The weather was gloomy. Rain fell unintermittently, the sky was enshrouded i_ thick cloud of fog, and on the ground lay banks of mist. No one had venture_ut all day, and the family had already gone early to bed, when about te_'clock the rain ceased, Raisky put on his overcoat to get a breath of air i_he garden. The rustle of the bushes and the plants from which the rain wa_till dripping, alone broke the stillness of the night. After a few turns u_nd down he turned his steps to the vegetable garden, through which his way t_he fields lay. Here and there a glimmering star hung above in the dens_arkness, and before him the village lay like a dark spot on the dar_ackground of the indistinguishable fields beyond. Suddenly he heard a sligh_oise from the old house, and saw that a window on the ground floor had bee_pened. Since the window looked out not into the garden, but on to the field, he hastened to reach the grove of acacias, leapt the fence and landed in _uddle of water, where he stood motionless.
"Is it you?" said a low voice from the window. It was Vera's voice.
Though his knees trembled under him, he was just able to answer in the sam_ow tone, "Yes."
"The rain has kept me in all day, but to-morrow morning at ten. Go quickly; some one is coming."
The window was closed quietly, and Raisky cursed the approaching footstep_hat had interrupted the conversation. It was then true, and the lette_ritten on blue paper not a dream. Was there a rendezvous? He went in th_irection of the steps.
"Who is there?" cried a voice, and Raisky was seized from behind.
"The devil," cried Raisky, pushing Savili away, "since when have you take_pon yourself to guard the house?"
"I have the Mistress's orders. There are so many thieves and vagabonds in th_eighbourhood, and the sailors from the Volga do a lot of mischief."
"That is a lie. You are out after Marina, and you ought to be ashamed o_ourself."
He would have gone, but Savili detained him.
"Allow me, Sir, to say a word or two about Marina. Exercise your mercifu_owers, and send the woman to Siberia."
"Are you out of your senses?"
"Or into a house of detention for the rest of her life."
"I'm much more likely to send you, so that you cease to beat her. What are yo_oing, spying here in this abominable way?" said Raisky between his teeth, a_e cast a glance at Vera's window. In another moment he was gone.
Raisky hardly slept at all that night, and he appeared next morning in hi_unt's sitting-room with dry, weary eyes. The whole family had assembled fo_ea on this particular bright morning. Vera greeted him gaily, as he presse_er hand feverishly and looked straight into her eyes. She returned his gaz_almly and quietly.
"How elegant you are this morning," he said.
"Do you call a simple straw-coloured blouse elegant?" she asked.
"But the scarlet band on your hair, with the coils of hair drawn across it, the belt with the beautiful clasp, and the scarlet-embroidered shoes… . Yo_ave excellent taste, and I congratulate you."
"I am glad that I meet with your approval, but your enthusiasm is rathe_trange. Tell me the reason of this extraordinary tone."
"Good, I will tell you. Let us go for a stroll."
He saw that she gave him a quick glance of suspicion as he proposed a_ppointment with her for ten o'clock. After a moment's thought she agreed, sa_own in a corner, and was silent. About ten o'clock she picked up her work an_er parasol, and signed to him to follow her as she left the house. She walke_n silence through the garden, and they sat down on a bench at the top of th_liff.
"It was by chance," said Raisky, who was hardly able to restrain his emotion,
"that I have learnt a part of your secret."
"So it seems," she answered coldly. "You were listening yesterday."
"Accidentally, I swear."
"I believe you."
"Vera, there is no longer any doubt that you have a lover. Who is he?"
"Who is there in the world who could desire your happiness more ardently tha_ do? Why have you confidence in him and not in me?"
"Because I love him."
"The man you love is to be envied, but how is he going to repay you for th_upreme happiness that you bring him? Be careful, my friend. To whom do yo_ive your confidence?"
"Who is the man?"
Instead of answering him she looked full in his face, and he thought that he_yes were as colourless as those of a watersprite, and there lay hidden i_hem a maddening riddle. From below in the bushes there came the sound of _hot. Vera rose immediately from the bench, and Raisky also rose.
"HE?" he asked in a dull voice. "It is ten o'clock."
She approached the precipice, Raisky following close at her heels. Sh_otioned him to come no farther.
"What is the meaning of the shot?"
"The writer of the blue letter. Not a step further unless you wish that _eave here for ever."
She rapidly descended the precipice, and in a few moments had vanished behin_he brushwood and the trees. He called after her to take care, but in repl_eard only the crackling of the dry twigs beneath her feet. Then all wa_till. He was left to torment himself with wondering who the object of he_assion could be.
It was none other than Mark Volokov, pariah, cynic, gipsy, who would ask th_irst likely man he met for money, who levelled his gun on his fellow-men, and, like Karl Moor, had declared war on mankind—Mark Volokov, the man unde_olice supervision.
It was to meet this dangerous and suspicious character that Vera stole to th_endezvous—Vera, the pearl of beauty in the whole neighbourhood, whose beaut_ade strong men weak; Vera, who had mastered even the tyrannical Tatian_arkovna; Vera, the pure maiden sheltered from all the winds of heaven. I_ould have seemed impossible for her to meet a man against whom all house_ere barred. It had happened so simply, so easily, towards the end of the las_ummer, at the time that the apples were ripe. She was sitting one evening i_he little acacia arbour by the fence near the old house, looking absently ou_nto the field, and away to the Volga and the hills beyond, when she becam_ware that a few paces away the branches of the apple tree were swayin_nnaturally over the fence. When she looked more closely she saw that a ma_as sitting comfortably on the top rail. He appeared by his face and dress t_elong to the lower class; he was not a schoolboy, but he held in his hand_everal apples.
"What are you doing here?" she asked, just as he was about to spring down fro_he fence.
"I am eating," he said, after taking a look at her. "Will you try one?" h_dded, hitching himself along the fence towards her.
She looked at him curiously, but without fear, as she drew back a little.
"Who are you?" she said severely. "And why do you climb on to other people'_ences."
"What can it matter to you who I am. I can easily tell you why I climb o_ther people's fences. It is to eat apples."
"Aren't you ashamed to take other people's apples?" she asked.
"They are my apples, not theirs; they have been stolen from me. You certainl_ave not read Proudhon. But how beautiful you are!" he added in amazement. "D_ou know what Proudhon says?" he concluded.
"_La propriété c'est le vol_."
"Ah, you have read Proudhon." He stared at her, and as she shook her head, h_ontinued, "Anyway, you have heard it. Indeed, this divine truth has gone al_ound the world nowadays. I have a copy of Proudhon, and will bring it t_ou."
"You are not a boy, and yet you steal apples. You think it is not theft to d_o because of that saying of Proudhon's."
"You believe, then, everything that was told you at school? But please tell m_ho you are. This is the Berezhkovs' garden. They tell me the old lady has tw_eautiful nieces."
"I too say what can it matter to you who I am?"
"Then you believe what your Grandmother tells you?"
"I believe in what convinces me."
"Exactly like me," he said, taking off his cap. "Is it criminal in your eye_o take apples?"
"Not criminal, perhaps, but not good manners."
"I make you a present of them," he said, handing her the remaining four apple_nd taking another bite out of his own.
He raised his cap once more and bid her an ironic good-day.
"You have a double beauty, you are beautiful to look at and sensible into th_argain. It is a pity that you are destined to adorn the life of an idiot. Yo_ill be given away, poor girl."
"No pity, if you please. I shall not be given away like an apple."
"You remember the apples; many thanks for the gift. I will bring you books i_xchange, as you like books."
"Yes, Proudhon and others. I have all the new ones. Only you must not tel_our Grandmother and her stupid visitors, for although I do not know who the_re, I don't think they would have anything to do with me."
"How do you know? You have only seen me for five minutes."
"The stag's breed is never hidden, one sees at once that you belong to th_iving, not to the dead-alive, and that is the main point. The rest comes wit_pportunity… ."
"I have a free mind, as you yourself say, and you immediately want t_verpower it. Who are you that you should take upon yourself to instruct me?"
He looked at her in amazement.
"You are neither to bring me books, nor to come here again yourself," sh_aid, rising to go. "There is a watchman here, and he will seize you."
"That is like the Grandmother again. It smells of the town and the Lenten oil, and I thought that you loved the wide world and freedom. Are you afraid of me, and who do you think I am?"
"A seminarist, perhaps," she said laconically.
"What makes you think that?"
"Well, seminarists are unconventional, badly dressed, and always hungry. G_nto the kitchen, and I will tell them to give you something to eat."
"That's very kind. Did anything else about the seminarists strike you?"
"I am not acquainted with any of them, and have seen very little of them a_ll; they are so unpolished, and talk so queerly… ."
"They are our real missionaries, and what does it matter if they talk queerly?
While we laugh at them they attack the enemy, blindly perhaps, but at any rat_ith enthusiasm."
"The world; they fight for the new knowledge, the new life. Healthy, viril_outh needs air and food, and we need such men."
"The new-born strength of the world."
"Do you then represent the 'new-born strength of the world,'" she said, looking at him with observant, curious eyes, but without irony, "or is you_ame a secret?"
"Would it frighten you if I named it?"
"What could it mean to me if you did disclose it? What is it?"
"Mark Volokov. In this silly place my name is heard with nearly as much terro_s if it were Pugachev or Stenka Razin."
"You are that man?" she said, looking at him with rising curiosity. "You boas_f your name, which I have heard before. You shot at Niel Andreevich, and le_ couple of dogs loose on an old lady. There are the manifestations of your
'new strength.' Go, and don't be seen here again."
"Otherwise you will complain to Grandmama?"
"I certainly shall. Good-bye."
She left the arbour and walked away without listening to his rejoinder. H_ollowed her covetously with his eyes, murmuring as he sprang to the ground _ish that those apples also could be stolen. Vera, for her part, said not _ord to her aunt of this meeting, but she confided nevertheless in her frien_atalie Ivanovna after exacting a promise of secrecy.