SHATOV WAS NOT PERVERSE but acted on my note, and called at midday on Lizaveta Nikolaevna. We went in almost together; I was also going to make my first call. They were all, that is Liza, her mother, and Mavriky Nikolaevitch, sitting in the big drawing-room, arguing. The mother was asking Liza to play some waltz on the piano, and as soon as Liza began to play the piece asked for, declared it was not the right one. Mavriky Nikolaevitch in the simplicity of his heart took Liza’s part, maintaining that it was the right waltz. The elder lady was so angry that she began to cry. She was ill and walked with difficulty. Her legs were swollen, and for the last few days she had been continually fractious, quarrelling with every one, though she always stood rather in awe of Liza. They were pleased to see us. Liza flushed with pleasure, and saying “merci” to me, on Shatov’s account of course, went to meet him, looking at him with interest.
Shatov stopped awkwardly in the doorway. Thanking him for coming she led him up to her mother.
“This is Mr. Shatov, of whom I have told you, and this is Mr. G——v, a great friend of mine and of Stepan Trofimovitch’s. Mavriky Nikolaevitch made his acquaintance yesterday, too.”
“And which is the professor?”
“There’s no professor at all, maman.”
“But there is. You said yourself that there’d be a professor. It’s this one, probably.” She disdainfully indicated Shatov.
“I didn’t tell you that there’d be a professor. Mr. G——v is in the service, and Mr. Shatov is a former student.”
“A student or professor, they all come from the university just the same. You only want to argue. But the Swiss one had moustaches and a beard.”
“It’s the son of Stepan Trofimovitch that maman always calls the professor,” said Liza, and she took Shatov away to the sofa at the other end of the drawing-room.
“When her legs swell, she’s always like this, you understand she’s ill,” she whispered to Shatov, still with the same marked curiosity, scrutinising him, especially his shock of hair.
“Are you an officer?” the old lady inquired of me. Liza had mercilessly abandoned me to her.
“N-no.—I’m in the service.…”
“Mr. G——v is a great friend of Stepan Trofimovitch’s,” Liza chimed in immediately.
“Are you in Stepan Trofimovitch’s service? Yes, and he’s a professor, too, isn’t he?”
“Ah, maman, you must dream at night of professors,” cried Liza with annoyance.
“I see too many when I’m awake. But you always will contradict your mother. Were you here four years ago when Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch was in the neighbourhood?”
I answered that I was.
“And there was some Englishman with you?”
“No, there was not.”
“Well, you see there was no Englishman, so it must have been idle gossip. And Varvara Petrovna and Stepan Trofimovitch both tell lies. And they all tell lies.”
“Auntie and Stepan Trofimovitch yesterday thought there was a resemblance between Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch and Prince Harry in Shakespeare’s Henry IV, and in answer to that maman says that there was no Englishman here,” Liza explained to us.
“If Harry wasn’t here, there was no Englishman. It was no one else but Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch at his tricks.”
“I assure you that maman’s doing it on purpose,” Liza thought necessary to explain to Shatov. “She’s really heard of Shakespeare. I read her the first act of Othello myself. But she’s in great pain now. Maman, listen, it’s striking twelve, it’s time you took your medicine.”
“The doctor’s come,” a maid-servant announced at the door.
The old lady got up and began calling her dog: “Zemirka, Zemirka, you come with me at least.”
Zemirka, a horrid little old dog, instead of obeying, crept under the sofa where Liza was sitting.
“Don’t you want to? Then I don’t want you. Good-bye, my good sir, I don’t know your name or your father’s,” she said, addressing me.
“Anton Lavrentyevitch …”
“Well, it doesn’t matter, with me it goes in at one ear and out of the other. Don’t you come with me, Mavriky Nikolaevitch, it was Zemirka I called. Thank God I can still walk without help and to-morrow I shall go for a drive.”
She walked angrily out of the drawing-room.
“Anton Lavrentyevitch, will you talk meanwhile to Mavriky Nikolaevitch; I assure you you’ll both be gainers by getting to know one another better,” said Liza, and she gave a friendly smile to Mavriky Nikolaevitch, who beamed all over as she looked at him. There was no help for it, I remained to talk to Mavriky Nikolaevitch.
Lizaveta Nikolaevna’s business with Shatov turned out, to my surprise, to be really only concerned with literature. I had imagined, I don’t know why, that she had asked him to come with some other object. We, Mavriky Nikolaevitch and I that is, seeing that they were talking aloud and not trying to hide anything from us, began to listen, and at last they asked our advice. It turned out that Lizaveta Nikolaevna was thinking of bringing out a book which she thought would be of use, but being quite inexperienced she needed someone to help her. The earnestness with which she began to explain her plan to Shatov quite surprised me.
“She must be one of the new people,” I thought. “She has not been to Switzerland for nothing.”
Shatov listened with attention, his eyes fixed on the ground, showing not the slightest surprise that a giddy young lady in society should take up work that seemed so out of keeping with her.
Her literary scheme was as follows. Numbers of papers and journals are published in the capitals and the provinces of Russia, and every day a number of events are reported in them. The year passes, the newspapers are everywhere folded up and put away in cupboards, or are torn up and become litter, or are used for making parcels or wrapping things. Numbers of these facts make an impression and are remembered by the public, but in the course of years they are forgotten. Many people would like to look them up, but it is a labour for them to embark upon this sea of paper, often knowing nothing of the day or place or even year in which the incident occurred. Yet if all the facts for a whole year were brought together into one book, on a definite plan, and with a definite object, under headings with references, arranged according to months and days, such a compilation might reflect the characteristics of Russian life for the whole year, even though the facts published are only a small fraction of the events that take place.
“Instead of a number of newspapers there would be a few fat books, that’s all,” observed Shatov.
But Lizaveta Nikolaevna clung to her idea, in spite of the difficulty of carrying it out and her inability to describe it. “It ought to be one book, and not even a very thick one,” she maintained. But even if it were thick it would be clear, for the great point would be the plan and the character of the presentation of facts. Of course not all would be collected and reprinted. The decrees and acts of government, local regulations, laws—all such facts, however important, might be altogether omitted from the proposed publication. They could leave out a great deal and confine themselves to a selection of events more or less characteristic of the moral life of the people, of the personal character of the Russian people at the present moment. Of course everything might be put in: strange incidents, fires, public subscriptions, anything good or bad, every speech or word, perhaps even floodings of the rivers, perhaps even some government decrees, but only such things to be selected as are characteristic of the period; everything would be put in with a certain view, a special significance and intention, with an idea which would illuminate the facts looked at in the aggregate, as a whole. And finally the book ought to be interesting even for light reading, apart from its value as a work of reference. It would be, so to say, a presentation of the spiritual, moral, inner life of Russia for a whole year.
“We want every one to buy it, we want it to be a book that will be found on every table,” Liza declared. “I understand that all lies in the plan, and that’s why I apply to you,” she concluded. She grew very warm over it, and although her explanation was obscure and incomplete, Shatov began to understand.
“So it would amount to something with a political tendency, a selection of facts with a special tendency,” he muttered, still not raising his head.
“Not at all, we must not select with a particular bias, and we ought not to have any political tendency in it. Nothing but impartiality—that will be the only tendency.”
“But a tendency would be no harm,” said Shatov, with a slight movement, “and one can hardly avoid it if there is any selection at all. The very selection of facts will suggest how they are to be understood. Your idea is not a bad one.”
“Then such a book is possible?” cried Liza delightedly.
“We must look into it and consider. It’s an immense undertaking. One can’t work it out on the spur of the moment. We need experience. And when we do publish the book I doubt whether we shall find out how to do it. Possibly after many trials; but the thought is alluring. It’s a useful idea.”
He raised his eyes at last, and they were positively sparkling with pleasure, he was so interested.
“Was it your own idea?” he asked Liza, in a friendly and, as it were, bashful way.
“The idea’s no trouble, you know, it’s the plan is the trouble,” Liza smiled. “I understand very little. I am not very clever, and I only pursue what is clear to me, myself.…”
“Perhaps that’s not the right word?” Liza inquired quickly.
“The word is all right; I meant nothing.”
“I thought while I was abroad that even I might be of some use. I have money of my own lying idle. Why shouldn’t I—even I—work for the common cause? Besides, the idea somehow occurred to me all at once of itself. I didn’t invent it at all, and was delighted with it. But I saw at once that I couldn’t get on without someone to help, because I am not competent to do anything of myself. My helper, of course, would be the co-editor of the book. We would go halves. You would give the plan and the work. Mine would be the original idea and the means for publishing it. Would the book pay its expenses, do you think?”
“If we hit on a good plan the book will go.”
“I warn you that I am not doing it for profit; but I am very anxious that the book should circulate and should be very proud of making a profit.”
“Well, but how do I come in?”
“Why, I invite you to be my fellow-worker, to go halves. You will think out the plan.”
“How do you know that I am capable of thinking out the plan?”
“People have talked about you to me, and here I’ve heard … I know that you are very clever and … are working for the cause … and think a great deal. Pyotr Stepanovitch Verhovensky spoke about you in Switzerland,” she added hurriedly. “He’s a very clever man, isn’t he?”
Shatov stole a fleeting, momentary glance at her, but dropped his eyes again.
“Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch told me a great deal about you, too.”
Shatov suddenly turned red.
“But here are the newspapers.” Liza hurriedly picked up from a chair a bundle of newspapers that lay tied up ready. “I’ve tried to mark the facts here for selection, to sort them, and I have put the papers together … you will see.”
Shatov took the bundle.
“Take them home and look at them. Where do you live?”
“In Bogoyavlensky Street, Filipov’s house.”
“I know. I think it’s there, too, I’ve been told, a captain lives, beside you, Mr. Lebyadkin,” said Liza in the same hurried manner.
Shatov sat for a full minute with the bundle in his outstretched hand, making no answer and staring at the floor.
“You’d better find someone else for these jobs. I shouldn’t suit you at all,” he brought out at last, dropping his voice in an awfully strange way, almost to a whisper.
Liza flushed crimson.
“What jobs are you speaking of? Mavriky Nikolaevitch,” she cried, “please bring that letter here.”
I too followed Mavriky Nikolaevitch to the table.
“Look at this,” she turned suddenly to me, unfolding the letter in great excitement. “Have you ever seen anything like it. Please read it aloud. I want Mr. Shatov to hear it too.”
With no little astonishment I read aloud the following missive:
“To the Perfection, Miss Tushin. “Gracious Lady “Lizaveta Nikolaevna!
“Oh, she’s a sweet queen, Lizaveta Tushin! When on side-saddle she gallops by, And in the breeze her fair tresses fly! Or when with her mother in church she bows low And on devout faces a red flush doth flow! Then for the joys of lawful wedlock I aspire, And follow her and her mother with tears of desire.
“Composed by an unlearned man in the midst of a discussion.
“I pity myself above all men that I did not lose my arm at Sevastopol, not having been there at all, but served all the campaign delivering paltry provisions, which I look on as a degradation. You are a goddess of antiquity, and I am nothing, but have had a glimpse of infinity. Look on it as a poem and no more, for, after all, poetry is nonsense and justifies what would be considered impudence in prose. Can the sun be angry with the infusoria if the latter composes verses to her from the drop of water, where there is a multitude of them if you look through the microscope? Even the club for promoting humanity to the larger animals in tip-top society in Petersburg, which rightly feels compassion for dogs and horses, despises the brief infusoria making no reference to it whatever, because it is not big enough. I’m not big enough either. The idea of marriage might seem droll, but soon I shall have property worth two hundred souls through a misanthropist whom you ought to despise. I can tell a lot and I can undertake to produce documents that would mean Siberia. Don’t despise my proposal. A letter from an infusoria is of course in verse.
“Captain Lebyadkin your most humble friend. And he has time no end.”
“That was written by a man in a drunken condition, a worthless fellow,” I cried indignantly. “I know him.”
“That letter I received yesterday,” Liza began to explain, flushing and speaking hurriedly. “I saw myself, at once, that it came from some foolish creature, and I haven’t yet shown it to maman, for fear of upsetting her more. But if he is going to keep on like that, I don’t know how to act. Mavriky Nikolaevitch wants to go out and forbid him to do it. As I have looked upon you as a colleague,” she turned to Shatov, “and as you live there, I wanted to question you so as to judge what more is to be expected of him.”
“He’s a drunkard and a worthless fellow,” Shatov muttered with apparent reluctance.
“Is he always so stupid?”
“No, he’s not stupid at all when he’s not drunk.”
“I used to know a general who wrote verses exactly like that,” I observed, laughing.
“One can see from the letter that he is clever enough for his own purposes,” Mavriky Nikolaevitch, who had till then been silent, put in unexpectedly.
“He lives with some sister?” Liza queried.
“Yes, with his sister.”
“They say he tyrannises over her, is that true?”
Shatov looked at Liza again, scowled, and muttering, “What business is it of mine?” moved towards the door.
“Ah, stay!” cried Liza, in a flutter. “Where are you going? We have so much still to talk over.…”
“What is there to talk over? I’ll let you know to-morrow.”
“Why, the most important thing of all—the printing-press! Do believe me that I am not in jest, that I really want to work in good earnest!” Liza assured him in growing agitation. “If we decide to publish it, where is it to be printed? You know it’s a most important question, for we shan’t go to Moscow for it, and the printing-press here is out of the question for such a publication. I made up my mind long ago to set up a printing-press of my own, in your name perhaps—and I know maman will allow it so long as it is in your name.…”
“How do you know that I could be a printer?” Shatov asked sullenly.
“Why, Pyotr Stepanovitch told me of you in Switzerland, and referred me to you as one who knows the business and able to set up a printing-press. He even meant to give me a note to you from himself, but I forgot it.”
Shatov’s face changed, as I recollect now. He stood for a few seconds longer, then went out of the room.
Liza was angry.
“Does he always go out like that?” she asked, turning to me.
I was just shrugging my shoulders when Shatov suddenly came back, went straight up to the table and put down the roll of papers he had taken.
“I’m not going to be your helper, I haven’t the time.…”
“Why? Why? I think you are angry!” Liza asked him in a grieved and imploring voice.
The sound of her voice seemed to strike him; for some moments he looked at her intently, as though trying to penetrate to her very soul.
“No matter,” he muttered, softly, “I don’t want to.…”
And he went away altogether.
Liza was completely overwhelmed, quite disproportionately in fact, so it seemed to me.
“Wonderfully queer man,” Mavriky Nikolaevitch observed aloud.
He certainly was queer, but in all this there was a very great deal not clear to me. There was something underlying it all. I simply did not believe in this publication; then that stupid letter, in which there was an offer, only too barefaced, to give information and produce “documents,” though they were all silent about that, and talked of something quite different; finally that printing-press and Shatov’s sudden exit, just because they spoke of a printing-press. All this led me to imagine that something had happened before I came in of which I knew nothing; and, consequently, that it was no business of mine and that I was in the way. And, indeed, it was time to take leave, I had stayed long enough for the first call. I went up to say good-bye to Lizaveta Nikolaevna.
She seemed to have forgotten that I was in the room, and was still standing in the same place by the table with her head bowed, plunged in thought, gazing fixedly at one spot on the carpet.
“Ah, you, too, are going, good-bye,” she murmured in an ordinary friendly tone. “Give my greetings to Stepan Trofimovitch, and persuade him to come and see me as soon as he can. Mavriky Nikolaevitch, Anton Lavrentyevitch is going. Excuse maman’s not being able to come out and say good-bye to you.…”
I went out and had reached the bottom of the stairs when a footman suddenly overtook me at the street door.
“My lady begs you to come back.…”
“The mistress, or Lizaveta Nikolaevna?”
“The young lady.”
I found Liza not in the big room where we had been sitting, but in the reception-room next to it. The door between it and the drawing-room, where Mavriky Nikolaevitch was left alone, was closed.
Liza smiled to me but was pale. She was standing in the middle of the room in evident indecision, visibly struggling with herself; but she suddenly took me by the hand, and led me quickly to the window.
“I want to see her at once,” she whispered, bending upon me a burning, passionate, impatient glance, which would not admit a hint of opposition. “I must see her with my own eyes, and I beg you to help me.”
She was in a perfect frenzy, and—in despair.
“Who is it you want to see, Lizaveta Nikolaevna?” I inquired in dismay.
“That Lebyadkin’s sister, that lame girl.… Is it true that she’s lame?”
I was astounded.
“I have never seen her, but I’ve heard that she’s lame. I heard it yesterday,” I said with hurried readiness, and also in a whisper.
“I must see her, absolutely. Could you arrange it to-day?”
I felt dreadfully sorry for her.
“That’s utterly impossible, and, besides, I should not know at all how to set about it,” I began persuading her. “I’ll go to Shatov.…”
“If you don’t arrange it by to-morrow I’ll go to her by myself, alone, for Mavriky Nikolaevitch has refused. I rest all my hopes on you and I’ve no one else; I spoke stupidly to Shatov.… I’m sure that you are perfectly honest and perhaps ready to do anything for me, only arrange it.”
I felt a passionate desire to help her in every way.
“This is what I’ll do,” I said, after a moment’s thought. “I’ll go myself to-day and will see her for sure, for sure. I will manage so as to see her. I give you my word of honour. Only let me confide in Shatov.”
“Tell him that I do desire it, and that I can’t wait any longer, but that I wasn’t deceiving him just now. He went away perhaps because he’s very honest and he didn’t like my seeming to deceive him. I wasn’t deceiving him, I really do want to edit books and found a printing-press.…”
“He is honest, very honest,” I assented warmly.
“If it’s not arranged by to-morrow, though, I shall go myself whatever happens, and even if every one were to know.”
“I can’t be with you before three o’clock to-morrow,” I observed, after a moment’s deliberation.
“At three o’clock then. Then it was true what I imagined yesterday at Stepan Trofimovitch’s, that you—are rather devoted to me?” she said with a smile, hurriedly pressing my hand to say good-bye, and hurrying back to the forsaken Mavriky Nikolaevitch.
I went out weighed down by my promise, and unable to understand what had happened. I had seen a woman in real despair, not hesitating to compromise herself by confiding in a man she hardly knew. Her womanly smile at a moment so terrible for her and her hint that she had noticed my feelings the day before sent a pang to my heart; but I felt sorry for her, very sorry—that was all! Her secrets became at once something sacred for me, and if anyone had begun to reveal them to me now, I think I should have covered my ears, and should have refused to hear anything more. I only had a presentiment of something … yet I was utterly at a loss to see how I could do anything. What’s more I did not even yet understand exactly what I had to arrange; an interview, but what sort of an interview? And how could I bring them together? My only hope was Shatov, though I could be sure that he wouldn’t help me in any way. But all the same, I hurried to him.
I did not find him at home till past seven o’clock that evening. To my surprise he had visitors with him—Alexey Nilitch, and another gentleman I hardly knew, one Shigalov, the brother of Virginsky’s wife.
This gentleman must, I think, have been staying about two months in the town; I don’t know where he came from. I had only heard that he had written some sort of article in a progressive Petersburg magazine. Virginsky had introduced me casually to him in the street. I had never in my life seen in a man’s face so much despondency, gloom, and moroseness. He looked as though he were expecting the destruction of the world, and not at some indefinite time in accordance with prophecies, which might never be fulfilled, but quite definitely, as though it were to be the day after to-morrow at twenty-five minutes past ten. We hardly said a word to one another on that occasion, but had simply shaken hands like two conspirators. I was most struck by his ears, which were of unnatural size, long, broad, and thick, sticking out in a peculiar way. His gestures were slow and awkward.
If Liputin had imagined that a phalanstery might be established in our province, this gentleman certainly knew the day and the hour when it would be founded. He made a sinister impression on me. I was the more surprised at finding him here, as Shatov was not fond of visitors.
I could hear from the stairs that they were talking very loud, all three at once, and I fancy they were disputing; but as soon as I went in, they all ceased speaking. They were arguing, standing up, but now they all suddenly sat down, so that I had to sit down too. There was a stupid silence that was not broken for fully three minutes. Though Shigalov knew me, he affected not to know me, probably not from hostile feelings, but for no particular reason. Alexey Nilitch and I bowed to one another in silence, and for some reason did not shake hands. Shigalov began at last looking at me sternly and frowningly, with the most naïve assurance that I should immediately get up and go away. At last Shatov got up from his chair and the others jumped up at once. They went out without saying good-bye. Shigalov only said in the doorway to Shatov, who was seeing him out:
“Remember that you are bound to give an explanation.”
“Hang your explanation, and who the devil am I bound to?” said Shatov. He showed them out and fastened the door with the latch.
“Snipes!” he said, looking at me, with a sort of wry smile.
His face looked angry, and it seemed strange to me that he spoke first. When I had been to see him before (which was not often) it had usually happened that he sat scowling in a corner, answered ill-humouredly and only completely thawed and began to talk with pleasure after a considerable time. Even so, when he was saying good-bye he always scowled, and let one out as though he were getting rid of a personal enemy.
“I had tea yesterday with that Alexey Nilitch,” I observed. “I think he’s mad on atheism.”
“Russian atheism has never gone further than making a joke,” growled Shatov, putting up a new candle in place of an end that had burnt out.
“No, this one doesn’t seem to me a joker, I think he doesn’t know how to talk, let alone trying to make jokes.”
“Men made of paper! It all comes from flunkeyism of thought,” Shatov observed calmly, sitting down on a chair in the corner, and pressing the palms of both hands on his knees.
“There’s hatred in it, too,” he went on, after a minute’s pause. “They’d be the first to be terribly unhappy if Russia could be suddenly reformed, even to suit their own ideas, and became extraordinarily prosperous and happy. They’d have no one to hate then, no one to curse, nothing to find fault with. There is nothing in it but an immense animal hatred for Russia which has eaten into their organism.… And it isn’t a case of tears unseen by the world under cover of a smile! There has never been a falser word said in Russia than about those unseen tears,” he cried, almost with fury.
“Goodness only knows what you’re saying,” I laughed.
“Oh, you’re a ‘moderate liberal,’” said Shatov, smiling too. “Do you know,” he went on suddenly, “I may have been talking nonsense about the ‘flunkeyism of thought.’ You will say to me no doubt directly, ‘it’s you who are the son of a flunkey, but I’m not a flunkey.’”
“I wasn’t dreaming of such a thing.… What are you saying!”
“You need not apologise. I’m not afraid of you. Once I was only the son of a flunkey, but now I’ve become a flunkey myself, like you. Our Russian liberal is a flunkey before everything, and is only looking for someone whose boots he can clean.”
“What boots? What allegory is this?”
“Allegory, indeed! You are laughing, I see.… Stepan Trofimovitch said truly that I lie under a stone, crushed but not killed, and do nothing but wriggle. It was a good comparison of his.”
“Stepan Trofimovitch declares that you are mad over the Germans,” I laughed. “We’ve borrowed something from them anyway.”
“We took twenty kopecks, but we gave up a hundred roubles of our own.”
We were silent a minute.
“He got that sore lying in America.”
“Who? What sore?”
“I mean Kirillov. I spent four months with him lying on the floor of a hut.”
“Why, have you been in America?” I asked, surprised. “You never told me about it.”
“What is there to tell? The year before last we spent our last farthing, three of us, going to America in an emigrant steamer, to test the life of the American workman on ourselves, and to verify by personal experiment the state of a man in the hardest social conditions. That was our object in going there.”
“Good Lord!” I laughed. “You’d much better have gone somewhere in our province at harvest-time if you wanted to ‘make a personal experiment’ instead of bolting to America.”
“We hired ourselves out as workmen to an exploiter; there were six of us Russians working for him—students, even landowners coming from their estates, some officers, too, and all with the same grand object. Well, so we worked, sweated, wore ourselves out; Kirillov and I were exhausted at last; fell ill—went away—we couldn’t stand it. Our employer cheated us when he paid us off; instead of thirty dollars, as he had agreed, he paid me eight and Kirillov fifteen; he beat us, too, more than once. So then we were left without work, Kirillov and I, and we spent four months lying on the floor in that little town. He thought of one thing and I thought of another.”
“You don’t mean to say your employer beat you? In America? How you must have sworn at him!”
“Not a bit of it. On the contrary, Kirillov and I made up our minds from the first that we Russians were like little children beside the Americans, and that one must be born in America, or at least live for many years with Americans to be on a level with them. And do you know, if we were asked a dollar for a thing worth a farthing, we used to pay it with pleasure, in fact with enthusiasm. We approved of everything: spiritualism, lynch-law, revolvers, tramps. Once when we were travelling a fellow slipped his hand into my pocket, took my brush, and began brushing his hair with it. Kirillov and I only looked at one another, and made up our minds that that was the right thing and that we liked it very much.…”
“The strange thing is that with us all this is not only in the brain but is carried out in practice,” I observed.
“Men made of paper,” Shatov repeated.
“But to cross the ocean in an emigrant steamer, though, to go to an unknown country, even to make a personal experiment and all that—by Jove … there really is a large-hearted staunchness about it.… But how did you get out of it?”
“I wrote to a man in Europe and he sent me a hundred roubles.”
As Shatov talked he looked doggedly at the ground as he always did, even when he was excited. At this point he suddenly raised his head.
“Do you want to know the man’s name?”
“Who was it?”
He got up suddenly, turned to his limewood writing-table and began searching for something on it. There was a vague, though well-authenticated rumour among us that Shatov’s wife had at one time had a liaison with Nikolay Stavrogin, in Paris, and just about two years ago, that is when Shatov was in America. It is true that this was long after his wife had left him in Geneva.
“If so, what possesses him now to bring his name forward and to lay stress on it?” I thought.
“I haven’t paid him back yet,” he said, turning suddenly to me again, and looking at me intently he sat down in the same place as before in the corner, and asked abruptly, in quite a different voice:
“You have come no doubt with some object. What do you want?”
I told him everything immediately, in its exact historical order, and added that though I had time to think it over coolly after the first excitement was over, I was more puzzled than ever. I saw that it meant something very important to Lizaveta Nikolaevna. I was extremely anxious to help her, but the trouble was that I didn’t know how to keep the promise I had made her, and didn’t even quite understand now what I had promised her. Then I assured him impressively once more that she had not meant to deceive him, and had had no thought of doing so; that there had been some misunderstanding, and that she had been very much hurt by the extraordinary way in which he had gone off that morning.
He listened very attentively.
“Perhaps I was stupid this morning, as I usually am.… Well, if she didn’t understand why I went away like that … so much the better for her.”
He got up, went to the door, opened it, and began listening on the stairs.
“Do you want to see that person yourself?”
“That’s just what I wanted, but how is it to be done?” I cried, delighted.
“Let’s simply go down while she’s alone. When he comes in he’ll beat her horribly if he finds out we’ve been there. I often go in on the sly. I went for him this morning when he began beating her again.”
“What do you mean?”
“I dragged him off her by the hair. He tried to beat me, but I frightened him, and so it ended. I’m afraid he’ll come back drunk, and won’t forget it—he’ll give her a bad beating because of it.”
We went downstairs at once.
The Lebyadkins’ door was shut but not locked, and we were able to go in. Their lodging consisted of two nasty little rooms, with smoke-begrimed walls on which the filthy wall-paper literally hung in tatters. It had been used for some years as an eating-house, until Filipov, the tavern-keeper, moved to another house. The other rooms below what had been the eating-house were now shut up, and these two were all the Lebyadkins had. The furniture consisted of plain benches and deal tables, except for an old arm-chair that had lost its arms. In the second room there was the bedstead that belonged to Mlle. Lebyadkin standing in the corner, covered with a chintz quilt; the captain himself went to bed anywhere on the floor, often without undressing. Everything was in disorder, wet and filthy; a huge soaking rag lay in the middle of the floor in the first room, and a battered old shoe lay beside it in the wet. It was evident that no one looked after anything here. The stove was not heated, food was not cooked; they had not even a samovar as Shatov told me. The captain had come to the town with his sister utterly destitute, and had, as Liputin said, at first actually gone from house to house begging. But having unexpectedly received some money, he had taken to drinking at once, and had become so besotted that he was incapable of looking after things.
Mlle. Lebyadkin, whom I was so anxious to see, was sitting quietly at a deal kitchen table on a bench in the corner of the inner room, not making a sound. When we opened the door she did not call out to us or even move from her place. Shatov said that the door into the passage would not lock and it had once stood wide open all night. By the dim light of a thin candle in an iron candlestick, I made out a woman of about thirty, perhaps, sickly and emaciated, wearing an old dress of dark cotton material, with her long neck uncovered, her scanty dark hair twisted into a knot on the nape of her neck, no larger than the fist of a two-year-old child. She looked at us rather cheerfully. Besides the candlestick, she had on the table in front of her a little peasant looking-glass, an old pack of cards, a tattered book of songs, and a white roll of German bread from which one or two bites had been taken. It was noticeable that Mlle. Lebyadkin used powder and rouge, and painted her lips. She also blackened her eyebrows, which were fine, long, and black enough without that. Three long wrinkles stood sharply conspicuous across her high, narrow forehead in spite of the powder on it. I already knew that she was lame, but on this occasion she did not attempt to get up or walk. At some time, perhaps in early youth, that wasted face may have been pretty; but her soft, gentle grey eyes were remarkable even now. There was something dreamy and sincere in her gentle, almost joyful, expression. This gentle serene joy, which was reflected also in her smile, astonished me after all I had heard of the Cossack whip and her brother’s violence. Strange to say, instead of the oppressive repulsion and almost dread one usually feels in the presence of these creatures afflicted by God, I felt it almost pleasant to look at her from the first moment, and my heart was filled afterwards with pity in which there was no trace of aversion.
“This is how she sits literally for days together, utterly alone, without moving; she tries her fortune with the cards, or looks in the looking-glass,” said Shatov, pointing her out to me from the doorway. “He doesn’t feed her, you know. The old woman in the lodge brings her something sometimes out of charity; how can they leave her all alone like this with a candle!”
To my surprise Shatov spoke aloud, just as though she were not in the room.
“Good day, Shatushka!” Mlle. Lebyadkin said genially.
“I’ve brought you a visitor, Marya Timofyevna,” said Shatov.
“The visitor is very welcome. I don’t know who it is you’ve brought, I don’t seem to remember him.” She scrutinised me intently from behind the candle, and turned again at once to Shatov (and she took no more notice of me for the rest of the conversation, as though I had not been near her).
“Are you tired of walking up and down alone in your garret?” she laughed, displaying two rows of magnificent teeth.
“I was tired of it, and I wanted to come and see you.”
Shatov moved a bench up to the table, sat down on it and made me sit beside him.
“I’m always glad to have a talk, though you’re a funny person, Shatushka, just like a monk. When did you comb your hair last? Let me do it for you.” And she pulled a little comb out of her pocket. “I don’t believe you’ve touched it since I combed it last.”
“Well, I haven’t got a comb,” said Shatov, laughing too.
“Really? Then I’ll give you mine; only remind me, not this one but another.”
With a most serious expression she set to work to comb his hair. She even parted it on one side; drew back a little, looked to see whether it was right and put the comb back in her pocket.
“Do you know what, Shatushka?” She shook her head. “You may be a very sensible man but you’re dull. It’s strange for me to look at all of you. I don’t understand how it is people are dull. Sadness is not dullness. I’m happy.”
“And are you happy when your brother’s here?”
“You mean Lebyadkin? He’s my footman. And I don’t care whether he’s here or not. I call to him: ‘Lebyadkin, bring the water!’ or ‘Lebyadkin, bring my shoes!’ and he runs. Sometimes one does wrong and can’t help laughing at him.”
“That’s just how it is,” said Shatov, addressing me aloud without ceremony. “She treats him just like a footman. I’ve heard her myself calling to him, ‘Lebyadkin, give me some water!’ And she laughed as she said it. The only difference is that he doesn’t fetch the water but beats her for it; but she isn’t a bit afraid of him. She has some sort of nervous fits, almost every day, and they are destroying her memory so that afterwards she forgets everything that’s just happened, and is always in a muddle over time. You imagine she remembers how you came in; perhaps she does remember, but no doubt she has changed everything to please herself, and she takes us now for different people from what we are, though she knows I’m ‘Shatushka.’ It doesn’t matter my speaking aloud, she soon leaves off listening to people who talk to her, and plunges into dreams. Yes, plunges. She’s an extraordinary person for dreaming; she’ll sit for eight hours, for whole days together in the same place. You see there’s a roll lying there, perhaps she’s only taken one bite at it since the morning, and she’ll finish it to-morrow. Now she’s begun trying her fortune on cards.…”
“I keep trying my fortune, Shatushka, but it doesn’t come out right,” Marya Timofyevna put in suddenly, catching the last word, and without looking at it she put out her left hand for the roll (she had heard something about the roll too very likely). She got hold of the roll at last and after keeping it for some time in her left hand, while her attention was distracted by the conversation which sprang up again, she put it back again on the table unconsciously without having taken a bite of it.
“It always comes out the same, a journey, a wicked man, somebody’s treachery, a death-bed, a letter, unexpected news. I think it’s all nonsense. Shatushka, what do you think? If people can tell lies why shouldn’t a card?” She suddenly threw the cards together again. “I said the same thing to Mother Praskovya, she’s a very venerable woman, she used to run to my cell to tell her fortune on the cards, without letting the Mother Superior know. Yes, and she wasn’t the only one who came to me. They sigh, and shake their heads at me, they talk it over while I laugh. ‘Where are you going to get a letter from, Mother Praskovya,’ I say, ‘when you haven’t had one for twelve years?’ Her daughter had been taken away to Turkey by her husband, and for twelve years there had been no sight nor sound of her. Only I was sitting the next evening at tea with the Mother Superior (she was a princess by birth), there was some lady there too, a visitor, a great dreamer, and a little monk from Athos was sitting there too, a rather absurd man to my thinking. What do you think, Shatushka, that monk from Athos had brought Mother Praskovya a letter from her daughter in Turkey, that morning—so much for the knave of diamonds—unexpected news! We were drinking our tea, and the monk from Athos said to the Mother Superior, ‘Blessed Mother Superior, God has blessed your convent above all things in that you preserve so great a treasure in its precincts,’ said he. ‘What treasure is that?’ asked the Mother Superior. ‘The Mother Lizaveta, the Blessed.’ This Lizaveta the Blessed was enshrined in the nunnery wall, in a cage seven feet long and five feet high, and she had been sitting there for seventeen years in nothing but a hempen shift, summer and winter, and she always kept pecking at the hempen cloth with a straw or a twig of some sort, and she never said a word, and never combed her hair, or washed, for seventeen years. In the winter they used to put a sheepskin in for her, and every day a piece of bread and a jug of water. The pilgrims gaze at her, sigh and exclaim, and make offerings of money. ‘A treasure you’ve pitched on,’ answered the Mother Superior—(she was angry, she disliked Lizaveta dreadfully)—‘Lizaveta only sits there out of spite, out of pure obstinacy, it is nothing but hypocrisy.’ I didn’t like this; I was thinking at the time of shutting myself up too. ‘I think,’ said I, ‘that God and nature are just the same thing.’ They all cried out with one voice at me, ‘Well, now!’ The Mother Superior laughed, whispered something to the lady and called me up, petted me, and the lady gave me a pink ribbon. Would you like me to show it to you? And the monk began to admonish me. But he talked so kindly, so humbly, and so wisely, I suppose. I sat and listened. ‘Do you understand?’ he asked. ‘No,’ I said, ‘I don’t understand a word, but leave me quite alone.’ Ever since then they’ve left me in peace, Shatushka. And at that time an old woman who was living in the convent doing penance for prophesying the future, whispered to me as she was coming out of church, ‘What is the mother of God? What do you think?’ ‘The great mother,’ I answer, ‘the hope of the human race.’ ‘Yes,’ she answered, ‘the mother of God is the great mother—the damp earth, and therein lies great joy for men. And every earthly woe and every earthly tear is a joy for us; and when you water the earth with your tears a foot deep, you will rejoice at everything at once, and your sorrow will be no more, such is the prophecy.’ That word sank into my heart at the time. Since then when I bow down to the ground at my prayers, I’ve taken to kissing the earth. I kiss it and weep. And let me tell you, Shatushka, there’s no harm in those tears; and even if one has no grief, one’s tears flow from joy. The tears flow of themselves, that’s the truth. I used to go out to the shores of the lake; on one side was our convent and on the other the pointed mountain, they called it the Peak. I used to go up that mountain, facing the east, fall down to the ground, and weep and weep, and I don’t know how long I wept, and I don’t remember or know anything about it. I would get up, and turn back when the sun was setting, it was so big, and splendid and glorious—do you like looking at the sun, Shatushka? It’s beautiful but sad. I would turn to the east again, and the shadow, the shadow of our mountain was flying like an arrow over our lake, long, long and narrow, stretching a mile beyond, right up to the island on the lake and cutting that rocky island right in two, and as it cut it in two, the sun would set altogether and suddenly all would be darkness. And then I used to be quite miserable, suddenly I used to remember, I’m afraid of the dark, Shatushka. And what I wept for most was my baby.…”
“Why, had you one?” And Shatov, who had been listening attentively all the time, nudged me with his elbow.
“Why, of course. A little rosy baby with tiny little nails, and my only grief is I can’t remember whether it was a boy or a girl. Sometimes I remember it was a boy, and sometimes it was a girl. And when he was born, I wrapped him in cambric and lace, and put pink ribbons on him, strewed him with flowers, got him ready, said prayers over him. I took him away un-christened and carried him through the forest, and I was afraid of the forest, and I was frightened, and what I weep for most is that I had a baby and I never had a husband.”
“Perhaps you had one?” Shatov queried cautiously.
“You’re absurd, Shatushka, with your reflections. I had, perhaps I had, but what’s the use of my having had one, if it’s just the same as though I hadn’t. There’s an easy riddle for you. Guess it!” she laughed.
“Where did you take your baby?”
“I took it to the pond,” she said with a sigh.
Shatov nudged me again.
“And what if you never had a baby and all this is only a wild dream?”
“You ask me a hard question, Shatushka,” she answered dreamily, without a trace of surprise at such a question. “I can’t tell you anything about that, perhaps I hadn’t; I think that’s only your curiosity. I shan’t leave off crying for him anyway, I couldn’t have dreamt it.” And big tears glittered in her eyes. “Shatushka, Shatushka, is it true that your wife ran away from you?”
She suddenly put both hands on his shoulders, and looked at him pityingly. “Don’t be angry, I feel sick myself. Do you know, Shatushka, I’ve had a dream: he came to me again, he beckoned me, called me. ‘My little puss,’ he cried to me, ‘little puss, come to me!’ And I was more delighted at that ‘little puss’ than anything; he loves me, I thought.”
“Perhaps he will come in reality,” Shatov muttered in an undertone.
“No, Shatushka, that’s a dream.… He can’t come in reality. You know the song:
‘A new fine house I do not crave, This tiny cell’s enough for me; There will I dwell my soul to save And ever pray to God for thee.’
Ach, Shatushka, Shatushka, my dear, why do you never ask me about anything?”
“Why, you won’t tell. That’s why I don’t ask.”
“I won’t tell, I won’t tell,” she answered quickly. “You may kill me, I won’t tell. You may burn me, I won’t tell. And whatever I had to bear I’d never tell, people won’t find out!”
“There, you see. Every one has something of their own,” Shatov said, still more softly, his head drooping lower and lower.
“But if you were to ask perhaps I should tell, perhaps I should!” she repeated ecstatically. “Why don’t you ask? Ask, ask me nicely, Shatushka, perhaps I shall tell you. Entreat me, Shatushka, so that I shall consent of myself. Shatushka, Shatushka!”
But Shatushka was silent. There was complete silence lasting a minute. Tears slowly trickled down her painted cheeks. She sat forgetting her two hands on Shatov’s shoulders, but no longer looking at him.
“Ach, what is it to do with me, and it’s a sin.” Shatov suddenly got up from the bench.
“Get up!” He angrily pulled the bench from under me and put it back where it stood before.
“He’ll be coming, so we must mind he doesn’t guess. It’s time we were off.”
“Ach, you’re talking of my footman,” Marya Timofyevna laughed suddenly. “You’re afraid of him. Well, good-bye, dear visitors, but listen for one minute, I’ve something to tell you. That Nilitch came here with Filipov, the landlord, a red beard, and my fellow had flown at me just then, so the landlord caught hold of him and pulled him about the room while he shouted ‘It’s not my fault, I’m suffering for another man’s sin!’ So would you believe it, we all burst out laughing.…”
“Ach, Timofyevna, why it was I, not the red beard, it was I pulled him away from you by his hair, this morning; the landlord came the day before yesterday to make a row; you’ve mixed it up.”
“Stay, I really have mixed it up. Perhaps it was you. Why dispute about trifles? What does it matter to him who it is gives him a beating?” She laughed.
“Come along!” Shatov pulled me. “The gate’s creaking, he’ll find us and beat her.”
And before we had time to run out on to the stairs we heard a drunken shout and a shower of oaths at the gate.
Shatov let me into his room and locked the door.
“You’ll have to stay a minute if you don’t want a scene. He’s squealing like a little pig, he must have stumbled over the gate again. He falls flat every time.”
We didn’t get off without a scene, however.
Shatov stood at the closed door of his room and listened; suddenly he sprang back.
“He’s coming here, I knew he would,” he whispered furiously. “Now there’ll be no getting rid of him till midnight.”
Several violent thumps of a fist on the door followed.
“Shatov, Shatov, open!” yelled the captain. “Shatov, friend!
‘I have come, to thee to tell thee That the sun doth r-r-rise apace, That the forest glows and tr-r-rembles In … the fire of … his … embrace. Tell thee I have waked, God damn thee, Wakened under the birch-twigs.…’ (“As it might be under the birch-rods, ha ha!”) ‘Every little bird … is … thirsty, Says I’m going to … have a drink, But I don’t … know what to drink.…’
“Damn his stupid curiosity! Shatov, do you understand how good it is to be alive!”
“Don’t answer!” Shatov whispered to me again.
“Open the door! Do you understand that there’s something higher than brawling … in mankind; there are moments of an hon-hon-honourable man.… Shatov, I’m good; I’ll forgive you.… Shatov, damn the manifestoes, eh?”
“Do you understand, you ass, that I’m in love, that I’ve bought a dress-coat, look, the garb of love, fifteen roubles; a captain’s love calls for the niceties of style.… Open the door!” he roared savagely all of a sudden, and he began furiously banging with his fists again.
“Go to hell!” Shatov roared suddenly.
“S-s-slave! Bond-slave, and your sister’s a slave, a bondswoman … a th … th … ief!”
“And you sold your sister.”
“That’s a lie! I put up with the libel though. I could with one word … do you understand what she is?”
“What?” Shatov at once drew near the door inquisitively.
“But will you understand?”
“Yes, I shall understand, tell me what?”
“I’m not afraid to say! I’m never afraid to say anything in public!…”
“You not afraid? A likely story,” said Shatov, taunting him, and nodding to me to listen.
“Yes, I think you are.”
“Well then, tell away if you’re not afraid of your master’s whip.… You’re a coward, though you are a captain!”
“I … I … she’s … she’s …” faltered Lebyadkin in a voice shaking with excitement.
“Well?” Shatov put his ear to the door.
A silence followed, lasting at least half a minute.
“Sc-ou-oundrel!” came from the other side of the door at last, and the captain hurriedly beat a retreat downstairs, puffing like a samovar, stumbling on every step.
“Yes, he’s a sly one, and won’t give himself away even when he’s drunk.”
Shatov moved away from the door.
“What’s it all about?” I asked.
Shatov waved aside the question, opened the door and began listening on the stairs again. He listened a long while, and even stealthily descended a few steps. At last he came back.
“There’s nothing to be heard; he isn’t beating her; he must have flopped down at once to go to sleep. It’s time for you to go.”
“Listen, Shatov, what am I to gather from all this?”
“Oh, gather what you like!” he answered in a weary and disgusted voice, and he sat down to his writing-table.
I went away. An improbable idea was growing stronger and stronger in my mind. I thought of the next day with distress.…
This “next day,” the very Sunday which was to decide Stepan Trofimovitch’s fate irrevocably, was one of the most memorable days in my chronicle. It was a day of surprises, a day that solved past riddles and suggested new ones, a day of startling revelations, and still more hopeless perplexity. In the morning, as the reader is already aware, I had by Varvara Petrovna’s particular request to accompany my friend on his visit to her, and at three o’clock in the afternoon I had to be with Lizaveta Nikolaevna in order to tell her—I did not know what—and to assist her—I did not know how. And meanwhile it all ended as no one could have expected. In a word, it was a day of wonderful coincidences.
To begin with, when Stepan Trofimovitch and I arrived at Varvara Petrovna’s at twelve o’clock punctually, the time she had fixed, we did not find her at home; she had not yet come back from church. My poor friend was so disposed, or, more accurately speaking, so indisposed that this circumstance crushed him at once; he sank almost helpless into an arm-chair in the drawing-room. I suggested a glass of water; but in spite of his pallor and the trembling of his hands, he refused it with dignity. His get-up for the occasion was, by the way, extremely recherché: a shirt of batiste and embroidered, almost fit for a ball, a white tie, a new hat in his hand, new straw-coloured gloves, and even a suspicion of scent. We had hardly sat down when Shatov was shown in by the butler, obviously also by official invitation. Stepan Trofimovitch was rising to shake hands with him, but Shatov, after looking attentively at us both, turned away into a corner, and sat down there without even nodding to us. Stepan Trofimovitch looked at me in dismay again.
We sat like this for some minutes longer in complete silence. Stepan Trofimovitch suddenly began whispering something to me very quickly, but I could not catch it; and indeed, he was so agitated himself that he broke off without finishing. The butler came in once more, ostensibly to set something straight on the table, more probably to take a look at us.
Shatov suddenly addressed him with a loud question:
“Alexey Yegorytch, do you know whether Darya Pavlovna has gone with her?”
“Varvara Petrovna was pleased to drive to the cathedral alone, and Darya Pavlovna was pleased to remain in her room upstairs, being indisposed,” Alexey Yegorytch announced formally and reprovingly.
My poor friend again stole a hurried and agitated glance at me, so that at last I turned away from him. Suddenly a carriage rumbled at the entrance, and some commotion at a distance in the house made us aware of the lady’s return. We all leapt up from our easy chairs, but again a surprise awaited us; we heard the noise of many footsteps, so our hostess must have returned not alone, and this certainly was rather strange, since she had fixed that time herself. Finally, we heard some one come in with strange rapidity as though running, in a way that Varvara Petrovna could not have come in. And, all at once she almost flew into the room, panting and extremely agitated. After her a little later and much more quickly Lizaveta Nikolaevna came in, and with her, hand in hand, Marya Timofyevna Lebyadkin! If I had seen this in my dreams, even then I should not have believed it.
To explain their utterly unexpected appearance, I must go back an hour and describe more in detail an extraordinary adventure which had befallen Varvara Petrovna in church.
In the first place almost the whole town, that is, of course, all of the upper stratum of society, were assembled in the cathedral. It was known that the governor’s wife was to make her appearance there for the first time since her arrival amongst us. I must mention that there were already rumours that she was a free-thinker, and a follower of “the new principles.” All the ladies were also aware that she would be dressed with magnificence and extraordinary elegance. And so the costumes of our ladies were elaborate and gorgeous for the occasion.
Only Varvara Petrovna was modestly dressed in black as she always was, and had been for the last four years. She had taken her usual place in church in the first row on the left, and a footman in livery had put down a velvet cushion for her to kneel on; everything in fact, had been as usual. But it was noticed, too, that all through the service she prayed with extreme fervour. It was even asserted afterwards when people recalled it, that she had had tears in her eyes. The service was over at last, and our chief priest, Father Pavel, came out to deliver a solemn sermon. We liked his sermons and thought very highly of them. We used even to try to persuade him to print them, but he never could make up his mind to. On this occasion the sermon was a particularly long one.
And behold, during the sermon a lady drove up to the church in an old fashioned hired droshky, that is, one in which the lady could only sit sideways, holding on to the driver’s sash, shaking at every jolt like a blade of grass in the breeze. Such droshkys are still to be seen in our town. Stopping at the corner of the cathedral—for there were a number of carriages, and mounted police too, at the gates—the lady sprang out of the droshky and handed the driver four kopecks in silver.
“Isn’t it enough, Vanya?” she cried, seeing his grimace. “It’s all I’ve got,” she added plaintively.
“Well, there, bless you. I took you without fixing the price,” said the driver with a hopeless gesture, and looking at her he added as though reflecting:
“And it would be a sin to take advantage of you too.”
Then, thrusting his leather purse into his bosom, he touched up his horse and drove off, followed by the jeers of the drivers standing near. Jeers, and wonder too, followed the lady as she made her way to the cathedral gates, between the carriages and the footmen waiting for their masters to come out. And indeed, there certainly was something extraordinary and surprising to every one in such a person’s suddenly appearing in the street among people. She was painfully thin and she limped, she was heavily powdered and rouged; her long neck was quite bare, she had neither kerchief nor pelisse; she had nothing on but an old dark dress in spite of the cold and windy, though bright, September day. She was bareheaded, and her hair was twisted up into a tiny knot, and on the right side of it was stuck an artificial rose, such as are used to dedicate cherubs sold in Palm week. I had noticed just such a one with a wreath of paper roses in a corner under the ikons when I was at Marya Timofyevna’s the day before. To put a finishing-touch to it, though the lady walked with modestly downcast eyes there was a sly and merry smile on her face. If she had lingered a moment longer, she would perhaps not have been allowed to enter the cathedral. But she succeeded in slipping by, and entering the building, gradually pressed forward.
Though it was half-way through the sermon, and the dense crowd that filled the cathedral was listening to it with absorbed and silent attention, yet several pairs of eyes glanced with curiosity and amazement at the new-comer. She sank on to the floor, bowed her painted face down to it, lay there a long time, unmistakably weeping; but raising her head again and getting up from her knees, she soon recovered, and was diverted. Gaily and with evident and intense enjoyment she let her eyes rove over the faces, and over the walls of the cathedral. She looked with particular curiosity at some of the ladies, even standing on tip-toe to look at them, and even laughed once or twice, giggling strangely. But the sermon was over, and they brought out the cross. The governor’s wife was the first to go up to the cross, but she stopped short two steps from it, evidently wishing to make way for Varvara Petrovna, who, on her side, moved towards it quite directly as though she noticed no one in front of her. There was an obvious and, in its way, clever malice implied in this extraordinary act of deference on the part of the governor’s wife; every one felt this; Varvara Petrovna must have felt it too; but she went on as before, apparently noticing no one, and with the same unfaltering air of dignity kissed the cross, and at once turned to leave the cathedral. A footman in livery cleared the way for her, though every one stepped back spontaneously to let her pass. But just as she was going out, in the porch the closely packed mass of people blocked the way for a moment. Varvara Petrovna stood still, and suddenly a strange, extraordinary creature, the woman with the paper rose on her head, squeezed through the people, and fell on her knees before her. Varvara Petrovna, who was not easily disconcerted, especially in public, looked at her sternly and with dignity.
I hasten to observe here, as briefly as possible, that though Varvara Petrovna had become, it was said, excessively careful and even stingy, yet sometimes she was not sparing of money, especially for benevolent objects. She was a member of a charitable society in the capital. In the last famine year she had sent five hundred roubles to the chief committee for the relief of the sufferers, and people talked of it in the town. Moreover, just before the appointment of the new governor, she had been on the very point of founding a local committee of ladies to assist the poorest mothers in the town and in the province. She was severely censured among us for ambition; but Varvara Petrovna’s well-known strenuousness and, at the same time, her persistence nearly triumphed over all obstacles. The society was almost formed, and the original idea embraced a wider and wider scope in the enthusiastic mind of the foundress. She was already dreaming of founding a similar society in Moscow, and the gradual expansion of its influence over all the provinces of Russia. And now, with the sudden change of governor, everything was at a standstill; and the new governor’s wife had, it was said, already uttered in society some biting, and, what was worse, apt and sensible remarks about the impracticability of the fundamental idea of such a committee, which was, with additions of course, repeated to Varvara Petrovna. God alone knows the secrets of men’s hearts; but I imagine that Varvara Petrovna stood still now at the very cathedral gates positively with a certain pleasure, knowing that the governor’s wife and, after her, all the congregation, would have to pass by immediately, and “let her see for herself how little I care what she thinks, and what pointed things she says about the vanity of my benevolence. So much for all of you!”
“What is it my dear? What are you asking?” said Varvara Petrovna, looking more attentively at the kneeling woman before her, who gazed at her with a fearfully panic-stricken, shame-faced, but almost reverent expression, and suddenly broke into the same strange giggle.
“What does she want? Who is she?”
Varvara Petrovna bent an imperious and inquiring gaze on all around her. Every one was silent.
“You are unhappy? You are in need of help?”
“I am in need.… I have come …” faltered the “unhappy” creature, in a voice broken with emotion. “I have come only to kiss your hand.…”
Again she giggled. With the childish look with which little children caress someone, begging for a favour, she stretched forward to seize Varvara Petrovna’s hand, but, as though panic-stricken, drew her hands back.
“Is that all you have come for?” said Varvara Petrovna, with a compassionate smile; but at once she drew her mother-of-pearl purse out of her pocket, took out a ten-rouble note and gave it to the unknown. The latter took it. Varvara Petrovna was much interested and evidently did not look upon her as an ordinary low-class beggar.
“I say, she gave her ten roubles!” someone said in the crowd.
“Let me kiss your hand,” faltered the unknown, holding tight in the fingers of her left hand the corner of the ten-rouble note, which fluttered in the draught. Varvara Petrovna frowned slightly, and with a serious, almost severe, face held out her hand. The cripple kissed it with reverence. Her grateful eyes shone with positive ecstasy. At that moment the governor’s wife came up, and a whole crowd of ladies and high officials flocked after her. The governor’s wife was forced to stand still for a moment in the crush; many people stopped.
“You are trembling. Are you cold?” Varvara Petrovna observed suddenly, and flinging off her pelisse which a footman caught in mid-air, she took from her own shoulders a very expensive black shawl, and with her own hands wrapped it round the bare neck of the still kneeling woman.
“But get up, get up from your knees I beg you!”
The woman got up.
“Where do you live? Is it possible no one knows where she lives?” Varvara Petrovna glanced round impatiently again. But the crowd was different now: she saw only the faces of acquaintances, people in society, surveying the scene, some with severe astonishment, others with sly curiosity and at the same time guileless eagerness for a sensation, while others positively laughed.
“I believe her name’s Lebyadkin,” a good-natured person volunteered at last in answer to Varvara Petrovna. It was our respectable and respected merchant Andreev, a man in spectacles with a grey beard, wearing Russian dress and holding a high round hat in his hands. “They live in the Filipovs’ house in Bogoyavlensky Street.”
“Lebyadkin? Filipovs’ house? I have heard something.… Thank you, Nikon Semyonitch. But who is this Lebyadkin?”
“He calls himself a captain, a man, it must be said, not over careful in his behaviour. And no doubt this is his sister. She must have escaped from under control,” Nikon Semyonitch went on, dropping his voice, and glancing significantly at Varvara Petrovna.
“I understand. Thank you, Nikon Semyonitch. Your name is Mlle. Lebyadkin?”
“No, my name’s not Lebyadkin.”
“Then perhaps your brother’s name is Lebyadkin?”
“My brother’s name is Lebyadkin.”
“This is what I’ll do, I’ll take you with me now, my dear, and you shall be driven from me to your family. Would you like to go with me?”
“Ach, I should!” cried Mlle. Lebyadkin, clasping her hands.
“Auntie, auntie, take me with you too!” the voice of Lizaveta Nikolaevna cried suddenly.
I must observe that Lizaveta Nikolaevna had come to the cathedral with the governor’s wife, while Praskovya Ivanovna had by the doctor’s orders gone for a drive in her carriage, taking Mavriky Nikolaevitch to entertain her. Liza suddenly left the governor’s wife and ran up to Varvara Petrovna.
“My dear, you know I’m always glad to have you, but what will your mother say?” Varvara Petrovna began majestically, but she became suddenly confused, noticing Liza’s extraordinary agitation.
“Auntie, auntie, I must come with you!” Liza implored, kissing Varvara Petrovna.
“Mais qu’avez vous donc, Lise?” the governor’s wife asked with expressive wonder.
“Ah, forgive me, darling, chère cousine, I’m going to auntie’s.”
Liza turned in passing to her unpleasantly surprised chère cousine, and kissed her twice.
“And tell maman to follow me to auntie’s directly; maman meant, fully meant to come and see you, she said so this morning herself, I forgot to tell you,” Liza pattered on. “I beg your pardon, don’t be angry, Julie, chère … cousine.… Auntie, I’m ready!”
“If you don’t take me with you, auntie, I’ll run after your carriage, screaming,” she whispered rapidly and despairingly in Varvara Petrovna’s ear; it was lucky that no one heard. Varvara Petrovna positively staggered back, and bent her penetrating gaze on the mad girl. That gaze settled everything. She made up her mind to take Liza with her.
“We must put an end to this!” broke from her lips. “Very well, I’ll take you with pleasure, Liza,” she added aloud, “if Yulia Mihailovna is willing to let you come, of course.” With a candid air and straightforward dignity she addressed the governor’s wife directly.
“Oh, certainly, I don’t want to deprive her of such a pleasure especially as I am myself …” Yulia Mihailovna lisped with amazing affability—“I myself … know well what a fantastic, wilful little head it is!” Yulia Mihailovna gave a charming smile.
“I thank you extremely,” said Varvara Petrovna, with a courteous and dignified bow.
“And I am the more gratified,” Yulia Mihailovna went on, lisping almost rapturously, flushing all over with agreeable excitement, “that, apart from the pleasure of being with you Liza should be carried away by such an excellent, I may say lofty, feeling … of compassion …” (she glanced at the “unhappy creature”) “and … and at the very portal of the temple.…”
“Such a feeling does you honour,” Varvara Petrovna approved magnificently. Yulia Mihailovna impulsively held out her hand and Varvara Petrovna with perfect readiness touched it with her fingers. The general effect was excellent, the faces of some of those present beamed with pleasure, some bland and insinuating smiles were to be seen.
In short it was made manifest to every one in the town that it was not Yulia Mihailovna who had up till now neglected Varvara Petrovna in not calling upon her, but on the contrary that Varvara Petrovna had “kept Yulia Mihailovna within bounds at a distance, while the latter would have hastened to pay her a visit, going on foot perhaps if necessary, had she been fully assured that Varvara Petrovna would not turn her away.” And Varvara Petrovna’s prestige was enormously increased.
“Get in, my dear.” Varvara Petrovna motioned Mlle. Lebyadkin towards the carriage which had driven up.
The “unhappy creature” hurried gleefully to the carriage door, and there the footman lifted her in.
“What! You’re lame!” cried Varvara Petrovna, seeming quite alarmed, and she turned pale. (Every one noticed it at the time, but did not understand it.)
The carriage rolled away. Varvara Petrovna’s house was very near the cathedral. Liza told me afterwards that Miss Lebyadkin laughed hysterically for the three minutes that the drive lasted, while Varvara Petrovna sat “as though in a mesmeric sleep.” Liza’s own expression.