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Chapter 3

"You will come in for a moment?" said Natalia Haldin.

I demurred on account of the late hour. "You know mother likes you so
much," she insisted.

"I will just come in to hear how your mother is."

She said, as if to herself, "I don't even know whether she will believe
that I could not find Mr. Razumov, since she has taken it into her head
that I am concealing something from her. You may be able to persuade
her...."

"Your mother may mistrust me too," I observed.

"You! Why? What could you have to conceal from her? You are not a
Russian nor a conspirator."

I felt profoundly my European remoteness, and said nothing, but I made
up my mind to play my part of helpless spectator to the end. The distant
rolling of thunder in the valley of the Rhone was coming nearer to the
sleeping town of prosaic virtues and universal hospitality. We crossed
the street opposite the great dark gateway, and Miss Haldin rang at the
door of the apartment. It was opened almost instantly, as if the
elderly maid had been waiting in the ante-room for our return. Her flat
physiognomy had an air of satisfaction. The gentleman was there, she
declared, while closing the door.

Neither of us understood. Miss Haldin turned round brusquely to her.
"Who?"

"Herr Razumov," she explained.

She had heard enough of our conversation before we left to know why her
young mistress was going out. Therefore, when the gentleman gave his
name at the door, she admitted him at once.

"No one could have foreseen that," Miss Haldin murmured, with her
serious grey eyes fixed upon mine. And, remembering the expression of
the young man's face seen not much more than four hours ago, the look of
a haunted somnambulist, I wondered with a sort of awe.

"You asked my mother first?" Miss Haldin inquired of the maid.

"No. I announced the gentleman," she answered, surprised at our troubled
faces.

"Still," I said in an undertone, "your mother was prepared."

"Yes. But he has no idea...."

It seemed to me she doubted his tact. To her question how long the
gentleman had been with her mother, the maid told us that Der Herr had
been in the drawing-room no more than a short quarter of an hour.

She waited a moment, then withdrew, looking a little scared. Miss Haldin
gazed at me in silence.

"As things have turned out," I said, "you happen to know exactly what
your brother's friend has to tell your mother. And surely after that..."

"Yes," said Natalia Haldin slowly. "I only wonder, as I was not here
when he came, if it wouldn't be better not to interrupt now."

We remained silent, and I suppose we both strained our ears, but no
sound reached us through the closed door. The features of Miss Haldin
expressed a painful irresolution; she made a movement as if to go in,
but checked herself. She had heard footsteps on the other side of the
door. It came open, and Razumov, without pausing, stepped out into the
ante-room. The fatigue of that day and the struggle with himself had
changed him so much that I would have hesitated to recognize that face
which, only a few hours before, when he brushed against me in front of
the post office, had been startling enough but quite different. It
had been not so livid then, and its eyes not so sombre. They certainly
looked more sane now, but there was upon them the shadow of something
consciously evil.

I speak of that, because, at first, their glance fell on me, though
without any sort of recognition or even comprehension. I was simply in
the line of his stare. I don't know if he had heard the bell or expected
to see anybody. He was going out, I believe, and I do not think that
he saw Miss Haldin till she advanced towards him a step or two. He
disregarded the hand she put out.

"It's you, Natalia Victorovna.... Perhaps you are surprised...at
this late hour. But, you see, I remembered our conversations in that
garden. I thought really it was your wish that I should--without loss of
time...so I came. No other reason. Simply to tell..."

He spoke with difficulty. I noticed that, and remembered his declaration
to the man in the shop that he was going out because he "needed air."
If that was his object, then it was clear that he had miserably failed.
With downcast eyes and lowered head he made an effort to pick up the
strangled phrase.

"To tell what I have heard myself only to-day--to-day...."

Through the door he had not closed I had a view of the drawing-room. It
was lighted only by a shaded lamp--Mrs. Haldin's eyes could not support
either gas or electricity. It was a comparatively big room, and in
contrast with the strongly lighted ante-room its length was lost in
semi-transparent gloom backed by heavy shadows; and on that ground I saw
the motionless figure of Mrs. Haldin, inclined slightly forward, with a
pale hand resting on the arm of the chair.

She did not move. With the window before her she had no longer that
attitude suggesting expectation. The blind was down; and outside
there was only the night sky harbouring a thunder-cloud, and the town
indifferent and hospitable in its cold, almost scornful, toleration--a
respectable town of refuge to which all these sorrows and hopes were
nothing. Her white head was bowed.

The thought that the real drama of autocracy is not played on the great
stage of politics came to me as, fated to be a spectator, I had this
other glimpse behind the scenes, something more profound than the words
and gestures of the public play. I had the certitude that this mother,
refused in her heart to give her son up after all. It was more
than Rachel's inconsolable mourning, it was something deeper, more
inaccessible in its frightful tranquillity. Lost in the ill-defined
mass of the high-backed chair, her white, inclined profile suggested
the contemplation of something in her lap, as though a beloved head were
resting there.

I had this glimpse behind the scenes, and then Miss Haldin, passing by
the young man, shut the door. It was not done without hesitation. For a
moment I thought that she would go to her mother, but she sent in only
an anxious glance. Perhaps if Mrs. Haldin had moved...but no. There
was in the immobility of that bloodless face the dreadful aloofness of
suffering without remedy.

Meantime the young man kept his eyes fixed on the floor. The thought
that he would have to repeat the story he had told already was
intolerable to him. He had expected to find the two women together. And
then, he had said to himself, it would be over for all time--for all
time. "It's lucky I don't believe in another world," he had thought
cynically.

Alone in his room after having posted his secret letter, he had regained
a certain measure of composure by writing in his secret diary. He was
aware of the danger of that strange self-indulgence. He alludes to it
himself, but he could not refrain. It calmed him--it reconciled him
to his existence. He sat there scribbling by the light of a solitary
candle, till it occurred to him that having heard the explanation of
Haldin's arrest, as put forward by Sophia Antonovna, it behoved him to
tell these ladies himself. They were certain to hear the tale through
some other channel, and then his abstention would look strange, not only
to the mother and sister of Haldin, but to other people also. Having
come to this conclusion, he did not discover in himself any marked
reluctance to face the necessity, and very soon an anxiety to be done
with it began to torment him. He looked at his watch. No; it was not
absolutely too late.

The fifteen minutes with Mrs. Haldin were like the revenge of the
unknown: that white face, that weak, distinct voice; that head, at
first turned to him eagerly, then, after a while, bowed again and
motionless--in the dim, still light of the room in which his words
which he tried to subdue resounded so loudly--had troubled him like some
strange discovery. And there seemed to be a secret obstinacy in that
sorrow, something he could not understand; at any rate, something he had
not expected. Was it hostile? But it did not matter. Nothing could touch
him now; in the eyes of the revolutionists there was now no shadow on
his past. The phantom of Haldin had been indeed walked over, was left
behind lying powerless and passive on the pavement covered with snow.
And this was the phantom's mother consumed with grief and white as a
ghost. He had felt a pitying surprise. But that, of course, was of no
importance. Mothers did not matter. He could not shake off the poignant
impression of that silent, quiet, white-haired woman, but a sort of
sternness crept into his thoughts. These were the consequences. Well,
what of it? "Am I then on a bed of roses?" he had exclaimed to himself,
sitting at some distance with his eyes fixed upon that figure of sorrow.
He had said all he had to say to her, and when he had finished she had
not uttered a word. She had turned away her head while he was speaking.
The silence which had fallen on his last words had lasted for five
minutes or more. What did it mean? Before its incomprehensible character
he became conscious of anger in his stern mood, the old anger against
Haldin reawakened by the contemplation of Haldin's mother. And was
it not something like enviousness which gripped his heart, as if of
a privilege denied to him alone of all the men that had ever passed
through this world? It was the other who had attained to repose and yet
continued to exist in the affection of that mourning old woman, in
the thoughts of all these people posing for lovers of humanity. It
was impossible to get rid of him. "It's myself whom I have given up
to destruction," thought Razumov. "He has induced me to do it. I can't
shake him off."

Alarmed by that discovery, he got up and strode out of the silent,
dim room with its silent old woman in the chair, that mother! He never
looked back. It was frankly a flight. But on opening the door he saw
his retreat cut off: There was the sister. He had never forgotten the
sister, only he had not expected to see her then--or ever any more,
perhaps. Her presence in the ante-room was as unforeseen as the
apparition of her brother had been. Razumov gave a start as though he
had discovered himself cleverly trapped. He tried to smile, but could
not manage it, and lowered his eyes. "Must I repeat that silly story
now?" he asked himself, and felt a sinking sensation. Nothing solid
had passed his lips since the day before, but he was not in a state to
analyse the origins of his weakness. He meant to take up his hat and
depart with as few words as possible, but Miss Haldin's swift movement
to shut the door took him by surprise. He half turned after her, but
without raising his eyes, passively, just as a feather might stir in the
disturbed air. The next moment she was back in the place she had started
from, with another half-turn on his part, so that they came again into
the same relative positions.

"Yes, yes," she said hurriedly. "I am very grateful to you, Kirylo
Sidorovitch, for coming at once--like this.... Only, I wish I had....
Did mother tell you?"

"I wonder what she could have told me that I did not know before," he
said, obviously to himself, but perfectly audible. "Because I always did
know it," he added louder, as if in despair.

He hung his head. He had such a strong sense of Natalia Haldin's
presence that to look at her he felt would be a relief. It was she who
had been haunting him now. He had suffered that persecution ever since
she had suddenly appeared before him in the garden of the Villa Borel
with an extended hand and the name of her brother on her lips....
The ante-room had a row of hooks on the wall nearest to the outer door,
while against the wall opposite there stood a small dark table and one
chair. The paper, bearing a very faint design, was all but white. The
light of an electric bulb high up under the ceiling searched that clear
square box into its four bare corners, crudely, without shadows--a
strange stage for an obscure drama.

"What do you mean?" asked Miss Haldin. "What is it that you knew
always?"

He raised his face, pale, full of unexpressed suffering. But that
look in his eyes of dull, absent obstinacy, which struck and surprised
everybody he was talking to, began to pass way. It was as though he
were coming to himself in the awakened consciousness of that marvellous
harmony of feature, of lines, of glances, of voice, which made of the
girl before him a being so rare, outside, and, as it were, above the
common notion of beauty. He looked at her so long that she coloured
slightly.

"What is it that you knew?" she repeated vaguely.

That time he managed to smile.

"Indeed, if it had not been for a word of greeting or two, I would doubt
whether your mother was aware at all of my existence. You understand?"

Natalia Haldin nodded; her hands moved slightly by her side.

"Yes. Is it not heart-breaking? She has not shed a tear yet--not a
single tear."

"Not a tear! And you, Natalia Victorovna? You have been able to cry?"

"I have. And then I am young enough, Kirylo Sidorovitch, to believe in
the future. But when I see my mother so terribly distracted, I almost
forget everything. I ask myself whether one should feel proud--or only
resigned. We had such a lot of people coming to see us. There were
utter strangers who wrote asking for permission to call to present their
respects. It was impossible to keep our door shut for ever. You know
that Peter Ivanovitch himself.... Oh yes, there was much sympathy,
but there were persons who exulted openly at that death. Then, when I
was left alone with poor mother, all this seemed so wrong in spirit,
something not worth the price she is paying for it. But directly I heard
you were here in Geneva, Kirylo Sidorovitch, I felt that you were the
only person who could assist me...."

"In comforting a bereaved mother? Yes!" he broke in in a manner which
made her open her clear unsuspecting eyes. "But there is a question of
fitness. Has this occurred to you?"

There was a breathlessness in his utterance which contrasted with the
monstrous hint of mockery in his intention.

"Why!" whispered Natalia Haldin with feeling. "Who more fit than you?"

He had a convulsive movement of exasperation, but controlled himself.

"Indeed! Directly you heard that I was in Geneva, before even seeing me?
It is another proof of that confidence which...."

All at once his tone changed, became more incisive and more detached.

"Men are poor creatures, Natalia Victorovna. They have no intuition of
sentiment. In order to speak fittingly to a mother of her lost son one
must have had some experience of the filial relation. It is not the case
with me--if you must know the whole truth. Your hopes have to deal here
with 'a breast unwarmed by any affection,' as the poet says.... That
does not mean it is insensible," he added in a lower tone.

"I am certain your heart is not unfeeling," said Miss Haldin softly.

"No. It is not as hard as a stone," he went on in the same introspective
voice, and looking as if his heart were lying as heavy as a stone in
that unwarmed breast of which he spoke. "No, not so hard. But how to
prove what you give me credit for--ah! that's another question. No one
has ever expected such a thing from me before. No one whom my tenderness
would have been of any use to. And now you come. You! Now! No, Natalia
Victorovna. It's too late. You come too late. You must expect nothing
from me."

She recoiled from him a little, though he had made no movement, as
if she had seen some change in his face, charging his words with the
significance of some hidden sentiment they shared together. To me, the
silent spectator, they looked like two people becoming conscious of a
spell which had been lying on them ever since they first set eyes on
each other. Had either of them cast a glance then in my direction, I
would have opened the door quietly and gone out. But neither did; and
I remained, every fear of indiscretion lost in the sense of my enormous
remoteness from their captivity within the sombre horizon of Russian
problems, the boundary of their eyes, of their feelings--the prison of
their souls.

Frank, courageous, Miss Haldin controlled her voice in the midst of her
trouble.

"What can this mean?" she asked, as if speaking to herself.

"It may mean that you have given yourself up to vain imaginings while I
have managed to remain amongst the truth of things and the realities of
life--our Russian life--such as they are."

"They are cruel," she murmured.

"And ugly. Don't forget that--and ugly. Look where you like. Look near
you, here abroad where you are, and then look back at home, whence you
came."

"One must look beyond the present." Her tone had an ardent conviction.

"The blind can do that best. I have had the misfortune to be born
clear-eyed. And if you only knew what strange things I have seen! What
amazing and unexpected apparitions!... But why talk of all this?"

"On the contrary, I want to talk of all this with you," she protested
with earnest serenity. The sombre humours of her brother's friend left
her unaffected, as though that bitterness, that suppressed anger, were
the signs of an indignant rectitude. She saw that he was not an ordinary
person, and perhaps she did not want him to be other than he appeared to
her trustful eyes. "Yes, with you especially," she insisted. "With you
of all the Russian people in the world...." A faint smile dwelt for
a moment on her lips. "I am like poor mother in a way. I too seem unable
to give up our beloved dead, who, don't forget, was all in all to us. I
don't want to abuse your sympathy, but you must understand that it is in
you that we can find all that is left of his generous soul."

I was looking at him; not a muscle of his face moved in the least. And
yet, even at the time, I did not suspect him of insensibility. It was a
sort of rapt thoughtfulness. Then he stirred slightly.

"You are going, Kirylo Sidorovitch?" she asked.

"I! Going? Where? Oh yes, but I must tell you first...." His voice
was muffled and he forced himself to produce it with visible repugnance,
as if speech were something disgusting or deadly. "That story, you
know--the story I heard this afternoon...."

"I know the story already," she said sadly.

"You know it! Have you correspondents in St. Petersburg too?"

"No. It's Sophia Antonovna. I have seen her just now. She sends you her
greetings. She is going away to-morrow."

He had lowered at last his fascinated glance; she too was looking down,
and standing thus before each other in the glaring light, between the
four bare walls, they seemed brought out from the confused immensity
of the Eastern borders to be exposed cruelly to the observation of my
Western eyes. And I observed them. There was nothing else to do. My
existence seemed so utterly forgotten by these two that I dared not now
make a movement. And I thought to myself that, of course, they had to
come together, the sister and the friend of that dead man. The ideas,
the hopes, the aspirations, the cause of Freedom, expressed in their
common affection for Victor Haldin, the moral victim of autocracy,--all
this must draw them to each other fatally. Her very ignorance and his
loneliness to which he had alluded so strangely must work to that end.
And, indeed, I saw that the work was done already. Of course. It was
manifest that they must have been thinking of each other for a long time
before they met. She had the letter from that beloved brother kindling
her imagination by the severe praise attached to that one name; and for
him to see that exceptional girl was enough. The only cause for surprise
was his gloomy aloofness before her clearly expressed welcome. But he
was young, and however austere and devoted to his revolutionary ideals,
he was not blind. The period of reserve was over; he was coming forward
in his own way. I could not mistake the significance of this late visit,
for in what he had to say there was nothing urgent. The true cause
dawned upon me: he had discovered that he needed her and she was moved
by the same feeling. It was the second time that I saw them together,
and I knew that next time they met I would not be there, either
remembered or forgotten. I would have virtually ceased to exist for both
these young people.

I made this discovery in a very few moments. Meantime, Natalia Haldin
was telling Razumov briefly of our peregrinations from one end of Geneva
to the other. While speaking she raised her hands above her head to
untie her veil, and that movement displayed for an instant the seductive
grace of her youthful figure, clad in the simplest of mourning. In the
transparent shadow the hat rim threw on her face her grey eyes had an
enticing lustre. Her voice, with its unfeminine yet exquisite timbre,
was steady, and she spoke quickly, frank, unembarrassed. As she
justified her action by the mental state of her mother, a spasm of pain
marred the generously confiding harmony of her features. I perceived
that with his downcast eyes he had the air of a man who is listening
to a strain of music rather than to articulated speech. And in the same
way, after she had ceased, he seemed to listen yet, motionless, as if
under the spell of suggestive sound. He came to himself, muttering--

"Yes, yes. She has not shed a tear. She did not seem to hear what I
was saying. I might have told her anything. She looked as if no longer
belonging to this world."

Miss Haldin gave signs of profound distress. Her voice faltered. "You
don't know how bad it has come to be. She expects now to see _him_!" The
veil dropped from her fingers and she clasped her hands in anguish. "It
shall end by her seeing him," she cried.

Razumov raised his head sharply and attached on her a prolonged
thoughtful glance.

"H'm. That's very possible," he muttered in a peculiar tone, as if
giving his opinion on a matter of fact. "I wonder what...." He
checked himself.

"That would be the end. Her mind shall be gone then, and her spirit will
follow."

Miss Haldin unclasped her hands and let them fall by her side.

"You think so?" he queried profoundly. Miss Haldin's lips were slightly
parted. Something unexpected and unfathomable in that young man's
character had fascinated her from the first. "No! There's neither truth
nor consolation to be got from the phantoms of the dead," he added after
a weighty pause. "I might have told her something true; for instance,
that your brother meant to save his life--to escape. There can be no
doubt of that. But I did not."

"You did not! But why?"

"I don't know. Other thoughts came into my head," he answered. He seemed
to me to be watching himself inwardly, as though he were trying to count
his own heart-beats, while his eyes never for a moment left the face
of the girl. "You were not there," he continued. "I had made up my mind
never to see you again."

This seemed to take her breath away for a moment.

"You.... How is it possible?"

"You may well ask.... However, I think that I refrained from telling
your mother from prudence. I might have assured her that in the last
conversation he held as a free man he mentioned you both...."

"That last conversation was with you," she struck in her deep, moving
voice. "Some day you must...."

"It was with me. Of you he said that you had trustful eyes. And why I
have not been able to forget that phrase I don't know. It meant
that there is in you no guile, no deception, no falsehood, no
suspicion--nothing in your heart that could give you a conception of a
living, acting, speaking lie, if ever it came in your way. That you are
a predestined victim.... Ha! what a devilish suggestion!"

The convulsive, uncontrolled tone of the last words disclosed the
precarious hold he had over himself. He was like a man defying his own
dizziness in high places and tottering suddenly on the very edge of the
precipice. Miss Haldin pressed her hand to her breast. The dropped black
veil lay on the floor between them. Her movement steadied him. He looked
intently on that hand till it descended slowly, and then raised again
his eyes to her face. But he did not give her time to speak.

"No? You don't understand? Very well." He had recovered his calm by a
miracle of will. "So you talked with Sophia Antonovna?"

"Yes. Sophia Antonovna told me...." Miss Haldin stopped, wonder
growing in her wide eyes.

"H'm. That's the respectable enemy," he muttered, as though he were
alone.

"The tone of her references to you was extremely friendly," remarked
Miss Haldin, after waiting for a while.

"Is that your impression? And she the most intelligent of the lot,
too. Things then are going as well as possible. Everything conspires
to...Ah! these conspirators," he said slowly, with an accent of scorn;
"they would get hold of you in no time! You know, Natalia Victorovna, I
have the greatest difficulty in saving myself from the superstition
of an active Providence. It's irresistible.... The alternative, of
course, would be the personal Devil of our simple ancestors. But, if
so, he has overdone it altogether--the old Father of Lies--our national
patron--our domestic god, whom we take with us when we go abroad. He has
overdone it. It seems that I am not simple enough.... That's it! I
ought to have known.... And I did know it," he added in a tone of
poignant distress which overcame my astonishment.

"This man is deranged," I said to myself, very much frightened.

The next moment he gave me a very special impression beyond the range of
commonplace definitions. It was as though he had stabbed himself outside
and had come in there to show it; and more than that--as though he were
turning the knife in the wound and watching the effect. That was the
impression, rendered in physical terms. One could not defend oneself
from a certain amount of pity. But it was for Miss Haldin, already so
tried in her deepest affections, that I felt a serious concern. Her
attitude, her face, expressed compassion struggling with doubt on the
verge of terror.

"What is it, Kirylo Sidorovitch?" There was a hint of tenderness in
that cry. He only stared at her in that complete surrender of all his
faculties which in a happy lover would have had the name of ecstasy.

"Why are you looking at me like this, Kirylo Sidorovitch? I have
approached you frankly. I need at this time to see clearly in
myself...." She ceased for a moment as if to give him an opportunity to
utter at last some word worthy of her exalted trust in her brother's
friend. His silence became impressive, like a sign of a momentous
resolution.

In the end Miss Haldin went on, appealingly--

"I have waited for you anxiously. But now that you have been moved to
come to us in your kindness, you alarm me. You speak obscurely. It seems
as if you were keeping back something from me."

"Tell me, Natalia Victorovna," he was heard at last in a strange
unringing voice, "whom did you see in that place?"

She was startled, and as if deceived in her expectations.

"Where? In Peter Ivanovitch's rooms? There was Mr. Laspara and three
other people."

"Ha! The vanguard--the forlorn hope of the great plot," he commented to
himself. "Bearers of the spark to start an explosion which is meant to
change fundamentally the lives of so many millions in order that Peter
Ivanovitch should be the head of a State."

"You are teasing me," she said. "Our dear one told me once to remember
that men serve always something greater than themselves--the idea."

"Our dear one," he repeated slowly. The effort he made to appear unmoved
absorbed all the force of his soul. He stood before her like a being
with hardly a breath of life. His eyes, even as under great physical
suffering, had lost all their fire. "Ah! your brother.... But on
your lips, in your voice, it sounds...and indeed in you everything is
divine.... I wish I could know the innermost depths of your thoughts,
of your feelings."

"But why, Kirylo Sidorovitch?" she cried, alarmed by these words coming
out of strangely lifeless lips.

"Have no fear. It is not to betray you. So you went there?... And
Sophia Antonovna, what did she tell you, then?"

"She said very little, really. She knew that I should hear everything
from you. She had no time for more than a few words." Miss Haldin's
voice dropped and she became silent for a moment. "The man, it appears,
has taken his life," she said sadly.

"Tell me, Natalia Victorovna," he asked after a pause, "do you believe
in remorse?"

"What a question!"

"What can _you_ know of it?" he muttered thickly. "It is not for such as
you.... What I meant to ask was whether you believed in the efficacy
of remorse?"

She hesitated as though she had not understood, then her face lighted
up.

"Yes," she said firmly.

"So he is absolved. Moreover, that Ziemianitch was a brute, a drunken
brute."

A shudder passed through Natalia Haldin.

"But a man of the people," Razumov went on, "to whom they, the
revolutionists, tell a tale of sublime hopes. Well, the people must
be forgiven.... And you must not believe all you've heard from that
source, either," he added, with a sort of sinister reluctance.

"You are concealing something from me," she exclaimed.

"Do you, Natalia Victorovna, believe in the duty of revenge?"

"Listen, Kirylo Sidorovitch. I believe that the future shall be merciful
to us all. Revolutionist and reactionary, victim and executioner,
betrayer and betrayed, they shall all be pitied together when the light
breaks on our black sky at last. Pitied and forgotten; for without that
there can be no union and no love."

"I hear. No revenge for you, then? Never? Not the least bit?" He smiled
bitterly with his colourless lips. "You yourself are like the very
spirit of that merciful future. Strange that it does not make it
easier.... No! But suppose that the real betrayer of your
brother--Ziemianitch had a part in it too, but insignificant and quite
involuntary--suppose that he was a young man, educated, an intellectual
worker, thoughtful, a man your brother might have trusted lightly,
perhaps, but still--suppose.... But there's a whole story there."

"And you know the story! But why, then--"

"I have heard it. There is a staircase in it, and even phantoms, but
that does not matter if a man always serves something greater than
himself--the idea. I wonder who is the greatest victim in that tale?"

"In that tale!" Miss Haldin repeated. She seemed turned into stone.

"Do you know why I came to you? It is simply because there is no one
anywhere in the whole great world I could go to. Do you understand
what I say? Not one to go to. Do you conceive the desolation of the
thought--no one--to--go--to?"

Utterly misled by her own enthusiastic interpretation of two lines in
the letter of a visionary, under the spell of her own dread of lonely
days, in their overshadowed world of angry strife, she was unable to
see the truth struggling on his lips. What she was conscious of was the
obscure form of his suffering. She was on the point of extending her
hand to him impulsively when he spoke again.

"An hour after I saw you first I knew how it would be. The terrors of
remorse, revenge, confession, anger, hate, fear, are like nothing to the
atrocious temptation which you put in my way the day you appeared before
me with your voice, with your face, in the garden of that accursed
villa."

She looked utterly bewildered for a moment; then, with a sort of
despairing insight went straight to the point.

"The story, Kirylo Sidorovitch, the story!"

"There is no more to tell!" He made a movement forward, and she actually
put her hand on his shoulder to push him away; but her strength failed
her, and he kept his ground, though trembling in every limb. "It ends
here--on this very spot." He pressed a denunciatory finger to his breast
with force, and became perfectly still.

I ran forward, snatching up the chair, and was in time to catch hold of
Miss Haldin and lower her down. As she sank into it she swung half round
on my arm, and remained averted from us both, drooping over the back.
He looked at her with an appalling expressionless tranquillity.
Incredulity, struggling with astonishment, anger, and disgust, deprived
me for a time of the power of speech. Then I turned on him, whispering
from very rage--

"This is monstrous. What are you staying for? Don't let her catch sight
of you again. Go away!..." He did not budge. "Don't you understand
that your presence is intolerable--even to me? If there's any sense of
shame in you...."

Slowly his sullen eyes moved ill my direction. "How did this old man
come here?" he muttered, astounded.

Suddenly Miss Haldin sprang up from the chair, made a few steps, and
tottered. Forgetting my indignation, and even the man himself, I hurried
to her assistance. I took her by the arm, and she let me lead her into
the drawing-room. Away from the lamp, in the deeper dusk of the distant
end, the profile of Mrs. Haldin, her hands, her whole figure had
the stillness of a sombre painting. Miss Haldin stopped, and pointed
mournfully at the tragic immobility of her mother, who seemed to watch a
beloved head lying in her lap.

That gesture had an unequalled force of expression, so far-reaching in
its human distress that one could not believe that it pointed out merely
the ruthless working of political institutions. After assisting Miss
Haldin to the sofa, I turned round to go back and shut the door Framed
in the opening, in the searching glare of the white anteroom, my eyes
fell on Razumov, still there, standing before the empty chair, as if
rooted for ever to the spot of his atrocious confession. A wonder came
over me that the mysterious force which had torn it out of him had
failed to destroy his life, to shatter his body. It was there unscathed.
I stared at the broad line of his shoulders, his dark head, the amazing
immobility of his limbs. At his feet the veil dropped by Miss Haldin
looked intensely black in the white crudity of the light. He was gazing
at it spell-bound. Next moment, stooping with an incredible, savage
swiftness, he snatched it up and pressed it to his face with both hands.
Something, extreme astonishment perhaps, dimmed my eyes, so that he
seemed to vanish before he moved.

The slamming of the outer door restored my sight, and I went on
contemplating the empty chair in the empty ante-room. The meaning
of what I had seen reached my mind with a staggering shock. I seized
Natalia Haldin by the shoulder.

"That miserable wretch has carried off your veil!" I cried, in the
scared, deadened voice of an awful discovery. "He...."

The rest remained unspoken. I stepped back and looked down at her, in
silent horror. Her hands were lying lifelessly, palms upwards, on her
lap. She raised her grey eyes slowly. Shadows seemed to come and go in
them as if the steady flame of her soul had been made to vacillate
at last in the cross-currents of poisoned air from the corrupted dark
immensity claiming her for its own, where virtues themselves fester into
crimes in the cynicism of oppression and revolt.

"It is impossible to be more unhappy...." The languid whisper of her
voice struck me with dismay. "It is impossible.... I feel my heart
becoming like ice."


Joseph Conrad

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