Litvinov did not return home; he went up to the hills, and getting into a thick copse, he flung himself face downwards on the earth, and lay there about an hour. He did not suffer tortures, did not weep; he sank into a kind of heavy, oppressive stupor. Never had he felt anything like it; it was an insufferably aching and gnawing sensation of emptiness, emptiness in himself, his surroundings, everywhere.... He thought neither of Irina nor of Tatyana. He felt one thing only: a blow had fallen and life was sundered like a cord, and all of him was being drawn along in the clutches of something chill and unfamiliar. Sometimes it seemed to him that a whirlwind had swooped down upon him, and he had the sensation of its swift whirling round and the irregular beating of its dark wings. But his resolution did not waver. To remain in Baden ... that could not even be considered. In thought he had already gone, he was already sitting in the rattling, snorting-197- train, hurrying, hurrying into the dumb, dead distance. He got up at last, and leaning his head against a tree, stayed motionless; only with one hand, he all unconsciously snatched and swung in rhythm the topmost frond of a fern. The sound of approaching footsteps drew him out of his stupor: two charcoal-burners were making their way down the steep path with large sacks on their shoulders. ‘It’s time!’ whispered Litvinov, and he followed the charcoal-burners to the town, turned into the railway station, and sent off a telegram to Tatyana’s aunt, Kapitolina Markovna. In this telegram he informed her of his immediate departure, and appointed as a meeting-place, Schrader’s hotel in Heidelberg.
‘Make an end, make an end at once,’ he thought; ‘it’s useless putting it off till to-morrow.’ Then he went to the gambling saloon, stared with dull curiosity at the faces of two or three gamblers, got a back view of Bindasov’s ugly head in the distance, noticed the irreproachable countenance of Pishtchalkin, and after waiting a little under the colonnade, he set off deliberately to Irina’s. He was not going to her through the force of sudden, involuntary temptation; when he made up his mind to go away, he also made up his mind to keep his word and see her once more.-198- He went into the hotel unobserved by the porter, ascended the staircase, not meeting any one, and without knocking at the door, he mechanically pushed it open and went into the room.
In the room, in the same armchair, in the same dress, in precisely the same attitude as three hours before, was sitting Irina.... It was obvious that she had not moved from the place, had not stirred all that time. She slowly raised her head, and seeing Litvinov, she trembled all over and clutched the arm of the chair. ‘You frightened me,’ she whispered.
Litvinov looked at her with speechless bewilderment. The expression of her face, her lustreless eyes, astounded him.
Irina gave a forced smile and smoothed her ruffled hair. ‘Never mind.... I really don’t know.... I think I must have fallen asleep here.’
‘I beg your pardon, Irina Pavlovna,’ began Litvinov. ‘I came in unannounced.... I wanted to do what you thought fit to require of me. So as I am going away to-day——’
‘To-day? But I thought you told me that you meant first to write a letter——’
‘I have sent a telegram.’
‘Ah! you found it necessary to make haste. And when are you going? What time, I mean?’
‘At seven o’clock this evening.’
‘Ah! at seven o’clock! And you have come to say good-bye?’
‘Yes, Irina Pavlovna, to say good-bye.’
Irina was silent for a little.
‘I ought to thank you, Grigory Mihalitch, it was probably not easy for you to come here.’
‘No, Irina Pavlovna, it was anything but easy.’
‘Life is not generally easy, Grigory Mihalitch; what do you think about it?’
‘It depends, Irina Pavlovna.’
Irina was silent again for a little; she seemed sunk in thought.
‘You have proved your affection for me by coming,’ she said at last, ‘I thank you. And I fully approve of your decision to put an end to everything as soon as possible ... because any delay ... because ... because I, even I whom you have reproached as a flirt, called an actress ... that, I think, was what you called me?...’
Irina got up swiftly, and, sitting down in another chair, stooped down and pressed her face and arms on the edge of the table.
‘Because I love you ...’ she whispered between her clasped fingers.
Litvinov staggered, as though some one had dealt him a blow in the chest. Irina turned her head dejectedly away from him, as though she-200- in her turn wanted to hide her face from him, and laid it down on the table.
‘Yes, I love you ... I love you ... and you know it.’
‘I? I know it?’ Litvinov said at last; ‘I?’
‘Well, now you see,’ Irina went on, ‘that you certainly must go, that delay’s impossible ... both for you, and for me delay’s impossible. It’s dangerous, it’s terrible ... good-bye!’ she added, rising impulsively from her chair, ‘good-bye!’
She took a few steps in the direction of the door of her boudoir, and putting her hand behind her back, made a hurried movement in the air, as though she would find and press the hand of Litvinov; but he stood like a block of wood, at a distance.... Once more she said, ‘Good-bye, forget me,’ and without looking round she rushed away.
Litvinov remained alone, and yet still could not come to himself. He recovered himself at last, went quickly to the boudoir door, uttered Irina’s name once, twice, three times.... He had already his hand on the lock.... From the hotel stairs rose the sound of Ratmirov’s sonorous voice.
Litvinov pulled down his hat over his eyes, and went out on to the staircase. The elegant general was standing before the Swiss porter-201-’s box and explaining to him in bad German that he wanted a hired carriage for the whole of the next day. On catching sight of Litvinov, he again lifted his hat unnaturally high, and again wished him ‘a very good-day’; he was obviously jeering at him, but Litvinov had no thoughts for that. He hardly responded to Ratmirov’s bow, and, making his way to his lodging, he stood still before his already packed and closed trunk. His head was turning round and his heart vibrating like a harp-string. What was to be done now? And could he have foreseen this?
Yes, he had foreseen it, however unlikely it seemed. It had stunned him like a clap of thunder, yet he had foreseen it, though he had not courage even to acknowledge it. Besides he knew nothing now for certain. Everything was confusion and turmoil within him; he had lost the thread of his own thoughts. He remembered Moscow, he remembered how then too ‘it’ had come upon him like a sudden tempest. He was breathless; rapture, but a rapture comfortless and hopeless, oppressed and tore his heart. For nothing in the world would he have consented that the words uttered by Irina should not have actually been uttered by her.... But then? those words could not for all that change the resolution he had taken. As before, it did not waver; it stood firm like-202- an anchor. Litvinov had lost the thread of his own thoughts ... yes; but his will still remained to him, and he disposed of himself as of another man dependent on him. He rang for the waiter, asked him for the bill, bespoke a place in the evening omnibus; designedly he cut himself off all paths of retreat. ‘If I die for it after!’ he declared, as he had in the previous sleepless night; that phrase seemed especially to his taste. ‘Then even if I die for it!’ he repeated, walking slowly up and down the room, and only at rare intervals, unconsciously, he shut his eyes and held his breath, while those words, those words of Irina’s forced their way into his soul, and set it aflame. ‘It seems you won’t love twice,’ he thought; ‘another life came to you, you let it come into yours—never to be rid of that poison to the end, you will never break those bonds! Yes; but what does that prove? Happiness?... Is it possible? You love her, granted ... and she ... she loves you....’
But at this point again he had to pull himself up. As a traveller on a dark night, seeing before him a light, and afraid of losing the path, never for an instant takes his eyes off it, so Litvinov continually bent all the force of his attention on a single point, a single aim. To reach his betrothed, and not precisely even his betrothed (he-203- was trying not to think of her) but to reach a room in the Heidelberg hotel, that was what stood immovably before him, a guiding light. What would be later, he did not know, nor did he want to know.... One thing was beyond doubt, he would not come back. ‘If I die first!’ he repeated for the tenth time, and he glanced at his watch.
A quarter-past six! How long still to wait! He paced once more up and down. The sun was nearly setting, the sky was crimson above the trees, and the pink flush of twilight lay on the narrow windows of his darkening room. Suddenly Litvinov fancied the door had been opened quickly and softly behind him and as quickly closed again.... He turned round; at the door, muffled in a dark cloak, was standing a woman....
‘Irina,’ he cried, and clapped his hands together in amazement.... She raised her head and fell upon his breast.
Two hours later he was sitting in his room on the sofa. His box stood in the corner, open and empty, and on the table in the midst of things flung about in disorder, lay a letter from Tatyana, just received by him. She wrote to him that she had decided to hasten her departure from Dresden, since her aunt’s health was completely restored, and that if nothing happened-204- to delay them, they would both be in Baden the following day at twelve o’clock, and hoped that he would come to meet them at the station. Apartments had already been taken for them by Litvinov in the same hotel in which he was staying.
The same evening he sent a note to Irina, and the following morning he received a reply from her. ‘Sooner or later,’ she wrote, ‘it must have been. I tell you again what I said yesterday: my life is in your hands, do with me what you will. I do not want to hamper your freedom, but let me say, that if necessary, I will throw up everything, and follow you to the ends of the earth. We shall see each other to-morrow, of course.—Your Irina.’
The last two words were written in a large, bold, resolute hand.