On returning home, directly after his meeting with Lezhnyov, Rudin shut himself up in his room, and wrote two letters; one to Volintsev (already known to the reader) and the other to Natalya. He sat a very long time over this second letter, crossed out and altered a great deal in it, and, copying it carefully on a fine sheet of note-paper, folded it up as small as possible, and put it in his pocket. With a look of pain on his face he paced several times up and down his room, sat down in the chair before the window, leaning on his arm; a tear slowly appeared upon his eyelashes. He got up, buttoned himself up, called a servant and told him to ask Darya Mihailovna if he could see her.
The man returned quickly, answering that Darya Mihailovna would be delighted to see him. Rudin went to her.
She received him in her study, as she had that first time, two months before. But now she was not alone; with her was sitting Pandalevsky, unassuming, fresh, neat, and agreeable as ever.
Darya Mihailovna met Rudin affably, and Rudin bowed affably to her; but at the first glance at the smiling faces of both, any one of even small experience would have understood that something of an unpleasant nature had passed between them, even if it had not been expressed. Rudin knew that Darya Mihailovna was angry with him. Darya Mihailovna suspected that he was now aware of all that had happened.
Pandalevsky’s disclosure had greatly disturbed her. It touched on the worldly pride in her. Rudin, a poor man without rank, and so far without distinction, had presumed to make a secret appointment with her daughter—the daughter of Darya Mihailovna Lasunsky.
‘Granting he is clever, he is a genius!’ she said, ‘what does that prove? Why, any one may hope to be my son-in-law after that?’
‘For a long time I could not believe my eyes.’ put in Pandalevsky. ‘I am surprised at his not understanding his position!’
Darya Mihailovna was very much agitated, and Natalya suffered for it
She asked Rudin to sit down. He sat down, but not like the old Rudin, almost master of the house, not even like an old friend, but like a guest, and not even a very intimate guest. All this took place in a single instant . . . so water is suddenly transformed into solid ice.
‘I have come to you, Darya Mihailovna,’ began Rudin, ‘to thank you for your hospitality. I have had some news to-day from my little estate, and it is absolutely necessary for me to set off there to-day.’
Darya Mihailovna looked attentively at Rudin.
‘He has anticipated me; it must be because he has some suspicion,’ she thought. ‘He spares one a disagreeable explanation. So much the better. Ah! clever people for ever!’
‘Really?’ she replied aloud. ‘Ah! how disappointing! Well, I suppose there’s no help for it. I shall hope to see you this winter in Moscow. We shall soon be leaving here.’
‘I don’t know, Darya Mihailovna, whether I shall succeed in getting to Moscow, but, if I can manage it, I shall regard it as a duty to call on you.’
‘Aha, my good sir!’ Pandalevsky in his turn reflected; ‘it’s not long since you behaved like the master here, and now this is how you have to express yourself!’
‘Then I suppose you have unsatisfactory news from your estate?’ he articulated, with his customary ease.
‘Yes,’ replied Rudin drily.
‘Some failure of crops, I suppose?’
‘No; something else. Believe me, Darya Mihailovna,’ added Rudin, ‘I shall never forget the time I have spent in your house.’
‘And I, Dmitri Nikolaitch, shall always look back upon our acquaintance with you with pleasure. When must you start?’
‘To-day, after dinner.’
‘So soon! . . . Well, I wish you a successful journey. But, if your affairs do not detain you, perhaps you will look us up again here.’
‘I shall scarcely have time,’ replied Rudin, getting up. ‘Excuse me,’ he added; ‘I cannot at once repay you my debt, but directly I reach my place——’
‘Nonsense, Dmitri Nikolaitch!’ Darya Mihailovna cut him short. ‘I wonder you’re not ashamed to speak of it! . . . What o’clock is it?’ she asked.
Pandalevsky drew a gold and enamel watch out of his waistcoat pocket, and looked at it carefully, bending his rosy cheek over his stiff, white collar.
‘Thirty-three minutes past two,’ he announced.
‘It is time to dress,’ observed Darya Mihailovna. ‘Good-bye for the present, Dmitri Nikolaitch!’
Rudin got up. The whole conversation between him and Darya Mihailovna had a special character. In the same way actors repeat their parts, and diplomatic dignitaries interchange their carefully-worded phrases.
Rudin went away. He knew by now through experience that men and women of the world do not even break with a man who is of no further use to them, but simply let him drop, like a kid glove after a ball, like the paper that has wrapped up sweets, like an unsuccessful ticket for a lottery.
He packed quickly, and began to await with impatience the moment of his departure. Every one in the house was very much surprised to hear of his intentions; even the servants looked at him with a puzzled air. Bassistoff did not conceal his sorrow. Natalya evidently avoided Rudin. She tried not to meet his eyes. He succeeded, however, in slipping his note into her hand. After dinner Darya Mihailovna repeated once more that she hoped to see him before they left for Moscow, but Rudin made her no reply. Pandalevsky addressed him more frequently than any one. More than once Rudin felt a longing to fall upon him and give him a slap on his rosy, blooming face. Mlle. Boncourt often glanced at Rudin with a peculiarly stealthy expression in her eyes; in old setter dogs one may sometimes see the same expression.
‘Aha!’ she seemed to be saying to herself, ‘so you’re caught!’
At last six o’clock struck, and Rudin’s carriage was brought to the door. He began to take a hurried farewell of all. He had a feeling of nausea at his heart. He had not expected to leave this house like this; it seemed as though they were turning him out. ‘What a way to do it all! and what was the object of being in such a hurry? Still, it is better so.’ That was what he was thinking as he bowed in all directions with a forced smile. For the last time he looked at Natalya, and his heart throbbed; her eyes were bent upon him in sad, reproachful farewell.
He ran quickly down the steps, and jumped into his carriage. Bassistoff had offered to accompany him to the next station, and he took his seat beside him.
‘Do you remember,’ began Rudin, directly the carriage had driven from the courtyard into the broad road bordered with fir-trees, ‘do you remember what Don Quixote says to his squire when he is leaving the court of the duchess? “Freedom,” he says, “my friend Sancho, is one of the most precious possessions of man, and happy is he to whom Heaven has given a bit of bread, and who need not be indebted to any one!” What Don Quixote felt then, I feel now. . . . God grant, my dear Bassistoff, that you too may some day experience this feeling!’
Bassistoff pressed Rudin’s hand, and the honest boy’s heart beat violently with emotion. Till they reached the station Rudin spoke of the dignity of man, of the meaning of true independence. He spoke nobly, fervently, and justly, and when the moment of separation had come, Bassistoff could not refrain from throwing himself on his neck and sobbing. Rudin himself shed tears too, but he was not weeping because he was parting from Bassistoff. His tears were the tears of wounded vanity.
Natalya had gone to her own room, and there she read Rudin’s letter.
‘Dear Natalya Alexyevna,’ he wrote her, ‘I have decided to depart. There is no other course open to me. I have decided to leave before I am told plainly to go. By my departure all difficulties will be put an end to, and there will be scarcely any one who will regret me. What else did I expect? . . . It is always so, but why am I writing to you?
‘I am parting from you probably for ever, and it would be too painful to me to leave you with a worse recollection of me than I deserve. This is why I am writing to you. I do not want either to justify myself or to blame any one whatever except myself; I want, as far as possible, to explain myself. . . . The events of the last days have been so unexpected, so sudden. . . .
‘Our interview to-day will be a memorable lesson to me. Yes, you are right; I did not know you, and I thought I knew you! In the course of my life I have had to do with people of all kinds. I have known many women and young girls, but in you I met for the first time an absolutely true and upright soul. This was something I was not used to, and I did not know how to appreciate you fittingly. I felt an attraction to you from the first day of our acquaintance; you may have observed it. I spent with you hour after hour without learning to know you; I scarcely even tried to know you—and I could imagine that I loved you! For this sin I am punished now.
‘Once before I loved a woman, and she loved me. My feeling for her was complex, like hers for me; but, as she was not simple herself, it was all the better for her. Truth was not told to me then, and now I did not recognise it when it was offered me. . . . I have recognised it at last, when it is too late. . . . What is past cannot be recalled. . . . Our lives might have become united, and they never will be united now. How can I prove to you that I might have loved you with real love—the love of the heart, not of the fancy—when I do not know myself whether I am capable of such love?
‘Nature has given me much. I know it, and I will not disguise it from you through false modesty, especially now at a moment so bitter, so humiliating for me. . . . Yes, Nature has given me much, but I shall die without doing anything worthy of my powers, without leaving any trace behind me. All my wealth is dissipated idly; I do not see the fruits of the seeds I sow. I am wanting in something. I cannot say myself exactly what it is I am wanting in. . . . I am wanting, certainly, in something without which one cannot move men’s hearts, or wholly win a woman’s heart; and to sway men’s minds alone is precarious, and an empire ever unprofitable. A strange, almost farcical fate is mine; I would devote myself—eagerly and wholly to some cause,—and I cannot devote myself. I shall end by sacrificing myself to some folly or other in which I shall not even believe. . . . Alas! at thirty-five to be still preparing for something! . . .
‘I have never spoken so openly of myself to any one before—this is my confession.
‘But enough of me. I should like to speak of you, to give you some advice; I can be no use to you further. . . . You are still young; but as long as you live, always follow the impulse of your heart, do not let it be subordinated to your mind or the mind of others. Believe me, the simpler, the narrower the circle in which life is passed the better; the great thing is not to open out new sides, but that all the phases of life should reach perfection in their own time. “Blessed is he who has been young in his youth.” But I see that this advice applies far more to myself than to you.
‘I confess, Natalya Alexyevna, I am very unhappy. I never deceived myself as to the nature of the feeling which I inspired in Darya Mihailovna; but I hoped I had found at least a temporary home. . . . Now I must take the chances of the rough world again. What will replace for me your conversation, your presence, your attentive and intelligent face? . . . I myself am to blame; but admit that fate seems to have designed a jest at my expense. A week ago I did not even myself suspect that I loved you. The day before yesterday, that evening in the garden, I for the first time heard from your lips, . . . but why remind you of what you said then? and now I am going away to-day. I am going away disgraced, after a cruel explanation with you, carrying with me no hope. . . . And you do not know yet to what a degree I am to blame as regards you. . . I have such a foolish lack of reserve, such a weak habit of confiding. But why speak of this? I am leaving you for ever!’
(Here Rudin had related to Natalya his visit to Volintsev, but on second thoughts he erased all that part, and added the second postscript to his letter to Volintsev.)
‘I remain alone upon earth to devote myself, as you said to me this morning with bitter irony, to other interests more congenial to me. Alas! if I could really devote myself to these interests, if I could at last conquer my inertia. . . . But no! I shall remain to the end the incomplete creature I have always been. . . . The first obstacle, . . . and I collapse entirely; what has passed with you has shown me that If I had but sacrificed my love to my future work, to my vocation; but I simply was afraid of the responsibility that had fallen upon me, and therefore I am, truly, unworthy of you. I do not deserve that you should be torn out of your sphere for me. . . . And indeed all this, perhaps, is for the best. I shall perhaps be the stronger and the purer for this experience.
‘I wish you all happiness. Farewell! Think sometimes of me. I hope that you may still hear of me.
Natalya let Rudin’s letter drop on to her lap, and sat a long time motionless, her eyes fixed on the ground. This letter proved to her clearer than all possible arguments that she had been right, when in the morning, at her parting with Rudin, she had involuntarily cried out that he did not love her! But that made things no easier for her. She sat perfectly still; it seemed as though waves of darkness without a ray of light had closed over her head, and she had gone down cold and dumb to the depths. The first disillusionment is painful for every one; but for a sincere heart, averse to self-deception and innocent of frivolity or exaggeration, it is almost unendurable. Natalya remembered her childhood, how, when walking in the evening, she always tried to go in the direction of the setting sun, where there was light in the sky, and not toward the darkened half of the heavens. Life now stood in darkness before her, and she had turned her back on the light for ever. . . .
Tears started into Natalya’s eyes. Tears do not always bring relief. They are comforting and salutary when, after being long pent up in the breast, they flow at last—at first with violence, and then more easily, more softly; the dumb agony of sorrow is over with the tears. . . . But there are cold tears, tears that flow sparingly, wrung out drop by drop from the heart by the immovable, weary weight of pain laid upon it: they are not comforting, and bring no relief. Poverty weeps such tears; and the man has not yet been unhappy who has not shed them. Natalya knew them on that day.
Two hours passed. Natalya pulled herself together, got up, wiped her eyes, and, lighting a candle, she burnt Rudin’s letter in the flame, and threw the ash out of window. Then she opened Pushkin at random, and read the first lines that met her. (She often made it her oracle in this way.) This is what she saw:
‘When he has known its pang, for him The torturing ghost of days that are no more, For him no more illusion, but remorse And memory’s serpent gnawing at his heart.’
She stopped, and with a cold smile looked at herself in the glass, slightly nodded her head, and went down to the drawing-room.
Darya Mihailovna, directly she saw her, called her into her study, made her sit near her, and caressingly stroked her cheek. Meanwhile she gazed attentively, almost with curiosity, into her eyes. Darya Mihailovna was secretly perplexed; for the first time it struck her that she did not really understand her daughter. When she had heard from Pandalevsky of her meeting with Rudin, she was not so much displeased as amazed that her sensible Natalya could resolve upon such a step. But when she had sent for her, and fell to upbraiding her—not at all as one would have expected from a lady of European renown, but with loud and vulgar abuse—Natalya’s firm replies, and the resolution of her looks and movements, had confused and even intimidated her.
Rudin’s sudden, and wholly unexplained, departure had taken a great load off her heart, but she had expected tears, and hysterics. . . . Natalya’s outward composure threw her out of her reckoning again.
‘Well, child,’ began Darya Mihailovna, ‘how are you to-day?’ Natalya looked at her mother. ‘He is gone, you see . . . your hero. Do you know why he decided on going so quickly?’
‘Mamma!’ said Natalya in a low voice, ‘I give you my word, if you will not mention him, you shall never hear his name from me.’
‘Then you acknowledge how wrongly you behaved to me?’
Natalya looked down and repeated:
‘You shall never hear his name from me.’
‘Well, well,’ answered Darya Mihailovna with a smile, ‘I believe you. But the day before yesterday, do you remember how—There, we will pass that over. It is all over and buried and forgotten. Isn’t it? Come, I know you again now; but I was altogether puzzled then. There, kiss me like a sensible girl!’
Natalya lifted Darya Mihailovna’s hand to her lips, and Darya Mihailovna kissed her stooping head.
‘Always listen to my advice. Do not forget that you are a Lasunsky and my daughter,’ she added, ‘and you will be happy. And now you may go.’
Natalya went away in silence. Darya Mihailovna looked after her and thought: ‘She is like me—she too will let herself be carried away by her feelings; mais ella aura moins d’abandon.’ And Darya Mihailovna fell to musing over memories of the past . . . of the distant past.
Then she summoned Mlle. Boncourt and remained a long while closeted with her.
When she had dismissed her she sent for Pandalevsky. She wanted at all hazards to discover the real cause of Rudin’s departure . . . but Pandalevsky succeeded in completely satisfying her. It was what he was there for.
The next day Volintsev and his sister came to dinner. Darya Mihailovna was always very affable to him, but this time she was especially cordial to him. Natalya felt unbearably miserable; but Volintsev was so respectful, and addressed her so timidly, that she could not but be grateful to him in her heart. The day passed quietly, rather tediously, but all felt as they separated that they had fallen back into the old order of things; and that means much, very much.
Yes, all had fallen back into their old order—all except Natalya. When at last she was able to be alone, she dragged herself with difficulty into her bed, and, weary and worn out, fell with her face on the pillow. Life seemed so cruel, so hateful, and so sordid, she was so ashamed of herself, her love, and her sorrow, that at that moment she would have been glad to die. . . . There were many sorrowful days in store for her, and sleepless nights and torturing emotions; but she was young—life had scarcely begun for her, and sooner or later life asserts its claims. Whatever blow has fallen on a man, he must—forgive the coarseness of the expression—eat that day or at least the next, and that is the first step to consolation.
Natalya suffered terribly, she suffered for the first time. . . . But the first sorrow, like first love, does not come again—and thank God for it!