"You will come in for a moment?" said Natalia Haldin.
I demurred on account of the late hour. "You know mother likes you so much," she insisted.
"I will just come in to hear how your mother is."
She said, as if to herself, "I don't even know whether she will believe that I could not find Mr. Razumov, since she has taken it into her head that I am concealing something from her. You may be able to persuade her. . . ."
"Your mother may mistrust me too," I observed.
"You! Why? What could you have to conceal from her? You are not a Russian nor a conspirator."
I felt profoundly my European remoteness, and said nothing, but I made up my mind to play my part of helpless spectator to the end. The distant rolling of thunder in the valley of the Rhone was coming nearer to the sleeping town of prosaic virtues and universal hospitality. We crossed the street opposite the great dark gateway, and Miss Haldin rang at the door of the apartment. It was opened almost instantly, as if the elderly maid had been waiting in the ante-room for our return. Her flat physiognomy had an air of satisfaction.
The gentleman was there, she declared, while closing the door.
Neither of us understood. Miss Haldin turned round brusquely to her. "Who?"
"Herr Razumov," she explained.
She had heard enough of our conversation before we left to know why her young mistress was going out. Therefore, when the gentleman gave his name at the door, she admitted him at once.
"No one could have foreseen that," Miss Haldin murmured, with her serious grey eyes fixed upon mine. And, remembering the expression of the young man's face seen not much more than four hours ago, the look of a haunted somnambulist, I wondered with a sort of awe.
"You asked my mother first?" Miss Haldin inquired of the maid.
"No. I announced the gentleman," she answered, surprised at our troubled faces.
"Still," I said in an undertone, "your mother was prepared."
"Yes. But he has no idea. . . ."
It seemed to me she doubted his tact. To her question how long the gentleman had been with her mother, the maid told us that Der Herr had been in the drawing-room no more than a short quarter of an hour.
She waited a moment, then withdrew, looking a little scared. Miss Haldin gazed at me in silence.
"As things have turned out," I said, "you happen to know exactly what your brother's friend has to tell your mother. And surely after that. . . ."
"Yes," said Natalia Haldin slowly. " I only wonder, as I was not here when he came, if it wouldn't be better not to interrupt now."
We remained silent, and I suppose we both strained our ears, but no sound reached us through the closed door. The features of Miss Haldin expressed a painful irresolution; she made a movement as if to go in, but checked herself.
She had heard footsteps on the other side of the door. It came open, and Razumov, without pausing, stepped out into the ante-room. The fatigue of that day and the struggle with himself had changed him so much that I would have hesitated to recognize that face which, only a few hours before, when he brushed against me in front of the post office, had been startling enough but quite different. It had been not so livid then, and its eyes not so sombre.
They certainly looked more sane now, but there was upon them the shadow of something consciously evil.
I speak of that, because, at first, their glance fell on me, though without any sort of recognition or even comprehension. I was simply in the line of his stare. I don't know if he had heard the bell or expected to see anybody. He was going out, I believe, and I do not think that he saw Miss Haldin till she advanced towards him a step or two. He disregarded the hand she put out.
"It's you, Natalia Victorovna. . . . Perhaps you are surprised. . . at this late hour. But, you see, I remembered our conversations in that garden. I thought really it was your wish that I should--without loss of time. . . so I came. No other reason. Simply to tell. . . ."
He spoke with difficulty. I noticed that, and remembered his declaration to the man in the shop that he was going out because he "needed air." If that was his object, then it was clear that he had miserably failed. With downcast eyes and lowered head he made an effort to pick up the strangled phrase.
"To tell what I have heard myself only to-day--to-day. . . ."
Through the door he had not closed I had a view of the drawing-room. It was lighted only by a shaded lamp--Mrs. Haldin's eyes could not support either gas or electricity. It was a comparatively big room, and in contrast with the strongly lighted ante-room its length was lost in semi-transparent gloom backed by heavy shadows; and on that ground I saw the motionless figure of Mrs. Haldin, inclined slightly forward, with a pale hand resting on the arm of the chair.
She did not move. With the window before her she had no longer that attitude suggesting expectation. The blind was down; and outside there was only the night sky harbouring a thunder-cloud, and the town indifferent and hospitable in its cold, almost scornful, toleration--a respectable town of refuge to which all these sorrows and hopes were nothing. Her white head was bowed.
The thought that the real drama of autocracy is not played on the great stage of politics came to me as, fated to be a spectator, I had this other glimpse behind the scenes, something more profound than the words and gestures of the public play. I had the certitude that this mother, refused in her heart to give her son up after all. It was more than Rachel's inconsolable mourning, it was something deeper, more inaccessible in its frightful tranquillity. Lost in the ill-defined mass of the high-backed chair, her white, inclined profile suggested the contemplation of something in her lap, as though a beloved head were resting there.
I had this glimpse behind the scenes, and then Miss Haldin, passing by the young man, shut the door. It was not done without hesitation. For a moment I thought that she would go to her mother, but she sent in only an anxious glance. Perhaps if Mrs. Haldin had moved. . . but no. There was in the immobility of that bloodless face the dreadful aloofness of suffering without remedy.
Meantime the young man kept his eyes fixed on the floor. The thought that he would have to repeat the story he had told already was intolerable to him. He had expected to find the two women together. And then, he had said to himself, it would be over for all time--for all time. "It's lucky I don't believe in another world," he had thought cynically.
Alone in his room after having posted his secret letter, he had regained a certain measure of composure by writing in his secret diary. He was aware of the danger of that strange self-indulgence. He alludes to it himself, but he could not refrain. It calmed him--it reconciled him to his existence. He sat there scribbling by the light of a solitary candle, till it occurred to him that having heard the explanation of Haldin's arrest, as put forward by Sophia Antonovna, it behoved him to tell these ladies himself. They were certain to hear the tale through some other channel, and then his abstention would look strange, not only to the mother and sister of Haldin, but to other people also.
Having come to this conclusion, he did not discover in himself any marked reluctance to face the necessity, and very soon an anxiety to be done with it began to torment him. He looked at his watch. No; it was not absolutely too late.
The fifteen minutes with Mrs. Haldin were like the revenge of the unknown: that white face, that weak, distinct voice; that head, at first turned to him eagerly, then, after a while, bowed again and motionless--in the dim, still light of the room in which his words which he tried to subdue resounded so loudly--had troubled him like some strange discovery. And there seemed to be a secret obstinacy in that sorrow, something he could not understand; at any rate, something he had not expected. Was it hostile? But it did not matter.
Nothing could touch him now; in the eyes of the revolutionists there was now no shadow on his past. The phantom of Haldin had been indeed walked over, was left behind lying powerless and passive on the pavement covered with snow. And this was the phantom's mother consumed with grief and white as a ghost. He had felt a pitying surprise. But that, of course, was of no importance. Mothers did not matter. He could not shake off the poignant impression of that silent, quiet, white-haired woman, but a sort of sternness crept into his thoughts.
These were the consequences. Well, what of it? " Am I then on a bed of roses?" he had exclaimed to himself, sitting at some distance with his eyes fixed upon that figure of sorrow. He had said all he had to say to her, and when he had finished she had not uttered a word. She had turned away her head while he was speaking. The silence which had fallen on his last words had lasted for five minutes or more. What did it mean? Before its incomprehensible character he became conscious of anger in his stern mood, the old anger against Haldin reawakened by the contemplation of Haldin's mother.
And was it not something like enviousness which gripped his heart, as if of a privilege denied to him alone of all the men that had ever passed through this world? It was the other who had attained to repose and yet continued to exist in the affection of that mourning old woman, in the thoughts of all these people posing for lovers of humanity. It was impossible to get rid of him.
"It's myself whom I have given up to destruction," thought Razumov. "He has induced me to do it. I can't shake him off."
Alarmed by that discovery, he got up and strode out of the silent, dim room with its silent old woman in the chair, that mother! He never looked back. It was frankly a flight. But on opening the door he saw his retreat cut off: There was the sister. He had never forgotten the sister, only he had not expected to see her then--or ever any more, perhaps. Her presence in the ante-room was as unforeseen as the apparition of her brother had been. Razumov gave a start as though he had discovered himself cleverly trapped. He tried to smile, but could not manage it, and lowered his eyes. "Must I repeat that silly story now?" he asked himself, and felt a sinking sensation. Nothing solid had passed his lips since the day before, but he was not in a state to analyse the origins of his weakness. He meant to take up his hat and depart with as few words as possible, but Miss Haldin's swift movement to shut the door took him by surprise. He half turned after her, but without raising his eyes, passively, just as a feather might stir in the disturbed air. The next moment she was back in the place she had started from, with another half-turn on his part, so that they came again into the same relative positions.
"Yes, yes," she said hurriedly. "I am very grateful to you, Kirylo Sidorovitch, for coming at once--like this. . . . Only, I wish I had. . . .
Did mother tell you?"
"I wonder what she could have told me that I did not know before," he said, obviously to himself, but perfectly audible. "Because I always did know it," he added louder, as if in despair.
He hung his head. He had such a strong sense of Natalia Haldin's presence that to look at her he felt would be a relief. It was she who had been haunting him now. He had suffered that persecution ever since she had suddenly appeared before him in the garden of the Villa Borel with an extended hand and the name of her brother on her lips. . . . The ante-room had a row of hooks on the wall nearest to the outer door, while against the wall opposite there stood a small dark table and one chair. The paper, bearing a very faint design, was all but white. The light of an electric bulb high up under the ceiling searched that clear square box into its four bare corners, crudely, without shadows--a strange stage for an obscure drama.
"What do you mean?" asked Miss Haldin. "What is it that you knew always?"
He raised his face, pale, full of unexpressed suffering. But that look in his eyes of dull, absent obstinacy, which struck and surprised everybody he was talking to, began to pass way. It was as though he were coming to himself in the awakened consciousness of that marvellous harmony of feature, of lines, of glances, of voice, which made of the girl before him a being so rare, outside, and, as it were, above the common notion of beauty. He looked at her so long that she coloured slightly.
"What is it that you knew?" she repeated vaguely.
That time he managed to smile.
"Indeed, if it had not been for a word of greeting or two, I would doubt whether your mother was aware at all of my existence. You understand?"
Natalia Haldin nodded; her hands moved slightly by her side.
"Yes. Is it not heart-breaking? She has not shed a tear yet--not a single tear."
"Not a tear! And you, Natalia Victorovna? You have been able to cry?"
"I have. And then I am young enough, Kirylo Sidorovitch, to believe in the future. But when I see my mother so terribly distracted, I almost forget everything. I ask myself whether one should feel proud--or only resigned. We had such a lot of people coming to see us. There were utter strangers who wrote asking for permission to call to present their respects. It was impossible to keep our door shut for ever. You know that Peter Ivanovitch himself. . . . Oh yes, there was much sympathy, but there were persons who exulted openly at that death. Then, when I was left alone with poor mother, all this seemed so wrong in spirit, something not worth the price she is paying for it. But directly I heard you were here in Geneva, Kirylo Sidorovitch, I felt that you were the only person who could assist me. . . ."
"In comforting a bereaved mother? Yes!" he broke in in a manner which made her open her clear unsuspecting eyes. "But there is a question of fitness. Has this occurred to you?"
There was a breathlessness in his utterance which contrasted with the monstrous hint of mockery in his intention.
"Why!" whispered Natalia Haldin with feeling. "Who more fit than you?"
He had a convulsive movement of exasperation, but controlled himself.
"Indeed! Directly you heard that I was in Geneva, before even seeing me? It is another proof of that confidence which. . . ."
All at once his tone changed, became more incisive and more detached.
"Men are poor creatures, Natalia Victorovna. They have no intuition of sentiment. In order to speak fittingly to a mother of her lost son one must have had some experience of the filial relation. It is not the case with me--if you must know the whole truth. Your hopes have to deal here with 'a breast unwarmed by any affection,' as the poet says. . . . That does not mean it is insensible," he added in a lower tone.
"I am certain your heart is not unfeeling," said Miss Haldin softly.
"No. It is not as hard as a stone," he went on in the same introspective voice, and looking as if his heart were lying as heavy as a stone in that unwarmed breast of which he spoke. "No, not so hard. But how to prove what you give me credit for--ah! that's another question. No one has ever expected such a thing from me before. No one whom my tenderness would have been of any use to. And now you come. You! Now! No, Natalia Victorovna. It's too late.
You come too late. You must expect nothing from me."
She recoiled from him a little, though he had made no movement, as if she had seen some change in his face, charging his words with the significance of some hidden sentiment they shared together. To me, the silent spectator, they looked like two people becoming conscious of a spell which had been lying on them ever since they first set eyes on each other. Had either of them cast a glance then in my direction, I would have opened the door quietly and gone out.
But neither did; and I remained, every fear of indiscretion lost in the sense of my enormous remoteness from their captivity within the sombre horizon of Russian problems, the boundary of their eyes, of their feelings--the prison of their souls.
Frank, courageous, Miss Haldin controlled her voice in the midst of her trouble.
"What can this mean?" she asked, as if speaking to herself.
"It may mean that you have given yourself up to vain imaginings while I have managed to remain amongst the truth of things and the realities of life--our Russian life--such as they are."
"They are cruel," she murmured.
"And ugly. Don't forget that--and ugly. Look where you like. Look near you, here abroad where you are, and then look back at home, whence you came."
"One must look beyond the present." Her tone had an ardent conviction.
"The blind can do that best. I have had the misfortune to be born clear-eyed.
And if you only knew what strange things I have seen! What amazing and unexpected apparitions!. . . But why talk of all this?"
"On the contrary, I want to talk of all this with you," she protested with earnest serenity. The sombre humours of her brother's friend left her unaffected, as though that bitterness, that suppressed anger, were the signs of an indignant rectitude. She saw that he was not an ordinary person, and perhaps she did not want him to be other than he appeared to her trustful eyes.
"Yes, with you especially," she insisted. "With you of all the Russian people in the world. . . ." A faint smile dwelt for a moment on her lips. "I am like poor mother in a way. I too seem unable to give up our beloved dead, who, don't forget, was all in all to us. I don't want to abuse your sympathy, but you must understand that it is in you that we can find all that is left of his generous soul."
I was looking at him; not a muscle of his face moved in the least. And yet, even at the time, I did not suspect him of insensibility. It was a sort of rapt thoughtfulness. Then he stirred slightly.
"You are going, Kirylo Sidorovitch?" she asked.
"I! Going? Where? Oh yes, but I must tell you first. . . ." His voice was muffled and he forced himself to produce it with visible repugnance, as if speech were something disgusting or deadly. "That story, you know--the story I heard this afternoon. . . ."
"I know the story already," she said sadly.
"You know it! Have you correspondents in St. Petersburg too?"
"No. It's Sophia Antonovna. I have seen her just now. She sends you her greetings. She is going away to-morrow."
He had lowered at last his fascinated glance; she too was looking down, and standing thus before each other in the glaring light, between the four bare walls, they seemed brought out from the confused immensity of the Eastern borders to be exposed cruelly to the observation of my Western eyes. And I observed them. There was nothing else to do. My existence seemed so utterly forgotten by these two that I dared not now make a movement. And I thought to myself that, of course, they had to come together, the sister and the friend of that dead man. The ideas, the hopes, the aspirations, the cause of Freedom, expressed in their common affection for Victor Haldin, the moral victim of autocracy,--all this must draw them to each other fatally. Her very ignorance and his loneliness to which he had alluded so strangely must work to that end.
And, indeed, I saw that the work was done already. Of course. It was manifest that they must have been thinking of each other for a long time before they met. She had the letter from that beloved brother kindling her imagination by the severe praise attached to that one name; and for him to see that exceptional girl was enough. The only cause for surprise was his gloomy aloofness before her clearly expressed welcome. But he was young, and however austere and devoted to his revolutionary ideals, he was not blind. The period of reserve was over; he was coming forward in his own way. I could not mistake the significance of this late visit, for in what he had to say there was nothing urgent. The true cause dawned upon me: he had discovered that he needed her and she was moved by the same feeling. It was the second time that I saw them together, and I knew that next time they met I would not be there, either remembered or forgotten. I would have virtually ceased to exist for both these young people.
I made this discovery in a very few moments. Meantime, Natalia Haldin was telling Razumov briefly of our peregrinations from one end of Geneva to the other. While speaking she raised her hands above her head to untie her veil, and that movement displayed for an instant the seductive grace of her youthful figure, clad in the simplest of mourning. In the transparent shadow the hat rim threw on her face her grey eyes had an enticing lustre. Her voice, with its unfeminine yet exquisite timbre, was steady, and she spoke quickly, frank, unembarrassed. As she justified her action by the mental state of her mother, a spasm of pain marred the generously confiding harmony of her features. I perceived that with his downcast eyes he had the air of a man who is listening to a strain of music rather than to articulated speech. And in the same way, after she had ceased, he seemed to listen yet, motionless, as if under the spell of suggestive sound. He came to himself, muttering--
"Yes, yes. She has not shed a tear. She did not seem to hear what I was saying. I might have told her anything. She looked as if no longer belonging to this world."
Miss Haldin gave signs of profound distress. Her voice faltered. "You don't know how bad it has come to be. She expects now to see him!" The veil dropped from her fingers and she clasped her hands in anguish. "It shall end by her seeing him," she cried.
Razumov raised his head sharply and attached on her a prolonged thoughtful glance.
"H'm. That's very possible," he muttered in a peculiar tone, as if giving his opinion on a matter of fact. "I wonder what. . . ." He checked himself.
"That would be the end. Her mind shall be gone then, and her spirit will follow."
Miss Haldin unclasped her hands and let them fall by her side.
"You think so?" he queried profoundly. Miss Haldin's lips were slightly parted. Something unexpected and unfathomable in that young man's character had fascinated her from the first. "No! There's neither truth nor consolation to be got from the phantoms of the dead," he added after a weighty pause. "I might have told her something true; for instance, that your brother meant to save his life--to escape. There can be no doubt of that. But I did not."
"You did not! But why?"
"I don't know. Other thoughts came into my head," he answered. He seemed to me to be watching himself inwardly, as though he were trying to count his own heart-beats, while his eyes never for a moment left the face of the girl. "You were not there," he continued. "I had made up my mind never to see you again."
This seemed to take her breath away for a moment.
"You. . . . How is it possible?"
"You may well ask. . . . However, I think that I refrained from telling your mother from prudence. I might have assured her that in the last conversation he held as a free man he mentioned you both. . . ."
"That last conversation was with you," she struck in her deep, moving voice.
"Some day you must. . . ."
"It was with me. Of you he said that you had trustful eyes. And why I have not been able to forget that phrase I don't know. It meant that there is in you no guile, no deception, no falsehood, no suspicion--nothing in your heart that could give you a conception of a living, acting, speaking lie, if ever it came in your way. That you are a predestined victim. . . . Ha! what a devilish suggestion!"
The convulsive, uncontrolled tone of the last words disclosed the precarious hold he had over himself. He was like a man defying his own dizziness in high places and tottering suddenly on the very edge of the precipice. Miss Haldin pressed her hand to her breast. The dropped black veil lay on the floor between them. Her movement steadied him. He looked intently on that hand till it descended slowly, and then raised again his eyes to her face. But he did not give her time to speak.
"No? You don't understand? Very well." He had recovered his calm by a miracle of will. "So you talked with Sophia Antonovna?"
"Yes. Sophia Antonovna told me. . . ." Miss Haldin stopped, wonder growing in her wide eyes.
"H'm. That's the respectable enemy," he muttered, as though he were alone.
"The tone of her references to you was extremely friendly," remarked Miss Haldin, after waiting for a while.
"Is that your impression? And she the most intelligent of the lot, too.
Things then are going as well as possible. Everything conspires to. . . .
Ah! these conspirators," he said slowly, with an accent of scorn; "they would get hold of you in no time! You know, Natalia Victorovna, I have the greatest difficulty in saving myself from the superstition of an active Providence.
It's irresistible. . . . The alternative, of course, would be the personal Devil of our simple ancestors. But, if so, he has overdone it altogether--the old Father of Lies--our national patron--our domestic god, whom we take with us when we go abroad. He has overdone it. It seems that I am not simple enough.
. . . That's it! I ought to have known. . . . And I did know it," he added in a tone of poignant distress which overcame my astonishment.
"This man is deranged," I said to myself, very much frightened.
The next moment he gave me a very special impression beyond the range of commonplace definitions. It was as though he had stabbed himself outside and had come in there to show it; and more than that--as though he were turning the knife in the wound and watching the effect. That was the impression, rendered in physical terms. One could not defend oneself from a certain amount of pity.
But it was for Miss Haldin, already so tried in her deepest affections, that I felt a serious concern. Her attitude, her face, expressed compassion struggling with doubt on the verge of terror.
"What is it, Kirylo Sidorovitch?" There was a hint of tenderness in that cry.
He only stared at her in that complete surrender of all his faculties which in a happy lover would have had the name of ecstasy.
"Why are you looking at me like this, Kirylo Sidorovitch? I have approached you frankly. I need at this time to see clearly in myself. . . ." She ceased for a moment as if to give him an opportunity to utter at last some word worthy of her exalted trust in her brother's friend. His silence became impressive, like a sign of a momentous resolution.
In the end Miss Haldin went on, appealingly--
"I have waited for you anxiously. But now that you have been moved to come to us in your kindness, you alarm me. You speak obscurely. It seems as if you were keeping back something from me."
"Tell me, Natalia Victorovna," he was heard at last in a strange unringing voice, "whom did you see in that place?"
She was startled, and as if deceived in her expectations.
"Where? In Peter Ivanovitch's rooms? There was Mr. Laspara and three other people."
"Ha! The vanguard--the forlorn hope of the great plot," he commented to himself. "Bearers of the spark to start an explosion which is meant to change fundamentally the lives of so many millions in order that Peter Ivanovitch should be the head of a State."
"You are teasing me," she said. "Our dear one told me once to remember that men serve always something greater than themselves--the idea."
"Our dear one," he repeated slowly. The effort he made to appear unmoved absorbed all the force of his soul. He stood before her like a being with hardly a breath of life. His eyes, even as under great physical suffering, had lost all their fire. "Ah! your brother. . . . But on your lips, in your voice, it sounds. . . and indeed in you everything is divine. . . . I wish I could know the innermost depths of your thoughts, of your feelings."
"But why, Kirylo Sidorovitch?" she cried, alarmed by these words coming out of strangely lifeless lips.
"Have no fear. It is not to betray you. So you went there? . . . And Sophia Antonovna, what did she tell you, then?"
"She said very little, really. She knew that I should hear everything from you. She had no time for more than a few words." Miss Haldin's voice dropped and she became silent for a moment. "The man, it appears, has taken his life," she said sadly.
"Tell me, Natalia Victorovna," he asked after a pause, "do you believe in remorse?"
"What a question!"
"What can you know of it?" he muttered thickly. "It is not for such as you.
. . . What I meant to ask was whether you believed in the efficacy of remorse?"
She hesitated as though she had not understood, then her face lighted up.
"Yes," she said firmly.
"So he is absolved. Moreover, that Ziemianitch was a brute, a drunken brute."
A shudder passed through Natalia Haldin.
"But a man of the people," Razumov went on, "to whom they, the revolutionists, tell a tale of sublime hopes. Well, the people must be forgiven. . . . And you must not believe all you've heard from that source, either," he added, with a sort of sinister reluctance.
"You are concealing something from me," she exclaimed.
"Do you, Natalia Victorovna, believe in the duty of revenge?"
"Listen, Kirylo Sidorovitch. I believe that the future shall be merciful to us all. Revolutionist and reactionary, victim and executioner, betrayer and betrayed, they shall all be pitied together when the light breaks on our black sky at last. Pitied and forgotten; for without that there can be no union and no love."
"I hear. No revenge for you, then? Never? Not the least bit?" He smiled bitterly with his colourless lips. "You yourself are like the very spirit of that merciful future. Strange that it does not make it easier. . . . No! But suppose that the real betrayer of your brother--Ziemianitch had a part in it too, but insignificant and quite involuntary--suppose that he was a young man, educated, an intellectual worker, thoughtful, a man your brother might have trusted lightly, perhaps, but still--suppose. . . . But there's a whole story there."
"And you know the story! But why, then--"
"I have heard it. There is a staircase in it, and even phantoms, but that does not matter if a man always serves something greater than himself--the idea. I wonder who is the greatest victim in that tale?"
"In that tale!" Miss Haldin repeated. She seemed turned into stone.
"Do you know why I came to you? It is simply because there is no one anywhere in the whole great world I could go to. Do you understand what I say? Not one to go to. Do you conceive the desolation of the thought--no one--to--go--to?"
Utterly misled by her own enthusiastic interpretation of two lines in the letter of a visionary, under the spell of her own dread of lonely days, in their overshadowed world of angry strife, she was unable to see the truth struggling on his lips. What she was conscious of was the obscure form of his suffering. She was on the point of extending her hand to him impulsively when he spoke again.
"An hour after I saw you first I knew how it would be. The terrors of remorse, revenge, confession, anger, hate, fear, are like nothing to the atrocious temptation which you put in my way the day you appeared before me with your voice, with your face, in the garden of that accursed villa."
She looked utterly bewildered for a moment; then, with a sort of despairing insight went straight to the point.
"The story, Kirylo Sidorovitch, the story!"
"There is no more to tell!" He made a movement forward, and she actually put her hand on his shoulder to push him away; but her strength failed her, and he kept his ground, though trembling in every limb. "It ends here--on this very spot." He pressed a denunciatory finger to his breast with force, and became perfectly still.
I ran forward, snatching up the chair, and was in time to catch hold of Miss Haldin and lower her down. As she sank into it she swung half round on my arm, and remained averted from us both, drooping over the back. He looked at her with an appalling expressionless tranquillity. Incredulity, struggling with astonishment, anger, and disgust, deprived me for a time of the power of speech. Then I turned on him, whispering from very rage--
"This is monstrous. What are you staying for? Don't let her catch sight of you again. Go away! . . ." He did not budge. "Don't you understand that your presence is intolerable--even to me? If there's any sense of shame in you. . .
Slowly his sullen eyes moved ill my direction. "How did this old man come here?" he muttered, astounded.
Suddenly Miss Haldin sprang up from the chair, made a few steps, and tottered.
Forgetting my indignation, and even the man himself, I hurried to her assistance. I took her by the arm, and she let me lead her into the drawing-room. Away from the lamp, in the deeper dusk of the distant end, the profile of Mrs. Haldin, her hands, her whole figure had the stillness of a sombre painting. Miss Haldin stopped, and pointed mournfully at the tragic immobility of her mother, who seemed to watch a beloved head lying in her lap.
That gesture had an unequalled force of expression, so far-reaching in its human distress that one could not believe that it pointed out merely the ruthless working of political institutions. After assisting Miss Haldin to the sofa, I turned round to go back and shut the door Framed in the opening, in the searching glare of the white anteroom, my eyes fell on Razumov, still there, standing before the empty chair, as if rooted for ever to the spot of his atrocious confession. A wonder came over me that the mysterious force which had torn it out of him had failed to destroy his life, to shatter his body. It was there unscathed. I stared at the broad line of his shoulders, his dark head, the amazing immobility of his limbs. At his feet the veil dropped by Miss Haldin looked intensely black in the white crudity of the light. He was gazing at it spell-bound. Next moment, stooping with an incredible, savage swiftness, he snatched it up and pressed it to his face with both hands.
Something, extreme astonishment perhaps, dimmed my eyes, so that he seemed to vanish before he moved.
The slamming of the outer door restored my sight, and I went on contemplating the empty chair in the empty ante-room. The meaning of what I had seen reached my mind with a staggering shock. I seized Natalia Haldin by the shoulder.
"That miserable wretch has carried off your veil!" I cried, in the scared, deadened voice of an awful discovery. "He. . . ."
The rest remained unspoken. I stepped back and looked down at her, in silent horror. Her hands were lying lifelessly, palms upwards, on her lap. She raised her grey eyes slowly. Shadows seemed to come and go in them as if the steady flame of her soul had been made to vacillate at last in the cross-currents of poisoned air from the corrupted dark immensity claiming her for its own, where virtues themselves fester into crimes in the cynicism of oppression and revolt.
"It is impossible to be more unhappy. . . ." The languid whisper of her voice struck me with dismay. "It is impossible. . . . I feel my heart becoming like ice."Next