Chapter VII.
 

Three days afterwards, late in the evening, Lida came home sad, tired, and heavy-hearted. On reaching her room, she stood still, with hands clasped, and stared at the floor. She suddenly realized, to her horror, that in her relations with Sarudine she had gone too far. For the first time since that strange moment of irreparable weakness she perceived what a humiliating hold this empty-headed officer had over her, inferior as he was to herself in every way. She must now come if he called; she could no longer trifle with him as she liked, submitting to his kisses or laughingly resisting them. Now, like a slave, she must endure and obey.

How this had come about she could not comprehend. As always, she had ruled him, had borne with his amorous attentions; all had been as agreeable, amusing, and exciting, as heretofore. Then came a moment when her whole frame seemed on fire and her brain clouded as by a mist, annihilating all except the one mad desire to plunge into the abyss. It was as if the earth gave way beneath her feet; she lost control of her limbs, conscious only of two magnetic eyes that gazed boldly into hers. Her whole being was thrilled and shaken with passion; she became the sacrifice of overwhelming lust; and yet she longed once more that such passionate experiences might be repeated. At the very thought of it all Lida trembled; she raised her shoulders and hid her face in her hands. With faltering steps she crossed the room and opened the window. For a long while she gazed at the moon that hung just above the garden, and in distant foliage a nightingale sang. Grief oppressed her. She felt strangely agitated by a sense of remorse and of wounded pride to think that she had ruined her life for a silly, shallow man, and that her false step had been foolish, base, and, indeed, accidental. The future seemed threatening; but she sought to dissipate her fears by obstinate bravado.

"Well, I did it, and there's an end of it!" she said to herself, frowning, and striving to find some sort of grim satisfaction from this hackneyed phrase. "What nonsense it all is! I wanted to do it and I did it; and I felt so happy--oh, so happy! It would have been silly not to enjoy myself when the moment came. I must not think of it; it can't be helped, now."

She languidly withdrew from the window and began to undress, letting her clothes slip from her on to the floor. "After all, one only lives once," she thought, shivering at the touch of the cool night air on her bare shoulders and arms. "What should I have gained by waiting till I was lawfully married? And of what good would that have been to me? It's all the same thing! What is there to worry about?"

All at once it seemed to her that in this hazard she had got all that was best and most interesting; and that now, free as a bird an eventful life of happiness and pleasure lay before her.

"I'll love if I will; if I don't, then I won't!" sang Lida softly to herself, thinking meanwhile that her voice was a much better one than Sina Karsavina's. "Oh! it's all nonsense! If I like, I'll give myself to the devil!" Thus she made sudden answer to her thoughts, holding her bare arms above her head so that her bosom shook.

"Aren't you asleep yet, Lida?" said Sanine's voice outside the window.

Lida started back in alarm, and then, with a smile, flung a shawl round her shoulders as she approached the window.

"What a fright you gave me!" she said.

Sanine came nearer and leant with both elbows on the window-sill. His eyes shone, and he smiled.

"There was no need for that!" he muttered playfully.

Lida looked round.

"Without a shawl you looked much nicer," he said in a low voice, impressively.

Lida looked at him in amazement, and instinctively drew the shawl tighter round her.

Sanine laughed. In confusion, she also leant upon the window-sill, and now she felt his breath on her cheek.

"What a beauty you are!" he said.

Lida glanced swiftly at him, fearful of what she thought she could read in his face. With her whole body she felt that her brother's eyes were fixed upon her, and she turned away in horror. It was so terrible, so loathsome, that her heart seemed frozen. Every man looked at her just like that, and she liked it, but for her brother to do so was incredible, impossible. Recovering herself, she said, smiling:

"Yes, I know."

Sanine calmly watched her. The shawl and her chemise had slipped when she leant on the window-sill, and partly disclosed her tender bosom, white in the moonlight.

"Men always build up a Wall of China between themselves and happiness," he said in a low, trembling voice. Lida was terrified.

"How do you mean?" she asked faintly, her eyes still fixed on the garden for fear of encountering his. To her it seemed that something was going to happen of which one hardly dared to think. Yet she had no doubt as to what it was. It was awful, hideous, and yet interesting. Her brain was on fire; she could scarcely see, as with horror and yet with curiosity she felt hot breath against her cheek that stirred her hair and sent shivers through her frame.

"Why, like this!" replied Sanine, and his voice faltered.

As if by an electric shock, Lida started backwards and, without knowing what she did, leant over the table and blew out the light.

"It is bed-time," she said, and shut the window.

The light having been extinguished, it seemed less dark out of doors, and Sanine's figure was clearly discernible, his features appearing blueish in the moonlight. He stood in the long, dew-drenched grass and smiled.

Lida left the window and sat down mechanically on her bed. She trembled in every limb, unable to collect her thoughts, and the sound of Sanine's footsteps on the grass outside set her heart beating violently.

"Am I going mad?" she asked herself in disgust. "How awful! A chance phrase like that to put such thoughts into my head! Is this erotomania? Am I really so bad, so depraved? I must have sunk very low to think of such a thing!"

Burying her face in the pillows, she wept bitterly.

"Why am I weeping?" she thought, not knowing the reason for such tears, but feeling miserable, humiliated, and unhappy. She wept because she had yielded herself to Sarudine, because she was no longer a proud, pure maiden, and because of that insulting, horrible look in her brother's eyes. Formerly he would never have looked at her like that. It was, so she thought, because she had fallen.

But the bitterest, most harassing thought of all was that she had now become a woman, and that as long as she was young, strong, and good- looking her best powers must be at the service of men and devoted to their gratification, while the greater the enjoyment she procured for them and for herself the more would they despise her.

"Why should they? Who gave them this right? Am I not free just as much as they are?" she asked herself, as she gazed into the dreary darkness of her room. "Shall I never get to know another, better life?"

Her whole youthful physique imperiously told her that she had a right to take from life all that was interesting, pleasurable and necessary to her; and that she had a right to do whatever she chose with her strong, beautiful body that belonged to her alone. But this idea was lost in a tangle of confused and conflicting thoughts.