Chapter XL.
 

As though stunned by a blow, Sina at once fell asleep, but woke early, feeling utterly broken, and cold as a corpse. Her despair had never slumbered, and for no single moment could she forget that which had been done. In mute dejection she scrutinized every detail of her room, as if to discover what since yesterday had suffered change. Yet, from its corner, touched by morning light, the ikon looked down at her in friendly wise. The windows, the floor, the furniture were unaltered, and on the pillows of the adjoining bed lay the fair head of Dubova who was still fast asleep. All was exactly the same as usual; only the crumpled dress flung carelessly across a chair told its tale. The flush on her face at waking soon gave place to an ashen pallor that was heightened by her coal-black eyebrows. With the awful clearness of an overwrought brain she rehearsed her experiences of the last few hours. She saw herself walking through silent streets at sunrise and hostile windows seemed watching her, while the few persons she met turned round to look at her. On she went in the dawn-light, hampered by her long skirts, and holding a little green plush bag, much as some criminal might stagger homewards. The past night was to her as a night of delirium. Something mad and strange and overwhelming had happened, yet how or why she knew not. To have flung all shame aside, to have forgotten her love for another man, it was this that to her appeared incomprehensible.

Jaded and sick at heart, she rose, and noiselessly began to dress, fearful lest Dubova should awake. Then she sat at the window, gazing anxiously at the green and yellow foliage in the garden. Thoughts whirled in her brain, thoughts hazy and confused as smoke driven by the wind. Suddenly Dubova awoke.

"What? Up already? How extraordinary!" she exclaimed.

When Sina returned in the early morning, her friend had only drowsily asked, "How did you get in such a mess?" and then had fallen asleep again. Now that she noticed that something was wrong, she hurried across to Sina, barefooted, and in her night-dress.

"What's the matter? Are you ill?" she asked sympathetically, as might an elder sister.

Sina winced, as beneath a blow, yet, with a smile on her rosy lips, she replied in a tone of forced gaiety:

"Oh! dear no! Only, I hardly slept at all last night."

Thus was the first lie spoken that converted all her frank, proud maidenhood to a memory. In its place there was now something false and sullied. While Dubova was dressing herself, Sina glanced furtively at her from time to time. Her friend seemed to her bright and pure, and she herself as repulsive as a crushed reptile. So powerful was this impression, that even the very part of the room where Dubova stood appeared full of sunshine, while her own corner was steeped in gloom. Sina remembered how she had always thought herself purer and more beautiful than her friend, and the change that had come caused her intense anguish.

Yet all this lay hidden deep in her heart, and outwardly she was perfectly calm; indeed, almost gay. She put on a pretty dark-blue dress, and, taking her hat and sunshade, walked to school in her usual buoyant way, where she remained until noon, and then returned home.

In the street she met Lida Sanina. They both stood there in the sunlight, graceful, young, and pretty, as with smiles on their lips they talked of trifling things. Lida felt morbidly hostile towards Sina, happy and free from care as she imagined her to be, while the latter envied Lida her liberty and her pleasant, easy life. Each believed herself to be the victim of cruel injustice.

"I am surely better than she is. Why is she so happy, and why must I suffer?" In both their minds this thought was uppermost.

After lunch, Sina took a book and sat near the window, listlessly gazing at the garden that was still touched with the splendour of the dying summer. The emotional crisis had passed, and now her mood was one of apathy and indifference.

"Ah! Well, it's all over with me now," she kept repeating. "I'd better die."

Sina saw Sanine before he noticed her. Tall and calm, he crossed the garden, thrusting aside the branches as if to greet them by his touch. Leaning back in her chair, and pressing the book against her bosom, she watched him, wild-eyed, as he slowly approached the window.

"Good day," he said, holding out his hand.

Before she could rise or recover from her amazement he repeated in a gentle, caressing tone.

"Good morning to you."

Sina felt utterly powerless. She only murmured:

"Good morning."

Sanine leant on the window-sill and said:

"Do come out into the garden for a little while and have a talk."

Sina got up, swayed by a strange force that robbed her of her will.

"I'll wait for you there," added Sanine.

She merely nodded.

As he strolled back to the garden Sina was afraid to look at him. For some seconds she remained motionless, with her hands clasped, and then suddenly went out, holding up her dress so as to walk more easily.

Sunlight touched the bright-hued autumn foliage; and the garden seemed steeped in a golden haze. As Sina hastened towards him, Sanine was standing at some distance in the middle of the path. His smile troubled her. He took her hand, and, sitting on the trunk of a tree, gently drew her on to his lap.

"I am not sure," he began, "that I ought to have come here to see you, for you may think that I have treated you very badly. But I could not stay away. I wanted to explain things, so that you might not utterly hate and loathe me. After all ... what else could I do? How was I to resist? There came a moment when I felt that the last barrier between us had fallen, and that, if I missed this moment of my life, it would never again be mine. You're so beautiful, so young ..."

Sina was mute. Her soft, transparent ear, half-hidden by her hair, became rosy, and her long eyelashes quivered.

"You're miserable, now, and yesterday, how beautiful it all was," he said. "Sorrows only exist because man has set a price upon his own happiness. If our way of living were different, last night would remain in our memory as one of life's most beautiful and precious experiences."

"Yes, if ..." she said mechanically. Then, all at once, much to her own surprise, she smiled. And as sunrise, and the song of birds, and the sound of whispering reeds, so this smile seemed to cheer her spirit. Yet it was but for a moment.

All at once she saw her whole future life before her, a broken life of sorrow and shame. The prospect was so horrible that it roused hatred.

"Go away! Leave me!" she said sharply. Her teeth were clenched and her face wore a hard, vindictive expression as she rose to her feet.

Sanine pitied her. For a moment he was moved to offer her his name and his protection, yet something held him back. He felt that such amends would be too mean.

"Ah! well," he thought, "life must just take its course."

"I know that you are in love with Yourii Svarogitsch," he began. "Perhaps it is that which grieves you most?"

"I am in love with no one," murmured Sina, clasping her hands convulsively.

"Don't bear me any ill-will," pleaded Sanine. "You're just as beautiful as ever you were, and the same happiness that you gave to me, you will give to him you love--far more, indeed, far more. I wish you from my heart all possible joy, and I shall always picture you to myself as I saw you last night. Good-bye ... and, if ever you need me, send for me. If I could ... I would give my life for you."

Sina looked at him, and was silent, stirred by strange pity.

"It may all come right, who knows?" she thought, and for a moment matters did not seem so dreadful. They gazed into each other's eyes steadfastly, knowing that in their hearts they held a secret which no one would ever discover, and the memory of which would always be bright.

"Well, good-bye," said Sina, in a gentle, girlish voice.

Sanine looked radiant with pleasure. She held out her hand, and they kissed, simply, affectionately, like brother and sister.

Sina accompanied Sanine as far as the garden-gate and sorrowfully watched him go. Then she went back to the garden, and lay down on the scented grass that waved and rustled round her. She shut her eyes, thinking of all that had happened, and wondering whether she ought to tell Yourii or not.

"No, no," she said to herself, "I won't think any more about it. Some things are best forgotten."