On the Eve/IX

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IX[edit]

Shubin went back to his room in the lodge and was just opening a book, when Nikolai Artemyevitch's valet came cautiously into his room and handed him a small triangular note, sealed with a thick heraldic crest. 'I hope,' he found in the note, 'that you as a man of honour will not allow yourself to hint by so much as a single word at a certain promissory note which was talked of this morning. You are acquainted with my position and my rules, the insignificance of the sum in itself and the other circumstances; there are, in fine, family secrets which must be respected, and family tranquillity is something so sacred that only etres sans cour (among whom I have no reason to reckon you) would repudiate it! Give this note back to me.—N. S.'

Shubin scribbled below in pencil: 'Don't excite yourself, I'm not quite a sneak yet,' and gave the note back to the man, and again began upon the book. But it soon slipped out of his hands. He looked at the reddening-sky, at the two mighty young pines standing apart from the other trees, thought 'by day pines are bluish, but how magnificently green they are in the evening,' and went out into the garden, in the secret hope of meeting Elena there. He was not mistaken. Before him on a path between the bushes he caught a glimpse of her dress. He went after her, and when he was abreast with her, remarked:

'Don't look in my direction, I'm not worth it.'

She gave him a cursory glance, smiled cursorily, and walked on further into the depths of the garden. Shubin went after her.

'I beg you not to look at me,' he began, 'and then I address you; flagrant contradiction. But what of that? it's not the first time I've contradicted myself. I have just recollected that I have never begged your pardon as I ought for my stupid behaviour yesterday. You are not angry with me, Elena Nikolaevna, are you?'

She stood still and did not answer him at once—not because she was angry, but because her thoughts were far away.

'No,' she said at last, 'I am not in the least angry.' Shubin bit his lip.

'What an absorbed . . . and what an indifferent face!' he muttered. 'Elena Nikolaevna,' he continued, raising his voice, 'allow me to tell you a little anecdote. I had a friend, and this friend also had a friend, who at first conducted himself as befits a gentleman but afterwards took to drink. So one day early in the morning, my friend meets him in the street (and by that time, note, the acquaintance has been completely dropped) meets him and sees he is drunk. My friend went and turned his back on him. But he ran up and said, "I would not be angry," says he, "if you refused to recognise me, but why should you turn your back on me? Perhaps I have been brought to this through grief. Peace to my ashes!"'

Shubin paused.

'And is that all?' inquired Elena.

'Yes that's all.'

'I don't understand you. What are you hinting at? You told me just now not to look your way.'

'Yes, and now I have told you that it's too bad to turn your back on me.'

'But did I?' began Elena.

'Did you not?'

Elena flushed slightly and held out her hand to Shubin. He pressed it warmly.

'Here you seem to have convicted me of a bad feeling,' said Elena, 'but your suspicion is unjust. I was not even thinking of Avoiding you.'

'Granted, granted. But you must acknowledge that at that minute you had a thousand ideas in your head of which you would not confide one to me. Eh? I've spoken the truth, I'm quite sure?'

'Perhaps so.'

'And why is it? why?'

'My ideas are not clear to myself,' said Elena.

'Then it's just the time for confiding them to some one else,' put in Shubin. 'But I will tell you what it really is. You have a bad opinion of me.'

'I?'

'Yes you; you imagine that everything in me is half-humbug because I am an artist, that I am incapable not only of doing anything—in that you are very likely right—but even of any genuine deep feeling; you think that I am not capable even of weeping sincerely, that I'm a gossip and a slanderer,—and all because I'm an artist. What luckless, God-forsaken wretches we artists are after that! You, for instance, I am ready to adore, and you don't believe in my repentance.'

'No, Pavel Yakovlitch, I believe in your repentance and I believe in your tears. But it seems to me that even your repentance amuses you—yes and your tears too.'

Shubin shuddered.

'Well, I see this is, as the doctors say, a hopeless case, casus incurabilis. There is nothing left but to bow the head and submit. And meanwhile, good Heavens, can it be true, can I possibly be absorbed in my own egoism when there is a soul like this living at my side? And to know that one will never penetrate into that soul, never will know why it grieves and why it rejoices, what is working within it, what it desires—whither it is going . . . Tell me,' he said after a short silence, 'could you never under any circumstances love an artist?'

Elena looked straight into his eyes.

'I don't think so, Pavel Yakovlitch; no.'

'Which was to be proved,' said Shubin with comical dejection. 'After which I suppose it would be more seemly for me not to intrude on your solitary walk. A professor would ask you on what data you founded your answer no. I'm not a professor though, but a baby according to your ideas; but one does not turn one's back on a baby, remember. Good-bye! Peace to my ashes!'

Elena was on the point of stopping him, but after a moment's thought she too said:

'Good-bye.'

Shubin went out of the courtyard. At a short distance from the Stahov's house he was met by Bersenyev. He was walking with hurried steps, his head bent and his hat pushed back on his neck.

'Andrei Petrovitch!' cried Shubin.

He stopped.

'Go on, go on,' continued Shubin, 'I only shouted, I won't detain you—and you'd better slip straight into the garden—you'll find Elena there, I fancy she's waiting for you . . . she's waiting for some one anyway. . . . Do you understand the force of those words: she is waiting! And do you know, my dear boy, an astonishing circumstance? Imagine, it's two years now that I have been living in the same house with her, I'm in love with her, and it's only just now, this minute, that I've, not understood, but really seen her. I have seen her and I lifted up my hands in amazement. Don't look at me, please, with that sham sarcastic smile, which does not suit your sober features. Well, now, I suppose you want to remind me of Annushka. What of it? I don't deny it. Annushkas are on my poor level. And long life to all Annushkas and Zoyas and even Augustina Christianovnas! You go to Elena now, and I will make my way to—Annushka, you fancy? No, my dear fellow, worse than that; to Prince Tchikurasov. He is a Maecenas of a Kazan-Tartar stock, after the style of Volgin. Do you see this note of invitation, these letters, R.S.V.P.? Even in the country there's no peace for me. Addio!' Bersenyev listened to Shubin's tirade in silence, looking as though he were just a little ashamed of him. Then he went into the courtyard of the Stahovs' house. And Shubin did really go to Prince Tchikurasov, to whom with the most cordial air he began saying the most insulting things. The Maecenas of the Tartars of Kazan chuckled; the Maecenas's guests laughed, but no one felt merry, and every one was in a bad temper when the party broke up. So two gentlemen slightly acquainted may be seen when they meet on the Nevsky Prospect suddenly grinning at one another and pursing up their eyes and noses and cheeks, and then, directly they have passed one another, they resume their former indifferent, often cross, and generally sickly, expression.