Raisky had written to Paulina Karpovna asking her if he might call the nex_ay about one o'clock. Her answer ran: "_Charmée, j'attends… ._" and so on.
He found her in her boudoir in a stifling atmosphere of burning incense, wit_urtains drawn to produce a mysterious twilight. She wore a white muslin froc_ith wide lace sleeves, with a yellow dahlia at her breast. Near the divan wa_laced a sumptuously spread table with covers for two.
Raisky explained that he had come to make a farewell call.
"A farewell call! I won't hear of such a thing. You are joking, it is a ba_oke! No, no! Smile and take back the hated word," she protested, slipping he_rm in his and leading him to the table. "Don't think of going away. _Viv_'amour et la joie_."
She invited him with a coquettish gesture to be seated, and hung a tabl_apkin over his coat, as she might to a child. He devoted an excellent mornin_ppetite to the food before him. She poured out champagne for him and watche_im with tender admiration.
After a longish pause when she had filled his glass for the third or fourt_ime she said: "Well, what have you to say about it?" Then as Raisky looked a_er in amazement she continued: "I see, I see! Take off the mask, and hav_one with concealment."
"Ah!" sighed Raisky, putting his lips to his glass. They drank to on_nother's health.
"Do you remember that night," she murmured, "the night of love as you calle_t."
"How should it fade from my memory," he whispered darkly. "That night was th_ecisive hour."
"I knew it. A mere girl could not hold you … _une nullité, cette pauvre petit_ille, qui n'a que sa figure_ … shy, inexperienced, devoid of elegance."
"She could not. I have torn myself free."
"And have found what you have long been seeking, have you not? What happene_n the park to excite you so?"
After a little fencing, Raisky proceeded with his story. "When I thought m_appiness was within my grasp, I heard… ."
"Tushin was there?" whispered Paulina Karpovna, holding her breath.
He nodded silently, and raised his glass once more.
"Dites tout," she said with a malicious smile.
"She was walking alone, lost in thought," he said in a confidential tone, while Paulina Karpovna played with her watch chain, and listened with straine_ttention. "I was at her heels, determined to have an answer from her. Sh_ook one or two steps down the face of the precipice, when someone suddenl_ame towards her."
"What did he do?"
"'Good evening, Vera Vassilievna,' he said. 'How do you do?' She shuddered."
"Not at all. I hid myself and listened. 'What are you doing here?' she said.
'I am spending two days in town,' he said, 'to be present at your sister'_ête, and I have chosen that day… . Decide, Vera Vassilievna, whether I am t_ove or not."
"_Où le sentiment va-t-il se nicher?_" exclaimed Paulina Karpovna. "Even i_hat clod."
"'Ivan Ivanovich!' pleaded Vera," continued Raisky. "He interrupted her with
'Vera Vassilievna, decide whether to-morrow I should ask Tatiana Markovna fo_our hand, or throw myself into the Volga!'"
"Those were his words?"
"His very words."
"_Mais, il est ridicule_. What did she do? She moaned, cried yes and no?"
"She answered, 'No, Ivan Ivanovich, give me time to consider whether I ca_espond with the same deep affection that you feel for me. Give me six months, a year, and then I will answer "yes" or "no."' Your room is so hot, Paulin_arpovna, could we have a little air?"
Raisky thought he had invented enough, and glanced up at his hostess, who wor_n expression of disappointment.
"_C'est tout?_" she asked.
"Oui," he said. "In any case Tushin did not abandon hope. On the next day, Marfinka's birthday, he appeared again to hear her last word. From th_recipice he went through the park, and she accompanied him. It seems tha_ext day his hopes revived. Mine are for ever gone."
"And that is all? People have been spreading God knows what tales about you_ousin—and you. They have not even spared that saint Tatiana Markovna wit_heir poisonous tongues. That unendurable Tychkov!"
Raisky pricked up his ears. "They talk about Grandmother?" he aske_averingly.
He remembered the hint Vera had given him of Tatiana Markovna's love story, and he had heard something from Vassilissa, but what woman has not he_omance? They must have dug up some lie or some gossip out of the dust o_orty years. He must know what it was in order to stop Tychkov's mouth.
"What do they say about Grandmother?" he asked in a low, intimate voice. "_Ah, c'est degôutant_. No one believes it, and everybody is jeering at Tychkov fo_aving debased himself to interrogate a drink-maddened old beggar-woman. _ill not repeat it."
"If you please," he whispered tenderly.
"You wish to know?" she whispered, bending towards him. "Then you shall hea_verything. This woman, who stands regularly in the porch of the Church of th_scension, has been saying that Tiet Nikonich loved Tatiana Markovna, and sh_im."
"I know that," he interrupted impatiently. "That is no crime."
"And she was sought in marriage by the late Count Sergei Ivanovich—"
"I have heard that, too. She did not agree, and the Count married somebod_lse, but she was forbidden to marry Tiet Nikonich. I have been told all tha_y Vassilissa. What did the drunken woman say?"
"The Count is said to have surprised a rendezvous between Tatiana Markovna an_iet Nikonich, and such a rendezvous.
"No, no!" she cried, shaking with laughter. "Tatiana Markovna! Who woul_elieve such a thing?"
Raisky listened seriously, and surmises flitted across his mind.
"The Count gave Tiet Nikonich a box on the ears."
"That is a lie," cried Raisky, jumping up. "Tiet Nikonich would not hav_ndured it."
"A lie naturally—he did not endure it. He seized a garden knife that he foun_mong the flowers, struck the Count to the ground, seized him by the throat, and would have killed him."
Raisky's face changed. "Well?" he urged.
"Tatiana Markovna restrained his hand. 'You are' she said, 'a nobleman, not _andit, your weapon is a sword.' She succeeded in separating them, and a due_as not possible, for it would have compromised her. The opponents gave thei_ord; the Count to keep silence over what had happened, and Tiet Nikonich no_o marry Tatiana Markovna. That is why she remains unmarried. Is it not _hame to spread such calumnies?"
Raisky could no longer contain his agitation, but he said, "You see it is _ie. Who could possibly have seen and heard what passed."
"The gardener, who was asleep in a corner, is said to have witnessed the whol_cene. He was a serf, and fear ensured his silence, but he told his wife, th_runken widow who is now chattering about it. Of course it is nonsense, incredible nonsense. I am the first to cry that it is a lie, a lie. Ou_espected and saintly Tatiana Markovna!" Paulina Karpovna burst out laughing, but checked herself when she looked at Raisky.
"What is the matter? _Allons donc, oubliez tout. Vive la joie!_ Do not frown.
We will send for more wine," she said, looking at him with her ridiculous, languishing air.
"No, no, I am afraid—" He broke off, fearing to betray himself, and conclude_amely, "It would not agree with me—I am not accustomed to wine."
He rose from his seat, and his hostess followed his example.
"Good-bye, for ever," he said.
"No, no," she cried.
"I must escape from these dangerous places, from your precipices and abysses.
He picked up his hat, and hurried away. Paulina Karpovna stood as if turned t_tone, then rang the bell, and called for her carriage and for her maid t_ress her, saying she had calls to pay.
Raisky perceived that there was truth in the drunken woman's story, and tha_e held in his hand the key to his aunt's past. He realised now how she ha_rown to be the woman she was, and where she had won her strength, he_ractical wisdom, her knowledge of life and of men's hearts; he understood wh_he had won Vera's confidence, and had been able to calm her niece in spite o_er own distress. Perhaps Vera, too, knew the story. While he had bee_anoeuvring to give another turn to the gossip about Vera's relations t_imself and Tushin, he had lighted by chance on a forgotten but vivid page o_is family history, on another drama no less dangerous to those who took par_n it, and found that his whole soul was moved by this record of what ha_appened forty years ago.
"Borushka!" cried Tatiana Markovna in horror, when he entered her room. "Wha_as come to you, my friend? You have been drinking!" She looked keenly at hi_or a long minute, then turned away when she read in his tell-tale face tha_e, too, had heard the talk about her past self.