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- On the Eve - 30/36 -
'Papa,' said Elena, 'I know what you are going to say------'
'No, you don't know what I am going to say!' cried Nikolai Artemyevitch in a falsetto shriek, suddenly losing the majesty of his oratorical pose, the smooth dignity of his speech, and his bass notes. 'You don't know, vile hussy!'
'For mercy's sake, _Nicolas_,' murmured Anna Vassilyevna, '_vous me faites mourir_?'
'Don't tell me _que je vous fais mourir_, Anna Vassilyevna! You can't conceive what you will hear directly! Prepare yourself for the worst, I warn you!'
Anna Vassilyevna seemed stupefied.
'No,' resumed Nikolai Artemyevitch, turning to Elena, 'you don't know what I am going to say!'
'I am to blame towards you----' she began.
'Ah, at last!'
'I am to blame towards you,' pursued Elena, 'for not having long ago confessed----'
'But do you know,' Nikolai Artemyevitch interrupted, 'that I can crush you with one word?'
Elena raised her eyes to look at him.
'Yes, madam, with one word! It's useless to look at me!' (He crossed his arms on his breast.) 'Allow me to ask you, do you know a certain house near Povarsky? Have you visited that house?' (He stamped.) 'Answer me, worthless girl, and don't try to hide the truth. People, people, servants, _madam, de vils laquais_ have seen you, as you went in there, to your----'
Elena was crimson, her eyes were blazing.
'I have no need to hide anything,' she declared. 'Yes, I have visited that house.'
'Exactly! Do you hear, do you hear, Anna Vassilyevna? And you know, I presume, who lives there?'
'Yes, I know; my husband.'
Nikolai Artemyevitch's eyes were starting out of his head.
'My husband,' repeated Elena; 'I am married to Dmitri Nikanorovitch Insarov.'
'You?--married?'--was all Anna Vassilyevna could articulate.
'Yes, mamma. . . . Forgive me. A fortnight ago, we were secretly married.'
Anna Vassilyevna fell back in her chair; Nikolai Artemyevitch stepped two paces back.
'Married! To that vagrant, that Montenegrin! the daughter of Nikolai Stahov of the higher nobility married to a vagrant, a nobody, without her parents' sanction! And you imagine I shall let the matter rest, that I shall not make a complaint, that I will allow you--that you--that----To the nunnery with you, and he shall go to prison, to hard labour! Anna Vassilyevna, inform her at once that you will cut off her inheritance!'
'Nikolai Artemyevitch, for God's sake,' moaned Anna Vassilyevna.
'And when and how was this done? Who married you? where? how? Good God! what will all our friends think, what will the world say! And you, shameless hypocrite, could go on living under your parents' roof after such an act! Had you no fear of--the wrath of heaven?'
'Papa' said Elena (she was trembling from head to foot but her voice was steady), 'you are at liberty to do with me as you please, but you need not accuse me of shamelessness, and hypocrisy. I did not want--to give you pain before, but I should have had to tell you all myself in a few days, because we are going away--my husband and I--from here next week.'
'Going away? Where to?'
'To his own country, to Bulgaria.'
'To the Turks!' cried Anna Vassilyevna and fell into a swoon.
Elena ran to her mother.
'Away!' clamoured Nikolai Artemyevitch, seizing his daughter by the arm, 'away, unworthy girl!'
But at that instant the door of the room opened, and a pale face with glittering eyes appeared: it was the face of Shubin.
'Nikolai Artemyevitch!' he shouted at the top of his voice, 'Augustina Christianovna is here and is asking for you!'
Nikolai Artemyevitch turned round infuriated, threatening Shubin with his fist; he stood still a minute and rapidly went out of the room.
Elena fell at her mother's feet and embraced her knees.
Uvar Ivanovitch was lying on his bed. A shirt without a collar, fastened with a heavy stud enfolded his thick neck and fell in full flowing folds over the almost feminine contours of his chest, leaving visible a large cypress-wood cross and an amulet. His ample limbs were covered with the lightest bedclothes. On the little table by the bedside a candle was burning dimly beside a jug of kvas, and on the bed at Uvar ivanovitch's feet was sitting Shubin in a dejected pose.
'Yes,' he was saying meditatively, 'she is married and getting ready to go away. Your nephew was bawling and shouting for the benefit of the whole house; he had shut himself up for greater privacy in his wife's bedroom, but not merely the maids and the footmen, the coachman even could hear it all! Now he's just tearing and raving round; he all but gave me a thrashing, he's bringing a father's curse on the scene now, as cross as a bear with a sore head; but that's of no importance. Anna Vassilyevna's crushed, but she's much more brokenhearted at her daughter leaving her than at her marriage.'
Uvar Ivanovitch flourished his fingers.
'A mother,' he commented, 'to be sure.'
'Your nephew,' resumed Shubin, 'threatens to lodge a complaint with the Metropolitan and the General-Governor and the Minister, but it will end by her going. A happy thought to ruin his own daughter! He'll crow a little and then lower his colours.'
'They'd no right,' observed Uvar Ivanovitch, and he drank out of the jug.
'To be sure. But what a storm of criticism, gossip, and comments will be raised in Moscow! She's not afraid of them. . . . Besides she's above them. She's going away . . . and it's awful to think where she's going--to such a distance, such a wilderness! What future awaits her there? I seem to see her setting off from a posting station in a snow-storm with thirty degrees of frost. She's leaving her country, and her people; but I understand her doing it. Whom is she leaving here behind her? What people has she seen? Kurnatovsky and Bersenyev and our humble selves; and these are the best she's seen. What is there to regret about it? One thing's bad; I'm told her husband--the devil, how that word sticks in my throat!--Insarov, I'm told, is spitting blood; that's a bad lookout. I saw him the other day: his face--you could model Brutus from it straight off. Do you know who Brutus was, Uvar Ivanovitch?'
'What is there to know? a man to be sure.'
'Precisely so: he was a "man." Yes he's a wonderful face, but unhealthy, very unhealthy.'
'For fighting ... it makes no difference,' observed Uvar Ivanovitch.
'For fighting it makes no difference, certainly; you are pleased to express yourself with great justice to-day; but for living it makes all the difference. And you see she wants to live with him a little while.'
'A youthful affair,' responded Uvar Ivanovitch.
'Yes, a youthful, glorious, bold affair. Death, life, conflict, defeat, triumph, love, freedom, country. . . . Good God, grant as much to all of us! That's a very different thing from sitting up to one's neck in a bog, and pretending it's all the same to you, when in fact it really is all the same. While there--the strings are tuned to the highest pitch, to play to all the world or to break!'
Shubin's head sank on to his breast.
'Yes,' he resumed, after a prolonged silence, 'Insarov deserves her. What nonsense, though! No one deserves her. . . Insarov . . . Insarov . . . What's the use of pretended modesty? We'll own he's a fine fellow, he stands on his own feet, though up to the present he has done no more than we poor sinners; and are we such absolutely worthless dirt? Am I such dirt, Uvar Ivanovitch? Has God been hard on me in every way? Has He given me no talents, no abilities? Who knows, perhaps, the name of Pavel Shubin will in time be a great name? You see that bronze farthing there lying on your table. Who knows; some day, perhaps in a century, that bronze will go to a statue of Pavel Shubin, raised in his honour by a grateful posterity!'
Uvar Ivanovitch leaned on his elbow and stared at the enthusiastic artist.
'That's a long way off,' he said at last with his usual gesture; 'we're speaking of other people, why bring in yourself?'
'O great philosopher of the Russian world!' cried Shubin, 'every word of yours is worth its weight in gold, and it's not to me but to you a statue ought to be raised, and I would undertake it. There, as you are lying now, in that pose; one doesn't know which is uppermost in it, sloth or strength! That's how I would cast you in bronze. You
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