashamed of myself. XX
'I would break every bone in that Viktor's body now,' pursued Fustov, clenching his teeth, 'if I didn't recognise that I'm in fault. I see now what the whole trick was contrived for, with Susanna's marriage they would lose the pension.... Wretches!'
I took his hand.
'Alexander,' I asked him, 'have you been to her?'
'No; I came straight to you on arriving. I'll go to-morrow... early to-morrow. Things can't be left so. On no account!'
'But you... love her, Alexander?'
Fustov seemed offended.
'Of course I love her. I am very much attached to her.'
'She's a splendid, true-hearted girl!' I cried.
Fustov stamped impatiently.
'Well, what notion have you got in y our head? I was prepared to marry her—she's been baptized—I'm ready to marry her even now, I'd been thinking of it, though she's older than I am.'
At that instant I suddenly fancied that a pale woman's figure was seated in the window, leaning on her arms. The lights had burnt down; it was dark in the room. I shivered, looked more intently, and saw nothing, of course, in the window seat; but a strange feeling, a mixture of horror, anguish and pity, came over me.
'Alexander!' I began with sudden intensity, 'I beg you, I implore you, go at once to the Ratsches', don't put it off till to-morrow! An inner voice tells me that you really ought to see Susanna to-day!'
Fustov shrugged his shoulders.
'What are you talking about, really! It's eleven o'clock now, most likely they're all in bed.'
'No matter.... Do go, for goodness' sake! I have a presentiment.... Please do as I say! Go at once, take a sledge....'
'Come, what nonsense!' Fustov responded coolly; 'how could I go now? To-morrow morning I will be there, and everything will be cleared up.'
'But, Alexander, remember, she said that she was dying, that you would not find her... And if you had seen her face! Only think, imagine, to make up her mind to come to me... what it must have cost her....'
'She's a little high-flown,' observed Fustov, who had apparently regained his self-possession completely. 'All girls are like that... at first. I repeat, everything will be all right to-morrow. Meanwhile, good-bye. I'm tired, and you're sleepy too.'
He took his cap, and went out of the room.
'But you promise to come here at once, and tell me all about it?' I called after him.
'I promise.... Good-bye!'
I went to bed, but in my heart I was uneasy, and I felt vexed with my friend. I fell asleep late and dreamed that I was wandering with Susanna along underground, damp passages of some sort, and crawling along narrow, steep staircases, and continually going deeper and deeper down, though we were trying to get higher up out into the air. Some one was all the while incessantly calling us in monotonous, plaintive tones. XXI
Some one's hand lay on my shoulder and pushed it several times.... I opene d my eyes and in the faint light of the solitary candle, I saw Fustov standing before me. He frightened me. He was staggering; his face was yellow, almost the same colour as his hair; his lips seemed hanging down, his muddy eyes were staring senselessly away. What had become of his invariably amiable, sympathetic expression? I had a cousin who from epilepsy was sinking into idiocy.... Fustov looked like him at that moment.
I sat up hurriedly.
'What is it? What is the matter? Heavens!'
He made no answer.
'Why, what has happened? Fustov! Do speak! Susanna?...'
Fustov gave a slight start.
'She...' he began in a hoarse voice, and broke off.
'What of her? Have you seen her?'
He stared at me.
'She's no more.'
'No. She is dead.'
I jumped out of bed.
'Dead? Susanna? Dead?'
Fustov turned his eyes away again.
'Yes; she is dead; she died at midnight.'
'He's raving!' crossed my mind.
'At midnight! And what's the time now?'
'It's eight o'clock in the morning now.
They sent to tell me. She is to be buried to-morrow.'
I seized him by the hand.
'Alexander, you're not delirious? Are you in your senses?'
'I am in my senses,' he answered. 'Directly I heard it, I came straight to you.'
My heart turned sick and numb, as always happens on realising an irrevocable misfortune.
'My God! my God! Dead!' I repeated. 'How is it possible? So suddenly! Or perhaps she took her own life?'
'I don't know,' said Fustov, 'I know nothing. They told me she died at midnight. And to-morrow she will be buried.'
'At midnight!' I thought.... 'Then she was still alive yesterday when I fancied I saw her in the window, when I entreated him to hasten to her....'
'She was still alive yesterday, when you wanted to send me to Ivan Demianitch's,' said Fustov, as though guessing my thought.
'How little he knew her!' I thought again. 'How little we both knew her! "High-flown," said he, "all girls are like that."... And at that very minute, perhaps, she was putting to her lips... Can one love any one and be so grossly mistaken in them?'
Fustov stood stockstill before my bed, his hands hanging, like a guilty man. XXII
I dressed hurriedly.
'What do you mean to do now, Alexander?' I asked.
He gazed at me in bewilderment, as though marvelling at the absurdity of my question. And indeed what was there to do?
'You simply must go to them, though,' I began. 'You're bound to ascertain how it happened; there is, possibly, a crime concealed. One may expect anything of those people.... It is all to be thoroughly investigated. Remember the statement in her manuscript, the pension was to cease on her marriage, but in event of her death it was to pass to Ratsch. In any case, one must render her the last duty, pay homage to her remains!'
I talked to Fustov like a preceptor, like an elder brother. In the midst of all that horror, grief, bewilderment, a sort of unconscious feeling of superiority over Fustov had suddenly come to the surface in me.... Whether from seeing him crushed by the consciousness of his fault, distracted, shattered, whether that a misfortune befalling a man almost always humiliates him, lowers him in the opinion of others, 'you can't be much,' is felt, 'if you hadn't the wit to come off better than t hat!' God knows! Any way, Fustov seemed to me almost like a child, and I felt pity for him, and saw the necessity of severity. I held out a helping hand to him, stooping down to him from above. Only a woman's sympathy is free from condescension.
But Fustov continued to gaze with wild and stupid eyes at me—my authoritative tone obviously had no effect on him, and to my second question, 'You're going to them, I suppose?' he replied—
'No, I'm not going.'
'What do you mean, really? Don't you want to ascertain for yourself, to investigate, how, and what? Perhaps, she has left a letter... a document of some sort....'
Fustov shook his head.
'I can't go there,' he said. 'That's what I came to you for, to ask you to go... for me... I can't... I can't....'
Fustov suddenly sat down to the table, hid his face in both hands, and sobbed bitterly.
'Alas, alas!' he kept repeating through his tears; 'alas, poor girl... poor girl... I loved... I loved her... alas!'
I stood near him, and I am bound to confess, not the slightest sympathy was excited in me by those incontestably sincere sobs. I simply marvelled that Fustov could cry like that, and it seemed to me that now I knew what a small person he was, and that I should, in his place, have acted quite differently. What's one to make of it? If Fustov had remained quite unmoved, I should perhaps have hated him, have conceived an aversion for him, but he would not have sunk in my esteem.... He would have kept his prestige. Don Juan would have remained Don Juan! Very late in life, and only after many experiences, does a man learn, at the sight of a fellow-creature's real failing or weakness, to sympathise with him, and help him without a secret self-congratulation at his own virtue and strength, but on the contrary, with every humility and comprehension of the naturalness, almost the inevitableness, of sin. XXIII
I was very bold and resolute in sending Fustov to the Ratsches'; but when I set out there myself at twelve o'clock (nothing would induce Fustov to go with me, he only begged me to give him an exact account of everything), when round the corner of the street their house glared at me in the distance with a yellowish blur from the coffin candles at one of the windows, an indescribable pani c made me hold my breath, and I would gladly have turned back.... I mastered myself, however, and went into the passage. It smelt of incense and wax; the pink cover of the coffin, edged with silver lace, stood in a corner, leaning against the wall. In one of the adjoining rooms, the dining-room, the monotonous muttering of the deacon droned like the buzzing of a bee. From the drawing-room peeped out the sleepy face of a servant girl, who murmured in a subdued voice, 'Come to do homage to the dead?' She indicated the door of the dining-room. I went in. The coffin stood with the head towards the door; the black hair of Susanna under the white wreath, above the raised lace of the pillow, first caught my eyes. I went up sidewards, crossed myself, bowed down to the ground, glanced... Merciful God! what a face of agony! Unhappy girl! even death had no pity on her, had denied her—beauty, that would be little—even that peace, that tender and impressive peace which is often seen on the faces of the newly dead. The little, dark, almost brown, face of Susanna recalled the visages on old, old holy pictures. And the expression on that face! It looked as though she were on the point of shrieking—a shriek of despair—and had died so, uttering no sound... even the line between the brows was not smoothed out, and the fingers on the hands were bent back and clenched. I turned away my eyes involuntarily; but, after a brief interval, I forced myself to look, to look long and attentively at her. Pity filled my soul, and not pity alone. 'That girl died by violence,' I decided inwardly; 'that's beyond doubt.' While I was standing looking at the dead girl, the deacon, who on my entrance had raised his voice and uttered a few disconnected sounds, relapsed into droning again, and yawned twice. I bowed to the ground a second time, and went out into the passage.
In the doorway of the drawing-room Mr. Ratsch was already on the look-out for me, dressed in a gay-coloured dressing-gown. Beckoning to me with his hand, he led me to his own room—I had almost said, to his lair. The room, dark and close, soaked through and through with the sour smell of stale tobacco, suggested a comparison with the lair of a wolf or a fox. XXIV
'Rupture! rupture of the external... of the external covering.... You understand.., the envelopes of the heart!' said Mr. Ratsch, directly the door closed. 'Such a misfortune! Only yesterday evening there was nothi ng to notice, and all of a sudden, all in a minute, all was over! It's a true saying, "heute roth, morgen todt!" It's true; it's what was to be expected. I always expected it. At Tambov the regimental doctor, Galimbovsky, Vikenty Kasimirovitch.... you've probably heard of him... a first-rate medical man, a specialist—'
'It's the first time I've heard the name,' I observed.
'Well, no matter; any way he was always,' pursued Mr. Ratsch, at first in a low voice, and then louder and louder, and, to my surprise, with a perceptible German accent, 'he was always warning me: "Ay, Ivan Demianitch! ay! my dear boy, you must be careful! Your stepdaughter has an organic defect in the heart—hypertrophia cordialis! The least thing and there'll be trouble! She must avoid all exciting emotions above all.... You must appeal to her reason."... But, upon my word, with a young lady... can one appeal to reason? Ha... ha... ha...'
Mr. Ratsch was, through long habit, on the point of laughing, but he recollected himself in time, and changed the incipient guffaw into a cough.
And this was what Mr. Ratsch said! After all that I had found out about him!... I thought it my duty, however, to ask him whether a doctor was called in.
Mr. Ratsch positively bounced into the air.
'To be sure there was.... Two were summoned, but it was already over—abgemacht! And only fancy, both, as though they were agreeing' (Mr. Ratsch probably meant, as though they had agreed), 'rupture! rupture of the heart! That's what, with one voice, they cried out. They proposed a post-mortem; but I... you understand, did not consent to that.'
'And the funeral's to-morrow?' I queried.
'Yes, yes, to-morrow, to-morrow we bury our dear one! The procession will leave the house precisely at eleven o'clock in the morning.... From here to the church of St. Nicholas on Hen's Legs... what strange names your Russian churches do have, you know! Then to the last resting-place in mother earth. You will come! We have not been long acquainted, but I make bold to say, the amiability of your character and the elevation of your sentiments!...'
I made haste to nod my head.
'Yes, yes, yes,' sighed Mr. Ratsch. 'It... it really has been, as they say, a thunderbolt from a clear sky! Ein Blitz aus heiterem Himmel!'
'And Susanna Ivanovna said nothing before her death, left nothing?'
'Nothing, positively! Not a scrap of anything! Not a bit of paper! Only fancy, when they called me to her, when they waked me up—she was stiff already! Very distressing it was for me; she has grieved us all terribly! Alexander Daviditch will be sorry too, I dare say, when he knows.... They say he is not in Moscow.'
'He did leave town for a few days...' I began.
'Viktor Ivanovitch is complaining they're so long getting his sledge harnessed,' interrupted a servant girl coming in—the same girl I had seen in the passage. Her face, still looking half-awake, struck me this time by the expression of coarse insolence to be seen in servants when they know that their masters are in their power, and that they do not dare to find fault or be exacting with them.
'Directly, directly,' Ivan Demianitch responded nervously. 'Eleonora Karpovna! Leonora! Lenchen! come here!'
There was a sound of something ponderous moving the other side of the door, and at the same instant I heard Viktor's imperious call: 'Why on earth don't they put the horses in? You don't catch me trudging off to the police on foot!'
'Directly, directly,' Ivan Demianitch faltered again. 'Eleonora Karpovna, come here!'
'But, Ivan Demianitch,' I heard her voice, 'ich habe keine Toilette gemacht!'
'Macht nichts. Komm herein!'
Eleonora Karpovna came in, holding a kerchief over her neck with two fingers. She had on a morning wrapper, not buttoned up, and had not yet done her hair. Ivan Demianitch flew up to her.
'You hear, Viktor's calling for the horses,' he said, hurriedly pointing his finger first to the door, then to the window. 'Please, do see to it, as quick as possible! Der Kerl schreit so!'
'Der Viktor schreit immer, Ivan Demianitch, Sie wissen wohl,' responded Eleonora Karpovna, 'and I have spoken to the coachman myself, but he's taken it into his head to give the horses oats. Fancy, what a calamity to happen so suddenly,' she added, turning to me; 'who could have expected such a thing of Susanna Ivanovna?'
'I was always expecting it, always!' cried Ratsch, and threw up his arms, his dressing-gown flying up in front as he did so, and displaying most repulsive unmentionables of chamois leather, with buckles on the belt. 'Rupture of the heart! rupture of the external membrane! Hypertrophy!'
'To be sure,' Eleonora Karpovna repeated after him, 'hyper... Well, so it is. Only it's a terrible, terrible grief to me, I say again...' And her coarse-featured face worked a little, her eyebrows rose into the shape of triangles, and a tiny tear rolled over her round cheek, that looked varnished like a doll's.... 'I'm very sorry that such a young person who ought to have lived and enjoyed everything... everything... And to fall into despair so suddenly!'
'Na! gut, gut... geh, alte!' Mr. Ratsch cut her short.
'Geh' schon, geh' schon,' muttered Eleonora Karpovna, and she went away, still holding the kerchief with her fingers, and shedding tears.
And I followed her. In the passage stood Viktor in a student's coat with a beaver collar and a cap stuck jauntily on one side. He barely glanced at me over his shoulder, shook his collar up, and did not nod to me, for which I mentally thanked him.
I went back to Fustov. XXV
I found my friend sitting in a corner of his room with downcast head and arms folded across his breast. He had sunk into a state of numbness, and he gazed around him with the slow, bewildered look of a man who has slept very heavily and has only just been wake d. I told him all about my visit to Ratsch's, repeated the veteran's remarks and those of his wife, described the impression they had made on me and informed him of my conviction that the unhappy girl had taken her own life.... Fustov listened to me with no change of expression, and looked about him with the same bewildered air.
'Did you see her?' he asked me at last.
'In the coffin?'
Fustov seemed to doubt whether Susanna were really dead.
'In the coffin.'
Fustov's face twitched and he dropped his eyes and softly rubbed his hands.
'Are you cold?' I asked him.
'Yes, old man, I'm cold,' he answered hesitatingly, and he shook his head stupidly.
I began to explain my reasons for thinking that Susanna had poisoned herself or perhaps had been poisoned, and that the matter could not be left so....
Fustov stared at me.
'Why, what is there to be done?' he said, slowly opening his eyes wide and slowly closing them. 'Why, it'll be worse... if it's known about. They won't bury her. We must let things... alone.'
This idea, simple as it was, had never entered my head. My friend's practical sense had not deserted him.
'When is... her funeral?' he went on.
'Are you going?'
'To the house or straight to the church?'
'To the house and to the church too; and from there to the cemetery.'
'But I shan't go... I can't, I can't!' whispered Fustov and began crying. It was at these same words that he had broken into sobs in the morning. I have noticed that it is often so with weeping; as though to certain words, for the most of no great meaning,—but just to these words and to no others—it is given to open the fount of tears in a man, to break him down, and to excite in him the feeling of pity for others and himself... I remember a peasant woman was once describing before me the sudden death of her daughter, and she fairly dissolved and could not go on with her tale as soon as she uttered the phrase, 'I said to her, Fekla. And she says, "Mother, where have you put the salt... the salt... sa-alt?"' The word 'salt' overpowered her.
But again, as in the morning, I was but little moved by Fustov's tears. I could not conceive how it was he did not ask me if Susanna had not left something for him. Altogether their love for one another was a riddle to me; and a riddle it remained to me.
After weeping for ten minutes Fustov got up, lay down on the sofa, turned his face to the wall, and remained motionless. I waited a little, but seeing that he did not stir, and made no answer to my questions, I made up my mind to leave him. I am perhaps doing him injustice, but I almost believe he was asleep. Though indeed that would be no proof that he did not feel sorrow... only his nature was so constituted as to be unable to support painful emotions for long... His nature was too awfully well-balanced! XXVI
The next day exactly at eleven o'clock I was at the place. Fine hail was falling from the low-hanging sky, there was a slight frost, a thaw was close at hand, but there were cutting, disagreeable gusts of wind flitting across in the air.... It was the most thoroughly Lenten, cold-catching weather. I found Mr. Ratsch on the steps of his house. In a black frock-coat adorned with crape, with no hat on his head, he fussed about, waved his arms, smote himself on the thighs, shouted up to the house, and then down into the street, in the directi on of the funeral car with a white catafalque, already standing there with two hired carriages. Near it four garrison soldiers, with mourning capes over their old coats, and mourning hats pulled over their screwed-up eyes, were pensively scratching in the crumbling snow with the long stems of their unlighted torches. The grey shock of hair positively stood up straight above the red face of Mr. Ratsch, and his voice, that brazen voice, was cracking from the strain he was putting on it. 'Where are the pine branches? pine branches! this way! the branches of pine!' he yelled. 'They'll be bearing out the coffin directly! The pine! Hand over those pine branches! Look alive!' he cried once more, and dashed into the house. It appeared that in spite of my punctuality, I was late: Mr. Ratsch had thought fit to hurry things forward. The service in the house was already over; the priests—of whom one wore a calotte, and the other, rather younger, had most carefully combed and oiled his hair—appeared with all their retinue on the steps. The coffin too appeared soon after, carried by a coachman, two door-keepers, and a water-carrier. Mr. Ratsch walked behind, with the tips of his fingers on the coffin lid, continually repeating, 'Easy, easy!' Behind him waddled Eleonora Karpovna in a black dress, also adorned with crape, surrounded by her whole family; after all of them, Viktor stepped out in a new uniform with a sword with crape round the handle. The coffin-bearers, grumbling and altercating among themselves, laid the coffin on the hearse; the garrison soldiers lighted their torches, which at once began crackling and smoking; a stray old woman, who had joined herself on to the party, raised a wail; the deacons began to chant, the fine snow suddenly fell faster and whirled round like 'white flies.' Mr. Ratsch bawled, 'In God's name! start!' and the procession started. Besides Mr. Ratsch's family, there were in all five men accompanying the hearse: a retired and extremely shabby officer of roads and highways, with a faded Stanislas ribbon—not improbably hired—on his neck; the police superintendent's assistant, a diminutive man with a meek face and greedy eyes; a little old man in a fustian smock; an extremely fat fishmonger in a tradesman's bluejacket, smelling strongly of his calling, and I. The absence of the female sex (for one could hardly count as such two aunts of Eleonora Karpovna, sisters of the sausagemaker, and a hunchback old maiden lady with blue spectacles on her blue nose), the absence of girl friends and acquaintances struck me at first; but on thinking it over I realised that Susanna, with her character, her education, her memories, could not have made friends in the circle in which she was living. In the church there were a good many people assembled, more outsiders than acquaintances, as one could see by the expression of their faces. The service did not last long. What surprised me was that Mr. Ratsch crossed himself with great fervour, quite as though he were of the orthodox faith, and even chimed in with the deacons in the responses, though only with the notes not with the words. When at last it came to taking leave of the dead, I bowed low, but did not give the last kiss. Mr. Ratsch, on the contrary, went through this terrible ordeal with the utmost composure, and with a deferential inclination of his person invited the officer of the Stanislas ribbon to the coffin, as though offering him entertainment, and picking his children up under the arms swung them up in turn and held them up to the body. Eleonora Karpovna, on taking farewell of Susanna, suddenly broke into a roar that filled the church; but she was soon soothed and continually asked in an exasperated whisper, 'But where's my reticule?' Viktor held himself aloof, and seemed to be trying by his whole demeanour to convey that he was out of sympathy with all such customs and was only performing a social duty. The person who showed the most sympathy was the little old man in the smock, who had been, fifteen years before, a land surveyor in the Tambov province, and had not seen Ratsch since then. He did not know Susanna at all, but had drunk a couple of glasses of spirits at the sideboard before starting. My aunt had also come to the church. She had somehow or other found out that the deceased woman was the very lady who had paid me a visit, and had been thrown into a state of indescribable agitation! She could not bring herself to suspect me of any sort of misconduct, but neither could she explain such a strange chain of circumstances.... Not improbably she imagined that Susanna had been led by love for me to commit suicide, and attired in her darkest garments, with an aching heart and tears, she prayed on her knees for the peace of the soul of the departed, and put a rouble candle before the picture of the Consolation of Sorrow.... 'Amishka' had come with her too, and she too prayed, but was for the most part gazing at me, horror-stricken.... That elderly spinster, alas! did not regard me with indifference. On leaving the church, my aunt distributed all her money, more than ten roubles, among the poor.
At last the farewell was over. They began closing the coffin. During the whole service I had not courage to look straight at the poor girl's distorted face; but every time that my eyes passed by it—'he did not come, he did not come,' it seemed to me that it wanted to say. They were just going to lower the lid upon the coffin. I could not restrain myself: I turned a rapid glance on to the dead woman. 'Why did you do it?' I was unconsciously asking.... 'He did not come!' I fancied for the last time.... The hammer was knocking in the nails, and all was over. XXVII
We followed the hearse towards the cemetery. We were forty in number, of all sorts and conditions, nothing else really than an idle crowd. The wearisome journey lasted more than an hour. The weather became worse and worse. Halfway there Viktor got into a carriage, but Mr. Ratsch stepped gallantly on through the sloppy snow; just so must he have stepped through the snow when, after the fateful interview with Semyon Matveitch, he led home with him in triumph the girl whose life he had ruined for ever. The 'veteran's' hair and eyebrows were edged with snow; he kept blowing and uttering exclamations, or manfully drawing deep breaths and puffing out his round, dark-red cheeks.... One really might have thought he was laughing. 'On my death the p ension was to pass to Ivan Demianitch'; these words from Susanna's manuscript recurred again to my mind. We reached the cemetery at last; we moved up to a freshly dug grave. The last ceremony was quickly performed; all were chilled through, all were in haste. The coffin slid on cords into the yawning hole; they began to throw earth on it. Mr. Ratsch here too showed the energy of his spirit, so rapidly, with such force and vigour, did he fling clods of earth on to the coffin lid, throwing himself into an heroic pose, with one leg planted firmly before him... he could not have shown more energy if he had been stoning his bitterest foe. Viktor, as before, held himself aloof; he kept muffling himself up in his coat, and rubbing his chin in the fur of his collar. Mr. Ratsch's other children eagerly imitated their father. Flinging sand and earth was a source of great enjoyment to them, for which, of course, they were in no way to blame. A mound began to rise up where the hole had been; we were on the point of separating, when Mr. Ratsch, wheeling round to the left in soldierly fashion, and slapping himself on the thigh, announced to all of us 'gentlemen present,' that he invited us, and also the 'reverend clergy,' to a 'funeral banquet,' which had been arranged at no great distance from the cemetery, in the chief saloon of an extremely superior restaurant, 'thanks to the kind offices of our honoured friend Sigismund Sigismundovitch.'... At these words he indicated the assistant of the police superintendent, and added that for all his grief and his Lutheran faith, he, Ivan Demianitch Ratsch, as a genuine Russian, put the old Russian usages before everything. 'My spouse,' he cried, 'with the ladies that have accompanied her, may go home, while we gentlemen commemorate in a modest repast the shade of Thy departed servant!' Mr. Ratsch's proposal was received with genuine sympathy; 'the reverend clergy' exchanged expressive glances with one another, while the officer of roads and highways slapped Ivan Demianitch on the shoulder, and called him a patriot and the soul of the company.
We set off all together to the restaurant. In the restaurant, in the middle of a long, wide, and quite empty room on the first storey, stood two tables laid for dinner, covered with bottles and eatables, and surrounded by chairs. The smell of whitewash, mingled with the odours of spirits and salad oil, was stifling and oppressive. The police superintendent's assistant, as the organiser of the banquet, placed the clergy in the seats of honour, near which the Lenten dishes were crowded together conspicuously; after the priests the other guests took their seats; the banquet began. I would not have used such a festive word as banquet by choice, but no other word would have corresponded with the real character of the thing. At first the proceedings were fairly quiet, even slightly mournful; jaws munched busily, and glasses were emptied, but sighs too were audible—possibly sighs of digestion, but possibly also of feeling. There were references to death, allusions to the brevity of human life, and the fleeting nature of earthly hopes. The officer of roads and highways related a military but still edifying anecdote. The priest in the calotte expressed his approval, and himself contributed an interesting fact from the life of the saint, Ivan the Warrior. The priest with the superbly arranged hair, though his attention was chiefly engrossed by the edibles, gave utterance to something improving on the subject of chastity. But little by little all this changed. Faces grew redder, and voices grew louder, and laughter reasserted itself; one began to hear disconnected exclamations, caressing appellations, after the manner of 'dear old boy,' 'dear heart alive,' 'old cock,' and even 'a pig like that'—everything, in fact, of which the Russian nature is so lavish, when, as they say, 'it comes unbuttoned.' By the time that the corks of home-made champagne were popping, the party had become noisy; some one even crowed like a cock, while another guest was offering to bite up and swallow the glass out of which he had just been drinking. Mr. Ratsch, no longer red but purple, suddenly rose from his seat; he had been guffawing and making a great noise before, but now he asked leave to make a speech. 'Speak! Out with it!' every one roared; the old man in the smock even bawled 'bravo!' and clapped his hands... but he was already sitting on the floor. Mr. Ratsch lifted his glass high above his head, and announced that he proposed in brief but 'impressionable' phrases to refer to the qualities of the noble soul which,'leaving here, so to say, its earthly husk (die irdische Hülle) has soared to heaven, and plunged...' Mr. Ratsch corrected himself: 'and plashed....' He again corrected himself: 'and plunged...'
'Father deacon! Reverend sir! My good soul!' we heard a subdued but insistent whisper, 'they say you've a devilish good voice; honour us with a song, strike up: "We live among the fields!"'
'Sh! sh!... Shut up there!' passed over the lips of the guests.
...'Plunged all her devoted family,' pursued Mr. Ratsch, turning a severe glance in the direction of the lover of music, 'plunged all her family into the most irreplaceable grief! Yes!' cried Ivan Demianitch, 'well may the Russian proverb say, "Fate spares not the rod."...'
'Stop! Gentlemen!' shouted a hoarse voice at the end of the table, 'my purse has just been stolen!...'
'Ah, the swindler!' piped another voice, and slap! went a box on the ear.
Heavens! What followed then! It was as though the wild beast, till then only growling and faintly stirring within us, had suddenly broken from its chains and reared up, ruffled and fierce in all its hideousness. It seemed as though every one had been secretly expecting 'a scandal,' as the natural outcome and sequel of a banquet, and all, as it were, rushed to welcome it, to support it.... Plates, glasses clattered and rolled about, chairs were upset, a deafening din arose, hands were waving in the air, coat-tails were flying, and a fight began in earnest.
'Give it him! give it him!' roared like mad my neighbour, the fishmonger, who had till that instant seemed to be the most peaceable person in the world; it is true he had been silently drinking some dozen glasses of spirits. 'Thrash him!...'
Who was to be thrashed, and what he was to be thrashed for, he had no idea, but he bellowed furiously.
The police superintendent's assistant, the officer of roads and highways, and Mr. Ratsch, who had probably not expected such a speedy termination to his eloquence, tried to restore order... but their efforts were unavailing. My neighbour, the fishmonger, even fell foul of Mr. Ratsch himself.
'He's murdered the young woman, the blasted German,' he yelled at him, shaking his fists; 'he's bought over the police, and here he's crowing over it!!'
At this point the waiters ran in.... What happened further I don't know; I snatched up my cap in all haste, and made off as fast as my legs would carry me! All I remember is a fearful crash; I recall, too, the remains of a herring in the hair of the old man in the smock, a priest's hat flying right across the room, the pale face of Viktor huddled up in a corner, and a red beard in the grasp of a muscular hand.... Such were the last impressions I carried away of the 'memorial banquet,' arranged by the excellent Sigismund Sigismundovitch in honour of poor Susanna.
After resting a little, I set off to see Fustov, and told him all of which I had been a witness during that day. He listened to me, sitting still, and not raising his head, and putting both hands under his legs, he murmured again, 'Ah! my poor girl, my poor girl!' and again lay down on the sofa and turned his back on me.
A week later he seemed to have quite got over it, and took up his life as before. I asked him for Susanna's manuscript as a keepsake: he gave it me without raising any objection. XXVIII
Several years passed by. My aunt was dead; I had left Moscow and settled in Petersburg. Fustov too had moved to Petersburg. He had entered the department of the Ministry of Finance, but we rarely met and I saw nothing much in him then. An official like every one else, and nothing more! If he is still living and not married, he is, most likely, unchanged to this day; he carves and carpenters and uses dumb-bells, and is as much a lady-killer as ever, and sketches Napoleon in a blue uniform in the albums of his lady friends. It happened that I had to go to Moscow on business. In Moscow I learned, with considerable surprise, that the fortunes of my former acquaintance, Mr. Ratsch, had taken an adverse turn. His wife had, indeed, presented him with twins, two boys, whom as a true Russian he had christened Briacheslav and Viacheslav, but his house had been burnt down, he had been forced to retire from his position, and worst of all, his eldest son, Viktor, had become practically a pe rmanent inmate of the debtors' prison. During my stay in Moscow, among a company at a friendly gathering, I chanced to hear an allusion made to Susanna, and a most slighting, most insulting allusion! I did all I could to defend the memory of the unhappy girl, to whom fate had denied even the charity of oblivion, but my arguments did not make much impression on my audience. One of them, a young student poet, was, however, a little moved by my words. He sent me next day a poem, which I have forgotten, but which ended in the following four lines:
'Her tomb lies cold, forlorn, but even death Her gentle spirit's memory cannot save From the sly voice of slander whispering on, Withering the flowers on her forsaken tomb....'
I read these lines and unconsciously sank into musing. Susanna's image rose before me; once more I seemed to see the frozen window in my room; I recalled that evening and the blustering snowstorm, and those words, those sobs.... I began to ponder how it was possible to explain Susanna's love for Fustov, and why she had so quickly, so impulsively given way to despair, as soon as she saw herself forsaken. How was it she had had no desire to wait a little, to hear the bitter truth from the lips of the man she loved, to write to him, even? How could she fling herself at once headlong into the abyss? Because she was passionately in love with Fustov, I shall be told; because she could not bear the slightest doubt of his devotion, of his respect for her. Perhaps; or perhaps because she was not at all so passionately in love with Fustov; that she did not deceive herself about him, but simply rested her last hopes on him, and could not get over the thought that even this man had at once, at the first breath of slander, turned away from her with contempt! Who can say what killed her; wounded pride, or the wretchedness of her helpless position, or the very memory of that first, noble, true-hearted nature to whom she had so joyfully pledged herself in the morning of her early days, who had so deeply trusted her, and so honoured her? Who knows; perhaps at the very instant when I fancied that her dead lips were murmuring, 'he did not come!' her soul was rejoicing that she had gone herself to him, to her Michel? The secrets of human life are great, and love itself, the most impenetrable of those secrets.... Anyway, to this day, whenever the image of Susanna rises before me, I cannot overcome a feeling of pity for her, and of angry reproach against fate, and my lips whisper instinctively, 'Unhappy girl! unhappy girl!'