On the Eve/XVI

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XVI[edit]

Soon after her acquaintance with Insarov, Elena (for the fifth or sixth time) began a diary. Here are some extracts from it:

'June. . . . Andrei Petrovitch brings me books, but I can't read them. I'm ashamed to confess it to him; but I don't like to give back the books, tell lies, say I have read them. I feel that would mortify him. He is always watching me. He seems devoted to me. A very good man, Andrei Petrovitch. . . . What is it I want? Why is my heart so heavy, so oppressed? Why do I watch the birds with envy as they fly past? I feel that I could fly with them, fly, where I don't know, but far from here. And isn't that desire sinful? I have here mother, father, home. Don't I love them? No, I don't love them, as I should like to love. It's dreadful to put that in words, but it's the truth. Perhaps I am a great sinner; perhaps that is why I am so sad, why I have no peace. Some hand seems laid on me, weighing me down, as though I were in prison, and the walls would fall on me directly. Why is it others don't feel this? Whom shall I love, if I am cold to my own people? It's clear, papa is right; he reproaches me for loving nothing but cats and dogs. I must think about that. I pray very little; I must pray. . . . Ah, I think I should know how to love! ... I am still shy with Mr. Insarov. I don't know why; I believe I'm not schoolgirlish generally, and he is so simple and kind. Sometimes he has a very serious face. He can't give much thought to us. I feel that, and am ashamed in a way to take up his time. With Andrei Petrovitch it's quite a different thing. I am ready to chat with him the whole day long. But he too always talks of Insarov. And such terrible facts he tells me about him! I saw him in a dream last night with a dagger in his hand. And he seemed to say to me, "I will kill you and I will kill myself!" What silliness!

'Oh, if some one would say to me: "There, that's what you must do!" Being good—isn't much; doing good . . . yes, that's the great thing in life. But how is one to do good? Oh, if I could learn to control myself! I don't know why I am so often thinking of Mr. Insarov. When he comes and sits and listens intently, but makes no effort, no exertion himself, I look at him, and feel pleased, and that's all, and when he goes, I always go over his words, and feel vexed with myself, and upset even. I can't tell why. (He speaks French badly and isn't ashamed of it—I like that.) I always think a lot about new people, though. As I talked to him, I suddenly was reminded of our butler, Vassily, who rescued an old cripple out of a hut that was on fire, and was almost killed himself. Papa called him a brave fellow, mamma gave him five roubles, and I felt as though I could fall at his feet. And he had a simple face—stupid-looking even—and he took to drink later on. . . .

'I gave a penny to-day to a beggar woman, and she said to me, "Why are you so sorrowful?" I never suspected I looked sorrowful. I think it must come from being alone, always alone, for better, for worse! There is no one to stretch out a hand to me. Those who come to me, I don't want; and those I would choose—pass me by.

'. . . I don't know what's the matter with me to-day; my head is confused, I want to fall on my knees and beg and pray for mercy. I don't know by whom or how, but I feel as if I were being tortured, and inwardly I am shrieking in revolt; I weep and can't be quiet. . . . O my God, subdue these outbreaks in me! Thou alone canst aid me, all else is useless; my miserable alms-giving, my studies can do nothing, nothing, nothing to help me. I should like to go out as a servant somewhere, really; that would do me good.

'What is my youth for, what am I living for, why have I a soul, what is it all for?

'. . . Insarov, Mr. Insarov—upon my word I don't know how to write—still interests me, I should like to know what he has within, in his soul? He seems so open, so easy to talk to, but I can see nothing. Sometimes he looks at me with such searching eyes—or is that my fancy? Paul keeps teasing me. I am angry with Paul. What does he want? He's in love with me . . . but his love's no good to me. He's in love with Zoya too. I'm unjust to him; he told me yesterday I didn't know how to be unjust by halves . . . that's true. It's very horrid.

'Ah, I feel one needs unhappiness, or poverty or sickness, or else one gets conceited directly.

'. . . What made Andrei Petrovitch tell me to-day about those two Bulgarians! He told me it as it were with some intention. What have I to do with Mr. Insarov? I feel cross with Andrei Petrovitch.

'. . . I take my pen and don't know how to begin. How unexpectedly he began to talk to me in the garden to-day! How friendly and confiding he was! How quickly it happened! As if we were old, old friends and had only just recognised each other. How could I have not understood him before? How near he is to me now! And—what's so wonderful—I feel ever so much calmer now. It's ludicrous; yesterday I was angry with Andrei Petrovitch, and angry with him, I even called him Mr. Insarov, and to-day . . . Here at last is a true man; some one one may depend upon. He won't tell lies; he's the first man I have met who never tells lies; all the others tell lies, everything's lying. Andrei Petrovitch, dear good friend, why do I wrong you? No! Andrei Petrovitch is more learned than he is, even, perhaps more intellectual. But I don't know, he seems so small beside him. When he speaks of his country he seems taller, and his face grows handsome, and his voice is like steel, and ... no ... it seems as though there were no one in the world before whom he would flinch. And he doesn't only talk. . . . he has acted and he will act I shall ask him. . . . How suddenly he turned to me and smiled! ... It's only brothers that smile like that! Ah, how glad I am! When he came the first time, I never dreamt that we should so soon get to know each other. And now I am even pleased that I remained indifferent to him at first. Indifferent? Am I not indifferent then now? . . . It's long since I have felt such inward peace. I feel so quiet, so quiet. And there's nothing to write? I see him often and that's all. What more is there to write?

'. . . Paul shuts himself up, Andrei Petrovitch has taken to coming less often. . . . poor fellow! I fancy he . . . But that can never be, though. I like talking to Andrei Petrovitch; never a word of self, always of something sensible, useful. Very different from Shubin. Shubin's as fine as a butterfly, and admires his own finery; which butterflies don't do. But both Shubin and Andrei Petrovitch . , . I know what I mean.

'. . . He enjoys coming to us, I see that. But why? what does he find in me? It's true our tastes are alike; he and I, both of us don't care for poetry; neither of us knows anything of art. But how much better he is than I! He is calm, I am in perpetual excitement; he has chosen his path, his aim—while I—where am I going? where is my home? He is calm, but all his thoughts are far away. The time will come, and he will leave us for ever, will go home, there over the sea. Well? God grant he may! Any way I shall be glad that I knew him, while he was here.

'Why isn't he a Russian? No, he could not be Russian.

'Mamma too likes him; she says: an unassuming young man. Dear mamma! She does not understand him. Paul says nothing; he guessed I didn't like his hints, but he's jealous of him. Spiteful boy! And what right has he? Did I ever . . . All that's nonsense! What makes all that come into my head?

'. . . Isn't it strange though, that up till now, up to twenty, I have never loved any one! I believe that the reason why D.'s (I shall call him D.—I like that name Dmitri) soul is so clear, is that he is entirely given up to his work, his ideal. What has he to trouble about? When any one has utterly . . . utterly . . . given himself up, he has little sorrow, he is not responsible for anything. It's not I want, but it wants. By the way, he and I both love the same flowers. I picked a rose this morning, one leaf fell, he picked it up.... I gave him the whole rose.

'. . . D. often comes to us. Yesterday he spent the whole evening. He wants to teach me Bulgarian. I feel happy with him, quite at home, more than at home.

'. . . The days fly past. ... I am happy, and somehow discontent and I am thankful to God, and tears are not far off. Oh these hot bright days!

'. . . I am still light-hearted as before, and only at times, and only a little, sad. I am happy. Am I happy?

'. . . It will be long before I forget the expedition yesterday. What strange, new, terrible impressions when he suddenly took that great giant and flung him like a ball into the water. I was not frightened . . . yet he frightened me. And afterwards—what an angry face, almost cruel! How he said, "He will swim out!" It gave me a shock. So I did not understand him. And afterwards when they all laughed, when I was laughing, how I felt for him! He was ashamed, I felt that he was ashamed before me. He told me so afterwards in the carriage in the dark, when I tried to get a good view of him and was afraid of him. Yes, he is not to be trifled with, and he is a splendid champion. But why that wicked look, those trembling lips, that angry fire in his eyes? Or is it, perhaps, inevitable? Isn't it possible to be a man, a hero, and to remain soft and gentle? "Life is a coarse business," he said to me once lately. I repeated that saying to Andrei Petrovitch; he did not agree with D. Which of them is right? But the beginning of that day! How happy I was, walking beside him, even without speaking. . . . But I am glad of what happened. I see that it was quite as it should be.

'. . . Restlessness again ... I am not quite well. . . . All these days I have written nothing in this book, because I have had no wish to write. I felt, whatever I write, it won't be what is in my heart. . . . And what is in my heart? I have had a long talk with him, which revealed a great deal. He told me his plan (by the way, I know now how he got the wound in his neck. . . . Good God! when I think he was actually condemned to death, that he was only just saved, that he was wounded. . . . ) He prophesies war and will be glad of it. And for all that, I never saw D. so depressed. What can he ... he! ... be depressed by? Papa arrived home from town and came upon us two. He looked rather queerly at us. Andrei Petrovitch came; I noticed he had grown very thin and pale. He reproved me, saying I behave too coldly and inconsiderately to Shubin. I had utterly forgotten Paul's existence. I will see him, and try to smooth over my offence. He is nothing to me now . . . nor any one else in the world. Andrei Petrovitch talked to me in a sort of commiserating way. What does it all mean? Why is everything around me and within me so dark? I feel as if about me and within me, something mysterious were happening, for which I want to find the right word. ... I did not sleep all night; my head aches. What's the good of writing? He went away so quickly to-day and I wanted to talk to him. . . . He almost seems to avoid me. Yes, he avoids me.

'. . . The word is found, light has dawned on me! My God, have pity on me. . . . I love him!'