A House of Gentlefolk/Chapter XLV
Lisa had a room to herself on the second story of her mother's house, a clean bright little room with a little white bed, with pots of flowers in the corners and before the windows, a small writing-table, a book-stand, and a crucifix on the wall. It was always called the nursery; Lisa had been born in it. When she returned from the church where she had seen Lavretsky she set everything in her room in order more carefully than usual, dusted it everywhere, looked through and tied up with ribbon all her copybooks, and the letters of her girl-friends, shut up all the drawers, watered the flowers and caressed every blossom with her hand. All this she did without haste, noiselessly, with a kind of rapt and gentle solicitude on her face. She topped at last in the middle of the room, slowly looked around, and going up to the table above which the crucifix was hanging, she fell on her knees, dropped her head on to her clasped hands and remained motionless.
Marfa Timofyevna came in and found her in this position. Lisa did not observe her entrance. The old lady stepped out on tip-toe and coughed loudly several times outside the door. Lisa rose quickly and wiped her eyes, which were bright with unshed tears.
"Ah! I see, you have been setting your cell to rights again," observed Marfa Timofyevna, and she bent low over a young rose-tree in a pot; "how nice it smells!"
Lisa looked thoughtfully at her aunt.
"How strange you should use that word!" she murmured.
"What word, eh?" the old lady returned quickly. "What do you mean? This is horrible," she began, suddenly flinging off her cap and sitting down on Lisa's little bed; "it is more than I can bear! this is the fourth day now that I have been boiling over inside; I can't pretend not to notice any longer; I can't see you getting pale, and fading away, and weeping, I can't I can't!"
"Why, what is the matter, auntie?" said Lisa, "it's nothing."
"Nothing!" cried Marfa Timofyevna; "you may tell that to others but not to me. Nothing, who was on her knees just to this minute? and whose eyelashes are still wet with tears? Nothing, indeed! why, look at yourself, what have you done with your face, what has become of your eyes?--Nothing! do you suppose I don't know all?"
"It will pass off, auntie; give me time."
"It will pass of, but when? Good God! Merciful Saviour! can you have loved him like this? why, he's an old man, Lisa, darling. There, I don't dispute he's a good fellow, no harm in him; but what of that? we are all good people, the world is not so small, there will be always plenty of that commodity."
"I tell you, it will all pass away, it has all passed away already."
"Listen, Lisa, darling, what I am going to say to you," Marfa Timofyevna said suddenly, making Lisa sit beside her, and straightening her hair and her neckerchief. "It seems to you now in the mist of the worst of it that nothing can ever heal your sorrow. Ah, my darling, the only thing that can't be cured is death. You only say to yourself now: "I won't give in to it--so there!" and you will be surprised yourself how soon, how easily it will pass of. Only have patience."
"Auntie," returned Lisa, "it has passed off already, it is all over."
"Passed! how has it passed? Why, your poor little nose has grown sharp already and you say it is over. A fine way of getting over it!"
"Yes, it is over, auntie, if you will only try to help me," Lisa declared with sudden animation, and she flung herself on Marfa Timofyevna's neck. "Dar auntie, be a friend to me, help me, don't be angry, understand me" . . .
"Why, what is it, what is it, my good girl? Don't terrify me, please; I shall scream directly; don't look at me like that; tell me quickly, what is it?"
"I--I want," Lisa hid her face on Marfa Timofyevna's bosom, "I want to go into a convent," she articulated faintly.
The old lady almost bounded off the bed.
"Cross yourself, my girl, Lisa, dear, think what you are saying; what are you thinking of? God have mercy on you!" she stammered at last. "Lie down, my darling, sleep a little, all this comes from sleeplessness, my dearie."
Lisa raised her head, her cheeks were glowing.
"No, auntie," she said, "don't speak like that; I have made up my mind, I prayed, I asked counsel of God; all is at an end, my life with you is at an end. Such a lesson was not for nothing; and it is not the first time that I have thought of it. Happiness was not for me; even when I had hopes of happiness, my heart was always heavy. I knew all my own sins and those of others, and how papa made our fortune; I know it all. For all that there must be expiation. I am sorry for you, sorry for mamma, for Lenotchka; but there is no help; I feel that there is no living here for me; I have taken leave of all, I have greeted everything in the house for the last time; something calls to me; I am sick at heart, I want to hide myself away for ever. Do not hinder me, do not dissuade me, help me, or else I must go away alone."
Marfa Timofyevna listened to her niece with horror.
"She is ill, she is raving," she thought: "we must send for a doctor; but for which one? Gedeonovsky was praising one the other day; he always tells lies--but perhaps this time he spoke the truth." But when she was convinced that Lisa was not ill, and was not raving, when she constantly made the same answer to all her expostulations, Marfa Timofyevna was alarmed and distressed in earnest. "But you don't know, my darling," she began to reason with her, "what a life it is in those convents! Why, they would feed you, my own, on green hemp oil, and they would put you in the coarsest linen, and make you go about in the cold; you will never be able to bear all that, Lisa, darling. All this is Agafya's doing; she led you astray. But then you know she began by living and lived for her own pleasure; you must live, too. At least, let me die in peace, and then do as you like. And who has ever heard of such a thing, for the sake of such a--for the sake of a goat's beard, God forgive us!--for the sake of a man--to go into a convent! Why, if you are so sick at heart, go on a pilgrimage, offer prayers to some saint, have a Te Deum sung, but don't put the black hood on your head, my dear creature, my good girl."
And Marfa Timofyevna wept bitterly.
Lisa comforted her, wiped away her tears and wept herself, but remained unshaken. In her despair Marfa Timofyevna had recourse to threats: to tell her mother all about it . . . but that too was of no avail. Only at the old lady's most earnest entreaties Lisa agreed to put off carrying out her plan for six months. Marfa Timofyevna was obliged to promise in return that if, within six months, she did not change her mind, she would herself help her and would do all she could to gain Marya Dmitrievna's consent.
In spite of her promise to bury herself in seclusion, at the first approach of cold weather, Varvara Pavlovna, having provided herself with funds, removed to Petersburg, where she took a modest but charming set of apartments, found for her by Panshin; who had left the O----- district a little before. During the latter part of his residence in O----- he had completely lost Marya Dmitrievna's good graces; he had suddenly given up visiting her and scarcely stirred from Lavriky. Varvara Pavolvna had enslaved him, literally enslaved him, no other word can describe her boundless, irresistible, unquestioned sway over him.
Lavretsky spent the winter in Moscow; and in the spring of the following year the news reached him that Lisa had taken the veil in the B----- convent, in one of the remote parts of Russia.