I am persuaded that Stepan Trofimovitch was terribly frightened as he felt the time fixed for his insane enterprise drawing near. I am convinced that he suffered dreadfully from terror, especially on the night before he started—that awful night. Nastasya mentioned afterwards that he had gone to bed late and fallen asleep. But that proves nothing; men sentenced to death sleep very soundly, they say, even the night before their execution. Though he set off by daylight, when a nervous man is always a little more confident (and the major, Virginsky’s relative, used to give up believing in God every morning when the night was over), yet I am convinced he could never, without horror, have imagined himself alone on the high road in such a position. No doubt a certain desperation in his feelings softened at first the terrible sensation of sudden solitude in which he at once found himself as soon as he had left Nastasya, and the corner in which he had been warm and snug for twenty years. But it made no difference; even with the clearest recognition of all the horrors awaiting him he would have gone out to the high road and walked along it! There was something proud in the undertaking which allured him in spite of everything. Oh, he might have accepted Varvara Petrovna’s luxurious provision and have remained living on her charity, “comme un humble dependent.” But he had not accepted her charity and was not remaining! And here he was leaving her of himself, and holding aloft the “standard of a great idea, and going to die for it on the open road.” That is how he must have been feeling; that’s how his action must have appeared to him.
Another question presented itself to me more than once. Why did he run away, that is, literally run away on foot, rather than simply drive away? I put it down at first to the impracticability of fifty years and the fantastic bent of his mind under the influence of strong emotion. I imagined that the thought of posting tickets and horses (even if they had bells) would have seemed too simple and prosaic to him; a pilgrimage, on the other hand, even under an umbrella, was ever so much more picturesque and in character with love and resentment. But now that everything is over, I am inclined to think that it all came about in a much simpler way. To begin with, he was afraid to hire horses because Varvara Petrovna might have heard of it and prevented him from going by force; which she certainly would have done, and he certainly would have given in, and then farewell to the great idea forever. Besides, to take tickets for anywhere he must have known at least where he was going. But to think about that was the greatest agony to him at that moment; he was utterly unable to fix upon a place. For if he had to fix on any particular town his enterprise would at once have seemed in his own eyes absurd and impossible; he felt that very strongly. What should he do in that particular town rather than in any other? Look out for ce marchand? But what marchand? At that point his second and most terrible question cropped up. In reality there was nothing he dreaded more than ce marchand, whom he had rushed off to seek so recklessly, though, of course, he was terribly afraid of finding him. No, better simply the high road, better simply to set off for it, and walk along it and to think of nothing so long as he could put off thinking. The high road is something very very long, of which one cannot see the end—like human life, like human dreams. There is an idea in the open road, but what sort of idea is there in travelling with posting tickets? Posting tickets mean an end to ideas. Vive la grande route and then as God wills.
After the sudden and unexpected interview with Liza which I have described, he rushed on, more lost in forgetfulness than ever. The high road passed half a mile from Skvoreshniki and, strange to say, he was not at first aware that he was on it. Logical reasoning or even distinct consciousness was unbearable to him at this moment. A fine rain kept drizzling, ceasing, and drizzling again; but he did not even notice the rain. He did not even notice either how he threw his bag over his shoulder, nor how much more comfortably he walked with it so. He must have walked like that for nearly a mile or so when he suddenly stood still and looked round. The old road, black, marked with wheel-ruts and planted with willows on each side, ran before him like an endless thread; on the right hand were bare plains from which the harvest had long ago been carried; on the left there were bushes and in the distance beyond them a copse.
And far, far away a scarcely perceptible line of the railway, running aslant, and on it the smoke of a train, but no sound was heard. Stepan Trofimovitch felt a little timid, but only for a moment. He heaved a vague sigh, put down his bag beside a willow, and sat down to rest. As he moved to sit down he was conscious of being chilly and wrapped himself in his rug; noticing at the same time that it was raining, he put up his umbrella. He sat like that for some time, moving his lips from time to time and firmly grasping the umbrella handle. Images of all sorts passed in feverish procession before him, rapidly succeeding one another in his mind.
“Lise, Lise,” he thought, “and with her ce Maurice.… Strange people.… But what was the strange fire, and what were they talking about, and who were murdered? I fancy Nastasya has not found out yet and is still waiting for me with my coffee … cards? Did I really lose men at cards? H’m! Among us in Russia in the times of serfdom, so called.… My God, yes—Fedka!”
He started all over with terror and looked about him. “What if that Fedka is in hiding somewhere behind the bushes? They say he has a regular band of robbers here on the high road. Oh, mercy, I … I’ll tell him the whole truth then, that I was to blame … and that I’ve been miserable about him for ten years. More miserable than he was as a soldier, and … I’ll give him my purse. H’m! J’ai en tout quarante roubles; il prendra les roubles et il me tuera tout de même.”
In his panic he for some reason shut up the umbrella and laid it down beside him. A cart came into sight on the high road in the distance coming from the town.
“Grace à Dieu, that’s a cart and it’s coming at a walking pace; that can’t be dangerous. The wretched little horses here … I always said that breed … It was Pyotr Ilyitch though, he talked at the club about horse-breeding and I trumped him, et puis … but what’s that behind?… I believe there’s a woman in the cart. A peasant and a woman, cela commence à être rassurant. The woman behind and the man in front— c’est très rassurant. There’s a cow behind the cart tied by the horns, c’est rassurant au plus haut degré.”
The cart reached him; it was a fairly solid peasant cart. The woman was sitting on a tightly stuffed sack and the man on the front of the cart with his legs hanging over towards Stepan Trofimovitch. A red cow was, in fact, shambling behind, tied by the horns to the cart. The man and the woman gazed open-eyed at Stepan Trofimovitch, and Stepan Trofimovitch gazed back at them with equal wonder, but after he had let them pass twenty paces, he got up hurriedly all of a sudden and walked after them. In the proximity of the cart it was natural that he should feel safer, but when he had overtaken it he became oblivious of everything again and sank back into his disconnected thoughts and fancies. He stepped along with no suspicion, of course, that for the two peasants he was at that instant the most mysterious and interesting object that one could meet on the high road.
“What sort may you be, pray, if it’s not uncivil to ask?” the woman could not resist asking at last when Stepan Trofimovitch glanced absent-mindedly at her. She was a woman of about seven and twenty, sturdily built, with black eyebrows, rosy cheeks, and a friendly smile on her red lips, between which gleamed white even teeth.
“You … you are addressing me?” muttered Stepan Trofimovitch with mournful wonder.
“A merchant, for sure,” the peasant observed confidently. He was a well-grown man of forty with a broad and intelligent face, framed in a reddish beard.
“No, I am not exactly a merchant, I … I … moi c’est autre chose.” Stepan Trofimovitch parried the question somehow, and to be on the safe side he dropped back a little from the cart, so that he was walking on a level with the cow.
“Must be a gentleman,” the man decided, hearing words not Russian, and he gave a tug at the horse.
“That’s what set us wondering. You are out for a walk seemingly?” the woman asked inquisitively again.
“You … you ask me?”
“Foreigners come from other parts sometimes by the train; your boots don’t seem to be from hereabouts.…”
“They are army boots,” the man put in complacently and significantly.
“No, I am not precisely in the army, I …”
“What an inquisitive woman!” Stepan Trofimovitch mused with vexation. “And how they stare at me … mais enfin. In fact, it’s strange that I feel, as it were, conscience-stricken before them, and yet I’ve done them no harm.”
The woman was whispering to the man.
“If it’s no offence, we’d give you a lift if so be it’s agreeable.”
Stepan Trofimovitch suddenly roused himself.
“Yes, yes, my friends, I accept it with pleasure, for I’m very tired; but how am I to get in?”
“How wonderful it is,” he thought to himself, “that I’ve been walking so long beside that cow and it never entered my head to ask them for a lift. This ‘real life’ has something very original about it.”
But the peasant had not, however, pulled up the horse.
“But where are you bound for?” he asked with some mistrustfulness.
Stepan Trofimovitch did not understand him at once.
“To Hatovo, I suppose?”
“Hatov? No, not to Hatov’s exactly … And I don’t know him though I’ve heard of him.”
“The village of Hatovo, the village, seven miles from here.”
“A village? C’est charmant, to be sure I’ve heard of it.…”
Stepan Trofimovitch was still walking, they had not yet taken him into the cart. A guess that was a stroke of genius flashed through his mind.
“You think perhaps that I am … I’ve got a passport and I am a professor, that is, if you like, a teacher … but a head teacher. I am a head teacher. Oui, c’est comme ça qu’on peut traduire. I should be very glad of a lift and I’ll buy you … I’ll buy you a quart of vodka for it.”
“It’ll be half a rouble, sir; it’s a bad road.”
“Or it wouldn’t be fair to ourselves,” put in the woman.
“Half a rouble? Very good then, half a rouble. C’est encore mieux; j’ai en tout quarante roubles mais …”
The peasant stopped the horse and by their united efforts Stepan Trofimovitch was dragged into the cart, and seated on the sack by the woman. He was still pursued by the same whirl of ideas. Sometimes he was aware himself that he was terribly absent-minded, and that he was not thinking of what he ought to be thinking of and wondered at it. This consciousness of abnormal weakness of mind became at moments very painful and even humiliating to him.
“How … how is this you’ve got a cow behind?” he suddenly asked the woman.
“What do you mean, sir, as though you’d never seen one,” laughed the woman.
“We bought it in the town,” the peasant put in. “Our cattle died last spring … the plague. All the beasts have died round us, all of them. There aren’t half of them left, it’s heartbreaking.”
And again he lashed the horse, which had got stuck in a rut.
“Yes, that does happen among you in Russia … in general we Russians … Well, yes, it happens,” Stepan Trofimovitch broke off.
“If you are a teacher, what are you going to Hatovo for? Maybe you are going on farther.”
“I … I’m not going farther precisely.… C’est-à-dire, I’m going to a merchant’s.”
“To Spasov, I suppose?”
“Yes, yes, to Spasov. But that’s no matter.”
“If you are going to Spasov and on foot, it will take you a week in your boots,” laughed the woman.
“I dare say, I dare say, no matter, mes amis, no matter.” Stepan Trofimovitch cut her short impatiently.
“Awfully inquisitive people; but the woman speaks better than he does, and I notice that since February 19,* their language has altered a little, and … and what business is it of mine whether I’m going to Spasov or not? Besides, I’ll pay them, so why do they pester me.”
*February 19, 1861, the day of the Emancipation of the Serfs, is meant.—Translator’s note. “If you are going to Spasov, you must take the steamer,” the peasant persisted.
“That’s true indeed,” the woman put in with animation, “for if you drive along the bank it’s twenty-five miles out of the way.”
“You’ll just catch the steamer at Ustyevo at two o’clock tomorrow,” the woman decided finally. But Stepan Trofimovitch was obstinately silent. His questioners, too, sank into silence. The peasant tugged at his horse at rare intervals; the peasant woman exchanged brief remarks with him. Stepan Trofimovitch fell into a doze. He was tremendously surprised when the woman, laughing, gave him a poke and he found himself in a rather large village at the door of a cottage with three windows.
“You’ve had a nap, sir?”
“What is it? Where am I? Ah, yes! Well … never mind,” sighed Stepan Trofimovitch, and he got out of the cart.
He looked about him mournfully; the village scene seemed strange to him and somehow terribly remote.
“And the half-rouble, I was forgetting it!” he said to the peasant, turning to him with an excessively hurried gesture; he was evidently by now afraid to part from them.
“We’ll settle indoors, walk in,” the peasant invited him.
“It’s comfortable inside,” the woman said reassuringly.
Stepan Trofimovitch mounted the shaky steps. “How can it be?” he murmured in profound and apprehensive perplexity. He went into the cottage, however. “Elle l’a voulu” he felt a stab at his heart and again he became oblivious of everything, even of the fact that he had gone into the cottage.
It was a light and fairly clean peasant’s cottage, with three windows and two rooms; not exactly an inn, but a cottage at which people who knew the place were accustomed to stop on their way through the village. Stepan Trofimovitch, quite unembarrassed, went to the foremost corner; forgot to greet anyone, sat down and sank into thought. Meanwhile a sensation of warmth, extremely agreeable after three hours of travelling in the damp, was suddenly diffused throughout his person. Even the slight shivers that spasmodically ran down his spine—such as always occur in particularly nervous people when they are feverish and have suddenly come into a warm room from the cold—became all at once strangely agreeable. He raised his head and the delicious fragrance of the hot pancakes with which the woman of the house was busy at the stove tickled his nostrils. With a childlike smile he leaned towards the woman and suddenly said:
“What’s that? Are they pancakes? Mais … c’est charmant.”
“Would you like some, sir?” the woman politely offered him at once.
“I should like some, I certainly should, and … may I ask you for some tea too,” said Stepan Trofimovitch, reviving.
“Get the samovar? With the greatest pleasure.”
On a large plate with a big blue pattern on it were served the pancakes—regular peasant pancakes, thin, made half of wheat, covered with fresh hot butter, most delicious pancakes. Stepan Trofimovitch tasted them with relish.
“How rich they are and how good! And if one could only have un doigt d’eau de vie.”
“It’s a drop of vodka you would like, sir, isn’t it?”
“Just so, just so, a little, un tout petit rien.”
“Five farthings’ worth, I suppose?”
“Five, yes, five, five, five, un tout petit rien,” Stepan Trofimovitch assented with a blissful smile.
Ask a peasant to do anything for you, and if he can, and will, he will serve you with care and friendliness; but ask him to fetch you vodka—and his habitual serenity and friendliness will pass at once into a sort of joyful haste and alacrity; he will be as keen in your interest as though you were one of his family. The peasant who fetches vodka—even though you are going to drink it and not he and he knows that beforehand—seems, as it were, to be enjoying part of your future gratification. Within three minutes (the tavern was only two paces away), a bottle and a large greenish wineglass were set on the table before Stepan Trofimovitch.
“Is that all for me!” He was extremely surprised. “I’ve always had vodka but I never knew you could get so much for five farthings.”
He filled the wineglass, got up and with a certain solemnity crossed the room to the other corner where his fellow-traveller, the black-browed peasant woman, who had shared the sack with him and bothered him with her questions, had ensconced herself. The woman was taken aback, and began to decline, but after having said all that was prescribed by politeness, she stood up and drank it decorously in three sips, as women do, and, with an expression of intense suffering on her face, gave back the wineglass and bowed to Stepan Trofimovitch. He returned the bow with dignity and returned to the table with an expression of positive pride on his countenance.
All this was done on the inspiration of the moment: a second before he had no idea that he would go and treat the peasant woman.
“I know how to get on with peasants to perfection, to perfection, and I’ve always told them so,” he thought complacently, pouring out the rest of the vodka; though there was less than a glass left, it warmed and revived him, and even went a little to his head.
“Je suis malade tout à fait, mais ce n’est pas trop mauvais d’être malade.”
“Would you care to purchase?” a gentle feminine voice asked close by him.
He raised his eyes and to his surprise saw a lady—une dame et elle en avait l’air, somewhat over thirty, very modest in appearance, dressed not like a peasant, in a dark gown with a grey shawl on her shoulders. There was something very kindly in her face which attracted Stepan Trofimovitch immediately. She had only just come back to the cottage, where her things had been left on a bench close by the place where Stepan Trofimovitch had seated himself. Among them was a portfolio, at which he remembered he had looked with curiosity on going in, and a pack, not very large, of American leather. From this pack she took out two nicely bound books with a cross engraved on the cover, and offered them to Stepan Trofimovitch.
“Et … mais je crois que c’est l’Evangile … with the greatest pleasure.… Ah, now I understand.… Vous êtes ce qu’on appelle a gospel-woman; I’ve read more than once.… Half a rouble?”
“Thirty-five kopecks,” answered the gospel-woman. “With the greatest pleasure. Je n’ai rien contre l’Evangile, and I’ve been wanting to re-read it for a long time.…”
The idea occurred to him at the moment that he had not read the gospel for thirty years at least, and at most had recalled some passages of it, seven years before, when reading Renan’s “Vie de Jésus.” As he had no small change he pulled out his four ten-rouble notes—all that he had. The woman of the house undertook to get change, and only then he noticed, looking round, that a good many people had come into the cottage, and that they had all been watching him for some time past, and seemed to be talking about him. They were talking too of the fire in the town, especially the owner of the cart who had only just returned from the town with the cow. They talked of arson, of the Shpigulin men.
“He said nothing to me about the fire when he brought me along, although he talked of everything,” struck Stepan Trofimovitch for some reason.
“Master, Stepan Trofimovitch, sir, is it you I see? Well, I never should have thought it!… Don’t you know me?” exclaimed a middle-aged man who looked like an old-fashioned house-serf, wearing no beard and dressed in an overcoat with a wide turn-down collar. Stepan Trofimovitch was alarmed at hearing his own name.
“Excuse me,” he muttered, “I don’t quite remember you.”
“You don’t remember me. I am Anisim, Anisim Ivanov. I used to be in the service of the late Mr. Gaganov, and many’s the time I’ve seen you, sir, with Varvara Petrovna at the late Avdotya Sergyevna’s. I used to go to you with books from her, and twice I brought you Petersburg sweets from her.…”
“Why, yes, I remember you, Anisim,” said Stepan Trofimovitch, smiling. “Do you live here?”
“I live near Spasov, close to the V—— Monastery, in the service of Marta Sergyevna, Avdotya Sergyevna’s sister. Perhaps your honour remembers her; she broke her leg falling out of her carriage on her way to a ball. Now her honour lives near the monastery, and I am in her service. And now as your honour sees, I am on my way to the town to see my kinsfolk.”
“Quite so, quite so.”
“I felt so pleased when I saw you, you used to be so kind to me,” Anisim smiled delightedly. “But where are you travelling to, sir, all by yourself as it seems.… You’ve never been a journey alone, I fancy?”
Stepan Trofimovitch looked at him in alarm.
“You are going, maybe, to our parts, to Spasov?”
“Yes, I am going to Spasov. Il me semble que tout le monde va à Spassof.”
“You don’t say it’s to Fyodor Matveyevitch’s? They will be pleased to see you. He had such a respect for you in old days; he often speaks of you now.”
“Yes, yes, to Fyodor Matveyevitch’s.”
“To be sure, to be sure. The peasants here are wondering; they make out they met you, sir, walking on the high road. They are a foolish lot.”
“I … I … Yes, you know, Anisim, I made a wager, you know, like an Englishman, that I would go on foot and I …”
The perspiration came out on his forehead.
“To be sure, to be sure.” Anisim listened with merciless curiosity. But Stepan Trofimovitch could bear it no longer. He was so disconcerted that he was on the point of getting up and going out of the cottage. But the samovar was brought in, and at the same moment the gospel-woman, who had been out of the room, returned. With the air of a man clutching at a straw he turned to her and offered her tea. Anisim submitted and walked away.
The peasants certainly had begun to feel perplexed: “What sort of person is he? He was found walking on the high road, he says he is a teacher, he is dressed like a foreigner, and has no more sense than a little child; he answers queerly as though he had run away from someone, and he’s got money!” An idea was beginning to gain ground that information must be given to the authorities, “especially as things weren’t quite right in the town.” But Anisim set all that right in a minute. Going into the passage he explained to every one who cared to listen that Stepan Trofimovitch was not exactly a teacher but “a very learned man and busy with very learned studies, and was a landowner of the district himself, and had been living for twenty-two years with her excellency, the general’s widow, the stout Madame Stavrogin, and was by way of being the most important person in her house, and was held in the greatest respect by every one in the town. He used to lose by fifties and hundreds in an evening at the club of the nobility, and in rank he was a councillor, which was equal to a lieutenant-colonel in the army, which was next door to being a colonel. As for his having money, he had so much from the stout Madame Stavrogin that there was no reckoning it”—and so on and so on.
“Mais c’est une dame et très comme il faut,” thought Stepan Trofimovitch, as he recovered from Anisim’s attack, gazing with agreeable curiosity at his neighbour, the gospel pedlar, who was, however, drinking the tea from a saucer and nibbling at a piece of sugar. “Ce petit morceau de sucre, ce n’est rien.… There is something noble and independent about her, and at the same time—gentle. Le comme il faut tout pur, but rather in a different style.”
He soon learned from her that her name was Sofya Matveyevna Ulitin and she lived at K——, that she had a sister there, a widow; that she was a widow too, and that her husband, who was a sub-lieutenant risen from the ranks, had been killed at Sevastopol.
“But you are still so young, vous n’avez pas trente ans.”
“Thirty-four,” said Sofya Matveyevna, smiling.
“What, you understand French?”
“A little. I lived for four years after that in a gentleman’s family, and there I picked it up from the children.”
She told him that being left a widow at eighteen she was for some time in Sevastopol as a nurse, and had afterwards lived in various places, and now she travelled about selling the gospel.
“Mais, mon Dieu, wasn’t it you who had a strange adventure in our town, a very strange adventure?”
She flushed; it turned out that it had been she.
“Ces vauriens, ces malheureux,” he began in a voice quivering with indignation; miserable and hateful recollections stirred painfully in his heart. For a minute he seemed to sink into oblivion.
“Bah, but she’s gone away again,” he thought, with a start, noticing that she was not by his side. “She keeps going out and is busy about something; I notice that she seems upset too.… Bah, je deviens egoiste!”
He raised his eyes and saw Anisim again, but this time in the most menacing surroundings. The whole cottage was full of peasants, and it was evidently Anisim who had brought them all in. Among them were the master of the house, and the peasant with the cow, two other peasants (they turned out to be cab-drivers), another little man, half drunk, dressed like a peasant but clean-shaven, who seemed like a townsman ruined by drink and talked more than any of them. And they were all discussing him, Stepan Trofimovitch. The peasant with the cow insisted on his point that to go round by the lake would be thirty-five miles out of the way, and that he certainly must go by steamer. The half-drunken man and the man of the house warmly retorted:
“Seeing that, though of course it will be nearer for his honour on the steamer over the lake; that’s true enough, but maybe according to present arrangements the steamer doesn’t go there, brother.”
“It does go, it does, it will go for another week,” cried Anisim, more excited than any of them.
“That’s true enough, but it doesn’t arrive punctually, seeing it’s late in the season, and sometimes it’ll stay three days together at Ustyevo.”
“It’ll be there to-morrow at two o’clock punctually. You’ll be at Spasov punctually by the evening,” cried Anisim, eager to do his best for Stepan Trofimovitch.
“Mais qu’est-ce qu’il a cet homme,” thought Stepan Trofimovitch, trembling and waiting in terror for what was in store for him.
The cab-drivers, too, came forward and began bargaining with him; they asked three roubles to Ustyevo. The others shouted that that was not too much, that that was the fare, and that they had been driving from here to Ustyevo all the summer for that fare.
“But … it’s nice here too.… And I don’t want …” Stepan Trofimovitch mumbled in protest.
“Nice it is, sir, you are right there, it’s wonderfully nice at Spasov now and Fyodor Matveyevitch will be so pleased to see you.”
“Mon Dieu, mes amis, all this is such a surprise to me.”
At last Sofya Matveyevna came back. But she sat down on the bench looking dejected and mournful.
“I can’t get to Spasov!” she said to the woman of the cottage.
“Why, you are bound to Spasov, too, then?” cried Stepan Trofimovitch, starting.
It appeared that a lady had the day before told her to wait at Hatovo and had promised to take her to Spasov, and now this lady had not turned up after all.
“What am I to do now?” repeated Sofya Matveyevna.
“Mais, ma chère et nouvelle amie, I can take you just as well as the lady to that village, whatever it is, to which I’ve hired horses, and to-morrow—well, to-morrow, we’ll go on together to Spasov.”
“Why, are you going to Spasov too?”
“Mais que faire, et je suis enchanté! I shall take you with the greatest pleasure; you see they want to take me, I’ve engaged them already. Which of you did I engage?” Stepan Trofimovitch suddenly felt an intense desire to go to Spasov.
Within a quarter of an hour they were getting into a covered trap, he very lively and quite satisfied, she with her pack beside him, with a grateful smile on her face. Anisim helped them in.
“A good journey to you, sir,” said he, bustling officiously round the trap, “it has been a treat to see you.”
“Good-bye, good-bye, my friend, good-bye.”
“You’ll see Fyodor Matveyevitch, sir …”
“Yes, my friend, yes … Fyodor Petrovitch … only good-bye.”
“You see, my friend … you’ll allow me to call myself your friend, n’est-ce pas?” Stepan Trofimovitch began hurriedly as soon as the trap started. “You see I … J’aime le peuple, c’est indispensable, mais il me semble que je ne m’avais jamais vu de près. Stasie … cela va sans dire qu’elle est aussi du peuple, mais le vrai peuple, that is, the real ones, who are on the high road, it seems to me they care for nothing, but where exactly I am going … But let bygones be bygones. I fancy I am talking at random, but I believe it’s from being flustered.”
“You don’t seem quite well.” Sofya Matveyevna watched him keenly though respectfully.
“No, no, I must only wrap myself up, besides there’s a fresh wind, very fresh in fact, but … let us forget that. That’s not what I really meant to say. Chère et incomparable amie, I feel that I am almost happy, and it’s your doing. Happiness is not good for me for it makes me rush to forgive all my enemies at once.…”
“Why, that’s a very good thing, sir.”
“Not always, chère innocente. L’Evangile … voyez-vous, désormais nous prêcherons ensemble and I will gladly sell your beautiful little books. Yes, I feel that that perhaps is an idea, quelque chose de très nouveau dans ce genre. The peasants are religious, c’est admis, but they don’t yet know the gospel. I will expound it to them.… By verbal explanation one might correct the mistakes in that remarkable book, which I am of course prepared to treat with the utmost respect. I will be of service even on the high road. I’ve always been of use, I always told them so et à cette chère ingrate.… Oh, we will forgive, we will forgive, first of all we will forgive all and always.… We will hope that we too shall be forgiven. Yes, for all, every one of us, have wronged one another, all are guilty!”
“That’s a very good saying, I think, sir.”
“Yes, yes.… I feel that I am speaking well. I shall speak to them very well, but what was the chief thing I meant to say? I keep losing the thread and forgetting.… Will you allow me to remain with you? I feel that the look in your eyes and … I am surprised in fact at your manners. You are simple-hearted, you call me ‘sir,’ and turn your cup upside down on your saucer … and that horrid lump of sugar; but there’s something charming about you, and I see from your features.… Oh, don’t blush and don’t be afraid of me as a man. Chère et incomparable, pour moi une femme c’est tout. I can’t live without a woman, but only at her side, only at her side … I am awfully muddled, awfully. I can’t remember what I meant to say. Oh, blessed is he to whom God always sends a woman and … and I fancy, indeed, that I am in a sort of ecstasy. There’s a lofty idea in the open road too! That’s what I meant to say, that’s it—about the idea. Now I’ve remembered it, but I kept losing it before. And why have they taken us farther. It was nice there too, but here—cela devien trop froid. A propos, j’ai en tout quarante roubles et voilà cet argent, take it, take it, I can’t take care of it, I shall lose it or it will be taken away from me.… I seem to be sleepy, I’ve a giddiness in my head. Yes, I am giddy, I am giddy, I am giddy. Oh, how kind you are, what’s that you are wrapping me up in?”
“You are certainly in a regular fever and I’ve covered you with my rug; only about the money, I’d rather.”
“Oh, for God’s sake, n’en parlons plus parce que cela me fait mal. Oh, how kind you are!”
He ceased speaking, and with strange suddenness dropped into a feverish shivery sleep. The road by which they drove the twelve miles was not a smooth one, and their carriage jolted cruelly. Stepan Trofimovitch woke up frequently, quickly raised his head from the little pillow which Sofya Matveyevna had slipped under it, clutched her by the hand and asked “Are you here?” as though he were afraid she had left him. He told her, too, that he had dreamed of gaping jaws full of teeth, and that he had very much disliked it. Sofya Matveyevna was in great anxiety about him.
They were driven straight up to a large cottage with a frontage of four windows and other rooms in the yard. Stepan Trofimovitch waked up, hurriedly went in and walked straight into the second room, which was the largest and best in the house. An expression of fussiness came into his sleepy face. He spoke at once to the landlady, a tall, thick-set woman of forty with very dark hair and a slight moustache, and explained that he required the whole room for himself, and that the door was to be shut and no one else was to be admitted, “parce que nous avons à parler. Oui, j’ai beaucoup à vous dire, chère amie. I’ll pay you, I’ll pay you,” he said with a wave of dismissal to the landlady.
Though he was in a hurry, he seemed to articulate with difficulty. The landlady listened grimly, and was silent in token of consent, but there was a feeling of something menacing about her silence. He did not notice this, and hurriedly (he was in a terrible hurry) insisted on her going away and bringing them their dinner as quickly as possible, without a moment’s delay.
At that point the moustached woman could contain herself no longer.
“This is not an inn, sir; we don’t provide dinners for travellers. We can boil you some crayfish or set the samovar, but we’ve nothing more. There won’t be fresh fish till to-morrow.”
But Stepan Trofimovitch waved his hands, repeating with wrathful impatience: “I’ll pay, only make haste, make haste.”
They settled on fish, soup, and roast fowl; the landlady declared that fowl was not to be procured in the whole village; she agreed, however, to go in search of one, but with the air of doing him an immense favour.
As soon as she had gone Stepan Trofimovitch instantly sat down on the sofa and made Sofya Matveyevna sit down beside him. There were several arm-chairs as well as a sofa in the room, but they were of a most uninviting appearance. The room was rather a large one, with a corner, in which there was a bed, partitioned off. It was covered with old and tattered yellow paper, and had horrible lithographs of mythological subjects on the walls; in the corner facing the door there was a long row of painted ikons and several sets of brass ones. The whole room with its strangely ill-assorted furniture was an unattractive mixture of the town element and of peasant traditions. But he did not even glance at it all, nor look out of the window at the vast lake, the edge of which was only seventy feet from the cottage.
“At last we are by ourselves and we will admit no one! I want to tell you everything, everything from the very beginning.”
Sofya Matveyevna checked him with great uneasiness.
“Are you aware, Stepan Trofimovitch?…”
“Comment, vous savez déjà mon nom?” He smiled with delight.
“I heard it this morning from Anisim Ivanovitch when you were talking to him. But I venture to tell you for my part …”
And she whispered hurriedly to him, looking nervously at the closed door for fear anyone should overhear—that here in this village, it was dreadful. That though all the peasants were fishermen, they made their living chiefly by charging travellers every summer whatever they thought fit. The village was not on the high road but an out-of-the-way one, and people only called there because the steamers stopped there, and that when the steamer did not call—and if the weather was in the least unfavourable, it would not—then numbers of travellers would be waiting there for several days, and all the cottages in the village would be occupied, and that was just the villagers’ opportunity, for they charged three times its value for everything—and their landlord here was proud and stuck up because he was, for these parts, very rich; he had a net which had cost a thousand roubles.
Stepan Trofimovitch looked almost reproachfully at Sofya Matveyevna’s extremely excited face, and several times he made a motion to stop her. But she persisted and said all she had to say: she said she had been there before already in the summer “with a very genteel lady from the town,” and stayed there too for two whole days till the steamer came, and what they had to put up with did not bear thinking of. “Here, Stepan Trofimovitch, you’ve been pleased to ask for this room for yourself alone.… I only speak to warn you.… In the other room there are travellers already. An elderly man and a young man and a lady with children, and by to-morrow before two o’clock the whole house will be filled up, for since the steamer hasn’t been here for two days it will be sure to come to-morrow. So for a room apart and for ordering dinner, and for putting out the other travellers, they’ll charge you a price unheard of even in the capital.…”
But he was in distress, in real distress. “Assez, mon enfant, I beseech you, nous avons notre argent—et après, le bon Dieu. And I am surprised that, with the loftiness of your ideas, you … Assez, assez, vous me tourmentez,” he articulated hysterically, “we have all our future before us, and you … you fill me with alarm for the future.”
He proceeded at once to unfold his whole story with such haste that at first it was difficult to understand him. It went on for a long time. The soup was served, the fowl was brought in, followed at last by the samovar, and still he talked on. He told it somewhat strangely and hysterically, and indeed he was ill. It was a sudden, extreme effort of his intellectual faculties, which was bound in his overstrained condition, of course—Sofya Matveyevna foresaw it with distress all the time he was talking—to result immediately afterwards in extreme exhaustion. He began his story almost with his childhood, when, “with fresh heart, he ran about the meadows; it was an hour before he reached his two marriages and his life in Berlin. I dare not laugh, however. It really was for him a matter of the utmost importance, and to adopt the modern jargon, almost a question of struggling for existence.” He saw before him the woman whom he had already elected to share his new life, and was in haste to consecrate her, so to speak. His genius must not be hidden from her.… Perhaps he had formed a very exaggerated estimate of Sofya Matveyevna, but he had already chosen her. He could not exist without a woman. He saw clearly from her face that she hardly understood him, and could not grasp even the most essential part. “Ce n’est rien, nous attendrons, and meanwhile she can feel it intuitively.… My friend, I need nothing but your heart!” he exclaimed, interrupting his narrative, “and that sweet enchanting look with which you are gazing at me now. Oh, don’t blush! I’ve told you already …” The poor woman who had fallen into his hands found much that was obscure, especially when his autobiography almost passed into a complete dissertation on the fact that no one had been ever able to understand Stepan Trofimovitch, and that “men of genius are wasted in Russia.” It was all “so very intellectual,” she reported afterwards dejectedly. She listened in evident misery, rather round-eyed. When Stepan Trofimovitch fell into a humorous vein and threw off witty sarcasms at the expense of our advanced and governing classes, she twice made grievous efforts to laugh in response to his laughter, but the result was worse than tears, so that Stepan Trofimovitch was at last embarrassed by it himself and attacked “the nihilists and modern people” with all the greater wrath and zest. At this point he simply alarmed her, and it was not until he began upon the romance of his life that she felt some slight relief, though that too was deceptive. A woman is always a woman even if she is a nun. She smiled, shook her head and then blushed crimson and dropped her eyes, which roused Stepan Trofimovitch to absolute ecstasy and inspiration so much that he began fibbing freely. Varvara Petrovna appeared in his story as an enchanting brunette (who had been the rage of Petersburg and many European capitals) and her husband “had been struck down on the field of Sevastopol” simply because he had felt unworthy of her love, and had yielded her to his rival, that is, Stepan Trofimovitch.… “Don’t be shocked, my gentle one, my Christian,” he exclaimed to Sofya Matveyevna, almost believing himself in all that he was telling, “it was something so lofty, so subtle, that we never spoke of it to one another all our lives.” As the story went on, the cause of this position of affairs appeared to be a blonde lady (if not Darya Pavlovna I don’t know of whom Stepan Trofimovitch could have been thinking), this blonde owed everything to the brunette, and had grown up in her house, being a distant relation. The brunette observing at last the love of the blonde girl to Stepan Trofimovitch, kept her feelings locked up in her heart. The blonde girl, noticing on her part the love of the brunette to Stepan Trofimovitch, also locked her feelings in her own heart. And all three, pining with mutual magnanimity, kept silent in this way for twenty years, locking their feelings in their hearts. “Oh, what a passion that was, what a passion that was!” he exclaimed with a stifled sob of genuine ecstasy. “I saw the full blooming of her beauty” (of the brunette’s, that is), “I saw daily with an ache in my heart how she passed by me as though ashamed she was so fair” (once he said “ashamed she was so fat”). At last he had run away, casting off all this feverish dream of twenty years—vingt ans—and now here he was on the high road.…
Then in a sort of delirium be began explaining to Sofya Matveyevna the significance of their meeting that day, “so chance an encounter and so fateful for all eternity.” Sofya Matveyevna got up from the sofa in terrible confusion at last. He had positively made an attempt to drop on his knees before her, which made her cry. It was beginning to get dark. They had been for some hours shut up in the room.…
“No, you’d better let me go into the other room,” she faltered, “or else there’s no knowing what people may think.…”
She tore herself away at last; he let her go, promising her to go to bed at once. As they parted he complained that he had a bad headache. Sofya Matveyevna had on entering the cottage left her bag and things in the first room, meaning to spend the night with the people of the house; but she got no rest.
In the night Stepan Trofimovitch was attacked by the malady with which I and all his friends were so familiar—the summer cholera, which was always the outcome of any nervous strain or moral shock with him. Poor Sofya Matveyevna did not sleep all night. As in waiting on the invalid she was obliged pretty often to go in and out of the cottage through the landlady’s room, the latter, as well as the travellers who were sleeping there, grumbled and even began swearing when towards morning she set about preparing the samovar. Stepan Trofimovitch was half unconscious all through the attack; at times he had a vision of the samovar being set, of someone giving him something to drink (raspberry tea), and putting something warm to his stomach and his chest. But he felt almost every instant that she was here, beside him; that it was she going out and coming in, lifting him off the bed and settling him in it again. Towards three o’clock in the morning he began to be easier; he sat up, put his legs out of bed and thinking of nothing he fell on the floor at her feet. This was a very different matter from the kneeling of the evening; he simply bowed down at her feet and kissed the hem of her dress.
“Don’t, sir, I am not worth it,” she faltered, trying to get him back on to the bed.
“My saviour,” he cried, clasping his hands reverently before her. “Vous êtes noble comme une marquise! I—I am a wretch. Oh, I’ve been dishonest all my life.…”
“Calm yourself!” Sofya Matveyevna implored him.
“It was all lies that I told you this evening—to glorify myself, to make it splendid, from pure wantonness—all, all, every word, oh, I am a wretch, I am a wretch!”
The first attack was succeeded in this way by a second—an attack of hysterical remorse. I have mentioned these attacks already when I described his letters to Varvara Petrovna. He suddenly recalled Lise and their meeting the previous morning. “It was so awful, and there must have been some disaster and I didn’t ask, didn’t find out! I thought only of myself. Oh, what’s the matter with her? Do you know what’s the matter with her?” he besought Sofya Matveyevna.
Then he swore that “he would never change,” that he would go back to her (that is, Varvara Petrovna). “We” (that is, he and Sofya Matveyevna) “will go to her steps every day when she is getting into her carriage for her morning drive, and we will watch her in secret.… Oh, I wish her to smite me on the other cheek; it’s a joy to wish it! I shall turn her my other cheek comme dans votre livre! Only now for the first time I understand what is meant by … turning the other cheek. I never understood before!”
The two days that followed were among the most terrible in Sofya Matveyevna’s life; she remembers them with a shudder to this day. Stepan Trofimovitch became so seriously ill that he could not go on board the steamer, which on this occasion arrived punctually at two o’clock in the afternoon. She could not bring herself to leave him alone, so she did not leave for Spasov either. From her account he was positively delighted at the steamer’s going without him.
“Well, that’s a good thing, that’s capital!” he muttered in his bed. “I’ve been afraid all the time that we should go. Here it’s so nice, better than anywhere.… You won’t leave me? Oh, you have not left me!”
It was by no means so nice “here”, however. He did not care to hear of her difficulties; his head was full of fancies and nothing else. He looked upon his illness as something transitory, a trifling ailment, and did not think about it at all; he thought of nothing but how they would go and sell “these books.” He asked her to read him the gospel.
“I haven’t read it for a long time … in the original. Some one may ask me about it and I shall make a mistake; I ought to prepare myself after all.”
She sat down beside him and opened the book.
“You read beautifully,” he interrupted her after the first line. “I see, I see I was not mistaken,” he added obscurely but ecstatically. He was, in fact, in a continual state of enthusiasm. She read the Sermon on the Mount.
“Assez, assez, mon enfant, enough.… Don’t you think that that is enough?”
And he closed his eyes helplessly. He was very weak, but had not yet lost consciousness. Sofya Matveyevna was getting up, thinking that he wanted to sleep. But he stopped her.
“My friend, I’ve been telling lies all my life. Even when I told the truth I never spoke for the sake of the truth, but always for my own sake. I knew it before, but I only see it now.… Oh, where are those friends whom I have insulted with my friendship all my life? And all, all! Savez-vous … perhaps I am telling lies now; no doubt I am telling lies now. The worst of it is that I believe myself when I am lying. The hardest thing in life is to live without telling lies … and without believing in one’s lies. Yes, yes, that’s just it.… But wait a bit, that can all come afterwards.… We’ll be together, together,” he added enthusiastically.
“Stepan Trofimovitch,” Sofya Matveyevna asked timidly, “hadn’t I better send to the town for the doctor?”
He was tremendously taken aback.
“What for? Est-ce que je suis si malade? Mais rien de sérieux. What need have we of outsiders? They may find, besides—and what will happen then? No, no, no outsiders and we’ll be together.”
“Do you know,” he said after a pause, “read me something more, just the first thing you come across.”
Sofya Matveyevna opened the Testament and began reading.
“Wherever it opens, wherever it happens to open,” he repeated.
“‘And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans …’”
“What’s that? What is it? Where is that from?”
“It’s from the Revelation.”
“Oh, je m’en souviens, oui, l’Apocalypse. Lisez, lisez, I am trying our future fortunes by the book. I want to know what has turned up. Read on from there.…”
“‘And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write: These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God;
“‘I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot; I would thou wert cold or hot.
“‘So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.
“‘Because thou sayest, I am rich and increased with goods, and have need of nothing: and thou knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked.’”
“That too … and that’s in your book too!” he exclaimed, with flashing eyes and raising his head from the pillow. “I never knew that grand passage! You hear, better be cold, better be cold than lukewarm, than only lukewarm. Oh, I’ll prove it! Only don’t leave me, don’t leave me alone! We’ll prove it, we’ll prove it!”
“I won’t leave you, Stepan Trofimovitch. I’ll never leave you!” She took his hand, pressed it in both of hers, and laid it against her heart, looking at him with tears in her eyes. (“I felt very sorry for him at that moment,” she said, describing it afterwards.)
His lips twitched convulsively.
“But, Stepan Trofimovitch, what are we to do though? Oughtn’t we to let some of your friends know, or perhaps your relations?”
But at that he was so dismayed that she was very sorry that she had spoken of it again. Trembling and shaking, he besought her to fetch no one, not to do anything. He kept insisting, “No one, no one! We’ll be alone, by ourselves, alone, nous partirons ensemble.”
Another difficulty was that the people of the house too began to be uneasy; they grumbled, and kept pestering Sofya Matveyevna. She paid them and managed to let them see her money. This softened them for the time, but the man insisted on seeing Stepan Trofimovitch’s “papers.” The invalid pointed with a supercilious smile to his little bag. Sofya Matveyevna found in it the certificate of his having resigned his post at the university, or something of the kind, which had served him as a passport all his life. The man persisted, and said that “he must be taken somewhere, because their house wasn’t a hospital, and if he were to die there might be a bother. We should have no end of trouble.” Sofya Matveyevna tried to speak to him of the doctor, but it appeared that sending to the town would cost so much that she had to give up all idea of the doctor. She returned in distress to her invalid. Stepan Trofimovitch was getting weaker and weaker.
“Now read me another passage.… About the pigs,” he said suddenly.
“What?” asked Sofya Matveyevna, very much alarmed.
“About the pigs … that’s there too … ces cochons. I remember the devils entered into swine and they all were drowned. You must read me that; I’ll tell you why afterwards. I want to remember it word for word. I want it word for word.”
Sofya Matveyevna knew the gospel well and at once found the passage in St. Luke which I have chosen as the motto of my record. I quote it here again:
“‘And there was there one herd of many swine feeding on the mountain; and they besought him that he would suffer them to enter into them. And he suffered them.
“‘Then went the devils out of the man and entered into the swine; and the herd ran violently down a steep place into the lake, and were choked.
“‘When they that fed them saw what was done, they fled, and went and told it in the city and in the country.
“‘Then they went out to see what was done; and came to Jesus and found the man, out of whom the devils were departed, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed, and in his right mind; and they were afraid.’”
“My friend,” said Stepan Trofimovitch in great excitement “savez-vous, that wonderful and … extraordinary passage has been a stumbling-block to me all my life … dans ce livre.… so much so that I remembered those verses from childhood. Now an idea has occurred to me; une comparaison. A great number of ideas keep coming into my mind now. You see, that’s exactly like our Russia, those devils that come out of the sick man and enter into the swine. They are all the sores, all the foul contagions, all the impurities, all the devils great and small that have multiplied in that great invalid, our beloved Russia, in the course of ages and ages. Oui, cette Russie que j’aimais toujours. But a great idea and a great Will will encompass it from on high, as with that lunatic possessed of devils … and all those devils will come forth, all the impurity, all the rottenness that was putrefying on the surface … and they will beg of themselves to enter into swine; and indeed maybe they have entered into them already! They are we, we and those … and Petrusha and les autres avec lui … and I perhaps at the head of them, and we shall cast ourselves down, possessed and raving, from the rocks into the sea, and we shall all be drowned—and a good thing too, for that is all we are fit for. But the sick man will be healed and ‘will sit at the feet of Jesus,’ and all will look upon him with astonishment.… My dear, vous comprendrez après, but now it excites me very much.… Vous comprendrez après. Nous comprendrons ensemble.”
He sank into delirium and at last lost consciousness. So it went on all the following day. Sofya Matveyevna sat beside him, crying. She scarcely slept at all for three nights, and avoided seeing the people of the house, who were, she felt, beginning to take some steps. Deliverance only came on the third day. In the morning Stepan Trofimovitch returned to consciousness, recognised her, and held out his hand to her. She crossed herself hopefully. He wanted to look out of the window. “Tiens, un lac!” he said. “Good heavens, I had not seen it before!…” At that moment there was the rumble of a carriage at the cottage door and a great hubbub in the house followed.
It was Varvara Petrovna herself. She had arrived, with Darya Pavlovna, in a closed carriage drawn by four horses, with two footmen. The marvel had happened in the simplest way: Anisim, dying of curiosity, went to Varvara Petrovna’s the day after he reached the town and gossiped to the servants, telling them he had met Stepan Trofimovitch alone in a village, that the latter had been seen by peasants walking by himself on the high road, and that he had set off for Spasov by way of Ustyevo accompanied by Sofya Matveyevna. As Varvara Petrovna was, for her part, in terrible anxiety and had done everything she could to find her fugitive friend, she was at once told about Anisim. When she had heard his story, especially the details of the departure for Ustyevo in a cart in the company of some Sofya Matveyevna, she instantly got ready and set off post-haste for Ustyevo herself.
Her stern and peremptory voice resounded through the cottage; even the landlord and his wife were intimidated. She had only stopped to question them and make inquiries, being persuaded that Stepan Trofimovitch must have reached Spasov long before. Learning that he was still here and ill, she entered the cottage in great agitation.
“Well, where is he? Ah, that’s you!” she cried, seeing Sofya Matveyevna, who appeared at that very instant in the doorway of the next room. “I can guess from your shameless face that it’s you. Go away, you vile hussy! Don’t let me find a trace of her in the house! Turn her out, or else, my girl, I’ll get you locked up for good. Keep her safe for a time in another house. She’s been in prison once already in the town; she can go back there again. And you, my good man, don’t dare to let anyone in while I am here, I beg of you. I am Madame Stavrogin, and I’ll take the whole house. As for you, my dear, you’ll have to give me a full account of it all.”
The familiar sounds overwhelmed Stepan Trofimovitch. He began to tremble. But she had already stepped behind the screen. With flashing eyes she drew up a chair with her foot, and, sinking back in it, she shouted to Dasha:
“Go away for a time! Stay in the other room. Why are you so inquisitive? And shut the door properly after you.”
For some time she gazed in silence with a sort of predatory look into his frightened face.
“Well, how are you getting on, Stepan Trofimovitch? So you’ve been enjoying yourself?” broke from her with ferocious irony.
“Chère,” Stepan Trofimovitch faltered, not knowing what he was saying, “I’ve learnt to know real life in Russia … et je prêcherai l’Evangile.”
“Oh, shameless, ungrateful man!” she wailed suddenly, clasping her hands. “As though you had not disgraced me enough, you’ve taken up with … oh, you shameless old reprobate!”
“Chère …” His voice failed him and he could not articulate a syllable but simply gazed with eyes wide with horror.
“Who is she?”
“C’est un ange; c’était plus qu’un ange pour moi. She’s been all night … Oh, don’t shout, don’t frighten her, chère, chère …”
With a loud noise, Varvara Petrovna pushed back her chair, uttering a loud cry of alarm.
Though he returned to consciousness, she was still shaking with terror, and, with pale cheeks, looked at his distorted face. It was only then, for the first time, that she guessed the seriousness of his illness.
“Darya,” she whispered suddenly to Darya Pavlovna, “send at once for the doctor, for Salzfish; let Yegorytch go at once. Let him hire horses here and get another carriage from the town. He must be here by night.”
Dasha flew to do her bidding. Stepan Trofimovitch still gazed at her with the same wide-open, frightened eyes; his blanched lips quivered.
“Wait a bit, Stepan Trofimovitch, wait a bit, my dear!” she said, coaxing him like a child. “There, there, wait a bit! Darya will come back and … My goodness, the landlady, the landlady, you come, anyway, my good woman!”
In her impatience she ran herself to the landlady.
“Fetch that woman back at once, this minute. Bring her back, bring her back!”
Fortunately Sofya Matveyevna had not yet had time to get away and was only just going out of the gate with her pack and her bag. She was brought back. She was so panic-stricken that she was trembling in every limb. Varvara Petrovna pounced on her like a hawk on a chicken, seized her by the hand and dragged her impulsively to Stepan Trofimovitch.
“Here, here she is, then. I’ve not eaten her. You thought I’d eaten her.”
Stepan Trofimovitch clutched Varvara Petrovna’s hand, raised it to his eyes, and burst into tears, sobbing violently and convulsively.
“There, calm yourself, there, there, my dear, there, poor dear man! Ach, mercy on us! Calm yourself, will you?” she shouted frantically. “Oh, you bane of my life!”
“My dear,” Stepan Trofimovitch murmured at last, addressing Sofya Matveyevna, “stay out there, my dear, I want to say something here.…”
Sofya Matveyevna hurried out at once.
“Chérie … chérie …” he gasped.
“Don’t talk for a bit, Stepan Trofimovitch, wait a little till you’ve rested. Here’s some water. Do wait, will you!”
She sat down on the chair again. Stepan Trofimovitch held her hand tight. For a long while she would not allow him to speak. He raised her hand to his lips and fell to kissing it. She set her teeth and looked away into the corner of the room.
“Je vous aimais,” broke from him at last. She had never heard such words from him, uttered in such a voice.
“H’m!” she growled in response.
“Je vous aimais toute ma vie … vingt ans!”
She remained silent for two or three minutes.
“And when you were getting yourself up for Dasha you sprinkled yourself with scent,” she said suddenly, in a terrible whisper.
Stepan Trofimovitch was dumbfounded.
“You put on a new tie …”
Again silence for two minutes.
“Do you remember the cigar?”
“My friend,” he faltered, overcome with horror.
“That cigar at the window in the evening … the moon was shining … after the arbour … at Skvoreshniki? Do you remember, do you remember?” She jumped up from her place, seized his pillow by the corners and shook it with his head on it. “Do you remember, you worthless, worthless, ignoble, cowardly, worthless man, always worthless!” she hissed in her furious whisper, restraining herself from speaking loudly. At last she left him and sank on the chair, covering her face with her hands. “Enough!” she snapped out, drawing herself up. “Twenty years have passed, there’s no calling them back. I am a fool too.”
“Je vous aimais.” He clasped his hands again.
“Why do you keep on with your aimais and aimais? Enough!” she cried, leaping up again. “And if you don’t go to sleep at once I’ll … You need rest; go to sleep, go to sleep at once, shut your eyes. Ach, mercy on us, perhaps he wants some lunch! What do you eat? What does he eat? Ach, mercy on us! Where is that woman? Where is she?”
There was a general bustle again. But Stepan Trofimovitch faltered in a weak voice that he really would like to go to sleep une heure, and then un bouillon, un thé.… enfin il est si heureux. He lay back and really did seem to go to sleep (he probably pretended to). Varvara Petrovna waited a little, and stole out on tiptoe from behind the partition.
She settled herself in the landlady’s room, turned out the landlady and her husband, and told Dasha to bring her that woman. There followed an examination in earnest.
“Tell me all about it, my good girl. Sit down beside me; that’s right. Well?”
“I met Stepan Trofimovitch …”
“Stay, hold your tongue! I warn you that if you tell lies or conceal anything, I’ll ferret it out. Well?”
“Stepan Trofimovitch and I … as soon as I came to Hatovo …” Sofya Matveyevna began almost breathlessly.
“Stay, hold your tongue, wait a bit! Why do you gabble like that? To begin with, what sort of creature are you?”
Sofya Matveyevna told her after a fashion, giving a very brief account of herself, however, beginning with Sevastopol. Varvara Petrovna listened in silence, sitting up erect in her chair, looking sternly straight into the speaker’s eyes.
“Why are you so frightened? Why do you look at the ground? I like people who look me straight in the face and hold their own with me. Go on.”
She told of their meeting, of her books, of how Stepan Trofimovitch had regaled the peasant woman with vodka … “That’s right, that’s right, don’t leave out the slightest detail,” Varvara Petrovna encouraged her.
At last she described how they had set off, and how Stepan Trofimovitch had gone on talking, “really ill by that time,” and here had given an account of his life from the very beginning, talking for some hours. “Tell me about his life.”
Sofya Matveyevna suddenly stopped and was completely nonplussed.
“I can’t tell you anything about that, madam,” she brought out, almost crying; “besides, I could hardly understand a word of it.”
“Nonsense! You must have understood something.”
“He told a long time about a distinguished lady with black hair.” Sofya Matveyevna flushed terribly though she noticed Varvara Petrovna’s fair hair and her complete dissimilarity with the “brunette” of the story.
“Black-haired? What exactly? Come, speak!”
“How this grand lady was deeply in love with his honour all her life long and for twenty years, but never dared to speak, and was shamefaced before him because she was a very stout lady.…”
“The fool!” Varvara Petrovna rapped out thoughtfully but resolutely.
Sofya Matveyevna was in tears by now.
“I don’t know how to tell any of it properly, madam, because I was in a great fright over his honour; and I couldn’t understand, as he is such an intellectual gentleman.”
“It’s not for a goose like you to judge of his intellect. Did he offer you his hand?”
The speaker trembled.
“Did he fall in love with you? Speak! Did he offer you his hand?” Varvara Petrovna shouted peremptorily.
“That was pretty much how it was,” she murmured tearfully. “But I took it all to mean nothing, because of his illness,” she added firmly, raising her eyes.
“What is your name?”
“Sofya Matveyevna, madam.”
“Well, then, let me tell you, Sofya Matveyevna, that he is a wretched and worthless little man.… Good Lord! Do you look upon me as a wicked woman?”
Sofya Matveyevna gazed open-eyed.
“A wicked woman, a tyrant? Who has ruined his life?”
“How can that be when you are crying yourself, madam?”
Varvara Petrovna actually had tears in her eyes.
“Well, sit down, sit down, don’t be frightened. Look me straight in the face again. Why are you blushing? Dasha, come here. Look at her. What do you think of her? Her heart is pure.…”
And to the amazement and perhaps still greater alarm of Sofya Matveyevna, she suddenly patted her on the cheek.
“It’s only a pity she is a fool. Too great a fool for her age. That’s all right, my dear, I’ll look after you. I see that it’s all nonsense. Stay near here for the time. A room shall be taken for you and you shall have food and everything else from me … till I ask for you.”
Sofya Matveyevna stammered in alarm that she must hurry on.
“You’ve no need to hurry. I’ll buy all your books, and meantime you stay here. Hold your tongue; don’t make excuses. If I hadn’t come you would have stayed with him all the same, wouldn’t you?”
“I wouldn’t have left him on any account,” Sofya Matveyevna brought out softly and firmly, wiping her tears.
It was late at night when Doctor Salzfish was brought. He was a very respectable old man and a practitioner of fairly wide experience who had recently lost his post in the service in consequence of some quarrel on a point of honour with his superiors. Varvara Petrovna instantly and actively took him under her protection. He examined the patient attentively, questioned him, and cautiously pronounced to Varvara Petrovna that “the sufferer’s” condition was highly dubious in consequence of complications, and that they must be prepared “even for the worst.” Varvara Petrovna, who had during twenty years got accustomed to expecting nothing serious or decisive to come from Stepan Trofimovitch, was deeply moved and even turned pale. “Is there really no hope?”
“Can there ever be said to be absolutely no hope? But …” She did not go to bed all night, and felt that the morning would never come. As soon as the patient opened his eyes and returned to consciousness (he was conscious all the time, however, though he was growing weaker every hour), she went up to him with a very resolute air.
“Stepan Trofimovitch, one must be prepared for anything. I’ve sent for a priest. You must do what is right.…”
Knowing his convictions, she was terribly afraid of his refusing. He looked at her with surprise.
“Nonsense, nonsense!” she vociferated, thinking he was already refusing. “This is no time for whims. You have played the fool enough.”
“But … am I really so ill, then?”
He agreed thoughtfully. And indeed I was much surprised to learn from Varvara Petrovna afterwards that he showed no fear of death at all. Possibly it was that he simply did not believe it, and still looked upon his illness as a trifling one.
He confessed and took the sacrament very readily. Every one, Sofya Matveyevna, and even the servants, came to congratulate him on taking the sacrament. They were all moved to tears looking at his sunken and exhausted face and his blanched and quivering lips.
“Oui, mes amis, and I only wonder that you … take so much trouble. I shall most likely get up to-morrow, and we will … set off.… Toute cette cérémonie … for which, of course, I feel every proper respect … was …”
“I beg you, father, to remain with the invalid,” said Varvara Petrovna hurriedly, stopping the priest, who had already taken off his vestments. “As soon as tea has been handed, I beg you to begin to speak of religion, to support his faith.”
The priest spoke; every one was standing or sitting round the sick-bed.
“In our sinful days,” the priest began smoothly, with a cup of tea in his hand, “faith in the Most High is the sole refuge of the race of man in all the trials and tribulations of life, as well as its hope for that eternal bliss promised to the righteous.”
Stepan Trofimovitch seemed to revive, a subtle smile strayed on his lips.
“Mon père, je vous remercie et vous êtes bien bon, mais …”
“No mais about it, no mais at all!” exclaimed Varvara Petrovna, bounding up from her chair. “Father,” she said, addressing the priest, “he is a man who … he is a man who … You will have to confess him again in another hour! That’s the sort of man he is.”
Stepan Trofimovitch smiled faintly.
“My friends,” he said, “God is necessary to me, if only because He is the only being whom one can love eternally.”
Whether he was really converted, or whether the stately ceremony of the administration of the sacrament had impressed him and stirred the artistic responsiveness of his temperament or not, he firmly and, I am told, with great feeling uttered some words which were in flat contradiction with many of his former convictions.
“My immortality is necessary if only because God will not be guilty of injustice and extinguish altogether the flame of love for Him once kindled in my heart. And what is more precious than love? Love is higher than existence, love is the crown of existence; and how is it possible that existence should not be under its dominance? If I have once loved Him and rejoiced in my love, is it possible that He should extinguish me and my joy and bring me to nothingness again? If there is a God, then I am immortal. Voilà ma profession de foi.”
“There is a God, Stepan Trofimovitch, I assure you there is,” Varvara Petrovna implored him. “Give it up, drop all your foolishness for once in your life!” (I think she had not quite understood his profession de foi.)
“My friend,” he said, growing more and more animated, though his voice broke frequently, “as soon as I understood … that turning of the cheek, I … understood something else as well. J’ai menti toute ma vie, all my life, all! I should like … but that will do to-morrow.… To-morrow we will all set out.”
Varvara Petrovna burst into tears. He was looking about for someone.
“Here she is, she is here!” She seized Sofya Matveyevna by the hand and led her to him. He smiled tenderly.
“Oh, I should dearly like to live again!” he exclaimed with an extraordinary rush of energy. “Every minute, every instant of life ought to be a blessing to man … they ought to be, they certainly ought to be! It’s the duty of man to make it so; that’s the law of his nature, which always exists even if hidden.… Oh, I wish I could see Petrusha … and all of them … Shatov …”
I may remark that as yet no one had heard of Shatov’s fate—not Varvara Petrovna nor Darya Pavlovna, nor even Salzfish, who was the last to come from the town.
Stepan Trofimovitch became more and more excited, feverishly so, beyond his strength.
“The mere fact of the ever present idea that there exists something infinitely more just and more happy than I am fills me through and through with tender ecstasy—and glorifies me—oh, whoever I may be, whatever I have done! What is far more essential for man than personal happiness is to know and to believe at every instant that there is somewhere a perfect and serene happiness for all men and for everything.… The one essential condition of human existence is that man should always be able to bow down before something infinitely great. If men are deprived of the infinitely great they will not go on living and will die of despair. The Infinite and the Eternal are as essential for man as the little planet on which he dwells. My friends, all, all: hail to the Great Idea! The Eternal, Infinite Idea! It is essential to every man, whoever he may be, to bow down before what is the Great Idea. Even the stupidest man needs something great. Petrusha … oh, how I want to see them all again! They don’t know, they don’t know that that same Eternal, Grand Idea lies in them all!”
Doctor Salzfish was not present at the ceremony. Coming in suddenly, he was horrified, and cleared the room, insisting that the patient must not be excited.
Stepan Trofimovitch died three days later, but by that time he was completely unconscious. He quietly went out like a candle that is burnt down. After having the funeral service performed, Varvara Petrovna took the body of her poor friend to Skvoreshniki. His grave is in the precincts of the church and is already covered with a marble slab. The inscription and the railing will be added in the spring.
Varvara Petrovna’s absence from town had lasted eight days. Sofya Matveyevna arrived in the carriage with her and seems to have settled with her for good. I may mention that as soon as Stepan Trofimovitch lost consciousness (the morning that he received the sacrament) Varvara Petrovna promptly asked Sofya Matveyevna to leave the cottage again, and waited on the invalid herself unassisted to the end, but she sent for her at once when he had breathed his last. Sofya Matveyevna was terribly alarmed by Varvara Petrovna’s proposition, or rather command, that she should settle for good at Skvoreshniki, but the latter refused to listen to her protests.
“That’s all nonsense! I will go with you to sell the gospel. I have no one in the world now.”
“You have a son, however,” Salzfish observed.
“I have no son!” Varvara Petrovna snapped out—and it was like a prophecy.