Since Vera's departure Raisky had experienced the meaning of unmitigate_olitude. He felt as if he were surrounded by a desert, now that he wa_eprived of the sight of her, although nature around him was radiant an_miling. Tatiana Markovna's anxious solicitude, Marfinka's charming rule, he_ongs, her lively chatter with the gay and youthful Vikentev, the arrival an_eparture of guests, the eccentricities of the freakish Paulina Karpovna—non_f these things existed for him. He only saw that the lilac curtain wa_otionless, the blinds had been drawn down, and that Vera's favourite benc_emained empty.
He did not want to love Vera, and if he had wished it he ought still t_esist, for Vera had denied him every hope; indeed her beauty seemed to hav_ost its power over him, and he was now drawn to her by a differen_ttraction.
"What is Vera's real nature?" he asked his aunt one day.
"You see for yourself. She recognises only her own understanding and her ow_ill. She was born in my arms, and has spent her whole life with me, yet I d_ot know what is in her mind, what are her likes and dislikes. I do not forc_er, or worry her, so that she can hardly think herself unfortunate. You se_or yourself that my girls live with me as free as the birds of the air."
"You are right, Grandmother. It is not fear, or anxiety, or the power o_uthority that binds you to them, but the tenderest of home ties. They ador_ou, and so they ought to do, but it is the fruit of their upbringing. Wh_hould worn-out conceptions of duty be pressed upon them, and why should the_ive like caged birds? Let them dip into the reservoir of life itself. A bir_mprisoned in a cage loses the capacity for freedom, and, even if the door o_is cage is opened, he will not take flight."
"I have never tried to exercise restraint on Marfinka or Vera. Supposing _espectable, rich man of old and blameless family were to ask for Marfinka'_and, and she refused it, do you think I should persuade her?"
"Well, Granny, I leave Marfinka to you, but do not attempt to do anything wit_era. You must not restrain her in any way, must leave her her freedom. On_ird is born for the cage, another for freedom. Vera will be able to direc_er own life."
"Do I restrain or repress her? I am like the police inspector who only see_hat there is an outward semblance of order; I do not penetrate below th_urface unless my assistance is invited."
"Tell me, Grandmother, what sort of a woman is this priest's wife, and wha_re the links that bind her to Vera?"
"Natalie Ivanovna and Vera made friends at a boarding school. She is a good,
"Is she sensible? Possibly a woman of weight and character?"
"Oh no! She is not stupid, is fairly educated, a great reader, and fond o_ress. The pope, who is much liked by the local landowner, is not poor, an_ives in comfort on his own land. He is a sensible man, belongs to the younge_eneration, but he leads too worldly a life for the priesthood, as is th_ustom in landed society. He reads French books, and smokes, for instance;
things that are unsuited to the priestly garb. Every glance of Veroshka's,
every mood of hers is sacred to Natalie Ivanovna; whatever she may say is wis_nd good. This suits Vera, who does not want a friend, but an obedien_ervant; that is why she loves the pope's wife."
"And Vera loves you too?" asked Raisky, who wanted to know if Vera love_nybody else except the pope's wife.
"Yes, she loves me," answered Tatiana Markovna with conviction, "but in he_wn fashion. She never shows it, and never will, though she loves me and woul_e ready to die for me."
"And you love Vera?"
"Ah, how I love her!" she sighed, and tears stood in her eyes. "She does no_now, but perhaps one day she may learn."
"Have you noticed how thoughtful she has been for some time. Is she not i_ove?" he added in a half-whisper, but immediately regretted the question,
which it was too late to withdraw. His aunt started back as if a stone had hi_er.
"God forbid!" she cried, making the sign of the Cross. "This sorrow has bee_pared us. Do not disturb my peace, but confess, as you would to the priest,
if you know anything."
Raisky was annoyed with himself, and made an effort, partially successful, t_acify his aunt.
"I have not noticed anything more than you have. She would hardly be likely t_ay anything to me that she kept secret from you."
"Yes, yes, it is true she will say nothing. The pope's wife knows everything,
but she would rather die than betray Vera's secrets. Her own secrets sh_catters for anyone to pick up, but not Vera's."
"With whom could she fall in love?" remarked Tatiana Markovna after a silence.
"There is no one here."
"No one?" interrupted Raisky quickly.
Tatiana Markovna shook her head, then went on after a while:—
"There might be the Forester. He is an excellent individual, and has shown a_nclination, I notice. He would be certainly an admirable match for Vera, but…
"She is so strange. Heaven knows how any one would dare, how any man would wo_er. He is splendid—well-established and rich. The wood alone yield_housands."
"Is the Forester young, educated, a man that counts?"
Vassilissa entered and announced Paulina Karpovna.
"The evil one himself has brought her," grumbled Tatiana Markovna. "Show he_n, and be quick with breakfast."