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Chapter 4


In his incertitude of the ground on which he stood Razumov felt
perturbed. Turning his head quickly, he saw two men on the opposite side
of the road. Seeing themselves noticed by Sophia Antonovna, they crossed
over at once, and passed one after another through the little gate
by the side of the empty lodge. They looked hard at the stranger, but
without mistrust, the crimson blouse being a flaring safety signal. The
first, great white hairless face, double chin, prominent stomach, which
he seemed to carry forward consciously within a strongly distended
overcoat, only nodded and averted his eyes peevishly; his
companion--lean, flushed cheekbones, a military red moustache below a
sharp, salient nose--approached at once Sophia Antonovna, greeting her
warmly. His voice was very strong but inarticulate. It sounded like a
deep buzzing. The woman revolutionist was quietly cordial.

"This is Razumov," she announced in a clear voice.

The lean new-comer made an eager half-turn. "He will want to embrace
me," thought our young man with a deep recoil of all his being, while
his limbs seemed too heavy to move. But it was a groundless alarm. He
had to do now with a generation of conspirators who did not kiss each
other on both cheeks; and raising an arm that felt like lead he dropped
his hand into a largely-outstretched palm, fleshless and hot as if
dried up by fever, giving a bony pressure, expressive, seeming to say,
"Between us there's no need of words." The man had big, wide-open eyes.
Razumov fancied he could see a smile behind their sadness.

"This is Razumov," Sophia Antonovna repeated loudly for the benefit of
the fat man, who at some distance displayed the profile of his stomach.

No one moved. Everything, sounds, attitudes, movements, and immobility
seemed to be part of an experiment, the result of which was a thin voice
piping with comic peevishness--

"Oh yes! Razumov. We have been hearing of nothing but Mr. Razumov for
months. For my part, I confess I would rather have seen Haldin on this
spot instead of Mr. Razumov."

The squeaky stress put on the name "Razumov--Mr. Razumov" pierced the
ear ridiculously, like the falsetto of a circus clown beginning an
elaborate joke. Astonishment was Razumov's first response, followed by
sudden indignation.

"What's the meaning of this?" he asked in a stern tone.

"Tut! Silliness. He's always like that." Sophia Antonovna was obviously
vexed. But she dropped the information, "Necator," from her lips just
loud enough to be heard by Razumov. The abrupt squeaks of the fat man
seemed to proceed from that thing like a balloon he carried under his
overcoat. The stolidity of his attitude, the big feet, the lifeless,
hanging hands, the enormous bloodless cheek, the thin wisps of hair
straggling down the fat nape of the neck, fascinated Razumov into a
stare on the verge of horror and laughter.

Nikita, surnamed Necator, with a sinister aptness of alliteration!
Razumov had heard of him. He had heard so much since crossing the
frontier of these celebrities of the militant revolution; the legends,
the stories, the authentic chronicle, which now and then peeps out
before a half-incredulous world. Razumov had heard of him. He was
supposed to have killed more, gendarmes and police agents than any
revolutionist living. He had been entrusted with executions.

The paper with the letters N.N., the very pseudonym of murder,
found pinned on the stabbed breast of a certain notorious spy (this
picturesque detail of a sensational murder case had got into
the newspapers), was the mark of his handiwork. "By order of the
Committee.--N.N." A corner of the curtain lifted to strike the
imagination of the gaping world. He was said to have been innumerable
times in and out of Russia, the Necator of bureaucrats, of provincial
governors, of obscure informers. He lived between whiles, Razumov had
heard, on the shores of the Lake of Como, with a charming wife, devoted
to the cause, and two young children. But how could that creature, so
grotesque as to set town dogs barking at its mere sight, go about on
those deadly errands and slip through the meshes of the police?

"What now? what now?" the voice squeaked. "I am only sincere. It's not
denied that the other was the leading spirit. Well, it would have been
better if he had been the one spared to us. More useful. I am not a
sentimentalist. Say what I think...only natural."

Squeak, squeak, squeak, without a gesture, without a stir--the horrible
squeaky burlesque of professional jealousy--this man of a sinister
alliterative nickname, this executioner of revolutionary verdicts, the
terrifying N.N. exasperated like a fashionable tenor by the attention
attracted to the performance of an obscure amateur. Sophia Antonovna
shrugged her shoulders. The comrade with the martial red moustache
hurried towards Razumov full of conciliatory intentions in his strong
buzzing voice.

"Devil take it! And in this place, too, in the public street, so to
speak. But you can see yourself how it is. One of his fantastic sallies.
Absolutely of no consequence."

"Pray don't concern yourself," cried Razumov, going off into a long fit
of laughter. "Don't mention it."

The other, his hectic flush like a pair of burns on his cheek-bones,
stared for a moment and burst out laughing too. Razumov, whose hilarity
died out all at once, made a step forward.

"Enough of this," he began in a clear, incisive voice, though he could
hardly control the trembling of his legs. "I will have no more of it. I
shall not permit anyone.... I can see very well what you are at with
those allusions.... Inquire, investigate! I defy you, but I will not
be played with."

He had spoken such words before. He had been driven to cry them out in
the face of other suspicions. It was an infernal cycle bringing round
that protest like a fatal necessity of his existence. But it was no use.
He would be always played with. Luckily life does not last for ever.

"I won't have it!" he shouted, striking his fist into the palm of his
other hand.

"Kirylo Sidorovitch--what has come to you?" The woman revolutionist
interfered with authority. They were all looking at Razumov now; the
slayer of spies and gendarmes had turned about, presenting his enormous
stomach in full, like a shield.

"Don't shout. There are people passing." Sophia Antonovna was
apprehensive of another outburst. A steam-launch from Monrepos had
come to the landing-stage opposite the gate, its hoarse whistle and
the churning noise alongside all unnoticed, had landed a small bunch of
local passengers who were dispersing their several ways. Only a specimen
of early tourist in knickerbockers, conspicuous by a brand-new yellow
leather glass-case, hung about for a moment, scenting something unusual
about these four people within the rusty iron gates of what looked the
grounds run wild of an unoccupied private house. Ah! If he had only
known what the chance of commonplace travelling had suddenly put in his
way! But he was a well-bred person; he averted his gaze and moved off
with short steps along the avenue, on the watch for a tramcar.

A gesture from Sophia Antonovna, "Leave him to me," had sent the two men
away--the buzzing of the inarticulate voice growing fainter and fainter,
and the thin pipe of "What now? what's the matter?" reduced to the
proportions of a squeaking toy by the distance. They had left him to
her. So many things could be left safely to the experience of Sophia
Antonovna. And at once, her black eyes turned to Razumov, her mind tried
to get at the heart of that outburst. It had some meaning. No one is
born an active revolutionist. The change comes disturbingly, with the
force of a sudden vocation, bringing in its train agonizing doubts,
assertive violences, an unstable state of the soul, till the final
appeasement of the convert in the perfect fierceness of conviction. She
had seen--often had only divined--scores of these young men and young
women going through an emotional crisis. This young man looked like a
moody egotist. And besides, it was a special--a unique case. She had
never met an individuality which interested and puzzled her so much.

"Take care, Razumov, my good friend. If you carry on like this you will
go mad. You are angry with everybody and bitter with yourself, and on
the look out for something to torment yourself with."

"It's intolerable!" Razumov could only speak in gasps. "You must admit
that I can have no illusions on the attitude which...it isn't clear...or
rather only too clear."

He made a gesture of despair. It was not his courage that failed him.
The choking fumes of falsehood had taken him by the throat--the thought
of being condemned to struggle on and on in that tainted atmosphere
without the hope of ever renewing his strength by a breath of fresh air.

"A glass of cold water is what you want." Sophia Antonovna glanced up
the grounds at the house and shook her head, then out of the gate at
the brimful placidity of the lake. With a half-comical shrug of the
shoulders, she gave the remedy up in the face of that abundance.

"It is you, my dear soul, who are flinging yourself at something which
does not exist. What is it? Self-reproach, or what? It's absurd. You
couldn't have gone and given yourself up because your comrade was
taken."

She remonstrated with him reasonably, at some length too. He had nothing
to complain of in his reception. Every new-comer was discussed more or
less. Everybody had to be thoroughly understood before being accepted.
No one that she could remember had been shown from the first so much
confidence. Soon, very soon, perhaps sooner than he expected, he would
be given an opportunity of showing his devotion to the sacred task of
crushing the Infamy.

Razumov, listening quietly, thought: "It may be that she is trying to
lull my suspicions to sleep. On the other hand, it is obvious that most
of them are fools." He moved aside a couple of paces and, folding his
arms on his breast, leaned back against the stone pillar of the gate.

"As to what remains obscure in the fate of that poor Haldin," Sophia
Antonovna dropped into a slowness of utterance which was to Razumov like
the falling of molten lead drop by drop; "as to that--though no one ever
hinted that either from fear or neglect your conduct has not been what
it should have been--well, I have a bit of intelligence...."

Razumov could not prevent himself from raising his head, and Sophia
Antonovna nodded slightly.

"I have. You remember that letter from St. Petersburg I mentioned to you
a moment ago?"

"The letter? Perfectly. Some busybody has been reporting my conduct on
a certain day. It's rather sickening. I suppose our police are greatly
edified when they open these interesting and--and--superfluous letters."

"Oh dear no! The police do not get hold of our letters as easily as you
imagine. The letter in question did not leave St. Petersburg till the
ice broke up. It went by the first English steamer which left the Neva
this spring. They have a fireman on board--one of us, in fact. It has
reached me from Hull...."

She paused as if she were surprised at the sullen fixity of Razumov's
gaze, but went on at once, and much faster.

"We have some of our people there who...but never mind. The writer
of the letter relates an incident which he thinks may possibly be
connected with Haldin's arrest. I was just going to tell you when those
two men came along."

"That also was an incident," muttered Razumov, "of a very charming
kind--for me."

"Leave off that!" cried Sophia Antonovna. "Nobody cares for Nikita's
barking. There's no malice in him. Listen to what I have to say. You
may be able to throw a light. There was in St. Petersburg a sort of town
peasant--a man who owned horses. He came to town years ago to work for
some relation as a driver and ended by owning a cab or two."

She might well have spared herself the slight effort of the gesture:
"Wait!" Razumov did not mean to speak; he could not have interrupted
her now, not to save his life. The contraction of his facial muscles had
been involuntary, a mere surface stir, leaving him sullenly attentive as
before.

"He was not a quite ordinary man of his class--it seems," she went on.
"The people of the house--my informant talked with many of them--you
know, one of those enormous houses of shame and misery...."

Sophia Antonovna need not have enlarged on the character of the house.
Razumov saw clearly, towering at her back, a dark mass of masonry veiled
in snowflakes, with the long row of windows of the eating-shop shining
greasily very near the ground. The ghost of that night pursued him. He
stood up to it with rage and with weariness.

"Did the late Haldin ever by chance speak to you of that house?" Sophia
Antonovna was anxious to know.

"Yes." Razumov, making that answer, wondered whether he were falling
into a trap. It was so humiliating to lie to these people that he
probably could not have said no. "He mentioned to me once," he added, as
if making an effort of memory, "a house of that sort. He used to visit
some workmen there."

"Exactly."

Sophia Antonovna triumphed. Her correspondent had discovered that fact
quite accidentally from the talk of the people of the house, having
made friends with a workman who occupied a room there. They described
Haldin's appearance perfectly. He brought comforting words of hope into
their misery. He came irregularly, but he came very often, and--her
correspondent wrote--sometimes he spent a night in the house, sleeping,
they thought, in a stable which opened upon the inner yard.

"Note that, Razumov! In a stable."

Razumov had listened with a sort of ferocious but amused acquiescence.

"Yes. In the straw. It was probably the cleanest spot in the whole
house."

"No doubt," assented the woman with that deep frown which seemed to draw
closer together her black eyes in a sinister fashion. No four-footed
beast could stand the filth and wretchedness so many human beings were
condemned to suffer from in Russia. The point of this discovery was that
it proved Haldin to have been familiar with that horse-owning peasant--a
reckless, independent, free-living fellow not much liked by the other
inhabitants of the house. He was believed to have been the associate of
a band of housebreakers. Some of these got captured. Not while he was
driving them, however; but still there was a suspicion against the
fellow of having given a hint to the police and...

The woman revolutionist checked herself suddenly.

"And you? Have you ever heard your friend refer to a certain
Ziemianitch?"

Razumov was ready for the name. He had been looking out for the
question. "When it comes I shall own up," he had said to himself. But he
took his time.

"To be sure!" he began slowly. "Ziemianitch, a peasant owning a team of
horses. Yes. On one occasion. Ziemianitch! Certainly! Ziemianitch of the
horses.... How could it have slipped my memory like this? One of the
last conversations we had together."

"That means,"--Sophia Antonovna looked very grave,--"that means,
Razumov, it was very shortly before--eh?"

"Before what?" shouted Razumov, advancing at the woman, who looked
astonished but stood her ground. "Before.... Oh! Of course, it was
before! How could it have been after? Only a few hours before."

"And he spoke of him favourably?"

"With enthusiasm! The horses of Ziemianitch! The free soul of
Ziemianitch!"

Razumov took a savage delight in the loud utterance of that name, which
had never before crossed his lips audibly. He fixed his blazing eyes
on the woman till at last her fascinated expression recalled him to
himself.

"The late Haldin," he said, holding himself in, with downcast eyes,
"was inclined to take sudden fancies to people, on--on--what shall I
say--insufficient grounds."

"There!" Sophia Antonovna clapped her hands. "That, to my mind, settles
it. The suspicions of my correspondent were aroused...."

"Aha! Your correspondent," Razumov said in an almost openly mocking
tone. "What suspicions? How aroused? By this Ziemianitch? Probably some
drunken, gabbling, plausible..."

"You talk as if you had known him."

Razumov looked up.

"No. But I knew Haldin."

Sophia Antonovna nodded gravely.

"I see. Every word you say confirms to my mind the suspicion
communicated to me in that very interesting letter. This Ziemianitch was
found one morning hanging from a hook in the stable--dead."

Razumov felt a profound trouble. It was visible, because Sophia
Antonovna was moved to observe vivaciously--

"Aha! You begin to see."

He saw it clearly enough--in the light of a lantern casting spokes of
shadow in a cellar-like stable, the body in a sheepskin coat and long
boots hanging against the wall. A pointed hood, with the ends wound
about up to the eyes, hid the face. "But that does not concern me," he
reflected. "It does not affect my position at all. He never knew who had
thrashed him. He could not have known." Razumov felt sorry for the old
lover of the bottle and women.

"Yes. Some of them end like that," he muttered. "What is your idea,
Sophia Antonovna?"

It was really the idea of her correspondent, but Sophia Antonovna had
adopted it fully. She stated it in one word--"Remorse." Razumov opened
his eyes very wide at that. Sophia Antonovna's informant, by listening
to the talk of the house, by putting this and that together, had managed
to come very near to the truth of Haldin's relation to Ziemianitch.

"It is I who can tell you what you were not certain of--that your friend
had some plan for saving himself afterwards, for getting out of St.
Petersburg, at any rate. Perhaps that and no more, trusting to luck for
the rest. And that fellow's horses were part of the plan."

"They have actually got at the truth," Razumov marvelled to himself,
while he nodded judicially. "Yes, that's possible, very possible." But
the woman revolutionist was very positive that it was so. First of all,
a conversation about horses between Haldin and Ziemianitch had been
partly overheard. Then there were the suspicions of the people in the
house when their "young gentleman" (they did not know Haldin by
his name) ceased to call at the house. Some of them used to charge
Ziemianitch with knowing something of this absence. He denied it with
exasperation; but the fact was that ever since Haldin's disappearance he
was not himself, growing moody and thin. Finally, during a quarrel with
some woman (to whom he was making up), in which most of the inmates of
the house took part apparently, he was openly abused by his chief enemy,
an athletic pedlar, for an informer, and for having driven "our young
gentleman to Siberia, the same as you did those young fellows who broke
into houses." In consequence of this there was a fight, and Ziemianitch
got flung down a flight of stairs. Thereupon he drank and moped for a
week, and then hanged himself.

Sophia Antonovna drew her conclusions from the tale. She charged
Ziemianitch either with drunken indiscretion as to a driving job on a
certain date, overheard by some spy in some low grog-shop--perhaps in
the very eating-shop on the ground floor of the house--or, maybe, a
downright denunciation, followed by remorse. A man like that would be
capable of anything. People said he was a flighty old chap. And if he
had been once before mixed up with the police--as seemed certain, though
he always denied it--in connexion with these thieves, he would be sure
to be acquainted with some police underlings, always on the look out for
something to report. Possibly at first his tale was not made anything of
till the day that scoundrel de P--- got his deserts. Ah! But then every
bit and scrap of hint and information would be acted on, and fatally
they were bound to get Haldin.

Sophia Antonovna spread out her hands--"Fatally."

Fatality--chance! Razumov meditated in silent astonishment upon the
queer verisimilitude of these inferences. They were obviously to his
advantage.

"It is right now to make this conclusive evidence known generally."
Sophia Antonovna was very calm and deliberate again. She had received
the letter three days ago, but did not write at once to Peter
Ivanovitch. She knew then that she would have the opportunity presently
of meeting several men of action assembled for an important purpose.

"I thought it would be more effective if I could show the letter itself
at large. I have it in my pocket now. You understand how pleased I was
to come upon you."

Razumov was saying to himself, "She won't offer to show the letter to
me. Not likely. Has she told me everything that correspondent of hers
has found out?" He longed to see the letter, but he felt he must not
ask.

"Tell me, please, was this an investigation ordered, as it were?"

"No, no," she protested. "There you are again with your sensitiveness.
It makes you stupid. Don't you see, there was no starting-point for an
investigation even if any one had thought of it. A perfect blank! That's
exactly what some people were pointing out as the reason for receiving
you cautiously. It was all perfectly accidental, arising from my
informant striking an acquaintance with an intelligent skindresser
lodging in that particular slum-house. A wonderful coincidence!"

"A pious person," suggested Razumov, with a pale smile, "would say that
the hand of God has done it all."

"My poor father would have said that." Sophia Antonovna did not smile.
She dropped her eyes. "Not that his God ever helped him. It's a long
time since God has done anything for the people. Anyway, it's done."

"All this would be quite final," said Razumov, with every appearance of
reflective impartiality, "if there was any certitude that the 'our young
gentleman' of these people was Victor Haldin. Have we got that?"

"Yes. There's no mistake. My correspondent was as familiar with Haldin's
personal appearance as with your own," the woman affirmed decisively.

"It's the red-nosed fellow beyond a doubt," Razumov said to himself,
with reawakened uneasiness. Had his own visit to that accursed house
passed unnoticed? It was barely possible. Yet it was hardly probable.
It was just the right sort of food for the popular gossip that gaunt
busybody had been picking up. But the letter did not seem to contain any
allusion to that. Unless she had suppressed it. And, if so, why? If it
had really escaped the prying of that hunger-stricken democrat with a
confounded genius for recognizing people from description, it could
only be for a time. He would come upon it presently and hasten to write
another letter--and then!

For all the envenomed recklessness of his temper, fed on hate and
disdain, Razumov shuddered inwardly. It guarded him from common fear,
but it could not defend him from disgust at being dealt with in any way
by these people. It was a sort of superstitious dread. Now, since his
position had been made more secure by their own folly at the cost of
Ziemianitch, he felt the need of perfect safety, with its freedom
from direct lying, with its power of moving amongst them silent,
unquestioning, listening, impenetrable, like the very fate of their
crimes and their folly. Was this advantage his already? Or not yet? Or
never would be?

"Well, Sophia Antonovna," his air of reluctant concession was genuine
in so far that he was really loath to part with her without testing her
sincerity by a question it was impossible to bring about in any way;
"well, Sophia Antonovna, if that is so, then--"

"The creature has done justice to himself," the woman observed, as if
thinking aloud.

"What? Ah yes! Remorse," Razumov muttered, with equivocal contempt.

"Don't be harsh, Kirylo Sidorovitch, if you have lost a friend." There
was no hint of softness in her tone, only the black glitter of her eyes
seemed detached for an instant from vengeful visions. "He was a man of
the people. The simple Russian soul is never wholly impenitent. It's
something to know that."

"Consoling?" insinuated Razumov, in a tone of inquiry.

"Leave off railing," she checked him explosively. "Remember, Razumov,
that women, children, and revolutionists hate irony, which is the
negation of all saving instincts, of all faith, of all devotion, of all
action. Don't rail! Leave off.... I don't know how it is, but there
are moments when you are abhorrent to me...."

She averted her face. A languid silence, as if all the electricity of
the situation had been discharged in this flash of passion, lasted for
some time. Razumov had not flinched. Suddenly she laid the tips of her
fingers on his sleeve.

"Don't mind."

"I don't mind," he said very quietly.

He was proud to feel that she could read nothing on his face. He was
really mollified, relieved, if only for a moment, from an obscure
oppression. And suddenly he asked himself, "Why the devil did I go to
that house? It was an imbecile thing to do."

A profound disgust came over him. Sophia Antonovna lingered, talking
in a friendly manner with an evident conciliatory intention. And it was
still about the famous letter, referring to various minute details
given by her informant, who had never seen Ziemianitch. The "victim of
remorse" had been buried several weeks before her correspondent began
frequenting the house. It--the house--contained very good revolutionary
material. The spirit of the heroic Haldin had passed through these dens
of black wretchedness with a promise of universal redemption from all
the miseries that oppress mankind. Razumov listened without hearing,
gnawed by the newborn desire of safety with its independence from that
degrading method of direct lying which at times he found it almost
impossible to practice.

No. The point he wanted to hear about could never come into this
conversation. There was no way of bringing it forward. He regretted
not having composed a perfect story for use abroad, in which his fatal
connexion with the house might have been owned up to. But when he left
Russia he did not know that Ziemianitch had hanged himself. And, anyway,
who could have foreseen this woman's "informant" stumbling upon that
particular slum, of all the slums awaiting destruction in the purifying
flame of social revolution? Who could have foreseen? Nobody! "It's a
perfect, diabolic surprise," thought Razumov, calm-faced in his attitude
of inscrutable superiority, nodding assent to Sophia Antonovna's remarks
upon the psychology of "the people," "Oh yes--certainly," rather
coldly, but with a nervous longing in his fingers to tear some sort of
confession out of her throat.

Then, at the very last, on the point of separating, the feeling of
relaxed tension already upon him, he heard Sophia Antonovna allude to
the subject of his uneasiness. How it came about he could only guess,
his mind being absent at the moment, but it must have sprung from Sophia
Antonovna's complaints of the illogical absurdity of the people. For
instance--that Ziemianitch was notoriously irreligious, and yet, in the
last weeks of his life, he suffered from the notion that he had been
beaten by the devil.

"The devil," repeated Razumov, as though he had not heard aright.

"The actual devil. The devil in person. You may well look astonished,
Kirylo Sidorovitch. Early on the very night poor Haldin was taken,
a complete stranger turned up and gave Ziemianitch a most fearful
thrashing while he was lying dead-drunk in the stable. The wretched
creature's body was one mass of bruises. He showed them to the people in
the house."

"But you, Sophia Antonovna, you don't believe in the actual devil?"

"Do you?" retorted the woman curtly. "Not but that there are plenty of
men worse than devils to make a hell of this earth," she muttered to
herself.

Razumov watched her, vigorous and white-haired, with the deep fold
between her thin eyebrows, and her black glance turned idly away. It was
obvious that she did not make much of the story--unless, indeed, this
was the perfection of duplicity. "A dark young man," she explained
further. "Never seen there before, never seen afterwards. Why are you
smiling, Razumov?"

"At the devil being still young after all these ages," he answered
composedly. "But who was able to describe him, since the victim, you
say, was dead-drunk at the time?"

"Oh! The eating-house keeper has described him. An overbearing,
swarthy young man in a student's cloak, who came rushing in, demanded
Ziemianitch, beat him furiously, and rushed away without a word, leaving
the eating-house keeper paralysed with astonishment."

"Does he, too, believe it was the devil?"

"That I can't say. I am told he's very reserved on the matter. Those
sellers of spirits are great scoundrels generally. I should think he
knows more of it than anybody."

"Well, and you, Sophia Antonovna, what's your theory?" asked Razumov
in a tone of great interest. "Yours and your informant's, who is on the
spot."

"I agree with him. Some police-hound in disguise. Who else could beat a
helpless man so unmercifully? As for the rest, if they were out that day
on every trail, old and new, it is probable enough that they might
have thought it just as well to have Ziemianitch at hand for more
information, or for identification, or what not. Some scoundrelly
detective was sent to fetch him along, and being vexed at finding him
so drunk broke a stable fork over his ribs. Later on, after they had the
big game safe in the net, they troubled their heads no more about that
peasant."

Such were the last words of the woman revolutionist in this
conversation, keeping so close to the truth, departing from it so far in
the verisimilitude of thoughts and conclusions as to give one the notion
of the invincible nature of human error, a glimpse into the utmost
depths of self-deception. Razumov, after shaking hands with Sophia
Antonovna, left the grounds, crossed the road, and walking out on the
little steamboat pier leaned over the rail.

His mind was at ease; ease such as he had not known for many days,
ever since that night...the night. The conversation with the woman
revolutionist had given him the view of his danger at the very moment
this danger vanished, characteristically enough. "I ought to have
foreseen the doubts that would arise in those people's minds," he
thought. Then his attention being attracted by a stone of peculiar
shape, which he could see clearly lying at the bottom, he began to
speculate as to the depth of water in that spot. But very soon, with a
start of wonder at this extraordinary instance of ill-timed detachment,
he returned to his train of thought. "I ought to have told very
circumstantial lies from the first," he said to himself, with a mortal
distaste of the mere idea which silenced his mental utterance for quite
a perceptible interval. "Luckily, that's all right now," he reflected,
and after a time spoke to himself, half aloud, "Thanks to the devil,"
and laughed a little.

The end of Ziemianitch then arrested his wandering thoughts. He was not
exactly amused at the interpretation, but he could not help detecting
in it a certain piquancy. He owned to himself that, had he known of that
suicide before leaving Russia, he would have been incapable of making
such excellent use of it for his own purposes. He ought to be infinitely
obliged to the fellow with the red nose for his patience and ingenuity,
"A wonderful psychologist apparently," he said to himself sarcastically.
Remorse, indeed! It was a striking example of your true conspirator's
blindness, of the stupid subtlety of people with one idea. This was
a drama of love, not of conscience, Razumov continued to himself
mockingly. A woman the old fellow was making up to! A robust pedlar,
clearly a rival, throwing him down a flight of stairs.... And at
sixty, for a lifelong lover, it was not an easy matter to get over.
That was a feminist of a different stamp from Peter Ivanovitch. Even the
comfort of the bottle might conceivably fail him in this supreme
crisis. At such an age nothing but a halter could cure the pangs of
an unquenchable passion. And, besides, there was the wild exasperation
aroused by the unjust aspersions and the contumely of the house, with
the maddening impossibility to account for that mysterious thrashing,
added to these simple and bitter sorrows. "Devil, eh?" Razumov
exclaimed, with mental excitement, as if he had made an interesting
discovery. "Ziemianitch ended by falling into mysticism. So many of our
true Russian souls end in that way! Very characteristic." He felt pity
for Ziemianitch, a large neutral pity, such as one may feel for an
unconscious multitude, a great people seen from above--like a community
of crawling ants working out its destiny. It was as if this Ziemianitch
could not possibly have done anything else. And Sophia Antonovna's
cocksure and contemptuous "some police-hound" was characteristically
Russian in another way. But there was no tragedy there. This was a
comedy of errors. It was as if the devil himself were playing a game
with all of them in turn. First with him, then with Ziemianitch,
then with those revolutionists. The devil's own game this.... He
interrupted his earnest mental soliloquy with a jocular thought at his
own expense. "Hallo! I am falling into mysticism too."

His mind was more at ease than ever. Turning about he put his back
against the rail comfortably. "All this fits with marvellous aptness,"
he continued to think. "The brilliance of my reputed exploit is no
longer darkened by the fate of my supposed colleague. The mystic
Ziemianitch accounts for that. An incredible chance has served me. No
more need of lies. I shall have only to listen and to keep my scorn from
getting the upper hand of my caution."

He sighed, folded his arms, his chin dropped on his breast, and it was
a long time before he started forward from that pose, with the
recollection that he had made up his mind to do something important that
day. What it was he could not immediately recall, yet he made no effort
of memory, for he was uneasily certain that he would remember presently.

He had not gone more than a hundred yards towards the town when he
slowed down, almost faltered in his walk, at the sight of a figure
walking in the contrary direction, draped in a cloak, under a soft,
broad-brimmed hat, picturesque but diminutive, as if seen through the
big end of an opera-glass. It was impossible to avoid that tiny man, for
there was no issue for retreat.

"Another one going to that mysterious meeting," thought Razumov. He was
right in his surmise, only _this_ one, unlike the others who came from a
distance, was known to him personally. Still, he hoped to pass on with
a mere bow, but it was impossible to ignore the little thin hand with
hairy wrist and knuckles protruded in a friendly wave from under the
folds of the cloak, worn Spanish-wise, in disregard of a fairly warm
day, a corner flung over the shoulder.

"And how is Herr Razumov?" sounded the greeting in German, by that alone
made more odious to the object of the affable recognition. At closer
quarters the diminutive personage looked like a reduction of an
ordinary-sized man, with a lofty brow bared for a moment by the raising
of the hat, the great pepper-and salt full beard spread over the
proportionally broad chest. A fine bold nose jutted over a thin mouth
hidden in the mass of fine hair. All this, accented features, strong
limbs in their relative smallness, appeared delicate without the
slightest sign of debility. The eyes alone, almond-shaped and brown,
were too big, with the whites slightly bloodshot by much pen labour
under a lamp. The obscure celebrity of the tiny man was well known to
Razumov. Polyglot, of unknown parentage, of indefinite nationality,
anarchist, with a pedantic and ferocious temperament, and an amazingly
inflammatory capacity for invective, he was a power in the background,
this violent pamphleteer clamouring for revolutionary justice, this
Julius Laspara, editor of the _Living Word_, confidant of conspirators,
inditer of sanguinary menaces and manifestos, suspected of being in the
secret of every plot. Laspara lived in the old town in a sombre,
narrow house presented to him by a naive middle-class admirer of his
humanitarian eloquence. With him lived his two daughters, who overtopped
him head and shoulders, and a pasty-faced, lean boy of six, languishing
in the dark rooms in blue cotton overalls and clumsy boots, who might
have belonged to either one of them or to neither. No stranger could
tell. Julius Laspara no doubt knew which of his girls it was who, after
casually vanishing for a few years, had as casually returned to him
possessed of that child; but, with admirable pedantry, he had refrained
from asking her for details--no, not so much as the name of the father,
because maternity should be an anarchist function. Razumov had been
admitted twice to that suite of several small dark rooms on the top
floor: dusty window-panes, litter of all sorts of sweepings all over
the place, half-full glasses of tea forgotten on every table, the two
Laspara daughters prowling about enigmatically silent, sleepy-eyed,
corsetless, and generally, in their want of shape and the disorder
of their rumpled attire, resembling old dolls; the great but obscure
Julius, his feet twisted round his three-legged stool, always ready to
receive the visitors, the pen instantly dropped, the body screwed round
with a striking display of the lofty brow and of the great austere
beard. When he got down from his stool it was as though he had descended
from the heights of Olympus. He was dwarfed by his daughters, by the
furniture, by any caller of ordinary stature. But he very seldom left
it, and still more rarely was seen walking in broad daylight.

It must have been some matter of serious importance which had driven him
out in that direction that afternoon. Evidently he wished to be amiable
to that young man whose arrival had made some sensation in the world
of political refugees. In Russian now, which he spoke, as he spoke and
wrote four or five other European languages, without distinction and
without force (other than that of invective), he inquired if Razumov
had taken his inscriptions at the University as yet. And the young man,
shaking his head negatively--

"There's plenty of time for that. But, meantime, are you not going to
write something for us?"

He could not understand how any one could refrain from writing on
anything, social, economic, historical--anything. Any subject could be
treated in the right spirit, and for the ends of social revolution. And,
as it happened, a friend of his in London had got in touch with a review
of advanced ideas. "We must educate, educate everybody--develop the
great thought of absolute liberty and of revolutionary justice."

Razumov muttered rather surlily that he did not even know English.

"Write in Russian. We'll have it translated There can be no difficulty.
Why, without seeking further, there is Miss Haldin. My daughters go to
see her sometimes." He nodded significantly. "She does nothing, has
never done anything in her life. She would be quite competent, with a
little assistance. Only write. You know you must. And so good-bye for
the present."

He raised his arm and went on. Razumov backed against the low wall,
looked after him, spat violently, and went on his way with an angry
mutter--

"Cursed Jew!"

He did not know anything about it. Julius Laspara might have been a
Transylvanian, a Turk, an Andalusian, or a citizen of one of the Hanse
towns for anything he could tell to the contrary. But this is not a
story of the West, and this exclamation must be recorded, accompanied by
the comment that it was merely an expression of hate and contempt, best
adapted to the nature of the feelings Razumov suffered from at the time.
He was boiling with rage, as though he had been grossly insulted. He
walked as if blind, following instinctively the shore of the diminutive
harbour along the quay, through a pretty, dull garden, where dull
people sat on chairs under the trees, till, his fury abandoning him, he
discovered himself in the middle of a long, broad bridge. He slowed down
at once. To his right, beyond the toy-like jetties, he saw the green
slopes framing the Petit Lac in all the marvellous banality of the
picturesque made of painted cardboard, with the more distant stretch of
water inanimate and shining like a piece of tin.

He turned his head away from that view for the tourists, and walked on
slowly, his eyes fixed on the ground. One or two persons had to get
out of his way, and then turned round to give a surprised stare to
his profound absorption. The insistence of the celebrated subversive
journalist rankled in his mind strangely. Write. Must write! He! Write!
A sudden light flashed upon him. To write was the very thing he had made
up his mind to do that day. He had made up his mind irrevocably to that
step and then had forgotten all about it. That incorrigible tendency to
escape from the grip of the situation was fraught with serious danger.
He was ready to despise himself for it. What was it? Levity, or
deep-seated weakness? Or an unconscious dread?

"Is it that I am shrinking? It can't be! It's impossible. To shrink now
would be worse than moral suicide; it would be nothing less than moral
damnation," he thought. "Is it possible that I have a conventional
conscience?"

He rejected that hypothesis with scorn, and, checked on the edge of the
pavement, made ready to cross the road and proceed up the wide street
facing the head of the bridge; and that for no other reason except that
it was there before him. But at the moment a couple of carriages and a
slow-moving cart interposed, and suddenly he turned sharp to the left,
following the quay again, but now away from the lake.

"It may be just my health," he thought, allowing himself a very unusual
doubt of his soundness; for, with the exception of a childish ailment
or two, he had never been ill in his life. But that was a danger, too.
Only, it seemed as though he were being looked after in a specially
remarkable way. "If I believed in an active Providence," Razumov said
to himself, amused grimly, "I would see here the working of an ironical
finger. To have a Julius Laspara put in my way as if expressly to remind
me of my purpose is--Write, he had said. I must write--I must, indeed!
I shall write--never fear. Certainly. That's why I am here. And for the
future I shall have something to write about."

He was exciting himself by this mental soliloquy. But the idea of
writing evoked the thought of a place to write in, of shelter, of
privacy, and naturally of his lodgings, mingled with a distaste for the
necessary exertion of getting there, with a mistrust as of some hostile
influence awaiting him within those odious four walls.

"Suppose one of these revolutionists," he asked himself, "were to take
a fancy to call on me while I am writing?" The mere prospect of such
an interruption made him shudder. One could lock one's door, or ask
the tobacconist downstairs (some sort of a refugee himself) to tell
inquirers that one was not in. Not very good precautions those. The
manner of his life, he felt, must be kept clear of every cause for
suspicion or even occasion for wonder, down to such trifling occurrences
as a delay in opening a locked door. "I wish I were in the middle of
some field miles away from everywhere," he thought.

He had unconsciously turned to the left once more and now was aware of
being on a bridge again. This one was much narrower than the other, and
instead of being straight, made a sort of elbow or angle. At the point
of that angle a short arm joined it to a hexagonal islet with a soil of
gravel and its shores faced with dressed stone, a perfection of puerile
neatness. A couple of tall poplars and a few other trees stood grouped
on the clean, dark gravel, and under them a few garden benches and a
bronze effigy of Jean Jacques Rousseau seated on its pedestal.

On setting his foot on it Razumov became aware that, except for the
woman in charge of the refreshment chalet, he would be alone on the
island. There was something of naive, odious, and inane simplicity about
that unfrequented tiny crumb of earth named after Jean Jacques Rousseau.
Something pretentious and shabby, too. He asked for a glass of milk,
which he drank standing, at one draught (nothing but tea had passed his
lips since the morning), and was going away with a weary, lagging step
when a thought stopped him short. He had found precisely what he needed.
If solitude could ever be secured in the open air in the middle of a
town, he would have it there on this absurd island, together with the
faculty of watching the only approach.

He went back heavily to a garden seat, dropped into it. This was the
place for making a beginning of that writing which had to be done. The
materials he had on him. "I shall always come here," he said to himself,
and afterwards sat for quite a long time motionless, without thought
and sight and hearing, almost without life. He sat long enough for the
declining sun to dip behind the roofs of the town at his back, and throw
the shadow of the houses on the lake front over the islet, before he
pulled out of his pocket a fountain pen, opened a small notebook on his
knee, and began to write quickly, raising his eyes now and then at the
connecting arm of the bridge. These glances were needless; the people
crossing over in the distance seemed unwilling even to look at the
islet where the exiled effigy of the author of the _Social Contract_ sat
enthroned above the bowed head of Razumov in the sombre immobility of
bronze. After finishing his scribbling, Razumov, with a sort of feverish
haste, put away the pen, then rammed the notebook into his pocket, first
tearing out the written pages with an almost convulsive brusqueness. But
the folding of the flimsy batch on his knee was executed with thoughtful
nicety. That done, he leaned back in his seat and remained motionless,
the papers holding in his left hand. The twilight had deepened. He got
up and began to pace to and fro slowly under the trees.

"There can be no doubt that now I am safe," he thought. His fine ear
could detect the faintly accentuated murmurs of the current breaking
against the point of the island, and he forgot himself in listening to
them with interest. But even to his acute sense of hearing the sound was
too elusive.

"Extraordinary occupation I am giving myself up to," he murmured. And
it occurred to him that this was about the only sound he could listen
to innocently, and for his own pleasure, as it were. Yes, the sound of
water, the voice of the wind--completely foreign to human passions. All
the other sounds of this earth brought contamination to the solitude of
a soul.

This was Mr. Razumov's feeling, the soul, of course, being his own, and
the word being used not in the theological sense, but standing, as far
as I can understand it, for that part of Mr. Razumov which was not his
body, and more specially in danger from the fires of this earth. And it
must be admitted that in Mr. Razumov's case the bitterness of solitude
from which he suffered was not an altogether morbid phenomenon.


Joseph Conrad

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