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- A House of Gentlefolk - 20/35 -


Lavretsky on his side looked seriously at Lisa.

"Well, and what answer have you given him?" he managed to say at last.

"I don't know what answer to give," replied Lisa, letting her clasped hands fall.

"How is that? Do you love him, then?"

"Yes, I like him; he seems a nice man."

"You said the very same thing, and in the very same words, three days ago. I want to know do you love him with that intense passionate feeling which we usually call love?"

"As you understand it--no."

"You're not in love with him?"

"No. But is that necessary?"

"What do you mean?"

"Mamma likes him," continued Lisa, "he is kind; I have nothing against him."

"You hesitate, however."

"Yes--and perhaps--you, your words are the cause of it. Do you remember what you said three days ago? But that is weakness."

"O my child!" cried Lavretsky suddenly, and his voice was shaking, "don't cheat yourself with sophistries, don't call weakness the cry of your heart, which is not ready to give itself without love. Do not take on yourself such a fearful responsibility to this man, whom you don't love, though you are ready to belong to him."

"I'm obeying, I take nothing on myself," Lisa was murmuring.

"Obey your heart; only that will tell you the truth," Lavretsky interrupted her. "Experience, prudence, all that is dust and ashes! Do not deprive yourself of the best, of the sole happiness on earth."

"Do you say that, Fedor Ivanitch? You yourself married for love, and were you happy?"

Lavretsky threw up his arms.

"Ah, don't talk about me! You can't even understand all that a young, inexperienced, badly brought-up boy may mistake for love! Indeed though, after all, why should I be unfair to myself? I told you just now that I had not had happiness. No! I was not happy!"

"It seems to me, Fedor Ivanitch," Lisa murmured in a low voice--when she did not agree with the person whom she was talking, she always dropped her voice; and now too she was deeply moved--"happiness on earth does not depend on ourselves."

"On ourselves, ourselves, believe me" (he seized both her hands; Lisa grew pale and almost with terror but still steadfastly looked at him): "if only we do not ruin our lives. For some people marriage for love may be unhappiness; but not for you, with your calm temperament, and your clear soul; I beseech you, do not marry without love, from a sense of duty, self-sacrifice, or anything . . . . That is infidelity, that is mercenary, and worse still. Believe me,--I have the right to say so; I have paid dearly for the right. And if your God--."

At that instant Lavretsky noticed that Lenotchka and Shurotchka were standing near Lisa, and staring in dumb amazement at him. He dropped Lisa's hands, saying hurriedly, "I beg your pardon," and turned away towards the house.

"One thing only I beg of you," he added, returning again to Lisa; "don't decide at once, wait a little, think of what I have said to you. Even if you don't believe me, even if you did decide on a marriage of prudence--even in that case you mustn't marry Panshin. He can't be your husband. You will promise me not to be in a hurry, won't you?"

Lisa tried to answer Lavretsky, but she did not utter a word--not because she was resolved to "be in a hurry," but because her heart was beating too violently and a feeling, akin to terror, stopped her breath.

Chapter XXX

As he was coming away from the Kalitins, Lavretsky met Panshin; they bowed coldly to one another. Lavretsky went to his lodgings, and locked himself in. He was experiencing emotions such as he had hardly ever experienced before. How long ago was it since he had thought himself in a state of peaceful petrifaction? How long was it since he had felt as he had expressed himself at the very bottom of the river? What had changed his position? What had brought him out of his solitude? The most ordinary, inevitable, though always unexpected event, death? Yes; but he was not thinking so much of his wife's death and his own freedom, as of this question--what answer would Lisa give Panshin? He felt that in the course of the last three days, he had come to look at her with different eyes; he remembered how after returning home when he thought of her in the silence of the night, he had said to himself, "if only!" . . . That "if only"--in which he had referred to the past, to the impossible had come to pass, though not as he had imagined it,--but his freedom alone was little. "She will obey her mother," he thought, "she will marry Panshin; but even if she refuses him, won't it be just the same as far as I am concerned?" Going up to the looking-glass he minutely scrutinised his own face and shrugged his shoulders.

The day passed quickly by in these meditations; and evening came. Lavretsky went to the Kalitins'. He walked quickly, but his pace slackened as he drew near the house. Before the steps was standing Panshin's light carriage. "Come," though Lavretsky, "I will not be an egoist"--and he went into the house. He met with no one within-doors, and there was no sound in the drawing-room; he opened the door and saw Marya Dmitrievna playing picquet with Panshin. Panshin bowed to him without speaking, but the lady of the house cried, "Well, this is unexpected!" and slightly frowned. Lavretsky sat down near her, and began to look at her cards.

"Do you know how to play picquet?" she asked him with a kind of hidden vexation, and then declared that she had thrown away a wrong card.

Panshin counted ninety, and began calmly and urbanely taking tricks with a severe and dignified expression of face. So it befits diplomatists to play; this was no doubt how he played in Petersburg with some influential dignitary, whom he wished to impress with a favourable opinion of his solidity and maturity. "A hundred and one, a hundred and two, hearts, a hundred and three," sounded his voice in measured tones, and Lavretsky could not decide whether it had a ring of reproach or of self-satisfaction.

"Can I see Marfa Timofyevna?" he inquired, observing that Panshin was setting to work to shuffle the cards with still more dignity. There was not a trace of the artist to be detected in him now.

"I think you can. She is at home, up-stairs," replied Marya Dmitrievna; "inquire for her."

Lavretsky went up-stairs. He found Marfa Timofyevna also at cards; she was playing old maid with Nastasya Karpovna. Roska barked at him; but both the old ladies welcomed him cordially. Marfa Timofyevna especially seemed in excellent spirits.

"Ah! Fedya!" she began, "pray sit down, my dear. We are just finishing our game. Would you like some preserve? Shurotchka, bring him a pot of strawberry. You don't want any? Well, sit there; only you mustn't smoke; I can't bear your tobacco, and it makes Matross sneeze."

Lavretsky made haste to assure her that he had not the least desire to smoke.

"Have you been down-stairs?" the old lady continued. "Whom did you see there? Is Panshin still on view? Did you see Lisa? No? She was meaning to come up here. And here she is: speak of angels--"

Lisa came into the room, and she flushed when she saw Lavretsky.

"I came in for a minute, Marfa Timofyevna," she was beginning.

"Why for a minute?" interposed the old lady. "Why are you always in such a hurry, you young people? You see I have a visitor; talk to him a little, and entertain him."

Lisa sat down on the edge of a chair; she raised her eyes to Lavretsky--and felt that it was impossible not to let him know how her interview with Panshin had ended. But how was she to do it? She felt both awkward and ashamed. She had not long known him, this man who rarely went to church, and took his wife's death so calmly--and here was she, confiding al her secrets to him. . . . It was true he took an interest in her; she herself trusted him and felt drawn to him; but all the same, she was ashamed, as though a stranger had been into her pure, maiden bower.

Marfa Timofyevna came to her assistance.

"Well, if you won't entertain him," said Marfa Timofyevna, "who will, poor fellow? I am too old for him, he is too clever for me, and for Nastasya Karpovna he's too old, it's only the quite young men she will look at."

"How can I entertain Fedor Ivanitch?" said Lisa. "If he likes, had I not better play him something on the piano?" she added irresolutely.

"Capital; you're my clever girl," rejoined Marfa Timofyevna. "Step down-stairs, my dears; when you have finished, come back: I have been made old maid, I don't like it, I want to have my revenge."

Lisa got up. Lavretsky went after her. As she went down the staircase, Lisa stopped.

"They say truly," she began, "that people's hearts are full of contradictions. Your example ought to frighten me, to make me distrust marriage for love; but I--"

"You have refused him?" interrupted Lavretsky.

"No; but I have not consented either. I told him everything, everything I felt, and asked him to wait a little. Are you pleased with me?" she added with a swift smile--and with a light touch of her hand on the banister she ran down the stairs.


A House of Gentlefolk - 20/35

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