"So this is it, this is it at last—contact with real life," I muttered as _an headlong downstairs. "This is very different from the Pope's leaving Rom_nd going to Brazil, very different from the ball on Lake Como!"
"You are a scoundrel," a thought flashed through my mind, "if you laugh a_his now."
"No matter!" I cried, answering myself. "Now everything is lost!"
There was no trace to be seen of them, but that made no difference—I kne_here they had gone.
At the steps was standing a solitary night sledge-driver in a rough peasan_oat, powdered over with the still falling, wet, and as it were warm, snow. I_as hot and steamy. The little shaggy piebald horse was also covered with sno_nd coughing, I remember that very well. I made a rush for the roughly mad_ledge; but as soon as I raised my foot to get into it, the recollection o_ow Simonov had just given me six roubles seemed to double me up and I tumble_nto the sledge like a sack.
"No, I must do a great deal to make up for all that," I cried. "But I wil_ake up for it or perish on the spot this very night. Start!"
We set off. There was a perfect whirl in my head.
"They won't go down on their knees to beg for my friendship. That is a mirage,
cheap mirage, revolting, romantic and fantastical—that's another ball on Lak_omo. And so I am bound to slap Zverkov's face! It is my duty to. And so it i_ettled; I am flying to give him a slap in the face. Hurry up!"
The driver tugged at the reins.
"As soon as I go in I'll give it him. Ought I before giving him the slap t_ay a few words by way of preface? No. I'll simply go in and give it him. The_ill all be sitting in the drawing-room, and he with Olympia on the sofa. Tha_amned Olympia! She laughed at my looks on one occasion and refused me. I'l_ull Olympia's hair, pull Zverkov's ears! No, better one ear, and pull him b_t round the room. Maybe they will all begin beating me and will kick me out.
That's most likely, indeed. No matter! Anyway, I shall first slap him; th_nitiative will be mine; and by the laws of honour that is everything: he wil_e branded and cannot wipe off the slap by any blows, by nothing but a duel.
He will be forced to fight. And let them beat me now. Let them, the ungratefu_retches! Trudolyubov will beat me hardest, he is so strong; Ferfitchkin wil_e sure to catch hold sideways and tug at my hair. But no matter, no matter!
That's what I am going for. The blockheads will be forced at last to see th_ragedy of it all! When they drag me to the door I shall call out to them tha_n reality they are not worth my little finger. Get on, driver, get on!" _ried to the driver. He started and flicked his whip, I shouted so savagely.
"We shall fight at daybreak, that's a settled thing. I've done with th_ffice. Ferfitchkin made a joke about it just now. But where can I ge_istols? Nonsense! I'll get my salary in advance and buy them. And powder, an_ullets? That's the second's business. And how can it all be done by daybreak?
and where am I to get a second? I have no friends. Nonsense!" I cried, lashin_yself up more and more. "It's of no consequence! The first person I meet i_he street is bound to be my second, just as he would be bound to pull _rowning man out of water. The most eccentric things may happen. Even if _ere to ask the director himself to be my second tomorrow, he would be boun_o consent, if only from a feeling of chivalry, and to keep the secret! Anto_ntonitch … ."
The fact is, that at that very minute the disgusting absurdity of my plan an_he other side of the question was clearer and more vivid to my imaginatio_han it could be to anyone on earth. But … .
"Get on, driver, get on, you rascal, get on!"
"Ugh, sir!" said the son of toil.
Cold shivers suddenly ran down me. Wouldn't it be better … to go straigh_ome? My God, my God! Why did I invite myself to this dinner yesterday? Bu_o, it's impossible. And my walking up and down for three hours from the tabl_o the stove? No, they, they and no one else must pay for my walking up an_own! They must wipe out this dishonour! Drive on!
And what if they give me into custody? They won't dare! They'll be afraid o_he scandal. And what if Zverkov is so contemptuous that he refuses to fight _uel? He is sure to; but in that case I'll show them … I will turn up at th_osting station when he's setting off tomorrow, I'll catch him by the leg,
I'll pull off his coat when he gets into the carriage. I'll get my teeth int_is hand, I'll bite him. "See what lengths you can drive a desperate man to!"
He may hit me on the head and they may belabour me from behind. I will shou_o the assembled multitude: "Look at this young puppy who is driving off t_aptivate the Circassian girls after letting me spit in his face!"
Of course, after that everything will be over! The office will have vanishe_ff the face of the earth. I shall be arrested, I shall be tried, I shall b_ismissed from the service, thrown in prison, sent to Siberia. Never mind! I_ifteen years when they let me out of prison I will trudge off to him, _eggar, in rags. I shall find him in some provincial town. He will be marrie_nd happy. He will have a grown-up daughter … . I shall say to him: "Look,
monster, at my hollow cheeks and my rags! I've lost everything—my career, m_appiness, art, science, THE WOMAN I LOVED, and all through you. Here ar_istols. I have come to discharge my pistol and … and I … forgive you. Then _hall fire into the air and he will hear nothing more of me … ."
I was actually on the point of tears, though I knew perfectly well at tha_oment that all this was out of Pushkin's SILVIO and Lermontov's MASQUERADE.
And all at once I felt horribly ashamed, so ashamed that I stopped the horse,
got out of the sledge, and stood still in the snow in the middle of th_treet. The driver gazed at me, sighing and astonished.
What was I to do? I could not go on there—it was evidently stupid, and I coul_ot leave things as they were, because that would seem as though … Heavens,
how could I leave things! And after such insults! "No!" I cried, throwin_yself into the sledge again. "It is ordained! It is fate! Drive on, driv_n!"
And in my impatience I punched the sledge-driver on the back of the neck.
"What are you up to? What are you hitting me for?" the peasant shouted, but h_hipped up his nag so that it began kicking.
The wet snow was falling in big flakes; I unbuttoned myself, regardless of it.
I forgot everything else, for I had finally decided on the slap, and felt wit_orror that it was going to happen NOW, AT ONCE, and that NO FORCE COULD STO_T. The deserted street lamps gleamed sullenly in the snowy darkness lik_orches at a funeral. The snow drifted under my great-coat, under my coat,
under my cravat, and melted there. I did not wrap myself up—all was lost,
At last we arrived. I jumped out, almost unconscious, ran up the steps an_egan knocking and kicking at the door. I felt fearfully weak, particularly i_y legs and knees. The door was opened quickly as though they knew I wa_oming. As a fact, Simonov had warned them that perhaps another gentlema_ould arrive, and this was a place in which one had to give notice and t_bserve certain precautions. It was one of those "millinery establishments"
which were abolished by the police a good time ago. By day it really was _hop; but at night, if one had an introduction, one might visit it for othe_urposes.
I walked rapidly through the dark shop into the familiar drawing- room, wher_here was only one candle burning, and stood still in amazement: there was n_ne there. "Where are they?" I asked somebody. But by now, of course, they ha_eparated. Before me was standing a person with a stupid smile, the "madam"
herself, who had seen me before. A minute later a door opened and anothe_erson came in.
Taking no notice of anything I strode about the room, and, I believe, I talke_o myself. I felt as though I had been saved from death and was conscious o_his, joyfully, all over: I should have given that slap, I should certainly,
certainly have given it! But now they were not here and … everything ha_anished and changed! I looked round. I could not realise my condition yet. _ooked mechanically at the girl who had come in: and had a glimpse of a fresh,
young, rather pale face, with straight, dark eyebrows, and with grave, as i_ere wondering, eyes that attracted me at once; I should have hated her if sh_ad been smiling. I began looking at her more intently and, as it were, wit_ffort. I had not fully collected my thoughts. There was something simple an_ood-natured in her face, but something strangely grave. I am sure that thi_tood in her way here, and no one of those fools had noticed her. She coul_ot, however, have been called a beauty, though she was tall, strong-looking,
and well built. She was very simply dressed. Something loathsome stirre_ithin me. I went straight up to her.
I chanced to look into the glass. My harassed face struck me as revolting i_he extreme, pale, angry, abject, with dishevelled hair. "No matter, I am gla_f it," I thought; "I am glad that I shall seem repulsive to her; I lik_hat."