On the Eve/XXXV

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The next day, in the same room, Renditch was standing at the window; before him, wrapped in a shawl, sat Elena. In the next room, Insarov lay in his coffin. Elena's face was both scared and lifeless; two lines could be seen on her forehead between her eyebrows; they gave a strained expression to her fixed eyes. In the window lay an open letter from Anna Vassilyevna. She begged her daughter to come to Moscow if only for a month, complained of her loneliness, and of Nikolai Artemyevitch, sent greetings to Insarov, inquired after his health, and begged him to spare his wife.

Renditch was a Dalmatian, a sailor, with whom Insarov had become acquainted during his wanderings in his own country, and whom he had sought out in Venice. He was a dry, gruff man, full of daring and devoted to the Slavonic cause. He despised the Turks and hated the Austrians.

'How long must you remain at Venice?' Elena asked him in Italian. And her voice was as lifeless as her face.

'One day for freighting and not to rouse suspicions, and then straight to Zara. I shall have sad news for our countrymen. They have long been expecting him; they rested their hopes on him.'

'They rested their hopes on him,' Elena repeated mechanically.

'When will you bury him?' asked Renditch.

Elena not at once replied, 'To-morrow.'

'To-morrow? I will stop; I should like to throw a handful of earth into his grave. And you will want help. But it would have been better for him to lie in Slavonic earth.'

Elena looked at Renditch.

'Captain,' she said, 'take me and him and carry us across to the other side of the sea, away from here. Isn't that possible?'

Renditch considered: 'Possible certainly, but difficult. We shall have to come into collision with the damned authorities here. But supposing we arrange all that and bury him there, how am I to bring you back?'

'You need not bring me back.'

'What? where will you stop?'

'I shall find some place for myself; only take us, take me.'

Renditch scratched the back of his head.

'You know best; but it's all very difficult. I will, I will try; and you expect me here in two hours' time.'

He went away. Elena passed into the next room, leaned against the wall, and for a long time stood there as though turned to stone. Then she dropped on her knees, but she could not pray. There was no reproach in her heart; she did not dare to question God's will, to ask why He had not spared, pitied, saved, why He had punished her beyond her guilt, if she were guilty. Each of us is guilty by the fact that he lives; and there is no one so great a thinker, so great a benefactor of mankind that he might hope to have a right to live for the service he has done. . . . Still Elena could not pray; she was a stone.

The same night a broad-bottomed boat put off from the hotel where the Insarovs lived. In the boat sat Elena with Renditch and beside them stood a long box covered with a black cloth. They rowed for about an hour, and at last reached a small two-masted ship, which was riding at anchor at the very entrance of the harbour. Elena and Renditch got into the ship; the sailors carried in the box. At midnight a storm had arisen, but early in the morning the ship had passed out of the Lido. During the day the storm raged with fearful violence, and experienced seamen in Lloyd's offices shook their heads and prophesied no good. The Adriatic Sea between Venice, Trieste, and the Dalmatian coast is particularly dangerous.

Three weeks after Elena's departure from Vienna, Anna Vassilyevna received the following letter in Moscow:—

'My DEAR PARENTS.—I am saying goodbye to you for ever. You will never see me again. Dmitri died yesterday. Everything is over for me. To-day I am setting off with his body to Zara. I will bury him, and what will become of me, I don't know. But now I have no country but Dmitri's country. There, they are preparing for revolution, they are getting ready for war. I will join the Sisters of Mercy; I will tend the sick and the wounded. I don't know what will become of me, but even after Dmitri's death, I will be faithful to his memory, to the work of his whole life. I have learnt Bulgarian and Servian. Very likely, I shall not have strength to live through it all for long—so much the better. I have been brought to the edge of the precipice and I must fall over. Fate did not bring us together for nothing; who knows?—perhaps I killed him; now it is his turn to draw me after him. I sought happiness, and I shall find—perhaps death. It seems it was to be thus: it seems it was a sin. . . . But death covers all and reconciles all; does it not? Forgive me all the suffering I have caused you; it was not under my control. But how could I return to Russia; What have I to do in Russia?
'Accept my last kisses and blessings, and do not condemn me.
* * *

Nearly five years have passed since then, and no further news of Elena has come. All letters and inquiries were fruitless; in vain did Nikolai Artemyevitch himself make a journey to Venice and to Zara after peace was concluded. In Venice he learnt what is already known to the reader, but in Zara no one could give him any positive information about Renditch and the ship he had taken. There were dark rumours that some years back, after a great storm, the sea had thrown up on shore a coffin in which had been found a man's body . . . But according to other more trustworthy accounts this coffin had not been thrown up by the sea at all, but had been carried over and buried near the shore by a foreign lady, coming from Venice; some added that they had seen this lady afterwards in Herzegovina, with the forces which were there assembled; they even described her dress, black from head to foot However it was, all trace of Elena had disappeared beyond recovery for ever; and no one knows whether she is still living, whether she is hidden away somewhere, or whether the petty drama of life is over—the little ferment of her existence is at an end; and she has found death in her turn. It happens at times that a man wakes up and asks himself with involuntary horror, 'Can I be already thirty . . . forty . . . fifty? How is it life has passed so soon? How is it death has moved up so close?' Death is like a fisher who catches fish in his net and leaves them for a while in the water; the fish is still swimming but the net is round him, and the fisher will draw him up—when he thinks fit.

* * *

What became of the other characters of our story?

Anna Vassilyevna is still living; she has aged very much since the blow that has fallen on her; is less complaining, but far more wretched. Nikolai Artemyevitch, too, has grown older and greyer, and has parted from Augustina Christianovna. ... He has taken now to abusing everything foreign. His housekeeper, a handsome woman of thirty, a Russian, wears silk dresses and gold rings and bracelets. Kurnatovsky, like every man of ardent temperament and dark complexion, a devoted admirer of pretty blondes, married Zoya; she is in complete subjection to him and has even given up thinking in German. Bersenyev is in Heidelberg; he has been sent abroad at the expense of government; he has visited Berlin and Paris and is not wasting his time; he has become a thoroughly efficient professor. The attention of the learned public has been caught by his two articles: 'On some peculiarities of ancient law as regards judicial sentences,' and 'On the significance of cities in civilisation.' It is only a pity that both articles are written in rather a heavy style, disfigured by foreign words. Shubin is in Rome; he is completely given up to his art and is reckoned one of the most remarkable and promising of young sculptors. Severe tourists consider that he has not sufficiently studied the antique, that he has 'no style,' and reckon him one of the French school; he has had a great many orders from the English and Americans. Of late, there has been much talk about a Bacchante of his; the Russian Count Boboshkin, the well-known millionaire, thought of buying it for one thousand scudi, but decided in preference to give three thousand to another sculptor, French pur sang, for a group entitled, 'A youthful shepherdess dying for love in the bosom of the Genius of Spring.' Shubin writes from time to time to Uvar Ivanovitch, who alone has remained quite unaltered in all respects. 'Do you remember,' he wrote to him lately, 'what you said to me that night, when poor Elena's marriage was made known, when I was sitting on your bed talking to you? Do you remember I asked you, "Will there ever be men among us?" and you answered "There will be." O primeval force! And now from here in "my poetic distance," I will ask you again: "What do you say, Uvar Ivanovitch, will there be?"'

Uvar Ivanovitch flourished his fingers and fixed his enigmatical stare into the far distance.