More than two months had passed; during the whole of that period Rudin had scarcely been away from Darya Mihailovna’s house. She could not get on without him. To talk to him about herself and to listen to his eloquence became a necessity for her. He would have taken his leave on one occasion, on the ground that all his money was spent; she gave him five hundred roubles. He borrowed two hundred roubles more from Volintsev. Pigasov visited Darya Mihailovna much less frequently than before; Rudin crushed him by his presence. And indeed it was not only Pigasov who was conscious of an oppression.
‘I don’t like that prig,’ Pigasov used to say, ‘he expresses himself so affectedly like a hero of a romance. If he says “I,” he stops in rapt admiration, “I, yes, I!” and the phrases he uses are all so drawn-out; if you sneeze, he will begin at once to explain to you exactly why you sneezed and did not cough. If he praises you, it’s just as if he were creating you a prince. If he begins to abuse himself, he humbles himself into the dust—come, one thinks, he will never dare to face the light of day after that. Not a bit of it! It only cheers him up, as if he’d treated himself to a glass of grog.’
Pandalevsky was a little afraid of Rudin, and cautiously tried to win his favour. Volintsev had got on to curious terms with him. Rudin called him a knight-errant, and sang his praises to his face and behind his back; but Volintsev could not bring himself to like him and always felt an involuntary impatience and annoyance when Rudin devoted himself to enlarging on his good points in his presence. ‘Is he making fun of me?’ he thought, and he felt a throb of hatred in his heart. He tried to keep his feelings in check, but in vain; he was jealous of him on Natalya’s account. And Rudin himself, though he always welcomed Volintsev with effusion, though he called him a knight-errant, and borrowed money from him, did not feel exactly friendly towards him. It would be difficult to define the feelings of these two men when they pressed each other’s hands like friends and looked into each other’s eyes.
Bassistoff continued to adore Rudin, and to hang on every word he uttered. Rudin paid him very little attention. Once he spent a whole morning with him, discussing the weightiest problems of life, and awakening his keenest enthusiasm, but afterwards he took no further notice of him. Evidently it was only a phrase when he said that he was seeking for pure and devoted souls. With Lezhnyov, who began to be a frequent visitor at the house, Rudin did not enter into discussion; he seemed even to avoid him. Lezhnyov, on his part, too, treated him coldly. He did not, however, report his final conclusions about him, which somewhat disquieted Alexandra Pavlovna. She was fascinated by Rudin, but she had confidence in Lezhnyov. Every one in Darya Mihailovna’s house humoured Rudin’s fancies; his slightest preferences were carried out He determined the plans for the day. Not a single partie de plaisir was arranged without his co-operation.
He was not, however, very fond of any kind of impromptu excursion or picnic, and took part in them rather as grown-up people take part in children’s games, with an air of kindly, but rather wearied, friendliness. He took interest in everything else, however. He discussed with Darya Mihailovna her plans for the estate, the education of her children, her domestic arrangements, and her affairs generally; he listened to her schemes, and was not bored by petty details, and, in his turn, proposed reforms and made suggestions. Darya Mihailovna agreed to them in words—and that was all. In matters of business she was really guided by the advice of her bailiff—an elderly, one-eyed Little Russian, a good-natured and crafty old rogue. ‘What is old is fat, what is new is thin,’ he used to say, with a quiet smile, winking his solitary eye.
Next to Darya Mihailovna, it was Natalya to whom Rudin used to talk most often and at most length. He used privately to give her books, to confide his plans to her, and to read her the first pages of the essays and other works he had in his mind. Natalya did not always fully grasp the significance of them.
But Rudin did not seem to care much about her understanding, so long as she listened to him. His intimacy with Natalya was not altogether pleasing to Darya Mihailovna. ‘However,’ she thought, ‘let her chatter away with him in the country. She amuses him as a little girl now. There is no great harm in it, and, at any rate, it will improve her mind. At Petersburg I will soon put a stop to it.’
Darya Mihailovna was mistaken. Natalya did not chatter to Rudin like a school-girl; she eagerly drank in his words, she tried to penetrate to their full significance; she submitted her thoughts, her doubts to him; he became her leader, her guide. So far, it was only the brain that was stirred, but in the young the brain is not long stirred alone. What sweet moments Natalya passed when at times in the garden on the seat, in the transparent shade of the aspen tree, Rudin began to read Goethe’s Faust, Hoffman, or Bettina’s letters, or Novalis, constantly stopping and explaining what seemed obscure to her. Like almost all Russian girls, she spoke German badly, but she understood it well, and Rudin was thoroughly imbued with German poetry, German romanticism and philosophy, and he drew her after him into these forbidden lands. Unimagined splendours were revealed there to her earnest eyes from the pages of the book which Rudin held on his knee; a stream of divine visions, of new, illuminating ideas, seemed to flow in rhythmic music into her soul, and in her heart, moved with the high delight of noble feeling, slowly was kindled and fanned into a flame the holy spark of enthusiasm.
‘Tell me, Dmitri Nikolaitch,’ she began one day, sitting by the window at her embroidery-frame, ‘shall you be in Petersburg in the winter?’
‘I don’t know,’ replied Rudin, as he let the book he had been glancing through fall upon his knee; ‘if I can find the means, I shall go.’
He spoke dejectedly; he felt tired, and had done nothing all day.
‘I think you are sure to find the means.’
Rudin shook his head.
‘You think so!’
And he looked away expressively.
Natalya was on the point of replying, but she checked herself.
‘Look.’ began Rudin, with a gesture towards the window, ‘do you see that apple-tree? It is broken by the weight and abundance of its own fruit. True emblem of genius.’
‘It is broken because it had no support,’ replied Natalya
‘I understand you, Natalya Alexyevna, but it is not so easy for a man to find such a support.’
‘I should think the sympathy of others . . . in any case isolation always. . . .’
Natalya was rather confused, and flushed a little.
‘And what will you do in the country in the winter?’ she added hurriedly.
‘What shall I do? I shall finish my larger essay—you know it—on “Tragedy in Life and in Art.” I described to you the outline of it the day before yesterday, and shall send it to you.’
‘And you will publish it?’
‘No? For whose sake will you work then?’
‘And if it were for you?’
Natalya dropped her eyes.
‘It would be far above me.’
‘What, may I ask, is the subject of the essay?’ Bassistoff inquired modestly. He was sitting a little distance away.
‘“Tragedy in Life and in Art,”’ repeated Rudin. ‘Mr. Bassistoff too will read it. But I have not altogether settled on the fundamental motive. I have not so far worked out for myself the tragic significance of love.’
Rudin liked to talk of love, and frequently did so. At first, at the word ‘love,’ Mlle, Boncourt started, and pricked up her eyes like an old war-horse at the sound of the trumpet; but afterwards she had grown used to it, and now only pursed up her lips and took snuff at intervals.
‘It seems to me,’ said Natalya timidly, ‘that the tragic in love is unrequited love.’
‘Not at all!’ replied Rudin; ‘that is rather the comic side of love. . . . The question must be put in an altogether different way . . . one must attack it more deeply. . . . Love!’ he pursued, ‘all is mystery in love; how it comes, how it develops, how it passes away. Sometimes it comes all at once, undoubting, glad as day; sometimes it smoulders like fire under ashes, and only bursts into a flame in the heart when all is over; sometimes it winds its way into the heart like a serpent, and suddenly slips out of it again. . . . Yes, yes; it is the great problem. But who does love in our days? Who is so bold as to love?’
And Rudin grew pensive.
‘Why is it we have not seen Sergei Pavlitch for so long?’ he asked suddenly.
Natalya blushed, and bent her head over her embroidery frame.
‘I don’t know,’ she murmured.
‘What a splendid, generous fellow he is!’ Rudin declared, standing up. ‘It is one of the best types of a Russian gentleman.’
Mlle, Boncourt gave him a sidelong look out of her little French eyes.
Rudin walked up and down the room.
‘Have you noticed,’ he began, turning sharply round on his heels, ‘that on the oak—and the oak is a strong tree—the old leaves only fall off when the new leaves begin to grow?’
‘Yes,’ answered Natalya slowly, ‘I have noticed it’
‘That is what happens to an old love in a strong heart; it is dead already, but still it holds its place; only another new love can drive it out.’
Natalya made no reply.
‘What does that mean?’ she was thinking.
Rudin stood still, tossed his hair back, and walked away.
Natalya went to her own room. She sat a long while on her little bed in perplexity, pondering over Rudin’s last words. All at once she clasped her hands and began to weep bitterly. What she was weeping for—who can tell? She herself could not tell why her tears were falling so fast. She dried them; but they flowed afresh, like water from a long-pent-up source.
On this same day Alexandra Pavlovna had a conversation with Lezhnyov about Rudin. At first he bore all her attacks in silence; but at last she succeeded in rousing him into talk.
‘I see,’ she said to him, ‘you dislike Dmitri Nikolaitch, as you did before. I purposely refrained from questioning you till now; but now you have had time to make up your mind whether there is any change in him, and I want to know why you don’t like him.’
‘Very well,’ answered Lezhnyov with his habitual phlegm, ‘since your patience is exhausted; only look here, don’t get angry.’
‘Come, begin, begin.’
‘And let me have my say to the end.’
‘Of course, of course; begin.’
‘Very well,’ said Lezhnyov, dropping lazily on to the sofa; ‘I admit that I certainly don’t like Rudin. He is a clever fellow.’
‘I should think so.’
‘He is a remarkably clever man, though in reality essentially shallow.’
‘It’s easy to say that.’
‘Though essentially shallow,’ repeated Lezhnyov; ‘but there’s no great harm in that; we are all shallow. I will not even quarrel with him for being a tyrant at heart, lazy, ill-informed!’
Alexandra Pavlovna clasped her hands.
‘Rudin—ill-informed!’ she cried.
‘Ill-informed!’ repeated Lezhnyov in precisely the same voice, ‘that he likes to live at other people’s expanse, to cut a good figure, and so forth—all that’s natural enough. But what’s wrong is, that he is as cold as ice.’
‘He cold! that fiery soul cold!’ interrupted Alexandra Pavlovna.
‘Yes, cold as ice, and he knows it, and pretends to be fiery. What’s bad,’ pursued Lezhnyov, gradually growing warm, ‘he is playing a dangerous game—not dangerous for him, of course; he does not risk a farthing, not a straw on it—but others stake their soul.’
‘Whom and what are you talking of? I don’t understand you,’ said Alexandra Pavlovna.
‘What’s bad, he isn’t honest. He’s a clever man, certainly; he ought to know the value of his own words, and he brings them out as if they were worth something to him. I don’t dispute that he’s a fine speaker, but not in the Russian style. And indeed, after all, fine speaking is pardonable in a boy, but at his years it is disgraceful to take pleasure in the sound of his own voice, and to show off!’
‘I think, Mihailo Mihailitch, it’s all the same for those who hear him, whether he is showing off or not.’
‘Excuse me, Alexandra Pavlovna, it is not all the same. One man says a word to me and it thrills me all over, another may say the same thing, or something still finer—and I don’t prick up my ears. Why is that?’
‘You don’t, perhaps,’ put in Alexandra Pavlovna.
‘I don’t,’ retorted Lezhnyov, ‘though perhaps my ears are long enough. The point is, that Rudin’s words seem to remain mere words, and never to pass into deeds—and meanwhile even words may trouble a young heart, may be the ruin of it’
‘But whom do you mean, Mihailo Mihailitch?’
‘Do you want to know whom I mean, Natalya Alexyevna?’
Alexandra Pavlovna was taken aback for a moment, but she began to smile the instant after.
‘Really,’ she began, ‘what queer ideas you always have! Natalya is still a child; and besides, if there were anything in what you say, do you suppose Darya Mihailovna——’
‘Darya Mihailovna is an egoist to begin with, and lives for herself; and then she is so convinced of her own skill in educating her children that it does not even enter her head to feel uneasy about them. Nonsense! how is it possible: she has but to give one nod, one majestic glance—and all is over, all is obedience again. That’s what that lady imagines; she fancies herself a female Maecenas, a learned woman, and God knows what, but in fact she is nothing more than a silly, worldly old woman. But Natalya is not a baby; believe me, she thinks more, and more profoundly too, than you and I do. And that her true, passionate, ardent nature must fall in with an actor, a flirt like this! But of course that’s in the natural order of things.’
‘A flirt! Do you mean that he is a flirt?’
‘Of course he is. And tell me yourself, Alexandra Pavlovna, what is his position in Darya Mihailovna’s house? To be the idol, the oracle of the household, to meddle in the arrangements, all the gossip and petty trifles of the house—is that a dignified position for a man to be in?’
Alexandra Pavlovna looked at Lezhnyov in surprise.
‘I don’t know you, Mihailo Mihailitch,’ she began to say. ‘You are flushed and excited. I believe there must be something else hidden under this.’
‘Oh, so that’s it! Tell a woman the truth from conviction, and she will never rest easy till she has invented some petty outside cause quite beside the point which has made you speak in precisely that manner and no other.’
Alexandra Pavlovna began to get angry.
‘Bravo, Monsieur Lezhnyov! You begin to be as bitter against women as Mr. Pigasov; but you may say what you like, penetrating as you are, it’s hard for me to believe that you understand every one and everything. I think you are mistaken. According to your ideas, Rudin is a kind of Tartuffe.’
‘No, the point is, that he is not even a Tartuffe. Tartuffe at least knew what he was aiming at; but this fellow, for all his cleverness——’
‘Well, well, what of him? Finish your sentence, you unjust, horrid man!’
Lezhnyov got up.
‘Listen, Alexandra Pavlovna,’ he began, ‘it is you who are unjust, not I. You are cross with me for my harsh criticism of Rudin; I have the right to speak harshly of him! I have paid dearly enough, perhaps, for that privilege. I know him well: I lived a long while with him. You remember I promised to tell you some time about our life at Moscow. It is clear that I must do so now. But will you have the patience to hear me out?’
‘Tell me, tell me!’
‘Very well, then.’
Lezhnyov began walking with measured steps about the room, coming to a standstill at times with his head bent.
‘You know, perhaps,’ he began, ‘or perhaps you don’t know, that I was left an orphan at an early age, and by the time I was seventeen I had no one in authority over me. I lived at my aunt’s at Moscow, and did just as I liked. As a boy I was rather silly and conceited, and liked to brag and show off. After my entrance at the university I behaved like a regular schoolboy, and soon got into a scrape. I won’t tell you about it; it’s not worth while. But I told a lie about it, and rather a shameful lie. It all came out, and I was put to open shame. I lost my head and cried like a child. It happened at a friend’s rooms before a lot of fellow-students. They all began to laugh at me, all except one student, who, observe, had been more indignant with me than any, so long as I had been obstinate and would not confess my deceit. He took pity on me, perhaps; anyway, he took me by the arm and led me away to his lodging.’
‘Was that Rudin?’ asked Alexandra Pavlovna.
‘No, it was not Rudin . . . it was a man . . . he is dead now . . . he was an extraordinary man. His name was Pokorsky. To describe him in a few words is beyond my powers, but directly one begins to speak of him, one does not want to speak of any one else. He had a noble, pure heart, and an intelligence such as I have never met since. Pokorsky lived in a little, low-pitched room, in an attic of an old wooden house. He was very poor, and supported himself somehow by giving lessons. Sometimes he had not even a cup of tea to offer to his friends, and his only sofa was so shaky that it was like being on board ship. But in spite of these discomforts a great many people used to go to see him. Every one loved him; he drew all hearts to him. You would not believe what sweetness and happiness there was in sitting in his poor little room! It was in his room I met Rudin. He had already parted from his prince before then.’
‘What was there so exceptional in this Pokorsky?’ asked Alexandra Pavlovna.
‘How can I tell you? Poetry and truth—that was what drew all of us to him. For all his clear, broad intellect he was as sweet and simple as a child. Even now I have his bright laugh ringing in my ears, and at the same time he
Burnt his midnight lamp Before the holy and the true,
as a dear half-cracked fellow, the poet of our set, expressed it.’
‘And how did he talk?’ Alexandra Pavlovna questioned again.
‘He talked well when he was in the mood, but not remarkably so. Rudin even then was twenty times as eloquent as he.’
Lezhnyov stood still and folded his arms.
‘Pokorsky and Rudin were very unlike. There was more flash and brilliance about Rudin, more fluency, and perhaps more enthusiasm. He appeared far more gifted than Pokorsky, and yet all the while he was a poor creature by comparison. Rudin was excellent at developing any idea, he was capital in argument, but his ideas did not come from his own brain; he borrowed them from others, especially from Pokorsky. Pokorsky was quiet and soft—even weak in appearance—and he was fond of women to distraction, and fond of dissipation, and he would never take an insult from any one. Rudin seemed full of fire, and courage, and life, but at heart he was cold and almost a coward, until his vanity was touched, then he would not stop at anything. He always tried to get an ascendency over people, but he got it in the name of general principles and ideas, and certainly had a great influence over many. To tell the truth, no one loved him; I was the only one, perhaps, who was attached to him. They submitted to his yoke, but all were devoted to Pokorsky. Rudin never refused to argue and discuss with any one he met. He did not read very much, though far more anyway than Pokorsky and all the rest of us; besides, he had a well-arranged intellect, and a prodigious memory, and what an effect that has on young people! They must have generalisations, conclusions, incorrect if you like, perhaps, but still conclusions! A perfectly sincere man never suits them. Try to tell young people that you cannot give them the whole truth, and they will not listen to you. But you mustn’t deceive them either. You want to half believe yourself that you are in possession of the truth. That was why Rudin had such a powerful effect on all of us. I told you just now, you know, that he had not read much, but he read philosophical books, and his brain was so constructed that he extracted at once from what he had read all the general principles, penetrated to the very root of the thing, and then made deductions from it in all directions—consecutive, brilliant, sound ideas, throwing up a wide horizon to the soul. Our set consisted then—it’s only fair to say—of boys, and not well-informed boys. Philosophy, art, science, and even life itself were all mere words to us—ideas if you like, fascinating and magnificent ideas, but disconnected and isolated. The general connection of those ideas, the general principle of the universe we knew nothing of, and had had no contact with, though we discussed it vaguely, and tried to form an idea of it for ourselves. As we listened to Rudin, we felt for the first time as if we had grasped it at last, this general connection, as if a veil had been lifted at last! Even admitting he was not uttering an original thought—what of that! Order and harmony seemed to be established in all we knew; all that had been disconnected seemed to fall into a whole, to take shape and grow like a building before our eyes, all was full of light and inspiration everywhere. . . . Nothing remained meaningless and undesigned, in everything wise design and beauty seemed apparent, everything took a clear and yet mystic significance; every isolated event of life fell into harmony, and with a kind of holy awe and reverence and sweet emotion we felt ourselves to be, as it were, the living vessels of eternal truth, her instruments destined for some great . . . Doesn’t it all seem very ridiculous to you?’
‘Not the least!’ replied Alexandra Pavlovna slowly; ‘why should you think so? I don’t altogether understand you, but I don’t think it ridiculous.’
‘We have had time to grow wiser since then, of course,’ Lezhnyov continued, ‘all that may seem childish to us now. . . . But, I repeat, we all owed a great deal to Rudin then. Pokorsky was incomparably nobler than he, no question about it; Pokorsky breathed fire and strength into all of us; but he was often depressed and silent. He was nervous and not robust; but when he did stretch his wings—good heavens!—what a flight! up to the very height of the blue heavens! And there was a great deal of pettiness in Rudin, handsome and stately as he was; he was a gossip, indeed, and he loved to have a hand in everything, arranging and explaining everything. His fussy activity was inexhaustible—he was a diplomatist by nature. I speak of him as I knew him then. But unluckily he has not altered. On the other hand. his ideals haven’t altered at five-and-thirty! It’s not every one who can say that of himself!’
‘Sit down,’ said Alexandra Pavlovna, ‘why do you keep moving about like a pendulum?’
‘I like it better,’ answered Lezhnyov. ‘Well, after I had come into Pokorsky’s set, I may tell you, Alexandra Pavlovna, I was quite transformed; I grew humble and anxious to learn; I studied, and was happy and reverent—in a word, I felt just as though I had entered a holy temple. And really, when I recall our gatherings, upon my word there was much that was fine, even touching, in them. Imagine a party of five or six lads gathered together, one tallow candle burning. The tea was dreadful stuff, and the cake was stale, very stale; but you should have seen our faces, you should have heard our talk! Eyes were sparkling with enthusiasm, cheeks flushed, and hearts beating, while we talked of God, and truth, of the future of humanity, and poetry . . . often what we said was absurd, and we were in ecstasies over nonsense; but what of that? . . . Pokorsky sat with crossed legs, his pale cheek on his hand, and his eyes seemed to shed light. Rudin stood in the middle of the room and spoke, spoke splendidly, for all the world like the young Demosthenes by the resounding sea; our poet, Subotin of the dishevelled locks, would now and then throw out some abrupt exclamation as though in his sleep, while Scheller, a student forty years old, the son of a German pastor, who had the reputation among us of a profound thinker, thanks to his eternal, inviolable silence, held his peace with more rapt solemnity than usual; even the lively Shtchitof, the Aristophanes of our reunions, was subdued and did no more than smile, while two or three novices listened with reverent transports. . . . And the night seemed to fly by on wings. It was already the grey morning when we separated, moved, happy, aspiring and sober (there was no question of wine among us at such times) with a kind of sweet weariness in our souls . . . and one even looked up at the stars with a kind of confidence, as though they had become nearer and more comprehensible. Ah! that was a glorious time, and I can’t bear to believe that it was altogether wasted! And it was not wasted—not even for those whose lives were sordid afterwards. How often have I chanced to come across such old college friends! You would think the man had sunk altogether to the brute, but one had only to utter Pokorsky’s name before him and every trace of noble feeling in him was stirred at once; it was like uncorking a forgotten phial of fragrance in some dark and dirty room.’
Lezhnyov stopped; his colourless face was flushed.
‘And what was the cause of your quarrel with Rudin?’ said Alexandra Pavlovna, looking wonderingly at Lezhnyov.
‘I did not quarrel with him, but I parted from him when I came to know him thoroughly abroad. But I might well have quarrelled with him in Moscow, he did me a bad turn there.’
‘What was that?’
‘It was like this. I—how can I tell you?—it does not accord very well with my appearance, but I was always much given to falling in love.’
‘Yes, I was indeed. That’s a curious idea, isn’t it? But, anyway, it was so. Well, so I fell in love in those days with a very pretty young girl. . . . But why do you look at me like that? I could tell you something about myself a great deal more extraordinary than that!’
‘And what is that something, if I may know?’
‘Oh, just this. In those Moscow days I used to have a tryst at nights—with whom, would you imagine? with a young lime-tree at the bottom of my garden. I used to embrace its slender and graceful trunk, and I felt as though I were embracing all nature, and my heart melted and expanded as though it really were taking in the whole of nature. That’s what I was then. And do you think, perhaps, I didn’t write verses? Why, I even composed a whole drama in imitation of Manfred. Among the characters was a ghost with blood on his breast, and not his own blood, observe, but the blood of all humanity. . . . Yes, yes, you need not wonder at that. But I was beginning to tell you about my love affair. I made the acquaintance of a girl——’
‘And you gave up your trysts with the lime-tree?’ inquired Alexandra Pavlovna.
‘Yes; I gave them up. This girl was a sweet, good creature, with clear, lively eyes and a ringing voice.’
‘You give an excellent description of her,’ commented Alexandra Pavlovna with a smile.
‘You are such a severe critic,’ retorted Lezhnyov. ‘Well, this girl lived with her old father. . . . But I will not enter into details; I will only tell you that this girl was so kind-hearted, if you only asked her for half a cup of tea she would give it you brimming over! Two days after first meeting her I was wild over her, and on the seventh day I could hold out no longer, and confessed it in full to Rudin. At that time I was completely under his influence, and his influence, I will tell you frankly, was beneficial in many things. He was the first person who did not treat me with contempt, but tried to lick me into shape. I loved Pokorsky passionately, and felt a kind of awe before his purity of soul, but I came closer to Rudin. When he heard about my love, he fell into an indescribable ecstasy, congratulated me, embraced me, and at once fell to disserting and enlarging upon all the dignity of my new position. I pricked up my ears. . . . Well, you know how he can talk. His words had an extraordinary effect on me. I at once assumed an amazing consequence in my own eyes, and I put on a serious exterior and left off laughing. I remember I used even to go about at that time with a kind of circumspection, as though I had a sacred chalice within me, full of a priceless liquid, which I was afraid of spilling over. . . . I was very happy, especially as I found favour in her eyes. Rudin wanted to make my beloved’s acquaintance, and I myself almost insisted on presenting him.’
‘Ah! I see, I see now what it is,’ interrupted Alexandra Pavlovna. ‘Rudin cut you out with your charmer, and you have never been able to forgive him. . . . I am ready to take a wager I am right!’
‘You would lose your wager, Alexandra Pavlovna; you are wrong. Rudin did not cut me out; he did not even try to cut me out; but, all the same, he put an end to my happiness, though, looking at it in cool blood, I am ready to thank him for it now. But I nearly went out of my mind at the time. Rudin did not in the least wish to injure me—quite the contrary! But through his cursed habit of pinning every emotion—his own and other people’s—with a phrase, as one pins butterflies in a case, he set to making clear to ourselves our relations to one another, and how we ought to treat each other, and arbitrarily compelled us to take stock of our feelings and ideas, praised us and blamed us, even entered into a correspondence with us—fancy! Well, he succeeded in completely disconcerting us! I should hardly, even then, have married the young lady (I had so much sense still left), but, at least, we might have spent some months happily a la Paul et Virginie; but now came strained relations, misunderstandings of every kind. It ended by Rudin, one fine morning, arriving at the conviction that it was his sacred duty as a friend to acquaint the old father with everything—and he did so.’
‘Is it possible?’ cried Alexandra Pavlovna.
‘Yes, and did it with my consent, observe. That’s where the wonder comes in! . . . I remember even now what a chaos my brain was in; everything was simply turning round—things looked as they do in a camera obscura—white seemed black and black white; falsehood was truth, and a whim was duty. . . . Ah! even now I feel shame at the recollection of it! Rudin—he never flagged—not a bit of it! He soared through all sorts of misunderstandings and perplexities, like a swallow over a pond.’
‘And so you parted from the girl?’ asked Alexandra Pavlovna, naively bending her head on one side, and raising her eyebrows.
‘We parted—and it was a horrible parting—outrageously awkward and public, quite unnecessarily public. . . . I wept myself, and she wept, and I don’t know what passed. . . . It seemed as though a kind of Gordian knot had been tied. It had to be cut, but it was painful! However, everything in the world is ordered for the best. She has married an excellent man, and is well off now.’
‘But confess, you have never been able to forgive Rudin, all the same,’ Alexandra Pavlovna was beginning.
‘Not at all!’ interposed Lezhnyov, ‘why, I cried like a child when he was going abroad. Still, to tell the truth, even then there was the germ in my heart. And when I met him later abroad . . . well, by that time I had grown older. . . . Rudin struck me in his true light.’
‘What was it exactly you discovered in him?’
‘Why, all I have been telling you the last hour. But enough of him. Perhaps everything will turn out all right. I only wanted to show you that, if I do judge him hardly, it is not because I don’t know him. . . . As far as concerns Natalya Alexyevna, I won’t say any more, but you should observe your brother.’
‘My brother! Why?’
‘Why, look at him. Do you really notice nothing?’
Alexandra Pavlovna looked down.
‘You are right,’ she assented. ‘Certainly—my brother—for some time he has not been himself. . . . But do you really think——’
‘Hush! I think he is coming,’ whispered Lezhnyov. ‘But Natalya is not a child, believe me, though unluckily she is as inexperienced as a child. You will see, that girl will astonish us all.’
‘In what way?’
‘Oh! in this way. . . . Do you know it’s precisely girls like that who drown themselves, take poison, and so forth? Don’t be misled by her looking so calm. Her passions are strong, and her character—my goodness!’
‘Come! I think you are indulging in a flight of fancy now. To a phlegmatic person like you, I suppose even I seem a volcano?’
‘Oh, no!’ answered Lezhnyov, with a smile. ‘And as for character—you have no character at all, thank God!’
‘What impertinence is that?’
‘That? It’s the highest compliment, believe me.’
Volintsev came in and looked suspiciously at Lezhnyov and his sister. He had grown thin of late. They both began to talk to him, but he scarcely smiled in response to their jests, and looked, as Pigasov once said of him, like a melancholy hare. But there has certainly never been a man in the world who, at some time in his life, has not looked worse than that. Volintsev felt that Natalya was drifting away from him, and with her it seemed as if the earth was giving way under his feet.