Chapter XXVIII.
 

A letter sent by Sarudine to Lida on the day following their interview fell by chance into Maria Ivanovna's hands. It contained a request for the permission to see her, and awkwardly suggested that sundry matters might be satisfactorily arranged. Its pages cast, so Maria Ivanovna thought, an ugly, shameful shadow upon the pure image of her daughter. In her first perplexity and distress, she remembered her own youth with its love, its deceptions, and the grievous episodes of her married life. A long chain of suffering forged by a life based on rigid laws of morality dragged its slow length along, even to the confines of old age. It was like a grey band, marred in places by monotonous days of care and disappointment.

Yet the thought that her daughter had broken through the solid wall surrounding this grey, dusty life, and had plunged into the lurid whirlpool where joy and sorrow and death were mingled, filled the old woman with horror and rage.

"Vile, wicked girl!" she thought, as despairingly she let her hands fall into her lap. Suddenly it consoled her to imagine that possibly things had not gone too far, and her face assumed a dull, almost a cunning expression. She read and re-read the letter, yet could gather nothing from its frigid, affected style.

Feeling how helpless she was, the old woman wept bitterly; and then, having set her cap straight, she asked the maid-servant:

"Dounika, is Vladimir Petrovitch at home?"

"What?" shouted Dounika.

"Fool! I asked if the young gentleman was at home."

"He's just gone into the study. He's writing a letter!" replied Dounika, looking radiant, as if this letter were the reason for unusual rejoicing.

Maria Ivanovna looked hard at the girl, and an evil light flashed from her faded eyes.

"Toad! if you dare to fetch and carry letters again, I'll give you a lesson that you'll never forget."

Sanine was seated at the table, writing. His mother was so little used to seeing him write, that, in spite of her grief, she was interested.

"What's that you're writing?"

"A letter," replied Sanine, looking up, gaily.

"To whom?"

"Oh! to a journalist I know. I think of joining the staff of his paper."

"So you write for the papers?"

Sanine smiled. "I do everything."

"But why do you want to go there?"

"Because I'm tired of living here with you, mother," said Sanine frankly.

Maria Ivanovna felt somewhat hurt.

"Thank you," she said.

Sanine looked attentively at her, and felt inclined to tell her not to be so silly as to imagine that a man, especially one who had no employment, could care to remain always in the same place. But it irked him to have to say such a thing; and he was silent.

Maria Ivanovna took out her pocket-handkerchief and crumpled it nervously in her fingers. If it had not been for Sarudine's letter and her consequent distress and anxiety, she would have bitterly resented her son's rudeness. But, as it was, she merely said:

"Ah! yes, the one slinks out of the house like a wolf, and the other..."

A gesture of resignation completed the sentence.

Sanine looked up quickly, and put down his pen.

"What do you know about it?" he asked.

Suddenly Maria Ivanovna felt ashamed that she had read the letter to Lida. Turning very red, she replied unsteadily, but with some irritation:

"Thank God, I am not blind! I can see."

"See? You can see nothing," said Sanine, after a moment's reflection, "and, to prove it allow me to congratulate you on the engagement of your daughter. She was going to tell you herself, but, after all, it comes to the same thing."

"What!" exclaimed Maria Ivanovna, drawing herself up. "Lida is going to be married!"

"To whom?"

"To Novikoff, of course."

"Yes, but what about Sarudine?"

"Oh! he can go to the devil!" exclaimed Sanine angrily. "What's that to do with you? Why meddle with other people's affairs?"

"Yes, but I don't quite understand, Volodja!" said his mother, bewildered, while yet in her heart she could hear the joyous refrain, "Lida's going to be married, going to be married!"

Sanine shrugged his shoulders.

"What is that you don't understand? She was in love with one man, and now she's in love with another; and to-morrow she'll be in love with a third. Well, God bless her!"

"What's that you say?" cried Maria Ivanovna indignantly.

Sanine leant against the table and folded his arms.

"In the course of your life did you yourself only love one man?" he asked angrily.

Maria Ivanovna rose. Her wrinkled face wore a look of chilling pride.

"One shouldn't speak to one's mother like that," she said sharply.

"Who?"

"How do you mean, who?"

"Who shouldn't speak?" said Sanine, as he looked at her from head to foot. For the first time he noticed how dull and vacant was the expression in her eyes, and how absurdly her cap was placed upon her head, like a cock's comb.

"Nobody ought to speak to me like that!" she said huskily.

"Anyhow, I've done so!" replied Sanine, recovering his good temper, and resuming his pen.

"You've had your share of life," he said, "and you've up right to prevent Lida from having hers."

Maria Ivanovna said nothing, but stared in amazement at her son, while her cap looked droller than ever.

She hastily checked all memories of her past youth with its joyous nights of love, fixing upon this one question in her mind. "How dare he speak thus to his mother?" Yet before she could come to any decision, Sanine turned round, and taking her hand said kindly:

"Don't let that worry you, but, you must keep Sarudine out of the house, for the fellow's quite capable of playing us a dirty trick."

Maria Ivanovna was at once appeased.

"God bless you, my boy," she said. "I am very glad, for I have always liked Sacha Novikoff. Of course, we can't receive Sarudine; it wouldn't do, because of Sacha."

"No, just that! Because of Sacha," said Sanine with a humorous look in his eyes.

"And where is Lida?" asked his mother.

"In her room."

"And Sacha?" She pronounced the pet name lovingly.

"I really don't know. He went to ..." At that moment Dounika appeared in the doorway, and said:

"Victor Sergejevitsch is here, and another gentleman."

"Turn them out of the house," said Sanine.

Dounika smiled sheepishly.

"Oh! Sir, I can't do that, can I?"

"Of course you can! What business brings them here?"

Dounika hid her face, and went out.

Drawing herself up to her full height, Maria Ivanovna seemed almost younger, though her eyes looked malevolent. With astonishing ease her point of view had undergone a complete change, as if by playing a trump card she had suddenly scored. Kindly as her feelings for Sarudine had been while she hoped to have him as a son-in-law, they swiftly cooled when she realized that another was to marry Lida, and that Sarudine had only made love to her.

As his mother turned to go, Sanine, who noticed her stony profile and forbidding expression, said to himself, "There's an old hen for you!" Folding up his letter he followed her out, curious to see what turn matters would take.

With exaggerated politeness Sarudine and Volochine rose to salute the old lady, yet the former showed none of his wonted ease of manner when at the Sanines'. Volochine indeed felt slightly uncomfortable, because he had come expressly to see Lida, and was obliged to conceal his intention.

Despite his simulated ease, Sarudine looked obviously anxious. He felt that he ought not to have come. He dreaded meeting Lida, yet he could on no account let Volochine see this, to whom he wished to pose as a gay Lothario.

"Dear Maria Ivanovna," began Sarudine, smiling affectedly, "allow me to introduce to you my good friend, Paul Lvovitch Volochine."

"Charmed!" said Maria Ivanovna, with frigid politeness, and Sarudine observed the hostile look in her eyes, which somewhat unnerved him. "We ought not to have come," he thought, at last aware of the fact, which in Volochine's society he had forgotten. Lida might come in at any moment, Lida, the mother of his child; what should he say to her? How should he look her in the face? Perhaps her mother knew all? He fidgeted nervously on his chair; lit a cigarette, shrugged his shoulders, moved his legs, and looked about him right and left.

"Are you making a long stay?" asked Maria Ivanovna of Volochine, in a cold, formal voice.

"Oh! no," he replied, as he stared complacently at this provincial person, thrusting his cigar into the corner of his mouth so that the smoke rose right into her face.

"It must be rather dull for you, here, after Petersburg."

"On the contrary, I think it is delightful. There is something so patriarchal about this little town."

"You ought to visit the environs, which are charming for excursions and picnics. There's boating and bathing, too."

"Of course, madam, of course!" drawled Volochine, who was already somewhat bored.

The conversation languished, and they all seemed to be wearing smiling masks behind which lurked hostile eyes. Volochine winked at Sarudine in the most unmistakable manner; and this was not lost upon Sanine, who from his corner was watching them closely.

The thought that Volochine would no longer regard him as a smart, dashing, dare-devil sort of fellow gave Sarudine some of his old assurance.

"And where is Lidia Petrovna?" he asked carelessly.

Maria Ivanovna looked at him in surprise and anger. Her eyes seemed to say: "What is that to you, since you are not going to marry her?"

"I don't know. Probably in her room," she coldly replied.

Volochine shot another glance at his companion.

"Can't you manage to make Lida come down quickly?" it said. "This old woman's becoming a bore."

Sarudine opened his mouth and feebly twisted his moustache.

"I have heard so many flattering things about your daughter," began Volochine, smiling, and rubbing his hands, as he bent forward to Maria Ivanovna, "that I hope to have the honour of being introduced to her."

Maria Ivanovna wondered what this insolent little roue could have heard about her own pure Lida, her darling child, and again she had a terrible presentiment of the latter's downfall. It utterly unnerved her, and for the moment her eyes had a softer, more human expression.

"If they are not turned out of the house," thought Sanine, at this juncture, "they will only cause further distress to Lida and Novikoff."

"I hear that you are going away?" he suddenly said, looking pensively at the floor.

Sarudine wondered that so simple an expedient had occurred to him before. "That's it! A good idea. Two months' leave!" he thought, before hastily replying.

"Yes, I was thinking of doing so. One wants a change you know. By stopping too long in one place, you are apt to get rusty."

Sanine laughed outright. The whole conversation, not one word of which expressed their real thoughts and feelings, all this deceit, which deceived nobody, amused him immensely; and with a sudden sense of gaiety and freedom he got up, and said:

"Well, I should think that the sooner you went, the better!"

In a moment as if from each a stiff, heavy garb had fallen off, the other three persons became changed. Maria Ivanovna looked pale and shrunken, Volochine's eyes expressed animal fear, and Sarudine slowly and irresolutely rose.

"What do you mean?" he asked in a hoarse voice.

Volochine tittered, and looked about nervously for his hat.

Sanine did not reply to the question, but maliciously handed Volochine the hat. From the latter's open mouth a stifled sound escaped like a plaintive squeak.

"What do you mean by that?" cried Sarudine angrily, aware that he was losing his temper. "A scandal!" he thought to himself.

"I mean what I say," replied Sanine. "Your presence here is utterly unnecessary, and we shall all be delighted to see the last of you."

Sarudine took a step forward. He looked extremely uncomfortable, and his white teeth gleamed threateningly, like those of a wild beast.

"Aha! That's it, is it?" he muttered, breathing hard.

"Get out!" said Sanine contemptuously, yet in so terrible a tone that Sarudine glared, and voluntarily drew back.

"I don't know what the deuce it all means!" said Volochine, under his breath, as with shoulders raised he hurried to the door.

But there, in the door-way, stood Lida. She was dressed in a style quite different from her usual one. Instead of a fashionable coiffure, she wore her hair in a thick plait hanging down her back. Instead of an elegant costume she was wearing a loose gown of diaphanous texture, the simplicity of which alluringly heightened the beauty of her form.

As she smiled, her likeness to Sanine became more remarkable, and, in her sweet, girlish voice she said calmly:

"Here I am. Why are you hurrying away? Victor Sergejevitsch, do put down your cap!"

Sanine was silent, and looked at his sister in amazement. "Whatever does she mean?" he thought to himself.

As soon as she appeared, a mysterious influence, at once irresistible and tender, seemed to make itself felt. Like a lion-tamer in a cage filled with wild beasts, Lida stood there, and the men at once became gentle and submissive.

"Well, do you know, Lidia Petrovna ..." stammered Sarudine.

At the sound of his voice, Lida's face assumed a plaintive, helpless expression, and as she glanced swiftly at him there was great grief at her heart not unmixed with tenderness and hope. Yet in a moment such feelings were effaced by a fierce desire to show Sarudine how much he had lost in losing her; to let him see that she was still beautiful, in spite of all the sorrow and shame that he had caused her to endure.

"I don't want to know anything," she replied in an imperious, almost a stagy voice, as for a moment she closed her eyes.

Upon Volochine, her appearance produced an extraordinary effect, as his sharp little tongue darted out from his dry lips, and his eyes grew smaller and his whole frame vibrated from sheer physical excitement.

"You haven't introduced us," said Lida, looking round at Sarudine.

"Volochine ... Pavel Lvovitsch ..." stammered the officer.

"And this beauty," he said to himself, "was my mistress." He felt honestly pleased to think this, at the same time being anxious to show off before Volochine, while yet bitterly conscious of an irrevocable loss.

Lida languidly addressed her mother.

"There is some one who wants to speak to you," she said.

"Oh! I can't go now," replied Maria Ivanovna.

"But they are waiting," persisted Lida, almost hysterically.

Maria Ivanovna got up quickly.

Sanine watched Lida, and his nostrils were dilated.

"Won't you come into the garden? It's so hot in here," said Lida, and without looking round to see if they were coming, she walked out through the veranda.

As if hypnotized, the men followed her, bound, seemingly, with the tresses of her hair, so that she could draw them whither she wished. Volochine walked first, ensnared by her beauty, and apparently oblivious of aught else.

Lida sat down in the rocking-chair under the linden-tree and stretched out her pretty little feet clad in black open-work stockings and tan shoes. It was as if she had two natures; the one overwhelmed with modesty and shame, the other, full of self-conscious coquetry. The first nature prompted her to look with disgust upon men, and life, and herself.

"Well, Pavel Lvovitsch," she asked, as her eyelids drooped, "What impression has our poor little out-of-the-way town made upon you?"

"The impression which probably he experiences who in the depth of the forest suddenly beholds a radiant flower," replied Volochine, rubbing his hands.

Then began talk which was thoroughly vapid and insincere, the spoken being false, and the unspoken, true. Sanine sat silently listening to this mute but sincere conversation, as expressed by faces, hands, feet and tremulous accents. Lida was unhappy, Volochine longed for all her beauty, while Sarudine loathed Lida, Sanine, Volochine, and the world generally. He wanted to go, yet he could not make a move. He was for doing something outrageous, yet he could only smoke cigarette after cigarette, while dominated by the desire to proclaim Lida his mistress to all present.

"And how do you like being here? Are you not sorry to have left Petersburg behind you?" asked Lida, suffering meanwhile intense torture, and wondering why she did not get up and go.

"Mais au contraire!" lisped Volochine, as he waved his hand in a finicking fashion and gazed ardently at Lida.

"Come! come! no pretty speeches!" said Lida, coquettishly, while to Sarudine her whole being seemed to say:

"You think that I am wretched, don't you? and utterly crushed? But I am nothing of the kind, my friend. Look at me!"

"Oh, Lidia Petrovna!" said Sarudine, "you surely don't call that a pretty speech!"

"I beg your pardon?" asked Lida drily, as if she had not heard, and then, in a different tone, she again addressed Volochine.

"Do tell me something about life in Petersburg. Here, we don't live, we only vegetate."

Sarudine saw that Volochine was smiling to himself, as if he did not believe that the former had ever been on intimate terms with Lida.

"Ah! Ah! Ah! Very good!" he said to himself, as he bit his lip viciously.

"Oh! our famous Petersburg life!" Volochine, who chattered with ease, looked like a silly little monkey babbling of things that it did not comprehend.

"Who knows?" he thought to himself, his gaze riveted on Lida's beautiful form.

"I assure you on my word of honour that our life is extremely dull and colourless. Until to-day I thought that life, generally, was always dull, whether in the town or in the country."

"Not really!" exclaimed Lida, as she half closed her eyes.

"What makes life worth living is ... a beautiful woman! And the women in big towns! If you could only see what they were like! Do you know, I feel convinced that if the world is ever saved it will be by beauty." This last phrase Volochine unexpectedly added, believing it to be most apt and illuminating. The expression of his face was one of stupidity and greed, as he kept reverting to his pet theme, Woman. Sarudine alternately flushed and pale with jealousy, found it impossible to remain in one place, but walked restlessly up and down the path.

"Our women are all alike ... stereotyped and made-up. To find one whose beauty is worthy of adoration, it is to the provinces that one must go, where the soil, untilled as yet, produces the most splendid flowers."

Sanine scratched the nape of his neck, and crossed his legs.

"Ah! of what good is it if they bloom here, since there is no one worthy to pluck them?" replied Lida.

"Aha!" thought Sanine, suddenly becoming interested, "so that's what she's driving at!"

This word-play, where sentiment and grossness were so obviously involved, he found extremely diverting.

"Is it possible?"

"Why, of course! I mean what I say, who is it that plucks our unfortunate blossoms? What men are those whom we set up as heroes?" rejoined Lida bitterly.

"Aren't you rather too hard upon us?" asked Sarudine.

"No, Lidia Petrovna is right!" exclaimed Volochine, but, glancing at Sarudine, his eloquence suddenly subsided. Lida laughed outright. Filled with shame and grief and revenge, her burning eyes were set on her seducer, and seemed to pierce him through and through. Volochine again began to babble, while Lida interrupted him with laughter that concealed her tears.

"I think that we ought to be going," said Sarudine, at last, who felt that the situation was becoming intolerable. He could not tell why, but everything, Lida's laughter, her scornful eyes and trembling hands were all to him as so many secret boxes on the ear. His growing hatred of her, and his jealousy of Volochine as well as the consciousness of all that he had lost, served to exhaust him utterly.

"Already?" asked Lida.

Volochine smiled sweetly, licking his lips with the tip of his tongue.

"It can't be helped! Victor Sergejevitsch apparently is not quite himself," he said in a mocking tone, proud of his conquest.

So they took their leave; and, as Sarudine bent over Lida's hand, he whispered:

"This is good-bye!"

Never had he hated Lida as much as at this moment.

In Lida's heart there arose a vague, fleeting desire to bid tender farewell to all those bygone hours of love which had once been theirs. But this feeling she swiftly repressed, as she said in a loud, harsh voice:

"Good-bye! Bon voyage! Don't forget us, Pavel Lvovitsch!"

As they were going, Volochine's remark could be distinctly heard.

"How charming she is! She intoxicates one, like champagne!"

When they had gone, Lida sat down again in the rocking-chair. Her position was a different one, now, for she bent forward, trembling all over, and her silent tears fell fast.

"Come, come! What's the matter?" said Sanine, as he took hold of her hand.

"Oh! don't! What an awful thing life is!" she exclaimed, as her head sank lower, and she covered her face with her hands, while the soft plait of hair, slipping over her shoulder, hung down in front.

"For shame!" said Sanine. "What's the use of crying about such trifles?"

"Are there really no other ... better men, then?" murmured Lida.

Sanine smiled.

"No, certainly not. Man is vile by nature. Expect nothing good from him.... And then the harm that he does to you will not make you grieve."

Lida looked up at him with beautiful tear-stained eyes.

"Do you expect nothing good from your fellow-men, either?"

"Of course not," replied Sanine, "I live alone."