Chapter 16

In the little room into which I stepped, it was rather dark, and I did not at once see Acia. Wrapped in a big shawl, she was sitting on a chair by the window, turning away from me and almost hiding her head like a frightened bird. She was breathing quickly, and trembling all over. I felt unutterably sorry for her. I went up to her. She averted her head still more.�

�Anna Nikolaevna,� I said.

She suddenly drew herself up, tried to look at me, and could not. I took her hand, it was cold, and lay like a dead thing in mine.

�I wished�—Acia began, trying to smile, but unable to control her pale lips; �I wanted—No, I can�t,� she said, and ceased. Her voice broke at every word.

I sat down beside her.

�Anna Nikolaevna,� I repeated, and I too could say nothing more.

A silence followed. I still held her hand and looked at her. She sat as before, shrinking together, breathing with difficulty, and stealthily biting her lower lip to keep back the rising tears.� I looked at her; there was something touchingly helpless in her timid passivity; it seemed as though she had been so exhausted she had hardly reached the chair, and had simply fallen on it. My heart began to melt.�

�Acia,� I said hardly audibly.�

She slowly lifted her eyes to me.� Oh, the eyes of a woman who loves—who can describe them? They were supplicating, those eyes, they were confiding, questioning, surrendering � I could not resist their fascination. A subtle flame passed all through me with tingling shocks; I bent down and pressed my lips to her hand.�

I heard a quivering sound, like a broken sigh and I felt on my hair the touch of a feeble hand shaking like a leaf. I raised my head and looked at her face. How transformed it was all of a sudden. The expression of terror had vanished from it, her eyes looked far away and drew me after them, her lips were slightly parted, her forehead was white as marble, and her curls floated back as though the wind had stirred them. I forgot everything, I drew her to me, her hand yielded unresistingly, her whole body followed her hand, the shawl fell from her shoulders, and her head lay softly on my breast, lay under my burning lips.�

�Yours �� she murmured, hardly above a breath.

My arms were slipping round her waist.� But suddenly the thought of Gagin flashed like lightning before me. �What are we doing,� I cried, abruptly moving back.� �Your brother � why, he knows everything.� He knows I am with you.�

Acia sank back on her chair.

�Yes,� I went on, getting up and walking to the other end of the room. �Your brother knows all about it.� I had to tell him.��

�You had to?� she articulated thickly. She could not, it seemed, recover herself, and hardly understood me.

�Yes, yes,� I repeated with a sort of exasperation, �and it�s all your fault, your fault. What did you betray your secret for? Who forced you to tell your brother? He has been with me to-day, and told me what you said to him.� I tried not to look at Acia, and kept walking with long strides up and down the room. �Now everything is over, everything.�

Acia tried to get up from her chair.

�Stay,� I cried, �stay, I implore you. You have to do with an honourable man—yes, an honourable man. But, in Heaven�s name, what upset you? Did you notice any change in me? But I could not hide my feelings from your brother when he came to me to-day.�

�Why am I talking like this?� I was thinking inwardly, and the idea that I was an immoral liar, that Gagin knew of our interview, that everything was spoilt, exposed—seemed buzzing persistently in my head.

�I didn�t call my brother�—I heard a frightened whisper from Acia: �he came of himself.�

�See what you have done,� I persisted. �Now you want to go away.��

�Yes, I must go away,� she murmured in the same soft voice. �I only asked you to come here to say good-bye.�

�And do you suppose,� I retorted, �it will be easy for me to part with you?�

�But what did you tell my brother for?� Acia said, in perplexity.

�I tell you—I could not do otherwise. If you had not yourself betrayed yourself.��

�I locked myself in my room,� she answered simply. �I did not know the landlady had another key.��

This innocent apology on her lips at such a moment almost infuriated me at the time � and now I cannot think of it without emotion. Poor, honest, truthful child!

�And now everything�s at an end!� I began again, �everything. Now we shall have to part.� I stole a look at Acia.� Her face had quickly flushed crimson. She was, I felt it, both ashamed and afraid. I went on walking and talking as though in delirium. �You did not let the feeling develop which had begun to grow; you have broken off our relations yourself; you had no confidence in me; you doubted me.��

While I was talking, Acia bent more and more forward, and suddenly slid on her knees, dropped her head on her arms, and began sobbing. I ran up to her and tried to lift her up, but she would not let me. I can�t bear women�s tears; at the sight of them I am at my wits� end at once.

�Anna Nikolaevna, Acia,� I kept repeating, �please, I implore you, for God�s sake, stop.�� I took her hand again.�

But, to my immense astonishment she suddenly jumped up, rushed with lightning swiftness to the door, and vanished.�

When, a few minutes later, Frau Luise came into the room I was still standing in the very middle of it, as it were, thunderstruck. I could not believe this interview could possibly have come to such a quick, such a stupid end, when I had not said a hundredth part of what I wanted to say, and what I ought to have said, when I did not know myself in what way it would be concluded.�

�Is Fra�lein gone?� Frau Luise asked me, raising her yellow eyebrows right up to her false front.

I stared at her like a fool, and went away.

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