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First digital edition 2017 by Anna Ruggieri
a sentimental story from the diary of a dreamer
It was a wonderful night, such a night as is only possible whenwe areyoung, dear reader. The sky was so starry, so bright that,looking at it, one could not help asking oneself whetherill-humoured and capricious people could live under such a sky.That is a youthful question too, dear reader, very youthful, butmay the Lord put it more frequently into your heart!... Speaking ofcapricious and ill-humoured people, I cannot help recalling mymoral condition all that day. From early morning I had beenoppressed by a strange despondency. It suddenly seemed to me that Iwas lonely, that every one was forsaking me and going away from me.Of course, any one is entitled to ask who "every one" was. Forthough I had been living almost eight years in Petersburg I hadhardly an acquaintance. But what did I want with acquaintances? Iwasacquainted with all Petersburg as it was; that was why I felt asthough they were all deserting me when all Petersburg packed up andwent to its summer villa. I felt afraid of being left alone, andfor three whole days I wandered about the town in profounddejection, not knowing what to do with myself. Whether I walked inthe Nevsky, went to the Gardens or sauntered on the embankment,there was not one face of those I had been accustomed to meet atthe same time and place all the year. They, of course, donot knowme, but I know them. I know them intimately, I have almost made astudy of their faces, and am delighted when they are gay, anddowncast when they are under a cloud. I have almost struck up afriendship with one old man whom I meet every blessed day, at thesame hour in Fontanka. Such a grave, pensive countenance; he isalways whispering to himself and brandishing his left arm, while inhis right hand he holds a long gnarled stick with a gold knob. Heeven notices me and takes a warm interest in me. If I happen not tobe at a certain time in the same spot in Fontanka, I am certain hefeels disappointed. That is how it is that we almost bow to eachother, especially when we are both in good humour. The other day,when we had not seen each other for two days and met on the third,we were actually touching our hats, but, realizing in time, droppedour hands and passed each other with a look of interest.
I know the houses too. As I walk along they seem to run forwardin the streets to look out at me fromevery window, and almost tosay: "Good-morning! How do you do? I am quite well, thank God, andI am to have a new storey in May," or, "How are you? I am beingredecorated to-morrow;" or, "I was almost burnt down and had such afright," and so on. I have my favourites among them, some are dearfriends; one of them intends to be treated by the architect thissummer. I shall go every day on purpose to see that the operationis not a failure. God forbid! But I shall never forget an incidentwith a very prettylittle houseof a light pink colour. It was such acharming little brick house, it looked so hospitably at me, and soproudly at its ungainly neighbours, that my heart rejoiced wheneverI happened to pass it. Suddenly last week I walked along thestreet, and when I looked at my friend I heard a plaintive, "Theyare painting me yellow!" The villains! The barbarians! They hadspared nothing, neither columns, nor cornices, and my poor littlefriend was as yellow as a canary. It almost made me bilious. And tothis day I have not had the courage to visit my poor disfiguredfriend, painted the colour of the Celestial Empire.
So now you understand, reader, in what sense I am acquaintedwith all Petersburg.
I have mentioned already that I had felt worried for threewholedays before I guessed the cause of my uneasiness. And I felt ill atease in the street—this one had gone and that one had gone,and what had become of the other?—and at home I did not feellike myself either. For two evenings I was puzzling my brainstothink what was amiss in my corner; why I felt so uncomfortable init. And in perplexity I scanned my grimy green walls, my ceilingcovered with a spider's web, the growth of which Matrona has sosuccessfully encouraged. I looked over all my furniture,examinedevery chair, wondering whether the trouble lay there (for if onechair is not standing in the same position as it stood the daybefore, I am not myself). I looked at the window, but it was all invain ... I was not a bit the better for it! I evenbethought me tosend for Matrona, and was giving her some fatherly admonitions inregard to the spider's web and sluttishness in general; but shesimply stared at me in amazement and went away without saying aword, so that the spider's web is comfortablyhanging in its placeto this day. I only at last this morning realized what was wrong.Aie! Why, they are giving me the slip and making off to theirsummer villas! Forgive the triviality of the expression, but I amin no mood for fine language ... for everything that had been inPetersburg had gone or was going away for the holidays; for everyrespectable gentleman of dignified appearance who took a cab was atonce transformed, in my eyes, into a respectable head of ahousehold who after his daily duties were over, was making his wayto the bosom of his family, to the summer villa; for all thepassers-by had now quite a peculiar air which seemed to say toevery one they met: "We are only here for the moment, gentlemen,and in another two hours we shall be going off to the summervilla." If a window opened after delicate fingers, white as snow,had tapped upon the pane, and the head of a pretty girl was thrustout, calling to a street-seller with pots of flowers—at onceon the spot I fancied that those flowerswere being bought notsimply in order to enjoy the flowers and the spring in stuffy townlodgings, but because they would all be very soon moving into thecountry and could take the flowers with them. What is more, I madesuch progress in my new peculiarsort of investigation that I coulddistinguish correctly from the mere air of each in what summervilla he was living. The inhabitants of Kamenny and AptekarskyIslands or of the Peterhof Road were marked by the studied eleganceof their manner, their fashionable summer suits, and the finecarriages in which they drove to town. Visitors to Pargolovo andplaces further away impressed one at first sight by theirreasonable and dignified air; the tripper to Krestovsky Islandcould be recognized by his look ofirrepressible gaiety. If Ichanced to meet a long procession of waggoners walking lazily withthe reins in their hands beside waggons loaded with regularmountains of furniture, tables, chairs, ottomans and sofas anddomestic utensils of all sorts, frequently with a decrepitcooksitting on the top of it all, guarding her master's property asthough it were the apple of her eye; or if I saw boats heavilyloaded with household goods crawling along the Neva or Fontanka tothe Black River or the Islands—the waggons and the boats weremultiplied tenfold, a hundredfold, in my eyes. I fancied thateverything was astir and moving, everything was going in regularcaravans to the summer villas. It seemed as though Petersburgthreatened to become a wilderness, so thatat last I felt ashamed,mortified and sad that I had nowhere to go for the holidays and noreason to go away. I was ready to go away with every waggon, todrive off with every gentleman of respectable appearance who took acab; but no one—absolutely no one—invited me; it seemedthey had forgotten me, as though really I were a stranger tothem!
I took long walks, succeeding, as I usually did, in quiteforgetting where I was, when I suddenly found myself at the citygates. Instantly I felt lighthearted, andI passed the barrier andwalked between cultivated fields and meadows, unconscious offatigue, and feeling only all over as though a burden were fallingoff my soul. All the passers-by gave me such friendly looks thatthey seemed almost greeting me, they all seemed so pleased atsomething. They were all smoking cigars, every one of them. And Ifelt pleased as I never had before. It was as though I had suddenlyfound myself in Italy—so strong was the effect of nature upona half-sick townsman like me, almoststifling between citywalls.
There is something inexpressibly touching in nature roundPetersburg, when at the approach of spring she puts forth all hermight, all the powers bestowed on her by Heaven, when she breaksinto leaf, decks herself out and spangles herself with flowers....Somehow I cannot help being reminded of a frail, consumptive girl,at whom one sometimes looks with compassion, sometimes withsympathetic love, whom sometimes one simply does not notice; thoughsuddenly in one instant she becomes, as though by chance,inexplicably lovely and exquisite, and, impressed and intoxicated,one cannot help asking oneself what power made those sad, pensiveeyes flash with such fire? What summoned the blood to those pale,wan cheeks? What bathed with passion those soft features? What setthat bosom heaving? What so suddenly called strength, life andbeauty into the poor girl's face, making it gleam with such asmile, kindle with such bright, sparkling laughter? You look round,you seek for some one, youconjecture.... But the moment passes, andnext day you meet, maybe, the same pensive and preoccupied look asbefore, the same pale face, the same meek and timid movements, andeven signs of remorse, traces of a mortal anguish and regret forthe fleeting distraction.... And you grieve that the momentarybeauty has faded so soon never to return, that it flashed upon youso treacherously, so vainly, grieve because you had not even timeto love her....
And yet my night was better than my day! This was howithappened.
I came back to the town very late, and it had struck ten as Iwas going towards my lodgings. My way lay along the canalembankment, where at that hour you never meet a soul. It is truethat I live in a very remote part of the town. I walkedalongsinging, for when I am happy I am always humming to myselflike every happy man who has no friend or acquaintance with whom toshare his joy. Suddenly I had a most unexpected adventure.
Leaning on the canal railing stood a woman with her elbows onthe rail, she was apparently looking with great attention at themuddy water of the canal. She was wearing a very charming yellowhat and a jaunty little black mantle. "She's a girl, and I am sureshe is dark," I thought. She did not seem to hear my footsteps, anddid not even stir when I passed by with bated breath and loudlythrobbing heart.
"Strange," I thought; "she must be deeply absorbed insomething," and all at once I stopped as though petrified. I hearda muffled sob. Yes! I was not mistaken, the girl wascrying, and aminute later I heard sob after sob. Good Heavens! My heart sank.And timid as I was with women, yet this was such a moment!... Iturned, took a step towards her, and should certainly havepronounced the word "Madam!" if I had not known thatthatexclamation has been uttered a thousand times in every Russiansociety novel. It was only that reflection stopped me. But while Iwas seeking for a word, the girl came to herself, looked round,started, cast down her eyes and slipped by me along the embankment.I at once followed her; but she, divining this, left theembankment, crossed the road and walked along the pavement. I darednot cross the street after her. My heart was fluttering like acaptured bird. All at once a chance came to my aid.
Alongthe same side of the pavement there suddenly came intosight, not far from the girl, a gentleman in evening dress, ofdignified years, though by no means of dignified carriage; he wasstaggering and cautiously leaning against the wall. The girl flewstraight as an arrow, with the timid haste one sees in all girlswho do not want any one to volunteer to accompany them home atnight, and no doubt the staggering gentleman would not have pursuedher, if my good luck had not prompted him.
Suddenly, without a word to any one, the gentleman set off andflew full speed in pursuit of my unknown lady. She was racing likethe wind, but the staggering gentleman wasovertaking—overtook her. The girl uttered a shriek, and ... Ibless my luck for the excellent knotted stick, which happened onthat occasion to be in my right hand. In a flash I was on the otherside of the street; in a flash the obtrusive gentleman had taken inthe position, had grasped the irresistible argument, fallen backwithout a word, and only when wewere very far away protestedagainst my action in rather vigorous language. But his words hardlyreached us.
"Give me your arm," I said to the girl. "And he won't dare toannoy us further."
She took my arm without a word, still trembling with excitementand terror. Oh, obtrusive gentleman! How I blessed you at thatmoment! I stole a glance at her, she was very charming anddark—I had guessed right.
On her black eyelashes there still glistened a tear—fromher recent terror or her former grief—I don't know. But therewas already a gleam of a smile on her lips. She too stole a glanceat me, faintly blushed and looked down.
"There, you see; why did you drive me away? If I had been here,nothing would have happened...."
"But I did not know you; I thought that youtoo...."
"Why, do you know me now?"
"A little! Here, for instance, why are you trembling?"
"Oh, you are right at the first guess!" I answered, delightedthat my girl had intelligence; that is never out of place incompany with beauty. "Yes, from the firstglance you have guessedthe sort of man you have to do with. Precisely; I am shy withwomen, I am agitated, I don't deny it, as much so as you were aminute ago when that gentleman alarmed you. I am in some alarm now.It's like a dream, and I never guessed even in my sleep that Ishould ever talk with any woman."
"Yes; if my arm trembles, it is because it has never been heldby a pretty little hand like yours. I am a complete stranger towomen; that is, I have never been used to them. You see, I amalone.... I don't even know how to talk to them. Here, I don't knownow whether I have not said something silly to you! Tell mefrankly; I assure you beforehand that I am not quick to takeoffence?..."
"No, nothing, nothing, quite the contrary.And if you insist onmy speaking frankly, I will tell you that women like such timidity;and if you want to know more, I like it too, and I won't drive youaway till I get home."
"You will make me," I said, breathless with delight, "lose mytimidity, andthen farewell to all my chances...."
"Chances! What chances—of what? That's not so nice."
"I beg your pardon, I am sorry, it was a slip of the tongue; buthow can you expect one at such a moment to have no desire...."
"To be liked, eh?"
"Well, yes; but do,for goodness' sake, be kind. Think what I am!Here, I am twenty-six and I have never seen any one. How can Ispeak well, tactfully, and to the point? It will seem better to youwhen I have told you everything openly.... I don't know how to besilent whenmy heart is speaking. Well, never mind.... Believe me,not one woman, never, never! No acquaintance of any sort! And I donothing but dream every day that at last I shall meet some one. Oh,if only you knew how often I have been in love in that way...."
"How? With whom?..."
"Why, with no one, with an ideal, with the one I dream of in mysleep. I make up regular romances in my dreams. Ah, you don't knowme! It's true, of course, I have met two or three women, but whatsort of women were they? They were all landladies, that.... But Ishall make you laugh if I tell you that I have several timesthought of speaking, just simply speaking, to some aristocraticlady in the street, when she is alone, I need hardly say; speakingto her, of course, timidly, respectfully, passionately; telling herthat I am perishing in solitude, begging her not to send me away;saying that I have no chance of making theacquaintance of anywoman; impressing upon her that it is a positive duty for a womannot to repulse so timid a prayer from such a luckless man as me.That, in fact, all I ask is, that she should say two or threesisterly words with sympathy, should not repulse me at first sight;should take me on trust and listen to what I say; should laugh atme if she likes, encourageme, say two words to me, only two words,even though we never meet again afterwards!... But you arelaughing; however, that is why I am telling you...."
"Don't be vexed; I am only laughing at your being your ownenemy, and if you had tried you would havesucceeded, perhaps, eventhough it had been in the street; the simpler the better.... Nokind-hearted woman, unless she were stupid or, still more, vexedabout something at the moment, could bring herself to send you awaywithout those two words which youask for so timidly.... But what amI saying? Of course she would take you for a madman. I was judgingby myself; I know a good deal about other people's lives."
"Oh, thank you," I cried; "you don't know what you have done forme now!"
"I am glad! I am glad! But tell me how did you find out that Iwas the sort of woman with whom ... well, whom you think worthy ...of attention and friendship ... in fact, not a landlady as you say?What made you decide to come up to me?"
"What made me?... But you were alone;that gentleman was tooinsolent; it's night. You must admit that it was a duty...."
"No, no; I mean before, on the other side—you know youmeant to come up to me."
"On the other side? Really I don't know how to answer; I amafraid to.... Do you know I havebeen happy to-day? I walked alongsinging; I went out into the country; I have never had such happymoments. You ... perhaps it was my fancy.... Forgive me forreferring to it; I fancied you were crying, and I ... could notbear to hear it ... it made myheart ache.... Oh, my goodness!Surely I might be troubled about you? Surely there was no harm infeeling brotherly compassion for you.... I beg your pardon, I saidcompassion.... Well, in short, surely you would not be offended atmy involuntary impulse to go up to you?..."
"Stop, that's enough, don't talk of it," said the girl, lookingdown, and pressing my hand. "It's my fault for having spoken of it;but I am glad I was not mistaken in you.... But here I am home; Imust go down this turning, it's two steps from here.... Good-bye,thank you!..."
"Surely ... surely you don't mean ... that we shall never seeeach other again?... Surely this is not to be the end?"
"You see," said the girl, laughing, "at first you only wantedtwo words, and now.... However, Iwon't say anything ... perhaps weshall meet...."
"I shall come here to-morrow," I said. "Oh, forgive me, I amalready making demands...."
"Yes, you are not very patient ... you are almostinsisting."
"Listen, listen!" I interrupted her. "Forgive me if Itell yousomething else.... I tell you what, I can't help coming hereto-morrow, I am a dreamer; I have so little real life that I lookuponsuch moments as this now, as so rare, that I cannot help goingover such moments again in my dreams. I shall be dreaming of youall night, a whole week, a whole year. I shall certainly come hereto-morrow, just here to this place, just at the same hour, and Ishall be happy remembering to-day. This place is dear to mealready. I have already two or three such places inPetersburg. Ionce shed tears over memories ... like you.... Who knows, perhapsyou were weeping ten minutes ago over some memory.... But, forgiveme, I have forgotten myself again; perhaps you have once beenparticularly happy here...."
"Very good," saidthe girl, "perhaps I will come here to-morrow,too, at ten o'clock. I see that I can't forbid you.... The fact is,I have to be here; don't imagine that I am making an appointmentwith you; I tell you beforehand that I have to be here on my ownaccount. But ... well, I tell you straight out, I don't mind if youdo come. To begin with, something unpleasant might happen as it didto-day, but never mind that.... In short, I should simply like tosee you ... to say two words to you. Only, mind, you must not thinkthe worse of me now! Don't think I make appointments so lightly....I shouldn't make it except that.... But let that be my secret! Onlya compact beforehand...."
"A compact! Speak, tell me, tell me all beforehand; I agree toanything, I am ready for anything," I cried delighted. "I answerfor myself, I will be obedient, respectful ... you know me...."
"It's just because I do know you that I ask you to cometo-morrow," said the girl, laughing. "I know you perfectly. Butmind you will come on the condition, in the first place (only begood, do what I ask—you see, I speak frankly), you won't fallin love with me.... That's impossible, I assure you. I am ready forfriendship; here's my hand.... But you mustn't fall in love withme, I beg you!"
"I swear," I cried, gripping her hand....
"Hush, don't swear, I know you are ready to flare up likegunpowder. Don't think ill of me for saying so. If only youknew.... I, too, have no one to whom I can say a word, whose adviceI can ask. Of course, one does not look for an adviser in thestreet; but you are an exception. I know you as though we had beenfriends for twenty years.... You won't deceive me, willyou?..."
"You will see ... the only thing is, I don't know how I am goingto survive the next twenty-four hours."
"Sleep soundly. Good-night, and remember that I have trusted youalready. But you exclaimed so nicely just now, 'Surely one can't beheld responsible for every feeling, even for brotherly sympathy!'Do you know, that was so nicely said, that the idea struck me atonce, that I might confide in you?"
"For God's sake do; but about what? What is it?"
"Wait till to-morrow. Meanwhile, let that be a secret. So muchthe better for you; it will give it a faint flavour of romance.Perhaps I will tell you to-morrow,and perhaps not.... I will talkto you a little more beforehand; we will get to know each otherbetter...."
"Oh yes, I will tell you all about myself to-morrow! But whathas happened? It is as though a miracle had befallen me.... My God,where am I? Come,tell me aren't you glad that you were not angryand did not drive me away at the first moment, as any other womanwould have done? In two minutes you have made me happy for ever.Yes, happy; who knows, perhaps, you have reconciled me with myself,solved mydoubts!... Perhaps such moments come upon me.... But thereI will tell you all about it to-morrow, you shall know everything,everything...."
"Very well, I consent; you shall begin...."
"Good-bye till to-morrow!"
And we parted.I walked about all night; I could not make up mymind to go home. I was so happy.... To-morrow!
"Well, so you have survived!" she said, pressing both myhands.
"I've been here for the last two hours; you don't know what astate I have been inall day."
"I know, I know. But to business. Do you know why I have come?Not to talk nonsense, as I did yesterday. I tell you what, we mustbehave more sensibly in future. I thought a great deal about itlast night."
"In what way—in what must we be more sensible? I am readyfor my part; but, really, nothing more sensible has happened to mein my life than this, now."
"Really? In the first place, I beg you not to squeeze my handsso; secondly, I must tell you that I spent a long time thinkingabout you andfeeling doubtful to-day."
"And how did it end?"
"How did it end? The upshot of it is that we must begin all overagain, because the conclusion I reached to-day was that I don'tknow you at all; that I behaved like a baby last night, like alittle girl;and, of course, the fact of it is, that it's my softheart that is to blame—that is, I sang my own praises, as onealways does in the end when one analyses one's conduct. Andtherefore to correct my mistake, I've made up my mind to find outall about you minutely. But as I have no one from whom I can findout anything, you must tell me everything fully yourself. Well,what sort of man are you? Come, make haste—begin—tellme your whole history."
"My history!" I cried in alarm. "My history! But who has toldyou I have a history? I have no history...."
"Then how have you lived, if you have no history?" sheinterrupted, laughing.
"Absolutely without any history! I have lived, as they say,keeping myself to myself, that is, utterly alone—alone,entirely alone. Doyou know what it means to be alone?"
"But how alone? Do you mean you never saw any one?"
"Oh no, I see people, of course; but still I am alone."
"Why, do you never talk to any one?"
"Strictly speaking, with no one."
"Who are you then? Explain yourself!Stay, I guess: most likely,like me you have a grandmother. She is blind and will never let mego anywhere, so that I have almost forgotten how to talk; and whenI played some pranks two years ago, and she saw there was noholding me in, she called me up and pinned my dress to hers, andever since we sit like that for days together; she knits astocking, though she's blind, and I sit beside her, sew or readaloud to her—it's such a queer habit, here for two years I'vebeen pinned to her...."
"Good Heavens!what misery! But no, I haven't a grandmother likethat."
"Well, if you haven't why do you sit at home?..."
"Listen, do you want to know the sort of man I am?"
"In the strict sense of the word?"
"In the very strictest sense of the word."
"Very well, I am a type!"
"Type, type! What sort of type?" cried the girl, laughing, asthough she had not had a chance of laughing for a whole year. "Yes,it's very amusing talking to you. Look, here's a seat, let us sitdown. No one is passing here, no one willhear us, and—beginyour history. For it's no good your telling me, I know you have ahistory; only you are concealing it. To begin with, what is atype?"
"A type? A type is an original, it's an absurd person!" I said,infected by her childish laughter. "It's a character. Listen; doyou know what is meant by a dreamer?"
"A dreamer! Indeed I should think I do know. I am a dreamermyself. Sometimes, as I sit by grandmother, all sorts of thingscome into my head. Why, when one begins dreaming one lets one'sfancy run away with one—why, I marry a Chinese Prince!...Though sometimes it is a good thing to dream! But, goodness knows!Especially when one has something to think of apart from dreams,"added the girl, this time rather seriously.
"Excellent! If you havebeen married to a Chinese Emperor, youwill quite understand me. Come, listen.... But one minute, I don'tknow your name yet."
"At last! You have been in no hurry to think of it!"
"Oh, my goodness! It never entered my head, I felt quite happyas it was...."
"My name is Nastenka."
"Nastenka! And nothing else?"
"Nothing else! Why, is not that enough for you, you insatiableperson?"
"Not enough? On the contrary, it's a great deal, a very greatdeal, Nastenka; you kind girl, if you are Nastenka for me fromthefirst."
"Quite so! Well?"
"Well, listen, Nastenka, now for this absurd history."
I sat down beside her, assumed a pedantically serious attitude,and began as though reading from a manuscript:—
"There are, Nastenka, though you may not know it, strangenooksin Petersburg. It seems as though the same sun as shines for allPetersburg people does not peep into those spots, but some otherdifferent new one, bespoken expressly for those nooks, and itthrows a different light on everything. In these corners,dearNastenka, quite a different life is lived, quite unlike the lifethat is surging round us, but such as perhaps exists in someunknown realm, not among us in our serious, over-serious, time.Well, that life is a mixture of something purely fantastic,fervently ideal, with something (alas! Nastenka) dingily prosaicand ordinary, not to say incredibly vulgar."
"Foo! Good Heavens! What a preface! What do I hear?"
"Listen, Nastenka. (It seems to me I shall never be tired ofcalling you Nastenka.) Let me tell you that in these corners livestrange people—dreamers. The dreamer—if you want anexact definition—is not a human being, but a creature of anintermediate sort. For the most part he settles in someinaccessible corner, as though hiding from the light ofday; once heslips into his corner, he grows to it like a snail, or, anyway, heis in that respect very much like that remarkable creature, whichis an animal and a house both at once, and is called a tortoise.Why do you suppose he is so fond of his fourwalls, which areinvariably painted green, grimy, dismal and reeking unpardonably oftobacco smoke? Why is it that when this absurd gentleman is visitedby one of his few acquaintances (and he ends by getting rid of allhis friends), why does this absurdperson meet him with suchembarrassment, changing countenance and overcome with confusion, asthough he had only just committed some crime within his four walls;as though he had been forging counterfeit notes, or as though hewere writing verses to be sent to a journal with an anonymousletter, in which he states that the real poet is dead, and that hisfriend thinks it his sacred duty to publish his things? Why, tellme, Nastenka, why is it conversation is not easy between the twofriends? Why isthere nolaughter? Why does no lively word fly fromthe tongue of the perplexed newcomer, who at other times may bevery fond of laughter, lively words, conversation about the fairsex, and other cheerful subjects? And why does this friend,probably a new friend and on his first visit—for there willhardly be a second, and the friend will never come again—whyis the friend himself so confused, so tongue-tied, in spite of hiswit (if he has any), as he looks at the downcast face of his host,who in his turn becomesutterly helpless and at his wits' end aftergigantic but fruitless efforts to smooth things over and enliventhe conversation, to show his knowledge of polite society, to talk,too, of the fair sex, and by such humble endeavour, to please thepoor man, wholike a fish out of water has mistakenly come to visithim? Why does the gentleman, all at once remembering some verynecessary business which never existed, suddenly seize his hat andhurriedly make off, snatching away his hand from the warm grip ofhis host, who was trying his utmost to show his regret and retrievethe lost position? Why does the friend chuckle as he goes out ofthe door, and swear never to come and see this queer creatureagain, though the queer creature is really a very good fellow,andat the same time he cannot refuse his imagination the littlediversion of comparing the queer fellow's countenance during theirconversation with the expression of an unhappy kitten treacherouslycaptured, roughly handled, frightened and subjected to allsorts ofindignities by children, till, utterly crestfallen, it hides awayfrom them under a chair in the dark, and there must needs at itsleisure bristle up, spit, and wash its insulted face with bothpaws, and long afterwards look angrily at life and nature, and evenat the bits saved from the master's dinner for it by thesympathetic housekeeper?"
"Listen," interrupted Nastenka, who had listened to me all thetime in amazement, opening her eyes and her little mouth. "Listen;I don't know in the least why it happened and why you ask me suchabsurd questions; all I know is, that this adventure must havehappened word for word to you."
"Doubtless," I answered, with the gravest face.
"Well, since there is no doubt about it, go on," said Nastenka,"because Iwant very much to know how it will end."
"You want to know, Nastenka, what our hero, that is I—forthe hero of the whole business was my humble self—did in hiscorner? You want to know why I lost my head and was upset for thewhole day by the unexpected visit of a friend? You want to know whyI was so startled, why I blushed when the door of my room wasopened, why I was not able to entertain my visitor, and why I wascrushed under the weight of my own hospitality?"
"Why, yes, yes," answered Nastenka, "that's the point. Listen.You describe it all splendidly, but couldn't you perhaps describeit a little less splendidly? You talk as though you were reading itout of a book."
"Nastenka," I answered in a stern and dignified voice, hardlyable to keep from laughing, "dear Nastenka, I know I describesplendidly, but, excuse me, I don't know how else to do it. At thismoment, dear Nastenka, at this moment I am like the spirit of KingSolomon when, after lying a thousand years under seven seals in hisurn, those seven seals were at lasttaken off. At this moment,Nastenka, when we have met at last after such a longseparation—for I have known you for ages, Nastenka, because Ihave been looking for some one for ages, and that is a sign that itwas you I was looking for, and it was ordained that we should meetnow—at this moment a thousand valves have opened in my head,and I must let myself flow in a river of words, or I shall choke.And so I beg you not to interrupt me, Nastenka, but listen humblyand obediently, orI will be silent."
"No, no, no! Not at all. Go on! I won't say a word!"
"I will continue. There is, my friend Nastenka, one hour in myday which I like extremely. That is the hour when almost allbusiness, work and duties are over, and every one is hurrying hometo dinner, to lie down, to rest, and on the way all are cogitatingon other more cheerful subjects relating to their evenings, theirnights, and all the rest of their free time. At that hour ourhero—for allow me, Nastenka, to tell my story in the thirdperson, for one feels awfully ashamed to tell it in the firstperson—and so at that hour our hero, who had his work too,was pacing along after the others. But a strange feeling ofpleasure set his pale, rather crumpled-looking face working. Helookednot with indifference on the evening glow which was slowlyfading on the cold Petersburg sky. When I say he looked, I amlying: he did not look at it, but saw it as it were withoutrealizing, as though tired or preoccupied with some other moreinterestingsubject, so that he could scarcely spare a glance foranything about him. He was pleased because till next day he wasreleased from business irksome to him, and happy as a schoolboy letout from the class-room to his games and mischief. Take a look athim, Nastenka; you will see at once that joyful emotion has alreadyhad an effect on his weak nerves and morbidly excited fancy. Yousee he is thinking of something.... Of dinner, do you imagine? Ofthe evening? What is he looking at like that? Is it atthatgentleman of dignified appearance who is bowing sopicturesquely to the lady who rolls by in a carriage drawn byprancing horses? No, Nastenka; what are all those trivialities tohim now! He is rich now with hisown individuallife; he has suddenlybecomerich, and it is not for nothing that the fading sunset shedsits farewell gleams so gaily before him, and calls forth a swarm ofimpressions from his warmed heart. Now he hardly notices the road,on which the tiniest details at other times would strike him. Now'the Goddess of Fancy' (if you have read Zhukovsky, dear Nastenka)has already with fantastic hand spun her golden warp and begunweaving upon it patterns of marvellous magic life—and whoknows, maybe, her fantastic hand has borne him to theseventhcrystal heaven far from the excellent granite pavement onwhich he was walking his way? Try stopping him now, ask himsuddenly where he is standing now, through what streets he isgoing—he will, probably remember nothing, neither where he isgoing nor where he is standing now, and flushing with vexation hewill certainly tell some lie to save appearances. That is why hestarts, almost cries out, and looks round with horror when arespectable old lady stops him politely in the middle of thepavement and asksher way. Frowning with vexation he strides on,scarcely noticing that more than one passer-by smiles and turnsround to look after him, and that a little girl, moving out of hisway in alarm, laughs aloud, gazing open-eyed at his broadmeditative smile and gesticulations. But fancy catches up in itsplayful flight the old woman, the curious passers-by, and thelaughing child, and the peasants spending their nights in theirbarges on Fontanka (our hero, let us suppose, is walking along thecanal-sideat that moment), and capriciously weaves every one andeverything into the canvas like a fly in a spider's web. And it isonly after the queer fellow has returned to his comfortable denwith fresh stores for his mind to work on, has sat down andfinished his dinner, that he comes to himself, when Matrona whowaits upon him—always thoughtful and depressed—clearsthe table and gives him his pipe; he comes to himself then andrecalls with surprise that he has dined, though he has absolutelyno notion how it has happened. It has grown dark in the room; hissoul is sad and empty; the whole kingdom of fancies drops to piecesabout him, drops to pieces without a trace, without a sound, floatsaway like a dream, and he cannot himself remember what he wasdreaming. But a vague sensation faintly stirs his heart and sets itaching, some new desire temptingly tickles and excites his fancy,and imperceptibly evokes a swarm of fresh phantoms. Stillnessreigns in the little room; imagination is fostered by solitude andidleness;it is faintly smouldering, faintly simmering, like thewater with which old Matrona is making her coffee as she movesquietly about in the kitchen close by. Now it breaks outspasmodically; and the book, picked up aimlessly and at random,drops from my dreamer's hand before he has reached the third page.His imagination is again stirred and at work, and again a newworld, a new fascinating life opens vistas before him. A freshdream—fresh happiness! A fresh rush of delicate, voluptuouspoison! What is reallife to him! To his corrupted eyes we live, youand I, Nastenka, so torpidly, slowly, insipidly; in his eyes we areall so dissatisfied with our fate, so exhausted by our life! And,truly, see how at first sight everything is cold, morose, as thoughill-humoured among us.... Poor things! thinks our dreamer. And itis no wonder that he thinks it! Look at these magic phantasms,which so enchantingly, so whimsically, so carelessly and freelygroup before him in such a magic, animated picture, in which themostprominent figure in the foreground is of course himself, ourdreamer, in his precious person. See what varied adventures, whatan endless swarm of ecstatic dreams. You ask, perhaps, what he isdreaming of. Why ask that?—why, of everything ... of the lotof the poet, first unrecognized, then crowned with laurels; offriendship with Hoffmann, St. Bartholomew's Night, of Diana Vernon,of playing the hero at the taking of Kazan by Ivan Vassilyevitch,of Clara Mowbray, of Effie Deans, of the council of the prelatesand Huss before them, of the rising of the dead in 'Robert theDevil' (do you remember the music, it smells of the churchyard!),of Minna and Brenda, of the battle of Berezina, of the reading of apoem at Countess V. D.'s, of Danton, of Cleopatraei suoi amanti, ofa little house in Kolomna, of a little home of one's own and besideone a dear creature who listens to one on a winter's evening,opening her little mouth and eyes as you are listening to me now,my angel.... No, Nastenka, what is there, what is there for him,voluptuous sluggard, in this life, for which you and I have such alonging? He thinks that this is a poor pitiful life, not foreseeingthat for him too, maybe, sometime the mournful hour may strike,when for one day of that pitiful lifehe would give all his years ofphantasy, and would give them not only for joy and for happiness,but without caring to make distinctions in that hour of sadness,remorse and unchecked grief. But so far that threatening has notarrived—he desires nothing,because he is superior to alldesire, because he has everything, because he is satiated, becausehe is the artist of his own life, and creates it for himself everyhour to suit his latest whim. And you know this fantastic world offairyland is so easily, so naturally created! As though it were nota delusion! Indeed, he is ready to believe at some moments that allthis life is not suggested by feeling, is not mirage, not adelusion of the imagination,but that it is concrete, real,substantial! Why is it, Nastenka, why is it at such moments oneholds one's breath? Why, by what sorcery, through whatincomprehensible caprice, is the pulse quickened, does a tear startfrom the dreamer's eye, while his pale moist cheeks glow, while hiswhole being is suffused with an inexpressible sense of consolation?Why is it that whole sleepless nights pass like a flash ininexhaustible gladness and happiness, and when the dawn gleams rosyat the window and daybreak floods the gloomy room with uncertain,fantastic light, as in Petersburg, our dreamer, worn out andexhausted, flings himself on his bed and drops asleep with thrillsof delight in his morbidly overwrought spirit, and with a wearysweet ache in his heart? Yes, Nastenka, one deceives oneself andunconsciously believes that real true passion is stirring one'ssoul; one unconsciously believes that there is something living,tangible in one's immaterial dreams! And is it delusion? Here love,for instance, is bound up with all its fathomless joy, all itstorturing agonies in his bosom.... Only look at him, and you willbe convinced! Would you believe, looking at him, dear Nastenka,that he has never known her whom he loves in his ecstatic dreams?Can it be that he has only seen her in seductive visions, and thatthis passion has been nothing but a dream? Surely they must havespent years hand in hand together—alone the two of them,casting off all the world and each uniting his or her life with theother's? Surely when the hour of parting came she must have lainsobbing and grieving on his bosom, heedless of the tempest ragingunder the sullen sky, heedless of the wind which snatches and bearsaway the tears from her black eyelashes? Can all of that have beena dream—and that garden, dejected, forsaken, run wild, withits little moss-grown paths, solitary, gloomy, where they used towalk so happily together, where they hoped, grieved, loved, lovedeach other so long, "so long and so fondly?" And that queerancestral house where she spent so many years lonely and sad withhermorose old husband, always silent and splenetic, who frightenedthem, while timid as children they hid their love from each other?What torments they suffered, what agonies of terror, how innocent,how pure was their love, and how (I need hardly say, Nastenka)malicious people were! And, good Heavens! surely he met herafterwards, far from their native shores, under alien skies, in thehot south in the divinely eternal city, in the dazzling splendourof the ball to the crash of music, in apalazzo(it mustbe inapalazzo), drowned in a sea of lights, on the balcony, wreathed inmyrtle and roses, where, recognizing him, she hurriedly removes hermask and whispering, 'I am free,' flings herself trembling into hisarms, and with a cry of rapture, clinging toone another, in oneinstant they forget their sorrow and their parting and all theiragonies, and the gloomy house and the old man and the dismal gardenin that distant land, and the seat on which with a last passionatekiss she tore herself away from hisarms numb with anguish anddespair.... Oh, Nastenka, you must admit that one would start,betray confusion, and blush like a schoolboy who has just stuffedin his pocket an apple stolen from a neighbour's garden, when youruninvited visitor, some stalwart,lanky fellow, a festive soul fondof a joke, opens your door and shouts out as though nothing werehappening: 'My dear boy, I have this minute come from Pavlovsk.' Mygoodness! the old count is dead, unutterable happiness is close athand—and people arrive from Pavlovsk!"
Finishing my pathetic appeal, I paused pathetically. Iremembered that I had an intense desire to force myself to laugh,for I was already feeling that a malignant demon wasstirring withinme, that there was a lump in my throat, that mychin was beginningto twitch, and that my eyes were growing more and more moist.
I expected Nastenka, who listened to me opening her clever eyes,would break into her childish, irrepressible laugh; and I wasalready regretting that I had gone so far, thatI had unnecessarilydescribed what had long been simmering in my heart, about which Icould speak as though from a written account of it, because I hadlong ago passed judgment on myself and now could not resist readingit, making my confession, without expecting to be understood; butto my surprise she was silent, waiting a little, then she faintlypressed my hand and with timid sympathy asked—
"Surely you haven't lived like that all your life?"
"All my life, Nastenka," I answered; "all my life, and it seemsto me I shall go on so to the end."
"No, that won't do," she said uneasily, "that must not be; andso, maybe, I shall spend all my life beside grandmother. Do youknow, it is not at all good to live like that?"
"I know, Nastenka, I know!" I cried, unable to restrain myfeelings longer. "And I realize now, more than ever, that I havelost all my best years! And now I know it and feel it morepainfully from recognizing that God has sent me you, my good angel,to tell me that and show it. Now that I sit beside you and talk toyou it is strange for me to think of the future, for in thefuture—there is loneliness again, again this musty, uselesslife; and what shall I have to dream of when I have been so happyin reality beside you! Oh, may you be blessed, dear girl, for nothaving repulsed me at first, for enabling me to say that for twoevenings, at least, I have lived."
"Oh, no, no!" cried Nastenka and tears glistened in her eyes."No, it mustn't be so any more; we must not part like that! whatare two evenings?"
"Oh, Nastenka, Nastenka! Do you know how far you have reconciledme to myself? Do you know now that I shall not think so ill ofmyself, as I have at some moments? Do you know that, maybe, I shallleave off grieving over the crime and sin of my life?for such alife is a crime and a sin. And do not imagine that I have beenexaggerating anything—for goodness' sake don't think that,Nastenka: for at times such misery comes over me, such misery....Because it begins to seem to me at such times that I am incapableof beginning a life in real life, because it has seemed to me thatI have lost all touch, all instinct for the actual, the real;because at last I have cursed myself; because after my fantasticnights I have moments of returning sobriety, which are awful!Meanwhile, you hear the whirl and roar of the crowd in the vortexof life around you; you hear, you see, men living in reality; yousee that life for them is not forbidden, that their life does notfloat away like a dream, like a vision; that their life is beingeternally renewed, eternally youthful, and not one hour of it isthe same as another; while fancy is so spiritless, monotonous tovulgarity and easily scared, the slave of shadows, of the idea, theslave of the first cloud that shrouds thesun, and overcasts withdepression the true Petersburg heart so devoted to thesun—and what is fancy in depression! One feels thatthisinexhaustiblefancy is weary at last and worn out withcontinualexercise, because one is growing into manhood, outgrowing one's oldideals: they are being shattered into fragments, into dust; ifthere is no other life one must build one up from the fragments.And meanwhile the soul longs and craves for something else! And invain the dreamer rakes over his old dreams, as though seeking aspark among the embers, to fan them into flame, to warm his chilledheart by the rekindled fire, and to rouse up in it again all thatwas so sweet, that touched his heart, that set his blood boiling,drew tears from his eyes, and so luxuriously deceived him! Do youknow, Nastenka, the point I have reached? Do you know that I amforced now to celebrate the anniversary of my own sensations, theanniversary of that which was once so sweet, which never existed inreality—for this anniversary iskept in memory of those samefoolish, shadowy dreams—and to do this because those foolishdreams are no more, because I have nothing to earn them with; youknow even dreams do not come for nothing! Do you know that I lovenow to recall and visit at certaindates the places where I was oncehappy in my own way? I love to build up my present in harmony withthe irrevocable past, and I often wander like a shadow, aimless,sad and dejected, about the streets and crooked lanes ofPetersburg. What memories they are! To remember, for instance, thathere just a year ago, just at this time, at this hour, on thispavement, I wandered just as lonely, just as dejected as to-day.And one remembers that then one's dreams were sad, and though thepast was no better one feels as though it had somehow been better,and that life was more peaceful, that one was free from the blackthoughts that haunt one now; that one was free from the gnawing ofconscience—the gloomy, sullen gnawing which now gives me norest by day or by night. And one asks oneself where are one'sdreams. And one shakes one's head and says how rapidly the yearsfly by! And again one asks oneself what has one done with one'syears. Where have you buried your best days? Have you lived or not?Look, one says to oneself, look how cold the world is growing. Somemore years will pass, and after them will come gloomy solitude;then will come old age trembling on its crutch, and after it miseryand desolation. Your fantastic world will grow pale, your dreamswill fadeand die and will fall like the yellow leaves from thetrees.... Oh, Nastenka! you know it will be sad to be left alone,utterly alone, and to have not even anything toregret—nothing, absolutely nothing ... for all that you havelost, all that, all was nothing, stupid, simple nullity, there hasbeen nothing but dreams!"
"Come, don't work on my feelings any more," said Nastenka,wiping away a tear which was trickling down her cheek. "Now it'sover! Now we shall be two together. Now, whatever happens to me, wewill never part. Listen; I am a simple girl, I have not had mucheducation, though grandmother did get a teacher for me, but truly Iunderstand you, for all that you have described I have been throughmyself, when grandmother pinned me to her dress. Of course, Ishould not have described it so well as you have; I am noteducated," she added timidly, for she was still feeling a sort ofrespect for my pathetic eloquence and lofty style; "but I am veryglad that you have been quite open with me. Now I know youthoroughly, all of you. And do you know what? I want to tell you myhistory too, all without concealment, and after that you must giveme advice. You are a very clever man; will you promise to give meadvice?"
"Ah, Nastenka," I cried, "though I havenever given advice, stillless sensible advice, yet I see now that if we always go on likethis that it will be very sensible, and that each of us will givethe other a great deal of sensible advice! Well, my prettyNastenka, what sort of advice do you want? Tell me frankly; at thismoment I am so gay and happy, so bold and sensible, that it won'tbe difficult for me to find words."
"No, no!" Nastenka interrupted, laughing. "I don't only wantsensible advice, I want warm brotherly advice, as though youhadbeen fond of me all your life!"
"Agreed, Nastenka, agreed!" I cried delighted; "and if I hadbeen fond of you for twenty years, I couldn't have been fonder ofyou than I am now."
"Your hand," said Nastenka.
"Here it is," said I, giving her my hand.
"And solet us begin my history!"
"Half my story you know already—that is, you know that Ihave an old grandmother...."
"If the other half is as brief as that ..." I interrupted,laughing.
"Be quiet and listen. First of all you must agree nottointerrupt me, or else, perhaps I shall get in a muddle! Come,listen quietly.
"I have an old grandmother. I came into her hands when I wasquite a little girl, for my father and mother are dead. It must besupposed that grandmother was once richer, fornow she recallsbetter days. She taught me French, and then got a teacher for me.When I was fifteen (and now I am seventeen) we gave up havinglessons. It was at that time that I got into mischief; what I did Iwon't tell you; it's enough to say that it wasn't very important.But grandmother called me to her one morning and said that as shewas blind she could not look after me; she took a pin and pinned mydress to hers, and said that we should sit like that for the restof our lives if, of course, I didnot become a better girl. In fact,at first it was impossible to get away from her: I had to work, toread and to study all beside grandmother. I tried to deceive heronce, and persuaded Fekla to sit in my place. Fekla is ourcharwoman, she is deaf. Feklasat there instead of me; grandmotherwas asleep in her armchair at the time, and I went off to see afriend close by. Well, it ended in trouble. Grandmother woke upwhile I was out, and asked some questions; she thought I was stillsitting quietly in my place. Fekla saw that grandmother was askingher something, but could not tell what it was; she wondered what todo, undid the pin and ran away...."
At this point Nastenka stopped and began laughing. I laughedwith her. She left off at once.
"I tell you what, don't you laugh at grandmother. I laughbecause it's funny.... What can I do, since grandmother is likethat; but yet I am fond of her in a way. Oh, well, I did catch itthat time. I had to sit down in my place at once, and after that Iwas not allowed to stir.
"Oh, I forgot to tell you that our house belongs to us, that isto grandmother; it is a little wooden house with three windows asold as grandmother herself, with a little upper storey; well, theremoved into our upper storey a new lodger."
"Then you had an old lodger," I observed casually.
"Yes, of course," answered Nastenka, "and one who knew how tohold his tongue better than you do. In fact, he hardly ever usedhis tongue at all. He was a dumb, blind, lame, dried-up little oldman, so that at last he could not go on living, he died; so then wehad to find a new lodger, for we could not live without alodger—the rent, together with grandmother's pension, isalmost all we have. But the new lodger, as luck would have it, wasa young man, a strangernot of these parts. As he did not haggleover the rent, grandmother accepted him, and only afterwards sheasked me: 'Tell me, Nastenka, what is our lodger like—is heyoung or old?' I did not want to lie, so I told grandmother that hewasn't exactly young and that he wasn't old.
"'And is he pleasant looking?' asked grandmother.
"Again I did not want to tell a lie: 'Yes, he is pleasantlooking, grandmother,' I said. And grandmother said: 'Oh, what anuisance, what a nuisance! I tell you this, grandchild, thatyou maynot be looking after him. What times these are! Why a paltry lodgerlike this, and he must be pleasant looking too; it was verydifferent in the old days!'"
"Grandmother was always regretting the old days—she wasyounger in old days, and the sun was warmer in old days, and creamdid not turn so sour in old days—it was always the old days!I would sit still and hold my tongue and think to myself: why didgrandmother suggest it to me? Why did she ask whether the lodgerwas young and good-looking? Butthat was all, I just thought it,began counting my stitches again, went on knitting my stocking, andforgot all about it.
"Well, one morning the lodger came in to see us; he asked abouta promise to paper his rooms. One thing led to another. Grandmotherwas talkative, and she said: 'Go, Nastenka, into my bedroom andbring me my reckoner.' I jumped up at once; I blushed all over, Idon't know why, and forgot I was sitting pinned to grandmother;instead of quietly undoing the pin, so that the lodger should notsee—I jumped so that grandmother's chair moved. When I sawthat the lodger knew all about me now, I blushed, stood still asthough I had been shot, and suddenly began to cry—I felt soashamed and miserable at that minute, that I didn't know where tolook! Grandmother called out, 'What are you waiting for?' and Iwent on worse than ever. When the lodger saw, saw that I wasashamed on his account, he bowed and went away at once!
"After that I felt ready to die at the least sound in thepassage. 'It's the lodger,' I kept thinking; I stealthily undid thepin in case. But it always turned out not to be, he never came. Afortnight passed; the lodger sent word through Fyokla that he had agreat numberof French books, and that they were all good books thatI might read, so would not grandmother like me to read them that Imight not be dull? Grandmother agreed with gratitude, but keptasking if they were moral books, for if the books were immoral itwould be out of the question, one would learn evil from them."
"'And what should I learn, grandmother? What is there written inthem?'
"'Ah,' she said, 'what's described in them, is how young menseduce virtuous girls; how, on the excuse that they want to marrythem, they carry them off from their parents' houses; howafterwards they leave these unhappy girls to their fate, and theyperish in the most pitiful way. I read a great many books,' saidgrandmother, 'and it is all so well described that one sits up allnight and reads them on the sly. So mind you don't read them,Nastenka,' said she. 'What books has he sent?'
"'They are all Walter Scott's novels, grandmother.'
"'Walter Scott's novels! But stay, isn't there some trick aboutit? Look, hasn't he stuck a love-letter among them?'
"'No, grandmother,' I said, 'there isn't a love-letter.'
"'But look under the binding; they sometimes stuff it under thebindings, the rascals!'
"'No, grandmother, there is nothing under the binding.'
"'Well, that's all right.'
"So we began reading Walter Scott, and in a month or so we hadread almost half. Then he sent us more and more. He sent usPushkin, too; so that at last I could not get on without a book andleft off dreaming of how fine it would be to marry a ChinesePrince.
"That's how things were when I chanced one day to meet ourlodger on the stairs. Grandmother had sent me to fetch something.He stopped, I blushed and he blushed; he laughed, though, saidgood-morning to me, asked after grandmother, and said, 'Well, haveyou read the books?' I answered that I had. 'Which did you likebest?' he asked. I said, 'Ivanhoe, and Pushkin best of all,' and soour talk ended for that time.
"A week later I met him again on the stairs. That timegrandmother had not sent me, I wanted to get something for myself.It was past two, and the lodger used to come home at that time.'Good-afternoon,' said he. I said good-afternoon, too.
"'Aren't you dull,' he said, 'sitting all day with yourgrandmother?'
"When he asked that, I blushed, I don't know why; I feltashamed, and again I felt offended—I supposebecause otherpeople had begun to ask me about that. I wanted to go away withoutanswering, but I hadn't the strength.
"'Listen,' he said, 'you are a good girl. Excuse my speaking toyou like that, but I assure you that I wish for your welfare quiteas much as your grandmother. Have you no friends that you could goand visit?'
"I told him I hadn't any, that I had had no friend but Mashenka,and she had gone away to Pskov.
"'Listen,' he said, 'would you like to go to the theatre withme?'
"'To the theatre.What about grandmother?'
"'But you must go without your grandmother's knowing it,' hesaid.
"'No,' I said, 'I don't want to deceive grandmother.Good-bye.'
"'Well, good-bye,' he answered, and said nothing more.
"Only after dinner he came to see us; sat a long time talking tograndmother; asked her whether she ever went out anywhere, whethershe had acquaintances, and suddenly said: 'I have taken a box atthe opera for this evening; they are givingThe Barber of Seville.My friends meant to go, but afterwards refused, so the ticket isleft on my hands.' 'The Barber of Seville,' cried grandmother;'why, the same they used to act in old days?'
"'Yes, it's the same barber,' he said, and glanced at me. I sawwhat it meant and turned crimson, and my heart began throbbing withsuspense.
"'To be sure, I know it,' said grandmother; 'why, I took thepart of Rosina myself in old days, at a private performance!'
"'So wouldn't you like to go to-day?' said the lodger. 'Or myticket will be wasted.'
"'By all means let us go,' said grandmother; why shouldn't we?And my Nastenka here has never been to the theatre.'
"My goodness, what joy! We got ready at once, put on our bestclothes, and set off. Though grandmother was blind, stillshe wantedto hear the music; besides, she is a kind old soul, what she caredmost for was to amuse me, we should never have gone ofourselves.
"What my impressions ofThe Barber of Sevillewere I won't tellyou; but all that evening our lodger looked at me so nicely, talkedso nicely, that I saw at once that he had meant to test me in themorning when he proposed that I should go with him alone. Well, itwas joy! I went to bed so proud, sogay, my heart beat so that I wasa little feverish, and all night I was raving aboutThe Barber ofSeville.
"I expected that he would come and see us more and more oftenafter that, but it wasn't so at all. He almost entirely gave upcoming. He would justcome in about once a month, and then only toinvite us to the theatre. We went twice again. Only I wasn't at allpleased with that; I saw that he was simply sorry for me because Iwas so hardly treated by grandmother, and that was all. As timewent on, I grew more and more restless, I couldn't sit still, Icouldn't read, I couldn't work; sometimes I laughed and didsomething to annoy grandmother, at another time I would cry. Atlast I grew thin and was very nearly ill. The opera season wasover, and our lodger had quite given up coming to see us; wheneverwe met—always on the same staircase, of course—he wouldbow so silently, so gravely, asthough he did not want to speak, andgo down to the front door, while I went on standing in the middleof the stairs,as red as a cherry, for all the blood rushed to myhead at the sight of him.
"Now the end is near. Just a year ago, in May, the lodger cameto us and said to grandmother that he had finished his businesshere, and that he must go back to Moscow for a year.When I heardthat, I sank into a chair half dead; grandmother did not noticeanything; and having informed us that he should be leaving us, hebowed and went away.
"What was I to do? I thought and thought and fretted andfretted, and at last I made up mymind. Next day he was to go away,and I made up my mind to end it all that evening when grandmotherwent to bed. And so it happened. I made up all my clothes in aparcel—all the linen I needed—and with the parcel in myhand, more dead than alive, went upstairs to our lodger. I believeI must have stayed an hour on the staircase. When I opened his doorhe cried out as he looked at me. He thought I was a ghost, andrushed to give me some water, for I could hardly stand up. My heartbeat so violently that my head ached, and I did not know what I wasdoing. When I recovered I began by laying my parcel on his bed, satdown beside it, hid my face in my hands and went into floods oftears. I think he understood it all at once, and looked at me sosadly that my heart was torn.
"'Listen,' he began, 'listen, Nastenka, I can't do anything; Iam a poor man, for I have nothing, not even a decent berth. Howcould we live, if I were to marry you?'
"We talked a long time; but at last I got quite frantic, I saidI could not go on living with grandmother, that I should run awayfrom her, that I did not want to be pinned to her, and that I wouldgo to Moscow if he liked, because I could not live without him.Shame and pride and love were all clamouring in me at once, and Ifellon the bed almost in convulsions, I was so afraid of arefusal.
"He sat for some minutes in silence, then got up, came up to meand took me by the hand.
"'Listen, my dear good Nastenka, listen; I swear to you that ifI am ever in a position to marry, you shall make my happiness. Iassure you that now you are the only one who could make me happy.Listen, I am going to Moscow and shall be there just a year; I hopeto establish my position. When I come back, if you still love me, Iswear that we will be happy.Now it is impossible, I am not able, Ihave not the right to promise anything. Well, I repeat, if it isnot within a year it will certainly be some time; that is, ofcourse, if you do not prefer any one else, for I cannot and darenot bind you by any sortof promise.'
"That was what he said to me, and next day he went away. Weagreed together not to say a word to grandmother: that was hiswish. Well, my history is nearly finished now. Just a year haspast. He has arrived; he has been here three days, and,and
"And what?" I cried, impatient to hear the end.
"And up to now has not shown himself!" answered Nastenka, asthough screwing up all her courage. "There's no sign or sound ofhim."
Here she stopped, paused for a minute, bent her head, andcovering her face with her hands broke into such sobs that it senta pang to my heart to hear them. I had not in the least expectedsuch adénouement.
"Nastenka," I began timidly in an ingratiating voice, "Nastenka!For goodness' sake don't cry! How do you know? Perhapshe is nothere yet...."
"He is, he is," Nastenka repeated. "He is here, and I know it.Wemade an agreementat the time, that evening, before he went away:when we said all that I have told you, and had come to anunderstanding, then we came out here fora walk on this embankment.It was ten o'clock; we sat on this seat. I was not crying then; itwas sweet to me to hear what he said.... And he said that he wouldcome to us directly he arrived, and if I did not refuse him, thenwe would tell grandmother about it all. Now he is here, I know it,and yet he does not come!"