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Ivan Turgenev was a Russian novelist, short story writer, poet, playwright, translator and popularizer of Russian literature in the West. He considered himself an artist first, and approached his storytelling as such. Knock, Knock, Knock and Other Stories features: Knock, Knock, Knock The Inn Lieutenant Yergunov's Story The Dog The Watch
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KNOCK, KNOCK, KNOCK
AND OTHER STORIES
by Ivan Turgenev
Published 2018 by Blackmore Dennett
All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
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TABLE OF CONTENTS
KNOCK, KNOCK, KNOCK
LIEUTENANT YERGUNOV'S STORY
We all settled down in a circle and our good friend Alexandr Vassilyevitch Ridel (his surname was German but he was Russian to the marrow of his bones) began as follows:
I am going to tell you a story, friends, of something that happened to me in the 'thirties ... forty years ago as you see. I will be brief--and don't you interrupt me.
I was living at the time in Petersburg and had only just left the University. My brother was a lieutenant in the horse-guard artillery. His battery was stationed at Krasnoe Selo--it was summer time. My brother lodged not at Krasnoe Selo itself but in one of the neighbouring villages; I stayed with him more than once and made the acquaintance of all his comrades. He was living in a fairly decent cottage, together with another officer of his battery, whose name was Ilya Stepanitch Tyeglev. I became particularly friendly with him.
Marlinsky is out of date now--no one reads him--and even his name is jeered at; but in the 'thirties his fame was above everyone's--and in the opinion of the young people of the day Pushkin could not hold candle to him. He not only enjoyed the reputation of being the foremost Russian writer; but--something much more difficult and more rarely met with--he did to some extent leave his mark on his generation. One came across heroes à la Marlinsky everywhere, especially in the provinces and especially among infantry and artillery men; they talked and corresponded in his language; behaved with gloomy reserve in society--"with tempest in the soul and flame in the blood" like Lieutenant Byelosov in the "Frigate Hope." Women's hearts were "devoured" by them. The adjective applied to them in those days was "fatal." The type, as we all know, survived for many years, to the days of Petchorin. [Footnote: The leading character in Lermontov's A Hero of Our Time.--Translator's Note.] All sorts of elements were mingled in that type. Byronism, romanticism, reminiscences of the French Revolution, of the Dekabrists--and the worship of Napoleon; faith in destiny, in one's star, in strength of will; pose and fine phrases--and a miserable sense of the emptiness of life; uneasy pangs of petty vanity--and genuine strength and daring; generous impulses--and defective education, ignorance; aristocratic airs--and delight in trivial foppery.... But enough of these general reflections. I promised to tell you the story.
Lieutenant Tyeglev belonged precisely to the class of those "fatal" individuals, though he did not possess the exterior commonly associated with them; he was not, for instance, in the least like Lermontov's "fatalist." He was a man of medium height, fairly solid and round-shouldered, with fair, almost white eyebrows and eyelashes; he had a round, fresh, rosy-cheeked face, a turn-up nose, a low forehead with the hair growing thick over the temples, and full, well-shaped, always immobile lips: he never laughed, never even smiled. Only when he was tired and out of heart he showed his square teeth, white as sugar. The same artificial immobility was imprinted on all his features: had it not been for that, they would have had a good-natured expression. His small green eyes with yellow lashes were the only thing not quite ordinary in his face: his right eye was very slightly higher than his left and the left eyelid drooped a little, which made his eyes look different, strange and drowsy. Tyeglev's countenance, which was not, however, without a certain attractiveness, almost always wore an expression of discontent mingled with perplexity, as though he were chasing within himself a gloomy thought which he was never able to catch. At the same time he did not give one the impression of being stuck up: he might rather have been taken for an aggrieved than a haughty man. He spoke very little, hesitatingly, in a husky voice, with unnecessary repetitions. Unlike most "fatalists," he did not use particularly elaborate expressions in speaking and only had recourse to them in writing; his handwriting was quite like a child's. His superiors regarded him as an officer of no great merit--not particularly capable and not over-zealous. The brigadier-general, a man of German extraction, used to say of him: "He has punctuality but not precision." With the soldiers, too, Tyeglev had the character of being neither one thing nor the other. He lived modestly, in accordance with his means. He had been left an orphan at nine years old: his father and mother were drowned when they were being ferried across the Oka in the spring floods. He had been educated at a private school, where he had the reputation of being one of the slowest and quietest of the boys, and at his own earnest desire and through the good offices of a cousin who was a man of influence, he obtained a commission in the horse-guards artillery; and, though with some difficulty, passed his examination first as an ensign and then as a second lieutenant. His relations with other officers were somewhat strained. He was not liked, was rarely visited--and he hardly went to see anyone. He felt the presence of strangers a constraint; he instantly became awkward and unnatural ... he had no instinct for comradeship and was not on really intimate terms with anyone. But he was respected, and respected not for his character nor for his intelligence and education--but because the stamp which distinguishes "fatal" people was discerned in him. No one of his fellow officers expected that Tyeglev would make a career or distinguish himself in any way; but that Tyeglev might do something extraordinary or that Tyeglev might become a Napoleon was not considered impossible. For that is a matter of a man's "star"--and he was regarded as a "man of destiny," just as there are "men of sighs" and "of tears."
Two incidents that marked the first steps in his career did a great deal to strengthen his "fatal" reputation. On the very first day after receiving his commission--about the middle of March--he was walking with other newly promoted officers in full dress uniform along the embankment. The spring had come early that year, the Neva was melting; the bigger blocks of ice had gone but the whole river was choked up with a dense mass of thawing icicles. The young men were talking and laughing ... suddenly one of them stopped: he saw a little dog some twenty paces from the bank on the slowly moving surface of the river. Perched on a projecting piece of ice it was whining and trembling all over. "It will be drowned," said the officer through his teeth. The dog was slowly being carried past one of the sloping gangways that led down to the river. All at once Tyeglev without saying a word ran down this gangway and over the thin ice, sinking in and leaping out again, reached the dog, seized it by the scruff of the neck and getting safely back to the bank, put it down on the pavement. The danger to which Tyeglev had exposed himself was so great, his action was so unexpected, that his companions were dumbfoundered--and only spoke all at once, when he had called a cab to drive home: his uniform was wet all over. In response to their exclamations, Tyeglev replied coolly that there was no escaping one's destiny--and told the cabman to drive on.
"You might at least take the dog with you as a souvenir," cried one of the officers. But Tyeglev merely waved his hand, and his comrades looked at each other in silent amazement.
The second incident occurred a few days later, at a card party at the battery commander's. Tyeglev sat in the corner and took no part in the play. "Oh, if only I had a grandmother to tell me beforehand what cards will win, as in Pushkin's Queen of Spades," cried a lieutenant whose losses had nearly reached three thousand. Tyeglev approached the table in silence, took up a pack, cut it, and saying "the six of diamonds," turned the pack up: the six of diamonds was the bottom card. "The ace of clubs!" he said and cut again: the bottom card turned out to be the ace of clubs. "The king of diamonds!" he said for the third time in an angry whisper through his clenched teeth--and he was right the third time, too ... and he suddenly turned crimson. He probably had not expected it himself. "A capital trick! Do it again," observed the commanding officer of the battery. "I don't go in for tricks," Tyeglev answered drily and walked into the other room. How it happened that he guessed the card right, I can't pretend to explain: but I saw it with my own eyes. Many of the players present tried to do the same--and not one of them succeeded: one or two did guess one card but never two in succession. And Tyeglev had guessed three! This incident strengthened still further his reputation as a mysterious, fatal character. It has often occurred to me since that if he had not succeeded in the trick with the cards, there is no knowing what turn it would have taken and how he would have looked at himself; but this unexpected success clinched the matter.
It may well be understood that Tyeglev clutched at this reputation. It gave him a special significance, a special colour ... "Cela le posait," as the French express it--and with his limited intelligence, scanty education and immense vanity, such a reputation just suited him. It was difficult to acquire it but to keep it up cost nothing: he had only to remain silent and hold himself aloof. But it was not owing to this reputation that I made friends with Tyeglev and, I may say, grew fond of him. I liked him in the first place because I was rather an unsociable creature myself--and saw in him one of my own sort, and secondly, because he was a very good-natured fellow and in reality, very simple-hearted. He aroused in me a feeling of something like compassion; it seemed to me that apart from his affected "fatality," he really was weighed down by a tragic fate which he did not himself suspect. I need hardly say I did not express this feeling to him: could anything be more insulting to a "fatal" hero than to be an object of pity? And Tyeglev, on his side, was well-disposed to me; with me he felt at ease, with me he used to talk--in my presence he ventured to leave the strange pedestal on which he had been placed either by his own efforts or by chance. Agonisingly, morbidly vain as he was, yet he was probably aware in the depths of his soul that there was nothing to justify his vanity, and that others might perhaps look down on him ... but I, a boy of nineteen, put no constraint on him; the dread of saying something stupid, inappropriate, did not oppress his ever-apprehensive heart in my presence. He sometimes even chattered freely; and well it was for him that no one heard his chatter except me! His reputation would not have lasted long. He not only knew very little, but read hardly anything and confined himself to picking up stories and anecdotes of a certain kind. He believed in presentiments, predictions, omens, meetings, lucky and unlucky days, in the persecution and benevolence of destiny, in the mysterious significance of life, in fact. He even believed in certain "climacteric" years which someone had mentioned in his presence and the meaning of which he did not himself very well understand. "Fatal" men of the true stamp ought not to betray such beliefs: they ought to inspire them in others.... But I was the only one who knew Tyeglev on that side.
One day--I remember it was St. Elijah's day, July 20th--I came to stay with my brother and did not find him at home: he had been ordered off for a whole week somewhere. I did not want to go back to Petersburg; I sauntered about the neighbouring marshes, killed a brace of snipe and spent the evening with Tyeglev under the shelter of an empty barn where he had, as he expressed it, set up his summer residence. We had a little conversation but for the most part drank tea, smoked pipes and talked sometimes to our host, a Russianised Finn or to the pedlar who used to hang about the battery selling "fi-ine oranges and lemons," a charming and lively person who in addition to other talents could play the guitar and used to tell us of the unhappy love which he cherished in his young days for the daughter of a policeman. Now that he was older, this Don Juan in a gay cotton shirt had no experience of unsuccessful love affairs. Before the doors of our barn stretched a wide plain gradually sloping away in the distance; a little river gleamed here and there in the winding hollows; low growing woods could be seen further on the horizon. Night was coming on and we were left alone. As night fell a fine damp mist descended upon the earth, and, growing thicker and thicker, passed into a dense fog. The moon rose up into the sky; the fog was soaked through and through and, as it were, shimmering with golden light. Everything was strangely shifting, veiled and confused; the faraway looked near, the near looked far away, what was big looked small and what was small looked big ... everything became dim and full of light. We seemed to be in fairyland, in a world of whitish-golden mist, deep stillness, delicate sleep.... And how mysteriously, like sparks of silver, the stars filtered through the mist! We were both silent. The fantastic beauty of the night worked upon us: it put us into the mood for the fantastic.
Tyeglev was the first to speak and talked with his usual hesitating incompleted sentences and repetitions about presentiments ... about ghosts. On exactly such a night, according to him, one of his friends, a student who had just taken the place of tutor to two orphans and was sleeping with them in a lodge in the garden, saw a woman's figure bending over their beds and next day recognised the figure in a portrait of the mother of the orphans which he had not previously noticed. Then Tyeglev told me that his parents had heard for several days before their death the sound of rushing water; that his grandfather had been saved from death in the battle of Borodino through suddenly stooping down to pick up a simple grey pebble at the very instant when a volley of grape-shot flew over his head and broke his long black plume. Tyeglev even promised to show me the very pebble which had saved his grandfather and which he had mounted into a medallion. Then he talked of the lofty destination of every man and of his own in particular and added that he still believed in it and that if he ever had any doubts on that subject he would know how to be rid of them and of his life, as life would then lose all significance for him. "You imagine perhaps," he brought out, glancing askance at me, "that I shouldn't have the spirit to do it? You don't know me ... I have a will of iron."
"Well said," I thought to myself.
Tyeglev pondered, heaved a deep sigh and dropping his chibouk out of his hand, informed me that that day was a very important one for him. "This is the prophet Elijah's day--my name day.... It is ... it is always for me a difficult time."
I made no answer and only looked at him as he sat facing me, bent, round-shouldered, and clumsy, with his drowsy, lustreless eyes fixed on the ground.
"An old beggar woman" (Tyeglev never let a single beggar pass without giving alms) "told me to-day," he went on, "that she would pray for my soul.... Isn't that strange?"
"Why does the man want to be always bothering about himself!" I thought again. I must add, however, that of late I had begun noticing an unusual expression of anxiety and uneasiness on Tyeglev's face, and it was not a "fatal" melancholy: something really was fretting and worrying him. On this occasion, too, I was struck by the dejected expression of his face. Were not those very doubts of which he had spoken to me beginning to assail him? Tyeglev's comrades had told me that not long before he had sent to the authorities a project for some reforms in the artillery department and that the project had been returned to him "with a comment," that is, a reprimand. Knowing his character, I had no doubt that such contemptuous treatment by his superior officers had deeply mortified him. But the change that I fancied I saw in Tyeglev was more like sadness and there was a more personal note about it.
"It's getting damp, though," he brought out at last and he shrugged his shoulders. "Let us go into the hut--and it's bed-time, too." He had the habit of shrugging his shoulders and turning his head from side to side, putting his right hand to his throat as he did so, as though his cravat were constricting it. Tyeglev's character was expressed, so at least it seemed to me, in this uneasy and nervous movement. He, too, felt constricted in the world.
We went back into the hut, and both lay down on benches, he in the corner facing the door and I on the opposite side.
Tyeglev was for a long time turning from side to side on his bench and I could not get to sleep, either. Whether his stories had excited my nerves or the strange night had fevered my blood--anyway, I could not go to sleep. All inclination for sleep disappeared at last and I lay with my eyes open and thought, thought intensely, goodness knows of what; of most senseless trifles--as always happens when one is sleepless. Turning from side to side I stretched out my hands.... My finger hit one of the beams of the wall. It emitted a faint but resounding, and as it were, prolonged note.... I must have struck a hollow place.
I tapped again ... this time on purpose. The same sound was repeated. I knocked again.... All at once Tyeglev raised his head.
"Ridel!" he said, "do you hear? Someone is knocking under the window."
I pretended to be asleep. The fancy suddenly took me to play a trick at the expense of my "fatal" friend. I could not sleep, anyway.
He let his head sink on the pillow. I waited for a little and again knocked three times in succession.
Tyeglev sat up again and listened. I tapped again. I was lying facing him but he could not see my hand.... I put it behind me under the bedclothes.
"Ridel!" cried Tyeglev.
I did not answer.
"Ridel!" he repeated loudly. "Ridel!"
"Eh? What is it?" I said as though just waking up.
"Don't you hear, someone keeps knocking under the window, wants to come in, I suppose."
"Some passer-by," I muttered.
"Then we must let him in or find out who it is."
But I made no answer, pretending to be asleep.
Several minutes passed.... I tapped again. Tyeglev sat up at once and listened.
"Knock ... knock ... knock! Knock ... knock ... knock!"
Through my half-closed eyelids in the whitish light of the night I could distinctly see every movement he made. He turned his face first to the window then to the door. It certainly was difficult to make out where the sound came from: it seemed to float round the room, to glide along the walls. I had accidentally hit upon a kind of sounding board.
"Ridel!" cried Tyeglev at last, "Ridel! Ridel!"
"Why, what is it?" I asked, yawning.
"Do you mean to say you don't hear anything? There is someone knocking."
"Well, what if there is?" I answered and again pretended to be asleep and even snored.
"Knock ... knock ... knock!"
"Who is there?" Tyeglev shouted. "Come in!"
No one answered, of course.
"Knock ... knock ... knock!"
Tyeglev jumped out of bed, opened the window and thrusting out his head, cried wildly, "Who is there? Who is knocking?" Then he opened the door and repeated his question. A horse neighed in the distance--that was all.
He went back towards his bed.
"Knock ... knock ... knock!"
Tyeglev instantly turned round and sat down.
"Knock ... knock ... knock!"
He rapidly put on his boots, threw his overcoat over his shoulders and unhooking his sword from the wall, went out of the hut. I heard him walk round it twice, asking all the time, "Who is there? Who goes there? Who is knocking?" Then he was suddenly silent, stood still outside near the corner where I was lying and without uttering another word, came back into the hut and lay down without taking off his boots and overcoat.
"Knock ... knock ... knock!" I began again. "Knock ... knock ... knock!"
But Tyeglev did not stir, did not ask who was knocking, and merely propped his head on his hand.
Seeing that this no longer acted, after an interval I pretended to wake up and, looking at Tyeglev, assumed an air of astonishment.
"Have you been out?" I asked.
"Yes," he answered unconcernedly.
"Did you still hear the knocking?"
"And you met no one?"
"And did the knocking stop?"
"I don't know. I don't care now."
"Now? Why now?"
Tyeglev did not answer.
I felt a little ashamed and a little vexed with him. I could not bring myself to acknowledge my prank, however.
"Do you know what?" I began, "I am convinced that it was all your imagination."
Tyeglev frowned. "Ah, you think so!"
"You say you heard a knocking?"
"It was not only knocking I heard."
"Why, what else?"
Tyeglev bent forward and bit his lips. He was evidently hesitating.
"I was called!" he brought out at last in a low voice and turned away his face.
"You were called? Who called you?"
"Someone...." Tyeglev still looked away. "A woman whom I had hitherto only believed to be dead ... but now I know it for certain."
"I swear, Ilya Stepanitch," I cried, "this is all your imagination!"
"Imagination?" he repeated. "Would you like to hear it for yourself?"
"Then come outside."
I hurriedly dressed and went out of the hut with Tyeglev. On the side opposite to it there were no houses, nothing but a low hurdle fence broken down in places, beyond which there was a rather sharp slope down to the plain. Everything was still shrouded in mist and one could scarcely see anything twenty paces away. Tyeglev and I went up to the hurdle and stood still.
"Here," he said and bowed his head. "Stand still, keep quiet and listen!"
Like him I strained my ears, and I heard nothing except the ordinary, extremely faint but universal murmur, the breathing of the night. Looking at each other in silence from time to time we stood motionless for several minutes and were just on the point of going on.
"Ilyusha..." I fancied I heard a whisper from behind the hurdle.
I glanced at Tyeglev but he seemed to have heard nothing--and still held his head bowed.
"Ilyusha ... ah, Ilyusha," sounded more distinctly than before--so distinctly that one could tell that the words were uttered by a woman.
We both started and stared at each other.
"Well?" Tyeglev asked me in a whisper. "You won't doubt it now, will you?"
"Wait a minute," I answered as quietly. "It proves nothing. We must look whether there isn't anyone. Some practical joker...."
I jumped over the fence--and went in the direction from which, as far as I could judge, the voice came.
I felt the earth soft and crumbling under my feet; long ridges stretched before me vanishing into the mist. I was in the kitchen garden. But nothing was stirring around me or before me. Everything seemed spellbound in the numbness of sleep. I went a few steps further.
"Who is there?" I cried as wildly as Tyeglev had.
"Prrr-r-r!" a startled corn-crake flew up almost under my feet and flew away as straight as a bullet. Involuntarily I started.... What foolishness!
I looked back. Tyeglev was in sight at the spot where I left him. I went towards him.
"You will call in vain," he said. "That voice has come to us--to me--from far away."
He passed his hand over his face and with slow steps crossed the road towards the hut. But I did not want to give in so quickly and went back into the kitchen garden. That someone really had three times called "Ilyusha" I could not doubt; that there was something plaintive and mysterious in the call, I was forced to own to myself.... But who knows, perhaps all this only appeared to be unaccountable and in reality could be explained as simply as the knocking which had agitated Tyeglev so much.
I walked along beside the fence, stopping from time to time and looking about me. Close to the fence, at no great distance from our hut, there stood an old leafy willow tree; it stood out, a big dark patch, against the whiteness of the mist all round, that dim whiteness which perplexes and deadens the sight more than darkness itself. All at once it seemed to me that something alive, fairly big, stirred on the ground near the willow. Exclaiming "Stop! Who is there?" I rushed forward. I heard scurrying footsteps, like a hare's; a crouching figure whisked by me, whether man or woman I could not tell.... I tried to clutch at it but did not succeed; I stumbled, fell down and stung my face against a nettle. As I was getting up, leaning on the ground, I felt something rough under my hand: it was a chased brass comb on a cord, such as peasants wear on their belt.
Further search led to nothing--and I went back to the hut with the comb in my hand, and my cheeks tingling.
I found Tyeglev sitting on the bench. A candle was burning on the table before him and he was writing something in a little album which he always had with him. Seeing me, he quickly put the album in his pocket and began filling his pipe.
"Look here, my friend," I began, "what a trophy I have brought back from my expedition!" I showed him the comb and told him what had happened to me near the willow. "I must have startled a thief," I added. "You heard a horse was stolen from our neighbour yesterday?"
Tyeglev smiled frigidly and lighted his pipe. I sat down beside him.
"And do you still believe, Ilya Stepanitch," I said, "that the voice we heard came from those unknown realms...."
He stopped me with a peremptory gesture.
"Ridel," he began, "I am in no mood for jesting, and so I beg you not to jest."
He certainly was in no mood for jesting. His face was changed. It looked paler, longer and more expressive. His strange, "different" eyes kept shifting from one object to another.
"I never thought," he began again, "that I should reveal to another ... another man what you are about to hear and what ought to have died ... yes, died, hidden in my breast; but it seems it is to be--and indeed I have no choice. It is destiny! Listen."
And he told me a long story.
I have mentioned already that he was a poor hand at telling stories, but it was not only his lack of skill in describing events that had happened to him that impressed me that night; the very sound of his voice, his glances, the movements which he made with his fingers and his hands--everything about him, indeed, seemed unnatural, unnecessary, false, in fact. I was very young and inexperienced in those days and did not know that the habit of high-flown language and falsity of intonation and manner may become so ingrained in a man that he is incapable of shaking it off: it is a sort of curse. Later in life I came across a lady who described to me the effect on her of her son's death, of her "boundless" grief, of her fears for her reason, in such exaggerated language, with such theatrical gestures, such melodramatic movements of her head and rolling of her eyes, that I thought to myself, "How false and affected that lady is! She did not love her son at all!" And a week afterwards I heard that the poor woman had really gone out of her mind. Since then I have become much more careful in my judgments and have had far less confidence in my own impressions.
The story which Tyeglev told me was, briefly, as follows. He had living in Petersburg, besides his influential uncle, an aunt, not influential but wealthy. As she had no children of her own she had adopted a little girl, an orphan, of the working class, given her a liberal education and treated her like a daughter. She was called Masha. Tyeglev saw her almost every day. It ended in their falling in love with one another and Masha's giving herself to him. This was discovered. Tyeglev's aunt was fearfully incensed, she turned the luckless girl out of her house in disgrace, and moved to Moscow where she adopted a young lady of noble birth and made her her heiress. On her return to her own relations, poor and drunken people, Masha's lot was a bitter one. Tyeglev had promised to marry her and did not keep his promise. At his last interview with her, he was forced to speak out: she wanted to know the truth and wrung it out of him. "Well," she said, "if I am not to be your wife, I know what there is left for me to do." More than a fortnight had passed since that last interview.
"I never for a moment deceived myself as to the meaning of her last words," added Tyeglev. "I am certain that she has put an end to her life and ... and that it was her voice, that it was she calling me ... to follow her there ... I recognised her voice.... Well, there is but one end to it."
"But why didn't you marry her, Ilya Stepanitch?" I asked. "You ceased to love her?"
"No; I still love her passionately."
At this point I stared at Tyeglev. I remembered another friend of mine, a very intelligent man, who had a very plain wife, neither intelligent nor rich and was very unhappy in his marriage. When someone in my presence asked him why he had married and suggested that it was probably for love, he answered, "Not for love at all. It simply happened." And in this case Tyeglev loved a girl passionately and did not marry her. Was it for the same reason, then?
"Why don't you marry her, then?" I asked again.
Tyeglev's strange, drowsy eyes strayed over the table.
"There is ... no answering that ... in a few words," he began, hesitating. "There were reasons.... And besides, she was ... a working-class girl. And then there is my uncle.... I was obliged to consider him, too."
"Your uncle?" I cried. "But what the devil do you want with your uncle whom you never see except at the New Year when you go to congratulate him? Are you reckoning on his money? But he has got a dozen children of his own!"
I spoke with heat.... Tyeglev winced and flushed ... flushed unevenly, in patches.
"Don't lecture me, if you please," he said dully. "I don't justify myself, however. I have ruined her life and now I must pay the penalty...."
His head sank and he was silent. I found nothing to say, either.
So we sat for a quarter of an hour. He looked away--I looked at him--and I noticed that the hair stood up and curled above his forehead in a peculiar way, which, so I have heard from an army doctor who had had a great many wounded pass through his hands, is always a symptom of intense overheating of the brain.... The thought struck me again that fate really had laid a heavy hand on this man and that his comrades were right in seeing something "fatal" in him. And yet inwardly I blamed him. "A working-class girl!" I thought, "a fine sort of aristocrat you are yourself!"
"Perhaps you blame me, Ridel," Tyeglev began suddenly, as though guessing what I was thinking. "I am very ... unhappy myself. But what to do? What to do?"
He leaned his chin on his hand and began biting the broad flat nails of his short, red fingers, hard as iron.
"What I think, Ilya Stepanitch, is that you ought first to make certain whether your suppositions are correct.... Perhaps your lady love is alive and well." ("Shall I tell him the real explanation of the taps?" flashed through my mind. "No--later.")
"She has not written to me since we have been in camp," observed Tyeglev.
"That proves nothing, Ilya Stepanitch."
Tyeglev waved me off. "No! she is certainly not in this world. She called me."
He suddenly turned to the window. "Someone is knocking again!"
I could not help laughing. "No, excuse me, Ilya Stepanitch! This time it is your nerves. You see, it is getting light. In ten minutes the sun will be up--it is past three o'clock--and ghosts have no power in the day."
Tyeglev cast a gloomy glance at me and muttering through his teeth "good-bye," lay down on the bench and turned his back on me.
I lay down, too, and before I fell asleep I remember I wondered why Tyeglev was always hinting at ... suicide. What nonsense! What humbug! Of his own free will he had refused to marry her, had cast her off ... and now he wanted to kill himself! There was no sense in it! He could not resist posing!
With these thoughts I fell into a sound sleep and when I opened my eyes the sun was already high in the sky--and Tyeglev was not in the hut.
He had, so his servant said, gone to the town.
I spent a very dull and wearisome day. Tyeglev did not return to dinner nor to supper; I did not expect my brother. Towards evening a thick fog came on again, thicker even than the day before. I went to bed rather early. I was awakened by a knocking under the window.
It was my turn to be startled!
The knock was repeated and so insistently distinct that one could have no doubt of its reality. I got up, opened the window and saw Tyeglev. Wrapped in his great-coat, with his cap pulled over his eyes, he stood motionless.
"Ilya Stepanitch!" I cried, "is that you? I gave up expecting you. Come in. Is the door locked?"
Tyeglev shook his head. "I do not intend to come in," he pronounced in a hollow tone. "I only want to ask you to give this letter to the commanding officer to-morrow."
He gave me a big envelope sealed with five seals. I was astonished--however, I took the envelope mechanically. Tyeglev at once walked away into the middle of the road.
"Stop! stop!" I began. "Where are you going? Have you only just come? And what is the letter?"
"Do you promise to deliver it?" said Tyeglev, and moved away a few steps further. The fog blurred the outlines of his figure. "Do you promise?"
"I promise ... but first--"
Tyeglev moved still further away and became a long dark blur. "Good-bye," I heard his voice. "Farewell, Ridel, don't remember evil against me.... And don't forget Semyon...."
And the blur itself vanished.
This was too much. "Oh, the damned poseur," I thought. "You must always be straining after effect!" I felt uneasy, however; an involuntary fear clutched at my heart. I flung on my great-coat and ran out into the road.
Yes; but where was I to go? The fog enveloped me on all sides. For five or six steps all round it was a little transparent--but further away it stood up like a wall, thick and white like cotton wool. I turned to the right along the village street; our house was the last but one in the village and beyond it came waste land overgrown here and there with bushes; beyond the waste land, a quarter of a mile from the village, there was a birch copse through which flowed the same little stream that lower down encircled our village. The moon stood, a pale blur in the sky--but its light was not, as on the evening before, strong enough to penetrate the smoky density of the fog and hung, a broad opaque canopy, overhead. I made my way out on to the open ground and listened.... Not a sound from any direction, except the calling of the marsh birds.
"Tyeglev!" I cried. "Ilya Stepanitch!! Tyeglev!!"
My voice died away near me without an answer; it seemed as though the fog would not let it go further. "Tyeglev!" I repeated.
No one answered.
I went forward at random. Twice I struck against a fence, once I nearly fell into a ditch, and almost stumbled against a peasant's horse lying on the ground. "Tyeglev! Tyeglev!" I cried.
All at once, almost behind me, I heard a low voice, "Well, here I am. What do you want of me?"
I turned round quickly.
Before me stood Tyeglev with his hands hanging at his sides and with no cap on his head. His face was pale; but his eyes looked animated and bigger than usual. His breathing came in deep, prolonged gasps through his parted lips.
"Thank God!" I cried in an outburst of joy, and I gripped him by both hands. "Thank God! I was beginning to despair of finding you. Aren't you ashamed of frightening me like this? Upon my word, Ilya Stepanitch!"
"What do you want of me?" repeated Tyeglev.
"I want ... I want you, in the first place, to come back home with me. And secondly, I want, I insist, I insist as a friend, that you explain to me at once the meaning of your actions--and of this letter to the colonel. Can something unexpected have happened to you in Petersburg?"
"I found in Petersburg exactly what I expected," answered Tyeglev, without moving from the spot.
"That is ... you mean to say ... your friend ... this Masha...."
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