On his return home, Volintsev was so gloomy and dejected, he gave his sister such listless answers, and so quickly locked himself up in his room, that she decided to send a messenger to Lezhnyov. She always had recourse to him in times of difficulty. Lezhnyov sent her word that he would come in the next day.
Volintsev was no more cheerful in the morning. After tea he was starting to superintend the work on the estate, but he stayed at home instead, lay on the sofa, and took up a book—a thing he did not often do. Volintsev had no taste for literature, and poetry simply alarmed him. ‘This is as incomprehensible as poetry,’ he used to say, and, in confirmation of his words, he used to quote the following lines from a Russian poet:—
‘And till his gloomy lifetime’s close Nor reason nor experience proud Will crush nor crumple Destiny’s Ensanguined forget-me-nots.’
Alexandra Pavlovna kept looking uneasily at her brother, but she did not worry him with questions. A carriage drew up at the steps.
‘Ah!’ she thought, ‘Lezhnyov, thank goodness!’
A servant came in and announced the arrival of Rudin.
Volintsev flung his book on the floor, and raised his head. ‘Who has come?’ he asked.
‘Rudin, Dmitri Nikolaitch,’ repeated the man. Volintsev got up.
‘Ask him in,’ he said, ‘and you, sister,’ he added, turning to Alexandra Pavlovna, ‘leave us alone.’
‘But why?’ she was beginning.
‘I have a good reason,’ he interrupted, passionately. ‘I beg you to leave us.’
Rudin entered. Volintsev, standing in the middle of the room, received him with a chilly bow, without offering his hand.
‘Confess you did not expect me,’ began Rudin, and he laid his hat down by the window His lips were slightly twitching. He was ill at ease, but tried to conceal his embarrassment.
‘I did not expect you, certainly,’ replied Volintsev, ‘after yesterday. I should have more readily expected some one with a special message from you.’
‘I understand what you mean,’ said Rudin, taking a seat, ‘and am very grateful for your frankness. It is far better so. I have come myself to you, as to a man of honour.’
‘Cannot we dispense with compliments?’ observed Volintsev.
‘I want to explain to you why I have come.’
‘We are acquainted; why should you not come? Besides, this is not the first time you have honoured me with a visit.’
‘I came to you as one man of honour to another,’ repeated Rudin, ‘and I want now to appeal to your sense of justice. . . . I have complete confidence in you.’
‘What is the matter?’ said Volintsev, who all this time was still standing in his original position, staring sullenly at Rudin, and sometimes pulling the ends of his moustache.
‘If you would kindly . . . I came here to make an explanation, certainly, but all the same it cannot be done off-hand.’
‘A third person is involved in this matter.’
‘What third person?’
‘Sergei Pavlitch, you understand me?’
‘Dmitri Nikolaitch, I don’t understand you in the least.’
‘I prefer you should speak plainly!’ broke in Volintsev.
He was beginning to be angry in earnest.
‘Permit . . . we are alone . . . I must tell you—though you certainly are aware of it already (Volintsev shrugged his shoulders impatiently)—I must tell you that I love Natalya Alexyevna, and I have the right to believe that she loves me.’
Volintsev turned white, but made no reply. He walked to the window and stood with his back turned.
‘You understand, Sergei Pavlitch,’ continued Rudin, ‘that if I were not convinced . . .’
‘Upon my word!’ interrupted Volintsev, ‘I don’t doubt it in the least. . . . Well! so be it! Good luck to you! Only I wonder what the devil induced you to come with this news to me. . . . What have I to do with it? What is it to me whom you love, or who loves you? It simply passes my comprehension.’
Volintsev continued to stare out of the window. His voice sounded choked.
Rudin got up.
‘I will tell you, Sergei Pavlitch, why I decided to come to you, why I did not even think I had the right to hide from you our—our mutual feelings. I have too profound an esteem for you—that is why I have come; I did not want . . . we both did not wish to play a part before you. Your feeling for Natalya Alexyevna was known to me. . . . Believe me, I have no illusions about myself; I know how little I deserve to supplant you in her heart, but if it was fated this should be, is it made any better by pretence, hypocrisy, and deceit? Is it any better to expose ourselves to misunderstandings, or even to the possibilities of such a scene as took place yesterday at dinner? Sergei Pavlitch, tell me yourself, is it?’
Volintsev folded his arms on his chest, as though he were trying to hold himself in.
‘Sergei Pavlitch!’ Rudin continued, ‘I have given you pain, I feel it—but understand us—understand that we had no other means of proving our respect to you, of proving that we know how to value your honour and uprightness. Openness, complete openness with any other man would have been misplaced; but with you it took the form of duty. We are happy to think our secret is in your hands.’
Volintsev gave vent to a forced laugh.
‘Many thanks for your confidence in me!’ he exclaimed, ‘though, pray observe, I neither wished to know your secret, nor to tell you mine, though you treat it as if it were your property. But excuse me, you speak as though for two. Does it follow I am to suppose that Natalya Alexyevna knows of your visit, and the object of it?’
Rudin was a little taken aback.
‘No, I did not communicate my intention to Natalya Alexyevna; but I know she would share my views.’
‘That’s all very fine indeed,’ Volintsev began after a short pause, drumming on the window pane with his fingers, ‘though I must confess it would have been far better if you had had rather less respect for me. I don’t care a hang for your respect, to tell you the truth; but what do you want of me now?’
‘I want nothing—or—no! I want one thing; I want you not to regard me as treacherous or hypocritical, to understand me . . . I hope that now you cannot doubt of my sincerity . . . I want us, Sergei Pavlitch, to part as friends . . . you to give me your hand as you once did.’
And Rudin went up to Volintsev.
‘Excuse me, my good sir,’ said Volintsev, turning round and stepping back a few paces, ‘I am ready to do full justice to your intentions, all that’s very fine, I admit, very exalted, but we are simple people, we do not gild our gingerbread, we are not capable of following the flight of great minds like yours. . . . What you think sincere, we regard as impertinent and disingenuous and indiscreet. . . . What is clear and simple to you, is involved and obscure to us. . . . You boast of what we conceal. . . . How are we to understand you! Excuse me, I can neither regard you as a friend, nor will I give you my hand. . . . That is petty, perhaps, but I am only a petty person.’
Rudin took his hat from the window seat.
‘Sergei Pavlitch!’ he said sorrowfully, ‘goodbye; I was mistaken in my expectations. My visit certainly was rather a strange one . . . but I had hoped that you . . . (Volintsev made a movement of impatience). . . . Excuse me, I will say no more of this. Reflecting upon it all, I see indeed, you are right, you could not have behaved otherwise. Good-bye, and allow me, at least once more, for the last time, to assure you of the purity of my intentions. . . . I am convinced of your discretion.’
‘That is too much!’ cried Volintsev, shaking with anger, ‘I never asked for your confidence; and so you have no right whatever to reckon on my discretion!’
Rudin was about to say something, but he only waved his hands, bowed and went away, and Volintsev flung himself on the sofa and turned his face to the wall.
‘May I come in?’ Alexandra Pavlovna’s voice was heard saying at the door.
Volintsev did not answer at once, and stealthily passed his hand over his face. ‘No, Sasha,’ he said, in a slightly altered voice, ‘wait a little longer.’
Half an hour later, Alexandra Pavlovna again came to the door.
‘Mihailo Mihailitch is here,’ she said, ‘will you see him?’
‘Yes,’ answered Volintsev, ‘let them show him up here.’
Lezhnyov came in.
‘What, aren’t you well?’ he asked, seating himself in a chair near the sofa.
Volintsev raised himself, and, leaning on his elbow gazed a long, long while into his friend’s face, and then repeated to him his whole conversation with Rudin word for word. He had never before given Lezhnyov a hint of his sentiments towards Natalya, though he guessed they were no secret to him.
‘Well, brother, you have surprised me!’ Lezhnyov said, as soon as Volintsev had finished his story. ‘I expected many strange things from him, but this is——Still I can see him in it.’
‘Upon my honour!’ cried Volintsev, in great excitement, ‘it is simply insolence! Why, I almost threw him out of the window. Did he want to boast to me or was he afraid? What was the object of it? How could he make up his mind to come to a man——?’
Volintsev clasped his hands over his head and was speechless.
‘No, brother, that’s not it,’ replied Lezhnyov tranquilly; ‘you won’t believe me, but he really did it from a good motive. Yes, indeed. It was generous, do you see, and candid, to be sure, and it would offer an opportunity of speechifying and giving vent to his fine talk, and, of course, that’s what he wants, what he can’t live without. Ah! his tongue is his enemy. Though it’s a good servant to him too.’
‘With what solemnity he came in and talked, you can’t imagine!’
‘Well, he can’t do anything without that. He buttons his great-coat as if he were fulfilling a sacred duty. I should like to put him on a desert island and look round a corner to see how he would behave there. And he discourses on simplicity!’
‘But tell me, my dear fellow,’ asked Volintsev, ‘what is it, philosophy or what?’
‘How can I tell you? On one side it is philosophy, I daresay, and on the other something altogether different It is not right to put every folly down to philosophy.’
Volintsev looked at him.
‘Wasn’t he lying then, do you imagine?’
‘No, my son, he wasn’t lying. But, do you know, we’ve talked enough of this. Let’s light our pipes and call Alexandra Pavlovna in here. It’s easier to talk when she’s with us and easier to be silent. She shall make us some tea.’
‘Very well,’ replied Volintsev. ‘Sasha, come in,’ he cried aloud.
Alexandra Pavlovna came in. He grasped her hand and pressed it warmly to his lips.
Rudin returned in a curious and mingled frame of mind. He was annoyed with himself, he reproached himself for his unpardonable precipitancy, his boyish impulsiveness. Some one has justly said: there is nothing more painful than the consciousness of having just done something stupid.
Rudin was devoured by regret.
‘What evil genius drove me,’ he muttered between his teeth, ‘to call on that squire! What an idea it was! Only to expose myself to insolence!’
But in Darya Mihailovna’s house something extraordinary had been happening. The lady herself did not appear the whole morning, and did not come in to dinner; she had a headache, declared Pandalevsky, the only person who had been admitted to her room. Natalya, too, Rudin scarcely got a glimpse of: she sat in her room with Mlle. Boncourt When she met him at the dinner-table she looked at him so mournfully that his heart sank. Her face was changed as though a load of sorrow had descended upon her since the day before. Rudin began to be oppressed by a vague presentiment of trouble. In order to distract his mind in some way he occupied himself with Bassistoff, had much conversation with him, and found him an ardent, eager lad, full of enthusiastic hopes and still untarnished faith. In the evening Darya Mihailovna appeared for a couple of hours in the drawing-room. She was polite to Rudin, but kept him somehow at a distance, and smiled and frowned, talking through her nose, and in hints more than ever. Everything about her had the air of the society lady of the court. She had seemed of late rather cooler to Rudin. ‘What is the secret of it?’ he thought, with a sidelong look at her haughtily-lifted head.
He had not long to wait for the solution of the enigma. As he was returning at twelve o’clock at night to his room, along a dark corridor, some one suddenly thrust a note into his hand. He looked round; a girl was hurrying away in the distance, Natalya’s maid, he fancied. He went into his room, dismissed the servant, tore open the letter, and read the following lines in Natalya’s handwriting:—
‘Come to-morrow at seven o’clock in the morning, not later, to Avduhin pond, beyond the oak copse. Any other time will be impossible. It will be our last meeting, all will be over, unless . . . Come. We must make our decision.—P.S. If I don’t come, it will mean we shall not see each other again; then I will let you know.’
Rudin turned the letter over in his hands, musing upon it, then laid it under his pillow, undressed, and lay down. For a long while he could not get to sleep, and then he slept very lightly, and it was not yet five o’clock when he woke up.