The Avduhin pond, near which Natalya had fixed the place of meeting, had long ceased to be a pond. Thirty years before it had burst through its banks and it had been given up since then. Only by the smooth flat surface of the hollow, once covered with slimy mud, and the traces of the banks, could one guess that it had been a pond. A farm-house had stood near it. It had long ago passed away. Two huge pine-trees preserved its memory; the wind was for ever droning and sullenly murmuring in their high gaunt green tops. There were mysterious tales among the people of a fearful crime supposed to have been committed under them; they used to tell, too, that not one of them would fall without bringing death to some one; that a third had once stood there, which had fallen in a storm and crushed a girl.
The whole place near the old pond was supposed to be haunted; it was a barren wilderness, dark and gloomy, even on a sunny day—it seemed darker and gloomier still from the old, old forest of dead and withered oak-trees which was near it. A few huge trees lifted their grey heads above the low undergrowth of bushes like weary giants. They were a sinister sight; it seemed as though wicked old men had met together bent on some evil design. A narrow path almost indistinguishable wandered beside it. No one went near the Avduhin pond without some urgent reason. Natalya intentionally chose this solitary place. It was not more than half-a-mile from Darya Mihailovna’s house.
The sun had already risen some time when Rudin reached the Avduhin pond, but it was not a bright morning. Thick clouds of the colour of milk covered the whole sky, and were driven flying before the whistling, shrieking wind. Rudin began to walk up and down along the bank, which was covered with clinging burdocks and blackened nettles. He was not easy in his mind. These interviews, these new emotions had a charm for him, but they also troubled him, especially after the note of the night before. He felt that the end was drawing near, and was in secret perplexity of spirit, though none would have imagined it, seeing with what concentrated determination he folded his arms across his chest and looked around him. Pigasov had once said truly of him, that he was like a Chinese idol, his head was constantly overbalancing him. But with the head alone, however strong it may be, it is hard for a man to know even what is passing in himself. . . . Rudin, the clever, penetrating Rudin, was not capable of saying certainly whether he loved Natalya, whether he was suffering, and whether he would suffer at parting from her. Why then, since he had not the least disposition to play the Lovelace—one must do him that credit—had he turned the poor girl’s head? Why was he awaiting her with a secret tremor? To this the only answer is that there are none so easily carried away as those who are without passion.
He walked on the bank, while Natalya was hurrying to him straight across country through the wet grass.
‘Natalya Alexyevna, you’ll get your feet wet!’ said her maid Masha, scarcely able to keep up with her.
Natalya did not hear and ran on without looking round.
‘Ah, supposing they’ve seen us!’ cried Masha; ‘indeed it’s surprising how we got out of the house . . . and ma’mselle may wake up. . . It’s a mercy it’s not far. . . . Ah, the gentleman’s waiting already,’ she added, suddenly catching sight of Rudin’s majestic figure, standing out picturesquely on the bank; ‘but what does he want to stand on that mound for—he ought to have kept in the hollow.’
‘Wait here, Masha, by the pines,’ she said, and went on to the pond.
Rudin went up to her; he stopped short in amazement. He had never seen such an expression on her face before. Her brows were contracted, her lips set, her eyes looked sternly straight before her.
‘Dmitri Nikolaitch,’ she began, ‘we have no time to lose. I have come for five minutes. I must tell you that my mother knows everything. Mr. Pandalevsky saw us the day before yesterday, and he told her of our meeting. He was always mamma’s spy. She called me in to her yesterday.’
‘Good God!’ cried Rudin, ‘this is terrible . . . . What did your mother say?’
‘She was not angry with me, she did not scold me, but she reproached me for my want of discretion.’
‘That was all?’
‘Yes, and she declared she would sooner see me dead than your wife!’
‘Is it possible she said that?’
‘Yes; and she said too that you yourself did not want to marry me at all, that you had only been flirting with me because you were bored, and that she had not expected this of you; but that she herself was to blame for having allowed me to see so much of you . . . that she relied on my good sense, that I had very much surprised her . . . and I don’t remember now all she said to me.’
Natalya uttered all this in an even, almost expressionless voice.
‘And you, Natalya Alexyevna, what did you answer?’ asked Rudin.
‘What did I answer?’ repeated Natalya. . . . ‘What do you intend to do now?’
‘Good God, good God!’ replied Rudin, ‘it is cruel! So soon . . . such a sudden blow! . . . And is your mother in such indignation?’
‘Yes, yes, she will not hear of you.’
‘It is terrible! You mean there is no hope?
‘Why should we be so unhappy! That abominable Pandalevsky! . . . You ask me, Natalya Alexyevna, what I intend to do? My head is going round—I cannot take in anything . . . I can feel nothing but my unhappiness . . . I am amazed that you can preserve such self-possession!’
‘Do you think it is easy for me?’ said Natalya.
Rudin began to walk along the bank. Natalya did not take her eyes off him.
‘Your mother did not question you?’ he said at last.
‘She asked me whether I love you.’
‘Well. . . and you?’
Natalya was silent a moment. ‘I told the truth.’
Rudin took her hand.
‘Always, in all things generous, noble-hearted! Oh, the heart of a girl—it’s pure gold! But did your mother really declare her decision so absolutely on the impossibility of our marriage?’
‘Yes, absolutely. I have told you already; she is convinced that you yourself don’t think of marrying me.’
‘Then she regards me as a traitor! What have I done to deserve it?’ And Rudin clutched his head in his hands.
‘Dmitri Nikolaitch!’ said Natalya, ‘we are losing our time. Remember I am seeing you for the last time. I came here not to weep and lament—you see I am not crying—I came for advice.’
‘And what advice can I give you, Natalya Alexyevna?’
‘What advice? You are a man; I am used to trusting to you, I shall trust you to the end. Tell me, what are your plans?’
‘My plans. . . . Your mother certainly will turn me out of the house.’
‘Perhaps. She told me yesterday that she must break off all acquaintance with you. . . . But you do not answer my question?’
‘What do you think we must do now?’
‘What we must do?’ replied Rudin; ‘of course submit.’
‘Submit,’ repeated Natalya slowly, and her lips turned white.
‘Submit to destiny,’ continued Rudin. ‘What is to be done? I know very well how bitter it is, how painful, how unendurable. But consider yourself, Natalya Alexyevna; I am poor. It is true I could work; but even if I were a rich man, could you bear a violent separation from your family, your mother’s anger? . . . No, Natalya Alexyevna; it is useless even to think of it. It is clear it was not fated for us to live together, and the happiness of which I dreamed is not for me!’
All at once Natalya hid her face in her hands and began to weep. Rudin went up to her.
‘Natalya Alexyevna! dear Natalya!’ he said with warmth, ‘do not cry, for God’s sake, do not torture me, be comforted.’
Natalya raised her head.
‘You tell me to be comforted,’ she began, and her eyes blazed through her tears; ‘I am not weeping for what you suppose—I am not sad for that; I am sad because I have been deceived in you. . . . What! I come to you for counsel, and at such a moment!—and your first word is, submit! submit! So this is how you translate your talk of independence, of sacrifice, which . . .’
Her voice broke down.
‘But, Natalya Alexyevna,’ began Rudin in confusion, ‘remember—I do not disown my words—only——’
‘You asked me,’ she continued with new force, ‘what I answered my mother, when she declared she would sooner agree to my death than my marriage to you; I answered that I would sooner die than marry any other man . . . And you say, “Submit!” It must be that she is right; you must, through having nothing to do, through being bored, have been playing with me.’
‘I swear to you, Natalya Alexyevna—I assure you,’ maintained Rudin.
But she did not listen to him.
‘Why did you not stop me? Why did you yourself—or did you not reckon upon obstacles? I am ashamed to speak of this—but I see it is all over now.’
‘You must be calm, Natalya Alexyevna,’ Rudin was beginning; ‘we must think together what means——’
‘You have so often talked of self-sacrifice,’ she broke in, ‘but do you know, if you had said to me to-day at once, “I love you, but I cannot marry you, I will not answer for the future, give me your hand and come with me”—do you know, I would have come with you; do you know, I would have risked everything? But there’s all the difference between word and deed, and you were afraid now, just as you were afraid the day before yesterday at dinner of Volintsev.’
The colour rushed to Rudin’s face. Natalya’s unexpected energy had astounded him; but her last words wounded his vanity.
‘You are too angry now, Natalya Alexyevna,’ he began; ‘you cannot realise how bitterly you wound me. I hope that in time you will do me justice; you will understand what it has cost me to renounce the happiness which you have said yourself would have laid upon me no obligations. Your peace is dearer to me than anything in the world, and I should have been the basest of men, if I could have taken advantage——’
‘Perhaps, perhaps,’ interrupted Natalya, ‘perhaps you are right; I don’t know what I am saying. But up to this time I believed in you, believed in every word you said. . . . For the future, pray keep a watch upon your words, do not fling them about at hazard. When I said to you, “I love you,” I knew what that word meant; I was ready for everything. . . . Now I have only to thank you for a lesson—and to say good-bye.’
‘Stop, for God’s sake, Natalya Alexyevna, I beseech you. I do not deserve your contempt, I swear to you. Put yourself in my position. I am responsible for you and for myself. If I did not love you with the most devoted love—why, good God! I should have at once proposed you should run away with me. . . . Sooner or later your mother would forgive us—and then . . . But before thinking of my own happiness——’
He stopped. Natalya’s eyes fastened directly upon him put him to confusion.
‘You try to prove to me that you are an honourable man, Dmitri Nikolaitch,’ she said. ‘I do not doubt that. You are not capable of acting from calculation; but did I want to be convinced of that? did I come here for that?’
‘I did not expect, Natalya Alexyevna——’
‘Ah! you have said it at last! Yes, you did not expect all this—you did not know me. Do not be uneasy . . . you do not love me, and I will never force myself on any one.’
‘I love you!’ cried Rudin.
Natalya drew herself up.
‘Perhaps; but how do you love me? Remember all your words, Dmitri Nikolaitch. You told me: “Without complete equality there is no love.” . . . You are too exalted for me; I am no match for you. . . . I am punished as I deserve. There are duties before you more worthy of you. I shall not forget this day . . . . Good-bye.’
‘Natalya Alexyevna, are you going? Is it possible for us to part like this?’
He stretched out his hand to her. She stopped. His supplicating voice seemed to make her waver.
‘No,’ she uttered at last. ‘I feel that something in me is broken. . . . I came here, I have been talking to you as if it were in delirium; I must try to recollect. It must not be, you yourself said, it will not be. Good God, when I came out here, I mentally took a farewell of my home, of my past—and what? whom have I met here?—a coward . . . and how did you know I was not able to bear a separation from my family? “Your mother will not consent . . . It is terrible!” That was all I heard from you, that you, you, Rudin?—No! good-bye. . . . Ah! if you had loved me, I should have felt it now, at this moment. . . . No, no, goodbye!’
She turned swiftly and ran towards Masha, who had begun to be uneasy and had been making signs to her a long while.
‘It is you who are afraid, not I!’ cried Rudin after Natalya.
She paid no attention to him, and hastened homewards across the fields. She succeeded in getting back to her bedroom; but she had scarcely crossed the threshold when her strength failed her, and she fell senseless into Masha’s arms.
But Rudin remained a long while still standing on the bank. At last he shivered, and with slow steps made his way to the little path and quietly walked along it. He was deeply ashamed . . . and wounded. ‘What a girl!’ he thought, ‘at seventeen! . . . No, I did not know her! . . . She is a remarkable girl. What strength of will! . . . She is right; she deserves another love than what I felt for her. I felt for her?’ he asked himself. ‘Can it be I already feel no more love for her? So this is how it was all to end! What a pitiful wretch I was beside her!’
The slight rattle of a racing droshky made Rudin raise his head. Lezhnyov was driving to meet him with his invariable trotting pony. Rudin bowed to him without speaking, and as though struck with a sudden thought, turned out of the road and walked quickly in the direction of Darya Mihailovna’s house.
Lezhnyov let him pass, looked after him, and after a moment’s thought he too turned his horse’s head round, and drove back to Volintsev’s, where he had spent the night. He found him asleep, and giving orders he should not be waked, he sat down on the balcony to wait for some tea and smoked a pipe.