Under Western Eyes by Joseph Conrad
The words and events of that evening must have been graven as if with a steel tool on Mr. Razumov's brain since he was able to write his relation with such fullness and precision a good many months afterwards.
The record of the thoughts which assailed him in the street is even more minute and abundant. They seem to have rushed upon him with the greater freedom because his thinking powers were no longer crushed by Haldin's presence--the appalling presence of a great crime and the stunning force of a great fanaticism. On looking through the pages of Mr. Razumov's diary I own that a "rush of thoughts" is not an adequate image.
The more adequate description would be a tumult of thoughts--the faithful reflection of the state of his feelings. The thoughts in themselves were not numerous--they were like the thoughts of most human beings, few and simple--but they cannot be reproduced here in all their exclamatory repetitions which went on in an endless and weary turmoil--for the walk was long.
If to the Western reader they appear shocking, inappropriate, or even improper, it must be remembered that as to the first this may be the effect of my crude statement. For the rest I will only remark here that this is not a story of the West of Europe.
Nations it may be have fashioned their Governments, but the Governments have paid them back in the same coin. It is unthinkable that any young Englishman should find himself in Razumov's situation. This being so it would be a vain enterprise to imagine what he would think. The only safe surmise to make is that he would not think as Mr. Razumov thought at this crisis of his fate. He would not have an hereditary and personal knowledge or the means by which historical autocracy represses ideas, guards its power, and defends its existence. By an act of mental extravagance he might imagine himself arbitrarily thrown into prison, but it would never occur to him unless he were delirious (and perhaps not even then) that he could be beaten with whips as a practical measure either of investigation or of punishment.
This is but a crude and obvious example of the different conditions of Western thought. I don't know that this danger occurred, specially, to Mr. Razumov. No doubt it entered unconsciously into the general dread and the general appallingness of this crisis. Razumov, as has been seen, was aware of more subtle ways in which an individual may be undone by the proceedings of a despotic Government. A simple expulsion from the University (the very least that could happen to him), with an impossibility to continue his studies anywhere, was enough to ruin utterly a young man depending entirely upon the development of his natural abilities for his place in the world. He was a Russian: and for him to be implicated meant simply sinking into the lowest social depths amongst the hopeless and the destitute--the night birds of the city.
The peculiar circumstances of Razumov's parentage, or rather of his lack of parentage, should be taken into the account of his thoughts. And he remembered them too. He had been lately reminded of them in a peculiarly atrocious way by this fatal Haldin. "Because I haven't that, must everything else be taken away from me?" he thought.
He nerved himself for another effort to go on. Along the roadway sledges glided phantom-like and jingling through a fluttering whiteness on the black face of the night. "For it is a crime," he was saying to himself. "A murder is a murder. Though, of course, some sort of liberal institutions...."
A feeling of horrible sickness came over him. "I must be courageous," he exhorted himself mentally. All his strength was suddenly gone as if taken out by a hand. Then by a mighty effort of will it came back because he was afraid of fainting in the street and being picked up by the police with the key of his lodgings in his pocket. They would find Haldin there, and then, indeed, he would be undone.
Strangely enough it was this fear which seems to have kept him up to the end. The passers-by were rare. They came upon him suddenly, looming up black in the snowflakes close by, then vanishing all at once-without footfalls.
It was the quarter of the very poor. Razumov noticed an elderly woman tied up in ragged shawls. Under the street lamp she seemed a beggar off duty. She walked leisurely in the blizzard as though she had no home to hurry to, she hugged under one arm a round loaf of black bread with an air of guarding a priceless booty: and Razumov averting his glance envied her the peace of her mind and the serenity of her fate.
To one reading Mr. Razumov's narrative it is really a wonder how he managed to keep going as he did along one interminable street after another on pavements that were gradually becoming blocked with snow. It was the thought of Haldin locked up in his rooms and the desperate desire to get rid of his presence which drove him forward. No rational determination had any part in his exertions. Thus, when on arriving at the low eating-house he heard that the man of horses, Ziemianitch, was not there, he could only stare stupidly.
The waiter, a wild-haired youth in tarred boots and a pink shirt, exclaimed, uncovering his pale gums in a silly grin, that Ziemianitch had got his skinful early in the afternoon and had gone away with a bottle under each arm to keep it up amongst the horses--he supposed.
The owner of the vile den, a bony short man in a dirty cloth caftan coming down to his heels, stood by, his hands tucked into his belt, and nodded confirmation.
The reek of spirits, the greasy rancid steam of food got Razumov by the throat. He struck a table with his clenched hand and shouted violently--
Bleary unwashed faces were turned to his direction. A mild-eyed ragged tramp drinking tea at the next table moved farther away. A murmur of wonder arose with an undertone of uneasiness. A laugh was heard too, and an exclamation, "There! there!" jeeringly soothing. The waiter looked all round and announced to the room--
"The gentleman won't believe that Ziemianitch is drunk."
From a distant corner a hoarse voice belonging to a horrible, nondescript, shaggy being with a black face like the muzzle of a bear grunted angrily--
"The cursed driver of thieves. What do we want with his gentlemen here? We are all honest folk in this place."
Razumov, biting his lip till blood came to keep himself from bursting into imprecations, followed the owner of the den, who, whispering "Come along, little father," led him into a tiny hole of a place behind the wooden counter, whence proceeded a sound of splashing. A wet and bedraggled creature, a sort of sexless and shivering scarecrow, washed glasses in there, bending over a wooden tub by the light of a tallow dip.
"Yes, little father," the man in the long caftan said plaintively. He had a brown, cunning little face, a thin greyish beard. Trying to light a tin lantern he hugged it to his breast and talked garrulously the while.
He would show Ziemianitch to the gentleman to prove there were no lies told. And he would show him drunk. His woman, it seems, ran away from him last night. "Such a hag she was! Thin! Pfui!" He spat. They were always running away from that driver of the devil--and he sixty years old too; could never get used to it. But each heart knows sorrow after its own kind and Ziemianitch was a born fool all his days. And then he would fly to the bottle. "'Who could bear life in our land without the bottle?' he says. A proper Russian man--the little pig.... Be pleased to follow me."
Razumov crossed a quadrangle of deep snow enclosed between high walls with innumerable windows. Here and there a dim yellow light hung within the four-square mass of darkness. The house was an enormous slum, a hive of human vermin, a monumental abode of misery towering on the verge of starvation and despair.
In a corner the ground sloped sharply down, and Razumov followed the light of the lantern through a small doorway into a long cavernous place like a neglected subterranean byre. Deep within, three shaggy little horses tied up to rings hung their heads together, motionless and shadowy in the dim light of the lantern. It must have been the famous team of Haldin's escape. Razumov peered fearfully into the gloom. His guide pawed in the straw with his foot.
"Here he is. Ah! the little pigeon. A true Russian man. 'No heavy hearts for me,' he says. 'Bring out the bottle and take your ugly mug out of my sight.' Ha! ha! ha! That's the fellow he is."
He held the lantern over a prone form of a man, apparently fully dressed for outdoors. His head was lost in a pointed cloth hood. On the other side of a heap of straw protruded a pair of feet in monstrous thick boots.
"Always ready to drive," commented the keeper of the eating-house. "A proper Russian driver that. Saint or devil, night or day is all one to Ziemianitch when his heart is free from sorrow. 'I don't ask who you are, but where you want to go,' he says. He would drive Satan himself to his own abode and come back chirruping to his horses. Many a one he has driven who is clanking his chains in the Nertchinsk mines by this time."
"Call him, wake him up," he faltered out.
The other set down his light, stepped back and launched a kick at the prostrate sleeper. The man shook at the impact but did not move. At the third kick he grunted but remained inert as before.
The eating-house keeper desisted and fetched a deep sigh.
"You see for yourself how it is. We have done what we can for you."
He picked up the lantern. The intense black spokes of shadow swung about in the circle of light. A terrible fury--the blind rage of self-preservation--possessed Razumov.
"Ah! The vile beast," he bellowed out in an unearthly tone which made the lantern jump and tremble! "I shall wake you! Give me...give me..."
He looked round wildly, seized the handle of a stablefork and rushing forward struck at the prostrate body with inarticulate cries. After a time his cries ceased, and the rain of blows fell in the stillness and shadows of the cellar-like stable. Razumov belaboured Ziemianitch with an insatiable fury, in great volleys of sounding thwacks. Except for the violent movements of Razumov nothing stirred, neither the beaten man nor the spoke-like shadows on the walls. And only the sound of blows was heard. It was a weird scene.
Suddenly there was a sharp crack. The stick broke and half of it flew far away into the gloom beyond the light. At the same time Ziemianitch sat up. At this Razumov became as motionless as the man with the lantern--only his breast heaved for air as if ready to burst.
Some dull sensation of pain must have penetrated at last the consoling night of drunkenness enwrapping the "bright Russian soul" of Haldin's enthusiastic praise. But Ziemianitch evidently saw nothing. His eyeballs blinked all white in the light once, twice--then the gleam went out. For a moment he sat in the straw with closed eyes with a strange air of weary meditation, then fell over slowly on his side without making the slightest sound. Only the straw rustled a little. Razumov stared wildly, fighting for his breath. After a second or two he heard a light snore.
He flung from him the piece of stick remaining in his grasp, and went off with great hasty strides without looking back once.
After going heedlessly for some fifty yards along the street he walked into a snowdrift and was up to his knees before he stopped.
This recalled him to himself; and glancing about he discovered he had been going in the wrong direction. He retraced his steps, but now at a more moderate pace. When passing before the house he had just left he flourished his fist at the sombre refuge of misery and crime rearing its sinister bulk on the white ground. It had an air of brooding. He let his arm fall by his side--discouraged.
Ziemianitch's passionate surrender to sorrow and consolation had baffled him. That was the people. A true Russian man! Razumov was glad he had beaten that brute--the "bright soul" of the other. Here they were: the people and the enthusiast.
Between the two he was done for. Between the drunkenness of the peasant incapable of action and the dream-intoxication of the idealist incapable of perceiving the reason of things, and the true character of men. It was a sort of terrible childishness. But children had their masters. "Ah! the stick, the stick, the stern hand," thought Razumov, longing for power to hurt and destroy.
He was glad he had thrashed that brute. The physical exertion had left his body in a comfortable glow. His mental agitation too was clarified as if all the feverishness had gone out of him in a fit of outward violence. Together with the persisting sense of terrible danger he was conscious now of a tranquil, unquenchable hate.
He walked slower and slower. And indeed, considering the guest he had in his rooms, it was no wonder he lingered on the way. It was like harbouring a pestilential disease that would not perhaps take your life, but would take from you all that made life worth living--a subtle pest that would convert earth into a hell.
What was he doing now? Lying on the bed as if dead, with the back of his hands over his eyes? Razumov had a morbidly vivid vision of Haldin on his bed--the white pillow hollowed by the head, the legs in long boots, the upturned feet. And in his abhorrence he said to himself, "I'll kill him when I get home." But he knew very well that that was of no use. The corpse hanging round his neck would be nearly as fatal as the living man. Nothing short of complete annihilation would do. And that was impossible. What then? Must one kill oneself to escape this visitation?
Razumov's despair was too profoundly tinged with hate to accept that issue.
And yet it was despair--nothing less--at the thought of having to live with Haldin for an indefinite number of days in mortal alarm at every sound. But perhaps when he heard that this "bright soul" of Ziemianitch suffered from a drunken eclipse the fellow would take his infernal resignation somewhere else. And that was not likely on the face of it.
Razumov thought: "I am being crushed--and I can't even run away." Other men had somewhere a corner of the earth--some little house in the provinces where they had a right to take their troubles. A material refuge. He had nothing. He had not even a moral refuge--the refuge of confidence. To whom could he go with this tale--in all this great, great land?
Razumov stamped his foot--and under the soft carpet of snow felt the hard ground of Russia, inanimate, cold, inert, like a sullen and tragic mother hiding her face under a winding-sheet--his native soil!--his very own--without a fireside, without a heart!
He cast his eyes upwards and stood amazed. The snow had ceased to fall, and now, as if by a miracle, he saw above his head the clear black sky of the northern winter, decorated with the sumptuous fires of the stars. It was a canopy fit for the resplendent purity of the snows.
Razumov received an almost physical impression of endless space and of countless millions.
He responded to it with the readiness of a Russian who is born to an inheritance of space and numbers. Under the sumptuous immensity of the sky, the snow covered the endless forests, the frozen rivers, the plains of an immense country, obliterating the landmarks, the accidents of the ground, levelling everything under its uniform whiteness, like a monstrous blank page awaiting the record of an inconceivable history. It covered the passive land with its lives of countless people like Ziemianitch and its handful of agitators like this Haldin--murdering foolishly.
It was a sort of sacred inertia. Razumov felt a respect for it. A voice seemed to cry within him, "Don't touch it." It was a guarantee of duration, of safety, while the travail of maturing destiny went on--a work not of revolutions with their passionate levity of action and their shifting impulses--but of peace. What it needed was not the conflicting aspirations of a people, but a will strong and one: it wanted not the babble of many voices, but a man--strong and one!
Razumov stood on the point of conversion. He was fascinated by its approach, by its overpowering logic. For a train of thought is never false. The falsehood lies deep in the necessities of existence, in secret fears and half-formed ambitions, in the secret confidence combined with a secret mistrust of ourselves, in the love of hope and the dread of uncertain days.
In Russia, the land of spectral ideas and disembodied aspirations, many brave minds have turned away at last from the vain and endless conflict to the one great historical fact of the land. They turned to autocracy for the peace of their patriotic conscience as a weary unbeliever, touched by grace, turns to the faith of his fathers for the blessing of spiritual rest. Like other Russians before him, Razumov, in conflict with himself, felt the touch of grace upon his forehead.
"Haldin means disruption," he thought to himself, beginning to walk again. "What is he with his indignation, with his talk of bondage--with his talk of God's justice? All that means disruption. Better that thousands should suffer than that a people should become a disintegrated mass, helpless like dust in the wind. Obscurantism is better than the light of incendiary torches. The seed germinates in the night. Out of the dark soil springs the perfect plant. But a volcanic eruption is sterile, the ruin of the fertile ground. And am I, who love my country--who have nothing but that to love and put my faith in--am I to have my future, perhaps my usefulness, ruined by this sanguinary fanatic?"
The grace entered into Razumov. He believed now in the man who would come at the appointed time.
What is a throne? A few pieces of wood upholstered in velvet. But a throne is a seat of power too. The form of government is the shape of a tool--an instrument. But twenty thousand bladders inflated by the noblest sentiments and jostling against each other in the air are a miserable incumbrance of space, holding no power, possessing no will, having nothing to give.
He went on thus, heedless of the way, holding a discourse with himself with extraordinary abundance and facility. Generally his phrases came to him slowly, after a conscious and painstaking wooing. Some superior power had inspired him with a flow of masterly argument as certain converted sinners become overwhelmingly loquacious.
He felt an austere exultation.
"What are the luridly smoky lucubrations of that fellow to the clear grasp of my intellect?" he thought. "Is not this my country? Have I not got forty million brothers?" he asked himself, unanswerably victorious in the silence of his breast. And the fearful thrashing he had given the inanimate Ziemianitch seemed to him a sign of intimate union, a pathetically severe necessity of brotherly love. "No! If I must suffer let me at least suffer for my convictions, not for a crime my reason--my cool superior reason--rejects."
He ceased to think for a moment. The silence in his breast was complete. But he felt a suspicious uneasiness, such as we may experience when we enter an unlighted strange place--the irrational feeling that something may jump upon us in the dark--the absurd dread of the unseen.
Of course he was far from being a moss-grown reactionary. Everything was not for the best. Despotic bureaucracy... abuses... corruption... and so on. Capable men were wanted. Enlightened intelligences. Devoted hearts. But absolute power should be preserved--the tool ready for the man--for the great autocrat of the future. Razumov believed in him. The logic of history made him unavoidable. The state of the people demanded him, "What else?" he asked himself ardently, "could move all that mass in one direction? Nothing could. Nothing but a single will."
He was persuaded that he was sacrificing his personal longings of liberalism--rejecting the attractive error for the stern Russian truth. "That's patriotism," he observed mentally, and added, "There's no stopping midway on that road," and then remarked to himself, "I am not a coward."
And again there was a dead silence in Razumov's breast. He walked with lowered head, making room for no one. He walked slowly and his thoughts returning spoke within him with solemn slowness.
"What is this Haldin? And what am I? Only two grains of sand. But a great mountain is made up of just such insignificant grains. And the death of a man or of many men is an insignificant thing. Yet we combat a contagious pestilence. Do I want his death? No! I would save him if I could--but no one can do that--he is the withered member which must be cut off. If I must perish through him, let me at least not perish with him, and associated against my will with his sombre folly that understands nothing either of men or things. Why should I leave a false memory?"
It passed through his mind that there was no one in the world who cared what sort of memory he left behind him. He exclaimed to himself instantly, "Perish vainly for a falsehood!... What a miserable fate!"
He was now in a more animated part of the town. He did not remark the crash of two colliding sledges close to the curb. The driver of one bellowed tearfully at his fellow--
"Oh, thou vile wretch!"
This hoarse yell, let out nearly in his ear, disturbed Razumov. He shook his head impatiently and went on looking straight before him. Suddenly on the snow, stretched on his back right across his path, he saw Haldin, solid, distinct, real, with his inverted hands over his eyes, clad in a brown close-fitting coat and long boots. He was lying out of the way a little, as though he had selected that place on purpose. The snow round him was untrodden.
This hallucination had such a solidity of aspect that the first movement of Razumov was to reach for his pocket to assure himself that the key of his rooms was there. But he checked the impulse with a disdainful curve of his lips. He understood. His thought, concentrated intensely on the figure left lying on his bed, had culminated in this extraordinary illusion of the sight. Razumov tackled the phenomenon calmly. With a stern face, without a check and gazing far beyond the vision, he walked on, experiencing nothing but a slight tightening of the chest. After passing he turned his head for a glance, and saw only the unbroken track of his footsteps over the place where the breast of the phantom had been lying.
Razumov walked on and after a little time whispered his wonder to himself.
"Exactly as if alive! Seemed to breathe! And right in my way too! I have had an extraordinary experience."
He made a few steps and muttered through his set teeth--
"I shall give him up."
Then for some twenty yards or more all was blank. He wrapped his cloak closer round him. He pulled his cap well forward over his eyes.
"Betray. A great word. What is betrayal? They talk of a man betraying his country, his friends, his sweetheart. There must be a moral bond first. All a man can betray is his conscience. And how is my conscience engaged here; by what bond of common faith, of common conviction, am I obliged to let that fanatical idiot drag me down with him? On the contrary--every obligation of true courage is the other way."
Razumov looked round from under his cap.
"What can the prejudice of the world reproach me with? Have I provoked his confidence? No! Have I by a single word, look, or gesture given him reason to suppose that I accepted his trust in me? No! It is true that I consented to go and see his Ziemianitch. Well, I have been to see him. And I broke a stick on his back too--the brute."
Something seemed to turn over in his head bringing uppermost a singularly hard, clear facet of his brain.
"It would be better, however," he reflected with a quite different mental accent, "to keep that circumstance altogether to myself."
He had passed beyond the turn leading to his lodgings, and had reached a wide and fashionable street. Some shops were still open, and all the restaurants. Lights fell on the pavement where men in expensive fur coats, with here and there the elegant figure of a woman, walked with an air of leisure. Razumov looked at them with the contempt of an austere believer for the frivolous crowd. It was the world--those officers, dignitaries, men of fashion, officials, members of the Yacht Club. The event of the morning affected them all. What would they say if they knew what this student in a cloak was going to do?
"Not one of them is capable of feeling and thinking as deeply as I can. How many of them could accomplish an act of conscience?"
Razumov lingered in the well-lighted street. He was firmly decided. Indeed, it could hardly be called a decision. He had simply discovered what he had meant to do all along. And yet he felt the need of some other mind's sanction.
With something resembling anguish he said to himself--
"I want to be understood." The universal aspiration with all its profound and melancholy meaning assailed heavily Razumov, who, amongst eighty millions of his kith and kin, had no heart to which he could open himself.
The attorney was not to be thought of. He despised the little agent of chicane too much. One could not go and lay one's conscience before the policeman at the corner. Neither was Razumov anxious to go to the chief of his district's police--a common-looking person whom he used to see sometimes in the street in a shabby uniform and with a smouldering cigarette stuck to his lower lip. "He would begin by locking me up most probably. At any rate, he is certain to get excited and create an awful commotion," thought Razumov practically.
An act of conscience must be done with outward dignity.
Razumov longed desperately for a word of advice, for moral support. Who knows what true loneliness is--not the conventional word, but the naked terror? To the lonely themselves it wears a mask. The most miserable outcast hugs some memory or some illusion. Now and then a fatal conjunction of events may lift the veil for an instant. For an instant only. No human being could bear a steady view of moral solitude without going mad.
Razumov had reached that point of vision. To escape from it he embraced for a whole minute the delirious purpose of rushing to his lodgings and flinging himself on his knees by the side of the bed with the dark figure stretched on it; to pour out a full confession in passionate words that would stir the whole being of that man to its innermost depths; that would end in embraces and tears; in an incredible fellowship of souls--such as the world had never seen. It was sublime!
Inwardly he wept and trembled already. But to the casual eyes that were cast upon him he was aware that he appeared as a tranquil student in a cloak, out for a leisurely stroll. He noted, too, the sidelong, brilliant glance of a pretty woman--with a delicate head, and covered in the hairy skins of wild beasts down to her feet, like a frail and beautiful savage--which rested for a moment with a sort of mocking tenderness on the deep abstraction of that good-looking young man.
Suddenly Razumov stood still. The glimpse of a passing grey whisker, caught and lost in the same instant, had evoked the complete image of Prince K---, the man who once had pressed his hand as no other man had pressed it--a faint but lingering pressure like a secret sign, like a half-unwilling caress.
And Razumov marvelled at himself. Why did he not think of him before!
"A senator, a dignitary, a great personage, the very man--He!"
A strange softening emotion came over Razumov--made his knees shake a little. He repressed it with a new-born austerity. All that sentiment was pernicious nonsense. He couldn't be quick enough; and when he got into a sledge he shouted to the driver--"to the K--- Palace. Get on--you! Fly!" The startled moujik, bearded up to the very whites of his eyes, answered obsequiously--
"I hear, your high Nobility."
It was lucky for Razumov that Prince K--- was not a man of timid character. On the day of Mr. de P---'s murder an extreme alarm and despondency prevailed in the high official spheres.
Prince K---, sitting sadly alone in his study, was told by his alarmed servants that a mysterious young man had forced his way into the hall, refused to tell his name and the nature of his business, and would not move from there till he had seen his Excellency in private. Instead of locking himself up and telephoning for the police, as nine out of ten high personages would have done that evening, the Prince gave way to curiosity and came quietly to the door of his study.
In the hall, the front door standing wide open, he recognised at once Razumov, pale as death, his eyes blazing, and surrounded by perplexed lackeys.
The Prince was vexed beyond measure, and even indignant. But his humane instincts and a subtle sense of self-respect could not allow him to let this young man be thrown out into the street by base menials. He retreated unseen into his room, and after a little rang his bell. Razumov heard in the hall an ominously raised harsh voice saying somewhere far away--
"Show the gentleman in here."
Razumov walked in without a tremor. He felt himself invulnerable--raised far above the shallowness of common judgment. Though he saw the Prince looking at him with black displeasure, the lucidity of his mind, of which he was very conscious, gave him an extraordinary assurance. He was not asked to sit down.
Half an hour later they appeared in the hall together. The lackeys stood up, and the Prince, moving with difficulty on his gouty feet, was helped into his furs. The carriage had been ordered before. When the great double door was flung open with a crash, Razumov, who had been standing silent with a lost gaze but with every faculty intensely on the alert, heard the Prince's voice--
"Your arm, young man."
The mobile, superficial mind of the ex-Guards officer, man of showy missions, experienced in nothing but the arts of gallant intrigue and worldly success, had been equally impressed by the more obvious difficulties of such a situation and by Razumov's quiet dignity in stating them.
He had said, "No. Upon the whole I can't condemn the step you ventured to take by coming to me with your story. It is not an affair for police understrappers. The greatest importance is attached to.... Set your mind at rest. I shall see you through this most extraordinary and difficult situation."
Then the Prince rose to ring the bell, and Razumov, making a short bow, had said with deference--
"I have trusted my instinct. A young man having no claim upon anybody in the world has in an hour of trial involving his deepest political convictions turned to an illustrious Russian--that's all."
The Prince had exclaimed hastily--
"You have done well."
In the carriage--it was a small brougham on sleigh runners--Razumov broke the silence in a voice that trembled slightly.
"My gratitude surpasses the greatness of my presumption."
He gasped, feeling unexpectedly in the dark a momentary pressure on his arm.
"You have done well," repeated the Prince.
When the carriage stopped the Prince murmured to Razumov, who had never ventured a single question--
"The house of General T---."
In the middle of the snow-covered roadway blazed a great bonfire. Some Cossacks, the bridles of their horses over the arm, were warming themselves around. Two sentries stood at the door, several gendarmes lounged under the great carriage gateway, and on the first-floor landing two orderlies rose and stood at attention. Razumov walked at the Prince's elbow.
A surprising quantity of hot-house plants in pots cumbered the floor of the ante-room. Servants came forward. A young man in civilian clothes arrived hurriedly, was whispered to, bowed low, and exclaiming zealously, "Certainly--this minute," fled within somewhere. The Prince signed to Razumov.
They passed through a suite of reception-rooms all barely lit and one of them prepared for dancing. The wife of the General had put off her party. An atmosphere of consternation pervaded the place. But the General's own room, with heavy sombre hangings, two massive desks, and deep armchairs, had all the lights turned on. The footman shut the door behind them and they waited.
There was a coal fire in an English grate; Razumov had never before seen such a fire; and the silence of the room was like the silence of the grave; perfect, measureless, for even the clock on the mantelpiece made no sound. Filling a corner, on a black pedestal, stood a quarter-life-size smooth-limbed bronze of an adolescent figure, running. The Prince observed in an undertone--
"Spontini's. 'Flight of Youth.' Exquisite."
"Admirable," assented Razumov faintly.
They said nothing more after this, the Prince silent with his grand air, Razumov staring at the statue. He was worried by a sensation resembling the gnawing of hunger.
He did not turn when he heard an inner door fly open, and a quick footstep, muffled on the carpet.
The Prince's voice immediately exclaimed, thick with excitement--
"We have got him--ce miserable. A worthy young man came to me--No! It's incredible...."
Razumov held his breath before the bronze as if expecting a crash. Behind his back a voice he had never heard before insisted politely--
The Prince almost shrieked, "Mais comprenez-vous, mon cher! L'assassin! the murderer--we have got him...."
Razumov spun round. The General's smooth big cheeks rested on the stiff collar of his uniform. He must have been already looking at Razumov, because that last saw the pale blue eyes fastened on him coldly.
The Prince from a chair waved an impressive hand.
"This is a most honourable young man whom Providence itself... Mr. Razumov."
The General acknowledged the introduction by frowning at Razumov, who did not make the slightest movement.
Sitting down before his desk the General listened with compressed lips. It was impossible to detect any sign of emotion on his face.
Razumov watched the immobility of the fleshy profile. But it lasted only a moment, till the Prince had finished; and when the General turned to the providential young man, his florid complexion, the blue, unbelieving eyes and the bright white flash of an automatic smile had an air of jovial, careless cruelty. He expressed no wonder at the extraordinary story--no pleasure or excitement--no incredulity either. He betrayed no sentiment whatever. Only with a politeness almost deferential suggested that "the bird might have flown while Mr.--Mr. Razumov was running about the streets."
Razumov advanced to the middle of the room and said, "The door is locked and I have the key in my pocket."
His loathing for the man was intense. It had come upon him so unawares that he felt he had not kept it out of his voice. The General looked up at him thoughtfully, and Razumov grinned.
All this went over the head of Prince K--- seated in a deep armchair, very tired and impatient.
"A student called Haldin," said the General thoughtfully.
Razumov ceased to grin.
"That is his name," he said unnecessarily loud. "Victor Victorovitch Haldin--a student."
The General shifted his position a little.
"How is he dressed? Would you have the goodness to tell me?"
Razumov angrily described Haldin's clothing in a few jerky words. The General stared all the time, then addressing the Prince--
"We were not without some indications," he said in French. "A good woman who was in the street described to us somebody wearing a dress of the sort as the thrower of the second bomb. We have detained her at the Secretariat, and every one in a Tcherkess coat we could lay our hands on has been brought to her to look at. She kept on crossing herself and shaking her head at them. It was exasperating...." He turned to Razumov, and in Russian, with friendly reproach--
"Take a chair, Mr. Razumov--do. Why are you standing?"
Razumov sat down carelessly and looked at the General.
"This goggle-eyed imbecile understands nothing," he thought.
The Prince began to speak loftily.
"Mr. Razumov is a young man of conspicuous abilities. I have it at heart that his future should not...."
"Certainly," interrupted the General, with a movement of the hand. "Has he any weapons on him, do you think, Mr. Razumov?"
The General employed a gentle musical voice. Razumov answered with suppressed irritation--
"No. But my razors are lying about--you understand."
The General lowered his head approvingly.
Then to the Prince, explaining courteously--
"We want that bird alive. It will be the devil if we can't make him sing a little before we are done with him."
The grave-like silence of the room with its mute clock fell upon the polite modulations of this terrible phrase. The Prince, hidden in the chair, made no sound.
The General unexpectedly developed a thought.
"Fidelity to menaced institutions on which depend the safety of a throne and of a people is no child's play. We know that, mon Prince, and--tenez--" he went on with a sort of flattering harshness, "Mr. Razumov here begins to understand that too."
His eyes which he turned upon Razumov seemed to be starting out of his head. This grotesqueness of aspect no longer shocked Razumov. He said with gloomy conviction--
"Haldin will never speak."
"That remains to be seen," muttered the General.
"I am certain," insisted Razumov. "A man like this never speaks.... Do you imagine that I am here from fear?" he added violently. He felt ready to stand by his opinion of Haldin to the last extremity.
"Certainly not," protested the General, with great simplicity of tone. "And I don't mind telling you, Mr. Razumov, that if he had not come with his tale to such a staunch and loyal Russian as you, he would have disappeared like a stone in the water... which would have had a detestable effect," he added, with a bright, cruel smile under his stony stare. "So you see, there can be no suspicion of any fear here."
The Prince intervened, looking at Razumov round the back of the armchair.
"Nobody doubts the moral soundness of your action. Be at ease in that respect, pray."
He turned to the General uneasily.
"That's why I am here. You may be surprised why I should...."
The General hastened to interrupt.
"Not at all. Extremely natural. You saw the importance...."
"Yes," broke in the Prince. "And I venture to ask insistently that mine and Mr. Razumov's intervention should not become public. He is a young man of promise--of remarkable aptitudes."
"I haven't a doubt of it," murmured the General. "He inspires confidence."
"All sorts of pernicious views are so widespread nowadays--they taint such unexpected quarters--that, monstrous as it seems, he might suffer ...his studies...his..."
The General, with his elbows on the desk, took his head between his hands.
"Yes. Yes. I am thinking it out.... How long is it since you left him at your rooms, Mr. Razumov?"
Razumov mentioned the hour which nearly corresponded with the time of his distracted flight from the big slum house. He had made up his mind to keep Ziemianitch out of the affair completely. To mention him at all would mean imprisonment for the "bright soul," perhaps cruel floggings, and in the end a journey to Siberia in chains. Razumov, who had beaten Ziemianitch, felt for him now a vague, remorseful tenderness.
The General, giving way for the first time to his secret sentiments, exclaimed contemptuously--
"And you say he came in to make you this confidence like this--for nothing--a propos des bottes."
Razumov felt danger in the air. The merciless suspicion of despotism had spoken openly at last. Sudden fear sealed Razumov's lips. The silence of the room resembled now the silence of a deep dungeon, where time does not count, and a suspect person is sometimes forgotten for ever. But the Prince came to the rescue.
"Providence itself has led the wretch in a moment of mental aberration to seek Mr. Razumov on the strength of some old, utterly misinterpreted exchange of ideas--some sort of idle speculative conversation--months ago--I am told--and completely forgotten till now by Mr. Razumov."
"Mr. Razumov," queried the General meditatively, after a short silence, "do you often indulge in speculative conversation?"
"No, Excellency," answered Razumov, coolly, in a sudden access of self-confidence. "I am a man of deep convictions. Crude opinions are in the air. They are not always worth combating. But even the silent contempt of a serious mind may be misinterpreted by headlong utopists."
The General stared from between his hands. Prince K--- murmured--
"A serious young man. Un esprit superieur."
"I see that, mon cher Prince," said the General. "Mr. Razumov is quite safe with me. I am interested in him. He has, it seems, the great and useful quality of inspiring confidence. What I was wondering at is why the other should mention anything at all--I mean even the bare fact alone--if his object was only to obtain temporary shelter for a few hours. For, after all, nothing was easier than to say nothing about it unless, indeed, he were trying, under a crazy misapprehension of your true sentiments, to enlist your assistance--eh, Mr. Razumov?"
It seemed to Razumov that the floor was moving slightly. This grotesque man in a tight uniform was terrible. It was right that he should be terrible.
"I can see what your Excellency has in your mind. But I can only answer that I don't know why."
"I have nothing in my mind," murmured the General, with gentle surprise.
"I am his prey--his helpless prey," thought Razumov. The fatigues and the disgusts of that afternoon, the need to forget, the fear which he could not keep off, reawakened his hate for Haldin.
"Then I can't help your Excellency. I don't know what he meant. I only know there was a moment when I wished to kill him. There was also a moment when I wished myself dead. I said nothing. I was overcome. I provoked no confidence--I asked for no explanations--"
Razumov seemed beside himself; but his mind was lucid. It was really a calculated outburst.
"It is rather a pity," the General said, "that you did not. Don't you know at all what he means to do?" Razumov calmed down and saw an opening there.
"He told me he was in hopes that a sledge would meet him about half an hour after midnight at the seventh lamp-post on the left from the upper end of Karabelnaya. At any rate, he meant to be there at that time. He did not even ask me for a change of clothes."
"Ah voila!" said the General, turning to Prince K with an air of satisfaction. "There is a way to keep your protege, Mr. Razumov, quite clear of any connexion with the actual arrest. We shall be ready for that gentleman in Karabelnaya."
The Prince expressed his gratitude. There was real emotion in his voice. Razumov, motionless, silent, sat staring at the carpet. The General turned to him.
"Half an hour after midnight. Till then we have to depend on you, Mr. Razumov. You don't think he is likely to change his purpose?"
"How can I tell?" said Razumov. "Those men are not of the sort that ever changes its purpose."
"What men do you mean?"
"Fanatical lovers of liberty in general. Liberty with a capital L, Excellency. Liberty that means nothing precise. Liberty in whose name crimes are committed."
The General murmured--
"I detest rebels of every kind. I can't help it. It's my nature!"
He clenched a fist and shook it, drawing back his arm. "They shall be destroyed, then."
"They have made a sacrifice of their lives beforehand," said Razumov with malicious pleasure and looking the General straight in the face. "If Haldin does change his purpose to-night, you may depend on it that it will not be to save his life by flight in some other way. He would have thought then of something else to attempt. But that is not likely."
The General repeated as if to himself, "They shall be destroyed."
Razumov assumed an impenetrable expression.
The Prince exclaimed--
"What a terrible necessity!"
The General's arm was lowered slowly.
"One comfort there is. That brood leaves no posterity. I've always said it, one effort, pitiless, persistent, steady--and we are done with them for ever."
Razumov thought to himself that this man entrusted with so much arbitrary power must have believed what he said or else he could not have gone on bearing the responsibility.
"I detest rebels. These subversive minds! These intellectual debauches! My existence has been built on fidelity. It's a feeling. To defend it I am ready to lay down my life--and even my honour--if that were needed. But pray tell me what honour can there be as against rebels--against people that deny God Himself--perfect unbelievers! Brutes. It is horrible to think of."
During this tirade Razumov, facing the General, had nodded slightly twice. Prince K---, standing on one side with his grand air, murmured, casting up his eyes--
Then lowering his glance and with great decision declared--
"This young man, General, is perfectly fit to apprehend the bearing of your memorable words."
The General's whole expression changed from dull resentment to perfect urbanity.
"I would ask now, Mr. Razumov," he said, "to return to his home. Note that I don't ask Mr. Razumov whether he has justified his absence to his guest. No doubt he did this sufficiently. But I don't ask. Mr. Razumov inspires confidence. It is a great gift. I only suggest that a more prolonged absence might awaken the criminal's suspicions and induce him perhaps to change his plans."
He rose and with a scrupulous courtesy escorted his visitors to the ante-room encumbered with flower-pots.
Razumov parted with the Prince at the corner of a street. In the carriage he had listened to speeches where natural sentiment struggled with caution. Evidently the Prince was afraid of encouraging any hopes of future intercourse. But there was a touch of tenderness in the voice uttering in the dark the guarded general phrases of goodwill. And the Prince too said--
"I have perfect confidence in you, Mr. Razumov."
"They all, it seems, have confidence in me," thought Razumov dully. He had an indulgent contempt for the man sitting shoulder to shoulder with him in the confined space. Probably he was afraid of scenes with his wife. She was said to be proud and violent.
It seemed to him bizarre that secrecy should play such a large part in the comfort and safety of lives. But he wanted to put the Prince's mind at ease; and with a proper amount of emphasis he said that, being conscious of some small abilities and confident in his power of work, he trusted his future to his own exertions. He expressed his gratitude for the helping hand. Such dangerous situations did not occur twice in the course of one life--he added.
"And you have met this one with a firmness of mind and correctness of feeling which give me a high idea of your worth," the Prince said solemnly. "You have now only to persevere--to persevere."
On getting out on the pavement Razumov saw an ungloved hand extended to him through the lowered window of the brougham. It detained his own in its grasp for a moment, while the light of a street lamp fell upon the Prince's long face and old-fashioned grey whiskers.
"I hope you are perfectly reassured now as to the consequences..."
"After what your Excellency has condescended to do for me, I can only rely on my conscience."
"Adieu," said the whiskered head with feeling.
Razumov bowed. The brougham glided away with a slight swish in the snow--he was alone on the edge of the pavement.
He said to himself that there was nothing to think about, and began walking towards his home.
He walked quietly. It was a common experience to walk thus home to bed after an evening spent somewhere with his fellows or in the cheaper seats of a theatre. After he had gone a little way the familiarity of things got hold of him. Nothing was changed. There was the familiar corner; and when he turned it he saw the familiar dim light of the provision shop kept by a German woman. There were loaves of stale bread, bunches of onions and strings of sausages behind the small window-panes. They were closing it. The sickly lame fellow whom he knew so well by sight staggered out into the snow embracing a large shutter.
Nothing would change. There was the familiar gateway yawning black with feeble glimmers marking the arches of the different staircases.
The sense of life's continuity depended on trifling bodily impressions. The trivialities of daily existence were an armour for the soul. And this thought reinforced the inward quietness of Razumov as he began to climb the stairs familiar to his feet in the dark, with his hand on the familiar clammy banister. The exceptional could not prevail against the material contacts which make one day resemble another. To-morrow would be like yesterday.
It was only on the stage that the unusual was outwardly acknowledged.
"I suppose," thought Razumov, "that if I had made up my mind to blow out my brains on the landing I would be going up these stairs as quietly as I am doing it now. What's a man to do? What must be must be. Extraordinary things do happen. But when they have happened they are done with. Thus, too, when the mind is made up. That question is done with. And the daily concerns, the familiarities of our thought swallow it up--and the life goes on as before with its mysterious and secret sides quite out of sight, as they should be. Life is a public thing."
Razumov unlocked his door and took the key out; entered very quietly and bolted the door behind him carefully.
He thought, "He hears me," and after bolting the door he stood still holding his breath. There was not a sound. He crossed the bare outer room, stepping deliberately in the darkness. Entering the other, he felt all over his table for the matchbox. The silence, but for the groping of his hand, was profound. Could the fellow be sleeping so soundly?
He struck a light and looked at the bed. Haldin was lying on his back as before, only both his hands were under his head. His eyes were open. He stared at the ceiling.
Razumov held the match up. He saw the clear-cut features, the firm chin, the white forehead and the topknot of fair hair against the white pillow. There he was, lying flat on his back. Razumov thought suddenly, "I have walked over his chest."
He continued to stare till the match burnt itself out; then struck another and lit the lamp in silence without looking towards the bed any more. He had turned his back on it and was hanging his coat on a peg when he heard Haldin sigh profoundly, then ask in a tired voice--
"Well! And what have you arranged?"
The emotion was so great that Razumov was glad to put his hands against the wall. A diabolical impulse to say, "I have given you up to the police," frightened him exceedingly. But he did not say that. He said, without turning round, in a muffled voice--
Again he heard Haldin sigh. He walked to the table, sat down with the lamp before him, and only then looked towards the bed.
In the distant corner of the large room far away from the lamp, which was small and provided with a very thick china shade, Haldin appeared like a dark and elongated shape--rigid with the immobility of death. This body seemed to have less substance than its own phantom walked over by Razumov in the street white with snow. It was more alarming in its shadowy, persistent reality than the distinct but vanishing illusion.
Haldin was heard again.
"You must have had a walk--such a walk,..." he murmured deprecatingly. "This weather...."
Razumov answered with energy--
"Horrible walk.... A nightmare of a walk."
He shuddered audibly. Haldin sighed once more, then--
"And so you have seen Ziemianitch--brother?"
"I've seen him."
Razumov, remembering the time he had spent with the Prince, thought it prudent to add, "I had to wait some time."
"A character--eh? It's extraordinary what a sense of the necessity of freedom there is in that man. And he has sayings too--simple, to the point, such as only the people can invent in their rough sagacity. A character that...."
"I, you understand, haven't had much opportunity...." Razumov muttered through his teeth.
Haldin continued to stare at the ceiling.
"You see, brother, I have been a good deal in that house of late. I used to take there books--leaflets. Not a few of the poor people who live there can read. And, you see, the guests for the feast of freedom must be sought for in byways and hedges. The truth is, I have almost lived in that house of late. I slept sometimes in the stable. There is a stable...."
"That's where I had my interview with Ziemianitch," interrupted Razumov gently. A mocking spirit entered into him and he added, "It was satisfactory in a sense. I came away from it much relieved."
"Ah! he's a fellow," went on Haldin, talking slowly at the ceiling. "I came to know him in that way, you see. For some weeks now, ever since I resigned myself to do what had to be done, I tried to isolate myself. I gave up my rooms. What was the good of exposing a decent widow woman to the risk of being worried out of her mind by the police? I gave up seeing any of our comrades...."
Razumov drew to himself a half-sheet of paper and began to trace lines on it with a pencil.
"Upon my word," he thought angrily, "he seems to have thought of everybody's safety but mine."
Haldin was talking on.
"This morning--ah! this morning--that was different. How can I explain to you? Before the deed was done I wandered at night and lay hid in the day, thinking it out, and I felt restful. Sleepless but restful. What was there for me to torment myself about? But this morning--after! Then it was that I became restless. I could not have stopped in that big house full of misery. The miserable of this world can't give you peace. Then when that silly caretaker began to shout, I said to myself, 'There is a young man in this town head and shoulders above common prejudices.'"
"Is he laughing at me?" Razumov asked himself, going on with his aimless drawing of triangles and squares. And suddenly he thought: "My behaviour must appear to him strange. Should he take fright at my manner and rush off somewhere I shall be undone completely. That infernal General...."
He dropped the pencil and turned abruptly towards the bed with the shadowy figure extended full length on it--so much more indistinct than the one over whose breast he had walked without faltering. Was this, too, a phantom?
The silence had lasted a long time. "He is no longer here," was the thought against which Razumov struggled desperately, quite frightened at its absurdity. "He is already gone and this...only..."
He could resist no longer. He sprang to his feet, saying aloud, "I am intolerably anxious," and in a few headlong strides stood by the side of the bed. His hand fell lightly on Haldin's shoulder, and directly he felt its reality he was beset by an insane temptation to grip that exposed throat and squeeze the breath out of that body, lest it should escape his custody, leaving only a phantom behind.
Haldin did not stir a limb, but his overshadowed eyes moving a little gazed upwards at Razumov with wistful gratitude for this manifestation of feeling.
Razumov turned away and strode up and down the room. "It would have been possibly a kindness," he muttered to himself, and was appalled by the nature of that apology for a murderous intention his mind had found somewhere within him. And all the same he could not give it up. He became lucid about it. "What can he expect?" he thought. "The halter--in the end. And I...."
This argument was interrupted by Haldin's voice.
"Why be anxious for me? They can kill my body, but they cannot exile my soul from this world. I tell you what--I believe in this world so much that I cannot conceive eternity otherwise than as a very long life. That is perhaps the reason I am so ready to die."
"H'm," muttered Razumov, and biting his lower lip he continued to walk up and down and to carry on his strange argument.
Yes, to a man in such a situation--of course it would be an act of kindness. The question, however, was not how to be kind, but how to be firm. He was a slippery customer.
"I too, Victor Victorovitch, believe in this world of ours," he said with force. "I too, while I live.... But you seem determined to haunt it. You can't seriously...mean..."
The voice of the motionless Haldin began--
"Haunt it! Truly, the oppressors of thought which quickens the world, the destroyers of souls which aspire to perfection of human dignity, they shall be haunted. As to the destroyers of my mere body, I have forgiven them beforehand."
Razumov had stopped apparently to listen, but at the same time he was observing his own sensations. He was vexed with himself for attaching so much importance to what Haldin said.
"The fellow's mad," he thought firmly, but this opinion did not mollify him towards Haldin. It was a particularly impudent form of lunacy--and when it got loose in the sphere of public life of a country, it was obviously the duty of every good citizen....
This train of thought broke off short there and was succeeded by a paroxysm of silent hatred towards Haldin, so intense that Razumov hastened to speak at random.
"Yes. Eternity, of course. I, too, can't very well represent it to myself.... I imagine it, however, as something quiet and dull. There would be nothing unexpected--don't you see? The element of time would be wanting."
He pulled out his watch and gazed at it. Haldin turned over on his side and looked on intently.
Razumov got frightened at this movement. A slippery customer this fellow with a phantom. It was not midnight yet. He hastened on--
"And unfathomable mysteries! Can you conceive secret places in Eternity? Impossible. Whereas life is full of them. There are secrets of birth, for instance. One carries them on to the grave. There is something comical...but never mind. And there are secret motives of conduct. A man's most open actions have a secret side to them. That is interesting and so unfathomable! For instance, a man goes out of a room for a walk. Nothing more trivial in appearance. And yet it may be momentous. He comes back--he has seen perhaps a drunken brute, taken particular notice of the snow on the ground--and behold he is no longer the same man. The most unlikely things have a secret power over one's thoughts--the grey whiskers of a particular person--the goggle eyes of another."
Razumov's forehead was moist. He took a turn or two in the room, his head low and smiling to himself viciously.
"Have you ever reflected on the power of goggle eyes and grey whiskers? Excuse me. You seem to think I must be crazy to talk in this vein at such a time. But I am not talking lightly. I have seen instances. It has happened to me once to be talking to a man whose fate was affected by physical facts of that kind. And the man did not know it. Of course, it was a case of conscience, but the material facts such as these brought about the solution.... And you tell me, Victor Victorovitch, not to be anxious! Why! I am responsible for you," Razumov almost shrieked.
He avoided with difficulty a burst of Mephistophelian laughter. Haldin, very pale, raised himself on his elbow.
"And the surprises of life," went on Razumov, after glancing at the other uneasily. "Just consider their astonishing nature. A mysterious impulse induces you to come here. I don't say you have done wrong. Indeed, from a certain point of view you could not have done better. You might have gone to a man with affections and family ties. You have such ties yourself. As to me, you know I have been brought up in an educational institute where they did not give us enough to eat. To talk of affection in such a connexion--you perceive yourself.... As to ties, the only ties I have in the world are social. I must get acknowledged in some way before I can act at all. I sit here working.... And don't you think I am working for progress too? I've got to find my own ideas of the true way.... Pardon me," continued Razumov, after drawing breath and with a short, throaty laugh, "but I haven't inherited a revolutionary inspiration together with a resemblance from an uncle."
He looked again at his watch and noticed with sickening disgust that there were yet a good many minutes to midnight. He tore watch and chain off his waistcoat and laid them on the table well in the circle of bright lamplight. Haldin, reclining on his elbow, did not stir. Razumov was made uneasy by this attitude. "What move is he meditating over so quietly?" he thought. "He must be prevented. I must keep on talking to him."
He raised his voice.
"You are a son, a brother, a nephew, a cousin--I don't know what--to no end of people. I am just a man. Here I stand before you. A man with a mind. Did it ever occur to you how a man who had never heard a word of warm affection or praise in his life would think on matters on which you would think first with or against your class, your domestic tradition--your fireside prejudices?... Did you ever consider how a man like that would feel? I have no domestic tradition. I have nothing to think against. My tradition is historical. What have I to look back to but that national past from which you gentlemen want to wrench away your future? Am I to let my intelligence, my aspirations towards a better lot, be robbed of the only thing it has to go upon at the will of violent enthusiasts? You come from your province, but all this land is mine--or I have nothing. No doubt you shall be looked upon as a martyr some day--a sort of hero--a political saint. But I beg to be excused. I am content in fitting myself to be a worker. And what can you people do by scattering a few drops of blood on the snow? On this Immensity. On this unhappy Immensity! I tell you," he cried, in a vibrating, subdued voice, and advancing one step nearer the bed, "that what it needs is not a lot of haunting phantoms that I could walk through--but a man!"
Haldin threw his arms forward as if to keep him off in horror.
"I understand it all now," he exclaimed, with awestruck dismay. "I understand--at last."
Razumov staggered back against the table. His forehead broke out in perspiration while a cold shudder ran down his spine.
"What have I been saying?" he asked himself. "Have I let him slip through my fingers after all?"
"He felt his lips go stiff like buckram, and instead of a reassuring smile only achieved an uncertain grimace.
"What will you have?" he began in a conciliating voice which got steady after the first trembling word or two. "What will you have? Consider--a man of studious, retired habits--and suddenly like this.... I am not practised in talking delicately. But..."
He felt anger, a wicked anger, get hold of him again.
"What were we to do together till midnight? Sit here opposite each other and think of your--your--shambles?"
Haldin had a subdued, heartbroken attitude. He bowed his head; his hands hung between his knees. His voice was low and pained but calm.
"I see now how it is, Razumov--brother. You are a magnanimous soul, but my action is abhorrent to you--alas...."
Razumov stared. From fright he had set his teeth so hard that his whole face ached. It was impossible for him to make a sound.
"And even my person, too, is loathsome to you perhaps," Haldin added mournfully, after a short pause, looking up for a moment, then fixing his gaze on the floor. "For indeed, unless one...."
He broke off evidently waiting for a word. Razumov remained silent. Haldin nodded his head dejectedly twice.
"Of course. Of course," he murmured.... "Ah! weary work!"
He remained perfectly still for a moment, then made Razumov's leaden heart strike a ponderous blow by springing up briskly.
"So be it," he cried sadly in a low, distinct tone. "Farewell then."
Razumov started forward, but the sight of Haldin's raised hand checked him before he could get away from the table. He leaned on it heavily, listening to the faint sounds of some town clock tolling the hour. Haldin, already at the door, tall and straight as an arrow, with his pale face and a hand raised attentively, might have posed for the statue of a daring youth listening to an inner voice. Razumov mechanically glanced down at his watch. When he looked towards the door again Haldin had vanished. There was a faint rustling in the outer room, the feeble click of a bolt drawn back lightly. He was gone--almost as noiseless as a vision.
Razumov ran forward unsteadily, with parted, voiceless lips. The outer door stood open. Staggering out on the landing, he leaned far over the banister. Gazing down into the deep black shaft with a tiny glimmering flame at the bottom, he traced by ear the rapid spiral descent of somebody running down the stairs on tiptoe. It was a light, swift, pattering sound, which sank away from him into the depths: a fleeting shadow passed over the glimmer--a wink of the tiny flame. Then stillness.
Razumov hung over, breathing the cold raw air tainted by the evil smells of the unclean staircase. All quiet.
He went back into his room slowly, shutting the doors after him. The peaceful steady light of his reading-lamp shone on the watch. Razumov stood looking down at the little white dial. It wanted yet three minutes to midnight. He took the watch into his hand fumblingly.
"Slow," he muttered, and a strange fit of nervelessness came over him. His knees shook, the watch and chain slipped through his fingers in an instant and fell on the floor. He was so startled that he nearly fell himself. When at last he regained enough confidence in his limbs to stoop for it he held it to his ear at once. After a while he growled--
"Stopped," and paused for quite a long time before he muttered sourly--
"It's done.... And now to work."
He sat down, reached haphazard for a book, opened it in middle and began to read; but after going conscientiously over two lines he lost his hold on the print completely and did not try to regain it. He thought--
"There was to a certainty a police agent of some sort watching the house across the street."
He imagined him lurking in a dark gateway, goggle-eyed, muffled up in a cloak to the nose and with a General's plumed, cocked hat on his head. This absurdity made him start in the chair convulsively. He literally had to shake his head violently to get rid of it. The man would be disguised perhaps as a peasant... a beggar.... Perhaps he would be just buttoned up in a dark overcoat and carrying a loaded stick--a shifty-eyed rascal, smelling of raw onions and spirits.
This evocation brought on positive nausea. "Why do I want to bother about this?" thought Razumov with disgust. "Am I a gendarme? Moreover, it is done."
He got up in great agitation. It was not done. Not yet. Not till half-past twelve. And the watch had stopped. This reduced him to despair. Impossible to know the time! The landlady and all the people across the landing were asleep. How could he go and... God knows what they would imagine, or how much they would guess. He dared not go into the streets to find out. "I am a suspect now. There's no use shirking that fact," he said to himself bitterly. If Haldin from some cause or another gave them the slip and failed to turn up in the Karabelnaya the police would be invading his lodging. And if he were not in he could never clear himself. Never. Razumov looked wildly about as if for some means of seizing upon time which seemed to have escaped him altogether. He had never, as far as he could remember, heard the striking of that town clock in his rooms before this night. And he was not even sure now whether he had heard it really on this night.
He went to the window and stood there with slightly bent head on the watch for the faint sound. "I will stay here till I hear something," he said to himself. He stood still, his ear turned to the panes. An atrocious aching numbness with shooting pains in his back and legs tortured him. He did not budge. His mind hovered on the borders of delirium. He heard himself suddenly saying, "I confess," as a person might do on the rack. "I am on the rack," he thought. He felt ready to swoon. The faint deep boom of the distant clock seemed to explode in his head--he heard it so clearly.... One!
If Haldin had not turned up the police would have been already here ransacking the house. No sound reached him. This time it was done.
He dragged himself painfully to the table and dropped into the chair. He flung the book away and took a square sheet of paper. It was like the pile of sheets covered with his neat minute handwriting, only blank. He took a pen brusquely and dipped it with a vague notion of going on with the writing of his essay--but his pen remained poised over the sheet. It hung there for some time before it came down and formed long scrawly letters.
Still-faced and his lips set hard, Razumov began to write. When he wrote a large hand his neat writing lost its character altogether--became unsteady, almost childish. He wrote five lines one under the other. History not Theory. Patriotism not Internationalism. Evolution not Revolution. Direction not Destruction. Unity not Disruption.
He gazed at them dully. Then his eyes strayed to the bed and remained fixed there for a good many minutes, while his right hand groped all over the table for the penknife.
He rose at last, and walking up with measured steps stabbed the paper with the penknife to the lath and plaster wall at the head of the bed. This done he stepped back a pace and flourished his hand with a glance round the room.
After that he never looked again at the bed. He took his big cloak down from its peg and, wrapping himself up closely, went to lie down on the hard horse-hair sofa at the other side of his room. A leaden sleep closed his eyelids at once. Several times that night he woke up shivering from a dream of walking through drifts of snow in a Russia where he was as completely alone as any betrayed autocrat could be; an immense, wintry Russia which, somehow, his view could embrace in all its enormous expanse as if it were a map. But after each shuddering start his heavy eyelids fell over his glazed eyes and he slept again.