One evening a thunderstorm was brewing. The black clouds lay entrenched beyon_he Volga, and the air was as hot and moist as in a bath-house. Here and ther_ver the fields and roads rose pillars of dust.
In the house Tatiana Markovna sent her household hurrying to close the stov_ipes, the doors and the windows. She was not only afraid of a thunderstor_erself, but she was not pleased if her fear was not shared by everybod_lse—that would be freethinking. So at each flash of lightning everyone mus_ake the sign of the Cross, on pain of being thought a blockhead. She chase_gorka from the ante-room into the servants' room, because during the approac_f the storm he would not stop giggling with the maids.
The storm approached majestically, with the dull distant noise of the thunder, with a storm of sand, when suddenly there was a flash of lightning over th_illage and a sharp clap of thunder.
Disregarding the passionate warnings of his aunt, Raisky took his cap an_mbrella and hurried into the park, anxious to see the landscape under th_hadow of the storm, to find new ideas for his drawings, and to observe hi_wn emotions. He descended the cliff, and passed through the undergrowth by _inding, hardly perceptible path. The rain fell by bucketfuls, one flash o_ightning followed another, the thunder rolled, and the whole prospect wa_eiled in mist and cloud. He soon regretted his intention. His soaked umbrell_id not protect him from the rain, which whipped his face and poured down o_is clothes, and his feet sank ankle-deep in the muddy ground. He wa_ontinually knocking against and stumbling over unevennesses in the ground o_ree stumps, treading in holes and pools. He was obliged to stand still unti_ flash of lightning lighted up a few yards of the path. He knew that not fa_way lay a ruined arbour, dating from the time when the precipice formed par_f the garden. Not long before he had seen it in the thicket, but now it wa_ndiscoverable, however much he would have preferred to observe the storm fro_ts shelter. And since he did not wish to retrace the horrible path by whic_e had come, he resolved to make his way to the nearest carriage road, t_limb over the twisted hedge and to reach the village.
He could hardly drag his soaked boots free of the mud and weeds, and he wa_azzled by the lightning and nearly deafened by the noise. He confessed tha_e might as well have admired the storm from the shelter of the house. In th_nd he struck the fence, but when he tried to leap over it he slipped and fel_n the ditch. With difficulty he dragged himself out and clambered over. Ther_as little traffic on the steep and dangerous ridge, used for the most part a_ short cut by empty one-horse carriages with their quiet beasts.
He closed his dripping umbrella, and put it under his arm. Dazzled by th_ightning, slipping every minute, he toiled painfully up the slope, and whe_e reached the summit he heard close by the noise of wheels, the neighing o_orses and the cry of the coachman. He stood on one side and pressed himsel_gainst the fence to allow the passage of the carriage, since the road wa_ery narrow. In a flash of lightning Raisky saw before him a char-à-banc wit_everal persons in it, drawn by two well-kept, apparently magnificent horses.
In the light of another flash he was amazed to recognise Vera.
"Vera," he cried loudly.
The carriage stood still.
"Who is there? Is it you, cousin, in this weather?"
"I am hurrying home."
"So do I want to. I came down the precipice, and lost my way in the bushes.
"Who is driving you? Is there room for me."
"Plenty of room," said a masculine voice. "Give me your hand to get up."
Raisky gave his hand, and was hauled up by a strong arm. Next to Vera sa_arina, and the two, huddled together like wet chickens, were trying t_rotect themselves from the drenching rain by the leather covering.
"Who is with you?" asked Raisky in a low voice. "Whose horses are these, an_ho is driving?"
"I don't know him."
"The Forester," whispered Vera, and he would have repeated her words if sh_ad not nudged him to keep silence. "Later," she said.
He remembered the talk with his aunt, her praises of the Forester, her hint_f his being a good match. This then was the hero of the romance, th_orester. He tried to get a look at him, but only saw an ordinary hat with _ide brim, and a tall, broad-shouldered figure wrapped in a rain coat.
The Forester handled the reins skilfully as he drove up the steep hill, cracked his whip, whistled, held the horses' heads with a firm hand when the_hreatened to shy at a flash of lightning, and turned round to those sheltere_n the body of the vehicle.
"How do you feel, Vera Vassilievna," he inquired anxiously. "Are you very col_nd wet?"
"I am quite comfortable, Ivan Ivanovich; the rain does not catch me."
"You must take my raincoat. God forbid that you should take cold. I shoul_ever forgive myself all my life for having driven you."
"You weary me with your friendly anxiety. Don't bother about anything but you_orses."
"As you please," replied Ivan Ivanovich with hasty obedience, turning to hi_orses, and he cast only an occasional anxious glance towards Vera.
They drove past the village to the door of the new house. Ivan Ivanovic_umped down and hammered on the door with his riding whip. Handing over th_are of his horses to Prokor, Tarasska and Egorka, who hurried up for th_urpose, he stood by the steps, took Vera in his arms, and carried he_arefully and respectfully, like a precious burden, through the ranks of wide- eyed lackeys and maid-servants bearing lights, to the divan in the hall.
Raisky followed, wet and dirty, without once removing his eyes from them.
The Forester went back into the ante-room, made himself as respectable as h_ould, shook himself, pushed his fingers through his hair, and demanded _rush.
Meanwhile Tatiana Markovna bade Vera welcome and reproached her for venturin_n such a journey; she must change her clothes throughout and in a few moment_he samovar would be brought in, and supper served.
"Quick, quick, Grandmother!" said Vera, rubbing herself affectionately agains_er. "Let us have tea, soup, roast and wine. Ivan Ivanovich is hungry." Sh_new how to quiet her aunt's anxiety.
"That's splendid. It shall be served in a minute. Where is Ivan Ivanovich?"
"I am making myself a bit decent," cried a voice from the ante-room.
Egor, Yakob and Stepan hummed round the Forester as if he had been a goo_orse. Then he entered the hall and respectfully kissed the hands of Tatian_arkovna, and of Marfinka, who had only just decided to get out of bed, wher_he had hidden herself for fear of the storm.
"It is not necessary, Marfinka," said her aunt, "to hide from the storm. Yo_hould pray to God, and will not then be struck."
"I am not afraid of thunder and lightning, of which the peasants are usuall_he victims, but it makes me nervous," replied Marfinka.
Raisky, with the water still dripping off him, stood in the window watchin_he guest. Ivan Ivanovich Tushin was a tall, broad-shouldered man of thirty- eight, with strongly-marked features, a dark, thick beard, and large gre_ather timid eyes, and hands disproportionately large, with broad nails. H_ore a grey coat and a high-buttoned vest, with a broad turned-down home-spu_ollar. He was a fine man, but with marked simplicity, not to put a fine poin_n it in his glance and his manners. Raisky wondered jealously whether he wa_era's hero. Why not? Women like these tall men with open faces and highl_eveloped muscular strength. But Vera—
"And you, Borushka," cried Tatiana Markovna suddenly, clapping her hands.
"Look at your clothes. Egorka and the rest of you! Where are you? There is _ool on the floor round you, Borushka. You will be ill. Vera was driving home, but there was no reason for you to go out into the storm. Go and change you_lothes, Borushka, and have some rum in your tea. Ivan Ivanovich, you ought t_o with him. Are you acquainted? My nephew Boris Raisky—Ivan Ivanovic_ushin."
"We have already made acquaintance," said Tushin, with a bow. "We picked u_our nephew on the way. Many thanks, I need nothing, but you, Boris Pavlovich, ought to change."
"You must forgive an old woman for telling you you are all half mad. No anima_eaves his hole in weather like this. Yakob, shut the shutters closer. Fanc_rossing the Volga in weather like this."
"My carriage is solid, and has a cover. Vera Vassilievna sat as dry as if sh_ere in a room."
"But in this terrible storm."
"Only old women are afraid of a storm."
"I'm much obliged."
"I beg your pardon," said Tushin in embarrassment. "It slipped from my tongue.
I meant ordinary women."
"God will forgive you," laughed Tatiana Markovna. "It won't indeed hurt you, but Vera! Were you not afraid?"
"One does not think of fear with Ivan Ivanovich."
"If Ivan Ivanovich went bear-hunting, would you go with him?"
"Yes, Grandmother. Take me with you sometimes, Ivan Ivanovich."
"With pleasure, Vera Vassilievna, in winter. You have only to command."
"That is just like her, not to mind what her Grandmother thinks."
"I was joking, Grandmother."
"I know you would be equal to it. Had you no scruples about hindering Iva_vanovich; this distance… ."
"It is my fault. As soon as I heard from Natalie Ivanovna that Ver_assilievna wanted to come home, I asked for the pleasure," he said looking a_era with a mixed air of modesty and respect.
"A nice pleasure in this weather."
"It was lighter while we were driving, and Vera Vassilievna was not afraid."
"Is Anna Ivanovna well?"
"Thank you. She sends her kindest regards, and has sent you some preserves, also some peaches out of the orangery, and mushrooms. They are in th_har-à-banc."
"It is very good of her. We have no peaches. I have put aside for her some o_he tea that Borushka brought with him."
"How could you let your horses climb the hill in such weather? Were the_errified by the storm?"
"My horses obey me like dogs. Should I have driven Vera Vassilievna if ther_ere any danger?"
"You are a good friend," interrupted Vera. "I have absolute trust both in you, and in your horses."
At this moment Raisky returned, having changed his clothes. He had noticed th_lance which Vera gave Tushin, and had heard her last remark.
"Thank you, Vera Vassilievna," answered Tushin. "Don't forget what you hav_ust said. If you ever need anything, if… ."
"If there is another such raging storm," said Tatiana Markovna.
"Any storm," added Tushin firmly.
"There are other storms in life," said Tatiana Markovna with a sigh.
"Whatever they are, if they break on you, Vera Vassilievna, seek refuge in th_orest over the Volga, where lives a bear who will serve you, as the fairytal_ells."
"I will remember," returned Vera laughing. "If a sorcerer wants to carry m_ff, as in the fairy-tale, I will take refuge in the wood."
Raisky saw Tushin's glance of devotion and modest reserve, he heard his words, so quietly and modestly spoken, and thought the letter written on the blu_aper could be from no one else. He looked at Vera to see if she were moved o_ould relapse into a stony silence, but she showed no sign. Vera appeared t_im in a new light. In her manner and her words to Tushin he saw simplicity, trust, gentleness and affection such as she showed to no one else, not even t_er aunt or to Marfinka.
"She is on her guard with her Grandmother," he thought, "and takes no heed o_arfinka. But when she looks at Tushin, speaks to him, or gives her hand it i_lain to see that they are friends."
The Forester, who had business to do in the town, stayed for three days wit_atiana Markovna, and for three days Raisky sought for the key to this ne_haracter and to his place in Vera's heart.
They called Ivan Ivanovich the "Forester," because he lived on his estate i_he midst of the forest. He loved the forest, growing new timber on the on_and and on the other allowing it to be cut down and loaded up on the Volg_or sale. The several thousand dessiatins of surrounding forest wer_xceedingly well managed, and nothing was lacking; there was even a steam saw.
He attended to everything himself, and in his spare time hunted and fished an_mused himself with his bachelor neighbours. From time to time he sought _hange of scene, and then arranged with his friends to drive in a three-hors_arriage, drawn by fresh horses, forty versts away to the seat of a lande_roprietor, where for three days the fun was fast enough. Then they returned, put up with Tushin, or waked the sleepy town. In these festivals all clas_istinctions were lost.
After this dissipation he would again remain lost to the world for thre_onths in his forest home, see after the wood cutting, and go hunting with tw_ervants, and occasionally have to lie up with a wounded arm. The life suite_im. He read works on agriculture and forestry, took counsel with his Germa_ssistant, an experienced forester, who was nevertheless not allowed to be th_aster. All orders must come from Tushin himself, and were carried out by th_elp of two foremen and a gang of hired labourers. In his spare time he like_o read French novels, the only distraction that he permitted himself. Ther_as nothing extraordinary in a retired life like this in the wide district i_hich he lived.
Raisky learnt that Tushin saw Vera at the pope's house, that he went ther_xpressly when he heard that Vera was a visitor. Vera herself told him so. Sh_nd Natalie Ivanovna, too, visited Tushin's property, known as "Smoke,"
because far away from the hills could be seen the smoke rising from th_himneys of the house in the depth of the forest.
Tushin lived with his spinster sister, Anna Ivanovna, to whom Tatiana Markovn_as much attached. Tatiana Markovna was delighted when she came to town. Ther_as no one with whom she liked more to drink coffee, no one to whom she gav_er confidence in the same degree; they shared the same liking for househol_anagement, the same deep-rooted self-esteem and the same respect for famil_radition.
Of Tushin himself there was little more to say than was revealed on a firs_ccasion; his character lay bare to the daylight, with no secret, no romanti_ide. He possessed more than plain good sense, for his understanding did no_erive from the brain alone, but from the heart and will. Men of his type, especially when they care nothing for the superfluous things of life, but kee_heir eyes fixed undeviatingly on the necessary, do not make themselve_oticed in the crowd and rarely reach the front of the world's stage.
Raisky noticed in the Forester's behaviour towards Vera a constant adoratio_xpressed by his glance and his voice, and sometimes by his timidity; on he_ide an equally constant confidence, frankness and affection, nothing more. H_id not surprise in her a single sign or gesture, a single word or glance tha_ight have betrayed her. Tushin showed pure esteem and a consistent readines_o serve her as her bear, and no more. Surely he was not the man who wrote th_etter on the blue paper.
After the Forester had taken his leave, the household fell back into it_egular routine. Vera seemed untroubled and in possession of a quie_appiness, and showed herself kind and affectionate to her aunt and Marfinka.
Yet there were days when unrest suddenly came upon her, when she went hastil_o her room in the old house, or descended the precipice into the park, an_isplayed a gloomy resentment if Raisky or Marfinka ventured to disturb he_olitude. After a short interval she resumed an even, sympathetic temper, helped in the household, looked over her aunt's accounts, and even paid visit_o the ladies in the town. She discussed literary questions with Raisky, wh_ealised from the opinions she expressed that her reading was wide and entice_er into thorough-going discussions. They read together, though not regularly.
Sometimes a wild intoxication flared up in her, but it was a disconcertin_erriment. One evening, when she suddenly left the room, Tatiana Markovna an_aisky exchanged a long questioning glance.
"What do you think of Vera?" she began. "She seems to have recovered from he_alady of the soul."
"I think it is more serious than before."
"What is the matter with you, Borushka? You can see how gay and friendly sh_as become."
"Is she like the Vera you have known. I fear that this is not gladness, bu_ather agitation, even intoxication."
"You are right. She is changed."
"Don't you notice that she is ecstatic?"
"Ecstatic?" repeated Tatiana Markovna anxiously. "Why do you say that, especially just at night? I shan't sleep. The ecstasy of a young girl spell_isaster."