On the Eve/XII

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'The conquering hero Insarov will be here directly!' he shouted triumphantly, going into the Stahovs' drawing-room, where there happened at the instant to be only Elena and Zoya.

'Wer?' inquired Zoya in German. When she was taken unawares she always used her native language. Elena drew herself up. Shubin looked at her with a playful smile on his lips. She felt annoyed, but said nothing.

'You heard,' he repeated, 'Mr. Insarov is coming here.'

'I heard,' she replied; 'and I heard how you spoke of him. I am surprised at you, indeed. Mr. Insarov has not yet set foot in the house, and you already think fit to turn him into ridicule.'

Shubin was crestfallen at once.

'You are right, you are always right, Elena Nikolaevna,' he muttered; 'but I meant nothing, on my honour. We have been walking together with him the whole day, and he's a capital fellow, I assure you.'

'I didn't ask your opinion about that,' commented Elena, getting up.

'Is Mr. Insarov a young man?' asked Zoya.

'He is a hundred and forty-four,' replied Shubin with an air of vexation.

The page announced the arrival of the two friends. They came in. Bersenyev introduced Insarov. Elena asked them to sit down, and sat down herself, while Zoya went off upstairs; she had to inform Anna Vassilyevna of their arrival. A conversation was begun of a rather insignificant kind, like all first conversations. Shubin was silently watching from a corner, but there was nothing to watch. In Elena he detected signs of repressed annoyance against him—Shubin—and that was all. He looked at Bersenyev and at Insarov, and compared their faces from a sculptor's point of view. 'They are neither of them good-looking,' he thought, 'the Bulgarian has a characteristic face—there now it's in a good light; the Great-Russian is better adapted for painting; there are no lines, there's expression. But, I dare say, one might fall in love with either of them. She is not in love yet, but she will fall in love with Bersenyev,' he decided to himself. Anna Vassilyevna made her appearance in the drawing-room, and the conversation took the tone peculiar to summer villas—not the country-house tone but the peculiar summer visitor tone. It was a conversation diversified by plenty of subjects; but broken by short rather wearisome pauses every three minutes. In one of these pauses Anna Vassilyevna turned to Zoya. Shubin understood her silent hint, and drew a long face, while Zoya sat down to the piano, and played and sang all her pieces through. Uvar Ivanovitch showed himself for an instant in the doorway, but he beat a retreat, convulsively twitching his fingers. Then tea was served; and then the whole party went out into the garden. ... It began to grow dark outside, and the guests took leave.

Insarov had really made less impression on Elena than she had expected, or, speaking more exactly, he had not made the impression she had expected. She liked his directness and unconstraint, and she liked his face; but the whole character of Insarov—with his calm firmness and everyday simplicity—did not somehow accord with the image formed in her brain by Bersenyev's account of him. Elena, though she did not herself suspect it, had anticipated something more fateful. 'But,' she reflected, 'he spoke very little to-day, and I am myself to blame for it; I did not question him, we must have patience till next time . . . and his eyes are expressive, honest eyes.' She felt that she had no disposition to humble herself before him, but rather to hold out her hand to him in friendly equality, and she was puzzled; this was not how she had fancied men, like Insarov, 'heroes.' This last word reminded her of Shubin, and she grew hot and angry, as she lay in her bed.

'How did you like your new acquaintances?' Bersenyev inquired of Insarov on their way home.

'I liked them very much,' answered Insarov, 'especially the daughter. She must be a nice girl. She is excitable, but in her it's a fine kind of excitability.'

'You must go and see them a little oftener,' observed Bersenyev.

'Yes, I must,' said Insarov; and he said nothing more all the way home. He at once shut himself up in his room, but his candle was burning long after midnight.

Bersenyev had had time to read a page of Raumer, when a handful of fine gravel came rattling on his window-pane. He could not help starting; opening the window he saw Shubin as white as a sheet.

'What an irrepressible fellow you are, you night moth——' Bersenyev was beginning.

'Sh—' Shubin cut him short; 'I have come to you in secret, as Max went to Agatha I absolutely must say a few words to you alone.'

'Come into the room then.'

'No, that's not necessary,' replied Shubin, and he leaned his elbows on the window-sill, 'it's better fun like this, more as if we were in Spain. To begin with, I congratulate you, you're at a premium now. Your belauded, exceptional man has quite missed fire. That I'll guarantee. And to prove my impartiality, listen—here's the sum and substance of Mr. Insarov. No talents, none, no poetry, any amount of capacity for work, an immense memory, an intellect not deep nor varied, but sound and quick, dry as dust, and force, and even the gift of the gab when the talk's about his—between ourselves let it be said—tedious Bulgaria. What! do you say I am unjust? One remark more: you'll never come to Christian names with him, and none ever has been on such terms with him. I, of course, as an artist, am hateful to him; and I am proud of it. Dry as dust, dry as dust, but he can crush all of us to powder. He's devoted to his country—not like our empty patriots who fawn on the people; pour into us, they say, thou living water! But, of course, his problem is easier, more intelligible: he has only to drive the Turks out, a mighty task. But all these qualities, thank God, don't please women. There's no fascination, no charm about them, as there is about you and me.'

'Why do you bring me in?' muttered Bersenyev. 'And you are wrong in all the rest; you are not in the least hateful to him, and with his own countrymen he is on Christian name terms—that I know.'

'That's a different matter! For them he's a hero; but, to make a confession, I have a very different idea of a hero; a hero ought not to be able to talk; a hero should roar like a bull, but when he butts with his horns, the walls shake. He ought not to know himself why he butts at things, but just to butt at them. But, perhaps, in our days heroes of a different stamp are needed.'

'Why are you so taken up with Insarov?' asked Bersenyev. 'Can you have run here only to describe his character to me?'

'I came here,' began Shubin, 'because I was very miserable at home.'

'Oh, that's it! Don't you want to have a cry again?'

'You may laugh! I came here because I'm at my wits' end, because I am devoured by despair, anger, jealousy.'

'Jealousy? of whom?'

'Of you and him and every one. I'm tortured by the thought that if I had understood her sooner, if I had set to work cleverly—But what's the use of talking! It must end by my always laughing, playing the fool, turning things into ridicule as she says, and then setting to and strangling myself.'

'Stuff, you won't strangle yourself,' observed Bersenyev.

'On such a night, of course not; but only let me live on till the autumn. On such a night people do die too, but only of happiness. Ah, happiness! Every shadow that stretches across the road from every tree seems whispering now: "I know where there is happiness . . . shall I tell you?" I would ask you to come for a walk, only now you're under the influence of prose. Go to sleep, and may your dreams be visited by mathematical figures! My heart is breaking. You, worthy gentlemen, see a man laughing, and that means to your notions he's all right; you can prove to him that he's humbugging himself, that's to say, he is not suffering. . . . God bless you!'

Shubin abruptly left the window. 'Annu-shka!' Bersenyev felt an impulse to shout after him, but he restrained himself; Shubin had really been white with emotion. Two minutes later, Bersenyev even caught the sound of sobbing; he got up and opened the window; everything was still, only somewhere in the distance some one—a passing peasant, probably—was humming 'The Plain of Mozdok.'