On the Eve/XVII
On the very day on which Elena had written this last fatal line in her diary, Insarov was sitting in Bersenyev's room, and Bersenyev was standing before him with a look of perplexity on his face. Insarov had just announced his intention of returning to Moscow the next day.
'Upon my word!' cried Bersenyev. 'Why, the finest part of the summer is just beginning. What will you do in Moscow? What a sudden decision! Or have you had news of some sort?'
'I have had no news,' replied Insarov; 'but on thinking things over, I find I cannot stop here.'
'How can that be?'
'Andrei Petrovitch,' said Insarov, 'be so kind . . . don't insist, please, I am very sorry myself to be leaving you, but it can't be helped.'
Bersenyev looked at him intently.
'I know,' he said at last, 'there's no persuading you. And so, it's a settled matter,
'Absolutely settled,' replied Insarov, getting up and going away.
Bersenyev walked about the room, then took his hat and set off for the Stahovs.
'You have something to tell me,' Elena said to him, directly they were left alone.
'Yes, how did you guess?'
'Never mind; tell me what it is.'
Bersenyev told her of Insarov's intention.
Elena turned white.
'What does it mean?' she articulated with effort
'You know,' observed Bersenyev, 'Dmitri Nikanorovitch does not care to give reasons for his actions. But I think ... let us sit down, Elena Nikolaevna, you don't seem very well. ... I fancy I can guess what is the real cause of this sudden departure.'
'What—what cause?' repeated Elena, and unconsciously she gripped tightly Bersenyev's hand in her chill ringers.
'You see,' began Bersenyev, with a pathetic smile, 'how can I explain to you? I must go back to last spring, to the time when I began to be more intimate with Insarov. I used to meet him then at the house of a relative, who had a daughter, a very pretty girl I thought that Insarov cared for her, and I told him so. He laughed, and answered that I was mistaken, that he was quite heart-whole, but if anything of that sort did happen to him, he should run away directly, as he did not want, in his own words, for the sake of personal feeling, to be false to his cause and his duty. "I am a Bulgarian," he said, "and I have no need of a Russian love——"
'Well—so—now you——' whispered Elena. She involuntarily turned away her head, like a man expecting a blow, but she still held the hand she had clutched.
'I think,' he said, and his own voice sank, 'I think that what I fancied then has really happened now.'
'That is—you think—don't torture me!' broke suddenly from Elena.
'I think,' Bersenyev continued hurriedly, 'that Insarov is in love now with a Russian girl, and he is resolved to go, according to his word.'
Elena clasped his hand still tighter, and her head drooped still lower, as if she would hide from other eyes the flush of shame which suddenly blazed over her face and neck.
'Andrei Petrovitch, you are kind as an angel,' she said, 'but will he come to say goodbye?'
'Yes, I imagine so; he will be sure to come. He wouldn't like to go away——'
'Tell him, tell him——'
But here the poor girl broke down; tears rushed streaming from her eyes, and she ran out of the room.
'So that's how she loves him,' thought Bersenyev, as he walked slowly home. 'I didn't expect that; I didn't think she felt so strongly. I am kind, she says:' he pursued his reflections: . . . 'Who can tell what feelings, what impulse drove me to tell Elena all that? It was not kindness; no, not kindness. It was all the accursed desire to make sure whether the dagger is really in the wound. I ought to be content. They love each other, and I have been of use to them. . . . The future go-between between science and the Russian public Shubin calls me; it seems as though it had been decreed at my birth that I should be a go-between. But if I'm mistaken? No, I'm not mistaken——'
It was bitter for Andrei Petrovitch, and he could not turn his mind to Raumer.
The next day at two o'clock Insarov arrived at the Stahovs'. As though by express design, there was a visitor in Anna Vassilyevna's drawing-room at the time, the wife of a neighbouring chief-priest, an excellent and worthy woman, though she had had a little unpleasantness with the police, because she thought fit, in the hottest part of the day, to bathe in a lake near the road, along which a certain dignified general's family used often to be passing. The presence of an outside person was at first even a relief to Elena, from whose face every trace of colour vanished, directly she heard Insarov's step; but her heart sank at the thought that he might go without a word with her alone. He, too, seemed confused, and avoided meeting her eyes. 'Surely he will not go directly,' thought Elena. Insarov was, in fact, turning to take leave of Anna Vassilyevna; Elena hastily rose and called him aside to the window. The priest's wife was surprised, and tried to turn round; but she was so tightly laced that her stays creaked at every movement, and she stayed where she was.
'Listen,' said Elena hurriedly; 'I know what you have come for; Andrei Petrovitch told me of your intention, but I beg, I entreat you, do not say good-bye to us to-day, but come here to-morrow rather earlier, at eleven. I must have a few words with you.'
Insarov bent his head without speaking.
'I will not keep you. . . . You promise me?'
Again Insarov bowed, but said nothing.
'Lenotchka, come here,' said Anna Vassilyevna, 'look, what a charming reticule.'
'I worked it myself,' observed the priest's wife.
Elena came away from the window.
Insarov did not stay more than a quarter of an hour at the Stahovs'. Elena watched him secretly. He was restless and ill at ease. As before, he did not know where to look, and he went away strangely and suddenly; he seemed to vanish.
Slowly passed that day for Elena; still more slowly dragged on the long, long night. Elena sat on her bed, her arms clasping her knees, and her head laid on them; then she walked to the window, pressed her burning forehead against the cold glass, and thought and thought, going over and over the same thoughts till she was exhausted. Her heart seemed turned to stone, she did not feel it, but the veins in her head throbbed painfully, her hair stifled her, and her lips were dry. 'He will come . . . he did not say good-bye to mamma ... he will not deceive me. . . Can Andrei Petrovitch have been right? It cannot be. . . He didn't promise to come in words. . . Can I have parted from him for ever——?' Those were the thoughts that never left her, literally never left her; they did not come and come again; they were for ever turning like a mist moving about in her brain. 'He loves me!' suddenly flashed through her, setting her whole nature on fire, and she gazed fixedly into the darkness; a secret smile parted her lips, seen by none, but she quickly shook her head, and clasped her hands behind her neck, and again her former thought hung like a mist about her. Before morning she undressed and went to bed, but she could not sleep. The first fiery ray of sunlight fell upon her room. . . 'Oh, if he loves me!' she cried suddenly, and unabashed by the light shining on her, she opened wide her arms . . . She got up, dressed, and went down. No one in the house was awake yet. She went into the garden, but in the garden it was peaceful, green, and fresh; the birds chirped so confidingly, and the flowers peeped out so gaily that she could not bear it. 'Oh!' she thought, 'if it is true, no blade of grass is happy as I. But is it true?' She went back to her room and, to kill time, she began changing her dress. But everything slipped out of her hands, and she was still sitting half-dressed before her looking-glass when she was summoned to morning tea. She went down; her mother noticed her pallor, but only said: 'How interesting you are to-day,' and taking her in in a glance, she added: 'How well that dress suits you; you should always put it on when you want to make an impression on any one.' Elena made no reply, and sat down in a corner. Meanwhile it struck nine o'clock; there were only two haurs now till eleven. Elena tried to read, then to sew, then to read again, then she vowed to herself to walk a hundred times up and down one alley, and paced it a hundred times; then for a long time she watched Anna Vassilyevna laying out the cards for patience . . . and looked at the clock; it was not yet ten. Shubin came into the drawing-room. She tried to talk to him, and begged his pardon, what for she did not know herself. . . . Every word she uttered did not cost her effort exactly, but roused a kind of amazement in herself. Shubin bent over her. She expected ridicule, raised her eyes, and saw before her a sorrowful and sympathetic face. . . . She smiled at this face. Shubin, too, smiled at her without speaking, and gently left her. She tried to keep him, but could not at once remember what to call him. At last it struck eleven. Then she began to wait, to wait, and to listen. She could do nothing now; she ceased even to think. Her heart was stirred into life again, and began beating louder and louder, and strange, to say, the time seemed flying by. A quarter of an hour passed, then half an hour; a few minutes more, as Elena thought, had passed, when suddenly she started; the clock had struck not twelve, but one. 'He is not coming; he is going away without saying good-bye.' . . . The blood rushed to her head with this thought. She felt that she was gasping for breath, that she was on the point of sobbing. . . . She ran to her own room, and fell with her face in her clasped hands on to the bed.
For half an hour she lay motionless; the tears flowed through her fingers on to the pillow. Suddenly she raised herself and sat up, something strange was passing in her, her face changed, her wet eyes grew dry and shining, her brows were bent and her lips compressed. Another half-hour passed. Elena, for the last time, strained her ears to listen: was not that the familiar voice floating up to her? She got up, put on her hat and gloves, threw a cape over her shoulders, and, slipping unnoticed out of the house, she went with swift steps along the road leading to Bersenyev's lodging.