On the Eve/XXV

XXV
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'There's some one here looks like a locksmith or something of the sort,' Bersenyev was informed the following evening by his servant, who was distinguished by a severe deportment and sceptical turn of mind towards his master; 'he wants to see you.'

'Ask him in,' said Bersenyev.

The 'locksmith' entered. Bersenyev recognised in him the tailor, the landlord of Insarov's lodgings.

'What do you want?' he asked him.

'I came to your honour,' began the tailor, shifting from one foot to the other, and at times waving his right hand with his cuff clutched in his three last fingers. 'Our lodger, seemingly, is very ill.'

'Insarov?'

'Yes, our lodger, to be sure; yesterday morning he was still on his legs, in the evening he asked for nothing but drink; the missis took him some water, and at night he began talking away; we could hear him through the partition-wall; and this morning he lies without a word like a log, and the fever he's in, Lord have mercy on us! I thought, upon my word, he'll die for sure; I ought to send word to the police station, I thought. For he's so alone; but the missis said: "Go to that gentleman," she says, "at whose country place our lodger stayed; maybe he'll tell you what to do, or come himself." So I've come to your honour, for we can't, so to say——'

Bersenyev snatched up his cap, thrust a rouble into the tailor's hand, and at once set off with him post haste to Insarov's lodgings.

He found him lying on the sofa, unconscious and not undressed. His face was terribly changed. Bersenyev at once ordered the people of the house to undress him and put him to bed, while he rushed off himself and returned with a doctor. The doctor prescribed leeches, mustard-poultices, and calomel, and ordered him to be bled.

'Is he dangerously ill?' asked Bersenyev.

'Yes, very dangerously,' answered the doctor. 'Severe inflammation of the lungs; peripneumonia fully developed, and the brain perhaps affected, but the patient is young. His very strength is something against him now. I was sent for too late; still we will do all that science dictates.'

The doctor was young himself, and still believed in science.

Bersenyev stayed the night. The people of the house seemed kind, and even prompt directly there was some one to tell them what was to be done. An assistant arrived, and began to carry out the medical measures.

Towards morning Insarov revived for a few minutes, recognised Bersenyev, asked: 'Am I ill, then?' looked about him with the vague, listless bewilderment of a man dangerously ill, and again relapsed into unconsciousness. Bersenyev went home, changed his clothes, and, taking a few books along with him, he returned to Insarov's lodgings. He made up his mind to stay there, at least for a time. He shut in Insarov's bed with screens, and arranged a little place for himself by the sofa. The day passed slowly and drearily. Bersenyev did not leave the room except to get his dinner. The evening came. He lighted a candle with a shade, and settled down to a book. Everything was still around. Through the partition wall could be heard suppressed whispering in the landlord's room, then a yawn, and a sigh. Some one sneezed, and was scolded in a whisper; behind the screen was heard the patient's heavy, uneven breathing, sometimes broken by a short groan, and the uneasy tossing of his head on the pillow. . . . Strange fancies came over Bersenyev. He found himself in the room of a man whose life was hanging on a thread, the man whom, as he knew, Elena loved. . . . He remembered that night when Shubin had overtaken him and declared that she loved him, him, Bersenyev! And now. . . . 'What am I to do now?' he asked himself. 'Let Elena know of his illness? Wait a little? This would be worse news for her than what I told her once before; strange how fate makes me the go-between between them!' He made up his mind that it was better to wait a little. His eyes fell on the table covered with heaps of papers. . . 'Will he carry out his dreams?' thought Bersenyev. 'Can it be that all will come to nothing?' And he was filled with pity for the young life struck down, and he vowed to himself to save it.

The night was an uneasy one. The sick man was very delirious. Several times Bersenyev got up from his little sofa, approached the bed on tip-toe, and listened with a heavy heart to his disconnected muttering. Only once Insarov spoke with sudden distinctness: 'I won't, I won't, she mustn't. . . .' Bersenyev started and looked at Insarov; his face, suffering and death-like at the same time, was immovable, and his hands lay powerless. 'I won't,' he repeated, scarcely audibly.

The doctor came in the morning, shook his head and wrote fresh prescriptions. 'The crisis is a long way off still,' he said, putting on his hat.

'And after the crisis?' asked Bersenyev.

'The crisis may end in two ways, aut Caesar aut nihil.

The doctor went away. Bersenyev walked a few times up and down the street; he felt in need of fresh air. He went back and took up a book again. Raumer he had finished long ago; he was now making a study of Grote.

Suddenly the door softly creaked, and the head of the landlord's daughter, covered as usual with a heavy kerchief, was cautiously thrust into the room.

'Here is the lady,' she whispered, 'who gave me a silver piece.'

The child's head vanished quickly, and in its place appeared Elena.

Bersenyev jumped up as if he had been stung; but Elena did not stir, nor cry out. It seemed as if she understood everything in a single instant. A terrible pallor overspread her face, she went up to the screen, looked behind it, threw up her arms, and seemed turned to stone.

A moment more and she would have flung herself on Insarov, but Bersenyev stopped her. 'What are you doing?' he said in a trembling whisper, 'you might be the death of him!'

She was reeling. He led her to the sofa, and made her sit down.

She looked into his face, then her eyes ran over him from head to foot, then stared at the floor.

'Will he die?' she asked so coldly and quietly that Bersenyev was frightened.

'For God's sake, Elena Nikolaevna,' he began, 'what are you saying? He is ill certainly—and rather seriously—but we will save him; I promise you that'

'He is unconscious?' she asked in the same tone of voice as before.

'Yes, he is unconscious at present. That's always the case at the early stage of these illnesses, but it means nothing, nothing—I assure you. Drink some water.'

She raised her eyes to his, and he saw she had not heard his answer.

'If he dies,' she said in the same voice,' I will die too.'

At that instant Insarov uttered a slight moan; she trembled all over, clutched at her head, then began untying the strings of her hat.

'What are you doing?' Bersenyev asked her.

'I will stay here.'

'You will stay—for long?'

'I don't know, perhaps all day, the night, always—I don't know.'

'For God's sake, Elena Nikolaevna, control yourself. I could not of course have any expectation of seeing you here; but still I—assume you have come for a short time. Remember they may miss you at home.'

'What then?'

'They will look for you—find you——'

'What then?'

'Elena Nikolaevna! You see. He cannot now protect you.'

She dropped her head, seemed lost in thought, raised a handkerchief to her lips, and convulsive sobs, tearing her by their violence, were suddenly wrung from her breast. She threw herself, face downwards, on the sofa, trying to stifle them, but still her body heaved and throbbed like a captured bird.

'Elena Nikolaevna—for God's sake,' Bersenyev was repeating over her.

'Ah! What is it?' suddenly sounded the voice of Insarov.

Elena started up, and Bersenyev felt rooted to the spot. After waiting a little, he went up to the bed. Insarov's head lay on the pillow helpless as before; his eyes were closed.

'Is he delirious?' whispered Elena.

'It seems so,' answered Bersenyev, 'but that's nothing; it's always so, especially if——'

'When was he taken ill?' Elena broke in.

'The day before yesterday; I have been here since yesterday. Rely on me, Elena Nikolaevna. I will not leave him; everything shall be done. If necessary, we will have a consultation.'

'He will die without me,' she cried, wringing her hands.

'I give you my word I will let you hear every day how his illness goes on, and if there should be immediate danger——'

'Swear you will send for me at once whenever it may be, day or night, write a note straight to me—I care for nothing now. Do you hear? you promise you will do that?'

'I promise before God'

'Swear it.'

'I swear.'

She suddenly snatched his hand, and before he had time to pull it away, she had bent and pressed her lips to it.

'Elena Nikolaevna, what are you——' he stammered.

'No—no—I won't have it——' Insarov muttered indistinctly, and sighed painfully.

Elena went up to the screen, her handkerchief pressed between her teeth, and bent a long, long look on the sick man. Silent tears rolled down her cheeks.

'Elena Nikolaevna,' Bersenyev said to her, 'he might come to himself and recognise you; there's no knowing if that wouldn't do harm. Besides, from hour to hour I expect the doctor.'

Elena took her hat from the sofa, put it on and stood still. Her eyes strayed mournfully over the room. She seemed to be remembering. ...

'I cannot go away,' she whispered at last.

Bersenyev pressed her hand: 'Try to pull yourself together,' he said, 'calm yourself; you are leaving him in my care. I will come to you this very evening.'

Elena looked at him, said: 'Oh, my good, kind friend!' broke into sobs and rushed away.

Bersenyev leaned against the door. A feeling of sorrow and bitterness, not without a kind of strange consolation, overcame him. 'My good, kind friend!' he thought and shrugged his shoulders.

'Who is here?' he heard Insarov's voice.

Bersenyev went up to him. 'I am here, Dmitri Nikanorovitch. How are you? How do you feel?'

'Are you alone?' asked the sick man.

'Yes.'

'And she?'

'Whom do you mean?' Bersenyev asked almost in dismay.

Insarov was silent. 'Mignonette,' he murmured, and his eyes closed again.