Litvinov did not keep his promise of returning later; he reflected that it would be better to defer his visit till the following day. When he went into the too familiar drawing-room at about twelve o’clock, he found there the two youngest princesses, Viktorinka and Kleopatrinka. He greeted them, and then inquired, ‘Was Irina Pavlovna better, and could he see her?’
‘Irinotchka has gone away with mammy,’ replied Viktorinka; she lisped a little, but was more forward than her sister.
‘How ... gone away?’ repeated Litvinov, and there was a sort of still shudder in the very bottom of his heart. ‘Does she not, does she not look after you about this time, and give you your lessons?’
‘Irinotchka will not give us any lessons any more now,’ answered Viktorinka. ‘Not any more now,’ Kleopatrinka repeated after her.
‘Is your papa at home?’ asked Litvinov.
‘Papa is not at home,’ continued Viktorinka, ‘and Irinotchka is not well; all night long she was crying and crying....’
‘Yes, crying ... Yegorovna told me, and her eyes are so red, they are quite in-inflamed....’
Litvinov walked twice up and down the room shuddering as though with cold, and went back to his lodging. He experienced a sensation like that which gains possession of a man when he looks down from a high tower; everything failed within him, and his head was swimming slowly with a sense of nausea. Dull stupefaction, and thoughts scurrying like mice, vague terror, and the numbness of expectation, and curiosity—strange, almost malignant—and the weight of crushed tears in his heavy laden breast, on his lips the forced empty smile, and a meaningless prayer—addressed to no one.... Oh, how bitter it all was, and how hideously degrading! ‘Irina does not want to see me,’ was the thought that was incessantly revolving in his brain; ‘so much is clear; but why is it? What can have happened at that ill-fated ball? And how is such a change possible all at once? So suddenly....’ People always see death coming suddenly, but they can never get accustomed to its suddenness, they feel it senseless.-90- ‘She sends no message for me, does not want to explain herself to me....’
‘Grigory Mihalitch,’ called a strained voice positively in his ear.
Litvinov started, and saw before him his servant with a note in his hand. He recognised Irina’s writing.... Before he had broken the seal, he had a foreknowledge of woe, and bent his head on his breast and hunched his shoulders, as though shrinking from the blow.
He plucked up courage at last, and tore open the envelope all at once. On a small sheet of notepaper were the following lines:
‘Forgive me, Grigory Mihalitch. All is over between us; I am going away to Petersburg. I am dreadfully unhappy, but the thing is done. It seems my fate ... but no, I do not want to justify myself. My presentiments have been realised. Forgive me, forget me; I am not worthy of you.—Irina. Be magnanimous: do not try to see me.’
Litvinov read these five lines, and slowly dropped on to the sofa, as though some one had dealt him a blow on the breast. He dropped the note, picked it up, read it again, whispered ‘to Petersburg,’ and dropped it again; that was all. There even came upon him a sense of peace; he even, with his hands thrown behind him, smoothed the pillow under his head.-91- ‘Men wounded to death don’t fling themselves about,’ he thought, ‘as it has come, so it has gone. All this is natural enough: I always expected it....’ (He was lying to himself; he had never expected anything like it.) ‘Crying?... Was she crying?... What was she crying for? Why, she did not love me! But all that is easily understood and in accordance with her character. She—she is not worthy of me.... That’s it!’ (He laughed bitterly.) ‘She did not know herself what power was latent in her,—well, convinced of it in her effect at the ball, was it likely she would stay with an insignificant student?—all that’s easily understood.’
But then he remembered her tender words, her smile, and those eyes, those never to be forgotten eyes, which he would never see again, which used to shine and melt at simply meeting his eyes; he recalled one swift, timorous, burning kiss—and suddenly he fell to sobbing, sobbing convulsively, furiously, vindictively; turned over on his face, and choking and stifling with frenzied satisfaction as though thirsting to tear himself to pieces with all around him, he turned his hot face in the sofa pillow, and bit it in his teeth.
Alas! the gentleman whom Litvinov had seen the day before in the carriage was no other-92- than the cousin of the Princess Osinin, the rich chamberlain, Count Reisenbach. Noticing the sensation produced by Irina on certain personages of the highest rank, and instantaneously reflecting what advantages might mit etwas Accuratesse be derived from the fact, the count made his plan at once like a man of energy and a skilful courtier. He decided to act swiftly, in Napoleonic style. ‘I will take that original girl into my house,’ was what he meditated, ‘in Petersburg; I will make her my heiress, devil take me, of my whole property even; as I have no children. She is my niece, and my countess is dull all alone.... It’s always more agreeable to have a pretty face in one’s drawing-room.... Yes, yes; ... that’s it; es ist eine Idee, es ist eine Idee!’ He would have to dazzle, bewilder, and impress the parents. ‘They’ve not enough to eat’—the count pursued his reflection when he was in the carriage and on his way to Dogs’ Place—‘so, I warrant, they won’t be obstinate. They’re not such over-sentimental folks either. I might give them a sum of money down into the bargain. And she? She will consent. Honey is sweet—she had a taste of it last night. It’s a whim on my part, granted; let them profit by it, ... the fools. I shall say to them one thing and another ... and you must decide—otherwise-93- I shall adopt another—an orphan—which would be still more suitable. Yes or no—twenty-four hours I fix for the term—und damit Punctum.’
And with these very words on his lips, the count presented himself before the prince, whom he had forewarned of his visit the evening before at the ball. On the result of this visit it seems hardly worth while to enlarge further. The count was not mistaken in his prognostications: the prince and princess were in fact not obstinate, and accepted the sum of money; and Irina did in fact consent before the allotted term had expired. It was not easy for her to break off her relations with Litvinov; she loved him; and after sending him her note, she almost kept her bed, weeping continually, and grew thin and wan. But for all that, a month later the princess carried her off to Petersburg, and established her at the count’s; committing her to the care of the countess, a very kind-hearted woman, but with the brain of a hen, and something of a hen’s exterior.
Litvinov threw up the university, and went home to his father in the country. Little by little his wound healed. At first he had no news of Irina, and indeed he avoided all conversation that touched on Petersburg and Petersburg society. Later on, by degrees,-94- rumours—not evil exactly, but curious—began to circulate about her; gossip began to be busy about her. The name of the young Princess Osinin, encircled in splendour, impressed with quite a special stamp, began to be more and more frequently mentioned even in provincial circles. It was pronounced with curiosity, respect, and envy, as men at one time used to mention the name of the Countess Vorotinsky. At last the news came of her marriage. But Litvinov hardly paid attention to these last tidings; he was already betrothed to Tatyana.
Now, the reader can no doubt easily understand exactly what it was Litvinov recalled when he cried, ‘Can it be she?’ and therefore we will return to Baden and take up again the broken thread of our story.