Raisky found himself between two fires. On the one hand, Tatiana Markovn_ooked at him as much as to say that he probably knew what was the matter wit_era, while Vera's despairing glance betrayed her anxiety for the moment o_er confession. He himself would have liked to have sunk into the earth.
Tushin looked in an extraordinary manner at Vera, as both Tatiana Markovna an_aisky, but most of all Vera herself, noticed. She was terrified, and aske_erself whether he had heard any rumour. He esteemed her so highly, though_er the noblest woman in the world, and, if she were silent, she would b_ccepting his esteem on false premisses. He, too, would have to be told, sh_hought. She exchanged greetings with him without meeting his eyes; and h_ooked strangely at her, timidly and sympathetically. Vera told herself tha_he must know what was in his mind, that if he looked at her again like tha_he would collapse. He did look at her again, and she could endure no more an_eft the company. Before she went she signed secretly to Tushin to follow her.
"I cannot receive you in the old house," she said, "Come into the avenue."
"Is it not too damp, as you are not well?"
"That does not matter," she said.
He looked at his watch and said that he would be going in an hour. Afte_iving orders to have his horses taken out of the stable and brought into th_ard, he picked up his silver-handled whip and with his cloak on his ar_ollowed Vera into the avenue. "I will not beat about the bush," he said.
"What is the matter with you to-day? You have something on your mind."
She wrapped her face in her mantilla as she spoke, and her shoulders shivere_s if with cold. She dare not raise her eyes to him as he strode silentl_eside her.
"But you are ill, Vera Vassilievna. I had better talk to you another time. Yo_ere not wrong in thinking I had something to say to you."
"No, Ivan Ivanovich, let it be to-day. I want to know what you have to say t_e. I myself wanted to talk to you, but perhaps it is too late for what I hav_o say. Do you speak," she said, wondering painfully how and where he coul_ave learnt her secret.
"I came here to-day… ." he said as they sat down on the bench.
"What have you to say to me? Speak!" she interrupted.
"How can I say it to you now, Vera Vassilievna?" said Tushin springing to hi_eet.
"Do not make me suffer," she murmured.
"I love you… ."
"Yes, I know it," she interrupted. "But what have you heard?"
"I have heard nothing," he said, looking round in amazement. He was now fo_he first time aware of her agitation, and his heart stood still with delight.
She has guessed my secret and shares my feelings, he thought, and what she i_sking, is for a frank, brief avowal. "You are so noble, so beautiful, Ver_assilievna, so pure… ." An exclamation was wrung from her, and she would hav_isen, but could not.
"You mock me, you mock me," she said, raising her hands beseechingly.
"You are ill, Vera Vassilievna," he said, looking at her in terror. "Forgiv_e for having spoken to you at such a time."
"A day earlier or later makes no difference. Say what you have to say, for _lso desire to tell you why I have brought you here."
"Is it really true?" he cried, hardly knowing how to contain his delight.
"What is true? You want to say something else, not what I expected," she said.
"Speak, and do not prolong my sufferings."
"I love you," he repeated. "If you can grant what I have confessed to you (an_ am not worthy of it), if your love is not given elsewhere, then be my fores_ueen, my wife, and there will be no happier man on earth than I. That is wha_ have long wished to say to you and have not dared. I should have done it o_our nameday but I could no longer endure the suspense, and have come to-day, on the family festival, on your sister's birthday."
"Ivan Ivanovich," she moaned. The thought flashed through his head lik_ightning that this was no expression of joy, and he felt his hair wa_eginning to stand on end. He sat down beside her and said, "What is wron_ith you, Vera Vassilievna? You are either ill, or are bearing a grea_orrow."
"Yes, Ivan Ivanovich! I feel that I shall die."
"What is your trouble? For God's sake, tell me. You said that you ha_omething to confide in me, which means that I must be necessary to you; ther_s nothing I would not do for you. You have only to command me. Forgive me m_oo hasty speech."
"You, too, my poor Ivan Ivanovich! I can find neither prayers nor tears, no_s there any guidance or help for me anywhere."
"What words of despair are these, Vera Vassilievna?"
"Do you know whom you love?"
He threw his cloak on the bench, and wiped the sweat from his brow. Her word_old him that his hopes were ruined, that her love was given elsewhere. H_rew a deep breath, and sat motionless, awaiting her further explanations.
"My poor friend," she said, taking his hand. The simple words filled him wit_ew sorrow; he knew that he was in fact to be pitied.
"Thank you," he whispered. "Forgive me … I did not know, Vera Vassilievna … _m a fool… . Please forget my declaration. But I should like to help you, since you say yourself you rely on me for a service. I thank you for holdin_e worthy of that. You stand so high above me; I always feel that you stand s_igh, Vera Vassilievna."
"My poor Ivan Ivanovich, I have fallen from those heights, and no human powe_an reinstate me," she said, as she led him to the edge of the precipice.
"Do you know this place?" she asked.
"Yes, a suicide is buried there."
"There, in the depths below the precipice, your 'pure' Vera also lies buried,"
she said with the decision of despair.
"What are you saying? I don't understand. Enlighten me, Vera Vassilievna."
Summoning all her strength she bent her head and whispered a few words to him, then returned, and sank down on the bench. Tushin turned pale, swayed, los_is balance, and sat down beside her. Even in the dim light Vera noticed hi_allor.
"And I thought," he said, with a strange smile, as if he were ashamed of hi_eakness, rising to his feet with difficulty, "that only a bear was stron_nough to knock me over." Then he stooped to her and whispered, "Who?"
The question sent a shudder through her, but she answered quickly:
His face twitched ominously. Then he pressed his whip over his knee so that i_plit in pieces, which he hurled away from him.
"So it will end with him too," he shouted. As he stood trembling before her, stooping forward, with wild eyes, he was like an animal ready to spring on th_nemy. "Is he there now?" he cried, pointing with a violent gesture in th_irection of the precipice.
She looked at him as if he were a dangerous animal, as he stood there, breathing heavily; then she rose and took refuge behind the bench.
"I am afraid, Ivan Ivanovich! Spare me! Go!" she exclaimed, warding him of_ith her arms.
"First I will kill him, and then I will go."
"Are you going to do this for my sake, for my peace of mind or for your ow_ake?"
He kept silence, his eyes fixed on the ground, and then began to walk about i_reat strides. "What should I do?" he said, still trembling with agitation.
"Tell me, Vera Vassilievna."
"First of all, calm yourself, and explain to me why you wish to kill him an_hether I desire it."
"He is your enemy, consequently also mine."
"Does one kill one's enemies?"
He bent his head and seeing the pieces of the whip lying on the ground h_icked them up as if he were ashamed, and put them in his pocket.
"I do not accuse him. I alone bear the blame, and he has justification," sh_aid with such bitter misery that Tushin took her hand.
"Vera Vassilievna," he said, "you are suffering horribly. I do no_nderstand," he went on, looking at her with sympathy and admiration, "wha_ou mean by saying that he has justification, and that you bring no accusatio_gainst him. If that's the case, why did you wish to speak to me and call m_ere into the avenue?"
"Because I wanted you to know the whole truth."
"Don't leave me in the dark, Vera Vassilievna. You must have had some reaso_or confiding your secret to me."
"You looked at me so strangely to-day that I could not understand you_eaning, and thought you must already be informed of all that had happened an_ould not rest until I knew what was in your mind. I was too hasty, but i_omes to the same thing, for sooner or later I should have told you. Sit down, and hear what I have to say, and then have done with me." She explained th_ituation to him in a few words.
"So you forgive him," he asked, after a moment's thought.
"Forgive him, of course. I tell you that I alone am guilty."
"Have you separated from him, or do you hope for his return?"
"There is nothing whatever in common between us, and we shall never see on_nother again."
"Now, I understand a little, for the first time, but still not everything,"
said Tushin, sighing bitterly. "I thought you had been vulgarly betrayed, and, since you called me to your help, I imagined that the time had come for th_ear to do his duty. I was on the point of rendering you the service of _ear, and it was for that reason that I permitted myself to ask boldly for th_an's name. Forgive me, and now tell me why you have revealed the story t_e."
"Because I was not willing that you should think better of me than I deserve, and esteem me… ."
"But how would you accomplish that? I shall not cease to think of you as _ave always thought of you, and I cannot do otherwise than respect you."
A gleam of pleasure lighted her eyes, only to be immediately extinguished.
"You want to restore my self-esteem," she said, "because you are good an_enerous. You are sorry for a poor unfortunate girl and want to raise her u_gain. I understand your generosity, Ivan Ivanovich, but I will have none o_t."
"Vera Vassilievna," he said, kissing her hand. "I could not esteem anybod_nder compulsion. If I give anyone a greeting in the street, he has my esteem; if he has not my esteem, I pass him by. I greet you as before, and because yo_re unhappy my love for you is greater than before. You are enduring a grea_orrow, as I am. You have lost your hopes of happiness," he added in a low, melancholy tone. "If you had kept your secret from me and I had heard it b_hance, even so my esteem for you could not have been diminished. For there i_o duty laid on you to reveal a secret which belongs to you alone. No one ha_he right to judge you." The last words were spoken in a trembling voice whic_ade it clear that he also was oppressed by the secret, the weight of which h_esired to lighten for Vera.
"I had to tell you to-day when you made your declaration to me. I felt it wa_mpossible to leave you in ignorance."
"You might very well have answered me with a categorical 'No.' But since yo_o me the honour, Vera Vassilievna, of bestowing your particular friendship o_e, you might have gilded your 'No' by saying that you loved another. Tha_ould have been sufficient for me, for I should never have asked you who, an_our secret would, without doubt, have remained your own." He pointed to th_recipice, and collecting his whole strength whispered, "A misfortune… ."
Although he tried with all his might not to let her see how disturbed he was, he was hardly able to speak clearly. "A misfortune," he repeated. "You sa_hat he has justification, that the guilt is yours; if that is so, where doe_ustice lie?"
"I told you, Ivan Ivanovich, that my confession was not necessary for you_ake, but for mine. You know how I esteem your friendship, and it would hav_aused me unspeakable pain to deceive you. Even now, when I have hidde_othing from you, I cannot look you in the eyes." Tears stifled her voice, an_t was with difficulty that Tushin held back his own tears; he stooped an_issed her hand once more.
"Thanks, a thousand thanks, Vera Vassilievna. I see that an affection fo_nother has no power to lessen your friendship for me, and that is a wonderfu_onsolation."
"Ivan Ivanovich, if I could only cut this year out of my life."
"A speedy forgetfulness," he said, "comes to the same thing."
"How can I forget, and where can I find the strength to endure its memory?"
"You will find strength in friendship, and I am one of your friends."
She breathed another air for the moment, conscious that there was beside her _ower of strength, under whose shadow her passion and her pain wer_lleviated. "I believe in your friendship, Ivan Ivanovich, and thank you fo_t," she said, drying her tears. "I already feel calmer, and should feel stil_almer if Grandmother… ."
"She does not yet know anything of this?" he asked, but broke off immediatel_n the consciousness that his question involved a reproach.
"She has guests to-day and could not possibly be told, but to-morrow she shal_earn all. Farewell, Ivan Ivanovich, my head aches, and I am going back to th_ouse to lie down." Tushin looked at Vera, asking himself how any man could b_uch a blind fool as Volokov. Or is he merely a beast, he thought to himsel_n impotent rage. He pulled himself together, however, and asked her if sh_ad any instructions for him.
"Please ask Natasha," she said, "to come over to me to-morrow or the nex_ay."
"And may I come one day next week to inquire whether you are better?"
"Do not be anxious, Ivan Ivanovich. And now good-bye, for I can hardly stand."
When he left her, he drove his horses so wildly down the steep hill that h_imself was in danger of being hurled to the bottom of the precipice. When h_ut his hand out as usual for his whip, it was not there, and he remembere_hat he had broken it, and threw away the useless pieces on the road. In spit_f his mad haste he reached the Volga too late for the ferry. He had to sta_n the town with a friend, and drove next morning to his home in the forest.