Not only Raisky, but Tatiana Markovna gave up her attitude of acquiescence, and secretly began to watch Vera narrowly. Tatiana Markovna became thoughtful, she even neglected the affairs of the house and farm, left the keys lying o_he table, did not speak to Savili, kept no accounts, and did not drive ou_nto the fields. She grew melancholy as she sought in vain how she might see_rom Vera a frank avowal, or find means to avert misfortune.
Vera in love, in an ecstasy! It seemed to her more than small-pox or measles, worse even than brain fever. And with whom was she in love? God grant that i_ere Ivan Ivanovich. If Vera were married to him, she herself would die i_eace. But her feminine instinct told her that whatever deep affection th_orester cherished for Vera, it was reciprocated by nothing more tha_riendship.
Who then was the man? Of the neighbouring landowners there was only Tushi_hom she saw and knew anything of. The young men in the town, the officers an_ouncillors, had long since given up any hope of being received into he_avour.
She looked keenly and suspiciously at Vera when she came to dinner or tea, an_ried to follow her into the garden, but as soon as Vera was aware of he_unt's presence she quickened her steps and vanished into the distance.
"Spirited away like a ghost!" said Tatiana Markovna to Raisky. "I wanted t_ollow her, but where, with my old limbs? She flits like a bird into th_oods, into the bushes, over the precipice."
Raisky went immediately into the park, where he met Yakob, and asked him if h_ad seen the young lady.
"I saw Vera Vassilievna just now by the chapel."
"What was she doing there?"
Raisky went to the chapel, wondering to himself how she had come to tak_efuge in prayer. On the left there lay in the meadow between the park and th_oad, a lonely, weather-beaten, half-ruined wooden chapel, adorned with _icture of the Christ, a Byzantine painting in a bronze frame. The ikon ha_rown dark with age, the paint had been cracked in many places, so that th_hrist face was hardly recognisable, but the eyelids were still plainl_iscernible, and the eyes looked out dreamily on the worshippers; the folde_ands were also preserved.
Raisky advanced noiselessly over the grass. Vera was standing with her back t_im, her face turned towards the ikon, unconscious of his approach. On th_rass by the chapel lay her straw hat and sunshade. Her hands did not make th_ign of the Cross, her lips uttered no prayers, her whole body appeare_otionless, as if she hardly breathed; her whole being was at prayer.
Involuntarily Raisky too held his breath. Is she begging for happiness, or i_he confiding her sorrow to the Crucified?
Suddenly she awoke from her prayer, turned and started when she caught sigh_f Raisky.
"What are you doing here?" she said severely.
Yakob met me and said you were here; so I came. Grandmother… ."
"Since you mention Grandmother, I will point out that she has been watching m_or some time. Do you know the reason?" she asked, looking straight into hi_yes.
"I think she always does."
"No, it was not her idea to watch me. Tell me without concealing anything, have you communicated to her your suppositions about love and a letter writte_n blue paper?"
"I think not of the letter."
"Then of love. I must know what you said?"
"We were speaking of you. Grandmother has her own questionings as to why yo_re so serious one moment and so gay the next. I said (it is a long time ago) that perhaps you were in love."
"She was terrified."
"Chiefly because of your evident excitement."
"Grandmother's peace of mind is dear to me; dearer, perhaps, than you think."
"She told me herself that she believed in your boundless love for her."
"Thank God! I am grateful to you for repeating this to me. Go to Grandmothe_nd destroy this curiosity of hers about my being in love, in ecstasy. I_annot be difficult for you, and you will fulfil my wishes if you love me."
"What would I not do to prove it to you. Later in the evening… ."
"No, this minute. When I come to dinner her eyes are to look on me as before, do you understand?"
"Well, I will go!" promised Raisky, but did not stir.
For answer she pointed in the direction of the house.
"One word more," she said, detaining him. "You must never, never talk about m_o Grandmother, do you understand?"
She motioned him to be gone, and when turning into an avenue he looked roun_or a moment, she had vanished. She had, as Grandmother said, disappeared lik_ ghost. A moment later there was the report of a gun from the precipice.
Raisky wondered who was playing tricks there, and went towards the house.
Vera appeared punctually at the midday meal. Keenly as he looked at her, Raisky could observe no change in her. Tatiana Markovna glanced at him once o_wice in inquiry, but was visibly reassured when she saw no signs of anythin_nusual. Raisky had executed Vera's commission, and had alleviated her acutes_nxiety, but it was impossible to reassure her completely.
Tatiana Markovna was saddened and wounded by the lack of confidence shown he_y Vera, her niece, her daughter, her dearest child, entrusted to her care b_er mother. Terror overcame her. She lay awake anxiously through the night, she questioned Marina, sent Marfinka to find out what Vera was doing, bu_ithout result. Suddenly there occurred to her what seemed to her a good plan; as she put it to Raisky, she would make use of allegory. She remembered tha_he possessed a moral tale which she had read and wept over in her own youth.
Its theme was the disastrous consequences which followed on passion an_isobedience to parents. A young man and a girl loved one another, and me_gainst the will of their parents. She stood on the balcony beckoning an_alking to him, and they wrote one another long epistles. Others intervened, the young girl lost her reputation, and the young man was sent to some vagu_lace in America by his father.
Like many others Tatiana Markovna pinned her faith to the printed word, especially when the reading was of an edifying character. So she took he_alisman from the shelf, where it lay hidden under a pile of rubbish, and lai_t on the table near her work basket. At dinner she declared to the tw_isters her desire that they should read aloud to her on alternate evenings, especially in bad weather, since she could not read very much on account o_er eyes. Generally speaking, she was not an enthusiastic reader, and onl_iked to listen when Tiet Nikonich read aloud to her on agricultural matter_r hygiene, or about distressing occurrences of murder or arson.
Vera said nothing, but Marfinka asked immediately whether the book had a happ_nding.
"What sort of book is it?" inquired Raisky, picking up the book and glancin_t a page here and there. "What old rubbish have you discovered, Grandmother.
I expect you read it when you were in love with Tiet Nikonich."
"Don't be foolish, Boris Pavlovich. You are not asked to read."
Raisky took his departure, and the room was left to the reading party.
Vera was unendurably bored, but she never refused assent to any definitel_xpressed wish of her aunt's. At last, after three or four evenings, the poin_as reached where the lovers exchanged their vows. The tale was faultlessl_oral and horribly dull. Vera hardly listened. At each word of love her aun_ooked at her to see whether she was touched, whether she blushed or turne_ale, but Vera merely yawned.
On the last evening when only a few chapters were left, Raisky stayed in th_oom when the table was cleared and the reading began. Vikentev, too, wa_resent. He could not sit quiet, but jumped up from time to time, ran t_arfinka, and begged to be allowed to take his share in the reading. When the_ave him the book he inserted long tirades of his own in the novel, or rea_ith a different voice suited to each character. He made the heroine lisp in _ournful whisper, the hero speak with his own natural voice, so that Marfink_lushed and looked angrily at him, and the stern father spoke with the voic_f Niel Andreevich. At last Tatiana Markovna took the book from him with a_ntimation to him to behave reasonably, whereupon he continued his studies i_haracter-mimicry for Marfinka's benefit behind her back. When Marfink_etrayed him he was requested to go into the garden until supper time and th_eading went on without him. The catastrophe of the tale approached at last, and when the last word was read and the book shut there was silence.
"What stupid nonsense," said Raisky at length, and Marfinka wiped away a tear.
"What do you think, Veroshka?" asked Tatiana Markovna.
Vera made no reply, but Marfinka decided it was a horrid book because th_overs had suffered so cruelly.
"If they had followed the advice of their parents, things would not have com_o such a pass. What do you think, Veroshka?"
Vera got up to go, but on the threshold she stopped.
"Grandmother," she said, "why have you bothered me for a whole week with thi_tupid book?" And without waiting for an answer she glided away, but Tatian_arkovna called her back.
"Why, Vera, I meant to give you pleasure."
"No, you wanted to punish me for something. In future I would rather be pu_or a week on bread and water," and kneeling on the footstool at her aunt'_eet she added, "Good-night, Grandmother."
Tatiana Markovna stooped to kiss her and whispered. "I did not want to punis_ou, but to guard you against getting into trouble yourself."
"And if I do," whispered Vera in reply, "will you have me put in a conven_ike Cunigunde?"
"Do you think I am a monster like those bad parents? It's wicked, Vera, t_hink such things of me."
"I know it would be wicked, Grandmother, and I don't think any such thing. Bu_hy warn me with such a silly book?"
"How should I warn you and guard you, my dear. Tell me and set my mind a_est."
"Make the sign of the Cross over me," she said after a moment's hesitation, and when her aunt had made the holy sign, Vera kissed her hand and left th_oom.
"A wise book," laughed Raisky. "Well, has the beautiful Cunigunde's exampl_one any good?"
Tatiana Markovna was grieved and in no mood for joking, and sent for Pashutk_o take the book to the servants' room.
"You have brought Vera up in the right way," said Raisky. "Let Egorka an_arina read your allegory together, and the household will be impeccable."
* * * * *
Vikentev called Marfinka into the garden, Raisky went to his room, and Tatian_arkovna sat for a long time on the divan, absorbed in thought. She had los_ll interest in the book, was herself sickened by its pious tone, and wa_eally ashamed of having had recourse to so gross a method. Marina, Yakob an_assilissa came one after another to say that supper was ready, but Tatian_arkovna wanted none, Vera declined, and to Marina's astonishment eve_arfinka, who never went supperless to bed, was not hungry.
Meanwhile Egorka had got wind of the universal loss of appetite. He helpe_imself to a considerable slice from the dish with his fingers to taste, as h_old Yakob, whom he invited to share the feast. Yakob shook his head an_rossed himself, but nevertheless did his share, so that when Marina came t_lear the table the fish and the sweets were gone.
The mistress's preparations for rest were made, and quiet reigned in th_ouse. Tatiana Markovna rose from the divan and looked at the ikon. Sh_rossed herself, but she was too restless for prayer, and did not kneel dow_s usual. Instead she sat down on the bed and began to go over her passage o_rms with Vera. How could she learn what lay on the girl's heart. Sh_emembered the proverb that wisdom comes with the morning, and lay down, bu_ot that night to sleep, for there was a light tap on the door, and she hear_arfinka's voice, "Open the door. Grandmother. It's me."
"What's the matter, my dear?" she said, as she opened the door. "Have you com_o say good-night. God bless you! Where is Nikolai Andreevich?"
But she was terrified when she saw Marfinka's face.
"Sit down in the armchair," she said, but Marfinka clung to her.
"Lie down, Grandmother, and I will sit on the bed beside you. I will tell yo_verything, but please put out the light."
Then Marfinka began to relate how she had gone with Vikentev into the park t_ear the nightingales sing, how she had first objected because it was so dark.
"Are you afraid?" Vikentev had asked.
"Not with you," and they had gone on hand in hand.
"How dark it is! I won't go any farther. Don't take hold of my hand!" She wen_n involuntarily, although Vikentev had loosed her hand, her heart beatin_aster and faster. "I am afraid, I won't go a step farther." She drew close_o him all the same, terrified by the crackling of the twigs under her feet.
"Here we will wait. Listen!" he whispered.
The nightingale sang, and Marfinka felt herself enveloped in the warm breat_f night. At intervals her hand sought Vikentev's, but when he touched her_he drew it back.
"How lovely, Marfa Vassilievna! What an enchanted night!"
She nudged him not to disturb the song.
"Marfa Vassilievna," he whispered, "something so good, so wonderful i_appening to me, something I have never felt before. It is as if everything i_e was astir. At this moment," he went on as she remained silent, "I shoul_ike to fling myself on horseback, and ride, ride, till I had no breathe left, or fling myself into the Volga and swim to the opposite bank. Do you fee_nything like that?"
"Let us go away from here. Grandmother will be angry."
"Just a minute more. How the nightingale does sing! What does he sing?"
"I don't know."
"Just what I should like to say to you, but don't know how to say."
"How do you know what he sings? Can you speak nightingale language?"
"He is singing of love, of my love for you," and startled by his own words h_rew her hand to his lips and covered it with kisses.
She drew it back, and ran at full speed down the avenue towards the house; o_he steps she waited a moment to take breath.
"Not a step farther," she cried breathlessly, clinging to the doorpost as h_vertook her. "Go home."
"Listen, Marfa Vassilievna, my angel," he cried, falling on his knees. "On m_nees I swear… ."
"If you speak another word, I go straight to Grandmother."
He rose, and led her by force into the avenue.
"What are you doing? I will call, I won't listen to your nightingale."
"You won't listen to it, but you will to me."
"Let me go. I will tell Grandmother everything."
"You must tell her to-night, Marfa Vassilievna. We have come too near to on_nother that if we were suddenly separated… . Should you like that, Marf_assilievna? If you like I will go away for good."
She wept and seized his hand in panic, when he drew back a step.
"You love me, you love me," he cried.
"Does your mother know what you are saying to me?"
"Ought you to say it then? Is it honourable?"
"I shall tell her to-morrow."
"What if she will not give her blessing?"
"I won't obey."
"But I will. I will take no step without your Mother's and Grandmother'_onsent," she said, turning to go.
"As far as I am concerned, I am sure of my Mother's consent. I will hurry no_o Kolchino, and my Mother will send you her consent to-morrow. Marf_assilievna, give me your hand."
"What will Grandmother say? If she does not forgive me I shall die of shame,"
she said, and she hurried into the house.
"Heavens, what will Grandmother say?" she wondered, shutting herself up in he_oom, and shaking with fever. How should she tell her grandmother, and shoul_he tell Veroshka first. She decided in favour of her grandmother, and whe_he house was quiet slipped to her room like a mouse.
The two talked low to one another for a long time. Tatiana Markovna made th_ign of the cross over her darling many times, until she fell asleep on he_houlder. Then she carefully laid the girl's head on the pillow, rose, an_rayed with many tears. But more heartily than for Marfinka's happiness sh_rayed for Vera, with her grey head bowed before the cross.