Litvinov did not sleep all night, and did not undress. He was very miserable. As an honest and straightforward man, he realised the force of obligations, the sacredness of duty, and would have been ashamed of any double dealing with himself, his weakness, his fault. At first he was overcome by apathy; it was long before he could throw off the gloomy burden of a single half-conscious, obscure sensation; then terror took possession of him at the thought that the future, his almost conquered future, had slipped back into the darkness, that his home, the solidly-built home he had only just raised, was suddenly tottering about him....
He began reproaching himself without mercy, but at once checked his own vehemence. ‘What feebleness!’ he thought. ‘It’s no time for self-reproach and cowardice; now I must act. Tanya is my betrothed, she has faith in my love, my honour, we are bound together for life, and cannot, must not, be put asunder.’ He vividly-186- pictured to himself all Tanya’s qualities, mentally he picked them out and reckoned them up; he was trying to call up feeling and tenderness in himself. ‘One thing’s left for me,’ he thought again, ‘to run away, to run away directly, without waiting for her arrival, to hasten to meet her; whether I suffer, whether I am wretched with Tanya—that’s not likely—but in any case to think of that, to take that into consideration is useless; I must do my duty, if I die for it! But you have no right to deceive her,’ whispered another voice within him. ‘You have no right to hide from her the change in your feelings; it may be that when she knows you love another woman, she will not be willing to become your wife? Rubbish! rubbish!’ he answered, ‘that’s all sophistry, shameful double-dealing, deceitful conscientiousness; I have no right not to keep my word, that’s the thing. Well, so be it.... Then I must go away from here, without seeing the other....’
But at that point Litvinov’s heart throbbed with anguish, he turned cold, physically cold, a momentary shiver passed over him, his teeth chattered weakly. He stretched and yawned, as though he were in a fever. Without dwelling longer on his last thought, choking back that thought, turning away from it, he set himself to marvelling and wondering in perplexity-187- how he could again ... again love that corrupt worldly creature, all of whose surroundings were so hateful, so repulsive to him. He tried to put to himself the question: ‘What nonsense, do you really love her?’ and could only wring his hands in despair. He was still marvelling and wondering, and suddenly there rose up before his eyes, as though from a soft fragrant mist, a seductive shape, shining eyelashes were lifted, and softly and irresistibly the marvellous eyes pierced him to the heart and a voice was singing with sweetness in his ears, and resplendent shoulders, the shoulders of a young queen, were breathing with voluptuous freshness and warmth....
Towards morning a determination was at last fully formed in Litvinov’s mind. He decided to set off that day to meet Tatyana, and seeing Irina for the last time, to tell her, since there was nothing else for it, the whole truth, and to part from her for ever.
He set in order and packed his things, waited till twelve o’clock, and started to go to her. But at the sight of her half-curtained windows Litvinov’s heart fairly failed him ... he could not summon up courage to enter the hotel. He walked once or twice up and down Lichtenthaler Allee. ‘A very good day to Mr. Litvinov!-188-’ he suddenly heard an ironical voice call from the top of a swiftly-moving ‘dogcart.’ Litvinov raised his eyes and saw General Ratmirov sitting beside Prince M., a well-known sportsman and fancier of English carriages and horses. The prince was driving, the general was leaning over on one side, grinning, while he lifted his hat high above his head. Litvinov bowed to him, and at the same instant, as though he were obeying a secret command, he set off at a run towards Irina’s.
She was at home. He sent up his name; he was at once received. When he went in, she was standing in the middle of the room. She was wearing a morning blouse with wide open sleeves; her face, pale as the day before, but not fresh as it had been then, expressed weariness; the languid smile with which she welcomed her visitor emphasised that expression even more clearly. She held out her hand to him in a friendly way, but absent-mindedly.
‘Thanks for coming,’ she began in a plaintive voice, and she sank into a low chair. ‘I am not very well this morning; I spent a bad night. Well, what have you to say about last night? Wasn’t I right?’
Litvinov sat down.
‘I have come to you, Irina Pavlovna,’ he began.
She instantly sat up and turned round; her eyes simply fastened upon Litvinov.
‘What is it,’ she cried. ‘You’re pale as death, you’re ill. What’s the matter with you?’
Litvinov was confused.
‘With me, Irina Pavlovna?’
‘Have you had bad news? Some misfortune has happened, tell me, tell me——’
Litvinov in his turn looked at Irina.
‘I have had no bad news,’ he brought out not without effort, ‘but a misfortune has certainly happened, a great misfortune ... and it has brought me to you.’
‘A misfortune? What is it?’
‘Why ... that——’
Litvinov tried to go on ... and could not. He only pinched his hands together so that his fingers cracked. Irina was bending forward and seemed turned to stone.
‘Oh! I love you!’ broke at last with a low groan from Litvinov’s breast, and he turned away, as though he would hide his face.
‘What, Grigory Mihalitch, you’ ... Irina too could not finish her sentence, and leaning back in her chair, she put both her hands to her eyes. ‘You ... love me.’
‘Yes ... yes ... yes,’ he repeated with bitterness, turning his head further and further away.
Everything was silent in the room; a butterfly that had flown in was fluttering its wings and struggling between the curtain and the window.
The first to speak was Litvinov.
‘That, Irina Pavlovna,’ he began, ‘that is the misfortune, which ... has befallen me, which I ought to have foreseen and avoided, if I had not now just as in the Moscow days been carried off my feet at once. It seems fate is pleased to force me once again through you to suffer tortures, which one would have thought should not be repeated again.... It was not without cause I struggled.... I tried to struggle; but of course there’s no escaping one’s fate. And I tell you all this to put an end at once to this ... this tragic farce,’ he added with a fresh outburst of shame and bitterness.
Litvinov was silent again; the butterfly was struggling and fluttering as before. Irina did not take her hands from her face.
‘And you are not mistaken?’ her whisper sounded from under those white, bloodless-looking hands.
‘I am not mistaken,’ answered Litvinov in a colourless voice. ‘I love you, as I have never loved any one but you. I am not going to reproach you; that would be too foolish; I-191-’m not going to tell you that perhaps nothing of all this would have happened if you yourself had behaved differently with me.... Of course, I alone am to blame, my self-confidence has been my ruin; I am deservedly punished, and you could not have anticipated it. Of course you did not consider that it would have been far less dangerous for me if you had not been so keenly alive to your wrong ... your supposed wrong to me; and had not wished to make up for it ... but what’s done can’t be undone. I only wanted to make clear my position to you; it’s hard enough as it is.... But at least there will be, as you say, no misunderstanding, while the openness of my confession will soften, I hope, the feeling of offence which you cannot but feel.’
Litvinov spoke without raising his eyes, but even if he had glanced at Irina, he could not have seen what was passing in her face, as she still as before kept her hands over her eyes. But what was passing over her face meanwhile would probably have astounded him; both alarm and delight were apparent on it, and a kind of blissful helplessness and agitation; her eyes hardly glimmered under their overhanging lids, and her slow, broken breathing was chill upon her lips, that were parted as though with thirst....
Litvinov was silent, waiting for a response, some sound.... Nothing!
‘There is one thing left for me,’ he began again, ‘to go away; I have come to say good-bye to you.’
Irina slowly dropped her hands on to her knees.
‘But I remember, Grigory Mihalitch,’ she began; ‘that ... that person of whom you spoke to me, she was to have come here? You are expecting her?’
‘Yes; but I shall write to her ... she will stop somewhere on the way ... at Heidelberg, for instance.’
‘Ah! Heidelberg.... Yes.... It’s nice there.... But all this must upset your plans. Are you perfectly certain, Grigory Mihalitch, that you are not exaggerating, et que ce n’est pas une fausse alarme?’
Irina spoke softly, almost coldly, with short pauses, looking away towards the window. Litvinov made no answer to her last question.
‘Only, why did you talk of offence?’ she went on. ‘I am not offended ... oh, no! and if one or other of us is to blame, in any case it’s not you; not you alone.... Remember our last conversations, and you will be convinced that it’s not you who are to blame.’
‘I have never doubted your magnanimity,-193-’ Litvinov muttered between his teeth, ‘but I should like to know, do you approve of my intention?’
‘To go away?’
Irina continued to look away.
‘At the first moment, your intention struck me as premature ... but now I have thought over what you have said ... and if you are really not mistaken, then I suppose that you ought to go away. It will be better so ... better for us both.’
Irina’s voice had grown lower and lower, and her words too came more and more slowly.
‘General Ratmirov, certainly, might notice,’ Litvinov was beginning....
Irina’s eyes dropped again, and something strange quivered about her lips, quivered and died away.
‘No; you did not understand me,’ she interrupted him. ‘I was not thinking of my husband. Why should I? And there is nothing to notice. But I repeat, separation is necessary for us both.’
Litvinov picked up his hat, which had fallen on the ground.
‘Everything is over,’ he thought, ‘I must go. And so it only remains for me to say good-bye to you, Irina Pavlovna,’ he said aloud, and-194- suddenly felt a pang, as though he were preparing to pronounce his own sentence on himself. ‘It only remains for me to hope that you will not remember evil against me, and ... and that if we ever——’
Irina again cut him short.
‘Wait a little, Grigory Mihalitch, don’t say good-bye to me yet. That would be too hurried.’
Something wavered in Litvinov, but the burning pain broke out again and with redoubled violence in his heart.
‘But I can’t stay,’ he cried. ‘What for? Why prolong this torture?’
‘Don’t say good-bye to me yet,’ repeated Irina. ‘I must see you once more.... Another such dumb parting as in Moscow again—no, I don’t want that. You can go now, but you must promise me, give me your word of honour that you won’t go away without seeing me once more.’
‘You wish that?’
‘I insist on it. If you go away without saying good-bye to me, I shall never forgive it, do you hear, never! Strange!’ she added as though to herself, ‘I cannot persuade myself that I am in Baden.... I keep feeling that I am in Moscow.... Go now.’
Litvinov got up.
‘Irina Pavlovna,’ he said, ‘give me your hand.’
Irina shook her head.
‘I told you that I don’t want to say good-bye to you....’
‘I don’t ask it for that.’
Irina was about to stretch out her hand, but she glanced at Litvinov for the first time since his avowal, and drew it back.
‘No, no,’ she whispered, ‘I will not give you my hand. No ... no. Go now.’
Litvinov bowed and went away. He could not tell why Irina had refused him that last friendly handshake.... He could not know what she feared.
He went away, and Irina again sank into the armchair and again covered her face.