The next day was Sunday, and Natalya got up late. The day before she had been very silent all day; she was secretly ashamed of her tears, and she slept very badly. Sitting half-dressed at her little piano, at times she played some chords, hardly audibly for fear of waking Mlle. Boncourt, and then let her forehead fall on the cold keys and remained a long while motionless. She kept thinking, not of Rudin himself, but of some word he had uttered, and she was wholly buried in her own thought. Sometimes she recollected Volintsev. She knew that he loved her. But her mind did not dwell on him more than an instant. . . . She felt a strange agitation. In the morning she dressed hurriedly and went down, and after saying good-morning to her mother, seized an opportunity and went out alone into the garden. . . . It was a hot day, bright and sunny in spite of occasional showers of rain. Slight vapoury clouds sailed smoothly over the clear sky, scarcely obscuring the sun, and at times a downpour of rain fell suddenly in sheets, and was as quickly over. The thickly falling drops, flashing like diamonds, fell swiftly with a kind of dull thud; the sunshine glistened through their sparkling drops; the grass, that had been rustling in the wind, was still, thirstily drinking in the moisture; the drenched trees were languidly shaking all their leaves; the birds were busily singing, and it was pleasant to hear their twittering chatter mingling with the fresh gurgle and murmur of the running rain-water. The dusty roads were steaming and slightly spotted by the smart strokes of the thick drops. Then the clouds passed over, a slight breeze began to stir, and the grass began to take tints of emerald and gold. The trees seemed more transparent with their wet leaves clinging together. A strong scent arose from all around.
The sky was almost cloudless again when Natalya came into the garden. It was full of sweetness and peace—that soothing, blissful peace in which the heart of man is stirred by a sweet languor of undefined desire and secret emotion.
Natalya walked along a long line of silver poplars beside the pond; suddenly, as if he had sprung out of the earth, Rudin stood before her. She was confused. He looked her in the face.
‘You are alone?’ he inquired.
‘Yes, I am alone,’ replied Natalya, ‘but I was going back directly. It is time I was home.’
‘I will go with you.’
And he walked along beside her.
‘You seem melancholy,’ he said.
‘I—I was just going to say that I thought you were out of spirits.’
‘Very likely—it is often so with me. It is more excusable in me than in you.’
‘Why? Do you suppose I have nothing to be melancholy about?’
‘At your age you ought to find happiness in life.’
Natalya walked some steps in silence.
‘Dmitri Nikolaitch!’ she said.
‘Do you remember—the comparison you made yesterday—do you remember—of the oak?’
‘Yes, I remember. Well?’
Natalya stole a look at Rudin.
‘Why did you—what did you mean by that comparison?’
Rudin bent his head and fastened his eyes on the distance.
‘Natalya Alexyevna!’ he began with the intense and pregnant intonation peculiar to him, which always made the listener believe that Rudin was not expressing even the tenth part of what he held locked in his heart—‘Natalya Alexyevna! you may have noticed that I speak little of my own past. There are some chords which I do not touch upon at all. My heart—who need know what has passed in it? To expose that to view has always seemed sacrilege to me. But with you I cast aside reserve; you win my confidence. . . . I cannot conceal from you that I too have loved and have suffered like all men. . . . When and how? it’s useless to speak of that; but my heart has known much bliss and much pain. . . .’
Rudin made a brief pause.
‘What I said to you yesterday,’ he went on, ‘might be applied in a degree to me in my present position. But again it is useless to speak of this. That side of life is over for me now. What remains for me is a tedious and fatiguing journey along the parched and dusty road from point to point . . . When I shall arrive—whether I arrive at all—God knows. . . . Let us rather talk of you.’
‘Can it be, Dmitri Nikolaitch,’ Natalya interrupted him, ‘you expect nothing from life?’
‘Oh, no! I expect much, but not for myself. . . . Usefulness, the content that comes from activity, I shall never renounce; but I have renounced happiness. My hopes, my dreams, and my own happiness have nothing in common. Love’—(at this word he shrugged his shoulders)—‘love is not for me; I am not worthy of it; a woman who loves has a right to demand the whole of a man, and I can never now give the whole of myself. Besides, it is for youth to win love; I am too old. How could I turn any one’s head? God grant I keep my own head on my shoulders.’
‘I understand,’ said Natalya, ‘that one who is bent on a lofty aim must not think of himself; but cannot a woman be capable of appreciating such a man? I should have thought, on the contrary, that a woman would be sooner repelled by an egoist. . . . All young men—the youth you speak of—all are egoists, they are all occupied only with themselves, even when they love. Believe me, a woman is not only able to value self-sacrifice; she can sacrifice herself.’
Natalya’s cheeks were slightly flushed and her eyes shining. Before her friendship with Rudin she would never have succeeded in uttering such a long and ardent speech.
‘You have heard my views on woman’s mission more than once,’ replied Rudin with a condescending smile. ‘You know that I consider that Joan of Arc alone could have saved France. . . . but that’s not the point. I wanted to speak of you. You are standing on the threshold of life. . . . To dwell on your future is both pleasant and not unprofitable. . . . Listen: you know I am your friend; I take almost a brother’s interest in you. And so I hope you will not think my question indiscreet; tell me, is your heart so far quite untouched?’
Natalya grew hot all over and said nothing, Rudin stopped, and she stopped too.
‘You are not angry with me?’ he asked.
‘No,’ she answered, ‘but I did not expect———’
‘However,’ he went on, ‘you need not answer me. I know your secret.’
Natalya looked at him almost with dismay.
‘Yes, yes, I know who has won your heart. And I must say that you could not have made a better choice. He is a splendid man; he knows how to value you; he has not been crushed by life—he is simple and pure-hearted in soul . . . he will make your happiness.’
‘Of whom are you speaking, Dmitri Niklaitch?’
‘Is it possible you don’t understand? Of Volintsev, of course. What? isn’t it true?’
Natalya turned a little away from Rudin. She was completely overwhelmed.
‘Do you imagine he doesn’t love you? Nonsense! he does not take his eyes off you, and follows every movement of yours; indeed, can love ever be concealed? And do not you yourself look on him with favour? So far as I can observe, your mother, too, likes him. . . . Your choice———’
‘Dmitri Nikolaitch,’ Natalya broke in, stretching out her hand in her confusion towards a bush near her, ‘it is so difficult, really, for me to speak of this; but I assure you . . . you are mistaken.’
‘I am mistaken!’ repeated Rudin. ‘I think not. I have not known you very long, but I already know you well. What is the meaning of the change I see in you? I see it clearly. Are you just the same as when I met you first, six weeks ago? No, Natalya Alexyevna, your heart is not free.’
‘Perhaps not,’ answered Natalya, hardly audibly, ‘but all the same you are mistaken.’
‘How is that?’ asked Rudin.
‘Let me go! don’t question me!’ replied Natalya, and with swift steps she turned towards the house.
She was frightened herself by the feelings of which she was suddenly conscious in herself.
Rudin overtook her and stopped her.
‘Natalya Alexyevna,’ he said, ‘this conversation cannot end like this; it is too important for me too. . . . How am I to understand you?’
‘Let me go!’ repeated Natalya.
‘Natalya Alexyevna, for mercy’s sake!’
Rudin’s face showed his agitation. He grew pale.
‘You understand everything, you must understand me too!’ said Natalya; she snatched away her hand and went on, not looking round.
‘Only one word!’ cried Rudin after her.
She stood still, but did not turn round.
‘You asked me what I meant by that comparison yesterday. Let me tell you, I don’t want to deceive you. I spoke of myself, of my past,—and of you.’
‘How? of me?’
‘Yes, of you; I repeat, I will not deceive you. You know now what was the feeling, the new feeling I spoke of then. . . . Till to-day I should not have ventured . . .’
Natalya suddenly hid her face in her hands, and ran towards the house.
She was so distracted by the unexpected conclusion of her conversation with Rudin, that she ran past Volintsev without even noticing him. He was standing motionless with his back against a tree. He had arrived at the house a quarter of an hour before, and found Darya Mihailovna in the drawing-room; and after exchanging a few words got away unobserved and went in search of Natalya. Led by a lover’s instinct, he went straight into the garden and came upon her and Rudin at the very instant when she snatched her hand away from him. Darkness seemed to fall upon his eyes. Gazing after Natalya, he left the tree and took two strides, not knowing whither or wherefore. Rudin saw him as he came up to him. Both looked each other in the face, bowed, and separated in silence.
‘This won’t be the end of it,’ both were thinking.
Volintsev went to the very end of the garden. He felt sad and sick; a load lay on his heart, and his blood throbbed in sudden stabs at intervals. The rain began to fall a little again. Rudin turned into his own room. He, too, was disturbed; his thoughts were in a whirl. The trustful, unexpected contact of a young true heart is agitating for any one.
At table everything went somehow wrong. Natalya, pale all over, could scarcely sit in her place and did not raise her eyes. Volintsev sat as usual next her, and from time to time began to talk in a constrained way to her. It happened that Pigasov was dining at Darya Mihailovna’s that day. He talked more than any one at table. Among other things he began to maintain that men, like dogs, can be divided into the short-tailed and the long-tailed. People are short-tailed, he said, either from birth or through their own fault. The short-tailed are in a sorry plight; nothing succeeds with them—they have no confidence in themselves. But the man who has a long furry tail is happy. He may be weaker and inferior to the short-tailed; but he believes in himself; he displays his tail and every one admires it. And this is a fit subject for wonder; the tail, of course, is a perfectly useless part of the body, you admit; of what use can a tail be? but all judge of their abilities by their tail. ‘I myself,’ he concluded with a sigh, ‘belong to the number of the short-tailed, and what is most annoying, I cropped my tail myself.’
‘By which you mean to say,’ commented Rudin carelessly, ‘what La Rochefoucauld said long before you: Believe in yourself and others will believe in you. Why the tail was brought in, I fail to understand.’
‘Let every one,’ Volintsev began sharply and with flashing eyes, ‘let every one express himself according to his fancy. Talk of despotism! . . . I consider there is none worse than the despotism of so-called clever men; confound them!’
Everyone was astonished at this outbreak from Volintsev; it was received in silence. Rudin tried to look at him, but he could not control his eyes, and turned away smiling without opening his lips.
‘Aha! so you too have lost your tail!’ thought Pigasov; and Natalya’s heart sank in terror. Darya Mihailovna gave Volintsev a long puzzled stare and at last was the first to speak; she began to describe an extraordinary dog belonging to a minister So-and-So.
Volintsev went away soon after dinner. As he bade Natalya good-bye he could not resist saying to her:
‘Why are you confused, as though you had done wrong? You cannot have done wrong to any one!’
Natalya did not understand at all, and could only gaze after him. Before tea Rudin went up to her, and bending over the table as though he were examining the papers, whispered:
‘It is all like a dream, isn’t it? I absolutely must see you alone—if only for a minute.’ He turned to Mlle. Boncourt ‘Here,’ he said to her, ‘this is the article you were looking for,’ and again bending towards Natalya, he added in a whisper, ‘Try to be near the terrace in the lilac arbour about ten o’clock; I will wait for you.’
Pigasov was the hero of the evening. Rudin left him in possession of the field. He afforded Darya Mihailovna much entertainment; first he told a story of one of his neighbours who, having been henpecked by his wife for thirty years, had grown so womanish that one day in crossing a little puddle when Pigasov was present, he put out his hand and picked up the skirt of his coat, as women do with their petticoats. Then he turned to another gentleman who to begin with had been a freemason, then a hypochondriac, and then wanted to be a banker.
‘How were you a freemason, Philip Stepanitch?’ Pigasov asked him.
‘You know how; I wore the nail of my little finger long.’
But what most diverted Darya Mihailovna was when Pigasov set off on a dissertation upon love, and maintained that even he had been sighed for, that one ardent German lady had even given him the nickname of her ‘dainty little African’ and her ‘hoarse little crow.’ Darya Mihailovna laughed, but Pigasov spoke the truth; he really was in a position to boast of his conquests. He maintained that nothing could be easier than to make any woman you chose fall in love with you; you only need repeat to her for ten days in succession that heaven is on her lips and bliss in her eyes, and that the rest of womankind are all simply rag-bags beside her; and on the eleventh day she will be ready to say herself that there is heaven on her lips and bliss in her eyes, and will be in love with you. Everything comes to pass in the world; so who knows, perhaps Pigasov was right?
At half-past nine Rudin was already in the arbour. The stars had come out in the pale, distant depths of the heaven; there was still a red glow where the sun had set, and there the horizon seemed brighter and clearer; a semi-circular moon shone golden through the black network of the weeping birch-tree. The other trees stood like grim giants, with thousands of chinks looking like eyes, or fell into compact masses of darkness. Not a leaf was stirring; the topmost branches of the lilacs and acacias seemed to stretch upwards into the warm air, as though listening for something. The house was a dark mass now; patches of red light showed where the long windows were lighted up. It was a soft and peaceful evening, but under this peace was felt the secret breath of passion.
Rudin stood, his arms folded on his breast, and listened with strained attention. His heart beat violently, and involuntarily he held his breath. At last he caught the sound of light, hurrying footsteps, and Natalya came into the arbour.
Rudin rushed up to her, and took her hands. They were cold as ice.
‘Natalya Alexyevna!’ he began, in an agitated whisper, ‘I wanted to see you. . . . I could not wait till to-morrow. I must tell you what I did not suspect—what I did not realise even this morning. I love you!’
Natalya’s hands trembled feebly in his.
‘I love you!’ he repeated, ‘and how could I have deceived myself so long? How was it I did not guess long ago that I love you? And you? Natalya Alexyevna, tell me!’
Natalya could scarcely draw her breath.
‘You see I have come here,’ she uttered, at last.
‘No, say that you love me!’
‘I think—yes,’ she whispered.
Rudin pressed her hands still more warmly, and tried to draw her to him.
Natalya looked quickly round.
‘Let me go—I am frightened. . . . I think some one is listening to us. . . . For God’s sake, be on your guard. Volintsev suspects.’
‘Never mind him! You saw I did not even answer him to-day. . . . Ah, Natalya Alexyevna, how happy I am! Nothing shall sever us now!’
Natalya looked into his eyes.
‘Let me go,’ she whispered; ‘it’s time.’
‘One instant,’ began Rudin.
‘No, let me go, let me go.’
‘You seem afraid of me.’
‘No, but it’s time.’
‘Repeat, then, at least once more.’ . . .
‘You say you are happy?’ asked Natalya.
‘I? No man in the world is happier than I am! Can you doubt it?’
Natalya lifted up her head. Very beautiful was her pale, noble, young face, transformed by passion, in the mysterious shadows of the arbour, in the faint light reflected from the evening sky.
‘I tell you then,’ she said, ‘I will be yours.’
‘Oh, my God!’ cried Rudin.
But Natalya made her escape, and was gone.
Rudin stood still a little while, then walked slowly out of the arbour. The moon threw a light on his face; there was a smile on his lips.
‘I am happy,’ he uttered in a half whisper. ‘Yes, I am happy,’ he repeated, as though he wanted to convince himself.
He straightened his tall figure, shook back his locks, and walked quickly into the garden, with a happy gesture of his hands.
Meanwhile the bushes of the lilac arbour moved apart, and Pandalevsky appeared. He looked around warily, shook his head, pursed up his mouth, and said, significantly, ‘So that’s how it is. That must be brought to Darya Mihailovna’s knowledge.’ And he vanished.