On the Eve/XIII

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During the first fortnight of Insarov's stay in the Kuntsovo neighbourhood, he did not visit the Stahovs more than four or five times; Bersenyev went to see them every day. Elena was always pleased to see him, lively and interesting talk always sprang up between them, and yet he often went home with a gloomy face. Shubin scarcely showed himself; he was working with feverish energy at his art; he either stayed locked up in his room, from which he would emerge in a blouse, smeared all over with clay, or else he spent days in Moscow where he had a studio, to which models and Italian sculptors, his friends and teachers, used to come to see him. Elena did not once succeed in talking with Insarov, as she would have liked to do; in his absence she prepared questions to ask him about many things, but when he came she felt ashamed of her plans. Insarov's very tranquillity embarrassed her; it seemed to her that she had not the right to force him to speak out; and she resolved to wait; for all that, she felt that at every visit however trivial might be the words that passed between them, he attracted her more and more; but she never happened to be left alone with him—and to grow intimate with any one, one must have at least one conversation alone with him. She talked a great deal about him to Bersenyev. Bersenyev realised that Elena's imagination had been struck by Insarov, and was glad that his friend had not 'missed fire' as Shubin had asserted. He told her cordially all he knew of him down to the minutest details (we often, when we want to please some one, bring our friends into our conversation, hardly ever suspecting that we are praising ourselves in that way), and only at times, when Elena's pale cheeks flushed a little and her eyes grew bright and wide, he felt a pang in his heart of that evil pain which he had felt before.

One day Bersenyev came to the Stahovs, not at the customary time, but at eleven o'clock in the morning. Elena came down to him in the parlour.

'Fancy,' he began with a constrained smile, 'our Insarov has disappeared.'

'Disappeared?' said Elena.

'He has disappeared. The day before yesterday he went off somewhere and nothing has been seen of him since.'

'He did not tell you where he was going?'


Elena sank into a chair.

'He has most likely gone to Moscow,' she commented, trying to seem indifferent and at the same time wondering that she should try to seem indifferent.

'I don't think so,' rejoined Bersenyev. 'He did not go alone.'

'With whom then?'

'Two people of some sort—his countrymen they must have been—came to him the day before yesterday, before dinner.'

'Bulgarians! what makes you think so?'

'Why as far as I could hear, they talked to him in some language I did not know, but Slavonic . . . You are always saying, Elena Nikolaevna, that there's so little mystery about Insarov; what could be more mysterious than this visit? Imagine, they came to him—and then there was shouting and quarrelling, and such savage, angry disputing. . . . And he shouted too.'

'He shouted too?'

'Yes. He shouted at them. They seemed to be accusing each other. And if you could have had a peep at these visitors. They had swarthy, heavy faces with high cheek bones and hook noses, both about forty years old, shabbily dressed, hot and dusty, looking like workmen—not workmen, and not gentlemen—goodness knows what sort of people they were.'

'And he went away with them?'

'Yes. He gave them something to eat and went off with them. The woman of the house told me they ate a whole huge pot of porridge between the two of them. They outdid one another, she said, and gobbled it up like wolves.'

Elena gave a faint smile.

'You will see,' she said, 'all this will be explained into something very prosaic.'

'I hope it may! But you need not use that word. There is nothing prosaic about Insarov, though Shubin does maintain——'

'Shubin!' Elena broke in, shrugging her shoulders. 'But you must confess these two good men gobbling up porridge——'

'Even Themistocles had his supper on the eve of Salamis,' observed Bersenyev with a smile.

'Yes; but then there was a battle next day. Any way you will let me know when he comes back,' said Elena, and she tried to change the subject, but the conversation made little progress. Zoya made her appearance and began walking about the room on tip-toe, giving them thereby to understand that Anna Vassilyevna was not yet awake.

Bersenyev went away.

In the evening of the same day a note from him was brought to Elena. 'He has come back,' he wrote to her, 'sunburnt and dusty to his very eyebrows; but where and why he went I don't know; won't you find out?'

'Won't you find out!' Elena whispered, 'as though he talked to me!'