On the Eve/XXIII
Three weeks after Kurnatovsky's first visit, Anna Vassilyevna, to Elena's great delight, returned to Moscow, to her large wooden house near Prechistenka; a house with columns, white lyres and wreaths over every window, with an attic, offices, a palisade, a huge green court, a well in the court and a dog's kennel near the well. Anna Vassilyevna had never left her country villa so early, but this year with the first autumn chills her face swelled; Nikolai Artemyevitch for his part, having finished his cure, began to want his wife; besides, Augustina Christianovna had gone away on a visit to her cousin in Revel; a family of foreigners, known as 'living statues,' des poses plastiques, had come to Moscow, and the description of them in the Moscow Gazette had aroused Anna Vassilyevna's liveliest curiosity. In short, to stay longer at the villa seemed inconvenient, and even, in Nikolai Artemyevitch's words, incompatible with the fulfilment of his 'cherished projects.' The last fortnight seemed very long to Elena. Kurnatovsky came over twice on Sundays; on other days he was busy. He came really to see Elena, but talked more to Zoya, who was much pleased with him. 'Das ist ein Mann!' she thought to herself, as she looked at his full manly face and listened to his self-confident, condescending talk. To her mind, no one had such a wonderful voice, no one could pronounce so nicely, 'I had the hon-our,' or, 'I am most de-lighted.' Insarov did not come to the Stahovs, but Elena saw him once in secret in a little copse by the Moskva river, where she arranged to meet him. They hardly had time to say more than a few words to each other. Shubin returned to Moscow with Anna Vassilyevna; Bersenyev, a few days later.
Insarov was sitting in his room, and for the third time looking through the letters brought him from Bulgaria by hand; they were afraid to send them by post. He was much disturbed by them. Events were developing rapidly in the East; the occupation of the Principalities by Russian troops had thrown all men's minds into a ferment; the storm was growing—already could be felt the breath of approaching inevitable war. The fire was kindling all round, and no one could foresee how far it would go—where it would stop. Old wrongs, long cherished hopes—all were astir again. Insarov's heart throbbed eagerly; his hopes too were being realised. 'But is it not too soon, will it not be in vain?' he thought, tightly clasping his hands. 'We are not ready, but so be it! I must go.'
Something rustled lightly at the door, it flew quickly open, and into the room ran Elena.
Insarov, all in a tremor, rushed to her, fell on his knees before her, clasped her waist and pressed it close against his head.
'You didn't expect me?' she said, hardly able to draw her breath, she had run quickly up the stairs. 'Dear one! dear one!—so this is where you live? I've quickly found you. The daughter of your landlord conducted me. We arrived the day before yesterday. I meant to write to you, but I thought I had better come myself. I have come for a quarter of an hour. Get up, shut the door.'
He got up, quickly shut the door, returned to her and took her by the hands. He could not speak; he was choking with delight. She looked with a smile into his eyes . . . there was such rapture in them . . . she felt shy.
'Stay,' she said, fondly taking her hand away from him, 'let me take off my hat.'
She untied the strings of her hat, flung it down, slipped the cape off her shoulders, tidied her hair, and sat down on the little old sofa. Insarov gazed at her, without stirring, like one enchanted.
'Sit down,' she said, not lifting her eyes to him and motioning him to a place beside her.
Insarov sat down, not on the sofa, but on the floor at her feet.
'Come, take off my gloves,' she said in an uncertain voice. She felt afraid.
He began first to unbutton and then to draw off one glove; he drew it half off and greedily pressed his lips to the slender, soft wrist, which was white under it.
Elena shuddered, and would have pushed him back with the other hand; he began kissing the other hand too. Elena drew it away, he threw back his head, she looked into his face, bent above him, and their lips touched.
An instant passed . . . she broke away, got up, whispered 'No, no,' and went quickly up to the writing-table.
'I am mistress here, you know, so you ought not to have any secrets from me,' she said, trying to seem at ease, and standing with her back to him. 'What a lot of papers! what are these letters?'
Insarov knitted his brows. 'Those letters?' he said, getting up, 'you can read them.'
Elena turned them over in her hand. 'There are so many of them, and the writing is so fine, and I have to go directly ... let them be. They're not from a rival, eh? ... and they're not in Russian,' she added, turning over the thin sheets.
Insarov came close to her and fondly touched her waist. She turned suddenly to him, smiled brightly at him and leant against his shoulder.
'Those letters are from Bulgaria, Elena; my friends write to me, they want me to come.'
'Now? To them?'
'Yes . . . now, while there is still time, while it is still possible to come.'
All at once she flung both arms round his neck, 'You will take me with you, yes?'
He pressed her to his heart. 'O my sweet girl, O my heroine, how you said that! But isn't it wicked, isn't it mad for me, a homeless, solitary man, to drag you with me . . . and out there too!'
She shut his mouth. . . . 'Sh—or I shall be angry, and never come to see you again. Why isn't it all decided, all settled between us? Am I not your wife? Can a wife be parted from her husband?'
'Wives don't go into war,' he said with a half-mournful smile.
'Oh yes, when they can't stay behind, and I cannot stay here?'
'Elena, my angel! . . but think, I have, perhaps, to leave Moscow in a fortnight. I can't think of university lectures, or finishing my work.'
'What!' interrupted Elena, 'you have to go soon? If you like, I will stop at once this minute with you for ever, and not go home, shall I? Shall we go at once?'
Insarov clasped her in his arms with redoubled warmth. 'May God so reward me then,' he cried, 'if I am doing wrong! From to-day, we are one for ever!'
'Am I to stay?' asked Elena.
'No, my pure girl; no, my treasure. You shall go back home to-day, only keep yourself in readiness. This is a matter we can't manage straight off; we must plan it out well. We want money, a passport——'
'I have money,' put in Elena. 'Eighty roubles.'
'Well, that's not much,' observed Insarov; 'but everything's a help.'
'But I can get more. I will borrow. I will ask mamma. . . . No, I won't ask mamma for any. . . . But I can sell my watch. ... I have earrings, too, and two bracelets . . . and lace.'
'Money's not the chief difficulty, Elena; the passport; your passport, how about that?'
'Yes, how about it? Is a passport absolutely necessary?'
Elena laughed. 'What a queer idea! I remember when I was little ... a maid of ours ran away. She was caught, and forgiven, and lived with us a long while . . . but still every one used to call her Tatyana, the runaway. I never thought then that I too might perhaps be a runaway like her.'
'Elena, aren't you ashamed?'
'Why? Of course it's better to go with a passport. But if we can't——'
'We will settle all that later, later, wait a little,' said Insarov. 'Let me look about; let me think a little. We will talk over everything together thoroughly. I too have money.'
Elena pushed back the hair that fell over on his forehead.
'O Dmitri! how glorious it will be for us two to set off together!'
'Yes,' said Insarov, 'but there, when we get there——'
'Well?' put in Elena, 'and won't it be glorious to die together too? but no, why should we die? We will live, we are young. How old are you? Twenty-six?'
'And I am twenty. There is plenty of time before us. Ah, you tried to run away from me? You did not want a Russian's love, you Bulgarian! Let me see you trying to escape from me now! What would have become of us, if I hadn't come to you then!'
'Elena, you know what forced me to go away.'
'I know; you were in love, and you were afraid. But surely you must have suspected that you were loved?'
'I swear on my honour, Elena, I didn't.'
She gave him a quick unexpected kiss. 'There, I love you for that too. And goodbye.'
'You can't stop longer?' asked Insarov.
'No, dearest. Do you think it's easy for me to get out alone? The quarter of an hour was over long ago.' She put on her cape and hat. 'And you come to us to-morrow evening. No, the day after to-morrow. We shall be constrained and dreary, but we can't help that; at least we shall see each other. Good-bye. Let me go.'
He embraced her for the last time. 'Ah, take care, you have broken my watch-chain. Oh, what a clumsy boy! There, never mind. It's all the better. I will go to Kuznetsky bridge, and leave it to be mended. If I am asked, I can say I have been to Kuznetsky bridge.' She held the door-handle. 'By-the-way, I forgot to tell you, Monsieur Kurnatovsky will certainly make me an offer in a day or two. But the answer I shall make him—will be this——' She put the thumb of her left hand to the tip of her nose and flourished the other fingers in the air. 'Good-bye till we see each other again. Now, I know the way ... And don't lose any time.'
Elena opened the door a little, listened, turned round to Insarov, nodded her head, and glided out of the room.
For a minute Insarov stood before the closed door, and he too listened. The door downstairs into the court slammed. He went up to the sofa, sat down, and covered his eyes with his hands. Never before had anything like this happened to him. 'What have I done to deserve such love?' he thought. 'Is it a dream?'
But the delicate scent of mignonette left by Elena in his poor dark little room told of her visit. And with it, it seemed that the air was still full of the notes of a young voice, and the sound of a light young tread, and the warmth and freshness of a young girlish body.