Aria Kirilovna was sitting in her room, embroidering at her frame before the open window. She did not entangle her threads like Conrad's mistress, who, in her amorous distraction, embroidered a rose with green silk. Under her needle, the canvas repeated unerringly the design of the original; but in spite of that, her thoughts did not follow her work—they were far away.
Suddenly an arm passed silently through the window, placed a letter upon the frame and disappeared before Maria Kirilovna could recover herself. At the same moment a servant entered to call her to Kirila Petrovitch. Trembling very much, she hid the letter under her fichu and hastened to her father in his study.
Kirila Petrovitch was not alone. Prince Vereisky was sitting in the room with him. On the appearance of Maria Kirilovna, the Prince rose and silently bowed, with a confusion that was quite unusual in him.
"Come here, Masha," said Kirila Petrovitch: "I have a piece of news to tell you which I hope will please you very much. Here is a sweetheart for you: the Prince proposes for your hand."
Masha was dumfounded; a deadly pallor overspread her countenance. She was silent. The Prince approached her, took her hand, and with a tender look, asked her if she would consent to make him happy. Masha remained silent.
"Consent? Of course she will consent," said Kirila Petrovitch; "but you know, Prince, it is difficult for a girl to say such a word as that. Well, children, kiss one another and be happy."
Masha stood motionless; the old Prince kissed her hand. Suddenly the tears began to stream down her pale cheeks. The Prince frowned slightly.
"Go, go, go!" said Kirila Petrovitch: "dry your tears and come back to us in a merry humour. They all weep at the moment of being betrothed," he continued, turning to Vereisky; "it is their custom. Now, Prince, let us talk about business, that is to say, about the dowry."
Maria Kirilovna eagerly took advantage of the permission to retire. She ran to her room, locked herself in and gave way to her tears, already imagining herself the wife of the old Prince. He had suddenly become repugnant and hateful to her. Marriage terrified her, like the block, like the grave.
"No, no," She repeated in, despair; "I would rather go into a convent, I would rather marry Doubrovsky...."
Then she remembered the letter and eagerly began to read it, having a presentiment that it was from him. In fact, it was written by him, and contained only the following words:
"This evening, at ten o'clock, in the same place as before."
The moon was shining; the night was calm; the wind rose now and then, and a gentle rustle ran over the garden.
Like a light shadow, the beautiful young girl drew near to the appointed meeting-place. Nobody was yet visible, when suddenly, from behind the arbour, Doubrovsky appeared before her.
"I know all," he said to her in a low, sad voice; "remember your promise."
"You offer me your protection," replied Masha; "do not be angry—but the idea alarms me. In what way can you help me?"
"I can deliver you from a detested man...."
"For God's sake, do not touch him, do not venture to touch him, if you love me. I do not wish to be the cause of any horror...."
"I will not touch him: your wish is sacred for me. He owes his life to you. Never shall a crime be committed in your name. You shall not be stigmatized on account of my misdeeds. But how can I save you from a cruel father?"
"There is still hope; I hope to touch him with my tears—my despair. He is obstinate, but he loves me very dearly."
"Do not put your trust in a vain hope. In those tears he will see only the usual timidity and aversion common to all young girls, when they marry from motives of interest and not from affection. But if he takes it into his head to accomplish your happiness in spite of yourself? If you are conducted to the altar by force, in order that your destiny may be placed for ever in the hands of an old man?"
"Then—then there will be nothing else to do. Come for me—I will be your wife."
Doubrovsky trembled; his pale face became covered with a deep flush, and the next minute he became paler than before. He remained silent for a long time, with his head bent down.
"Muster the full strength of your soul, implore your father, throw yourself at his feet; represent to him all the horror of the future that he is preparing for you, your youth fading away by the side of a feeble and dissipated old man. Tell him that riches will not procure for you a single moment of happiness. Luxury consoles poverty alone, and even in that case only for a brief season. Do not be put off by him, and do not be frightened either by his anger or by his threats, as long as there remains the least shadow of hope. For God's sake do not leave off importuning him. If, however, you have no other resource left, decide upon a plain speaking explanation; tell him that if he remains inexorable, then—then you will find a terrible protector."
Here Doubrovsky covered his face with his hands; he seemed to be choking. Masha wept.
"My miserable, miserable fate!" said he, with a bitter sigh. "For you I would have given my life. To see you from afar, to touch your hand was for me happiness beyond expression; and when there opens up before me the possibility of pressing you to my agitated heart, and saying to you: 'I am yours for ever'—miserable creature that I am! I must fly from such happiness, I must repel it from me with all my strength. I dare not throw myself at your feet and thank Heaven for an incomprehensible, unmerited reward. Oh! how I ought to hate him who—but I feel that now there is no place in my heart for hatred."
He gently passed his arm round her slender figure and pressed her tenderly to his heart. She confidingly leaned her head upon the young brigand's shoulder and both remained silent.... The time flew past.
"It is time," said Masha at last.
Doubrovsky seemed as if awakening from a dream. He took her hand and placed a ring on her finger.
"If you decide upon having recourse to me," said he, "then bring the ring here and place it in the hollow of this oak. I shall know what to do."
Doubrovsky kissed her hand and disappeared among the trees.