Vera rose the next morning pale and exhausted, but without any fever. She ha_ept out her malady on her grandmother's breast. The doctor professed himsel_atisfied, and said she should stay in her room for a few days. Everything i_he house went on as before. There were no festivities in honour of Vera'_ame day, as she had expressed a wish that there should be none. Neithe_arfinka nor the Vikentevs came; a messenger was sent to Kolchino with th_nnouncement that Vera Vassilievna was unwell and was keeping her room. Tushi_ent his congratulations in a respectful note, asking for permission to com_nd see her. Her reply was that he should wait a little until she was better.
Under the pretext of Vera's illness, callers who came from the town to presen_heir congratulations were not admitted. Only the servants celebrated th_ccasion in their own way; the maids appeared in their gay dresses, and th_oachmen and the lackeys got drunk.
Vera and her aunt developed a new relationship. Tatiana Markovna'_onsideration for Vera was by no means assumed, but her kindness did not mak_era's heart lighter. What she had expected and wished was severe judgment, _enance, perhaps exile for half a year or a year to Tatiana Markovna's distan_state, where she would gradually win back her peace of mind or at any rat_orget, if it was true, as Raisky said, that time extinguishes al_mpressions. "I see," thought Vera, "that Grandmother suffers inexpressibly.
Grief has changed her altogether; her figure is bowed and her face more deepl_urrowed. Perhaps she is only sparing me now because her heart has opene_tself to pity. She cannot bear to punish me, now that I am ill an_epentant." Vera had lost her pride, her self-respect and her dignity, and i_nce these flowers are taken out of the crown which adorns the head of man, his doom is at hand. She tried to pray and could not, for she had nothing t_ray for, and could only bow her head in humility.
Raisky came into much closer relation with his aunt and Vera. His naturalnes_nd genuine affection, the friendly intimacy of his conversation, hi_traightforwardness, his talkative humour, and the gleaming play of his fanc_ere a distraction and a consolation to both of them. He often drew a laug_rom them, but he tried in vain to distract them from the grief which hun_ike a cloud over them both and over the whole house. He himself was sad whe_e saw that neither his esteem nor Tatiana Markovna's kindness could give bac_o poor Vera her courage, her pride, her confidence and her strength of will.
Tatiana Markovna spent the nights in the old house on the divan opposit_era's bed and watched her sleep. But it nearly always happened that they wer_oth observing one another, so that neither of them found refreshing sleep. O_he morning after a sleepless night of this kind, Tatiana Markovna sent fo_iet Nikonich. He came gladly, plainly delighted that the illness whic_hreatened Vera Vassilievna had blown over, and bringing with him a wate_elon of extraordinary size and a pineapple for a present. But a glance at hi_ld friend was enough to make him change colour. Tatiana Markovna hastily pu_n her fur-trimmed cloak, threw a scarf over her head, and signed to him t_ollow her as she led the way into the garden. They sat for two hours o_era's bench. Then she went back to the house with bowed head, while he drov_ome, overcome with grief, ordered his servants to pack, sent for post horses, and drove to his estate, to which he had not been for many years.
Raisky, who had gone to see him, heard the news with astonishment. H_uestioned his aunt, who told him that some disturbance had broken out on Tie_ikonich's estate. Vera was sadder than ever. Lines began to appear on he_orehead, which would one day become furrows. Sometimes she would approach th_able on which the unopened blue letter lay and then turn away. Where shoul_he flee, where conceal herself from the world? When night fell, she lay down, put out the light, and stared wide-eyed in front of her. She wanted to forget, to sleep, but sleep would not come. Dark spots, blacker than night, dance_efore her eyes, shadows moved up and down with a wave-like motion in th_limmer of light that lay around the window. But she felt no fear, she woul_ot have died of terror if there had risen suddenly out of the corner a ghost, a thief or a murderer; she would not have felt any fear if she had been tol_hat her last hour was come. She looked out unceasingly into the darkness, a_he waving shadows, at the flitting specks which stood out the more clearly i_he blackness of the night, at the rings of changing colour which whirle_himmering round her.
Slowly and quietly the door opened. Vera propped herself on her elbow and sa_ hand carrying a lamp carefully shaded. Tatiana Markovna dropped her cloa_rom her shoulder on to a chair and approached the bed, looking not unlike _host in her white dressing-gown. Vera had laid her head back on the pillo_nd pretended to sleep. Tatiana Markovna put the lamp on the table behind th_ed-head, and sat down carefully and quietly on the divan with her hea_eaning on her hand. She did not take her eyes from Vera, and when Vera opene_er own an hour later Tatiana Markovna was still looking fixedly at her.
"Can't you sleep, Vera?"
"Why do you punish me in the night too, Grandmother?" asked Vera in a lo_one. The two women looked at one another and both seemed to understand th_peech in their eyes. "You are killing me with sympathy, Grandmother," Ver_ent on. "It would be better to drive me from your sight. But it is very har_or me to bear when you measure out your scorn drop by drop. Either forgive m_r, if that is impossible, bury me alive. Why are you silent? What is in you_ind? Your silence tortures me; it seems to say something, and yet never say_t."
"It is so hard, Vera, to speak. Pray, and understand your Grandmother eve_hen she is silent."
"I have tried to pray, and cannot. What have I to pray for, except that _hould die the sooner. I shall die I know; only let it come quickly, for lik_his it is impossible to live."
"It is possible," said Tatiana Markovna, drawing a deep sigh.
"After … that?"
"After that," replied her grandmother.
"You don't know, Grandmother," said Vera with a hopeless sigh. "You have no_een a woman like me."
Tatiana Markovna stooped down to Vera, and whispered in a hardy audible voice,
"A woman like you."
Vera looked at her in amazement, then let her head fall back on the pillow an_aid wearily, "You were never in my position. You are a saint."
"A sinner," rejoined Tatiana Markovna.
"We are all sinners, but not a sinner of that kind."
"Of that kind."
Vera seized Tatiana Markovna's dress with both hands, and pressed her face t_ers. The words that came from her troubled breast sounded like hisses. "Wh_o you slander yourself? Is it in order to calm and help me? Grandmother, d_ot lie!"
"I never lie and you know it, and how should I begin to do so now. I am _inner, and myself need forgiveness," she said, throwing herself on her knee_nd bowing her grey head.
"Why do you say these things to me?" said Vera, staring at the kneeling woman, and pressing her head to her breast. "Take your words back again. I have no_eard them or will forget them; will regard them as the product of a dream. D_ot torture yourself for my sake. Rise, Grandmother." Tatiana Markovna lay o_er breast, sobbing like a child. "Why did you tell me this?" said Vera.
"It was God's wish that I should humble myself to ask you, my child, fo_orgiveness. If you grant me your forgiveness, Vera, I, too, can forgive you.
I had hoped to keep my secret until I died, and now my sin has plunged yo_nto ruin."
"You rescue me, Grandmother, from despair."
"And myself, Vera. God forgives, but he demands cleansing. I thought my si_as forgotten and forgiven. Because of my silence I seemed to men to b_irtuous, but my virtue was a lie. God has punished my sin. Forgive me fro_our heart."
"Does one forgive one's Mother? You are a saint, a Mother without a peer i_he whole wide world. If I had known you, as you really are, how could I hav_cted contrary to your will?"
"That is my second terrible sin. I was silent, and did not tell you to bewar_f the precipice. Your dead Mother will call me to account for my failure, _now. She comes to me in my dreams, and is now here between us. Do you als_orgive me, Departed One," she cried wildly, stretching out her arms i_upplication.
"Forgive me, Vera. I ask forgiveness of you both. We will pray."
Vera tried to raise her to her feet, and Tatiana Markovna raised herself wit_ifficulty, and sat down on the divan.
Vera bathed her temples with eau de Cologne, and gave her a sedative; then sh_neeled down before her and covered her hand with kisses.
"What is hidden must be revealed," began Tatiana Markovna, when she ha_ecovered a little. "For forty-five years only two human beings beside mysel_ave known it, he and Vassilissa, and I thought the secret would die with me.
And now it is made public. My God!" she cried, wildly, stretching her folde_rms to the picture of the Christ. "Had I known that this stroke would eve_all on another, on my child, I would have confessed my sin there and then t_he all world in the Cathedral square."
Vera still hesitated to believe what she heard. Was it a heroic measure, _enerous invention to rescue and restore her own self-respect? But her aunt'_rayers, her tears, her appeal to Vera's dead mother, no actress would hav_ared to use such devices, and her aunt was the soul of truth and honour.
Warm life pulsed in Vera's heart, and her heart was lightened. She felt as i_ife was streaming through her veins after an evil dream. Peace tapped at th_oor of her soul, the dark forsaken temple, which was now gaily lighted onc_ore and a home of prayer. She felt that Tatiana Markovna and she wer_nseparable sisters, and she even began involuntarily to address her as
"thou," as she had done Raisky when her heart responded to his kindness. A_hese thoughts whirled in her head, she had a sensation of lightness an_reedom, like a prisoner whose fetters have been removed.
"Grandmother," she said, rising, "you have forgiven me, and you love me mor_han you do any of the others, more than Marfinka, that I realise. But do yo_now and understand my love for you? I should not have suffered as I did, bu_or my love for you. How long we have been strangers!"
"I will tell you all, Vera, and you must hear my confession. Judge m_everely, but pardon me, and God will pardon us both."
"I will not, I ought not, I may not," cried Vera. "To what end should I hea_t?"
"So that I may suffer once more, as I suffered five-and-forty years ago. Yo_now my sin, and Boris shall know it. He may laugh at the grey hairs of ol_unigunde."
As she strode up and down, shaking her head in her fanatical seriousness, wit_orrow and triumphant dignity in her face, her resemblance to the old famil_ortrait in the gallery was very marked.
Beside her Vera felt like a small and pitiful child as she gazed timidly int_er aunt's eyes; she measured her own young strength by the strength of thi_ld woman who had ripened and remained unbroken in the long struggle of life.
"My whole life can never repay what you have done for me, Grandmother. Le_his be the end of your penance, and tell me no more. If you are determine_hat Boris shall know, I will whisper a word about your past to him. Since _ave seen your anguish, why should you suffer a longer martyrdom? I will no_isten. It is not my place to sit in judgment on you. Let me hold your gre_airs sacred."
Tatiana Markovna sighed, and embraced Vera.
"As you will. Your will is like God's forgiveness to me, and I am grateful t_ou for sparing my grey hairs."
"Now," said Vera, "let us go across to your house, where we can both rest."
Tatiana Markovna almost carried her across to the new house, laid her on he_wn bed, and lay down beside her.
When Vera had fallen peacefully asleep, her aunt rose cautiously, and, in th_ight of the lamp, watched the marble beauty of her forehead, her closed eyes, all sculptured pure and delicate as if by a master hand, and at the expressio_f deep peace that lay on her face. She made the sign of the cross over Ver_s she slept, touched her forehead with her lips, and sank on her knees i_rayer.
"Have mercy on her!" she breathed. "If Thy anger is not yet appeased, turn i_rom her and strike my grey head."
Presently she lay down beside Vera, with her arm around her neck. Vera wok_ccasionally, opened her eyes, and closed them again. She pressed closer an_loser to Tatiana Markovna as if no harm could befall her within the circle o_hose faithful arms.