A House of Gentlefolk/Chapter XXXIV

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Lisa had not uttered a word in the course of the dispute between Lavretsky and Panshin, but she had followed it attentively and was completely on Lavretsky's side. Politics interested her very little; but the supercilious tone of the worldly official (he had never delivered himself in that way before) repelled her; his contempt for Russia wounded her. It had never occurred to Lisa that she was a patriot; but her heart was with the Russian people; the Russian turn of mind delighted her; she would talk for hours together without ceremony to the peasant-overseer of her mother's property when he came to the town, and she talked to him as to an equal, without any of the condescension of a superior. Lavretsky felt all this; he would not have troubled himself to answer Panshin by himself; he had spoken only for Lisa's sake. They had said nothing to one another, their eyes even had seldom met. But they both knew that they had grown closer that evening, they knew that they liked! and disliked the same things. On one point only were they divided; but Lisa secretly hoped to bring him to God. They sat near Marfa Timofyevna, and appeared to be following her play; indeed, they were really following it, but meanwhile their hearts were full, and nothing was lost on them; for them the nightingale sang, and the stars shone, and the trees gently murmured, lulled to sleep by the summer warmth and softness. Lavretsky was completely carried away, and surrendered himself wholly to his passion--and rejoiced in it. But no word can express what was passing in the pure heart of the young girl. It was a mystery for herself. Let it remain a mystery for all. No one knows, no one has seen, nor will ever see, how the grain, destined to life and growth, swells and ripens in the bosom of the earth.

Ten o'clock struck. Marfa Timofyevna went off up-stairs to her own apartments with Nastasya Karpovna. Lavretsky and Lisa walked across the room, stopped at the open door into the garden, looked into the darkness in the distance and then at one another, and smiled. They could have taken each other's hands, it seemed, and talked to their hearts' content. They returned to Marya Dmitrievna and Panshin, where a game of picquet was still dragging on. The last king was called at last, and the lady of the house rose, sighing and groaning from her well-cushioned easy chair. Panshin took his hat, kissed Marya Dmitrievna's hand, remarking that nothing hindered some happy people now from sleeping, but that he had to sit up over stupid papers till morning, and departed, bowing coldly to Lisa (he had not expected that she would ask him to wait so long for an answer to his offer, and he was cross with her for it). Lavretsky followed him. They parted at the gate. Panshin walked his! coachman by poking him in the neck with the end of his stick, took his seat in the carriage and rolled away. Lavretsky did not want to go home. He walked away from the town into the open country. The night was still and clear, though there was no moon. Lavretsky rambled a long time over the dewy grass. He came across a little narrow path; and went along it. It led him up to a long fence, and to a little gate; he tried, not knowing why, to push it open. With a faint creak the gate opened, as though it had been waiting the touch of his hand. Lavretsky went into the garden. After a few paces along a walk of lime-trees he stopped short in amazement; he recognised the Kalitins' garden.

He moved at once into a black patch of shade thrown by a thick clump of hazels, and stood a long while without moving, shrugging his shoulders in astonishment.

"This cannot be for nothing," he thought.

All was hushed around. From the direction of the house not a sound reached him. He went cautiously forward. At the bend of an avenue suddenly the whole house confronted him with its dark face; in two upstair-windows only a light was shining. In Lisa's room behind the white curtain a candle was burning, and in Marfa Timofyevna's bedroom a lamp shone with red-fire before the holy picture, and was reflected with equal brilliance on the gold frame. Below, the door on to the balcony gaped wide open. Lavretsky sat down on a wooden garden-seat, leaned on his elbow, and began to watch this door and Lisa's window. In the town it struck midnight; a little clock in the house shrilly clanged out twelve; the watchman beat it with jerky strokes upon his board. Lavretsky had no thought, no expectation; it was sweet to him to feel himself near Lisa, to sit in her garden on the seat where she herself had sat more than once.

The light in Lisa's room vanished.

"Sleep well, my sweet girl," whispered Lavretsky, still sitting motionless, his eyes fixed on the darkened window.

Suddenly the light appeared in one of the windows of the ground-floor, then changed into another, and a third . . . . Some one was walking through the rooms with a candle. "Can it be Lisa? It cannot be." Lavretsky got up . . . . He caught a glimpse of a well-known face--Lisa came into the drawing-room. In a white gown, her plaits hanging loose on her shoulders, she went quietly up to the table, bent over it, put down the candle, and began looking for something. Then turning round facing the garden, she drew near the open door, and stood on the threshold, a light slender figure all in white. A shiver passed over Lavretsky.

"Lisa!" broke hardly audibly from his lips.

She started and began to gaze into the darkness.

"Lisa!" Lavretsky repeated louder, and he came out of the shadow of the avenue.

Lisa raised her head in alarm, and shrank back. She had recognised him. He called to her a third time, and stretched out his hands to her. She came away from the door and stepped into the garden.

"Is it you?" she said. "You here?"

"I--I--listen to me," whispered Lavretsky, and seizing her hand he led her to the seat.

She followed him without resistance, her pale face, her fixed eyes, and all her gestures expressed an unutterable bewilderment. Lavretsky made her sit down and stood before her.

"I did not mean to come here," he began. "Something brought me . . . . I--I love you," he uttered in involuntary terror.

Lisa slowly looked at him. It seemed as though she only at that instant knew where she was and what was happening. She tried to get up, she could no, and she covered her face with her hands.

"Lisa," murmured Lavretsky. "Lisa," he repeated, and fell at her feet.

Her shoulders began to heave slightly; the fingers of her pale hands were pressed more closely to her face.

"What is it?" Lavretsky urged, and he heard a subdued sob. His heart stood still . . . . He knew the meaning of those tears. "Can it be that you love me?" he whispered, and caressed her knees.

"Get up," he heard her voice, "get up, Fedor Ivanitch. What are we doing?"

He got up and sat beside her on the seat. She was not weeping now, and she looked at him steadfastly with her wet eyes.

"It frightens me: what are we doing?" she repeated.

"I love you," he said again. "I am ready to devote my whole life to you."

She shuddered again, as though something had stung her, and lifted her eyes towards heaven.

All that is in God's hands," she said.

"But you love me, Lisa? We shall be happy." She dropped her eyes; he softly drew her to him, and her head sank on to his shoulder . . . . He bent his head a little and touched her pale lips.

Half an hour later Lavretsky was standing before the little garden gate. He found it locked and was obliged to get over the fence. He returned to the town and walked along the slumbering streets. A sense of immense, unhoped-for happiness filled his soul; all his doubts had died away. "Away, dark phantom of the past," he thought. "She loves me, she will be mine." Suddenly it seemed to him that in the air over his head were floating strains of divine triumphant music. He stood still. The music resounded in still greater magnificence; a mighty flood of melody--and all his bliss seemed speaking and singing in its strains. He looked about him; the music floated down from two upper windows of a small house.

"Lemm?" cried Lavretsky as he ran to the house. "Lemm! Lemm!" he repeated aloud.

The sounds died away and the figure of the old man in a dressing-gown, with his throat bare and his hair dishevelled, appeared at the window.

"Aha!" he said with dignity, "is it you?"

"Christopher Fedoritch, what marvellous music! for mercy's sake, let me in."

Without uttering a word, the old man with a majestic flourish of the arm dropped the key of the street door from the window.

Lavretsky hastened up-stairs, went into the room and was about to rush up to Lemm; but the latter imperiously motioned him to a seat, saying abruptly in Russian, "Sit down and listen," sat down himself to the piano, and looking proudly and severely about him, he began to play. It was long since Lavretsky had listened to anything like it. The sweet passionate melody went to his heart from the first note; it was glowing and languishing with inspiration, happiness and beauty; it swelled and melted away; it touched on all that is precious, mysterious, and holy on earth. It breathed of deathless sorrow and mounted dying away to the heavens. Lavretsky drew himself up, and rose cold and pale with ecstasy. This music seemed to clutch his very soul, so lately shaken by the rapture of love, the music was glowing with love too. "Again!" he whispered as the last chord sounded. The old man threw him an eagle glance, struck his hand on his chest and saying deliberately in his own tongue, "This is my work, I am a great musician," he played again his marvellous composition. There was no candle in the room; the light of the rising moon fell aslant on the window; the soft air was vibrating with sound; the poor little room seemed a holy place, and the old man's head stood out noble and inspired in the silvery half light. Lavretsky went up to him and embraced him. At first Lemm did not respond to his embrace and even pushed him away with his elbow. For a long while without moving in any limb he kept the same severe, almost morose expression, and only growled out twice, "aha." At last his face relaxed, changed, and grew calmer, and in response to Lavretsky's warm congratulations he smiled a little at first, then burst into tears, and sobbed weakly like a child.

"It is wonderful," he said, "that you have come just at this moment; but I know all, I know all."

"You know all?" Lavretsky repeated in amazement.

"You have heard me," replied Lemm, "did you not understand that I knew all?"

Till daybreak Lavretsky could not sleep, all night he was sitting on his bed. And Lisa too did not sleep; she was praying.