… Somewhere behind a screen a clock began wheezing, as though oppressed b_omething, as though someone were strangling it. After an unnaturall_rolonged wheezing there followed a shrill, nasty, and as it were unexpectedl_apid, chime—as though someone were suddenly jumping forward. It struck two. _oke up, though I had indeed not been asleep but lying half-conscious.
It was almost completely dark in the narrow, cramped, low-pitched room, cumbered up with an enormous wardrobe and piles of cardboard boxes and al_orts of frippery and litter. The candle end that had been burning on th_able was going out and gave a faint flicker from time to time. In a fe_inutes there would be complete darkness.
I was not long in coming to myself; everything came back to my mind at once, without an effort, as though it had been in ambush to pounce upon me again.
And, indeed, even while I was unconscious a point seemed continually to remai_n my memory unforgotten, and round it my dreams moved drearily. But strang_o say, everything that had happened to me in that day seemed to me now, o_aking, to be in the far, far away past, as though I had long, long ago live_ll that down.
My head was full of fumes. Something seemed to be hovering over me, rousin_e, exciting me, and making me restless. Misery and spite seemed surging up i_e again and seeking an outlet. Suddenly I saw beside me two wide open eye_crutinising me curiously and persistently. The look in those eyes was coldl_etached, sullen, as it were utterly remote; it weighed upon me.
A grim idea came into my brain and passed all over my body, as a horribl_ensation, such as one feels when one goes into a damp and mouldy cellar.
There was something unnatural in those two eyes, beginning to look at me onl_ow. I recalled, too, that during those two hours I had not said a single wor_o this creature, and had, in fact, considered it utterly superfluous; i_act, the silence had for some reason gratified me. Now I suddenly realise_ividly the hideous idea— revolting as a spider—of vice, which, without love, grossly and shamelessly begins with that in which true love finds it_onsummation. For a long time we gazed at each other like that, but she di_ot drop her eyes before mine and her expression did not change, so that a_ast I felt uncomfortable.
"What is your name?" I asked abruptly, to put an end to it.
"Liza," she answered almost in a whisper, but somehow far from graciously, an_he turned her eyes away.
I was silent.
"What weather! The snow … it's disgusting!" I said, almost to myself, puttin_y arm under my head despondently, and gazing at the ceiling.
She made no answer. This was horrible.
"Have you always lived in Petersburg?" I asked a minute later, almost angrily, turning my head slightly towards her.
"Where do you come from?"
"From Riga," she answered reluctantly.
"Are you a German?"
"Have you been here long?"
"In this house?"
She spoke more and more jerkily. The candle went out; I could no longe_istinguish her face.
"Have you a father and mother?"
"Yes … no … I have."
"Where are they?"
"There … in Riga."
"What are they?"
"Nothing? Why, what class are they?"
"Have you always lived with them?"
"How old are you?"
"Twenty." "Why did you leave them?"
"Oh, for no reason."
That answer meant "Let me alone; I feel sick, sad."
We were silent.
God knows why I did not go away. I felt myself more and more sick and dreary.
The images of the previous day began of themselves, apart from my will, flitting through my memory in confusion. I suddenly recalled something I ha_een that morning when, full of anxious thoughts, I was hurrying to th_ffice.
"I saw them carrying a coffin out yesterday and they nearly dropped it," _uddenly said aloud, not that I desired to open the conversation, but as i_ere by accident.
"Yes, in the Haymarket; they were bringing it up out of a cellar."
"From a cellar?"
"Not from a cellar, but a basement. Oh, you know … down below … from a hous_f ill-fame. It was filthy all round … Egg-shells, litter … a stench. It wa_oathsome."
"A nasty day to be buried," I began, simply to avoid being silent.
"Nasty, in what way?"
"The snow, the wet." (I yawned.)
"It makes no difference," she said suddenly, after a brief silence.
"No, it's horrid." (I yawned again). "The gravediggers must have sworn a_etting drenched by the snow. And there must have been water in the grave."
"Why water in the grave?" she asked, with a sort of curiosity, but speakin_ven more harshly and abruptly than before.
I suddenly began to feel provoked.
"Why, there must have been water at the bottom a foot deep. You can't dig _ry grave in Volkovo Cemetery."
"Why? Why, the place is waterlogged. It's a regular marsh. So they bury the_n water. I've seen it myself … many times."
(I had never seen it once, indeed I had never been in Volkovo, and had onl_eard stories of it.)
"Do you mean to say, you don't mind how you die?"
"But why should I die?" she answered, as though defending herself.
"Why, some day you will die, and you will die just the same as that dea_oman. She was … a girl like you. She died of consumption."
"A wench would have died in hospital … " (She knows all about it already: sh_aid "wench," not "girl.")
"She was in debt to her madam," I retorted, more and more provoked by th_iscussion; "and went on earning money for her up to the end, though she wa_n consumption. Some sledge-drivers standing by were talking about her to som_oldiers and telling them so. No doubt they knew her. They were laughing. The_ere going to meet in a pot-house to drink to her memory."
A great deal of this was my invention. Silence followed, profound silence. Sh_id not stir.
"And is it better to die in a hospital?"
"Isn't it just the same? Besides, why should I die?" she added irritably.
"If not now, a little later."
"Why a little later?"
"Why, indeed? Now you are young, pretty, fresh, you fetch a high price. Bu_fter another year of this life you will be very different—you will go off."
"In a year?"
"Anyway, in a year you will be worth less," I continued malignantly. "You wil_o from here to something lower, another house; a year later— to a third, lower and lower, and in seven years you will come to a basement in th_aymarket. That will be if you were lucky. But it would be much worse if yo_ot some disease, consumption, say … and caught a chill, or something o_ther. It's not easy to get over an illness in your way of life. If you catc_nything you may not get rid of it. And so you would die."
"Oh, well, then I shall die," she answered, quite vindictively, and she made _uick movement.
"But one is sorry."
"Sorry for whom?"
"Sorry for life." Silence.
"Have you been engaged to be married? Eh?"
"What's that to you?"
"Oh, I am not cross-examining you. It's nothing to me. Why are you so cross?
Of course you may have had your own troubles. What is it to me? It's simpl_hat I felt sorry."
"Sorry for whom?"
"Sorry for you."
"No need," she whispered hardly audibly, and again made a faint movement.
That incensed me at once. What! I was so gentle with her, and she … .
"Why, do you think that you are on the right path?"
"I don't think anything."
"That's what's wrong, that you don't think. Realise it while there is stil_ime. There still is time. You are still young, good-looking; you might love, be married, be happy … ."
"Not all married women are happy," she snapped out in the rude abrupt tone sh_ad used at first.
"Not all, of course, but anyway it is much better than the life here.
Infinitely better. Besides, with love one can live even without happiness.
Even in sorrow life is sweet; life is sweet, however one lives. But here wha_s there but … foulness? Phew!"
I turned away with disgust; I was no longer reasoning coldly. I began to fee_yself what I was saying and warmed to the subject. I was already longing t_xpound the cherished ideas I had brooded over in my corner. Somethin_uddenly flared up in me. An object had appeared before me.
"Never mind my being here, I am not an example for you. I am, perhaps, wors_han you are. I was drunk when I came here, though," I hastened, however, t_ay in self-defence. "Besides, a man is no example for a woman. It's _ifferent thing. I may degrade and defile myself, but I am not anyone's slave.
I come and go, and that's an end of it. I shake it off, and I am a differen_an. But you are a slave from the start. Yes, a slave! You give up everything, your whole freedom. If you want to break your chains afterwards, you won't b_ble to; you will be more and more fast in the snares. It is an accurse_ondage. I know it. I won't speak of anything else, maybe you won'_nderstand, but tell me: no doubt you are in debt to your madam? There, yo_ee," I added, though she made no answer, but only listened in silence, entirely absorbed, "that's a bondage for you! You will never buy your freedom.
They will see to that. It's like selling your soul to the devil … . An_esides … perhaps, I too, am just as unlucky—how do you know—and wallow in th_ud on purpose, out of misery? You know, men take to drink from grief; well, maybe I am here from grief. Come, tell me, what is there good here? Here yo_nd I … came together … just now and did not say one word to one another al_he time, and it was only afterwards you began staring at me like a wil_reature, and I at you. Is that loving? Is that how one human being shoul_eet another? It's hideous, that's what it is!"
"Yes!" she assented sharply and hurriedly.
I was positively astounded by the promptitude of this "Yes." So the sam_hought may have been straying through her mind when she was staring at m_ust before. So she, too, was capable of certain thoughts? "Damn it all, thi_as interesting, this was a point of likeness!" I thought, almost rubbing m_ands. And indeed it's easy to turn a young soul like that!
It was the exercise of my power that attracted me most.
She turned her head nearer to me, and it seemed to me in the darkness that sh_ropped herself on her arm. Perhaps she was scrutinising me. How I regrette_hat I could not see her eyes. I heard her deep breathing.
"Why have you come here?" I asked her, with a note of authority already in m_oice.
"Oh, I don't know."
"But how nice it would be to be living in your father's house! It's warm an_ree; you have a home of your own."
"But what if it's worse than this?"
"I must take the right tone," flashed through my mind. "I may not get far wit_entimentality." But it was only a momentary thought. I swear she really di_nterest me. Besides, I was exhausted and moody. And cunning so easily goe_and-in-hand with feeling.
"Who denies it!" I hastened to answer. "Anything may happen. I am convince_hat someone has wronged you, and that you are more sinned against tha_inning. Of course, I know nothing of your story, but it's not likely a gir_ike you has come here of her own inclination … ."
"A girl like me?" she whispered, hardly audibly; but I heard it.
Damn it all, I was flattering her. That was horrid. But perhaps it was a goo_hing … . She was silent.
"See, Liza, I will tell you about myself. If I had had a home from childhood, I shouldn't be what I am now. I often think that. However bad it may be a_ome, anyway they are your father and mother, and not enemies, strangers. Onc_ year at least, they'll show their love of you. Anyway, you know you are a_ome. I grew up without a home; and perhaps that's why I've turned so … unfeeling."
I waited again. "Perhaps she doesn't understand," I thought, "and, indeed, i_s absurd—it's moralising."
"If I were a father and had a daughter, I believe I should love my daughte_ore than my sons, really," I began indirectly, as though talking of somethin_lse, to distract her attention. I must confess I blushed.
"Why so?" she asked.
Ah! so she was listening!
"I don't know, Liza. I knew a father who was a stern, austere man, but used t_o down on his knees to his daughter, used to kiss her hands, her feet, h_ouldn't make enough of her, really. When she danced at parties he used t_tand for five hours at a stretch, gazing at her. He was mad over her: _nderstand that! She would fall asleep tired at night, and he would wake t_iss her in her sleep and make the sign of the cross over her. He would g_bout in a dirty old coat, he was stingy to everyone else, but would spend hi_ast penny for her, giving her expensive presents, and it was his greates_elight when she was pleased with what he gave her. Fathers always love thei_aughters more than the mothers do. Some girls live happily at home! And _elieve I should never let my daughters marry."
"What next?" she said, with a faint smile.
"I should be jealous, I really should. To think that she should kiss anyon_lse! That she should love a stranger more than her father! It's painful t_magine it. Of course, that's all nonsense, of course every father would b_easonable at last. But I believe before I should let her marry, I shoul_orry myself to death; I should find fault with all her suitors. But I shoul_nd by letting her marry whom she herself loved. The one whom the daughte_oves always seems the worst to the father, you know. That is always so. S_any family troubles come from that."
"Some are glad to sell their daughters, rather than marrying them honourably."
Ah, so that was it!
"Such a thing, Liza, happens in those accursed families in which there i_either love nor God," I retorted warmly, "and where there is no love, ther_s no sense either. There are such families, it's true, but I am not speakin_f them. You must have seen wickedness in your own family, if you talk lik_hat. Truly, you must have been unlucky. H'm! … that sort of thing mostl_omes about through poverty."
"And is it any better with the gentry? Even among the poor, honest people wh_ive happily?"
"H'm … yes. Perhaps. Another thing, Liza, man is fond of reckoning up hi_roubles, but does not count his joys. If he counted them up as he ought, h_ould see that every lot has enough happiness provided for it. And what if al_oes well with the family, if the blessing of God is upon it, if the husban_s a good one, loves you, cherishes you, never leaves you! There is happines_n such a family! Even sometimes there is happiness in the midst of sorrow; and indeed sorrow is everywhere. If you marry YOU WILL FIND OUT FOR YOURSELF.
But think of the first years of married life with one you love: wha_appiness, what happiness there sometimes is in it! And indeed it's th_rdinary thing. In those early days even quarrels with one's husband en_appily. Some women get up quarrels with their husbands just because they lov_hem. Indeed, I knew a woman like that: she seemed to say that because sh_oved him, she would torment him and make him feel it. You know that you ma_orment a man on purpose through love. Women are particularly given to that, thinking to themselves 'I will love him so, I will make so much of hi_fterwards, that it's no sin to torment him a little now.' And all in th_ouse rejoice in the sight of you, and you are happy and gay and peaceful an_onourable … . Then there are some women who are jealous. If he went of_nywhere—I knew one such woman, she couldn't restrain herself, but would jum_p at night and run off on the sly to find out where he was, whether he wa_ith some other woman. That's a pity. And the woman knows herself it's wrong, and her heart fails her and she suffers, but she loves—it's all through love.
And how sweet it is to make up after quarrels, to own herself in the wrong o_o forgive him! And they both are so happy all at once—as though they had me_new, been married over again; as though their love had begun afresh. And n_ne, no one should know what passes between husband and wife if they love on_nother. And whatever quarrels there may be between them they ought not t_all in their own mother to judge between them and tell tales of one another.
They are their own judges. Love is a holy mystery and ought to be hidden fro_ll other eyes, whatever happens. That makes it holier and better. The_espect one another more, and much is built on respect. And if once there ha_een love, if they have been married for love, why should love pass away?
Surely one can keep it! It is rare that one cannot keep it. And if the husban_s kind and straightforward, why should not love last? The first phase o_arried love will pass, it is true, but then there will come a love that i_etter still. Then there will be the union of souls, they will have everythin_n common, there will be no secrets between them. And once they have children, the most difficult times will seem to them happy, so long as there is love an_ourage. Even toil will be a joy, you may deny yourself bread for you_hildren and even that will be a joy, They will love you for it afterwards; s_ou are laying by for your future. As the children grow up you feel that yo_re an example, a support for them; that even after you die your children wil_lways keep your thoughts and feelings, because they have received them fro_ou, they will take on your semblance and likeness. So you see this is a grea_uty. How can it fail to draw the father and mother nearer? People say it's _rial to have children. Who says that? It is heavenly happiness! Are you fon_f little children, Liza? I am awfully fond of them. You know—a little ros_aby boy at your bosom, and what husband's heart is not touched, seeing hi_ife nursing his child! A plump little rosy baby, sprawling and snuggling, chubby little hands and feet, clean tiny little nails, so tiny that it make_ne laugh to look at them; eyes that look as if they understand everything.
And while it sucks it clutches at your bosom with its little hand, plays. Whe_ts father comes up, the child tears itself away from the bosom, flings itsel_ack, looks at its father, laughs, as though it were fearfully funny, an_alls to sucking again. Or it will bite its mother's breast when its littl_eeth are coming, while it looks sideways at her with its little eyes a_hough to say, 'Look, I am biting!' Is not all that happiness when they ar_he three together, husband, wife and child? One can forgive a great deal fo_he sake of such moments. Yes, Liza, one must first learn to live onesel_efore one blames others!"
"It's by pictures, pictures like that one must get at you," I thought t_yself, though I did speak with real feeling, and all at once I flushe_rimson. "What if she were suddenly to burst out laughing, what should I d_hen?" That idea drove me to fury. Towards the end of my speech I really wa_xcited, and now my vanity was somehow wounded. The silence continued. _lmost nudged her.
"Why are you—" she began and stopped. But I understood: there was a quiver o_omething different in her voice, not abrupt, harsh and unyielding as before, but something soft and shamefaced, so shamefaced that I suddenly felt ashame_nd guilty.
"What?" I asked, with tender curiosity.
"Why, you … "
"Why, you … speak somehow like a book," she said, and again there was a not_f irony in her voice.
That remark sent a pang to my heart. It was not what I was expecting.
I did not understand that she was hiding her feelings under irony, that thi_s usually the last refuge of modest and chaste-souled people when the privac_f their soul is coarsely and intrusively invaded, and that their pride make_hem refuse to surrender till the last moment and shrink from givin_xpression to their feelings before you. I ought to have guessed the trut_rom the timidity with which she had repeatedly approached her sarcasm, onl_ringing herself to utter it at last with an effort. But I did not guess, an_n evil feeling took possession of me.