Seven years had passed by. I don't think it necessary to relate all that happened to me during that period. I moved restlessly about over Russia, and made my way into the remotest wilds, and thank God I did! The wilds are not so much to be dreaded as some people suppose, and in the most hidden places, under the fallen twigs and rotting leaves in the very heart of the forest, spring up flowers of sweet fragrance.
One day in spring, as I was passing on some official duties through a small town in one of the outlying provinces of Eastern Russia, through the dim little window of my coach I saw standing before a shop in the square a man whose face struck me as exceedingly familiar. I looked attentively at the man, and to my great delight recognised him as Elisei, Pasinkov's servant.
I at once told the driver to stop, jumped out of the coach, and went up to Elisei.
'Hullo, friend!' I began, with difficulty concealing my excitement; 'are you here with your master?'
'Yes, I'm with my master,' he responded slowly, and then suddenly cried out:
'Why, sir, is it you? I didn't know you.'
'Are you here with Yakov Ivanitch?'
'Yes, sir, with him, to be sure … whom else would I be with?'
'Take me to him quickly.'
'To be sure! to be sure! This way, please, this way … we're stopping here at the tavern.' Elisei led me across the square, incessantly repeating—'Well, now, won't Yakov Ivanitch be pleased!'
This man, of Kalmuck extraction, and hideous, even savage appearance, but the kindest-hearted creature and by no means a fool, was passionately devoted to Pasinkov, and had been his servant for ten years.
'Is Yakov Ivanitch quite well?' I asked him.
Elisei turned his dusky, yellow little face to me.
'Ah, sir, he's in a poor way … in a poor way, sir! You won't know his honour….
He's not long for this world, I'm afraid. That's how it is we've stopped here, or we had been going on to Odessa for his health.'
'Where do you come from?'
'From Siberia, sir.'
'Yes, sir. Yakov Ivanitch was sent to a post out there. It was there his honour got his wound.'
'Do you mean to say he went into the military service?'
'Oh no, sir. He served in the civil service.'
'What a strange thing!' I thought.
Meanwhile we had reached the tavern, and Elisei ran on in front to announce me. During the first years of our separation, Pasinkov and I had written to each other pretty often, but his last letter had reached me four years before, and since then I had heard nothing of him.
'Please come up, sir!' Elisei shouted to me from the staircase; 'Yakov Ivanitch is very anxious to see you.'
I ran hurriedly up the tottering stairs, went into a dark little room—and my heart sank…. On a narrow bed, under a fur cloak, pale as a corpse, lay Pasinkov, and he was stretching out to me a bare, wasted hand. I rushed up to him and embraced him passionately.
'Yasha!' I cried at last; 'what's wrong with you?'
'Nothing,' he answered in a faint voice; 'I'm a bit feeble. What chance brought you here?'
I sat down on a chair beside Pasinkov's bed, and, never letting his hands out of my hands, I began gazing into his face. I recognised the features I loved; the expression of the eyes and the smile were unchanged; but what a wreck illness had made of him!
He noticed the impression he was making on me.
'It's three days since I shaved,' he observed; 'and, to be sure, I've not been combed and brushed, but except for that … I'm not so bad.'
'Tell me, please, Yasha,' I began; 'what's this Elisei's been telling me … you were wounded?'
'Ah! yes, it's quite a history,' he replied. 'I'll tell you it later.
Yes, I was wounded, and only fancy what by?—an arrow.'
'Yes, an arrow; only not a mythological one, not Cupid's arrow, but a real arrow of very flexible wood, with a sharply-pointed tip at one end…. A very unpleasant sensation is produced by such an arrow, especially when it sticks in one's lungs.'
'But however did it come about? upon my word!…'
'I'll tell you how it happened. You know there always was a great deal of the absurd in my life. Do you remember my comical correspondence about getting my passport? Well, I was wounded in an absurd fashion too. And if you come to think of it, what self-respecting person in our enlightened century would permit himself to be wounded by an arrow? And not accidentally—observe—not at sports of any sort, but in a battle.'
'But you still don't tell me …'
'All right, wait a minute,' he interrupted. 'You know that soon after you left Petersburg I was transferred to Novgorod. I was a good time at Novgorod, and I must own I was bored there, though even there I came across one creature….'
(He sighed.) … 'But no matter about that now; two years ago I got a capital little berth, some way off, it's true, in the Irkutsk province, but what of that! It seems as though my father and I were destined from birth to visit Siberia. A splendid country, Siberia! Rich, fertile—every one will tell you the same. I liked it very much there. The natives were put under my rule; they're a harmless lot of people; but as my ill-luck would have it, they took it into their heads, a dozen of them, not more, to smuggle in contraband goods. I was sent to arrest them. Arrest them I did, but one of them, crazy he must have been, thought fit to defend himself, and treated me to the arrow…. I almost died of it; however, I got all right again. Now, here I am going to get completely cured…. The government—God give them all good health!—have provided the cash.'
Pasinkov let his head fall back on the pillow, exhausted, and ceased speaking.
A faint flush suffused his cheeks. He closed his eyes.
'He can't talk much,' Elisei, who had not left the room, murmured in an undertone.
A silence followed; nothing was heard but the sick man's painful breathing.
'But here,' he went on, opening his eyes, 'I've been stopping a fortnight in this little town…. I caught cold, I suppose. The district doctor here is attending me—you'll see him; he seems to know his business. I'm awfully glad it happened so, though, or how should we have met?' (And he took my hand. His hand, which had just before been cold as ice, was now burning hot.) 'Tell me something about yourself,' he began again, throwing the cloak back off his chest. 'You and I haven't seen each other since God knows when.'
I hastened to carry out his wish, so as not to let him talk, and started giving an account of myself. He listened to me at first with great attention, then asked for drink, and then began closing his eyes again and turning his head restlessly on the pillow. I advised him to have a little nap, adding that I should not go on further till he was well again, and that I should establish myself in a room beside him. 'It's very nasty here …' Pasinkov was beginning, but I stopped his mouth, and went softly out. Elisei followed me.
'What is it, Elisei? Why, he's dying, isn't he?' I questioned the faithful servant.
Elisei simply made a gesture with his hand, and turned away.
Having dismissed my driver, and rapidly moved my things into the next room, I went to see whether Pasinkov was asleep. At the door I ran up against a tall man, very fat and heavily built. His face, pock-marked and puffy, expressed laziness—and nothing else; his tiny little eyes seemed, as it were, glued up, and his lips looked polished, as though he were just awake.
'Allow me to ask,' I questioned him, 'are you not the doctor?'
The fat man looked at me, seeming with an effort to lift his overhanging forehead with his eyebrows.
'Yes, sir,' he responded at last.
'Do me the favour, Mr. Doctor, won't you, please, to come this way into my room? Yakov Ivanitch, is, I believe, now asleep. I am a friend of his and should like to have a little talk with you about his illness, which makes me very uneasy.'
'Very good,' answered the doctor, with an expression which seemed to try and say, 'Why talk so much? I'd have come anyway,' and he followed me.
'Tell me, please,' I began, as soon as he had dropped into a chair, 'is my friend's condition serious? What do you think?'
'Yes,' answered the fat man, tranquilly.
'And… is it very serious?'
'Yes, it's serious.'
'So that he may…even die?'
I confess I looked almost with hatred at the fat man.
'Good heavens!' I began; 'we must take some steps, call a consultation, or something. You know we can't… Mercy on us!'
'A consultation?—quite possible; why not? It's possible. Call in Ivan Efremitch….'
The doctor spoke with difficulty, and sighed continually. His stomach heaved perceptibly when he spoke, as it were emphasising each word.
'Who is Ivan Efremitch?'
'The parish doctor.'
'Shouldn't we send to the chief town of the province? What do you think? There are sure to be good doctors there.'
'Well! you might.'
'And who is considered the best doctor there?'
'The best? There was a doctor Kolrabus there … only I fancy he's been transferred somewhere else. Though I must own there's no need really to send.'
'Even the best doctor will be of no use to your friend.'
'Why, is he so bad?'
'Yes, he's run down.' 'In what way precisely is he ill?'
'He received a wound…. The lungs were affected in consequence … and then he's taken cold too, and fever was set up … and so on. And there's no reserve force; a man can't get on, you know yourself, with no reserve force.'
We were both silent for a while.
'How about trying homoeopathy?…' said the fat man, with a sidelong glance at me.
'Homoeopathy? Why, you're an allopath, aren't you?'
'What of that? Do you think I don't understand homoeopathy? I understand it as well as the other! Why, the chemist here among us treats people homeopathically, and he has no learned degree whatever.'
'Oh,' I thought, 'it's a bad look-out!…'
'No, doctor,' I observed, 'you had better treat him according to your usual method.'
'As you please.'
The fat man got up and heaved a sigh.
'You are going to him? 'I asked.
'Yes, I must have a look at him.'
And he went out.
I did not follow him; to see him at the bedside of my poor, sick friend was more than I could stand. I called my man and gave him orders to drive at once to the chief town of the province, to inquire there for the best doctor, and to bring him without fail. There was a slight noise in the passage. I opened the door quickly.
The doctor was already coming out of Pasinkov's room.
'Well?' I questioned him in a whisper.
'It's all right. I have prescribed a mixture.'
'I have decided, doctor, to send to the chief town. I have no doubt of your skill, but as you're aware, two heads are better than one.'
'Well, that's very praiseworthy!' responded the fat man, and he began to descend the staircase. He was obviously tired of me.
I went in to Pasinkov.
'Have you seen the local Aesculapius?' he asked.
'Yes,' I answered.
'What I like about him,' remarked Pasinkov, 'is his astounding composure. A doctor ought to be phlegmatic, oughtn't he? It's so encouraging for the patient.'
I did not, of course, try to controvert this.
Towards the evening, Pasinkov, contrary to my expectations, seemed better. He asked Elisei to set the samovar, announced that he was going to regale me with tea, and drink a small cup himself, and he was noticeably more cheerful. I tried, though, not to let him talk, and seeing that he would not be quiet, I asked him if he would like me to read him something. 'Just as at Winterkeller's—do you remember?' he answered. 'If you will, I shall be delighted. What shall we read? Look, there are my books in the window.'…
I went to the window and took up the first book that my hand chanced upon….
'What is it?' he asked.
'Ah, Lermontov! Excellent! Pushkin is greater, no doubt…. Do you remember:
"Once more the storm-clouds gather close Above me in the perfect calm" … or,
"For the last time thy image sweet in thought I dare caress." Ah! marvellous!
marvellous! But Lermontov's fine too. Well, I'll tell you what, dear boy: you take the book, open it by chance, and read what you find!'
I opened the book, and was disconcerted; I had chanced upon 'The Last Will.' I tried to turn over the page, but Pasinkov noticed my action and said hurriedly: 'No, no, no, read what turned up.'
There was no getting out of it; I read 'The Last Will.'
[Footnote: THE LAST WILL
Alone with thee, brother, I would wish to be; On earth, so they tell me, I have not long to stay, Soon you will go home: See that … But nay! for my fate To speak the truth, no one Is very greatly troubled.
But if any one asks …
Well, whoever may ask, Tell them that through the breast I was shot by a bullet; That I died honourably for the Tsar, That our doctors are not much good, And that to my native land I send a humble greeting.
My father and mother, hardly Will you find living….
I'll own I should be sorry That they should grieve for me.]
'Splendid thing!' said Pasinkov, directly I had finished the last verse.
But, it's queer,' he added, after a brief pause, 'it's queer you should have chanced just on that…. Queer.'
I began to read another poem, but Pasinkov was not listening to me; he looked away, and twice he repeated again: 'Queer!'
I let the book drop on my knees.
'"There is a girl, their neighbour,"' he whispered, and turning to me he asked—'I say, do you remember Sophia Zlotnitsky?'
I turned red.
'I should think I did!'
'She was married, I suppose?…'
'To Asanov, long, long ago. I wrote to you about it.'
* * * * *
But if either of them is living, Say I am lazy about writing, That our regiment has been sent forward, And that they must not expect me home.
There is a girl, their neighbour….
As you remember, it's long Since we parted…. She will not Ask for me…. All the same, You tell her all the truth, Don't spare her empty heart— Let her weep a little….
It will not hurt her much!
'To be sure, to be sure, so you did. Did her father forgive her in the end?'
'He forgave her; but he would not receive Asanov.'
'Obstinate old fellow! Well, and are they supposed to be happy?'
'I don't know, really… I fancy they 're happy. They live in the country, in —— province. I've never seen them, though I have been through their parts.'
'And have they any children?'
'I think so…. By the way, Pasinkov?…' I began questioningly.
He glanced at me.
'Confess—do you remember, you were unwilling to answer my question at the time—did you tell her I cared for her?'
'I told her everything, the whole truth…. I always told her the truth. To be hypocritical with her would have been a sin!'
Pasinkov was silent for a while.
'Come, tell me,' he began again: 'did you soon get over caring for her, or not?'
'Not very soon, but I got over it. What's the good of sighing in vain?'
Pasinkov turned over, facing me.
'Well, I, brother,' he began—and his lips were quivering—'am no match for you there; I've not got over caring for her to this day.'
'What!' I cried in indescribable amazement; 'did you love her?'
'I loved her,' said Pasinkov slowly, and he put both hands behind his head.
'How I loved her, God only knows. I've never spoken of it to any one, to any one in the world, and I never meant to … but there! "On earth, so they tell me, I have not long to stay." … What does it matter?'
Pasinkov's unexpected avowal so utterly astonished me that I could positively say nothing. I could only wonder, 'Is it possible? how was it I never suspected it?'
'Yes,' he went on, as though speaking to himself, 'I loved her. I never ceased to love her even when I knew her heart was Asanov's. But how bitter it was for me to know that! If she had loved you, I should at least have rejoiced for you; but Asanov…. How did he make her care for him? It was just his luck! And change her feelings, cease to care, she could not! A true heart does not change….'
I recalled Asanov's visit after the fatal dinner, Pasinkov's intervention, and I could not help flinging up my hands in astonishment.
'You learnt it all from me, poor fellow!' I cried; 'and you undertook to go and see her then!'
'Yes,' Pasinkov began again; 'that explanation with her … I shall never forget it.' It was then I found out, then I realised the meaning of the word I had chosen for myself long before: resignation. But still she has remained my constant dream, my ideal…. And he's to be pitied who lives without an ideal!'
I looked at Pasinkov; his eyes, fastened, as it were, on the distance, shone with feverish brilliance.
'I loved her,' he went on, 'I loved her, her, calm, true, unapproachable, incorruptible; when she went away, I was almost mad with grief…. Since then I have never cared for any one.'…
And suddenly turning, he pressed his face into the pillow, and began quietly weeping.
I jumped up, bent over him, and began trying to comfort him….
'It's no matter,' he said, raising his head and shaking back his hair; 'it's nothing; I felt a little bitter, a little sorry … for myself, that is…. But it's all no matter. It's all the fault of those verses. Read me something else, more cheerful.'
I took up Lermontov and began hurriedly turning over the pages; but, as fate would have it, I kept coming across poems likely to agitate Pasinkov again. At last I read him 'The Gifts of Terek.'
'Jingling rhetoric!' said my poor friend, with the tone of a preceptor; 'but there are fine passages. Since I saw you, brother, I've tried my hand at poetry, and began one poem—"The Cup of Life"—but it didn't come off! It's for us, brother, to appreciate, not to create…. But I'm rather tired; I'll sleep a little—what do you say? What a splendid thing sleep is, come to think of it!
All our life's a dream, and the best thing in it is dreaming too.'
'And poetry?' I queried.
'Poetry's a dream too, but a dream of paradise.'
Pasinkov closed his eyes.
I stood for a little while at his bedside. I did not think he would get to sleep quickly, but soon his breathing became more even and prolonged. I went away on tiptoe, turned into my own room, and lay down on the sofa. For a long while I mused on what Pasinkov had told me, recalled many things, wondered; at last I too fell asleep….
Some one touched me; I started up; before me stood Elisei.
'Come in to my master,' he said.
I got up at once.
'What's the matter with him?'
'Delirious? And hasn't it ever been so before with him?'
'Yes, he was delirious last night, too; only to-day it is something terrible.'
I went to Pasinkov's room. He was not lying down, but sitting up in bed, his whole body bent forward. He was slowly gesticulating with his hands, smiling and talking, talking all the time in a weak, hollow voice, like the whispering of rushes. His eyes were wandering. The gloomy light of a night light, set on the floor, and shaded off by a book, lay, an unmoving patch on the ceiling; Pasinkov's face seemed paler than ever in the half darkness.
I went up to him, called him by his name—he did not answer. I began listening to his whispering: he was talking of Siberia, of its forests. From time to time there was sense in his ravings.
'What trees!' he whispered; 'right up to the sky. What frost on them! Silver … snowdrifts…. And here are little tracks … that's a hare's leaping, that's a white weasel… No, it's my father running with my papers. Here he is!… Here he is! Must go; the moon is shining. Must go, look for my papers…. Ah! A flower, a crimson flower—there's Sophia…. Oh, the bells are ringing, the frost is crackling…. Ah, no; it's the stupid bullfinches hopping in the bushes, whistling…. See, the redthroats! Cold…. Ah! here's Asanov…. Oh yes, of course, he's a cannon, a copper cannon, and his gun-carriage is green. That's how it is he's liked. Is it a star has fallen? No, it's an arrow flying…. Ah, how quickly, and straight into my heart!… Who shot it? You, Sonitchka?'
He bent his head and began muttering disconnected words. I glanced at Elisei; he was standing, his hands clasped behind his back, gazing ruefully at his master.
'Ah, brother, so you've become a practical person, eh?' he asked suddenly, turning upon me such a clear, such a fully conscious glance, that I could not help starting and was about to reply, but he went on at once: 'But I, brother, have not become a practical person, I haven't, and that's all about it! A dreamer I was born, a dreamer! Dreaming, dreaming…. What is dreaming?
Sobakevitch's peasant—that's dreaming. Ugh!…'
Almost till morning Pasinkov wandered in delirium; at last he gradually grew quieter, sank back on the pillow, and dozed off. I went back into my room.
Worn out by the cruel night, I slept soundly.
Elisei again waked me.
'Ah, sir!' he said in a shaking voice, 'I do believe Yakov Ivanitch is dying….'
I ran in to Pasinkov. He was lying motionless. In the light of the coming day he looked already a corpse. He recognised me.
'Good-bye,' he whispered; 'greet her for me, I'm dying….'
'Yasha!' I cried; 'nonsense! you are going to live….'
'No, no! I am dying…. Here, take this as a keepsake.' … (He pointed to his breast.) …
'What's this?' he began suddenly; 'look: the sea … all golden, and blue isles upon it, marble temples, palm-trees, incense….'
He ceased speaking … stretched….
Within half an hour he was no more. Elisei flung himself weeping at his feet.
I closed his eyes.
On his neck there was a little silken amulet on a black cord. I took it.
Three days afterwards he was buried…. One of the noblest hearts was hidden for ever in the grave. I myself threw the first handful of earth upon him.