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Chapter 12

  • A GREAT many people came to dinner. When it was over, Nejdanov took advantag_f the general bustle and slipped away to his own room. He wanted to be alon_ith his own thoughts, to arrange the impressions he had carried away from hi_ecent journey. Valentina Mihailovna had looked at him intently several time_uring dinner, but there had been no opportunity of speaking to him. Mariana,
  • after the unexpected freak which had so bewildered him, was evidentl_epenting of it, and seemed to avoid him. Nejdanov took up a pen to write t_is friend Silin, but he did not know what to say to him. There were so man_onflicting thoughts and sensations crowding in upon him that he did no_ttempt to disentangle them, and put them off for another day.
  • Kollomietzev had made one of the guests at dinner. Never before had thi_orthy shown so much insolence and snobbish contemptuousness as on thi_ccasion, but Nejdanov simply ignored him.
  • He was surrounded by a sort of mist, which seemed to hang before him like _ilmy curtain, separating him from the rest of the world. And through thi_ilm, strange to say, he perceived only three faces—women's faces—and al_hree were gazing at him intently. They were Madame Sipiagina, Mashurina, an_ariana. What did it mean? Why particularly these three? What had they i_ommon, and what did they want of him?
  • He went to bed early, but could not fall asleep. He was haunted by sad an_loomy reflections about the inevitable end— death. These thoughts wer_amiliar to him, many times had he turned them over this way and that, firs_huddering at the probability of annihilation, then welcoming it, almos_ejoicing in it. Suddenly a peculiarly familiar agitation took possession o_im… He mused awhile, sat down at the table, and wrote down the followin_ines in his sacred copy-book, without a single correction:
  • When I die, dear friend, remember This desire I tell to thee: Burn thou to th_ast black ember All my heart has writ for me. Let the fairest flower_urround me, Sunlight laugh about my bed, Let the sweetest of musicians To th_oor of death be led. Bid them sound no strain of sadness— Muted string o_uffled drum; Come to me with songs of gladness— Whirling in the wild walt_ome! I would hear—ere yet I hear not— Trembling strings their cadence keep,
  • Chords that quiver: so I also Tremble as I fall asleep. Memories of life an_aughter, Memories of earthly glee, As I go to the hereafter All my lullab_hall be.
  • When he wrote the word "friend" he thought of Silin. He read the verses ove_o himself in an undertone, and was surprised at what had come from his pen.
  • This scepticism, this indifference, this almost frivolous lack of faith—ho_id it all agree with his principles? How did it agree with what he had sai_t Markelov's? He thrust the copybook into the table drawer and went back t_ed. But he did not fall asleep until dawn, when the larks had already begu_o twitter and the sky was turning paler.
  • On the following day, soon after he had finished his lesson and was sitting i_he billiard room, Madame Sipiagina entered, looked round cautiously, an_oming up to him with a smile, invited him to come into her boudoir. She ha_n a white barege dress, very simple, but extremely pretty. The embroidere_rills of her sleeves came down as far as the elbow, a broad ribbon encircle_er waist, her hair fell in thick curls about her neck. Everything about he_as inviting and caressing, with a sort of restrained, yet encouraging,
  • caressiveness, everything; the subdued lustre of her half-closed eyes, th_oft indolence of her voice, her gestures, her very walk. She conducte_ejdanov into her boudoir, a cosy, charming room, filled with the scent o_lowers and perfumes, the pure freshness of feminine garments, the constan_resence of a woman. She made him sit down in an armchair, sat down besid_im, and began questioning him about his visit, about Markelov's way o_iving, with much tact and sweetness. She showed a genuine interest in he_rother, although she had not once mentioned him in Nejdanov's presence. On_ould gather from what she said that the impression Mariana had made on he_rother had not escaped her notice. She seemed a little disappointed, bu_hether it was due to the fact that Mariana did not reciprocate his feelings,
  • or that his choice should have fallen upon a girl so utterly unlike him, wa_ot quite clear. But most of all she evidently strove to soften Nejdanov, t_rouse his confidence towards her, to break down his shyness; she even went s_ar as to reproach him a little for having a false idea of her.
  • Nejdanov listened to her, gazed at her arms, her shoulders, and from time t_ime cast a look at her rosy lips and her unruly, massive curls. His replie_ere brief at first; he felt a curious pressure in his throat and chest, bu_y degrees this sensation gave way to another, just as disturbing, but no_evoid of a certain sweetness… . He was surprised that such a beautifu_ristocratic lady of important position should take the trouble to interes_erself in him, a simple student, and not only interest herself, but flir_ith him a little besides. He wondered, but could not make out her object i_oing so. To tell the truth, he was little concerned about the object. Madam_ipiagina went on to speak of Kolia, and assured Nejdanov that she wished t_ecome better acquainted with him only so that she might talk to him seriousl_bout her son, get to know his views on the education of Russian children. I_ight have seemed a little curious that such a wish should have come upon he_o suddenly, but the root of the matter did not lie in what Valentin_ihailovna had said. She had been seized by a wave of sensuousness, a desir_o conquer and bring to her feet this rebellious young man.
  • Here it is necessary to go back a little. Valentina Mihailovna was th_aughter of a general who had been neither over-wise nor over-industrious i_is life. He had received only one star and a buckle as a reward for fift_ears' service. She was a Little Russian, intriguing and sly, endowed, lik_any of her countrywomen, with a very simple and even stupid exterior, fro_hich she knew how to extract the maximum of advantage. Valentina Mihailovna'_arents were not rich, but they had managed to educate her at the Smoln_onvent, where, although considered a republican, she was always in th_oreground and very well treated on account of her excellent behaviour an_ndustriousness. On leaving the convent she settled with her mother (he_rother had gone into the country, and her father, the general with the sta_nd buckle, had died) in a very clean, but extremely chilly, apartment, i_hich you could see your own breath as you talked. Valentina Mihailovna use_o make fun of it and declare it was like being in church. She was very brav_n bearing with all the discomforts of a poor, pinched existence, having _onderfully sweet temper. With her mother's help, she managed both to keep u_nd make new connections and acquaintances, and was even spoken of in th_ighest circles as a very nice well-bred girl. She had several suitors, ha_ixed upon Sipiagin from them all, and had very quickly and ingeniously mad_im fall in love with her. However, he was soon convinced that he could no_ave made a better choice. She was intelligent, rather good than ill-natured,
  • at bottom cold and indifferent, but unable to endure the idea that anyon_hould be indifferent to her.
  • Valentina Mihailovna was possessed of that peculiar charm, the characteristi_f all "charming" egoists, in which there is neither poetry nor rea_ensitiveness, but which is often full of superficial gentleness, sympathy,
  • sometimes even tenderness. But these charming egoists must not be thwarted.
  • They are very domineering and cannot endure independence in others. Women lik_adame Sipiagina excite and disturb people of inexperienced and passionat_atures, but are fond of a quiet and peaceful life themselves. Virtue come_asy to them, they are placid of temperament, but a constant desire t_ommand, to attract, and to please gives them mobility and brilliance. The_ave an iron will, and a good deal of their fascination is due to this will.
  • It is difficult for a man to hold his ground when the mysterious sparks o_enderness begin to kindle, as if involuntarily, in one of these unstirre_reatures; he waits for the hour to come when the ice will melt, but the ray_nly play over the transparent surface, and never does he see it melt or it_moothness disturbed!
  • It cost Madame Sipiagina very little to flirt, knowing full well that i_nvolved no danger for herself, but to take the lustre out of another's eye_nd see them sparkle again, to see another's cheeks become flushed with desir_nd dread, to hear another's voice tremble and break down, to distur_nother's soul—oh, how sweet it was to her soul! How delightful it was late a_ight, when she lay down in her snow-white bed to an untroubled sleep, t_emember all these agitated words and looks and sighs. With what a self-
  • satisfied smile she retired into herself, into the consciousness of he_naccessibility, her invulnerability, and with what condescension sh_bandoned herself to the lawful embrace of her well-bred husband! It was s_leasant that for a little time she was filled with emotion, ready to do som_ind deed, to help a fellow creature… Once, after a secretary of legation, wh_as madly in love with her, had attempted to cut his throat, she founded _mall alms- house! She had prayed for him fervently, although her religiou_eelings from earliest childhood had not been strongly developed.
  • And so she talked to Nejdanov, doing everything she could to bring him to he_eet. She allowed him to come near her, she revealed herself to him, as i_ere, and with a sweet curiosity, with a half-maternal tenderness, she watche_his handsome, interesting, stern radical softening towards her quietly an_wkwardly. A day, an hour, a minute later and all this would have vanishe_ithout leaving a trace, but for the time being it was pleasant, amusing,
  • rather pathetic, and even a little sad. Forgetting his origin, and knowin_hat such interest is always appreciated by lonely people happening to fal_mong strangers, she began questioning him about his youth, about his family…
  • But guessing from his curt replies that she had made a mistake, Valentin_ihailovna tried to smooth things over and began to unfold herself still mor_efore him, as a rose unfolds its fragrant petals on a hot summer's noon,
  • closing them again tightly at the first approach of the evening coolness.
  • She could not fully smooth over her blunder, however. Having been touched on _ensitive spot, Nejdanov could not regain his former confidence. Tha_itterness which he always carried, always felt at the bottom of his heart,
  • stirred again, awakening all his democratic suspicions and reproaches. "Tha_s not what I've come here for," he thought, recalling Paklin's admonition. H_ook advantage of a pause in the conversation, got up, bowed slightly, an_ent out "very foolishly" as he could not help saying to himself afterwards.
  • His confusion did not escape Valentina Mihailovna's notice, and judging by th_mile with which she accompanied him, she had put it down to her ow_dvantage.
  • In the billiard room Nejdanov came across Mariana. She was standing with he_ack to the window, not far from the door of Madame Sipiagina's boudoir, wit_er arms tightly folded. Her face was almost in complete shadow, but she fixe_er fearless eyes on Nejdanov so penetratingly, and her tightly closed lip_xpressed so much contempt and insulting pity, that he stood still i_mazement.
  • "Have you anything to say to me?" he asked involuntarily.
  • Mariana did not reply for a time.
  • "No … yes I have, though not now."
  • "When?"
  • "You must wait awhile. Perhaps—tomorrow, perhaps—never. I know so little—wha_re you really like?"
  • "But," Nejdanov began, "I sometimes feel … that between us—"
  • "But you hardly know me at all," Mariana interrupted him. "Well, wait _ittle. Tomorrow, perhaps. Now I have to go to … my mistress. Goodbye, til_omorrow."
  • Nejdanov took a step or two in advance, but turned back suddenly.
  • "By the way, Mariana Vikentievna … may I come to school with you one da_efore it closes? I should like to see what you do there."
  • "With pleasure… But it was not the school about which I wished to speak t_ou."
  • "What was it then?"
  • "Tomorrow," Mariana repeated.
  • But she did not wait until the next day, and the conversation between her an_ejdanov took place on that same evening in one of the linden avenues not fa_rom the terrace.