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- On the Eve - 20/36 -


trouble too. Yes. And I'll tell you something, for your goodness to me; you've won a good man, not a light of love, you cling to him alone; cling to him stronger than death. If it comes off, it comes off,--if not, it's in God's hands. Yes. Why are you wondering at me? I'm a fortune-teller. There, I'll carry away your sorrow with your handkerchief. I'll carry it away, and it's over. See the rain's less; you wait a little longer. It's not the first time I've been wet. Remember, darling; you had a sorrow, the sorrow has flown, and there's no memory of it. Good Lord, have mercy on us!'

The beggar-woman got up from the edge of the well, went out of the chapel, and stole off on her way. Elena stared after her in bewilderment. 'What does this mean?' she murmured involuntarily.

The rain grew less and less, the sun peeped out for an instant. Elena was just preparing to leave her shelter. . . . Suddenly, ten paces from the chapel, she saw Insarov. Wrapt in a cloak he was walking along the very road by which Elena had come; he seemed to be hurrying home.

She clasped the old rail of the steps for support, and tried to call to him, but her voice failed her. . . Insarov had already passed by without raising his head.

'Dmitri Nikanorovitch!' she said at last.

Insarov stopped abruptly, looked round. . . . For the first minute he did not know Elena, but he went up to her at once. 'You! you here!' he cried.

She walked back in silence into the chapel. Insarov followed Elena. 'You here?' he repeated.

She was still silent, and only gazed upon him with a strange, slow, tender look. He dropped his eyes.

'You have come from our house?' she asked.

'No ... not from your house.'

'No?' repeated Elena, and she tried to smile. 'Is that how you keep your promises? I have been expecting you ever since the morning.'

'I made no promise yesterday, if you remember, Elena Nikolaevna.'

Again Elena faintly smiled, and she passed her hand over her face. Both face and hands were very white.

'You meant, then, to go away without saying good-bye to us?'

'Yes,' replied Insarov in a surly, thick voice.

'What? After our friendship, after the talks, after everything. . . . Then if I had not met you here by chance.' (Elena's voice began to break, and she paused an instant) . . . 'you would have gone away like that, without even shaking hands for the last time, and you would not have cared?'

Insarov turned away. 'Elena Nikolaevnas don't talk like that, please. I'm not over happy as it is. Believe me, my decision has cost me great effort. If you knew----'

'I don't want to know,' Elena interposed with dismay, 'why you are going. ... It seems it's necessary. It seems we must part. You would not wound your friends without good reason. But, can friends part like this? And we are friends, aren't we?'

'No,' said Insarov.

'What?' murmured Elena. Her cheeks were overspread with a faint flush.

'That's just why I am going away--because we are not friends. Don't force me into saying what I don't want to say, and what I won't say.'

'You used to be so open with me,' said Elena rather reproachfully. 'Do you remember?'

'I used to be able to be open, then I had nothing to conceal; but now----'

'But now?' queried Elena.

'But now . . . now I must go away. Goodbye.'

If, at that instant, Insarov had lifted his eyes to Elena, he would have seen that her face grew brighter and brighter as he frowned and looked gloomy; but he kept his eyes obstinately fixed on the ground.

'Well, good-bye, Dmitri Nikanorovitch,' she began. 'But at least, since we have met, give me your hand now.'

Insarov was stretching out his hand. 'No, I can't even do that,' he said, and turned away again.

'You can't?'

'No, I can't. Good-bye.' And he moved away to the entrance of the chapel.

'Wait a little longer,' said Elena. 'You seem afraid of me. But I am braver than you,' she added, a faint tremor passing suddenly over her whole body. 'I can tell you . . . shall I? ... how it was you found me here? Do you know where I was going?'

Insarov looked in bewilderment at Elena,

'I was going to you.'

'To me?'

Elena hid her face. 'You mean to force me to say that I love you,' she whispered. 'There, I have said it.'

'Elena!' cried Insarov.

She took his hands, looked at him, and fell on his breast.

He held her close to him, and said nothing. There was no need for him to tell her he loved her. From that cry alone, from the instant transformation of the whole man, from the heaving of the breast to which she clung so confidingly, from the touch of his finger tips in her hair, Elena could feel that she was loved. He did not speak, and she needed no words. 'He is here, he loves me . . . what need of more?' The peace of perfect bliss, the peace of the harbour reached after storm, of the end attained, that heavenly peace which gives significance and beauty even to death, filled her with its divine flood. She desired nothing, for she had gained all. 'O my brother, my friend, my dear one!' her lips were whispering, while she did not know whose was this heart, his or her own, which beat so blissfully, and melted against her bosom.

He stood motionless, folding in his strong embrace the young life surrendered to him; he felt against his heart this new, infinitely precious burden; a passion of tenderness, of gratitude unutterable, was crumbling his hard will to dust, and tears unknown till now stood in his eyes.

She did not weep; she could only repeat, 'O my friend, my brother!'

'So you will follow me everywhere?' he said to her, a quarter of an hour later, still enfolding her and keeping her close to him in his arms.

'Everywhere, to the ends of the earth. Where you are, I will be.'

'And you are not deceiving yourself, you know your parents will never consent to our marriage?'

'I don't deceive myself; I know that.'

'You know that I'm poor--almost a beggar.'

'I know.'

'That I'm not a Russian, that it won't be my fate to live in Russia, that you will have to break all your ties with your country, with your people.'

'I know, I know.'

'Do you know, too, that I have given myself up to a difficult, thankless cause, that I ... that we shall have to expose ourselves not to dangers only, but to privation, humiliation, perhaps----'

'I know, I know all--I love you----'

'That you will have to give up all you are accustomed to, that out there alone among strangers, you will be forced perhaps to work----'

She laid her hand on his lips. 'I love you, my dear one.'

He began hotly kissing her slender, rosy hand. Elena did not draw it away from his lips, and with a kind of childish delight, with smiling curiosity, watched how he covered with kisses, first the palm, then the fingers. . . .

All at once she blushed and hid her face upon his breast.

He lifted her head tenderly and looked steadily into her eyes. 'Welcome, then, my wife, before God and men!'

XIX

An hour later, Elena, with her hat in one hand, her cape in the other, walked slowly into the drawing-room of the villa. Her hair was in slight disorder; on each cheek was to be seen a small bright spot of colour, the smile would not leave her lips, her eyes were nearly shutting and half hidden under the lids; they, too, were smiling. She could scarcely move for weariness, and this weariness was pleasant to her; everything, indeed, was pleasant to her. Everything seemed sweet and friendly to her. Uvar Ivanovitch was sitting at the window; she went up to him, laid her hand on his shoulder, stretched a little, and involuntarily, as it seemed, she laughed.

'What is it?' he inquired, astonished.


On the Eve - 20/36

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