It was already dark; lights shone in the houses, broad yellow streaks fell across the road, and against them stood out the shadows of the flowers in the windows. Lunev stood still, and the sight of these shadows reminded him of Gromov's house, of the lady who was like the queen in a fairy tale, and the sorrowful songs that did not disturb the laughter—a cat came cautiously across the street, shaking its paws.
He went on till he reached a place of four cross roads, then stood still again. One of the houses at the corner was brilliantly lighted up, and from it came the sound of music.
"I'll go into the Restaurant," Ilya decided, and began to cross the road.
"Look out!" cried a voice. The black head of a horse sprang up close to his face—he felt its warm breath. He jumped to one side, while the droshky driver swore at him; he went on away from the tavern.
"There's no fun in being run over," he thought quietly. "I must get something to eat!—and now Vyera is done for."
His mind ran still on the girl, his thoughts revolved about her almost mechanically. All the time he felt with one small part of his brain, that he ought to be thinking of himself, and not of Vyera, but he had no strength of will to change the course of his reflections.
"She's proud too—she wouldn't say a word of Pashka—saw that it was no good, there—she's the best of the lot—Olympiada would have. No! Olympiada was a good sort too—but Tanyka."
Suddenly he remembered that to-day Tatiana Vlassyevna had a birthday festivity, and that he was invited. At first he felt quite disinclined to go, but almost at once came an ill-tempered desire to compel himself against his wish, and then a sharp burning sensation shot through his heart. He called a droshky, and, a few minutes later, stood at the dining-room door, blinking his eyes in the strong light. He looked at the company sitting packed round the table in the big room, with a stupid smile.
"Ah! there he is at last!" cried Kirik.
"How pale he is!" said Tatiana.
"Have you brought any sweetmeats? a birthday present, eh? What's the matter, my friend?"
"Where have you come from?" asked his hostess.
Kirik caught him by the sleeve, and led him round the table presenting him to the guests. Lunev pressed several warm hands, but the faces swam before his eyes, and blended into one long cold face, smiling politely and showing big teeth. The reek of cooking tickled his nose; the chattering of the women sounded in his ears like rushing rain; his eyes were hot, a dull pain prevented him from moving them, and a coloured mist seemed to widen out before them. When he sat down he felt that his knees were aching with weariness, while hunger gnawed his entrails. He took a piece of bread and began to eat. One of the guests blew his nose loudly, while Tatiana said:
"Won't you congratulate me? You're a nice person! You come here, and say nothing, and sit down and begin to eat."
Beneath the table she pressed her foot hard on his, and bent over the teapot as she poured him out his tea. Ilya heard her whisper through the noise of pouring,
"Behave yourself properly!"
He put his bread back on the table, rubbed his hands, and said loudly. "I've been at the law courts all day."
His voice dominated the noise of conversation, and there was a silence among the guests. Lunev was confused as he felt their glances on his face, and looked back at them stupidly from under his brows. They looked at him a little suspiciously, as though doubting if this broad-shouldered, curly-haired youth could have anything interesting to relate. An embarrassed silence continued in the room. Isolated thoughts circled in Ilya's brain—disconnected and gray, they seemed to sink and suddenly disappear in the darkness of his soul.
"Sometimes it's very interesting in the courts," remarked Madame Felizata Yegarovna Grislova, nibbling a piece of marmalade cake. Red patches appeared on Tatiana's cheeks, Kirik blew his nose loudly and said:
"Well, brother, you begin, but you don't go on. You were at the court——?"
"I'll let them have it!" thought Ilya, and smiled slowly. The conversation began again here and there.
"I once heard a murder trial," said a young telegraph official, a pale dark-eyed man with a small moustache.
"I love to read or hear about murders," cried Madame Travkina; her husband looked round the table and said, "Public trials are an excellent institution."
"It was a friend of mine, Yevgeniyev—you see he was on duty in the strong room, got playing with a young fellow and shot him by accident."
"Ah—how horrible!" cried Tatiana.
"Dead as a door nail!" added the telegraph official, with distinct enjoyment.
"I was called as a witness once," began Travkin now in a dry, creaking voice, "and I heard a man condemned who had carried out twenty-three robberies—not so bad, eh?"
Kirik laughed loudly. The company fell into two groups, one listening to the tale of the boy who was shot, the other to the drawling remarks of Travkin on the man who had carried out twenty-three robberies. Ilya looked at his hostess, and felt a little flame begin to flicker within him—it illuminated nothing but caused a persistent burning at his heart. From the moment he realised that the Avtonomovs were anxious lest he should commit some solecism before their guests, his thoughts became clearer as though he had found a clue to their course.
Tatiana Vlassyevna was busy in the next room at a table covered with bottles. Her bright red silk blouse flamed against the white walls; in her tightly-laced corset she flitted about like a butterfly, all the pride of the skilful housewife shining in her face. Twice Ilya saw her beckon him to her with quick, hardly noticeable gestures, but he did not go and felt glad to think that his refusal would disturb her.
"Why, brother, you're sitting there like an owl!" said Kirik, suddenly. "Say something—don't be afraid—these are educated people who won't be offended with you!"
"There was a girl being tried," Ilya began loudly all at once, "a girl I know, she is a prostitute, but she's a good girl for all that."
Again he attracted the attention of the company, and all eyes were once more fixed on him. Felizata Yegarovna showed her big teeth in a broad, mocking smile; the telegraph official twisted his moustache, covering his mouth with his hand; almost all tried hard to seem serious and attentive. Tatiana suddenly dropped a handful of knives and forks, and the clash rang in Ilya's heart like loud martial music. He looked quietly round the company with widely opened eyes and went on:
"Why do you smile? There are good girls among——"
"Quite possible," Kirik interrupted, "but you needn't be quite so frank about it."
"These are cultivated people," said Ilya, "if I say anything that is unusual, they won't be offended."
A whole sheaf of bright sparks shot up suddenly in his breast; a sneering smile appeared on his face, and he felt almost choked with the flood of words that poured from his brain.
"This girl had stolen some money from a merchant."
"Better and better," cried Kirik, and shook his head with a comical grimace.
"You can readily imagine under what circumstances she stole it, but perhaps she did not steal it, perhaps he gave it to her."
"Tanitshka!" cried Kirik, "come here a minute! Ilya's telling such anecdotes."
But Tatiana was already close to Ilya, and said with a forced smile and a shrug of her shoulders: "What's the fuss about? It's a very ordinary story; you, Kirik, know hundreds of cases like that, there are no young girls here. But let us leave that till later, shan't we?—and now we'll have something to eat."
"Yes, of course," cried Kirik, "I'm ready, he! he! Clever conversation is all very well, but——"
"Anyhow, it gives an appetite," said Travkin, and stroked his throat.
All turned away from Ilya. He understood that the guests did not want to hear, that his hosts were anxious he should not continue, and the thought spurred him on. He rose from his chair and said, addressing the company:
"And men sat in judgment on this girl, who perhaps had themselves more than once made use of her. I know some of them, and to call them rascals is to put it mildly."
"Excuse me," said Travkin, firmly, holding up a finger, "you must not speak like that! They're a sworn jury, and I myself——"
"Quite right, they're sworn in," cried Ilya. "But can men like that judge fairly if——"
"Excuse me, the jury system is one of the great reforms instituted by the Czar Alexander the Second. How can you make such aspersions on a state institution?"
He hurled his words in Ilya's face, and his fat, smooth-shaved cheeks shook, and his eyes rolled right and left. The company crowded round in the hope of a rousing scandal. Felizata Yegarovna looked at her hostess condescendingly, and Tatiana, pale and excited, plucked her guests by the sleeve and called hurriedly:
"Oh, do let that alone! it is so uninteresting. Kirik, ask the ladies and gentlemen——"
Kirik looked distractedly here and there and cried: "Please, for my sake, these reforms, and all this philosophy——"
"This is not philosophy, it's politics," croaked Travkin, "and people who express opinions like this gentleman are called untrustworthy politicians."
A hot whirlwind swept round Ilya. He rejoiced to oppose this fat, smooth-shaved, wet-lipped man, and see him grow angry. The consciousness that the Avtonomovs felt embarrassed before their guests filled him with malicious pleasure.
He grew calmer, and the impulse to have matters out with these people, to say insolent things to them and drive them to fury, swelled up in his breast, and raised him to a mental height that was at once pleasant and terrifying. Every moment he felt calmer, and his voice sounded more and more assured.
"Call me what you like," he said to Travkin. "You are an educated man. I hold to my opinion, and I say, 'can the well fed understand the hungry?' The hungry man may be a thief, but the well fed was a thief before him."
"Kirik Nikodimovitch!" shouted Travkin in fury. "What does this mean? I—I cannot——"
At this moment Tatiana Vlassyevna slipped her arm through his and drew him away, saying loudly:
"Come along, the little rolls you like are here, with herrings and hard-boiled eggs, and grated onions with melted butter."
"Ha! I ought not to let this pass," said Travkin, still excited, and smacked his lips. His wife looked contemptuously at Ilya, and took her husband's other arm, saying: "Don't excite yourself, Anton, over such foolishness!"
Tatiana continued to quiet her most honoured guest. "Pickled sturgeon with tomato——"
"That was not right, young man," said Travkin suddenly, in a tone both reproachful and magnanimous, standing firm and turning round towards Ilya. "That was not right! you should know how to value things—you need to understand them."
"But I don't understand," cried Ilya, "that's just what I'm talking about. How does it come about that Petrusha Filimonov is the lord of life and death?"
The guests went past Ilya without looking at him, and carefully avoided even touching his clothes. Kirik, however, came close up to him, and said in a harsh, insulting voice, "Go to the devil, you clown, that's what you are!"
Ilya started, a mist came over his eyes as though he had received a blow on the head, and he moved threateningly against Avtonomov with his fist clenched. But Kirik had already turned away without heeding his movements, and entered the other room. Ilya groaned aloud. He stood in the doorway, regarding the backs of the people round the table, and heard them eating noisily. The bright blouse of the hostess seemed to colour everything red, and make a cloud before his eyes.
"Ah," said Travkin. "This is good, quite excellent."
"Have some pepper with it?" asked the hostess tenderly.
"I'll add the pepper," thought Lunev scornfully. He was strung to the highest tension, and in two strides was standing by the table with head erect. He grasped the first glass of wine he saw, held it out towards Tatiana Vlassyevna, and said clearly and sharply, as though he would stab her with the words:
"To your health, Tanyka!"
His words had an effect on the company as though the lights had gone out with a deafening crash, and every one stood frozen to the floor in dense darkness. The half-open mouths, with their unswallowed morsels, looked like wounds on their terror-stricken faces.
"Come! let us drink! Kirik Nikodimovitch, tell my mistress to drink with me! Don't be disturbed—what do these others matter? Why should we sin always in secret? Let us deal openly. I have resolved, you see, from henceforth everything shall be done openly."
"You beast!" screamed the piercing voice of Tatiana.
Ilya saw her hand shoot out, and struck aside the plate she hurled at him. The crash of the flying pieces added to the confusion of the guests. They crept aside slowly and noiselessly, leaving Ilya alone face to face with the Avtonomovs. Kirik was holding a small fish by the tail, and blinked, looking pale and miserable and almost idiotic. Tatiana Vlassyevna shook in every limb, and threatened Ilya with her fists; her face was the colour of her dress, and her tongue could hardly form a word.
"You liar—you liar!" she hissed, stretching out her head towards Ilya.
"Shall I mention some of your birthmarks?" said Ilya quietly, "and your husband shall say if I speak the truth or no."
There was a murmur in the room and suppressed laughter. Tatiana stretched up her arms, caught at her throat and sank on a chair without a sound.
"Police!" cried the telegraph official. Kirik turned round at the cry, then suddenly ran at Ilya headlong. Ilya stretched out his arms and pushed him away as he came, shouting roughly,
"Where are you coming?—you're too impatient. I can send you flying with one blow. Listen—all of you—listen, you'll hear the truth for once."
Kirik paid no attention, but bent his head forward and attacked again. The guests looked on silently; no one moved except Travkin, who went quietly on tiptoe into a corner, sat down on the seat by the stove and put his clasped hands between his knees.
"Look out. I'll hit you!" Ilya warned the furious Kirik. "I've no wish to hurt you—you're a stupid ass, but you never did me any harm—get away."
He pushed Kirik off again, this time more forcibly, and got his own back against the wall. Here he stood and began to speak, his eyes travelling over the company.
"Your wife threw herself into my arms. Oh, she's clever—but vicious! In the whole world there's no one worse. But all of you—all are vicious and degraded. I was in the court to-day—there I learnt to judge."
He had so much to say, that he was in no condition to arrange his thoughts, and hurled them like fragments of rock.
"But I will not condemn Tanya—it just happened so—just of itself—as long as I've lived, everything seems to happen of itself—as if by accident. I strangled a man by accident. I didn't mean to, but I strangled him—and think, Tanyka—the money I stole from him is the money that helps to carry on our business!"
"He's mad," cried Kirik in sudden joy, and sprang round the room from one to the other, crying with joy and excitement.
"D'you hear? d'you see? he's out of his mind! Ah, Ilya—oh you—how you hurt me!"
Ilya laughed aloud; his heart was easier and lighter now that he had spoken of the murder. He hardly felt the floor under his feet, and seemed to rise higher and higher. Broad-shouldered and sturdy, he stood there before them all with head erect, and chest thrown out. His black curls framed his high pale brow and temples, and his eyes were full of scorn and malice.
Tatiana got up, tottered to Felizata Yegarovna, and said in a trembling voice:
"I've seen it coming on—a long time—his eyes have looked so wild and terrible for ever so long."
"If he's mad, we must call the police," said Felizata, looking in Ilya's face.
"Mad? of course he's mad!" cried Kirik.
"He may attack us all," whispered Gryslov, and looked anxiously round the room.
All were afraid to move.
Lunev stood close to the door, and whoever wanted to go out had to pass him. He laughed again; he loved to see how these people feared him, and when he looked at their faces, he saw that they had no compassion for their hosts, and would have listened all night, while he held them up to scorn, had they not themselves been afraid of him.
"I am not mad," he said, and his brows contracted, "I only want you to stay here and listen. I won't let you out, and if you come near I'll strike you—and if I kill you—I am strong."
He held up a long arm and powerful fist, shook it, and let it drop again.
"Tell me," he went on, "what sort of men are you? What do you live for? Such stingy wretches—such a rabble!"
"Here, listen—you—you shut up!" cried Kirik.
"Shut up yourself! I will speak now. I look at you—stuffing and swilling, and lying to one another—and loving no one. What do you want in this world? I have striven for a clean honourable life—there's no such thing. Nowhere is there such a thing. I have only soiled and destroyed myself. A good man cannot live among you—he must go under—you kill good men—and I—I am bad, but among you I'm like a feeble cat in a dark cellar among a thousand rats—you—are everywhere! You judge, you rule—you make the laws—you wretches—you have devoured me—destroyed me."
Suddenly a deep sorrow overcame him.
"And now—what am I to do now?" he asked, and his head sank and he fell into a dull brooding. In a moment the telegraph official sprang by him and slipped out of the room.
"Ah! I've let one get away!" said Ilya, and held his head up again.
"I'll fetch the police!" came a cry from the next room.
"I don't care—fetch them!" said Ilya.
Tatiana went by him, tottering, walking as if asleep, without looking at him.
"She's had enough," said Lunev with a scornful nod at her, "but she deserves it, the snake."
"Shut up!" cried Avtonomov from his corner; he was on his knees fumbling in a box.
"Don't shout, good stupid fellow," answered Ilya, sitting down and crossing his arms, "Why do you shout? I've lived with you, I know you—I killed a man too—Poluektov the merchant. I've spoken of it with you ever so many times, do you remember? I did it because it was I who strangled him—and his money is in our business—by God!"
Ilya looked round the room. Terrified and trembling the guests stood round the walls in silence. He felt that he had said his say, that a yawning, melancholy emptiness was growing in his breast, from which echoed the cold inquiry:
"What now?" and he said, listening to the ring of his own words:
"Perhaps you think I'm sorry, that I'm making amends here before you all? Ha! ha! you can wait for that. I rejoice over you—do you understand?"
Kirik sprang from his corner, dishevelled and red; he brandished a revolver, and rolled his eyes and shouted:
"Now you shan't escape! Aha! you have murdered, too, have you?"
The women screamed, Travkin sprang from the bench where he had been sitting and running aimlessly to and fro croaked: "Let me go—I can't bear it—Let me go!—this is a family affair."
But Avtonomov paid no attention; he ran backwards and forwards before Ilya aiming at him and screaming:
"Penal servitude! wait—that's what we'll give you."
"Listen—your pistol is not even loaded, is it?" asked Ilya indifferently, looking at him wearily, "why do you make such a fuss? I shan't run away. I don't know where to go. Penal servitude, eh? Well, as for that, it's all one to me now."
"Anton! Anton!" shrieked Madame Travkin. "Come at once!"
"I can't, my dear, I can't."
She took his arm, and both slipped by Ilya, huddled together, with bowed heads. Tatiana sat in the next room, whimpering and sobbing, and in Lunev's breast the dark cold feeling of emptiness grew and grew.
"All my life is ruined," he said slowly and thoughtfully, "and there's nothing to be pitied about—who has destroyed it?"
Avtonomov stood in front of him and cried triumphantly:
"Aha! how you want to work on our feelings! but you won't."
"I don't want that, go to the devil all of you! I shall not make you sorry, the only thing that can do that is the money that doesn't reach your pocket, nor am I sorry for you. I'd far sooner pity a dog. I'd rather live with dogs than with men. Ah! why don't the police come. I am tired; get out, Kirik, I can't bear the sight of you."
It really troubled him to sit opposite Avtonomov. The guests left the room, slipped out softly with anxious glances at Ilya. He saw nothing but grey flecks floating before him, that roused in him neither thought nor feeling. The emptiness in his soul grew and enfolded everything. He was silent for a space, listening to Avtonomov's cries, then suddenly proposed jestingly:
"Come Kirik, come and wrestle."
"I'll put a bullet in you," growled Kirik.
"You haven't a bullet there," answered Ilya mockingly, and added, "I'll throw you in a minute!"
After that he said nothing, but sat there without moving, without thinking. At last two policemen came with the district inspector. Lunev shuddered at the sight of them, and stood up; close behind them came Tatiana Vlassyevna, she pointed to Ilya, and said in breathless haste:
"He has confessed that he murdered Poluektov the money-changer, you remember?"
"Do you admit that?" asked the inspector harshly.
"Oh yes! I admit it," answered Ilya, quietly and wearily. "Good-bye Tanyka, don't trouble, don't be afraid, and for the rest of you, go to the devil!"
The inspector sat down at the table, and began to write; the two policemen stood right and left of Lunev; he looked at them, sighed and let his head fall. The room was still, save for the scratching of the pen; outside in the street, the night built up its black impenetrable walls. Kirik stood by the window, and looked out into the darkness; suddenly he threw the revolver into a corner of the room, and said:
"Savelyev! give him a kick and let him go, he's quite mad."
The official looked at Kirik, thought a moment, and answered: "Can't now, information's been laid before me, my assistant knows."
"A—ah! sighed Avtonomov.
"You're a good fellow, Kirik Nikodimovitch," said Ilya and nodded. "There are dogs like that, you beat them and they fawn on you, but perhaps you're afraid I shall speak of your wife in court? Don't be afraid, that won't happen! I'm ashamed to think of her, much less speak of her."
Avtonomov went quickly into the next room, and sat down noisily on a chair.
"Now," began the inspector, turning to Ilya, "can you sign this?"
"Yes, I will."
He took the pen and signed without reading, in big letters, Ilya Lunev. When he raised his head, he noticed that the inspector was gazing at him with astonishment. They looked at one another silently for a moment or two, one with curiosity and a certain pleasure, the other indifferently and quietly.
"Your conscience would not be still?" asked the inspector half aloud.
"There's no such thing," answered Ilya firmly.
Both were silent, then Kirik's voice was heard in the next room. "He's out of his mind."
"We'll go," said the inspector, shrugging. "I won't tie your hands, but don't try to escape! The police are close by at the foot of the hill."
"Where should I go to?" answered Ilya briefly.
"Oh! I don't know that. Swear you won't try, say, by God!"
Ilya looked at the inspector's face, wrinkled and now moved with an expression of sympathy, and said moodily, "I don't believe in God."
The inspector waved his hand. "Forward!" he said to the policemen.
When the damp darkness of the night wrapped him round, Lunev sighed deeply, stood still and looked up at the sky, which hung black and low over the earth like the smoky ceiling of a small, stuffy room.
"Come along, come along!" said one of the policemen. He moved on, the houses rose like huge rocks on each side of the road, the wet filth of the street slopped under foot, and the way led on and on, where the darkness was thickest; Ilya stumbled over a stone and nearly fell. Always the obstinate question rang in the despairing emptiness of his soul, "What now!" Suddenly a vision of the court came before him; the good-natured Gromov, the red face of Petrusha. He had bruised his toes on the stone and they hurt him; he went more slowly. In his ears sounded the words of the little impudent, dark man. "The well fed understands the hungry well enough—that's why he's so severe." Then he heard Gromov's friendly voice, "Do you plead guilty?" and the Prosecutor said slowly, "Tell us."
Petrusha's red face was overcast, and his swollen lips twitched.
Lunev began to limp, and dropped back a pace or two. "Get on—get on!" the policeman said harshly. An unspeakable grief as hot as glowing iron and as sharp as a dagger darted through Ilya's heart. He made a spring forward, and ran with all his might down hill. The wind whistled in his ears, his breath gave out, but he hurled his body forward into the darkness, urging himself on with his arms. Behind him the policeman ran heavily, a sharp shrill whistle pierced the air, and a deep bass voice roared, "Stop him!" Everything round him, houses, pavement, sky—quivered and danced, and moved on him like a heavy black mass. He rushed forward, feeling no weariness, lashed by the hot desire to avoid Petrusha. Something grey and regular rose up before him out of the darkness, breathing despair into his heart. Memory flashed sharply into his brain; he knew that this street turned almost at a right angle away to the main street of the town—men would be there, he would be caught!
"Ah—fly away, my soul!" he screamed with all his might, and bending his head down began to run faster than ever. The cold grey stone wall rose before him. A dull crash, like waves meeting, sounded through the night and died away at once.
Two dark figures rushed up to the wall. They threw themselves on another dark form that lay in a heap, and at once stood up again. People hurried down from the hill, with noise of footsteps and cries, and a piercing whistling.
"Smashed?" asked one of the policemen breathlessly. The other struck a match, and bent down. At his feet lay a quivering hand, and the clenched fingers straightened slowly out.
"The skull's smashed to pieces."
Black figures started up out of the darkness round about.
"Ah—the madman!" said one policeman. His comrade straightened himself up, crossed himself, and still breathless, said in a dull voice:
"Let him—rest in peace—O Lord!"