Smoke (Turgenev)/XX

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XX

'Why did I say that to her?' Litvinov thought the next morning as he sat in his room at the window. He shrugged his shoulders in vexation: he had said that to Tatyana simply to cut himself off all way of retreat. In the window lay a note from Irina: she asked him to see her at twelve. Potugin's words incessantly recurred to his mind, they seemed to reach him with a faint ill-omened sound as of a rumbling underground. He was angry with himself, but could not get rid of them anyhow. Some one knocked at the door.

' Wer da? ' asked Litvinov.

'Ah! you 're at home! open!' he heard Bindasov's hoarse bass.

The door handle creaked.

Litvinov turned white with exasperation.

'I 'm not at home,' he declared sharply.

'Not at home? That 's a good joke!'

'I tell you—not at home, get along.'

'That 's civil! And I came to ask you for a little loan,' grumbled Bindasov.

He walked off, however, tramping on his heels as usual.

Litvinov was all but dashing out after him, he felt such a longing to throttle the hateful ruffian. The events of the last few days had unstrung his nerves; a little more, and he would have burst into tears. He drank off a glass of cold water, locked up all the drawers in the furniture, he could not have said why, and went to Tatyana's.

He found her alone. Kapitolina Markovna had gone out shopping. Tatyana was sitting on the sofa, holding a book in both hands. She was not reading it, and scarcely knew what book it was. She did not stir, but her heart was beating quickly in her bosom, and the little white collar round her neck quivered visibly and evenly.

Litvinov was confused. . . . However, he sat down by her, said good-morning, smiled at her; she too smiled at him without speaking. She had bowed to him when he came in, bowed courteously, not affectionately, and she did not glance at him. He held out his hand to her; she gave him her chill fingers, but at once freed them again, and took up the book. Litvinov felt that to begin the conversation with unimportant subjects would be insulting Tatyana; she after her custom made no demands, but everything in her said plainly, 'I am waiting, I am waiting.' . . . He must fulfil his promise. But though almost the whole night he had thought of nothing else, he had not prepared even the first introductory words, and absolutely did not know in what way to break this cruel silence.

'Tanya,' he began at last, 'I told you yesterday that I have something important to say to you. I am ready, only I beg you beforehand not to be angry against me, and to rest assured that my feelings for you . . .'

He stopped. He caught his breath. Tatyana still did not stir, and did not look at him; she only clutched the book tighter than ever.

'There has always been,' Litvinov went on, without finishing the sentence he had begun, 'there has always been perfect openness between us; I respect you too much to be a hypocrite with you; I want to prove to you that I know how to value the nobleness and independence of your nature, even though . . . though of course . . .'

'Grigory Mihalitch,' began Tatyana in a measured voice while a deathly pallor overspread her whole face, 'I will come to your assistance, you no longer love me, and you don't know how to tell me so.'

Litvinov involuntarily shuddered.

'Why?' ... he said, hardly intelligibly, 'why could you suppose?. . . I really don't understand . . .'

'What ! isn't it the truth ? Isn't it the truth ?—tell me, tell me.'

Tatyana turned quite round to Litvinov; her face, with her hair brushed back from it, approached his face, and her eyes, which for so long had not looked at him, seemed to penetrate into his eyes.

'Isn't it the truth?' she repeated.

He said nothing, did not utter a single sound. He could not have lied at that instant, even if he had known she would believe him, and that his lie would save her; he was not even able to bear her eyes upon him. Litvinov said nothing, but she needed no answer, she read the answer in his very silence, in those guilty downcast eyes—and she turned away again and dropped the book. . . . She had been still uncertain till that instant, and Litvinov understood that; he understood that she had been still uncertain—and how hideous, actually hideous was all that he was doing.

He flung himself on his knees before her.

'Tanya,' he cried, 'if only you knew how hard it is for me to see you in this position, how awful to me to think that it 's I . . . I! My heart is torn to pieces, I don't know myself, I have lost myself, and you, and everything . . . Everything is shattered, Tanya, everything! Could I dream that I ... I should bring such a blow upon you, my best friend, my guardian angel? . . . Could I dream that we should meet like this, should spend such a day as yesterday !. . .'

Tatyana was trying to get up and go away. He held her back by the border of her dress.

'No, listen to me a minute longer. You see I am on my knees before you, but I have not come to beg your forgiveness; you cannot, you ought not to forgive me. I have come to tell you that your friend is ruined, that he is falling into the pit, and would not drag you down with him. . . . But save me . . . no ! even you cannot save me. I should push you away, I am ruined, Tanya, I am ruined past all help.'

Tatyana looked at Litvinov.

'You are ruined?' she said, as though not fully understanding him. 'You are ruined?'

'Yes, Tanya, I am ruined. All the past, all that was precious, everything I have lived for up till now, is ruined for me; everything is wretched, everything is shattered, and I don't know what awaits me in the future. You said just now that I no longer loved you. . . . No, Tanya, I have not ceased to love you, but a different, terrible, irresistible passion has come upon me, has overborne me. I fought against it while I could. . . .'

Tatyana got up, her brows twitched, her pale face darkened. Litvinov too rose to his feet.

'You love another woman,' she began, 'and I guess who she is. . . . We met her yesterday, didn't we ? . . . Well, I see what is left for me to do now. Since you say yourself this passion is unalterable' . . . (Tatyana paused an instant, possibly she had still hoped Litvinov would not let this last word pass unchallenged, but he said nothing), 'it only remains for me to give you back . . . your word.'

Litvinov bent his head, as though submissively receiving a well-deserved blow.

'You have every right to be angry with me,' he said. 'You have every right to reproach me for feebleness ... for deceit.'

Tatyana looked at him again.

'I have not reproached you, Litvinov, I don't blame you. I agree with you: the bitterest truth is better than what went on yesterday. What sort of a life could ours have been now!'

'What sort of a life will mine be now!' echoed mournfully in Litvinov's soul. Tatyana went towards the door of the bedroom.

'I will ask you to leave me alone for a little time, Grigory Mihalitch—we will see each other again, we will talk again. All this has been so unexpected I want to collect myself a little . . . leave me alone . . . spare my pride. We shall see each other again.'

And uttering these words, Tatyana hurriedly withdrew and locked the door after her.

Litvinov went out into the street like a man dazed and stunned; in the very depths of his heart something dark and bitter lay hid, such a sensation must a man feel who has murdered another; and at the same time he felt easier as though he had at last flung off a hated load. Tatyana's magnanimity had crushed him, he felt vividly all that he had lost . . . and yet? with his regret was mingled irritation; he yearned towards Irina as to the sole refuge left him, and felt bitter against her. For some time Litvinov's feelings had been every day growing more violent and more complex; this complexity tortured him, exasperated him, he was lost in this chaos. He thirsted for one thing; to get out at last on to the path, whatever it might be, if only not to wander longer in this incomprehensible half-darkness. Practical people of Litvinov's sort ought never to be carried away by passion, it destroys the very meaning of their lives. . . . But nature cares nothing for logic, our human logic; she has her own, which we do not recognise and do not acknowledge till we are crushed under its wheel.

On parting from Tatyana, Litvinov held one thought in his mind, to see Irina; he set off indeed to see her. But the general was at home, so at least the porter told him, and he did not care to go in, he did not feel himself capable of hypocrisy, and he moved slowly off towards the Konversation Hall. Litvinov's incapacity for hypocrisy was evident that day to both Voroshilov and Pishtchalkin, who happened to meet him; he simply blurted out to the former that he was empty as a drum; to the latter that he bored every one to extinction; it was lucky indeed that Bindasov did come across him; there would certainly have been a 'grosser Scandal.' Both the young men were stupefied; Voroshilov went so far as to ask himself whether his honour as an officer did not demand satisfaction? But like Gogol's lieutenant, Pirogov, he calmed himself with bread and butter in a café. Litvinov caught sight in the distance of Kapitolina Markovna running busily from shop to shop in her stupid mantle. . . . He felt ashamed to face the good, absurd, generous old lady. Then he recalled Potugin, their conversation yesterday. . . . Then something was wafted to him, something intangible and unmistakable: if a falling shadow shed a fragrance, it could not be more elusive, but he felt at once that it was Irina near him, and in fact she appeared a few paces from him, arm-in-arm with another lady; their eyes met at once. Irina probably noticed something peculiar in the expression of Litvinov's face; she stopped before a shop, in which a number of tiny wooden clocks of Black Forest make were exhibited, and summoning him by a motion of her head, she pointed to one of these clocks, and calling upon him to admire a charming clock-face with a painted cuckoo above it, she said, not in a whisper, but as though finishing a phrase begun, in her ordinary tone of voice, much less likely to attract the attention of outsiders, 'Come in an hour's time, I shall be alone.'

But at this moment the renowned lady-killer Monsieur Verdier swooped down upon her, and began to fall into ecstasies over the colour, feuille morte, of her gown and the low-crowned Spanish hat she wore tilted almost down to her eyebrows. . . Litvinov vanished in the crowd.