Meanwhile an incident had occurred which astounded me and shattered Stepan Trofimovitch. At eight o’clock in the morning Nastasya ran round to me from him with the news that her master was “raided.” At first I could not make out what she meant; I could only gather that the “raid” was carried out by officials, that they had come and taken his papers, and that a soldier had tied them up in a bundle and “wheeled them away in a barrow.” It was a fantastic story. I hurried at once to Stepan Trofimovitch.
I found him in a surprising condition: upset and in great agitation, but at the same time unmistakably triumphant. On the table in the middle of the room the samovar was boiling, and there was a glass of tea poured out but untouched and forgotten. Stepan Trofimovitch was wandering round the table and peeping into every corner of the room, unconscious of what he was doing. He was wearing his usual red knitted jacket, but seeing me, he hurriedly put on his coat and waistcoat—a thing he had never done before when any of his intimate friends found him in his jacket. He took me warmly by the hand at once.
“Enfin un ami!” (He heaved a deep sigh.) “Cher, I’ve sent to you only, and no one knows anything. We must give Nastasya orders to lock the doors and not admit anyone, except, of course them.… Vous comprenez?”
He looked at me uneasily, as though expecting a reply. I made haste, of course, to question him, and from his disconnected and broken sentences, full of unnecessary parentheses, I succeeded in learning that at seven o’clock that morning an official of the province had ‘all of a sudden’ called on him.
“Pardon, j’ai oublié son nom. Il n’est pas du pays, but I think he came to the town with Lembke, quelque chose de bête et d’Allemand dans la physionomie. Il s’appelle Rosenthal.”
“Wasn’t it Blum?”
“Yes, that was his name. Vous le connaissez? Quelque chose d’hébété et de très content dans la figure, pourtant très sevère, roide et sérieux. A type of the police, of the submissive subordinates, je m’y connais. I was still asleep, and, would you believe it, he asked to have a look at my books and manuscripts! Oui, je m’en souviens, il a employé ce mot. He did not arrest me, but only the books. Il se tenait à distance, and when he began to explain his visit he looked as though I … enfin il avait l’air de croire que je tomberai sur lui immédiatement et que je commencerai a le battre comme plâtre. Tous ces gens du bas étage sont comme ça when they have to do with a gentleman. I need hardly say I understood it all at once. Voilà vingt ans que je m’y prépare. I opened all the drawers and handed him all the keys; I gave them myself, I gave him all. J’étais digne et calme. From the books he took the foreign edition of Herzen, the bound volume of The Bell, four copies of my poem, et enfin tout ça. Then he took my letters and my papers et quelques-unes de mes ébauches historiques, critiques et politiques. All that they carried off. Nastasya says that a soldier wheeled them away in a barrow and covered them with an apron; oui, c’est cela, with an apron.” It sounded like delirium. Who could make head or tail of it? I pelted him with questions again. Had Blum come alone, or with others? On whose authority? By what right? How had he dared? How did he explain it?
“Il etait seul, bien seul, but there was someone else dans l’antichambre, oui, je m’en souviens, et puis … Though I believe there was someone else besides, and there was a guard standing in the entry. You must ask Nastasya; she knows all about it better than I do. J’étais surexcité, voyez-vous. Il parlait, il parlait … un tas de chases; he said very little though, it was I said all that.… I told him the story of my life, simply from that point of view, of course. J’étais surexcité, mais digne, je vous assure.… I am afraid, though, I may have shed tears. They got the barrow from the shop next door.”
“Oh, heavens! how could all this have happened? But for mercy’s sake, speak more exactly, Stepan Trofimovitch. What you tell me sounds like a dream.”
“Cher, I feel as though I were in a dream myself.… Savez-vous! Il a prononcé le nom de Telyatnikof, and I believe that that man was concealed in the entry. Yes, I remember, he suggested calling the prosecutor and Dmitri Dmitritch, I believe … qui me doit encore quinze roubles I won at cards, soit dit en passant. Enfin, je n’ai pas trop compris. But I got the better of them, and what do I care for Dmitri Dmitritch? I believe I begged him very earnestly to keep it quiet; I begged him particularly, most particularly. I am afraid I demeaned myself, in fact, comment croyez-vous? Enfin il a consenti. Yes, I remember, he suggested that himself—that it would be better to keep it quiet, for he had only come ‘to have a look round’ et rien de plus, and nothing more, nothing more … and that if they find nothing, nothing will happen. So that we ended it all en amis, je suis tout à fait content.”
“Why, then he suggested the usual course of proceedings in such cases and regular guarantees, and you rejected them yourself,” I cried with friendly indignation.
“Yes, it’s better without the guarantees. And why make a scandal? Let’s keep it en amis so long as we can. You know, in our town, if they get to know it … mes ennemis, et puis, à quoi bon, le procureur, ce cochon de notre procureur, qui deux fois m’a manqué de politesse et qu’on a rossé à plaisir l’autre année chez cette charmante et belle Natalya Pavlovna quand il se cacha dans son boudoir. Et puis, mon ami, don’t make objections and don’t depress me, I beg you, for nothing is more unbearable when a man is in trouble than for a hundred friends to point out to him what a fool he has made of himself. Sit down though and have some tea. I must admit I am awfully tired.… Hadn’t I better lie down and put vinegar on my head? What do you think?”
“Certainly,” I cried, “ice even. You are very much upset. You are pale and your hands are trembling. Lie down, rest, and put off telling me. I’ll sit by you and wait.”
He hesitated, but I insisted on his lying down. Nastasya brought a cup of vinegar. I wetted a towel and laid it on his head. Then Nastasya stood on a chair and began lighting a lamp before the ikon in the corner. I noticed this with surprise; there had never been a lamp there before and now suddenly it had made its appearance.
“I arranged for that as soon as they had gone away,” muttered Stepan Trofimovitch, looking at me slyly. “Quand on a de ces choses-là dans sa chambre et qu’on vient vous arrêter it makes an impression and they are sure to report that they have seen it.…”
When she had done the lamp, Nastasya stood in the doorway, leaned her cheek in her right hand, and began gazing at him with a lachrymose air.
“Eloignez-la on some excuse,” he nodded to me from the sofa. “I can’t endure this Russian sympathy, et puis ça m’embête.”
But she went away of herself. I noticed that he kept looking towards the door and listening for sounds in the passage.
“Il faut être prêt, voyez-vous,” he said, looking at me significantly, “chaque moment … they may come and take one and, phew!—a man disappears.”
“Heavens! who’ll come? Who will take you?”
“Voyez-vous, mon cher, I asked straight out when he was going away, what would they do to me now.”
“You’d better have asked them where you’d be exiled!” I cried out in the same indignation.
“That’s just what I meant when I asked, but he went away without answering. Voyez-vous: as for linen, clothes, warm things especially, that must be as they decide; if they tell me to take them—all right, or they might send me in a soldier’s overcoat. But I thrust thirty-five roubles” (he suddenly dropped his voice, looking towards the door by which Nastasya had gone out) “in a slit in my waistcoat pocket, here, feel.… I believe they won’t take the waistcoat off, and left seven roubles in my purse to keep up appearances, as though that were all I have. You see, it’s in small change and the coppers are on the table, so they won’t guess that I’ve hidden the money, but will suppose that that’s all. For God knows where I may have to sleep to-night!”
I bowed my head before such madness. It was obvious that a man could not be arrested and searched in the way he was describing, and he must have mixed things up. It’s true it all happened in the days before our present, more recent regulations. It is true, too, that according to his own account they had offered to follow the more regular procedure, but he “got the better of them” and refused.… Of course not long ago a governor might, in extreme cases.… But how could this be an extreme case? That’s what baffled me.
“No doubt they had a telegram from Petersburg,” Stepan Trofimovitch said suddenly.
“A telegram? About you? Because of the works of Herzen and your poem? Have you taken leave of your senses? What is there in that to arrest you for?”
I was positively angry. He made a grimace and was evidently mortified—not at my exclamation, but at the idea that there was no ground for arrest.
“Who can tell in our day what he may not be arrested for?” he muttered enigmatically.
A wild and nonsensical idea crossed my mind.
“Stepan Trofimovitch, tell me as a friend,” I cried, “as a real friend, I will not betray you: do you belong to some secret society or not?”
And on this, to my amazement, he was not quite certain whether he was or was not a member of some secret society.
“That depends, voyez-vous.”
“How do you mean ‘it depends’?”
“When with one’s whole heart one is an adherent of progress and … who can answer it? You may suppose you don’t belong, and suddenly it turns out that you do belong to something.”
“Now is that possible? It’s a case of yes or no.”
“Cela date de Pétersburg when she and I were meaning to found a magazine there. That’s what’s at the root of it. She gave them the slip then, and they forgot us, but now they’ve remembered. Cher, cher, don’t you know me?” he cried hysterically. “And they’ll take us, put us in a cart, and march us off to Siberia forever, or forget us in prison.”
And he suddenly broke into bitter weeping. His tears positively streamed. He covered his face with his red silk handkerchief and sobbed, sobbed convulsively for five minutes. It wrung my heart. This was the man who had been a prophet among us for twenty years, a leader, a patriarch, the Kukolnik who had borne himself so loftily and majestically before all of us, before whom we bowed down with genuine reverence, feeling proud of doing so—and all of a sudden here he was sobbing, sobbing like a naughty child waiting for the rod which the teacher is fetching for him. I felt fearfully sorry for him. He believed in the reality of that “cart” as he believed that I was sitting by his side, and he expected it that morning, at once, that very minute, and all this on account of his Herzen and some poem! Such complete, absolute ignorance of everyday reality was touching and somehow repulsive.
At last he left off crying, got up from the sofa and began walking about the room again, continuing to talk to me, though he looked out of the window every minute and listened to every sound in the passage. Our conversation was still disconnected. All my assurances and attempts to console him rebounded from him like peas from a wall. He scarcely listened, but yet what he needed was that I should console him and keep on talking with that object. I saw that he could not do without me now, and would not let me go for anything. I remained, and we spent more than two hours together. In conversation he recalled that Blum had taken with him two manifestoes he had found.
“Manifestoes!” I said, foolishly frightened. “Do you mean to say you …”
“Oh, ten were left here,” he answered with vexation (he talked to me at one moment in a vexed and haughty tone and at the next with dreadful plaintiveness and humiliation), “but I had disposed of eight already, and Blum only found two.” And he suddenly flushed with indignation. “Vous me mettez avec ces gens-là! Do you suppose I could be working with those scoundrels, those anonymous libellers, with my son Pyotr Stepanovitch, avec ces esprits forts de lâcheté? Oh, heavens!”
“Bah! haven’t they mixed you up perhaps?… But it’s nonsense, it can’t be so,” I observed.
“Savez-vous,” broke from him suddenly, “I feel at moments que je ferai là-bas quelque esclandre. Oh, don’t go away, don’t leave me alone! Ma carrière est finie aujourd’hui, je le sens. Do you know, I might fall on somebody there and bite him, like that lieutenant.”
He looked at me with a strange expression—alarmed, and at the same time anxious to alarm me. He certainly was getting more and more exasperated with somebody and about something as time went on and the police-cart did not appear; he was positively wrathful. Suddenly Nastasya, who had come from the kitchen into the passage for some reason, upset a clothes-horse there. Stepan Trofimovitch trembled and turned numb with terror as he sat; but when the noise was explained, he almost shrieked at Nastasya and, stamping, drove her back to the kitchen. A minute later he said, looking at me in despair: “I am ruined! Cher”—he sat down suddenly beside me and looked piteously into my face—“cher, it’s not Siberia I am afraid of, I swear. Oh, je vous jure!” (Tears positively stood in his eyes.) “It’s something else I fear.”
I saw from his expression that he wanted at last to tell me something of great importance which he had till now refrained from telling.
“I am afraid of disgrace,” he whispered mysteriously.
“What disgrace? On the contrary! Believe me, Stepan Trofimovitch, that all this will be explained to-day and will end to your advantage.…”
“Are you so sure that they will pardon me?”
“Pardon you? What! What a word! What have you done? I assure you you’ve done nothing.”
“Qu’en savez-vous; all my life has been … cher … They’ll remember everything … and if they find nothing, it will be worse still,” he added all of a sudden, unexpectedly.
“How do you mean it will be worse?”
“It will be worse.”
“I don’t understand.”
“My friend, let it be Siberia, Archangel, loss of rights—if I must perish, let me perish! But … I am afraid of something else.” (Again whispering, a scared face, mystery.)
“But of what? Of what?”
“They’ll flog me,” he pronounced, looking at me with a face of despair.
“Who’ll flog you? What for? Where?” I cried, feeling alarmed that he was going out of his mind.
“Where? Why there … where ‘that’s’ done.”
“But where is it done?”
“Eh, cher,” he whispered almost in my ear. “The floor suddenly gives way under you, you drop half through.… Every one knows that.”
“Legends!” I cried, guessing what he meant. “Old tales. Can you have believed them till now?” I laughed.
“Tales! But there must be foundation for them; flogged men tell no tales. I’ve imagined it ten thousand times.”
“But you, why you? You’ve done nothing, you know.”
“That makes it worse. They’ll find out I’ve done nothing and flog me for it.”
“And you are sure that you’ll be taken to Petersburg for that.”
“My friend, I’ve told you already that I regret nothing, ma carrière est finie. From that hour when she said good-bye to me at Skvoreshniki my life has had no value for me … but disgrace, disgrace, que dira-t-elle if she finds out?”
He looked at me in despair. And the poor fellow flushed all over. I dropped my eyes too.
“She’ll find out nothing, for nothing will happen to you. I feel as if I were speaking to you for the first time in my life, Stepan Trofimovitch, you’ve astonished me so this morning.”
“But, my friend, this isn’t fear. For even if I am pardoned, even if I am brought here and nothing is done to me—then I am undone. Elle me soupçonnera toute sa vie—me, me, the poet, the thinker, the man whom she has worshipped for twenty-two years!”
“It will never enter her head.”
“It will,” he whispered with profound conviction. “We’ve talked of it several times in Petersburg, in Lent, before we came away, when we were both afraid.… Elle me soupçonnera toute sa vie … and how can I disabuse her? It won’t sound likely. And in this wretched town who’d believe it, c’est invraisemblable.… Et puis les femmes, she will be pleased. She will be genuinely grieved like a true friend, but secretly she will be pleased.… I shall give her a weapon against me for the rest of my life. Oh, it’s all over with me! Twenty years of such perfect happiness with her … and now!” He hid his face in his hands.
“Stepan Trofimovitch, oughtn’t you to let Varvara Petrovna know at once of what has happened?” I suggested.
“God preserve me!” he cried, shuddering and leaping up from his place. “On no account, never, after what was said at parting at Skvoreshniki—never!”
His eyes flashed.
We went on sitting together another hour or more, I believe, expecting something all the time—the idea had taken such hold of us. He lay down again, even closed his eyes, and lay for twenty minutes without uttering a word, so that I thought he was asleep or unconscious. Suddenly he got up impulsively, pulled the towel off his head, jumped up from the sofa, rushed to the looking-glass, with trembling hands tied his cravat, and in a voice of thunder called to Nastasya, telling her to give him his overcoat, his new hat and his stick.
“I can bear no more,” he said in a breaking voice. “I can’t, I can’t! I am going myself.”
“Where?” I cried, jumping up too.
“To Lembke. Cher, I ought, I am obliged. It’s my duty. I am a citizen and a man, not a worthless chip. I have rights; I want my rights.… For twenty years I’ve not insisted on my rights. All my life I’ve neglected them criminally … but now I’ll demand them. He must tell me everything—everything. He received a telegram. He dare not torture me; if so, let him arrest me, let him arrest me!”
He stamped and vociferated almost with shrieks. “I approve of what you say,” I said, speaking as calmly as possible, on purpose, though I was very much afraid for him.
“Certainly it is better than sitting here in such misery, but I can’t approve of your state of mind. Just see what you look like and in what a state you are going there! Il faut être digne et calme avec Lembke. You really might rush at someone there and bite him.”
“I am giving myself up. I am walking straight into the jaws of the lion.…”
“I’ll go with you.”
“I expected no less of you, I accept your sacrifice, the sacrifice of a true friend; but only as far as the house, only as far as the house. You ought not, you have no right to compromise yourself further by being my confederate. Oh, croyez-moi, je serai calme. I feel that I am at this moment à la hauteur de tout ce que il y a de plus sacré.…”
“I may perhaps go into the house with you,” I interrupted him. “I had a message from their stupid committee yesterday through Vysotsky that they reckon on me and invite me to the fête to-morrow as one of the stewards or whatever it is … one of the six young men whose duty it is to look after the trays, wait on the ladies, take the guests to their places, and wear a rosette of crimson and white ribbon on the left shoulder. I meant to refuse, but now why shouldn’t I go into the house on the excuse of seeing Yulia Mihailovna herself about it?… So we will go in together.”
He listened, nodding, but I think he understood nothing. We stood on the threshold.
“Cher”—he stretched out his arm to the lamp before the ikon—”cher, I have never believed in this, but … so be it, so be it!” He crossed himself. “Allons!”
“Well, that’s better so,” I thought as I went out on to the steps with him. “The fresh air will do him good on the way, and we shall calm down, turn back, and go home to bed.…”
But I reckoned without my host. On the way an adventure occurred which agitated Stepan Trofimovitch even more, and finally determined him to go on … so that I should never have expected of our friend so much spirit as he suddenly displayed that morning. Poor friend, kind-hearted friend!