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- On the Eve - 10/36 -
cornet brought out in gasps.
Shubin went up to him. 'And what have I done, then, most venerable Uvar Ivanovitch?'
'How! you are young, be respectful. Yes indeed.'
'Respectful to whom?'
'To whom? You know whom. Ay, grin away.'
Shubin crossed his arms on his breast.
'Ah, you type of the choice element in drama,' he exclaimed, 'you primeval force of the black earth, cornerstone of the social fabric!'
Uvar Ivanovitch's fingers began to work. 'There, there, my boy, don't provoke me.'
'Here,' pursued Shubin, 'is a gentleman, not young to judge by appearances, but what blissful, child-like faith is still hidden in him! Respect! And do you know, you primitive creature, what Nikolai Artemyevitch was in a rage with me for? Why I spent the whole of this morning with him at his German woman's; we were singing the three of us--"Do not leave me." You should have heard us--that would have moved you. We sang and sang, my dear sir--and well, I got bored; I could see something was wrong, there was an alarming tenderness in the air. And I began to tease them both. I was very successful. First she was angry with me, then with him; and then he got angry with her, and told her that he was never happy except at home, and he had a paradise there; and she told him he had no morals; and I murmured "Ach!" to her in German. He walked off and I stayed behind; he came here, to his paradise that's to say, and he was soon sick of paradise, so he set to grumbling. Well now, who do you consider was to blame?'
'You, of course,' replied Uvar Ivanovitch.
Shubin stared at him. 'May I venture to ask you, most reverend knight-errant,' he began in an obsequious voice, 'these enigmatical words you have deigned to utter as the result of some exercise of your reflecting faculties, or under the influence of a momentary necessity to start the vibration in the air known as sound?'
'Don't tempt me, I tell you,' groaned Uvar Ivanovitch.
Shubin laughed and ran away. 'Hi,' shouted Uvar Ivanovitch a quarter of an hour later, 'you there ... a glass of spirits.'
A little page brought the glass of spirits and some salt fish on a tray. Uvar Ivanovitch slowly took the glass from the tray and gazed a long while with intense attention at it, as though he could not quite understand what it was he had in his hand. Then he looked at the page and asked him, 'Wasn't his name Vaska?' Then he assumed an air of resignation, drank off the spirit, munched the herring and was slowly proceeding to get his handkerchief out of his pocket. But the page had long ago carried off and put away the tray and the decanter, eaten up the remains of the herring and had time to go off to sleep, curled up in a great-coat of his master's, while Uvar Ivanovitch still continued to hold the handkerchief before him in his opened fingers, and with the same intense attention gazed now at the window, now at the floor and walls.
Shubin went back to his room in the lodge and was just opening a book, when Nikolai Artemyevitch's valet came cautiously into his room and handed him a small triangular note, sealed with a thick heraldic crest. 'I hope,' he found in the note, 'that you as a man of honour will not allow yourself to hint by so much as a single word at a certain promissory note which was talked of this morning. You are acquainted with my position and my rules, the insignificance of the sum in itself and the other circumstances; there are, in fine, family secrets which must be respected, and family tranquillity is something so sacred that only _etres sans cour_ (among whom I have no reason to reckon you) would repudiate it! Give this note back to me.--N. S.'
Shubin scribbled below in pencil: 'Don't excite yourself, I'm not quite a sneak yet,' and gave the note back to the man, and again began upon the book. But it soon slipped out of his hands. He looked at the reddening-sky, at the two mighty young pines standing apart from the other trees, thought 'by day pines are bluish, but how magnificently green they are in the evening,' and went out into the garden, in the secret hope of meeting Elena there. He was not mistaken. Before him on a path between the bushes he caught a glimpse of her dress. He went after her, and when he was abreast with her, remarked:
'Don't look in my direction, I'm not worth it.'
She gave him a cursory glance, smiled cursorily, and walked on further into the depths of the garden. Shubin went after her.
'I beg you not to look at me,' he began, 'and then I address you; flagrant contradiction. But what of that? it's not the first time I've contradicted myself. I have just recollected that I have never begged your pardon as I ought for my stupid behaviour yesterday. You are not angry with me, Elena Nikolaevna, are you?'
She stood still and did not answer him at once--not because she was angry, but because her thoughts were far away.
'No,' she said at last, 'I am not in the least angry.' Shubin bit his lip.
'What an absorbed . . . and what an indifferent face!' he muttered. 'Elena Nikolaevna,' he continued, raising his voice, 'allow me to tell you a little anecdote. I had a friend, and this friend also had a friend, who at first conducted himself as befits a gentleman but afterwards took to drink. So one day early in the morning, my friend meets him in the street (and by that time, note, the acquaintance has been completely dropped) meets him and sees he is drunk. My friend went and turned his back on him. But he ran up and said, "I would not be angry," says he, "if you refused to recognise me, but why should you turn your back on me? Perhaps I have been brought to this through grief. Peace to my ashes!"'
'And is that all?' inquired Elena.
'Yes that's all.'
'I don't understand you. What are you hinting at? You told me just now not to look your way.'
'Yes, and now I have told you that it's too bad to turn your back on me.'
'But did I?' began Elena.
'Did you not?'
Elena flushed slightly and held out her hand to Shubin. He pressed it warmly.
'Here you seem to have convicted me of a bad feeling,' said Elena, 'but your suspicion is unjust. I was not even thinking of Avoiding you.'
'Granted, granted. But you must acknowledge that at that minute you had a thousand ideas in your head of which you would not confide one to me. Eh? I've spoken the truth, I'm quite sure?'
'And why is it? why?'
'My ideas are not clear to myself,' said Elena.
'Then it's just the time for confiding them to some one else,' put in Shubin. 'But I will tell you what it really is. You have a bad opinion of me.'
'Yes you; you imagine that everything in me is half-humbug because I am an artist, that I am incapable not only of doing anything--in that you are very likely right--but even of any genuine deep feeling; you think that I am not capable even of weeping sincerely, that I'm a gossip and a slanderer,--and all because I'm an artist. What luckless, God-forsaken wretches we artists are after that! You, for instance, I am ready to adore, and you don't believe in my repentance.'
'No, Pavel Yakovlitch, I believe in your repentance and I believe in your tears. But it seems to me that even your repentance amuses you--yes and your tears too.'
'Well, I see this is, as the doctors say, a hopeless case, _casus incurabilis_. There is nothing left but to bow the head and submit. And meanwhile, good Heavens, can it be true, can I possibly be absorbed in my own egoism when there is a soul like this living at my side? And to know that one will never penetrate into that soul, never will know why it grieves and why it rejoices, what is working within it, what it desires--whither it is going . . . Tell me,' he said after a short silence, 'could you never under any circumstances love an artist?'
Elena looked straight into his eyes.
'I don't think so, Pavel Yakovlitch; no.'
'Which was to be proved,' said Shubin with comical dejection. 'After which I suppose it would be more seemly for me not to intrude on your solitary walk. A professor would ask you on what data you founded your answer no. I'm not a professor though, but a baby according to your ideas; but one does not turn one's back on a baby, remember. Good-bye! Peace to my ashes!'
Elena was on the point of stopping him, but after a moment's thought she too said:
Shubin went out of the courtyard. At a short distance from the Stahov's house he was met by Bersenyev. He was walking with hurried steps, his head bent and his hat pushed back on his neck.
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