On the Eve/XXVI

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For eight whole days Insarov lay between life and death. The doctor was incessantly visiting him, interested as a young man in a difficult case. Shubin heard of Insarov's critical position, and made inquiries after him. His compatriots—Bulgarians—came; among them Bersenyev recognised the two strange figures, who had puzzled him by their unexpected visit to the cottage; they all showed genuine sympathy, some offered to take Bersenyev's place by the patient's bed-side; but he would not consent to that, remembering his promise to Elena. He saw her every day and secretly reported to her—sometimes by word of mouth, sometimes in a brief note—every detail of the illness. With what sinkings of the heart she awaited him, how she listened and questioned him! She was always on the point of hastening to Insarov herself; but Bersenyev begged her not to do this: Insarov was seldom alone. On the first day she knew of his illness she herself had almost fallen ill; directly she got home, she shut herself up in her room; but she was summoned to dinner, and appeared in the dining-room with such a face that Anna Vassilyevna was alarmed, and was anxious to put her to bed. Elena succeeded, however, in controlling herself. 'If he dies,' she repeated, 'it will be the end of me too.' This thought tranquillised her, and enabled her to seem indifferent. Besides no one troubled her much; Anna Vassilyevna was taken up with her swollen face; Shubin was working furiously; Zoya was given up to pensiveness, and disposed to read Werther; Nikolai Artemyevitch was much displeased at the frequent visits of 'the scholar,' especially as his 'cherished projects' in regard to Kurnatovsky were making no way; the practical chief secretary was puzzled and biding his time. Elena did not even thank Bersenyev; there are services for which thanks are cruel and shameful. Only once at her fourth interview with him—Insarov had passed a very bad night, the doctor had hinted at a consultation—only then she reminded him of his promise. 'Very well, then let us go,' he said to her. She got up and was going to get ready. 'No,' he decided, 'let us wait till to-morrow.' Towards evening Insarov was rather better.

For eight days this torture was prolonged. Elena appeared calm; but she could eat nothing, and did not sleep at night. There was a dull ache in all her limbs; her head seemed full of a sort of dry burning smoke. 'Our young lady's wasting like a candle,' her maid said of her.

At last by the ninth day the crisis was passing over. Elena was sitting in the drawing-room near Anna Vassilyevna, and, without knowing herself what she was doing, was reading her the Moscow Gazette; Bersenyev came in. Elena glanced at him—how rapid, and fearful, and penetrating, and tremulous, was the first glance she turned on him every time—and at once she guessed that he brought good news. He was smiling; he nodded slightly to her, she got up to go and meet him.

'He has regained consciousness, he is saved, he will be quite well again in a week,' he whispered to her.

Elena had stretched out her arm as though to ward off a blow, and she said nothing, only her lips trembled and a flush of crimson overspread her whole face. Bersenyev began to talk to Anna Vassilyevna, and Elena went off to her own room, dropped on her knees and fell to praying, to thanking God. Light, shining tears trickled down her cheeks. Suddenly she was conscious of intense weariness, laid her head down on the pillow, whispered 'poor Andrei Petrovitch!' and at once fell asleep with wet eheeks and eyelashes. It was long since she had slept or wept.